“How can we, indeed?” he breathed, “We can only ask.”
And even then, they’re not duty bound to tell you anything, this Thar knew from experience. He smiled and took in her features; he could see it now, the marks of Rhun despite the Haradrim trimmings. But ‘family matters’? Here, in the Enedwaith? Unlikely. He wanted, no he needed more. Someone brought her here and he was no closer to learning who. Thar cast an eye about the room; the inn was sufficiently crowded to be private, depending on the spot he could steer her towards. Private enough? For what he needed to do, yes, but for what he wanted to do? No, not in the slightest… Thar shoved all those thoughts aside, after forgetting himself for a blissful moment or two.
“Would you like another drink, we could…?” Thar stopped. Rhowain had suddenly appeared, and with a smile to Diya, he leaned in and spoke very quietly into ‘Hoban’s’ ear, who, once more, nodded curtly once the Lieutenant finished. Rhowain patted ‘Hoban’s’ shoulder as if he were a good friend and left, again taking his place behind Haldreth, who now wore a sizable grin. Thar’s eyes, now rimmed with caution, followed the Lieutenant, and when he noted Haldreth’s expression, Thar chortled and decided to wear a grin of his own. Big, red hairy bastard, he thought to himself.
“Forgive me, Diya, but I think it’s time we brought this game to a close. It seems your goddess, Shri, is turning in for the night and my luck has turned in with her.” Thar turned to the men, who were having a heated debate in Rohirrim, dissecting a minor rule, and whether Dicun had broken it.
“GENTLEMEN, gentlemen, I’m afraid I must bid you goodnight.” The Rohirrim groaned in disappointment. Thar looked over his shoulder at Rhowain, who held his gaze with a grim expression. He turned back to the Rohirrim. “And if you recall, I said this was a winner’s game and … “ Thar faltered. He looked down at the size of the pot on the table; there had to be well over 100 sovereigns piled in front of him. One of the biggest takings he could remember; it was enough to make him cry. He bit the inside of his cheek and kept going.
“…and I saved the best rule for last – the winnings rule: first, we take a few coins for the Inn and a few coins for your gamemaster,” Thar picked out four quarter sovereigns and held them for all to see, “and the rest is divided equally among all the players.”
Thar spoke the final words directly at Rhowain, who had spoken the words directly into ‘Hoban’s’ ear a moment ago. Rhowain also explained what would happen if ‘Hoban’ didn’t follow the suggestion, and it wasn’t an attractive option.
The table erupted into a noisy roar of cheers, groans, and laughter. Several Riders stood and patted ‘Hoban’ soundly on the back, one grabbed and shook his hand, another Rider pressed a few more coins into his hand as tip. Most thanked him in the common tongue and a few began to chant the name ‘Hoban’ loudly while Godric counted out the winnings.
Thar pulled back from the table and turned to Diya, ignoring both Haldreth’s and Rhowain’s glare. He collected her hand up for a final time. “I hope we meet again, Diya,” he said with a smile. He kissed the back of Diya’s hand lightly, released it and left.Jan 8, 2022 at 6:21 am
“Ai’mha ate Shri tuhāḍē kadamāṁ dī rākhī karana,” Diya spoke as the man left, a Rhunic blessing: May Ai’mha and Shri guard your steps.
Is there room at the inn?
The carriage rolled to a stop in front of the stable doors, the driver coaxing two fine roans to a halt with soft words and a pull on the reins. Behind it, two riders in identical livery brought their matching roans to a halt just behind. The riders were burly men, each wearing short, cropped black hair, black leather trousers, boots and gloves, with tabards of black over long-sleeved tunics of white. Each wore longswords on their hips. The driver wore the same attire, but was elderly, with white hair and beard and instead of a longsword, he wore a long, golden-sheathed dagger with a bright white gem on the pommel.
Young Jadden emerged from the stables, brushes in hand, and gawked at the carriage now parked in the stable yard. It was four wheeled, and crafted of fine, black ebony wood, with flashes and trappings of silver and two silver-handled hinged doors on either side. A highly polished lantern hung to either side of the carriage, casting pools of light down in front of each door. In the stable yard’s torch light it looked almost magical.
“Hullo!” the driver called out. He finished tying off the reins and eased himself down, off the thickly padded driver’s seat. He groaned, shook his left leg and limped to where Jadden stood. “The names Alward and my lady,” he gestured to the carriage, “she would like to stop here for the night. Is there a room she could have, and a second for her men?”
Jadden looked awkwardly from Alward to the carriage and back again. “We, ah, we’re just a small village inn, sir,” he replied haltingly, “with only shared rooms for guests, with straw mattresses on the floor. That and we’re quite full up. I’m sorry, we’ve nothing to suit you.”
“I see,” Alward said thoughtfully. “Well, be a good lad and water my horses for me and I’ll speak to her ladyship.”
Jadden nodded and returned to the stable, while Alward beckoned one of the liveried men to dismount and approach the carriage. A panel slid back, revealing a fine cane meshed screened window. While Jadden dropped buckets of water down in front of the harnessed pair of roans, he could see Alward converse in low tones to the liveryman and ‘her ladyship’ who sat discreetly behind the screen. From the far corner of the stable building, Jadden saw his youngest sister, Jasma, peering around the corner. He gave her a scowl but she just giggled from her, very poor, hiding place.
“Why, who is that?” Alward asked with a chuckle.
Jadden took a step back, startled. The old man seemed to appear next to him out of nowhere.
“That’s my sister, sir. She knows she shouldn’t be out here, sorry…”
“Oh, don’t be sorry, boy. She’s just curious…” Alward turned towards the young girl and waved her over. “Come out, don’t be shy,” he said. “Do you want to see the carriage?”
The young girl nodded excitedly and trotted towards them.
The carriage suddenly rocked slightly, and Jadden could see one of the liverymen assisting a woman out of the opposite side of the carriage; a hooded figure, wearing a cloak the colour of dusk. They walked off together, in the direction of the inn. The second liveryman had dismounted and was walking the two horses to a rail and water trough. He tied both off, motioned to the driver and walked off to the far, dark end of the stable yard, disappearing around the corner.
“I’ll be following him in a minute,” Alward said with a chuckle. “We’ve been traveling for quite a few hours now and her ladyship thinks it unseemly to relieve oneself on the roadside.”
The young girl stopped and stood just behind and to the side of Jadden, showing a mix of sheer excitement and absolute shyness.
“And what is your name,” Alward asked.
“Jasma,” the girl replied in a tiny voice.
“Well, Jasma, do you want to have a look? Her ladyship won’t mind. Come, I’ll open the door and you can look inside.” Alward walked to the carriage door and lifted the silver handle. The door swung open silently and the smell of fine incense spilled out from the cabin. A pile of furs lay heaped to one side and several thick, full silk covered, goose down pillows were piled up on the forward facing bench. A small swinging lantern hung from the ceiling, filling the cabin with soft light.
Jasma craned her neck forward but didn’t budge from her spot behind her brother.
“Go on boy, take her closer,” Alward said, stepping away.
Jadden took her sister’s hand and walked her up to the carriage door, where the two of them spent several minutes admiring the interior.
“It’s one of the finest Belfalas carriages ever made,” Alward said proudly. “I am honoured to drive it for my lady.”
Jadden pulled Jasma back.
“Thank you, sir,” he then looked down to his sister, ”what do you say, Jasma?”
“Thank you,” she replied, shyly, giving a slight curtsey
“My pleasure, little lady,” Alward said with a bow. “Say, you wouldn’t happen to have any apples for my two horses, would you?” He looked up at Jadden. “Small payment, wouldn’t you say?”
Jadden nodded and looked down to Jasma, who, once again, was filled with excitement.
He nodded to her and she immediately pulled her hand free and ran towards the inn.
“Ah, and lad,” Alward pointed to the Inn, “my lady’s decided to refresh herself.” He began fumbling with a pouch on his belt. “Would you be so kind as to bring out a jug of ale and a couple of flagons for me and Alric?” He pulled a bright coin from his purse and pressed it into the young man’s hand. “A big jug, mind. Keep the change, lad.”
Jadden looked at the coin; it was a half sovereign and the most money he’d ever held in his life. He agreed with a nod and a smile, and, after tossing his brushes onto a nearby bench, he jogged off eagerly to the Inn.
Alward turned to face the far end of the stable yard and whistled sharply. From around the corner of the building, from the gloom and trees beyond came four sharp whistles in reply. The old driver chuckled softly, propped his aching bones onto the hub of a carriage wheel, and looked forward to the ale and to eating one of those apples.Jan 8, 2022 at 6:50 am
Her Ladyship enters
The newest patrons to the Wayfarer’s Respite alighted the stairs and stopped, taking a moment to survey the scene: the taproom was full to bursting, with villagers standing, crowded around tables, and some forced to sit on one another’s laps while in the farthest reaches of the room a small clutch of musicians struck up yet another dance tune. The scraping sound of tables moving soon followed, making room for a small but lively circle dance. The room hummed with dozens of conversations, punctuated by a chorus of men, cheering off to the right. A crowd of patrons stood at the bar, eagerly waiting to be served.
The liveried man, tall, dark, with short-shorn haired and clean shaven, stood motionless, holding the hand of his mistress, who rivalled him in height. Her features were shrouded by her cape’s oversized hood of dusky blue silk, edged with the faintest traces of silver thread. Beneath the cape she wore a fine silk gown of yellow, and her belt was fine leather, decorated with tracery and studded with gems. They attracted the glances of a few of the villagers, who noticed the fine cut of their cloth.
“There are no tables free,” the man said quietly. He looked about and noticed a table far off to the left, where two elves sat and a third was seating himself, stiffly, and using a walking stick to steady himself as he sunk heavily onto the chair. “I see one table off to the left with a free seat. There are three elves sitting there, though.”
“We’re not here for conversation,” was the woman’s reply. “Most likely, neither are they. Take me over to it, then bring me something to drink. We stay only as long as we must.”
The liveried man huffed in frustration, and was about to speak when the woman jerked his hand sharply in rebuke: “I said ‘take me to the table’ and hold your tongue while we’re here.”
“Yes, m’lady,” he announced loudly, loudly enough for the patrons nearest to hear him use her title, causing a few hushed whispers.
Once at the table where the elves were seated, the hooded woman edged herself to the seat nearest the window, not bothering to ask if the seat was taken. She gingerly pushed aside the used bowls and cutlery to one side before she sat, then waved her man off with a flutter of her hand, dispensing with any formal introductions to those present. From her seat, she was afforded a reasonable view of the entire room; she pulled back her hood to improve her aspect. Her hair was dark, and attractively styled and her features marked her as from the south west coast, with an olive complexion and deep, hazel eyes. She sat confidently with an imperious air as if the Inn before her were her domain, and hers, alone and all the people present, her vassals. She studied each and everyone of them, assiduously. As for the elves at the table, she ignored them.
The liveried man approached the crowded bar and, after a few unsuccessful attempts to push himself forward and angry grumbles from those around him, decided to wait his turn. He looked about the room with bland curiosity, taking in the locals that surrounded him and he decided to get a drink for himself as well, compensation for, what was going to be, a very long night on the road; her ‘ladyship’ can go jump…Jan 9, 2022 at 4:28 am
The woman’s got skills…
‘May Ai’mha and Shri guard your steps’, a Rhunic blessing.
At hearing her words, Thar stopped, recognising them immediately. He turned, and with a brief flash of a smile, he placed his right hand to his chest and dipped his head in acknowledgement. He then threw a cold glance at Diya’s two Rohirrim sentries and continued on.
Where the blazes was Bardy? He wondered.
He pushed through the crowded tap room, dodging villagers and skirting around various children. Seeing as she’d already bathed, she most likely would be in one of three places: outside still, in the stable with the horses or with their gear. He found the Barding in the store room, the lock having been picked, hastily digging through their medicine bag. Their weapons were leaning against the wall behind her.
“There you are. Where have you been?”
“Outside,” she answered, standing up. She pressed several strips of bark into Thar’s hand.
“Why are you giving me fever bark?” he asked, noting Bardhwyn was already chewing on a strip.
To keep you awake. I doubt we’ll get any sleep tonight.”
“Fever bark gives me the runs,” he said, shaking his head. Reluctantly he placed a strip in his mouth. “Are you going to give me any more information?”
“Another warning, stronger,” she answered with a tired voice. “I was outside and it was dark, with too many people about to be sure who, or what. Or when. So, we just have to wait.”
Thar reached over and lightly brushed Bardy’s scar with his thumb, nodding. They’d been in this position before, so he knew to trust her.
“I got close to her, the runaway slave…”
“Her name is Diya,” Bardhwyn said.
“Diya,” Thar repeated, noting her tone; it was the ‘step carefully’ tone. Bardhwyn rolled her eyes and crouched down to repack their belongings. He continued to ‘report’: “She claims she was born and raised in Rhun – the southern desert region; I never travelled there, myself; tribal, from what I remember but it’s clear to me she’s been in Harad, perhaps for some time. Remember the horse? It fits now.”
At that Bardhwyn looked up, thoughtfully. “And the ankle bracelets, ornate, more so than what I wo…” she faltered, then collected herself, “than what I remember seeing in the East.” Bardhwyn swallowed hard, realising how close she came to saying something she’d regret.
“She claims she’s here on ‘family business’,” Thar continued, oblivious. “All the way from Rhun? Doubtful. The Rhun border is leagues away. She can’t have been brought in from the east. We’d have had word of operations that organised long before this..”
“The Butcher would’ve heard and would have told us…” Bardhwyn added in agreement. “Still, we can’t be sure, we need to learn from her directly how she’s here, why she’s here.”
“Well, about that,” Thar stopped, stepping so he could get a clear look into the outer store room. A small girl of ten was carefully selecting a number of apples from a basket on a sideboard. She cheerfully waved and left. “It’s alright, just another one of Madge’s brood,” he explained. “Diya has attached herself to a Rider, for obvious reasons. She’s looking for protection, or aid, I think. And from what I can make of her, she’ll have no problem lining up all the protection and support she needs. She’s ‘got skills’, Bardy,” he said, tapping the side of his nose.
“Does she?” she asked. “Like?”
“Seems to me she reads people, situations and plays them really well,” he answered.
“That’s interesting.” ‘For a slave’, she thought to herself. Bardhwyn sat back on her heels and reflected on how, earlier in the evening in the baths, Diya seemed to make connections quite quickly, even elicit loyalties at a surprising speed. She’d heard rumours of the Haradrim and their slave trainings when she was in the East, rumours the Eastrons dismissed as fanciful; of slave-spies and slave-assassins. She absentmindedly rubbed the length of her facial scar, her concern deepening. Slaves, to be entrusted with such tasks, would have to be deeply broken to ensure their loyalty; Eastrons would never trust a slave to such a degree and thought it impossible the Haradhim could. Yet maybe the rumours were true? Maybe Diya was one of these ‘impossible’ Haradrim slaves? “Now you describe it, I’d concur,” Bardhwyn said, “So, yeah, ‘skills’, as you say.”
“And you realise she could buy a small estate in the Riddermark with the gold on her feet?” Thar added.
“So, too, that Rider, I bet,” Bardhwyn said with a laugh. She looked up at Thar, her look now solemn. “You and I both know what we need to do.”
Thar nodded. He did. Get a hold of her and get the information they needed from her. He looked down at her, and noticed she was smiling.
“You shaved,” she said, softly.
Thar beamed. “I know you like it when the beard grows back,” he answered, wearing a familiar, seductive grin.
As expected, Bardhwyn laughed and nodded, her face brightening for the first time in too long.
Thar waited quietly and kept watch as she packed and tied their gear, wrapping it in fur pelts and securing it with complex lacing. Her hair was dry now, the blonde catching the candle and sconce light, and the gold and blue beads at the end the thin plaits that secured her hair from her face glinted as she moved. Her movements were quick, practised, energetic, a stark contrast to Diya’s languid movements and genteel demeanour. Diya’s skin was soft, as well. He remembered the brush of his lips on the back of her hand…
“Where did you go?” Bardhwyn asked, bringing his focus back into the room. In her arms, she held their short and longswords.
“Nowhere important,” Thar replied.
Her eyes narrowed slightly and she gave him a knowing smile with a nod.
“Partners?” she asked.
Thar nodded, “Partners.”
“We need to hide these somewhere where we can get at them quickly,” she said, pushing the weapons into his arms. “I’m going to see what other exits there are. I’ll meet you in the common room.” Bardhwyn turned to leave, then stopped.
Oh and one more thing…” She took a fistful of his tunic in each hand and pulled him to her, kissing him hungrily on the lips. He returned it, happily. She broke the kiss and held his eyes. “Mind yourself,” she said, “And lock this door behind you.” She left.
“Yes, ma’am,” Thar said with a smile.Jan 9, 2022 at 4:37 am
At the Rohirrim Table
Diya hadn’t meant to use the blessing as a net or a card, she’d offered it in good faith. But Hoban turned and answered with a blessing of his own. He knew Rhûnic! Or at least the parting words she’d spoken. She smirked, repressing a chuckle, and a shake of her head; he must have known who Shri was then, at least on some level. And he might even have understood her comment about him ‘feeling familiar’; foolish words, in that she spoke them without considering first…
Clever player. A sand spider alright. She’d been seduced… played. Well, too. A Master of the game… She… she shook her head again. Somehow, she had no doubt they’d meet again before she left. Why? She couldn’t even begin to guess. She should be wary of his interest and she was, but it hadn’t felt dangerous. Another smile; the sand spider never appeared dangerous until its fangs plunged into your skin… while non lethal to humans, it still left them dizzy and weak, sometimes for days.
She remembered the time C’ian was bitten; her sister was 4 and she was sick for almost two weeks. The healer said she was lucky, but C’ian had been careless, a trait she’d obviously carried into adulthood; leaving the tribe’s settlement for a story, really! She might be meant to become the tribe’s storyweaver, to seek knowledge of the past and the present in the desert sands, but she shouldn’t have gone alone. No! Diya couldn’t, wouldn’t blame her sister. The blame lay with the slaver scum who believed they could treat the desert people like nothing more than animals to be hunted, captured and sold.
Besides, a storyweaver always went alone; it was the way. Man or woman, their quest for the truth was always a solitary one. But it got C’ian snatched by slavers, as Diya was almost two decades before. Now her sister, C’ian, was… somewhere. Somewhere in this country of pale skinned people with hair and eyes of every colour. Diya pulled herself away from the memories, turning her attention back to Haldreth.
It was time she focused on the game that might matter more than any other tonight. There was a small pile of coins in front of her. Ah yes, Hoban had been divested of what should have been his earnings by Rhowain; whatever the young Lieutenant had said to the player, he obviously wasn’t to be trifled with on the matter. She counted what Haldreth had given her and then a few more coins.
“Thank you for allowing me to enjoy the thrill of the game. A rare treat,” she added using the word he’d spoken when giving her the money. “I’d like to pay back in some way.” She whispered, leaning in.
Haldreth’s smile froze on his face. His eyes dropped into Diya’s, and kept falling, deep into their beautiful dark brown pools of loveliness. “P..pay back…?” he stammered. She didn’t speak, she simply nodded her head in reply but held his eyes. Held them tightly, or so it felt and Haldreth liked it. Behind them Rhowain called out to one of the Riders, chiding him for some infraction and he momentarily broke the spell. Haldreth blinked himself free, coughed nervously and recollected himself. “It was nothing, really. You won the money fair and square,” he patted her knee, “it was my pleasure.”
She wasn’t entirely sure about fair and square; the entire pot was meant to be Hoban’s, although Rhowain had changed the rules. Which was probably for the best. And definitely to her advantage. She hadn’t had this much money in her possession, ever. Well, of course if one considered the fortune she wore on her feet, it would be nothing but it wasn’t like she owned anything.
She placed her hand on Haldreth’s, as it touched her knee, kept it there, ran a finger along the length of his.
“Pleasure?” She repeated… if only he knew… “You have curious turns of phrases. But the game seems to have distracted everyone from… what’s keeping you in this – how did you say it earlier? – back water inn…”
Haldreth had definitely lost track of everything and everyone; his mind was pinned under Diya’s hand, and his own, as she pressed it onto her knee. “Sorry, what?” he mumbled. “I didn’t quite follow you there.”
“You are soldiers right? Maybe not that far from home but, not at home. A bit of fun and thrill,” she let the words hang between them for just a second longer than necessary and a small squeeze of his hand – let him make the associations he would. “is always a nice break during an… expedition, no? Even for one as experienced as you with, was it your sixteenth?”
Haldreth’s chest puffed up, pleased that she remembered. He stroked his beard and nodded. “Why yes, that’s right,” he chuckled, “sixteen! Why, I was a lad a bit younger than our Fraomar when I first rode out.” Haldreth then, with his free hand reached over and lightly pinched Diya’s cheek. “You remembered, you lovely thing, you.” Haldreth basked in Diya’s warmth and attention, relieved to be rid of Hoban and not even thinking of Rhowain – he was too young for her anyway. This woman deserved a man with some life experience. “Come here, lass, sit a bit closer so we can talk…” Haldreth pulled Diya’s chair close to his own and curled an arm around her shoulders. “I think this is proving to be the nicest ‘break’ of any expedition yet…”
The pinch of her cheek, the almost endearing “lass”… She might have laughed at the innocence it seemed to attribute to her. She was no blushing maiden. His hand about her shoulders though… demanded more self control. It wasn’t a thing done; his hand passed too close to her tattooed mark and only the Master was meant to touch it.
She laughed softly…
“Ah well, I’ve heard it said that the harder the campaign, the sweeter the break. So maybe I have little to do with how nice yours is…”
She let her foot touch his leg; the barest touch. His hand, his leg… She couldn’t touch his face, not while the young Lieutenant watched, it would be too blatant a denial of his presence in the game. But… it might prevent her from pulling Haldreth over the edge. Or not… the man was lost from the moment he saw her in the baths. But he had no idea of the game she was playing. So… No! Scruples were hindrances. She needed information, maybe help and protection. By whatever means necessary.
“Oh, you have a great deal to do with how nice this break is,” Haldreth replied with a sigh. “And this campaign is,” Haldreth stopped and cast a quick glance over his shoulder at Rhowain, who was conversing with Harald, one of the older Riders in their squad. Satisfied Rhowain wasn’t listening, he turned towards Diya and lowered his voice, saying “This campaign is a load of bollocks. Gondor is stretched thin so we’re up here chasing ghosts and runaway children.” Haldreth lifted his arm from Diya’s shoulder and reached for his beloved flagon, shaking it to determine if there was still ale in it. There wasn’t. “Somebody fill this for me!” he shouted. “Fraomar! Make yourself useful!”
With a scowl, Fraomar did as ordered, standing up from his seat and sloppily pouring ale into Haldreth’s flagon. The red-headed Rider laughed at the young man. “You think you have it hard, Fraomar? You don’t! We’re toughening you up, boy!” Haldreth, still laughing, grabbed the flagon and drank it dry. He slammed the flagon down and wiped his soggy beard on the back of his tunic sleeve.
written in collaboration with Bardhwyn and Jaeniver 😘Jan 9, 2022 at 5:15 am
…Across a crowded room….
After some deliberation, Thar chose the most accessible and least conspicuous place to hide their weapons – the men’s privy. With some careful arrangement they’d hang under the wooden seat and not drop. Bardy would complain but his choices were limited. He emerged into the taproom and its cacophony of sound and for a moment wanted to be back in the relative peace and quiet of the bog. The dancers were still dancing, the musicians were scraping and blowing like mad, the locals were drinking and laughing and for a moment you’d think people hadn’t been out in a pub for months. He then remembered they hadn’t’; the Inn had only reopened that very night. ‘Good on ‘em’, he thought,’life’s too short.’
Thar meandered through the crowd, edging finally into ‘Bardy’s spot’, and proceeded to search for her, but instead his eyes fell on Sejay, or ‘Sedge’ as he was known in clan circles. It didn’t take long to pick him out, Sedge stood a good head taller than the locals, and his half-breed Southron looks set him apart, tawny skin, dark eyes. The short hair was new, as were his clothes; he was dressed in colours, black and white, and finely at that. Sedge stood at the far end of the bar, nursing a tankard and standing in such a way as to keep a view of the room. He stood tall, but he was definitely bored.
Thar watched for a moment, rubbing his bare chin in thought, and felt a familiar presence coming up on his right. How he knew it was her, he could never figure out, but he always could tell when Bardhwyn was near, and getting nearer.
“There’s another entrance out the back on the ground floor,” she began, then stopped, noticing his expression. “What?”
Thar pointed at Sedge and Bardhwyn took him in. “Huh, one of Strickland’s enforcers,” she said. “Sedge, right? The last I saw of him, he was running away from the fight. Looks as if he’s landed on his feet.”
“He looks well fed, too,” she added. They glanced at one another, each aware of the other’s thoughts: something was up.
“Are we still ‘on alert’?” Thar asked, referring to her scar. She nodded, still scrutinising Sedge. She then shook her head in exasperation. “What?” he asked.
“It just never pays to second guess, I have no idea,” she replied. “It could be him, or someone who’s not even walked in yet.”
Thar placed a reassuring hand lightly on her back, feeling the tension underneath. “We’re prepared, ready. Whatever it is, we’ll meet it.” Thar gave her a nod and flashed a grin.
She nodded in agreement and let her eyes trail back to Sedge. “I want to talk to him,” she murmured.
“I know you do,” Thar answered, fondly. “I do, as well. He still owes me money.” She chuckled, which is what he’d hoped. “Come here, wife,” he said, pulling her towards him. She swatted at him but he persisted, and managed to pull her into his arms. They were now well tucked back and in a small patch of shadow. “Come on, kiss me,” he said, teasingly. “This might be our only chance for who knows how long. He can wait.”
Her mind was swimming with foreboding, plans, elven-lore, dwarven-lore and she hadn’t had a chance to ask where their weapons were stowed. Bardhwyn looked into Thar’s eyes, which, in that moment, were playful and happy, and once again she marvelled at how he could just forget everything. So, she kissed him, and for a few, good, long moments she allowed herself to forget, too.Jan 10, 2022 at 11:41 am
At the Rohirrim table
Diya cast another apologetic glance towards Fraomar at Haldreth’s drunken demand, offering a smile and the slightest shrug; Haldreth may think it was nothing but who knew what Fraomar felt about being spoken to in such a way?
Not that Haldreth would care, as he was obviously drunk, which at once was less than enticing – yet she’d found herself in worse situations that still demanded she did her duty to the end – and might make the rest easy.
“Ghosts?” She let a slight tremor fill her voice, though it wasn’t that much of a stretch: one learned to respect the spirits of the deserts. And to fear the Unnamed Ones, those whose stories weren’t told within the weaving of their tribes for their betrayals… A thought came to her, not for the first time: would she become one? Instead she said. “Surely it can’t be.”
“Exactly,” Haldreth replied with a knowing smirk. He pointed to Fraomar and then to his empty flagon, barely suppressing a burp. “People run away all the time,” Haldreth said, looking momentarily at Diya before turning back to supervise Fraomar. “Children, too,” he added, leaning forward to collect his now-filled flagon. “We’re just here, wasting our time, so people can sleep a bit better at night.”
“What could bring children to run away though?”
She asked, not pretending to be at least a little baffled, the question more genuine. In the desert, running away meant death, by the sands or by the hand of other tribes. Whether belonging to the travelling people or living in the cities that dotted the lands of Rhûn, there was little incentive for any child to run away: death or slavery were the only possible outcomes for those found alive and alone. Protection came from being in a group.
Every child of the desert knew that lesson. Diya understood that when she was a child, and she carried the consequences of standing alone as visible marks upon her body and as invisible scars upon her soul. But C’ian would have followed the path of the weavers… no matter how dangerous it could be. It was the reason the tribe would make an exception for her sister. They would claim her back, knowing they should have protected her even in her quest. Again she pulled herself back from these thoughts, as Haldreth replied.
“What makes anyone do anything,” Haldreth answered, “it makes more sense than people thinking they’re being snatched…” It was then Haldreth felt Rhowain’s hand drop upon his shoulder with his head bent low.
“I’m mindful of the hour, Haldreth,” Rhowain said in the common tongue. “We need to think about returning to camp.” The lieutenant then added in Rohirric: “And mind yourself, friend. Don’t let the ale speak for you.” Rhowain let his glance trail from their clasped hands on Diya’s knee to Diya, herself. He smiled, carefully, and switched back to the common tongue. “Would you like more tea, Diya? If so, I’m happy to escort you once again. We can’t expect anyone to come to our table, it is so busy.” The Lieutenant held out his hand, expectantly, not really caring if she wanted tea or not.
Her mind latched on to the word “snatched”. A word she was familiar with in as many languages as she’d learned. He probably would have added ‘by ghosts’, had Rhowain not interrupted, but… a shiver ran down her back.
The young Lieutenant wasn’t to be denied though; his hand held out for her to take, even though there was still tea in the pot beside her, demanded her acceptance. She had no choice about the next move. She released Haldreth’s fingers and let her hand rest on Rhowain’s before she rose with a smile.
“Of course, thank you.”
Haldreth released another burp, and murmured an apology as Diya rose to leave. “Take good care of her, Rhowain!” he hollered, before laughing loudly. “And bring her right back here, Lieutenant!”
Rhowain released a sigh as he led Diya toward the bar. “I find myself apologising yet again for my sergeant. What can I say,” he shook his head slightly, “except he’s a Rider, and one of our best.”
She had no doubt Haldreth was good; one didn’t join and survive sixteen expeditions unless they were skilled. She considered one of Haldreth’s first might even have been during the war.
She smiled at the Lieutenant, as she placed her second hand on his arm. It wasn’t as if she’d discouraged the older Rider, was it? And Rhowain must know that, must have seen it. As they reached the bar, she met Rhowain’s blue gaze.
“And again, I find myself telling you it is nothing. He has been kind more than anything else really. I meant it when I said my evening was made agreeable.”
“I’m so pleased to hear it,” Rhowain replied, breaking her gaze. The bar was busy, with several customers waiting their turn. “We may have to wait a bit,” he murmured. “Why don’t we get some air, come back in a few minutes. There might be less of a crowd.”
There was still tea at the table, and he had to know it. So what…? She had no idea what his game was right now. Another smile hiding the small hesitation.
“If that is your wish, it’ll be my pleasure to walk with you. I am in no hurry.”
Rhowain nodded and led her through a clutch of talking villagers, forcing them to part as they passed.
in collaboration with my delightful partners, Bardhwyn and Jaeniver 🥰Jan 10, 2022 at 12:28 pm
Her Ladyship sees something she wants
The open window was the only thing making the brief repose at the Inn bearable. The room was loud, the libations barely palatable and her immediate company not anyone she had interest to engage with. Her Ladyship waved an ebony handled Pelargir fan, the taut silk stretched over its paddle-like frame delicately embroidered with roses, and she lazily pulled in the cool night air as she perused the room. Occasionally she’d look over to Sejay and check to see he was alert and attentive, and he was, just.
He was an oaf, but he served a purpose, she mused. It was Alric who had intelligence plus a physique. A very nice physique, at that.
She released a little sigh and allowed herself a bit of fond reminiscence when a couple exiting the taproom caught her imperious eye. The woman was tawny skinned and walked with a schooled grace that made the villagers around her look like dancing bears. She walked on the arm of a very attractive young man and the most surprising thing of all, the most astounding observation was the fact she was barefoot – and oh! The quality of the jewellery that adorned her feet. Her glimpse was fleeting but sufficient to see they were exquisite, perfect! They were simply stunning, and she decided then and there, she simply wouldn’t leave without them.
“How delightful,” she murmured to herself, “how absolutely exquisite.” She smiled broadly, reflecting on the good luck she’d had on this very long day.
She lifted her hand and waved to Sejay, motioned for him to follow them while mouthing the word ‘feet’. He shook himself into alertness and hastily looked about, before moving through the dense crowd in the direction Her Ladyship pointed.Jan 11, 2022 at 12:19 am
Rhowain and Diya descended several steps and were onto a small landing when Rhowain stopped suddenly. “Miss Diya, I’m so sorry, I’d forgotten- you’re not wearing any shoes! How stupid of me, to suggest we take a walk in the grounds.” He momentarily pressed his eyes shut out of embarrassment.
She did what she hadn’t done with either Hoban or Haldreth, she reached for his face and touched it softly. His eyes snapped open and she smiled.
“Do not worry about it. I told you before. I’m used to it.” She chuckled. “Though it is true there is little rain in the deserts of Rhûn.” Or those of Harad.
Rhowain nodded, but stiffened slightly and stood a bit taller, putting a bit more distance between them. “Of course, but still, it’s perhaps best we not. Walk. We can have a conversation here,” and just as he spoke, two patrons appeared at the top of the stairs and began to descend. They passed them with nods and smiles, forcing Rhowain and Diya to one side.
She looked up at him, sensing the tension in his body and noticing the distance he established. Ah… so not won over, maybe even suspicious? She hadn’t read the game as well as she might have. A failing there… How to remedy it? She smiled still.
“Of course, what did you want to speak of?”
“Where have you come from, Miss Diya, in truth? A woman, like yourself, travelling alone? I ..ah…I am concerned for you, genuinely so. If you’re truthful with me, perhaps I can help you – Rohan can help you.” He kept his tone even, but in truth he was nervous, and this woman could be of interest to his new superiors who had only yesterday informed him of their true purpose – and just how little information they had. He calmed himself, and remembered he was an officer of The Mark. “Please, you can trust me,” he said.
He believed what he said; it was written on his features, shining in his eyes. But it wasn’t his call to commit Rohan to her help. Even if she weren’t what she was, she would know that. Still it made her smile. She considered her answer; he didn’t quite trust her for all that he offered help. Unsurprising. It came with the position he held.
“I have come from Rhûn; but I travelled through Dorwinion. My guide and I parted ways a little while ago; our… directions…” She paused, looking for the right word; the one that was the truth yet not the whole of it. “diverged?”
“So, If I’ve understood you correctly, you’ve been travelling due west, not from the south? And you’ve been travelling recently with a guide, but you parted ways. When? And what was this guide’s name?”
When she proved to be a backstabbing snake, Diya thought, anger threatening for an instant. She let go; anger was a hindrance, even more so than scruples sometimes.
“Her name was Mikla. She found that… farming was more to her taste than helping me find my sister… I understand. In truth, I never imagined I would find myself as deep into King Elessar’s realm as I am now. I’d hoped to find her sooner . So… Mikla and I must have separated during summer; some time before the harvest, I think.” That wasn’t the exact timing of it, but close enough.
Rhowain listened and once more looked down at Diya’s feet, decorated with enough gold to buy all the farms on his edge of the Westfold. “Mikla, a woman? I see,” he commented. The young Lieutenant nodded, thinking. The scarred woman in the baths has no connection to her at all, then? “How faithless of her, to leave you unaccompanied when you have such an important task.” He then took a deep breath, and made his announcement: “You shall no longer be alone, Miss Diya, for I am formally taking you under my protection, under Rohan’s protection. You will accompany me back to our camp tonight and I will see to it that you are treated well and will want for nothing. My superiors will want to speak to you, as well. I don’t do this lightly, but it is for your own protection. And you have my promise we will do all we can to help you find your sister.”
Rhowain suppressed a smirk at this, for it was a placation, at best, and he felt a momentary twinge of regret for doing so, but there were greater things at stake. Rhowain had watched her all night, and despite her apparent fragility, he could tell she was strong, too strong. She was a strange mix. And he could see how this realisation was quickly overwhelmed by his immediate need to move towards her and protect, if not possess, her. And she seemed ready for it, like a fisherman with a hook. She had a way of luring: Hoban was drawn, Haldreth was drawn and definitely hooked. Even he felt it. He took her elbow and turned to ascend the stairs.
So you see? You now have the aid and support of an entire Kingdom. You’ll have want of nothing.”
She didn’t resist when he made to guide her back up the stairs.
“How? How would Rohan help? I don’t even know where to look… Not…” She stopped herself; she couldn’t tell him the trail went cold months ago, even before she separated from Mikla. He was playing her now, and she’d just given him more than she even gave Hoban, a player whose skills matched hers, maybe even those of Harad’s best.
“I’m most thankful for your offer.” And she was; she did need help. However, she doubted he was serious here. “But I don’t understand… Why would you think I need protection? Isn’t Elessar’s realm safe?”
She let the question hang for a moment…
“There are thousands of us who work ceaseless to ensure the safety of every man, woman and child in these re-united Kingdoms,” Rhowain replied. “And I, here and now, work to ensure yours, Miss Diya.” They stopped and allowed yet another small group of local villagers to descend the stairs.
“Really Lieutenant, what could… threaten my safety? And why would your superiors want to talk to me? I’m no one, just a woman travelling. With a goal yes… But, is that such a rare occurrence?”
She infused her voice with a measure of grateful disbelief, though she was on alert. Why would he want to bring her to his superiors? What could they want from her? She was just looking for her sister.
“Attired as you are, yes,” he replied, starting up the stairs once more. She slowed at this, forcing him to pull upon her elbow. “Please, Miss Diya…”, he said, gently.
She blinked… as if entirely confused by his comment. Looking down at the dress Jorda had kindly lent her. The young woman said she’d fit in, somewhat. But of course it wasn’t about the dress, was it? It was what she wore on her feet. He’d paid close attention… Green, young but not stupid.
“I’m not sure I follow. What can you possibly mean?”
Rhowain stopped and held her eyes. “We’ll make sure to collect your boots before we depart, and your other garments. I promise. Come,” he turned and continued to ascend the stairs.
That didn’t go as expected; at all. And the contradictions didn’t sit well with her. His offer to help was genuine – mostly; but now he would force it upon her. He called her ‘Miss’, a mark of respect she’d never been afforded, yet he would constrain her, and his hold of her elbow was demanding. She had little choice but to follow… Though she reached for him, as if she were grateful for what was being given. She even leaned slightly on the man.
He was forcing her to fold when she still had little idea of what cards he actually held. She could try to resist and leave, but she wouldn’t go farther than a few steps. What was with her tonight? First the scarred woman, then Hoban, now this young Lieutenant… Different players, different games, all lost in one way or another.
She shook herself mentally; it wasn’t about the immediate play, it was about the long game. And sometimes a hand was more significant than another. She just had to find a way to escape the Rohirrim’s notice and leave – the inn being crowded as it was, it was feasible. In fact, she stepped closer to Rhowain so as to avoid the dancers and revellers – let him feel her body against his, let him wonder…
They carefully picked their way back to the Rohirrim’s tables, and she took every opportunity to press against him but the young Rider kept his eyes ahead and only looked at her once in front of her awaiting seat. He motioned for her to sit and she demurely dropped her eyes and nodded, sitting slowly while watching her hand reshuffle.
“Ha HA!” Haldreth cried out with genuine joy at the sight of her, “There she is, our Desert Flower!” The red-headed Rider sat forward in his seat, intending to gaze into Diya’s eyes once again, but he was stopped short by Rhowain’s hand on his shoulder.
“A word,” Rhowain announced to the Sergeant, before walking away, stopping a few feet away and next to a table of card players.
Haldreth, annoyed, looked at the back of Rhowain as he walked away and scowled.
“Now what’s gone and got stuck in his hoof?” he grumbled. He smiled at Diya and patted her hand. “Never you worry, he gets like this sometimes. All het up about some rule or another.” Haldreth rose to his feet, unsteadily, and grabbed Odred’s head to right himself, only to have his hand swatted away. “I’ll be right back, men. Be courteous to our lovely guest.”
Haldreth tottered to where Rhowain stood and an animated conversation in Rohirric ensued. Rhowain’s posture was serious, with arms folded yet, only after a moment or two, Haldreth nearly danced a jig. He righted himself quickly after a stern rebuke, only to drop his hand onto Rhowain’s shoulder, in efforts, perhaps, to make some reasonable point. Haldreth slowly removed it, after yet another stern rebuke and, teetering, listened attentively to his new Lieutenant.
as ever thank you to Jaeniver and Bardhwyn for the collaboration 🙂Jan 11, 2022 at 12:47 am
Old friends in new places…
“Sedge is on the move,” Thar announced. From their hunched position at the farthest end of the bar, and thanks to a screen of patrons, they both appeared like two tired and inebriated customers. Through the press of the crowd, Bardhwyn was watching Diya and the Lieutenant saunter from the room and onto the stairs, not four feet away from them. She swung around to pick out Sedge dodging and skirting customers off to their left wearing the look of a very determined man.
“Stop him,” she ordered.
Thar smiled at her tone, one he’d not heard for a while, the sound of command.
Thar acted. He dove out from in between two villagers, hooked Sedge’s arm with his own and with a cheerful cry, slapped the man on the chest.
“SEDGE OLD BUDDY, HAVEN’T SEEN YOU IN MONTHS!” Thar reeled Sedge in like a carp on a line, pulling him back to the corner of the bar. “Come on over here, there’s someone who wants to see you.”
“Thar?! I uh.. I thought you were …”
“Dead?” Thar said, completing his sentence. “Nope. And you address me as Number One,” he finished, shoving the man into place.
“Number One?” Sedge asked, looking confused. That expression vanished when he saw Bardhwyn facing them both, her arms crossed, standing with her back to the bar. She gave Sedge a hard stare.
“Oh.. ah… right, Number One,” Sedge stammered, giving Thar a nod. He then looked at Bardhwyn, completely at a loss for words, gawping, and very much looking like a landed carp.
“And you can call me Chief,” she said. Again, that commanding tone sending a clear message to Sedge she was now in charge, and had taken Harlond’s place – all the clans now answered to her now.
“Right, Chief,” he repeated. “Congratulations on living and being Chief now, and all… we all thought you were dead.”
Bardhwyn just smiled and nodded, and let Sedge dangle a bit more.
“We didn’t know you were in on this….”
“You didn’t?” Bardhwyn asked, with a shake of her head, looking disappointed.
“We never would’ve stopped here…” Sedge added nervously.
“You wouldn’t have?” she repeated sharply, again shaking her head. She then dragged a hand over her mouth and gave Thar a look of disappointed resignation. He read it, and smirked. He gave Sedge a glance encouraging him to cooperate, or else.
“But you were supposed to stop here, weren’t you?” she asked, probing further.
“Well, yeah, it’s in our territory,” Sedge offered.
“This is your territory, so you’re supposed to be here, Sedge,” Bardhwyn said, tapping him reassuringly on the arm, “so far, so good. Number One and I,” she motioned to Thar and herself with a confirming nod, “we’re here to see how you all get on and work together.”
“Hmm,” Thar added. “And provide back up if you need it.”
“Because you can’t mess this one up,” Bardhwyn added, sharply.
“No, no, we won’t,” Sedge stammered, casting a worried glance over at the stairwell, “She’s just what we’re looking for, ain’t she?”
Bardhwyn gave Sedge an approving smile and nod, but kept silent.
“With the feet and all,” Sedge added.
Bardhwyn nodded. “Yes, the feet. And then…what next?” she asked, like an expectant school teacher waiting for the right answer. Thar relaxed onto the bar to watch, appreciating how good Bardhwyn was at this, strategizing on her feet and twisting people.
“Ah, we look for tattoos and then we know they’re slaves, and bring ‘em back,” Sedge answered, pleased with himself.
Bardhwyn gave Sedge another approving smile and she patted him on the arm. “Very good,” she gently took the man’s elbow. “And this time I want to report back that you’ve done the job right,” she added, speaking in a low tone.
“Because there may not be a next time,” Thar added with a menacing tone. Bardhwyn took that as her cue to forcibly pinch Sedge’s elbow.
“We’ve had a good run this time, we have,” Sedge said, allowing a bit of pride to show itself.
Thar slapped him on the back with a laugh. “That’s what we want to hear! That’s good news…where’s the rest of the crew,” he then asked, casually picking up his tankard.
“Corinne’s over there, Alward and Alraaz are outside and we’ve got another three just in the woods.”
Thar drained his tankard and slammed it down. “Right, then. First the privy, then I’ll go out and have a word.”
Behind them, Rhowain and Diya re-entered the tap room, the Lieutenant looking stiff and formal with Diya still on his arm, but looking lost in thought. Sedge began to turn towards them, as if to interrupt them both.
“Eyes on me, Sedge,” Bardhwyn ordered. Sedge snapped his head back to see the Chief shaking her head in disappointment once again.
With a chuckle, Thar left, patting Sedge on the arm as he passed. “Mind yourself,” he said.
“Sedge, tell Corinne I want to speak with her,” Bardhwyn ordered, and being done with Sedge, for it was unlikely she was going to get any more useful information out of him, she turned her attention to a bit of dirt that had stubbornly lodged itself under one of her fingernails, despite the bath. The man shuffled awkwardly where he stood, confused.
Bardhwyn looked over to the man, clearly unimpressed. She lifted an eyebrow – a message to get moving and quickly.
Sedge nodded and began to weave and dodge his way to where Her Ladyship sat and Bardhwyn watched out of the corner of her eye, following the tall clansman stop on the far, left hand side of the room by the open window, where she and Thar sat earlier. Because of the crowd, she couldn’t tell if the elves still sat there, but if so, Bardhwyn was momentarily impressed with Corinne’s nerve, seating herself down at a table full of Eldar. She always was a bit cocky and self-inflated, and becoming the paramour of one of Harlond’s underlings made her unbearable. But Strickland was dead, and Corinne, cut loose, wouldn’t’ve wasted time. She’d’ve latched onto someone else – the person Bardhwyn really wanted to speak to.
Sedge soon reappeared with a fabulously dressed woman on his arm. Bardhwyn looked over to Corinne, her rival in height, and she casually appraised her attire.
“Nice,” she commented, nonplussed. “Convincing.” Corinne’s expression of confusion was perfect. “Composure, Corinne, composure.” Bardhwyn added with a wry smile. She lifted her tankard to her lips and spoke into it, not giving Corinne eye contact. “We’re here to observe,” she said before taking a drink.
“We? Who’s ‘we’?!” Corinne stammered. “And why aren’t you dead?!”
Bardhwyn, bridled by the lack of respect, bared her teeth and placed her tankard carefully onto the bar. Slowly, she turned and faced Corinne and shook her head in disapproval.
“My, but haven’t we forgotten our manners?” Bardhwyn asked with a cold tone. “And you, such a fine, high ranking lady.”
“She’s Chief now, Corrie,” Sedge added quickly. “Thar is Number One … they’re here to help.”
“If you need it, and I certainly hope you don’t, for all your sakes,” Bardhwyn added.
Surprised by this news, Corinne looked from Sedge back to Bardhwyn and struggled to speak. Her tone softened slightly, as well. “No one told us you were in on all this,” she finally stammered. “This is our territory, our take…”
And there was the Corinne that Bardhwyn knew; self-centred and unable to see past her nose.
“This is your territory, yes, because I say so,” Bardhwyn announced, “and your mark is sitting with an entire squad of Rohirrim. Going well, is it?”
“We only just marked her, Chief,” Sedge offered, only to suffer a yank from Corinne’s hand, the charms on her gold bracelet chiming.
“Only now?” Bardhwyn commented with a wry smile and a shake of her head. She turned her attention back to her tankard by way of dismissal. “Like I said, we’re here to observe.”
“I don’t see how he’d just let you come in over us like this, this isn’t right…” Corinne spluttered. It was Sedge’s turn to pull on her hand, stopping her with a warning look and slight shake of his head.
Bardhwyn turned on Corinne, slowly. “Well, why don’t we go and speak to him about it together,” she hissed, “you and me? He can explain it to you. Let’s waste his time, he’ll like that, I’m sure.” Angered, Bardhwyn sloshed some ale into a discarded tankard and handed it to Corinne. “Here’s the drink you came for, now sit down and do your job.”
Cowed, Corinne accepted the drink and allowed Sedge to lead her back to her table, the two exchanging a few quick, quiet words before Corinne resumed her seat. Sedge took his position back at the opposite end of the bar, standing a bit taller and now with more attention paid to the Rohirrim.
Bardhwyn assembled the pieces: Thar had stashed the weapons in the privy, damn him. Her scabbard will reek for weeks. Corinne’s crew counted seven in total, and she had several of Strickland’s men with her but more interestingly, there was someone higher up in charge, another chief of some sorts, but then again, maybe not. They’d taken her on as Harlond’s successor easily (he’d be pleased, were he ever to learn, vain as he was), so whoever was behind all this was only a par with her supposed station as ‘High Chieftain’, a state of affairs that would not be allowed to stand, not for long. Someone would win out. Bardhwyn sighed heavily at that thought; she’d just painted another target on her back.
And then there was Diya, the runaway slave and the focus of the crew’s attention. Bardhwyn shifted slightly, noting where Diya sat with the Riders, seemingly under their protection and she noted also, the continued, low painful throbbing of her scar. The pieces were still falling into place around her, the danger was still in flux and flow. The pain would stop at some point, usually right before the confluence of actions peaked, leaving her clear headed, free to act, and react but until then, she had to bear it and be on guard.Jan 12, 2022 at 9:04 am
Meeting More Old Friends…
Thar picked his way through the underbrush of the wood that lined the back of the inn and stable, emerging into the gloom behind the farthest corner of the stable itself. He chose to go unarmed, to both save time and to better fit the part. Why arm yourself if you’re confidently in charge?
Behind the far end of the stable he made out three men, one mounted and two busily fastening an oversized bundle onto the back of one of the waiting horses. They spoke in hushed tones but were in no apparent hurry. Thar recognised the two unmounted men, one was Legan Ash, a Harlond man, solid, and the other was one of Strickland’s men, Hersil Loe. The mounted man was new to him and there was no sign of Alward or Alraaz. He sauntered noisily out of the brush and began dusting off his clothes.
“Hello boys!” he called out, cheerfully.
There was a ring of a sword drawn quickly out of its scabbard; the mounted man leveled his weapon at Thar and urged his mount forward.
“Whoa, we’re all on the same side here,” Thar said, with his hands raised. He kept walking, circling wide to avoid the rider. “Who’s the new guy, Legan?”
“Well I’ll be damned, you are alive!” With a laugh, Legan pushed forward, forced down the other man’s blade with his gloved hand and embraced Thar, pounding him firmly on the back. “I heard a rumour you got away!”
“Thank you! Finally someone who doesn’t think I’m dead,” Thar answered, returning the embrace. “Good to see you, Legan!”
“It’s alright, Karso, this is Thar,” Legan said to the rider, motioning him to put up his sword, “remember a few nights ago, we were talking about that raid, in Galmont? This is him, this is the man who scaled the outside of the keep.”
“Galmont,” Thar said, shaking his head and waving Legan off, “that was luck. Karso,” Thar acknowledged the man with a nod. “And it’s Hersil, isn’t it?” Thar extended a hand to Strickland’s man. “We met at a Clan gathering, two years ago, now? I beat you at cards.”
Hersil finished tying off the oversized bundle and reached over, shaking Thar’s hand with a wounded look. “I remember. I still think you cheated.”
“I did cheat,” Thar said with a laugh, embarrassing the man. Thar jostled him back into good humour, patting him on the arm. “I’ll give you a chance to win it back – fair and square – I promise.”
“Don’t believe him, Hersil,” Legan added.
Seeing as Thar now had their allegiance, he took full advantage of it and improved the odds: “Look, I’d love to stay here all night and reminisce but the Chief and I, we’re in place and we’ll back up Corinne and the others, so you three can go. ”
“The Chief?” Hersil asked. “Who’s that…?”
Legan cut across him, with eyes wide. “You mean she’s alive? She’s here?” He turned to Hersil to answer his question.”Harlond’s Number One, the Barding woman.”
“Her!? She’s alive?!” Hersil exclaimed with a shake of his head and a look of disdain.
“Very much alive, yes.” Thar said, nodding, unimpressed with Hersil’s attitude. “She’s inside with Corinne right now. And you can call me Number One.”
“She made you her Number One?” Hersil said with a laugh. “Why am I not surprised?”
“I’m a man of many talents, what can I say?” Thar replied with a jovial tone, but it quickly changed into one both Legan and Hersil remembered – brutal: “And I have a real talent for wiping smug expressions off of faces like yours, Hersil, so watch yourself.” Thar shoved Hersil by the shoulder, and pointed at him in warning. “Respect – you give it, you get it. She’s Harlond’s successor. End of.”
Hersil drew back a bit, and Legan hastily masked his look of concern. “It’s alright Number One,” Legan offered. “No disrespect intended. Hersil was with Strickland, they did things differently, didn’t they, Hersil?”
“Yeah, sorry, Number One”, Hersil mumbled.
From his mount, the third man, Karso, shifted uneasily in his saddle, causing his horse to stamp and fidget. “I don’t know this man, and this Chief woman you speak of,” Karso said suspiciously. His accent was thick, southern and his features resembled Sedge’s but more so. His eyes were now narrow with mistrust and his posture stiff, but more importantly, his sword was still unsheathed.
“You wouldn’t,” Thar countered. “But these two do. If you trust them, you’ll trust me.” Thar’s statement hung in the air, held up by his confidence and casual air of command.
Thar stood for a moment. “Well, what the hell are you waiting for, go!! Go! We’ll see you later. Alward and Alraaz, they’re around front, yeah?”
Legan nodded to Thar’s question as both he and Hersil mounted their horses. Karso kept his eyes on Thar, his suspicion chipping at him like a chisel. Thar took his gaze, held it and silently challenged him – a risky thing to do, but he had the better odds thanks to Legan and Hersil. The contest broke when Karso was finally urged away by the other two; he reluctantly sheathed his sword and spurred his horse to follow.
Thar stood and watched as the three men carefully worked their horses through the wood, until their single torch winced out in the darkness.
‘Three down, two to go,’ he thought to himself as he rounded the corner into the stable yard. ‘Let’s see what these last two are up to.’Jan 12, 2022 at 2:03 pm
Another Game Starting at the Rohirrim table
Diya cast a furtive glance towards Rhowain from below her eyelashes. This was worse than she’d even known when he led her back in. He needed to say nothing; everything right now told her she wouldn’t be going anywhere. She might as well be under arrest. Damn! How had the evening evolved like this? Shri’s upset… she thought with a small smile. She didn’t acknowledge the goddess’s gifts and now she was paying for it.
Not looking up, she observed the men around her… remembering their names from their appearance. She looked at Fraomar discreetly… No; he was too young and already… There was a game to start with the new cards Rhowain had dealt, but she wasn’t cruel. Besides… her lips curled into a smile. One another player might recognize. She eventually raised her eyes just as the man’s blue gaze fell upon her: the blond giant seated next to Fraomar.
His name was… Godric, and he didn’t play dice with the others, though he was the one who ensured the money was properly cast and then divided.
She propped one elbow on the table and leaned on her hand, while fishing a coin she’d won from Hoban – well really from the Riders – out of her small purse. She looked at it, letting curiosity show, then back at the man, a question in her own eyes. As if she were hesitant to ask anything. Would he pick it up? Or was he too drunk? An opening gambit.
“It’s a quarter crown, that,” Godric called out, clearly comfortable where he sat, his long arms crossed about his chest and his legs thrust out under the table. Fraomar looked at him, his mouth agape. The young Rider then elbowed Godric, forcibly. “What are you doing?” Godric barked. Fraomar nodded at Diya and muttered something in Rohirric. “I am talking to her, you daft bugger,” Godric said, shaking his head.
She considered his response – he wasn’t intent to move for now. Fine… She could work with that. She pulled out a few more coins, sorting them by type. There seemed to be at least four. Some were made of silver – as she’d tended to call them – others more like bronze metal. And a few were bigger. She picked one. The names were still unfamiliar but… Let them think she had absolutely no idea if they wished.
“What of this one?”
“That is a half crown,” Fraomar announced, pleased with himself.
“That’s right, Fraomar,” Godric said. “And what is the other one, there?” Godric pointed at the coin left on the table. Fraomar stood in his seat and looked, his face puzzled.
She couldn’t see from where she sat so she stood to get a better look at the coin the man pointed. She knew better than to try and move to the other side of the table for now; she could almost feel Rhowain’s gaze burn into her neck even though the Rohirric whispers hadn’t stopped yet.
“Is that what you call a two crown?” She asked… hopeful. Yes, hopeful would work.
“Yes, she’s right, that’s a two crown,” Fraomar said, looking at Godric. The tall Rider smiled and shook his head. “That’s a crown. The two crown has the edges, there – see?” He pointed at a smaller coin with six sides to it. “It’s smaller but worth more,” he added, “probably because the High King is running out of metal like he’s running out of paper and parchment, or so I hear.” He nodded at Diya’s takings. “You have a tidy little sum there. What are you planning to do with it?”
She paused; a king running out of metal? That was weird; another piece of information to keep close. But as to the man’s question… she took a moment to consider the answer; this one could be truthful. After all…
“A warm cloak for the winter that’s coming. This weather is already colder than what I know.” She chuckled softly. Before she looked at him again.
“You… chose not to play. Earlier… May I ask why?”
That wasn’t subtle… but it didn’t need to be. Not just yet.
Godric uncurled his arms and pulled himself up in his seat, looking at tad nervous. “Well, I wanted to watch everyone play and learn the game, first,” he said with an even wider smile. “Shame it ended so soon, or else I would’ve played,” he added, looking down at Fraomar, “even more so had I known about that new rule at the end.”
“You are not a… gambler, then?” She asked, eyes locked with his, a smile playing on her lips. Could it be that the man had no money to play with? No, he was a man who knew when he was being conned out of his hard earned pay. Someone who didn’t take useless risks… a good reminder there? She’d taken too many tonight and it wasn’t paying off.
Godric hesitated, but Fraomar spoke up: “Oh he is a gambler,” the young Rider said with a grin. “Aren’t you?” Godric nodded yes, then shook his head no. Fraomar looked confused. “And what did you mean ‘the new rule at the end’?,” the young Rider asked, “I thought you didn’t know the game?”
“Well, I didn’t know that particular game, but I’ve played other games like it,” Godric said.
“So you knew it?” Fraomar asked, sounding a bit impatient.
“Then why did you act as if you needed to learn it?” Fraomar asked.
“The rules were clearly different, Fraomar. And the rules for that sort of game aren’t usually in the player’s favour.”
“What do you mean?” Fraomar asked, irritably, “the rules aren’t in a player’s favour?”
“Well, ah…”, Godric looked slightly panicked and made a desperate, silent plea to Diya for help.
So he’d known too.
“It is a trick, Fraomar…” She offered. She took the cup of tea and finished its content before turning it upside down over one of the coins she’d sorted. The small bowl holding the pine nuts she emptied on the table, turned it over too. She’d need a third cup but two would do. She started moving them about the table even as she continued to speak. “As soon as you sit at the table you are already losing. Even if you don’t think so.” She stopped moving the cups and asked. “I’d ask you to pay a half crown to guess where the two crown is hidden. Where do you think?”
Unsurprisingly he showed her the teacup. It wasn’t underneath. His eyes opened wide, as if he were wondering how she’d done it.
“Your attention is kept where the game master wants it. In a dice game, it’s the excitement. A quarter crown every time you roll the dice. But you roll more orcs eleven than you think. And usually the game master takes the entire pot.”
“What do you mean, he takes the entire pot?” Fraomar asked, first to Diya, then to Godric.
“Well that was the new rule I mentioned, Fray,” Godric answered, “the game ended differently and Hoban left the pot. He was planning to take it, and it hurt like a goblin’s bite leaving it behind,” Godric laughed and shook his head, “I could see it. You have the Lieutenant to thank for your winnings tonight.” He gave Diya an appreciative nod of thanks, as he had an inkling she knew the truth of the game, as well.
Fraomar looked over to Diya, his expression still one of shock and disbelief. She smiled pleasantly and shrugged, tidying up her cups and coins.
“He was going to steal from us, then?” Fraomar asked.
Godric nodded while Diya shrugged, the smile still on her lips. “But you had fun, didn’t you, Fray?” Godric asked, trying to humour the boy.
“That’s not the point,” Fraomar said, angrily. “If I see Hoban again, I’m gonna teach him a lesson.” Godric raised his hand in warning, but Diya spoke first:
“Think of it as a lesson Hoban taught you. Never sit at a table unless you’re aware you might lose. And if you do choose to play, then you must accept that loss is a possibility.”
She picked up the two crown she had him play with and turned it in her hand.
“He offered a game… we chose to play. Take a chance. You learned something useful tonight. Be grateful it came at no more cost than bruised pride.”
“And men like Hoban,” Godric added, “they’re not the sort of men you seek out and teach lessons too, Fraomar.” His voice was grave. “They’ll teach you instead, teach you about pain, lots of it.” Godric threw his arm around the young Rider, “And this I say from experience.” He jostled him, smiling. “Come, a toast!” Godric collected three discarded tankards and hastily poured the last of the ale from a pitcher into each. He handed one to Fraomar, another to Diya, and he took up the third. “To lessons learned!” he announced.
She lifted the offered tankard – it was heavier than she expected – with a smile before depositing it back on the table, as she repeated back the words softly.
At least one hand that went well and – almost – according to plan. She’d been more honest and straightforward with these two, than she would normally be. It had paid off though. Now she needed to figure out how to use the good will earned to avoid that unwanted ‘protection’ and the trip to the Rohirrim camp. She was considering her option when Haldreth saw back next to her.
Haldreth dropped down into his seat, next to Diya, his countenance altered. He looked aside at Diya, then blinked a few times, as if his eyelids moving were an aid to his thinking. He took a inbreath and finally spoke.
“Rho… I mean the Lieutenant, he tells me you’ll be coming with us back to the camp,” Haldreth then coughed, and cleared his throat. He reached and tested a few tankards on the table, looking for a mouthful of ale. He found a full one in front of Diya, and looked thoughtfully into it. “I can’t say I’m disappointed,” he added with a quick grin, “but …” Haldreth stopped himself, aware he was about to divulge his disagreement with the Lieutenant’s decision – never a good thing for a subordinate to do. “Let’s just say we’ll make sure your stay with us is comfortable and hopefully short,” Haldreth said, patting her hand where it sat on the table. “Unless of course, you find it to your liking and then you can stay for as long as you choose.” He let his hand rest on top of hers, gave her a sideways glance and smiled before downing the ale in the tankard. “Now, I wonder what you have to do to get some food around here? FRAOMAR – go order some food!”
Hopefully short… Well that sounded ominous… and unlikely. Even Haldreth’s countenance had changed. Thoughtful almost, as he looked into the tankard full of ale. Yet, he laid claim to her hand once more. Except the game had changed again. And the red-haired Rider’s loyalty was returned to his Lieutenant.
So Diya had to modify her strategy. Again… This was somewhat unsettling. The rules seem to keep changing… how was she supposed to play and make a move if she didn’t master the rules? The West, its men – and women – were proving simpler yet more complex than what she knew. When Haldreth barked another order at Fraomar, she sighed, resting her hand on his again.
“Leave him be.” She whispered gently, surprising herself.
It’s not that she didn’t mean it, but saying it out loud might change the game again. Still, the young man had learned a difficult lesson tonight; and he was no slave for Haldreth to order around.
She’d not only surprised herself, she’d surprised Haldreth as well. He looked at her, quizzically, wondering why she should care. Fraomar was already out of his seat, climbing over the legs of the Riders sitting next to him and making his way to the bar. He thought for a moment, smoothing his moustache and beard with his free hand, and then posed his question to the beauty sitting next to him.
“What do you think is going to save that boy’s life in a battle?”
This BAP is courtesy of Jaeniver, Bardhwyn 😘 and yours truly,Jan 13, 2022 at 12:51 am
Fraomar needs a breather…
‘To lessons learned!’
Godric drank, aware and watching from the corner of his eye, that this exotic Rhun woman wasn’t. He’d forgotten, she didn’t drink. He watched as she sank quickly into her own, exotic thoughts. She was an interesting puzzle, and young Fraomar was right, she watches everything.
The young Rider at his elbow was still steaming like a soup cauldron over the camp’s fire and he finally spoke, slurring his words only slightly: “What sort of lessons?”
“What’s that, Frae?” Godric asked into his tankard. He finished it off.
“What sort of lessons do men like that ‘Hoban’ teach you? Tell me,” Fraomar asked, or rather insisted. He’d pulled himself forward in his seat, and hunched himself over, elbows on the table before him, like some mountain cat, ready to pounce. His blue-grey eyes were getting a familiar look, the look that popped up usually before the young Rider threw his first punch.
Godric dropped his tankard down in resignation, his eyeballs rolling up into his skull.
“Well, let’s see,” Godric said with sigh, “there is the one where he and his mates outnumber you in a back alley somewhere, which is my personal favourite,” he began, “and if you’re lucky, you’ll leave that lesson with a few broken ribs, or a nice broken nose.” Godric pointed to his own, slightly crooked nose but Fraomar’s eyes were searching the room, looking for his erstwhile teacher, Hoban, and not listening. Godric leaned in, “Then there is the lesson where he learns who you love and threatens their life, like Jocosa, for example.” Fraomar’s head swivelled as if on a pivot, his eyes blazing, just as Haldreth’s bark cut across the noise and music with another order for Fraomar, this time to for food.
“I won’t let that happen,” Fraomar hissed. He quickly got on his feet and started climbing over the others, to Godric’s alarm but Haldreth’s satisfaction. Godric followed.
Godric’s long legs quickly caught up with the young Rider as he headed for the stair descending down to the building’s entrance. Godric grabbed him to a halt just before the bar, his hand grasping the back of his leather cuirass. “And where do you think you’re going?” he asked.
“Hoban! He was just here, I saw him leave, I..”
“No, YOU are ordering food for our squad sergeant and his little girlfriend,” Godric corrected, steering him to the bar. “So, do as you’re ordered, Rider, and then you and I are going outside to have a little talk and cool you off… go on, order!”
Godric waited for Fraomar to agree, his hand still firmly clamped onto Fraomer’s cuirass, looking like a parent guiding some errant child, which was exactly how Fraomar was acting, so Godric didn’t mind. He pushed the young Rider forward, letting him order, then wheeled him towards the stair.
“C’mon, outside,” Godric ordered. They descended the stair quickly, and gratefully with no sign of Hoban, and emerged into the night air, The torches to either side of the main entrance burned brightly and cast a warm light for some yards into the evening’s gloom. Godric stopped just at the light’s edge and released Fraomar with a slight shove, the young man spinning about to face him with his punch-ready gleam burning brightly in his eyes.
“Go on then,” Godric said, folding his arms across his chest, “just try to punch me.” He towered over the young Rider, half again as tall, but Fraomar was feeling mighty.
“Don’t tempt me!” he bellowed.
“It’s not me you want to punch, though, is it?” Godric asked. “It’s not even that Hoban chap, it’s Haldreth,” he continued. “And you can’t, not really, not the way you want, because he’s your superior…”
“That red bushy bastard has nothing to do with this!” Fraomar shouted.
“Oh, he doesn’t, does he?” Godric asked, smiling. “Are you sure about that?”
“I’m positive!” Fraomar yelled. “He’s an arrogant bullying bastard but… but..”
“Yes, he’s an arrogant bullying bastard …”, Godric agreed, falling into a casual lean against the Inn’s plastered wall. “And? Why?! Why do you think he’s an arrogant, bullying bastard?”
Fraomar kept spluttering, his face turning ever deeper shades of red with each ‘but’ he spat out. The ‘buts’ stopped and a new thought boiled behind Fraomar’s eyes. “Because he hates me!” Fraomar finally barked.
“He’s an arrogant bullying bastard, Fraomar, not because he hates you, but because he’s trying to shape you into a Rider of Rohan,” Godric said. “He’s doing it to temper you, like a good, solid sword needs tempering.”
And as if on cue, the voices of their squad rang out from the windows above, singing a Rohirric battle anthem…Jan 13, 2022 at 2:24 am
At the Rohirrim Table
“What do you think is going to save that boy’s life in a battle?”
Haldreth’s tone had changed again… and with it, as Diya had expected, the game shifted once more. But she knew, of course she knew. The same thing that saved a slave’s life every day. Until one day, it didn’t. And if Haldreth was the slightest bit attentive, he might even hear the resignation, she couldn’t quite hide, in her answer.
She shrugged; a major tell that, if any of the Riders cared to notice. But she had no strength left to pretend here, and her shoulders dropped, as she looked down. What Haldreth would think it meant though, she wouldn’t try to guess.
“I imagine obeying orders…”
“Exactly!” Haldreth said with a nod. “Following orders. And that boy there, he needs to learn how to follow orders.” Haldreth turned to see the young man weave his way to the bar. “He’s got his wits about him, that’s for sure but he thinks he knows it all, when in fact he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. Not yet, anyway – and that’s where we come in. All of us.To help that Rider learn.” He turned back to Diya and his voice softened somewhat. “We want to see every Rider go to their graves with gray hair, Diya. Never the colour you see now.” And with that, Haldreth began to sing a deep voiced song in Rohirrim that was immediately taken up by all the Riders at the table. Even the Lieutenant joined in, standing just behind where Haldreth and Diya sat.
Far we ride, with spear and sword,
We ride for Rohan, its own reward,
We ride for hearth, we ride for home,
We ride so our children grow up and grow old.
Rohan! Rohan! We defend and we die!
Rohan! Rohan! Where bravery resides!
Brothers, Sisters, come and be bold,
Take up the horn and raise the Westfold,
Take up the shield, to defend and protect.
Be fearless, be brave and above all reflect,
Rohan! Rohan! We defend and we die!
Rohan! Rohan! Where bravery resides!
One life to have, one life to live,
One life for Rohan and all that it gives,
Our kingdom, our steeds,
The grasslands o’er they roam,
Rohan the heart and Rohan, our home.
Rohan! Rohan! We defend and we die!
Rohan! Rohan! Where bravery resides!
Diya had been about to answer, but thankfully, he began singing. That had hit too close to home. She’d have revealed too much: grey hair meant nothing in her world. Grey hair was the hope for another life. And hope was useless at best, dangerous at worst. She must be tired; she was getting careless. Another dangerous thing.
Every single man at the table joined him; even the young Lieutenant’s voice rang behind her. Tired indeed, for she hadn’t yet marked his return. She didn’t understand their words, but she didn’t need to. There was a sense of brotherhood here that she’d noticed before.
Not one of these men would be played against another; their loyalty was to each other. She could see it in the gazes exchanged while they sang, in their posture, as if they were supporting one another without even touching. She found herself envious of that companionship, that unwavering trust. Not something slaves could afford.
And even though she guessed it probably meant all her cards were played, and that particular game was lost, she couldn’t help but be moved by it all.
written in collaboration with Bardhwyn and Jaeniver
The Rohirrim song is written by the very talented BardhwynJan 14, 2022 at 12:13 am
Petitioner to the Council : 5 posts
Givi Rides Inn
Givi traveled the plains the easy way. At the market just below the passes, he attached himself to a train of wool traders as a guest, guard and entertainer in one. Past the foothills, Givi bid them farewell. He sought out places where his old comrades lived, who had given their names to his keeping in the war. He gifted fine dawn shawls to their wives, told stories to their children, and then sat with the men by the fire, and remembered the names of the dead.
Hamlets turned to villages, and then to small towns – larger haystacks, where one name was but a needle. Once Givi found a friend, however, that friend would gather a handful more, or a dozen, or an inn full. Then, drink flowed, and hillman strove to keep enough wits to learn new songs that sprung up like weeds since his last journey. That was his excuse when he put his hand between the cup and the jug. There were more strangers than friends around him on those nights, and he had to stay wary.
Givi left a wide trail behind him, easy to follow by his mountain clothes and his limping gait. The bard’s pin on his shoulder explained much, as did the dar behind his back. A bard was expected to be a traveler, allowed to stand out. On his right hand, he wore a silver ring with the White Tree, given to him by Elessar himself. Around his left wrist wound a string of small turquoise and coral beads, a gift from his friends in the sands. The dagger stuck through his belt was hill made, a foot-long blade in a lacquered, steel-tipped sheath that was a weapon in itself. The sword was the Eastern kilij that he had taken off a slaver’s body.
By the time he reached the crossroads, even Givi had his fill of company and was ready to spend the night in the fields. But this was a checkered land, fenced and divided. Grass was someone’s, even the woods. An inn it was, he decided with a wince. There was bound to be one at the crossroads. He could sing for his supper, or save his voice and spend a little silver.
From the outside, the inn gave off the flickering firelight and the humming sound that signaled it being packed. A fiddle played, tuned to Givi’s least favorite pitch. He rubbed his forehead, and considered the fields after all.
It was then that he heard the song, faint, but louder than all the other noises. The tune was the one he knew, or very much like it, and there was no doubt of who was singing it. When the song was done, Givi dismounted and led his horse into the stable yard, headache forgotten.Jan 14, 2022 at 11:14 pm
In the Stable Yard
An older man emerged from the stable into the yard, limping slightly, with a tankard in hand. His smile was kindly behind his white beard; he raised a hand in greeting.
“Evening, and welcome,” he took a moment to stretch out his back, “ah, the aches are bad tonight. Rain must be coming. You be wanting to stable that horse of yours? I think we can make room. Is she good with other horses? We may have to put her in with another mare.”
Givi returned the greeting and gave his horse a doubtful look. “She should do well enough. We’ve practiced sharing, these past few weeks. Best if I stable her myself, if you show me where?” He offered a coin, not wishing the man to think that he would lose on rewards if he skipped the labor. His horse seemed to think the lowlanders smelled wrong, although she liked their grain just fine.
“Ah, put your coin away, my friend,” the man said amiably, “stabling will be added to your tab. And as much as I’d like it, you doing my job for me, I’ll have to ask you to tie your fine horse to that rail over yonder, while I move a few of these horses around. We are full to burstin’ tonight..” the man trailed off, turning slowly back toward the stable, he took a long pull from his tankard. He waived over at the rail, off to the left of the stable door, in front of which was a full water trough.
“Take any valuables with you,” he called over his shoulder, “there are lots of foreigners about.”
A foreigner himself, Givi frowned, but the advice was sound. His travel funds, in silver and lapis, were hidden under his clothes, and the purse, to which the coin has now returned, only held small change. But there were other things he didn’t want to lose, starting with his dar.
He slipped off the bridle and replaced it with a rope halter, although he didn’t tie it to the rail. Sirpa was not going anywhere while he was next to her. She also may not go anywhere if he was not around.
“If it is all the same,” he called after the stable hand, stopping him just at the stable door, “I would rather come with you. In my land, it is a custom to care for our own horses,” he explained, stretching the truth only a little, and letting his accent thicken as he spoke, “and that’s all she is used to. I’ve been training her out of it…”
The old man turned about, slowly, his smile now less amiable, and perhaps even strained.
“Like I said, I gotta move some horses about…” he studied the man, and, seeing that his mind was set, he let out a slow exhale and nodded. “Alright, just wait here, I’ll have a gander, see where we might put her. Just wait here, if you please..”
He moved inside and off to the left, out of sight, while in the distance the faint sound of hooves could be heard, approaching from the west. From the stable Givi could hear the sound of a stall gate opening and closing, then a wracking cough, the stableman’s; it sounded deep and unpleasant. After a minute or so, the stableman limped into view, having left the tankard behind.
“Right, I think this stall here ought to be fine,” he pointed at the third stall that faced the stable’s open door, where in the back stood a horse whose coat was difficult to make out in the shadow.
“That’s a mare, too. She might be a bit skittish, mind, so if anything happens, you’ve been warned,” the man added, but his attention was now looking west, his ears picking up the beat of horse hooves.
“Like I said, busy night,” he mumbled.
“Thank you for humoring us,” Givi returned. “Come on, you trouble,” he told Sirpa, who was mincing her steps and sniffing the air. “She’ll follow me into a flood or wildfire, but a strange stable is too much to ask. Come, learn to make friends.” Sirpa came, and suffered to be led inside, where Givi was the one to balk.
“Hello, and who are you?” he said to the beautiful visitor who was to share Sirpa’s stall. Whose are you, was a better question.
Givi fed Sirpa a lump of sugar, her favorite thing about the plains, and then debated treating her neighbor. She seemed less spirited than the fireblood he rode in the desert, who would have taken fingers off for such impertinence, after eating the sugar. Givi settled on the side of caution and busied himself with his own horse.
“You were not joking about foreigners, friend,” he turned to the stable hand, “Whose is she? You have Southrons here tonight?”
The stableman ambled up to the stall’s open gate and peered in, suppressing another wracking cough as he approached, his brows knitted.
“Hmm.. yes,” he answered, “can’t miss ‘em, can you?” he offered, looking idly down the left-hand length of the stable, “all dark hair and dark eyes.” His attention snapped back to the immediate matter at hand. “How you gettin’ on here, do you need any help? I have a feelin’ I have some more work coming my way, so…”
“As you say, busy night,” Givi said, emerging with his dar on one shoulder and his pack on another. The newcomers, three of them, were almost to the inn. They were Rohirrim all right, and there was enough metal glinting off one to mark him as a commander of some sort. The men inside must have been his, and Givi hoped they had enough time for ale and food before the officers took over.
He hovered at the stable door, debating whether to wait and greet them or head inside, then decided that his own needs took priority. For one thing, standing still was always uncomfortable after a long ride, and a walk would ease his aching leg. He raised his hand to greet the riders, and headed toward the inn’s door.
Alward watched the foreigner walk off, bag slung on his shoulders and in the distance he counted three Rohirrim rounding the Inn’s outer buildings, all bright, shiny and armed.
“Morgoth’s breath”, he muttered. He turned on his heel and hobbled back into the stable.
“Alraaz, stay put!” he hollered down the stable block.
The liveried man leaned out, over the gate of the farthest horse stall, a jug and tankard hanging from each hand.
“What now?!” he hollered back.
“Riders, officers from the looks of ‘em. Stay out of sight, you nonce, do y’hear?!”
Alraaz scowled but ducked back down and out of sight. Alward took a deep breath, composed himself and hobbled out into the stable yard, once again to play ‘stablehand’; every passing hour made their situation more risky but oh, there was a Southron inside and that news made it all the more worthwhile.
The three Rohirrim clattered to a halt in front of the stable doors and Alward smiled his best, ‘I can be trusted’ smile.
“Evening, and welcome,” he then took a moment to stretch out his back, “ah, the aches are bad tonight. Rain must be coming. You be wanting to stable those horses of yours? I think we can make room….”
In the dark, and hidden by the shadows cast by the corner of the building, Thar watched and listened, shaking his head in frustration at the unnecessary risks Corinne’s men took, pretending to work here; idiots! What were they thinking? Just tell the flamin’ truth, the boy had stepped away and would be back shortly. Take a seat, he won’t be long. Why the game playing?
“Idiots,” he hissed.
He quickly shrunk back and uttered a curse at the sight of the new Riders; armed, clearly all officer class, and they were never a nice addition. Rank and file Rohirrim you could reason with, Rohirrim officers all had sticks up their arses.
The officers dismounted and a friendly conversation with Alward ensued; Thar’s opportunity to confront the remainder of Corinne’s crew was now gone and besides, ‘the Chief’ was waiting.
He slowly withdrew, picking his way through the darkened brush and shrub until the Inn’s front entrance was in sight and then he waited, out of sight, until an odd reunion between the newcomer and two Riders reached its natural conclusion.
Givi written by FrelgaJan 15, 2022 at 2:06 am
A Familiar Face –
Under the soft and spreading light of the front entrance’s torches, Godric listened to Fraomar, but not really. He nodded and dropped in the appropriate ‘hmms’ and ‘ahs’ at points when the young Rider either ran out of steam or had worked himself into a lather. The boy was clearly working through all the anger and frustration that was fully expected of a junior squad member having to cut his teeth in the Eored; he knew because he had to go through himself, as did every other Rider. From around the side of the Inn’s sprawling set of buildings a shadowed form approached, limping slightly, carrying, apparently all his worldly possessions, having no doubt just stabled his horse with the keen-eyed youngster, Jadden, and now was wandering up and into the Inn for a hot meal and an uninterrupted night’s sleep. Yet, something tickled the back of Godric’s mind. The limp, and the manner of dress. Yes, as the man approached it was clear, this was a hillman, his dress screamed
Lamedon”: a long and wide frock coat, a fleece hat, blouson trousers stuffed into tall boots, and on his back, a large object, a musical instrument of some kind? A smile spread over Godric’s face.
“Well, I’ll be a broodmare,” he said.
Godric stood, taking himself off the plastered wall of the Inn, and he stared in the direction of the approaching stranger, so much so, Fraomar stopped ranting and turned to look as well.
“Who is it?” Fraomar asked.
“Not sure,” Godric replied, “but it could be..it might be. No, it can’t be.”
“What? Who? Godric!”
“Shh.. just hold your horses, Frae. I might be wrong, and if I am, I don’t want to embarrass us or this poor traveller.”
He shushed the young rider a second time, just as the hillman reached the Inn’s threshold.
“Hail and well met, friend,” Godric called out. “You wouldn’t go by the name of Givi, would you?”
Hearing his name, Givi stopped so abruptly that he almost tripped over his feet. He caught himself without dropping his load and returned the greeting. His Rohirric was just enough for basic courtesy (not counting a few obscenities, which men everywhere felt it their duty to teach friendly foreigners. Givi quickly learned to approach a stranger with “Your friend over there told me that your preferred title is Horse’s Arse, is that true?”).
“It is my name, yes,” he admitted, peering at the Rider. He had the hardest time telling the Rohirrim apart, they being all similarly blond, pale faced, and blue eyed. “Have we met?”
“Ah well, no,” Godric said, genuinely pleased, “not me, you’ve met my brother, Haelwic. He spoke of you often. You’re a bit of a legend among Rohan’s music-folk, my brother being one. He had a fine voice, well, he still does,” Godrick chuckled. “He plays the hand drum? He’s tall, like me, in fact we all are; my poor mother suffered birthin’ all of us, seven, in all, all of us tall. Haelwic, he told us all manner of stories, of you and your country men.”
Givi grinned, pleased to be remembered. “Haelwic… Haelwic! Yes, I recall him well, and his drum. He rode a tall gelding, sorrel with one white stocking. He spoke of me? He is well, then? I’m glad.”
Godric extended his arm, with a warm smile. “Yes, he’s well, and now married, with four bairns..I mean children; they’re all musical,” he took Givi’s extended arm, grasping just above the man’s elbow, “Me, I can’t carry a tune if it were dumped in a bucket with a handle. My name is Godric, and this is Fraomar,” Godric slapped the young rider on the back, “A new recruit to the tenth squad, 3rd Eored, and our youngest Rider. Fraomar, meet Givi, Hillman and an honored veteran of the Pelennor.” Fraomar stood awkwardly for a moment, but eventually extended his arm to Givi.
“Well met, Godric. Fraomar,” Givi returned the greeting happily and went on to the young Rider. “My people were but a few, fewer after the Pelennor. We often rode with the Rohirrim – Gondor’s other horse were the Swan Knights, in their heavy plate. And they brought grooms with them to take care of their horses but not ride them! Riders of Mark were more to our heart.”
He looked from one man to another, catching a sign of some discomfort in the younger. It was a singer’s job to smooth out rough corners, but it could also be staying out of things that did not concern him. “It must be a different thing altogether, to ride out first in time of peace,” he ventured.
“It is, and it’s a luxury we’re grateful for,” Godric said solemnly, “aren’t we, Fraomar?”
The young man nodded silently, now feeling quite foolish for all his argumentativeness. “Yes,” he added, “many Rohirrim gave their lives so we can ride free.”
Godric slapped the young man on the back a second time and jostled him, slightly. “Well said.” With his hand firmly on Fraomar’s shoulder, Godric looked down at Givi (and because of Godric’s height he had to look down to view all his friends), and beamed a wide smile at the man. “It would be the tenth’s squad’s honor to greet you and buy you as much ale as you can drink, Givi of Lamedon. Tonight you are a son of Rohan, and I won’t take no for an answer; my brother would never forgive me. In fact, I cannot wait to tell him we’ve met – he’ll be so envious. I can just picture his face – red as beet.”
“Ah, I would not dream of saying no,” Givi said honestly. “It is my good fortune to join you – if you think your officers won’t mind. There were two or three coming in behind me”
“Oh!? Are there? Well, let’s get inside quick before we have to salute and act all soldier-like, I’m enjoying myself too much to get all serious,” Godric said with a smirk. “Unless you want to stay here Fraomar and salute when they come in?”
The young Rider said a few choice words in Rohirric and pushed Godric aside. He stomped up to the door and pushed the oaken door open.
“Did you catch that? The language these young ones use these days,” Godric said with a roll of his eyes. “My mother is nothing of the sort.”
“A mother who raised fine sons is worth the highest praise,” Givi agreed. “And yes, I caught that. Your brother made sure of that. I don’t know if he remembers any of the words I taught him. But what ails your young friend?” he added, lowering his voice. “Does he not see the point of officers? Can’t say I blame him.”
Godric chuckled. “Ah, yes, in a manner of speaking; he’s chafing under our sergeant’s bit, is all,” Godric explained, picking up Givi’s things and slinging them over his shoulder. “He’ll be alright, he just needs to thicken his skin and roll with the punches. Once he learns that, we can start training him to be a Rider of Rohan. Come, let’s up the stairs and meet the 10th, a strange assortment of men, but each one has their heart planted firmly in the Riddermark. If any of them gives you any lip, tell me and I’ll bust theirs.”
As he followed the Riders up the stairs, Givi reflected that years ago, when he had known Godric’s brother, he would have bristled at the perceived insult and insisted that he could defend his own honor. Now, he only grinned at the offer. Ah, he had been young then, although older than Fraomar was now. “It won’t come to that,” was all he said.
Godric led Givi inside and to the foot of a wide, but short, two flights of stairs that opened into the taproom on the floor above. Both men stopped and stood aside on the large, single landing to allow a small group of farm hands amble their way unsteadily down, before ascending the final flight and emerging into the common room. It was crowded and stuffy, but filled with a light, if not loud, jovial atmosphere. Godric wove his way through the crowd, staying on the right side of the room, leading Givi towards the small enclave of Riders, the members of the 10th, where they had clearly tried, and had somewhat succeeded, in replicating a Rohirric drinking hall.
“We’re celebrating our new Lieutenant’s commission,” Godric called out over his shoulder, “he’s a good egg, so we’re all mightily pleased for him. You’ll like him.” Godric saw Givi ask a question, but he couldn’t hear the hillman for the noise. “What!? Sorry, man, come again?”
Givi shook his head, leaving his question unasked and forgotten. The crowd, and the clamor, and the close air hit him like a blast of steam from under the pot lid. It was the most people the hillman had seen in one place since the last time he traveled to a Bard’s festival.
He had been in the plains three.. no, four times since the war, and every time the close-packed rooms felt like stepping into a bath that was just a little too hot. It was good, but it took some getting used to.
He turned his attention to the table full of riders and focused on their faces until they stopped running together in a blond and fair-skinned blur. Some were fresh, others marked in battles. A few were carved by age, but stars, so many were younger than him by three handfuls of years at least. Like Fraomar, far too young to have seen the last War. He did not recognize any of them.
“I’ve yet to meet a Rohan man I did not come to like,” he told Godric. “I don’t expect today will be that day, either. Will you tell me the names?”
Once again, Givi is authored by our talented Frelga.Jan 15, 2022 at 2:15 am
Fitting the pieces together…
The sound of the Rider’s voices drowned out the musicians, stilled the dancers and silenced the conversations. The taproom fell quiet and all listened to the strange, lyrical words and the deep mix of Rohirrim voices. The final chorus was the most powerful, for the tempo slowed, the harmonies changed and at the end of the song the Riders shouted ‘ROHAN!” in unison and summarily banged on the tables and stomped on the floor. The taproom erupted into loud cheering and applause, with several villagers toasting Rohan, King Eomer and King Elessar.
From her place at the bar, Bardhwyn casually listened, and watched, her mind flooded with memories, yet again. The Rohirrim and their words brought one particular Rider to mind, Menon, her ‘champion’, Lys once called him. She and Menon rode together, fought together, and drank together. Menon was like a brother, despite her former lover’s claims the Rider wanted more. ‘I can tell,” Lys once said, sourly. She just scoffed at him.
She found herself shaking her head in disbelief even still, she then laughed to herself; how many years ago was that? Ten? Twelve? There was a strange confluence of the stars that night, it was the only explanation. So many memories from the past, and now people from her past, all mixing together in this busy little, backwater inn.
The Gods are sometimes strange.
She patiently stood and watched people surge and mill about the room while Madge’s girls weaved and dodged, delivering food and drink, and collecting plates. Madge’s eldest boy dragged many a young girl’s eyes about the room with him, and Bardhwyn chuckled at the thought of how many would have the painful pleasure of him breaking their hearts someday. He was a handsome lad, to be sure, but still a boy. She wondered how manhood would look on him.
Sedge stood at his post at the opposite end of the bar and like Corinne’s imperious nose, he’d pointed himself at the Rohirrim, who were busy recreating Meduseld far over to the right. The two riders returning caught her eye, the younger darting ahead and the tall one following next, with a newcomer in tow; his dress looked familiar to her: felt hat, wide skirted coat, tall boots – all reminiscent of a small band of travellers she stopped and robbed at her East-West Road toll gate several lifetimes ago. Reminiscent of someone else, as well, a hillman, tall, piercing eyes…
More memories. Too many, in fact.
Bardhwyn was beginning to lose patience with herself, with all this infernal waiting and with the ale; it seemed to taste thinner as the night wore on. It didn’t stop her drinking it, however. She took another swallow.
She then felt a familiar presence coming up on her right. How Bardhwyn knew it was him, she could never figure out, but she always could tell when Thar was near, and getting nearer. He took up his position just behind her, and stood with arms folded across his chest, her Number One, his clothing and hair damp with the night’s drizzle.
“You done?” she asked.
“For now,” he answered. “Corinne’s men are idiots, by the way,” he added. He then nudged Bardy’s elbow, and nodded at the three Rohirrim officers, who now turned every head in their direction as they inched their way into the crowded tap room. She shook her head and let out a long, slow exhale.
“Great,” she breathed. “They’re officers, aren’t they?” Thar nodded. He pointed at his left cheek and looked at hers. She grimaced and nodded in reply; no change, the threat still hung over them.
“Should we send a raven?” Thar asked. “Things are getting, let’s say, very interesting.”
“We ought, but it’ll have to wait,” Bardhwyn answered, watching as the Rohirrim officers crowded around the young man who showed his quality earlier that evening in the baths.
“Alright, then, what’s next?” Thar asked, putting a piece of fever bark between his teeth.
“We wait.”Jan 16, 2022 at 2:29 am
Haldreth’s new mission…
The applause died away but the high spirits of the Riders kept the energy of the tap room lifted, and, much to the Rohirim’s surprise and delight, pitchers of ale and plates of bread and cheese arrived at the table, gifts for the Riders from the locals, by way of thanks for their performance.
Haldreth happily laughed and joked with his men, speaking loudly in Rohirrim, while Diya sat patiently next to him. He looked over to her, remarking how it’s as if she seemed smaller, somehow. He turned and looked at Rhowain, who was in an animated discussion with Gorm, which was a feat in itself, because Gorm never spoke to anyone, and Haldreth released an impatient sigh. The boy had been commissioned for less than a day, and already he’d outgrown his breeches.
Still, he was now ‘his commanding officer’, and Haldreth would follow his orders and escort Diya back to their camp at the end of the evening, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t have some enjoyment while doing so, if not before. But first, there was a beautiful desert flower that needed cheering up. Haldreth sat forward in his seat, wondering if he should compliment her hair, or perhaps her eyes? Godric’s tall form arrived, however, with a stranger in tow, so Haldreth settled back, pleased he could give more time and thought to his new task; making Diya smile again.Jan 16, 2022 at 3:58 am
And may I introduce to you…
“I’ve yet to meet a Rohan man I did not come to like,” Givi told Godric. “I don’t expect today will be that day, either. Will you tell me the names?”
Godric eased Givi’s bag onto the floor and righted himself, quickly surveying the scene; the tables were a jumbled mess of empty tankards, plates and jugs and the candles all burned low with rivers of hardened wax spilling down and onto the tables. The only evidence remaining of the dice game were a few piles of coins, one pile sitting in a small puddle of spilt ale. Someone decided to impale a loaf of bread with their dagger, and it sat in the middle of one table, like some strange sacrifice to the inn’s god of the hearth.
“I will, most certainly,” he said, towering over the squad and spreading his arm out over the company. Fraomar quickly handed Givi a filled tankard before squeezing and scrambling over various legs, back to his seat against the wall.
“Where’s mine?” Godric asked, but was given a rude gesture for his trouble.
“Brothers!” Godric called out, raising his voice and speaking in Westron, “I would like to introduce a dear friend of my brother Healwic…”
“Haelwic has no friends, Godric, you know that!”
“Odred, YOU are no friend of my brother’s but that doesn’t mean my brother has no friends, now shut up,” Godric said with a smile. “Haelwic, who rode with the 1st Eored to the Black Gate fought alongside this man here, Givi of Lamedon. You may have heard tell of those few hillmen who fought bravely that day? He’s one. Treat him with the honour he is due!”
Shouts of ‘Hail! ‘Well met!’ and ‘Welcome!” followed, with the older members of the squad making solemn salutes to the newcomer.
“Starting over to the far left, we have Einar, who always looks like he’s just eaten something that’s gone off..”
“No, I don’t, Godric..”
“Yes, yes you do, Einar,” Godric said with a laugh, “you look like you’re always about to spit something out, and next to him is Gorm, who doesn’t say much, do you Gorm?” The Rider had just settled into his seat, and he shook his head and looked about, wide eyed, happy to be jostled by the others. “I think it is a clever ploy on his part, Givi,” Godric said quietly, “so that when he does bother to say something, we will all listen.”
“Sitting next to Gorm, and sporting a beard that is the envy of the entire division, is Gunnar, and he swears it never gets in his food.”
“It doesn’t!” Gunnar called out, proudly.
“It gets into other places, though, doesn’t it, Gunnar?” Godric quipped; the company erupted into laughter; Gunnar’s face turned a bright red.
“I thought so,” Godric laughed, “Now, next to Gunnar is Harald and Eardwulf, who both rode to the Gate as well.”
“WHAT?!” Eardwulf yelled.
“I WAS SAYING YOU RODE TO THE BLACK GATE, EARDWULF,” Godric yelled. “He’s a bit deaf,” Godric said to Givi, “he lost an ear to an orc at the Isen.”
“AYE! I’M A BIT DEAF,” Eardwulf yelled, lifting out of his seat and pointing at his ear so Givi could see, “LOST AN EAR TO AN ORC AT THE FORDS OF ISEN.”
“Thank you, Eardwulf,” Godric said with a wave, “SIT DOWN NOW.”
Godric sighed and gave Givi a smirk. “I’m not even halfway around and already I’m tired. Who’s next, oh, right, next to Eardwulf is another one of our young Riders, Osgar, who’s also pretty like Fraomar, who you’ve already met, and yes you’re both very pretty and you know it!” Godric chided. The two young Riders scowled while wolf whistles rang out and bits of dried bread flew in their direction.
“Carrying on,” Godric continued, “sitting next to Fraomar is the tattooed wonder that is Odred.” Odred stood and proudly displayed the tattoo on his face and skull of a rampant wolf. “Yes, very nice, Odred, sit down now… and next to Odred is our only dark-haired Rider from the northern borders, Dicun, who is never happy…”
“I’m happy, sometimes…” Dicun mumbled.
“When?” Godric asked, “WAIT.. do not answer that, Dicun, not yet!” Godric held up his hand in warning. “You’ve only just met our guest, give him a chance to get used to you first.” Godric grinned at Givi. “It’s true, he is happy on rare occasions, they’re few and far between and usually involve a pretty girl.”
Godric lightly took Givi’s shoulder and pivoted him round to the right to better view the remaining members of the squad. “Now, Givi, here to our farthest right, may I introduce our brand new, just-commissioned-this-morning lieutenant, Lt. Rhowain, and this red, hairy mass of man is our sergeant, Haldreth and last, but not in any way least, may I introduce another guest and friend to the 10th, the lovely Miss Diya, who, if I remember right, has travelled in from the East, looking after family matters.”Jan 16, 2022 at 4:06 am
The Riders’ song had died away but it seemed it had changed the mood in the entire taproom. Just not in the same way it did her… Maybe she was tired. Regardless, she had to listen carefully; she needed a way to escape Rhowain’s attention and leave. She would rather continue her search for her sister alone than risk being caged.
Godric’s return with a stranger in tow could offer cover if the newly arrived man, Givi, of Lamedon, attracted the Riders’ attention. She didn’t let her gaze linger on the hillman’s face but she observed the rest of him from under her lashes: his attire, his bearings… his weapons. It was the kilij that caught her interest. An Easterling blade… She kept her gaze on her lap but she repressed a shiver. It wasn’t that rare a blade among her people, but the last time she saw one was in the hand of the man who sold her to Din ibn Jibril. However Godric mentioned the man stood at the Black Gate and she knew on what side of the war her people fought. It might be a spoil of war… Still she thought it an odd coincidence that so many people sat in this inn with ties, close or not, to the East.
All the while, she was also listening closely to Godric. She was being handed information she might need later. She repressed a smile at Godric’s comment about the pretty young Riders, hearing something in the teasing tone that she would have tried to confirm if she’d intended a longer game with the Rider. Only she didn’t.
His introduction of her though was more than she could have anticipated; the Rider listened closely too. She nodded to him with a soft smile, before actually turning to face the newcomer.
“A pleasure to meet you, Givi of Lamedon,” she offered.Jan 18, 2022 at 12:50 pm