Kin-Strife

Discussion in 'The Glittering Caves' started by Elora, Jul 9, 2017.

  1. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

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    That the office door was locked troubled Halvarin. He was puzzling over it as he unlocked it with his own set of keys and stopped, aghast at what he found. Sarael lay beneath Mardil on the floor, surround by a pool of congealing blood. Sarael laboured for breath and he knelt to roll Mardil off her. Halvarin lifted her out of the blood and eased her on his desk.

    Sarael grabbed at Halvarin as he set her down, her speech rasped.

    ”The baby… it comes… he knows…”

    Halvarin brought water to her from a nearby jug. Sarael took it from him, drinking deeply and wincing as she did so. He could see livid marks appearing on her neck. The shape of a man’s fingers.

    ”What happened here?” he asked solemnly as he went to lock the door once more.

    Sarael coughed and drank again, ”Merece sent me to find you and Mardil attacked me. You have been discovered. Mardil said I was the first to be arrested.“

    “I’ll take you back to the house-”
    Halvarin replied and assisted Sarael to her feet for she was still unsteady after the assault she had fought off.

    They got a few steps closer to the door when it was kicked in. Two men rushed forward brandishing bared swords. When they saw Mardil dead on the floor, one moved toward Halvarin and Sarael. Halvarin let Sarael’s legs slip to the floor and he grabbed and threw his knife, hitting the man in the neck. Blood spewed out as he gurgled, gripping at the knife in his throat. The other man paused and crouched defensively. Halvarin noted the pin he had, and remembered where he saw it before. Black Scouts!

    Sarael stepped back and leaned against Halvarin’s desk as the Castamirian spoke.

    ”Halvarin, you are hereby relieved of your command, and are under arrest for sedition, and for murder of two of the King’s men…”

    Halvarin dived down to Mardil when he heard the sound of a sword meeting flesh. The blade punched through and out the man’s front. Halvarin jumped back up having retrieved the knife pulled from Mardil’s side.

    Sarael called out, ”Michas!”

    “Come, we have no time!”
     
  2. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

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    Michas waved for Halvarin and Sarael to leave as two more men watched outside the door. Halvarin passed Sarael the knife he had retrieved, then picked up his knife and the sword that the Black Scout had dropped. He helped Sarael to the door as she was still trying to breath. In the hall, Michas offered a scant report of the rapidly unfolding situation.

    ”We have been compromised, at last. The Usurper's loyalists rise. You and your family are in grave peril!”

    As they moved along the hall, some men came down from the direction of Halvarin’s house. They paused upon sighting Michas and Halvarin both. They were out of breath and flushed, as if they had sprinted.

    One said, ”We tried to reach to your house, Lord Commander, but there were too many. We fought them but could not get through. They’ve taken your wife!”

    This hit Halvarin like a physical blow. The dread he felt tasted of old iron, thick on his tongue.

    “Mindacil! Did they take him?” Sarael asked as Halvarin tried to push past the soldiers.

    He paused when more soldiers came, one carrying Mindacil, ”This one is clever. He found his way out unnoticed.”

    Halvarin wrapped his arms around his son and held him close, breathing him in, as Sarael plucked at his sleeve.

    ”Merece! She sent me to you because she thought the baby comes,” she said in a low, urgent voice.

    Overhearing this, Michas blanched and he looked to the officer that had found Halvarin’s son. Halvarin kissed the young boy, who whilst relieved to be in his father’s arms, was clearly frightened by what he had observed unfold. With great difficulty, he passed Mindacil to Sarael. The boy went to her gladly, for she was another friendly, loved face amongst so many grim men. She smoothed his dark hair and Halvarin wiped his hands over his face. That Amarwen had been taken, possibly in labour, was enough to make him shake.

    ”They couldn’t have taken her far!” he said. ”Let’s go!”

    The officer shook his head. ”We can’t get back there. Their numbers are yet too many, and ours too few.”

    Michas met his old friend’s anguished gaze. ”The city erupts and chaos will soon reign in the streets. The moment has come when each man of Gondor must choose with who they stand. Come Halvarin, the men who stand for the return of Eldacar need their leadership! The Castamirians are not so many in Minas Anor that the city will fall. And it would seem that those Black Scouts were not all dealt with.”

    The sound of clashing steel was drawing steadily closer and Halvarin knew they could not hold there for long. He and his family had been targeted, but it seemed Mardil had set things in motion. Plans meticulously crafted and laid in preparation for just this moment. They retreated down the causeway to a part of the city that Michas’s men had secured.
     

  3. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

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    ”WHERE IS MY SON?!”

    A thick oak door, reinforced with blackened, rusty metal bolts, slammed into place. She was sealed into a tiny cell that was dark and persistently cold, despite the season outside. Amarwen prowled, frantic with fear. Where was Mindacil? He’d winkled away in the chaos. Where was Halvarin? Had they snared him as well? She’d let the household go, declaring the risk they were all in. Some had spat in her face but so many more had remained. Doughty. Determined not to run like scared rats. Had one of them gotten Mindacil to safety? Had they slipped free?

    She rubbed at her lower back. It was stubbornly aching. Michas would know what to do. She knew that. They’d been over it so many times. Firstly, they needed to secure the positions along the river. Then word had to be gotten south to Pelargir – otherwise her uncle and Silares would not know to put out for sea and the positions she had established there would not be hardened for combat. She meant to take out as much of the Usurper’s powerful navy as she could. That son of a misbegotten troll would not have the river either. Not this time.

    Then there was Osgiliath. Had the advance forces landed there yet? She hoped so, for they’d need to secure that to launch on the rest of the realm. Most of her plans had not factored on being so swiftly arrested. She hoped she had told enough to others to counteract this development. Michas and Halvarin would know what to do here. Vinyarion and his father were poised in Osgiliath and Minas Ithil respectively. She had done everything she had to do. All she needed to do now is remain calm and deliver the child she carried before they broke her. For they would. She knew that for a certainty.

    Where was Mindacil? She had meant to have him well clear of Minas Anor at this juncture. Safely in Sarael’s keeping, for there were few others she would entrust with such an undertaking, and on his way out of this. Not Edhellond, of course, for that is the first place they would go once they broke her. No, Calambel – a sleepy little hamlet where a woman travelling with a young boy might be taken in. Halvarin and she had discussed it at length and were agreed. He’d see it done, if he still had his freedom and Sarael had hers.

    Out, beyond the heavy door of her little cell, Amarwen could hear commotion. Shouting, cursing. Someone was fighting against their arrest. She heard the din pick up in cells around her. Like a pack of dogs, baying, they were. It made her shudder but soon she threw her voice in with theirs.

    ”WHERE IS MY SON? WHERE IS MY SON?”
     
  4. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

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    The cells were packed and still more were flooding in. There was fighting in the streets. Brawls and riots for the most, yet between that and the arrest of the Lord Commander’s household, there was scarcely room to swing a cat. That one of the prisoner’s was a heavily pregnant woman was the least of his concerns. Rather, he was preoccupied with keeping the walls and gates of the prison intact. There had been several attempts on both once the sun set and it was not yet midnight.

    Pushing out a sigh, the man responsible for the prison looked up when his door opened. He saw, immediately, two men. Both were Black Scouts and he pushed to his feet and hoped his distaste was not immediately apparent. They entered, cold eyes flicked this way and that, before settling on him.

    ”Keys,” one said, voice dull with disinterest. His fingers fumbled to free them from his belt. They jangled as he handed them across his desk to the man that had demanded them.

    ”Out,” said the other, similarly apathetic, and he scurried out of the door, eager to quit his office and put distance between himself and the Black Scouts.

    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

    He shuffled the keys one by one until he found the one he was after. He fit it to the lock and turned it. A metallic squeal as he pulled the door open. The only light there was came from the guttering torches outside the cell. It revealed a stone floor strewn with rotting straw. There was movement in the deeper shadows and then a voice.

    ”WHERE IS MY SON?”

    Correct cell confirmed, he stood aside to clear the door. A pause, for the woman within was not a fool. Once caution was served, he saw the hem of her skirts and then the prisoner herself. Her expression could be described in one word: murderous. Though she was heavy with child, he felt his hand fall to the hilt of his sword. Her eyes fell to the pin he wore.

    He said nothing as he jerked his head to the hall. Eying him as if he were a snake ready to strike, the prisoner eased out of the cell. Once there he watched her mark out the various points of entry. She stiffed as he took her elbow in a firm grip and hauled her along to the office they had appropriated. He pushed her into it and sealed the door after him.

    ”Mistress Merece, you look as though you would appreciate a chair.”

    “I want nothing from the likes of you,”
    the prisoner returned, her tone haughty as any princess.

    ”Not even an update on the whereabouts of your son?”

    Her chin lowered a little and he saw her hands curl and uncurl at her sides.

    ”I wish I could tell you, put your mind to ease. We will continue to search for him. Couldn’t have a boy of such tender years wandering the now dangerous streets. We’re looking for your husband too, as it so happens. The charges against him are egregious. What sort of man lets his wife bear the brunt of justice meant for him? His very pregnant wife. How far along are you?”

    Again her hands curled and uncurled. The prisoner said nothing.

    ”I’d say eight…if not nine months. Has the babe dropped yet?” Still no response. ”Matters not. All I need do is wait. Until it comes. Until you find yourself alone, in the darkness. Screaming.”

    The prisoner lifted her chin again and his fellow Black Scout turned away with a shrug.

    ”Presuming you both survive, the whelp with you, I will take it too. I will take everything, Mistress Marece. Where is your husband?”

    The prisoner sucked in a deep breath and hissed, ”Go to hell.”

    “I rather think it will come to you and in short order too. Enjoy.”


    The initial questioning concluded, he returned the prisoner to her dark cell, careful to secure the door. This was one prisoner that could not be permitted to escape.
     

  5. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

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    The Viper kept his position without breaking cover. Inwardly, though, he was railing like a common sailor. This was all kinds of a mess. He’d had a deal with Aldamir’s woman to take out every last Black Scout. A deal he had clearly failed to deliver on and near as he could tell the consequences of that failure were dire. Heads would roll. Most likely his and he had an attachment to his own head. What a mess. But, then, given the unrest in the streets…If he fed the right people the truth – that a heavily pregnant woman was held prisoner, to be interrogated mercilessly…that her son was missing…why, it was a perfect outrage. How better to illustrate the cruelty to those as yet undecided.

    And so that meant she had to remain where she was for now. Wouldn’t do to pull her out until the entire city was frothing at the mouth, baying for blood. Aldamir would understand and she’d long know what she was getting herself into.

    As the Viper scurried along in the darkness, Amarwen realised that the ache of her lower back was something else entirely. Labour had begun. She hoped she could endure it without giving the animals that held her the satisfaction of her screams.
     
  6. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

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    The early dawn light was still grainy as the wetnurse was escorted into the prison. Flanked by two men, both bearing the fearsome emblem of the Black Scouts, she pulled her shawl tighter over her shoulders. She ached in trembling silence for the babe that should be tucked in her arms. The babe she had buried only the day before. A fugue, they say, but she knew otherwise. The land itself sickened and the most vulnerable bore the brunt, as always. Such talk was treason and so she did not voice it.

    The two men walked in silence, oblivious to the cries of those in the cells. She could hear the sound of beatings. Cries of pains. Curses and pleads. Groans. The door they led her to was silent. The air here was still, as if all locked away in this area held their collective breath. Keys jangled and then hinges squealed.

    There, on the rotting straw, lay a woman. She was white as a sheet, exhausted. Not entirely conscious. The wetnurse recognised, at once, that the woman had recently given birth. Alone, in the darkness, in this cell. She’d been unable to cut the cord. She’d torn at her skirts for something to wrap the newborn in and she clutched it to her in arms ferociously tight.

    ”Take it,” said one of the Black Scouts and pushed her forward. The scent of blood hung in the air.

    The wetnurse came forward and wondered where the woman might lie. Without alternate bedding or fresh straw, the risk of infection or dreadful bleeding was very high. The woman’s eyes rolled and fluttered open as she knelt by her.

    ”No,” she whispered in a desiccated voice and she realised there was not even water in this forsaken place.

    ”Take it,” came the order anew, ”Or we will dash its brains out now and be done with it.”

    Tears came to the woman’s eyes as she looked up into her face.

    ”I will care for it,” she said as she prized the infant’s tiny body away. It stirred, puckered its mouth and gave a quivering, pitiful wail.

    ”Please,” said the woman, pleading and she nodded understanding. She would not have been able to determine whether the child was a boy or girl in the uncertain light.

    Pulling the rough, hasty swaddling aside, the wetnurse checked. ”A girl.”

    “Alenna,”
    the woman said, ”Alenna.”

    She slumped back, weakened and the wet nurse climbed to her feet. The child wailed still, hungry and cold. The wetnurse responded without thinking. She tucked the girl, Alenna, under her shawl and shifted until she felt the infant latch. Strong. Alenna was strong. Once she was cleaned up and properly swaddled, Alenna was likely to flourish where her own babe foundered. Her own babe had never suckled as lustily as this.

    ”I’m sorry,” she said as she was pulled roughly back out of the cell.

    The hinges squealed again as the door was sealed. More jangling keys. The Black Scouts started off and it seemed as though they had forgotten her.

    ”Sirs,” she called after them and they turned back. ”What would you have me do?”

    They exchanged a look, ”Return here every day, in this hour.”

    She frowned, not understanding, but they did not deign to explain it. And so a day passed and she did return. She was again taken to the cell and once there she was to feed Alenna as her mother was forced to watch on. It was then that she grasped the monstrosity of what was occurring. The cruelty of stealing a newborn child from a mother’s arms and forcing her to watch it being nurtured by its thief. And, as the days passed and Alenna’s mother did not seem to be recovering, she realised that the woman was slowly dying. For they had not changed the straw.

    Yet, she feared for her own life and that of tiny Alenna. The men that had forced her into this had threated to murder the infant. And so the wetnurse said nothing as her misgivings mounted, day by day and in a week, on a glorious summer day, a public trial was held right before the gallows.

    She was shocked to see Alenna’s mother pulled out, so weakened that she could barely stand and blinking at the bright sunlight. Those watching, and there were a great many gathered, murmured at the sight before them. Her skin had greyed as infection claimed her.

    ”Mistress Marece, you stand charged with High Treason, conspiracy to commit High Treason and other foul acts against His Royal Highness, King Castimir, First of His Name. How answer you?”

    The voice that rang out was powerful and compelling. As the charges were read out, the wetnurse glanced down to the infant sleeping in her arms. She was sweetly oblivious. The wetnurse heard a faint sound and she looked up to the find the authorities leaning, in all their finery, towards the accused.

    ”What? What did she say? Speak up or hold your tongue!”

    “WHERE ARE MY BABIES?!”


    It burst out of Alenna’s mother like a summer storm and the force of it made her sag over the rough wooden stall she had been placed in. The wetnurse watched her struggle to push herself upright. The sun, when it hit her eyes, revealed a fevered glint.

    ”If you will not answer the charges, you will found guilty and hanged!”

    The crowd murmured ominously and the wetnurse tightened her arms around Alenna, shivering.
     
  7. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

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    The Viper darted through the press drawn by this terrible spectacle. Proving her aristocratic heritage, Aldamir’s woman was putting on a fine show. A little too fine, he thought, but he didn’t have time to worry about that. The crowd was on the cusp. Just a bit of a nudge and it would spill over. A word here and there, and he was in a hurry, as he was aware that there were others here hell bent on retrieving Aldamir’s woman come what may.

    ”Poor wretch! She’s dead on her feet. How can they be so cruel,” he said in a solicitous tone.

    At that a tall man whirled, his eyes alight with fury. The Viper recognised the man he’d released from cells in The Harlond, along with the Rhovanion, some months ago now. The husband of Aldamir’s woman, if he wasn’t mistaken. A navigator…senior…couldn’t place his name as he danced out of fellow’s grip and smack into another’s. He was caught fast and Halvarin, yes he had the name now, surged forward. He gathered a fist full of the Viper’s tunic and hauled him forward.

    ”Now, now, we’re all on the same side here,” the Viper said.

    ”I know this one,” said another, ”He serves only himself.”

    “I know who he is, Michas,”
    Halvarin growled and the Viper was pleased to see a familiar woman reach up to touch his arm.

    ”We may have need of him yet, m’Lord,” Sarael said.
     
  8. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

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    ”- the charges, you will be found guilty and hanged!”

    Amarwen could feel herself spinning. Sometimes she could hold herself upright and sometimes she was falling. And the bleeding, it had not stopped. Something was very wrong but it didn’t matter. So long as Alenna, Mindacil and Halvarin were safe and everyone knew what to do, it really didn’t matter any more. Her task was done. The end was nigh and the prospect of laying down the enormous weight was undeniably appealing. She wished she could see them again. She wished she could hold them again. She wished she could see the day the rightful King returned and sat his throne.

    She pushed back from the rickety stall front she was leaning against and narrowly caught herself on the rear barrier. If she was going to die here, then she would die for who she was. She would die for the truth.

    ”I will give you your answer,” she said, her voice faint but picking up strength. She had no need to hold anything back in reserve now.

    Amarwen tipped her face up to the bright blue sky. The sun made her fevered flesh shiver but she threw her arms out.

    ”My father was captured with Crown Prince Ornedil. He surrendered under the terms of ransom and for that he was tortured to his death. But that was not enough. No. For his remains were carted about and hung from gibbets for all to see the crows make sport of.”

    She lowered her arms. ”My mother was slaughtered before my eyes because she would not bend knee to a false and cruel king. I am not guilty of High Treason for CASTAMIR IS NO KING!

    "I am the voice in your heads demanding to know when is enough enough. I am the thorn in your despicable side. I am but one set of many hands that will tear you down from your stolen seats. My name is Amarwen of Edhellond and you will answer me this: WHERE ARE MY BABIES?!


    At first there was silence. As if the crowd had sucked back like the low tide. And then it surged, roaring. She felt her knees fail her as she sank into the makeshift stall. All she could smell was blood. Her own. But it mattered not for Minas Anor was finally stirred to life.
     
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  9. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

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    ”Eldacar is King! Down with the usurper!”

    Someone in the crowd cried out after hearing Amarwen’s words! A din of yeas raised through the crowd. Then someone yelled out,

    ”That Rhovanion half-breed is no king of Numenorean Gondor! Long live King Castamir!”

    A somewhat lesser din of yeas went up with a jeer of boos… the air was filled with such intensity and the soldiers were looking uneasy. The kingdom was dividing ….

    ”Amarwen of Edhellond!”

    The voice boomed out across the square, bouncing off people and the stones alike as the guards attempted to quell the crowd’s disorder.

    ”Stripped of your titles and land, your once proud House denounced. Already you have been tried and guilty you have been found of High Treason most foul!”

    The jeering from the crowd intensified and it was this that restored Amarwen to her senses. She clung to the stall around her as her strength ebbed, ever weaker.

    ”You were sentenced in accordance with the laws of our realm to die for your crimes. And, as you are clearly alive still, that sentence will be carried out today, forthwith!”

    Amarwen lifted her head barely and made out men, all in uniform, hurrying towards her. Their faces were grim and in their eyes death. They made considerable haste, gripping their weapons as they crossed the space. Elsewhere, to the side, some of the crowd broke through the cordon. There were cries of anger and pain and then the thrum of an arrow. A man fell to the stones, an arrow protruding from his neck.

    This alerted the crowd to the previously unknown presence of archers from upon high. Amarwen lowered her head again. Of course the Black Scouts would have prepared for unrest. It was not long after that before the stall she clung to was pulled from her grip. Weakened, she fell to her knees between the men crowding around her. They pulled her up and bound her elbows behind her.

    ”Recant your treachery and mercy will be granted. Our sovereign lord, Castamir, King of Gondor is compassionate. He wishes this, our realm, to be healed. Set aside your treason, Amarwen of Edhellond, and your life will be yours. You will, once again, hold your children in your arms. By the grace of Castimir, Saviour of Gondor.”
     
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  10. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

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    Still her head was bowed and her eyes closed. The crowd had quietened to a murmur again although there were fitful outcries. She heard a man shout that she should save herself. Of course, the offer was not a genuine one. Amarwen knew that. As soon as she recanted, betrayed her people and her king and House and her husband, they would very quickly and quietly end her life. Out of sight. An accident. A sickness brought on poison. Anything to ensure she did not ever rise again to cause them so much woe. And they did not even know what she had been doing.

    The laughter that bubbled out shocked even her. They were going to execute her without even knowing the full extent of her supposed treachery. The laughter kept coming from her, increasing in strength as the men around her clenched their fists. She forced it to stop and lifted her head.

    ”Castamir the Defiler! Usurper! Murd-“

    The blow came from beyond her range of sight. She sagged sideways, ears ringing and blood filling her mouth. This she spat out as she was hauled up by the ropes. The sunlight transformed the blood into a spray of rubies that glittered. Amarwen was dragged to her feet.

    ”So be it.”

    Again, her senses swum. The guards pulled her across to the scaffold. She could not climb the rough wooden steps and so they thrust her up it. Then she was forced to kneel before a stone. She had just enough time to take in the executioner. His black hood concealed his face but she caught the cold gleam of his eyes and his sword. It was large, very sharp.

    Another twang of a bow and this time a woman fell through the cordon. The arrow, this time, had found her thigh and she shrieked with agony. Through her doubling vision, Amarwen saw the faces of the crowd. They blurred, angry, frightened. Men, women, children. Aghast. Vengeful.

    ”Amarwen of Edhellond, set aside your pride and your folly. Renounce your-“

    “NEVER!”
    Amarwen screamed, ”RISE! ELDACAR COMES! FIGHT!”

    A knee to her back slammed her forwards. She hit the executioner’s block hard enough to drive the air from her. Her body, struggling to heal from delivering her daughter only days ago, was awash with fire. Amarwen lost consciousness as her hair was roughly pulled aside. Her entire body went slack. She did not hear the mighty howl of the crowd and she did not see how they surged the already overtaxed guards maintaining the cordon. She did not see how so many of them cast their weapons down or instead, turned them on their fellows. She did not know of the melee, vicious and sudden, that broke out on the scaffold behind her.

    The square devolved into a rapid, ferocious riot.
     
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  11. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

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    Minas Anor – June 1444

    As mayhem broke out around the square, Halvarin and a couple of the men who had tried to fight their way through to Amarwen at the house during the arrests moved as fast as they could. The crowd between them and the scaffolding was dense and it took time they could not spare to reach her now. When he saw the executioner raise his axe to take the swing, Halvarin cried out in horror and despair for it seemed that his wife would be beheaded before his very eyes.

    An arrow loosed from the wall of the next level struck the executioner in the neck and he fell backwards. His axe slipped from his dying grip. This emboldened the crowd and some tried to force their way up to rescue Amarwen. The remaining guard managed to keep them at bay.

    When Michas led a force down from the second level, some of the soldiers of the first level chose to fight them. Most, though, soon surrendered their arms. They had no appetite for a battle such as this, against their fellow kinsmen. Back at the square, Sarael found a way to winnow through the press and up to the scaffold itself. She was first to Amarwen’s side and ferocious in fending off any that sought to do her mistress harm. Halvarin and the men with him were not far behind and as they lay Amarwen down on the scaffolding, it was apparent her life was in danger from more than an axe to her neck.

    When he saw Michas, Halvarin cried out ”Michas! To me!”

    Michas turned and waved his men forward before he turned and came to the scaffolding. Halvarin grasped his wrist and Michas did likewise as he said, ”This will be a memorable day in Gondor, my friend!”

    ”I wish I shared your optimism. It may well be the end of Gondor as we know it!”
    Halvarin replied and looked over to where Sarael kneeled by Amarwen’s side. ”Do we hold the Healing House?” he asked, expecting the answer to confirm his worst fears.

    Michas, however nodded. ”We hold all the levels above.”

    “Then I place you in overall command here. I recommend that you attempt to root out any Castamirians who remain… those Black Scouts in particular, before they go to ground once more. And reinforce the gates, for I believe our victory will soon be tested in all out assault. Siege comes and we must be ready for it.”


    There was so much more to do and say but when Halvarin turned back to glance to Sarael he took in the grief upon her face. No time! No time!

    ”I need to tend to my wife.”

    “Go!”
    Michas urged him, Leave this to me! Go!”

    Michas waved to a unit commander to reinforce the gates as Halvarin rushed to where Amarwen lay. She was so very pale and ghostly. He beckoned to two soldiers that were nearby.”You two, help me!”

    Halvarin removed his cloak and spread it out beside Amarwen, Lay her upon it for she must go up to the Healers!”

    The two soldiers lifted her between them. As they shifted her over to lay her atop Halvarin’s cloak, he chided them anxiously, ”Gently does it!”

    Together, they stood and lifted Amarwen upon Halvarin’s cloak. It was then an arrow came from above, shot from afar. It narrowly missed Halvarin and Amarwen both. The fletching feathers cut through the sleeve of Sarael’s dress and her forearm started to bleed. Halvarin pointed up in the direction the arrow had come and already soldiers were running to the area on the fourth level. Halvarin motioned the soldiers to move, and two more joined to clear a way to the rampart up to the higher levels.

    ”Sarael, come! Amarwen has need of you and you need seeing to yourself!” Halvarin declared and they made their way up the rampart towards the Healing House.

    They moved as fast as caution permitted and in due time were escorted to a room in the far corner of the sprawling House. An elderly woman was soon on hand, springing almost from nowhere, and looked Amarwen over with an experienced eye. A wave of her arm brought yet more to tend Amarwen. These women brought with them warm water.

    ”We will tend her but you must wait outside!” the old woman declared, imperious in her domain.

    Halvarin reluctantly did as asked, but Sarael stood her ground, ”I am here to see to this woman. The fact that I too am wounded will have me stay here by her side. You cannot expel someone who needs attending.”

    The healer peered impatiently at Sarael and saw she was in need of attention but she could not afford to have any underfoot that were not required.

    ”If you care for this woman, you will fetch me some hot water, quickly!”

    Sarael left the room and went in search of hot water but if the healer thought it would keep Sarael out of her way, she was wrong. Two servants carrying steaming pots of water followed her back to where Amarwen lay for Sarael knew that Amarwen held the key knowledge in raising the resistance. She would not leave her side now even if she desperately tried to piece together all she could of what Amarwen had told her of. So much information shared, discussed and picked over, but not once had Amarwen divulged her true identity. What else, Sarael wondered, had her mistress kept from her?
     
  12. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

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    Minas Ithil – June 1444


    Aldamir tried to take in all the reports the runners were bringing him. Osgiliath was secured, and Vinyarion prepared its defence even as he sent a regiment east to assure the road to Minas Ithil was clear for them to move their forces as needed. He also freed up the Gondorians so they could move toward Minas Anor where things were not nearly so settled.

    Vilmaith only paused long enough in Minas Ithil to receive instruction from Aldamir to keep her Rhovanions marching south through Ithilien, for word had come that a large Harondorian army was pushing up from the Poros Crossing. It was essential that they hold the east bank of the river, and so the relief of the outnumbered South Ithilien army was needed.

    It seemed for the moment they had the element of surprise on the usurper, but he knew the onslaught would come soon. Even with the cities of Osgiliath, Minas Ithil, and Minas Anor secured, there was no time for celebration. The ballista forts were contested and the plans to have them secured or destroyed had run in to difficulty unforseen. Communications did not work as well as had been planned and already word had come from Ithilien that ships have been spotted making their way up river from Pelargir. Everything was happening so fast. And they were without Amarwen. Aldamir did not know where she was. There was talk that she had perished in the uprising of Minas Anor but he had heard that before. Should he wait? Should he press forward? Aldamir did not know and he could not shake the nagging doubt that he had erred in not bringing Amarwen with him when he had last quit Minas Anor.
     
  13. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

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    Minas Anor – June 1444

    A day had passed and Minas Anor held on, barely. Already the Usurper’s fist was drawing around them and still Amarwen had not stirred. Halvarin had remained where he had been dispatched, just outside the chamber his wife had been set in. She was gripped with a terrible fever that would not break no matter how the healers struggled. An infection arising, he had heard the healer say, from the desperate conditions in which she had been forced to deliver their child. A son or daughter, alive or dead, he did not know. Sarael too remained. She held a dampened cloth to Amarwen’s brow in a desperate bid to hold the ferocious fever somewhat at bay.

    He could hear the voices inside as they debated what to do and it occurred to him that perhaps not all the healers wanted Amarwen to survive. She had been identified not long after arriving and he’d been watching ever since for assassins. They’d not given up so easily now that she was revealed. Michas had come and gone in this time, always bearing questions. Questions, Halvarin guessed, that Michas did not wish to have to explain to him. Their exchanges had been brief and Michas had soon ducked away. But now he was coming again and the news, whatever it was, wasn’t good. It showed in his face as he approached Halvarin.

    ”No change?” Michas inquired and Halvarin shook his head.

    Michas paused to try and peer into the room himself. ”She’s given us a lot,” he said, ”But what if it isn’t enough?”

    Halvarin looked at his friend sharply, ”Do not give her up as dead yet!”

    Water dripped as the cloth they held to her brow was dampened again. Amarwen’s skin was so hot it seemed to be sucking the water out as soon as the cloth was returned to her forehead.

    Michas grimaced, ”The fever grows ever worse. There is no telling when or if it will break.”

    Halvarin stared at him, haunted by recollections of men he had encountered. A virulent pestilence had once ripped through a crew with such severity that it had killed half of them. Of the survivors, a third were so addled that they could not even remember their own names. This is what Michas alluded to and Halvarin knew his concerns were valid.

    ”It won’t be like that,” he insisted as Sarael came to the door, drawn by their discussion.

    Her arm had been bandaged and she had not left Amarwen’s side until now.

    Michas’ expression was haunted, ”But something needs to be done before we lose this city and this war. We need what is in her head, Hal, and we need it now.”

    “I know!”
    Halvarin returned, his voice hoarse with grief and fatigue. He lifted his hands to his face and said into them, ”I do not know what to do.”

    “I do,”
    Sarael said and with that she walked off, leaving Michas and Halvarin staring after her.

    ”Great,” Michas said flatly and shook his head, dismissing Sarael’s abrupt departure, ”I’m going to send word to Aldamir. We need him here.”

    Halvarin nodded, peering after Sarael, and Michas clapped him on the shoulder, ”And you need to sleep. You’re dead on your feet.”

    “I’m not leaving.”

    “Of course you’re not,”
    Michas muttered, more to himself as he turned away, ”Why would you ever listen to me?”

    Halvarin leaned against the wall to Amarwen’s room and pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes. A wave of fatigue washed over him and he pushed it away only to be buffeted by another. And then another.
     
  14. Elora

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    It was some time later when Halvarin woke to find himself rolled in a field swag. Michas and Sarael were crouched nearby, muttering over a pile of books but what drew Halvarin was the sound of another’s voice coming from his wife’s room. He pushed himself to his feet and peered through to find the room strangely empty of all save Amarwen and Aldamir.

    The Crown Prince, leaned over the bed. His eyes were closed and his hand was pressed to Amarwen’s brow as he murmured in a low, almost singsong voice. Amarwen was very still, very pale, her skin slick with sweat. In the hall, Michas and Sarael’s discussion rolled on.

    “I don’t see how any of this is of use to us,” Michas said, dejected. Halvarin turned to see his friend toss one of the books back onto the pile between him and Sarael.

    Sarael pluck it up, almost protective ”Of course they are! The Lady was most insistent that I keep them close to hand and it is a rare stroke of fortune that someone thought to fetch them out when they fled the residence.”

    It was then that Halvarin realised that they were debating Amarwen’s journals. That she kept them was no surprise to him. That she’d given them to Sarael to keep safe…that…stung. He said nothing of it as Michas flipped a journal open. His eyes devoured a page and then he leafed to another and another.

    ”It’s all in code,” he said declared, ”Useless unless she is able to unravel it. I don’t know it, you don’t know it. The prince doesn’t either.”

    Aldamir, the man his wife had been set to marry before the outbreak of Gondor’s kinstrife, had read Amarwen’s journals before he had. That, too stung and Halvarin looked back to where Aldamir tried to coax Amarwen back to them.

    ”Maybe Halvarin can make sense of it,” Sarael said. She straightened from her crouch with a journal in hand and extended it towards him.

    ”Unlikely,” Michas muttered but then shrugged, ”Anything’s worth a shot now, though.”

    Halvarin took the journal from Sarael and flipped it open to see the code for himself. It looked…Sarael and Michas both exchanged perplexed glances when Halvarin started to chuckle. He knew that code. Oh, Amarwen, he thought to himself. She had created all her journals and given them to Sarael, using a code that only he would know and understand.

    ”You magnificent woman,” he murmured as he scried what she had recorded in the hand they had used to communicate with each other, secretly, many years ago now. That she had used it at all was a declaration of such trust that it made his earlier thoughts shrink and vanish.

    Pushing a rising sense of pride aside, Halvarin focused on what Amarwen had set down. In meticulous detail, she had recorded each property they had acquired over the years, its intended use and purpose. He saw Pelargir, Minas Anor, Harlond, Osgiliath. Farms, buildings, businesses, houses, warehouses, mills, some forest. He flipped a couple of pages. There he saw a list of names, partisans she had employed and embedded in their various businesses. A summary estimate of their strength in key locations. Recommended deployment lines to move them about along expected fronts. A few pages later, an account of the various defensive measures protecting a key supply cache along with a detailed inventory of its contents.

    Halvarin closed the journal with a snap, ”Fetch maps. I’ll start there.”

    “You can read them?”
    Sarael asked, flummoxed, ”I’ve lost count of the times I have tried and failed.”

    “You and, upon a time, a portion of the royal family,”
    Halvarin said archly but nodded, ”I can read them. She ensured it was so.”

    At that, hope returned to Michas’ face. He grinned at Halvarin. ”I hope you don’t mind, Hal, but I love your wife.”

    Michas set off with new purpose to hunt out maps and once he had them, Halvarin got to work transcribing the coded information in Amarwen’s journals to the maps. It took hours and he was bent over a table lit by a guttering candle before it was done. His back ached and his hand was cramped as he leaned back. Michas shuffled the maps back and forth.

    ”Manwe’s beard, Hal, just look at this,” he said in a hushed voice.

    Halvarin rose to his feet and knuckled his back. He stretched, joints popped but still fatigue sat over him like a wet, heavy blanket.

    “These are defensive positions,” Michas said, preoccupied with the maps before them, ”And these… offensive positions.”

    “Presuming we have the numbers to occupy and hold them,”
    Halvarin yawned widely, ”She has enlistment rolls that should give us a rough estimate. I’ll start on those soon.”

    “It’s,”
    Michas rubbed at his lower face and lifted his eyes to Halvarin, ”She’s mapped out a plan for the war. I’ll admit, over the years, I’ve found myself wondering if she was suitable for the position she had been placed in.”

    “This speaks for itself,”
    Halvarin replied and Michas nodded.

    ”Explains why she never deigned to answer beyond a roll of her eyes when the question arose.”

    At the door a throat was cleared. Halvarin and Michas turned to find Aldamir there. The Prince was wan, wearied.

    ”The fever…it has broken,” he said, his voice quiet with relief, ”It has broken.”

    Despite his exhaustion, Halvarin pushed past Aldamir to go to his wife’s side. She had yet to wake but she had moved and rolled to her side. On the narrow space left, Halvarin lay himself down and curved his body around that of his wife.

    Amarwen smelt of the old, damp stones of the prison and blood. But she was alive and that was all that mattered in that moment.
     
  15. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

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    The wetnurse was terrified. If Alenna made a sound, they’d find them. And, now that Alenna’s mother was revealed to be a traitor, the fate of her infant daughter would not be merciful. Larial clung to child in her arms and prayed the infant would not wake. Alenna was, she had found, a good baby. She slept soundly. Fed regularly and well. A very good baby. But time drew close for the next feeding. Larial knew this for she ached with the need to suckle the child. It throbbed through her insistently. Alenna would soon stir at the smell the milk and then they would be discovered.

    She could hear boots as men marched past, patrolling. Searching. Rooting out trouble. Anyone who didn’t belong. She’d taken refuge here in this cellar when it had become clear that Alenna’s mother was to be executed. Larial did not know what had happened aside from the fact that the violence that descended had been bloody, brutal and swift. She had peeked through the cellar doors to see if was safe to emerge only to find the square was filled with troops. She did not dare reveal her presence to ask whom they served. For even if they did not want Alena’s mother dead, they would want Alenna back. And Larial did not know if she could bear the loss of another baby.
     
  16. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

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    Minas Anor

    Michas and Sarael studied the deciphered maps before setting out to put Amarwen’s plans in motion. They had to act fast, for all was in motion now. Battle was at hand.

    ”Lady Amarwen’s planning and your deciphering these maps and names has given us an advantage, but we must act swiftly! Sarael will come with me and we will make sure this is managed. Remain with your wife, Han!”

    Halvarin nodded, ”Get all in hand as soon as can be. Inform them the Northern Regional Commander of Gondor supports Eldacar! There is no need for secrecy now.”

    With that, he turned his attention back to Amarwen. Michas and Sarael made their way down to the gate of Minas Anor, and seeing a host of soldiers marching from Osgiliath, Michas knew they would have strength to repulse any hasty counterattack the units loyal to Castamir could muster. The key was the river. Michas asked the Regimental commander at the gates if any word had come from Harlond. He needed to know how things were shaping up on the river.

    ”I need runners. Take a message across the river. Seek the army of Ithilien and tell them we hold Minas Anor and the fighting is now in Harlond. We can hold for now but we must take the river bend!”

    The two runners repeated the message and they set out to the river. The river bank was a hive of activity as the resistance stirred into action. Michas was astonished to see the partisan cells were self-sufficient. They fought for the siege engines as if it were their lives. And perhaps it was, for if they did not take the siege engines in the Harlond, Michas thought the rive was as good as lost. Just as it had been the last time.

    He marvelled to see the partisans holding their own. That they did he could only ascribe to another of Amarwen’s ingenious failsafes. But now it fell to him to string together some sort of chain of command. Time and again, he found himself dealing with demands for verification. Not of his authority, but that he acted at the behest of Amarwen. Fortunately, Sarael proved her worth in this regard. She knew the watch words and Michas began to discern something of how Amarwen had structured the resistance. The military units she left to her husband and other officers such as himself. The citizens, however, she had organised and Sarael was her chief lieutenant.

    The day closed with the resistance holding everything north of Harlond. Forces loyal to Castamir regrouped south of the forts where they held the road. The preparation for the expected counterattack went ahead full pace as they blockaded the road south. Once they eliminated the Castamirians in Harlond, Eldacar would hold the north of all Gondor.
     
  17. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

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    To sea


    Silas could tell Captain Carlin was displeased the moment the man clambered onto his deck.

    ”My brother’s daughter is back there and we’re skulking like pirates out to sea!”

    “Which is exactly what she told us to do,”
    Silas countered once they were safely ensconced in his cabin.

    Carlin scowled as he crossed his arms. Burly biceps, tanned a deep colour by years spent under the sun, bulged.

    ”I don’t like it. I didn’t like it then and I still don’t.”

    Hiding from the fight didn’t sit well with Silas either, but he thought Carlin’s niece had a salient point. He jabbed a finger at the boards above.

    ”We press this fight and we’ll have mutiny on our hands. Enough ships balk, we’ll have open battle. Far from shore.”

    Carlin unfurled his arms and his chair creaked as he leaned forward towards Silas. ”Those blackguards murdered my brother and slaughtered his wife under the flag of parley. You say the shore is far away and I say well and good. It’s time to send these dogs to the graves they so sorely deserve.”

    “Your niece is counting on us to sap Castimir’s naval strength. She needs us out of the fight, scuppering his one clear advantage. If we press into battle and fail to hold command over our ships, we hand the usurper the one thing she’s trying to keep from his grasp.”

    “I want blood!”

    “You’ll betray your own kin for it?”

    “She’ll thank me in the end.”


    Silas mopped a hand over his face. Carlin, it seemed, was adamant and if he lost that Captain’s support, Silas was not sure he could hold the others. Ships were still arriving, though it was down to two or three a day. They had a reasonable sized flotilla gathered now. If enough of it held, it could be used to harry Castimir’s navy. Amarwen had chosen to do without it over risking having it declare for the Usurper and bolster his strength.

    But it was a big gamble. Most of the captains and a majority of the crew were unaligned. To declare for Castimir or Eldacar was a big leap. One that could be their downfall.

    ”Your niece won’t be thanking you if we fail.”

    Carlin shrugged. ”If we fail, won’t none of us be left alive to deal with the recriminations.”

    And so the die was set. Either Castamir would find himself beset with a renegade portion of his own fleet or once again, Eldacar would lose the river to the Usurper’s superior naval forces.
     
  18. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

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    The first thing Amarwen noticed was how bright it was. Sunlight streamed down, flooding the room she found herself in. She blinked against the influx of light, her vision blurred. Slowly it resolved to reveal a simple chamber. She lay in a bed. It seemed significant. She did not know how or in what way.

    As she tried to unravel this conundrum, she heard the high pitched voice of a child.

    ”Amme!”

    That, she recognised, was a word that meant mother but before she could find the child’s mother he had clambered onto the bed and wrapped his arms and legs around her. Jealous. Ferocious. Determined. His face was pressed to her chest and he squeezed as if he feared she would vanish. Amarwen frowned and then it hit her. She was the mother. This was her child. Her son. There was another. Another child. Taken. Where? Who? Where was her child? Dread washed over her. Panic made her breathing speed. The child that clung to her peered up, troubled by her distress, and then there was a man beside her bed. He pressed his hand to her brow.

    ”Be at ease,” he murmured to her, ”Rest. You are still weak. It is all in hand, my love.”

    “Where is my-“

    “Rest,”
    the man said, leaning close to press his lips to her temple. She struggled against what rose within her but in the end, it was far stronger than she was.

    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

    Aldamir watched awareness flee Amarwen. With it went her panic and disorientation. It was still too early to say whether her fever had scoured her mind free from all the memories that made her who she was. He stood in the doorway, observing for a moment longer as her son stroked his mother’s face. The lad was so young for the turmoil that surrounded him. And there was another, son or daughter, they had yet to locate. The strife that had pulled her family asunder was the same strife that had dealt the death knell to their own bond.

    She was still so beautiful to him and what she had accomplished here was nothing short of astounding. He was so proud of her...and so relieved that she had somehow managed to survive the peril that had seen the rest of her family and so many others meet their graves. He chose to focus on that, rather than on what might have been had this strife never come to pass. Her son was fretted now and Aldamir watched the lad’s father set a hand to the boy’s shoulder.

    ”Your mother sleeps. When she sleeps, she grows stronger. She gets better,” Halvarin told him.

    Amarwen’s son peered up at his father and then looked back to his mother. This could have been their son, Aldamir thought. He was a gorgeous child. Bright of heart, keen of wit. Movement in the doorway turned Aldamir from his study to find one of Amarwen’s more senior agents. A woman, very young for her position. Aldamir reached for a name. Sarael, he thought.

    ”We hold our ground,” she reported. ”Michas is establishing a chain of command over the cells that hold the Harlond. The Usurper’s forces are regrouping. The city remains sealed.”

    “Any word from Osgiliath?”
    he asked.

    The young woman shook her head, distracted as she peered past his shoulder and into the room beyond. ”A column of smoke continues to rise. Nothing further.”

    Aldamir nodded, ”I have sent word to Minas Ithil. If forces can be spared, they will come. I have need of a man in particular. He is known as the Viper.”

    At this the young woman’s attention snapped back to him. ”He is not in the city.”

    “On who’s orders?”
    Aldamir snapped, vexed.

    Sarael swallowed and nodded for the room. ”Standing orders, your Highness, issued by Mistress Mar—Lady Amarwen. He should be en route for Edhellond as we speak.”

    Aldamir frowned at this but his scowl cleared. Yes. Edhellond. The traitor. Now he understood. Amarwen had kept the traitor for as long as he served a purpose. Once that purpose had expired, she had all but signed his death warrant. Ruthless, admittedly, but with so many lives in the balance it was also a mercy.

    “You know who the traitor is?” he probed the young woman in front of him.

    Sarael seemed to weigh her answer before she nodded. ”I worked it out myself. When I did, I took it to....the Lady.”

    “She speaks very highly of you. I can understand why.”
    [/I] Sarael flushed at this praise but Aldamir was not here to flatter young women. ”Does it trouble you that she kept her identity from you?”

    At this the woman swallowed and her weight shifted. ”I though she trusted me...If I knew who she was, I wouldn’t have turned her in. Not ever...but...” A devious smile appeared on Sarael’s face, ”To keep that quiet, for so long....that takes...skill.”

    The maid tilted her head to one side, ”Is it true you was going to marry her?”

    “Absolutely,”
    he replied without hesitation, ”But if I had, Gondor would not have had her for never would I have willingly left her behind. And then would we be now?”
     
  19. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

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    Edhellond


    The Viper squinted through the low light. He had no doubt that it was Beregond. What the traitor was up though, puzzled him. He watched for a little longer and then shrugged. It didn’t matter what the man was up to, he supposed, and the Viper padded forward. His instructions were quite clear. Aldamir’s woman had issued them months ago. Fast, quick, final. Beregond was a fighting man. He could see that from the man’s build. But Beregond was not the Viper. And with this, at long last, his debt to the Prince of Edhellond might finally be extinguished.

    It would be, but not in the way the Viper expected, for Beregond proved more of a challenge than the Viper had anticipated. He prevailed, but at great cost. The Elf dragged himself to the nearest sandy strand. So long ago he had come here, seeking release. Never had he made it across the seas. And never would he. Not in corporeal form, at least, for his body was found cooling by the hide tide mark by one of the local fishers.

    Puzzled, for Elves had abandoned the havens of Edhellond since the outbreak of civil strife, he collected the body up and brought it before Edhellond’s Lord and Lady. They took one look at it and made a declaration that saw the harbour closed, sea chain raised, and all Guild ships caught ashore fired.

    War had returned to Gondor
     
  20. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

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    Osgiliath


    As Edhellond braced itself for the onslaught, Vinyarion reviewed his troops. It was almost night fall but the dull glow that burned around Minas Anor demanded a response. He left a sizeable contingent behind to secure the ruined capitol and receive his grandfather. The King would not be far off now from returning from his exile. With this in mind, Vinyarion issued the final order to march.

    The aim was to meet with the forces of Minas Ithil and Minas Anor so as to form a solid barrier to seal the northern provinces of Gondor off from the usurper.