Kin-Strife

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

  1. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

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    After dinner they repaired to Halvarin’s study and it was here she was asked to review several documents Halvarin retrieved from the safe. Unlike the convivial atmosphere of dinner, the tension in the study was palpable. Leaning against Halvarin’s chair behind the desk, she reviewed each page carefully. The more they fidgeted, the more care she took but it was not all for show. The more she read the more she could appreciate the nature of her husband’s concerns. Clause after clause caught her eye as unsatisfactory, at best. After some time, Amarwen lowered the papers to set them on Halvarin’s desk and tightened her grip on the back of his chair.

    ”Well, Mistress, what say you?” prompted the nearest factor.

    Amarwen arched a dark brow at the question and glanced down to where Halvarin sat. He leaned back in his chair, his fingers steepled together under his chin.

    ”I concur with my husband’s assessment,” she said, which brought the barrister up from his seat spluttering.

    ”These are but simple commercial-“

    “Simple?”
    Amarwen challenged, looking down to Halvarin who merely smiled.

    ”Why yes, Madam! Run of the mill.”

    “That may well be if it was a mill in question, sir, but there is nothing about this that strikes me as simple.”


    The barrister considered her for a moment and then redirected his entreaty to Halvarin, ”Your good wife means well Master, of that I am sure, but for men of the law this is a-“

    “I would not be so ready to dismiss my good wife’s assessment were I you,”
    Halvarin cautioned and then looked up to where Amarwen stood, ”What, if anything would you alter?”

    Amarwen sniffed at the question and then reached across for the ink well on his desk, ”May I, husband?”

    “Of course,”
    he allowed, leaning back to enjoy the way their bodies brushed together.

    She cleared her throat as she tapped off excess ink and began flipping through the pages, ”This, in its whole, is unacceptable. I have not once seen it’s like in any comparable agreement. As is this and this clause. Ugh! Whoever wrote that deserves a clip around the ears for good measure.”

    As Amarwen spoke, she struck through entire paragraphs with a flick of the quill and once she had the most egregious terms dealt with, she worked her way back through the pages.

    ”Now, there are several that with varying degrees of modification could become… palatable.”

    Dropping the quill back in its place, Amarwen straightened from her bend over the desk and settled her hair.

    ”And what, dear wife, could be said of the individual responsible for drafting such an agreement?”

    “Shoddy work, at best. It is beyond me how this ever served your father’s interests well and I am certain it will work contrary to your own without marked modification.”

    “Now, you see here, I served your father faithfully for many a year and with scarcely any decent instruction for he was so often asea,”
    the pale faced barrister asserted.

    ”The principles of good legal practice scarcely require explicit client instruction, insofar as I am able to see,” Amarwen observed.

    ”I will not stand for this!” the barrister returned, outraged now and stamping his foot.

    ”How fortunate indeed, for it would appear that we have reached by mutual agreement a parting of ways,” Halvarin said.

    Incensed, the man puffed up his chest and cast about the room for support only to find that each and every other advisor and factor had withdrawn into their respective shells. If they did not stare at the floor they avoided his gaze and so, with his pride in tatters, the barrister drew himself up and quit the study without further word.

    Halvarin let the banging doors of the man’s departure echo back to them in the study. In this time, Amarwen had located the crystal decanter of his father’s favourite liquor and poured out careful measures. These she distributed between the men remaining, moving about the room in no particular order until all had a tumbler in hand. The last one she brought to Halvarin, setting the tray down on his desk.

    Halvarin swirled the amber liquid around in his glass and lifted it solemnly, ”To new beginnings.”
     
  2. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

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    This was echoed back at him and then, one by one his study emptied of factors and advisors eager to take their leave before they fell to the barrister’s fate. Halvarin saw them all to the door and then returned to find Amarwen seated at his desk. She kicked her feet back and forth.

    ”They are all terrified of you,” he declared as he leaned against the doors.

    Amarwen shrugged at that, ”So long as they love you, darling, that’s all that matters.”

    “Still intent on keeping them all?”

    “I never said they should all stay,”
    she countered, ”Just that their departure should not be all at once. What else have you in that safe?”

    Halvarin shrugged, ”It’s open, you’re welcome to see for yourself.”

    Grinning at him, she rose and skipped across the room to do exactly that, her skirts swishing. She found yet more papers, which she pulled out and swiftly sorted through until one caught her eye. This she held up and looked to where Halvarin had leaned against the desk.

    ”What’s this?”

    “Remember I said there was something I had been meaning to tell you for some time?”
    he answered.

    Amarwen peeled open the worn sheet of parchment and then paused as a list a names appeared. She scanned through it, many of them familiar.

    ”Where did it come from?”

    “The Guild,”
    Halvarin answered, ”It’s two or so years old now. I received it upon summons to the Guild House in Minas Anor. In fact, I’d only just returned with it when you were…discovered in Osgiliath.”

    “Belas and Beregon’s name is upon it,”
    she mused, looking back to list.

    ”Yes, and for that reason I presumed the others were also rebels.”

    “Not all,”
    she said with a shake of her head, ”If this is two years old, then there are several names I do not recognise. They were not mine, I can tell you…though perhaps they were partisans. We seem to have a surfeit of those of late.”

    “Speaking of, did you progress on that front this afternoon?”


    Amarwen folded the list up again and returned it with the other papers to the safe as she shook her head, ”No, I heeded your counsel like the obedient wife I am and took myself immediately to my husband’s home where I waited upon his return.”

    “Close it,”
    Halvarin said, nodding to the safe and so she did so.

    ”I would like to read that list again, when I am better rested,” Amarwen said, ”There may well be patterns to the names identified.”

    Halvarin held up a heavy ring of black iron keys, one in hand.

    ”Any time you so wish my love, now come here,” he said and she did so without delay.

    She settled in beside him to lean against the desk and looped an arm around his waist.

    ”How went the afternoon’s business?” Amarwen asked, resting her head on Halvarin’s shoulder.

    ”Oh, the usual mundanities,” he replied and she peered up at him for she heard something in his voice.

    Halvarin’s expression, though was clear and so she said, ”It must be so very overwhelming, my love.”

    “In a way, yes. Until today, this was my father’s study.”

    “He would not be so very well pleased to find me in it now,”
    she observed and Halvarin smiled.

    ”No.”

    “This house will, most likely, be full of memories Hal. Of your mother and father both.”

    “True…but having you here at last, in the place I know of as home, well we can make memories of own as I have wished to do for so long now.”

    “Oh?”
    Amarwen asked and Halvarin shifted so that he was not beside her but in front her.

    ”Oh yes, Mistress Marece. So many ideas,” he told her, kissing her brow as his arms folded around her, ”But, you must be weary.”

    “Not so tired as to forget what you started at lunch. Are you saying you mean not to finish that, husband?”

    “Oh, not in your wildest dreams Ami,”
    he answered and then his mouth and body was pressed against her own.

    His hand returned and her eyes rolled as he picked up where he had left off.
     

  3. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

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    The Crossings of Erui ~ Autumn 1441

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Elora Dreamweaver

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    Pelargir ~ Autumn 1441

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  5. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

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

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

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

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

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

    Halvarin smiled again, ”Indeed we would.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Elora Dreamweaver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Elora Dreamweaver

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    Pelargir – 1441 Late Autumn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Yes, Mistress.”

    “For how long?”

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


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

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

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

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

    “Aye, Mistress.”

    “Will you see to it, please?”


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

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

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

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

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

    Elora Dreamweaver

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    Pelargir – 1442 Spring


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    ”Get word of this to Lewealin or Garaborn!”

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

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

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

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

    Still, if Castamir had uncovered that she was a rebel, then she’d not be anywhere but in a cell awaiting the tender attentions of one of his interrogators to wring information from her. The sound of a key rattling in a lock broke through Amarwen’s ruminations and she turned about as the door creaked open.
     
  9. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

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    Sure enough, the usurper strode through, his imperious gaze of icy grey finding her immediately as she stood before the hearth. He studied her for a moment, waiting for her obeisance but she refused to give it to him. She’d bowed the once to this man, under duress, and would not do it again. Never again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

    ”An improvement, I think.”

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

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

    “What…what do you mean?”

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

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

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

    ”What…what is that?” Castamir hissed.

    ”My husband’s child.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Elora Dreamweaver

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    Pelargir - Winter 1441 to Summer 1442



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Elora Dreamweaver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Elora Dreamweaver

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    1442 – Pelargir, August


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

    “Yes, but-“

    “But what? It is not enough?”

    “No it-“

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    ”And if they should follow?” she asked, ”I cannot flee, Uncle. Wherever I might go is nowhere I would wish to draw them and in any case, I am unable to move swiftly with a babe in arms.”

    ”When did this happen?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “But not you?”


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

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

    Elora Dreamweaver

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

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

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

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

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

    “No,”
    she said with a shake of her head, ”I have been awaiting Halvarin’s return.”

    “You must call him something.”

    “Pip,”
    she said, ”For he is so very small.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Even for you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Elora Dreamweaver

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

    “Ami?”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Elora Dreamweaver

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    Pelargir – Autumn 1442


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Elora Dreamweaver

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

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

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

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

    “Who?”

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

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

    “What did he do?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Elora Dreamweaver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

    Elora Dreamweaver

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    Osgiliath ~ Autumn 1442


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Elora Dreamweaver

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    Pelargir – 1442 Autumn


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

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


    Minas Ithil – 1442 Autumn


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    ”Next he will demand we unbraid it ,” Helda observed to her fellow Shieldmaidens but Vilna was eying Aldamir suspiciously.

    ”That also,” he stated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Elora Dreamweaver

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    1442 – Minas Anor November


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

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

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

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

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

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