42. Chapter 42
For the brief pass of time, mere moments, it took for her to travel from kitchen to the living room Rin had really believed she had it all sorted out. It was done. She strode through the living room. A glance flicked towards the curtains prompted her to note the need to pull them back. The heavy fabric kept the night's chill out, but the room needed the sun during the day. She'd do it on her way back again. In fact, Rin almost made it through to the other side of the room before a startling realisation stopped her in her tracks. The curtains! Curtains! She swung about to stare at them. Why had she not seen it before? She closed on the window and rubbed her fingers over the fabric. It was thick, plush, soft…and she was a fool! A fool! She glanced around the rest of the room. Yes…it was this. This was it…only…that chair was little closer to the hearth…and the carpet on the flagstones was at a different angle….She recalled that dream from her time in Thranduril's care as clearly now as it had been then. That had been a Dream! A Dream! Which meant that she was all wrong about last night.
Hanasian heard the sound of furniture being moved. Frowning, he set off to explore and found his wife determinedly shoving items about in the living room. He leant against the doorway as she wrestled with a table, a familiar furrow on her brow. Her eyes were grey, calculating and weighing things up. She forced the table where she wanted it, planted her fists on her hips and scanned the other items in the room. The chair, he observed, was her next victim. It wasn't a small chair. It was a large, well stuffed, creature. Not easy for anyone to move on their own. Not him. Certainly not her. And yet, care was needed. He cleared his throat and she ignored him, shoulder planted against the arm of the chair. He had to admit she was a good deal stronger than her delicate features suggested and she had the most tenacious, bloody minded nature he had ever encountered. That chair would move, or she'd reduce it to fire wood. He was very fond of that chair.
"Would you like some assistance," he asked, unwise though the question was.
"No," came her reply, predictably gruff and notes of irritation. The chair was in grave peril.
"Might I ask why you're arguing with the living room furniture?" he continued, trying his best to take a diplomatic approach. He really liked that chair. Rin straightened and wheeled about to face him. Her face was flushed and her jaw tightly clenched.
"What?" she asked in a perilously quiet voice, a brow lifted in a challenge.
Hanasian considered his options and found himself committed to his risky path in such a way he could not now surrender it. The urge to groan was strong and it took some effort to stifle it.
Instead, he said, "I can only presume there's a reason for moving this furniture about. You always have them, dear heart. You are the most reason-able person I know."
He had attempted that last to inject some levity into the brooding storm. It fell flat on its face.
"Oh…I see how it is. If I want to move things about, I need to have a reason and inform you of it before I am granted permission. And here I was thinking this was my home as much it is yours. Well, I stand corrected and thank you very much for pointing out the error of my thinking! I shall-"
Rin had not finished by a long shot when he turned about and walked away, but he had stopped listening. He shook his head as he walked away, rueful smile on his face. He should have known better…that had been the equivalent of daubing himself in pig fat and prancing naked through a den of wolves whilst hoping none of them might take a swipe at him. Perhaps five heartbeats passed before he heard her return to re-organising the living room with her secret reasons and not the slightest intention of stopping despite what she had just hurled at him. What had he been thinking?
Rin permitted herself a brief grin at her success. It would be perhaps two hours before Hanasian ventured back her way again and in that time she would have things just as they needed to be for when Loch came. He would. She knew it. Somewhere in the corner of her mind a wail that she was mad sounded. She ignored that with well practiced ease. A person wasn't insane until other people said so. Provided she kept her reasons to herself, she was safe. Now…that couch would be the next challenge.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
It was close to midday by the time he finally made it through. The journey from Minas Tirith to, what was it called now? Cardolan? The journey had been no more or less difficult than usual. The season didn't help, certainly, but there was naught to be done about that. The High King had been clear and so he had pushed ahead. He knew that he would need to show his credentials on this side of the journey. She was of high royal rank, a senior member of the High Court. He would not be permitted in to see Prince Faramir or Imrahil without credentials and Princess Erían would be no different. Should be no different. Aside from the King's children, she stood in line to inherit the Reunited Realms. He knew there had been trouble, foul conspiracies, but he also knew that this was all done now.
So, the King's Rider was surprised by the level of security he encountered right at the last. He had informed Cardolan's Prefect of his presence weeks ago and he knew the man was aware of his destination and movement through the land. What had appeared to be fields in preparation for winter's blanket had turned out to be a thick security cordon. The workers were each of them accomplished operatives and he had faced a rather difficult task of assuring them of his identity and purpose. Still, his credentials were good and ultimately the men that had been tracking him proved useful for they could vouch for him given they were in the service of the Prefect.
After that, he had been permitted to continue on down a path that became little more than a trail through the forest. A casual observer would find it hard to believe that Cardolan's royal family resided at the end of it. Two ruts, wagon axle width apart, curved through the forest. He spotted no further sentinels there, but his instinct told him that he was under their scrutiny all the same. Up and over a little stone bridge, the stream underneath already iced thinly over along the banks. Around another corner and the trees opened out and he realised he had arrived.
He wasn't sure what he had expected. It wasn't a castle or a keep or a tower, though it certainly was a mannish, stone structure. Smaller buildings were scattered about, functionary things. He could hear the fall of a hammer within a stable. Smoke curled from several chimneys in the main residence. No great walls or gates, he realised. That was why the men had been so thorough. They formed the wall, and someone else would likely serve as the gate. As his gaze swung about he realised the gate may even now be approaching. A woman, he noted, and she prowled directly at him, a hand resting on her hilt and the expression on her face remote and perilous. He swallowed, kept his hands in plain view, and remained in the saddle.
"Who might you be?" she demanded suspiciously. She had long dark hair, brown eyes that he supposed could be warm if she wanted them to and that moment she clearly did not. She was small but that meant nothing. She was not a woman to turn your back on. The rider sighed for he had hoped to be quit of all of this by now.
"High King Elessar has sent me. I have tidings and an item to bestow on Princ-"
He was not in the least prepared for what the woman did. She pulled him down, nearly out of the saddle and hissed in his ear, "Are you mad? Not so loud!"
Her response certainly silenced him and she released him and glanced about. He had no choice but to dismount. It was that or fall ingloriously on his face on the ground. Hardly befitting. He drew himself up and attempted to dust his clothing off. Tired as he was, he squared his shoulders and considered the woman. She had stepped away from the horse to peer back at the trees. Whatever she saw there made her consider him anew. He realised then that she had fabric looped around her neck. Not a scarf, for it was too light and delicate. He filed it away under a growing list of odd things in this part of the Reunited Realm. She seized his biceps and pulled him unceremoniously towards the main residence.
The house was pleasantly warm. It wasn't easy to get his bearings and it didn't do to appear overly curious. Still, this was the famed seat of Cardolan's Princes. Any student of Dunedain history, such as himself, would be curious. The woman hauled him through the wide kitchen and across the living room. Another woman was in there, muttering as she tugged on a heavy carpet.
She shot up to her full height at their entry and turned about to face them. This woman was much taller and had very pale hair. Like the smaller woman, she wasn't pleased with his presence. Unlike the smaller woman, this one's displeasure only made even more captivating.
"Who's this," she demanded, voice a husky growl and he found he was smiling despite himself. He opened his mouth to introduce himself but his captor got there first.
"King's messenger," she answered and for some reason that just made the other woman angrier. Oh, he really wanted to know her name! However, he was pulled from the room just as she narrowed her eyes.
"Who was she?" he asked his captor and she snorted at the question.
"One of the maids," she replied dryly as he twisted about to catch a final glimpse at the maid.
The small woman pulled him relentlessly down the hall until at last they reached what appeared to be a cavernous study. Books lined the walls, carpets strewn across the floor, a mammoth table in two of the corners. Behind one was a man the messenger presumed was none other than the famed Captain Hanasian. A man of high regard and accounted a friend of the High King. The Ranger frowned faintly at the sight presented him and stood. The woman released his biceps and stepped to one side. True to form, the Captain took in his garb. Gondor's crest was emblazoned across his chest. Underneath it was an arrow. Not a red one, but an arrow in silver. Hanasian glanced at the woman that had taken him captive.
"Is there a problem?" he asked pointedly and she crossed her arms and cocked one hip.
"Not yet there isn't. But if he goes around tossing fancy titles about, I'm not going to clean up the mess," she replied.
"Does she know?"
At that the Captain sighed and rubbed a hand across his face. The woman continued on, "Don't worry, the lads know too. They'll collect and return her if she makes a run for it. Want me to bring her in here when they do?"
Hanasian nodded and with that the woman departed.
"My apologies," Hanasian murmured, coming from around the desk, "You must be tired. The road from Minas Tirith is a long one."
"It is, Captain. But my lord was clear that certain measures were in place for good reason. This was not entirely unexpected."
"I presume you are here to see my wife?"
"I am, Captain. I have been asked to convey a message and bestow an item into her keeping."
"You may wish to sit. It could be a while. Something to eat or drink?"
"Thank you, Captain. Perhaps after I have executed my orders."
"Well, as I said, it could be a while. She may have gotten the slip on them."
In all, it took half an hour before anyone joined them in the study. In that time, the messenger had assuaged his thirst and was eyeing small round cakes with some interest. Hanasian had returned to his desk. He was deep in thought, setting something down on parchment. The titles on the shelves were intriguing. Historical works. Elvish books. Healing. Law. Ancestry. Plants. Anatomy. Rows and rows of black leather books without a title at all. The relative peace in the study was interrupted by the sound of a man struggling with something in the hall. Heavy breathing, scuffling boots and then a surprised oath. This made Hanasian set down his quill, rise and head to the door.
"Stones, lassie! There was no call for that!" a man protested and the messenger heard a woman say something in a strange language – possibly rohirric.
Then the Captain said something in kind, voice a low rumble. The messenger thought it best he stand and as he did so, the Captain returned with another Ranger and the maid he had seen earlier. She shot him a look that would fell a Corsair but that was the worst she could do. Hanasian had a firm hold of her wrist and the other Ranger, face flushed and amusement flickering faintly in his eyes, was pressed at her back. Still, she had her heels dug in and had the floor not been made of stone, the messenger thought she'd carve furrows in floorboards. The Ranger at her back kicked the study door closed for good measure.
"I trust the windows are locked," he asked, Hanasian nodded and the woman growled something in a different strange language.
Once they had managed to get the maid far enough into the study, the Ranger set a hand on each of her shoulders and Hanasian turned back to face her.
"Now…I'm going to let you go now, dear heart, and you are going to demonstrate the nobility of your descent and treat with this man, sent by your own kin down a long road at an inhospitable time, with dignity."
The maid's eyes were locked with Hanasian. Maid? No, not at all! This was none other than Princess Erían! The woman had clearly put up a fight. Dirt marked the hem of her simple dress and slippers. So, she had taken flight just as Hanasian had said she would. Remarkable! The Ranger at her back had to be Farbarad. The man plucked a twig that had caught in her tousled hair. Grudgingly she nodded when it became apparent she had no choice and Hanasian released his wife's wrist. Her eyes slid to the windows and Farbarad's hands tightened a little. She sighed at that but then began to smooth the folds of her skirts as she gathered her composure. When her attention fell on him, the messenger was astonished at how swiftly she had assembled her thoughts. Her expression was smooth, chin slightly lifted as if challenging him to find some fault with her. And those eyes! They glittered as though she still wanted to pull him to pieces. Remarkable!
Hanasian could not help but grin at the slightly dazed expression on the messenger's face. He settled back at his desk and surveyed the scene. She was really doing a number on this poor, hapless man and he recalled a line of similar men, starting with his own and ending with Dhak, who had be similarly beset.
"Rosmarin…as I have said once before, stop playing with your food," he chided and at that, she glanced at her husband and the messenger drew a breath.
"Oh, if I must. What is this urgent business that intrudes upon my peace and quiet?"
"Is that what that was in the living room? Peace and Quiet?" inquired Farbarad dryly and the corners of her mouth twitched before they stilled again.
"Well?" she demanded, attention returning to the messenger.
Years of training kicked in and he reached for the item that had been carefully carried all this way in a pouch at his belt. She was wary as he drew forth a small bundle of black velvet. The fabric had a silvery sheen in the autumn light spilling through the windows. Locked, curse them! Aragorn's messenger laid the little bundle in his upturned palm and with a glance at Farbarad, approached carefully carrying it before him. He extended his hand towards her and though he said nothing, his expression pleaded with her that she take it up. She did not want to and she did not know why. Still, she forced herself to collect it.
Something hard was within the soft, luxuriant folds. Curiosity tugged at her and she was easing back the material before she realised what she was doing. The messenger paused, watching long nimble fingers peel the protective layers away until it was revealed. Her breath caught in her throat and she was not the only one. In her hand was the most exquisite thing he had ever beheld. Seven brilliant diamonds curved in a bed of metal that could only be mithril. They formed an arch over a brooding sapphire fashioned into a rose. It too was couched in mithril and through cunning design, the two elements were joined together. It was worth a king's ransom and her hand quivered, but not solely in the precious gems and metal. It's worth lay chiefly in what it symbolised and this was where his message was needed.
The man took a step back and knelt, words memorised floating to the forefront of his mind.
"By this small token doth the High Court of the Reunited Realms of Middle Earth recognise the faithful service, sacrifice and diligence of Lochared, son of Dunland. Ever shall we stand in his debt."
With these solemn words came silence. Hanasian stood and joined his wife. She stared at the emblem a long moment. Farbarad's hands sank from her shoulders to her arms, a gesture of comfort now. The messenger stood and backed away. Hanasian curled her fingers around it and pressed a soft, gentle kiss to his wife's cheek.
"Keep it for him, my love," he whispered in Sindarin and she jerked her eyes up to meet his.
The messenger watched her search the Captain's face, eyes roaming, and then a slow nod. He took that as his cue for the second message.
"There is more," he said and three sets of eyes settled on him, "High King Elessar Telcontar welcomes the tidings of the birth of your son, and acknowledges him as a Prince of Cardolan's ancient line. Accordingly, Prince Hanavia Lochnard has been entered into the rolls as such. It is the court's desire that they might meet Prince Hanavia at some later date, at such time as his parents deem suitable."
Rin was frozen at this news, unable to ascertain if were good or ill. She looked up into Hanasian's face and when he realised she was watching him he endeavoured to smile for her. He knew she was seeking reassurance.
"Well, my love, could you expect anything less? I daresay Hanavia may find more than one play mate amongst his cousins. Perhaps he might squire somewhere in the years ahead."
"With respect, already there is speculation where he might," the messenger added and Rin frowned at that so he amended, "If that indeed is what his parents wish for him."
"If the court means to instruct his parents what to wish for their son-" Rin began, voice crystalline cold and the messenger shook his head.
"The court does not presume, your Highness!"
Her eyes flashed at that but, with a murmur from Hanasian, she relented and accepted what had been said. Rin's eyes dropped to the emblem she yet held and then she drew a breath.
"My apologies…you must think me ungracious and uncouth," she said, any loftiness vanished from her demeanour, and the messenger bowed to demonstrate no offense had been taken. His lord had instructed him most carefully on what to expect once certain matters were broached.
"Will you stay or must you return?" she asked next and with that she managed to surprise him anew.
One minute she had been ready to run into the wilds to avoid him, the next she had been willing to tear him to pieces to defend her child and now she was inviting him to stay! In the royal seat of Cardolan's Princes. The historian in him was bouncing up and down excitedly like a child.
"Perhaps one night. My horse is weary," he answered, for his time was not entirely his own, and he found that the only thing better than how she looked when irritable was her smile.
As it turned out, the messenger remained several nights and they sent him off with a fresh horse. He left with full saddle bags and many memories. Cardolan…a strange place indeed.
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.