Legacy Prequel - The Ranger & The Shieldmaiden

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Legacy Prequel - The Ranger & The Shieldmaiden

Postby elora » Thu Jul 14, 2016 10:50 pm

OOC - please keep comments and questions to the OOC thread (any who fail to heed this will become fodder for the author's hounds)

3019, III – March 7, Harrowdale

The menhirs marched into the very mountains themselves, marking out the dread Dimholt Road that the Rohirrim so feared. And rightly so, for a darkness dwelt in the heart of Dunharrow that was palpable to man and beast. Still, that was to be their road. No matter how dark, none of their number would forsake him now. Hanasian, Mecarnil and Berendil gathered around one of the stones and peered down the cursed road.

The plain below the plateau bristled with spears and tents and horses but it would not be enough. Not against the combined might Mordor would spew out to lay waste to the White City. Brave these Eorlingas were. Fierce of spirit, steady of eye and hand. No one spoke of the reality they faced. A long ride, a final charge and then oblivion. Assuming Sauron permitted them to reach Minas Tirith.

Berendil pushed out a heartfelt sigh, ”Loathe as I am to say it, I can see no other course.”

Mecarnil grunted agreement at that and the trio stood in silent reflection of the fact that come the dawn, this would be their path.

”Come,” Hanasian said after a long moment, ”I saw Shieldmaidens as we rode in.”

The clear anticipation in Hanasian’s voice prompted Berendil to inquire, ”Why is that of significance?”

Hanasian swept overlong dark hair from his face and answered as if it were obvious, ”Shieldmaidens!”

Berendil, the only one who could claim a strong friendship with both Hanasian and Mecarnil both, shrugged. Mecarnil scratched at his jaw indifferently.

Hanasian shook his head at them, ”You don’t want to miss this.”

Mecarnil shifted his weight, the eldest of the trio by a good margin, and gestured at the Dimholt Road, ”We don’t have time to gawk.”

His response was not unexpected as far as Hanasian was concerned. Mecarnil was a steady, solid Ranger of average height and stature. Damnably good with a weapon, and single minded. A stickler for duty. Berendil, though, had only a few years on Hanasian. He looked upon the world as a new and interesting place still. With his curious nature, Hanasian was certain Berendil “the Fair” would want to see what Hanasian knew to be unfolding on the plain below right now.

Remarkably, though, the tall Ranger shook his head at Hanasian, ”Mecarnil’s right, Han. The more prepared we are for this, the bet-“

Hanasian waved them both aside and turned away for the plain below. If they wanted to miss this, fine by him. He moved through the tents at some speed, dodging ropes and tent pegs with an ease born of youth and skill, and soon reached the switchback trail to the lower encampment. As another fell into step beside him, Hanasian shot a collegial grin at Berendil.

”How did you even notice them?” Berendil asked as they made their way down the trail.

”Their armour is different,” Hanasian explained and gestured to his abdomen, ”Reticulated, for better agility. I make it my business to take note such details.”

Berendil remarked, ”Why would they be in full kit now?”

Hanasian’s grin returned, ”That’s why I want to get down there.”

He accelerated into a jog and Berendil found himself following suit if only to pick through his friend’s newly discovered cache of information, ”What are they like?”

Speaking quietly in Sindarin, the pair had little concern that any of the Rohirrim about would comprehend.

”Insular,” Hanasian replied as they gained the lower plain. As he had suspected, he could hear the testing underway even now.

He made his way towards the press, as he explained further, ”Established by Eorl the Young, I think, to serve as the King’s shield. They’ve been gone from Meduseld for years now, banished to the East Fold by Wormtongue. I am not sure what function they serve now.”

Berendil nodded as he took in those around them, ”I think we can safely conclude it’s not a decorative one..”

Hanasian’s brows quirked at that but he said nothing further until they found a way to the inner edge to view what was unfolding. There were several sets of Shieldmaidens, all in full kit, battling each other with various weapons.

”What is this for?” Berendil asked, having to raise his voice to be heard over the din around them. The crowd was shouting and cheering, the noise as thick as the people around.

”Rank,” Hanasian shouted back.

A sharp whistle cut through the field and the combat ceased. Most were pairs but in two instances, one Shieldmaiden had faced as many as three opponents all at once. The women on the field pulled their helms free and braids came tumbling out. All different kinds and lengths and colours ranging from a warm brown to a fair gold in the firelight.

”Two braids denote novices. Three to five are initiates. Six and seven are Maidens. Eight are masters,” Hanasian explained, pointing out various women now retiring from the field.

”And the torcs? What do they mean?” Berendil inquired and nodded to a woman that stood with her back to them across the field.

Hanasian’s eyes widened as he took in the eight torcs woven into her braids. Her hair was entirely braided. One thick braid fell to her waist from the centre of her head. Smaller braids swung, flanking it, from either side of her head. The colour of her hair, a rich red like that of a deep wine, glowed under the torchlight as she tipped her head back in a full throated laugh. She turned, her helm held under one arm by her hip, to call something out to one of the women returning from the field. A brief exchange ensued and the women met to embrace briefly, the woman with the torcs clearly proud of the woman she embraced.

He glanced sideways to Berendil and saw the man was transfixed, unable to tear his eyes away.

”That is Freja Fireborn, second in command of the Shieldmaidens of Rohan. Youngest to attain full mastery and gain all eight torcs.”

“You know her?”
Berendil asked, still watching the tall woman across the field.

Hanasian shook his head, ”I know of her, as do all Rohirrim. The Shieldmaidens occupy an exalted position in Rohan. The people follow their doings closely, or they did whilst they were in Meduseld. As for Freja, she was a fosterling of the King.”

”Hence her rapid ascension,”
Berendil speculated but Hanasian shook his head.

”She is uncommonly gifted and she has worked hard. Make no mistake, he countered, ”Rohan has not seen her like in many a generation.”

Berendil broke off his scrutiny of the Shieldmaiden to consider Hanasian a moment, ”You seem… almost enamoured.”

Hanasian sighed at that, ”A woman who can steal a tribute of horses from under Mordor’s nose? That’s…impressive.”

Berendil’s brows shot up at that, ”Foolhardy, you mean. Horse theft in Rohan?”

“That woman does not shy away from anything, Berendil. But be warned. Shieldmaidens are wedded to their spears. They do not abandon them lightly.”

Berendil nodded thoughtfully as another tranche of Shieldmaidens took to the field.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

”Again, Vorda,” Freja called and watched the initiate struggle to stop herself from groaning as she started for the field a second time.

Vorda had five braids now in her sandy hair. Rightfully, though, she could probably claim a sixth. Freja had only fifty or so masters amid the one hundred and thirty spears she had brought with her, but the remaining novices and initiates had experience and skills far beyond their official ranks. Such had been their service along the Eastern fences, beset by Rhûn and Orthânc alike. So hard pressed that there was not enough time to test for advancement, much less recruit and train. But that would not continue. Could not continue.

No, her sisters would ride to battle with their full due, their full honour and rank. And if they should fall, they will greet their sisters in the halls of the dead with their heads held proudly aloft. She owed them that, at least. All of this flickering through Freja’s weary mind prompted her sip at the ale Éowyn had found. It was nothing remarkable, aside from the fact it wasn’t wine. Wine was for pouring on wounds…or pickling things, if that is what you liked. Freja didn’t.

”The spear this time,” Freja added and saw Vorda’s weariness punctuated by a grin.

A bright future lay ahead for Vorda provided Freja could bring them through what waited for them in Gondor. Freja continued to watch Vorda spar with one of her sisters for a moment before she turned back to Éowyn.

”I have missed this,” Éowyn sighed wistfully and transferred her attention to Freja, ”And you. Especially you.”

Freja nodded at her words and rolled her shoulders beneath the weight of her chain and armour. She had almost forgotten what it was like to be without them now.

”Return to us, then,” Freja said, ”We’d have you in a heartbeat. You might have to start at five braids or six but I know you, Éowyn. You’d soon have that sunshine of yours braided entirely.”

“I can’t,”
Éowyn replied, surprising Freja.

”After the War you could. Théoden has recovered his strength now that Wormtongue is put out,” Freja turned to spit as if his name fouled her mouth and drank a mouthful of ale down, ”You are free to decide your own fate once more.”

Éowyn shook her head at this but her expression was not one of regret. Rather, a strange smile set her entire face alight. Her eyes, a beautiful blue far more restrained than Freja’s, practically glowed. The Shieldmaiden frowned slightly at her.

”I know how you chafe at being kept back, Éowyn. And now you have a chance, a real chance, at it! What has gotten into you? Where is the Éo that I love so well?”

Éowyn’s smile blossomed as Freja used the childhood name and she leant forward to whisper in Freja’s ear, ”I am remade!”

Freja did not miss the note of exhilaration in Éowyn’s voice but she caught something out of the corner of her eye that drew her attention back to Vorda. Freja growled quietly as she took in that Vorda no longer faced one of her sisters but rather a man. No Rohirrim would dare to intrude like this and indeed none had, though more than a few watched on in patent fascination. Even the other Shieldmaidens stared in open disbelief. Vorda was flummoxed and she looked back to Freja. At that moment, the man swiftly disarmed her.

Incensed, Freja threw down her ale and started forward as a dismayed gasp rippled through the onlookers. She was shocked anew when Éowyn caught her arm to restrain her. Freja came to a halt, anger radiating from her tall, lean frame.

”Vorda, hold your position,” she ordered and then threw her bristling attention to where Éowyn all but hung off her left arm, ”What in seven hells does he think he is doing?!”

Before Éowyn could reply, and it would take quite an explanation indeed, another man ventured onto the field. There were two of them now! He did not have the same a height as the man facing Vorda and his hair was not raven black, but he shared his grey eyes. These were not Rohirrim. That much was evident.

”My apologies,” he said in a hurry, his manner respectful, ”Berendil is unfamiliar with your customs. He means no offence.”

Freja’s eyes narrowed but before she could demand him his name or an explanation of just why this particular stranger presumed to know a Shieldmaiden's customs, the one named Berendil spoke up.

”If you are to fight men, you must test against them,” he said.

Frega growled at the towering arrogance of the statement. Who was he to gainsay the practices of the Shieldmaidens tried and tested over generations?

Her response was enough to prompt Éowyn to warn her, ”These Rangers are our allies.”

”Desperate times indeed, then,”
Freja threw back but relaxed her stance so that Éowyn released her.

She hooked her thumbs through her sword belt and considered Berendil for a long moment. Her eyes raked over him, face to boots and back to his face again. That, in itself, was no hardship. Clear eyes, even and strong features and so very tall. Of course she noticed all of that. She was not blind, but right now her attention was on other details. At his height, he had a reach which would make his long sword longer again.

”Vorda,” Freja called and beckoned her over, ”You – Berendil – stay precisely where you are.”

The man that had spoken on his behalf groaned as Vorda came hurrying over. Freja drew her away, followed by Éowyn.

Freja murmured, ”Think of his sword and arm as one long weapon and do what you can with your spear.”

She glanced up to see that while Berendil had not moved, his friend either. They stood together, studying her. Freja offered them a ferocious grin that grew when Berendil’s face started to reveal the first traces of consternation.

She turned back to Vorda, ”No blood, mind, unless he draws first.”

At that Vorda’s eyes lit up, ”And if he does?”

“Turn him over to me.”

Vorda nodded gleefully, reinvigorated. Nothing like the prospect of a proper fight to get a Shieldmaid’s blood flowing. Freja shooed the initiate away and followed in her tracks as Vorda sped back to position. The two men seemed to be discussing something of great import as Vorda arrived.

Freja, rocked back on her heels and addressed them loudly, ”I’m more than happy to dispense with a duel and move straight to the melee proper if that is your desire.”

At that the crowd of Rohirrim watching on cheered with outright anticipation.

”Frega!” Éowyn called with no small amount of chagrin that was matched when Berendil’s companion hissed at him, ”See?!”

Berendil acknowledged him with a nod, ”Hanasian has pointed out my error. I seek your pardon and will retire, with your permission.”

Freja’s brows shot up at that and she crossed her arms against her cuirass, ”None of my business if this is all it takes to send Rangers scurrying from the field, tails between their legs.”

At that laughter rippled through the crowd. Berendil threw his arms up and glared at Hanasian who threw back a glare of his own, ”I told you that would happen.”

“Coming down here was your idea.”

“Pity you didn’t attend me as closely on the other details,”
Hanasian rejoined and then turned to Freja, ”Just to first blood?”

Freja inclined a brow but nodded all the same, ”So precious few of you rode in tonight, so I suppose we’ll just have to keep it to first blood.”

Hanasian’s jaw clenched at her words, and of course Freja had no idea at how callous they might sound for she had as much understanding of Arnor as Berendil had of Rohan. Using their genocide as a taunt was unforgiveable but Freja may not even know it was genocide in the first place. When he looked to Berendil, though, he found the man was still as a statue and seething. No stopping this now, then. He nodded to Berendil and then strode away to clear the field. The other Shieldmaidens followed suit until only Berendil and Vorda remained. As soon as Hanasian was out of the way, Vorda began moving. She wove about as Berendil swiftly drew his long sword, mouth pressed into a thin line of displeasure.

”Freja, it was a misunderstanding,” Éowyn chastised as the bout began, ”No dishonor was intended.”

”And yet it was done all the same,”
Freja retorted, ”That Ranger disrupted an initiate's testing on the eve of battle. Despite, it would appear, the advice of his companion. That is quite deliberate.”

Freja broke off to catch sight of Hanasian again. How, she wondered, could he know enough to caution Berendil.

”Still, this only makes it worse than it needs must be. Vorda can be tested again tomorrow. There’s time yet. And these Rangers are our allies. You risk imperilling that,” Éowyn returned and Freja gave off her search.

”I risk nothing of the sort. It’s just to first blood and you well know that I am, in fact, holding my hand in no small degree of forebearance for what has been done. For these…allies,” she snarled the last word, ”Such as they are.”

“Thirty Dúnedain Rangers are more advantageous than you can admit. I know well what you think of them,”
Éowyn replied and, at Freja's nod, added, ”But the simple truth is that you are wrong.”

Freja did not answer immediately. Instead she was watching the match unfolding. As she had hoped, and perhaps Berendil had not understood, Vorda was very much holding her own with her spear. No shortage of fighting men, particularly Easterlings, on the eastern borders of Rohan.

”They skulk in their forests, flitting from tree to tree. On the open field, what use are they? And such arrogance! To presume a Shieldmaiden does not know how to fight a man!” Freja’s voice was low and she looked away from the contest to glare directly at Éowyn, ”But most galling of all, is that you defend them over your own spearsisters.”

Éowyn swallowed for there was no easy way to say this now. Not to this woman, with her quick temper already roused by the Ranger's transgressions. Nor could she keep it from her. Not this woman, who had grown up with her shoulder to shoulder and loved her like the sister she had never had.

”There is one amongst their number, their leader,” Éowyn began and Freja nodded, her scowl deepened.

”Even Rangers must have leaders, I suppose,” she said, dismissive.

“He’s the heir of Elendil,” Éowyn pointed out and Freja sniffed as she had just remarked upon the weather.

Éowyn drew close, almost in an embrace, to whisper, ”He took from me a cup of mead.”

Freja’s jaw dropped at what she heard but Éowyn cleverly gave her no chance to recover, “At Meduseld, before the King and Éomer and all gathered there. There was a great celebration,”

While Berendil and Vorda pushed on, Freja tried to make sense of what Éowyn had just told her. ”One of these Rangers took a cup. Of mead. Real mead.”

”But that means…it means…” Freja fell silent as her thoughts raced.

It meant Éowyn would no longer be free to race the sun, wind in her hair and the boundless plains of Rohan stretching around her. Instead, she would be trapped, penned in the stone houses of these Men and their politics. And would they ever accept her? Did they not fight civil wars amongst themselves over lineage? Gondor had, of that she was certain. How could even Éowyn, bright and fair and fierce Daughter of the Mark though she was, ever match the lofty bloodlines of these Dunédain?

Her dismay must have been evident in her expression for Éowyn said, ”He is a good man. Can you not be happy for me? Just a little? My heart is full. He has brought me such hope, such light, when there has been only sorrow and darkness.”

Freja closed her eyes and washed a hand over her face. She feared for Éowyn. Little good could come of this and yet, such hope and joy did indeed dwell in Éowyn’s eyes. And who was to know what lay ahead? This might be her last happiness. Freja stepped forward to embrace Éowyn.

”I can see that you are happy,” Freja murmured, ”And that is all I have ever wanted for you."

“And I you,”
Éowyn answered, heartfelt relief in her face and voice.

Freja nodded, and despite her deep misgivings, smiled at Éowyn. That was when Vorda gasped, more in surprise than pain, and the crowd murmured. Freja found her initiate on her knees, staring at the back of her hand. A scratch had just begun to bleed. Vorda looked up, past Berendil, to Freja with wide eyes and managed not to grin at her.

”I yield, Freja Fireborn,” Vorda said and at that Freja nodded. About now was a perfect time to give these Rangers a proper lesson in manners.

”Please don’t,” Éowyn asked her.

”I’ll be gentle,” Freja returned as she strode towards Berendil.

Berendil threw Hanasian a worried look for his earlier anger had receded and he had no desire to make an even bigger mess of things. The Shieldmaiden paused to divest herself of her sword belt. She shed her armour swiftly too and rolled out of her mail. She was tall, easily able to meet eyes, and he could see that she was both lean and strong. That much was evident now that she was clad in little more than a tunic and breeches. Though she had set aside both her weapons and her armour, she was no less perilous. He could see that very clearly too.

He said to Freja, ”I have no desire to continue this.”

“Ah, I see how it is now. You’re happy to test yourself against an initiate but when it comes to a master…”

Berendil sighed unhappily at her and then grimaced over to where Hanasian was standing. The two men flickered hand signals at each other, communicating something. Freja took up a spear haft that was unpointed, hefted it a few times and then nodded her satisfaction. To that she added a shield. Heavy it was, round, wood with a dull metal hub. She carried it easily, as if she had been born with it on her arm.

”I have neither shield nor buckler,” Berendil pointed out as Vorda hurried off, clutching her hand and still trying very hard not to grin in anticipation of what was to come.

”And I do not have an edged weapon,” Freja replied, unperturbed, and glanced back to where Éowyn was fretting, ”I have given my word that I will be gentle with you, Ranger. But if that will not suffice then I offer you this: I shall not dint that pretty face of yours.”

Again there was laughter from those watching, particularly the Shieldmaidens and Berendil scowled, ”I suppose it will have to, won’t it.”

“Now we understand each other,”
Freja purred and fell into an opening stance that she preferred for such situations. At that she heard those watching murmur appreciatively. Anticipation was electric as it eddied through her. A heady thrill. She gave the Ranger a smile over the edge of her shield. He shook his head at her and raised his longsword.

How hard could it be, he wondered. She’d been drinking ale. And she was fighting his two handed long sword with a shield and a stick. More than like, she was all bark and no bite right at the moment. He feinted but she did not take the bait. Perhaps she was as good as Hanasian thought she was and perhaps she wasn't. She’d been using his pride as a goad. Now it was time to return the favour and trip her on her own vaunted reputation.

Berendil pressed in with a rapid flurry of attacks. To her credit, she yielded ground as required, unhurried and unconcerned. That infuriating smile of hers was still on her face as she adjusted and he ended up doing little aside from battering on her shield. It was unsurprising that she was very good with a shield but defense is but half the struggle and she’d have to do more than that against him.

No sooner did he think that did her unfinished spear set to work. Freja was wickedly fast with it and while he kept it from cracking over his ears, arms and body, she managed to trip his feet. Berendil tumbled and rolled, coming to his feet and expecting to find her there ready to break his arm with her spear shaft. Instead, she had drawn back to wait. That surprised him. She’d struck him as impetuous. Hasty even.

Those watching cooed and then clapped and Berendil reset himself. At that, so did she and they were off again. In time, her smile faded away. He saw she had started to sweat though she was not winded, her breathing still well controlled. He’d gotten a few good whacks on her shield that he knew had to jar her arm. That can be anything from unpleasant to painful. Certainly it would weaken her. For his part, he was reasonably sure that he would painted in bruises by the time this was done. That thought prompted him to speak the first words they had exchanged since their spar commenced.

”To first blood, yes?” he asked, narrowly avoiding being clouted by a spear shaft. Apparently, her comment about his face did not relate to other regions of his head.

They prowled about each other still but at her nod, he asked, ”How do you intend to draw blood without a blade?”

The smile she answered him with was one of almost carnal delight.

”There are ways,” she promised, her wildly blue eyes glittering over her shield.

Berendil blinked, surprised at the way in which he had responded to her statement. She was a striking woman though not classically pretty. She did not bat her lashes or bite her lower lip or wind her hair around her fingers winsomely. For all of that, her long clean lines were strong. Almond eyes, perched atop imperiously high cheekbones, were the stunning blue of a mountain sky and yet they had seen death, blood, gruesome, visceral combat. They were knowing and right now they were trained on him...

Berendil stepped back. He cast his sword to the ground and held his arms out, palms forward towards her.

”A draw,” he proposed, watching her frown at him from behind her shield. She hesitated, smelling a trick or ploy. He stepped back again.

”We are evenly matched,” he told her as she straightened.

Her shield lowered to reveal her face. Cheekbones flared wide, a strong jaw that narrowed to a well defined chin. Freja looked him up and down again at length. Her frustration all but seared wherever her eyes travelled. Then she growled something in Rohirric, a curse by the sound of it, turned her back and stalked away. He watched her throw the spear shaft down, drop the shield, and then shoulder her way through the crowd. Still, Berendil waited, until the crowd itself began to disband.

Once that happened, Mecarnil and Hanasian both approached.

”What was that?” Mecarnil demanded, unimpressed.

Berendil bent to retrieve his sword and sheathed it.

”Common sense,” Hanasian answered for him, ”There was no way she was going to let Berendil off this field without at least one broken bone.”

“Nonsense! A little more persistence and the boot would have been on the other foot,”
Mecarnil replied.

”She was softening him up,” Hanasian argued, ”Most of our time is spent fighting orcs, wargs and the like. The Shieldmaidens have spent a good portion of theirs fighting men. She knew what she was about. It’s a special kind of ignorance that downplays the obvious experience of an opponent.”

“Now you listen here. I’ve fought men too, you know, and-“

Berendil walked off on the debate, eyes raking the crowd. Mecarnil turned to watch him leave, as did Hanasian.

”Where’s he off to now? Not more trouble, I hope,” Mecarnil grumbled, as if that would prevent anything.

Finding Freja again proved more difficult than Berendil anticipated. He was routinely stopped by curious Rohirrim and asked what he had been trying to accomplish. Each time he was asked, Berendil found it difficult to answer. Yes, Hanasian had warned him to simply watch, to not interfere in whatever the Shieldmaidens were doing. And yet it had seemed so straightforward the moment he had strode out there. He had been trying to help and while he could admit to himself that perhaps there were other intentions afoot as well but those he kept to himself. In the end, he had only managed to make things worse.

Looking back at it now he should have known it would end this way. No good deed goes unpunished, Mecarnil would say and on this occassion he had been proven correct. Trying to explain that to the puzzled warriors around him seemed futile. All he could do was shrug and ask if they had seen her.

As a result, it was some time before he at last tracked her down. She was seated at a campfire with other Shieldmaidens. All laughed freely with each other, Freja most uproariously of them all. All had their hair completely braided, each in their own preference, and Berendil guessed that meant that they were all master Shieldmaidens. Some even bore silver torcs, none as many as Freja.

Berendil found himself struck by the contrast between the Shieldmaiden that had stalked off, filled with contempt, to the one that roared with lusty laughter now. That wild, utterly free and absolutely improper smile he had seen earlier was back. She was relaxed and the firelight made her hair glow. He shook himself and wondered what he was going to say. Aside from knowing he needed to speak with her, he hadn’t managed to think much further ahead than that.

Then he wondered why it was none of the Shieldmaidens had paid him any heed. As far as he could tell, he was the only man standing there. Shieldmaidens of varying ranks had to divert their paths around him so they had to know he was here. Why were they ignoring him? As he wondered that Freja unfurled her long limbs and stood, still laughing and cheeks flushed with unabashed delight. Hers was a throaty, fulsome laugh. The perfect companion to her improper smile.

Still wiping tears of mirth from sparkling eyes, she stepped over the logs that ringed the fire and headed in his direction. Her eyes were on the ground as she walked, her movements relaxed. She had that loose limbed poise shared by the finest of swordsmen. He almost thought she’d pass him by entirely, her attention diverted by whatever the source of this hilarity was, but she brought her head up and stopped in front of him. Off to one side, she crossed her arms under her chest. No cloak over her shoulders, despite the fact that it was March and the nights were decidedly crisp even this far south. She canted her head to one side and raised a brow at him in silent question.

Before Berendil could answer it, one of her sisters called out from the fire, ”Back for more, eh Ranger?”

There was simmering laughter at that, as if they waited to see what he would do or say next. Freja, though, did not chuckle with them. She merely studied him. Berendil had the distinct sense, for the second time that evening, that no matter what he did it would end up casting him as a fool. He was not an ordinarily proud man but even humble men value their dignity.

”They’re goading you,” Freja quietly informed him.


She shrugged at that and he saw the hint of a smile, ”You amuse them.”

“Is that what I am? A jester to caper for the great Shieldmaidens of Rohan?”

Freja shrugged again, indifferent, and Berendil retorted, ”If so then I’m not the only fool serving the Shieldmaiden’s tonight.”

He spoke with no small degree of heat but for all of that, Freja’s smile was wry and self-deprecatory.

”Like as not,” she agreed without hesitation, ”Particularly if you refer to me. There was no good reason for sparing your face, no matter how pleasing it is.”

While Berendil was trying to work out what do with that, a call came from the fire, ”I think this Ranger may be in need of another lesson in respect.”

”They’ll be at this all night unless we go elsewhere,”
Freja advised and nodded past Berendil’s shoulder.

He glared over at the fire as Freja walked past him and then turned to follow her. As she led him through the encampment, the men she walked past called out greetings of some sort or the other. This Freja took in her stride, a friendly lift of the hand or inclination of her head. Sometimes there would be a mystifying exchange that seemed to be insults but left both parties smiling widely. Hanasian had said she was highly regarded but it also seemed she was equally well liked. How a prideful, hot tempered individual had managed that was a mystery.

She shifted her path sharply as he thought that and a short while later he saw Fastred pass by. No greeting or acknowledgement there. Clearly Freja had not befriended the entire encampment. The man swept a cool gaze past Freja as if she was not there at all and settled it on him. Dark blonde brows rose as he took stock of Berendil following along and then he shook his head dismissively. What, Berendil wondered, had that been about? His own black brows drew together in thought until he stumbled across a possible answer. Following Freja of his own accord, particularly after what had unfolded earlier, might be considered unwise.

The woman ahead diverted around another tent. Her braids swayed across her back and the torcs gleaming whenever firelight struck them. She was young, Hanasian said, to have risen to all eight. Second in command. Ordering people about was second nature to her. She didn’t think twice, or hesitate, or even wait to see it those she had ordered had complied. Certainly the Shieldmaidens jumped at her words. She expected others to as well, he guessed.

It did not take long for her to lead him to a quiet place on the edge of camp. At their arrival, the few Rohirrim that had been there bowed their heads to Freja and departed. He hadn’t even seen her make such a request but she did not seem overly surprised by it. She kicked a faggot of wood in their fire as if rearranging it to her liking and nodded.

As she turned about to face him, he said, ”You’re accustomed to getting what you want, aren’t you.”

Surprise showed on her face, ”I’m accustomed for working for what I want.”

Again her arms crossed under her chest as she continued, ”And right now I am working very hard to determine how you intend to fashion a proper apology from that.”

Berendil was flummoxed. She expected him to apologise?! Him? Now? She had already dismissed his earlier attempts. She narrowed her eyes at him and then shook her head. Freja turned to face the fire and stared into it for a moment.

”You didn’t come to apologise, did you Ranger?”

Frankly, he wasn’t entirely sure of his reasons for seeking her out now but apology had certainly not been amongst them.

”I’m not the only one who made a fool of themselves this evening,” he answered and saw her eyes narrow.

”That so,” she challenged and he stepped within the glow of the fire.

”The difference between you and I, Freja Fireborn, is that I have come to learn from my errors.”

Berendil watched her eyes flare at that and she gave a short, incredulous laugh as she met his eyes, ”And you, I presume, are here to educate me?”

“Allies should understand each other.”

She swiftly sat, crossed one long leg over the other and clasped her knee with both hands, ”I am ready to learn, Master Ranger.”

Berendil was certain she mocked him.

”You don’t think much of Rangers, do you?” he asked.

Freja shrugged at that and so he continued, ”In fact, I’d go so far as to say you think you’re better off without us.”

“Thirty of you can’t do too much harm,”
she replied.

”Perhaps thirty of us is all you need.”

Her brows quirked at that and he saw a faint smile, ”You talk like a Shieldmaiden.”

Berendil nodded and then said, ”Or maybe there is only thirty of us left.”

Her smile shifted at that and so he continued, ”What do you know of Arnor?”

“Big – north,”
she shrugged, ”Not Rohan.”

So, next to nothing Berendil thought and tested that with another question, ”And Cardolan?”

Freja shook her head, ”Something you might eat. A spice, perhaps. Why?”

Berendil sat and pressed a hand to the centre of his chest, ”I am from Cardolan.”

She lifted a brow at him but she did not smile. Her cocky assurance was banked and she was perceptive enough to sense that he was going somewhere with this. And so, he did. The telling took some time, even if he skipped over the intricacies. By the time it was done, he finally looked at Freja. He’d avoided that during the telling, lest he find her smirking and lose his restraint again. She was not smirking though. Nor scowling. Nor glaring. He found himself surprised, in fact, to find tears shone on her cheeks and she had pressed a hand to her mouth.

”All of them,?” she whispered through her fingers and he nodded grimly.

”Man, woman and child. My home, Freja, is a little more than graves and abandoned buildings now and that is but one part of Arnor. Sauron did not spare the others, either. Rohan has not been the only one to suffer under the his malice.”

Her eyes dropped to the fire again. It was in need of more wood and so, to fill the gaping silence and address his growing restlessness, Berendil fed it. He leaned back on his heels and brushed his hands off only to find Freja had set a gentle hand to his shoulder.

”I am sorry, Berendil,” she told him earnestly and he looked, startled by her sudden honesty, into her face, ”I did not know.”

Berendil tensed as Freja drew her arms around him and embraced him.

”I do not desire your pity,” he told her.

For all of that, her warmth was undeniably pleasant. Vital she was, strong. She tightened her embrace a moment and then pulled back so that her face hung before his.

”It is not pity I offer,” she replied solemnly, the firelight flickering over the panes of her face.

”What, then” Berendil asked her through a suddenly dry mouth. His eyes widened as she lifted her fingers to trace the line of his jaw but he did not draw back.

”Is it so surprising that a Shieldmaiden might be capable of compassion,” she returned, voice barely more than a murmur.

She gazed up at him, as if looking at him clearly for the first time. He could feel the warmth of her skin through her tunic. She drew a deep breath into her chest that she pushed out again. As if debating something. Then she stood and walked away from him and the fire both, into the darkness beyond. Slowly, Berendil stood, staring after her. He felt…regret. And the pressure of someone’s study. He turned to see Hanasian standing there. His friend shook his head at him in warning. Despite that, though, Berendil followed the Shieldmaiden’s steps into the darkness.

She was not difficult to locate for she had not gone far and her teeth softly chattered.

He asked, ”Are you cold?”

Freja shook her head, not sure why she denied what was obvious, and crossed her arms against her tunic. Though she could barely make him out in the darkness, she could sense his scrutiny. Did these Rangers see better in the dark? They were said to be the pupils of Elves. She heard clothing rustle and then started as Berendil settled his cloak around her shoulders. Freja held her breath as his fingers gently secured it in place at the base of her throat, barely grazing her skin.

Her mouth was strangely dry. Again. Not the first pretty face, she reminded herself, and this one seemed to have no particular liking for her. Freja allowed her fingers to explore the device Berendil had used to fasten the cloak. It was a star, the metal cool to the touch.

”Seven points,” she murmured.

”An emblem of Elendil’s followers,” Berendil replied, ”For that is what we are.”

“And Aragorn is his heir,”
she said, puzzled by why it was these men were so enamoured of a lord, washed up from the ruin of a drowned land.

“Our chieftain too.”

“Éowyn said as much,”
Freja replied, her voice thoughtful.

”What do you think of him,” Berendil asked and immediately Freja recalled her exchange with Éowyn. She felt reluctant to comment on Rangers now. Frankly, she wasn’t sure how to describe any of them anymore, particularly the one who stood nearby.

”It hardly matters what I make of him,” Freja replied, neatly evading the entire topic, ”My service is given to another.”

She made no effort to keep her pride from her voice.

”Do you not fear what is to come, then?” Berendil asked.

She was struck, then, by a clear note of dismay. It made no sense to her at all, but how to explain this to a stranger to her land, her customs and their ways? Freja paused for what could she say that was not already known.

Then she pulled Berendil’s cloak and pulled it tighter around her shoulders for warmth, ”Battle is a Shieldmaiden’s lot and I knew this when I chose my path. I will not turn away from it now.”

“Death is what you live for,”
Berendil said and Freja shook her head impatiently, irritated anew. How dare he?

”I live for the duty I swore to uphold. Much, I suspect, as do you,” Freja added for good measure.

“Perhaps, then, we are more alike than you think,” Berendil replied quietly, his words cutting across her chagrin. She had no answer for that. She had been on such solid footing only a moment ago and now she was floundering in the dark. Again.

”If we prevail in this war, Freja, have you given thought to what might follow when it is done?”

Berendil’s question was both surprising and dangerous. She answered carefully indeed, ”A Shieldmaiden’s life is brief, even by our measure. Little is served by looking too far ahead.”

Berendil did not answer immediately and she was started by his hand. It cupped her cheek gently and all of sudden he was very close. His fingers trailed along her cheekbone to her hair and then followed one of her braids. He held it in his hand, toying with torc he had discovered. He must have been able to feel the etchings upon it.

”What is it for?” he asked, voice quiet in her ear.

”It is for the spear,” she answered and closed her eyes.

Breathe, Freja. Just breathe. Berendil released her braid but did not draw away. Tension mounted and either she kissed him or she asked him a question.

Freja opted for the latter, ”The long years ahead belong to you and those of your kind. What do you think will happen?”

His answer came easily, ”Gondor and Arnor will be united and we will know peace. Such is our hope. There will be much to rebuild, in Arnor and Rohan alike.”

“And Cardolan.”

“I do not think it likely that Cardolan will ever rise again,”
he said.

Another question occurred to her, ”What is Arnor like, then?”

“You wish to know?”

Freja shrugged at his question, ”It is unlikely I will ever see it for myself. What business would a Shieldmaiden have in Arnor, Berendil?”

He seemed to pause at that, as if he had ideas on that of his own, and then went on to describe Arnor to her. She heard of Bree and of the best apples to be had in all of Middle Earth. One thing was clearest of all.

”You love it,” she told him, ”I hear it in your voice.”

“I plan to return when this is done. And you?”
he asked.

”Aside from battle, I do not know,” she replied.

“Is battle all you think of?”

“Not entirely,”
Freja admitted, swallowing in a dry throat, for just at that moment she was not thinking of battle or war at all. She felt her cheeks heat. Damn the man for standing so closely. She almost leapt out of her skin as his fingers returned to her face. He drew them along her jaw on either side and then cupped her face between his hands. They stood like that for a long moment. Then she heard Berendil whisper something in the strange Elvish tongue she had heard in use around the camp. She almost sensed his lips drawing near but he did not kiss her.

”I find the thought of you falling in battle unbearable,” he told her, as if puzzled.

“You answered your King’s call. Why should I not answer mine?”

Berendil’s sigh was heavy and he drew his arms about her, ”I will look for you, Freja, upon that field. What comes after we will face together. All of it.”

The notion was almost startling to her if he meant what she thought he meant. To say such a thing… He lowered his head and buried his face where her neck met her shoulders. Then he drew in a deep breath as he gathered her to him, as if he would inhale her entirely.

Freja asked, ”A Ranger and a Shieldmaiden?”

Her question made Berendil lift his head, “If we may fight and die together, why may we not live…together?”

Berendil pressed a kiss to her brow, her skin soft against his lips, and reluctantly drew away. Now was not a time for undertakings beyond that. He was to take the Paths of the Dead come the dawn and she was riding to battle soon thereafter. He lifted her hand in his and kissed her palm. Then he strode back to camp. It was some time before Freja followed and by the time she had returned, there was no sight of the Ranger. He had vanished.

When Berendil gained the upper plateau, both Hanasian and Mecarnil had retired for what little sleep they could gain. He could hear Mecarnil soundly snoring. Something he should have done, would have done if only…Berendil slipped into the tent he shared with the other two men as quietly as he could.

Despite his stealth, though, Hanasian was clearly awake for he asked, ”What are you up to with that Shieldmaiden, Berendil?”

Berendil answered even though he knew very well that wasn’t true.

As did Hanasian, apparently “Because I’ve told you Shieldmaidens do not abandon their spears lightly.”


Hanasian yawned, ”So you aren’t the sort for idle dalliances.”

“What makes you think I’m dallying anyone?”
Berendil challenged and at that Hanasian fell silent.

Berendil wrapped himself up in his bedroll. As he tried to settle in to sleep he found his mind racing and body thrumming. He closed his eyes and saw a pair of almond shaped eyes gazing back at him, knowing. What was he doing? Had he really said what he thought he had. He could still feel her in his arms. He shifted again, aware of the bruises she had given him.

”I’m not dallying,” Berendil muttered to himself.

Hanasian sleepily murmured, ”Perish the thought.”

Berendil grunted and tried to find a comfortable position yet again. It was going to be a difficult night finding rest.
Last edited by elora on Mon Oct 03, 2016 6:04 am, edited 6 times in total.
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Re: Legacy Prequel - The Ranger & The Shieldmaiden

Postby elora » Fri Jul 15, 2016 6:46 pm

3019, III – March 8, Harrowdale

Freja woke to the discovery she had slept in Berendil’s cloak. This startled her, for it any of her sisters marked it then the questions would soon follow. It would not do to have them wondering whether their commander was considering setting aside her spears on the eve of battle. And was she? Was she really considering that?

This is what she asked herself as she threw on her own green cloak and set off for the upper encampment. Dawn had yet to creep over the eastern horizon and fog blanketed the plain but the upper camp was clear and crisp. Few were about at this hour and so she padded through the tents as stealthy as ever she had been for where the Rangers might have set their camp.

Few of the Rangers moved about, each eerily silent in their long cloaks. If they noticed her, they gave no sign of it. On she went until she found a tent with a familiar face. It was Berendil’s friend and he was smoking a long pipe whilst sleepily prodding at a fire. Hanasian cracked a wide yawn and then discovered she was standing there, staring at him. His pipe almost fell out of his mouth but he recovered with admirable swiftness. This, then, was a man who guarded his inner thoughts. Interesting.

Freja wondered anew how it was he knew so much of a Shieldmaidens’ ways. Hanasian slowly stood after a few moments of her scrutiny. At that, Freja swiftly set Berendil’s cloak down on the other side of the fire. Hanasian’s brows rose when he saw what she had left there but he kept his silence. Freja drew up to her full height and considered him again. But before she could depart, Berendil emerged from the tent, dark hair tousled by sleep and dragging his pack with him.

Her eyes narrowed at that and Hanasian murmured a brief warning that brought Berendil’s face sharply up to take in her presence.

”Going somewhere?” she inquired, keeping her tone cool with some effort.

As she asked she saw a Ranger lead a horse towards the menhirs. It was then she noticed there were others there. They were leaving. All of them. When her eyes returned to Berendil, she discovered he was approaching her.

Berendil set down his pack and stepped forward, ”My path to the battle ahead is different to yours, yet we will find each other again. Of that I am certain.”

Her eyes narrowed as he closed the final distance, ”Are you, now?”

He reached for her but she was too fast. Freja set her hands to his broad chest and pushed him back from her. As he rocked on his heels she began to circle him.

”The Dimholt Road - are you mad?” she hissed as she prowled a wide circuit around him.

“Do not presume to gainsay those wiser than you,” Berendil returned with equal heat, ”My duty, my honour is no less than yours. Am I to be sundered from it when you will not?”

She had returned to face him and bared her teeth at his question, ”How long have you known, eh? How long?”

At her question she saw Berendil hesitate and she knew, then, that he had known all along. He had known even as he had lured her with promises of a different future. She saw it all then for what it was and her fists curled at her sides.

”Was it a joke, then? Something to chuckle over amongst yourselves as you turned a Shieldmaiden’s gaze from her spears?”

Her voice shook with fury and Hanasian murmured in alarm. Berendil, though, clenched his jaw. She could see it bunch as he struggled for a calm she had surrendered.

”Your silence is answer enough, Ranger,” she snarled.

”Every word! I meant every word, Freja!”

“Oh, I am sure you did…so easy it is to throw out pretty, clever words when you know, you KNOW, you will never be held to account for them. I see it now, Berendil, and make no mistake. I see you too.”

“Is that what you think of me? Feckless and callow?”
Berendil returned, stung.

”I do not know and will not pretend to care,” she spat at him, ”Do not look for me. Save your eyes, Ranger, for the foolish road you are to take! I wish you the joy of it!”

Berendil quivered from head to foot as she turned her back on him and left him standing there without so much as a second glance. He stood frozen, desperately trying to understand what had just happened. As he did so, the humiliation he had seen searing in her eyes returned to him. Betrayal. Pain. Helpless howling anger. New hope bitterly crushed. He closed his eyes, and washed his hands over his face, even as Mecarnil and Hanasian came to him.

”What did you say to her?” Hanasian asked urgently, setting a hand to his shoulder.

Berendil shook his head and lowered his hands, ”I was careful. I thought I was-“

“You turned her head, Berendil. Do you know what that means?”
Hanasian pressed.

Both Berendil and Mecarnil shook their heads, baffled, and there was little time to explain.

”When a Shieldmaiden’s gaze is turned, she lays her spears aside. It is rarely done for a man.”

Berendil’s already washed out face turned ashen but Mecarnil clapped his back in a bid to liven his spirits up, ”Valar willing, lad, there will be time to set things to straights again if that is what you wish. Focus now must be on the task at hand.”

“But what if…”
Berendil swallowed his question before he finished it. What if he could not find her again?

There was no way to know if they would survive the Paths of the Dead and reach Erech, much less the battle beyond it. Same could be said of Freja. Riding in Théoden’s vanguard, she would be at the heart of the Rohirrim’s battle when it was joined. The future was uncertain for them both, well did he know that.

Still he felt no small degree of sorrow at the bitterness of their parting. He had not intended to cast her aside. She had never been a game, a joke, to him. Halbarad gave the signal to pull out. All Berendil could do was hope, as Mecarnil said, to find her again on the other side.

He turned for his pack to discover his cloak had been set there. He gathered it up and pressed it to his face. Already the outer layers were cool but her warmth was still within the inner folds. And heather. He had noticed she smelt of heather when he had set this cloak around her shoulders. He drew that clean, earthy, honest scent in. Faintly floral, but herbal – almost mossy. He slung it around his shoulders and set to work breaking their brief camp.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Chilled to the bone and shivering, Freja returned to her tent and sank onto the scant bedding she had tossed aside in what seemed, now, to be a lifetime ago. How could she be so foolish? So stupid? She felt sick to her stomach and bent forward over her knees with a soft moan. No sooner had she done this did another enter her tent. Humiliation still stamped upon her face, Freja looked up to find Éowyn standing there. Sorrow, profound and solid as the mountain that reared above them, was stamped upon her face. All the light, all the hope, had been stripped from Éowyn’s eyes, replaced, now by despair.

”Ah,” Éowyn said as she took in Freja, ”You know too, then.”

“The Paths of the Dead,”
Freja whispered, the urge to retch greasily sliding about in her belly.

Éowyn sank onto Freja’s blankets beside her and for a long while they were silent, united in grief. In time, though, it occurred to Éowyn to ask after why Freja was so deeply affected. It was a question she could not answer and yet the other woman caught her eyes in her own and then she sighed.

”You see, now, do you not?” Éowyn whispered and Freja nodded, eyes closing before tears could betray her anew.

”Take me with you,” Éowyn said and Freja’s eyes opened to see there was a feyness to Éowyn now. A wild reckless abandon, ”Take me with you to death and destruction, Freja Fireborn.”

Freja stared at Éowyn. Did she have the same fell look too? If she did she would have to put it from her lest her sisters discover her gaze had been turned by one of these Rangers.

”We will call you Dernhelm,” she replied, her voice stark and quiet, and at that Éowyn gave her a small, terrible, smile.
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Re: Legacy Prequel - The Ranger & The Shieldmaiden

Postby elora » Thu Jul 28, 2016 4:59 pm

3019, III – March 15, Pelennor

The plain had been swallowed by a dark, malevolent tide. The White City, proud citadel of a proud people, shone no longer. It’s walls were scarred, blackened and pocked. War machines clustered like flies upon them. Pits of fire belching a foul thick smoke that billowed over city and plain alike. The gates hung useless. Broken. Minas Tirith had been breached and the army below was gripped with a vicious, palpable glee. Anticipation of the slaughter to come.

Freja stared at it, struck dumb by the sheer scale of what she saw. They had pushed as hard as they could. They had defeated Sauron once already to reach this place, trusting to the Wild Men and their King’s judgement. Just five days it had taken them but they were too late. She sucked in a shivering breath at a sudden image and the dread it unleashed. A cursed road, dark, buried in the mountains she had left behind. Upon it he lay, still, twisted. Dead. Left there, unburied, unmarked, to rot away over the years. Feminine laughter, mocking, floated at the very edges of her hearing.

Reeling, she whispered a single word before she could stop herself, ”Berendil.”

She had dreamed of him these past five days, despite the fact that she should have lain in the exhausted slumber everyone else had. She woke with his name on her lips in the pre-dawn murk. His grey eyes, deep set under a brooding brow, watched her in her sleep. Despite the fact that he was probably dead now, needlessly and carelessly so. Despite the fact that he duped her with whispered hints of a future he well knew would never come to pass.

Staggering briefly, Freja hauled her feet under her with ruthless determination and pushed it away. Already they were mounting up, weapons unlimbered, saddles and hooves checked. A hasty meal, for those able to stomach it. Freja set her helm in place and strode for her horse. As she went, she scanned for sight of Dernhelm. She’d opposed, staunchly, the halfling’s presence. Doughty though Master Merriadoc might be, what lay before them was no place for him.

Dernhelm had been determined and nothing Freja had been able to say had swayed her…him. Just as she sighted the halfling and Dernhelm both, Éomer intercepted her. Freja pulled back to scrutinise him. He looked…worried. That was good. It meant he had not yet discovered Dernhelm’s true identity. Their ruse, disguising her as a man, had worked and now Éowyn would get that which she sought. They all would this day. Rack. Ruin. Death.

”The vanguard, yes?” Éomer asked tersely and Freja nodded.

” I think it likely we will struggle to hold our lines once battle is joined,” Freja answered and Éomer grunted agreement.

”We must do what we can, as we can,” Éomer answered. His eyes had been roaming restlessly throughout, gauging the readiness of those about to go charging into oblivion, but now they centred on her. What he might be thinking she could not guess. Éomer was largely a cipher to her. Always had been. But then she was surprised to see his hard expression soften.

”Ride well this day, Freja Fireborn,” he said, briefly reaching to set his hand on her pauldron. She nodded, startled by such unanticipated warmth.

”And you Éomer, Son of Éomund, Lord of the Mark,” she returned. He searched her expression, that which her helm revealed, a moment longer and then was away again. Her future King, Freja thought as she marked his departure. But not this day. If she fell, then it would be so that Théoden did not. With a shake of her head, she mounted up.

Their lines formed swiftly, the Shieldmaidens in and around Théoden himself. Freja looked for Dernhelm one more time. Horses shifted, restless, smelling the carnage ahead. Around her the horns pealed, a ringing glorious note that shivered in the morning air. A harbinger of a red, bloody dawn. Again they rang out and Freja felt her blood surge in a sudden savage joy. A third time and they were away, thundering down the final approach to fall upon the northern flank of the besiegers. Crashing like the tide, lances levelled and songs of battle thick in their throats.

For a time she was able to keep Éowyn and Théoden both in her line of sight but that changed once Mordor’s armies recovered from their initial shock. Never had she seen so many gathered before against so few. Futile it was, but battle was joined and she could not and would not turn aside. The war machines needed to be dealt with, and the Southron horsemen, for these had not scattered like the Orcs.

Their onslaught was savage, the battle bitter. In the fog of war, she lost sight of Éowyn. All she saw was the Enemy, pressing in around her. Her spears were all gone and she had been unhorsed, her beautiful gelding cut down underneath her. She’d unhorsed a Southron in return and hewed death, singing and snarling the battle songs of the Shieldmaidens as she delivered war upon them.

Again her horse was injured, its foot caught in a depression. She was flung from the saddle at speed, a combination of experience, her armour and dumb luck resulted in her not being crushed. Instead she tumbled across the ground without any means of stopping herself. When the tumbling stopped, Freja was sprawled on her belly. Her senses reeled and her instincts, honed by years of combat, screamed at her to get up. Move! Groggily, she rose to her knees only to be knocked flat again by one of her countrymen as he battled an Easterling. Still her instincts roared at her and so she rose once more, this time coming to her feet. Swaying drunkenly, Freja stared about her. She had lost sight of Théoden and Éowyn both as well as her sword. An inhuman snarl to her left, just beyond the view permitted by her helm captured her attention.

The orc grinned at her, aware that she was without any weapon beyond her knives. Freja stumbled back and almost fell when her heel caught a body lying upon the ground. She crouched as the orc advanced, hefting its brutal falchion, slavering with anticipation. By some chance, Freja’s hand closed on a shaft and she seized it, bringing whatever it was with her as stood. She blinked at what she saw.

It was a crude pike of the sort many of Sauron’s orcs had brought to this battle. Disgust shivered through her momentarily but she was quick to push that aside and level it at the orc that was now rushing at her. Such was its speed, its lust for her blood, that she almost did not manage to bring the pike to bear in time. Teeth bared, screaming, she thrust with all of her weight and strength, driving the orcish pike into her foe’s belly. The orc snarled at her as she ran him through and Freja feared that the haft would snap under the weight as it bowed. The snarl, however, slide into a wet gurgle as the orc was driven back. It slumped to the broken earth and then fell to one side.

Panting, terror skated far too close to her thoughts. It shivered along the edges. She could sense it gathering, waiting. If it took her, it would be the end of her. She had to keep it at bay somehow. She wheeled about, desperate for a clean weapon. That would help. A proper, fitting hilt to close her fingers about. Just as she thought this, a sword was kicked towards her. Not hers, that was long gone now, but one of Rohan’s all the same. Freja blinked at where it rested near the toes of her boots and then looked up in the direction it had mysteriously appeared from. What she saw made her throat choke in visceral fear.

The Elf that stood there was still, a statue amidst the battle raging about. Clad all in black, her fair hair was bound in braids. Malevolence radiated from her perfect face and her smile, when it came, was as cold as death itself.

”Pick it up, Shieldmaiden,” the-Elf said, her voice bloodsoaked velvet.

Never before had Freja felt such crippling fear. Never before had she wanted to run, to turn heel and flee. But all of this mattered not for her body was moving despite her horror. She found herself bending and reaching for the sword and this only deepened her distress. Sobbing, she stood once more with it in her hand.

The Elf canted her head, studying the way she trembled for a moment, ”Do you know my name, mortal?”

Freja shook her head, unable to speak. She was so terrified that she did not even know her own name at that point. All she knew was that her heart was about to stop, frozen by fear.

”Naiore Dannan am I,” the Elf supplied, ”Ravennor of Mordor.”

Naiore’s beautiful eyes narrowed as she stepped nearer, ”And you, snivelling mortal, are Freja Fireborn.”

Around her Naiore walked, her movement that of inhuman and lethal grace. She completed her circuit and her expression had shifted to one of boredom, ”I had hoped you might offer a modest distraction from this tedium.”

At that the Elf flicked her sword, skewering an orc in danger of lumbering between them without so much as a sideways glance. It was a beautiful weapon, superbly crafted, and she used it with a skill honed over centuries. She freed the blade and stepped closer still, gazing into Freja’s eyes like a snake might watch the mouse it intended to eat for dinner.

”We will cross swords,” she said and smiled at freja’s urgent, desperate shaking of her head. She did not wish to fight this Elf. She wished only to flee.

”I can compel it, or you may choose it. Fight well enough, and freely…I may even spare your life so that you might return to your King to die at his side,” Naiore tilted her head, quizzical, ”Or perhaps you desire something else?”

Again she saw Berendil. His face, by the fire, as he spoke of his people. His expression as she repudiated him. Such…such sorrow and anger and pain. His voice vibrating through her as he spoke to her in the darkness. Horror flooded through Freja as the Elf trawled through her mind, violating every recollection, every sensation.

The Elf laughed at her, mocking, ”You are so pathetically predictable.”

Freja knew she was being manipulated. She knew she could not trust this Elf. She knew that it was unlikely that she would survive whatever humiliation the Elf had in mind. And she knew she could not let her fear, her terror, claim her duty from her. She forced herself to think of her king and her duty. Only that and Naiore’s smile was contemptuous.

What followed was marked by few such was the intensity of the battle unfolding around them. Those that did saw only snatches, brief glimpses into the contest between Naiore Dannan and the Shieldmaiden of Rohan. It started inauspiciously but once Freja sank into her own body, it took on a new quality. She made less errors. Her terror ebbed, drained away. Naiore’s smile diminished and then vanished as she realised the Shieldmaiden was no longer responding to her manipulations.

Back and forth they went, ranging across the field until Naiore found a way through the Shieldmaiden’s defences. That much was inevitable. An Elf with centuries to hone her swordplay and dread abilities was always going to best a Mortal no matter how gifted she might be.

She shoved Freja back hard and pounced, ready to drive Celebrimbor’s sword through her. Naiore unleashed a wave of terror that should have had her gibbering. Instead, though, the mortal bared her teeth at her and she realised that the woman was saying something. Her eyes narrowed.

”You sing?” she hissed down at the mortal, astonished, ”You go to your death singing?”

The woman did not stop to answer her. Instead, her eyes were locked on the long curved expanse of the sword Naiore had raised to deal the final blow. She stared at it, unblinking, singing in the guttural tongue these horse brigands used, teeth bared. Uncowed. The Shieldmaiden was unbroken. It made no sense to her. How was this possible in such a weak creature?

Intrigued, Naiore withdrew, rising to her feet and backing away. The Shieldmaiden rolled to her feet. She stared at Naiore for a long moment and then her attention shifted to something she saw behind Naiore’s. She took off at a lope for whatever it was and Naiore turned to watch her. The Shieldmaiden had espied her King, she discovered. The Ravennor of Mordor paused at that. She had no intention of honouring her offer at the time it was made and yet it was being fulfilled all the same. Of course, she could even now bring it undone.

The temptation to take the Shieldmaiden here and now, from this field, to somewhere where she could truly study her was palpable. There would be undeniable pleasure in properly breaking her. Such mortals were a rare treat. And yet, as her interest sharpened into a darker lust, something else intruded. Something far more powerful even than her. Naiore snarled openly at the pleasure now denied to her and then turned away, stalking through the battle as if it no longer mattered. To Naiore Dannan, at least, it did not. She had another task to see to.

Freja’s progress towards Théoden was arduous. The combat around the King was vicious and she was on foot. She had no chance to look behind her to see if that Elvish horror hunted her. Her mind felt raw and bloodied, as if it had been shattered and stuck back together all wrong. As she fought her way towards her king and his glorious horse, she did so expecting to feel Naiore’s sword slide through her. It did not come, though, and so she gained Théoden alive.

Freja wheeled about to gauge the disposition of the forces around them. The Rohirrim were scattered in thin wedges, the lines now utterly lost. A tight knot of Shieldmaidens were with her still, Vorda amongst them. At a cry, Freja turned and briefly glimpsed what she thought was Éowyn in the press. A sudden searing sting at her left hip, however, drew Freja’s attention down.

”THE LINES! FORM THE LINES! FREGA, FORM THE LINES!” Théoden bellowed at her and yet all she could do was stare at what lay in her greaves.

Her vision swum, the wicked dart she had been peering at blurred, as Snowmane’s rump buffeted her. Then came a terrible scream, like the world was cracking open. It drove her to her knees, her own throat bloody as she screamed with it, wrenching her helm free in agonised madness. Blood ran in thick rivulets from her ears and her left hip had already locked, her flesh burning. A tremendous weight slammed into her back and she crumpled beneath it.
Last edited by elora on Mon Aug 08, 2016 5:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Legacy Prequel - The Ranger & The Shieldmaiden

Postby elora » Mon Aug 08, 2016 5:30 pm

3019, III – March 8 – Paths of the Dead and Beyond

The air upon the Dimholt Road was thick and close. With the tall stones beckoning, the dark firs, large and ancient, filled the air with a heavy piney resin while their overreaching crowns let little light of the morning through. The road at first was two horses wide, and while Aragorn and Halbarad rode together at the front, Mecarnil and Berendil rode the fourth rank and were mostly silent. Berendil‘s mind was held by the thought of Freja, and he held to the slim hope they would meet again in victory. Behind them rode Hanasian and Darhias, a young stealthy Ranger whose ancestry was said to have strains of the Rhuadurian royal line. Darhias at first peppered Hanasian with questions about the Shieldmaidens, and Hanasian answered with what he knew. In answering them, Hanasian realized Darhias was too interested for this to be passing curiosity.

”Not you too! Who I wonder?” Hanasian inquired by Darhias gave no reply no matter how hard Hanasian stared at him.

Hanasian thought back to what he had seen of Darhias at camp. A few paces more, and Hanasian nodded his head, ”Ah, sandy-haired one Berendil had interrupted. You watched her from the crowd. Why do the women of Rohan draw the attention of us Dunedain men of the North? You and Vorda, Berendil and Freja, my father and my mother, Aragorn and Éowyn... although I'm not sure about that last one…”

Hanasian drifted off in thought before Darhias broke is silence, “Unlike Berendil and Freja, Vorda likely doesn’t know who I am. I’m just another Ranger.”

Hanasian only shook his head as a large pinecone fell from high above, bouncing off a stone and hitting him in the boot. The chatter of a squirrel could be heard as if laughing… Laughing perhaps at men moving toward the Path of the Dead? Other than the gusts of wind far up in the crowns of the tall trees, it was the last sound they heard other than their own passage. It had become eerily quiet.

From then on, the Grey Company was silent but for the calming words to their increasingly uneasy horses. It wasn’t until they came to the door that the silence was broken…

"The way is shut. It was made by those who are Dead, and the Dead keep it, until the time comes. The way is shut,” an old man declared and if he was not already dead, he died soon after his warning.

The horses were keen to bolt at the sound of his voice, but the soothing words from Legolas and the sons of Elrond calmed then. Halbarad declared said he could foresee his death beyond the door, but Berendil thought that was likely true of all of them. Dark thoughts filled their minds. Yet Aragorn, their chieftain and heir of Isildur, challenged the door. He calmed his steed and together they passed into its darkness without waiver. One by one the Company followed him into the darkness.

Once inside the air closed in hard and still around them, and now the Rangers longed for the thick piney air of the Dimholt Road. But they remained true as Aragorn pushed forth down the narrow track with his torch held high over his head. Even its light struggled against the very air to light the way. Elladan followed behind at the rear, ensuring the dwarf Gimli was not left behind as he muttered direly into his beard. Twisted dark fears seeped into the minds of the men and it sapped their strength. It took all they had to keep their horses from breaking free from them.

Long did they walk a seemingly endless dark road until suddenly it seemed they had entered a chamber. The air became even colder and dryer and the walls fell away so that the light of Aragorn’s torch could not even touch them. Aragorn cast about this strange place until his torch lit up a long-dead man in battle finery,

Hanasian whispered to no one in particular, ”Baldor.”

Berendil stared at flickering torch light playing over the armour of the fallen Prince of Rohan. Suddenly he saw Freja’s face, surrounded by her helm. He blinked and strained to look again, but she was not there. Only the chalky dry skull of the man Hanasian mentioned. Aragorn spoke a little about him before summoned the dead to the Stone of Erech. A chill fell over them as if an icy hand of death sought to grab them. Halbarad nodded knowingly as the torches went out. Their fate rested now upon Aragorn and the strength of his will to hold the Dead to their oath. Almost by the sense of smell did Aragorn lead them through. After some way, the sound of water dripping. When a few drops fell upon them as they passed, a sense of relief came to them. For until then, there was only the dread feeling of the Dead upon their ghostly horses pressing in behind them.

It was more than a relief to come forth into the Morthond Vale. The headwaters of the River Morthond splashed fiercely upon the stones from high above, to pass them into a deep cut ravine near where their track wandered. Emerging from the darkness to the fresh damp air filled the men with gladness. But the dead were close behind them, and Aragorn called them on to push on hard to the Stone of Erech. The Grey Company rode hard through the vale with the icy breath of the dead upon their backs.

It was well into the night when they came to the stone and halted. Berendil had finally managed to shake the ill vision of Freja lying dead in her armour somewhere on the fields of Eastfold, twisted and bloodied by an Easterling’s malice. Hanasian and Mecarnil wore grim expressions but said nothing, while Darhias and the other Rangers were still deep in thought. They were quickly shaken to life by Aragorn’s words and that of a far off voice that sounded as if it was straining to die. The realization that the Dead wished to fulfil their oath took some of the lingering fear from them and their horses and it seemed the iciness had receded. They stayed there for the rest of the night, but little sleep would they get. The thoughts and visions they had experienced while taking the paths were too near and vivid for them to push aside easily. Broken slumber was all they could manage before a pale light appeared in the east. Silently they arose to ready to ride again, aware of what they rode into.

They pressed hard on their ride through the dark days toward Pelargir. Their journey was swift for they stopped little for rest, and by nightfall they had gained the Fords of Ciril and crossed the River Ringlo. Rest would have been welcome then but they made haste for the armies of Mordor had already advanced into Lebannin. They had come just in time to battle them at the Fords at Linhir. Once routed, the enemy was pursued back toward Pelargir.

As they approached Pelargir in the dim darkness, Aragorn could see the ships of the Corsairs approaching. But Aragorn, the Grey Company, and the Army of the Dead came fast unlooked for. After a quick fight, they had reached the quay just in time. They had grappled the first ship and kept it from leaving the dock, but the second had set out upon the first sign of trouble. It soon was far to the east bank of the river. The Company battled on the first ship while archers on the second ship fired their arrows at the attacking Rangers. Aragorn called to the King of the Dead to attack the remaining incoming ships, but not to kill any man on the ships that were in chains. They abided his order, and soon claimed the trailing ships as they started to turn. Only one of these ships ran aground while the others were brought in by the slaves.

There was only one ship left that was held by the Corsairs. It tried to make a run upriver, but a counter wind came up and they could not make headway. The three elves stood apart on the river’s edge, taking aim and sending sure arrows away to the second ship. One by one the Corsair archers fell.

Some hardy seamen of Lebannin, seeing that the shadowy dead had moved with Aragorn, came from hiding and rallied their strength. They now came forth and joined in the battle of Pelargir. One brought pitch and flame, and the three elves set their arrows alight and fired them into the back of the second ship still making way upriver. After several arrows, the ship began to burn. It was not long before its sails were alight and the oarsmen were crying out as the men of Umbar jumped into the swift currents of the Anduin. Few survived this as the river itself seemed to have turned its wrath onto them. The currents and undertows pulled their mailed bodies under.

The fight was a victory for the West, and would prevent an ill turn to the battle that would befall Minas Tirith and the fields of Anorien. The Dead had fulfilled their oath, and received their release by Aragorn. A sound of relief could be heard as their ghostly swords and shields fell away and they dissipated in the rising wind. With their parting, the brown-grey haze gave way in the southerly gusts and the light of the sun could be seen. Yet little rest was taken, for wounds had to be treated and the ships gathered.

The seamen of Pelargir now came forth and bowed to Aragorn, the master of the Dead, for the fear had fallen a way. Now they now worked tirelessly to ready the captured Corsair ships, and some of their own. With favourable winds and the desire of the former slaves to fight as free men, they with intensity and Aragorn hoped to arrive at the Harlond in time for battle. Plans were drawn to set out at dawn on the morning breeze, but this night they sought much needed rest as the armies of the southern fiefs gathered to embark.

There was little talk as they sat. Some set to tending and repairing their weapons for the doom that awaited them. Others ate the food that the people of Pelargir had brought to them. Hanasian wrote some before putting his journal away. Berendil and Darhias smoked the last of the pipeweed they had brought with them, heads bowed in a conversation that no one else could hear. Mecarnil guessed it would have something to do with the proud Shieldmaidens of Rohan.

Moving through the Grey Company, Halbarad came to them and said, ”I fear there will be little chance for rest in the days ahead. Sleep whilst you can.”

He gave them a nod before seeking his own sleep. Even Aragorn took leave of the three elves by the riverbank and lay down with his eyes closed. Legolas, with the sons of Elrond sat and talked through the night of the undying lands and their desires to go there. Elladan and Elrohir had both beheld the sea before in their ventures to Mithlond. Legolas of the Woodland Realm, however, had only now seen the wide seas to their south and smelled the salt air. He would sit there all night long filled with a strange wonderment and curious longing.

Morning came too soon for the men of the Grey Company. Their desire for sleep was high now the breath of the Dead had been removed from their backs. Still the Company readied themselves and the ships were soon loaded with grim soldiers and provisioned by the men of Lebannin and were ready.

One of the hardy seamen who first helped them in the battle looked at the signs and said to Aragorn, ”The Valar work in your favour! A fair southerly is coming, and the tide is coming in! We should get the sails high and ride the tidal current as far as we can.

Aragorn nodded and signalled to the Company an immediate departure. They set off before any hazy light in the east could be discerned. It would be a dark day once they sailed north.

The steady southerly wind filled the sails and pressed their ships hard and fast as the now free men rowed with strength. The river was calm, but they were moving with the mighty Anduin in Spring so the water was high and the current swift. With urgency they pressed forth yet they found the battle upon the Pelennor well under way despite their speed. It had raged throughout the day and the outcome now was uncertain at best.

The arrival of the Rohirrim had raised hopes, but the fall of King Théoden and the heavy casualties suffered by a valiant ally hopelessly outnumbered meant that the situation was now in question. Éomer, the new King of Rohan, was stricken by grief having found his beloved sister fallen upon the battlefield. He blew loud a horn and cried for ruin and death in a voice that was cold and fell. Those who were nearby that still had, or could master, a horse to ride came to him, answering with a ferocious roar.

Vorda, separated like so many others in the course of the battle, heard Éomer’s horn through the din. She glimpsed the King’s banner held high by his standardbearer and she pushed her horse forward to join his host. Among them were her sister shieldmaidens and there was a terrible fire in their eyes. They thirsted for vengeance after what they had witnessed. The death of their King and Lady Éowyn…and Freja, their commander crushed by the King’s horse…so many of their sisters slain in the tumult around Théoden as Mordor’s forces strove to bring him down. They set off hard into a horde of orcs that moved towards the city, a shieldmaiden’s battlesong thick in their throats and death in their eyes..

Swift was their destruction and they scattered in fear of the wild Rohirrim host as they drove forth. But confusion and mayhem filled the fields in this hour, for ill horns were sounded from afar and a host of Easterlings came at a run from the north issuing out of the ruins of Osgiliath. They were soon matched by the fair sound of the horns of Dol Amroth. Éomer and his host had driven far and had slew their number four fold but they were now diminished. They had pushed hard and were to the east of the city nearing the river. They had broken up a host of Haradian foot soldiers and scattered them, but now they now rallied around their fell mumakil beasts of war. Few had been felled, and they were strength uncounted coming against the Rohirrim, and they took their toll.

A shieldmaiden was trampled, and the standardbearer of Éomer fell from arrows coming from high upon a beast. Vorda was thrown when her horse reared up before a beast and she fell hard. Her head swam as she tried to regain her breath. She rolled away and kept hold of her horse, and picked up the King’s standard. Dizzy and hurting she remounted and rode forth to stand by Éomer.

It was the infantry of Gondor that held the ground by the south wall of the city that came forth to turn the tide again. They showed no fear of the mumakil and they had long spears that they threw at the eyes of the beasts. When one was hit, they would turn hard and stomp away, mortally wounded, from the men of Gondor. Yet this was a gain shortlived for now the charging Easterlings joined the battle and the tide was again inexorably turning in favour of Mordor.

It was then a wavering cry went up from the city walls. The Corsairs of Umbar! Hearts sank among the men of Gondor. It could only mean the southern fiefdoms had fallen and they now come to pick spoils from Minas Tirith. Éomer squinted south and his keen eyes could see the black sails on mighty ships of which the likes he had never seen before approaching fast. Instead of his spirit failing, it filled him with a stronger, ever grimmer remorse.

”To Death and the ending of the world!” he cried and it rallied his remaining riders.

But the ships filled the armies of Mordor with joy and the Easterlings began a terrible war chant. They had pushed hard with no quarter and had forced their way between Éomer and the riders of Prince Imrahil. The Prince had to hold fast and set defence but he was slowly pushed back toward the city. Éomer and his diminished host were now alone and surrounded. He swore that if there could be one last feat he would do, it would be to meet these Corsairs on the quay and die fighting them. But his numbers had waned and the enemy numbers swelled. Éomer dismounted and they formed a shield wall on a hillock. Vorda planted the standard high and true, and they braced for the onslaught of another Easterling horde coming from the north.

With swords clashing and bows twanging, his archers fought to their last arrow before taking up swords. And as the last hope of Éomer King was beginning to fade, a cry of joy was raised from the high walls of the city. Éomer again looked at the approaching ships and he could see nw a fine standard in the sunlight that followed the southerly wind. A silver crown with seven stars and a white tree emblazoned on a deep blue banner fluttered in the wind. And he was sure he could discern Aragorn there on the prow of the lead ship with Anduril drawn and held high!

At the sight of the Corsair ships being manned by the Grey Company, the enemy wavered and were dismayed. But they fought on with ever more ferocity in their desperation in a renewed attempt to overrun Éomer’s hillock. At the quays, the ships began to land and the southern armies issued forth. Aragorn with the Dunedain, the sons of Elrond, Gimli and Legolas, freed slaves, and some hardy men from Lebannin led the attack and they charged into the waiting southrons. They quickly overwhelmed the garrison at the docks, and charged up the wall and out into the field. Aragorn shouted as he pointed to Éomer and the standard of Rohan with his sword.

’To the Rohirrim!”

A cry went up and they charged forth harder into the enemy. There was a mile of Southron and Easterling footsoldiers between them, and the way was hard and bloody. For having lost hope in the coming of the men of the west on the ships, some broke and ran and were hewn as they fled. Others fiercely stood their ground and fought on to the death. The fight was grim and many men fell. Berendil was nearly hit in the head by a mace, but his skill in movement saved himself from death. He did suffer a deep gash on his cheekbone that bled hard. It was difficult to keep order in their approach but they slowly made their way toward Éomer.

Meanwhile, from the west, Imrahil again pressed forth toward Éomer, and as the hours passed with battle unceasing, the Rohirrim on the hillock were relieved. To see the three standards flying in the breeze on the hillock was a sight to behold! The meeting of Aragorn and Éomer made hearts glad, and those that stood cheered and had joy for a brief moment. Hanasian smiled even as he gasped for breath as he looked upon the three leaders. Berendil joined him and looked about. His eyes locked onto the eyes of Vorda, and suddenly his breath left him.

‘Where was Freja?’ he thought as he looked at Vorda. Her face was covered in dirt and blood, and rents in her armour were deep and terrible. He reached out to brush away a clot of dirt stuck to her cheek. For a brief moment she was going to turn away but instead she stood in place, tall and proud, the banner of the King of Rohan in her gauntleted grip. A slight touch and the dirt fell to the ground. Yet before he could ask of Freja, Aragorn swung his blade to deflect an arrow meant for Éomer King.

Hanasian slapped Berendil on the shoulder, ”We have work yet to do!”

That arrow was a reminder that the fight was still on and that the battle was uncertain. More arrows rained down and the Rohirrim shields stopped most of them. The Prince turned and set forth toward the enemy that had rallied and returned to the fight. Aragorn and Éomer called forth any who were near and they charged hard into the flank of the regrouping Easterlings.

Swords were broken and helms shattered. The blood of men, friend and foe, spilled forth through the air and poured onto the ground. All order was lost and men went this way and that fighting one on one, two on three, and small groups in melee. Berendil and Darhias were together as they charged into some Easterlings that were battling some Rohirrim. Grievous was the blow that felled Halbarad even as he slew four Easterlings. Mecarnil was last seen driving against a large southron with a spear. Gareth took an Easterling war club in the head while he fought another and fell hard. Aragorn and Eomer were fierce and few would stand before them.

They joined in a fight some Dunedain and some Rohirrim were having with a desperate and vicious band of Variags. They fought to the last man. Once defeated, a chance to take a breath was had. Berendil gasped for air as he broke off an arrow that had found him. He looked over to see Darhias wrapping his arm with some torn leather when he was jumped by a raving orc. He saw Darhias stand victorious. Berendil had no time to nod. Southron fanatics were charging and he felled one of them before being knocked back. His head swam as his vision got blurry and hearing muffled.

He did not fall, but staggered toward the Rohirrim standard. He shook his head as his sword moved as if it had a mind if its own. He turned and twisted, and as his head started to clear, he realised there was someone that had his back. With a final blow an orc fell, and there was a lull. He turned to the one at his back and saw it was Vorda. She had the standard in one hand and a sword in the other and watched out intently.

He turned to stand at her back and watch out for the enemy as he gasped, ”Do you know where Freja is? Have you seen her?”

His words seemed to stun Vorda. She had not seen her, not since she was with King Théoden. She did not know where Freja was now. In fact, she realized that she did not know where any of her sisters were now. Only one of her number was still with her. And in her gut she knew a sickening dread for if Freja was not here, there could be only one reason. The sound of shattering steel snapped Vorda from her thoughts. She turned and swiftly ran a Southron through as he charged towards Éomer. A movement, a sequence, Freja had drilled her on relentlessly.

Her answer to Berendil was halting, ”I do not know…”

Yet Berendil did not hear her for he was fighting hand to hand with a particularly frantic Easterling. The man used a rock to batter Berendil way and as the Easterling regained his footing he waved the few Easterlings still alive to him. Berendil staggered to his feet and soon put paid to that as the Easterlings instead ran away. Berendil gave chase as they fled for the river. They ran even harder as the fight continued. While the day lasted, the battle continued like this, flaring and then subsiding only to flare again until the sun sank into the west.

Sunset it threw deep red beams to the east under the darkness of Mordor. The sky and the ground and the river all as if they were giving up the blood that had been spilled this day. In the hour that night fell upon the field of battle, victory was at last held by the Men of the West! Those of the enemy who had not been slain had fled, and those of the West who still stood were exhausted beyond hope. But as the sound of steel fell away, the sounds of the wounded and dying now filled the air. It would be a long night before the light of day again came to the field. Only a brief rest was to be had to regain enough strength to go and seek the living among the dead.

Berendil was found sitting by the riverbank with several dead Easterlings around him. Though he had a severe headache, and his cheek felt like fire, he waived off attendance to his wound, directing them instead to those in true need. He went into the night walking about, making those injured beyond all hope comfortable in their passing. Others he assisted to get to the city. As he looked over the dead strewn across the field, his one prevailing thought was to find Freja.

In time he found a shieldmaiden lying face down with a spear in her back. He gently pulled the spear out of her, and little blood seeped out. He knelt down and rolled her over, brushing the matted bloody braids from her face. It was not Freja but one who had taunted him from the fire when he had sought Freja out a second time. He could see that the spear was not the cause of her death, but a blade had hewn her neck. He lay her straight and folded her arms across her chest. Finding her sword next to her, he placed the hilt in her hands and nodded as he brushed her cheek. He then tore a red cloth from the brow of a dead Southron she had slain and tied it to his sword before pushing it into the ground by her. She would be given her full due in honour.

3019, III – March 16 - Pelennor Fields

Come the dawn, Berendil discovered that he had sat down by a dead mumakil and fallen asleep. The raucous sound of a crow awoke him. They were everywhere now, calling and clicking and flying in great black drifts here and there across the field. Soldiers were moving the bodies of their dead. They continued to bring in the wounded whilst others set fire to the enemy dead. Berendil rose to his feet and returned to his search. Where in all this carnage was Freja? Did she live? Would he find her dead? As he wondered, images of the woman he sought flashed through his mind. The firelight in her brilliant eyes. That impudent smirk. Her searing anger and fierce pride. They way she prowled, bloodthirsty and deadly as the hunting cats rumoured to live far to the south.

Berendil wandered far and wide across the fields, searching through the day. He found five shieldmaidens of lesser rank before his grief and weariness overtook him. He cared for each in honour and marked each where they lay as he did the first. But he saw no sign of Freja. As the sun swung high across the sky and crawled westward, Berendil sat upon a patch of bloody grass. He had no more strength. All he could do is watch over the fields before he lay upon his back and closed his eyes.

As the sun westered, men still searched. The wounded had either been carried away to the city or they had perished and now the soldiers searched the field for their dead. Berendil was shaken by a boot. He slowly opened his eyes and saw see a face he knew. It was Darhias!

”Berendil! We thought you lost! I feared the worst when I saw you laying here! Are you wounded?”

Berendil stood and looked around in grief. He answered in a whisper, ”How bad?”

“Very. We lost Halbarad and Gareth is in the healer’s tent. He suffered a hard blow to the head…[/i]”

Berendil's sorrow was stark upon his face and Darhias fell quiet for a time before he continued, ”Mecarnil is missing too. But it was much worse for the men of Gondor, for the fight started in Osgiliath. Lord Faramir and his men fell back but long did he hold the Rammath Echor. For two days! This was when we met the enemy at Linhir and drove them back through Lebennin. Lord Faramir was gravely wounded the day we took the ships, Lord Denethor died in grief, and the city was besieged. Their losses have yet to be counted.”

“What of Rohan? The Shieldmaidens? I have found five dead on the field this day. Have you seen Freja?”

The grim look on Darhias’s face broke as he said, ”Éomer is now King of Rohan. Their losses are still being counted. Only two of the Shieldmaidens were brought to the healing tent. They were masters. Freja was not among them. Of the others, I do not know.”

A sudden thought struck Berendil, ”Théoden… where did he fall?”

“There, maybe a mile in front of the city gate,”
Darhias pointed across the field and Berendil squinted into the distance.

He then said, ”The Shieldmaidens who did not ride with Éomer would have stayed there!”

Without further word, Berendil started walking that way. Darhias took a deep breath and called after him, ”You will find that battlefield by the stench of the Morgul beast. Even the crows will not feast on its flesh!”

Berendil nodded but did not look back. He pointed to his left to draw Darhias’ attention to someone nearby on their knees grieving. Darhias nodded and turned and walked toward them. As he got closer, he could see it was Vorda. She was grieved over another fallen sister. As he approached, she did not look up at him, but knew he was there. She wept freely as she touched the cold cheek of the fallen shieldmaiden.

”We knew each other since we were young girls learning to ride. We challenged each other in everything! We joined the Order together.”

Darhias knelt beside Vorda and looked at her friend. The wound was to her side, a deep cut by a spear or sword jab. Looking at her face, she looked at peace. But when Vorda waved away a fly that tried to land on her, Darhias thought he saw her move.

He blinked, unsure, but when her eyelid twitched, he stood and called out to a couple soldiers with a cart nearby, ”Come! Bring this woman to care! Hurry! She lives!

Vorda blinked as he turned to her and said, ”She is not dead, but her wounds are grave. Let us get her on this cart.”

The woman had bled much and gave a moan as she was moved. The soldier looked at her wounds and was surprised she yet lived. Of stern stuff were the women of Rohan fashioned, it seemed. She was placed with care on the cart with other gravely wounded and the soldiers started to look for others.

Vorda, though, would have none of this and her voice was steely for all the grief still upon her face, ”No! She goes in now! I will take her. You go look for others!”

The soldiers looked from her to Darhias as the weary Shieldmaiden advanced. Darhia nodded and waved them on. It was a fight they didn’t need or want. Vorda lifted the cart and started to walk, but she was fatigued beyond her strength. Darhias was as well, yet he relieved Vorda of one of the rails and they both walked the cart toward the city.

Berendil came to where the beast lay and found the grass was stained black with its blood. The dead were being moved and the enemy dead were being stacked by the beast. He looked at the corpses of the Rohirrim lying side by side, seeing only a few more Shieldmaidens there. None were Freja. She was one of many of the missing.

Berendil looked closely at the dead shieldmaidens, and recognised some of them from that day in Dunharrow. He looked at each and would remember their faces. Suddenly he heard a man behind him ranting in anger as he stomped about

”Why have these fine horses not been attended to!”

“They are dead, sir. We tend to the dead soldiers”
a Gondorian soldier replied.

The man of Rohan, young with bright yellow hair that was tangled by battle, gritted his teeth and said loudly, ”These horses no less warriors than those they bore into battle! We will tend to them now! This horse over here… it is the King’s horse!

Berendil looked over at the horse the Rohirrim had named. A white creature it had been, truly stupendous he guessed in life. It lay still now, limbs stiffened in death, with another horse beside it. Only then did Berendil espy a booth beneath it. A boot he knew. He was assailed by a dreadful vision that had come upon him as he walked the Paths of the Dead. So many times had he seen Freja’s death, in countless cruel and bloody ways and now he feared the worse.

He called out, ”A soldier lies beneath these horses! Let us move them!”

Two soldiers from Gondor and the man from Rohan quickly came over. As four worked to move the horses Berendil’s heart sank into his boots. The bootleg and breeches he recognised! He lay down and tried to look under Snowmane but could see little more than a second mangled bloody leg. He reached under and felt the ankle. It was shattered, but it still trickled fresh warm blood!

He cried, ”Alive!”

This was not now heard on the field for it had been over a day. Berendil’s cry drew any nearby within hearing.

The man from Rohan ordered, ”Let us move this honoured horse with care so we may tend the valiant warrior beneath if they indeed be alive!”

Snowmane was a heavy horse and with the kingly raiment the weight was vast. It wasn’t until another rider of Rohan came with his horse that they could move the horse. Berendil could now see her hair… the matted braids and torcs, and he knew it was Freja! It took several men to lift Snowmane and as the horse was moved she made an dreadful gurgling noise. Blood spewed from her mouth and nose as she coughed but somehow, she still laboured to breathe in short, shallow bursts.

Berendil cried, ”She lives! Freja Lives!”

He stood and waved for a cart but there was none. Still the cry went up, travelling through the Rohirrim upon the field who echoed Berendil’s words and chanted.

”Freja Lives!”

It swiftly spread across the field until it reached Vorda and Darhias as they trudged toward the gates. Vorda was filled with sudden wild joy. Darhias too found the energy to smile.

”They need a cart! Come! Let us go!” Vorda cried, and Darhias could see that they were the closest with a cart, so they wheeled around and started toward where the men were gathering. All thought of exhaustion had left them and they moved swiftly.

Berendil knelt by Freja as the hurried towards them. Her lips moved but she could voice no words. He pushed back the woven fire of her braids, darkened by so much blood, and sought to soothe her. Her skin was ablaze and her eyes were closed as she wandered dark paths.

He whispered, ”We will get you to Aragorn! He is a great healer!”

At this he saw her eyes move beneath her eyelids almost as if drawn by his voice. One eye opened, a barest crescent of searing blue visible as she searched, reached. He could feel her straining.

Finally her voice came in a soft, agonized gurgle, ”…Théoden… Éowyn…”

“Hush…. Say no more… Lady Éowyn is in the city. She lives,”
Berendil whispered, soothing the clammy, slick skin of her brow.

He wasn’t sure of that, but thought he heard someone say it was true. He could not say what the fate of King Théoden was. Perhaps he lay grievously injured as well. Her gaze wandered momentarily, opening further. She sighed something that might have been his name as her eyes closed again.

Vorda and Darhias soon arrived and Vorda dropped her grip upon the cart to run to Freja’s side. She fell to her knees with reckless haste, thudding down hard and reaching for Freja. Again, Berendil saw Freja’s eyes flare. Almost as if she sensed her pupil’s return. He watched her try to smile, and if such a feat were possible then this woman would do it. Freja’s hand twitched before she tried to lift it but that was too much for she grimaced in pain and went limp, senseless once more.

As Vorda ran her hands over Freja’s battered armour, Berendil considered Freja’s broken body. How she could be lifted or moved in such a state was beyond his comprehension. As Vorda and Berendil bent over Freja, a healer from Minas Tirith found the cart.

”Two here,” he said as he peered within, ”If they lived before, they do so no longer.”

He signalled to have the dead placed with the line of corpses.

At his words, Vorda’s head rose and she looked back to the cart stricken. Darhias, though, had remained and he knew that the two the healer spoke of did not include Vorda’s friend. He waved her back to Freja as the healer advanced on the grievously wounded Shieldmaiden.

”Well now…this is a conundrum. This one should not live.”

“Yet she does,”
Vorda growled, as ferocious as the woman who had taught her, ”And you be well served to see that continues.”

The healer blinked at such sudden aggression but Berendil reached across to steady Vorda’s sudden bristling anger.

”We will do what we can, Vorda. And to do that, we need to find a way to safely move her. Will you permit us that?”

Vorda peered at him as if she had forgotten who he was but then nodded, recovering herself. At that Berendil beckoned the others closer and they set to work. Whilst he ensured Freja was lifted with all care to the cart, Darhias saw the two shieldmaidens that had perished within were set down and covered with a blanket from a horse. Thankfully, Freja remained unconscious during this for there was no way to spare her the agony their actions would cause.

Once she was set within, Berendil joined Darhias at the cart rails and they set off. Vorda soon found them, hurrying past with a banner she had managed to recover so that she could walk before them with it held high.

”Make way! Make way for the Shieldmaidens of Rohan!” Darhias cried.

Berendil repeated this call and they took in turns as they slowly progressed towards the city gates. By the time they reached the city, the path was lined with soldiers and citizens alike who had beheld the mighty cavalry charge. They bowed their heads as the cart passed for word had already spread of the terrible price paid by this ally from the north.

No sooner had they reached the tent set up for the wounded were they intercepted by a High Guard of the Citadel. He was helmless with a bandage around his head and his arm, and yet he was on duty at the gate.

He shook his head at them and said in a loud voice, ”Nay to the tent! It is full! Come to the Houses of Healing in honour!”

He passed his duty to another guard as he strode out to meet them. With a grim glance at the cart and those who had accompanied it, he walked ahead of Vorda through the crowded streets of the city and took up the call.

”Make way for the Shieldmaidens of Rohan!” his voice rang out, echoing over the stone and cobbled streets.

And so it was with great honour that the three shieldmaidens came in to the city of Minas Tirith, and once they came to the doors of the Houses of Healing, they were tended with great care. Vorda stayed with her master and her friend, both hovering near death. As far as she knew, she was the only living shieldmaiden here. And she was unscathed!

Watching on in grim silence from the door were Darhias and Berendil. Berendil could not tear his eyes from Freja as they frantically cut her battered armour away. Darhias, meanwhile, studied Vorda hover like a hawk. How she was still on her feet was a marvel. As for the healers, their grim expressions said much.

This terrible scene was interrupted by a familiar voice when Hanasian arrived, ”There you are! You are needed at our camp.”

Darhias scarcely turned from Vorda to challenge, ”And who put you in charge?”

“Aragorn. He is busy here with the wounded, and wants all our brethren gathered by days end.”

Berendil bestirred himself to ask, ”Where’s Mecarnil?”

“Not sure. Now I’ve found you two, he’s the only one unaccounted for. Let’s go.”

Both Darhias and Berendil looked again back into the room. They could do nothing here and were not permitted in, so they turned and followed Hanasian away. They hoped to have a chance to return before too long.

When the three arrived at the Dunedain camp, Mecarnil had arrived. Less Gareth in the care of healers, and Halbarad who was slain, their numbers were now complete. Both Berendil and Darhias lay down on the ground and surrendered to their long fatigue.
Last edited by elora on Tue Aug 09, 2016 12:36 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Legacy Prequel - The Ranger & The Shieldmaiden

Postby elora » Mon Aug 08, 2016 6:29 pm

3019, III – March 18 – Houses of Healing

Berendil walked at a swift clip that made his harness jingle as he sped through the halls. The Houses of Healing was a crowded place still, swirling with those who tended the wounded from the recent battle. The press slowed him down and revealed just how thin his patience was after two near sleepless nights. Jaw clenched, he persisted, and traced a path through the throngs until he reached the door he sought. Without hesitation he strode into the room to discover none other than Rohan’s new king standing at the foot of Freja’s bed.

Éomer looked careworn and weary. The loss of Théoden had settled kingship upon his shoulders at a bleak, dark time. There was little way any could prepare for that. His sister’s injury, too, had clearly taken a toll upon him and yet he was clad for battle just as Berendil was. His helm dangled from one hand, the other upon the foot of Freja’s bed.

She lay upon the bed very still. Her hair had been combed out and loosely braided. It coiled, a stream of woven fire, beside her shoulder. Battle had been washed from her and her eight torcs had been set upon a nearby table. Her skin was white as marble and slick with sweat. Her flesh was afire with the Witch-King’s malice.

”Naiore Dannan could not slay her,” Éomer murmured, shaking his head. He broke off his study of Freja’s forlorn repose to consider Berendil, ”I am told you found her and brought her here.”

“Not just I, Sire,”
Berendil replied, ”Others lent aid too once we knew she was there and alive.”

Éomer searched his face, ”Vorda tells me that you sought her even in battle. In my experience, Vorda rarely misspeaks.”

Berendil felt compelled to explain, ”I gave Freja my word that I would look for her.”

The King’s brows rose, ”When did she begin befriending Rangers?”

Berendil sighed, ”We did not part as friends, Sire.”

Éomer offered him a small and rueful smile, ”You wouldn’t be the first to attract Freja’s ire. Let us hope that you are not the last.”

The King turned his attention back to Freja, ”So few of her number remain in the South. If it goes as badly in the north…”

Éomer shook his head again and turned away for the table. He moved the torcs about for a while, ”She was a wilful scamp as a child…always into that which she should not be. We were often at odds, then. I did not know then that she would come to be as dear to me as my own sister.”

When Éomer brought his head up again to meet Berendil’s eyes, the Ranger was struck by the warmth he saw, ”You have my thanks, Ranger of the North. What is your name?”

“It is Berendil, Sire.”

“You have the look of a man about to ride to the Black Gate, Berendil. Whatever may greet us in that cursed land, know that I nor Rohan will not soon forget your kindness to Freja.”

Berendil had no idea what to say to that but Éomer did not tarry for a reply. With a final nod for Berendil, he strode from the room. Alone again, Berendil looked back to Freja and was struck again by how frail she appeared.

If she did not wake soon, they said she might not wake at all. Snowmane had all but crushed her yet Aragorn had said that only her hip would likely linger. She was strong, vital, not easily bowed by man or beast. Yet her life still swung in the balance and that had nothing to do with Snowmane. Rather, it was the virulent poison that coursed through her veins. The longer she fought it, the weaker she became.

He recalled her struggle upon the broken field. Such determination, such spirit he had beheld despite her terrible injuries. But since then she had not stirred since and that was two days ago. Now her chest barely rose. Gandalf feared that the cursed Elf had done some evil to Freja’s mind, sending it spinning into a darkness that none possessed the power to call her back from. Not even Aragorn.

Tears prickled as he reached out to take her hand between his own. He lifted it to his lips and breathed in the scent of her skin. Only the faintest hint of heather was discernable now. It was as if she was fading away, taking everything that made her who she was with her.

Not so much a flicker of an eyelid from the Shieldmaiden that had turned his life on its ear. What he would not give to watch a smile flicker across her face, in genuine amusement or arch mockery. To see those eyes flash, be it with laughter or anger. To watch her stalk across the field with fierce mayhem flickering in her smile. Steps, a familiar gait, sounded in the hall beyond and Berendil closed his eyes as Vorda strode into the room.

”No change, then,” the shieldmaiden said, her voice flat with fatigue.

So great had the casualties been amongst her number that there were few able bodied to be found. Vorda was a member of an even smaller group who had somehow survived relatively unscathed. Separated from Théoden, they had been spared the Witch King of Angmar’s final onslaught. Yet more had been lost defending Théoden's body from desecration upon the field – loyal to their king beyond even in death.

Vorda had been his constant companion over the vigil of the last two days, despite her growing list of duties, but not his only companion. Other Shieldmaidens, knights of Rohan, Aragorn, Gandalf had all been here at times. Darhias too, usually seeking Vorda, and Hanasian, who was usually seeking Darhias and himself. Not to mention a seemingly endless stream of healers and lore-masters had shuttled through that door.

He opened his eyes to study Vorda and she returned his frank scrutiny with a question, ”You are to ride with the Host?”

Berendil nodded, ”And you?”

“My sisters will ride with Éomer King. I will remain.”

“Freja will not be alone,”
Berendil said, relieved.

”A noble service even if it is not battle,” Vorda said somewhat stiffly, but then her eyes fell to Freja and her tone softened, ”And she was ever kind to me, even when I thought she wasn’t.”

Berendil set Freja’s hand gently down. Tendrils of deep red hair were slicked to her temple again and these he stroked back. Pushing out a deep sigh, Berendil leaned over to press a kiss to her brow. Her skin burned against his lips. She fought on and he had to believe that she would prevail. The weight of Vorda’s scrutiny grew as Berendil straightened. Vorda had been watching him intently for the past two days. Weighing him up, silently.

”She murmured your name in her sleep,” Vorda finally said.


“We rode to war,”
the Shieldmaiden answered, ”And yet Freja dreamed of you, Ranger.”

All he could do was stare at Vorda, startled by this revelation. So cold had Freja’s final words been that he had believed her heart had hardened against him. She had told him that she did not care. Vorda narrowed her eyes at him.

”She was different after you left. I thought she was affected by Éowyn’s distress. But I when I heard your name I knew otherwise. You turned her gaze, Ranger.”

“We parted on bitter terms.”

“And yet you sought her out and remained at her side,”
Vorda replied, tilting her head.

Berendil opened his mouth to reply but hesitated as Mecarnil appeared in the door, ”We’re moving out.”

Berendil nodded, swallowing his words, and turned to study Freja one final time. Like as not he was riding to his death. Like as not, the Witch-King and Naiore Dannan would claim Freja. He shook himself from his thoughts and strode around the bed for the door. Vorda’s study continued in all this time and when he came to stand before her, her expression was impossible to read. Was she dismayed? Upset? Angry? He did not know. Perhaps she understood given the bond that had sprung up between her and Darhias. Still, he reached into his jerkin and withdrew a folded square of parchment.

This he pressed into Vorda’s hand, his eyes locked on her own, ”If she wakes…when she wakes…give her this.”

Vorda’s fingers slightly curled around it but he saw hesitancy in her eyes, ”Please, Vorda. Freja must know the truth.”

At his solemn words Vorda’s hand closed around the letter to accept it from him, ”In return, you will watch for Darhias.”

“Of course,”
Berendil replied and she gave him a nod, as if a bargain had been struck.

A short while later, as they strode out of the House of Healing, Mecarnil asked him, ”Do you think she will give Freja your letter?”

At the question, Berendil glanced up to where he knew Freja’s room to be, ”Honour… it is a Shieldmaiden’s life blood. I do not think Vorda will betray her words.”

“She seems to hold little regard for you, Berendil.”

Berendil was not sure about that for Shieldmaidens were proving notoriously difficult to read. Rather than debate the matter with Mecarnil, Berendil answered, ”She loves Freja, Mecarnil. Of that there is little doubt.”

There was companionable silence between the two Rangers as they set off. It gave Berendil time to reflect upon what they were embarking upon. A desperate gambit, likely doomed, before the Black Gate of Mordor. The road here had been a dark one and would get darker yet. Was he foolish to hope that there might yet be something brighter at its end? That he might survive this war, Freja as well, and together discover a world freed of Shadow?

His thoughts returned to the day he had set out, dispatched for the Grey Company. The daughter of his liege lord, renown for her beauty, she was already betrothed to the Hidden Prince – a dour, resentful man that Mecarnil had the dubious pleasure to serve. There was no love between the Lady Verawyn and Lord Berith. Theirs would be a match borne of necessity – politics. And yet, Lady Verawyn had not wilted under the weight of her looming duty. Beneath her delicate appearance lay a steely strength few saw.

The gift of foresight was Lady Verawyn’s. Powerful, too, of a like not seen for some time amongst their number. Perhaps the influence of the sprites and spirits that had offered them sanctuary for so many generations. No one knew, aside from the fact that it was unwise to set her counsel aside. She had come to him that morning and offered him a strange smile that was both sweet and pained.

”Fire is dangerous. It kills, it destroys, it ruins. But also does it save, protect and nurture. It can drive us from or guide us to our homes,” the Lady had told him. Strange words at the time, unable to be understood…until now. For was not Freja the fire Lady Verawyn had foreseen?

As Berendil mounted his horse to set out with the Host of the West for the Black Gate, he did so with the hope that should Freja prevail she would come to know the truth. He could rest easier in his grave with that. And should he somehow survive this desperate gambit, then perhaps he would discover the full truth of Lady Verawyn’s words.
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Re: Legacy Prequel - The Ranger & The Shieldmaiden

Postby elora » Sat Aug 13, 2016 6:05 pm

3019, III – March 18 to March 25 – The Road to Mordor

The ride from Minas Tirith was at first filled with talk but this dwindled as they neared the causeway. When they arrived at Osgiliath they discovered that it was, for the most part, a smouldering ruin. Many soldiers of Gondor who pursued the retreating armies from the Pelennor were now busy repairing the bridges and works that Mordor had hastily set in place during their attack.

Berendil looked upon the ruins, ”Oh, to have been able to see this city in its days of glory!”

Hanasian ,who rode close by, nodded, ”It would have been grand, just as Annuminas and Fornost of Arnor were in their day.”

Silence again fell as they passed to the east and Berendil was drawn into thought of Cardolan once again. He said no more while the day lasted.

Darhias rode apart from the others. He drifted from near the front toward the rear of the Host, talking to and encouraging the men on foot as he went. For someone with such a pained past, he seemed almost cheerful. The only thing Hanasian could get out of him was he may have seen Vorda almost look like she might smile at him. If there was more he did not know.

The foot soldiers made camp as the sun westered but the Dunedain pressed on with the other horsemen and they set camp at the Crossroads. Their watch was vigilant, and the proclamation of Aragorn that the lands were again held by the realm of Gondor had many emboldened yet wary. They had not seen any sign of living enemy. A corpse here, a shield there, and a well-trodden road from their retreat. Scouts returned from north and south road with the same reports. The enemy had left only their dead behind.

Hanasian, Berendil, and Darhias were sent east toward Minas Morgul. With them went several stealthy Rangers of Ithilien, and they moved slowly up the road, with men off the road on their flanks. Once they pushed on over a mile, they set their watch. If an attack was to come, most considered this the likely direction.

Aragorn and the wizard Gandalf came up as well, and though the gloomy air was heavy with fear, no life could be seen. Not even Naiore Dannan watched from the shadows.

When the order was given to burn the bridge, Berendil stepped forth, ”I will do it.”

Hanasian and Darhias stood and they too would go. Berendil went forth, torch lit. As he set fire to the aged timbers, he cried out, ”For Freja! For the Shieldmaidens!”

Hanasian and Darhias, watching the flanks, added, ”For Gondor, Rohan, and Arnor!”

Berendil threw his torch to the far end of the bridge and the three Ranger quickly retreated. Gandalf lifted his staff and the bridge exploded in flame. Greath wreaths of thick smoke rose and the dry dead grasses of the vale started to burn here and there. With a nod Aragorn turned away and they withdrew west to their secure watch and encamped.

This display of defiant strength lifted their spirits for time but the grim air of Mordor soon closed in again. sWhen they set out the next day, Berendil volunteered to take the point and scout ahead, and again, Hanasian and Darhias followed some ways behind. Along each side, the Ithilien Rangers moved through the brambles on foot, all keeping a wary eye.

The next day the scouts from Henneth Annûn warned of an ambush. The stealthy Dunedain horsemen accompanied by several riders of Rohan that rode out away west and came around by hard paths to spring the trap on their would-be assailants when they moved against the vanguard of foot soldiers coming up along the road. The fight was as intense as it was short. The enemy fled in utter defeat, with only two men of the West suffering any injury.

Darhias gained a slash on his leg from a broken branch shard. He joked while Berendil dressed the wound, suggesting that he needed to return to the Houses of Healing. Darhias’ thoughts were clearly centred on Vorda and yet his humour was lost on Berendil. He grimly finished and turned to tend to others as his thoughts circled Freja. For neither man was there time to dwell overlong on those in Minas Tirith. Any heartening from this victory again quickly faded. Each mile north they went, the harder the hand of doom pressed upon them. Heavier and heavier it grew as they passed into the desolate brown lands. Too similiar, the Wizard amongst them muttered, to the handiwork of the cursed Elf that had been absent at Minas Morgul.

Darhias fell silent, his efforts to maintain some cheer all but spent. Many of the young soldiers who he had spoken with to on the road to this hostile place now looked to him and the Dunedain for strength. Berendil found himself gazing back at Darhias in silence and he wondered if their minds turned now in the same direction: what of the Shieldmaidens that had riden with their King to this place? Even though Berendil knew she lay broken and fading, he caught himself thinking that somehow Freja would be here leading them even now. Standing tall, unflinching and unbowed and with Éomer King.

The notion helped him straighten as Aragorn called to him those whose will had withered and gave to them a new duty. If this was Naiore Dannan’s work, then she had been successful, whittling down their numbers through her pogrom of fear. And yet, there were many young faces that remained. They stared hard at Darhias and Berendil, at Hanasian and Mecarnil, and took heart in their grim duty and chose to carry on.

For the Dunedain, they each of them followed their chieftain and King without question. There there was no other duty, no other course. They had followed him through the Paths of the Dead and they would follow him into the throat of Mordor. For all of that, it had been a week now since they had departed Minas Tirith. If Freja had not stirred in that time, she would never stir again. She might already have perished and idea filled Berendil with embittered determination.

He pulled to him his recollection of their first encounter upon the field in Dunharrow. The moment he had first seen her, laughing uproariously across the field. The affection and warmth between her and the women she led. His sense of astonishment, both at what he was doing and why. If Freja was dead then he would seek her in death. It would not be long now before their approach would be met, and the silent determination on each man’s face told of the desperation of this march.

Berendil did not have any patience for the parley. He instead kept watch to the north and east expecting this to be a means to turn attention away from an attack from outside the gates. With their numbers, the battle would likely be a defensive one, and if every man gave fivefold, it still would not turn the tide. At the news of the fate of the halflings, Berendil’s grip upon the hilt of his sword tightened. If Sauron had the Ring, they were all of them doomed. He looked across to Hanasian and Darhias and found in their faces the same grim determination he felt within himself. They were resigned to this hour and their final fate was about to break over them.
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Re: Legacy Prequel - The Ranger & The Shieldmaiden

Postby elora » Sat Aug 13, 2016 6:10 pm

3019, III – March 25 – The Black Gates

The rush from the Black Gates was stunning but even here in this wasteland the terrain proved to be their ally. The orcs bogged down in the muddy quagmire that lay before the hills they had formed their defence upon. Still, this it only delayed the inevitable. Huge trolls waded forth through the sludge, and the multitudes of orcs soon spread around and began to encircle their position. Berendil also saw the Easterlings issue forth from outside the gates and sweep around to hit their left flank. The ring of steel was now at hand and the fight quickly turned into mayhem.

Resigned to the fact that he would die this day, Berendil yelled as he slew a charging orc, ”I guess it was all just a dream…”

At his back, Darhias shouted, ”For the Shieldmaidens!”

Berendil roared again as they battled but slowly they were waning. The trolls took their toll on the front of their stronghold and soon all order had been lost. It was nothing more than chaos, a melee and yet somehow a lull found Darhias and Berendil and allowed them to regain their footing.

Berendil said to him, ”Let’s attack!”

Darhias drew a breath and the two set forth into a line of Easterlings that was fast approaching. As some of the other men nearby joined them the fight’s intensity waxed. Darhias suddenly fell back, hit with a spear, Berendil was now alone. He stood by his fallen friend and fought hard until something blunt hit his head. Then the sky lit up red and orange as the very earth violently trembled. Unfooted, Berendil fell to his knees wondering what he could have been hit with to cause all of this. Distantly, he heard someone shout about Eagled. Then the hot stench of burning rock overcame him.

Why he wasn’t dead Berendil didn’t know. The enemy all seemed to hesitate before many began to flee. Not all, though, for an Easterling ran towards him with his axe lifted high. He weakly lifted his sword to attempt to fend off the coming blow but it did not fall. Instead, the Easterling looked into his eyes and pulled up. At this Berendil raised his sword over his head and the Easterling stepped back in amazement, turned and then ran.

”Running will not save you from Freja and the Shieldmaidens!” Berendil called after him and the Easterling paused, as if the name were familiar to him, and looked back.

It was then that Berendil realised he had seen this man before. A week ago on the Pelennor Fields! He was sure of it, and then he wasn’t as his head swam. The Easterling finally turned away and, with another, ran into the rising dust and gloom. Berendil momentarily considered giving chase as he had before but the ground shook so hard beneath his boots that he fell forward, utterly spent and sure that he was dead and soon to see Freja.

Instead, when his vision cleared he found that the light hurt his head. Berendil found himself laying upon his back amid green grass. He reached for his head to discover it well bandaged. Still, it throbbed abominably.

”You’re fortunate! All you got is a big welt on that hard skull of yours.”

Berendil looked up at this and found Darhias standing there, leaning upon a crooked branch.

”You live? I saw you fall!”

“Yes, I did. A spear took my leg just before you got it in the head. Don’t know what happened to my foot though. I think a troll stepped on it.”
Darhias replied with a laconic shrug of his shoulders.

Berendil slowly climbed to his feet and then had to hold onto the Darhias to keep from falling to the ground again. He peered about in bewilderment.

”What happened? Where is everyone?”

Darhias looked around before he answered, ”Depends on who you refer to. Hanasian took a mixed company of men into Mordor to ferret out any remaining strongholds and ensure the destruction of the Dark Tower was complete. Mecarnil took a mixed company up through the Morgul Vale. We were brought south to the healing tents here in the Field of Cormallen. But the tents could only house the severely wounded and there are many of those. And so we are here, resting by the soothing song of the river."

Darhias paused momentarily before he continued, "There was talk among our brethren that the Captains are looking for something or someone. They are being quiet about it though. As for many of us, the ‘lightly wounded’ as we have been called, our duty is to keep watch here over these prisoners after they cleaned up the mess they made.”

“Prisoners?” Berendil asked as he looked out at some of the men moving the dead.

Darhias answered, ”Yes… they lost their stomach to fight once their master was broken. A commander brought in what was left of his company, and a few others followed. Most though either fought to the death or fled.”

Berendil was silent as he considered Darhias’ words. He could guess at who they might be searching for but if the command was holding their silence on that then so would he. He stretched his limbs to address the lingering stiffness of his arms and legs. Aside from his head, he was surprised to found he was other whole and for now, he could live with a headache.

He asked, "Where is Aragorn?”

“You mean our King? He is in the healing tents, tending to those in need,”
Darhias answered.

As Berendil started to walk that way, Darhias added, ”You aren’t hurt that bad!”

“I just need to speak to him.”

At that, Darhias limped after him and so both Rangers sought Aragorn out. Upon finding him, Berendil did not have to ask what he wished for Aragorn came to them as soon as he saw them.

”It is well you are up. Our victory is at hand, thanks to the haflings Frodo and Sam, yet there is much to do. Can you ride?”

“Yes, m’lord,”
Berendil replied.

Aragorn nodded and said, ”Good, I have need to get messages to Minas Tirith, and I believe you have reason to not tarry here but to return?

“Yes.. I…”
Berendil stammered, suddenly at a loss for words.

Aragorn briefly touched Berendil’s shoulder, ”Take the fastest horse and go. Have them send any who has skill in healing if they have mastered the wounded from Pelennor.”

“Aye m’Lord!”

Berendil turned and ran off, ignoring the dizziness that returned as he readied his own horse in preparation to ride.

By the time Darhias limped up, he was steadying himself by hanging onto his saddle.

”I wish I was going with you, but I can’t ride,” Darhias lamented, ”Give my regards to Vorda if you see her.”

“I will. Fare thee well till we meet again, my friend!” Berendil returned as he climbed into his saddle.

With a nod to Darhias, he set out upon a ferry to Cair Andros and then pushed on to the west. Once there he rode hard south as far as he could ere the sun set.
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Re: Legacy Prequel - The Ranger & The Shieldmaiden

Postby elora » Sat Aug 13, 2016 8:02 pm

3019, III – March 25 – House of Healing

Freja’s weakness galled her. It appalled and humiliated her. Even the simplest tasks were beyond her. She could not tend her hair, nor eat or drink, without assistance. Assistance that Vorda gladly rendered, unflinching and uncomplaining. But, even so, Freja’s spirits remained low despite the fact that she had prevailed against the Witch King of Angmar’s malice. Despite the fact that it seemed that Sauron himself had fallen.

Outside, in the streets below, she could hear the amazed relief of the people of Minas Tirith continue on through the night. The sun had shone brighter that afternoon. The air was cleaner too, somehow. As though the darkness and doubts that had chewed upon their innermost thoughts had withered and fallen away.

Freja sat abed, prisoner still, and stared at the letter she had been reading by candle light. It would not be long before someone would be along to douse it. Not before they assisted her to lie down. She could not even do that on her own! Rest was something they were adamant about in this place. Sure enough, Freja heard footsteps approach in the hall beyond her room. Vorda walked at her customary rapid clip and soon was through the door.

”Reading that again?” she asked with a soft, playful smile. Freja nodded. She knew each word Berendil had set down by heart now. Each swoop and line of his hand.

”It will not be long now before he returns,” Vorda said as she drew near and settled onto the side of Freja’s bed, ”He was loathe to be parted from you despite the call of his duty.”

“If he still draws breath,”
Freja said, briefly lifting her gaze from his letter to Vorda in time to catch the other woman’s eyes flare in surprise.

”What’s this? Of course he does! He and Darhias both,” Vorda replied, her tone holding concern but not reproach.

Freja felt her scrutiny as she folded the letter and set it aside, ”Ignore my foolishness.”

She felt Vorda’s hand fall upon her own, ”’Tis not foolish to fear for we love.”

Her words made Freja blink rapidly and then she looked away to her window and the night beyond. She had come to loathe the nights more than anything else now.

”Come…you must be tired,” Vorda said patiently and what else could Freja do but acquiesce. For she was weary. Weariness was one of her constant companions of late, amongst others. It was not long before she found herself alone again, staring at the shadows that gathered on the roof in the darkness.

She fought. Every night she fought and yet her weariness was an opponent against which she could hold no sway. And once her eyes closed, She was waiting. Always waiting. Sometimes Freja could sense Her presence during the day.

Without delay it rolled over her as it had every night since Freja had first stirred only hours after Berendil’s departure for the Black Gate. Tonight, though, it was different. She was not shown Berendil’s twisted body lying upon that desolate ground, an Easterling holding his gory axe aloft in ghoulish glee. Instead she was taken elsewhere. Freja recognised the forests of Dale almost immediately. The dead were everywhere, the carnage appalling. Too many were faces she knew. Still more she could not recognise save by their armour. Each of them Shieldmaidens. Her sisters. Her friends. They lay still amidst the dark trees. Some on their backs. Others on their bellies and sides. All dead. Never to ride, to sing, to laugh again.

And then there was one man who she had not seen since her banishment had been lifted years ago. Videgavia lifted his face to the sky, his expression one of unmitigated grief as he sat upon the bloodied ground. In his arms was another and this…this woman’s face was beloved. The grief Freja felt was raw as it was brutal as she stared at Eriwyn’s empty, blank eyes. Her captain, her mentor was dead.

But it was not done. Faint, feminine laughter floated at the edge of Freja’s hearing as she was pulled away and this…this was familiar. Théoden fell, time and again, crushed anew by Snowmane whilst she lay useless. Bitter failure and shame flooded Freja’s senses, for what purpose did a Shieldmaiden serve if not to shield the King. She saw their ragged lines upon the Pelennor. She heard him screaming at her to do her job and fulfil her duty. Something he should never have had to do. And then she heard the sickening crunch as Snowmane crushed him. After that, she watched the Shieldmaidens under her command fall, one after the other, in the slaughter she had abandoned them to.

Yet still Naiore Dannan was not done with her for finally She showed Freja Berendil’s face. He was happy, as he always was at first. Love stood in his eyes as he looked back at her. Her heart sang and yet, as time flowed on, that love grew cold. It withered away and he became distant. Remote. There was anger. Confusion. Pain. Until, when he looked at her, there was nothing. Not even the bones of what once they had. Emptiness…and still he did not leave her. For he would remain true, even when he should not. Could not. And so she knew what she had to do if indeed he returned.

Come the following morn, Vorda was already up when she heard a ruckus unfold nearby. Troubled though she was by Freja’s state, the Shieldmaiden rushed towards the unrest to discover it was none other than Berendil. The Healers had gathered around him in a bid to silence him and yet Berendil would not be quiet. Bandaged as he was, this caused the healers to speculate about just how addled he may be.

”If you would serve your King well, attend this Ranger’s words first,” Vorda declared, her voice the strident tone well suited to carrying through the din of battle.

”His words are the least of our concern,” a healer answered and cast Vorda the sort of look she’d been wearing all week.

Vorda answered cooly, ”This man has ridden from the field of battle itself to bear you tidings from your King. Even a Shieldmaiden of Rohan can appreciate the importance of that.”

Weary, still marked by the road he had taken in haste to Minas Tirith and the battle before that, Berendil’s grey eyes locked almost immediately onto Vorda’s face. He swiftly imparted Aragorn’s message, still pushing aside hands that sought to examine the bandage wrapped about his head.

”If you can spare any, make haste. Good men are dying there,”
Berendil finished, eyes still on Vorda.

Suddenly, she was struck by the very fear that had beset Freja only last night. Was Darhias amongst those Berendil spoke of now? Yet as she wondered she saw Berendil slightly shake his head at her, as if he could guess at the direction of her thoughts. Vorda’s relief was immediate. Finally the healers fell away, leaving them facing each other.

Berendil drew closer, ”Darhias sends his regards.”

“Regards?” Vorda returned, lifting a brow, ”He’ll need to do better than that!”

Berendil’s smile was wan and brief, ”I expect he will be along soon. Took a spear to his leg and he thinks a troll may have stepped on his foot.”

“I should never have let him go alone,”
she dryly replied but then she was struck by an uncomfortable feeling as she recalled what had transpired earlier this morning. To be relieved, even cheerful at such a time with what she had to tell Berendil felt somehow wrong.

As her expression became grave, colour washed from Berendil’s face and she had to reach for him as his knees buckled.

”Dead?” he whispered, agonised, and Vorda realised that he had mistaken her grim expression for something else.

She shook her head at him, ”Freja woke the day you set out.”

Joyful relief, raw and unfettered, flooded across his face at this. It broke Vorda’s heart to watch it all.

”Can I see her?” Berendil asked, ”I must see her!”

Vorda hesitated, her courage almost failing her, ”She can’t, Berendil. I’m sorry, she can’t see you.”

She watched his dark brows draw together in a confusion she shared, ”Why? Did you give her the letter?”

Vorda nodded and he asked, ”Did she read it?”

She nodded again, ”More than once.”

“Is she still wroth? Does she not understand?”

“I’m not sure that she’s entirely…lucid yet. The Shadow may have fallen from the land, but I do not think it has yet released Freja.”

Berendil drew back from her as he tried to make sense of this. She could tell that he had ridden hard to return. And she knew what would happen if he pressed on for Freja’s door. Nothing good could come of it today.

”I…I need to see her. Perhaps it might help.”

“I know…and I would gladly take you if I thought it would serve you or Freja well. Give her time, Berendil. Rest yourself. You look exhausted.”

“How much time?”
he asked quietly, clearly upset, ”Tonight? Tomorrow?”

“I cannot say how long,”
Vorda replied, sorrowful, ”None here can. She has…windows where she is herself but no more than that. This morning…seeing her now would distress you both.”

Though it was a bitter blow, Berendil nodded and rubbed at his face, ”You will tell her that I came for her?”

Vorda nodded emphatically, ”Of course I will. I have told her of everything you have done for her.”

“Then I will return on the morrow,”
he said, lifting his gaze from the ground to Vorda, ”Make sure she knows that. I meant every word I wrote.”

He searched her face as she nodded, heart breaking for him as he gave her a weary, grateful smile. Berendil reached for her hand to squeeze it, ”Never will I forget all that you do for Freja.”

And with that he strode away, head bowed and battle stained cloak flapping at his heels. True to his word, he returned each day and each day Vorda turned him away. After a week, he took to writing to Freja. Letter after letter he sent and letter after letter came back, unopened. Freja’s silence was a wall upon which he could gain no purchase.
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Re: Legacy Prequel - The Ranger & The Shieldmaiden

Postby elora » Sat Sep 03, 2016 7:26 pm

3019, III – April 10 – Cormallen Fields

Searching the depths of Mordor was a feat few men were capable of, Dunedain of the North or no. Hansian had no idea how it was that he found himself amidst the broken foundations of Barad Dûr. Yet here he was, searching and observing for himself the inescapable truth of Sauron’s departure. And, moreover, the lingering evidence of his malice.

He found many trapped in the depths of the fallen tower, held in bondage still until he freed them. He could not guess at what their broken minds might make at this sudden change in circumstances. Yet that was not his primary concern. Whilst Sauron’s prisoners were abundant and the Dark Lord’s defeat obvious, there were other signs he was in search of and these were vague at best.

With the prisoners freed, there was little more Hanasian could accomplish by lingering in this dread place. He gave the order for all to gather for the night. They passed another uneasy night in the fumes of Mordor before they started their long road back toward Gondor at daybreak.

They arrived at the encampment upon Cormallen fields weary of mind and body both. Indeed, Hanasian sought out his Dunedain brethren with thought only for sleep. Yet, no sooner had he closed his eyes did a summons arrive. A summons from Chieftain Aragorn was one he could not set aside. He dragged himself upright, nodding at the one who had brought it to him. Mecarnil, sitting nearby, watched on in silence until the messenger had drawn away.

”I am glad, now, to have only had to venture into the Morgul Vale and Minas Mogul. I see that it spared me from the greater unpleasantness of your task. You have just come in. I would have thought our ‘Chieftain’ would grant you at least a small measure of respite.”

Mecarnil’s implicit rebuke was as plain to Hanasian as it was surprising. He did not know this Ranger of Cardolan in the same way Berendil did, but even so, Mecarnil’s statement was bold to say the least.

Still, Hanasian did his best to conceal his surprise. He stretched his limbs in a bid to push stiffness and fatigue from his joints and kept his reply offhanded.

”Likely he wants a report on what we found in Mordor. I would want the same if I stood in his boots.”

Mecarnil chuckled quietly, the sound distinctly cynical, ”Our Chieftain is referred to as our King by most now. It’s likely a formality, but he remains our Chieftain until such time as he declares himself King at Minas Tirith…and is received as such by the Steward..Prince Imhrahil or, should he live, Lord Faramir.”

Hanasian frowned, too weary to guess at what Mecarnil meant by his reprise of such lofty matters. He knew the man to be a stickler for formality, but even so, Mecarnil’s statement seemed odd. That did not change when Mecarnil added a final observation.

” I don’t think he has used the title of Chieftain officially amongst us since he declared himself to the Dead.

Hanasian shrugged, his preparation to leave the tent completed, ”I pay little mind to such matters. Whether Aragorn summons me as Chieftain or King, as he is indeed both, I will answer. Even if I sleep as I walk.”

Mecarnil nodded at this and waved Hanasian on his way.

By the time Hanasian found Aragorn standing outside his tent, Mecarnil’s odd words had faded as he had turned his mind to the task ahead. He found Aragorn stood alone, wrapped in his own considerations. As soon as he espied Hanasian’s arrival did Aragorn beckon him swiftly into his tent. Once there, Hanasian gave a detailed report on what they found in Mordor. Then he moved on to what he did not discover in that dark place. This particularly seemed to agitate Aragorn. But it did not seem that his Chieftain was started. They spoke at length, Aragorn questioning him on this and that, until he grew silent. Still, Hanasian was not dismissed.

After some time, Aragorn bestirred himself. When he spoke, his voice was quiet.

”My friend, I rue that we did not serve together in the north since you joined our ranks proper. Yet, for all of that, Halbarad only had praise for you. Indeed, for all our young Dunedain.”

“Halbarad is sorely missed, m’lord. I learned much from him, and from my first commander Elendur.”
Hanasian answered.

Aragorn nodded sadly, ”With the war ended, I have given each of my Dunedain brethren the choice to return home and seek a life that has not been seen in the north since the days of Arnor. But I must ask you, Hanasian, what are your plans?”

Hanasian swallowed and took a moment to consider before he replied, ”I have not given over much thought to it. Perhaps I will go see my mother and sister for a while. Aside from that, I have no other plans at present.

Well, aside from sleep that was. He craved it. Aragorn looked long and hard for a long while before he asked, ”Would you consider continuing to serve your Chieftain?”

Hanasian closed his eyes at the question. Then he cleared his throat as he returned Aragorn’s intense scrutiny. He read the man’s expression and then slowly answered, ”Whatever the need, I am at my Chieftain’s service.”

Aragorn expelled a long breath and then rubbed a hand over his jaw, “Yes. You perceive my intentions clearly.”

He turned away from Hanasian at that and pushed out another sigh before he quietly spoke on.

”A Reunited Kingdom will have many needs. Not all of them can be met by her King. Our long battle again the Dark Lord has ended victoriously but this does not mean all evil is gone from our land.”

Aragorn turned back to Hanasian, ”For the main, I believe there will be peace. In other lands, dissent will arise from Mordor’s ashes.”

“Rhûn, Harad and Khand are particularly vulnerable,”
Hanasian ventured and Aragorn nodded.

”Add to that, Hanasian, the fact that one of Sauron’s most potent servants remains at large.”

“Naiore Dannan,”
Hanasian intoned, his voice and expression revealing his distaste.

Aragorn’s expression grew grim, ”We do not know where she is now that her master has fallen, or to what end. Still, it is all but certain that she will find a way to bring yet more ill upon us.”

There was silence for some time as this was one of the bitter pills of their victory. The hunt for Naiore Dannan had been taken up by Elf and Man alike since the Last Alliance of the Second Age. Gil-galad himself had placed a doom, even a bounty, upon this traitor of his own court. That she should remain at large now was no small source of disappointment and dismay both.

Aragorn finished, ”We will know peace, and the Reunited Kingdom will be rebuilt. Our vigilance must continue.”

”I think I understand,”
Hanasian replied and then, ” M’Lord, did you know my father?”

His question saw Aragorn looked away but not before Hanasian saw the other’s pained expression.

At Aragron’s nod, Hanasian asked ”Is he why you ask this of me?”

Aragorn paced about a short while before he answered, ”Were he here now your father would most gladly take this up. Yet, I could not trust such a task to him. His restraint was, at times, lacking. You served under Elendur…I think you know this.”

Aragorn paused to study Hanasian’s response before he continued, ”I ask this of you because I trust your judgement and your skill, Hanasian. I believe you have the restraint your father lacked…and you will be a good leader of men.

Hanasian watched Aragorn still his pacing and consider him squarely, ”I ask this of you as your Chieftain. Yet as your friend, I ask whether you are willing. If not, I will ask another.”

“As I said, I will do what you ask of me, whether you ask as friend, Chieftain, or King. I will do this willingly,”
Hanasian answered, squaring his weary shoulders and standing his full height. Even as his reply was given was his mind churning away with how he might accomplish such a feat.

”I am relieved to hear that, for I can think of none better for this task. We will speak further on this before we set out for Minas Tirith,” Aragorn said and drew closer to set a hand on Hanasian’s shoulder, ”Seek you now some rest, Hanasian.”

Hanasian nodded at the dismissal and stepped out of the tent and back into the sun. His mind was still whirling as he returned to his bedroll. Mecarnil was not there when he set himself down upon it and slowly slipped into sleep.

Over the next several days Hanasian kept mainly to himself. In this time he wrote extensively in his journal and considered how best to fulfill the task Aragorn had charged him with. Once that was done, he set about speaking with most of his brethren in a bid to discover what plans they might have now. Most had little thought other than to enjoy their days away from war and battle. Still, there were those who had a certain look to their. A glint in their eyes that suggested they would not easily retire from the only life they had known.

He marked them well and turned his consideration next to other veterans of the war. There would be those from Gondor, Rohan, and Dale. Hanasian knew he would not have to actively seek them out. They would cross his path of their own accord. The key was to ensure he kept his eyes open for them when they came. The Company he was forming was one that would benefit from a diversity of skills and experience. It could not and would not be a Company entirely comprised of Rangers. Still, for all of that, he knew he would have to be very careful in who he took up along the way.

Hanasian had determined his framework by the time Aragorn made for Minas Tirith. Aragorn had entrusted him with a free hand in the main and he intended to make full use of it, even if it raised some eyebrows. He already had a cadre of soldiers in mind, the backbone of the Company, when he took the road to Minas Tirith with Aragorn and his brethren. On their way to the White City, he spoke with many of the Gondorians in their number. The Ithilien Rangers and the hardy men from the southern provinces. He had seen them when the Grey Company had ridden forth with the Dead at their backs. These, he thought, would be most likely to consider what he had to say. Hanasian believed they would join him, even if they did not know it yet.

The men of Minas Tirith, though, were less certain a prospect to Hanasian’s mind. Whilst a good number had that glint to their eyes, the draw of royal service in the city they so dearly loved was likely to see them bind themselves to Aragorn. All along the way, he marked each he though a possible addition in his journal. He noted down what he thought they could add to his Company and why they might join his number. No more than that, though, for this was a time of joy and celebration. He made his notes, his hunt for Naiore Dannan already underway, and joined in the jubilation and merriment as best he could

Darhias found himself as nervous as he was excited upon arriving at the White City. Would he find Vorda well and hale? What of Berendil? Would he be tending Freja as she healed or mourning her? As for himself…well he thought that just might be able to walk without aid. Indeed, he was already well on his way to that end though he thought it unlikely he would escape a persistent limp. What would Vorda make of him now that he was a man with a faltering step that would endure for the rest of his days? Would he ever walk freely in the rugged forests of Rhuadur again? He did not know and whenever Hanasian asked him of his plans, this was all he could tell him.

As for the city itself, the excitement of Aragorn’s arrival was truly stupendous. For so long the people of Gondor had lived under the threat of war. Generations had lived under that lingering shadow and disquiet. The prospect of peace and renewal caused joy to spill onto the city’s battle scarred streets. Already the citizens had begun to rebuild and repair. Yet, amidst the rubble that yet remained, where so many had fallen, the bards sang and the minstrels played. There was laughter as the people danced and cheered. Ale and wine flowed and those that were admitted into the city that day were greeted as returned, victorious heroes. It was a heady time, and Darhias found himself a place in the crowded White Swan Inn. There he and others were treated to the finest ales and buttered bread they had tasted. Siege stock though it was, they were glad to have it.

Still, for all of the hubbub and merriment, Darhias soon found himself wondering where Vorda and Berendil was. Like as not, he thought, both would be found at the Houses of Healing. That was where he had last seen them, each bound in their own way to Freja. Such were her injuries, she would likely still be within the care of the city’s healers. He downed his ale, took his leave of his brethren and started on the long walk up to the Houses of Healing.
Last edited by elora on Tue Nov 07, 2017 7:02 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Legacy Prequel - The Ranger & The Shieldmaiden

Postby elora » Sat Sep 03, 2016 9:06 pm

3019, III – April, Houses of Healing

Darhias found Berendil on his way to the Houses of Healing and soon discovered the man was somehow different. His greeting, whilst fair and courteous, held a measure of solemnity and sorrow that had not been present before.

”I thought I’d find you there already,” Darhias exclaimed, thumping Berendil’s back in a companionable fashion. Berendil, for his part, diverted his attention away to the crowded way ahead. Distracted, he seemed, and uneasy.

”Well, no matter,” Darhias told him, perturbed, and then asked, ”Is Vorda there?”

“I expect so,”
Berendil replied and turned his attention back to Darhias for a moment.

Darhias frowned, ”Is something amiss?”

At that Berendil sighed and he raked a hand through his raven hair as he muttered, ”Would that I knew.”

Berendil heaved another sigh and then considered Darhias anew, ”I take it you’re on your way there now?”

Darhias nodded, ”I’ll walk with you, if you can bear the slow pace.”

At that Berendil nodded and they fell into step. The silence between them grew with each halting, faltering step.

”I’m not as slow as I used to be. Getting faster day by day. I expect I’ll be free of this wretched cane before too long,” Darhias found himself chattering to break the tension and to that he added, ”I dare say Freja is progressing too?”

Berendil’s expression tightened, ”So I am told.”

Darhias frowned at his response. So he is told. So he expects... He asked, ”Anyone would think you’ve not been to the Houses of Healing, Berendil, and I know that can’t be true.”

“Every day. Sometimes twice,”
Berendil muttered and then pressed his lips together in a thin line as if to seal any further response away.

”Have you seen Vorda?” Darhias inquired.

Berendil nodded, ”Every day. Sometimes twice.”

His words held a desolate bitterness that was unmistakeable as it was incomprehensible to Darhias and so the two men said little else as they ventured up through the city to the Houses of Healing. Upon arrival, Berendil sighed heavily again. It was almost as if he dreaded crossing the threshold. When he strode across it, he did so as man set on doing battle.

”Not this time, Vorda. No, not this time,” Darhias heard Berendil mutter to himself as they entered the Houses of Healing.

Compared to when last he was here, Darhias thought it not as crowded, people racing frenetically about as they had in the immediate aftermath of the Pelennor. Still, for all of that, the Houses of Healing remained a busy place for now the injured of the Pelennor were added by those brought back from the Black Gate and Mordor. Diminished though the press was in the wide atrium of the Houses of Healing, it was difficult to see Vorda at first.

”Perhaps she is not here,” Darhias remarked as he looked about.

”She’ll be here,” Berendil grimly replied.

Darhias looked to him askance but then heard his name hailed from across the way. He turned towards it and soon enough he set eyes on Vorda pushing her way with her usual forcefulness through the press. Her expression was one of open relief and pleasure for him, but her eyes kept flickering uneasily to Berendil at his side. Upon her arrival she slapped his shoulder hard before she threw her arms around him.

”Stepped on by a troll…that’s the last I let you out of my sight, Ranger,” she murmured into his ear, tightening her embrace into something fiercer before she drew back again. Darhias’ head was spinning so fast he scarcely knew what to make of her words. He stared at her, somewhat addled, before he realised she was not alone.

Darhias’ eyes widened as he discovered the identity of Vorda’s companion. The White Lady of Rohan herself stood there, looking on. Her arm was still wrapped in soft linen and yet vigour had returned to her. She nodded welcome to Darhias and turned to where Berendil stood, towering and silent, beside him.

”Berendil of Cardolan, Éowyn greeted him and the Ranger remembered himself to offered her his courtesies.

”My Lady Éowyn,” he replied as recovered himself, ”I had not expected to cross your path.”

This, at least, sounded like the Berendil Darhias knew. He eyed Vorda and found she was holding her breath. Excitement or trepidation he could not tell. Éowyn cast a glance about the crowded ante-chamber. She offered Berendil a kind smile and then beckoned him to follow her to somewhere quieter, more private.

”What is that all about?” Darhias asked as the two drew off.

Vorda came closer to stand at his elbow and shook her head at the question, ”I think it best we leave the matter with them.”

There was an undercurrent to Vorda’s voice that made Darhias peer at her closely. She watched Berendil and Éowyn a while longer before she turned her attention to him. At that she slapped at his arm anew.

”Regards? You send your regards!” she queried and, before he could ask what was going on, seized his elbow and pulled him after her to who knew where.

Éowyn led Berendil to one of the gardens within the Houses of Healings, a place of solitude and privacy. She had spent some time here herself, as had Freja. Though, to be fair, when Freja was there the gardens were rarely quiet. Freja used to area to learn how to walk again and the process was as difficult as it was painful. The former Shieldmaiden’s curses had frequently bounced off the walls that encompassed the garden. At present, however, she was nowhere in sight. A fact that Berendil swiftly ascertained for himself as he turned about, scrutinising the gardens for some glimpse. She watched his shoulders deflate as he realised they were alone.

“I understand Vorda meets with you,” Éowyn said as he turned back to her, “Each time she tells you that Freja cannot see you and still you return. Steadfast. Loyal. True.”

“Do you seek to forbid it, my Lady?”

Éowyn shook her head, ”I am not so foolish as to try.”

Berendil frowned at her, confused. This only deepened when Éowyn held something out to him. He took it up from the palm of her hand and turned it over in his fingers. It was much heavier than he had anticipated.

He looked back to Éowyn, ”Does she not need all eight torcs?”

Éowyn’s smile was pained, ”Whatever Freja’s path now, it leads into battle no more.”

He looked back to the torc he held, ”I don’t understand.”

Éowyn well knew what this meant. So did Freja though she might claim otherwise, that this was somehow different. Still, her dearest friend had implored her assistance. Do not tell him, Freja had begged her, tears standing in her eyes. Please, whatever you do, do not tell him. Never had Freja begged for anything before. Not of her. Not of anyone.

Éowyn gently folded his fingers over the torc and repeated the words Freja had given her, ”It is a token, in remembrance of what was.”

“And that was?”

“I think you know she loves you.”

“And how would I know that?”
he asked, bitterness creeping into his voice.

Éowyn considered him at moment, choosing her response with care. She had given Freja her word that she would not say or do anything to cause this man false hope. Still, Éowyn found it incomprehensible that Freja would push the man she loves away considering how deeply he loved her in return. It was stamped upon his face even now, after weeks of denial.

”Not lightly does a Shieldmaiden surrender her torcs,” Éowyn softly replied, ”Not to her King, nor to any man. If you remember anything in the years ahead, remember that.”

And with that she drew away, leaving Berendil with Freja’s torc and all his unanswered questions. Without delay she sought out Freja and found the woman leaning heavily against the sill of her window, staring at the mountains beyond. She was inclined, of late, to get herself out of bed despite the counsel of her healers. It was clear from the cant of her shoulders that her defiance came at a cost. And still, there she stood all the same. Such was Freja Fireborn. That, at least, had not changed. Éowyn watched Freja turned her head to regard her over her shoulder before she returned her attention to the mountains.

”He does not understand,” Éowyn said from the doorway and then pressed forward to stand beside Freja at the window.

Freja nodded, voice robbed of all colour, ”I know.”

“I too am baffled.”

Freja fell to silence again. Her easy banter had vanished, seemingly at Dunharrow. She did not smile, nor laugh. She did not bluster nor roar. She was withdrawn, darker, angrier…and above all else terribly, crushingly sad. As if the fire that had always burnt within her spirit now guttered, struggling for life. The Shadow had been lifted and yet it seemed to press ever harder upon the woman at her side. Éowyn heard her draw a shivering breath and saw that Freja blinked away tears.

”Why do you do this?” Éowyn asked as she placed an arm around her shoulders, ”What drives this madness of yours?”

“He deserves better,”
Freja whispered.

”He wants you, dear heart. And you him. It is not too late, even now, to undo this.”

Éowyn could feel the sorrow ripple through Freja’s frame and yet the woman shook her head, ”I can only bring him pain.”
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Re: Legacy Prequel - The Ranger & The Shieldmaiden

Postby elora » Sat Sep 17, 2016 5:25 pm

3019, III – May, Minas Tirith

Hanasian had spent so much time in the far corner of the White Swan Inn that it had become his unofficial office. To it he summoned the men he had noted during their return to Minas Tirith at the end of the war and discovered more about each and willingness to serve. By the close of a week he had a dozen prospective recruits and a further handful of alternatives should any decline to join. All of this wove through the many and varied high functions of the citadel, the approaching coronation of Aragorn as King and the ongoing victory celebrations.

He received a message upon the eve of the coronation to meet ‘the Chieftain’ at a small inn shop on the first level of the city. Hanasian arrived and saw a fair young woman working around fallen stone work awaiting repair to tend the few patrons within. A shadowed figure sat in the depths of the common room, wrapped in a grey cloak and hood drawn low. His legs stretched out before him and he drew deeply from his pipe in a slow, languorous fashion. The smoke clouded the air around him. At this, Hanasian momentarily thought he had somehow wondered into the old Forsaken Inn, far to the north. He shook this from his head, picked his way around the detritus of the inn’s common room and took a seat across the broken table from the Ranger.

”What do you have for me?” the Ranger asked, his voice soft and his eyes lit in the glow of his pipe as he drew another breath through it.

Hanasian extracted rolled parchments from his tunic and set them upon the table. The Ranger collected them up swiftly and slid them beneath his cloak without hesitation. Then, Hanasian drew his pipe and tapped out the spent ash, nodding to the woman for a flagon of ale. She soon fetched it to him, collecting an empty flagon and drawing away without hesitation or comment.

Hanasian lifted his ale, ”Here’s to the Return of the King.”

The Ranger nodded and sipped at his own ale, ”I will miss this…”

The Ranger’s free hand waved at the simple flagon of ale and then swept out to the inn. He leaned forward, and Hanasian leaned in.

”I’m afraid this will be it. It was hard to slip out unattended this night. On the morrow it will be all but impossible,” Aragorn said.

Hanasian glanced about before returning his gaze to Aragorn to discover his chieftain was lost in his thoughts.

A quiet smile played on Aragorn’s face for a moment, fading as he sighed and returned his attention to Hanasian, ”These are my days and all that we have strived for has come. A glorious time, yet there is much to be set right.”

Aragorn stood as he drained his flagon and set it upon the table, ”I will look over what you given me. You should expect a summons after the coronation…fare thee well, my friend.”

"… and you as well my ……"
Hanasian paused as Aragorn gestured at him in the manner of Rangers, ”…friend…”

Aragorn furled his cloak about him and made for the door, swiftly slipping by another who was entering the inn.

Berendil looked back at the swift man that slipped out before closing the door but he was gone before he could get a clear look at him. He returned his attention to the common room and sighted Hanasian, back to the door, and made towards him. Hanasian turned as he drew near, and sat aside to lean against the inn’s wall and flag down another two ales. Berendil took the seat Aragorn had just vacated, arriving barely before the flagons did.

”Haven’t seen much of you my friend,” Hanasian said, observing Berendil’s deeply troubled expression.

Berendil nodded, eyes fixed on the scarred table, ”Haven’t seen much of you either. None of us have.”

“We can discuss that in a moment,”
Hanasian said and sipped at his ale before observing, ”You have the look of confusion that runs deep. Have you been to the House of Healing today?”

Berendil nodded but didn’t answer immediately. He sampled his ale, as if he were debating what to say. Hanasian waited him out patiently.

”I’ve been there every day since I returned but Freja refuses to see me and Vorda cannot or will not tell me why. Today the White Lady of Rohan met me…she told me that Freja loves me, as did Vorda, and she gave me this,” Berendil passed the bright silver torc to Hanasian, ”I know it means a great deal, but what kind of love is it when she refuses to see me or speak with me?”

Hanasian studied the torc closely before he returned it Berendil, ”This is quite the gift Berendil. You would be wise to heed to the Lady Eowyn.”

Berendil sighed at that, ”Yes, but what kind of love allows naught my sight of her? I cannot bear it. I just want to see her! To look into her eyes or clasp her hand in mine... yet she denies me this, and she denies herself of this.”

He shook his head sorrowfully as he tucked the torc beneath his jerkin, ” I will stay away for a time… for now.”

“What of the coronation? I know you will go. Freja may be there as well,”
Hanasian asked, worried.

Berendil stared into his flagon before taking a drink, ”I’ll just be glad to see her, even if we say naught to each other.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The grand ceremony that surrounded Aragorn’s crowning was an event that would not ever be forgotten! All the Dunedain in the city stood to the side of the throne dressed in their fine clean garb. The mysterious Rangers of the North looked quite different to those gathered there from Gondor. Beside him, Hanasian heard Berendil’s sharp intake of breath before the ceremony commenced. He followed his friend’s gaze to where Freja stood. In the press she was quite some distance away but for all of that the sunlight set her vibrant hair afire. Berendil quivered at the sight of her and Hanasian worried that his friend might break ranks now. The danger passed when the ceremony began and when Hanasian looked for the Shieldmaiden again he could not find her in the crowd. Nor could Berendil. Elusive as smoke.

A few days after the coronation, Hanasian found himself in his unofficial office with Darhias and Berendil. A young guard from the Citadel arrived, his insignia and formal garb clear to see. He pulled off his helm, peered about the common room and upon sighting the three Rangers set out for them.

”Ranger Hanasian, the King requests your presence,” the guard announced, presenting Hanasian with a scroll.

Hanasian broke the seal to read what was a brief note:

‘The Chieftain has news. Moonrise ~ Winter Garden’

Hanasian let the scroll roll up of its own accord and stowed it in his vest before he took a long drink from his flagon to drain it.

”It is time. You have been rather subdued of late and you said that you would tell us of your doings,” Berendil told him, ” The look on your face as you read the King’s summons said more than you may have wished.”

Darhias added, ”You get some high office in the King’s ministry?”

“You could say that. All will be known tomorrow,”
Hanasian replied, waving away the serving girl for he had work to do.

Darhias and Berendil knew better than to pry. The two men exchanged a glance and fell to talking quietly between themselves. Hanasian caught the names of the only two shieldmaidens left in the city and shook his head inwardly. If Freja discovered that Berendil had set Darhias to watch over her in his stead, it would not go well. Then again, Darhias was one of their stealthiest Rangers and the Rhuadarian had his own reason for frequently the Houses of Healing: Vorda.

He turned his attention to his own work, commencing with a review of his earlier notes. Two men he had thought would join were now off the list and it was clear that he had a great deal of work to do.

Hanasian met Aragorn as the moon lifted up over the Mountains of Shadow. It was near morning as the moon was a waning crescent. Aragorn kept his silence at first as they stood in the cool air.

When he finally spoke, there was a note of foreboding in the King’s voice, ”It has been too long since a clear moon rose above these mountains. Yet out there…. She lurks.”

Aragorn handed Hanasian several parchments, ”Read and keep these safe. We meet here again in two days time to watch the sliver moon rise before dawn.”

Hanasian reached into his vest to draw out parchment of his own. He passed them to Aragorn, trading documents.

”This will save time. Tell me you approve when next we meet.”

Aragorn nodded and walked away. Hanasian followed more slowly and when he found somewhere appropriate, he discovered that he had quite some reading to do. A long day and a late night awaited him.

Hanasian shut himself in his tent and did not emerge until the morning of the next day. When he did so, it was with the understanding that Aragorn had granted him autonomous authority to create his company before the King had read his proposal. The degree of trust this illustrated was not lost on him but now the hard yards had begun.

He set out first to approach those he had spoken with, his selection of recruits. It was time to sign them on but by now the thought of war waned and he found most no longer had the stomach for it. By day’s end he had three men signed on. There was Gian, a skilled bowman from the Lebannin highlands whom he first met at Pelargir. Firadil who had been enslaved and was a rower on a Corsair ship, and Darikas, a brooding tortured former soldier. That one would bear watching, he knew, for his skills as a soldier may well prove a liability if his spirit could not be shored up.

When the early dawn arrived again, Hanasian found himself again standing beside Aragorn. Any hope of learning the King’s thoughts on his proposed plan was frustrated and all Hanasian learned was what Aragorn had written. Weary, and in need of sleep, Hanasian returned to his tent unedified.

And so the days passed. After a week Hanasian had found seven good men he could trust and after two weeks he had eighteen. The company was slowly taking shape. Aside from two Ithilien Rangers two of his Dunedain brethren, and two Rohirrim, the rest were their friends. He concluded that he was going to have to look a bit farther afield if he wanted to expand the ranks, but for now they would make a good core to build on.

As the moon waxed toward full, Hanasian received another summons from the King. This time he was called to the high chamber within the Citadel and greeted by Lord Faramir, no Prince Faramir now of Ithilien, at the wide, imposing doors.

”Hanasian, come inside. Matters of deep importance lie before us and must be discussed.that needs to be discussed.”

He followed Fararmir through the doors and then into a chamber that lay to the side of the High Throne. Within he discovered Aragorn, clad in his kingly manner. Gandalf the Wizard, clad all in white, sat to one side and Lord Celeborn of Lorien sat to the other. Next to Celeborn was Prince Imrahil and there was an empty chair beside the wizard.

Faramir left Hanasian and walked around to behind Aragorn to one side. He motioned Hanasian to the empty chair beside Gandalf and Hanasian swallowed at that. The manner of those assembled made him uncertain and nervous.

”Our thanks for your prompt attendance, Captain Hanasian,” Aragorn began, ”. The matter before is is an urgent one, pertaining to the Elf, Naiore Dannan.”

Hanasian nodded his understanding as his thoughts shifted to his fledgling company and Aragorn continued.

”The Sons of Elrond spoke to me last as they prepared to meet their father. Both were concerned about Dannan’s influence. As we did not find her in her fallen master’s keeping, all we know is that she was last seen beyond the walls of this city during the Battle of Pelennor Fields. Accounts are vague, as to be expected from a battle such as that…and now Lord Celeborn has come with tidings most urgent.”

Celeborn’s voice was resonant, rich and considered as he took up the mantle from Aragorn, ”Through out the Ages of this world, Eldar have been known to walk a path that leads them into Shadow. Most do not survive this dreadful path, perishing or relenting in the fringes…but Naiore Dannan is unlike any of our number. She has allowed her path to take her where it will, from Gil-Galad’s court and into utter darkness.

“The destruction of the Rings of Power has ushered in the Age of Men. The Eldar will fade. Already it has begun, as it should. As it must. Naiore Dannan will not be immune to this waning…but I fear it may make her more dangerous as she seeks to stop it. Already, we know she has touched some within these very walls and we expect that she will attempt to do so again before her powers wane too sharply. There is little more perilous than a cornered foe such as Naiore Dannan. The Gladden Fields bear testament to that.”

Faramir started to walk around the table as he now spoke, ”When I was in the Houses of Healing, I learned of a Shieldmaiden injured grievously upon the field. Freja she is named and the Lady Éowyn counted her dear indeed. She spoke to me of her mounting concern for Freja. Terrible dreams, dark terrors and a lingering shadow that only grew heavier as it lifted from the lands. It is said Freja crossed paths with Naiore Dannan on the field of battle and I believe she suffers for it even now. If this is so, we must proceed with care.”

Hanasian looked about the room, ”There are none from the Rohirrim here. Should they hear that which concerns their own – particularly Freja Fireborn?”

Aragorn put his hand up and said, ”Sorely do I wish Éomer King were here, or Lady Éowyn, to aid us. Both have returned to Rohan bearing news of Théoden’s fate and to order their realm. They will return soon for King Théoden, for his resting place will be amongst his own kin but we cannot wait for that…I am not aware any other from Rohan remains in the city.”

There is one other,”
Hanasian said, ”Shieldmaiden Vorda, who served under Freja’s command, will by all accounts hardly leave Freja’s side. She may know more of this.”

Aragorn nodded, relieved, ”Yes, yes…. You are to speak to her about this. Perhaps, with her aid, you may be able to speak with Freja concerning events on the Pelennor. You share, through your mother’s kin, no small connection to Rohan that may serve you well.”

It was not anything that he desired to do and yet Hanasian could see that he simply had to proceed. Berendil was out of the question for Freja had steadfastly refused to see him and more than like would be presently drowning his sorrows at the inn again. Vorda, though, would not be an easy ally either. She as doggedly loyal to her commander and would be ill inclined to assist with anything that might prove perilous. This would be a challenge, he knew, but there was no other way no matter how unappealing the prospect was of interrogating Freja. He hoped it did not have to come to that but could not know. Her behavior had been so altered, so strange, according even to those that likely knew her best: the Lady Éowyn.

It was well into the afternoon when Hanasian emerged again from the Citadel, armed with questions he needed answers for and wracking his weary mind for as much as he knew of Freja Fireborn. He was as acquainted with her as any of the Rohirrim which was to say not very well acquainted at all beyond a rough sketch of a larger than life character. He made for his tent with the hopes of rest before he sought out Vorda but he discovered that he wasn’t going to get the chance. Vorda was already there waiting for him, expression unreadable and eyes decided wary. She had not come in her armour but still she was every inch the formidable Shieldmaiden Freja had molded her into. Not to be crossed lightly, in other words.

”Shieldmaiden Vorda, I had hoped to seek you out ere the evening but now is as good a time as any,” Hanasian said, resigned to his fate, ”I have need to talk to you.”

“And I you, Captain.”
Vorda swiftly replied, sure and determined.

Hanasian nodded, ”Shall we walk to where Freja fell?”

Vorda’s jaw clenched but she nodded and they started off towards where the Nazgul had fallen with Théoden King and his mighty steed Snowmane.
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Re: Legacy Prequel - The Ranger & The Shieldmaiden

Postby elora » Sat Sep 17, 2016 11:21 pm

3019, III – May, Minas Tirith

Vorda walked through the Houses of Healing at a fast clip, her pace a reflection of the speed of her thoughts about what lay ahead. She had a number of misgivings about what was to unfold and her discussion with Captain Hanasian had not resolved them. The fact that Berendil had shown up in the midst of it was just one problem. He’d shown up just in time to hear that Freja was likely being tormented and influenced by Naiore Dannan even now. That, predictably, had caused no small degree of dismay fuelled by no small amount of ale. The man had been beside himself and that fear had transformed into anger. Hanasian had managed to contain his friend’s distress but Vorda was not confident that he’d remain away today.

It wasn’t that she didn’t understand and empathise with Berendil. He was a good man with a good heart, loyal and true, and genuinely feared and mourned for the woman he loved. He did not wish her ill nor harm. Vorda’s concern rather centred on Freja. She was unreliable, vulnerable and fragile and this… well this would hard enough as it was. The man loping silently along at her side despite her speed noticed her glance about, looking for Berendil.

”He won’t be here,” Darhias assured her, ”He’s calmed down and seen reason.”

Vorda shook her head, the two torcs she bore now on her braids rattling, ”If you were he, would you see reason? Would you stay away?”

Darhias grunted at that and amended, ”You focus on Freja and leave Berendil to me. If he shows up, I’ll deal with him.”

That was about as good as it was going to get. Vorda knew this. She was a pragmatic, practical woman. Still, her stomach was knotted tighter than a hangman’s noose by the time they reached Freja’s room. Without word, Darhias hung back. Not once had he set foot within Freja’s room and today was no exception. The door was open and Vorda could hear discussion, or rather an argument was under way. She scowled as she recognised the man’s voice on her way through the door.

Sure enough, there was Videgavia of Dale and he was brandishing one of his long knives at Freja. In turn, Freja had her arms crossed against her chest and a scowl fixed firmly in place.

”I said no, Vid, and I meant it.”

“You wouldn’t walk about Meduseld unarmed and you know it.”

“This is not Meduseld!”
Freja returned, something of her old fire lurking in her voice.

The Daleman crouched then and a small scuffle ensued. Despite the fact that he earned more than one swift strike of Freja’s cane for his efforts, he rose to his feet without his sheathed long knife looking pleased with himself.

Videgavia turned about to consider Vorda watching on. Her scowl made no dint on the Daleman either.

”All is in hand, Shieldmaiden?”
he inquired, eyes as dark and cold as the night raking over her as if they stood in the forests of Dale and she was an Easterling raider.

Vorda bit back an oath and turned her attention to Freja. Her commander was smoothing out the wide, emerald skirts of her kirtle, flustered and irritated but Vorda had never reported to this man and never would.

”Are you ready, Captain?” Vorda inquired and Freja scowled as she lifted her eyes to Vorda.

”I am not your Captain,” she returned.

Vorda sniffed at that, ”You’ll always be my Captain, Freja. Are you ready?”

“Look at me! Do I look ready to you? And ready for what? How can I be ready when I don’t know what I am to ready for?”

Agitated already and the questioning had not even begun, Vorda thought as Freja scowled down at the wide skirts of her kirtle. Truth be told, by appearances alone Freja looked very well indeed. The tight bodice and golden girdle slung at her hips combined with the long thick waves of her now unbound hair transformed her from warrior to lady. A comely one at that.

”What’s this meeting about?” Videgavia asked suspiciously, ”And just who is this Hanasian? I’ve never heard of him.”

Not for the first did Vorda wish Videgavia had never arrived at Minas Tirith. Oh, he carried tidings that needed to be heard but by his own account he had already delivered those to Éomer along with Eriwyn’s torcs. What purpose to bring the dreadful fate of their sisters to Dale to Freja? And why was he still here? Freja might account him a friend, might trust him, but he didn’t seem the sort of man that understood what friendship was.

”He’s a Ranger of the North, and newly promoted by the King,” Vorda answered through her teeth, ”You can quiz the King on Hansian’s qualifications if you like.”

Videgavia eyed her hard and then turned to Freja, ”I don’t like how this smells, Freja. I’m coming with you.”

It was everything Vorda could do to not tear her braids out but fortunately Freja was still displeased with the Daleman.

”You’ve already foisted your knife on me,”
she said irritably.

”Freja-“ Videgavia said, set to argue but Freja drew herself up, blue eyes cold.

”I wouldn’t walk Meduseld with a nursemaid either, Daleman.”

Vorda watched them trade glares and for a moment she thought Videgavia would press the issue. He seemed inclined to as far as she could see but instead he shook his head at her.

”Fine,” he grumbled, ”Not like I've nothing else to do while I’m here.”

And with that the Daleman took his leave, fuming in silence on his way out of the door. Vorda washed a hand over her face and considered Freja. She looked uncertain now, indecisive.

”Why is he here, Vorda?” she asked quietly, staring after Videgavia.

Vorda shook her head, ”I don’t know.”

Freja nodded at this and turned away to the window. She spent a lot of time staring out that window. She could stand there for hours at a time if Vorda didn’t find some way to draw her off. Standing there now, Vorda could see the bouts of shivering wash through Freja. Her commander had little liking for pity and yet how could she not pity this woman. If everything she had learned was true, Freja had battled a terrible foe alone since the Pelennor. As all around her had celebrated victory, Freja’s war had continued. And it was more than likely that she had pushed Berendil away to protect him. That was exactly the sort of thing Freja would do.

Ensuring that her expression was schooled, she approached her commander and stood silently by her side. Perhaps it was better if this didn’t proceed today. Freja’s eyes were glassy and dilated, terrified and peering out at the world from a very dark place indeed.

”Perhaps Captain Hanasian can wait a little longer,” Vorda softly said and Freja’s eyes narrowed.

”It was important, you said.”

“Yes, but that doesn’t mean-“

“Will Berendil be there? Is that what this is about? Am I to be called to account for my cruelty?”

“It is no ruse...nor censure,”
Vorda said, although it was entirely possible that Berendil might pop up. Likely, even.

Freja pushed out a heartfelt sign and shook herself, ”Listen to me, whining and snivelling like a green recruit. How quickly we forget our mettle, Vorda. Eriwyn would be disgusted were she here to see this.”

Vorda hadn’t know Eriwyn as Freja had but she imagined the steely Captain of the Shieldmaidens would feel compassion before contempt now.

”You mean to proceed,” she asked Freja and saw the other woman nod, almost as if convincing herself, and tighten her grip on her cane.

When they reached her door, Darhias had already absented himself. Likely he was scanning the way ahead from the Houses of Healing to the Citadel proper. Though it was but a short walk, it would be a gruelling and painful one for Freja. And yet, they could hardly do this in the Houses of Healing. Freja bore her pain in silence, grimly tapping her cane ahead with a fixed, dogged expression. By the time they reached the place of the meeting, her breath came in short, pained bursts and she was white as a sheet. Still she did not complain.

With no sight of Darhias or Berendil in the hall, Vorda remained behind as Freja advanced into the study to close the door behind her. She leant against it with a sigh and then her head jerked up as she heard movement. Sure enough, there was Darhias and he was not alone.

The study was a warm, comfortable place with wide windows admitting the morning sun and a small fire on the hearth to throw back any chill that might yet linger in the citadel’s stones. Waiting within was not Berendil but Hanasian. Freja released the breath she had not realised she had held as her stomach knotted tighter. Relief, for she doubted she could hold to her course if she set eyes on Berendil again, and disappointment for she longed to see him again, sense his presence. Emotion bounced jarringly within her and she knew it all to be utterly absurd. Why would he be here? She had given Berendil ample cause to despise her. Her jaw clenched as she advanced into the study.

Thick carpets lined the floors, muffling the echo of her cane, and reassuringly stout chairs anchored them. Hanasian leant against a wide desk, legs stretched in front of him. He took no effort to conceal the fact that he studied her. What he made of her Freja could not guess and further she was not sure that she wanted to. Nothing good, certainly. Not now.

Hanasian peeled himself off the desk and quickly strode to close the door as Freja selected a chair and discovered that she’d forgotten about her skirts yet again. They bunched uncomfortably around her and was forced to wrestle them back into place in a manner as undignified as it was all too common for her of late. It was at that moment that her cane slid rebelliously to the floor. Flustered, Freja growled a heated Rohirric curse and bent to retrieve it but Hanasian was already in motion as he returned from door. He swooped on his way past to collect it and set it back within her reach.

He made for the desk again to collect a book, ink and quill before selecting a chair for himself.

”Thank you for meeting me,” he said as he sat and set his possessions upon a nearby side table.

Freja lifted a shoulder to him, ”I was told this is important.”

He nodded and then seemed to hesitate, eyes flicking to the door as if he expected someone to come through it imminently. She turned about herself, twisting in her chair as much as her bodice permitted. What if it was Berendil? Could she hear voices from the hall?

As she stared at the door, Hanasian asked ”How do you fare?”

Her brow lifted, surprised that this was in any way important, and she straightened again to looked to the windows, ”I live. It’s more than I can for too many others.”

Her tone sounded bleak and bitter, as though she wished otherwise, even to her own hearing. A swift glance to Hanasian confirmed that he had heard it too.

”I was sorry to hear about Captain Eriwyn,” he said.

If Théoden had been as a father to her, Eriwyn had been as a mother. A fierce, demanding, iron fisted mother, but one who had steadied her path as she had come to understand the dangerous life she had been drawn to. Eriwyn had, for some reason, taken a liking to the scrappy, irascible, gangling even then, boisterous, illegitimate byblow of a girl she’d been given to train. That liking had developed into a fondness over the years and a deep regard had flourished. Eriwyn’s loss in Dale had been a deep blow, another grief set atop so many others. So many faces gone now…so many voices fallen silent.

The war had proved to be the death knell for the Shieldmaidens of Rohan as best Freja could discern. The northern contingent obliterated in Dale, the southern contingent reduced to a fraction of their number. Videgavia…he had wept when he told her of his grim task on that bloody day. He had stripped Eriwyn’s torcs from her body and returned to Edoras where they belonged.

Their captain dead and she unfit to serve. It would take generations to restore the damage done and Freja could not see how Éomer could do it. A tradition that had stood since the days of Eorl the Young had shrivelled away. The thunder of their hooves that rode, singing through her dreams now, was that of the dead. Still, Eriwyn would not approve of her brooding. No one could carry the dead, she would say.

Freja clenched a hand in her lap and steadied her voice, ”As was I.”

Hanasian leaned back in his chair, stretched out his legs and crossed his ankles, ”Has the fate of the Shieldmaidens been determined yet?”

“If so, I am unaware of it,”
Freja replied and tucked her hair behind her ears to emphasise the fact that she was no longer counted one of their number. Her hair spread in thick, loose waves to the small of her back now. Untorced. Unbraided. Whatever Éomer’s decision, she had no part in it now.

Hanasian nodded, ”And your role once you return Edoras?”

He’d noticed, then, that she wore Éomer’s colours. Berendil’s friend was a perceptive man who knew more of Rohan than first appearances might suggest but she had no way to answer that question either. Éomer had not been obliged to offer her anything aside from a cell. She expected no small degree of censure for her role in placing his sister upon that battlefield. Her failure to stem the savage losses to their ranks was egregious. He had every right to throw in her in chains. Instead, he had offered her a place in his service.

In what capacity she did not know. Such details, he had told her, could be established out once she was back at Meduseld. Perhaps those details included an intimate familiarity with the interior of one of Meduseld’s cells. Dark, fetid places they were. Wouldn’t that warm Wormtongue’s shrivelled black heart…though not as much as, say, a gibbet.

Freja frowned at herself as she realised her haphazard thoughts again careened. This happened to her all too often now. It was like she was falling, picking up speed, without any way of knowing where the bottom was. Perhaps there wasn’t one.

”That too remains to be seen,” she admitted and then lifted a shoulder in half a shrug, ”Chief harridan, perhaps.”

She caught what she thought was a small, wry smile and decided it was time to determine just what this meeting was truly about, ”Why is any of this of import? You surely can’t be in any way concerned overly much. Not after all I have done to…”

Freja trailed off as Hanasian's gaze sharpened on her. She did not say Berendil’s name but he heard it all the same. If he had assumed she would return to Edoras, then he had to know at least something of what had passed between she and Berendil.

”I bear you no ill will,” he answered, his expression and voice earnest, sincere.

Freja studied the Ranger’s face for a moment and then she shook her head at herself, ”I still fail to see why any of this is of import.”

Hanasian uncrossed his ankles and leant towards her, elbows on his knees. His eyes, a hint of blue mixed amongst the grey, glittered keenly.

”I’m to hunt Naiore Dannan.”

Freja’s reaction was as visceral as it was immediate. She recoiled sharply as the Elf’s name sent painful barbs jangling through her body. Her skin crawled. To her her horror, she realised that she was shaking. A name! Just a name and she was reduced to water, craven! Confusion and humiliation bloated within her, rushing in on the heels of her fear to fill the space it left behind.

She found herself leaning forward, hands pressed to her face and breathing hard through her nose. At least she had not fallen off her chair, she told herself, the thick curtain of her hair sealing the study off from her sight. A touch on her shoulder, light and brief but still enough to make her flinch, and then a horn mug filled with water appeared. Hanasian held it so that she could see it. Fear had scoured her throat. Shame coursed through her anew.

”It will help,” Hanasian softly said.

Humiliated, she wrapped her hands around the proffered water. The mug shook visibly but she didn’t drop it. She didn’t witlessly spill water. She brought it to her mouth and discovered that it was flavoured. The taste was unfamiliar, herbs though she was not sure which, but not unpleasant. Then Freja lowered the mug to her lap and considered her knees for a long moment. Her chest still heaved as though she was fresh off the tourney field. She could feel cold sweat trickling down her spine.

Pushing out a shivering breath, she murmured to herself in Rohirric, ”You must think me mad fool.”

”You clearly have no idea what I think,”
Hanasian’s voice was a quiet rumble, ”Keep drinking. It really will help.”

Freja peered up at him and found that he had retaken his seat. His expression was seemed to be one of concern rather than contempt. Then Freja realised that he had spoken to her in her mother tongue. He nodded at her, eyes pointedly falling to the mug she held in her lap. Puzzled, she lifted it to drink. Hanasian watched a moment longer to be satisfied that she heeded his counsel and then reached for his book.

She watched him unstopper the ink well and add his quill to it. He picked up his book and again he paused to return her scrutiny. Freja recalled that she was supposed to be drinking. She resumed and with a small shake of his head, Hanasian flipped open his book and commenced writing. She had no idea what no matter how she tried to watch the motion of his quill. Not Westron, she deduced, nor Rohirric but something else entirely.

Each time Hanasian looked up at her she ensured she compliantly drank. He was right; it did help. Each time he looked down she tried to guess at what he wrote. And so some time passed like this, cat and mouse back and forth, until she had drunk all the water and Hanasian had finished writing. He folded the book shut again and considered her solemnly.

”You’re the last to have seen the Elf and the only one known to have survived her,”
he told her, picking his words carefully to avoid invoking her name, ”What you know may be of assistance to me…but if it is too much, I can wait.”

Freja narrowed her eyes at that. She could not bear yet more pity. She was choking on the stuff. It came at her from all directions in this place, suffocating, squeezing her until she felt she could hardly breathe. She shook her head and then jerked her gaze away. There were larger concerns at play than her savaged, battered pride to consider.

She had stood in Hanasian’s boots more than once before. Were their positions changed, she’d want whatever information she could obtain as soon as she could get it. Hanasian’s offer to wait might just be a kind one but she could not accept it. Not if she claimed to still be in service to Éomer. Rohan was Gondor’s ally. That she was unfit to serve as a shieldmaiden did not expunge her duty to assist the realm and its allies.

”It may never get easier…you cannot wait indefinitely,”
she answered.

Hanasian gave her a dubious frown, ”You are certain?”

”If it is necessary, have at it Ranger.”

Hanasian’s jaw bunched beneath his closely trimmed beard, ”What can you recall of the encounter?”

Frega swallowed thickly and let her eyes fall to the desk. She studied it for a long moment as she tried to assemble her thoughts into something coherent. Then she violently shuddered and discovered her hands had tightened, white-knuckled on the horn mug. She forced them to unknit but when she made to answer, her throat contracted in open rebellion against her.

This had happened before, on that very day. The Elf had stolen her limbs from her before. Her thoughts, her mind, her soul too it seemed. Hanasian’s chair creaked as Freja fought for control. As before she won it back and she forced her reply past her choking fear.

”She found me unhorsed…compelled me to combat.”

Hanasian was silent for he’d opened his book in the time she had needed to regain mastery of herself and was now writing. His quill lightly scratched over the page. She focused on that sound, anchoring herself in this room. In this place and this time. Now. Still, the study faded away anyway and she was returned to that dreadful field with its charnel stench of terror and death redolent on each and every breath she drew.

Thick, acrid smoke roiled across her, oily and black, stinging her eyes. She’d forgotten about that awful smoke until now, it’s sickly sweet smell revealing yet another horror. She’d encountered it too many times in the East Fold, homes and villages burnt to the ground with their inhabitants still in them, for it even to be remarkable to her now. That, in itself, galled her.

In the midst of that horrendous carnage was the most beautiful and terrifying sight she had ever beheld. Tall, fair beyond all description, hair of fine gold and those eyes. Malevolent. Anathema. Full of horrors to come. Fell words floating on gossamer from perfect lips. The Elf drew closer through the ruin of the field, whispering, taunting, tormenting. Now, as then, Freja moaned. It was a deep, raw sound from the depths of her soul and she shuddered with naked revulsion as the Elf ruthlessly violated her mind, marauding through her very soul…

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

His head bowed and quill flying over the page, Hanasian was both astonished and appalled by the clarity and detail of Freja’s recall. Her account was one of utter terror and he knew that had their roles been reversed his voice would shudder too. There was no shame or cowardice in that. Despite her monolithic fear, though, Freja stood fast. Resisting the Elf, steadfast in her duty.

Hanasian expelled a quivering breath and then frowned as he saw it freeze despite the warmth of the room. Freja’s voice changed, became flat and lifeless and it made him look up. A great force bore down on Hanasian, pinning him as if he were no more than a tiny insect caught in a web far greater than he could conceive. His quill fell from his fingers and his book slid from his knees. All he could think of, all he could feel was a creeping horror, ancient and malevolent.

As he was pinned, Freja slid forward out of her chair to kneel upon the carpets. Still her account continued. He could hear her rip the words free, snarling with the effort it took. The wrath within the room swelled, throbbing, and then Freja fell to the floor outright. Her body arched as though her very bones unravelled. Agony soaked through her voice but still she spoke on.

Distantly he could hear people bellowing at the door, crashing into it. Time withered as the horror took hold and he knew a despair of the like he had not imagined. Hollow. Vast. Ravenous.

Freja was crawling now across the floor, snatching at the legs of the chairs she dragged herself past. She was panicking and he did not understand why until she hauled herself up again by the window ledge. Still she growled out her tale, but now it was broken by horrified sobs as two windows were pushed open. With dawning comprehension at what was unfolding right before his very eyes, Hanasian tried to heave himself out of his chair.

Still he could not move and now Freja was in the window. Tears streamed down her face as she stared beyond to her death. He could see her try to reach for the windowframe and haul herself back but the malice and fury of the power that permeated the room was too much.

Freja was begging now, pleading with herself but Naiore Dannan would not, could not be swayed. The Shieldmaiden was being dragged through the window before his horrified eyes. She knew she was going to die. He could see it in her face. Already her legs were through and by some wild surge of desperate will to survive, Freja clung to the interior of the window. And then…and then she began to sing.

Terrible it was, fell words of battle and death. A Shieldmaiden’s ancient battlesong.

“Then as now, witch,” Freja snarled between the verses, savage defiance a fierce if lonely light in her piercing blue eyes, ”I will not go quietly.”

She was slipping as she sang but she refused silence and surrender both. Dreadful rage filled the room and Hanasian found himself propelled from his chair towards Freja. He knew immediately what Naiore was trying to do and there was nothing he could do to stop her. He was as helpless as Freja was.

Hanasian was halfway across the study, set to collide with Freja and cause her to hurtle to her death, when then study door splintered. He fell to his knees, lathered in a chill sweat and shaking like a child as someone hurtled to the window with an anguished howl, and pitched forward into darkness.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

When Hanasian woke again, someone had rolled him onto his back and he stared up at the thick rafters of the ceiling. His head throbbed viciously as Darhias’ face appeared into view, floating between where he lay the the ceiling he studied. He offered Hanasian a brief grin and then stepped back. Hanasian rolled himself to his side and pushed himself up to sitting. Freja lay with her head in Vorda’s lap as Gandalf tended to her. Standing, watching on with his fists curling and uncurling, was Berendil.

Hanasian washed a hand over his face and wondered whether he was as ashen faced as Berendil was. The man was panting, as if he had only just gotten here but Hanasian was certain it had been Berendil that had raced for the window and that felt like it had happened hours ago. Hanasian looked to the study door and found it was in ruins. Darhias crouched beside him and passed him his flask.

”You look like you could use it,” Darhias quietly observed and Hanasian didn’t argue.

”What happened?” Darhias asked as Hanasian took a mouthful and passed it back.

He shook his head, unable to find any words to describe the horrifying, eerie scene he had beheld. Berendil could not tear his eyes from Freja. She was still now, quiet. Someone, likely Vorda, had sliced open the lacing of her kirtle so that she could breathe and the wizard’s hand rested on her brow. Hanasian looked to the hearth to find the small fire had been utterly extinguished, right down to its coals, such had been the savage intensity of the chill. His bones held a residual ache from it and there were patches of ice still fading from the window panes.

”Naiore Dannan,” Gandalf replied, eyes opening beneath a bristling brow, ”It is a marvel her heart did not burst.”

Vorda flinched, ”Does that mean she’s here in the city?”

”As best I can tell, this was accomplished from somewhere in Harad. She’s made an error, revealing her hand so boldly. A rare gift for us that almost came at too terrible a price.”

Hanasian swallowed as the various implications unfolded. He had at first thought that he had learned nothing of import to his task from Freja but now he knew he needed to make for Harad. And then, there was the matter of Freja. If she had been under Naiore Dannan’s influence all this time, that might well explain her strange conduct towards Berendil.

”Not easily are the Shieldmaidens of Rohan vanquished,”
Berendil softly murmured, as if to himself.

Hanasian slowly climbed to his feet, steadied by Darhias, as Gandalf removed his hand from Freja’s brow. No sooner was the wizard on his feet did Berendil sink to his knees by Freja. She looked to be at peace now, her striking features free of the torment and anguish that had beset her only moments ago. Berendil gently smoothed away her hair and ran the back of his fingers down her cheek, a gesture as tender as it was heartbreaking.

”Aragorn will want to know of this,” the wizard said, fixing Hanasian with a steely gaze for the moment and then turning for the ruined door. Already men gathered in the hall to peer in. At this rate, the King would learn of this well before Hanasian could duly report.

”I’ll wait with her until the healers arrive. They won’t be long,”
Vorda said to Berendil but the Ranger’s attention had shifted to Gandalf.

“Could it happen again?” Berendil asked, peering up at the wizard as he returned from the door.

”Not in a hurry. I’ve given that Elf a thing or two to think about,” Gandalf paused though, considering Freja, ”Though who can say? She’s shown more than a passing interest in the Shieldmaiden and she will be most wroth.”

This was not what Berendil wanted to hear and it showed. The man was shaken, fearful and desperate for a solution.

Gandalf seated himself and extracted his pipe as Berendil lingered, stroking Freja’s hand, ”Go on now. You’ll only be in their way when they get here and she’s safe enough with me.”

Hanasian nodded respectfully to Gandalf and Darhias crossed to squeeze Berendil’s shoulder. Reluctantly, the man stood, frowning down at Freja upon the floor, but allowed Darhias to draw him off. The three Rangers left the study with more than one backwards glance.

”What am I to do?” Berendil asked, plaintive, once they were out in the hall.

As far as Hanasian knew, the only thing that could be done was find Naiore Dannan.

”She’s strong,” Hanasian replied, ”Just look at what she has endured.”

“And she is safe here, in the keeping of the King and the wizard,”
Darhias added.

“For how long?” Berendil replied for they all knew Freja would not linger in Minas Tirith indefinitely.

He looked back to find the Wizard busy with his pipe, chatting amicably with the insensate Shieldmaiden as if she might wake at any moment and respond. He doubted that would be the case. Vorda looked too rattled to take any of this in.

Hanasian looked back to his friend, ”What are you going to do?”

Berendil shook his head, brooding, ”I don’t know. Something’s got to be done, though.”

Hanasian realised, then, that Berendil turned Freja’s torc over in his hand, ”She pushed you out of this fight, Berendil, perhaps to protect you.”

“Freja Fireborn chooses her own battles…as do I,”
Berendil replied, gaze directed through the study door.

His hand closed around the torc as Berendil looked back to him. He nodded at Hanasian, turned on his heel and strode away. The grim determination in his face worried Hanasian but he could not go after him now. The wizard was right. Aragorn needed to be informed immediately. With a shake of his head, Hanasian made off in the opposite direction.

The day flew past and it was late evening by the time Hanasian left the citadel. In that time, he had learned that Freja had been returned to the care of the Houses of Healing. He’d not heard any great detail. Only enough to know the news was not good. Naiore’s wrath had been most vicious today. As he walked, he felt a faint edge of discomfort. He had not forced Freja to do this. She had pressed on at her own volition. There had been no way to know this would happen. Still, if he were Berendil he’d have some hard questions to ask and thus far he’d not seen the man since earlier in the day.

Hanasian slipped into the common room of the White Swan Inn to discover the inn was crowded. Hanasian had little appetite for company and so he turned to leave. His name halted him and he turned back to see Berendil standing there, looking straight at him. Berendil was called the Fair for his appearance and his even tempered nature. Right at this moment, Berendil’s features were not arranged in a manner that suggested he was well disposed.

Heaving a sigh, Hanasian began to push his way through the throng towards Berendil. He found his friend at the other side, seated at a table that was empty of any tankards. His arms were crossed against his chest and his agitation played out in the rapid tapping of one booted foot upon the floorboards.

Hanasian would have rather had this discussion with an ale, preferably even something stronger, or even better not at all tonight. Instead he pulled out an empty chair and sat across the table.

”You’ve news,” he said, ”Out of interest, how did you hear?“

Berendil replied and raked a hand through his hair.

Hanasian grunted, unsurprised. He’d heard the two men arranging just this.

”And what does Darhias say?
” Hanasian asked next.

Berendil shifted in his seat and grief shivered through his voice, ”The healers aren’t certain what will happen next. She…screams when she wakes and so they keep her asleep.”

”She’s strong, Berendil. Consider what she has endured,”
Hanasian repeated and Berendil nodded impatiently as he washed his hands over his face.

”I don’t think I will ever forget that battlesong,” he hoarsely admitted and Hanasian nodded in agreement. There were a great many things about today he’d not soon forget either.

“Will the Elf return again?” came a growl that neither Hanasian nor Berendil were responsible for.

Both men looked up to find another loomed over the table. Tall, wiry, with a decidedly dangerous air. Weathered face, hard features reminiscent of Dale and eyes as black as the pits beneath Barad-Dûr. A killer, through and though, and an angry, stealthy one. The Daleman’s knuckles popped as he flexed his hands. Neither Hanasian nor Berendil had known of his approach.

”Who might you be?” Hanasian asked, his hand falling to the hilt of a knife.

”Answer the damn question! Is Freja free of Naiore Dannan or not?”

Across the table, Berendil’s expression coalesced into one as suspicious as it was angry as he recalled where he had seen this man before: Aragorn’s coronation. He’d seen him at Freja’s side in the press, speaking urgently into her ear. It was only the briefest of glances for no sooner had he found her in the crowd was she gone again. Whatever he had said, it had been enough to draw her off and keep her away. And now, here he was, demanding answers to questions concerning Freja.

”She sought Freja out before,” Hanasian said and left the implication hanging.

The Daleman bristled, ”Something’s got to be done!”

“Something is being done,”
Hanasian answered, glancing briefly across to Berendil who had said that very thing hours earlier, ”What concern is this of yours?”

the Daleman tersely answered and another knuckle popped, ”What’s being done?”

Berendil growled in return.

The Daleman considered him at length and then Hanasian, as if weighing them both up, then spun about and relieved a chair from a nearby table. It had not been unoccupied when Hanasian had arrived but they’d wisely moved on at the Daleman’s arrival. The fellow sat astride it and hooked his arms over its back – ready to whip it out and over someone’s head should it become necessary. A classic tactic for a close quartered melee. Given the way Berendil looked at him, Hanasian had a growing sense that it just might come to that.

”Fine,” the Daleman muttered, folded his arms atop the back of the chair, ”Freja and I go back a few years. Your turn.”

“I’m raising a company to hunt the Elf down,”
Hanasian replied despite the way Berendil scowled at him.

The Daleman’s dark brows lifted at that, ”Leaving when?”

“None of your business,"
Berendil spat.

“What makes you think I’ll have you?” Hanasian inquired, bemused by this man’s presumption.

The Daleman shrugged, ”I was good enough for the Shieldmaidens of Rohan. I’m good enough for you.”

Incredulous, Hanasian frowned, ”You served within their ranks?”

“Met Freja when she was knocking about Dale. Come the War, was me Freja sent her Captain to,”
the Daleman paused and then with what was perhaps the first display of humanity either Ranger had seen from him, ”Was me that returned Eriwyn’s torcs to Edoras.”

Hanasian lifted a brow but otherwise remained impassive as his thoughts spun. Freja would not waste her time with this fellow if she deemed him in any way inadequate or untrustworthy. Certainly, she’d not commend him to her sisters and captain. Added to that was the fact the man had survived the fighting in Dale. It had been, by all accounts, horrendous.

”How would you describe your skills?” Hanasian asked and the Daleman gave him a murderous smile.

”I’ll leave that to you, Ranger,” he replied as he stood, ”Name’s Videgavia.”

With that, the man stalked off and Hanasian scrubbed at his face. It had been a long, tiring day.

Berendil raked his hand through his hair, ”Will you take him on?”

Hanasian pushed out a sigh and nodded, ”Provided what he says is true.”

Berendil grunted at that and pushed back his chair to stand. The grim light had returned to his face again.

”Where are you going,” Hanasian asked, worried. The man had to be out of his wits by now.

Once Berendil's mind seized on something there was little chance of shaking it.

“Doing something,” Berendil obtusely replied and wove through the press for the door.

Hanasian dared not imagine just what Berendil’s mind had settled upon now. He hoped that it was no more than seeking out Darhias for a further update.
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Re: Legacy Prequel - The Ranger & The Shieldmaiden

Postby elora » Sun Oct 02, 2016 7:44 pm

3019, III – May to July, Minas Tirith

After the day’s events, Hanasian was beyond tired. He went to his tent and fell into a deep sleep but could only manage that for a short while. He discovered this when he awoke again and, resigned, rose and returned to the city and the White Swan Inn on the lowest level. An ale or six would remove the dreadful events of the day from his mind long enough to permit him rest.

No sooner did Hanasian get to the front door did it burst open. He barely had time to get out of the way of the two men that came flying out with it. They crashed hard onto the street and rolled, grappling at each other as each tried to land a blow. Hanasian leaned against the inn’s door frame and watched the show but it did not last long for the City Watch was prompt. They intervened to pull the two men apart and it was then that Hanasian saw that it was Darhias and Videgavia.

”What is all this, then? Do you need to go to the cells?” The Watch officer glared at both men who, in turn, only had savage eyes for each other.

Hanasian stepped reluctantly into the street, ”These two are mine, Officer, and my apologies for this disturbance to the City’s good order. I’m sure they will explain themselves immediately.”

Hanasian glared at Darhias first, then turned his hard gaze onto Videgavia. Both men continued their belligerent silence until Hanasian growled a further prompt, ”Well?”

Darhias cleared his throat as he brushed himself off, buying time, ”It was a misunderstanding…”

“Just a soldier’s fight,”
Videgavia said, no more convincing than Darhias had been.

The Watch officer looked to each as he responded, ”There’ll be no more of this. Any more trouble out from either of you and to the cells you will go, no matter whose men you may be.”

The officer turned to Hanasian next, his displeasure apparent, ”Keep better control over your men, Captain.”

Teeth set so that they would not grind, Hanasian nodded and waved the two men toward the Inn as the Watch officer took his leave, eyeing all three of them hard and shaking his head. Still, he let them enter the Inn unchallenged and as soon as the door closed after them Hanasian slammed Videgavia into the wall beside it.

“If you are going to join my company, this stops. Neither Freja nor Vorda nor any shieldmaiden I can think of would approve of your antics tonight,” Hanasian shifted his gaze to Darhias for good measure, ”From either of you.”

Darhias rolled his shoulders, as if to suggest that perhaps Vorda would have been in on this with bells on were she here, but he gave no argument to that effect. Sensing Hanasian’s momentary distraction, Videgavia elected to test Hanasian’s strength in the bid to escape his grip. It ended poorly for him when Hanasian slammed him in the wall a second time, hard enough to rattle his teeth in his gums. The Daleman’s flat, cold black eyes stared into Hanasian’s for a long moment, as though testing his resolve, and then his unsettling smile returned. It had a sharp, mocking edge to it.

”Whatever you say…. Captain.”

Hanasian loosened his grip on the Daleman and allowed him to stand and straighten his rumpled clothing. Reasonably confident the man would not whip a dagger between his ribs, he looked again to where Darhias stood, eyes narrowed. Whatever the cause of this grievance, it was not a mere soldier’s argument.

”Both of you to my table,” Hanasian ordered and then flagged the attention of the young woman who tended the inn’s common room, ”Three flagons if you please.”

The ale was not long in arriving and once they had, Hanasian forestalled the woman’s departure, ”On the morrow, these two, along with the rest of my company, will arrive to assist in clearing away the damage to your inn.”

It was a small gesture but one immediately appreciated for the young woman’s face brightened immediately. She nodded and ducked away in a rush to convey the tidings. Videgavia and Darhias, meanwhile, were silent despite the fact they’d just been assigned to what could only be hard labour.

Left to their own devices again, Hanasian briefly considered pressing the men further on their violent disagreement. He opted, instead, to sit. Just sit. He was so tired. Berendil was off who knew where doing who knew what. Clearly not with Darhias. He wiped a weary hand over his face and tried to clear his mind. Worrying for Berendil, ruminating on the awful events of the day, served no one well.

The silence at their table stretched until the Daleman broached a question, ”Does this mean you’ve accepted me into this company of yours?”

Hanasian grunted at that and set down his tankard, ”Under two conditions. First, you must respect the company’s given authority from the King of the Reunited Realm of Numenor in exile. Secondly, you must bring in worthy recruits of your own.”

Despite Darhias’ rumbling, Hanasian spoke without hesitation. He needed good soldiers, and he was sure this man would know one or two within in the city and possibly more from the north. Hanasian had signed on good men of Gondor and many Rohirrim pledged to join upon their return to Minas Tirith. Still, he knew the company would be best served by skills from many lands given the hostile nature of their first destination. Hanasian downed his ale as he considered this and Videgavia soon proved his intuition correct.

”There are a few here I know of. More up north,” the Daleman supplied and then paused, ”Not so many now, I suppose.”

Hanasian rubbed at his chin and nodded, having guessed right. ”I have need of varied skills. If they can stomach soldiering still and have something to offer, I’m interested.”

Videgavia downed his ale as he pushed back his chair to stand, ”I think I know the sort you’re looking for. Whether I can find them…time will tell.”

The Daleman set off without so much as a backwards glance or by your leave and Hanasian returned to his thoughts. One less problem now that Videgavia was preoccupied and out of his hair, possibly two if the Daleman brought in any decent recruits. Darhias had in all this time kept his peace, sipping at his ale.

It was only once Videgavia had departed that Darhias spoke, ”I’m not as nimble as I once was and don’t think I’d do well on long marches and such. Still I’ll keep my eyes and ears out for you, so you can count me in as far as that goes. Have you asked Berendil?”

Hanasian nodded, “He had no interest.”

Darhias set down his empty flagon and stood. He left Hanasian with his advice, ”You may want to ask him again.”

Hanasian weighed it up carefully. He’d spoken to Berendil about a company early on now but his friend’s usually mild manner had been dark and distracted. He’d dwelt upon Freja’s refusal to see or speak to him, desperate to understand it. From there he had sunk lower and lower, drowning his sorrow in ale though Minas Tirith barely had enough for the man. Something had changed when he had stumbled in a drunken haze across Hanasian and Vorda that evening by Snowmane’s barrow. Just why he’d been out there had not been explained. Hanasian suspected the man spent a lot of time there, in the place he’d discovered Freja’s broken body.

Inebriated though he was, Berendil had known immediately that they were discussing Freja. He’d happened into them at the worst possible time, just as Hanasian conveyed the concerns raised by Lord Celeborn himself. And now, well Berendil had seen for himself the awful truth. The woman he clearly loved continued to be tormented by this Elf. Hanasian replayed Berendil’s words in the hall of the citadel. He had spoke of the necessity to do something twice today and a grim light had been in his eyes on both occasions.

Hanasian knew he should speak with Berendil again and yet where was the man? He’d left without any explanation hours ago now. Perhaps he should look for him at the Houses of Healing. Perhaps he should trawl the city’s taverns to find him. Hanasian shook his head, his eyes gritty now with fatigue, and pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes. What he wouldn’t do for another hour of sleep. Was sleep a thing of the past now that he had accepted Aragorn’s commission? He was wondering this as Berendil pushed through the door.

His friend looked to him briefly, expression unreadable, and sought out the serving maid. Instead of ale, Hanasian watched him order tea. This, he thought, was an encouraging development. That done, Berendil seated himself at Hanasian’s table.

He acknowledged Berendil with a slight lift of his flagon but didn’t say anything. Berendil returned his silence with a nod of his head, and fell to his own thoughts as he set a finger to trace an old carving on the table’s scarred surface. This he repeated until a steaming cup of tea was set before him. Berendil nodded his thanks, curled his hand around it and lifted it to blow at the steam and sip.

His eyes closed at that, indicating to Hanasian that his friend was preparing to say something. What, he could not guess. Anything from mounting a siege on the Houses of Healing to returning to Arnor.

”Word is out now that you are actively recruiting for a free company. I’ve heard it mentioned all over the city tonight.”

Giving the fact that Berendil was not slurring his speech, Hanasian could only conclude that the man had spent the past hours sampling tea all over Minas Tirith. He might as well get the question out of the way given the man was sober.

“You want in?”

Berendil sipped at his tea a moment, ”Is the goal of this company is to seek out and kill Naiore Dannon?”

And there we have it, Hanasian thought, as he drained his ale and set his flagon on the table.

“The Elf has been the catalyst for the company’s formation, but is not its sole purpose. Consider it…our first order of business.”

Berendil sighed at this, sipped yet more tea and then asked, “Who do you have, aside from our brethren Bareck and Hilferin?”

“Many Gondorians joined. Some skilled rangers from Ithilien and highlander bowmen from Lebannin, and a few gloomy Gondorian regulars who previously were stationed in Osgiliath. Some of the younger Rohirrim may join but that remains to be seen. Most have returned home to set things in order. We will see how many do return. Oh, I accepted the Northman… Videgavia of Dale.”

Berendil sighed unhappily at that, ”Why him?”

Hanasian replied, ”Why not him? He’s seen much up north. I think he could be indispensable when these young ones on board are under pressure. Besides, he is likely to bring in others beyond our Dunedain circles. In this diversity lies our strength.”

Berendil scowled as he muttered to the table, ”I don’t like him. I can’t say why, but there is something…”

Berendil glared at the table for a while longer before he pushed out a resigned sigh and lifted his attention back to Hanasian, ”I suppose it makes sense to you on some level. Though I’d prefer he not be around, you can count me in, but likely only until the Elf is dealt with.”

“It may never be over Berendil,”
Hanasian warned as he reached for his list and set to adding Berendil’s name. He looked up when the man didn’t answer and saw that Berendil wasn’t listening. He was lost in his own thoughts again…

No matter how he tried, Berendil could not stop wondering what might have happened had he not crashed into that room. Freja would, like as not, be dead now. Her body lifeless, cold and broken upon the city’s flagstones. Every time he closed his eyes he saw it play out. Hanasian, stricken, unable to break free of Naiore’s malevolent grip. Freja, all but hanging from that window, snarling into the gaping maw of death. The Elf had not counted on him, nor the Wizard. She’d be diminished now after encountering Gandalf. How long, he wondered, would she linger in Harad. Where would she go next? Would she elude them? Should they set out now…no, he knew that to be unwise. And yet, sitting here idle was difficult for him to bear.

Finally Berendil bestirred himself, speaking as if from a dream, ”I will do what I can to end Freja’s torment.”

At that Hanasian offered Berendil a relieved smile, ”You’ll make a fine sergeant, then. I need someone like you to shape this mob into something cohesive. Someone I can trust. Would you accept such a position as this?”

“Why not the Northman? You just said he’d make a good leader under pressure,”
Berendil observed but Hanasian shook his head.

”I still say that, but as of now I need those I trust implicitly. That is why I ask you.”

Berendil’s reluctance showed in his expression. He didn’t want such a responsibility and yet how could he deny his friend? Berendil closed his eyes and all he could see was Freja. She’d accept without question such an undertaking. He would have asked to bring Freja in then and there too but this he could not do. At this very moment she lay in the care of the city’s healers after being pulled between that Elf and the Wizard. No one could tell him what the outcome would be. Such things could break the spirit and mind both. And yet, even if he never saw nor spoke with her again, he’d do this for her. There was little he would not do, he was coming to realize, for this woman.

Sipping the last of his tea, Berendil set his cup down and answered Hanasian in a voice as resigned as it was firm, ”I will do it, provided I can bring in Darhias. I’ll need him.”

”Darhias has told me long marches are beyond him now,”
Hanasian replied, ”But he will be invaluable for us whilst we are here in the city. Have him along when next we gather.”

Berendil nodded at that and took his leave, leaving Hanasian to his own devices at last. Sleep, he knew, was beyond him now and so he waved off the serving woman as she returned to collect his flagon and Berendil’s cup. She wiped the table down as was her custom, familiar with Hanasian’s habits now. As she had predicted, he reached for a bound book as he thanked her, opened it and looked through the first two pages.

The commission and preamble were complete. Hanasian retrieved the quill and ink he kept on the window ledge by the table and began to write. At the top of a clean page he wrote in his large flowing script ‘Company Roster’. He listed the names in order of their agreement to join. With Videgavia, Berendil, and Darhias, he was now up to twenty.

The next day, Videgavia brought in a man he deemed worthy. The fellow’s name was Gilkis, a long range scout that had travelled south with Videgavia after the cessation of the war in Dale. With skills in smithing and leatherwork, Gilkis was a quiet serious man. Hanasian accepted him immediately. Videgavia also made mention of another scout that had journeyed south with him but Gilkis said that this man had returned north already.

Videgavia shrugged at that news, ”Perhaps he will return with more of our brethren.”

Hanasian thought it was more than a little curious that the antisocial Daleman had any notion of brethren but he said nothing on that. Perhaps Videgavia would be proven correct. He hoped that his younger cousins in Rohan had gotten the word he had sent and would come as well.

With the coronation of King Elessar, talk in the city had turned to the impending wedding of Lord Faramir to Lady Éowyn. Increasingly the Dunédain still remaining in Minas Tirith spent time in the citadel of Minas Tirith as Aragorn set his court into order. Through this Berendil worked apart, dedicating himself to his new role with far more diligence and seriousness than Hanasian had anticipated. He worked from dawn to dusk and beyond, resenting time needed to eat or sleep or so it seemed. If he stopped for any other reason, it was to attend a formal ceremony he had been summonsed to and even then, Hanasian suspected, it was only to catch sight of Freja. She was up and about again, surpising many with the strength of her recovery and lending hope to the notion that perhaps she was indeed free of Naiore Dannan’s malice.

Berendil glimpsed her once, at Éowyn’s wedding. The Daleman was not in attendance and she stood with her kith and kin, watching on. She was as beautiful to behold as she was remote. He left as soon as he could, pleading off by saying he needed to work on company planning. Instead, he found himself writing Freja a letter.

M’Lady Freja Fireborn,

I hope this finds you well and your spirits high…

Berendil stared at the halting sentences he set down and then threw the sheet into the fire. Three times he began anew, but the words just would not flow from his quill. He knew what he wanted to say. He could almost taste the words on his tongue. Yet for reasons unknown, they did not seem right once he wrote them down.

It was well into the early hours before he was done. It read nothing like what he set out to write…

’As much as I wish to hold you and be at your side in your struggle against the Elf’s evil, I have come to accept that you will not permit this. It grieves me to no end yet I will respect your decision. I will step back and cease my attempts to see you and talk to you.

Long have I tried to understand why you have chosen this and I cannot say that I do. I must trust that you have considered this carefully, that your reasoning is sound. Perhaps you see more in the days and years ahead than I do.

All I ask is that you know this... I will never forget you.

My love for you will ever burn bright as the sun, with all the warmth to match. Those moments we shared in Dunharrow I will hold to. They are all that I have and they are priceless to me. Though I will not seek you out, I will look for you always. Any passing glimpse of you from afar will bring me joy.

I now put my will and effort into the company Hanasian forms but it will only be for a time: until Naiore Dannan is hunted down and called to justice for her crimes. I do this for it is the only way I know to combat the affliction you have endured.

Forevermore, one day, I hope that we will meet again and recall the fire at Dunharrow.

Namarie Freja, Ci velethril e-guil nîn


He didn’t read it again, but set it aside and went in search of water for his dry throat. He slaked his thirst and afterward folded the letter and sealed it. Berendil inscribed Freja’s name upon it in his flowing script and he resolved to pass it to Vorda come the morning. For now, he had to focus upon his duty.

A few days later, Hanasian gathered the company at the White Swan Inn to address them for the first time.

”Firstly, I congratulate each of you for deciding to be a part of this company. The paths we will take will not be easy and so I offer you a final chance to reconsider.

“The company will be officially inaugurated in two days when we take over the Ranger camp beyond the city gates. By now, those Dunédain not joining us have found their own accommodations within the city proper and their camp will be formally turned over to us two days hence.

“Anyone who reports in at that time will be bound to the company by order of King Elessar.”

Hanasian held aloft a rolled parchment that bore Aragorn’s seal for good measure before he continued, ”We have little time to shape ourselves into a company and we’ve yet to establish a plan for our first expedition. I will give you more detail on that in two days. I hope to see you there.”

With that Hanasian’s address was concluded and those assembled filed off quietly. If it hadn’t been real to them before, it was all bearing down on them now. As the next two days passed, Hanasian found himself wondering just how many would return.

When the morning came, Hanasian met the Dunédain in front of the old camp. In his preparations for this moment he had not found anything to use as a company standard. As if by fate, a thick black cloth blew across the field and caught on his foot. He reached down to pick it up. It would have to do. It wasn’t until he had set it right that he realized it was a part of a torn cape of a fallen Citadel Guard.

Silver flecks were woven into it and it was torn in such a shape as to have two ragged points. A stark reminder that the war was not so long ago and a sign that for them, along with a shieldmaiden within the city, their war has yet to cease.

The Dunédain with him saluted in their fashion and took this new standard into the camp. Hanasian remained where he was, studying his banner in the breeze. All he could hear in that moment was the sound of the wind as it plucked at their tents and the standard. It was then was broken by a steady cadence of approaching boots. Hanasian turned about to see his men approaching, all in step, flanked by Berendil on one side and, remarkably, Videgavia on the other. As his gaze swept through them, marking faces, he noted that every man he had seen at the inn two days ago had returned. More than that, there were new faces among them. Perhaps they were not doomed after all.

Hanasian set up in what had been Aragorn’s tent and through the day, each man who had pledged signed the roster beside his name. Those who newly arrived spoke with Hanasian and of these most signed on. A quick count of the names recorded on the roster revealed that he now had a company of twenty seven. That they had arrived in such order was encouraging. Still, their number was painfully small and the task ahead as complex as it was huge.

Armies had tried to apprehend Naiore Dannan and failed. She had wrought havoc through the Last Alliance of Gil-Galad and Elendil. The records of the time, all of which he had read, had included accounts of her picking off Elves and Men, setting them against each other seemingly for her own amusement. Unstoppable despite the siege upon her master’s doorstep. The disaster of the Gladden Fields had been her doing, a devastating display of her power.

And he had twenty seven, none of them Noldorin. With a shake of his head, Hanasian ducked out of his tent and ordered the men to form ranks for their swearing in.

”Welcome to the First Order of the Free Company. As I said before, time is not our ally. We must plan how we will reach Harad undetected. Our quarry’s powers at this time are, at best, uncertain. Though her master has fallen, she has already displayed considerable strength in her desperation to remain at large,” Hanasian’s gaze travelled to Berendil to find him staring fixedly ahead. Videgavia had taken to muttering to himself, expression murderous.

”I suspect we will have to determine how we take Naiore Dannan into custody on the way,” Hanasian said, well aware that neither Berendil nor Videgavia would welcome news that they weren’t just going to kill the Elf on sight. He pushed on as fast as he could before dissent arose.

”Add to that the wide and likely hostile land Harad will be and we have a hard road before us. We set out upon it after the Rohirrim have quit the city to return King Théoden to his home. That is likely to occur any day now, so I want you all prepared. Use the rest of the day to settle in. Tomorrow, we commence training. A dawn run up the mountain and back again should serve nicely.”

And so their days passed, all too quickly for Hanasian’s liking. As the field before the city’s gates cleared of camps, the company’s encampment looked out of place and so Hanasian had his men pull it up and move it to the other side of the city, towards Harlond. Their new location offered them access to the South Road along with the quays, in the event they took ship, and it was done and finished just as the horns marking the return of the Sons of Elrond, escorting their sister to Minas Tirith, could be heard sounding in the distance.
Last edited by elora on Mon Oct 03, 2016 6:00 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Legacy Prequel - The Ranger & The Shieldmaiden

Postby elora » Sun Oct 02, 2016 10:11 pm

3019, III – July, Minas Tirith

Berendil pushed a breath beyond his tensed jaw from his position beside Hanasian. The two men stood upon a balcony of Minas Tirith’s citadel, watching those assembled in the forecourt below to escort King Théoden to his final place of rest. Amidst Rohan’s Knights and Shieldmaidens, Freja was clearly visible. Her hair shone in the sun, long bright tendrils lifted on the morning breeze.

Vitality had returned to Freja and yet, neither man had forgotten that horrifying experience of a few months ago. Hanasian would recall the look of singular dread as she realised that she was going to die for the rest of his days along with the sickening realisation that he could do nothing to prevent it. Berendil found himself still gripped by the terror he had felt that day too. His dreams were haunted by what could have happened.

But no, Freja was alive and with her kindred in the morning sun. Some touched her arm in passing and smiled, others engaged her in conversation. Freja responded in kind, moving from one to the other. Yet, for all of that, she seemed preoccupied…as if she waited someone or expected something to occur.

Like as not, Hanasian thought, her mind turned to the man beside him and he considered drawing her attention. Today marked the day she would return to Edoras and Berendil had been adamant that he would see her from afar. He studied his friend sidelong. There was one reason he was resolved on joining the Black Company: Freja. Whilst Hanasian had been greatly pleased to have Berendil at his side, he harboured a number of concerns.

Chief amongst his concerns was the length of time it could take them to find Naiore Dannan. It could be months, weakened as she had to be without Sauron to fall back on now. More likely it would be years and those years would pass swifter for Freja than he or Berendil. This was the way of the Dunédain. It was entirely possible that they never found Naiore Dannan. Berendil could perish in the task. Good men fell as frequently as the bad. The Elf could very well outlive them all.

Hanasian shook his head at his thoughts. These matters were not for him as captain to resolve. Berendil was a skilled Ranger, capable and strong, and he was a fine addition to the company. As a friend though, Hanasian feared Berendil’s choice would prove to be one he would come to bitterly regret. This was something Hanasian had been worrying about since they had left Dunharrow. More than once Hanasian had wondered whether it would have been better if he hadn’t of drawn Berendil off to see the Shieldmaidens of Rohan that fateful night.

Had not been him to push Berendil onto that field that night. He’d tried to stop Berendil’s uncharacteristic madness. He’d told him that it was the equivalent of throwing yourself into a pack of wolves and that he’d not emerge unscathed yet Berendil had proceeded all the same. Berendil had a far greater peril: Naiore Dannan. All for the woman Berendil watched below.

”Are you sure about this?” Hanasian asked, ”It’s not too late to reconsider.”

Berendil nodded, eyes not leaving Freja below, ”I am certain.”

“Does she know what you’re doing?”
Hanasian pressed, recalling how resolute Freja had been from the outset to exclude Berendil from this. That is what Vorda said the night he had spoken with her. There was little, according to Vorda, that would stand between her mentor and protecting those dear to her.

Berendil nodded, ”If she does not yet, she soon will. Vorda will make sure of it.”

Hanasian shook his head at that and returned his attention to the scene below.

All gathered were clad for travel. The Knights and Shieldmaidens were armed and armoured as per their custom, green cloaks flapping from their shoulders as they moved about. Freja bore neither weapon nor armour though she had had succeeded in losing her skirts. Her garb was what one might expect of a serving member of Rohan’s royal household. She wore a long fitted jerkin of emerald silk over a short cream tunic and tan breeches. The only suggestions to be had that woman was more than some sort of royal functionary were the boots she wore and the belt she’d slung about her hips in all its sturdy, gnarled and well loved glory. There was nothing refined or delicate about either.

The approach of a Knight and a Shieldmaiden, fully braided but torcless, won a wide smile out of Freja. These, then, were those she accounted friends. All three heads bowed and there was an immediate kinship apparent quite different to that which might be observed between Rangers. Something said made Freja laugh in a manner that was suggestive, filled with illicit delight that invariably attracted interest from others – be it curiosity, anticipation or disapproval.

Her companion shook her head slowly from side to side but the Knight grinned rakishly, thumbs hooked through his baldric and at his ease as he rocked back and forth on his heels. Judging from the wide smile on the man’s face, he was well pleased with himself. The moment passed and the fellow took his leave as Freja and her sister Shieldmaiden fell to talking about something else. Nothing dire by their expressions, but certainly it was serious business. Freja’s gaze swung to where Vorda stood with Darhias and then away again. She bowed her head to consider her boots and then delivered whatever her thoughts on the matter were to her companion.

Hanasian was struck by a sudden pang as he watched on. His eyes wandered to mark out the other Shieldmaidens present below. Rohan’s king had always been their preserve to defend, until such time as Wormtongue intervened. They were outnumbered some five to one by Rohan’s Knight’s below and these were likely all that remained in active service. None would have remained behind, not with Éomer and Théoden both to see to.

How awful it would be, Hanasian thought, if these women were to be lost entirely. Nothing endured forever in mortal lands. Not even the Elves. There would come a time when there were no Shieldmaidens or Knights or Rangers. How remarkable it would be to capture their songs and their history if such a chance arose.

The Sindarin oath that Berendil hissed intruded through Hanasian’s thoughts and he frowned, unsure what had drawn such a pronounced response from the man. His frown deepened when he marked a dark head moving through the Rohirrim below. Judging from his path, Videgavia was directly approaching Freja however she remained unaware of this. Her companion paused, noting the Daleman’s arrival and alerted Freja. She spun about, the quality of her movement suggesting she was surprised.

The Daleman began to speak immediately, hands moving about in an animated fashion utterly foreign to the fellow. Loquacious and expressive were not qualities Hanasian had ascribed to Videgavia. For her part, Freja remained contained. She nodded intermittently but did not seem to otherwise say anything. Not that she had the chance, Hanasian realised, and then concluded that she was waiting Videgavia out. The Daleman had to run out of breath at some point. She was playing a strategic game, but of what nature he could not guess.

The sound of Berendil’s teeth grinding emerged as the Daleman leaned forwards toward Freja. A sideways glance revealed Berendil’s expression was one of rare open anger, but already Freja was dealing with the matter of her own accord.

She carefully eased back from Videgavia, movement subtle and measured. Whatever Videgavia’s connection was to Freja, it was obviously not reciprocated in full. That’s what it looked like to Hanasian, at least. She wasn’t batting her lashes, twirling hair, smiling coquettishly. Not that he could imagine that woman ever doing so. Rather, she was patiently smiling until Videgavia ran out of things to say.

When he did, Freja’s response was prompt, almost brusque but she softened whatever she said with a warm smile. At that Videgavia reached towards her as if he would embrace her. Berendil’s spine stiffened involuntarily at this but Freja intercepted the Daleman with a swift extension of her arm towards him. Videgavia diverted quickly to grasp it with his own but it was awkward and, judging by the disappointed grimace on his face, not at all what he had wanted.

He freed himself from that parting gesture with a haste, nodded and drew back from Freja. He remained there for a moment, at which Freja canted her head to one side evidently trying to ascertain what the Daleman was really about, and then turned on his boot heel and left. Freja studied his departure for a few more heartbeats, then shook her head and pushed her hair back as if resetting her thoughts. She turned away just as Videgavia turned around again to stare at Freja’s back. Hanasian thought he had the look of a man working up his courage.

Videgavia had only offered sparse detail on the nature of his connection with Freja. Allies and companions in battle. Perhaps even friends. Now it seemed that there was far more to the bond than Videgavia had alluded to. He was a secretive, cold man. So much so, it seemed, that even the woman he cared for was oblivious to his feelings. If Videgavia returned to remedy that, Berendil’s restraint might very well snap.

The Daleman stared at Freja’s back for what seemed to be for a very long time and then lifted his eyes to balcony, as if he had known Berendil had been there all along. A provocation, a declaration, an admission? What, Hanasian wondered, for the Daleman’s expression was unreadable. The silent exchange ended with the arrival of Foldine, one of the Rohirrim that had signed onto the Company when Videgavia had put out a call of his own.

Foldine was an experienced warrior with little interest in retiring his spears. His expansive, convivial nature stood in stark contrast to the Daleman’s acerbic one. Foldine closed on the man in an amicable fashion, reinforcing the fact that Videgavia of Dale was well regarded in Rohan despite his antisocial inclinations. Even Hanasian’s younger twin cousins, Frea and Folca, had looked duly impressed when they heard Videgavia would be serving with them. The Daleman was highly skilled and surprisingly well connected. For all of that, Hanasian wondered at how Videgavia would conduct himself within the company.

Berendil, thus far, had restrained himself when it came to the Daleman but Hanasian was not confident that Videgavia would be similarly inclined. That which drew the two men to the Company, Freja, could well fracture it. He’d have to maintain a hard disciplinary line. Berendil would appreciate that for himself but Hanasian was not nearly so certain of Videgavia. The man seemed to accept no master beyond himself.

Any further consideration of this conundrum was pushed aside by the arrival of Théoden’s bier. Éomer, Éowyn and Aragorn followed in solemn procession. Those gathered in the forecourt, Freja included, lowered their heads as the bier was brought forward and set reverently in the bed of the wagon that was to bear Théoden to his final resting place.

Proud green pennants snapped upon the morning breeze as sombre silence fell upon those assembled. It hung suspended in the bright summer air, a mark of profound respect that all were reluctant to break. Upon it’s end, those below set to moving out. It would be quite the procession from Minas Tirith to Edoras.

Already the streets and avenues of the city below were lined with people, waiting to pay one final mark of respect for the king that had fallen in their defence and those that had ridden with him. Hanasian would not be surprised if people came from wherever they might be on the road back to Edoras to stand, heads bowed, to mark Théoden’s final journey and set eyes upon Rohan’s new King.

As people moved to their horses, Freja approached Théoden’s bier. She stretched out a hand to touch the richly couched wagon tray, fingers gentle as if she feared somehow damaging the finery. As she did this, Éowyn left her brother and the king and came forward to join her. The White Lady of Rohan was not clad for travel for she was now wed to Lord Faramir and would remain in Gondor at his side. The two women drew together a final time, their lives parting on separate courses any moment now.

Their heads bowed together and the breeze mingled their unbound hair. A pale, stately gold wove with rich, bold fire as they spoke quietly to each other. Éowyn tucked an errant strand of hair behind Freja’s ear, the gesture one of immeasurable fondness, as Freja drew her arm around her. Leave taking, joy and grief mingled. Hanasian glanced sideways to Berendil and saw that the man’s eyes shone with unshed tears.

A soft word from Éomer parted the two women. Lord Faramir came forward, his presence previously unmarked, to claim his bride’s arm, and returned her to take leave of her brother. Freja gathered herself, straightened her back and rolled her shoulders as if she readied for combat, and turned towards her horse. Darhias held it at the ready for her, his presence below a company arrangement initiated by Berendil and ratified by Hanasian.

Darhias had no intention to set out for Harad with the rest of them, though this was not solely due to his inability to endure long marches. Darhias had been intent on settling down with Vorda. By agreement, this would now occur not in Rhuadar but Edoras. Given Naiore Dannan’s overt interest in Freja, it was unwise to leave themselves without a careful watch behind them as they ventured to Harad.

Freja’s progress to her horse was markedly faster and smoother than when Hanasian had seen her last. She did not lean upon her cane so greatly and something of her usual rolling gait, had begun to return. Freja issued what would have been orders were she still a Shieldmaiden as she went. But for the injuries she had sustained upon the Pelennor, the woman below would now be Captain of the Shieldmaidens. Those she addressed responded as if she were, swiftly attending to the fine details she noted. The sort of things only an experienced eyes would see.

Oh, to have a Shieldmaiden or two on the company, Hanasian wistfully thought. Not a one had had sought him out, devout in their fealty to Rohan. There were too few to release and Éomer hoarded them jealously as a result. Hanasian couldn’t fault the man for that.

Darhias moved forward to assist Freja to mount but she waved him off. The Ranger hesitated, looked to Vorda to find her emphatically shaking her head at him, and then up to the balcony where Berendil and Hanasian stood. In this time, Freja had stowed her cane and gripped her saddle tightly in preparation to hoist herself into her saddle unassisted.

Pure determination alone was not enough to get even Freja Fireborn into the saddle yet none of the Rohirrim were disposed to intervene. Disaster seemed imminent, anything from falling to the unforgiving flagstones under foot to being trampled by her own horse. For all of this, those watching on below looked…impressed. Open admiration and no small amount of curiosity as if they thought she just might accomplish such an impossible feat.

”Madness,” Berendil murmured, worried.

”Possibly,” replied Hanasian, ”But, then, so was their dawn charge on the Pelennor…and we both know where she would have been in that.”

At the front, roaring lustily for blood, as they thundered into the combined might of Mordor’s army. A stunning, eerie, rousing sight if the accounts of the city citizens that watched on in stunned amazement in that grim dawn could be relied upon. The woman Berendil loved was not one to shun peril, particularly when she felt she had a point to prove as she evidently did now.

Darhias coiled, ready to do whatever he could to prevent the looming catastrophe. Like as not, that would require tackling the woman. She’d not take that well. Nor would the Rohirrim watching on. However, before a brawl could break out, the one person Freja could not conceivably ignore intervened.

Though Berendil could not yet make sense of Rohirric, Hanasian could follow along. There was more than a little fondness amidst Éomer’s chiding. Freja shrugged her shoulders as if his words couldn’t possibly apply to her but did shoot him something approximating remorse as she looked back over her shoulder at her king. With a shake of his head, something he’d likely done countless times over the years in and around Meduseld, he hefted Freja safely into her saddle before he moved off to his own horse.

Freja drew her horse about easily, moving with the liquid grace of the Rohirrim so envied by others, and examined the the Knights and Shieldmaidens as they fell into swift order. Despite her ruthless scrutiny, she found no flaw in the scrupulous precision of their arrangement. She nodded to herself, the only hint that she might be satisfied. Her restive horse danced under her, eager to be away. She let it fidget, unperturbed, as her gaze swept along the citadel a final time. It was then that she saw them upon the balcony.

Berendil’s grip on the stone balustrade tightened as he pushed out a shivering breath. Even from this distance, the haunting blue of her eyes was evident. She stared up at Berendil as Théoden’s bier began to move, as though she had lost all sense of where she was and why she was there. The yearning was palpable. Sunlight gleamed, trapped within a tear upon Freja’s face. Anguish was stamped upon her features.

”Go to her,” Hanasian urged Berendil.

Staring, he replied, ”I have business with Naiore Dannan to attend to.”

“Business you may not return from. Business that can be left to others,”
Hanasian counselled but it was too late for Freja had turned her horse upon its way out of the city, following in Théoden’s wake.

Berendil gazed after her until she was lost to sight and Hanasian thought the man might just fling himself from the balcony and after her but instead he drew in a shivering breath and scrubbed his hands over his face. These were the actions of a man torn. A man divided. An honourable man.

Hanasian clapped a hand against his friend’s back, ”It’s done. Come…we’ve both work to do.”

There was no sense wallowing, Hanasian thought and apparently Berendil agreed for he nodded his head and followed him from the balcony. Upon their return to the White Swan Inn, Berendil was met by a messenger from the Houses of Healing. Though he did not recognise the youth, the young man immediately knew Berendil and held out to him a folded letter that bore his name in an unfamiliar hand.

”She bade me to give this to you,” said the youth, no more than twelve summers of age.

Berendil stared at it for a moment and then recovered himself to reach for it. No sooner was it in his possession did the youth hasten back to his masters atop the city. The Ranger stared at his name. He’d never seen her writing before. It was as bold as it was graceful. Hanasian cleared his throat.

”I’ll leave you in peace for that,” he offered, for they both could guess who had written it.

Berendil nodded and took himself off to the table that Hanasian had all but inhabited since his return to Minas Tirith. He drew a raw breath, braced himself and unfolded Freja’s letter.

My love,

Presumptuous, I know, to name you as such. You must wonder, scoff even, that I do so. I’ve given you little cause to believe I bear you anything beyond contempt. After all I have done, you must despise me yet love you I assuredly do. I always will.

In time you may come to understand that all I have done has been for love of you. I know it is a poor excuse, but it is no less true. There is no crueller master than love.

I do not know how I can forgive myself for what I have done. And yet, it is as nothing when set it against the harm and pain I would bring you if you joined your path to mine. I would sooner die than let that happen.

I know of but one way to stop it. I beg of you, forget me.

Seek a path that leads far away from me and takes you to the hope and the new life we spoke of that precious night, before the fire, at Dunharrow.

Another may be so fortunate as to win your heart. When that time comes, as it surely will, go to her with my blessing.

Ever yours,

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Re: Legacy Prequel - The Ranger & The Shieldmaiden

Postby elora » Sat Dec 03, 2016 10:21 pm

3019, III - Late July, The Harad Road

It was a grey drizzly morning when the newly formed Black Company set out on the last day of July. They embarked on a ship bound for Pelargir and the quietness of their passage downriver was broken only by the sound of a lone seagull. The voyage to Pelargir was brief and their arrival was for the most part unnoticed. Still, Hanasian was ever vigilant. There were too many eyes and ears here and most of the Company had had not yet ventured to the city where worlds mix. It could a perilous place for the unwary. They remained only two days in Pelargir, taking on extra supplies in preparation for their departure in the middle of the night for the Fords of Poros.

Hanasian continued the training drills for his men during this time. He was fighting the onset of complacency and wanted them alert, eyes and ears, as they pushed ever south. Though the trek was uneventful, the time and the sustained training offered the men of the Company the opportunity to acquaint themselves to the ways and natures of their brethren. This bonding, Hanasian hoped, would be invaluable once trouble closed in as he expected it would.

For all of his preparation, though, Hanasian knew all too well that it would be impossible to predict how well the Company’s emerging bond held up during their first combat as a unit. All going well, he hoped that such an event was some time off. The new Company’s sergeant, Berendil, was quiet in this time. He spoke to the other men only at need and spend most of his time watching that which unfolded around them. His vilgence was such that he was the first of the Company to acquire a Company name – Watch.

The coolness of the sea air faded as they pushed towards the Fords of Poros. Upon arrival, the Anórien garrison were at first welcoming for they thought the unadorned company of men with one worn banner was to be their relief. In contrast, the men of the Harondorian Home Guard were less enthusiastic at their arrival for this was their home and they had no desire to leave it. Hanasian set his men to the tasks of watering and resting their horses and themselves while he sat down with the captains of the two garrisons they had met.

Their discussion commenced without delay as Hanasian seated himself within their command tent.

”First thing I must say, is we are not here for garrison duty,” Hanasian said and passed the captains a small square of folded parchment, “Your relief is due here in the coming weeks.”

He continued as the men looked it over, “My men wish to rest here a night, with your leave, before we continue on. “

The captain of the Anórien Guard looked up from the parchment he had read, ”It is well with me, though I did wish to return north upon your arrival.”

His colleague passed the parchment back to Hanasian as he added, “It is well with me also. But I will ask what sort of King’s business sends you into the south.”

The Harondorian captain looked Hanasian over intently as Hanasian considered his response, “We seek remnants of the servants of Sauron. I gather none such have passed through here, headed north or south, in recent days?”

Both captains shook their heads at his question and Hanasian’s relief showed only in a brief nod, ”This is good tidings. Beware of any caravans moving north and west making for Pelargir. We ourselves make for Harad, be it Far or Near. There are warlords there that need seeing to.”

The captain of Harondor stirred on his camp stool at that, “Then rest you will need, for there is naught between here and the Fords of Harnen ere thirty some leagues down the Haradian Road. There you will find the Haradian Guard on the south side and our southern garrison on the northern shore. I suggest you tread carefully in your approach.”

Any advice was worthy of consideration this far south and Hanasian clasped the hands of both captains in gratitude before he swung out of the command tent for his own encampment taking shape even now. As he walked, he pondered how best to infiltrate Harad unnoticed. The advice of Harandor’s captain had prodded his thoughts towards a plan he had been pondering. Some adjustment and revision was required, but it seemed to be their best chance.

Once camp was established and the horses watered, some of the Company men set to trading with those of the garrison. Goods difficult to obtain this far south were in high demand and Hanasian himself was more than happy to trade a small pouch of the Shire’s pipeweed for good food. The Black Company were settled and well fed as the sun sank into the western horizon.

Sitting apart from the others as was his custom, Videgavia espied Berendil. He had his book, ink and quill set out and he was turning something over and over in his hands. Videgavia had noted this habit weeks ago. He’d yet to see what it was for the Ranger was secretive about it, and so he hung back to consider this man while he could. There was some bond between this Ranger and Freja but for the life of him, he could not discern what it was.

Berendil, for his part, considered what he had written thus far. It was another letter to Freja. In his book there were many such pages, all of them written but not sent. He was not sure whether he would, or could, but he could not stop writing and thus far he had completed four of them. One he wrote the morning they left, another he wrote upon the ship, a third he wrote in Pelargir, now this one. He paused and look hard at the torc he held. His fingers traced its edge carefully. He knew everything about that torc, for it was the only thing he had to touch that was hers.

He closed his eyes and sure enough he could see every curve and each strange marking set into it. Then he felt a prickle between his shoulderblades and his eyes snapped open again. Instinct made him pocket it even before he realized that the man that approached was Videgavia.

”You mind company?”
Videgavia asked, strangely courteous and immediately spurring suspicion on Berendil’s part.

He shrugged and gestured at the ground as if he did not overly care. Videgavia seated himself and swiftly produced a strip of dried meat that he offered to Berendil. Frowning, he took it reluctantly and wondered if the Daleman had poisoned it.

”That’s good elk, from the vales of Greenwood up north,” Videgavia said, ”Thought I’d share the last of it with you.”

Berendil sniffed it cautiously and then gnawed its end. Relief and some degree of satisfaction marked his expression and Videgavia warred with his inclination to smugly inform the man that Freja preferred elk too. Whatever this bond may be, the Ranger at his side knew nothing of the Rohirrim or Freja. Silence sprang up between the two men as Videgavia managed to keep his peace and they gnawed on the toughened meat lost in their own respective thoughts for a while. Then Berendil noticed him trying to see what he had written in the book he always seemed to be scratching in and so he snapped it shut.

Videgavia shrugged for it didn’t matter. He’d just look later, when the sergeant was busy with Company matters.

”It’s dry now, last of my pre war ration,” he said, waving his half chewed dried elk about, “Of course, having been on one of the hunting parties, I got a little more than most. The hunters and meat smokers always did. Can’t beat it fresh, or even a month old. It keeps well, but as you see, it gets dry.”

“It’s good to taste the north again, thank you,”
Berendil said with only the barest trace of stiffness, ”I may keep some for later.”

“Good thinking. Seems to me that our ration will be limited to what we can find in these lands.”

Berendil nodded and looked out east, unable to find any further small talk or unwilling. Videgavia did the same, waiting him out just to see which way the Company sergeant jumped.

Eventually Berendil stood and said, ”I’m going to get some sleep. We will need it in the coming days.”

Videgavia nodded thoughtfully as Berendil walked away. His last dried strip of elk and still he knew next to nothing about this man. As Freja would say, that was a dead rub.

From Poros, they rode nearly seventy leagues through Harondor’s dry escarpments as they made their way to Near Harad. Except for the garrison at Poros, they hardly saw anything living. Water was nowhere to be found either and so they rationed the water they had gained at Poros. They followed the Harad Road south and east, and when it turned more east, Hanasian looked at the maps he had and would make corrections to them. The knowledge of these lands was sketchy at best the farther south and east they went.

Gondor’s maps were based on information from when they were a strong power in these lands and that was long ago. The road had been well built then, but the years and the driving sands had taken their toll even on the engineering of Númenor. By the time the Company neared the River Harnen they were as brown as the lands as they crossed. They could not see the water course but the smell of water was unmistakable. At times the sound of water dancing over stone echoed over them, drawing them on to Gondor’s border with Harad proper.

Their final approach to the fords before them, the Company halted. Hanasian sent a few men forward to scout. Berendil, along with Gian and Amira, moved slowly up the road while the rest of the Company took position on either side of the road. Videgavia he sent north of the road with two men and their horses to select a good place and set camp.

Upon the return of the scouting party, Berendil took Hanasian aside immediately.

”The fords are well guarded. Half dozen were sighted milling about on this side of the river, and there are some large, well dressed soldiers on the far bank. They had the look of men of Harad – tall, heavily built and their skin dark.

“We also pushed east along the river and found a place where we could cross unnoticed. The water is low after the summer, but that would change swiftly if rain comes to the mountains in the north.”

Hanasian nodded as he considered his options. He didn’t want to cause any harm to the relations between Gondor and Harad in the wake of the High King’s proclamation to the Haradrim. These people were fierce and proud and discovering a military company of the west sneaking through their lands would prompt no small degree of offense. Yet despite that proclamation, it was highly likely that the distrust and grievances between their two peoples simmered on. It would take generations for this new peace to become more than words on paper.

Ultimately In the end, he decided to split the company. He sent Berendil with ten men for the crossing they had found whilst the rest of them would make for the Ford of Harnen. If their welcome was friendly, they would pass and meet on the other side. If not, they would withdraw and make for the crossing. The approach agreed, he and Berendil took the day preparing the Company for their respective tasks come the morrow.

Berendil’s party set out before dawn and crossed, quietly, into Harad at the first light of day. Hanasian’s contingent did not linger either. They set out a short time later, Hanasian riding at the front with Videgavia following near by. The Harondorian guards stood aside and allowed Hanasian and his men to slowly walk their horses through the low waters of the Harnen towards the far bank and Harad proper.

There two large, towering guards in fine, if exotic attire, stood before them. They bore stout spears which the set crossed. This crossing would not be nearly so easy. One of the men addressed them in fluent Westron.

”Where are you going, and what business brings you to Harad?”

If he wasn’t the tallest man Hanasian had ever seen, he was certainly close to it.

Hanasian was forced to look up into his dark, keen eyes and, after a pause, he answered, ”We seek someone who we last heard was living here.”

The guard stiffened and his lip curled in naked contempt, before saying, ”Bounty hunters?”

“No bounty is on the head of who we seek,”
Hanasian replied and hoped his men had heeded his instructions to keep their hands well clear of their weapons. Right now his own palm was itching to grasp the hilt of his sword.

The guard stared at him for some time before he finally said, ”Who do you seek?”

Hanasian crossed his arms, ”Servants of Sauron. We have reliable information some hide or are harboured here. Will you allow us passage or must we have Gondor’s army to seek to this task?”

That last was no small gamble on Hanasian’s part. Gondor’s army had not been this far south for some time and the prospect of its arrival may or may not assist Hanasian now. The two men considered each other at length before the guard turned to his comrade. By contrast, this man sweated openly and his expression was clearly nervous. He jerked his head in a nod at his countryman and the guard turned back to Hanasian, dark eyes glittering.

”You may pass. May you find those you seek.”

While the guards stood aside and waved the Company through, the guard that had spoken to them watched as they passed. His keen eyes swept over each of them. Once through, the Company gathered at a side pool that had been created from the river itself to replenish their water. In this time, the watchful eye of the guard was never far from them.

Once they rested and drank and washed, they made their way down the Harad road. By evening they had gained the escarpments by evening and they set a camp once they reached the high table land. They now had to find the others. By sunset, Hanasian was considering sending out a scout to search for them when they sighted men approaching. While it was Berendil’s party, it was far too big. They had left with ten men but as they neared, Hanasian counted sixteen. One amongst them appeared to be a captive. He was impossible to miss, the only Haradrim in a collection of men of the West.

Hanasian muttered to himself, ”Great. Looks like they have captured the bridge guard or one of his comrades. And who are these others?”

He called Videgavia across, and sent him with a couple of men down to lead the others up to their camp. Videgavia moved quickly for unlike Hanasian he suspected he knew who these newcomers were. Gilkis, if he was not mistaken, and those he had sought out before they had departed Minas Tirith. Better late than never.

It wasn’t long before the party emerged atop the escarpment and into the Company camp. The last man to arrive was Berendil. Hanasian directed the arrivals to situate themselves and make provision for the captive they had not planned to take and beckoned Berendil to his tent.

”It want to know it all,” he declared as Berendil ducked into the tent, “Everything that happened after you forded the river, and most especially how we came to have a captive Haradian”

There was a rock in the tent which had a flat enough surface to serve as a table. Onto this he rolled out a map he had sketched and pointed to the river ford.

”We crossed here, and encountered Haradians. They must suspect this part of the river is used to bypass the main ford. Fortunately for us, they showed little interest in opposing us and withdrew. Unfortunately for us, they’d report that we had crossed into Harad and so we intercepted them.

“The man outside sprang out upon us. At first it thought it a ploy for he implored us to spare them and take him. But, as he spoke, I was able to get a proper look at the Haradians we had ridden down. Children, mostly, and petrified. So we took the man instead. Why he gave himself up to us I still don’t know. He has said little since we took him captive.”

Hanasian grunted at that, “I know him, for he was the guard at the Ford. I knew something wasn’t right when they let us pass.”

Hanasian paused then to consider the events of the day, ”He knows something. The way he watched us, studying us, as though he were memorizing details. Either he has alerted Naiore or knows where she may be found.”

Berendil nodded, “My thoughts exactly. If it be the first, I suspect at worst, a whole mess of trouble is on its way to us even now. At best, she only gets spooked and moves on to… Khand? Rhun? Deeper into the far reaches of Harad? If it is the second, then at best this man is reliable. He may know where she can be found.”

Hanasian nodded agreement with Berendil’s assessment, ”Bring him in and we will see what he is willing to divulge.”

“Don’t you want to know about the Northmen?”

Hanasian shook his head, ”I assume they found you after you crossed the river?”

”Yes, they had crossed further north. Apparently, they had just missed us leaving and they took ship on the same day in pursuit.”

“Videgavia’s comrades are most welcome. They bring much with them and Vid certainly speaks highly of them.”

With that Berendil set out to fetch the Haradian back to Hanasian’s tent. He was indeed the same man from the Ford but he had lost his fine armor and he had the manner of a man who knew something no one else did. It made Hanasian nervous, irrespective of the man’s imposing stature.

”You met us at the Ford and yet my men find you north not a day after we crossed? What is your reasoning for deserting your post? For this is how your people would see it, no?”

The Haradian peered down at him and answered in a monochromatic tone, ”Yes, Captain, it is. But one look at you at the Ford and I could see you were here for something big. You did not name her outright but I knew I knew it was the evil one, the elf witch. I said nothing then, for you did not say anything then. And rightly so. She has spies everywhere, even in Gondor. Like as not, she already knows you have come.”

Hanasian glanced briefly to Berendil before he asked, ”And how do I know you are not one of her spies?”

“You can’t,"
the Haradian answered, “I am no minion of the elf witch, but some of my people are.”

Hanasian looked hard into the man’s dark face, ”If I am to take you at your word, then, I ask you this: do you know where she is, and if so, will you be willing to assist us in finding her?”

The Haradian blinked, as if surprised ,”I do not know where she is, but I would still like to help free my people of her scourge. If she knows you are here, I think she will leave Harad swiftly. She prefers to strike from the shadows, that one, and it is difficult for her kind to go unmarked in this land.”

So it was that Molguv began working with the Company but in those early days he was not yet ready to renounce his service to Harad. Hanasian decided to release Molguv and no sooner was he quit of the Company encampment did Molguv seek out some of his own men. Men he could trust. These he led south and east so as to prevent Naiore from fleeing that way.

Not once did they see her but she was moving so fast that she could not help but leave behind sign by which they could track her. Molguv’s men followed him with unwavering loyalty and so, when he ran into a burning building and did not emerge, they assumed that he had perished within the flames. They drew off and resolved to continue their hunt, pushing on with the fervor of those who had experienced the ruinous touch of one such as Naiore Dannan.

However Molguv did not die in that fire. Once he was satisfied that he was alone, he set out once again in search of Naiore. Though diligent, he could only find old sign of her presence. Too old to be recent, but it all pointed to the Elf heading into the north.

If Hanasian moved swiftly he might have gotten in front of her before she got into the highlands of Khand and so prevent a much longer pursuit. As it was, though, Molguv did not find the Black Company again for several weeks, in the southeast reaches of Khand. Unlike him, they had found no sign of the witch and that served to confirm for Molguv that the Elf had diverted east. From there she would likely head north, into eastern Rhûn.

With supply running low, a hard decision was before the Company. If they pursued, their provision would be dependent on what they could find in lands known for their inhospitality. They set up by a rocky hillock where they could watch a place where two tracks crossed and there into the night a discussion ensued.

First they discussed the tracks. One ran west to east, likely the northern ‘road’ that the Company had travelled after their crossing of the Harnen. Where to the east it went, only Molguv could say, and he only spoke of a great eastern sea that was in some children’s tales in Harad. Of settlements and such he had no knowledge. The other track was the one that Molguv had followed whilst tracking Naiore. It went on north to Khand. Since no sign of Naiore was found, and Molguv had lost any sign of her miles south of here, it would be a hard follow.

Yet Berendil offered up a plan, ”With our limited resources, perhaps I could scout east for a couple days. I will move fast and light while the rest of the Company either remains here or makes north into Khand to establish a camp. When I return we head west.”

Hanasian nodded, “Good idea. But I’ll send Videgavia and his brethren to scout east. They'll set out in the morning, push east for a day, and if nothing is seen of Naiore or anything that may look like a town or settlement, return here. If they do see any sign of her, try to determine her heading. As for our excursion here, I fear that has been for naught.”

Berendil stiffened at the prospect of Videgavia taking the very task he had wanted but Hanasian quelled him with a swift, hard glare before he could protest. With their plan for the coming days set, those due to depart early retired for the night. Watches of two were sent down each track and those not otherwise assigned a task scattered to tend to repairs neglected of late on their equipment. Berendil, though, quietly fumed and so Hanasian took him aside.

”You know I can’t have you off on your own chasing Naiore. You can accompany Videgavia if you choose, but he will have the lead of this scouting party. And if you go, and decide not to return,” Hanasian sighed heavily for this was his friend as well as his sergeant, “If you don’t come back, you are on your own. We will not set off after you.”

Berendil was silent a moment as he absorbed this and then said, ”I’ll take watch then. South… if you can trust me to do that.”

Hanasian sighed inwardly and waved him off. Berendil’s aggrieved tone was not lost on him and he regretted the fact that Berendil thought he was not trusted, for that was not the case at all. Far from it, in fact. However, Hanasian knew that of all of the Company men, Berendil was the one most likely to be drawn forth into folly by Naiore Dannan’s treachery and it was something Hanasian was not prepared to countenance. Not only was Berendil his most trusted company officer and friend, there was something else again that he could not bear the thought of.

Every week, almost, Berendil gave him yet another sealed letter to Freja for safe keeping. Keep them safe he would, until Berendil could give them to Freja himself. The prospect of delivering them to Freja on his behalf did not bear contemplation. Four letters Berendil had written now and each he had handed across, fearful that he might destroy them should he dwell overlong on what Naiore has done to and Freja. Thus far, Berendil had held back the dark moods that had overtaken him in the White City. He had been steady, his usual reliable self if somewhat withdrawn. But for all of that, his friend was different. Something had shifted within him and just as Berendil was not sure what he might do, Hanasian also wondered.

Hanasian shook his head, weary, and retired for morning would come too soon.

When it did, Berendil and Belgon who had the southern watch alerted them to be ready to move. Hanasian rushed from his bedroll as Berendil strode to him in the murky light of dawn.

”A company of Haradrim moves our way, purpose unknown. We need to move if we hope not to be discovered.”

Through the stirring camp Molguv strolled, yawning as he went. He observed the smaller, pale men scurrying about him with sleepy curiosity as he ambled to Hanasian and Berendil.

”What this about?”

“Friends of yours,”
Berendil answered.

Hanasian added, ”Either it is you or us they seek. Do you care to find out which?”

“Not particularly,”
Molguv admitted and then eyed Hanasian for a moment, calculating, "Once they start questioning me, you’ll not remain secret overly long.”

Like it or not, Hanasian had acquired another member of the Company and shortly after that the watches from east and west both returned. The plans of the night before were forgotten and the Company set out north for Khand, and all its uncertainty.
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Re: Legacy Prequel - The Ranger & The Shieldmaiden

Postby elora » Sat Dec 03, 2016 10:47 pm

3019, III – September, Meduseld

Most of the autumnal morning had escaped her by the time Freja sat at her desk and attempted to marshal her thoughts. Something else nagged at her, insistent and for the moment certainly insane. She tried to silence it, snuff it out entirely, but had to settle for containing it in a distant corner of her mind. It prickled at her thoughts, like a stone in her boot or bur in her saddle blanket, and this pushed an irritated sigh from her.

Éomer anticipated a report from her imminently. A report she had yet to sink her teeth into it in the way the subject required due to her inability to pay it the attention it deserved. Instead, her mind careened recklessly, ensnared in a…well, what was it exactly? A distraction? A fantasy? Madness? Her nails scratched over the surface of her desk as she curbed her thoughts once more.

The report! A very important, necessary report upon which the future of her order and perhaps even Rohan may well depend. Rebuilding the Shieldmaidens was a significant undertaking. One likely to stretch over generations – beyond Éomer’s reign and her own lifespan…unless…they changed the recruitment customs that had been in place since the days of Eorl.

The rules had been bent for her and she had to wonder if yet more could be done to allow more still to follow in her steps. They could allow girls of common birth to seek entry to their ranks. Why not look at admitting older girls, or even women grown? Maybe even wives, mothers and widows. Why not? Women such as these fought as ferociously as any Knight or Shieldmaiden to defend hearth and home. And thinking of Knights tipped Freja’s thoughts into a recollection of a discussion she’d had the evening before with one such individual.

She’d found herself seated beside Taran in Meduseld’s main hall. This, in itself, was not unusual. Taran was often to be found rattling around Meduseld of late and they had been friends for some years now.

”The way you train,”
the Knight of Rohan had said to her in his deep rumble, ”I’d think you were bound on returning to their ranks yourself.”

Freja had waved that away then for she was under no illusions. Yes, she had managed to liberate herself from her cane. Yes, much of her skill and speed had returned in the intensive training she set herself to each day. For all of that, her hip would never fully heal. She could compensate for it whilst she was young still, but the years would continue to inexorably march by.

”I will not take the braids again. Shieldmaiden ranks are thin enough as it is. Last thing they need are liabilities such as I amongst them,” Freja had answered.

“Why push so hard if not to reclaim the spear?”

“Because I am ill suited to needlepoint,”
Freja muttered into her ale, unwilling to divulge the raw truth to him.

She’d first met Taran when he was a lad, training much the same as she, at a tourney. Though they were competitors, they’d taken a liking to each other almost immediately and their friendship had grown from that point on. With sandy hair, green eyes and a ready laugh, Taran had proved a steady companion down through the years despite the variance in their positions. For all of the fact that she was the king’s ward, he was of unsullied noble birth and she was assuredly not. A true Son of the Mark, and yet this had not particularly mattered to either one of them. Yet despite the fact that Tarun was a dear friend, Freja was reluctant to divulge the truth to him on this score. If he sensed her dissembling, Taran was generous enough to say nothing of it. Rather, he nodded in amicable agreement and returned to the topic they had been discussing.

”Expanding admission requirements is sensible, provided skills are not diluted or standards compromised,” he’d declared but there had been an intriguing and cheeky glint in his green eyes that had puzzled her.

She’d tilted her head at him, the unbound waves of her hair shifting over her deep blue kirtle. He took all of this in and, well aware that she was onto him, chuckled into his ale. Freja had waited him out, her attention squarely focused with all its weight upon him until he finally lowered his tankard.

”There is another option,” he leaned towards her to whisper, ”Éomer could unite both the Shieldmaidens and Knights into one force.”

Freja’s eyes had widened immediately and she’d swiftly scoffed, ”Horses would sooner fly!”

But now, as she sat staring at her report in the cool light of day, she wasn’t nearly so certain the notion was unreasonable. Merging two distinctly different orders into one would difficult. They could lose Knights and Shieldmaidens in the process, particularly the traditionalists and they tended to be the more experienced hands. That was skill and wisdom they could ill-afford to lose with the pressing need to train so many new recruits. Still, why maintain two separate emaciated forces when they could be combined into one? Somehow.

Freja rubbed at her hip as she pondered which particular course of heresy she would tread. Her thoughts tumbled about until she settled on the only logical course of action she could perceive. She needed to discuss this with Vorda before she made any recommendations on to the king. It was only proper, and Vorda was a traditionalist. If she could sway Vorda with her arguments, then perhaps it might be feasible after all.

She pushed to her feet just as a man barrelled through her door and into her parlour. Though their paths had crossed just the once when they were both children, Freja recognised her younger brother immediately. The new Lord of the East Fold, born two years after her to her father’s new and suitably noble wife, stood in the middle of her parlour and stared boldly back at her.

Like Freja, he was tall and possessed of strong, finely carved features but ended the familial similiarity. Where her hair stubbornly waved, his was straight. Hers blazed like a fire but his was golden sunlight. His eyes were more refined than hers as well. A pale blue icy glitter in marked contrast to the piercing, rich blue of her own. With his straight golden hair pulled smoothly back into a queue and his glacial eyes glittering, he stared at her as though she were something unpleasant he had trodden in.

A frozen moment passed before Freja remembered herself and more importantly her current station. Éomer had continued his uncle’s generosity in extending to her a place within his household but that was it. That was all she would accept. Neither shieldmaiden nor a Daughter of Mark, she possessed no rank whatsoever and so she offered her younger brother the courtesy his noble birth required of her. Better late than never, she supposed, as she bowed her head to him. As she did so, she studied her brother’s appearance.

Ióen’s preference for fine clothing appeared to have endured with him over the years, she noted. His immaculate dress suggested that he was in Meduseld on court business. Why that would prompt him to seek her out, however, she could not discern. Freja smoothed the folds of her skirt, rarely pleased to be wearing one. Her garb was not as fine as Ióen’s, no velvet or fine golden embroidery or fur trim, it was made of good quality cloth. Warm, clearn, without sign or ware or in need of repair. A stark contrast to the garb she spent most of her mornings in. It sat in a pile in the bedroom behind her, waiting for her to deal with the dirt, sweat and blood.

As she weighed him up, so did he. Ióen’s eyes raked over her as though they faced each other upon a field of battle. Ridiculous notion, given there was no quarrel between them. Freja barely knew him. He’d been five when she’d met him and she had been seven. He’d , accompanied their father to answer the furious summons of a scandalised Mark.

Angry words, as ugly as they were shameful, had rung through Medudseld’s hall on the day they first met. How the Mark had howled. She recalled the King’s efforts to shield her from the torrid debate that had played out in his court. Yet angry voices and ugly words rolled through the halls no matter what Théoden, Théodred and even Éomer had tried to do.

The seven years she had spent in Meduseld had included a lot of boisterous, raucous debate amongst the Mark but it had been different that day. She had been genuinely frightened, overwhelmed and above all ashamed. All she had wanted to do was hide under the gigantic desk in Théoden’s study until it all stopped. Instead she had been dragged out at the Mark’s demand and called to the main hall to face them. Or perhaps she was to face her father. Maybe he was to face her. Freja still did not know what the purpose had been to this very day.

At her appearance, her younger brother had approached her that tumultuous day. Finely clad as was their father, fair hair gleaming. The true heir. The golden child. He’d wandered up to her, staring. Fascinated. She’d had no idea who he was, then. All she had wanted to do was to stop her knees from knocking. After a long moment’s study, Ióen pronounced his assessment of her. Freja could still hear the piping lilt of his child’s voice as he spoke the first words she had ever heard from him and there, before the assembled might of Rohan’s Mark and Théoden King had pronounced her a bastar-

”How do they address you now?” her brother asked, his voice a shockingly deep contrast to the one playing through her mind, ”Not Shieldmaiden. Certainly not Lady.”

Thrown momentarily, Freja was swift to recover. Any who spoke to her as he had all those years ago earned her fist in their mouth. Best, she resolved, not to be provoked into anything unwise. Freja opted for deference and stepped out to stand beside her desk. She inclined her head to her and kept her voice smooth and measured. Unruffled and indifferent. Like a passing cloud.

”That which is deemed proper, my Lord.”

He paused, waiting for her to react further, and so she offered him a smile. Yes, she had a sharp temper and yes, she was known to be bold. Mistake that for impulsiveness at your peril, brother mine. Ióen must have caught something of her thoughts. He sniffed at her smile, drew himself up and then reached beneath his glorious velvet cape. He tossed what he retrieved across the parlour and onto her desk.

Bundles of paper held together with rough cord tumbled towards her, scattering the papers in their path. When they came to a rest could she could make out what they were and her breath caught in her throat and it took all her effort not to reach for them. All the seals were intact. Her father had not opened a single letter she’d written him over the course of some twenty years.

The repudiation was as bitter as it was deep and Ióen surely had to be aware of it. She could feel the weight of his eyes now. They settled upon her and they were sharp with a strange malice. It was clearly there, for he made no effort to conceal it from her. Freja, however, was unwilling to be quite so transparent. She’d spent years learning how to conceal her injuries from a foe and she drew upon that now to steel herself.

Why Ióen would seek her out to do this, she could not understand. She was no threat to him or his position. She was no rival for the East Fold. No matter what she might do, she could never hold that by birthright. What could he possibly gain from provoking her?

He could hardly resent her position here at Meduseld. She was only the King’s ward, passed from Théoden King to Éomer King like the rest of Meduseld’s furnishing. Only last week Éomer had said he’d dispatch her to the kitchens or the laundry if he deemed she could serve better there. But still, whether she understood or not, Ióen was clearly here to do battle. To seek to harm her. To put her low. And she’d be damned if she’d help him do that.

Freja forced her gaze back to him and lifted her chin, ”How gracious of you to return them, brother.”

His response was immediate and she knew, then, that she’d badly miscalculated. Disgusted rage washed over his face as he rushed at her. She saw him coming. She could have pushed him back. She could have tipped him to the floor and held her foot over his throat until he stopped struggling and, longer still or just harder, breathing. Yet, he was a Lord of the Mark and she was as mighty now as any dairy maid. If she raised a hand to him, struck him…

Ióen used his momentum and weight to shove her backwards against the wall between the parlour and her bedroom. His wide hand, surprisingly strong, closed in an iron grip over her throat and jaw. Tighter and tighter he squeezed. The impact with the wall jolted through her, forcing the air out of her lungs. Freja’s head bounced off the wall and her eyes rolled. He held her high enough that her feet could not touch the ground and she could not breathe. His grip tightened, crushing her throat, and her body began to fight, desperate for air. Ióen’s breath washed over her face as he drew closer still, hissing as he pulled it through his bared teeth. She was falling into a darkness. Flashes of red and black at the edges of her vision.

”You’re no kin of mine,” he snarled, loathing thick in his voice.

The next Freja knew, it was afternoon. Sunlight glowed upon the walls of her bedroom. A bedroom she had no recollection of retreating to and yet she found herself laying upon her bed. Someone had removed her shoes and laid a blanket over her for warmth. Groggy, Freja twitched as awareness returned and with it, memory. The letters. Ióen. Sharp pain at the back of her skull washed through her, making her stomach churn. She swallowed at it and flinched again. Her throat was raw and bloody and her mouth was dry.

”Mphf,” she groaned and then she heard water’s song.

Freja levered herself to her elbows and peered through her unbound hair at her bedroom. Vorda was there, back to the room, as she poured water into an earthen mug. Éomer King, meanwhile, she found seated in an armchair peering back at her. His expression was that of a ropable man. His jaw was tensed and his foot jiggled, agitated, where he had propped it upon one knee. Éomer’s fingers drummed his fingers on the arm of the chair as he scrutinised her.

Mug in hand, Vorda turned and glanced to the king. At his nod she came forward, set the mug on the table by the bed and then reached for Freja to assist her to sit. Freja pushed her hands away, determined to sit in her own damn bed. Vorda sighed but did not argue and took up the mug again to wait as Freja struggled to push herself up. It took some doing, the pain and queasiness made everything that much more difficult, but she got there even if the effort left her skin slick with clammy sweat. Silently, Vorda passed her the mug. As Freja drank, she tasted something odd upon her tongue and glanced up at Vorda who lingered still by her bedside.

”For the pain,” the shieldmaiden told her, ”There is no shame in that.”

Freja grimaced, swallowing the water agonising in itself, and then Éomer growled a stark command that left no room for further dispute “Drink. All of it.”

Scowling, she set about the painful task and it was only when she had emptied the mug did Vorda lift her attention back to Éomer. The king nodded at Vorda to proceed and Freja wondered just what the pair had discussed.

”What happened?” Vorda asked.

If she told the truth, Ióen’s actions would not be left to pass without recourse. The East Fold had endured so much these years past. This newfound peace was too delicate, too new, to withstand having their lord arrested or worse. As her sluggish thoughts coalesced, Vorda shot Freja look of silent pleading that she steeled herself against.

”Nothing,” Freja answered, voice little more than a croak.

”This is not nothing,” Vorda pressed.

Freja told the best lie she could think of, voice rasping ”I tripped on my skirt. It was clumsy of me. You’d think I’d have learned by now.”

Vorda clicked her tongue in dismay and looked to Éomer.

The king pressed out a sigh, ”I will have from you truth, Freja. Who grasped you by your throat and tried to crack open your skull?”

She pressed her lips together and the silence grew taut as a bow string before Éomer cursed and then pushed to his feet. When he spoke, he addressed Vorda as though she were not there.

”From henceforth, Freja is to be guarded at all times. No one is to enter her chambers without her express permission. This is to continue for as long as I deem necessary.”

“I will see to the arrangements immediately,”
Vorda replied, unruffled, as though Freja being placed under what amounted to arrest was of no surprise to her.

A terse nod from Éomer sent Vorda on her way and Freja watched glumly as the king followed Vorda out. For a moment she thought that he would slip out after Vorda but instead, after a brief exchange she could not hear, Éomer closed the doors after Vorda. Freja pushed a sigh out as her king prowled back towards her. He did not return to the armchair but rather took up position at one of the windows. He leant against the sill and stared out at the sharp, icy peaks of the White Mountains beyond.

”I don’t need guarding,” Freja ventured and Éomer muttered under his breath.

"Then tell me who is responsible,” he said louder, turning to watch the thick waves of her hair tumble forward as she bowed her head – intractable as ever.

Exasperation made him shake his own head slowly, ”I will see you safe in my halls, Freja, by whatever means you leave available to me.”

She plucked at the blanket that had been set over her. She had no desire to be watched, be it by her own sisters or that Ranger that was still rattling around Edoras doing who knew what. She wanted privacy. She needed it, in point of fact. Without it, everything would be harder. Still, for all of that, she’d not see the East Fold suffer for their lord’s vicious temper.

Freja lifted a hand to tuck her hair behind one ear, ”I understand.”

”Do you?”
he inquired, ”You are lost, Freja. That much I can see. You seek purpose. I know you are not content to wander, aimless. It is not in your nature to merely abide.”

“Nor yours,”
she countered, uncomfortable.

Éomer inclined his head in agreement, gaze still on the mountains, ”Éowyn was correct when she named us two peas in a pod.”

He turned to prop his hip against the window sill and crossed his arms to study her. Freja met his gaze briefly before she dropped it to her lap. She laced her fingers together and wondered why Éomer was still here. The kingship kept him busy. She knew he scarcely had time to eat or sleep. There was some purpose to his lingering here, she knew, but what? Éomer drew breath to speak and Freja braced herself.

”What do you make of Taran?”

The question baffled her so much that her eyes widened momentarily, ”A fine knight and even better man.”

A sideways glance to Éomer confirmed he watched her still, ”You’ve nothing else to say?”

Freja lifted a shoulder, ”I’d recruit him to the shieldmaidens, if I could. I can offer no higher praise than that.”

“He has spent a great deal of time in your company of late,”
Éomer observed and noted her puzzled expression as she wondered why that was of any significance.

She’d ask, if her throat did not feel as though a horse had stood on it. As it was, Freja glanced to the king to find he was hesitating. Almost as if he were debating whether to say anything further.

He pushed out a brief sigh before he added, ”He’s asked my leave to court a wife.”

”Is that required?”
Freja asked, baffled.

She’d not heard of any such thing in her time at Meduseld. Kings had far better things to concern themselves with and yet Éomer nodded at her.

”Tis you he wishes to court.”

Flummoxed, Freja’s discovered her jaw was ajar and closed it with an audible click of her teeth. As she did so, she concluded that she would have been better served riding out of Edoras at first light. As it was, she was here and she was fighting battles on too many fronts.

Éomer canted his head at her, puzzled by her less than enthusiastic response, ”He is a good man. A fine knight who holds you in very high regard. That much I know already. You enjoy his company, snd you are restless, searching for a new path. I had thought you might be amenable, or at least inclined to consider this.”

Her restlessness had nothing to do with an absence of direction. Freja tightened her grip on the bedclothes around her. Too many fronts, she was in danger of being overwhelmed. Eriwyn would say it was time to redraw the field before the lines were overrun. But which to redraw? Ióen, the madness she was contemplating or the reason she was contemplating it? Best to fight a tactical withdrawal and like all fighting withdrawals, this was going to get much worse before it had any chance of getting better.

Freja drew a deep breath as she gathered her courage and began with the incendiary words that she had hoped never to launch, ”I gave my spear torc to another.”

Éomer made a strangled sound of surprise, ”Impossible! I saw it at the Houses of Healing! You returned it to me with the others!”

“Did you check the pouch and count them?”
she answered, struck by how oddly calm her voice sounded to her own ears.

Then Freja winced as Éomer sucked in a shocked breath.

”WHERE IS IT?!” her king demanded, outraged.

Freja knew who had it…but not where. Arnor, for that was Berendil’s home and he would have returned to that by now? Perhaps it was still in Minas Tirith. She knew a number of Arnor’s Rangers had decided to remain in the city to serve Aragorn. Maybe Berendil had given it way, sold it on. Torcs were quite valuable. Any silversmith worth their salt would snap it up as soon as they set eyes on it. Perhaps he had cast it into the Anduin, angry and bitter at her treatment of him.

Whatever the case, the torc was unlikely to return to Éomer any time soon if at all. Freja’s stomach knotted as her head bowed. Let the battle begin.

”Make no mistake” Éomer growled through his teeth, ”You will answer me on this score!”

It took all of her dwindling courage not to shy away as the king stormed to the side of her bed, his eyes sharp as any blade and trained on her. Éomer had been wroth with her more than once over the years but this was entirely different. This was not putting eggs in his boots or riffling through his prized books on swordplay even though he had expressly told her to stay out of his room and belongings. They were children no more, in any sense of the word, and he was a king now. Her king. And possibly, depending on how he saw matters, her judge. If the thunderous expression on Éomer’s face was anything to go by, she thought it more than likely that she had little hope of appealing for mercy. Not that she would. Not for herself.

“A Ranger of the North has it,” she answered, stomach rolling, ”Don’t take it from him! Please!”

Though she was in no position to make demands of any kind, Freja put all her heart into this one. Éomer’s brows shot towards the ceiling, astonished at her bold daring, and Freja braced herself for his response as his hands curled and uncurled at his sides. He was sure to bellow for the guards, summon them to arrest her. Instead, he spun on his heel and returned to the window.

Éomer stared through it, eyes narrowed, and then asked a question that sounded more like an astounded question, ”He brought you from the field, stood vigil over you?”

Freja murmured assent and Éomer set a hand across his mouth, ”A mighty gift.”

Then he frowned, ”He told me, however, that you and he had quarrelled.”

Freja winced at the memory of that foggy, chilled morning. She’d been so certain made a fool out of her. Convinced that he was about to throw his life aside on a doomed mission only hours after he had, seemingly, promised it to her! Fear and humiliation had lent a keen edge to her temper that morning. The things she had said…the look on his face. Confused. Hurt. Then his own anger, slower to burn than hers. She’d turned her back on him that day, disgusted at them both.

She wiped her hands over her face. The heavy silence in the room grew thick as she waited to hear her King’s pronouncement.

”You have given this Ranger the most solemn of oaths and yet you turned your back and returned to Edoras without him.”

When Éomer turned from the window to study her, it was as though he did not know her at all. Two peas in a pod no longer, she thought to herself.

”I do not understand why you would abandon such a vow,” he starkly stated and she sucked in a sharp breath.

She had not abandoned her vow. In fact, all she had done from the moment she had given Berendil her torc had been to honour that vow. Yet, Berendil would not see this. She had given him no hope to cling to.

Éomer then asked, ”Does anyone else know?”

Freja shook her head, refusing to implicate Éowyn. Another necessary lie. They just kept mounting. At this the king took to pacing. His boots scuffed over the floor as he went back and forth. What was he calculating, she wondered? How many crimes she had just confessed to or how best to exact the punishment?

”Vorda will receive Eriwyn’s spear torc when the time comes, which will be soon if I do not miss my mark. The other…you will replace by whatever means necessary,” he eventually said.

Freja’s widened eyes at his astonishing decision prompted him to add, ”It will be some time before we can add a second to the command structure, but do not leave it overlong. Remedy this matter swiftly.”

Éomer halted his pacing and turned to search her expression as he drew closer, ”I think you should reconsider your course of action with the Ranger. Seek him out, return to him.”

“It is too late. He has set me aside.”

Éomer frowned, ”You are certain of this?”

She dreamed of Berendil every night. Sometimes, when she woke, he forgave her. Sometimes he did not. Each dawn brought with it the agony of another day spent without him. And yet what else could she do? What other way did she have to protect the man she loved so dearly? She had left Minas Tirith months ago now. Berendil had ceased writing or attempting to speak to her longer still. That this is what she had chosen made it no easier to bear.

Freja nodded, unable to keep the grim resignation from her face, ”What’s done is done.”

Éomer gently sank onto the side of her bed and set a hand over her own. He had not done that for many years now but she remembered a time when he had. When he was home, and not afield, he would perch on the side of the bed she and Éowyn had piled into and tell them stories that made their eyes pop with excitement, amazement or delight. He and Théodred sometimes took turns to see who could most amaze and dazzle them, regaling them with all sorts of improbable tales long into the night.

”Are you certain you can find no comfort elsewhere? Taran is a good man. He will show you honour and kindness.”

“He deserves a woman who can give him her whole heart. I cannot.”

He pressed his lips together at that but nodded and removed his hand from hers, ”I will inform him I think it best he court someone else.”

“Someone worthy of him. A true Daughter of the Mark; tell him that.”

“You are a Daughter of the Mark.”

Freja gave her knees a wan and bitter smile as she drew them up to encircle in her arms. They both knew that no amount of wishful thinking could change the circumstances of her birth.

”Your life is yours to spend as you see fit,” he murmured, ”But I would very much like to see you happy, as once you were before the Shadow fell over our land.”

“I will do my best,”
she promised and the bed creaked as he stood.

His appraising stare lingered a moment, ”Not a word to anyone of this. Not even Vorda.”

Freja nodded, ”Of course.”

Satisfied he said, ”Rest, Freja. I’ll have them bring you tea and something you might be able to eat.”

Whatever it was, it would have to be liquid. She would have preferred ale but she suspected he meant soup or something very much like it. Freja kept her silence, though. Already she had demanded more than her share of her king this day.

She watched Éomer depart, glimpsing the guards already waiting at her door as he passed through them. When they closed after him, Freja wiped her hands over her face. Now what was she to do? Watched night and day, questions were sure to be asked. She would need answers for them, ones that would not raise anyone’s eyebrows or hackles. Especially Éomer. If he knew…

What? Freja paused, her breath held. Had she decided to do this at some point between Ióen’s arrival and her interrogation at Éomer’s hands? Yes, came the answer. Yes. Because waiting for someone else to do it was not in her nature. Yes. Because the prospect of it never being done was simply unthinkable.

This would be the fight of her life for her life and she would do it alone. Carefully. Very carefully. Because she had no intention of failing and that meant she must prepare.
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Re: Legacy Prequel - The Ranger & The Shieldmaiden

Postby elora » Sat Dec 31, 2016 7:10 pm

3019, III – September, Khand

Their ride north was fast through the wide dry lands that slowly climbed up to the highlands. Foldine took two of the Rohirrim and held back as rearguard to shadow the advance of the Haradrim. A precautionary measure soon that seemed unnecessary as the company had managed to cover their presence well despite the hurried nature of their departure from the crossroads. Once arrived, the Haradrim appeared puzzled as to how best to proceed. They sent scouts west, north and east, but all returned with little to report, and they set camp roughly where the company had been.

With such tidings from Foldine’s rearguard, Hanasian dispatched Berendil, Molguv, a northman, and an Ithilien Ranger to learn what they could of the newly arrived Haradrim. Entrusting such a task with Molguv was significant but Berendil was aware of this. Hanasian might not know yet whether to trust their newest recruit but his childhood friend was another matter entirely.

When they returned a day later without incident, they had much to say. They succeeded in drawing close enough for Molguv to overhear the Haradrim’s officers. It soon emerged that the Haradrim scouts had discovered a great deal more than Hanasian had realised. They knew, for instance, the direction the company had gone and its approximate strength. More than enough to mount a pursuit or ambush. Yet, the Haradrim were also reluctant to pursue them further. This, then, was a welcome relief to Hanasian and the next day they continued north, Foldine and his riders again acting as rearguard.

Their ride into Khand proved largely untroubled and the people they encountered were welcoming. The southern tribal elders were friendly and immensely helpful in what was a strange, foreign and largely uncharted land. Yet, as the months drifted past in their search for their quarry, the company began to encounter resistance.

The fall of Sauron had catapulted Khand into a land of fiefs and warlords. The tribal elders had managed to hang onto their lands and people in the main but the return of some of Sauron’s former generals posed a very real risk to Khand’s patchwork of leadership. These defeated wardogs thought very highly of themselves and, so distant from any significant organised military intervention, perceived a fine opportunity to claw out dominions of their own. The complex society of Khand was in a state of flux as these would be rulers sought to win the hearts and minds of the people out from their traditional tribal elders.

It was, in other words, the perfect sort of setting for Naiore Dannan. The confusion worked to her advantage. Hanasian had to wonder whether Naiore was somehow manipulating the events around them, sowing discord so as to waylay the pursuing company. There were so many ways in which she could harness the simmering hatreds to tear them apart. Their progress, as a result, slowed for Hanasian and the Dunedain of the company knew only too well what would break loose if the fragile order cracked entirely. They had encountered the Variags of Khand upon the Pelennor and it was not an encounter any had forgotten.

By November they had quit the southern reaches of Khand and were deep in the heart of this ancient land. It was here, at last, that they meet the feared Variags of Khand again. A dozen fierce soldiers lined the stony escarpment, split each side of the track the company followed. To proceed was to walk willingly onto what was now a killing field. Hanasian ordered an immediate halt and had the company spread into a defensive battle formation. Yet, none of the Variags had yet loosed an arrow to test the range. He risked a further order that their own weapons remain sheathed. A tense wait ensued, the Variags unwavering upon the heights and his own men hunkered down, hands empty below. Then a figure emerged upon the trail. He was alone and he held a tall staff that bore a banner. A commander of some sort, Hanasian concluded, and prepared for the attack to commence. Yet, when the man waved his banner in some sort of local signal, the Variags on the heights eased back. Slowly, Hanasian unfurled from his crouch and the company first met with the Khe’al.

After a long discussion there upon the trail the banner wielding man, Hanasian thought that he had encountered a tribal elder by the name of Khemlal and his company had been welcomed into the Khe’al camp. Thought, because communication was difficult and the opportunity for misunderstanding rife. It was also possible that Khemlal had told him that his company were now his captives and that there was little point in contesting the matter further. They proceeded cautiously as a result and were relieved to discover that it was the former and not the latter once in camp.

In short order Khemlal made them all his personal guests (not captives), a strong statement to his people that Hanasian understood owing to the assistance of Khemlal’s eldest daughter. Somehow, and he did not know how, she had acquired rudimentary Westron and her aid was immensely useful for both the company and her father. As for Khe’al themselves, their people were few and Hanasian was not long looking for a reason for this.

Their first night there, Khemlal himself told him with the fierce pride of a father that he had six of his own sons off with those of the rest of his people to the “great war” of the west. All that had returned to the Khe’al was the rumour of glorious battles and, of course, defeat of the lord they had marched in service to: Sauron. Hanasian and Berendil exchanged no few glances with each other, expecting hospitality to transform into something else, yet Khemlal’s demeanour was one of sadness, not anger or bitter resentment, for the elder went on describe the family that remained to him now that the war was done: five daughters and a young boy, too young to be sent to war with his brothers.

Through his sadness, Khemlal’s pride glowed as he informed his guests that the Variags they had met had included his daughters and that came somewhat as a shock. Faces covered and clad in their armour, the Variags they had encountered today had presumed to be all men. Indeed, had any of Khand’s daughters been upon the Pelennor with their brothers, few would have known it.

After their evening meal, Hanasian studied the camp around them as he sought out his men. There were a good few women about, the men a fair few, but there was clearly no basis for complacency. He issued stern orders to his men to keep their distance from these women, no matter the circumstances, and to be on their guard. The Khe’al had suffered much in the war, and it was likely the Dunedain were responsible for the death for many of the tribe’s sons.

Still, these people were likely the best allies the company could hope for in this land. Fraught though their position was, the opportunity to gain a solid footing in the shifting sands and currents of Khand was too good to ignore. The company lingered in the camp, hoping with each passing day to discover something that might lead them to the Elf who had, it seemed, vanished. Time was not their ally. Naiore Dannan could be digging in here or fleeing further north. She possessed far greater knowledge of the land and its broad, sweeping history. Indeed, she had shaped much of it, a fact that Khemlal was not unaware of. Whilst he was prepared to tolerate the company within his midst and cheerfully admitted that they had fought for Sauron, it quickly emerged that the one the Khe’al held squarely responsible for their suffering was Naiore Dannan. She, before all others, was the author of their misery as far as Khemlal was concerned and the enemy of his enemy was his friend.

”We are, I take it, the enemy’s enemy?” Berendil murmured to Hanasian in Sindarin after that exchange with Khemlal.

Hanasian sighed, ”As near as I can tell. Nothing is clear in this land.”

Berendil grunted agreement at that and then glumly observed, ”And who can tell who the enemy of the enemy’s enemy is.”

Hanasian came to a standstill at that, peered at Berendil and then laughed. He thumped Berendil’s shoulder and sand cascaded from them both. Standing in the middle of the Khe’al village, the two company officers and friends chuckled wearily, observed by a growing gaggle of curious children. But if two Dunedain Rangers inexplicably laughing was strange, the boy who came running into camp swiftly surpassed them.

The lad shot into his father’s tent, high piping voice excited and a few moments later, Khemlal’s daughters poured out of it. Their expressions were grim as they donned their weapons and any passing amusement was set aside as Hanasian ordered his men to do the same. The cause of the alarm proved to be several fanatical swordsmen, easily stopped without loses, yet Khemlal seemed rattled. Following his own instinct, Hanasian moved his company to the edge of the settlement and set a full watch for the night.

That instinct proved sound, for during the night the Khe’al were raided and one of the company’s men, a Gondorian highlander manning the watch, was slain. His companion on the watch took up the fight and slew their attacker, yet himself was wounded. This marked the company’s first loss on their campaign.

As the weeks passed, the situation became evermore grim for the company. They enlisted a few friendly locals to work with them, but it brought with it a whole new level of brutality. Khand was rapidly deteriorating, and unlike Harad and Rhun, lacked any central government that had acquiesced to King Elessar. The loose federation of tribes opposed to the west and therefore inclined to march north with the Haradrim in answer to Sauron’s summons had largely unraveled. There was little, now, to unite the tribes and so the situation the company faced at any given moment was confused, complex and above all perilous. Attacks could spring out from anywhere at any time and the company lost four men in a month by surprise attacks carried out by small bands or individual assailants.

So began that December day, a dark morning, with clouds from the north giving the day a dull grey-brown look. Further north, such clouds usually meant rain or even snow, but here in this arid land such things were rare indeed. So rare that the distant smell of approaching rain drew considerable excitement from the Khe’al people. The women and children stood, faces turned skyward as the men watched on from their tents. A current of anticipation floated through the camp and when the first drops began to fall, the women loosed a wild, elated rolling cry of unmitigated delight before everyone scattered to the shelter of their tents.

Those few fat drops soon became a torrential downpour. Welcome as the water was and good as it felt to finally wash off the dust, the ensuing med clung to the company’s boots and hampered walking and movement in general. Thus, as the Khe’al people celebrated the rain, Hanasian had a horrible thought as he pondered how they would fare against attack in the quagmire. They would be vulnerable, catastrophically so, but then so would any assailant. As the Khe’al sang and laughed through the rain, Hanasian and his men maintained a grim silent watch.

In time the heavy rain eased into something more familiar to the men of the west. A proper northern drip set in, and it was through this that a caravan arrived from the north in search of shelter. As before with the company, Khemlal offered these newcomers sanctuary readily though he did not dispatch his Variags to greet them. Caravans were far more common than companies in this land and so the process was far less fraught this time.

Amongst the caravan were a number of children who, as children are wont to do, immediately fell in with the children of the Khe’al. It was from this that a rumour reached Khemlal’s ears from his own son and passed on, sparingly, to Hanasian. Reluctant though he was to rest the fate of the company on the word of children, he would be amiss if it was not investigated further and so he called Berendil to his tent.

Berendil arrived promptly, mud coating most of his legs and a good portion of his sodden cloak. He was breathing hard, having just labored at speed through the mud in answer to Hanasian’s call and so Hanasian did not tarry either.

”I have something I need you to look into. Could well be nothing or, again, not. Take four men of your choice and head north to the camp this caravan came from. Look for any sigh of the Elf – anything at all that seems amiss.”

“Amiss? So anything like everything we’ve yet encountered in Khand, in other words,”
Berendil shook his head, “This mission is vague. Too vague

”Worse than that, it is based upon the rumours of children. Still, my gut suggests there may be something to it all the same. Could be I am wrong. Could be a waste of time. But no Ranger ignores his gut, Berendil.”

Berendil raked a hand through his hair and nodded to himself, “Very well. I’ll take the Haradrim and three of our Ithilien Rangers. Should I find her…have I full discretion to do whatever is necessary?”

Hanasian pushed out a sigh. Killing Naiore Dannan would be infinitely easier than capturing her. And whilst Aragorn wanted her to answer for her crimes, was it not far worse to leave her at large? He rubbed a hand over the bristles along his jaw. Berendil, he knew, wanted that Elf dead. No secret about that. But Berendil was also a fine officer, well aware of the company’s orders. The last time this subject had arisen between them, they’d argued. He knew Berendil thought that he doubted him. Time to put that to an end, once and for all.

“You have the command of this, Berendil. I trust your judgement.”

He watched his friend consider him a moment, then nod and vanish out of his tent.

Khemlal’s young son met Berendil a few paces from Hanasian’s tent but as much as he wanted to go, Berendil forbade it. When Khemlal met with Berendil later the boy again begged to go with Berendil. Such was the burning eagerness in his young face, fierce and strong, but Khemlal agreed with Berendil and forbade it. Instead, he dispatched his eldest daughter to go with them. This made Berendil uneasy and he was reluctant to have Khemra with him but resisting her fathers could well create yet more difficulties and the company had enough of those as it was. He acquiesced finally and limited Khemra’s role to that of a translator. As he praised her fluency with Westron, Khemra remained impassive. As far as she was concerned, she was not there to act as a guide and translator no matter what Berendil’s thoughts on the matter were.

Aside from his party of six, only Hanasian, Khemlal and his young son knew why they went north. But maintaining that secrecy would prove difficult. Disguising Molguv as anything other than Haradrim was nigh on impossible but Khemlal assured him that Haradian traders would, at times, venture into Khand to ply their wares. Instead, it was Berendil and the other northern men that would stand out. Khemra came to their aid here and provided them with clothing that covered to some degree the strangeness of their garb. By the time their preparations were concluded, the setting sun had finally broken free of the clouds and they set out into the rapidly approaching night.

The stars guided them through the darkness and by the morning they had come to a village known as the crossroads. There they rested and took time to eat and observe the locals at a small trading post. The men had some hot, bitter, brewed black liquid that Khemra eagerly sought. Berendil didn’t care for the taste himself but it was quite invigorating. Molguv too seemed to know of it and he promptly set about trading with the proprietor for a small bag of the beans it was made of. Judging from the grin on his face, the Haradrim seemed quite pleased with the deal and when they set off again, the sun was once again obscured by clouds.

It approached midday by the time they reached what Khemra said was the land of the northern clans. A sense of emptiness could be felt in the air. Aside from the old and very young were there, few others remained. Khemra attributed this to the war but even though she had endured this amongst her own people, she seemed troubled. Berendil ordered them to move west along a rocky ridge that afforded a good view of the village below. Once in place, they settled in to await night’s cover for a stealthy approach.

The day passed, hours turgid, as the sun burned off the lingering clouds. The clear night that followed allowed them to watch for shadows, and there seemed to be a lot of men filing out of a small shelter and heading with speed into the night. Too many Berendil thought. It did answer where everyone was, but what were they doing? Khemra said they have underground dens to protect them from Khand’s harsh heat, and further that there were many such places. She pointed them out now, but none had so many depart at once as this one.

He took two men with him to explore further and made for the shelter below. They gained the door and paused to listen. There was not a sound now, the strange and urgent procession of men now ended. Berendil stepped inside with one of his men, leaving the third stationed by the door within clear view of the three he had left upon the ridge.

”Be vigilant,” he warned, ”For we know not what we will find.”

The two men nodded tersely at him and Berendil padded through the door to find a sweeping set of steps carved into the very rock itself. It sunk deeply into a black maw. He stared at it, glanced at the lanky Ithilien Ranger that accompanied him, and began to descend.

Two days later news arrived from the company’s western scout that there was movement on the plain. Videgavia followed the scout to where he had set his watch out to a position where the trail the company had followed in ascended and crossed a rocky ridge. With good sightlines and ample cover, Videgavia studied what seemed to him to be roughly thirty Haradrim. Rogue soldiers, if he had to guess, and anything better than a guess was beyond them all for Molguv wasn’t with them. He swiftly sent confirmation back to Hanasian and as a result the company moved west of the Khe’al camp to set a garrison upon the ridge.

A tactical decision through and through, Hanasian had gained the most defensible line to the west as well as some separation from the locals. It would soon prove to be a decision wisely made. The dust rose as roughly twenty men came down from the rough mountains to meet the Haradrim and it soon emerged that these soldiers were merely a rogue group wandering afield. Hanasian waved for his archers to get ready but unfortunately he had little time to consider more.

There came a yell from the high ground. The attackers only had a few archers, but the few arrows flew straight and true, finding targets of his men. Two fell outright and two were wounded though not badly. The attackers came jumping down in a rage with knife and short sword at ready, and the fight was bloody. Just like the Variags upon the Pelennor, these men would not withdraw. They fought savagely to the very last and Hanasian was fortunate to have only lost three men in the bloody melee. Still, three was three too many. He could ill afford to lose men at all, let alone three in a surprise attack.

There was little time to see to the wounded and examine the dead enemy, for a shout rose from below as the mixed group charged up the track. The company archers could easily pick off these men from their positions so that only a few gained the ridge proper and were met with fell swords wielded by a wroth company. They were soon dispatched, and once he was confident that there were no more attackers, Hanasian had a hard look at their dead.

Though they were clad in a rough mixture of Haradian armour, he was certain that most were all northern Khandese. Amongst them, though, were a smattering of Haradrim which resolved where it was the Khandese had obtained their gear. Irrespective of their origins and equipment, what united all of them was a symbol. It appeared in different places, sometimes sewn onto clothing and sometimes inked into the skin itself, but always the same symbol.

Videgavia, who had joined him in inspecting the dead, said in a low voice, ”A cult.”

Hanasian nodded, ”Aye, but I do not recognize the mark. Who or what do they follow and why have they come now ”

“A warlord,”
Videgavia guessed with a shrug, “Or…worse.”

Everything Hanasian knew about Naiore Dannan spoke of a mighty disdain for the Edain. She’d hardly cultivate mortal adherents, he thought, but then perhaps she was using that which was at her disposal now that she could no longer rely on Sauron’s might. As his thoughts ran his eyes returned to the nearest symbol. It was roughly stitched, as if with haste, into the tattered tunic of a northern Khandese man. Unfamiliar as it was, something about it tugged at him. Hanasian pressed out a weary sigh, washed a hand over his face and then looked up to study the horizon. Khand stretched around them in all directions. If Naiore was raising it against them, they were as good as dead. With that grim thought, his memory finally yielded the realization that Hanasian had seen this symbol before, within the caravan granted sanctuary. His attention swung east, back to the Khe’al encampment and saw smoke had just begun to rise.

”If no more are coming here, then we will quit this position. Make for the Khe’al with haste!”

At that his men abandoned their search for anything of worth from the dead as they hastened to the village but it was already too late. The dead were strewn about amongst the tents already. Yet more northern Khandese lay there, all marked with that symbol, but with them lay the villagers as well. A final stand was made before Khemlal’s tent where most of his daughters and son lay. The number of northern Khandese laying there spoke of a mighty battle that they could not have hoped to win against such overwhelming numbers. Khemlal himself was all but unrecognizable, for he had been burned in his tent after taking many arrows. The stench in the air was sickening as the company fanned out to keep watch around the village.

Foldine came to Hanasian as he took grim stock of the slaughter, ”I don’t see any of ours here among the dead, so they must not have yet returned.”

Hanasian nodded grimly at Foldine's choice of words. He admired Foldine’s optimism but if this is what had happened in the south, what chance did the six he had sent into the northern reaches of Khand stand of returning at all?

Foldine pressed on, ”One of the daughters lives, but I fear not for long. All she will say is ‘morcana’ or something very like it. We don’t know what it means.”

“Lead on,”
Hanasian urged him, pressing him forward such was his haste.

Foldine swiftly led his captain to where the woman lay. Her head was cradled in Gilkis’ lap and the Daleman looked up at Hanasian at his arrival and shook his head. She had spoken her last.

A rising sense of helplessness and doom saw Hanasian lash out and kick a nearby stone to send it skittering.

”What are the customs of these people?” he shouted at the sky, “Do they burn? Do they bury? How is that we do we not know this after being here this long?”

A young archer, a Highlander from Ringlo answered from nearby, ”One of the daughters spoke to me of their mother. She told me that they burn the bodies then bury the ashes in honour.”

Hanasian looked sharply at the young man. Torn between wanting to rip into him for disobeying his orders to keep his distance from the women of the village and congratulating him for learning something of their hosts, he was silent for a time before he trusted himself to reply.

”Very well. We will burn them and then bury them together, as they fell, in honour. The attackers will be left for the carrion to deal with. This must be done swiftly, for it is all but certain another attack will arrive. I want us gone before it does.”

Was a hard, grim labour that the company set to then yet not a man complained at the task before them. All honour was given to the Khe’al, now reduced to the one woman that had gone north with Berendil. Once it was done, the company set out north into the heart of the land, hoping to find Berendil and his party still somehow alive.

Berendil let his eyes adjust to the darkness before continuing. They moved in silence, the soft sand underfoot greedily swallowing sound, their knives drawn and their ears straining for movement in the darkness. Having gone some distance, Berendil detected a side passage. He sent his companion that way as he continued. In the darkness, time seemed to move differently and he had no idea how long had passed before he glimpsed the faint flicker of light from a turn in the passage. It revealed that he was walking through a great channel carved in the very bedrock of Khand, grains of sand gleaming from within the rock’s edifice.

He slowed, paused and then crept forward with painstaking care. Peeking around it he saw a cavernous chamber. Dim light flickered about from various fires and the chamber was empty but for a solitary figure that stood towards the front. The size of the cavern dwarfed its occupant. The figure was propped against a pillar of stone that seemed to be reaching for the craggy roof far above. They leaned, head in their hands, as though troubled or injured or fatigued. Berendil squinted and tried to make out more detail and the figure snapped about, turning towards the passage Berendil was tucked into. He held his breath, or rather it stuck in his throat of his own accord for he could see now, that the figure was Elvish. It had to be Naiore Dannan, he was sure of it, though if it was then he did not know how it was that she had not detected his presence with her keen senses.

She stared hard towards him and then he heard her begin to whisper, the words of a fell, dead tongue creeping out into the cavern and towards him. Then came the sound of a bowstring stretching. The Elf snarled at that, any fatigue now gone as she bristled to full, terrifying life.

”You! Surrender Elf!” he shouted at her and she laughed – the sound cold as death itself.

She lifted her arms just as an arrow pierced her side and then suddenly he was blinded as the fires in the cavern flared to brilliant light. Just as his light blinded vision cleared, Berendil heard a large, ominous crack in the stone overhead. He wavered between rushing into the caverns and retreating down the passage and wisely chose to fall back. No sooner had he done so did the roof of the cavern begin to fall, massive slabs of rock hurtling down.

Berendil sprinted back as fast as he could in the darkness for the passage he had sent his companion down. He could hear the man’s breathing as he ran through the soft sand underfoot and he thought he caught sight of him just as the passage roof fell on top of him. Urgently, Berendil heaved at rocks in the darkness, rolling whatever he could away until his hands finally found something warm and far softer than the stones he had been heaving. The man was breathing soon but the sound was wet and gurgling, as though his ribs had staved in or worse.

”I got her! Know I got her…” he gasped, stirring as Berendil’s fingers brushed against him but there was another rumble over head and there was no time for further discussion.

Berendil heard the sound of yet more rock dropping. It was drawing closer, as though the rock around them was trying to swallow them whole. The terrible, gurgling breathing of his companion came to an abrupt end and Berendil’s only choice was to either be buried with him or make a run for the stairs to the surface, if they still existed.

He hurtled through the collapsing passage, lungs burning as he tried to suck in air through the dust and sand. His head was swimming now but through it he could hear the man he’d left to watch shouting for them. Berendil followed that sound, tripping up the stairs at such haste it was a wonder that he did not shatter an ankle to sprawl through the door on the surface as a great plume of dust billowed up to engulf everything. The earth shuddered and rolled beneath them, growling like a great beast, and when the dust cleared Berendil found himself lying on his back staring at the stars. He sat up with a start and drew clear air into his aching, torn lungs. This produced a terrible bout of coughing that brought hard tears to his eyes.

He shook off the man thumping his back and rose, wobbling, to his feet. Together, the pair scrambled back to where the others watched and by the time they had arrived, Berendil’s breathing had eased.

”See anything?” he hoarsely inquired.

Molguv pointed into the distance, ”Yes, a column of dust shot up into the sky there when the ground shook.”

Berendil squinted and saw nothing moving. Yet he could not assume that Naiore perished below. He was sure she was responsible for the collapse of the cave but he thought it unlikely she’d set that in motion without having a way out for herself. Then again, if the dying words of the Ranger were true, perhaps she had been too hampered by the arrow to effect an escape. It was too risky to leave to change and so Berendil set them to searching the area.

They spent the day and the following night scouring the area and yet they found nothing. Berendil fell to wondering how he would report this when the time came. Was the Elf dead, injured or none of these things? They settled into an uneasy watch, and on the third morning a company scout found them with a message: Hanasian was on his way.

Naiore Dannan lay in the shade of a pillar near where she had crawled out. These Khandese lived like rats, countless inlets and outlets to their fetid burrows. She knew others searched for her now, but their numbers were laughably inadequate if they hoped to locate her. She let them scurry about as she worked on the arrow tip still embedded in her flank. That did not bother her overmuch either. Rather, it was the fact that she had been taken unawares by one of the Edain. The arrow she dealt with should never have found her and the man…well she had tasted him before in the thoughts of yet another mortal. A woman…that infernal, wretched Shieldmaiden. Had that foolish Angmar wraith not gone and gotten himself killed in his towering stupidity, none of this would be happening now. Another woman of this upstart realm of barbarians and brigands. Rohan.

A small land. Weak. A new king, no suitable heirs…and if it should fall, Gondor would surely follow and that other bastion of the Edain, Arnor, was yet too fragile to be anything more than a distraction. And then, with the infantile empire of the Edain reduced to rubble, where would her own people turn to then? She already knew the answer to that: Valinor. And Valinor, ever reluctant to involve themselves, would not bother with another War of Wrath for she was but a gnat to the mighty Ainur. She was not Morgoth, nor even Sauron. She was but an Elf. Besides, if they keep on drowning land, there’d be none of it left. The Elf gritted her teeth as the arrow tip finally slipped out of her flesh and dropped to the barren earth. Slowly, Naiore rose to her feet and considered the eastern horizon. A dust storm would serve nicely indeed.

The Company had set out to kill anyone who bore the symbol as payment for the slaughter of the Khe’al people and by the time they reached Berendil, they were weary. Khemra took the news that her father, her family and her people had been slain in silence. Tears she refused to let fall welled in her eyes and she turned away.

”I am alone,” she softly said as she clutched the hilts of her knives and stared out into northern Khand.

Yet before Hanasian could offer her any comfort, tidings came of a fresh trail marked in blood not yet a day old. It led eastward and so Hanasan ordered his men to prepare for a fresh pursuit.

They checked their weapons and provision, and were soon ready. When Hanasian turned about to locate Khemra he found her standing, staring into the east and a murky cloud of dust and sand that seemed to dance on the horizon there.

"Are there any settlements to the east?" he asked and she nodded as she pointed towards the high dunes.

”The warlords gather there. They are strong and numerous.”

This made it all but certain that Naiore would make for this target. Indeed, Hanasian thought it likely that she would already have these Moricarni seeded amongst them. As clan structures broke down and the warlords divvied up the people and land for their own fiefdoms, the Elf would have rich seam to mine for her own purposes. Indeed, for all he knew, she may well be using the former generals of Sauron in whatever game she was now pursuing.

Against that, his company of barely more than twenty men would have to be very careful indeed. It was doubtful they would be so fortunate as to catch Naiore unawares a second time. Hanasian thought hard at what his next move should be with the resources he had.
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Re: Legacy Prequel - The Ranger & The Shieldmaiden

Postby elora » Sat Dec 31, 2016 7:29 pm

3019, III – December, Meduseld

Darhias paused to knock the snow from his boots before he entered Meduseld’s hall. A blistering wind, frigid, blasted from the White Mountains and his beard was thick with crystals of ice. All things considered, winter this far south was decidedly pleasant. Two guards, heavily wrapped against the elements, flanked the thick oaken doors of Meduseld. Frost gathered in the crevices of the carving and iron reinforcements. Beyond these doors, all the firepits would be alight. Well tended, and never permitted to go cold throughout the winter season, there would be a welcome warmth for all who sought shelter within.

He nodded to the guards as he neared but his passage out of the cold was forestalled as the doors opened to reveal a Gondorian man. He blinked against the sudden sunlight, turned back to raise a hand in farewell to someone waiting within and shouldered his pack. This must be Freja’s pet Gondorian, Darhias concluded. He had the pale cast of a scholar just as Vorda had described when the fellow had first called upon Edoras some months ago when the weather was still benign. He’d made repeated trips north since, his latest some two days ago just as the blizzard had come howling down onto Edoras. It was only now fading.

The fellow was outfitted in clothing far better suited for the conditions than the garb he had arrived in. That, Darhias guessed, had come from Freja for there was a reason the Shieldmaidens now referred to him as Freja’s pet Gondorian. At a shout from within, he scuttled out of the doors proper and let them close behind him so as to not let all the warm air out. He then nodded amicably at Darhias and made his way down the wide steps of Meduseld.

Darhias turned to study the man as he departed. He trudged through the snow with a clumsy lumber that spoke of man who did not frequent the outdoors overly much. Just what, he wondered, was a scholar of Gondor doing here in Edoras. Vorda had been muttering, off and on, about him for months now. Newly appointed captain of the Shieldmaidens, it had fallen to Vorda to retrieve the scholar from Edoras’ gates only two scant days ago. She’d then spent a good hour stomping about their home as she cast off her gear, muttering about “southern men and the rocks they keep in their heads”.

Was a long road from Gondor to Edoras. Not a road to take, back and forth, routinely without reason. And this was hardly the season to be taking it at all. Confined by the weather to their home, Darhias had spent the past two days delicately asking questions he probably should have asked months ago now. Delicate, because it did not do to irritate a Shieldmaiden when you were forced to endure the consequences in close proximity. Vorda had been more than happy to complain about the fellow, however Darhias had discovered all too late that Vorda had been grumbling about him for some time now and was far from impressed that Darhias had not noticed.

According to Vorda, Freja’s pet Gondorian scholar hailed from the library of Minas Tirith. He arrived semi-regularly, always expected by Freja and always received by her. The purpose of his visits and what they discussed Vorda did not know and Freja had not divulged. Éomer was aware of this, of course, but saw it as a promising indication that Freja was taking up new interests now that her old life was behind her. Yet, was it?

Darhias knew for himself that Freja trained as diligently and intently as any Shieldmaiden currently in service. That was not the behaviour of woman who had set her spears down, even if she no longer bore the braids and torcs of her sisters. And so, what possible use could Freja Fireborn have for scholars?

He had heard her declare that nothing of any worth could be found “mouldering within the pages of a book”. Her attitude was entirely consistent with that of her people. The Rohirrim were not known for their scholarly arts. Theirs was a culture of spoken word, each memorable event codified in long sagas, poems and songs that their bards spent years memorising. If anything was set down, it was a map or one of their tapestries. The Shieldmaidens had their own spoken lore to learn, each initiate spending long hours each day in the task.

On one memorable occasion, so as to fill the hours, he’d started recording this spoken history. Unfortunately, Vorda had found it, taken it to Freja and his transgression had been ruthlessly dealt with. Freja had burnt the book he’d started writing their battle songs into right before his eyes, along with anything else he had set down within the covers, whilst Vorda had riffled through his other papers looking for anything else he might have stashed away. Once both women were satisfied, they’d left him with the ashes of his book and a stern warning. So, why on earth would book burning Freja have any interest in a scholar from Minas Tirith’s libraries, much less the information Vorda said he brought along to show her? Brought along and left, Darhias thought, for the satchel of Freja’s pet had not been bursting with books or scrolls when he had left.

No two ways about it, this was odd. As he had waited out the blizzard, Darhias had gotten to weighing up all he had observed since arriving in Edoras. He’d been diligent, watching from afar for any sign that Naiore Dannan was afoot. In all that time, though, he’d seen no trace of her malign influence. Yet, the last time Freja’s conduct had been inexplicable, Naiore Dannan had been at the heart of it. He gave off his study of the scholar, who was now attempting to mount his horse in a manner that both surprised and amused the Rohirrim attempting to steady his horse, and shouldered through Meduseld’s heavy doors into the hall proper.

No sooner had his eyes adjusted to the dimmer light of the hall did he sight Freja. In truth, her hair made her was difficult to miss. The thick waves that tumbled unbound to her hips caught the light from the torches and sconces lit above and all but glowed. Her sable kirtle of finely woven wool suited her handsomely, as did the emerald shawl trimmed with rusty fur that was slung over her arms. The golden belt slung around her hips marked her station as King’s ward. To all outward appearances, nothing looked askew and yet this did little to settle Darhias’ growing concerns.

He drifted across to one of the wide heavy beams that held Meduseld’s golden roof aloft and skirted around it before she noticed him. Not that he needed to worry overmuch, for she seemed preoccupied with whatever it was a functionary of Éomer’s hall discussed with her. The fellow waved a hand at the doors as he spoke to her and Freja shook her head as she gestured deeper into Meduseld. The two people Darhias watched stood at the corner of the dais that held Éomer’s throne. It sat empty, save for a luxuriant array of furs and a beautifully embroidered cushion said to be the work of Lady Éowyn Dernhelm herself.

Darhias studied the exchange playing out and debated whether it might be best to double back and see what the scholar might be able to tell him. Judging by his facility with horses, he’d still be trying to climb into his saddle outside if Darhias were fast enough. No sooner had that occurred to him did Freja’s discussion end. She nodded to the functionary and took her leave at such a pace that her skirts flared. No time for doubling back, he decided and set off after her.

Freja wound through Meduseld’s halls with the familiarity of one who had grown up in them, seemingly unaware of his presence. Despite that, more than once she almost outpaced him for the woman had very long legs and he had a persistent limp. He caught her again as she rounded the final corner and came to her chambers within the royal wing of Meduseld. The tapestries upon the wooden panelled walls here were rich and ornate. He peeked around the corner to see her pass by the two knights at her door with a briefly murmured greeting and disappear within.

Darhias paused and weighed up what to do now. This could be nothing, a fool’s errand, but his gut told him that it was important. There were too many unanswered questions and if this did have something to do with Naiore, Berendil would never forgive him for allowing it to unfold beneath his very nose. He decided to push on, hoping that the knights at her door would suffer him to pass unremarked. He’d invested considerable time amongst their number to cultivate friendships amongst them and perhaps this might see him through now.

The two men smiled at his approach, their expressions warm and friendly, and yet both kept to their duty all the same. Darhias’ teeth ground at that but what could he do? Charging in, past two knights, to surprise Freja was likely to end badly. As his name was announced, Darhias heard the sound of a drawer closing and then Freja’s voice as she granted him permission to enter. He found her standing at the corner of her desk, surveying him intently in a room filled with a rosy, warm glow.

”A rare honour, Ranger,” she said and he couldn’t be sure if he caught a sardonic note in her voice.

Just what Freja made of him he did not know and did not want to guess. Instead, he wanted to know where the scholar’s books were. Freja did not own a bookshelf but they had to be in here somewhere. In her parlour she had a wide desk, a locked cupboard and chairs scattered about. Her bedroom was sealed from view, the doors to it closed. His gaze must have wandered to her desk for Freja swept her shawl off and dropped it onto the surface, effectively covering most everything upon it.

”Can I interest you in tea?” she inquired, arching a brow at him.

Though he’d not chased her through Meduseld to take tea, Darhias nodded and watched her smile to herself as she turned to commence preparations.

”Sit or stand as you please,” she told him without turning about, ”The reeds are freshly laid and I do not intend to ruin them with your blood.”

Now he knew she was mocking him for she shot him an openly mischievous grin over her shoulder.

”You could try,” he returned in a clumsy display of bravado.

Freja nodded her approval of his attempt to engage in what passed as humour among these people and he felt his shoulders unknit slightly. Darhias had found that in general terms anything offensive was funny and anything funny was offensive. Until it suddenly wasn’t.

”What brings you here?” she asked, back to him still, ”You’ve not asked for Vorda’s hand again, have you?”

Darhias winced at the question. No one had told him that it was offensive to ask the woman you loved to marry you if she happened to be a serving Shieldmaiden. Apparently, you’re supposed to wait until she sets her spears aside first but at that rate he’d never be able to take her to wife. Vorda had been so insulted she’d not answered him. To that, she had added not speaking or looking at him for a week and never mentioning the matter again once she resumed speaking to him. The fact that Freja knew, however, only confirmed that the two women were thick as thieves. Aside from wondering what else Vorda had confided in Freja about her relationship with himself, Darhias again wondered what it was Freja was hiding from Vorda. From everyone, it would seem, who knew her to any degree.

”I’ve learned my lesson,” he replied uncomfortably, determined not to flush right in front of Freja.

She nodded as she measured tea into a pot, ”Patience, Ranger. Give it time. Until recently, it was inconceivable that a Shieldmaiden could both serve and wed.”

That was ridiculous, for he and Vorda already shared a roof. What difference did the rest of it make? Darhias wandered over to her desk and saw the corner of a map peeking out. Its title was obscured by the fur trim of Freja’s shawl and all he could make out were the final letters – O and R. Utterly useless.

”Taking up cartography, are we?” he tried.

Freja peered at him over her shoulder, ”Cartography?”

he clarified and saw her lift her eyes.

”If you meant maps, why not say so?”

Darhias sighed and rubbed at his forehead. At this rate, all he’d gain from this endeavour was a headache listening to a master of disassembly take him to task for failing to speak plainly.

”Was that your pet scholar I saw setting out?” he asked.

Freja nodded, attention back on the water that was boiling, ”Aye, up from Minas Tirith.”

“What brings him here? Vorda says this is not his first visit.”

“My invitation,”
Freja simply replied as she poured out steaming water into the small earthen pot she had prepared.

”It’s a long road from Minas Tirith.”

Again Freja nodded agreeably, ”Particularly this time of year. Honey?”

How was it, he wondered, that she could be so cooperative and yet utterly unforthcoming at the same time? He nodded at her inquiry and so she set both a mug of steaming tea and a small pot of honey on the desk he stood by. Then she settled into a chair of her own, wrapped her hands around her cup and inhaled the steam. Vorda had warned him before setting out that questioning a Shieldmaiden was a fraught endeavour and Darhias was rapidly acquiring appreciation for what Hanasian was able to achieve at the same task months earlier.

Darhias dribbled honey into his own tea and stirred thoughtfully. Pick the right question, he said to himself, and perhaps he’d dislodge something useful. He nodded to himself, lifted his tea to his lips and flinched. Tea in Rohan was so pungent it was almost like licking the floor of a stable and Freja was known amongst her sisters for preferring her tea very strong. Like her ale, they laughed, and her men they laughed even harder still and now he had an image in his mind he certainly did not want.

He added substantially more honey and tried to discipline his thoughts. As he averted his gaze from Freja he could feel the weight of her scrutiny gaze upon him. Watching, weighing, taking stock.

”How does a Ranger settle into Rohan? Can’t be easy,” she observed.

Darhias sighed, ”Our people are not so different.”

”I imagine that optimism serves you well,” Freja dryly replied.

”I didn’t come to discuss how I was settling in,” Darhias told her and again her brows lifted.

“Then why are you here?” Freja asked, voice sharp as the tips of the spears she kept leaning in the corner behind her desk.

Damn the woman – who was questioning whom? This, he concluded, was hopeless. Freja would talk him in ever changing circles, deflecting and shifting and exploiting whatever opening she could find. Probably best, he thought, to bring this to as tidy a close as she’d let him.

”Vorda’s not seen you these past two days with the blizzard and she did not want to let a third pass. She’d be here herself, if her duties permitted.”

Freja nodded slowly, her attention to her hearth. She said nothing as she curled her legs up beneath her and considered the flames. Though he’d meant it as a deflection, something about what he had said seemed to catch. Freja was very still, as if waiting.

One last toss of the die, he thought, and so Darhias added, ”She worries, of course.”

Freja pushed out a heavy sigh of regret, ”Vorda has other concerns to focus on now that she holds the Captaincy.”

“If you can find a way to stop Vorda worrying after those she cares for, I’d love to know.”

Freja smiled softly though her expression held a measure of sadness. Adept as Freja was at concealing her thoughts, her emotions were another matter altogether. She sipped at her tea and slid her eyes askance to Darhias.

”She’ll want to know if the Elf has returned, I expect.”

Darhias stilled, surprised that she had voluntarily broached a topic as sensitive as this with him.

”Of course,” he replied, careful not to appear too interested, and watched Freja’s attention return to the hearth.

She watched the flames dance for a moment, he supposed she found it comforting, and then sighed as she nodded.

”It is different. She no longer rifles through my thoughts as once she did,” her gaze sharpened and then focused on Darhias, glittering and blue, ”Has Vorda reconsidered my request?”

“What request?”
he responded and Freja grimaced.

”No, then,” she muttered and shook her head, ”I hope this is not something we all come to regret.”

Baffled, Darhias grouped about in his recollection until he found something, ”You mean about locking your door – from the outside?”

“Under the Elf’s gheas, who can say what I might do? How many doors am I from the king and what would befall Rohan if he were taken from us without so much as an heir? How long before the Easterlings flood in, eager to exploit our weakness, and who else will they bring with them?”

Freja shuddered and shook her head, clearly distressed by these notions. What must it be like, Darhias wondered, to be unable to trust yourself, or your actions? Enough to drive anyone mad, he guessed, but he had to be careful to keep any sympathy or compassion from his face. Freja loathed anything that might be mistaken for pity. Instead of comforting her, he repeated what he was certain Vorda would have already told her.

”Vorda took your proposal to the king and he refused it outright.”

”Éomer’s judgement in this is unreliable! she exclaimed, ”The Elf will exploit his affection, use it to blind him to the true peril. If she is not, already, doing that. Who amongst us can say? This is a matter that should rest with the Shieldmaidens. To them falls the charge of protecting Rohan’s throne.”

“Vorda is not about to bind you hand and foot each night either,”
Darhias said and Freja shook her head again, bitterly disappointed. Her eyes narrowed at the flames and then closed.

Darhias leaned forward in his chair to address her, ”You have defied the Elf at every opportunity, Freja. Do you truly think you could do Éomer harm?”

Her head bowed and she remained silent for long enough that Darhias thought she’d not respond. But as he prepared to leave, she lifted her head.

”There was a time when I thought I knew what I would and would not do, Darhias,” she told him, her eyes haunted as they came to his, ”That time has passed.”
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Re: Legacy Prequel - The Ranger & The Shieldmaiden

Postby elora » Sat Feb 04, 2017 1:43 am

III 3021 – February, Khand

The trail of blood the Company had taken up led them eastward to a large, well-fortified town but there they had stalled, unable to push forward or draw back as civil war steadily engulfed Khand. Tidings of the massacre of the Khe’al peoples had proved to be the final straw for many. Southwest tribes banded together against those of the southeast and neither cabal was inclined to focus their animosity on the true culprits: Naiore Dannan and her Moricarni.

Caught up in this, the Company had little choice but to watch days stretch into months. Tempers wore thin amongst the Company, stalled and frustrated and frying beneath the merciless Khandese sun. Yet if they quit this place they risked providing their quarry with unfettered freedom to wreak what terror she may see fit and that was simply untenable.

Khemra came and went as she pleased. She was not part of the Company and so owed no explanation for her movements. No stauncher ally could the Company have in these desperate straits. Her absences grew longer and the inherent shifting nature of Khand’s sands and politics led Hanasian to wonder at why this was. Did treachery build under their very noses. Had Khemra somehow been swayed, turned against them. Little was certain and should their only ally turn, help was a long way off. They were on their own.

Fortunate, then, that in all her activity Khemra had not forgotten about the Company. It was at her advice that they located a spring of water that sustained them through the driest weeks of the Khandese summer. This was a brutal place and were it not for the counsel of Khemra, when she was about, and that of the Haradian they’d recruited, Hanasian was certain attrition alone would have whittled down his Company to a bare, useless nub. But even that spring was not to linger on indefinitely.

As autumn crept closer the spring dwindled until Berendil discovered that it was all but spent for the season. He covered the springhead from sight and returned with all haste to report to Hanasian that if they did not move out soon to find fresh water, they’d perish waiting for Naiore to emerge from the fortified town or otherwise show her hand.

Berendil went into Hanasian’s tent that evening only to find Hansian agitated. His boyhood friend paced about his tent restlessly. Berendil slipped aside as soon as he was into the tent and let Hanasian pace in silence.

Was some time before Hanasian finally spoke, ”I want the men well rested tonight. Make sure they know they must be ready to pack up and move out come early morning. Third hour after midnight. I’ll take the watch.”

Hanasian swept out of his tent, leaving Berendil to puzzle through what was afoot. All he could do was inform the men and by the midnight hour all was ready, and the men rested as best they could. This seen to, Berendil sought Hanasian out again. He found him on the edge of the ridge, but something caught his eye before he could speak his mind.

”Movement,” Berendil said as he pointed through the darkness to the fortress of the town, ”There, on the plain.”

Hanasian slapped Berendil on the shoulder, ”Time to go.”

The camp was not difficult to wake. Most only napped, the sense of something impending chasing away deeper sleep. Just as hoped, they were ready to move out by the third hour past midnight and progressed with stealth along the ridgeline on their way northeast. Once they had gained the hilly dunes the ridge surrendered to, they could see an army moving ahead upon the fortified town. A place filled with warlords, and likely Naiore Dannan too. Yet short of joining that unknown army or launching siege themselves, the Company’s options were scarce.

No one knew that Khema had discovered a way to infiltrate the town. Still, as Hanasian watched this unknown mass of people stream towards the town, he believed he was looking at why Khemra had been gone for so long. That she’d make a move on the fortress without word to him was troubling. She had no obligation to the Company, certainly, but even so he would have appreciated fair warning.

In what followed, Hanasian’s decision to hold back proved wise indeed, for what the Company was watching was the outbreak of civil war proper in Khand. Hanasian pulled his Company quietly north and skirted east along the Ephel Dúath until they reached the highlands at its eastern reach. For the most part they avoided the trouble, a few quick skirmishes only. They stayed in the crevices for a day to rest and they kept watch, and Hanasian was silent as he tried to decide what to do.

He didn’t have long to decide. Having considered themselves lucky to get out of the impending chaos of Khand, that chaos now pursued them. They had a fairly good defensive position, but they had no route to supply. As a result, what they had with them was all they would likely get for some time. Once dawn had arrived the Company discovered that they were caught between the retreating remnants of the attacking army, a hodge podge of tribes, and the warlords that had holed themselves up in the fortress.

This loose tribal alliance succeeded at first but that victory had been won at a steep price. There were not enough left to hold that which they had claimed. Initially surprised, the Warlords had replied with stunning ferocity. Nothing, Hanasian mused to himself, like the fear of answering to Naiore Dannan as why her safehold in Khand had been lost in one night to loosely allied tribes. If indeed the Elf was even there. He was no longer sure she was but could not rule it out. But the Warlord’s attack faltered by mid afternoon and a rumour reached even Company ears that the Elf had fled, abandoning her mortal vassals during the mayhem of the attack.

This was but the prelude to what would be a cruel and bitter civil war. Attack and counter attack now spent, yet the town was afire. The sky above was aglow the following night with the ruin of the fortress and town. Both sides retreated, waiting to see who would be driven to open the second wave. That answer was not long in coming for the Warlords gathered to them reserves from beyond the town walls to bolster their numbers. By the following morning the second battle had begun. Rumours again swirled and this time Naiore Dannan had returned. That she herself led the Warlords in their bid to take back control over the ruined town and lands about it.

As for the tribes that had united to attack, they suffered from the fact that they were not trained soldiers. Not like the Warlord army they faced. This time, their opponents prevailed and any thought of a counter attack soon turned to consideration of how to avoid a rout. Their path back west and south had been cut off, so their only escape was to run north. Only few yet remained by the time they reached the Company’s position in the highlands to the north.

”Look out!” Berendil shouted as an arrow narrowly missed him.

The Company responded with a freeing of weapons. Swords were drawn and arrows set to the string for any who came over the ridge. The first was a man who fell across the ridge, arrows a bristling thicket buried in his back. The second man staggered, but was similarly laden with deadly arrows. It soon emerged that the tribesmen were being picked off even as they fled the battle. This Hanasian could not bear and so he sent the Company’s archers forward. They unleashed their arrows into the advancing line of troops. Many fell but they did not break. A second volley caused them to waver and pull back to regroup in a defensive line. This break was all the invitation Hanasian required. He signaled the Company to withdraw further into the north with haste, but another problem had developed for the Company.

The reasonably well ordered troops of the Warlords of Khand marching north had drawn the attention of the Easterlings defending their southern reaches. Rhûn had recently extended into the Nûrn with the ambition of claiming the recently liberated arable lands there. Already they had reaped a return on this gamble and were ill inclined to surrender this new territory to any one: Black Company or Khandese of any description. Bolstering their claim was none other than King Elessar himself. The opportunity to soothe Gondor’s puissant foe with such an offering had enabled him to sue for peace after generations of blood shed across Gondor and Rohan both.

A proud peoples already experienced in the loss of valuable territory, the Easterlings were not inclined to tolerate any incursion into their new lands. To this end, Rhûn had installed garrisons along defensive positions. Despite their recent arrival in Nûrn, they had moved swiftly and these garrisons already sported fair fortifications.

As a consequence, the Company moved north between the forces of Rhûn and Khand. Their only advantage in this was the plateau’s rough terrain. For all of that, the Easterlings had already anchored that plateau for their defensive purposes and it was a position the Khandese forces of the Warlords coveted. If the Company did not find a way out, they’d be caught once again between two warring factions and Hanasian was eager to avoid that. And so an alliance was required and despite the vocal objections of every Daleman in the Company and all three Rohirrim, Hanasian decided it was best to try their fortune with the Easterlings over the vassals of the Khandese Warlords.

”Berendil, you will move the Company down the slope to the north. Conceal yourselves well in the crevices you will find there. The swift waters in these parts will likely gouge out suitable places,” Hanasian said, ”I’ll take Molguv, Videgavia, Beregon, Foldine, and Macvil with me. We’re going to go talk with the Easterlings.”

“Is that wise,”
Berendil inquired, his concern clear in his expression.

Hanasian looked out over the land they found themselves in, ”If you have another idea, let’s hear it.”

Berendil sighed unhappily and shook his head. Between the two of them, Hanasian had always been better at making these sorts of decisions.

”I’ll keep things in order here. May all go well with you, my friend,” Berendil replied and Hanasian felt a swell of dismay. He had been hoping for another alternative.

He took a deep breath, and with his hand on Berendil’s shoulder as he passed he said, ”It will be what it is. I just hope we’re convincing and in time. Fare you well.”

The six men set out as soon as soon as they were ready. Hanasian had them only carry knives, for the mission was one of peace. He hoped they would not have cause to regret this decision. He left orders with Berendil that those who remained should remain alert and wary. It would not do to be discovered by the Easterlings now, so to avoid detection, they were to detain any who crossed their position. As for the troops of Khand’s warlords, no mercy was to be meted out to them for none would be received.

The tactic worked. As the two armies clashed on their eastern flank on the lower plains, a few more desperate rebels of the southwest tribes made a break and ran toward the Company’s position. Two were killed by the warlords’ archers, but one ran desperately one way, then the other.

Watching the man zig zag across the ground, Berendil ordered, ”Don’t shoot. Let him come! Target those who pursue!”

Once the fleeing man closed, it was clear to Berendil that he was wounded. The man staggered and his limp grew increasingly pronounced. Soliders popped up from the rocks around him, arrows at the string, and yet none found their mark. The rebel’s fortune would not last indefinitely and so Berendil ordered the Company’s archers to target those who harried the rebel. The Company claimed two in this fashion but even so, the rebel’s stamina was fading. The man slowed, his pace flagging with his strength.

It was at this point Hilferin declared, ”Cover me, I’m going out to help him!”

Before Berendil could intercede, Maclon was on Hilferin’s heels with the words, ”We would have perished but for these people. It is the least we can do!”

Hilferin reached the rebel just as he fell. He threw the rebel over his shoulder and turned to retreat with all haste to the Company’s position. An archer popped up, ready to shoot, only to have his neck pierced by the arrow Maclon set loose. A fraction slower and the rebel, possibly Hilferin too, would have been lost. Maclon fell in behind Hilferin, covering their retreat until Hilferin finally tumbled into the Company’s position. He dropped the rebel as soon as he could and Berendil knelt at the rebel’s side to pull the cloth that covered the fellow’s face aside. It was only then that they realized the rebel still lived and was not a man at all.

”Its Khemra! She lives!” Berendil exclaimed, astonished.

Bereck, one of the Dunedain and the closest the Company had to a healer, knelt to tend to Khemra’s injuries.

Berendil left him to it and stood to address Hilferin, ” You could have gotten yourself and Maclon killed with that stunt! Would you have done that if Hanasian were here?”

Hilferin replied, unbowed, ”Our debt to the Khe’al is vast. For all we know, she may be all that yet remains of her people. I think we owe them a life or two.”

Such sentimentality was noble and yet they were not here to intercede in Khand’s civil war. The Company had other business to see to and it was business they could not forget. Not for an instant. Certainly he couldn’t. He wouldn’t.

Berendil pushed forward towards Hilferin, his grey eyes locked hard on the other man’s, ”Four we lost in Khand, along with the trail. Don’t you forget that!”

Hilferin’s jaw bunched, ”I’m here, Berendil, to aid you. Don’t for an instant think I do not know why we are here.”

Berendil’s eyes flared at the statement and he drew in a sharp, sudden breath at the implications, ”I did not ask that of you!”

“You didn’t have to,”
Hilferin quietly muttered and then shook his head, ”And nor do I regret it. Don’t give me cause to now.”

Berendil raked his fingers through his dark hair, ”Long have we shared service, in the north and then in the war. For that, I will let this pass.”

Hilferin nodded and walked away to leave Berendil standing with Maclon. Maclon had heard everything and Berendil eyed him hard, wondering if this man too had been caught up in friendship’s web. Maclon shrugged at Berendil and left him standing on his own.

He glanced down to Bereck tended Khemra still and crouched, ”Will she live?”

Bereck answered, his attention still directed at Khemra, ”Her wounds are many, some older but all recent. Like as not, she was in the first assault on the town. She’s taken three arrows and endured two sword slashes. The worst, though, is a deep knife wound just above her hip.”

The man shook his head ”How she managed to survive, much less run as far and fast as she did, is beyond my understanding. The wounds are infected and I suspect there is bleeding within. I’ve used the last of my Athelas and I have neither the skill nor the materials to close her wounds. All I can recommend is that she remains still and rests. Further movement will only make things worse for her.”

“I’m not sure we’ll have that luxury,”
Berendil replied, ”Our position here is tenuous. If Hanasian does not succeed, we may have to move – swiftly at that. I fear we will not be able to carry her.”

Bereck sighed unhappily at that and asked, ”Do you have any Athelas you can spare?”

“Of course,”
Berendil answered and pulled a small pouch of dried leaves out from his tunic. This he passed to Bereck and left the Ranger to his task.

The rest of the day was quieter than Berendil had dared hope for after the morning’s events. Only scouts, rebels and warlords both, approached near the Company’s position. Any curious Easterlings were captured. Their only other skirmish for the day focused on an Easterling unit but even that was aborted when a contingent of Khandese troops sent by the warlords closed on them all. The Company was forced to divert their attention to this new threat and soon the Easterlings they had been pushing back against joined in throwing back the encroaching Khandese troops.

The enemy of my enemy was my friend as far as Berendil was concerned. Through all of this, he sought for any hint of the Elf’s presence. If she was behind this as rumoured, they would likely fall even with the unexpected assistance of the Easterlings. As the fight unfolded, there was no trace of Naiore Dannan. In fact, Berendil thought it likely she had quit the town as soon as the rebels made a move on its walls. Such an event would provide the sort of chaos to cover her passage. She’d exploit it, he thought, rather than throw her lot in with these warlords. The likes of Naiore Dannan incited civil wars. She rarely stayed around to fight in them.

But where she would go he could not guess. If Khand was unravelling as he suspected, she’d likely quit the land and pulled east and north for Rhûn. Then again, perhaps she would draw deeper in the Khand and use the civil war as barrier between her and the Company. With Easterlings’ aid, the warlords’ forces were stalled first in a stalemate and then pushed inexorably back. The highland plateau at the eastern end of the Ephel Dúath was mostly held by the Easterlings, a fact the Easterling’s commander recognized was due to the Company’s presence there.

As the fighting wore down, the Easterling officer remarked to Berendil, ”This is done now, largely, and I will have to report your presence. But there is no cause for you and your men to hasten away. I will report also that you fought well. What will happen, I cannot say, but my counsel will be that you are given leave to remain.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Upon leaving Company lines, Hanasian and his five men made their way down to a large camp. They arrived midday and were halted by a young guard. They were not left to wait long for a ranking officer, older, limped towards them. As the officer approached, Hanasian noted the lack of Easterlings visible in this encampment.

Upon arrived, the officer demanded, ”Where are you from?”

Hanasian stepped forward at that and the guards all tensed, hafts of axes gripped all the tighter until Hanasian stretched out his hands in what he hoped would be understood as a gesture of peace.

”We’re here to discuss terms of passage with your commander.”

Unimpressed, the officer grunted and turned to point towards the rise to the southeast, ”He is off fighting Khand, up there.”

Following the officer’s extended arm, Hanasian could see dust rising and the occasional flash of sunlight caught on drawn steel. It was close, he estimated, to the position he had left Berendil and the rest of the Company to occupy. Was it a mistake not to bring them all with him, he wondered. If it was, it was a question asked too late.

The officer standing with them continued, ”You’ll remain here until he returns. As you came in peace, we’ll allow you to remain provided you abide in peace.”

Hanasian nodded, as did the men he had brought with him, and they were led to tent that offered shelter from the sun. Guests though they were, they were not left unwatched. After a time, they were permitted to leave the tent but never to wander far and never alone. And as they idled there, Hanasian knew that Naiore Dannan was moving. He knew it.

At evening’s approach Molguv proposed a possible way forward. But would it lead them out of the frying pan, so to speak, and into the fire? No way to know and so Hanasian decided to use it as a last resort even as the unit’s commander entered the tent and called him outside.

”Walk with me,” the commander said, not pausing despite the clear sign of battle upon his garb.

“Very well,” Hanasian acquiesced and fell into step beside the Easterling commander.

Together they made for a watchfire and the commander led him past it to the tent nearby. Once within it, the man finally permitted some of his weariness to show. He poured out two tin mugs of water and passed one to Hanasian

”I’ve had a long day, as I’m sure you have too. I am Khule and I have temporary command of the Nûrn settlement brigade. You are?”

“Hanasian, Captain of the Black Company,”
he replied, studying the water he had been given.

Khule nodded brusquely and wet his throat, ”My commander will want to know what a band of mercenaries working for King Elessar is doing in Nûrn.”

”We pursue Naiore Dannan,”
Hanasian replied bluntly and watched the Easterling’s expression shift. Fear, just for an instant, and then it was gone.

”I see.”

“Do you know her?”
Hanasian pressed.

Khule’s demeanour remained unreadable, ”I know of her.”

It was impossible for Hanasian to know if this man was allied with the Elf witch or not and Hanasian was keenly aware of this. That fear he had glimpsed could be found in her allies and her foes. Still, something about the Easterling hinted at the fact that he was not part of the overall Easterling command. Temporary, he had said, and despite his talk of Gondorian mercenaries he had been courteous. Hanasian decided to risk it.

”She has caused much mayhem, most recently in Khand. I suspect she has now made her way into Rhun.”

Khule drained his mug at this and his eyes dropped to the ground for a moment, ”If some of the old spirit still abided in my own people, we’d be marching even now.”

The intensity of his voice belied the carefully cultivated expression on the Easterling’s face and then he lowered his voice to the barest whisper, ”Ware the Elf’s adherants!”

Hanasian nodded, ”We know the Moricarni.”

”Then you must know they are here.”

“Amongst your own men?”

Khule scowled at the question and fell silent, clearly debating with himself what to do next. Hanasian watched him closely as he pretended to drink the water Khule had given him. The Easterling turned away, paced to and fro the once and then turned back to Hanasian.

”I think I can get you and your men to the Sea of Rhûn, and from there arrange passage for you up the river,”[/I] Khule paused for a heartbeat, ”I understand your number includes Dalemen and Rohirrim both?”

Hanasian confirmed and noted to himself that Khule could only have known this if he had sighted the Black Company in the highlands.

”This could pose a problem, but I think I have a way around it.”

Hanasian eyed him suspiciously, ”How will you do that?”

“We will discuss that in the morning. Be ready at first light to move. As for your Company, you’ll find them to the west of our camp. They came down with us.”

Hanasian left Khule’s tent and headed back to where he had left his men. The guards were gone and he was unsurprised to find the tent was empty. Hanasian made next for where Khule had said his Company would be found. The Easterling had spoken honestly and he found his men gathered around a fire in deep discussion. Though voices were kept low, the tension was so thick it was difficult to breathe. Already he could see the Dalemen and Rohirrim were openly angry. No sooner had Videgavia spotted Hanasian did he leap to his feet and advance on him.

His black eyes flashed with open menace as he seized Hanasian’s arm and pulled him aside.

”I know who that commander is,” he snarled through his teeth, ”Our paths have crossed before! That man held the command of the forces that attacked Dale!”

“He also happens to be our way out of here.”
Hanasian growled in return but Videgavia was not prepared to let it go.

”But the Eastfold…”

“Is a very long way from here!”
Hanasian snapped at him and Videgavia grasped the peril of pushing his captain further.

He swallowed the rest of what he had been about to say and stalked back to the nest of malcontent that was the Company men from Dale and Rohan. There was to be no rest to be had that night but when morning came the Company was ready to move as Khule and a dozen of his men trotted towards him. It was time to move, but into what no one could know, save the man that half Hanasian’s Company wanted dead.

As they readied to move out, Hanasian saw that Bareck was tending to someone that had been secured to a rough travois.

”Who’s this?” he asked as he approached.

”Khemra,” Bareck answered, ”She alone of her people made it to our lines.”

“The rest of the rebels?”
Hanasian asked and Bareck shook his head.

Grim tidings indeed but still, Khemra’s survival of yet another conflagration was welcome news.

”We cannot bring her with us through Rhûn,” Hanasian said and Bareck nodded.

Khule and his rag tag gathering of men set out north with the Company and though their pace was deliberately unhurried so as to avoid raising undue notice and alarm, they somehow made it to the Sea of Rhûn without sighting Naiore Dannan. Was she ahead of them or behind them? They could not know, then, that they had prevented her from meeting General Khurg and that once again, they would be caught in the resultant storm.
Last edited by elora on Sat Feb 04, 2017 2:08 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Legacy Prequel - The Ranger & The Shieldmaiden

Postby elora » Sat Feb 04, 2017 1:50 am

3021, III April – Edoras

”M’Lady! Lady Éowyn!”

Éowyn paused, swaying as she turned back to find one of her ladies in waiting pursuing her down the hall. The woman had a letter in hand. She waved it high in the air at Éowyn as she closed and the White Lady of Rohan’s brow furrowed. Letters arrived each day and so why, she wandered, was this so urgent. The woman rushing towards her was not given to outbursts such as this.

Her answer was not long delayed. No sooner was the letter pressed into Éowyn’s hand did she recognise the hand in which her name was written.

”So soon?” Éowyn murmured as her eyes ran over her brother’s hand. Haste was in each letter of her name.

Lady Tarwyn nodded and glanced back the way she had come, ”The rider awaits your reply, my Lady.”

Éowyn’s brows lifted at that and she nodded at Lady Tarwyn resolutely, ”Very well, then.”

Drawing a deep breath, Éowyn cracked the wax of her brother’s seal and unfolded his missive. Sure enough, his hand continued to race across the parchment, words and letters crowded and leaning as if drunk, in his haste.

My dearest sister,

I wrote to you only a week ago and you must be concerned to receive another so soon. I will not tarry with the reason for it: Freja quit Edoras yesterday and I believe she means to leave Rohan entirely.

To be clear, she was not set upon again. While I still do not know the identity of her assailant, she has remained safe within my halls since that day. Indeed, I had thought her finally settled. I followed your advice and kept her busy. Renewing the order of the Shieldmaiden is no small task and her counsel has proved invaluable. She had her training and I am aware that she had taken to corresponding regularly with the library in Minas Tirith.

I ascribed it to a new interest that she had found to fill the breach and I encouraged it. Now, I fear we will come to regret it.

Freja did not divulge her intended destination but my maps of Eriador and Arnor have vanished from my collection. In addition to a considerable supply of rations, she has taken her weapons and armour. In short, Freja has equipped herself for a campaign: a long and arduous one at that.

Difficult as this is to credit, I fear Freja has gone in pursuit of the Elf. Even now, I find it hard to believe she could be so foolish. She is bold, yes. Ambitious even, yet her risks have always been calculated and measured. But what other reason can there be? What could draw her from her home and the country she so loves? What could pull her away from her Shieldmaidens?

There is a Ranger that has settled in Edoras by the name of Darhias. He has urged me send a pursuit after her but I have forbidden it. I will not have Freja hunted. Hounding her will only harden her resolve. And in any case, what hope is there of forcing her back to Edoras. I will not make of her a fugitive, nor a prisoner. Nor will I remain idle and leave Freja to so futile a course.

I have sent word to those likely to encounter her in Arnor in the hope they might intercede in some way. Darhias informs me that there is a Ranger in Bree by the name of Massuil. A stern man of hard resolve, perhaps he might find a way to delay Freja long enough for her to set this madness aside of her own accord. Somehow.

I have also sent inquiries to Minas Tirith’s library in hopes of discovering the nature of her studies for I think this will shed light on her intentions. I hope it may set my concerns to rest.

I know you two are as close as sisters. I hope that she may have divulged something to you.

I beg of you Éowyn, I ask that you set any vow of secrecy aside, for Freja’s sake. I do not ask this of you lightly. I fear for her. If you know anything of this matter, tell me. Please.

I remain, as ever, your loving brother.


Éowyn released a troubled sigh, foreboding overflowing, and Lady Tarwyn set a hand to her forearm in concern.

”Oh Freja,” Éowyn whispered, ”What have you done?”
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Re: Legacy Prequel - The Ranger & The Shieldmaiden

Postby elora » Fri Feb 24, 2017 10:53 pm

3021, III – April, Rhûn

Khule guided the Black Company up from Nûrn, smoothing the way ahead, until they gained the Sea of Rhûn. Here the Company was permitted to establish a camp upon the shore, well clear of the city that lay in woods stretching from the northern shore towards the horizon. Hanasian took Berendil aside once their camp was established.

”I need you to keep a journal of the Company. I have begun one, but it needs the perspective of others if it is to be a complete record,” Hanasian told him.

Berendil asked, ”What sort of record?”

”The deeds of the Company and those who served,”
Hanasian answered, ”Those that aid us and those that oppose us. Never before has there been such a Company and I want it’s history preserved.”

“Why me, though?”
Berendil pushed.

”Because I have known you since we were but lads. I know you to be insightful, my friend, and you have a fair hand in Sindarin. Would be useful if our history legible, at least in part,” Hanasian offered Berendil a self-deprecatory grin but his friend was oddly sober.

Berendil nodded at him and turned to consider those still busy establishing the Company’s camp, ”Very well. But I advise you to trust this task to more than just I.”

Did that mean Berendil feared that he would survive or was he planning to leave, Hanasian wondered to himself. Fears for the future or second thoughts? He couldn’t blame the man for either.

But rather than broach what was surely a painful subject, Hanasian restrained himself to more practical matters, ”Who else can write?”

Berendil’s answer came after a brief pause, ”Videgavia of Dale knows how to write. Not Sindarin, of course, but a runic Westron of sorts. I do not know where he picked it up from, but it is readable.”

“I’ll speak with him as well,”
Hanasian replied, surprised that Berendil would commend Videgavia of all the men of the Company.

He studied his friend closely and found that Berendil seemed strangely distant. Elsewhere. Disinclined to explain his surprising recommendation, Berendil nodded at Hanasian and returned to the men of the camp.

Once the camp was set, and a watch established, the men of the Company were swift to make use of the nearby sea. A practice had emerged in Khand that saw Drakius deposited, fully clothed, into any body of water close to hand and this was no exception. For all of his protests, Drakius knew it was coming and still the men of the Company succeeded in capturing the Daleman and tossing him into the sea. Swearing, spluttering and swinging at any unwise enough to remain within reach, the Daleman sloshed his way back to shore to strip off before returning to the sea. That he did so put paid to his displays of outrage at being hauled into it in the first place.

After a long march up from the Nûrn, deeper in lands unfriendly to them, the men were strangely relaxed as they floated about in Rhûn’s sea. The water was unusually buoyant and many soaked for a long time. Some washed their linens, others fashioned fishing lines and all tended their gear. Armour and weapons to be cleaned and repaired after a long period of sustained use and wear.

That day stretched into a week for the Easterlings were indifferent to their presence; neither hostile nor friendly. Yet despite the lull in raids and attacks, the Dalemen and Rohirrim remained uneasy. Each time Khule visited the Company camp, almost every night, almost half of the Company visibly fumed. The Rangers of Ithilien and Arnor, along with men of Gondor were ambivalent. Against this, however, Hanasian and Molguv developed a rapport with the Easterling commander that had managed to bring them north.

A week proved to be as long a sojourn as the Company could hope for. Tidings reached them of a local general named Khurg who was moving to seize control of Rhûn through a program of targeted assassinations and raids. Whilst it was unclear whether Naiore Dannan was implicated in this rising unrest, it placed the Company in a difficult position that drew closer and closer to the Company’s position.

So it was that Videgavia was driven to seek Berendil out to speak to him, one sergeant to another.

You get a bad feeling about our new friend?” he asked as he sidled up to Berendil.

”I have a bad feeling in general,” Berendil replied, eyes narrowing as he gazed out at the northern forest and city within, “Something is happening here, but what I do not yet know. Though we’ve seen no sign of her, I suspect the Elf is involved.”

Videgavia nodded, “I’m sure the witch is pulling strings from somewhere too, but I’m more concerned about the here and now. What do you make of Khule? Hanasian seems to trust him.”

”He’s proved useful to us,”
Berendil shrugged and then pulled out one of Hanasian’s bound books, ”But if you have other thoughts on the matter, record them here.”

As well as the book, Berendil passed along a packet of quills and some ink. Videgavia stared at what he held, perplexed.

”Our Captain has tasked each of us to keep a journal to record the Company’s history. I know you can write, even if your script is nearly illegible. Try to keep it readable and use clean Westron if you can.”

Nonplussed, Videgavia shrugged at the utensils he held, ”I’ll do what I can… I’ll start with the roster the Captain made before we set out and fate each of us meets.”

“A Roll of Honour,”
Berendil said, nodding, ”I think Hanasian may have had that in mind.”

His attention wandered to a pair of Easterlings that strolled along the edge of the camp. Easterlings had been passing by all week but these two had different devices upon their chests.

Berendil peered at them hard, ”Alert the men. Something is amiss.”

“That Sagath cur double-crossed us?”
Videgavia growled suspiciously, already starting to move.

”Not sure…but something doesn’t feel right,” Berendil replied as he scanned the area.

“Hanasian better get back soon, then.” Videgavia muttered as he headed off.

The Daleman’s wishes were granted for it was not long before Hanasian and Molguv slipped back into camp. The Captain of the Black Company waved both his officers into his tent without delay.

”You’ve noticed already that we’re in it deep again,” Hanasian said and both his sergeants nodded.

“Naiore?” Berendil asked and Hanasian shook his head at the question.

“Not this time, I think, but it’s possible that her Moricarni  are somehow involved. Molguv and I just met with the Prefect of Rhûn and his provisional government. They’ve had word that most of Rhûn’s tribes are allied or considering defecting to this rogue General Khurg.”

”Where’s Khule in this,”
Videgavia demanded, ”I don’t trust him, or any of his Sagath. You cannot trust an Easterling. Everyone knows this!”

Hanasian features hardened, “The Sagath, Khule in particular, may well be our only way through this. The Sagath are all that stands, presently, between us and Khurg. The Prefect and provisional government established by King Elessar is about to topple. We have to move, mobilise to support the Prefect and the peace King Elessar seeks to restore to this land. As the Sagath are the only reliable support we have here, we will be joining them.”

Hanasian ran his fingers through his hair as the two men stared at him. Videgavia openly scowled, black eyes flashing ominously. Berendil, however, snapped about in silence to exit the tent and order that the camp be struck come the morning. The men grumbled at this somewhat but Berendil left them to it and returned to the tent to find Videgavia stalking back and forth, snarling.

”I’m stuck here defending Easterlings I don’t like from other Easterlings I don’t like, and it looks like we’re on the short end of it again!”

”The Prefect has request aid from Gondor. Whether that is answered and how long it will take, no one can know. However, I think the King wants stability here and so, for now, we’re it. We will do what we can until that aid shows up – hopefully in the form of a sizeable army. Once that arrives, we will resume our hunt for Naiore.”

Berendil shook his head at Hanasian's statement, clearly dismayed, ”And where will she be then? She’ll use this to her advantage just as she did in Khand. We can’t let this happen again. We must continue to pursue her. Perhaps a few of us could-“

barked Hanasian, “I need every man we have here. The sooner we finish this, the sooner we can resume our search.“

Berendil opened his mouth to argue further but reconsidered as Hanasian stared at him pointedly. Friendship or no, he could not brook open insubordination. Berendil’s argument escaped him in a profound sigh, his expression troubled. Between Berendil’s misgivings and Videgavia’s anger, Hanasian saw that the Company could founder in this task.

If we move early, decisive and united and fast, we could finish sooner than we expect,” Hanasian said.

Berendil looked away, distant again, and Hanasian considered Videgavia’s open glare for a moment and pushed out a weary sigh.

”We’ll discuss this further tomorrow night, with Khule,” Hanasian scowled as Videgavia issued a strangled protest, ”Now go. The both of you. Get what rest you can. It may be the last we get for some time.”

Berendil and Videgavia left the tent one after the other, silent as they walked across camp. Neither man wanted to know what the other was thinking. Videgavia did not want to admit that he liked Berendil better than Khule of the Sagath Clan and Berendil was not about to ask what Videgavia knew of the man. They retired to their respective tents without further word in the hope of resting.

But while Videgavia somehow managed to drop off asleep without trouble despite his simmering anger, Berendil found himself staring up at the roof of his tent. It lazily moved with the breeze and the longer he watched it from his bedroll, the more certain he was that he’d not sleep.

He sat up and pulled his satchel to him to go through it. He thought of writing a letter to Freja, but already had six letters already he had written since leaving Minas Tirith. He looked at one of the earliest ones he’d written in Pelargir, then he pulled out the letter Freja had written to him. The only one. Berendil opened it and read it again…

My love,

Presumptuous, I know, to name you as such. You must wonder, scoff even, that I do so. I’ve given you little cause to believe I bear you anything beyond contempt. After all I have done, you must despise me yet love you I assuredly do. I always will.

In time you may come to understand that all I have done has been for love of you. I know it is a poor excuse, but it is no less true. There is no crueller master than love.

I do not know how I can forgive myself for what I have done. And yet, it is as nothing when set it against the harm and pain I would bring you if you joined your path to mine. I would sooner die than let that happen.

I know of but one way to stop it. I beg of you, forget me.

Seek a path that leads far away from me and takes you to the hope and the new life we spoke of that precious night, before the fire, at Dunharrow.

Another may be so fortunate as to win your heart. When that time comes, as it surely will, go to her with my blessing.

Ever yours,


As ever, Berendil pondered her words. While his path certainly had led him far away from her, he had not forgotten her. He knew, now, that that would never happen, just as he knew that he would dare any harm or pain to join his life with hers. Fear would not change his course. Not then and not now and not ever. He washed a hand over his face and read her letter again. This time his eyes were caught by her first two words and an idea formed. Berendil drew out his writing equipment and a fresh sheet of paper and began to pen the words his attention fell on. A very different letter emerged.

My Love, love you I assuredly do. I always will. All I have done has been for love of you. Seek a path that leads you to the hope and the new life we spoke of that precious night, before the fire, at Dunharrow. Ever yours. Freja

These were all the words he needed from her letter. The only ones he would heed. He placed this sheet atop her letter, folded them both and tucked them away. He then looked at the letters he had written and had not sent. Torn between burning them and opening them to read what he had written, he did neither. Instead, Berendil decided to write another letter.

My Lady Freja,

I read your letter again, and I hold to what you say in it, well some of it. For there will never be a time that I do not think of you, or dream of looking at you as we sit on the shore of Lake Evendum at sunset on a summer evening. I think of us almost all the time. Even when I give full concentration on the task at hand, I think of you.

When we were fighting the warlords of Khand, I made a move that I saw you do in training at Dunharrow. I have memorized your every moment that I have seen. I have loved you since first I saw you, strange as that must sound. I do not understand it myself, yet it is true.

Yes…your refusal to see me struck hard. I remember the day you left Minas Tirith. I resented Videgavia for he was able to speak to you. I held it against him for some time but now, well I think we have found a way to abide each other. We must if we are to serve together.

Still…. I think of sitting with you and talking and laughing and walking through the trees without a care. Do I dream? Yes. I dream. Until the day you are before me, I dream of you, and of us…

Berendil paused, his thoughts tumbling, then he turned the sheet he had been writing on over. He began to slowly draw Freja and by the early morning hours he had drawn her in all the different stances he remembered on that first night at Dunharrow. From the way she threw her head back to laugh, or tilt her head to one side when curious. From the peering over her shield at him to the way she had studied him later by the fire, expression wrapt. And then there was the way she stood, arms wrapped around herself in the darkness, confident that the night would conceal her thoughts. He finally let the paper slip to the floor as he fell into a deep slumber.

Dreams, when they came to Berendil, were also of Freja. She stood on the field facing Vorda as she had at Dunharrow when he’d first seen her. But this was no test. Rather, the two women battled in truth. Swords clashed, sparks flew and both were bloodied. He did not know what had set them at each other but the steely determination in their faces was implacable. A crashing sound woke Berendil at first light. A thunderstorm. He sat up and put away all his writing utensils and looked at his artwork and unfinished letter. He had no time now to finish. He stowed them in his pack and went outside into the dark rumbling morning.

The breakdown of the camp had commenced early and the men were nearly done when the first of the rain came. They set out for the Sagath camp and arrived before midday as it was only a bit farther into the wood to the east. The Easterling sentries had been expecting them, but they seemed cautious and not entirely pleased to see the Black Company. Hanasian set his men to establishing a fresh camp at the edge of a clearing, having gone ahead to meet with Khule in advance of the Company.

Berendil and Videgavia stood shoulder to shoulder, united in their opposition for this course of action though for different reasons. Hanasian approached them with Khule in tow. Videgavia seethed, although quietly for now, and Berendil folded his arms over his chest.

”Videgavia, select three of our stealthiest,” Hanasian ordered, ”Berendil, set camp to order and establish our defences. Attack could come at any direction and any time.”

Videgavia shot a dark glare at in the direction of the Sagath clan but Khule remained impassive, as if he did not see or did not care about the implication of treachery raised by the Daleman. Tempted to grind his teeth, Hanasian pressed on.

”Anyone loyal to the Prefect should be here in this wood. If any approach, challenge them with the word ‘Apple’. If they do not reply with the word ‘Green’, then take them down. Khule, you gather the men you need. Vid and I will assemble our own. We meet here again at sunset.”

Khule nodded brusquely and set off without so much as a word spoken. Hanasian watched the Easterling draw away and then turned back to his two officers.

”In case there is any spies or informers, our reserve challenge is ‘Demarcation’ to be answered by ‘Red’. Let’s hope we don’t need to use it.”

Videgavia stalked off, clearly fuming, to select two of the Company’s stealthiest: Hilferin and Beregon. They spent the day preparing for the night ahead and at sunset Khule arrived with his two men. The Easterlings bore only short swords, throwing axes and daggers by way of arms, yet the information they bore was more powerful still. When the last of the twilight faded into night, Hanasian and Khule set off into the woods with their men.

Khule sent one of his men out on point and they moved quietly. Hanasian was impressed by the skills of the Easterlings in wooded land. The still air on the moonless night was their friend and so they came to where General Khurg’s army had gathered. It was a sizable force that they were to penetrate.

Khule gave the signal and the first sentry fell silently. The second looked around and was face to face with another of the Sagath. He too crumpled with nary a sound. The rest followed Khule past the pickets. Coming to a large tent, they each took position at a corner, with Videgavia staying back to keep watch. Inside, voices talked unaware of those outside, and with a nod, Khule, Hanasian, Hilferin, and Belegost cut through a tent wall.

The two Easterlings charged in and threw knives and axes, the others on their heels for surprise and speed were their only allies in this place. It was over in moments. With the last burning candle, Hanasian examined one of the dead and soon found the mark of the Moricarni. This confirmed the integrity of the information supplied by the Sagath. This mark was found on all but two bodies in the tent. Twelve Moricarni in all, found at exactly the time and place they had been told of.

As for the source of this information, she too was there amongst the fallen. The men of the Sagath set her carefully aside, their expressions filled with sorrow, regret and a flat anger. Impossible to know whose blade had felled the serving girl and Hanasian hoped that it would not emerge that it was one of his own men. With that comforting thought, they set off for the next tent. This was where the serving girl had said Khurg would be and again their stealth proved their success. But whilst they managed to kill most of Khurg’s officers, the general himself was not to be found.

There was no time to investigate further for there was a third tent that they needed to see to and it was at this third tent that they had to sacrifice their stealth. Videgavia was forced to kill a sentry curious about the slash in the first tent’s walls. Belegost and one of the Sagath were hit by knives. Belegost deflected it mostly, but his arm was bleeding. The Easterling wasn’t so lucky. Hanasian set fire to the third tent and then they pulled back to their intended exit points. It was here that the party split, Hanasian taking his men by one route and Khule the other, to return to the Sagath camp with all haste.



In turn the raiding parties filtered into the Sagath camp from the night.

”Be ready, they’re coming!”
Khule said, convinced that they would be pursued.

But the night wore on and they did not come until first light. Khurg had paused to gather his strength, choosing to attack in force rather than haste. The loss of his commanders had proved inconvenient to the general’s forces but not catastrophic. New commanders readily stepped into place and so Khurg’s big push occurred exactly as he had planned all along.

Pitched battle forced the Company to withdraw, eager to keep a route open for escape should it be required. Fortunately, Khurg had not sent out a flanking wing to encircle them and so the Company was able with the Sagath to secure the woods and the shore of the ocean. They were diligent in taking any boats found so that they would be ready should their path out prove to be one taken over water.

The Company pushed headed north and west with a screening front of the Sagath to the east. This line of defense held, but it was anyone’s guess how long that would remain the case for Khurg’s forces were far superior in number. The Sagath’s advantage lay in the fact that they were defending land they knew well: their homes. Khurg’s forces pushed at their lines repeatedly and eventually rolled far enough north to discover where the Sagath line ended. With this, the only chance remaining to the Company and the Sagath was withdrawal.

It took a week of pitched fighting and raids to work their way to the mouth of the River Celduin. The Company’s casualties were constrained mostly to injuries rather than deaths, but even this took its toll for the Company lacked a healer. Bereck, their only healer, was capable enough in a rudimentary fashion but he was only one man.

They met the Prefect when he came in by boat. He had evacuated the week before and stayed offshore while his guard prepared this camp. The base camp was well laid out and was where the remaining boats that could travel the river could be readied. They would retreat no further. The Company, with the Prefect’s guard and remaining Sagath soldiers made a defense perimeter and would have to hold out there until the rumoured expeditionary army of Gondor arrived. The Prefect had sent requests to Gondor informing King Elessar of the dire reality of Rhûn. Hanasian hoped that Elessar’s foresight had led him to take action before the arrival of his Prefect’s tidings.

As it turned out they would have to wait a week for Gondor’s aid to arrive and Khurg, of course, would not be so accommodating.

So it was that Berendil sat one morning staring at the torc Freja had given him. He turned it about in his hand, its strange weight and markings rolling in his palm. He wondered what she was doing. Was she still in Meduseld? Was she well or did the Elf torment her still? His thoughts were cut short with the sound of alert. The first battle of Celduin Field was beginning as the rain started to fall…
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Re: Legacy Prequel - The Ranger & The Shieldmaiden

Postby elora » Fri Feb 24, 2017 11:44 pm

3021, III – May, Rhûn

The battle was all but done and so was the day. Spears of ruddy light jabbed at them from the west. Videgavia walked the churned ground, looking for anything that might have been dropped by these latest raiders. Hanasian and the Easterling they’d recruited were questioning those captured. Bereck was busy with the injured. Berendil was establishing pickets that would see them through the night. Another day, another raid, each one slowing their pursuit down.

Vid wondered if the Elf was behind this. According to their pet Easterling, the Elf didn’t much care for using Easterlings. But then, the Easterling would say that, wouldn’t he? And besides, everything they had seen in Khand suggested the Elf was not above anything now. She had not the luxury for her contempt of mortals now her lord and master was gone.

Vid kicked at ground he inspected and then squinted. A shaft of bloody light caught something wedged in the earth. It gleamed at him, winking, and he knelt. It looked to have been trodden into the ground in the skirmish. Videgavia pried it free, dusted it off, and then promptly swore. Unfortunately, Foldine was close at hand and his head bounced up. He trotted over to Videgavia as the Daleman stood, his jaw knotted.

”What? What’d you find?” the man of Rohan inquired.

”Nothing!” Videgavia snapped at him and jerked his head at the battleground search as he sought to pull rank, ”Back to it!”

Foldine’s eyes narrowed suspiciously but he turned away all the same. Videgavia scowled at his back. Once he was certain the Rohirrim had returned to his task, he uncurled his hand again. Sure enough, there it was. The Daleman’s expression became haunted as he stared at it. There but one person this could belong to. He’d returned the other himself to its proper keeper. Then his expression took on a bitter cant and his fingers locked around his prize anew. Curse the woman! What had she been thinking to do this? This! He shoved the item into his pocket and did his best to forget it was there.

His best, though, was not enough. As the day wound down and pickets for the night were set, the item in his pocket seemed to grow heavier. It held no special qualities, not like one of the famed and doomed magic rings. He knew it to be a trick of his mind and yet, Videgavia could not ignore it. As night closed around them he found his gaze turning to the west time and again. He swore at himself for it once he realised he was looking in the general direction of Edoras.

What would it accomplish if he returned it to her? Or Éomer? Nothing good. But how could he bring himself to send it to the man that had surely dropped it? Videgavia shook his head. It was too much to ask. Snapping and snarling at anyone that ventured too near, he took himself out to second watch where he could brood. Second watch stretched into third and by its end his mind was still clouded.

The Daleman padded into camp to find most were asleep for the night. The command tent, though, was still alight. His intention was to make a report – no raiders had been sighted for two whole watches and this could be significant. Either they had abandoned harrying the Company or had fallen back to await something big. Hanasian had to know, he figured, and he shouldered into the tent to discover that his Captain was not alone.

”- what then? Rhuadar?” Berendil asked, leaning forward to jab a finger at the map spread out.

Both Rangers paused at Videgavia’s arrival. Of all the people he did not want to encounter, it was Berendil of Cardolan. His hand fell into his pocket to close about the item as Hanasian waved him forward.

”The trail, such that it is, leads to Rhuadar. So Berendil thinks. What are your thoughts?”

Videgavia rocked on his heels as his eyes met with Berendil’s. Then he grimaced, grit his teeth and stepped forward to jab a finger at their approximate current position.

”Who can guess at what the witch is up to? She could be brewing something right here for all I know. The past two watches, there have been no incursions across our forward lines. Nary a sound in the darkness. Anything else, everything else…” Videgavia shrugged, ”If I thought I knew, I was mistaken.”

Berendil frowned at this and Hanasian’s brows climbed. Something was clearly amiss.

”Perhaps they’ve given up the chase,” Hanasian suggested.

”Perhaps,” Videgavia muttered and then realised that his fist had closed over the item in his pocket.

Without thinking he jerked his hand free but by some quirk his thumb caught the rim of his pocket and from there it all went awry. He could feel his dismay surge as his fingers splayed. The sight of the torc gleaming in the torchlight only added to his unhappiness. It spun, a tumbling arc of silver, up and up and then landed on the map itself. Round it rolled on its edge until finally it was still. And then Berendil was on the move, his hand plunging to retrieve that which he should never have had. Unable to stop himself, Videgavia’s hand darted out to catch Berendil’s wrist even as the Ranger’s hand slapped over Freja’s torc. He had no idea that one of his long knives was in his other hand until he saw its sharp tip dig into Berendil’s jaw.

”That is not yours!” Videgavia snarled.

”It’s owner thought otherwise!” Berendil returned, naked anger gleaming in his grey eyes.

”Fool! She does not own it! No Shieldmaiden does!” Videgavia returned, blistering contempt dripping from his words.

Steel scraped and Berendil’s lip curled, ”Thief!”

But for Hanasian’s intercession, a strong grip on Berendil’s free arm, Berendil would have drawn a dagger of his own.

”ENOUGH!” Hanasian roared, his voice jarring both men, ”Videgavia, release him!”

There was no mistaking the crack of command in Hanasian’s voice. Never had Videgavia disobeyed a direct order but the strain of compliance was almost too much to bear. His knuckles cracked as they tightened on his knife and Berendil’s straining against his hold on his wrist almost made him ignore their Captain. And then he heard an unmistakeable voice cut across the seething turmoil within. He could almost see her. Firelight bathed her face and she was relaxed, at her ease. A playful smile flickered on her lips as she tipped her head to one side and her braids tumbled, heavy ropes of glowing fire.

”Taking a leaf out of my book now, are we?”

Damn the woman! With a snarl, Videgavia pulled his knife back as Berendil broke his grip on his wrist. The torc was gone again, tucked away by the Ranger as Videgavia’s breathing came in great heaving bursts. He’d never see it again now. His sight held a bloody tinge around the edges still as he slammed his knife back into its sheath. Finally, Hanasian judged it safe to release his hold on Berendil’s free arm.

”Explain yourself. Now!” Hanasian demanded.

Videgavia twitched, ”I am no thief.”

Berendil growled deep in his throat and Hanasian shifted as precautionary measure, ”Then how did you come by it?”

“The fool dropped it! It’s too valuable to leave lying on the ground, especially that of Rhûn!”

“You’ve returned it then and that’s an end to it,”
Hanasian said through his teeth.

”An end to it? An end to it!” Videgavia incredulously explained and then swore in a thick stream of Rohirric.

He turned on his heel and was almost out of the tent when Berendil growled, ”Wait!”

Videgavia spun back with a snarl, ”What more could you possibly demand?”

His hands opened and closed at his sides. Another moment in this tent and he’d throw himself at Berendil. He knew it, just as he knew Hanasian would not be able to intercede in time.

”Who is the true owner of her torc?” Berendil asked, the question astonishing enough to slice through the Daleman’s rage.

Shock registered on his face, ”You don’t know?”

At this the two Rangers exchanged glances before Berendil quietly admitted, ”She did not say.”

Videgavia’s jaw dropped at that. How could he not know? Freja should have made the import of her action clear. That she had not defied everything he knew of her. It was mystifying, if it could be believed.

The Daleman’s attention swung to Hanasian, ”Is this true?”

The Captain of the Black Company nodded and just like that the fight fell out of Videgavia. His shoulders slumped and he washed a hand over his face. None of this made any sense whatsoever to him. He knew Freja was a masterful dissembler when the circumstances called for it, wily and cunning as a fox. What possible reason could she have for being so obtuse about this? Come to think of it, there were a good many other questions that crowded his mind and he had to wonder if he knew Freja at all.

For Freja to set her spears aside, to have her head turned away from her path, was astonishing enough. She lived and breathed her order, her duty, and she was devoted to her realm with a singular dedication that was almost unsettling. It was rare enough for Shieldmaidens to set down their spears for a man. Not a single Shieldmaiden had done as Freja had. And then, if this was not mystifying enough, he had seen her ride out of Minas Tirith with his own eyes. She had turned her back and quit the city, abandoning her torc and the man she had given it to.

The Freja he knew honoured her word. She was steadfast. As unmoveable at times as a damned mountain. She never turned her back on a vow. If she’d kept the truth from Berendil she’d have a reason. She’d ridden out for a reason too. Whatever that was, he was left with a conundrum. Could he countenance leaving that torc in Berendil’s ignorant hands?

Videgavia shook his head in disbelief and he let the tent flap fall back into place, ”I can’t believe this falls to me.”

He stared at the ground, wondering not only how to explain the torc’s significance but also whether he could do so. She’d given her spear torc to the Ranger to bear and if he was to do so, then he needed to know the truth. One way or the other. Irrespective of her reasons, whatever they might be. Videgavia squinted at the ground as he screwed up his resolve into a tight, jagged, bitter ball.

”That torc is why Shieldmaidens are said to be wedded to their spears,” he finally said, ”Most prized, most precious, rarest of all the torcs. More than a signifier of rank. Or mastery of skill, like the others. They vie for it all their lives and most never attain it.”

Videgavia paused, aware that he was stalling, but there was no way he was ever going to possess the strength to say what needed to be said. Still, it had to be said.

His voice grew strained, ”Until you, Ranger, it passed from Rohan’s king to the one Shieldmaiden he deemed worthy of it. It is a vow of immutable fidelity, one that they hold extends beyond death.”

“Freja has bound herself to me?”
Berendil repeated, astonished.

Videgavia hoarsely clarified, ”You hold an oath of a like never before exchanged with any save Éorl the Young and his line.”

An oath he would have gladly returned in kind, if ever he had the chance. Videgavia knew, now, such opportunity would not come. All the years, all the time, so many points at which he could have said something. And now…it was enough to make a man howl.

Berendil stared at him, dumbfounded, and then to Hanasian. Equally astonished, Hanasian shook his head at Berendil and then both men flinched as an anguished growl tore free of Videgavia’s throat. With that he was gone, pushing back out of the tent and into the cooler night beyond. Within the tent, Hanasian placed a hand on Berendil’s shoulder to prevent the man from following the Daleman outside.

He shook his head at his friend and counselled, ”Let him go.”

Berendil shook him off, ”Why bind herself to me only to push me away as hard as she can?”

Again Hanasian shook his head and kept his counsel to himself. He recalled Vorda’s words by the barrow of Snowmane that night. Vorda had warned that there was little Freja would not countenance when it came to protecting what she loved. Rohan, he had thought at the time, and her king. But now he wondered if instead she was protecting someone else.

Berendil’s next question cut across Hanasian’s thoughts, ”Did you know?”

“What I knew I told you as soon as you told me you had it. That it was precious, a rare gift.”

Berendil retrieved the torc to turn it over in his hand, staring at it as if he had never before seen it, ”Rarest of all, I should think.”

“What will you do now?”
Hanasian asked and Berendil pushed a breath out through his nose.

”I will give her no cause to regret this,” he murmured as he closed his hand around the torc again, ”More than that, I cannot yet say.”
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Re: Legacy Prequel - The Ranger & The Shieldmaiden

Postby elora » Sat Mar 11, 2017 6:13 pm

3021 III – Rhûn, May

Expecting Videgavia to confront him at any moment, Berendil’s walk to his tent was a slow one. He wasn’t sure what he’d do if this eventuated. He’d found the Daleman intolerable from the outset but over time a grudging respect for his abilities had arisen. And now…

He shoved any disdain and enmity aside and stretched out on his bedroll. And now what? After a long pause, Berendil recalled the letter he had begun to write. He rose to retrieve it and after a quick scan, resolved that there was indeed now more to say.

’Beloved Freja, this morning saw another skirmish with Khurg’s Easterlings. Somehow, my possession of your torc became known to Videgavia. Through him I have discovered yet more of the torc’s significance. It was knowledge that came at a heavy price, for Videgavia and I both.

There is much I do not understand still but your heart is known to me now. And so, all I will say in finishing is that I yearn for the day our paths cross again. There is much to discuss between us. When that comes to pass, for I have always known that it will, know this: you need not be afraid dear heart.

Ever yours my Love,

He folded it and sealed it, considering how to ensure that this reached her. She had returned to Rohan. Surely, the incoming forces from Gondor would be regularly reporting back. Perhaps they might take his letter with them. In time, in the communication between Rohan and Gondor, his letter would reach Freja in Meduseld. Would she read it? He shook his head at that and then smiled wryly. She certainly could not return it to him in Rhûn, so there was that he supposed. He tucked the letter away and returned to his bedroll. Once again it was some time before he found sleep.

In the early morning, Berendil emerged from his tent haunted by a piercing set of blue eyes he had come to know very well over the years to discover a barge was coming in. He squinted at those upon it and then broke into a relieved smile. The Expeditionary army from Gondor had at last arrived. Whilst the bulk of the force would be travelling on foot, Berendil went out onto the dock to greet those that had been sent ahead. In the faint light of dawn, it was difficult to make out the faces of individuals upon the barge until they were disembarking.

”Lord Faramir!” Berendil exclaimed as the man alighted onto the dock.

The two men grasped forearms briefly and Berendil continued, ”You are a welcome sight, my Lord. The Prefect and Captain will already be preparing for the day ahead. I will take you to them now.”

Tidings of Faramir’s arrival travelled faster and Hanasian emerged from the tent before Berendil could reach it.

”Lord Faramir! Welcome!” Hanasian exclaimed, genuinely pleased, ”If you are here, then it is clear how serious this situation is. Come, walk with me and I will explain the mess as best I can.”

Berendil hung back as the two men fell into step and after a moment’s thought, turned back for his own tasks. It seemed clear to him that they’d be moving now that Gondor’s forces had arrived.

Faramir said little as he walked beside Hanasian, clearly aware that whatever was to be said was to be where it could not be overheard. It took some time for the two men to clear camp and in that time, Hanasian assembled his thoughts.

”How bad is it?” Faramir asked once they were far enough away.

Hanasian paused a heartbeat before he answered, ” Events have pinned us to the northwestern region of Rhûn. Khurg has strong support from the east. Support also from Nûrn and south of the lake, though that is reluctant at best. Our early gambit caused Khurg grief. He struggles with leadership across his armies and their communication is weak. What they lack in coordination they more than compensate for in ferocity.”

Faramir nodded and turned to consider the Easterlings that were moving about within the camp.

”I was hoping to avoid a frontal assault,” he murmured as he crossed his arms and sighed, ”What is the status of the Prefect?”

“He seems to be holding up well. He’s maintained the support of the Easterlings in camp, principally Sagath clan,”
Hanasian replied and then lowered his voice, ”IF it’s a frontal assault you wish to avoid, m’Lord, there may be a way to accomplish that.”

Fararmir’s attention sharpened and Hanasian pushed on, ”The Company could move against Khurg tonight.”


Hanasian drew a deep breath, ”A raid. One of the Sagath commanders in camp, a man named Khule, has access to information from within Khurg’s camp. Information that I am inclined to put to use.”

Faramir nodded and turned aside for a moment, weighing up what he knew and what he guessed at.

He turned back to Hanasian, ”Come the morrow your role in this will end. What you do before then…”

Faramir paused and the morning light made his grey gaze glint. He inclined his head to Hanasian and then set off to locate the Prefect.

The Captain of the Black Company stared at the ground, turning Faramir’s words over in his thoughts. Was that tacit approval or a warning that come what may, the Company would be alone in this. Either, he supposed, depending on the outcome. The cynicism of that thought widened his eyes momentarily and then he closed them. The Company had always been on its own, come what may. This was no different. He resolved that the planned raid would proceed. This time, only the three of them would infiltrate Khurg’s encampment.

Unlike the previous raid, the three Black Company men slipped by Khurg’s sentries without having to kill them. Their luck continued, for Khurg was actually in his tent when they found it and he was not alone. Cornered without a stich of clothing and thoroughly engrossed in a delicate activity, the General had little recourse available to him. They bundled him and his serving maid out of camp and promptly turned both over to the Gondorian army in the early morning hours.

Faramir didn’t question the report he received some hours later concerning the ‘surrender’ of General Khurg during the night. As for the General, he had very little to say though his serving maid was proving quite helpful. And so, armed with a wealth of sudden information, Faramir had his hands full with arranging negotiations with Rhûn’s many and varied clans.

The Black Company broke camp during all of this and prepared to move out. Entangled as they were with the Sagath encampment, it took most of the day to organize despite Berendil’s efforts to expedite matters. The trail of Naiore was long cold and he fretted at any unnecessary delay. But come evening they had only just managed to ready themselves to take up the hunt again.

Frustrated, Berendil sought Hanasian out, ”Have you ever had a hunch so strong you’re absolutely sure of it despite lacking any evidence to support it?”

Hanasian grinned at his friend, ”Most days. I call it instinct. Why?”

”I’ve been wondering where Naiore might go to regroup and regain strength. I’ve considered all the places I know. Each has a distinct drawback for her…until I considered the dread fortress of Carn Dûm.”

Hanasian nodded at the conjecture for it made implicit sense. This business in Rhûn had given Naiore three weeks, he estimated.

”We will make for Dale, see if she has been sighted there. We’ll commandeer river boats to take us upstream.”

Berendil shot him a determined look nodded and then spun on his heel to exit Hanasian’s tent. Come the morning, their river boats were waiting for them, watched over by a hawkish Daleman and a grim Ranger of Cardolan.

The Company set out up the River Celduin, and after two hundred miles, the Carnen river met the Celduin. A couple of their Rohirrim took the west bank of the river, horses tethered to the boats to move it against the strong currents. The same was done on the eastern bank. leading horses and having a tether to the boat to move it against the strong current. The same was done on the east side of the river.

Berendil spent his time on the boat pouring over maps and routes and possible routes Naiore could have taken. He knew she had been was east of Rhûn when the Company had arrived and so it was likely, he thought, that she would have circled north around Rhûn and south of the Iron Hills. With summer’s approach, she could have taken a northerly route straight up this very river. It was unlikely she’d cross Mirkwood for the High Pass. Too close to Rivendell. Would she, then, go north to the Ered Mithrim and make for Carn Dûm? Berendil’s instinct, as Hanasian called it, suggested that she was making her way west although he did not know why. Perhaps instead of Carn Dûm, she would make for Rhuadar itself. There were many roads the Elf could have chosen.

The company set camp by the confluence of the River Carnen to rest and Berendil sought Hanasian out once more. He found him stretched out on his bedroll, staring up at the stars for they had decided against tents this night.

”I’ve been mapping possible routes the Elf may have taken. There are a few,” Berendil said, standing back.

Hanasian’s eyes closed and he pushed out a breath before he sat up and gestured at his bedroll. Berendil crouched to spread out his maps and notes upon the bedroll and then seated himself beside his friend.

”Most likely she threaded her way between the the dwarf kingdom of the Iron Hills and the men of Dale, for the Grey Mountains and then westward for Carn Dûm. The place has been abandoned for over a thousand years. Our people do not go there save for utmost need.”

Hanasian considered at the route Berendil had marked and then looked to his friend to plainly ask a question.


Berendil tapped his finger on Carn Dûm a couple times before it back-tracked the path. He stopped north of Dale and there withdrew his finger, ”Not ‘and’, Hanasian. The question is ‘but’. That this is so obviously the right route to take suggests to me that she would not take it. The Elf would not make it so easy for us. Instead, I think she will skirt the strongholds of her own kind and make directly for Rhuadur.”

Berendil looked at Hanasian as he examined the route. He nodded at Berendil’s statement, absorbed in his own thoughts.

Berendil then said, ”I think the key will be in Rhuadur, and the way in will be the old Forsaken Inn.”

Hanasian let his finger drop on the Forsaken Inn on Berendil’s sketched map. He then reached for his satchel he was using for a pillow, and pulled out a full map of the north. He put his fingers on the scale of leagues and then started crudely measuring from where they were at the river confluence. In his head Hanasian was calculating time and the seasons.

Berendil went on as hanasian did so, ”I think she will not go to Dale, but will traverse Mirkwood and make for the High Pass. It’s the most direct route to Rhuadur and adds much cover.”

“But why Rhuadur?”
Hanasian asked, studying his map and making calculations.

”Difficult to recruit in an empty land, Han. Rhuadar is near enough to populated lands and rough enough to offer good cover. It is not as remote as Carn Dûm. And she will know the power of her people wanes.”

Hanasian finished making his calculations and put away his map. Berendil did the same with his own materials.

”Seventy leagues lie between us and for fords of the Old Forest Road. Consider further, as will I. We will decide then which route we take.”

Berendil nodded at this and took his leave, for there was little more to say about it for now. Hanasian considered his friend as he departed, notes and maps gathered under one arm and dark head bowed. He rubbed at his jaw and then returned to consider the stars. Difficult to recruit in an empty land, Berendil had said. Difficult to recruit men of the caliber of Berendil too, and Hanasian had a sense he’d be grappling with that conundrum. What he couldn’t know, though, was when.

The journey upriver was uneventful, and Berendil spent his time either considering his thoughts, looking over his maps, or drawing Freja. He had dozens of them now, each one different, and as he went, the perspective was closer. His last one was of her face and it had every detail. From the way she held her mouth, to the shape of her nose, to her intense eyes. He looked at it for a time and put it with the others. He wondered where that letter he sent with Faramir’s messenger back to Minas Tirith was, and if it would find Freja.

After a week, they came to the fens where the Old Forest Road forded the river. Here the grass was green and lush near the fens and so the Company camped an additional day to allow their horses rest.

In this time, Hanasian sought Berendil out and found him standing by the road, staring along it.

”Has your conclusion changed?” he asked his friend and Berendil shook his head, eyes still on the road.

”“No, she went down that road there,” he pointed west to where the track was swallowed by a dark, dense looking forest.

Hanasian looked that way,”About that…. I think we make for Esgoroth.”

“It is miles out of the way!”
Berendil protested.

Hanasian nodded in agreement, ”Nearly two hundred, in fact, likely a couple weeks there and back. We need a break, Berendil. The Company has not re-fitted since we set out. The field repairs we accomplished with the Sagath is not a refit. The horses desperately need extended rest. You want to argue that, take it up with Foldine and see how you fare. Lastly, the boats we have are the property of the King. We must leave them in good hands. What would you have us do, abandon them here to rot?”

“And all the while, the cursed Elf gains even more of a lead on us,”
Berendil answered, his frustration apparent.

”Aye, but this is different to Rhûn. If you can find four others willing to accompany you, then you can set off west with what you need from our remaining provisions. There are likely some who would want to forego Esgoroth, but the Dalemen are all looking forward to it, as are most of the others. It has been a long road since we left Minas Tirith.”

Berendil looked west and then to the horses who were grazing the grasses, ”Very well Captain, I’ll ask some I think are of like mind as me.”

The next day, Hanasian was set to continue up river to Esgoroth and Berendil was set to make west with the five youngest and freshest horses. With him was Macvil, Maclon, Foldine, and Hilferin. They had stowed the provision they would need to get over the Misty Mountains, and as the boat was readied, they said their farewells, and vowed to meet later at the Forsaken Inn.

It didn’t take long before Berendil’s band of men were under the eaves of the Old Forest. Even though it had been two years since the war, the Mirkwood had lost little of its darkness. The air was heavy under the forest canopy but now bird song could be heard during the day. It was close to seventy leagues across the forest and though they made good speed, they spent three nights in Mirkwood.

When they finally emerged from the forest on the west side, they basked in the warmth of the sun. It was good to leave the heavy dankness of those woods. They did not rest long, but kept a steady pace to gain the Old Ford where they camped. The remainder of the journey would be a hard climb up into grassless areas, so Berendil made the decision to stay there an extra day so the horses could graze.

The rest of the Company made their way to Esgoroth and arrived after six days. There they rested horses were rested and they worked on re-supplying for the journey over the High Pass. Hanasian kept his men busy, for idle hands meant trouble as he well knew, but at night they enjoyed the luxury of an inn. The Dalemen knew where to go and the food, drink, and music was re-invigorating.

Most of the Company’s time was spent procuring supply and provision from those the Dalemen of their number knew. Videgavia obtained for them dried meat and fruit, and this was good for the Company’s trail rations had dwindled to nothing. They lingered in Esgaraoth three days. The boat was left with the city guard, and should the King of Gondor or any of his agents should require its use, it was to be signed over to them.

On the fourth day, the Company was ferried to the east side of the lake and they rode south along the river, allowed their horses to graze and drink as they went. When they gained the Carrock the Company was a fortnight behind Berendil’s band. The next day it was they who set out under the canopy of the Greenwood and it was here that Barek posed a question to Hanasian.

”What do you think Berendil will do, should he locate the Elf?”

Hanasian knew the answer to that. Despite their orders to the contrary and despite Berendil’s calm nature and the fact that such an undertaking was fraught with unacceptable peril, he knew very well that Berendil would attempt to kill Naiore Dannan if he found her. And so, it seemed to him, did Barek for why else pose the question.

He was silent for span of heartbeats before he answered, ”Truth be told, I will be content to have a forward position established by the time we get there.”

Barek nodded at this and as they silently made their way west, Hanasian wondered what he would find at the Forsaken Inn. He very much did not wish to venture south to Meduseld to deliver dark tidings to one Shieldmaiden of Rohan and that, he feared, was the very likely outcome should Berendil encounter Naiore Dannan.

Berendil and his men gained the High Pass and there rested for a couple days for the air was warm and the melting snow refreshing. Once they were rested, they made their way down the west side of the Misty Moutains and allowed themselves a day’s sojourn at Imladris before continuing on west for the Forsaken Inn. In all, it took them just under three weeks to gain their final position and though Berendil had pushed them hard his men did not complain.

And so, Berendil found himself laying on the edge of a grassy hill south of the inn. The stables appeared empty and he didn’t see anyone moving about while he was there. He withdrew and that evening he called his men together.

”Two need to go in. Appearances are ever deceiving. The Inn may well be abandoned but then again, perhaps not."

Macvil who had watch at sunset said the lamps were lit inside, so someone had to be there. Foldine and Hilferen volunteered to go. They stripped off anything that could identify them as military or Black Company, so that they resembled little more than highway ruffians. Once night fell proper the two men set out, the remaining three following along to take up perimeter positions around the inn.

Foldine pulled the door open to find a dimly lit common room with a sparse scattering of patrons studiously avoiding their arrival. They ordered hot tea and settled in at one of the tables, talking as though they had travelled far together and so it began. Over the course of the coming days, all five of Berendil’s band established themselves at the Inn. Foldine had been so successful as to strike up a rapport with the Inn’s proprietor.

A dour fellow, the man had no inclination to run the Forsaken Inn and so when Foldine offered to assist, he readily accepted and set off for Bree the very next day. Foldine became by default the proprietor of the Forsaken Inn, a role he took to with gusto. Berendil took the part of a rough rogue that sat by the fire in the far reaches of the common room. Hilferin took to dicing, wandering the common room in search of anyone after a wager. Maclon became the newest bar fly, propping up Foldine’s bar and complaining about the watering down of the ale. Aside from Foldine, all four men cycled between the inn’s common room and scouting around the inn, hunting for any sign of Naiore Dannan or her supporters whilst Macvil withrew east down the road to watch for Hanasian.

When Hanasian’s arrival coincided with the first rain since summer. Macvil rose up as the Company edged closer through the downpour. He moved carefully, aware that he would resemble little more than a highwayman.

”Are we glad to see you Cap!” he hailed them, holding his hands wide and his cowl pushed back.

His brethren peered at him intently before Hanasian swung down from his saddle to approach.

”What is your situation? Any sign?”

“Nothing definitive. There was one who looked suspicious. He proved to be no more than a traveler making for Bree. There’s been a persistent sighting too, but it’s unclear whether he’s just a bandit. Every time we get close, he’s off. Slippery as an eel, that one. Otherwise, we’ve established our forward position at the Inn itself. Foldine runs it, I think, and badly. Waters the ale far too much.”

Hanasian nodded as he took this in, ”Well then, I suppose there will be room for all of us then.”

Macvil answered and then, ”But ware the bedding. As I said, Foldine runs the inn badly.”

That night Foldine and Berendil took first watch as the Company settled in after a long road. Five unremarkable days passed wherein no one arrived. As for the slippery eel, he was only seen on two occasions. That he proved so elusive troubled Hanasian. Bandits were wily and cunning but rarely so skilled. By the time the sun set on the sixth day, two men arrived from the East. By that time, the Company resembled little more than a band of rouges exiled from proper institutions, taverns and inns of Bree.
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Re: Legacy Prequel - The Ranger & The Shieldmaiden

Postby elora » Sat Mar 11, 2017 6:45 pm

3021, III – September, Forsaken Inn

At one of the corner tables, Hanasian sat up when a tall man slunk through the door of the Forsaken Inn upon evenfall. Heavily cowled, he fit the description of the man his scouts had reported. The Slippery Eel, as they'd come to call him. Now that Hanasian had eyes on the Eel, he could see why he had caught their attention.

Just from the way he moved, Hanasian could see the man knew how to handle himself in a fight. His clothing, though worn, was the kind favoured by a canny operative. Generic, functional, able to blend in easily in most locations from Rhûn through to Arnor. Forgettable. It was entirely possible that this was the Moricarni agent they’d been hoping to find in this dank and dismal place.

The Eel prowled to the bar, deep cowl drawn low and lower face wrapped in cloth, to slot into the press. Khule had marked the Eel as well and with a glance to Hanasian, began to wend his way towards his target. They’d been here close to a week and thus far they’d found no discernible trace of Naiore Dannan nor those who served her.

Still, for all of that, the information that had led them here was credible. This man was likely to be connected to the Elf somehow. The Eel was no petty bandit or down on his luck criminal. That much Hanasian was certain of now that he’d sighted the man. A better target there was not to be had in the fetid Forsaken Inn.

He glanced to Berendil seated beside him and saw that his friend also closely watched the Eel. A quick sweep around the common room revealed Videgavia. The Daleman was already on his way to join them at their table. It was the best vantage to be had. His dark eyes held a cold gleam and Videgavia’s expression was set in its hardest lines. He fit right in to the Forsaken Inn’s clientele and so no one risked setting themselves in his path.

He yanked a chair back, dropped into it with a sullen thud and growled, ”We’ll soon see what the Easterling’s made of.”

The almost gleeful note in the man’s rough voice lifted Hanasian’s brows and made Berendil look askance to him. Videgavia shrugged at them in reply and turned his attention to the bar. Whatever this man was or wasn’t, Khule was their best chance of taking him in. It was not long before a scuffle broke out at the bar. Khule had made contact and the game was finally afoot, come what may.

Fights were not uncommon at the Forsaken Inn. Drunken aggression often overflowed. This, however, was a different creature altogether. Khule was amongst the best warriors within the Black Company. He was a master of both close and ranged combat. Such men were rare and this was why Khule had been selected to initiate contact. He was most likely to emerge unscathed.

Those at the bar did not push, shove or lash out. All Company men, they drew back to give the Easterling room to move. The fight spun away from the bar and careened dangerously towards the tables, the Eel swiftly revealing he was not to be easily overcome. Videgavia straightened from his slouch and frowned. His eyes narrowed as he leaned forward and Berendil whistled appreciatively at the display.

Whoever this Eel was, he was easily Khule’s match. On the other side of Hanasian, Videgavia took to muttering to himself and then fell silent as the mercenary very nearly took Khule’s face off. Khule's shaken expression was clear for all to see for a moment and then he recovered from what had been a very close call.

”The Easterling can handle himself,” Hanasian murmured but Videgavia shook his head from side to side.

Hanasian glanced at the Daleman curiously and saw concern, if not outright dismay, in the deep lines of Videgavia’s face. It was odd, he thought, for Videgavia had only managed to barely tolerate Khule’s presence in their number thus far. Khule recoiled from yet another vicious strike and still the Eel gave him no opening, no chance at seizing the advantage, no opportunity to regroup. Hanasian could see his men starting to twitch, restless and worried. If this descended into an outright melee, the Eel could easily slip away in the chaos. Videgavia wiped a hand over his jaw and, eyes still tracking the fight, uttered something from the corner of his mouth.

A name that made Berendil shoot to his feet immediately. Try as he might, he could see nothing that might identify the Eel and so he slowly sank into his seat. Videgavia leaned forward, dark eyes glittering and then nodded to himself.

He swiftly leaned back between the Rangers he was seated amongst, ”It’s her. I’d stake my life on it.”

The two Rangers rose to their feet for a better vantage but all that could be seen was Khule fighting for his very life. Swathed from head to foot it was impossible to see whether the Eel was in fact a woman, much less which woman. However, if it was Freja then she was about to take out their best and if she was recognised, their entire operation would be derailed. Hanasian and Berendil sank back into their chairs.

Khule twisted to slip by in a bid to gain the window of the inn, which he did. He crashed through it, raising a shout from Foldine as the barkeep. The Eel, as swift as Khule, paused ever so briefly in the sill. A brief calculation and then the Eel was through to give pursuit.

In that moment, a flash of hair was glimpsed. Just the end of a braid, perhaps, but most assuredly the rich wine coloured shade of one Freja Fireborn. It settled the matter of identity for such a hue was not seen beyond the East Fold of Rohan. All three men were on their feet in an instant but Freja had already disappeared into the night, hunting Khule.

Something had to be done and quickly before Freja blew their mission and killed their newest recruit.
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Re: Legacy Prequel - The Ranger & The Shieldmaiden

Postby elora » Sun Mar 12, 2017 2:38 pm

3021, III - The Forsaken Inn, September

Hanasian, Videgavia, and Berendil darted through the door of the inn and looked about. Macvil was on watch and he pointed north across the road. The three men fanned out, careful to keep each other within earshot, and pushed into the bushes lining the northern edge of the road. In their wake, Mulgov slid out of the door as well and shortly after that into the night. There was no way he was going to abandon his newest friend to this murderous eel, though the fighting truly was spectacular. It would be a pity to put an end to the eel, he thought. As for Foldine, he leaned his weight on the bar and considered the ruin of the window. Then he shugged, for it was unlikely to be his concern now. He set about gathering up anything useful to take once they quit the Forsaken Inn.

Khule pushed hard to the north. There was a small woods there, he knew, and it was his best place to lose his assailant. Could it be her? The eyes…He shook his head because whoever the eel was, he could hear that they were still right behind him. It was only a matter of time before he was run down and he knew what the outcome would be if he tried to face the eel winded and tired.

The best Khule could do was find a good place to make his stand. He eased back on what had been an unmitigated sprint and it was a good thing he did for he shot until a clearing from between the trees. The moonlight showed clearly a rock ledge that dropped about as far as his height standing. It had rained recently and he could hear water thundering through the ravine below. It sounded like its flow was waning. Khule debated climbing down into the ravine but decided against it. He had no time. Instead, he crouched as low as he could by the edge with the hope that his pursuer would hit the clearing at a full sprint and fail to realise the precipice in time.

Sure enough the eel came flying through the trees but his hopes were disappointed as the eel scrabbled to a halt, arms windmilling on the very edge for balance. Not to worry, though, for Khule had his hand axe at the ready and his opponent was momentarily disadvantaged. Perfect. He jumped at the eel, swinging his axe for where he knew the eel’s head was. If he had been a fraction faster or the eel slower, then this unfortunate affair would have met with a definitive end. As it was, the eel had turned too quickly and crouched.

His axe sailed through clear air but Khule used his momentum to crash into the eel as hard as he could. It was all he had left, really, and they both plummeted over the edge. Bouncing onto the rocks below, Khule found himself badly winded. The eel fell a bit further away, biting off a Rohirric curse and scrabbling in the water. If it was the Shieldmaiden, his best move would be to simply let her drown. They don’t swim, as he knew. Unfortunately, all Khule could do was gasp for air like a landed fish. His lungs screaming, he heard the eel gain her footing and he knew with sudden certainly that his hours were numbered.

The eel was drawn by the sound of his gasping and he glimpsed the blade lifted in the night. It took all the strength he had to lift his arm to deflect the blow and the blade bit into his shoulder deep enough to scrape on bone. Excruciating pain made him lash out blindly and he kicked the eel hard enough to unbalance but not for long. The eel regained footing and came at him again. The rocks that had stolen his air and likely cracked his ribs proved his ally this time. Wet and slippery, the eel slipped on the way back in and the angle of the knife was thrown from the hand that gripped his axe to his thigh.

Khule roared with outrage and pain, grabbed the eel’s hand and squeezed fingers as he rolled away. He hauled the knife out of his thigh only to see the eel had another knife and his deathblow was at hand. Strangely, of all the things he wanted to do or say, it was to ask the eel’s name. Was it truly the woman he’d spent years hunting in the East Fold. If so, then perhaps this was….not right but proper. As strange thoughts tumbled through his head, the eel’s knife swung for his life and would have claimed it if not for the stone that came tumbling through the night to glance off the eel’s head.

The eel shuddered, the knife clattered to the rocks, and the eel collapsed bonelessly to the side and into the stream. Now the pendulum had turned and Khule knew it. He pushed himself to his feet, ignoring the blood that was coursing down his leg and arm and the burning of his ribs and staggered to the eel’s unconscious form. Some foes simply had to be put down.

Khule stood over the eel’s limp body with the eel’s knife in his hand. Only fitting to return the blade to its owner. With his compliments for what was a peerless warrior, whoever this eel was. Had not Mulgof and Hanasian dropped into the ravine, he would have done so.

”We need this one alive,”Hanasian said as Mulgov pulled Khule back from the eel.

It took a moment for his captain’s words to sink in. Once they had, Khule laid back against the rocky embankment. The matter was out of his hands now. And he wasn’t dead. That was most certainly a marvel.

”Didn’t know you were in on this pursuit. Nice throw by the way,” Hanasian observed, ”Do you think you can get her out of this ravine?”

Her, Khule noted. Was it? Mulgov, taller than even the Dunedain, looked about to consider things and then shrugged. He threw the limp eel over his shoulder like a sack of grain. Deadly, murderous, bloody thirsty grain. That done, he turned about, stepped up onto a rock and dumped the eel hard on the flat grass above.

Mulgov was the first to climb out and he immediately set to binding the eel thoroughly, at ankle and wrist. Hanasian and Khule followed, the Easterling grateful for his captain’s assistance for without it he’d be stuck in that ravine for some time. As Hanasian eased him down, Berendil and Videgavia came racing along the ravine from the north. After some momentary confusion over identities, none of the Black Company men were wearing anything that might identify them as such, the two men were permitted to scramble up. Another rustle in the bush proved to be Bareck.

He moved with less haste into the clearing and carefully studied the scene, from the Easterling trying to act as though he was not badly injured to the prone form of the eel. Still breathing, he noted, which he supposed was a good thing given that it was difficult to interrogate the dead. Messy. Leaving the eel to the others, Hanasian drew up to Bareck with a simple question.

”Did you bring your aid kit?”

“No, I headed out figuring we will have to abandon the inn. There is a good hidden camp not far from here.”

Hanasian nodded, ”I know of it. We will relocate shortly. Khule, can you walk?”

“I don’t know. I think so,”
he staunchly answered, ripping off a part of the eel’s cloak to bind his leg, ”Maybe.”

Unlikely, Bareck thought to himself and so did Hanasian for he said, ”Take Khule back to the Inn and do what you can do for him. Inform Foldine that he, along with the Macs and Hilferin, will remain at the inn for now. The rest need to move out for this camp before dawn.”

Bareck took it all in his stride with a nod, had Khule lean into him and set off for the inn again. Khule, for his part, made no protest at the arrangements and Hanasian released a pent up breath. Last thing he wanted was that Easterling around when the eel came to.

Soon as the Easterling was gone, Videgavia swung into action. He dropped to his knees by the eel, pulled back the hood and immediately, from the shape of the brow, it was clear the eel was indeed a woman. He pulled away the cloth she’d used to conceal her lower face and sighed heavily.

”Freja!” he mumbled with a shake of his head and it was at that moment Berendil jostled forward.

Hanasian drew them both back with the help of Mulgov with an urgent caution for both men, ”Let her breathe!”

Once he was sure the Haradian had a secure hold on both men, Hanasian drew forward. In the moonlight there was no mistaking the Shieldmaiden’s features now. She’d stripped away any trapping that might hint at her identity. That was unusual for a Shieldmaiden, so fierce was their love for Rohan. But there was no green cloak. No armour either. Remarkably, the loose breeches were from Rhûn. Gone too were her heavier weapons. Inconceivable that a Shieldmaiden would venture so far afield without shield, sword or spear.

As his thoughts ran, Freja began to stir. Slowly at first, her senses likely stunned and sluggish after a blow like that. Once she realised she was restrained, though, her movements took on a furious quality and she almost succeeded in rolling herself away, back towards the ravine. Hanasian was forced to pin her down with a knee applied to the small of her back. This in no way pleased Freja Fireborn and she made that clear in the snarling Rohirric cursing that came from her.

Mulgov again proved his worth for he was both strong and tall enough to drag Freja back from the ravine by the ankles and flip her over to her back again. He did none of these things. Instead, with a nod from Hanasian, he uncorked a flask at his belt to soak one of the cloths she had used to conceal her lower face, crouched and pressed it against her nose and mouth.

”I am sorry about that lump, he murmured as she thrashed about, ”But I could not let you kill my friend.”

And with that Freja subsided again with an ominous growl boding a world of trouble for whoever happened to be on hand when she woke. Hanasian swallowed hard at that thought and wiped a hand over his face.

”Come on then, we need to get her out of here before she’s recognised,” he said and then shook his head at Berendil and Videgavia, ”Not you two. I want you at the Forsaken, Vid. Berendil, you’re back to camp. You’ll take third watch. Understood?”

Videgavia nearly always looked mutinous and tonight was no exception. Berendil though, Hanasian thought he just might object. He opened his mouth as if to do so and then reconsidered, attention on Freja. With a sigh, and Hanasian knew this had to be difficult for both men, Berendil set out for the camp. Videgavia, though, was slower. Hanasian waited until both men were well on their way, wondering if he’d have to set watch for the Daleman, and then nodded to Molguv.

The Haradian collected up Freja again and with her tossed over his shoulder set off for camp.
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Re: Legacy Prequel - The Ranger & The Shieldmaiden

Postby elora » Sun Mar 12, 2017 2:55 pm

3021, III – September, Arnor

Hanasian squatted in his hastily erected tent and rubbed a weary hand over his face. Freja lay on the other side, yet to come to. She’d be in a murderous frame of mind when she did. They’d unbound her hands and feet and thoroughly disarmed her, he hoped. The woman had a startling collection of various knives and daggers.

The Shieldmaiden was a very long way from Meduseld. For what purpose was anyone’s guess but he had his own ideas on the subject. It was unlikely that she’d come here looking for Easterlings to kill. Was she alone, though, or was a horde of irate Shieldmaidens about to descend on his camp. He shook his head at that notion and pushed out a sigh as he studied the woman. How was he going to approach this?

He’d had the task of questioning Freja the last time their paths had crossed. She’d yet to recover from the injuries she’d sustained on the Pelennor then. He recalled well the air of vulnerability that she’d tried to mask through nothing more than sheer will and determination. Now…well now she was very much back to her full strength, as near as he could guess, and she’d have an axe to grind. He could not rely on her inclination to assist an ally. Not after the events of tonight. As that thought travelled across his mind he caught the slight twitch of one of her feet.

He rose to his full height and prepared himself for whatever was to come next but she did not stir. Her breathing remained measured and slow. Hanasian frowned and then snapped into action when she tried to roll herself under the tent wall and into camp. Predictably, Freja did not take this quietly and a short struggle ensued until she caught a good look at who grappled with her.

”You!” she exclaimed and while there was a world of anger in her voice she didn’t swing at him again.

Her brilliant blue eyes narrowed into a searing glare and such was the intensity of her focus that there was no need to worry about whether she was concussed or not.

”Release me, Ranger, or…” she growled and Hanasian felt the unmistakeable prick of a dagger. Evidently, the search had not been thorough enough.

”Really?” he replied, but released his hold on the Shieldmaiden and eased back.

Freja pulled herself into a fighting crouch, her wary expression wary suggesting she was not sure what would come next. That, Hanasian thought, was probably understandable. He pulled back to the other side of his tent.

”Welcome to the Black Company,” he said and nodded to the dagger she held, ”And that, I can tell you, will not be necessary.”

“I’ll be the judge of that,”
she muttered, truculent.

He remained where he was, completely still, and after a long moment Freja elected to unfold herself from her combative crouch. She winced momentarily as she did so and then her attention shifted to the lantern that lit the tent. Hanasian had a sudden mental image of his tent burning down.

”I apologise for the manner of our meeting,” he was swift to say.

Her eyes fairly crackled with ire at that, ”As well you should!”

For good measure, Hanasian moved towards the tent entrance just in case she tried to rush it. Freja pushed a breath out, either in frustration or disappointment.

”I’m a prisoner?” she demanded, rubbing at the back of her head.

”Of course not,” he answered, ”Though I can understand the confusion.”

Freja was silent for a moment, evidently deciding what to do or say next and then he was relieved to see her dagger lower. Hopefully that meant she was not going to try to fight her way out. She stowed the dagger into her belt and glared at him.

”Where is the Elf?”

Any doubt as to why Freja was so far afield vanished with that question but still, alone? Surely not, for such a course was foolhardy in the extreme. The woman scowling at him was bold and ambitious but not reckless.

”I doubt she is close to hand,” he answered.

Freja seemed to weigh that up before she dismissed it with a flick of her head that she clearly regretted an instant later. Hanasian unhooked his water skin from his belt and passed it towards her. Freja accepted it warily, uncorked it and then cautiously drank.

No sooner had she lowered it did she say, ”Her agent is here, she is here.”

“You’ve seen one of the Moricarni?”
he inquired, brows lifting.

She frowned at a word she was unfamiliar with, then pushed past it as she corked the water skin and tossed it towards the ground at his feet.

”I encountered her agent tonight. That Easterling could be anywhere now, thanks to you!”

“He is being tended to by my own men, as it so happens.”

Freja was clearly repulsed by any such notion, “WHY?!”

“He’s one of my mine. Sworn, like every other man in my service to pursue Naiore Dannan wherever she may be found and bring her to justice.”

At that her jaw hung for a moment, as though she could not believe what she had just heard. Then she spat a furious curse in Rohirric. She stepped forward so fast he thought she might come at him.

She demanded, ”You permit him to serve?”

“There are many in my service far from unblemished. Videgavia of Dale, is one such.”

“Videgavia does not burn women and children in their beds or toss them back into the flames should they somehow manage to escape their pyres,”
Freja recoiled as Hanasian flew towards her to clap a hand over her mouth.

To her credit, she did not lash out at him but he knew she was sorely tempted. He could feel her coil in preparation for any number of responses. All of which, he was certain, he’d not enjoy in the least.

He glanced pointedly at the tent door, ”Such talk will rip this Company asunder and wouldn’t Naiore Dannan appreciate that! Is that what you want?”

She glared at him over his hand and then he slowly he loosened his grip over her jaw.

Against his fingers she hissed, ”Videgavia did not flay my sisters alive and wear their skins!“

And now it was his turn to be appalled. He responded as though scalded and Freja pulled herself about so that all he could was stare at her back. Her hair was caught in a single, intricate braid that fell fat and heavy to her hips. The lantern made it glow, like embers were caught within its strands.

She drew in a shuddering breath as she contemplated an old horror that for him was new. He did not know what to do with it. Then he did. He hated it, but he knew it was right.

”Khule has sworn service to the High King. If you strike at him now, you become what he once was – the Enemy. Is that any way to restore honour to those you seek to avenge? What is more,” he paused and her braid swayed as Freja turned her head to study him over her shoulder.

”Are you prepared to let it overtake your war path?” he asked.

Her eyes closed at the question and he knew, then, that he had correctly identified the nature of her braid. And, with that he knew how he might cobble together a way forward. Freja muttered something he didn’t catch under her breath.

”Does Éomer know you are here?” he inquired, the question turning her about to face him again.

She folded her arms against her chest, expression guarded. Clearly, then, the answer was no. Made sense. Éomer guarded his Shieldmaidens jealously. He’d not squander them, particularly not this one woman. It confirmed for Hanasian that his Company was not about to awash with furious Shieldmaidens all trained to some degree by the woman in his tent. That was the first piece of good news all night. Freja’s boot tapped a few beats on the ground, impatient, and then she called his bluff.

”Is that how it’s to be, then? Pack me back to Edoras?” her tone veered dangerously towards open hostility.

Hanasian rubbed a hand over the bristles along his jaw, ”Needn’t come to that, Freja, if you’re willing to reach an agreement.”

Brief, incredulous laughter fell out of her, genuinely surprised, ”Why would you want to do that?”

“My reasons are my own,”
Hanasian replied and pressed on, ”The terms are straightforward enough: I’ll not send you back to Meduseld and you’ll not kill my men. Any of them.”

”You think you could return me to Edoras against my will?”
Freja countered.

Not for an instant did he think anyone could make this woman do anything against her will. More to the point, he didn’t want to have to try.

”You think you could take the Elf down on your own?” he answered instead.

Freja sniffed at the question, shifted her weight and then offered him a shallow, ambivalent shrug, ”I’ll…consider it.”

”Then I’ll have your answer on the morrow,”
Hanasian replied and inclined his head to her, deference from one Captain to another. For that was how he regarded the woman in his tent even if she had repudiated all claim to rank within her order.

He stepped away from the tent’s entrance and she seized his clear invitation to leave without delay. With that a woman affectionately described as an army in her own right was at large in his camp. Some exaggeration there, to be sure, but then again Freja was alarmingly adept and if she decided to employ her skills she’d wreak havoc through his men. Hanasian very much hoped he had not misjudged her character for if he had, he recognised that there was little he could do about it now.

But Freja did not get very far from the tent for waiting outside was Berendil of Cardolan. She was ill prepared for the sudden longing that stabbed at her. She tried to swallow against the sudden dryness of her mouth. How was it fair that he was so damn beautif-

”Ni nîn,” he said quietly, his deep velvety voice slicing through her thoughts.

Berendil’s eyes combed over her as she stood there, struck momentarily dumb. What did he see, she wondered as she tried to gather her scattered wits, and why did he insist on speaking Elvish? Surely he knew she had no grasp of that.

His clear grey eyes glinted as though she might see his thoughts if she looked closely enough. In truth, she dared not. She had not the stomach to face it and in any case, Freja could guess easily enough. Resentment and anger. Bitterness. Regret. He must surely rue the moment their paths crossed.

”What are you doing here?” she finally whispered and his dark brows lifted.

”Our battles, you informed me, are our own to choose,” he replied and her eyes flared with dismay.

”And you chose this?!”

Berendil’s response was resolute, ”I am not here to argue with you, Freja.”

He swiftly caught her wrists and pulled them up between them. Something dropped into her palm and instinct closed her fingers around it even as his eyes trapped her own. She could not look away and her breath caught in her throat when she realised what she held. He had kept it. Through the years that had passed between them he had retained the torc.

”Annon 'ûr nîn angin,” he said and folded his hands around her own.

This Elvish was not new to Freja. She’d heard it before, in the darkness of that chaotic night at Dunharrow, but she still had no idea what it meant. This time Berendil imbued the words with force and urgency. Before he had whispered them in that night, on the eve of war. His hands were still wrapped around her own and his eyes remained locked on hers. What did this mean, she wondered. What did any of it mean?

He returned to Westron, ”You would have me forget you.”

she answered, her voice betraying her with a persistent quiver.

She would have that, despite what it meant for her. Forget her, leave the past behind, search for a future free of war and battle and treacherous Elves and-

”Have you, I wonder, any sense of the enormity of what you ask?”

His question fell across her thoughts. She had no idea what he meant and Freja had never been particularly adept at concealing her emotions. Still, despite her confusion, Berendil continued to gaze at her. He had fallen silent, as though waiting for something. Did he want her to seek his forgiveness? She had a thousand times over in her dreams already. Sometimes he forgave her. Sometimes he did not.

She did not know what to do and this unsettled her further. Even in uncertain times Freja had always known what to do. She felt strangely adrift, as though the strings that had anchored her to her lonely path were unravelling one by one. Through it all, Berendil’s grey eyes rested on her own. Freja could not help but shiver, skittish.

At that Berendil stirred, ”Videgavia says you have bound yourself to me. Is this true?”

What she should do is lie to him. Tell him that Videgavia was mistaken, or that she’d changed her mind, or that she had made a mistake. Anything to save him from the path he was on. Yet, the thought of such deceits twisted her gut. Ashamed tears prickled at the back of her eyes for she knew that for what it was. This was why she had sent Éowyn in her stead before. Now she had only herself to rely upon. Freja closed her eyes and lowered her head. She knew her coward’s heart would betray Berendil with the truth.

”Yes,” she hoarsely answered, the truth welling up from the earth beneath her feet.

His brow came to rest against hers and the effort required to not throw her arms around him made her tremble. She had already betrayed him once this night. Berendil drew his fingers lightly along the line of her jaw, traced towards her ear. She should have pulled back from such a caress. Instead she felt herself lean into it. His thumb brushed over her lips gently and her heart surged from her chest to her throat.

Berendil gathered her to him as he had at Dunharrow and his mouth descended towards hers until their lips barely brushed. That alone was enough to send jolts of sensation thundering through her, scouring all in its path. She felt disorientated and the hair upon her arms stood on end.

”This,” he groaned, ”Is neither the time nor place.”

“It never is,”
Freja sighed and the spell was broken.

He released her with a reluctant sigh and pulled back. She watched him rake fingers through his hair and glance briefly around him, as if recollecting where they were, before his attention returned to her and lingered for a moment. By the Sun and Moon, she thought, he was beautiful to behold.

Berendil shook himself, ”I am to take the third watch. Will you be here when it is done?”

Freja had not intended to remain another moment. Certainly not with the Easterling loose. She should be setting about retrieving her gear, particularly her weapons, now that she knew Khule of the Sagath Clan was about. She’d already decided that on her way out of Hanasian’s tent behind her. Now, though, was astonished to discover that she was nodding at Berendil’s question. Remain, in this camp mostly unarmed with that Easterling rattling about somewhere unaccounted for? Apparently. It was bewildering to say the least yet when her eyes met Berendil’s she saw he was pleased.

”I will look for you when my watch is done,” he said, offered her a shy smile and then was off.

He did not pause, nor glance back as he strode for the camp’s perimeter, drawing up his cowl upon its edge. Soon his swift, long stride carried him past it and into the night beyond. Had her heart not still been galloping she might have thought this all some sort of strange, waking dream. It had been a long, lonely trail since quitting Edoras and she knew she was fatigued. Hunting Elves and dodging Rangers was not easily undertaken alone.

Across her rambling thoughts came the sound of a man clearing his throat nearby. Freja felt her cheeks heat as her head swung about and her attention settled on another Ranger. He had the look of the Dunédain. His eyes crinkled at the edges as he offered her warm smile and acknowledged her with a respectful nod.

”Cwēn Béma,” he said, invoking an ancient honorific for Shieldmaidens that surprised her for how would a Ranger of Arnor know that, ”I think you must be very weary.”

“I am,”
she admitted and at that he stepped closer.

”Let’s get you settled.”

“The Easterling, where is he?”
Freja asked and after a moment’s thought the Ranger answered.

”He is not in this camp tonight.”

That, Freja thought, was a likely story and her attention fell on one of the largest men Freja had ever seen. He had the look of the Haradrim to him.

”What of him?”

“The Southron will not be troubling you,”
the Ranger replied, ”My word upon it, Cwēn Béma.”

”Where did you learn that term?”
she asked as he invoked the honorific again, frowning at him.

He offered another smile, ”Does not everyone know it? If not, they should.”

Freja was certain he was laughing at her but she was too weary to pursue the matter further. Besides, she had more than an inkling that she probably deserved it after her conduct this night. A farce, from start to finish. Somehow. She fell into step beside the Ranger of Arnor and allowed him to escort her through camp to what he considered a suitable location. There was a tent, empty, and a nearby log. A fire had been set, small and flickering.

”Whose tent is that?” she asked warily.

”Berendil’s” he replied calmly and again she felt her cheeks flush.

”I’m in deep enough as it is,” she muttered as she planted herself on the log.

The Ranger considered her for a long moment, his thoughts on the matter his own, and then nodded to her, ”As you wish, Cwēn Béma.”

Freja squinted at the Southron and then considered the Ranger. He had set off again, his greyish cloak flapping at his heels. Bloody Rangers, she thought to herself and then returned to her scrutiny of the Haradrim.


AUTHOR’S NOTE – Translations:

Old English will be used for Rohirric save where JRRT cannon stipulates a variation of Old English.

Ni nîn – Dorathien Sindarin = my love

Annon 'ûr nîn angin – Dorathien Sindarin = I give you my heart.

Cwēn Béma – Rohirric (Old English) = Maid of Oromë (Shield Maiden/Spear Sister)
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Re: Legacy Prequel - The Ranger & The Shieldmaiden

Postby elora » Thu Mar 16, 2017 12:36 am

Berendil was forced to adjust his breeches as he took his leave to watch the road and the inn, Freja’s eyes upon his back. He could feel their weight and his fingertips still felt the touch of her skin. Of all the places to find Freja, he didn’t expect it to be here. Meanwhile, his letter was ruminating around somewhere down south in Gondor or, if it had made good time, perhaps even waiting for her in Rohan. Which she would not receive any time soon given she was in Arnor and intent on killing their latest recruit.

Berendil had little love for Khule, one of the few things he and Videgavia agreed upon, but Khule had proven useful just as the Haradian had. So too, Berendil wagered, would have Khemra had she not been so seriously injured. His thoughts turned next to Hanasian and his insistence on separating him from Freja almost immediately. Hanasian knew more than anyone else just what had transpired between Freja and himself. How his childhood friend could then only length their separation troubled him deeply. Perhaps, he mused, this was the toll of command.

And Freja...she had smitten him from the first look and had taken his heart, and then pledged herself to him with her torc. He sat on the edge of the clearing, thinking of that torc. Before tonight, he would have taken it out and looked at it and rolled it about in his hand and thought of Freja being somewhere far away; of finding out its meaning and just why she had given it to him.

He did not have it now, though. It was with Freja again, and she is not far away, but right here. His thoughts shot all in chaos as he considered the events of the night. Had her thoughts and feelings toward him changed in the time? Would she freely give the torc to him again? Did she love him as he loved her? Did she love him more? Less? At all? Berendil blinked and looked about, for he was supposed to be watching. He didn’t need to have one of Naiore’s agents slip by while he was lost in his ruminations.

He checked his lines and there was no movement. He could barely make Maclon across the way, and they signalled each other that everything was clear. This just seemed it would be another long night; longer than most to Berendil. At least it wasn’t raining. Summer had regained its hold and the bright moon made the landscape silvery in its sheen. Berendil pondered all the moons he had gazed at in his travels. Each had reminded him of Freja. He wanted to see Freja, and see her now! It had been so much time and so many miles since he had last seen her, and even longer since she was right before him, speaking to him. Gazing at him.

Little had passed between them since Dunharrow. She had refused to see him or accept his letters. All save the one he had first left with Vorda, desperate that she know the truth should she wake and should he fall at the Black Gate. Their doom had seemed all but certain then. And after that, she had refused to see him. Or hear from him. Adamant. And now…

Berendil blamed Naiore for all this. More than once he had wondered at what could have been had Freja not crossed the Elf’s path upon the Pelennor? Of all those upon the field, why had the Elf singled her out? Why had she continued to prey upon Freja? What possible threat could Freja pose. Mighty as she was, and assuredly dangerous for he had seen for himself what she was capable of, she was no match for Naiore Dannan. Not in raw power. Such questions, he knew, could never be answered. Freja would not know and the Elf would not say even were she to hand to say it.

All that he knew was that he was here, watching the Forsaken Inn just to the north, hoping that one of the Elf’s agents did approach. And so too was Freja, pursuing anyone she thought an agent of Naiore Dannan. In all of the many scenarios that had run through his head on the long trail through Harad, Khand, Rhûn to Arnor again, he knew that Freja would not sit idly by and wait for others to address the Elf. Such was not in her nature, as he understood it. Nor was it in his, which brought his thoughts back to the Black Company and Hanasian.

Hanasian should have known the he was the last man who would be alert enough for standing the watch. He must have known there would be nothing out here happening. The confrontation between Khule and Freja would have been warning enough. Both had demonstrated a formidable, honed combat ability that any agent would heed and heed well. But…then Berendil’s thinking shifted because perhaps, just perhaps, Hanasian had sent him on watch for a reason. To think, ponder and consider. In this his friend was wise, for Berendil knew he was confused. Hopeful and fearful both. What would he do if she was not there when he returned, he wondered. As his thoughts careened about, it was just as well that Maclon was there to keep a good eye on him.

As the time for his relief was approaching, Berendil pondered what might come. The moon had westered in the sky and was now high overhead. He thought of Freja and wondered what she would be doing other than trying to kill Khule. Sleeping? Already on her way, slipping through the trees? What if she was there in camp still? Their time together had been so scant…what if more time together revealed that she had made a mistake? No…he shook his head at that.

He had seen her response to him. She was fearful, yes, but he knew what he saw in her eyes. A hunger despite her attempts to push it back. What if that desire slipped free? What would he do then? And what did she fear? These thoughts pulled at Berendil as his watch dragged on. Inevitably though, Berendil settled on one certainty, he only wished to see and talk to Freja once again – come what may.

The slight rustle and the challenge word came, and he answered. Hilferin came up and sat down next to Berendil.

”What is the situation?” Hilferin inquired.

Berendil replied, ”Quiet, but not so quiet to be suspicious. Animals moved about freely. They don’t do that when people are about. No movement on the road and no one at the inn. May the forth watch be as quiet.”

Hilferin nodded at this and Macvil similarly relieved his cousin across the way. With a few pats upon Hilferin’s shoulder, Berendil set about on his way back to camp.

Upon arrival, he immediately looked for Freja. He found her in the open air tent that Hanasian set for his command tent. His childhood friend and the woman he loved sat across from each other, the firelight flickering over their expressions, in deep conversation with each other. Elsewhere the others sent back to inn had returned to camp. Videgavia eyed him from a nearby watchfire, some of the Dalemen seated with him. Would the Daleman interfere? If he did, what would he do? Videgavia was a friend, perhaps even a close one of Freja. He had years on Berendil when it came to Freja.

Berendil decided to settle by a watchfire with Frea, Folca, and Dereck.

”What is this all about?” Berendil asked as he nodded at Hanasian and Freja talking.

Dereck shrugged and said, ”I think the Cap wants to know why she’s here. Or perhaps how. Word is, he’s offered an…alliance to her?”

Berendil said nothing of that for he knew very well the nature of the exchange between Hanasian and Freja. He’d been standing just outside the tent at the time.

“Where’s Mulgov and Khule?” Berendil inquired.

”Khule’s still at the inn. I suspect Molguv has joined him.”

They all would have been at the inn had not the events of last night overtaken them.. Berendil was quiet though. He just sat quietly, straining to hear any word that was said.
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Re: Legacy Prequel - The Ranger & The Shieldmaiden

Postby elora » Thu Mar 16, 2017 4:09 am

3021, III – September, Black Company Camp

All it took was for Berendil to return to camp and just like that, her focus was scattered. Hanasian was saying something and from his expression it looked like something important but she didn’t hear a word of it. As soon as she realised what had happened she wrenched her attention back to Hanasian but in the process she met the dark, bitter gaze of a man she considered her friend. Videgavia glared at her, cold enough to make her shiver and it was this that alerted Hanasian to the fact that she was no longer paying attention.

“Well then, it would seem we have ourselves an accord,” Hanasian repeated as she wrenched her attention to him.

The enemy of her enemy is her friend. So did Eriwyn hold, ever the pragmatist. What would her Captain have done now? No, wrong question, because Eriwyn would have slit Khule’s treacherous throat. That was what Eriwyn would have done but Freja was not here, so far from home, to hunt Khule of the Sagath Clan. Freja pushed a heavy breath out through her nose. Was she going to throw away her best chance at taking the Elf down because of one Easterling? She was under no allusions. Her singular warpath was likely to lead to her singular death one way or another. Exposure, last winter, as it so happened. That had been a close call.

Now winter was coming again. She had cleared Eriador on her way north. Rhuadar was next and after that Angmar. A dreadful place to consider on her own even in the best of seasons. Freja did not flinch from peril and she had embarked upon this path holding no assurances that she would prevail. She was ready to die for it, if that was what it took. Better to die on her feet than endure on her knees.

But what if she did not have to either die or endure? That, right there, was a treacherous thought and she knew it. She met Hanasian’s gaze squarely from across the fire and then he extended his hand above the flames. She stared at it, perplexed.

”Grasp my forearm,” he murmured.


“Because that is how things are done in Arnor,”
he answered. It was amongst the many things Freja would learn, he thought to himself, if he correctly understood what was unfolding right now between her and his friend.

Freja followed his instruction and the alliance was formally struck. Seated with Berendil, Hanasian’s cousins clapped, clearly well pleased at the prospect of serving with Freja.

"Just to be clear, I am not recruited am I?” Freja inquired.

”Would you accept an order from me?” he quipped and she shrugged.

”All depends on the order,” she answered as she released his arm.

He nodded, unsurprised, ”We reconvene upon the Inn at dusk. I expect you amongst us. Until then…”

Hanasian paused, thinking and then pushed to his feet. Freja followed suit.

”Until then, do as you judge best, Shieldmaiden,” Hanasian finished.

Just what did he mean by that, she wondered, but already he had turned away.

”And fetch your gear. I know you did not set out from Edoras like that!” he called over his shoulder and rightly so.

There would have been protests in street had she been sighted in Edoras wearing the loose pantaloons of Rhûn. Though she’d sooner lose her teeth than admit it, the pantaloons were damned comfortable. Practical too. But that did not mean she did not miss her gear. The shield, her spears and her sword… and her cloak. Good, thick, reliable Rohan wool.

"I want my knives back. All of them!" she returned in kind.

Hanasian lifted a hand in acknowledgement and then gestured to Videgavia. The Daleman continued to stare at her, his expression robbed of any hint of friendliness. Retrieving her daggers from Videgavia would not be an easy task, she knew, and she was too weary to attempt it now. Perhaps, come the daylight...

For the first time since setting out, Freja was at a loose end. She had the rest of the night and an entire day to fill...and one Berendil of Cardolan. Again she found herself gazing at him, his earlier words echoing in her thoughts.

”Have you, I wonder, any sense of the enormity of what you ask?” What did that mean? ”Annon 'ûr nîn angin.” Damn it! She understood Elvish no better now than she had mere hours ago! And why had he returned the torc? It was his to with what he wished. Sell it, trade it, toss it into a ravine, bury it. Her vow would stand until her last breath no matter what he did with it. Her hand slid into the pocket she had dropped it into.

Slowly Berendil rose to his feet, his fair features illuminated by the watchfire he stood beside. Distantly, Freja noted that two of her country men shared the fire. Young, she noted and then inwardly rolled her eyes. No younger, really, than her. Still, they did not have the look of long experience to her eye. Twins, she saw, and both grinned at her, excited for some reason. She wondered what they would think if they saw her return the torc to Berendil. She'd not had the strength to do it herself before in Minas Tirith. She knew she would falter, stray into precisely the very weakness she had blundered into hours earlier. Would it be any different now? Was she any stronger?

The answer came as Berendil approached her. She was suffused by a welter of thoughts and emotions she could not keep up with. In her present, fatigued state, it took all her remaining strength to not sway under it.

”Can you find respite here?" Berendil asked as he drew up, eyes drinking her in. Why did he look at her like that? Did he not know what it did? In any case, she knew she could not.

She was exhausted but unable to sleep. It was why Hanasian had pulled her back. He didn't want her wandering about his camp. It was also why the Haradian had left. He didn't want to be in camp whilst she was wandering about it. Freja shook her head, unable to tear her eyes away despite herself. She knew she should stop this. It wasn't helping at all.

”Come, then. Not far," he told her and with that Berendil was off.

Freja lingered, undecided. If she followed him would that make things worse? Probably. If she didn’t…also probably. Muttering under her breath, Freja again considered her options and decided that it was important to set the record straight. From one mess, then, into another or so Eriwyn muttered at the back of her mind. She hastened after Berendil, catching him up at the camp’s edge to fall into step beside him. He spared her a brief glance and then directed his attention to the way ahead in the darkness.

Freja let him keep his silence and followed on until the camp was lost in the night behind them. His pace slowed eventually until he turned about, scanning the trees around them as best she could tell. She did not have his acuity of sight in the night and this was why her people held that Rangers were but the students of Elves. What he was looking for, Freja could not guess, for without the moon she could see little.

”This will do,” Berendil announced, gently took up her hand and led her further, ”Come, sit.”

she asked, puzzled.

”Please, Freja,” he pushed a breath through his nose, ”Humour me.”

If there was a woman alive who could resist that voice, she did not know how. Never mind what his hand around hers did to her. Her limbs understood her heart but not her mind and so she sat. Then she promptly began to fidget.

”What’s this in aid of, Berendil?”

“You can’t sleep in camp,”
he replied and then glanced about, ”This is not camp.”

“You brought me here to sleep?”

Berendil’s voice was placid, ”Settle in. I promise you that I will not bite.”

Her eyes felt like they were filled with gravel, her skull throbbed in counterpoint to her heart beat and if she yawned one more time she thought her jaw would drop off…and Berendil’s shoulder was very appealing. This was a slippery slope, she knew. Dangerous, she told herself that as she drew a little closer. She could feel his heat as if she drew closer to a fire.

Tension was building as it had before. Ever since their eyes had first met all those years ago. Each time she was saved by intercession. The watching crowds at Dunharrow, the looming shadow of battle and only a few hours before, the military encampment around them. The encampment left behind them now. Here in the woods she had only her will and self-restraint and she knew all too well that she could not rely on either when it came to this man. Her heart jumped each time she tried to set her head on his shoulder.

Berendil shifted beside her and she froze. He reached an arm around her shoulders and gently guided her head into place against his shoulder and neck. She shifted and then froze again when she realised what she had done. Damn it! How did breathing him in like that help anything? His fingers lingering to stroke her cheek before they withdrew. Her heart echoed in her ears and sleep was going to be nigh on impossible. Then she heard him speak. Nothing she understood, and very soft, almost beyond the ranges of her hearing. The strange words soaked into her, melted and left her limbs feeling pleasantly warm and heavy. The ache of her skull had begun to fade.

”A Ranger’s trick,” she observed, her voice thick and drowsy.

”Something like that, ni nîn,” he acknowledged and let his cheek rest against the top of her head.

Oh, but she loved the sound of his voice and now his hands were curving around her own, drawing them together, as he continued whatever it was he was saying. Her restlessness continued to ebb away until she was curled against him, wandering realms of sleep scarcely understanding how she came to be there.

At first there were no dreams for she was far too tired for them. She’d scarcely slept properly since setting out from Edoras. In part that was her own doing but more than once she’d had to sacrifice rest for remaining ahead of those attempting to intercept her. In time, though, heavy sleep gave way to dreams and they were as ever they were. Mild at first, benign, and then not. Freja woke, trembling violently in the dawn. She surged forwards to her hands and knees, gasping for air. To make matters worse, the subject of the dreadful dreams was on his knees beside her, trying to comfort her. Dawn had brought with it a cool, damp fog.

”A dream, that’s all it was,” Berendil said, rubbing her back.

”Stop, Berendil. This, us, it can’t be. The harm it will cause,” she warned and at that he drew back in the uncertain light.

”The Rohirrim are not known for their seers,” he challenged.

Freja sat over her heels, pressed the heels of her hands to her eyes, ”Others possess gifts I do not.”

Berendil was stunned momentarily by a dawning realisation, ”You trust to Naiore Dannan?”

The horror in his voice was something Freja found unbearable.

”She lies,” she spat, loathing for the Elf clear, ”And yet I knew of Eriwyn’s fate well before Vid gave me the tidings. The fall of Théoden King, Éowyn, the decimation of my Order in Dale and upon the Pelennor. All of it, every abominable detail, given to me first by that Elf!”

Berendil was either lost for words or unwilling to speak. He stared at her, expression unreadable in the mists, and Freja lifted her face to the veiled sky. Her will had been sharpened by that dream but that, in no way, made this any the less agonising.

”And the things she has shown me,” she pressed her fingers to her mouth as sudden scenes spilled into her mind, each terror enough to make her voice shiver with dread, ”She has lied about your fate since you took the Dimholt Road, or so I thought. I thought you safe all these years. Until last night.”

Freja’s head hung again and she stared at the ground, scarcely seeing, ”She leavens her deceits with truth. The things she can do, Berendil… How am I to know what is true and what is not?”

Her hands tightened into fists as she steeled herself against the anguish swelling hungrily within her, ”I will not be your undoing.”

Freja pushed to her feet, wretched and Berendil followed to catch her wrist in his hand, ”The Elf seeks to divide us. She has even from the outset. Why do you think that is? Do not now give her what she wants!”

Deep pain twisted in her belly as she turned back to him and he moved closer still, eyes locked on her own in the morning light, delicate as her heart, ”I have met no terrible end, Freja. Do not give in to her lies now, ni nîn.”

He studied her face for a moment and then lifted the back of his hand to her cheek. Mist clung to him like a jealous lover. Her eyes closed at the tenderness and hot tears slipped free such was the torment. Her eyes opened as he drew her closer.

”You are wise to mistrust the Elf…but will you not trust yourself? Will you not trust me?” he gently placed his hand over her thundering heart, ”Will you not trust to this? I sense your yearning, Freja. ”

Her mouth went dry at that. If he sensed that, she was already undone. Slowly, he brought his lips to hers as he had before and she shivered at the sensations that shot through her. But this time he did not pull back. Instead, he kissed her with a passion that undid her entirely. His fingers plunged into her hair. Colour washed across her mind and instead of pulling away she wound herself around him.

Thoughts swirled like leaves scattered on the wind. Through her pulsed that which she had first known at Dunharrow, unchanged and undiminished and roaring for answer as loudly now as it had then. It had woken her, aching and cold through the long dark watches of the night. It had gathered her tears when the longing and sorrow became too much to bear in steadfast silence and now it grew until it howled and clamoured. Hunger, for him, for this, and it would not now be denied.

She was fire, as Lady Verawyn had foretold, winding around him with urgent need. Unable to deny it or keep it banked, she surrendered to it and allowed it to rage through her blood. Berendil knew that this to be a declaration of its own. Unmistakable.
Last edited by elora on Wed Mar 22, 2017 5:32 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Legacy Prequel - The Ranger & The Shieldmaiden

Postby elora » Thu Mar 16, 2017 4:10 am

3021, III – September, Black Company Camp

The dawn shimmered in the mist. It turned the air silver as it swirled around them. Ever since Dunharrow had Berendil yearned for this moment. As it unfurled there in the dawn beneath the trees it was so much more than anything he could have dared imagine. He felt their hearts and their minds connect and it was wondrous to him. But it was also overwhelming.

Their lips met and he melted into her, unable to pull himself back. Freja slammed him against a tree and they fell to the ground entwined. Before he knew it was too much it was and when his senses cleared he could not believe what he was about to say.

Sensing his pause, Freja pulled back to peer at him with concern, ”What is it?”

Blood rushed to his face and he leaned back against the tree to catch his breath, ”I think I…”

He wasn’t sure how to say it. For so long he had dreamed this very moment with Freja. Berendil pushed a sigh out through his nose.

”I think… uh…I need to catch my breath,” he amended.

Freja weighed him up, as if she could not believe what she was hearing, and then she tipped her head back to laugh in a throaty, fulsome fashion that did nothing to calm his senses or aid his cause. Still, it was a joy to see her smile and laugh, even if it did seem to be at his expense.

”Perhaps this says how much I have thought of you since I saw you last at Minas Tirith. That time was hard to bear. I did not understand why. If I am truthful, I still do not.”

Freja’s levity vanished like smoke on the wind at his statement and he closed his eyes, aware that she was studying him intently.

He was so vulnerable right now that it brought tears to her eyes. That he would trust her so, in this moment, after all that had passed. This man had astonished her, and at times baffled and infuriated her, from the outset. Freja reached a hand out to run her fingers along the inky bristles that lined his jaw.

Berendil’s eyes opened at that, turned quicksilver in the uncertain light of dawn, and he considered her as she let her fingers trace the line of his jaw, then his throat and along the spread of his shoulders. Such power was there beneath her fingers. These Rangers, they were not common folk like her. Dunédain. Students of the Elves. They saw in the dark and could sense things that she, no matter how she tried, could not equal. What did he see in her, she wondered, especially after what had passed between them.

”I…wanted you…safe,” Freja said in a quiet voice as her fingers wandered lower over his chest, ”I wanted you spared from the Elf’s malice. I have wanted you spared from the outset, even when you interjected into Vorda’s training.”

Berendil’s hand rose to cover her own as he recalled, ”You spared my pretty face.”

Freja grimaced, her words echoing in her mind. She’d been so furious then. And, if she was honest, something else too. As had her spear sisters around her. Yes, they were all vastly displeased at the disruption. They were also not blind to the fact that Berendil was a vastly attractive disruption.

”I was…unkind,” she said, lifting her eyes to his solemnly and he nodded.

”And magnificent. Beautiful.”

Freja flushed at that, for she knew that beauty was not one of her attributes. Such things belonged to others.

”I am no Elf maid,” she demurred.

“No, you are not,” Berendil smiled gratefully, ”And given you left me painted in bruises, you have a very curious notion of what safe means.”

Freja lifted a shoulder, ”People were watching. I couldn’t just let that…slide.”

She sighed and slowly lifted her hand away to peer at Berendil, ”I don’t understand how it is that you still…after all I said…and did…”

He pushed out a deep sigh, settled his hands to her hips as if to assure himself she was there still, and closed his eyes.

”Only two did Cardolan send to the Grey Company. I dare say you were hip deep in battle in the East Fold at the time,” he paused, opened his eyes to see her nod, and then settled back again, ”We set out before dawn, Mecarnil and I. I recall it well for I could scarcely believe I was to go. I had thought the Prince would refuse the call for aid…”

Berendil fell silent, his thoughts briefly wandering before he collected them again, ”But there I was, checking through everything I had with me, waiting to take my leave of my liege lord.”

“This Prince?”

Berendil smiled dryly, ”I do not serve Prince Bereth directly.”

To Freja he sounded relieved but she was not given the opportunity to press further for he pushed on, ”As I waited to take my leave, Lady Verawyn, the daughter of my liege lord, sought me out. I had heard talk that she was gifted with foresight but until then, I did not know whether it was so.”

Freja breathed, eyes wide.

Berendil’s brow furrowed at the unfamiliar term, ”I am not sure. In any case, the Lady spoke of fire. She both warned me against it and commended me to it. And, until such time as I set eyes upon you, ni nîn, I had no idea what she meant.”

Freja jaw dropped just a little and then she flushed, ”This? She saw…this?”

Sudden laughter burst out of Berendil at the question, ”Oh, I hope not. But even so, she saw…us. And it is to that, and my heart that I trust, Freja.”

Freja leaned forward, her heavy braid sliding over her shoulder as she did so, to kiss Berendil with no small degree of passion. But even so, she could not forget who she was and who he was. He felt her thoughts shift.

”What?” he asked.

”I…do not speak Elvish…and I am not of the Dunédain…”

“It matters not,”
he answered urgently, ”Not to me.”

“But you do not know,”
she said pulling away.

The sudden dismay on his face was palpable and she lowered her eyes, ”And it is time.”

“For what?”
Berendil asked as she shifted back.

Freja’s hands lifted to the worn dun cloak she had replaced her proper cloak with and set it free. Berendil frowned at her as she pulled herself away, hands delving to grasp the hem of her tunic even as she turned her back. She pulled it up, revealing the expanse of her back to him for the first time and all that was writ upon it. From the base of her spine to the spread of her shoulders, her life as a Shieldmaiden was set out.

Right at the bottom of it all was the mark that represented her…a Daughter of the Mark in spirit, but not by blood, for such were the inescapable circumstances of her birth. Eriwyn had held that there could be no escape from such truths but nor did it serve to allow it to become a weapon. And she had made it part of her. Only by embracing the truth could you be freed from it. Such had been Eriwyn’s counsel, stern and unflinching. She clutched her tunic to her chest and behind her Berendil sucked in a shocked breath. Did he see it, she wondered? Did he understand what she was.


Her eyes closed at his struggle to find words and she found them for him, ”I daresay it is crude to Dunédain eyes.”

And just like that she felt his fingers touch one of the swirls that looped below her shoulder blades, ”The Pelennor. You are in that one.”

His touch trailed down, following the designs etched into her skin, ”How is it done?”

“With a particular ink and something very sharp, so that it is sealed into the skin.”

“Is it the same for all Shieldmaidens?”
he asked, voice low and breathless.

”Though each is different,” she added and braced herself for what he would ask when he saw it. He had to. Surely he had to.
“Does it hurt?”

Freja smiled for every Spear Sister wondered the same thing when their first moment came. Always in the victorious tumult of finally gaining all eight braids, giddy, exhausted, filled with purpose and usually no small degree of wonder at having finally done it. At least, that was how it was for her.

”At times,” she replied, echoing the very answer Eriwyn had given her all those years ago.

Her heartbeat was in her ears and she heard movement behind her before Berendil pressed himself against her back. She drew in a sharp breath at what she felt pressed against her and knew it echoed within her and yet she swallowed as his arms curved around her. His hands delved into the soft folds of the tunic she clutched.

”I am not Dunédain. I am-“

“The woman that has claimed my heart,”
Berendil murmured into to her neck, grazing with his teeth.

Freja gasped, ”If you bind yourself to me you will never be free of the El-“

Her capacity for speech failed her, undone by the man who held her to him. She could sooner pull the rising sun from the sky than articulately explain the delicate matter of her scandalous birth now. He chuckled, well pleased at the soft moan he won from her.

”I say again, woman, that come what may we face it together,” Berendil’s voice was warm in her ear, ”One of these days, I hope you will take me at my word.”

”That might be easier if you used Westron,”
she answered as he ran his hands down her flank, tracing in to her waist and then flaring out to her hips, ”Though, it would seem we understand each other well enough now.”

“Is that so?”
he asked, hands at her hips now.

Freja closed her eyes and leaned into him, ”You know that I have bound myself to you and, given you have done the same, I know that you are a madman. Who speaks Elvish.”

She felt quiet laughter shiver through him but did not hear it for his face was buried in her hair. Despite the lunacy of this, Freja found herself smiling up at the leaves overhead, though in truth she did not really see them given what Berendil was up to.

Much later Berendil found himself stretched out beside Freja. He brought his lips to her shoulder she or perhaps he had bared earlier. Such had been their urgency that it was hard to know who had done what now. She was languorous now, relaxed and sated, eyes closed and a velvet smile upon her lips. Knowing. Victorious, even. He too was loathe to stir.

”I have dreamed of this moment for so long.” he said softly, breathing in the scent of her skin, ”Ni nîn, annon 'ûr nîn angina. “

Freja’s lashes shifted and she revealed her eyes to him again. They were a piercing blue, perfectly deep pools a man could drown in if he were so minded.

”I am no more able to speak Elvish now than-“ he pressed a finger to her lips and saw her brows arch.

”It means: My love, I give you my heart. And you will have it forever more.”

Freja, he had learned, was skillful in keeping her thoughts to herself. Her emotions, though, played out all too clearly in her expression. He saw her heart take joyous flight at his words. He shifted closer to her by rolling to his side and fitting himself to her. Berendil ran his fingers along the curve of her cheek, from the high flare of her cheekbones to her strong jaw. Hers was not a fragile, ephemeral beauty of starlight and silvered glass. Rather, Freja’s beauty was that of the earth and fire, generous and strong and glorious.

Before she could argue further he kissed her thoroughly. That, by far, was the best way to manage this woman or so he had found. When he pulled away again, he saw that it had worked and so they nestled together beneath the trees, soaked each other in as they slowly drifted back towards sleep.

His thoughts skipped about like a stone across the water. First to the scent of her at Dunharrow in the darkness. She smelt of heather then and now and he wondered how that could be. Next to the way she had tasted when finally he had kissed her: smoked honey. That made him smile. Last of all to the way in which she had unfurled before his very eyes, setting aside her many formidable defenses. He had always thought her magnificent. Now he knew she was also glorious. A fierce upswell of love hit him so hard that it thickened his throat. They had lost so much time. No more. No more.

By some marvel no one wondered across them during the day. No one came looking or calling for them. They were in their own little bubble, though at the back of his mind Berendil knew that he probably had Hanasian to thank for this respite. Inevitably, though the day wound on. By late afternoon they had managed to retrieve Freja’s gear from a series of undeniably cunning caches before returning to camp. She had given him the shield to carry, and he had done so gladly but he had no idea that it meant something significant until two of the three Company Rohirrim stood, gaping at him in open surprise.

“Why are they staring,” Berendil asked out the corner of his mouth.

”It’s…” Freja paused as she searched for a way to explain it, ”A declaration.”

Berendil hefted the shield, ”Of what?”

“That a Shieldmaiden has set her spears aside…and for whom.”

Frea and Folca stared at Berendil as though they had never seen him before. The Dalemen were muttering to each other quietly, save for Videgavia who maintained a stony stillness. Hanasian, meanwhile, had his thumbs through his belt and was rocking backwards and forwards on his feet, grinning openly. Berendil shook himself and realized that Freja had continued on, taking all of this in her stride. She was even now lowering the spears she had brought with her, a startling collection, to the ground near his tent.

He hurried to join her, set her shield down against the log and watched her rifle through his pack.

”What are you-“

“Found it,”
she declared, stood and turned to him.

She reached for his hand and into it dropped her torc once again, her eyes searing in their intensity, ”With this, Berendil of Cardolan, I bind myself to you. My sword and spear, my shield and horse…my heart and mind. That is how it goes, I think, in Westron.”

There was such poignant power in her voice that he acted before he realized what he was doing. Berendil pulled her to him hard and claimed her lips with the heat that they had welcomed the day with. Then he remembered where they were and so, aching anew, he released her careful to keep a hold on the torc she had returned to him.

He pressed his brow to hers to allow his roaring pulse to abate. If she had spoken those words to him at Minas Tirith…no, done was done and she was here now, before him. He would not waste the time they had with regrets over the past. Eyes closed still, Berendil lifted the palm of his hand to fit it against her cheek and as before felt her press into his touch. She no longer sought not to hide or fight it now.

When he opened his eyes he found she was watching him. They said nothing for several heartbeats and then she pulled back, gathering herself. Dusk was not far off. Berendil pushed out a sigh and ordered his own unruly thoughts as he tucked the torc safely into his jerkin.

”I suppose I should see what the plan is for tonight,” he said, raking his hand through the lengths of his hair.

That said, he badly wanted to kiss her again. Freja had seated herself on the log and was busy correcting her braid. It had become unraveled as a result of the day’s activities. Sunset made her hair glow, as though she was gilded in it. Luthien was said to be of the dawn. Arwen the evening. This mortal woman, a Shieldmaiden of Rohan, was of the sunset. He shook himself from his thoughts, pushed out a sigh, and went in search of Hanasian before he succumbed to the urge to abandon his duties there and then.
Last edited by elora on Wed Mar 22, 2017 5:33 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Legacy Prequel - The Ranger & The Shieldmaiden

Postby elora » Tue Mar 21, 2017 3:48 am

3021, III – October, Black Company Camp

Freja adjusted slightly where she sat with, or rather leaned against, Berendil. Then she shivered for she could feel winter even if Berendil teased her that it was still far off. Tonight they were both retired from the watch on the Forsaken Inn. Another contingent was cycling through. She was reasonably sure they’d find it as fruitless as any of them had during her time amongst the Company. As her, though all things considered she’d found the Inn to be quite productive…she smiled at the thought and considered sidelong the man she was lounging against. No matter how many times she looked to him, which even she could admit was frequently, he still made her heart skip a beat.

”Isn’t that Hanasian’s map,” he observed and then, when she went still, ”Does he know you have it?”

she said, smiling widely.

By now Berendil was not in the least fooled. He lifted his eyes at her but remained where he was, content to study the map. He had the end of her braid rolling idly in his fingers.

”Now, what about here? There’s no detail there whatsoever,” she said, refocussing once more on the task at hand.

”You must have heard of Angmar. There is a reason the map is sparse there.”

“Yes, but you Rangers have probably been there. Just to nose about. So…”

Berendil pushed out a deep sigh and she knew that meant he was thinking. Brief though their time together was, she had come to know a great deal about him. As she had sensed from the outset, she had tumbled headlong into what was a new place. Wondrous to her and also, sometimes, terrifying. She had loved before, in many ways, but never like this. But, then, he was unlike any she had ever encountered. Deeply intelligent, compassionate, kind and gentle of nature, Berendil was a thinker. Still waters ran deep, she had heard it said. The man she loved was proof of that. However, whilst Freja knew that she was in and in deep, she had yet to resolve what that meant for the way ahead.

They’d been so focussed on the here and now, discovering each other as they juggled their commitments for or with the Black Company, that there had simply not been the chance to discuss the path ahead. The braid Berendil was playing with was a very clear direction, but it was not the only one. Not now…and she had no idea how to broach the subject or even if she should. Perhaps it was too soon.

As these thoughts rolled about her mind she looked up at the approach of another. As soon as she saw who it was she eased herself up to sit, crossed legged. Videgavia looked straight through her, as though she was not there. He’d met her with that cold, detached indifference from the outset and Freja was beyond the point of being concerned about it. Now, she was just plain angry. But for the need for camp discipline, she’d have confronted the Daleman over whatever it was.

Berendil too moved, no longer content and relaxed. In the brief moment between Freja’s study of the map, Berendil had seen the Daleman’s haunted expression upon arrival. By the time Freja looked up to see Videgavia, his face had resumed its habitual sullen lines. His black eyes were coldly glittering and calculating once more.

”Captain’s tent,” the Daleman growled to Berendil, turned on his heel and stalked off towards Hanasian’s tent.

Berendil studied the man’s back, the stirrings of sympathy in his heart. He looked down to Freja to find her head was still bowed over Hanasian’s map, studiously ignoring everyone and everything. With a shake of his head, Berendil followed in Videgavia’s wake. As ever the two twin Rohirrim courteously greeted him as he passed. They’d been doing this since the day he’d arrived in camp bearing Freja’s shield and whilst he nodded, Videgavia ahead muttered darkly under his breath and walked faster to push into Hanasian’s tent ahead of him.

Still, it was only a few moments before Berendil arrived to find Hanasian rifling through his collection of maps, looking for something. Berendil rubbed a hand over his jaw and wondered just how it was Freja had managed to take one of his friend’s more detailed maps…and how Hanasian would react.

”As it so happens, I don’t really need it now,” Hanasian murmured as he rose to his feet and nodded at Berendil, ”I’ve just received my seventh consecutive report that nothing has been sighted at the Inn.”

Berendil frowned, ”But Freja was drawn here by the same information we were. There has to be something more to it.”

“Freja thought Khule was the agent,”
Videgavia muttered, ”And we thought she was. We could be here another month, empty handed.”

”And Bareck informs me Khule is in need of care we cannot provide,” Hanasian paused and then sighed, ”It’s time to pull out and take stock.”

Videgavia asked as Berendil shook his head.

”Freja is planning a fresh campaign,” he glanced apologetically to Hanasian, ”Full of questions on what might be found beyond the north eastern reaches of Rhuadar.”

“You can plan a campaign without-“
Hanasian paused and his eyes narrowed, ”I don’t know how she got it but I want that map back. It’s my best one.”

Berendil nodded without hesitation and so Hanasian rubbed at his jaw, “Angmar, as winter encroaches?”

Vid barked mirthless laughter.

”Of course Angmar. And if her mind is set, then that’s that” he declared and then shrugged, ”But that doesn’t mean we need to follow along. Let her go.”

“We cannot have her venturing to Angmar on her own,”
Berendil returned, astonished at how stonehearted Videgavia was.

”We cannot have her venturing anywhere at all,” Hanasian added with a sigh, ”I crossed paths with Massuil today. He’s been looking to intercept Freja for the better part of the year, and the fact that he hasn’t been able to suggests that she is well aware of that. This war path of hers is unsanctioned by her King and our own. Unless she acts as part of this Company, Massuil will forcibly return her to Edoras for breaching Arnor’s peace.”

“Die trying, more like,”
Videgavia muttered.

Berendil was too astonished to find words but Videgavia was not for he continued on to warn, ”That woman will ask for forgiveness before she does permission.”

It was an extraordinary charge to make and the urge to speak out pressed hard at Berendil. He glared at Videgavia for a moment and then looked to Hanasian. It then he realised that his friend was not in the least swayed.

”I’ve yet to consider the matter fully,” Hanasian said, quashing all further debate on the subject.

”Your funeral,” Videgavia muttered and eyed his captain, ”When do we move out?”

“We break camp tomorrow,”
Hanasian replied, his attention on Berendil for the man had gone quiet, deep in thought.

”Done then,” Videgavia declared and left them to it.

After a pause Berendil asked a quiet question, ”Do you truly mean to recruit her?”

Hanasian rolled his shoulders before he responded, ”Freja has an unrivalled set of very particular set of skills that will serve the Company well. She would be an asset, despite Vid’s…concerns.”

Berendil nodded thoughtfully and then lifted his eyes to Hanasian, ”Then I ask something of you, one friend to another: wait…at least until Bree?”

The two men considered each other and then Hanasian nodded, ”Naturally. But, if Freja pursues this warpath of hers, then I will act. I’d sooner see her one of us than under arrest.”

Berendil smiled gratefully, ”Thank you, Han."

He turned to depart the tent and Hanasian called after him, ”Good luck.”

“Why would I need that,”
he returned, pausing at the tent’s only entrance.

Hanasian offered him a rakish grin, ”Because you’re going to tell her that her Angmar is not happening. And I really do want my map back.”

Berendil groaned but Hanasian was adamant, ”I can think of no one better qualified for the task.”

Whatever Berendil said, it worked for come the morning Freja zipped about with a singular determination to ensure camp was broken down in a timely fashion and time, it seemed, moved faster for Shieldmaidens than anyone else. When she wasn’t chivvying men along, she was saddling horses. Through it all she hummed to herself as though this was all just a jolly summer lark.

”You, sir, are a magician,” Hanasian quietly observed out of the corner of his mouth as Freja swung another saddle into place set about securing it with brusque efficiency.

Berendil shrugged his shoulders, ”I’ve been paying attention this past week.”

He passed across to Hanasian a rolled map, ”She has quite the collection. And if the Prancing Pony doesn’t have a cask of honeyed ale, I am a dead man.”

Hanasian carefully tucked his map into his jerkin with a chuckle and then reached across to pat Berendil’s back.

”Knew you were the man for the job,” he mused and then turned about to ensure the rest of the Company was matching the Shieldmaiden’s pace.

Within an hour of dawn they were on their way to Bree.
Last edited by elora on Wed Mar 22, 2017 5:36 am, edited 1 time in total.
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