Legacy

Discussion in 'The Glittering Caves' started by Elora, Jul 27, 2011.

  1. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

    OOC: This is a collaborative effort, shaped by Halasían and myself.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Dunland - Fourth Age, Year 16

    A fair country of green hills and glens within the Enedhwaith was Dunland. Its beauty was fiercely defended by the Dunlendings, who dwelt in scattered villages as a wary, secretive and hostile people. People who had for two Ages endured persecution from the descendants of the Three Houses of the Edain despite their Aduanic descent from the House of Haldor of the First Age. The beauty of the land and was lost on the small band that now pressed north in the quiet hours before dawn.

    Away from the villages stood a small farm. It was simple, a humble cottage and a barn that the riders nervously pulled up to. One horse bore an empty saddle. A woman, tall and beautiful with the stamp of Numenor upon her features slipped into the barn. Her hair was pale and her eyes were the blue of a northern winter sky. She carried a basket that she clutched protectively to her chest. She had forseen this, as was her gift, and yet been unable to dissuade her proud husband from his path. In the nearby cottage a man, his wife and three year old son slept undisturbed. Their son dreamt of catching frogs and of swimming in the nearby spring.

    The woman entered the barn on quiet yet weary feet. Within plough horses whickered and chickens fretfully circled on the floor. The woman passed them all by, finding a clean stall. The hay within still held the sweet, clean scent of a bountiful summer. She knelt and laid the basket carefully down, taking care to disturb nothing. Tears traced shining paths down her proud cheeks. By the doors, a man hissed a warning to hurry. The woman bent and whispered to the basket,"I will come for you." Her heart had already died with her lord and husband, Bereth. Verawyn left her hope in the basket.

    The heavy sound of racing hooves roused the farmer from his sleep. He peered out the window into the pre-dawn murk. A man of Rohan, he knew the sound of a war party. Dunlendings rode by and the man released a breath he did not recall holding that on this night, they hunted something or someone other than himself. He returned to the warmth of his bed and his wife, unaware of how the lives of all within had veered.

    Nine days later a weary and mourning band of men made Imladris at dusk. With them were two horses with empty saddles. The Dunedain of Cardolan carried yet another sorrowful tale. Their lord, his wife and baby heir had been lost on the road to Minas Tirith, under unrelenting Dunlending attack. Cardolan had no other.
     

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    Last edited: Dec 31, 2011
  2. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

    Year 18 of the Fourth Age, Dunland

    "Not too far, and look after your sister," Lochared's mother called after him. Loch scowled as his sister grinned triumphantly up at him. The imp had followed him and she was going to ruin his day.

    "You do that on purpose," he groused petulantly at her. Rin screwed up her face and blew a raspberry at him and then giggled, delighted with the sound. She clapped, sunlight dancing on pale silken hair and spun about, intent on becoming a bird. Always fascinated with birds. It made absolutely no sense to Loch. He heaved a sigh, collected his sister and set off.

    "I'm going to catch it anyway," he muttered. Rin chirped at him and flapped her make believe wings.

    The sandy haired boy trod a well worn path down the gentle slope of the hill his home perched atop. At the bottom gurgled a contented stream, fed by the mountain springs further to the east. The annual melt had passed and the stream was lazy and gleaming with promise for a six year boy. He set Rin down on the far bank and looked about. Where to begin, he wondered. He was going to catch the two legged monsters that his father sat up late talking to his mother about when they thought he was asleep. Rin darted away, pealing laughter as she chased a lazy summer butterfly.

    "Shhhh, you'll scare it," Loch admonished her. Da always said that you had to be very quiet when hunting.

    "Shhhh," Rin echoed at him, smiled and then darted gleefully behind a flowering shrub with another object, this time a moth, in her sights. He rolled his eyes at the sound of her bird talk.

    "Silly girl! That's not even a bird," he shouted after her, pulling his sling out of his back pocket.

    When Rin blew another raspberry and giggled, Loch decided he'd had enough of girlish foolishness and set out on his quest. He carefully stalked along the edge of the gurgling stream, following its curve and on the look out for the two legged monster he was intent on catching because it made his mother cry. Maybe, in a few years, his sister would more fun. Right now, he had grown up work to do that a three year old couldn't possibly understand.

    Rin danced happily after moths, flying between the flowers and chattering to no one but herself. A break in the trees overhead permitted a particularly glorious golden shaft to strike a luminously flowered shrub. It's bright blue flowers shimmered at her, enticing.

    "Ooooooh," she said with genuine appreciation and pretend flew all the way over to inspect it more closely. The child sat in the sun and began picking flowers.

    Elladan held his breath and crept for a closer look at the child. She was intently focused on the flower with the raw curiosity of the very young. Three summers, Elladan judged. Elf or mortal, children were largely the same so early on, with the delicate golden hair of her mother. Rin held the flower up to catch the sun and make it gleam. She giggled, a liquid sound of untempered delight. Elladan had a moment to study her face. Her mother was there, Elladan realized with growing joy. The same winter blue eyes stared at the flower. After two years of careful searching, she had been found!

    The child very nearly ate the bright blue flower right before Elladan's eyes.

    "No," he said firmly as she placed it in her mouth. Forced to reveal himself, Elladan stepped forward.

    Rin stubbornly closed her mouth, thinking her brother was again telling her what to do. She stared at boots, big boots, and her eyes followed them up, getting wider as they went until she looked square into Elladan's face. Then her face crumpled as the unpleasant taste of the flower hit her tongue. Rin spat it out, wiping at her tongue and spitting blue flower petals in disgust.

    "Charming," Elrohir said. Rin clapped at his appearance, plucked a flower and held it up to him.

    "Do they all do that, you suppose," Elladan asked his brother. Elrohir shrugged, and it became evident to Rin far below that she would have to take stronger measures to give the pretty man a flower. She got to her feet, crumpling the flower she had plucked and frowned at it in consternation.

    "Is it her?" Elladan asked and Elrohir studied the girl closely. She was engrossed in selecting a new flower.

    "She looks uncannily like the Lady Verawyn, she doesn't have the look of Dunland, and she's the right age." Elrohir replied."It's her." She was also well fed, well clothed and clearly well cared for. Someone had taken her in as a fosterling.

    Rin chose the new flower and plucked it. "Don't let her eat that," Elladan warned. Rin had no such intentions. It belonged to the pretty man to eat.

    She ran to him, flower held aloft in front of her. Elrohir bent and accepted it.

    "I think she likes you better than I," Elladan said. Rin blinked at Elladan and returned to the bush, that was starting to look particularly denunded.

    "What now, brother? We can't just take her," Elrohir said. Rin presented Elladan with his very own flower, stood back looking very pleased with herself and dusted off her hands like her mother and father did after they finished a job.

    Elladan shook his head, "No, and for now she has been kept safe. We will send word to Aragorn. This is a matter for him."

    Rin's sharp squeal of displeasure and the sound of her crying elicited a rude curse that Loch had overheard his father say when he dropped the firewood on his foot.

    "You do that on purpose," he shouted in frustration, turned and followed the sound his sister was making in ever increasing gales. He found her sitting on the grass next to a bush she had stripped nearly bare of flowers, sobbing wretchedly. Petals were stuck to the front of her tunic and in her hair.

    "Don't eat them! Why must you always eat everything?" Loch shoved his sling in his back pocket, picked his sister up and trudged back up the hill to return her to his mother so that he could get some proper work taken care of.
     

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    Last edited: Dec 31, 2011
  3. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

    Year 20 of the Fourth Age, Dunland

    The men milled about outside. "Come out Strawhead! Come out and play! Do you fear us, Strawhead? Do you hide behind your woman's skirts," they chanted. There were six of them and they broke into rough laughter.

    "Don't," Romil pleaded with him. "Don't go out there!" Frochard could hear the dread in his wife's voice.

    He glanced over to where his children sat huddled together, quiet and pale, and then out the window again. "I must," he said. "Or they'll be back again for their sport. Perhaps when I am not here." His wife's hands grabbed his arm hard as she peered outside again. Fear made her usually warm brown eyes cold and flat.

    "Does the Strawhead think he can hide," the men called.

    "Hide the children, block the door with the table and do not come out unless they have gone and I call you out. Do you hear me, woman?" Romil nodded and clung to him.

    Frochard gathered his children up in one armful and pressed his face to their hair, breathing them in. Loch watched his father kiss his mother before opening the door and striding out, noting that his father went to meet the men empty handed. His mother slammed it behind him, bolted it and pushed the table against then.

    "Help me," Romil said to her children, who stood in the centre of the cottage like frightened deer. "Tip everything over! Make a mess, a big mess. It's a game! Help me play the game." Rin shoved a chair and looked to her mother for approval.

    "Yes, good girl, that's it. You too Loch…" The wood pile, the pots and pans, the beds and bedding, the shelves and the food, all the chairs tumbled around the cottage until it was transformed into a melee of utter confusion.

    "Now for the next part! Tuck yourself down very small there and no matter what, no matter, stay very very quiet. Can you do that?"

    "Yup,"
    Rin said brightly.

    Eager to please her mother and earn a smile to lighten the sudden grimness, she hopped into the tiny niche by the hearth. Her mother leaned in and pressed a hard kiss to her foundling daughter's cheek. Loch warily climbed in after her and she kissed him too.

    "Remember, Loch, quiet. You must both be quiet. Not a peep, not a whisper, not a single sound." Loch nodded solemnly and made himself as small as he could next to his sister, who wriggled to give him room. Loch wrapped his arm around her and placed his hand over her mouth. Outside the men had stopped laughing. Their father's voice fallen away to silence.

    The sound of breaking glass made Loch jump and Rin began to quietly cry. He tightened his grip and swallowed hard. Wildmen tumbled through and their mother stumbled back with a startled gasp. One sheathed his sword in his belt, charged forward and dealt Romil a cracking blow that sent her to her knees. He smiled down at her, picked up her arm and dealt her another. The other man cleared the mess blocking the door, jerked it open and the others strode in. Not a single word was spoken through what happened in that cottage.

    Romil did not beg or plead for quarter that would not be given. This hatred was ancient and ran deeply. The men tormented her cruelly in grim silence and united purpose: to punish her for taking in a Strawhead and betraying her people. The men used every punishment at their disposal against the woman in that cottage. Rin and Loch saw it all, hidden away in the corner by the hearth. It took the men hours to sate their blood lust and tire. The man that had broken through the window first spat on Romil as she lay naked and broken on the floor, battered beyond recognition and struggling to breathe. Her lungs gurgled with each breath she fought for.

    He bent over her, and slashed at her throat in a final attack that ended her battle for life. The men stood back, staring at her body.

    "The brats," one said, raking the tattered cottage with his coal dark eyes. "Stream at the bottom of the hill," said the man as he re-sheathed his knife. "The boy and girl are always there somewhere. We'll flush them out. " The sound of their horses making their way down the hill was the sound of thunder to Loch.

    After what seemed like an eternity, Loch stood up in the ruin of his life. At his feet, his sister had curled into a tight ball. The two legged monster he'd been hunting had found him instead. It was time to run, Loch knew. He pulled his sister up and settled her on his hip. She clung to him. Loch edged past his mother, trying not to step in her blood too much. His eyes were dry and they stung, but he couldn't find the tears. Loch ran quickly away from the cottage and the stream in the direction his Da had always told him not to go. He ran until he couldn't hold his sister any more in his aching arms.

    "Come on Rin, run," he urged as he put her down. They would have to quiet and cleverer than ever before. This time it wasn't Loch doing the hunting. The two legged monsters were hunting them and now he understood why his parents feared them so. It would be three years before Rin would utter another word.
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2011
  4. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

    Fourth Age - Year 21 Southern Dunland

    "Please," Loch said. Desperation made his voice quiver.

    The woman looked over her shoulder through the doorway she stood in to the warmth inside and then back to the small, pinched face of the boy that peered up at her. He looked to be of age with her own son, who was fat, warm and sated inside. This waif seemed to hover in the darkness and despite his sandy hair, she could not stop the ache of her heart.

    "Close the damn door, woman," her husband growled from within.

    The woman reached for something before she stepped out and closed the door. She passed the bread, still warm, to Loch. Loch clutched it his thin chest. The woman ignored the ache of her back and knees and knelt to bring herself level with the child. Winter was already riding in the winds. It would throw it's chill cloak over Dunland soon.

    "Child, if my husband finds you it will mean your end. Do you understand me?" The boy nodded. He understood only too well how his blended heritage was so loathed. Around his legs, a small face of a girl appeared. She was little more than a babe, the woman realised. The child looked up at her before being drawn to the scent of the bread her older brother held.

    The woman sighed, "Ah, where are your parents, eh?" The boy blinked sudden tears that started to crowd his dark eyes. The girl however simply stared at the woman anew, with eyes too old and too sad for one of such tender years.

    "I know you're living under the common room floor boards," she said as her heart relented. "Go further in and you'll find the warmth of the hearth and the worst of the winds will not be able to reach you. But do not be found in Spring. Do you understand, boy. Do not be found!" Loch nodded.

    "Thank you," he said, collected his sister and walked away from the inn's back kitchen door.

    The woman watched them disappear around the corner, there to wriggle back under the boards. Her heart ached but there was little else she could do for them. If her husband didn't kill them outright, others soon would if they were discovered. She could not place her own children in such danger. She straightened slowly and walked back into the kitchen as her husband barrelled in from the common room. He set down a tray laden with empty crocks and tankards and fixed her with a glare that she was entirely equipped to ignore.

    "What's doing out there," he demanded and flung a ragged towel sodden with ale over his shoulder with a sodden slap.

    "Barking dogs," she replied blithely. She collected an empty tray and pushed past him to continue clearing the crowded tables.

    ~~~~~~~

    Fifty miles to the north, three Rangers stood outside an abandoned farm cottage. Nearby, the eerie moonlit gleam of a skull and bones scattered by scavengers boded ill for those that had once lived within. The cottage gaped, windows smashed and door hanging absently by one hinge. The absence of life already marked the building with disrepair and neglect.

    Inside the cottage, a fourth Ranger and two Elves looked about. One held a torch, as they looked about the ruin within. More scattered bones, a woman's by their size, and old blood daubed the floor and walls. The torch was doused and the trio inside returned to the three standing outside. The faces of Elrohir and Elladan were visibly pale. The fourth Ranger, Hanasian, walked behind the twins and shook his head to his brethren that waited by the horses.

    "Anything," Mecarnil asked. Elrohir gathered the reins of his mount. "Nothing you'd care to see," he replied heavily.

    The woman's bones and the blood had told a terrible tale. Hanasian glanced again to the skull, a man's, that gleamed under moonlight.

    "A man and woman," he added quietly and grimaced. "Their deaths were not easy."

    "We should have taken her with us when we found her," Elladan said. Elrohir already sat ahorse. In the darkness he could still see the child in the summer sun, smiling up at him as she pressed a flower into his hands. The others mounted up.

    "Then Cardolan is indeed lost," Mecarnil said: equal parts of question and statement. Hanasian shrugged.

    "There is no sign of any child to be had, alive or dead," he replied. Elrohir blinked. Had they not before thought Cardolan extinguished, only to have this child emerge?

    "It may yet be too early to say," he softly mused.

    Hanasian informed his king directly, his path taking him to Minas Tirith as he pursued another quarry. It was winter when he reached King Elessar. They sat on a stone bench in the early morning, staring at the winter dormant white tree and discussing the disappearance of Cardolan's child queen. It remained uncertain if the child would ever emerge, and likely that she would not. Even had she been found, what then? Arnor could ill stand the divisions that had seen the realm falter before.

    The King folded the report and stood. There were many unanswered questions in his realm. Some of them required answers today. This was not one.
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2011
  5. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

    Year 42 of Fourth Age, outside New Tharbad

    The past week had been bad, even by their standards. Loch and Rin knew it. They'd had more than their share of hard times, and this one was up there with some of the worst.

    "We should go back," Rin said again. Loch stood at the cusp of the rocky overhung they'd sheltered under when the rain became too heavy. He stared out at the forest beyond. His sister sat farther in, huddled against the cold.

    "Be my guest," he murmured. If she said that one more time, he'd take her back himself. And to think he'd spent three years hoping that she'd say anything at all. Oh for such silence, such peace now.

    The rain eased and then abated. The forest remained still, too silent, as if holding its breath. It had been three days since they'd last set out. As far as Loch saw, they'd had no choice. If he hadn't returned for more nails, the farmer would have ensured that his sister left missing more than her clothes. That fact seemed utterly lost on her now, though. Now she kept saying they should go back. He knew she was hungry, cold and frightened. So was he. But if he went back to that place then he'd snap something he shouldn't and then things would be a whole lot worse.

    Rin stared at her brother's back and adjusted the rags she now wore. In their mad dash, she'd managed to snag a sheet drying outside. It was better than nothing, but only marginally so. Loch stood staring at the forest outside and then turned to face her.

    "We can't stay here forever, Loch. We'll starve," she said. Her brother scratched at the straggly beard on his chin and crouched.

    "Tharbad's another two days by foot," he replied. It was three days back to that farm and any chance to steal some food. What she'd do for a chicken!

    "That's closer," she admitted. Her head had been aching for two days and she rubbed at it. She needed some Lamb's Tongue, she reminded herself.

    "I don't think I can walk another two days, Loch." That's when he started to smile.

    "We might not have to." Rin stared at him, because if it was a joke it was not funny. Loch kept smiling, and her temper snapped.

    "Oh well, why don't you go and ride your invisible horse there instead. While you're at it, perhaps you can muster up an imaginary feast too!"

    "Calm down, Rin! I'm not joking. If we can get down to the trail, we might be able to get a ride to Tharbad and perhaps food,"
    Loch said. Rin looked at him skeptically. Ever the optimist was her brother.

    "From whom," she demanded. Loch knew to give up that nugget was to ensure that they did starve under this rocky ledge. His sister's fear of soldiers was as irrational as it was strong.

    "Travellers," he said with his affable, lop sided grin. It wasn't entirely a lie. "I'll hide myself away so they don't think us bandits. They won't be able to go past you, Rin. "

    Rin looked uncomfortable and he understood why. The fact people found it difficult to not notice Rin had caused a number of unpleasant situations in the past. But, they had no food, no shelter, and Rin had no clothes. It was this, or die out here somewhere. At least they wouldn't need to worry about the orc sign he'd been noticing increasingly over the past three days. Orcs wouldn't trouble with such little meat they presented.

    "Come on. While the rain's stopped. We need to get down to that trail," he chivvied.

    Grumbling, Rin stood and followed Loch out and the pair walked down the slope to the trail at the foot of it. Loch positioned his sister in the most visible spot he could locate. Unfortunately, that meant it was out in the open and not on the side of the track that had tree cover. Loch scrambled back up the muddy embankment behind her and hid himself in the tangled vines that marched along its rim. Then, they waited.
     

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    Last edited: Dec 31, 2011
  6. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

    Rin scrunched up her eyes and peered at the deluge from beneath it. She sighed heavily, already sodden to her bones. Cold water would have pooled in her boots, if they'd been whole. She peered down and wriggled toes that had turned a distinct shade of blue, visible even if she could not feel them. She twisted back to the scrub behind her and tried to make out her brother.

    "This is not going to work, Loch," she again announced. Loch made no response, and Rin turned back to peer up the track she was standing by. She made a truly pitiful figure, which was exactly what her slightly elder brother was counting on. Rin kept wriggling her toes in the ragged remains of her 'boots' and sighed again for good measure. The numbness, she mused, meant that she no longer shivered quite so badly. It also hinted at exposure and a host of other unfortunate things.

    Rin stared across the track at the bank of trees on the other side. Truth be told, her mind wandered. Abject hunger did not bode well for alertness or concentration. Rin's stomach twisted sharply, sending stabbing pain shooting through her. She gritted her teeth and wrapped arms too thin around her middle and waited.

    "They're not coming, Loch. Maybe they turned off or found somewhere dry...or"

    "SHHHHHHHH!"


    Rin scowled at the trees at her brother's imperious tone. They were both tired, frozen, starved and soaked. He needn't get so uppity with her. If they didn't show up soon, she was going to go back and get her damn clothes whether he liked it or not, right after she found some Lamb's Tongue and dealt with the fever that was lapping at her bones.

    "Is she dead?" A stranger's voice startled Rin from her brooding and she struggled to pull her blurry eyes into focus.

    A soldier, a hard bitten one, stared at her. He was a giant, dark skinned man. Sudden fear made her feel sick to her stomach. It was just as well nothing was in it.

    Rin collected her wits and put on her best damsel voice, "Please sir... some bread?" Another soldier joined the one standing before her. He was smaller and no less coolly professional than the giant. Both had their hands on their sword belts, restless eyes.

    "Not quite," the first soldier mused, studying her hard for a long moment. Rin thought her heart would rip out of her chest it was thudding so loudly. A shout behind her ensured she was spared their further scrutiny. Swords snapped out and she was forgotten as suddenly as they had seemed to appear to her. Rin had no idea why she did it. Her fingers seemed to move of their own accord. They moved past her to investigate the commotion on the embankment without their purses. Rin blinked at what she now held in her hands in astonishment. She had stolen from soldiers. She stumbled in disbelief across the track to the other tree-lined side.

    Above on the embankment, another two soldiers grappled with Loch. Properly fed, her brother was a match for three. In his current state, it was the fact that he was largely covered in slippery mud that made it difficult for the men to pin him down. The two soldiers she had robbed clambered up the muddy slope. Rin drifted backwards into the trees she's spent the large part of the afternoon staring at. She tucked the purses into her rags. Loch and the four soldiers grunted and cursed at each other.

    "Rin," he gasped, throwing the Easterling off him. "RUN!" Three soldiers leapt on her brother in tandem as the fourth one picked himself up. "RUN," Loch bellowed again and went down hard. A bolt of fear propelled her deeper into the trees and she ran, careening on unsteady legs.

    She ran erratically, darting this way and that, her chest burning. Her mind was racing too. How was she supposed to stop the soldiers from killing her brother? That's what they did, soldiers. They killed people. Distracted and hurtling headlong through the forest, Rin ran straight into a man that seemed to materialize out of nowhere. She bounced off him with a surprised squeak and lost her footing. She managed, somehow to twist about and landed on her hands and knees into the rain soft forest floor. The man she had collided with picked her up easily. She dangled from his grip on the rags that covered her back.

    "Ho there, I think that's far enough," he said from beneath a deep cowl.

    Sharp eyes, bright grey pierced her as she hung from his hand. His stare was returned by a pair of wide, fever glazed wintry blue eyes. Rin knew how fragile the rags wrapping her were. She had but to twist hard enough and she'd be on the ground again and free to dart away, even if did mean doing so naked. She flailed, but her energy had largely been exhausted in her desperate flight to this juncture. It was more a display of wilful determination than an actual escape. The Ranger studied her a moment. She whimpered through rain darkened pale hair, arms and legs dangling. He gave her a light shake. Two pouches tumbled out and thumped onto the wet earth in front of where the Ranger stood.

    "You should have gone for their rations, woman," the Ranger chided. She weighed no more than a child, even if she clearly was no such thing any longer. The Ranger set her down and scooped up the pouches. He gestured at the trees behind him. More soldiers, a whole company, Rin realised with a sinking stomach. The mad rush through the trees had gotten blood flowing enough to let her shiver in fear and cold.

    "On your feet," Hanasian said. She crouched, resembling a started rabbit. He pulled her up firmly by an arm that seemed so slight as to be breakable. He was swift to let her go before such a thing occurred. The Ranger turned towards the track she had fled from.

    "Come on then," said one of the soldiers. His expression was cold, relentless, and he pushed her forward to follow the Ranger. When the Company and Rin stepped through the trees, Loch stared at her and then sagged.

    "Hope it was worth it," said the soldier that had ensured she marched with them. Rin fixed a gaze of such bleakness he recoiled in surprise. With Loch subdued, the four muddied soldiers had stepped back. Three looked irritated but the black giant seemed to be enjoying himself. Loch slowly picked himself up from the ground. Rin managed to teeter over to her brother. Her entire body was shaking with exhaustion. Her vision spun and her lips had started to turn a startling shade of blue.

    "You should have run, Rin," Loch said to his younger sister. She hadn't the strength to argue with him. Rin nodded automatically and sat suddenly on the muddy track, unable to trust her legs anymore. It didn't matter what happened anymore. She felt like she was melting under the rains onslaught. Her eyelids fell, heavy. They could not conceal the dangerous brightness of fever. It would be the death of her in her current state. Rin sagged against Loch's leg and closed her eyes proper in defeat. She had nothing left to give.

    "If you're to make your lives as bandits, they'll assuredly be short careers," Hanasian said. He tossed the stolen purses back to their owners.

    Khule caught his with an oath. Molguv merely smiled all the wider. The girl was good, he had to admit. Loch stared a moment, clearly astonished, and then looked down at his sister.

    "Why'd you do it, Rin? Rin?" he asked.

    Rin made no answer, for fever had stolen her awareness.

    "What have you say for yourself before the King's justice is served," asked one of the nearest soldiers. Loch made no reply at first, bending to stretch Rin out on the ground and tucking what passed as her clothing against her body. Her skin was simultaneously icy and yet burnt with fever's ferocity. Her paleness made her resemble some sort of icy statue, remote. It frightened Loch.

    "All we wanted was food," Loch replied, "I don't think she knew what she was doing." He smoothed back hair far paler than his own. She shivered beneath his touch.

    "This wasn't the plan," he murmured. "It wasn't supposed to be like this."

    Khule objected, "She knew her business. I never even felt her take the damn purse!" Beside him, Molguv had to agree. "Real professional. Give the street toughs in Umbar a run for their money," he said with open admiration.
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2011
  7. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

    Hanasian stared at the pair in front of him. From their dealings, they seemed obviously to have a sibling bond, even though they looked nothing alike. Perhaps thirty years on the man, a few less on his sister, they were clearly starving. Even at full speed, she'd weighed scarcely more than a child when she'd collided with him. A dozen well armed men is not a mark one would take lightly unless they're desperate. Hanasian looked at his men.

    "What say you men," the Ranger asked. "What shall the King's Justice mete to these two vagabonds?"

    Mulgov said something about keeping them as pets, which got a chuckle from some of the others. Khule said nothing at all. He just fingered the sword that should take their thieving hands off. Hanasian waved his hand for silence.

    "We will break here, for these trees offer a little surcease from the chill wind, though the rain has worked its way through them. They look as though they could use a bit of a meal. We'll rest cold. Everyone give up a bit of saddle fare for the kids to eat. And Khule, toss the girl that old cloak of yours. It will give her some protection from the elements along with some warmth, not to mention allowing her some decency from the eyes of you lot."

    Those still ahorse dismounted and they moved to the treelined side of the road. Loch managed to rouse his sister. It was that or have Mulgov carry her. The way their luck was turning, she'd wake, discover a soldier had a hold of her and then things would really go downhill. Mulgov along with Khule the Easterling kept a close watch on the two. Nothing was going to go missing while they rested and ate. The girl blankly accepted the cloak, even though it stunk and could use a wash, and the bits of bread and dried meat were gladly accepted. Loch placed an arm around his sister, who seemed to lapse in and out of consciousness against him. She was awake, barely, when the Ranger quizzed them. After they hungrily took part on what was offered, Hanasian questioned them.

    "So, since we had the opportunity to meet, I can guess your names from your words to each other. Now tell me where is it you came from, and where is it you go?"

    He stared at Loch, seeing a possible future prospect in him. That will have to wait though, for much will be determined by their words and deeds this day. Where from and where to were mighty questions indeed for the unfortunate pair. Loch felt her stiffen, despite her relentless shivering, with the irrational suspicion that she had harboured for soldiers since they'd been forced from their home.

    "Don't tell them," Rin tried to say. Her shivering made it hard to get the words out.

    "Less talk from you and more eating would be a fine idea, girl," growled the big Haradian with a wide smile. Loch sensed there was no malice in it, but Rin had no such faith.

    She all but crawled across her brother to the other side, and perched there to peer back at the large man from across Loch's shoulders. For his part, the man laughed and took another powerful bite at some hardened meat. Half dead, half conscious, half terrified, the girl had spit and he liked that. He demonstrated by waving the jerkey at her. Rin only clutched at her brother closer, cloak slipping from around her shoulders. The others grinned, mostly, though some saw the entire affair as all too familiar and all too sad. They ate and watched in silence.

    "Don't trust them, Loch! Don't!" Loch reached and pulled the cloak back up her shoulders. As far Rin was concerned, there wasn't a single soldier to be trusted. After what they had seen he could hardly fault her for that. But it didn't have to be that way, Loch knew, if you were on the other end of the sword. What had happened to their parents didn't if you were on the right end of the sword.

    "Eat, Rin, slowly or you'll get sick remember?" he gently chided her.

    Rin never took her eyes off the Haradian, who had given up with his peace offering and resumed eating it. She set her teeth at the corner of the bread and tore a piece off, slowly chewing and calculating how best to extricate them from their current mess. Just thinking about it made her head spin sickeningly. She resolutely took another bite, trying to keep her eyes on as many soldiers at one time as she possibly could. Meanwhile, Loch picked up on an old habit and ignored her counsel.

    "The Borderlands," he answered Hanasian, trusting to his instincts. Rin fought to keep consciousness beside him and dug a sharp elbow into his ribs. Loch stifled a wince and continued, "And we're going anywhere that's safe." Rin elbowed him again, harder.

    "They'll have a hard time finding that with their habits," Khule announced. Men grunted their agreement around them. Hanasian waved silence again and probed closer, watching the young woman with mounting concern.

    "Which border," he quizzed and noted Loch hesitate for the first time. Years of bitter racial prejudice had taught him caution. Still, in for a penny was what their Da used to sat each morning long ago.

    "Dunland," Khule said with a glance to Wulgof, "That's what I'd wager." Beside him, Rin hissed a warning at Loch and then toppled face first into the grass, half eaten bread rolling from one out stretched and limp hand. "Aye, Dunland, and what of it," Loch snapped, unsure if he now need to defend himself from the usual prejudice and somehow tend his sister.

    "Now you've done it, Khule," Mulgov said, waving at the newly unconscious Rin. Loch knelt to lift his sister up. "Ah! She's burning!"

    "And she wasted perfectly edible stale bread,"
    Mulgov said, shaking his head. He liked the girl, but she sure was hard to keep awake. The boy, though, a good feed and he had promise.

    "Don't get too close," Khule warned. "I made that mistake and it nearly cost me a month's pay!" Loch chafed Rin's cheeks in a bid to rouse her. Her shivering started to become violent, and her eyes moved beneath pale lids, but she did not wake.

    Mulgov stood, retrieved the bread and studied the scene below. "If it's an act, it's a damn good one," he rumbled.

    Hanasian sighed heavily and reached under his tightly drawn cloak to fetch out a pouch that did not contain money. He pushed Loch aside, pulled open Rin's mouth and crumbled a dark powder between her lips that he washed down with a quick swig from his water bag. A long moment passed and the shivering abated to more normal levels.

    "How long have you been out here," the Ranger asked, studying the young woman sprawled on the ground before them both. "Forever," Loch groaned. One way or another, it had been.

    "And you were heading for Tharbad," Hanasian stated, the conclusion foregone. Loch nodded, staring hard at his sister.

    "I still think we should keep them," Mulgov said, "Even if they are trouble." Khule grunted, clearly unimpressed with the idea. Hanasian scooped up the girl and handed her across to Mulgov.

    "Mount up men," he ordered. Grumbling, the men did as bidden. Loch was assigned to ride behind Khule. Hanasian took the girl himself, hoping the added warmth of the horse would be enough to get her through to Tharbad, a roof and four weatherproof walls.

    Rin, perhaps fortunately, was entirely insensate for all of this. Oblivious to being handed about soldiers, she wandered fever fueled dreams of a place long ago and a woman whose voice still haunted her memories. Loch, though desperately worried for his sister still marveled at the day's turn. He was in a waking dream long clutched to his heart across the years of his childhood: a soldier at last.
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2011
  8. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

    "Worry not missy," Hanasian said as the company started to ride.

    "None here will harm or take advantage of you. They are rather foul in appearance, but they all mean well and serve King Elessar." Rin showed no response, and Hanasian hoped she wouldn't add insult to injury and fall off the horse. A hand went up and fingers moved, and they set out at a fair gallop. They hoped to make Tharbad by nightfall.

    The rain intensified as they went on, and the grey skies darkened with heaviness and the onset of evening. They weren't going to make it. Hanasian had to make a decision to either push on in the cold wet darkness or stop and make a cold camp. Too many leagues yet to go, and with things uncertain in the city, he decided to take them off the road to a thicket of trees by some rock outcroppings about a half mile east of the road. He sent Wulgof the Dunlanding and Amira of Dale up to scout the high ground while the rest tried to settle for some rest as best they could. But it wasn't long before Wulgof and Amira returned.

    "We found orc-sign, and it is at the most a day old. We should be wary here." Hanasian talked to the two scouts further, noting that Loch had drifted close by and lingered with open curiosity. Nothing they were saying required guard, so so Hanasian though to get a further measure of the young man.

    "You... Loch, come here." Instinct made Loch start in the other direction. Every time he'd been summoned to step forward, it had been to receive a generous helping of cruel intolerance and prejudice. Loch paused, steeled himself, and returned to where the Ranger and soldiers stood.


    Hanasian said to Wulgof and Amira, "We should ask this man, for I have a feeling he has been around here quite a bit of late. Loch, have you seen any orcs or sign they have been in your travels?" Loch looked like he was thinking, surprised that his opinion had been sought on the matter.

    Hanasian went on, "We just want to know what you have seen since I'm sure you and the girl had your eyes out for anyone moving through these parts. Speak free man."

    Hanasian had already made up his mind that they would go forth to Tharbad in the dark, taking their chances with the city watch than being waylaid in the night by orcs, but he wanted to engage this boy. Perhaps it was what he saw at their meeting or a gut feeling he had, or both, but Hanasian was thinking there may be more to this boy. Loch turned to where the aforementioned 'girl' lay. If she were awake, she'd be glaring at him hard enough to set his hair on fire. He knew why that would be, but he also knew his own mind. He turned back to where the Ranger and the two scouts stood, chewed it over some more and decided to cast the die whilst Rin was oblivious.
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2011
  9. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

    "Aye, sporadic and old at first," he confirmed. "But it got fresher and thicker as we closed on Tharbad. All the game vanished too." Loch gestured at his own spare frame and then scratched at his chin. Rin would have his hide for consorting with soldiers, but Rin was plain wrong headed about it and he knew that for certain.

    "How long since you've found game," Amira asked the young man. Loch shrugged one shoulder laconically. "Three days, this would be the fourth I suppose."

    Hanasian studied Loch carefully as he spoke. Aside from his sandy hair, Rohan at a guess, the lad had similar features to Wulgof, confirming the lad's earlier tale about his origins. His sister, however, was entirely another matter. There was neither Dunland or Rohan in her features. All it took was once glance over to where she now sat, blinking blearily at the men and horses around her. The young woman, Hanasian could not help but conclude, had the look of a people long scattered by the inexorable predations of war – his own northern kin.

    But that was not all Hanasian thought of. Loch's statement confirmed several other things about the young man. He was, it would seem, a skilled tracker and reasonable hunter. There was no other way for the pair to be in such reasonably good condition. They had the look of those perpetually wandering, and clearly had been able to survive. Where their family was now there was no telling, but Loch was keen to belong. It was stamped all over him. He soaked up the company of the men around him like the desert did rain. Lastly, Loch had demonstrated a fierce loyalty to his sister. That they'd clung together and not gone their separate ways said much. The boy would find it much easier to survive if he did not have a younger sister to care for. His sister would have easily found a comfortable situation in the way that attractive women can if she did not have an older brother to consider.

    Rin had her bearings once again and had begun to glare at her brother as Loch had known she would. He ignored her, which prompted the young woman to stand.

    "We ride, then," Hanasian said as he noticed Rin was on her feet and conscious again, "Hard as we can." Khule, who had drifted over muttered, "Not as hard as we could."

    He flicked a dark gaze at Loch and then his sister. Stung, Loch unwisely replied "I can too ride as hard as you." The men chuckled knowingly around him.

    "Well and good," Hanasian said after a moment's further thought. "We'll see in five or so minutes." Dismissed, the men peeled away to tend to their saddles and themselves before they again had to mount up.

    Loch strolled over to where Rin stood, fidgeting with her slipping cloak. Molguv loomed over the pair and plucked up the cloak with a grin. He produced a wickedly curved dagger, carved a head sized hole in the middle of it and then dropped it back over Rin's frozen, shocked face.

    "That," Khule cried, "is MY CLOAK!" Molguv winked at the Easterner and sauntered away. Khule turned back to his horse, muttering thick curses in his own tongue. Hanasian meanwhile had plucked out two apples from his own saddle bags and brought them to the siblings.

    "Eat," he said sternly. "You'll need to be able to hang on to keep up." With that, he left the pair to it. Rin stared at the apple in her hand, overwhelmed by the wealth it represented. Loch took a large bite, chewing hard and ignoring the renewed glare she turned back on him.

    "What do you think you're doing, Loch," she demanded, taking a bite out of her own apple and closing her eyes momentarily as the sweet rush of it permeated her.

    "I'm helping, Rin. It's not so hard. Even you could do it if you wanted to," he teased around another mouthful of apple. Rin's scowl returned deeper than before and Loch threw his arms up in exasperation. This was an argument that had been brewing all day, from when Rin had discovered that Loch had deliberately set them in the path of the people she feared the most.

    "What, Rin? What's the big problem?"

    Rin rolled her eyes, lowered her apple and hissed a response, "I've said it before, Loch. They're soldiers."

    Loch pointed at the apple in her hand, "Mmmm, evil soldiers who give you food." He pointed again at her makeshift poncho. "And that, whatever it is." Rin waved his arguments aside with a shake of her pale hair and an increasingly stubborn set to her chin.

    "It doesn't matter which army, they're all the same, Loch and you're mad if you let all this fool you!"

    Loch looked up, his own jaw bunching as he stared hard over his sister's head. Then he took a bite of his apple and chewed it carefully. "

    "Well, Rosmarin," he said heavily and sparking a growl from her at his tone, "We'll do it your way. Let's say that those men were soldiers. Even though I know they weren't and you weren't old enough to remember. If that is true, then I'll tell you this little sister. If Da had known his way around a sword, maybe he and mother would be alive today! Maybe if Da had been a soldier, we'd still-" Rin's slap broke the rest of what her brother had been about to say off.

    It shocked the both of them. Loch straightened, fists closing at his side and then took a careful step back with narrowed eyes. Rin stared at her own hand, shaken, and then to her brother's face.

    "No Loch. It's not their fault. That's not right," she said urgently. Hanasian, like the others, had watched the argument spring to life with some interest. He strode over between the pair.

    "Enough, I think. Mount up, men!" He pointed Loch over to Wulgof, and took Rosmarin's upper arm through the cloak. "I'd finish that apple in a hurry, were I you," Hanasian said. Rin's apple had turned to ashes as far as she was concerned, but she lifted it to her mouth all the same, unable to take her eyes off her brother.

    "If I'm wrong, Rin, then so are we both," Loch said in parting, turned his back and walked away. "Make sure Wulgof gives you a weapon of some sort," Hanasian said to hurry Loch along.

    Hanasian looked down at the young woman he had in hand, sorely tempted to question her further but lacking the opportunity to do so. Yes, most definitely of the Dunedain was this one. "Ready?" he instead asked. Rin tossed the apple core away.

    "Nearly," she said, tugging her arm. Hanasian let her go and she took a few steps to the side, plucked a grey green plant from a rock and chewed some leaves. Hanasian blinked his surprise and pointed to his horse. Subdued and still chewing Rin complied. He mounted and stretched down to pull her up.

    "If anything happens, you get down low against the horse's neck and hang on," he instructed. Rin nodded and swallowed, shoulders slumped. "What," he started to ask as he kicked his horse into a trot and then a canter.

    "Lamb's Tongue," came Rin's reply, "for fever." It wasn't what he had been going to ask. He had been going to ask what the confrontation between her and her brother had been about. Not that it was likely she'd answer him with the same freedom her brother seemed to. Still, her response did provide him with further information that confirmed there was yet more to pursue with the pair.

    As night fell, Hanasian's company rode as fast as they dared towards Tharbad, scouts ranging around seeking further sign of impending attack. As he rode, Rin before him, he couldn't help but wonder about her origins. She looked of northern stock and, if he guessed aright, possessed abilities of a similar origin. As Rin rode through the night, she closed her eyes and hung on. The Lamb's Tongue broke her fever as she had known it would, but it couldn't stop what she kept seeing in her mind's eye. Her mother's blood spread in a growing pool across the floor of their cottage, a hungry and relentless tide that had stolen everything from her.
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2011
  10. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

    They had set off riding hard toward the old city, but Wulgof could sense trouble. Apparently in his years of absence, wayward gangs of renegade orcs had gathered in the hills and would raid the road and the Dunlanding settlements. He didn't like this latest hardship on his people, but what was this old soldier, a veteran of the Orthanc Legion, first of the young strong Dunlandings recruited by Sarumann to fight his war against Rohan, to do? He survived Helms Deep, and captivity under the horsemen of Rohan wasn't too bad. It was where he met Folcrum, one of his guards. They had become friends, which was no small feat considering the long-standing differences between the Rohirrim and the Dunlandings, and up to just a short time earlier they were trying to kill each other. The peace allowed Wulgof to return home where he tried to eek out a living trying to grow crops in the rocky land of the foothills. He didn't stay long, for the trauma of battle haunted him and he had no peace. He had gone north and worked odd jobs in Bree and drank at the Prancing Pony. It was there his life changed forever.

    A familiar looking blonde man came in and talked to several men about joining the King's Company. He recognised the man as Folcrum. Folcrum recognised him. Few words were said by either, for Wulgof's eyes said that he would gladly become a prospect to join the company...

    Wulgof realised they would likely be attacked and had his axe, sword, and daggers at ready if needed. Wasn't sure how he would be able to do battle with this hanger-on boy with him, but he showed good ability in the brief exchange he had with company men. Still, the night was dark and the rain made visibility even harder. A few of the men rode wide and would make a bird sound every few minutes to signal all was clear.

    Hanasian's hand raised and signalled quickly, sensing their approach. With the bird-calls coming in with a different pitch, they slowed and drew close as they rode. A faint glow of torchlight could be seen ahead in the mist, so they were drawing close to the city's outer watch. But the hiss, thud, and cry of pain from a horse to their right was the start of the attack. Belgon, a soldier of Minas Tirith who fought in the Pelennor, hit the ground with a grunt and was hacked to death even before he stopped rolling. The fight was on.
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2011
  11. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

    The attack, when it came, was swift and with little warning that Rin or Loch could discern. Loch heard the hiss and whine of arrows around him. In front, Wulgof shouted "Attack!" The group put on new speed, moving into a tight formation that pushed Hanasian's horse inwards and the one Loch rode with Wulgof out.

    "Hope you're ready for this," the Dunlander grunted to Loch. Loch gripped the shortsword uncertainly and nodded, voice vanished. With a terrible scream, the orcs closed and the forces were enjoined.

    The orcs were brazen, attacking so close to New Tharbad. The glow of the settlement's torches lights beckoned tantalisingly close on the trail ahead. Archers on the external horses continued their volley, Loch ducking beneath Wulgof's bow and swinging with his short sword as best he could manage. Closer in, Hanasian drew his own blade and circled his horse about to take stock.

    "Remember," he growled in Rin's ear as his gaze raked the trail ahead and the distance to Tharbad's safety. "Head low and hang on." Rin clutched at the pommel. The Ranger slid off his mount.

    Hanasian sent the horse charging with Rin ahead to Tharbad. He jumped atop Khule's horse and the pair moved to close the gap Hanasian's horse had made. Nearby another horse screamed as a pike pierced it's hind legs and severed its hamstrings. Loch was surrounded in a bewildering, sweaty, terrifying and electrifying nexus of hand to hand combat. He'd never been so close to such creatures before in his life. Three surged Wulgof's horse, causing it to shy abruptly. Loch tumbled off its rump, rolled and came to his feet where a number of other un-horsed soldiers now gathered.

    A large hand closed on what passed for Loch's collar and hauled him backwards. Molguv grinned at him madly in the night and savagely laid into the orcs that boiled towards them. It was chaos. It made his stomach churn when he later had the time to think back on it. It shocked him when he found himself laughing and swinging beside the Haradian giant.

    Hanasian's horse surged, leaping over the orcs in a graceful arc of horseflesh. The scent of orcs drove it hard towards Tharbad and Rin clung to the pommel for dear hope. Behind her, the cries of men in battle froze her bones. Ahead of her, Tharbad and safety glistened. Behind her was her brother. Rin sawed at the reins with all her scant strength, managing only to bring the horse back around. She applied her heels and it started cantering forward, gathering speed. Only the training of Hanasian's horse saved Rin's life. The horse tacked sharply to avoid another orc pike, tumbling Rin from the saddle and bringing her rolling along the track until she collided with a heavy object that groaned when she hit it.

    Rin shook her head to clear it and peered at what had ceased her rolling. It was a man, a grizzled and grey veteran that Rin had heard the others call "Bear." He was breathing hard and shallow through his mouth and opened his eyes as she bent over him. "Thought you was long gone, lass," he ground out. Khule, meanwhile spotted Hanasian's horse speeding by. "Your horse," he grunted, thrusting through another orc and flicking it off his blade. Hanasian slashed viciously, watched it ghost by with its empty saddle. He cursed what it surely meant.

    It was hard for her to see, but Bear was clearly in pain. "Where," Rin asked as she started to search about. "Gut," Bear said as Rin discovered for herself the sticky warmth of a blow that would likely kill him. She felt about, carefully, and realised that instinct had prompted Bear to try to hold himself in. She was an entirely different person to the young woman they'd met that afternoon.

    "Move your hands when I say so," she said urgently. Bear grunted, "Duck," and a sword slashed the air over where her head had been. Rin looked up to see Wulgof move past her, slashing and weaving and screaming something incomprehensible to her. She returned her attention to Bear.

    "Move," she said and began the difficult and delicate task of repacking the parts of his upper stomach that had escaped. She worked quickly, focused, and instructed the man to hold himself together again. Re-pack, close, clean, she recalled Calerous chanting to the group that watched him perform this technique in the far more civilised setting of an infirmary some months ago. She could do one, some of the second, but none of the third step of his technique. Rin reached under the makeshift poncho to unravel some of the rags she had been wearing. She pulled them out hurriedly and then shifted to try to leverage Bear slightly up. He was too heavy for her to manage. Wulgof fought hard around her and when a momentary lull was won he turned back to woman. "What the hell are you doing here," he snarled, ducking as another pike was thrown.

    "Help me lift him," Rin demanded, none of the fear they'd seen in her evident now. Wulgof peered at her, swore and then complied. Rin, meanwhile darted hands around Bear to start wrapping him up.

    "Waste of time," Bear gasped. "It might be," she said through gritted teeth and tied the bandaging off. "Now what," Wulgof asked, eyes scanning the fray. He had no idea why he was asking her. The men had managed to form a circle, she saw and she pointed.

    "Help me get him in there," she said. Together, they dragged Bear, towards the safety. "You," Wulgof panted, "Are going to be the death of me."

    Rin just closed her eyes and dragged. Her heart lurched into her throat and then they were through. "That's it," Wulgof said, "No more crazy stuff." He shook his head and spun away.

    Bear was still panting. He needed to stay warm, given the blood he had surely lost. She pulled the cloak from over her head without further thought and laid it over him. It was the best she could do under the circumstances. Within the circle, Rin found others fallen. Some dead, some human, and some alive. She raided whatever she could lay her hands on – water, a dagger, cloth and set about continuing what she had done for Bear. Time lost any grip on her until an orc grabbed her ankle. She panicked, grasping for anything within reach. She found a stone and pounded at the creature, already mostly dead, until it's grip failed. The call of horns broke through the night.

    A ripple of unease shimmied through those orcs that remained at the sound. Their heads swivelled this way and that and they hesitated. For Rin, it made no difference to her. She was fighting her own battle. Another blast of horns and the orcs broke with a piercing howl. They ran, gibbering, into the night. The screams of horses and the groans of men lingered in their wake. Some of Hanasian's company that still stood walked the scene, putting down horses and ensuring fallen orcs were truly dead. Others dragged orc carcasses away. Rin continued her work, washing orc blood out of a fallen man's face. She didn't know his name. Someone pulled her to her feet, a man's hand tugging her upwards, and enfolded her in an embrace that pushed the breath from her body. "You just can't help yourself, can you Rin?"

    Loch's face swum into view. He was gabbling, asking her if she was unharmed and peering at her with growing concern as he took in her bloodied state.

    "Where is that cloak," he asked. Rin pointed to where Bear lay, unable to respond further. Everywhere she looked in the rain, there was more to do.

    "What did you think you were doing," Hanasian demanded, looking about in astonishment and then squarely at her. Rin pointed looked over at Bear, who was an alarming shade pale grey.

    "If you don't get him to Tharbad within the hour, he'll be dead no matter what I think I am doing," she declared. Wulgof, doubled over to catch his breath said between gasps, "She's crazy, Hanasian."

    Tharbad's Watch thundered around them and reined in, it's commander dismounting and seeking Hanasian out to exchange words. Hanasian dealt with the man, passing on information and requesting assistance to get several of his fallen to Tharbad quickly. The watch quickly fell out and to their tasks. Rin pointed particular men out, steering them this way and that. In the torchlight, she made an incongruous figure, covered in blood and wearing rags and dilapidated boots. It was Khule again to the rescue, donating the only other cloak he had left to his name and wrapping it around her shoulders. The Easterling shook his head as he did so, not sure what he had more difficulty understanding: her actions or his.

    "I didn't know you travelled with a healer," the Watch officer said. Hanasian made a non committal sound, cleaning and sheathing his own sword. "Neither did I," he muttered, and turned to round up his remaining men.
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2011
  12. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

    Hanasian's mind was a whir of activity. If the orcs were so brazen this far south, then it boded ill for Arnor where the King's men were more thinly spread. He had lost two men in this encounter, and could little afford to lose more. He mounted, pulling Rin up without so much as a word and set off for Tharbad. The healer stood on the steps to the infirmary, blinking owlishly beneath a wavering lantern in the rain.

    "Which one first," Hanasian asked Rin. She looked back over her shoulder, trying to understand. "Which one should I tell him needs aid first?"

    Rin blinked. "I can tell him that," she replied. Hanasian snorted. "I doubt he'll listen to a woman clad in more blood than rags on such matters." Rin opened her mouth to retort, closed it and chose a wiser option. "Bear," she said, an admission that the Ranger at her back was correct, "Though I'm not sure if speed will save him."

    Hanasian relayed the instructions to the healer. The man on the steps peered at those that were brought in, assessing what he saw with a clinical distance that Hanasian's company had witnessed in Rin back on the track.

    "You're staying," the healer asked. Hanasian shook his head and behind him seven of his men still fit to ride groaned softly. "I fear not. Tell them to make all speed for Bree when they're fit to ride." The healer nodded and hastily withdrew from the rain to set about what would be a very long night. Hanasian signalled the men to ride out and they crossed Tharbad and thundered through what remained of the night towards distant Bree.

    Hanasian pushed them hard, but fatigue is as much a foe as any orc. The fight had been hard on Hanasian. Though many fights in far flung lands he and these men had been through, this one here in the midst of the kingdom hit hard. Two good men who were originals were dead, another was wounded and would be doing good to live, let alone rejoin their ranks. Hanasian reigned them in at dawn. It was a rare dawn that spring, unusually clear and bright. The men gratefully eased out of their saddles. They settled in a grassy field in the land just west of the road. Rin was already asleep. Hanasian had felt her weight settle back against him an hour before dawn. Hanasian stretched her out, propping a saddle bag with few enough valuable items to be counted a loss if her earlier inclinations emerged once again Seeing that everyone was in order, and Rin was sleeping, he set out to scout and look for sign.

    The men unsaddled the horses and set them out on pickets to rest. Loch sidled over and begged some leather from Molguv. The Haradian happily supplied him a length. Loch settled in by the fire to work at it, glancing occasionally over to where his sister lay sleeping.

    "What happened to her clothes," Molguv asked. Loch shrugged, not looking up from his task. "Gave that cloak to Bear, I think," he replied, distracted. Molguv shook his head. "No, before that," he prompted. That brought Loch's activity to a halt for a moment. His jaw clenched, face darkened and he glanced at Rin.

    "Farm three days walk from Tharbad. He was ex-Minas Tirith, a soldier," he said, voice low with anger. "Took work there in exchange for food and lodgings in the barn. I ran out of nails for the fence and came back to the barn. The farmer…" Loch's voice failed him a moment as the ugly scene surfaced again. His hands started their work again and after a moment he resumed.

    "He'd ripped the dress from her. I wanted to kill the man, but Rin just wanted out. We stole a bed sheet. It was all we could do." Loch sounded weary beyond his years. Molguv's habitual grin had vanished. Khule and Wulgof had overheard as well. All three looked at Rin's sleeping form. She had curled into a tight ball beneath Khule's drying cloak.

    Loch stood abruptly, disturbing their thoughts. "Going hunting," he brusquely said, forcing the conversation away from that particularly dark incident. "Don't think that's wise," Molguv said. "I need food, and there should be pheasant here if they've not scattered. Besides, I'm not going anywhere far without her."

    Loch cast about, selected stones and trotted down the gentle slope towards a stream that curved at its base. The men watched him go thoughtfully. Once Loch was out of sight, they delved into their saddle bags, unspoken agreement between all three. Molguv fished out his only clean shirt, Wulgof and Khule other things that would be useful on the road north, a spare cup and plate, a serviceable belt knife. They gathered the items up, carefully approached the woman that slept and left them nearby for her. Then they settled back by the small fire to see to their weapons and equipment. Repairs and maintenance only became more onerous the longer they were delayed.

    It was inevitable that talk between Wulgof, Khule and Molgov turned to the day before. "Lost two good men last night," Wulgof solemnly observed.

    Amira of Dale had been a steadfast soldier and able scout, with a ready grin and decided black twist to his humour. Belgon had been an enduring pillar, staunch in a scrap and unflappable after the Pelennor.

    "Unusual for them to attack so close to settlements," Wulgof added. "Something's amiss, but Hanasian will determine if it's ours to solve," Khule replied. All three knew that they were headed for Bree, and until that was changed by the Ranger that commanded their company, they were headed for Bree. As simple as that. A companionable silence sprang up for several heartbeats before their conversation turned again.

    "Saw you had to lift Loch out, Molguv" Khule stated. Molguv grunted, working off a nasty jagged spar on one of his long curved knives. "Just as well I did. Fought like a bull. Very handy. Did you hear him laughing?"

    Khule nodded, "Berserker, I'd wager, if the conditions were right. They can be mad dogs, but a mad dog can be useful in a tight spot. He seems level headed enough otherwise."

    Wulgof shook out the bridle he'd been repairing and set it down for a moment. "Mad? Try that sister of his. She's insane," Wulgof confided. "Thought Hanasian sent her off," Khule queried.

    "Aye, well no matter what our Cap wanted, she came back. Nearly lost her head for her trouble. Made me drag Bear in. Insanity," Wulgof replied heavily.

    "Did you see her brain that orc though? I tell you, lads, that one has spit," Molguv announced with approval. "That much 'spit' can get a man killed," Wulgof observed. Khule sighed, regretting already what he was about to say.

    "We'd have lost Bear, perhaps a few more, without her though. Can't see Hanasian letting that go. She'd need some training, she can't bludgeon every foe that decides she's an easy mark. Still, how many times have we wanted a healer on the road, eh? Hanasian'll want Loch to replace Amria as scout. He'll need training too," Khule said.

    Wulgof nodded, "Aye, he'll want both of them," he agreed, "Perhaps in more ways than one." Mulgov smiled widely and barked a laugh that made the other two look up from their work.

    "Well, she's a damn sight better to look at than any of us," Molguv declared, "These pets will last longer than the last one."

    Wulgof shrugged, "The last one was a frog. I told you it would freeze." Khule smiled in recollection, "But it tasted good!" Wulgof looked back at Rin, who had shifted again. Her hair, now dry, spread over the ground like sun on snow. The Dunlander muttered something about women and trouble.

    "She sure doesn't like us, though," he observed after a short silence. Molguv nodded sagely. "That's the problem with so much spit," he added.

    The conversation veered onto the various wagers each had running on the multitude of things soldiers enjoy wagering on. It was perhaps an hour before Loch was sighted walking back up the slope. He had a brace of pheasants and it was a welcome sight. Pheasants meant that orcs were not present. The feathers could be used to re-fletch arrows and the meat would be a delight after so long on cold rations. Exhausted as she was, Rin's empty stomach ensured she did not sleep through the feast. She blinked awake mid morning, initially disorientated until she recalled her current predicament – surrounded by soldiers that her brother had purposefully set them in the path of the day before. The aroma of roasting pheasant tickled her nose and she peeked over the edge of the cloak that had been spread over her. Soldiers came and went, ambling and at their ease aside from those that sat watch. Loch sat with three men, chatting amicably. Such was her brother. He chose to lock his demons deep down and sail over the top on smooth waters.
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2011
  13. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

    Rin carefully sat up and realised that a small pile of belongings had been left near the saddlebag she had been sleeping on. She peered at them, uncertain of why they were there. Loch noticed his sister sitting and he gestured at the bundle she was cautiously staring at.

    "Yours," he called over with a grin. He waved his hand at the stream at the bottom of the hill. "Go wash up, Rin. Food'll be ready soon." Rin stared at her brother, but he said nothing further and turned back to resume the conversation he'd been holding with Khule, Wulgof and Molgov.

    "Is she doing it?" he asked the other men, not daring to look around to check.

    "I think so," Khule replied, studying Rin from the corner of his eye as she picked up a shirt almost large enough to fit two of her in. He winced and looked away.

    "She's going to tan your hide," he said to Loch. Loch shrugged and grinned.

    "She always has to catch me first, though," he said with a wink.

    Rin collected the cloak and huge shirt. It smelt clean, which was more than could be said for herself. She scanned about her. No one seemed to care overly much what she did. Rin cautiously picked her way through camp. Those that glanced in her direction merely nodded their head amicably, some greeted her. It was utterly disconcerting. But then, these had only been men and not monsters to her hours ago. Shaking her head, she trotted down to the stream, found sufficient tree cover and divested herself of the mud and blood and various detritus left in her hair from her sprint through the forest yesterday.

    The water was cold, and after the initial shock she could feel the fatigue sluicing away from her. The shirt was made of a pale and worn fabric. She sat in the sun to dry before putting it on. Not a single soul ventured to disrupt her. She recalled Hanasian's comment from yesterday afternoon only distantly. No one would bother her, he had said. It seemed laughable then, but she'd been too unwell to voice her doubts. Soldiers were soldiers and she'd seen what they could do for herself. It was this chilling awareness that prevented the music of the water to completely unravel her caution. Loch may have relaxed, but she for one would not relent.

    Rin dried quickly under the spring sun and she soon ducked into the giant shirt. It fell to her knees and the neck was so large that it kept slipping off one shoulder. Still, it was a large improvement on the torn bed sheet, some of which she had lost the night before treating fallen men. Hanasian caught the bright flash of her bright hair through the trees as she dressed. Rin didn't notice him, and he gave her privacy in hopes of gaining her trust. She stood wondering what to do next for some moments. The idea of rejoining her brother and the soldiers up the slope was not an appealing or particularly wise one, but nor could she skulk about in the bushes on her own for goodness knows how long. Her choices were few. She could press on without Loch for the time being and hope good sense eventually caught up with him before misfortune did...and it would, considering the company he kept. Or she could venture back into the fire to rejoin him. Rin heaved a deep sigh. Perhaps, after she had managed to find some food, she could slip away again.

    Unable to overrule her empty stomach, Rin started back up the hill with her misgivings persistently circling in her head. She was initially startled when Hanasian emerged from cover elsewhere. Instinct saw her pause and it was only then that she noted the fatigue stamped on his face. He moved stiffly, she noted and glimpsed a tell tale tattoo of blood over his left ribs. "You're injured," she said. He nodded distantly but said nothing further. She followed him back to the camp.

    "Something's drawing the orcs to New Tharbad. Don't know what. No sign of them here," Hanasian said, eyeing the pheasants with interest. Loch scratched at his beard, considered his sister and grinned. She had an expression he was familiar with and she was intently studying the ranger. He hadn't been certain the promise of food would be enough to lure her back. The emergence of a patient had sealed the deal.

    "We'll stay the day, move tonight. We face lands unfriendly," Hanasian continued, glancing to Wulgof and Loch who both bore the stamp of Dunland in their features, unlike Rin. The men nodded and Hanasian turned to sort out his own gear before settling down for rest. He sat, knowing Rin stood at his back. Rin shifted her weight, tucking mostly dry hair behind her ears.

    "You're injured," she repeated.

    "And what do you plan to do about it?" Hanasian asked, mind busily turning, as he looked through his saddlebag. It was the one he'd propped under her head earlier. It was clear that this one was a healer, unable to help herself no matter how difficult the situation or patient may be.

    "I could wait until you're asleep," she replied. He heard the mule-headed note to her statement clearly and hid his smile at it.

    It was that stubbornness that had enabled her to overcome her fear, aversion to soldiers and his horse last night. Hanasian looked up at her with a carefully blank expression. If she thought she was being manipulated, he sensed she'd bolt and given what had happened this was not the sort of place a lone, underfed woman should wander in unarmed. The sun stood behind her, illuminating her. She shrugged in half an apology and smiled shyly down at him. The Ranger sat back on his heels, his inspection of the saddle bag he'd left under her head completed.

    "Nothing missing, so why not," he said dryly. Rin crouched to his left and eased back clothing. The blood had dried and stuck his shirt to his flank.

    "Nothing missing yet," she corrected, wetting down the fabric to free it. "You'll need more water and kingsfoil by the time I'm done."

    Hanasian blinked in surprise, for such things he carried on his belt and not in his saddle back. She had lifted both without so much as a snag. Healer and thief, both useful for a Company such as his. "How," he paused to let pain pass as she worked, "Did you know that was there?"

    Rin was bent, cleaning out the one slash that an orc had landed through his guard last night. She looked up into his face and smiled openly.

    "You think I can't smell kingsfoil?" she asked rhetorically before returning to her work. So close, it was impossible to miss the presence of Numenor in the delicate structure of her face.

    "Athelas," Hanasian murmured. Rin muttered something about names being meaningless and the importance of holding still. She seemed unaware of the heritage he saw in her appearance, and indeed in her healing skills. Rin finished cleaning the wound, muttering about orcs as she worked, and started to wrap his torso in now washed lengths of bed sheet. Hanasian looked across to her brother as she worked.

    The men seemed to have recruited him already. They may have picked a scout already, it appeared. He smiled faintly and studied next Rin's bowed head. Her hands were deft, sure and gentle. There was much more to this woman than what meets the eye... it was then that a thought of a day some years ago passed through his mind. But he let it pass without much consideration at this point. She tied off the bandaging once she was convinced it was secure, trying to ignore the closeness of the Ranger she worked upon.

    "Thank you, Rosmarin," Hanasian said quietly once she was done. The sound of his voice wrapped around her name did curious and unexpected things to her. Rin put it down to lingering disorientation from fever, because rangers and soldiers were men to fear and deal with accordingly. She sat back on her heels, reached for her composure and nodded.

    "You are welcome, Hanasian. Keep that clean or it will inflame," she said calmly. As well he knew. Having worked wounds in battlefields, cleanliness he knew was important. Many a man who could have lived, wouldn't for lack of clean environment to heal in. While it wasn't always possible to have, one could do what they could to try. Healers, as a rule, were particularly insistent on this score. He'd heard more than one berate a ferociously armed warrior over it in his time.

    "Hey Rin, you want this leg," Loch shouted from the fire. That snapped her head about and she was off to retrieve the food on offer. Khule looked across to Hanasian, who had lowered his shirt and was now smiling into the distance. He caught the Easterling's meaningful look and nodded at the man. Hanasian watched the siblings again, as if checking his own thoughts and decisions a final time. They had settled in around the first of the pheasants that had been roasting over the flames. It would be good to get some real food them both, particularly Rin. The fever seemed to have burnt most of her strength away. It was a chance to go talk to the men too. He left the paid huddled together and called the men a short distance away to their own huddle. Hanasian had only a couple things to say really, and it seemed they knew the answers.
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2011
  14. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

    "Sign him up already. We saw and knew less of Berlas over there than we do now of Loch," said Khule. Berlas was a silent one, new to the company while they were in Minas Tirith. A young Ranger of Ithilien during the lead-up to the war, he was dismissed by Faramir recently for some "indescretions". He would not say what, and nobody asked. Each man's business was his own, as long as it didn't interfere with their commission to the King. With Faramir's discussion with Hanasian and signed approval, the dismissal was sent to the King as one who "volunteered" for the company. Berlas was satisfied with it, needing to get somewhere else.

    Mulgov agreed, saying, "Yeah, we kinda like the kid. Has grit him. He'll do alright with us."

    Wulgof nodded, adding, "We kinda adopted him. We can teach him some finer skills of soldiering, and maybe help him gain a bit of discipline. Besides, we'll more than likely to be in need of a thief at some point in the future."

    "How true that," Hanasian thought as he pondered about his days of pursuit of the elf Naiore. "Yes, Rin comes with us too. We need the healing hands... but you knew that already. Treat them as company members, just don't say anything right yet to either of them. I want to have words with Loch first." They seemed pleased with this turn of events.

    Before could head of to set things in motion, Molguv asked a question of his own.

    "Cap, what of these orcs? Got us good, and here in King's country too!" Hanasian turned back to the men as Loch trotted up with some bird for the men.

    "They were bold, and it says that bands are roving in the Mistys still. Messengers have been sent from Tharbad to King Eomer and in turn to King Aragorn about this, and surely the Rohirrim will ride in force to rout them out. They seemed to be only on the south side of the river, as there is no sign of them on this side. Still, we will be wary on our ride north to Bree," Hanasian replied and looked up at the edge of the hill where Berlas kept watch. His Ithilien Ranger attire made him most suitable for concealment in green lands. Berlas signaled all was well, and Hanasian nodded and turned to Loch.

    "The bird smells good. I'm glad to see your sister is eating her fill. Walk with me to the far ridge."

    "Why? Where are we going,"
    Loch asked. Hanasian didn't reply and instead started to walk up toward the lip opposite Berlas. Loch followed, aware that one thing soldiers do is what they are told by their commanders. A good commander can keep his men in line. A bad one won't bother. At the top of the hill, the grass rolled away down toward the west into scrub and a few young trees.

    Rin was not at all impressed by the sight of her brother headed off with the Ranger, leaving her in the company of soldiers with a leg of a pheasant as means of defence. Loch ignored the itch between his shoulder blades as he walked away with Hanasian. Rin gave up glaring at her brother and turned her attention to those in her immediate surrounds. They were met with a wall of silence, which Kule opted to broach. If they were going to be part of the Company, someone had to try it.

    "Why don't you like soldiers?" he asked. Rin considered not answering. She glanced over at where the Easterling sat. It seemed a genuine question, and he wasn't the only one interested. Others seemed to be waiting for a response.

    "I've seen what they can do," she reluctantly replied.

    "Not all soldiers are the same," quietly challenged Wulgof.

    "Possibly… but tell me what makes one better than the other?" she responded. Molguv listed several attributes, honour, bravery, loyalty and skill. The others nodded as he spoke.

    "And I suppose, depending on which side of the dispute you might stand on, you'd think your side had those things and the other did not," she said. Wulgof grunted at that, surprised at how ably she had caught that peculiar quirk of human nature.

    "And so, if you're caught in the middle of so many, and no one is on your side so to speak, how then must it seem?" Rin continued. She did not have the slightest idea what possessed her to do this. Perhaps this brashness was also the fever's handiwork. Arguing military ethics with soldiers whilst armed only with a pheasant drumstick unarmed was not her wisest decision, she reflected. Molguv appeared thoughtful at her question.

    "Some things are absolute, regardless of your allegiances," Khule persisted. Rin shrugged at that.

    "Yes," Rin said quietly said, bringing her eyes squarely to the Easterling. "Some things are, including the stark reality that the strongest or fastest or cleverest wins, regardless of whether they are honourable or not."

    There wasn't a man there who had not seen what she described. Wulgof seemed a tad uncomfortable and looked away, recalling earlier years. Molguv and Khule studied the woman with renewed interest. It was the first actual conversation they'd had with their pet. Rin's jaw firmed as she resolved to opt for silence now, safer by far.
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2011
  15. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

    Above on the ridge, Hanasian eyeballed the first of his prospective recruits a moment.

    "You know what's out there over those far hills? The sea. I wanted to go there, to a port of old called Lond Daer. Was hoping it would happen this time, but alas, it will wait. I have to make for Bree. You and your sister will ride along with us." He looked north and squinted. Nothing to see this clear crisp morning.

    Hanasian continued, "When we get there, we will get you and your sister outfitted with proper attire. You two are joining the company... if you so wish of course. I'll need your advice on how to broach this with your sister." Loch looked genuinely dumbfounded by this. He'd seen the same look on the young man's face when he had discovered what Rin had done to Khule and Molguv yesterday.

    Could it actually be that he had managed to turn their lives around, Loch wondered. He had thought it would be Rin who would do that, given that she was plainly the smarter of them - most of the time. Loch could not possibly comprehend the true reality of military service. However, Loch could appreciate more than most the value of having a legitimate position in life. The world could be cruel to those that drifted like flotsam and jetsam on its currents. It was getting harder and harder to protect Rin too. One of these days, he'd be too late. He'd long believed that what happened to his parents didn't if you knew how to handle the non pointy end of a sword.

    "Just a few things you will need to know before deciding to join. First, is you will honour our commission. That is to our King Aragorn. You will at all times try to conduct yourself in a manner worthy of a soldier of the King. My core of veterans will train you in all that." Hanasian looked into Loch's eyes and read him. Loch did not turn away, but gazed back.

    Hanasian said, "You know the life of a soldier, especially one in this company, can be, and usually is, short-lived. Take Amira and Belgon…. They been through tough times with the war, and they rode far and had battled in the east by the Sea of Rhun where Khule's people are from, and they were overrun by Far Haradians when we were away south, and they lived to tell about it against all odds. Yet here in the King's own country, they are slain by a mob of renegade orcs. Bear too could perished but for your sister."

    Despite Hanasian's warnings, Loch's opinion did not waver. Better to be holding the sword at the correct end by far. In the past, he had discussed this option with his sister. The risks were many, but the food and pay were mostly regular and it was an honourable living...to accept the King's coin. Such discussions with Rin always ended in argument. Rin had failed to appreciate his perspective and Loch knew just how hard headed his sister could be. On this, he believed, she was not at all clever. Loch understood only too well where her fear sprang from. He had witnessed what she had.

    What he could not understand was how she would let that fear stand in the way of a better life. Loch sighed heavily. It was as irrational as it was strong. The simple fact was that if he told Rin outright of Hanasian's offer, she'd take flight and a whole army would not be able to stop her once that happened. On this occasion, Loch concluded, he would have to act on her behalf in their combined best interests. He was her brother. He owed her at least this much. Hanasian's offer was a generous one, and Loch accepted it gratefully.

    "I won't make you regret it," Loch assured the Ranger.

    Hanasian paused, "At least you're entering with your eyes open. All I ask of you is your best. We've made it official, but won't say anything until we get to Bree. Now let's get back down there and eat some more bird before the others have it all." With a signal to Berlas, they started back for the main camp below. Hanasian could see Rin was watching them intently, brooding. As they walked back, Loch turned over how best to handle his sister.

    "Rin's stubborn. Push her hard she's unmovable. She'll take six leaps backward for every push you make." Loch's voice held a telling rueful note that told the tale of many failed attempts over the years. He thought further as they walked back down the slope. He knew she'd not go far without him for now. So that meant that she'd stay if he did, under normal circumstances. They were each other had had for so long, anything else was inconceivable. An idea itched in his mind.

    Loch paused, then asked, "How far is it to Bree?" Loch had never ventured so far north, nor seen the sea. He no idea how to visualise what may lay ahead.

    "Seven days, give or take," Hanasian replied.

    Loch nodded at that and sighed,"Well, if in seven days my clever sister doesn't realise how wrong she is about some things; I've got bigger problems than I imagined. Provided no one sprouts horns or fangs, she'll see sense. She won't be able to help herself."

    Loch's hopeful tone was not lost on Hanasian. The Ranger nodded imperceptibly at the men upon returning to camp. Rin knew something was afoot just by looking at her brother's expression to know something was definitely afoot. She shot to her feet upon his return, a storm brewing already. Fast talking was needed, Loch knew, and it was needed now. He kept walking towards her, grabbed the back of the oversized shirt she wore and towed her backwards to a reasonably safe distance without so much as a hitch in his step. Khule winced from behind a pheasant leg, Molguv chuckled. He did not need his company hearing him getting his ears burnt by his younger sister. Loch, like any man, had his pride. Hanasian sat with the others, let the pair sort things out and made the most of the remaining pheasants.

    "Lochared, quit that!" Loch released his sister's shirt and she spun about on her heel to face him, clearly angry now. "You had that same look when you told me of your plan to intercept some 'travellers' only yesterday," she declared.

    "They were travellers," he insisted. "And if you hit me again, Rosmarin, there'll be trouble you don't want," he added for good measure. Rin flushed at the memory. Not her proudest moment. It took some of the wind out of her sails, which is what Loch had been counting on.

    "I know what you think, Rin," he continued in a gentler tone. He didn't like manipulating her so, but she gave him such little else to work with sometimes.

    "Hanasian has offered to take us both as far as Bree. It's a good offer, a generous one, and I've accepted it." Rin threw her arms up in disgust, relentlessly quashing a traitorous spark of delight at spending longer in one particular person's company. Loch stared at his sister, catching something not quite as he expected in her face. Was she pleased, he wondered, looking closer. Of course not, he dourly realised a moment later.

    "Loch, how could you do such a thing? Since WHEN did you start making my decisions for ME! These men are… dangerous!" Loch stared down at the ground between them. At least she'd stopped shouting after her second sentence.

    "Yes," he replied slowly, honestly. "They can be… but not to us, Rin. Look at yourself! You're wearing the clothes off their backs! No one's laid a finger on you or me, despite the fact that you robbed them. They could have just left us to fend for ourselves at any moment. They could have had you hanged for theft! They've protected us, fed us, clothed you and more! They've done more for us in one day than anyone since our parents."

    Loch took a breath, astonished that Rin hadn't interrupted him. She stood, arms crossed, frowning at him. There was an uncomfortable truth in what he had said and she didn't like it one bit. She was quiet because she was trying to think a way around those truths. Loch placed a hand on her shoulder.

    "Rin, I'm going with them. You're more than welcome to come as well, if that is what you wish to do. I'm not making your decision for you. That's all there is to it. Rosmarin… I… I know you can be smart about this. Please? For both our sakes?" Rin searched her brother's face and realised Loch meant it. He would go with or without her.

    He wouldn't say that. He hadn't the heart to be so cruel, she knew. But that was what he had meant, and he had asked her not to force him to go without her. Loch squeezed her shoulder, dropped his hand and walked back to the other men. He didn't feel so good about the half truths. He had concealed the fact that he had joined the Company and he'd made no mention of Hanasian's offer to her. Still, he had to handle this one hurdle at a time. He couldn't bear to think about what he would do if she forced him to make a choice between her and the future Hanasian had just offered him with. He had given his word to Hanasian, but she was his sister. Rin remained where she had been towed to by Loch. She stared at the ground as her thoughts careened about her head.

    All of this had not been missed by the men. Khule and Molguv had started wagers on who would throw the first swing and who would win if it came down to that. Wagering had intensified Rin had shouted at her brother. It died down again as Loch had evidently talked his way out of an argument with her. Their banter drifted away discretely as Loch rejoined them. He sat with a heavy sigh, threw a glance in Hanasian's direction a moment. The Ranger read much in his expression. Loch nodded, the gate was open but the whole horse had not yet left the stable. Loch looked back to where his sister stood. She was thinking, he knew, and there was no telling what she'd come up with once she started thinking. All he knew was that he was tired and there was little else he could for now. Loch stretched himself out on the ground and plunged headlong into sleep. Hope, wrapped around a newly forming sense of achievement and place in the world, sped him to rest.
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2011
  16. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

    After a while, Rin sat with her back to the camp. She tucked her legs up under the giant shirt, wrapped her arms around her legs and rested her chin on her knees. Things were changing and she needed to decide what she thought or felt about them. Loch was probably right, but it didn't make it any easier for her. Was she going to be one those people that always hid, cringing through their entire lives? How could she just forget what had happened? Why did she keep thinking of that damn Ranger? If Loch went with them and she didn't, then what? If she did go too, then what? Through it all, the conversation she had unwisely had with three of the soldiers circled around and around. Rin's fingers played with some loose fabric of the shirt she wore as a dress. Clothes off their backs... yes, they had been uncommonly generous, honourable too if she had to admit it, but how long until that ran out? Two tag alongs would wear out even that sort of welcome... unless...

    Rin sighed with the realisation and her chin lifted from her knees. Loch had enlisted! That's the only way he wouldn't wear out his welcome. Loch would earn his place among their number. So now she had to look to herself. Rin pulled up a handful of grass from beside her. What sort of position did that leave her in now? She twisted around to peer back at her brother. He was snoring, as were a number of others. Rin straightened and threw the grass away from her. She put her chin back to her knees, re-wrapped her arms about her legs. She needed to think, not cry or wail or shout. She stared at the horizon with a steely determination.

    To Hanasian, it looked like the day was going to get warm. Maybe a sign of the summer to come? Possibly. Most of the men took the opportunity to stretch out and take a nap while the ground was reasonably soft and the sun warming away the chill of the wet days before. Hanasian let then rest, and even rested his own eyes, though his ears were attuned to the sounds around him. Molguv had relieved Berlas. After some jocular bantering about he not being the newb anymore, making Lock a bit nervous. Berlas took a rest as well. Hanasian squinted open an eye and looked at each one in his company as his thoughts turned.

    Too many new faces in the last couple years. Most didn't last, and too few he could find since returning from the south worthy of joining their number. The war veterans who couldn't settle either joined long ago and are now dead, or they haven't and managed to make peace with their demons. None of us are getting any younger. For men, Dunedain blood or no, time takes his toll. The future of the company lies with younger blood. Is that why Loch appeals to him? Only time will tell...

    He watched some of their movements in slumber, but stopped his squinting gaze on Rin who sat some distance away with her back to them. He had no doubt that she knew Loch had signed on, and what she would do was a mystery to all. Hanasian stood and walked toward her. She didn't seem to notice his drawing near, so he cleared his throat to warn her of his approach.

    "Do you mind if I intrude on your thoughts?" Maybe she did sense him. She seemed unconcerned with his presence, didn't say anything. She just motioned her for him to sit. He did so, sitting in front of her so that he could get a clear look at her and she him.

    "I know you don't care for the company of soldiers, and this lot can be a bit harsher than most, but my offer to you is the same as that offered your brother... to join this company. Knowing your disdain, I still hope that you will consider it as you ride with us to Bree. It will likely take us a week to get there. That should be sufficient time to really get to know what we're all about. Once there, you can decide whether to take up this offer, or go freely your own way. "

    Rin's thoughts bumped into each other, tangling in her head. The realisation that he thought her disdainful made her flush. How could she possibly look down her nose at anyone given she was a penniless, homeless thief. Still, despite his assessment of her, he still offered her a place within his company. It was extraordinary to her and clearly caught her off guard. A silence drew about them, and after a few moments Hanasian stood.

    "Think about it until then. Right now, we will ride before the noon hour. Rest now and be ready to go."

    He looked at his shadow and judged they would rest one more hour. The breeze tugged Molguv's shirt relentlessly off one of her shoulders. Rin looked up at Hanasian as he stood in front of her. He could see the thoughts leaping behind her blue eyes.
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2011
  17. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

    "I am no soldier. What possible use could you have for me?" she asked.

    "My company needs many skills, including those of a healer," Hanasian replied. Just like that, Rin knew what Loch must have felt in his own turn. A place, a place long hoped for on cold, lonely, dark nights. A dream, foolish but ever present, at times cruel in its mockery and at times respite against despair. A path forward, a future. Could she countenance becoming one of the very people she loathed? Could she countenance not at least considering it? Hanasian saw something shift and fall into place in her mind. He extended his hand down to where she sat. Rin looked at it, took a deep breath and placed her own within it.

    Hanasian easily towed her up to her feet and then released her hand a moment later. Her fingers tingled. She flexed them as she studied the camp. Hanasian started to walk back. She followed a little way behind, still cautious. Rin returned to the cloak that Khule had given her a second time on the preceding night. It was dry. It was warm. She sat on it and studied her brother for a long moment. He was still snoring. Then she looked down at the cloak she sat on. It was like an island. She had a week to find out if the sea that surrounded her truly was inhabited by monsters.

    Loch woke with the general movement of the camp around him. Khule's application of his boot against Loch's own feet saw to that. He sat, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hand and saw that Rin was nearby, in the camp, still present and her hair braided. That meant that she meant business.

    "I'm glad, Rin," he observed, a relieved grin on his face. She set a steady blue gaze on him by way of reply. He wasn't sure what precisely she was angry about. There was no telling what she had figured out by now. His conscience suggested that perhaps she'd figured out the whole truth of the enlistment and resented his duplicity. Now wasn't the time to get into it, he resolved. Being a man of some wisdom, Loch elected to go scare up a ride rather than risk further comment. He honed in on Molguv. The Haradian had a large horse to accommodate his bulk.

    Rin stood, collected the cloak and shook it out. She folded it and considered it a moment, squared her jaw and searched out Khule. Her heart was hammering in her ears when she found him adjusting the girth strap of his own mount. Khule straightened, caught a glimpse of her and jumped.

    "Where did you come from," he exclaimed, looking about to see if anyone else had noticed him startled by the woman that stood with his cloak in his arms.

    "I want to give this back to you," she said and held it forward.

    "No holes this time," Khule observed, tossing a dark glare back over his horse towards where Molguv had mounted with the other of the company's newest pets. He turned back to face Rin, surveyed her a moment. She had only the Haradian's shirt between her and the wide world. He wasn't sure why, but she reminded him of his sisters. He would not want his sisters wondering about in such a fashion.

    "Keep it, for now," he said, perhaps more gruffly than he'd intended. He was perturbed by the turn of his thoughts. Why should this woman remind him of his sisters? He saw her flinch, startled though she tried to contain it. Her arms lowered and she frowned at the cloak.

    "Scat! Go find a horse, woman! It's a long walk to Bree!" The last thing he needed was a her trailing him about. This, he reminded himself, was the woman that had robbed him. There was no cause for him to start feeling all...protective. He checked to ensure he was still in possession of his purse, shook his head and swung into the saddle muttering to himself in his own tongue. Rin saw that all around her, men had mounted up.

    "Are you coming," Hanasian asked from his own horse. She looked back up at the Ranger and nodded, settling the cloak back around her shoulders. Hanasian fetched out yet another apple and tossed it down to her.

    "Eat it on the way," Hanasian said and kicked his horse closer. Again, he held out a hand down to her. She gripped his forearm let herself be swung up behind him. Hanasian turned his horse about once, checking that they were ready to move out. Rin's right arm snaked around him to hang on as she settled in behind him. They rode out at noon, striking north for Bree. Everyone knew they had two new recruits, although it hadn't been officially announced. They also had the queen of the land they travelled through, a fact no one was aware of, including the woman in their midst.

    "If I joined, I wouldn't be a soldier?" Hanasian smiled faintly at the query delivered quietly from behind his right shoulder half an hour after they had started riding.

    "King's service, sworn to uphold your duty to the crown. But a healer, who can properly fend for herself on the battle ground," he replied. He felt her sigh behind him, weighing this up with a mind that he was fast concluding was rarely ever still.

    "OW!" Loch cried ahead. An apple core bounced off the back of his head. "What was that for," he asked, turning an injured look on his sister.

    "You know," she said enigmatically from Hanasian's right elbow, peering around the Ranger at her brother. Loch scowled at her and turned back again.

    "Of course I do. I can read minds," he grumbled to Molguv's broad back, rubbing his scalp and picking bits of apple out of his hair.

    Through the afternoon and twilight they rode. Rin was silent behind Hanasian for the most part, watching and observing the men around her. They maintained a steady pace, watchful and alert. As Loch had predicted, Rin found it increasingly difficult to maintain her idea that monsters surrounded her. All she saw were men. When they reigned in for the night, Loch earned his training drill and first watch assignment. Rin was left in their midst in the darkness. Nothing untoward happened, only proving that these were also honourable men even when they could get away without being so.
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2011
  18. Elora

    Elora Dreamweaver

    The next morning saw yet another training drill for Loch, this one with Khule. Loch was fast recovering his strength with regular food. With it came his reach and a growing strength. He was a broad shouldered man, of a good height. He was, however, reluctant to employ it against those he squared off against in training. Training was different to the previous scuffles, fights and clashes of his past. There was no grubby alley. There was no tavern common room that had exploded into a brawling, violent morass. He also needed to learn how to handle his feet.

    They rode through the next day, stopping periodically and camping through the night. On the third morning, silver laughter bubbled out Loch's sister as he tumbled and sprawled. It was the first time they had heard her laugh. Some of the men smiled themselves. A woman's laughter had not been heard in their midst before for many of their number. Loch scowled at her and she looked away, a smile of particular mischief still in place, and back the task of fletching arrows given to her by Wulgof the previous day.

    "I think she enjoys it when I get hurt," Loch said, turning back to Khule.

    "Aye, women can be particularly heartless creatures," Khule lamented, moving in to resume.

    There was another training session at lunch. They were working Loch hard. Rin, busy with her own task, let the sound of the men around her fade. The sound of men chuckling, the ringing of swords all melted away as she intently worked. Distantly, only distantly, she heard some men mutter dark disapproval at some jibe or comment she'd paid no attention to. Then her brother roared and ice shivered down her spine. She stood and turned, arrows tumbling from her lap as she did so. She snatched the canteen Wulgof had been about to drink from out of his hands.

    "I'm being robbed!" he cried in outrage. Rin paid him no heed and pushed through a knot of men that had tightened at first and then fell back as they sought to clear the area between themselves and Loch. Loch's enraged roar had brought Hanasian running hard towards the camp. He spotted the clear indication of a fight emerging, and noted the pale golden head of his would be healer weaving through the press of men.

    "Get out of my way," she hissed, shoving past Berlas and finally stumbling into the cleared space that contained Loch and Khule. Khule had backed away and Loch kept him on the back foot with a flurry of wild, swinging blows. Loch's sword lay out of reach. The Easterling was trying to preserve his own life without taking another. No one, oddly, seemed inclined to assist him. Khule's eyes widened a fraction as he saw Rin all but tumble out from the men and into the cleared space behind her brother.

    "Get that woman out of there! He'll tear her to pieces!" Hanasian's bellowed command rolled through the gathered men.

    Rin threw herself hard at her brother's back. They went down in a tangle of limbs and her hair. Loch threw her off. She hit the ground hard. Her vision whited out and she was slower this time in getting to her feet. Loch had already clawed back to his feet and was blindly bearing down on his latest assailant, no idea of who she was. Wulgof grabbed at her from behind to try to yank her out of harm's way. Loch reached her first. Wulgof later would swear that she stepped towards him, despite the lunacy such an act surely demonstrated. She instinctually raised an arm to fend off a blow. She knew he had no understanding now of who she was or where he was.

    Loch grabbed her lifted arm and lifted her off her feet. Pain arced through her upper body as her weight was suspended. Cracked rib, she dully noted. She landed a kick as hard as she dared against his kidney. He dropped her, rocking back several steps with the pain she'd caused him. Now on her feet and with a moment to her advantaged, she flung the contents of Wulgof's canteen in her brother's face.

    Loch took a ragged gasp as water filled his eyes, nose and mouth. He shook his head groggily. Berlas threw her another canteen and she repeated the process. Another canteen and another until finally, Loch was on his knees, lungs working like bellows. Empty canteens littered the ground. Molguv pulled her firmly back, his large hand a weight on her shoulder. The Haradian peered at her a moment and then moved onto her brother. Her head was spinning. Some one else collected the empty canteen that still dangled limply from her hand.

    "Crazy," Wulgof said.

    "No he's not," she said. He shook his head at her. "I wasn't talking about him." Someone, Berlas she realised, grabbed her other shoulder and steered her away from the gathering men.

    Hanasian pushed through to where Loch still sat. Wulgof crouched nearby and was muttering to the recruit, his dark eyes flashing angrily. Khule stood a distance away and was in quiet but urgent conversation with Molguv. The Easterling looked… ashamed. Molguv shuffled away, as Hanasian arrived.

    "What happened?"

    Khule's jaw bunched. "Pushed him too hard. He wasn't properly engaging… should have known better," the Easterling replied.

    "How?" Khule washed a hand over his face. He was ashamed, Hanasian realised.

    "I said some things… to get under his skin…" The Ranger let him pause and waited him out. "I went for something that I knew would get a reaction."

    Khule's eyes had drifted from Loch to where Rin stood unsteadily between Berlas and Molguv. Molguv was offering her his special canteen. Hanasian stared hard at Khule.

    "I should have known better, cap.

    "What would you have done if Loch had been talking that way about your sisters?"
    Khule glanced back to Loch. They both knew that there'd be a dead man to bury if the boot had been on the other foot.

    "I'll make it right, cap," Khule said.

    "See that you do," Hanasian replied and looked about. He had to deal with Loch next. Loch looked up as Hanasian approached. His face was one of a man sick to his stomach.

    "Is she hurt?" he asked. Hanasian looked down at him. "I'm sorry," Loch said hoarsely.

    "This sort of thing cannot be tolerated against your own company," Hanasian said.

    "Yeah, I know," Loch mumbled. "Am I out?" With his head bowed, Loch didn't see Wulgof subtly shake his head at Hanasian.

    "I'll let you know," Hanasian replied, turning to look for the other recruit. Molguv was re-stoppering his canteen and Berlas was shaking his head at him. Rin stood between them, eyes closed. They opened at Hanasian's arrival, slightly glazed. He didn't know if it was pain or drunkenness or both. Regardless, he was curiously furious with the woman in front of him.

    "Again, I find myself wondering what the hell you were thinking," Hanasian growled. Rin blinked, gathering her scattered thoughts.

    "Healer, you said. I can't heal the dead. Prevention's better than cure … " Rin's voice trailed away as she measured her breathing.

    "Are you hurt," he asked.

    "It's nothing…" she said after a long pause, closed her eyes and smoothed her breathing again.

    "She hit the ground pretty hard, cap" Berlas said from nearby.

    "I can still ride," she insisted. Her words slurred, Molguv's special reserve sending warmth eddying through mind and body.
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2011
  19. Halasían

    Halasían Ranger in the Shadows

    Molguv chuckled as she was eased down by Hanasian to sleep on the ground. Our cold was the best thing for her, and he tended her the best he could with what means he had. Khule and Wulgof went over to where some birch saplings were growing and cut a couple to make a travios with. The trunks would suffice and the stripped bark made ties for a wool blanket Hanasian used for his bedroll. It would suffice for the rest of the day. They still had a league or two to ride before the twilight closed in.

    Before they set out, Hanasian turned and looked into each company member's eyes, and a nod here, a twitch there, and a turn of a head gave him the answers he looked for. Of the two remaining originals, Videgavia, a Northman who had managed to survive growing up in the rough north Rhovanian during the dark days just before the war when Khule's Easterlings rode un-challenged through those lands, moved his fingers in sign. It was said he never learned to talk, but some of the old company begged to differ. Trouble was all save one have been laid to rest in fields near and far. Only Belegost of Gondor maintained Videgavia could talk. What Hanasian got was an affirmation of what he was going to do anyway. Hanasian turned to Loch and said,

    "You're not out. That would be too easy for you. Instead, you're way in. in over your head in dung. Now I'm guessing you just need some practice getting along and taking some ****. The last thing you should have done was let Khule get under your nails. He was just giving you a bit of what an Easterling renegade would do with Rin. Here in the company, it don't mean nothing. You remember that. When Khule, and any of the guys hand you ****, you hand it right back. But you respect the company. We are family, and you will understand that soon enough. Now, let's not have that happen again, ok?"

    He beamed a hard stare at Loch who at first held defiance in his gaze, but it gave way and he turned, mumbling,

    "Ok."

    "Now you get ready to ride. Since you care the most about your sister, you will ride Berlas's horse with Rin on the travios. You may have noted that Berlas has disappeared since shortly after your little disagreement. He will meet us shortly and will want his horse back. Now get ready for we ride in another couple inches of the shadow."


    He then went over to Rin on the travios and checked to see that she would be secure. He would ride behind, keeping watch on her. He leaned down and whispered in her ear, and a slight stir she made. They were ready to go.

    The way was well marked but little used, and the growth of the grass was fast with the recent spring rain and the last couple days of sun. But as they went north, the chill ar of the winter past still had some grip on the clear night air. It would be colder this night. Hanasian was hoping to reach the 'Y' in the road where the Greenway curved north from the road to Sarn Ford.

    The shadows grew long and a chill northerly breeze was in their faces. Hanasian directed them to go up passed the 'Y' and camp in the grass between the split of the roads. Far enough away to not be easily seen, but close enough to see any who may come from any of the three directions.

    "We camp cold tonight. Besides, there isn't anything to burn here anyway. A couple more days and we may reach Andrath, which is a gap in the South Downs. We will be able to camp more comfortable, heat-wise anyway, when we get there. Here, enjoy the grass, for the rocks of the downs can be unforgiving."

    He went to see how Rin was doing...

    Soft words in her ear, words that did and did not make sense. They drifted through the fingers of Rin’s mind like smoke on the wind. Sun drenched blue flowers, the music of water leaping past river rocks, the sound of wind singing through the trees. The rhythmic thunder of horses under moonlight. Dim silhouettes and a woman who wept. She looked like her and yet she was not. The voices of her parents, the shattering of glass and the stillness of her mother when it was done. The flat, brittle gleam of their eyes. Desperate, drunk on blood-lust, some of them sickened yet hiding it. Fear, they stank of fear and none of them resembled the men that surrounded her. Rin woke with a start into the darkness, disorientated. Her head throbbed counter point to her ribs and her mouth was dry. Hanasian’s face swam into view and he was speaking to her.

    Molguv appeared then and peered at her hard.

    ”More,”

    he asked her. It took her a moment to grasp what he meant.

    ”Water, I think,”

    Hanasian said, and lifted a canteen for her to drink from. The effort sent a greasy tide of pain through her. She sank back, biting off a moan. The vaguely coherent part of her mind, a small island, made a mental note to determine what Molguv had put in his canteen as a matter of purely professional interest. The rest of her mind found the notion of professionalism in connection with herself vastly amusing. This culminated in a burst of laughter that only drove more pain through her ribs. She stifled it with effort and pinched the bridge of her nose to try to clear her thoughts.

    ”Thank you,” she managed.

    Molguv ambled away with a nod and a grin, his teeth white in the darkness. Men were setting up camp around her. She knew the sounds by now.

    ”How long?”

    she asked. She had no idea how much time had passed.

    ”The afternoon only,”

    Hanasian replied.

    ”So, healer, since you have now acquired my bedroll,”

    he plucked at the wool beneath her,

    ”Perhaps you’ll give me the truth this time. Are you injured?”

    Rin would have sighed if her ribs permitted her. She could not know if he was still angry. The man was nearly impossible to read when he chose to be.

    ”It’s not bad. Nothing broken,” she replied.

    Under her cloak, her fingers probed the curving bones of her ribs. The swelling made it difficult, but she could feel no jagged edges beneath the skin. Still, they were likely cracked and if she did not bind them, could easily break with an incautious movement.

    ”Well then, on your feet and let’s have my bedroll back,” Hanasian lightly said, calling her bluff.

    Rin knew that if she rolled to her right, there was a reasonable chance that she’d make it to her feet before she passed out. The Ranger shook his head as he watched a woman too stubborn for her own good attempt to meet his challenge. She did manage to sit up, and she was shaking by the time she got that far.

    “Down you go,” he declared as he eased her back.

    ”I can,” she insisted.

    ”You could sooner fly,” he replied.

    ”They’re cracked. Don’t bother,” he said as her mouth opened. She closed it again.

    ”Rin, do you trust me?”

    The question surprised her, but not as much as her answer did.

    ”Yes.”

    Hanasian stood and vanished into the darkness.
     
  20. Halasían

    Halasían Ranger in the Shadows

    Hanasian returned with the rolled lengths of the bed sheet she had stowed in one of his saddlebags, and crouched again by her.

    ”Ready yourself, this will hurt,” he told her.

    Rin clenched her jaw, swallowed and nodded. Spit, he recalled Molguv had said of her. Far too much of it, Wulgof had added. The darkness and cloak afforded as much privacy as could be had. Hanasian started to wind the fabric around her and heard her breathing become markedly shallow. Still, not a single whimper as he worked.

    ”How often does this sort of thing happen to Loch,” he asked.

    Distraction would give her something to focus on...

    ”Not often, only enough so that...“

    She broke off for a moment before continuing,

    ”I know how to stop him before things go bad.”

    ”Does it happen at every threat,” Hanasian asked.

    ”No – just… the ones that remind him of – home.” She paused again, breathing hard through her nose.

    ”I think he blames himself… doesn’t want...“

    He was tightening the bindings and she fell silent.

    ”... doesn’t want it to happen again.” Hanasian said, finishing for her. She nodded.

    Hanasian tied off the bindings, eased down the shirt and pulled the cloak back over her shoulders. Shivering would be murder for her tonight. Unbidden, the image of that shattered farm over twenty years ago floated across his mind. He’d seen for himself what had driven so many from their homes in the border regions of Dunland.

    Fatigue tugged relentlessly at her. She’d need more water, food and rest, Hanasian knew, but by morning she may indeed be able to ride. As he saw to that, the Company saw to setting a watch. Loch drew first watch. He hunched his shoulders against the chill and stared out at the dark landscape, pushing images of past and present down, far below, down and away where they belonged.

    ”Don’t take your eyes off the watch,” said Khule quietly.

    Loch nodded once, Hanasian’s hard words circling his mind along with the sickening thump that Rin had hit the ground with.”

    I owe you and your sister an apology. My words were dishonourable, but there was no intent and no malice behind them. I would never do such a thing.”

    Loch clenched his jaw. The Ranger had been right.

    ”You’re wrong,” he said hoarsely....

    ”I should have known better, I do know better… She’s all I have left, but that’s no excuse for what I did.”

    Loch’s gaze never wavered from his watch, but his expression hardened.

    ”Loch, why do you fear yourself?”

    Khule’s question startled him. The Easterling crouched beside him and waited patiently.

    ”It’s happened before, though not to Rin. Too young to do anything then, but what if I fail now? What if I become like them? Either way, I lose her.”

    Khule searched the man that stood watch beside him for a long moment.

    ”Two things I know. We can breathe life into our own fears if we hold them tightly and long enough.”

    ”And the other?”
    Khule smiled at that question.

    ”I don’t think you’d ever manage to scare your sister off.”

    Loch smiled at that bitter-sweet truth.”

    you still prepared to train me?”

    Khule clapped a hand onto Loch’s shoulders.

    ”Lad, you need it more now than ever. Tomorrow we’ll start again.”

    Loch nodded in the darkness, relief making it hard to speak and Khule retreated back to camp. Family, Hanasian had said and Loch’s had wondered if he knew what such a concept was anymore. Khule had just shown him, he suspected.

    Wulgof relieved him several hours later....

    ”She’s fine, boy. Don’t chew yourself into a mess over it. Words are wind,”

    Wulgof said as he took up Loch’s post. Loch returned in the darkness and found that it was so. The saplings that had formed the travois frame had been removed and she slept soundly. Hanasian slept on the other side of the blanket, his back to his sister’s. Loch studied her for a long moment. Moonlight caught her braid as it trailed over her left shoulder. He saw her shiver and her breathing caught. Loch stretched out on the other side of her and dove headlong into black, featureless sleep.

    The morning arrived with a chill breeze that tried to cut through everyone and everything.

    ”Did I hurt you?"

    Rin’s question sliced into Loch’s sleep. A bruise the size of her foot had formed over his kidney.

    ”Nothing I didn’t deserve,” he told her and pushed her fingers away.

    ”What of you?”Hanasian replied for her, voice drowsy.

    ”It’s not bad, nothing broken.” Rin nodded, looking relieved.

    ”That’s right,” she affirmed.

    Loch peered at her a while and then got to his feet to find some food.

    ”Thank you,”

    she said to Hanasian after her brother had walked away. She didn’t want Loch to know, or his conscience would eat him alive. Hanasian waved a hand, eyes still closed.

    Rin got to her feet with some effort, the bindings on her torso giving her support. She tugged Khule’s cloak around her and followed her brother in search of food. Hanasian pulled the vacated part of his bedroll over him. It still bore her warmth. ”You’re robbing the cap now?” he heard Molguv ask. Hanasian cracked one eye to see her fish out an apple.

    ”He’s got a whole orchard in here,” she replied and then eyed the Haradian speculatively.

    ”What do you use to make that ‘special reserve’?”[/i]

    Molguv chortled at the question.

    ”You’re bold enough to rob me, then the cap and now you want me to divulge all my secrets? Oh ho!”

    Hanasian watched the Haradian amble off, followed doggedly by Rin who had started to list possible ingredients around the stolen apple she now had. Hanasian closed his eyes again and smiled faintly.

    ”How long are you going to keep this up, woman?” Molguv asked.

    ”How long have you got?” she replied.

    Molguv rolled his eyes and groaned.

    ”I think I like you better when you’re unconscious,” he said.

    ”Was you that wanted pets that could talk. Told you the frog was a better idea,” Khule drawled.

    Rin resumed her list of possible ingredients until Molguv shooed her away. By that time she had narrowed it down considerably… which meant that all she needed to do was experiment.

    ”Whatever you do, don’t drink anything that she offers you,” Loch whispered to Molguv. ”I know that look. Now she’s really dangerous.”

    The men started to mount up again.

    "The truth this time." Hanasian said to Rin. She had the grace to flush at his words. "Are you fit to ride?"

    Rin nodded.

    "Yes?"

    Hanasian heard the question in her voice.

    "Then prove it. Give me your hand."

    Rin clenched the apple between her teeth and set her left hand in his. Hanasian swung her up behind him again. Rin's head swum a little, but she settled into place. She wrapped her right arm around him smoothed out her breathing. Another day, another ride.

    "Ready?" he asked her.

    "Giddy up..." she replied dryly.
     
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2011

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