Kin-Strife

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

  1. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

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    Minas Anor ~ November 1442


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Very much so,”
    Michas replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

    Elora Dreamweaver

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

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

    ”Yes?”

    “I am... I bring…”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Elora Dreamweaver

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

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

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

    “Show her in,”
    Halvarin replied.

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

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

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

    Halvarin looked over to Michas who shrugged.

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

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

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

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


    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Elora Dreamweaver

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    White Tree Inn, Minas Tirith – November 1442


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

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

    “Doves,”
    Vilna corrected.

    Aldamir sighed, ”Ducks. Sitting ducks.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    And then came the terrible cry: ”FIRE!”

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

    ”Follow me,” she hissed.


    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


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

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

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

    Elora Dreamweaver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Several,”
    Hansian smiled and Michas grinned at him.

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

    Elora Dreamweaver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    ”I know, Hal. Truly I do. It is as though you find yourself standing on a dock, waving farewell to the one you love the most knowing they may never come back,” she said softly and with that, Michas knew, gained not so much as Halvarin’s approval but something akin to his consent.
     
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2017
  7. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


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

    Amarwen would have to wait, bide her time. At least she knew Aldamir wasn’t in here for Helda would never had escaped the prison if the Prince was within and alive.
     
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2017
  8. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

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    Rhovanion ~ Winter 1442


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

    Elora Dreamweaver

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    Minas Anor ~ Winter 1442



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


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


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


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


    “That is good to hear,”
    Halvarin replied and looked about to see that none of the household staff had stirred at this late hour, ”I have sworn fealty to the true king of Gondor, and I work to see that things are set to right in Gondor. My position as Castamir’s regional commander puts me in both a unique and dangerous position. Should my wife return and join us, know that it will be her that will liase between us. I must keep the appearance of being loyal to the usurper. I hope you understand this?”


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


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


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


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

    Elora Dreamweaver

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

    Elora Dreamweaver

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    Osgiliath ~ Winter 1442


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

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

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

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

    “What of our…house guests?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Elora Dreamweaver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Elora Dreamweaver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Elora Dreamweaver

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    Minas Anor – November 1442


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

    Elora Dreamweaver

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    Minas Anor – November 1443



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

    Elora Dreamweaver

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    Minas Anor – Mettarë



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


    ”Well?”


    “No,”
    Mardil replied, ”I won’t do it. He’s a good man!“


    “He’s one of them.”


    “He has a baby son and a wife and-“


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


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


    ”Please, Mardil.”


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


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


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

    Elora Dreamweaver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    ”I think this needs seeing to.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Elora Dreamweaver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

    Elora Dreamweaver

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    Minas Anor – January 1443


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

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

    ”It could well be a trap.”

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

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

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

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

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

    “I have memorised them. Will they work?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Elora Dreamweaver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Immediately?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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