27. Chapter 27
As the chaos ensued after that first day, inside a small prison cell sat a smiling Khurg. Aged and showing signs of senility, he had expected to live out his days locked up. Though it had been many years, the elderly general warlord of the Sagath clan retained his sympathizers. It was thought that most had been killed or imprisoned when Khurg was defeated many years ago. And little was ever said among the ranks of soldiers or the people since. But now it was becoming apparent that a cadre of young officers had simply disbanded and went underground after that fateful battle. Working quietly and in deep secret, they crafted the plan that would free their old leader. Though all things didn't quite go as planned, and the events were triggered a little earlier than they wanted them to be, it had so far fallen in their favour.
A week had passed when the rebels launched a concentrated assault on the part of the city where the loyal Gondor Legion Guard had gathered and there was heavy fighting. The loyalists gave way a couple blocks at first but managed to take back one. With their supplies dwindling, their position was becoming precarious. Yet overnight the rebels just faded into the darkness. The next morning was quiet…. too quiet! The besieged soldiers sent out scouts to locate their foes. All returned with reports that the city was abandoned. It didn't make sense to spend such an effort to dislodge the loyalists then simply abandon the front. Something must have happened elsewhere. It was about the noon hour when a din rose to the north. Battle had started, but who was fighting whom? Forming up into ranks, the loyalist men who had taken refuge there after fleeing from the north set out toward the smoke. The Prefect's guard stayed and kept vigilant watch. It would fall to them to hold the area until relieved.
The prison was just north of the Prefect's compound and the rebels had in their assault the previous day taken and freed the prisoners. One of them was Khurg. Despite his frail age and senility, he had enough of his wit to know that there would be reprisals for all that had happened. He and some of his old command freed along with him, attempted to wrest for control over the unruly rebels. But the younger commanders who had set things in motion refused to give up their command. Throughout most of the morning, the rebels spent the time trying to sort out their hierarchy. Though Khurg was recognized as their overall leader, the chain of command was not clear below him. It was a style that had suited Khurg well in the old days, but right now when their fortunes were on the verge of changing, decisive leadership was needed to get their affairs in order.
To the east, Khule, along with Berlas, Wulgof, and Loch were preoccupied with their new role as the Black Company elite in the eyes of the many Easterling recruits. They spent a week to organize them, indoctrinate them in some basic Company rules and conduct, identify the natural leaders, and set the men to the task of guarding their land. Khule knew he would have to get them moving, and his senses told him it would be soon. He had daily scouting reports from a light reconnaissance squad he organized under Runner. They ranged far enough west to garner word of the rebellion. Feeling he was as ready as he was allowed to get in a week, Khule issued the order to move out in the early morning hours. Khule, Loch, Wulgof, Berlas and most of the original twelve Easterlings marched at the head, with four groups of forty men following in their wake. They appeared sharp and professional, as far as these things go, and were in high spirits that they were marching to battle under the Company's banner. Never mind it was going to be against their brothers, kinsmen.
Runner's squad took the point and guided Khule's Eastering Company to the north, then west. It was almost the noon hour when they came to an opening in the wood. Down a grassy slope they could see an encampment of rebel soldiers. Khule immediately recognized the banner of Khurg flying in their midst, a ghost from his past flickering over rebel heads. He waved at Dhak and had him set up a picket of men along the wood line, to watch for guards. It was strange that the edge of the wood held no rebel watchers to guard such an encampment from an obvious path of concealed approach and ambush. Could the rebel be so poorly organised? Nobody watched the outskirts and it seemed only a few paid any attention as lookouts immediately around the encampment. He had to strike now.
Addressing the companies, Khule said, "We have reached the hour of battle. All you who stand before the standard of this Company, and have taken oath to serve its commission, your hour has come. Before us are the rebels who have plunged this land into turmoil. It will fall to you to claim it from them and ease the suffering of your people. For beyond the hills to the south and west marches our Company, and it will be well for us to have matters in hand for their arrival."
The cult-like adherence seemed surreal to Khule, and Berlas and Wulgof flanked him as he spoke. A cheer was about to begin but Khule anticipated it and held his arm up and flashed the hand-sign for silence. With his other hand he made the motion that the Easterling armies had used for centuries to signal silence. They would attack in stealth and they did not want to give their presence away to soon.
He went on, "Form into the two-two formation and make ready to move. When we are half way down the hill, rear regiments spread to the flanks so that we charge as a wedge. Maintain unit cohesion and watch each other's backs. May this day go well. Now let's go."
The four Easterling regiments formed as a large square and set forth toward the camp. Hopefully the surprise gained would carry them over. Though Khule was fairly sure most of these men would hold to their oaths as Company men when the blood started to flow, there may be some whose allegiance wavered. Oaths were one thing. The spilling of your kinsmen's blood was quite another.
Fortunately for Khule, they held together rather well. After they were sighted, the soldiers in camp made ready to welcome the Company as brothers. This was an unexpected surprise, and while it afforded them the unparalleled opportunity to approach, Khule's face held the tension of the civil duplicity it was. One of the Company commanders gave the order to draw swords and chaos ensued in the camp. Alert of an attack went out, but confusion remained. By the time the Company men made contact with the first men of arms in the camp, only a few rebels survived the onslaught. Crude ranks of rebels formed, engaged, and shattered when several of their men were slain. Khule's Company men took losses as well. This served to enrage the warrior blood of the others and the battle took on a ruthless quality that Rhun warfare was known for.
Surprise had been achieved and the initial success was great, but there was a sound, and another contingent of rebels emerged from the wood to the southwest. The Company fell back in good order to form up a defensive line and held this line with the first engagement of this new force. A second assault was held as well and the afternoon saw the two sides fall into stalemate. Khule thought they had a good line to hold but was unsure about their right flank. Some of Runner's squad set out northwest and some went southwest. It didn't take long for word to get back to him that their position was tenous at best. A small group of soldiers were moving north toward their left, and the rebels had a strong grip on the track to the north on their right. With their backs to the east where uncertainty loomed, it could all go badly for Khule as easily as it had gone so well. With the approach of evening, there was little choice this night but to dig in and hold the line and hope for the best. As for what that might be, Khule could think only of the arrival of relief from the west. Khule set the watch and told the other men to rest.
He hunkered down with Wulgof and Berlas, both men looking as weary as he felt, and said, "So we don't know who is who half the time with this lot, and we aren't sure how many factions there are."
Berlas nodded and Wulgof sourly grunted and the three men talked in the sparse way of men who had served in tight spots with each other before. To an observer, hardly anything discernable was said. Runner was not far off , talking to Loch. They were close in age and the two young men seemed to naturally gravitate to each other.
"You have done well in a short time Runner," Loch said, "You have gone from the lowest of the low as a boy soldier in the eyes of the others to an important position in the Company. Your scouts are good eyes and Khule sees you as their leader. That is an achievement, you know?"
Runner nodded as he looked at the ground, not understanding all that was said, but enough. He was proud of this but wasn't sure how he accomplished it or whether he could continue to in the future. Runner, however, was troubled.
He said to Loch in rough Westron, "One man did not return. He was he was younger than me. I sent him on the hardest route. Loss, hard."
Loch frowned at that, aware that his new companion was confronting the realities of battle this night. In this case, Loch felt older than his years. In this, he was the veteran.
He said to Runner, "He may still be alive. Maybe he got delayed or couldn't get back for this reason or that. What was his name? He will be remembered in the company lore."
Loch hoped his words would help, but in his mind he kept the thought the man may have gone over to the other side. No, he remonstrated with himself, Runner seemed to trust the man. He just might still be alive, maybe.
"You need to tell Khule of this. He needs to know. "
Runner nodded and said, "Dorghat. He has no family. He called us his family."
They both then walked over and squatted down on their heels near where Khule was. Some of the commanders came over and sat as well, wanting to be a part of any planning.
Khule sketched a crude map of lines in the dirt and said, "Under the circumstances, we will have to make for the city. We won't be able to repeat our success of today on these men again, and with our casualties a tenth of our total strength, it is likely we'll face a stronger, more determined rebel army in the morning. Word is the Prefect's guard still hold the city centre and are likely besieged. We will try and breakthrough to them, and hold until our men get here. However, should things develop before then, we will adjust as necessary."
Night fell with a relative calm between the two armies. But it didn't last long. A commotion on the south side of the rebel camp erupted into a full-on fight. Whoever it was that arrived wasted no time raiding the rebel camp, setting fire to some of their provisions. Seeing this. Khule ordered one of the regiments to move forth to the left to assist and to find out who it was. His hopes were it was the Black Company, but no such luck. Still, The regiment under the command of Khade quickly set out toward the south end of the rebel line where the fires could be seen and swords could be heard. Khule got word out through Dhak for the others to form up but hold, ready to move forth in attack, but wait ready for now. The old hurry and wait routine that seemed to feature in military service. There would be no rest this night.
This move by Khade's regiment caused great confusion in the rebel camp. Believing a large force was moving on them from the east under cover of darkness, Khurg gave the order for a general withdrawal to the west into the cover of the heavy woods. Sensing this, and seeing that the battle to the south of their line was going in their favour, Khule ordered the remaining three regiments to advance. With only a few engagements, they shadowed the withdrawal of the rebels and prevented them from moving much of their materiel. Soon they stood in the enemy camp surrounded by much of their provisions. It was into the early morning hours before the last skirmish and clash of sword was heard.
Khule sooned learned that the initial raid was performed by loyalist men from the city who wore the Easterling Gondor Legion badge. The commander had heard of Khule and the Company but did not go to join and had instead chosen a different line of defence against the rebels. He was in high spirits when he discovered that their forces had met and fought side by side in the night's battle against Khurg's murderous lot
"I am Commander Kolas. It was an honor to fight with you here this night!",Kolas said, "We were just going to hit them once and fall back, but when we saw your army moving toward us in the dark I decided to make a stand since our retreat was blocked. It was sheer joy to us when we saw your men cut into the rebel flank, so we renewed our attack!"
"So it seems to go in this madness. We were going to settle in for a night of attrition before your attack. We had our run most of the afternoon," Khule replied.
The two talked for some time before parting. The news that the city was nearly overrun but abandoned by the rebels the day before, and that there remained a contingent of men guarding the Prefect's house was conveyed to Khule. He was also informed that Khurg had been freed. He knew that, and that it only happened this day was a big reason the rebel camp was in such disarray. If Khurg and some of his old command were now in charge of this rebel army it would not be caught at unawares again. The division in command distracted the younger command. If it was resolved in their favour, their attention would be squarely focussed on military matters. It was, no matter how it was looked at, only likely to get harder to deal with these rebels. Harder and bloodier by far. Here, this day was for those who had stood loyal against the rebels. Khule had moved at just the right time, as had the Legion from the city. But to the west, events this day were not so fortunate.
There, the Easterling soldiers were not so much involved in the revolution. They had heard that Rhun had broken with Gondor and so they put up their best defense. They would fight at choke points then withdraw, and would conduct end-run raids on the supply road. With the arrival of the horsemen of Rohan, screening the road was much easier, but it was still hard going. The Black Company would also employ the end-run tactics combined with steady pressure forward. The arrival of Gondor's infantry freed the Company up to push around the strong points. On the day Khule marched the Easterling Company into battle, the Black had reached the west side of the wood. That evening, Morcal and Sticks brought in a prisoner.
"Look what we found lurking around the edges of our line!" Morcal said as they came in.
They could see it was a boy wearing a regular Easterling army uniform. Belegost stood and took hold of him so Morcal and Sticks could rest. The boy had big eyes as he looked at the men that surrounded him, hard bitten warriors to him, a terrible and awe inspiring sight to behold. He raised his hands and stood as tall as he could.
Mulgov said dryly, "Congratulations Morcal, you captured a boy."
The boy said haltingly, "Company man? Company men you?"
He pointed at the badge on Belegost's vest, and to the Standard that flipped lazily in the breeze behind them.
Belegost said as Videgavia walked up to apprise the situation, "What? Wha'ts your name lad?"
The boy looked at Videgavia and said, "I am Dorghat. You Black Company men… I Black Company man.... We are brothers!"
The boy pointed to a crude small badge on his tunic that was too similar to theirs to be coincidence.
"Maybe in a few years boy..." Videgavia replied
"No, I am. Khule say! We brothers!"
Videgavia scratched his beard and said, "Mec, go find Hanasian. There is something he needs to see and hear…"
It was inevitable. Hanasian and Rin had their first argument, a quiet tussle of wills that resulted in each of them stalking off in the opposite direction. Hanasian, fuming, hunched over his journal and irritably scratched in the latest updates. His paper bore the brunt of his ill temper. Unfortunately, the men recovering from the poison darts were left to the tender mercies of the Company Healer. Men that could get away, did so with all haste. Unfortunately, those recovering in Bear's wagons were hampered. One staged a remarkable recovery and managed to evacuate on wobbly legs.
To their credit, Two Bells and Rocks endured for as long as they could. That came to an end when Two Bells produced the latest batch of the anti-toxin. Rin snatched it from his hand, hissing as she held it up to the dying light of the day.
"What are you trying to do? Kill the man? What sort of colour do you call that?"
"C-Caramel?" Two Bells quavered and then flinched as her eyes narrowed.
"Look again!" she demanded and thrust the flask back across the wagon bed at him.
Two Bells reluctantly took the bottle from her and peered. Rocks sighed beside the younger man. This was not going to end well.
"B-Brown? Green? No, hazel!" Bells ventured.
"Exactly! I've told you a dozen times if I've told you once, Bells. There is a precise order it is to be combined in-"
"I know! I do! Honest!" Bells stated urgently and Rocks clapped the youth on the shoulder.
"Come on, then. Before you dig yourself a deeper hole."
Rocks steered the younger apprentice away as Bells began reciting the recipe, stumbling and becoming further frantic with each misstep. Rin heaved a sigh and pinched the bridge of her nose.
"Rough day, Doc?" said one of the three remaining men in the wagon bed.
Rin's reply was indistinct and she focussed on her work, sealing her mind off from that dreadful exchange with Hanasian over the Edoras business. Why, she asked herself, could not the Company maxim apply to her as it did everyone else? There were plenty of Company men and women who had gotten into strife before and they were permitted their secrets. What would Hanasian think of her if she told him?
"Doc, that bandage is pretty and all…but I got hit on the other side."
A loud and particularly creative curse rose from the wagon. Some at a safe distance clapped. Hanasian's head rose and his frown intensified. His quill hovered over the page as questions bounded about his mind. Why was she being so difficult? Why could she not be truthful with him? Was duplicity embedded in her nature? Was this who she was? He knew about it all anyway. Frea had spilled the beans after Eomer had left, unable to help himself. What was done was done and he suspected the matter would be easily cleared up if she had a mind to. Why must she conceal it and, more troubling, what else did she hide? Mecarnil cleared his throat warily.
"Look, it's a bad time… The fishing party have returned with a winnow, an interesting one. Vid wants you to come see, Cap."
"Can't he sort it out? No, belay that, Mec. I'll go," Hanasian sighed and glanced down at his journal to see a great, fat ink blot creeping over the page that soured his frame of mind further.
Mecarnil wisely squinted off into the middle distance. Hanasian growled, tore out a page and crumpled it in his fist. He tossed the paper onto a fire he stalked off to locate Videgavia, Mecarnil falling into stride beside his agitated commander and old friend.
"How long has it been now, since we deployed? Four weeks? Six?"
"Four weeks and three days," Hanasian bit off and Mecarnil nodded sagely.
Ah yes, four weeks and three days and the man by his side had not had a moment to spare with his new wife. Yes, they had a month together, but that was not nearly enough to learn the difficult art of marriage. And, marriages were particularly difficult for those in active service. Duty always intruded, always had to be set first, and that took a toll on a man's heart and a woman's soul. Mecarnil's thoughts flickered, but he kept his opinions to himself and soon enough they had reached the small party that had captured the boy soldier. The lad repeated his outlandish claims, inflating his chest as much as possible, and Hanasian's face registered surprise.
"So, you were recruited by Khule?" he asked and Dorghat was only too pleased to describe the series of glorious events that led to him becoming brothers with the Black Company of Arnor in halting Westron.
"And where is Khule and your unit now?" Videgavia inquired, struggling with the tender years of the boy's face. He couldn't be more than fifteen.
Dorghat readily reported all he had scouted out since setting forth, eager to demonstrate that he was a Company man, one of them.
"He could be a plant," Molguv pointed out and Morcal and Sticks frowned at each other.
"He could. Or he could be genuine," Mecarnil replied.
They spoke in rapid Westron and it was difficult for Dorghat to follow. Not, however, for the Company Healer who arrived positively bristling. Her network of female Company members, informally dubbed the Black Cats, had informed her and she found precisely the sort of scene that made her blood boil. Or, it would have had her blood not already been simmering at a rapid pace. Warriors, fearsome looking ones to a civilian's eyes, dripping with weapons and doubts, ringed a boy not old enough to sprout downy whiskers. His eyes were wide and his head swivelled back and forth on a thin stalk of a neck as he desperately tried to understand. His expression wavered between hopeful and frightened in equal measures.
"What is this, then? Interrogating children?"
"Oh, just what we need. Champion of the trod upon, crusading to another rescue," Molguv stated, crossing his arms over his chest.
"This is a military matter, Doc. Stand down," Videgavia ordered with a reasonable expectation that she'd ignore him.
"The hell I will, Vid – the boy can barely stand. Just LOOK at his feet!"
"I man," the boy protested meekly, utterly amazed by the sudden appearance of a woman that seemed to be made of ice she was so very pale to him.
Then he glanced down at his feet, bloody and torn because his boots had fallen apart on him many miles ago. Yes, they were painful, but he was Black Company and he was equal to all his brothers required of him. Hanasian's gaze met Rin's and something there sizzled a long moment. Videgavia had not missed the stunned expression on Dorghat's face. Fifteen, he was the perfect age… Videgavia signalled a crafty idea to Hanasian, whose brows rose as he considered it. Then he nodded and stepped to one side.
"Tend to him, Rin," Hanasian ordered and Rin stepped forward to do so.
She crouched by the boy, coaxed him to sit and set to work. The men standing about exchanged knowing looks over their heads. The boy did anything, absolutely anything she asked, unable to tear his eyes from her. If she had of asked him to leap the moon, he would have died trying. A fifteen year male was prime fodder for infatuation regardless of which land he called home, and older women were irresistible to such lads. Rin spoke with Dorghat as she worked, choosing simple words that he could grasp across the language divide. She extracted how far he had travelled, how many other brothers like him were out there, and whether Khule had any companions still with him.
As she commenced bandaging his feet, she glanced in question up at Hanasian who nodded with implicit understanding of her query.
"You're a strong young man, Dorghat. You will be on your feet again in a week. Will you ride with us until then?"
Dorghat's eyes shone as he nodded. Sticks collected up the boy and carried him into camp, trailed by Morcal. Rin remained crouched to gather up her gear while a rapid-fire discussion took place over her head.
"The city, it's where Khule is making for. He has too… over one hundred mouths to feed now, he needs supplies," Molguv stated.
"Won't the rohhirim be pleased to learn that over one hundred Easterlings have been signed up to their Company," Belegost said.
Videgavia waved that aside for the moment, "Word is the city has fallen, though. One hundred or three, he'll need support."
"Street fighting doesn't suit armies, Vid," Mecarnil stated.
"But it does the Black. We need to replenish our own materiel anyway. And, if the city has fallen, the situation will be grim for those within. Order, safety and healers…Rin, are your Ducklings up to it?" Hanasian asked, voice perfectly modulated and strictly professional.
Rin stowed the last of her stuff and stood in their midst.
"As ready as they can be made. They know how to operate now, and the Company knows how to operate around them," she replied in kind – just as impassive.
That night there was a larger Company meet where the strategy for the city was formed up. They would enter from two sides, north and south, to pursue their varied objectives. Key was finding more supplies and Khule. If opportunity arose to flush out rebels, support loyalists or assist the civilian populace they would take that as well. Rin got to her feet and strode into the darkness, muttering something about patients, after the discussion concluded. Mecarnil was waiting for her and nearly took ten years off her life when he spoke in the darkness.
"Rin, make it right again."
"What are you trying to do? Scare me to death?"
"Did you hear me?"
"Yes. I would if I could. The milk is spilt and there's not a damn thing I can do to undo it all."
He heard her expel a weary breath.
"Look, Rin, I don't wish to interfere in your life. But the thing is, tomorrow a dart could find you or Hanasian and then where would you be?"
"But it was years ago! I can't go back in time, Mec."
Another sigh and she grudgingly furnished scant bones of the Edoras matter.
"That's it? That's all? Woman, he knows already."
"Yes, I know," rumbled a familiar and much loved voice in the darkness behind her and Rin lost another ten years off her life.
"It's not how it seems. I'm not a traitor, we weren't agents for Rhun. I- I'm going to throttle that man when I see him again. I don't see why the Company rules don't apply to me."
"Rosmarin, I am not here as your commanding officer. I did not ask as your commanding officer. I simply wish to know the woman I have bound my life to."
"But – if you know you might wish you had chosen otherwise, Hanasian."
"Do you still doubt? How many times must I say it? Always and ever."
"What do such words mean to me? What can they mean? Always? Ever? Permanence? Safety? Security? Illusions or, if real, ever denied to the likes of Loch and I."
"Whose ring do you wear on your finger?"
"Then, woman, know this. There will come a time when you will know, in your heart, what such words mean because I will show you. We will build it. You will have it. I swear it. I swear it by sun and moon and stars. I swear it. Together, we will shape it, if you believe in me. Can you? Do you?"
"Yes… despite what you would hide from me. I believe, knowing there is much I may never know of you. Have you any idea how terrifying that is?"
"No, for you have been open and honest with me," Rin confessed uncomfortably, "What do you wish to know?"
"All of it, all of you. Only that."
"Are you sure. Once it is said, it cannot be unsaid."
"You must take the risk. Do you believe in me or not?"
"Oh, impossible man. That is unfair!"
"Yes, it is," Hanasian agreed, heard her sigh and then felt her hand grasp his arm and draw him down to sit.
She spoke quietly, shy and reluctant. But she spoke, peeling away at events he never imagined at. Some made him smile in the nights. Other's stole his breath and made his eyes sting. Hers had not been an easy path by any measure and never before had she displayed so much trust as she was now as she whispered in his ear, warm breath against his cheek. After a while, he softly placed a finger over her lips. She was near enough that he could map out the panes of her face, or knew them so well now that his mind filled in the details.
"Enough, love," he whispered to her and felt her lower her head to his shoulder. They sat that way for a long while, in silence, as the Company slept around them, and then crept to their own rolls divided no longer.
"The things I would do to you, wife," Hanasian growled in her ear as they settled into their bed rolls, wishing he could give her joy now to offset the sorrow of the past.
He felt her shiver against him.
"My love, I need you now."
"Why not? It is a dark night."
"Your armour for one and the fact that you find it difficult to be quiet," Hanasian replied and felt her hips slide against him again in deliberate provocation that made his mouth dry with desire.
He nibbled her ear despite himself and had to clamp a hand over her mouth to silence her moan. Then she did it again, slipping her hips against his growing hardness. Leather was not a forgiving substance and his breeches were suddenly too small.
"Woman, enough of this. You're tormenting us both," he whispered, removed his hand from her mouth and gripped her softly curved hip in a bid to still her writhing.
"You started it," she whispered back and felt his fingers splay out and press against her.
"Damn you," Hanasian sighed as he pushed her against him in sweet torment.
"I must have you and I cannot. This is a military unit on deployment. It would be an unforgivable breach of protocol…"
"I am your wife and we are not three months wed. What's the protocol with that, then?"
He could feel her fingers at the lacings of his breeches. Nimble and agile they were making short work of his restraint. His hand was not still either beneath the blanket. His fingers found a way beneath her leathers and slid over the smooth, warm, gloriously soft skin over her lower abdomen. The swell of muscle then the soft mound below. His head was swimming.
"Show me how stealthy you can be, Captain," she taunted, shivering as his fingers played through moist folds.
If he were teasing her, she would howl down the stars. Her fingers won through his lacings and peeled the leather away to free his erection. She felt him respond as her fingers danced and he drove his own hand deeper and inside. Her back arched in sudden sensation, pressing her chest hard against the armour encasing it and forcing him to again clamp his hand over her mouth again. It had been close and the pair froze, listening for any hint that they had been discovered. Their pulse raced, hammering in their ears. Only the grunts and snores of men, and some women, in sleep and the routine call of all clear from those farther out on sentry.
Rin was convinced that this would be an end to it, the matter too close to call. After all, it would not do for them to be discovered in the act by their own Company. Disappointment started to spread through her. Hanasian withdrew his hand and adjusted the blankets that lay over them, layering each thin cover over the other. Rin heaved a sigh and tried to settle down to sleep. She closed her eyes and took a deep inward breath through her nose.
"Just what do you think you're doing," Hanasian growled in her ear, hand once again at her breeches and tugging them down and out of the way.
Rin's eyes flew open in delighted shock and Hanasian's hand clamped over her mouth and remained as he sank himself into her glorious depths. So slowly at first, careful to not make a sound. Each thrust, each twist of her hips, each pulse of her muscles along his length. The feel of her teeth as she nipped at his fingers. Thankfully he wasn't wearing plate armour or they would have set up a dreadful clanging noise. He felt her hands lock on his forearm and grip tightly. He felt her shiver and writhe against him. He could smell her skin, her hair, her desire rising. Faster, more urgent now, until a sudden burst of colour flared behind his closed eyes and he spilled into her, face buried in her hair at the nape of her neck. The release took him by surprise, his breathing shaking in the aftermath, body thrilling with sensation as they slowed once more.
Nearby, someone rolled in their sleep, muttering words so slurred as to be nonsense. They froze, still tangled together, pulses slowing and limbs now languorous. Sleep stole over them like thieves in the night and robbed them of wakefulness. The morning came as a surprise to both of them. Hanasian blinked awake from beneath a fall of tousled pale hair, at a clear blue sky.
"Acclimatising, Cap?" commented Bear as he ambled past munching on breakfast.
Hanasian frowned and belatedly realised the marine was referring to the doubled blankets he'd draped over them the night before for privacy.
"Must be," he replied brusquely and attempted to discreetly lace up his breeches.
He felt rather than heard Rin's laughter and realised the minx was awake.
"How was that for protocol?" he asked her and her smile was as bright as the morning sun.
"Well, nothing a little bit of practice can't sort out," Rin purred and Hanasian got to his feet and nearly took the blankets with him as revenge.
He grinnws wolfishly as he disengaged himself and Rin busily restored her uniform to rights, muttering about men, before she ventured forth to braid her hair again. His grin expanded when he noted she had a particular way of walking that morning. He felt a distinct sense of pride that put a spring in his step. Yes, their first argument. He'd have to remember that for the next time either of them hankered for a little excitement.
The morning saw the Company ready for the city and two very happy individuals floated about hither and thither. Molguv rolled his eyes and Babble muttered under his breath how it just wasn't fair. One of the Black Cats caught his glance in her direction and flashed him an entirely unpleasant, hair raising smile. When Babble blanched, the woman looked over at her companion and chortled in a fetching girlish manner completely at odds with their martial appearance.
The move toward the city should have been easy. But just because the rebels had been surprised by Khule's arrival, and didn't expect the loyal Guards raiding from the south, and with their initial contact with the main Company on the east side of the wood, still they managed to slip the pocket they had found themselves in. Their position had become tenuous at best, roughly being shaped like a thumb pointing south. Had Khule and the main Company had some communication that day, the better part of the rebellious armies of the northern clans could have been surrounded and eventually forced to surrender. But communication was nil, and the arriving Gondorian infantry was only then relieving the Company. Khule's Easterling Company was in an uncertain position, unaware of the strength of the northern rebels or what may be taking place in the east, and opted to move into the abandoned city.
It had only been by chance that Dorghat managed to work his way around the north side of the main rebel army. In his quest to gain information for Runner and Khule, he found he was unable to get back east and so avoided capture by moving west until he ran into the Company. There were two schools of thought on whether Dorghat allowed himself be caught by Morcal, or if he was actually snared by the Southron. Only Dorghat knew for sure, and he refused to shed any light on it.
Once the Company had disengaged and turned their position to Gondor's infantry, they prepared to move east toward the city. But delays in getting shifted set them back a day. It would be the early morning of the next day that the full Company could move out. They took Dorghat with them. He said he knew a good route, and though some did not wish to trust him, Hanasian reminded Morcal that he wasn't trusted when he was brought in either. Hanasian decided to give the youth a chance to show his worth. He after all considered himself a Company Man and Hanasian wasn't going to judge decisions made in the field by Khule. There was likely a good reason for this, and it was up to them to catch up with the Eastern Detachment, as Khule, Loch, Berlas, and Wulgof were known as by the old Company.
Hanasian, in a hope he could get word to Khule, called a small group that happened to be around him at the moment together. He said, "So we will trust the word of Dorghat and he will lead a few of our men into the city in hopes to find Khule. Morcal, you will go with him, as will Frea, Donius, Ravenclaw, and Flint. Wait… Donius you stay."
Rin came walking up to see what was being discussed, and Hanasian said to her, "Rin, I need one of your medics to go with Frea. They will be going into the city. Who do you suggest?"
"I think Two Bells will be best," Rin answered without hesitation.
Hanasian said, "Have Two Bells report here now. Frea, you keep two eyes and two ears out for anything that looks off. Evade, don't engage, and try and get to the Prefect's Palace. Hopefully one of our men will be around who knows you. Wear your emblems, and have a small standard ready. If the rest of these men Khule has under his command are as willing to join us as Dorghat, then it will be well with us. We'll trust the boy to get you in."
Two Bells came up and Rin said, "You're attached to Frea's Company. Get your field kit and be ready to move."
Two Bells shuffled off silently and it was not long before they were ready. They set off with Dorghat in the lead. He was followed closely by Morcal, and then Frea who mapped the way. Two Bells followed, with Ravenclaw watching the rear. They were inside the city by nightfall.
Khule's Company maintained a strong rearguard as they rolled down the rebel line. Slowly the men pulled back, but a few remained, ready to take up position as soon as the rebels moved forward. However there was no pursuit. Instead, Khurg ordered a general withdrawal to the north to solidify his line against the combined forces of Khule and the western Company. Khule realized this and ordered the Easterlings to maintain their front north of the city under command of Wulgof and Berlas as his second. Meanwhile, Khule and Loch, along with some of the original dozen and some of the loyal Guards, sought out the Prefect's Guards who remained at the Palace.
The city was abandoned for the most part. But signs of life were crawling out of their hiding places. Mostly women and children, and they scrounged for whatever food they could find on the dead soldiers of both sides. Flies had already swarmed in on the bodies and Loch for a moment felt his stomach become queasy.
He said to Khule, "If I get killed, I don't want to end up like this."
Khule looked about and said, "Don't worry Kid, the Company looks after their own. "
"But there can be those situations where we can't get to the fallen," Loch said in his quasi philosophical manner.
Khule answered, "Don't get killed. Then you don't have to worry about it. Make the other man worry about it. Now quit thinking about it or it will eat you up. Now, what do you think of Runner and his band of merry fleet feet?"
Loch thought a moment about it and said, "I can relate to them. Having to grow up sooner than they should. I think they will be the most loyal of the bunch."
"Aye, that's what I was thinking too."
A fire was burning in the street not far from the Prefect's palace. People stood about it and one was heard to say that it would be a cold night coming. If the weather turned now before much more was settled, things would be hard for all involved. Even now as the sun set, a deep chill could be felt on the breath of the wind.
The guard came out to greet them and reported the day had been quiet; no sign of the rebels. Khule explained that they had withdrawn to the north. It was then that Loch spotted Dorghat moving between buildings. A guard also saw him and another.
"Who goes there?" the guard challenged
Dorghat disappeared behind some rubble and the others moved low and slow. Khule set out forward and Loch stepped in behind him. A few of the original twelve followed, swords ready. Khule called out into the fading twilight, watching as the flickering light of flames danced about the ruins.
"I know you are there. Be you friend of Gondor and the Company, show yourself!"
Dorghat looked at Frea knowingly and Frea smiled. Never thought he would be happy to hear Khule's voice again.
Frea stood and said, pale hair gleaming in the torchlight, "We are the Company. Come looking for you!"
Khule too smiled, the Company had come! Loch saw Dorghat and said, "I see you got one of our boys there with you! I think his commander will be pleased to know he yet lives."
"We're coming in."
Khule signalled to the guard that it was their men and the guards relaxed slightly. As Frea's group came forth, Khule saw that other than Dorghat, Morcal and two others in Company insignia accompanied Frea. One was a complete stranger and the other was the vaguely familiar but not as Company.
"This is it? Where's the Company?" Khule asked as he looked Two Bells over.
Frea said as they shook hands, "There has been a lot of changes since you left. We recruited well over a hundred new heads, but attrition and our first battles with the rebels have reduced that number to ninety. The rest of the Company will be tomorrow likely. I see you did some recruiting of your own."
He looked at Dorghat, who stood proud as he listened to the meeting of two Company brothers.
"You could say that I guess. It was unintentional, it just worked out in our favour," Khule said, also looking at Dorghat.
Frea asked, "So what is your situation? We had contact with some faction and the road was a tough one with the Easterling guards either welcoming us or fighting us."
Come and rest," Khule said, "We are setting up across the street from the palace. It's the best place not wrecked other than the palace, but the palace guards seem to be adamant not to let anyone in there."
Frea nodded and said to Two Bells, "See if any of these people need your services. Set up a ward somewhere. We'll bring you some food."
Khule motioned to a couple of the original twelve to help out and the rest gathered in the main floor of the building next door. Runer had come when he heard that Dorghat was back and the night for them was spent in relative comfort. But for those holding the line, it was a miserable night, for it was cold, and a light rain started to fall.
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.