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 Post subject: Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards
PostPosted: March 1st, 2018, 6:49 pm 
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Location: The Forbidden Pool
Country: Australia (au)
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Minas Anor ~ February 1443

It was late when Halvarin returned home. Three days had passed, each of them long and gruelling as he struggled with his grief and his fear. Amarwen knew little of this time, weakened and fevered, but Sarael saw it all. The Lord Commander would leave before dawn, calling in on the nursery to take in his sleeping son, and then remain away until midnight. Again he would stop in to look upon Mindacil and it was here Sarael found him now. Halvarin was so preoccupied with his son that he did not seem to be aware of her arrival. Yet, he spoke to her, dispelling any notion that he did not know she was there.

"How fares-" he was so weary he almost named Amarwen by her true name. Halvarin recovered just in time, "How fares my wife?"

Sarael's fingers wound together, sorrowful, "Stronger each day, m'Lord. She-"

She paused, bowing her head, and at this Halvarin gave off from watching his son's slumber in his cradle to approach Sarael where she stood in the door of the nursery.

"Speak freely, Sarael," he said and, head still bowed, she grimaced before she looked up and into Halvarin's face.

He looked so…forlorn and anguished. She swallowed thickly.

"M'Lady asks for you, m'Lord."

Halvarin pressed out a sigh and nodded. He wiped a hand over his face.

"Of course," he said, gathering himself visibly before Sarael, "I will go to her now."

Tears welled up in Sarael's eyes as she watched the Lord Commander wearily trudge down the hall. She shook her head to clear her thoughts and then pulled the nursery door to. Should Mindacil wake, the wet-nurse she had arranged would see to him.

Halvarin carefully pushed the door open to his bedroom. The hearth was well alight, tended so that it would last well into the night. The air within was warm. Aside from the crackle of the fire, it was also quiet. He slipped past the door and closer to the bed. Amarwen was asleep, a book lay over her chest. It slowly rose and fell with her breath. Her hair was spread like a black cloud over the snowy expanse of their pillows. He could see from the flutter of her long, dark lashes, that his wife slept. And dreamed. Every now and again, a loose hand resting atop the spread book twitched, fingers curling and then releasing.

He padded closer and gently removed the book. Second Age poetry, he saw and smiled. Amarwen had a fondness for the works of the newly flourishing court of the Noldor at that time. She had chased him when they were children, tormenting him with verse and laughing with such delight at his protests and groans. That memory of their childhood made Halvarin smile fondly before he knew it and it felt both wonderful and strange, as if his face was moving in ways it had not done so for some time.

Book set aside, Halvarin readied himself for bed as he had done so these three days passed. Umarked. He slipped under the weight of the bedding and drew towards Amarwen, again as he had done since their return. She shifted, somehow sensing his presence, and uttered something too soft and rapid for him to make sense of. Then she turned to her side and presented her back to him. All of this was as it had been, save in one respect. Instead of pulling away, Amarwen pressed back until she had fitted herself against him.

Halvarin caught his breath, startled by how much this meant to him. Amarwen sought him out. She sought him out. The weight of this settled over him, pressed into him and he drank it in. Thirsty for it. For her. For this. He slid his arm under her neck. She stirred again, murmured. He could not make sense of it, but she sounded like she was irritated, mildly. Then she adjusted herself and was still once more. He folded his other arm over her warmth, so careful not to wake her. Then slowly, so slowly, he felt himself sink. Warm, the scent of Amarwen's skin drawn deep into his lungs as he pressed his face to her shoulder. Sleep rushed up to claim him in a way it had not done for days. He surrendered to it gladly. Beyond this moment, nothing mattered any more.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Amarwen knew nothing of her initial return from the Harlond. She recalled the Viper handing her a knife and she remembered how she had staggered as best she could, the pain building, to keep watch. After that, it was all in jagged pieces until had woken in her own bed, staring at the canopy overhead and listening to the sound of Sarael rustling around the room. Since then, Amarwen had been beset with demands that she rest, that she heal. As if such a thing were possible. As for Halvarin, he left before dawn and returned late or Sarael told her. She did not know herself, for Halvarin had taken to sleeping in the nursery.

And so the days had trickled by, minute by aching minute, with little more to occupy her thoughts beyond worry. Worry over what was unfolding in the wake of their action that night. Worry that they had been compromised, fatally exposed. Worst of all was her creeping fear that Halvarin's absence was the result of anger…and he had every right to be angry. With her, with what he had been dragged into because of her, for what she had done to win his freedom and the terrible price paid.

Sarael, of course, assured her that this was not so. She said that Halvarin was busy, unable to set his duties aside no matter how badly he might wish to. But as the days and nights had passed, Sarael's assurances were not equal to the doubt racing through nearly every thought in Amarwen's head.

Last night, Sarael had tried to calm Amarwen with one of her favourite books of poetry, one her mother had read to her as a child. She had uttered gentle reassurances that all was not lost and yet again urged Amarwen to rest. Left to consider another long, lonely night, Amarwen had wept until she could weep no more and then, unable to sleep, had cracked open the book Sarael had brought to her. This was the last she recalled until now.

Amarwen closed her eyes again, reluctant to move and dispel this dream she found herself in. That was what this had to be, she thought, for there could be no forgiveness for what she had done. She swallowed and opened her eyes. Halvarin lay on his back, one arm flung over his head and the other looped under her. His hand rested on the slope of her waist and she watched his chest expand and shrink with each steady breath. Her hand was on his chest, and she could feel the steady thrum of his heart under her palm.

Tears prickled, for she missed him so keenly that it was a physical pain. Yet, what she might do to draw him back to her she did not know. And so she was left with this. His ghost, as real as the dull grey morning unfolding beyond the window, and yet impossible. For there was no forgiveness for what she had done and well did she know it.

Amarwen awoke again with a start, unaware that she had fallen asleep once more. Groggy, she tried to shake her mind free of its slowness.

"I have missed you so," Halvarin's words, the timbre of his voice, the rumble of his chest as he spoke did what she could not.

Bleariness fell away from her in an instant and she tilted her head to look up. Halvarin returned her study and she felt his arm flex under her.

"That being said, I can no longer feel my arm." he remarked.

With a hasty apology, Amarwen scrambled to move herself out of the way.

"Where are you going? Not so fast!" Halvarin remarked as he caught her once more.

Her breath caught in her throat as he drew her atop him. Her heart pounded in her throat as his hands stroked her tangled hair and then cupped her face.

"I am so sorry," Amarwen blurted and then closed her eyes at the flimsy sound of her quivering words. What was the point of this? There was nothing she could do to make this right again.

"You're shaking," Halvarin said and wrapped his arms to clasp her against him, "Oh my love, hush."

A sob hiccupped out of her, his tenderness striking her more deeply than any arrow might.

"I- I-"

"Shhhh….there is time enough for that…for now, I just need this. You."

And so she relented and allowed herself to settle into Halvarin until his heart beat into her ear and inexorably tugged her towards sleep.

"Must you leave today?" she asked.

"No, Ami," Halvarin answered, his own voice catching in his throat, "I will not leave you today."

A profound sign leaked out of her and she burrowed her face into his chest, pressing her lips against his skin.

"I love you," she whispered, profoundly grateful, and his arms tightened around her.

"My darling," Halvarin replied, emotion crowding him, but already he could feel Amarwen slipping back into the realms of sleep.

When Sarael peeked through the door and into the bedroom at mid morning, she heard the sound of breathing. Discretely, she glanced over to the bed and sure enough she saw the Lord Commander and his lady wife wrapped together, slumbering peacefully. A smile made the corners of her eyes crinkle and beneath that, a sense of relief. The worst had to be behind them now. She was sure of it.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Vidnavi looked up at the sound of movement and caught sight of Amarwen of Edhellond as she entered the parlour. It had been years since Vidnavi had last seen this noblewoman. She remembered the last encounter clearly for the young aristocrat had been full of vitality. A bright smile, a sharp wit and a keen eye for archery. That youthful innocence was now spent. The aristocrat that approached had been transformed into something dangerous and powerful.

She had to wonder at how she had settled the account between herself and Aldamir. Her husband, Halvarin, had said that Vilna was safe but what if that was a lie. What if Aldamir, Helda and Vilna had been murdered and that was why they had not come for her. What if this noblewoman, once betrothed to Aldamir and now married to a Castamirian Guild Officer, was their traitor. That, certainly, had been Helda's assessment.

"You look as bored as I," the noblewoman said without disassembly and Vidnavi nodded warily.

"They insist that I rest," Vidnavi replied, "But it is inactivity that has left me so weak!"

"Veritable house arrest,"
Amarwen said with a sigh as she took a seat and studied the hands in her lap.

"How did this happen?" Vidnavi asked, deliberately keeping her question broad.

Amarwen looked up at her and then to the door. She wiped a hand over her face and sighed again.

"I suspect the White Tree was attacked because the Prince was recognised. And once the White Tree was razed," she shook her head wearily from side to side, "The partisans decided they needed to strike at the Lord Commander, for it was he they blamed for the fire. In turn Castimir's spies swung into action for they saw the opportunity to mop up the partisans once and for all and close a wound opened since the Harlond fires."

"Fires you started,"
Vidnavi observed and Amarwen looked away from her.

"Approved by Eldacar and Aldamir both," she replied, "But yes, set in motion by my hand."

Vidnavi was silent and in time Amarwen's gaze returned to her hands. It was something that Vidnavi had noted in her time spent recovering in the Lord Commander's residence. Amarwen would stare at her hands, sometimes for quite a while.

"Those spies, they took me," Vidnavi said and this broke Amarwen's scrutiny of her fingers, "Where are they now?"

"Those of Minas Anor and the Harlond are dead - mostly by the Viper's hand."

Vidnavi grunted at that for it had been the Viper she had been searching for when she was taken. She was not sure now whether she was grateful or angry with him. Perhaps both.

"How did you track him down?" Vidnavi asked and watched Amarwen's gaze lock on a bookshelf.

"I knew of him from my earlier time in Minas Anor," she said, referring to the initial years she had spent working to orchestrate Eldacar's network of resistance, "In the end, I had what he wanted."

"And what was that?"

Amarwen shook her head, unwilling to answer, and Vidnavi found herself wondering just how many secrets this woman had. And whether it would ever be possible to unravel them all. She wanted to get out of this place and return to her sister.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The Harlond - March 1443

The Viper shook his head at the woman and told her, "Can't be done. That husband of hers has the city locked down tighter than a fish's ar-"

"His adjutant will bring her to you,"
the woman said and then leaned back in her chair, "Though, if you say it can't be done then perhaps you are no longer the man you used to be."

The Viper drew in a breath and then smiled. This woman was not the partisan she would have him believe her to be. Her response was too akin to something Aldamir's woman might say. This woman was far deeper in her mistress' counsel than any partisan would be. The woman had slipped, revealed herself. He would have to look into that further, and carefully for Aldamir's woman would not take kindly to him sniffing around her people and this woman, whoever she was, was so skilled that he had believed her to be the partisan she claimed to be for weeks now.

Pushing that aside, he turned his attention to the other thing she had said. The Shieldmaid would be accompanied by the Lord Commander's adjutant himself. Two birds, he thought to himself, and he was the stone. Getting the shieldmaid to Minas Ithil unmarked would be difficult but...then, that way did his trail lie in any case. With the full blessing of Aldamir's woman, in fact. Her only requirement had been that he replace any he killed with people she could call on later, when it suited her.

"What am I to do with the adjutant?" he asked.

"She trusts you will choose wisely," the woman replied, though something about her seemed strained.

Choose wisely, eh? That could mean opening his neck for him at the first opportunity or letting him wander off back to Minas Anor and the service of her husband. The Viper grimaced as he realised what this was. This was her price for the fun he'd been having. This was mop up duty and he hated mop up duty.

"I hope she does not come to rue that latitude," he remarked, for it would not be on him if he made the wrong choice.

"There will be nowhere for you to hide if she does," the woman promised with a smile.

The Viper scowled for he knew Aldamir's woman had a reach that was wide and powerful. He threw down three coins, enough for the tea, and stalked off.

Sarael stared at the copper coins on the table and then closed her eyes. It was done. If Mardil proved treacherous, he would die. She washed a hand over her face, rose from her chair and set about quitting this place as quickly as she could, her mind troubled and heart heavy.

~Dancing 'twixt southern stars~

May you forever be touched by His Noodly Appendage

 Post subject: Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards
PostPosted: March 11th, 2018, 4:56 am 
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Rhovanion borderlands- March 1443

Vilmaith and Vinyarion had laboured throughout winter to prepare the roads that would carry the King in Exile south. They left a small amount of forest to hide the roads from scouts of Gondor and aside from those working on the roads, no one bar the King and Prince Aldamir knew of their work. Scouts came and went from Gondor, most allied to their cause for otherwise they would have been waylaid or turned back well before. Word would come to those making the roads of any who might approach for their secrecy required careful sentries. When it did, Vilmaith who held the command of the eastern bank of the Anduin would come forth to watch who was passing.

And so, on a blustery February day, Vilmaith found herself watching a party of three. Two men, clad in the manner of Gondorian Rangers flanked a woman who limped between them. It was an unusual sight indeed and Vilmaith's eyes narrowed as she debated whether to let them pass as the others had. As she debated, the trio grew ever closer until finally Vilmaith recognised one of their number. The hair was different but she would recognise that face anywhere.

She ran forward out of the cover of the tree with a sudden cry.

"Vilna? Vilna!"

Yet as she Vilmaith ran to embrace her shield sister, Vilna did not respond. Her arms hung limply at her sides and, troubled, Vilmaith took Vilna from the Rangers and aided her from the track to sit on a nearby fallen tree. She cupped Vilna's face between her hands and peered into eyes that were red with fatigue and dull with despair.

"Oh Vilna…" she whispered, dismayed.

"Vidnavi is lost…" Vilna replied, her voice shaking and one of her hands rose to grasp Vilmaith's outstretched forearm, "First Rhinnin, now Vidnavi lost. I am crippled… only you and Helda remain of our sisterhood of Eldacar."

"Vidnavi is dead? How?"
Vilmaith asked, the very thought of it striking grief like a stone struck against steel.

She brushed the dyed dark locks away from Vilna's face as the other woman's eyes closed briefly and then reopened to search Vilmaith's face.

"I felt her spirit break. If she is not dead, then she is broken. I can feel her no longer."

This admission shocked Vilmaith and she held Vilna close. They were quiet for a time as Vilmaith tried to sort through her thoughts. How was it possible to break the bond between Vilna and Vidnavi? The twin sisters had always been inseparable. Who could break Vidnavi for she was one of the strongest of them all? What had been done? Where were the others? Where was Aldamir and Helda? Were they also in peril? Had they perished too?

Vilmaith kissed Vilna softly on the cheek and stood up. Vilna was lost, perhaps the others were too, but she would not surrender the charge and fall into despair. The softness of her expression faded into something harder as she gazed down at Vilna.

"Shieldsister of Eldacar, now is not the time for despair! Awake! I have need of you!"

Vilna looked up at her in time to discover Vilmath's hand swinging fast to strike her cheek. She recoiled, glaring at Vilmaith who promptly moved to slap Vilna's other cheek. Her hand rose, fingers shaking, as anger stirred in Vilna and when Vilmath moved to slap her a third time, Vilna's hand intercepted the other woman. Her fingers closed around Vilmaith's wrist and she stood to drag Vilmaith towards her hard. Face to face they were, the two shieldmaidens breathing hard as they stared down at each other.

"Will you whimper more, Vilna, or will you avenge your sister?" Vilmaith asked her.

Vilna's lip curled in a sneer that faded at the mention of vengeance. Her grip on Vilmaith's wrist began to ease as that sank in and when she released her hand, Vilmaith nodded her satisfaction.

"My shieldsister has returned," she said, closing her other hand on Vilna's shoulder.

Vilna made to shake her off as she turned aside, head lowering. A shudder of emotion rippled through her and when she raised her head again tears shone on her face. There was spirit in Vilna's eyes once more and though Vilmaith said nothing on it, she thought that perhaps the same might be accomplished with Vidnavi. If the woman yet lived.

~ ~ ~

Minas Anor- March 1443

Halvarin was dismayed to find that he had erected a barrier around him in his grief that held everyone at bay. He walled himself in behind all that had occurred since he had been taken. All his fears, all the taunts, all that he feared Amarwen might have done to win his safety and the terrible price paid for it. But that night, as he held her soft warmth to him as they slept, brought to him a cascade of memories and dreams that had gathered over the years. Dreams of this, memories of yearning for this and fearing that it would never come to pass. Fears that it was impossible.

Difficult as this was for him to admit, Halvarin realised that night that the distance he had cultivated was nothing new. He had seen it time and again before now, in his own father. The wedge he was driving between them could very well become a permanent feature, the bedrock of their marriage, and that could never be. He loved Amarwen. He had done so for years now, longer than he had yet to admit to her in truth, and would always love her to the end of his days. He would not be the man his father was. He wanted this soft warmth filling his arms and heart, not that cold, chilly distance with so many empty hours with naught but his fears.

So it was that Halvarin set to rebuilding. It was difficult to do, for often he found himself having to set aside anger, guilt and remorse. He made a point of not leaving quite so early in the day and returning in the dusk. It set the entire household into something of a flux as they adjusted to this new schedule but he could see Amarwen respond and that was all that mattered to him.

No longer did he collapse into bed beside her on the point of exhaustion and so there were nights Halvarin desired Amarwen greatly. Yet he held himself in check, aware that his wife would choose the moment, when she was ready, for such joys. He held her close, stroked the soft skin of her belly, brushing the sweet lower curve of her breasts, and reflected on just how fortunate Mindacil was. Halvarin would fall asleep on such thoughts, his face burrowed in Amarwen's ebony hair, and daylight would find them still entwined.

So it was, nearing the end of February, he awoke to find his wife no longer lay beside him nestled in his arms. Instead, she sat above him and she was sliding herself over his unabashed harness. It was this sensation, this gentle sinuous motion that had woken him from a very similar dream indeed. Taken by surprise at his wakefulness, and Halvarin briefly wondered if he had ever slept through something like this before, Amarwen paused. He reached up for her, and sank his fingers through the weight of black hair at the nape of her neck.

He pulled her down towards him to claim her mouth as another hand slipped down over her hips and pressed her hard against him. She ground harder, his message clear to her, and Halvarin found himself straining to hold himself back. Grazing her lower lip he released her head and Amarwen rose again. She braced her weight on his chest and began to bounce, faster and faster until he could resist no longer. Halvarin's restraint broke in a hoarse cry of release, his hips bucking as he emptied himself into her and Amarwen collapsed atop him. Halvarin wrapped his arms around his panting wife, their racing hearts slowing until they both fell into a sated doze.

A brief morning nap, it seemed to Halvarin, when Sarael came to see if all was well.

"Good morning Sarael," he said as the maid stole discretely into the bedchamber.

Amarwen's loose hair was draped over Halvarin's face but he could make the maid out between the thick strands. At the sound of his voice, Amarwen picked her head up. She sighed Sarael, offered her a sleepy smile and then her eyes closed as her head dropped once more. She did not move from her position atop Halvarin.

"Good afternoon, m'lord and lady," Sarael said with some emphasis, "Mindacil has been good all morning while you…. rested but he grows restless now. Do you wish me to bring him in?"

Amarwen stirred at this and murmured assent as she nodded against Halvarin's shoulder.

"Please do, Sarael," Halvarin reaffirmed and Sarael turned away with a nod to see it done.

In the time it took to fetch their son, Amarwen had commenced to grumble about wet nurses.

"My mother never required one," she observed as she tied a robe around herself.

This was not the first Halvarin had heard her make such a remark and it troubled him.

"Your mother had not a rebellion to keep in check," he remarked as he tied his own robe closed.

"And a fine job I am doing of that, too," Amarwen muttered with a shake of her head but before Halvarin could respond Mindacil had arrived.

Halvarin took his son from Sarael and pressed a kiss to the boy's plump cheeks. Mindacil was gracious enough to tolerate this but his intentions were no mystery to anyone. He was reaching for his mother and the bounty she could provide to him even as Halvarin drew back. Mindacil squirmed, almost strong enough now to crawl over to Amarwen, and so Halvarin passed the boy across to his wife. Once he was there, Mindacil settled immediately into place, eyes closing as he fed for now all was right with his world. Every time Amarwen shifted, flinching as the boy's emerging teeth were felt, Mindacil's eyes would flick open.

He stared up at his mother, and then at his father as Halvarin moved to hold them both in his arms. Once Mindacil was assured he was not going to be interrupted, his grey eyes closed and he wound himself as tightly as he could around Amarwen. Halvarin kissed Amarwen's hair and smiled as he closed his eyes. Even this was more than he had ever dared dream possible. He had his wife and a bouncing baby son.

Unseen by Amarwen or Halvarin, Sarael quietly quit the bedchamber. As she closed the door, she leaned against it with a smile. The dark cloud that had settled over this house appeared to be breaking up. Her mistress and master were back.

February gave way to March and whilst Halvarin was spending far more time at home with his family, he was far from idle. In the time he spent away from them at his duties, Halvarin worked to solidify his ministry. He went over his records and had reassigned any he could not be confident of. Those that seemed surprised by his return were the first to go. His subterfuge was that coin was scarce and a reduction in staff reduced costs and freed up funds for other important needs: like repairs to the city and food to address the shortages. Still, Amarwen cautioned him to greater subtlety and so Halvarin also reassigned some he knew to harbour sympathies for Eldacar.

By the close of February, Halvarin was confident that his position had been shored up. At the start of March, he assumed temporary control of Minas Anor's military and its local command when Beregil was summoned to a new position in Pelargir. This was an unexpected boon indeed, for Amarwen was finalising the ordering of the partisans in both Minas Anor and the Harlond both. A new safehouse was established and whatever she had the Viper up to could be managed once word reached Minas Anor. When Amarwen said that Halvarin did not want to know what the Viper was doing, he was inclined to believe her. Lest anyone mutter at Halvarin's actions in assuming military control, he had word sent to Castamir by the usual channels that he had done so. Lastly, Halvarin sent word by more private means to those entrusted with overseeing the estate and holding in Pelargir. It was important that they knew he was in good health despite rumours to the contrary.

As March came around, Halvarin's work had led to one unfortunate outcome. His doubts concerning Mardil had not abated since that grim night in the Harlond. He sent a message to Osgiliath to his old friend Michas who had recommended Mardil to him. The young man, despite having a keen interest in their house maid Sarael, also had other contacts in the city. Unfortunate contacts, as Amarwen confirmed when he spoke of this to her. This led, in turn, to Amarwen inviting Mardil to dinner. The matter had to be resolved, she said, one way or the other and Halvarin knew this to be true. Mardil knew too much to be left as a loose end. Over dinner, Amarwen asked him a series of seemingly benign questions. Idle dinner chatter to the unskilled observer and Mardil seemed at his ease.

Still, Halvarin watched his wife raise one dark brow at an all too refined answer to a question he had almost missed. He frowned as he recalled what it was his wife had asked his adjutant. A query, he realised, about something that had occurred just before they had been set upon at the Harlond. How was it, he wondered again, that Mardil had been left with little more than a scuffed uniform whilst his head had almost been cracked open? How was it that they had known where they would be? Mardil had access to Halvarin's schedule in a way no others did. And if Mardil was an agent of the Usurper, then they were all in grave peril. So many questions…they could not be left unanswered.

Amarwen brushed aside the dubious answer smoothly, her aristocratic training coming to the fore as she neatly directed conversation onto something else. Still, her gaze locked with Halvarin's down the table for a moment and he inclined his head. It had to be. Mardil had to be tested. His wife set her glass down and glanced to where Sarael, who had joined them for dinner this evening, sat. Sarael looked down into her lap for a moment and then back up at Amarwen. She inclined her head and it was done. Mardil would be tested.

When Mardil was leaving, Sarael escorted him to the door where they lingered outside for a time. Sarael liked Mardil, though not in a romantic way, and with the growing concern around his allegiances, she would do what was necessary for them when it came to Mardil. Just as her mistress had done, Sarael used Mardil's growing interest in her to keep him close. When he asked if she might see him one evening, just the two of them, Sarael agreed. Any information she might gain of the adjutant could prove valuable. She gave him a light kiss on the cheek as he left, causing him to pause.

He turned to look at her and Sarael blushed prettily, making sure he saw this before she drew back inside the door and closed it.

~Dancing 'twixt southern stars~

May you forever be touched by His Noodly Appendage

 Post subject: Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards
PostPosted: March 12th, 2018, 7:04 am 
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Minas Tirith - March, 1443

Mardil was sure someone was watching him. The small patch of skin between his shoulder blades had been itching for weeks now. Yet every time he looked about all looked as it should. No one stared or lurked. There had been no pointed questions. When people started to be reassigned, Mardil thought he had been discovered but for some reason, the Lord Commander did not reassign him. Then had come the invitation to dinner. Not from Halvarin but his wife. His dangerous, deadly wife. The number of dead in her wake at the Harlond proved to Mardil that Lady Marece was perhaps one of the most dangerous individuals he had encountered. But dinner had gone well.

He had not been poisoned, stabbed or throttled. He had not been imprisoned or interrogated. Instead, he had been wined and dined and had he not been aware of Lady Marece's activities he would have been utterly charmed. Sarael had been the one undimmed pleasure of the evening and when she had agreed to see him again, the tension he had felt building over the past two months faded into something bearable. Sarael was kind and sweet and her loyalty to the Lady Marece was admirable, even if her mistress was not. There was an innocence to Sarael and Mardil hoped that the young maid could be spared. The only way that might accomplished, he had already reasoned, was if he was able to win her over and so he continued to seek ways to spend time with her.

Thus, when the tap on the Lord Commander's office door proved to be Sarael, Mardil was more than a little pleased late that afternoon. He smiled widely as the pretty maid slipped in.

"A pleasure unlooked for," Mardil said as he rose, glancing over his shoulder to Halvarin's office behind him.

It was empty, for the Lord Commander was attending to the new duties he had recently taken on. It was late enough in the afternoon that Halvarin would likely go home immediately once they had concluded. Such was the new schedule of the Lord Commander now. He knew this not because he was Halvarin's adjutant but because he had been studying the habits and behaviours of the Lord Commander since he had arrived at his command.

Whereas Mardil was certain Lady Marece was an active, powerful rebel and traitor, the Lord Commander's alliegances were more difficult to discern. It was still possible that the man was unaware of his wife's activities. She was a beautiful woman and he had seen her use that and her wit to bend powerful men to her bidding. She had been so artful with Canimir that he was certain that was not the first time she had done such a thing.

"I am pleased to find you here, Adjutant Mardil," Sarael replied, her shawl slipping from her shoulders as she smiled at him shyly.

Mardil's smile widened as he gestured at the papers spread over his desk, "No shortage of work to do. Something I know you appreciate all too well. Did you enjoy yourself last night?"

Colour came to Sarael's cheeks at the question and she glanced to the floor before she nodded.

"I did, Mardil. Very much," she said, looking up and catching his eye.

His heart sped a little at her soft tone and he felt bold enough to ask, "Is that why you are here?"

Sarael looked away again, "I come with a message."

"The Lord Commander is not here," he replied, slightly deflated.

"The message I bear is not for him," Sarael said and looked up at Mardil again.

He nodded slowly, "Very well, then."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The Harlond- March, 1443

He'd gotten the Shieldmaiden off to Minas Ithil, tucked in an empty barrel and rattling along in a wagon. She'd been none too pleased, of course, but beggars could not be choosers. Now there was this task. The Viper considered the young man that lay on the timbers of the lower deck of his river boat. Battered as it was, it was his and the notion of knocking in the hull and sinking it all on account of this treacherous child irked him. Still, Aldamir's woman had been clear and everything he had observed confirmed that the Lord Commander's adjutant was a worm. Choose wisely, she had said, and so here he was.

Sighing, he set checking the chains he had used to secure the worm to the boat. Once that was done, the Viper went in search of his axe. It was time to knock some holes in the hull. He was doing exactly that when he heard the creak of floorboards overhead. He emerged from the storage area, his axe in hand, to find a figure stood over the prone, senseless adjutant. He stared at the intruder's back, startled that the man had managed to get below so swiftly.

The Viper hefted his axe. All he needed was one good, clear swing. Whoever this fellow was, he'd made a mistake coming aboard his boat today. Room enough below decks for two corpses and once the river crabs and fish had their way, little would be recognisable of the bodies if the boat was salvaged. Mop up, he hated it because when mopping up, it never seemed to rain but pour.

But before he could swing, the intruder spoke.

"I hope you've not done anything hasty."

The Viper scowled for it was not a man at all.

"Don't you trust me?" he asked and Aldamir's woman chuckled.

Deep in the cowl of her cloak, her head turned briefly before she resumed her study of the adjutant.

"Change of plans?" the Viper inquired next.

"You might say that," Aldamir's woman replied and turned briefly towards him. She held out a hand and he scowled again before he passed over his axe.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Mardil awoke with a start, his throbbing skull the worst of his injuried. He found himself in a soft bed, pillows of down cushioning his painful head. He was warm, the bedding soft around him and the room he found himself in was lovely. Totally foreign to him but lovely. Beyond the crackling of the nearby hearth, Mardil could hear little else. Carefully, he turned his head on the luxuriant pillows to the chief source of light. Sunlight tried to push through the window, weakened by the stiff and dolorous clouds of late winter beyond.

No matter, for the thin grey light was bolstered by the warmth of the hearth and several lanterns he could see set in strategic locations around the room. Returning his gaze to the creamy ceiling, he tried to assemble his recollections. They wavered. Harlond. A Shieldmaiden. A boat. His stomach turned just as he heard the door latch shift. Mardil tensed as Sarael slid into the room.

He blinked at her, astonished. Over her arm was draped a towel and she carried this over to a chair he had already marked bore fresh clothing. His clothing.

"Sarael," he said, his voice raw and husked.

Sarael did not pause at the sound of her name. She laid the towel over the back of the chair, gathered herself and turned about to face him. Her expression was inscrutable and her hands were folded before her.

"You will have questions," she said, statement and not a query.

Mardil struggled to push himself upright.

"Where am I? How did I get here? What's-"

"You will have questions and they will be answered,"
Sarael pushed on, "When you are ready, rise and dress."

"But where I am?"
Mardil pressed, the covers dropping to reveal that he had been stripped.

Sarael did not blink nor flush but Mardil grabbed for the covers.

"You are safe," she replied, pausing for that to sink in, "And there are few who can claim that. Please, Mardil, consider carefully."

There was a note of plea in her voice and her eyes remained gravely locked on his. Sarael paused, looked aside and then made for the door.

"When you are ready," she said as she opened it again.

"Sarael!" Mardil called but she did not linger.

He was soon left to his own devices. The adjutant stared at the chair. On the nearby table was a wide bowl that held a jug. Presumably for him to freshen himself. He frowned, the action making his head ache worse as his forehead compressed. Sighing, he pushed the covers back and swung his legs over the edge of his comfortable bed. There was no sense of delaying what seemed inevitable. However, if whoever was behind this thought he was defeated, he would prove this wrong.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Amarwen reached for the steaming pot of tea and lifted it. Mardil had yet to surface but she was confident in Sarael's assessment. He would not linger overlong. She filled one porcelain cup with the fragrant liquid within. Then she moved to fill another just as the door opened to reveal Mardil. He had dressed and peered at her and scowled. In response, Amarwen smiled to herself and lifted the tea pot so that the tea fell in a smooth cascade.

There was toast on the table too. Fresh butter and beautifully bitter sweet marmalade. The eggs and bacon would not be far off, she knew. Bacon. Very hard to find. Very expensive when you succeeded. But worth it for this, she felt.

Still scowling, her husband's adjutant pushed forward past the threshold and towards her.

"I have nothing to say to you," he informed her and Amarwen nodded.

She gestured at the toast, "Good - for that will not stay warm forever."

Amarwen pushed one of the filled cups towards him as he fell into a chair, "Lemon or cream?"

Sour enough to rival any lemon, Mardil reached for the honey instead. As she watched him dribble this into his tea, Amarwen reflected on a joke she would have shared with Halvarin were he seated across from her. Catching herself in this, she looked down and saw her hands. Her hands. Squeezing the life out of-

"What do you want?"

Mardil's question interrupted her as the best possible time, "I want you, like the rest of the people of Gondor, to survive this ruin and upheaval."

"You sow ruin and upheaval."

Amarwen sighed, "As do you Mardil, for you serve two masters."

Mardil set down his cup of tea.

"Sarael…she is fond of you. And I am fond of Sarael."

"Am I to thank you?"

Amarwen's smile was sad, "No. For I will ask of you no more than you already do."

Mardil frowned, "I don't understand."

"We both, I think, work to see the people of Gondor served well. It matters not who sits the throne. Rather, it is what is done."


Amarwen nodded and leaned back.

"Is that all?"

Amarwen answered as she sipped at her tea. The door opened, and the eggs and bacon arrived.

"Mardil, you are a young man in a difficult position. I wish you no bad will."

"Who are you?!"

Amarwen shook her head at the question and considered her hands again. The sound of bones cracking, flesh crushing. The sound of rattling breath. Who was she indeed to be killing with her bare hands?

"You are free to leave when you wish," she answered, pushed back her chair and rose.

Mardil stared up at her, his expression unreadable, and she walked away. It was done. If she did not miss her guess, Mardil would prove useful provided a gentle hand was used. Feed him the right misinformation and he could be potent indeed when he fed that onto his Unsurper masters. And watch him. Closely.

That matter seen do, Amarwen turned next to the matter. She had found a suitable location for a new safe house. But there was still work to be done to acquire the property around the war machines on the banks of the Anduin. When Castamir called for them to be pressed into action, she was determined to hold all access and control of him in her own firm grip. No longer would the great Anduin be used as a wedge to divide their strength.

When Halvarin returned at the end of the day, Amarwen fell into his arms and lost herself in his embrace.

"I love you," she whispered as she buried her face into his neck.

Halvarin's arms tightened around her, "And I you."

He paused before he said, " Mardil returned to his duties today."

"It is done, then,"
she said.

"Are you certain?" Halvarin pressed and Amarwen shook her head.

For there was little certain in this day and age.

~Dancing 'twixt southern stars~

May you forever be touched by His Noodly Appendage

 Post subject: Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards
PostPosted: March 18th, 2018, 2:17 am 
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April 1443 ~ Minas Anor

Halvarin was careful in his handling of Mardil. He had to keep things as they were so as not to disrupt the status quo, yet he also had to control the information that Mardhil supplied back to Castimir. If any, that was. There was no way Halvarin know what Mardil reported but caution dictated that he presumes Mardil reported everything he could. Precautionary measures were, therefore, required.

All codes from the meeting of the partisans were changed, and those that Mardil could identify were shifted. The partisans started working in cells so should anyone get arrested or otherwise vanish, the information that could be extracted was be limited. Halvarin wanted to institute measures that protected Amarwen for Mardil knew too much of her activities as well. Amarwen, though, informed him that she considered the risk minimal on that score and should she be mistaken she had her own measures in place. Halvarin decided that it was best to take his wife at her word.

He also knew that he needed to run his operations largely beyond the knowledge of Mardil. For that he needed someone he could trust implicitly and his wife came to mind immediately. However, she needed the cover of secrecy still to be most effectively and if she took on that role she would be too visible. Castimir was already pursuing Marece as it was. If he discovered that she was Amarwen, all they had worked for would come tumbling down.

Halvarin needed someone that was not in Castimir's sights under one name or the other. He decided to ask Michas to take up command of Minas Anor. Osgiliath was well established as an Eldacarian city, and Michas' second, an Ithilien Ranger from Minas Ithil named Giaras, would be a wise commander of Osgiliath. They could now claim a position of strength with the three northern cities firmly in the hands of the Eldacarian underground. He wrote the orders for command changes then and there. Having Michas close, but not so close to draw suspicion that Halvarin is using him as his de-facto adjutant would serve them well.

= = = = = = =

Beginning of May 1443

Halvarin and Michas discussed the river defences as they walked the Anduin's southern bank of Harlond. They had much to discuss, for Michas spoke of the restlessness that some had in wanting to move against Castamir. He was fairly confident Giaras would maintain order and keep all the preparations that have been done in Osgiliath well hidden. Marece would have their hides if all that had been done there was thrown into disarray by impatience. They discussed the need for them when Castamir's ships would attempt to come upriver when Eldacar was ready to reclaim his crown. Part of their discussion was also about what to do should any of the units manning the ballista turned out to be pro-Castamir.

Michas said, "We can never be sure who is with us completely. For the most part, the Anorien soldiers as well as the Ithilien soldiers will be for returning Eldacar to the throne. But it is difficult to access the lower level With Castamir's lack of caring for the northern provinces, it has made our preparation easier."

Halvarin nodded in agreement, "In any case, my wife has been acquiring the property around each defensive installation. Should it be necessary, forces will be on hand to flood any that prove stubborn adherents to the usurper."

Then he asked of Mardil, "You recommended Mardil to me. Were you aware that he had been compromised by Castamir?"

Michas replied bluntly.

Halvarin sighed at the question, "Is it possible he knows anything of your work in Osgiliath?"

"Mardil was not involved with any of the resistance nor had access to it. Your lovely wife would have my hide were it any other way. That said, I do not know what he managed to discover on his own whilst stationed there. For what it is worth, one of my final orders to Giaras before I left was to alter the structure of communications. We will receive the new code names shortly."

What Michas did not tell Halvarin was that he received regular communications from Amarwen as well. A key leader in the resistance, he was routinely reporting on queries and responding to orders from her. His presence in Minas Anor, so close, would make that work a great deal easier but he had yet to ascertain just how much Halvarin knew. He would continue to play his cards close to his chest until he could do so.

For his part Halvarin was pleased with Michas' report and he turned his thoughts to the misinformation he would feed Mardil. Already he had proposed a plan to Amarwen as they lay abed. There they had discussed and refined it and by this point, the plan had been considered by the commander of Calenardhon. His full approval had been sent back, a result not unsurprising given the nature of the proposal sent to him. The people of Calenardhon were the most eager to declare openly against Castamir. No so much for the love of Eldacar, but to be rid of the burden of tributes that supported the maritime provinces.

The plan was simple. Word would be sent to Castamir via Mardil that the men of Calenardhon were going to secede from Gondor. If Castamir acted, he would send a significant force in response. Halvarin would likely receive the orders to quell the secessionists, and he would send a couple units west. He would have ready one unit of Anoriens from Osgiliath, and one of Anoriens from Minas Anor. As there would be no rebellion, it would give the soldiers a chance to stop at their homes for a day or so.

However, there was the chance that the Usurper dispatched a naval force to land at the mouth of the Isen River and march east. In that instance the Calenardhonions would fall in for siege at the fortresses of Isengard and Agarond, and those not able to gain the fortresses would harass the approaching armies as they retreated north into Enedwaith. Things would become somewhat difficult should Castamir order both invasion and Halvarin's move west, but that could be addressed should it come to pass.

And in the process they would test their ability to feed misinformation into Castamir's ministry.

Halvarin told Michas, "I have sent a message to Isengard that will have them at the ready. You and Giaras must be ready to do your part should it become necessary."

The hardy men of Calenardhon would be ready should this first diversion that Halvarin fed Mardil came to fruit and Halvarin had to feed him some information of substance. Otherwise, the adjutant would become get suspicious. The month had so far produced little more than procedural orders for Mardil to carry out. Halvarin was due to put some feigned trust in him, and so called him in for a meeting.

"Mardil, it has been too long since we had talked long and I have need of your advice," Halvarin said.

Mardil's ears seemed to pick up at the prospect of some relief from his boredom and perhaps something else in the offing.

"There are tidings from the west that are…troubling. It would appear that Calenardhon is about to erupt into secession. I've had Michas and Giaras send envoys to the Commander of Calenardhon to see if there is any substance to the rumours. If I can settle this easily without Castamir knowing, all will be better for us here. Or so I believe," Halvarin paused and leaned forward to consider his adjutant, "Tell me Mardil, do you think I have done the right thing?"

"This is a serious matter Halvarin. Do you think it wise not to tell Castamir?"

Halvarin shook his head "I'm sure Castamir has much more important things to worry about in the south to be bothered by a few upstarts in the far west of the realm. I will send word, though, should it be necessary and I will take your concern under advisement."

Mardil frowned to himself as Halvarin continued, "I thank you for your thoughts on the matter."

The adjutant opened his mouth to say something but this was not a discussion and Halvarin's purpose in calling him in had been served.

"Now I believe there is a certain lady out in the foyer awaiting you?" the Lord Commander inquired before Mardil could get a word out, "You can go. I'll close up the office."

The adjutant blinked as he glanced for the window and discovered the time. Dismissed, he shot to his feet and found that Sarael was indeed awaiting him. She wore a fine dress in anticipation an evening out with Mardil. When he saw her he was taken aback for a moment and Sarael blushed.

She said, "We were going to the theatre tonight, and it starts soon. Are you ready?"

Mardil took Sarael's arm without delay, leaving Halvarin at his desk wondering and hoping that the information he had fed to Mardil would be passed on. Only time would tell now. He then got up and headed for the door, for he was not going to miss a dinner with Amarwen. He had not missed one since he had returned from his captivity.

~Dancing 'twixt southern stars~

May you forever be touched by His Noodly Appendage

Last edited by Elora Starsong on March 18th, 2018, 5:13 am, edited 1 time in total.

 Post subject: Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards
PostPosted: March 18th, 2018, 5:11 am 
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Country: Australia (au)
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September 1443 ~ Minas Anor

Amarwen tapped a finger on the table as she waited. Michas and Halvarin were quietly talking amongst themselves, their long years as friends showing in the way the two men stood so closely together utterly at their ease despite the circumstances under which they had gathered. Then again, she reflected, perhaps she was the only one as nervous she was. The moment she had been working for all of these years, on her own and with so many others, was here. Almost. She could taste it.

As her thoughts ran, Michas swatted at Halvarin's shoulder.

"No!" he exclaimed, "Seriously?"

Halvarin replied, a slow smile lighting his features.

Michas swung about to consider her and Amarwen's finger paused its tapping, "I lost that archery tournament to you?"

What archery tournament? Or, rather, which one? There had been a time when she had competed at quite a number of them. It seemed a lifetime ago now.

"I'm afraid you'll have to be a little more specific," Amarwen replied which only made Michas' brows shoot up and Halvarin's smile grow even broader as he rocked back on his heels, enjoying himself.

"Won so many of them, eh?" Michas chuckled.

"Yes," Amarwen said levelly and Michas began to laugh until he realised that she was entirely serious.

"Osgiliath," he clarified and Amarwen nodded slowly in return.

"You shot wide, as I recall. A surprising lapse given your training."

"That Shieldmaiden spooked me,"
Michas replied, cheeks reddening as he regarded Halvarin.

Halvarin rubbed at his closely cropped beard and weighed in at last, relishing what he was about to say, "Or perhaps you were just a little distracted by your fellow competitors. I distinctly recall you describing a certain green silk dress."

Amarwen forgot herself enough to laugh at that, "And well you can talk, Halvarin of Pelargir!"

Now it was Halvarin's turn to flush and Michas chortled. Into this, then, walked one Prince of Dol Amroth. In their levity, it took a moment for Amarwen to realise he had arrived but once she had she rose to her feet.

"Amarwen," the Prince said without hesitation and she was moving to embrace this man that she thought of as kin, "You look well."

He gathered her hands in his own and pressed a kiss to her brow.

"Uncle," she said quietly, the name by which she had always addressed him privately and then turned to where her husband and Michas waited.

"My lord, I introduce you with Lord Commander Halvarin, Navigator First Class of the Mariner's Guild and my husband. With him, the current Commander of Minas Arnor, Michas also of the Mariner's Guild. Michas is a-"

"Poor shot when it comes to archery tournaments,"
Michas supplied with a grin, "Erstwhile soldier, before command took me."

The Prince of Dol Amroth came forward to exchange his greetings, first with Michas and then with Halvarin.

"Navigator First Class and not Prime?" he asked and Halvarin looked aside to Amarwen for a moment.

She nodded and Halvarin replied, "I was considered in the wake of my father's death but another, more senior than I, was selected."

"Have you designs on captaincy?"

"Not unless I can pick my own crew,"
Halvarin replied and smiled to where Amarwen watched on, "And our son is a little young, yet, for the rank of cabin boy."

The Prince's face alighted, "A son?"

He turned to Amarwen, "Oh, this is wonderful tidings indeed. What is his name? How old is he?"

Amarwen replied as Halvarin came to stand beside her and wrap an arm across her back to rest a hand on her hip, "He has just had his first birthday and, if I do not miss my guess, is presently wreaking havoc upon a newly tidied house."

Throughout this, Michas hung back but once they reached a natural pause he cleared his throat, "I cannot image we are able to linger here over long."

"No indeed,"
Amarwen confirmed with a nod to Michas, "The usurper's over reaction to the false threat of Calenardhon confirms for us that the stage, finally is set."

"False threat?"
the Prince echoed and Amarwen smiled faintly.

"Yes, Uncle…and with all the pieces in place, the time has come for the final act."

It was here, at last, and Amarwen set about unveiling the entire sweep of her work over the years. From the caches installed and stocked to the brim to the confederations of partisans distributed around the realm. From the seeds planted within the Guild to the siege engines secured within their grasp. From the dismantling of his covert operatives and the decimation of his ocean and river fleets to the misinformation being fed to those remained. And not to mention the financial ruin they could cause once their called in their debts. Castimir had overplayed his hand badly.

"Our error, before, was in the under-estimation of Castimir's hunger to secure power. As Calenardhon proves, the Usurper is equally over zealous in keeping that which he has stolen. This serves us well, for he over -commits and depletes his forces…and the general populace is left to wonder at what point his zealous cruelty will come to a stop. Each action he takes sends to us more sympathizers."

All three men were silent as they absorbed this. Michas looked surprised at the full scope of it all. Halvarin too and both men looked to her as if they had not seen her before this day. The Prince of Dol Amroth, though, looked troubled and it was he that spoke first.

"The bloodshed will be terrible," he observed, "No matter what you do to contain it."

"We will attempt, insofar as we may, to defray that. Discouraging the Usurper is not, I have found, an easy thing to do but we will try."

"Ordinary people will, once again, be lost,"
he said.

Amarwen nodded for there was no denying this, "They are lost already, Uncle. They work themselves into early graves paying tributes. They freeze in cells that they do not belong in. They watch their children starve, denied another year's harvest as the land rebels against a false king."

She drew a breath, "The moment Castamir seized the throne he condemned us all to this. Gondor cannot endure under his yoke."

But, even as Amarwen spoke, what Halvarin and Michas both noted was what she did not speak of. She made no mention of Aldamir's work at Minas Ithil, for example and there were a number of other significant omissions. Not mistakes, Halvarin thought as he glanced to his friend. Amarwen had deliberately left these things out. Mardil, for example. Michas thought it odd, meanwhile, that Amarwen had made no mention of the roads laid down, ready for use by Eldacar's army.

"And what of the traitor within our ranks?" Michas asked.

"Identified and contained," Amarwen replied, "For the nonce, it behoves us to keep him where his is. Another adjutant, if you will."

Slowly Michas nodded and he crossed his arms as he considered Halvarin briefly.

"What next, then?" the Prince of Dol Amroth inquired.

"Carefully arranged uprisings, whilst Castamir is preoccupied at Calenardhon. We want his attention carefully fixed on the West, where we have the strength of numbers and provisions. Partisans only, unarmed from our caches."

"And those that seek to flee this violence?"
the Prince inquired.

"I hope that they will find refuge, as always they have, Uncle. As indeed I did, upon a time."

He sighed at this but nodded, as if resigned.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It was late, almost midnight, when Halvarin rested his head upon Amarwen's bared stomach. Their skin was slick with sweat and their hearts still raced with their exertions.

"I did not know," Halvarin panted against her skin, "Just how much you had in motion."

"Does it surprise you?"
Amarwen asked in return and Halvarin picked up his head to gaze up at her lazily.

His fingers traced the contours before his eyes and he smiled as she sucked in a sharp breath.

"What surprised me is what you did not say."

Amarwen ruffled Halvarin's dark hair at that, smiling herself, "Ah, well, if I told all my secrets, what mystery would have to tempt you to remain by my side?"

"I remain at your side, woman, because I know and love you so well,"
he replied, his hand settling strategically to gently squeeze.

Amarwen could not help but arch at the sensation he coaxed from her. Once it passed, she stared up at the canopy for a long moment.

"Would you know all my secrets, Halvarin?' she inquired.

He rolled his eyes at the question, "I doubt such a thing is even possible."

Amarwen smiled at his statement and reached down to set her hands around his face. Gently, she eased her husband up until he lay over her in full. Then she pulled his ear towards her and whispered. Her lips brushed his ear as she spoke and Halvarin went utterly still.

"A child?" he asked, his voice quivering as he moved to meet her gaze.

Amarwen nodded and she caught the flash of a grin before he kissed her soundly. She was again with child, and the rebellion was coming fast to fruition.

~Dancing 'twixt southern stars~

May you forever be touched by His Noodly Appendage

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