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Post Sand, Shadows, and Blood
on: July 21, 2014 01:14
(You can find the OOC to this thread here. This gives more historical information as well as a timeline for the thread.)

Today is the day, Théodhild thought, resting her head against the smooth panes of a glass window. The coolness of it and the window’s view helped to soothe her writhing nerves. Before the great hall of Meduseld sprawled the city of Edoras and beyond that the swelling green fields of the Eastfold and the silver line of the River Snowbourn. Her eyes traced the great North-South road until it met the road into Edoras at the base of a large hill. Scores of brown-skinned, dark-haired people streamed into the city: some mounted on lithe, slender horses; some leading pack horses laden with sundries; some aboard wagons pulled by oxen. The commonfolk lined the path into Edoras watching the newcomers before scurrying about their work like ants. The city hummed and vibrated with life like bees in a honeycomb for the occasion of a royal wedding.

Today is the day. The sound of a door knock behind her did little to rouse Théodhild from her reverie. “My lady, it is time,” a female voice said gently. The princess finally glanced over her shoulder to see Burghild, one of her handmaidens. Burghild was of an age as her lady, around a score-and-seven years, with tawny locks and kind, blue eyes. In the center of the room was a large oaken basin filled to the brim with hot, steaming water. Today is the day.

Théodhild finally pulled away from the window and eventually eased into the bath. She leaned back against the smooth wood and closed her eyes as Burghild ran a bone-tined comb through her hair. Théodhild lapsed into memory as the aroma of herb-scented water surrounded her.


Six months earlier...

“I am to what?” Théodhild cried, pacing to and fro across the cobblestone floor. Her steps echoed with anxiety and trepidation until she halted in front of her father’s throne, skirts swirling around her ankles. Fengel sat in an ornate wooden chair, weighted with the history of many years and many kings. Two rearing horses formed the chair’s back piece, and the arms were intricately carved with runes and symbols of the eótheód. The chair was the symbol of the royal family and had been passed down from the days of Eorl, Théodhild’s great ancestor.

Fengel regarded his youngest daughter with a cold stare. “You are to marry the eldest son of a tribal leader of the Haradrim,” he said simply. To look at King Fengel was to look at a man who was born to be a great prince but never king. The broad-shouldered and -chested king easily stood head and shoulders above everyone in the mead hall of Meduseld. Where once he had been athletic and well-muscled, Fengel now possessed a round girth, like a once-proud stallion who had since been gelded and put out to pasture. Gold and silver gem-encrusted rings barely fit around sausage-thick fingers, and his heavy jowls sagged, hiding his bull-thick neck. His fierce sea-grey eyes missed nothing, and his belligerent, often combative demeanor brooked no refusal or denial of his requests. Fengel kept few close advisors and preferred the company of his Riddermark riders to that of his council. More than being king did Fengel love gold. Fengel taxed his people heavily to fill the royal coffers. The money was not put to help those in need, however, but to curry and maintain favor with Gondorian noblemen and reward his own followers. As a result, tension between the king’s advisors and the king himself arose. Fengel’s own family, his wife and queen Aelfgyth, his son Thengel, and his daughters Edelwyn and Théodhild, had come to distrust him as well. Fengel was now in the winter of his years, and there were those who muttered about the death of the old king and the ascent of the new. But for now, Fengel ruled, and those under Fengel obeyed.

Théodhild grew up knowing that she was to wed - that was expected of a princess - but she thought her marriage would be to a high-ranking Rohirrim or a Gondorian prince, not some Haradric savage. But she knew better than to test her father’s patience on the matter. Fire flashed in her grey eyes, but the princess dropped her gaze before her father could see it. “As you will, my lord father,” Théodhild said meekly, masking her anger behind a courtly facade. “May I ask why a man from Harad and not one of the Fenlingas?” she then inquired, eyes flicking between her father and her mother.

Fengel grasped the throne arms and resettled his weight. An uncomfortable silence stretched for what felt like an eternity before Fengel’s barrel-like chest heaved with laughter. His booming laugh echoed throughout the mead hall, reverberating against the wooden eaves and walls. Fortunately for Théodhild, the hall was empty save for her mother seated at Fengel’s side and the guards at the front door. “Daughter, you are mine to do with as I will. You will wed who I tell you to wed, be he the First Marshal of the Riddermark or some stable-boy from Lamedon,” Fengel replied, his jowls jiggling as he laughed. Then, his mercurial attitude shifted from amused to threatening. “You will not question me further on this,” he continued sharply. “If you do, my daughter, then you will regret it. Do you understand?” His meaty fingers clutched at a goblet of golden Dorwinion wine and a shank of lamb. He alternated tearing at the lamb and drowning it with the wine. A mixture of gravy and wine dribbled down Fengel’s chin into his thick mess of tangled tawny and grey beard.

Despite being disgusted at her father’s words and conduct, Théodhild wisely held her tongue and bowed her head in assent. “Yes, my lord father,” she eventually said. Aelfgyth rose from her seat beside Fengel and stepped down from the raised dais. “May I have your leave?” the queen asked, turning to look at her boar of a husband.

Still enthralled with his meal, the king waved the half-eaten lamb shank at Aelfgyth. “Yes,” he muttered through his food. Mother and daughter left the appalling scene behind.

Aelfgyth was the daughter of the First Marshal of the Mark and his wife, a noblewoman from Linhir. She was a handsome woman in her own right, with auburn hair and crystalline-blue eyes. Frost touched her hair and shallow creases lined her face, but it served to give her an aura of wisdom and not of antiquity. Aelfgyth looped her arm through her daughter’s and led her out of the mead hall. The guards bowed them through the doors. They started to descend the stairs to the city proper, and Aelfgyth spoke up as they walked. “My daughter, I know your father’s decision to betroth you to a man of the Haradrim was not to your liking. But you must understand that it was for the best - and it was my idea.”

Théodhild stopped abruptly and looked up at her mother. “Yours?” she repeated incredulously.

“Yes, mine,” Aelfgyth returned somberly. “Your father has threatened to go to war against the northern tribes of the Haradrim in retaliation for their slaying of his brothers, your uncles. Emissaries of the Sandstone tribe have tried to treat with him for forgiveness and reparations, but your father wants revenge. This particular tribe offered an alliance with the Rohirrim to secure trade between here and there as well as offering lucrative opportunities for gold in hopes of deterring war. I suggested your betrothal to the eldest son to cement the alliance. This will satiate your father's lust for revenge.”

“I am being sold for gold, then?” the princess asked bluntly with a sigh of resignation.

Her mother raised Théodhild’s chin so their gazes met. “That is the way of it, yes,” Aelfgyth said sadly, tenderly brushing her daughter’s golden hair behind her ear. “It was either that, or war.” She tugged Théodhild along as they continued their descent. “It was the same with me, Théodhild. King Folcwine wanted a good wife for his son. My father was a high-ranking lord, my mother the daughter of a rich merchant family in Linhir and so my family would have brought gold, prosperity, and young blood to the royal family. We were wed after Fengel became king; he was almost two decades older than me.” Their path led to a fountain in the middle of the market square. Four stone horses stood rearing, their hindquarters touching. Mother and daughter sat on the fountain’s broad stone edge, and Aelfgyth continued her tale. “When I first married your father, he was handsome, competent, and a good leader. But he was also cruel, petty, and ill-tempered. When his brothers perished, Fengel was the only son, the sole heir to the throne of Rohan. This created in him a sense of entitlement that has not gone away to this day.” The queen bowed her head and dipped her hand in the cold, clear water. “Théodhild, you may not come to love this son of the Haradrim, but you may find that there is happiness to be found in other places. For me, it was when your brother was born, and eventually Edelwyn and yourself. I resolved to be as good of a mother as I could be.” A smile creased her profile as she continued to drag her hand through the water. “I should like to think you all have some of my better characteristics, particularly those of patience, loyalty, and honesty.”

Théodhild gently clasped her mother’s hand and replied earnestly, “We do have them, Mother.”

Aelfgyth finally returned her gaze to her daughter and smiled though a tear traced a path from her eye down to her cheek and finally to the ground. “If I could give you any advice for this arranged marriage, it is to find your own happiness and find something about your betrothed to admire and respect. On the other hand, I have heard this Arwan is a rigid but capable man. Do not expect much compassion from him as a husband - he is his father’s heir after all. If anything, remain graceful and generous to what will become your people. He may eventually rule, but you will give heart to his reign.”


Today is the day. Théodhild slowly opened her eyes and saw the bright light streaming into her bedchamber. Burghild dried her off and began to dress her mistress for the ceremony. She wore a linen underdress, and on top of that was a simple white gown threaded with gold. Around her waist was girdled a golden cord tightened with a brass horse-head clasp. When Burghild finished, she appraised herself in front of a mirror. Théodhild’s appearance was typical of a Rohirric princess. Her golden ringlets were pulled back into a simple plait, and her healthy complexion shone in her clear skin, keen grey eyes, and slender form. She was of an average height and had what many considered a fair face. It was oft said that her sister Edelwyn was the family beauty who inherited her mother’s auburn hair and stunning blue-grey eyes. But it was also said that Théodhild bore a close resemblance to Eorl of old, if one was to believe stories of bygone times.

The princess stood for a long moment. Her stomach roiled, and she began to tremble at the thought of marrying a complete stranger and leaving Edoras behind. But perhaps her mother was right; maybe there was some happiness to be found - she was leaving the overarching reach of Fengel, for one. Soon enough (and almost too quickly, she felt), Théodhild removed herself from the mirror and stepped out into the mead hall. Almost immediately she was swept up into the arms of a strong, muscular man. He kissed her roughly on her cheek, his coarse beard scratching against her skin. “How is it you get more beautiful with age? Surely I don’t!” Thengel said as he whirled his youngest sister around.

Théodhild laughed as her brother set her gently on the ground. She hugged him fiercely and cried in surprise, “Brother! I did not know you were coming!” A tall lovely lady who stood behind her brother came forward, holding a young child. “And Morwen!” She embraced her sister-in-law tightly. “And who is this handsome man?” Théodhild asked the child.

“I...Teeden!” the boy replied, smiling as brightly as a summer sky. “You is Auntie Tildy!” he giggled, reaching out to her.

Théodhild ruffled Théoden’s golden curls and pressed a kiss on his forehead as Morwen placed her son in her sister-in-law’s arms. “Auntie Tildy is right!” For a moment Théodhild buried her face in Théoden’s curls. Eventually she handed him back to Morwen and addressed her brother, “It does my heart good to see you here, Thengel. For once I leave, I know it shall be a long time before our paths cross again.”

Thengel took his sister’s arm, and they walked down the center of the mead hall. Some of the Rohirrim had been in their cups already and drunkenly lifted their tankards and cheered as they passed. Once they were outside, Thengel and Théodhild stood at the top of Meduseld’s threshold and watched the cavalcade of Haradrim enter the city from their vantage point on the hill. “How are you feeling, sister?” Thengel asked.

“Does it matter how I am feeling?” returned Théodhild in resignation. “I would rather have married into a noble family, but alas, Mother and Father had other plans.” Her gaze was caught by what looked to be the tribal leader’s family as they broke away from their people and began the ascent to the mead hall. “Still, I should be glad to be wed. Mayhaps he will be good to me.” It was then that the tribe leader and his family started to climb the last set of stairs. Théodhild noticed that an older man walked in front with what appeared to be his two sons. Behind them followed their retinue. Thengel and she bowed respectfully as they passed, and when she looked up, the princess noticed the older one glancing her way. His look was stolid but unfathomable, but it suddenly struck Théodhild that this was the man she was to wed. Théodhild bowed her head once more and kept her eyes on the ground until the Haradrim passed.

Thengel nudged her in the ribs and commented, “A lively bunch, aren’t they?”

Théodhild stared at their retreating backs. “Quite,” she replied wryly. Today is the day.

(Final notes and disclaimer: all names are derived from Old English, in keeping with Tolkien's naming conventions for the Rohirrim. This is to stay as canonical as possible to Tolkien's world.

Also, Thengel lived with his wife Morwen Steelsheen in Lossarnach, away from Rohan. This is why we see him returning home, rather than remaining in Rohan from the very beginning.)

[Edited on 07/08/2016 by Dinenlasse]
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on: July 21, 2014 04:29
It was only a few hours past dawn, but the Haradrim camp was already bustling with activity. A constant buzz of excitement filled the air. The deal was to be solidified today. In what many of the tribe elders thought a stroke of good fortune and savvy trading, the Sandstone tribe had secured an alliance with what had once been the closest and most organized enemy to the Haradrim.

Rohan, a nation of plenty compared to the scorched wastes of Harad. Seen as a fruit ripe for plucking by some, a looming shadow of retaliation for others. A generation had passed since the last major raid of their northern neighbors, and the final price was to be paid on this day. Haidar, the tribe chieftain and leader was only a boy when his parents and grandparents had pushed deep into Rohan to steal crops, horse, and blood. The reaping had gone so well that members of the royal family had been killed, and now the sole survivor of that lineage sat the throne. The tribe had made camp outside the walls of Edoras, the city on a hill in the distance.

Haidar looked into the polished brass disk that served as the mirror in his tent. Age lines stretched out from his eyes and furrows lined his scalp. Hair that held more salt than pepper was tied back into a tight top knot, his widow’s peak still a sharp point above his forehead. He was old, but his body still held vigor. He was wiry and lithe, muscles only now starting to sag in his age. His eldest son stood to his side, a picture of his younger self. His hair was nearly identical, but where the elder had gray, Arwan had an oily black. On this day his top knot was tied with a wide, ornate leather strip. Studs of gold and precious gems dangled from the tie. His face was clean shaven, revealing a sharp angular jawline. As with everyone in his family, Arwan had dark brown eyes, nearly black.

Layers of the highest quality white linen were wrapped and draped over his shoulders and chest, hanging down his legs. A thick girdle encircled his waist to keep the robes tight, many of the decorations on it gold and ivory. A raised relief of two rearing Mumakil were centered on the front, below the behemoths ran horses with riders wielding spears. His arms were bare only for two bracers, also of gold with ivory and ebony inlays. They were made specifically for the wedding, designed to be the first gift to King Fengel in exchange for his daughter’s hand. Although ceremonial, his belt had an intricate sheath hanging from one side for a long bladed curved knife which he placed into it how. He felt as if he were wearing the tribes entire store of rare materials, but Haidar had insisted that he look his best to be presented before the king.

Off to the side, sitting in a chair with one leg draped over the armrest, Darrius watched as his brother was dressed. Younger by only a few years, Darrius had the same hairline and dark hair as his brother, but wore it short and close cropped to his head. In one ear dangled a golden earring, and a thin gold band wrapped around his wrist. He wore a less extravagant version of his brothers ceremonial robes, though while Arwan strove to keep his pristine and sharp, Darrius had folds and wrinkles from not keeping the fabric tight. Arwan finally blew a frustrated sigh at his brother, and ordered him to stand and fix the outfit. With a roll of his eyes Darrius stood and tugged on the linen to straighten the garment out.

Darrius stood next to his brother in front of the mirror, running his fingers over the tuft of hair on his chin, inspecting himself. “We look quite the pair, brother. We may even impress the perfumed horse lords.” He finished as he straightened his belt to match his brothers. More of a sash, the belt around Darrius was much less gaudy than his brothers, made simply of blue dyed silk. He wore no dagger, as it was only for the groom to wear, but had a blade hidden strapped to his leg under the robe. “It’s a little too stuffy in here, I find.” Darrius said as more attendants push him out of the way to see to his brother. “I’ll see you on the ride in.” With his final words, Darrius flipped the tent flap aside and walked out to disappear into the masses outside.

“You play the part well, my son.” Haidar said as he pulled the drapes of linen tight, smoothing out the wrinkles. “You must understand that this is best for the tribe, for our people. We no longer should have to fear retaliation from Rohan, and indeed this agreement will help solidify easy access to sustainable food and water. We would be able to lay down foundations and grow, like those Dogs in the south who horde the oases for themselves.”

The Haradrim were nomadic people, staying in place only as long as food and water allowed. Some few tribes were able to remain stationary because of prime location and sustainable resources, and each one that laid down roots grew exponentially in power and influence. Tribes grew into cities around the few oases and along the coast where food or water was plenty. Every tribe hoped to be able to lay such claim, to no longer have to worry about want or sustenance. Indeed, tribes even fought and eliminated one another to try and hold land like that. Some become undefeated, and rise as an undisputed powerhouse in the Haradrim culture. A large caravan from the Sandstone tribe had just returned not too long ago from one such tribe, the Water Dogs, who held the largest concentration of oasis settlements in the desert.

“I understand.” Arwan replied stoically, “Though I did not wish it, I will do as you say, Father. The good of our people is more important than any one man. As you wish, so shall I serve.” Arwan stood silently, his back straight as more attendants came to ready him for the first meeting with the king. He was always prepared to do his duty, no matter what that called for. If his father and chieftain called him to marry a soft northerner, then it was his job to comply. His whole life, duty had been drilled into him. He was heir to the tribe, and in time he will be called to lead. It would be his job to protect his people. He would bear the responsibility of everyone’s health and livelihood.

Arwan took to it well, adopting a sense of pride and honor in everything he did. He would always be in the spotlight, constantly called upon to show that he was worthy to lead. If he had ever been found wanting, a younger man more driven by ambition would depose him, and take his place. He had to be hard, but also fair, rule with an iron fist, but on the scales of justice. In pursuit of these ideals, Arwan was regularly the subject of everyone’s attention, and rarely went a day without being groomed or trained on how to lead.

Some time later, it was time to finally lead the delegation up to be presented to the king. Haidar walked in the lead, followed by Arwan. Darrius lagged behind in the rear, taking his time to examine the view of the city as they climbed the hill. Along the way, they passed a group of nobles standing off on the side. Haidar gave a small nod to the men and women as he passed. Arwan, his face still passive as he walked by, gave a curt nod, studying each of their faces as they passed. One of the women was dressed more conspicuously than the others, making him think that Arwan had just seen his potential bride. She was fair, surprisingly, and though she looked softer than the average Haradrim woman, she did not look weak. He took solace in the hopes that he would at least not be wed to some simpering maiden.

All too quickly they were out of sight and the family entered the king’s presence. Fengel sat on his throne, his ample mass filling the seat and then some. “King Fengel,” Haidar began, bowing. The two brothers did the same behind him, Darrius holding just a hint of mockery in his movements. “I present my son, Arwan, and his brother Darrius, who will serve as his honor guard.” Arwan took three steps up to Fengel after being beckoned with meaty fingers.

“As a gift for your daughter’s hand, I present these bracers to solidify our agreement.” At the sight of gifts, Fengel’s eyes opened wide and he reached his hands out to the offered items, fingers twitching in excitement. The king snatched the two pieces from Arwan’s hands, his fingers smudging the polished gold with oily fingers. They were hopelessly smaller than the king’s large forearms, he did not even attempt to wear them. He instead set them to the side, to be dealt with at a later time. “Welcome and be at ease in my halls.” The horse king intoned, “I have made a room available for your family, for the duration of the wedding.” He waved a servant over to escort the three Haradrim to the bedroom.

The quarters were sparse, and only had one bed to share between the three of them. “I suppose it was too much to ask for our own quarters.” Darrius muttered as he kicked at one of the rugs, the treading was thread bare and had obviously not been in use for some time. The bedding has a musty old smell to them as well. “The king is so generous.”

“Still your tongue,” Haidar snapped. “We do not wish to anger our host, nothing is final yet.” With a smile he turned to Arwan. “We shall remain in our camp overnight my son, stay here to appease the king.” Arwan nodded silently. It would only be one night anyways, as the festivities would most likely carry into the dawn. He would have preferred his marriage bed to be back at camp, but if staying here would help smooth over the king, then here is where he would be.
Realm Head of Aulë
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on: July 23, 2014 06:20
(This is a joint post with Naucoaran!)

Once the group of Haradrim entered the golden-roofed Meduseld, Théodhild and Thengel snuck in behind them to watch the exchange of courtesies and gifts. Fengel received a gift of bracers and threw them to the side like mere trinkets. Aelfgyth interjected to offer the leader and his two sons horses which they would receive on the morrow before the servants ushered them to their quarters. “They are of royal stock, descended from the great mearas of old. Their coats shine like the moon on a cloudless eve. I hope they will be pleasing to you, my lords,” the queen said, standing and spreading her hands graciously.

As father and sons retreated into their chambers, the remaining Haradrim were left to their own devices. Théodhild heard mutterings from some of them regarding her father. “Let us hope the horse king’s daughter does not look like a mûmak or bray like one either”, “I am sure he weighs more than any of his mearas...or two of them, for that matter”, and other ribald comments strayed into the royal siblings’ hearing.

The Haradrim eventually left, and Théodhild cast a sideways glance at Thengel. “Do I look like a mûmak?” she asked him, turning around as she appraised herself.

Thengel chuckled deeply, his barrel-chest rippling beneath his tunic. “If you do, at least you do not smell like one as they do.” Théodhild laughed lightly. Thengel caught her hand and kissed it. “Dear sister, I must return to Morwen. Théoden is as active as a colt, and I need to reign in his wild streak before your ceremony tonight.” He bowed and then joined the throngs of people leaving the hall.

After a quick tour of the modest room, Haidar arranged for a servant to bring Arwan’s things to his temporary housing. He did not request much, only a few essentials like his shaving razor and other personal effects.

The three Haradrim left the quarters soon after, feeling slightly cramped with so many bodies in such a confined space, and began touring the halls. Darrius found himself fingering tapestries and other decoration set about, only to be scolded once again, this time by his brother. “Show some respect, Darrius. We can’t be seen as uncouth mongrels who have never seen the inside of a king’s home before.”

“Well, I haven’t been,” Darrius replied tersely before folding his arms over his chest. “The day comes that you are to wed some pampered northerner, and suddenly royal halls are familiar to you.” Truthfully, the sons had never spent much time inside a building with fixed foundations. Unlike Darrius however, Arwan had been educated from a young age how to act with a demeanor befitting royal audience. Another grooming for leadership that Darrius had not been privy to.

It was not long before the three entered the main hall that Arwan had first spotted who he believed to be his betrothed. Quickly scanning the area, he spotted her, now standing alone examining one of the wall hangings. “I believe that is her,” Arwan intoned with a hushed tone to his family. “I suppose an introduction would not go amiss before we are wed.” He suddenly felt nervous, walking up behind her. He had only the swiftest of glances when they first passed each other. Perhaps he had been wrong, and she resembled his new steed more than a bride. He would not be surprised if the king had chosen his most unfortunate kin to give away to some Haradrim nomad, if his previous demeanor were anything to read by.

Once Thengel had left, Théodhild had taken to studying a large woven tapestry on the wall. It depicted the battle in which her forefather Eorl aided Borondir of Gondor against the threat of the combined forces of Easterlings and Orcs on the Field of Celebrant. It was her favorite one; when she was little, Théodhild often sat in front of it for hours. It gave her courage when she felt nervous or scared since Eorl had overcome great odds to help Gondor defeat a common enemy. Fengel had derided her for such an action, but her mother encouraged it. Her fingers traced the woven runes and muttered the inscription, “Eorl the Young helped Borondir, rider of the Steward Cirion, and routed the forces of evil on the Field of Celebrant. Because of this, the descendants of Eorl received the fief Calenardhon, now called Rohan, in exchange for everlasting friendship and aid”. Then she became aware of footsteps behind her.

Arwan cleared his throat somewhat loudly once they had approached a comfortable distance. “You are Théodhild, if my guess is correct?” Arwan said, his hands firmly clasped behind his back. He had been practicing her name and how to pronounce it for the past few days, the odd dialect awkward on his tongue.

The subject of her anxiety appeared to be not three steps behind her. He pronounced her name in a deep, guttural tone, with a distinct accent she had not heard before. Théodhild stood still, trying hard to calm her nerves and her racing heart. Then, her upbringing and duty took over, and the princess turned to face the elder, named Haidar, and the sons, Arwan and Darrius. “I am she, my lord. Welcome to Edoras,” Théodhild said, making sure to speak slowly so they could understand her own accent. “I hope your accommodations are to your liking? If not, I shall have them rearranged for you,” she continued, bowing her head respectfully. Théodhild trained her eyes on the floor-stones instead of Arwan. He looked every bit of the desert savage as she had envisioned though she had to admit his polished form and figure suggested strength and power. Then, Théodhild felt heat color her face and knew it was unbecoming to be seen as such to their guests. To ward off her anxiety, she inquired, “Can I provide you with some refreshments, my lords?”

In reply to hearing that they could receive better lodging, Darrius began to speak “Well actually-” before being sharply jabbed in the ribs by his older brother, and earning a quick glare from his father.

“The room provided is very generous, my princess.” Haidar spoke, a disarming smile on his face as he bowed slightly to her. “Truly your king is generous is offering it to my son.” The elder then introduced both sons to Théodhild, then politely “My son Darrius and I have other matters to attend to before the ceremony, if you shall excuse us.” The chieftain then ushered the youngest son to the side and led them away to exit the main hall.

Théodhild acquiesced to their request to depart with a small nod, keeping her eyes on the floor. After the two had gone, Arwan spend a moment to study the woman before him. Color was creeping onto her cheeks, he saw, bringing a pink flush to her paler skin. Studying her now he was relieved that she was indeed fair, even beautiful, though not nearly as dark as should be. A few weeks in the desert would fix that. He could only imagine the ridicule he would have had to face if she had the appearance of one of their Mumak. The silence seemed to stretch, before finally being satisfied with her, at least for first glance.

Arwan, now alone with this woman who was to be his wife, was unsure how next to proceed. “Refreshment would be nice.” He said as he straightened his robe once more. He awkwardly offered an arm to Théodhild to escort her, unsure of how to proceed.

Théodhild accepted the arm and asked, “Do you drink wine? Or, we have mead or ale. Or simply water if you would prefer?” Her face turned even redder as she led him to a table against one of the far walls, out of sight of the king and queen. She gestured for Arwan to sit as she signaled to one of her handmaidens who had appeared almost out of thin air. The princess whispered instructions, and the handmaiden glided away. Théodhild sat across from her betrothed and finally met his eyes. They were dark and fierce as a blade forged from the night. “How are you finding Rohan, my lord?” she asked, worried she was asking him too many questions. The silence stretched for a long moment. Desperate to not appear unworthy or stupid, Théodhild said the next thing on her mind, “Do your people view my own as mûmakil? One of your own made a comment in my hearing after the gift-bearing wondering about my appearance.” She regretted the words as soon as they left her mouth. Fengel’s daughter had meant the comment in jest, but she knew that was not how it came out.

For a moment Arwan was stunned, a blank stare on his face as he replayed her words over in his head. He was at first angered at his fellow tribesman, vowing to mete out punishment later. The second feeling was somewhat embarrassed that his people were making fools of themselves being overheard, and by proxy making a fool of him. The handmaiden came and went, leaving behind a goblet of wine. He reached for it and took a sip before answering. He straightened his back and cleared his throat, the wine was nice, at least. “There are some who would doubt the generosity of your king, in offering a bride sight unseen.” He began, “Though I believe these thoughts now unfounded, you are a suitable prize to behold.” He had meant it as a compliment, but somehow the words sounded less complimentary after he spoke them.

Suitable, but a bought prize nonetheless, Théodhild thought bitterly, still angry at her father over the arrangement. “Thank you for your kind words,” she said instead as she grasped the wooden goblet and took a drink of wine. “I hope to be a good wife for such a capable and...honorable man as you, my lord. And I only wish to prove a worthy prize as well.”

“Yes, we shall see.” he stated simply, taking the time to familiarize himself with her appearance and mannerisms. Amidst the awkward silences that seemed to stretch every once in a while, they shared simple information with each other, trying to learn just who the person was that they were to marry. It became easier for them to speak to each other, and Théodhild would work up the courage to look into his eyes a little longer each time they locked stares. The minutes stretched on as the sun rose and then began to sink into the sky. The first palpable awkwardness that enveloped them at their meeting had melted away, but there was still an air of strangers when they sat together in silence.

Eventually it came time for Arwan to say “I should depart to make my final preparations for tonight.” He stood stiffly, then tilted his head in a light bow before heading off to his chambers, leaving Théodhild sitting at the table alone.

[Edited on 08/11/2014 by Dinenlasse]
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on: July 24, 2014 07:40
After leaving his wife-to-be, Arwan first went in search of his brother and father. There were a few more things that had to be prepared before the ceremony could commence. Finding Darrius, the elder brother pulled him aside to talk. “Do you still need to make arrangements, or have you found the needed materials?” Arwan spoke quietly, his tone calculated and reserved.

“Have I ever failed you, brother?” Darrius said in a more jovial tone. “I have the required items for this marriage to be accepted for our people. Do not worry, Arwan! This is a time to be merry!” He smacked his brother on the back, but did not receive any hint that his brother’s mood had improved. “Raise your spirits, she isn’t all that unattractive. In fact, if circumstances were different I wouldn’t mind a little-” his line of thought was cut short by a stiff shove to the shoulder and an icy glare from his counterpart. The younger brother rubbed at the spot, putting on a wounded face. He knew it was all in good humor though, if his brother had meant harm he would be reeling on the floor by now.

“She is a beautiful bride, brother. You should act like it.” Darrius then stalked off to ready everything for the ceremony that was now only an hour away. Arwan once again began to feel his nerves begin to creep up his throat. Will a conscious effort, he smothered the feelings. Duty is a mountain, I must be the rock at its foundation. He repeated to himself. He checked the knife at his side, testing the edge with his thumb. Duty is a mountain.

Before long a set was being assembled in front of the king’s throne. Darrius had found a small decorative podium somewhere along the halls to place a small bowl on top of. The bowl held some water drawn from a well in Harad, cool to the touch and flavored with the subtle hints of a lemon. When you lifted it to your lips to drink, you could smell the fragrance of it. A crowd of onlookers filled the area below the raised dais the two would be wed on. Dark faces intermingled with pale in some areas, but for the most part the two nations had segregated themselves. There was a pathway left empty, lined with thick carpet and sprinkled with the petals of white flowers.

As the time grew close, first Darrius then Arwan ascended the dais, Arwan taking his place to one side of the small podium, and Darrius off side and towards the back. He stood there for what felt like hours, his face impassive as he stared down the corridor Théodhild would emerge from. A procession of handmaidens led the way, followed by Théodhild being escorted by her brother Thengel on his arm. They reached the base of the dais, where there was a second of hesitation before Thengel whispered something in Théodhild’s ear, then kissed her upon each cheek and ushered her up to stand on the opposite side of the podium as her imminent husband.

Arwan stood, back stiff and straight, his hands clasped firmly behind him once more. His eyes stared unflinching at the maiden before him, drilling into hers on the occasion she would glance up from the floor to meet his eyes. His countenance was solid and impassive, like a face chiseled from stone; his dusky skin a contrast to the white linens of his robe. His knife hung suddenly heavy on his belt. The king gave a lethargic preamble, deigning to even stand for some of it. After his long winded speech about how prosperous his ruling, and almost as a rememberance, the Sandstone tribe, will be after the marriage was sealed. Before long Arwan felt it was his time to speak.

Arwan, with precise and rehearsed movement, released the clasps holding the knife to his belt and held it before him. He slowly slid the blade from its scabbard, the mirrored steel reflecting the light in the hall. While holding the knife in his left hand, he placed the edge onto the palm of his right. The graceful curve of the knife arched over his hand like a hooded serpent.

“Théodhild of the house Eorl, princess of Rohan, daughter of king Fengel, the lord and king of Rohan. I offer you my blood, my blade, my water, and my shade.” In a slow and deliberate action, lacking any hesitation or fear, Arwan drew the edge across his palm, creating a shallow cut on his hand. He then rolled the light knife onto his fingertips of both hands, the edge holding a bright red line. The Haradrim presented the blade to Théodhild, which she tentatively took. From off to the side, Darrius presented a crimson bolt of linen that Arwan wrapped around his palm.

Arwan then lifted the vessel of water in both hands, supporting it only by his fingertips, and took a sip of the water. It was still cool, and the light tang of the lemon puckered his tongue as it rolled down his throat. He then offered the vessel to Théodhild to also drink. After she did, she set the small bowl back on it’s place “I am bound to you,” Arwan intoned, “until my blood feeds the sand and my blade leaves my hand. By my honor I will defend you, as my wife and my love, with my life.” Duty is a mountain. Throughout the entire ceremony, his tone was formal and distant, lacking any emotion. There was no happiness in his face, nor smile in his eyes. At a time when there should be joy and celebration, Arwan felt only duty. Duty defined their bonding, and though the arrangement was imperfect, Arwan’s vows were pure, for duty defined Arwan.

As the ceremony ended and the two were bonded together in marriage, Arwan pushed the small podium to the side and took a bold step forward. One hand went to Théodhild’s waist, a movement that should feel natural but still felt strange, while the other hand brushed against her cheek. His fingers traced down her jawline, then cupped her chin, forcing her head to lift and their eyes to meet. He leaned in, and his lips pressed against hers dispassionately.

Cheers erupted all around them, but for the two on the dais, the world around them seemed muffled. Arwan could see the rapid pulse of his wife’s heart, the vein on her neck pulsing furiously. Her breathing was tight, the hint of lemon mingled with the perfumed scent he could smell on her skin. He could almost feel her tremble under his fingertips.

And then they were pulled away from each other, Darrius pulling his brother, shouting celebrations and Théodhild’s handmaids and family pulling at her. The cacophony of cheers crushed into Arwan as his eyes finally broke from hers, the two whisked away to begin the festivities that were starting in full.

((Sorry for the back and forth folks, but we wanted to set everything up nicely to have a good place for everyone to jump in! Now would be the opportune time to introduce your characters as nearly everyone who is important would be at the celebration.))

[Edited on 07/25/2014 by Naucoaran]
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on: August 09, 2014 05:27
It was dawning and the sunbeams were maidenly covering the Haradrim camp. The last few weeks everyone was excited with the great wedding and now the day of the waited deal with Rohan had finally arrived.

“Khalida, you need to hurry.” A voice called near the tent entrance. There stood a woman tired for the sleepless nights she had spent the last weeks, making regal robes for the great day. Her name was Halima and she was known for her skills of weaving and clothes making.

There was young woman sat in a corner of the tent. It was clear she was long wakened and she was waiting for her mother to come. As she heard the voice, Khalida stood up and nodded to her mother. Weeks ago, she tried to convince her mother to stay taking care of the horses, since she wasn’t fond of weddings and excessive celebrations. However, Halima and her husband made sure she was attending the expected event, even against her will.

“I made this for you.” Halima spoke, with a smile in her eyes. In her hands there were crimson robes and a golden necklace, which she landed on a stool. “Go on and get ready, we need to be prepared and leave as soon as possible.”

Khalida waited for Halima to leave and rolled her eyes. She knew her mother made an extra effort to make those robes for her so she couldn’t deny them. Just a few moments after she was ready, a tall strong man came in and stopped looking at her. His green eyes underlined his dark skin and black hair. Khalida had inherited his eyes and long black hair yet her skin was cinnamon like her mother. She was used to take care of horses so it was unlikely to see her in those adequate robes, with a golden necklace and a soft hood the same colour than the robes letting only in sight some hair falling to her face.

“Look at my strong daughter.” Tarik pronounced with a laugh. Khalida ran to his arms and the hood fell and uncovered her smile. “Your mother is waiting for us. We should leave now.”

As they were leaving, he covered her mouth and made a serious expression. The camp was already covered with people walking around in a hurry. They were preparing to leave to the golden-roof Melduseld.

After some hours, Khalida stood inside it with her mother and father, in the throne room. The hall was crowded and she could only see a small podium where the bonds would take place. She sighed and waited with quite some disinterest in what was about to happen. A long speech began as the hour was too close. Watching carefully all the actions that were happening on the podium, she stood still. Everyone rejoiced after they finally kissed each other, yet she had the slightest feeling the fresh weds weren’t that happy.

She leant to her father and whispered in his ear. “I wish grandpa was here. He would surely make this funnier.”

Tarik didn’t answer and they both looked around. Food and drink were coming from everywhere and the best part of the celebration was beginning. The head of their family walked to some other man who seemed significant among the tribe. Both his wife and daughter followed him silently, though Khalida didn’t want to. Unlike her mother, she wasn’t ready to neither act nor speak sublimely in the presence of important people. After some quick words, she slipped to a corner and observed everything from a distance while her parents were talking cheerfully.

”I shouldn’t be here” She thought walking carefully outside. Since that place was crowded, her parents wouldn’t notice where she was. However, there were too many people trying to get inside thus she sat in a less congested corner.
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on: September 04, 2014 04:00
So many of them! So strangely dressed. And so... bleak, Nadaira thought to herself as she stood next to a rough stone statue of a mounted man - a leader of some kind, no doubt - and observed the crowd. Men, and women, and children milled about the too-small square, all of them eager to catch a glimpse of the couple on the podium.
All curves, and silks, and long black curls over her shoulders, Nadaira had made sure she would stand out in any crowd. Jewels were shining on her neck and her forehead, and her bracelets would quietly ring whenever she moved her hands. She turned her attention back on the major figures of this gathering. Rather, on the Rohirrim girl.
She was so plain! There were no colours whatever either in her face, or on her clothing. Nadaira pursed her lips trying to judge the girl's character. Was she realy just a grey sand-rat, or was she putting up a show? This female might one day become the most powerful woman in Sandstone tribe, standing behind their future leader - or not. So, was this Théodhild merely feigning submissiveness and willingness to please, or was she indeed just a pawn in the powerful men's hands?
It irritated Nadaira that she couldn't tell. The girl's face revealed no emotion, as she followed through the wedding rituals. The Haradrim lady decided they must be about the same age, and for a moment she imagined herself in Théodhild's place... And shivered. Again, she thanked all the spirits involved and responsible for her good luck to have taken her parents soon enough not to have had the chance to marry her off, and late enough to allow her to be seen as an adult in the tribe, and as such - an independent woman. Of course, having an adult brother also had helped the matters. She smiled at the thought. Halik was slightly younger than her, but he was such a talented and handsome man that it gave her great joy to watch his success. He had done really well in the talks with Water Dogs tribe just a few weeks ago...
The ceremony was over. Arwan puled his bride in for a kiss, and everybody cheered, as Nadaira scowled. She couldn't imagine anything regarding this union to be happy about. As far as she was concerned, this was one huge mistake from the chieftain's part, and sooner or later, that would come to light.


Halik, on the other hand, quite enjoyed the festive mood in the crowd. He and Arwan, they had always been friends. Well, not actually close friends, as the chieftain's eldest son tended to stand aside and bore everybody right out of their skin by being too damn serious...
Halik inched closer to his brooding sister, and whispered in her ear:
"Can't you find a smile for today, Sister?"
She jumped, apparently surprised by his presence.
"I'll try to look for one, but I haven't found one yet." She kept her eyes strained on the newly-wed couple on the podium, now accepting the cheering of the crowd as if they had just done a hard job. "What a beautiful couple, aren't they?" she commented, a tinge of sarcasm in her sweet voice.
Halik looked at Arwan and his new wife. Arwan looked like his usual self, just a little more tense. The Rohirrim girl... Well... He didn't really know. She had soft features, and a rounded nose, and hair that seemed made of gold, and her eyes were impossibly clear, he had never seen a woman with eyes that weren't dark... She was looking around her as if surprised at so many people being happy for her - for the both of them - and her pale cheeks were touched by the slightest breath of pink...
"Stop staring at them like that, Brother," Nadaira whispered to him while slowly clapping her hands pretending to join in with the congratulations. "It is not polite."
Halik looked away, but his gaze was drawn back to Arwan's Northerner wife. Beatiful? Yes, he decided, she was.

[Edited on 09/04/2014 by Nifredil]
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on: September 05, 2014 09:57
(Nauc kindly gave me permission to give Arwan a few words of dialogue below.)

Théodhild and Thengel stood at the foot of a raised dais. Arwan towered over her like a bronze statue, unmoving and unfeeling. She saw no light in his eyes when his gaze lit upon her, just the dull shine of duty. The princess quivered slightly. Thengel kissed each cheek, and she felt his hot breath on her ear as he murmured, “Keep faith, dear sister. Remember the blood of the mearas runs in your veins.”

Steeling her back and resolve, she ascended the dais and took her place at Arwan’s side. The ceremony was hollow, Fengel’s daughter knew, merely a facade for a business transaction. Fengel droned on with his speech, Arwan demonstrated what appeared to be a barbaric tradition of cutting one’s hand with a steel knife, and then he handed her a small bowl of lemon water. She took a sip, and the cool if tangy liquid glided down her throat. With that, the pact was sealed, the bargain struck. The youngest daughter of the most incompetent king of Rohan now belonged to a brown-skinned warrior of a nomadic tribe.

When the ceremony concluded, Théodhild’s handmaidens and relatives pulled her down the center of the main aisle, cheers resounding throughout the hall. Their faces were flushed with excitement, the faint scent of mead and wine on their breath. As they walked, Arwan’s words echoed hollowly in her head. “I offer you my blood, my blade, my water, and my shade.” Her tunneled vision only saw the flickering lantern light at the far end of the hall; all else became blurry. All Théodhild desired was a warm tankard of mulled wine and her bed. She didn’t feel she could face the hordes of Haradrim and Rohirrim beyond the door, but duty called.

Her sister-in-law Morwen, her lovely and lively sister Edelwyn, and Burghild eventually pulled her into a sidechamber. Morwen shooed the other cackling hens away and shut the door behind them. They were in Théodhild’s bedchamber. The windows were shut, the window coverings pulled. Flames roared in the fireplace, and fresh herb-strewn rushes littered the ground. “Wine, please,” was all she could say as Morwen led her to a chair. Théodhild sat shakily, trying in vain to quell her heart and stomach.

Edelwyn took a silver decanter from a nearby table and uncorked it. The golden wine reflected and danced with orange flames as it cascaded into a goblet. Edelwyn pressed the goblet into her sister’s hand. “Drink,” she said, pouring glasses for the others and herself as well. “You only have a moment to redress for the festivities tonight, my sister.”

Burghild hurried into Théodhild’s dressing chamber and returned with a deep crimson-colored gown. Gold brocade banded around the waist and down the sides. Red-gold thread formed a weave of leaves and flowers across the bosom, around the sleeves, and on the hem. Morwen presented her with a simple necklace and earrings of gold and ruby, and Edelwyn retrieved a small coronet of gilded rubies and gold filigree. Théodhild’s eyes widened in disbelief at the finery of the clothing in front of her. “Théodhild,” Morwen began gently, “these are our gifts to you. Blessings upon you both on this happy day!”

“Thank you all,” Théodhild returned, rising from her chair to finger the light and silky material. The ladies helped her dress, and Burghild disentangled Théodhild’s hair from her plait and instead wove fresh flowers into it. For a moment her nerves ceased as she glanced in a mirror again. Burghild commented quietly, “You look like a lady of fire.” The others nodded in agreement. “Perhaps your husband will now smile instead of looking like a carven statue,” Edelwyn added wryly. Her sister was not the first to comment to her that Arwan had yet to smile in anyone’s presence.

“Perhaps he does not smile because of duty, sister,” Théodhild reminded her- Edelwyn was only a year her senior, but sometimes Théodhild felt she was the elder when Edelwyn gave voice to her thoughts. Edelwyn had married Éohelm, the Second Marshal of the Mark, another arranged marriage. Although a good and honorable man, Edelwyn despised her husband and her father because the marriage prevented her from being with the man she loved. “Duty rules us all, as you well know.” Théodhild then realized she never wanted to be as miserable in her marriage as Edelwyn was in hers. And, she also did not want to remember her wedding as a somber occasion so the princess decided to make the most of it. Burghild adjusted her ringlets one last time before Théodhild thought it wise to rejoin the festivities.

The hall itself was being transformed from a wedding hall to a feasting one so the stewards had ushered everyone out while preparations were being made. Stewards and servants shoved tables and chairs across the stone floor and filled fresh wax candles into iron sconces on the wooden walls. Their merry light illuminated the tapestries, including Théodhild’s favorite. Fresh-smelling rushes replaced old musty ones. In the center of the hall was a massive firepit. Its dull glow bathed the hall in orange and yellow light and its heat created a warm and smoky atmosphere. Three spits skewing three boars crossed the pit. Cooks carefully turned the spits, ensuring the boars roasted evenly. Other servants removed the wedding dais and replaced the head table. Twelve chairs were placed on three sides of it: three for the Haradrim, five for the royal family, and the remaining for Morwen, Éohelm, and other important Rohirric lords.

Théodhild finally shook off her family and maids and took a moment for herself. She remained inside the hall and eventually made her way to what would be her bedchamber for the night. Her nose wrinkled in disgust as the princess surveyed the room. It smelled of dust, mold, and mildew. Théodhild was ashamed that her father would allow this as suitable accommodation for her now-husband. The bed was fine and sturdy, but the bedding was old and moth-eaten. The curtains sagged against the wall, barely covering the half-open window. The princess ground her teeth in frustration. Burghild emerged through the door and said quietly, “My lady, you are wanted outside.”

Without turning, Théodhild replied abruptly, “Very well. Burghild, please find someone to clean up this room immediately. We need a fire, the floor scrubbed, new bedding and curtains, and new rushes. I will not spend my wedding night in a sty.”

“Yes, my lady,” Burghild said, scurrying out of the room like a mouse.

Théodhild emerged from the bedchamber and met her father as he huffed his way across the thick rug towards the head table. “Father,” the princess murmured, dipping into a respectful curtsy.

“Daughter!” Fengel boomed, pulling his daughter into a hug and planting a wet kiss on her cheek. “Now that you are wed, it is time you become a broodmare and give me grandsons!” He smelled fetid, like he had been sweating then rolling around in mud. He squinted at her with his beady eyes. “Did you change? By the fates, your husband will not be a disappointed man tonight!” He let her go and then strolled tipsily to his place at the high table and promptly fell asleep in his chair, fat dripping over the chair like the wax from the guttering candles. His snoring resonated throughout the hall. His daughter grabbed a passing servant and hissed, “Make sure the fool wakes before the feast. We cannot afford to have him insult our guests.” The servant nodded as he placed cutlery around one of the tables. As Théodhild reached the front doors, she glanced over her shoulder to see her father shouting at the servant for waking him. She shook her head in disgust and removed herself from the hall.

Wedding guests celebrated merrily on the sprawling slopes in front of the mead hall, singing ribald songs and dancing in heady delight. The warm air mingled with the scents of green grass, flowers, dirt, dust, and right now, sweat. Stars glimmered like gems against the ebony sky, and the silver moon haloed the city below, crowning its inhabitants with light. Strains of trilling music floated on the wind: the chirping of pipes, the strumming of lutes, and the dull beat of drums. Tables of food had been set up with a range of food and drink to please guests under massive billowy pavilion tents. There was mutton stewed with carrots and onions simmering in herbed gravy; roasted lemon and garlic chicken; seafish and shelled creatures from the Bay of Belfalas, soaked in vinegar, dill, and salt or made into a thick and creamy soup of cream, basil, pepper, and vegetables; and finally, a large roast boar was spit over a hardwood fire, its dripping juices sizzling across its scorched flesh. A variety of vegetables and fruits served as sides, from mashed potatoes and sausage gravy, pickled turnips and beets with apple cider vinegar dressing, and buttered carrots and corn to apple cinnamon scones with honey butter, fresh grapes and figs from friends in Gondor, and raspberry and blueberry pie. Finally, to satiate the guests’ need to drink, kegs of wine, ale, cider, and mead were broached with great vigor.

Théodhild stood at the top of the stairs which descended to the main city of Edoras. At their foot was a large market square. A large tent had been erected, and it was towards this that the princess gravitated. Cheers arose when she ducked under a rope and walked in. A quick glance around the pavilion revealed Aelfgyth sitting at the head table with her brother Erenion, Thengel and Morwyn, Edelwyn and her family (including her son Erkenbrand), and her husband and now good-family. Her nephew, a small serious lad of about five years with amber curls and his father’s keen wintry eyes, scrambled off of his chair and bowed deeply before his aunt. “Congratulations on your marriage to the illustrious son of the Sandstones, Aunt Théodhild,” he said, bowing once more and giving her one of the white simbelmynë flowers which grew around the barrows of Rohirric lords past. “May your marriage be blessed with many children and much happiness.” The crowd had quieted to hear the young lad speak, and at his words, a murmur of appreciation rippled through them. Théodhild smiled serenely and tucked the flower behind her ear. She snuck a glance at Arwan, but her husband’s face remained impassive.

“Thank you, my lord,” she replied, bowing in return. Then, a fiddle struck up a jaunty tune. As other guests prepared to dance, Théodhild asked her nephew, “Would you do me the honor of accompanying me in this dance?” Erkenbrand bowed his assent and took her hand. The lad only came up to Théodhild’s waist, but he was surprisingly lithe and graceful as they moved. As they danced, Théodhild took the opportunity to appraise the other guests. Most of them were Rohirrim with a smattering of Haradrim and Gondorian soldiers. But one in particular caught her eye. He was tall and sturdy, with dark features and tanned, swarthy skin. He did not appear to be feasting like the others; rather, he sat back in a wide oak chair and observed the others, concentrating particularly on Haidar and his sons. When the song concluded, Thengel claimed the next dance.

“You look splendid, sister,” Thengel commented as they moved in a circle. “Surely Arwan will now crack a smile, I hope? To be gloomy when one looks a sight as radiant as the sun as you do, is, well, gloomy.”

Théodhild smiled and twirled around him in a flash of scarlet. “One day, perhaps.” As the dance step brought her close to her brother, she spoke again, “Thengel, do you see that man in the corner, the one in the boiled leather armor and the dark hair?” Thengel muttered his assent as his gaze swept over the guests. “He has been paying especial attention to us, and to my husband since I arrived. He does not drink, does not partake in the festivities.”

“Not everyone chooses to drink at these occasions, sister.” Thengel dismissed her concerns with a casual tone.

“That may be, but he stares overlong at us. He appears to be waiting for something.”

Thengel furrowed his brows slightly but said nothing. Once the second dance ended, Théodhild went to sit beside her mother. “How do you fare, Théodhild?” Aelfgyth asked as her daughter settled into the uncomfortable wooden chair. “The ceremony was quite beautiful.”

“The ceremony was hollow,” the princess replied quietly with bitter undertones. “Mother, do you see the way they look at me?”

The queen frowned as she poured herself a goblet of wine. “What do you mean?”

“They stare as if I am an anomaly. Few appear happy at the marriage. They think me fragile, weak, and hardly a match for their leader’s son. They love me not, and perhaps never will.” Storms crossed Théodhild’s fair face. “Why could I not have been betrothed to Lord Denethor, the Steward of Gondor or Lord Adrahil of Dol Amroth? I may be the youngest princess of Rohan, but I am a princess nonetheless. These brown-skinned savages will never accept me as their own.”

Aelfgyth was taken aback at her daughter’s vehement display of dislike for her situation. “Théodhild, you are a daughter of Rohan. Your betrothal was needed to secure an alliance with an old enemy, not bolster our relationships with the Gondorian lords. I thought you would have better sense than to show your feelings so,” she chided.

Before Théodhild could speak, however, Arwan placed a hand on her shoulder and asked for her hand in another dance. He led her out into the middle of the pavilion, and another jaunty tune was struck. Arwan took one of her slender hands in his broad, calloused one, and placed the other lightly on the small of her waist. As they moved about, Théodhild found herself staring into Arwan’s eyes. They were dark, but the torchlight flickered in them like a lantern in a deep cave. For all her nervousness and anger, the princess did feel a sense of security and safety in his arms. “Husband,” Théodhild said quietly, the foreign word stumbling clumsily off her tongue, “might I ask you a question?” Arwan grunted in assent. “There is a man of the Haradrim in the corner by the mead kegs, and I have an ill feeling about him. Do you know who he is?”

Arwan’s gaze flickered to the corner, but he said nothing except, “Your duties as wife do not include looking in the shadows for threats that do not exist.” He felt her tense in anger and saw the shifting emotions on her fair face, the flaring of nostrils, the furrowing of her brows. By way of apology he continued, “I am sorry, but if there were a danger to my people, I would have seen it before you. Northerners such as you have more ability to tell the difference between your horses rather than one Haradrim from another.”

The music ended then. Théodhild performed her customary curtsy (albeit stiffly) and said to Arwan with as much respect as she could muster, “Lest you forget, they are my people now too.”

[Edited on 09/06/2014 by Dinenlasse]
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on: September 08, 2014 01:24
(the second part is a joint post with Dinenlasse)

The event was improving, Nadaira had to admit. Seated at the women's end by a long table with the other well-born Haradrim women, she was in the process of trying to taste every food that was on the table. Whoever the Rohirrim might be, they did know how to set their tables! So many, so good-looking, so tasty things! The sugared pears had captured her heart in particular - and her taste buds. Licking her fingers, she reached for yet another one.

"You will put on a soft layer on your hips!" a beautiful elderly lady winked at her.

"So be it!" Nadaira laughed. "I will have been well worth it. By the way, men seem to like that."
This elicited a heartily laughter from the nearby ladies, and those who hadn't heard her comment, would ask for the reason of this merriment, and laugh themselves.

"But one has to admit those horse-lords are quite attractive," another lady in her forties commented. She was rumored to be very experienced, having had three husbands, and the newest being considerably younger than her. "And they do know how to move on the dance floor."

That attracted an undivided attention to the dancers. Nadaira couldn't deny that there was something in their white complexion and their golden hair she found attractive. She met a couple of clear-eyes stares sent her way, and smiled in return, lowering her eyes shyly only to look up again. It was quite apparent to her that the Rohirrim were not too well-versed in the fine art of courting. They seemed to be quite straight-forward.

A collective cheer had her turn towards the entrance of the tent. Arwan's new wife had appeared. Naidira barely recognized her. The girl had lost her unexpressive white dress and had changed into a bright crimson gown with golden embroideries. Interesting... She seemed to have taken a new air about herself. That young woman behaved like royalty, and Nadaira couldn't say she was too happy about that. She watched the girl dance, with her brother, as it seemed.

"She should have danced with her husband, if at all," Nadaira said condescendingly, and the other haradrim women agreed. The next dance, however, quieted them down, as it was Arwan to hold his bride. Not a single comment was made, as the women watched the newly-wed couple, trying to guess at their relationship and whether they liked each other at all. Nadaira noticed the girl motion to a corner of the tent, inviting her husband to look that way as well, and she saw arwan scowl. Out of interest, Nadaira looked that way as well - and silently cursed herself.

How had she not noticed him? The man stood out in the merry crowd like a goat in a herd of sheep.

"Excuse me," she put aside her napkin and rose.

Her brother was seated as it was proper, at the table of the royalty - she supposed she could be content with that. Nadaira had felt outraged to find out that the noble Rohirrim men would share the men's table. It was not proper. However, she had remained undecided whether she should be insulted that she hadn't been offered a seat at the main table or relieved at having not been forced to sit alongside with men. They belonged to their world, so that they wouldn't bother women with their presence and crude jokes.

As she approached the main table, she felt eyes on her, both of Rohirrim men, and women. The men were enjoying the lines of her curved figure, while the women would stare at her in pure admiration, or jealousy. Nadaira smiled at them through the green silk veil she had pulled before her face. As expected, most men's eyes lit up. The mystery of a woman never failed to captivate them, especially if that woman was wrapped in layers of silk.

That fool of a brother of hers was paying no attention to his surroundings. Seated next to Darrius, he was busy laughing about something. The both of them had always found it easy to laugh, to play, and to break rules together - and to receive their punishment as a consequence, also together. Nadaira couldn't help but steal a glance ar Darrius. She liked his laugh, the way his mouth would curve up, and the way he'd throw his head back when he laughed. He was one of the very few men she knew who would close his eyes when laughing. Most of them always kept theirs open, but not Darrius. Perhaps it was that easy confidence in himself that had always attracted her.

"Brother?" she said with a smile, standing before them and pulling her veil back to reveal her face.

"Sister!" Halik greeted her enthusiastically. "We were just discussing..."

A sharp stab by Darrius' elbow in Halik's ribs cut him short, and Nadaira was spared from an undoubtedly typical male comment.

"My lady Nadaira ," Darrius stood to greet her. "I do hope you are enjoying yourself tonight."

"I am, thank you," she replied with a pleasant smile.

"Perhaps you would like to dance?" Darrius offered, a hint of restrained laughter in the corners of his dark eyes. A chuckle from Halik's part confirmed Nadaira's suspicions that the strange Northerner dance had been the object of their amusement the moment when Nadaira arrived.
"Thank you, but I prefer another kind of dance," Nadaira answered. She would not be part of their fun. "However, if I may suggest my brother to invite our newest tribe member to the dance floor? She is to be accepted in our midst, so why not start already?”

Her direct stare gave Halik no illusion about this being a suggestion. It was not. It was an order.
“But of course, sister,” he lost his merry laugh, and only a polite smile remained on his face as he bowed to her and immediately went towards Théodhild who had just curtsied to Arwan.
“Why did you have to do that to him, Nadaira?” Darrius admonished her. “Don’t you know he’s very shy when it comes to dancing? And, this is a dance where men and women are supposed to touch. Arwan might see that as an offence that another man would lay his hands on his new wife?”

“Before he has done it himself, you mean?” Nadaira had to giggle, and Darrius joined her. “I don’t think you have a reason to worry. From what I have seen, he has shown willingness to respect the traditions of her people, if at least while we’re here, and she seems to have a mind of her own.”
“Do you believe she will try to influence him and make him accept her ways?” Darrius was suddenly serious.

“I don’t know,” Nadaira said, watching Halik bow before Théodhild and request Arwan’s permission to dance with her. The chieftain’s son gave a curt nod. Not a single muscle moved on his face. “I do not know her yet. If you will excuse me…”

Darrius bowed to her again, but his attention was on his older brother’s wife now.


Covering her face with her veil again, she glided along the lines of seated guests until she reached the gloomy man in the corner.

“Do you recognize me?” she paused to stare at him.

He nodded.

“Then meet me outside.”

Nadaira continued onwards, stopping to chat with a couple of Haradrim she knew. The man rose and left, but she only followed him after a longer while. Let him wait, she thought.
Halik wasn’t happy about having to dance with Arwan’s new wife. He feared the chieftain’s son would see in him a competition. However, he was not in habit of going against his sister’s will.
“My lord, my lady,” he bowed before the couple after the dance had ended, failing to notice the way they were staring at each other. “May I ask your permission to invite your wife to dance, Arwan?”

The older man gave a curt nod, and Halik offered his hand to Théodhild with a smile. “My lady? May I have the honour?”

She seemed to hesitate before accepting his hand. But Théodhild had better sense than to deny the man his request. “To dance with a gallant man such as yourself would be a pleasure,” she said with a bright smile. It was said that Théodhild’s smile was one of her best assets. When genuine, it lit up her face like the sun, and her clear grey eyes reflected that. “May I ask your name, my lord?”

“My name is Halik, my lady,” he just had to smile back at her just as brightly. “Always at your service.”

“And how you do you find Rohan, lord Halik?” the princess asked, keeping her attention on the young man. She did not recognize him from Arwan’s close attendants, but after seeing he and Arwan’s brother Darrius talking candidly at the table, she assumed he was from an important family of the Haradrim.

“Most intriguing, I must admit. You have buildings the likes of which I have never seen, and you yourselves are…” he blushed fiercely, “well, very different. I don’t mean it in a bad way! Just - different. Which, “he grinned at her sheepishly, “brings me to a very sensitive matter, my lady.”

Théodhild stepped around Halik, scarlet skirts whirling in a flash of fire, her hand on his shoulder. “And what may that be?” Her agile mind ran through a thousand possibilities before landing on some jest. [i/]Surely there is nothing amiss already![/i] she thought as she turned back in front of Halik.

“I must confess I don’t have a clue how to dance your dances,” he grimaced. “I’m afraid I have to ask you to teach me.”

Théodhild laughed lightly. “Dancing is not difficult; you will learn quickly, I am sure.” And so she signaled the musicians to play a lively tune. She taught him the basics, all of the steps and turns and hand gestures. The Haradrim man learned quickly as she had predicted. They soon encouraged others to come join them, but Théodhild noticed that none of the couples were mixes of Haradrim and other guests. Her eyes caught the glance of her husband, and immediately she sensed his displeasure. “Tell me, Halik, what were you and my husband’s brother discussing earlier? You seemed quite aroused with laughter.”

Halik was so concentrated on following the steps and repeating the gestures he was caught by surprise with her question.

“Well… I must confess I am quite ashamed to say,” he furrowed his brow and he almost tripped over himself trying to get through a particularly complicated combination of step sequence. “But we were discussing you, and your new husband. We were comparing his agility on the dance floor to yours, and you were every time the winner. Arwan in unbeatable when on horseback, however his legs are not as quick as his hands are, when on solid ground.”

Actually, there had been also another kind of agility they had been discussing, but he chose not to mention it.

At that, Théodhild had to laugh. “I have yet to meet anyone who can best a Rohirrim on a horse. Perhaps on the morrow we may stage a competition about who can ride better?” It had often been said that the horses of Rohan were matched by none in Middle-earth, not even those of the Elves. Théodhild had seen some of the Haradric horses - they were small and slender, with dipped faces and sturdy backs. Perhaps they were good for living in the hot and arid climates of Harad, but horses from Rohan were much larger, more adaptable, and possessed significant endurance.

“That is not a bad idea!” Halik’s eyes lit up at the prospect of such a competition. Among the tribes of Haradrim, it was no unusual thing, but he had yet to take part in one that was against quite a different opponent. “I will talk to chieftain Haidar about it later.”

All of a sudden, the dance was over, and Halik saw other dancers bowing and curtsying, so he clumsily tried to follow suit and hoped he didn’t look too silly.

Théodhild curtsied to Halik and returned to her mother’s side. She refused further offers to dance, claiming exhaustion, so instead she sat back in the chair and surveyed the crowd. Her sight was caught by a veiled, curvaceous woman returning from outside, looking furtive but still a part of the crowd. Fengel’s daughter noticed that the man she espied earlier, however, was no longer present. When had he left? A nagging feeling sank in Théodhild’s gut. Something is awry, she knew, but before she could say anything again, revelers called for them to return to the mead hall for the feast.
We still remember, we who dwell In this far land, beneath the trees The starlight on the Western seas...
In the Realm of Ulmo
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on: October 07, 2014 07:20
(This is a jp with Carandra!

Note: this is set a few weeks before the wedding.)

A hot, moist wind carried with it the tangy and heady scent of the sea as it gusted over the toiling, grunting, and sweating bodies on the sandy and rocky shore below. Swelling waves crashed and receded as the tide grew higher. A tall and slender man surveyed the men from a large tent located inland from the sea. Gull feather-fletched arrows flew from thrumming bowstrings into driftwood targets, the twisted wood occasionally jumping into the air as an arrow pierced the smooth bark. Other men wearing boiled iron spike-studded leather armor thrust and parried with wooden, blunt-tipped swords as they danced across the sand. The man narrowed his eyes and creased his brow as he watched two young lithe boys swing their swords half-heartedly at each other, seemingly reluctant to strike the other. “How weak,” he muttered to himself as he retreated inside his tent to avoid the glare of the sun at zenith.

Dirbalch placed himself in front of a rounded and burnished steel shield he used as mirror. Though his appearance was distorted, the captain sought to make himself presentable before chastising the youths. He pulled his raven hair back into a tail and tied it with a leather strip. Then he pulled a horsehide vest over his astonishingly white tunic and attached a light green cloak about his shoulders with a flourish. This he secured with a silver brooch shaped like a ship. Finally Dirbalch tightened a leather belt containing his sword around his trim waist. The sword was of steel, with a deep blood channel running down its center and freshly-sharpened edges. The blade ended in a black hilt with silver tracing throughout the crossguard and grip, and the pommel contained three sea-blue stones. It was a pretty weapon but sharp as a midwinter’s eve. Satisfied with his appearance, Dirbalch straightened his vest one last time, ducked out of the tent, and stepped out into the sunshine.

The sand felt hot on his leather boots, but Dirbalch was used to the heat. He in fact thrived on it. He followed a path from the dunes where their main camp lay to the sea. As the captain walked, his second-in-command Nárussë fell in beside him. “What news?” Dirbalch asked bluntly without any greetings.

The sturdy taciturn soldier barked out his news quickly. “Lord Sangwahyando wishes for you to push these recruits harder. They must be ready to march in three moons' time. We are to war against the Sandstones, and he feels they are nothing better than fleas to be crushed beneath his feet.”

“I would crush Lord Song beneath my own feet,” Dirbalch muttered under his breath, irritated. “What else is there to report?”

“The Leaf Blades have sent an emissary to treat with us one last time since we cannot seem to settle on an agreement which would benefit both of us. They demand more access to water where we can give them none. We have opened up the water routes as much as we dare.”

“If we want their help in this venture of ours, we need to concede more to them. I told Sangwahyando that, but he would have none of it. Anything else?” Dirbalch quickened his step as they descended the last dune to the sea.

“Nay, my lord, that is it for now.”

“Very well, pray fetch my sister to me. You will find her frolicking amidst the healers on the south side of camp.”

In the meantime, Dirbalch marched his way through the training men to the pair of lads who had finally stopped “fighting”, if you could even call it that. “What is this?” he shouted at them walking into their midst. “Are you too wet-behind-the-ears that you cannot even lift a blade without it slipping from your grasp? Stand up straight and face each other.” He waited until they did as they were told. “Now, get into a fighting stance. Make sure you are balanced and light on your feet. You do not know how your opponent will move.” He shoved one boy out of the way and took his wooden sword. “Now, come at me, boy.”

The lad hesitated. Disdain and arrogance was written clear as day on his face. He lifted his sword and ran at Dirbalch with a roar. The older man stepped to the side and thumped the lad on the back with the hilt of the wooden sword, knocking him to the ground. “Again!” the captain gruffed, moving backwards to give the boy room to stand. He regained his footing and came at Dirbalch again. This time, the boy leapt to the side as Dirbalch did and tripped the older man. Almost immediately the boy withdrew a sharp dagger, knelt on the captain’s chest, and pressed it to Dirbalch’s throat.

“My name is Balak. You killed my father in Pelargir during a raid on the river. Your life is mine,” Balak snarled, inching the knife further towards the juncture of his neck and head.

Dirbalch frowned as recognition dawned on his face of the incident and at the fact he had been taken unawares by a mere boy. He thrust his knee into Balak’s groin, and as the boy recoiled, the captain withdrew his own sword and slashed Balak’s throat. His lifeblood spilled onto the sand, cutting red rivulets through the grainy material. Dirbalch stood and dusted his breeches off. He looked for the other boy, but he had taken off quick as lightning. The captain shrugged and strolled through the others who were training as he waited for his sister. One life of some misbegotten rat of a boy mattered not to him. Dirbalch ruled by reputation and deed - this one incident would pass like the boy unnoticed.

Aetha was elbows deep in soil when Nárussë showed up on the edge of her circle of tents. The man said nothing, his dislike for her was known, and Aetha knew why he was there... or at least had an inclination. She nodded and rose from her small garden of herbs, brushed the dirt off of her hands, and followed. Her stride was quick, and she easily paced the soldier. He seemed to not be amused by this and quickened his own pace. She rolled her eyes, changed gait mildly, but let the man lead. The confrontation wasn’t worth it. Her pace was long mostly owing to her short stature and dislike of being left behind, not out of some need to compete, though her brother and those closest to him always seemed to think otherwise.

When his tent was near, she passed him and went the rest of the distance on her own. She threw open the flap to his tent and sat down on the nearest cushion, crossing her bare feet.
She looked up at him, said nothing, but raised an eyebrow in inquiry. Usually he left her to her ‘frolicking’ as he dismissively would call it, in his eyes anything that was not fighting was frolicking. No matter how many times she had stitched him up and helped set broken bones, pointing out that he could not fight, nor could anyone else, without the aid of healers.

“so what is it? I can see no blood...” she surveyed him from her seat.

Dirbalch smiled thinly at Aetha. “I need your help with something, sister. Will you walk with me?” he asked, offering her his arm.

She eyed him once more, and then rose taking the proffered arm. “Is this a new kind of ‘frolicking’ as endorsed by you?”

He shot her a sideways glance at her sarcasm, but he shrugged it off. “You will be doing frolicking, yes, amidst the horselords.”

She almost stopped in her steps, but made up for the lost momentum. “Doing what, exactly? the horsemen aren’t known for their hospitality of our people... what good can I do for you behind their borders?”

“The wrinkled old gelding who leads the Sandstones is wedding his eldest son to a broodmare of Rohan, King Fengel’s youngest, in a few weeks. I require your presence there as an informer, spy, frolicker, call it what you’d like. Events will be set in motion, and we need a set of eyes and ears amongst them.”

She walked in silence a few more steps, mulling it over. She was going to say yes, she cared for her brother and there were very few things she would not for him, even if no one else understood her affections, that bothered her little.

“Will you be meeting me there, or should I find some way of passing along my findings?”

“I will send along a few soldiers with you.” He glanced once more at Aetha, a rare smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. “No, not Nárussë. I need him to treat with Lord Song in my stead so I need not be in his presence.” He paused in thought. “I will not be traveling to the wedding, but you will attend upon a lady who is. Lady Azrubêl, Lord Song’s sister, is going as his emissary.”

“And you just wish me to watch the higher-ups get drunk and make false promises...or are you expecting something more to happen?” She leaned her head against his arm for a moment

“All I can tell you is to watch yourself. Keep to the sides and get close to none.” Dirbalch refused to say more because the less his sister knew, the better, just in case she was questioned.

“if it were anyone else asking, I’d refuse, you know” she looked back up at him. She was, surprisingly, the less affectionate of the pair (at least as far as the other was concerned) but she trusted him, and knew that he trusted her.

“when do I leave?”

“If it were any other commander but me, they would have your head if you refused,” he replied, arching an eyebrow knowingly at her. “But I should like you to leave on the morrow. Report to Lady Azrubêl in the keep. She will be found in conference with Lord Song.”

She nodded, dropping her hand down to her brother’s she gave it a squeeze. “I’ll seek you out before we depart”. With that, she looked back at him once, flashed him a quick smile, and padded off to meet with the Lady within the keep- dirty bare feet and all.

[Edited on 10/08/2014 by Dinenlasse]

[Edited on 10/08/2014 by Dinenlasse]
"There is no such thing as a geek, just those who love things the rest of humanity finds weird."
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on: October 15, 2014 02:57
((if there are changes needed, let me know ))

Aetha was unsure of what to expect during her time within the lands of the Horse Lords, but she found very few things unpleasant. And some things were even enjoyable. There were fewer responsibilities, and therefore, she found herself afforded the rare luxury of sleeping past dawn. Lady Azrubêl seemed to forget that Aetha was there, so provided she stayed out of sight, her time was her own. And so she took to wandering about the encampments of her own peoples, and ventured as far and as often as she could into the holdings of the horse-lords. She got a few curious looks, and some unfriendly ones, but all in all, she was utterly unremarkable in her appearance, excepting only her short stature- her skin was swarthy like most of her kin, and her eyes dark. Her long black hair was kept wound around her head, a scarf tucked around it to keep out the dust. She kept quiet, and designed her outings such that she was forgotten as soon as she was out of sight. Thus far she was utterly unsure of why her brother seemed to want eyes here.

The day of wedding seemed at first to be unremarkable as far as things like “portents” might signify, but there were many that remarked that it seemed a fortuitous day for such. Aetha was not much prone to an excess of superstitions. There were things in which she did believe and hold faith, but not many. When at last the ceremony was upon them, she donned her best garments- simply but elagantly done up in deep golds and reds the colors of dark wine and carefully applied khol around her eyes. Upon finishing, she surveyed herself in the polished brass mirror. Pleased with the results of her efforts, she left the encampment and attached herself to the trailing end of Azrubêl’s small party.

The bride in question was not the most impressive of figures, and seemed to be pale. Aetha knew that their standards of beauty were not the same of that of the horse-lords, but she feared what the sun would soon do to the pale and as of yet untried skin. She seemed stiff, as well as the groom, although all cheered as if this were a match made for affection instead of an attempt to mend a generations long rift.
But soon, all withdrew to the feast. While there were some efforts to accommodate the Haradrim, the feeling overall was that, Aetha could only assume, of a horse-lord celebration. She sat at the end of a table, eating and drinking what she would, all was excellent even if surprising or unexpected. The celebrations were getting louder and louder and many liberties were being taken. She surveyed the hall- children would be sired this night. legitimate and otherwise. Soon enough, though, even she let herself relax enough to enjoy herself, allowing for a few dances and even an encouraging smile or two at the few that tried to catch her eye.

There was one figure that caught her eye, dark, sitting in a corner. The only one not partaking in the frivolities present, was a stone faced gloomy man, mostly obscured from her sight through shadows and objects in the way. Her eyes narrowed and the small smile that had been there previously left, brows furrowing in thought. His gaze met hers for a moment, he did not seem familiar and if he knew her or had any other thoughts, his face did not betray them before removing his gaze. When next she looked in his direction, he was gone.

This unsettled her.
Mon coeur est genre, mais je suis un monster. (My heart is kind, but I am a monster.)
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on: October 15, 2014 11:01
(Had a little help from Dinen on this one.)

As his dance with Théodhild ended, Arwan separated from the Rohirric princess. Before he could say anything more to her, Halik joined the two on the dance floor. With him there and so many eyes on them, it was not the place to discuss with his wife the nuances and behaviors of the Haradrim. There would be plenty of time for discussion later that night. With a stiff tilt of his head, Arwan gave Halik permission to dance with his wife. The prince was irritated with Théodhild for so brazenly resisting his word, though looking back he may have been too forceful for the northern woman. His people were raised hard, and he was no exception. His princess would have to get used to his demeanor if she were to follow him like a loyal wife should.

After departing the dance floor Arwan indulged himself and allowed himself a glass of wine. The liquid was deep red, and had a dry taste with a fruity bouquet when he sniffed at it before his first sip. He hadn’t much sampled the wines made north of the border, but if they were all of this quality, he mused, then they knew how to do at least one thing right.

As he returned to his seat, Darrius was just standing to leave. “I thought that you might dance more than just once this night brother, but perhaps the movements are too fluid for your stiff frame.” he sent an elbow into his brother’s ribs with a grin spread across his face, but none of the mirth was returned. “As it happens, I have not yet sampled all that I wanted to from the north yet, if you’ll excuse me.” He stood and finished the last remains in his goblet before setting it aside. “The wine is nice, and the food ripe. But I hear the women here are sweeter than honey, and I intend to find out how true it rings.” Arwan shoved his younger brother away, a slightly annoyed look on his face.

“Be mindful, you represent our family while you are here.” Arwan chastised as Darrius slunk away, bowing low in a mocking way with his arms spread in apology. The younger brother soon was dancing with some of the lower caste women, serving maids and the like who wouldn’t turn away a dance, even with a Haradrim. Darrius found that the less higher up the ladder you were born, the less likely they would care how far his hands strayed during the dance as well.

Arwan watched his brother dance and felt a slight twinge of jealousy. His brother was not beholden to rules and structure like Arwan, and at some moments he desired that freedom. Inevitably though, the lack of discipline and structure would get the younger in trouble, and his lax attitude towards the consequences was infuriating.

The night rolled on and as more people grew more intoxicated, the hall began to clear. Through it all, Arwan sat at his place of honor in vigilance. He would drink, but only so much that he knew would not cloud his mind. His wife’s comments about the mysterious stranger gnawed at him, and caught himself scrutinizing the guests with more than passing interest on several occasions. It rankled him that her unfounded comment had worked its way into his mind so thoroughly. He sipped from his goblet once more, his hard eyes searching the crowd.

Meanwhile, Darrius had been dancing most the night with women whose names he could not remember. He had pinched his share of servants and snuck away with one or two for a time before returning to the floor to do it all again. The mood was light and his spirits high, having gone through with the ceremony and thus released from any obligation for a time. He had spotted Nadiria again from time to time and although he felt a draw to go speak with her once again and perhaps convince her to dance, he had always been busy at the time.

The loss was not something to lament though. He had known her a long time, and over the years the two of them had drifted together and then apart several times. They both had like personalities in that way, always ready to flow instead of fixed into a foundation like Arwan. At the moment Darrius was entertaining a servant to one of the northern ladies. She had auburn hair and eyes like crystal, and when she laughed it was bubbly and inviting. “I had heard that m’lord has gifted your brother some real Rohirric horses, noble blood and all.”

“Has he? I hadn’t heard.” Darrius said with a sly smile, “Perhaps you could show me the stables where they keep them. A private tour before they are handed over to us.” His smile crept larger as he winked at the maiden. She giggled and blushed furiously before casting sideways glances to see who might be looking before taking his hand and leading the younger brother out through a side door.

The night was starting to come to a close and just when the festivities seemed to be dying down the king roused himself and started calling for attention. “It is past time my new son and daughter consummate this marriage and breed me some grandchildren!” he boomed over the audience. His large arms gesticulated wildly as he spoke, the wine in his goblet hopelessly flying out in drops and streams around him. He gestured to the remaining handmaidens standing by to carry the couple off to the bedchamber. Arwan was somewhat flustered at the sudden change of events and even though his face remained calm and passive, a hint of nervousness crept into his stomach.

He stood and extended a formal hand to Théodhild, who was still seated, and helped her out of the chair. He had meant to walk her civilly, but the drunken mob of guests began to forcefully move and even lift the couple into the air to carry them into the bedroom. “Is this normal for Rohirric weddings?” He asked his wife as he was lifted onto the shoulders of several men. He struggled in vain to right himself and plant both feet on the floor.

wore an expression that seemed to hint that this practice was not all that common, and that her father had more to do with their predicament than tradition. After a few twists and turns, the newlywed couple were unceremoniously deposited onto the large fresh bed. Those who escorted the couple to their rooms left to the sound of cheers, closing the door behind them. Shouts and singing, and a little bit of chanting, could be heard outside the door. Luckily someone had either came to their senses, or a more sober savior had ushered the drunken group away to give Arwan and Théodhild some privacy.

Now flustered and unsure of how to proceed, Arwan climbed back off the bed and examined the room. “It is much nicer than when I was first inside.” he remarked to Théodhild as she rose to her feet next to him.

“I had it cleaned and prepared again to better fit a prince and husband to a princess of Rohan.” she replied, straightening her dress that had been disheveled from the ride over. “I couldn’t bear the thought of spending my wedding night in a pig sty.” She tried to keep the bitterness out of her voice, but it still crept in.

Someone in their infinite wisdom had decided to place a decanter of wine and two goblets on the bedside table. Knowing the ordeal which lay ahead of her, Théodhild needed all the liquid courage she could get. She poured the glistening wine and immediately drained her glass. She poured another glass and swirled it around the glass. “I am not a broodmare,” she muttered to herself, hoping Arwan did not hear her. The princess knew he was displeased, but she would not have herself fail to make her concerns known about the furtive man. Théodhild despised her father for likening her to a horse. Normally that would be considered an honor, but where her father was concerned, Théodhild knew she was only a piece of property to be auctioned to the most suitable bidder. And she had been sold. But then Théodhild thought of her proud ancestors. As they had, she must now be brave.

She turned to Arwan and said thoughtfully, “Neither of us wanted this, did we, Arwan?” Théodhild took her husband’s hand and rubbed it softly like Aelfgyth when she was younger as a way of comforting her. “But it was duty that bade us agree, and it is now duty which unites us. Perhaps we can grow to be fond of one another, even though our backgrounds separate us. I shall never strive to test your anger or make you think ill of me, and I shall work to be an obedient and respectful wife who will bear you many sons.”

For a moment, Théodhild swore she saw for the first time the flicker of a smile on her husband’s normally stony face, but perhaps it was only a trick of the firelight. “And I will strive to be the husband you want, and not the one forced upon you.” He finished.

Arwan stared at Théodhild as the fire started to burn low. The orange light made shadows dance across her crimson dress. He steeled his resolve and then took another step closer to her. They were very close now, uncomfortably close if they had been strangers. In a real way, they still were. He reached up, and with a firm hand took the goblet from her hand, and placed it down on the table next to them. The dagger he had given her at the ceremony followed the goblet, and came to rest on the side table. His hands ran up her bare arms, the dark skin a sharp contrast to the milkiness of her own. With deft fingers he undid the ties that held the garment in place, and it fell to the floor. A puddle of liquid fire pooled at Théodhild’s feet, the folds of silk wrapped around her ankles like a coiled serpent. She took a step out of the puddle, then moved her other foot to push the dress away. As she stood bare, the flames made her skin glow orange.

Arwan allowed himself a moment to soak her in, and felt a yearning to lift the woman into his arms. He undid his belt and let it fall to the floor, then unwrapped the damask robe he wore and let it puddle on the floor with the dress, white on red. He reached out and took her chin in his callused hands, kissing her. The kiss lingered, softly at first then growing more urgent. His hands were firm, but not rough and he was careful to be gentle with his wife as he took her in his arms, moved her to the bed, and laid with her.

Some time later, the couple lay in the bed together. The fire had burned out and was only low embers, keeping the room pleasantly dark. Arwan could feel the pulse of his wife as his arm lay wrapped around her.

Faintly, almost as if from a dream Arwan heard voices. They were urgent, though still far off. He stirred in bed, unwinding himself from Théodhild as he sat up. “Is something wrong?” she asked, as she stirred from sleep.

“It is nothing, my wife, go back to sleep.” He said as he stood. The voices were loud now, and as his feet planted on the floor and he roused himself from bed he heard the unmistakable sound of steel skirling on steel, then the sound of grunts and men dying. Arwan was unarmed and unarmored, his weapons backed in bundles and tied with leather to signify peace on this mission. Two sharp pounds sounded on the door, then wood splintered and the door caved in. Arwan grabbed the only weapon he had available, his wife’s ceremonial knife that now lay on the bedside table. He grabbed for it and bared the blade, naked steel reflecting the low light of the embers.

His intruders, two in number and dressed for celebration, had a sword and small spear bared and pointed at him. “This is him, the prince.” One spoke. As Arwan studied them closer he recognized swarthy skin, not the pale skin of the north. His own people were brandishing weapons at him.

“Make it quick, he has nothing to guard himself with. Once we’re done with him and the princess, head back to the main hall to finish any survivors. This is already too messy and out of hand. He should have died quietly like it was her that did it. Azgar will have our heads if this goes any worse than it already has.” The second one, who Arwan saw was the one in charge, spoke harshly, gesturing at the naked prince.

Arwan felt a chill run down his spine, though not of fear. A pit of anger opened inside of his stomach. Azgar. He was very prominent in the Water Dogs. If his sources were right, he was being groomed for leadership of the tribe much like Arwan was for his own people. Lines began to connect in his head from dots he had made long ago. He snarled at them, “Shut up” as he lowered himself into a fighting stance. “Come to me and die,” he growled.

As one, the two moved against him the sword slashing and the spear stabbing for his gut. Arwan smacked the sword away with the knife and spun within reach of the spear. Grabbing the weapon by its haft he pulled and then slammed his head into the attacker’s nose. The man collapsed on the ground, swearing and gurgling through bubbles of blood. The sword retracted and slashed again, forcing the prince back on the defense. The second attacker, the leader of the two, moved forward with every swing, pushing Arwan back to where he could no longer retreat.

As the fighting occurred, Théodhild scrambled to the far side of the room, the sheets tangled about her like a robe. She knew that if Arwan failed to protect them, there would be no saving her. Never before had she been so frightened. The princess blanched as one man fell to the ground with a stream of blood spouting from his broken nose. Then, through some sheer force of will or inner pit of madness she shouted, “It isn’t him you want, is it? Come, take me instead. I am the daughter of a king, not some son of a lowborn tribe.” And for half-a-second, their attention turned to her. And half-a-second was all Arwan needed.

The attacker with the sword turned an incredulous eye towards the woman garbed in only a bed sheet, a derisive smirk already on his face from backing Arwan to a wall. In the split second that glance took, Arwan slapped the knife blade against the attacker’s wrist. The sword fell to the ground and as the attacker tried to backpedal to retreat, he tripped in the clothing the lovers had shed just a few hours ago. He fell hard onto the floor, Arwan seizing the moment to follow and straddle the man, his dagger poised above the man’s chest.

“Azgar made a mistake in sending a Dog to hunt a wolf.” Arwan whispered at the man, then with a primal growl leaned on the dagger, and it slid into the assailant’s chest. The steel melted into flesh, bouncing off a rib and then piercing into his heart. Arwan could feel the hilt vibrate with each dying beat of his attacker, The throbbing of his heart slowing to silence.

Arwan stood from the corpse, then pulled the blade from the attackers chest. The second man had rolled onto his hands and knees, blood still pouring from his nose and mouth. “Forgive me, they made me do-” His pleas were cut off as Arwan gripped the man by his hair, lifted his head, and drug the blade across his throat. Blood spilled over his hand and onto the floor. As he let the body fall limply to the ground, Arwan cleaned the blade on the robes of the second slain attacker.

“If a Dog tries to bite your hand, you do not reason with it, you put it down.” He explained to Théodhild as he cleaned his hands of the blood, then rushed to dress himself and untie his two swords he had packed away. “I must go to the main hall to see what else is happening. They said there were more there as well. Find somewhere to hide, where no one will find you.” He took the knife and placed it in her hands. “Keep this with you, trust none of my men save my brother. Plunge that into anyone else.” And with that he ran out of the room and down to the main hall.

As he stepped over the sword wielder on his way out, he glanced down at his face and suddenly realized where he had seen the man before. It was the one Théodhild had pointed out to him during their dance, who he had summarily dismissed. That gave him pause, and before he left the doorway, he glanced back to his wife. She still sat in the corner, sheets wrapped around her form to protect herself. She looked terrified. She also had been able to discern a thread subtle enough to pass by his own eyes. He made a note of just how observant and intelligent this woman must be, and the barest of smiles passed over his lips once more before he dashed out of the room to the main hall.

He could smell the blood before he entered the main hall. When he rounded the corner, the sight took his breath away. Corpses lay strewn in puddles of blood, and there was bloody streaks and footprints everywhere from people running away or trying to crawl away after being injured. There were many innocents killed, as much of the Haradrim followed the same code and tied their weapons as a sign of peace to the northerners. Some resisted though, and there were many bodies of what he perceived as the ambushers.

He pushed his way through the gathering crowd to where Darrius was kneeling over a body. Arwan knew who it was before he even approached, and the fit of fear opened in his stomach. He rushed over and knelt next to his brother. Haidar lay on the floor between them, a savage wound in his gut seeped dark blood from his liver. “My son.” the elder said weakly as his eyes fell upon Arwan. “I fear my time is done now, sooner than we had planned.” He coughed, and his body shook at the action. flecks of blood erupted from his lips as the coughing wracked his body. “You shall lead, and lead well. I know you are ready, and you have a strong wife by your side now. Take our tribe, and lead them. Wipe the taint from Harad, do not let this shadow swallow us whole.” Arwan steeled his visage as he took his fathers hands, now so weak and cold.

He did not say a thing, but the determination in his eyes registered to the dying elder, and at that he finally relaxed and let his spirit slip his mortal coil. With a long sigh, Haidar’s body slumped and his eyes stared into nothing. Arwan turned to Darrius as he let his fathers hand slip from his. “Where were you when this happened? How is it that you let our father be unarmed against these mongrels.” Arwan accused to his little brother as he stood.

Darrius followed suit, then straightened his back. “It was not my job to guard our father into old age. No one saw this coming.” He snapped out, “If I were here, you might have lost a brother as well. I only arrived after the surprise attack. I came in from the back and was able to take some from behind and get some weapons. When I got here, it was already too late.” Darrius explained with sharp words.

Arwan let out a long sigh and then wiped the emotion from his face. “We must look towards the future. I have much to share with you.” He said quietly as he grasped his brothers arm and led him away. WHile they were walking, he explained everything that had happened with his attackers, and what the implications were. No longer could they turn blind eyes to what the Water Dogs were doing, what they were plotting. Rumors of shadows were growing all over Harad, and now those shadows were strong enough to strike anywhere. Arwan turned his brother, and they locked eyes. “This is only the beginning.”

[Edited on 10/16/2014 by Naucoaran]
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on: October 16, 2014 11:30
She felt embarrassed on behalf of the newly-weds. Aetha was a very private person, and if she should ever wed, had all intention of keeping the affair as small as possible. And may all good aid come to the people that might try to carry her off in such a manner. She shook her head and returned to her seat, tucking one foot under her as best she could. The festivities were dying down, and most of the participants were too inebriated to perform much function other than to be loud. The feeling of unease that caught her attention earlier had not abated, and soon she withdrew back to her tent. The flap had just barely pulled back when new sounds caught her ears. The sound of steel on steel accompanied with shrieks of dismay and cries of pain. She paused, debating upon her action. She was no fighter, and to charge back in to fight would be just to end her life in a pointless fashion. She looked to her kit in the corner. There was something that she could do. Flinging open the small chest, she began to stuff small jars and bandages within the folds of her clothes, already writing off the loss of her finery- the time it would take to change would be nothing but selfish vanity, which would cost lives. Grabbing a cruel looking dagger from her other chest, she ran back, but kept to the shadows until she could ascertain the situation. Those were Harad men attacking, though she could not immediately place the tribe, but soon when the fighting had moved on, she entered. Aetha surveyed the carnage for a moment, cataloguing those that were dead, those that would be dead regardless of aid, and those that could be saved.

She approached and started tending to one of the horse-men. Kneeling in a pool of blood, Aetha peeled back the shredded tunic to reveal many deep lacerations, as she probed them with her fingers, it was revealed that he would survive this. Provided she tended to him. He started to jabber in his language to fast for her level of comprehension, but she understood the pleading and fear in his tone. She pitied him, but then pushed it away as she set to work pulling out different salves and ointments from various pouches and places about her person. The man in question soon ceased his chattering and lay there groaning in varying volumes until he saw her pull out her bone needle, and then the man whimpered. She set it down and looked at him with a hard, level stare before leaning in and clucking her tongue at him, speaking in his own tongue as she understood it.

“tsk, tsk, tsk...” she took his face in her hands, getting some of the man’s own blood upon his face, “that is a sound for children” she put some disdain in the word. She leaned back to sit on her heels “I have no time to heal children, I am here to heal warriors. Yes?”

the man nodded weakly, and she did as well. “Good”

To his credit the cries of pain were far fewer and much quieter after that, and those that were around him that had heard their exchange had already learned their lesson from the comrade, and kept their pain to themselves. Soon after that man was tended to, she turned to a fallen of her own tribe, his hand gone, but he had had enough sense to compress at the elbow and so had prevented himself from losing too much blood. She dragged a blade over to one of the few lit fire pits, while waiting on the blade to glow, she tended to a few others as best she could, her best robes utterly ruined in the blood of others. When at last it did glow red, she carefully removed it from the embers and brought it to the now handless man. He stared at it, and then her. Closing his eyes, he nodded, gritting his teeth. His cry was silent, and the smell of searing flesh almost made Aetha gag. But soon it was over, and she cleaned it and wrapped it in a length of her skirt she hacked off.
It was not much longer after that point that Arwan reentered. He and his brother stood over the prone figure of an older man that she had deemed beyond saving. And not a moment later, his old body relaxed in only the way one who no longer had the burden of life could. There were very few left that could be saved within the hall. She listened to the conversation of Arwan and his brother as best she could while stitching up one last survivor. She rose, and padded out of the area, bloody footprints in her wake, following the carnage. Within the halls of the hold, there was only one still breathing, and even as she tended to him, she knew that it was unlikely he’d live through til dawn. He seemed young, pale skin going ever paler as she tried to staunch his bleeding. When at last she did what she could, she rose and turned the corner when strong hands reached from behind her, wrapping themselves in her braid and veil, pulling her off her feet, when then a dagger was at her throat.

“what are you doing?” it was a voice ragged with anger and tinged with fear. Aetha slowly moved to her knees, hands going to the ones around her throat, which was constricted too tightly to answer.
Mon coeur est genre, mais je suis un monster. (My heart is kind, but I am a monster.)
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on: October 16, 2014 07:16
(This is a joint post with Carandra.)

Théodhild watched Arwan retreat and felt a surge of pride after yet another hint of a smile crossed his face before he ran into the main hall. Perhaps there is hope for us after all, she mused despite the fact she was trembling from head to toe. The princess disentangled herself from the bedsheet and shrugged into a spare linen tunic and breeches that had been left in their room. The tangy iron smell of blood and entrails permeated the air, and Théodhild had to prevent herself from wretching as she stepped gingerly amongst the Haradrim corpses. Their blood had seeped through the rushes and soaked her scarlet gown. Théodhild sighed wistfully for but a moment - her dress was gorgeous and she hated that it had been despoiled, but in a small way it had saved their lives.

Moving quickly and quietly, one eye on the shattered door in case of intruders, Théodhild stripped the swordsman of his boiled armor and gear. She fumbled with the buckles on the breastplate, but eventually Théodhild secured it. They were of a same height. The armor, however loosely it fit, would at least protect her vital regions. His sword was particularly fine, but the princess did not have time to admire it. It was heavy and a bit unwieldy to Fengel’s daughter. She wrapped the man’s sword belt around her slender waist and returned the sword to its sheath. Tucking the dagger into another groove in the belt, Théodhild backed away from the door while grasping at a torch from the wall. There seemed to be no noise outside save those cries of the wounded, but she was taking no chances. On the north wall hung a threadbare tapestry, depicting a herd of mearas galloping across a field of green. The princess moved it aside and felt for a notch in the wooden wall. Her fingers soon found it. She touched the notch lightly, and almost like magic a wall panel opened inward, revealing a steep descent of stone stairs. Théodhild stepped onto the landing and pushed the door shut. Almost immediately she heard shouts in the room behind her. “Where is she?” a woman’s voice shouted, fraught with agitation. “Did they kill her?”

A deep baritone voice responded, “Nay, the prince slayed them before they had a chance. They fell like sheep before a wolf.” She heard the low murmur of other voices as they rummaged around the room. Holding her breath since she knew not if they were friend or foe, Théodhild hurried down the steps. She carried the torch in front of her like a lantern. The passageway twisted and turned as it grew steeper and narrower, but the lady knew this tunnel like the back of her hand. Few knew about it, for really only servants used it to carry bed linens and supplies to and fro, but all the same it served to hide the princess as she moved toward the main hall. She withdrew the knife Arwan had given her from the belt and gripped the hilt tightly. Théodhild continued down the passage, her steps echoing against the thick walls. Leaving the torch behind, she emerged behind her favorite tapestry and instantly the smell of battle and the groans of the dying assaulted her. The princess started to shake. It took a moment for her to catch her breath. Where was her family? Arwan? Were they still alive? She heard no sounds of battle so Théodhild peered around the edge of the tapestry and caught sight of a bent figure tending to an injured man. The princess was hidden enough in shadow where she could not be easily discerned. The figure appeared to be veiled and dark-skinned, clearly not a northerner. That alone angered Théodhild. Hot anger coursed through her veins, and she moved behind the southerner. Deftly she entwined one hand in the woman’s long hair, twisted to expose the neck, and pressed the knife point to her throat. “What are you doing?” she growled hoarsely, not daring to loosen her grip even as the woman clawed at her hands.

Aetha managed to get her fingers under the grip enough to gasp out “healing” before the hand disentangled her fingers and pressed the knife once more with an unforgiving harshness. If her brother had known this was a possibility, she’d never forgive him for putting her into this mess.

“What happened here?” Théodhild asked brusquely, trying to keep the quavering out of her voice. She tucked the blade under the woman’s throat as if to give herself courage. “What did your people do?”

“Not my people, not my tribe- I do not know, not my matters” the words came out somewhat haltingly as breathing was an effort and the tongue foreign to her. She felt a thin trickle of blood make its way down the side of her neck where the tip had nicked her skin.

“would you kill an unarmed...” she sought for the word. What was the northern word for ‘healer’? She had known it moments before. A brief surge of panic and fury came up, but she fought the urge to tense- she was not in the dominant position, and force was not how she’d gain it here.

“Look through my robes, no weapon. Only a knife to cut bandages” here, she hoped that the ragged and mostly absent hem of her garments might help prove her point. She inwardly rolled her eyes as she realized that she could remember ‘bandages’ but not ‘healer’ but with luck, as absent as it seemed this night, that perhaps her captor might deduce what she meant.

Théodhild remained poised for a moment, knowing full well she could end the woman’s life then and there. But then common sense overruled a fervent, angered heart. Whoever she was, this...healer...was not to blame for what had happened in the bedchamber. The princess was not by nature an impetuous, rash woman, and she knew it would avail her little to prick her throat. The surge of adrenaline finally left Fengel’s daughter, and she shoved the woman to the floor. “I am sorry, my lady,” Théodhild said quietly with as much genuineness as she could muster. “I trust your word.”

Aetha moved into a crouch, pivoting on a foot to get away from her would-be assailant in a single, smooth motion while still keeping low. When the Harad woman faced the other, she was a bit surprised to see that it was the Horse-lord’s princess. Shaking her head, she rubbed her throat, muttering angrily in her guttural language before sighing and meeting her gaze. She jerked her chin in the direction of the lad around the corner “needs water, and fire if he will see dawn”. She was not happy, but it was this woman’s fault as much as it was her’s, and given the circumstances, she would not have done much differently.

Standing, she held her hand out to the princess as she had seen others do.
“Aetha” she said.

Théodhild stared down her nose at Aetha but decided to shake her hand. “Théodhild,” she returned before peering around the corner to make sure it was safe to proceed. She recognized Burghild who was scraping blood from the stone floors with a rough dirty rag. “Burghild,” Théodhild said, gesturing the handmaiden over.

“My lady!” Burghild cried happily, throwing aside the rag and stumbling to her feet.

“There is no time for frivolities now, my friend. Fetch us some fresh water and find us near the central fire pit,” Théodhild ordered quickly. “There is a young lad who needs our help.” Adrenaline now flushed Théodhild’s cheeks, and her heart began thumping in her chest like the steady cantering of a horse. “Aetha, how must we move him?” she asked, deferring to the woman’s obvious superior knowledge of medicinal herbs and practices.

Aetha studied him, looked at some of the undamaged rushes, and then back to the lad. “As little movement as possible. Keep him flat. Perhaps drag him on the rushes to the others” She knelt by his head, a thin sheen of sweat had started to bead across his forehead and his lips were blue. His chest still rose and fell, but the sound was thin and ragged. She sighed, there was bleeding on the inside. Not much, or else he’d have passed already. But his odds were not ones she liked.

“Very well. I will take over here. There is a sickbay at the foot of the Meduseld stairs if you would like to further tend others. Your skills will be greatly needed. If you decide to go to the sickbay, ask for Althena. She will be able to direct you further.” She surveyed the woman before her. Aetha had strength and skill, that much was certain. Hopefully she would able to save lives tonight.

“I will go back to the others for the time. Your husband is there, when I left” She nodded her head briefly, and turned and padded away, back to the scene of the carnage from earlier, and to those that she had tended first.

[Edited on 07/08/2016 by Dinenlasse]
"There is no such thing as a geek, just those who love things the rest of humanity finds weird."
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on: October 28, 2014 11:54
A few hours earlier...
Nadaira watched the newly-weds being „escorted” out of the tent to wherever the room was where they were expected to consummate their marriage, and a strange mix of terror and amusement played on her beautiful face. Halik would have chuckled at that, knowing perfectly well how his sister felt about all that marriage business with its rituals and symbolic, but he could not. As he sat there, at the table, with a sugared pear on his plate just about to be consumed, all he could do was stare and... imagine himself in the place of the groom. Halik had never given marriage and wedding any serious thought, but all of a sudden he caught himself thinking that if he were standing there with his bride’s soft hand in his, with blessings and wishes of fertility pouring over them, he’d feel proud and elated! To be lifted up by one’s friends and subjects and carried to his marriage bed – it would be an honor! Especially if the bride was as lovely as...

He cut the thought short. It was not appropriate. He was neither the son of a chieftain, nor his heir and the future leader. And Théodhild was not his bride...

„Come on!” Nadaira pulled him by his sleeve. „We have to join them!”

Halik frowned. Why on earth...

„I thought you didn't’t like wedding rituals. Why so eager to partake in this one?”

„Don’t be stupid!” she hissed in his ear. „We have to see where take them!”

Oh. Halik recoiled as he remembered the plan. Right. The room. They had to know where it was. Very serious, he nodded to his sister.

„I got distracted by my thoughts, sister. I apologize. It will not happen again.”

„I do hope so...” she stared at him a little too close for his comfort, but then thankfully put a joyful smile on her face as she turned to join the ecstatic crowd. It wasn’t just every day that you took part in witnessing a powerful chieftain’s eldest son bedding a king’s youngest daughter. Well, maybe not exactly „witnessed” as in standing next to the bed, but... Damn, he wasn’t going there again! With a decisive grunt, Halik stood and had to run to catch Nadaira.

When the door was shut and the young couple finally left alone to start working on their most important duty, Nadaira was among the last ones to leave. She lowered her head and let her veil cover her head as if she were deep in a prayer for the wellbeing and the fertility of the new family, while her eyes wandered around the passageway, noticing and marking every detail. The guards at the door, their condition (too sober for her liking), the perfectly dim light in the corridors, the wonderfully long shadows all those corners and wooden ornaments were casting... Perfect. As she made her way back, she counted her steps and the doors she passed until every turn, and marked the time it took her to return to the festivities. It had been much too difficult to do with all that noise in her ears.

When she was done with the counting and the calculating, she stopped in midstep. Oh gods, she was really going to do this! She was going to unleash hell upon unsuspecting people. The magnitude of the deed struck her as surely as a desert lightning. She was going to assassinate the Chieftain of her tribe. And his blood.

Well, not exactly. It wouldn’t be actually her, and she had planned nothing of it, she would only open the door and show the attackers where to go. It was not like Haidar’s blood would be on her hands... would it? Did it make her in any way less responsible?

But then she thought of the darkness gathering, of the threats looming over their people, and the outright idiocy of Haidar to have been seeking such an alliance! If one could prevent a disaster from happening, was it not their sacred duty to do so? The path Haidar would take Sandstones down, could only lead to their demise. That hundred-times-damned ass of a donkey just refused to see that the only way Sandstones were to survive and thrive, was to stand with the rest of Haradrim! For the Haradrim to stand as one people - and one people they were...

The moment of doubt was over, and Nadaira glided back to her seat. With sharp eyes she watched the guests getting more and more drunk with every passing moment. Just after the bedding ceremony the royal ladies had excused themselves and retired to their chambers, including the Horselords’ King’s son, but the two most important men of the night went on drinking. The King and the Chieftain were apparently intent on celebrating their newly-forged friendship by drinking themselves to the ground. When both of them embraced and started singing together, each their own terribly wrong tune, Nadaira knew the time had come. She was one of the nery few females still at the tables, and the guards had allowed themselves to be seduced by a goblet or two of the many drinks that flowed as freely as a river.

„It’s time,” Nadaira whispered in her brother’s ear, and Halik rose without comment. He had been only sipping water that night, pretending to pour wine or ale in his goblet – when you are to wield a weapon, you want your hand to be steady and your eye true. The siblings excused themselves and told their nearest neighbors they were to retire as well. Not that the men cared much.

They were not headed for their tent, however. Instead, they followed the deep shadows to the gate. Nadaira jumped as a man magically appeared next to her – but it only was the one she had sent out of the feast tent hours earlier.

They didn’t speak. A quick nod among the two men, and they split in an agreement regarding the following actions. Nadaira threw back her shawl releasing her thick black curls and stepped out of the shadow.

The gate was well illuminated and guarded by two extremely sulky men who, by the looks of them, hated every single soul who had been having any fun that night. Their attention sharp, both of them noticed her instantly. However, the men relaxed visibly seeing that it was only a woman approaching.

„Excuse me... Can help me? Looking for dingdong?” she said in broken Rohirric, attempting to sound helpless. The men frowned failing to understand what was that „dingdong” the beautiful woman was looking for – and that was all it took to set sharp knives in their necks and drop them without sound. The next moment, their bodies were yanked back in the shadows.

As the gate was pushed open, Nadaira stood there to greet the incoming party. A dozen men, armed to their teeth and looking ready for a killing spree, were led by a huge man. Nadaira wasn’t all to familiar with the man, she didn’t even know his name, but not once had she seen him smile. Apparently, that meant he was good at his job.

„Haidar is in the big tent, drinking with the King,” she said urgently. „The young couple is inside the palace, on the next floor. Enter the main door, turn left. At the end of the hall is a staircase that will take you one floor up. Then go right, thirty paces down, turn left, and the third tood on your left will be the one. It’s guarded.”

„You six,” the leader barked, „you heard where to go. Bring me their ears. Be careful, the Chieftain’s son is a formidable warrior. The rest, with me. Where is the youngest?” he turned towards Nadaira, but Halik jumped in.

„Darrius is not to be touched! He was not part of the deal!”

The leader sneered.

„Don’t be so jumpy. I will not seek him, but I won’t offer him my back if he comes at me.”

„Listen, you!” Nadaira snarled, pointing her finger in his ugly face. „If you but touch him I will skin you alive! Any one of you! Is that clear?!”

The leader was furious. He raised his hand as if to slap her, but Halik took a step to shield his sister and glared at the man.

„We have job to do,” there was another voice – the silent man. Nadaira realized it was the first time she had heard him say more than two words at a time. „Let us not waste our time. The rules are clear, and you are expected to follow them. The Rohirrim royalty is not to be touched, neither is Darrius. Now go!”

The leader growled something under his breath, but he was a man who knew how to follow orders. The assassins disappeared into the night. A moment later, screams and sounds of slashing and falling filled the air. Nadaira hoped Darrius was still wherever he was with one of the girls she had seen him sneak off. Not that she liked it – far from it. Usually his behavior irritated her beyond belief, but not tonight. Please let him be with one of those girls! Or two...

„I’ll go and see that they get their job done,” Halik said and ran off into the bloodied night. Nadaira sent a quick prayer the the gods to grant her brother their protection, palmed her own dagger, and followed him quietly.

It was a carnage, a bloody carnage! Halik could hardly believe his eyes as he followed the footsteps of the fighters. The Horselords were too drunk to organize a proper defense when it mattered – in the first moments, and were struck down as weeds. Halik saw the leader of the assassins go one-against-one with Haidar, as the rest of his men spread out bringing death as they came. Haidar was drunk, but he was a warrior. Even in his weakened state he proved to be a worthy opponent, and Halik had to wonder whether the assassin would have been able to take the Chieftain down if the man were sober and alert. The King was nowhere to be seen, probably he had retired to his chambers, Halik breathed with relief. And then Haidar’s defense was broken, and the assassin’s sword slashed the Chieftain’s belly.

With a roar, Halik jumped forward and attacked the assassin. The man was hardly taken by surprise, but his eyes did widen when he saw his attacker. That was all Halik needed. With powerful strikes he forced the man on the defensive as he kept pushing forward. One step, then anoher, and the big bull of a man tripped over a corpse he had no time to notice. Without losing his momentum, Halik kicked the man between the legs. It was dirty fighting, he knew, but there was no way he could ever win the fight if he gave his opponent a moment to recover. Still, even then it was sheer luck he managed to slip past the downed man’s defense and nick his jugular. As a fountain of blood sprung from the man’s neck, Halik made sure he would not rise again.

The Rohirrim had managed to organize a decent defense, and were standing their ground. Time to make sure the next stage of the plan was just as perfectly fulfilled. Halik jumped over the dead bodies of Haidar and his assassin, and raced towards the chamber of the newly-weds.

There were dead guards at the door, and by the sound of clashing steel there was more fighting deeper in the palace. He encountered one of the assassins just finishing off a fair-haired warrior.

„Is Arwan dead yet?” Halik asked the assassin, but the man shook his head.

„I do not know. I was cut off from the rest of the party. I believe they headed this way,” he motioned towards a staircase looming in the flickering light of torches.

Then both of them arrived at the room they had been searching for, they encountered a number of dead bodies. A quick glance told Halik none of them was the Chieftain’s eldest son. Damn it! Carefully, he stepped inside the room. Two more bodies lay in their own blood on the floor, and one of them was the silent man at the party. A curse rolled over Halik’s tongue, as he started to suspect that a part of the plan might have failed. Why did Arwan have to be such a good warrior?!

A subtle movement caught his attention, and he turned to see a wave of fair hair disappear behind a beautiful tapestry with horses on it.

Théodhild! Thinking about Arwan, he had forgotten about her entirely...

The man at his side lunged forward, his sword ready to strike.

Halik didn’t know what came over him. One moment he stood ready to strike anyone that had been marked for death, the next he found himself burying his blade in the armpit of the man going for a kill. The only thing he knew was that she couldn’t die. He would not see her die. By gods, he could not...!

„Where is she?” Nadaira’s voice shook him out of the stupor. Halik blinked, and again, until he regained his senses. „Did they kill her?”

He turned to face his sister.

„Nay, the prince slayed them before they had a chance. They fell like sheep before wolf,” Halik responded avoiding his sister’s sharp eyes.

„Damn it! I just saw Arwan outside, he was unhurt,” Nadaira whispered. „We have lost, my brother.”

„We have not, dear sister,” Halik found his courage to face her. „I killed the one who took Haidar’s life. The traitor is dead. As long as there is no one to point their fingers at us, we are safe.”

„They are,” Nadaira said slowly. „They are dead. I made sure of it. Almost all of them.” Halik saw blood drip from her dagger.

„Then come, let us finish the work. Mayhap, it will prove to be enough with the traitor’s death.”

„Let us hope so,” Nadaira agreed, and they parted ways on their quest for the surviving assassins.

Halik’s thoughts returned to the moment earlier in the chamber, to the moment he saw Théodhild slip away. He imagined the lovely girl he had danced with just a few hours ago, saw her smile again. By gods! Even the very thought of erasing that smile by a bloodies blade seemed like sacrilege to him. He shook his head. What was it with him?! Still, he could not wipe the image of the fragile frame of the Rohirrim princess from his mind. Had she survived?

Turning a corner, he came upon several men who lay wounded on the ground. A quick glance told him all of them were Horselords, one of them still being tended by a Haradrim woman. He was about to turn away when he saw the woman yanked up and a dagger pressed against her throat. Halik assumed a defensive position in a heartbeat, expecting an attack... and saw the one holding the knife. It was... His jay dropped so low he swore he could hear it bang as it hit the ground. There she stood, the fragile lovely thing he had been dancing with, wearing armor and wielding a dagger as if she had been born with it.

That moment, he would not have been able to move a muscle to defend himself if he were attacked. All he could do was stare. He could not wrap his mind around it, but at that moment Théodhild seemed to him even more beautiful than wearing that red dress of hers.

All too soon, she moved to release the Haradrim woman from her hold. They spoke among themselves, but he could not make out a single word. And then, she looked at him.

Suddenly conscious of the blood he was covered with, Halik tried to wipe his face.

„My Lady,” he found his voice. „Are you unhurt?” he asked, and with an alarming clarity, he knew he would tear to pieces any miserable bastard that would have so much as dared to raise his weapon at her.
We still remember, we who dwell In this far land, beneath the trees The starlight on the Western seas...
In the Realm of Ulmo
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on: November 01, 2014 03:50
(This is a jp with Nifredil!)

Halik stood in front of Théodhild, brandishing steel weaponry with blood smeared across them and his person. Burghild and another had pulled the injured Rohirric man toward the main hall as the princess considered the man of the Haradrim who spoke to her. “Are you unhurt, my lady?” he asked, seemingly struck by her sudden appearance.

She could only stare at him until it finally registered that this was the man she danced with. Théodhild blinked a couple of times until she recovered herself and said, “Yes, I am fine, Halik, thank you. But you, what happened?” He looked as if he had been in the midst of the melee. A thousand possibilities streaked across her mind as quick as lightning, one after another. Had he been one of the attackers? Had he been defending himself? Why had he sought her out? Would he attack her? Théodhild held the dagger to the side, clear eyes watching every expression on his face, every step he took towards her, the way he held his weapons and his stance. She ascertained that he was not likely to attack her, but at this moment in time, she did not know who to trust.

“I.. ah…” Halik looked down at his sword as if seeing it for the first time. All that blood on it, it had never mattered before. But what if it was scaring her? He lowered the weapon and attempted to keep it out of sight. “There were intruders…” Damn! She already knew that, you stupid lame bastard… She had had at least two of them slain in her room. Not to mention the next two who had arrived with an intent to kill her - him having been one of them.

He looked directly in her eyes all of a sudden.

“You do not have to fear me, my lady. Ever. I will not hurt you in any way.”

Théodhild furrowed her brows at this. She hardly knew Halik and had never done her any harm. But all the same, she appreciated the sentiment. Among the Haradrim, she needed all the friends she could get to help her through the days ahead. “Thank you, Halik,” she returned graciously, finally stowing her dagger in the belt. “I mean that. I fear I will have too few friends so to have one such as you would make me happy.” For the first time that day she smiled lightly. “Do you know if there are still intruders in the mead hall?”

“There shouldn’t be. At least none were alive when I left,” Halik frowned. But then, Nadaira had followed in his footsteps, and her dagger had had blood on it. Without doubt, he knew she had been making sure none of the attackers talked.

“Do you wish to head that way to be at your Lord husband’s side? It would be my honor to accompany you, in case not all of the fighting is done.”

The princess sized Halik up and decided she would feel safe in his presence. He did not appear to be untrustworthy (and Théodhild was an astute judge of character). “I would be most grateful if you would help me find my family. Arwan returned to the main hall so I know he will be safe with his father and brother. Do you happen to know where my family is?”

“Your family? I’m afraid I have not seen them since they retired to their chamber after you were bedded…” he stumbled and lost the thought for a second, but then regained his wits. “Well, at least your Lady Mother with your siblings did. The King remained in the hall… But I do not recall seeing him there during the attack.”

“Then perhaps she returned to their bedchamber,” she mused, unsheathing the sword from its scabbard. The weapon still felt heavy and cold in her grasp, but it would serve her better than nothing. She gave a cursory glance at their surroundings and determined they were safe for the time being. “Follow me, if you would.” She held the sword in one hand and gestured with the other as they crept through the corridors.

Halik was elated to be allowed to serve as her bodyguard. Having his sword at the ready, he cautiously followed her, alert and prepared for anything.

They eventually reached the oak doors which separated the royal bedchamber from the rest of the mead hall. The doors were usually marked with two rearing horses and guards, but the horses were hacked away by blades and the guards’ corpses lay sprawled in front of them. Théodhild recoiled slightly but gingerly stepped over the bodies. She pushed the door open and was immediately struck by the smell of blood, entrails, and other bodily fluids. The entire bedchamber was in disarray. The tapestries were pulled from the walls, the rushes had been kicked to the side, and the large four-poster bed where the king and queen slept in had crashed to the ground. On the far edge of the bed were huddled her sister and brother.

“Edelwyn? Thengel?” she hailed as they crept into the chamber. Her siblings turned around slowly. Théodhild was struck that tears streamed down Edelwyn’s fair face and Thengel bore a countenance of stone instead of sun.

Thengel struggled to his feet and eyed Halik at Théodhild’s side with anger and mistrust, but he said nothing. “Sister,” he said hoarsely as if a frog was in his throat. “You are alive. Those barbarians did not harm you.” He passed the bed and a couple other bodies to pull her in a tight embrace. The prince looked to be mostly unscathed, save for a few shallow nicks on his face and a deep gash on his left shoulder. It was at least a couple of inches long, and blood leaked through the tunic (which itself looked to have been mauled by a wild boar).

Thengel took Théodhild’s hand and led her towards the far end of the room where her sister knelt and was crying into her hands. As she grew closer to the wall, another body emerged into view. Théodhild gasped and clenched her hand around her brother’s even tighter. “No,” she moaned, scarce believing her eyes.

It was the queen. Her body lay on the cold stones though her neck was twisted askew at a weird angle. Blood had blossomed into red flowers on her white dressing gown, creating a morbidly pretty pattern. Near her lay one more Haradrim, this time a woman, who had a slash across her abdomen, from left shoulder to right hip. She had slumped forward as she fell to her knees, landing to rest in her own internals. “Mother,” Théodhild whispered, voice tight with grief.

The moment Halik had noticed the fallen guards he sensed something was very wrong. According to his knowledge no fighting should have been this far up in the mead hall, and the private chambers of the Royal family were off limits.

In theory.

His blood ran cold when the Princess’ brother wrapped her up in an embrace that spoke of relief, but not only. He quickly registered the insignificant scratches on the Prince’s face and the more serious injury to his shoulder. A wound that would bleed that profusely had to be cut deep, and Halik’s experience as a warrior suggested that was something that best not go untreated. However, his instincts went wild over the very mood in the chamber. Something grave had happened, and although the Prince gave Halik a very distrustful glare, he followed Théodhild inside.

By the gods! It couldn’t be happening! Halik could swear the room went unsteady under his feet as he saw the Queen in the pool of her own blood. One look sufficed to know she was dead, and that same look told him the plan that had seemed so reasonable and easily executed just a short while ago, somehow had gone very very wrong. He shivered where he stood.

He had to tell Nadaira. She’d be outraged, he knew that, and she’d be terrified, he was certain. But what could she do? Well, if there was anyone who could figure a way out of this bloody mess, it was his sister. Halik’s mind was all frozen up. All he could think about was that in a way he was responsible for the tears that brimmed now in the Princess’ eyes. He had allowed those men and women inside, and at least one of them had caused the Queen’s life to be taken. He was guilty, and this harsh feeling struck him unexpectedly hard.

Despite the shock and pain of her mother’s death, somewhere in her muddled thoughts Théodhild knew they had to find their father and alert him to the news. “We must tell Father. If anything, he is in the main chamber with Haidar, and they will be discussing our next actions. We cannot stay here - there is no harm in leaving Mother, however,” she said gravely as a tear rolled down her pale cheek. The princess steeled her resolve and straightened her back.

Thengel nodded his agreement. “Thankfully Morwyn and Théoden are safe. They were well abed before the festivities started. No one knew to look for them in the cellar of my old home.”

“And Éohelm and Erkenbrand?” Théodhild asked her sister, craning her head to look at Edelwyn.

“Erkenbrand was with Morwen and my son. Our brother-in-law is accounted for as well, safe.” Théodhild breathed a sigh of relief. Hopefully there would be no other horrors from this wretched night.

Halik cleared his throat. He was not happy at all to remind the grieving family of his presence, but he just had to say it.

“I am sorry to interrupt but… Haidar no longer lives. He was slain by one of the attackers. He fell a warrior, with his blade in his hand, and his honor intact.”

Théodhild paused in mid-step and cast a disbelieving glance at Halik. Conflicting emotions flickered across her face: anger, grief, anxiety. This was too much to cope with at once. First her mother, now her good-father. Who had done this? She read the same expression on Thengel’s face. Edelwyn remained silent, bearing her own grief. “I must find my husband,” she finally said as they walked slowly back to the main hall. “My place is now at his side. Halik, surely you understand? Thank you very much for your help,” she said by way of dismissal.

“I will see you safely there, my lady,” Halik refused to be dismissed.

The princess frowned slightly but realized she was in no position to argue. The small group eventually found their way back to the main hall where most of the action had happened. Théodhild’s sharp eyes quickly found her husband and Darrius crouched by their father, and King Fengel was located behind an overturned table. He sat on his haunches, clearly still consumed by the intoxicating effects of the night’s festivities, and blinked stupidly as he looked about.

Thunder loomed over Thengel’s normally pleasant features as he walked over to his father. “Mother is dead,” he said bluntly, helping to pull his father to his unsteady feet.

It took a minute for this news to sink in. “Dead?” Fengel muttered, forgetting where he was. “Dead? She can’t be.”

“Father, she is dead,” Théodhild repeated, coming to stand beside her brother. But before they could speak any farther, a voice rang out in the distance.

“You!” the voice cried. “You! You killed our leader’s murderer!”

Halik watched the drunk King of the Horselords with a barely concealed disgust. not once during the night had he behaved as a people’s leader was supposed to. according to his beliefs, at least. and even now, instead of ordering an investigation to find the responsible behind his wife’s murder and swearing he’d avenge her death personally if it came to that, the man was blinking his watered-down eyes and just… standing there! with a snort Halik turned to leave, now that Théodhild was safe at her husband’s side, when he heard the shout.

At first, he didn’t realize the woman was speaking to him and continued making his way out of the hall, but then a hand landed on his wrist.

“It is you, are you not? I saw you…” the woman was staring at him.

Suddenly, the attention of everybody in the hall was on him - and that was creeping him out.

“Ah… I... I have to go now,” Halik unwrapped the woman’s hand off his wrist as gently as he could. He had to talk to Nadaira, he had to find her and discuss the alarming turn of events with his sister. She’d know what to do next.

Théodhild stared at him , and a sneaking thought crossed her mind. How much does Halik know about this? she wondered but then shook the thought away. She made to go after him as the young man scurried away with as much dignity as he could muster to ask him what the woman was talking about, but then her attention was drawn to Arwan who looked at her with questioning eyes. Halik would have to wait until later.
"There is no such thing as a geek, just those who love things the rest of humanity finds weird."
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on: July 07, 2016 12:34
(Another post! Thanks to Cara for her assistance with Aetha's letter!)

Dirbalch growled in anger, crushed the missive in his hand, and flung it into the fire. The flames licked the parchment eagerly, and the red-hot flames crawled across its surface before devouring it hungrily. The captain watched the message turn to ash before rounding on the hapless messenger. The poor lad practically cowered beneath his armor. He stared at Dirbalch apprehensively as he squeaked in a quavering voice. “My lord, will there be a reply?”

A messenger had arrived from his sister regarding the wedding, and her words indicated not everything had gone as planned.

Hail Brother-

I will not waste either of our time with trivial information about traveling here, nor with other pointless trivialities. I’ll confess to my uncertainty as to your insistence at my presence at this wedding. For it in and of itself was unexceptional- there was drink and dancing and the bride seemed stiff and pale.

What I write to you about is about an unexpected attack following the festivities wherein a goodly number of our clansmen- mostly those of the Water Dogs, rose and slew many, Harad and Horsemen alike. The bride and groom were attacked, but beat those that tried to kill them. Haidar, Chieftain, was slain as was the Mother of the Bride.

Tensions are high, as the horsemen suspect all who are not them. Likewise even our own people turn and accuse one another in an effort to discover those who hatched the plot and to throw blame onto others.

I work now as a healer.

I hope this finds you well and bears news that will bring you some clarity.

Your Sister,


Well, they could not have bungled that mission any worse, Dirbalch mused. The Sandstones will now declare war with Haidar’s son at their helm; there is little need for my influence after all. Dirbalch knew dissent rent the other Haradrim tribes, and now surely they felt betrayed that their kindred aligned themselves with the pale Northern folk. He allowed himself a secret smile. He would now be able to sow even more discord than he had originally intended. The pieces of the board were slowly moving into place. Dirblach now focused his attention on the messenger.

The man of Harad glowered at the messenger until he squirmed uncomfortably. There was a palpable tension as the silence stretched for long moments until Dirbalch broke eye contact and turned away to pace the perimeter of his tent as he often did when agitated. “Convey to my sister my thanks for her letter and my relief that she escaped the carnage unscathed,” he said without glancing the messenger’s way.

“A-a-a-anything else, m-m-my l-l-lord?” the lad stammered, visibly shuddering as if he were freezing despite the dry heat of the day.

The captain stopped pacing to face the young boy and crossed his arms. “Just that I expect her full report in a moon’s time.”

“V-v-v-very good, my lord. I s-s-s-shall deliver your message.” He bowed and scurried through the tent door just as another man knocked the flap aside and bowed through the threshold. “Belzagar, you are wanted in the Starward Tower. Now.” He was Lord Sangwahyando’s most important councilor, and he exuded the pomposity, insufferable arrogance, and greasy wheedling of one who had wormed his way into such a position. Dirbalch detested him more than just about anyone else. Morindo was a heavyset, pasty Black Númenorean where the captain was of the Haradrim. This, along with Morindo’s incessant sense of entitlement, caused friction and often eroded the productivity of communication between the pair.

The look Dirbalch gave the councilor would have wilted fresh spring flowers. “Tell me, councilor, when does our lord send his puppet to serve as his lowly errand-boy?” Dirbalch said quietly as he grabbed his cloak and clasped it about his neck, gritting his teeth.

The councilor Morindo threw his head back and laughed. “Tell me, Belzagar,” -here he drew out the name slowly, as if savoring the very taste of it on his tongue-”how is it a murderer came to train our noble recruits? Kinslaying is considered the most accursed of deeds in the eyes of both gods and men, particularly among the Haradrim.”

Dirbalch’s hands clenched in fury, grasping at his cloak rather than Morindo’s fleshy throat. “You know nothing.” He crossed the tent to a table and grabbed his sword belt. As he buckled it around his waist, Dirbalch pondered briefly whether or not it would be long and thick enough to strangle Morindo.

Lord Song’s little songbird chirped happily as he saw a gleam of hatred in the captain’s night-colored eyes, “Aha, I see I have hit a sore spot.” His thick fleshy lips cracked into a broad smile. “Yes, Belzagar, I know your dark past. And do not think I will not bring it to the light of day.” He giggled like a young boy who snuck a hot pie from a windowsill.

With great effort, Dirbalch ignored the jibe and stepped outside, Morindo following at his heels like a trained dog. He blinked against the scorching sunlight of the mid-afternoon. A strong breeze was rolling off the ocean, causing the far distance to appear as a haze. Sweat immediately pricked Dirbalch’s temples, and he wiped it away. His dark grey stallion was brought before him, a fierce beast with a deep barrel chest and a broad back. The captain stroked his nose and ran his hand along the horse’s neck. Then he placed his foot in the stirrup and effortlessly swung his other leg across the saddle. Morindo stumbled his way into a wagon, and the driver threw him a look of disgust. Dirbalch lightly slapped the reins against the horse’s side, and he broke into a brisk trot. The small group moved off toward the main city of Umbar.

From a distance, the haven city of Umbar appeared as a crumbling ruin. High grey towers stood clustered together like a forest of stone trees, and the remains of what was once a proud white pillar crowned the highest hill on the headland. This had once been a monument to the Númenorean king Ar-Pharazôn, he who not only subdued Sauron of old but also fell under his dark dominion and led an attack against the Valar. Some Umbarian inhabitants praised the king, some despised him, but to Dirbalch, Ar-Pharazôn was naught but a fool whose long-passed bones probably now lay at the bottom of the sea.

The city itself was surrounded by rocky hills which served as a natural defense against land-side attacks and the westward side of the city opened to a deep and wide harbor. Currently few ships had dropped anchor in the harbor since most of them were out conducting raids or trading along Gondorian shores. The path out of the dunes broadened into a wide stoned road that could comfortably allow three horse-drawn carts to travel with ample space between them. Dirbalch and the cart carrying Morindo clattered onto the stone road. They shared the road with merchants, farmers, shipwrights and sailors, and other folk who had business in the city. As he rode, the captain kept an astute eye on his surroundings. Townsfolk bustled about as usual. This was a good sign, Dirbalch thought. This meant that either news of the slaughter in Edoras had not yet reached this far south or the Umbarians simply did not care. People pushed to the sides of the road as they recognized the captain’s and Sangwahyando’s emblems emblazoned on the horse’s saddle blanket. Dirbalch’s dark reputation as a cruel man proceeded him amongst the townsfolk, and he often traveled unhindered. No one ever crossed Dirbalch twice, it was said in the shadows of taverns and in back alleys. Those who tried, died.

Eventually Dirbalch and Morindo passed through a city gate manned by two Haradrim wearing Lord Song’s colors. They barely cast a second glance at Dirbalch as his horse trotted over the threshold and stared sullenly at Morindo as he fanned himself in the cart. Beads of sweat rolled down his chins and pooled beneath his last one. He looked utterly miserable. Dirbalch, though sweating as well, was relatively comfortable beneath his light tunic and leggings. He had been born into a tribe of the Sandstones and was raised in this weather. A little heat rarely fazed him. As they moved along the stone road, occasional trees provided some dappled shade as they passed by houses of stone and wood.

The interior of Umbar matched the exterior. Inside there were remains of what were once grand Númenorean structures: homes, pavilions, storefronts. Most of the stone had been repurposed to rebuild the city’s walls; the stronghold called Aranarta, “King’s Fortress”, mockingly by the Haradrim who recognized no king and barely submitted to their Númenorean overlords; and other homes following the destruction of much of Umbar through clashes between the men of the West and the men of the East. The remaining stones were strewn along forgotten roads and city corners. Bases of statues occasionally lined the road, a constant reminder of past bloodshed and how fleeting the memories of heroes’ lives could be. Past all this Dirbalch rode, his sight set on the Aranarta in the distance.

Another large wall surrounded the stronghold, and it leered over the parapets like a hulking beast, cold and unwelcoming. Perhaps in the days of old it had been a warm place, but now it was the home to the Lords of Umbar, who claimed to be descendants of the Gondorian king and rogue Castamir the Usurper. In actuality, there lived no descendants of the corsair king, but his legacy still lived on in the memory of the Black Númenoreans. Dirbalch found it all absurd and yet wisely kept his opinions to himself when he was in council with the rulers of Umbar, Sangwahyando and Angamir. Though Lord Song held most of the power, his younger brother Angamir kept things running smoothly. Both were ruthless. Though he had many enemies, Dirbalch was not one to make them easily. It was easier to stay alive that way...or to slay his enemies, whichever the situation the former mercenary found himself in.

They reached the front gate. Dirbalch reined in his horse and shouted to the threshold, “Open the gates! Lord Sangwahyando requests my presence.” Two heads peered over the battlements and surveyed the men below. One soldier nodded and gestured behind him, “Very well, my lords. Just a minute.” The huge wooden gate swung inward, and the captain and Morindo pressed on. Dirbalch halted his horse and dismounted as a stable boy came forward to claim his mount. The captain flipped a silver coin to the lad and thanked him with a nod. The lad’s eyes grew wide. Morindo stumbled unceremoniously out of the cart and landed on the ground with a thick plop. He scrambled to his feet and brushed the dirt and dust off of his ornate clothing. As he did so, he said to Dirbalch, “Paying servants for their service encourages them to be unruly, Belzagar. Surely you have better sense than that.” Morindo paused as if considering something. “On second thought,” he continued as he began to walk towards the Aranarta, “claiming you have sense is paying you too good of a compliment.”

Dirbalch inhaled deeply and placed himself square in Morindo’s path. Staring at him levelly, the captain said in a low voice, “Do not be surprised if you find yourself with a blade betwixt your ribs one dark, moonless night.” His hand touched the hilt of the sheathed dagger at his hip meaningfully. The fat councillor blinked stupidly as if cold water had been thrown at him, and he huffed and puffed like a bellows. Before Morindo could retaliate with a reply, Dirbalch turned on his heel and walked towards the stronghold. The Starward Tower loomed over them behind the Aranarta from its vantage on a large outcropping of rock. It cast a long shadow over them, and the man allowed his gaze to follow its ascent until he craned his neck to view the top. As the rest of Umbar, it had seen better days, but it still stood strong and sturdy.

A steward rushed out to greet them. He bowed and began to speak quickly, “My lords, you are wanted in the Tower at this moment. Lord Azgar of the Water Dogs speaks with Lords Sangwahyando and Angamir even now.”

Surely he must have news by now of his massacre by now, wrought by his own kindred. He will not likely make many friends here, Dirbalch thought. Still, he was curious to see what the other two lords would think. Once he knew their minds, then Dirbalch’s own plans could be laid.
"There is no such thing as a geek, just those who love things the rest of humanity finds weird."
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on: July 07, 2016 01:10
Aetha spent the rest of the night tending to the wounded and dying along with the old horse-woman, Althena. The two women sized each other in less than a moment and, without a word, started working together. There were a few other young women there to aid, but none of the four had any training, but they were quick to listen and attentive. Hours passed and soon the sun was high in the sky, the girls were asleep, as were most of the survivors. The young man that Aetha had found and brought down was defying Aetha’s expectations and had survived the night. He could still pass at any moment, but there was a sliver of hope now. She paused by his form, where he rested on a rough pallet on the ground. His eyes fluttered open and landed on Aetha. She knelt by him, using a rag to wipe his brow. He swallowed to try and speak, and Aetha shushed him by holding a bowl to his mouth and urging him to drink. The young man took two small sips before growing paler and once more succumbing to sleep, his breathing shallow.

She stood up, and nearly ran into Althena.

“Sleep now. The worst is over for those here, though our work will not be done. You’ll be of no use to me should you succumb when I need you.” In her exhausted state, Aetha forgot what of the language she knew and nodded. The old woman shoved a blanket and pillow into her arms and shooed her out the door. Though once in the hall, she had no idea where she was supposed to take her rest. She wandered back up the stairs, and down another hallway that ended in an open room. She shrugged, and peeled off her ruined tunic, bits of dried blood flaking off as the garment was removed, the blood also having soaked all the way through Aetha gave some thought to removing the rest as well, but decided against it. She did strip, however, as much as she could leaving her in a very brief shift that only came to her mid thigh, but Aetha suspected that none would pass this way.

She smelled of blood, bile, fear, and worse. She had been around such before, but it was never pleasant. Men had died in her arms this night, some of them the only marks that would remain were the stains upon her hands and clothes. As she wrapped the blanket around her and dropped stiffly to the floor, clutching the pillow she kept an eye on her discarded clothes, watching them detachedly. Before drifting to sleep she unwound her braid and used her fingers to comb it free. Sleeping with her hair in a braid gave her a headache, and Aetha would need to be as clear headed as she could be in the days to come.
Mon coeur est genre, mais je suis un monster. (My heart is kind, but I am a monster.)
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on: July 12, 2016 03:17
(Had a little help from the lovely Dinen on this, enjoy!)

Arwan stood in another pair of white linens, not unlike the set he had worn just a few weeks prior. Théodhild stood at his side. Their arms were linked together, her delicate hand clasped firmly in his calloused one. In his other hand Arwan twirled a single white flower, the soft pedals a contrast to his swarthy skin. He had plucked it from one of the mounds the couple had walked past on their way to where Aelfgyth was to be entombed. As he contemplated the flower he couldn’t help but compare it to his new wife. She was a thing of beauty as well, to be sure, but his hope was that there was more to her than something to adorn his arm with. He had seen flashes and glimpses in her on their wedding night and days since that alluded to a sharp mind and able body. He desperately wanted her to be strong. A strong woman bore strong sons. He would need sons now; his tribe would need more sons. Arwan was starting the feel the heavy mantle of leader settle on his shoulders. He was beginning to realize that his would not be a peaceful rule that his father had wanted. They would need sons.

“They are called Simbelmynë, Evermind. They grow on the graves of our Kings.” His wife had a soft voice, subdued by grief and mourning. Arwan moved his head to stare into her eyes, probing for a connection that they had not been able to form yet. His eyes returned to the flower as he twirled it one more time, then let it fall to be caught in the wind.

“We do not have many flowers in Harad. Most of the land is barren. The land does not suffer flowers to live. If anything adorn the cairns of our dead, it is thistle and vine.” His eyes left hers after her gaze faltered and fell to the ground. He returned his eyes to the open tomb, a black maw waiting to swallow the dead. “The oases have flowers, but most are outside our control.” He could not bring himself to say who controlled the majority of the life giving wells, the treacherous mongrels who had taken his father’s life; his mother-in-law’s life. At that moment, the two tribes were at war. The Sandstones were much smaller, with fewer resources than the Water Dogs. It would be a long battle up hill, and many would die. He would need allies. In a few more days after all the dead were buried here, they would depart. His own men still needed to be buried as well. He would not permit them to be buried in this land, where their ancestors could not guide them away.

For now the healers had been preparing the bodies with oils and spices to preserve them for the ride south. Once they were in the desert they would build stone cairns for the important tribe members, the others would be buried in the hard earth with simpler markings. Sorrow pulled at his gut and stung his eyes. He willed the emotions down and buried them. A leader had to be strong. He must be steel, tempered by the fire.

By now others were starting to gather as the procession began. Thengel took his place next to Théodhild, Morwen with one arm in his, the other holding small Théoden on her hip. The child was not quite old enough to grasp what was happening, asking why everyone was just standing there. Asking why he could not go run through the flowers and play. Asking why his grandmother was being carried into the abyss. Fengel had finally made his way to the line of the rest of his family. He was huffing; the walk down from the Meduseld coupled with the uneven terrain to the tomb had left him winded. A look of disgust passed quickly over Arwan’s face before he wiped it clean. This man was not fit enough even to say parting words over his wife.
was to be entombed. As he contemplated the flower he couldn’t help but compare it to his new wife. She was a thing of beauty as well, to be sure, but his hope was that there was more to her than something to adorn his arm with. He had seen flashes and glimpses in her on their wedding night and days since that alluded to a sharp mind and able body. He desperately wanted her to be strong. A strong woman bore strong sons. He would need sons now; his tribe would need more sons. Arwan was starting the feel the heavy mantle of leader settle on his shoulders. He was beginning to realize that his would not be a peaceful rule that his father had wanted. They would need sons.

“They are called Simbelmynë, Evermind. They grow on the graves of our Kings.” His wife had a soft voice, subdued by grief and mourning. Arwan moved his head to stare into her eyes, probing for a connection that they had not been able to form yet. His eyes returned to the flower as he twirled it one more time, then let it fall and be caught in the wind.

“We do not have many flowers in Harad. Most of the land is barren. The land does not suffer flowers to live. If anything adorn the cairns of our dead, it is thistle and vine.” His eyes left hers after her gaze faltered and fell to the ground. He returned his eyes to the open tomb, a black maw waiting to swallow the dead. “The oases have flowers, but most are outside our control.” He could not bring himself to say who controlled the majority of the life giving wells, the treacherous mongrels who had taken his father’s life; his mother-in-law’s life. At that moment, the two tribes were at war. The Sandstones were much smaller, with fewer resources than the Water Dogs. It would be a long battle up hill, and many would die. He would need allies. In a few more days after all the dead were buried here, they would depart. His own men still needed to be buried as well. He would not permit them to be buried in this land, where their ancestors could not guide them away.

For now the healers had been preparing the bodies with oils and spices to preserve them for the ride south. Once they were in the desert they would build stone cairns for the important tribe members, the others would be buried in the hard earth with simpler markings. Sorrow pulled at his gut and stung his eyes. He willed the emotions down and buried them. A leader had to be strong. He must be steel, tempered by the fire.

By now others were starting to gather as the procession began. Thengel took his place next to Théodhild, Morwen with one arm in his, the other holding small Théoden on her hip. The child was not quite old enough to grasp what was happening, asking why everyone was just standing there. Asking why he could not go run through the flowers and play. Asking why his grandmother was being carried into the abyss. Fengel had finally made his way to the line of the rest of his family. He was huffing; the walk down from the Meduseld coupled with the uneven terrain to the tomb had left him winded. A look of disgust passed quickly over Arwan’s face before he wiped it clean. This man was not fit enough even to say parting words over his wife.

Silence stretched on for an age while the gathered crowd waited for the king to speak a eulogy about his slain wife. But Fengel remained mute. Some could have attributed it to grief or some other emotion, but keen-eyed Thengel knew better. Fengel was still reeling from the night before; he had recently taken upon himself to drink himself into a stupor every night and go abed in the early hours of the morning. Even more, Fengel recognized the grave errors he had made in recent days. He as a king had failed. Failed to protect his wife and kin from the terrible tragedy. Failed to account for necessary security that could have allayed the event. Failed to honor the code of hospitality that ensured a safe atmosphere for his guests. Failed to form the very image of a leader upon finding out his wife had been murdered. Servants had discovered the king under a table after the massacre, reeling in his own mess. He had failed as a king. Never again would the people of Rohan respect their king.

Sensing a moment, Thengel stepped forward. All eyes turned to him. The tall, broad man was a true son of the house of Eorl. His gaze swept across the crowd before resting on his sister. She was bearing her grief silently. Fortunately, she and her new husband appeared to have reached a modicum of comfort in each other’s presence as they both had lost beloved parents. Clearing his throat, his voice boomed across the barrow mounds. “Today we gather to lay to rest a beloved queen of Rohan, my mother Lady Aelfgyth of Aldburg, among the kings of old. She has been taken from us before her time. But we should take comfort in knowing she now rides with the mearas across the rolling plains. She will never experience disease or discomfort in this world again, and she will rest knowing that her legacy will always live on.” Thengel’s touching words pierced the core of all those who stood there, even the hard-faced Arwan who momentarily let his stoic wall drop and reveal a face sagging with sorrow.

Théodhild listened to her brother’s words and felt compelled to speak when there was an opening. She glanced up at Arwan before moving to her brother’s side. She motioned for her sister to join her as well. But Edelwyn, struck with paroxysms of grief, could not be swayed from her husband’s side. “People and friends of Rohan, my mother was struck down in the early winter of her life. But as Prince Thengel has said, we will not forget her. Even more so, we must not forget what she strove to teach her people. Of the most importance to the people of Rohan are courage, bravery, honesty, duty, strength, compassion, and justice. We must strive to live these principles everyday; this is how we can honor her legacy. As her daughter, her love and teachings will guide me in the days and years to come. I only wish her life serves as an example to you as well.” She squeezed Thengel’s hand for comfort and solidarity and avoided making eye contact with Fengel. In her heart, Théodhild knew she could not forgive her father, and looking at him now at the moment of her family’s greatest sorrow would only loosen the flood of emotions that had been slowly building up.

As Théodhild rejoined her husband, he reached an arm around her waist and pulled her in closer instead of wrapping their hands again. “You speak strong words over her, this will give her spirit the strength to join your ancestors. I see a strong woman in you, we will need it in the years to come. Do not let that strength fail you.” He whispered these things in her ear. He wanted to say something to her, give her some kind of comfort. He could see the pain on her face when she was speaking. While he had little in the way of love for this woman, he could see when comfort was needed, and he knew his duty to his wife.

Near the back, away from all the tear filled eyes and wailing women, Darrius stood with his arms crossed over his chest. He should have been by his brother’s side, as custom demanded, but the younger brother had had enough of this nation’s customs. Very few Haradrim were invited to this ceremony, and the only reason he was here was because his brother had wed one of the northerners. He was half sure the King didn’t want any of them there to begin with. A smirk crossed his lips as he thought about how a man so burdened with his own weight could be burdened with worrying about anything else. He had half a mind to leave before the swine could ruin it with half formed thoughts and quivering jowls. Part of his anger was misplaced grief, but Darrius was stung every day they sat here with their dead waiting in linens while they grieve for these men who, in another time, would be dead at the end of his spear.

“We must observe their customs, we are a joined people now.” His brother had said the other night when it was just the two of them. Darrius threw a small stool at that, shattering the wood on the wall.

“And what of our customs? Of our people?” He couldn’t care an ounce about these people at the moment. His father was dead at the hands of an unseen enemy while they sat here mourning people he had no love for. “What about vengeance?”

Arwan stood and towered over his little brother. “Do not mistake me, I will pursue these mongrels to the sea, and then bind them in irons and sink them to the depths. We are at war, but now is not the time. We may need to call on them for aid, and it would do well not to sever our ties here so quickly after they were formed.” Darrius started to form another reply but his brother cut him off. “Leave this room brother, we are both filled with grief.” His words brokered no leeway that Darrius could see. The younger brother left without another word to go find somewhere else to vent his feelings.

He watched as Aelfgyth was carried by some Riders, her body supported on spear truncheons. She was powdered and prepared so that her cheeks had some pink over the otherwise deathly pallor. She had a new dress with a high neck that covered any of the wounds that she might have sustained. It was not as foreign as their own rituals as he wanted to believe. Eyes were kholed, hair oiled. Tribal families were placed in cairns erected from the red rocks of the desert to keep the scavengers out. Thinking about it reignited his desire to leave and bury their dead. Just as he was about to leave, he heard Thengel speak instead of Fengel. Darrius had sized the man up when they first met, and found him a competent warrior. He could listen to this man’s words, he thought. He still stayed near the back, refusing to go stand with the others at the front. He did not need to add more Haradrim to remind the northerners who had killed this woman.

[Edited on 07/13/2016 by Naucoaran]

[Edited on 07/13/2016 by Naucoaran]
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on: July 13, 2016 02:03
The young healer had spent the time between the attack and todays funeral procession healing, and keeping mostly to herself. Some of the Haradrim without ties, or courage she thought, had snuck back earlier than the rest of the caravan to avoid the rising tensions and new hatreds which only seemed to fan the flames.

Aetha had retrieved her personal affects and with the permission of Althena, claimed a small nook in the corner of the sick hall for her own- a small pallet and blankets to sleep upon, and a chest for her few belongings. One by one as the days passed many were well enough to leave, some with instructions to return for fresh bandages, others with wishes for continued health. The young lad that surprised all by surviving was named Leofric, and he seemed to be in equal turns both nervous about and fascinated by Aetha sometimes asking for words in her language which he butchered, sometimes eliciting a chuckle as she tried to correct him.

“And can I not be borne upon a litter to attend the burial of my queen?” it was a plaintiff request, he seemed to be bound by observing all forms of obligations and customs.


“And why not?” the lad requested, an ounce of petulence sneaking into his voice.

“Who would carry you? Not I. I am small, and all others are gone to the...” what was the word?

She never found it before Leofric started trying to stand, and he was nearly successful before suddenly going pale and leaning against the wall, gasping in pain. Aetha scowled, marching over to him and without exerting much force, pushed him back down.

“Your leg nearly was lost, you cannot yet put weight on it and your weight is too much for me. Stay”. He sunk back into his bed, hand going to his leg in protest and defeat. She nodded, and turned to go. Predominantly she thought funerary proceedings were a waste of time- the deceased were still beyond this world and there was not so simple a means to absolve the grief felt by those who were mourning. But as her brother had requested a more thorough report, she thought it best to attend. And there was still some curiosity as to the customs of these people she found herself amongst.

She stood near the back, not having much other reason to be there aside obligation. Such as it was, the fat useless Horse-Lord stood there, dumb. Filled either with too much drink or self pity. How could anyone follow such a waste of a man? She scorned the man inwardly, though her attention was broken and re-diverted when one of the men she had healed stepped forward.

Thengel. Aetha felt the surprise register on her face which she then put forth an effort to rein in, she had healed him and had been the one to redress his wounds, she was not aware of his status. His words, as he opened his mouth to speak, thralled those assembled, carried with them a depth of feeling- love, grief, strength. That was a good man, and a good leader. So unlike his father. And then Théodhild stood up, also giving voice to her grief. Perhaps she was not as delicate as she first seemed. Though perhaps she was, the lady looked tired and wan despite a lack of physical labor. Grief perhaps? Perhaps not. Aetha’s brow furrowed, a small suspicion taking root.

As the proceedings were over, she retreated, though not before meeting the eye of Thengel who nodded briefly at her. She quickly padded off in another direction, angry eyes from the other horsemen on her back, muttering about her being there. Aetha wandered to the small garden, wanting to avoid both Leofric and the wrapped bodies of her own people. Everyday they reapplied oils to keep them from falling faster into decay that they might be buried in the sands of their home.

Despite a developed clinical remoteness, death was never easy. Especially when it seemed so senseless, and the longer she spent tending to them, the darker her thoughts would turn. She was a healer to forestall death, not to encourage it to hasten its arrival or even aid it. She was not a keeper of the dead, and yet now she found herself doing just that.

Why did her brother want more news? What news was there to be had? She folded herself as small as she could, emotions getting the best of her for the moment. She stood up, and stretched, unwinding the fabric that wound her head. She shook her braid out, rubbing her fingers along her scalp. Aetha paused for a moment like this, long black hair free about her, feet bare, but soon she shook herself of such fancies. Aetha pursed her lips and re-plaited her hair, winding it around her head once more and then replacing her head scarf, winding that around her head as well, twisting the tails of the fabric and tucking it into itself.

There was still work to be done.

Mon coeur est genre, mais je suis un monster. (My heart is kind, but I am a monster.)
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on: August 03, 2016 06:54
(I figured I'd edge us forward a few weeks - let me know if I need to edit! )

The night sky had never looked so vast. Starlight glinted in the ebony heavens like gems, and the full moon cast an ethereal light on the earth below. But this was a cold, unforgiving light compared to the warm twilight skies over Rohan. In Rohan moonlight gilded the grassy hilltops fresh with morning dew. Here it cast a pall over the harsh terrain. Arwan had been right; little vegetation grew as one made his or her way southward. What little that did grow morphed into twisted and mangled shapes ripe with thorns. Just like my heart, Théodhild thought sadly. The land was desolate with no signs of life: no calling of birds, no chirruping of crickets, no bellowing of night peepers, no chirring of bugs. Complete and utter silence.

Their horses had plodded steadily on for most of the day and late into the evening, their hooves churning up plumes of dust that announced their arrival to any and all. Theirs had been a subdued march. But Théodhild did not mind. Silence gave her time to contemplate the beginning of her new life. As the rest of camp slumbered under the pale cold sky, Théodhild remained awake. Arwan lay by her side, his chest rising and falling as he slept deeply. For a moment she looked on his face in wonder. Her husband was clearly a force to be reckoned with. He had a quiet, undeniable strength about him, and he was driven by duty more than all else. Perhaps there would have been no better husband for her, a true warrior with the potential to be a formidable leader.

But Arwan was also emotionally distant, almost cold. He shared little of his inner thoughts with her and did not seek her opinion on political matters. Or any matters really. Nor should he, she supposed. It was never the wife’s place to advise a ruler. Her father had been proof of that. Had Fengel listened to Aelfgyth’s counsel instead of simply adhering to that of his favorites’, perhaps he would be a better ruler. Théodhild reflected that Fengel had agreed to one thing suggested by the late queen: Théodhild’s marriage. But, the end result of that had been disastrous. Like all other decisions he had made as king. Théodhild’s last words to Fengel before her departure mirrored that fact.



“Could you not have spoken at least a word at Mother’s funeral?” Théodhild had asked emphatically as the family sat down for their last dinner together after the queen’s entombment. Edelwyn, her husband Éohelm and son Erkenbrand, and Morwen and Théoden had retired for the night. That left only Thengel, Théodhild, and Fengel seated in the royal quarters. “Could you not have shed a tear or shown any emotion that your wife was taken from you?”

Fengel only stared in Théodhild’s direction through glazed eyes. He had spoken little at dinner which was more than he had done in previous days. The king had not held court and even refused to see any of Aelfgyth’s family who had journeyed to Edoras to pay their respects. Instead, he had locked himself away in his quarters. His duties had instead fallen to Thengel. The prince took to them easily enough, but Théodhild knew he disliked the situation. He’d rather act as king of his own accord, not because of his father’s incompetence. As Théodhild spoke, Thengel inclined his head in agreement.

“You refuse to see Mother’s parents, you refuse to allow anyone to comfort you, and you refuse to address your people about how this country will mend. How is this right, Father? How is this fair to Mother’s memory and to the people of Rohan? You are not acting as their king. You are not even acting as a true lord of the Rohirrim.”

This last remark stirred something within Fengel. He rose abruptly and glowered darkly at his daughter. “You would dare to deride me?” he asked, his voice rumbling from deep within his chest like thunder. “You would dare to speak thusly to your father, your lord and sovereign? I have grieved everyday since her passing, and I do not need to justify how I grieve to anyone, least of all you, Théodhild.”

As a child, Théodhild cowered under the look Fengel now gave her. But now, the deep-kindled fighting spirit of the Rohirrim finally welled in her chest. “Nay, Father, you do not need to justify your grief. Nor do you need to address your failings as king. Rohan has never seen a more apt king than the one standing before me since the days of Eorl.” Her gaze flicked to Thengel and then back to Fengel.

The king immediately understood the slight. “I have given you everything, daughter. Everything. In return, you are indulgent, petulant, and ungrateful. I am thankful that the Haradric savage is divesting this country of you.”

“Am I expected to be thankful that you sold me for gold? That you married me into a tribe of uncivilized nomads? That I am to be little more than an ornament and child-bearer in the hands of an unfeeling husband? That I exchange one cage for another? For all this I should be thankful?” She spread her hands wide in a mocking gesture.

Fengel’s face colored as blood dyed his face ruddy. “Begone from my sight, you wretch!” he shouted, throwing his wine goblet at her. “I will not be spoken to in such a manner in my own home. Begone, and never show your face to me again. You are no longer welcome under this roof as my daughter. Count yourself among the savages instead.”

“Gladly!” With that, Théodhild rose from her seat, performed a mock curtsey, and stormed out of the room.

Thengel uttered a few cross words to Fengel and followed his sister. He caught her arm as she crossed the door threshold. “I am right, you know,” she said bluntly, reading the exasperated look on his face.

“Aye, you speak the truth, but you mightn’t have spoken to Father that way. Leaving Rohan in his ill graces does not bode well for future relations with the Sandstones,” he said reasonably as they walked through the Great Hall. The long hall had been cleaned and repaired, and one would not have known what had occurred beneath its wooden beams. Fires roared in the hearths, and Théodhild caught the acrid smell of burning flesh as stuck pigs were turned over pits.

“Thengel,” the princess began, but her brother cut her off.

“Théodhild, you must listen to me. You have the beauty and spirit of a mearas, but you must tame your tongue,” Thengel said earnestly, taking her hand and placing himself in front of her. “I do not know your husband well, but I doubt he will brook a sharp or a challenging wife. You must make yourself amenable to him and to his tribe. We must give them no cause to regret our alliance.”

Her sharp grey eyes burned with a challenging fire, but then she looked away for the princess knew the wisdom in Thengel’s words. She would be alone among the Haradrim. They would expect her to be weak, unaccustomed to a hard life. Théodhild could not blame them. But there would be time enough later to prove them otherwise. In the meantime, Théodhild realized her biggest ally would be harmony as she tried to assimilate into her new people. Give them no cause for grief, and perhaps their attitudes of her would change. And maybe Arwan’s as well.


Théodhild alit from the bed and peered out of the tent. A harsh wind played across the barren terrain and relit the ashes from the slumbering campfires. Tears stung in the night air as they trailed down Théodhild’s face. She wept for the loss of her mother, the leaving of her homeland, and the uncertainty of her future. But the princess suspected something else as well. The past few weeks had seen her catching an illness. Her stomach roiled in the mornings, and she felt emotions more sharply and distinctly than she had before. But Théodhild did not desire to hazard a guess as to the reason. She attributed it to the events of the past few weeks.

The princess retreated into the tent as guards patrolled the camp’s perimeter. They did not need to see her and inform her husband of her activities. She already suspected her actions would be heavily scrutinized, and the less she gave them, the better. Théodhild returned to bed, and as she lay down, Arwan rolled over in his sleep and settled his arm on her stomach. She recalled a similar gesture at her mother’s funeral. Could the gesture signify protection and strength or could it signify a cage? Somehow Théodhild felt it meant a little bit of both.

[Edited on 08/04/2016 by Dinenlasse]
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