46. Chapter 46
The banter kept a steady pace while the ship's only rowboat busily shuttled back and forth. The final return saw Loch up to row and this would mean another departure from the sister so recently reunited with. She had a grip on his arm though and would not let him go. Hanasian walked over with Hanavia, who shyly watched all the strange people who had come from the ocean. Hanasian started to talk to Rin as Hanavia curiously looked up at Loch. The little boy and the larger little boy had an instinctual awareness that together, much amusement could be had.
"My dear, Loch is still of the Company, and he is Old Company to boot. Videgavia rostered him last on the boat. You must let him do his duty."
Rin's grip relaxed a fraction as Loch said, "I'm only going to row out to the ship with Wulgof. There are still supplies to fetch. And, there is someone still on board I want you to meet."
Rin frowned at this mysterious hint and released his wrist. Loch squatted down to Hanavia's height and said, "Would you like to go for a boat ride?"
Hanasian chuckled as Rin took her son's small hand in her own, "Absolutely not!"
Hanavia seemed somewhat crestfallen. He peered up at his father as Hanasian claimed his other hand.
"Maybe someday, but not this time."
His mother swept him into her arms and he settled against her, peering at this new friend.
Rin felt buffeted by waves of conflicting emotion that made it difficult to keep her feet and her head on the crowded beach. She was as relieved as she was overjoyed to see Loch alive, and equally as inclined to throttle the fool for his earlier carelessness and disappearance. So much had changed and so much was the same. A catalogue was already running through her mind as he rowed towards the listing ship.
The most obvious change was his age. The years ran at their same steady pace and yet Loch seemed to have aged, or rather grown, so very swiftly in the year and half he had been gone. He was a boy no longer. Aside from being a man now, he was also a solider. He had been like a puppy for so long that to see him grow into his 'paws' was a surprise and one she would have to become accustomed to. While he seemed to have aged, evident particularly in the faint lines that were evident around his eyes now, he remained as he had ever been. Unpredictable, mischievous, capable of no small amount of trouble. How different might things have been for him had she of been there when he was injured, she wondered. When he looked at her, did he wonder at what he had sacrificed for her and resent it, just a little? What did he see now, with Hanavia and twins, she wondered. Something had changed there too. She just did not know what it was. She was so deep in thought that she had no idea of Wulgof's approach until he spoke.
"Don't worry Doc. He'll be back. He didn't have me with him last time."
Rin found the comfort of that statement rather uncertain and it showed in her expression. Loch waved at Hanavia, who removed his fingers from his mouth to wave experimentally back, and set off with the other Dunlending. There was a glint to Wulgof's eye that Rin had seen before, but both men headed back for the boat without any further antics at first. Some three yards away, Wulgof tossed something over his shoulder, as was his wont. Rin was braced for it. She knew how the man operated.
"He'll be bringing back his gi… unh!"
Loch elbow caught the Dunlending square in the ribs, and he leaned in afterwards to whisper, "Shut up man! She's having a hard enough time with me as it is."
He glanced back over his shoulder at his sister. She had one brow arched. Well, the damage was done, he mused as he straightened. There was a certain way to handle this, and having it roughly dumped upon her when she was already reeling was not it.
Molguv had taken it upon himself to tend to the fire and the two fish. Though no one had consulted the former Company Healer, the men had decided the fish would be Rin's alone. With the fish set aside for Rin, whether she wanted them or not, that left the others with the salted pork. On the ship, salted pork had become almost a foul curse until Molguv had magicked it away. On the beach, while most remained heartily sick and tired of the stuff, it would do for now. That is, if it was brought ashore. It wasn't long before Rowdy returned with the others and while the pickings for the feast seemed bland, hearts were light as old comrades found each other. The beach was adrift in laughter and the buzz of chatter as tales were exchanged, some real and most embroidered. Rin had drifted over to the two Company Medics and the trio had their heads together, thick as thieves, for a good while.
The rowboat returned in due course, with Lady Anvikela, Rose, Berlas, Barika, Cat, Runner, and Daius aboard with Loch and Wulgof. A second boat was tethered to it, filled with provision. Mulguv saw as it neared that the salted pork barrels were part of the load. Videgavia saw this too and turned his dark eyes to the Haradian by the fire. If had been none other than Mulguv who had reported some days again that the pork was all gone condemned them to a diet of rice for days. As more and more people realised that there was salted pork being brought back to shore, the mood on the beach darkened. The Haradian was compelled at that point to explain that it wasn't 'decent' anymore, but could be redeemed if they threw it over a proper fire.
"I did it so we didn't all get belly rot!"
"What difference will a fire make now, then?" Videgavia demanded.
"We'll smoke it good and proper," Molguv replied, licking his lips anxiously as a beach full of hungry, armed veterans forced to live on rice alone for several days eyed him hard. Fortunately for the Haradian, the approach of the boat brought a diversion.
As the boat drew nearer it became apparent that someone was in the back of the provision boat, feverishly bucketing out water to prevent it from sinking. The prospect of losing the only meat they had a second time was too much to bear. Boots were being kicked off and weaponry shed as individuals headed into the water to guide the food ashore, ignoring the larger boat and its human cargo because it wasn't edible and it wasn't in danger of drowning.
"You'd better hope this smoking idea works," Videgavia warned, "Else you'll have a beach of hungry, angry and wet soldiers to contend with."
Molguv swallowed and squinted down at the fire. Meanwhile, the two boats were safely brought to shore, people and supplies alike. There was no shortage of hands to unload the smaller boat. No one wanted the pork to disappear a second time. Before long, the barrels were broken over and Molguv was hopping around the fire to smoke the pork, while others sniffed tentatively at the meat.
While most of the beach went into a frenzy of activity, Rin took the opportunity to consider her brother as he brought the row boat in. Loch stepped ashore and turned to take Lady Anvikela's hand as she set foot upon the western shore of Middle Earth for the first time. Quite the gentleman, Rin mused, recognizing the woman from her last days in Skhar. Anvikela was well healed, a stark transformation from the desperately injured and terrified girl Rin had last beheld. That brought a sense of deep satisfaction that she knew, with a glance to Bells, the other medic who had assisted her felt also. Berlas took her arm in his and escorted her from the wet sand and at this Rin's lips curved into a small smile.
Loch then turned to help a second woman out of the boat, younger than Anvikela. Rin watched as the girl stood and held her arms out for Loch. She seemed strangely familiar to Rin though she had never met this woman before. Loch carefully lifted her as her arms reached around Loch's neck and shoulders, and he carried her up the beach before setting her down on her feet. Then, if that was not enough, a light kiss! Rin's brows lifted briefly. Well, well, well she mused, mind whirring. The others in the boat were left to make their own way to shore. No such tender care or ministrations for them. A wry smile found Rin as she watched one of her Cats and a Rohirrim, no a woman she amended after closer inspection, scamper to shore. No gallant escorts for them, but the women needed them not. The men strolled along after them and Rin spotted Runner. That was a welcome sight indeed.
Rin's attention flicked back to her brother. He walked arm in arm with this unknown girl, rather like Berlas did with Anvikela. Something tugged at Rin's thoughts and she felt her brow furrow lightly. How could this one be familiar? One of her hands had drifted to the soft swell of her stomach, a habit of hers when she was deep in thought. Then, like a veritable clap of thunder, she had it! It was the girl from that strange dream on that strange day with those Elves. No sooner had it occurred to her did the idea float away again, slippery and elusive. Was it, she wondered, her certainty of a moment again now fading almost as quickly. Whoever she was, Loch had a glow to him as they drew near.
Loch could make nothing of his sister's expression as he approached. It was as inscrutable as ever, but thoughts flickered and flashed in eyes that were a silvery blue in the bright sun of the day. Eyes that missed very little, he knew from experience.
His throat was dry as he leant to whisper to Rose, "There is someone I want you to meet first."
Stones, was this how Rin had felt when he had teased her on that road from Bree to Mithlond? It had all seemed so light hearted then, but his heart was thudding now. She had seemed to take it in her stride, but was this what had really churned beneath her calm exterior? He glanced to Rose and found she was smiling as she looked at Rin. Smiling! Women, Loch concluded, made little sense.
Rose's smile, she hoped, might trigger a memory though memories of such things can be ephemeral as she well knew. The other woman was tall in the daylight of this unfamiliar place, as tall as she had been in that shrouded plane they had first met upon. In such planes, it was the stuff of people, rather than their appearance that took dominance. The woman she smiled at had demonstrated a strength of will and spirit that had been remarkable. Now Rose could see her in reality, she saw some of that shine through. The woman kept much of it hidden. The wind whipped the woman's skirts and hair. A wolf in sheep's clothing. In this she was kindred with the man at her side.
"Rose, this is my sister Rosmarin, who I have spoken of much before. Rin, Rose saved my life," Loch said, hoping neither woman noticed the wobble in his voice as they took the other's measure in the way only women can.
Rose curtseyed and bowed her head, "It is my honour to finally meet you, Rosmarin of Cardolan. Both Loch and my sister Anvikela have spoken of you."
Rin felt her stomach clench. Cardolan? And while she expected Loch to speak of her, the fact that Anvikela had as well was more than passing curious. Anvikela would be hard pressed to remember her, given the state she had been in when Rin had attended her. Loch was staring at her hard, unspoken plea in his dark eyes. Rin dropped a curtsy as deep as Rose's had been
"It is an honour to meet you. It is good to see your sister again too."
Rin had nearly offered condolences on the passing of her other sister as well, but managed stopped herself. It remained to be seen just what the true nature of this relationship with Loch was, Rin mused. It had been Loch's actions that had led to the third sister's death. Despite her wariness, and the jar of discovering that Loch's affection was now shared with another she barely knew, Rin found it within her to smile. She did it for her brother, who looked about ready to turn himself inside out.
"Welcome to our land, and our home. Hanasian and I both hope that you will find peace and rest here."
Peace and rest! Oh thank the heavens! Loch smiled at these words and felt some of the tension in his shoulders melt away. It had really been a long time since he was able to relax. Yet, he was Company. He looked about the beach and the tall cliffs above. He eyed the house and the ways up to it.
"It's a beautiful place you and the Cap have! It is so good to see you again, and to see you so happy and…safe."
Rin resisted dual urges. It would have been so easy that he could have seen such welcome sights much earlier if he had not been such a fool. It would have been easier to slap him again, because he never listened. However, with Rose there, Rin did something she thought she would never ever do. Loch glanced down to find Rin had curtseyed to him and almost rocked back a few careful steps just to be on the safe side.
"It is good to see you happy too my brother. Come, let us join the others."
In this time, Hanasian and Videgavia had walked away from the others to have a discussion.
Vid said, "I know you're not Company Captain anymore, but it seems to me that you are in spirit. So I will give to you all my logs and reports and all for you to go over. It might be that you will want to include the scribblings of me an the others in your Company Annals. I found it hard to write, so Berlas did most of it."
Hanasian answered, "You need not report to me, and the way I understand your new commission, you don't have to report to the King either. I expect he will however expect some word on the mission you undertook for him to see what lay beyond the Eastern Sea and you'll have your chance. He will be attending the Midsummer Market and Festival in Bree, as we will. Until then, enjoy some down time here."
"It's early Spring here, at best…I think," Videgavia demurred, with a faintly confused frown.
"Aye," Hanasian confirmed and glanced over to where his wife was meeting her brother's intended, "It is…but we've more than enough space for your Company above. You'll need time to recover, restock and provision. And, in any case, this is something Rin has her heart set on."
"That so?" Videgavia inquired, curious as to how this could be the case given they had shown up quite unexpectedly.
"It is. You ask me, she's had it brewing since she first received word of the property. Between providing a safe northern staging point for the Company, and adjusting most of the pastures to my cousins for a tidy sum, she's got nearly every foot of land earmarked for one purpose or another. You want to be the one to throw a spoke in her many wheels, Vid?"
Videgavia twisted about to consider Hanasian's wife a moment. The reason his hide was still in one piece was his knack to select the winnable fights. Videgavia straightened, something tugging at the corners of his mouth like he almost just might smile.
"I suppose we should re-join the feast. We both should give a few words," Videgavia said and Hanasian grinned, the matter decided.
"I'll let you do most of it, for you are in command of a Free Company," Hanasian said, and decided that he rather liked retirement.
As the sun moved west a gentle light came off the ocean. The talk was mostly joyous but each party noted certain people were missing. The tales of Morcal and Mecarnil's deaths were told and re-told, and also that of Khor and his small cadre of men who had volunteered to stay behind in the eastern lands as rearguard. One could tell when the sadder events came up as the loudness of the talking would lessen. For hours this went on, until Videgavia stood on a barrel and drew their attention.
"Listen up! Company and others, just a few matters to attend to! Free Company, we will set camp in a field that Hanasian says is fallow up yonder. There is water, shelter, game to spare and the borders are well watched, though I daresay we might find ways to add to that while we are here, if we've leave to. Weather should be kind so we will be in good order. Also, we will have some time to rest and relax here. Duties will be minimal, for this has been a hard won respite. While we friends and comrades enjoying our time in the sun now, we remember those who have fallen and cannot join with us.
"Now I turn this barrel over to Captain Hanasian, who has something of his own to say."
Hanasian shuffled forth to applause led by his beloved Rin. Hanavia was nestled in his uncle's arms and, with attention keenly focused on his mother, the little boy was clapping as hard as he could just like her, cheeks flushed. Rin lent in to still his little hands, gathering them up to kiss his fingers and making him squirm with amused delight, a soft smile flickering on her face. Unable to discern who doted on whom more, Hanasian peeled his eyes from his family to the wider assembly on the beach.
"I've little to add, really. Your appearance off our shore was quite the surprise to all of us here, Rin and I included. A joy unlooked for when we awoke this morning. It would be our honour if you all choose to accompany us to Bree for the Midsummer Festival. Until then you are our welcome guests. Now, enjoy! Farbarad is bringing some of the best wine and a keg of ale down. And … allow me confer with my wife about something."
He hopped down and stepped over to Rin, who had reclaimed a squirming son that she held out to him. Hanasian whispered past Hanavia to her, "Should I have Rowdy bring down that chest of your where you are storing all those item you borrowed from some of these men?"
Rin realised then that the beach was filled with chickens that had come home to roost. Beside her, Loch quietly chuckled.
"Oh, I don't think that's such a good idea, my dear," she replied, ignoring Loch's chuckling beside her.
"And why is that?" Hanasian inquired in such a way that Rin knew to take care with.
"It's heavy…and it makes no sense to drag it down here. Better that we sort it out once everyone is up top. Doesn't it?"
Hanasian studied his wife. She had her most winsome smile on. Still, she also had a good point. So he took his son with him back to the barrel and, once atop, hoisted Hanavia onto his shoulder.
"All settled then. By the by, this here is my son Hanavia! And soon he will be joined by brothers or sisters, or one of each!"
There were raucous shouts of congratulations and approval, male voices echoing over the beach. It was always the same. Men clapped themselves on the back as if the achievement was theirs alone. Rin rolled her eyes at the display, no small sense of relief at having dodged the executioner's block this time. Pleased to be well out of the limelight, she gave no response to some of the bawdier shouts about retirement and spare time. Still chuckling, Loch strode forward to claim the barrel once Hanasian had climbed down and in a while, things had died down enough to hear him.
He started with a list of names, all of them Old Company names, and a sum of money for each.
"What's that supposed to mean, Kid?" Wulgof shouted over the others.
"Well some wagered one. Some wagered two. Some wagered three…but I wagered four…and the odds are swinging my way!" he shouted back, grinning.
"It's rigged! They're in on it together! He's her brother!" Wulgof shouted back, anything to discredit the wedding day wager and his likely chance of having to pay up.
Loch tipped his head back and laughed as debate broke out on the beach.
"What are they doing?" came the quiet question.
Rin glanced and found Rose stood beside her with her sister.
Rin shook her head, "Boys being boorish, of course."
Despite her words, however, there was a fondness there of the exasperated sort. Rose and Anvikela watched the debate unfold as men approached Hanasian to clap him stoutly on the back. Rose turned to ask Loch's sister another question only find the woman had slipped away. She turned just in time to see her swallowed up by the ferocious women that the others called Cats. Even Loch was wary of them. Right now, they didn't look anything other than pleased. Rin was right in the middle of them and there was soon raucous feminine laughter.
"There is much we do not understand here," Rose said in their own language and beside her Anvikela nodded.
"Can you feel the power of her blood," Anvikela asked, a touch breathless and Rose could understand why. It was so very strong, palpable, and they were so very close now. She was like a lodestone to their senses, a bright burning star. The Company had always shown respect to her and Anvikela. They way these burly men were with Loch's sister was something else again. Perhaps they sensed in some dim way what was obvious to her senses.
"And yet no such thing from her brother. It is curious, no?" Anvikela continued and this broke across Rose's thoughts like a bucket of cold water to her face. Anvikela was, of course, correct. It was obvious. And yet, why was this so? Brother and sister…did they not share the same blood. Rose frowned as she studied Loch. He was off the barrel now and enjoying a ripping argument with some of his fellows.
"I do not love him for his blood," Rose eventually said, looking with some force at her sister. Anvikela dropped her eyes.
"Of course," she murmured and let the matter rest - for now.
Though the day had been warm, it was still early spring and daylight hours were short. The tide would rise and there would not be enough sand for them all to stand on. The stairs etched into the cliffs were narrow. Only one at a time could ascend or descend them. With time and tide turning, and with gear and a good number of men and women to fetch to safety, they started to venture their way up the cliffs.
Once atop the cliffs, Videgavia let off a low whistle at what he saw. He glanced at Hanasian, nearby.
"Oh, well done, Cap. Not bad at all! How'd you manage all this?"
"The generosity of the High King," Hanasian said and then looked over to where his wife stood, directing traffice, "And Rin's birthright. This is the ancient seat of Cardolan's Princes, Vid."
"Doesn't that draw certain fools like bees to honey?"
"We've had one venture by, and he proved to be no more than a curious local drawn by rumour."
"Only one?" Videgavia remarked and Hanasian nodded, expression clouding as he recalled events in Esgaroth. They had been dark times. Mecarnil's betrayal. Farbarad's brush with death. His own. Rin lying pale and near frozen, beaten, at the bottom of that fetid well. He looked down to the boy he held in his arms. He had feared his child and wife both lost. Instead, his son slept in his arms and his wife was busy pushing men about like she was herding cattle.
"Matters in Esgaroth were…definitive."
"You think there's an end to it, then?"
"Oh no," Hanasian said with a shake of his head, "Never that. Aragorn has gone to some length to secure the borders of this particular tract of land. Beware the farmers in the outer fields. The Prefect continues to advance order and safety within the lands, making it harder and harder for such brigands to flourish. But I will never risk the lives of those I love on the assumption that they are safe."
There was a haunted quality to Hanasian's voice that Videgavia marked well.
"Esgaroth was bad?"
"Aye," Hanasian replied and seemed to stir himself, "And yet here we stand today."
And that was an end to the topic for the time being.
The house was large enough to accommodate some, the remaining restored buildings and land between was more than enough to comfortably accommodate the rest of the Free Company. Anvikela and Rose were accommodated in the house. Videgavia and Berlas elected to take one of the unoccupied buildings to keep a weather eye on the camp. The Dirty Three, along with a rather forlorn Scout now bereft of his rosy shadow took a smaller building. While camp was set up, tables were pulled out of the house and under the trees outside. Seats appeared as well, many of them fashioned from unusual items but serviceable all the same. The celebration that had started on the beach below continued long into the night atop the cliffs, all the while the percussive boom of the ocean sounding.
The next day preparations were made to secure additional supplies. Hunting, fishing and foraging parties on the one hand and trading sorties on the other set out. While the larder was well stocked, it would not be long before it started to empty with so many to hand. There were other preparations as well, including security arrangements. There were routines and pass signals and these were handed only to the Old Company. If Hanasian would take no risk, neither would Videgavia. While Farbarad gave the briefing, Hanavia's delighted shriek as he played outside could be heard. There was no better punctuation than that. The house became a busy place, filled with people and voices. Sometimes, if the weather was fair, they would gather for meals outside. Other times, some would happen by on the odd chance of snaring something from the kitchen. That didn't happen so much when they knew Rin had been baking.
"You know, I never cease to be amazed at how something that looks so good can taste so – so-"
"Foul?" Khule supplied and Wulgof grunted, choking down the last of the little pies he had snatched from the kitchen. He had broken out in a sweat.
"And yet, you still ate four!"
"A man's hungry," Wulgof murmured, wiping his brow as Loch sauntered by on his way to the house.
"Steer clear of the pies, Kid," Khule warned and this brought the scout over.
There were a few crumbs on the plate and he licked the tip of one finger, pressed it to the plate and sampled the pastry. Loch's eyes tightened but he resisted the urge to spit the crumbs out by a narrow margin.
"Salt instead of sugar, is my guess."
"Don't care to know why they taste so awful," Wulgof muttered, licking the crumbs off his lips and regretting it instantly, "That sister of yours, she does this apurpose."
"Oh?" Loch inquired, not entirely inclined to disagree with Wulfgof. Baking pastries that tasted bad but looked enticing enough to lure her favourite Dunlending was just the sort of thing his sister would do.
"She held her own around the fire out in the field, as I remember."
Loch lifted a shoulder at that and then bent in so that his head hung between Khule's and Wulgof's.
"You know what I think?" he began conspiratorially, "Rin has form when it comes to avoiding things she finds unpleasant or tiresome by doing them so poorly that someone else will take over."
"Does it work?" Wulgof asked, eyes gleaming at this new idea.
"You tell me. Will you be asking her to bake you a pie any time soon?"
Wulgof's shudder said it all.
"Genius," he whispered once he recovered. Loch clapped him on the back and continued on for the house.
Khule however, was not in the least fooled. Loch's walk was a cocky strut, like he had gotten away with something. He and his sister were usually up to their necks in something together. Such as pulling a stunt on Wulgof.
Loch shouldered the kitchen door open to find his sister grinning.
"Well?" she asked, eyes dancing with mirth.
"He ate all four of them!"
Rin slapped the table hard, doubled over with laughter and Loch wiped tears from his eyes. He glanced away to look out a window and saw that Wulgof was striding towards the house. This made him hiss.
Rin swore, turned away from the door and began poking at whatever was bubbling on the stove. The heat would explain the flush of her cheeks. Loch darted to the sink and pumped enough water to splash over his face. Wulgof entered the kitchen to find the scout dripping with water and his sister up to more at the stove. Loch stared at him, water dripping from his hair.
"Ah….just….washing out my….um….face?"
Wulgof could understand, having eaten a whole four of those forsaken pies. He nodded as much as Rin turned about. Her face fell at the sight of him, cheeks flushed and eyes bright. She almost looked like she might burst into tears, if he had to guess. And he'd have to, having never seen her shed a tear in their time together.
"Something….wrong?" she asked, voice wobbling.
Wulgof shook his head, dumbfounded. How did she do it? How was it possible? He pushed past the end of the kitchen table and gently collected up her hand to bow over it. Rin, stunned, stared agog at her brother and found him similarly boggled.
"I-" she began as Wulgof rose and took in her wide eyed expression.
"I just wanted to say, to you, that you're nothing but a genius! Brilliant! I don't know why I didn't think of it earlier! All those years, spent doing dross chores like a night blinded fool. Brilliant! From now on, I will only show you the respect you deserve."
That sounded to Rin like an out and out threat.
"Does…does that mean you liked the pies?"
"Liked them? Liked them!" Wulgof glanced over to Loch and shook his head, "Loved them, Doc. Adored them. Brilliant! You're a genius!"
He let go of her hand, bowed again and headed back out of the kitchen door, muttering about all the years he wasted. Once she was certain he was not about to come back, or one of the other Dirty Three lay in wait somewhere else, she whispered to Loch.
"What was that?"
"I do not know," Loch answered, bewildered, "But I ain't ever seen him so…"
"Reverent," Loch said.
Rin rubbed at her forehead, "You know, I don't know what's more frightening."
A week passed before a select few shared the evening meal in the kitchen. Videgavia, Berlas and Loch joined Hanasian and his household and their two guests. The table was well and truly full and the talk was light hearted and jovial. Rin had Hanavia in her lap and, between bouncing the child up and down to keep him entertained, she was encouraging him to try different things to eat from her plate. That there was something left on her plate did not escape her brother's attention from across the table.
"You should eat more, Rin," he chided and Rin checked an impatient sigh and muttered something in Dunlendic that made her brother's ears red.
"But…twins," Loch pressed, not to be brushed aside by his sister's response.
"That she's managing to eat anything is a remarkable improvement," Hanasian replied, familiar with just how dim a view Rin had taken of being ordered when carrying Hanavia. Rose, seated next to Loch, placed a hand on his forearm.
"Couldn't keep a thing down…not the entire road from Rhun to Dale, as I remember it. I can't believe we missed it, looking back now," Farbarad mused and Rin shifted uncomfortably in her chair.
"Don't know how she managed to keep a-saddle. Those were long, cold days," Rowdy added and Rin decided right then that enough was enough.
"Well I did manage it. And a whole lot more besides. I'm not made of glass! I wasn't dying. I was only pregnant. Happens every damn day! All over the place!"
Her eyes flashed and her words were steel. Hanavia paused and craned his head up to peer at his mother. There was silence around the table. Hanasian saw her jaw lock a moment.
"If you'll excuse me, I must tend to my son," she declared, stood and stalked out of the kitchen with Hanavia tucked under one arm.
"Glad to see some things haven't changed," Videgavia said into the quiet kitchen and Berlas grinned all of a sudden.
"Beg to differ, Cap. She's positively diplomatic now. Wonders will never cease, far as I am concerned," Berlas said.
"How'd you figure?" Farbarad asked, scratching his jaw.
"None of us are bleeding," Berlas said and there was general, if discrete, amusement at that.
"Well, there were children present," Loch pointed out to additional laughter.
However, once the amusement had passed, Hanasian spoke up.
"Last time things were…difficult. We were protective."
"Rightly so, considering," Farbarad pointedly interjected.
"We were over protective," Slippery said, "Telling her where she could go and not go, what to eat, how much to eat, what to drink and what not to drink, when to sleep, when to wake, who she could talk to."
"Weren't that bad, was it?" Rowdy asked and Hanasian nodded.
"Even what to wear," he said, "Given all that had happened, she did her level best to be…tolerant. If Hanavia hadn't of come along when he did, I think she just might have begun picking us off. Me first of all. I was probably the worst. Saw it as necessary at the time. Didn't see the cost, least not straight away. Now, I'm not so sure."
"We can do it different this time," Farbarad said, clearly uncertain of how to go about that.
"Aye…with Vid's help. Berlas too," Hanasian said, gaze shifting to the two men in question.
"Happy to…however we may," Videgavia said, confused.
"Have a quiet word, Old Company and Cats in particular. They're getting…protective," Slippery suggested.
Videgavia leaned back in his chair and stroked his beard, "Aye, can see as how that might happen. They're a possessive lot. Thought I might lose more than a few to follow you west, truth be told, when our paths split. Consider it done. We're guests in your home, Cap, and we'll behave like it or be on our way."
"Appreciate it, Vid."
"You too, Kid," Videgavia pressed, leaning out to eye Loch down the table. The scout sighed and nodded unhappily.
"Didn't realise," he mumbled and Rose squeezed his arm a moment before he looked up and across at his brother-in-law.
"Was bad then," Loch asked and Hanasian nodded, aware that Loch referred to Esgaroth.
"Think I want to know about it."
"I'm not sure-"
"Think I do, with respect, Cap. Left her to face it, though I didn't mean to. Reckon I ought to know. She's my sister."
Hanasian sighed and pushed back from the table, "This is not a tale for the table. If you'd hear it, then you'll hear it elsewhere."
Hanasian rose and pulled the kitchen door ajar. The cool air of the night was swift to penetrate the cozy warmth of the kitchen.
"Why out there?" Loch asked, on his feet already.
"The tale is dark…and its memory stains this house and those within it already," Hanasian said sadly, "And like as not you're not the only one who wants to know. Rather tell it once, if I must at all."
In silence then, the others followed him out into the night and somehow, by means known only to the inner circle of the Company, a gathering of Old Company and Cats pressed close. Hanasian was an excellent archivist and he told the tale as well as any might. While they knew that Mecarnil had fallen, the rest of it was a revelation. Hanasian kept the true circumstances of Mecarnil's death to himself, for the tale was grim enough. The ocean on this night sounded like the drums of doom, crashing to shore under the full moon. Between the waves, the dark mutterings of those listening, swearing, growling, the creak of hands tightening on hilts created a nightly music befitting Hanasian's tale. Throughout it all, Loch remained silent. He dared not make a sound, for it he released that then the building rage that pressed at his restraint might also slip out.
"They're all dead, though. Every last mongrel?" Mulgov snarled, teeth white in the night as he bared them.
"Aye," Hanasian flatly said, turned and walked back inside, desperate to fill his senses with the warmth and safety of the home they had created in the wake of such peril.
The group disbanded, breaking into smaller groups. Khule was deep in conversation with Molguv and Wulgof. It had something to do with Hanasian's cousins, Frea and Folca, Videgavia noted. Most were in silence, little say in the aftermath of that. He understood now just why Hanasian had hesitated before. Videgavia stared at the house, the light that slipped out. He understood much, including what an astonishing degree of trust Hanasian and Rin had shown in opening them home to them. Many of the faces in the Company would be unfamiliar to them both. He understood the precautions, their necessity, he understood the discussion around the table tonight. Berlas and Loch stood in the darkness with him. Loch's fists were clenched and Berlas was deep in thought.
"Should we have gone east?" Videgavia asked, bracing himself for the answer.
"We did, Cap. And here we all stand. Had we all of descended upon Dale, who could know what things would look like now," Berlas said and with that turned away for his own solitude.
Videgavia let Berlas' response circle about and settle in. Like as not he was correct. But still…it had come so close to ruin…and what had been done to their Healer…He realised Loch was still standing that.
"Kid?" he ventured softly, recalling just how things ran with the scout when it came to his sister. Loch shuddered and rocked forward, pushing each step as if he were wading against the tide. He entered the house and Videgavia considered following him a long moment before, with difficulty, he decided that this was a matter for family.
"Where is she?" Loch asked, voice hoarse, of Hanasian. His brother in law considered him a long moment. Not quite over the edge yet, he concluded, but close.
"She likes to sit out on the balcony. The sound of the ocean, the open sky…finds it…soothing."
Loch nodded at that and began to move in that direction but Hanasian was not yet done, "Have a care with her, Loch."
Loch lowered his head, recalling all too clearly just what Hanasian was referring to. Then he continued on. Sure enough, she was sitting out there. She had her back to the house and was staring off at the western horizon. The wind was stiff enough to cancel out the sound of his approach. The moon created a luminous road that stretched towards the shore. It was truly a stupendous sight, but all he saw was his sister. She had taken a cloak to wrap around her and she held her son to her. Hanavia was curled in her lap, a bundle barely discernable, soundly asleep.
Shame and guilt, sorrow and rage warred within him. He had left her to face what she had knowing full well of the traitor in their ranks. And, while she sat here alive and hale, he knew what she had endured. He had not seen the bruises and marks this time, but he remembered a day many years ago when he had. The same mistake, the same outcome. He had sworn never to do that again, never to leave her, no matter what. And yet he had. The self loathing was excruciating. She had been a child then, barely six, and had he not returned to check on her she might not have lived. He had found her not well cared for in the house but chained, beaten black and blue, naked as the dogs chained with her. Shivering in the cold. Eyes empty and dead. He had run with her, pulling the stake up from the cold muck and unthreading her chain. The dogs, so broken, had not even moved. The chain had dragged on the ground after him. He had run like the wind, convinced they would come after him. Run to that old woman's shack.
A witch, they all said, and yet she opened the door and pulled him inside. It took a long time for things to improve. All the while he had not known if she might die or if the witch might eat them like they all said she did down in the village below. Or if that husband and wife, with the kind eyes and wicked hearts, might finally find them. He had made promises and bargains with everyone and everything he could think of. One of them had been to never leave her again. She had never spoken of that nightmare, not even when she found her voice again some two years later. He had hoped that perhaps she did not remember. It happened sometimes, when things were too terrible to bear.
Loch swayed, caught betwixt past and present. Watching, Hanasian saw the younger man sink to his knees on the cold stone and lower his head onto his sister's leg. He saw Rin lift a hand and placed it on his head, and he saw Loch's shoulders shudder.
"I'm sorry," Loch gasped into the cloak Rin was shrouded in.
"Shhhhhh," she murmured and he lifted his face to look into her own, "Come, sit beside me brother."
Loch pulled himself up and settled in next to her as bidden. Rin shifted Hanavia to his lap and, rather than have her send her only warmth with her son, Loch stripped his own jacket off and wrapped it around his nephew. Hanasian watched as his wife leant her head against her brother's shoulder. A hand touched his own and he realised that Rose observed this as well.
"Thank you," she whispered, eyes on the balcony, "It is better he knows."
"Do you think so?"
A pause and then she glanced up into his face, "Yes."
With that, then, Hanasian left Rose to watch. It was some time before he felt Rin settle into the bed beside him. She was not alone. Hanavia murmured as he nestled against his mother and his mother nestled against his father. Safe, warm, whole. With this now, he could rest, and Hanasian was soon fast asleep again in deep realms beyond dream or recollections.