37. Chapter 37
Kholas found winter in Dale rather comfortable. He took up a job at the blacksmiths, and at night Tarina was there with him. He stayed away from her house but was there to comfort her when the old warrior veteran of the great war passed away.
All the while he remembered why he was there, and his card playing at the inn where Tarina worked provided a perfect vantage point to listen to the banter while making a little extra money on the side. Word from the east was slow in coming as the weather didn't allow much trade. But as spring arrived, news of the Company came to the inn and he learned they were still in Rhun. Kholas faced a brief moment of indecision. He could travel back east and try and re-join the company before they left. But instead he decided to go west to try to find Hanasian and the others who had wintered with the elves. But what about Tarina? He had to make a decision and it would have to be tomorrow morning. He leaned his head into her hair as she slept next to him and gave her a kiss.
Preparation had gone on for some weeks for the day they would set out. Rowdy went forth with Frea to scout the way and each time they returned with news that the snows were still too deep. They did manage to make minor repairs along the track, filling in washouts with rocks and cutting away downed trees, but the high slopes were still in full winter. As the days passed, the weather warmed in the lowlands. With rain and sun came the rising waters of the rivers. Rowdy brought back word that he had met with elves from Imladris who sought out the sons of Elrond. Rin's advancing state meant that as she grew she became further uncomfortab;e. News of the Elves on the trails made it clear to Hanasian that it was time to go. They would not be able to take a wagon and the horses would be used for supplies . One was made ready for Rin, though she little liked the idea and wanted walk like everyone else. Farbarad thankfully prevailed in a rare display of stubborness and so it was that Rin found herself riding at least most of the time.
It was sunny and warm the day they set out. Hanasian awaited word from Kholas, but he had not come. He considered his concerns for Rin and the difficult journey ahead, they set out feelings on the track just as Kholas called out.
Folca turned and saw Kholas and Tarina wading along in the wet snow, leading a horse with supply.
Hanasian grinned at this, "You're late! But with good reason I suspect."
Kholas nodded and smiled. With eyes on Tarina, he said with a shrug, "Her father died this winter. She dreamed of seeing the world, and so she settled his estate and refused to let me go without her."
Hanasian shrugged too. This wasn't a military company anymore. If Kholas and Tarina wished to join them on the trail west, it was a good thing.
The going went well the first day and they short camped by the track and set off early the next day. The sun's warmth made the track a muddy mess beset with melting snow and feet and hooves. The light tracks of the elves that came east could still barely be seen and they managed many a mile the second day. The third day was not so pleasant. Thick cloud had settled around the Misty Mountains and the day was a dreary and damp gray. Also, the track became rougher. The limit of Rowdy and Frea's scouting and repair had been reached. They would find the way harder from here. The evening saw rain fall and the party took refuge under a grove of oaks that had new leaves. While not yet full grown, the trees provided shelter from the wind that was welcome.
The next few days were slow and tedious. The climb was fraught with danger as the melting snow dropped slides here and there. While this slowed their progress, they were actually making fairly good time in the conditions. Yet the higher they went, the more they had to dig. There were few places to camp at night, and it was too dangerous to push on in the darkness. Once they crested the pass, they thought things would be easier as they descended. The trouble with that idea was the fact that the west side had considerably more snow over the winter. Though it was well on its way to melting, the track that was dug quickly became a channel for the frigid snowmelt. Still, they gained trees again after some days and once there they were able to rest longer.
It came as no surprise that of their number, Rosmarin found it the most difficult. She suffered pains on occasion as the rigours of the trail took their toll. It sent the men around her into earnest panic as they little liked the idea of having to deliver a child on a mountain trail. But it seemed it was only another way for her to toy with them. Rin remained in good spirits despite the conditions and hardships. It was a sunny day when they met up with the advance scouts of Imladris. They had made it!
"Come beloved!" Hanasian said as he helped her down from the horse.
Once down, Rin refused to get back into the saddle and threatened to box Farbarad's ears if he pushed the matter. She was resolved to walk now to Imladris, where they would rest. Rin smiled in relief at being free of the saddle as she stretched her legs. They arrived under the escort of the Sons of Elrond, and here Kholas would be welcome. Both he and Tarina were in awe of the place, even though it had faded considerably from its days of glory and might.
"It will be good to lie down on something soft," Rin said as she walked, "If comfortable I will ever be again."
Hanasian smiled and elected to say nothing. He instead squeezed her hand as they walked. It would be good to rest in a soft bed…
The hospitality of Imladris had diminished little even though there were ever fewer elves around. The baths were relaxing and the kitchen sent a fine feast to the table. The fresh honey mead went down well.
"Sure beats whatever it was Wulgof tried brewing in both Rhun and Harad," Frea said sipping the cup and his brother agreed emphatically.
Rin pecked at her food and Hanasian kept her eating. The memories of the old crew came back to him and he found himself wondering what they were doing right now.
Meanwhile, far to the East, over the ocean and beyond the rift between worlds from where the Mariners and the Order Of the High Mage had come…
It was raining hard that morning when the city shook. Rumors of the destruction of the city exploded from tales once told of the tumult long ago that broke the world. Those tales were now remembered by few, yet now it seemed that the gods had reached once again to these lands and squeezed their hands around it. Like a fist arising from the ground, the lifting turned the majestic stones of the Mage Hall into no more than the broken rocks that they were shaped from so long ago. Inside the core remnants of the Order perished. The city now had few, for the tremors continued erratically making it unsafe. Most of the buildings were damaged or had fallen, and with each shake, more fell. Most who could had fled. Those who couldn't or wouldn't were left. They squeezed out subsistence the best they could and cursed the days the wizards had come.
Spring unfurled into summer and as the seasons burgeoned so too did Rin. They had settled in swiftly, each in their own way, upon arrival at Imladris. The Last Homely House still retained some measure of its capacity to offer a weary, footsore traveller that which he most desired. For Hanasian, it was a return to his boyhood home of many years. He delighted in showing his wife all the many places dear to his heart, unfolding his treasured memories along the way. For Rin, Imladris was the place of her birth. It was where a significant part of her history resided as well. Records and possessions had been left there. However, for Rin it was different. She had no memories to breathe life into them for her.
Kholas was rarely seen outside of the company of Tarina. A quiet speculation had sprung up between the other men that if things progressed at their current rate, further travel might be ruled out by more immediate family concerns. Frea and Folca turned their attention to a small herd of horses. They soon had a plan that involved their transport to Rohan and onward sale and the two men were hip deep in negotiations with Elves to secure rights to the herd. Negotiations proceeded smoothly until the matter of saddles arose. Stillwater was content to do mostly nothing. Occasionally, Slippery goaded him into exercise and the man would puff and moan his way around a training yard until such time as Slippery decided she could not bear his complaints any longer.
No one was aware of what Rowdy did when he wasn't on duty. Rin speculated that he had located a cave and hung from the ceiling upside down until such time as he was required. He was just so unnaturally quiet. He unnerved her. Farbarad thought this an excellent arrangement and not two weeks after arrival did she wake to find Rowdy standing outside the door to the apartments she shared with Hanasian. He said nothing when she emerged but she saw his little smile. She stared at him hard. It didn't seem to make much difference. Rowdy wasn't the sort of man to be overly perturbed by a Dunedain gaze. And that was that. When she brought the matter up with Hanasian, he nodded in approval.
"Excellent," Hanasian pronounced, tankard of honeyed ale in one hand and a lazy smile playing over his lips at the evening table.
Rin opened her mouth to protest but her husband pounced, "Now you can eat your meal yourself or I will arrange for your new Ranger to see to it for you."
Had there not been Elves in the Great Hall, Rin would have thrown her meal at him. The thing was, she believed him. He would summon Rowdy. Frea and Folca were grinning over in the corner. Even Slippery was smiling and Slippery was supposed to be her friend. Rin pushed the food around her place, not particularly hungry. She had eaten already. There was more food here than she had ever seen in her life. So much food. How they could eat it all she had no idea. Loch, were he here, would have helped her. He had a prodigious capacity to eat. Pleading fatigue, not entirely untrue, Rin retired early. Rowdy was, of course, waiting outside to ensure she safely made it back to her quarters. Safely. In Imladris. The only thing she was in danger of here was a paper cut. There were so many books to read now that she had a reasonable grasp of Sindarin.
Back in the Great Hall, Frea leant back in his chair and expelled a long stream of bluish smoke.
"You know…I have to say that I'm starting to wonder if it isn't twins…runs in the family," the man drawled.
Folca chuckled, Farbarad groaned and Hanasian looked uncomfortably nervous all of a sudden.
"She barely eats enough for one, much less two," Slippery replied with some concern.
"She is very much like her mother. Verawyn had that same delicate build, even with child," Farbarad said.
"Twins," Hanasian echoed, struggling to understand how he would manage two infants at the same time.
"One for each of you," Folca said merrily and at that Stillwater began to laugh.
Once his booming laughter died down Elladan broached a different matter, "We will have guests tomorrow. Men…from Cardolan."
Any joviality faded and Farbarad demanded, "Who?"
"The Prefect comes to report on progress. I do not think he is aware of your presence."
"Is he alone?" Hanasian inquired and Elladan shook his head.
"He has brought a number of his men with him. Aragorn himself appointed this Prefect. Yet, if you consider him perilous…"
"Farbarad?" Hanasian inquired and the Ranger rubbed at his jaw.
"Aragorn took particular care with this appointment, and Rin was part of the process. Mec and I found no cause for concern with the Prefect. It's not the Prefect that concerns me."
"You wonder, as I do, at who may have found a place in his service," Hanasian finished and Farbarad nodded.
"I can think of no better place to insert myself were I a rebel, as we saw in Rhun."
"We can turn the others away," Elladan said and Hanasian frowned.
"If you do that, you embroil yourself in the politics of Cardolan. Admitting some, denying others. No…we will simply ensure that they remain unaware of her presence here and she of theirs. I would risk no distress to her. Her time is so near."
Cardolan's Prefect arrived with eight men the following day. Hanasian arranged so that they could be observed from a distance. Farbarad saw no familiar faces among their number but cautioned that this, in itself, meant little. Rin found herself with not one but two attentive companions at any time. Her carefully established routine was turned onto its head and no one had any answers for the reason for this disturbance. Hanasian was rarely absent from her side no matter what she was doing. If Rowdy wasn't with him, Farbarad or one of the twins was. Rin found she missed most of all the ability to wander Imladris' many paths in the company of her own thoughts.
While Rin was cloistered securely, Cardolan's Prefect proved himself a worthy appointment. His report indicated that the task of restoring the ancestral property bequeathed to Rin and Hanasian had largely concluded though some of the outlying buildings were still in construction. The main residence and chief functionary buildings had been repaired, the fields cleared and sowed and the forests tended. This was welcome news for Hanasian. He had been grappling with the matter of how he would go about repairing the buildings and provide shelter for his young family, at least four others he suspected would continue on with them.
Hanasian met with the Prefect himself three days after his arrival at Imladris. Farbarad met with the men who had accompanied the Prefect and, gradually, their suspicions faded but their wariness did not. Carefully, Hanasian discussed his plans to take up residence by early Autumn.
"Oh yes, Captain. All will be ready. King Elessar made it clear that this was to be so. May I be so bold as to inquire whether your lady wife will be joining you?" the Prefect inquired, believing that Rin was elsewhere entirely.
Hanasian hesitated, glanced at Farbarad who jerked his head in assent, "Aye, and our child."
The surprise on the Prefect's face confirmed that the man was utterly unaware of Rin's presence or her state.
"Congratulations, Captain. A son or daughter?"
"That remains to be seen," Hanasian replied and the Prefect's expression was one of understanding.
"Ah…yes…the King made it clear that there were certain elements that posed some risk. You are wise to ensure she is safely hidden from view. This only makes it more necessary for me to ask. Have you arrangements for security, Captain?"
"Why?" Hanasian inquired tersely.
"My arrival in Cardolan did not go unnoticed. I have been contacted by a number of….interested parties. Some are no more than curious. Others, however…I have ensured particular is taken with the defences of the property. I seek only to ensure that the necessary arrangements are in place, without a gap."
Hanasian did not return to his quarters until quite late, but he did so reasonably assured that their home would be safe without being a prison or an army barracks. A place of peace for his children, the sanctuary he had promised his wife. The Prefect was a capable, perceptive man, of unquestionable loyalty to Elessar. As he slid under the light sheets beside his wife, Rin stirred. She did not sleep heavily now. She murmured something, a question by her tone. He smoothed her hair and kissed her cheek.
"Preparations my love, that is all. All is well. Now hush…and rest," he assured her.
His dreams that night consisted of a winding trail beneath summer leaves towards the sea. It was warm. He could hear the ocean beckoning. He knew that just around the corner he would see his home. It stood on a rise, looking out at the sea and the coastal forest that carpeted the shore below. There was a garden, behind the house and sheltered from the coastal winds. He could hear Rin singing as she burnt dinner and the sound of their children at play. He smiled as he walked through his dreams, at ease and comfortable.
Rin woke to a hot day. Sunlight streamed through the windows and there was a dull ache in her back already. She had not slept well, again. A night's unbroken sleep was a rare thing for her of late. Hanasian jested and called it training. He had left for the day; busy with something he would not tell her of. She extricated herself with some difficulty from the bedding. Getting dressed was its usual impossible challenge until Slippery arrived to rescue her.
"Hungry?" Slippery asked brightly, smiling so widely that Rin felt the sudden urge to slap her.
The thought made her blink in surprise at her own surliness and then she glanced down at where her feet had once been. They were still there, though she could not see them. She knew they were there because they had started to ache already too. Everything and everyone was starting early except for her. She was late, clumsy, cumbersome and ponderous. Rin heaved a sigh.
"I believe, Slippery, that if I only had a mirror I would at last be able to see an Oliphant."
"Nonsense! Aside from this," Slippery placed her hands on either side of Rin's belly, "You're still the same…all legs and arms…Too much, if you ask me. You should eat more!"
Rin frowned at her belly and tried to imagine it any larger. She just couldn't. She already felt as big as a house and had to take care with doorways and corners and stairs and chairs…the list got longer and longer as the months passed. Soon they'd have to suspend her from the ceiling, if only they could find rope sturdy enough for her weight. Slippery gave up and set herself to tying back her friend's hair. It would be too hot and uncomfortable to leave it out today.
"Tell you what…after breakfast, we'll go down to the pools."
"I'm not allowed," Rin grumbled, "For reasons I am not permitted to know. I think I'm under house arrest and I haven't even stolen anything…lately."
"You, me and Tarina, if Kholas hasn't stolen her away."
"And a small army."
"Rowdy and Frea will keep out of our way. You won't even know they're there. It'll be fun. We could have a picnic even."
They emerged to find Rowdy and Frea waiting.
"Don't you look lovely today, Doc" Frea attempted and Rin favoured him with a sceptical scowl.
"Don't try that on me, horseboy. I like it better when you're taciturn. That, at least, is genuine."
Frea glanced at Slippery, who grinned at Rin's shoulder, and nodded. Now that he had a gauge of her mood, he and Rowdy would be attentive shadows, silent. Rowdy slipped ahead to scout and they found breakfast without sighting another soul. For some reason, this only soured Rin's mood further.
"I'm not hungry anymore," Rin said emphatically in the Great Hall and pushed her plate away. She'd eaten more than what she had once had to eat in two days but as far as Slippery was concerned it was not enough.
Slippery shook her head and waggled her finger back and forth, "I'll remember this come lunch."
"I'm sure you will," Rin replied and reached for the cup of cool water sweetened by summer berries.
Her fingers brushed something unexpected under the cup and she nearly dropped the cup. A quick adjustment and Rin found she held a small folded square of paper in the palm of her hand. Her mouth opened in surprise and then her eyes darted up to Slippery. Slippery was making the most of breakfast's remains. Carefully, Rin unfolded the paper and swiftly read. When she had read it a third time, she crumpled it and dropped it down the bodice of her dress. Her thoughts stormed within her head as she sipped at the water.
The note explained much. There were strangers in Imladris. Strangers who knew about her. Men of Cardolan, and that explained a number of questions about the sudden change to her routine, where she was permitted to go and what was keeping Hanasian and Farbarad so preoccupied of late. It did nothing at all to improve her mood. Her frustration boiled over into a deeper anger, one that ran cold through her veins. However, Rin could not untangle what, precisely, she was so angry about. Was it the fact that Cardolan's shadow had found her even here and now? Was it the fact that this had been hidden from her like she was a child? Was it the fear that it would dog the lives of her children through their days as well?
Tarina strode into the Great Hall looking fresh and light as gossamer. The young woman was clearly in love. She radiated with it.
"Finished, Doc?" Slippery asked at Tarina's arrival.
Tarina glanced at the table and the half eaten plate in front of Rin, "You've barely touched your breakfast!"
Rin actually heard something snap within her and she clamped her jaw viciously to prevent something flying out of her mouth.
"She's a light eater…I think it has something to do with all those years spent making do with barely enough to sustain a sparrow," Slippery said and Rin's eyes narrowed because now they were talking about her like a child, as if she was not even there.
"But we'll be here all day waiting for her to finish. Once she thinks you're trying to make her eat, she refuses on principle. Don't you, Rin?"
Both women looked at her expectantly. Rin's jaw unlocked but she modified what she had been about to say and transformed it into Dunlendic so that it would, at the least, not be comprehensible.
"She doesn't seem very happy."
"She isn't, but the pools will remedy that. Come on, grumpy, up and at 'em. Let's see if we can't cool you down and take some of that weight off your back. I see you rubbing at it."
The great indignity of it all was that she needed both Slippery's and Tarina's help to get to her feet. Once up, Rin decided that there was something she needed to do straight away.
"Go on without me. I'll join you later, if my guards permit me," Rin stated, fixing a dark glare on Frea and Folca both, "I've something to do that cannot be delayed."
"We'll wait for you. How long do you think you'll be?"
"Oh, I don't know," Rin said with sarcastic breeziness, "How long does it take to straighten out an errant husband and a Ranger?"
Slippery's brows shot up, Frea swallowed hard and Tarina looked shocked. Rin plucked out the square of paper on which the names of four loyal Cardolan men entreated her for audience without the intolerable interference of Gondor's vassals. She brandished this in the air.
"Where. Is. My. Husband? I'll fix Farbarad's wagon later. Let's start with Hanasian. Where is he?"
"He's busy," Frea shot back, crossed his arms and spread his weight into a combative stance that Rin had seen him adopt many times before, in the days of the Company. She knew what it meant and she had not time for it.
"Oh, I am sure he is. Let me make one thing very clear to you, Frea. This is my mess to clean up. Cardolan is my problem. Mine! Now where is he?"
Frea's lips thinned as he pressed them together.
"Right!" Rin snapped and strode out into the hall at some speed, both hands pressed to her aching back.
It was not easy for a heavily pregnant woman to walk quickly and Rin was soon panting with the effort.
"Slow down, Doc!" Slippery pleaded and grabbed the other woman's elbow to halt her.
Rin rounded on her sharply and Slippery had to be fleet footed to avoid a collision with her belly.
"That's not fair, using that thing as a weapon," Slippery chided her friend.
"You knew. You all knew, except me and maybe Tarina. Don't lecture me on fair, Slip. This was hidden from me."
"To avoid causing you harm. Look at the state you're in, Rin! You're nine months!"
"And one week. I can still count! And this Cardolan mess is my problem. One I knew I was walking into and one I resolved to settle. Me. How long have these men been here?"
"Only a few days. Rin…I know you're not going to see eye to eye with us on this. All I am asking is that you slow down, calm down. The cat's out of the bag now. There's no stuffing it back, though I'd dearly like to know how you found out," Slippery said and Rin passed her a crumpled wad of paper.
Slippery closed her hand around the paper and noted that Frea and Rowdy had caught up.
"Doc, you don't look so good," Rowdy said and Slippery agreed with the assessment.
Rin's cheeks were flushed, the rest of her face pale, and she had both hands set to the small of her back to rub. Rin frowned.
"Well, if you're going to come along on this field trip, Rowdy, you'd better find yourself a sterner constitution. Things are going to look a whole lot worse before I'm done with them," Rin growled.
"Where are you going?" Frea demanded.
"I am going to find my husband, Frea. I'll start with Elrohir's study."
Rin started off again at a slower rate and Slippery unfolded the paper and read it before she passed it to Frea and pursued her friend. Frea cursed and set off last of all. This was not good. Not. Good. Hanasian and Farbarad were going to hit the roof, once Rin was done with them. Not. Good.
Rin arrived at Elrohir's study short of breath, flushed, with a dangerously smooth expression. She found both Sons of Elrond, the Prefect of Cardolan, and the two rangers she was searching for clustered around a table that was covered with maps and plans and deep in discussions. The sound of her laboured breathing in the doorway lifted their attention from the table. Aside from the smoothness of Rin's expression, the icy blue glitter of her eyes spoke volumes to the depth of her anger. Slippery, Rowdy and Frea were at her back, clearly unhappy.
"My word…Princess…this is an unexpected pleasure!" the Prefect exclaimed, believing that Rin had just arrived.
Rin struggled to retain her composure and favoured the man with a long, silent gaze.
"I can see the road has been difficult, and no small wonder. 'Tis a brave thing to venture forth even on the gentlest of roads at such a time."
Farbarad cleared his throat as Rin stepped through the door and straightened. She had been leaning against it.
"My love, you have met the Prefect before…in Minas Tirith," Hanasian said smoothly to broach the uncomfortable silence.
"Yes," Rin said shortly, eyes locked on Hanasian now.
"Is there something we might assist you with," Farbarad said from the table as Hanasian took his wife's arm.
Rin's eyes snapped to him and she lifted one pale brow. Farbarad watched her draw a deep breath and knew that whatever she was going to say would likely peel several layers of his hide away.
"Yes, there is as it so happens. I have met the Prefect. However, the matter of some four men-" Rin's reply was abbreviated by pain that shot up her spine like fire. Her eyes widened and Hanasian's grip tightened on her arm.
"Oh, now?" she breathed shakily, "This is important. Does it have to be now?"
"It would seem so," Elladan said, "And on this no amount of argument from you will make any difference and well you know it, healer. Hanasian, take her to your apartments. We will see to the necessary arrangements and quickly too, if Lady Rosmarin follows in her mother's steps in this matter as well."
At that, Farbarad's eyes nearly popped out of his head.
"What does that mean?"Rin asked worried as Hanasian carefully steered her about.
"Elladan's right. It might be best to carry her," Farbarad said as he reached the door.
"Was it that fast?" Hanasian inquired.
"Aye…and look at her."
"How fast?" Rin demanded as the two Rangers lifted her from her feet.
"Never you mind, lassie," Farbarad answered.
The Prefect soon found himself on his own, with his plans and maps, with the sound of the Crown Princess of Cardolan wailing a protest about how noone tells her anything any more through the hall outside Elrohir's study. He considered the drawings below and nodded his satisfaction. It was well indeed that progress had been so far ahead of schedule. There were two remarkable things about what unfolded next.
The first was that it was fast. It was over in a matter of hours. Opinion was divided over whether this was a good thing. As there was little untoward about the birth, most agreed it was a good thing. The tension of waiting was unbearable. It was made worse by the second thing. There was no wailing. There were no cries or shouts. The silence had been a cause for concern initially. It had seen them bicker outside over who might venture in and Slippery ultimately declared she had no patience for their squeamishness. She returned with the assurance that all was well.
"You know Doc. She's quiet," Slippery said.
"It's the quiet ones you have to watch," Rowdy remarked.
"You would know," Slippery retorted and the mood lightened.
After a while they a steady stream of cursing in any language Rin possessed begin. It turned out that she had learnt a great deal on her travels.
"What was that?" Tarina asked Kholas out where they all waited and the Easterling actually blushed.
He refused to translate which made the Rohirrim chuckle, because it seemed likely that she had said something in Kholas' tongue similar to what she had said in Rohirric.
"If Hanasian is limping, we'll know why," Folca drawled and Rowdy grinned a rare smile.
By late afternoon the door was cracked open and Elrohir bid Farbarad to enter. The Ranger was gone several minutes and then returned, hoarse of voice and eyes bright.
"Not too loudly," the Ranger instructed them and they carefully assembled just inside the doorway, suddenly bashful.
Hanasian and Rin only had eyes for their infant son. He lay sleeping, tightly swathed, across his mother's chest. His parents looked exhausted but victorious. Rin was pale but alert and aware of her surroundings. She glanced up at those waiting by the door and smiled. There was such raw emotion there, something she rarely showed and the men shuffled their feet and cleared their throats. This drew Hanasian's attention from his son to the others. Such astonished joy and pride radiated from him. His arm was still under Rin's shoulders from where he had lent her strength in those final, wrenching moments. He knew she would not be able to remain propped up if he moved his arm. It had been so terrifying. He had not known what would happen even as his son emerged. It had been so fast that any complication would likely have taken Rin from him. He felt shellshocked now, so awash with emotion that he did not know what to do. A father. He was a father to a son.
"Congratulations," Folca said earnestly as he crept forward to peer at his cousin's son.
"You're a braver man than I," Frea said a moment later and he caught Rin's tired smile.
"You both are," he amended and bent forward to kiss the top of Rin's head.
When they had all gone and there was just the three of them there, the setting sun caught in Hanasian's hair. He had never looked fairer to Rin than that moment. He was in a chair by the window, his son in his arms. He had held him while Rin slept briefly. There was such a vulnerable expression on his face. He seemed so very large and powerful against the tiny infant he cradled with such gentle care. Hanasian caught her movement and looked up.
"Tears?" he asked for his wife had never shed them in all the time he had known her.
"Happy ones," she whispered.
"He is sleeping," Hanasian said, glancing back down at his son.
"I imagine it was quite an ordeal for him," Rin said, "What shall we call him?"
Hanasian shook his head uncertainly, "Is there anyone you would name him for?"
Rin closed her eyes and knew that it was too soon to name him for Lochared.
"No, my love…not yet…perhaps in time, should we have another son."
"Another? Already you plan another?" Hanasian's lips quirked.
"You'll have to catch me first. I'll not soon forget this, husband," she answered, mock growl.
"Oh, but you will. Women always do…we both know your earlier threats are but empty promises."
"I meant them at the time."
Hanasian's smile went soul deep and he sobered and studied her face intently. Women, he concluded, were remarkable creatures and he was fortunate beyond all measure to have the one he now watched.
"Are you well, my love?" he inquired, aware that things could yet go awry.
She saw the fear in his expression and she nodded, "I am, beloved. You've a few more years to contend with me yet ahead of you. Now, to the business of naming. You're stalling."
"Why do I have to name him?"
"Well, he's your son and you've probably got something Elvish in mind."
"You've demonstrated a reasonable facility with Sindarin this afternoon. Along with Aduanic, Haradian and the dialect of Rhun."
"Yes, yes…but we can hardly name our son after a curse. He is your first born son, my love. This is yours. Take it."
Hanasian nodded and glanced back to the infant in his arms. His. Take this he would.
A son was born to Hanasian and Rosmarin, and though the title meant naught, he was called Ernil, or Prince, by the elves. Hanasian, however, had not considered what he might name his firstborn. His son slept beside his beloved. Rin dozed as well, still recovering from the demands of bringing him into the world. Hanasian's thoughts circled until, at last, he had an answer. He looked down upon his son and bent to kiss them both.
"He will be called Hanavia Lochnard of the House Halvaris, if this name pleases my beloved," Hanasian said and his son squirmed slightly, finding his thumb with his mouth.
Rin stirred at his voice and smiled as her eyes opened. Hanasian leaned over and kissed her again, as Hanavia struggled to find something to eat.
Hanasian said to Rin, "I chose Hanavia as it is a name of old in my line. I wish him to carry the name of Lochnard in memory of your brother, and I feel he may have some of his demeanour. What do you say my love?"
Her smile as her eyes closed once more said it all, and Hanasian kissed her brow and let her and the baby sleep.
The days that followed proved hectic, and there was still the matter of the Prefect and his ministers to resolve. In the days that passed, Hanasian and Farbarad held them as they gathered information. On the other hand, Hanasian spoke with Rosmarin about what they wanted to know. He did his best to convince her to address them in a diplomatic manner that was unbefitting of his wife for she was nothing if not a direct woman. She remained uneasy with the secrecy of the weeks before, but ultimately she agreed with Hanasian. He was somewhat surprised when she announced that she would address them in the Hall of Fire the next morning. Yet she kept quiet as to what she would say.
Hanasian, before he went to sleep, kissed his sleeping wife on the forehead and rested assured that his wife would strive to be diplomatic and avoid mayhem. He took it as a good sign when Hanavia slept all the way through to first light for the first time. Farbarad on the other hand, didn't sleep, for he was not nearly so sure. Mecarnil had always been the one to lead when it came to matters of politics and he missed the man now in particular.
The morning arrived bright and clear, with the scent of summer flowers in the air. Rosmarin was clad in a lovely silvery elven dress that fitted her well. Hanasian was in his best dress uniform, as was Farbarad, and Frea and Folca were in their Rohirrim martial finery. Kholas cleaned up well, and was in his leathers with the old Company crest. Tarina appeared in awe of everyone, even though she too was in a fine dress which she had made. She still blushed when she was referred to as Lady of Dale. Rowdy wore his silver chain mail, and the others wore their best Company attire. Slippery prowled about like the Black Cat she was. Notably missing were any of the Eldar save the official scribes. Even the Sons of Elrond were nowhere to be seen. Yet they were nearby and intent on watching this meeting from afar. The King's Prefect and his ministers arrived in the hall dressed in their official attire.
Farbarad stood up and announced, "The Lady Rosmarin of Cardolan arrives!"
She strode into the room, looking every inch the Queen of Cardolan, bearing her son in her arms. She walked through their assembly and once at the front passed Hanavia to Hanasian. He took his son in his arms and sat down with Farbarad. Rosmarin turned then and looked out upon the faces of all who had gathered. The Prefect had bowed, and wished to ask a question, but she cut him short. Farbarad shifted in his seat uncomfortably, ready for her customary direct approach to begin to permanently ruffle feathers. All Hanasian could do was hope for the best.
She said, "It had come to my attention, albeit late, that the King's Prefect and his ministers had arrived here with questions and concerns about the future of Cardolan and my role. Although I had thought all this was settled and put behind us in Pelargir and again in Minas Tirith, I have found it necessary to address lingering doubts that persist, for there has been some who have tried to bring about a free and independent Cardolan by violent means.
"These attempts have failed, and should any here today yet harbour a similar desire, I tell you now to set it aside once and for all. This is my official proclamation. As the Kingdom of Arnor and Gondor were united under one king in the days of Elendil, so to now are they united under King Elessar. There are no two kingdoms, or three, or four.
"This fragmentation has only caused grief, and now the division has come to an end. I have acceded all rights and claims as a rightful heir to Cardolan to the King of the West. His rule is supreme and is the final in all matters concerning Cardolan, and Arthedain, and Rhuadur, and Gondor and all its lands. He is your king, and mine.
"If by his will, he should allow a free and independent land under his realm, then it will by his decree alone. But all hereditary rights and claims that some insist remain mine by merit of birthright are forfeit, by my will and my choice and no other's. This is the last that I will speak of this matter.
"Any and all concerns that may come forth should be brought to the representative of King Elessar, whose appointed representative of Cardolan is the Prefect. I remain what I have always been. I am not Erían but Rosmarin, a girl who faced with her brother a hard road in uncertain times. I reluctantly joined a company of mercenary soldiers when my brother deemed it best for us. The Company commander perceived my gift for healing and convinced me to become their physician.
"This commander is now my husband, the father of my first born son. I am the wife of a veteran Dunedain Ranger who rode the Paths of the Dead with King Elessar, founded and until recently commanded the Black Company of Arnor. I am the mother of Hanavia, a soldier and a healer's son.
"And now, this matter is settled once more and on record in two places, one in the south in Gondor, and one by my own mouth in this hallowed chamber, recorded by the Scribes of Imladris. If there are any who still feel compelled to ascribe a rank and position that is no longer mine, they may serve be leaving my family and myself in peace. For my dreams are not so different to your own. I seek only a peaceful life in a land that once more prospers.
"May you all have a good morning."
By the time Rin stepped back down, Hanavia was flailing impatiently in his father's arms. She took her son back into her own embrace and he settled into the crook of one arm with a soft gurgle. She could not tell if it was one of relief or irritation. Like as not he was hungry. He frowned up at her as she placed her other arm upon Hanasian's. The hall remained silent as they departed, walking once more through the throng. Hanasian flicked a signal to Farbarad that made it clear that the Ranger could deal with any questions.
As they walked through the doors, Hanasian whispered to his wife, "Well said, my Love."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Wulgof went around to gather up the Company. So to did Khor gathered his men together. Except for the men skilled in sailing, and Donius and Daius, all the old crew were there. Videgavia arrived last of all to address them.
"Men of the Company and Khor's Legion, it is now spring and while the weather has yet to break, it warms and the winds and tides will be right for our departure tomorrow morning. Though armed, and trained in matters of military skill, we go forth not as an invading force but as explorers. We may be gone for a long time, or we may return in short order. We set out, commissioned as a Free Company, to seek out the lands to the east. Now Anavikela had said that the way would not be easy to do, if it was even possible to do. But we will attempt it.
" Any man who does not wish not to depart these shores can resign and be freed of their commission. Is there any who wish this?"
He stood silent and waited. So did everyone else, to a man. After several moments, Videgavia continued.
"This will be your last day in Skhar. Get your affairs sorted and be ready to board at first light."
Videgavia dismissed the men of the Company and Khor dismissed his men. They were free to mingle and it seemed many converged on the place the Company had called home for these long months. Mulgov was selling out his wares. Of course everyone knew that he had plenty stored aboard ship, but what he couldn't take, he sold at bargain prices. It was a good party this night.
Lady Anavikela spent the evening in her room alone. She turned her mind toward home, and for a moment, it seemed she felt her sister and those she had left behind.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Hanasian considered his son. For the moment, Hanavia seemed contented in the main to have been returned to his mother's arms. The child held his gaze solemnly, as if he read something of his father's intention. Hanasian decided to risk it. Instead of steering Rin back to their apartments, he instead led her to the Great Hall.
"Where are we going?" Rosmarin asked.
"You will see."
"Hanavia is hungry."
"It will take but a moment."
Rin fell quiet but took to frowning faintly at his side.
"I thought it went well," she said a long moment later and Hanasian glanced down at her in askance for he had said as much even as they left.
Then he realised the thrust of her thoughts, "My love, this is no chastisement. Be patient, dear heart."
With all of Imladris' guests corralled in the Hall of Fire, the Great Hall was empty. Anduril had been removed many years ago, but the histories of Elendil and Isildur still adorned the walls. Waves and tall ships. Tall men with grey eyes and stern faces. A looming Dark Lord in all his dread power. A gleaming shard held up in defiance. This place had fascinated him as a boy. It was part of his heritage, his history. But the figures that strode so proudly across the walls were his wife's forebears. He led her to where they stood upon Middle Earth's shore, narrowly escaped from the disaster that claimed Numenor. Their expressions were grim and sorrowful and yet hope was there too.
"Do you know who they are?" Hanasian asked her and Rin checked a sigh.
"It is written on the wall below."
"Aye…but do you know who they are?"
Rin paused at his tone and considered the question with greater care than before. He watched her head tilt to one side. Hanavia seized up a strand of his mother's hair, delighting in how his fingers opened and closed.
"Elendil and his son, Isildur," Rin replied warily now.
Hanasian ran his knuckles down the side of her face. It had been the delicate structure of her face, the silvery blue of her eyes above high cheekbones, and her ability to heal that had first hinted at her true identity. A heritage that she shared so many generations later with the men she studied upon the wall.
"My love, do you recall Aragorn's words in Pelargir of your inviolate blood?"
Hanasian turned her to face him. The soft light caught in the fabric of her gown and made it ripple against her like waves under moonlight.
"You are Rosmarin. You are my wife, mother to my son. You were the Company Healer of the Black Company, and reluctantly so at first. But you are also the descendant of Elendil. No-" he set a finger against soft lips that even now parted to argue, "It is as much a part of who you are as Hanavia now is. My darling…you have set aside your throne. All I say is this: do not deny your blood. It is nothing to be frightened of. If not for yourself, then for him. For it is his now too."
"As is yours," Rin insisted despite his finger.
"Yes…and I'll not ask him to hide from it. Will you?"
Hanavia began to fret then, waving fists about between them and Rin wondered if the two of them had plotted this together somehow. When Hanasian framed it like that, there was only one possible answer.
"No, my love," she said solemnly, eyes returning to the figures on the wall.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The Prefect and his men did not linger overlong. They set out some three days later, much to the relief of Farbarad. He slid into an armchair with a weary sigh.
"Best to avoid them," Rowdy offered and Farbarad scowled at the man.
"Yes, and where were you?"
Rowdy shrugged unapologetically, "Avoiding them."
With Hanavia now sleeping through and finding some sort of routine, thought began to be given to the next phase of the journey. Hanasian flatly refused to place his son and wife on the road until Hanavia was at least three months old. In this time, Slippery and Stillwater came to an agreement and sought Hanasian out.
"We won't be any trouble, Cap," Slippery assured him once Stillwater had finished speaking.
"I wager not, for it'll be a fast horse back to Minas Tirith otherwise and that is precisely where you do not wish to go. Am I correct?"
"Yes," Stillwater muttered.
"I can be an extra set of hands around the house…can never have too many when it comes to little ones. As for Stillwater…I'm sure you'll find something useful for him to do. How about gardening?" Slippery inquired and released her prettiest, most charming smile.
"Gardening!" Stillwater protested and Hanasian was not in the least distracted by any of it.
"I'll agree, on two conditions," he said at length.
"Name them," Slippery said.
"I want your real names…and I want the truth about what you're hiding from."
"But Company rules-"
"This is not the Company. This is my family. If you think I would take any risk, countenance any possible peril to my wife and child, you do not know me at all," Hanasian pressed, his voice and expression steely.
Stillwater shuffled his weight and glanced at Slippery. Slippery chewed her lower lip, sighed and shrugged one shoulder. Stillwater let her do the talking in the main. When she was finished, he threw in one important fact.
"It was a misunderstanding. That's all, Cap."
"Indeed," Hanasian said dryly, for he had heard the same said by a woman he loved dearly, "Does Rosmarin know?"
"No," said Stillwater emphatically.
"Yes…told her months ago," Slippery admitted and Hanasian rubbed at his face. When it came to his wife and her secrets, she was more jealous with them than Smaug was with his treasure.
"Very well…but, at the first sign of trouble…"
"Fast horse. Minas Tirith. We'll be on our best behaviour, won't we Still?" Slippery said brightly and glance at Stillwater.
The man glowered at her. Hanasian waved them off and as they departed, Stillwater made it clear just how unimpressed he was with Slippery's unauthorised confession.
"But it's Rin," Slippery pointed out.
"Exactly! She's cousin of the High King! Of all the people you could talk to, her?"
Autumn came late that year. It meant that the nights remained mild and this was something to be grateful for. They took a steady path towards Bree. Farbarad and Rowdy, Stillwater and Slippery would accompany them onwards to where they were to settle within the ancient boundaries of Cardolan. Frea and Folca would strike south for Rohan. Kholas and Tarina had not yet decided where they would go. As soon as Bea set eyes on Hanavia nestled in Rin's arms, the woman burst into tears.
"Oh the best rooms, make no mistake. We can't have you bunking down anywhere else with a little one to tend to, now can we?"
"It's just us this time, Mistress," Hanasian said, "No Black Company men will be riding in after us."
"All the same…and they're free. You see, I've been keeping them aside for there's word that there's a princess about in the north again. Yet to see her myself, and I suppose there's small chance she'd bother with Bree, but all the same…all the same."
"Quite right," Rin said, staring hard at Frea whose mouth was already open.
"Now come along. Let's get you settled in…"
Bree was, well, Bree. Nothing much ever seemed to change, except for some of the faces - maybe. The mix of men and Halflings was fairly unique to the land and the tales were always a bit larger than the truth there. Still the tales always seemed to be near the mark. The rumours of a princess were true, though they could not see her in their midst. It was a secret well kept by all who knew and their very presence only spoke of the return of the Black company and nothing further. Tales that the Company was far to the east did not prevail and it appeared everyone prepared themselves for the onslaught of Wulgof, Mulgov, and Khule. But the old Rohirrim and the younger Gondorians were all that came. Kholas drew some extra looks but most held that he was no more than an odd Dunlanding and they lost interest. Tarina enjoyed the attention on the back of her tales of Dale but this too faded after a while.
While the days passed, Hanasian and Rin certainly enjoyed the peace on offer. It had been Bree that had seen their relationship blossom. They walk their haunts from that earlier time, now with Hanavia, without care for the other developments that had emerged along with their love. The presence of young Dunedain wearing a brooch of the rayed star of old, inlaid with the White Tree and Stars of Gondor was of comfort. The King had made his presence felt and the lands breathed easier for it. Moreso, even, than the last time they were in town. Hanasian suspected Aragorn had done that apurpose upon discovering Cardolan's heir lived still…and his colleagues of old that had attended their wedding were probably in it up to their ears also.
In truth, they lingered in Bree, reluctant to see the fellowship's end. A cold morning rain put paid to that and they came to realise that it was time to depart before winter approached too near. They waited one more day in hopes that the next might see a clearing of the weather and grant them a little longer yet. That evening Hanasian called for a big feast. He produced a small chest filled with coin and it paid for a party for the town. Rin was, as a whole, astonished not only by the sheer wealth of it all but also that it happened to be in her husband's possession without her being aware of it. She was a professional thief. It was a matter, therefore, of professional pride.
Rin asked Hanasian, "Where did that come from?"
With a gleam in his eye, Hanasian smiled.
"Mulgov always does this. He stashes his gains from whatever his profiteering is in the particular area we were encamped, in hopes of one day retrieving it when he returns. Did you not notice that whenever we were somewhere we had been to before, he seemed to always have more than what his pay was?
"I realised his and sometimes I would note locations where he seemed to be secretive. I just happened to look in the wall of the room he stayed in before, and I found this! I am almost as sure he will not remember where he has hidden all his little stashes if and when he returns to Bree anyway, and if he should, will write it off as one that a local got lucky in finding. In this case, I'm the local."
Rin appreciated this immensely. She chuckled, already thinking she may try and find some of his little stashes herself. Perhaps in Mithlond. He had been lingering around that old blacksmithy. Aye, should she ever venture back there she would have a careful look around. She kissed Hanasian soundly, which he returned in kind, and the pair of them wore conspiratorial grins. It was obvious that Hanasian had planned this well before the day. They went to their room and prepared for the night.
It was a starry night and a slight northerly breeze came down from the Evendim Hills. Inside the inn the fire was warm and the townsfolk were more than willing to venture to the Prancing Pony for free food and ale even if they had no idea what the celebration was all about. What it was about was the parting of old comrades in arms. Frea and Folca would set out south toward home. After a toast to the Old Crew, Hanasian had passed each of his cousins letters to give to his sister when they arrived in Rohan. Kholas and Tarina decided to linger together in Bree, at least for the while. The remainder were set to accompany Hanasian, Rin, and Hanavia west to their home. Strange, it was, for it was a home none of them had seen before. Farbarad, who had visited the site of the ancestral seat of Cardolan's Princes decades ago as a much younger Ranger, recalled empty buildings fallen into disrepair and in danger of vanishing into the forest wilds entirely.
The banter that night was jolly and even little Hanavia didn't seem to mind the noise. In this, Farbarad said, the child bore out well the namesake of his second name. Lochared would have been in his element that night, had he of been there. The talk went on long between Frea, Folca, Hanasian, and Rin. They recounted various exchanges, including her brother's incident with Frea's boots in the Shire after the wedding. The tension that had hung between Frea and Rin had evaporated on the march to Umbar and the sparring had become largely for sport than anything else. But this night, they shared laughter and memories and Frea abandoned his fondness for irritating his cousin's wife.
The others drifted into talk and drinks with each other and with some of the townsfolk. The night was long when Rin bid Frea and Folca a good night. She bent to kiss her husband, who then rose to his feet to follow his wife and son.
"Hanavia sleeps already and I am weary. Stay and talk to your heart's fill, for all I go in search of now is sleep."
Hanasian kissed her once more and bestowed a softer, gentler version upon the brow of his son, asleep in her arms, "I won't be long, my love."
Rin's smile as she turned to go was a knowing one. She left two brothers and a cousin at a table where the ale jugs regularly happened by. The night, for them, would not end any time soon.
And right she was… there were rounds aplenty, and the food, though diminished, remained plentiful. The three were determined to close down the common room. They talked and laughed and argued about things great and small since their childhood. However, as the common room emptied and became quiet, Frea became serious.
"Don't know what it will be like without battle to go to or come from. I don't know what to think about that."
"I know what to think about that," Folca answered, "We go home, we relax, and we go to the local inn and drink and talk, like we're doing here now."
Hanasian said, "I am looking forward to going home. It will be nice not to have to think about strategy and tactics and the local politics and such."
Frea drained his tankard and splashed the last on the table as he set it down hard, "Yes and you will have the best home life a man could hope for, I'm sure. But won't you miss it?
"I mean, Folca and I were both were pretty young our first tilt at the fords, and you not much more experienced but for some skirmishes in the north. But since then it has become a way of life. Sometimes I wish I would have stayed on and gone to the end…"
Folca jumped in, "Oh yes? And serve under Videgavia? "
Frea returned, "Yes. I know he is pretty much all business and too serious, but I miss him, and the others… Wulgof who we had battled, the big Haradian. Even Khule, even though he got all strange when we were in Skhar."
"Well, it's a long walk back now."
"Me, I won't miss it. I have enough visions in my head to keep it alive for me should that be what I desire. It wasn't until I met Rin that I realized that I was not at peace. It's been forty some years since I last tried and I think I have made peace with my demons. I hope you will too cousin."
He saw Frea set his head down on his arms. He was battling the demons of his memories even now and his brother said, "He will be well, Han. You go to bed. I have this."
Hanasian gripped Folca's forearm and went to find his comfort in the arms of his wife. The morning would come too soon.
And it was only hours before it did. They had prepared themselves for the ride west, and both Frea and Folca were looking thick as they prepared to part south. They all rode to the south gate, and with long farewells, Frea and Folca rode out south. Hanasian could not help but wonder when he would see them again. It seemed like an end of an era to him.
As they rode out of sight, Hanasian turned and said, "Well, I think we should be going too."
The party returned to the inn to collect their belongings. It was here that Kholas and Tarina would remain for a while.
"Fare thee well, Captain!" Kholas bade him. Hanasian waved and nodded. They made for the West Gate and rode out of town at an easy pace.
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.