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 Post subject: Re: The Waning Days of King Valacar
PostPosted: April 24th, 2018, 9:30 pm 
Dunedain Ranger of Arnor
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Halvarin awoke and found himself snoozing at the table, a half-drank flagon of ale next to him. His arms were stiff and tingly, and his neck cracked when he flexed his head. He looked around and saw only a barmaid sweeping the floor of the empty common room. Everything seemed quiet, but for some voices coming up from the river. He couldn’t see them in the darkness, and it appeared a ship had left on the tide but was holding up. The dock master could be heard yelling instructions. An inspection had been called, and a rather urgent one since the red lantern was lit. No ship was leaving! This was serious, for there would be ships coming in toward the morning, and the quays would get quite crowded. Halvarin decided he would take the walk down to the quay to see if he could get any news on what was going on. He was not likely to sleep anyway, so an early morning walk would probably help.

Getting down the stairs from the bridge, Halvarin walked along the quays. There seemed to be some search for someone called out by the City Guard, and the dockmaster was directing ships to remain where they were or flagging them to take to port if they had set out. One ship was making a run for it. For whatever reason, it wasn’t going to return to a dock. Maybe the captain considered he was already past the last open dock and wasn’t going to turn and row back. It was the second ship that seemed to have chaos going on aboard. Halvarin stopped and watched it, and there were some on deck that kept pointing to something on the west side. When the harried dockmaster came walking by looking at the ships, Halvarin got him to pause and he asked,

”What is going on here?”

“Some royal tried to make an escape for some reason. Someone went in to the river, and there are reports of a ship carrying contraband. It has been chaos that suddenly sprung up out of nowhere.”


Halvarin nodded, even more curious, so he turned and sprinted up the stairs to the bridge and crossed to the middle. He looked along the quays on the east side, and over to the west. He paused as he thought he saw some ripples at the edge of the river near some docks. There were three in a dingy making their way upriver under the docks, trying to avoid detection. He only saw them for a moment, for whoever was rowing was skilled at not being detected. Halvarin ran to the west side and quickly made his way down toward the river. His gut was telling him that this all was set alight by Amarwen trying to make her way out of the city.

~ ~ ~

A horn blew in the barracks of both the Rhovanian and Gondorian Royal Guard sounding an alert. Rhinnin jumped awake before throwing herself back down face-first. She was hoping this alarm was some sort of joke, but the call of their commander was serious and full military fury. The shieldmaidens all set out to dress and equip as the men did on both barracks. They were out on the parade grounds in quick time.

There, Eldacar’s High Commander stepped out and spoke…

”Royal Guards of Eldacar, Rhovanions and Gondorians all, there has been a kidnapping! The Lady Amarwen of Edhellond is missing, and there are signs of foulness. The gates of the city have been ordered closed to all, and word has been sent to the docks that no ship was to leave. We will join the City Guard in searching for her and her abductors. Commanders, organise your searches!”

With precision, they had assigned the city to units in a grid. The six shieldmaidens were assigned to the 1st Rhovianian Guard and they were to comb the west docklands north with the 3rd Gondorian Guard. They were briefed as to the appearance of Amarwen and set out in haste.

~ ~ ~

In the Palace not long before…

Lady Farien discovered Amarwen gone and she nodded. It would be her desire to be with her Ensign. His whereabouts have been unknown for most of the day, and Calimir had said his bag was gone. Maybe he plotted to get her away from Osgiliath? If not, it would be a good premise to raise the alarm. She knocked over things and tore at a dress that hung on a rail and made it look like a struggle had happened. With the sound of boots, Lady Farien stepped out into the hall. The guard quickly ran to the Princess’s side as she said,

“Lady Amarwen has been taken!”

As she was escorted to Eldacar, Calimir watched, knowing what she was doing. He had hoped his son and the Lady had made the ship, for it would be well on its way on the tide now. It was not long after Eldacar had the alarm go out from the Palace that a messenger came with news of the troubles on the docks. Calimir listened from the doorway, and quickly turned and left. If they had not gotten out, Halvarin could be the suspect in this kidnapping along with Almara. He needed to get to the docks as soon as he could. He needed to sort out what happened and would be the ranking commanding officer on the scene.

When he got to the east side of the river, the dockmaster told him what he thought happened. The good news was they weren’t sure who was involved. As they stood and talked, a Royal Messenger came with orders to have all ships hold in port. The dockmaster handed it back, saying,

“I locked down the departures as soon as trouble broke. Only one ship set out and did not turn back.”

Calimir looked at the logs and saw his ship was now at the south dock on the east side. Looking grim, he started giving orders and calling the ships captains to meet with him as soon as possible.

~ ~ ~

Halvarin walked slowly, stepping into the shadows when the City Guard patrol came by. He really didn’t want to be answering questions with all that had stirred in the city this night. Having gotten well north of the main docks of the west side, Halvarin paused as he thought her heard voices.


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 Post subject: Re: The Waning Days of King Valacar
PostPosted: April 25th, 2018, 10:49 pm 
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Something about this just did not seem right. Or so Aldamir thought to himself as he made his way through the palace halls. The announcement that Lady Amarwen had been abducted had sent outrage rippling through the palace. Entire contingents of soldiers now combed the city streets. The gates had been sealed and docks closed. Yet, how was it that they knew she had been taken against her will? And how was it even possible this could have occurred right under their noses? Who would be so powerful and presumptuous to pluck her up in a twinkling of an eye? Castimir came to mind, but if his arm was so very long as this, then they had sorely underestimated the Master of Ships. Himself included.

Since the alarm had been raised, his father and mother had been closeted away. The lords and ladies of the court, along with their courtiers, had sagely withdrawn to the safety of their own quarters. None wished to inadvertently bring suspicion upon themselves. The King, his grandfather, was said to be wroth. Aldamir knocked on the doors of his son’s apartments only to find them empty.

Wherever Vinyarion was, Aldamir hoped he’d have the sense to keep out trouble and that would have to serve. He could scarcely divert those scrambling to locate Lady Amarwen and apprehend her abductors to track down his son. The lad had proven himself canny and whilst Aldamir held a dim view of the various applications Vinyarion turned his cleverness to, he was reasonably confident his son would know to keep his head down.

Defeated for the nonce in locating Vinyarion, Aldamir turned himself about and headed off once more. This time, he made for Lady Amarwen’s apartments. Perhaps there, he might find something to unravel this vexed knot of questions tumbling through his thoughts. As he progressed, the activity grew denser in the halls. The Captain of the Guard was a formidable man and the tidings that this had occurred were grim indeed. Whoever was responsible had winnowed their way right into the heart of the palace: the royal quarters.

Already the most guarded of the palace complex, the Captain had increased the guard. He had sent more to comb through the royal quarters in a search for clues. Gone without so much as a trace, it would seem. As if she had vanished. Yet that was impossible. There had to be something. He found the doors to Amarwen’s apartments open but once within they were strangely still and silent.

Aldamir frowned as he looked about and then turned at the sound of a boot scuffing the floor. In the door to the bedchamber appeared Lord Therald. His pale face and drawn features were that of a man in despair. His hair was ruffled, as if he had been raking his fingers through it.

”They have already searched,” he told Aldamir, his voice hoarse and low.

And then it struck him. Therald had brought his daughter here to protect her and defend Edhellond. And they had failed him all the same.

”We will find her,” Aldamir told him but Therald looked away, back into his daughter’s bed chamber, as if the words were empty and meaningless.

The temptation to convince Therald further withered on Aldamir’s tongue as a question rose in his mind. If someone had taken Vinyarion, how might he feel, he wondered? Aldamir found himself wincing as he studied the other man’s posture. Therald’s shoulders slumped and his arms hung loosely. Again his boots scuffed the floor for he was not properly picking up his feet as he moved about, scanning the bed chamber.

”Two days,” he whispered as he looked about then he wiped his hands over his face. As if this was a terrible dream that he could wake from and find his daughter safe and whole if not happy.

”The hour is late, my Lord. All that can be done is in hand.”

Therald wavered on his feet at that and his hands dropped away. His head lowered and he gave Aldamir a glare that was startlingly feral for such a good natured man.

”And if it were your son, your Highness, would you be able to rest?” Therald asked, his question a clear reproach.

His simmering anger spurred Therald into movement, lending some vigour to his frame that had been absent before. He passed Aldamir without a second glance and then was out in the hall. Filled with misgivings, Aldamir followed him to the hall to flag two soldiers.

”See to it he comes to no harm,” Aldamir instructed the men as he pointed at Therald, ”He will not likely welcome your company.”

The two soldiers nodded and set off after Lord Therald. Aldamir watched for several heart beats and then looked into Lady Amarwen’s apartments. They might have been searched but that does not mean they could not be searched again. The prince went back in and closed the doors after him. He needed to focus for this.

In the parlour, he noted there were very few of Amarwen’s possessions. As he searched, though, it came to him that was likely because she had not come to Osgiliath expecting to make a home here. Her possessions would follow, presumably. As for what she had brought with her, it fit with a noblewoman travelling. He found two titles of Elvish poetry, both with inscriptions from her mother, Lady Alenna. By all accounts, Lady Alenna was a force to be reckoned with. She would not look kindly upon those who had lost her heir and only child.

Aldamir set the books down and turned for the bathroom. Uncomfortable as it felt, he knew the bed chamber would be worse yet. He found a deep copper tub and various items as expected. Combs, soaps and towels and the like. Nothing unseemly and so, if he meant to conduct a thorough search, that left her bed chamber. His stomach knotted as he approached it. Under ordinary circumstances there was no possible reason he should set foot within it. Yet these were far from ordinary circumstances.

He drew a deep breath and crossed the threshold. As he looked about, the first thing that struck him was that there had been a struggle. Dismay fogged through him at the notion of anyone causing Lady Amarwen harm. One of her gowns had been torn and furniture had been knocked askew such was the violence done here. The songbird he had sent her was gone. Perhaps one of her attendants had removed it to care for the creature during this tumult.

The evidence he was looking for was right before Aldamir’s own eyes and yet. And yet… He drew another deep breath and tried to quieten his thoughts. What did he see? The canopied bed that dominated the chamber was untouched and neatly made. Not a wrinkle in the bedclothes despite the struggle that had taken place here. Unlikely that it would have been straightened after the Lady had been taken and she had not lain abed throughout the day. Amarwen had been seen in the palace during the day. The bed would have been made after the Lady had arisen and it would not be turned down until after she had presented herself for dinner. And so…she had been taken late in the day.

Nodding, the prince turned back to the wardrobe. Its doors were ajar. The Lady had been alone when she was taken, otherwise one of the attendants would have raised the alarm. And so, likely those responsible for this had struck just on the cusp of twilight, before the Lady’s attendants arrived to dress her for dinner. He approached the wardrobe and lifted out the damaged dress. It was quite a lovely shade of blue silk, so deep in hue that it sometimes seemed black. He examined it carefully…just the one tear. Had she been drawing it out when her assailants had struck?

He tried to imagine it in his mind’s eye. The Lady’s back would have been to the door so she would not have seen their approach. Nor heard it, for clearly they were as stealthy as they were devious. How else could they have accomplished this? He replaced the torn gown and placed himself where she would have been standing. He leant as if to take the gown up again. Lady Amarwen was not as tall as he, Aldamir thought, and so she would have been reaching further and higher than he was. He shuffled his feet until he had accounted for their difference in height and reach. Likely, she would have been on her toes as she reached up.

His hand hovered in the air as hers would have. Startled, no frightened. She would have been quite frightened to be accosted by stealth. He imagined them grabbing for her, reaching for her mouth to prevent her from screaming and then pulling her back to secure her arms. Lady Amarwen, he was sure, would have struggled. Already he had seen for himself that Lady was inclined to action over inaction. And so as they seized her, the Lady would have struggled once her initial surprise passed.

Just the one tear on the one gown. There was a whole collection of gowns hanging. Not a one had been pulled down or knocked askew. If she had a hold of the blue silk as she was grabbed, it should have been pulled back with her. Yet it hung with the others. One meek tear. Aldamir shook his head from side to side and peered at the Lady’s gowns…All of them neatly arranged in a row. Velvets, silks, finely woven linens…as might be expected for a woman of Amarwen’s lineage and wealth…but these were hardly the sort of garb even the loftiest of them wore when travelling and it was quite the distance from Edhellond to Osgiliath even by water.

Aldamir pulled at the sumptuous gowns just to be sure the studier, plainer stuff was not hidden. He found nothing. Not in the wardrobe or elsewhere in the bedchamber. He returned to the wardrobe and crouched to peer at her shoes. All of them delicate, finely made slippers. All of them utterly impracticable and unsuited to travel.

What did this mean? Nothing, if her travelling garb had been left with her father as it was no longer required. Everything, though, if she had been wearing it when she had vanished. If she had aided and abetted in the ill-will behind this sordid affair. He pushed out a pained sigh and then stilled as he recalled that his own mother had raised the alarm.

His lady mother had rushed from his bride’s apartments in great distress, setting in train the entire chain of actions that had rolled through, past midnight, now into the early hours of the coming day. He could not imagine what reason his mother might have to confect such an egregious tale. Which all pointed to the grim fact that Amarwen really had been abducted with some force. Aldamir eyed the bed chamber. Enough force to knock furniture aside. Quite the desperate struggle indeed. She must have been terrified.

His own words echoed back to him. Aldamir had told the Lady’s father that the hour was late and now, here he was, mind filled with all sorts of wild imaginings, spurred on by his weariness and the chaos of the night.


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 Post subject: Re: The Waning Days of King Valacar
PostPosted: April 25th, 2018, 10:52 pm 
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Rie-Zunic led the way along the docks. He knew the area well and kept them in the shadows. Knowing the area kept them out of sight so far, but it seemed a curse all the same. He knew there was no easy way out of the area they were in. He paused as Almara caught up with him and spoke.

"Where are you taking us? I don't think Amarwen wants to go back to the palace, and she's on bare feet. Guards are everywhere, she won't be able to get far."

Rie-Zunic only scowled as Amarwen caught up to them. He moved them on down the shore, trying to get to the less active areas of the doc. Perhaps there they could find a way out into the city where no one would be looking for them. He knew of a causeway he thought they may be able to sneak under and towards the inner city.

Finally they stopped once more, Amarwen still lagging behind. "Why are you two out here?" Rie-Zunic whispered, addressing them both this time. "I received word that Amarwen was missing... now I find her with you? This could go very wrong... for you both."

Almara shushed Rie-Zunic, speaking softer than he. "Now is not the time, Rie." She looked back at Amarwen, uncertain how the young woman would react to Rie-Zunic's display of disagreement to their actions.


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 Post subject: Re: The Waning Days of King Valacar
PostPosted: April 26th, 2018, 1:04 am 
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She tried to stop the shivering of her mouth by biting her lower lips. It was him. The man that had caught her and returned her. A palace guard. And what was she to do? Amarwen looked down to her feet, coated in mud. It was starting to dry, unlike her stubbornly sodden hair soaking into her shift. Almara was turned towards her and what did she know of this woman aside that she had served Halvarin's father and now did not. Possibly?

Amarwen's eyes bounced from Almara to the palace guard named Rie. One moment he said he would take them away and now he spoke of ruin. She felt...overwhelmed and beset.

"Halvarin," her mouth moved of its own accord it seemed, "of Pelargir."

Both frowned and Rie in particular looked ill pleased. His hand was closed on the hilt of a sword and if he drew it, she knew he could do real harm. Frightened, Amarwen drew back sharply as humiliating tears stung her eyes. As she did so, her foot landed on a sharp shard. A soft cry of pain was drawn from her. Already she could feel the warm bloom of blood even as she lifted her foot away, wobbling on her other leg.

Almara reached for her and Amarwen flinched. The iron tang of blood rose and this made the guard scowl all the more fiercely than before.

"Please," Amarwen sobbed before she could stop herself.

Almara hissed at Rie, "She's chilled to the bone!"

"I must find Halvarin of Pelargir,"
Amarwen said, her voice shaking and faint, "To warn him."

Almara's arm tightened around her shoulders, "Where is your heart, Rie? Can you not, at least, give her your cloak?"

As Almara chastised the guard, she eased Amarwen backwards so that she could lean against the wall, "His bark is worse than his bite...now let's see what you've gone and stood on."

Amarwen wrapped her arms around herself, her only measure of protection from the guard's excoriating gaze, as Almara crouched.

"A pottery shard...that is good fortune...glass is so much worse." Amarwen sucked in a sharp breath through her teeth as Almara probed, 'It's deep, though."

"Of course it is,"
Rie growled, eyes flashing as if he thought she done this a purpose. As if any of this was a purpose.

Amarwen's breath caught and her eyes bulged as Almara plucked the shard free. She heard a rip as Almara tore at the hem of Amarwen's shift. The tugging nearly yanked the shift from Amarwen's shoulders entirely but soon the woman had the length she needed and wound it around Amarwen's muddy foot.

"HOLD! Who goes there?" cried a voice, strident and urgent and most definitely female.

Rhinnin squinted as she peered into the darkness, certain she had heard voices.


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 Post subject: Re: The Waning Days of King Valacar
PostPosted: April 29th, 2018, 9:56 pm 
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Rie-Zunic scowled hard, but he considered the situation in depth. Not but a few weeks ago he would have walked away with Amarwen in tow and taken her straight back to the palace. Now, however... he was uncertain. It troubled him, knowing that she was to be forced to marry Aldamir. She clearly didn't desire such a union. On top of that, his rekindled relationship with Almara, shaky as it may be, now sat in jeopardy if this plot was uncovered in full. He still knew not her full part in the events, but he knew enough to know she would be in grave trouble with the crown.

He drew his cloak from around his shoulders at Almara's scolding and draped it over Amarwen as the pottery shard was removed from her foot. It was while he considered all these things and moved back to his standing position, that he suddenly heard a voice.

"HOLD! Who goes there?" cried a voice, strident and urgent and most definitely female.

Hopeful it was not one of Calamir's men. Rie-Zunic had only two choices. Hide Amarwen, or turn her in. He stepped out of the shadows and approached the woman on the shore. It looked as though it were a shield maiden. "Rie-Zunic," he answered her hail. "I've been searching these docks for the young woman, Amarwen, who escaped..." he paused, but only for a second. "Have you seen her?"


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 Post subject: Re: The Waning Days of King Valacar
PostPosted: May 1st, 2018, 10:44 pm 
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Halvarin tried to find out where the voices were coming as he stepped off the road toward some bushes that grew along the riverbank. He was sure he heard Amarwen’s whisper, but before he could move, a sword appeared with a shieldmaiden behind it. There was no point in reaching for his knife on his belt and Helda quickly relieved him of it. She was following Rhinnin, when she paused and had turned around when she heard Halvarin’s approach. Then from the shadows stepped Vidnavi, her blonde hair covered in the hood of her dark green cloak. It was only another heart beat when he realised there was another stepping from the shadows on the other side. Vilna stepped up to his side and said quietly in a whisper,

”What a strange morning this is having a full alert called by Eldacar himself. We search this part of the city and we find naught but you lurking about in the dark.”

Halvarin raised his hands knowing he was caught. As Vilna pushed back her hood revealing her braided blonde locks, Halvarin said,

”I heard guards speak of someone missing from the palace. Surely you would know who? Know that I had seen some in a dinghy when I was on the bridge coming up this way where the docks end.”

Helda, seeing the twins had this man secured, gave a nod toVilna and Vidnavi and turned to find Rhinnin. Vidnavi stepped to the other side of Halvarin, and also pushing her hood back to reveal what appeared to be the same person, said in nearly the same whisper as Vilna,

”You are our prisoner. We are to apprehend any who seem suspicious even if the lady we seek is not with them. Our orders were quite clear."

“This lady you seek, would she be Lady Amarwen of Edhellond?”


Halvarin asked right away. But neither answered for a shout was heard nearby...

”Hold, Who goes there!”

Both Vilna and Vidnavi recognised it as Rhinnin, and Vilna stepped behind Halvarin as Vidnavi led them toward the shout. Vilna said,

”You will stay with us for now.”

Helda heard a man’s voice asking if they had found Lady Amarwen. She also heard Vidnavi coming up from behind, so she stepped to the side and pushed through some bushes to come to the river further upstream.

~

Rhinnin answered the Gondorian,

"Rhinnin of the Rhovanion Royal Guard. I have not seen her. If you have, tell me!"

Rhinnin tried to look past him when she thought she heard something, then looked at him and said,

"Why are you searching here instead of where your unit was assigned?"

Rhinnin tensed even as Vidnavi stepped up along side her. Vilna neared with Halvarin, but paused just behind Vidnavi and Rhinnin. Halvarin did take a brief breath of relief at the sight of the Gondorian soldier, but he was hoping they wouldn't come to blows.

~

Helda could see two crouching by the riverside by a small boat. One was not dressed for the chill morning, and Helda stepped into the river and quickly seized the boat as she surprised them,

”You are looking lost Amarwen of Edhellond.”

Helda held her hand up, not wanting to fight Almara outside the tournament, and hoping some sort of arrangement could be made.


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 Post subject: Re: The Waning Days of King Valacar
PostPosted: May 1st, 2018, 11:13 pm 
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Rie-Zunic was about to answer when he heard the commotion behind him. Realizing Amarwen and Almara had been discovered, he quickly addressed the shieldmaidens, while Almara stood ready. She crouched, almost like a cat, uncertain whether to flee, fight, or stay her action.

"These women are with me," Rie-Zunic informed the shieldmaiden. "She was kidnapped... by the guildsman. We were making our escape the Lady Amarwen stepped on a broken shard of pottery."

Almara eased up, realizing Rie-Zunic was playing his cards with these women. His position might gain him some leverage, but to be honest, she wasn't sure that he had not intended to take them back to the castle as ordered anyways.

The shieldmaidens looked skeptically at Rie-Zunic, but as he produced his military rank, they seemed to take him at his word.

"There are still guildsman searching these docks," Almara ventured to speak. "We should not tarry long."

Rie-Zunic looked around. "Right you are. Is the lady's foot bandaged?"

"It is,' Almara confirmed. "As best it can be, given the circumstances."

Rie-Zunic then turned back to the shieldmaidens. "We should leave this area."


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 Post subject: Re: The Waning Days of King Valacar
PostPosted: May 2nd, 2018, 6:57 am 
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Amarwen's eyes closed as Rhinnin hailed them, her sense of defeat overwhelming. First the deception of Lord Calimir and then near drowning in the cold depths of the Anduin. Rescue, but by the palace guard that had snared her once before. Promises of being taken away followed by threats of return. And now she was caught fast again, this time with Shieldmaidens.

All because she sought to warn the man she did love that Princess Farien's suspicious gaze had fallen squarely upon him.

This entire chain of events, set off by her actions. For if she had not slipped away to the Dome of Stars, Halvarin would never have come to Princess Farien's notice. The last of her will and spirit leaked out of her. Amarwen pulled Rie's cloak tighter but it was no defense. Already her sodden hair had started to soak it. Futile. It was all futile and it was at this moment that Almara's hand tightened around Amarwen's biceps. She looked up before she realised what she was doing. She saw Almara's eyes tighten almost imperceptibly. The slightest tilt of her chin. The barest of nods.

Rhinnin eyed Rie-Zunic with no small dose of scepticism, "A Guild backed kidnapping, no less!"

Amarwen finally spoke up, "Were it not for the aid this guard and his...companion offered, come dawn you'd be fishing my body from the river. Reserve your suspicion for the fiends responsible for this. And how much longer must I stand here, in the mud and cold? Allow us to be on our way at once!"

Though her voice did not hold its usual strength, shaken as she was, Rhinnin nodded slowly.

"Your safe return is anxiously awaited. We will accompany-"

"Have you taken leave of your senses?"
Amarwen returned, limping forward a step. She was far from imposing figure. More drowned rat and muddy, woebegone waif than anything else but what had she to lose?

"By the Valar's grace have I eluded a vile, wicked plot backed by the Guild! Those responsible for this outrage must be found and made to answer for it!"

Never mind that the person responsible, in part, stood right before them wrapped in a guard's cloak. Amarwen did her best to square her shoulders as she glared at three Shieldmaidens. Then she heard a familiar voice.

"The Lady has made her wishes clear, has she not?" Amarwen's eyes widened as she finally saw Halvarin standing there, peering at her from behind one of the shieldmaiden's shoulders, "The sooner the docks are searched, the sooner the culprits will be found. I will ensure the Lady is protected from further outrages."

Cautiously, Halvarin stepped out and eased his way past the trio of Shieldmaidens and then past the guard to where Amarwen stood. The urge to reach for him nearly undid her. Under such scrutiny, such lapses would only come to fuel the Princess' suspicion further. Still, as Halvarin's arm came to slip around her shoulders, Almara must have noticed something.

"Halvarin, I presume," she muttered quietly.

"Please," Amarwen made an effort to soften her tone, "Please, bring those responsible to justice?"

Rhinnin turned to look at Vilna and Vidnavi and Helda barked a laugh, "An open invitation to knock Guild heads together? Why tarry, sisters? I can vouch for this guard myself."

Vidnavi added a terse nod and Helda walked past Almara, Amarwen and Halvarin with a wink and broad grin. Rhinnin gave them a final, searching glance before she fell into step behind Helda. Vilna and Vidnavi were the last to go but in the end, the notion of allowing Rhinnin and Helda to raise hell within the Guild unchecked was more pressing. And in any case, Lady Amarwen did not appear unduly distressed by the prospect of being left in the custody of the guard, the woman and young man.

Once the shieldmaidens had moved off, Rie-Zunic turned about to find Amarwen now leaning into the newly arrived man.

"Halvarin of Pelargir, I imagine," Almara murmured dryly at Rie's lifted brows.

"Who did this, Ami?" Halvarin asked, pushing back sodden strands of hair that had become stuck to her cheek.

"Oh, Hal!" Amarwen breathed, voice quivering for she did not know how to explain to him his father's treachery. That he had used Halvarin to deceive and waylay her. "I am so sorry!"

He gazed down at her a moment longer and then looked to where Almara and Rie-Zunic stood, "We must move swiftly. She needs a fire."


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 Post subject: Re: The Waning Days of King Valacar
PostPosted: May 2nd, 2018, 3:32 pm 
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Rie-Zunic eyed the situation almost as skeptically as he eyed Halvarin. At long last he motioned. "This way. Follow me."

With a larger group it would be easier to slip through the city unnoticed. They were searching for Amarwen, not a whole group. They made their way through the city and down darker allies. Taking care, they were not seen, yet not acting too suspicious. It was a long walk and Rie-Zunic wondered at the conversation behind him on the way, but his ears were tuned outwards. He listened for any noise to be alarmed at. At long last, however, they arrived at their destination. His home.

Rie-Zunic opened the door and ushered them all inside. "We will be safe in here... for a while."

Almara entered last, eyeing Rie-Zunic with a questioning gaze. "Are you sure it wise to bring us all here? If we are found out-"

"Let me worry about that," Rie-Zunic cut her off.

"I see," Almara said with a hint of wit in her half smile. "You'll burn that bridge when you come it it eh? You are good at burning bridges." Her last remark, certainly uncalled for cut with an edge.

Rie-Zunic looked at her with slender eyes. "Now is not the time or the place," his tone was harsh, but soft. "We have enough issues to deal with."

He looked back to the others who now stood in the center of the room. A long moment of silence passed. He wasn't sure what to say... or what to do next for that matter. By bringing them to his home he could be charged with disobeying a direct order to bring Amarwen back. It could end his military career.

Finally Rie-Zunic sighed. "I've brought you to my home, against my orders. I know that you, Amarwen, are to forced to marry the prince. I can guess it is not your desire. By your company... I can surmise why. I've risked much this night for the sake of my conscience." His words paused and his gaze drifted to Almara. "That and... my own heart," he added softly. He looked back to Amarwen. "If I am to help you or bring you back to the castle... either way, I feel it fair you have a chance to speak your piece. Now is that chance."


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 Post subject: Re: The Waning Days of King Valacar
PostPosted: May 2nd, 2018, 8:01 pm 
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The tension was thick. Through it Almara moved, yanking shut the shutters at windows with more force than was strictly required. Their sharp staccato clack as each were sealed broke the silence forcefully. It was warmer in here compared to the open night beyond but the fire was low in the hearth. It was almost dawn, after all, and it had not been tended all night. Rie-Zunic stared at Amarwen from beneath lowered brows. It seemed to her that he would not move until he had his answer from her. Still as a statue he was. All he need do was walk back out the door and start shouting. She swallowed and drew a breath to speak.

"No."

Rie-Zunic blinked, as did Amarwen for this emphatic declaration had not come from her but from Halvarin. Her shoulder was lightly buffeted as Halvarin shifted his weight.

"You'll have your answers, but for pity's sake man, may she not sit?" Halvarin turned about to pull a chair out from the table. "Here," he said and pulled her the short distance towards it.

The chair creaked gently under her and the cloak slipped from her shoulders as her hands released it. They rose to cover her face. Floorboards groaned as Halvarin knelt by the chair. Gently he eased the cloak, her only measure of decency, back up over her shoulders. Rie-Zunic turned away as Halvarin tucked a fall of hair behind her ear.

"Do not despair," Halvarin whispered gently and at this she slowly shook her head before her hands parted to reveal her grief.

"It is already too late," she answered, fearful, "Farien knows."

Halvarin's expression flickered and he swallowed, his eyes searching her own, and though she had spoken quietly the others had heard all the same.

That Princess Farien was connected to this did not bode well. This was the woman that would, in due course, ascend to the throne as Gondor's Queen. Rie-Zunic groaned softly as he wiped at his face and when he lowered it, he was staring at Almara who seemed to have lost some of her assurance as well. When he turned back he found Halvarin leaned forward, his brow resting against Amarwen's. Both had their eyes closed, mourning. He suspected he knew what.

"What happened?" Rie-Zunic pressed, refusing to relent.

"Rie-" Almara spoke up and he turned on her.

"The city is in uproar, the palace on its ear and my career," he thumped his chest for emphasis, "Likely in ruins! I will have the truth, Almara. I am owed that much, I should think!"

When he turned back once more, Halvarin and Amarwen had drawn apart. Though, it had to be said the young man lingered, wary and protective.

Amarwen's head was bowed in turn and for a moment it seemed her fatigue had claimed her right there in her chair. She lifted her head slowly, grey eyes writ large with anger and grief.

"If you want an accounting for what was done, look elsewhere, guard."

Her dismissal ended his patience with a sudden snap and Rie-Zunic was carried forward a step towards where the young noblewoman sat. In return, Amarwen rose to her feet and Halvarin shifted with her.

"Were you or were you not taken by force from the palace?" Rie-Zunic's voice gated forcefully.

Fury flashed through Amarwen's expression at that, the first time either Almara or Rie-Zunic had seen it in her.

"What nonsense is this?" she growled, "A fiction, most like...for how else to disguise how they search as though I am a prisoner escaped?"

Rie-Zunic glared at her a moment longer and swung about to confront Almara.

Before he could speak, Almara straightened and held out her hands, "I did not abduct her, Rie. The Lady accompanied me, willingly."

His eyes narrowed and Almara pressed on with the tale.

"The attack came later, by means of deception. We were the both of us waylaid. We waited, though it must be said that the Lady was not best pleased with that. Once it became clear that we had been deceived, we made our escape." Almara paused to shrug, "The rest you know."

Rie-Zunic was silent as he chewed this over. If the attack had come elsewhere, away from the palace, then what the devil was afoot? What were they all enmeshed in? He groaned softly as he rubbed at his face.

"Who deceived you?" Halvarin asked quietly and Amarwen's eyes closed.

Almara opted to study the toes of her boots and so Halvarin pressed his question anew, "Ami, who?"

Amarwen shifted, her expression shifting to one of sorrow as she came to face Halvarin again. A bare arm emerged from the cloak as she reached for him but he pulled back, resolute. Her hand dropped and withdrew once more.

"I am so sorry," she said and he shook his head.

"Who!"

"Your father,"
she whispered with no small degree of trepidation. Halvarin stared at her, unable to speak for a moment, then shook his head and turned aside.

Rie-Zunic let his gaze weigh on Almara, "You took service with Lord Calimir?"

"Means to an end,"
she muttered with half a shrug and then lifted her gaze, "Real question, what's to be done with this mess?"

"What indeed,"
Rie-Zunic sighed unhappily for a mess it was. Princess Farien, Lord Calimir, Almara, Amarwen of Edhellond and Calimir's son all tangled up in an unruly ball.

"Do you mean to help them?" Almara pressed and Rie-Zunic shifted his weight, "For your conscience and your...heart?"

He rubbed at his face. Amarwen had gone missing for several hours and the city had been locked down. What would be the response if she fled outright and with her, Lord Calimir's son? Where would they go? And just look at Amarwen's state! She didn't have shoes, much less suitable clothing for such desperate travel. Nor did they have food, a way out, some safe haven to go and the means to get there. Not to mention four Shieldmaidens that could place him with Amarwen, Almara and Halvarin all in one neat package. No plan, no provisions, no means...Rie-Zunic raked his fingers through his hair and looked to find Amarwen shaking her head at him.

'You can't," Amarwen's attention swept to Halvarin, "To do so is treason, the penalties severe. Look at all that has already happened. All because I cannot reconcile myself to my fate. Your life, Hal, the future of my people, this man's career...I have been so very selfish."

"You are tired,"
Halvarin stirred himself to say, looking up, "You're not thinking clear-"

"I will not see you dragged under with me, Halvarin. I must,"
Amarwen's voice failed and when she found it again, it shook. "I must return to the palace...and you must take me back there. For only then can I see you spared censure for the malfeasance of others."

She was proposing to return, of her own volition, to face that which she clearly dreaded. Silence fell again and after a few moments, Amarwen sat with a profound sigh, "It must be done."

Her head bowed under the weight of it all.


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 Post subject: Re: The Waning Days of King Valacar
PostPosted: May 5th, 2018, 1:48 am 
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Halvarin was silently seething at this state of affairs. Amarwen was right. They had to set this right before a rupture split the palace down the seam that was developing. The sooner he could get Amarwen back inside the palace, the sooner Eldacar would have his search stand down. Halvarin stood up and said,

”We do need to get Amarwen back into the palace. I’m not sure how without being found out, but if it can be done, we must do so. As for what part my father had to play in this, I will confront him. We do not need this to escalate into a public rift between the Crown and the Guild, with House Edhellond in between.”

Halvarin was open to suggestions, even if it seemed he was the one that would be keelhauled for Amarwen’s supposed abduction. Did he have thoughts of running away with her? Yes, but reason prevailed, and so too would reason prevail this day. He then added,

”If we could find Vinyarion, he would know ways in to the palace undetected. And I am sure he does not wish his father to wed Amarwen.”

Halvarin had no idea how they would find Vinyarion at this hour of the morning, but he was willing to go out and see if he could. He looked at Amarwen and asked Rie-Zunic,

”Do you have anything Lady Amarwen could wear?”

Halvarin looked at Amarwen and wondered what part her father Lord Therald had in all this.


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 Post subject: Re: The Waning Days of King Valacar
PostPosted: May 5th, 2018, 7:51 pm 
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There was only one way to describe the docks of Osgiliath that dawn: mayhem. Therald plunged into it without hesitation as desperate men and frantic fathers are wont to do. He had searched the city as best he could, given how unfamiliar Osgiliath was to him. Edhellond was his home, Pelargir too though was more than thirty years ago now. He did not know where his daughter would be taken and the two men set on heels to keep tabs on him proved singularly unhelpful. They did not want the Lord of Edhellond pressing into Osgiliath's dangerous places in his current erratic state. Though, it had to be said, the docks were hardly better.

Men were bellowing and the air was thick with anger and the oily smoke of too many torches burning. Soldiers pushed past, bullish and hardnosed in their work. It was unpleasant business, forcing your way aboard to search the holds and those aboard when the captain of said vessel was furious at the imposition, implication and consequences. The search had been going on for hours now on both side of the river. Men were tired, tempers flaring and the Guild was nowhere to be seen. No one knew where the officers of the Osgiliath Guild Chapter were save one and one only: Lord Calimir.

And now, Lord Therald. He strode through the smoke and men, raggedly pushing aside those who would not fall back. Ignoring the snaps and snarls. The Dockmaster was still doing his utmost to order his domain but his voice was ragged. At this rate, if they did not re-open the river soon, it would take days if not weeks to restore the shipping schedules to normalcy. Time, and a small fortune lost.

By now word had filtered through that the missing noblewoman had been abducted. It was a grievous charge and it meant that the seat of ire shifted to the villanous brigands responsible for such an egregious act. And the dockmaster. And the soldiers pawing through their ships. And the Guild for their notable absence. What could be so pressing as to keep them from this looming catastrophe? What was the point of the Guild if they were absent when needed most?

But all was not lost for beside the hoarse Dockmaster stood the one Guild officer present. Lord Calimir strove valiantly, referring from time to time to the Dock Master. Therald shoved his way along the docks, drawing steadily closer to Lord Calimir and then came to a standstill.

The two guards tasked with keeping Therald from harm shared a cautious glance. Had the Lord finally reached the end of his endurance? His hands curled and uncurled at his sides and then he sprang forward with an incoherent roar. The two guards, surprised, found themselves hauling the lord back between them as an astonished Lord Calimir watched on.

"YOU" the man between them ranted, teeth clenched, "Where is she? Where is my girl?"

Calimir blinked and looked aside to the Dockmaster and his troubled expression.

"Lord Therald, I assure you that every effort is being made to locate your-"

Calimir broke off as Therald spat at him and the two guards grappling with Therald to hold him back grunted.

"Daughter," Calimir finished, calm and dispassionate as he wiped his face with his sleeve.

"If you're behind this, so help me, I will kill you. I WILL HAVE YOUR BLOOD!" Therald's howl came straight from his gut.

By now other soldiers and the nearby crews of the quarantined vessels were all watching the confrontation.

"This man is distraught, as any father might be," Calimir said, raising his voice so it would carry, "He is not in his right mind."

Certainly, anyone there familiar with Lord Therald might agree for never had such rage been seen in the affable Master Shipwright before. His reputation was of a calm, level demeanour, inclined to laughter over violence. The man that strained to tear Lord Calimir, a man many knew to be his friend, to pieces bore no resemblance to the Lord of Edhellond most were familiar with. The man in his place roared like a furious beast.

"Clearly, it is best that he is removed. For his own safety," Calimir pronounced and looked to the deeply perturbed Dockmaster.

The Dockmaster nodded tersely and at that the two guards grappling with Therald were lent further aid as most peeled off from the search to haul Therald away. He did not go willingly or graciously, ranting and bellowing all the while. Still, away he was taken and in Therald's wake a pall was left.

"Is it true?" the Dockmaster quietly asked, his voice cracked and broken.

Calimir placed a hand on the man's back and pointed across the river to the eastern docks, "My own vessel is moored across the way. Setting aside why I would kidnap the child of a dear friend, a girl I might even consider my own daughter in fact, the question that arises is this: would I not be on my boat and well clear by now?"

The Dockmaster grunted at this and shook his head. One boat had managed to slip the cordon, the other that had set out with it had been inspected. The only thing found on that one was a shattered window. Its captain was relieved to put back to dock so as to repair the damage and place the crew responsible for the damage in stocks.

Calimir turned away from the Dockmaster and resumed issuing orders. Only one more pier to search and the western docks could be declared clear.


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 Post subject: Re: The Waning Days of King Valacar
PostPosted: May 6th, 2018, 6:43 pm 
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Rie-Zunic walked stiffly out of the room, seemingly ignoring the question presented. He returned, however, and produced a gown, though it seemed as nightwear. "I'm sure you won't mind," he said, eyeing Almara who blushed lightly and him producing her clothing from his own bedroom.

It was not quite as it seemed, but there was no subtle way to clarify the issue. She nodded timidly, or perhaps reservedly, and motioned towards Amarwen.

Rie-Zunic tossed the gow to Halvarian who offered it to Amarwen. "She can change in the room," Rie-Zunic said, motioning towards the room where he had just come from. Amarwen Rose to her feet, but her eyes held fast to the floor as she sulked into the room to change.

Rie-Zunic looked between Halvarian and Almara. "If this is truly her choice, I can get her back in the palace, but she must be certain. I can't have her changing her mind and this whole ordeal happening all over again." His gaze fell on Almara. "With some talking and pulling a few strings... I may be able to keep any one here from suffering I'll from their involvement, though if this were to happen again I will be powerless to help."

"What is your plan?" Halvarian cut to the point.

"It's simple-"

"Take her back in and say he rescued her from the guildsman," Almara interrupted.

Rie-Zunic scowled, but shrugged. "Something like that. I will tell them we delayed because we were not sure who all was involved in the kidnapping. If Calamir is responsible as you say, I know I saw his own men out looking. We can say we were waylaid to avoid being detected by him. I will inform them that the two of you were instrumental in aiding in her safe return. The crown already knows Almara has been working with me. They should accept he explanation... But we must all be on the same page with what happened this night."

By that time Amarwen had returned to the room and stood listening. Upon seeing her Halvarian walked over to her hastily to place caring hands on her shoulders and guide her back to her chair.


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 Post subject: Re: The Waning Days of King Valacar
PostPosted: May 6th, 2018, 9:19 pm 
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Amarwen had not heard very much beyond Rie-Zunic’s closing words. Something about clarifying events of the night. A shared understanding. Sensible, but where to begin? There were deep currents flowing and Amarwen was not confident at all that they could be navigated.

As she sat, her fingers rose to grasp Halvarin’s.

”Thank you,” she said shyly, smoothing the fold of the nightgown she now wore.

Though it was a nightgown, it offered considerably more cover than her shift had.

”If we are to reach a common understanding, then we must begin with what is already known,” Halvarin stated.

Amarwen’s voice was soft as summer rain, as if she spoke to herself. ”The Shieldmaidens… can establish Halvarin had no part in his father’s actions. What was it that the palace reported?”

“An abduction,”
the guard replied, ”Evidence of a struggle.”

“That no one saw or heard.”
Almara supposed, ”They cannot have.”

“The report came from Princess Farien herself.”


Amarwen was so very tired. Her thoughts were as thick as the mud still on her feet. Why would Princess Farien raise the alarm? What was she up to with Halvarin’s father? Surely, the woman that would be Queen was not actively working to undermine the throne…

”I shall say that I did not see my attackers. That much is true. I will say nothing to contradict Princess Farien’s account and I will not name Lord Calimir. None of us should, if we hope to avoid a public rift between the crown and the Guild.”

“I have already reported the Guild’s involvement in this,”
Rie-Zunic stated, nonplussed.

”Another morsel of truth, then, for I found Guild papers in the desk of the cabin I was locked in. How they came to be there, who they belonged to, I do not know. As for Almara…” Amarwen looked to Almara for a moment, ”I will say that you were taken with me.”

“Why would Almara be in your rooms, much less taken with you?”
Rie - Zunic sighed and Amarwen’s hands fell to the nightdress she wore. Almara’s clothing.

”May friends not call upon each other? And…the assailants could not leave witnesses behind. Careless.”

“Friends?”
Rie-Zunic echoed and Amarwen nodded.

A strange friendship, to be sure, and an uncertain one. She knew very little of Almara and what she did know seemed contradictory. Their lives were very different indeed and yet, she knew a kindred spirit all the same.

Rie-Zunic shook his head from side to side, unconvinced.

“It will do,” Almara said quietly, her gaze meeting Amarwen’s before dropping away.

And it was done, then, it would seem. All she needed do now hobble her way back to the palace and find some way to submit to her fate. Her empty stomach dropped away at the thought.

”There is no undoing this once it is done,” Halvarin quietly said, his voice solemn and so very sad.

Amarwen closed her eyes as she nodded, ”Not unless the crown withdraws…”

But hope did not lay there. The crown would only withdraw from the arrangement if she proved utterly unacceptable. Perhaps on the grounds of insanity…and even then that may not be enough for even if they found her distasteful, the notion of her falling into the hands of others was more unpalatable. They saw what she meant for succession and nothing she might do could erase or obscure that.

Almara turned to peek through one of the shutters. ”Dawn comes.”

Futile tears gathered on thick, black lashes as Amarwen slowly rose to her feet.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~




Princess Farien paused to study her youngest son. He stood in the gardens, staring into the east. There the sky was stained a delicate pink blush. She drew a deep breath and approached. Aldamir turned to note her presence and then resumed his silent study of the dawn sky.

”You see, now, why it is necessary,” she stated plainly and beside her, Aldamir pushed out a sharp, angry breath.

”I see that a young woman has been placed in considerable peril!”

“Peril that has been drawing in around her, and the realm, ever since she came of age,”
Farien could see her son’s bitter grimace.

’“If we cannot keep her safe here, Mother, what possible defence can we offer?”

“I do not believe they are so bold as to steal the betrothed bride of a prince. Close that door, Aldamir, if you would see Lady Amarwen truly protected.”


He sighed at that and shoved his hands into his pockets, ”What if we cannot get her back?”

She heard genuine concern in Aldamir's question. Her son was a good man.

”Amarwen will be returned to us. Once she is…you know what must be done.”

The Princess withdrew, confident that she need not press any harder than that. Aldamir had a good heart. Sometimes too good for his own interests. His lofty principles had nearly undone arrangements once the girl’s less than enthusiastic response to the betrothal had been made abundantly clear. The young were so stubborn, Farien mused, but hopefully Amarwen had received enough of a fright to pull her into line. Certainly, it would be a rude awakening from her sheltered life at Edhellond.

Farien pressed into her husband’s study without knocking. Eldacar looked up from his desk, expression weary.

”It is done,” she reported calmly, hands clasped before her, ”All is in hand.”

Her husband’s brow knotted. The Crown Prince pushed a leaf of parchment towards her. Farien took it up without a word and read it swiftly.

”I should never have agreed to this!” Eldacar observed, frustrated.

Farien’s jaw tightened as she read. It was a report concerning four Shieldmaidens that had turned the Guild chapterhouse on its ear searching out conspirators. Amarwen had been sighted, alive and well, reportedly on her way back to the palace. Hours ago. Damn that girl! Had she fled the city, her lover in tow? Would she be so foolish as that? Surely, Farien thought to herself, she could not so sorely over-estimate the child’s wit.

They would have to redouble efforts to locate Amarwen and they would need scapegoats now that the Guild had been openly implicated. She had hoped to avoid that, but this report meant they were necessary.

”Issue warrants,” she sighed and Eldacar gestured at the papers he had been working on at her arrival.

”All I need are names.”

Farien nodded and her husband dipped his quill in fresh ink to begin transcribing.


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 Post subject: Re: The Waning Days of King Valacar
PostPosted: May 6th, 2018, 9:44 pm 
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Halvarin leaned over Amarwen’s shoulder and whispered to her,

”We’re going to have to do this Ami. Whether the crown withdraws or not, going back will be the only way. I believe much will have changed in the minds of many in the Royal Court and the Guild because of this night. Most of all, I think Aldamir will wish to not incite troubles with the Guild, as Eldacar will have enough to work against as it is. I do not think he will play into their plans, but someone else, be it Ornendil, Lady Farien, or dare I say, the King himself, may wish things to come to a head sooner rather than later?”

He looked to Amara and Rie-Zunic and said,

”I don’t know. What I do know is my father actively seeks the end of the line with the passing of Valacar. Treasonous thinking I know, but a thought held by many in the southern provinces. I will see him and find out what he is thinking.”

He stood, and he draped his dark green cloak he was wearing over Amarwen and said,

”As Lady Amarwen said, the light of dawn will break soon, and already the faint stars fade. We should do this quickly while there is still cover of night.”

He was ready and hoped Amarwen could walk with her wounded foot.

~ ~



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 Post subject: Re: The Waning Days of King Valacar
PostPosted: May 12th, 2018, 6:52 pm 
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Helda gained the top of the stairs in time to see Rhinnin crack a stupendous yawn. She was still slouched against the wall across from the doorway, precisely where Helda had left her to check the cells below. Helda slipped out between the two guards stationed at the top of the cells and shook her head at Rhinnin.

”It’s not her,” she told her shield sister, ”Not even a her.”

Rhinnin frowned at this for there can’t be that many people hailing from Edhellond in Osgiliath. If there were, they’d have tripped over them before in the city and the fact was Amarwen of Edhellond was the first they had encountered only days before.

”Her father,” Helda supplied as the two women trudged away, ”An altercation at the docks or some such.”

Rhinnin nodded, glum. ”Should never have left her.”

“You enjoyed knocking Guild heads together as much as I,”
Helda chided and answered Rhinnin’s gleeful grin with one of her own.

”Aye, but we’ve nothing to show for that and we’ve gone and lost the prize.” Rhinnin and Helda trudged a few more steps for the palace gate before Rhinnin asked a question, ”Do you think she misdirected us, apurpose?”

Rhinnin cracked another wide yawn, understandable given they’d been on their feet throughout the day, through the night and now another day was rushing towards them. They passed through the palace gates and walked on. Silence arose between the two women and Rhinnin cut a sideways glance and found Helda’s blue eyes bright with undimmed anger. Asking that last question was a mistake, she realised.

”What are we, Rhinnin?” Helda asked in a low growl and Rhinnin sighed at the question.

”Shieldmaidens of Rhovanion,” she replied quietly, keeping her voice down for people in this city did not like such speech.

Red braids ragged after a busy night swung as Helda shook her head from side to side, ”This is wrong. We should not be doing this.”

“Our orders-“

“There is no honor, Rhinnin, in dragging women to the marriage beds of our masters!”


Helda’s statement came out in a hiss but it was a scandalous all the same. If any should overhear it. Unease scratched at the insides of Rhinnin’s belly.

”That is not what we are doing,” she replied, agitated herself.

”Is it not?” Helda charged back.

Another shake of the Shieldmaiden’s head and then Rhinnin watched Helda turn off down a cobblestoned street. She considered following her. Her foot tapped impatiently and then she sighed and turned away for a path of her own.

Helda moved at a rapid clip, relieved when Rhinnin decided against joining her. For this, the fewer of their sisters involved the better. Purposeful misdirection is precisely what Helda thought Amarwen was about. That she had left the young noblewoman a charge of Rie-Zunic, better again. Had they quit the city yet? Were they fleeing? The Shieldmaiden’s thoughts rolled about as she walked. If they had, she needed to decide what she was going to do. Report it, waiting half if not most of the day to do so, or turn a blind eye to it entirely. A shocking dereliction of duty, that, but not nearly as confronting as the use to which she and her fellow Shield sisters had been put to of late.

She found the guard’s house easily enough. Silver smoke rose from its chimney but the windows were all shuttered. Helda padded closer, moving with a stealth borne of her years in Rhovanion wilds. Her senses strained for anything she might see or hear and sure enough: voices. She could hear voices. Men and the softer cadence of women. Helda’s red brows drew together in consternation. Surely they had not dallied and in all places, here, in Rie-Zunic’s home. It was the first place they will come to!

Helda pounded a fist on the door. It was barred and she used enough force to make it rattle.

”Open this door, you fools,” the Shield maiden demanded through it and she heard scrabbling then silence, ”I know you’re in there.”


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