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 Post subject: Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards
PostPosted: November 20th, 2017, 2:33 am 
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Joined: 01 November 2017
Posts: 1166
Location: The Forbidden Pool
Country: Gondor (xg)
Gender: Female

The Crossings of Erui ~ Autumn 1441

The wagon rumbled slowly north, its tray filled with two sisters and goods bound for Minas Anor. Vilna was feverish and flinched in pain each time the wagon struck uneven earth. Vidnavi sat solemnly next to her sister, her hand in hers as she watched over Vilna’s injury. As Vidnavi sat and watched, she nervously chewed on her lip as she considered their recent course of action. It had been a daring, admittedly most would insane, decision to venture into the heart of Pelargir to kill two of the Guild’s most senior officers. Yet this is what they had done, even after discovering the officer’s walked with a third man they had not anticipated.

Surprise had been with them that night and their escape would have been perfect but for the wound Vilna had taken to her thigh. The resulting blood trail would have almost certainly been their end had Vidnavi not found the small wooden door under the steps at the back of the inn. She had pushed her sister in before trying to slip in after her, but the city guards with the commander were coming down the alley and so she had run out of time.

Instead, Vidnavi had closed the door and climbed up the wall to a ledge where she could flatten herself. She’d been certain they would see the blood and capture her sister but again their fortune had held. The lighting was poor in the alley and the torches borne by the City Guards had flickered hard in the steady sea breeze that blew through the alley. She had waited until dawn was near, watching all the while the sweep of the soldiers, before she dared to chance a climb down and crawl through the door to where she had left her sister.

In the darkness of the cellar, Vidnavi had fallen after stumbled over where Vilna lay on the floor. When morning came, she had learned that her sister had bled hard and so Vidnavi had done what she could to staunch the loss. In all, it had taken three torturous days before Vilna had regained enough strength to be able to move and even so, they could not move very fast at all.

They only got as far as the old markets of Pelargir, where Vidnavi had found a healer from the east to aid her sister. The women had offered them protection as the searches continued and they had only slipped out of Pelargir in this wagon because of her assistance. As Vidnavi contemplated it now, she reflected on how strange the woman had seemed from her. She had named a distant land Vidnavi had never before heard mention of as her home: Khand. Her Westron had held a deep accent but still she seemed to know her way around Pelargir.

Could it be, Vidnavi wondered, that the people of Khand also fought the usurper? If so, then perhaps they too might swell Eldacar’s growing army. Whatever the case might be, Vidnavi was certainly grateful for the healer’s aid. She’d only had one thing to leave her by way of payment: an amulet she had won in the tournaments of Rhovanion some ten years before. She had always worn it, and even now as she thought of it, Vidnavi found herself reaching for it. It was not there, now, and she almost found herself regretting its absence but she caught herself. For this was the price to win the freedom she and her sister now had once more.

As this crossed Vidnavi’s mind, the wagon ground to a halt and the driver turned about from the bench ahead of her.

”You must leave now. Guards will search. If they find you, we will all die,” Vidnavi could not fault the man for his concern. Castamir’s policy towards Rhovanion’s was not a kind one.

”You must go,” he insisted, waving towards the northwest where the White Mountains pushed freshly- coated peaks of snow towards the sky, ”You go through the hills.”

“I will look first, yes?”
she said and once he nodded, swung down out of the wagon and ran for the ridge ahead of them.

Once there she soon saw the line of forts, each heavily guarded to flak the Erui crossings. It was clear that they could not cross here and so she returned to wagon, thanked the driver and assisted Vilna from the wagon. Once afoot, the two women set out west. They were care to remain below the rise of the ridge and soon found themselves within the cover of trees. Here they rested, for Vilna could still not walk very far. For all of that, though, Vidnavi knew themselves to be survivors. She was confident they would return north to fight again for their lord and king.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Pelargir ~ Autumn 1441

Ah yes, he most certainly was home, Halvarin mused to himself as he bent over the desk with Amarwen to review the contracts further. Upon studying the original contracts his father had signed with these men, it soon appeared that a number of them had attempted to include clauses that would see their agreement stretch and bind to Halvarin. The evening grew quite late as they worked through this tangle, Amarwen suggesting a number of ways they might untangle it all. Eventually, though, the hour caught up with them and Halvarin’s hand kept returning to Amarwen’s leg.

”Shall I,” he suggested as he leaned in to her ear, ”Acquaint you with that bed now, my love?”

Amarwen smiled at the question and leaned back in her chair to stretch. She nodded, and so he rose with her hand in his and led her through the halls of a home that had been his and now was hers. How many times had he wondered at what it might like to have her here, like this. His wife. His bride. The last time he had slept here, it had been on the return from the last trip his father had ever taken as a friend and ally still of her father and mother. He had been aware, then, that their parents had quarrelled but Halvarin had been preoccupied by the events that had occurred outside, in the gardens of Edhellond. His mind had been filled with green silk and Amarwen when last he laid upon this bed and now she was here, beside him.

The size of the bed was such that he needed to seek her out which he did so and the last thing he thought of as sleep reached for him was how soft her hair was as he buried his face in it. When the first birds started to sing in the early morning, he discovered that they were still folded together in the same position.

”Good morning, my love!” Halvarin said sleepily into her hair and he rolled to his back.

He was met by a soft sigh as Amarwen lazily rolled towards him, hooking a leg over his hips to anchor herself to him. She lay her head on his chest and he wrapped his arm over her back to lightly caress the smooth skin of her shoulder. The presence of her was something of a very pleasant distraction.

He said, ”The barrister will likely be a problem. I intend today to pay out the rest of his contract, only three months, but once that is done I will need somebody I trust to act as my representative in these affairs.”

She murmured something indistinct, still not quite awake as her leg shifted.

Halvarin swallowed at what that did and pressed on, ”As my wife, Ami, you have equal share in it all and so I want you to oversee this. Here, you are the only person I can trust.”

Her eyes had popped open at his use of her name and he found her blinking sleepily up at him, her grey eyes as beguiling as ever they had been. Halvarin immediately started to turn toward her and she rolled lazily to her back, black hair spreading over the snowy pillows under their heads. All his various dreams and thoughts bore not a candle to the reality of having her here, now, in his arms.

”No matter where I go, I think I will always think of you just as this, laying in my arms,” he said and watched her slowly smile.

”You flatter, sailor,” she remarked even as she drew his lips to hers and ignited the fire that had flickered in his belly the moment her leg had anchored over him.

It was a couple hours later that they again awoke, this time to a knock on the door. Halvarin managed to g pull his breeches on before trying to walk over to the door. He opened it to find a young maid standing there. She blushed deeply when she saw him standing without his shirt and began to stammer.

”My pard...pardon sir…”, the maid curtsied with her eyes locked on the floor, ”I have come to ask… if…”

She paused again to swallow and so Halvarin said, ” Take a breath, compose yourself, and then look me in the eye as you tell me that which you have come to say.”

She was obviously, he thought, a new servant. He watched her dab at her eyes with her dress sleeve and take several breaths before she blinked and dared to look up at him. She was holding her breath still and so when her eyes found his, he offered her a reassuring smile. Amarwen had told him no so long ago that his smile was charming and, he soon saw, this appeared to be the case for the maid seemed to calm.

She curtsied again, ”Forgive me, Master, but I have been sent to ask whether you and the Mistress would like breakfast served in your room?”

Halvarin smiled again, ”Indeed we would.”

The maid curtsied again and turned away but Halvarin forestalled her departure, ”I would know your name, and how long have you been employed here?”

The maid turned back and bobbed yet another curtsy, prompting Halvarin to wonder whether that ever became tiring. He inwardly resolved to ask Ami about it later as the maid considered the floor anew.

”My name is Sarael, and today marks my third week in your household, Master.”

“Very good Sarael,”
Halvarin replied with a nod she’d not see given her study of the floorboards, ”My wife and I look forward to breakfast.”

As he closed the door, Amarwen sat up in bed to inquire, ”Husband, dear, already do I find you flirting with the household staff, hmmmm…?”

There was a playful note to her voice, and knew Amarwen was one to make light of almost everything. Including being stabbed, as he had discovered in Umbar, but still he wanted to be sure that she did not doubt his fidelity. For if he was called to sea and they were parted, his stomach clenched at such a thing now, then he did not want the grief of that parting added to by such fears.

Halvarin returned to the bed to kiss his wife soundly. So soundly that she might know that she, and only she, would ever know him in such a way.

”Of course not. Still, I found it odd that so junior a servant would be dispatched on such a task. Perhaps, dare I say, ‘interrupt’ us?”

Amarwen’s brows rose at the thought, ”If so, that would suggest discontent, love at your choice of wife. Carlin can be gruff, yes, but I had hoped to sufficiently blunt his manner. Perhaps offense has been given all the same.”

Halvarin brushed his fingers over her cheek, ”Perhaps, though that may not necessary be of concern. The newer servants of the house may be what we need around here. She has only been working here three weeks so may have met my father once at most. He could not, I think, have so thoroughly commanded her loyalty in such times. And she has shown an appreciation for discretion. Perhaps we might charge her with the residential duties?”

”Perhaps,” Amarwen agreed, a familiar mirth flickering in her smile, ”Provided I can be sure is not solely because she is so very adorable.”

Halvarin paused for a moment, ”Such decisions will be made with your full approval, my heart.”

He gave her his own grin before wrapped his arms around her and pulled her down to the bed again. As a consequence, they only barely managed to make themselves presentable once breakfast arrived at the door. They ate and by the noon hour, and were ready to emerge and meet the day soon thereafter. The first thing Halvarin did was to inform all staff that had served his father to gather in a few hours in the reception room. By evening, a third of the staff had been dismissed with a severance and the new hires promoted. This was all part of making this place his own. His home, a sanctuary for his wife and the family that would, in time follow.

By the close of their first week in Pelargir, a third of his father’s business advisors had given over their portfolios and many of the others had passed theirs on to subordinates. The few Halvarin and Amarwen kept on were found to be honest in their transfers from his father, and this honesty was met with continued employment. The barristers dismissal, Halvarin found, had met with the genuine approval of two of his father’s senior advisors. This surprised Halvarin and Amarwen both, for the two men occupied roles that would have necessitated close communication with his father. One was his father’s representative in court and the other tended to the various tax affairs of the businesses.

Given the significance of these two roles within Castamir’s court, Halvarin resolved to retain them. He had discovered his father had been a key financier of and profiteer from Castamir’s efforts to expand his naval holdings and both men had been closely involved in that. Then there was the “special need” fund his father maintained. Halvarin wasn’t sure what that was in aid of but he resolved to retain it and grow it for he certainly knew what he would use it for.

Meanwhile, Amarwen had her own contributions to make. She slowly started to invest the money of the treasury Lord Hurian had preserved alongside Halvarin’s interests. They were able to expand holdings and buildings. And they were able to being taking on additional staff. This proved most fraught, for winnowing out the chaotic patchwork of partisans in Pelargir and then winning them over was not easy. Still, employing them enabled Amarwen to slowly establish coordination and control that had been beyond the Pelargir resistance. Ever present was the threat that the Guild would infiltrate them but later review of the list of names revealed not a one was linked with Pelargir. In fact, Pelargir had been the most difficult nut of all for Eldacar to crack and so his Mistress of Spies, as Halvarin called her, moved with great care indeed. Ever laying contingencies. Ever covering their tracks. Always looking over their shoulders.

It was an exhilarating, heady time for them both and the weeks passed in a blur of activity until the first hint of the coming winter reached down from the north to Pelargir. With it arrived word to the Pelagir Guild that Castamir himself would soon return to his northern court within the city. It seemed clear that this would coincide with the announcement of who was to fill the position of Guild Master and Master Navigator, along with the issuing of new orders concerning which officers would be assigned to which vessel, city or strategic location. These tidings perturbed Halvarin for the thought of the usurper so near in Pelargir with Amarwen here was troubling indeed. If that was not enough, he had yet to discuss with her the fact that he had been nominated for the position and they fact that they were likely to announce it here suggested to many at the Guild that he might have secured the role of Master Navigator.

It was evening when Halvarin arrived at the house. He had left the Guild frantic to make sure all was in good order for Castamir’s arrival in a fortnight.

Greeted by his staff, Halvarin said, ”My wife and I will dine alone, this eve.”

As he spoke, Amarwen arrived and Halvarin found himself frozen by her appearance. She was beautiful. She always had been, of course, but it seemed to him that her beauty only grew each time he saw her. This night her hair shone as did her eyes, the very embodiment of the night sky he so often looked to as a navigator. He shook off his thoughts of how ravishing she was, and gently offered her his greeting.

Halvarin lifted her hand to his lips to kiss and his words curled over her skin as she curtsied before him,”We have much to discuss, my love.”


 Post subject: Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards
PostPosted: November 20th, 2017, 10:18 pm 
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Joined: 01 November 2017
Posts: 1166
Location: The Forbidden Pool
Country: Gondor (xg)
Gender: Female

Pelargir – 1441 Late Autumn

Morning came too soon even if the days were diminishing, he thought. Halvarin rolled to his side to where his wife slept. Her hair spread like the soft night, hand curled by her ear and lips parted as she steadily breathed. It would be many months before he would see her like this and so he hesitated to study her. As he did, all the concerns that had been building towards this moment ran through his thoughts again. There was always the risk that they would not return from this voyage. Mariners faced that each time they set up and so prepared extensively for it. Instead, Halvarin’s concerns lay with Amarwen as she remained ashore.

When news of his new deployment had come, he had briefly entertained the notion of somehow adding Amarwen to the crew. The fact that he would serve as Executive Officer to her uncle, the redoubtable Carlin himself, would make it all the more feasible. Instead, though, reason had prevailed and so Amarwen was not setting out with him today. Had he secured the position of Master Navigator, he’d be remaining ashore as well but that had gone to another. What worried him most was Castamir.

The usurper would remain at his Pelargir court for at least the winter and well into the spring. Amarwen was very good at keeping herself out of the way when she was of a mind to and certainly she had been minded to this past four weeks Castimir had been in Pelargir. Once only had the man set eyes when she had been obliged to attend the Guild House with him for the appointment of the Master Navigator and Guild Master. Castamir’s eyes had rested squarely upon Amarwen for but a brief moment and she had done what she could as skilfully as possible. Her obeisance, bending knee to the usurper, had been deep and long and exceptionally difficult indeed given her mother had chosen death over such an act. When she had risen again at his side, she had quivered with barely banked rage, but Castamir had already turned away. Still, in that long moment, Halvarin had watched the way the king had stared at her bowed, dark head.

He had been filled with a sense of impending doom, for nothing good could come of Amarwen’s path crossing that of Castamir’s. Yet, since that one encounter weeks ago, nothing had come of it and perhaps nothing would. For all of that, Halvarin taken what measures he could. Their most senior advisors would continue to do most of the work at court as per their remit, limiting the time she may be required to attend court if not eliminating it entirely. Then there was the small contingent of partisans employed within their various businesses that Halvarin had charged with overseeing Amarwen’s safety whilst he was gone. Silares had promised to look in as often as he could too, though he expected to be sent forth soon.

He’d considered sending her to one of the farms they owned. But then, her absence would only draw the sort of scrutiny they wished to avoid. Halvarin pushed out a sigh as he reached out to gently stroke the soft skin of her upturned wrist. Amarwen drew a deep breath at his touch and her eyes flickered as she woke.

”Has it come so soon,” she murmured as her eyes focused on him.

”I am afraid so, my love,” he replied and she drew his mouth to his and kissed him with surprising depth.

”I will, I can still resign my commission,” Halvarin offered and he saw Amarwen hesitate, caught between her heart and her head.

Again she pushed out a heavy breath, ”No, dear heart, our course is set and whilst not without peril, it is a sound one. On that we are agreed, even if I do not know how I will bear these long, lonely months.”

“Nor I, Ami,”
he answered and drew her soft warmth to fill his arms.

Amarwen stood on the dock beneath a sullen sky thick with steely clouds, watching the ship that bore her husband and her uncle both draw away on the tide. Her jaw was clenched, for she would not send Halvarin to the dangers of the open sea with her grief weighing on his soul, but nor could she cheer as a number of others on the docks with her did. Each day, morning and afternoon, Guild ships set out at the bidding of the usurper. Silently, she lifted her arm to the ship she watched slipping away. She could no longer see Halvarin but she hoped that he somehow marked her even as she knew he would be busy with the crew.
Slowly her arm lowered but she remained there still until someone plucked at her sleeve.

Bowing her head, she turned away from the dock, her heart heavy in her chest. Perhaps, once she was safely in the privacy of their home, she could let the tears fall. Yet, no sooner had she gained the house did she find Sarael waiting for her in the stables, hands wringing before her.

”Mistress,” she breathed, her face pale and voice shaking.

”What is it, Sarael?” Amarwen asked as she pushed back the cowl she had drawn up against the chill of the damp morning air.

The maid glanced over her shoulder and then edged forwards towards Amarwen. She frowned at this, for what had the woman to be fearful of?

”Mistress, it is the King. He is here.”

Colour drained from Amarwen’s face, ”Here, in the house?”

“Yes, Mistress.”

“For how long?”

“He arrived not long after you set out and he will not leave.”

It was no coincidence that the usurper had chosen the very moment he knew her husband would be away to do this. Had he sent Halvarin away for whatever purpose he was about? Her stomach seethed and knotted and her thoughts raced. He would not yet know she had arrived for indeed she had not. She glanced past Sarael to find the stable hands, three lads, solemnly watching on and then she turned her head to where the small party remained mounted behind her.

”Very good, Sarael. The King,” her voice only strained a little at that, ”Is of course welcome to avail himself of our hospitality. My husband’s businesses, however, will wait for neither tide nor man and so I needs must attend to them.”

“What if he waits, Mistress? What are we to do?”

“Why, is he not a guest? What would you do for any guest?”
Sarael blanched at this and so Amarwen turned to one of the men, a burly partisan, still ahorse at her shoulder, ”I take it security of our estates is well in hand, for it would not do for harm to befall any guest under our roof.”

“Aye, Mistress.”

“Will you see to it, please?”

Grunting, he swung off his mount and led it into the stables, nodding at the three stable hands to follow him.

Amarwen wrapped a hand over Sarael’s wringing hands, ”Courage, Sarael, for we will not endure this without it.”

Sarael nodded, struggling for composure, ”Yes, Mistress. I look forward to your return.”

Chin held high but still shaking, Amarwen watched the maid turn about and make towards the house again. Still her own stomach churned and she shook her head at the faint disgust she felt rising, for as she fled for a safehouse, she was sending poor Sarael back into the wolf’s den. Still, she should be safe enough for even if the usurper had the entire house dismantled, he’d find nothing incriminating. She mounted up again and headed back out again wishing now that she had taken Halvarin’s mad idea to stow away on her uncle’s ship more seriously.

And so the days passed. As Halvarin was borne ever farther away from Pelargir, Amarwen played a dangerous game of cat and mouse with Castamir. At first, he was not as bold as he could have been. His attempts to force a meeting on her showed some discretion and so she had been able to frustrate his machinations. But the usurper was not a man given to patience or defeat and so his plans became bolder. The line she walked as Marece, loyal subject of Castamir’s realm, grew increasingly perilous. Her ability to oversee their businesses diminished but thankfully, they had in place advisors to fill the breach. Lewealin and Garaborn, their chief advisors at court did what they could to alert Amarwen and intercept the usurper’s attempts to meet her but they too were in a difficult bind. Even though, with her teeth gritted, she had increased the amount they contributed to Castamir’s coffers.

Pelargir – 1442 Spring

Days turned to months, autumn slid into winter and then thawed gradually into Spring before Amarwen finally ran out of options. She awoke to banging on the bedroom door, pushing to wakefulness as the door was thrust open.

”YOU CAN’T GO IN THERE!” Sarael cried, aghast, as three men barrelled through.

Amarwen sat up, heart in her throat as she pulled the covers to her chin.

”Mistress Marece, you are summonsed immediately to attend the King.”

“At this hour?”
Amarwen said, the attempt a feeble one given the expression upon the men’s faces. They bore weapons and stoney expressions she was all too familiar with.

Sarael was frantic as she came flying in after them, fists raised to knock some sense into the nearest man, ”This is an outrage! An outrage! Officers of the King, bursting into the bedroom of a Guild Officer’s wife!”

He turned towards the maid, already baring his sword from its scabbard. Where the men who had guarded the house that night were, Amarwen could not know but the fact they were not here now boded ill.

”Sarael, hold! Stop!” she cried, throwing herself from the bed, ”Do not harm her! She seeks only to uphold her duty!”

The man’s sword was released to slide back even as he lifted an arm to shove Sarael back so hard she stumbled and fell onto the floor.

”As we do ours, Mistress,” one of his fellows replied, ”You are summonsed and you will come with us, willing or no. Any who seek to waylay us will be arrested for it is treason to defy the will of the king.”

Sarael was already gathering herself to fly at the men again but Amarwen came forward, bare feet and clad only in her nightdress.

”Sarael, peace. I will not have blood split here,” she said, held her hand out to the maid which the woman stumbled towards and clung to.

”Your Mistress is wise,” said the man that had been prepared to use his sword on her.

Huddled together now, Amarwen tried again to reason with these men, ”Surely you will allow me to prepare myself.”

one answered, unhitching his own cloak and throwing it at her.

”But Mistress has not even shoes,” Sarael objected and just like that, Amarwen found herself hoisted by another of the men.

She recoiled from his grasp but he only tightened it around her, pinning her fast. The cloak that had been thrown at Amarwen was retrieved from the floor and tossed over her. As she was hauled out of the house, Amarwen called over the shoulder of the man that carried her to Sarael.

”Get word of this to Lewealin or Garaborn!”

“Your advisors will be unable to intervene, Mistress,”
said the man beneath her.

Still there was no sign of the men of the household as Amarwen was taken outside and thrust atop a horse. Still more guards stood in the streets, their faces cowled and torches held aloft to gutter in the stiff wintry wind that rushed through Pelargir. Nothing further was said and thus came Amarwen of Edholland to be left in a cold chamber, bare foot and clad in no more than her nightdress.

There was a hearth nearby, glowing coals all that remained of the fire that had gone out from the night before. She crossed to it, picked up a faggot of wood and prodded at them. Could she, Amarwen wondered as she stirred life back into the hearth, bludgeon the usurper to death with a piece of wood? No, the answer came immediately and so she put the wood to a better use in the hearth and shrugged the guard’s cloak tighter around her shoulders to stare at the thin flames. Guards bursting into her bedroom, charges of treason so readily on their lips. When they had first come to Pelargir, Halvarin had mentioned two Guild men that had seemed sceptical of her claim to be Silares’ niece. They’d not seemed to pursue it though, and Amarwen had put that down to the fact that whilst they might doubt at who she said she was, they could not know who she actually was.

But now she was here and it seemed all too likely to her that somehow, someone had uncovered the truth. The informer, perhaps, that had provided the list of names to the Minas Anor Guild? She’d yet to unravel who the rat was…Lord Hurian? The Prince of Dol Amroth had trusted him and she had a great store of faith in his judgement. The healer amongst Silare’s crew? He’d seemed genuine in his offer to keep the peace but if he had somehow unravelled what she and Halvarin had been up to in Pelargir... Certainly would not be any of the Partisans or staff in their employ for they’d not been told of her true identity. However the Partisans could have reported her for their other activities for they were well aware that she and Halvarin were no supporters of Castamir. It would be an effective way to eradicate a potential rival and amongst Pelargir’s various partisan groups rivalry seemed to be the norm.

Still, if Castamir had uncovered that she was a rebel, then she’d not be anywhere but in a cell awaiting the tender attentions of one of his interrogators to wring information from her. The sound of a key rattling in a lock broke through Amarwen’s ruminations and she turned about as the door creaked open. Sure enough, the usurper strode through, his imperious gaze of icy grey finding her immediately as she stood before the hearth. He studied her for a moment, waiting for her obeisance but she refused to give it to him. She’d bowed the once to this man, under duress, and would not do it again. Never again.

Something too swift for her to read flickered across his face before he turned his head and nodded to whoever waited in the hall beyond. The door swung shut behind him and was locked.

”Rare are those who fail to bow before me.”

“Perhaps I might be more amenable had I not been pulled so rudely from my own bed,”
she said, the response whipping out of her before she could think it through.

Castamir’s brows lifted, ”Fewer still are those who address me so rudely.”

She had the foresight, this time to keep her mouth closed. At her silence, the King came closer. His hands were clasped at his back and aside from the rich silk of his robe there was no other indication of his stolen rank. He watched her as though he expected her to come at him. In fact, his gaze almost seemed hungry, as if he very much wanted her to do that. Throbbing in her ears was her heart beat for it was not so very long ago that she had hoped to kill this man. She had spent months trying to get as close as she was to him now.

”You have been a difficult woman to find, Mistress Marece,” Castamir said, his voice only feeding the rage simmering in her belly.

This man had murdered her father. By his order had her mother been slain. So many had died to serve his towering arrogance and monstrous ambition. She found herself shaking with an all too familiar thirst for vengeance but then something in her belly shifted and she was reminded, just in time, what was now at stake.

”My husband left his various businesses in my hands to tend to in his absence and so my days are quite full. I trust our advisors Lewealin and Garaborn serve your court satisfactorily?”

Castamir waved their names aside along with her question, now so close that had she a knife she could have plunged it into his black heart, ”Oh, I am quite aware of how busy your days are, Mistress. They are of no interest to me whatsoever. Your nights, though, another matter entirely.”

“My nights are my own with my husband so far from shore.”

“Yes, he is quite distant now. Well past our haven at Umbar. Have you been to Umbar, perchance?”

Amarwen shook her head, unable to find words for the question. There was something altogether sinister about his manner.

”A pity,” he observed and then boldly reached out to yank the cloak away.

Amarwen gasped at this and flinched back. Castamir, though, offered her a cold and calculating smile and dropped the cloak to the floor.

”An improvement, I think.”

Now her skin was crawling, as if it had come alive of its own volition.

”Where now is your boldness, Mistress Marece? Surely you are a woman with a keen appreciation of a beneficial arrangement,” Amarwen backed away again several steps and his smile grew, ”Your husband is a-sea. No telling if he will come back, or when…but imagine how handsome his coffers could look if he should return.”

“What…what do you mean?”

“If I needs must explain it to you, Mistress, perhaps you are not nearly as clever as I am told you are. No matter, for it is not your wit I desire,”
Castamir said following her around the room in no particular hurry. He had no reason to be, given she was locked in here at his command.

”Consider the advantages, as have many before you Mistress,” he continued and then lifted a shoulder, untroubled, ”Of if that does not sway you then consider what it means to deny the will of the King.”

They had reached the hearth again and Amarwen knew she had but one recourse and it was not submission. Not to this. Not to him. She drew her nightdress around her, pulled it tightly against her until it was impossible not to see what swelled within. Even Halvarin did not know for he had set out before even she had realised it and that this man, this vile beast, should discover this before her husband would grieve her for the rest of her days. Still, it had to be done. The usurper’s hungry eyes flared as they took her in, travelling so very slowly down until he saw, finally, the burgeoning slope of her belly.

”What…what is that?” Castamir hissed.

”My husband’s child.”

With those words the usurper recoiled, disgust stamped upon his features. He whirled about with a terrible cry and the door was unlocked again. Shaking like a leaf, Amarwen released her hold on her nightdress and went to retrieve her cloak. In time, the three men that had brought her to this place returned. One bore a pair of shoes that whilst too big, served their purpose well enough and just after dawn, the streets still quiet, she found herself returned to her home with a warning.

Breathe a word to anyone about what had transpired and the entire household, herself and her unborn child included, would be put to the sword. Sarael hurried out with a cry, a warm blanket in hand that she set over Amarwen’s shoulders before she was led within.

”Mistress! Oh Mistress, are you well? Did they hurt you?”

Amarwen shook her head as Sarael fussed about, ”And the child?”

“We are both well,”
she said as she eyed the gathering of the fearful household staff, all women and girls, ”Where are the men of the household?”

“No one knows, Mistress, ”
came the reply, ”They have all vanished.”

It took several days for the reports to arrive of bodies dumped around Pelargir. From the stable boys to the cook to the Partisans that had watched over them. Each had been ruthlessly silenced. Yet, Amarwen did not think the usurper would come after her again. Not whilst she was still with child.

”Oh Halvarin, my love, return to us soon,” she whispered each night and every morn.


 Post subject: Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards
PostPosted: November 25th, 2017, 8:24 am 
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Pelargir - Winter 1441 to Summer 1442

Setting out from Pelargir, Captain Carlin had Halvarin set a course laid to take a westerly course out of the Bay of Befalas and gradually arc southward to take advantage of seasonal winds and currents. Their destination was the southernmost lumber camp in the tropics of Far Harad, near where Halvarin’s father had gone so many years ago. It would be a long voyage, with their expected return to Pelargir not expected until late spring of 1442 though this timing was contingent on two factors. One was the degree of unrest at the camp with the local Haradrim tribes and the other was how swiftly the lumber barges could be readied. The previous ships sent down had dispatched troops to reinforce a line of forts that supported the push deeper into the jungle. Whilst it was all well and good to be optimistic, only time would tell once they arrival.

The weeks at sea were uneventful and Halvarin found them boring for the first time that he could recall. He reviewed the star charts from earlier voyages and he found few corrections required. The seas gently rolled with a large swell that spoke of storms far to the west but the skies were crisp and clear closer to the shore during these winter months. Halvarin took to taking a turn in the crow’s nest these calm nights, for it offered him solace and peace as he thought of Amarwen.

Ever the night sky had reminded him of his wife and he found himself wondering how he could have left her in the den of corruption that was Pelargir. He regretted increasingly that he had not sent her back to Edhellond. Particularly with Castamir convening his winter court in Pelargir. It was a battle in those quiet hours of the night but Halvarin clung to his hope and his belief that his wife would find a way to contend with Pelargir and its many challenges without him.

It was after his watch one early morning that Halvarin found Carlin standing on the deck near the main mast. Since coming aboard as Carlin’s Executive Officer, Amarwen’s uncle had remained distant. It could not endure, of course. A time would come when they either found a way to bridge their differences or those differences over took them. As he slowly climbed down from the crow’s nest, Halvarin had a keen sense that time would arrive as soon as he gained the deck below. He dropped the final distance to land on the deck behind Carlin and the captain swung about to face him.

”From princess of the realm to the wife of a seaman,” he growled and then asked, ”Do you play cards Halvarin?”

“Occasionally. Didn’t really find the time when I was in Osgiliath,”
Halvarin replied and Carlin nodded at this.

”You’ll make the time for the game tomorrow night,” Carlin observed gruffly, ”You’ll forego your time in the nest.”

“I will be there, Sir,”
Halvarin confirmed as he looked out to sea.

The Captain rolled his shoulders and set a hand on Halvarin’s shoulder.

”My niece was to be wed to Prince Aldamir. That is what Therald & Alenna wished for their daughter, before this thrice cursed war began.  And you, well if I have been hard on you lad then it is because I knew your father,” Carlin paused and blew out a breath, ”I never liked Calimir. I tolerated your father for my brother’s sake. Never knew just what Therald saw in him, frankly. It men like your father, Halvarin, that I hold responsible for this strife. Much of this hatred of the Northmen came from people such as Calimir.”

Halvarin turned to face his Captain, “I understand Sir. This war within Gondor has turned all on its head.”

Carlin again nodded as he looked out to the waxing moon. He finally said after the silence grew overly long, ”Love her foremost, do right by her and you will have no trouble from me. I will see you at the game this next evening.”

Halvarin nodded and soon Carlin was gone leaving him to consider his captain’s words. They followed him to his bunk and rattled around his head as he fell asleep. He awoke late and scrambled to reach the bridge in time for his duty. The sky had clouded over but the winds had dropped away. They made little progress south that day and it passed uneventfully in the lead up to the card game of the evening.

When Halvarin walked into the captain’s cabin for the game he found many of the officers seated around the table. The rounds went smoothly enough, largely as Halvarin had anticipated, but the talk around the table seemed strange. Almost as if the men there spoke in code. After the game ended, Carlin had Halvarin stay behind and they talked for a long time into the night. He discovered that Carlin had the names of guildsmen sympathetic to Eldacar’s return as king and there were more of them than Halvarin realized. Some names even surprised him, for he had considered them to be firmly in Castamir’s hand.

It revealed the extent of discontentment within the Guild at Castamir rule for some of the names Carlin fed to him were quite high within Castamir’s court and the Guild itself. But it would be a mistake to think that the time had come to topple the usurper. Castamir’s strength was such that, even diminished, Eldacar would still struggle to match and if they struck at the false king soon it would take them decades to rebuild in the resultant and catastrophic defeat.

And them there was the question of how much Carlin had disclosed to Amarwen. Did she know what Carlin knew? If so, what was she or would she do with this knowledge? He came away from the evening with a headache, trying to comprehend all that Carlin had disclosed and curiosity at what else his wife’s uncle might yet know.

A week after the card game, the voyage became rough as they steered east, for a gale came suddenly astern and they came in toward the lumber camp too swiftly. A shoal was missed by the navigator and Halvarin noticed it too late to have the helmsman make corrections. Their ship ran aground and Carlin ordered men to dive down to take stock of the damage to the hull, for there was seepage in the bow. The keel beam, whilst damaged wasn’t broken.

Noting this and the depth at high tide, Halvarin presented his report to Carlin.

”The moon is three days from full. If the weather remains quiet and the wind stays somewhat calm, or preferably, goes offshore, we may get a tide high enough tide to back ourselves out of this. But we will need to be careful and we should be completely prepared to evacuate the ship should the weather prove itself our foe.”

“Done and done. We’ll not go down like this, shipwrecked on a forsaken shoal in far south Harad!”

He affirmed Halvarin’s calculations and then they set about their preparations for refloating the ship. When the winds picked up onshore and clouds moved in from the sea, Halvarin thought more trouble was in store. But he checked his calculations, and if the storm front was mild and passed them before high tide, the sea level might well rise even more and this is what came to pass. Dead to rights, they refloated on the high tide and returned the ship to a course that would take them at last to the remote lumber camp.

Upon their arrival, they found that the harvest was well ahead of schedule. The soldiers aboard disembarked and those that had been there for a year were ready to go home. It would be a slow return, though, for they would have to limp their way back up the coast slowly and put into Umbar’s shipyards for repairs. Predicting the duration of such a voyage was difficult but it was all but certain that Halvarin’s return to his wife would be considerably delayed.

They had the lumber barges set out first, and with another deep draft ship coming in, they set out for Umbar. Arriving with no further difficulties they put in for a refit. The crew was happy to get ashore, but Halvarin was not. He longed for Amarwen so badly by now that he had come to resent the sea that had separated them. All his thoughts and desires centred on returning to Pelargir and continuing their work to depose Castamir. Each delay chafed at him, and Carlin did what he could to soothe Halvarin’s restless anxiety.

”Word has it the beam was indeed cracked, but not so much as needing to be salvaged,” the Captain counselled, ”Some of the best shipwrights are here, and their pitching is the best. We can’t hurry these things.”

Halvarin nodded but even so he considered the land route to Umbar. Fraught with danger it was, and when it came to shipping out on the next ship bound for Pelargir, his own was the next scheduled to depart. There was nothing for it but to wait. So he walked the shipyard, to take in the new ships being built. But for what purpose, he wondered, was all this activity? So much is poured into these ships, and the Guild Training Schools were full of young recruits to crew them.

As a Master Navigator and ranking officer in the Guild, Halvarin found some of his time occupied with speaking at some of these classes where he kept to navigational topics. But his presence there afforded him the opportunity to observe and what he saw looking back at him in the classes was the breathtaking hypocrisy that Castamir’s rule was predicated upon. Dark complexions matched with Numenorean sea grey eyes stared back at him from the ranks of students he addressed in Umbar and this, in turn, drove Halvarin to inspect the Umbar Guild Chapter records. His findings were enough to destroy any lingering sense of Numenorean superiority that remained in him.

The days turned into weeks, and the weeks pushed on through summer. It was clear to Halvarin and Carlin that there was no outside Eldacarian resistance to speak of in Umbar. Castamir had been good to the city and there was work aplenty in the shipbuilding and seafarer training. The resistence in Umbar was limited to those Carlin knew off within the Guild Chapter, no more than seven men all told. No small wonder, then, that Amarwen had found her time in this place so difficult a year ago. A year ago their paths had crossed here! The thought struck Halvarin hard.

When their ship was again deemed seaworthy and re-floated, they took on loads of Haradian goods in demand in Pelargir, and a contingent of soldiers that were bound for home. It was the day of the Harvest Festival when they finally arrived in to the port of Pelargir. Halvarin watched the quay as they approached, and when they tied off, he had still not seen any sign of Amarwen. As soon as they secured, he set off for his home.


 Post subject: Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards
PostPosted: December 3rd, 2017, 4:17 pm 
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1442 – Pelargir, August

Amarwen glanced about to check that the hall was indeed empty before she raised her hand to knock at the door she stood in front of. She had taken efforts to conceal her identity but at close quarter they would avail her little. She knocked again and heard the irritation in the response of the man on the other side of the door. Despite that, she felt some sense of relief for if Silares had not been at his Guild office then she would not know where next to turn.

”Come in, come in,” he growled, ill pleased with her insistent knocking and so Amarwen slipped through the door and closed it behind her as he added, ”This had better be good for I said I was not to be-“

Silare’s complaint fell away abruptly when she turned about and pushed the cowl back from her face.

”Captain,” she said, nodding to him as he stared at her a moment, then his gaze tracked to the bundle she held under her closed cloak.

”An unexpected surprise,” the Captain said as he hurried out of his seat and came towards her, ”Sit, please sit.”

“Surprises, as a general rule, usually are,”
Amarwen observed as she complied with his instruction.

Silares cracked the door open to peer into the hall and upon finding it satisfactorily empty, closed the door again. In this time, Amarwen had undone her cloak and had set to arranging the sling that held her infant son safely in place. With a full belly, he slept contentedly, blissfully unaware of the strife swirling around him. She stroked his dark hair, fine wisps curling around his head and looked up as the captain pulled up a chair for himself.

”This is a dangerous place for you to be,” Silares said, his tone gentle for his gaze rested on the child.

”I am here only at great need,” Amarwen replied and at this Silares looked up at her, ”I need your help and I do not know where else to turn.”

“You should have sent word then. I would have come to you.”

She smiled sadly at that and Silares stiffened, ”Have I, or have I not aided you however I can?”

“Yes, but-“

“But what? It is not enough?”

“No it-“

“If you have come here to again ask me to fight, here to the heart of the Guild, then-“

Amarwen said sharply, breaking through Silare’s growing bluster and her tone caused her son to grumble in his sleep.

Tiny fists waved and trembled in the air, mighty displeasure on the cusp of spilling over. Amarwen and Silares both held their breath, waiting for the child to settle. Fortunately, he did and Amarwen shot Silares the baleful look of a new mother.

”Do not wake my sleeping child,” she warned and Silares let out his pent breath.

”I have not come here to ask you to fight, Silares,” she added, rubbing her son’s back through the sling, ”And were there any other way I would not have come here at all. Do you think I would risk my son so thoughtlessly?”

The captain sighed heavily and washed a calloused hand over his face, ”Of course not.”

Still, her son was restless and so Amarwen stood and began to slowly pace, swaying as she walked in the hope that he would settle once more. She was tired, so very tired. Perhaps not thinking as clearly as she might wish. Still, what else was she to do?

”Castamir’s men have been seen around the house,” she said, ”They keep their distance. They interfere with none who might come or go, but they are there all the same.”

“Flee. I’ll take you to Edhellond right now,”
Silares said but Amarwen shook her head.

”And if they should follow?” she asked, ”I cannot flee. Wherever I might go is nowhere I would wish to draw them and in any case, I am unable to move swiftly with a babe in arms. And what of those I leave behind in my household? Who is to see to them?”

”When did this happen?”

Amarwen swallowed at the question, still debating on what to say, ”Winter, the first time.”

Silares spluttered and when she turned to consider the captain he was looking at her gravely, ”You should have come to me sooner.”

“I did not dare,”
she returned, ”He had nearly half my household killed to ensure my silence. Every man and boy in my service!”

Aghast, Silares stared at her for a long time before he asked, ”Silence?”

At the question Amarwen knew immediate regret. If she answered Silares’ question, she’d likely face burying her entire household for Castamir was not a man of empty threats. She should not, she realised, have come here. Better, far better, to prepare herself for what was coming and face it even if it made her stomach churn. Why, perhaps she’d even accomplish the assassination she had worked so hard to achieve. Perhaps that would make it easier to bear.

”Amarwen,” Silares murmured, standing at her shoulder so closely that the sound of her real name spun her about to face him, ”You are shaking. What frightens you so?”

“He will kill my entire household if I speak.”

“But not you?”

She shook her head, her smile bitter, ”I am just a wife left ashore to him. Nothing more.”

Silares gently placed an arm around her shoulders, ”Tell me, lass. Tell me everything.”

And so she did. The Captain said nothing as she recounted the despicable tale but his face grew pale and taut. By the time it was done, her son had awoken again and so she turned away to tend to his hungry demands. Aside from the sound of his insistent nuzzling, the office was silent for Amarwen had no more to tell and Silares had yet to speak.

”Perhaps it was naïve of me to think he would let this drop, turn elsewhere and forget about me,” she observed after a time, stroking her son’s soft cheek.

“A man such as that does not forget humiliation,”[/i] Silares observed behind her, his voice flat and stripped of emotion.

Amarwen sighed at that and nodded, ”If I resist, I imperil not only our entire household but everything we have worked towards. It would all come crumbing down for he would see to it that I was destroyed. Would Hal forgive me, do you think, if I complied with the king’s demand? Would he understand?”

Silares made a strange sound at that and then pressed out a sigh, ”Have you named your son yet?”

she said with a shake of her head, ”I have been awaiting Halvarin’s return.”

“You must call him something.”

she said, ”For he is so very small.”

“Then upon Pip’s tiny head, I say to you that I will not allow this wretched deed come to pass.”

“What will you do to stop it, though? What can any of us do?”

“I do not yet know,”
Silares admitted, ”But for now I will see you and your son safely home.”

Carefully, then, did Silares slip out of the Guild building with his “niece” and her newborn son in arms. The Harvest Festival had clogged the streets with people and so it was slow going. Still, the crowd offered a measure of cover and as they put distance between themselves and the Guild, Silares was relieved to see what he believed to be the partisans Amarwen had incorporated into her thriving network at Pelargir, flowing and weaving about them as they went. Or were they? Were these the king’s men?

”Yours,” he asked as a boy with scarcely twenty summers to his name passed by.

Amarwen nodded, ”They’re not to go within five blocks of the Guild for any reason.”

“Even for you?”

“Safer that way,”
she answered and in doing so put paid to any lingering worry he had about waking in the middle of the night to find a partisan leaning over his bed sent by Amarwen to eviscerate the Pelargir Guild.

As far as he knew, and this was from reports discussed within the Guildhouse, the woman at his side had well over half the Pelargir partisans under her control. Latest word from Castamit’s court was that she had finally cracked one of the largest groups and that her influence had spread to the Harlond and Minas Anor. Though they did not know who she was, they suspected that she had powerful protection and this was quite correct for Amarwen had been carefully cultivating the businesses Halvarin had left in her keeping for almost a year now. To the holdings she had added a small but growing fleet of river boats that plied the Anduin from Pelargir to Osgiliath conveying all manner of trade goods that cities, and yes armies, required. He’d even heard that she was planning the acquisition of a sea faring vessel.

Thus, to find Amarwen in such dire need of aid had startled him. He’d been suspicious that she was manipulating him into taking more direct action against Castamir for he knew the number of captains Carlin would be able to win into an open fight would not match those he had cobbled together to withdraw strategically. As they walked the streets, Silares again returned to such thoughts. If true, the tale she had brought him was precisely the sort of thing to trip men like him into action. Why, he didn’t know of a Guild Officer that would countenance it. And that this could be perpetrated by one of their own, one who knew what it was to set out leaving your wife and children ashore…

Amarwen kept to herself as they walked, Pip once again concealed under her cloak and by the time they had passed by several of their warehouses to satisfy any watching eye, Silares had reached a difficult conclusion. The Lady of Edhellond knew the Guild well. Well enough to calculate what would rouse their ire and bind them to her. Her dismay and desperation had seemed genuine to him but she was an accomplished noblewoman. With a new babe in arms, only a monster would fail to be moved. She would know she cast a sympathetic figure. He admired her and yes, he was fond of her, but if she were using him now then…

The captain’s thoughts trailed off as they rounded the corner and he saw the first man. Amarwen said nothing but she stiffened beside him and unlike the partisans, who had all vanished again, this man made no effort to blend in. Silares kept himself from staring at him, for provoking an open confrontation now with Pip in his mother’s arms would not end well for anyone. The man did not move from his position but his gaze tracked them, as did the next one and the next one. These men were not partisans. They were not Guild either.

The brazen enormity of it staggered him. The king sending his men to burst into the bedrooms of Guild wives left ashore, preying upon whoever might take his eye…his blood began to boil and he gained the front door by the slenderest of margins before his temper slipped his hold on it.

Silares slammed the door shut, ”I don’t care if he comes after you, lass. He will be stopped. There is not a one of us who will stand idle and-“


The question drew Silares up and only then did he noticed there was a pack resting in the hall just beyond the door. Amarwen drew a sharp, shivering breath and shot forward like an arrow released directly into Halvarin’s arms. He closed them around her, buried his face into her shoulder and breathed her in. Silares wiped a hand over his face to collect himself.

”Not a moment too soon,” he observed after a long moment and Halvarin looked up from his wife to meet his gaze.

The two mariners exchanged a long and silent look for the moment and then Silares nodded his understanding. This was the reason he and many others like him, including Carlin, had never taken a wife.

Silares jerked his thumb over his shoulder to the street beyond, ”Your return should give those outside some pause.”

“Who are they?”
Halvarin asked, his arms still tightly around Amarwen who had buried her face in his chest and seemed unable to stir herself.

The captain shifted his weight at the question and then shook his head, ”First things first. Two months old, that boy has waited long enough for a proper name.”

Halvarin lifted a brow at him but Silares shook his head again and so the younger man bent his head to peer, at the son he had yet to meet. Despite being pressed between his parents, Pip did not seem overly perturbed and Silares lingered a moment longer to watch Amarwen gently ease the child from the sling and set him in his father’s shaking hands. Like all new fathers, Halvarin appeared equal parts frightened, awestruck and overwhelmed. He stared down at the infant in his arms, holding him as though he might break at any moment, as the child sleepily peered up at his father’s face and then issued a cracking yawn, tiny arms and legs stretching and kicking.

Collecting himself, Halvarin looked up to find Silares had slipped away, and then he looked back again to the tiny infant in his arms. He looked as uncomfortable as Halvarin felt and then he let out an almighty belch. Halvarin’s surprise made Amarwen smile in a way she had not done so for a very long time. Despite this, she felt the weight of tears building.

”The noise one so small can make is astonishing,” she remarked, at which Halvarin looked up at her.

”Two months?” he asked, adjusting his hold on his son.

Amarwen nodded, ”I have missed you so, Hal.”

At this he reached out to cup his hand to her cheek and then he drew her forward to kiss her soundly, ”And I you, my love.”


 Post subject: Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards
PostPosted: December 3rd, 2017, 4:18 pm 
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Pelargir – Autumn 1442

Amarwen was beautiful to behold after so long at sea, and now a son? It was almost overwhelming. Halvarin bent his head to kiss his son on his crinkled brow, scarcely believing that he held his first born child in his arms. A tiny hand latched onto Halvarin’s beard with a tight grip, driving home the fact that Halvarin was indeed a father now, with an overly long sea-beard.

It brought to mind his thoughts as they had neared Pelargir. With Amarwen’s uncle as well as Silares so well placed within the Guild, there was no need for him to remain in its ranks. Not if it meant being parted from his wife and child. He had enjoyed seafaring upon a time, but now…now he had missed the wonder of watching his son grow and flourish. Of coming into this world. He would never have those precious moments back and it was, he thought, entirely too high a price to pay.

Still, to resign his commission so swiftly after putting into port would draw attention he wished spared from the precious infant in his arms and the woman at his side. His son belched loudly again and Halvarin lifted the tiny bundle so that he could drool on his shoulder. Amarwen fussed with his dark hair, sweeping it aside as their son chewed Halvarin’s jacket. When her eyes met his, he smiled into her eyes as pride and gratitude washed through him.

”What name have you given him?” he asked.

”Pip, but that is hardly a suitable name,” Amarwen replied, ”I hoped that perhaps you might name your son.”

Halvarin lowered the boy into his arms again to study his face. Pip reached for his beard to tug at it anew. This name would be what his son carried with him into the rest of his life.

”Mindacil,” Halvarin said, his heart swelling in his chest.

Amarwen nodded, ”A fine name, my love.”

Halvarin drew Amarwen into his embrace once more and pressed her to him, unable to find a way to release her for so long had he longed to hold her. They remained like that in the hall for a long moment until Mindacil became restless.

”The question of the men in the streets still stands,” he eventually said as he eased his arms from her, ”What were you were saying to Silares when you came in?”

Amarwen ducked her head at the question and hid her face in her hair such was her reluctance to answer. Silares, too, had been loathe on that count. He was tempted to push but Mindacil had become strident and so Halvarin had little option but to turn him over to his wife. Now his tiny hands grabbed now at the neck of her gown, his demands quite clear. Amarwen turned away to see to them somewhere other than the hall and Halvarin followed her to the room that had been fashioned into a nursery for Mindacil.

He said nothing as she tended to Mindacil, his mind prodding at whatever it was Amarwen was not saying. Amarwen too kept her peace though he could feel her eyes upon him as he wandered about the nursery, acquainting himself with it. Once their son was sated, Sarael appeared as if out of thin air to take Mindacil up. She, too, appeared nervous and ducked out of the parlour as swiftly as she might with the child tucked against her protectively.

The tension was so thick he could taste it and so he held a hand down to where Amarwen still sat and said in a quiet voice, ”Come with me.”

She looked up at him, drew a deep breath and nodded before she set her hand in his. He towed her to her feet and then drew her along swiftly to their bedroom. It was here that Halvarin’s desire for his wife took precedence. Need too long denied drove them both and it was not long before they lay, breathless, in a tangle of limbs and bedding. He lay like this, staring up at the roof he had spent much of his boyhood staring at. Unable to put it off any longer, he rolled to his side to study the sweep of Amarwen’s bare back from smooth shoulder to rounded hip.

”Tell me Ami, what happened while I was away? Why do Castamir’s men watch the house?”

The things Halvarin had heard during the card games aboard ship crowded his mind. Such tales as beggared the imagination and yet cause enough to turn many a loyal and dedicated Guild officer from Castamir. She stared off to the far wall of the room for a time and there was silence, but then she rolled to her back with a sigh and began to talk.

”The day you took ship I returned home to find him waiting here.”


Amarwen said in a low voice and Halvarin went very still as she closed her eyes, ”He would descend suddenly, without warning and refuse to leave. Secretly at first but he became bold as time passed.”

She pushed out another sigh and shook her head, ”Months I spent in Umbar seeking access to that blackguard and now I could not rid my house of him.”

“What did he do?”

“Drank an awful lot of spiced orange tea. Became very well acquainted with each of the parlours. He had the place searched,”
she shrugged, ”In time I believed he would move once he tired of cooling his heels here. Once he stopped hiding, it was easy for me to be elsewhere tending to the many demands of our businesses.”

“But it did not stop, did it?”
Halvarin said in a low voice and Amarwen shook her head.

”Come Mettarë he sent men here, to this very place we are now, and had me dragged before him. I thought I’d been arrested,” Amarwen said with a shudder, ”And perhaps I might have been had he not been so repulsed by the discovery that I was with child. I was instead swiftly returned, unharmed. But that was not an end to it.”

Amarwen pushed herself up to sit, the heavy fall of her black hair swinging. It had grown during his absence and was almost, he thought, back to its customary length. She turned her head to regard him through her hair.

”He had the men and boys of our household taken, every last one of them. Not hostages, of cours,e for when has Castamir had a use for those,” her voice was bitter as memory of her father arose. She shook her head and looked next to her knees.

”Their bodies appeared around the city a few days later, cruelly slain. Their eyes put out and tongues removed.”

“A message, a warning to silence,”
Halvarin said as he sat up himself.

”And I kept my silence, for the sake of those within our household. I said not a word of what had passed to anyone. But then, once Pip had come, his men began to appear on the streets.”

Halvarin drew Amarwen to him and she buried her head into his chest to listen to his heart beat. His fingers stroked her hair as he considered the tales he had heard. Amarwen’s was one of a same and it fortune, he suspected, that had brought him back to port before her fate could be decided as so many others had. He knew of officers who had returned home to discover their wives slain. Terrible accidents, usually, or the victim of some senseless crime. But this he did not speak of to Amarwen for he would offer her comfort and solace and not the spectre of still worse to come.

After a time like this, he said, ”I will put in for my old position in Osgiliath, or somewhere else. I will not be parted from you and Mindacil ever again… even if it means I must resign.”

At this Amarwen tightened her arms around him and held him to her. And when they spoke next it was of putting Pelargir behind them.

The following day, Halvarin ventured to the Guild House to put in for a transfer. When he spoke with his fellow officers, however, it soon emerged that the only suitable position was at Minas Ithil. There was but one representative of the Guild there as it had no port. To request to go there would seem strange indeed, particularly after having his name advanced only a year ago for the position of Master Navigator. Halvarin needed to find a way to seek a demotion and as fortune would have it, his means walked right in the door.

Castamir strolled in with his advisors and immediately all within stood to attention. Difficult as this was, Halvarin fell in line and it did not take the usurper long to espy him amongst those gathered at the Guild House today.

”Master Halvarin, back from your voyage so soon!” Castamir declared.

Not soon enough Halvarin thought, striving to keep his demeanour calm despite the urge to drive his knife into the man’s black heart.

“I am pleased to be back, Sire,” he replied, loathing thick in his throat, but then Castamir said something Halvarin did not expect.

”I do not believe that I have conveyed my condolences on the senseless murder of your father. We were close, as I am sure you understand, his counsel invaluable. But now, with such a stalwart mind lost to me, I must now look his son. I have been considering your history, Halvarin of Pelargir.”

Halvarin swallowed at this, fearful of what the usurper may have found. If need be, he would kill this false king here and now but he could not help but think of Amarwen and little Mindacil. If he assassinated Castamir, the Guild would come for them right after they killed him. Yet, tense as he was, Castamir turned to the wider room to make a pronouncement.

”Master Halvarin, son of former Guild Master Calimir, has risen steadily among the Navigators. His work can be found on many of the Guild’s star charts, without which we would be lost. He has completed, successfully, a number of voyages well to the south and acquitted himself with distinction. Add to this his service as Commander of Osgiliath and it is clearly time to put his skills to better use. To a new use.”

Halvarin swallowed again as men murmured around him, some nodding their heads. Silares was there, as was Carlin. The two men looked forbidding, as they looked on, arms crossed over their chests. It occurred to Halvarin that what the usurper was doing was pushing him out of his way. He was going to make him the captain of a ship and send him off once more, leaving Amarwen behind precisely where Castamir wanted her. Halvarin gripped the hilt of his knife on his belt and stood tall, ready to draw it out and plunge it right into Castamir’s unprotected back but the king turned back to face him.

”I name you, Master Halvarin, my Northern Commander. Do not thank me, though, for many are the challenges to contend with in the north. I need a man I can trust up there, someone well regarded by the local commanders. “

Halvarin could scarcely believe his ears. A year after his father’s death and still Halvarin found himself riding his father’s coattails. Castamir stared at him awaiting a response.

”If… if that is where the king wishes me to serve… I will serve.”

“Done and done, then. You relieve Commander Bergon in Minas Anor in a fortnight. Tomorrow, you and your wife will attend me at banquet on the morrow. We can discuss the details of your new role further.”

The usurper peered at him imperiously and Halvarin bowed, reflecting just how difficult it was to pay respects to a man he wanted dead, and with that Castamir had dismissed him and moved off to speak with others. It was not long before the king had left the Guild House entirely but Halvarin lingered yet, hoping to catch Silares and Carlin. The two sea captains had also vanished and so instead he sought out the men Carlin had told him about on the voyage. Once that was done, he hurried home to speak with his wife.

~ ~ ~

Osgiliath ~ Autumn 1442

Michas walked the streets of East Osgiliath as the rain fell. The quays had some renovation done, but right now the only vessel moored was a run down river barge. It’s shallow draft allowed it to press up river as far as the upper fens of the Entwash and its condition was such that it did not draw attention when it did. It was a good smuggler, all in all, an excellent asset sent their way by Marece all the way down in Pelargir. He had no idea just how she’d gotten to Pelargir nor how she’d managed to get her hands on a boat but whatever the case, Michas had pressed it into service all the same.

The barge enabled them to transport arms in from the north to lay down in readiness for the army that would wield them. With the weapons came a few of the scattered Gondorians sent south by Eldacar from their northern exile to oversee preparations. Michas was grateful for their aid for Osgiliath seemed likely to be Eldacar’s staging point in his bid to retake his crown.

He had now taken the river barge up to where the fens of Nandalf lay, and having sent word east to the western commander of the Easterlings, he held a secret meeting. The Easterlings were no allies of Gondor but they had weapons and if in sealing some sort of arrangement with them denied a possible ally to Castamir, so much the better. At least until they realised Eldacar’s forces included Rhovanions whom the Easterlings hated. Michas made promises he could not keep should Eldacar return to power, but he was sure he was preventing Castamir, should he even think of it, from gaining an ally in the east.

Michas’ return from Nandalf fens took him now through the rain soaked streets of Osgiliath to where a new detachment of soldiers from the south awaited him. As he went, Michas had those aware of the weapons caches to prepare to leave to the east toward Minas Ithil. He could not risk them being discovered should his work at Osgiliath have been exposed. That was always a possibility and would be, at least until they discovered who the traitor in their midst was. Quite as things had been since the immediate aftermath of Belas’ death, Michas could not bring himself to believe the being caught up in anything.

And so, precautions laid, Michas made his presence known to the commander of the newly arrived detachment.

”We have heard rumours that this is a city friendly to Eldacar. What say ye?” said the man, his plain speech matching his plain features.

"As Commander of Osgiliath, I do not confuse my politics with my loyalty to Gondor,” Michas replied, recalling all too clearly when Halvarin had said just that very thing to him.

And as he had at the time, the man he spoke with now countered, ”As do we all. We are loyal to Gondor, and will do what is best for the nation we love. We understand each other, do we not?”

Michas eyed the commander suspiciously and said nothing until the other man grinned and stuck out a hand towards him.

”Belon, I am called, and this is the Fourth Brigade of the First Army of Lossarnach. It is pleasure to meet you Michas, Commander of Osgiliath and the First Brigade of Ithilien. Know that I and my men have come of our own volition, with no order from Castamir or the Mariners Guild. We are on field exercise and will return to Minas Anor tomorrow.”

Michas’ brows rose at the statement but Belon was not done, ”We have the command of the Rammas Echor from Harlond to the White Mountains. I have come to tell you that there are other units in Lossarnach who would support the king of these lands.”

As the Lossanarch commander spoke, however, his fingers ceaselessly moved to state that the king of these lands was Eldacar. Michas nodded, signalling his understanding in return as he considered this interesting turn of event. If there was growing unease at Castamir’s rule among the Lossarnach, only the coastal provinces remained in doubt.

The next day the Lossarnach Brigade quit the city and Michas immediately sent word north to Eldacar to advise that some units of the greater army of Gondor had begun to return to his banner.


 Post subject: Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards
PostPosted: December 8th, 2017, 4:58 pm 
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Pelargir - 1442 Autumn

Halvarin’s return was a wonder to Amarwen and whilst their position remained fraught with peril, a great weight she had felt looming over her faded away. There was still much to do and not enough hours in the day but no longer did she spent the small hours of the night fighting back despair. The prospect of Halvarin being lost at sea had become a prevalent fear of hers, haunting any quiet moment she might find but he was home again, now. Quite safe and whole and what was more, he was not likely to return to the sea soon.

The siren call of the waves was not easily turned aside, she knew, but Halvarin showed no restlessness that she could discern. Rather, he fell into his role as a new father with joyful energy, revelling in each little marvel Pip revealed to him and in turn, Amarwen revelled in her husband. The sound of his voice as he sang to their son. The sense of his presence somewhere in the house. The knowledge that she could find him easily. His warmth beside her at night. Halvarin was home, irrespective of where that home might be, and each night she fell asleep with her arms wrapped around him.

Minas Ithil - 1442 Autumn

New hope also sprang up far to the north when Michas’ tidings were received. That the Lossanarch were turning back to Eldacar was a boon unlooked for. Still, Eldacar was wary. They had proved fickle before and this could very well be another cunning ruse by his rival to draw him out. Prince Aldamir set out at his father’s bidding, accompanied by his three faithful shieldmaidens, to return to Minas Ithil and establish the truth of the matter. That a new Northern Commander was in the process of settling in provided an ideal opportunity to slip in undetected. After so long contained to Rhovanion, Aldamir was relieved to once again be returning to the nation he considered his home.

He found Minas Ithil little changed since he had been forced to marshal a retreat five years ago. He slipped through the streets scarcely noticed, past the tower that had once housed his command and for an inn he hoped still stood. Relieved to find it did, he secured rooms for himself and his companions and retired to them immediately. Or would have if Helda had not insisted on scrutinising each of them for lurking assassins.

Once within, Aldamir made directly to a table where a large jug of water had been set into a wide bowl. This he emptied into the bowl and fetched out three vials from a pouch at his belt.

”What’re those?” asked Helda, the most curious of the three Shieldmaidens.

Aldamir turned to where she leaned at the door, ”Bring the others.”

Helda shrugged at that and then went to fetch the twin Shieldmaidens: Vidnavi and Vilna.

The three women eased into the room and shut the door to regard Aldamir impassively. They could smell something was afoot, he knew and he waggled one of the bottles at them.

”You’ll have to dye your hair,” he informed them at which Helda snorted and the twins lifted two sets of brows.

”Next he will say that we must unbraid our hair,” Helda observed to her fellow Shieldmaidens but Vilna was eying Aldamir suspiciously.

”That also,” he stated.

Vilna and Vidnavi, both with pale blonde hair, exchanged a gaze and then shrugged their resignation. Helda, with her braids of fire, was a study of mutiny.

”Of course, Helda, I can’t make you do this,” Aldamir observed for Helda stood at least six foot tall and was one of the Rhovanions most fearsome warriors. For all of that, Aldamir knew this woman well and so he continued on, ”And so you can instead remain here with me and I will send the twins in your stead.”

Vilna and Vidnavi perked up at the prospect of an assignment whilst Helda scowled.

”To where?” Vidnavi asked whilst Helda grappled with what was more important to her: her pride or the opportunity to strike out on her own for while.

Aldamir answered, ”Minas Anor – I want to know who this new Northern Commander is.”

“Want him dead?”
Helda asked hopefully but Aldamir shook his head, ”Not just yet.”

At that Helda deflated again and Aldamir thought he’d have to find another way to hide Helda’s distinctive hair. Then Shieldmaiden shook her head and strode forward to take the bottle out of Aldamir’s hand.

”I’d not do this for anyone else,” she grumbled at him, reproach in her tone and Aldamir nodded.

”I know, Helda,” he said with a wink, and muttering under her voice, Helda set to work as Aldamir ushered the twins out and into the other room.

They went without complaint, for rebellion was Helda’s particular talent, but the two women were despondent.

”Have heart, ladies, there’s plenty more to do,” he declared and started laying out their tasks for the next two months. By the time it was done, questions asked and answered, Vilna and Vidnavi were energetic again.

It was at this point Helda walked in, hair dripping, and glared at the startled expression on the three faces she was met with. That the imposing shieldmaiden was no longer crowned with fire was bracing enough. That she appeared to have also dyed most of her forehead in the process was difficult to not see.

”I couldn’t just leave the eyebrows,” she growled and fixed a set of very blue eyes on Aldamir, ”And you didn’t leave a mirror.”

The prince gathered himself, ”Well, I’m sure the dye will wash off your skin. The main thing is that your hair is now brown.”

Helda grimaced with distaste as she eyed a wet fall of unbraided hair that had stuck to one of her arms, ”You sure I can’t kill this new Commander?”

1442 – Minas Anor November

”Just look at the size of this place,” Sarael said in a low, awestruck voice and then ran for the window to peer beyond it, ”I can even see the Anduin from here!”

The young woman bounced on her heels and then turned back to face the room, ”Thank you for allowing me to come with you.”

Amarwen smiled as she adjusted her hold on Pip. Despite his fine name and the fact he was growing at a startling rate, she still thought of her son by the name she had first attached to him when he was but a tiny seed within her.

”Pip would not be parted from you and so it is he you should thank,” she answered and Sarael’s eyes crinkled as her smile grew.

”Was he that I was speaking to, Mistress,” she replied, a mischievous twinkle in her eye before she dutifully bowed her head to curtsy.

Since that dreadful morning those men had burst into her bedroom and Sarael had so staunchly thrown herself into their path, a friendship had sprung up between them. Amarwen had yet to divulge who she was in truth, for she was loathe to put Sarael in the sort of peril such knowledge carried and already too many knew. Still, she felt she could trust the younger woman who had so stoutly carried the burden of managing the household with her during Halvarin’s long absence.

”When will the Lord Commander return,” Sarael asked for Halvarin was again away.

Not two hours at Minas Anor and his duties had already begun. There were local commanders to be spoken to, troops and provisions and records to review. Dreary work, she knew, but necessary and in the process they hoped that Halvarin might be able to sniff out possible sympathisers. It had been some time since she had centred operations in the White City and maintaining contact with them in Umbar and then Pelargir had proven fraught. Still, she had told Halvarin of the names she was aware of should any still linger in their positions now.

”I expect it will be some time yet,” Amarwen answered as she turned away from the latest room they had opened in what was to be their residence, ”Not before the evening bell, certainly.”

“Well then, that is good news for it will take some time to get this all in order,”
Sarael declared, peeking under a cloth that had been set over a table by the window.

Outside came the noise of something falling and Sarael sped away to investigate.

”No! No! No! Who told you to put that there? Was it I? No!” Sarael scolded those fetching up the belongings they had brought with them.

Pressing out a sigh, Amarwen took herself to the window to stare down at the river. It was a dull, flat grey under the slate of the sky. She could smell snow coming. Already the mountains were dusted with it. The Harlond was much recovered since last she had seen it. Castamir’s siege engines drew her eye and not for the first time she wondered at what might be done with them. With all his various defences and fortifications. Destroying them was beyond her reach, even with the partisans organised. Disabling them might be possible if there was some way for her to discern the approach of Eldacar’s forces before Castamir did. Disable too swiftly and the damage would be detected and repaired.

As if sensing her attention drifted from him overlong, Pip got himself a handful of her hair and gave it a firm tug. Amarwen gave off her scrutiny of fortifications to smile down at her son.

”Right then, let’s see about your room young man,” she declared and set off, unaware that she herself had been watched.

Helda frowned as she watched the Gondorian woman draw back from the window. It had been some years since she had seen Amarwen of Edhellond but the Lord Commander’s wife bore an uncanny resemblance to the aristocrat. Had to be the Lord Commander's wife, Helda thought, for hers was not the garb of the serving woman she had seen at the window before and all reports said that no other family set out with the Lord Commander for his new post. She scrambled down from her position and hurried back to where her horse waited. She rode as only a Rhovanion could for the Tower of the Moon and the Prince.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Prince Aldamir lit his pipe and drew on it as he watched the eastern horizon lighten. The tidings, from Michas at Osgiliath, had drawn him forth to consolidate those of the greater army of Gondor to his father's banner. This latest news, however, was not so kind.

He had hoped this quiet hour might restore some order to his mind but that was not to be. A thin stream of blue smoke issued from his lips as he shook his head from side to side. Helda was not one for uncertainties. When she spoke, she did so with conviction. And so, her identification of Amarwen was difficult to set aside as a mistake. Perhaps, though, the child seen in her arms was not hers. Perhaps she was not married to another, a senior Guild officer so advanced in his standing with his father’s rival as to be the newly appointed Lord Commander of the North.

He knew, of course, that there was a traitor amongst their ranks. Amarwen had reported as such to his father, Eldacar, prior to her disappearance. Until now, though, it had never occurred to him that it might be her. He had trusted her as his father did. She had been promised to be his wife. He had thought he knew her, as his father did. And yet, Amarwen had vanished after that debacle at the Harlond, only to return deeply ensconced within the court of the Usurper and his corrupted Guild. Where had she been all this time? What had she been doing?

There was only one way to discover all of this. Loathe as he was to embark on this, Prince Aldamir knew he had no other option. Thus, he set out for Minas Anor hoping desperately to be wrong. Wrong for Gondor. Wrong for his father and wrong for his heart and hopes.


 Post subject: Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards
PostPosted: December 17th, 2017, 6:00 pm 
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Minas Anor ~ November 1442

The day started clear and cold with the breath of winter lightly blowing down from the north. Halvarin had risen in the dark of the morn and made his way to the Commander’s Quarters on the sixth level. There was so much to do to get a grasp on his position. He sent word to the commander of Osgiliath and Minas Ithil. Halvarin knew them to be supporters of Eldacar, and he was eager to consolidate their support. Michas knew him well but the commander of Minas Ithil knew only Amarwen, and only at a distance for she had not been able to meet him yet.

The local commander of Minas Anor was Bergil, a man Halvarin had served with on his first ship posting. As for his allegiances, Halvarin could only guess for Amarwen had not named him amongst her rebels. Given that Bergil had risen through the ranks to hold the command of the White City, Halvarin had to presume him to be one of Castamir’s. Care would be needed, for Halvarin could not leave Bergil out of any discussions he had with the other two commanders. Such a thing would raise suspicions and so this necessitated initial meetings with each, one by one, prior to drawing them all together. Bergil first, of course, and the others as they arrived. It was not long before Bergil stood in Halvarin’s office, peering about to see what changes Halvarin might have already made.

”Commander Bergil, Halvarin said as the man looked about, ”It has been some years since we shared the decks the Bowfin.”

“Yes, I thought I recognised your name,”
Bergil replied and Halvarin inclined his head.

Their talk swiftly fell to the status of Minas Anor as Bergil offered a review of his command of the city. With no prior knowledge of him from Amarwen or her uncle, Halvarin designated Bergil the six of diamonds. The sort of man that would bend whichever way the winds blew, or so he suspected. For all of that, Bergil was a solid commander with a strong core of junior officers. By the time the interview was concluded, Halvarin was of the opinion that Bergil would remain loyal to Castamir until Eldacar was a certain bet.

With that, came the realisation that Halvarin would need to keep his administration in his new position as passive as possible. A fine line, once again, to walk between Castamir and Eldacar. It reminded him in many ways of his time at Osgiliath…save that he was no longer afflicted with doubts about his own loyalties. This time, he would have to take care to remain impartial though how he might accomplish that without coming into strife with Amarwen he had yet to resolve.

Over the coming days, Halvarin embarked on his days early and returned home late into the evening. There was scarcely time to speak with his wife and Halvarin fretted over the scant time he spent with his son. Pleased as he was that Sarael had accompanied them to Minas Anor, for she had a special way with Mindacil and firm friendship with Amarwen, Halvarin missed his time at home. Still, even this was better than being at sea for each night he could return to Amarwen’s warmth in his arms and he could comfort his son when he awoke during the quiet hours of darkness. Halvarin hoped in a few weeks he would have things settled, and in turn more time at home. For that to come to pass, there was a lot of work he had to do.

Michas arrived two days later, and it cheered Halvarin to see his old friend.

”Michas! Long have I missed your counsel. Is all well in Osgiliath?”

“Very much so,”
Michas replied.

Halvarin nodded as he looked down the hall. He turned back to Michas and with a hand toward the large door and said, ”Do come in! I am interviewing all my city commanders on the disposition of all the men under their command.”

That, of course, was not said for Michas’ benefit for he knew why he was here. Halvarin’s summons had been quite clear. With a final glance, Halvarin closed the door after Michas and beckoned the man to a chair.

Halvarin said quietly as they sat down, ”We are secure, enough here, but it is well known that the walls of Minas Anor has ears.”

Michas grunted agreement at that and Halvarin continued, ”Perhaps, once we have finished discussing affairs to the north, you might deign to join me for dinner?”

“Of course,”
Michas agreed and so Halvarin summoned Mardil, his young adjuant, to dispatch to his residence.

”Inform my lady wife that we will be joined by a guest tonight for dinner, Commander Michas.”

Mardil replied promptly, snapped off a salute as crisp as the wintry air of the morning and headed off to see about his biddings.

After Mardil had left Halvarin’s office, Halvarin asked Michas, ”I selected Mardil on your letter of recommendation. Are you sure he is… as good as you say?”

“He was young when the sack of Osgiliath took place. He has an appreciation for you from your time as commander there. I think he will serve you well and faithfully.”

Halvarin nodded, ”He certainly seems efficient. I’m sure he will settle in well.”

Michas agreed, ”There is much ambition in that young man.”

The two went on to discuss the defences of Gondor and how well they were in the north on the west side of the Anduin. All Michas had to report only made Halvarin hope that the commander of Ithilien would soon arrive from Minas Ithil.

~ ~ ~

Mardil was nervous. Of all the names on a list to become the new Lord Commander’s commander’s adjutant, he had not thought his would be chosen. He had only been a young lad of fifteen when the Lord Commander had arrived at Osgiliath, just a Commander then and only there because the last one had vanished under dubious circumstances. Desertion, they whispered. He’d not held high hopes of Osgiliath’s new Commander for it was said he was none other than the Guild Master’s son. And yet, Halvarin had spared the life of Mardil’s father, who had been arrested for sedition. Michas, the current Commander of Osgiliath, had freed him and Mardil had been so inspired that he had joined the Guild cadets. With his training done, it was Michas’ letter of recommendation that had sent off to Minas Anor. Had the Lord Commander seen his letter? Mardil did not know, but he guess that he had for he had only been selected this very morning and his first assignment was to run a message to the Lord Commander’s wife!

Mardil paused outside the door to straighten his uniform, eager to make as good an impression as possible. He drew a deep breath and hoped he wasn’t perspiring as he knocked gently on the door. Sarael opened the door slowly and paused when she saw a young man in uniform. She looked at him hard as she held the door, finally getting a word out of her throat.


“I am... I bring…”

Mardil’s throat tightened around his words as he tried to introduce himself. He paused and took a breath as Sarael smiled slightly as she realised who or rather what was at the door. She relaxed her grip on the door and widened it somewhat in a more open welcome than before. This wasn’t one of Castamir’s thugs, ready to barge in as they had in Pelargir. No, this was a nervous boy and so Sarael eased her expression in a welcoming one while Mardil gathered himself. He finally said,

”I am Mardil, the Lord Commander’s adjutant. I am bidden to bring tidings to his Lady Wife. It concerns dinner, tonight.”

“Oh, well that is very important,”
Sarael said but Mardil was too nervous to notice her gentle jest.

”The Lord Commander has invited Commander Michas for dinner tonight. I am to await an answer from the Lady.”

Sarael’s smile grew as she opened the door proper and offered the adjutant a curtsy.

”You may wait inside where it is warm, Master Mardil, whilst I seek the Lady of the house..”

Mardil followed her in and Sarael walked away, glancing back at Mardil just as she rounded the corner. He was peering up at the high vaulted roof of the entrance much as she had upon arrival. Shaking her head, Sarael hurried onto the nursery where she knew she would find Marece. Sure enough, the Lady’s head lifted from her study of her son as Sarael gained the door. Mindacil was snugged away in his mother’s arms.

”Lady, Lord Halvarin’s adjutant is come with news that there will be a guest for dinner tonight. A commander by the name of Michas. He has been asked to wait for your answer.”

Marece replied and shook her head, for there was no answer to give. Just why Halvarin had sent the young man to them was baffling. Perhaps a test of some kind, Sarael thought.

”Inform the kitchen to set an extra place at the table tonight,” the Lady continued, much as Sarael had expected and so she inclined her head and set off to give Mardil the news.

As she gained the nursery door, Marece added, ”And if my husband desire, I would also like the adjutant to join us. I would like to meet him.”

Sarael turned at this, ”He waits in the foyer. Do you wish to meet him now?”

Amarwen sighed and gave Sarael a look. She was still in her nightdress and fresh from feeding Mindacil, who at that moment left part of his meal on her shoulder. Nothing further needed to be said and so Sarael returned to the entrance she had left Mardil lingering in. Upon her return she found him studying the artwork on the wall. He stood with his hands behind him, his formal military stance unrelinquished, and Sarael took a breath before approaching him.

”Inform the Lord Commander that arrangements are in order for Commander Michas, and if…” Sarael paused, for she was not sure how to tell him that he was invited should Lord Halvarin deem it so. She looked up to Mardil and said, ”… it was good to meet you, Adjutant. With your new position, it is likely we will likely see much of each other.”

Sarael blushed after her words ended but Mardil bowed, gallant enough to look past it. Or perhaps he didn’t notice. It was always so difficult to know which.

He said solemnly, ”I am honoured to serve the Lord Commander.”

At that Mardil took his leave. Sarael followed him to the door and stood there, watching him walk away at an efficient clip before she closed the door. Now she would have to go and ferry Marece’s additional request to the Lord Commander herself. Sarael decided that she could do it when she was to go to the markets. It would be an easy matter to slip by Halvarin’s office as she ran the errands and so she returned upstairs to find Marece had moved to the study where she was inspecting a book.

Sarael paused as she watched Marece read, loathe to disturb her, but the other woman looked up after a time as if she had known Sarael was there, “I found it in the library. The title appeared out of place.”

“What is it?”
Sarael inquired, aware of how fascinated Marece was by books.

”A memoir of a king of the northern realm of Arnor. How it came to be here I cannot guess,” Marece remarked and this piqued Sarael’s interest.

She walked over to look at it. The pages appeared old and brittle and the written script was so faded that it was difficult to read. Faded.

Marece continued as Sarael bent over the pages,”It was written by Elendur, the seventh King of Arnor, in the late 700’s of this Age. In this entry, he is concerned for the future of his realm. His heir, Eäendur was indecisive in nature, and his three grandsons had their own ambitions. Of those, the younger twins were more driven than Amlaith, their older brother and heir to the crown. Though very different to Gondor’s current strife, there are a number of paralells.”

Sarael didn’t quite understand what she meant, but this wasn’t in itself unusual. Marece read a great many things Sarael did not understand, including Elvish poetry and music. After a moment of silence, she said, “M’lady, if you have no other duties for me, I thought I might go to the markets now.”

Marece gave off her study of the old book and looked over to smile at Sarael, ”Of course, Sarael. At your own leisure, no need to rush. There is plenty of time before dinner must be readied.”

Sarael curtsied and turned to go. She wrapped herself in a light cloak and set off for the Lord Commander immediately. Coming to the door of Halvarin’s office, she lightly tapped on the door to find herself facing Mardil for the second time that day. Sarael smiled for their positions were now rather reversed.

Mardil paused for a moment, then said, ”Mistress Sarael, I did not think I would see you again so soon.”

Sarael blushed, ”I am on my way to the markets, and I am to ask the Lord Commander if there is anything he is wanting.”

Mardil let Sarael in and he went on to announce her arrival, ”Mistress Sarael of your household is here, Sir. She wishes to speak with you.”

“Show her in,”
Halvarin replied.

As she entered, Mardil closed the door behind. She stood there to look about, her curiosity getting the better of her, before she looked over to where Halvarin sat and found he was not alone. Another man occupied a chair, watching her intently. She had never seen him before.

”All is well with my wife?” Halvarin said, a faint note of concern running through his voice at Sarael’s unexpected appearance.

Sarael nodded, ”Yes, m’Lord, all is very well. I am come to request the presence of your adjutant for dinner tonight, if you approve.”

Halvarin looked over to Michas who shrugged.

Halvarin said, ”A kind thought, but Mardil has many new duties to settle into in his role. Not tonight, I think, but perhaps in the coming days.”

Sarael stood there for a time, then curtsied and turned and left. As she passed Mardil on the way out, she gave him a quick nod before stepping out and closing the door.

Back in the office, Michas crossed a leg over one knee and asked the obvious question, ”Just what is that wife of yours up to now?”

Halvarin shook his head, ”Any number of things, most like.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Sarael wandered the market stalls on the first level of the city where she bought the items the kitchen had asked for. As she wandered, she espied a particularly pleasing shawl of light silk. She didn’t know exactly what she would do with it, or where she might even wear it, but the colour was lovely and bright and she liked the feel of it. She put it on over her cloak and slowly walked by the rest of the stalls. Having been through the market lanes a few times, she walked toward the gate of the city. The gates were open, and a breeze blew in from the fields beyond. Sarael peered out as a chill came over her, as if she was being watched. She turned quickly and found a drab green hooded man stood behind her. He put his hand up in a peaceful gesture.

”Fear not mistress. I know the Lady whom you work for. I wish to speak with her.”

It was such a bold statement and Sarael rapidly walked away, looking for the nearest place to go. She entered the White Tree Inn and looked about. It probably wasn’t the best place to go but at least there were people around. She went to the bar and the maid came over.

”A glass of wine please,” she said as she turned to watch the door.

The man in the dun green cloak had followed her and was even now approaching.

He walked slowly to stand next to Sarael and said to the barmaid as Sarael looked for coin to pay,”I will have what she is having, and I will pay for them both.”

He lay a silver coin down on the bar which the barmaid swiftly scooped up and left in its place the bottle with two glasses. Sarael wasn’t sure what to do. Flee, stay, or ask for help? The man beside her poured Sarael a glass and another for himself. Once this was done, he considered the maid servant staring nervously at him.

”Do you fear me, Mistress Sarael?” he asked, and Sarael fidgeted nervously.

How did he know her name? She did not want to say anything that would jeopardise Marece or Halvarin. Once she saw that no one else was creeping up on them, Sarael returned her attention to the man beside her.

”You appear to know more of me than I do of you, Sir.”

The man nodded calmly, ”I only wish you to pass a message to your Lady…Marece.Tell her… ‘The rays of the moon are bright this night.’ If she wishes to see me, you will bring her response to me here. I will be there at that table in the corner near the fireplace.”

Sarael turned and looked in the direction he had pointed and when she turned back, he was gone. She gulped down the wine and considered pouring more from the bottle, but she did not wish to lose her senses. Sarael gathered up her goods and made for the ramparts. Not once did she see the man in the dull green cloak and hood. When she came to the sixth level, she paused and sat on a bench to rest. She felt better being up near Halvarin’s office. She closed her eyes and let the breeze blow through her hair, resting and gathering her wits before returning to the house to speak with Marece.

Aldamir had slipped to a dark corridor and waited for Sarael to leave. All he could do was hope the maid servant would pass his message on. It was that, or Helda and Vilna would go after her and he did not want that. He thought back to the evening of the tourney in Osgiliath in 1432. He’d muttered those very words as they had walked together, talking of the kingdom and the unrest in the south when the moon broke over the mountains shining its silvery light on to Osgiliath and Lady Amarwen of Edhellond walking by his side. She had been so beautiful, illuminated by the silvery light of the moon, that the words had just fallen out of him.

He’d been so nervous and slightly awestruck that he hadn’t know why he said what he had, but even now he recalled her reply as if she had just said it: ‘as bright as the steel of Gondor’s swords.’

Neither had known what was to come when his grandfather died. No one had foreseen the bloodshed and slaughter that would break over them. She had lost her family, and he had lost his brother all to satisfy the bloodlust of the usurper…and so he had to know why it was she had abandoned their cause and was now married to Castamir’s Northern Lord Commander.


 Post subject: Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards
PostPosted: December 19th, 2017, 7:33 am 
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White Tree Inn, Minas Tirith – November 1442

The stream of people through the door of the White Tree Inn had thickened to the point that it was all but impossible to keep track of who came in. The inn was getting crowded as the daylight hours dwindled, filled with people eager for some warmth at the end of a day’s hard work. There had been ample time for the maid servant to deliver his message and yet, here they still sat. Waiting. Was this Amarwen’s answer? Would he have no recourse but to pursue her by more direct and less gentle meands. Aldamir drummed his fingers on the table in the corner as the two shieldmaidens on either side of him discussed their state of affairs.

”What is to stop her from just having us arrested?” Helda inquired, ”We’re sitting pigeons.”

Vilna corrected.

Aldamir sighed, ”Ducks. Sitting ducks.”

But that was about all he could offer for Helda was correct. If Amarwen was the traitor in their midst, she could have him all neatly wrapped up for Castamir as a result of his actions. Particularly with the combined resources and might of the Lord Commander at her disposal.

”She wouldn’t,” he added and ignored the long suffering look the two women on either side of him exchanged, ”I wouldn’t be here if I thought she would.”

“You wouldn’t be here if you trusted her,”
Vilna said but further discussion was put on hold when a swathed figure was seen to be pressing towards them.

Helda and Vilna tensed beside him but Aldamir stood as the maid servant from earlier in the day emerged from the press of the common room.

”Tell me, good mistress, are the rays of the moon bright this night?”

Sarael considered him, wide eyed and not so much nervous as awe struck. Amarwen must have told her, he concluded.

”Tonight, no,” Sarael answered, ”For the nightsky is thick with cloud.”

Vilna smirked at the response and Helda openly laughed, both of which Aldamir ignored for the Shieldmaidens had no appreciation for the finer points of subterfuge. It was clear, from the way Sarael’s fingers danced before her, that she had not finished what she had come to say.

”Though, ordinarily, they would be bright as the steel of Gondor’s swords… I suppose,” Sarael added and Aldamir smiled at the maid servant and bade her to sit.

Sarael did so as Helda lifted a brow at him, ”And what does any of that serve?”

Aldamir said, his shoulders unknitting in a way they had not for days now.

”Of what,” Vilna asked flatly, as unappreciative as Helda.

That Amarwen had bothered to reply in such a fashion was itself proof she was not their traitor. If she was, she would have just had him arrested and be done with it – the rebellion snuffed out once and for all and the usurper’s grip on the throne cemented. Aldamir, instead, considered the maid servant sitting across the table taking all of this in.

”Would you like some wine, Sararel?” Aldamir asked, putting on what he knew was one of his most charming smiles.

The maid servant nodded, as dazzled as he knew she would be and it was then that the door to the inn was kicked in.

Almost instantly, people began to scatter. There was shouting, swearing, smashing pottery and glass. In the small space of the common room, the din was deafening. Sarael shrieked in genuine alarm.

”Here’s your proof,” shouted Vilna as they ducked down behind their table.

Whether this was a local dispute or a raid, it mattered not. The White Tree Inn, a meeting point for the rebellion for a number of years now, was no longer safe.

And then came the terrible cry: ”FIRE!”

Aldamir reached for the maid servant’s skirt to pull her down but the young woman crouched like a rabbit and eyed them all just a little wildly.

”Follow me,” she hissed.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Amarwen lifted her son from the water and wrapped him tightly in the waiting towel, warmed by the fire and soft. Mindacil loved his bath and he was grinning up at her as she swaddled him. She sang softly whatever came to mind, in this instance an Elvish lullaby from the Second Age, bent over and breathed in the sweet scent of his skin. But as she pulled away again, the window caught her eye. It was dark, well past sunset, and Sarael had yet to return. Amarwen’s singing faltered. She should have gone down to the inn herself.

Only great need would draw Aldamir to the peril that was Minas Anor. Just what he was doing out of Rhovanion she could not guess at. He was his father’s only heir…if Castamir snatched Aldamir up, Eldacar’s bid to regain his throne would be quashed before he could even set foot on Gondor’s soil once more. Whatever it was, she needed to see to it and get Aldamir out of the city with the utmost urgency. Mindacil, meanwhile, gurgled softly and Amarwen’s attention shifted from the window to her son. He had managed to work one soft, chubby arm free of the towel and he reached for her, his little hand opening and closing. His wriggling made him rock back and forth until he got a foot free.

”Come, you little monster,” Amarwen said as she scooped him up into her arms, ”Let’s get you ready to meet your father.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Halvarin burst into laughter at Michas’ quip as they walked home. Despite the fact that they had not seen nor spoken to each other for over a year, their friendship was such that it seemed as though they had only seen each other last week. Still, in that time, Halvarin had married and fathered a son and joined the rebellion.

”This wife of yours,” Michas asked, his amusement fading with the question as he considered Halvarin, ”We did not part on the best of terms.”

“Another time and place, Michas,”
Halvarin said, ”And in any case, if she remained displeased with you, she would not have agreed to have you to dinner.”

“True…all depending on who prepares the food,”
Michas observed at which Halvarin chuckled.

He was still chuckling as they pushed through the door and into the entrance of his home. He had expected to find Sarael waiting to take their cloaks but instead he was greeted by one of the young pages. As he and Michas divested themselves of their cloaks, Halvarin looked up to find Amarwen gliding down the stairs with his son in her arms. Though he invariably found Amarwen lovely, no matter what state of dress she happened to be in, tonight he could see that she had taken some care and the result was…well, he wasn’t the only one holding his breath in the entrance.

’You’re a damned fortunate man,” Michas observed out of the side of his mouth and Halvarin shot his friend a victorious smile.

Michas rolled his eyes at that and that only made Halvarin’s smile widened as Amarwen came down the final stairs with a smooth elegance, ”Well, here is a pleasant surprise. Home early enough to find the both of us still awake!”

Amarwen’s smile softened her words but the message was there all the same as she presented Halvarin with his son. Mindacil added a commentary of his own as he took in his father’s presence and busied himself with the buttons on his jacket, plucking at them with astonishing tenacity.

She reached up on her toes to kiss Halvarin, the gesture intended to be a polite greeting until Halvarin intervened. An arm around her waist pushed her closer and he did not release her lips straight away. At this, Amarwen’s eyes opened and her smile flared into something else. Something he had not seen for a number of days and it made him ache. Mindacil’s fist pounded on his chest, a timely reminder of his presence and just it was he came to be here. Slowly, Halvarin released his wife and she sank back onto her heels once more as she looked past his shoulder to where Michas stood, intently studying a nearby painting.

”Do you prefer landscapes to portraitures, Commander Michas,” Amarwen asked and when he looked away to find her watching him, executed a swift bow that she returned with a graceful curtsy.

”With respect, my Lady, it’s all just paint to me,” he replied and Amarwen smiled as she clasped her hands before her.

”Of course it is,” she said, perfectly polite and yet Michas winced at the implicit edges of her word.

Amarwen, Halvarin knew, could do with words what Michas could do with a sword. Perhaps, he wondered, Michas had been wise to wonder at how things stood with his wife.

”And how is Osgiliath nowadays, Commander?” Amarwen inquired, thick dark lashes fluttering.

Michas smiled at her, seeing this one for what it was despite her efforts, “A perfectly balanced pile of rubble…exceptionally neat, though. That I will say for it.”

Amarwen nodded and turned away from them both, ”Then I will leave you to it, gentlemen, whilst I tend to other matters.”

“Where is Sarael?”
Halvarin asked as Amarwen began to climb the stairs once more.

She paused a brief moment, head bowed and ruby skirts in her hands to lift them free of her feet, ”Running an errand. The day has been quite full of them.”

Both men frowned, catching something in how Amarwen responded, but she did not look back nor offer further explanation as she resumed climbing the stairs.

”I told you she was up to something,” Michas said quietly as Halvarin peered up the stairs after his wife. He grunted at the statement, distracted.

”When is she not, Michas? ” he replied and then looked over to Michas, ”Allow me to offer you a tour of the Lord Commander’s residence.”

“Does it, perchance, lead past a decanter?”

Hansian smiled and Michas grinned at him.

”Then lead on, Lord Commander. Lead on!”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

By the time they had all been seated for dinner, Amarwen was entirely too preoccupied to maintain the faintest semblance of polite conversation. Her contributions consisted of the occasional nod of a head or murmured assent whilst Halvarin and Michas carried the conversation on between themselves with ease. Where was Sarael? Every time the door to the dining hall opened, Amarwen started in her chair only to find it was one of the staff responsible for keeping the table that evening. As a consequence, she was fidgeting like a grounded fish and monosyllabic. Hardly a delightful dinner companion and certainly not in keeping with everything she had learned. The tutors her mother had paid would be quite disappointed, and yet Halvarin and Michas seemed to be unaffected. As if they did not notice.

The door to the dining hall opened again and Amarwen, with some effort, did not look up. She did, however, start when one of the servants reached across to take the plate of food she had barely touched.

”Feeling unwell,” Halvarin inquired from down the end of the table but before she could answer, a page appeared at the door and instead of waiting ran straight into the hall.

Down the table, past Halvarin and Michas he ran and Amarwen climbed to her feet as he drew near. He offered her up a small, folded square of parchment that had been sealed with a grubby dollop of wax – candle wax, unmarked and uncoloured save for the dirt caught within its tallow. Message delivered, the page did not wait. The youth turned and ran right out, back the way he came, leaving Amarwen with the parchment and two men sitting, watching in silence.

Amarwen looked up to find Halvarin gazing at her intently. He arched a dark brow at her and she flicked her eyes to Michas. He leaned back in his chair and crossed his fingers over his middle. Amarwen sat again, broke the hasty seal and what she read made her blood turn cold.

”I…I think I am unwell. I should retire for the night,” Amarwen said just as the servants brought the main meal, ”Please excuse me.”

Her exit was swift and once she gained the door she broke out into an open run to sped past staff in a blur of ruby skirts and black hair. Back in the dining hall, Michas looked down at his freshly arrived dinner. It looked and smelled delicious. Far superior fare that that he enjoyed on an ordinary night at Osgiliath. But it was clear he’d not be enjoying it just yet.

”This, I take it, is not a usual evening in your household?”

“It is not,”
Halvarin confirmed as he stepped out from his chair, ”I’m sorry Michas. I do not know what is unfolding, but I suspect it may be something you are best served avoiding.”

He strode down the hall, pausing at the entrance to their sleeping quarters and then pressing on. Amarwen, he was certain, had not retired to bed. Behind him, rather predictably, Michas followed along. He had never been one to pass up something like this and so he was on hand when Halvarin discovered that the door to Amarwen’s study had been locked.

"Go away!" Amarwen called from within when she heard him try the door.

Muttering, he dug into his pocket and withdrew the master key to the Lord Commander’s residence. There was only one and he had been swift to take it into his keeping upon arrival in Minas Anor. No telling what his wife might do with it. The door unlocked, Halvarin drew a deep breath to gird himself for a likely argument and opened the door. Michas, on his heels, shut it swiftly just as Amarwen turned about, a roll of daggers held open between her hands.

”A word, wife. Now,” Halvarin said as Amarwen glared at him.

”I've no time for arguments,” she replied, her voice as crisp as Halvarin’s.

”Well, that’s nice to hear because the one I did see was quite enough for me, ” Michas quipped, hoping to break the building tension.

For his efforts, both Amarwen and Halvarin scowled at him but at least they were united in their displeasure. Michas pressed his advantage, ”The message.”

Amarwen shook her head, lowered it to stare at the daggers spread out before her and then pressed out a reluctant sigh.

"I don’t know if it was deliberately burned or not,” Amarwen said, ”But the White Tree Inn was raided tonight. Arrests were made.”

“There are raids night and day in this city,”
Halvarin observed.

”Never the White Tree,” Amarwen replied, "It was our most secure safe house. Until tonight.”

“Not our only, surely,”
Halvarin returned and gestured at the weapons spread out on Amarwen's desk, "And no one arrested in the raid is significant enough to warrant your intervention, surely."

“He has a point,”[/i] Michas observed and Amarwen grimaced. Whatever had happened, it was clear that it had frightened and upset Amarwen. She was shaking and she curled her hands into fists to try to contain it.

”Sarael was at the inn,” she said in a low voice at which Halvarin sucked in a sharp breath.

Sarael! Amarwen had told him that she wanted Sarael spared the rebellion’s web, and he agreed. They might be caught fast in it but Sarael need not be. And should they be arrested, then Sarael could be spared. No one could care better for Mindacil than she and it was not their son’s fault that his parents were rebels engaged in high treason. But instead of that, Amarwen had sent Sarael to a rebel safe house that had been raided and then burned down. Sarael, who was known to be a senior member of the Lord Commander’s household. But Amarwen was not done.

”Who was with her,” Halvarin asked and Amarwen’s eyes closed at the question.

Her voice, when it came, was bleak, ”Aldamir.”

”Why would you do this to Sarael, after all we discussed?" Halvarin asked, baffled and disappointed.

”I did not know Aldamir was in Gondor until he approached Sarael this afternoon. If you take issue with her involvement, take it up with the Crown Prince!”

There was a snap to her final statement, something of her own temper slipping her control before she reigned it back, ”Though, truth be told, Sarael has been part of the rebellion for some time now. One of many revelations this day has brought.”

“But how can that be?”
Michas asked and Amarwen rubbed a hand over her face.

”I do not know what would possess Aldamir to come here. I do not know why, after all these years, the White Tree is raided. I am not even certain that he has been arrested…though I must assume that he has been.”

“If he is,”
Halvarin said quietly as he switched mental gears, ”Then as Lord Commander-“

“If they have Aldamir, you cannot touch this, Hal,”
Amarwen said, ”You can’t even know that he is arrested. There is a reason I never recruited the high level authorities of this city. We need a delicate touch with your position. That has not changed.”

“You don’t know who the current networks are in the city,”
Halvarin countered, ”Nor does Michas, for that matter!”

“I usually worked alone in Minas Anor,”
Amarwen answered, her eyes falling to the daggers spread out in their roll on her desk, ”And tonight will be no different when I break Aldamir out and get him gone from this thrice cursed city!”

Halvarin was aghast, “You will be shot, just as Belas was!”

”Belas was a fine man and soldier but what I propose is not taught at the Guild,”
she replied, ”I will do this, with or without your approval or aid. Aldamir is rarely without his shieldmaidens. They will prove assets provided I can locate them swiftly. One in particular, if she’s here.”

Michas breathed as he recalled the woman, and turned to Halvarin, ”If Helda is in the city, Hal…this might work.”

“I do not know this shieldmaiden and I do not share your optimism,”
Halvarin shook his head unhappily, ”And how does any of this help Sarael?”

“I ask for three hours, Hal. I will do my best to get both of them out in that time,"
Amarwen unashamedly pleaded with her husband, her plan reassembling even as she spoke, "Then go to the prison and demand to see the prisoners. They will know you will have received word of the raid by some means. If you see Sarael amongst them, you may be about to vouch for her.”

“And if I see you? What am I do then, Amarwen?”

“If I fail, Halvarin, the rebellion is crushed. It all ends if I cannot win Aldamir free,"
Amarwen drew a deep breath and Michas turned his face away, sensing what she was about to say, "If that happens, you must denounce me as a traitor, get our son and flee for Rhovanion as swiftly as you can. You must do whatever must be done. As must we all in this war."

Halvarin wiped a hand over his face and then shook his head, ”I know it has to be done, Ami. I just…I cannot…”

Something in Amarwen’s face softened as she came forward and wrapped her arms around Halvarin.

”I know, Hal. Truly I do. It is as though you find yourself standing on a dock, waving farewell to the one you love the most knowing they may never come back,” she said softly and with that, Michas knew, gained not so much as Halvarin’s approval but something akin to his consent.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It was no small thing to watch your wife slide into the darkness and lose herself in the shadows beyond. If this went just a little askew…a shiver ran down Halvarin’s spine and he tightened his hold on Mindacil, who slept in his arms unaware of what swirled around him. If Amarwen succeeded, there would a crown prince sleeping under this roof this night before they smuggled him out of the city. If she did not…there was more than the fate of the rebellion and Eldacar’s bid to retake the throne. If Amarwen did not succeed tonight, he would lose his wife and Mindacil would lose his mother.

Movement behind him in the doorway proved to be Michas. He offered Halvarin a sympathetic look, ”She’s done this countless times before, Hal. From all I’ve heard she’s-”

“One of the best,”
Halvarin sighed, finishing the statement for his friend.

That was no shield against something going wrong, though, and both men knew it. Halvarin lowered his son into the cradle and made for the door Michas occupied.

It would take some time for him to adjust to the fact that Sarael, meek and polite and kind natured Sarael was a serving member of the rebellion. Though, in light of that revelation, it made her readiness to intervene against Castamir’s thugs in Pelargir less unlikely. And then there was the fact that Amarwen seemed to be quite familiar with the Crown Prince. She had never mentioned Aldamir to him before. His name had not once come up and she had not known he was in Gondor or Minas Anor…yet she knew who he would be travelling with.

Amarwen was, he knew, the leader of the rebellion in Gondor. There would be all manner of things and people she knew of in that capacity. Still, it was slightly unnerving to be on the edge of all of this despite the fact that he was her husband and a rebel himself. What had Amarwen been up to whilst he was away in Pelargir? What had she been doing here in Minas Anor? He’d been so busy himself that he couldn’t begin to guess.

”Still hungry?” he asked Michas once out in the hall.

”A little,” he replied and so they made for the kitchen to see what, of dinner, remained.

It was as they were picking at a bowl of venison stew that the kitchen door opened to admit none other than Sarael. She was dishevelled, covered in soot and her clothing torn and tattered. But there she was all the same. Her eyes darted around the kitchen before settling on Halvarin and Michas.

”My Lords,” she said, gaze darting out the door she had just crept through and then returning to the few kitchen staff still up at this hour.

”Sarael,” Halvarin replied, rising to his feet to clear the kitchen and send the staff to their rest.

Once that was done, Sarael opened the door wider to admit three others. Two women shuffled through the door, one of them very tall indeed, followed by a man who closed the door and nodded to Michas, who had risen to his feet and then offered a bow.

”This, I take it, is Lord Commander Halvarin,” the man said and Sarael nodded, still peering about the kitchen as if looking for someone else.

”Yes, your Highness,” Sarael answered, distracted, as her attention settled on Halvarin, ”Where is your wife, my Lord?”

“Was just wondering the same thing,”[/i] said the man, whom Halvarin had concluded was Prince Aldamir but paying courtesies to this man was the least of Halvarin’s concerns.

”She is not with you?” he asked Sarael who shook her head.

Dread took root in his stomach and Halvarin bowed over. He was due at the prison in two hours.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Getting into Minas Anor’s prison had never been particularly challenging. When one ingress was closed or repaired, another invariably opened and Amarwen knew this prison as well as the back of her hand. The way in had changed during her absence from the city, but once within it was all as she recalled. No, getting in was simple. It was getting out again that the challenge arose. Tonight…well tonight the earlier escape of one Shieldmaiden made getting out all but impossible. Guards swarmed, thick as ants and she knew better than to try her chances.

Amarwen would have to wait, bide her time. At least she knew Aldamir wasn’t in here for Helda would never had escaped the prison if the Prince was within and alive.


 Post subject: Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards
PostPosted: January 20th, 2018, 2:27 am 
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Rhovanion ~ Winter 1442

Vilmaith was troubled when she discovered that Eldacar did not want her to go south to Gondor with the others. Instead he kept her north to continue overseeing the training of his new Rhovanion army. The King in Exile knew it was a risk sending Vilna and Vidnavi back with Helda and Aldamir, particularly when Vilna’s leg had yet to fully heal. She walked now with a noticeable limp and was not the nimble fighter she had been before Pelargir. Still, separating the sisters was difficult. If Vidnavi went somewhere, so did Vilna. Vilmaith understood this but she could not help by worry about the Prince and her three Shieldmaiden sisters in Gondor. It was a perilous place even if it was a risk Eldacar seemed willing to take.

It wasn’t long before Eldacar called Vilmaith to him.

”Vilmaith, training comes along well. I see you have identified several young leaders in the ranks and had them advanced.”

“Yes m’lord. They are well regarded by the soldiers and they make good decisions on field manoeuvres,”
Vilmaith said.

Eldacar nodded and waved her to sit by him. He poured two drinks of clear distilled spirits into small goblets and one of these he passed to Vilmaith before he seated himself.

”I feared you had been lost during the sacking of Osgiliath. Hearing of Rhinnin’s death, and with Vilna and Vidnavi declared missing, of the shieldmaidens that came south with me in my royal service in 1430, only Helda remained. It was a relief when you came back north! And when Vilna and Vidnavi arrived recently, despite their famished state and Vilna’s injury, it assured me that the Shieldmaidens of Rhovanion are quite resilient. May Rhinnin always be remembered.”

Vilmaith sniffed the strong drink and sipped a small amount of it. Rhinnin had been a loss and Helda, her boon companion, had lost some of her bonhomie as a result.

She looked to Eldacar, ”You didn’t call me to reminisce and sing praises of the Shieldmaidens. Please tell me what you have in mind?”

Eldacar sipped his drink, ”I want you to take Vinyarion with some new regiments and run them south on the west side of the river. We will need good roads when we march.”

~ ~ ~ ~

Minas Anor ~ Winter 1442

Halvarin was surprised to find Aldamir, the son of Eldacar, standing in his kitchen. It was Sarael who convinced Aldamir that he hadn’t walked into a trap or been led to their doom and now it was Halvarin that worried, for where was Amarwen? She was off trying to locate and retrieve this very man from Minas Anor’s prisons. Such was her position within the rebellion that Amarwen only intervened on the most serious of matters. The most perilous. Meanwhile, he had to investigate how it was the White Tree Inn burned down. That would have to come later, after Beregil’s report on the incident.

Halvarin centred his spiralling thoughts and considered his guests. He had, right now, the ear of Prince Aldamir. The Crown Prince! While Sarael and Michas made sure they were secure, Halvarin took Aldamir aside.

”Tell me, how is Vinyarion? I hope he has remained safe through all this, but I have heard naught of his whereabouts.”

Aldamir nodded, ”He is in the north. He got out of Minas Ithil with the last company.”

“It is good to hear,”
Halvarin replied and looked about to see that none of the household staff had stirred at this late hour.

”I have sworn fealty to the true king of Gondor, and I work to see that things are set to right in Gondor. My position as Castamir’s regional commander puts me in both a unique and dangerous position. Should my wife return and join us, know that it will be her that will liase between us. I must keep the appearance of being loyal to the usurper. I hope you understand this?”

Aldamir nodded even as there were voices in the back. Sarael spoke in hushed yet excited tones and she walked out with the Shieldmaidens and Amarwen, dressed in stealthy attire suited to an assassin rather than a noble woman. Aldamir smiled slightly as Amarwen froze. She hadn’t expected the prince, now the Crown Prince, to be in her house. Halvarin observed them for a moment, recalling a time that seemed another lifetime ago, yet was only a little over ten years.

He finally bestirred himself and said, ”Your Highness, I present you my wife, Merece.”

Aldamir’s brows lifted at his choice of name and Amarwen curtsied despite her lack of courtly garb, ”My lord, welcome. Come!”

Aldamir followed Merece to one of the smaller dining rooms at the rear of the house Sarael prepared baths for Vilna and Helda. She needed one herself but she would wait. Curious as he was at what might be said between Aldamir and Amarwen, he moved to the doorway to observe the front door. Bergil might arrive at any moment and he did, too soon, for there was a burned inn to investigate. Halvarin gave his wife a quick signal that he had to leave and accompanied Bergil out for the ruined White Tree Inn.

A safe house for the rebels, in use for years, he had learned this night. Only to burn down the very evening the Crown Prince happened to be under its roof. Too much of a coincidence, Halvarin thought to himself.

”You heard nothing of who may be responsible?” he asked Beregil.

”No, sir. My suspicion is it may be one of the old Castamirian cells. They for the most part incorporated themselves into his ranks when he took over, but I always suspected one, maybe two still operate here, serving him covertly.”

“Yes, my suspicions as well,”
Halvarin answered, noting that it appeared Bergil too knew of the White Tree Inn’s true purpose. How many others did? Was it as secure as the rebellion thought it or had it been compromised for some time?

Halvarin considered that they had been too complacent to think that Castamir didn’t have his own clandestine agents about. In Pelargir he had his contacts inside, but not here. He had to be ever so careful. They would be watching Amarwen too, given Castamir’s desire to possess her. Yes… Halvarin looked about to see if anyone followed them but all appeared the same as it always did. He was the Lord High Commander. If Castamirian agents did not wish to see him dead, rouge rebels of the kind that had assassinated his father on the streets of Pelargir just might.

The inn was little a pile of rubble and smouldering wood beams when they arrived. It was fortunate that only two people died but many had wounded and these were tended in a makeshift shelter. Halvarin and Beregil stepped through the ruins looking for signs of life and any clue they could find.

It had gotten late by the time they were satisfied with the investigation. The clean-up would start in the morning. Halvarin wanted the debris removed something built in its place for he was not going to let Minas Anor become like Osgiliath. He ordered a full report from Beregil and after he left, Halvarin looked about in the street. According to two eye witnesses, the first flaming pitchball came in through the door when it was pushed open. The second came through a window, and a third came from the alley. It did not get too far as people had started to run outside, so Halvarin took a walk around to where the back door used to be.

This one was last and most hastily thrown. It was likely done by the same person who threw the first, causing the delay. Anxious to get away after two balls of pitch had been tossed, fearful of being discovered in possession of the third. Despite the dirt having been trampled, Halvarin found something. A burnt jacket sleeve. He picked up the remnant of cloth and found it had a cufflink… A Guild cufflink!

He quickly looked around and stuffed the remnant into his cloak. He knew now that it wasn’t any of the old cells, for they would not be so careless. Halvarin walked slowly looking for anything else, but with the moonlight waning now, he returned home. When he came toward his residence, there were two guards standing on each side. Halvarin feared then that Aldamir was discovered and had been arrested but as he approached, he could see they were Vilna and Helda in Gondorian cloaks and helms. Good enough for the darkness, but he waved then inside as he closed the door behind him.

”It is best you watch from this side of the door. If anyone breaks through, kill them.”

The Shieldmaidens were silent, and looked over to Amarwen who came from the back dining room. She shot the two women a tense look, at which the Shieldmaidens looked abashed and uncomfortable.

”I’d do what he says, were I you,” she informed them, her tone matching her nonplussed expression and then beckoned Halvarin to follow her.


 Post subject: Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards
PostPosted: January 20th, 2018, 6:47 am 
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Osgiliath ~ Winter 1442

As soon as they had the relative privacy of the hall, Amarwen wound her arms around Halvarin and held onto him fiercely. She buried her face against his chest and could not be moved from that position. Halvarin leaned back against the wall to support their combined weight and wrapped his arms around his wife.

”A disaster, from top to tail, this night has been,” she whispered and breathed in deeply, ”What did you find at the inn?”

At her question, Halvarin dug into his pocket and extracted his discovery. Sharp eyed, Amarwen immediately noted the cufflink.

”New design,” she remarked softly as she turned it over and then pressed out a sigh, ”At least they’re sloppier than their predecessors.”

“What of our…house guests?”

“Aside from the two you have already encountered, the third rests in the guest quarters. As does Michas. I’ve dispatched Sarael to her rest as well. She’s had quite the trial today.”
Again, he heard the buzz of anger in Amarwen’s voice but she shook her head and returned the torn sleeve to his keeping, ”On the morrow, our guests leave.”

“Is that wise?”
he countered, ”The city is…restless. On edge. Watching.”

“Exactly…and if they are seen here, in the Lord Commander’s residence?”
Amarwen shook her head firmly from side to side, ”I will not, I cannot, put our son in such peril.”

Their exchange had turned risky for a hallway and so Halvarin wrapped his hand around Amarwen’s and towed her after him to their bedroom. He closed the door and when he turned back again, Amarwen had sat on the end of their bed. She was bent forward and stared at the floor but his approach brought her eyes up to his.

”I know who the traitor is, Hal,” she said softly, her eyes both sad and angry, ”Proving it, though, will be difficult indeed.”

“Have you told Aldamir?”
he asked and Amarwen grimaced.

”The Prince…he,” she sighed heavily and shook her head, ”They are here because they thought it was me.”

Halvarin stared at her, stunned, ”How can that be?”

“Half truths, assumptions,”
Amarwen wearily answered, ”The usual tragedy of errors. And, because of that, the Prince is not inclined to so readily accept my word on the matter. One would think my parents had not laid their lives down for those of his own.”

Halvarin winced at that and shook his head, ”He came all the way from Rhovanion for this?”

“Ah, well, there at least I have glad tidings. It would appear that the men of Minas Ithil no longer support the usurper. Had not Helda discovered that I was the wife of the new High Lord Commander, there he would be now, shoring up support for his father.”

The bed shifted as Halvarin sat beside her and Amarwen let her head rest upon his shoulder.

”How did Helda come to discover you were in Minas Anor?”

“My error, it would seem, was in looking out of the window,”
Amarwen answered and Halvarin felt his stomach tighten.

If Helda could so easily observe Amarwen, what was to stop a few rogue partisans unaware of her role within the rebellion? Or one of Castamir’s agents intent on delivering up the prize their lord so keenly desired.

”Come,” he said, unwilling to broach this now, ”We are both weary. To bed with us, my love.”

Amarwen replied fulsomely and it was not long before they had curled up and around each other under the covers.

With Halvarin’s warmth fitted at her back, the weight of his arm pulled over her and the other under her head, Amarwen drifted in that restless plane between wakefulness and sleep. Tonight, she had risked Sarael, Halvarin and yes, even baby Pip for this cause and it galled her. But after tonight, there would be changes. Yes. Because she knew who the traitor was and she would bring his mischief to an end once and for all.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Aldamir stared at the ceiling. It was still dark but dawn was not far off. They’d have to be on their way again. Amarwen had laid out how to get out of Minas Anor hours before and it was, he could admit, ingenious. Even in the city’s heightened state, he could be confident that he would be able to return to Minas Ithil without so much as a ripple.

His thoughts turned, then, to the other things they had discussed. Amarwen had been so offended at the suggestion that she was the traitor in their midst. In truth, by the time he’d had the opportunity to lay the accusation before her, he’d already acquired his own doubts. Sarael had led them faithfully to safety. It would have been so easy for her to betray them and she was, he knew, a loyal servant to Amarwen. Then there had been everything Michas had divulged on this score, whilst Halvarin was called away and Amarwen was busy tending to their son. Without Halvarin’s sizeable estate, the rebellion would not be as strong as it was now.

If he could establish that Amarwen and Halvarin had successfully expanded the network to Pelargir itself, as well as infiltrating the Guild…oh, he was so proud of her. She had been so young when he had met her, and she still was. But, if it all was true, Amarwen had achieved that which no one had deemed plausible. To turn the Guild upon itself…The woman that had been all but betrothed to him had come into her own. And as for that…well…

he was honest with himself, he could not say the same of the woman that was to be his second wife. He admired her. Appreciated her.. She was dear to him. But he did not love her as he had his first wife. Truth be told, to find her married instead to Halvarin of Pelargir was no great surprise. He had known from the first he had seen them set eyes upon each other at the feast ten years ago that there was more there than friendship. Despite her father’s assurances otherwise. Therald had not struck him as a deceitful man then and did not now. If he had been, he would have surely changed allegiances as so many others did rather than be captured, tortured and executed with his brother.

Moving carefully, Aldamir swung from his bed and padded towards the door. He cracked it to find Vilna standing outside. Where Helda was he could not guess, likely keeping a low profile for Amarwen had been furious with the Shieldmaiden for doubting her and Helda, being Helda, had taken it to heart. He knew she’d shake it off in time for such was Helda’s nature.

At his appearance, Vilna informed him, ”All is ready.”

“Give me ten,”
Aldamir replied and at Vilna’s nod, closed the door again.

It did not take him long to ready himself. Despite his instincts, he had slept ready to move at a moment’s notice. That habit would die hard, he suspected. He raked a hand through his hair, noted a fey grey strands clung to his fingers when he withdrew them, and then considered the writing table in the room. It stood with all he needed and the urge to say something was strong in him.

Oh how her eyes had flashed, like the stars that burned a path to the sea from time to time, as he laid out to case against Amarwen. Her nostrils had flared and her hands had curled and had she wished to, she could have drawn any number of weapons she likely bore in her assassin’s garb. But Amarwen had not done any such thing.

Rather, she had dismantled every point, posed her own compelling questions and then dispatched him, like an errant boy, to his room to think about his misdeeds. Despite the fact that he was old enough to be her father, had once been betrothed to her in all but fact and was now the Crown Prince. Distant though her royal lineage might be, she had reminded him then of the fact that her veins carried the blood of Hyarmendacil as well.

A simple case of mistaken identity. It was as plausible, perhaps moreso, than the case Helda had brought him. Long did he consider writing something but in the end, Aldamir decided that it would be too risky to leave anything with his hand upon it.

And so, the Crown Prince slipped out of the guest quarters and made his way to the laundry. It lay quiet and still, Michas guarding the door from any household staff inclined to get an early start on the day. To his surprise, Aldamir found that both Amarwen and Halvarin waited within. He had thought they would withdraw, keep their distance. Halvarin had made it clear how precarious his position was. It was a risk Aldamir knew only too well.

Helda and Vilna murmured quiet thanks to Sarael, who had led them so ably, and then nodded to Halvarin. They paused, reluctant to hail Amarwen until she pulled first one and then the other to her. Aldamir noted that he was not the only one surprised.

”We will only prevail if we cleave together,” Amarwen said and both the Shieldmaidens nodded emphatically. With a brief glance to Aldamir, the Shieldmaidens slipped out of the laundry door to clear the way ahead. That left Aldamir behind. Halvarin met his eyes for a moment, inclined his head and wished him a safe path. The tension was palpable as he strode from the laundry, leaving Aldamir and Amarwen to face each other.

”I want to believe you,” he told her and then regretted that immediately, ”How old is your son?”

“He is not yet one,”
Amarwen replied, her voice stiff, and Aldamir nodded.

”Protect your family, for when they are gone you have nothing,” he said.

Amarwen lifted her eyes from the floor and met his own solemnly, ”I know. A report on this will go to your father.”

Though he knew this was not the moment and that it never would be, Aldamir was struck by a sensation familiar to him. He quashed it, for Amarwen had married another and, with a nod of his head, joined the two Shieldmaidens waiting beyond the laundry. The dawn air was frigid. Bracing. Just what he needed and Aldamir drew it into his lungs.

He found the two women quietly discussing something between them and their conversation quickly curtailed at his approach.

”- can see why she straddled that sailor,” Helda said and Vilna shook her head.

”The way ahead is clear,” Vilna said as Helda rolled her shoulders.

’I’ll scout,” she declared and neither Aldamir nor Vilna objected.

The trio was soon on their way and slipped safely and unobserved out of the city just as Amarwen had said they would. In the laundry itself, Amarwen locked the door and turned for the threshold that Michas had guarded. She found Halvarin was there instead.

”They have gone,” he observed as she walked towards him and Amarwen nodded, for this was so.

”I will hear if they are detained at any point along the way,” she replied as Halvarin slipped back into the laundry and closed the door.

”Good,” he said as he locked it and turned about to face her again.

”What are you doing?” Amarwen asked, intrigued as he came towards her.

He said not a word and instead pressed his mouth to hers. Halvarin kissed her in a way he had not done so for weeks now. Such had been the demands upon them both and those demands continued now but even so, they fell away as he pushed them further into the laundry.


 Post subject: Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards
PostPosted: January 26th, 2018, 12:43 am 
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Minas Anor – November 1442

The lovers had fallen into a dreamy slumber in the laundry but as Halvarin stirred drowsily, laid out in a pile of laundered bedding beside Amarwen, it was to the sound of movement just outside the door. He had locked it, he was certain, but then what if there was more than one key? The sound of another key sliding into the lock prompted him to spring into action. He managed to pull his breeches into place before the door swung open and Amarwen was sleepily pulling a sheet over her as Sarael stepped through the door.

The maid froze as she clapped eyes on him standing there and exclaimed, ”Lord Halvarin!”

Amarwen woke proper at that and sat upright, revealing herself to be more than a rounded lump of laundry. Black hair touselled, Amarwen blinked as a flush spread over Sarael’s face. She was rapidly piecing together what she had walked in on.

“Lady Marece? I – I did not…I was…” Sarael stammered, ”I.. the laundry. I did not mean to interrupt…”

Whilst Sarael didn’t know what to say, little Mindacil began to squeal from her arms. He had espied his mother and he reached for her hungrily, small hands grasping in his need. Her clothing adjusted, Amarwen rose from the laundry and took him from Sarael. No sooner was he in Amarwen’s arms did the infant begin pulling at her clothing and she turned away to tend to her son. The sound of Mindacil greedily nuzzling was soon heard and Halvarin raked his fingers through his own rumpled dark hair as he watched on from his vantage.

”Lucky little monster,” he affectionately growled, mildly envious, and Amarwen looked up to flash him a brief, bright smile.

Movement at the edge of Halvarin’s vision turned his attention back to Sarael and he found she had started to leave, likely eager to quit the laundry as soon as she could.

Amusing as this might before for Amarwen and himself, he could appreciate just how uncomfortable the maid might be and they could ill afford to alienate Sarael. She knew too much after so long in their household, even if she did not know Amarwen’s true identity.

”Your tireless service to this house and my family is truly appreciated, Sarael,” he said in a bid to try to smooth the waters but this only served to deepen Sarael’s acute embarrassment.

She bobbed a curtsy, eyes locked on the floor and beside him Amarwen struggled with their son. Mindacil was unsettled and could not remain attached.

”Come my love, let us get out from under Sarael’s feet,” he said, ”Perhaps Pip will settle in more familiar surrounds.”

Mindacil continued to fuss as Amarwen carried him out of the laundry, past Sarael, and into the hall. Once there, Halvarin and Amarwen could no longer hold back their laughter though they kept it quiet lest Sarael hear them. This only agitated Mindacil further and Halvarin noted that the infant’s cheeks were a bright red. He took his squirming, irritable son from Amarwen’s arms and laid him over his shoulder. Mindacil did seem to settle a little as he took in this new arrangement but soon he was kicking and squirming. Little fists banged on Halvarin’s shoulder and Mindacil squawked in displeasure. Together, husband and wife retraced the path they had taken from the family quarters, the halls of the residence still slow and quiet in the early hour aside from Mindacil’s whining.

Instead of returning the child to the nursery, Halvarin carried him into the bedroom he shared with Amarwen and transferred Mindacil back to her. She laid the squirming lad out on their bed, peering at him intently, and gently placed the length of a finger in his mouth. He sucked on this noisily as Halvarin’s thoughts turned to the night before.

”Teething,” Amarwen sighed, ”Little wonder he is so irritable.”

She scooped Mindacil up into her arms, sat on the edge of the bed, and again tried to feed him. This time, he settled more readily, and Amarwen pressed out a sigh.

”I expect you will be kept busy today, my love,” she said and Halvarin nodded.

”Investigations into the fire will continue and then there is the matter of those arrested. I will be up to my ears in reports until well past sundown,” he replied and then shifted course, ”But, that is to be expected. Tell me more of this traitor, Ami.”

Amarwen shook her head slowly, ”Aldamir was right, Hal. I need more than my suspicions in this. Obvious as it may seem to me, it is entirely possible that I am mistaken.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Minas Anor – November 1443

The small space smelled of rotting potatoes and damp but those pressed into it made no comment of it. Their attention lay elsewhere.

”Our error,” said one gap toothed matron, ”Was in thinking the death of the old Lord Commander would fix anything. Should have known he’d be replaced by another.”

Those around her nodded, some murmuring agreement at her statement. Their victory in killing Minas Anor’s previous Lord Commander had been short lived for the Usurper had been swift to appoint a successor. Since Lord Commander Halvarin’s arrival, their most prized location in the city had burned down and scores arrested. Some had managed to slip free, but not enough. They were reeling and they were on their own for the group of rebels that considered themselves the official resistance shied away from them. They were too concerned with keeping themselves secret and hidden but skulking in shadows would not break the usurper’s grip on the city.

The fire at the Harlond proved that bold action was what they needed. Two years ago now, they’d had the Guild in Minas Anor on the backfoot and what had the rebellion done? Retreated. Let it all go fallow.

There in the press of partisans stood a youth. Gangly he was now, his limbs stretching, but he had been a boy at the time of his arrest with the Harlond Five. He recalled well the woman that had come to steal him away on the eve of their execution. She came out of nowhere, appearing in the prison as if she had walked through the shadows. Black hair, she was very pretty and very good at picking locks.

He hadn’t been involved in the firing of Harlond but he’d been fiercely proud of it. Frightening as the prospect of hanging was, the other older partisans rounded up with him, had told him that everyone knew they were innocent. Even the Guildsmen that arrested and convicted them knew it. He’d been prepared to go to his death but the woman had come and taken him away with the others he’d been arrested to.

He’d had plans of settling when she took him to Edhellond. She’d found him a couple willing to take him in. He’d have a roof over his head, food in his belly and he’d not need to worry about being arrested. It had seemed nice…but then the woman had left and, well, old habits died hard so here he was, back in Minas Anor. Minas Anor, these people, they were his home and so the youth spoke up.

”We have to kill this new Lord Commander,” he said, ”And keep on killing them until they find us or the usurper withdraws.”

It seemed obvious enough to him and what was better, he knew already how they might accomplish this, ”My cousin Mardil has been appointed his adjutant. We already have our way in.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Minas Anor – Mettarë

The Lord Commander’s residence was ablaze with lanterns that shone brightly during the annual mid-winter celebration. Many of the city’s great manses were thrown open and the city’s people wandered the snowy streets, sampling the food and drink as they passed up and down the wide avenues of the upper levels. There were fire eaters, tumblers and minstrels and in the small squares people gathered, danced and laughed with one another.

Mettarë always brought out a festive cheer, though the merriment seemed stark and almost desperate against the reality Gondor faced. Food again was scarce, the cost of bread and grain beyond what most could afford. Work was scarcer still, save those who had managed to secure positions in the various businesses of the city’s nobility. Why, the Lord Commander himself was said to employ scores alone, his empire reaching as far as Pelargir even! What would happen if, not when, Eldacar returned? Even if the line of Kings was restored and the usurper deposed, the people of Minas Anor knew their suffering would not be at an end.

Mardil knew that his commander, Lord Halvarin, bore considerable weight upon his shoulders. Yet, as he stepped into the entrance of the Lord Commander’s residence, he found his commander in good cheer. Lord Halvarin wore a broad smile and his eyes twinkled for there, at his side, was one of the fairest women Mardil had ever set eyes on. Lady Marece, the Lord Commander’s wife, was the niece of prominent Guild Captain Silares. He’d met her some weeks ago now and had been so overwhelmed that his tongue had unhelpfully adhered itself to the roof of his mouth. Tonight he had steeled himself and his tongue remained free as he closed on his Commander.

”A joyous Mettarë to you, Lord Commander,” he said, pleased with his composure and Lord Halvarin reached forward to grasp his forearm warmly.

”And to you, Mardil,” he replied and looked to Marece, ”Have you met my wife?”

“We have,”
Lady Marece said, her smile such that he wondered if she had known just how she had affected him the last time.

Mardil clicked the heels of his well polished boots together and executed a crisp bow as she arched an ebony brow at him.

”My Lady,” he said, entirely coherent, and straightened whilst congratulating himself.

”Have you had a pleasant evening, Mardil?” Lady Marece inquired, a glass of wine dangling elegantly from one hand.

He drew his breath to comment just as he saw Sarael and all his composure and wits scattered. Sarael was not as beautiful as Lady Marece. She was not made of the same stuff, frankly, but this was what drew Mardil to her. Sarael held an honest, straightforward appeal whereas Lady Marece – well, she was dangerous even if she wasn’t his commanding officer’s wife. As Sarael took him in, her face lit with delight and she raised an arm overhead to wave at him. As if he’d fail to notice her.

Amarwen chuckled into her wine as Halvarin’s adjutant moved off, a man almost in a trance.

”Poor fellow,” Halvarin observed quietly, ”I think I know how that will end.”

“If he thinks Sarael an easy mark, he’s another thing coming to him,”
Amarwen said and then turned to Halvarin, eyes alight with an idea, ”Let’s have your adjutant over to dinner.”

“If you agree to be on your very best behaviour, my love.”

“When am I not,”
Amarwen returned, rising on her toes to nibble at Halvarin’s lower lip.

She knew what he thought of that and felt, rather than heard, his low rumbling moan against her.

As she sank back again, Halvarin murmured in her ear, ”The last dinner guest we had over resulted in you rushing out into the night!”

He referred, of course, to Michas and Amarwen sipped at her wine unruffled.

”Extenuating circumstances, and not of my making,” she replied and then turned as a roving band of minstrels paused before their door out in the street.

Amarwen turned back, eyes aglow and held out a hand to Halvarin, ”Dance with me, Lord Commander?”

His eyes did not leave hers as he raised her hand to his mouth and softly, sensuously pressed his lips to it.

Mardil was, it was safe to say, a little tipsy. Most of Minas Anor was, even the Lord Commander, his exquisite wife and Sarael. Sarael had even kissed him! Just a brief, fleeting brush of her lips against his. She was so shy. Still, there had been no mistaking what it was and so his heart nearly filled his entire chest and threatened to displace his stomach. Humming a snatch of music he had heard during the night, he danced lightly the remaining steps to his door and unlocked it.

It was dark within but it mattered not. Even a little tipsy, Mardil knew the layout like the back of his own hand. And so, when he heard movement in the shadows within, he was startled until he heard his cousin speak.


Mardil replied, ”I won’t do it. He’s a good man!“

“He’s one of them.”

“He has a baby son and a wife and-“

“We just want to talk to him. That’s all,”
his young cousin said but the last Lord Commander his cousin had spoken too had ended up with his neck broken.

An accident, they said, but Mardil had his doubts. He should report his cousin…or warn the Lord Commander, at least, of the fate of his predecessor but if he did that then like as not he’d wind up in a cell himself. And he wasn’t a rebel. Not really.

”Please, Mardil.”

“I need to think about it,”
he said, more in a bid to get his firebrand cousin out of his rooms as soon as possible.

”Don’t take too long…No telling what might happen if we have to find another way…”

With that his cousin was gone. His threat hung in the air long after.


 Post subject: Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards
PostPosted: February 8th, 2018, 5:40 am 
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The festivities that marked Mettarë caused a momentary lull in his duties and a week later, Halvarin found that lull had ended. He spent little time at home for his duties as Lord Commander of the northern region were demanding. It was a role with varied responsibilities that proved time consuming. The mysterious circumstances surrounding his predecessor’s departure from the position only exacerbated that. Still, Halvarin felt he was making headway for the orders and edicts that had streamed from Castimir had now slowed to a trickle. He was hopeful, then, that in another week he might be able to spend more time at home. Mindacil was growing so very swiftly.

In order to reach that goal, Halvarin had pressing matters to attend to. There was the destruction of the Inn to address. The investigation for that continued and he plans to finalise for its reconstruction once the weather and season allowed. The city, thankfully, had not seen a repeat of that fiery violence since. Save for the unrest that flared in market places, driven by storages, the city was quiet. However, those shortages concerned Halvarin deeply. The grain reserves strained and the people were short of bread. This had prompted Halvarin’s introduction of rationing, a necessary if unpopular move as far as the citizen of Minas Anor were concerned. Aside from the merchants who had profited from the soaring prices, the city’s people seemed to take it in their stride. That said, Halvarin expected word would flow to Castimir’s ear. Once it did, Halvarin knew he’d have to deal with it.

Since the deposition of Eldacar, the seasons had been disrupted in Gondor. There was too much rain when it was not needed, and the sun and heat would dry everything out earlier and earlier each year. His wife believed this to be the land itself rebelling under an unjust and illegitimate king. Yet, if this were so, the farmers still somehow managed to eke out a crop. How they did it year by passing year, beset with one calamity or another, was nothing short of astonishing.

All of this was quite bad enough as it was. The ever increasing tributes levied by Castamir made circumstances so desperate that in some tracts of Gondor, the ghastly spectre of famine had risen. Consequently, Halvarin knew he had to remain alert. To the people of Minas Anor, though he be the outward symbol of Castimir’s cruel reign, he did what he could to buffer the common folk of the north from that reign.

On this particular day, Halvarin had somewhat ambitious plans to return to home early. Early enough to find his son and wife awake. Perhaps even share an evening meal with them. With this in mind, he had arisen early to venture to the Harlond where he was to review the rebuilt quay. He’d not told Amarwen of this, for the events that had led to the quay being rebuilt were still difficult for them both. The weather was cold and icy. Travel to the Harlond would prove slow but by the time he had concluded the review, Halvarin was optimistic that he’d be home again in time for dinner. He smiled to himself in anticipation at surprising Amarwen.

The erratic flurries of snow that had marked the morning thickened into a heavier fall that blew down the Anduin from the north. He and Mardil readied their horses for the return to Minas Anor under heavy skies that closed rapidly over their heads.

As they mounted, Mardil observed with a shiver, ”The ride back will be a chilly one. Visibility is terrible. I hope this blows over quickly.”

Now, Halvarin’s adjutant had already made an impression on him as a dedicated, driven young man. Still, even for Mardil, his manner of late had struck Halvarin as agitated. And so, as Mardil looked about them so did Halvarin for uneasiness was infectious. The heavier snow greedily ate up the sound around them. The Harlond was muffled but not enough to deaden Halvarin’s hearing entirely. He swiftly turned to Mardil to find him toppling towards him. Halvarin rushed to catch the man before crashed into the frozen ground and all went suddenly black when something hit the back of Halvarin’s head.

A passing guard found Mardil laying in the snow some time later. He helped Mardil to his feet man up and examined his head.

”I think this needs seeing to.”

Mardil studied his surrounds, blinking. The two horses stood there still but Halvarin was nowhere to be seen. And immediately, his cousin came to mind.

”Halvarin! The Lord Commander has been waylaid! He must be found! Surely there is something to follow in all this snow!”

These tidings were far from welcome and the guard soon realized this. Another Lord Commander gone missing, and this one on their watch. There would be trouble over this, he knew, and his misgivings grew when he realized the squall of snow had obscured any tracks. A search was performed all the same. They found nothing. No sign of the Lord Commander nor anyone else for that matter.

Mardil brooded over the grim task that lay ahead of him as his head was bandaged. To him would fall the responsibility of conveying the tidings to the Lord Commander’s wife. He issued orders to the city guard to sweep the area thoroughly. He instructed the Master of the Quay to thoroughly check anyone boarding vessels in the Harlond. Further, no goods were to be loaded without a visual check. It was all Mardil could think of, bar locking down the quay itself, to prevent Halvarin from being spirited out of Harlond itself. He waited as long as he could before he made his way back to Minas Anor. The ill news he bore weighed heavily upon him.

Mardil arrived at the Lord Commander’s residence at evenfall. He straightened himself as best he could on his way to the door, drew a deep breath and knocked. It was not long before Sarael opened the door. She smiled, well pleased to find Mardil standing there.

”Adjutant Mardil, please come in. It is dreadfully cold out there. Whatever happened to you?”

Sarael closed the door after Mardil and peered at his bandaged head with no small degree of curiosity. He brushed, delicately, the snow out of hair as Lady Marece ventured into the entrance. Her son was happily held in her arms, nuzzling at his mother’s warmth. He swallowed as Lady Marece took in his appearance.

”M’lady Merece, there is no easy way to say this, but there was an incident in Harlond. We were set upon and Halvarin was taken. We are, as I stand here, searching for him even now. Your husband will be found.”

Sarael rushed to the side of Merece and took her infant son from the Lady’s arms as she swung away from Mardil. Not for the first time did Mardil observe a closeness, an intimacy, between the Lord Commander’s wife and the maid she entrusted her household to. Lady Marece drew a deep breath that quivered and then turned back to regard him. Her expression was wan but otherwise composed. A formidable woman, he thought to himself as his study fell to her hands. He saw she had curled her fingers tightly, but whether to prevent them from shaking or as a result of rising anger, he could not say.

”Adjutant Mardil,” she said "I would have you speak of what occurred.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

A splitting headache greeted Halvarin upon stirring. Dark as it was, a small strip of light shone from under a door. He crawled over to peer under the door but saw little of consequence. His ears, though, proved more valuable. There were voices he could hear and this drew his interest. He could not recognize them, and hence guess at who was responsible for this, but he could hear them arguing. His hearing strained to make out their words and when he could he grasped that the bone of contention was himself. Only…not, they argued over what to do with them…

Halvarin peered about the room, or cell, he had woken in and confirmed that he was alone. There was no one else with him in here, but how many others were there confined in other cells like his own? As he considered this, the debate settled and shortly after that he heard the rattle of a key in the lock on his door. The door soon opened, bathing Halvarin in a momentarily blinding shaft of light that made him squint. Once his eyes adjusted, Halvarin found he was no longer alone. A man he had never seen before, with the weathered appearance of a fellow mariner, studied him. Another two men stood behind him.

”Lord Commander Halvarin, permit me to apologise for the manner in which you were brought to us.”

“What do you want?’
Halvarin demanded, no patience for empty apologies, ”Where is Mardil?”

The captor did not apologise to the prisoner and the two men that stood with his captor confirmed that this was not a social occasion. And now he understood Amarwen’s chilly contempt when their paths had first crossed at Osgiliath. His jailor turned as his two men escorted out of his cell and into the lighted room beyond. He was seated on a stool before their exchange continued.

”It was necessary to have you taken unexpected,” he was told, ”Though unnecessary force was used to accomplish this feat. Your injuries will be tended to shortly.”

Halvarin took a deep breath, ”Who are you?”

His jailor dismissed the two men he had arrived with and, once this was done, seated himself on the other side of a small table.

”I am Canimir, and we are the Black Scouts, an elite unit that answers directly to Castamir. We brought him to power and we keep him there. That you do know of us, of me,’ Canimir paused to offer what may have been a smile.

Halvarin studied Canimir and decided that these men were unlikely to bother with firing of the White Tree Inn. Even so, it was likely they knew who was. He played for time, adjusting his soiled coat.

“Why, then, snatch one of Castimir’s own commanders from his appointed duties? We serve the same king.”

“You may well do, but the same cannot be said of others in your command. They gather already… planning harm and mayhem. It is this we watch for.”

Who did they suspect? Who did they watch? Amarwen? He knew that she had not been idle in Minas Anor. There was nothing for it but to confront it.

”May I get word to my wife? We have a young son and I do not wish for her to fret. I will her I was called away on an urgent matter for the realm.”

Canimir raised an eyebrow at this and rose to fetch a parchment, “You are quite smart for a Lord Commander, for this is precisely what we had planned. Read this, and then sign it.”

Halvarin sighed as he read the parchment and then shook his head.

He laughed slightly ”You are bold indeed to make such assumptions of the Lord Commander.”

“By now, surely, you must know that Lord Commanders come and go quite easily.”

Halvarin sat back, “I may have no knowledge of my predecessor’s true fate, but I am sure that you do.”

He looked at Canimir as saw from the man’s reaction, or lack thereof, confirmation.

”Very well,” Halvarin relented, ”I will do this but I must write this in my own hand. My wife will recognize this. She knows it well…and only then will she know it to be authentic despite whatever she may have learned from my adjutant.”

Canimir scratched at his chin a moment, nodded and then motions for fresh parchment. Once this was to hand, Halvarin commenced scratching out a message in his own flowing script. It read much as the other had save for an addition at the end.

Trust that the stars of Varda shine upon us, my love. The cross is bright and the seven bind us together.

Uncertain as he was that Amarwen would understand, he had to trust to Varda and Amarwen’s wits. Halvarin signed it in his script and turned it over to Canimir for examination.

He scanned it quickly before he looked up again, “Stars?”

“I’m a Master Navigator of the Guild. What do you expect?”

Halvarin met Canimir’s scruitiny without flinching and after a long moment, the man rolled it up. He set a seal to it and issued it to another for immediate delivery.

”You must remain here, for now. For your own safety,” Halvarin touched his aching head as proof of that lie and Canimir was compelled to add, ”Again, I apologise for the rough manner in which you were dealt with.”

Halvarin nodded carefully at this, committing every detail of Canimir to memory for his next report. He was soon returned to his cell where he found a cot, a proper one, had been installed. He fell onto it, exhausted, and was lost immediately in a deep sleep that only woke when he heard a muffled scream in the darkness.

He awoke suddenly in the dark, hearing a muffled scream. He went to the door and found it locked once more. A prisoner still, prisoner even if he was not left to sleep on the stone floor of cell. Again, Halvarin was uncomfortably reminded of Amarwen’s early days in Osgiliath under his command. He pushed this aside and strained to hear more. Who else might be here, he wondered, but in short order the disturbance faded. He had little recourse but to bide his time and as he did so, Halvarin swore he would have his revenge upon the lawless rogues of Castamir’s… one day.


 Post subject: Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards
PostPosted: February 9th, 2018, 6:25 am 
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Location: The Forbidden Pool
Country: Gondor (xg)
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Minas Anor – January 1443

Sarael clutched at her skirts nervously as she watched her mistress complete her preparations, ”This…this is dangerous, m’lady.”

“It is,”
Marece concurred, her voice steady.

”It could well be a trap.”

“If so, they will soon come to rue it,”
came the answer and Marece turned about to lift her chin, ”Will this serve?”

Sarael swallowed at the question and closed her eyes for her mistress looked every inch the part – prepared to do whatever needed to be done no matter how humiliating or repugnant. She ducked her head and heard the rustle of her mistress’ fine gown as she passed her by.

”You understand your own part?” Marece asked as Sarael fell into step behind her.

”Yes,” she answered with little enthusiasm, ”But I should rather remain with you.”

“That cannot be, Sarael. In any case, I will have Mardil with me,”
Sarael nodded unhappily and Marece continued, ”You know the watchwords?”

“I have memorised them. Will they work?”

“Let us hope so,”
Marece muttered, ”Partisans are an unruly lot. In truth, Sarael, it is you I worry for.”

“A fine pair we make, m’lady,”
Sarael observed, ”Each of us fretting for the other.”

Marece turned about at that, pulling on richly embroidered gloves with a thick fur trim, and offered Sarael a brief smile.

”We had each best look to ourselves, I think,” she said softly and reached out both arms to grasp Sarael’s shoulders, ”Take care, Sarael…return to us safely.”

Marece gave her shoulders a brief squeeze before her hands dropped away. Out in the main parlour, Mardil waited. Marece had located for the young adjutant suitable garb for the weather and he’d managed to smooth his hair into something resembling order. Still, his features were pinched with alarm when Sarael and Marece joined him. Marece made for where her thick winter cloak hung and set to readying herself for the frigid streets without as Sarael drew closer to Mardil.

”These men…they are vipers, Mardil. They bear my mistress no good will.”

“How can you be so certain?”
Mardil asked, puzzled for he had seen no such animosity in the men he was to escort the Lord Commander’s wife to. Why, they had even allowed the Lord Commander to write to his wife. He’d seen the missive delivered with his own eyes only an hour ago.

”Guard her well, Mardil, please?” Sarael implored and Mardil nodded, confused.

What else did Sarael think he would do, he wondered, but he not inquire further for Lady Marece drew near.

”Ready, Adjutant?” she inquired and at his sharp nod of assent, she drew up the deep and heavy cowl of her cloak.

Sarael remained where she was as the door swung closed after them both. Then, she turned away to seek out the partisans as Marece had bidden her. If they could be found.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

”Mistress Marece,” drawled a familiar looking guard as he climbed to his feet, ”What a delightful surprise this is!”

Amarwen supressed a grimace at his lizard like smile, pushed back her cowl and smoothed her carefully arranged hair. A braid of luxuriantly thick, glossy black hair fell from the crown of her head to her waist. It was perfectly woven. The man she faced had been one of the men the usurper had sent to break into her bedroom at Pelargir. Was he that had thrown her over his shoulder and she well remembered how bold his hands and eyes had been back then and since. And now he was here, in Minas Anor. No coincidence, she thought. She did not unclasp her cloak but rather pushed it back so that her gown was discernible.

”Motherhood becomes you, if I may be so bold to say so. How are you settling into Minas Anor? Yearn for Pelargir, yet?”

“What I miss, Canimir, is my husband. He was taken this evening, snatched off the very streets according to his adjutant,”
she looked aside to where Mardil stood, ”Right under your noses.”

At this he spread his hands, ”Minas Anor can be an unruly city…surely you do not mean to imply that we had anything to do with this unhappy event.”

Amarwen lifted her chin to gaze steadily at Canimir. Then, slowly, she came forward. Closer and closer until she had to look up at him and he down at her. She saw his eyes flare at what he saw and behind her, Mardil cleared his throat uncomfortably.

”Allow me to make myself very clear,” she said softly and then ever so slightly parted her lips.

She let her words dangle as the tip of her tongue ran over her lower lip.

Canimir stared at her for a long moment before he cleared his throat, ”Well now, that is something we must look into.”


“Well, we are very busy,”
he replied, cagey.

Amarwen threw back her shoulders and saw his eyes flare, ”So busy that you cannot lend aid to a loyal subject?”

Again Mardil cleared his throat but Canimir’s brows rose slightly, ”Perhaps…”

When he forgot what he was saying, a smile flickered over Amarwen’s lips. Canimir was not to know that she was, at that moment, considering just how much she would enjoy seeing this man in stocks being sentenced for his treachery by Eldacar.

”Perhaps we might be able to find the time,” Canimir recovered his wits and Amarwen stepped back just far enough to sink before him in a deep curtsy.

She peered upwards again through her thick dark lashes to find the man was transfixed. She could imagine what he was thinking of as she allowed her lips to ever so slightly part once more. All men were, by and large, the same in that respect.

”I would be ever so grateful,” she breathed.

Canimir cleared his throat and his eyes were greedy. Alight. She thought he might demand of her immediate satisfaction then and there. Mardil did too for he broke his silence for the first time.

He said, ”One of the disused dockside storehouses, I wager.”

“There are scores of those,”
the guard snapped, displeased by the disruption and the delay that now loomed.

”Well I know it for I had them search through the afternoon. Sooner you assist, the better,” Mardil returned and, scowling, the guard pulled away.

He began to bark terse orders and in short time he set off, footsteps receding from hearing. Amarwen sank into a chair, hands shaking at what she had just done. Had she understood Halvarin’s message correctly? As for the partisans…and all she could do was hope. Hope that Sarael found them and warned them. Hope that they listened and followed her to a secure location, as secure as they could manage now the White Tree Inn was no more. Hope that the guard she had seduced would somehow meet with his reckoning before she crossed paths with him again. When she looked up to where Mardil stood, she found him staring at her.

”Who are you?” he asked in a low, quiet voice, ”What are you?”

Amarwen pushed out a sigh as she rose to her feet, ”I am doing what I can to find a way through this. Just as you are, Mardil. Now, let us go see to saving your cousin and my husband both.”

He gave her a jerky nod and, once she had pulled up her hood Amarwen followed Mardil back out into the cold night. Only would tell what happened from here. They walked in silence and as they did so, Amarwen could stop herself from placing a hand over her belly. It had yet to swell again but it would, she knew. Another child stirred within, though only she knew of it. She had to find Halvarin again. For Mindacil. For the child she carried now. She caught Mardil peering and her hand dropped away too late. He had seen and already he was guessing at what it meant.


 Post subject: Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards
PostPosted: February 17th, 2018, 5:50 am 
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Posts: 1166
Location: The Forbidden Pool
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Harlond ~ November 1442 to January 1443

Vidnavi had accompanied Aldamir and her sister shieldmaidens across the river but that was as far as she went. Aldamir dispatched her to the Harlond, where he said there was an old contact of his. Her instruction was to locate him and await Aldamir to return from Minas Anor upon a boat and so Vidnavi searched the places Aldamir had told her of. Only, the man he named as 'Viper' was not to be found. Vidnavi set herself up inconspicuously at the Quay Tavern, a place that a few people told her he would be when she asked questions. She was careful not to touch anything drink than tea, for she needed to remain alert. She did not have her sisters with her this time.

A week crawled past and still Vidnavi could not locate this 'Viper'. She searched the Harlond carefully and found nothing of this man. Still, Vidnavi waited in the hope that something would shift to her favour. The morning of the last possible day she could came and Vidnavi went to her usual seat at the tavern and ordered tea. Her thoughts shifted from her futilie search and the arrangements she would need to set in place to secure a boat for the return to Minas Ithil. There had to be something she had missed, she thought as she sipped her tea.

Looking outside to the river she noticed there was an old fishing trawler tied up nearby. That dock had been vacant the whole time she had been there and so its arrival today sparked her interest. Vidnavi decided she'd wander by it for a closer inspection and she lifted her cup of tea to finish it. As she did so, she saw tea leaves swirling in the tea still within. This tea was fragrant and smooth and the swirling leaves seemed to capture her thoughts. She was not one for daydreams. That was the province of her twin sister, Vilna.

Squinting, Vidnavi set the cup down and when she looked up again she began to notice things. The serving maid was a different woman. She turned her head and looked toward the door and she noted a man standing there. He looked out of place to her and Vidnavia tensed as she reached for her knife. It was tucked away, well within grip, and the tap of her fingers upon its hilt offered her reassurance. When she looked to the door again, the man was not there but she had not seen him leave. Nor was he in the tavern.

Vidnavi searched the room as she stood up. A wave dizziness saw her steady herself against the table. Her hearing began to fade and her sight started to dance. She took a step for the door, lost her balance and crashed into another table. Then she saw the man again for he stepped right in front of her. She reached for her knife even as she fell into him and everything turned upside down and then went black. The man lifted Vidnavi's limp body up and over one shoulder easily, her knife clattering on the floor. Forgotten.

When Vidnavi regained her senses, everything was dark. She tried to move, but dizziness shot through her. She discovered shackles on her wrists and ankles.

"Sister, I miss you." she said to herself, her quiet words falling dead in the stifling thick air.

As she lay there she tried to make sense of what had happened. Her spinning mind made it difficult but in time she settled upon the tea. She'd had a cup of it each day over the past week and she remembered the leaves she'd seen in it. They were different. She should have paid that closer mind and now Vidnavi cursed herself for the foolish complacency that had landed her in this predicament. Vilna, she thought to herself, would never have fallen for so cheap a ploy.

Shifting, the chains of her shackles clinked. The sound dully echoed in the chamber. Vidnavi set to examining them for a weakness and found that whilst they were old, they were still thick and strong. The weakness, then, would be the lock and she set herself to breaking it. After some time, she had no idea how much, she ran out of strength and she was forced to stop and rest.

Vidnavi had no idea where she was, or who had marked her and taken her. If they were Castamirians, she could expect little more than death. She might even die here, left to starve or worse. She had no idea how much time had passed since she had been taken.She strained to hear a sound, any sound, but all she could hear was the thick heavy sound of her own movements before even that was swallowed up by the stone walls and ceiling. She tried to raise some wetness to her lips and it came with much work. She would need water and she would need it soon. She lay back against the wall and sighed, hoping that someone would come so she could vent her hatred. She had no idea how long it was when she heard the faint echo… a sound other than herself and soon, Vidnavi found herself wishing that they had left her alone.

Aldamir waited for three days with Vilna and Helda. Three anxious days for Vilna insisted on searching for her twin sister despite her injured leg. Aldamir forbade it and, fortunately, Helda sided with him. Thus, Vilna could only hope that Vidnavia kept her wits about her wherever she was. If Vidnavi was late, there would be a good reason for it. Needn't be a dire one either, Helda pointed out. They waited for as long as they could, lingering even as a river patrol almost discovered their position. That night, unable to tarry any longer, they crossed the river to the eastern shore and made for Minas Ithil - without Vidnavi.

Vidnavi was brought out of her cell after uncounted time. She was taken to another room and the light of a single candle made her eyes water. She squinted, trying to clear them and recognise the others in the room. All were strange to her, including a swarthy man who studied her coolly. Once she was certain her eyes had adjusted, Vidnavi tried to make her muscles work but she was easily overcome and pushed back down when she attempted to get up. A large man kept her pinned to the floor as the Haradian, was that what he was she wondered, approached. He grabbed her hair and peered at her scalp.

"Blonde. You are a Rhovanion wench. You will tell us why you are here, and perhaps things may go easier for you. Either way, your fate is the same."

Vidnavi said not a word as she glared up at the man. He reached for her hair again and hauled her up to her feet by it.

"It is a shame you have dyed it. If it were blonde and long, a much better price could be had. Haradian chiefs pay well for Rhovanion women. You, though, not so much."

Vidnavi tried to escape his grasp but he was strong and she was soon pinned to the ground again. She struggled as best she could, weakened by a lack of water and food, and the weight of the large man upon her back made it difficult to breathe. Despite her efforts to remain alert, it was only a matter of time before she succumbed. When Vidnavi awoke again, she was back in the dark stone room.

She managed to get her chained hand to feel her head and realised they had shorn her hair. The shackles on her wrists pulled against the chain and she pulled against them, frustration welling up into a hoarse shout that echoed uselessly around her. Vidnavi tipped her head forward and tried to get as comfortable as she could but could find no relief. What she didn't know then was that she would soon long for this quiet, dark expanses for they would come in time, with food and water. And she was to earn it. Again and again this happened, until her spirt broke.

Vidnavi had given up trying to guess how long it was since she was captured. She had not seen more than a torch light since that day in the room with the black men, and so had lost the ability to measure days. Time passed in long periods of silence and darkness, broken only by times of flickering torchlight and the torment that came with it. If she was lucky, she would be left a bruised, crumpled body on the floor where her abusers did not care to bother with chaining her. It allowed her to move and find comfort for a time.

This time, though, it was different. She could hear many footsteps approaching and Vidnavi steeled herself. The voice she could hear was different this time and, as the keys jingled and the door opened, Vidnavi pressed herself in the far corner to hug her knees. Her usual tormentors, though, did not enter the cell. A different man stood in the door and he quickly stepped aside to allow another to enter. This man said nothing, barely seemed to register her presence, as he bore down on her and emptied the large bucket he carried over Vidnavi's head.

She coughed, startled by the water that coursed over her, for she had expected him to use the bucket to beat her. Then came another bucket of water and after that a woman came in. The two men pulled Vidnavi to her feet, spitting and coughing at the water, and the women tossed a third bucket of water at her. Then the woman brusquely washed Vidnavi as if she were little more than a horse. With a final buket, a brown linen shift was pulled over her head.

"It is done," said the woman, the first words any had said and at that, the two men tried to walk Vidnavi out between them.

Her legs, however, could not support her weight and so two men were forced to drag and carry her by turns until they had gained an office. There they stepped away and Vidnavi did her best to stand in her weakened state.

"Well now, that is better, is it not Rhovanian?" Canimir said from behind his desk.

Slowly he stood, "Are you enjoying your special treat? I hope so, for I am not yet done with you."

Vidnavi made no response to that and Canimir slowly stood and came out to stand before her. The Rhovanion's arms hung limply, chains weighting them down. He lifted her head to peer into blue-grey eyes that were dull and vacant.

He nodded at that and let her head drop as he turned away, "Surely we have something better than that sack for her new life."

A wave of his hand brought the woman forward. She nodded at his statement and escorted the Rhovanion out as Canimir leaned on his desk. After a moment's careful thought he looked up to where his second lingered and then pulled out a fresh sheet of parchment. Over this his quill flew and moments later he passed the message across to his second. He watched the man scan it carefully and then, with a salute, depart.

Alone, Canimir turned his thoughts to the day's events and what lay ahead for the evening. A slow smile spread over his features as he considered the options before him and then, after a time, he went to see Halvarin.

Canimir awoke him by shoving his door open so hard it banged against the wall, "I have expedited the search for you; giving it the highest priority. You may be found in a week or so, if… there is cooperation."

"Have you found who your spy is? If so, will you please tell me?"
Halvarin paused at Canimir's lack of response and then sighed, "What is it you want of me?"

"Your wife…"
Canimir replied, watching Halvarin's reaction.

When he got none, he pushed on, "She came to see me, pleaded in fact for my assistance in locating you. She is a very… persuasive woman. Naturally, I agreed in return for certain…favours. In your absence, command of Minas Anor falls to Bergil. I believe he got the order to do so today. Still, perhaps your wife will need to look in on me again a few more times before you are found."

Halvarin remained expressionless even as he conjured up several scenarios concerning Amarwen and this man. Did she know of him when he didn't? Even now there was much he did not know overly much of her activities, of what was within her power and how she might be willing to exercise it. Halvarin wondered at what she had said or done even as Canimir spoke again.

"I can see why you married her," he observed with a grin, "She is a remarkable woman."

Halvarin grit his teeth for he would not allow Canimir to unnerve him. His only response was to nod, for it was true and it was a truth he had long known. Denied a reaction, Canimir walked around Halvarin's room.

"Have you been more comfortable these last couple days? Would you enjoy some company, perhaps?"

"Do not think to tempt me, Canimir,"
Halvarin replied.

Canimir laughed, "A cellmate, no more than that for you, Lord Commander. As for me…well…I must be on my way for the night will be a busy one indeed."

The deadbolt clicked into place after Canimir's departure and though the man had gone, his cold smile lingered. Taunting. Halvarin returned to the cot with a sigh and tried to push it from his mind.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Minas Anor - January 1443

Amarwen spent the coming days locating Minas Anor's scattered partisans, a difficult task in the best of times made more onerous given their present circumstances. Unlike those of Pelargir, Minas Anor's partisans had no discernible leader. There was no one authorised to treat with or negotiate with and the groups were fractious to say the least. It kept her and Sarael frantic yet despite these difficulties, a meeting had been arranged between groups of partisans that had been unaware of the existence of others only days earlier.

With the destruction of the White Tree Inn, finding a suitable location for this meeting was the next challenge. A location that was secure, unlikely to be watched and therefore prevent Castimir from scooping up Minas Anor's partisans all in one fell swoop. That was where the work she had been doing to expand their business holdings into Minas Tirith laid dividends. So too did the tenuous noose she had placed around Canimir's neck.

Purchasing several warehouses was relatively straight forward but the same could not be said for keeping Canimir in check. He sent demand upon demand to meet with her, his intentions quite clear in the wording of his missives to her. Each time she acquiesced, Amarwen knew she was rolling the dice. She flattered the man, made sure he had more than enough to rest his greedy, lustful eyes upon and above all ensured his glass was very full. Canimir had a fine appreciation for expensive wine and the former Lord Commander had quite the cellar amassed. She put that wealth to good use and whilst Canimir enjoyed himself most fulsomely, she managed to fend off his advances.

Time would come, she knew, that he would grow weary of waking up in his own bed alone with a roaring head and little else he could recall. Canimir would realise what she was doing. But for now, it was all she could do for she needed to play for time whilst she organised the partisans and set them to work. What Halvarin would make of her methods…suffice it to say that she spent long hours awake at night pondering that unhappy thought. She needed Canimir pliant. She needed to be able to keep an eye on him herself.

And then, in the midst of this was Mindacil. He had noted his father's absence and it troubled him. Nor was he well pleased with the food Amarwen was trying to introduce her son to. Amarwen was being pulled in so many directions at once that it was a wonder she did not fly apart at the seams. She sat nursing her son pondering this as Sarael came into the bedroom. She watched the younger woman move about, setting things to rights in preparation for the night's sleep, and wondered just where she would be without Sarael.

"I have come to depend you so much," Amarwen remarked and this made Sarael look up at her, "Tomorrow, I am to meet Canimir again. I expect I will be quite late in returning."

Mindacil murmured, shifting in her arms at this, and Sarael nodded, "I will ensure the wet nurse is on hand, if required."

Then Sarael paused and came to sit by Amarwen, "But I fear…meeting with that man is not wise. You know what he wants!"

She took Amarwen's hand, "I will worry for you!"

"Dear Sarael, do not fret for me. If I have not your strength, what will carry me through this?"
Amarwen asked, "We must find Halvarin, the sooner the better…already a week has passed."

"The last time that man was here, we scarcely rolled his sodden hide down the hill in time,"
Sarael remarked and Amarwen grimaced as Mindacil started to fuss.

She shifted him to the other side, but not soon enough for his liking, and it was some time before he settled again. And to think, she had another on the way. How was she to keep up with this?

"Once word reaches Castamir that another of his regional commanders has disappeared, we are all in grave danger. At best we will be on the streets. Halvarin must be found. He must remain regional commander. The key to that is Canimir. I will do what I must to see it done."

Sarael swallowed at that and looked aside briefly, her eyes bright with tears, "Take Mardil with you, then. Or someone…Anyone, m'lady. If you go alone to him there is nothing to stop him from holding you against your will. Remember what he did that night in Pelargir! He carried you off in no more than your nightdress. I do not think you should trust him."

"And I do not, but what has to be done will be done,"
Amarwen paused, "I must do this alone."

Sarael drew in a shaking breath and shook her head, uneasy as Amarwen pressed on, "I know it is a lot to ask…but to know that Mindacil is safe here, in your keeping…it will make it…easier."

"I would do anything for you m'Lady!"
Sarael replied, solemn, and Amarwen was quiet for a moment before she embraced the maid.

"Then take some rest, whilst Pip sleeps," she said and they both looked down where Mindacil rested in Amarwen's arms.

Carefully, she laid the boy out in his cradle which had been brought out of the nursery and into the bedroom of late. Once her son was put to bed, Amarwen turned next to Sarael and reached for her hand.

"You too, Sarael. Rest here," Amarwen said and then looked aside to the wide bed, "I cannot stand it another night all on my own. I…I miss him…I"

Sarael hung her head with a sob and tightened her grip on Amarwen's hand. They climbed onto the bed and still Sarael wept.

"There will come a time," Amarwen said quietly as she smoothed Sarael's hair, "When all of this will pass. All our fears and labours will be taken from us and we will know peace."

"And until then?"
Sarael asked in a shaking voice.

"Until then we fight with whatever strength and tools we have given to us," Amarwen answered.

Exhaustion claimed them both not long after and Mindacil, thankfully, slept into the coming morning. Sarael was up at the first light of day but Amarwen still slept. She arranged the pillows carefully and then carried Mindacil across so that he could nurse whilst his mother slept. He seemed content with this arrangement and Sarael sat nearby, watching and pondering until the child squirmed. This woke Amarwen who blinked sleeping down at her son and then smiled to see him. She rolled and set him to nursing again.

"Thank you, Sarael," she said, pushing her sleep tangled hair back.

Sarael nodded and quietly rose to her feet. Once she had quit the room, Amarwen set her mind to the day ahead of her. Amarwen took all the precautions she could. She retrieved from a trunk a dress she had not worn for some time. It was tight and left little to the imagination. She stared at it with some distaste and then shivered. She needed Halvarin set free this day and if this gown helped her achieve that...Amarwen drew in a deep breath that she pushed out again. Sarael was, of course, correct. Canimir could incarcerate her if he so wished and once she was his prisoner her capacity to control him would all but shattered. But, even should Canimir kill her as he just might, at least she knew that Sarael would care for Mindacil.

When the time came for her appointment with Canimir, Amarwen threw a long cloak over her to keep warm and dry. She kissed Mindacil, holding her son to her to breathe in his sweet scent and then made for the door with Sarael at her side. Nothing was said between them and Amarwen stepped out through the door with no more than a long, sorrowful gaze from Sarael. She bowed her head, drew up her cowl and made her way towards the Harlond.

Harlond ~ January 1443

It was early evening when she arrived at the door where she had met Canimir before. She drew a deep breath, steeled herself, and then knocked. When Canimir opened the door, he was well dressed in a black uniform that was simply adorned with the Usurper's crest on his left side of his chest. He stepped outside and closed the door, peering around as he did so before his gaze settled hungrily upon her.

"You look more enchanting each time I see you, Marece!"

She forced a smile, aware he could see nothing aside from her cloak. It must be the way her hair was set.

Canimir went on, "I would invite you in, but this is not a business call, but a pleasurable one. There is a place, overlooking the river to the south, where we may dine."

He offered his arm, and Merece hesitated before taking it. It was terrible what she was doing, but her hope of finding Halvarin and freeing him depended on it.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Halvarin had dozed off, but it didn't seem very long before the lock clicked, and the door opened again.

It was Canimir's second. He said, "You are being moved to new quarters. "

Halvarin stood and walked over to the door and followed the man down a long hall. He opened the door at the end and after Halvarin stepped into the dimly lit room, the door closed, and the lock bolted. Taking a few steps in, he could see it was a well-furnished room, but what made him pause was the woman seated in a chair at the far end. The wavering of the candle light caused shadows to dance, but Halvarin stepped closer to her.

"Vilna? What have they done to you?"

the woman corrected, her voice a low monotone voice.

But she looked up to meet Halvarin's eyes as her sister's name was mentioned. She asked, "Is.. is my sister well?"

Halvarin put his finger to his lips to request her silence and he looked carefully around the room. If it was a trap, he was too late for his initial words would spring it. But there was nobody coming to the door, and so he checked along the walls and looked at the ceiling. He had found what he was looking for. By the head of the bed, obscured by the headboard, was a hole. He pulled the bedframe out far enough to get a look into the hole. Yes, they would listen, but it appeared that nobody was there yet.

He quickly stood and pushed the bed back when he heard someone quietly enter the adjoining room. If he and Vidnavi were going to talk, they would have to be loud in noise and soft in whisper. He sat on the edge of the bed and the wood frame squeaked and creaked. A slight bouncing caused it to do so repeatedly. Perfect. He motioned to Vidnavi to come over, but she pressed herself into the far wall. Halvarin stood and came over to her and he could see her cringe. He shuffled his boot on the wood floorboard as he whispered to her.

"I will not touch you, Vidnavi. Please…trust me? Keep your voice down for they listen in the next room...and they have placed you here as bait." the statement made his skin crawl and Halvarin switched to his other foot.

The grating sliding noise continued and he whispered under it, "We must both play our parts. If we sit on the bed and bounce it some, and slide our feet occasionally while letting out a moan or some sound like we're..."

Halvarin stopped dragging his foot over the floor and motioned for quiet as he listened. When he looked back to Vidnavi, the prospect of freedom had lit something in her eyes. They both sat on the bed and it squeaked loudly beneath them. Halvarin grinned, satisfied with this arrangement for the bed protests with almost any movement.

He whispered in Vidnavi's ear, "I know who is responsible for this and I know that my wife will do all she can to find me. She will get me out and I ensure you come with me when she does. They know you to be Rhovanion but me they suppose to be loyal to Castamir. And that must continue, no matter what I might have to say or do."

He bounced harder as she turned to look into his eyes he saw some of her fight was returning. Vidnavi moaned loudly and began to bounce upon the bed harder. Halvarin heard a noise at the door and so he threw her down and rolled atop her. Just in time, for their captors pulled back a cover over the small barred panel set in the door to check. When the panel slid back into place, both Halvarin and Vidnavi sighed with relief.

Halvarin rolled off Vidnavi and sat up. The Shieldmaiden followed suit and Halvarin pondered the room again to consider his options for escape should Amarwen be unable to prevail.


 Post subject: Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards
PostPosted: February 17th, 2018, 8:46 am 
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Location: The Forbidden Pool
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Harlond ~ January 1443

"And here we are, at last," Canimir all but purred as he cast the doors open.

Amarwen's stomach twisted as she saw what lay within but Canimir's hand in the small of her back pushed her across the threshold and into what was a vast…bedroom.

Wide doors at the far end had been thrown open and through those she could see the setting sun. Somewhere below, out of sight, would be the river view Canimir had spoken of. Large hearths roared with fire kept high to push the growing chill of the night out. Still, the room was cold. Or perhaps that was her blood now that the enormity of things was writ large.

"Impressive, is it not," Canimir asked as he closed the door behind her.

He chuckled in her ear as he reached around to unfasten her cloak, "Speechless, I see. I am pleased you like it."

Her cloak slipped from her shoulders to reveal her gown and Canimir growled low in his throat as he peered down at it.

"Well now," he murmured as he ran a hand down the curve of her flank, "This I appreciate, Marece… very much."

Canimir's hand on her hip tightened as he pressed into her and drew in a deep breath, "Intoxicating, but we have time aplenty for that tonight."

His need drove at her through her skirts and then he was gone. Canimir strode towards a bed heaped high with furs and tossed her cloak onto it without further thought. Next he made for a table set towards the open doors. She remained where she was as he poured out two glasses of wine, debating whether to make a run for it now. Canimir turned back to face her, the usurper's crest glinting. She eyed that and steadied her course. She would see this through.

"Come, my clever vixen, a toast."

Amarwen swallowed her revulsion and forced herself forward, step by step.

Canimir smiled at her, triumphant gleam in his eyes and then reached out to run his fingers along her jaw, "Don't be shy. That dress of yours will not allow it. Did you have it made for me, I wonder."

Amarwen pulled her chin from his grip, "You overestimate yourself, Canimir."

"And yet here you are."

"I am a woman of my word, …but I find myself wondering whether you are a man of yours. A week, and still no sign of my husband. Perhaps you are not as powerful as I had been led to believe."

Canimir smiled at that and took a draught of wine as his gaze wandered over her and then he was moving. He was swift. She could give him that as he pounced upon her, "I could take you here and now, woman, if I so desired. Is that powerful enough?"

He pulled at the shoulders of her gown, lowering the neckline scandalously. Amarwen forced herself to calm.

"Any man might make such a claim," she remarked and when she did not struggle nor plead, Canimir released her and turned back for the wine he had poured.

"Fear not, Marece, all is well in hand," he replied as he took up the glasses and held one out to her, "My word is my bond. Your husband will be freed all in good time."


"Only you know the answer to that, my lovely,"
he replied and tipped his glass against her own. His gaze dropped to her neckline and lingered, "Soon, I hope. Very soon."

He took a mouthful of wine and then made a suggestion, "Perhaps… perhaps a gesture of good will."

"I am here, am I not,"
Amarwen replied and Canimir gave her one of his reptilian smiles.

"You most certainly are."

By her estimate, she had no more than an hour before he took matters into his own hands. Scant time indeed for all she had set in motion over the past week to come to fruition. Dare she hope in a man who went by the name "Viper"? She must, or all would come crashing down around her ears.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The Viper stared down at the body of a middle aged woman. She was the last of them, aside from the snake currently still behind closed doors. He bent to wipe his blade clean on her tunic. That done, he stepped over her corpse and padded back to the door again. The hall was clear, bodies aside. This woman of Aldamir's had better prove reliable, he thought to himself. He turned back to the antechamber and considered the various locked doors. He could knock them all in but that would create a disturbance. The keys were with the snake, as was Aldamir's woman. If she did not come soon, he'd have no choice but to wash his hands of this and quit.

There was movement out in the hall and he padded back to peer into it carefully. He saw someone and reached for one of his throwing knives. His hand froze, though, when he saw it was Aldamir's woman. She was….different than when he had seen her last. It wasn't she wore a dress that would make most brothel madams blush but rather her affect. Her manner was cold and grim as the night as she hurried down the hall and into the ante-chamber.

"Do you have it?" he asked as she arrived and she held out a hand and uncurled her fingers.

On her palm gleamed the crest that only Castimir's covert operatives possessed. The Viper let out a pent up breath, excited despite his long years. With this, and the knowledge she had mapped out as to the location of others, he could shatter the Usurper's sharpest weapon.

"Its keeper?" he asked as his fingers closed over it again.

"I snapped his neck," she replied, drew a breath and shook herself.

"What of the keys?" he asked and she blinked at him, grey eyes with pupils wide and dark within.

It was then he realised that her effect was likely shock more than anything else.

Muttering a curse, the Viper left her there to retrieve them. He followed the hall along and pushed open a door that should have been barred. There within was Canimir. Just as Aldamir's woman had said, she had snapped his neck, though the circumstances of doing so were jarring. Canimir lay slumped, legs hanging over the edge of his bed and his trews puddled around his ankles. Directly in front, on the floor, was a pool of blood and beside that, a woman's slipper. A woman's cloak lay haphazardly on the bed beside Canimir's body.

He retrieved both slipper and cloak along with the keys and set off again. As he went, he marked blood stains along the corridor. They tracked all the way into the ante-chamber to where Aldamir's woman stood staring at her hands. Bruises showed along her finely chiselled jaw and her gown looked torn now that he studied it more closely but he could not see any blood seeping into the fabric itself. Perhaps it had been Canimir's blood, he thought. He dropped her slipper on the ground and pushed her cloak into her hands.

She blinked again before she stuffed a bare foot into the slipper and fumbled with the cloak as he asked, "Are you injured?"

The woman shook her head and so he pinned the crest to his chest.

"Wrong side," the woman said, "They wear it on the left."

The Viper grunted and switched sides, then he drew out the keys, "Ready to run like the wind?"

She stared at him and he wondered what Aldamir might say if he left her behind. She was likely a liability in this state. A liability he could ill afford. Tempted as he was, he wiped a hand over his face. This woman, Aldamir had made it clear, was important. For more reasons than one.

"I'll meet you outside. Any sign of trouble, run," the Viper said and for a moment he thought the woman would disagree.

He drew one of his knives and held it out to her. She stared at it for a moment, then nodded as she wrapped her hand around its hilt. The way she did so offered some faint comfort that the woman knew how to hold it. He waited until she had gotten down the corridor again, a trail of blood drops behind her and advanced on the cell doors.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Ordinarily, Vidnavi would have liked to spring through the door snarling and snapping like a veritable wolf. She did her best, given the circumstances, but it was hardly her finest showing. A man, bearing the crest of the enemy, hopped back easily enough.

"No time for that," barked the man Vidnavi had failed to tackle, "It will not be long before they discover us."

"Who are you,"
demanded the man that had been locked into the cell with Vidnavi. She did not know his name.

"Later," the newcomer hissed, "Do you want out or not?"

"Are you alone?"
asked Vidnavi's cell mate as she darted past the newcomer and out into the ante chamber.

There was a woman lying face down on the floor, blood pooling around her. There was another puddle of blood elsewhere, drips leading in trails out into the hall. Vidnavia frowned at that and the looked up as the two men came out of the cells.

"What of the others"Vidnavi asked and the newcomer shook his head at her.

"You two are the only prisoners," he replied, his answer terse as he pushed past them and into the hall.

There he paused long enough to take stock and then he was off, vanishing into the shadows at a surprising rate.

"Can you walk," asked the man Vidnavi had been imprisoned with.

She pushed away from his concern and after the newcomer.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"It is not a trap!" Gerdan shot back, irritated enough to raise his voice.

"The Lord Commander is no friend of ours,"[/i] came the reply.

"Merece is…I vouch for her. Am I your enemy?" Gerdan said, and scowled into the night.

This debate was past them, or so he thought. If it wasn't, why were they here now? And why had they agreed to meet on the morrow?

"She is the Lord Commander's wife," persisted his companion and Gerdan ground his teeth.

"And I tell you, were it not for her, I woulda swung for those fires a few years back. She's like us."

"You said she dumped you in Edhellond."

Aye, well she had, with a lovely couple and an apprenticeship as a baker as well. As if he could just bake bread and pastries for the rest of his life.

"She had work to do. Important business," Gerdan said.

"Assassinating the usurper and look how that turned out! I say it's a load of-"

"Hsst! Movement ahead!"

Gerdan gave off arguing and shimmied forward to reach his cousin. Mardil favoured him with a dark, ill-pleased glare that was partly due to what Mardil deem poor discipline and partly due to the fact that he was rubbing shoulders with partisans. He squinted at the alley ahead. It was soupy with fog from the river and aside from rats and the street cats that hunted them, abandoned. Or so he thought initially, until a pile of rubbish proved to be moving.

Someone crawled across the alley. Gerdan exchanged a look with Mardil and the two cousins warily padded out, weapons drawn. It was only when they were closer that they realised that the rubbish was a woman in a dress crawling painfully across the alley. She looked up at their arrival, fearful and Gerdan recognised her immediately as did Mardil. Both cousins stooped to collect up Marece just as a large mass loomed in the thick fog.

"Lord Commander?" Mardil asked, startled, as a man bent over Marece.

"Get us out of here," Halvarin hissed, "Fast."


 Post subject: Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards
PostPosted: February 25th, 2018, 12:58 am 
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Harlond ~ January 1443

Halvarin found, upon emerging, that the air had warmed considerably since he had been. Soupy fogslingered on the ground over the lingering remnants of earlier snowfall. Halvarin was grateful for the heavy, damp air. It aided them in slipping out from Harlond's Old Quarter undetected. The rainfall, though, made the streets slippery and treacherous and it was soon evident to him that his wife required aid, swiftly. All was in chaos, it seemed. He and Mardil, putative representatives of Castamir, were surrounded by Eldacarian partisans.

If that was not dire enough, should the night's raid on Castamir's Black Scouts be discovered, they would all be in great peril. Discovery would rest upon one thing, or so Halvarin thought to himself: whether Canimir and his men had acted of their own accord. If their actions had been at the behest of one of Castimir's Ministers, or indeed the Usurper himself, then their doom was all be certain.

All of this tumbled through Halvarin's mind as they struggled into a place suitable for a temporary pause. Amarwen had said nothing in this time, struggling to keep pace. She was weakening fast and once they had stopped she sank to the ground without a sound, hunched over. Halvarin kneeled beside her and placed a hand upon her back. She was shaking violently beneath his touch. He looked up to find Mardil peering at him. His adjutant perceived something was gravely amiss and wheeled about to issue commands.

These commands fell on deaf ears, few of the partisans inclined to accept his authority and the one able to command them now curled into a ball on the ground. Something had to be done, and soon, and so Mardil looked to Gerdan. His cousin blinked at him and gathered his thoughts.

"In dark times are friends found in unexpected places. Though our new friend be the Lord Commander of the North, an agent of the Usurper, know that he once held the command of Osgiliath. And there, he laboured to keep the Usurper's hand from crushing it."

"And how do you know this?"
came the challenge.

Gerdan pointed at Marece, "Marece told me so."

"Well she might say so. She's his wife!"
someone else countered and the partisans nodded to each other, dubious.

A woman near the back of the group spoke up, "That is Marece. I knew her when she worked the inn, there is no treachery in her heart!"

A murmur flowed through the partisans, and Halvarin could not be certain if it was ominous or not.

"Is it? Is that Marece?" came the inevitable questions and Gerdan nodded to himself

"Aye," he replied and glanced to Mardil, "And were it not for her, I would have swung for the Harlond Fires with the other four."

The mood of the partisans shifted at this confirmation for Gerdan had told his tale more than once since he and Marece had parted ways. A good many men and women had heard him speak of a woman, as dangerous as she was fair, labouring to bring down the usurper at the behest of Eldacar. He'd told his cousin, Mardil, too though he'd not been so foolish as to use her name with him. Mardil had scoffed, dismissing it as a folly as well he might, but now his incredulity had faded. Mardil looked up from Marece's crumpled form and his eyes locked with Gerdan. Now, he saw, his cousin believed him.

A woman, the one that had spoken of knowing Marece from before, pushed through the press and came forward to tend to her. She had to shoo Halvarin away so that she could examine Marece. With effort, the woman managed to move Marece onto her back. In the shifting, uncertain light of their lanterns, her skin was pale and damp with sweat. Her eyes were closed, long dark lashes flickering. The woman tore at her sleeve and used the scrap to dab at Marece's damp face as she studied the stricken woman. Her gaze swept down over the scandalous dress and her eyes flared when she marked how skirts appeared darker. She reached a hand to touch the fabric and found it damp. When she pulled her fingers back to examine them, she closed her eyes and shook her head sorrowfully.

To have soaked through so much fabric, without any rent suggesting a knife wound, there was but one conclusion she could reach. The woman looked up to where Halvarin watched on.

"I am sorry, Lord Commander. The child she carried is lost."

Halvarin's eyes widened as colour washed from his face. The woman realised, then, that the Lord Commander had not known. She looked away and back to Marece.

"Any exertion now could induce further blood loss and she is already weak."

"There is no time to rest here,"
Mardil blurted out, unaware of how harsh his words might seem, "We must get to Minas Anor!"

Halvarin sank again to his knees and softly brushed his wife's cheek, "Gerdan, have you have a way to get us to Minas Anor quickly?"

"A tanner I know of will be make for the markets this morning. You can hide in his wagon unseen,"
Gerdan replied and that was that.

Mardil and Gerdan found themselves remaining with the partisans so as to organise them further as best they could. Just before dawn, Halvarin and Marece were settled into the tanner's wagon and covered with his skins. The wagon lurched into a swaying, juddering roll as the tanner set out for the day's markets.

Once that had been done, the two cousins found themselves the focus of the gathered partisans. Some still voiced dissent.

"It is common knowledge that the usurper's informants are in the ranks of Eldacar's supporters. Killing a few of his Black Scouts is hardly the end of this. They will seek to avenge this and when that comes, and it will, we are all in danger. Each and every one of us!"

Gerdan swallowed, for this was impossible to counter, but the man was not done.

"I agree that we must unite, lest we be picked off one by one…but in knowing of each other, we place each each other in danger. And meeting like this?" the man threw up his arms and shook his head, his meaning clear.

"Such meetings are not called carelessly and witless! The need was dire, as you all saw," Gerdan retorted, but there were still some who agreed with the man.

Gerdan sighed and glanced to his cousin. He was surprised to see Mardil was himself preparing to speak.

"All of us must know that to oppose Castamir is itself inherently dangerous," he returned and cocked a brow, "Or did you all think you could do this safely from your own homes, tucked away before your fires with a meal filling your bellies and ale in hand?"

This was a dangerous ploy, Gerdan thought, but potentially a useful one for it revealed the man's argument as facile. But Mardil was not done with that.

He turned about, eyeing all he could see around him, "Whilst it is dangerous for you, consider the Lord Commander and his wife. They must feign loyalty to Castamir! They must smile, rub elbows, chatter pleasantly with the very people you quite rightly fear. If just one of you is a spy for the usurper, or known to one of his spies, they and all of us are doomed! One stray word, one mistimed glance may be all that is required to bring it all tumbling down."

Gerdan held his breath, waiting for someone to speak up and say that is precisely what they should do - bring down the Lord Commander and Marece so as to remove anyone who might be able to identify them as partisans. That call, though, did not come. Not now, at least, and so Gerdan took up the address once more.

"We are, all of us, Gondorians. Working for the good of our realm. With the Lord Commander and his lady wife returned to Minas Anor, they will resume their work to return our true king to our throne. And we will work with them. For Eldacar! For Gondor!"

There was a general agreement among the partisans, and Gerdan worked at giving each group a code name. He had devised a cypher that could be used to contact each other, and he gave all this to Mardil before he set out with speed to Minas Anor.

~ ~ ~

When they broke free of the cells, the Viper headed off with the others and Vidnavi followed until she could no longer keep up. She was startled when the man returned and struggled when he made to carry her. She did not trust him in the least and he was forced to set her down, glancing over his shoulder in the direction the others had fled.

"Lass, I saw you drinking tea when I came in. I was told you looked for me, and I counted my blessings that one so fair searched me out. I am sorry I could not stop them."

Vidnavi eyed him suspiciously as he set her back onto her feet.

"We must cover what happened here this night," he said as he returned his attention to Vidnavi, "Take Marece's horse and ride fast for Minas Anor. The Lord Commander and his wife will be there soon enough I suspect. I will make sure there is nothing to be found here to be followed."

Loathe as she was to trust him, Vidnavi had no desire to be found still on site should anyone come looking for the men that had captured her. Reluctantly, she allowed herself to be led outside by the Viper and to a horse. Then, weakened by her sustained captivity, Vidnavi endured the ignominy of being assisted onto the horse.

"Go" hissed the Viper, slapping the horse's rump. When Vidnavi peered back she found he had vanished.

She straightened and hunkered down, hoping that she could trust to the fog to shroud her and her cropped, blonde hair.

~ ~ ~

It was a grey foggy morning when Halvarin and Amarwen approached the gates of Minas Anor. At about the same time, both Mardil and Vidnavi overtook them. Halvarin had Vidnavi join Amarwen in the wagon, and he climbed onto the bench beside the tanner with an old cloak he had found in the skins thrown over his shoulders. Mardil continued on alone, easily able to pass through the city gates due to his rank and position. The Lord Commander's adjutant kept all manner of odd hours and his presence was not particularly noteworthy now. Had the morning guard arrived to relieve the previous watch, the tanner and his wagon might have known more exactly scrutiny. As it was, the guards let them through with only cursory questioning.

With that hurdle surpassed, they next had to gain the Lord Commander's residence unmarked and hope that Sarael was there. In the skins, Vidnavi squirmed uncomfortably.

"Keep still," Halvarin hissed but the Shieldmaiden poked her head up enough to be heard.

"She's afire!"

Halvarin's jaw tensed at that but there was nothing that could be done just now.

"Keep still," he repeated through his teeth and Vidnavia subsided, muttering unhappily to herself in Rhovanion.

Halvarin guided the tanner up through the levels of the city, the wagon's wheels loud over the cobbled stones of the streets at that early hour, until they gained the Lord Commander's residence on the sixth level. Instead of pulling up at the front door, which he was all but certain was watched, he had the tanner make for the rear courtyard. It was here that wagons came, though not normally at so early an hour, to unload various supplies and provender for the residence.

As they pulled in, the rear door that led into the kitchen was abruptly pulled open. Halvarin braced himself for a berating from one of the household staff, knowing that the early hour would be looked upon kindly. Sarael filled the doorway, the thunderous scowl on her face replaced by one of powerful relief when she espied Halvarin's face under the tanner's old cloak. She sped forward towards the wagon and her expression shifted again into joy as skins were peeled back to reveal Amarwen. That joy, however, faltered when Sarael took in Amarwen's state and she blinked when Vidnavi materialised.

Mardil, who had ridden in with them, swung out of his saddle. He hurried Vidnavi out of the wagon and in through the kitchen door whilst Halvarin and Sarael aided Amarwen within. Halvarin noted that Mardil had aided the shieldmaiden as far as the kitchen where she had promptly sat on the bench, refusing to be aided further.

"We are in grave danger still, Mardil. I need you at my office as soon as you can manage. Search it. Determine what, if anything, has been taken," Halvarin ordered him and Mardil nodded, jerkily.

"And what of you?" he asked.

"I will come as soon as I may, after sunrise," Halvarin said as Sarael adjusted her hold on Amarwen.

Another nod from Mardil and he was on his way. Halvarin turned to study his adjutant's departure. He still was not confident he knew the true nature of Mardil's loyalties.

"M'lord," Sarael prompted and Halvarin turned back to find the maid struggling to keep Amarwen upright.

Together, they saw Amarwen laid abed, Sarael clucking her tongue sadly as Halvarin briefly relayed what little he knew.

Sarael said quietly with a shake of her head, "Had I known that she was with child…"

Halvarin's jaw feathered at the discovery that Sarael herself had not known. He shook a head too full with too many questions and not enough answers. It was then they heard Mindacil stir, his uncanny ability to sense his mother's presence not failing him this morning. Sarael wiped a hand over her face.

"That boy has been unable to settle all night," she exclaimed as she pulled the covers up over Amarwen and stepped back to scoop up what was left of her gown.

"Bring him here," Halvarin said and Sarael paused a moment, studying him, before she nodded and hastened from the bedroom.

He hoped she'd burn that blood soaked dress. Sarael soon returned with a restless, over tired Mindacil who did not brighten at all upon sight of his father. Instead, Mindacil seemed most wroth with his father's protracted absence. Halvarin tried to settle his son but Mindacil would have none of it and the sound of his malcontent was disturbing Amarwen.

"I will take him," Sarael said but Halvarin shook his head and instead followed his instinct to lay his son beside his mother.

This appeared to calm Amarwen and Mindacil both and Halvarin stepped back, uncertain of what he should say or do next. His hands curled and uncurled at his sides for a long moment.

"Will you remain, my Lord," Sarael asked as he studied his wife and son.

He knew that the sooner he rejoined Mardil in his office the better. A child, their child, had been lost this night. Son, or perhaps a daughter. He would never know their laughter, their smile, or the colour of their eyes. A ponderous grief stirred within him. To appear as though if nothing had happened was the best thing to do right now, all the while measuring reactions. The Black Scouts were right in one thing, there were spies in his ministry, and he would be evermore watchful, for he would discover them. For all of that, there were more pressing matters. The notion of leaving now was one he could not stomach.

Sarael hastened away for the door, her woollen skirts whispering with movement.

"Sarael?" he called after her, already shedding his jacket, "I want that dress burned."

"Yes, my Lord,"
she answered from the door and closed it softly after her.

~ ~ ~

Minas Ithil ~ January 1443…

There was little Aldamir could do to relieve the suffering of Vilna. Her sister's disappearance had left her despondant and this grief had rendered nearly useless for field work. He kept her at Minas Ithil, where he could keep a close eye on her, but beyond that Aldamir did not know what else could be done. He sent Helda out, of course, to locate Vidnavi but this was fraught with danger. He feared losing another Shieldmaiden and so, when Helda was unable to locate anything of use, he called off any search a month later.

Vilna, though, refused to accept this. She said she could feel that her sister yet lived and used the idle winter days, constrained to Minas Ithtil, to strengthen her injured leg. Winter passed slowly and with it, Vilna's faith that her sister lived. Still, Vilna continued to train for it kept the blackness of her grief at bay. She would never walk normally again, she knew, but this did not mean she could not find a way to turn her injury to her advantage.

For his part, Aldamir took to working with her when he was not busy consolidating his father's former troops in Minas Ithil. With so much at stake, Aldamir knew he had little time to assist Vilna. Thus, when the season turned and the weather warmed enough to render the roads passable once more, he had little recourse but to return Vilna to Rhovanion. This left Helda with him now, his lone Shieldmaiden. Redoubtable, highly skilled, tough as hide and only as disciplined as she decided she wished to be in any given moment.


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