10. Chapter 10
Hanasian took the time on the ship to catch up in his journals and record the events since the last time he had time to properly do it back in Minas Tirith. Rin came in, damp and with a thoughtful face as she came to give him a hug.
"Something amiss," he asked.
"Ghosts, beloved… just wrestling old ghosts," she said. Hanasian said nothing, for he could understand ghosts. He drew her close and rested his face in her hair. He was enjoying this time with her, and not having too much to worry about while on the water. A part of him wished they were making for Umbar or regions south just so this time would last a bit longer. But it would come to an end tomorrow likely. He hoped that all would be well.
As Rin and Hanasian lay together, she fell into a deep sleep, and he lay awake thinking and pondering the days ahead. He remembered back to when they left Mithlond, and his words to Elladan…
My friend, I need you to try and do something for me. I know that elvenkind have ways to get word afar. I need you to let King Elessar know that I need to speak with Strider when I come south. It is of the utmost importance. I feel that Rosmarin would better accept meeting him that way. I feel he will sense from you what it will be about, and in this I hope it does not go awry.
Elladan did not reply that he would attempt it, but did not say he wouldn't either. Hanasian in as much as he's known him since his youth, trusted Elladan's judgement in this. As for what reception they would get in Pelargir, that remained to be seen.
Gentle waves beat against the bow of the boat as it worked against the river current. The water wasn't as salty and the wind wasn't cooperating enough to please Captain Harlas. The night's headway was less than he had hoped. The morning sun found them barely in sight of the city, and it seemed they were standing still in the mighty Anduin's current. But gusts of southerly air filled the sails and the incoming tide pushed them forth so they didn't have to resort to oars. They docked in mid-afternoon.
It was warm, almost hot here. The same heat that had found them on their ride west had come from here, and though it cooled in places north, here it remained hot. The sea air filled the place, mixing with the smell of wood smoke from cook fires and smithies. The city was abuzz with activity. Soldiers marched toward the ferries that would take them across the river and the long shoremen worked at loading and unloading ships. Hanasian had the company gather on deck dressed in uniform and full gear. For their motley mix they looked rather sharp after more than a week at sea.
A dozen strong, the company was close to its smallest size. That technically would have been after Tharbad when two of their number was slain, and two of their number had to be left to recover from their injuries. Hanasian found his thoughts were pre-occupied by his last visit to Pelargir and the last time he had led the Company south into Harad after that fateful day. They had been much stronger then, their numbers swelled by recruits had joined them in Pelargir after the deaths of Simra and Naiore had passed. Those men had served well. But to a man, all who joined during the days in this city had met their fate along the way. Once again, Hanasian decided to keep his eye out for any who may be worthy of joining the company. Only a dozen strong. No matter how stalwart, how faithful in service each, they would benefit from more.
Hanasian walked the line to review the members of his company. First was Rosmarin whom he was in love with. In the weeks since meeting, she had signed on as the company physician and healer. In the days since it was revealed she was of the line of the Dunedain of Cardolan, and likely heir apparent of the line of Cäontar, son of Eärendur, last King of Arnor. Some of the company who didn't take kindly to sea voyaging took to calling her 'Doc'. She looked as much a company soldier as any, but her pouches and satchels of the trade were much different than the others. Still she was armed, and he had no doubts she was a lethal element of the company.
To think she had a fearful loathing of men at arms only weeks ago seemed strange now. Still, he could see she was a tightly coiled as any spring, warily watching the soldiers come and go on the dock as she might a horde of orcs. Her jaw was tight and no doubt, various plans and half cooked ideas concerning escape were this minute leaping like silvered fish through the rapid torrent of her thoughts. That she remained in place and did not yield to such fears now spoke much of how far she had come and he found himself fiercely proud of her. Still, with the revelation of her heritage, the true test was yet to come. It would start this day with their arrival in Pelargir.
Hanasian moved to the next man, Mulgov. The black man of Far Harad was the biggest and tallest of the company. His position next to Rin, the slightest of their company, made this even more noticeable. He truly was a mountain of a giant of a man. He joined the company at the Oasis Rest on their first march south and he had been invaluable in finding ways and knowing the people and language in the far south. Still, he had a knack for mischief and in particular in leading other members astray. If there profit to be made, or fun to be had, Molguv was rarely far away.
For all of his propensity for discipline lapses, Molguv was dedicated to the company. Indeed, this fearsome looking man called it home, for he was orphaned when his father went off to war in answer to Sauron's first call of men. His mother died of an illness not long after, the very day his father was slain by the arrows of Ithilien Rangers on their northward march. Mulgov himself joined an army that went north later, and was one of the few Haradrim who had survived Pelennor and fled into the river. Most who did drowned, but Mulgov managed to make it to the east shore well downstream. He drifted the south for the years before that fateful day in the desert.
Then Hanasian passed Frea and Floca, twin brothers, and his cousins. They were the sons of Erkenbor, his mother's brother. They were young, raw infantry soldiers in Erkenbrand's army of the Westfold when they were sent to the Fords of Isen. There they fought gallantly even though their commander Prince Theodred fell. Later they were routed by attacks from both sides of the river. They were cut off and did not make it to Helms Deep in time before it was besieged, so instead made their way with other stragglers to Edoras to do what they could to defend the seat of the King. They later rode and fought on the Pelennor Fields, and were in King Eomer's Palace Guard for a few years before resigning to join their cousin when they heard he had formed a new company. Though company men, they still wore the badge of the Rohirrim beside the Company badge. Both were undisputedly proud men, fiercely loyal and possessed of a softer streak that both were careful to conceal as far as possible beneath the hauteur of the Rohirrim. The other members of the company tell them apart by their demeanour, Grouchy (Frea) and Smiley (Folca). Hanasian trusted them both implicitly.
Berlas was one of the newer members and until Loch had joined, had been their most recent recruit. But Berlas was no youth. He was an Ithilien Ranger until recently, he joined the company when they were last in Minas Tirith. Though good accounting was given to his abilities in battle, he had yet to be tested with the company, and he remained an unknown quantity as far as the company battle veterans were concerned. Still, he showed promise and kept largely to himself.
Videgavia, the rugged northman of Rhovanion. Joined the company a few years after its formation when they were marching east to help settle disputes among clans of the Easterlings of Rhun. First fuelled by a sense of vengeance toward the Easterlings and thinking the Company would be his means of doing so, he soon found out otherwise. But having been homeless for so long, he found a home in the company, and have proven his worth many times in many lands. Videgavia was ever watchful, rarely smiled and keenly intelligent. He was, in terms of sheer ferocity in battle, matched only by Khule. However, if Loch's berserker tendencies were true, the recruit would outstrip both.
Khule the Easterling. Of the Sagath clan of the forests north of the Sea of Rhun, he was a veteran of the Easterling army that assailed Dale. After losing the battle, he pulled his men back into a defensive position contrary to order from Mordor, and found himself fighting the orcs sent to enforce the orders. A rebel then, it had made little difference to Videgavia and their initial dealings with other had been tense and fraught with difficulties. After the fall of Sauron, Khule led his men home. He joined the company after a settlement of claims by clans broke down and battle erupted between his clan and another. The company got caught in the middle, and Khule managed to turn his people toward the real enemy, the Hargoth clan. The company sat that out, but saw the worth of Khule in battle, and in his cunning. He was eager to join and now he too calls the company home. Hanasian knew the man wondered after the fate of his sisters.
Wulgof, the Dunlanding who fought at Helms Deep and spent time as a prisoner, he joined not long after one of his former guards, Frea, told him about the company. He has been a stalwart core of the company since. Surprisingly, despite the animosity between their peoples, Wulgof and the Rohirrim twins managed to co-exist peacefully. It had taken Wulgof longer to set aside the racial tensions between his people and the Dunedain of the company. He was a man of sarcasm, and often in the company of Khule and Molguv. Somehow, the three men of peoples that in the past had stood against the West, for good or ill, gravitated together. If Molguv was the source of mischief, Wulgof was assuredly his right hand man.
Loch, the young face in the line. Recently joined, foster brother to Rin and largely unproven in battle with the company. Still, events at Tharbad had demonstrated he was an asset. His hunting and tracking skills rendered him a formidible scout and was fast proving a talented soldier in the arts of fighting. He was affable, somewhat reckless and easily led, and eager to help. His mind had a tactical bent to it. Regular food was filling out his frame and he stood tall and broad shouldered, a man of Rohan and Dunland both. His hidden potential lay, however, in his berserker tendencies. All they needed to do was harness them, control them. The veterans of the company seemed to like him and call him 'kid'. They saw the company's future in men such as Loch.
Mecarnil, Dunedain Ranger of the north, one who with Hanasian rode south with Halbarad to join their Chieftain. Of Cardolanian lineage, he is a proud man who loves his king and considers his oaths of service to Aragorn and Cardolan paramount to all other concerns. Mecarnil inclined his head in the elven way as Hanasian passed as a sign of honor and respect for his leader. Very professional and always a gentleman, though he had become grim since after the war and his departure from Minas Tirith, to the time he joined the company.
Belegost, a younger soldier of Gondor, joined when the company was on their way south in pursuit of Simra and her captors. He thought he would get to "see some action" since he was just a bit too young to be of service in the war. Much like Boromir son of Denethor in demeanour, he has a steady hand and a stable mind, and kept to himself.
Anras of Gondor too joined when the company was in pursuit of Simra and her captors. Dedicated to the company, he fights well in close situations. He had proven Rin's ability with a knife in close combat on the ship at several junctures. It had been a close match on each one. Anras was a worthy man to have your back.
Hanasian always did this before they went into battle. He wanted to know the men he commanded, to see their faces and assess their service. For he knew all too well that some, many, or none may fall in battle, and there was no way of knowing who or when. He walked back again looking at each. Then took his place in line. He faced them looking down the line and said,
"Company, listen well. We are about to tie off in the great city of Pelargir. We are commissioned to be in service of the King, and we will conduct ourselves accordingly. We will have two days here, maybe three at the most before we set out again. I will have our final orders tonight.
"In the meantime, you may have some time on land. Don't drink too much, and respect the cultures that blend here. This city is a focal point of commerce among the many cultures, and acceptance is the forte. Enjoy, but be careful. We will meet at the Passage Tavern at sunset. Captain Harlas will show you where the place is. Now, stand ready to disembark!"
The lines were tied off and the gangplank set. Captain Harlas walked off as is custom, and stood to farewell each one. Hanasian led the company off in single file, looking professional in step as they came to ground. This was no small feat for they were used to the sea and movement, the ground seemed for a bit foreign. They formed rank and halted in line.
"Remember, The Passage Tavern at sunset," Hanasian reminded them, "Looks like we have some few hours before that happens. Company dismissed."
Hanasian watched as they started to wander off. Hopefully they wont get lost or in trouble. He watched Molguv and Khule set off with Loch under their wings. He was glad they didn't get paid yet, for he had to see to that. After a moment, it was just Rin and him standing there.
He took her hand and asked, "Rin, I need to go see if Strider has arrived and find out when we can see him. I also need to see about the company pay. I wish for you to accompany me."
She smiled, and they walked off down the street in the opposite direction everyone else went.
"Draw your hood down over your forehead. You do not wish to be burned by the sun, and it is best we try and keep our identities vague."
Everywhere there was music of some sort being played by street musicians. The scent of foods common and exotic cooked floated here and there, and the merchants all tried to hawk their wares. It was amidst one such market that they came to a tent where a man in plain a plain grey weather-worn cloak stood. His hood was down over his forehead and his pipe glowed when he drew on it. Hanasian and Rin stepped inside, and another man drew the door shut.
The man in grey said, "My friend Hanasian, it is good you have come. I believe you know my friend from Ithilien?"
Hanasian turned to the man who had closed the door, and he was dressed in a faded green, weather-worn cloak with his hood down over his forehead as well.
"I do indeed. Mae govannen to you both. It is a serious day when the commanders of the Green, Grey, and Black Companies meet in relative obscurity"
A whisper from an unseen man outside to the man in green was heard, and he turned and said, "This place is secure. What we speak of will remain among us here."
Hanasian then looked at the man in grey and green and said, "Gentlemen, I wish you to meet one of our newest company recruits. Lady Rosmarin of Dunland. She is our company physician, and has proven her worth beyond any expectations in the weeks she has been a part of our company."
Each man gave a polite bow, and Hanasian went on, "We call her Rin, or Doc. Rosmarin, meet my friends Strider of many lands, and Frastelth, a Ranger of Ithilien."
He watched Rin for any reaction, but she was silent and her face was a carefully neutral mask that gave no hint as to her true thoughts. Still, she acknowledged both men with a cautious, slight curtsey and inclination of her head. Her eyes were keenly focussed with the intensity she usually displayed when working. It was Hanasian's only clue as to the turn of her thoughts. Her formidable mind was far from blank, despite her carefully controlled expression.
Hanasian pushed back his hood, and Rin slowly followed suit. A pale braid tumbled down her back, freed from the restraint of her cowl.
"I gather that you got my message from our elvan brethren. Of what all he may have communicated to you I do not know. But there is something I have to talk about that is of utmost importance," Hanasian gravely said.
Both men pushed their hoods back, and it was then that Hanasian knew they had an idea what was about to be discussed. Strider looked very much the rugged ranger of old. Frastelth was equally the rugged Ranger of Ithilien, yet Hanasian knew him as Prince Faramir. He was unexpected, but was one of Aragorn's closest councillors. They kept their disguises up well, which allowed them to move about amongst the people. A detachment of Faramir's Green Company, commanded by Mardoc of Ithilien were their stealth guard. They continued to keep their persona hidden for Rin's sake, but that would not last too long. How would Rin react? Will she think he had betrayed her? With only a brief eye signal, Strider spoke.
"I know why you wished to see me so, and I took the liberty of talking to my friend from Ithilien about it."
Both men looked once more at Rin, this time with greater intensity and then they bowed once more, this time deeply. Rin's neutral expression betrayed her realisation that something was afoot. Still, she had no idea what therefore no idea of the best course to take. The mask reasserted control over her features. She wanted to cling to Hanasian, but such an act would be far from professional.
Strider went on, "Welcome to Pelargir Lady of Cardolan! I an Aragorn, son of Aragorn, and this is Prince Faramir. Of this day I had hoped for and feared most its coming."
They treated her as royalty. It was Hanasian that felt like he was in over his head truly now. He was the only man of non noble descent in the tent. He really belonged outside with the stealth guards.
By Aragorn's adaptation of Strider, Hanasian understood it mean that his chief and friend harboured no ill will toward her. Whether Rin understood this was another matter entirely. Was she ready to deal with this here and now? He took her hand and squeezed.
Elladan's message had been clear. Arwen had ensured that it was so. The woman they bowed to was the sole descendant to Cardolan's throne. Elladan had also discerned the true nature of the bond between Rin and Hanasian. The love between the two had been inescapable to his observation, a palpable and living thing. The squeeze of hands between the two and way she looked forlornly to Hanasian only confirmed that. Aragorn and Faramir also noted the way colour drained from her face and how she pressed back suddenly against Hanasian. She was alarmed, to say the least.
"Oh," she exclaimed. Hanasian had heard that sound before. She had dangled from his grip on a rain drenched day outside of Tharbad, half wild and half mad and half inclined to take his head off. He felt her press against him and he steadied her and tried to lend her strength.
"We mean no harm," Aragorn said.
Again she looked to Hanasian. Clearly she was startled. He studied his distant cousin with no small amount of interest. Faramir did the same. After Aragorn's young son, the woman before them stood second in line to the high throne and would do so until Eldarion himself had heirs. The neutrality of her expression was fading. She looked for all the world like a startled doe, wide eyed and cornered and clearly considering her options.
Rin's mind exploded with ideas, none of them wise ones. Run. Hide. Fight. Flee. Faint. No, she would not swoon. Absolutely not. Rin fidgeted at her pouches, searching for something with fingers that seemed suddenly rebellious and clumsy. Given that she was armed, all three men readied themselves for what she might decide to draw forth. Mecarnil had insisted that she take that ring as they neared Pelagir and she'd run out of energy to argue with him over it. It was this she produced now and pressed it towards Aragorn with an earnest expression and wide blue eyes.
"Take it! It's not mine, not really. Take it, please, and let's have done with this disaster!"
Aragorn had no choice but to accept what she pressed towards him. Her hands shook with tightly controlled tremors. He uncurled his palm and upon it mithril gleamed around a deep blue sapphire. He glanced to Faramir, who was in his own turn surprised. This was the seal of Cardolan she had just tossed away. It was not what either king or prince had expected.
"Disaster?" Faramir inquired as Aragorn studied the ring.
"Aye, a load of codswallop," she emphatically affirmed. It was at that point that Aragorn smiled faintly. Codswallop was not a term readily employed in diplomatic circles. Rin had a grip on Hanasian's hand, holding him there for he was her anchor and haven. She would falter without him. She knew it.
"I had anticipated your father's petition, Lady Rosmarin," Aragorn said truthfully.
He lifted his eyes to study her mien. He saw no artifice there. This was no machinating political threat. Instead, he saw a woman confronted with her fears and fighting her way to a clear course. He could see the steel of her will there. He could see what had ensnared his friend there. She was a remarkable woman to say the least.
"Ah… I burnt it," Rin confessed. Spots of shame at her hastiness marked her cheeks. Faramir coughed and then covered his mouth. He had to look away for a moment.
"Burnt it? Aragorn echoed.
"It was… It seemed the best course at the time," Rin stubbornly said. It was burnt and that was that and if such an act cost her life, then so be it. What did she know about treason anyway? She was a thief!
"Indeed," Faramir said warmly, winking at Aragorn. Aragorn considered the rose shaped ring in his hand and then his cousin. It was strange indeed to realise that after all the years of being alone and bereft of kin, here she stood despite the perils that had beset them both.
"Why was that, Lady Rosmarin?" Aragorn tested.
He could ill afford to overlook any threat to the stability of his realm. Word of her father's petition had reached his court even if Bereth had not and the results were incendiary. That was close to thirty years ago. Now, the threat was only more tangible.
"Why? You mean you don't know?" She was truly astonished. Hanasian squeezed her hand again and she took a deep breath.
"I… it was yet another episode of the foolishness of the past. Cardolan fell. What remained of its people accepted your forebears as their lord. Now, it is reunited as it should always have been bar the grasping silliness of squabbling men. Bereth's claims may have been possibly rightful, but they were not right. Cardolan has earned it's rest, it's peace. I have no claim to press, no desire to make her bones dance at my whim! I don't care what Bereth thought he was entitled to. I am not him. I refuse to be! I refuse his ambition, his greed, his arrogance! You rule Cardolan well. Let it continue."
"Am I to understand you have no interest in taking up your heritage? Mistake me not, my lady. Cardolan's throne is yours and yours alone by right of descent."
"None, not one scrap of one piece of one skerrick! No… I'll not take a hand in the sorrows of the past. I'll not create a new age of folly. Do her people cry out for partition? Cardolan only came into existence through the quarreling of brothers. I see no reason to perpetuate this. I see no cause to reverse the decision Cardolan's survivors made when they took refuge in Arnor all those centuries ago. I see no reason to divide Arnor anew. Let the past lie at rest. Let Cardolan know peace and prosperity under her ruler, under you. Please!"
Aragorn was surprised, to say the least. He had anticipated a protracted negotiation to ensure the unification of the north remained intact. He had not expected his cousin to disavow herself of her lineage. Faramir too was surprised.
"I think I need to sit down," Rin muttered. The heat, the press of soldiers and shock of her meeting was catching up with her fast. Hanasian held her upright, a rock against her unsteadiness.
"You're not alone in that, Lady," Faramir replied. He slipped out to his men stationed without and they were soon on their way with brief exchange of signals. They progressed to a tavern and upstairs to a private room. Refreshments were soon brought and Rin was relieved to take a seat. In the intervening time, Aragorn had opportunity to consider what he had learnt. He waited for Rin to assuage her thirst before picking up the thread further.
"So, my lady, to recap… you're enlisted in Hanasian's Company as physician and healer. You're the ancestral heir to a throne you have no desire to take up. Moreover, you wish for any claim to such throne to be extinguished. Am I correct?"
Rin nodded, seated next to Hanasian and leaning towards him for shelter.
"Then what indeed do you seek from me?" Aragorn asked.
"Truly? You would surrender a realm and all its riches for nothing?"
"I only want what I have always desired: my life. My freedom! My path! I have made my choice in enlisting in the Captain's company. I ask no more and no less than that. Is that too much? It seems like a lot, now that I say it..."
"You give up a realm for a life of war and you ask if that is too much? You unite a sundered realm in a way I never could and you ask if that is too much? You emerge, alive and very much well, proving a family I had long believed lost to exists and you ask if that is too much?"
"You seem to be sceptical…I have spent my life thus far wondering where my next meal will come from, and where I might find shelter for the night, and whether I would live to see the next dawn or next sunset. Against this, what may seem the humblest or meanest of things to you seems to be a treasure beyond all reckoning to me. I already have so much more than I ever believed possible!"
Aragorn could hear the full measure of her meaning in her words. He and Faramir both saw Rin glance once more to the man she clearly loved. Aragorn's eyes drifted to Hanasian and he nodded, slowly.
"And so, you prove wiser than many a prince before you," Faramir observed to Aragorn's side.
"I see, my lady, that you are a healer indeed. I will admit that I feared you carried your father's intentions at your heart but it is clear now that I am mistaken. You seek to be free, yet I cannot remove that which is your descent. No… let me speak… I can no more remove your lineage than I can remove the sun from the sky. Such a precedent would prove… intemperate. It could plunge the peace we both seek for the realm into doubt."
Faramir nodded at Aragorn's words. Stripping Rin of her descent and lineage would create a double edged sword that some hothead at some point could and would use against Aragorn's line. So had been Faramir's counsel.
"Yet, there is a way forward if you will it. If you wish, it is possible to renounce the throne and cede it to me. It must be a decision you take fre-"
"Oh I do! Please! Yes," Rin declared. Aragorn sat back at her affirmation.
"Then it shall be so. I will have the papers drawn up and we can finalise this on the morrow."
"Permanently? This won't raise its head again at some untoward point in the future?"
"Into perpetuity, for you and your heirs, any that you may have with Hanasian," Aragorn steadily replied.
Rin flushed again at his words. Aragorn and Faramir traded a knowing glance. Strider then stood and walked around the table. Hanasian and Faramir took to their feet, Rin following afterwards. The king nodded at Hanasian as he passed and placed his hands on Rin's shoulders.
"Well met, cousin. I have waited a long time for this day," Aragorn said warmly. He placed a light kiss on either cheek and then turned to take up Hanasian's hand.
"Well done, captain. Long have you searched for her, my friend. May your road together be long."
"And so, Hanasian, how indeed did you find her," Faramir inquired. Hanasian caught the playful tone to the question.
"Prince, Sire, it was the darnedest thing. She was fleeing through the wilds outside of Tharbad having robbed two of my men. Quite literally, she collided with me. So, it would seem she found me instead of me her. It was almost as if she fell out of a tree," Hanasian reported.
Faramir again covered his mouth and frowned into the middle distance.
"You robbed two soldiers," Aragorn mildly inquired.
"That too seemed like a good idea at the time," Rin muttered as more refreshments were delivered up.
"Oh, I don't know about that," Faramir observed lightly. "Some of the finest rulers I know of have been adept at the creation of wealth from the unlikeliest of places."
At that Aragorn cleared his throat and re-lit his pipe.
"You may wish to have a care, my friend. If trees around Tharbad are known for rendering up such as my cousin here, they are libel to be besieged," he mused, drawing deep on his pipe as he met Hanasian's eyes.
Elsewhere, Loch followed Molguv and Khule into the most fantastical of places, a melange of east and west. All three wore wide grins as they greeted the pastimes within. They had the whole day to pass until they needed to rendezvous at the Passage Tavern.
Hanasian was both eased and troubled by this meeting. It seemed too smooth to be true, yet there it was, King Aragorn and Prince Faramir taking the news of the arrival of the uncrowned queen of Cardolan all too calmly.
The stream of aromatic smoke cast out by Strider made a thick swirl between them. Strider watched it and broke the brief moment of silence...
"I have to warn you that there are many who counsel that should any heir be discovered, making claims or no, should be imprisoned and even a few recommend death. But I fear not any who are my kin from the years afar.
"Still, I must say that you must take care in this. Surely if any in your company know of this, the word will likely spread as fast as fire caused by lightning in the dry grass of late summer. So, I will have to change your orders some."
Change of orders? Hanasian was aware of no orders other than the vague words of the messengers when they were in the north, and that of Captain Harlas on the ship.
"Orders, my friend? If the seas and winds were right, we would be on our way south to Umbar and beyond. What orders do you have for this company?" Hanasian said as he tried to wrap his thoughts around all that was happening.
"Yes, my friend. So it was when I gave word to them when I sent them to find you. But much has changed since those days. With lady Rosmarin arriving as the healer of your company, and all that was discussed here, surely there will be some in this city that will seek her out. Therefore I must send you south without delay."
Hanasian could see the concern on both Aragorn's and Faramir's faces. Yet even so, it seemed they were at ease. Strider went on,
"Tomorrow the King will gather his armies and address them. I want most of your company to be there in formation under Mecarnil's command. But I want you, and Rosmarin, and Folca, and Videgavia to stand with me as guards on the podium. Everyone will see where the company stands, and know they have my support.
"They will also see that Lady Rosmarin stands there as well, in company attire, for all to see. There will be no doubt that you Rosmarin show no threat to this realm in the north, and that you stand by your King. I trust from all that you have said here that you do stand my me."
His eyes beamed into Rin's reading her thoughts. What he found satisfied him, but Rin seemed a bit shaken. Strider then spoke to Hanasian,
"You will then leave by two ways. Half the company will depart on the ship 'Night Explorer', and the other half via the bridge to South Gondor. Of which detachment you will command will remain a secret even from you until the hour has come. Mecarnil and Folca will be in command of the other detachment. You will meet up near Umbar. Any questions?"
Of course there were questions. Hanasian thought the only bright part of this was Rin would be going with him. But Hanasian had the thougt that maybe it would be a good decoy if they separate and go in different detachments. Hanasian didn't like that thought, and wasn't sure he should put it out there.
"Worry not my friends. We will talk on an official level tomorrow after I address the armies. But for now this gathering grows long... too long to keep secret. Namarie."
And he turned and was gone out the back. Prince Faramir drew his hood and disappeared out the front. A moment passed and Rosmarin and Hanasian stepped out into the daylight. Hanasian's mind seemed too filled with confusion to think straight. It was then he noted a small rolled scroll was in his pocket. He left it there and they walked the markets again, heading for the Passage.
Voromir turned the gold mark over in his hand. The sailor that had returned it to him seemed anxious. He was a simple man, a man loyal to his king. However, this business made him feel inexplicably nervous. The sailor knew his duty. It was this knowledge that had dragged him from home to the navy. It was this knowledge that had prompted him to accept the task and mark from Voromir all those years ago. He'd never imagined he'd trip over a missing queen on the high seas, and yet, beyond all reckoning, he had.
"You're certain it's her, it's Erían," Voromir inquired. His was a face of lines, sharp angles, like a shattered pane of glass, only colder. The sailor ducked his head.
"Aye, lord, though she goes by a different name now - Rosmarin. The talk of her company was that it was proven beyond doubt in Mithlond by none other than one 'o Elrond's sons…. Not Elrohir, but the other one, lord."
"The Black Company of Arnor, led by one o' those Rangers… Hanasian, Captain Hanasian. Only a dozen men, lord. They seem to 'ave signed her on, like, with her foster brother. The captain is her… paramour, I suppose. And there's this other Ranger who watches her like a hawk, like she was his own. His name is Mecarnil."
Voromir's mouth twisted in a cold smile. It had to be Bereth's whelp, then and she was proving herself to be as clever and treacherous as her father. She'd suborned a company held in high esteem with the king, wrapped Rangers around her treacherous fingers, and now she was in Pelargir when the south was erupting into open rebellion. Voromir did not believe in coincidences. It was almost certain she was in league with that other traitor responsible for whipping the tribes of the far south into a frenzy. He could guess at their plan, even if their means remained a mystery. Attack from both sides, watch the kingdom's shatter under the strain, divide the spoils between them. He had to admit, were he not a loyal man, it would seem a very good plan indeed. A plan worthy of one born of high noble blood.
"Where are they staying," Voromir inquired, turning the mark over in his hand. A gold crown mark was worth close to ten year's wages for the sailor before him.
"Passage Tavern. They'll meet there at the end o' the day, lord."
"And Erían, where is she now?"
"She headed off with her captain, lord. I don't rightly know where she might be now. I came right here to seek you out, as I were told to do when you gave me that there mark, lord."
Voromir flicked the mark into the air and towards the sailor. He lifted a hand to the guard at the door. The guard admitted a soldier, a ranking officer. Guard and soldier alike bore a leaping stag in gold on a green field across their tabards. The officer glanced to the sailor, who clutched his gold mark, and dismissed him from his thoughts without further consideration. He saluted Voromir smartly.
"The Passage Tavern, you know it Captain?"
"Take a small number of men, your best, there. Bring me back the woman that the sailor identifies for you. Do it quietly. She may be accompanied by members of the Black Company whom she has corrupted. I do not want a scene."
"Captain, let me make myself clear. I want that woman, alive and in a condition to permit putting her to question. She's a treacherous one. She's already got two Rangers, Hanasian and Mecarnil, wrapped around her fingers. Bring her to me and only me. Understand?"
A flick of Voromir's wrist set in motion what had been waiting nearly thirty years. Lenvis marched at a quick clip to the barracks. A covert extraction in a public place at a time when the port was crawling with soldiers was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because military men like him would blend right in. A curse because his quarry could easily find aid from the armed, capable men around her. The sailor bumbled along in his wake, uncomfortable on dry land. It showed in his gait.
The Passage Tavern did not bode particularly bad or good for his job. The Black Company of Arnor, though, had a fearsome reputation. Hanasian was highly regarded, Mecarnil too. Word was that Hanasian had been taking on any man he deemed suitable, broadening his ranks with men of the East and South. This made it unpredictable force to be reckoned with. Lenvis knew the three men he wanted for this task. If this woman could be fetched without a scene, they'd do it. Lenvis and his small team were at the Passage Tavern before sunset, garbed as many in Pelargir were: infantry uniform. The appearance of a tall Ranger accompanied by a fair haired beauty in Black Company uniform was sufficient for Lenvis.
"Her name?" he asked the sailor.
"She goes by Rin… short for Rosmarin, now sir."
Lenvis grunted dismissal and the sailor shot out of the inn eager to be back to his ship and quit of this business about traitors and thrones. Made his skin crawl just thinking about it. Lenvis felt for Hanasian. It was easy to see how she'd managed to compromise him. She was a truly beautiful woman, for all of her perfidy. It was sorrowful that such proud service could be so corrupted. It only hardened his own heart against the woman on the Ranger's arm. The piper always had to be paid. Every soldier knew it. He hoped he could remove her without exacting too harsh a price from Hanasian and his men.
At the Sighing Sands, Loch was receiving instruction on the cultural nuances of Khand. It had all started with a shriek from a wild, dark eyed beauty called Farah. No one had told Loch that the renowned Khandese dancers could be watched, cheered and applauded but never ever touched. He'd only meant to assist the dancer to her feet after a truly spectacular performance. Gallantry was ever a path to the kind graces of a woman in his experience.
Unfortunately, the men whose task it was to defend Farah's honour in these uncivilised lands did not suffer from the same prohibitions. They made short work of the inebriated recruit and they knew their business well. Loch was ejected into a back alley, minus his uniform, for the City Watch to collect. He'd spend a night in the prisons and wake with several more bruises and abrasions than he had before, and he would never ever attempt to dishonour a Khandese dancer again. Molguv shrugged as he was handed Loch's uniform.
"Ah well, could be worse," he observed to Khule. Khule nodded sagely.
"Aye, the dancer could have been Haradrim… they'd have had his hands and head for setting so much as his eyes on her. Should we bail him out?"
"I have no more coin left."
"Nor I…. you have his uniform, you can tell the cap where he is," Khule replied as they headed out. They argued the toss over who would have that joy on the walk back to their lodgings.
It was Berlas who sensed something amiss. It also was Berlas who was approached by an old comrade in arms while he was heading for the Passage Tavern…
"Berlas, old friend. How are you?"
"I am well… Anbor, right?" Berlas said as he paused.
Some of the others noted this and went on. It was obviously someone he had served with before his company days. Videgavia made a note of the man's face and his insignia. He was obviously a highly regarded soldier of the realm. Duly noted, Videgavia turned his thought to how to get Loch out of lock-up. Surely, the kid would be found there if the usual way of things occurred whilst he was with Molguv.
Anbor replied to Berlas, "I see you're part of the Black Company! I wondered where you'd gotten off to."
"Yeah, an opportunity opened up, and I took it. Sorry I didn't leave word for you and the guys," Berlas said, looking past Anborn to a figure that he thought he had seen shadowing them.
"Yeah, well, I left the Green company of Ithilien right after you. An opportunity came to be in the King's Guard. And so here I am," Anbor said, and Berlas noted he was a bit on edge to just be having an old comrade reunited chat.
Berlas didn't want to say anything with shadows around, so motioned that they step into a nearby doorway. It turned out to be a spice merchant, and Berlas used the opportunity to buy some food seasoning as cover. He spoke in a low voice to Anbor.
"So what is troubling you Anbor. I can sense there is something."
Anbor fidgeted, and took a sample of the seasoned dried meat the merchant offered.
"I have to warn you… a snitch from that ship you arrived on has been about. He's been carrying on to my commander about some royal heir to the north kingdom had arrived with you. He plans on killing her I think, or at least imprisoning her. All I know is they are concerned for the King. I trust the King knows what he's doing, and all, so I don't know what he's on about, but he has chosen a few of us to try and take her."
Berlas looked at him, trying some of the dried meat himself, and said, "Well, I'm not sure about royal heirs, but some seem to think our healer is," Berlas said, concerned that in doing so he risked too much. He pressed on, seeking to protect their healer against unwarranted speculation, "To me, she is just a thief that got caught, and now is paying the price with an enlistment."
Anbor nodded, and whispered, "I am thinking I would like to be a part of your company. This King's Guard detail is nice, but it has its drawbacks. Maybe you can put a good word in for me?"
"Maybe" Berlas replied, relieved that Anbor didn't seem too preoccupied with Rin. The seasoned meat delivered a heat to Berlas' tongue which he attempted to blow the heat off. After this necessary pause, he took up their discussion once more.
"But maybe that will depend on whether what you say is accurate. If I go to my captain saying a plot is in the works, I need to be sure, or we'll both look the fools. What do you actually know?"
"I know that we'll be watching your healer. A handful of us, picked by my commander Voromir. We got word you'll be meeting at the Passage Tavern from sailor informant. You will likely see me there. I'm only out here on an errand for Voromir, otherwise I'd be there staking the place out along with my comrades. Since Voromir is rather close to the King, very little escapes his attention. Though I'm sure he is oblivious to the fact the king manages to defy his guard on several occasions. You just keep watch for anything, and especially keep watch on this healer of yours. If their plan is a go, I'll stretch both arms at the same time. If not, I'll stretch one at a time."
Anbor bought some of the meats and stowed them. It was what Voromir sent him to get. He slapped his old comrade Berlas on the back and left. Berlas waited a few moments before heading out himself. He needed to get to the Passage and quickly.
Rin and Hanasian were quiet as they made their way to the tavern. Both had heads filled with thoughts. They were the first to arrive that afternoon and so it fell to them to see to accommodations. Berlas had arrived before some of the others. Both Hanasian and Rin were there, enjoying strong tea and watching for the others. Molguv, Khule and Loch were not there yet. Wugof was there, surprisingly, and seemed to be talking to Frea about something. Berlas could see there must have been a bit of trouble happening. He looked around and quickly noted Videgavia by the door. Ever alert, that northman seemed to never take a break. Berlas went over and stood by him.
"See that man over by the long table? Note his insignia. I have it on good authority that he and a couple of his cohorts will be here to try and find an opportunity to take Rin. They know about the whole heir thing and seek to prevent any trouble she may bring."
"Ah, well, personally, I like Doc. Will be good to have in a scrape. Ups our chances of living I think. About the whole north realm business, well, it don't mean nothing to me. Still, she is a member of this company, and we look out for our own," Videgavia ominously said to Berlas as he surveyed the gathering evening crowd.
"It's good you got this information, Berlas. I believe you'll do well in this company. You need to tell the cap."
Berlas nodded and with a look around, started walking toward Hanasian and Rin. He got there about the time Mulgov and Khule arrived. Apparently Loch was locked up for some undue indiscretions toward an eastern dancer. Berlas couldn't tell of what he knew just this moment. He stood and listened as the two reported on Loch. Molguv was carrying a uniform. Wulgof's grin widened as he deduced whom it belonged to.
"How bad," he asked the pair.
"Could have been worse," Khule replied.
"Where is he," Folca inquired. Molguv glanced to the window to guage the position of the sun.
"Oh, he'd be in a cell by now, don't you think Khule?"
"Aye, the best place for him. An… education, if you will," Khule said with half a grin.
"If that is the case, then you can collect him tomorrow morning," Hanasian said, ill pleased at losing a member on some misadventure mere hours after making port. This despite his instructions for them to keep their heads down.
"I expect greater discipline from you, from all of you. The next man that finds himself incarcerated can make his own way out. You two, since you helped the recruit into the mess, can help clean it up.
"As it seems not all of us yet understand what it means to comport ourselves with dignity, no one is to step foot outside of this tavern unless I give you direct leave to do so. Tomorrow, we will present ourselves to the king with the rest of his troops. That means full dress uniform. You'd best be ready."
In the Pelargir City lock-up Loch was a bit disorientated. His head hurt from the working over he had gotten, and from the stiff ale served at the Sighing Sands. Reailzing he was in a cell, he started to yell.
"Hey! Hey you! What do you think you're doing? Don't you know who I am?"
The guard walked over, smiled, and said, "Yeah, a kid soldier that doesn't know how to keep his mouth shut"
Loch blinked, realizing he shouldn't have stood up so quick.
"Yeah, well I have friends… in high places that…"
Loch caught his tongue before saying what he was thinking. Sure his sister, at least the girl he treated as such, was Queen of Cardolan. Even in his current state. Loch had enough sense to keep quiet about that. The guard picked up on it though.
"High places eh? You mean that band of mercenaries the King hired?"
Loch swallowed and tried to formulate his thoughts.
"Uh, yeah, the Black Company of Arnor. We look out for our own. You'll see…"
Good decoy. He was glad he wasn't pressed. The guard took this as a challenge.
"Settle down now…" the guard replied. He bellied up to the the bars and pushed Loch back.
"You'll likely be fined and turned over to your company commander in the morning. I guess it will depend on where you touched the girl."
Loch sat back down on the stone floor, hoping the company he called his own would look out for him.
Hanasian's statement at the tavern earned a collection of scowls and grumbling, but no open disobedience. Lenvis had heard it all and he chewed his lower lip as he thought. They'd not winnow the traitor out any time soon whilst the entire Company was in effect under house arrest. This was becoming increasingly difficult. The prospect of returning to Voromir empty handed was fast becoming a strong likelihood.
"Recruits! They're more trouble than they're worth," Frea growled, fixing Rin with a resentful stare in lieu of her brother. Rin was of half a mind to agree with Frea. One was in lock up and the other, her, was a whole other bag of trouble. She made no response, to the surprise of several.
Were it not for her presence, the Company would be spared this entire mess. It pained her to think it, but perhaps it would have been best if she stayed at Mithlond… or Bree. One look at Hanasian confirmed this weighed on him heavily. Guilt was pressing down on her. He had not asked for any of this. The king had been in her head, that experience startling enough in its own right. He had warned her that the port was crawling with soldiers, all of whom sworn to defend him against her. He had warned her against fleeing and again urged her to caution. Any sense of ease she had won in the presence of soldiers had vanished into thin air at that. Imprisonment, death… both seemed likely. If that was not concern enough, she also feared who else may be dragged into this mess if any such loyal men decided their duty forced them to take action against her. Who else would pay the wages for her her father's ambitions? Would the Company stand back and let events unfold? What if they fell attempting to intervene? Yet more blood added to the price of Cardolan. Around her, the conversation moved on.
"Everyone knows you don't touch the dancers… everyone except Kid… and now he knows," Molguv said and Berlas winced. Khule noticed this, as did his sister who seemed to sit straighter and acquire that particularly sharp focus of hers that indicated Doc was working.
"It's not that bad. He was already pretty drunk… he rolled with the punches… literally," Khule added, for her benefit. It was small comfort to the healer.
Full dress uniform did not prepare itself. The chores resulted in an early night, much to the disappointment of several men who had been eagerly anticipating their first night in Pelargir. Lenvis watched the Black Company move off to see to its tasks. He needed to extract the traitor before they presented to the king for review tomorrow. Or… or he could return to Voromir and tell him that the traitor would present herself for justice on the following day. Smiling, he and his men rose to do exactly that.
"I will give her this, she has temerity, to present herself thus," Voromir mused at his captain's report.
Bereth's daughter was proving a formidable adversary and one that would likely need to be executed for the good of all. An adversary like this was one you could not turn your back on. An adversary like this was one you needed to deal with, preferably once and with finality. Were she left alive, imprisoned or married off as some had counselled, she would rise up again and again. He would take her head from her shoulders himself rather than allow that.
"Very well. Ready your men. We'll have an end to this once and for all tomorrow. If she so much as takes a step towards the king, or the prince, take her down," he ordered.
"In full view of her Company?"
"If she is so brazen as to mount an attack before the assembled troops, on her head be it."
"And if she does not?"
"Then we will ensure she is available for questioning, captain."
Rin shivered and she looked out the window. It was still warm and the window was ajar to admit what breeze could be wrung from the air.
"Are you cold? Shut the window if you are," Hanasian said. He could see the hair on her forearms stand on end from where he sat. Distracted, they'd said little to each other since the meeting. Rin rubbed at her arms and sighed before she turned her attention back to the boot she was polishing. As Loch was incarcerated, she'd elected to prepare his kit for him.
"Hanasian… I am sorry for all of this," she said as she polished, glancing up at him.
"You've done nothing wrong."
"Still, none of this would be any concern of the Black Company were it not for me. I feel… responsible for this… You didn't ask for this, Hanasian. Neither did I. Maybe it was for the better that I was lost. Perhaps I should lose myself again."
"I found you before. I could find you again. I would find you again. In any case, you've been ordered to remain here until given leave to depart and I do not give you such leave, Rosmarin."
"Now come here."
They'd been aching to do this since they had landed. Each wound their arms around the other and breathed in the scent of the one they held.
"Together… we will see this through, Rin."
"Ever and always, love."
It was quite late when Berlas came to Hanasian & Rin's room to tell of the pending plot to kill Rin. Anbor had arrived, and it seemed the company was too tight around the place. Videgavia's diligence had the men watch every angle. Nobody would be getting in or out, let alone taking anybody against their will, or killing anybody either. And true enough, Anbor had given the sign that it was not going to proceed this night. In the end it was a calm evening. Despite this, tensions were high.
The night passed uneasily for them both, restless with their respective thoughts and fears. They clung to each other, taking what comfort they may in each other's presence. The following day dawned ominously red. Somehow, Wulgof and Khule managed to slip away in the early hours of the morning, joined by Berlas. They proceeded to the lock-up in the premise of breaking Loch out. They were well and truly surprised when they ran across a man approaching them on the street.
"Hi guys. Didn't know if you were coming."
The three were surprised to see Loch walking towards them. He somehow managed to get free. They didn't ask him any questions, but did slap him about in joy before grabbing him by the collar and leading him back to the tavern. Finally, their curiosity became too much. As they approached the tavern, Khule just had to know.
"So kid, how you get out?"
"Easy…" Loch said with his lopsided, affable grin.
"I relieved the guard of his keys without him knowing. Rin's not the only pickpocket, you know. Then I just waited until he went to sleep, unlocked the cell and let myself out. Hooked the keys back on his belt before I walked out the door. He'll have a hard time explaining that."
Wulgof slapped the kid on the back, knocking him forward a bit.
"I like this kid more and more each day! Now, you're late for muster. Should have been here hours ago!"
Morning came too soon, but Hanasian arose and set to working on looking his best. Rin lay sleeping just a bit longer. It would be a long day. He took out the scroll Strider had given him, and read it. He looked at Rin and wondered how she would take it. He went over and kissed her.
"Wake up my love."
She stirred, but didn't want the night to end. She knew clearly what Strider had told her. And now Hanasian was re-affirming it.
"You know you must speak to the massed soldiers. The King will expect you to. May you do well in this, and know I am standing with you."
Rin inwardly cringed at the thought. Perhaps she could contrive to hide under the bed. Speaking publicly was never a thought to her. Doing it in front of massed armies even less a possibility. Yet today she would be there with the King, renouncing any and all claim, to fade away as merely the healer of the Black Company. She arose reluctantly to prepare herself. What would she say?
Each of the company got ready. They would be ever on the alert. Videgavia, Mecarnil, Hanasian, and Rosmarin looked extra polished. Hanasian reviewed the company, and took extra note of Loch standing there in line. He paused in front of him, scowling fiercely at the recruit.
"It won't happen again," Loch mumbled. Hanasian cut him off.
"Damn right it won't. Any time you are let loose in a city, you will be with the twins, or Mecarnil, or Videgavia, or myself. You won't be going off with the less responsible elements of this company for some time. Now… I have a special assignment for you.
"You will be polished to perfection and stand front and center of the company line. Keep your eyes and ears open for any and all signs of discontent, note who and what their unit insignia is, and report to me at the end. Its very important you do this well, for in this, a plot against the king may be prevented."
Loch was excited to be singled out for special duty. Hanasian thought it good to keep the kid's mind focused on duty, and this was a good task. Who knows what he may notice. Chances were good that Loch would see something directed at Rin, being she was to be by him this day.
It came time to assemble. The sun pushed up over the sea. It would be another hot spring day. A slight wind blew from the east, hot and dry. The stench of Mordor no longer held sway over these summer easterlies, but they still could be rather unpleasant. Hanasian formed the company into position in front and center of the King, and left Frea in charge. Every one was aware of what Berlas had reported, and they were on watch. Loch was stoic and alert, true to company form once more. His gaze gaze flickered with concern to his sister, though he kept his mouth shut.
Hanasian, Rosmarin, Videgavia, and Mecarnil marched off in step, and walked out on the balcony that the King would address the soldiers. Hanasian noted one of the line guards watching him. It would have to be this Anbor that Berlas had spoken about. Too many of these men were around. Hanasian gave him a slight movement of his eye. Should Anbor be alert, he would know what it meant. Hanasian let the other three know to be on the fullest alert without appearing so. They were in place, and the King had arrived.
Rin stared out at the men gathered below, eyes slightly glazed as she took it all in. This was the day she would die. She knew it. Soldiers and knights stood under banners that leapt in the breeze. Boars, horses, stags, archers, mountains, swords, axes, swans, stars and trees all flew there, including the banner that marked her Company. Atop the wall flew four banners already. One was the king's, black and silver stars and trees fluttering higher than the other three. The second belonged to Ithilien, green tree on a delicate golden field. The third belong to Rohan, Elfwine's cavalry was gathered below it. The fourth was the swan of Dol Amroth. As the king had arrived a fifth was been added, this one a silver rose on a blue field. Rin swallowed hard at the sight and fought yet another insane urge to bolt that had been persistently gripping her since she woke up. A ripple swept through the assembled forces and she had swallowed hard. This was very, very public. A very, very public death, she thought, feeling dizzy and sick. Hanasian steadied her to one side and she took another deep breath which she slowly blew out in a bid to calm herself.
Though Aragorn had warned her of this yesterday, in that silent exchange, it did not make this easier. Her eyes scanned for archers in high places. There were too many shadows. Signals were being given around her by Hanasian, Videgavia and Folca. She still had yet to learn what they meant, but she could guess and her conclusions were not pretty. There was a guard staring at her. Would he be the one that took her life? Rin mentally slapped herself before outright panic set in. If she was going to die today, it may as well be for something constructive. At least she wasn't going die on account of cheese, like she had thought she would seven years ago in Edoras. Videgavia's brows shot up as he heard the woman in their midst mutter about cheese. She had not the slightest idea that she did so. Videgavia peered at her. Could she possibly be daydreaming at a time like this or was she about to pass out? Her face was wan and her eyes glittered all the more intensely for it.
"Arisen from discord, Cardolan ultimately proved herself our ally in centuries and Ages past. Once more, on this day, she rises to do so again."
Aragorn's voice carried well, his experience at such things showing. He paused and looked back to where she stood. Then, with a faint smile of encouragement, he beckoned her forward. Her blood roared in her ears. Somewhere, under the banner of the leaping stag, there was a disturbance. Loch noted it well. They were muttering at the rise of his sister's banner. They weren't the only ones. Boar and mountain too were restless too. Loch noted it all. The swan was curious and the horse was fascinated. Elfwine, prince of Rohan, stared up at the balcony in open amazement. For the main, the Rohirrim merely watched the soldiers of Gondor with distant interest.
Rin took another deep breath and the last step out from any chance of hiding at the same time. Her feet itched with the urge to flee and she swayed with this imperative.
"Are you ready for this, cousin," Aragorn asked quietly.
"No," she replied honestly, "But now that we've come to it, let's get this over before my instincts get the better of me."
"Men, I give you the Lady Rosmarin, heir to the throne of Cardolan and sworn member of the Black Company of Arnor, commanded by Captain Hanasian, formerly of the Grey."
In the wake of his announcement, a stunned silence hung heavily over the assembled forces. Then she heard her brother give out a whoop. She could see his face from where she stood, his familiar crooked smile below.
"Why is she here?" demanded a cold, imperious voice. Voromir stepped forward, hand on the hilt of his sword. Aragorn looked to her. His message was clear. She needed to confront such men head on. Direct was something she knew how to do well.
"I am here to put a stop to divisions that weaken our realm. I am here to give Cardolan her peace."
"Even as our ally, Cardolan not once offered up what true peace required: her throne. Not once, including your father."
"I cannot stand here and answer for the folly of those that went before me, my father included. I cannot undo the past, any more than you can, Lord. Would that I could."
"Perhaps we see the treachery of women in your honeyed words!"
"And perhaps we see now how proud men, lords and nobles, brought us to this sorry state of affairs! We can stand here and squabble some more. We can whisper poisonous accusations of treachery, exchanging suspicion for pointless suspicion all while those knights over there broil in their armour under the sun. Or you can shut up and let me sign this damn piece of paper here. Do you want unification and peace? If so, close your mouth. If not, speak on! Which is it to be?"
"I think you have your answer, Voromir. There was no honey in that," dryly called another from beneath a swan banner. Imrahil hooked his thumbs through his sword belt and grinned at the incensed noble openly.
The intervention gave Rin the opportunity to leash her snapped patience. Voromir grappled with himself and then stepped back into ranks. Rin looked back to where Hanasian stood, silently pleading for him to get her the hell out of here. Aragorn stepped forward once more.
"Lady Rosmarin has braved considerable peril to stand before your scrutiny today. Cousin, will you tell them of what it is you endeavour this day?"
"Today I mean to set to rights the follies of the past. I mean to surrender my title and claim to Cardolan's throne into perpetuity to the rightful ruler of Cardolan, long ago accepted by those few that endured the war and plague that beset the realm. I set aside the claim and petition fashioned by my father. Indeed, I reject it outright."
"Do you swear that you do this freely, without duress or haste but after the fullness of consideration."
"I do so swear, sire."
"And, finally, Lady Rosmarin, so there can be no doubt, where do your loyalties lie?"
"In that, what some may say my blood means, I am no different to any member of the Black. My service, my loyalty, is sworn to you, under the command of the Captain of the Black Company."
At a gesture from Aragorn, Faramir stepped forward with a sheaf of papers. A functionary came with him, bearing that cursed ring on a blue velvet cushion. For all of her initial trepidation, it was a straightforward thing when it came to making history formal. She signed page after page. So too did Aragorn. There was wax applied to both and she was handed back the ring to affix to royal seal of Cardolan onto the orders of succession. When it was done, Aragorn closed her hand around it before she could give it back.
"Keep it, Rin. I have no need for it and it is a piece of you. If not for your father, keep it for your mother. Now we come to the final part: they must see you kneel."
Those assembled watched a queen kneel in homage to her chosen successor. As she pressed her lips to the Ring of Barahir, it was formally done. Cardolan's throne and title was ceded to Aragorn and his heirs. In the company, Loch never felt prouder of his sister. Mecarnil felt something similar. He knew her mother would have wept with joy to behold this day. He felt her spirit shimmer briefly as the sun caught her daughter's hair.
"At last it is done," he whispered.
Aragorn lifted Rin to her feet, queen no longer. Just her, a healer, and still alive for the time being. They considered each other a long moment and then both smiled at some private thought exchanged.
"Mark my words well. Any man that considers him loyal to the realm or I will recognise that what has passed here today was the act of an ally and of kin, not a foe or a traitor."
Aragorn's gaze swept across the vista below. Any rumbling fell silent. Rin found herself released to step back into position again. She took to it gladly, and her hand found Hanasian's and tightly gripped it.
"You have seen with your own eyes what can be achieved between allies, without the sorrow of war and blood spilt. Sadly, I cannot say that things will proceed so smoothly in the south. Since Castimir first took refuge in Umbar after the Kin Strife, Gondor and her allies have yet to enjoy enduring peace with Harad.
"Your commanders will relay your orders to you directly. I will say only this: this rebellion in the far south must be put down before it takes yet more lives. Umbar cannot be besieged. There are not enough ships to remove the civilian population of that port. The uprising must be arrested before the havens are besieged, or untold suffering will unfold. It will not be easy. I know I ask of you no small thing. But you serve not only me and the united realms of north and south in this, but every woman and child who calls Umbar home. Think of your own families. What would you not do to protect them?"
Aragorn paused as the reality of this campaign hit home.
"Illuvtator guide you and Valar speed you. Companies, dismissed!"
Aragorn stood at the balcony as each company filed away. The Black remained and Folca dispatched Loch to report his findings above. On the balcony, the guards started to file within. Hanasian heard Anbor command several away on other duties. Anbor nodded at the Black rangers as he sent the men on a goose chase that would ensure no last minute foul play could unfold. Voromir was not a malevolent man and not a traitor. But he was a proud one and one unaccustomed to being defeated, publicly, by a woman he believed to be contemplating high treason.
When Loch reached the royal rooms, he found Mecarnil and Videgavia on the door. Inside, Rin was seated with her head in her hands. Hanasian stood in the door between the room and the balcony. Aragorn stood on the balcony still, studying the units that he had deployed as they set out. Rin looked through her fingers as her brother approached.
"You look like you decided to wrestle a stampeding herd of cattle," she said, studying his bruised face and lowering her hands. He grinned at her and focussed his attention on his captain.
"Boar and Stag, cap. Plenty were interested, real curious, but those two just weren't happy."
"Rejoin your company, Loch. Videgavia will go with you," Hanasian said.
"Stag we knew about, Boar is new," Mecarnil said. Rin stood at that and started pacing.
"This should all be moot now, right? Right?" Her gaze bounced from Hanasian to Mecarnil and back to Hanasian again. She moved towards him.
"Perhaps, love, but it would be unwise to assume," he said gently as she approached. He felt her press her brow against his shoulder, and wrap her hands around his arm.
"Neither Boar nor Stag are… anything less than loyal men. But caution is indeed wise at this juncture. After three decades, it may be difficult for them to see you any differently for some time and they are proud lords," Aragorn said as he walked into the room.
"My favourite kind," Rin sighed sardonically. Aragorn watched her square her shoulders. He glanced to Mecarnil, the ranger sworn to defend her bloodline and to Hanasian, the one she so clearly loved. It was time to discuss their next move.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.