11. Chapter 11
Aragorn gestured that all should seat themselves. They did so, though tension remained. Rin was clearly agitated. Perhaps that was understandable, given what had unfolded. She sat tensely, coiled and wary, glancing to the balcony and thoughts darting like silvery fish in the rapid flows of spring melts. Beside her, Hanasian was himself pre-occupied. Mecarnil was intensely curious, knowing that there had been some discussion as to what would now occur held yesterday. Aragorn broke the silence.
"When we spoke yesterday, Hanasian, I advised you that the Company would split and depart Pelargir in two ways. You would lead one column, Mecarnil here and Folca the other. One would venture by sea and the other by land. It is time to speak of what prompts this change to your earlier instructions."
Hanasian nodded slowly, focusing himself and bracing himself for what may follow. He glanced to Rin, who was listening despite being wrapped in her own thoughts. The idea of parting from her was as welcome and as painful as parting from his right arm. But, duty was duty and this is what they had both chosen. They would be faced with this again and again in their lives. If they were to have a life together, then they would each need to shoulder their duty and not have it pull them to pieces. They had to embrace their duty and not let it divide them. Mecarnil took the news of the change to orders in his stride. He had his own thoughts as to the reasons why, and really the reasons why did not matter. Orders were orders. One did not question one's king as to the reasoning behind it. He hoped the woman in their number could see the wisdom and reality of this life she had chosen so publically moments before.
"The Black's ability at covert operations is unsurpassed. I hope to avoid open battle by calling on your Company. I need the Black in two places at once. I need the Black in Umbar swiftly. I need to know if this rebel has any support in Umbar, what is known of him and the men he has pressed to his cause and the Black will need to be ready to move swiftly deeper into Harad. Umbar will be the final place for preparations. There are supplies you will need in Harad that can not be gotten elsewhere.
"I also need the Black to shield the advance contingents of the main force, scouting to ensure that should open battle eventuate, the force is at least intact upon arrival. The land between Pelargir and Umbar is neither openly hostile, nor friendly. It poses a risk to any and all that cross it. I will bolster your number with Faramir's Rangers. You'll reach Umbar the fastest of all travelling by land. You'll scout and reconnoitre for Elfwine's cavalry and Gondor's Knights. They will shield the larger infantry that follows. Imrahil and I will lead the army. We cannot cover the advance, mounted units without the Black."
Again, this made sense. Both Mecarnil and Hanasian nodded. Hanasian noted, however, that Aragorn had not indicated who would take which route, nor which party would accompany Rin. If it was based on risk and where her skills would best be used, it would be with the land contingent rather than sea.
"Hanasian, I will need you in Umbar fast. My friend, you'll be needed there most to guide the gathering of intelligence and ensure preparations for further covert action are made. Therefore, you will lead the half travelling by ship, if you will."
The fact that a king made an order a request said much to Hanasian of his chieftain's and friend's character. He could be regal, but preferred this approach, the approach of the Rangers where he could make it work.
"Of course, sire. We serve proudly as you see fit," he replied gravely.
"I will lead the land group. Hanasian, I think you'd find Molguv useful in Umbar. He speaks the language. He may be able to get information that you'll be seeking," Mecarnil said.
"If you're scouting, you'll need someone who can understand the language yourself," Hanasian replied.
"Khule does," Rin said between them. She caught their glances.
"He understands enough… may not be fluent, but can understand and communicate to some degree. I've heard him and Molguv speaking. Molguv ribs him for his clumsiness in Common, which is how I figured out what they were up to. Did it a lot on the voyage down," she added.
"Seems your Company has been preparing itself in more ways than one," Aragorn observed.
"Yes…. Very well, I'll take Molguv with me, Loch too. He's got a head for this sort of thing," Hanasian agreed.
"Just keep him away from..." Rin's voice trailed off. She needn't say it. Hanasian knew what a reckless fool her brother could be…. Him and ale, him and women… she sighed and shook her head. He looked like he'd been trampled by the oliphaunts that are said to inhabit the lands they were to venture into.
"And I'll take Khule," Mecarnil said as Rin's thoughts turned again. She swallowed, chewed her lower lip. What had to come next, she thought, would not be easy. Rin glanced at Hanasian a long moment.
"I think I should go with… Mecarnil. If catastrophe strikes at sea, a wizard is what is needed. If disaster strikes on land, a wizard might also be handy, but there is more I can do of use…" She glanced to Hanasian, a silent apology. He could see how pained she was to say it.
"I couldn't agree more," Aragorn said. "In any case, most will assume you'd accompany Hanasian. It will throw people off your scent for a while, give the dust a chance to settle."
Her response had told Hanasian a great deal. This was a woman who, like him, understood duty. She was not about to tug him against it. Her words, her actions, it all added up to one inescapable conclusion.
"We can dispose the rest of the Company fairly evenly from there, my friend," Hanasian said. His hand reached and squeezed Rin's and his heart was pounding. He knew what he needed to do before they set out.
"Then it is done. Both will depart on the morrow. The land forces will start to ride out in the morning. 'Night Explorer' will set out later. Captain Caritas is already provisioning. Harlas has split your supplies from 'Fidelity' between Caritas' ship and the staging ground for the land contingent of the Black."
Aragorn's word sealed it. She would be parted from Loch and Hanasian. Her heart felt like a stone, even if it was the right thing to do. She braced her shoulders. She was not going to wilt at the first hint of difficulty. The road would be a lot harder before this Harad thing was done and she would be equal to it. She was going to prove good to her word. She was. No two ways about it. Damn it.
"One final matter, cousin," Aragorn said. He found her gaze focused on him, startling in its intensity. A brief touch of minds revealed a turmoil storming in her own. She frowned and told him to quit rummaging around in her head in no uncertain terms. So this, Aragorn concluded, was family. He withdrew and held his palms out by way of apology.
"You have surrendered the thrown, but your linage and blood remains the same. You remain of royal descent. You remain related to the royal line of the Reunited Kingdoms. In rank, you are now similar to Dol Amroth and Ithilien. This I cannot undo. The records at Minas Tirith are already being altered to reflect this. You have inherited a right to a place at court regardless of whether you intend to take it up."
"Surely all of that is now much of a muchness."
"Perhaps… the stark reality is this: you are one of the few unmarried highly ranking female nobles in the combined realms. We have had a surfeit of sons over the years. Moreover, given our mutual descent, you stand second in line to the high throne until Eldarion has heirs of his own. Your position is lofty, cousin. There is no other way to say it. There will be others who see advantage to be gained in this. Your life is your own, Rin. You needn't worry about being pushed in any direction. However, there will be offers and you need to ensure that in declining them you do not step on their pride. It can be a prickly thing at such junctures and I can ill afford a dispute in my own court over offense between nobles."
Rin sat back in the chair. Polite? How was she supposed to be polite and diplomatic to men such as Voromir? These were men that had thought to incarcerate or execute her, and now they'd seek what? To form an alliance of some sort? To wed, surely not! It was contemptible, absurd and she had no patience for any of it. Mecarnil was perhaps most familiar with the way in which Rin's mind worked with political matters. She was ascerbic to say the least. How was he supposed to prevent a dispute cropping up on the way to Umbar? He had a sinking feeling already and they hadn't even left yet. Rin glanced over the Mecarnil. The look on her face was frank.
"You'd better keep me out on patrol, Mecarnil, or find some other way to keep them distant. It's the best chance of me remembering my manners if some benighted lord crosses my path. Why anyone would bother with nobles is a mystery to me."
"And me, some days," Aragorn said softly."Time is short and there are preparations, payroll and farewells to make. I will see you all on the morrow. I have some paperwork to do," he added, glancing to where the sucession documents still sat on a table. They stood, Mecarnil bowed and Rin curtsied. Hanasian merely stood. A signal to Aragorn communicated something that Mecarnil understood and Rin, still, did not.
"We will meet you below, Captain," Mecarnil said. Hanasian nodded and Rin looked at him in question. He seemed nervous, or unsettled, in a way she could not put her finger on.
"Oh, cousin… Under no circumstances sell that ring," Aragorn admonished her
"Melt it down?"
Rin heaved a sigh and Mecarnil ushered her through the door.
"What's going on back there," she asked him. "Something's afoot… again."
"You'll see, methinks, and soon."
"Rangers and their secrets," she grumbled. After the night and this day, and what was shaping up tomorrow, she was not in the least a happy soul.
Aragorn studied Hanasian openly.
"Well, out with it my friend," Aragorn said.
Hanasian cleared his throat. He knew what he wanted. It shimmered just within reach. He had no idea if he would be permitted it. It was a lot to ask, given his common blood…
"If you do not, someone will…. And you'll be tortured by that knowledge throughout the voyage and waiting in Umbar. For your own sake, out with it." Aragorn said.
"I think it must be… for this…"
"Very well, continue, formally,"
"Sire, I seek your leave to marry," Hanasian said in a rush, his heart pounding and his head spinning with what had just left his mouth.
"You don't need my consent, my friend. Even if you did, I stand so deeply in your debt for so much how could I withhold it? But, I suspect you seek my blessing and so you have both, gladly. What do you intend to do? You haven't much time."
"Betrothal I think, if she'll have me."
"Yes, that makes sense. Hurry… before she offends someone." Aragorn said, smiling. There was no need in inquire whose hand Hanasain sought.
It would make the parting easier for all and after 'rummaging around in her head' Aragorn had no doubt of the response Hanasian would receive. Hanasian, however, did not look nearly so certain. Such was the way of things. He watched his friend depart, approaching a precipice he recalled facing with similar trepidation himself. Aragorn's smile deepened at that, thoughts returning to his queen. She'd like his cousin. Yes, she would… although he'd have to drag her kicking to Minas Tirith…. But then Arwen was very good at getting what she set her mind to.
Hanasian found the Company waiting below. Mecarnil glanced at him, flashed a signal.
"About time," he muttered to Hanasian. The scene Hanasian found was a tableaux of how Rin managed to be polite to people she'd rather shorten a notch or two. A messenger stood nearby, bemused, as Rin shredded a piece of paper into tiny pieces with the strong, dexterous fingers of a healer. He watched paper snow to the ground. Behind her, men seemed fascinated and some amused, even Videgavia and Frea.
"Is my answer clear?" Rin inquired in a dangerously soft voice, arching one eyebrow. The messenger glanced up from the ground to her face.
"Oh, ah, yes, quite… m'lady," he said, trying not to look too startled. She scowled at him.
"Don't you m'lady me… I'm not fooled by it. Not for one moment!" The messenger departed at speed, leaving Rin to growl to herself. She set her sights on her brother and decided to set his ears on fire.
"She's in a fine frame of mind, friend," Mecarnil sympathised. Hanasian nodded, sighing. Still, he was going to do it tonight, give them some hope to cling to for the time ahead. He would ask her to marry him. A light to guide their way home. He gave the signal and the Company formed ranks and moved out. The day had been long, and after they parted with Aragorn, they set to work. Part of the plan was to look busy like they were leaving that night, but when morning light would come, there would still be company men around. Rin would be in slightly different attire in hopes to disguise her departure with the company over land. It would be a difficult task.
Hanasian tried to take his mind off what he wished to do, but realized he would have to do so quickly. Yet there were still so many tasks to be handled during the remainder of this day. One being to review possible new members of the company who had volunteered. A difficult thing to do especially since the knowledge that Rin was among the company came to light. Of the several dozen that wanted to join, he rejected most. But a handful appeared to be good prospects. One was Anbor. Aragorn granted him leave should he make the cut. He had once already given good intelligence, and seemed eager. Almost too eager. Hanasian decided to take him, and two others. They were brothers who seemed to have a knack of finding things, and making things work. Their skills could be useful when some ingenious engineering was needed. He sent two more to Mecarnil to accompany the other detachment
The shipboard detachment consisted of himself, Mulgov, Loch, Wulgof, and the three new members, Anbor of Minas Tirith, and Daius, and Donius of Anfalas. Those going by land consisted of Mecarnil, Rin, Khule, Videgavia, Frea, Folca, Berlas, and two new guys, Farbarad, a northern Dunedain kinsman, and Elcarlas, from Dale. Also, a surprise member arrived and found the company in the night.
"I heard the company was looking for some new men. How about an old one?"
It was a battered and bruised Bear, moving stiffly. Still bandaged up, but looking much better than when they left him in Tharbad, he was a welcome sight.
"Bear!" Hanasian cried. "Good to see you! You do look like shit though."
"I'm on the mend, and am able to do light duty for awhile, until things get heavy again. I also brought Foldine and Gian too. They are in a bit better shape than when you last saw them in Tharbad."
They came walking in, smiles on their faces. It was good to get some old hands back.
"Don't have time to fill you in completely, but know that we are leaving in two groups to the south. Bear, you will take ship with me, as you could use the time to continue recovery. You too Foldine. Gian you will go with Mecarnil. We'll be heading to Umbar, and we need to make ready now!" Hanasian said to them.
Hanasian saw the urgency of the time. The ship would leave the next night after midnight, and the other party will be across the bridge and heading south by sunrise. There was this day and night left. He went in search of Rin. He found her checking her stores and securing them. Hanasian leaned over her shoulder and whispered to her. He wanted to see her alone. She got up and took his hand, and they slipped out the doorway.
A long embrace followed by a lingering kiss, Hanasian seemed nervous. He wasted no time.
"My beloved Rosmarin, I know this may be something I should have thought out more than I have, but with things as they are, and our impending departure and separation looming, I feel I have to do this now. I ask for your hand in marriage."
He held out a gold ring with a sapphire stone embedded amidst leaf designs.
"This is something that has been in my family for some time. My mother had it but rarely wore it, choosing instead to wear a simple inscribed gold ring that my father had given her before they were married. She gave this to me when I first rode out with the Rangers, and I've worn it on my little finger ever since. But now I wish you to accept it as a token of my undying love and commitment to you."
Rin was speechless, utterly stunned. Hanasian slid the ring onto her finger where it was way too loose. He retracted it and slid it on her middle finger. She parted her lips to speak, but Hanasian forestalled her by setting his finger gently to her lips.
"You do not need to answer now. Maybe you wish to think this over a bit?" he suggested.
It didn't seem so to them, they stood gazing at each other for a long moment, lost to all and everything but each other. Despite his common ancestry and her noble heritage, Hanasian hoped she would accept him.
There was a bit of commotion inside the large room where the company had gathered. Foldine introduced his sister Fraefoc, who had accompanied him to Pelargir. Expecting the worst, she was ready to return any comment that would come her way. Instead, the company was on their best behaviour toward her. Mecarnil went to talk with her and Foldine while the men were catching up with their old comrades who were wounded in Tharbad. The new men watched and listened, trying to settle into all the banter being made. Loch came to the realization that he was no longer the newbie, and would be happy to pass on those duties. The thought of taking ship again gave his stomach a whirl, but he seemed resigned to it. He did not like the idea of separating with his sister though, leaving her in the company of soldiers. Maybe he could convince the cap to let him go with the land party…. No, won't happen. He goes where Wulgof goes, having to keep an eye on the standard.
Darian, the King's messenger, arrived with further word that the Night Explorer would depart that very night. It was yet another way to keep any untoward plots off kilter. Mecarnil secured agreement with Foldine and Fraefoc to an idea and went to search out Hanasian and Rosmarin. He stepped out to find them in an embrace.
"Pardon my intrusion cap, but the hour has come. Word has come the ship will depart this night as the waxing moon sinks into the west. We have a plan to cover for Rin as well. Foldine's sister who had come with him to Pelargir has agreed to dress the part and board ship. She looks close enough like Rin that she will make a fair decoy boarding the ship in the dark. Come, for time is short."
"Yes…. shorter than expected. We will be there shortly," Hanasian replied softly.
Mecarnil left and Hanasian wiped a tear away from Rin's cheek.
"So it has come sooner than we thought. Joy will fill my heart when I see you again in Umbar. I had hoped we would have this night together, but it is not to be. Say you will be my wife, for I will love no other ever again."
It was just as well that Hanasian repeated himself once more. Rin was light headed and convinced she had imagined what he had said, or misheard some how. It was all so… so… He was staring at her, forlorn hope and a startling vulnerability revealed in his expression that prompted her put him out of his misery.
"Beloved! Yes! Oh yes! I want to be your wife more than words can say!"
She was shaking, a bittersweet joy was flooding through her. She kissed him urgently even as another rebel tear slipped free. Rin could feel his heart racing against her own.
"We will have other nights, and days," she whispered after a long while, a finger tracing the strong line of his jaw tenderly. Foresight's chill eddied along the wake of her words.
"But not this night, love," Hanasian said sadly. He caught her fingers and kissed their tips before he reluctantly released them. By the light of the half moon, Rin soaked in the sight of him amidst the whirlwind they were caught in. This sight would light her way back to him. Her hands drifted to her belt and fetched something out. Compared to what gleamed on her hand, it seemed a ridiculously paltry thing. Still…
Rin pressed a length of her hair, braided and secured at both ends by white silk embroidered with gold. He recognised it immediately.
"It is not much, I know," she started to say. He closed his hand around it, and used his other hand to close around the nape of her neck and pull her lips to his once more. They were both light headed and weak kneed as the moments passed. Hanasian groaned and straightened. Rin pressed her fingers to her flushed cheeks and they returned inside with feet that seemed heavy.
"Fifteen days? Twenty? Not so long. Not so long," she said to herself in a bid to convince herself that it was true. Hanasian sighed as he shouldered his gear. Rin bent to her own, fishing out what she needed to send with his detatchment. On their return to the common area, the keen eyed paused. Something was different. Videgavia spotted it first and broke into a rare smile.
"What brought that on?" Molguv wondered aloud.
"Rin have you been thieving again?" Loch inquired, spotting the gold that now suddenly gleamed from her hand. Rin's gaze dropped as Videgavia lightly cuffed her brother about the ear.
"Oh… OH!" Loch exclaimed as his mind kicked into gear. Then, the gig was up. Loch was the first to reach his sister and he nearly crushed the tiny bottles she was carrying in his enthusiasm. Mecarnil was the first to reach Hanasian. Word spread like wildfire amongst the expanded group. There was enough time for an ale, celebration and farewell, only barely. Rin distributed the small bottles of stomach settling potion to those she knew would need it on their voyage. It was done discreetly. Bear, Gian and Foldine were happy to reintroduce themselves.
"You look better," she said, scrutinising each and not saying anything further.
"So do you, lass," Bear replied, mussing the top of her head.
"No lifting, no pulling, no throwing, no exertions…. Do you get sea sick?"
"No, and before you harrumph at me you should know we've already been accepted back in by the Cap."
"I don't harrumph," Rin replied, eyeing Foldine's sister. The decoy. Guilt panged through her anew at the thought. Fraefoc eyed her back.
"I'm sorry about this," Rin said.
"When Foldine said how terrified you were of them, I couldn't understand it. Now that I've seen them with my own eyes…"
"Oh, their bark is worse than their bite… mostly… except for the frowning twin and you won't have to worry about him. He'll be my joy. They won't give you any trouble. They're good men, essentially. Just ignore Wulgof. He likes to bait people for his entertainment."
"We should talk further," Fraefoc said. So it was that the two women settled down as the ale was being shared around in close discussion.
"That's not good. That's never good," Khule observed glumly as the two women's heads pressed together. Foldine, who was listening to frank assessment of his fellow Company members from a woman's perspective chortled on several occasions until Fraefoc applied her elbow and he moved out of reach.
"Thanks, Rin. That's really helpful. Please don't worry about this. You helped my brother when you didn't have to and could be forgiven for not wanting to. Consider this my way of repaying you."
"It still isn't right… but if that's the way you want to look at it."
"Very well… do you want that cheese?"
"Hate the stuff. Take it."
"Really?" Rin bent to address her next statement to Foldine around Fraefoc. "I like your sister," she said with a grin.
The hours were short, painfully short. Loch had only left her once before, when she was a mute, traumatised six year old child. The result of that had been so horrifying to him that he had never left her again. She never spoke of it. He secretly hoped that she did not recall it. He would never forget it. This, though, was different. She was not six anymore. He was not leaving her. The people around her were not the smiling demons he had left her with before. These were people that were Company, family. These were people that could be trusted.
It seemed like only minutes passed before they had to be on the move.
"You sure about this, Rin?" Loch asked.
"Hanasian? Are you kidding? Absolutely!"
"No, I mean, this… staying."
"Oh, well… it's the best option of a bad set, Loch. And I'll be fine. We all will be. I'll see you in Umbar. You, on the other hand, will not be fine unless you do what you're told and stay away from bars, ale, and women."
"Hah! You're a fine one to talk! You're the one getting married!"
"And you're the one that earned himself a night in jail. I bet you can't even remember her name."
"Farrah… it means quicksilver in Khandese and the way that she- OW!" he protested as she tugged sharply on his ear.
"Focus, Loch. No funny stuff. This is serious. You hear me?"
Loch quit rubbing at his ear and grinned down at her faint frown. She was worrying at him.
"I'll miss you too, Rin," he said, embracing her.
They started to move out. Fraefoc was wearing a Company cloak and pin over her clothing. She and Rin were of the same height. Fraefoc had braided her hair and pulled it to one side so that it would show when she drew up her cowl. In the darkness, they would see the hair and the pin and her height and assume it was Rin. The idea made Rin uneasy.
"Here," Anbor handed her a faded green cloak. It was his own, from his Ithilien days. She put it on over her own Company cloak, stuffed her hair underneath both and pulled up the green cowl.
"Now just try to walk like a man," Wulgof advised.
"Helpful. That's really useful," Rin observed, edgy. She had been dreading this moment since she knew it was coming. They all moved out, some moving ahead to ensure nothing lay in wait for Hanasian and Fraefoc. Rin was at the back, keeping a low profile. The closer they got to the docks, the more agitated she became. Caritas had the gang plank down and they had already unfurled the mainsails. The "Night Explorer' was tugging at her moorings, eager to be away.
Those taking the ship, with the exception of Hanasian and Fraefoc, hurriedly boarded. Fraefoc chose a place that was well shielded. Hanasian and Rin stood behind a stack of wooden crates.
"Now it will be my turn to find you, beloved," Rin said, trying to put a brave face on.
"The Desert Moon, by the central bazaar. Mecarnil knows it well."
"Fitting, for it will be by moon and stars that I shall find you each night we are apart."
"Travel safely, my love."
"And you, and you." They wrung all they could from this final embrace and then it was time for Hanasian to board. Fraefoc walked up first and he followed, glancing about. With a cry, the final mooring lines were freed and the ship ghosted away from Pelagir's docks.
Rin could see Hanasian standing by the rail, Fraefoc had removed her cowl and stood by his side. Rin stepped out from the crates into an open space and raised one hand, the left one that bore his ring. She saw him raise his own arm in response, the length of braid she had given to him dangling from his hand. She wanted to chase along and it took all her restraint to stay where she was. She could not prevent the tears then. A hand, Mecarnil's, gripped her right shoulder. Hanasian had left them with his bride. No greater trust had his friend shown than in this act.
"Come… we should go," he said. Slowly she lowered her arm. It was a quiet, subdued return to the Passage Tavern. They had scant hours before they had to set out themselves. Khule knocked on the door to the room she had shared with Hanasian. At her weary murmur, he cracked it open and deposited the clothing he'd managed to secure for her. It was strange, to say the least. Wan, somewhat deflated and somewhat forlorn, Rin examined what Khule had dropped onto the table.
"It's too long at the back, and the fron is missing the top half one end," she observed. It seemed to be a sleeveless coat that fastened like a vest in front to the hips only... or rather like a girdle given the brevity of the front. It was the oddest and brightest coloured garment she had ever beheld.
"That's how they wear them," Khule steadily replied. Rin sighed and turned her attention to a long swathe of bright red fabric.
"And what do I do with this?"
"Wrap it around your head and shoulders."
"In this heat?"
"The women of the south must be extraordinarily bad tempered and who could blame them?" Rin paused and clucked her tongue. "Ah, Khule. I must sound ungrateful. I'm sorry."
"Forget about it, Doc. I understand. I have sisters."
"I do appreciate this. Really... Well, I'll try very hard to."
"It'll only be for the first few days anyway," he replied and then took his leave.
Rin arrived downstairs before dawn garbed as a southron woman. She wore the brightly hued sleeveless coat over her white company shirt. The lacings ensured it encased her torso tightly. She had exchanged her customary leather trews for wide breeches tucked into boots. The veil was wrapped around her head and her hands were concealed with gloves. Whilst the coat left no doubt as to her gender, she was barely visible. Certainly, she did not resemble in the least the former queen of Cardolan. Frea stared openly at her.
"Something wrong? Have I got it wrong?" she asked, twisting about. It was impossible to see properly once the veil was on. She wore a chain around her neck. It was gold and it bore Hanasian's ring as she could not wear it with gloves. This she tucked down into the low top of her coat that shielded her rib cage. The other ring, the seal of Cardolan, was safely secured in a pouch. Frea shook his head, unwilling to give voice to what was passing through his head at that point. Some things a man did not say, particularly not to the woman betrothed to his cousin and one that he had to serve next to. One thing was certain, Khule had her hiding in plain sight. Brightly coloured plain sight.
There was no time wasted on small talk. They were mounted and across that bridge, accompanied apparently by a woman of the South, prior to dawn. Gondor's knights had already assembled, two hundred strong. Elfwine's Rohirrm were following, all five hundred of them. The presence of a southron woman was both notable and not surprising. The Black had a reputation for its unusual recruitment practices. Faramir squinted at her speculatively from his own horse.
"I thought Aragorn's cousin was joining us," Gimli said nearby from his perch behind Legolas. Faramir said nothing and Legolas shrugged with typical elven fluid grace.
"Mortals change their minds. It's a long and dusty road to Umbar," he replied.
By dawn's light, the advance contingent of Aragorn's land forces moved south along the Harad Road toward the Poros Crossing. By mutual agreement Mecarnil took command by day of the Black, and Folca by night. It suited both men well. The Black fell into a familiar pattern of scouting patrols that circled about them as they moved. As for the southron woman, presumed by most to be their guide or informant or some such, she rode quietly amid a contingent of Ithilien Rangers.
Around mid afternoon, Faramir's horse drew up along side.
"Congratulations," he said, catching the ring that dangled from her neck. Rin fidgeted with the veil wrapped around her head.
"Thanks," she replied, drained, heart sore, frustrated and surrounded by soldiers as far as her eyes could see. She felt worse than useless. She was unable to ride patrol like this. There was no call on her for her core duty. She was brightly coloured excess baggage as far as she could tell and the lack of something to do just made the pain of separation from Hanasian and Loch bite all the harder.
"It'll only be a couple of days, just to be on the safe side," Faramir said, reading the slump of her shoulders clearly. Rin mumbled something not fit for ears into her veil. The exchange was overheard by one very attentive Elf. Legolas smiled with the discovery but kept it to himself. Clearly, they were concealing her identity for a good reason...and he liked that coat very much for all of its bright colours.
By the light of the waxing moon that night, Rin found that she could, at least, cook. She sat by the campfire, writing in her journal of her first day without Hanasian or Loch in the Company. Folca had, thankfully given her a turn at watch to sit later on. Not completely useless baggage, then. How did he fare, her beloved? Did they have favourable winds and current? What of the new recruits? How was Loch doing? Was Fraefoc safe? How was Bear recovering? That gut wound had been a serious one.
As she stared out during her watch later over an unfamiliar land, her thoughts and heart drifted to the sea and those on it. Her gloved hand closed around the ring around her neck. One day down, fourteen to go. She could not wait to ditch the cover and get back to her usual self. She could not wait to reach Umbar!
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.