20. Chapter 20
It was not that easy finding a suitable wagon to use for their purposes. Bear managed to con a guy out of one of his two wagons in a wager in a card game.
"Better get one from someone who has two than someone who has one. You take the one, and the man suffers total hardship. But the man with two will only suffer some loss," Bear told Belegost as they scrambled in the dark gathering all the company left behind.
Among the journals and the Standard, there was some interesting items some members had. Easterling books that Khule held onto, and some rare-looking bottles of wine that Frea and Folca both had two of each vintage. A very well done charcoal sketch of a very beautiful woman well kept in a tube amongst Wulgof's otherwise unruly collection of detrius. Most interesting was what the Captain had stowed away amongst his journals, records and writings. Two silky flowing gowns with a wrap lined with soft feathers. Surely they were gifts for Rin that he would give to her on their big day. Belegost was careful to keep them hung smooth and straight, even if the conditions weren't the best. Finally they had it all. Even Mulgov's home-brew that he had thought un-findable. They found two jugs, but they would say they only found one. Someday in the years to come, and per chance the company ever came back to pelargir, Mulgov would go seeking the second jug, hoping it had aged well. He will never find it.
They set out north on the west side of the river, silently plodding north toward Minas Tirith. Bear was used to traveling away from the company, for it was a long journey that he took after being wounded at Tharbad.
"Its like this a lot, isn't it?" Belegost asked Bear as they bounced along the road north. Bear sipped out of the jug and and thought about it.
"Yeah. Seems so. You spend your time quietly as you go here and there, and grow bored and itch for some action, then when it comes, usually suddenly and without fanfare, you are shitting yourself in battle hoping it will end and you come out of it in good health. I think we got the easy end of this deal here. May we see them all again in Minas Tirith."
Belegost nodded as he tok the jug from Bear. After healthy hit and a screwed up face as he held back the cough that wanted to explode from him, Belegost thought about it for a bit before nodding.
"Yeah. Suppose we did. Best put the cork in this for now, and keep what senses we have in the night. We do want to see everyone in Minas Tirith."
Bear nodded and looked straight ahead. The road was quiet and without trouble, which they would find to be the case all the way to the White City.
Rosmarin fell into a deep sleep, and Hanasian thought about his lovely bride-to-be. He was thinking of how she would look in either black or white. His find was per chance in Pelargir, and he was a bit worried about whether they would would make the sweep that Belegost and Bear would do. All he could do was hope for the best, in more ways than one. He hoped to be in Minas Tirith sooner than later. For now, it was good that high men of Prince Imrahil's command were there, and that this mess had stabilized for a moment. This night, they could rest well from their long pursuit. To have a fire in the field without worry of detection was a comfort not often enjoyed. It seemed to help the relaxation of the intense company. Still, despite this, Hanasian could sense his Company was not in the least pacified. There were dead being buried and the Company's loyalty remained in question. However, it was also clear that the Company's actions came only in response to the attack upon one of their own. The commander of this legion knows the reality of the field. Of that, Hanasian was sure. What Hanasian was not sure of was how far these noble royalists would go. To him, Rosmarin was a beautiful woman who he had met by chance in a field outside Tharbad. Her history, seemed to be worrying at her heels now that it had caught up with here and it had the potential to undo their hopes and dreams for the future. Still, Hanasian mused, it is what it is. He would have to deal with it all beside her, which he would gladly do. There were those who wanted her to be crowned Queen of Cardolan, and the extreme of those would have her Queen to surplant Aragoron. Cullith had mentioned this and added a third group who believed she should succeed the High King to the throne before his son - a small group, admittedly, but still there were there.
On the other side, there was those in Gondor who thought she should be put to death, at least imprisonment or banishment from the kingdom given the threat, the symbol they perceived her to be. King Elessar had already intervened on that front in Pelargir, but it was possible that not all of his southern court concurred with their liege. Mecarnil and Farbarad had spent three weeks discussing that between themselves, turning it over this way and that in a bid to find a way through. Between the many factions, both Rangers worried that the Company healer would be torn apart. Hanasian brushed her hair from her face as she slept and wondered if they would ever find time to be, without the cares of the world imposing their will on them. Still, Hanasian wished it to be no other way, for no matter what he was called to do, he knew she would go with him.
It was a cool dawn sun that found them wakening. A quiet day, and a day that would find them riding in peace with the troop of Inrahil's men. Yet, the larger conspiracy that Cullith spoke loomed in Hanasian's mind. He was quiet while he pondered its meaning, and all that he had thought of before. But for now, they rode toward and would follow the South Road. Unfortunately, they would not meet up with Belegost and Bear until the evening they came to the ford of the River Euri, where the two men had to spend time fixing a broken wheel.
The returning Black Company members literally swarmed over the wagon bed to retrieve and inspect their belongings. Belegost did his best to discreetly bundle particular items into his Captain's safe keeping, with only a hint of a grin visible. Molguv seemed initially perplexed and then smugly pleased as he reviewed his gear. Again, the men settled in for the night by the side of the Great Southern Road. The talk centred on the events that had propelled them from Pelargir at first. Loch seemed happy to answer the questions that he could, however questions for Rin were met with a wall of silence. In the face of that, talk soon turned to Minas Tirith, and what lay in wait there. It was not all rebels and the grim ghosts of a tortured past. There was family for some, such as Bear, familiar haunts for others and for three of their number it would their first meeting with the White City.
The forces split the next morning. The commander assigned the captives to the keeping of the Black Company along with a report for Imrahil, who had been called to the city in Faramir's absence. The Company watched the force ride for Pelargir in the early morning. The Black Company turned north for Minas Tirith soon after, the prisoners consigned to the wagon. The day passed without incident, trundling along the road around the wagon. The monotony of the journey came as a welcome relief to the Black Company. They fell into a familiar routine. Scouts ranged, riding formations were maintained, pickets and watches were set without chivying. Hanasian was mildly surprised, given the relative disarray of the Company in the preceding weeks, and greatly pleased. Still, after five days on the road Rin had said little about anything, reserving her scant words for the man she loved and whatever it was she jotted into her journal.
Hanasian let the Company settle in and watched Rin bury her head in her journal and begin writing again. He caught Mecarnil and Farbarad's attention and with a signal the three withdrew in the direction of Videgavia. The four rangers left the watch in the hands of Morcal and moved away to a location that they could safely speak at.
"There will be more of these attacks," Hanasian said.
"Likely, given what little Cullith said," Farbarad said heavily. "They will keep coming. I think she knows this."
"Course she does. She's no fool," Videgavia replied.
"I've managed get some information from the prisoners," Mecarnil said.
"What have you learned, Mec?" Farbarad asked.
Mecarnil rolled his shoulders a moment.
"Half truths, twisted into jagged goads, have reached the north concerning Rin's actions in Pelargir prior to Harad. They've been penned up there, feeding their resentments for generations. As far as they're concerned, their rightful queen has been robbed and they mean to set it to rights. What is more, I suspect from his words at Umbar that Aragorn saw this happening."
"How would Aragorn see that coming?" Videgavia wondered.
"He knows Arnor," Hanasian replied and Farbarad grunted his surprised as several pieces fell into place.
"Sauron's balls... he knows Arnor...but how will he persuade her to play that game, eh? She gave up one throne already..."
"That's it, Farbarad...and I know how... he'll appeal to the healer in her. He'll have to! I just can't see any other way, can you?"
Hanasian and Videgavia traded a baffled glance at the obtuse exchange between the two Cardolan rangers.
"Well, glad that's straightened out then," Videgavia dryly observed.
"He as good as said so in Umbar, even in Pelargir after the announcement. Rin ceded her throne, but she remains of royal descent. He will name her place in the succession at court in Minas Tirith and formally recognise her. As I figure it, she stands after Aragorn's heirs and just before the Steward. Eldarion's a healthy young fellow and he has sisters, so she will remain some distance away from the throne - far enough to keep her safe from the court of Gondor and close enough for the hotheads of the North. It's a necessary formality.
"Once named, it will be impossible for any to claim she has been robbed. I think he'll leaven it with Cardolan's crown wealth to some degree. The wise thing to do would be to direct most it back to Cardolan's remaining people. Offer them land with Cardolan's former borders, get them out of the far north and return them to the land they believe is rightfully theirs. He's already rebuilding Tharbad, so it would be a natural progression. A few roads and schools, the chance to return to what was taken through war and pestilence so long ago."
Mecarnil fell quiet and the four stood in silence as they each contemplated this.
"So, in other words, she gave up one throne only to be tossed into the line for the higher throne,"[ don't know about the rest of you, but I don't want to be around when she figures that out." Videgavia said
"I'm not going to tell her," Farbarad exclaimed, "That's for the King to sort out. We're just Rangers, when all is said and done."
"True. If don't miss my guess, I think she may suspect something along these lines already based on what she's said so far. I've been expecting to find her curled up around Molguv's special reserve under the wagon since we met Bear and Belegost on the road. She wants little else than the right to freely choose her path in life and if she could, I suspect she would choose one that led as far away as possible from thrones and courts and nobles. She wants peace, and Eru knows I certainly do too.
"So, whatever it is that waits for her in Minas Tirith's court, it will come after the wedding. Any talk of this Cardolan matter will wait until after the wedding. It will wait. Let her at least have that," Hanasian declared.
There was a general rumble of agreement from the others and they turned back for the camp. Rin glanced up at their arrival, trepidation flickering over her features a moment as Hanasian settled down beside her. Rin chewed her lower lip a moment, released a deep breath and dared a question.
"Something amiss, my love? More trouble?"
Hanasian pressed a gentle kiss to her brow.
"Straightening out priorities. First things first," he replied.
"Logical," she agreed.
"I'm glad you think so. Rin, when we reach Minas Tirith, I would have us marry as soon as we may."
He saw a glimmer of a smile emerge, the first since leaving Pelargir.
"Even though," she gestured in the general direction of the prisoners.
"Especially though," Hanasian replied and saw her smile reach her eyes.
She laced the fingers of one hand through his and lifted it to her lips. Surrounded by the Company, she could do no more than that as they curiously looked on. Still, for all of that discretion, the layer of silence melted away and the Company saw the return of her usual animation. Word spread through the Company quietly. Plans begun in Pelargir were amended and others were set in place. They reached Minas Tirith on the tenth day with these plans flourishing. Cardolan, courts, nobles and rebels be damned. There was a wedding that came before it all.
The gates of the White City were ever attended and the Company arrived with the Standard unfurled as they met the escort that had been provided to them. They rode through the streets at a fair clip, passing through each tier without delay. The old hands knew where it was they were making for. The new hands were distracted by the city they rode through and the people that they passed. Ever higher they rose, wagon in their midst, towards the gleaming white stone building that crowned the city and held the heart of the Reunited Realm of Men. By the time they reached the summit, Loch's familiar lopsided grin was firmly in place. He'd spent years listening to his sister wistfully yearn for the famed libraries and House of Healing. For all of that, it was a place of mystery and excitement that already wound a siren call over him.
They passed through the gates and into the compound, their escort clattering away as they made for the nearby stables. The castellan, a whip thin man of middle years, strode out to meet them upon sight and was there before anyone had dismounted.
"Well met again, Captain Hanasian," the man said smoothly, glancing at the woman who had just swung down out of the saddle with mildly contained curiosity and then onto the captives in the wagon.
"I trust your road has too long or troublesome," he added.
"Not as long as some, longer than others," Hanasian replied flicking his attention to the wagon.
"Those two are for the cells, charges detailed in this report."
Hanasian handed the commander's report across as the castellan. The man nodded once, gestured at two nearby guards and soon had the prisoners on their way.
"As for you, Captain, other arrangements have been made. The ostlers will see to your horses and gear. They are skilled with all manner of military animals"the castellan said with unflappable efficiency. He turned without further ado and glided towards the palace proper.
"Like to seem them ostle an oliphaunt," Molguv quipped quietly to his cousin, as they fell in after the man.
The Black Company of Arnor were led to their usual lodgings. Though not ornate, they were comfortable and well appointed. No soldier's barracks or sailor's hammocks were these. Rugs of various design softened the flagstones, windows admitted light and the summer breeze cooled by Mount Mindolluin kept the rooms crisp. Their gear soon joined them, and men extracted their belongings and headed in pairs to their room. No sooner did the door to the Captain's room close did the other doors open. A quick glance up and down the hall and the other's emerged to exchange a flurry on hand signals. They would have to move quickly and, all things considered, conditions were ideal. The Tower of the Guard was perhaps one of the most secure locations in all of Middle Earth. No safer keeping for the Company healer could be found, for she could not follow where they were going tonight.
Rin and Hanasian leant against the door to their rooms and grinned at each other.
"They're out there now aren't they, flapping their hands about," she said.
"I believe so. It doesn't have to be tonight," he replied, trailing one finger along her jaw and sending her thoughts skittering.
Outside someone cleared his throat and then knocked on the door.
"Ah...Cap...um... Need you out here," Molguv rumbled.
"Not tonight? Try telling them that," Rin whispered through the heat of her blood, "Go on, my love. Go to them. The sooner this happens, the sooner we can have a wedding."
Molguv glanced over his shoulder when the whispering on the other side of the door fell quiet.
"I think they might...ah-"
The door opened and Hanasian emerged, distracted and tugging his uniform into place. At his shoulder in the open door, the Company healer looked eminently pleased with herself.
"Have fun, boys," she purred, reached and ran a retaliatory finger down Hanasian's spine.
"Better hurry up," Hanasian growled at them, half turning back. Molguv grabbed his elbow and pulled him away. She waited until they had vanished around the corner, and closed her door.
"Right, that's them taken care of for the next twelve or so hours...ample time to turn that blue dress into something for a wedding...just need needle and thread..." Rin muttered as she set out in the opposite direction.
The men stationed throughout the tower, naturally, did not have such implements on their person but they knew where she could go. As the men of the Black Company of Arnor entered the first tavern of the evening, Rin ventured into a distinctly feminine study. The woman that looked up had hair of ebony, eyes that rivalled the stars and was as lovely as the night. Arwen Evenstar smiled, not in the least surprised by the woman that now hovered like some eldritch apparition just inside the threshold of her study.
"Rosmarin of Cardolan. At last I am permitted to meet you. At least it was before Elrohir. Come, I know why you are here and I have just the very thing in mind."
Rin found herself frozen to the floor and struck dumb all at once. Arwen was the first elven woman she had ever seen, and Rin had no idea who she was. Arwen drew closer and pulled Rin into her study with gentle persistence. She orbited the mortal woman, kin to her own husband, another scion of Numenor.
"Yes, just the very thing. Hanasian will not know what hit him. The wedding is soon, yes?"
"How did you know that? How do you know Hanasian? Who are you?" the questions tumbled out of Rin's mouth all in a hurry.
Arwen smiled enigmatically.
"You are just as my husband said you would be. Aragorn is keen sighted as ever."
"Oh," Rin squeaked as she realised she stood before the High Queen of the Reunited Realm with plans to borrow needle and thread. Arwen herded Rin towards another door. No safer keeping for Cardolan's former queen indeed.
The guys had something planned, and not seeing Anras around led Hanasian to suspect what they had in mind. A smirk spread across his face when he saw they were heading for the Silver Bark Tavern. Now the Silver Bark is not by the gate like the popular White Tree Inn, and can be hard to find for anyone not familiar with the back nooks of the first level. Tucked up against the mountain, the carved out stone amphitheatre shape made it a prime location for live entertainment. It was hard to say what entertainment was in store this night.
As the cluster of men neared the door, Hanasian thought back to the last couple times he was here. Some good company men were recruited here, but it seems that only Anras remained of them. Hanasian shook those thoughts off as he laughed. He could hear the music inside. It was going to be an interesting night.
As they reached the door, it opened seemingly on its own, but it was because a man was walking out. A tall and muscular sort who was in the same size of if not Bear, then maybe Mulgov. A polite exchange ensued as they passed, and the guys went in.
"Did you see that guy? He looked like Mulgov's father may have slept with Farbarad's mother on the side about 40 years ago."
Wulgof's comment earned him a slug from Farbarad and an elbow in the ribs from Mulgov. The rest laughed. Hanasian paused at the door to take one last look at the guy. Wulgov did have a point. The dark locks and body features were similar to Mulgov, and his grey eyes were similar to Farbarad's or more-so, Mecarnil's. His skin color was roughly that of Khule's, which was a darker, yet fair-skinned. Interesting. But what was more interesting was the singer that just came on stage…
The guys grabbed a table up close, being there weren't too many in the place this night. A few guys had taken a side route to the bar, and returned to the table with fists of tankards. Mulgov had a bucket for himself. They all settled in for some talk and banter. Everyone was there, with the exception of Anras. Any enquiries about were met by their expecting him to show up at any moment. Hanasian enjoyed his ale rather quietly while he watched the woman sing and the three musicians who accompanied her play. A rather deep-tuned lyre, a harp, and a man sitting playing two tall drums with his hands. They seemed to play off of each other well, and the vocals filled in around it all. The Silver Bark lived up to its reputation of being a choice location preferred by musicians. An interesting combo, but Hanasian was thinking of a similar singer from other places… like the Forsaken, and the The Lakeside in Dale, and the Splintered Chamberpot northeast of Bree, and the now defunct Trolls Nose in the hills of Rhuadur. A familiar connection he felt every time he had seen and heard her, but they had never talked. Still, it was beautiful music and the guys of the company, which was everyone save Rin, were enjoying the brew and the banter.
The music moved toward more of an eastern mix, and the air in the tavern seemed to grow thick. It may have to do with most of the guys in a communal eastern waterpipe which they were burning pipeweed in. A couple of the guys were reluctant to smoke anything after their green incident, but they loosened up some when Hanasian took part. With ales and music flowing freely, Hanasian noted that they were pretty much the only people in there. Some had left, and a couple came in. One was the guy they ran into when they arrived. He was seated with someone who also looked familiar, but it would have been impossible for her to be who it reminded Hanasian of. Still, Hanasian found his attention drawn to her, when it wasn't drawn to the singer. It was then that Anras was seen. He came in the door and whispered to the man and the woman, and they started to go to the stage. The singer just finished a song and then said,
"And now, a couple guests of mine whom I met on my travels will perform with me. Hamoor on congas, and Oganyan will dance."
She then broke into a hypnotic tune with her band, and it took Hamoor only moments to join in. Oganyan started to dance in a traditional Khandese style that Hanasian recognized both from his time there, and from a shadow in his mind.. Simra.
"She has danced at the Oasis!'
Mulgov stated in a knowing manner, maybe hoping to have an inside track to meeting her…
"She has danced at the Veiled Breath in Dorwinion!"
said Khule, countering Mulgov's statement.
"Pelargir, the first time we came through…"
Videgavia said, and added,
"…and, I have seen her at the Lakeside in Dale as well."
One-upping them both. Frea and Folca whispered amongst themselves, both sure they had seen her at the Black Stallion Inn back in Edoras. Foldine overheard them and agreed.
Hanasian remembered her too, from the Forsaken before the war. But she went by a different name. Practiced in the arts, she did not seem to age. Suspected to be Elvin, for there seemed to be too much history that spread like a wind behind her. But there had been a first-hand account of the slaying of the one he thought of. None other than Malassuil, an esteemed Ranger which helped train young Hanasian, recorded her death outside the Forsaken Inn some years before the war. This woman could not be her, yet the resemblance was striking.
Loch was mesmorized. He thought he saw much in Pelargir, but Oganyan drew the young man in with her smiles and flashing eyes. He was probably going to mess himself.
It was Morcal who said she had sisters. Known widely in the south after the war, they had fled Khand and the strife that lingered there. Frea, Folca, Videgavia, and Hanasian grumbled a bit at the mention, for they had been there, and they had left a few brothers in the company there as well. Morcal went on about how they danced in Pelargir and Umbar to make ends meet, and two of them eventually married and settled. But one was wild and soon went to Pelargir, and northward. It appears she is here now.
The here and now seemed to become evermore surreal, as the serving girls seemed to have changed…. They were the same girls, just with less clothing. Anras sat there smiling as Hanasian noticed….
There was simply no way for Rin to prepare for the day, or the night, that awaited her. Never could she have dreamed that she would meet an elven queen. Never could she conceive of what that queen would lead her to. Soon, everything concerning the wedding was resolved. She emerged from that encounter with a spinning head. Her mother's wedding dress and circlet, her parents letters to each other, and even the date upon which she had been born. No one had ever told her that before, and it had stolen her breath away to learn of it after so long. But the fates were not yet done with Erían of Cardolan or Rosmarin of the Black Company. No sooner had Arwen reunited her with all the various heirlooms and possessions that now fell to her keeping was Rin scooped up again. This time, she was swept off to a place that she had long wistfully hoped to find. The House of Healing of Minas Tirith were rightfully known and revered by healers. Since Lord Elrond's departure for the Undying Lands, the House had become the centre of medicine and learning in all the lands.
There was not a healer or medic that did not yearn to walk its sweeping halls, and Rin was no different. The day, consequently, passed rapidly. It was a blur of discovery, debate, inquiry. It was exhilarating to find others to share her ideas, argue her perspectives and be challenged in return. She was able to test her logic and technique on the extension of the elven bone setting to other forms of injury. To find colleagues at last, after so many years finding her way on her own, was simply a joy she could not properly disguise. She had not snuck into a class. She had not been found crouching under an open window to listen to some master of healing hold forth in a lecture. She was there, in her own right, justified as healer to the Black Company. It made her head spin.
Thus, somewhat off kilter and her pulse still racing from that last amputation, Rin was not well placed to resist the two women that arrived seeking her. One she knew and welcomed with a ready smile that Fraefoc returned. The other woman, dark eyes and hair, smiled prettily until Fraefoc introduced her as Bear's sister. In short order, Rin discovered that Foldine had packed his sister back to Minas Tirith, prevailing on Bear's sister to assist in keep his sister out of what he considered harm's way: namely, any Haradian or Easterling that might cross Fraefoc's path.
"They conspired, the fiends! I asked Foldine after you, and the man positively squirmed. Well, now I know why...I swear, brothers are all the same. The only reason Loch hasn't interfered in my wedding is because the groom is his commanding officer!" Rin said.
"We went seeking Foldine and Bear," Braewyn said
"And Molguv. Is he here?"
"Yes, and he has a cousin with him - Morcal," Rin said. "Only they're all off out there somewhere, muttering about some masculine tradition that has to do with weddings."
Fraefoc's brows shot up and she exchanged a long gaze with Braewyn. Then both women looked back to consider Rin.
"What?" Rin asked, setting down the towel she had used to dry off her face and hands after washing the blood from them. "Did I miss a bit?"
"They're out there, and you're here, working all on your own," Braewyn said, shaking her head.
"Well two can play at that game," Fraefoc announced. "Do you have a skirt? You'll need a skirt for this."
"For what?" said a man behind them, head poking through the door and curious expression on his face. Rin shrugged her shoulders.
"She's getting married soon, when Rin?" Fraefoc said.
"Two days, I think..."
"Two days, and here she is, working while the rest of the Black Company-"
"Are off celebrating... well, no matter. We were thinking of heading into the city after a long day anyway. I had hoped you'd join us, Rin. Your friends are more than welcome," the healer said, a tired yet genuine smile lighting his serious features.
"She'll need a skirt," Braewyn said and the healer's smile grew. He nodded, and returned with a voluminous black skirt of light cotton that would float it was so delicate.
"Will this do?" he inquired.
"Perfect!" Fraefoc declared, relieving him of the skirt and turning back to Rin with a devilish smile on her face. Rin involuntarily backed up a step.
"I don't see why I can't just go as I am. No holes, clean, mostly. What could I possibly need a skirt for, and in any case-"
"Grab her Braewyn," Fraefoc said and the healer decided he would withdraw.
It took, in all, ten minutes.
"Are you sure this is a good idea?" Rin asked dubiously as she glanced down at herself and what had been revealed.
Fraefoc tilted her head and Braewyn tapped her lips. They both stepped forward and tucked up one side of the full skirt under the leather vest they'd permitted her to retain. It revealed a certain length of the leather boots that encased her lower leg. Both women stepped back and nodded in unison.
"Oh yes, perfect, though it makes me positively green to say so," Braewyn announced.
"Let down your hair... there, a little tangled and wild. Just how all the maids of Minas Tirith strive."
"Really? All of them? Do you know what I would have given for a shirt just a couple of months ago? And now you tell me they don't want shirts, only vests?"
At that juncture the healer returned and his eyes widened a moment. He audibly sighed, collected himself and announced over his shoulder to his fellows that they were ready at last. They moved fast as group through the streets of Minas Tirith, young men and women apprenticed as healers at the House. Some Rin knew specialized. Young though they were, there were some remarkably advanced in potions, child birth and children, and illnesses. There were others who specialized in injuries and what some referred to as surgery. To heal with steel was their motto and they were, Rin had started to learn, a rather formidable group of decisive individuals. There were, lastly, those like her that took an interest in surgery and medicine. Such practitioners were rare.
Their group pressed into an alehouse that was well known to them. The proprietor of the Soothing Alms waved them onto a large table and sent a bountiful pitcher of ale to follow soon after. As they shucked off the rigours of the day, Rin spent her time bringing Forcwynn and Braewyn up to speed with events in Umbar and introducing the many faces around them. Someone banged his tankard on the table to bring quiet to the group and all eyes turned to the young healer that had provided the skirt Rin now wore.
"I would have you charge your tankards for this is not any night. This is not any aftermath after battle is waged with pain, suffering and disease and death. No, there is a healer amongst us, yes a healer indeed, who in two days will wed some very fortunate devil!"
Tankards banged on table tops as the men of their number considered the particularly fetching leather vest the woman in question wore. The spokesman continued, winking at Rin and her friends.
"And so we are here to celebrate not only victory, but LIFE! For what is marriage, if not a celebration of life!"
There was a raucous cheer.
"Hey, Rin, what will you do with the children? You'd can't very well load them in saddle bags," a nearby woman asked.
"Children?" Rin echoed, thrown by the question.
Laughter rolled around the table. Her tankard was topped up, Forcwynn winked at her, and soon enough Rin was draining it. Never one to back away from a challenge was Rosmarin of the Black Company. A cheer went up, a new jug of ale was ordered and the night was truly afoot. Rin didn't catch the name of the next place they went to, not that it mattered. There was music and dancing aplenty. Soon enough she was on her feet and her skirt was flying. The life of a healer was spent spitting in the teeth of death, of mortality, of grief and suffering. No small wonder then, that those of the House responded by living life to its fullest.
Rin made it back to their table, grabbed her tankard and emptied it down her throat in a lusty display of thirst, cheeks flushed and hair flung back. Her wrist jingled with silver bracelets that she stared at, puzzled by their appearance from nowhere, seemingly. She was, Rin concluded, very drunk. At least she hadn't cracked her ribs prior this time.
"Oh! At LAST! It's been ten years! I'd abandoned all hope, and yet, here you are. Fey as the night!"
Rin gave off her inspection of her wrist and peered at the man that now bowed deeply before her.
"Who r'you?' she asked, perplexed at the silver that caught her eyes now. It glinted at her, slung snugly around her hips. Where had that come from?
"Oh, you do not remember me?" the man asked, straightening and unleashing a devasating smile upon her.
Fraefoc and Braewynn both squeaked at him, eyes large in appreciation and Rin started to recall when she had seen this man before.
"Edoras?" she asked, trying to concentrate with only marginal success.
"Ah, she does remember me! You temptress you! One minute you're waving at me, and the next that ill tempered oaf drags you away."
"My brother," Rin said dryly.
"My apologies," he returned, arching a brow. "For ten years now I have wondered who you were, even if you existed. And now, here you are, as luminous as the dawn. What is your name? I simply must have it!"
"She's betrothed," Fraefoc pointed out and he frowned.
"An unusual name, that. But, then, she is an uncommon beauty."
"No, I'm getting married in two days," Rin said, smiling despite his grandiose flattery.
"Then there is not a moment to lose," he replied, grabbed her hand and plucked her forward.
"Your name?" he asked as he pulled her close and swung into the press of other dancers.
"That you shall have to earn," Rin replied, pulling herself back to a modest distance.
"Your wish is my command," he vowed.
Rin rolled her eyes, her expression seen by Fraefoc and prompting considerable hilarity. Soon enough, Rin was breathless with laughter as the aristocrat she had last seen ten years ago swung her about the floor. Back at the table, Braewyn and Fraefoc fell into a deep conversation that drew in a number of other healers. Rin was oblivious when a young woman rose, tucking a pouch into her pocket and hurried for the door. Her aristocrat was charming, if a little too ready to press himself against her leather vest and a little too preoccupied with the flare of her calf in her leather boot. He managed to keep her for three dances and he had her laughing often and freely. More than once she was forced to adjust the position of his hands.
When at last he had returned her to her table, the young woman had returned. She sat, nodded at Fraefoc and all of this was missed as Rin drained the last of her ale. She felt flushed, her skin glistened in the light and her hair was tousled.
"Here, Rin, try this," Fraefoc said, passing Rin a smaller glass which she tossed back and sent fire burning down her throat.
"Dwarven," Fraefoc explained as she pounded Rin's back and sent silver shimmering and jingling. "Brew it in Ithilien, now, from what I am told."
"It's dangerous," Rin gasped, setting the glass down.
"As is this," Fraefoc replied, looking now over Rin's shoulder.
All the women at the table were dreamily transfixed. The aristocrat was positively dismayed. Rin turned about and found herself forced to lean back. The man that stood there was massive, broad shouldered and heavily built. So much so, Rin though he'd give Molguv a run for his money. His skin was dusky but his eyes were that piercing grey, so similar to Hanasian's that Rin felt a familiar flush dance through her. He smiled slowly. He extended his hand down to her. She stared at it a moment, swallowed hard, and set her own within his massive grip. Gently, so painstakingly, he knelt then and pressed his lips to her knuckles.
"Oh, that's just not fair!" Rin protested as he gazed up at her.
"Hear, hear! Not fair at all!" the aristocrat by Braewyn added, noting the way Rin's breathing had picked up.
The man stood, a fluid languorous movement, and drew her up to her feet. With a backward glance to her two friends, Rin was led back to the dance floor, other men scattering out of the way. Once in position, the man ran the back of his hand down the curve of her cheek, pulled her into position and began to dance in a way that meant that Rin's feet did not have to touch the ground. Indeed, she dangled from his grasp and considering she was a tall woman in her own right, it was no mean feat.
Fraefoc was well pleased with the outcome, though by no means was she finished. She'd find Molguv tonight no matter what Foldine had to say on the matter. When Rin was returned again, her plan was already set. Farewells were made and the three women were soon on their way. By this point, Rin's usual restraint had utterly dissolved. She trailed along behind the other two, happily dancing along the street, swinging her skirt as she sang beneath the moon. They passed a small trio of men and soon, Rin and a complete stranger were skipping about and singing with each other. Down they went, through the tiers and thankfully, the three men took their leave.
"They were nicsh," Rin announced, flicking her skirt and twirling about.
"Really, I think we should probably take her back," Braewyn said.
"Not yet. We're almost there," Fraefoc said, collected Rin's arm and towed the humming healer the final distance. They entered an tavern that was precisely the sort of place Molguv might frequent. A quick glance around the common room revealed that the Haradian was no where in sight.
"I'll go check out the back," Fraefoc declared and left Braewyn with a very merry healer who had begun enthusiastically waving at the patrons that were there and watching greedily.
By the time Forcwynn returned, empty handed, Braewyn was propped against the bar and decidedly peeved.
Rin, however, was in fine form. She stood on a table was was singing some Dunlending song, complete with the dance steps to go with it, to a crowd of appreciative onlookers.
"Now see what's happened," Braewyn muttered as Fraefoc joined her.
"How did she get up there?"
Rin brandished a decanter of a intense blue liquor at that point and the answer became apparent.
"That's NOT how fine Ithilien Starfire is to be treated," a gruff voice interjected.
The singing came to an end and people looked down.
"Oh, look! A hairy hobbit!" Rin said, giggling as she pointed to the glowering dwarf. At his shoulder stood an elf trying very hard not to burst into laughter.
Legolas stepped forward and Rin obligingly leapt into his arms, still clutching the bottle, and permitted herself to be lowered. Legolas set her feet first on the floor and Gimli stepped forward to relieve her of the bottle.
"Hey!" Rin protested, frowning.
Gimli stumped off to the table, and Rin pursued, flicking her skirt out of her way in a rather hypnotic fashion as far as the other men were concerned.
"You are accompanying her," Legolas inquired of Rin's companions, both of whom nodded momentarily overcome with his elvish presence.
"She's getting married in two days," Braewyn said.
"That's no excuse," Gimli muttered, gently stroking the neck of the bottle and swatting Rin's hands out of the way.
"And her Company?" Legolas inquired as they walked to the table.
"I had hoped to find them here," Fraefoc said, barely able to suppress her disappointment. Braewyn stifled a yawn which Legolas caught.
"If you wish, ladies, we can return her safely to her quarters," Legolas offered, just as Rin tackled Gimli out of his chair in her attempt to wrest the bottle from him.
The trio standing watched a dwarf wrestle with a woman on the floor a moment. Braewyn turned and headed for the door, followed more slowly by Fraefoc. Legolas turned and obtained something more suitable for the pair on the floor. He returned and upended a pitcher of water over them. Rin gasped and sprang upright, water running over her and under her vest. Gimli scrambled to his feet, muttering about the indecently frequent bathing habits of elves. Men watched, captivated by the drenched woman.
"Waz that really necsharacy?" Rin inquired, pushing damp pale hair back from her face and weaving slightly on her feet.
"Last drink and back we go," Legolas announced, glaring at one man who was fixated on the damp thin cotton of her skirt.
"Spoil shport," Rin declared, sitting heaving back down again and crossing her arms under her chest in protest. Legolas heaved a sigh, remembered himself and turned his attention to the dwarf, who was also having difficulty looking away.
"Like she said," Gimli snapped, sat next to Rin and handed her the bottle.
It would be a long night, Legolas concluded. Still, it could be worse. Their guest was a far easier place to rest ones eyes than the dwarf, particularly when she lounged back against the wall and stretched her long legs out over the nearest chair, leather outlining the gentle flare of her calves.
"But why him, lassie?" Gimli persisted, taking a swig of the bottle and passing it to Rin.
"It's just... everything about him! His heart...his mind...his eyes...those shoulders...his voice..." Rin's voice trailed off, replaced by a particularly revealing smile as she considered the man she would soon wed.
More ale, laughter, dancing. Ample attention was being poured out toward Hanasian, though he didn't seem to take advantage of it. The other members of the Company did and Loch was managing to get his enjoyment of the ladies in amongst his drinks. He was beginning to not be such a light-weight with these matters. As if a spell was cast on him by the dancer Oganyan, he turned his attention to a young blonde wench that seemed to fancy him as the evening went on. Eventually they disappeared somewhere together. Wulgof cracked a joke about the kid probably wanting to get married after what he thought he was about to go through. Mulgov roared his laughter, and then after a moment, asked Foldine where his sister was. He didn't answer. But the smile told Mulgov all he needed to know. She was in the city.
Hanasian seemed to be resistant to the brews he had been drinking. A veteran at pacing himself, he seemed immune to not only that but all the seemingly incidental contact, like the 'accidental' breast that bumped his head when the serving wench was reaching to collect empty flagons from the table. He had never been known to quit working, and only with Rosmarin coming to the Company did he begin to take time for himself other than to write. Even now, he was observing all he could of his surroundings, and those surroundings consisted of Oganyan dancing about him, ending up in his lap. A veteran of the Khand uprisings, he knew how such things go and played along.
"You dance quite well for one who entertains here in the White City. I thank thee for your performance."
She had the skill of the land yet was a renegade of their tradition.
Oganyan smiled and asked, "May I sit down with you for a time?"
Hanasian nodded and offered Loch's recently abandoned chair. Oganyan took some water from one of the serving wenches.
"You know of the land and the custom. You served there?"
Hanasian sipped his ale and said, "I did time there some years back. I don't wish to recall those days now. Tell me, how is it you have come here?"
Oganyan smiled evilly and said, "I go to lands where what I do is considered exotic. It is something I wanted to do since I was a girl yet arrived at womanhood. I was able to train some wandering elf woman in the arts. She told me of the joys and sorrows of a nomadic life. I suppose it intrigued me. I travelled here and there, not staying too long, and the last time I came to the White City, I have yet to move on."
Hanasian nodded and talked some more with Oganyan despite how she reminded him of Simra. He was felt he was wasting valuable time he could be spending with the love of his life, and missed Rosmarin deeply. Such was the way of these things, though he would not have believed it would have happened to him. The same distance could be seen in the eyes of other Dunedain Rangers who had married before him, and it always seems to be the men throwing the party for the groom that enjoy it the most. Yet, he found himself actually enjoying their talk.
"So this nomadic elf you speak of… " Hanasian asked, "She had an enchanting air about her. Dark, black hair? Dark eyes with a silvery glint? Skin a golden tan color?"
Oganyan nodded, then asked, "Yes, you know her? If so, tell me where she may be found? For I wish to see and talk to her again."
"Yeah, lady…" Hanasian said, "I have met her once, a long time ago in my young days as a Ranger. My father knew her, as did my father and his father and grandfather. But I can only tell you where to find where her body was laid to rest."
Hanasian suspected some wizardry, for Oganyan looked way too much alike. Oganyan seemed stunned, asking "You mean she has passed from this world?"
"Yes, and only a place remains where her body sleeps." Hanasian answered.
He then plied her with questions of the time they met, and all that went on, and when it came time for Oganyan to again perform, Hanasian noted all that was said, before being interrupted.
"Come now Cap… surely you and Lady Oganyan have arranged a bit of a back-stage rendezvous, no?"
"No, I leave that up to you Wulgof. I've enjoyed the attention, from Oganyan and the serving wenches, but I have no interest in any of it. You and the men enjoy yourselves as you see fit. I will keep watch out here."
Wulgof gaped and no words came out… he wasn't going to pass up an opportunity like this. Soon Wulgof, and the rest of the company save Mecarnil and Farbarad, had disappeared into the back rooms of The Silver Bark. The three were at the table, listening to the singer they all had heard but nobody knew her name, and watched Oganyan dance hypnotically in the background.
Mercarnil asked, "So what will you two do after you get married?"
Hanasian raised an eyebrow and grinned, "What we been doing, only moreso."
Farbarad chuckled, and Mecarnil shook his head and said, "I know that, but I speak of the future. You two will have to settle somewhere, for surely children will come and this life in this company is not conducive to married life."
"Yes, you are right. I haven't been my usual self since Tharbad, or even since Simra was lost. To speak plainly, I have been pondering resigning. Each time I got close to considering it, I couldn't think of what I would do if I did. But now, with Rin, I have something to think about and consider should I do so.
"You are capable of the captaincy Merc, but I don't think Aragorn would appoint you. You are my second, but Vid has tenure and has proven himself. He will say he don't want it, but if offered, he would not turn it down."
Farbarad said, "Well, our Captain is speaking his mind a bit here. Maybe the beer and smoke has done its work?"
"Maybe," said Mecarnil.
"Maybe," Hanasian echoed.
Oganyan concluded with a up-tempo drum solo. She stepped down and whirled about the room. They were the only three in there other than the barkeep. She moved around them, sliding a bright red sheer scarf around Hanasian, and brushing Farbarad's cheek as she faded into the dark hall. Farbarad rose to follow but hesitated. He sat back down.
The three nursed their last ales, and one by one the guys emerged, slow moving but smiling. They only waited for one more before leaving, to find another place in town this late. After waiting a while, Hanasian finally decided that Loch may need some intervention. He and Mulgov went back to find him.
He was quite drunk and the young serving wench was quite happy with him being in her room. Hanasian went over and shook him some and said, "Come on kid, we're leaving. Got other places to stop in at."
"I'm not going! I'm staying! Staying with ….. uh, Brenae! We're getting married!" Loch bellowed.
Mulgov stepped in and said, "You can't kid…"
"Why not? Cap is marrying my sister… I marrying Brenae!"
"You can't, because I married her…. last week."
Loch blinked a couple times in puzzlment as Mulgov continued,"Except her name was Dawnae."
"Whaa…?"Loch said as he tried to stand and take a swing at Mulgov.
Loch lost his balance and consciounsness. The big man just lifted him up over his shoulder.
"Let's go," Hanasian said as they turned to leave the girl's room.
Loch's stomach did not survive intact and Molguv's back was an unfortunate casualty.
"I'll be back for you Brenae. I loves you…" Loch slurred.
The Company settled up their account at The Silver Bark, with Anras taking care of most of it, and they set out down the street, zig-zagging a bit though they were sure they were walking a straight line. Mulgov wanted to pass Loch off on someone else, but nobody wanted to get near the sour-smelling two.
It was the brothers who said, "We know just the place to go now…"
And they went in search of the legendary wench that tales were told of, but to no avail. By the time the sun started to rise and the stars were disappearing one by one, this party was over as they all sat along the wall by the gates of the city…
Hamoor was surprised to happen to run headlong into the men known as the Black Company. By chance he thought. It was very possible it was chance. But he would have to give this more thought later. Maybe a word with them would be forthcoming, but not this day. Right now, he had things to do and people to see.
The discreet door was more reinforcement than wood. It squealed as it was opened, from inside the walls of Minas Tirith. A blearily blinking dwarf emerged, mostly empty bottle clutched protectively to his chest. Gimli was followed by a profusely apologizing elf. The Mirkland prince was exhibiting the pinacle of his courtly charm on the guards that crowded the doorway. Gimli belched, which seemed to rouse the woman slung unceremoniously over the elf's shoulder. She immediately picked up where she had left off. The sound of a ribald sea shanty that she had acquired from a sailor in Pelargir soon floated over the roof tops of buildings that leant for shelter against Minas Tirith's walls.
"Again, I apologise. She has had little by way of instruction on civilised conduct, I am given to understand, despite her noble descent. Yes, as you say, a terrible tragedy to be twice orphaned. You are being most considerate and understanding considering the circumstances. I can assure you that the last of the purloined goods have been restored to their owners."
Something metallic rang as it dropped from the woman's leather vest to the cobble stones behind the elf as he back out the door.
"Damn!" the woman said, chagrined enough to disrupt her rendition of the shanty and commence an drunken attempt to retrieve the object despite her current position slung over an elf's shoulder. She started to kick her feet in an effort to dislodge herself, silver at her wrists jingling with each attempt.
Legolas had the grace to blush as the guard clapped eyes on the dropped object and recognised it as one of his own possessions.
"Rather, then, I can assure you that any missing items in the king's cousin's possession shall be immediately returned to their rightful owners," Legolas amended.
The guard stooped and collected up the small cup, grunted, and the door slammed decisively closed.
"Ill tempered," observed Gimli as the woman resumed her shanty about a sailor, a badly leaking boat and what he managed to stop the hole with.
All of this was not missed by those of the Black Company still awake. As Legolas turned about, he clapped eyes on the men lounging against the city walls. Some were dozing, others were watching with faintly amused expressions. Three rangers, one of whom Legolas and Gimli recognised from the closing phases of the War of the Ring, got to their feet.
"I can admit that I am well pleased to see you," Legolas said with some emphasis as Rin and Gimli broke into the tenth round of the chorus.
Legolas swung Rin down as gently as he could. She wove a little, straightened and clapped eyes on Hanasian. Her smile was as incandescent as the dawn that was breaking around them. Mecarnil shook his head in reproof whilst Farbarad grinned at his intoxicated former charge. She saluted the two rangers sloppily before she tumbled into Hanasian's arms.
"Enjoying yourselves?" Hanasian asked, mastering his smile.
"Yesh!"Gimli said fervently.
"A singular talent for mayhem, Hansasian," Legolas warned.
"Oh, indeed," Hanasian replied, perfectly contented with the elf's assessment.
Mortals were mysterious, Legolas mused to himself. He decided against advice, for the feelings of the two were abundantly clear in how they gazed at each other in the emerging dawn. Then Rin nearly overbalanced, saved by Hanasian's arms.
"HEY! RIN! I'M GETTING MARRISHED TOO!" Loch announced exuberantly and a rather loud discussion began between the siblings that soon roused those that still dozed.
Men staggered to their feet, enamoured with the wild haired, flush cheeked healer draped over their captain's arm. Any reservation, any cool distance had utterly melted and the transformation was remarkable.
"Where did those bracelets and that belt come from?" Mecarnil inquired.
"Shtole them," Rin freely admitted and then stabbed an off centre finger at Foldine and Bear.
"You two colluded. Messhing with livesh," she remonstrated.
"Is Fraefoc here, Rin?" Molguv inquired and Rin smiled before Hanasian spun her about and pressed her to him.
"Mmohfff," Rin said at first, voice muffled by Hanasian's chest before settling in to enjoy herself.
"Well, I had best let you be about your way," Legolas said, one brow arching as he observed all of this." A word or two of caution, if I may."
"Aye?" Mecarnil asked as he draped his cloak over her bare shoulders and haphazardly buttoned leather vest.
"Aside from her wrists and hips, any valuables found in her possession-"
"Are not her own?" Khule finished, a wry smile on his face.
"Indeed...I see this comes as no surprise?"
"No," Hanasian replied, thinking back to that first meeting outside of Tharbad.
Those wide, deep blue eyes peering so deeply, so startled into his own as she dangled from his grip. Wrapped in rags, soaked to the bone, fevered and clearly in need of warmth and decent food. Wild, fey, untamed...as if she had fallen from the very tree she had suddenly emerged from. Mixed with her fear of the soldiers, a determined glint of steel evident in her theft and again, later, in her return to battle to heal. And now, she was humming that provocative shanty in his ear, warm and steady beside him. In a matter of days, she would be his wife. His wife. The mother to his children. Had he ever of envisaged this? Indeed, with the very woman he had been sent to seek out when she was but a child?
Legolas quietened, taking in the expression on the man's face. For all of the revelations of the night, this was the most profound. There was a deep contentment in this man's eyes, a sense of fulfillment that had been absent before. And, for all of her unschooled, unfettered ways, she loved him fully. She was wild, that was all, and how could she be any different considering her circumstances? The rawness of it all, the heights of joy rubbing shoulders with the bleak realities of life, was so all inextricably mortal and human. Legolas was prepared to admit to himself it was this capacity to live so fully, so completely, that mortals possessed that enchanted him so.
"Hanasian, I wish you joy," Legolas said after a moment.
"Damn shtraight! Lucky man to have a woman of her word. She said she could steal the shirts from their backs. When we shaid that she was jesting, she took their breechesh too," Gimli added, admiration clear in his voice.
Legolas inclined his head in salutation and steered his inebriated companion away. Hanasian did not need to glance down at his bride to know she was asleep. He could feel her heavy, regular breathing rise and fall against him. Hanasian collected her up, let her nuzzle into his arms and started for the way back to the palace. His Company fell in behind him. Molguv, Foldine and Bear were quietly arguing. Loch was composing sonnets to his future wife. Farbarad had a particularly sentimental expression on his face.
"Shirts and breeches! That's an achievement," the ranger quietly observed.
"You were ever too permissive with her," Mecarnil returned, voice similarly subdued, breathing new life into an argument that had lain dormant for over thirty years.
"Someone needed to consider her something more than a disappointment, a failure. You sound just like her father, Mec."??"All the same, she is of royal descent!"
"I know! Think I don't? That aside, I've never seen her so happy and as for the Cap, he's obviously delighted and why wouldn't he be? Let her live, Mec. Just let her be. No harm done, is there?"
"What if someone saw whatever it is she got up to tonight-last night?"
"Listen Mec - you're just plain wrong about this. She's got every right, perhaps more considering what she has survived, to celebrate the joy of her life."
Behind the two rangers, something dawned upon Loch. "What happened to my shister's shirt?" he inquired.
"What it was, hope it happens again," Wulgof quipped quietly.
Rin did not stir again until Hanasian swung her down. She found herself seated on the edge of the bed in their room. He stood close by, arms crossed as he stared down at her.
"Well, anything to say for yourself, recruit?" he asked.
"It was all the dwarf'sh idea," Rin replied hopefully.
"That's it? Nothing more?" Hanasian replied and watched her shake her head. "Then I am left with no choice."
She swallowed hard and her eyes widened ever so slightly.
"Yes, let the punishment begin," Hanasian replied, and leaned down to where she was perched on the side of the bed.
Hamoor rubbed at his chin, spurring his thoughts on as he took in the scene he observed through the window. There was much to consider...and the surprise was that he had already encountered Aragorn's cousin. She was not in the least what he had expected in a woman around whom a rebellion spiralled. There had been no artifice, none of the usual games he expected of nobility. Just a woman, on the cusp of marriage, filled with life and laughter, Yes, much to consider.
Hanasian considered his options, several springing to mindand most not likely at all to seem punishment. Instead he lifted her, sat herin a chair, and turned a bucket of water over her head. She sputtered at itschill. Let the punishment begin, he mused.
"You will need to sleep some I think. Itake it you are ready to marry me, or has the thought of that drive you to tryand out-drink a dwarf, particularly THAT dwarf?"
Rin was clearly unsteady, disorientated andHanasian's swift reaction with the now empty bucket he held prevented a greatermishap. Whatever she had ingested, it was not agreeing with her.She flopped back against the chair. Hanasian eased her up in sitting position, grabbed a cup of water and convinced her to drink.
"You sleep a while, my dear. You will need rest to be ready to marry me tomorrow."
Rin blinked a few times finding it difficult tofollow his words. He returned her carefully to the bed where she instinctivelycuddled into a pillow. When she was sound asleep, a matter of moments only, Hanasiantook Rin's medical bag and supplies to ensure she had no easy path to relievethe consequences of her actions. Her punishment was to suffer through this. Hisown head ached from too much ale and insufficient sleep, yet it was manageableand he had not been drinking whatever it was his bride had been.
So commenced the final day before their wedding, and theritual where the bride and groom do not set eyes on the other until theceremony itself. With a final glance around the room, and the sleeping woman onthe bed, Hanasian set out again with his gear and the Black Company. They relocatedto the large parlour room of the White Tree Inn, this time no ales or liquor tobe sighted. All, save Mecarnil and Farbarad, found a place to sleep whereverthey could in the manner of any accustomed to the realities of militarydeployment. They slept propped up against each other's backs or the walls. Oncethe two handmaidens of the Queen had departed and any last details were set inplace, even those two rangers let themselves succumb to the lure of sleep.
On this day, by the Sea of Rhun...
Easterling soldiers wearing the armour and coloursof Gondor were not a common sight here anymore. The clans who swore fealty toKing Elessar were proud and their oaths endured strong. The peace and freedomgranted by the King has been good to them in return. Many sons and daughters hadbeen born into their clans, the fear of the young being taken off to war now amemory and no longer a reality. Those that so chose to take up service didfreely and were eager to serve in Gondor's Legion of Rhun. The troubles of thewarring clans had been subdued when the Company had been there last, and it did not return. A scattered few drifted east and faded from memory for no troublecame from them.
All this changed for the Captain of the Guard when the leaders of the clanscame to the gate of the Prefect of Gondor's residence.
"Prefect, the leaders of the seven clanswish to meet with you," the Captain reported
"What does their request pertain to?" the Prefect sighed as he stood and looked out the window. This, he thought, was a hard land to be the King's representative in.
"It pertains to the far eastern province and the two clans that live there. It seems they are having troubles accepting the rule of Gondor still."
" I thought that was settled years ago," the Prefect said, putting his hand to his forehead.
The Captain shrugged, "It seems not... at least according to these clans."
The Prefect shook his head, more for his ownbenefit than for anyone else.
"Very well then, the breakfast is about to be served, invite them to join us if they wish.
" Very good sir."
The offer was well received.
The discussion over breakfast went smoothly andthe clan leaders were clear in their concern over a leader in the east of theland. The man was not of the clans of that table, but rather hailed from theSagath. The clan leaders had surprisingly detailed information which they werepleased to share. They told the Prefect of a mid-level commander in the oldarmy who had emigrated east after the downfall and peace. A proud leader whocared much for his men, and would at times not carry out orders when they weredetrimental to his men's survival in the war, he managed not to be killed bySauron's agents, and returned home marching at the head of his remaining men.
After they had left, the Captain was asked by the Prefect what he thought, and to speak freely.
"If you remember sir, during the troubleswith Khurg, there was a commander that was instrumental to our winning thebattles that led to his capture. He disappeared soon after. Rumor has it hewent west, joined the King's mercenaries, the Black. But he had a brother andfellow commander of another unit under Khurg. His brother did not choose a sideand instead disbanded his unit and faded away. Nothing more was heard from him.My guess is that the Sagath leader could be either brother."
"Yes, quite possible. What was their names? Do you know?"
"Sagath warrior class. I believe their names were Khule and Khor."
The Prefect took his quill to clean parchment,hurried the ink dry by waving it in the warm air and sealed it shut with his mark.
"Take this to the local constable and havehim try to locate them. See if they have family around here, and see if you canfind any of the men who served under either of them."
"Very good sir," the captain took the scroll and turned and left, knowing this could be either very easy or impossible as there was never anything moderateabout this land or its people in his experience.