They pushed at a reasonable rate that day, pulling in after dusk to set up a cold camp. Deployment was always a tedious, laborious, affair. It was for good reason that soldiers through time have reviled this necessary chore of service. The road to Rhun was a particularly long one. When Hanasian broke open the green ribboned parchment and learned it was now permissible for the Company as a whole to learn of their destination, over one hundred groans and moans were heard. Long as the march would be, it would prove a valuable opportunity. It would give the greener members a chance to learn essential military routine. It would give them a chance to conduct larger, more complex exercises. Rin made the most of such things to weave her Ducklings through them, fine tuning the delicate edge a medic or healer must walk on the field of battle. It was all pretend, all under ideal and predictable conditions. Still, it was better than nothing and maybe, just maybe, this drilling would provide enough habit to get them by in reality. In the terror, the bedlam, the blood and fear of real battle, habit and instinct could save lives. It could be the only thing left.
Understandably, things were a little awkward with the Company. Molguv and Bear routinely despaired of the New Company each dawn and dusk. There were stragglers, those out of formation, those who fell asleep on their watch. There were those who had yet to figure out the difference between a march, a field trip and a holiday. There were those whose faces shone insufferably with the gleaming light of adventure. Best to knock that out quickly and so a punishing pace was set for everyone and it worked, at a price. Each day, at dusk, those needing assistance were dotted through the Company. Each dawn, soldiers grumbled harder about having to get up and continue on. No mutiny, of course. Still, the gloss was being worn thin, mile by mile.
A week into the march, the Company halted for the night. The Old Company were wearily working through hobbling their horses and establishing camp and pickets without complaint. Those of the New Company still with the energy to talk were groaning at another set of aches, pains and blisters. Rin and her Ducklings trawled through the Company, setting to rights what needed to be and only that. There were resources to be conserved and no one rivalled Rin for frugality. Aside from plate armour, she was not a woman to waste anything. Not the slightest scrap. Protests and exhortations bobbed after them from those deemed not miserable enough to require intervention. Gratitude and relief followed in their wake from those who were miserable enough for treatment. Still, as carefully as she husbanded their resources, a week at this pace had exhausted some supplies and a concerted harvesting project on the march was now required. That was a difficult feat to muster if they continued marching at this rate.
Preoccupied as she was with such practicalities, the Dream caught Rin by surprise. She was sitting cross legged by the camp fire, leaning comfortably against Hanasian as she remeasured bundles of dried herbs. The next moment she was elsewhere, unaware that her head had sunk against Hanasian’s shoulder and her fingers had ceased their movements. This, in itself, was not unusual. Another weary soldier by the fire. However, Rin’s eyes were not closed and it seemed as though she did not draw breath as she stared fixedly at the dancing flames. A signal from Folca alerted Hanasian, who was engrossed with his journal. Aside from this moment, no one at the fire moved or made a sound.
Rhythmic creaking. The smell of brine and pitch and wood. The snap of sheets and the high pitched whine of lines thrumming in the gathering wind of a storm. The half light of sun filtered through angry clouds. The sway of a rain slick deck. Then, disorientation as she lurched onto steady, soldi ground. The sound of desperate panting, air gargling wetly in the back of a throat. It was properly dark now, was the storm that bad? No, night - red sickening, leaping, dancing light. Fire. Fire in the night and the iron tang of blood, fresh, and of terror. Then, something glistened. Streaked with gore and sweat and a gruesome mud made from blood and dirt. A man’s arm, straining as he reached ahead of him into the terrible gloom of that night. In his fist, her eyes travelling along the bulge of sinew and muscle and tendon and bone, a rag...on a shard of a plank. No...the sickening firelight illuminated it a moment. Not a rag. The Standard. The gargling, straining breath. Whispering something over and over and over like a prayer. ‘Please, please, please.'
The camp fire gave off the pungent scent of burning herbs. Rin’s reaction had been visceral denial. She lurched away from Hanasian’s shoulder and pushed everything in her lap away in refusal. No. It cannot be. It will not be. Rin’s heart was pounding and her head swam. That arm, that fist, she knew almost as well as her own. It belonged to Loch. Hanasian stroked her back, trying to restore some calm.
”Not good,” Folca surmised.
Rin shuddered and drew her knees up to her chest for warmth. Her shoulders were hunched defensively and her brow furrowed.
”Keep this quiet,” Hanasian warned those around the fire, aware that the Company was worried enough.
”Doc, what did you see?” Foldine asked, leaning towards the fire the brush the last of her herb bundles from the flames and add it to the pile he had already saved from a fiery end.
”I saw battle, war,” Rin replied tersely before her jaw bunched and she closed her mouth resolutely.
Those at the fire exchanged silent gazes and Rin was permitted her silence, for now. Much later, as they settled into their bed rolls for the night, Hanasian felt Rin’s hand steal into his own. Her fingers felt cold, despite the warmth of the night. He lifted her fingers to his lips, and as if that were some sign, she drew closer and clung to him. He let her settle there a moment.
”Long ride tomorrow, my love. Perhaps Molguv’s special reserve would ensure you rested tonight?" he quietly murmured into her hair. Some distance away, the bird call signal from one of the Company sentries confirmed all was clear.
”I’m not sure that it would help, dear heart,” Rin sighed. Hanasian was reluctant to pry, but he heard the tremor of distress in her voice still.
”Can you yet speak of it,” he gently asked.
”It was Loch...it was bad. Battle gone bad. He was clinging to the standard, pleading - begging it seemed. He sounded injured. I do not know if this has already happened or will happen...it wasn’t clear. A night time battle gone bad...and ships on the wings of a storm, hastening. I do not know whose and I do not know to which shore or port.”
Hanasian stroked her hair, smoothing the tangles from the day in the saddle. After a while he felt her breathing even out and then, the harmless twitches of harmless dreams. He lay there, studying the stars overhead for a long while. Civil war, glimpses of doom past or future. He hoped Aragorn and Eomer’s army had mobilsed by now and they would reach Khor in time to prevent whatever it was Rin had seen. The ships...what connection those? On such thoughts was Hanasian carried to sleep, his wife’s body warm where it nestled against his own.