Life in the Mark - Mettarë

Where now are the horse and rider? In here, probably.
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Snow blankets the plains and hills of the Mark.
The end of the year is fast approaching, and with it comes celebrations of home and family.
Gather 'round the hearth, laugh and tell stories, drinking mulled wine.

You can tell your Mettarë story here.

Other Mettarë Threads:
Se Riddermarket of Mettarë Joy
Edoras Infirmary - Mettarë
Mettarë Feast

This thread is for Mettarë happenings only (but not the ball, that will go up later).
Life in the Mark III will remain active as well for roleplay that is not based around Mettarë.

For reference, you can find the names and locations of towns/villages, farms, outposts, private estates/homesteads, and a list of residents in Edoras on this map.

Thread Rules:
1. This is free RP. Assume that it is PRIVATE RP as well, unless someone states otherwise or you've been invited into a storyline.
2. Please take general OOC matters to the Golden Hall.
3. There may be occasional prompts by the threadrunner (using color #BF0080), but please feel free to ignore them if your RP has a specific storyline playing out. They will be suggestions only.
4. Please refrain from posting Cavalry-business RP here. That belongs in the Dragon Room or the Cavalry Courtyard, unless otherwise directed here by the Marshals.
5. All Plaza rules apply.
Last edited by Taethowen on Tue Dec 22, 2020 1:10 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Aethelu, leaving Edoras

The sun was climbing higher in the sky as the lone figure at the gates stamped her feet to keep warm. Not that the sun climbed very high in the winter, but it was enough to burn off the morning frost. It was still cold though, Aethelu thought to herself as she rubbed her hands together. Craning her neck to peer back into the city, she was starting to worry. Lind had said he wouldn’t be too long with his deliveries, but time was creeping onwards. She desperately wanted to be back in the village before sunset, there was still the journey to the farm to make. It had been so long since she’d had to go from the village to the farm alone, she wasn’t so sure she’d remember the way, especially in the dark.

At last, a horse pulling a small cart rolled into view, the old man at the reins waving at her. “I’m sorry,” he called out as he pulled up, reaching out to help pull her up onto the seat next to him. “I got to talking, you know how it is?” She couldn’t begrudge him that, she often liked to chat away with those who visited her shop. “Now then, let’s be getting back to the village. Reckon a snowstorm is on the way.”

When Aethelu had decided she would visit home for Mettarë she had found herself struggling to figure out how to get there. Dicun had already said he couldn’t go, meaning she couldn’t ride behind him on Arlette. Thankfully, she knew of someone from the village near their farm who often came to Edoras with supplies. It had been Lind who had come with news that their mother was ill, graciously taking them home when he had finished his deliveries. The journey was only a few hours, one he made every few days to deliver things from the shops and farms to the city and take back any needed supplies. She had approached him only a few days ago to see if he could take her there and back, even offering him some payment. He was happy to offer her the ride, but he refused all talk of money. “Just to have some company is all the payment I need,” he’d told her, though she had still packed some extra food for him just so she didn’t feel like as much of a burden.

With her satchel of food, clothes, and gifts in the now empty cart, she pulled her cloak tighter around her as they continued on through the snow dusted land. Off in the distance she could see the dark clouds looming, the snowstorm Lind had mentioned. Hopefully, it would hold off until they reached the village. She didn’t like the idea of turning up at her parent’s door cold and wet.

“What’s this, can’t cope with the cold anymore?” Lind laughed as she shivered. “City life turning you soft already?” For a moment, she wanted to be angry with him. She wanted to tell him off for being so rude. But as she turned to look at him, she knew she couldn’t hold it against him. His face was lined from years spent out in all weathers. He had on a cloak, but no scarf, and only some mitts that seemed to be more holes than mitts. He’d probably spent more of his life outdoors than in, freezing snow or burning sun, he just got on with it.

“Aye,” she replied, trying to hold her teeth from chattering. “It’s them years in Gondor, turned me soft as milk.” Lind roared with laughter next to her, causing the horse to rear his head a little in alarm. A soft click and he settled down again.

“At least you’re honest girl,” he said with a wink. “You were sorely missed those 8 years; I’ll tell you that.” Aethelu didn’t respond, she didn’t know how to. For some in the village, her years of travel were her running away from her responsibilities like some flighty noble girl. Others reckoned she was still running away by going to Edoras. At least one of the old biddies in the village had expressed a real shock that she’d come home when her mother had been ill, thought she’d long ago abandoned her own flesh and blood. It had cut deep that remark, deeper than she liked to admit. “But at least you’re not far from home now.” Home. Was the farm really home anymore? She wasn’t so sure. She didn’t feel so sure of many things anymore.

She was starting to wonder if this trip wasn’t such a good idea anymore.

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Aethelu, moving from one storm to another

When the village finally came into view, the storm clouds had darkened the sky and the wind had picked up. Even Lind had to admit it was cold now, urging the horse along a little faster. At last, they pulled into the centre of the village just as the first flakes of snow began to fall.

“Will you be all right getting yourself home lass?” asked Lind as Aethelu hopped down and he passed over her satchel.

“I’ll be fine,” she waved him off with smile. “Thank you again for the ride, just let me know when you’re heading back to Edoras.”

Lind nodded and clicked his tongue, disappearing off into the snow as it began to fall more steadily. Pulling the hood on her cloak over her head, she began to hurry in the direction of her family’s farm. On a good day, the walk would take 20 minutes, but in this weather, she was determined to be there faster. Her walk could have been faster, but with the frozen and increasingly wet ground, along with a certain level of uncertainness about her direction of travel, she was happy with the pace she was managing. Thankfully she soon saw the wall around the stone house she’d grown up in and felt the relief wash over her.

Reaching the front door, she hesitated. Did she knock? Did she just walk in? It was the house she had grown up, spent 18 years living in, but it hadn’t been her home for most of the last 8. The uneasy feeling that had started on the journey was continuing to grow. Lind had done his best to make conversation with her, telling all the news and gossip from the village, but it was no good. In the end, the decision was made for her when the door swung open to reveal her father.

Aethelu?” he asked quietly, trying to peer under the hood. She pulled it down, letting the snow that had built up on it drop down onto the back. Her father grinned. “It is you! We were starting to worry, then I saw a figure cross the window.” He moved to embrace her, as she tried desperately to shake off the worst of the snow so he didn’t get too wet. She hugged him tight, he smelled of smoke from the fire that would be burning in the hearth. It was a comforting smell.

“I take it that means we aren’t about to be robbed,” called a voice from inside, her mother still somewhere in the house. “Get inside and shut the door, keep the heat in.” Aethelu couldn’t help but smile, only the other day she had been saying the same thing to Dicun in the shop. Stamping her boots to remove the worst of the snow, she stepped inside, closing the door behind her. The house was warm, there was a smell of food cooking, it was all so cosy and nice. Her mother appeared out of the kitchen, an apron at her waist and a harried look on her face. “We’ve been waiting on you before we have supper, put your things down and get cleaned up. I’m tired and hungry so hurry up.”

Soon enough, she was full of stew and a few mugs of some warmed mead. Now they were all sat around the fire in what Aethelu thought was a comfortable silence. It was nice to be here, she thought to herself, she hadn’t needed to fret so much.

“Oh,” she said quietly to herself, suddenly remembering the purpose of her journey. She jumped up, grabbed the two parcels from her satchel and presented them with a smile. “Mettarë gifts from Dicun and I.” Both her parents smiled and took the gifts from her, carefully unwrapping them. Her father turned the leather bag in his hands, his eyes gleaming.

“What a thoughtful gift, thank you,” he said softly, standing up to kiss her gently on the cheek.

She watched as her mother opened her gift, inspecting the shawl and gloves in the fire light. “Lovely,” she said at last, her voice sounding strangely clipped. “You couldn’t persuade your brother to come home I take it.”

Aethelu sighed and flopped down onto her chair. “No, after what happened last time he was away, he was worried about leaving again. He didn’t want to let the cavalry down.” Her mother sniffed.

“That’s all well and good, but he’s letting his mother down.”

“It can’t be helped Maida,” said her father softly. She turned her sad eyes towards him and sighed another deep sigh.

“I know Halton, I know,” her mother responded, gently stroking the gloves and shawl in her lap. “It’s just a shame we couldn’t have the whole family at home again. Like it should be.”

Aethelu resisted the urge to roll her eyes. When her mother had been ill, she had become obsessed with the idea that her children should be at home. They needed to be here to run the farm and care for their aging and infirm parents. While it was true that she had been very ill, the healer had assured them she hadn’t been anywhere near death’s door and that there would be no lasting side effects. Aethelu was starting to suspect time had not dampened her desire to have her children back at her side.

“You know,” began Maida after a prolonged silence. “While you are here, you should really go up to the village. Perhaps you could drop in on your old friends for Mettarë, I’m sure it would be a lovely surprise for them. Especially Selby, you remember Selby, yes?”

Aethelu reached back into her memories, trying to find the face to fit the name. “The tall boy, broke his arm playing in the abandoned cottage?”

“That’s the one,” her mother replied with a smile. “Poor boy, he’s had a terrible year. Married at the start of the year, pretty little thing. Well, she was gone in just a few months. Some sudden fever took her they say. Now he’s all alone. I’m sure he’d love some company.”

“Poor Selby,” Aethelu said quietly, remembering the daredevil boy with his carefree attitude. How terrible it must have been to find love and lose it so quickly. She turned to her mother, about to tell her that she would offer her condolences to find her looking at her eagerly, almost grinning at her. “I wouldn’t like to intrude, I’m sure he has his family to support him.”

“Of course, of course,” she said, leaning towards her with a sad smile. “But you are old friends, you were close, I’m sure seeing you might do him the world of good. Make him forget that loneliness.”

Aethelu glanced at her father, who was avoiding looking at her.

“Ma, please don’t be doing what I think you’re doing.”

“I’m just saying, he’s all alone. You’re all alone too. You know each other. Where is the harm in that?”

For a moment, there was stillness and silence. That knot in her stomach was now wound so tight it hurt. Standing up, she glared down on her mother.

“I am happy with my life Ma; I like being on my own. Don’t drag some poor widow into your little plan to make me come back here.”

Maida jumped to her feet, eyes level with her daughter. “You said that before, you said life was wonderful when you ran off with that bard. Look what happened there! He abandoned you to your own fate and left you wandering alone in Gondor. I just want to see you settled down somewhere.”

“I am settled,” she retorted, her voice getting louder. “I have a house and my own shop. Dicun is nearby and we are getting along so well now. It is a good life Ma.”

“But don’t you want a husband?” her mother cried out. “Don’t you want a family?”

“I don’t know,” Aethelu shouted. Her exasperation with having this conversation over and over again was overwhelming her. “Maybe...maybe not.”

That was not the answer her mother had been expecting in the slightest. She started at her daughter for a moment, before her shoulders dropped. “I see,” she whispered. “I think I should go to bed.” With that, she turned and disappeared into the bedroom without another word. Aethelu looked towards her father, who was slowly rising from his chair.

“The problem with you two,” he began, reaching out to hold her shoulders. “Is that you are far too alike.” He kissed her gently on the top of the head.

“I don’t think we are,” she said quietly as he walked towards the bedroom.

“Trust me,” he responded without looking back. “You both care too much about the happiness of others for one.”

The door closed with a soft click and Aethelu found herself alone by the dying fire. The wind howled outside, making her shiver. She felt strangely empty as she retreated to her own room. On the one hand, she had never meant to upset her mother, not at all. On the other, it was good to finally get that built up tension out. She wasn’t looking forward to what the morning would bring though. With a groan, she pulled the blanket up over her head and drifted into a fitful sleep.

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Aethelu, at her family farm

Sleep came fitfully. The talk of Selby had her dreaming of the past. Of all the children playing together, in the village when they were young, moving out into the fields as they got older. Younger siblings trying to follow along and getting left behind. Selby shouting ‘Watch this!’ before he crashed through the rotten floorboards with a sickening thud. Growing older again, drifting apart. Leaving the village.

When she finally woke up, for a moment she couldn’t recall where she was. It was like she was back in Gondor, sleeping in a different bed almost every night. Thankfully, as she rubbed the sleep from her eyes, she remembered where she was. Though she wasn’t entirely sure this was a safer place to be. With a sigh, she threw off the covers, and faced the cold light of day. After a quick wash and some fresh clothes, Aethelu steeled herself to step out of her room. She wasn’t entirely sure what she would face when she emerged, but she was ready for it.

“Ah,” her mother called out from the kitchen as she opened her door. “You’re finally awake. Good.”

“Good morning mother,” Aethelu called back, making her way to the kitchen. She was surprised to find her mother putting on her new shawl and gloves. Perhaps last night’s anger had already been forgotten.

“I need to go to the village to get some things, there’s some porridge on the stove if you’re hungry. Your father will probably want some help if you’re up to it.”

“Thank you, Ma, I’ll...” Her words trailed off as her mother swept past her, heading to the front door. She pulled on a cloak, a pair of boots, and then she was gone without another word. Perhaps things weren’t as settled as she hoped for. Cursing under her breath, Aethelu grabbed a bowl and ate her porridge in stony silence. Outside, the whole landscape was covered in white, now dazzling under a bright winter sun. It all looked so beautiful, though she knew after a few hours of work in it, she’d hate it like she usually did. Still, her father was sure to appreciate the help.

Pulling on her own boots and cloak, she stepped out into the fresh morning air. For a moment she stopped, taking a deep breath, closing her eyes, and trying her hardest to push all the anger and unhappiness down. There was time to deal with that later.

“Well,” said a voice nearby, making her jump. “Look who finally decided to get out of bed today.”

“Morning Pa,” she responded with a smile at her father who was leaning on the wall before her. “Ma said you might need some help.”

“So, she is talking to you,” he laughed, quickly stopping when he saw his daughter’s expression. “That’s all she said though isn’t it?”

“Just about. Told me there was porridge, you needed help, and then left without even a good morning.” Her father grimaced. “We can talk about it later; she can’t be mad at me forever.” She stomped through the gate to come stand beside her father as he looked out across the fields.

“She probably can’t be mad forever, but she’s just having a hard time of it.” Aethelu opened her mouth to argue, but he held up a hand to silence her. “You have to understand, she had all these hopes and dreams for the two of you. Good lives with good marriages, grandchildren to fuss over, you setting up your own home, Dicun taking up his father’s mantle and running this farm. So far, it hasn’t gone quite as she’d expected, that’s all.”

“But...” she sighed, throwing her head back to stare up at the blue sky. “That could still all happen. We’re both still young, plenty of time to do those things.”

“You know, neither of us expected we’d have such adventurous children, we just worry.” He reached out, wrapping an arm around her shoulder and pulling her towards him in a half hug. “We just want you both to be happy, that’s all.”

“I am happy,” she mumbled into his chest as she embraced him fully. “I really am.”

“I know,” he replied softly, kissing the top of her head. “Now, let’s get some work done before lunch.” He laughed as Aethelu groaned against him. “Two sets of hands will make it go much faster.”

He was right of course; the work went far quicker with the two of them working together. As the sun reached its height, or at least as high as it would go in winter, they were tired but content. Stamping off the snow on their boots, they were both pleased to smell lunch cooking as they entered the house.

“I’ve got some sausages and fresh bread for us,” Maida said as they sat down at the table. “Got some warm mead too, should warm you up.” Both Aethelu and her father smiled, they were both ravenous. There was little conversation to be had as they wolfed down their food, grateful to feel their feet and hands start to tingle in the warmth.

“Thank you, Maida,” Halton said when he’d finished. “That was lovely.”

Yes,” Aethelu chimed in. “Thank you, Ma.” However, Maida didn’t look at her daughter, instead beginning to clean up the plates. “Ma, please, can we talk about last night. We can’t go on like this.”

“Like what,” Maida replied, feigning innocence. “You made it quite clear last night. You are an independent woman now, what need are you going to have for a mother fussing over you.”

Halton groaned, rubbing his face with his hands. “Maida, you know that’s not what she meant.” She glared at him, and carried on cleaning around him.

“I’m always going to need you, you’re my mother.”

“Need me for what, eh?” Maida asked, furiously wiping down the table. “I mean, you don’t want a family, so I can’t teach you about child rearing. You don’t want to be on the farm, so I can’t teach you how to run it. You can read and write better than I can. What do you need me for?”

“That’s not...I didn’t...MA!” Aethelu stood up sharply, her chair scraping across the floor with an unpleasant noise. Maida kept wiping, refusing to look her in the eye. “I can’t...I can’t talk to you when you’re like this.” Grabbing her cloak and stuffing her feet into her boots, Aethelu stormed out of the house.

Tears pricked her eyes, she desperately tried to blink them away in the cold air. She set off away from the house, away from the fight, not really caring where she ended up. This was how it always went with her mother; she would never just talk it out. There always had to be these cutting remarks or snide comments. They had had so many fights like this over the years, even on the night she left with the bard, they had fought. Gritting her teeth, she kicked the snow as she walked. It always ended up like this, with her looking like the bad guy for walking away. It was just infuriating. She carried on walking, kicking, and grinding her teeth, until her jaw ached and her legs burned.

At last, she came to a stop. Looking back, the farm was still there in the distance. No sign of either of her parents coming after her. Before her, a little way off, was the abandoned cottage. She laughed, after dreaming about it, how strange that she should come to find it again. Perhaps fate was playing a trick on her. Closing her eyes, she tried to take some deep breaths to steady herself. She would have to go back at some point, best to be calm when she did.

Suddenly, she heard a noise. A strange noise. She looked across the snowy fields, but she could see nothing. She waited. Perhaps it had just been the wind. Then there it was again. A thin, high noise. It sounded like someone, or something, whining. Shielding her eyes from the afternoon sun, she peered around again. She could still see nothing. Again, the sound pierced the silence. The only place it could be coming from was the cottage. For a moment, she considered heading back, bringing her father with her. After everything that had happened in Edoras, who knew what could be lurking. But that would mean dealing with her mother, and she had no desire to do that right now. As the noise came again, she set off towards the cottage, not knowing what she would find.

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Aethelu, an abandoned cottage, and a big surprise

The cottage had seemed much closer, but walking through the snow, it seemed to take a long time to reach it. Aethelu was glad she had put on breeches, tunic, and boots in the morning, she had expected she would need to help around the farm after all. Her face and hands were starting to hurt from the cold, she had forgotten to grab any gloves or a scarf when she had stormed out. That would teach her to let her anger get the better of her.

Finally, she reached the half open door of the cottage. She stopped at the door and listened. There was no sign of anyone moving around, just some soft whimpering. Another high-pitched whine pierced the air and she winced. Whatever it was, it sounded like it was in pain. Fearing the worst, she slowly pushed open the door. Inside, the cottage was dark. The windows were long covered in dust and dirt. Then main source of light came from the hole in the roof that filtered down through the hole in the ceiling thanks to Selby all those years ago. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust from the bright glare of snow. Looking down, she could see what looked like drops of blood on the floor. Fear was creeping up her spine, making her shiver from more than just cold.

“Hello?” she called out tentatively. This had been terrible idea; she should have gone home first. She had no idea what she could be facing. No way to defend herself if it turned out to be something sinister. Her thoughts turned to those terrible events of the past few months. Was she facing friend or foe?

Something growled in the cottage.

Aethelu let out a scream and jumped back, crashing into the wall by the door. Frantically, she cast her gaze around, desperately seeking out whatever was in here with her. In the gloom she could make out a lump in one corner, away from the hole and the snow that drifted down through it. As she tried her best to steady her breath and her heartbeat, she focused her eyes on the shadow.

It moved.

Two eyes stared back at her. A head tilted to one side. She tilted her own head to match. “A dog?” she whispered to herself as the shadow finally became clear to her. A black dog was lying in the corner of the cottage. It was lying on some old blankets, something she seemed to remember had been there when they had played in the cottage. The dog was watching her as she slowly moved towards it. There were more spots of blood leading towards it, poor thing must be injured. “Hello there,” she said softly, crouching down in front of the dog. She reached out a hand towards it, it let out a low growl, ears pressed back. “It’s okay.”

The dog appeared to be thin and she couldn’t quite see where it was injured, dark fur in a dark cottage. She kept her hand out, letting the dog sniff it, and continue to assess if she was a threat. At last, it seemed to relax. It gave her hand a quick lick, before its head flopped down. “You must be exhausted,” she muttered as she gave its head a stroke. “I’ve got to get some help.” Aethelu wasn’t sure she could carry the dog by herself, not in the snow. Taking off her cloak, she laid it across the dog, hoping to warm it up. “I’ll be right back,” she told it, hoping it would understand.

Trying to run through the snow back to the farm house was a painful experience. Her lungs felt like they would burst, but she found the energy from somewhere to keep going. Red faced and sweating, she slammed open the door to the house to find her parents staring at her.

Aethelu, what’s wrong?” asked her father, jumping up from his chair by the fire.

“Abandoned cottage,” she gasped out. “There’s an injured dog. Can’t carry it. Need help.”

There was a moment of silence and stillness as they tried to take in what she was saying. She was worried they weren’t going to do anything.

“Right,” her mother stood up, hands on hips. “Halton, go with her and get the dog. Aethelu, I’m assuming you left your cloak there so take mine. No use if you end up sick as well. I’ll get sorted here to see what I can do about any injuries.” She looked between the two of them, who were still just stood there. “Well, get going.”

“R-right,” stammered Halton, as he hurried over to grab his own cloak by the door. The two of them disappeared out into the slowly dimming afternoon light back towards the cottage. Thankfully, the dog wasn’t very big nor very heavy, so Halton didn’t have much trouble carrying it home. Either through exhaustion or relief, the dog didn’t object much to being picked up and carried. The journey back to the farm was punctuated only by heavy breathing and the occasional whimper.

When they entered the house, Maida was more than ready for them. She’d laid out some old blankets in front of the fire. There was a pot of hot water and some old rags ready to give the patient a good clean, as well as some gauze if it was needed. A smaller bowl of warm water and the leftover sausages from lunch were sat to one side. “Come in,” she called to them as they tried to slip their snow covered boots off at the door. “Put it down here and I’ll have a look.”

Maida had always been the best of the family at animal husbandry. If things had been different, she would have been a proper healer for animals. Gently, she examined the dog, whispering softly to soothe it. It didn’t take her long to find the problem. “I think it’s been bitten by something on its back leg, not too deep, but it’s been a few days I think.”

Halton sighed. “Poor thing, looks so thin, it must have been out for a while. Maybe it would be best to let nature take its course.”

“Pa!” Aethelu cried out, kneeling down next to the dog, glad to be next to the fire.

“Well, I’m not giving up on her yet,” grumbled Maida as she soaked a rag in hot water to start cleaning up the wounds. “If you haven’t got anything better to do, make a warm drink for yourself and Aethelu.” Halton thought about arguing, but quickly decided against it. If her mind was set to something, she was going to do it. Looking at his wife and daughter as they both tried to keep the dog calm, he marvelled once more at how similar they were.

“Her?” asked Aethelu as she gently stroked the dog's neck while her mother worked.

“Aye,” she replied. “The wound doesn’t look too bad; I think it’s started to heal by itself. We just need to get her strong enough in case there’s any infection. Try to get her to drink while I bandage this up.”

Aethelu pulled the smaller bowl closer, setting it before the dog’s nose. She sniffed it cautiously, flicking her eyes between the two humans helping her. She lapped up a little of the water, hesitated, then began to greedily lap up the rest of the water. “Good girl,” Aethelu said softly, continuing to gently stroke her neck and back.

“There we go,” Maida sat back, the gauze was now wrapped tightly around the dog’s back leg. The dog stopped drinking for a moment to take a look at her own leg, but the warm water was far more interesting. “Try giving her some sausage, let’s see if she’ll eat.” Aethelu picked up a piece of the sausage, holding it out on her palm in front of the dog. She sniffed it but didn’t seem very concerned as she gobbled it down, leaving a wet tongue streak on Aethelu’s hand. “Good. If she keeps all that down, and we can keep her warm, we might stand a chance.” Mother and daughter smiled at each other.

“Thank you, Ma.”

“Anything for you Aethelu.”

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Aethelu, Maida, and Halton
The family farm

Aethelu woke slowly, trying to make sense of the two strange sensations. One was hard, one was soft. It took her a moment to process it. She was lying on her side, but she certainly wasn’t in her bed. She was lying on something solid and it was starting to make her hip ache. There was something soft pressed up against her chest and stomach. A something that her hand was resting on, gently rising and falling. She opened her eyes to find herself looking at the embers of the fire and the grate, though that was tilted to one side. Looking down there appeared to be something black and furry curled up against her.

As carefully and gently as she could, she pushed herself up to a sitting position. The black ball of fur raised its head and looked at her, yawning.

“Good morning you two.” Aethelu turned, bleary eyed, towards the voice. Her father was sat on one of the chairs by the dying fire, a steaming mug in his hands. She looked at him, then looked again at the rescued dog, who had already decided to go back to sleep. There was a half empty bowl of water next to her, as well as a very empty plate that had been sausages. With a groan she managed to pull herself to her feet before collapsing into the chair next to her father.

“You let me sleep on the floor?” she asked at last, her throat raspy. He passed the mug to her and she happily drank the hot, honeyed water.

“You didn’t want to leave her side,” he replied, gesturing to the dog who had woken up again to shuffle herself onto the now abandoned blanket. Taking the hint, Halton began to stoke the fire embers, adding fresh wood until it crackled with flames. “Neither did your mother.” Aethelu looked around, but could see no sign of her usually early rising mother. “You decided to lie down with the dog, to help her feel safe you said, and within minutes you were fast asleep. We didn’t have the heart to wake you, so we just pulled a blanket over you. Our house guest snuggled up with you, and fell asleep too. I went to bed, assuming your mother would follow. Woke up just before dawn to find her sat just watching the pair of you, she was terrified the poor thing wouldn’t make the night. I promised I’d take up watch duty if she’d get some rest. So here we are.”

Aethelu nodded slowly, watching the rise and fall of the dog’s chest as she slept. She had survived the night. She had eaten and drank without any sign of illness. Maybe, just maybe, she was going to be fine.

“Thank you, Pa,” she said softly, smiling at her father. He reached over and squeezed her shoulder.

“Well, I’d best make us some breakfast, hadn’t I?” Halton said as he stood up, ignoring Aethelu’s questioning look. “I know how to make porridge at the very least.”

Eventually, with a little help, Halton had indeed managed to make a pot of porridge. He set out two bowls, hesitated, and then prepared a third, drizzling honey on each. As he turned to call Aethelu into the kitchen, he found that Maida had woken up too. She was stood, shawl pulled tightly around her shoulders, leaning against the bedroom door frame. He smiled, gesturing to the bowls, and she gave him a little nod.

Before breakfast could be had though, Maida wanted to check over her patient. The dog had woken up at the smell of someone else in the room and was more than happy to be examined, with only a little whimper when she looked at the injured leg.

“Looks good,” she said at last, giving the dog a scratch behind the ears. “After breakfast, I’ll clean the wound and give her a fresh bandage just to be on the safe side. Best make her some breakfast too Halton.”

Soon enough, all four were fed, watered, washed, and for the humans dressed, and were all feeling much better than when they had woken up. Halton headed out to deal with the farm with assurances he could manage alone for one day. Aethelu and Maida sat by the fire, watching the dog as she dozed once more.

“Ma,” Aethelu said at last, her need to talk overwhelming her enjoyment of the peaceful silence. “About the past two days, I’m sorry for being short with you. It’s just, I mean, you know....” She tried desperately to find the words, but she didn’t know how to say it.

“I have been terribly unkind to you lately, I know. I am sorry for that.” Maida reached out and took her daughter’s hand, holding it tight. “When I was ill, I was so scared of leaving you all. So scared I wouldn’t see the wonderful things you and your brother will do. So scared to leave Halton all alone on this farm. I thought...I thought if you were all here, it would make me less scared. But I’ve not the right to make you change your lives for my fears.” She looked up at her daughter, tears starting to well up in her eyes. “I am so proud of you. You’re so brave, you’ve done so much already and you’re still going. You are a beautiful, strong woman Aethelu, and I couldn’t be happier.”

Now both women were crying, pulling each other into a tight hug. All angry words were forgotten, there was only love now between them.

Suddenly, something nudged Aethelu’s leg. Pulling apart, awkwardly wiping away at their tear-stained faces, they looked down to find the dog stood watching them.

“Sorry girl,” said Aethelu, giving her a pat on the head. “It’s all fine, really. They’re happy tears.”

The dog didn’t seem so interested, instead hobbling to the main door of the cottage. She looked to the door, then back to the red-faced pair, then back to the door. She let out a little whine.

“Oh,” exclaimed Maida with sudden realisation, hurrying to open the front door. She watched carefully as the dog limped out and around the wall. When Aethelu came to stand at her side looking confused, she nodded in the direction the dog had gone. “She needs to do her business.”

“Ooh,” responded Aethelu, though she still looked confused. “She must belong to someone then, if she knows to do that to be let outside.”

“Maybe.” The dog reappeared and limped back into the house, making a beeline back to her warm blanket by the fire. “I think that limp might be a permanent feature.”

The two sat back down as well, Aethelu finding herself drifting off in the warmth of the fire. Maida tried not to laugh at the sight of the dog and her daughter asleep by the fire, they already looked to be a matching pair.

They both got a shock when the door banged open, even as Halton called a sheepish apology. “Look who I found coming to our door.”

Lind stood in the doorway; he was beaming from ear to ear. “Sorry to disturb you all, I just needed to speak with Aethelu.” She nodded at him to continue. “I’m afraid I might be delayed a day or two in taking you back to Edoras. You see...I’m a grandfather!” At once all three of the household were up and congratulating him. “Thank you all. It’s my first, arrived a little earlier than we expected, but she’s all safe and sound. Mother too.” Clearly feeling left out, the dog hobbled over to see what all the fuss was about. “New dog?”

“Sort of,” said Maida, quickly regaling Lind with the tale of how they had come to acquire their guest. “Actually, you might be able to help us. Do you think you could put the word out about the dog to anyone you see? You’re sure to have lots of visitors the next few days, maybe someone knows about a missing dog.”

“I’ll do my best Maida, don’t you worry about that,” he replied with a nod. They shooed him out of the cottage then, sending him back to the family with well wishes.

The rest of the day passed quietly until at last Aethelu could keep her eyes open no longer. With a sleepy goodnight, she shuffled towards her bedroom. She was surprised to feel a bump against the back of her leg as she opened the door. Looking down, the dog was looking up at her.

“I guess she doesn’t want to sleep alone,” laughed Halton.

“Or she doesn’t want you to sleep alone,” Maida smiled. “You’ll keep each warm at the very least.”

Smiling at her new bedfellow, Aethelu ushered the dog in. She did have to give her boost up, but soon they were both comfortable on the bed. She had to admit, there was something nice about having her there. She only hoped the dog felt the same as they both drifted off to sleep.

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Lailyn, at home in New Town
It was, in Lailyn’s opinion, a perfect winter day. The air was crisp and clean with the smoky hint of firewood on the wind, the sky overhead was a rich blue untouched by a single wisp of cloud and the morning sunlight twinkled and danced on the sprinkling of snow lacing the grass and trees in the garden behind her house.

Though the warmth of her bed was hard to abandon and she could have stayed snuggled up cozy and content with no duties at hand and no one to report to but herself, she got up anyway, and moved through the house with practiced efficiency. Soon enough, she finished her steaming cup of tea and breakfast, pulled on her warmest clothes with her cloak layered on top and stepped outside.

Her breath streamed out in puffs of fog and the cold nipped at her nose, but she stood there for a moment just for herself. Winter had always been her favourite season. There was something about the quiet way the world around her slumbered that set her at ease. This year was different. That quiet offered little solace.

The darkness of the long nights gave life to all her worst memories, as if stoking at the embers of an abandoned fire. With only her own shadow for company, there were times she felt herself slipping away on a stormy sea. Sometimes, she let the current pull her away, and when she reached the other side, there was renewed clarity and room to breathe. Without Amadhrill’s help, she would never have had the courage to do so and there were still some evenings she wandered to the nearest pub to fill the silence with the hum of other people’s voices.

Mornings were always the easiest time of day so she allowed herself to indulge in this one thing. She took in the sky, the trees, everything here that she could call her own, and let it fill her heart. All of these things, and more, were what made it worth fighting and surviving the battles in her mind.

Today, she hoped to reach an exciting milestone, one she hoped would be the first of many more. She slid open the barn doors to reveal a collection of barrels arranged in neat rows. A close look would show small notes scribbled into the wood that would mean little to anyone but her. She took a cup in hand and set to one of the best parts of her work--tasting the mead. At her first sip, she could not hold back a smile of satisfaction. It was sweet, but not overly so and crisp with floral hints. Perhaps her meadery was really going to pan out.

Taking her time with each barrel, she recorded detailed notes on each one so she could perfect her formulations in the next batch. One was a bit stronger than another, one was no good at all, having gone sour, but overall, most of them were ready to be enjoyed. On the bottom of the last page of notes, she scribbled a list of possible flavours to add in the future: lavender, apple, rosehips, berry. There was still so much to experiment with and learn, she had only scratched the surface of what was possible so far.

With the hired cart full of barrels ready to be delivered around Edoras and the fruits of her labor on display, her shadowed past felt far away and her future looked bright and full of promise. So it was with a light heart that Lailyn set the horse to a slow and steady walk into the city with a cart full of barrels of sweet mead trailing behind.

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It was cold. And wet. Yoshiyo’s eyes fluttered opened and winced in the glowing light of morning as it bounced off the snow. She sat up. Her head throbbed a bit, not enough to hurt but enough to be distracting. A pile of snow fell off the elleth’s chest. Yoshiyo stared in shock at her surroundings. She was outside. She was in the snow. She was still in her clothes from the night before. A sick feeling suddenly overwhelmed her as she frantically searched for her pack. She found it a moment later under another pile of snow. She winced, the pain in her head moving and shifting to her stomach. Vaguely, she became aware of her surroundings. Indeed, she was outside. It was morning, midmorning by the position of the sun. She was not quite soaking wet, but she was not dry either. She was half buried in snow. How had she gotten here? Her head throbbed in response, and she tasted something sweet on her tongue. What day was it? She looked at her clothing, squinting. It was the same she’d been wearing the night of the feast. Could it be possible that… Yoshiyo burst out in a loud, very unelf like guffaw. The memories began to come back to her. She’d gotten well and truly drunk at the feast last night, and had been introduced to the idea of mead. She smacked her lips. She had stumbled out into the snow, thinking she was going to pelt whoever came out with snowballs but her weariness had, also in unelven like fashion, so overcome she’d fallen asleep before she could throw the first one. She reddened. She didn’t remember everything she said last night but she remembered accidently thinking that that lovely young woman, Lailyn, was married. She wasn’t but that had not helped Yoshiyo’s embarrassment (and Lailyn’s most likely as well). What else had she said to her? She hadn’t hit on her or flirted had she? Oh that would be the worst thing ever. Not that it was a bad thing, but Yoshiyo had lost all sense of elven dignity last night, there was no telling what she said or did. Her stomach gurgled. She was hungry.

She picked herself and her pack up and began to rummage through it until she found the cloak, a bright green thing, thick and woolen. She wrapped it around herself and purred as the warmth began to seep back into her. She wasn’t cold per se, being an elf had some advantages, but she was wet and didn’t want to catch a cold, if that were possible. She sneezed. Her stomach growled again. She was hungry. And thirsty. Mead. The sight, taste, smell, and texture of the sweet golden liquid filled Yoshiyo’s thoughts. Lailyn had said she made mead. An oddly placed wicked smile of mischief spread over Yoshiyo’s face. She was going to find Lailyn and they were going to have mead for breakfast. Or brunch. Or lunch. It all sort of depended on when she found the young Rohir.

She meandered through the streets of Edoras. It was a bright, pleasant morning full of potential and possibilities. She bought a loaf of bread from a baker stall, a wedge of cheese, and some dried winter fruit and munched on it as she passed through the streets. Making mental notes of all the things she saw, she made her way through the market stalls and buildings at a slow, relaxed pace. The use of language was so fascinating around here. Some signs had pictographic representations and others used script. The smell of horse was present, it was always present here, Yoshiyo surmised, but it was dampened by the snow and the cold. Yoshiyo loved the snow. Winter was her favorite season. She loved curling up in the library with a cup of cocoa and a good book to read by the large windows of the front entrance. This was marvelous too. She got into no less than four snowball fights with a dozen little blonde children who squealed and giggled and ran away before Yoshiyo had the chance to retaliate with a barrage of her own. Her light green cloak bore the marks of her assault, large wet splotches and bits of snow hung on.

Finally though, she managed to weave and duck and maneuver her way through the streets and byways until she finally happened on Lailyn who was laden with barrel upon barrel upon barrel. Yoshiyo had a very good idea of what was in those barrels and beamed. “Lailyn! Oh hi!”
Ora pro nobis, Lucifer | Sorry I don't treat you like you're perfect like all your little loyal subjects do

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Streets of Edoras with Yoshiyo (@Ambivalent Octopus)

The roan draft horse’s black mane swayed and swished back and forth with every step he took, plodding along with the cart behind him. Lailyn sat tall with the hood of her green cloak thrown back so she could feel the winter sun’s faint warmth on her face and take in every sight and sound with full awareness of the here and now. The air was fresh and invigorating. Chickens clucked and dogs brayed. Snow glittered on the thatched roofs beneath the clear sky that promised a bright day ahead.

And it was. Any hint of a shadow on her mind faded the further they ventured into the city, as if the presence of each person, stranger or friend, caused those troubles to melt away into the background like the coming spring thaw. Not unlike the taste of mead lingering on Yoshiyo’s lips from the night before, Lailyn’s heart still swelled with the sweetness of the joy she had felt then. If she could collect those moments like drops of honey bottled up to be savored later, she would. Since she couldn’t, she would hold on to this feeling until it slipped from her grasp and faded into memory.

The first pub was a small, family-owned establishment on a quiet corner. The owner helped her unload and roll the barrels in while his three children flocked around them, chattering all at once with stories of their own Mettare festivities, the treats they’d had, the games they played and how late they’d been allowed to stay up. Lailyn showered them with as much attention as she could and snuck them a few sweets with a wink while their father counted up her payment. Her first payment! With luck, the mead would sell well and she could return with more of her next batch.

Before she took up her seat in the cart again, she stared at the first of her earnings in her gloved hand. They glowed in the sunlight and, just as bright, a surge of joy rushed through her. She earned this with hard work by making something all her own. She’d been lied to and robbed, lost and broken-hearted, beaten down by battle, and here she stood. The broken pieces were coming together to make her whole. In that moment, Lailyn believed maybe anything was possible.

The sun was nearing its midday peak when a trail of red-cheeked children raced by, their feet splattering in the snow. She caught the word snowball amid their laughter and could not help sinking into the memory of the night before until she was called back by the sound of her name ringing in a pleasant greeting.

Her mood soared to new heights to see it was Yoshiyo--the vibrant elleth she had met the night before, who had made quite an impression (both the first and second times they’d been introduced). On the surface, the two appeared worlds apart with little in common; elleth and Rider, scholar and warrior-turned-beekeeper. Even so, Lailyn felt a kindred connection with her.

With a gentle tug on the reins, the cart rolled to an easy stop so she could say hello. “Yoshiyo! How nice to see you!” There was a glimmer of amusement in her eyes at the sight of party attire peeking out from beneath Yoshiyo’s snow-pelted cloak. There was a story there, she was sure, and she wanted to hear it.

“Have you been out all night? Don’t tell me I missed an after-party!” Her forehead wrinkled in thought. “Now that I think about it, I don’t remember seeing you at the end of the evening...” Where had Yoshiyo disappeared to? Lailyn had completely missed Yoshiyo’s plight in the snowbank. Once outside, her attention had been hopelessly and singularly focused on Edda and Æric. “It was so lovely in the snow,” she said wistfully. “Did you get a chance to tell everyone about your expedition? Can I offer you a ride somewhere? You can tell me what you got up to and maybe we can get a spot of lunch together.” She smiled and patted the empty space on the seat beside her.

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(with @Lailyn)

Elven feelings and emotions were complicated things. Yoshiyo had been alive now for five hundred years or so and she was no closer to understanding them than she was in the firsts few decades of her life. It would be easy to say that elves have a deeper connection with their emotions than the other races of Middle-Earth, but that wouldn’t quite be correct. They have a deep connection, that is true, but that connection was not always a positive one. Taking a stroll through their history, it is easy to see how often elves lose control of themselves base on their emotions. Since the days of the First and Second Ages, elves have learned if not to temper their emotions, than to suppress them (which would of course lead to a new set of problems). They learned from their mistakes, sure, but did they learn the right lessons? Yoshiyo had not mastered the art of temperance or suppression. She didn’t want to. While she dedicated herself to the pursuit of knowledge and the finding of wisdom she had had her fair share of emotional turmoil, of frustration, anger, anxiety, sadness, dejectedness, heartbreak, elation, joy, and utter befuddlement, and she would not have traded any of them, for a chance at “level-headedness”, the one thing her tutors and the scholars above her continuously admonished her for. Yoshiyo was not an automaton or some clay figure brought to life to serve a singular purpose.

She enjoyed her time among humans. While they were wild and wildly different, she loved how they embraced their feelings and lived their lives alongside those feelings. It was something she planned on doing now. She would no longer hide behind a veneer or superiority or pseudo-intellectualism that kept elves and humans apart. She had never experienced what mortality really meant until she’d come out here, from the Shire to Dunland and now to Rohan. Upon seeing Lailyn, a hundred new and fresh feelings and emotions flooded Yoshiyo’s senses. The Rohir had been the first to introduce herself with the (apparent) intent to actually get to know Yoshiyo as well. Her interest in the young scholar’s work and ambitions had (seemed) genuine and heartfelt. She challenged the elleth’s preconceived notions about humans and what they were capable of. She enjoyed the woman’s presence as well. There was a light bubbliness in the air and the sun shone just a little brighter (though that might have been the reflection of the light off the snow). Yoshiyo had difficulty placing or naming how she felt. Lailyn was becoming a friend, that much she understood. And while she had not had the opportunity to have many in her years secluded in dusty libraries, Yoshiyo knew that friendships required cultivation, love, attentiveness, and respect. She saw the first shoots of green, continuing that metaphor, and now it was time to get to work making sure the soil was verdant. It also occurred to the bright eyed elleth that she was not exactly known for having a green thumb. In fact, very unlike most elves, she had trouble keeping any and all plants alive. Her parents had once gifted her with a cactus, something they thought she would have an easier time taking care of. It was dead within a month. She was similarly bad with pets. She could not count how many cats she tried to adopt, only to have them run away from her at first sight. She was also terrible at keeping fish alive, a black mark on someone who lived in a harbor. Still, she continued to try.

“Been out?” she repeated Lailyn’s words and tried (and probably failed) to hide an embarrassed smile. What should she do here? Play it coy or tell the truth? “Well…” she started out slowly, sitting next to the Rohir. “If by out you mean, literally out, then yes, you betcha. I don’t think I took into account how strong alcohol was, last night was my first real, ah, attempt at drinking. I would say it went rather well,” she smirked inwardly. “I was planning on rushing out before you and Æric and Edda came out and pelt you all with snowballs in the hopes of starting a snowball fight.” She laughed. “Didn’t quite work out as I’d planned though, dontcha know. Fell asleep right there in a snowdrift. Didn’t wake up to earlier this morning.” There was a point at which Yoshiyo realized she might have felt shame at admitting this, but that moment passed. It was a funny story, why not tell it?

“It’s been a while since I spent the night under the stars. I hadn’t planned on camping out but, dontcha know, I think that’s exactly what I needed. It gave me time to wonder about your fair city and see it in its natural environment. If I stayed at an inn, I’d be fussed over and bebothered by a hundred different variations of “we don’t get many elves here”. I got to see Edoras wake up. I got to smell bread baking, hear city criers, sample pastries I never knew existed and,” again she looked at her snow encrusted cloak, “got in a few snowball fights along the way. I think though,” she said after a moment, “if I plan on doing that again I’ll bring a change of clothes with me.”

She watched the snow for some time. Watched it fall, watched it pile, watched it shimmer and disappear. She’d seen snow hundreds and hundreds of times. Lindon was usually beset in winter, but it had become so perfunctory that she eventually stopped seeing it. It was a nuisance and impediment on her way to the library. The snow was no different here in Rohan than it was in Lindon, but somehow it was different. She hadn’t really taken the time to look at snow and appreciate it in a long time. The pristine whiteness was vast, as far as the eye could see in all directions. It was beautiful.

“I did manage to talk to a few people here and there about the prospective expedition. I’m not sure how much interest there will be, but I am confident there will be some people here and in Lindon that would like to come. There’s a lot to study up in those mountains. And as I think on it, I think a grand, expensive expedition might get in the way of what we are actually trying to study. What’s the saying about too many cooks in the kitchen?” she paused and pursed her lips in thought. “too many people leads to too many ideas and not enough time.”

Yoshiyo’s eyes brightened at the mention of food. “Lunch? Well I suppose I could eat!” She stuffed the remaining portion of bread in her mouth and giggled. “What did you have in mind?”
Ora pro nobis, Lucifer | Sorry I don't treat you like you're perfect like all your little loyal subjects do

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Streets of Edoras with Yoshiyo (@Prometherion)
In the space of a few short moments after asking where she’d gone, Lailyn had already imagined a hundred different scenarios that led to Yoshiyo wandering around the city in her festive-wear today. Galavanting off with the other elves to sing and dance all night under the stars, drinking wine and delving into long intellectual discussions that threaded into debates, creating beautiful shining sculptures in the snow, or even going on a quest in search of a snack to satisfy that midnight craving. Not a single one of her imaginings came close to the truth...and the amused twinkle in her eyes disappeared.

“You what?” Lailyn blurted out, completely aghast. “You fell asleep in the snow? All night?” Her voice crept up in pitch as the scenario played out in her mind. How cold, how wet, how lonely, how awful it must have been! And Lailyn could have helped if only she had seen!

A frowned tugged at the corner of her lips. She wanted nothing more than to throw her arms around Yoshiyo and make sure she was perfectly safe and warm. Uncertain if they were quite that well-acquainted, instead she contented herself by offering a consoling pat on the arm.

“Yoshiyo, I’m sorry.” Her voice melted with the sincere apology. “I wish I’d seen you, I could’ve helped! Here I thought you’d say you were off having a fun adventure and, well, I suppose it sounds like you did…I hope that you did.” Was Yoshiyo making light of her experience or was she truly that optimistic? She searched her expression and posture for any clue or hint of displeasure beneath the elleth’s cheerful exterior and found none. Still, Lailyn was not so willing to gloss over it.

“I know that we Eorlingas have not always been very welcoming to outsiders, but those were troubled times...before the War.” Her voice softened with the last three words. How was it that time and again everything seemed to come back to war, to misery and to darkness? Yes, they had victory, and she was grateful for every sacrifice, but the cost was still a heavy one that changed her life forever, forcing her to grow up too soon. “There may be some among us who still hold on to the old ways...I just hope no one has been unkind to you.”

In the world of white awash in sunlight and with Yoshiyo beside her, it was surprisingly easy not to dwell on the past too long. Lailyn considered most people she met to be a friend, but that did not make any single one less special. Each person and link she felt connecting herself to them was like the lighting of a candle in her heart. The more she got to know them, the flickers became warm flames that gave her hope and strength against the darkness. She hoped her friendship with Yoshiyo would burn bright and felt certain that it would.

“As for lunch…” She mused, abandoning the past in favor of a lighter and more immediate future. “If you don’t mind waiting just a bit, I only have two more deliveries to do and the last is The Gilded Goblet. They do a nice roast there, or a stew if you want something lighter. I might even be able to convince them to open a barrel.” She reached back and tapped a barrel with a fond smile. Mindful of Yoshiyo’s words about being crowded by ogling people, she made an alternative offer. “If you’d prefer to go somewhere quieter, I could put something together at my house.” Of course, it went without saying mead would be on offer there, too. She shrugged and smiled. “Either way, it’ll be my treat. You need a good hearty lunch after last night-- it’s the least I can do for a friend.”

Lailyn grasped the reins in her hands and set them into motion again. The clip-clopping hooves and the shush-shush of the wheels in the snow punctuated her words. “And I can tell you about my first time drinking too much, if you want to hear it…” The hard-learned lesson that had been mortifying at the time, but now she only saw the humor in it and grinned at the memory.

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The Silk, the Sheers – part I


Part of the Ties That Bind, a chronicle of the de Argosy family
featuring Branimir “Bran” de Argosy and Rihannon de Argosy

Author's note: a part of this post describes the situation at Pelargir during the siege in March 3019 T.A., I tried not to be too graphic in my descriptions, but just in case you'd rather not read something like that I've decided it's best to add some sort of CW.

The low winter sun was slowly setting on Edoras. The darkening sky brought a flurry of fluttering snowflakes wrapping the landscape in hushed whiteness. The Riddermarket was quietening down, the busy day drawing to a close as the few remaining customers finished up their shopping and headed for the comforts of their warm homes and roaring hearts. For the shopkeepers, the day’s ending signified the beginning of the long process of closing down their shops. Goods and wares needed to be put away, shop floors swept and cleaned, the day’s earnings tallied and written into ledgers before the shutters could be closed and the store locked.

De Argosy siblings were amongst the last shoppers leaving Edoras’ snowy market, having said their goodbyes to Eldreda at Awesnis gærve nædleprica a few moments ago. Both brother and sister were dressed in their warmest clothes, scarves wrapped comfortably around their necks to protect them from Rohan’s cold weather, but still allow movement. Despite the practicality and appropriateness of their clothing, the difference in their styles was seen by the colouring of their garments. Bran’s favoured muted colours, eigengrau and dark drab brown, while Rihannon preferred vivid colours and for this occasion chose to wear a rusty red gown (the warmest she had brought with her) and a butterscotch yellow scarf.

The tall Gondorians, who for most of their lives lived in Pelargir – a harbour city near the estuary of the Anduin, were (mostly) unused to snow. They cautiously navigated Edoras’ snowy streets, their steps measured and careful. Rihannon held on to her brother’s arm and watched the sight of snow, its bright whiteness and the feather-light softness of snowflakes that playfully swirled, with obvious delight. She was aware that on the morrow Bran, who carried the carefully packaged bundle containing her new clothes in his gloved hand, would have to shovel snow from their doorstep. However, clearing the snow was tomorrow’s problem; for now, she simply enjoyed the magic of pure water in crystalline form and the crunching sounds their boots made in contact with the powdery new snow.

A comfortable silence settled between them as they exited the Riddermarket district and entered Auld Town. They stepped away from the main road that led from the Northern Gate to the Riddermarked and Meduseld and moved onto the streets that would take them in the direction of the northern watchtower. Near the watchtower was a cluster of small houses and cottages that were, thankfully, untouched by the fires that burned through Edoras during the summer festival. Upon their arrival at Edoras, in late autumn, the siblings rented a cottage in that part of Auld Town not anticipating that their sojourn in Rohan’s capital city would be this long. As they approached their home in Edoras, currently the only unlit cottage in the cluster of small dwellings, it looked like one of the siblings was going to stay even longer.

They stopped in front of the threshold for a moment, making sure to stomp the snow from their boots and brush its remains from their cloaks, before Bran took out the key from his pocket and unlocked the door. Rihannon eagerly entered their unlit and quiet residence and after placing her cloak on the hook near the door she took the bundle with her new garments from Bran so he could do the same. Without a word exchanged the siblings moved into their home and continued with the routine choirs. Bran lit the fires in the heart and the stove, then lit a few candles while Rihannon, after leaving the bundle of clothes on a wooden chest in her room and washing her hands, started to prepare pease porridge for dinner.

Time passed and the cottage got warmer. As his sister cooked Bran washed up and brought the bottle of registry ink, quill and parchment to the wooden table. He sat down, adjusted the position of the candles on the table and started working on the list of textiles that the family traded in or could procure from their trading partners. On a separate piece of paper, he started drafting a letter to their brother, Roderic, about the possible business opportunity in Rohan. It was not certain if anything would come of this, he made sure to stress this in the draft, however, the opportunity was there.

“Dinner will be ready soon,” his sister’s cheerful voice made him lift his head from his writing. He acknowledged her with a hum and started clearing the table. The list for Eldreda’s cousin, who might or might not be the Marshal who was injured in Helm’s Deep, was finished and the letter to Roderic would have to wait. He closed the ink bottle, rolled the parchments and took his writing materials from the kitchen table to his room.

When he returned, Rihannon was just setting the pot with the pease porridge on the wooden stand at the centre of the table. An earthenware jug filled with water and two mugs made out of the same material were stood near the wooden stand. The remains of yesterday’s bread along with two wooden bowls and spoons were placed on the table. He took one of the bowls and passed it to his sister so she could fill it up with hot porridge and then repeated the same process with the other bowl. They sat down to eat, taking a slice of bread, and dipping it into the porridge or tearing it off into smaller pieces and placing them into the bowl. As they enjoyed their meal they talked about their day. Bran spoke of his visit to the carpenter and how he ordered Mettarë gifts for Arslan and Ellin. The mention of a wooden horse for their nephew made his sister smile widely, but when he mentioned a dowry chest for Ellin her eyebrows shot up.

“Do you not think it’s too soon for Ellin to have a dowry chest?” Rihannon asked teasingly, quickly realising that there was something else behind her brother’s actions. “After all, she is only seven, and Nessa made no mention of betrothal plans for her daughter in her last letter.”
“I am certain our dear cousin is already thinking of her daughter’s future,” he replied with a smirk. “And although it is too early for Ellin to have a dedicated chest for her dowry,” he said and nodded, acknowledging Rihannon’s point. “I will keep referring to this one as her dowry chest because I know it will irk Nessa’s husband,” he said with an amused grin. “And anything that vexes him amuses me to no end.”
“Don’t go too far with this, Branimir,” his sister warned him using his true name. “Their marriage has gone through enough strain and hardship…” she sighed. “They’ve just reconciled...”
“And whose fault was that?” her brother asked, interrupting her, but his voice was low and level. “He knew where his wife and daughter were, but it took a summon from the King to bring him home,” he paused and looked at her and noticed the sadness and worry for their cousin. “Fear not sweet sister,” he told her softening his voice and his words. “For the love that I bear for Nessa and Ellin, I will hold my tongue. However, he does not deserve it.”
“Turin is not as bad as you paint him to be, Bran,” she told him earnestly. “The War took its toll on all of us, changed us and shaped us. We are not the same as we once were.”
“I know,” he says his voice barely above a whisper as his mind goes back to Pelargir wrapped in the fog of war.

He remembers the inky darkness and the mournful warning toll of the city bells. The enemy fleet has been sighted on the Anduin. Black ships with black sails, Corsairs of Umbar and Harradrim their enemies of old, approaching the Serene city as her people make ready the defences. One could say what they wanted about that bastard Lord Dandolo, the old Doge of Pelargir, but he had drilled the citizens without mercy, preparing his people for just such an eventuality. Barricades were erected, the chains raised, sesiteri closed like fists. The lines were formed, breaths held. The citizens would fight fiercely, they will give no quarter. It begins. Fighting on the Anduin, sound of projectiles and arrows flying, steel clashing. Structures catching fire, the citizens rushing to extinguish the flames. Smoke and the smell of burning in the air. The crews guarding the chains are overwhelmed, slaughtered, red blood flowing into the water. The chains fall into the river and the corsairs advance into the sestieri. The defenders engage – dodge, parry, thrust, sidestep... Streets littered with corpses, cries of wounded echo throughout the city.

The fierce battle for the wounded, moving through fire and smoke in the air, pushing through to the Houses of Healing. He and Roderic meting up with Ognjen and Iliya and the others, forming the line and the line held. It must not be crossed, would not be crossed, could not be crossed. Roars of rage and fury, a storm of swords… Working with Ognjen to make incendiary devices. Glass bottles filled with flammable substance mixed with the supplies Morana provided them. Pushing a cloth soaked in alcohol into the bottle, the look of ferocious determination on Iskra’s face as she lights the thing on fire and lobs it towards the enemy with a furious howl. Fire, smoke and blood… “I am drowning in a sea of poppies, in crimson foam, in the fog of war…*” Morana’s verses, a way for her to come to terms with the lives lost. Her war poems, lines written in blood and cried to the wind.

How shall I explain the dying that was done?
Shall I say that each one did the math, and wrote
The value of his days
Against the bloody margin, in an understated hand?
They will want to know
How was the audit done?
And I shall say that it was done
For once,
By those who knew the worth
Of what was spent that day.

Hold the line! Hold the line! The mantra chanted, hollered, screamed endlessly, mercilessly. The line held, the line could not be crossed. “The City rises marching, a thousand starpoints strong! Released, we are spears in the hands of the Sun!*” Near the end Roderic falls to the ground, wounded. Cry, the beloved city! And then, unexpected, hope! The arrival of the King with much-needed reinforcements. The Grey Company, archers from the Blackroot Vale, infantry from Lebennin and Lamedon, along with cavalry and the dreaded Dead Men of Dunharrow. The battle over, the fighting is done. Roderic in the Houses of Healing, in Morana’s care. He will live; uncle Leo will not. Waves of grief mixing with relief and guilt for being alive. Sorrowsong. Wails of anguish tears unnumbered flowing… Water for the dead. So much death and destruction. Wrath and fury, bone tiredness and heartache… No time to rest, no time to grieve. No time to bury their dead; their families, friends, neighbours, all those who fell in the defence of their city, their homeland. The need to hold on to that anger as he and Ognjen board the ships that will take them to the White City. He does not say goodbyes, he cannot. Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori***.

“Branimir…” Rihannon’s voice calling him, pulling him back from the abyss to the present. Her smaller, warm hand covering his.
“Tell me about your day at Awesnis, djanim (my soul),” he asks her and she does.

Rihannon starts by telling him about the things a prospective apprentice should know. She talks about fabrics, their quality, colours and designs. Knowing how to sort them and how much they cost. She grumbles about the different systems of measurement used in Gondor and Rohan, drawing a chortle out of him when she says, her back perfectly straight in a mock-serous voice, that the conversion of one metric unit into another will be the death of her. There is a lightness in the air now, as she talks about the customers that came into the shop. The way his sister describes each person, focusing on the details that caught her eye; the colour of this person’s garments, the way a woman braided her hair, mannerisms and the way people spoke... Their reaction when they saw and realised that a Gondorian lass was helping Eldreda in the shop. The initial surprise, then delight and the positive reactions and comments that followed.

“They made me feel welcome,” his sister says, almost breathless, her face alight with joy. “At first, I was uncertain because I didn’t know how people would react to a prospective Gondorian apprentice at Awesnis… I thought surely someone would say something to Eldreda, comment that she could have, should have found a Rohir lass to help her at the shop…” Rihannon expresses her doubts and insecurities in front of him without fear of censure. He takes her hand and holds it in his own, in support, in understanding. “They were genuinely kind and I could see myself working there, coming to shop, working with Eldreda, learning from her… I felt as though I could belong here, to that life. That it could be the life I’m living…”
“This is what you want?” Bran asks looking into her eyes, searching for an answer in her face.
“I do,” Rihannon says without hesitation, her face becoming thoughtful. “I am aware that this was a spur-of-the-moment decision, and I’m not even certain I am ready for this!” she exclaims pulling her hand from his and gesturing wildly. “There’s so much I don’t know, not just about the craft, but also about the way of life in Rohan! If Eldreda accepts me as her apprentice that means I’m staying here. I’m going to be living here, in Edoras! Alone! Without you, away from family!” her fears rush out of her like a gush of arterial blood.
“Rihannon,” he calls his sister by her name. Quietly, calmly. His eyes are gentle, filled with faith in her. “My dear sister, you can do whatever you set your mind to,” he says this with such conviction that she goes still. “You are made of sterner stuff. You might have made a spur-of-the-moment choice, but in your heart of hearts, you knew that you could do this. That you are ready for this,” he tells her encouragingly, wanting to see his sister spread her wings and fly.
“Bran…” she whispers breathlessly.
“Nothing worth doing is ever easy and the path you chose to walk on has a lot of inconvenient obstacles,” he says with a wry smile. “But they are not insurmountable and you will find your way.”
“Thank you, Bran,” she replies and gets up and walks over to hug him.
“I speak the truth, djanim,” he says getting up and pulls his sister into his arms. “These are matters that should be discussed in bright sunlight, not in the flickering candlelight. Let us finish our dinner and get some rest, it was a long day. We will make plans in the following days.”

Quotes from:
*Arkady Martine's A Memory Called Empire
**Richard K. Morgan Altered Carbon
***Wilfred Owen "Dulce et Decorum est"
Wyrdwritere. She/her. E forse il mare è dentro di lei

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