57. Chapter 57
Videgavia took Hanasian's counsel and quietly informed the Company of the choice before them: join Loch in the south if he would have them or remain here in the north with him. With their ship at anchor, the two bases would never be too far apart. He left it with them to decide over the coming days. Hanasian, meanwhile, had his own counsel when it came to the Company. Their presence in the north would add a stability and protection his family needed. With bases on his wife's land, the Company had acquired itself a patron. It could recruit from both, and potentially take in young men that might become rebels if left to their own devices in the north.
What is more, Rosmarin's position in her cousin's court was never more prominent than it was now. She was a noble of the highest ilk, a queen in her own right, and everyone in his court knew it. If her kinsman called for her to send men for a campaign, and there were always campaigns, she would have no choice but to comply. Yet, who could she send? Simply put, the Company needed Rin and Rin needed the Company. The problem was that while the Company was accustomed to needing its Doc, Rin had lost none of her aversion to soldiers. Hanasian had no idea how she would react to the fact that she had acquired an army, quietly and gradually. It was only a matter of time before she realised it herself. For now, though, she was distracted with Loch's wedding and the Company remained in her eyes the Free Company of Arnor – not the Company of Cardolan.
The date of the wedding loomed ever closer, Rin mused to herself as she strode across the grounds, that Loch was simply no help at all. There was so much to be done. All the tables in the house needed to be brought outside and set up under the beech tree. Thankfully, its winter bare branches were now suitably clothed in spring green foliage. Rin had spent weeks frowning at the naked branches, worrying over that. There were the lanterns to be finished so that they could be strung up. The Cats were working on the garlands, none too happily, but so far they had complied. The yard, however, was a mess. It was filled with Company men and Company gear. Orderly enough, she supposed with a sniff, for a military unit but utterly unacceptable for a wedding! It had to all be moved and she was going to start with the worst offenders of all.
The Dirty Three had been steadily accumulating stuff that had overflown from their little cabin and begun to colonise the area outside. Boxes and bags that no one was permitted to approach. It had something to do with some scheme the trio had cooked up between themselves. Of that she had no doubt. But it was unsightly and it had to go. For one night. For Loch. It was her cabin and grounds they lived in! Rin rehearsed her arguments as she approached, picking her way through the piles. She could hear them inside, chattering amongst themselves in a patois of three languages that Hanavia was starting to use.
The best approach was a strong one, Rin decided, so instead of knocking she just pulled the door open. The chatter inside came to an instant standstill and Rin's eyes narrowed so she could see what was going on inside. When her eyes adjusted from the bright sun she stood in, her spine went stiff.
"GIVE ME THAT!" she shouted and sprang inside, swearing in Dunlendic as she chased the three men about the small confines of the cabin.
With the options in the cabin limited, Wulgof sprung outside while the other two attempted to delay Rin. He ran from the cabin while the scuffle just inside the door grew in intensity to such a degree that the others about the grounds paused in whatever they were doing to watch. Wulgof heard Khule shout something garbled by pain and Molguv barked laughter that was suddenly checked into a wheezing cough. He spun about to see his hunter surge out of the cabin. Rin was incensed by now and it showed. She lifted one arm and stabbed a finger at him.
"TAKE THAT OFF NOW! THIS INSTANT!"
Wulgof heard the unmistakeable note of command in her voice. It was that steely note that had made her so effective as their healer. His jaw bunched and he backed up several steps as he looked down at himself.
"Why?" he asked, lifting his eyes once more to find she was advancing on him like an unholy storm.
"It's obscene!" she hissed at him and then, "Why was it not burnt with the others?"
Wulgof had a decision to make. It wasn't a hard one. He continued to back away, noting that Khule and Molguv had managed to drag themselves outside in this time. By the looks of them, they'd be no help and everyone else seemed content to observe. He was in this on his own. Well then, he thought, some things never change. Wulgof decided to not answer Rin's question and instead brushed wrinkles away over his chest.
"There's nothing wrong with it. Company colours now, anyway."
The good news was that his words made her halt. More than that, she froze. The bad news is that the former Company healer and now Company patron got angrier still.
"What?" she asked, voice dangerously low now and behind her, Khule was energetically shaking his head from side to side to tell him to stop – too late, as Easterlings usually are.
"What, you didn't know?" Wulgof angled and Rin was obdurately silent.
"The Free Company of Arnor is not mine," Rin said, measuring her words out, "I do not have an army."
"We're not an army, least not yet. More of an elite military unit, that, if you haven't noticed, seems to act in your interests and is based on your land."
Wulgof watched Rin's mouth open and then shut. Her jaw firmed and she glanced around at the others. No one drew a breath, no one looked away either. Wulgof swallowed hard.
"Right," Rin said, biting the word off ominously, gathered her skirts up and stalked towards the house with a new target in her sights.
Wulgof let his breath out and looked down at the blue surcoat he wore. He didn't like the silver rose overly much, but it was better by far than a white hand and it belonged to a patron that he could genuinely commit himself to. Around him, people shook their heads and returned to their tasks while Khule and Molguv approached. Khule was limping and Molguv had a split lip.
"That went well, don't you think," Wulgof asked the other two.
By the time Loch and Rose's wedding arrived, decisions had been made about who would join Loch in the south and Rin had not ejected the Company from her land. In fact, they were all gathered together under the great beech tree, laughing and singing and dancing in celebration of the union between Loch and Rose. Garlands were woven through the branches and strewn across the tables. Lanterns cast a soft golden glow on the merry makers below. Videgavia shook his head as he lowered his tankard.
"The younger ones are going with Loch, it seems, while the old warhorses have decided to remain here," Videgavia confided to Hanasian, "Not how I thought it would split."
"Probably a good thing for Loch's new marriage that Dirty Three aren't going with him," Hanasian said with a grin from across the table.
He turned to study those dancing. He could see the happy couple, oblivious to it all, surrounded by the other dancers. He recalled that moment well himself but for now, his wife was nowhere to be seen. Not far from the dancing if he had to guess, and probably up to something utterly unseemly for a woman of her rank. Rin had been doing a lot of that of late in an attempt to prove to herself that she was not a noblewoman, with petitioners and an army and titles and royal privileges and honours and responsibilities. As Massuil had observed, it seemed she had become a little wilder of late. She was certainly keeping his Rangers on their toes. Hanasian hoped it would wear off, that she would settle into this as she had everything else. His wife, if nothing else, was resilient and adaptable.
"-in a week or so, do you think?" Videgavia asked and Hanasian blinked and looked over at the man.
"Certainly," he replied and Videgavia nodded before he knocked back another mouthful of ale. Hanasian did the same, marvelling at the honeyed texture of the stuff. It had been difficult to obtain, costly, and difficult to retain once in the cellars but it all seemed worthwhile now. Imladris' honeyed ale was perfect for an event such as this. Barrels and barrels of the stuff had been rolled out and, by the look of those around them, everyone agreed.
"And what of you? Will you venture down as well or remain here?" Videgavia asked just as Slippery appeared at the Daleman's shoulder and grasped his forearm.
Videgavia blinked his surprise for Slippery was in a dress and it appeared Rin had taken her revenge for all the 'fussy' dresses Slippery had insisted she wear. For all of Rin's distaste for such things, the dress suited Slippery well. The golden hue emphasised her dark hair and her eyes twinkled.
"Come on then. I'm not wearing this thrice damned thing again, so you'd best make the most of it," she informed Videgavia and pulled the man to his feet.
Hanasian lifted his tankard to his mouth and was left to consider Videgavia's question. It would be necessary for Rin to show her face in the south, to sure up Loch's legitimacy as her Steward there and prove that she did exist and was not a monster. And on the way they could look in on his sister…and Edoras as well. Oh yes, there was a certain undertaking his wife had given to the ageing King of Rohan. There was a certain history between Edoras and her nefarious youth. As the night pressed on, Hanasian's mind was made up.
In the early hours of the next morning, Hanasian located his wife. She was soundly asleep by now empty barrels of ale, a protective arm thrown over a blissfully asleep Khule. Both their heads were pillowed on Wulgof's chest, untroubled by the Dunlending's snores. Molguv had last been seen headed off into the woods, five Rangers in pursuit. Hanasian shook his head. Yes, it really was best that Rin and the Dirty Three were separated for a while. Particularly while she was so wildly unpredictable. Some time in Edoras might cure her of her nostalgia for her illicit hey day. He extracted his wife, lifted her out of the tangle of sleeping revellers. Wulgof snorted and twitched. Khule rolled and flung an arm over the Dunlending, muttering something in his native tongue. Hanasian carried his wife towards the house and their own bed within.
In the week that followed, Videgavia sent the ship south. Loch and Rose went with it, accompanied by a small crew, eager to spend some time alone with one another, freed from their duties. While the ship made its way south, Videgavia sent those who would join Loch off by road and formed the older hands, including the Dirty Three who were not bouncing back from a night of merriment nearly as fast as they used to, into patrols for the north. While the Rangers saw to the immediate surrounds of the forests and coast, the Company of Cardolan ranged further afield under the mandate of the High King of Arnor. Things settled down into a routine of sorts. Petitioners came to seek the Lady of Cardolan's justice. The Lady of Cardolan did her best to not be found, busy elsewhere or outright absconding as far as she could make it. The Lord of Cardolan, meanwhile, saw to preparations for a long trip south.
Consequently, in the first week of summer, a month after Loch and Rose's wedding, the Lady of Cardolan was in the saddle along with the others who would join them on their journey south. There was no pomp or pageantry, but Rin still frowned because the rose of Cardolan could be seen here and there. She didn't like it at all but she had lost in her argument with her husband to do away with it entirely. It was, he argued, an official trip and appearance and had to be treated as such. And he was right, only it didn't become official until the very end down in Gondor somewhere and so there was no need to start early on all the Cardolan nonsense, she had argued. Rin had no idea about the plans to stop into Edoras on the way and Hanasian was determined to keep it that way.
Twenty of Cardolan's rangers would be going with them. Some had already set out to secure the way ahead. If it was so dangerous, Rin argued, perhaps they shouldn't go at all. She had lost that argument as well and so she sat in her saddle and brooded about how obstreperous and intransigent Hanasian had become of late. He had left her with his cousins and Foldine while he quietly spoke with Massuil and those Rangers that would be left behind to watch over the house. Rin twisted in her saddle to study him.
"You'll like Rohan, Doc," Foldine told her and Rin shot him a look.
"I recall it well enough to like it from here," she replied and returned her attention to Hanasian. The man was up to something. She just knew it.
"Rolling fields, endlessly tumbling into the distant horizon," Foldine continued, waxing lyrical.
"Grass, rocks and horses," Rin answered flatly, "With the monotony broken by the occasional goat."
Frea chuckled and his brother grinned.
"The majesty of the golden roof of Meduseld!" Foldine exclaimed and this swung Rin's eyes to his.
She stared at him for several heartbeats and then applied her heels to her horse to send it forward to where Farbarad quietly waited. Foldine looked over at the twins and grinned. All three of them knew. They knew about Meduseld. They knew about the cheese. They knew where Hanasian was taking his wife on their way to Gondor and they weren't about to miss it for the world.
"I am going to enjoy this," Foldine said, waggling his bushy eyebrows at the other two and watched them nod their agreement.
Hanasian came striding past them and swung into his saddle, clearly pleased with something or other. His eyes swept over them, resting briefly on his cousins and winking at them, before he found his wife with Farbarad and gave the signal to move out.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Loch wasn't sure just what made a honeymoon a honeymoon, aside from the obvious. In his estimation, though, their time aboard the ship seemed to qualify. Didn't it? There were enough hands on board to see to the ship and Loch enjoyed the opportunity that created to relax with his bride. The wind was favourable and constant. The seas were gentle, frothed every now and anon when the wind became more vigorous. They made fair time on the open sea where the currents ran favourably to the south.
On the second night out the skies were clear and the stars particularly bright, or so Rose thought as she stood on the nightdark deck by the starboard rail. Loch was below, soundly asleep. She pulled the white silk robe she had donned tighter around her and gazed to the western horizon. It was out there, somewhere in the dark, as was her sister.
Anviekla's absence had been a palpable one at the wedding, Rose thought. She missed her even now. They had spent their lives together and separation, now, was not easy. Rose supposed Loch must have encountered the same thing with his own sister. They, like Anvikela and herself, had endured no small hardships together and their bonds were consequently forged strong.
For all that she missed Anvikela, Rose was certain that her life with Loch would be much more than anything she had known before. If their marriage was to grow, she had to surrender her powers. She had a different path now. Rose's certainty that she had chosen wisely did not offer her any protection from lingering feelings of weakness and vulnerability. She had always had the refuge of her sister and her powers. Always had the customs and rituals. Recalling one particular rite from her childhood, Rose lifted her arms and put her hands out to the west.
The talk of the Dunedain echoed through Rose's head. They spoke of the shroud of Varda. Rose gazed along her arms until she found the band of silver that arced over head. She lifted her hands towards this and closed her eyes to wait. For what she did not know. Her robe gently fluttered round her. The ship creaked. The sea sighed its ancient song. Nothing. Rose lowered her arms and opened her eyes, feeling a strange blend of relief and foolishness. She looked down to admire the ring Lochared had given her and smiled.
"It is better this way," she murmured to herself.
The sound of footsteps turned Rose's head and she saw Loch was crossing the deck towards her, sandy hair tousled by sleep. She did not see the tiny spark of white light her ring offered for a scant moment. Rose turned her attention back to the west as Loch fit himself against her back and slid his arms around her.
"Trouble sleeping, my love?" he murmured into her ear and made her smile. So few saw this tender side of her husband.
She looked over her shoulder at him as her hand entwined with his.
"No, dear husband. I only wished to smell the fresh sea air again. The last time we were on a ship, I did not sense any of this. Now I feel my senses awaken!"
Loch nuzzled her neck a moment and then led her back to their cabin. They were soon once again asleep as the ship gently rocked. It would be some time before they would be on land again. As Loch drifted off to sleep again, he resolved to make the most of this time with Rose. Too soon, he guessed, his duty to the Company would call.
Aside from their evening turn about the deck, Loch and Rose were rarely seen by the crew in what was a thoroughly uneventful journey south. The crew were saved from boredom when the seas became rougher and the wind contrary shortly as they rounded the Cape of Andrast and had to push their way east. All told, it only added a day to their voyage. In the opinion of the newly weds, it was a day well worth gaining.
The eastern sky was dappled in cloud as dawn approached. Loch awoke to find the bed empty and Rose gone. He found her on deck, standing by the prow. A faint sheen of light glowed from her hand and lit her face. Loch frowned for it was a strange sight. As soon as she sensed Loch, the light faded and Rose turned to face him.
"Good Morning Rose," Loch said and watched Rose shyly smile at him.
"Good morning me dear husband."
"Did you not sleep well?"
Loch wouldn't have known, for he went to sleep hard the night before. How often did his wife go wandering while he slept? As he pondered that, he saw that Rose's played with the ring on her left hand. She twisted it about, fidgeting.
"I slept well, of course. The evening was a rather busy one, as well you know. I woke only a little while ago and I came up to see the stars. There are lights in the far distance. We will land today, no?"
Rose turned away and Loch stepped behind her to peer over her shoulder. The ship was cutting a deep furrow east through the waves. His wife was fidgeting, and he hadn't missed her habit of finishing statements with questions that weren't really questions. Anvikela had done it too.
"Yes, by evening I believe," he answered.
"I will always remember the time we shared on this ship. I will miss it, I think," Rose said wistfully.
Loch nodded and said, "Yes, for the days ahead will be interesting."
They stood silent for a time, and Loch did not press Rose further. He knew from experience, a woman cornered into answering untimely questions could be a bruising experience. At that thought, the face of his sister floated into his mind for a moment. Rose turned to him and kissed him deeply, and all thought of anyone other than his wife vanished like smoke on a stiff wind. The newlyweds were soon gone from the deck and did not emerge again until the call came that they were about to dock.
The ship reached port before sundown and pulled into the fourth quay of Dol Amroth. Loch thought it had a faintly elvish look to it, but he kept that to himself. Once the ship was tied off, Loch led Rose and some of his men off the ship towards the party that waited upon the docks for them. There were three of them, all men who had served in Rowdy's squad. Men handpicked by Rowdy. Men paid by the noble that had tried to assassinate his sister. Rowdy was a good man, a fine warrior who had given his life to defend Rin. Would he have picked men he did not trust?
Loch stood awkwardly there and wondered what they made of him: A Dunlending with a wife from a distant land and a band of Easterlings who looked about as inconspicuous as a bear wearing a tiara. Under the evening sun they stared at each other for a long moment and Loch began to wonder how this was all going to end. Finally the man that stood in the middle of the trio, the one with a slightly different insignia on his uniform compared to the other two, stepped forward and saluted.
"Commander Lochared, I trust your voyage went well?"
"Yes, quite well," Loch answered with growing dismay.
Commander? He wasn't too sure he liked the sound of that. What does a commander do? How do they act? He had not given it a moment's thought since setting out. He had been preoccupied with, Loch glanced sideways at Rose, with other matters. Rose gave him a calm smile, looking thoroughly unruffled. How was it that woman managed to do that? Loch inhaled and tried to straighten himself out. He was on his own, on point. Videgavia or Hanasian were not here for him to hide behind. What would they do? Ah…..the answer materialised before him.
"I'll have your report now. What is the situation here, Sergeant?"
The man took a breath and, with a glance at his two companions, spoke quietly. They were not alone on the docks by any measure.
"All is well here in Dol Amroth. The tidings don't affect Dol Amroth directly. Only the usual rumblings here and there that of discontent. The lands and estate of Voromir are secure. No incidents. Still the mood is mixed. They anticipate the arrival of you as Steward and feel no small measure of regret at the change and the reasons for it. Some fear retribution or ill will. Yet the likelihood of threat is minimal. Voromir, for all of his faults, was deeply loyal to the King and those who live on his lands are no exception. The King's proclamation had been widely distributed and is well known."
"Very good then." Loch said and they started to walk.
He caught sight of a sandy haired old man walking with a stick in hand. The old man, like other elders about the dock, did raise his eyebrows at the sight of Loch's party. However, in the main they were either ignored or politely greeted.
The sergeant continued, "We've a place for you and your men to rest tonight. I expect the trading will conclude tomorrow morning. The Lady was adamant that trade with Dol Amroth continue uninterrupted. We will be able set out for your new home by mid morning."
There was so much to think of. Trade, alliances, the good will of the people. As Steward, Loch knew all of this would be entrusted to him in his sister's absence. But would it be home? Loch seemed to find the faces that stared at them. He felt he was more of an occupier than a resident. The trust his sister had shown in appointing him to this role. He couldn't let her down. Not just her, all the people that lived on her lands as well. Loch's mind started to whir, decisions and plans for their days ahead. All he could do was hope they were the right ones. Time would be the judge of that.
They arrived at an old inn that the Sergeant had procured for them. Loch and Rose were shown to a stately room where they could rest for the night. Runner and the young Easterlings of the Company had a common room set with bunks for them. It would be a restful night for all save two. It was, after all, the last night of their honeymoon.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The days passed with fair weather and little disturbance for those setting out from Cardolan over land. The only thing unusual about it was how quiet most of the party were. Oh, and the fact that they travelled with a small child and an infant.
Too much thinking, Wulgof concluded, himself guilty of the same. They would reach Tharbad soon. On the other side lay Dunland. Wulgof regretted that Loch was not here to explore their homeland as they passed through. Still, he mused, the Kid was happy now, married and all. The thought made Wulgof frown. The Kid is a good man. And besides, his sister was with them and Dunland was her home too, once.
He looked over at Mulguv, who seemed to be counting something. The Haradian's fighers flickered and he had that intense look of concentration on his face. Wulgof figured that the man had to have something in play, a scheme of some sort. Molguv always tries to find the angle most profitable for him. Trouble was, more often than not, it seemed to cost him just a bit more than what he gains.
Up ahead, Hanasian rode beside the Doc. Wulgof shook his head and amended that. Doc was Lady Rosmarin now. The last time they had been at Tharbad, she had been the thieving wraith that had robbed Molguv and Khule blind, in broad daylight. Well, it had been raining then, hard too, but it was day light. Bold as that. Who could have known that she was of royal descendant? He'd never even heard of Cardolan back then. Wulgof scratched at his head and pondered the matter further. After a while, he shook his head. She might be the Lady of Cardolan. As far as he was concerned, she was Doc. Always would be. And that made Wulgof check his purse hung where he had put it that morning. After that, his daggers. She was fond of those, demon that she was. He patted himself down to reassure himself and then glanced around the rest of the group.
Off to the side, the Rohirrim seemed to be holding together. Foldine was talking with Frea and Folca, and there seemed to be some concern amongst them. Those three were always worried about something. Wulgof decided he wasn't going to get involved. He didn't like the sound of Rohirric anyway and he knew those three would not stoop to Westron if they thought they could get away with it.
Behind him rode Videgavia and Khule, talking together. If there was any two who should hate each other, then it had to be the Easterling and the Rhovanion. But Vid was the Cap, and Khule… well, he was a commander once. Officers… yeeesh. Actually, come to think of it, the three strawheads had no love lost for Rhun either. But then, they didn't like anyone that didn't advantage them to like. Proud, Wulgof thought, for a bunch of men who smelt overly much like horses.
Wulgof grinned to himself behind hid beard and decided he needed to stop thinking before it got him into trouble. They were approaching Tharbad, Doc's most southerly settlement. There'd surely be official duties for her. That should prove…entertaining. Just as well he had brought his surcoat along.