The hearthfire was cold.
He sat there, in the dark. Waiting. It had been three days since he and his men had retaken Meduseld. Two days since the last of the fighting. One day since the last of the bodies had been carried out -- some reverently, to be buried if the ground ever thawed again; others cast aside in a heap to be burned if it ever stopped snowing. The fate of his country was still uncertain, but not the fate of the Golden Hall. No longer.
There was still blood on the floors; the fur rugs were in tatters, and offal lay scattered in the corners. The invaders had not been kind to his people's ancestral keep, enslaving those who could not escape, decimating the larders, befouling their home.
And they had let the fire go out.
Unheedful of the empty throne at the other end of the hall, he sat on a rough stool (surprising that it hadn't been burned yet, with wood in such short supply) and gazed into the dark hollow. His fingers were chilled in his gloves, and his feet icy within his bloodstained boots, but he did not -- would not -- could
not relight the hearth. Not until...
He looked up at last, startled and yet not by the familiar voice. A woman's voice. She stood hesitantly at the great entry, and though she was bundled up to her nose in thick travelling clothes (still heavily powdered with wind-driven ice) he could see the way she regarded the mistreated hall in obvious shock. After all, she'd been raised here.
And it's because of her that this happened,
part of him thought, but he banished the ugly little thought immediately. A woman was not responsible for the madness of a man who lusted after her beauty. Who used that lust as an excuse to invade and destroy...
"Cousin." He rose to greet her properly, as befitted the daughter of a king -- and then his expression changed entirely as a very small blond boy shoved through her skirts and ran to fling bodily into his arms.
"Papa! Papa! Papa!
" The child was a squirmy ecstatic contradiction of cold snowflakes and warm breath, as eloquently begging to be picked up as any wriggly puppy. And Fréaláf did exactly that, scooping him into a fierce hug with a whiskered kiss on the seven-year-old's cheek.
"Brytta!" Fréaláf's gaze snapped immediately over to his cousin, suddenly uneasy. "Hanild, it isn't safe--"
"To travel? I know. But when we received the message, we came. Your men's wives, the children...we all came."
"Someone else could have brought it," he chided, unable to avoid glancing past her as if expecting to see a ravening horde of Dunlendings bursting into Edoras hot on her heels.
She snorted softly as she stepped into the cavernous hall, cradling a bundle in her arms that he might have assumed was a baby had he not known she was childless. "This is my
responsibility, as the lady of the house of Eorl," she replied firmly -- and the last of my house but for you,
she did not say, but he knew this terrible fact as well as she did. Her father and brothers were gone, his own wife taken ill and lost in a bitter storm...
Hanild set the precious bundle gently upon a table and pushed back her hood, shaking out her long golden plaits. "Stop fretting, cousin. We're as safe here now as in the mountains. And warmer." When she beheld the empty fireplace, she spat a curse fouler than any he'd
ever used. She could not bring the dead back to life, but some things were
within her power... "Barbarians. Let me deal with this."
"Of course." He stepped aside, still clutching his young son in the crook of his arm, and she gathered the bundle back up and brushed past him to kneel in the ashes on the hearth. There was still wood in the grate, half-burned; this she packed with dried grasses from a satchel slung around her waist, kept sealed tight against the damp of her journey.
The bundle, too, was snowproof, for it carried embers of their last campfire. That fire, in turn, had been lit from another campfire, and one before that, and the one before that...an unbroken chain of fires that traced their lineage back through the long winter to a single hot coal. Rescued from the besieged hall months before, that coal had been smuggled out in just such a fashion as the one Hanild had brought with her on this day.
Brytta released his father's neck to clap excitedly as the flames began to lick through the grasses, catching slowly but steadily. Already Fréaláf imagined the hall growing warmer, the foreign taint of death and hate driven out into the cold like an evil spirit. Banished.
Hanild placed the wooden stool amid the tinder and rose, shaking out her hands and brushing her knees clean. Only now did she wrap her arms around her cousin's waist, resting her head against his chest.
"There," she murmured softly. "Now
we are home."
"[Wulf was] a young nobleman who dwelt in the western borderlands of Rohan. His father was Freca, who attempted to force a marriage between Wulf and the daughter of King Helm. When Freca's plan failed, he was slain, and Wulf found himself declared the King's enemy. He fled across the borders into Dunland, where he seems to have been warmly received (it was said that Freca's family had a measure of Dunlendish blood). For four years, Wulf built up his power in Dunland, and allied himself with Rohan's enemies.
"In TA 2758, with Rohan's armies drawn into the east to repel an attack, Wulf and his allies invaded from the west. They overran the country and took Edoras, where Wulf sat in the Golden Hall and claimed the Kingship of Rohan. The true King, Helm, was driven into hiding in the mountains, and he died in the Long Winter that followed. In the spring, Helm was avenged by his nephew Fréaláf, who led a small party into Edoras and killed 'King' Wulf. With help from Gondor, Fréaláf cleared Wulf's followers from Rohan, and succeeded his uncle Helm to become its tenth rightful King."
-- from the Encyclopedia Of Arda
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