|Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards
|Page 4 of 4|
|Author:||Elora Starsong [ March 1st, 2018, 6:49 pm ]|
|Post subject:||Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards|
Minas Anor ~ February 1443
It was late when Halvarin returned home. Three days had passed, each of them long and gruelling as he struggled with his grief and his fear. Amarwen knew little of this time, weakened and fevered, but Sarael saw it all. The Lord Commander would leave before dawn, calling in on the nursery to take in his sleeping son, and then remain away until midnight. Again he would stop in to look upon Mindacil and it was here Sarael found him now. Halvarin was so preoccupied with his son that he did not seem to be aware of her arrival. Yet, he spoke to her, dispelling any notion that he did not know she was there.
"How fares-" he was so weary he almost named Amarwen by her true name. Halvarin recovered just in time, "How fares my wife?"
Sarael's fingers wound together, sorrowful, "Stronger each day, m'Lord. She-"
She paused, bowing her head, and at this Halvarin gave off from watching his son's slumber in his cradle to approach Sarael where she stood in the door of the nursery.
"Speak freely, Sarael," he said and, head still bowed, she grimaced before she looked up and into Halvarin's face.
He looked so…forlorn and anguished. She swallowed thickly.
"M'Lady asks for you, m'Lord."
Halvarin pressed out a sigh and nodded. He wiped a hand over his face.
"Of course," he said, gathering himself visibly before Sarael, "I will go to her now."
Tears welled up in Sarael's eyes as she watched the Lord Commander wearily trudge down the hall. She shook her head to clear her thoughts and then pulled the nursery door to. Should Mindacil wake, the wet-nurse she had arranged would see to him.
Halvarin carefully pushed the door open to his bedroom. The hearth was well alight, tended so that it would last well into the night. The air within was warm. Aside from the crackle of the fire, it was also quiet. He slipped past the door and closer to the bed. Amarwen was asleep, a book lay over her chest. It slowly rose and fell with her breath. Her hair was spread like a black cloud over the snowy expanse of their pillows. He could see from the flutter of her long, dark lashes, that his wife slept. And dreamed. Every now and again, a loose hand resting atop the spread book twitched, fingers curling and then releasing.
He padded closer and gently removed the book. Second Age poetry, he saw and smiled. Amarwen had a fondness for the works of the newly flourishing court of the Noldor at that time. She had chased him when they were children, tormenting him with verse and laughing with such delight at his protests and groans. That memory of their childhood made Halvarin smile fondly before he knew it and it felt both wonderful and strange, as if his face was moving in ways it had not done so for some time.
Book set aside, Halvarin readied himself for bed as he had done so these three days passed. Umarked. He slipped under the weight of the bedding and drew towards Amarwen, again as he had done since their return. She shifted, somehow sensing his presence, and uttered something too soft and rapid for him to make sense of. Then she turned to her side and presented her back to him. All of this was as it had been, save in one respect. Instead of pulling away, Amarwen pressed back until she had fitted herself against him.
Halvarin caught his breath, startled by how much this meant to him. Amarwen sought him out. She sought him out. The weight of this settled over him, pressed into him and he drank it in. Thirsty for it. For her. For this. He slid his arm under her neck. She stirred again, murmured. He could not make sense of it, but she sounded like she was irritated, mildly. Then she adjusted herself and was still once more. He folded his other arm over her warmth, so careful not to wake her. Then slowly, so slowly, he felt himself sink. Warm, the scent of Amarwen's skin drawn deep into his lungs as he pressed his face to her shoulder. Sleep rushed up to claim him in a way it had not done for days. He surrendered to it gladly. Beyond this moment, nothing mattered any more.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Amarwen knew nothing of her initial return from the Harlond. She recalled the Viper handing her a knife and she remembered how she had staggered as best she could, the pain building, to keep watch. After that, it was all in jagged pieces until had woken in her own bed, staring at the canopy overhead and listening to the sound of Sarael rustling around the room. Since then, Amarwen had been beset with demands that she rest, that she heal. As if such a thing were possible. As for Halvarin, he left before dawn and returned late or Sarael told her. She did not know herself, for Halvarin had taken to sleeping in the nursery.
And so the days had trickled by, minute by aching minute, with little more to occupy her thoughts beyond worry. Worry over what was unfolding in the wake of their action that night. Worry that they had been compromised, fatally exposed. Worst of all was her creeping fear that Halvarin's absence was the result of anger…and he had every right to be angry. With her, with what he had been dragged into because of her, for what she had done to win his freedom and the terrible price paid.
Sarael, of course, assured her that this was not so. She said that Halvarin was busy, unable to set his duties aside no matter how badly he might wish to. But as the days and nights had passed, Sarael's assurances were not equal to the doubt racing through nearly every thought in Amarwen's head.
Last night, Sarael had tried to calm Amarwen with one of her favourite books of poetry, one her mother had read to her as a child. She had uttered gentle reassurances that all was not lost and yet again urged Amarwen to rest. Left to consider another long, lonely night, Amarwen had wept until she could weep no more and then, unable to sleep, had cracked open the book Sarael had brought to her. This was the last she recalled until now.
Amarwen closed her eyes again, reluctant to move and dispel this dream she found herself in. That was what this had to be, she thought, for there could be no forgiveness for what she had done. She swallowed and opened her eyes. Halvarin lay on his back, one arm flung over his head and the other looped under her. His hand rested on the slope of her waist and she watched his chest expand and shrink with each steady breath. Her hand was on his chest, and she could feel the steady thrum of his heart under her palm.
Tears prickled, for she missed him so keenly that it was a physical pain. Yet, what she might do to draw him back to her she did not know. And so she was left with this. His ghost, as real as the dull grey morning unfolding beyond the window, and yet impossible. For there was no forgiveness for what she had done and well did she know it.
Amarwen awoke again with a start, unaware that she had fallen asleep once more. Groggy, she tried to shake her mind free of its slowness.
"I have missed you so," Halvarin's words, the timbre of his voice, the rumble of his chest as he spoke did what she could not.
Bleariness fell away from her in an instant and she tilted her head to look up. Halvarin returned her study and she felt his arm flex under her.
"That being said, I can no longer feel my arm." he remarked.
With a hasty apology, Amarwen scrambled to move herself out of the way.
"Where are you going? Not so fast!" Halvarin remarked as he caught her once more.
Her breath caught in her throat as he drew her atop him. Her heart pounded in her throat as his hands stroked her tangled hair and then cupped her face.
"I am so sorry," Amarwen blurted and then closed her eyes at the flimsy sound of her quivering words. What was the point of this? There was nothing she could do to make this right again.
"You're shaking," Halvarin said and wrapped his arms to clasp her against him, "Oh my love, hush."
A sob hiccupped out of her, his tenderness striking her more deeply than any arrow might.
"Shhhh….there is time enough for that…for now, I just need this. You."
And so she relented and allowed herself to settle into Halvarin until his heart beat into her ear and inexorably tugged her towards sleep.
"Must you leave today?" she asked.
"No, Ami," Halvarin answered, his own voice catching in his throat, "I will not leave you today."
A profound sign leaked out of her and she burrowed her face into his chest, pressing her lips against his skin.
"I love you," she whispered, profoundly grateful, and his arms tightened around her.
"My darling," Halvarin replied, emotion crowding him, but already he could feel Amarwen slipping back into the realms of sleep.
When Sarael peeked through the door and into the bedroom at mid morning, she heard the sound of breathing. Discretely, she glanced over to the bed and sure enough she saw the Lord Commander and his lady wife wrapped together, slumbering peacefully. A smile made the corners of her eyes crinkle and beneath that, a sense of relief. The worst had to be behind them now. She was sure of it.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Vidnavi looked up at the sound of movement and caught sight of Amarwen of Edhellond as she entered the parlour. It had been years since Vidnavi had last seen this noblewoman. She remembered the last encounter clearly for the young aristocrat had been full of vitality. A bright smile, a sharp wit and a keen eye for archery. That youthful innocence was now spent. The aristocrat that approached had been transformed into something dangerous and powerful.
She had to wonder at how she had settled the account between herself and Aldamir. Her husband, Halvarin, had said that Vilna was safe but what if that was a lie. What if Aldamir, Helda and Vilna had been murdered and that was why they had not come for her. What if this noblewoman, once betrothed to Aldamir and now married to a Castamirian Guild Officer, was their traitor. That, certainly, had been Helda's assessment.
"You look as bored as I," the noblewoman said without disassembly and Vidnavi nodded warily.
"They insist that I rest," Vidnavi replied, "But it is inactivity that has left me so weak!"
"Veritable house arrest," Amarwen said with a sigh as she took a seat and studied the hands in her lap.
"How did this happen?" Vidnavi asked, deliberately keeping her question broad.
Amarwen looked up at her and then to the door. She wiped a hand over her face and sighed again.
"I suspect the White Tree was attacked because the Prince was recognised. And once the White Tree was razed," she shook her head wearily from side to side, "The partisans decided they needed to strike at the Lord Commander, for it was he they blamed for the fire. In turn Castimir's spies swung into action for they saw the opportunity to mop up the partisans once and for all and close a wound opened since the Harlond fires."
"Fires you started," Vidnavi observed and Amarwen looked away from her.
"Approved by Eldacar and Aldamir both," she replied, "But yes, set in motion by my hand."
Vidnavi was silent and in time Amarwen's gaze returned to her hands. It was something that Vidnavi had noted in her time spent recovering in the Lord Commander's residence. Amarwen would stare at her hands, sometimes for quite a while.
"Those spies, they took me," Vidnavi said and this broke Amarwen's scrutiny of her fingers, "Where are they now?"
"Those of Minas Anor and the Harlond are dead - mostly by the Viper's hand."
Vidnavi grunted at that for it had been the Viper she had been searching for when she was taken. She was not sure now whether she was grateful or angry with him. Perhaps both.
"How did you track him down?" Vidnavi asked and watched Amarwen's gaze lock on a bookshelf.
"I knew of him from my earlier time in Minas Anor," she said, referring to the initial years she had spent working to orchestrate Eldacar's network of resistance, "In the end, I had what he wanted."
"And what was that?"
Amarwen shook her head, unwilling to answer, and Vidnavi found herself wondering just how many secrets this woman had. And whether it would ever be possible to unravel them all. She wanted to get out of this place and return to her sister.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The Harlond - March 1443
The Viper shook his head at the woman and told her, "Can't be done. That husband of hers has the city locked down tighter than a fish's ar-"
"His adjutant will bring her to you," the woman said and then leaned back in her chair, "Though, if you say it can't be done then perhaps you are no longer the man you used to be."
The Viper drew in a breath and then smiled. This woman was not the partisan she would have him believe her to be. Her response was too akin to something Aldamir's woman might say. This woman was far deeper in her mistress' counsel than any partisan would be. The woman had slipped, revealed herself. He would have to look into that further, and carefully for Aldamir's woman would not take kindly to him sniffing around her people and this woman, whoever she was, was so skilled that he had believed her to be the partisan she claimed to be for weeks now.
Pushing that aside, he turned his attention to the other thing she had said. The Shieldmaid would be accompanied by the Lord Commander's adjutant himself. Two birds, he thought to himself, and he was the stone. Getting the shieldmaid to Minas Ithil unmarked would be difficult but...then, that way did his trail lie in any case. With the full blessing of Aldamir's woman, in fact. Her only requirement had been that he replace any he killed with people she could call on later, when it suited her.
"What am I to do with the adjutant?" he asked.
"She trusts you will choose wisely," the woman replied, though something about her seemed strained.
Choose wisely, eh? That could mean opening his neck for him at the first opportunity or letting him wander off back to Minas Anor and the service of her husband. The Viper grimaced as he realised what this was. This was her price for the fun he'd been having. This was mop up duty and he hated mop up duty.
"I hope she does not come to rue that latitude," he remarked, for it would not be on him if he made the wrong choice.
"There will be nowhere for you to hide if she does," the woman promised with a smile.
The Viper scowled for he knew Aldamir's woman had a reach that was wide and powerful. He threw down three coins, enough for the tea, and stalked off.
Sarael stared at the copper coins on the table and then closed her eyes. It was done. If Mardil proved treacherous, he would die. She washed a hand over her face, rose from her chair and set about quitting this place as quickly as she could, her mind troubled and heart heavy.
|Author:||Elora Starsong [ March 11th, 2018, 4:56 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards|
Rhovanion borderlands- March 1443
Vilmaith and Vinyarion had laboured throughout winter to prepare the roads that would carry the King in Exile south. They left a small amount of forest to hide the roads from scouts of Gondor and aside from those working on the roads, no one bar the King and Prince Aldamir knew of their work. Scouts came and went from Gondor, most allied to their cause for otherwise they would have been waylaid or turned back well before. Word would come to those making the roads of any who might approach for their secrecy required careful sentries. When it did, Vilmaith who held the command of the eastern bank of the Anduin would come forth to watch who was passing.
And so, on a blustery February day, Vilmaith found herself watching a party of three. Two men, clad in the manner of Gondorian Rangers flanked a woman who limped between them. It was an unusual sight indeed and Vilmaith's eyes narrowed as she debated whether to let them pass as the others had. As she debated, the trio grew ever closer until finally Vilmaith recognised one of their number. The hair was different but she would recognise that face anywhere.
She ran forward out of the cover of the tree with a sudden cry.
Yet as she Vilmaith ran to embrace her shield sister, Vilna did not respond. Her arms hung limply at her sides and, troubled, Vilmaith took Vilna from the Rangers and aided her from the track to sit on a nearby fallen tree. She cupped Vilna's face between her hands and peered into eyes that were red with fatigue and dull with despair.
"Oh Vilna…" she whispered, dismayed.
"Vidnavi is lost…" Vilna replied, her voice shaking and one of her hands rose to grasp Vilmaith's outstretched forearm, "First Rhinnin, now Vidnavi lost. I am crippled… only you and Helda remain of our sisterhood of Eldacar."
"Vidnavi is dead? How?" Vilmaith asked, the very thought of it striking grief like a stone struck against steel.
She brushed the dyed dark locks away from Vilna's face as the other woman's eyes closed briefly and then reopened to search Vilmaith's face.
"I felt her spirit break. If she is not dead, then she is broken. I can feel her no longer."
This admission shocked Vilmaith and she held Vilna close. They were quiet for a time as Vilmaith tried to sort through her thoughts. How was it possible to break the bond between Vilna and Vidnavi? The twin sisters had always been inseparable. Who could break Vidnavi for she was one of the strongest of them all? What had been done? Where were the others? Where was Aldamir and Helda? Were they also in peril? Had they perished too?
Vilmaith kissed Vilna softly on the cheek and stood up. Vilna was lost, perhaps the others were too, but she would not surrender the charge and fall into despair. The softness of her expression faded into something harder as she gazed down at Vilna.
"Shieldsister of Eldacar, now is not the time for despair! Awake! I have need of you!"
Vilna looked up at her in time to discover Vilmath's hand swinging fast to strike her cheek. She recoiled, glaring at Vilmaith who promptly moved to slap Vilna's other cheek. Her hand rose, fingers shaking, as anger stirred in Vilna and when Vilmath moved to slap her a third time, Vilna's hand intercepted the other woman. Her fingers closed around Vilmaith's wrist and she stood to drag Vilmaith towards her hard. Face to face they were, the two shieldmaidens breathing hard as they stared down at each other.
"Will you whimper more, Vilna, or will you avenge your sister?" Vilmaith asked her.
Vilna's lip curled in a sneer that faded at the mention of vengeance. Her grip on Vilmaith's wrist began to ease as that sank in and when she released her hand, Vilmaith nodded her satisfaction.
"My shieldsister has returned," she said, closing her other hand on Vilna's shoulder.
Vilna made to shake her off as she turned aside, head lowering. A shudder of emotion rippled through her and when she raised her head again tears shone on her face. There was spirit in Vilna's eyes once more and though Vilmaith said nothing on it, she thought that perhaps the same might be accomplished with Vidnavi. If the woman yet lived.
~ ~ ~
Minas Anor- March 1443
Halvarin was dismayed to find that he had erected a barrier around him in his grief that held everyone at bay. He walled himself in behind all that had occurred since he had been taken. All his fears, all the taunts, all that he feared Amarwen might have done to win his safety and the terrible price paid for it. But that night, as he held her soft warmth to him as they slept, brought to him a cascade of memories and dreams that had gathered over the years. Dreams of this, memories of yearning for this and fearing that it would never come to pass. Fears that it was impossible.
Difficult as this was for him to admit, Halvarin realised that night that the distance he had cultivated was nothing new. He had seen it time and again before now, in his own father. The wedge he was driving between them could very well become a permanent feature, the bedrock of their marriage, and that could never be. He loved Amarwen. He had done so for years now, longer than he had yet to admit to her in truth, and would always love her to the end of his days. He would not be the man his father was. He wanted this soft warmth filling his arms and heart, not that cold, chilly distance with so many empty hours with naught but his fears.
So it was that Halvarin set to rebuilding. It was difficult to do, for often he found himself having to set aside anger, guilt and remorse. He made a point of not leaving quite so early in the day and returning in the dusk. It set the entire household into something of a flux as they adjusted to this new schedule but he could see Amarwen respond and that was all that mattered to him.
No longer did he collapse into bed beside her on the point of exhaustion and so there were nights Halvarin desired Amarwen greatly. Yet he held himself in check, aware that his wife would choose the moment, when she was ready, for such joys. He held her close, stroked the soft skin of her belly, brushing the sweet lower curve of her breasts, and reflected on just how fortunate Mindacil was. Halvarin would fall asleep on such thoughts, his face burrowed in Amarwen's ebony hair, and daylight would find them still entwined.
So it was, nearing the end of February, he awoke to find his wife no longer lay beside him nestled in his arms. Instead, she sat above him. Gentle, sinuous motion that had woken him from a very similar dream indeed. Taken by surprise at his wakefulness, and Halvarin briefly wondered if he had ever slept through something like this before, Amarwen paused. He reached up for her, and sank his fingers through the weight of black hair at the nape of her neck. It was not long before Halvarin had his arms wrapped around his panting wife. Their racing hearts slowed until they both fell into a sated doze.
A brief morning nap, it seemed to Halvarin, when Sarael came to see if all was well.
"Good morning Sarael," he said as the maid stole discretely into the bedchamber.
Amarwen's loose hair was draped over Halvarin's face but he could make the maid out between the thick strands. At the sound of his voice, Amarwen picked her head up. She sighed Sarael, offered her a sleepy smile and then her eyes closed as her head dropped once more. She did not move from her position atop Halvarin.
"Good afternoon, m'lord and lady," Sarael said with some emphasis, "Mindacil has been good all morning while you…. rested but he grows restless now. Do you wish me to bring him in?"
Amarwen stirred at this and murmured assent as she nodded against Halvarin's shoulder.
"Please do, Sarael," Halvarin reaffirmed and Sarael turned away with a nod to see it done.
In the time it took to fetch their son, Amarwen had commenced to grumble about wet nurses.
"My mother never required one," she observed as she tied a robe around herself.
This was not the first Halvarin had heard her make such a remark and it troubled him.
"Your mother had not a rebellion to keep in check," he remarked as he tied his own robe closed.
"And a fine job I am doing of that, too," Amarwen muttered with a shake of her head but before Halvarin could respond Mindacil had arrived.
Halvarin took his son from Sarael and pressed a kiss to the boy's plump cheeks. Mindacil was gracious enough to tolerate this but his intentions were no mystery to anyone. He was reaching for his mother and the bounty she could provide to him even as Halvarin drew back. Mindacil squirmed, almost strong enough now to crawl over to Amarwen, and so Halvarin passed the boy across to his wife. Once he was there, Mindacil settled immediately into place, eyes closing as he fed for now all was right with his world. Every time Amarwen shifted, flinching as the boy's emerging teeth were felt, Mindacil's eyes would flick open.
He stared up at his mother, and then at his father as Halvarin moved to hold them both in his arms. Once Mindacil was assured he was not going to be interrupted, his grey eyes closed and he wound himself as tightly as he could around Amarwen. Halvarin kissed Amarwen's hair and smiled as he closed his eyes. Even this was more than he had ever dared dream possible. He had his wife and a bouncing baby son.
Unseen by Amarwen or Halvarin, Sarael quietly quit the bedchamber. As she closed the door, she leaned against it with a smile. The dark cloud that had settled over this house appeared to be breaking up. Her mistress and master were back.
February gave way to March and whilst Halvarin was spending far more time at home with his family, he was far from idle. In the time he spent away from them at his duties, Halvarin worked to solidify his ministry. He went over his records and had reassigned any he could not be confident of. Those that seemed surprised by his return were the first to go. His subterfuge was that coin was scarce and a reduction in staff reduced costs and freed up funds for other important needs: like repairs to the city and food to address the shortages. Still, Amarwen cautioned him to greater subtlety and so Halvarin also reassigned some he knew to harbour sympathies for Eldacar.
By the close of February, Halvarin was confident that his position had been shored up. At the start of March, he assumed temporary control of Minas Anor's military and its local command when Beregil was summoned to a new position in Pelargir. This was an unexpected boon indeed, for Amarwen was finalising the ordering of the partisans in both Minas Anor and the Harlond both. A new safehouse was established and whatever she had the Viper up to could be managed once word reached Minas Anor. When Amarwen said that Halvarin did not want to know what the Viper was doing, he was inclined to believe her. Lest anyone mutter at Halvarin's actions in assuming military control, he had word sent to Castamir by the usual channels that he had done so. Lastly, Halvarin sent word by more private means to those entrusted with overseeing the estate and holding in Pelargir. It was important that they knew he was in good health despite rumours to the contrary.
As March came around, Halvarin's work had led to one unfortunate outcome. His doubts concerning Mardil had not abated since that grim night in the Harlond. He sent a message to Osgiliath to his old friend Michas who had recommended Mardil to him. The young man, despite having a keen interest in their house maid Sarael, also had other contacts in the city. Unfortunate contacts, as Amarwen confirmed when he spoke of this to her. This led, in turn, to Amarwen inviting Mardil to dinner. The matter had to be resolved, she said, one way or the other and Halvarin knew this to be true. Mardil knew too much to be left as a loose end. Over dinner, Amarwen asked him a series of seemingly benign questions. Idle dinner chatter to the unskilled observer and Mardil seemed at his ease.
Still, Halvarin watched his wife raise one dark brow at an all too refined answer to a question he had almost missed. He frowned as he recalled what it was his wife had asked his adjutant. A query, he realised, about something that had occurred just before they had been set upon at the Harlond. How was it, he wondered again, that Mardil had been left with little more than a scuffed uniform whilst his head had almost been cracked open? How was it that they had known where they would be? Mardil had access to Halvarin's schedule in a way no others did. And if Mardil was an agent of the Usurper, then they were all in grave peril. So many questions…they could not be left unanswered.
Amarwen brushed aside the dubious answer smoothly, her aristocratic training coming to the fore as she neatly directed conversation onto something else. Still, her gaze locked with Halvarin's down the table for a moment and he inclined his head. It had to be. Mardil had to be tested. His wife set her glass down and glanced to where Sarael, who had joined them for dinner this evening, sat. Sarael looked down into her lap for a moment and then back up at Amarwen. She inclined her head and it was done. Mardil would be tested.
When Mardil was leaving, Sarael escorted him to the door where they lingered outside for a time. Sarael liked Mardil, though not in a romantic way, and with the growing concern around his allegiances, she would do what was necessary for them when it came to Mardil. Just as her mistress had done, Sarael used Mardil's growing interest in her to keep him close. When he asked if she might see him one evening, just the two of them, Sarael agreed. Any information she might gain of the adjutant could prove valuable. She gave him a light kiss on the cheek as he left, causing him to pause.
He turned to look at her and Sarael blushed prettily, making sure he saw this before she drew back inside the door and closed it.
|Author:||Elora Starsong [ March 12th, 2018, 7:04 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards|
Minas Tirith - March, 1443
Mardil was sure someone was watching him. The small patch of skin between his shoulder blades had been itching for weeks now. Yet every time he looked about all looked as it should. No one stared or lurked. There had been no pointed questions. When people started to be reassigned, Mardil thought he had been discovered but for some reason, the Lord Commander did not reassign him. Then had come the invitation to dinner. Not from Halvarin but his wife. His dangerous, deadly wife. The number of dead in her wake at the Harlond proved to Mardil that Lady Marece was perhaps one of the most dangerous individuals he had encountered. But dinner had gone well.
He had not been poisoned, stabbed or throttled. He had not been imprisoned or interrogated. Instead, he had been wined and dined and had he not been aware of Lady Marece's activities he would have been utterly charmed. Sarael had been the one undimmed pleasure of the evening and when she had agreed to see him again, the tension he had felt building over the past two months faded into something bearable. Sarael was kind and sweet and her loyalty to the Lady Marece was admirable, even if her mistress was not. There was an innocence to Sarael and Mardil hoped that the young maid could be spared. The only way that might accomplished, he had already reasoned, was if he was able to win her over and so he continued to seek ways to spend time with her.
Thus, when the tap on the Lord Commander's office door proved to be Sarael, Mardil was more than a little pleased late that afternoon. He smiled widely as the pretty maid slipped in.
"A pleasure unlooked for," Mardil said as he rose, glancing over his shoulder to Halvarin's office behind him.
It was empty, for the Lord Commander was attending to the new duties he had recently taken on. It was late enough in the afternoon that Halvarin would likely go home immediately once they had concluded. Such was the new schedule of the Lord Commander now. He knew this not because he was Halvarin's adjutant but because he had been studying the habits and behaviours of the Lord Commander since he had arrived at his command.
Whereas Mardil was certain Lady Marece was an active, powerful rebel and traitor, the Lord Commander's alliegances were more difficult to discern. It was still possible that the man was unaware of his wife's activities. She was a beautiful woman and he had seen her use that and her wit to bend powerful men to her bidding. She had been so artful with Canimir that he was certain that was not the first time she had done such a thing.
"I am pleased to find you here, Adjutant Mardil," Sarael replied, her shawl slipping from her shoulders as she smiled at him shyly.
Mardil's smile widened as he gestured at the papers spread over his desk, "No shortage of work to do. Something I know you appreciate all too well. Did you enjoy yourself last night?"
Colour came to Sarael's cheeks at the question and she glanced to the floor before she nodded.
"I did, Mardil. Very much," she said, looking up and catching his eye.
His heart sped a little at her soft tone and he felt bold enough to ask, "Is that why you are here?"
Sarael looked away again, "I come with a message."
"The Lord Commander is not here," he replied, slightly deflated.
"The message I bear is not for him," Sarael said and looked up at Mardil again.
He nodded slowly, "Very well, then."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The Harlond- March, 1443
He'd gotten the Shieldmaiden off to Minas Ithil, tucked in an empty barrel and rattling along in a wagon. She'd been none too pleased, of course, but beggars could not be choosers. Now there was this task. The Viper considered the young man that lay on the timbers of the lower deck of his river boat. Battered as it was, it was his and the notion of knocking in the hull and sinking it all on account of this treacherous child irked him. Still, Aldamir's woman had been clear and everything he had observed confirmed that the Lord Commander's adjutant was a worm. Choose wisely, she had said, and so here he was.
Sighing, he set checking the chains he had used to secure the worm to the boat. Once that was done, the Viper went in search of his axe. It was time to knock some holes in the hull. He was doing exactly that when he heard the creak of floorboards overhead. He emerged from the storage area, his axe in hand, to find a figure stood over the prone, senseless adjutant. He stared at the intruder's back, startled that the man had managed to get below so swiftly.
The Viper hefted his axe. All he needed was one good, clear swing. Whoever this fellow was, he'd made a mistake coming aboard his boat today. Room enough below decks for two corpses and once the river crabs and fish had their way, little would be recognisable of the bodies if the boat was salvaged. Mop up, he hated it because when mopping up, it never seemed to rain but pour.
But before he could swing, the intruder spoke.
"I hope you've not done anything hasty."
The Viper scowled for it was not a man at all.
"Don't you trust me?" he asked and Aldamir's woman chuckled.
Deep in the cowl of her cloak, her head turned briefly before she resumed her study of the adjutant.
"Change of plans?" the Viper inquired next.
"You might say that," Aldamir's woman replied and turned briefly towards him. She held out a hand and he scowled again before he passed over his axe.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Mardil awoke with a start, his throbbing skull the worst of his injuried. He found himself in a soft bed, pillows of down cushioning his painful head. He was warm, the bedding soft around him and the room he found himself in was lovely. Totally foreign to him but lovely. Beyond the crackling of the nearby hearth, Mardil could hear little else. Carefully, he turned his head on the luxuriant pillows to the chief source of light. Sunlight tried to push through the window, weakened by the stiff and dolorous clouds of late winter beyond.
No matter, for the thin grey light was bolstered by the warmth of the hearth and several lanterns he could see set in strategic locations around the room. Returning his gaze to the creamy ceiling, he tried to assemble his recollections. They wavered. Harlond. A Shieldmaiden. A boat. His stomach turned just as he heard the door latch shift. Mardil tensed as Sarael slid into the room.
He blinked at her, astonished. Over her arm was draped a towel and she carried this over to a chair he had already marked bore fresh clothing. His clothing.
"Sarael," he said, his voice raw and husked.
Sarael did not pause at the sound of her name. She laid the towel over the back of the chair, gathered herself and turned about to face him. Her expression was inscrutable and her hands were folded before her.
"You will have questions," she said, statement and not a query.
Mardil struggled to push himself upright.
"Where am I? How did I get here? What's-"
"You will have questions and they will be answered," Sarael pushed on, "When you are ready, rise and dress."
"But where I am?" Mardil pressed, the covers dropping to reveal that he had been stripped.
Sarael did not blink nor flush but Mardil grabbed for the covers.
"You are safe," she replied, pausing for that to sink in, "And there are few who can claim that. Please, Mardil, consider carefully."
There was a note of plea in her voice and her eyes remained gravely locked on his. Sarael paused, looked aside and then made for the door.
"When you are ready," she said as she opened it again.
"Sarael!" Mardil called but she did not linger.
He was soon left to his own devices. The adjutant stared at the chair. On the nearby table was a wide bowl that held a jug. Presumably for him to freshen himself. He frowned, the action making his head ache worse as his forehead compressed. Sighing, he pushed the covers back and swung his legs over the edge of his comfortable bed. There was no sense of delaying what seemed inevitable. However, if whoever was behind this thought he was defeated, he would prove this wrong.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Amarwen reached for the steaming pot of tea and lifted it. Mardil had yet to surface but she was confident in Sarael's assessment. He would not linger overlong. She filled one porcelain cup with the fragrant liquid within. Then she moved to fill another just as the door opened to reveal Mardil. He had dressed and peered at her and scowled. In response, Amarwen smiled to herself and lifted the tea pot so that the tea fell in a smooth cascade.
There was toast on the table too. Fresh butter and beautifully bitter sweet marmalade. The eggs and bacon would not be far off, she knew. Bacon. Very hard to find. Very expensive when you succeeded. But worth it for this, she felt.
Still scowling, her husband's adjutant pushed forward past the threshold and towards her.
"I have nothing to say to you," he informed her and Amarwen nodded.
She gestured at the toast, "Good - for that will not stay warm forever."
Amarwen pushed one of the filled cups towards him as he fell into a chair, "Lemon or cream?"
Sour enough to rival any lemon, Mardil reached for the honey instead. As she watched him dribble this into his tea, Amarwen reflected on a joke she would have shared with Halvarin were he seated across from her. Catching herself in this, she looked down and saw her hands. Her hands. Squeezing the life out of-
"What do you want?"
Mardil's question interrupted her as the best possible time, "I want you, like the rest of the people of Gondor, to survive this ruin and upheaval."
"You sow ruin and upheaval."
Amarwen sighed, "As do you Mardil, for you serve two masters."
Mardil set down his cup of tea.
"Sarael…she is fond of you. And I am fond of Sarael."
"Am I to thank you?"
Amarwen's smile was sad, "No. For I will ask of you no more than you already do."
Mardil frowned, "I don't understand."
"We both, I think, work to see the people of Gondor served well. It matters not who sits the throne. Rather, it is what is done."
Amarwen nodded and leaned back.
"Is that all?"
"Yes," Amarwen answered as she sipped at her tea. The door opened, and the eggs and bacon arrived.
"Mardil, you are a young man in a difficult position. I wish you no bad will."
"Who are you?!"
Amarwen shook her head at the question and considered her hands again. The sound of bones cracking, flesh crushing. The sound of rattling breath. Who was she indeed to be killing with her bare hands?
"You are free to leave when you wish," she answered, pushed back her chair and rose.
Mardil stared up at her, his expression unreadable, and she walked away. It was done. If she did not miss her guess, Mardil would prove useful provided a gentle hand was used. Feed him the right misinformation and he could be potent indeed when he fed that onto his Unsurper masters. And watch him. Closely.
That matter seen do, Amarwen turned next to the matter. She had found a suitable location for a new safe house. But there was still work to be done to acquire the property around the war machines on the banks of the Anduin. When Castamir called for them to be pressed into action, she was determined to hold all access and control of him in her own firm grip. No longer would the great Anduin be used as a wedge to divide their strength.
When Halvarin returned at the end of the day, Amarwen fell into his arms and lost herself in his embrace.
"I love you," she whispered as she buried her face into his neck.
Halvarin's arms tightened around her, "And I you."
He paused before he said, " Mardil returned to his duties today."
"It is done, then," she said.
"Are you certain?" Halvarin pressed and Amarwen shook her head.
For there was little certain in this day and age.
|Author:||Elora Starsong [ March 18th, 2018, 2:17 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards|
April 1443 ~ Minas Anor
Halvarin was careful in his handling of Mardil. He had to keep things as they were so as not to disrupt the status quo, yet he also had to control the information that Mardhil supplied back to Castimir. If any, that was. There was no way Halvarin know what Mardil reported but caution dictated that he presumes Mardil reported everything he could. Precautionary measures were, therefore, required.
All codes from the meeting of the partisans were changed, and those that Mardil could identify were shifted. The partisans started working in cells so should anyone get arrested or otherwise vanish, the information that could be extracted was be limited. Halvarin wanted to institute measures that protected Amarwen for Mardil knew too much of her activities as well. Amarwen, though, informed him that she considered the risk minimal on that score and should she be mistaken she had her own measures in place. Halvarin decided that it was best to take his wife at her word.
He also knew that he needed to run his operations largely beyond the knowledge of Mardil. For that he needed someone he could trust implicitly and his wife came to mind immediately. However, she needed the cover of secrecy still to be most effectively and if she took on that role she would be too visible. Castimir was already pursuing Marece as it was. If he discovered that she was Amarwen, all they had worked for would come tumbling down.
Halvarin needed someone that was not in Castimir's sights under one name or the other. He decided to ask Michas to take up command of Minas Anor. Osgiliath was well established as an Eldacarian city, and Michas' second, an Ithilien Ranger from Minas Ithil named Giaras, would be a wise commander of Osgiliath. They could now claim a position of strength with the three northern cities firmly in the hands of the Eldacarian underground. He wrote the orders for command changes then and there. Having Michas close, but not so close to draw suspicion that Halvarin is using him as his de-facto adjutant would serve them well.
= = = = = = =
Beginning of May 1443
Halvarin and Michas discussed the river defences as they walked the Anduin's southern bank of Harlond. They had much to discuss, for Michas spoke of the restlessness that some had in wanting to move against Castamir. He was fairly confident Giaras would maintain order and keep all the preparations that have been done in Osgiliath well hidden. Marece would have their hides if all that had been done there was thrown into disarray by impatience. They discussed the need for them when Castamir's ships would attempt to come upriver when Eldacar was ready to reclaim his crown. Part of their discussion was also about what to do should any of the units manning the ballista turned out to be pro-Castamir.
Michas said, "We can never be sure who is with us completely. For the most part, the Anorien soldiers as well as the Ithilien soldiers will be for returning Eldacar to the throne. But it is difficult to access the lower level With Castamir's lack of caring for the northern provinces, it has made our preparation easier."
Halvarin nodded in agreement, "In any case, my wife has been acquiring the property around each defensive installation. Should it be necessary, forces will be on hand to flood any that prove stubborn adherents to the usurper."
Then he asked of Mardil, "You recommended Mardil to me. Were you aware that he had been compromised by Castamir?"
"No," Michas replied bluntly.
Halvarin sighed at the question, "Is it possible he knows anything of your work in Osgiliath?"
"Mardil was not involved with any of the resistance nor had access to it. Your lovely wife would have my hide were it any other way. That said, I do not know what he managed to discover on his own whilst stationed there. For what it is worth, one of my final orders to Giaras before I left was to alter the structure of communications. We will receive the new code names shortly."
What Michas did not tell Halvarin was that he received regular communications from Amarwen as well. A key leader in the resistance, he was routinely reporting on queries and responding to orders from her. His presence in Minas Anor, so close, would make that work a great deal easier but he had yet to ascertain just how much Halvarin knew. He would continue to play his cards close to his chest until he could do so.
For his part Halvarin was pleased with Michas' report and he turned his thoughts to the misinformation he would feed Mardil. Already he had proposed a plan to Amarwen as they lay abed. There they had discussed and refined it and by this point, the plan had been considered by the commander of Calenardhon. His full approval had been sent back, a result not unsurprising given the nature of the proposal sent to him. The people of Calenardhon were the most eager to declare openly against Castamir. No so much for the love of Eldacar, but to be rid of the burden of tributes that supported the maritime provinces.
The plan was simple. Word would be sent to Castamir via Mardil that the men of Calenardhon were going to secede from Gondor. If Castamir acted, he would send a significant force in response. Halvarin would likely receive the orders to quell the secessionists, and he would send a couple units west. He would have ready one unit of Anoriens from Osgiliath, and one of Anoriens from Minas Anor. As there would be no rebellion, it would give the soldiers a chance to stop at their homes for a day or so.
However, there was the chance that the Usurper dispatched a naval force to land at the mouth of the Isen River and march east. In that instance the Calenardhonions would fall in for siege at the fortresses of Isengard and Agarond, and those not able to gain the fortresses would harass the approaching armies as they retreated north into Enedwaith. Things would become somewhat difficult should Castamir order both invasion and Halvarin's move west, but that could be addressed should it come to pass.
And in the process they would test their ability to feed misinformation into Castamir's ministry.
Halvarin told Michas, "I have sent a message to Isengard that will have them at the ready. You and Giaras must be ready to do your part should it become necessary."
The hardy men of Calenardhon would be ready should this first diversion that Halvarin fed Mardil came to fruit and Halvarin had to feed him some information of substance. Otherwise, the adjutant would become get suspicious. The month had so far produced little more than procedural orders for Mardil to carry out. Halvarin was due to put some feigned trust in him, and so called him in for a meeting.
"Mardil, it has been too long since we had talked long and I have need of your advice," Halvarin said.
Mardil's ears seemed to pick up at the prospect of some relief from his boredom and perhaps something else in the offing.
"There are tidings from the west that are…troubling. It would appear that Calenardhon is about to erupt into secession. I've had Michas and Giaras send envoys to the Commander of Calenardhon to see if there is any substance to the rumours. If I can settle this easily without Castamir knowing, all will be better for us here. Or so I believe," Halvarin paused and leaned forward to consider his adjutant, "Tell me Mardil, do you think I have done the right thing?"
"This is a serious matter Halvarin. Do you think it wise not to tell Castamir?"
Halvarin shook his head "I'm sure Castamir has much more important things to worry about in the south to be bothered by a few upstarts in the far west of the realm. I will send word, though, should it be necessary and I will take your concern under advisement."
Mardil frowned to himself as Halvarin continued, "I thank you for your thoughts on the matter."
The adjutant opened his mouth to say something but this was not a discussion and Halvarin's purpose in calling him in had been served.
"Now I believe there is a certain lady out in the foyer awaiting you?" the Lord Commander inquired before Mardil could get a word out, "You can go. I'll close up the office."
The adjutant blinked as he glanced for the window and discovered the time. Dismissed, he shot to his feet and found that Sarael was indeed awaiting him. She wore a fine dress in anticipation an evening out with Mardil. When he saw her he was taken aback for a moment and Sarael blushed.
She said, "We were going to the theatre tonight, and it starts soon. Are you ready?"
Mardil took Sarael's arm without delay, leaving Halvarin at his desk wondering and hoping that the information he had fed to Mardil would be passed on. Only time would tell now. He then got up and headed for the door, for he was not going to miss a dinner with Amarwen. He had not missed one since he had returned from his captivity.
|Author:||Elora Starsong [ March 18th, 2018, 5:11 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards|
September 1443 ~ Minas Anor
Amarwen tapped a finger on the table as she waited. Michas and Halvarin were quietly talking amongst themselves, their long years as friends showing in the way the two men stood so closely together utterly at their ease despite the circumstances under which they had gathered. Then again, she reflected, perhaps she was the only one as nervous she was. The moment she had been working for all of these years, on her own and with so many others, was here. Almost. She could taste it.
As her thoughts ran, Michas swatted at Halvarin's shoulder.
"No!" he exclaimed, "Seriously?"
"Absolutely," Halvarin replied, a slow smile lighting his features.
Michas swung about to consider her and Amarwen's finger paused its tapping, "I lost that archery tournament to you?"
What archery tournament? Or, rather, which one? There had been a time when she had competed at quite a number of them. It seemed a lifetime ago now.
"I'm afraid you'll have to be a little more specific," Amarwen replied which only made Michas' brows shoot up and Halvarin's smile grow even broader as he rocked back on his heels, enjoying himself.
"Won so many of them, eh?" Michas chuckled.
"Yes," Amarwen said levelly and Michas began to laugh until he realised that she was entirely serious.
"Osgiliath," he clarified and Amarwen nodded slowly in return.
"You shot wide, as I recall. A surprising lapse given your training."
"That Shieldmaiden spooked me," Michas replied, cheeks reddening as he regarded Halvarin.
Halvarin rubbed at his closely cropped beard and weighed in at last, relishing what he was about to say, "Or perhaps you were just a little distracted by your fellow competitors. I distinctly recall you describing a certain green silk dress."
Amarwen forgot herself enough to laugh at that, "And well you can talk, Halvarin of Pelargir!"
Now it was Halvarin's turn to flush and Michas chortled. Into this, then, walked one Prince of Dol Amroth. In their levity, it took a moment for Amarwen to realise he had arrived but once she had she rose to her feet.
"Amarwen," the Prince said without hesitation and she was moving to embrace this man that she thought of as kin, "You look well."
He gathered her hands in his own and pressed a kiss to her brow.
"Uncle," she said quietly, the name by which she had always addressed him privately and then turned to where her husband and Michas waited.
"My lord, I introduce you with Lord Commander Halvarin, Navigator Prime of the Mariner's Guild and my husband. With him, the current Commander of Minas Arnor, Michas also of the Mariner's Guild. Michas is a-"
"Poor shot when it comes to archery tournaments," Michas supplied with a grin, "Erstwhile soldier, before command took me."
The Prince of Dol Amroth came forward to exchange his greetings, first with Michas and then with Halvarin.
"Navigator Prime and not Master?" he asked and Halvarin looked aside to Amarwen for a moment.
She nodded and Halvarin replied, "I was considered in the wake of my father's death but another, more senior than I, was selected."
"Have you designs on captaincy?"
"Not unless I can pick my own crew," Halvarin replied and smiled to where Amarwen watched on, "And our son is a little young, yet, for the rank of cabin boy."
The Prince's face alighted, "A son?"
He turned to Amarwen, "Oh, this is wonderful tidings indeed. What is his name? How old is he?"
"Mindacil," Amarwen replied as Halvarin came to stand beside her and wrap an arm across her back to rest a hand on her hip, "He has just had his first birthday and, if I do not miss my guess, is presently wreaking havoc upon a newly tidied house."
Throughout this, Michas hung back but once they reached a natural pause he cleared his throat, "I cannot image we are able to linger here over long."
"No indeed," Amarwen confirmed with a nod to Michas, "The usurper's over reaction to the false threat of Calenardhon confirms for us that the stage, finally is set."
"False threat?" the Prince echoed and Amarwen smiled faintly.
"Yes, Uncle…and with all the pieces in place, the time has come for the final act."
It was here, at last, and Amarwen set about unveiling the entire sweep of her work over the years. From the caches installed and stocked to the brim to the confederations of partisans distributed around the realm. From the seeds planted within the Guild to the siege engines secured within their grasp. From the dismantling of his covert operatives and the decimation of his ocean and river fleets to the misinformation being fed to those remained. And not to mention the financial ruin they could cause once their called in their debts. Castimir had overplayed his hand badly.
"Our error, before, was in the under-estimation of Castimir's hunger to secure power. As Calenardhon proves, the Usurper is equally over zealous in keeping that which he has stolen. This serves us well, for he over -commits and depletes his forces…and the general populace is left to wonder at what point his zealous cruelty will come to a stop. Each action he takes sends to us more sympathizers."
All three men were silent as they absorbed this. Michas looked surprised at the full scope of it all. Halvarin too and both men looked to her as if they had not seen her before this day. The Prince of Dol Amroth, though, looked troubled and it was he that spoke first.
"The bloodshed will be terrible," he observed, "No matter what you do to contain it."
"We will attempt, insofar as we may, to defray that. Discouraging the Usurper is not, I have found, an easy thing to do but we will try."
"Ordinary people will, once again, be lost," he said.
Amarwen nodded for there was no denying this, "They are lost already, Uncle. They work themselves into early graves paying tributes. They freeze in cells that they do not belong in. They watch their children starve, denied another year's harvest as the land rebels against a false king."
She drew a breath, "The moment Castamir seized the throne he condemned us all to this. Gondor cannot endure under his yoke."
But, even as Amarwen spoke, what Halvarin and Michas both noted was what she did not speak of. She made no mention of Aldamir's work at Minas Ithil, for example and there were a number of other significant omissions. Not mistakes, Halvarin thought as he glanced to his friend. Amarwen had deliberately left these things out. Mardil, for example. Michas thought it odd, meanwhile, that Amarwen had made no mention of the roads laid down, ready for use by Eldacar's army.
"And what of the traitor within our ranks?" Michas asked.
"Identified and contained," Amarwen replied, "For the nonce, it behoves us to keep him where his is. Another adjutant, if you will."
Slowly Michas nodded and he crossed his arms as he considered Halvarin briefly.
"What next, then?" the Prince of Dol Amroth inquired.
"Carefully arranged uprisings, whilst Castamir is preoccupied at Calenardhon. We want his attention carefully fixed on the West, where we have the strength of numbers and provisions. Partisans only, unarmed from our caches."
"And those that seek to flee this violence?" the Prince inquired.
"I hope that they will find refuge, as always they have, Uncle. As indeed I did, upon a time."
He sighed at this but nodded, as if resigned.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
It was late, almost midnight, when Halvarin rested his head upon Amarwen's bared stomach. Their skin was slick with sweat and their hearts still raced with their exertions.
"I did not know," Halvarin panted against her skin, "Just how much you had in motion."
"Does it surprise you?" Amarwen asked in return and Halvarin picked up his head to gaze up at her lazily.
His fingers traced the contours before his eyes and he smiled as she sucked in a sharp breath.
"What surprised me is what you did not say."
Amarwen ruffled Halvarin's dark hair at that, smiling herself, "Ah, well, if I told all my secrets, what mystery would have to tempt you to remain by my side?"
"I remain at your side, woman, because I know and love you so well," he replied, his hand settling strategically to gently squeeze.
Amarwen could not help but arch at the sensation he coaxed from her. Once it passed, she stared up at the canopy for a long moment.
"Would you know all my secrets, Halvarin?' she inquired.
He rolled his eyes at the question, "I doubt such a thing is even possible."
Amarwen smiled at his statement and reached down to set her hands around his face. Gently, she eased her husband up until he lay over her in full. Then she pulled his ear towards her and whispered. Her lips brushed his ear as she spoke and Halvarin went utterly still.
"A child?" he asked, his voice quivering as he moved to meet her gaze.
Amarwen nodded and she caught the flash of a grin before he kissed her soundly. She was again with child, and the rebellion was coming fast to fruition.
|Author:||Elora Starsong [ April 2nd, 2018, 3:44 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards|
Late November 1443 - Rhovania
Autumn had been wet and now winter had come early to Rhovania. Eldacar and Vinyarion, accompanied by Shieldmaidens Vilmaith and Vilna, met at length with the King of Rhovania. Vilna spoke of the regions of Gondor that would come to Eldacar upon his return. They already had Ithilien, Anorien and Calenardhon firmly in hand. The people of Calenardhon already chafed to throw off Castimir's rule and declare openly for Eldacar. However, the King in exile was concerned about the state of the southern provinces, Lossarnarch in particular for those people had suffered heavily when the Usurper had first embarked upon his campaign.
It was here that Vinyarion offered his grandfather counsel of a kind that even he would have been astonished at years ago, before civil strife had blighted their realm. He had led a somewhat charmed existence then, idle for the most part. The outbreak of the Kin Strife had thrown everything into flux and no one had emerged unchanged. Vinyarion had shed his indolent, frivolous shell and it was a sober, thoughtful prince in exile that addressed his king now.
"We all grieve the suffering and death that is to come, yet in Lossarnarch it has already begun to unravel. There is turmoil there and my father has sent word that our strength waxes. Why, even Castamir's own Lord Commander of the northern region supports you!"
"The Regional Commander, that would be the son of the slain Guild Master, would it not?" Eldacar asked as he looked over the state of the armies Vinyarion and Vilmaith had raised in Rhovania.
"Aye, Halvarin, Prime Navigator of the Mariner's Guild, appointed by Castamir himself," Vinyarion replied, naming his friend of old. Tidings that Halvarin had thrown off his father's misguided loyalties to declare for the true king had offered no small relief to Vinyarion. He had shed the blood of too many friends over these wretched years as it was.
Eldacar looked to the map of Gondor and focused on the stronghold of Pelargir, "Tell me how this is good for us?"
At this, Vinyarion looked to Vilna for it had been she to carry tidings from Minas Anor and his father.
"M'lord, I went to his house, observed with my own eyes. The Lord Commander is true to his word" Vilna paused here to glance tacitly to her sister in arms, [/i]"And he is married to one of our own."
"Who?"[/i] Eldacar demanded, looking up from the map.
"A member of the resistance within Gondor. He had ample opportunity to betray us, turn us over to Castamir. I do not think there is any loyalty to the usurper in this Guildsman."
Eldacar nodded slowly, "I wish to hear from my son on this, but I think as soon as we can be ready in spring, we must move. Have our people prepare. It will be a hard fight. One we cannot lose."
Vinyarion, Vilmaith, and Vilna each inclined their heads and took their leave. There was much to do in the coming seven months.
As they walked, Vinyarion angled towards Vilna, "Who is this woman Halvarin married? You know, do you not?"
Again the two Shieldmaidens glanced to each other and it was Vilmaith who answered, "That is for your father to divulge, Prince."
Once a Shieldmaiden had decided not to tell you something, there was little that could be done about it. Vinyarion had learned that already. But, still, he could help but wonder. Had Halvarin managed to turn someone senior in the usurper's court? Was that why they were so reluctant to name his wife, for fear that she would be mistrusted? Should they both survive what was to come, there was much for the two friends to discuss.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
January 1444 ~ Minas Anor
The winter, whilst incessantly damp, proved not to be as cold as it had been in recent years. That said, the rain seemed endless. The fields of the Pelennor had been transformed into soft marshland. It made movement beyond the high road formed of sturdy rock nigh impossible. As for that road, it too suffered in the soggy conditions. The stones were dislodged and undermined such that wagons, particularly those heavily laden, could not pass upon it.
The river was the only way to navigate and get supply to Osgiliath and that had become treacherous with its high flows and dangerous currents. To the west, the Entwash had created a huge lake over its marshlands and the only way to get west was by the Stonewain valley. But even that road was prone to sudden slides of mud and rock.
In Minas Anor, Halvarin continued to work on arranging people into key positions as information came available from Amarwen's sources. Everything seemed to point to a big push come the spring, hopefully after the land had dried out enough to allow for the movement of forces and war machines. He was able to feed Mardil just enough information to keep him from suspecting anything. A few small nuggets, things Amarwen deemed they could afford to have uncovered, amid the misdirection and dross. Michas proved invaluable in keeping Mardil safely contained.
At home, though they were both busy, Amarwen coped admirably well with the illness that accompanied the early stages of pregnancy. Halvarin had been at sea when she was carrying Mindacil, utterly unaware and Halvarin had quietly mourned the fact that he had not been able to be there as his son grew and then was born. Thus, given a second chance to witness such a wonder, Halvarin found himself both astonished and overjoyed despite the troubled times in which they lived.
The tide was turning, as Amarwen had said some months ago now. It seemed to him that the Usurper had all but ceded anything north of the line they had fashioned south of Minas Anor. It had taken years, but the north had proven too vexatious for the Guild's liking. Amarwen was, he knew, quite pleased with this for it meant the best opportunity for Eldacar's forces to return to Gondor proper unmarked. If all went as well as she hoped, they may well reach the caches she had been building and dug in before Castamir realised what was underway.
Halvarin himself worried about the possibility of being reassigned somewhere to the south by Castamir. It was entirely possible that he would be called back behind the Usurper's line and should that come to pass, he knew that he could not go. That they had been able to survive as long as they had within Castamir's Gondor was remarkable, but the time was coming when that would come to an end. They would have to declare against Castamir and once that occurred, civil war would again return to Minas Anor.
One night after Mindacil went to sleep, Halvarin found himself seated atop his bed. Amarwen was beside him, reading through reports she had not been able to clear prior to dinner.
"Such times we live in, my love." he sighed and at this Amarwen looked up from the report to study him, "The weight grows and the dam will burst forth just as the Anduin rages now."
She lowered the report she had been studying and turned towards him as Halvarn pushed on,
"The few reports I've been able to obtain from Osgiliath say that the weather is cold enough past Cair Andros for this rain to fall as snow. It has impeded all movement, but word had come to them. Eldacar, with counsel from the shieldmaidens Vilmaith and Vilna, had convinced King of Rhovania to commit his armies!"
Amarwen did not look at all surprised and just how she had gotten word of this given how difficult it was to move anything puzzled him. And then it occurred to him: Aldamir was in Minas Ithil. Not so very far away at all.
"I received such tidings myself today," she confirmed.
With a faint smile, Amarwen answered, "The way is hard only for those forced to travel by land, my love."
"Bird," Halvarin instantly guessed and Amarwen's smile grew.
"Little detail can be sent in such a fashion, and what does come is perforce coded."
"So I am not telling you that which you already know," Halvarin stated and Amarwen's smile became mischievous for a moment.
"You continue to prove most useful, husband," she remarked and Halvarin shook his head slightly before he continued on.
"They will watch east of the river and against the Easterlings while Eldacar's forces move south in force. Rhovanian's legions will follow in reserve! Liberation will come!"
Halvarin tried not to let his excitement get the better of him but they were at the tipping point that they had laboured for and risked so much. There was much to still be done, and the days ahead would be grim, darkened by yet more blood spilt, but beyond that should they prevail, peace. A prosperous peace, where he could raise a family with his beloved wife without constantly looking over their shoulder. He looked to Amarwen and smiled for she was radiant. Their unborn child was slowly swelling her belly and he rested his hand upon her stomach as he leaned in to kiss her.
As he drank from her lips, his hand slipped lower still and Amarwen jumped as his hand brushed over sensitive skin.
She grabbed his hand as he kissed her again, revelling in her reaction, "Surely you cannot fear falling with child now, can you?"
"Silly man…" she retorted, breaking off as his fingers went back to their work.
As he drank from her lips, his hand slipped lower still until Amarwen jumped.
She grabbed his hand as he kissed her again, revelling in her reaction, "Surely you cannot fear falling with child now, can you?"
"Silly man…" she retorted as they entwined. Come what may, at least they had found each other in this ruin, and claimed their lives as their own. All those years of yearning and sorrow that this might never come to pass had fallen away. No one stood between them now.
"Oh Amarwen, my love…" he groaned against her skin and after that he surrendered himself to the wonder of her embrace.
|Author:||Elora Starsong [ April 3rd, 2018, 7:17 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards|
Edhellond ~ February 1444
Beregon was sleeping when a pigeon landed on the sill of his window. He did not stir, unaware of its presence until the pigeon grew impatient. What woke him was the disturbance the pigeon made. When he prized his window over, he was astonished to find the source of the ruckus was something as humble as this bird. It immediately came within, along with a blast of cold air wet with a recent coastal storm.
Once inside, the bird landed with a plop onto his desk. There, it promptly relieved itself over his mostly written report. Beady eyes fixed on him as its head turned this way and that. Smug, he wondered, given what it had just left on a report he'd been working on for days? Beregon stared right back at it and this was how he noticed that the pigeon had something affixed to its leg.
Removing it, he unfurled a small scrap of curled paper and peered at what appeared upon it. Then he swore for it would require decoding. So much for sleep. In all, the process took Beregon an hour but once he had transcribed the message, his chair creaked under his weight. He lent back, all thought of the pigeon fled from his mind as he weighed up what he had learned.
His chair scraped over the floor and Beregon padded to his door to prop it open. Down below he could make the lights of those ships at anchor in Edhellond's harbour. Night lanterns had been lit. So too had the fuse, long in the laying, for the war to come. He studied the swaying lights below at length before he withdrew and closed his door once more.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Osgiliath - April 1444
Amarwen placed a protective hand over her growing belly as she looked about. The road to Osgiliath had been as dismal as Halvarin had warned her of. That she was here, and he was not, was another thing he'd not been well pleased over but it could not be helped. Eldacar's forces would soon be here and she needed to see for herself that all she had laboured for over the years was ready for them.
It wasn't that she mistrusted Michas' reports on the matter. It wasn't either, the fact that Mindacil was starting to explore the power of temper tantrums. Osgiliath was a key staging point for Eldacar's forces. They would have to move as lightly as possible and it was here that they would expect to be provisioned for the war ahead of them. From here they would fan out into other strongholds to position themselves. Minas Ithil and Minas Anor were just two such locations and they could not store such a large provision of materiel in either location.
Osgiliath was the key for their return. At least, the beginning of their return. Control of the Anduin was another vital aspect she had been working on, from who owned the dockside buildings and what was in them to the war machines on the river shore. As for Pelargir, the Usurper's stronghold in the north, she'd bring that down from within. Her uncle Carlin had been a very busy man, as had Captain Silares. There was a sizeable contingent of like minded Guildsmen working with them, each of them painstakingly vetted to ensure they were not infiltrators. It had been a difficult, perilous approach and one that Beregon had spoken against but it had managed to yield results. Or it would, once it came down to it.
Now she looked at the cavernous space that she had once despaired of ever filling. In those early days, reeling from her grief and horror and rage at what had befallen her people and her family, she had spent no few hours despairing of what might be accomplished to turn back the inexorable tide. It had seemed overwhelming and she had felt wholly inadequate. There had been many times since then that she had foundered but now here she was. What she saw was precisely in order, just as Michas had assured her it would be.
Hoisting her torch overhead, Amarwen picked her way carefully through the provisions towards the next cavern. She had plotted out five that she considered dry and stable enough for storage and she wanted to see each for herself.
It was still very cold down here for the stones and earth around her had yet to relinquish all of winter's embrace. Her breath plumed in the air before her and overhead the torch hissed and spat. In the subterranean quiet, it sounded preternaturally loud. The urge to be quite gripped her, even though she was confident she was here alone. She had been very clear in her stipulations. No one was to meet her.
She was to appear and disappear here in Osgiliath as if no more than a shadow. She was not so heavy with child as to make this impracticable and that, too, was what had spurred her on now. In a month, perhaps less, she would not be able to conceal her state with clever garb. People would notice she was with child and that would make her conspicuous. A woman with child, travelling alone…very conspicuous. She had delayed for along as she could, reluctant to do anything that might endanger the child she carried. If she lost another, she did not think she could bear it.
So far, so good, for she was just one of a number shuffling through Osgiliath's gates from the ruined road. So many on foot, for it was largely unpassable by wagon, no one had thrown her a second glance. Provided all was in order, she may even be able to set about returning to Minas Anor this very day…though if she left it too late it would too dangerous to take the road by evening. Finding quarters as an unescorted woman in these unsettled time would be challenging, but it was that or announce her presence to the members of the resistance in Osgiliath. The fewer waves made, she thought, the better which is why she threw her torch to the ground and froze.
Not her torch. Not her breathing. Not her footsteps. Someone else was down here. Doused in darkness, Amarwen reached for the pallet beside her as her ears strained. She would have to feel her way along to the outer edge of the cavern and then…hope her memory of this place had held up to the rigours of time. There were many ways in and out of the caverns but only a select few were reliable and safe. As she racked her memory of this place, questions tumbled over her mind.
Had she been followed down here? Had someone identified her? Had she been compromised? Were these rebels, like her or partisans? Were they, in fact, men of Castimir? Had they over-estimated their ascendancy in Osgiliath? What if she could not find her way out again? What if she chose the wrong tunnel? How long could she last down here? Would it be long enough for those in Minas Anor to realise something was awry and come for her?
Amarwen rounded the corner of the pallet and raised an arm into the darkness. She struck out cautiously, hoping to feel the cold rough brush of stone any moment now. Panic was lurking. She could feel the scrabble and scuttle of its chitinous legs within. Then, unyielding stone met the palm of her hand with a chill kiss. The edge of the cavern.
"Just set him down. Need to get a better look at him anyway."
A woman's voice echoed and Amarwen again froze. She heard panting. Someone was being carried. Someone was in pain. Someone had come afoul of the precautions laid in the tunnels around these caverns. Someone was not supposed to be here.
"Where is the kit?"
It was the same woman. Amarwen did not recognise her voice but whoever this woman was, she was accustomed to command. Her tone was clip, iron clad. How many were there, Amarwen wondered, amongst other things. She edged towards the woman's voice and glimpsed a soft glow ahead. They had a torch! Immediately her mind began to spun. She considered her circumstances. In her present garb, she could say that she had been scavenging for food for her family, become lost and disorientated.
They might believe her. They probably would arrest her, but then they'd bring her up and she knew quite well how to get out of Osgiliath's prison cells. That was one lesson she had not forgotten over the years. If she was lost down here, she'd likely die, and Amarwen continued creeping forwards to the light.
She crouched beside a pallet and peered past it to a small knot of people. A torch had been stuck into the ground by a man stretched out nearby. What drew Amarwen's eye was the woman tending the man. She did not know her, but she knew what a Shieldmaiden looked like. She stared at the Shieldmaiden and then considered where the others might be. There had to be others, for the woman had been talking to someone other than the injured-
A hand descended over Amarwen's mouth and nose and she was reefed backwards off her feet. In the poorly lit cavern, it was disorientating as she struggled to free herself. As the hold on her slipped as they fought for balance, Amarwen surged forward once more. Except, the space she surged into was occupied by a large crate of canvas sheets. She hit it hard enough that she bounced off it again and back into her assailant. She knew no more.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Vilmaith scowled as she looked over to the soldier. It was probably just another starving local scavenging for food she thought. Certainly, appeared that way for the woman's clothing was hard used and oft repaired…entirely inadequate for the weather which probably suggested she spent her time down here in the caverns. Just how the wretch had gotten through the tangle of snares that had claimed Vinyarion, Vilmaith did not know.
It had been a reasonably short lived altercation. A brief struggle, though the scavenger had managed to slip the soldier just the once she'd then careened into a pallet and taken care of matters nicely for them. The soldier dragged her back towards the torchlight. She'd need to be searched for weapons, bound and gagged and then…well…they'd have a difficult decision to make.
How much had she seen was the question, and what might she make of it? Who might she tell? The soldier let the unconscious woman drop a safe distance away from Vinyarion. The prince had propped himself onto his elbows to watch and Vilmath remained where she was, strapping his right ankle. Hopefully a strain and not a sprain, she told herself, as the soldier bound her hands and feet and set to checking the scavenger over for weapons.
He grunted at the second dagger. Perhaps not a mere scavenger after all, Vilmaith amended as more weapons were found.
"Her hair, check that too. There enough of it to hide something in there too," Vinyarion advised and the soldier shifted rake his fingers through very dark hair.
He found nothing but, being a thorough man, he flipped the woman's head over to check the other side and Vinyarion promptly choked on his own tongue.
"Amarwen?" he squawked, his voice rising two octaves.
Either by coincidence or because she recognised her name, the bound woman stirred. She was groggy and blinked against the sudden flare of the nearby torch. Now, Vilmaith had never encountered Amarwen of Edhellond before but she knew Vinyarion had.
"Untie her," Vinyarion demanded, pulling himself onto his hands and knees.
The soldier paused just as the woman rolled towards Vinyarion's voice.
"What are you doing down here?" Vinyarion inquired as the soldier bent to undo his handiwork.
"They're my caches! What you are doing in them!"
"Just as well we are, my Lady, for how else were you going to find your way out of them?"
The Prince had observed her lack of her own lighting and by now Amarwen's freed hands were untying her ankles.
She rolled her eyes at the question posed and Vilmaith answered for her, "Steal ours."
Amarwen of Edhellond…Vilmaith had heard a lot about this woman charged by Eldacar himself to lead and shape the resistence within Gondor. Betrothed against her will to the king's son, Vinyarion's father, but married to the son of the former Guild Master. Halvarin of Pelargir, Lord Commander of the North and once Commander of Osgiliath. And, now that Vilmaith considered her long enough, the prisoner that had been rounded up with her some years back in Osgiliath. Prisoner…seventy six, sent to the library by the man she had since wed. What tangled webs, the Shieldmaiden thought to herself. Had the woman lured the now Lord Commander over to them? If so, it was a masterful stroke that would serve them well. She hoped that this might be enough to win the aristocrat clemency when it came to the matter of her betrothal to Prince Aldamir.
"Can he walk?" Amarwen asked, addressing the question to Vilmaith.
The Shieldmaiden nodded at the question and asked one of her own, "Do you know how to get out of here safely?"
Amarwen smiled at that, "Provided Michas has not added improvements in his tenure, I think so."
"You designed these?" Vinyarion exclaimed as Amarwen reached for the torch and gained her feet.
She lifted a shoulder at the question, "The caverns and tunnels, no. The snares and traps…"
"Devious woman," he remarked at which Amarwen's smile grew.
She said nothing to that but Vilmaith found herself liking the noble woman. Cut from a similar cloth, she thought, aristocratic birth aside.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Vinyarion could not believe that seated across from the humble fire they had raised in the night was Amarwen. It had been years since he had seen her last and when he heard the position his grandfather had appointed her, he had been puzzled. Amarwen of Edhellond was of high noble birth, educated in all the gentle arts a young woman of that stature was expected to master. Language, music, art and the like.
He had found it difficult to reconcile his impression of her with the role she had served in. But, then, this war had left none of them unchanged. He'd gone from mostly superfluous member of the royal family to third in line to the throne. And he'd seen for himself just how well she had mastered her current role. His ankle was still wrapped from one of her devious snares. Beautiful and clever she had always been…devious and dangerous though…this was new. Or was it? Had his grandfather seen years ago what he only noticed now?
"Why did you not come north like the others did?" he asked her.
Amarwen lifted a battered tin mug of tea and blew over it to cool it, "I could tell you that I would never have been permitted to reach Rhovania."
"Likely true," Vinyarion said, aware of just how keenly the usurper sought any means to confer legitimacy to his rule. Castimir's ploys were what had led to his father agreeing to wed this woman.
But now she pushed out a sigh and sipped at her tea, "Mostly, though, I wanted revenge. Rhovania could not offer me that fast enough, and so I remained."
"To make Castamir's life miserable."
"He deserves it," she answered and took another sip of her tea.
"Treason seems to be agreeing with you, my Lady. Why, you're positively glowing."
Before the war, her eyes would have narrowed at a statement like that and rightly so for there would have been a sting in its tail. He had found sparring with Amarwen rather pleasing but now she did not glare at him at all. Rather, her eyes lowered and she rested her hand over her belly.
"Have you heard from Halvarin?" he asked next, for the one thing he and Amarwen had always agreed upon was their mutual friend.
In that sense, he reflected now, they had almost been rivals. Amarwen went very still at the question and her eyes lifted to where she knew Vilmaith was seated. Back from the fire, the Shieldmaiden had kept to herself since they had made camp. The grind of her blade over her whetstone paused.
"He does not know," Vilmaith said. Amarwen pushed a heavy breath out through her nose, frowned at the fire and then set her tin mug down.
"I married Halvarin some years ago now," she said and stroked her belly, "And all going well, I will bear him a second child in a matter of months."
"I thought you'd just gotten a little fat!"
Vinyarion frowned at the statement that had just come out of his mouth and then replaced it with something more sensible, "Does my father know?"
"We have reached an accord," Amarwen levelly replied and Vinyarion could not help but wonder at that. He glanced aside to Vilmaith, who seemed to know far more of this than he, and found she was untroubled by Amarwen's assertion.
"Halvarin married…and a father…"[/i] Vinyarion shook his head slowly from side to side, "Wonders will never cease. I am almost tempted to accompany you back to Minas Anor to see this marvel for myself."
Vilmaith looked up at that as Amarwen shook her head.
"Our work here continues unaltered, m'lord," the Shieldmaiden declared flatly.
"Agreed. If you should be identified with us, what time we do yet have in Minas Anor would be shortened further. There is much we need to finish before Halvarin and I must openly declare a stand."
"The city will slide in chaos when that occurs," Vilmaith observed.
Amarwen's reply was stark, "Aye and with that the opening salvo for the war proper. I would not bring that to us any faster than it already approaches."
"Fine," Vinyarion grumbled, though he wasn't sure how him being identified would lead to the declaration of war.
With Vilmaith and Amarwen both united against him, he knew better than to challenge them. The night passed quietly after that and come the dawn, Amarwen was already slipping away for Minas Anor. Vinyarion watched her departure thoughtfully for a long moment and then turned back to where Vilmaith and the one soldier they had brought with them prepared to return to their forces in Rhovania. Now that they had confirmed all was in readiness, they could press ahead for Osgiliath.
"Would we have time to slip down to Minas Ithil," he asked the pair.
"How fast can you hobble?" asked the soldier in return, at which Vilmaith grinned mercilessly.
Vinyarion did not bristle, though, for his pride was not so easily pricked these days, "I need to speak with my father."
Vilmaith shrugged at that and so they set off for their return, via Minas Ithil.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Minas Anor - April 1444
Amarwen pressed through the kitchen doors with the dying rays of the day transforming the White City into a riot of burnt amber and luminescent red. Within the kitchen was well underway with preparations for the evening meal and through this came a child's piercing shriek of sheer joy and after that came a familiar rumble. Mindacil's shriek turned into laughter at his father's impersonation of an oliphaunt and soon enough she caught sight of her son.
He ran on chubby legs, squealing with delight through the kitchen until he spotted her in the doorway. Immediately he made for her skirts, plunging into their protection chortling like a madman as Halvarin came into view. Unlike his son, the Lord Commander could not go racing through a busy kitchen without being castigated. Halvarin's eyes were alight with his own delight, both at the game he was playing with their firstborn and for seeing her returned whole and hale.
"WHERE IS MY SON?" Halvarin boomed, his voice echoing and Amarwen heard Mindacil chortle again somewhere in her skirts.
"Have you seen him, wife?" Halvarin pressed, striding towards her.
She smiled at the question and his arms wrapped around her. Would not be long before he could not be able to lift her up and away, she knew, but that was yet to come. Halvarin plucked her up and swung her about to reveal Mindacil squatting like a jolly mushroom. He sprang up to his feet again, a sweet smile of unabated innocence lighting his face.
"Why, how did that boy get there?" Amarwen inquired as Halvarin set her down again. She pressed her fingers to her cheeks as he pulled Mindacil up his hip.
"I've got you now," he told the boy, who did not look the least bit perturbed by his recent apprehension.
Amarwen's arm snaked around Halvarin to tickle Mindacil. He squirmed, screwing up his nose. Halvarin turned slightly into her and she quite forgot what she was doing when their lips met.
"I've got you too," Halvarin murmured as he drew back again.
She sighed at that and then caught Mindacil watching. He watched his parents like a veritable hawk. Amarwen lifted a hand to gently tweak his little button nose.
"Have you been behaving yourself for your father, young man?" she inquired for this venture away to Osgiliath was the first time she had left Mindacil in Halvarin's care. They both seemed to be in one piece, as near as she could tell.
"Of course he has! I run a tight ship!" Halvarin replied at which she cocked a brow. Halvarin pushed on, "How did things fare?"
"Well, all told," Amarwen replied, "Encountered a mutual friend unexpectedly."
They started walking out of the kitchen where there were too many listening ears. Whilst there were no Castamirian agents in their household, not all of them were aligned to Eldacar either. A necessary balance to ensure the Lord Commander's household looked, to outward inspection, as it should.
Halvarin's arm remained around her as they wove through the residence. As she walked, she calculated time from what she had learned from Vilmaith and Vinyarion. They should have dug in at Osgiliath by midsummer and from there…it would have to be swift, well calculated and timed. Precise.
"I need more birds," Amarwen commented as all of this tabulated.
Halvarin swung Mindacil down and the toddler shot off ahead of his parents. Lazy black curls bounced on his shoulders. His father's hair, she thought to herself. What would the next one have? Boy or girl?
"Will it happen as swiftly as it seems?" Halvarin asked and Amarwen nodded.
"It is already underway. Initial staging should be completed by midsummer."
It was then she understood something. If it unfolded the way she anticipated, she could well be delivering a child in a city under siege. A city in which they are hunted as traitors. A hand came to rest on her belly at this thought and Halvarin read it well.
"Whatever comes to pass," he said gently, kissing her temple as they walked and breathing her in, "We face it together."
"And we will prevail," she answered and looked up into Halvarin's face.
"Yes," he replied without hesitation…but even so they were both wondering what measures may need to be laid to ensure the safety of their young son and the child in her belly when war came.
|Author:||Elora Starsong [ May 20th, 2018, 12:30 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards|
May 1444 ~ Minas Anor
The sun broke through the clouds at midday for the first in months. Faint spring warmth could be felt as the damp stones of the city shone. The scent of moss and mildew wafted up with the evaporating water and a sense of relief, almost good cheer, unfurled through streets that had dwelled under grey skies for so long.
Aware that he was a symbol of Castamir’s rule, Halvarin had worn his old plain grey-green cloak for his walk down to the markets on the first level. The feeling of the people he found milling about seemed different to him than the year prior. Food remained scant still, but he felt a sliver of hope now amongst the hardship. This, he knew, likely came from the rumors spreading through the city. There were whispers that the Return of Eldacar had come. Halvarin knew the time would soon come where he would have to openly declare his command loyal to King Eldacar. Once that came to pass, blood would be spilled. There would be no safety for him or his family irrespective of how things went. And so, whilst Halvarin could sense the hope of renewal he could also taste doom as he started to walk back from the markets.
On his approach to the rampart for the second level, Halvarin thought he saw a familiar face. A face from many years ago , in Osgiliath when Valacar had still been king. He paused for a closer look, puzzled, but the familiar person slipped into the shadows among the crowd. Halvarin searched his memory as he tried to remember the name. It was lost in memory of a sad and uncertain time and he could not dredge it free. He shook it off as he returned home on the sixth level.
Sarael greeted him at the door, ”You are home early m’Lord.”
“I have an important matter I must discuss with,” he collected himself just in time, ”My wife.”
So closely involved was Sarael with their family and household, it was difficult to remember that she was not aware of Amarwen’s true identity. Or was she, Halvarin wondered, for Sarael had proved herself surprisingly resourceful. The maid inclined her head under his study and took her leave to announce his arrival. Halvarin followed, wondering just what it was he had interrupted. Almost anything, if he knew his wife well.
Amarwen came out of the back room when she heard he was home, informed by the ever dutiful Sarael of his early arrival. She closed the door after her just as he rounded the corner of the hall it opened onto, unperturbed or flustered but still determined to keep that door and whatever was behind it concealed. He smiled to himself as he took her into his arms and soundly kissed her. Pressed against his wife and his child both, Halvarin looked closely at Amarwen’s face. She returned his gaze, wide grey eyes untroubled.
“There is movement in the wind,” he said, “Has any word come to you from Osgiliath?
Amarwen reaction was subtle. Had he not known her as well as he did, it could easily have been missed. A simple shift in her breathing, even if her expression and gaze remained steady.
”Come,” she murmured and pressed her hand gently to his face. A tender caress and then she pulled away.
Halvarin followed her in silence. He watched her nod pleasantly to the household staff going about their daily tasks, pausing once to confirm a rather detailed set of instructions concerning the larder. Again, Halvarin was reminded of Osgiliath under Valacar’s rule. There, Amarwen had remarked to on how dull it was to manage a household. Dull though it may be to her, it was more complex than Halvarin understood. So many details to see to and she dealt with them in her stride on their way to her study.
He studied the carpet upon which he stood as his wife closed the door. The latch clicked and then came the sound of her skirts as she turned about. Halvarin kept his eyes on the carpet. On its pattern of winding vines and tendrils interspersed with blooms.
”It is dangerous, my love, for you to be out in the city amongst the restless citizens,” Amarwen observed from behind him.
Halvarin’s eyes tracked to the hem of his cloak, still around his shoulders. She had guessed why he wore it for she knew him as well as he knew her. He unfastened it and laid it over his arm as he turned to face her.
”Have you any word from Aldamir of late?” Amarwen’s head shook from side to side and she came towards him, her eyes intently on his.
Halvarin pushed a hand through his hair, ”I think the lead forces of Eldacar’s army are moving south in stealth. I expect word at any time and when it comes, I will have to declare the northern command Eldacar’s.”
“And is it?” Amarwen inquired softly, studying him. Her question was directed not at him but those under his command. Purging his ranks of Castamirians had proven fraught and there lingered, at least in his wife’s mind, the spectre that some remained hidden still.
”We shall soon find out,” Halvarin answered and lifted his arms towards her.
Amarwen came to him and his hands felt to her swelling stomach. Through the folds of her gown he stroked the child that lay within as his thoughts turned. All they had laboured for was coming to fruition and he knew how carefully their plans were laid. Layer upon layer of them and his wife had spent her time over the past month checking for contingencies. She, too, feared the coming bloodshed even if she was staunch in her belief that it was necessary. A second failure could not be borne. And into this strife would this child come, for Eldacar’s return to power was unlikely to occur unchecked.
Halvarin caressed Amarwen’s stomach a final time before turning away. He went then to the bookshelf and drew out a volume on river currents. It was well thumbed and between two pages he extracted a map. This he laid out over his wife’s desk to study the seasonal flows charted upon it. Then he turned his attention to the astronomical charts. In this time, Amarwen remained still and quiet.
”Aldamir must have given the order, and he gathers strength in stealth at Minas Ithil. I suspect Michas has done the same west of the river,” Halvarin said with a nod of his head. He looked to his wife, ”We need to set things in motion here, but it would be more assuring to have word from the north.”
Concerned that he, and possibly Amarwen as well, could be cut from the final plan of Eldacar’s, Halvarin had set some plans in place of his own since Aldamir’s sojourn under his roof. For, it would fare smoother for all if the woman once betrothed to Aldamir and the man she had married instead fell in the battle to return his father to the throne. He’d not breathed a word of this to Amarwen, of course. There was already so much upon her shoulders and, at least to his mind, it was his duty to secure the safety of his family. Again he heard her skirts whisper as she came to stand beside him.
He looked at Amarwen, ”What do you think my love. Can you find out if it is time?”
Once he sent out the orders to his command, there would be no going back.
”I will try,” Amarwen answered, her hand covering one of his and squeezing.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Pelargir – May 1444
A ragged, weatherworn rider came in to the city with speed, having ridden through a low pass in the west of the White Mountains and through the lowlands of the southern provinces. The rider wore a cloak of the Guild and when he came to the Guild chamber Castamir used as his palace, he was stopped by the door warden.
”Halt and declare yourself!”
“Caulusia am I, of the third fleet. I bear urgent news for the King!”
The warden studied the condition of the messenger and it did not appear to him that this man had arrived by ship. Caulusia looked to have travelled far on horseback and so, with a nod, the warden permitted the man within. Inside, Caulusia was met by the Master of the Guild and one of the King’s chief counsellors. Both men had heard the exchange outside the door with the warden and both men marked Caulusia’s worn appearance.
The counsellor demanded, “What news draws you overland, away from our fleet?”
Desertions were on the rise, though none had been unwise enough to present themselves at the Guildhouse like this. Caulusia removed his cloak and revealed tangled long dark hair and bloodshot eyes that squinted in fatigue. At the Guildmaster’s request water was brought and this Caulusua downed swiftly before he answered.
”Our fleet… our army… it’s gone! I am standardbearer of the third Marine Army. I was knocked from my horse and survived by pulling the bodies of our fallen over me. We were decimated.”
Both the Master of the Guild and the Counsellor stared at him, uncomprehending.
“How is this possible?”[/i] the Counsellor slowly asked as grim understanding dawned, ”How is it those Calenardhon rebels defeated a first-line army?”
Caulusia nodded fumbled with a worn satchel, saying, ”Yes and no, m’Lords.”
He drew out a tattered, bloodied map that he laid out on the nearest table. Pointing at the River Adorn, Caulusia said, ”The Rebels met us not far from landing but they were not many and they retreated in good order. They preferred to ambush our advance units and then fade. We marched on with some losses, but no substantial opposition. At the River Adorn we saw an army of Calenardhon awaiting on the other bank. We set to cross, and as battle started, our flank was attacked in force.”
Caulusia’s finger pointed at a place on the River Isen west of their positions and said, ”Wild men in brown leather armed with axes, savages, drove into our rear and showed no mercy. We did capture one and what we could discern was their hatred of the destroyers from tall ships. We were too few to contend with the numbers, and as our support was decimated, our attack across the river faltered.
“Then the Calenardhons attacked in force across the river. They, at least showed compassion for any who surrendered. The wild men did not and they went on to burn the ships. I waited a day and a night before moving.”
The Guildmaster squinted at the map, ”Three first line ships destroyed and an army wiped out? Where was Halvarin’s eastern army? They should have been in place to move against the Calenardhons!”
Caulusia shrugged, ”We had no word and there was no sign. We were alone there and we paid dearly for it.”
The Guildmaster looked again at the map, ”You get some rest. Food will be brought to you, and you can clean up. I expect the King will want to hear this from you himself-”
“I have heard it once,” Castamir said as he stepped out from the pillar he had been standing by.
Caulusia immediately bowed down and both the Master of the Guild and the King’s Counsellor lowered their eyes in deference.
”Be at ease,” Castamir said as he approached the map, ”You have done well standardbearer to bring news. Take, now your rest.”
Caulusia bowed again and edged to the door. As soon as it closed, Castamir turned back to the map.
”Little has been heard from Minas Anor of late,” observed the Counsellor and Castamir pressed out a heavy breath.
”I fear too much trust has been placed in the son of my good friend Calimir.”
The Master of the Guild swallowed, for Calimir had been his friend as well. That his son could betray his king, his Guild and his father’s memory wounded him.
”Have we been betrayed?” he asked, stomach knotting at the question.
The King’s jaw clenched, ”We must move our armies north as soon as feasible.”
Both the Master of the Guild and the Counsellor nodded for such had been the counsel for some time now. No longer was the King content to keep his gaze southward. Messengers were sent to Harondor to sail to Umbar with tidings. Word was also sent to the garrisons in the north…but if the Northern Commander had indeed betrayed them, was the north already lost?
|Author:||Elora Starsong [ May 22nd, 2018, 5:06 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards|
Minas Anor – June 1444
Marece flinched at Sarael’s dismayed tone. Her outstretched fingers curled back against her palm and she pushed out a heavy breath as Sarael hastened to her side.
”There is nothing come in,” Sarael remarked, peering at the birds.
She looked askance to Marece, ”What is so pressing, m’Lady, that keeps you from your rest?”
Marece scowled, her advanced state of pregnancy rendering her far more irritable than usual.
”Am I prisoner in my own house now?” she grumbled as she moved away. As she groused, her hand fell to her swollen belly. She felt as big as a barn even if Halvarin assured her this was not the case at all. He lied. Men lied. They all did.
’M’Lady, you are nearly nine months gone now. You must rest.”
“I cannot!” Marece protested and an arm shooting up of its own accord, ”How am I to rest with so much to do?”
Sarael looked sidelong at the birds and then warily back to Marece, ”All is well in hand, m’Lady.”
“No. No it is not!” Marece insisted and then, to her immense irritation and embarrassment, she burst into tears.
Cursing, Marece spun away as fast as she could. In doing so, she managed to knock a table over for she routinely misjudged her girth. This did not improve her disposition in the least but Sarael was not discouraged. This, as far as she was concerned, was to be expected for it had been this way with Mindacil. Marece had grown restless, snapping one moment and weeping the next as her time neared.
This was why Sarael had to try very hard not to roll her eyes when Halvarin remarked how much he regretted his absence the first time. It was also why she urged her mistress to rest. If her disposition was any indication she would deliver very soon indeed. Had the baby dropped lower, she wondered?
Sarael came forward to wrap a solicitous arm around her mistress’ shoulders. She left the overturned table for someone else to remedy and guided Marece, sniffling still as she wrestled with her emotional storm, back to her parlour.
”Why has there been no word, Sarael? I promised him I would find out and it’s been a month.”
“Perhaps there is nothing to say,” Sarael answered and looked sideways to see that this had not soothed her mistress. Marece issued a gusty sigh and fell to brooding. Easing her through doorways and between furniture was a delicate task but Sarael accomplished it all the same. Marece sat, entirely disgruntled with nearly everything, in a puddle of sunlight.
Sarael stood back, hands clasped and ventured, ”Is there something in particular you would like me to look into perhaps?”
Marece looked to the door, ”Close it.”
Sarael was swift to comply and no sooner had she done so did Marece sigh, ”It is time. It is finally time.”
Thinking Marece referred to the impending birth of her child, Sarael stiffened and then spun for the door, ”I will fetch the water and the-“
“No! Not that!” Marece snapped, irritated again, ”Though I doubt it will be long now.”
Her voice trailed off and when Sarael had turned back again she found Marece looking down at her belly. Introspective. Both women started at a knock on the parlour door. Sarael yanked it ajar.
”What is it!” she barked at the scullion boy that stood on the other side.
”Your pardon, Mistress,” his voice shook, ’Th-The Cook said to come right away.”
“I am busy!”
“He-he-he said now,” the lad persisted. That he did not wilt under Sarael’s glare only confirmed the urgency.
”Very well,” she growled, closed the door and looked back to where Marece sat, ’Forgive me, m’Lady, but an urgent matter has arisen.”
“Yes, yes…see to it. Promise you will return, though.”
“Of course!” Sarael assured her and slipped through the door. The scullion boy waited for her and she impatiently beckoned him on, walking a swift clip at his heels to the kitchen.
”Well? What is it?” Sarael demanded upon entry.
Near the rear door, the kitchen staff were clustered. One of the cooks, a woman of middle years, looked up at Sarael.
”I fear it is too late,” she said, and both the woman’s expression and her tone of voice pulled Sarael over to them.
On the floor lay a girl. She couldn’t be more than twenty, Sarael thought, and it looked very much like she was dead. Not an easy death either. Shocked, Sarael shooed people away to kneel by the girl’s side.
’Who is she?” Sarael asked as she studied the girl. Thin wrists and ragged clothing, already put to hard use. Ratty hair so filthy that it fell in hanks from her scalp. The blood on her clothes was still fresh.
”Thought you might know,” replied the head cook, a burly man with a permanently flushed face. Sarael, however, did not know who this unfortunate girl was. Or why she might have come here. She bent to see if the girl still drew breath and heard a collective gasp of surprise go up from those looking on.
The girl was alive, barely, and Sarael strained to hear her cracked, frayed voice. Her heart rose to her throat as she listened and when the girl slumped back, message delivered, Sarael remained frozen.
”She can’t remain here,” the head cook growled.
Sarael slowly shook her head from side to side and climbed to her feet.
”What would you have us do, Mistress Sarael?” asked one of the other cooks.
Sarael answered by rote, turned and hastened back to the parlour. She slipped through the door to find Marece remained within, now dozing in the chair she had left her in. Loathe as she was to wake her, this could very well be the word her mistress was waiting upon. Reluctantly, she gently shook Marece’s shoulder until her mistress awoke.
”Forgive me, m’Lady, but the tidings are dire,” she said as Marece groggily blinked, ”Halvarin has been discovered.”
Marece went very still at this, ”Are you certain?”
“Word reached Pelargir from Calenardhon.”
“Impossible! Those not slain were all captured.”
“Not all, m’Lady, for one brought tidings to Pelargir from the battlefield itself.”
“To whom?” Marece demanded.
Sarael swallowed, ”The Usurper himself. He gathers his forces even now.”
Marece stared up at Sarael, aghast. A hand lifted to her mouth and her eyes closed.
”What would you have me do?” Sarael pressed as Marece’s head lowered.
”Halvarin must be warned. If the Guild knows, they will not wait for the Usurper’s forces before they move against him.”
“But surely Mardil will notice if Halvarin rushes away now.”
“Tell them that that the child comes,” Marece quietly said and Sarael turned to go.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Mardil shuffled through the morning dispatches. There was little out of the ordinary and so with a sigh he set about reading them. Some he set aside for the city commander, Michas. Some were reports for Halvarin himself, Northern Lord Commander. These Mardil read over carefully indeed before he set them down. That left two for him which were likely to be purely administrative. The first was a requisition for new boots. Mardil was already formulating his response to that as he opened the second. The second was terse and brief. Very clear.
He looked up and around and then back at the dispatch in hand. The order was clear. The Lord Commander was to be arrested along with his entire household and staff. The charges were severe; dereliction of duty and worse still, high treason. Mardil swallowed, folded it up and then opened the case of the lantern at his desk. He fed the dispatch into its flames as he decided what was to be done.
|Author:||Elora Starsong [ June 17th, 2018, 1:55 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards|
The Kin-Strife of Gondor flared back to dreadful light with a single fight. It occurred within a unit of men stationed at one of the forts south of Minas Anor. Conflicting orders arrived from two Regional Commands. One set came from Regional Command North in Minas Anor. The other came from Regional Command South in Pelargir. The men assigned to the forts just south of Harlond were the 2nd Lossarnech, and they had mixed loyalties. The Eldacar faction had held most of the forts but too many with Castamirian loyalties had gotten away. The simmering pot began to boil over and once that began, there was no putting the lid back on it. This the commander of the 2nd Lossarnach knew. He now looked to the other units to see where their loyalties stood.
In Minas Anor, unrest in some of the units erupted when rogue officers gathered men loyal to Castamir to them. These men, somehow informed by Mardil prepared to execute the orders Mardil had received. They were glad, excited to root out the treachery they perceived at the heart of the city. But, not all the men serving in Minas Anor were loyal to Castimir. As word spread of the orders, it was almost inevitable that these men also hear. Thus, when the orders reached the ears of Michas, he rushed to gather all the men that were loyal to their cause. As he gathered them together, he saw just how well organised their opponents were and he suspected they had been preparing for this moment for some time. Just as they had been. Fortunately, most stayed loyal to the command amongst the confusion.
In Osgiliath, anyone known or suspected to be loyal to Castamir were arrested by the city command. Scouts from Vinyarion’s army had come and they were greeted as liberators! To the east, Vilmaith’s army came to Minas Ithil and Aldamir sent men south in Ithilien to bolster the defence against any movement up from Harondor. The watch on the river was strengthened, and runners were sent to Minas Anor. Aldamir had to let Amarwen know the time had come. They needed to take up their positions, claim the siege engines, and be ready at the Harlond. If they held the river, Castimir would not be able to split their forces in twain this time and he knew Amarwen had laid in measures from Pelargir north to Osgiliath.
~ ~ ~
Sarael rushed to the office in search of Halvarin but he was not there. Mardil met her at the door.
”My pardons for my intrusion, but I seek Halvarin. I have urgent news for him!”
Mardil was silent for a moment, then said, ”Yes… yes, come in. Halvarin is due back shortly. Meanwhile, wait here and keep me company.”
Sarael entered the office and Mardil shut the door. He silently turned the key and locked it without Sarael noticing. If he was going to move against Halvarin, it will be much easier if they came to him. Though, Merece would be difficult for she was heavy with child. He turned to Sarael who stood with her back to him.
She said, ”I must find Halvarin. Merece is in need of-”
Mardil’s arm slid around her stomach and his other hand slapped over her mouth. She struggled but could not get away from him. He threw her down to the floor hard and she tried to scramble away. He was soon atop her, his weight pinning her down before she could get far. Sarael screamed but his hand slapped over her mouth. She hit him with her fists as he forced himself upon her. Mardil slapped her hard, and Sarael tasted blood as her head snapped to the side.
”For too long have you sought to ensnare me with your charms! No more… You will be the first of that traitorous house I arrest.”
Sarael fought on, scratching and gouging. Mardil hit her repeatedly and she knew that she would soon lose consciousness. Though her flesh crawled, Sarael finally allowed Mardil to lay down upon her. He fumbled with their clothing as her hand closed on the hilt of his knife. She slid it out slowly so he would not notice. Not quietly enough, though, for Mardil tensed as he realised she had not surrendered at all. She plunged the knife into his side with all of her strength and loathing.
A sucking, wet sound came as she pulled it out and plunged it again. Blood poured from the first wound and Mardil gasped with shock and pain. His hands closed around her throat and with a last burst of life, he twisted her head in a bid to snap her neck. His strength failed him as he lost blood and soon he was limp.
That the office door was locked troubled Halvarin. He was puzzling over it as he unlocked it with his own set of keys and stopped, aghast at what he found. Sarael lay beneath Mardil on the floor, surround by a pool of congealing blood. Sarael laboured for breath and he knelt to roll Mardil off her. Halvarin lifted her out of the blood and eased her on his desk.
Sarael grabbed at Halvarin as he set her down, her speech rasped.
”The baby… it comes… he knows…”
Halvarin brought water to her from a nearby jug. Sarael took it from him, drinking deeply and wincing as she did so. He could see livid marks appearing on her neck. The shape of a man’s fingers.
”What happened here?” he asked solemnly as he went to lock the door once more.
Sarael coughed and drank again, ”Merece sent me to find you and Mardil attacked me. You have been discovered. Mardil said I was the first to be arrested.“
“I’ll take you back to the house-” Halvarin replied and lifted Sarael in his arms for she was still unsteady after the assault she had fought off.
They got a few steps closer to the door when it was kicked in. Two men rushed forward brandishing bared swords. When they saw Mardil dead on the floor, one moved toward Halvarin and Sarael. Halvarin let Sarael’s legs slip to the floor and he grabbed and threw his knife, hitting the man in the neck. Blood spewed out as he gurgled, gripping at the knife in his throat. The other man paused and crouched defensively. Halvarin noted the pin he had, and remembered where he saw it before. Black Scouts!
Sarael stepped back and leaned against Halvarin’s desk as the Castamirian spoke.
”Halvarin, you are hereby relieved of your command, and are under arrest for sedition, and for murder of two of the King’s men…”
Halvarin dived down to Mardil when he heard the sound of a sword meeting flesh. The blade punched through and out the man’s front. Halvarin jumped back up having retrieved the knife pulled from Mardil’s side.
Sarael called out, ”Michas!”
“Come, we have no time!”
Michas waved for Halvarin and Sarael to leave as two more men watched outside the door. Halvarin passed Sarael the knife he had retrieved, then picked up his knife and the sword that the Black Scout had dropped. He helped Sarael to the door as she was still trying to breath.
In the hall, Michas offered a scant report of the rapidly unfolding situation.
”We have been compromised, at last. His loyalists rise. You and your family are in grave peril!”
As they moved along the hall, some men came down from the direction of Halvarin’s house. They paused upon sighting Michas and Halvarin both. They were out of breath and flushed, as if they had sprinted.
One said, ”We tried to reach to your house, Lord Commander, but there were too many. We fought them but could not get through. They’ve taken your wife!”
This hit Halvarin like a physical blow. The dread he felt tasted of old iron, thick on his tongue.
“Mindacil! Did they take him?” Sarael asked as Halvarin tried to push past the soldiers.
He paused when more soldiers came, one carrying Mindacil, ”This one is clever. He found his way out unnoticed.”
Halvarin wrapped his arms around his son and held him close, breathing him in, as Sarael plucked at his sleeve.
”Merece! She sent me to you because she thought the baby comes,” she said in a low, urgent voice.
Overhearing this, Michas blanched and he looked to the officer that had found Halvarin’s son. Halvarin kissed the young boy, who whilst relieved to be in his father’s arms, was clearly frightened by what he had observed unfold. With great difficulty, he passed Mindacil to Sarael. The boy went to her gladly, for she was another friendly, loved face amongst so many grim men. She smoothed his dark hair and Halvarin wiped his hands over his face. That Amarwen had been taken, possibly in labour, was enough to make him shake.
”They couldn’t have taken her far!” he said. ”Let’s go!”
The officer shook his head. ”We can’t get back there. Their numbers are yet too many, and ours too few.”
Michas met his old friend’s anguished gaze. ”The city erupts and chaos will soon reign in the streets. The moment has come when each man of Gondor must choose with who they stand. Come Halvarin, the men who stand for the return of Eldacar need their leadership! The Castamirians are not so many in Minas Anor that the city will fall. And it would seem that those Black Scouts were not all dealt with.”
The sound of clashing steel was drawing steadily closer and Halvarin knew they could not hold there for long. He and his family had been targeted, but it seemed Mardil had set things in motion. Plans meticulously crafted and laid in preparation for just this moment. They retreated down the causeway to a part of the city that Michas’s men had secured.
|Author:||Elora Starsong [ June 17th, 2018, 1:56 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards|
”WHERE IS MY SON?!”
A thick oak door, reinforced with blackened, rusty metal bolts, slammed into place. She was sealed into a tiny cell that was dark and persistently cold, despite the season outside. Amarwen prowled, frantic with fear. Where was Mindacil? He’d winkled away in the chaos. Where was Halvarin? Had they snared him as well? She’d let the household go, declaring the risk they were all in. Some had spat in her face but so many more had remained. Doughty. Determined not to run like scared rats. Had one of them gotten Mindacil to safety? Had they slipped free?
She rubbed at her lower back. It was stubbornly aching. Michas would know what to do. She knew that. They’d been over it so many times. Firstly, they needed to secure the positions along the river. Then word had to be gotten south to Pelargir – otherwise her uncle and Silares would not know to put out for sea and the positions she had established there would not be hardened for combat. She meant to take out as much of the Usurper’s powerful navy as she could. That son of a misbegotten troll would not have the river either. Not this time.
Then there was Osgiliath. Had the advance forces landed there yet? She hoped so, for they’d need to secure that to launch on the rest of the realm. Most of her plans had not factored on being so swiftly arrested. She hoped she had told enough to others to counteract this development. Michas and Halvarin would know what to do here. Vinyarion and his father were poised in Osgiliath and Minas Ithil respectively. She had done everything she had to do. All she needed to do now is remain calm and deliver the child she carried before they broke her. For they would. She knew that for a certainty.
Where was Mindacil? She had meant to have him well clear of Minas Anor at this juncture. Safely in Sarael’s keeping, for there were few others she would entrust with such an undertaking, and on his way out of this. Not Edhellond, of course, for that is the first place they would go once they broke her. No, Calambel – a sleepy little hamlet where a woman travelling with a young boy might be taken in. Halvarin and she had discussed it at length and were agreed. He’d see it done, if he still had his freedom and Sarael had hers.
Out, beyond the heavy door of her little cell, Amarwen could hear commotion. Shouting, cursing. Someone was fighting against their arrest. She heard the din pick up in cells around her. Like a pack of dogs, baying, they were. It made her shudder but soon she threw her voice in with theirs.
”WHERE IS MY SON? WHERE IS MY SON?”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The cells were packed and still more were flooding in. There was fighting in the streets. Brawls and riots for the most, yet between that and the arrest of the Lord Commander’s household, there was scarcely room to swing a cat. That one of the prisoner’s was a heavily pregnant woman was the least of his concerns. Rather, he was preoccupied with keeping the walls and gates of the prison intact. There had been several attempts on both once the sun set and it was not yet midnight.
Pushing out a sigh, the man responsible for the prison looked up when his door opened. He saw, immediately, two men. Both were Black Scouts and he pushed to his feet and hoped his distaste was not immediately apparent. They entered, cold eyes flicked this way and that, before settling on him.
”Keys,” one said, voice dull with disinterest. His fingers fumbled to free them from his belt. They jangled as he handed them across his desk to the man that had demanded them.
”Out,” said the other, similarly apathetic, and he scurried out of the door, eager to quit his office and put distance between himself and the Black Scouts.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
He shuffled the keys one by one until he found the one he was after. He fit it to the lock and turned it. A metallic squeal as he pulled the door open. The only light there was came from the guttering torches outside the cell. It revealed a stone floor strewn with rotting straw. There was movement in the deeper shadows and then a voice.
”WHERE IS MY SON?”
Correct cell confirmed, he stood aside to clear the door. A pause, for the woman within was not a fool. Once caution was served, he saw the hem of her skirts and then the prisoner herself. Her expression could be described in one word: murderous. Though she was heavy with child, he felt his hand fall to the hilt of his sword. Her eyes fell to the pin he wore.
He said nothing as he jerked his head to the hall. Eying him as if he were a snake ready to strike, the prisoner eased out of the cell. Once there he watched her mark out the various points of entry. She stiffed as he took her elbow in a firm grip and hauled her along to the office they had appropriated. He pushed her into it and sealed the door after him.
”Mistress Merece, you look as though you would appreciate a chair.”
“I want nothing from the likes of you,” the prisoner returned, her tone haughty as any princess.
”Not even an update on the whereabouts of your son?”
Her chin lowered a little and he saw her hands curl and uncurl at her sides.
”I wish I could tell you, put your mind to ease. We will continue to search for him. Couldn’t have a boy of such tender years wandering the now dangerous streets. We’re looking for your husband too, as it so happens. The charges against him are egregious. What sort of man lets his wife bear the brunt of justice meant for him? His very pregnant wife. How far along are you?”
Again her hands curled and uncurled. The prisoner said nothing.
”I’d say eight…if not nine months. Has the babe dropped yet?”
Still no response. ”Matters not. All I need do is wait. Until it comes. Until you find yourself alone, in the darkness. Screaming.”
The prisoner lifted her chin again and his fellow Black Scout turned away with a shrug.
”Presuming you both survive, the whelp with you, I will take it too. I will take everything, Mistress Marece. Where is your husband?”
The prisoner sucked in a deep breath and hissed, ”Go to hell.”
“I rather think it will come to you and in short order too. Enjoy.”
The initial questioning concluded, he returned the prisoner to her dark cell, careful to secure the door. This was one prisoner that could not be permitted to escape.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The Viper kept his position without breaking cover. Inwardly, though, he was railing like a common sailor. This was all kinds of a mess. He’d had a deal with Aldamir’s woman to take out every last Black Scout. A deal he had clearly failed to deliver on and near as he could tell the consequences of that failure were dire. Heads would roll. Most likely his and he had an attachment to his own head. What a mess. But, then, given the unrest in the streets…If he fed the right people the truth – that a heavily pregnant woman was held prisoner, to be interrogated mercilessly…that her son was missing…why, it was a perfect outrage. How better to illustrate the cruelty to those as yet undecided.
And so that meant she had to remain where she was for now. Wouldn’t do to pull her out until the entire city was frothing at the mouth, baying for blood. Aldamir would understand and she’d long know what she was getting herself into.
As the Viper scurried along in the darkness, Amarwen realised that the ache of her lower back was something else entirely. Labour had begun. She hoped she could endure it without giving the animals that held her the satisfaction of her screams.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The early dawn light was still grainy as the wetnurse was escorted into the prison. Flanked by two men, both bearing the fearsome emblem of the Black Scouts, she pulled her shawl tighter over her shoulders. She ached in trembling silence for the babe that should be tucked in her arms. The babe she had buried only the day before. A fugue, they say, but she knew otherwise. The land itself sickened and the most vulnerable bore the brunt, as always. Such talk was treason and so she did not voice it.
The two men walked in silence, oblivious to the cries of those in the cells. She could hear the sound of beatings. Cries of pains. Curses and pleads. Groans. The door they led her to was silent. The air here was still, as if all locked away in this area held their collective breath. Keys jangled and then hinges squealed.
There, on the rotting straw, lay a woman. She was white as a sheet, exhausted. Not entirely conscious. The wetnurse recognised, at once, that the woman had recently given birth. Alone, in the darkness, in this cell. She’d been unable to cut the cord. She’d torn at her skirts for something to wrap the newborn in and she clutched it to her in arms ferociously tight.
”Take it,” said one of the Black Scouts and pushed her forward. The scent of blood hung in the air.
The wetnurse came forward and wondered where the woman might lie. Without alternate bedding or fresh straw, the risk of infection or dreadful bleeding was very high. The woman’s eyes rolled and fluttered open as she knelt by her.
”No,” she whispered in a desiccated voice and she realised there was not even water in this forsaken place.
”Take it,” came the order anew, ”Or we will dash its brains out now and be done with it.”
Tears came to the woman’s eyes as she looked up into her face.
”I will care for it,” she said as she prized the infant’s tiny body away. It stirred, puckered its mouth and gave a quivering, pitiful wail.
”Please,” said the woman, pleading and she nodded understanding. She would not have been able to determine whether the child was a boy or girl in the uncertain light.
Pulling the rough, hasty swaddling aside, the wetnurse checked.
“Alenna,” the woman said, ”Alenna.”
She slumped back, weakened and the wet nurse climbed to her feet. The child wailed still, hungry and cold. The wetnurse responded without thinking. She tucked the girl, Alenna, under her shawl and shifted until she felt the infant latch. Strong. Alenna was strong. Once she was cleaned up and properly swaddled, Alenna was likely to flourish where her own babe foundered. Her own babe had never suckled as lustily as this.
”I’m sorry,” she said as she was pulled roughly back out of the cell.
The hinges squealed again as the door was sealed. More jangling keys. The Black Scouts started off and it seemed as though they had forgotten her.
”Sirs,” she called after them and they turned back. ”What would you have me do?”
They exchanged a look, ”Return here every day, in this hour.”
She frowned, not understanding, but they did not deign to explain it. And so a day passed and she did return. She was again taken to the cell and once there she was to feed Alenna as her mother was forced to watch on. It was then that she grasped the monstrosity of what was occurring. The cruelty of stealing a newborn child from a mother’s arms and forcing her to watch it being nurtured by its thief. And, as the days passed and Alenna’s mother did not seem to be recovering, she realised that the woman was slowly dying. For they had not changed the straw.
Yet, she feared for her own life and that of tiny Alenna. The men that had forced her into this had threated to murder the infant. And so the wetnurse said nothing as her misgivings mounted, day by day and in a week, on a glorious summer day, a public trial was held right before the gallows.
She was shocked to see Alenna’s mother pulled out, so weakened that she could barely stand and blinking at the bright sunlight. Those watching, and there were a great many gathered, murmured at the sight before them. Her skin had greyed as infection claimed her.
”Mistress Marece, you stand charged with High Treason, conspiracy to commit High Treason and other foul acts against His Royal Highness, King Castimir, First of His Name. How answer you?”
The voice that rang out was powerful and compelling. As the charges were read out, the wetnurse glanced down to the infant sleeping in her arms. She was sweetly oblivious. The wetnurse heard a faint sound and she looked up to the find the authorities leaning, in all their finery, towards the accused.
”What? What did she say? Speak up or hold your tongue!”
“WHERE ARE MY BABIES?!”
It burst out of Alenna’s mother like a summer storm and the force of it made her sag over the rough wooden stall she had been placed in. The wetnurse watched her struggle to push herself upright. The sun, when it hit her eyes, revealed a fevered glint.
”If you will not answer the charges, you will found guilty and hanged!”
The crowd murmured ominously and the wetnurse tightened her arms around Alenna, shivering.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The Viper darted through the press drawn by this terrible spectacle. Proving her aristocratic heritage, Aldamir’s woman was putting on a fine show. A little too fine, he thought, but he didn’t have time to worry about that. The crowd was on the cusp. Just a bit of a nudge and it would spill over. A word here and there, and he was in a hurry, as he was aware that there were others here hell bent on retrieving Aldamir’s woman come what may.
”Poor wretch! She’s dead on her feet. How can they be so cruel,” he said in a solicitous tone.
At that a tall man whirled, his eyes alight with fury. The Viper recognised the man he’d released from cells in The Harlond, along with the Rhovanion, some months ago now. The husband of Aldamir’s woman, if he wasn’t mistaken. A navigator…senior…couldn’t place his name as he danced out of fellow’s grip and smack into another’s. He was caught fast and Halvarin, yes he had the name now, surged forward. He gathered a fist full of the Viper’s tunic and hauled him forward.
”Now, now, we’re all on the same side here,” the Viper said.
”I know this one,” said another, ”He serves only himself.”
“I know who he is, Michas,” Halvarin growled and the Viper was pleased to see a familiar woman reach up to touch his arm.
”We may have need of him yet, m’Lord,” Sarael said.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
”- the charges, you will be found guilty and hanged!”
Amarwen could feel herself spinning. Sometimes she could hold herself upright and sometimes she was falling. And the bleeding, it had not stopped. Something was very wrong but it didn’t matter. So long as Alenna, Mindacil and Halvarin were safe and everyone knew what to do, it really didn’t matter any more. Her task was done. The end was nigh and the prospect of laying down the enormous weight was undeniably appealing. She wished she could see them again. She wished she could hold them again. She wished she could see the day the rightful King returned and sat his throne.
She pushed back from the rickety stall front she was leaning against and narrowly caught herself on the rear barrier. If she was going to die here, then she would die for who she was. She would die for the truth.
”I will give you your answer,” she said, her voice faint but picking up strength. She had no need to hold anything back in reserve now.
Amarwen tipped her face up to the bright blue sky. The sun made her fevered flesh shiver but she threw her arms out.
”My father was captured with Crown Prince Ornedil. He surrendered under the terms of ransom and for that he was tortured to his death. But that was not enough. No. For his remains were carted about and hung from gibbets for all to see the crows make sport of.”
She lowered her arms. ”My mother was slaughtered before my eyes because she would not bend knee to a false and cruel king. I am not guilty of High Treason for CASTAMIR IS NO KING!
"I am the voice in your heads demanding to know when is enough enough. I am the thorn in your despicable side. I am but one set of many hands that will tear you down from your stolen seats. My name is Amarwen of Edhellond and you will answer me this: WHERE ARE MY BABIES?!”
At first there was silence. As if the crowd had sucked back like the low tide. And then it surged, roaring. She felt her knees fail her as she sank into the makeshift stall. All she could smell was blood. Her own. But it mattered not for Minas Anor was finally stirred to life.
|Author:||Elora Starsong [ June 23rd, 2018, 2:10 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards|
”Eldacar is King! Down with the usurper!”
Someone in the crowd cried out after hearing Amarwen’s words! A din of yeas raised through the crowd. Then someone yelled out,
”That Rhovanion half-breed is no king of Numenorean Gondor! Long live King Castamir!”
A somewhat lesser din of yeas went up with a jeer of boos… the air was filled with such intensity and the soldiers were looking uneasy. The kingdom was dividing ….
”Amarwen of Edhellond!”
The voice boomed out across the square, bouncing off people and the stones alike as the guards attempted to quell the crowd’s disorder.
”Stripped of your titles and land, your once proud House denounced. Already you have been tried and guilty you have been found of High Treason most foul!”
The jeering from the crowd intensified and it was this that restored Amarwen to her senses. She clung to the stall around her as her strength ebbed, ever weaker.
”You were sentenced in accordance with the laws of our realm to die for your crimes. And, as you are clearly alive still, that sentence will be carried out today, forthwith!”
Amarwen lifted her head barely and made out men, all in uniform, hurrying towards her. Their faces were grim and in their eyes death. They made considerable haste, gripping their weapons as they crossed the space. Elsewhere, to the side, some of the crowd broke through the cordon. There were cries of anger and pain and then the thrum of an arrow. A man fell to the stones, an arrow protruding from his neck.
This alerted the crowd to the previously unknown presence of archers from upon high. Amarwen lowered her head again. Of course the Black Scouts would have prepared for unrest. It was not long after that before the stall she clung to was pulled from her grip. Weakened, she fell to her knees between the men crowding around her. They pulled her up and bound her elbows behind her.
”Recant your treachery and mercy will be granted. Our sovereign lord, Castamir, King of Gondor is compassionate. He wishes this, our realm, to be healed. Set aside your treason, Amarwen of Edhellond, and your life will be yours. You will, once again, hold your children in your arms. By the grace of Castimir, Saviour of Gondor.”
Still her head was bowed and her eyes closed. The crowd had quietened to a murmur again although there were fitful outcries. She heard a man shout that she should save herself. Of course, the offer was not a genuine one. Amarwen knew that. As soon as she recanted, betrayed her people and her king and House and her husband, they would very quickly and quietly end her life. Out of sight. An accident. A sickness brought on poison. Anything to ensure she did not ever rise again to cause them so much woe. And they did not even know what she had been doing.
The laughter that bubbled out shocked even her. They were going to execute her without even knowing the full extent of her supposed treachery. The laughter kept coming from her, increasing in strength as the men around her clenched their fists. She forced it to stop and lifted her head.
”Castamir the defiler! Usurper! Murd-“
The blow came from beyond her range of sight. She sagged sideways, ears ringing and blood filling her mouth. This she spat out as she was hauled up by the ropes. The sunlight transformed the blood into a spray of rubies that glittered. Amarwen was dragged to her feet.
”So be it.”
Again, her senses swum. The guards pulled her across to the scaffold. She could not climb the rough wooden steps and so they thrust her up it. Then she was forced to kneel before a stone. She had just enough time to take in the executioner. His black hood concealed his face but she caught the cold gleam of his eyes and his sword. It was large, very sharp.
Another twang of a bow and this time a woman fell through the cordon. The arrow, this time, had found her thigh and she shrieked with agony. Through her doubling vision, Amarwen saw the faces of the crowd. They blurred, angry, frightened. Men, women, children. Aghast. Vengeful.
”Amarwen of Edhellond, set aside your pride and your folly. Renounce your-“
“NEVER!” Amarwen screamed, ”RISE! ELDACAR COMES! FIGHT!”
A knee to her back slammed her forwards. She hit the executioner’s block hard enough to drive the air from her. Her body, struggling to heal from delivering her daughter only days ago, was awash with fire. Amarwen lost consciousness as her hair was roughly pulled aside. Her entire body went slack. She did not hear the mighty howl of the crowd and she did not see how they surged the already overtaxed guards maintaining the cordon. She did not see how so many of them cast their weapons down or instead, turned them on their fellows. She did not know of the melee, vicious and sudden, that broke out on the scaffold behind her.
The square devolved into a rapid, ferocious riot.
|Author:||Elora Starsong [ July 22nd, 2018, 7:57 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards|
Minas Anor – June 1444
As mayhem broke out around the square, Halvarin and a couple of the men who had tried to fight their way through to Amarwen at the house during the arrests moved as fast as they could. The crowd between them and the scaffolding was dense and it took time they could not spare to reach her now. When he saw the executioner raise his axe to take the swing, Halvarin cried out in horror and despair for it seemed that his wife would be beheaded before his very eyes.
An arrow loosed from the wall of the next level struck the executioner in the neck and he fell backwards. His axe slipped from his dying grip. This emboldened the crowd and some tried to force their way up to rescue Amarwen. The remaining guard managed to keep them at bay.
When Michas led a force down from the second level, some of the soldiers of the first level chose to fight them. Most, though, soon surrendered their arms. They had no appetite for a battle such as this, against their fellow kinsmen. Back at the square, Sarael found a way to winnow through the press and up to the scaffold itself. She was first to Amarwen’s side and ferocious in fending off any that sought to do her mistress harm. Halvarin and the men with him were not far behind and as they lay Amarwen down on the scaffolding, it was apparent her life was in danger from more than an axe to her neck.
When he saw Michas, Halvarin cried out ”Michas! To me!”
Michas turned and waved his men forward before he turned and came to the scaffolding. Halvarin grasped his wrist and Michas did likewise as he said, ”This will be a memorable day in Gondor, my friend!”
”I wish I shared your optimism. It may well be the end of Gondor as we know it!” Halvarin replied and looked over to where Sarael kneeled by Amarwen’s side. ”Do we hold the Healing House?” he asked, expecting the answer to confirm his worst fears.
Michas, however nodded. ”We hold all the levels above.”
“Then I place you in overall command here. I recommend that you attempt to root out any Castamirians who remain… those Black Scouts in particular, before they go to ground once more. And reinforce the gates, for I believe our victory will soon be tested in all out assault. Siege comes and we must be ready for it.”
There was so much more to do and say but when Halvarin turned back to glance to Sarael he took in the grief upon her face. No time! No time!
”I need to tend to my wife.”
“Go!” Michas urged him, ”Leave this to me! Go!”
Michas waved to a unit commander to reinforce the gates as Halvarin rushed to where Amarwen lay. She was so very pale and ghostly. He beckoned to two soldiers that were nearby.”You two, help me!”
Halvarin removed his cloak and spread it out beside Amarwen, ”Lay her upon it for she must go up to the Healers!”
The two soldiers lifted her between them. As they shifted her over to lay her atop Halvarin’s cloak, he chided them anxiously, ”Gently does it!”
Together, they stood and lifted Amarwen upon Halvarin’s cloak. It was then an arrow came from above, shot from afar. It narrowly missed Halvarin and Amarwen both. The fletching feathers cut through the sleeve of Sarael’s dress and her forearm started to bleed. Halvarin pointed up in the direction the arrow had come and already soldiers were running to the area on the fourth level. Halvarin motioned the soldiers to move, and two more joined to clear a way to the rampart up to the higher levels.
”Sarael, come! Amarwen has need of you and you need seeing to yourself!” Halvarin declared and they made their way up the rampart towards the Healing House.
They moved as fast as caution permitted and in due time were escorted to a room in the far corner of the sprawling House. An elderly woman was soon on hand, springing almost from nowhere, and looked Amarwen over with an experienced eye. A wave of her arm brought yet more to tend Amarwen. These women brought with them warm water.
”We will tend her but you must wait outside!” the old woman declared, imperious in her domain.
Halvarin reluctantly did as asked, but Sarael stood her ground, ”I am here to see to this woman. The fact that I too am wounded will have me stay here by her side. You cannot expel someone who needs attending.”
The healer peered impatiently at Sarael and saw she was in need of attention but she could not afford to have any underfoot that were not required.
”If you care for this woman, you will fetch me some hot water, quickly!”
Sarael left the room and went in search of hot water but if the healer thought it would keep Sarael out of her way, she was wrong. Two servants carrying steaming pots of water followed her back to where Amarwen lay for Sarael knew that Amarwen held the key knowledge in raising the resistance. She would not leave her side now even if she desperately tried to piece together all she could of what Amarwen had told her of. So much information shared, discussed and picked over, but not once had Amarwen divulged her true identity. What else, Sarael wondered, had her mistress kept from her?
~ ~ ~
Minas Ithil – June 1444
Aldamir tried to take in all the reports the runners were bringing him. Osgiliath was secured, and Vinyarion prepared its defence even as he sent a regiment east to assure the road to Minas Ithil was clear for them to move their forces as needed. He also freed up the Gondorians so they could move toward Minas Anor where things were not nearly so settled.
Vilmaith only paused long enough in Minas Ithil to receive instruction from Aldamir to keep her Rhovanions marching south through Ithilien, for word had come that a large Harondorian army was pushing up from the Poros Crossing. It was essential that they hold the east bank of the river, and so the relief of the outnumbered South Ithilien army was needed.
It seemed for the moment they had the element of surprise on the usurper, but he knew the onslaught would come soon. Even with the cities of Osgiliath, Minas Ithil, and Minas Anor secured, there was no time for celebration. The ballista forts were contested and the plans to have them secured or destroyed had run in to difficulty unforseen. Communications did not work as well as had been planned and already word had come from Ithilien that ships have been spotted making their way up river from Pelargir. Everything was happening so fast. And they were without Amarwen. Aldamir did not know where she was. There was talk that she had perished in the uprising of Minas Anor but he had heard that before. Should he wait? Should he press forward? Aldamir did not know and he could not shake the nagging doubt that he had erred in not bringing Amarwen with him when he had last quit Minas Anor.
|Author:||Elora Starsong [ July 22nd, 2018, 8:04 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards|
Minas Anor – June 1444
A day had passed and Minas Anor held on, barely. Already the Usurper’s fist was drawing around them and still Amarwen had not stirred. Halvarin had remained where he had been dispatched, just outside the chamber his wife had been set in. She was gripped with a terrible fever that would not break no matter how the healers struggled. An infection arising, he had heard the healer say, from the desperate conditions in which she had been forced to deliver their child. A son or daughter, alive or dead, he did not know. Sarael too remained. She held a dampened cloth to Amarwen’s brow in a desperate bid to hold the ferocious fever somewhat at bay.
He could hear the voices inside as they debated what to do and it occurred to him that perhaps not all the healers wanted Amarwen to survive. She had been identified not long after arriving and he’d been watching ever since for assassins. They’d not given up so easily now that she was revealed. Michas had come and gone in this time, always bearing questions. Questions, Halvarin guessed, that Michas did not wish to have to explain to him. Their exchanges had been brief and Michas had soon ducked away. But now he was coming again and the news, whatever it was, wasn’t good. It showed in his face as he approached Halvarin.
”No change?” Michas inquired and Halvarin shook his head.
Michas paused to try and peer into the room himself. ”She’s given us a lot,” he said, ”But what if it isn’t enough?”
Halvarin looked at his friend sharply, ”Do not give her up as dead yet!”
Water dripped as the cloth they held to her brow was dampened again. Amarwen’s skin was so hot it seemed to be sucking the water out as soon as the cloth was returned to her forehead.
Michas grimaced, ”The fever grows ever worse. There is no telling when or if it will break.”
Halvarin stared at him, haunted by recollections of men he had encountered. A virulent pestilence had once ripped through a crew with such severity that it had killed half of them. Of the survivors, a third were so addled that they could not even remember their own names. This is what Michas alluded to and Halvarin knew his concerns were valid.
”It won’t be like that,” he insisted as Sarael came to the door, drawn by their discussion.
Her arm had been bandaged and she had not left Amarwen’s side until now.
Michas’ expression was haunted, ”But something needs to be done before we lose this city and this war. We need what is in her head, Hal, and we need it now.”
“I know!” Halvarin returned, his voice hoarse with grief and fatigue. He lifted his hands to his face and said into them, ”I do not know what to do.”
“I do,” Sarael said and with that she walked off, leaving Michas and Halvarin staring after her.
”Great,” Michas said flatly and shook his head, dismissing Sarael’s abrupt departure, ”I’m going to send word to Aldamir. We need him here.”
Halvarin nodded, peering after Sarael, and Michas clapped him on the shoulder, ”And you need to sleep. You’re dead on your feet.”
“I’m not leaving.”
“Of course you’re not,” Michas muttered, more to himself as he turned away, ”Why would you ever listen to me?”
Halvarin leaned against the wall to Amarwen’s room and pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes. A wave of fatigue washed over him and he pushed it away only to be buffeted by another. And then another. It was some time later when Halvarin woke to find himself rolled in a field swag. Michas and Sarael were crouched nearby, muttering over a pile of books but what drew Halvarin was the sound of another’s voice coming from his wife’s room. He pushed himself to his feet and peered through to find the room strangely empty of all save Amarwen and Aldamir.
The Crown Prince, leaned over the bed. His eyes were closed and his hand was pressed to Amarwen’s brow as he murmured in a low, almost singsong voice. Amarwen was very still, very pale, her skin slick with sweat. In the hall, Michas and Sarael’s discussion rolled on.
“I don’t see how any of this is of use to us,” Michas said, dejected. Halvarin turned to see his friend toss one of the books back onto the pile between him and Sarael.
Sarael pluck it up, almost protective ”Of course they are! The Lady was most insistent that I keep them close to hand and it is a rare stroke of fortune that someone thought to fetch them out when they fled the residence.”
It was then that Halvarin realised that they were debating Amarwen’s journals. That she kept them was no surprise to him. That she’d given them to Sarael to keep safe…that…stung. He said nothing of it as Michas flipped a journal open. His eyes devoured a page and then he leafed to another and another.
”It’s all in code,” he said declared, ”Useless unless she is able to unravel it. I don’t know it, you don’t know it. The prince doesn’t either.”
Aldamir, the man his wife had been set to marry before the outbreak of Gondor’s kinstrife, had read Amarwen’s journals before he had. That, too stung and Halvarin looked back to where Aldamir tried to coax Amarwen back to them.
”Maybe Halvarin can make sense of it,” Sarael said. She straightened from her crouch with a journal in hand and extended it towards him.
”Unlikely,” Michas muttered but then shrugged, ”Anything’s worth a shot now, though.”
Halvarin took the journal from Sarael and flipped it open to see the code for himself. It looked…Sarael and Michas both exchanged perplexed glances when Halvarin started to chuckle. He knew that code. Oh, Amarwen, he thought to himself. She had created all her journals and given them to Sarael, using a code that only he would know and understand.
”You magnificent woman,” he murmured as he scried what she had recorded in the hand they had used to communicate with each other, secretly, many years ago now. That she had used it at all was a declaration of such trust that it made his earlier thoughts shrink and vanish.
Pushing a rising sense of pride aside, Halvarin focused on what Amarwen had set down. In meticulous detail, she had recorded each property they had acquired over the years, its intended use and purpose. He saw Pelargir, Minas Anor, Harlond, Osgiliath. Farms, buildings, businesses, houses, warehouses, mills, some forest. He flipped a couple of pages. There he saw a list of names, partisans she had employed and embedded in their various businesses. A summary estimate of their strength in key locations. Recommended deployment lines to move them about along expected fronts. A few pages later, an account of the various defensive measures protecting a key supply cache along with a detailed inventory of its contents.
Halvarin closed the journal with a snap, ”Fetch me maps. I’ll start there.”
“You can read them?” Sarael asked, flummoxed, ”I’ve lost count of the times I have tried and failed.”
“You and, upon a time, a portion of the royal family,” Halvarin said archly but nodded, ”I can read them. She ensured it was so.”
At that, hope returned to Michas’ face. He grinned at Halvarin. ”I hope you don’t mind, Hal, but I love your wife.”
Michas set off with new purpose to hunt out maps and once he had them, Halvarin got to work transcribing the coded information in Amarwen’s journals to the maps. It took hours and he was bent over a table lit by a guttering candle before it was done. His back ached and his hand was cramped as he leaned back. Michas shuffled the maps back and forth.
”Manwe’s beard, Hal, just look at this,” he said in a hushed voice.
Halvarin rose to his feet and knuckled his back. He stretched, joints popped but still fatigue sat over him like a wet, heavy blanket.
“These are defensive positions,” Michas said, preoccupied with the maps before them, ”And these… offensive positions.”
“Presuming we have the numbers to occupy and hold them,” Halvarin yawned widely, ”She has enlistment rolls that should give us a rough estimate. I’ll start on those soon.”
“It’s,” Michas rubbed at his lower face and lifted his eyes to Halvarin, ”She’s mapped out a plan for the war. I’ll admit, over the years, I’ve found myself wondering if she was suitable for the position she had been placed in.”
“This speaks for itself,” Halvarin replied and Michas nodded.
”Explains why she never deigned to answer beyond a roll of her eyes when the question arose.”
At the door a throat was cleared. Halvarin and Michas turned to find Aldamir there. The Prince was wan, wearied.
”The fever…it has broken,” he said, his voice quiet with relief, ”It has broken.”
Despite his exhaustion, Halvarin pushed past Aldamir to go to his wife’s side. She had yet to wake but she had moved and rolled to her side. On the narrow space left, Halvarin lay himself down and curved his body around that of his wife.
Amarwen smelt of the old, damp stones of the prison and blood. But she was alive and that was all that mattered in that moment.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The wetnurse was terrified. If Alenna made a sound, they’d find them. And, now that Alenna’s mother was revealed to be a traitor, the fate of her infant daughter would not be merciful. Larial clung to child in her arms and prayed the infant would not wake. Alenna was, she had found, a good baby. She slept soundly. Fed regularly and well. A very good baby. But time drew close for the next feeding. Larial knew this for she ached with the need to suckle the child. It throbbed through her insistently. Alenna would soon stir at the smell the milk and then they would be discovered.
She could hear boots as men marched past, patrolling. Searching. Rooting out trouble. Anyone who didn’t belong. She’d taken refuge here in this cellar when it had become clear that Alenna’s mother was to be executed. Larial did not know what had happened aside from the fact that the violence that descended had been bloody, brutal and swift. She had peeked through the cellar doors to see if was safe to emerge only to find the square was filled with troops. She did not dare reveal her presence to ask whom they served. For even if they did not want Alena’s mother dead, they would want Alenna back. And Larial did not know if she could bear the loss of another baby.
|Author:||Elora Starsong [ September 30th, 2018, 3:23 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards|
Michas and Sarael studied the deciphered maps before setting out to put Amarwen’s plans in motion. They had to act fast, for all was in motion now. Battle was at hand.
”Lady Amarwen’s planning and your deciphering these maps and names has given us an advantage, but we must act swiftly! Sarael will come with me and we will make sure this is managed. Remain with your wife, Han!”
Halvarin nodded, ”Get all in hand as soon as can be. Inform them the Northern Regional Commander of Gondor supports Eldacar! There is no need for secrecy now.”
With that, he turned his attention back to Amarwen. Michas and Sarael made their way down to the gate of Minas Anor, and seeing a host of soldiers marching from Osgiliath, Michas knew they would have strength to repulse any hasty counterattack the units loyal to Castamir could muster. The key was the river. Michas asked the Regimental commander at the gates if any word had come from Harlond. He needed to know how things were shaping up on the river.
”I need runners. Take a message across the river. Seek the army of Ithilien and tell them we hold Minas Anor and the fighting is now in Harlond. We can hold for now but we must take the river bend!”
The two runners repeated the message and they set out to the river. The river bank was a hive of activity as the resistance stirred into action. Michas was astonished to see the partisan cells were self-sufficient. They fought for the siege engines as if it were their lives. And perhaps it was, for if they did not take the siege engines in the Harlond, Michas thought the rive was as good as lost. Just as it had been the last time.
He marvelled to see the partisans holding their own. That they did he could only ascribe to another of Amarwen’s ingenious failsafes. But now it fell to him to string together some sort of chain of command. Time and again, he found himself dealing with demands for verification. Not of his authority, but that he acted at the behest of Amarwen. Fortunately, Sarael proved her worth in this regard. She knew the watch words and Michas began to discern something of how Amarwen had structured the resistance. The military units she left to her husband and other officers such as himself. The citizens, however, she had organised and Sarael was her chief lieutenant.
The day closed with the resistance holding everything north of Harlond. Forces loyal to Castamir regrouped south of the forts where they held the road. The preparation for the expected counterattack went ahead full pace as they blockaded the road south. Once they eliminated the Castamirians in Harlond, Eldacar would hold the north of all Gondor.
Silas could tell Captain Carlin was displeased the moment the man clambered onto his deck.
”My brother’s daughter is back there and we’re skulking like pirates out to sea!”
“Which is exactly what she told us to do,” Silas countered once they were safely ensconced in his cabin.
Carlin scowled as he crossed his arms. Burly biceps, tanned a deep colour by years spent under the sun, bulged.
”I don’t like it. I didn’t like it then and I still don’t.”
Hiding from the fight didn’t sit well with Silas either, but he thought Carlin’s niece had a salient point. He jabbed a finger at the boards above.
”We press this fight and we’ll have mutiny on our hands. Enough ships balk, we’ll have open battle. Far from shore.”
Carlin unfurled his arms and his chair creaked as he leaned forward towards Silas. ”Those blackguards murdered my brother and slaughtered his wife under the flag of parley. You say the shore is far away and I say well and good. It’s time to send these dogs to the graves they so sorely deserve.”
“Your niece is counting on us to sap Castimir’s naval strength. She needs us out of the fight, scuppering his one clear advantage. If we press into battle and fail to hold command over our ships, we hand the usurper the one thing she’s trying to keep from his grasp.”
“I want blood!”
“You’ll betray your own kin for it?”
“She’ll thank me in the end.”
Silas mopped a hand over his face. Carlin, it seemed, was adamant and if he lost that Captain’s support, Silas was not sure he could hold the others. Ships were still arriving, though it was down to two or three a day. They had a reasonable sized flotilla gathered now. If enough of it held, it could be used to harry Castimir’s navy. Amarwen had chosen to do without it over risking having it declare for the Usurper and bolster his strength.
But it was a big gamble. Most of the captains and a majority of the crew were unaligned. To declare for Castimir or Eldacar was a big leap. One that could be their downfall.
”Your niece won’t be thanking you if we fail.”
Carlin shrugged. ”If we fail, won’t none of us be left alive to deal with the recriminations.”
And so the die was set. Either Castamir would find himself beset with a renegade portion of his own fleet or once again, Eldacar would lose the river to the Usurper’s superior naval forces.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The first thing Amarwen noticed was how bright it was. Sunlight streamed down, flooding the room she found herself in. She blinked against the influx of light, her vision blurred. Slowly it resolved to reveal a simple chamber. She lay in a bed. It seemed significant. She did not know how or in what way.
As she tried to unravel this conundrum, she heard the high pitched voice of a child.
That, she recognised, was a word that meant mother but before she could find the child’s mother he had clambered onto the bed and wrapped his arms and legs around her. Jealous. Ferocious. Determined. His face was pressed to her chest and he squeezed as if he feared she would vanish. Amarwen frowned and then it hit her. She was the mother. This was her child. Her son. There was another. Another child. Taken. Where? Who? Where was her child? Dread washed over her. Panic made her breathing speed. The child that clung to her peered up, troubled by her distress, and then there was a man beside her bed. He pressed his hand to her brow.
”Be at ease,” he murmured to her, ”Rest. You are still weak. It is all in hand, my love.”
“Where is my-“
“Rest,” the man said, leaning close to press his lips to her temple. She struggled against what rose within her but in the end, it was far stronger than she was.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Aldamir watched awareness flee Amarwen. With it went her panic and disorientation. It was still too early to say whether her fever had scoured her mind free from all the memories that made her who she was. He stood in the doorway, observing for a moment longer as her son stroked his mother’s face. The lad was so young for the turmoil that surrounded him. And there was another, son or daughter, they had yet to locate. The strife that had pulled her family asunder was the same strife that had dealt the death knell to their own bond.
She was still so beautiful to him and what she had accomplished here was nothing short of astounding. He was so proud of her...and so relieved that she had somehow managed to survive the peril that had seen the rest of her family and so many others meet their graves. He chose to focus on that, rather than on what might have been had this strife never come to pass. Her son was fretted now and Aldamir watched the lad’s father set a hand to the boy’s shoulder.
”Your mother sleeps. When she sleeps, she grows stronger. She gets better,” Halvarin told him.
Amarwen’s son peered up at his father and then looked back to his mother. This could have been their son, Aldamir thought. He was a gorgeous child. Bright of heart, keen of wit. Movement in the doorway turned Aldamir from his study to find one of Amarwen’s more senior agents. A woman, very young for her position. Aldamir reached for a name. Sarael, he thought.
”We hold our ground,” she reported. ”Michas is establishing a chain of command over the cells that hold the Harlond. The Usurper’s forces are regrouping. The city remains sealed.”
“Any word from Osgiliath?” he asked.
The young woman shook her head, distracted as she peered past his shoulder and into the room beyond. ”A column of smoke continues to rise. Nothing further.”
Aldamir nodded, ”I have sent word to Minas Ithil. If forces can be spared, they will come. I have need of a man in particular. He is known as the Viper.”
At this the young woman’s attention snapped back to him. ”He is not in the city.”
“On who’s orders?” Aldamir snapped, vexed.
Sarael swallowed and nodded for the room. ”Standing orders, your Highness, issued by Mistress Mar—Lady Amarwen. He should be en route for Edhellond as we speak.”
Aldamir frowned at this but his scowl cleared. Yes. Edhellond. The traitor. Now he understood. Amarwen had kept the traitor for as long as he served a purpose. Once that purpose had expired, she had all but signed his death warrant. Ruthless, admittedly, but with so many lives in the balance it was also a mercy.
“You know who the traitor is?” he probed the young woman in front of him.
Sarael seemed to weigh her answer before she nodded. ”I worked it out myself. When I did, I took it to....the Lady.”
“She speaks very highly of you. I can understand why.” Sarael flushed at this praise but Aldamir was not here to flatter young women. ”Does it trouble you that she kept her identity from you?”
At this the woman swallowed and her weight shifted. ”I though she trusted me...If I knew who she was, I wouldn’t have turned her in. Not ever...but...” A devious smile appeared on Sarael’s face, ”To keep that quiet, for so long....that takes...skill.”
The maid tilted her head to one side, ”Is it true you was going to marry her?”
“Absolutely,” he replied without hesitation, ”But if I had, Gondor would not have had her for never would I have willingly left her behind. And then would we be now?”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The Viper squinted through the low light. He had no doubt that it was Beregond. What the traitor was up though, puzzled him. He watched for a little longer and then shrugged. It didn’t matter what the man was up to, he supposed, and the Viper padded forward. His instructions were quite clear. Aldamir’s woman had issued them months ago. Fast, quick, final. Beregond was a fighting man. He could see that from the man’s build. But Beregond was not the Viper. And with this, at long last, his debt to the Prince of Edhellond might finally be extinguished.
It would be, but not in the way the Viper expected, for Beregond proved more of a challenge than the Viper had anticipated. He prevailed, but at great cost. The Elf dragged himself to the nearest sandy strand. So long ago he had come here, seeking release. Never had he made it across the seas. And never would he. Not in corporeal form, at least, for his body was found cooling by the hide tide mark by one of the local fishers.
Puzzled, for Elves had abandoned the havens of Edhellond since the outbreak of civil strife, he collected the body up and brought it before Edhellond’s Lord and Lady. They took one look at it and made a declaration that saw the harbour closed, sea chain raised, and all Guild ships caught ashore fired.
War had returned to Gondor
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
As Edhellond braced itself for the onslaught, Vinyarion reviewed his troops. It was almost night fall but the dull glow that burned around Minas Anor demanded a response. He left a sizeable contingent behind to secure the ruined capitol and receive his grandfather. The King would not be far off now from returning from his exile. With this in mind, Vinyarion issued the final order to march.
The aim was to meet with the forces of Minas Ithil and Minas Anor so as to form a solid barrier to seal the northern provinces of Gondor off from the usurper.
|Page 4 of 4||All times are UTC - 5 hours [ DST ]|
|Powered by phpBB © 2000, 2002, 2005, 2007 phpBB Group