55. Chapter 55
With a few steps Hanasian was before Rin as she tried to stand. He knelt before her, cupped her face between his hands.
"My love… I am sorry…" he whispered to her.
Rin's eyes were wide and haunted by such sorrow. She was silent, unable to find words that he could see flickered within her and pressed her fingers to his lips. They stayed like that for a long moment, the rest of the study lost to them. Eventually Rin blinked and the spell was broken. Hanasian guided her to her feet at which point he embraced her. She was so insubstantial in his arms. Hanasian drew back and solemnly kissed his wife. There he found her. Her warmth and spirit was suddenly revealed to him anew. Her heavy mantle began to slide and he pulled it back around her shoulders and held it there, unable to release Rosmarin.
But they were not alone. A little whimper from a bundle in the arms of Anvikela by a doorway broke through and Rin pulled away to go to their surviving daughter. Hanasian followed and silently, Rin lifted Elian from Anvikela and set her in his arms. She was tiny compared to Hanavia, with hair so pale as to seem silvery and with the blue eyes of a newborn babe. She fussed until he made a soft sound deep in his throat and then brushed the fine hair upon her head. Her mother's hair, Hanasian thought, heart pounding. This was his daughter. He had a daughter.
He looked to his wife and found her expression was solemn. She was watching him, waiting for something. He could not tell what it was. The others in the room were also silent. Too many questions needed to be asked, too many answers were needed. The tiny child in his arms peered up at him intently. He made another sound and she blinked, curious. Could it be that she somehow knew his voice? For those in the room, watching this, it was clear that plans and strategies were the least concern for those in their midst. Hanasian looked up to his wife and she came closer to carefully tuck the loose end of a blanket around her daughter's feet. Hanasian murmured something to her and Rin nodded. Without further word, Hanasian and Rin walked out of the study with their daughter. No one followed. Any talk of strategy and plans would for now be left to the others.
It did not take those in the kitchen long to join the others in the study. It was fortunate that the room was generously sized. Soon the walls, chairs and couches and desks were filled with people. Videgavia was pleased to see the three Rohirrim amongst them. The Dirty Three leant nearby against shelves filled will all manner of books that Rin had clearly accumulated in her time here. Medicine, surgery, healing, botany and a diverse assortment of odds and ends he could only guess at. Molguv peeked curiously at the titles, no doubt wondering what their worth might be. Massuil and Voromir watched on as well. Videgavia had yet to decide what to make of either man, but at least the Old Company was here and he ensured they were paying attention. There was sporadic talk and their discussion hovered around the edges of the trap they were planning. All seemed reluctant to mention it until Loch lost patience and finally broached the matter that had been chewing at him since Berlas had told him of the plan.
"Rin is not in any condition to do this. Even if she was, I think it's too risky!"
Loch frowned as he looked about each man in turn. They didn't understand. They couldn't. While together he and his sister had risked a great deal, it was because they had to. Their survival depended on it. This was entirely different. There were tiny, defenceless children in the midst of it. Hanavia was not even two years old! And there was a far safer option as far as he could guess. The King was somewhere in the north. Why court fate here when they could go to a safer place. All they had to do was board that ship at anchor in the bay. There was no way his sister would risk the lives of her children or consign them to the fate that they had faced themselves for a piece of land. It was just land. She simply wouldn't countenance anything that might mean that her children faced the world alone for this house and land. It made no sense and while it was clear to him it didn't seem quite so evident to those around him. Videgavia was one of the few to meet Loch's eyes as he glanced around the room but the man said nothing.
"The Kid has a point. We can't send Doc in. Besides, I doubt Hanasian would allow it," Wulgof added in his roughened voice.
Voromir stood and said, "The only certain way to bring this to an end is to have the Lady Rosmarin there and visible."
Videgavia broke his silence at that, "Yes, quite true Voromir, but I have to agree with Loch. As willing as Rin would likely be, she will not be physically able to put herself in this sort of peril. I will admit to genius of it as a plan …. Quite worthy. But without Rin, we will not be able to pull it off."
Khule said immediately afterward, "Hanasian wouldn't like this one bit either. There is no way he would permit his wife to place herself out there like that. Not now. Since her heritage and identity has come to light, there has been one attempt after another.
"It won't end and therein lies the appeal of this plan. It offers finality. As good a plan this may be, I do not think any of us could accept the danger it poses to Rin. Especially in her current state. After all she and Hanasian have been through? No, this borders on insanity to try."
Khule's bearing was grave and he appeared old and strained to those who knew him best. Mulgov tapped him on the shoulder and passed him a plain brown bottle. He took a drink from it and handed it back. Mulgov's jaw dropped a bit when how his latest brew had not even managed a grimace from the Easterling. The Haradian shrugged slightly and took a drink himself before he offered it to Wulgof. They were all concerned about Doc.
Loch, meanwhile stared at Voromir. He knew his sister didn't trust him and, frankly, he didn't like the man. This had been the chief threat to Rin in Pelargir. And this had been the man in Bree in her immediate vicinity when she had been injured. Mildly of course, but still. And he was a noble. Untrustworthy to the core. The problem with nobles is that they could be as rotten as any knave, but appear lordly and fair and bright. And you couldn't settle your score with them in the same way if they did you wrong. Rose was beside him and had been quiet as she listened to the discussion slide back and forth. An uneasy silence settled over them in the study and it seemed to her that they would remain locked in this indecision unless someone pointed out the solution that lay right beneath their noses.
"What if I do it?"
Loch flinched beside her and said, "Do what?"
Rose considered him a moment. In a fleeting instant there was a surreal glow and it seemed that Rin was there. She had everyone's attention now. The Rohirrim looked queasy, Wulgof was stunned. The Rangers appeared intrigued and Voromir was shocked.
As for Loch, he was having none of it.
"No!" he forcefully declared, bristling.
"And why not Lochared of Dunland? Are stealth and cunning exclusively yours?" Rose answered with a glint in her eyes that could have resembled daggers and reminded him powerfully of his sister.
Years of experience prompted Loch to hesitate and keep his mouth shut. Inwardly, he resolved that Rose and his sister were spending far too much time in each other's company and he'd have to do something about that and soon. Wulgof slapped Mulgov on the chest with the back of his hand to make sure he was paying attention to what was happening. The others looked on with rising curiosity but a signal from Videgavia flashing signals kept them silent for now. The Captain knew there was something afoot and whatever it was, it was something he wanted to leave to play out. Sorcery and the Company had never mixed well. Rose directed her attention from a brooding Loch to the others in the room,
"I can do this. I have been studying the ways of your Kingdoms, and with some work and the support of my sister, I can do this."
Restraint had never been one of Loch's strengths. He pushed to his feet from where he had been perched on his sister's desk and stepped forward.
"Do you have any idea what you're proposing? These people are fanatics! If they even pick up the slightest hint of something amiss, things will go sour. You know what they have done with Hanasian. You have heard what they did to my sister in Dale! If that's what they will do to people of rank, what will they do to those who are not? No! There has to be another way!"
Videgavia looked over to Farbarad and then Massuil. Both Rangers shrugged, unwilling to commit to a path just yet. Videgavia realised it would fall to him to say something when Lady Anvikela walked in saying,
"Sir Lochared, you should listen to my sister. Our whole lives have been spent amongst fanatics, yes. It has only been since we have come west with you that we had any idea what this freedom we heard you speak of is. So we are free now. With this freedom we will decide.
"It is with this freedom that we wish to repay the Company. It is also in this freedom that my sister has found someone she cares for. Therefore she cannot be the one to do this. I will be the one to go, if the Lords of the Company agree."
There was silence for a moment. Videgavia let his fingers fly quickly in the hopes of keeping everyone quiet, including Loch. Even as he started to step forward, Khule's hand grasped his shoulder. He didn't even have to look at Khule to know why. He stood and watched the two sisters turn to one another. They stared for a moment and then suddenly started bickering in their native language. Their words were heated, and if they realized that the rest of the company were watching them, it didn't seem to matter. What they were saying was a mystery to all in the room, but the body language and tone gave away a little.
After their voices returned to a more civil tone, Videgavia cut in, "Ladies, you appear to have much to say to one another, and quite impassioned at that. But we need to know what it is you have decided. I have a general idea what it is you were discussing."
Rose and Lady Anvikela exchanged a look and then Rose said, "Should it be decided, then it will be I who will go. My sister and Loch are against this, but if it is to be done, it will be my sister who stands behind me. I don't know if I have the strength or control to help her in the same way.
"My sister is somewhat more confident. But if this is to be, she will have to be nearby. But it seems it all is only in its beginnings. Should the decision be to my taking Lady Rosmarin's place in this deception, then we will talk about how it will be done."
Loch, still on his feet, shifted his weight restlessly but Rose's pointed her finger at him and he paused. He knew he wasn't going to win this fight right now. Still, nothing had been decided yet, and he hoped this would not come to pass.
Videgavia nodded, saying, "You speak wisely Rose. Yet I would be remiss if I did not point out the dangers. Loch may have suddenly lost his words, but his earlier concerns are legitimate.
"Should you be discovered, there would be little we could do to aid you. What you and Lady Anvikela could do, I do not know. Rest assured that your offer will be considered, but this decision will be made when the Cap and the Doc are back with us, and everyone has had time to consider this thoroughly. Now, it is late and everyone here needs to rest. The morning will find us all ready for council again."
They broke and once out of the study they scattered. Each seem to had thoughts of their own that they kept to themselves or shared with a select few. Massuil and Farbarad walked off whispering to each other on the way out of the house entirely. The Dirty Three made for the verandah that lined the western side of the house to carry on in a low rumble. Voromir remained a moment in thought, unsure what had just happened, but he finally stood and went out to where he had made his camp with the men that had been led by Rowdy. Videgavia watched Loch and Rose wander out, whispered disconcerting words to each other on the way to somewhere private. He noticed also that Lady Anvikela watched them as well.
He stepped over to her and asked, "Lady Anvikela, will you walk with me?"
Without a word, she took his arm and they walked outside in silence. It was after they had gone some ways away from the house that he asked her, "Is this something you and your sister could do in complete confidence?"
Lady Anvikela hesitated, "Since our departure, my powers struggle to stay with me. I hold them only with use, and I have been amiss in using them. Rose, I think, is another matter.
"She seems to strengthen even as I weaken. This kind of visual deception we are consider requires a strong and sustained will. If we had Old Blood in our veins it would less uncertain. I can stand behind her, but in the end, it will be in her hands as to whether she can carry it through."
Videgavia then said, "If this is so, then if it was up to me, I could not permit this. It will be up to Hanasian and Rin with the final word, but I hope there is another way that will not put anyone, not Rin, you, or Rose, in danger. Yet, I can still see that this plan would work if Rin is convincing among them, whoever she is. It is a difficult choice. Let us go and rest now."
~ ~ ~
Hanasian held Rin close, careful lest he cause her discomfort, and she finally said, "Do you know what they are discussing out there?"
Hanasian ran his hand through her hair and kissed her head, "I know enough. I know that you, or I will have to stand by the wayside. The plans are being made for us, and we will see what is decided in the morning."
He kissed her and they lay back and drifted into an uneasy sleep together.
The council the following day was a furious one. There was no other way to describe it. For all of the impassioned arguments and counter arguments that sailed to and fro there was no other way around it. The trap could not be safely defused half sprung. That way assuredly lay mayhem, and the civil war that Rin so rightly feared. Nor could Rin serve as the bait to bring it to a close. Rin did not argue as hard against the gathered will of the rest of them. She couldn't ignore the risks. She knew what it was to face the world without a mother and father. She could not recklessly consign her children to the fate she had faced and narrowly survived. But, this problem as far as Rin saw it was hers. The rebels gathered because of her blood and what they would make of it. Sending in Rose, or anyone else, to draw their teeth was unthinkable. And every time she glanced at her brother she felt her heart ache for the worry and fear she could see him endure. He loved Rose. He knew what could happen.
By the close of the day the way ahead had been determined. No one liked it. Rose and Anvikela would deceive the rebels. Rose would appear as the Lady of Cardolan, and speak her words. She would ride Rin's horse, be garbed as a queen might but Rin never would, and carry Rin's sword. That sword would deliver the signal that would trigger the switch and then it would be in Videgavia's hands. As for the real Lady of Cardolan, she would be waiting on the ship with her family, her ranger and Massuil's men. Should it all go sour, that ship would make for Mithlond and then Fornost to report to Aragorn and seek shelter there while a larger offensive is launched.
As the sun sank, Rin stood in silence by Hanasian's side. He was on his knees in the snow by their daughter's grave. It was the first time he had come here. While his return had done much to ease her savaged spirit, she could still sense doom closing around them. The reason Míriel was dead, the reason for the attack, lay at her feet. Had she heeded Hanasian's counsel concerning Andred, none of this would have come to pass. She was certain of that. Every decision from that moment onwards seemed somehow tainted, dragging them deeper into webs that seemed to gather faster the more they struggled. She had no idea how to turn this about.
Hanasian's voice was roughened by grief he could not contain, "What colour was her hair?"
"Dark, like your own," Rin answered and sank to her knees beside him.
His hand sought hers and clung fiercely, like a man drowning. Except she was drowning too. She was going to kill them all, Rin realised, and terror howled through her.
"How often do you come here?" he asked.
"Every day, before…"
"The hemorrhaging and then the fever. You should have remained still and quiet and warm. It is what you would have told someone who had lost so much blood. You might have avoided the fever."
He was right, of course.
"How could I when our daughter lies in the frozen ground, alone?" she whispered and closed her eyes.
"You nearly died. Farbarad told me, Rosmarin. Had it not been for the healers Massuil found, you would have!"
Rin's head bowed so that her chin rested against her chest. Hanasian withdrew his hand from hers and the chill bit at her fingers. He sounded upset with her. She had been waiting for this. Her recklessness with Andred had killed his newborn daughter, Rowdy and three good Company men. It had placed him in immediate peril. She had betrayed them all, including those she loved the most. He should set her aside, take their children and run before she killed them all.
"Rosmarin, look at me!"
Hanasian had to repeat it before she could find the strength to meet his eyes. His expression was harrowed by grief and fear. But there was no hatred there. Not yet, at least.
"Understand me, my love. To stand here, by my child's grave is nearly more than I can bear. To stand over your own….I could not. A long life, one in peace where our family flourishes. That is what you promised me and I to you. I beg of you, Rosmarin, do nothing that imperils that."
"My life, the very drawing of my breath imperils that whether I will it or nil it!"
Hanasian lifted a hand to her cheek and cupped it, "We will face this fight and we will prevail. And when it is done, and there is peace, we will rest."
He gathered her to him and together, they returned to the warmth and safety of their home and those within it.
As time passed, the Company returned much to Videgavia's relief. Even with Rowdy's men, now lead by Voromir, the rebel numbers had become officially difficult. He gladly redeployed his returned forces, confidence returning that they could close the net and scoop all the rebels neatly up. Aside from the three men that had perished on the night of the attack, he was back at full strength again. He had Berlas back. An Ithilien Ranger was an ideal asset for the wooded terrain that surrounded the grounds. Another set of eyes on the lines that he trusted implicitly for good reason. Berlas would sooner gouge his own eyes out than harm Doc, never mind the reasons why.
Meanwhile, Rose and Anvikela refined their deception. Hanavia did not at all like seeing two versions of his mother walking around his house and so they continued their work carefully. Side by side it was obvious which woman was Rin. Rose could not match Rin's height and the features were mostly accurate. So, for that reason, Rose would ride Rin's horse. All it to be was convincing enough, not precise. Rin, meanwhile, had to write an address. It was a difficult task. She recalled all too clearly her father's imperious demands. Yet, to follow too closely in his footsteps would mean she would be setting down, on paper, in her hand the equivalent of high treason. Voromir could stride into court, wave it around and Aragorn would have no choice but to find her guilty and act accordingly. She wrestled over the wording during the evenings until finally she set the wretched seal to it with some blue wax and her father's ring. Doom continued to swirl around her as she reluctantly handed it to Rose. Rose would need to memorise it and, if further proof be needed to garnish the bait, offer it to the rebels to read themselves. If she could get them to swear fealty to Cardolan in public, there would be a clear basis for their arrest as traitors to the true king of the realm. This had to be finished as cleanly as possible for everyone's sake. No messy loose ends.
Last of all the ship had to be readied. Massuil and his Rangers would accompany Hanasian and Rin and their children. Farbarad, of course, went wherever Rin did. Given the possibility of making a formal report to the court about events in Cardolan, Voromir also joined them. He was, in his words, an independent observer that could vouchsafe from the court's perspective any report given to it without fear or favour. In all this time Rin's sense of foreboding grew even as she continued to recover. Hanasian watched his wife like a hawk. She did not miss a meal. She did not exert herself. He ensured she rested, remained warm and safe and steadily grew stronger with each passing day. And so the inevitable moment arrived. Two royal persons departed the house that day. One went heavily swathed with a small knot of wary Rangers, her husband and her small children. Down the stairs notched into the bluff to the beach, safely into the boat that waited to take them to the ship at anchor in the small bay. Sails were unfurled already and a small crew was already aboard. Rin was whisked immediately below with Elian and Hanavia.
The other emerged in splendid regal garb. A voluminous sapphire velvet skirt, a brilliantly polished and finely worked breastplate and a mail corselet, an elven sword at her left hip and a crown of sapphires and pearls at her brow made for a stunning appearance. She was followed by a hand maiden in Cardolan livery that the real queen had sworn to burn every last skerrick of at the first opportunity in a large bonfire. With them went the First Hero of Cardolan, for where else would he be but by his sister's side, and the Captain of the Free Company of Arnor who had reputedly already committed his forces to the former Company healer's quest to regain her throne. The trap was set and the day was unleashed for good or for ill.
On the ship, the men lined the port rail to watch the shore. They waited for a signal to either come ashore or pull anchor and fly. As ever, the waiting was unbearable. Time dragged and the morning seemed to stretch. Hanasian's arms began to ache from holding the spyglass up for so long. Massuil leaned against the rail and watched his men distributed about the deck. There was a fair wind, he noted, should they have to sail today. Farbarad paced restlessly, jaw bunching. This had to work. It had to. The sun slowly climbed in the sky. The air lost some of its frigid chill. Still the wind was brisk and had a way of cutting through clothing. Rin, unable to bear waiting below materialised at the hatch. Fortunately, Farbarad spotted her before she came onto deck.
"No," he barked sternly, "Absolutely not!"
"I am going mad down there twiddling my thumbs while who knows what unfolds up there," she returned, scowling. Distantly, Hanavia could be heard exploring the galley. Pots and pans were clanging from below deck.
Hanasian turned about and fixed his wife with a particular stare that only he seemed capable of succeeding with.
"Oh very well. I'll make lunch or something," she muttered and the hatch closed again with Rin still safely below out of sight.
Farbarad resumed his pacing and Hanasian turned back to study the shore. The signal had to come soon, surely. It did not and the sun continued its ascent in the winter sky. After a while, Voromir mentioned something about checking on lunch and he padded below deck to do so. Still, no sign from the shore. Had it all gone sour? Rin's sleep had been troubled, Hanasian knew, by a fear she could not articulate. Only that she was drowning in inky, icy water towards some nameless, shapeless creature she somehow knew waited for her below.As he waited now for word, he wondered if his wife had not foreseen a disastrous end to this ambitious, brilliant plan. His stomach was knotted and twisting.
"I am truly sorry it has to be this way," Voromir whispered below deck and all she could see blood creeping across the floorboards, "But this is the only certain way to ensure a united northern realm."
The galling reality was that Voromir was probably correct, Rin thought as she lay on the galley floor. Her senses were flickering. It would not take long considering the state of her current health. The blood continued to gather which surprised her. She had not thought she had so much left to her as all that.
"I will not harm your son or daughter. They are safe. I have placed them in one of the cabins so that they needn't see this."
The floorboards creaked as he walked to the window. He opened it, climbed up and disappeared through it.
On deck, Hanasian gave a tremendous shout as he saw the signal at last. Frea stood on the cusp of the bluff, waving his arms. It had been done. There had been losses, none of them Company. There were some injuries on both sides. It was safe to come home! It was safe to come home! He felt lightheaded with relief. Safe! They had done it! And then he heard a strange splash at the stern of the ship. Farbarad, grinning like a man reprieved from the executioner's block strode down the deck to investigate. Like as not it was Rin disposing of the lunch she was preparing. No one had any doubts that they'd probably not get any. Not that Rin wouldn't try. She always did try. Cooking with an oven or stove was simply an anathema to her that she had yet to overcome.
It came as a shock to hear Farbarad's shout of alarm.
"Man overboard! Quick! He'll freeze!"
Men scurried at that and Hanasian frowned. It had to be Voromir. How he had gotten overboard from below deck was strange, unless Rin tossed him out. He knew she was uncertain about him, but she wasn't in the business of tossing people overboard as a general rule and she certainly was not yet strong enough to overpower someone to toss them overboard. Then a strangled, horrified cry sounded from Farbarad, for he had reached the window and peered inside.
"NO! Oh Eru! NO! Below! Get below NOW!" he cried in Aduanic, shocked by what he beheld.
Without thinking, Hanasian ran for the hatch. The spyglass was left rolling on the deck under the sun, forgotten now. He slid down the ladder and stumbled before he regained his feet and pushed on. The galley, she would be in the galley and she was. Farbarad had climbed through the window and had his hands pressed to her. Blood welled between his fingers. Blood pooled on the floor and around a dagger that had been discarded there. Her eyes had not closed yet, but they were fluttering.
"Ribs. He got her in the ribs. Deep," Farbarad grunted, face pale as he applied more pressure, "Missed the lungs though. Maybe missed her heart too."
Hanasian folded his hands around her face and angled her head back to ensure she could breathe. Farbarad seemed correct. Her lips and teeth were not stained by blood and she was not breathing in a way to suggest her lungs were being filled with it. But her pulse was thready and weak in her throat. She was fading
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
One hundred and forty seven men were arrested and not a single one slipped free. Foldine would be a very wealthy man if he wished to be. A further twenty three rebels perished, Andred amongst them. Only seventeen Company casualties and of them, most of them minor. Loch was so relieved and pleased that he proposed, on the spot, as soon as Rose looked properly like Rose again. He was sweaty, his armour was scuffed and dinted, he'd lost one of his dwarven axes and Andred's blood daubed his chest in a splattered spray. But he proposed all the same. Once she said yes, he noticed that one of his fingers was pointed in entirely the wrong direction and he fainted before he could explain about the ring.
Videgavia was delighted. It had gone perfectly. It had gone so well that even Hanasian would be pleased. But then Folca had arrived on a horse, screaming for Sparks and they all froze.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Spring came and with it renewed life to the land. The great elm tree sent forth new shoots and Stillwater found himself in its boughs, grappling with timber, nails a hammer and himself. It had been such a good idea, but at this rate he would not have it completed by the time they returned from Fornost. He would have broken his thumb and fingers on his left hand, certainly, but Hanavia would not have a tree house. And if Slippery laughed one more time, he didn't know what he'd do.
"Sure you don't want any help?" Donius called up from below, the one proper carpenter in the Company.
"Thanks, but no," Stillwater replied around the nails he gripped in his mouth. This was his idea, his birthday gift to the little boy, and he was going to see it done by hook or by crook.
Tree houses weren't the only thing being finalised. In Fornost, the last of the rebels heard his sentence about the same time that Stillwater howled over his ltest thumb hammering. The sentence was the same as the others before it, but still Rin felt a great weight lift from her shoulders as the words were spoken. She reached for Hanasian's hand and squeezed it tightly. It was done. But she could not smile. Over one hundred men would be executed for treason. It was nothing to smile about. From where she sat, she could see Aragorn was similarly solemn. He and his queen both wore black and silver. Aragorn slowly stood as the sentence was announced by Faramir.
The Prince of Ithilien bowed to the assembled nobles and then to the throne before he strode back to his position. He sat on the left with his wife, the White Lady of Rohan. Now there was a formidable woman, Rin thought. Farbarad had told her weeks ago that Faramir sat on the left because no matter what happened, he could never come to the throne. It was why Rin sat on the right, with the elder children of the King and Queen. Hanasian had to sit to Rin's left. Rin thought it absurd but such things were important.
Aragorn waited until the final rebel was led out before he spoke. He surveyed the gathered court carefully. It was filled with nobles, including the wife and two sons of Voromir. Rin had not seen them before today and she had surreptitiously studied them throughout the morning. Voromir's widow looked, frankly, terrified. Terrified and desperately sad. Her sons, young men, looked angry but really they were frightened and worried.
"It is my hope that this strife is now ended," Aragorn said, "But I have had such hope defeated before. To this end, the Free Company of Arnor will be deployed through the north to seek out any lingering remnants of unrest and to carry this word of this declaration."
Aragorn turned slightly to his right and his eyes cut straight to where Rin sat as if he had known she was there all along. She'd not seen him looking in her direction earlier and frankly had been pleased to slip beneath his notice. Now she found herself regretting her small token of protest about the foibles of nobles. Instead of blue, a colour she was coming to loathe, she had chosen silver that day. Hanasian's hand tightened on her own and she knew she had to stand. Aragorn did not look away. Rin slowly rose to her feet and fought to keep her shoulders straight and expression calm. She had nothing to fear, nothing to hide.
Except a silver dress. Farbarad had warned her. The eyes of the nobles, including Voromir's widow were drawn to her. It was just a bloody dress! Aragorn lifted his arm and then Rin realised that she had to do more than just stand. She glanced down to Hanasian, who still sat comfortably with one foot propped onto his other knee. He continued to lean back in his chair, one arm slung over the back of the seat she had just vacated. Unlike her, he was appropriately dressed and as ever looked utterly distracting. But she did not notice that now. All she noticed was that he was casually seated while she stood with the court's attention on her. She was not going out there on her own.
"Will the Lady and Lord of Cardolan come forth?" Aragorn asked and behind them, Rin could hear Farbarad grind his teeth.
Hanasian rose smoothly, unhurried and unperturbed, and took Rin's arm. Rin could swear he winked at her but it was gone so swiftly she was not sure. Together they walked to where Aragorn stood, paused and made their obeisance. Hanasian bowed deeply and then sank to one knee. Rin curtsied and the movement was steady. Despite everyone telling her she needed to be patient, she was recovered in the main and so she should be. It had been months and she had been doing nothing else but following advice. First Sparks, followed by Aragorn himself upon arrival at Fornost.
Aragorn reached for her right hand and held it so that all could see, "From the outset, despite the perils, the Lady of Cardolan has faithfully served this court. First in surrendering her throne to unite the Northern Realm. Then in her service within the Black Company of Arnor to deliver peace and stability far from our borders. And now, in her own home, to quell rebellion and treachery.
"Time and again she has sworn oaths of service, fealty and fidelity to the High Throne of the Reunited Realm. But, deeper than that, she has honoured the bonds of kinship. As vouched by Lord Elrond himself, this woman is my kinswoman. Her royal descent and rank flows from the same source as my own. And I acknowledge her as such.
"As my kinswoman, so let it be known that henceforth, an attack on my kinswoman is an attack on myself. An attack on my kinswoman's family is an attack on my own. It will be dealt with thusly. Captain Hanasian, you may rise."
Aragorn released Rin's hand as the court murmured around them. Arwen, Rin could see, was watching intently. Aragorn stepped past Hanasian and Rin clung to her husband's solid arm, baffled and feeling as if something overwhelmed had happened or would happen. She didn't know which.
"For years too many to tally, Arnor has known the Rangers of the North. These men of the Dunedain have watched over the lands and those within them. My own Grey Company draw from their ranks and they are sworn to me as their king and their chief. And yet, what of the Rangers of Cardolan? Sworn to defend the heirs of Elendil but not the chieftain of Arnor. Their numbers have steadily dwindled until now only one remains.
"The Grey Company protects my family and children. It is only fitting, then, that the Rangers of Cardolan be restored so that my kinswoman and her family can know the safety and peace that my own enjoy. Whether you be a Ranger of the North now or not, if you swear the ancient oaths and join this number then you will make yourselves known. If you are suitable, your oaths will be taken by Cardolan's Lady and Lord and, in time, an enduring peace long denied Cardolan will be returned to it."
"And now we come to the final matter before us today."
Aragorn spoke swiftly lest the court overtake his address. Certainly, those Rangers that lined the room remained quiet but Hanasian knew they had been as surprised as everyone else by the announcement. Farbarad looked like he might swallow his own tongue, though whether because he was alarmed or pleased was harder to discern.
"In addition to the grievous attack perpetrated by rebels upon the Lord of Cardolan and those men who defended my kinswoman's home, there was a further attack upon my kinswoman even as the apprehension of the rebels was affected by the Free Company of Arnor and my kinswoman's allies and men. The man responsible for this attack perished whilst attempting to make his escape in the icy winter waters of the ocean. He was not a rebel.
"He was a member of our number, this very court. A noble Lord who had served the court well for long years and prominent within Gondor, as his forefathers before him. His lands border those of Dol-Amroth. Lord Voromir took matters into his own hands when he drove a dagger into my kinswoman. Fortune, skill and will alone saw his murderous intentions defeated so that my kinswoman stands here today and not her assailant.
"His reasons and motives will forever remain with him now. This is not the first time our court has been riven by such violence. The Kin-Strife it became known as. Thankfully, that history has not repeated itself now. Despite his actions, the Lady of Cardolan has not repudiated the court nor her liege lord. Lord Voromir's actions are a betrayal of us all. They cannot be left unanswered. I have no recourse but to strip Lord Voromir's house of all title and position, all properties and holdings. In recompense for his actions, his lands and wealth are henceforth the holdings and properties of the Lord and Lady of Cardolan."
All Rin could do was stare at Voromir's stricken widow. The woman was not stunned. There was resignation on her face. Her eyes were closed. Around her, her sons leaned in to furiously whisper to each other. Rin was horrified. In one fell swoop, an entire family had been cast into penury and all that brought with it. She knew just how devastating poverty was. A grinding, wearying, long slow death, a feast of failure and helplessness. Aragorn turned, his wife rose and together they departed the court. The door had not closed behind them before the uproar began.
Chairs clattered as Farbarad pushed them aside in his rush to meet them. With the walls lined by Rangers and Knights and the penalty for doing violence to the king's kinswoman already clearly demonstrated, there was little danger of attack. Still, Hanasian and Rin would be swamped. Already they were surging forward. Hanasian drew back a step but Rin hadn't noticed yet. Her eyes were locked still on Voromir's family.
"We must leave. Now," Hanasian said as he continued to back away, his wife on his arm.
"No, I must to speak to-" Rin began to say, clearly confused by all that had just happened so swiftly.
"Now," Hanasian repeated firmly, and, aided by Farbarad, managed to get behind the knights and towards another door that led, hopefully, out of the court.
Once they had their bearings, Hanasian and Farbarad rushed to the apartments that had been their home for weeks now. Loch was there with Hanavia and Elian, and Rose. Rin was propelled into the room, pale and clearly upset. Hanasian and Farbarad piled in after her. The doors were locked and then Farbarad set himself against them.
"Another day at court," Loch observed dryly as he took in their assorted expressions and then, "I told you the blue dress was better."
No one answered. Rin dropped herself into a chair and stared ahead, mind furiously working.
"What just happened?" Hanasian demanded, harried, and Farbarad shook his head.
"I…ah….am not entirely sure."
"We've acquired Rangers, permanently, if any want to. Any further attacks will be met with the full armed might at Aragorn's disposal. There's a pleasant thought. A powerful noble family from the south has just been dispossessed and their holdings given to us," Rin said, "Which will do wonders for North South relations down there and transform a widow and her two sons into beggars. Through no fault of their own.
"Oh, and I think Hanasian is now a Lord."
Loch's jaw hung open and Hanavia toddled over to his mother. Rin lifted him into her lap and then stood to transfer the boy to her hip. That's when people began knocking on the outer doors.
A week later, they set out from Fornost to home with fifteen new Rangers of Cardolan. It was only a beginning, of course, but it was also a beginning. Rin hoped that the arrangement she had come to with Voromir's widow would stave off trouble in the years ahead. She and her sons would be comfortable, well provided for. That what Rin had planned and authorised. Discreetly, of course. She could not face it if Voromir's widow thanked her for giving them back their chance at a decent life. Best they didn't know. Those who lived on Voromir's holdings could continue to do whatever it was they did. Sheep, she believed, and bees. There was no need to disrupt the long standing trade contracts with Minas Tirith or neighbouring Dol Amroth. Imhrahil had offered to keep an eye on it and she had plans to send Rowdy's men down as well, for safe keeping. They had, after all, been bank rolled by Voromir. They rode slowly, in no hurry and without any need for concealment. They did not advertise their presence or identity either.
Hanasian found himself in the saddle with his son before him. Hanavia had the reins and wildly waved them about as he kicked his feet. Fortunately, the steady pressure of his father's knees and the excellent training of his horse meant that nothing terribly remarkable happened as a result of his youthful exuberance. His son was approaching his second birthday headlong, much in keeping with how he approached everything else now. He had torn Fornost apart at the seams, or so had appeared. Rin rode to his right, with Elian in a sling before her. The spring light illuminated her hair and skin. Elian was smiling now and starting to respond to people. Her character was starting to emerge. Right now, she was gurgling at her mother. Every time Rin looked down at her, Elian grinned at her mother. Such a happy soul was Elian, and yet quiet. Of course, Rin smiled back. A mother's smile, for a child she doted upon. This only made Elian smile anew. Hanasian found a lump formed in his throat that was hard to swallow around. Winter had been dark beyond all compare. Twice his wife had danced on death's doorstep and yet there she rode with his daughter, the gentle breeze making her hair float and lift around her shoulders when she looked up to check the lay of the land ahead of her grey gelding. She must have sensed his attention for she looked across to where he was. Her expression shifted into something else. Never failed to make his heart thump in his chest when she looked at him like that. Hanasian cleared his throat and shifted in his saddle. Hanavia noticed nothing. Perhaps tonight, once the children were asleep, he mused with a growing...smile.
"Rin....When Hanasian proposed, did he give you a betrothal ring?" Rose asked from behind where she and Loch had been furiously whispering to each other.
A mischievous smile played over Rin's features. Hanasian heard Loch hiss something in Dunlendic at his sister. It only made her smile more devilish. Rin held up her left hand so that the sun caught the sapphire at the heart of his mother's ring.
"Why, let's see if I can remember....hmmmmm...so much has happened since Pelargir...hmmmm," she answered without turning about, wriggling her fingers.
Rin looked across at Hanasian and lifted a brow, "Can you remember, my love?"
At that, Loch groaned, "I'm trying! Really I am. It's just there aren't many jewellers about and from everything I've heard, you don't just pick up any ring you may find hereabouts lightly."
Farbarad laughed outright at that, "You are not going find a Ring of Power lying about, not any more. Nice try, though, Kid."
Loch grumbled to himself in Dunlendic for the next hour about how unfair it all was
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.