47. Chapter 47
With the Company assembled, Videgavia feared that some, particularly the usual suspects of the Old Company, would grow restless. Hanasian sent Rowdy to Bree so as to check for news and generally get a sense of how Bree appeared. There would be a lot of preparation required for the Midsummer Festival. Videgavia decided it wise to send along with Hanasian's men some of his own Company. Hanasian readily agreed, likely not wanting too many of them gathered around his house. While many of the new Company were sent to posts around the lands, Rowdy was accompanied by Berlas and Wulgof on his venture to Bree. It was Videgavia's hope that Berlas would keep things (Wulgof) quiet, in a low key. Mulgov wanted to go as well but was vague as to why that was when questioned. He was not about to advertise that he had stashed a certain number of hidden goods in the town on his last venture there. Videgavia was no fool, however, and it was this quality that had made him an excellent commander of the Company. He had other duties for the big Haradian on the day the three men left for Bree.
Spring in Bree meant rain. Winter was little different, except it did not rain all of the time. When it wasn't raining in winter, it was only cloudy and foggy; unless it was clear, which usually only happened at night, at which point everything freezes. The good thing about this spring was it was raining and ever so slightly warmer than winter. Kholas continued to pound out the yoke he was making for a local's wagon. Business had been good through the wet winter, the ruts in the roads breaking axles and wheels and the like. It had come as a revelation to the Easterling that his iron working skills would come in use here in the West.
He had remained in Bree when those that had left the Company in Rhun and travelled through Dale had split and gone their own ways at the close of summer last year. He was comfortable here and had found a niche to settle into. His skill with iron had seen him rise faster than anyone had expected, himself most of all, to become one of the lead blacksmiths in Bree. His skill in fixing broken things was unquestionable, and credit where credit was due as far as the local residents of Bree were concerned. Some remained wary, but that would take time, Kholas supposed. Bree had seen him prosper and it had been kind to Tarina as well. the barmaid he had come to know in Esgoroth had easily found a place at the Prancing Pony.
For all of this, Kholas still considered himself part of the Company, and by extension so too did Tarina. While he knew the Black Company of Arnor had disbanded in Rhun, Kholas still sensed in his heart that they were very much alive. From time to time he thought of what his life might have been like had he stayed in the east and joined with Videgavia's Company like so many had. Something had pulled him West, no matter how he wondered about life in the East. He would never have met Tarina had he not come West with Hanasian. That was no small thing. So, Kholas was ultimately happy in Bree. For all of that, however, he was a man of Rhun and a veteran of the Black Company. Thus, Kholas remained as alert and watchful as ever he had been, blacksmith or no, as if he were still on watch for the Company.
His work at the smith saw his path cross with townsfolk and travellers alike and there was all sorts of useful things learnt in the talk that happened while they waited. For her part, appetite whetted from Esgaroth and the events she had been privy to there, Tarina kept her ears open as she worked at the Prancing Pony. Hers was a special skill. Tarins could pick out voices and track a conversation in the general din of an inn's common room. While the inn she worked at in Esgoroth had its fair share of tales and characters pass through, it was nowhere near as many as this great crossroads of the West had.
In the main, Tarina and Kholas heard little of any note and it was mostly forgettable. However, every now and anon a nugget of news or information that was notable and worthy of further consideration emerged. Between them, little was missed. The Prancing Pony was a place Hanasian had used to send and receive messages for many years. The nuggets of worth were sent onto him by Kholas and Tarina as they came to hand. Hanasian made full use of this arrangement in a way he knew would largely elude his wife. He had assumed control over who and when people were sent to Bree, ostensibly to see to household matters, settling of accounts, provisions and the like, not long after they had settled into their home.
Rin, initially curious and then sceptical, soon decided that if her husband wanted to busy himself with such things, well and good. Sometimes, she would lurk around his desk. He ensured that all she found were accounts, things she soon set aside before she returned to her own work or saw to her son's needs. Thus, Hanasian would send one or another off to Bree and whoever was sent always stayed at the Prancing Pony (Rin thought it was the only inn in town). Over lunch, Tarina or Kholas would exchange news. It happened at least every two or three weeks, for Hanasian was not prepared to be taken unawares ever again. Of late Tarina had taken to looking up every time someone walked into the inn. Kholas had taken to asking Tarina about the day's arrivals. It had been over a month since any word was had or sent to Hanasian. The only rumours in Bree concerned the coming summer, the festival, and the market was coming to life.
These rumours were thick with anticipation. Some said that the King would bring his summer court to the north, to Fornost, this year and, if this were so, he would surely pass by Bree. Needless to say, this fuelled the expectation that this year's festival would be a great and memorable affair. Kholas found, however that his concerns grew. He considered that his concerns may be entirely unfounded. Certainly, he had no basis for them that he could discern aside from this heaviness, like a knot, in his thoughts. It never hurt to be careful and alert, he told himself. That way trouble could be avoided, for himself, for Hanasian and his family. Yes, caution was always best.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Halrad rode all night in his bid to reach Bree by morning. He had misjudged the difficulty of the ride and the time it would take in the spring months. Had he not fallen asleep trying to push the day before, he would still have a little dried fruit. But the birds had made off with what was left. He didn't want to sleep out in rain another night either. Lady Halcwyn had trusted him to go quickly, so that be might swiftly return with word of her brother, Hanasian. She remained greatly troubled by her dream. Halrad, faithful servant, wished to settle her fears, even if it meant riding the many leagues to Bree and back.
The gate was in sight now and he pushed onward. The morning watch saw only a blonde man on horseback, both of them having covered too much distance with too little sleep. They asked few question of this man from Rohan who made for the Prancing Pony. Men such as this were not common even in these days, but not rare either. He was glad to arrive. Dinner would be most welcome and breakfast the next morning. Afterwards he would have to get his horse re-shod, for the ride back south would be just as hard and it would not do to throw a shoe on the way.
Tarina spotted Halrad as soon as the door opened. She quickly took him to be a traveller from up the Greenway, from Rohan. As he stood blinking and looking about the common room, Tarina set the tankards she was carrying down on the table before the men who asked for them. She walked around the tables so she came by the door and paused before Halrad.
"Welcome, Traveller, to the Prancing Pony. There are few seats this soggy night. If you be alone, there is one small table by the hearth that will feel good after long hours spent in this cold rain."
"My thanks, lady. I will sit there. If that is stew I smell on the hob, I would have a fair bowl of, it if I might," Halrad replied, eyed Tarina a moment then looked over to the empty chair by the barrel that served as a table.
Tarina said, "Aye, the stew is a good one tonight. Would you like hot tea or fine ale to go with it?"
Busy studying faces within, it was a moment before Halrad answered.
"Ah, both if I can. Tea to warm myself at first, Then an ale to have with the stew. Are there any rooms left for hire?"
"There is one left. It is yours if you give me a name."
Halrad turned his gaze back to Tarina. He pondered giving his name and asking her a question or two, but elected to wait on his questions. How a woman of Dale had come to work in Bree was not his concern. To his assessment, this maid of the Prancing Pony seemed sincere.
"I am Halrad of Westmarch m'Lady," he said with due courtesy.
Tarina smiled. Not many barmaids are referred to as such.
"It is a pleasure to meet you, Halrad of Westmarch. I am Tarina of Esgoroth, and should you require anything further, you have only to ask it of me."
He watched her depart to see to arrangements for his meal and his lodging a few moments before he turned for his chair by the hearth. He would certainly be asking more questions of her after he had eaten.
Halrad found the food and the tankard of ale was quite fulfilling and the chill that had settled into his bones earlier that day was finally ebbing away. The hearth was comfortably warm and he ordered a second tankard. As Tarina brought it to him, Halrad noted that an Easterling came in to the inn. This was entirely unexpected. What were Easterlings doing in Bree? He watched him closely, even after the other man met his eyes briefly.
Halrad thought from the set of the Easterling's shoulders and general appearance that that man had spent a hard day at work. Likely a smithy. Tiring and thirsty work, that. The barmaid greeted the Easterling with a kiss, another surprise that, and handed the Easterling the tankard that she had been bringing to him. The Easterling took a seat at a table near the far end of the bar.
Happy to be seated and an ale in hand, Kholas looked back at the table by the hearth with the newcomer. By chance, he caught the man studying Tarina as she cleared tankards and filled new ones. While he had yet to speak in any real way with Tarina, Kholas knew that she thought this traveller interesting. Tarina set out with full tankards, setting them down on tables as she threaded her way across the inn. Kholas stood and followed a few paces behind as she made for the traveller's table. She set the tankard down with a polite smile.
Kholas paused at a nearby table to speak with a local man about the condition of the wagon wheel the man had brought in to the smithy earlier that day. As he did so, he overheard the traveller thank Tarina for the ale.
"Thank you m'Lady."
No wonder Tarina thought the man interesting, Kholas noted, as he told the man that his wheel would be ready to collect in the morning.
Halrad decided it was time for some questions. As Tarina turned to depart, he began.
"My pardon m'Lady. I can see this is a busy night and do not wish to delay you overmuch. I wondered if you might know whether one named Hanasian been here?"
It took all Tarina's skill to not appear startled by the question. She turned it as best she could, and put on her best vaguely thoughtful face.
"Hmm… can't say I've served anyone with that name here. But then, many come and go here nameless to me."
"My pardon for pressing. I seek this man on behalf of another who could not journey north," Halrad said and sipped at his fresh ale so as not to seem overly eager.
Tarina answered, "I will keep an ear open for that name. Will you be staying here long?"
"Maybe a week at most."
Tarina nodded and started off to the bar where a fresh tray of tankards awaited her. She eyed Kholas as she passed and he nodded, for he had kept an ear to her conversation with the traveller. Halrad did not notice anything, but he did spot Kholas as she walked by him. Kholas finished his conversation and stepped over to Halrad's table. Halrad looked up at the Easterling and stood , uncertain what to make of this.
Kholas began companionably, "I'm going to buy you an ale!"
Halrad, taken aback, answered warily, "Why would you buy me a beer? You don't even know me. In any case, I can afford my own ale as and when I choose."
Tarina saw that Kholas' smile was starting to strain. She swiftly dealt out the ales on her patter and hurried out to collect the empty tankards so that she could come to the table where Halrad and Kholas stared at each other.
"Whatever it will be boys, it won't be trouble, if you take my meaning."
Kholas said, "No trouble. I just wanted to buy this traveller a beer. To buy someone I know a beer means some. To buy the weary traveller new into town a beer means more. You are free to decline the offer my friend. There is no harm in doing so."
Halrad pondered the Easterling's words and tried to uncover what ever it was the man was trying to say. He concluded that he had let old prejudices fog his tired mind. In truth, there was no reason to be defensive. He wished no trouble, and he could use another ale. Better still if he didn't have to pay for it.
He said, "By all means, I will accept your offer. I'm only halfway through this bowl of stew, and yet now nearly two ales are gone."
Tarina breathed relieved sigh thatthis encounter would not require her skills to diffuse it. All she needed to do was to quickly return with a couple tankards.
While the two men conversed lightly over their beers, Tarina saw yet more travellers arrive. These, however, were not newcomers. Over a month late, she was pleased to see Rowdy there and he seemed to be comfortable with the two others that had arrived with him. Companions, she concluded, and made certain to alert the men once they were at their table of Kholas' new found friend and his questions at the table by the hearth.
The long ride, his full belly and a couple of ales too many all conspired to make Halrad desperately tired. He pled off from his new Easterling friend, the blacksmith, and made his way to his room grateful to have secured the last bed at the Prancing Pony for night. All he could think off was the welcome soft embrace of warm bedding. He passed down a hall lined with doors at regular spaces, counting them so that he might know which one hid his precious bed. Imagine, then, Halrad's surprise when a burly ageing man of Dunland burst out of door, grappled with him. The man succeeded in knocking Halrad's head on the doorframe and Halrad was out cold before he was dragged in, laid on the floor and the door firmly closed.
In the room, staring down at the unconscious man on the floor, one man sighed irritably.
"Dammit Wulgof! I said to be gentle! How can we talk to him when he's in this state?"
"Sorry," Wulgof muttered, "It was only a little tap. An accident. Wouldn't have happened if he didn't squirm."
Rowdy said nothing as he watched the door, waiting for someone to burst in or the alarm to sound should someone have seen what had happened in the door. The quiet man shook his head.
Berlas told Wulgof, "Go downstairs, have a beer. I don't want you here when he come to."
Wulgof grinned suddently and slipped through the door, pleased that his accident had gotten him out for a beer before the bar closed.
As he left, Berlas added in a low voice, "You hit anyone down there, and I'll be gentle with you."
Had there of been anything brewing the hall, Wulgof would have run straight into it. As he had not, Rowdy gave up his watch of the door to ensure that he was on hand with water when the unconscious man woke a short while later. Halrad, naturally, did not accept the water from him and instead stared around the room.
Berlas raked a hand through his hair and began.
"My apologies for your welcome to our room. We heard you asking after someone who we know."
Rowdy straightened and, with a glance at Berlas, ensure he moved well away from the man on the floor. Berlas followed suit so as to make it clear they were not about to do him harm.
Halrad sat up slowly as they backed off, rubbed his bruised cheekbone, Do you know Hanasian? Is he here?"
"Might be. What is your business with him?"
"I come with word from his sister Halcwyn. She will be here for the Midsummer Festival. She had sent a letter, but wished word be brought as well."
Berlas and Rowdy looked at each other as it dawned upon them that Wulgof had assaulted, accidentally, a member of Hanasian's sister's household. Halrad pulled out a more recent letter written in Halcwyn's script and held it out to Berlas.
Halrad went on, "I see the device you wear at your neck. You are a man of honour, one who served with Hanasian. A man wearing such a device came to the house of Lady Halcwyn bearing many letters from her brother, so I entrust this to you to give to Hanasian. His sister desires greatly to see him once again. She hopes that she might do so at the Midsummer Festival."
Berlas took the letter, imaging the scowl on Videgavia's face when the details of this encounter were reported. As for Hanasian….some things were best not imagined, Berlas concluded.
"We hope that can be. The festival is why we are here now," Berlas said cautiously, glancing at Rowdy to confirm that the usual caution concerning Cardolan was to be observed.
Halrad nodded and asked, "Then Hanasian will be here to meet Lady Halcwyn on her arrival?"
"You may tell Lady Halcwyn that if she makes the journey to Bree, her brother will meet her," Berlas said as Rowdy went to crack the door and peek out.
Berlas added, "My apologies again for the rude manner of our greeting. You have travelled far and it would appear your task is now completed. Go, now, and rest. Your mistress has been faithfully served."
Halrad nodded, carefully for his head pounded, and found himself met at the door by the quiet man who had not spoken a word. He had intense eyes, that seemed to scrutinise everything and he wore no device at all that Halrad could discern.
"Until we meet again," this strange man said, voice almost a whisper.
The next morning, Halrad arose with a headache. He headed out the door of his room to get some breakfast, and he passed the door where he had been grabbed the night before.
He peered in to the find the two men, the courteous one and the strange one, were not there. Instead, a maid was cleaning. It was not Tarina.
He asked her, "Have the men who had this room last night already gone?"
The maid replied, "Yes, they left early before the sunrise."
"Ah… I see. I am sorry for troubling you."
Halrad continued on down to the common room for his breakfast. There he espied Berlas, who gave him a wave as he went out the door.
Outside, Berlas gave the letter to Rowdy in the knowledge that the man would ride swiftly to bring it to Hanasian. They had agreed it would be best to get word back as soon as they could. Also, Berlas wanted Wulgof out of Bree quickly, before any more "accidents" could happen
As he sat in the common room on a damp afternoon, Halrad found he had a visitor. It was the courteous Berlas, and the man had a message for him this time.
"Your tidings have been delivered, and Hanasian will await his sister, Lady Halcwyn. Take word to her now, and beware. Roads are safer than once they were, but not enough to be carefree."
Halrad settled his account at the inn that afternoon and began his way south that very day. The weeks passed and the rain persisted. Halrad was glad to reach warmer climes to the south, but the approach to Tharbad was rough as the river was running high. Still, he welcomed the hours spent in those final days, dry in his saddle. It was a good feeling. The tidings he brought with him to his mistress pleased her well. Indeed, the Lady was overjoyed, and soon all efforts were turned to travelling north for the festival.
Berlas remained in Bree, and more and more of the company being sent in threes and fours each week. Rowdy had finally selected accommodations that met his exacting requirements. He had obtained the use of a house, and how he had done so without dropping names Berlas did not know. Berlas, for his part, saw to the accommodations for the Company. Between them, they saw that all was secured before the King's men arrived. Their sighting on the Greenway saw Bree abuzz proper with the coming of the King, the Queen and his Summer Court. When the sun did break free of the watery hold the season, spring exploded forth in all its sudden glory. It seemed as though the land itself knew that this would be a special year.
The week before Midsummers Day saw merchants, travellers, traders and families stream into Bree. Tents were pitched, for there were not enough rooves for all that came. The markets were brisk with the business this brought to Bree and so, while hectic, the townspeople of Bree were well pleased indeed. Berlas kept his Company discreet, and allowed the Kings Guard show their presence. They were good at that, polished helms and armour and black cloaks flapping behind him as they went about the King's business. Still, these were formidable men and they were fully aware that the Company was about. It was then that Berlas appreciated why Rowdy played the Cardolan cards so tightly to his chest. No one, not the King and not Rin or Hanasian, wanted the rumour that Cardolan had come to the Summer Court and the Midsummer Festival with its own private army to add to the rumours that swirled through the town about nobles. Only a handful had started about Cardolan.
Satisfied all was relatively in order, Rowdy went south and met with Wulgof to watch the road coming up to Andrath. As the men noted a party from Rohan came from the south, they also noted a party approached from the west. A single pennant of blue, with a silver rose, floated on the air. It was the only sign that the western party flew but it was enough for Rowdy to identify them. He grinned at the argument Farbarad had clearly won with Rin over that pennant. How he had managed to keep it aloft was another victory entirely.
Hanasian and Rin, along with the rest of the Company that had not already travelled to Bree, rode behind Farbarad in the lead. Videgavia himself mounted the rearguard, dark eyes flashing. Mulgov drove a wagon filled with goods for trade, carefully watched by Cat. It was supposed to be occupied by a rather pregnant Rin, but she stubbornly sat a horse. There, Rowdy concluded, lay the trade. If she wanted out of the wagon, and oh how she hated sitting about in a wagon for hours with nothing to do, then the pennant. Farbarad looked distinctly pleased with himself.
The two parties sighted each other and Farbarad rode towards Halrad.
Farbarad called out, "Fair greetings to you and all in the caravan! Does the Lady Halcwyn ride with you?"
Halrad, unfamiliar with Cardolan's device called back, "Who hails us from the west?"
The two men met each other between the parties and Farbarad answered in a low voice, "Her brother, Captain Hanasian, and his family."
Before Halrad could answer, however, two other riders approached each other.
It was a strange feeling that came over Halcwyn as she rode toward the shadowy figures on horses. Yet though the years had passed, she knew which one was her brother. She noted the others, but rode straight for Hanasian. It had been so long since they had seen each other and the letters were erratic in their delivery if not in writing. The younger children of Halasian reunited once again.
Hanasian smiled as he saw his sister ride strike out. He said to Rin in a low voice, "Behold, My sister approaches."
They kept a pace over the grass and Hanasian spoke to Rin as the distance closed.
"One of the things I have admired about you and Loch is you had each other through your hard lives. We only shared our younger days in Rivendell. It's only been short visits and many letters since. It was always said by the elves that I was our father tempered with our mother's stoic demeanour. And Halcwyn was our mother with a bit of our father's fire keeping her spirit simmering.
"I only wished we both could have known our older brother Hayna. The little I have learned, from our mother and those who knew him, was that he was aflame like our father, but had a fair conscience. Yet was bitter at our father for never being home. I only met him per chance once, the day we landed the Corsair ships near Minas Tirith. We met in battle against the Easterlings before the city. Few words we spoke, but we traded smiles when we spoke in brief of our mother. He was killed later that day, and I buried my brother in honour with the fallen of Gondor. Now my beloved, you will meet my sister."
Hanasian spoke long, for he was nervous. He hoped the two women would like each other. But as the distance steadily closed, Hanasian found he could not wait.
"I ask your pardon my love for riding ahead. I must go forth and meet my sister."
Rin smiled and nodded, mindful about how it would be if she and Loch had not seen each other in such a long time. She didn't wish to recall that short time she thought Loch dead. Had Halcwyn ever think that Hanasian had perished?
She said, "Go on, my love, I will catch up soon enough."
Hanasian smiled and blew a kiss to his wife, then turned and sped away toward the woman who was riding now in full gallop toward them.
The two came close and turned their horses. As they slowed, both dismounted and they embraced. Words were not spoken for some time as they held to each other.
Finally, Hanasian said, "You are looking well my sister!"
"As are you my brother!" Halcwyn said. She kissed his brow and added, "You look genuinely happy! I remember the last time you had visited, you were grim. I long to meet Lady Rosmarin, for she has lit a fire in your eyes."
Hanasian held Halcwyn's shoulders and said, "She approaches even now with our party. She is with child, and so rides carefully. Tonight we will feast before the Andrath, for this is a joyous time. Tomorrow we will ride forth to Bree. I do not believe you and I have ever been there together or even separately at the same time."
They embraced again and as the sound of hooves grew louder, both from the east and the west, Halcwyn said, "Behold, our households approach, and will mingle and learn of each other."
Hanasian smiled, and said,
"I must warn you sister, that those who ride with me are many of my former Company, and they are diverse from the many races of men, many who had opposed each other on the field in wars now past. There are also two sisters who hail from across the eastern sea. May you enjoy their company in the coming days. Sadly, there are no Elves among our company. The sons of Elrond and some who ride with them are still about, but they too have become scarce."
Hanasian stepped forth as Rin rode up. He could see from her carefully schooled expression that Rin was her usual, careful self around people she did not know. He helped her down from her horse with the words, "Beloved Rosmarin, meet my beloved sister, Halcwyn."
All he could do now was hope that the two most strong willed women he had ever encountered took a liking to one another.
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.