45. Chapter 45
Dorghat ran as fast as he could in his oversized company leathers. He had shed his cloak before leaving; still the track was unforgiving despite having been travelled by many before him. It seemed the brambles reached out to slow him, forcing him to push on. Rain started to fall, ending the weeks of dryness they had enjoyed. He hurried, aware that the track would soon become treacherous, slippery muck and he would have to slow. The urgency of his mission spurred him on, and in time, the ship they would board loomed ahead.
"Are we ready to take this thing out on the sea?" Donius queried uncertainly.
Work continued around him and he had been considering sending a runner to Videgavia. They needed one more day – at lest!. But all bets were off when Dorghat arrived out of breath and passed the engineer the scroll.
"Damn," Donius muttered.
There was some small measure of relief in the tidings that he would not have to sail the ship that very day. It simply was not ready, no matter how hard he pushed to have so that he could get it back to the main quay this day. Now the Company was coming to them, and soon it would seem. The testing of the ship would occur with everyone aboard. He would know the ship was ready if they made it west, apparently. He swallowed hard, recalling well the hard voyage east. May the Vala be with them, if they still had eyes for this world. It occurred to Donius eventually that Dorghat was waiting for a response to run back to Videgavia.
He said, "Rest boy! Drink, and eat something. We have others, well rested, to run a message back. When you have recovered some, I'll have a job for you."
The prospect of working with shipwrights was one Dorghat could barely contain. Certainly sleep was not within his grasp. Still he gladly accepted the offer of food and drink and, with a full belly, was soon sound asleep where he had seated himself against a wall on shore.
"Let the boy sleep," Donius said, "When he wakes, he'll work on the mast for us."
There was faint chuckling to be had from the men within earshot. Dorghat's arrival was soon forgotten, however, as they turned back to their work. True to his word, Donius sent another runner back to Videgavia.
In the city by the quay, Videgavia informed the gathered men of his Company and Khor's of his plan to march on the Abbey itself. Only a small number, the Old Company and Khor himself so highly was he now esteemed, knew it to be a feint. Mistrust ran thickly between Videgavia and the women of the Abbey. Anvikela did not say if her former colleagues could read minds, but her warning during parley to guard their thoughts was enough to prompt Videgavia to assume they could. Fortune permitted them a moonless, overcast night and just as all seemed to be in readiness, Commander Khor surprised them all. Khule and Khor talked animatedly. Yet there was no changing his mind. Videgavia got word from Khule, and he wasted no time calling on Khor…
"What is this I'm hearing?" Videgavia demanded.
Khor replied, "It's simple really. You clearly require a diversion. I and those men that desire to remain with me will march on the Abbey in formation. We'll be enough, I hope, to keep their attentions away from you. You should be able to slip away, and sail back west."
Khor's voice had been even and steady and Videgavia looked the Easterling directly in the eyes. There was no hesitation their either. Remarkable.
"You realise that there will likely be no leaving this place once the ship sails."
"Yes, this has been considered. I have my reasons," Khor replied, pausing to think one last time about it before he pushed on, "I'm not going back. There is no place for me there now.
"If my brother were smart he'd remain with me too, along with some of his men. But his bond, his commitment to this Company of yours is too strong."
"You could join as well. You, and your men. You would be welcome."
Khor shook his head emphatically, "I can't join your Company. I can't play Gondor's pet soldier in my homeland. So I'll stay here and take what comes. My men will stay with me because they want to, not because they are ordered to. And yes, they have been asked. Any of your men want to stay, they are welcomed into my command."
Videgavia nodded slightly. He said, "No, nobody who is of the Company wishes to stay, unless it's Loch's squad. There's no word from them as yet. If they come in after we leave, they'll be a great asset to your command – Lochared in particular. They'll be a handful though, Lochared in particular. Tell them I ordered it or something. Either way, we slip out tonight."
Khor straighted to his full height and saluted in the manner of his forebears. He said, "And we march on the abbey at dawn."
Rain, low cloud and mist.
Perfect weather to disappear in. It was the midnight hour when the first of the Company left. Daius with the engineers that he had kept there were the first. To set out. Molguv followed with the bulk of the Gondorians. Wulgof and a few men loaded up a wagon with supply, and left the key to their bunker with Khor. Khule was last to leave with his contingent of Easterlings. He gave one last search of the city perimeter for Loch, and to keep with routine of the day. Once this had completed, Khule stood before his brother with knitted brow.
"I admire you brother, but I doubt you and your two dozen men will stand a chance against such sorcery that surely comes."
"We will do what we must, just as we always done. What come cannot be worse than serving the Eye. We will do well enough, and one day we may meet again. Or so I hope. Farewell brother," Khor said.
With that, Khule gave the command to move out. Khor called his men to form up ranks. They had a walk to take this morning.
Donius saw them coming. Videgavia arrived shortly after Daius with the two sisters.
Donius sighed as he said, "Welcome aboard my ladies. It still needs work, so please, for me, can you take it easy on her?"
Together Rose and Anvikela inclined their heads and they were shown to their cabin where they immediately began their preparations. Two hours after sunrise, they were ready to sail. Videgavia stood on the gangplank by the ship's rail and looked about. It was then he heard that voice…
"Ho, Cap! You going somewhere?"
"Days late with no word," Videgavia muttered to himself as he hurried back down the plank to meet the men.
Inwardly pleased that Loch had arrived with all men, outwardly he remained Captin and Loch and his men had been missing. And they had sent no word. The scount was simply too reckless at times, he thought as he watched Loch approach. He liked that. Reminded him of his younger self in ways. Still…
His words were the words of a Captain, not a young Dale Ranger, as Loch drew close, "NO word? Have you any idea how close you were to being re-assigned to Commander Khor? Get your men aboard, and resting. As for you…I'll have a report from you once we have set sail…unless you think it can't wait."
"Sail? Where?" Loch said, surprised. When they left, the Company was still entrenched in the city. Now they were off Loch kept talking,
"Aboard, not to be bothered. You will see her in time. Get your report done. I want it written too," Videgavia said and ignored Loch's groan, "You are confined to quarters until it is finished. As for you, Runner, as his second you'll work the kitchen for the evening meal. Report to Daius."
Loch eyed Runner, considering already asking his friend to trade duties. He'd peel potatoes any day. Better than writing. He hated writing, more even than the Captain. He scout began walking, glum, until another question occurred to him
"Where's Khor and his men?"
"Covering our tails."
The ship crept out into the fog silently. Not nearly so quiet was the sound of the marching boots of Khor's infantry. Halting at the gates, Khor approached and looked in through the rusty iron bars of a small view port. There was no activity visible beyond and so he his men maintain their positions in formation. In time, a lone woman emerged from a tall door of the abbey. Khor stood at ease with his hands behind his back and watched her approach the gates. She took her time and he felt his jaw clench out of old habit. He loathed dawdling.
"You are not the Captain."
"Nor am I of the Company," he agreed stiffly at first, That said m'lady, I think there is much we could discuss."
The old lady said hurriedly, "What would I discuss with you that I haven't said to the Captain?"
Khor said, "As I said, I do not serve under the Captain of the Company. You don't know me. Still I think we could find some mutually beneficial ground on which to stand."
The woman closed her eyes and after a moment, as if remembering something, and said "I am to ask if you will join us for morning tea."
Khor said, "Kind of you. Still, I would have to leave my men here. It's cold and foggy and misty. Soaks a soldier to the bone, makes him irritable. It would not be right to invite me in, but leave them here while I enjoyed your tea."
Again the woman closed her eyes. She seemed irritated. After a moment, she said, "Very well. You and your men are welcome. But this is a holy place. Your arms must remain in the parlour with one of your men and one of our servants."
Khor nodded and said, "As you say. The Sisters of the Abbey are wise, I think. My men and I agree to partake in your hospitality. We will conduct ourselves with restraint."
Khor had considered the dangers, but thought it best to meet it head on. So too thought the Mothers of the Abbey. Neither side realized the danger they both placed themselves within.
Loch stared at the blank paper before him. It yawned, a blinding crevice that sought to suck him into its maw. The paper was thicker here, rougher. Rin liked paper. She had told him once how it was made. All excited about having seen it herself, she had come in that evening all flushed, eyes glowing, to explained the process to him. She had snuck into somewhere she wasn't supposed to be, the way of their lives then, and instead of coming back with food or something that could be used to obtain food, she came back with this knowledge. And she had been late. And he had been worried. How old were they then? Fifteen, he recalled and she would have been twelve. Already showing signs of the woman she would transform into. He had worried a lot that year. They had not moved in safe circles then and the world, he knew, coveted beautiful things – and often shattered them in a bid to possess them.
He remembered shouting, all his pent up worry and his hunger and his anger boiling out of him. He could not remember what he had said, but it had been enough to wipe the glow of delight and fascination from his sister's face. It had been replaced with that smooth mask and all of a sudden she was distant and remote, as his all his rage at their situation and the futility of all came rushing out in ugly, tangled, clotted words. The transformation in her manner had been more effective than a bucket of cold water or a slap. It was too late. The words could not be unspoken and she had withdrawn from him for days. It had been the last time she had come to him all abuzz with whatever she had learnt.
He stared at the flecks of whatever they used here to make paper and thought of her now. How on earth was he going to put this down on paper? He had not written anything for months. The letter he had penned to her had taken him some time. Writing was an effort, something he found uncomfortable. But, even if he was better at the act of writing, setting down into words that would not haunt his tracks in the Company was another challenge. Loch set his jaw, inked his quill and set to it. The letters were rough, but he wanted to rest. He wanted to see Rose.
"We saw evide….signs that many others had passed on the trail. We divided to cover more ground. Then a….foul cloud descended. It hunted us, blocked all light. I knew it to be sorcery. We took evasive action, which delayed us…"
Loch paused, hand aching already, and squinted at the page. He had crossed out his attempt at the word evidence. All of it was true…but how was he to describe what happened next? A mysterious cloud. They saw signs of a great passage of people and then they had run like frightened boys from a cloud. And then, to make matters worse, his sister told him to change course. Except Rin was a long way away and thought him dead. And he was here, about to turn in the most absurd and poorly written report he imagine had been tendered in the history of reports. Rin was good at reports. She had completed them without trouble, always on time, never any corrections. Clear, concise, informative. Drawings, diagrams, maps. She had even written for that library or healing house in Minas Tirith. Maybe he would draw a map. That might be a good idea.
Loch set to once more and roughed out a map that approximated the ground they had covered. With a few markings, he was able to convey where they split, where they saw the sign of a great migration and where the cloud had first appeared. He leaned back in his chair, head canted to one side. Not as pretty as her drawings, but accurate enough. Now, what else? A sudden bolt of inspiration occurred to the scout.
At the bottom of the map, which conveniently occupied the majority of the page, he wrote,
"No losses, no injuries."
Very important, that. No injuries or losses. Good captains liked that. The sound of boots on the ladder below deck dragged Loch's attention up in time to see Videgavia picking his way between the hammocks slung about towards him. Loch stood, ignoring the ache of his back, with paper in hand. He belatedly recalled that ink took time to dry and he glanced at his work. Sure enough, a great blur of ink where his thumb had grasped the paper. Videgavia ignored the scout's sudden chagrin and plucked the parchment out of his hand.
"That was quick," Videgavia commented as he scanned the report.
"Tired. Want to rest is all," Loch replied and the other man grunted.
"What's that supposed to be?" Videgavia asked, pointing at the blurred ink.
"My thumb," Loch replied with a crooked grin that was not shared and so he corrected himself, "Where we saw the…ah…cloud…Cap."
Videgavia grunted again and Loch inwardly breathed a sigh of relief that he corrected himself and remembered to use Videgavia's title. They liked that, captains. Wulgof's advice was sage in this regard.
"What made you deviate your return course?"
"Huh," Loch replied, distracted by the imminent prospect of rest…and Rose.
Videgavia tapped the blurred map, "Your course changed on return. Why?"
Oh. That. Loch shifted his weight from one foot to the other uncomfortably and then he noticed something.
"What's that sound?"
Videgavia scowled at his scout, in no mood for games, and then realised there was indeed a strange sound. It was dull to them where they stood below deck but there all the same. Loch's report floated to the floor as Videgavia spun about and ran for the ladder to the deck. As he climbed to the surface, the sound became clearer and all the more unbearable. Loch was on his heels. On the deck, men staggered, hands pressed against their heads. By the mast were the two women, faces obscured by their hair, arms uplifted. An eerie chanting came from them but it seemed to make little difference. A soupy fog had enveloped their ship. Tendrils of it curled around men and fixtures on the deck. But what set their hair on end and teeth on edge was the sound.
The very water was screaming.
The thick fog made it nearly as dark as night once it overtook them yet the ship was mived west at a good speed with a hard gale in its sails. The deafening roar caused most of the men to grasp their ears. Echoes of deep, unfathomable mysteries spread about in dreams as each of the men fell to the decks. But the two sisters held together, a wellspring of light in the darkness that had swept around them. Fell voices could be heard in the deep, echoing darkly as though they came from a vast distance. Amidst it, a higher voice pushed back against the cloud, striving as if one against many. Lady Anvikela appeared to grow in height as she spoke strange words. At this, the strands of cloud retreated from most of the men, to draw itself up and meet the woman. It entangled Anvikela but avoided Rose who held her hand. A tendril had begun to wrap about Anvikela's neck when Rose opened her eyes. She shivered and looked to where Loch lay on deck.
When a faint tendril of cloud brushed the side of his face, Rose thrust her free hand out and called out forcefully, "Ila Phaedra tae ne!"
The ship groaned as it ploughed headlong into waves. They had come to the edge of the world already, Videgavia guessed, disorientated and confused as any of the men. He knew that he somehow had to keep the ship's wheel steady so that they would not be thrown off course and back towards that sorcerous shore. He shoved his leg into the spokes of the wheel, the only way he knew, and grimly held on as his awareness blinked in and out, guttering like a candle in the wind. His next surge of consciousness revealed the cloud's many fingers fell back from the women at the mast only to grow tall.
One tendril reached for Rose and she reached for it, will against will, so that it could not entangle her. Waves broke over the ship and the belly of the vessel shuddered as an echo from far below deepened. The cloud twisted and reared up only to fall upon them. Now Videgavia understood why the scouts had run.
The women raised their hands and said in loud voices woven in melodic harmony, "Ila Phaedra n Anvikela tae ne HAE!"
There was a coruscating burst of lightening that singed the air and left a metallic aftertaste as the women lifted each an arm in unison. Once raised to their zenith, a second blinding white light exploded over the ship, followed by a tremendous shock wave that slammed into the vessel like a great hammer. Masts cracked and crossbeams broke. Timbers shrieked in seeming agony and men were thrown back like scattered leaves, thudding to the deck with that sickening sound. Caught by the wheel, Videgavia was twisted about but not dislodged and his mind was blackened outright.
Smoke wreathed the craft and water continued to pound and crash against it. Still the women remained standing amongst the fallen, hands held high. Their clothes were rent and torn and they bled from the shards of wood that had pierced the air like tiny missiles. The smoke drifted in ever diminishing banks until the wind banished it entirely and it was then that the women collapsed into a tangled heap. They had defeated the wizard, but only barely and it would be the last time. He was too far away, and he had received no aid from the Abbey. They had broken the rift and their ship was thrown through, but now they drifted carelessly. There was no one conscious on board and the ship's masts and sails were ruined. They were adrift on the eastern sea of Middle Earth.
It was Loch who first came back to awareness. He hurt all over. It was all too familiar.
He mumbled to himself "Not again…"
He couldn't move at first, but when he opened an eye he looked on what appeared to carnage spread all about him. He managed to lift himself up on his hands and dragged himself to a piece of broken mast. Everyone was strewn about, unmoving. They appeared looked dead and the ship looked as if it was about to sink. In truth, it was only listing to port side slightly. Loch looked over to where Rose and Anvikela had been when last he saw them. All he saw now was a crumpled pile partially obscured by a piece of sailcloth. There was a slight white glow coming from them and the Loch heard a moan. It was Dorghat. He started coughing even as Loch crawled over to the younger man to sit him up. A chorus of moans and slurred words began to rise from all around. Loch clawed his way to standing and staggered over to where the women were. Berlas stood now too, shaking his head from side to side to clear it before he started for the women as wel. The two sisters lay entangled as if they were asleep. They both breathed and it seemed that their injuries were no more serious than cuts and splinters. Still, they would not wake.
So Berlas said, "Leave them be for now. Keep their watch until I return. I need to see how we fare."
Loch nodded and sat back down, relieved to have a task no more demanding than watching. Videgavia was on his feet with a bad limp by anyone's measure. A door flew open and Donius stuck his head out.
Berlas turned at that, "Report your status."
"I have two dead down here and everyone else has at least minor injuries. Mostly cuts and wood shards and such. The ship holds tight for the most part, but I see we have no sails."
Videgavia looked down on the sleeping women and then out over the calm seas where the sun was trying to shine.
"Smells like home. But where we wash up, and when, is anyone's guess. Now, let's put things to order and quickly, afore the weather turns again."
Loch lay back, feeling elated at Videgavia's words of him despite the fact that he brutally tired and his head pounded with a headache bad enough to worry his sister. He wished she were here now, because they could use a healer as well as medics, he reckoned. A hand crept into his at this thought and Loch opened his eyes to sfindee Rose looking at him.
"We are alive free Lochnard of Dunland? We have returned. We are free?"
"We are, but we have no way to sail the ship. It is badly damaged. And please, will you call me Loch?"
Rose squeezed his hand and said, "You know my name now, but I like it when you call me Rose."
"Your name? You never told me," Loch replied.
Rose smiled and said, "You will remember. In a dream, in a moment here or there. It will come."
Dizziness rolled her eyes in her head. This was too much, too soon. She blinked.
"Now I must sleep. Regain my strength. You stay with me?"
Loch moved closer and said, "I will. I have been ordered to keep watch on you and Anvikela. That I will do."
"I like that Lochn… Loch. I will sleep well," Rose said and closed her eyes.
Loch said, "Don't you want to stretch out, and your sister too?"
"We are entwined for we merged," Rose said, eyes opening again.
She played with her sister's hair with her fingers, "We both must wake to remove ourselves from each other. My sister will sleep for a very long time. She is strong, but she worked hard to shield us.
"Now I too must rest. Thank you Loch for watching over us while we sleep. I and my sister will rest easier."
Her eyes closed and she held on to Loch's hand. In a few moments she was asleep, breathing deep. Loch was not far behind her.
Berlas found Videgavia sitting on an overturned crate, a harried looking Bells tending to his leg.
"Give me some good news Ber," Videgavia said as his knee was being wrapped.
Berlas considered the options at his disposal and answered, "The ship isn't sinking. We managed to keep most of the food and water barrels intact."
The long pause made Videgavia look up to ask, "That's it?"
"Most of us are alive. The majority only suffered from cuts and splinters and shards of wood in the more serious cases. Also, the seas are calm," Berlas replied. That was it for the good news.
"Now give me the bad news."
"We've three dead and three are missing, assumed they were thrown over the side when the explosion happened. But it could be that what happened to Loch and Runner back in Shkar happened to them. It's anyone's guess.
"We have no masts or sails, though Donius says he and Daius can rig something up that may give us a little bit of something to work with. The Old Crew are assembling work parties to clean up the mess."
Videgavia nodded and said, "Well, we aren't going back. May the currents be in our favour and we wash up somewhere before our provisions run out. We'll need strict rationing, commencing immediately. You will control that. Take who you need to help you.
"Be sure everybody gets some rest. We'll have a Company meeting tonight and I want every man to report on what they remember. This event seems similar to the one at the house, so I want everyone's accounts. And I want to see the women once they are both awake and in fit condition to report."
Berlas nodded and left. No rest for him just yet, but he knew who he wanted to assist with the rationing. The Dirty Three were perfect. There was no one more cunning than those three…and perhaps a few of the Black Cats. There was no trouble yet, but it there was no telling how long they'd have to last out here, wherever they were. Best to get the worst of them, the meanest of them, on his side early – before water and food started to run perilously short.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
And to think she had been sceptical at first. Rin gazed down at the evidence the Elf had been right for all of the wrong reasons. Her belly softly swelled with the twins that had not been the cause for her dizzy spell. Initially overwhelmed and tempted to disregard the Elf's counsel, Rin had been disinclined to explain what had been its real cause. This was not entirely because of the difficulty of putting into words the strange events that had happened. Hanasian's response to the news had been revelatory. It was so very different than how it had been with news of Hanavia's impending arrival. Free of deadly conspiracies, the pall of grief and the weight of her secret, his reaction this time had been one of unmitigated delight and joy. She knew that Hanasian loved her, of course. Now it seemed that he treasured her all the more. He took great pains to ensure she knew this and it could still take her off guard.
Having spent so many years on her own, Rin was no fool. Her husband had given her all she had hoped for, no matter how vain and futile those hopes had seemed at the time. and she would have loved him as dearly had he given her nothing but himself. The prospect of two infants to handle at once was, she could admit, more than a little daunting, but she somehow felt that she could manage it with Hanasian by her side. Moreso, she found that she wanted this with each passing day. Now, spring had come early after a winter she had found surprisingly mild. It was possible that spending winter indoors, with clothes and food and warmth accounted for its sudden mildness. In any case, spring was here and her twins were growing and there was no doubt that the Elf had been correct.
In the late morning the tide receded from the little sandy inlet at the base of the cliffs their home perched atop. Rin was content to sit on the warm sand with her son. Hanavia was growing so fast he seemed to change day by day. Right now he was napping, curled up in her lap and thumb in his mouth. In a few months even that would not be possible. Hanasian stood in the surf, a fishing line in hand and his breeches rolled up to his knees. The breeze that bright morning tugged at his shirt and hair. He called something to Farbarad, who was some way down the shore, similarly fishing. Farbarad shook his head to whatever it was Hanasian had called at him. Behind both men, darting back and forth on the wet sand, was yet another Elvish gift with disturbingly large paws. It yipped at the waves, part challenge, part promise. The salty water made it's shaggy grey coat glisten in dark wiry coils. Hanasian named it a wolfhound. Rin named it an extra mouth to feed. But Hanavia would not be parted from it.
Honestly, these Elves and their gifts. A wolfhound! How large did they grow, she had asked with some concern and Farbarad had informed her that as a general rule they grew no larger than a small pony! As if that was to be some source of comfort for her. Dtill a puppy, it was already a font of never ending mischief that only she seemed to see. Everyone else, Hanasian included, turned a blind eye to the puppy's antics and mishaps. Rin suspected the hound knew what she thought of it. It took great delight in following her about, just watching with those limpid brown eyes, as if that alone was enough to melt her heart. Certainly it appeared adorable enough, bouncing about the little beach in exuberant delight, but she would not surrender her heart to it. Certainly it had only ever been unfailingly gentle with her son, but she would not be fooled.
"You're a hard woman," Rowdy had commented only last night. The pup was in the kitchen again, at the table, staring up hopefully at dinner with those big brown eyes.
Rin had snorted and rolled her own eyes, "Oh please…that? Oldest trick in the book!"
Then she had made her eyes very large and winsome. It was a knack every beggar child mastered early on. She trained them on Rowdy until he had squirmed in his chair.
"See?' she had said, blinking and looked back at her plate, her hold on the Gondorian Ranger released all of a sudden.
"Stones! Is there some sort of school that orphan children go to learn that?"
Rin had arched a brow, entertained a secretive smile and said, "You'd not believe me even if I told you the truth."
Still haunted, Rowdy had scowled at her, "Well, whatever the case it should be made illegal."
"Ah, a conscience then. That makes you the perfect mark," she had answered, all the while ignoring the pup staring up a the table as if he had not been fed only half an hour ago.
On the beach Rin leant back on the blanket and pulled her son to her. He loved to lay over her like this so that his dark head rested on her chest. The sun was warm, the susurrations of the waves hypnotic and soon she was dozing, not caring to push the damp bundle of fur that decided to settle in on one side of her. Damn extra mouth to feed. Damn Elves with their gifts. One of these days she was going to give them a gift. Oh yes. Perhaps an oliphaunt. That should be entertaining.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Things went smoothly at first, but rationing was never a welcome advent no matter how well disciplined the troops. Things were made all the more difficult by the growing awareness that they were marooned upon a floating wooden island in the middle of no one knew where - or even when and that was even worse. It was warm and getting warmer. It was tense and getting grimmer. Molguv leaned against the water casks, his tulwar out ostensibly for sharpening. Wulgof leaned over the shi['s rail and watched the water pass, arm dangling.
"Harad, eastern shore," Mulgov said, whetstone moving down the already wickedly sharp edge of his weapon.
"Rhun," Khule insisted quietly and Wulgof muttered something in Dunlendic, sick and tired of this debate, this ship, rations and the whole affair.
The makeshift sail that the two engineers had fashioned strove the best that they could. Simple fact was that cloaks patched together were not good for catching wind. But, more to the point, there had to be wind to catch. Despite the fact that there was no wind at all, they were still moving through the water. It made no sense. It was unnatural. What worried Wulgof more was the fact that neither of the women they had brought back with them understood how or why this had happened. Or what it might mean. Videgavia could sniff he air and say it smelled like home as much as the man cared to. Wulgof did not like this one bit. It stunk of dubious business and the Dunlender loathed such things. They never led to any good.
Movement off to one side drew Wulgof's attention from the water. Loch had emerged, without that Rose acting his personal shadow for once. He stood at the rail and lifted up a long, bronze tube that made things far away appear close. He used the device to scan the horizon, turning until Wulgof could see the glint of sunlight on the lens.
"A monster!" Loch exclaimed with a lop sided grin and then expertly adjusted the device, "Oh, no…it's Wulgof."
"Right first time, then, Kid," Molguv called back as Loch lowered the bronze tube and smiled outright.
The younger man was improperly happy. Happier than he had been when he had gotten his first proper meal at the Prancing Pony. This too was no good in Wulgof's books. Just as the Kid was really starting to show promise, Rose happened. Wulgof had been stewing over that all voyage, as soon as it became apparent. But just at this moment, something else was amiss. For starters, Loch had gone to the wrong side to look for land if they were really in the eastern sea like Vid had said they were. Secondly, instead of ambling over to trade more jibes, the scout tucked the metal tube under his arm and darted back below to report. Wulgof looked over to where Khule sat, tossing a dagger. The Easterling's eyes were thoughtfully narrowed, confirming that Khule saw it too. Little escaped that one. Something was clearly afoot.
Sure enough, a few moments later Videgavia and Berlas both hurried out onto the deck and went to the wrong side of the ship. Loch hung back as first Vid and then Berlas used the same tube to peer at the horizon. Berlas shook his head. Videgavia was tugging at his beard. Both turned back to Loch, who shrugged. He pointed at the slack sail. Then all three went back below decks again.
"What do you suppose that was all about?" Wulgof inquired and his two companions had nothing to say. Then one of those infernal women materialised seemingly from nowhere. Clad head to toe in black leather, the Cat smiled at them.
"We're not where we're supposed to be," she said, accent a strange lilt that made it hard to place.
Wulgof, unsettled by her sudden appearance, barked back at her, "And what makes you the expert then?"
The woman appraised him coolly, irritatingly prepossessed in the same way a certain absent healer could be. Then she smiled at him, as if enjoying his discomfiture.
"Such charm! I see now why she is so fond of you."
"Who is?" Wulgof asked with alarm.
The idea that another Cat was fond of him was even less soothing than the one that stood before him. She laughed quietly and sauntered off, hips swaying. If she had a tail, she'd be swishing it at him. Molguv chuckled and Wulgof favoured them both with a sour scowl when he realised that Khule was grinning at him as well.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
It was the sweet scent of fish cooking that woke her. Limbs thoroughly suffused with warmth, Rin opened her eyes to find that the two men had built a small fire and were cooking their catch over the flames. Hanavia sat in his father's lap, hanging off the masculine buzz of every word of the men about him. The giant dog in waiting sat on its haunches, tongue lolling as it eyed the sizzling fish so tantalizingly close.
"Watch that hound," Rin warned, familiar with the lustful expression on its shaggy, adorable puppy face. The hound eyed her as if disappointed. Damn thing was too clever for it's own good, she thought.
"The pup? That's what got your attention?" Farbarad said and Rin frowned at that and peered about the beach.
"Oh," she squeaked.
"And there we have it," Farbarad said with a grin as Rin sat up fully.
What had been open ocean now was not. A strange, battered looking vessel that had a distinct list to one side was moored beyond the waves and even now, a smaller boat was being rowed to shore. In it, jumping up and down ill advisedly, was a familiar outline that was shouting and waving his arms. Rin rubbed at her eyes. The others in the boat pulled the figure down hard when the boat began to rock dangerously from side to side.
"Oh!" Rin said a second time, thoughts slowly assembling.
Hanasian watched his wife carefully. She appeared genuinely surprised, but then she was an excellent actor and this morning trip to the shore had been all her idea.
"You didn't see this coming?" he asked her and, eyes on the boat that was drawing closer, she shook her head slowly from side to side. Even now the boat was cresting through the waves.
"Is it?" Rin did not dare finish the question.
"What do your eyes tell you," Hanasian asked settling down in a crouch at her back and wrapping his hands around her arms to gently squeeze.
"You dreamed of him. I know you did."
"Yes," she admitted, brow furrowed all the same.
The boat scraped over the sand and Loch burst from it at such a rate that he lost his footing and tumbled over the wet sand like seaweed. No matter. He was on his feet again without delay and pounded up the sand with one thought in mind. In this time, Rin stood and he realised that she was with child. That meant he should be careful. Still, he collected her in a wet, sandy, tight embrace that pulled her up off her feet. Behind him the others were getting out with far greater care and less haste than he had demonstrated. Loch, still laughing with sheer relief – for it had been over a year since he had seen her last – set her down as gently as he could.
Rin stared at him hard a moment, her eyes seeming to pierce him in the way that she could. He had no idea what she saw now when she looked at him, for he was not the brother, not the same as he had been when she last regarded him. Certainly she seemed different. She was…well she was someone's mother now. A little boy clung to his father watching intently with his mother's eyes. And he could teel that she was happy, bone deep. And, he realised with a start that she was scowling at him.
"OW!" he shouted when she slapped his chest, surprised more than anything, "What was that for?"
That question proved to be the wrong one, for she stuck him again. He hopped back warily, boots squelching, but she came after him.
"Rin! Hey, stop! That isn't fair! Ow! Rin, stop it!"
Of she did not and so there was nothing else to do but attempt to dodge. What else could a man do when attacked by his pregnant sister?
"OW! STOP IT! It's…it's not good for the baby," he tried when she landed another slap.
"Babies," she corrected him and slapped him again as he stared at her.
"More than one? OW! THAT'S ENOUGH!" his voice rose into a shout.
Rin crossed her arms, tilted her head and studied him.
"I suppose so," she allowed, and began to straighten out the simple dress she wore.
All of this had been witnessed by a beach full of men. Wulgof, he could see, had a grin from ear to ear.
"What was THAT for?" he asked, injured pride stinging worse than anything else.
"I specifically told you to be careful, did I not?"
"Well…yes…and I was!"
"I'm here, aren't I?"
"Careful, Lochared," Rin said crisply in a dangerously quiet voice, "Is not how I would describe launching an unauthorised, unplanned assassination attempt against a witch AND a wizard."
Loch swallowed and realised instinctually that telling her that he had done it for her would only make matters worse. Meanwhile, Molguv had spotted the fish.
"Only two, Cap?" he said and glanced back to where Khule and Wulgof stood watching all of this unfold, "Just as well I saved the best for last, then."
"What best! You said we were all out of anything decent yesterday morning," Wulgof called back.
"Salted pork," Khule said, "Barrels of the stuff vanished into thin air five days ago."
"WHAT? We was supposed to be protecting the rations! Vid will hang us by our heels from the nearest tree when he hears this!"
"I did protect them. Protected them so good we have something to eat here, now, at this reunion. Two fish will not go far…not with Doc in her current condition. Do you know nothing at all about women?"
And so they were back.
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.