7. Chapter 7
The morning brought a cloudy day, cooler than it had been the last few days. Didn't look or feel like rain, but the air was damp and chill. Hanasian gave Rin a kiss before they emerged for their last solid breakfast. It was good to see her smile. Everyone gathered and they ate quickly without much talk. They were going forth to their next deployment. It won't be as relaxed as the ride from Minas Tirith to Bree was. They should have been this prepared then, if they were, they may not have lost anybody on the way. Going into the south once again. It will be a week or more before they arrive in Mithlond, and then the ship ride will add its own challenges and adventures. Hanasian was ready. But how would he be with Rin there? This time it would be different, whether he wanted it to be or not.
After setting out, only a brief drizzle made their ride chill. It soon passed and the day slowly grew lighter until the sun managed to break through around the noon hour. They set a fair pace, but weren't breaking sweat. The road was in good repair and some few travelling hobbits headed for Bree to sell their wares. Friendly folk the hobbits. Hanasian had never set foot in their lands before, though they little realised he had rode all around it in the days before the war. It was always an unspoken insistence that the Dunedain kept a watch on the Shire, allowing the little folk to remain in peace and enjoy their lives. It will be interesting to pass through the Shire.
Rin and Loch rode side by side and looked to be in deep discussion. Mecarnil dropped back to where Hanasian rode and together they dropped back from the group a few paces. They finally had a chance to talk some without others around.
"Cap, you realize this woman is not Dunlanding or Rohirrim? She hails from Cardolan's people?"
"I suspected..." Hanasian replied. "I from day one knew there was something about her that didn't quite fit into what she and Loch had told me, but surely it was true what they said about themselves. But I suspect more, and may be in denial of a nagging thought, but I know there is more."
"Oh, there's more ... more than I thought possible. I have to say that it appears you two have become very close."
Mecarnil said, unsure how exactly to tell Hanasian about Rin.
"Yes... have to say I have been deeply touched by Rin. Never really felt that way about anyone, so its new territory for me," Hanasian said.
Mecarnil muttered, "You can say that again..."
Mecarnil couldn't yet tell Hanasian of the royal lineage he was involved with. It was a delicate situation.
"What are you not saying Mecarnil?" Hanasian asked, quizzing him, "If you have something to say to me about Rin, I expect you to say it. You said in sign you had questions about her as soon as you rode into Bree. Yet you have not come and told me anything about what it is you are thinking..."
"I'm thinking she's the heir apparent of Cardolan," Mecarnil blurted. "There, I said it. Do with it what you will. Eventually I will have to talk to her about this."
He pulled out a leather pouch but kept it well hid from any who might chance a backwards glance. He didn't open it but Hanasian knew what it was he held. Mecarnil went on.
"You know what happened as well as I, and you know what the sons of Elrond reported. I knew her parents, and she is the very image of her mother Verawyn. It is why I was surprised at the gate. Then I hear about her healing hands, and no question remained in my mind. If you had ever seen her mother you would understand."
They talked deeply for some time until the shadows drew long. As the Rangers spoke, Rin and Loch had their own conversation to keep them occupied.
"A standard bearer? Do you even know what that is, Loch?"
Her brother glanced at her sidelong and grinned that rakish, affable way that was his. Then, he shrugged one shoulder.
"I'll find out from Wulgof… or Videgavia, if the man talks," Loch replied. Rin shook her head but was smiling. Loch looked about them for a moment and then had a question of his own.
"Did you ever see this coming, Rin?"
She knew what he was referring to. They were currently riding through what appeared to be a pleasant land in the midst of a military unit on the way to a small war. More than that, she had managed to fall head over heels for their commanding officer, a Ranger no less. It was, if she thought about it, utterly baffling.
"Didn't even Dream it, Loch," she replied. Loch peered at his sister a moment.
"And?" he prompted.
"And what?" she replied.
"And I've never seen you happier, Rin… and who's idea was this?"
Rin sighed dramatically and flicked a length of reins at her brother's knee.
"Oh, so that's why you're here talking to the lowly company healer, oh mighty trainee standard bearer. You're here to score points. Well, fine. You were right, Loch," she replied, humour dancing through her words. Loch nodded his head with self satisfaction, looking very much like the cat that got the proverbial cream.
"Write that down in that book of yours Rin. A notable day when you openly admit I was right," he drawled. Rin pushed at his shoulder, laughing. A companionable, easy silence arose between the siblings and they were content to simply ride. This Shire was a pleasant land. Loch could see why its people were so keen to preserve it way it was. He twisted in the saddle to peer back at Mecarnil and Hanasian. The two rangers were deep in discussion and it looked to be a rather grim matter from their expressions. Loch turned back to regard his sister. He'd really never seen her quite so content before. There had been that one moment in Edoras, when she'd had all that cheese intended for Meduseld's feast. However, that had been a passing joy. This, he concluded, was something far deeper, permanent.
"Rin… what's going on with you and Hanasian," he asked, genuinely curious. He knew the talk amongst the others. There was, in fact, hardly any. Loch knew what that meant. Whatever was going on between his sister and his commanding officer was entirely different to that tale between the two messengers from Minas Tirth about that bar maid. No one jested or made light of it. No one complained. There was nothing fleeting about it. That meant it was serious, and they all knew it. Rin, for her part shrugged.
"Presently, he's riding a horse and I am riding a horse," she evasively replied.
"You know what I mean, Rin. I think you love him. Plain as day to me," Loch said, batting her ploy to one side easily. Rin could be an incredibly private woman when it came to such things. The fact that her brother took his responsibility to protect his sister from unwelcome interest a little too seriously on several occasions in previous years had only instilled further greater privacy in her. She still felt bad about that last young man. He'd only gotten so far as to offer her a flower and inquire as to her name before Loch had come bulling in.
"If you know what's going on, why bother asking me about it," she replied, "And if you're thinking about making trouble on this, think again! I won't stand for it, Loch," she added. Loch held up his hands in a gesture of peace, palms out.
"You know what I think of Hanasian, Rin! Put down your weapons!" Rin subsided at that and returned her attention to the road. Loch's shoulders eased.
"I just wondered if you knew where it was going," Loch said. He watched his sister smile wistfully and flick her reins from side to side as she chose her words.
"We're trying to figure that out, Loch. It isn't easy, you know. There's the Company to consider, and by extension the king. Hanasian has responsibilities to the crown, as now do I. We can't just drop everything and dance off into happily ever after. It takes time to figure out how best to make it work and frankly, we have this matter of Harad to turn our attention to. There is not a lot of time to think of ourselves. We will figure it out, though."
Loch was surprised by the insight his sister permitted him, but what she said made sense. Still, it wasn't what he had been asking. As per usual, she had thought too much.
"Rin, all I really wanted to know is whether he feels the same way about you," Loch said. Rin expelled a breath and rolled her eyes. Yes, her brother came from the school of thought that she named Fate. Life was a simple affair. If it was to be, it would be and none of the practicalities that she had just mentioned would intrude.
"We're not betrothed, Loch. If you want to know how he feels, ask him. I think he does feel as I do, but that's just my opinion and I think too much, so you can't count on my opinion," she replied. Loch rlet the matter rest for the moment. He twisted back to peer at Hanasian again. No, perhaps he wouldn't boldly question his superior officer on his intentions towards his sister just yet. Mecarnil looked particularly animated at that particular point. He nodded towards where Loch rode with Rin ahead. Loch straightened in his saddle.
"Hey, Rin," he started. Rin threw up one leather clad arm and hand.
"What? Another question? Why don't you go pester your new friends?" She was clearly becoming mildly exasperated. Perhaps his earlier questions had not been as sensitive and diplomatic as he thought. Loch glanced at the knots of men ahead.
"They got tired of my questions and sent me back here to you," he confessed. Rin shot a glare aimed directly between Wulgof's shoulder blades. The Dunlending twitched and turned his head and then grinned before turning back to say something to Khule. The Easterling laughed, which prompted Molguv to inquire and soon all three were chortling up ahead.
"Rin, have you noticed how that Mecarnil is always watching you," Loch asked. Rin realised that this was the real heart of her brother's concerns.
"Yes. There's no harm in it, Loch. Hanasian holds him in high esteem. Just leave it for now, please? No trouble on that score on my account." Loch was clearly uncomfortable with Mecarnil.
"He's been asking me questions, you know," Loch said.
"He's probably just trying to get a measure of the cloth we're made from Loch. We're new recruits and he likely wants to know who he's working with. Perhaps that is just his way," Rin replied steadily. Loch rolled his shoulders, not entirely as sure.
"Never thought I'd hear you defending a soldier," Loch observed. Rin flashed him a smile.
"Mecarnil's a Ranger and they're different to soldiers," she replied. Loch snorted at that and Rin turned to study the stones that ran into the middle distance. They were old and they drunkenly leaned in a haphazard clumps around green swards. The stones were pitted and daubed with lichen and moss. They clearly had been placed there, but by who and for what purpose was a mystery. Loch and Rin weren't the only ones intrigued. Molguv turned back to glance at Rin. Rin and Loch drew back to ask Hanasian and Mecarnil what the stones were.
"All I can suggest is remain close, but not too close..." Loch overheard Mecarnil say as he dropped back towards the two rangers. They straightened up and rode forward to meet him and discovered Loch was curious about the nearby stone formations to the south on the hills, and the stone wall along the road.
Mecarnil said to them, "It's funny you should ask... We'll camp soon, and when we get settled I'll tell you some of the kingdom of Cardolan."
Hanasian gave instructions for a secure camp, which seemed odd in what had been a gentle land. Rin was dispatched to gather fire wood. Apparently they would need a lot of light tonight. Again, that didn't make a lot of sense to her. Rin wandered about, gathering up wood, unable to stop herself from peering at the tumble down stones. Like grinning teeth, she thought at first and then stopped herself. No, like a broken stone crown that ringed the green mounds. Some of the stones around the entrance were carved with glyphs of some sort. It was still daylight, but it all seemed a bit eerie and utterly fascinating to her. By the time she got back, Mecarnil was starting with tales of Cardolan.
Cardolan… a fallen realm that Hanasian had spoken briefly of several days ago. For a fallen realm, it sure seemed popular.
"We're camped on the northern reaches of that realm, where it met Arthedain. Those are barrows, graves, where the princes and kings of this land were laid to rest. First of Arnor, then of Cardolan. The Last Prince of Cardolan was laid to rest there."
"Why did they stop? Cardolan fell, but the other realms continued did they not?"
Rin had no idea why she asked that question. Loch blinked at her and she shrugged. It was just out of her mouth before she had a moment to think about it – highly uncharacteristic.
"The people of Cardolan scattered, went into hiding. The Dark Lord set an evil in many of these barrows that lingers still. It was no longer safe to lay their rulers to rest here," Mecarnil replied steadily. He watched the woman he believed to be a queen study the stones again.
"Seems…. A petty thing for one so powerful to haunt the graves of the dead," she observed.
"Perhaps, but it destroyed a realm that had posed a significant threat to the Dark Lord's realm of Rhuadaur. Cardolan was unable to continue. It had no seat of power, it had no towns or ports, its people were largely killed by a terrible plague and it did not even have graves for its dead. They scattered, like autumn leaves on a winter wind and when that happened, Cardolan was considered fallen."
Rin shivered at the ice that ran down her spine, her questions vanished. She knew now why Hanasian had called for such caution tonight, and the reason for the fire.
"So where did they go? The ones that survived," Molguv asked. His own lands had felt the terrible hand of Sauron, but he had had no idea that these soft lands of the north had suffered a similar fate.
"The old squabbles were forgotten. Cardolan, Arthedain and Rhuadaur only arose due to the dispute between the sons of the last king of Arnor," Hanasian replied.
"In the face of such utter devastation, they paled to insignificance. The Dunedain of Rhuadaur had already fled, to Arthedain. So too did the Dundedain of Cardolan and the old divisions became meaningless as Arthedain too was largely unmade by the Dark Lord. Men had divided Arnor, ironically the Dark Lord united it. But Arnor was a shadow realm, it's people wandering and sheltering in the wildnerness, ever hunted. That is where the Rangers arose from," Mecarnil said.
Loch glanced over at Videgavia, who was quietly standing and listening as he stared at the ground. A silence spread over the Company for a moment and the wind whistled through the stones around the barrows.
"We'll watch this night," Hanasian ordered, "Though much diminished, evil lingers here still. Get that fire started."
Rin unpacked what she would need for the night and set her own horse out on picket. She dropped off her bedroll and a saddle bag with basic supplies for any particular emergency during the night and turned to study the stones again. A stone wall hemmed the downs off. It wasn't nearly as ancient as the barrows, but it was old. Rin collected up her book and a pencil and wandered over to the wall in the twilight. It was thick, perhaps three foot deep. It was easy to climb up and sit atop it. She crossed her legs, her cloak hung down her back and the wall, opened up her book and flicked to a blank page. Then she started to draw in the remaining light.
Behind her, camp was set and the watch was begun. Hanasian and Mecarnil both noted the healer's position on the wall, staring out over the barrows of her ancestors. Her head was bent and the last rays of light caught her pale hair and turned it to a burnished gleaming gold braid that broke the darkness of her garb.
Rin worked fast, knowing that light would fail at any moment. She chose the closest barrow and quickly it took shape on her paper. The wind still keened through the stones as she sketched. Soon it too fell away from her attention, along with the sound of the camp behind her. She squinted at the page. The glyphs. She needed the glyphs but it was now too dark to make them out from the wall she sat on.
The wind sang a dirge of plaintive, mournful notes as she studied the barrow. It looked to be the most recent. Perhaps it was the grave of the Last Prince of Cardolan, she mused. Rin set her book aside and slipped from the wall. All she needed to do was run her fingers over the markings and then she could sketch them out. It would take a moment, just a moment.
As she neared, she could feel her blood roar in her ears. The wind was singing still, but there was a new sound. People wept. It got louder as she approached the nearest lintel stone. A trick of the wind she told herself. As she got closer, the stones reared to dizzying heights above her head. She steadied herself, frowning to clear her thoughts and closed the final steps. Rin pulled a glove off one hand and let her bare fingers graze the marked stone.
It sent a shock of bone numbing chill shooting into one arm. It stole her breath and she snatched her fingers back sharply. Then, drawn as inexorably as the tide was, she placed the palm of her hand against the stone. Her mind exploded with images, none of them bright things. A face, a young man's face. A battle, ferocious and savage. The keening of the women as they readied him for burial.
The memories were palpable, strong, and as real as the stone she touched. She could taste the bitter metallic taste of blood and death on her tongue. It weakened her knees. She knew it not, but she was on her knees panting by the time Hanasian and Mecarnil had realised she was no longer sitting on the wall and had located her amongst the barrows.
Voices, loud and jarring came to her hearing. The connection to the stone severed, her awareness careened sickenly. Someone was calling her name. Rin dragged herself, clawed her way back from the stone's embrace. It was Hanasian. She clambered to her feet, heart still pounding and backed away from the barrow. Hanasian reached for her as she gained the wall and physically lifted her back over it. For Rin it seemed as though hours had passed. For everyone else, it was mere moments.
"What part of evil do you not understand, woman," Hanasian asked her, clearly startled. She was shaking from head to foot and her heart still thundered in her ears. Her throat was dry. She picked up the book she had left on the wall. Rin closed her hand around it, more to quell the shaking than to secure the book. The images she had seen still crowded her mind. It was like she was not all the way in her body yet, a curious thought that filled her blood with ice.
"The stones weep," she said, blinking in surprise at her response as much as the two Rangers she stood with. She started again, feeling more solid and whole and present this time.
"I apologise. It won't happen again," she said. Hanasian released her. She only swayed a little bit, she noted, and she made for her bed roll.
"We got there before a wight did," Mecarnil said to Hanasian. Hanasian nodded. He knew this was true. Whatever was amiss with their healer, it was not wights. There had been no trace of their fell light. Mecarnil rubbed at his jaw, considering the woman walking away towards camp.
"The dead spoke to her mother almost as strongly as the future," Mecarnil observed. "And Rin chose the most recent barrow – one of Cardolan presumably."
Rin cocooned herself in her bedroll. She re-opened the book and traced the glyphs in it on the page next to her sketch. Then she started on the face she had seen, sketched it beneath the glyphs she had marked there.
"No one, under any circumstances, is to go into those barrows. Clear?" Men murmured assent to Hanasian's instructions. Hanasian considered Rin, who was now sketching by firelight. There was no telling what lure the barrows may hold over her. He flashed a signal to the man that stood first watch, Frea, concerning keeping a watch on their healer lest she wander again. Strictly speaking, she had not disobeyed any direct order. He let her be for a while and all that time she drew. She stopped only to use a dagger to sharpen her pencil.
It was late and she was still working when he eventually settled his bed roll beside hers. Mecarnil's suggestion from earlier circled his mind: close, but not too close. How on earth was he meant to achieve that with the woman that was beside him now? Rin heard Hanasian sigh beside her and she paused to look at him.
"I really am sorry. You must be very angry with me," she meekly said at length. He looked at her by the light of the fire. How, he asked himself again.
Rin saw him search her face. She put down her pencil and reached for his hand. She felt his fingers close around hers and then slip away again. Her breath caught in her throat and she looked away and back to her page as she retracted her hand. Hanasian missed none of this, but had no way to explain to her. Rin nodded once and closed her book.
"I'm tired," he said. It wasn't untrue. After what Mecarnil had said today, he truly did feel weary. Hanasian rolled himself up and stretched out beside her. Rin studied the flames a long while, Mecarnil was nearby. Their eyes met. He was struck anew by her resemblance to her mother, but there was something else there now that hadn't been there before tonight.
He watched her set her book aside and lie down. Verawyn's daughter had seemed truly content when he had first seen her at Bree's gates. Now there was a sorrow there, a new sorrow that likely had everything to do with the man that was sleeping beside her and what he had learned today. Mecarnil set this new sorrow at the feet of a dead man, her father: Lord Bereth. It was hard to see in the crowd of sorrows already at his feet.
Hanasian's eyes were closed but he was not asleep as Rin stretched out nearby. Close but not too close. This was going to devastate her.
"Are you asleep," he heard her whisper to him.
"No," he whispered back. She had rolled to face him.
"Have I done something very wrong, Hanasian? If I have, will you please tell me?" Hanasian opened his eyes at her question. Close but not too close be damned. He'd not torture her like this. He reached for her hand and wound his fingers through hers to bring them to his lips. That brought her nearer. Her head nestled against his chest, under his chin. Hanasian pressed his cheek against her hair, closed his eyes and breathed her in. The road to love was never easy, he supposed, but how were they to find their way through this? Hanasian shook his head and tried best to reply to her question.
"You have done nothing wrong. I on the other hand need to keep my senses about me if I am to lead this company into battle in the south. Also, Mecarnil and I have been talking, and there is much afoot that is much larger than you and I. Until we know for sure all aspects of what we suspect, have found out, and unseen possibilities that we may yet to know, I have to keep our relationship on an even keel. I love you Rin, and I wish to make no secret of it, but there are things that will guide our hands in this world that may indeed see such a relationship as ours suspect. I wish I could tell you more, but I cannot now with complete certainty say that what is suspected is true.
"My apologies for talking riddles to you, but I have to ask you to trust me in this. If I don't show that which I feel for you, it means not that I don't feel that way. Yet I think in due time, it will be made clear to you and I, and we will have to choose our fate at that time. Now, we must rest, and I will hold you close. I do hope you can sleep even a little with so much on your mind. Me too... I will welcome just a brief moment of time in the nether world of dreams."
Hanasian drew Rin close, awaiting the questions she would have about all this. But there was none right now. It was probably too much to comprehend, and they spent the night in a cuddle of warmth from the cool night.
Dreams of kings and princes, and war and death overtook Hanasian. It was quite possible that the long dead spirits of Cardolan called out to Rin when she touched the stone, and he didn't know what she may have dreamed, but he could see her in silver silken raiment with the glitter of the stars all through. Standing there as queen of a realm that had always struggled to exist. She was giving homage and swearing subservience to the High King Aragorn, and he was recognising her position as Queen of Cardolan from a line thought lost. Related they were in the long lines reaching into the past. Of royal blood and skill, what claim could a mixed blood ranger have on her love?
Yet it would be hers to freely give, but what will Rin feel when she comes to know the truth and understand her rank, position and title? Close, but not too close ... how could he deny his love, or not stand close to the woman he loved? He couldn't allow it to drift away from him, yet, he did not want to cause ill will in the highest of courts. He would have to talk to his old friend, former chieftain, and now High King of Arnor and Gondor, Aragorn. Until that day, he would have to maintain an even keel...
He woke up with a start. Sat up and looked about. Loch diligently if sleepily held the third watch that was bringing them to sunrise. Rin lay asleep, seemingly undisturbed by his abrupt awakening. He arose and took a walk to where Loch was sitting.
"How is the watch?"
He asked Loch, who seemed surprised that Hanasian was up and awake.
"All is well Captain, Kept the fire ablaze, and the horses are at ease, and no sign of movement outside a few night creatures scurrying in the shadows."
Hanasian nodded, then said,
"Ok.. good. You go and catch what rest remains in the next hour. I'll take the watch, and will prepare some food for the sunrise."
"But nothing. I'll make it an order if you wish."
Loch didn't reply. He learned that opening ones mouth too soon to the captain could land you volunteering for something. He nodded and went to find his cold bedroll.
Hanasian sat and poked a stick at the fire, sending sparks skyward. He drew out a pan and dug out the sausages he had aquired in Bree. They wouldn't last to long, and this morning was as good as any to cook them up for everyone. The next day they would be in the Shire, and the day after too. Food won't be an issue there. He set to cooking the sausage, and the scent started to awaken the others...
It was only a short time later with the skies blue with a rising sun that most everyone was awake and enjoying some sausage and tomatoes cooked on the open fire. Hanasian made sure everyone got some, even Loch who managed to fll into a deep slumber after being relieved. Khule's boot pushing him in the ribs woke him with a start.
"You want your breakfast or do I get seconds?"
"Yeah yeah yeah... I'm getting up..."
A yawn chased his words. The rest left him alone. He noted Hanasian and Rin sitting together eating, but there seemed to be a distance between them. Not anything one could see physically, but he could sense his sister and knew something was up with her and the cap.
"Get set to ride. We should make the gates of Buckland by tonight."
Hanasian said to the company, seeming a bit more grim than in days passed.
"Be on your best behaviour while in the Shire, for we are their guests should they allow us in. The King has given us a note of passage, but that still has to be initialed by the Lord Mayor of the Shire. So, we may be held up at the gates until official clearance is granted. Or they may just let us in. Still, I do not want any trouble."
Hanasian started to get his gear together and ready his mount for the ride. He watched Rin do the same. She was obviously pondering all that had been said earlier last night, and the days and weeks past. Hanasian couldn't just let it go. He walked over to her and let his arm slide around her. He kissed her neck and whispered,
I hope you are ready for all that is to come."
Rin found herself leaning into Hanasian. Her thoughts still tumbled about her mind like an avalanche, but two things were certain. She loved him and she trusted him. No matter what lay ahead, that would not alter. Rin's fingers grazed Hanasian's cheek, tracing the line of his jaw, before she returned his embrace with one of her own.
"Whatever may come, I will follow you, love. Of that have no doubt. My heart, my service, are yours, and I intend to do my best whatever happens," she whispered in return. They lingered long enough for their lips to meet and then it was away. The travelling conditions were excellent and they did indeed make Buckland by nightfall. Their admittance, however, could not occur until the following day as the Lord Mayor was otherwise engaged in a matter of high import: dinner.
The Company settled in for another night. Rin again wandered about for firewood. Khule and Molguv, who had plans for the healer concerning the ale they wanted to sell at Hobbiton, accompanied her. A fair woman, both soldiers agreed, would be far more likely to close the deal with the hobbits than two foreign looking soldiers. All they needed to do was convince her to assist.
"Fifteen percent," she insisted, bent and added another piece of wood to the growing pile she had assigned to Molguv.
"Fifteen!" Khule rolled his eyes at the Haradian's protest.
"What did you expect? She's a thief," he pointed out.
"She's the only woman here," Molguv said dispirited.
"She's standing right in front of you," Rin said, shoving another piece of firewood at Molguv. "She's decided that twenty percent is more suitable," Rin added, smiling. It was clear that the negotiations would take some time, which enabled Hanasian to seek out Mecarnil.
"I know you need to speak to her about it, Mecarnil. You'll need to ease her into it if this isn't to blow up in all our faces. Go gently, will you. Don't push her, don't spring it on her… and you'll need proof," Hanasian said quietly. Mecarnil's brows shot up.
"Aye… think about it man. What you're claiming means that her entire concept of who she is, right down to her name, isn't true. This will take everything from her, again. She'll fight it to her last breath, if she can. You'll get nowhere if you make an enemy of her," Hanasian pointed out.
"I don't doubt you and I have no wish to cause her yet more pain. I knew her father… once his mind was set there was no shaking it. What sort of proof can combat that," Mecarnil asked. Hanasian had spent the day considering this very thing. Each time his thoughts came back to idea. In the absence of Elladan and Elrohir, who had met both Rin's alleged parents and subsequently tracked their daughter down, the lynch pin came in the form of Lochared. Hanasian's attention focused on the man, who was peppering Wulgof with questions about standard bearing, much to Videgavia's amusement.
"You know where the child was left. We both know where we went to retrieve her. If we have a map, and if Loch can recall where his home was, it will be impossible for her to dismiss it as fantasy. I expect Mithlond's archives will have maps. You have until the Grey Havens to ease her into it, Mecarnil." Hanasian said.
All Mecarnil needed was a way to introduce the concepts to Rin. In the end, Khule gave him his opening.
"Last King of Arnor, Last Prince of Cardolan, fond of naming people last up here… and the Last King of Arnor wasn't, as it turned out," the Easterling observed by the fire.
"First this, last that, what is the point," Khule asked rhetorically.
"Throws the Enemy off the scent," Molguv pointed out, waving piece of bread at the Easterling as he did so. "If you're being hunted, and you fall, then the hunt drops away, yes?"
Khule nodded at that.
"Neither was the Last Prince the last," Mecarnil said. That earned him pointed glances from several members of the company, Berlas and Videgavia in particular. Still, Mecarnil pushed on with the first part of his tale. He spoke carefully that night and told the tale of how Bereth had arrived with Verawyn and his unborn child at Imladris to there have his claim confirmed.
"This is all very good," Molguv said as the night wheeled overhead.
"I'm not so sure of that," Rin said. It was the first thing she had said all night and faces turned to her.
"Well, so far… all we know is that this Bereth is the sort of man who would load his heavily pregnant wife onto a horse and cart her somewhere all in the interests of establishing his ambitious claim for the extinguished throne of a fallen land,
"A land that, I might add, had a real chance of some peace now that the High King had taken the throne in Gondor. A land reunified the way that it was supposed to be. The only person to benefit from that would be this Bereth," Rin said. She frowned, surprised at the depth of her contempt for this supposed king.
"I apologise if I have offended you, Mecarnil," she added. Mecarnil considered her a long moment and then nodded at her. He was not offended, for she had only said what he had himself thought those years ago. Dare he, though, hope that Bereth's daughter would prove wiser than her father? It was that he considered.
"What happened next," Molguv asked.
"Tomorrow, perhaps, or the day after," Hanasian said. Rin stood, stretched and walked away from the fire. She found a nearby tree and leant against it to consider the stars wheeling overhead.
"That got under your skin," Loch observed, coming to stand beside her. Rin sighed and shrugged.
"I guess I expect better of the Bereth's of the world," she replied at length. "There's a difference between what is right and what is rightful. Our father knew that, a farmer, so why not a king or a prince or whatever he was. Do you think I've offended Mecarnil?" Loch looked back to the fire.
"No…" he replied.
"Good," she said, relieved.
"Rin, is everything… well between you and Hanasian?" Rin glanced at her brother sidelong.
"Only yesterday you were telling me how happy I was, now this? Everything is well, Loch. It's complicated… Ranger business and kings and such," she said. It was about as much as she understood.
"Kings… makes you glad to be a commoner, don't it?" Rin chuckled at her brother's question and she wrapped an arm around his shoulders.
"Never been so happy to be dirt poor, Loch!"
The following day saw them admitted to the Shire proper, papers checked and notated and noted and such. They continued onto Hobbiton, which was abuzz with a wedding between one Faramir and a local lass. Berlas kept his mouth shut with moderate difficulty. Clearly, this Faramir was not his own Prince. For starters, this Faramir was a good deal shorter, considerably younger and lacked shoes of any description. With the hubbub of the wedding, there was no further discussion of Mecarnil's unfolding tale that night.
They left Hobbiton the next day, slightly hung over from the evening's festivites, several caskets heavier of pipe-weed. Khule, Molguv and Wulgof were several coppers lighter than they had expected too. Rin had honoured their arrangement and closed a deal. After she took her cut, fifteen percent, they could only conclude that they had made a crashing loss. They made Michel Delving that evening, subdued.
Loch was dispatched to the first two watches. He had drawn both owing to a certain incident involving too much ale and Frea's boots the night before. Mecarnil picked up the tale again, speaking of the birth of Erían, her father's plans regarding claiming Cardolan's throne and her mother's ignore dire warnings against it. Rin was fast painting a picture of how difficult it could be to serve a man like Bereth.
The next day they pushed hard and long, and reached the White Towers of "Emyn Beraid". They camped at the base of one of the three slender structures that night. Rin had no appetite for fire side tales of greedy, grasping lordlings. Instead, she was drawn to the towers themselves. She had never seen their like before and if she looked past them to the western horizon, a ribbon of sea glimmered beneath stars and moon. It was simply breathtaking and she stood by the tower gazing at it. It filled with a sense of joy and mystery akin to a certain Ranger she loved. He had grown preoccupied over the days, as he had said he would, but each night his warmth was there and there were brief whispers, glances, a brushing of fingers. It was enough. She knew he loved her.
So close to the coast, there was a tang in the air that she breathed deep into her lungs. Rin undid the braid of her hair and let it fall free. There was something cleansing and whole about this place, she thought.
Wandering off again," Hanasian said from behind her. She turned her head and smiled at him over one shoulder. He came to stand next to her.
"I've never seen the sea before," she said softly, "It's beautiful."
Hanasian knew it was. It was a beautiful part of the country. Not since he was a young ranger before the war had he stood beside the White Towers … Emyn Beraid …. Long too had been the scent of the salty sea air, and the sound of seagulls in the distance. He knew he didn't need to fear any evil here, but Rin and her touch of stone may have new and stranger visions come from them. These towers were older than old in men's reckoning.
"Wait until you are next to it, standing in it's edge."
Hanasian said, losing himself into thought of the sea and all it meant to him. In his first encounter it meant joy and curiosity, and brought to him an infatuation that usually is called a first love. But it was fleeting and was heartbreaking, and vague words of his father came ringing from some of his earliest memories. Hanasian realized much later that it was then he had started to steel his heart in mail. And it was that very mail that seemed to try and warn him of the consequences of getting too close too fast to Rosemarin… Yet, he freely lifted the mail to her, and wanted it to somehow protect her from the storm that was coming.
The sea would bring them to Mithlond, where the truth would out. If Mecarnil was right, and that seemed likely, the sea would bring the woman he loved to the High King and there, their paths may diverge forever and a day. Hanasian's arm wove around her and she settled against him. There, they stood beneath stars, simply soaking each other in and whispering soft words of comfort to each other. He took the moment to enjoy her close company, and for some reason the fact that she was the heir apparent queen of Cardolan didn't seem to matter to him. It was nice standing there close with her. Yet fleeting the time was, and they returned to where the others sat, near a fire and enjoying some more sausages that Loch had managed to stow away.
Just as Rin set off to look about, Frea and Folca too took a walk as in the opposite direction. They had concerns to discuss.
"Hey brother," Frea said. "You seen our captain? He is seriously smitten with this woman. I can understand the attraction, but he is really holding the wood to the flame when he doesn't seem to relent even with the knowledge of her likely being this Queen of Cardolan comes evermore into focus."
"Well, Mercanil seems to have no doubt, and he's the only one here who has actually seen the girl, and her parents, so I'll take his word on it as fact," Folca said before popping a piece of dried fruit into his mouth.
Frea spoke with some concern, "Yeah, that may be so, but my worry is with the cap. He isn't the same, and hasn't been quite right since the Poros Crossing incident."
Folca let a thought interrupt… "Why is the Fords of Poros hold such grief for our people? Granted, we twins are of small stature as opposed to the twin princes Fastred and Folcred who fell there in battle so long ago, but to have our own company be affected by such a betrayal at that same place … "
"… it's disconcerting. Shouldn't of happened as it did. Shouldn't of happened at all." Frea finished, "Which is why I have concerns for our cap now. He was distracted then, and he is surely distracted now. We need to keep an eye on him. I mean, he is the cap, and all. But should we find ourselves in a sweat in the jungles of Harad again… well, I think we need to watch out.
"I believe our kinsman from afar Videgavia would agree with us. Maybe even Berlas, who I suspect has more Northman blood in him than he is willing to confess. As for the triumvirate of clowns from the dark reaches of this world, they would likely as not think it all a joke. And the new recruit…"
Folca interjected, "Hey, the kid is alright. He just don't know what he's stepped in yet. So far company life for him has been lounging at an inn and taking merry rides. He isn't going hungry and that he sees is good. But I think he will do well when the shit starts to fly."
"I ain't dissing the kid, brother," Frea interrupted. "I just was going to say that he would side with his sister… no matter what. Anyway, we should get back, before some conspiracy is suspected by the Dunlending."
Frea and Folca silently made their way back to the fire, arriving about the time Rin and Hanasian did.
"Well, healer, I never thought I'd say this but you were right about that Bereth," Wulgof said as they returned.
"Only an ambitious man would drag his wife and baby across Dunland in those years, as you and Loch can attest to," the Dunlending said.
"Pride, greed, power… All I can say is that he must have been an extraordinarily difficult man to serve, Mecarnil," she said, settling by the fire.
"What happened to the child," Khule asked.
"We do not know. With Bereth and Verawyn, most of our party also perished. Only three of us survived to tell of the disaster. The Sons of Elrond managed to trace the child to the farm some years later and the High King sent me along with Hanasian to retrieve the child. As you have said, Wulgof, it was a dangerous land then. By the time we got there, the farm had been attacked and there was no trace of any survivors," Mecarnil said.
"That doesn't mean she's dead, though. Look at us. Rin and I survived. It's not impossible," Loch chimed in. Mecarnil sat back. There was nothing more to said on this until Mithlond, which if he guessed aright they would make by nightfall tomorrow. Others around the fire murmured amongst themselves, calculating the odds that an heir survived still and what reward might be offered if she were to be discovered alive.
"I think it would be handsome indeed," Molguv said. "No king wants heirs running secretly about their lands."
"You'd be likely to be locked up as a lunatic if you walked into Minas Tirith claiming to have found the queen of Cardolan," Berlas laconically observed. Videgavia, who had said nothing and missed nothing, studied his captain. Hanasian's jaw was clenched and he was in up to his ears in whatever Mecarnil was up to. Videgavia's gaze slid to the woman sitting next to his captain. She was shaping splints, curls of shaved wood clinging to the hair that fell around her shoulders. Videgavia looked across at Loch, who was soaking up how much money could be made if they found this missing queen. Then Videgavia's gaze narrowed and returned to Rin. He realised then what a tightrope his captain walked.
As for the two brothers from Minas Tirith, they could only ponder how fanciful soldier's minds could be between wars. The evening was a bit more tense than most nights before. They all knew something was brewing and was unsaid, but most were figuring it out.
The night was restful for Hanasian as he held Rin close. He managed to sleep, and Rin too seemed to sleep. She was obviously dreaming, with fast-spoken words mumbled at times, and a series of twitches and jumps in her sleep. Hanasian just brushed his fingers through her hair and went back to sleep. Both seemed to be rested at sunrise.
They broke camp as early as possible, for Hanasian seemed determined to press fate in the face and wanted to get to Mithlond as soon as possible. There was much he wanted answers for, and likely more questions to be asked. But maybe one of the few remaining elvan loremasters that remained in Middle Earth that was in Mithlond could shed some light on the facts and fictions of the heir of Cardolan. Hanasian wanted to get to the root of the possibility of Rin being the heir, but his heart had already decided that it would not matter to him. He just had to hold it together for the sake of the company, and his friend and King.
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.