The Silk, the Sheers – part I
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.
Part of the Ties That Bind, a chronicle of the de Argosy family
featuring Branimir “Bran” de Argosy and Rihannon de Argosy
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
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
),” 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.”
*Arkady Martine's A Memory Called Empire
**Richard K. Morgan Altered Carbon
***Wilfred Owen "Dulce et Decorum est"