23. Chapter 23
Mulgov caught up with Derran on the way back to the inn. Derran instantly felt a bit better, saying, "Sure an edgy bunch them eh?"
Mulgov grabbed Derran and shoved him off to the right of the door of the inn. By the time Derran turned, trying to keep his balance, Mulgov slammed him against the wall, a knife against his neck. A slight redness started to form along its edge as Derran gulped, making the cut worse. Mulgov said, "Listen you... you wanted in, and got got in despite your mouth. Even managed to get promoted as my corporal. So we're going to get things straight here and now."
Mulgov's left hand replaced the knife on his neck, and the blade tip now rested just below Derran's right eye. Mulgov went on, "First, not another word about the Doc. No questions. No comments. Nothing. The Cap would have just as soon pressed this knife a bit harder if he heard how you carried on. Do you understand Corporal Babble?"
Mulgov pressed the knife tip slightly harder into the soft skin of Derran's eyelid so he couldn't acknowledge without pain. A slight nodding could be felt more than seen.
"Second, keep your eyes off Doc and on business at hand. I prefer a corporal with two good eyes, so don't make me have to remove one. Do you hear me Corporal Babble?"
Mulgov saw Derran nod reluctantly, seeing he was at this point scared. So Mulgov looked around to see if anyone had yet noticed them, and it looked like he was still clear.
"Third, and especially third.... you only have an expressed eye problem. Expressed by your tongue. You seem to have tongue problems. Tongues make the words that are thought of on brains, and you make too many words. Get this... You NEVER know who's listening, and listening for what. So a word of advice... keep your mouth shut. Being that you have had ample warning from my esteemed old company colleagues to do this very thing, be happy all you get today is what you have coming from me. Wouldn't have been the first time a new recruit disappeared without a trace the day they joined, so be happy I came along when I did. Worse would have happened."
With that, Mulgov's hand snapped swiftly, removing the knife from Derran's eye and into its sheath. Yet the damage was done. A fair cut into his eyelid started to leak blood, and the pain caused Derran's hand to go up to cover it. He would be scarred for life. The cursing that spilled at the same time was cut short when Mulgov lifted his other hand into a fist and banged the bottom of Derran's jaw, causing his teethe to come together hard with his tongue between them. This made him forget about his eye and he doubled forward.
Mulgov wrapped his arm around him and steered him toward the door if the inn just as a passing city patrol guard asked, "Is everything alright with your friend?"
Mulgov smiled and waved, saying, "Yeah, he's fine. He just missed a step. Fell on his face."
"I see..." said the guard, "Just make sure he doesn't have any more mis-steps, right?"
Mulgov slapped Derran on the back causing him to cough, launching some blood and a piece of his tongue out of his mouth. Mulgov said, "He won't. We'll go sear his wounds with some of that Iron Hills heavy the dwarves brought in last week."
The guard waved them off and they entered the Inn. Derran was stunned still, and was sat down at the usual table. Videgavia and Hamoor Ravenclaw were still talking when they paused to watch Mulgov and Babble come in. Videgavia ordered two of the 'Dwarf Stouts' as the Iron Hills Heavy was known as locally, and pointed at the table. Even so, Babble was none too keen to say anything.
Ravenclaw said to Videgavia, "I saw that coming."
Videgavia nodded, saying, "I did too. Being he's returned with Mulgov means he passed muster this time. Now, back to what you were saying. You almost joined the company before? When?"
Ravenclaw nodded and said, "A number of years ago, when they were in pursuit of someone abducted and being whisked away to I believe Khand. I gave your Captain some information that expedited their journey onto the heels of the kidnappers, but alas, I understand that didn't turn out so well."
"No, it didn't," Videgavia said, remembering that day in Pelargir. Ravenclaw went on.
"So when Hanasian was talking to a few men who wanted to join, I was among them, but decided that I could not give up my life here at the time. What did I know? Now I believe I could make a contribution."
Videgavia looked up from his teacup and asked, "And what is it that you could 'contribute'? And to and for whom?"
Ravenclaw smirked and said, "It's funny, your captain said much the same thing those many years ago. Let's just say that I noticed that of all the men who did join back then, I only recognise two still with you now. The Gondorian soldiers..."
"Belegost and Anras."
Ravenclaw nodded and Videgavia continued.
"They all have fallen. Some as soon as Pelargir, but most in the east. One as recently as a few months ago, and rests now in Tharbad. I, the Cap, and Belegost all thought you looked familiar at the Silver Bark. Yet, the question still stands. What is it that you can contribute?"
Ravenclaw didn't answer right away, but eventually said, "If you accept me, as you seemed to have, then I will be loyal to the Company and they will be the beneficiary of my contributions. Now if we are done here, I have some personal business I need to attend to before tomorrow."
He started to walk toward the door and Videgavia said, "See you in the morning, we'll make it official."
At the table, a blood-stained towel rested against Babble's eye, his hand holding it there. His other hand held the tankard and he worked sips from it into his sore mouth. He wasn't saying anything.
Foldine came in as Ravenclaw went out. He was to quickly report that the others had gone off to gather provision for the field so the new grunts would get it full on right away. The idea was to take away their comforts and see how many remained. Of course they wouldn't know that until tomorrow night, and Foldine whispered it to Videgavia as he was walking over to the table.
Videgavia nodded, and Foldine smiled at Babble before saying, "You're awful quiet. Let me guess... you slipped and fell on the stairs"
Babble only managed to raise the corner of his mouth, and Videgavia pushed him toward the door before sitting down at the table. He looked Babble over closely, then eyed Mulgov who shrugged nonchalantly. Videgavia then said, "I see you're getting the hang of company life already. Believe me when I say that worse will likely come your way. It's best to be in good with those who have your back when a pinch comes. I'm sure your immediate commander has made that clear to you?"
Babble managed an affirmative mumble. Videgavia patted him on the cheek and said, "Good recruit. Now… you go and do what you were told. And don't be running into any more walls."
A nod came as Babble stood. Videgavia gave Mulgov a sign and as he walked passed, he paused him with a whisper.
"Stay with him until late, then return here. We'll see if he shows up tomorrow."
Mulgov flinched and gave a nod, mocking what Babble did. Videgavia set a boot to the set of the Haradian's breeches as the man left, and muttered, "How does the Cap put up with this time and time again?"
Loch was sweating, and it was only mid afternoon. It turned out that instead of three horses, word only got to the men east of the river that one sturdy pack horse was needed. So they were walking, at least for the first day. Hopefully some riding horses will catch up with them by the evening.
"Who messed this up? I didn't know we would have to walk to Rhun. How far is Rhun anyway?"
Khule smiled at Berlas and said, "It's just over there kid."
He pointed at some gnarly peaks shrouded in cloud.
"We just have to head that way, skirt north of them, then head east."
"Isn't that where Mordor was?"
Wulgof worked hard at keeping a smile off his face, and Khule said, "Yes kid. You know your geography. See, we have this here ring, and somewhere in there is the remains of that old volcano, and we…"
"Cut it out… I know the tale of the brave Halflings too. Again I ask, how long before we get to wherever it is we're going?" Loch asked again in a less whiney voice. Khule straightened a bit to adjust the load of his pack.
Wulgof drawled, "A long, long time if those horses don't show up."
The four managed to stomp along an overgrown track, probably used by armies to march on Minas Tirith or Osgoliath. Without the heavy feet and cruel wastage the orcs spread before them, some of the scarred lands managed to grow some vegetation. Unfortunately, in places it was just high enough to prevent any breeze to get in and not high enough to provide much usable shade. Berlas took the lead here and managed to get them through. Khule followed on. Wulgof stumbled a bit, kicking an old rotten log. A muffled hum could be heard, and Khule stepped fast ahead and gave Berlas a nudge. He too started double-timing. Loch, having brushed up against some stinging nettles, said while looking at his hands.. "What is this that is stinging my hand?...GAH!"
Loch let out, then lit out running.
The wasps were quite mad from having their nest kicked, and their soldier guards thought attack was the best defense. The one they saw was Loch passing by and they made their presence known. Khule looked back to see Wulgof moving faster than he'd ever see him run, and behind him, came Loch with his arms waving about as he ran. With the distance between them closing fast, Berlas chuckled and ran faster. Khule followed. By the time they stopped, they both were laughing as they caught their breath. It's not easy running with a full pack on your back. Wulgof arrived, winded but also laughing. Loch came puffing up behind, still waving his arms about. They had outrun the bee-scouts, and once they deemed there was no more threat they abandoned the attack. Loch still ducked and waved when a wayward buzz was heard. Wulgof laughed harder and Loch looked tired.
"What are you lot laughing about? It wasn't that funny."
Still, he managed a smile and a chuckle with the other two. Khule finally asked Loch, "So, were you hit? How many did you get?"
Berlas suppressed a chuckle into a rough low honk, and Loch taking the question somewhat seriously, said, "I killed two that landed on me, but a third got me."
He held up his arm and a welt was forming on his wrist. His hand was red with spots and Khule pointed at that. Loch shrugged. Berlas looked at it and said, "Nettles. Very irritating. But very useful. Maybe you should go back for some. Where were they?"
Loch used one of his ration of one-finger salutes. Berlas smiled and shook his head, saying, "Keep your eye out. We will likely run into some more of those thickets and we could use some of them to sooth that bee sting. If Doc was here she would make you go back to get them."
"Useful are they?"
"Yes, quite common in Ithilien, and their seeds riding the summer southerly winds are likely how they come to grow here."
Loch rubbed his hand against his side as he asked, "What do they look like?"
Wulgof said, "Well, they're green, and you usually don't see them amongst the other green until its too late. So next time, stop and fight back, and take some as prisoners."
A sarcastic ha-ha was all Loch could muster. Khule said, "Break time is over, we need to get to that track from the south before dark, and the sun is westering fast. Loch, you take point. "
Loch, last one in was the first to leave. He could have used a bit more break, but he kept quiet and soldiered on. Wulgof and Khule looked at each other and shrugged. They didn't get so much as a whimper from him. They followed on, and Berlas waited and watched their back trail for a bit before following.
No sooner had Videgavia settled back down in a chair did he sense two men stand very close to the table he had seated himself at. He did not open his eyes and instead let his hands rub at his weary face.
"Rough night?" Farbarad rumbled and Videgavia muttered something indistinct before he lowered his hands.
He looked up at the two rangers that stood at the table and guessed that what he saw in their expressions must be mirrored in some way in his.
"You as well?" Videgavia inquired and the two rangers took a seat.
Farbarad selected a chair that gave him a commanding view of the room. He had been dispirited upon arrival, then agitated, and now he was uneasy. Every person, even the ones he knew, was closely inspected by his restless eyes. He held a tankard of ale that he barely touched and his jaw was tight around a pipe that had gone cold. The ranger was at work. Mecarnil looked tired.
"We looked everywhere, and found a great load of nothing Vid."
"So, that's that then?"
Farbarad muttered something and scowled so hard at some poor man that the patron nearly tripped over his own boots in his hurry to escape.
"I don't like some of these recruits," the ranger said a heartbeat later.
"You're not the only one," Videgavia replied, starting to lose his patience with the incessant complaining.
"This turn of events is nothing new, however," Mecarnil intervened before an argument could take shape, "Remember the crush of would be members at Pelargir last? Your batch, Farbarad. Remember, Vid?"
"Dross mostly...and agents and children," Videgavia summarised, nodding.
"So I figure you must have a plan, Vid."
"What's your interest in our recruitment all of a sudden, Mec?"
Mecarnil closed up tighter than a dwarven mithril mine at Videgavia's question. Farbarad's jaw bunched a moment.
"Oh, tell the man, Mec. He clearly isn't one of them," Farbarad urged.
"I could be wrong, Vid."
"I'm tired, Mecarnil. Tell me or don't. Just make your mind up soon."
With a weary sigh, Mecarnil sparingly laid out their concerns using the careful means of signals unique to the Black. The answer was simple. Mecarnil and Farbarad would take a particularly close involvement in the tests of the recruits and the rest of the Company was already keeping a weather eye on them. Not a single one of them wanted this latest batch to prove a liability. It went without saying that they were thinking as much of their own skins as of those in Henneth-Annun. You were only as safe as the man at your back or shoulder, and if they let one into their midst that did deliberate mischief to the Company as a whole or any part thereof, a particular fury would be unleashed.
"So you gave Babble to Molguv," Mecarnil stated after all was arranged and Videgavia permitted himself a devious grin. Farbarad barked a laugh around his pipe and then realised it had gone out and swore.
The new faces were vanishing fast, leaving the hardened core open to inspection. Any one of them was sufficient to give a fighting man pause. These weren't mere soldiers. Some may have been, once. These were weapons in their own right, honed and perilous. Only a fool would under-estimate them. Four were missing and this was good. The Easterling was particularly potent, assassin and warrior both if the tales out of Rhun were reliable enough. The Dunlending was as deadly as he was laconic, sorely missed among his former comrades it was said. The younger one was somewhat unknown, but there had been talk of a particular ferocity within the man when it came to his foster sister. Able scout, vigilant, and inclined to be protective. As for the Ithilien man, he'd yet to meet one of Faramir's that was a slouch. Yes, it was good those four were elsewhere. It didn't matter where they were. Simply not here was good enough.
That left the others. The two Cardolan rangers he knew of and they were everything he had expected. These two, like the third now reportedly dead in Harad, had been selected as much for their skill and prowess from a field of highly able men as for their intelligence and loyalty. He expected a great deal of trouble from them potentially. The man they sat with now was another one to watch. Vague reports only convinced him that Videgavia was a force to contend with. The three rohirrim and two from Minas Tirith were fierce, experienced campaigners. Two of those owed his target their lives outright, and of such things is an unbreakable bond made. As for the giant from Harad, he had seen for himself why particular care was required when dealing from him. At the front of this formidable pack, then, was its captain and his target's husband.
While his employers considered him a man of common, mixed heritage, he did not suffer from such delusions. Hanasian had been a well regarded member of the Grey Company and had continued to ascend since the War. His feats and accomplishments within that Company and now this one were the achievements of a keen mind, a fearless spirit and a prodigious skill in weaponry, strategy and ranger-craft. Elven tutored, he was considered a friend by the High King, two Princes of the realm and Elrond's sons. This son could not have fallen farther from the tree, yet if ever there was something to take note of then it was the capabilities of Hanasian's father. His son was so very much more.
Lastly, his target. No coddled princess or dainty lady this. She had survived the wild, treacherous world, as a mere infant. She had emerged from the teeth of terrible slaughter. She should have frozen or starved. She should have been pulled to pieces by a savage land and people or bought and pressed into service as often happened to young, abandoned girls. Instead, she had not just survived but flourished. His employers considered her somehow impaired. These were men that thought women made poor rulers. None of that mattered to him. Facts mattered to him and those painted him a very different tale. A frightening intellect and one of the foremost healers. Possesses unknown gifts of foresight and the undiluted blood and abilities of Numenor. As dangerous as the High King, and not nearly as inclined to courtly conduct and restraint. Thief, rumoured at one time to have apprenticed to Treagon, Master Assassin and survived no less. While they said it was solely due to her natural charms and Treagon's masculinity, anyone who knew the man understood that to be false. Treagon was assassin first and man second in all things, particularly women. And all that before she had been trained by Hanasian's Black Company. Now, she had been blooded in battle and reports were that she had performed well, better than even her own Company had anticipated. She was a finely wrought sword, fair to look upon and as deadly as the elven blade she carried.
This job, then, was filled with portents and warnings and things to weigh. It would take time, precision, care and above all luck. He would need many plans, rather than one. A plan for each eventuality. It was a pity that they did not engage him earlier. It would have been child's play to snatch her from the forces that Elessar sent into Harad. That would have been ideal and before that inane attempt to abduct her from Pelargir upon their return. Amateurs though they may have been, it had only served to teach the Company a lesson they had been sure to take full advantage of. Ultimately, he needed to be ready to act the moment the opportunity arrived and the capacity to see it through all manner of consequences. There was a danger in thinking too far ahead. For now, he needed to rest because he knew there would be interesting events the next day. He had to get through those, and this Company would not make it easy. Their standards were high and rightly so.
They had spent the day gambolling. There was no other way to explain it. Bare feet, free of care or worry, filled with sunlight and laughter and the glory of each other. Through the trees, along the stream, in the stream to tickle sweet fish from the cool waters for dinner. Such joyous abandon of course did not go unnoticed. Legolas' people curiously looked on, content to observe the pair of mortals while away a summer day with nothing better to do than relax. Hanasian and Rin were indecently happy and it showed. They had made their plans. At the first sign of impending children, they would go West. Simple as that.
"What more obvious sign can there be?" Rin had teased him.
Each morning, Hanasian demanded an inspection. "Nothing yet? Halloo?" he would murmur against her abdomen until she laughed and swatted him aside.
"Why such a hurry? Do you find yourself wearying of decent sleep and a surfeit of peace and quiet?"
Even though they were mortal, and their years would be numbered, neither felt particularly impelled to rush or delay. Rather, they were content to let things take their course. It was enough to know that it would happen. That night Hanasian sat up at the table by the hearth. The fire had been lit for light more than warmth. He had spread before him the gift Rin had made to him for their wedding. It was a particularly fine writing set. The pens, nibs, pots and even the leather had been fashioned by elvish hands. The leather was dyed a deep blue and silver cord was woven around the edges. It would be as sturdy and useful as it was beautiful. Beside which, Hanasian confessed to a deep satisfaction at using something that had probably been used by its previous owner to craft that appalling petition his daughter had summarily burnt in Mithlond. In due course, Hanasian would bequeath to his own children. Given the inclinations of both parents, it seemed likely at least one of them would appreciate a gift such as this.
Hanasian glanced across at his wife. Her back was to him as she lay on the bed. He could see she was sleeping from the even rhythm of her breathing. He studied her a moment, a long moment, and then returned his attention to the blank sheet of parchment before him. He needed to write his sister and tell her that he had, in fact, married that girl he had made mention of at Bree. Beyond that, who she was, he suspected it was best to leave that unsaid for now. Such topics were best broached in person and one of these days he wanted his sister to meet his wife. The idea of the two women meeting made him both cautiously smile and wince. Both women were inclined to say exactly what they were thinking.
As Hanasian wrestled with what to write to his sister, Rin drifted in another world entirely. It was a confusing one that blurred things together that did not belong. A horse stood on an ocean, ears flicking impatiently. Then she was underground, but that was not particularly concerning and nor was the cow that sat in a subterranean antechamber, contentedly chewing its cud. Then she was trying to ford a stream that continued to rise higher and higher. It pushed her back and she shoved forward. She had no idea why she needed to get to the other side. Then she was in a warm place. A big building with a massive space within it. Straw, chickens, cows, grain. One of her favourite childhood haunts. The sun could find its way through the timbers of the barn and create warm golden stripes on the things inside it. She liked to sit in there and watch her father work. Every now and again he would call out her name and she would answer. Sometimes, she didn't, because then Da would stop what he was doing and come look for her.
She heard thunder, but the sun was still shining and the sky was a clear faultless blue beyond. Da was repairing the stone wall that kept the sheep and cows out of their garden. His back was to her and he called out her name, a rhyming sing song call. Warm mischievousness turned through her and she held her breath and did not answer. He called again, still working and she did not answer. Thunder tolled. He called a third time and she was smiling so hard her cheeks hurt. Then the sun went away and she could not see Da any longer. Horses, strange men with frightening faces, savage glee and hatred making them monster masks. Da ran to the house and slammed the door. Ma and Loch were inside. Ma was pleading, desperately. She could see it now because somehow she was standing there too, clinging to Loch's arm. Then Da went out again before she could say she was here, she was here, she was here Da! He didn't need to go find her because she was here and she was only playing a game and she was sorry! Don't go out, Da! Glass shattered, the sound of fists on flesh. The spray of arterial blood. The grunts and snarls of the monsters and they wrought their carnage and torment. Where was Da? So much blood, creeping towards where she huddled with Loch. Ma was twisted, still, staring. Her brown eyes did not laugh or twinkle anymore. Run! Flee! Hide! Where was he? Where was Da?
"Love? Rin? Rosmarin?"
The low panicked moan had alerted Hanasian that something was wrong. Her breathing had become shallow and rapid. She was muttering something in the Dunlendic speech and the bedding had twisted around her. He tried again to wake her, gently shaking her shoulders. Then she seemed to writhe in his grip, her eyes flew wide and such naked terror as he had never seen before stared back at him. She pushed him away hard, crawled to the far corner of the bed and curled into a tight ball. He recovered his balance after a moment and saw she was shivering so hard her teeth were chattering.
"Dear heart? My love, it is I. You are safe. I swear it."
Another sound now, a whimper. He dared approach and curve an arm over her shaking, rounded back. No words now, just soft sounds to soothe and gentle movements. He stroked her hair, murmuring nonsense sounds into her shoulder. He dare not guess at what dark horror had snared her dreaming mind. The future or the past, right then it did not matter. It took perhaps half an hour for the rapid gallop of her breathing and pulse to abate. She curled her fingers through his shirt and held with a white knuckled grip. He smoothed back hair from her face as best he could for she had it buried against his neck. The shivering eased and in another half hour she was dozing again.
Hanasian sat with his wife cradled in his arms, back against stone, and gazing up at the night sky through the window overhead. It had been a beautiful night, though in winter, when he had discovered the ruin of her foster family's farm. At the time, he had not dared hope any child had survived such savagery as had been visited there. And yet, here he was, holding proof that such a feat was possible. Not just once, but twice. Two survivors. One bottled his scars up and shoved them down deep. And this one faced hers head on, though mostly in silence. If there was one thing he knew, aside from the depth with which he loved the woman he held, it was this. He would permit no such thing to befall his wife and children. No marauding killers would descend like ravenous wolves to consume his family. As his mind turned, the woman he held shifted against him and sighed, as if in relief.
Aboard ships far to the east...
Dhak woke, startled. His shadow stood silent at the rails as he looked out over the sea toward the land of the Easterlings. His robe slightly quivered, and it was obvious to Dhak that his shadow was engaged in a profound mental battle. Dhak made to ask him what was happening, but the shadow lifted an arm to silence him. He did not want to be interrupted. Dhak always became nervous when he got this way.
Far to the west in the Tower of Ecthelion, Aragorn sat alone. The Palantir was before him but he did not upon it and instead stared east. He sought to know of events there, through his own perception or that of the Stone. He knew his scouting party had encountered the Ithilien Rangers that watched the northern reaches of that land. They had made good time and would make better now they had horses. Yet he was troubled by his failure to penetrate through the foggy wall that stood far to the east. Try as he might, by mind or Palantir, he saw only shadows. All seemed well this side of it, at least for the common folk of the Easterlings. The clan chiefs were uneasy, as was his Prefect. And he was so very tired now. Aragorn sighed as he broke away from looking east. Immediately the weariness fell from him and he pondered this for a moment more before he descended from the tower.
Aboard the ship, the shadow staggered and nearly fell. He caught himself, straightened to resume his steady stance. Dhak was surprised by this momentarily revelation of vulnerability, and he was prepared to admit somewhat amused. Somehow, this made his shadow less...ominous.
He asked, "What is it that wearies you so?"
The shadow was breathing hard but slowly turned to Dhak. He had yet to relax his guard.
Taking a breath, the shadow wheezed his answer, "The King of the West is a mighty man."
The shadow steadied himself further with another deep breath, "It is a great drain upon my strength to obscure our presence from his sight."
Dhak observed the shadow continue to assert control and edge closer to the unsettling man he was accustomed to, despite his earlier dismay.
Dhak said, "You are reconsidering our plans then?"
The shadow turned at that and considered the matter, his breath still wheezing from him.
"Yes, I think it wise for our obscurity comes with a price. His inability to see does not mean he does know know. It may be of further detriment to our cause, in fact. And he will only look harder the next time he has a chance to. I will hope it is later than sooner, for I am tired."
Dhak nodded and thought, finally saying, "Maybe it would be best to sail away from these lands for a time. We will then be out of sight when he looks for us. Our people we leave behind will blend in here, and in due time when more of us come, we will be better prepared and ready. And, meanwhile, Khor will continue his preparations."
Dhak's shadow lifted his head and sighed. If the shadowy figure iever smiled, or could smile, he was doing it.
He nodded slightly, "As suggested after our meeting with Khor, we could obtain a certain advantage for us. Yet, at the time, you were...reluctant."
Dhak crossed the deck to look into the west. It was a difficult decision to male. Still, he deemed they would for now have to retreat out of sight proper.
"Tell me again of this advantage," Dhak asked.
The robed shadow at his side stood tall, his arms folded before him and hands concealed in the sleeves of his sky-blue robe. When he spoke, his voice was stronger again.
"If we bring here, offshore, the one of my order whose youthful mind and strength will be of much use to us. We will set her on the obscurity, and free me to what we it is we came here to do, and still more. Only..."
The shadow paused, voice trailing off and Dhak prompted him, " Only... only what?"
"She will need to be controlled," the shadow sighed and this was shared by Dhak, who grimaced.
"Hence, my reluctance. We can only bring her ashore when we are truly ready and that may not be for years!"
"Yes, yes...much will depend on her progress since our departure. It remains to be seen if she can be controlled. In the least, we can bring her close."
The shadow turned from the rail, the discussion concluded in his view, and slowly crossed to the other rail and studied the eastern horizon. Dhak turned to tap at a door.
Quietly, at Dhak's back, the shadow whispered, "I will ponder these things now while I rest."
The shadowy face retreated further into his hood and tilted down. He folded his arms and close his eyes, taking himself into a trance to renew his strength. This brought Dhak a smile, for it meant that his shadow would be out from underfoot for days. A new plan would be set in motion and he immediately issued orders to retreat further from the coast. Messages were sent for Khor and those men Dhak had left ashore. The captain of the smallest ship of their flotilla was summonsed and issued with new orders and parchments that outlined them prepared.
Then, Dhak had to wait for his shadow's arms to drop back to his side. He knew eventually this would happen, for he had seen it before. Dhak removed the shadow's signet to seal the parchments and thus declare who had issued them. Then, Dhak applied his own signet as confirmation. It pleased Dhak in the main, yet he retained some unease at the prospect of yet more of his shadow's unsettling order arriving.
At the rail the shadow stood as if frozen. In dark memories of the distant past he remembered his two companions. They had come from the west and travelled well into the east and south. When it seemed there was nowhere else to go, they discovered an old ship, mighty in size and strength, aground on the shores of the great eastern ocean. There, entangled in vines of the tropical forest that pushed its way to the edge of the sea, the three of them worked to explore the ship. Secrets they discovered, some by their leader and some by him which he didn't share. While their leader found Numenorean lore, he had discovered the navigational logs and maps, which he shared with his friend. By this time they had begun to distrust their leader, even as he sought to tighten his grip on their order. When he decided that they would return west, they two refused and the ensuing argument was not easily forgotten. After much effort, their leader decided to return without them and the two, once their strength was renewed, had discussed the find.
Years had passed, and with one studying the weather, water currents and the paths of the sun and moon, the other worked to make the ship worthy. Few men desired to help them, only twenty refugees from the far south. Still, these twenty had been enamoured the two. They called them 'high men' and became fascinated with the ship and the prospect of setting it afloat on the great sea. One day the time had come. The weather and the tides of the sea were perfect. The mood was full and a swift storm blew hard from the east. The seas rose high as the tides swam in far over the land. Then as the tides and winds turned back, the men worked to free the ship. Huge sails had been fashioned and they were lifted to catch the wind. The ship slowly wrested itself free itself from the land's iron grip. They, and a dozen large tribesmen from Far Harad, were adrift then, sailing the seas in an old Numenorean ship! They made for the east on favourable winds, and though the maps and distances of the logs were all now far from true since the great Numenor's downfall, they searched until they found land.
It was how the two came to the far away lands over the eastern sea and there they remained. He had kept himself pure and refrained from the vices of the local population they had discovered, but his friend did not. He gave himself over to the ways of the nobles and in time married a daughter of one of the high families he had befriended. It was unwise for one of their order to intermingle with the children of the Atani, the second born. From the time the child was conceived, his friend was steadily drained of his strength. His wife died upon the childbed and his friend descended into the coma that gripped him to this very day.
As for the child, many said she channels her father's power and has all the physical strength and beauty of her mother's line. But even in an ageless adulthood, she remains in mind a child. It would be dangerous to bring her here. Her father would have to be brought as well. So perilous, but it could be done. He would have need of a strong containment spell to keep his friend's daughter on her task, for she could wander. He did not know how she would be now. He would have to prepare for the necessary adjustments for the proper strength. Memories and thoughts, visions all began to fade and he stirred slowly to full wakefulness.
He woke to early dawn, some three days later. He looked about and found Dhak speaking with the captain of a messenger ship. The man was reporting that instructions had been carried out. By sunrise, the flotilla would be beyond the horizon. Dhak had not slept in this time and belatedly noticed his shadow's stirring. Again the man stood tall, arms crossed and hands buried in his sleeves. Wearily, Dhak went to him.
"We have moved from sight of the western lands. We are readying one ship to return home with word. Will we proceed with what we have discussed?" Dhak inquired.
"Yes. Bring her father as well."
Dhak was pleased to have anticipated this. The shadow gave to him a parchment, an order, which Dhak took to the messenger ship's captain. This parchment Dhak did not apply his signet to. No one could know how the girl would perform. By morning, the messenger ship had slipped far ahead and out of sight. They themselves were beyond sight from the western shores.
Khor wasn't sure what to make of the decision of the seafarers to go. They said they won't be far, but he could not go to sea to find them if need be. The only thing that remained was a company of armed men who didn't talk much. They were dressed in the local clan uniforms, and except for being taller, looked every bit the part. The young warrior class of the eastern clans would form up around these men and become the core of the new Easterling army, but for now they are the subservient local law enforcement for the king of the west.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.