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 Post subject: Re: The Waning Days of King Valacar
PostPosted: November 28th, 2019, 12:35 am 
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Joined: 01 November 2017
Posts: 1075
Location: The Forbidden Pool
Country: Gondor (xg)
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Elsewhere in the Palace - Late Evening

Amarwen slipped into the darkened ante-chamber and closed the door behind her. She leaned against it. On the other side of the door, the wider palace was a hive of activity despite the late hour. Quite places such as the one she had located would become scarcer still as the palace scrambled to satisfy itself that the city was safe.

Rubbing at her arm, Amarwen peeled herself from the door and edged into the room further. A window on the far side admitted faint torchlight from somewhere beyond. Likely, a room on the other side of what she guessed was a small garden square. There were many such squares throughout the palace. She went to the window to listen. Through darkened branches that waved gently in the summer night’s breeze, she glimpsed an open window on the other side. The room was brightly lit, the window thrown open. She could not see anyone moving in it. The source of light confirmed, she listened intently. No voices...the small garden courts had a habit of scooping up sound and amplifying it.

Satisfied, she drew back from the window and found her way in halflight to a couch. Amarwen winced as she sat, the movement reminding her that she had not escaped the day’s events unscathed. Battered body and soul, it seemed to her. She scooped up a fall of thick hair and tucked it behind her ear. What she needed to do was gather herself. She told herself to focus on her breathing. One breath in. One breath out. Yet she could feel her breathing begin to quiver. Clamping down on this only made it worse and a soft sob gulped out of her. Then another. She stuffed her face into her hands.

Now, surely now, they had to come together. They had to prove themselves unbowed, unshaken, undaunted. They had to steady the course. They could not blink. Not now. And surely, her place was at Aldamir’s side. She had thought that when trouble came, as they both knew it would, that he would turn to her. That they would comfort each other in the hard times ahead.

Surely the prince had to know that sending her away would not keep her safe. No matter where she was, her fate was bound to the realm’s. It was all of a piece...Aldamir was no fool. Sending her away for her safety made no sense at all to her. Why, the journey itself was fraught with peril. So if it was not her safety, why then did Aldamir wish her gone? Doubt whispered answers to her.

Amarwen considered how things had been over these past months. The passing of the King had affected Aldamir deeply. He had grown solemn, quiet, frequently introspective. Not distant. Not entirely...but different. Distracted. There was no denying it. She’d thought that he would find his way through his grief but perhaps she had been mistaken. Perhaps this change was not grief but something else. A dawning realisation that he did not want her by his side, perhaps? A slow discovery that whatever their happiness had been, it was not love and that it had passed.

Was that why, she wondered, he so carefully steered their conversation away from their future of late. Aldamir had become loathe to even brush past the matter. It was almost conspicuous. Where had she gone wrong? She had tried, hadn’t she? She had worked so hard to put her broken heart back together. To trust another with it. To believe. To earn his faith and regard. To fail, now, again....why did she continue to fail? What was so terribly wrong with her? Perhaps it was her fate to live a solitary life. The notion made her quail. It seemed so terribly lonely to take such a path. To have no one to turn to. No one to share with.

Amarwen had lowered her hands in the time her thoughts ran. She smoothed her skirts and took in another deep breath as she straightened her spine and lifted her chin. No, she told herself. That would not be her fate. It was not how she was made. And if the Prince thought he could so easily dispense with her, then Aldamir was mistaken. He may not be prepared to fight for their future but she most certainly would. She knew exactly what she needed to do. She rose, carefully, from the couch and then then froze.

Movement. Beyond the window. Someone was in the court yard. Trying to move with stealth. In rush...Amarwen frowned, debating whether to move to the window for a better look or the door. As she decided on the door, a dark shape eased up over the window sill.

”OI! Stop!” came the strident call of what she presumed was a palace guard.

The man, definitely a man, in the window swore under his breath and dropped into the ante-chamber with a pained grunt as he met with the floor.

”Oi!” the guard shouted and Amarwen looked to the window across the way. Sure enough, a palace guard was in the process of climbing through it and into the small courtyard garden.

Still swearing to himself, the man in the room with her tried to scuttle out of view against the wall. As the guard examined the garden beyond and rattled at doors and windows, Amarwen narrowed her eyes. That hushed voice was familiar. Very familiar.

”Hal?” she whispered into the darkened ante-chamber and the swearing stopped suddenly.

Amarwen swore herself and moved quickly to the window. The guard heard her movement and hastened towards it. She was already scowling when she reached it and simply deepened the expression for the guard that bore down on the window.

”Well?” Amarwen inquired, her tone icy as a mountain pass.

The guard recoiled from the window she stood in, mouth slightly ajar and blinking as he tried to make sense of what he saw.

”What is the meaning of this?” she demanded, channelling what she hoped was the necessary imperiousness to send this guard on his way.

“Your pardon, Lady. I-I”

“Where is your post? Is this it?”
Amarwen pressed.

She saw the man swallow and sensed victory was hers. The guard lowered his eyes and shook his head.

”No, Ma’am.”

“Then I suggest you cease this racket and return to your post at once!”

“Yes, Ma’am,”
he replied and looked up past his brows, ”You haven’t seen an intruder come this way?”

she replied in what she hoped was a withering tone, ”I have not.”

The guard’s eyes dropped and he shuffled his weight from side to side. ”Very good, Ma’am.”

Amarwen remained at the window to watch the guard. He made his way back to the other window, looked about hard in the hopes of catching sight of his quarry, and then climbed back through it. Once she was satisfied, she turned from the window to where she could make out a deeper darkness in the gloom.

”Have you quite lost your mind?” she inquired, vastly irritated. ”If you’re discovered here, you will be arrested.”

“I know,”
the shadow replied, somewhat sheepishly.

Amarwen planted her hands on her hips. ”And there will be precisely nothing I can do about it.”

“I know!”

“Then why are you here?”

“There was the city...I saw what happened today. I was there.”

Amarwen sucked in a breath. ”Never mind the palace guards, Hal. The Guild! If they find you here!” She shook her head from side to side. ”Valar only knows what they’d do to you.”

“Beyond the palace walls, they say you’re dead!”

She paused at that and her brows rose. ”They are clearly mistaken.”

Halvarin returned. Amarwen raked her fingers through her hair and turned away from the window as Halvarin asked softly, ”And the Prince?”

“Very much alive,”
she replied, unable to keep the anger from her voice entirely. Why was Aldamir doing this to her?

”Why, then, do you weep?” Amarwen went very still at the question and Halvarin stepped closer. ”Ami?”

She shook her head and edged away. ”You can’t be here, Hal. Not this night. Certainly not at this hour. Kerina must be worried sick for you! Alone in a strange city that is in uproar.”

“Kerina is not here...I do not expect to see her upon my return to Pelargir.”

Any number of cruel and uncharitable replies rose to Amarwen’s mind but the sadness in Halvarin’s voice gave her pause. She just did not have the heart for it. She sighed, ”In any case, you now know the rumours are false. You must leave before you are caught.”

Halvarin was close enough for her to make out the outline of his features. He studied what he could see of her own face. Dangerous, she thought to herself, if he knew her as well as she once thought he did.

”Why are you hiding in here, Ami?” he asked, perceiving just why she might be in a dark room all on her own.

She considered Halvarin for a moment and then caught herself. He did not care for her any more. Not in that way. There was no harm to be done in speaking this truth to this man. ”I am to be sent away,” she muttered. ”Back to Edhellond.”

Halvarin breathed.

Amarwen shook her head. ”Soon...I know no more than that.”

“But...surely the Prince will-“
Halvarin broke off when he caught the bitter half smile that flittered across her face.

”Oh,” he said quietly as he understood whose doing this was.

”For my safety, he says.” Her tone made it clear just what she thought of that.

”Perhaps he is-“

Amarwen declared. ”Just....don’t, Hal.” She turned her back and put some distance between herself and Halvarin.

Halvarin proceeded in any case. ”You’re barely on your feet now. If they’d used something a little more accurate, the rumours could very well have been true. Aldamir has a point.”

“If they’re bold enough to attempt an assassination of the royal family in broad daylight at the annual tourney, Hal, then safety no longer exists in this kingdom. Not here. Not in Edhellond. Not anywhere. Scattering like startled pigeons now will only ensure that it does not soon return!”

Her stomach was rolling again and the room had grown unsteady around her. Halvarin caught Amarwen's elbow and steered her back to the couch. She put her elbows on her knees and her head in her hands as Halvarin settled carefully beside her.

”Why is it,” she whispered through her fingers, ”That when it comes to setting the course of my life, the hand upon the wheel is never my own?”

She felt the gentle, hesitant weight of Halvarin's arm curve around her back. Bold, perhaps, but not inappropriate. Nor unwelcome if she was honest with herself but it would not do to be discovered like this. The scandal and gossip it would cause did not bear thinking about. After a long moment, too long, Amarwen shifted and Halvarin’s arm dropped away.

”I should go,” he said quietly and she nodded.

”How will you get out?”

“Same way I got in.”

“And just how was that, now that you mention it?”

he replied and she saw the corners of his mouth lift in a faint smile. ”Bar that one, sticky guard, I was almost completely unseen.”

Amarwen lifted a brow at Halvarin’s claim. ”You’re a navigator, Hal, not a scout.”

“I’m talented,”
he replied and she knew what he was doing. Hal was seeking to cheer her up. He could be such a clown when he thought the occasion called for it. Amarwen mustered a faint smile of her own and Halvarin nodded, satisfied.

”Remember, Ami,” he said as he moved to the window, ”There was once a time when returning to Edhellond was one of your dearest wishes.”

she agreed and watched Halvarin slip out of the window. She waited until she was sure he had gotten away before she turned for the door.

 Post subject: Re: The Waning Days of King Valacar
PostPosted: December 1st, 2019, 5:51 am 
Dunedain Ranger of Arnor
Dunedain Ranger of Arnor
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Joined: 02 January 2007
Posts: 3351
Location: The Lakeshore of Annúminas
Country: Gondor (xg)

In Aldamir’s mind, the attack was expected eventually but he didn’t expect it to come so soon and so close to home. It appeared by the dead assassins that this was some fringe group that was more radical than the Mariner’s Guild. He had guessed there was some in-fighting going on among the southern clans, but never thought there would be an attach this far north… in the heart of Gondor!

He went to the healers where there were a few others. It had been too close! A coup of this magnitude had to of been planned for some time. Why was there no word from their agents? It was possible they had concentrated on the Mariners Guild and Castamir? These assassins were radicals, and something told Aldamir they have their roots in a more rogue element of the Mariners Guild. There was going to have to be some major changes on how they conduct themselves.

He cringed when Almara checked on his wound. He brightened as he looked upon his granddaughter. It was good to see the three of them. When Rie Zunic asked if he had any thoughts, Aldamir nodded. It was something he had been thinking about since the attack happened.

”Yes”. Aldamir said. ”I have several thoughts. One big one is we have been too lax in thinking a move was afoot. We’ve been watching the guild, but it seems there are factions within the guild, and even some that operate outside its code of conduct. This move was too bold for the Mariners Guild.”

He looked over at the young granddaughter and to Almara. “I take it you are not in want of anything?”

Before anyone could answer, a soldier came into the infirmary and walked over to Aldamir. He said ”King Eldacar has called a meeting of the most urgency. It will require your attendance m’lord, as well as yours sir.” He gave Rie Zunic a nod before he stood at attention. Aldamir threw off the blanket and stood up. “Well, let us not keep my father waiting. I’ll come back to see you again Almara.” He gave her a kiss on the cheek and gave the baby his finger to hold for a moment before he turned to go.

When they arrived in the King’s private dining room, he was grim and in thought. He quickly listed measures that were to be taken, including a sweep of East Osgiliath of any and all mariners be they guilds man or no. It would cripple commerce for a time, but he had to make sure where loyalties lay. “Rie Zunic, I give you command of this. Take what resources you need excepting the Rhovanions. Treat them with respect, but be firm. So many assassins could not have gotten here and in position without help.”

Rie was dismissed to discuss with commanders the most likely places to look. It would not be easy. Eldacar waved Aldamir over for a private word. "Son, many things have changed with this attack. We will need to make some hard decisions…”

 Post subject: Re: The Waning Days of King Valacar
PostPosted: December 1st, 2019, 5:52 am 
Dunedain Ranger of Arnor
Dunedain Ranger of Arnor
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Joined: 02 January 2007
Posts: 3351
Location: The Lakeshore of Annúminas
Country: Gondor (xg)

Seeing Amarwen had given him some relief in knowing she was all right. There was nothing he could do to change what was happening around him. He did know that anyone looking suspicious would be likely questioned. And there would be blame aplenty put on the guild. He had to be careful…

The streets were crawling with soldiers and Halvarin took refuge in East Osgiliath where he would be able to find some refuge. There was a slight bit of safety there on the old quarter by the quay, but any Mariners Guild people would be looked for and it was likely a matter of time before Eldacar ordered a sweep. Halvarin was thankful he paid attention to the marine courses of his training. It was something Michas excelled in. He was grateful to his old friend as well.

Halvarin weighed out everything. With the Mariner’s Guild noticeably absent at the tournament, they would be the first to be blamed. But Halvarin knew Castamir well enough to know he would not act in such a way. He remembered some at the academy who were quite adamant in their racism against Valacar for allowing his son to take a Rhovanion wife. They faulted Castamir for not being more assertive.. more vocal… and they tried to recruit him….

“Soldiers on the move!” went out a cry at the tavern. Halvarin grabbed his hat and headed out the back. Heading east out if the city by various means was his best option right now. He would have to live rough for a time…

 Post subject: Re: The Waning Days of King Valacar
PostPosted: December 1st, 2019, 5:21 pm 
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Joined: 01 November 2017
Posts: 1075
Location: The Forbidden Pool
Country: Gondor (xg)
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The Palace

Amarwen lingered until she was certain as she could be that Halvarin had made a clean departure. She stepped out of the dark ante-chamber and into the bright halls. The sudden change in lighting blinded her vision momentarily and given how unsteady she felt, Amarwen deemed it wiser to remain where she was until her sight cleared. People continued to come and go, hurrying after any number of errands and tasks. The long day had produced an even longer night.

”Lady Amarwen!” She blinked to find one of Eldacar’s personal guards approaching her. ”I am relieved to have found you.”

That the King had been searching for her concerned Amarwen immediately. It called for some explanation, but what could she say. That she had argued with his son? Or that she had met in secret with someone who had no business being in the city, much less the palace? No, the truth would never serve.

”I find the night air clears my mind,” she said to the man. It sounded feeble even to her own ears and she could see he was studying her intently.

”The King has summonsed you. The matter is urgent,” the man said as he scrutinised her. His brows drew together as he came to a conclusion. ”However I think it wiser that you seek your rest. The hour is late and the King will understand.”

“Who else has been summonsed,”
Amarwen asked.

”Prince Aldamir and a former palace officer – Rie Zunic is his name, I believe.”

Eldacar was not who she had intended to seek but given circumstances, he would do. Amarwen nodded as her decision was made. ”I will attend the King at once.”

Though Eldacar’s personal guard seemed to disagree, he fell in beside her and soon enough Amarwen was ushered through the doors to find Eldacar and Aldamir both in a grim discussion that broke off at her arrival.

”Good,” the King said as the doors were closed behind her. ”Best you hear this from me, I think.”

Aldamir had risen slowly to his feet. His expression was almost unreadable but his eyes. Oh his eyes. Such pain and anguish. Surely she had not wounded him so deeply, she thought. She swallowed as the King gestured her forwards.

”Come, take a seat, Lady Amarwen,” he said. Uncertainly, almost reluctantly, she obeyed the King’s bidding.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

East Osgiliath

In East Osgiliath, Vinyarion stood outside the Guild House with a small contingent of Rhovanians. He peered at the door. Barricaded, he was almost sure of it. He looked to those that had accompanied him.

”Better you should remain out here,” he said.

”Sir,” protested one of the Rhovanians but at that moment, Vinyarion spotted a familiar figure trying to slink past.

”Hal!” the young Prince called and the heavily swathed figure seemed to shrink in on itself before turning about. Sure enough, looking rather haunted and hunted, Halvarin peered out at him unhappily.

”That settles it,” Vinyarion declared and turned back to his Rhovanian detail. ”After what’s happened to date, they will not dare touch a hair on my royal head in their own house. Hal will make sure of it.”

Though this did not satisfy his guards, Vinyarion stepped forward and held an arm out to Halvarin to summon him closer.

”I am as pleased as I am surprised to find you here, Hal,” Vinyarion said as they climbed the steps to the wide, heavy oak doors of the Guild House.

”What’s going on?” Halvarin asked in a low voice. Vinyarion dug into his belt and produced a folded slip of paper that he passed to Halvarin.

”Need to find these men, if they’re to be found here.” He lifted a hand, formed a fist and pounded on the reinforced doors.

Halvarin scanned the paper and saw a list of names. And the King’s own signature at the bottom of the page. He frowned, for the men listed there were all officers of middle to senior rank in the Guild. And all of them, insofar as he knew, were men loyal to the crown. Several, in fact, he knew to be colleagues and even friends of Amarwen’s father.

”You’ve got the wrong men here,” Halvarin said as Vinyarion pounded again.

He bellowed through the door that they were to open it in the name of the crown. Once he did that, he shot Halvarin a look.

”I hope not. Grandfather’s counting on them.”

One door swung open and a burly man who looked more than a little weary peered out at the two young men on the step and the Rhovanian contingent waiting on the street. Torchlight flickered on their weapons.

”There are no assassins here,” the Guild sergeant declared. ”But if you want to waste your time turning out our cupboards and beds again, far be it from me to stop you.”

“I am here on urgent business,”
Vinyarion declared, snatching the paper back from Halvarin’s grip.

The sergeant grunted at that and allowed both the young prince and Halvarin through the door. It squealed on its hinges as it was sealed shut.

”What business, then,” the veteran demanded, arms crossing over his burly chest. If Halvarin was not mistaken, this was the sergeant that Michas had spent half a year cursing. A formidable soldier, hard in training recruits.

”The Crown has need of Guild men.”

The sergeant squinted at him, his scepticism apparent. ”I doubt you’ll find volunteers tripping over themselves. Not after tonight.”

”I should think the opportunity to distance itself from the day’s villainous events is one the Guild would jump at,” Vinyarion countered. The prince waved his piece of paper. ”If these men be here, please gather them so that I may speak with them.” Vinyarion passed the paper back to Halvarin for safe keeping. ”I shall await them in the private officer’s mess.”

Vinyarion nodded at Halvarin and set off, hands clasped behind his back, for the private officers mess. Halvarin knew that under ordinary circumstances, neither he nor Vinyarion would be permitted anywhere near the hallowed private officer’s mess. But these were not ordinary circumstances.

The sergeant appraised Halvain, clearly interested in the names on the list he held. ”You know these...volunteers?”

Halvarin admitted and the sergeant heaved a pained sigh.

”Come on then, let’s get this over with.”

All in all, of the eleven names on the King’s list, only two could be located in the Guildhouse that night. A captain and a commanding officer arrived, agitated. Certain, Halvarin thought, that they were about to be arrested. Hoping to avoid such a fate himself, Halvarin was eager to quit the mess as soon as he could. Vinyarion, though, had other thoughts.

The young prince called after him and Halvarin swung about, the list of names still in his hand. ”My name is not listed,” he protested.

Vinyarion appraised him. ”It should be. Stay.”

Halvarin collapsed into a nearby chair with an unhappy sigh and Vinyarion turned back to the two senior Guild officers rousted, unwillingly, from their beds.

”The Crown has a commission for you. A quick, quiet run to Edhellond. Under a guild flag.”

Halvarin went very still at that. He considered what Amarwen had told him and weighed the probabilities.

”To what end?” the Captain queried.

”We’d rather not say,” Vinyarion hedged.

Halvarin watched the captain consider his colleague. The commanding officer rubbed at his whiskered jaw and the captain shook his head. ”I’ll not put my men, my ship, at risk without knowing the reason for it.”

Vinyarion chose his words carefully. ”Lady Amarwen is going home.”

The commanding officer stared at Vinyarion and then barked an incredulous laugh. ”Now? You want us to run a girl home to visit her parents now?”

From where he sat, Halvarin could see Vinyarion was grinding his teeth. The prince then looked to where Halvarin sat for a hard moment. ”This cannot leave this room. By royal decree, the betrothal has ended.”

There was silence in the private officer’s mess as this was digested. The captain rubbed his hands over his face as he weighed it up. ”When are we to leave?”

“As soon as you can clear the city’s docks. A couple of days, I should think. Certainly within the week.”

“How many will she travel with?”

“A large force will be conspicuous. It is vital that the Lady evades the notice of those that wish the Crown ill.”

“The wolves will be kept at bay whilst the Lady is under my care,”
the Captain said and Vinyarion nodded.

”You will be well paid for your service,” Vinyarion said. ”The palace will provide further detail to you come the morning.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The Palace

As Eldacar set out his decree, Amarwen’s head swum. Everything seemed to slow down. Time itself shrank to a crawl. She could hear the dull thud of her heart stretching out. The sound of her breathing. Her capacity for speech withered. All she could do was look to Aldamir with a wordless plea to speak out against this. Yet every protest he made was met with staunch opposition. This was not a discussion. The King had already made his decision. The papers were already signed. They sat on the table nearby.

”I know this must be a hard burden to shoulder, son. But I can see no better option. It is all I can do to assure Edhellond’s future in these uncertain times.”

Amarwen’s eyes swung away and settled on the floor. Her breath caught in her throat and lodged there. Thankfully, her head was bowed when the King transferred his attention to her. She could find nothing to say.

”Lady Amarwen. Tell me you understand.”

She understood very well indeed. It was over and that was all there was to it. She felt numb but she knew it would not last.

The King accepted her silence and pushed on. The arrangements he had made for her voyage home. The matter of compensation, three times her dowry and far more generous than the terms of the betrothal agreement. Assurances that this was no censure, repudiation or punishment directed at her. That the Crown valued the loyalty of such a treasured ally and that it was why the King had reached his decision. If she heard it described as difficult one more time, Amarwen thought she just might scream. Distantly, she heard the bells ring the midnight hour.

”May I take my leave, Sire?” she said, her voice hoarse.

"Of course,” Eldacar replied, his expression not without remorse or kindness.

Amarwen withdrew from the formal chambers and gained the hall beyond. Her grip on her composure was evaporating with each step. She walked, almost as if she were asleep, to her chambers. All the belongings she had brought with her for the visit to Osgiliath had been placed in Aldamir’s chambers.

She did not even have a nightdress with her in her own chambers. Not that it mattered. Amarwen sank onto one of the couches in the parlour and curled into a ball.

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