|Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards
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|Author:||Elora Starsong [ November 4th, 2017, 1:50 am ]|
|Post subject:||Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards|
Prologue: Edholland III 1437
How was this possible, Amarwen wondered. She stared at her reflection in the mirror. Her hair had been brushed until its ebony lengths glowed and set into a high braid that fell over one shoulder to her waist. She had donned Edholland's colours too in a dress of rich gold velvet but Amarwen did not see any of this.
Osgiliath had burned. The Dome of Stars cracked and charred. The Master Stone lost in the Anduin. The city itself sacked, its people fleeing for their lives. And all of this by their own people.
And where was father? Alive? Dead? Prisoner and if so for how long? A chill ran through her blood and she shivered as a tap sounded at her door. In the mirror, Amarwen saw her mother slip through and she took her fears and her sorrow into a firm grip. For her mother's sake. Since the tidings had reached them in Edholland, her mother had not slept nor ate. She was pale as a ghost and dreadfully afraid. Amarwen rose to her feet and crossed her bedroom to take her mother into her arms. This woman had always been Amarwen's haven in a storm. Now, it fell to her to be the same.
Her mother leaned into her daughter's embrace for a long moment and then collected herself up. She was quivering like a leaf but her jaw was clenched. She, too, had dressed formally to receive the men below. She had added her circlet, a clear symbol that she too was descended from a line of kings. Perhaps it would be enough to give those waiting below pause for thought. Perhaps.
"They are waiting," she said through it, voice strained.
Amarwen's first response was to let them wait longer still but that would not serve them well. They needed to secure her father's release.
She gathered her mother's hands in her own, "Then let us greet our guests."
Down to the great hall they went, arm in arm. The household staff were silent, fearful. For the men waiting within were hardly guests. Guests did not arrive swathed in armour and gripping their weapons, the stink of a sacked city still thick in their charred cloaks. Guests did not pound on the doors and demand entry.
Their chamberlain met them at the doors to the great hall with pleading eyes, almost as if he was begging them to run. Amarwen would have, all the way to Osgiliath to demand justice and the return of her father.
"These...these men, they are-"
"I know who they are," her mother answered the Chamberlain, somehow finding a store of steely resolve within even now.
The chamberlain nodded and, with a sigh, pushed open the doors to admit them into their hall.
The first thing Amarwen noticed was their number. There had to be at least ten of them all gathered. All wore mail, some plate and no few weapons. Hard travel stained their gear, and that was not all. She did indeed see smoke and blood and a fresh wave of anger began to bubble.
Osgiliath sacked by their own people.
At their arrival, the men swung about and aside from two, Amarwen did not recognise them. The Master of the Mariner's Guild spread his stance as they approached and had the decency to incline his head, barely. As well he might, given the many times he had been greeted in this hall as a guest and indeed a friend by her father. At his shoulder stood his son, Halvarin. His expression was taut, carefully held blank, and she could not tell what he was thinking as his eyes flickered over her and her mother.
"My Lady," his father intoned as they closed.
Amarwen's mother did not say a word. Instead, she stared at the Guild Master as if she somehow already sensed his tidings. The tension mounted rapidly until Amarwen broke the silence.
"The Lord of Edholland, what is his fate?"
A blunt question to be sure, but Amarwen saw little to be gained with diplomacy now. These men had come from war, for war. Of that she was all but certain.
"Alive," Halvarin answered and at that her mother sagged on her arm.
Halvarin's father stepped in to support her and Amarwen had no choice but to surrender her mother so that she could be assisted to a chair. The others followed to gather around her even as Halvarin drew her back and away.
"Why did he ride out for Eldacar?" Halvarin hissed in her ear.
Amarwen's gaze did not shift from the knot of men crowding her mother but her tone was ice, "Because the alternative was treason."
"I am not a traitor!"
"Tell me Halvarin, were the women and children of Osgiliath traitors?"
"Osgiliath chose to fight, even though they had no hope of prevailing. It was foolish. Reckless. Unnecessary"
"And so you burned it. Yes, it all makes sense now."
"Edholland will be next. Open the harbour for pity's sake. It need not come to this. Not here."
"You want that harbour open, return my father to Edholland. It is as simple as that."
Beside her, Halvarin pushed out a sorrowful sigh, "Nothing is simple any more, Amarwen."
The plaintive note in his voice pulled her eyes to his and she was struck, as she had been in the past, by their colour. Like the storm tossed sea, they were, blue and grey both depending on how the light hit them. There had been a night not so long ago that she had gazed into them and they had been laughing. Filled with joy and no small degree of mischief as they danced in this very hall. She still remembered the feel of his hand around hers, sure and steady.
"Perhaps you are right," she sighed, for that merriment was gone now and she wondered if ever it would return.
In a way, this was no more Halvarin's fault than it was hers. Their fathers had declared for different kings and one had prevailed over the other. Amarwen washed a hand over her face but before anything more could be said, her mother rose to her feet.
Amarwen's eyes widened at the terrible wrath upon her mother's face. She made to step forward but Halvarin caught her elbow as the men around her mother closed.
"Never. This house, nor Edholland, will never support the Usurper of Pelargir!"
Her statement rang through the hall.
"A terrible mistake, Lady," Halvarin's father declared ominously, "Edholland is even more vulnerable than Osgiliath. It is indefensible."
"And you, sir, are unforgivable."
"You fail to comprehend, though I do not know how, that you are alone in your opposition to the King. All the others are dead, or have fled into north."
"Castamir is no more King than I."
"And that is why your husband will rot and your people will starve."
Again Amarwen tried to go to her mother but Halvarin held her fast.
"Do not," he warned and at that the doors opened, pushed in by the men of the household.
From the chamberlain to those that tended the kitchen and stables, some of them armed with no more than their fists, all with a frenzied, desperate light in their eyes.
"Unhand the Lady of Edholland and leave this place," the chamberlain said, lifting his silvered chin.
Amarwen had never seen him so wroth before. This was a man that had tossed her on his knee.
"Have them stand down," Halvarin pleaded in a low voice, "It need not end like this."
But already it was too late for one of the men by Amarwen's mother seized her roughly and threw her to his fellows as he cleared his sword. The great hall filled with the terrible scrape of steel clearing scabbards and this sent those in the doorway flying forwards, intent on casting these men out. But, valiant as they were, they were no match for the men they sought to drive out. Horrified, Amarwen was momentarily transfixed until Halvarin pulled her away.
"Hide," he hissed at her, urgent, even as he drew his weapon.
She heard her mother cry out, "RUN AMARWEN! RU-"
A strangled sound and then nothing as Halvarin's father turned to where she stood on the other side of his son. Through his legs she could see her mother's form, prone on the flagstone floor. An outstretched hand, limp, and blood. Blood pooling.
"Bring the lass here, lad," his father bade him and at that Amarwen ran.
Running was something she had always been good at, skirts or not. She had won every footrace she had been in as a child, fleet as fox she was and so she was out of the great hall ahead of those now pounding after her. Weighed down by their weapons and armour, she had no small advantage in that. Also, unlike them, she could get to the harbour and get a ship onto the water. No matter how fast their horses were, if the wind was with her she leave them in her wake like dust.
Whilst she slipped through the halls and streets of her childhood home like the wind, those pursuing her were not so fortunate. The fate of her mother uncertain now, indeed all of Edholland, Amarwen knew she had to do one thing and one thing alone: unseat the Usurper as quickly as she could. As fortune would have it, she was on the water with the tide before Castamir's men gained the docks. Unlike her, they had been stalled and waylaid at every pass. And if they thought they'd appropriate a ship to pursue her, the actions of the harbour master at Edholland had put paid to that.
Amarwen whipped through the headlands and towards the sea with the ships of Edholland all aflame. Back on the docks, Halvarin pressed his arm to his mouth and nose to keep the smoke at bay.
"Every last bloody ship, boat and dinghy," his father raged, appalled as any mariner would be, "These people are mad!"
Halvarin said nothing, his eyes tracking the small sail of the one ship that had slipped away. Doomed, she was. He knew it. She'd be a fugitive now, a traitor to be hunted down. Castamir would show no mercy. Assuming she somehow managed to land the tiny boat safely. It was not made to withstand the sea and she could not risk hugging the coast.
He pushed out a sigh and then returned his attention to their immediate surrounds. The smoke was thickening and the people of Edholland were not their supporters. No telling how emboldened they would be once the smoke gave them cover. Word would reach them soon of what had unfolded at the hall.
"We should be away, father," he said, "Nothing to be gained here now."
"Aye," his father growled as he turned on his heels.
As they strode back to where they had left their horses, Halvarin asked what was probably an unwise question, "Was it necessary to kill the Lady of Edholland?"
His father rolled his shoulders, "I did not come here seeking it. I had hoped that she might see reason in her. For Edholland, for their daughter.
"And what fate the Lord of Edholland now?" he asked as his father grimaced.
"For the King to decide," his father answered, "But I doubt it will be a merciful one."
"And Amarwen?" he pressed, at which his father turned about to study him.
He lifted a hand to set upon Halvarin's shoulder, "The kindest thing, lad, is to hope the sea claims the lass before Castamir does."
By the time they had ridden back to Minas Anor, his father's words proved true. The new King had swept through the court of Gondor like a bloody scythe. The dead included the Lord of Edholland and Eldacar's eldest son. Their deaths had not been easy and an uneasy pall hung over the city that Halvarin rode through.
|Author:||Elora Starsong [ November 4th, 2017, 1:54 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards|
Minas Anor - May 1437
Halvarin maintained his silence as they wended their way through the White City’s tiers. With the truth so clouded, and so many dead at the hand or order of their new King, he had pondered his position at length after what he had witnessed in Edholland. Amarwen’s words to him about the events of Osgiliath hung particularly stubborn in his mind.
Their arrival at the chambers the Mariner’s Guild maintained in Minas Tirith revealed many grim, if not outright displeased faces at the aftermath of Castamir’s rise to the kingship. Instead of mercy and wisdom, Castamir had responded with a show of force and merciless. Unsullied as his descent from mighty Numénor might be, he seemed set to rule from fear instead of love.
No sooner had their party dismounted did Guild members press in, demanding to know the outcome of Edholland. A heated discussion sprang up and as it unfolded, Halvarin noted that a number of Guild stalwarts were absent. He stood back, listening closely as his father and other senior mariners traded terse words in hushed tones. Almost as if they feared they would be overheard.
When the words were spent, the criticisms set free, little had changed. The Guild remained steadfast in their t determination to support Castamir. These men, who had stared down the might and power of the raging oceans had balked. His stomach twisted at the thought, and later that night as the fine wines began to flow, Halvarin found himself unable to take part. He shook his head at the offer of a glass and that would have been that if his father had not interceded.
He watched his elder swoop up a glass of dark wine and hold to him with the admonishment, ”The King is victorious! We all should celebrate!”
Were it not for the flat note of his father’s voice, Halvarin would have missed the sarcasm altogether. Still, for all of that, he appreciated the wisdom of his father’s counsel. The absences in those gathered that night spoke volumes. Dissent was no longer a luxury any could afford in Gondor. Halvarin accepted the wine from his father and followed those present to lift his glass to salute the new King. Yet, he lagged in sipping at his wine, his thoughts again drifting to Edholland. Amarwen’s pale, stricken face as she witnessed her mother’s death rose in his mind, her dismay and fear paplable even now. Inwardly, Halvarin mused, ‘To Lady Amarwen, now Lady of Edholland. May you find your way through this storm to safe harbour.’
As the others were finishing their drink, Halvarin tipped his glass and took it all down in one gulp. There was a silence in the guild room which was only broken by someone speaking in a low tone. At that, those present in the hall resumed their usual chatter. Halvarin studied the bass of his glass, swirled what remained and raised it to his mouth to drain the final drops. With that seen to, he set his glass aside and turned for the door as his father seemed set to speak further. Halvarin hesitated at that but in that moment his father seemed to think better of it.
He watched him turn to one of the Guild’s senior officers. Never any shortage of men seeking his father’s ear as Guild Master. Aware that his father would likely be preoccupied by such matters for the remainder of the evening and unable to find his peers present in the hall, Halvarin considered his departure anew, determined to find time for his own thoughts before his sour disposition was noted.
Too late, as it turned out, for the captain of the Foamcutter pounced on Halvarin and father, ”Impolitic to doubt our King now, even no one could possibly have anticipated this state of affairs.”
Halvarin’s father nodded, ”The Mariners Guild have no role in determining the King’s course.”
Masterful, Halvarin thought, for such a statement could be seen in more than one light. The Foamcutter’s captain nodded in agreement and with that Halvarin made his break from the Guild hall. It was not long before he found himself at the White Tree Inn where he ordered a glass of the strongest port wine they had.
It was no match for the Dorwinion wine they had been supping at the Guild Hall, he thought as he sampled his drink. Ironic, he realized, that the Mariner’s Guild even now were enjoying the fruits of the Northmen they had repudiated to such an extent that they had overthrown their King. Halvarin drank deeply from the rough wooden mug, his mind careening about. Drinking and thinking, he thought, a dangerous combination in these times. Still, for all of that, he could not pretend that he did not fear. What was happening to his beloved Gondor?
A few days and nights passed in this fashion before Halvarin received fresh orders. He was assigned to a large ship that would be leaving from Pelargir south to the rumoured woodlands of Far Harad. With these orders in hand, Halvarin felt a sense of profound relief. This he could do. Far better, far preferable, than the orders that had sent him with his father to Edholland. As he set to readying himself for the river voyage to Pelargir, Halvarin found himself reviewing just how he had come to find himself in this predicament.
It could all be traced back to the disillusionment he recalled several years earlier as he studied the art of navigation whilst an Ensign. Trouble with the Northmen of Rhovanion had flared then and Halvarin had agreed with a great many others with the Mariner’s Guild that Valacar should not have taken a Rhovanion princess to wife. It had emboldened these middle men. Still, when that disapproval had developed into open, rumbling discord within the maritime provinces of Gondor, Halvarin had subscribed to the view that come what may, the Line of Kings was to be adhered to.
Yet, he was part of a diminishing minority within his Guild as the Master of Ships rose in prominence and position. One by one, Halvarin watched senior Guild officers fall under Castamir’s sway. Opposition to Valacar had waxed, and it seemed almost inevitable now that he looked back on it that this had grown to outright rejection of Eldacar. And now he was, about to take ship and guide them south to the woodlands that would enable Castamir to expand his fleet. Amarwen’s bold actions at Edholland had meant that the King had no other means to strength his dominance over the waves. He must build, for there were no more ships to appropriate by one means or another.
Setting out from Pelargir, their ships made good time south in favourable winds. They carried Marine soldiers and engineers mostly. Once a landing was secured, the soldiers were to move inland and find where to set fortifications in case of possible attacks on the camps the engineers planned. Halvarin’s duty lay in getting them south and returning them home safely. Whilst in Harad, though, Halvarin had little to do there once they arrived. He spent his time tending to his ship and studying the stars at night so as to make notes and update his charts. This was not, on the whole, unpleasant but Halvarin’s mind was not easy even though he had managed to escape the suffocating city. He slept through the day, or tried to at least. Time and again he woke, swathed in a cold sweat as the events of Edholland rolled through his mind. Bloodied. Night, then, was his only comfort for in gazing at the night sky he found it easiest to recall Amarwen. Her hair was dark as the night and her eyes glimmered like the stars. Remote though it was, Halvarin clung to the hope that somehow Amarwen had survived her flight from Edholland. Somehow, despite the flimsy dinghy she had taken to the sea.
When his ruminations locked on her dingy failing her, Halvarin tried instead to recall happier times. He had visited Edholland with his father often over the years. The first time he had encountered Amarwen, they had both been scarcely more than children. Still, even then, he had found her captivating. Shy as he had been, Halvarin recalled the gradual way in which she had carved out her own little notch in his heart. Whether or not she knew that she occupied that place or not he could not guess. But, he liked to think that they had been friends. They had danced in her father’s hall, her eyes sparkling and her laughter curling in his ears as she filled his arms. Vibrant, lively, glorious with her midnight hair and starlit eyes.
Yet, for all of his attempts to recall brighter, happier times, Halvarin found it all but impossible not to dwell on the unkind twist of fate that had seen him sent to Edholland as her foe. He had done what he could, as he could, but for all of that it seemed to him that any friendship between them had died that day with her mother. If she had survived her escape, the only desire Lady Armarwen was likely to have with regard to him would be to plant a good five spans of steel in his belly. And he could not fault her for that, even if his sword had not been the one to claim her mother.
For a month they stayed there at anchor and in that Halvarin began to sicken. Still, he remained at his duties as they set out for Gondor again. By the time they reached the shipyards in Pelargir, Halvarin had lost weight and could barely walk off the ship. He immediately went in search of a healer. He avoided the usual ones that the Guild retained and instead sought an unconventional herbal sorceress. Some might even call her a witch. Whatever she was, she cured his body but could not set his mind to rest and Halvarin returned to ship in time to sail up the river to Minas Anor.
Would that he had not, he thought, as he gained the Guildhouse and with it the tidings that Lady Amarwen had been lost at sea. The evidence was conclusive. A shattered dinghy washed ashore, scraps of sodden golden velvet caught in the shattered timbers. Robbed now of even his faint hope, Halvarin withdrew into himself. He became silent and distant as he threw himself into finalizing his star charts of the south for his Guild.
Time drifted by, turgid and bloated, and in that time the news of Castamir’s purges faded. Halvarin found himself longing to return south, away from Gondor where he might study the night sky closer. It was there he felt closest to Amarwen, as if she watched him from far away. Wherever it was their people went when their lives were spent. However this was not to be for Halvarin was given a very different command. One which would test his faltering loyalty.
Summonsed to the Guild chambers, Halvarin found himself facing three senior captains. His father, nor any he knew, were amongst them.
”These have been trying times for us all,” said the one in the middle, ”But you have acquitted yourself very well. You have shown yourself worthy of advancement, Halvarin.”
The flanking captains nodded at this and Halvarin struggled to keep his expression suitably neutral.
”You are to take ship up the river, to Osgiliath. There you will assume command of the Eastern Watch from Beregon of Anorien. He seems to be missing,” the man let that last dangle in the air, bait.
Missing. Was he killed or had he deserted? Halvarin nodded, understanding that part of his commission would involve sorting out whatever had happened to Beregon. With little more to say, Halvarin took his leave to prepare for his post at what was now a ruined, crumbling ghost of a city.
|Author:||Elora Starsong [ November 4th, 2017, 1:59 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards|
Dol Amroth – 1437
Amarwen paused in the hall before the door that led to the study of the Prince of Dol Amroth. He had been a steady and true friend of her father, their bond extend well beyond her birth. He had welcomed her into his hall without hesitancy, despite the fact that she had arrived unannounced and expecting Castamir’s fleet to descend upon her any moment now. And yet, that had not come to pass. Indeed, within the Prince’s halls one could be forgiven for not knowing what had come to pass within Gondor.
Despite that her father and the Prince had been united in their opposition to Castamir’s ascension to the throne, King’s gauntleted fist had not fallen so heavily upon Dol Amroth as it had on Edholland. For all his proclivities and failings, Castamir was not so reckless as that. His emissaries had come to Dol Amroth armed to the teeth with proclamations of good faith but the Prince had not been gulled. Or so she hoped.
Were she mistaken, these last few steps would be the last she would take of her own choosing. Of that she was sure. She was aware that she had been declared a traitor for the burning of Edholland’s fleet. Never mind that it had been a precaution against a force of armed, violent men sent by the King to disturb Edholland’s peace. And so here she was, delaying before the Prince’s door wondering whether friend could remain friend in this tumult.
She smoothed her palms over her borrowed garb and knocked on the thick oak door. When bidden, she entered to find the Prince at his desk. It was late afternoon and the hearth was well alight, intent on defeating the rapidly approaching dusk. As she closed the door behind her, Amarwen saw the Prince’s dark head lift. His line was woven with the Eldar and it showed in his features and character, or so she thought. She could not know him as her father had. Indeed, he had such an advantage of years that he could have been her father.
As if he somehow guessed the thrust of her thoughts, the Prince smiled at her fondly.
”Like yesterday it seems,” he remarked, ”When your mother set you in my arms.”
This came as she offered him the courtesy he was owed. Amarwen smiled as she rose from her curtsy and the Prince pushed aside whatever he had been reading to select a fresh sheet of parchment.
He folded his hands over it as she approached his desk, ”Our ruse, it would appear, has succeeded.”
Amarwen nodded, grateful, for she had arrived without so much as the nearest crumb of a coherent plan. The Prince, however, had not been nearly so tardy. No sooner had her sorry tale tumbled out of her had he swung into action. Before she knew it, he was issuing orders to his most trusted men to take her battered dinghy back out and beach it with shreds of her sodden yellow velvet caught in the ruined timbers.
If she was honest, Amarwen had been sceptical that the ploy would work. The Prince had proved wiser, as might be expected of a man that had been dealing with the White City since before she had been born.
”I am dead, then?” she asked for good measure and the Prince nodded.
”Quite. Lost at sea…and stripped of your titles for good measure,” he replied and she sighed.
Still, what had she expected given the turn of events at court?
”I am most grateful for your assistance, your Grace,” she answered and the Prince gestured at a nearby seat.
”And so, now we arrive at what is to follow. You are most welcome to remain here.”
If Castamir found she was alive and being sheltered in Dol Amroth, his restraint would end and Dol Amroth’s fate would be far worse than that of Edholland. Amarwen shook her head from side to side, her hair shifting with her movement.
”I could not imperil your people in such a fashion, your Grace.”
His eyes glinted as he studied her for a long moment and then he reached for a fresh quill, ”Very well, safe passage to Rhovanion it is. I will provide the necessary bone fides to assure you are received by Eldacar’s people.”
Rumor had it that Castamir had already begun to send his spies north, seeking to infiltrate his foe’s people. Stragglers, those that had waited before setting out, were now met with steel until they could vouch for themselves. Even Amarwen, the daughter of the man who had been executed by Castamir with Eldacar’s own son, would not be assured of a welcome amongst the rightful King’s people now. That, she very much thought, had been one of the Usurper’s objectives. Even if he obtained no information of any use out of Rhovanion, what better than to have his opponents supporters picked off in this fashion.
”It is not to Rhovanion I would go,” Amarwen said and the Prince’s head lifted.
He hoisted a dark brow at her and she pressed on, ”Minas Anor.”
“To what end?” he asked and, when she did not answer, set his quill down again and sat back in his chair, his expression now grave and stern.
”Surely you understand that my first thoughts cannot be for my safety, your Grace.”
The Prince grimaced at that, ”Your fate, should you be discovered, will be grim indeed.”
“How fortunate that Amarwen of Edholland is already dead,” she answered, lifting her chin as she did so.
At that the Prince shook his head at her, ”I had wondered why you had cut your hair.”
His comment made her reach for her shortened lengths. It fell past her shoulders still, but only to the middle of her back. As was proper, as was necessary for what she intended to do. Only noble born ladies could afford to wear their hair as long as he had and Amarwen of Edholland rested in a cold, watery grave.
“I will not be able to protect you in Minas Anor,” he warned and Amarwen’s gaze did not waver.
”I doubt there is any who might shelter us from what is to come, your Grace.”
“Again, Amarwen, I ask for the sake of your dear parents who cannot, what is your purpose in this?”
Her eyes shifted then, dropped to the Prince’s wide desk of dark polished wood and the blank parchment upon it for a moment. Her parents would be appalled at what she was enterprising. And yet it had been them to raise her with the firm belief that her people always came first. Always. Amarwen drew in a deep breath, clasped her hands in her lap and returned her attention to the Prince.
”I seek to serve my people, your Grace.”
The Prince’s mouth pressed into a straight, thin line as he shook his head slowly. She thought he would refuse her then and there and wondered what might follow if he did. Instead, though, he straightened in his chair again.
”What would you have of me, Lady Amarwen.”
“A letter of recommendation…for a scullery maid.”
He considered her for a moment, pressed out a long breath and then inked his quill. Amarwen didn’t dare move an inch nor make a sound as the Prince wrote. Nothing that might cause him to reconsider.
”What is this scullery maid’s name,” he inquired, head bowed.
”Marece,” Amarwen replied, thinking of the wife of Edholland’s head cook.
Strong, unflinching and brave Marece had been. Indomitable. Assured, right up until the moment the wasting sickness had claimed her three years ago now. Marece had known she as going to die but she had faced it on her own terms all the same. Amarwen hoped she could live up to Marece’s legacy of fierce, enduring valour.
Soon enough, Amarwen found herself sitting in the back of an empty cart bound for Minas Anor with scarcely more than her recommendation letter tucked into her worn, humble clothing. She would have to shed everything she had become accustomed to in order to succeed. Her hair and name, the fine clothing of a noblewoman were just the beginning.
Behind her, the driver of the cart set it in motion. It rocked back and forth briefly before it started off proper. Watching from a window, she saw the Prince. His misgivings had not abated but she could say nothing for to assure him would give him information that might bring Dol Amroth into peril and she could not do that. Would not do that. There must be one safe haven yet in Gondor and the Prince had ever been a friend and ally to Edholland.
Amarwen lifted her arm to bid him farewell, uncertain if she would ever see him again. She glimpsed him raise a hand to her just before the cart rolled out of his courtyard proper. Beyond the walls, a stiff breeze held dominion. It made her pull her thin shawl tighter around her shoulders to little effect. Shivering, she set her teeth and made no comment on it. Being cold, hungry, tired were simple facts of life now. Unremarkable and mundane. And there were other things to consider…such as how best to begin once she gained the White City. She shifted closer to hang her arms over the back of the bench the driver sat upon and set to asking him all he knew of Minas Anor. Had to start somewhere.
|Author:||Elora Starsong [ November 4th, 2017, 2:05 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards|
Osgiliath – III 1437
Halvarin spent what was left of the day he arrived in Osgiliath finding the former Commander‘s office. Once he had, it was clear that it was well ordered despite the damage the overall building had sustained in the recent fighting. Halvarin settled in to examine the Osgiliath garrison assignments. It soon emerged that the Eastern Watch was comprised, in the main, of units drawn from Anorien and Ithilien. This was leavened with an elite guard out of Minas Tirith.
He reviewed the list of officers and recognised one name immediately – Michas of Ithilien. Michas had served with him as they completed the initial training of the Mariner’s Guild. They had become fast friends over the course of that five years but their paths had separated upon completion. Halvarin had pursued further study in navigation. Michas, however, lacked the patience for such pursuits. In truth, his talents lay elsewhere. He had proven himself a very able soldier during training and when he had pursued that path, no one had been surprised. Halvarin had not heard from Michas since his friend had deployed.
And now, years later, the tumult and chaos of the realm had thrown them together. Beregon’s journal listed Michas as second-in-command. Given Beregon was missing, Michas had held the command of the garrison…Yet where was he? Halvarin had not sighted him nor heard from him since his arrival hours ago in Osgiliath. There was only one thing to do, he thought. Halvarin issued an immediate summons to all garrison officers. It was time they reported to him and learned that they would be ordering a review of all the men assigned to Osgiliath.
When the unit officers gathered Michas was still missing yet Halvarin was surprised to find yet another classmate stationed at Osgiliath. Belas held the command of the Anorien Guard and when asked who commanded the garrison in Michas’ absence, reluctantly admitted that it fell to him. As to where Michas was, all Halvarin could glean was that his friend was “away in the east”. Belas remained distant, offering as little as possible to Halvarin, and the rest of the officers followed his lead. Thus, after short and desultory conversation, there was little Halvarin could do but direct the officers to assemble their men for review.
The garrison assembled in the training grounds which were, for the most part, intact. This was unusual in the inner, older quarters of Osgiliath. It was here that the fighting had been particularly intense. Eldacar’s men had held out here under his eldest son for quite some time. Halvarin arrived early and concealed himself. So much the better to observe his new command. He had already formed an initial assessment of his officers after their brief meeting. Now it was time to assess the men they commanded.
Once the officers had asserted order to the ranks, he strode out to commence the review proper. The urge to sigh at what he saw was strong. These men were a rough sort. That, in itself, raised issues around discipline within the ranks. Their morale and more pressing yet, their loyalties, remained to be seen.
He had the officers bring their men to attention and Halvarin walked down the first line men. He saw young men, mostly. Recently graduated from their training. Five years, at a guess, experience. But what a five years. Halvarin met the eye of each man he slowly walked past and saw something he recognised in each face. He had been spared the battle here at Osgiliath. The Guild was jealously protective of their navigators. Still, Halvarin recognised what he saw in the faces of these men as something he had seen for himself. In Edholland. By all means a brief, small affair, Edholland had been. Yet…brutal.
Many of these soldiers had taken up arms in battle against their own countrymen. Against neighbour, friend and kin as well as the Northmen. The toll such a dreadful act exacts was clear now in the men Halvarin reviewed. Yet for all this, they still appeared strong. It was impossible to assess each man’s loyalties, but Halvarin was certain that as a group they would be mixed. Unlikely, he thought, that he’d find devout adherents to Castamir here, serving in the terrible ruin of what had one of Gondor’s most beautiful cities. It was, he thought, all but impossible to feel anything but sorrow at what had befallen here.
Halvarin reviewed each and every rank of men, pausing to exchange brief words with some. Once finished, he ordered his officers to him as their seconds dismissed the men. He could delay no longer the thorny issue of loyalties. He needed to know, with certainty, just where Michas was and why he was there. He needed to know what had occurred under his predecessor, Beregon. These men would know if he had deserted. They would have some sense of his friend’s fate. Dispensing with any pretence at friendliness, Halvarin coldly demanded answers of his officers. And for that, he had to assert his will as their commander.
Once it was clear that there was no option but to answer, Halvarin was finally informed of something around Belegond’s fate. He discovered that Beregon had tacitly backed the principal that Gondor’s king should have unsullied Numenorean blood but soon grew disillusioned after the battle was over and the purges started. Halvarin could appreciate Beregon’s predicament. No one, he thought, had sensed just how dreadful Castamir’s vengeance would be once he came to a throne. When Halvarin did not denounce Beregon to his men the officers gave him still more. It emerged that many of the small unit leaders and sergeants without families or with mixed Northman families had also left the garrison. Belegond was not the only one to have done as he had. Desertion, then. A steady stream of men.
Halvarin returned to his office with a heavy heart and crowded mind. The men and officers remaining at the garrison had done so by choice. They had not deserted. That said, though, they were pragmatic. They served Gondor. Not, he thought, Castamir. That sat well enough with Halvarin yet he was well aware that the eyes of the Guild, and that of the King, would be watching Osgiliath closely indeed. Care, great care, was needed here to ensure the garrison held and the few remaining citizens of Osgiliath were not put through a second bloody pogrom. And meanwhile, where was Michas? Had Osgiliath claimed not one friend but two?
Halvarin drew up a list of his unit captains and scheduled an interview with each one. The order of this required careful consideration. Once he met with one, word would spread to the others rapidly. They would confer. It was inevitable, no matter how he might insist on confidentiality. Thus, his plan hinged on the first officer Halvarin spoke with. What the others would say, or not say, in their turn would tell him a great deal.
Ithilien, east of Osgiliath – III 1437
As Halvarin drew up his list of interviews, Michas poured water over his head and considered the westering sun. His sortie east had proved fruitful, if only to demonstrate that the overall defence of Gondor was intact. The Easterlings had yet to recover in full from their devastating defeat under Eldacar’s grandfather years ago, but stray orcs moving down from the Shadow Mountains had to be dealt with. They had been slain completely and Michas was keenly aware that had he not set off on this sortie, the beasts would have been able to run freely in Ithilien.
It had been a risk to leave Osgiliath so soon after things came to a head there, but it had proven wise. Hopefully, once he returned, Beregon would have put matters to bed. They could ill afford to be squabbling between themselves at Osgiliath over things such as a man’s preferred king yet squabble they did. Now, Michas had to draw up a report to provide to Beregon on his return. It should be an ordinary task but nothing was ordinary anymore. He’d have to answer a great many questions that had nothing to do with this sortie.
Michas settled in at camp to assemble his report. Everything had to be explained in such a way as would satisfy anyone who might read it, irrespective of their loyalties. His men, those around him, deserved at least that from him. Once that was done, he ordered camp struck. The sooner they were back to give an account for themselves, the better.
Osgiliath – III 1437
The next day Halvarin inspected the garrison’s positions. It offered him the opportunity to examine the state of the once spectacular city. Widely considered a shining example of gracious Numenorean architecture, little remained of its splendour now that Numenorean pride and ambition had been unloosed in its beautiful avenues. The city had housed the famed Library of Varda where the studies and records of the stars were kept. All navigators, be they Guild or otherwise, revered this place yet it had not escaped the conflagration.
The great observatory, the Dome of Stars, had been destroyed in the fighting. This was a grievous loss indeed, but Halvarin was relieved to find that the Records Chamber had sustained only light damage. It had not been sacked or burned –likely protected by Guild navigators along with the rubble blocking entrance to all. It would be important to open it up again, for amongst the records might much be restored. As Halvarin studied the rubble, a call went up from the men.
”Men coming in! It’s Michas!”
Halvarin turned from his path towards the river in hope of meeting his old friend. Perhaps he would learn that which the officers here refused to divulge to a member of the Guild. That, Halvarin, was where the difficulty lay in chief. He could not command this garrison if his officers mistrusted him. He arrived at a makeshift dock that had been constructed from rubble and timbers just as the first of three fair sized boats came ashore. The men in the first boat saw Halvarin raise his hand, but they stared back at him in open suspicion.
It wasn’t until a tall man toward the rear of the first boat called out, ”Halvarin my friend! It is well you are here!”
Suspicion shifted to bafflement at Michas’ greeting, just as Michas had hoped such a public statement might achieve. As for Michas, he knew as soon as he saw Halvarin that Belegond had been replaced. Just how that vacancy had arisen, though. That was less certain. He made his way to the prow of the boat and was the first to alight. He greeted Halvarin as a friend, keenly aware that the men would be studying this closely. His, of course, but also those ashore with Halvarin.
”It is well that you have come my old friend. I have been here three days, and I have learned little beyond the watch points are in this city. There is much to discuss,” Halvarin said as they embraced.
Michas’ reply was warm as he drew back, “I will report as soon as my men are settled in. We can talk then.”
Studying Halvarin closely, Michas was relieved that his mixed feeling about seeing Halvarin here were not perceived. This damnable strife had tainted everything, it seemed.
”No need to hurry,” Halvarin smiled, ”Come for dinner at the library.”
Michas nodded at that and Halvarin turned away to leave him to order his men.
As agreed, Michas reported at the library that evening. He paused in the door to salute Halvarin as commanding officer.
”I was worried about you when I found you weren’t here,” Halvarin said from behind his desk and Michas stepped into the room.
This would be difficult for them both, Halvarin guess. They were friends but that could not interfere with the structure of command at the garrison. He set aside the papers he had been reading as Michas settled just within the door.
”I thought it best to continue the assigned patrols of the kingdom, for the sake of stability,” Michas replied and Halvarin nodded his agreement.
He stood and walked forward to clasp his friend’s forearm, ”Most wise. I take it all is looking well east of the river then?”
“Not entirely,” Michas replied and saw the other man’s brows lift in concern.
Michas clarified, ”The Easterlings remain subdued and the dark lands are quiet. Which is why I thought a long range patrol was needed. I discovered that the Easterlings are not a quiet as they would like us to believe. They are patrolling deep into their own western and southern lands. That is to be expected, for their lands are vast and some order must be maintained. As for Gondor, they’re aware of our troubles here but do not yet have the requisite strength to exploit that. For now. I think it likely that will change, if they can manage it.”
Halvarin nodded at this sobering assessment, ”And your men – casualties?”
Michas rolled a shoulder at the question, ”An ambush claimed five. We retreated to a hillock to regroup but they did not pursue. I suspect their tactics favour a sudden, moving engagement. Cause as many casualties as possible and then retreat. Devilish difficult to deal with unless you have cavalry or Rohirrim available.”
This was grim indeed, for Halvarin had neither at Osgiliath. The Horselords were busy in their own lands now and Castamir had Gondor’s own cavalry in use elsewhere. Infantry could, of course, defeat a mounted foe but he hardly had the strength of numbers here that would be required should the Easterling’s amass and push.
Halvarin pushed out a heavy sigh, ”We must maintain a presence there so they don’t encroach even further. I think you were right to conduct that patrol, Michas, yet we can ill afford to lose five men on each sortie. We, the both of us, need to assess this garrison’s strength for dealing with such a foe. Once we have established that, I can look into how much aid I can obtain for us here in Osgiliath.”
Michas nodded at this and delved into his thoughts. An uncomfortable, unfamiliar silence arose between the two friends that Michas broke warily.
”You are my commanding officer, Halvarin…but…might I speak freely?”
“I would expect nothing less from my second,” Halvarin returned and Michas drew a deep breath before plunging into the unknown.
”I suppose the question of loyalties will come up, for this is what Gondor has fallen to now. I was involved in the battle for Osgiligath. I…I stood with Gondor that day and I battled Eldacar’s Northmen. But that does not mean I supported Castamir and I am not alone. There are men here and in Ithilien who now find a bitter draught.”
Michas wiped a hand over his face and shook his head, ”A tangled mess is what it is, Halvarin, when a man’s heart takes one path and his head another. I say this to you now as my friend. If I have misjudged you, then I will be arrested like so many others and I will meet a traitor’s end. Such is the fate of men like me now, men who have only ever loyally served Gondor. This is why you have been met with such coldness, Halvarin, for you are the representative of the Mariner’s Guild. There are those who assert that the Mariner’s Guild serve but one master: themselves.”
Halvarin took a deep breath at this but remained otherwise silent as Michas laid himself bare before him. His friend could not possibly know that his own loyalties were hopelessly divided. He was a prominent member of the Navigators, a powerful faction within the Mariner’s Guild. Ever since he had been a boy he had wanted to join the Guild and rise through its ranks just as his father had. His father had risen right to the very top. Castamir’s ascendancy, supported by the Mariner’s Guild, had carried his father right into the position of Guild Master. And he loved his father. He was a good man, a fine captain and seaman…yet…Edholland.
Ever since the dreadful events of Edholland, Havarin had been carrying seeds of doubt and misgivings when it came to the Guild. He knew that the Guild, his father in particular, would watch his command in Osgiliath most closely. Perhaps he had been given this post to test his loyalties. Perhaps that’s what this was right now. Halvarin recognised that he had to tread carefully indeed.
”My friend, I cannot be hearing any of what you have said and so I did not hear it. Consider that, if you will, an act of friendship. If you are a loyal servant of Gondor, then you will follow my orders. That is all I require and so, in that, this is indeed a matter of loyalties. Serve Gondor faithfully and diligently, Michas, and I will not have to arrest you. Nor any man, for that matter. Conspire against Gondor, or me, then I will not hesitate to have you arrested.”
Michas swallowed at Halvarin’s response for it was not as fulsome as he had hoped. He was only involved on the edges of the resistance in Osgiliath, his activities limited in range to the troops stationed here. Belas, though, was another matter. He was an active covert agent for Eldacar. Michas had urged Belas to flee north when it had become clear that Osgiliath would indeed fall but the man had remained, determined to bring about change from within Gondor.
He would do his best to protect Belas…but not at a serious cost to himself and the men that relied upon him. Hence, Michas’ response was carefully neutral.
”I understand sir,” he answered as he realised that his friendship with Halvarin may not have carried well enough down the years.
For his part, Halvarin returned to his desk to sort through a stack of parchments.
He continued without looking up at Michas, ”You will be a very able second. I want you to review the whole garrison and pick those you know to be unquestionably loyal Gondorians. Once you have selected one hundred men, I will review them.”
The sound of dinner arriving made both men look to the door.
Halvarin waved the kitchen boy in before he continued, ”I want it done swiftly, Michas.”
”I’ll start after dinner, commander,” Michas replied and with that their talk fell to other, kinder things.
There was much for the two men to catch up on. Events and recollections eased the tension that had arisen until both men were laughing. Not quite as they once had, but still, it was something.
By the time both men had finished their simple meal, something of their old camaraderie had returned. Only time would tell whether it was merely a ghost that would haunt both men. Halvarin leaned back in his chair and stretched his legs out. He considered his boots for a long while, reluctant to return to the business before them.
”I want loyal Gondorians, Michas. Not creatures of Castamir, nor Eldacar.”
“Are there any now who are not one or the other?” Michas inquired quietly as he rose from his chair.
He nodded to Halvarin, expression unreadable, and took his leave. Halvarin sighed in Michas’ wake, keenly aware of Michas’ meaning. The longer Castamir ruled, the more polarised his nation became. The rift was getting wider as time went by. This was going to be a tough command.
Osgiliath – III 1439, Winter
Halvarin sat back as he read the parchment that had come from Minas Anor. Then he rolled it up and let it fall to his desk. Thinking for a moment, he summoned his adjutant and dispatched him to fetch Michas.
After what had been a rough beginning in Osgiliath, Halvarin had managed to ascertain the particular landscape of his officer’s loyalties. Once he had that, he had been able to use that knowledge to his advantage. Michas had proven invaluable. In his position as Halvarin’s second, he could supply Halvarin with information that he could share with the officers known to be loyal to Castamir whenever there were arrests to be made.
Insurgency posed a significant threat to Gondor’s strength and stability and Osgiliath was particularly vulnerable. Where possible, Halvarin ensured those arrested were spared anything beyond time in the cells. There would be no torture nor summary executions under his command. On occasion though, Halvarin was unable to keep the insurgents from the excesses of Castamir’s realm. Some he had no choice but to send to Minas Tirith, aware that they would almost certainly meet their end there. The cruelty of Castamir’s justice meant that it was all but possible to eliminate insurgency.
At times, Halvarin would be questioned about the lack of arrests in Osgiliath. These were the least of his concerns for Osgiliath had very few residents beyond his own troops and his soldiers had sworn their loyalty to Gondor. For good measure, Halvarin was careful to keep the ambitious Castamirian officers busy watching the northern and eastern lands for any incursion or sortie out of Rhun. This approach managed to keep overt scrutiny away from Osgiliath to other, more fractious regions within Gondor, and though he knew that there was an active Eldacarian underground there, he managed to keep them in check and out of sight.
As for himself, Halvarin continued to weigh his options and loyalties. As his command in Osgiliath stretched from the first year into the second, he saw that he was being left behind in the promotions. This was a direct consequence of his refusal to steep himself in the Guild’s politics. Any and every member of the Guild sought the position of a Ship’s command. Yet as that possibility became every more remote, Halvarin found himself curiously lacking in regret. When his father was given the Haradian command by Castamir himself, Halvarin was quietly relieved that the Guild did not request him to go.
And now, it had come to this…Halvarin considered the rolled parchment he’d dropped onto his desk. He did not recognize the names within.
Michas came in to the old library where Halvarin had moved his office a few months after he had taken command to find his friend packing up his belongings.
”Called to Harad after all,” Michas inquired, for he had been surprised that Halvarin had not been summonsed forth.
Such a talented navigator for such a treacherous coast, with experience in Harad, Michas had remarked more than once. Through it all, Halvarin had said nothing further on it until now.
He shook his head as he packed, ”It is to Minas Anor that I have been summonsed. You will have the command here in my absence…and should I not return you will continue in command until you are notified otherwise.”
Michas said nothing at this and Halvarin did not pause his activities, ” While there, should I be asked, I will name you as my recommended replacement. But only if you wish me to, and should you accept my doing so. If my words mean anything to them, they will heed me on this.”
”If command of Osgiliath is given to me, I will serve Gondor to the best of my ability. Still, I will hope for your swift return,” Michas said quietly.
Halvarin nodded at his words, ”I perceive that the Guild has reconsidered many things since I left Minas Anor. To what end I will not know until I return. My fate, therefore, is unclear.”
At that Michas drew closer and the two men considered each other for a time before Halvarin resumed his preparations to leave. On his way out the door he paused to read the parchment a final time. Then, with a heavy sigh, he set it down and quit Osgiliath for Minas Anor.
His return to Osgiliath was sooner than he expected, for he was only away a month. With most of the senior Guild officer drawn away to the south, Halvarin returned to Osgiliath with high honours that he felt he did not deserve. Still, he took what the Guild offered to him. In his time there, he discovered that Guild had assessed him as ably commanding Osgiliath. His summons was not, as he had feared, to strip him of this office but rather to provide him with highly sensitive information that could not be entrusted to a rider. Halvarin returned to Osgiliath with the names of suspected Eldacar supporters believed to be active recently in Minas Anor.
Just how the Guild had come by this information was unclear to Halvarin, troublesome to say the least, and aside from one the names listed were unfamiliar to him. He had not seen nor spoken with Belas for some time, but Halvarin was initially taken aback. Michas, he had thought, had been keeping Belas occupied out beyond Osgiliath. To discover he had been in Minas Tirith and actively engaged in insurrection was no small concern. If the list was reliable, it raised a host of unwelcome questions for which Halvarin had no answers.
He had suspected for some time that Michas had been protecting Eldacar supporters within the ranks but the man had been careful about it. None had come to the attention of Minas Tirith, until now. Why they had not been arrested seemed odd. And then there was the list. How had it been made and why. Why had it been given to him? Minas Tirith did not need him to apprehend Belas nor observe him. They were capable of both themselves.
All this made for a restless night upon his return to Osgiliath and Halvarin had barely slept when one of his officers woke him.
Calan, a young officer, reported, ”Sir, we found suspicious movement by the river. We thought it was the eastern patrol returning, but instead found two people leaving a small river boat. We remained hidden to discover their identity and purpose. When they were met by several people from Osgiliath, I grew alarmed.”
Halvarin rolled to his feet with a groan and stifled a yawn as Calan continued, ”I had them surrounded and only then did I discover Belas was with them. He discovered our presence and so we moved in to apprehend them.”
Any momentary fogginess fell away at that and Halvarin turned about, still buckling on his sword belt. Belas, one of their own officers, had been apprehended? It made no sense at all, that. Why would he risk his own apprehension when he could simply detain whoever these water-borne rebels were as an officer in his own right?
”I was looking for Michas, but when I heard you had returned, I came straight here,” Calan finished in a rush.
Halvarin rubbed the heels of his hands into his eyes. They hadn’t been arrested in Minas Tirith because they were being tracked. And now they have come to him. He sighed at this.
”How many did you arrest, Calan?”
“Three sir, including Belas. With him was a woman and two other men, but one fled and jumped into the river. He was not found.”
”I will see them, one at a time,” Halvarin announced just as Michas hurried in.
He looked first to Calas, then Halvarin, and then lowered his head to think for a moment. Halvarin hoped, vehemently, that Michas would not take flight. After a while, his friend moved to the doorway and looked up.
At this, Halvarin acknowledged him with a nod and said to Calas, ”There will be no insurrection under my command. Bring Belas to me now. It is high time that he, Michas, and I have a reunion. When we are done, bring the woman to my office.”
Calas nodded and left but had soon returned, ”Sir, Belas is dead. I am told he attempted to free the other prisoners and escape. He was shot with arrows. The captured man was with him, unharmed still I am told. They were on their way to free the woman.”
Michas audibly swallowed at this and Halvarin’s eyes narrowed, “Arrows? I will not tolerate any killings in custody! Where is the freed prisoner now?”
“Returned to a new cell, sir. Alive. I swear it.”
Halvarin swung about to glare at Michas. Belas was not the sort of man to take unnecessary risks. Twice this night he had done so. First to elude capture and then to free those captured. Whoever these prisoners were, they were clearly of significance to the insurgency. And meanwhile, Halvarin was certain the Guild was watching to see what he would do with high value rebels in his hands.
Michas refused to say anything but Halvarin could see the man had broken out into a cold sweat. He was genuinely worried, but for what? Or who? The man, the woman or both? There was no one to trust in this beyond himself, Halvarin realised. He raked his hair back into a low queue.
”You had best hope so, Calan,” Halvarin growled and the young officer swallowed, ”Bring the woman to me… alive and unharmed!”
Calas turned to go and Halvarin swiftly dismissed Michas as well. He rubbed at his face and then slowly set out for his office, debating how to approach the questioning of a woman who was, most likely, a highly ranked rebel. She’d be dangerous. He’d be a fool not to realise that. For all of that, could he stomach turning a woman over to those waiting in Minas Tirith? His father had not gone to Edholland to slaughter a woman in her own hall. Not just any woman but the wife of a friend. After that dark day, something in his father had changed. And this, Halvarin mused, bore all the signs of being his own Edholland.
|Author:||Elora Starsong [ November 4th, 2017, 2:10 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards|
Osgiliath – 1439
Marece stared at the wall of the small room she had been locked into. It still bore the residue of charring from the sack of this once fine city. A gem within Gondor’s crown, cracked and sullied by overweening ambition and greed. Hours had passed since she had been placed here, the sacking over her head removed. The door, new timber and clearly replaced since Osgiliath’s fall, was sturdy and locked. She could not hear movement beyond it but earlier she had heard a disturbance. Men shouting, boots on stone running and the sound of arrows. Since then, quiet.
The walls were stone and there was a window, well over her head. Long and narrow. Once it had been filled with glass but that too had failed to withstand the onslaught of this strife. Now, it admitted a thin stream of cold light. Dawn had come and gone. Had to be longer than an hour, therefore. The floor was stone as well and there was not a stick of furniture. Nothing that she might use for warmth or comfort. Or for a weapon.
Come nightfall the temperature would plunge. At least they had left her with her cloak. Her teeth chattered all the same as she pulled it tight and cursed the circumstances that had forced her to select a cloak that was battered, worn and altogether not up to the challenge of the night ahead. Marece ran her hands over her clothing underneath. Simple garb, lower merchant class. Well repaired, but worn. The tightly bound brown bodice, grey apron and modest skirts had served her well in the past for merchants were generally invisible. The poorer they were the harder they were to distinguish. Minas Anor was awash in struggling merchants now that Castamir had effectively strangled all trade with prohibitive tarrifs and taxes.
In fact, everything about this had gone exactly as planned until suddenly it had not. She had done this countless times before and she had not missed a single detail this time. This meeting was too important to be careless. She knew that her network had not turned on her or betrayed her. The man she had extracted from Minas Anor was hardly a prized prisoner. Not nearly significant nor valuable enough to warrant a Castamirian agent embedded in their network revealing his or her presence amongst their small number.
Yet how else to explain it? Marece had achieved particular success in extracting Castamir’s prisoners out from under his nose over the past two years. There had not been a single error or oversight this time. She was thorough and diligent. Not one misstep, and yet here she was. If it had not been an error or miscalculation on her part, then how had Castamir caught up with them? Belas had been adamant when she had seen him last that this would work as it had before. He’d been difficult to pin down in Minas Anor. Up to something, she thought. Was that what had brought it all crashing down on their heads now or was it mere misfortune? Poor timing. Wrong place at the wrong time.
Seemed a bitter truth, that.
Marece ran her hand over her face and pushed out a weary sigh. What had she left now? Hope that the lad, if alive still, held up under questioning. Their cover was all they had left now - siblings, travelling to visit their grandparents. The appearance of the patrol had rattled him. Her last good look at her charge had left Marece with the distinct impression that he was twitchy. Liable to crack. Another sigh, for she supposed she couldn’t blame him. She’d pulled him out of Castamir’s prison after a number weeks in captivity – one of which she had spent debating whether to risk helping him at all. In that time there was no telling what had been done to the lad. Lad…she shouldn’t consider him as such. He was only a few years younger than she.
A fluttering of wings echoed in the small stone room she stood in and Marece looked up to the high window. A kestrel stared back at her, bold and unafraid. It squawked at her and Marece shrugged for its observation was correct. This room would, like as not, be the last place she visited. The other they had travelled with was probably drowned. Sheer idiocy jumping into that river. In any case, even if he did survive, what was one men against the assembled garrison of Osgiliath.
As for the lad, perhaps he would crack under questioning or perhaps they’d send him back to his cell in Minas Anor. Certainly, Marece knew she’d never see Minas Anor again. There were ranking members of the Mariner’s Guild here. An officer, she knew that much, held the command. Odds were that she’d be recognized and once that occurred, she’d not live long enough to be sent back to Castamir for her traitor’s sentence. The Guild had its own business with ship burners like her.
The kestrel cocked its head this way and that and then squawked a second time as the lock rattled behind her. It took to wing as the door groaned open on its stiff hinges and Marece turned about to stare at the man that filled it. He had led the patrol that had intercepted them. He looked like he was trying very hard not to appear nervous. It might have succeeded if his eyes didn’t bounce about. They flittered around the room and then back to her, over and over again. Marece was used to men looking at her but this one couldn’t make up his mind what to look at.
Unwise though it was, she found herself smiling which only seemed to deepen his chagrin.
”Hood,” he finally said, scowling at her.
”Are we going outside? Is it raining? I can’t hear any rain. What’s your name?” she tried for a conversational, friendly tone, thankful for the years of tutelage she had received in the fine art of talking pleasantly to people you’d rather not to.
Mother would be proud but the man in the doorway was not in the least impressed. The patrol leader strode forward to yank her hood up and over her eyes roughly. Then he pulled a sack over her head. This one smelt of onions. The last one held the earthy tang of potatoes. She felt his hand seize her upper arm and haul her forward. Caught between being dragged and walking, Marece opted for dignity. Still, it was difficult to remain on her feet and keep up with his rapid clip.
The hood was disorientating, which was entirely its purpose, and her balance was thrown. Try as she might to count steps and memorise the turns, by the time she had arrived at what she presumed would be her final destination, Marece had no confidence that she could retrace her path. She was trapped in a labyrinth.
”Wait here,” her escort muttered and then, as she lifted her hands to pull the sack from her head, ”Don’t touch it.”
There was the promise of something in his voice. It did not bode well and so her hands returned to their position by her side. Her escort’s boots had rung out on the flagstones on the way here but now they were muffled as he withdrew. She felt rather than heard him pull away from her. Carpet, she presumed. It was distinctly warmer here. That was no small relief.
Marece held her breath and tried to ascertain who else was in this place. She heard little past the crackling of a hearth and her own heartbeat. It was altogether too fast and she needed to steady herself.
She heard a door open. It sounded heavy, like the one of her stone cell.
”This is her, then?”
“Aye,” replied her escort from nearby.
Again Marece could not hear footfall but the new voice had moved to a different part of the room when she heard it next.
”Quite the collection here,” he said and she heard the sound of heavy objects being moved over wood.
“Hers. The other was unarmed.”
Expression hidden by the sack, Marece grimaced with disgust. Unarmed? The boy was unarmed?! Belas had convinced her that he was worth the risk but the foolish lad had ditched the very weapons she had provided him with. Weapons that were expensive and difficult to come by! Her new pride faded as swiftly as it had emerged and meanwhile, the newcomer continued to inspect her confiscated, mismatched, weapons. It had taken her quite some time to acquire them. Longer still to learn how to use them. Longest of all, the stomach to do so.
“Very good,” the man said, thoughtfully, "That will be all, for now.”
“Yes,” Marece heard relief in her escort’s voice and then a second new voice, ”Sir?”
“Michas, I believe I dismissed you earlier!”
Marece’s brows shot up behind the sack. Michas! The fool! What was he thinking? First Belas and now Michas. Had madness gripped the assets of Osgiliath?
”Aye, Sir,” Michas answered, chastened, another swing of the door and then silence.
What was the officer doing, she wondered. She could not hear him moving about over the carpet. The silence expanded, gathering weight but she refused to fidget under its yoke.
Then he spoke, ”You may remove the sack. Slowly. No rash moves, if you please.”
Marece paused at this, trying to place his location and distance from her. Then she acquiesced, pushing the sack off but leaving her hood up. This man, she guessed, was likely the ranking Guild officer stationed here in Osgiliath. She was in no rush to hasten her identification.
She stared at the hearth she faced and watched the flames dance as her surroundings came into view. Some effort, she could see, had gone into restoring this room into something of its previous glory. All the charcoal had been scrubbed from the stone. Shelves and books. Carpets on the floor. Some chairs by the fire, a table by one stacked with rolled parchment. Thick. Maps, if she had to guess. Charts.
”What have you done with my brother?” she asked, pleased to discover that her voice trembled satisfactorily all on its own.
No need for artifice on her part to sound like a worried sister. Behind her, the Guild officer chuckled to himself.
”Brother, is he? Well now, show me a familial resemblance and I will deem the matter closed. You and your brother will be free to resume your journey. Where was it that you were off to?”
Marece closed her eyes briefly at his sceptical tone. She bore no resemblance whatsoever to her charge and well did he know it.
”Heredoth,” she muttered, persisting, ”To visit our grandparents. They are unwell.”
”I’m very sorry to hear that,” the officer replied, unstintingly polite.
Marece had the strong sense he was only giving her enough rope to hang herself but at this point, her options were slim to none.
”The man that met you here…you knew him?”
“He agreed to offer us passage,"she replied, "His name is Belas, I think. I can’t be sure, though.”
There, that all sounded plausible. Reasonable, even.
“You did not know him well, then.”
Marece shook her head for that was the truth. No one knew anyone overly well amongst the insurgency. It was better that way.
”Then you will not be overly dismayed to learn that Belas is dead,” the officer stated.
It took all of her discipline not to react to that. A chill washed over her as she lowered her head.
”I am sorry to hear it. Belas…was kind to my brother and I. His price was a third that demanded by the others.”
The officer said nothing to that and so Maree had no way to gauge whether her response had the desired effect. Belas was dead. Explained Michas’ panic, she thought. Belas was the chief operative here in Osgiliath. With him gone, the entire network was vulnerable. This was very bad indeed and not just for her and the lad she’d pulled out of Minas Anor. Everything screamed to Marece that all they had built over the past two years was about to come crashing down. Catastrophe loomed before her. How had it all unravelled so swiftly?
Her only slender hope lay in this officer not recognizing her. He sounded young. That boded well. The elder Guild officers had known her father and hence her. The younger ones, though, were another matter. She had much better odds at never having crossed paths with them before. If he did not recognise her and Gendin kept to their story, then they just might make it out alive.
The officer continued, ”Rather heavily armed for a family visit.”
Marece lifted a shoulder at the observation.
”Depends on the family,” she replied and then, ”And the road between Minas Anor and Heredoth has grown uncertain of late.”
“Indeed,” the officer agreed, ”What of your parents? Unusual, I would think, to send you off on such a dangerous road by yourselves.”
“I’m sure they’d accompany us, were they alive,” she retorted, stinging bitterness in her reply.
That seemed to give the officer pause and when he replied, it was without mockery, ”Convince me you speak the truth and we can put this unfortunate chapter behind us where it belongs. Why, I’ll even provide an escort for you and your brother.”
Her fingers curled at her sides as she calculated her options. Then she started as the officer came into view around the edges of her hood. He stopped ahead of Marece, just off to one side.
For a long while, the officer stared at the hearth with his hands clasped at his back. Dark hair was swept back into a low officer’s queue and his feet were spread, as if they stood upon a deck of a ship. He was armed, of course. She eyed a dagger she could see peeking from the top of one boot. It was closer than the poker by the fire if things went as badly as she feared they might. Guild officers were not known for their mercy when it came to traitors. Then she jerked her eyes up as he swung about to face her.
Her hair stood on end as gooseflesh washed over her body. Marece took an involuntary step backwards and her breath caught in her chest. Colour washed from his face and his eyes widened in shocked recognition.
”You are remarkably hale for a drowned woman,” Halvarin observed quietly, his voice strained, and then he spoke a name she had not heard nor answered to for over two years, ”Amarwen.”
|Author:||Elora Starsong [ November 4th, 2017, 2:16 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards|
There she was, standing before him! Halvarin could scarcely believe his eyes. Over the years, he had hoped against hope that the tales of her dreadful end were merely that but nothing more than that. A salve for his struggling conscience and heart. And now, there she was. Alive, and all but certainly a active member of the resistance. Dare he say a prominent one? Not that he could blame her for that. Not after what had occurred at Edholland.
For all of that, he was the commander of Osgiliath and the woman before him was a member of the resistance to the current King. Halvarin knew he needed to make a decision and make it quickly, but what? What! A glance towards the door took him to it. He peered outside and found only his personal guard. At that, Halvarin closed the door again and returned to where Amarwen stood in silence.
He whispered, ”Lady Amarwen of Edholland, it is a wonder you live!”
She looked as he recalled her, silver clear eyes and raven dark hair. Beautiful, even with the onset of fine lines at the corner of her eyes. Eyes that studied him with equally frank scrutiny. He felt them wander over him. She would see the slight silvering of the hair at his temples and the lines the sun and wind had carved onto his face at sea. It had only been two years since that terrible day at Edholland and yet he sensed that they had been hard years for them both, albeit in different ways.
Finally, Amarwen stirred herself to speech, ”Halvarin of the Mariners Guild, you have risen in the ranks-.”
“and still alive as well,” Halvarin said, cutting in.
Amarwen pushed out a dissatisfied breath at his interruption, ” Do not attempt to guess whether I cared overly much or at all on that score!”
“I have never held any such assumptions,” Halvarin said as he drew a deep breath.
Though they had grown up together, had been friends, and perhaps more, they had grown up in different worlds. In her veins flowed the blood of Hydarmendacil! In his…suffice it to say that whilst the Mariner’s Guild could bring aristocrats shoulder the shoulder with commoners, never had Halvarin forgotten who he was. Or who she was… Is. No, was…for Castamir had stripped her of all titles. Did that change anything at all, though?
With everything that was going through his mind, he didn’t know what he should say or do. He looked into her eyes as he tried to read her. After a long silence, Halvarin took up her hand in his. He felt her fingers tense, as if she would pull away, but she did not.
”Lady Amarwen, not a day has passed since Edholland that has not pained me. If I had known what was going to unfold, I would have sent a warning. And know that I grieved for you and your mother both. Sorely.”
“But little is served in looking back. Ahead, I see only grim and uncertain times. For the present, I will do what I can to keep you alive. I will not, for one, send you to the authorities in Minas Tirith.”
At that, Halvarin saw open credulity in Amarwen’s expression. Had she really thought he’d turn her over to be executed? He shook his head at the notion.
“As for the rest, it is not so clear. Unfortunately, I have to answer to the Mariner’s Guild.”
He released her hand and offered Amarwen a chair closer to the heat, but she turned her head away. It was clear that he would not soon break through her walls. Walls she had to have built since Edholland. Formidable defences indeed for to have accomplished what she had was quite a feat. Underground, right under Castamir’s nose in Minas Anor.
Amarwen appeared to have regathered her thoughts and she returned her eyes to his, wary now, ”What will you do with us if you are not going to send us to Minas Anor?”
What indeed, Halvarin thought, “You have put me in a bit of a predicament. My command here is wary at best, and loyalties are always under question. I think I can arrange better quarters for your detention here. Unfortunately, your… brother, will unfortunately not share the same fate.
“I will have Belas be the prime instigator in this, but they will be expecting more. As much as I would like not to, I will need to send him back where his fate will likely be sealed. I will have to review the rest of the captives as well. You will stay, and I will do what I can for you.”
Amarwen gave him a chilly look at this but did not speak. Halvarin then asked, ”Can I ask by what name you wish to be called?”
She clasped her hands before her; a mannerism he knew meant that she was thinking. Did she give him her alias she had used for some time, or make up another here and now? Marece had connections, useful connections that she’d need. Whilst it didn’t seem like much time went by, before she could answer Halvarin provided one for her, ”Nevermind, I’ll use your prisoner number for now...”
He crossed to his desk and studied the brief report he’d been provided with. Woman, somewhere in her twenties, refused to give her name, found to be in possession of too many weapons to be considered harmless, gave one of his men more than he was counting on. Where was it…ah yes.
”Seventy six,” Halvarin read out and set the paper down again, "Rest assured, the Lady of Edholland is dead, and I don’t need to know any more about you. I will have to be careful in the reasoning and explanation as to why I have made my decision about keeping you here, but I’m confident you will work with me on this?”
Amarwen looked surprised at his words. Surprised that he was helping her? Surprised that he was trusting her? With a few well-chosen words in the right ears, she could land him in a great deal of trouble and whilst their friendship might have waned he suspected her wits certainly hadn’t. This was the girl that had memorized all the stars months before he and any of his classmates had, after all.
She must have weighed it all up for he saw her begin to speak. Noise from the hall beyond the door gave her pause, though and she hesitated and Halvarin swiftly checked beyond it for the second time. Michas was approaching with, Farias, a fellow Ithilien Ranger and Michas’s second in command. Halvarin gave them a nod as le looked about for any others.
Only when he was assured the hall was empty, ”Michas, Farias, come in. Have Calas search Beleg’s quarters, and have the other prisoners brought to the grounds for my review.”
Michas nodded and looked to Farias. With no more than a nod, Farais was soon on his way to fetch Calas and at that Michas turned back to Halvarin, careful to not once spare a look at Amarwen.
”I caution against kindness for these prisoners, Halvarin. You can’t afford to appear to be favouring insurgents.”
Halvarin glanced briefly to Amarwen before he returned to Michas, “I understand what you are saying my friend. Can we agree that all that is done is done for the love of Gondor? That when the killing and strife ends, may there still be some goodwill between Gondorians who hold these principles high in their hearts?”
At these words, he heard Amarwen shift her weight, her skirts rustling with the movement.
Michas said quietly in reply, ”If indeed there are any who yet live when this strife ends.”
Halvarin nodded in agreement, ”We will treat our prisoners with all due respect Michas. To do otherwise runs contrary to all that Gondor stands for in my eyes. Unfortunately, I'll no choice but to send some to Minas Anor.”
Again Amarwen shifted her weight but what was he to do? He looked briefly towards her, well aware that the authorities in Minas Anor held by a very different creed indeed. But he could not shelter them all. Really, he should not be sheltering any of them. Halvarin knew he was putting himself at risk in attempting to do so but with Amarwen watching on, he found that didn’t seem to care.
”If today, one more Gondorian refused to kill another, then perhaps we are one day closer to our land healing. I will stand forth and do what I can. What that is worth I do not know. Many in the Mariners Guild would, if they have not already, labelled me as an insurgent, but I also know that many in the Guild, particularly amongst the Navigators, hold less extreme views. Before it is done, I fear a great deal more blood must be spilled and all doing it will claim to do so for the glory of Gondor… So, for my part, I will treat our prisoners as merely lawbreakers, and not as traitors. Unfortunately, any I send to Minas Anor will likely be treated otherwise.”
Halvarin paused here and turned to where Amarwen stood quietly by the fire. She wasn’t looking at them at all and seemed far away. He sighed and turned to find Michas also deep in thought. Then again the sound of footfall in the hall was heard. It proved to be Farais, promptly returned.
He reported, ”Calas has the searches underway and the prisoners are being moved to the parade grounds.”
Briefly Farais glanced to where Amarwen stood. Whatever she had been preoccupied with, she was now paying very close attention. When their eyes met, Halvarin thought she’d lift her chin in defiance. Instead, Amarwen lowered her eyes to the ground. Oh, these past two years had proven her a fast study of what it was to be a commoner, he realized with a jolt. He’d never known her to be proud before, but it was unsettling to see her so…
Michas cleared his throat and Halvarin turned his attention back to Farais, ”How many prisoners do we have here in Osgiiath?”
“Seventy sir, counting the woman.”
Halvarin nodded, ”So we have lost six. I assume Belas was seventy four?”
Halvarin sighed for he wasn't going to ask if they were killed or escaped. Instead, he turned and walked to where Amarwen stood.
He whispered to her as he bound her wrists as gently as he could, ”I’m sorry about this.”
Not once did Amarwen lift her eyes from the floor. He started to lead her to the door as he told his men, ”We will escort prisoner seventy six to the parade grounds with us.”
He transferred Amarwen’s bonds to Michas’ keeping and returned to his desk to gather up a pile of reports from his desk. He reviewed them as they walked, Amarwen silent in their midst and her expression unreadable. Names, so many names, and from these Halvarin had to form an idea of who to send to Minas Anor.
At the grounds, Michas placed Amarwen at the end of the first row of prisoners. Most were dressed as she was, ordinary garb, worn and patched. Some were thieves or drunks. One or two were murderers. There was no shortage of smugglers too, what with the crops failing in Anorien. And then there were those engaged in nothing short of high treason. Halvarin walked down the lines, picking twenty and being careful to include the one that had been caught with Amarwen. Once that was done, he signed a parchment, sealed it and provided it to Calas along with a very clear set of instructions.
”You and your men are tasked with seeing these prisoners safely to Minas Anor. Their charges are each listed within for the authorities there to consider. Once there, take two days leave. Your men deserve it as I see they have been on constant duty for a very long time. Upon your return, I’ll give the Anorien Guard some leave. As it is not yet noon, you’ll set out today.”
Calas nodded at this and though he threw Amarwen a puzzled glance, he signalled his men to ready. For her part, Amarwen was again studying the ground. As were, he realized, nearly all of the female prisoners. The twenty selected prisoners were gathered to the centre of the grounds to await their escort. They’d be walking for there were no working wagons available. The remaining prisoners were kept in their ranks and Halvarin ordered them unbound before he again walked along their line.
He would stop before some of them and refer to his lists for their names. He would sometimes talk to them. When he finished, he picked four for special duties. Two, a man and a woman, he sent to work in the kitchens. One was a stonemason and he was put to work on repairing the city’s infrastructure. By his request, he was allowed to take his apprentice from the line of prisoners to serve with him. The last one, Amarwen, he assigned to work in cleaning up the Great Library. For a moment, as he walked away, he thought she’d had lifted her gaze from the ground to stare after him.
When he turned back, though, he found that this was not so. This was a dangerous game he was now playing, as well he knew. His loyalties were now more mixed than ever before. Still, he would continue to seek the middle path until such time as he could not. He was a navigator, after all. And meanwhile, now that he had found her again, he’d be keeping Amarwen close.
|Author:||Elora Starsong [ November 4th, 2017, 2:23 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards|
Farais set a swift path to the library and Amarwen had little recourse but to hurry after him, skipping around blocks of masonry that had yet to be removed from the streets they passed. No time to linger and discern just what Halvarin was up to. Why had he just done that? Did he think she was beholden to him now? Even if she was, what did such things matter given everything else at play. Belas’ death left a gaping hole in the network at Osgiliath and Osgilath was vital. Much more important than Minas Anor and Pelagir combined. As for Gendin, well the lad was dead. She had no idea why they’d wanted him alive but the matter was beyond her hands, unless she slipped out after him which-
”Watch where you’re going there, girl!”
Farais’ hand whipped her back from tumbling into a great, jagged hole just in time. He hauled her back before she could shatter something inconvenient, like her leg or skull, on its bottom and released her to shake his head.
”What’s your name, anyway?”
Amarwen shrugged at the question as she eyed the great hole. What had made that? Ballista?
”Girl,” she muttered.
”That’s not a name.”
“It’s what everyone calls me,” she answered, lifting her attention from the hole to the man that had ensured she’d not fallen into it.
He had a sceptical look on his face and so she demonstrated her name for him.
”GIRL! YOU GET YOUR SCRAWNY HIDE BACK IN HERE AND SCRUB OUT THESE BARRELS PROPER!”
Nonplussed, the Ranger shook his head at her even as her voice echoed off the damaged stone facades around them, ”Still not a name. What’s your number again?”
“Right, Six it is. Watch where you’re going Six, and hurry up. Time’s a-wastin’.”
With that Farais set off again, even faster than before. What would happen if she did slip away and was recaptured. Straight to Minas Anor, she wagered, which would leave not one but two holes in key networks. Damn Belas and his sentimental notions. She should never, ever, ever have told him who she was. Never. Mind you, she could not have known the man would have odd notions about royal blood, royal blood than ran exceedingly thinly through her own veins.
”Here we are, then, Six. The Great Library!”
There was nothing Amarwen could do to keep her dismay from Six’s face. The Great Library had been a wondrous place once. A peerless marvel. What she saw now made her blood boil. She wanted to howl. It was at that precise moment that her stomach growled loudly.
”When did you last eat, Six?”
She blinked at the question and so he repeated it.
”Yesterday…I think,” she replied and then frowned, ”Or the day before.”
Muttering to himself, Farais seized her elbow and hauled her into the Great Library. Far above, light streamed down through the cracked Dome of Stars. Birds had started to roost in the library stacks and their arrival sent a flight of them streaming away, voicing their protest. Shattered furniture, torn books, loose leaves of paper and the scents of ash and dust lay heavy in the air. What had been done here was, in a word, unforgivable. A crime of monstrous proportions against every Gondorian that ever drew breath or ever would. It made her head swim.
Eventually, Farais had hauled her out into what had once been a lovely courtyard. The fountain in its midst had ceased to run and the plants and trees had all gone somewhat wild. The stone path was cracked and uneven, crunching under their feet as Farais pulled her along to deposit on the wide stone lip of the now silent fountain. That done, he fished about in a bag suspended from his belt and thrust a hard heel of dark bread at her.
”Come on, Six, we don’t have all day!”
Amarwen accepted this gift warily, braced for the other boot to fall. There always was one, she had found, right from the day she first rode through Minas Tirith’s walls in the back of a wagon – her father’s body suspended in a gibbet for the sport of crows beside the Crown Prince’s.
”Now, careful you don’t crack a tooth on it. That stuff is harder than-“
She was sucking on it to soften it up before Farais could finish his sentence. This was not the first heel of hardened bread she’d encountered over the past two years. Wouldn’t be her last either. He nodded at her and silence sprang up between them for a while. Then Farais remembered his water bag and this he unhooked and set between them.
”So, the library, eh? You’re found in the middle of the night somewhere you’re not supposed to be with enough knives to equip an Easterling raiding party, and you’re sent to the library,” Farais remarked, his voice idle and relaxed even if the thrust of his questioning was not.
As far as she could tell, Farais reported to Michas but this did not mean that he was in anyway involved in the resistance.
”Can you even read, Six?”
Amarwen shrugged at that and Farais continued, ”So do you know our Captain? Have you met him before, scrubbing barrels? A girl like you could make quite the living at an inn or tavern.”
Thankfully, the hard rye bread was still in her mouth, and so she couldn’t answer.
Farais pushed out a sigh and shook his head, ”Well, whatever the case might be, you’re damn fortunate to not be marching to Minas Anor right now, Six. You do what I tell you to do, we’ll get along just fine.”
Amarwen nodded at that and Farais settled back into silence, content it would seem to wait until she’d eaten the bread and drunk some water. Once he was certain she was not about to keel over, he soon set her to work. Floor by floor, she was to clear away the debris, clean the floors and then assist in setting what works could be saved into some sort of order. That would come in the very distant future and she could only assist.
”Can’t have an illiterate doing that all on your own, Six. Mayhem!”
Unlike what was around them presently, Amarwen thought to herself.
”Simple enough, Six?”
“Yes,” she answered.
”Right. Some one will be back for you at the end of the day. Oh, and a word of advice Six, don’t step foot outside this library on your own or your good fortune will come to a very sharp end. Understand?”
She nodded at that, Farais smiled and set off with his hands in his pockets and whistling a jaunty tune. Amarwen turned to watch him depart, unable to decide what to make of Farais. Or Halvarin for that matter. Amarwen blinked at that and then shook her head.
”I am so sorry, Gendin,” she sighed and set about the labour she’d been assigned to.
It was, in a word, overwhelming. She began by mapping out the extent of the task. There were so many floors and the wrack and ruin was so very extensive. There were the birds to deal with. The rats too, they were far more difficult than the birds. And something, she wasn’t sure what, had taken to living in the overgrown court yard. As the sun westered, she found herself in the once glorious dome. It had glowed, they said, illuminated by the light of the moon and sun, with each of Varda’s gems set within it. Now, vast pieces were missing and as the sun set, she could feel night’s chill streaming in.
Her father had taken her just the once, when she was very small, to see it. It was not long after he had discovered her love of the stars. Though women could never join the Guild, nor sail under the stars along side the men, he had indulged her all the same by bringing her here. Osgiliath and all within it had seemed so large to her then. It still did now that she was a woman grown, for all of its disarray. But then, she had been agog at its grandeur.
And here, right here, he had brought her. The stairs were too many for her then and so he’d carried her up the final flights to this very place. The dome above was ruined but the vast board was largely intact. Every star ever known, he had told her, was in the dome and upon that board. Her fingers trailed over it now as she picked out the names.
”And so this, at least, has not changed.”
Halvarin’s voice startled her from her recollections and Amarwen spun about to find him standing not very far away at all. She’d not even heard his approach, but then she was hardly at her best. She’d not properly eaten for at least a day, or possibly two now.
”You still love the stars,” he continued and her hand dropped away from the board.
Halvarin approached it and after studying her face for a moment his eyes dropped to the nearest stars, ”I remember when you asked me to name the stars for you. And so, I did…until you corrected me on one name and I realized you knew them all already. Do you remember that?”
For a while, she was uncertain how to answer. Or even if to do so. But after a moment, Amarwen nodded.
“If you already knew them, why did you ask me?”
She blinked at his question. Of all the things, this?
Amarwen shook her head and turned away to stare at a large crack near the base of the dome, ”You were so proud of what you had learned…and I liked the sound of your voice.”
There, an honest answer, and she heard him sigh at it before his tone shifted to something more matter-o-fact.
”So, what is your name?”
“Six” she replied and turned back at his incredulous laugh.
”That’s not a name!”
“Take it up with Farais,” she replied and shrugged, ”It’s as good as any. How long am I to be here?”
“Until I can be certain you’re safe,” Halvarin replied without hesitation.
”Safe! Have you seen what’s going on out there? People starve! They’re dying! The land itself recoils against a King it knows to be fals-“
“Have a care, Six!”
Her eyes narrowed at the warning and she whispered, ”There is no safe anymore!”
“Nevertheless, I have mourned you once and I do not care to do so again.”
“Your own Guild wants me dead. Your own Guild. What are you doing? Middle road? Ha!”
“Would you rather I had sent you back to Minas Anor?”
Oh, Varda knew, the fate her father had met would be kind compared to that which Castamir would greet her with.
”By the time this is done, you might wish that you had. There is no middle road.”
“I will be the judge of that.”
“And so, I’m to stay here until you say otherwise?”
“Charged with what, precisely?”
“Smuggling,” he replied and lifted a brow at her, ”For that is what you were up to on the river.”
Amarwen pushed out a heavy sigh and turned away to take in the stupendous waste that was the Great Library of Osgiliath.
She shook her head, ”They’re going to kill him, you know. Gendin. He’s just a boy, really. And he was going to die anyway. Only one way out of that prison nowadays…but the death that awaits him now is truly…unspeakable. And I don’t even know why.”
Nor did she know why she was saying any of this.
”There’s no way out of this. No turning back. I don’t know if it will ever be-“
Halvarin’s hand reached for her own and she should have pulled her hand away. Yet she let his fingers curve around her own and she hung her head.
”I’m so tired. So very, very tired.”
And just like that he folded his arms around her. Nothing was said and they did not move until a gust of wind made her shiver.
”Someone will be along to return me to my cell soon. You shouldn’t be here when they do,” Amarwen said as Halvarin withdrew his warmth.
His hands on her shoulders pulled her about and in the all but faded light she could make out the lines of his face.
”It’s all going to be alright…Six,” she could hear him strain against the urge to use her name. But that was the name of a dead woman.
”I do not see how,” she sighed and at that his hands rose to cup her face just as they both heard a boot scuff a step.
Just like that Halvarin was gone, vanished into the looming shadows of which there were many in this disarray.
”You up here, Six? Better not be taking a nap.”
“I’m here,” Six answered, gathering her wits as a torch and then the man carrying it came into view.
Farais again and he narrowed his eyes at her, ”What are you doing up here.”
“Scaring the birds off,” she answered waved her arms about.
He shook his head at her, ”Ha! You’d have better luck with whatever is living in the courtyard. I think it’s a pig. I hope so at least. Some bacon would be wonderful. Come on with you. It’s a ways back to your cell and we’ve still to sort out where to put you. No falling down stairs or into holes, neither! I’m no mood for that sort of shenanigans.”
“Yes sir,” she answered, glancing over her shoulders to the darkness beyond to wherever Halvarin was.
”What did I just tell you, Six? Watch where you’re going, for pity’s sake!”
“Mmph…and we’re going to have to find fresh clothes too. You reek of river.”
“Does it matter?”
“It does to me, Six. It does to me. Now step lively because I’m not going back to look for you.”
She hurried after Farais for a second time.
”Are you sure you don’t know the captain,” he asked on their way down.
”I don’t,” she replied and the answer was not entirely false.
For she knew Halvarin just as she did not. Nothing, he had said to her on that awful day, was simple any more. Still, the simple and honest comfort of his warmth was as undeniable as the fact that his fellow Guild members would execute her without hesitation. There was no mercy for ship burners like her.
|Author:||Elora Starsong [ November 4th, 2017, 2:28 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards|
Beregon padded silently through the dark streets of Osgiliath. He had come to seek a woman embedded into the resistance of Osgiliath, but found the place sacked and destroyed. He needed to find Belas as soon as he could. But his walk to the old places all turned up empty at best, destroyed was more likely, many with the bones of some long dead still lying where they fell. One place stank of recent death and Beregon did not go in. It forced a stark realization of how thorough the sack of Gondor’s capital had been by the triumphant Castamirians. That sack, it seemed, continued now some two years on from the city’s fall. He was fortunate to get out when he did, but others who remained did not share his fate.
Beregon’s warning had arrived shortly after he was summoned to Minas Anor. As Captain of the City, he thought it routine to be summoned, particularly given a year had passed since Osgiliath’s fall. Things had changed, certainly, under the new regime but there had been no hint of what was to come. An unknown source from Minas Anor had advised him that he would be arrested for conspiracy to treason upon his arrival. This warning arrived only days before he had been due to set out for the White City.
Beregon, of course, had his doubts but Belas had been confident that the warning and its source could be trusted. And then, men from the garrison in Minas Anor arrived in Osgiliath to relieve Beregon’s Anoríen men from key positions. Had that not occurred, Beregon would probably be dead now or still imprisoned. He would not have heeded the warning. Instead, he had fled north swiftly, succeeding in escaping the looming trap despite nearly being caught twice.
As a shadow, now, he returned to the streets of Osgiliath. Things had gone ill in his absence despite the presence of two good men. Michas he knew to be a good Gondorian. Beregon had sent him east out of the city prior to it’s sack and so when the fighting had erupted Michas had been away. There was no way for Beregon to know then which kingship Michas had supported but his gut had told him that Michas leaned in Eldacar’s favour. Belas, however, was a staunch Eldacar man and an even stauncher friend. In recent weeks he’d gone strangely quiet and this is what had drawn Beregon forth to Osgiliath once more. Marked as a deserter and traitor both, Beregon knew this to be perilous. But now, with Castamir’s squads apparently running amok in the streets still, the consequences of being caught was dire.
If he was taken, he knew he would die and Beregon suspected, nay hoped, that the final blow would come from someone in particular. Not one of Castamir’s many interrogators but one from his own people. Eldacar’s chief operative in Gondor would not permit him to be broken and expose their secrets, though she would likely grieve over what was required. Marece was an enigma to him in many ways, but she was not like him or Michas. She was not a warrior. And, he knew that if he should succeed in his efforts here tonight, she would want a report from him.
He slipped through a back alley and came to a door where the aroma of wood-smoke and baked bread came from. The head baker, Beregon knew, favoured Eldacar. If he had been taken, the place would not still be baking bread. Perhaps there was hope yet for Osgiliath’s resistance.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The woman Halvarin set to work in the kitchens were surprised. She had the prominent features of northman heritage, yet the Captain of the city did not send her to Minas Anor. Perhaps, she speculated, the dark dye she used to keep her blonde hair in check had deceived him. Then again, considering how the Captain had paused long before her the second time, perhaps not.
Whatever the reason, though, the Captain had elected to dispatch her to the garrison kitchens instead of Minas Anor. This was a reprieve that she could not squander. Nor could she risk getting caught again. In time, her blonde locks of Rhovanion would reveal themselves. Two days she had been here and the more she thought about it, the more likely it was that the Captain had noticed her hairline. If she had a moment to breathe now, it would not last long at all.
Vilmaith, now called Indara, knew that their ranks were growing thin indeed in Osgiliath. Belas’ loss was a particularly sharp blow and now there were only three left in the city to her knowledge. It had been days since she had contact with any of them. Had they been rounded up too, she wondered. Had the resistance crumbled here? Possibly, but then there were rumours about the two prisoners taken with Belas. The Captain had spared one of them and other he had sent to Minas Anor. Another riddle, that. Indara knew it would be important to speak with the other woman somehow, discover more, but for now she had work to do and it was even more important that she did not draw unnecessary attention to herself.
There was a kitchen to clean before she could retire to sleep. All had to be ready for the morning, which would come sooner than dawn for those in the kitchen. Indara swept the floor, pushing dust out the back door. Movement out the corner of her eye in the darkness snapped her head up out instinct. She turned towards it as a hand wrapped around her mouth. Panic blossomed in her chest and she twisted. She would have broken free but for the hand that caught her wrist.
Indara was pulled with some force until she found herself face to face with a man she had not expected to see in this place. Only it could not be him. Not here.
”Vilmiath? Is that you?”
She looked peered about suspiciously but held her piece.
The man pushed on, ”You’re not dead? Our king will be pleased to know this. He had feared for you. It was said you had perished, murdered with his son and the Lord of Edholland in Minas Anor! “
Indara’s eyes widened as she realized that a rougher, dirtier, gruffer Beregon did indeed stand before her by the kitchen door.
”I was not with Ornendil when he was taken. I left shortly before, tasked with conveying messages along the line. We did not know the 4th Regiment would throw us over and join with the foe. I tried to return once their treachery was known but I fell. All turned dark, and when it passed there was a slaughter underway,” she paused then, the fear and rage echoing still after two years, ”I pulled the bodies of the slain over me and remained there through the night.”
Beregon’s face paled at this grim account and he reached out to squeeze her shoulder, “And you have been here all this time while I was in command? Your stealth is commendable! There will be time to talk soon enough. Right now, I need to know the state of the resistance. Do you know?”
“I know little for I have kept to the edges and remained unseen,” Indara looked about again, agitated now.
She slipped back into the doorway of the kitchen and Beregon followed.
”Many, I think, have been killed or taken away to Minas Anor. And my stealth failed me too for I was arrested yesterday. The new Captain sent me not to the White City but here. I do not know why.”
Beregon nodded at this and considered the night. He could not tarry long here, he knew.
Indara added, ”Belas was arrested too…and died. There were two others taken with him – a youth the Captain dispatched to Minas Anor and another. A proud woman, she looked. She he spared.”
Beregon frowned at this. A woman? A proud looking woman? Was that Vilmaith’s way of describing a woman of his own people. And Belas was dead? How had that come to pass? Too many questions and no time to grieve.
“Where was she sent?” Beregon asked.
”She works in the library, where the commander has an office.”
Beregon sighed heavily at this and drew himself up to depart, ”I will return for you when I return north. Until then, do nothing bar your work here. Do not attempt to escape and send no messages.”
Indara nodded, ”And you, Beregon?’
He grimaced at the question for he had hoped to quit the city as soon as possible, ”I need to learn more of this woman and perhaps this new Captain.”
With a quick glance about he looked back at Indara briefly before he was swallowed by the night. Indara pushed out a weary sigh, closed the kitchen door and leaned against the wall. Keep her head down, do nothing remarkable. It would be difficult, she knew, and time was not her ally but Indara was nothing if not a loyal soldier for Eldacar. Just as her father had been.
Boots scuffing drew her attention up. Indara smoothed her face just as her guard arrived to take her to her cell for the night. There would be only a few hours of sleep before she would be needed to prepare the day’s bread for baking. It seemed unlikely she’d be able to find any rest though.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Halvarin knew all too well the care he needed to take. A wrong word in the wrong ear was enough to create trouble beyond measure now. He knew that, yet the sight of Amarwen in the Dome of Stars took him to away from these dark times to more innocent days.
As the light of Farias’ torch faded and their voices with it, he rose from the shelf he had hidden behind. Looking at the dome anew, Halvarin stared at the small parts that had not been destroyed. They glistened with the starlight above, throwing a faint light about the high walls. Halvarin thought of Amarwen’s eyes and the glint in them as she was looking up at that same unbroken part. A profound sigh escaped him at that. Deep as his thoughts were for Amarwen, they had to die. Sorrow washed over him as memories flowed through his mind. Perhaps it was foolish to think they could die. Perhaps, the best he could aim for is to send them to sleep.
He pondered this in his slow walk back to his quarters. His steps took him to his office there, where he slept but dawn found Halvarin awake still. Any sleep he had was transitory and restless. Filled with dreams he both knew he could not have but did not wish to put away. Halvarin dragged himself out of his bed and stood, blinking and numb. His mind was fogged. Foregoing his usual morning refreshments, Halvarin embarked upon his daily rounds instead. And still his mind churned through the events of the night before.
There was, he concluded, only one solution and that was to avoid Amarwen. At least for the coming days. Any report of her came from her guard in that time, Farais. Despite his efforts to avoid her, he did occasionally find himself glimpsing her as she set about her labours. She was, as he anticipated, meticulous in restoring order to the library, organizing the parchments scattered by the sack and repairing that which was salvageable. Sometimes he caught her reading them. Tempting as it was to ask what it was she had found and share in it, he refrained. Farais, after all, had suspected something from that first day and he did not wish to create yet more questions that were difficult to answer. Like: why the Captain of Osgiliath whiled away his time reading with a convicted criminal.
Any connection between Amarwen and he, if discovered, would have profound consequences for them both. But, then, as the days passed it occurred to Halvarin that it would be odd if he avoided her entirely. Especially as he kept an office at the library himself. He made it a point to speak to the prisoners and anyone watching, and there was always someone watching nowadays, would note the discrepancy if he did not speak to Amarwen.
Thus after a week, he found himself headed for his office at the library with the pretence of securing navigational maps of the Anduin. And of course, there she was. Halvarin paused to watch her work. There was, he knew, no way to tell whether she would use the library for her cause or not. Actually, he shook his head, he knew that she most likely would if there was a way to do so. And, oddly, he was rather unconcerned about that. Hardly a suitable position for a Guild officer of his rank.
Shaking his head at himself, he stepped into the chamber and her head swung up to regard him. Her gaze was steady and it was, he found, impossible to tell if she was pleased or dismayed to find him there. As the silence grew, Halvarin cleared his throat and tried to think of something to say.
”Barely a week has passed and you have done so much to bring this place back toward its former glory. I take it you have been treated well?”
“Conditions have improved since I arrived,” she answered, not indicating whether she referred to the library or her own.
Halvarin looked to the map spread before her on the wide table, ”The north lands. Some look there for a day when Eldacar will return. Do not be so bold to think that I do not know you wish this.”
“I do not deny it. I know my position well and now I am a prisoner of Castamir,” she answered, tone becoming cooler by the moment and her gaze becoming distant and hard.
This was not going well at all, he knew, ”My ability to protect you is precarious. Yet I am inclined to do more in support of you even if it comes at a cost to me and my position in the Guild.”
There, he thought, she surely had to know the risk he was taking in so plain a statement. He watched her arch a dark brow slowly and then set about measuring the distance of the Anduin north towards Rhovanion.
”I think you need to ask yourself where it is you stand, Halvarin,” she said, detached.
Halvarin stared at her long but she did not meet his gaze and so he sighed heavily, ”You are not wrong m’Lady. Should I adhere to my Guild and spill here all those my Guild declare traitors? Or should I repudiate my office and my Guild and take up arms in the name of Eldacar. I do neither, and in doing so, I also do both.”
This certainly got her attention for at last Amarwen returned her eyes to his. At this he approached and her took her hand in his. He could feel the tension running through her but she did not pull away.
The pupils in her clear grey eyes widened as she looked up at him and so he added the only thing he was sure of, ”This I know, m’Lady: I will do all that I can to keep you here and alive despite who may wish otherwise.”
He could see how rapidly her heart was beating for her pulse hammered at the base of her throat. He tightened his fingers around hers, soaking in her warmth and then released her hand to step back.
Swallowing hard, Halvarin turned away, ”Now, I need the depth logs for the Anduin. I looked for them once but the place was such a mess…”
As if she read his mind, she stepped over to a shelf and pulled out a loose bound collection of parchments. Halvarin smiled as she placed it into his hands.
”The Library is a better place for your presence. It is a great service you do for the realm. I will look into whether your sentence might be commuted for your dedicated service.“
He gave her a small nod as her mouth opened and closed, and took his leave. Halvarin’s path out of the library found Farais occupying the main door. The guard was scrutinising something outside, eyes narrowed and attention focused on the streets beyond.
”I see your prisoner has been productive here,” Halvarin stated and Farais turned about to face him, ”I take it there have been no… difficulties?”
“None sir. She is courteous, diligent and,” he grinned, ”Rather charming. Not as illiterate as I thought, though. And still she will not provide her name. For all of that, she seems far too clever and not nearly mean enough to be a petty criminal.”
”And yet the evidence is quite clear.”
“Yes, and that does puzzle me, Sir,” Farais answered, ”It’s almost as if Six is an entirely different person to the smuggler arrested by Calas. I’ll keep a close eye on her. That I can promise you.”
Halvarin nodded and returned to his garrison office to read the logs he had. But try as he might, his thoughts returned time and again to his position in this strife. Where did he indeed stand, he wondered.
The afternoon wound down into evening and Farais returned to library as was his custom to escort Six back to the garrison for the evening. In light of the security problems, the Captain had initiated a curfew that meant that the garrison gates once closed for the evening did not reopen until the following morning. He found Six waiting for him, perched beside a lantern on the steps that led up to the first floor. Her expression had seemed thoughtful, as though she were weighing matters of great import, but it cleared of that once she knew he was there. There was, Farais suspected, a great deal more to Six.
”Ready?” he asked and she answered by standing, lantern in hand.
It swayed from side to side as she came towards him and really he didn’t need to ask. Any prisoner found outside the garrison after lock down was subject to a range of repercussions starting with flogging and not ending there. And then there was the fact that the evening was the only time the prisoners were fed. Rations and supply were difficult in Osgiliath as they were elsewhere in Gondor, and prisoners were the lowest of the low in the city. They ate last and no prisoner wanted to be the last prisoner in for that was a hungry prisoner indeed.
Thus, Six had not once presented a spot of bother when it came to being prompt and ready to return to the garrison and the cell that would await her after her daily meal. This evening was no different as she skipped down the steps into the street just behind him. Farais opened his mouth to ask her a question that never came.
One moment he was standing just in front of her and the next he was sprawled on the ground. Amarwen blinked, startled and then froze. An unescorted prisoner, her guard unconscious…if another guard found her like this the consequences would be dire. And then someone grabbed her arm and pulled her into the narrow gap between the library and the city’s archive. She dropped the lantern in her alarm and it rolled about next to Farais’ prone form.
Amarwen drew a breath to scream with all her might but a hand fell over her mouth. She recoiled sharply and tried to bite the fingers pressing against her as a rough voice whispered in her ear, ”You should not be here, Marice.”
|Author:||Elora Starsong [ November 4th, 2017, 2:36 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards|
That voice! Amarwen knew that voice but it took some effort to relax herself. After a pause, the man removed his hand from her mouth.
”And well I know it, Beregon! What is happening here? Osgiliath appears to be in…disarray!”
“Is that why you are here?”
“Belas is why I am here,” she growled and Beregon sighed.
”What happened?” he asked, the very question she’d been trying to answer herself from the moment they’d been apprehended.
”I had my doubts about this venture,” she replied, ”But Belas was adamant. I’d never seen him so insistent.”
Beregon’s tone was startled, ”This was his idea?”
She let her silence be her answer and so Beregon pulled her deeper between the buildings. Rats skittered away from them in the growing darkness.
”Nothing about this makes any sense to me. It’s like…it’s like they knew we would be there,” she pushed on as he drew her in deeper, ”Belas could have easily declared us his captives but instead he capitulated. And he escaped but he did not pull out as he should have. And now I am a prisoner of Castamir and we’re three men down for it!”
It was difficult to keep her ire from her voice and what Beregon said next made it harder still.
”Had I known, I would have counselled against it. It is far too dangerous a gambit to have you here.”
“Gambit?” her voice was sharp. Was this a plan? A plan?!
Beregon reached out to touch her forearm briefly, ”Not mine, I can assure you, but perhaps I can offer some insight.”
As this unfolded, Farais found himself face down on Osgiliath’s cobblestones with a thumping headache and a guttering lantern about to set fire to his trews. He rolled away hastily and came to his knees, his head throbbing in time with his heart beat. Where was Six? Escaped or taken? Both boded ill for her. If she had escaped then she would be found and this time, no reprieve from Minas Anor. That, he suspected, was not a place clever Six wanted to go. And if she was taken then she would never be seen again. Bright Six, with all her secrets, snuffed out.
He rubbed at his aching skull and tested his feet. And then…then Farais heard voices. He skirted around the still fallen lantern which would soon die out anyway and cast about for those he could hear talking. A man, most definitely. He could hear the distinctive low rumble of a masculine voice and then a higher lilt. A woman, he guessed. There was no one on the streets at this hour. Most everyone avoided the city streets at night irrespective of whether they had a curfew to meet or not. Feeling slightly nauseous, Farais padded closer to the library again and then along its front to the small gap between it and the archive and then froze. He could hear them clearest here, if he was careful with his breathing, for the voices were still faint. Two people, deep within the gap. No one ventured there for anything legal and for good reason. It was infested with all manner of other unsavoury things.
Farais flattened himself against the wall and held his breath. Yes, definitely Six’s voice he concluded. Only it sounded different…stronger, more certain. His Six was timid as a mouse but this Six was something else entirely. There was no deference or hesitancy in this woman’s voice. The man she spoke to grunted and then he heard the familiar jingle of weapons. The Six he knew would not be assured in the presence of a warrior. He’d watched her shrink into herself every time a guard happened by. He shifted, hoping to get a glimpse of the man she was talking to and saw only shadows.
”I’ve stayed too long,” he heard the man say.
”Then go,” Six answered, ”And stay out of Osgiliath, for pity’s sake!”
“We will be hamstrung if Osgiliath is not shored up.”
With that came the sound of movement and Farais drew hurriedly back, debating what to do. He decided to return to where he had fallen and kneel again, as if still groggy. Sure enough, Six soon hurried over to his side.
”Are you hurt, Sir?” she asked, all breathless worry and timidity again.
”My skull’s near cracked open. What happened?”
“Footpads, I think. When they realized you were a guard, they fled.”
It just rolled right off Six’s tongue without pause or hesitancy, Farais thought, and he didn’t know whether to be impressed or appalled. Perhaps both. He shook her off, irritated and climbed to his feet.
”They’d better not make the mistake of returning,” he growled and then glared at Six, ”And you’d better hope we make curfew.”
She gulped at that and proceed to tug at his sleeve to pull him along. The longer it took the more frantic she became as she knew what would await her for missing curfew. And, though he had every right to be angry with her, Farais did not really want to see her beaten. Thus, he slowed his steps precisely enough to ensure that they were the very last through the gates.
In fact, the doors closed right on their heels, the internal bars falling soundly into place and echoing down the hall. Farais snaked out a hand to grab her arm and pull Six hard against him.
”Now you listen to me, Six,” he hissed in her ear, ”This happens again and it’s on your head entirely. You understand me? No second chances.”
“Yessir,” she squeaked, and perhaps she was contrite.
Certainly, she looked genuine. If that could be believed. He hauled her roughly towards the large room that served as the prisoner’s dining area. It was already full of her fellow convicts and he knew that Six was surely the last to arrive. Serve her right, he thought to himself.
”Get in there and don’t come whining to me about your empty belly,” he growled at her as he all but threw her across the threshold.
She stumbled a few steps before she caught her footing and when she had her balance again she turned back to look at him. He turned his back on her to chat with his fellow guards, and a glance over his shoulder confirmed that Six had understood the message.
Amarwen went in search of whatever food might be available only to find that it had all gone. Not that this discomforted her for her appetite had vanished in that notch between the library and the archive. And so she sat there as everyone else wolfed down their only meal of the day. As she sat there, she wondered if Farais was going to prove more of a problem. She’d covered as best she could but it was reasonably evident that things between her and Farais had shifted. And not, she thought, for the better.
Farais wandered off with his peers without so much as a backwards glance and it fell to other guards to dispatch them to their cells for the night. Unsettled and confused, Amarwen sat on the edge of the narrow, lumpy cot that was her bed as her thick cell door was locked. She had a single candle, like all prisoners, that threw off a tremulous, thin light. She stared at its flickering feeble flame and tried to make sense of the day’s events.
If what Beregon had told her was true, and she had no reason to doubt him, then the entire Gondor operation stood at risk. A traitor, in their midst, supplying names. Picking them off, one by one. Osgiliath would fall and then Minas Anor. The entire network was imperilled and would be until she identified and addressed the breach.
And she was furious with Belas and Beregon both for withholding this grievous state of affairs. Suspicion was so endemic that Belas had apparently withheld information from Beregon…and now she could not rule Belas out as their traitor. After all, she was prisoner by his doing. His plan. His gambit. Or, at least, that is how Beregon described it. They should have brought their concerns to her months ago.
Who had this list? Where was it? Who was on it? If her name was on it, then it was only a matter of time before they came for her and put her the question. They would break her. She knew that because she had seen for herself what these men will do. Everything she knew, every agent’s name and location and all of their activities, would be in their hands. There was one person who might know. One person she could ask, but should she ask him?
Should she use Halvarin in such a way? She was so confused, torn between what she wanted and what she thought. What she wanted was to believe him. She wanted to trust him. He was the only person left alive who knew her properly. But if she went to him then it was only a matter of time before their connection would be discovered either by her people or his own. And if her people discovered she had not taken the opportunity to turn Halvarin, suborn a Guild Officer who was also the son of the Guild Master, then what then?
She had come close to doing that today, she knew, and it had made her sick to her stomach to realise how near she was to betraying him like that. As if he meant nothing to her. Halvarin deserved better than that. He had taken no small risk to intervene on her behalf twice now: Edholland and Osgiliath both. And so, she had stopped herself from doing anything that might drag him deeper.
And then there was Eldacar to consider. What would the king make of all this? If he discovered that she was here in Osgiliath what action might he take? Better to lose one than the entire Gondor operation. It is, after all, what she would advise though Beregon said he would counsel the king against it. In the years since his defeat the king had become somewhat cold. Perhaps they all had. It would not matter that they distantly shared the same blood. His return and Gondor’s release from this nightmare came before such bonds of kinship.
In truth, then, she was alone and on her own now. And Amarwen was not sure if she was equal to the task. On that sobering thought she blew the weak candle out and curled up under the bedding each convict was allowed – a blanket that was serviceably warm for all of its roughness. Somehow, in the midst of her tangled heart, ominous thoughts and growling belly, Amarwen managed to drift off to sleep.
So too was Michas, stretched out on his bunk and staring at his ceiling, until his door opened. Michas sat up with a start and stared at the man that stood in his small room.
”Have you lost your mind?’ he exclaimed.
”Very nearly,” Beregon answered and sidled nearer, ”This new Captain, what’s he like?”
“A good man,” Michas said as he raked his fingers through his hair, ”Neutral in his loyalties, or trying to be.”
Beregon’s brows rose, ”He’s a Guild officer, though.”
Michas nodded, ”The only son of its master.”
Beregon whistled quietly at that and Michas added, ”Which makes his conduct regarding a particular new arrival all the more…curious. Belas was arrested a week ago with a woman and one other. Belas died, the boy he returned to Minas Anor with a report they were traitors. But the woman…he altered her sentence to smuggling and kept her back. Sent her to the library of all places.”
Michas watched Beregon rub a hand over his lower jaw as if debating something, ”How involved were you in Belas’ last…action?”
“None at all! I was as surprised as anyone here when he was arrested. I was being questioned by the Captain when I heard he had been killed. This woman, she has something to do with it all. Too many questions swirl around her.”
“That woman, Michas, is Marece.”
And that is how Michas came very close to swallowing his own tongue.
Beregon nodded at him slowly, ”I know…I know…Belas, it would seem, kept us all guessing including her.”
“But she can’t-“
“She is and,” he sighed, ”And she’s staying.”
Michas’ mouth dropped open at that statement and Beregon rolled his shoulders, “You try arguing with her some time. Eldacar appointed her for a reason, you know.”
Michas sighed unhappily, ”Osgiliath is writhing with Castamirian squads just waiting to pick us off!”
“I know, but in two years not once I have heard that they’ve placed a price on her head. Not once has her name been mentioned. I don’t know who she is really, but she’s good Michas. And she’s going to need your help.”
“That I will leave to her to explain, as and when she sees fit.”
Michas grimaced, his expression sour, ”This is bound to go awry. I mean, look at us. Belas is dead and you’re inside the very garrison who is hunting you down on her account.”
“Belas’ death does not, I think, belong on her head…and in any case, she ordered me out of the city only a few hours ago,” Beregon grinned at him suddenly, ”But a man’s got to have a little fun every now and again.”
And with that Beregon was gone again. It was now impossible to sleep and so Michas placed his elbows on his knees, stared at his wall and tried to think up all the ways that this might go wrong.
Amarwen woke before dawn not in the least rested. She pulled herself from her cot, stuffed her feet into her shoes and threw on her cloak ready to set out. Farais liked an early start. He was usually either at her door or pulling her through it about now.
As she waited, she worked on the tangles out of her hair with the wooden comb each prisoner was allotted with. This was a lengthy process given how thick her hair was but despite that, Farais had still not arrived by the time she had tied twine around her thick braid.
She could hear nothing outside her door either. Amarwen pressed her ear against it and heard only resounding silence. She peered underneath it and saw no feet moving against the light. She forgot about her gnawing hunger as her concerns grew. Nothing about this was normal. She’d not heard the cells of the other woman open. Which was odd for the other woman kept earlier hours than she did.
The still silence was ominous, almost stifling and when her door finally opened Amarwen was ready to fight or flee. Farais burst through it and the first thing she saw was that he’d been fighting. He seized her arm and hauled her after him, breaking into a run once he had cleared the cell. Despite his rush, she saw that the other woman’s cell was open. When had that happened?
Farais moved with such speed that it was all she could do to avoid slamming into the walls each time he took a corner. Then, suddenly, he halted and pressed them both painfully into a small alcove in the wall. He was panting with his exertions and she could feel him shaking. Fear, fatigue, anger? Impossible to tell. Boots clattered by and then Farais was off again.
Amarwen lost track of the twists and turns he took but when he burst into a barracks her eyes popped. He couldn’t have her in here! It was strictly, absolutely forbidden to have prisoners in the barracks where the guards kept their weapons for obvious reasons. He’d be dismissed and she’d be flogged. But despite her struggles he pulled her forward until he reached a particular bunk.
”Under there, now!” he hissed, looking back towards the door.
She took that opportunity to make a break for it but he caught her again, ”Do you want to die?”
“Then get under there now.”
Farais threw her on the floor and used a foot to prod her under the intended bunk. He was too fast and too strong for her to resist and so she was shoved into place with her heart in her mouth. He crouched once that was done and she saw, at last, why he shivered. Farais was afraid.
”Stay there. Don’t move. Not a sound. Stay there.”
As he said that a great clanging bell sounded. An alarm and she flinched at it.
“Riot,” he said as he glanced towards the door, ”Stay there.”
And he was gone again.
Riots were terrifying things. They were like great forest conflagrations, with a mind of their own and absolutely no mercy or compassion. They could flash up and die back as quickly but others could rage for hours or days. And it soon emerged that this was not a transitory strife. Men came and went through the barracks, oft in search of replacement weapons or gear. Their talk was angry and weary but what the guards were angry about varied greatly. Some were furious with the prisoners, for this is where the riot had begun. But others were furious with what the prisoners were rioting about. Another prisoner had vanished overnight and all Amarwen could think of was the cell door she’d seen open despite not hearing anything at all.
”These disappearances are a stain on us all,” one guard declared angrily as he rifled through a trunk of equipment at the end of the bunk opposite to the one she was under, ”And don’t tell me they’re escaping. Only a matter of time before we find where they’re buried.”
Had he looked to the side he could have seen her, wide eyed and terrified, but he was tired and upset and just wanted his short sword. Once he had pulled it free, the man slammed the lid of the trunk shut and left with his companions. And then she understood why Farais had hidden her here. Every guard would do his utmost to keep the rioters out of their barracks so as to deny them access to the very thing any angry rioter wanted most of all: weapons.
From time to time she heard angry shouting, fighting and the sound of men dying. On several occasions it got very close to the barracks but each wave was thrown back. Where was Halvarin in all of this, she wondered with no way of knowing that he was standing in her empty cell wondering just where she was.
”Captain, they’re setting fires in the city,” Michas said, harried.
Halvarin cursed and turned away, unable to tarry any longer. Was she caught up in this? Was she fighting with her fellow prisoners? Had she used the bedlam to escape her captivity? No time to dwell over such things as this riot threatened to spill into what was left of Osgiliath. And if he did not bring it to heel swiftly, the Guild’s presence in Osgiliath would become oppressive.
”Authorise the men to use whatever force is necessary to restore calm and civil order, up to and including deadly force,” he said as the image of a sword impaling Amarwen flashed across his mind’s eye.
He shuddered at the image, ”But sparingly. Only as needs against active rioters. Send bowmen ahead of the line and lay down a barrier. Push them back towards the garrison.”
“Yes Captain,” Michas replied and raced off to relay the order.
Halvarin wiped a hand over his face and followed in Michas’ steps so far as the cell of the missing woman. The cell right next to Amarwen’s with a door just like hers that locked from the outside. There was no sign of a struggle. No one had noticed anything awry. Someone with keys to cells had done this. Again. Another prisoner missing. In his mind the list of name flashed up. Was this prisoner’s name upon it? Was Amarwen’s name upon it? Had she been taken too? He had no way of knowing for she had yet to divulge the name she’d assumed. And what would he do if her name was on it? He did not know the answer to that either.
It was many interminable hours later that Halvarin was receiving reports. It was well past midnight and the city streets were quiet under a heavy patrol presence. The fires had been put out and the prisoners secured again. The room in which the prisoner’s ate had been converted into the place for the injured prisoners to be assisted. And Michas was running through the numbers.
”Confirmed dead: seven guards, three civilians, eighteen prisoners,” he said as he passed a sheet of parchment to Halvarin.
”Eighteen? That’ll make feeding the ungrateful swine easier,” one of the other officers remarked and there was dark laughter that cut off abruptly when Halvarin’s fists collided with his desk in a sharp, loud blow.
Silence returned to his office as he reviewed the list of names Michas had passed him. Good men, a valued artisan and eighteen prisoners. Farais was amongst them, he noted. A loss, that, for Farais was a skilled, honourable guard. Most, he saw, had been killed as a result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. An artisan was accidentally hit with an arrow meant for a rioting convict. Another two civilians had been hit by stones being flung by either other civilians or convicts. As for the convicts, a good number of those had been trampled in the rush to flee the oncoming guards. The rest had been killed in conflict with the guards. And nowhere on that list was Six.
”The casualties,” Halvarin asked next and Michas passed him a second sheet of paper.
”I expect the numbers will change as more find their way back,” he said as Halvarin reviewed the information. Again, no Six.
”Any unaccounted for?”
Michas sighed at that, ”Two female convicts. A thorough search is underway now.”
And just as he said that Amarwen was dragged out from under the bunk by a group of guards in the barracks. She struggled in their grip until a blow caught her left jaw and left her dazed.
”Whose bunk is this, Calas?”
“Farais, I think,” he said with a grin.
”Isn’t that interesting,” said her captor and tossed her across to Calas, ”You know what to do with this.”
”I’m going to enjoy this,” Calas told her as he hauled her along.
Instead of leading her back to her cell, he instead dragged her out of the garrison and into the yard towards a set of leaning wooden structures that rattled in the chilly breeze. She’d paid little heed to them before now, having only been on this yard the once before waiting news of her fate as a prisoner. Calas pulled open a creaking door and threw her past it. The door slammed shut and she heard chains rattle.
”Sweet dreams, traitorous scum,” he declared as he locked it again and then all she heard was the rattle of the timbers around her in the night.
Amarwen sank to her knees in this new darkness. She had not eaten for two days, nor had any water for one. She was shaking with a combination of cold and fatigue that would only worsen as the night progressed. And come the morning she would be pulled out of this place, strung up and flogged. After a riot there could be no relaxing of the rules around garrison security. The punishment was severe because the implications of a breach of these rules were also severe.
The Castamirians in his ranks would be watching Halvarin carefully after commuting her sentence. She’d been arrested with rebels and so for them that made her a rebel. As for Farais, he’d be drummed out despite being an honourable and decent guard. Despite his reservations about her, she knew that she was only alive now because of his actions even if she was not sure why he had done as he had. Gondor needed men like him in her ranks, not driven away.
Amarwen made herself to sit on the cold, bare earth. A particularly strong gust of wind made the wooden structure around her shudder and sway and then she heard rain. Slow, thick drops with a smell of ice. Sleet. Her teeth chattering as the temperature dipped away, she hunched her shoulders and prepared herself as best she could for what was to come.
|Author:||Elora Starsong [ November 4th, 2017, 2:37 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards|
Near the Anduin, North of Osgiliath
Beregon and Indara made their way north along the river beyond the city. The alder trees along the west shore were small but thick, sprung up after the previous major flood some fifteen years earlier. Their leafless branches offered little cover from the icy rain that blew down from the north but the undergrowth around them offered some cover they could not do without. The brambles nearly topped Beregon’s height, thick and gnarled, and made for slow going. The thorns tore at them as they passed, but for all of that, the brambles offered what they needed – protection. As Beregon forged ahead, Indara worked at entangling the brambles in their wake in an attempt to conceal their painful progress.
Finally, they came to a small lip that pushed out from larger trees. It was here that the pair stopped to rest, panting with their efforts. It had taken them all day and much of the night to reach this point.
”I was well implanted,” Indara observed between gasps, ”Had I not been arrested, I would be well placed still for Eldacar’s return.”
“That may not be for some years yet,” he counselled as he held out his waterskin to her.
Indara accepted it with an impatient sigh and as she slaked her thirst Beregon continued, ”The King has mourned your loss. Too many of his Royal Guard, your sisters, have vanished without word these two years past. His spirits will be lifted to know you have returned.”
And that was not the whole of it either, Beregon knew. Eldacar had grown hesitant since the sack of Osgiliath. The loss of his son under such cruel circumstances, and against all custom and tradition, had shaken him to his core. And then there was the young king of Rhovanion to consider.
”Perhaps your voice within his court will sway young King Vidmavia to join his forces to Eldacar’s. The brash young prince you saw last is not so reckless now that he rules.”
“Rhovanion does not have the strength to oppose the Usurper in an assault,” Indara observed, laconic about what she considered as obvious as the sky overhead.
”But if it is known that the people will rally around Eldacar upon his return, then he may reconsider. That is why you must return north! Your day will come when Eldacar returns!”
“Perhaps,” Indara shrugged as she returned the waterskin to its owner.
She pushed the sodden strands of dripping hair from her face and considered the dark, turgid waters of the Anduin. A chill mist was rising from it even now and she shivered as it washed over their position. But for all of that, she still marked the ripples of a small boat steadily approaching, riding the current downstream.
Weaponless though she was, Indara crouched in readiness. A quick glance to her side revealed that Beregon had marked the boat’s presence but instead of crouching she saw him signal to it. At that, the boat eased towards the shore, the bottom grating on the river stones in the shallows. Four men heavily shrouded got out as Beregon slipped closer to tap Indara on the shoulder.
He motioned to the boat, a clear indication to get in it. Indara’s attention, though drifted to the four men that had alighted. Cowled and cloaked, she could still make out the bulge of weapons and this was a fight she had no wish to retire from.
As if he could sense her hesitancy, Beregon murmured to her ”Your day will come. This I swear.”
He motioned again for her to board. Reluctant though she was, Indara scrambled over the prow and into the boat. At that, two of the four men pushed the boat back out into the river and the two oarsmen she had joined laboured to turn it about and push it upstream against the current. She turned to watch Beregon slip further away until the thickening mist stole between them.
Indara pushed out a sigh and settled into place as the oars dipped and splashed. It was time to return to being Vilmaith now, and return to her place as a Northman within Eldacar’s Royal Guard. An place where she had served him well before, and would again in honour.
As for Beregon, he too remained in place until he was sure the little boat would not wash up again to shore. Once he was convinced Indara would not turn it about, he slipped back from the shore with the four men. This was a dangerous hand he was playing, he knew, but it had to be done. He skirted south along the banks of the Anduin, gathering more men who had deserted over the years. Not enough to take and hold Osgiliath against what would follow, but still enough to disrupt the garrison’s supply and free those imprisoned. And, what is more, Beregon had yet to face the city’s commander. A Guild Officer…a fine mark if ever there was.
~ ~ ~
The miserable frozen rain of the night had dwindled into a chill rain come the early morning and Halvarin was out in it to ensure order was indeed restored. The soldiers were themselves a tired rabble, but Halvarin could not leave matters unfinished despite everyone’s fatigue. The riot had to be brought into hand swiftly and any lingering coals put out so that it could not resurge into new life.
He’d already ordered a lockdown of the cells for the coming day and now he found himself watching a full muster of his men. His two officers, Michas who commanded the men of Ithilien and Anorien and Calas who oversaw the Minas Anor Regiment barked impatient orders as they chivvied their respective forces into some semblance of order. Once this was done, Halvarin summonsed the two officers to attend him.
He drew his cloak about him tightly as the officers approached from opposite ends of the grounds and shivered, grateful for the wool of his Guild jacket under the sturdy winter cloak he drew about him.
”I expect a full report. I want to know what caused this riot fo-“
“These rabble look for any excuse and where there is none they concoct it,” Calas declared and Halvarin’s eyes narrowed at the disruption.
”I will have my report all the same, Calas. And the prisoners noted missing last night?”
“Both unaccounted for this morning, Sir,” Michas answered, his expression taut with concern, “The cells have been secured and the fires brought under control. This rain has proven our ally in this. Three prisoners only did not leave their cells despite being about to. Perhaps some…recognition of their wise decision is warranted.”
Halvarin nodded, ”Provide me with their numbers and I will make a note of it in their records. On the morrow, they will be reassigned to new duties. The rest, however, are to remain in their cells until further notice. And if I catch anyone engaged in…retaliation…the consequences will be dire. I expect that any missing prisoner that is discovered will be brought to me immediately.”
Both men nodded at this but Calas, Halvarin noted, scowled down at his boots for a moment. He turned to review the ranks of the gathered men, walking down each line of weary and sometimes angry men. Bitterness. Resentment. Morale had taken a beating.
He returned to his officers troubled, ”Stand the day guards down from duty. The night guards will just have to stretch it little longer whilst the day guards rest. As for you two, I want your reports on my desk by this time tomorrow.”
And with that he dismissed his officers and their men both. As he watched the men fall out, his thoughts wandered down a dozen grim paths. Where was Amarwen…had she decided to run even after what he had said to her yesterday? He well knew that as of now he had far weightier problems on his hands. There would be inevitable questions to answer from his Guild about this uprising but he could not keep himself from wondering after her fate. And what of the other woman? Had Amarwen taken her along too or would both be found? And what if…Halvarin shook his head in a refusal to entertain the notion that the women in question were dead. No, not that. Still, his assurances to Amarwen for her safety were meaningless if he knew naught of her whereabouts.
Weary as he was, Halvarin could not abide the idea of seeking rest himself and so he set out to walk the city. Perhaps he might find Amarwen himself. As the morning drew on the chill drizzle hung lover over the river and city. He pulled his hood low and quietly walked the narrow alleys of the city. He almost stepped out when he paused in the shadow at the sound of voices…
”I think we give the Captain the full measure of consideration. He is high ranking in the Guild. His father is its Master.”
“For all of that, Calas doesn’t trust him. He’s said nothing to him about the woman found yesterday.”
“I just hope it doesn’t lead to more trouble for us.”
The two guards murmured shared agreement at that last as they walked by Halvarin. In the mist, though, he could not make out their faces from under their hoods. Still, if he had heard correctly and he was certain that he had, one of them had just said that Calas has a woman in custody! He slipped out and followed the two men at a distance. He had to be very careful. Whilst the city was still quiet it seemed to him that Osgiliath could very well erupt once again.
As he padded along he reviewed his assessment of his men’s disposition. The Anóriens seemed to him to be the most disenchanted with Castamir’s rule and rightly so given the impact of Castamir’s trade policies. With the harvest failing two years in a row and little coin to pay the levies, but for the rebels famine would have gripped the region this past region. The Anorien men stationed here knew it well. They had families starving, dependent on the intercession of people their king declared traitors. Their loyalty, then, hung by a slender margin indeed when contrasted to that of the regiments from Minas Anor. Whilst some men of that force had their own private reservations, they were unlikely to oppose their officers and their officers were staunchly behind Gondor’s current king.
Current king, Halvarin mused. That right there was probably treason nowadays. He came to the training grounds and watched from the shadows as the morning finally began to burn through the icy mist. Shredded shards of it, thin in some places and thick in others, drifted between Halvarin and the men standing by a wooden wall they used for training. But today there would be no instruction or drilling in how to scale a wall.
In front of the wooden wall was a box. Men, including Calas, stood around it. Watching it as…Halvarin squinted to see through the shifting mist and realized that they were pouring water over the box. And then he realized that he could hear someone coughing. Alarm seized him and Halvarin knew, then, that he had to confront these men and do it now. He approached, hand on the hilt of his knife, and hailed Calas.
“Calas! You’ve re-captured one of the prisoners yet did not inform me?”
As he got closer, Halvarin could see a woman lay on the ground by the wooden box. She had been bound, she was wet and violently shivering but the sound of steel being unsheathed caused Halvarin to pause. Calas turned about to face him, calm and unperturbed despite being found by his superior officer directly contravening not one but two explicit orders.
”These traitors should have been killed, Sir. Give me an hour and once I have the information I require, this oversight can be addressed.”
“That is not for you to decide, Calas. Disarm yourselves and turn your prisoner over to me immediately and I will ensure that none of you are reported for this insubordination. You’ll be assigned to the next long range patrol and after that, returned to Minas Anor.”
Even as he spoke, though, Halvarin knew he was in an uncertain position. As did Calas, evidently, for he called Halvarin’s bluff.
”I think not, Sir. Not this time. From the out set you have frustrated the due course when it comes to this woman. The fact of the matter is, Sir, I think it more than likely that you are a-“
The hiss of an arrow followed by a faint twang of a bowstring caused Halvarin to throw himself to the ground and roll. When he came up to his feet, his knife was out and he was forced to use it to deflect a sword. He drove his shoulder into the man behind the sword and drove him back hard. Then Halvarin threw his knife at the third man coming at him but it was batted away by his sword. Calas lay on the ground gurgling, the arrow in his neck. Another arrow took down the third man now charging at him and Halvarin pivoted to locate who was provided the cover and from where.
He saw no one and again was forced to roll away from another swinging sword. Halvarin came to his feet with Calas’ sword in hand now and turned to fight. His opponent, however, had three arrows protruding from his chest by then and he fell to his knees with a surprised, startled look on his face.
This time, Halvarin did not hesitate. He had gained the wooden box now and crouched beside it to cut through the woman’s bonds. Violent tremors shuddered through her and Amarwen’s lips were blue. He squeezed her hand and then peered out to see what he might. The grounds were quiet now beyond Calas’ final, gurgled breathing. Three dead soldiers of the Realm will be hard to explain, he knew, and who had shot those arrows. There was no time to dwell on it, though, for Amarwen needed warmth and needed it very soon indeed. Shoving Calas’ sword through his belt, he gathered her up and made for the nearest source of smoke.
Not far away, Beregon watched a man disappear down an alley with Marece. He had no idea who the fellow was but whoever he was, he had proven quite useful in dealing with those tormenting her. With the mist breaking up, pursuing him was not wise. Beregon and his men needed to fade away as daylight spread but he knew the city well. It had been his home for most of his life. He and his men climbed down a narrow stone stair and slipped through the door at the bottom. This they bolted and settled in to await the cover of dark for there would be much to do then.
|Author:||Elora Starsong [ November 4th, 2017, 2:38 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards|
Rest was the furthest thing from Michas’ thoughts as he sped through the streets. If the riot of yesterday not been bad enough, matters had deteriorated markedly since. Marece, for one, was still missing and now he had three men including one officer dead. Just left there on the training grounds for anyone to find. What’s more, the Captain was missing. He needed to find Halvarin and he needed to find him now before a second riot broke out between rival factions of the garrison. He’d had his men bury the bodies of the fallen discreetly but he could trust to that alone.
Satisfying as it was to have the Castamirians receive a measure of their own brutal justice, Michas was no fool. If tidings of what had befallen those three crept beyond his own men, if the bodies were discovered…and then there was the troubling fact that no one, not even his own men with the most reason for this, would own up to it. The prisoners hadn’t for they had been locked away since last night. Beregon lacked the men for it, of that Michas was sure, and he doubted Marece, wherever she was, could account for the violence on her own.
Beregon had said himself that Eldacar’s chief agent was talented. She’d have to be to rise to her position but he just could not credit her with what he had just buried. And then there was the severed ropes found by that odd wooden box, drenched in water. Not enough water to purge the blood from the rough fibres. Someone had struggled against those ropes. But who?
By late afternoon, Michas had only discovered that Halvarin was not to be located at any of his customary haunts. He’d already searched Halvarin’s garrison office before setting out…and now all that was left was the other office Halvarin kept at the library. Michas climbed the wide steps into the library, unsurprised to find it abandoned. It was dark and empty, or so he thought until he heard the sound of something like a door closing. Frowning, he climbed the steps into the higher levels and almost fell back down them again when Halvarin came rushing down.
A hasty hand thrown out to the stone walls saved Michas from dashing his head on the marble floors and Halvarin reached out to steady him, seizing the front of his jacket in his fist.
”Where have you been?!” Michas hissed, his ire coming to the fore.
Halvarin withdrew his hand as he offered a brusque reply, ”I’m busy.”
Already Halvarin had jogged down the steps past him, ”None of your concern.”
Michas’ mouth opened and then he noticed the sword thrust through Halvarin’s belt. He knew that sword. He knew it very well indeed. Carefully Michas closed his mouth and followed Halvarin down the steps. If Halvarin had Calas’ sword, then he already knew the nature of the officer’s fate. But why would Halvarin, pragmatic as he was about which king to support, kill a Castamirian?
”How proceeds the search?” Halvarin asked and Michas scowled at his back.
How would he know? He’d been busy burying the men Halvarin had a hand in killing!
”Slowly,” he muttered, ”Still no hint of either woman.”
Halvarin had gained the bottom of the stairs and he turned about to look up at Michas, ”Focus your efforts on-“
“Six,” Michas interjected impatiently, ”Yes, yes, I know!”
“No, the other. Seventy Six is no longer your concern.”
And with that, Halvarin turned on his heel and continued on his way. His boots rang a rapid report over the marble floors and Michas realized that the other man was walking as fast as he could without breaking into a run.
Nothing, nothing at all, made any sense about this encounter. Why did Halvarin have Calas’ sword? And why the sudden disinterest in Marece? Michas ran his fingers through his hair and turned about to peer up the stairs. Why, or where, was Halvarin hurrying off to? Not, as it turned out later, the garrison. By the time Michas had returned there he found the captain had once again vanished into Osgiliath.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The old woman groaned as she pulled herself up, joints creaking and popping in protest. She pulled the covers back up over Amarwen and hobbled about to consider Halvarin who had watched in silence the ministrations of the healer.
”She’s young,” the woman croaked, rubbing at her back as her stick tapped a path forwards.
Halvarin’s gaze bounced between his cot into which he had set Amarwen hours ago and the healer he’d practically carried up the stairs not so very long ago at all. Despite all his efforts, Amarwen was still shivering even now. He’d done everything he could think of to make it stop. He’d pulled her out of her sodden clothing, wrapped her into dry bedding. He’d piled every blanket he could set his hands on over her and built the hearth up to such an intensity that he was down to his shirtsleeves, sweat beading over his brow. And all this healer could tell him was that Amarwen was young?
”But what do I do?” he pleaded.
Despite her age and the fact that she was nearly bent double over her walking stick, the healer had almost gained the door of his office. She fast on her unsteady feet and she lifted a hand at him and waved him off.
”You children are all so impatient! Is it so very difficult to wait?”
And with that the healer was gone. Halvarin stared across his office to where Amarwen lay. Her lips weren’t blue any longer but aside from that, little seemed to have changed. He picked himself up from the desk he had perched against to observe the healer’s activities and went to the door to ensure it was securely locked. Then he padded across to his bunk. Wait, the old woman had said. Wait. He pressed out a weary sigh and fidgeted with the bedding he’d laid over Amarwen. She shifted at that, murmured something indistinct and then rolled away from him. Her midnight hair streamed towards him, dry now. Halvarin swallowed and then turned away from the cot with some effort. Back to his desk he went, settled into his chair and let his head fall onto the desk.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The warmth was so abundant it was almost decadent. She stretched her limbs, spread her toes and luxuriated in it. A pleasant weight pressed into her and above all, her limbs were still. They no longer rattled and shook though her muscles still held a dull ache of fatigue. Reluctantly, she peeled open her eyes to find a roof painted in the shifting shadows thrown by a fire. Indoors then, which made sense given that her wrists had been bandaged. She could feel the wrappings where she had burnt them against the rough rope in her bid to wriggle free. Water gargled but not over her and then there were footsteps. Amarwen found she was not nearly as surprised as she should have been to find Halvarin standing there, a wooden mug in hand.
”You must be thirsty,” he observed, voice hushed in such a way as to suggest the hour was late indeed.
Ironically, given the events that had led her to this place, she was thirsty. She had no idea how long it had been since last she drank or ate and so was unsurprised when her senses swam as she struggled to push herself up on her elbows.
Halvarin sat on the edge of the cot as she grabbed at the sliding bedding. Only now did she realise that the blankets were all she had between her and he and Halvarin turned his head away as she sought to tuck them securely into place about her. His gaze remained on the floor as he passed the mug to her and she accepted it with murmured thanks.
”Slowly,” he advised, ”Too quickly and you will be unwell.”
But she could not slow down and yes, whilst her belly knotted uneasily under the sudden weight of the water, she did not regret it.
”Thank you,” she said as she lowered the mug and Halvarin shook his head at her.
”It’s just water, Ami,” he said, ”Nothing extravagant.”
“I do not refer only to the water, Hal,” she answered, lowering her eyes and then forcing them back up to his, ”I…I would not be here now were it not for you.”
She watched colour flush his cheeks at that, ”I did not do it alone.”
He claimed the empty mug from her and returned to his feet to refill it.
”What happened?” he asked it upon return, ”Why did you leave your cell”
Amarwen took another mouthful of water, no longer driven to gulp it down greedily.
”Farais pulled me out so hard I thought he’d pull my arm from its socket. And no, the barracks was not my idea either, Hal, but he said it was that or die. And he was frightened. Truly frightened. I believed him. I still do.”
“Farais is dead,” Halvarin said softly and Amarwen closed her eyes.
”I am,” she paused to examine her feelings, loose hair tumbling over her bare shoulders as her head bowed, ”Sorry to hear that. He was a good man. Gondor is poorer for his loss.”
There was silence between them grew and then Halvarin pushed out a breath and looked back to her. His sea borne eyes settled on her for a moment and then he lifted a hand to brush along her jaw. Gentle as he was, she could feel the bruising left there by Calas and his ilk.
Then he lifted his hand to softly cup her cheek, ”I said I would keep you safe.”
“We have been infiltrated, Halvarin. I did not think it possible but now I know it to be true. Someone, somewhere, has our names.”
“Do they have yours?” he asked, gently tucking her hair behind her ear.
”I do not know. I think it unlikely, though, for if they knew who I was I would not have been apprehended alive.”
Halvarin swallowed at that and his hand dropped away, ”And who…who are you?”
Amarwen pressed out a breath. Was she going to do this? She closed her eyes.
”I am Marece…and…I am Eldacar’s chief agent in Gondor.”
When she opened her eyes she found Halvarin staring at her steadily.
”I told you that there was no such thing as safe anymore,” she said, her voice faint as the reality of what she had just done caught up with her.
She had handed her identity to a Guild Officer. If he turned on her, if he was interrogated and then, as all the implications cascaded through her thoughts, he leaned so that his face hung before her own.
”I said I would see you safe, Amarwen, and I mean to.”
Her eyes flared at that, ”Even if-“
“I mean to,” Halvarin repeated, his voice steady, and so she leaned forwards across the final narrow gap between them and pressed her lips to his.
|Author:||Elora Starsong [ November 4th, 2017, 2:39 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards|
Tingling spread throughout Halvarin’s body as he rested in that moment. Too quick it was, yet the longing for it to linger was only his desire. In a perfect world. Which this most certainly was not. In swearing to keep Amarwen safe, he had all but declared his service to the King in exile, Eldacar. He, a Guild officer. The son of its Master and one of Castamir’s most trusted advisors. How now was Halvarin to regain control of what was unfolding? He feared that it may already be too late.
So much was at risk and so he would require great care. Halvarin now regretted his earlier brusque treatment of Michas for he recognised now just how important Michas’ aid would be. He would have to confide in Michas, somehow, if he wanted to keep this quiet and retain his currently position within the Guild. There was much to be gained if he could, and if he could not then Halvarin knew he would fall far indeed.
Of course, he could simply dispatch Michas to locate the other missing prisoner…but that would not stay Michas’ may questions. And Amarwen… she couldn’t use that name for that name belonged to a dead woman. As for Marece, he sensed it was too well known both in Osgiliath and Minas Anor. Though, it had not appeared on the list provided to him. She had not yet been compromised. It was wise, therefore, to take measures to ensure that remained the case. Amarwen needed yet another name. A new name…and as his thoughts sped Halvarin forgot that she was even there. Watching closely. Silent.
She broke her silence by posing a quiet question, ”Where do your thoughts go, Halvarin?”
Her question drew his attention to the face of the woman before him. A face he had known for most of life. Halvarin drew a breath and upon its release he moved towards her and took her lips to his once again. He held her closely to him, his arms wound about her.
”I hope you will remain with me Ami,” he said, drawing on the shortened form of her name that he had used for years now. That she permitted this affection, this familiarity, had always warmed his heart towards her but it could no longer be.
”You will need a name I can use. Will Lillith serve?”
Halvarin pulled back to look into her eyes. Clear and grey they were as she returned his study, and whilst she said nothing, she nodded at him.
”We’ll need a story too, Lillith. I will say that we have known each other from our days of our youth and that I have given you a conditional pardon. In return, you will work in recompense for your crime of smuggling food to Osgiliath,” he said and then sighed, ”Granted, it is flimsy, but I can think of no other way. I need to speak to Michas urgently, for if I do not, he may well undo everything. And I will need to address the Minas Anor regiment too. In that order, I think, and it is likely to take some time.”
It was here that Halvarin paused for he was unsure of this last, ”I hope, in that time, you will remain and continue your labours.”
If she fled in his absence, what would he do? What could he do? Halvarin rose from the cot and made for his desk where he drew out a fresh sheet of parchment and set to work. It took some time to craft but once it was done he signed and dated it and applied the seals. Then he returned to Lillith. That was who she was now. Lillith.
”This may not be enough, but should you be questioned in my absence as to why you are here unattended, show them this. For your part, I implore you,” Halvarin gazed into her eyes again, ”Please do not leave the library. It will do little should you do so.”
He watched her study the parchment he had given to her. Her attention flickered over the seals applied, one for the Mariners Guild and the other of Gondor itself, and then rose to him somewhat startled. She knew, then, just how far he had extended himself for her. At that, some of the tension that had hardened his expression faded and he reached out to gently touch her cheek. Then he rose again, paused to take up his own sword, and set out to locate Michas.
That, he soon learned, was not a difficult task at all. He located Michas at the grounds. An investigation of the morning’s earlier incident was already well underway and when Michas looked up to mark Halvarin’s presence, the man headed out to intercept him.
”I think you lost this,” Michas said, terse as he returned Halvarin’s knife to him, ”Would you kindly tell me what is going on?”
Halvarin sheathed his knife, ”There is much I need to tell you, my old friend. Your response will… determine a great many things. But before we come to that, perhaps we can begin with any questions you may have for me.”
Michas’ expression darkened, ”Did you kill Calas?”
“No, and I am not sure who did,” Halvarin replied, “However I may have had a hand in one of the deaths. They would not heed nor obey me and I was egregiously out numbered… and so whoever was behind those well-aimed arrows, I appreciate it.”
Michas nodded at the frankness of Halvarin’s response ”Do you think those arrows were intended for you?”
Halvarin considered that a moment and shook his head, ”No, for those arrows were shot with precision. If they wanted to kill me, they would have.”
Michas wiped a hand over his weary face and then glared at Halvarin, ”Calas and two of his top officers are dead and you are in the middle of it!”
He pressed out a sigh and continued, ”The Minas Anor company have one strong officer left, a wise tactician. He was well down on the promotion list, but with this incident, he would be open to move up and take the reins. This day, he has been content to give the men down time in the barracks so they could rest after the riots. He’s kept them there so they could be alerted and ready at short notice. This reprieve will not last. You will need to go talk to him, and those men, and soon.”
“I planned to do just that once I talked to you,” Halvarin replied and Michas drew closer still, his expression hard and cold as the formidable White Mountains now.
”Then I will be quick with my last questions. What is this prisoner seventy six to you? And where do you stand in your loyalties?”
Michas’ stance quivered with tension, his hand resting on the hilt of his sword. Friends or not, Halvarin knew that should it come down to it, Michas would likely be the better swordsman just as Halvarin was the better navigator. Halvarin swallowed as he reconciled himself to what he had to do. He would have to trust his friend, come what may.
”I would be lying if I said all was well with me after the overthrow of Eldacar. Though, with all I have achieved within the Mariners Guild, you would have me marked as a loyal supporter of Castimir.”
Michas’ brows quirked at Halvarin’s quiet admission and his eyes darted about to ensure no one was likely to overhear them.
Halvarin continued, his course now set, ”I have followed in my father’s footsteps as I had always dreamed, and I have rose to the rank of Prime Navigator within the Guild. When we were dispatched to Edholland after the fall of Osgiliath, I truly believed that the realm and its people would be well served in the rise of the new king.”
He shook his head, closing his eyes briefly, ”What I witnessed there, what I tried to prevent…it wounded me deeply and shook my faith to its foundations. And as I questioned what had befallen there, I learned of the atrocities committed in the name of our new king. Edholland was but a prelude.”
Amarwen’s stricken, horrified face as her mother was struck down. His father’s cold, calculated command to bring her to him…
”I did not desire a brutal, cruel king for Gondor. And I did not wish to admit that one of our own men, a Guild officer, could be such… But now… now I cannot think of any way to deny that he has usurped the crown of Gondor, to the sorrow of our realm.”
There was silence between Halvarin and Michas for a moment, and when Halvarin looked up from the ground he realised Michass hand had withdrawn from his sword hilt.
”I will admit I was concerned about your loyalties,” Michas confided, ”I too was of two minds for some time but a choice had to be made and when that time came, I could not stand with the Castimirians. I have done what I could for those who oppose him and work to bring our true king Eldacar back to the throne of Gondor.”
Michas paused as a rueful smile came to his face, ”That I say as much to a Guild officer is, in itself, unheard of. Yet I can see you walk a knife’s blade in your position and I know it must be much harder for you, Master’s son, than it is for me.”
Michas nodded to Halvarin and his expression sobered once more, ”Now, what of seventy six?”
This, well this was far less certain to Halvarin but he knew he had to somehow answer.
”She reminded me of someone I knew, and I had the sense that she might be of use in restoring the library.”
Michas’ eyes narrowed at that scant response, almost as if he smelled the falsehood. But if he did, he did not press the matter.
“I see. I suppose it is well she has such a place to work,” Michas said, watching Halvarin’s relief unfold in his face.
It was clear to him that there was far more to the matter than this. Far more. He’d known that the day Marece had arrived in Osgiliath. He’d seen Halvarin apologise for the routine precaution of binding a prisoner’s hands. But just how Halvarin was acquainted with the leader of the Eldacarian resistance was a subject Michas would have to learn later.
”Let us go see this officer,” Halvarin said and Michas nodded.
At his signal, three men joined them as the set out for the barracks.
Halvarin led the way, the others following slightly behind, and he could see that Michas had positioned his men strategically through the city. To what end, though, was unclear. To forment yet more unrest or quell it? When they arrived at the barracks, two guards saw Halvarin and stood tall at attention.
Halvarin promptly returned the salute, ”Who has the command here? I need to speak with him.”
One guard nodded and turned to hold the door to the barracks open. Halvarin signalled to the men that had accompanied him to remain outside and then walked through the opened door.
The guard proclaimed, ”City Commander Halvarin to see you commander Eshaul!”
At this, a tall man stood and turned. He had a book in his hands that he set down prior to approaching.
Halvarin said, ”Commander Eshaul, I regret to inform you that Calas and his senior officers were killed this morning by an unknown assailant or assailants. Consequently, you are promoted to the rank of Captain of the Minas Anor regiment.”
“How did Calas and the others die?” Eshaul asked.
”Long-range heavy arrow. One was killed by a thrown knife. At this time we have no suspects, but suspect that one of your men was working for the resistance.” Halvarin pushed on, ”I witnessed the attack as I was speaking with Calas when it happened. It could have been likely the arrow that claimed Calas was meant for me. I will give my full report to you when I send it off to Minas Anor.”
Halvarin paused as he looked around the tired men, some of whom were following this exchange closely.
Eshaul asked Halvarin, ”What would you have us do, Sir? Search for these assailants?”
Halvarin shook his head, ”Your men were at the forefront in putting down the riot and, unfortunately, with Castamir’s gaze far to the south our resources here are scarce. The King does not know the service we provide in watching the east and north."
Halvarin paused and looked at the men before returning his hard gaze to Eshaul.
“The security of the city’s perimeter is in the hands of the Ithilien Guard, led by commander Michas. The Anorien Guard watches the streets and answers to me. You will have to take the long range patrol to northern Ithilien, for it is your regiment’s turn in the rotation and we cannot afford to allow that to lapse. How skilled are you in your field work?”
“I like to think I will do well, Sir” Eshaul answered, looking to his men as he did so.
Halvarin nodded, ”Good. Michas reported Easterling activity on his last patrol a week or so ago. Follow the river north on the western side to Cair Andros where you can cross. Michas will attach a few trackers familiar with the lands to your unit. I will meet you, assembled, in the training yard on the morrow. Until then, I want your unit well rested. No duties for the rest of this day or night.”
“Yes sir,” Eshaul replied and turned to his men and Halvarin lingered for a moment to observe how they reacted.
Though there were a few mumbles, to be expected for a unit that had rarely ventured beyond the city’s limits, there appeared to be no open dissent. Nor rejection of Eshaul as their commander. Halvarin nodded to them and took his leave, returning to where Michas waited outside the barracks.
”That went better than I expected,” he murmured as Michas and his men turned about to depart, ”Select three men, trackers, to accompany Eshaul and his unit on the morrow. He’s going north to Cair Andros, then east into Ithilien. They will be out of the city for a time.”
“Provided there is no further unrest tonight, all should go smoothly,” Michas replied quietly, voice scarcely above a whisper and then louder, ”I will make my rounds, sir, and select the three trackers required for the morrow’s patrol.”
Halvarin nodded, ”And I have to tend to this prisoner at the library. I will see you tonight.”
They each inclined their heads to the other and parted ways.
Michas already had the three men he required in mind. He stopped at the first watch point and summoned one of the soldiers. An Anorien he knew to be a loyal Eldacarian who had demonstrated his trustworthiness.
”I need you to run a message north to Cair Andros. I have news they would welcome,” Michas said and then fell to whispering.
He handed the man a silver talan at which the fellow nodded and set about his preparations immediately. Now, Michas had to find the three that would go tomorrow.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Halvarin returned to the library to find Lilith, to his immense relief, working on the organization of the maps. It was where she left off before the riots and she was bent over one of Gondor, highly detailed, in close scrutiny.
Halvarin walked up to her and said pointedly, ”You need to get word to who is in this city. They need restraint this night.”
“Who do you refer to, and how exactly would I do that?” Lilith replied as she looked up from the map on the table.
Halvarin said, ”I am sure you have means to do such m’lady without having to leave here.”
There was a stubborn, obdurate glint to her eyes that he knew all too well.
”I remained here, as bidden, and did my work. I have seen nor spoken with anyone,” she answered and Halvarin sighed.
He knew she had connections in the resistance, ”I do not need any unrest tonight. If it occurs, we will be grievously disadvantaged.”
“And what disadvantage would that be?”
The challenge came not from Lillith but from a voice in shadows. The man responsible for it pushed back his hood and Halvarin looked to Lillith to find she was as surprised as he was.
With his hand on the hilt of his sword, Halvarin approached the man, ”Show yourself!”
He stepped forth into the light with no weapon in sight. Halvarin squinted at him and thought he was vaguely familiar, ”Beregon?”
The man said, ”It is I whom you seek, and it is she whom I seek.”
He nodded to Lillith as he said, ”Yes, I am Beregon.”
|Author:||Elora Starsong [ November 4th, 2017, 2:40 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards|
For the moment, it was all Amarwen could do to stare at Beregon and Halvarin. She’d not eaten for two days now and it was slowing her senses but she had to recover them now. As another wave of dizziness threatened, she gripped the table she leaned against and turned her voice to ice.
”I told you to leave,” Amarwen said to Beregon, her voice cool with displeasure
“Fortunate for you that I did tarried,” Beregon replied, unconcerned and then his gaze wandered from her ire to Halvarin, ”Impressive, to obtain a pet Guild officer so swiftly. Or is it the other way around?”
Halvarin bristled at Beregon’s phrasing and her jaw clenched.
“Enough,” she growled to both men and rapped a knuckle on the map before her, ”Next time I tell you to go, Beregon, you will go. Unless, of course, you wish to make it clear just who the traitor is amongst us.”
He smiled at that, wry, and gave off baiting Halvarin to step around him and towards the map. Halvarin turned, following his every movement, hand still on his sword. As Beregon studied the map, she peered past him to Halvarin and shook her head at him. Unhappy as Halvarin clearly was, she was relieved when he started back towards her.
”Where this time?” Beregon asked and she was forced to turn herself to the only way out of this mess that she had been able to contrive.
“Edholland. You and anyone else recently of Osgiliath, except Michas. He’ll continue here for the nonce. And that’s just the start of it.”
As she laid it out for him, Beregon eyes lifted from the map to her, ”It’s a gambit.”
“Of course it is, but do you think we can sit it out and hope for the best? If the Guild knows our names then it knows the pieces upon the board. There is no other recourse but to reset that board underneath them.”
“What if the Guild has someone like you,” he asked, leaning forward, ”Who knows not only who we are but where we are.”
“They do not. If they did, they would have come for me.”
“They did precisely that! I saw them as I sighted my bow.”
Halvarin, again at her side, shifted his weight at Beregon’s statement and Amarwen drew herself up, ”What occurred today was but a pale shadow of what they will do.”
She lifted her hands so that the loose sleeves of her patched, sackcloth dress slid back to reveal the bandages at her wrist, ”That I stand here now is ample evidence that their knowledge is not as sophisticated as we might fear. This is what we must now exploit, whilst we still have the opportunity to do so.”
Beregon considered her for a moment then dropped his eyes to the map between them, likely performing his own calculations, and then lifted them to resettle on Halvarin.
”What of this officer of yours, then? Michas was uncertain of his loyalties when last I spoke with him.”
“I am not,” she answered, succinct and emphatic.
“His father is Master of the Mariner’s Guild,” Beregon continued, nonplussed, “It is no small thing for a man to turn on his father.”
Halvarin crossed his arms over his chest and she knew his silence tested his resolve.
”I trust him,” she said and Beregon’s gaze lingered for a moment on Halvarin and then returned to her.
”We have the advantage here, Marece. Why else would your Guild officer desire a reprieve?”
“Taking Osgiliath is one thing,” she snapped, her patience ended, ”Keeping it quite the other! What do you think will happen when the Guild discover the nation’s capital has been retaken? Do you have an army greater than that which was defeated here only two years past hidden somewhere?”
A fresh wave of dizziness swept through her and she bowed her head as Beregon had the humility to look chastened.
”We are on our knees here,” she continued, quieter now, ”You told me that yourself. If Gondor is to be saved, we require strength. Patience…and above all, wisdom.”
As the faintness passed, she realized that Halvarin had set a hand against her back. A gentle, steady pressure. Reassurance for which she was grateful.
Amarwen opened her eyes and looked up to Beregon. Their eyes met briefly and she considered telling him her new name. And considered further, for why had Belas kept his counsel to himself at the last? Why had he not trusted Beregon? Or her, for that matter… Beregon inclined his head to her, offered Halvarin an unfriendly glare before he withdrew, vanishing as quietly as he had arrived.
”Will he quit the city?” Halvarin asked quietly.
”One way or the other he will,” she answered solemnly, ”He must.”
She pushed out a breath and turned to face Halvarin, peering up into his seawashed eyes, ”For what it is worth, this riot was not my doing. I do not wish to invoke a heavier Guild presence here than Osgiliath already wilts under.”
Halvarin flinched at her words for he was of the Guild himself, and yet if she trusted him then she owed him the truth. For a moment his eyes dropped to the floor and when they lifted to hers she was reminded of the day they had first met.
She’d not been particularly pleased about being pulled away from her activities at the time and he’d been similiarly peevish, scratching at the stiff collar of his formal woolen coat as his father had pointedly prodded his son to utter a greeting he’d rather not give. Her response had been…uncharitable to say the least and he’d taken offense, told her that she had ink on her nose and stormed off. But she’d been unable to let him have the last laugh and so she’d followed him, pestering him until he gave up trying to find the other boys for fear of bringing her into their fun. He’d tried to lose her, of course, but they’d been in Edholland and she knew her home far better than he did.
And so, in their best clothing and thoroughly cross with one another, they’d ended up on the muddy bank of a stream. She’d somehow gotten covered in mud, though he wore a liberal helping of the sticky stuff too, and he’d realized just how much trouble he might be in if someone found out he’d been throwing mud at the Lord of Edholland’s daughter. And, as he’d waited for her to squeal for the guards, he’d looked at her then just as he was now. Back then, she’d released the breath she had been holding to laugh. But that was mud and this…this was lives. Blood. Suffering. There could be no laughter at that.
Instead, Halvarin took up her hand and gently pressed his lips to it.
”You’re as white as a sheet,” he observed, concerned.
”I feel as though I could fall over at any moment,” she admitted, still gripping the table for steadiness.
Halvarin moved closer to slide a hand under her elbow, ”Come.”
Carefully, he steered her to the librarian’s quarters. It was a place she knew well, for Farais had appropriated it as his own. Largely untouched since the sack of the city some two years ago, a thick patina of dust had lain on its surfaces until Farias had set her to cleaning it. It was here that he would wander off too during the day and just what he’d make of her presence here now with Halvarin she could not guess.
On a chair he’d piled the clothing she’d come to Osgiliath in. After complaining about its smell of the river and threatening to burn it, she had found it strange that he had instead folded each item carefully up and set it aside. He kept little by way of personal effects in this little nest away from his barracks bunk. A couple of notched knives lay on the table near a whet stone. It was dubious those could be repaired to a serviceable state, she thought. A pair of scuffed and worn boots were set by a wall awaiting the cleaning he’d told her do several days ago. One of his cloaks, a thick woolen winter one, was cast off over the bed. The hearth was naught but coals, left to burn out entirely with no one to tend it. A small store of wood that he’d had her fetch for him was stacked by it.
Halvarin steered her into a chair and knelt by the cold hearth. Amarwen placed her spinning head in her hands as Halvarin set about lighting a fire. With a soft groan of weariness, she laid her head on her arms and closed her eyes against the spinning of the room. Then she startled as something was set on the table she used as a pillow. Amarwen shot upright, wide eyed to find Halvarin had located Farias’ small store of food. She could hear the crackle of the recently lit fire and its light flickered across the small quarters.
Halvarin set out the heavy, dark bread that Farais preferred, a hard cheese and a small bag of dried fruit and nuts. She was almost overcome with a flood of hunger but she refrained from reaching for the food before her.
”You’ve not eaten all day,” he said, surprised at her hesitancy.
Amarwen shook her head, ”Two…but Farais…he doesn’t like it when-“
Halvarin turned away to lock the door and then leaned against it, ”Farais did not survive the riot.”
Amarwen's cheeks coloured for she realised that Halvarin had told this before. She washed a hand over her face and shook her head in chagrin. Was she so tired, so confused and so ill-equipped as this?
Halvarin returned to sit at the table, ”I spoke with Michas today.”
He reached for one of the knives, examined it, and set to slicing off portions of cheese, ”I am dispatching the Minas Anor regiment to Ithilien on patrol.”
Amarwen nodded, breaking a piece of cheese in twain so as to slow herself down. She did not wish to make herself ill.
”I know you will have to write a report, Halvarin,” she said, rolling a crumb of cheese between them.
Halvarin sighed at that and leaned back in his chair, eyes on the table ”Do you mean to stay on in Osgiliath, Lillith?”
”I intend to take up the vacant position as librarian.”
Halvarin searched her face for a moment, ”That is quite a public position.”
”I require credibility if I am to succeed. I must come out from the shadows. Have you another means of achieving it?”
Halvarin’s eyes lowered to the table again as he countered, ”Members of the Guild may call upon you in such a capacity.”
“I suspect that the Guild appropriated a significant portion of the library’s collection some two years ago. They no longer need to attend Osgiliath for the information they once required.”
Halvarin grimaced at that before he raked his fingers through his dark hair. An uncomfortable silence sprang up between them and after a long pause, Halvarin pushed back his chair to stand. He raked his fingers through his dark lengths again, sighed again and turned for the door. Amarwen stood as she heard the lock unlatch and wondered what, if anything, she might say.
”Remember to lock it,” Halvarin murmured and turned back to consider her.
He surely had to be regretting ever-
And just like that he was against her, lips pressed to hers even as his hands plunged into the weight of her hair. Never would he have dared to be so…forward…in her father’s halls. She was rarely let out of her parent’s sight then at any rate.
”Amarwen,” he groaned against her mouth even as his arms tightened around her.
”Lilleth,” she corrected and he spun, pinning her against the door he had told her to lock.
Again he kissed her and then he whispered, lips brushing against her ear as he breathed her in, ”I have dreamed of this…”
And then he was gone. The librarian’s quarters were empty and had not firelight flickered throughout the room, Amarwen would have thought she wandered in dreams herself.
”Lock it,” he said through the door and, fumbling in her disarray, she did so.
Heart racing, she stepped back to lean against one of the chairs. For better or worse, she had given Halvarin enough with which to bury her and her cause. And she knew she should regret it for Beregon was right. It was no small thing to turn against one’s father. Halvarin could rise far indeed if he brought her to his Guild. And she knew the peril he was in. If the Guild discovered one of their own had betrayed them. Worse, that the Guildmaster’s only son had turned on his father…
Any appetite she had turned to ashes and Amarwen forsook the table for the bed. She curled up under Farais’ cloak and stared at the fire. She knew just how hard Halvarin had striven to follow in his father’s steps. As hard as she was following in father’s steps now. And as her thoughts danced, she could hear her father’s words to her.
”There are times when you must follow your mind, dearheart, and others where your heart must rule. Wisdom is knowing when to heed which.”
“Have I chosen correctly” she asked now and closed her eyes but sleep was a long time coming.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Dawn was an hour or so away as Michas slipped out of the garrison and flitted through the grey, foggy streets of Osgiliath. He found the library empty but he made certain to stop by Halvarin’s office just to check. It was abandoned, he found, and Michas frowned for if Marece was not here then where-
He spun about to find her behind him, swathed in a soldier’s cloak. No telling where or how she had acquired that.
”I did not see you,” he said, startled by how silent she had been.
Then again, Beregon had said she was good.
”Why would you expect to find me in there?” she cooly inquired as a single inky brow arched.
Michas swallowed. Marece. This was Marece. He had to watch his step.
”I-I wasn’t looking for you.”
She considered him for a long moment and then asked, ”Have you spoken with Beregon?”
“If you sight him, you are to report it immediately. Is that understood?”
Michas stared at her, baffled, and then remembered to nod. Satisfied, barely or so it seemed, he watched Marece turn her back on him to leave.
He hastened after her to catch her up, ”Beregon said you required my aid.”
Her eyes slid towards him briefly before she nodded.
“The Castamirians are being sent on patrol,” he said.
”I am aware of that.”
Michas’ mouth opened and then closed and looked back the way they had come from Halvarin’s office.
”How is it that you know Halvarin?” he asked.
”We’ve known each other for some time now, well before this strife began. He can be trusted, Michas.”
“Is he to take on Belas’ position?”
Marece came to standstill and turned to face him, ”You will assume that role.”
“Me?” he replied and was met by her impassive regard, ”But wouldn’t Halvarin-“
“I don’t want him drawn into this any further than he must be.”
A powerful, highly placed Guild officer working for them and Marece wanted him protected? Michas wanted very much to ask her to what end but the way in which she regarded him gave him pause. Her regard was akin to that of a noble watching his soldiers and, given her clear grey eyes and position Michas found himself wondering at just who Marece was. All the Eldacarian nobles had been slaughtered or quit Gondor for Rhovanion…but still, as he stood there he had to wonder.
”Perhaps you would be better suited to take on Belas’ role,” he suggested at which she shook her head, raven hair swinging heavily from side to side.
”It has to be you, Michas. I want it to be you. I need someone familiar with Osgiliath when the others arrive.”
And then Marece smiled at him. He swallowed and averted his eyes, startled at just how beautiful she was.
”Oh yes,” she purred, ”Others. I do not mean to lose Osgiliath. Will you aid me or not?”
Michas looked up again and found himself nodding. She gave him another smile, placed a hand briefly on his shoulder and left him standing where he was reflecting on Beregon’s lament over how difficult Marece was to argue with. It was always difficult to argue with a beautiful woman.
”Lillith,” she called back to him.
”Who is that?”
“Me,” she said and started to hum to herself as she continued on her way.
|Author:||Elora Starsong [ November 4th, 2017, 2:40 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards|
The chill morning refused to warm as the skies lightened. Rather, the fog thickened and rain set in. Whilst it was not as cold as the day before, the dampness still found a way to penetrate even the thickest of cloaks with its icy fingers. Michas’ three Ithilien Rangers made their way through this to the grounds where Eshaul waited. They found him there with his own men assembled. A brief exchange passed between them and Eshaul followed by a swift inspection of his assembled men. Eshaul was loathe to have them weighed down by too much equipment for this patrol would see them relying upon speed and stealth both.
The three Rangers examined Eshaul’s men with an expert eye and were impressed that they had opted for their leathers and light swords. Ithilien was no place for plate armour. Three of the largest men in Eshaul’s number had retained their heavy swords but it seemed to the Rangers’ eye that they possessed the necessary endurance such weight would require. Eshaul needed only to make a few adjustments to his men’s gear before they set out for Osgiliath’s gates. There was no time to waste.
Whilst the patrol set forth, the messenger Michas had dispatched north through the night had made good time. The light of day, and the misty rain that came with it, had slowed his progress. He struggled to push on, wisely choosing to keep the Anduin to his right. Still, to his mind he should have reached the outposts of the Cair Andros garrison by now. At least the western watch, he thought as he pushed through the thick mantle of mist that confounded his senses. He could see nor hear no movement at all, and he was cold and wet. Just as he got to wondering whether he had gotten himself turned about in the fog, his confused senses focused on an arrow. It’s point was slick with moisture and aimed for his throat.
”Messenger from Osgiliath! Michas sent me!” he cried, the mist shifting to reveal a hooded man holding the bow.
Three more cowled men stepped out from the shifting, folding fog.
One said, ”Michas you say? He’s in Osgiliath?”
“He holds the command of defences with the Ithilien Rangers. He gave me this, and bade me to tell you that the Osgiliath regiment of the Minas Anor Guard is coming this way for the long range patrol through north Ithilien.”
The messenger held out the token to the hooded man that had spoken. The man studied the talan closely, turning it about in the weakened light of dawn.
”It means something to you?” the messenger asked.
The commander, for that is how the messenger thought of him, nodded thoughtfully, ”It does.”
The fog thinned to reveal a small company of men standing around him and the messenger swallowed for he had not even known they were there until revealed. The commander made a series of gestures and at certain points different ground of men turned and disappeared into the restless, swirling fog. Only three men arranged once the commander was done, one being the bowman that still held his arrow at the ready. A final gesture saw that arrow shift down, the bowstring relaxing again as the commander spoke in a clipped tone.
”They will be permitted to pass into Ithilien. Those that hold the watch at Henneth Annun will be informed. We will keep this patrol busy, and they will return in month or so.”
“All of them?” the messenger inquired and the commander gave him a small smile.
”Likely. Will a month be enough?”
“To establish a stronger presence in Osgiliath?”
The messenger swallowed, for he had no way to be certain.
”I…I think so,” he replied and the commander nodded as if a bargain had been struck.
”You would do well to remain with us until the patrol passes,” the commander said, his tone an order rather than a suggestion or offer and with that the Anorien messenger found himself fading into the fog and thick scrub.
~ ~ ~
Halvarin got little sleep that night as his thoughts bounced from one thing to the next in the darkness. to get little sleep. Why had he been given command of the city? Was it a trap, a ploy, to test his loyalties. Had they seen that he was not as diligent as the Guild would prefer in rooting out rebels and traitors? And then there was the difficult decision he had made to become a rebel himself only that day. If his ambivalence had meant he had walked a narrow path before, this new development meant he now stood on the edge of a blade.
There was much he could accomplish from his position but all of that could be so easily undermined by people now his allies. What he might do could be undone by Michas, Beregon and Lillith. In truth, it was Beregon that worried him the most. To those like Beregorn, the mere identity of his father would be difficult to shuck off. No matter what he said or did, that he was the son of the Guild Master would be a shadow he could not hope to escape.
Sighing defeat at any attempt to sleep, Halvarin rose and wrapped himself in his cloak to venture outside. There, he breathed in the cool night air as he watched the fog form along the river. Rain and mist flowed down from the north but for now the skies over Osgiliath were clear as the fog rose. As he watched the distant horizon, he considered his position further.
There were forces that would not hesitate to drive him down on the blade upon which he stood. There were others that would pull him towards them or push him away, seeking to topple him this way or that. It should be enough to make him think twice, to draw back…but he could not ignore the events he had witnessed befalling in Edholland. Nor could he block out the dreams that came to him at times in the depth of his sleep. A wiser man might pause, but Halvarin knew he had made the right decision. For himself, and for Amarwen.
That name whispered through him. A day may come, he hoped, when they would use it again. When he could say it without fearing who might overhear. When they would name her Lady of Edholland, as she truly was. Until then, she was Lillith. A pardoned smuggler and now Osgiliath’s librarian. He shook his head, for the gambit was a bold one. A risky one, as he had told her and yet her eyes had been clear and he could not argue with her.
He washed a hand over his jaw and considered the fact that Osgiliath had a librarian once more. As commander of the city, he’d be responsible for funding Lillith’s services. Indeed, he was responsible for providing for the city’s rebuilding but so far requests had fallen on deaf ears. So much of Gondor’s resources were diverted south to Umbar and the King’s driving project to rapidly expand his fleet.
If Halvarin wanted resources, then, he’d have to make a request in person at Minas Anor. Provided his standing within the Guild still held, he might even succeed. The clear path of action helped ease his mind and Halvarin returned to his office aware that he had much to accomplish that day. Still, even as he progressed down the narrow hall that connected the upper balcony to the main chamber, Halvarin found himself pausing at the sound of voices. Lillith he swiftly deduced, and Michas.
He stood in silence, listening to the exchange as he leaned against the polished granite walls. What was, he wondered, Lillith’s plan to take and keep Osgiliath. As for his part in it, that was for him to determine. He’d not declared his loyalties, taken such an unthinkable risk, only to be held back and squandered. He’d not allow what had occurred at Edholland to happen again, irrespective of what Lillith’s thoughts on the matter. As for this presence she was planning to install in the city, how best to protect it?
He could keep the regiments loyal to Castamir out of the city, run interference, but his value to them would be significantly diminished if he was discovered to be a rebel. The key was to ensure that Lillith’s growing presence were not too overt in their presence in Osgiliath. That Lillith held the command of them now, and not Beregon, was a relief for if there would to be trouble then Halvarin was sure it would come from Beregon.
The exchange between Michas and Lillith ended and Halvarin lingered, still as a stone, until he was confident both had moved on. Only once he was sure did Halvarin continue on his way to his office. He glimpsed as he passed Lillith. She was sweeping the floor, benign and not in the least dangerous despite what he had just overheard. If she noticed him, she did not look up, and Halvarin was soon back in his office to write up his requisition request for Osgiliath.
Whilst it was possible that little of what he had asked for would be provided, he knew that it would be on record that the request had been lodged and that was important. After a few hours passed in careful construction of the request, Halvarin set to packing his satchel. He took additional time to secure anything in his office that he wished not to be read or appropriated. His gaze travelled to the seals that sat on his desk. One for the Guild and the other for Gondor, he recalled how intently Lillith had watched him yesterday as he had crafted her pardon. What might she do with them…his mind boggled and so he added them to his satchel.
Once this was accomplished, Halvarin washed up, donned his formal uniform and quit his office with his satchel over his shoulder. He locked his door for good measure, but as he did so he found himself smiling for he was sure that Lillith could probably open the door in any case. Shaking his head, he headed for the libarary again to find the woman in question seated on the floor studying architectural drawings.
”Lady Lilith, I will be away for a few days, maybe a week… no longer than a fortnight,” he said and watched her look up, brow furrowing.
”You are too kind, Commander. I am not a lady,” she said by way of correction which he ignored as he knelt beside her.
Halvarin studied the drawing from over her shoulder, ”The Dome. I didn’t know any drawings were still around for it.”
“These are not the original drawings but rather those commissioned by Minalcar in 1245. It would seem he planned a renovation of the Dome of the Stars.”
As she spoke, Halvarin studied Lillith’s ebony hair and stealthily breathed in her scent. At his intake of breath she looked at him and he was tempted strongly to kiss her.
Instead, he drove his attention back to the drawing, ”Yes, Minalcar, Regent of Gondor. It must have been an early work of his. I don’t think his grand plan proceeded further than repairs and maintenance.”
“Eldacar’s grandfather was a great ruling Regent and King…” Lillith answered and paused as she sensed his desire, ”Where must you go?”
He set a hand to her shoulder and gently tightened his fingers against her warmth, ”Minas Anor. I hope to gain provision for the city, including your work here. Michas will hold the city’s command in my absence. I hope all remains calm, Lillith, for I will face enough questions over the riots and deaths as it already is.”
Halvarin studied her closely as he hoped she could achieve the restraint that Beregon had lacked. After a long pause, he slowly stood and walked for the door where he tarried again. Halvarin turned back to find Lillith had stood and turned to watch him. Her expression was thoughtful and troubled.
”May you be well m’lady. I will look forward to seeing you again upon my return,” he said to her and inclined his head. The urge to stride back and pull her to him batted at him.
Her lips parted as if she might say something but Halvarin turned away and quit the library before he lingered longer yet. He had yet to locate Michas and he needed to do so before he could ride out for Minas Anor.
|Author:||Elora Starsong [ November 4th, 2017, 2:41 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards|
Gone so swiftly. Beregon would comment that it was too swiftly, as if Halvarin could not wait to get away and back to his Guild - Amarwen shook her head at the dark thrust of her thoughts. Halvarin’s haste was nothing more than that of a man with much to do. She turned back to the drawing still spread on the floor, pressed a sigh through her nose, and then crouched to roll it back up again. A week. Possibly a fortnight. And if he did not return what then? A second sigh at that as she straightened to her height. He would return and she had not made a grievous error in trusting him. But, no matter how firmly she told herself that, the questions returned to Amarwen time and again during the day. And each time they brought new doubts for company.
The hours of the day dragged as doubts and fears assailed her. The weather conspired, growing steadily damper and colder as the morning progressed. By midday, the library was so dark she had been forced to light the various sconces and it was this task that brought to Halvarin’s office door for a second time that day. She paused in the hall to study it. A simple lock, sturdy but not overly difficult to bypass. He’d know, of course, that it had been picked. No way to conceal that, but it was preferable to taking out one of the hinges. That was far more conspicuous.
It should have been a straight forward proposition, she knew. This was the office of a senior Guild officer. An office she knew would be unattended for a week. Maybe a fortnight. Still, she lingered in the hall and debated with herself all the same before she moved on to light the next sconce. As the day wound on and surrendered to night, still Amarwen’s debate did not resolve itself and she passed a second night as restlessly as the one before it.
Early the following morning, Michas thumped as loudly as he dared on the door to Lillleth’s quarters. It was well before dawn still but he did not wish to draw any unwelcome attention through his presence here. When there was no answer, he thumped again and then tried the door handle. To his surprise, it was unlocked and when he pushed it open he found that the room was dark. The hearth was cold. He held his lantern up and sure enough, it was empty.
With a curse, Michas lowered his arm as his mind raced. He closed the door again, turned on his heel and hastened for Halvarin’s study. Unlike Lilleth’s quarters, the door to the study was locked. He searched through his pockets for the key Halvarin had given him and opened the door on another empty, cold room.
Michas pressed into it all the same, closing and locking the door behind him. The study looked much as he recalled of it. Halvarin’s formal coat was gone, the man having worn it out of Osgiliath, but his other belongings were largely in place. He headed for Halvarin’s desk and set the lantern atop it amidst the various reports and papers there. Michas paid no mind to these, most of the reports having been written by himself in any case, and instead turned for the shelves behind Halvarin’s desk.
The shelves occupied the entire rear wall of the study and were filled with the leather bound tomes that were the city commander’s journal. Each held the minutiae of Osgiliath’s running and operation. Roads, wells, public buildings and sanitation. Mind numbing, as far as Michas was concerned, and not what he was looking for now. Instead, he knelt and pressed on a wooden panel at the base of the shelves. It sprang free and Michas reached within the narrow cavity. He groped about, finding naught but air within. For good measure, he fetched down the lantern but the light only confirmed what he had suspected the moment he had discovered Lilleth’s empty quarters.
The daggers that had been confiscated from her upon her arrest were gone and that meant only one thing. Michas sat back on his heels and cursed. He had agents trickling in from Minas Anor, each of them requiring his attention. He had a city to command in Halvarin’s absence and his own regiment to lead. There was no way he could go after Lilleth…and if something awful happened to her, he knew who Halvarin would look to.
He swallowed uncomfortably and replaced the wooden panel. Then he took up his lantern and slowly straightened. Michas turned about to face the length of the study again and his attention alighted on a map that had been spread out on the floor near the hearth. He strode towards it and sucked in a breath when he took in its title. Belas had been whispering of this for months now, the plans long in the making. A delicate, intricate raid that required precision, skill and no small amount of good fortune. And all those that might have the necessary knowledge were headed his way to Osgiliath, away from the intended objective.
Michas wiped a hand over his face as it all settled into place. She’d need a good deal more than the daggers Lilleth had reclaimed to accomplish this. Slowly, he crouched to roll the map up and then returned it to the pile of maps Halvarin kept by his armchair. He debated getting word to Halvarin in Minas Anor for a long moment before he shook his head. There was no way he could risk such a message being intercepted and in any case, it would likely be far too late by the time it reached Halvarin. Lillleth, whoever and whatever she might be, was on her own for this one. And if she accomplished it…well if she succeeded then she was everything Belas had said she was and more.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
As Michas shook his head in Halvarin’s study, Amarwen did the same as she crouched in a damp, fetid alley that offered a view of the shipyards at the Harlond. She’d known this would be ambitious but what choice did they have? The yards had to be fired, along with a goodly portion of Castamir’s fleet at anchor. They’d spent two long years letting him sink his coin into expanding his fleet. They’d gone to great care ensuring that his efforts to extend his naval force were largely unhindered. And now, with the Harlond almost bursting with newly constructed ships, their opportunity had come.
It would be a crippling blow against the usurper. He’d extended himself badly to reach this point, at great expense to his suffering people and his depleted treasury. Once it went up in flames it would take him years, possibly even a generation, to restore it. A very public defeat. A humiliation he would not be able to easily shake off. It would undermine his position within the Guild, possibly shake their support for him. It would erode his might once Eldacar launched his bid to re-take the throne. It would leave Castamir in a precarious position, one entirely of his own making.
And all the people she needed to make this happen were on their way to Pelargir or Osgiliath. Never mind that she’d be setting fire to some of the most beautiful ships she had ever beheld. So beautifully constructed, so clever in their design. And those that might be caught in the conflagration? War. It was filled with terrible choices, grim decisions. If she failed to seize this opportunity, the way may never be made for Eldacar’s return. Amarwen sighed heavily and closed her eyes. She knew what she was going to do even as her courage quailed at the enormity of it. Her father, were he here, would be appalled. Her mother, though…that daughter of Hydarmendacil…
Amarwen drew back from the mouth of the alley and deeper into the shadows that still held sway before dawn’s inevitable arrival. With a final lingering look at the shipyards, she turned her back on the vista and padded up through the alley. The one saving grace she had was that the plan, in its original form, had been her creature. With most of the nobles having either fled Gondor with Eldacar or perished in Castamir’s subsequent pogrom, there were few with the necessary understanding of such matters.
Granted, Amarwen had never been permitted to study at the Mariner’s Guild. Not for the lack of any interest, desire or skill. Nor for the absence of suitable backers and sponsors for Guild positions were highly sought after and expensive to secure. No, quite simply, such formal study had not been open to Amarwen simply because she was a daughter of a Mariner and not a son. The Guild did not train women. It was considered unseemly and Amarwen’s mother had been quite wroth with her father when it emerged that he had been encouraging her interest in his own profession.
The discovery that she could not follow her father’s shipwright path had been a blow to her at the time. Amarwen had recovered by throwing herself into pursuits that were open to her. She learned languages and the art of governing a people and a port. She learned history and politics and diplomacy and trade. She learned to hunt and to dance and play music. And secretly, she continued to seek out knowledge on the design and construction of ships. Sometimes she managed to win new books from her father, without her mother’s knowledge, but mostly she pulled whatever newfound knowledge Halvarin brought with him whenever he visited Edholland with his father.
Halvarin had chosen the path of a navigator, but his studies had included the intricacies of ship maintenance, repair and construction. All this knowledge had swirled together to develop this plan. Her plan. Now all she needed do was adjust it. Instead of twenty people, or even five, there would be one. The thought made her stomach flip. If she was going to do this she had to succeed. Better that she abandon it than fail. Thoughts still bouncing around her head, Amarwen slipped into the damp cellar she had taken up as her base in the Harlond and set to work redesigning her plan to cripple Castamir.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Beregon sat and stared at the dregs of his ale as he debated ordering another. With a resigned sigh, for the ale was sure to prove one of his poorer decisions that night, he lifted a hand to the harried lad that tended the tables for another. He leaned back in his chair, the struts at his back groaning under his weight, and considered the common room he was in. It was nothing particularly memorable. The ceiling was low and stained with smoke. The floor was pressed earth, muddy in some places. His fellow patrons were like him, down at heel, scraping a few coppers together for more dubious ale. The talk was quiet. Common rooms and taverns like these had once been abundant on the lowest level of the White City.
They had prospered before the outbreak of war, bolstered by those that came to trade their wares and services within Minas Anor. Now, that trade had all but withered and one by one the taverns and inns had begun to fall dark. Those that managed to keep their doors open had largely shifted to the relatively more lucrative trade that still functioned on this level but Beregon was in no mood for a brothel’s reception parlour. Too many of the City’s Watch and other officials and functionaries favoured such locations and it would not do to be recognised.
The lad slapped a fresh tankard of the liquid hell on offer at this inn and swiped up the empty one with a sour grunt. Beregon tossed the two coppers onto his dirty tray.
”What happened to your sister?” he asked and the lad scowled at him.
”Winter was hard,” he muttered before he was away again.
The tidings were not surprising. The toll of sickness here on the lowest levels had been particularly harsh this winter past. Beregon shook his head as the young lass’ face came to mind. She’d had a hard life and yet there’d still been a warm light to her brown eyes. As if her spirit laughed on through the grinding labour that was her lot in life. He wrapped his hand around the rough tankard, ignoring the bite of splinters in the pads of his fingers, and lifted it to his mouth. And then he grimaced in instant regret. The ale really was atrocious.
He pushed up from his seat, swiped his cloak from its peg by the door and swept through the door for the street below. Late as it was, the street was far from empty and Beregon had to shoulder his way through it. As he did so, his thoughts turned to the road ahead. Having mobilised the Minas Anor assets either to Pelargir or Osgiliath, he was to make for Edholland next where he would join with the men he had sent ahead. Tempting as it was to remain in Minas Anor longer, he had decided that it would not be worth the risk. Not when he recalled just how grim Marece had been when last they had spoken.
She would not hesitate to eliminate him if she thought he was a threat. She had said as much to him on their last encounter, a barely veiled threat that she had thrown down in the presence of that Guild Officer. Michas had described him as a good man and perhaps he was. Perhaps. A muscle in Beregon’s jaw feathered as he considered that encounter. The Officer had stood beside Marece, so closely as to place a hand in the curve of her back. Who had whom wrapped around their finger, he wondered and not for the first time and then grunted as a shoulder landed in the middle of his chest and drove air from his lungs.
He heard a muttered apology through his wheezing and for a moment he was buffeted by the press. It was only then that he realised just how crowded the streets were and so Beregon allowed himself to be pushed steadily towards Minas Anor’s tall, sturdy walls. He found a set of stairs and climbed up them, preparing his story for the guards that would await at their top. Only they were not there. Frowning, Beregon looked down along the wall to where the city gates were and found it empty. He turned about, scenting for the first time the distinct scent of smoke…and pitch. As he took in the ruddy orange glow that claimed the night sky over the Anduin, his eyes widened in shock. He stumbled along the wall and located a sizeable knot of guards, all gathered there to take in the stunning sight playing out before them. The Harlond burned.
A chill ran through Beregon’s blood as he took it in. Marece had been sharpening her claws for it for years now but there was no way she could have done this. All her people had been shuffled away from Minas Anor and she was practically locked up in Osgiliath…as his thoughts ran, his eyes followed the dark seam that was the Anduin at night. Beyond the limit of the fire, it swiftly disappeared into the night to the north. Towards Osgiliath. He turned his attention back to the Harlond. Already the City Watch and Guild were swarming down the road towards the burning shipyards.
Beregon swallowed for if Marece was down there still…
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Amarwen hunched her shoulders by the wall she sat against. Her face and hands were black with soot and smoke and her eyes still watered. Each breath felt like fire and coughing fits wracked her lungs and left her gasping and weak as a kitten. In short, she was little different to the forty or so others they had rounded up with her. One by one the City Watch was interrogating them, imperiously watched over by a Guild Officer. This one had a hatchet nose and iron had touched the hair at his temples. She doubted he missed a single word that was uttered but thus far he had written down little and asked not a single question of his own.
There was a small family seated next to her. They were young, a babe still in arms, and they had been plucked out of their beds in the middle of the night and shoved in here with the rest of them. The young man looked like he couldn’t decide whether to weep or rail but the woman, rocking the child in her arms, looked like she wanted to tear someone’s throat out. With her teeth. Amarwen watched as two more of the City Watch ordered them to their feet. They shuffled over to where the questioning had been set up as those they replaced were escorted to the door. Some had been escorted, some had been allowed to leave of their own volition. She didn’t recognise any of the faces beneath the soot and so she’d found it difficult to discern whether there was a pattern to this.
”You, you’re next,” one of the guards snapped at her, fatigue bruising the skin under his eyes.
His partner scowled at her, ”You alone?”
“Yes,” she answered, voice hoarse after all the smoke and coughing.
The guard shook his head and turned to his companion, ”This is ridiculous.”
“Orders is orders.”
“Still ridiculous,” he muttered truculently, ”One woman didn’t burn down the shipyards.”
“They said everyone.”
As the two guards debated amongst themselves, the family’s interrogation had ended. They’d been permitted to leave without an escort, which they did so hurriedly. She hoped that their home, which they undoubtedly rushed home to check on, had not been caught up in the fire. She’d done what she could on that front.
”On your feet, girl,” the guard muttered and she struggled to stand.
The effort doubled her over in a coughing fit and so the two men took up an arm and carried her over to be questioned. Amarwen was dumped unceremoniously in a chair still gasping for air.
”Name?” a bored officer of the City Watch asked.
”Rose,” she croaked as she pushed herself upright.
”Show me your hands, Rose,” came then next bored request.
Amarwen complied, offering up both hands for inspection. A guard turned her hands about this way and that, leaning back so that the Guild officer could see for himself.
”No burns,” the officer noted as he dropped her wrists, ”Why were you at the docks?”
“I was looking for Da.”
As she had hoped, this made the Guild officer’s attention sharpen on her.
”Your father’s name and occupation, girl?”
Amarwen offered a common name and told them that her father caught crabs to sell at the markets. That she was clad in little more than rags only confirmed the ruse for there was precious little to be made from selling crabs. The Guild Office canted his head and leaned forward to finally address her.
”And does your Da often stay out late at night?”
She shook her head emphatically, ”We’ve no coin for ale or dice!”
The officer narrowed his hooded eyes at her for a long moment and then leaned back in his chair. He flicked his hand at her and the City Watch officers jerked their heads at the only way in and out of this place. Amarwen rose from the rickety chair uncertainly and when they impatiently gestured that she should leave, she stumbled for the door without an escort.
Could it really be as simple as that, she wondered as she reached the door and pushed through it. They’d yet to bring the fire under control and she could still feel the heat pulsing through the night air as she emerged into it. She squinted, picking out the darker shapes of men trying to quell the conflagration. On the one hand she should be proud. Victorious even, but she could not ignore the twisting of her stomach. Some of those burning ships had been occupied. Others would perish in their battle with the flames.
Granted, they were men that would happily hunt her down and execute her as a traitor, but they were still men. Men that had no say in who was their King. Men following orders. Men with families. And she…what as she now? A traitor. A rebel. A burner of ships. A – hand seized her forearm and pulled her hard to one side and around the corner of the building she had emerged from. Amarwen sucked a sharp, startled breath down her ravaged throat too swiftly and fell into a racking fit of coughing as she was hauled through the buildings, away from the waterfront.
|Author:||Elora Starsong [ November 4th, 2017, 2:42 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: Kin - Strife of Gondor: III 1436 onwards|
Minas Anor ~ March 1439
A slow, steady rain sat heavily over Minas Anor at Halvarin’s arrival. The dreary weather did not, however, appear to stop any from attending to their business at the markets just within the city gates. After clearing the White City’s gates, Halvarin hastened for an inn he knew of on the fourth tier. The Shroud of Varda sat at the top of the rampart to that level and it suited his purposes well for he was not yet ready to face his peers up on the sixth tier. He required a glass of reasonable wine first and the opportunity to gather his thought. A plain cloak covered his uniform and the weather was such that no one would expect him to remove it.
In short order Halvarin had settled into a chair at the small table where he could lean against one of the inn’s oaken pillars.
”A wonder they haven’t stripped this place to build a ship,” he mused to himself as his eye ran over the timber structure that supported the inn.
That they would dismantle buildings so as to supply timber for ships was a troubling thought indeed, he knew, but he knew these were troubled times. So troubled that Halvarin feared that he might never see peace. His wine arrived at as his thoughts turned to what that might mean. If peace was beyond their reach for the rest of his days, what hope was there for him…and Amarwen? He took a deep draught of wine at that and pushed her from his thoughts. A necessary thing, for he had to prepare himself what waited on the sixth level. Halvarin drained his wine and pushed to his feet, expression set in grim lines seen on many faces in the White City. He was ready.
The Mariner’s Guild had a house on the sixth level that Halvarin knew well. It was, in fact, more of a complex of buildings. Some housed the Guild’s recruits. Some provided rooms for the Guild’s officers, particularly the cadre stationed here at all times. There was an entire wing for the senior Guildsmen, folk such as his father. This sat dark and cold, for few of the Guild’s most senior order were in the White City now.
The sentry at the gate to all of this admitted Halvarin with a respectful nod once the man had sighted Halvarin’s Guild pin. Each graduate of the Guild had one, the pin varying according to the man’s particular discipline. Halvarin’s was a star, the mark of the Navigators, and chased in a fine line of gold to mark his status as a Master Navigator. Masters of any discipline were not left haggling for entry at the gates but the sentry’s wide eyes had more to do with the fact that Master Navigators were in short order. He turned to watch Halvarin’s progress towards the main building for a moment before he turned back to his duty.
Within the main hall, several men gathered around a large table. Unsurprising in the least as Halvarin had never seen that table without company in all his years with the Guild. His running joke with Michas as a recruit was that the Guild rostered on men to ensure the table was always attended. Just who you had to displease to earn such a dreary duty, and for what infraction, was something he and Michas had long speculated over between themselves. All harmless banter between two young men that had soured in the months leading up to Eldacar’s overthrow.
Halvarin no longer looked at that table with mild amusement for it was around that table that men such as Castamir had inflamed hatred and loathing of the Northmen. Castamir had not been alone in that and his cunning mind and powerful ability to persuade would not have been enough. No, it had not been Castamir to depose the king. Rather, it had been Castamir and his like minded Guildsmen to bring down the line of kings. Men like Halvarin’s father. The table was a bitter reminder of that disastrous turn of events now but the men gathered at it were not fomenting treason now. Rather, they were studying maps and reports and drawings of ships and talking, talking, endlessly talking.
Largely unnoticed, Halvarin shucked off his damp cloak and handed it to a maid-servant. Then he absently brushed off his uniform coat, studying those at the table in a bid to identify them. That he could only recognise one face was worrisome for it underscored just how isolated he had become in Osgiliath. It was that one man that looked up at Halvarin’s approach.
”Halvarin! A fine surprise to see you with us once more! Have you been released of your duties in Osgiliath?”
“No Captain. I’m here for a short time only,” Halvarin replied as he grasped Captain Silares’s hand.
Halvarin had served under Silare as Chief Navigator on a voyage to Umbar. Difficult as that had been in the terrible aftermath of Edholland, Halvarin had developed respect for the man. Silare seemed to be able to keep the Guild’s politics clear of his seafaring, no mean feat insofar as Halvarin could determine. However, the fact that he had found Silare here had Halvarin wondering at what had lured the man off the deck to Minas Anor. He was not left to wonder long for Silare was swift in answering his unspoken question
”As am I,” Silare answered, inclining his silver head at Halvarin, ”Brought in four new ships up to be commissioned after their shakedown. Lots of men in town. I dare say you saw them in the taverns on the lower levels.”
“No sir, I made straight for the Fourth,” Halvarin replied, then added, ”There is roughness enough in the ruins of Osgiliath.”
Silares nodded, ”Of course. Gondor’s glorious capital has fallen hard in recent years.”
“I do what I can with what I have... My requests for additional aid have received little by way of response and so here I am, to plead the case in person.”
Silares’ smiled faded at Halvarin’s serious expression and settled into a twist of his lips that was more grim resignation than good cheer.
He drew closer, ”It is doubtful you will find willing ears. Most of the treasury has been used for building of ships and ports in the south.”
Halvarin’s brows lifted at this and Silares pressed on, ”Even rebellious Edholland got their port rebuilt. Alas, our river cities do not fare as well but spare a thought for the inland provinces. It goes harder yet there.”
Halvarin sighed unhappily at this and offered Silares a grateful nod for the information before he turned back to those gathered around a large map spread on the table. Amarwen had spoken of just how grim it was but he had been inclined to think that perhaps her report was coloured by her vehement opposition to Castamir. But if Silares, a man who holds himself apart from the realm’s politics said things went poorly, then Halvarin could not help but take him at his word. He rubbed a hand over the dark bristles along his jaw and listened to the talk of those around him.
They spoke of new ships and ports, including the restoration of the grand port at Umbar. It had been a marvel once, in an age ago, but had been left to decay more recently. No more, it would seem and Halvarin heard of the great strides Castamir had made there. Conflict with the local peoples was inevitable at Umbar. They had no love for the descendants of Numenor who had come from the ocean many generations ago and pushed them from their best land. For all of that, though, Halvarin listened on the claims that some of the fierce Haradrim tribes had even sworn fealty to Castamir. Unlikely, Halvarin thought, but that did not mean that some of the tribes had not allied themselves to Castamir.
The fighting had, reportedly, pushed well inland and great tracts of hardwood forests had been secured – at a price. It always came at a price. As Castamir forged ahead in Harad, Gondor declined. Governance was eroding. Roads and bridges were crumbling. The great storage houses for essential food and sustenance were falling apart. That which was spoilt as a result, or stolen away, and thus when the harvest failed as it had this past year the suffering was immense.
There were reports that the rebels were destroying the store houses, stealing their contents and then distributing it to the starving populace. A cruel yet effective tactic if true for the local authorities had exactly what Halvarin had in Osgiliath – nothing. They could do nothing to aid their people, save collect Castamir’s taxes. Whilst the rebels handed out food and hope, Castamir gathered his taxes and little of that came back to the people taxed. Not when there were ships to build. As for the Guild, they did what they could which was little indeed. For the Guild was Castamir’s just as he was theirs.
As Halvarin stood there listening to this, he found himself wondering just how many of them were surprised that Castamir had eyes only for the south and the ships it could provide him. How many were disheartened, he wondered, at the Ship King’s reign.
Beside him, Silares spoke up from time to time, but Halvarin mostly kept his silence. He nodded every now and again lest anyone think he wasn’t paying attention, and studied the map. The northern defences were clearly marked upon it and it occurred to Halvarin that the fact Castamir largely ignored these was likely a blessing of sorts. He’d clearly drawn his defensive lines well south of Minas Anor. The new fort on the road south out of Harlond seemed Castamir’s northernmost outpost. The road crossing of the Erui River was also fortified, with defensive forts set across Lossanarth from there to the end of the White Mountains and along the southern bank of the Erui to the Anduin. But there were more forts under construction north of these places. A line of forts were set just south of Minas Anor where the White Mountains reached the closest to the River Anduin, and Emyn Arnen reached the river on the east side in Ithilien.
Halvarin eyed Ithilien but saw nothing marked there. It struck him as incongruous for surely Castamir’s advisors had to know that Ithilien could be used to attack to the south as well as the west. He hated to consider it, but when he got back to Osgiliath, he would have to send Michas out to study south through Ithilien. The lands were dangerous. Michas himself had reported how bold the Easterling raiders had become and Halvarin was loathe to put good men in harm’s way…yet, if they could report back on what they found in the southern lands of Ithilien…His thoughts came to a sharp end at the sound of his name and Halvarin looked up from the map he had been studying.
”Halvarin, come to Harlond with me and see the new ships,” Silares said to him, ”Your old ship is there and it would be good, I think, to get you by or on the water again.”
The captain eyed Halvarin for a moment, ”I can see about your current assignment too. Experienced navigators are in short supply these days and I cannot understand why they have you ashore and languishing in Osgiliath.”
Oh, to be out on the sea again and beyond the deadly politics that seemed to grip this land. Halvarin could not deny a sharp, sudden yearning, and yet he mastered himself all the same.
“My orders came from the Guild Masters themselves, at a meeting in this very room. I will do my best until I receive orders elsewhere,” he answered, aware that Silares was not the only one listening.
His captain nodded, a knowing gleam in his eye and Halvarin tilted his head, ”Would it be wishful thinking, do you think, to request funding for the quays to be improved in East Osgiliath?”
Silares’ flashed him a brief grin and turned away from Halvarin back to the table. With that confirmation that his change in strategy just might succeed, Halvarin retired to one of the Guild’s staterooms to rest. There he quickly re-wrote his request in a form that Castamir’s men would find difficult to ignore. He settled in that night with his spirits strangely buoyed and woke early the next morning to venture to the second tier. It was here that Minas Anor kept its public messenger offices and Halvarin was relieved to see that it still functioned despite the absence of funding.
The postmaster was a bureaucrat from the old scheme, a curmudgeon of man few dared to cross, and so Halvarin felt reasonably assured that the three letters he entrusted would reach their intended recipients more or less without being read. Each bore twin seals, that of Gondor and the Mariners Guild, in hopes that the messages and the men that carried them would be let to pass safely. One Halvarin sent south to father who was reported to be in Pelargir, or was sailing from there. The send Halvarin dispatched to the Prince of Dol Amroth. The elderly postmaster did not even twitch a whisker at so prominent a recipient as that. The third message Halvarin dispatched to Michas in Osgiliath. That third was, perhaps, the most significant for it was his one hope of getting word out should he himself be unable to return to Osgiliath. Provided, of course, that Michas still recalled the rudimentary code they’d developed in their academy days.
With that done, Halvarin returned to the Guild House on the sixth teir and spent the next three days filing various reports and requests for funding. Always, in each of them, for East Osgiliath. As for Amarwen, or Osgiliath’s new librarian Lilleth, he used the cache he had built up in Minas Anor over the years to fund a stipend. It should, he estimated, obtain for her services for a few months. Then there was the matter of his posting. Despite Captain Silares’ desire to see him aship, despite his own yearning for the freedom of the sea, Halvarin truly hoped to remain in Osgiliath.
But Halvarin could not tell Silares why this was and Silares would ask for the notion that any Mariner would prefer to remain ashore indefinitely was sufficiently strange as to make the question an obvious one. Silares had influence in the Guild. It was entirely possible that he could sway those here to alter Halvarin’s posting. The Guild was painfully short of Navigators and his presence ashore as a Master Navigator was unusual. All he could do was wait and watch on that front and so Halvarin put his time to use. There was much to see and hear and there were discussions of his own that he very much wanted to have.
He committed to memory as much as he could for this was the first time he was here with his new allegiance. Belatedly, Halvarin realised that he should have asked Amarwen of who he might entrust to relay information back to her…but then again, perhaps it was for the best that he didn’t. No matter what happened with his posting, he’d have to return to Osgiliath to settle things and handover to his replacement, something he did not get. He could convey anything of import to Amarwen then…and then leave her behind… An uncomfortable notion, that, and a new one. Halvarin had never before found himself looking back to shore.
On the third day, Halvarin accompanied Silares down to the Harlond to look over the new ships moored there. He walked through the first three, noting the young officers who proudly stood at their stations. He lingered with the navigators in particular, providing the sort of tips and insights he knew he would have appreciated in their stead and in all Halvarin found himself impressed with what he saw. Still, these were only low draught ships able to navigate the river and coastal shorelines. At best, they could range only several nautical miles from land and had not the strength nor depth to withstand the raw majesty of open ocean.
Rumor had it, Halvarin heard, that the mightier of the new ships were docked at Pelargir under his father’s watchful eye. For all of that, Halvarin found what he saw impressive to his eye and he wondered, should they venture to Osgiliath, if he might be able to find passage on one. This question he took to Silares but the man shook his head.
”As much as I would like to test the ships upstream to Osgiliath, I’m afraid you must disembark at first light. The full crew board this night and as much I wish you to join us, no new orders have come. You’re bound for Osgiliath by other means, lad.”
Halvarin nodded at this and turned to consider the westering sun. It threw an orange glow along the bellies of the low clouds.
”As much as I year to be upon the water again, I know my day will come. I have much to do to keep the capital of Gondor. Though funding is sparse, I have good people working on it. The Jewel of Gondor will again shine.”
“I do not doubt that it will, my friend. For now, though, dine with me upon the Yellowfin. Your old ship is still much as you left it.”
Halvarin grasped Silares’ hand, ”I will indeed be there ere sundown.”
Halvarin walked off the ship, moving carefully so as to avoid the returning crewmen. Their chatter suggested that they’d enjoyed their leave here and he listened to them talk of what lay ahead as the coming months took them south. Halvarin disappeared down a narrow street to the Harlond market and there he purchased an old plain dark green cloak. Similar in style to that favoured by Ithilien’s Ranger, this one was well worn and faded. He wrapped himself in it to conceal his uniform and wandered about, observing the Harlond. There was, he though, an edge to the air though he could say why he thought this. Sifting about the markets, he settled at a café with a cup of strong Haradian tea. He kept his hood low and he watched and waited.
It was when he had finished his tea and the shadows were growing long in the dimming light that he noticed some people moved differently. The Harlond was a place strongly aligned with Castamir and it would take a brave if not foolish rebel to operate here. Yet, he could see people that reminded him of those he had seen in Osgiliath. Amarwen had only just recently re-set the board, as she described it, but she’d sent the Osgiliath forces to Edholland, not here to Harlond or Minas Anor. He squinted at the vaguely familiar faces and then shook his head. He was reading too much into it and so Halvarin finished his tea and returned to the quay to search out the Yellowfin.
The Yellowfin occupied the southernmost dock, one of the oldest ships moored there yet still impressive. Still, as his eyes roamed back to the newer ships, if had the coin used to build just one of these then he could have had Osgiliath cleared of rubble. Perhaps some of the stonework repaired too. Halvarin nodded to the watchman at the base of the Yellowfin’s gangplank and ascended it. He paused once on deck, looking about, until one of the men assigned the night watch approached him.
”I am not your captain, I know, “ Halvarin said as he peered about, ”But keep your eyes wide tonight. Could be nothing, but if there’s trouble then have the men ready to throw the lines as quickly as you can.”
“What have you heard?” The old seaman asked, looking at the ship’s rail and mooring points.
Halvarin looked with him to the new ship next to them, ”Likely nothing… What do you know of the new crews?”
The old seaman looked at the new timbers moving not far from them and said, ”Mostly green, a small cadre of veterans among them save from Yellowfin. She’s kept most of her crew. The others, though, have new captains, new navigators…only the executive officers have any experience under their belts.”
A tried and true method, Halvarin knew, save for the captains. Why new captains, he wondered, keeping the question to himself.
He clapped the old seaman on the back, ”As I said, probably nothing. You have a good watch, sailor.”
He turned for the Captain’s quarters next, the old seaman squinting at the world suspiciously. More than once an experienced’ officer’s instinct had saved his hide in the past and he was loathe to dismiss the counsel of a Master Navigator…even if the Navigator’s were notoriously loathe to get their hands dirty when it came down to bloodshed. Scholars and bookworms the lot of them as a general rule but still…He turned from his inspection to bark at his fellow sailors. It might be nothing, as the Navigator said, but if it wasn’t then he’d be damned if they weren’t ready for it.
The night’s fare was excellent and the slight rocking of the ship had Halvarin’s sea legs back as if he had never left. The hour grew late as he and Silares spoke and in the safety of his own cabin, Silares allowed some of his frustration at the direction of things to show. Still, for all of that, Silares was an unshakeable man of the Guild. He might think little of Castamir’s decisions, but Halvarin knew that Silares would follow Castamir to the end. And so, he disclosed nothing of his own shift and when Halvarin stood to take his leave he did so knowing that this would likely be the last time he would see his old captain.
They walked out to the upper deck rail to say their farewell when they heard a commotion near the ships moored to the north of them. Men began to yell, panic spreading as the night sky turned yellow. Fire. If anything was more feared than sinking on a ship it was fire. Silares drew breath to command they cast off but released it when he realised that the lines had already been released. He shifted his order to direct the helmsman to steer the ship clear as the river’s current began to drag them along.
Releasing the lines were one thing, drawing up the anchors quite to other and so the Yellowfin and all upon her were at the mercy of the currents as the ship dragged at her anchors. They were brought up just as the ship next to them exploded into flame. Halvarin, shielding his face with a hand, marked a shadow running along the shore. That shadow threw a burning ball of pitch at them next. It hit the bow and liquid fire streamed down the timbers. Acrid smoke arose and filled the air, but Halvarin thought he saw the shadow disappear down an alley ashore as their crew started fire suppression.
The new ships burned as they were tethered to the docks for the inexperienced crews could not contain the fire spreading over their decks. The Yellowfin managed to get away from the dock but the hurried raising of the aft anchor while the ship was moving damaged the rudder. As a result, the ship drifted downstream and ran aground on a sandbar on the east side of the river. The fire on the Yellowfin only caused superficial damage, but had the shadow pursued them, they could have been thoroughly ablaze once pinned on that sandbar. The other four ships burned out of control as the crew of the Yellowfin worked to stabilize the grounded ship. And then, the screaming of dying men floated down the air to where they stood.
”Get some oarsmen in that dinghy! I see men jumping in the river. Get them as they come by if you can!” Silares bellowed and Halvarin raced to command the dinghy.
The boat was lowered just in time to help a couple badly burned men into the boat. A couple more came by who could still swim, but many were dead. In time the screams fell away, and the bodies quit flowing by. Only debris from the burning ships now flowed past. They had gotten nine men in their boat, but three would not likely live to see the day. The new ships burned down to the water line, and the ropes burned off and they sank into a smoky hiss as first light started to break over the Shadow Mountains. But the docks and some of the supply sheds had caught fire from the embers. The fire would be hard to check in the old quay, and it kept Harlond shrouded in a smoky haze that would last the day.
Come the dawn they took stock of the damage done. The four new ships had been lost, the Yellowfin run aground and damaged along with two smaller river ferries. As for the buildings, a tavern along the water’s edge had been lost, three docks were structurally unsound and five storage sheds had been lost. Halvarin thought as he brought the injured men up to Harlond in the dinghy that Castamir’s eye would be brought north by this act. And, even as he thought this, his eye tracked the City Watch marshalling up civilians for questioning. Suspects in causing the fire they said but Halvarin though it much more likely that they were merely innocents caught up in the City Watch’s response to this attack.
The Watch divided them into groups and Halvarin went from each to each to listen to the questioning. None, he thought, could have set such fires or wrought such devastation. But then the voice of a woman, strained by smoke and ask, gave him pause. Careful to conceal his presence, Halvarin stood for a moment at the door behind her but it was not long before the Guild Officer marked his presence. At this, he waved the woman off and when she turned about Halvarin drew back in surprise as he took in Amarwen’s presence.
To be bold as to come here herself…she must have expected him to not return to Osgiliath. He sighed as he threw his worn green cloak over his shoulders for getting her out would be nigh on impossible now after the attack but when he looked up again Amarwen had vanished from sight as if she had never been there. He looked up and down, searching for any place she might have tucked herself into but she was truly gone…and he could not look for her now.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Amarwen was pulled swiftly through the alleys and past abandoned buildings, further and further from the water’s edge. Once they were well clear of the dock, she was pulled into building that had been fired many years before. It was here her wrist was released.
”You have struck a mighty blow against the Usurper but his wrath will be swift and harsh. You must flee, Merece!”
It was a voice she did not recognise and the counsel to flee was unwise to say the least. The Guild would be particularly vigilant for anything suspicious now, and fleeing the scene was precisely the sort of thing to draw their eye.
”Who are you?” she asked of her hooded companion, aware that this could be a ruse in itself.
”Names matter not. I only know yours for we worked together, for a time, at the tavern.”
Far from helpful, Amarwen thought, for she’d lost count of the taverns and inns she’d worked in. Her companion drew closer and Amarwen tensed herself.
”You have been my inspiration and there are many more Soldiers of Eldacar here. We fight for the return of our one true King!”
Soldiers of Eldarcar? Zealots…unreliable…messy…poorly disciplined…Amarwen rubbed at her brow and hoped that this batch fared better than those before them. Best to keep them isolated, though, contained. Keep them acting independently…yes, just the sort of confusion she needed. Weary as she was, Amarwen rubbed at her eyes and regretted that immediately. She was covered in ash and soot.
”Where do you need to go? We can get you there, but we must hurry.”
“Osgiliath, and yes, as soon as possible,” she answered, revising her initial thoughts for the sooner she was away from this ragged band the better.
Her companion nodded, and in doing so, a lock of hair come free. Pale it was, golden blonde, and it was quickly tucked back under the hood.
”Come! I know a way!”
The two made their way toward Minas Anor in the smoky fog that had shrouded the city. Before they got to the market district outside the walls, a light drizzle fell. Wary as she was of her companion, she had little option for now but to trust to her. Definitely a her, Amarwen thought, and her trust proved well placed for she was soon concealed in a wagon beneath a load of dry goods with three others. A wagon bound for Osgiliath. The false bottom of the wagon was a tight squeeze for four people, particularly with heavy flour sacks stacked over their heads. It was hard to breath, but a small crack in the wood near the side of her head allowed slight relief from the stale air and gave just a bit of light. And in any case, it was preferable to the alternatives.
At the check point, established recently to intercept anyone trying to flee suspicious fires, Amarwen listened to the driver as he was questioned. She head a distinct southern accent in his voice and after a moment placed it: Pelargir! This came as no small surprise for Pelargir was one of Castamir’s strongholds. Not a strong, it seemed, as Castamir thought and they feared. And so, despite her current straits, Amarwen smiled in what felt like the first time in months. Her thoughts had already turned to how she might reach possible spies in Castamir’s court at Pelargir by the time the wagon trundled through Osgiliath’s gates.
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