26. Chapter 26
The situation in Rhun was complicated. With the assassination of the King's Prefect, it signalled to Gondor that they were in open rebellion. But it seemed the plotters didn't count on one big factor... the arrival of Khule, Wulgof, Berlas, and Loch. Still more confusing was who exactly the plotters were. If it was a means to an end to bring independence, then it was not well thought out. If it was brought on by Khor's agents, it was a terrible mis-use of well-placed people. Most likely it was planned by rogue officers who didn't side with Khor, but unfortunately, they weren't as strong as they thought they were.
The fighting in most areas was over that day, but some areas it went on. The northern reaches seemed to be where they were strongest, and there, those not of like mind were either slain in the fight, or grouped together and fled south.
With chaos among the clans and within the biggest clans, most government control broke down overnight. The remnants of the loyal Easterling Gondor legion held a small area around where the Prefect had lived, and others who had word of the Company marched toward where they heard the Black Company was at.
The next morning when daylight began to break, Khule looked out over the field. It was dotted with watchfires, and it seemed the numbers had more than doubled.
He summoned Dhagat, the sergeant that led the original dozen, and asked, "You know all these men?"
Dhagat looked about the field and said, "Some. I know of what units many are from, and it is quite a mixed lot."
"I figured as much," Khule said. "You and your twelve just got promoted. I need loyal leaders, and I am counting on you for this. Have your kid... Runner, go and ... well a few others too, and have the commanders meet me here at the barn. Also, check the perimeter. With this many men of arms gathered in one place, it will surely draw attention. Also, find fresh word as to what is going on."
The sharp salute of the right fist thumping his chest over his heart was all he did, and he turned to go. Immediately he was barking orders to his men, and with precision they fanned out. Runner took off to the far edge, and by the time the sun was well up in the eastern sky, eighty-four commanders of the various units had arrived. They were joined by a dozen sergeants who led their small units, and a few young individuals who were not military but were armed.
Loch whispered to Berlas, "Khule has his own army!"
Berlas nodded, looking at all the men. Wulgof sat up in the loft, watching the goings on outside, but also keeping Khule within earshot. He was worried about their situation. If this mob turned on Khule, then they would be stepped on like a bug. Even with the rest of their Company there, it would be a bad odds. And if they recruited, they would not likely have the know-how to survive long against these well-trained warrior class soldiers. It all rested in Khule's hands and so far he had held it together well. Wulgof was the only one of the three that had been in Rhun the last time. He knew what Khule was like back then. He could see a bit of that coming out now. He sighed and watched.
The men loyal to Gondor held their own around the Prefect's house. It seemed the weight of the rebel gangs stayed north and east of them. Toward the west, little had changed and the patrols remained loyal and doing their work. It was a good thing too, for they would be the first ones the rest of the Company would first meet.
To the north where the clan chiefs had been assassinated, things were chaotic and lawless for most of the day. The rebels seemed to be poorly organized, which allowed a large group of loyal soldiers get away south. But they seemed to steady themselves by the end of the second day.
Word got east to Khor late on the second day. He was not happy at first, for it was too soon. But he reacted quickly by building up defences to the west. He didn't need an influx of rogue soldiers flooding in, but he did want to screen them as they did. It was one of the first of these that brought him even more distressing word... the Black Company was in Rhun.
The morning sprouted still warm from the day before. Hanasian and Rin were entangled, the result of attempting to find a comfortable position on the ground and the closeness of newly weds. Arms and legs were everywhere under the thin sheet over them. However they were no different to everyone else in the Company. There was little time for anything but sleep during the night hours. The warm season was waning ever slightly each day and the dark hours grew each day before the sun brushed the eastern sky and chased away the stars.
The days still seemed just as long and the going was hard. Even though a trade route had started to flourish between Osgoliath and Rhun, the route through the rough rocks and edge of the swamps was not in good condition. Moving trade goods on wagons was one thing and the way was much improved over what it had been. However a deer track would have been considered a substantial improvement on past arrangements. Moving over a hundred well-armed and provisioned men over it was another matter altogether. Hanasian had sent Darius and Donius along with the recruits they had picked out ahead with the recon scouts so they could try and clear and widen the track through the rough country. They were mostly successful until the Company caught up with them. Then there was no time to do more than clear a few rocks that made pinch points and fill in any deep cuts in the rocks to make easier passage. For all of this, they were approached the western reaches of Rhun after two weeks on the march. The day started sunny like the days before. By noon, heavy clouds had gatheredin the north. Videgavia knew the signs and he said as much to Hanasian as they rode into a wider plain, glad to have left the rocks mostly behind.
"It will be raining by evening. Autumn is coming. A not the best of times to be going east….especially with this gut feeling we may be there for the winter."
"Yes, it was winter when we were here before too," Hanasian replied and Videgavia nodded at that.
Hanasian's brooding gaze took in the men moving along around them and after a moment he said, "Not the worst bunch we had, but I'm not comfortable going in with most of these men having only four or so weeks of hard training. Still, they seem to be taking to it rather well considering."
Videgavia again nodded. He added, "They are a fair bunch. We only had seven drop out, and most of them were due to injuries. Tell me cap, why did Hamoor… Ravenclaw want to join this time? He seems to be straight with us, but there is something about him… "
"Aye, well you didn't think much of most of the men we brought in at first. And if we get in deep any time soon, most of these will not make it. The ones that do will know how to survive. And I think Mulgov has done a great job with the resources at hand to get them this far. Plus I think we may have a few rough gems with other skills too. I think Darius and Donius have quite a cadre of specialists under their eye."
Silence fell around the two men as they rode. Hanasian looked about and found Rin not far behind. She had her charges close as well, and predictably she had them busy as she seemed to prefer. They were sorting collected herbs and making notes while on horseback. Bear drove a heavy wagon of provision. He was one of the best drivers. While he was well, he would never be completely recovered from his wound from Tharbad. When all was said and done, he had survived evisceration. It did him well to be able to sit some.
The afternoon darkened and it was looking more like night when the first fat raindrops started to fall. White flashes of lightning split the heavy grey and the pursuing thunder hit hard enough to hurt the ears. Any grunts of complaint were well muffled by the sound of the driving rain and the need to control anxious mounts. Donius deployed a creation he had made to collect water for their use. A good thing too, for they had been depleting their supply in the dry heat of the past days. His rig managed to fill to the brim several of their empty barrels. This brother was considered a clever man indeed.
Though it seemed night had come, the rain slowly tapered off and just before it quit, an eerie orange cover the land. The sun managed to find the edge of the cloud as it sank low and it beamed its light under the dark clouds. The raindrops looked like silver beads and a rainbow could be seen at times. But it too faded and soon the red, orange and pink clouds were dark proper. With the onset of night the rain stopped. They set to camp and the defense was set in an arc to the west. Sentries were set to the east, and the rest settled in to eat and to rest. Hanasian ordered there would be no fires this night, for he had a feeling they were being watched.
And they were being watched. The western guard of Rhun had noted the approach of the Black Company.
The arrival of the Black Company, in numbers far greater than ever seen in Rhun before, was as the autumn winds that seemed to sweep up mid afternoon and build towards dusk. Sometimes the winds carried storms, wild and savage affairs. Rin had seen their like in Dunland. How they did not get struck by lightening she did not know. What she could do if they were she could not fathom. It was just another thing to gnaw on during the day. Sometimes the winds only carried dust and heat and dried vegetation. Sometimes the scent of smoke, not just domestic hearths. Every now and again, the unmistakeable scent of death.
The wariness of the Company steadily escalated, particularly amongst those who had been to Rhun before. Old memories rose from uneasy sleep for many, Hanasian included. They moved as quietly as they could, lit no fires at night. The Black Company hackles were well and truly raised well before the first ragged party sought them out at the end of another long day. A haggard looking man and woman with haunted eyes, a dead babe in the woman's arms against her thin chest. Desperation drew them out, for it was no easy thing to approach a military unit on the march in their state. Their tale was a familiar one. Particularly for the Company Healer.
Treachery swung this way and that in civil war. They had been burnt out of their farm, two elder children left amid the ashes of their home, nearly a week ago. Pitiful as they were, their arrival triggered a ferocious debate amongst the Old Company while the New Company silently looked on and wondered what sort of Company it really was. It was increasingly likely that they were bound for war and they could neither support civilians nor carry them with them into war. Rin had been unsettled and increasingly worried with each passing day. She had been silently brooding over the dream and her brother's fate, her temper wearing thinner with each passing hour. While she could rationally acknowledge the logic and perhaps, even the ethics, of Molguv's position, she saw an entirely different battle front to contend with. She argued that if it was civil war, they needed as much as the populace as they could get or face being devoured whole by the nation. Back and forth the argument went, increasingly vehement until Molguv's questioning of her grasp of military strategy snapped her usual control
"Spend twenty years on the losing side of a civil war before you dare ask me that question again," she openly snarled, "Or, let me make it really simple for you. One word: DUNLAND! Now you can all scarper off to wherever it is you need to get to in a hurry. I am staying here and I am doing my job and that is an end to it!"
She whirled on one heel, snapped the name of the nearest Duckling who was skulking nearby, and stalked off to where the two refugees had huddled together, sunk in defeat into the grasses. Two Bells trailed in her wake, looking over his shoulder at the grim faces of the Old Company and forward at the stiff back of his mistress as she stalked ahead of him, cloak flapping like an angry banner. No matter which way he looked at it, he would be in trouble. There was nothing to do for the child and its parents needed a great deal more than any mortal or immortal could provide. Water, bury the infant, immediate medical care, news on what they had seen on their way to this point and where the dangers might lie, some food and it was done. Rin brooded for a long while as she watched them shuffle away. If she watched long enough, they'd disappear into the gathering dusk. The afternoon wind whipped her cloak out behind her and Two Bells knew by now to be quiet if he could. But he couldn't.
"Will they make it?" he asked, saw her frown slightly and then swing her attention to him fully.
He watched her with those infernally hopeful, youthful eyes. She knew what he wanted. He wanted to know that it was worth it, that it had been successful. That it would be better again, for them and for him. She also knew what she owed him.
"I don't know, but I hope so," she answered truthfully and watched his eyes drop to his boots a moment and then lift to watch the departing pair. In this time, it had finally dawned upon Rin that she had been perilously close to open insubordination.
Rin left him there, watching after the forlorn pair in the distance, and turned back to face the consequences of her outburst. After three weeks on the road, the men around her looked every inch the very formidable monsters she had spent years fearing. Molguv particularly, hulking and dark and heavily bearded now. He scowled at her as she passed, and Rin felt her surprise as she scowled back without trepidation. Oh, how swiftly some things changes and how permanent other things were. War led to suffering. Brother against father, mother against daughter. There were those who were there to fight, to contest, and those whose lot in life it was to endure. Rin knew, no matter what they did, that it was likely the two refugees would not make it through the week. But, they might encounter others and say what the Black Company did and word might spread and they might acquire a far more powerful weapon than any spear or sword. Some things were brighter and stronger than steel and might alone.
The lateness of the day resulted in them making camp. Some grumbled about the delay of an hour making the next day longer. She could not dispute that, another hour away from Loch. Was he still alive? Did her dream mean what she sensed it did? Was it the storm of yesterday or the one tomorrow that would be the one that would carry those ships? Where did they go to and who was on board? So preoccupied was she that Farbarad had to step to one side quickly so that she would not walk into him outright.
"Achieve anything useful?" he asked her but she scowled instead at the bundle he had wrapped in his arms, seeing straight through his opening salvo.
Despite the wrapping, it clanked. Farbarad tried to reason with the woman all the same, just once.
"Look, you can put this on voluntarily, or I will sit on you while Mecarnil stuffs you into it. I reckon Molguv might help too, so no use plotting how to get the slip on the both of us."
"I can't do my job dressed as a giant metal turtle."
"It's this or not doing your job at all."
Farbarad leaned closer as her jaw firmed and her shoulders squared. He placed a hand on one shoulder, which she glared at, and made certain that she heard every word he was about to say very clearly.
"Not up for debate, Rosmarin. Next lot of refugees may not be all that they seem. You put this on, you get to wage your civil campaign for a little while longer. Don't put this one, we'll truss you up and toss you in Bear's wagon for the rest of the campaign."
Farbarad saw one sceptical brow rise. The setting sun burnished her hair and he knew she was weighing it all up, calculating her odds. She had worn the same expression when she had broken into Elrohir's office as a child and decorated some of his more precious books with crayon not ten minutes after she had been sternly warned out of the elf lord's sanctuary. She had been unrepentant upon discovery, crayon still clutched in her hand, all of ten months of age. He smiled at her now without any mirth at all and looked hard into her changeable winter eyes without hesitation.
"It's true. Mecarnil wouldn't hear of it. A gentleman like him would be horrified at trussing you up like a prize calf," Farbarad said as if he could hear her thoughts, "Me, well I'm a whole other sort of man. So, do you really think you'd like to test my will or word? I take my oaths of service seriously indeed, Princess."
And there, before she concealed it, he saw surprise in the depths of her eyes. They were silvery now, only faintly blue. She blinked at him, re-evaluating. She heaved a sigh and inclined her head. Mecarnil, who was watching the exchange from a safe distance as he set his horse to picket, felt his jaw drop open. Of course, once Rin had to wear armour, so too did the Ducklings much to their chagrin. Long accustomed to sleeping rough, sleeping rough in mail and armour while armed was another undertaking all together. Consequently, Rin's frayed mood had declined further by the time morning arrived.
More ragged, hopeless, bereft and desperate parties emerged and as Farbarad had predicted not at all what they appeared to be. The Company lost two to ambushes on one particularly bad day. Rin stopped muttering about the armour when she had to deal with the ravages of a particularly toxic poison dart. Even Rocks, a stoic lump of a man, looked deeply unsettled by the time the second man had died. It had been a slow, nasty death.
"No man should have to die like that," he said as he closed the tortured recruit's sightless eyes.
"Have you still got that dart?" Rin asked Two Bells, who stood nearby and had done exactly as he had been instructed to.
"Find something to wrap it in. Silk – Donius will probably have some undyed silk tucked away. Don't touch it. Bring it to me when you've done that."
Bells, dart safely aloft before him, sprang away. The press that had gathered veered away from him, eager to avoid the dart and whatever had produced that terrible death.
"Bury them. We have to move out," Videgavia ordered, for it was not yet noon.
As men swirled about to set to their task, three 'refugees' and two Black Company men to bury, Sparks couldn't help his curiosity.
"What are you going to do with the dart, and from horseback and by whatever starlight can be gotten tonight?"
"More than one can play this particular game, Sparks. All we need to know is what they're using to play it. I mean to find out. How is no one's business but my own."
Rin left Sparks and Rocks to consider her words. Doc had been pointed about sharing information and knowledge. It was, she had said many times, how any healer worth their salt learned. They acquired information, tested it, challenged it, reconsidered it, applied it, passed it on to others. An endless flow, like time or the seasons themselves. Her recalcitrance to discuss this particular matter was, therefore, odd. But not even Two Bell's boundless curiosity could shake more from her and by mid afternoon, she had sent all three of them as far away as possible from her. Banished, the Ducklings rode throughout the rest of the Company, equal parts curious and relieved and contemplative according to their individual natures.
It was no easy thing to test a poison for identification on horseback, clad in inflexible armour. However, Rin had expended all of her leverage in that argument with Molguv. She wasn't about to attempt to plead a second delay. Thankfully, Hanasian happened to catch a particular flask that had slipped from her grasp before it shattered on the ground. He returned it to her, peering at her hard. She flashed him the barest of smiles and returned to her task. At least she was focussed on something, which was better than brooding over things as far as Hanasian was concerned. There was just no time for husband and wife to talk, to really talk, to share their mind and their worries and their hopes. A time and place for everything and this wasn't it. Besides, where was that army Aragorn had been sending and was that yet another band of refugees/assailants that Foldine has flushed out?
The week slipped by and Rhun stretched out around them, a massive land by anyone's reckoning. The next day, the Company encountered its first sign of civilisation. It was an unusual rainy day, dreary but on the whole welcome. The Black Company had found a small cluster of buildings, not even big enough to be considered a village. They reigned in and swiftly decided to send a squad to the settlement. Hanasian sent in a mix of veterans and recruits, and two healers. One was his wife, the other was Two Bells – the youth was rarely far from her in any case, a real duckling was the running joke amongst the Company men, trailing his mother duck about with the occasional quack. They were not so wise to say so within mother duck's hearing. No man openly hinted that the Doc might waddle or quack, especially when she was armed to the teeth, married to their commanding officer and of a particularly sharp mood of late.
With the detachment sent in, the remaining Black Company set to encircling the settlement and spread a defensive net to see what they could flush out of the surrounding land. As Hanasian had expected, the land was not nearly as empty as first appeared. In the settlement itself, a whole different sort of trouble was emerging. As cots go, the one that Rin stood in with Bells, Videgavia and Farbarad was a hovel in every sense. The air was close, dank and reeked of violence. The reason for this was a nightmare sight, spread on what passed as a floor. A child, perhaps ten summers old, lay broken and battered on the pressed earth. His uncle or father stood under Videgavia's mistrustful eye in a corner, dark eyes darting from the child to the Daleman to the door. Outside, the incessant drip of rain and the sound of the rest of the detachment checking the settlement could be heard. Inside, the silence was oppressive. It was one of horror, dismay and shock. Even to the most hardened, what they had found was enough to twist a man's stomach into rebellion. Two Bells lost no dignity by being green around the gills. Even Farbarad and Videgavia were. Rin, pallid in the grey light, crouched by the child and desperately tried to determine what, if anything could be done.
She eased the tortured child up, murmuring softly to him and blanched at what she glimpsed before she set him down.
"Is that-" Two Bells broke off his question and pressed a fist to his mouth as Rin reluctantly nodded. He rushed out into the rain and Rin spread her fingers over the boy's shattered chest.
"Kidneys," she said, more to herself than anyone.
The boy had been beaten so badly that his kidneys hung out of his body. It was just one of a terrible set of injuries. Bones smashed and protruding from his slack skin, bruises so deep they were black and huge. Worst of all, he had not died. Somehow, he clung on and he watched her with silent suffering. She continued to murmur to the child softly, doing what she could with what she had to steal some of his pain from him. Evidently, she took enough to enable the child to gasp something in his local tongue.
"Not true! LIES!" said the man Videgavia watched in thickly accented Common.
As she comforted the child, for no one could heal his devastating injuries, she noted the contusions on his sun darkened skin. Fists and feet had been used. Adult sized ones. But something like a bar or rod had also been used. It was this that had smashed through the usually resilient leg and hip bones. The child tried again, urgently repeating what he had said before to her, somehow recognising that his last chance to see justice was slipping away and then he was still forever more.
Rin's hands shook as she removed them. Death, to have her hands and to be attempting a peripheral heal when death took him was always excruciating. For the child, though, it was a mercy. Slowly Rin straightened and her expression was blank as she lifted her head to study the other occupant of the cot. A bar, a rod. Someone had taken not only their fists and feet to this child, but had used something to beat him with. And, as she studied the increasingly agitated man who squirmed under the sudden and ferocious scruitiny of a Dunedain set of eyes, she found herself grappling with memories of her own. Oh, this one struck so closely to her bones. Rin closed her eyes as it all pressed home hard and all at once. She very much wanted to take the elven sword at her side and separate the man's head from his shoulders. For this child, for all the other children, for the child she had been once. She wasn't sure who said her name, but when her eyes opened she saw it then. The walking stick the man clutched behind his back. The sight of it made her shudder hard. Her hand had closed around her sword hilt and she had partially drawn her blade without realising it.
"All clear out, except this mess of Two Bells by the door here," Bear called, his bulk nearly filling the doorway and breaking the sudden tension that seemed to have gripped all those within.
"Bring the man. Hanasian needs to see this," Rin said, voice hoarse as she released her sword and unhitched her wet cloak.
She carefully wrapped the boy, movements so gentle that none of the three veterans could bear to watch. The boy's body was in her arms when they glanced back and the sombre squad made their way back to the Company.
"What's this, Doc?" Hanasian asked as Rin arrived with the boy's shrouded body in her arms and ghosts in her eyes.
"This is a child who was beaten to death by his uncle," Rin replied and set the child once more on the soaked earth.
Rain ran over them as she pressed on, turning to one side to indicate a man that Videgavia and Farbarad was escorting none too gently. Bear's face was thunderous. He looked like he could chew rocks. Two Bells looked like he might lose his stomach again. Rin was dangerously composed.
"Not to put too fine a point on it, children are beaten all over the place. Why is this a Black Company matter?" Molguv asked and blanched at the burst of expression that showed before she could conceal it.
"That is his uncle. I hope you can confirm why the child was beaten, fists, feet and that carved walking stick with the pieces of his nephew's bone and blood still clinging to the grain. I suspect he beat the boy because the boy was caught running information and or supplies. Between whom, that's what we need to know. Do you understand the Easterling tongue, Molguv?"
"Some," he admitted and then listened as she relayed what the boy had said to her.
"Well, do you understand it?" she asked, and repeated the foreign words again.
Molguv nodded, "Yes, despite your accent. But the fact remains, Doc. You could have just sent for one of us. The questioning could have been done in the village. Now he knows we are here and in what strength. Once the interrogation is done, then what? This should have been done in the village."
Rin's hand closed around her sword hilt, "No, it could not."
"Why not?" Hanasian pressed, catching at something in the steel of her tone.
"Because there were not enough Black Company men in that squad to prevent me from killing that man on the very bloodied earth upon which he stood," she admitted and then swung away to leave them to it before she forgot herself again.
Sparks and Rocks emerged to collect up the shrouded boy for burial. Molguv and Bear set to interrogating their prisoner. Rin was left to her own devices, for everyone's sake, and she spent a good amount of the afternoon pacing back and forth. Videgavia shook his head and considered Hanasian a long moment.
"If she keeps this up, she'll explode and at the worst possible time," he said as another rain squall set in.
Hanasian grunted agreement, but knew that the approach would need to be carefully timed. Meanwhile, there was a prisoner to interrogate and the matter of his intelligence to analyse. Accordingly, the Company had not moved by mid afternoon and Videgavia called for exercises despite the sodden weather. There were moans and groans but soon enough they had fallen out into their training squads. Any spare moment to hone their skills was not about to be wasted. They wanted to retain as many of these men and women as possible. In the midst of it, Folca decided that enough was enough and took it upon himself to approach the still pacing Company Healer.
His twin spotted him on the final approach and pulled him aside.
"Are you sure that's wise?" Frea asked and Folca rolled a shrug.
"Well, Khule's the best swordsman and he's not here and Hanasian's not far behind Khule but he has his hands full. I'm third best, so if I'm lucky, I should come out the side in one piece or near enough. Besides, something has to give."
Frea released his brother's arm and watched his twin intercept the healer. In the rain and amid the training squads, it was nearly impossible to hear what was said. Whatever Folca managed to say, the amicable and happy go lucky side of the Rohirrim twins was successful in getting the Company Healer to draw her sword on him. She swatted at him half heartedly a few times, and appeared to be humouring him until he pulled a move that had her flat on her back in the mud. Then, it was properly on and the match between the two became a serious one. Folca was a superb swordsman. He had no intention of injuring his opponent. He was not entirely sure the same intention was shared by Rin. She looked like she meant business, fierce and savage and startlingly fast despite the weight of the armour she wore.
By the time the washed out night arrived, several things had happened. The Healer's mood seemed to lighten somewhat, probably due to exertion and the numbing exhaustion that followed it. Folca seemed a little stiff in his movements. Babble was no longer prepared to risk being discovered lingering about like a bad smell. The prisoner was questioned and handed back to the inhabitants of the settlement to deal with. His justice would come, but not swiftly. The Company now knew that civilians, children, were being used to run information and supplies to various forces in the field in Rhun.
By the close of the fourth week on the road, Hanasian had his answer on the whereabouts of the army. There was another ambush, this one brazen for it came in broad daylight. It offered Rin a fine opportunity to test out the counter toxin she had been feverishly working on in every spare moment. Of course, they had to survive the ambush and this one was well executed. To Hanasian, it seemed proof that Khor's hand was active in this area. It was military perfection to stage running strikes and then melt away, bleed off an opponent before they even reached the main stage of battle.
Imagine Hanasian's delight and surprise to find on the western flank that an advance party bearing Rohan's colours approached. This turned the tide of the encounter irrevocably in their favour. By the time things had settled again, Hanasian espied his wife's fair head as she winnowed through the press in search of wounded. When none other than Eomer himself swung down from his saddle, hair now silver but eyes as vivid a blue as ever, Hanasian found he had important matters to see to. Of course, there was no bowing or salutes. Out in the field, such behaviour was a certain way to have your ranking officers swiftly killed by your opponents. Hanasian soon learned that Eomer had set out with all haste at the first sign of trouble with their ancient foes and had a great deal to say about what they had seen on their way to this point. The two swiftly fell to talking, two commanders in the field with a troublesome matter before them as their men mopped up around them.
Hanasian's discussion with Eomer broke off as word carried to them of the outcome of Rin's counter toxin. Sparks reported that it worked, in a fashion, but those afflicted would need some time to properly recover their strength.
"Ah, your wife," Eomer said as they set out to locate Rin and see for themselves.
Hanasian rolled his shoulders. "Yes…she's a direct woman, lord, and she is particularly sharp when someone interferes with her work."
Hanasian saw that Eomer only smiled as they strode through the combined press of Company and Rohirrim.
"Be at ease, Captain. Elfwine was thorough in his reports from the Harad campaign," Eomer replied and Hanasian abandoned damage control at that point as, in any case, they had located Rin.
"Whichever idiot you may be, GET OUT OF MY LIGHT!" Rin snapped, not lifting her head and instead staring hard at the man she was working on.
She heaved a sigh, considered the flask in her hand and held it up to the recently vacated sunlight a moment, muttering at its colour and viscosity more like an alchamist than anything else.
Then, she flicked her attention to Hanasian's face and he saw some regret in her expression and her cheeks faintly coloured. Then, her attention drifted momentarily to Eomer. The king was clad as any Rider might be and she spared him little time beyond initial study.
"I hear it's working, but I can see from the look on your face it isn't," Hanasian said and she heaved a sigh and agitated the flask.
"I just don't have everything I need for this particular mix and there's no way to get it unless one of those horse boys have horses with wings. It just isn't doing quite everything it should."
"Horses with wings…Just as well all the wizards have left these shores. If one of them heard that idea, I shudder to think what fearsome creature would result," Eomer mused and Hanasian watched one eyebrow climb incredulously.
"Wizards? Sounds like you've actually read a book if you know about those. Who is he?" Rin's last question was directed at Hanasian.
Behind her, Frea, Folca and Foldine had all gathered and were watching avidly. Something was afoot.
"Eomer King, my wife…Rosmarin of Cardolan and Black Company Healer," Hanasian sighed to Eomer and caught out of the corner of his eye he saw Frea elbowed his brother knowingly. Rin's transformation was truly stupendous.
One moment, cantankerous and sarcastic and the next moment she seemed close to outright panic. Rightly so, Hanasian mused, given her turn of phrase to a monarch. Her eyes grew huge, she swallowed hard, and he just knew that if she could flee that very instant she would have.
"Oh!" she squeaked and at that Eomer seemed to suddenly realise something.
"There! That's it! I have met you before. You were a mere slip of a thing then, perhaps eighteen years old, no shoes?"
"I- I'm not sure, sire…Perhaps you have me mistaken with someone else."
"Oh no. I remember faces, particularly yours. You… I remember now…a stolen bracelet from one of the chamber maids."
"A lie! Firstly, bracelets are inedible and secondly it was so ugly it couldn't even be sold for coin to purchase food."
"As I thought… Well, I'm pleased that I decided to hear the matter myself. I'd have no way to explain how I came to permit a maiden of royal descent be placed in stocks or jail. Had I known then what I know now…To think, a crown princess a beggar and serving in my own halls…"
As the king reminisced, something akin to panic took hold of Rin's thoughts. What was the tally on them now up to? Sixty marks or more? The king of Rohan remembered her? Oh he was smiling now, but that would all end when he realised who she was and what had happened and then it would be irons or worse, rope around her neck. Hanasian watched all of this with narrowed eyes, particularly the barely concealed amusement of the three Black Company rohirrim.
"Perhaps, when this business is seen to, you will return with the Captain to my halls, this time as a guest rather than kitchen staff?"
Rin stared at Eomer, struck silent by her predictament. Behind her, Molguv tried very hard to not laugh and failed. At that moment, Two Bells saved her skin. He skidded up, babbling of some disaster and Rin finally had a legitimate escape. She seized it with both hands and was away in a twinkling of the eye, peering anxiously back over her shoulder to check she wasn't being pursued.
"Definitely her. I never forget a pretty face. In any case, despite her dissatisfaction, I'd be more than grateful if you would consent to sharing that elixir. I've lost close to eight men from those infernal darts."
Hanasian was more than happy to share such information and he continued the discussion with the king regarding the difficulties of the campaign and how best to combat them. By the time Eomer and his party left, he had extracted the necessary information from a Company Healer who seemed determined to not show her face to the king again, ever. Hanasian departed, instructions in hand and Rin let out a miserable sigh. Of all the dumb luck, she mused, rubbing at her forehead. That cheese job in Meduseld would haunt her to the end of her days, she was sure of it.
Ultimately, while she was preoccupied with lamenting her fate, Molguv sidled up and nudged her.
"Didn't offer him any cheese then?" he asked and Rin gaped at him a moment and then her jaw closed with an audible click.
"That idiot! He said something, didn't he! That idiot! Lochared better still be alive when I see him next because when I do, I am going to kill that man, twice over!"
Thankfully, the rest of the day passed with little else of note, Bear's wagon loaded down with men who would need time to recover sufficiently to ride. The presence of Rohan and confirmation that Gondor was not far behind did something to ease the general mood of the Company.
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.