3021 III – Rhûn, May Expecting Videgavia to confront him at any moment, Berendil’s walk to his tent was a slow one. He wasn’t sure what he’d do if this eventuated. He’d found the Daleman intolerable from the outset but over time a grudging respect for his abilities had arisen. And now… He shoved any disdain and enmity aside and stretched out on his bedroll. And now what? After a long pause, Berendil recalled the letter he had begun to write. He rose to retrieve it and after a quick scan, resolved that there was indeed now more to say. Beloved, this morning saw another skirmish with Khurg’s Easterlings. Somehow, my possession of your torc became known to Videgavia. Through him I have discovered yet more of the torc’s significance. It was knowledge that came at a heavy price, for Videgavia and I both. There is much I do not understand still but your heart is known to me now. And so, all I will say in finishing is that I yearn for the day our paths cross again. There is much to discuss between us. When that comes to pass, for I have always known that it will, know this: you need not be afraid dear heart. Ever yours my Love, Berendil He folded it and sealed it, considering how to ensure that this reached her. She had returned to Rohan. Surely, the incoming forces from Gondor would be regularly reporting back. Perhaps they might take his letter with them. In time, in the communication between Rohan and Gondor, his letter would reach Freja in Meduseld. Would she read it? He shook his head at that and then smiled wryly. She certainly could not return it to him in Rhûn, so there was that he supposed. He tucked the letter away and returned to his bedroll. Once again it was some time before he found sleep. In the early morning, Berendil emerged from his tent haunted by a piercing set of blue eyes he had come to know very well over the years to discover a barge was coming in. He squinted at those upon it and then broke into a relieved smile. The Expeditionary army from Gondor had at last arrived. Whilst the bulk of the force would be travelling on foot, Berendil went out onto the dock to greet those that had been sent ahead. In the faint light of dawn, it was difficult to make out the faces of individuals upon the barge until they were disembarking. ”Lord Faramir!” Berendil exclaimed as the man alighted onto the dock. The two men grasped forearms briefly and Berendil continued, ”You are a welcome sight, my Lord. The Prefect and Captain will already be preparing for the day ahead. I will take you to them now.” Tidings of Faramir’s arrival travelled faster and Hanasian emerged from the tent before Berendil could reach it. ”Lord Faramir! Welcome!” Hanasian exclaimed, genuinely pleased, ”If you are here, then it is clear how serious this situation is. Come, walk with me and I will explain the mess as best I can.” Berendil hung back as the two men fell into step and after a moment’s thought, turned back for his own tasks. It seemed clear to him that they’d be moving now that Gondor’s forces had arrived. Faramir said little as he walked beside Hanasian, clearly aware that whatever was to be said was to be where it could not be overheard. It took some time for the two men to clear camp and in that time, Hanasian assembled his thoughts. ”How bad is it?” Faramir asked once they were far enough away. Hanasian paused a heartbeat before he answered, ” Events have pinned us to the northwestern region of Rhûn. Khurg has strong support from the east. Support also from Nûrn and south of the lake, though that is reluctant at best. Our early gambit caused Khurg grief. He struggles with leadership across his armies and their communication is weak. What they lack in coordination they more than compensate for in ferocity.” Faramir nodded and turned to consider the Easterlings that were moving about within the camp. ”I was hoping to avoid a frontal assault,” he murmured as he crossed his arms and sighed, ”What of the Prefect?” “He seems to be holding up well. He’s maintained the support of the Easterlings in camp, principally Sagath clan,” Hanasian replied and then lowered his voice, ”If it’s a frontal assault you wish to avoid, m’Lord, there may be a way to accomplish that.” Fararmir’s attention sharpened and Hanasian pushed on, ”The Company could move against Khurg tonight.” “Assasination?” Hanasian drew a deep breath, ”A raid. One of the Sagath commanders in camp, a man named Khule, has access to information from within Khurg’s camp. Information that I am inclined to put to use.” Faramir nodded and turned aside for a moment, weighing up what he knew and what he guessed at. He turned back to Hanasian, ”Come the morrow your role in this will end. What you do before then…” Faramir paused and the morning light made his grey gaze glint. He inclined his head to Hanasian and then set off to locate the Prefect. The Captain of the Black Company stared at the ground, turning Faramir’s words over in his thoughts. Was that tacit approval or a warning that come what may, the Company would be alone in this. Either, he supposed, depending on the outcome. The cynicism of that thought widened his eyes momentarily and then he closed them. The Company had always been on its own, come what may. This was no different. He resolved that the planned raid would proceed. This time, only the three of them would infiltrate Khurg’s encampment. Unlike the previous raid, the three Black Company men slipped by Khurg’s sentries without having to kill them. Their luck continued, for Khurg was actually in his tent when they found it and he was not alone. Cornered without a stich of clothing and thoroughly engrossed in a delicate activity, the General had little recourse available to him. They bundled him and his serving maid out of camp and promptly turned both over to the Gondorian army in the early morning hours. Faramir didn’t question the report he received some hours later concerning the ‘surrender’ of General Khurg during the night. As for the General, he had very little to say though his serving maid was proving quite helpful. And so, armed with a wealth of sudden information, Faramir had his hands full with arranging negotiations with Rhûn’s many and varied clans. The Black Company broke camp during all of this and prepared to move out. Entangled as they were with the Sagath encampment, it took most of the day to organize despite Berendil’s efforts to expedite matters. The trail of Naiore was long cold and he fretted at any unnecessary delay. But come evening they had only just managed to ready themselves to take up the hunt again. Frustrated, Berendil sought Hanasian out, ”Have you ever had a hunch so strong you’re absolutely sure of it despite lacking any evidence to support it?” Hanasian grinned at his friend, ”Most days. I call it instinct. Why?” ”I’ve been wondering where Naiore might go to regroup and regain strength. I’ve considered all the places I know. Each has a distinct drawback for her…until I considered the dread fortress of Carn Dûm.” Hanasian nodded at the conjecture for it made implicit sense. This business in Rhûn had given Naiore three weeks, he estimated. ”We will make for Dale, see if she has been sighted there. We’ll commandeer river boats to take us upstream.” Berendil shot him a determined look nodded and then spun on his heel to exit Hanasian’s tent. Come the morning, their river boats were waiting for them, watched over by a hawkish Daleman and a grim Ranger of Cardolan.