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Folwren 10-05-2015 04:13 PM

Saeryn shifted the basket in her hands to her hip and wiped her forehead. She glanced around the room, taking mental stock of what needed to be done that day. She turned to Eodwine.

"Where is he?" she asked.

"In his quarters. He did not rise this morning."

"I will see to him." She turned and went back to the kitchen. She found Ruari and Rowenna there. "Heavens, I forgot your breakfast! Why didn't you go out to the hall with the others? Rowenna, poor me some hot water for tea." She set the basket down on the table and reached for a dried bunch of herbs. She set them on the table and began snapping off dried twigs. Her hurried glance fell on her daughter again. "Why are you wet?"

Rowenna set a brimming mug on the tabletop next to her and drew back to the stove. Saeryn absently dropped the leaves into the water while staring down at Ruari.

Ruari looked back, wide-eyed. "I went outside," she said.

"Well, I guess you did! You probably got your dress all..." she glanced over the edge of the table and saw the muddy hem and shoes clotted with mud. "Ruari, you should be more mindful!" She turned away and went to the shelf to take down the honey. Ruari's eyes widened with eagerness, but Saeryn took no notice.

"Go on out and find your brother. Sit with him. Kara will get you some porridge. Rowenna, you may go get your breakfast as well."

"Can I have some honey, Mama?" Ruari asked.

"No. Run along." She did not glance up as she carefully spooned some of the honey into the tea and mixed it. Ruari and Rowenna quietly exited the kitchen. Saeryn glanced in the basket she had brought in. There was still some bread left. She doubted that Wilheard would have much appetite, but in case he did, she took a couple slices to accompany the tea.

She found him only semi-conscious, lying in a crooked, uncomfortable looking position. She placed the victuals she had brought on the ground beside his bed and touched his forehead. He was hot, sure, but she had seen worse.

"I've brought you some tea and bread, I'd like you to try to eat and drink some of it."

Mithalwen 10-06-2015 01:10 PM

“I’d also be curious to see how you’re handling your colt. I’m thinking about bringing along my yearling filly rather than sell her.” Elfthain smiled at Leof's words. It was good news and he was only too happy to talk horse.

"You will have to show her to me later. I haven't ridden my colt much yet.. but he is home-bred so I have known him since he was foaled and he only became my own a few weeks ago. We take things very slowly with the youngsters. We get them used to the halter and being handled from the start. They do some long reining as two year olds but we don't usually back them til they are at least three, then turn them out again to let them develop before starting to school them seriously the next summer . By five they are ready for anything.

" Some people go quicker but most of our home-breds go as remounts for the muster of Edoras so they need to be strong enough to carry a full grown rider in mail. However my colt was a late summer foal and so he is rising four and well grown so I don't really want to wait another year. But I wouldn't want to be riding him a lot, or in armour yet so I still need Saff. I had planned on breeding from her next year but her devotion to wallowing in mud makes me worry she will have piglets rather than a foal." He grinned and grimaced as he thought of his beloved mare still more covered in mud than not. "Sorry, you won't want me to stay if I keep rambling on" he added realising he had let his tongue carry him away again having started on one of his favourite topics.

Folwren 10-06-2015 08:05 PM

Elfthain's comment about piglets caused Thornden to chuckle. Then the lad's suddenly self-conscious expression and mumbled apology made him laugh outright.

"Right, then," Thornden said, still chuckling. "The problem of the horses has been resolved - there is plenty of room - and I will speak to Eodwine. You, Elfthain, do wait until you hear if he says yea or nay. The letter to your master will best be written either by Eodwine himself, or by me, I should think."

He paused when he saw Ruari coming towards them. She made a direct line for their table and Thornden guessed she was come to eat. He made room so she could sit between him and Eoghan. As he helped her climb onto the bench and get settled, Javan addressed Elfthain.

"So you plan to have your colt sent for?" he asked. "He sounds like a nice 'un. I'd like to meet him."

Mithalwen 10-07-2015 07:42 AM

Elfthain answered slowly "Well until a few minutes ago I was planning to go back with the convoy but yes I would like to get him out here if I can, he is more than nice... and I could use more of my own gear. I only brought what I expected to need for the return journey which wasn't very much."

He thought how it could work, "So if Lord Eodwine agrees to my staying ... I better ask my mother to arrange it - I will write her a letter to go with the one to Elwin. He will get it to her, I know" - in fact he will almost certainly deliver it personally thought Elfthain, realising that this would also mean it didn't matter so much that the Eorl or his Steward would be writing to his uncle; he was sure that the siblings would confer, "So it will take a while even if she is agreeable. There is a chance she might deliver him herself: I wouldn't put it past her to take the opportunity to check up on me, but it is a risk I will have to take" he added with a grin. "And now she has Poppy to look after she may not be able to get away so long." he added thoughtfully.

Thinlómien 10-07-2015 12:40 PM

His pillow was back and so was his blanket. There had been a kind voice, then another. Surely he must have been imagining? He was still in Scarburg. Or had they moved him? Maybe they had sent him home because he'd been so useless. The voices had been familiar, now that Wilheard thought of it, even though he had trouble putting faces to them. I was never good with people. It was Wulfric who was good with them, I was always better with horses, yes, and hawks and hounds...

Wilheard wondered if Eorl Eodwine would let him have a puppy. His father had never let him - he'd always said Wilheard could have one when he was a respectable young man. He guessed he'd never been one. Too wild, too reckless, too disinterested.


Oh, the woman was still there. Wilheard opened his eyes, then touched his face. It felt damp. His eyes focused on the form of the woman by his bedside. Saeryn. Lady Saeryn. That was her. No friend of mine, Wilheard reminded himself. Usurper, and mother of another. Adopted by Lord Athanar, to succeed him in place of his own son. After all these years, after Wulfric was gone, it was still a bitter thought, but not entirely without amusement value.

"Tea? Yes, please. Sister."

Folwren 10-07-2015 03:17 PM

Sister! Where was this coming from, Saeryn wondered. Did he mistake her for his younger sister? She glanced at his face, then narrowed her eyes. He was not so delirious as all that, she decided; there was too much recognizable dislike in his eyes. She pressed her lips together as she leaned over and helped him to sit up.

"The tea's still hot, so be careful," she instructed, carefully handing the mug to him with one hand while she guided his other hand to wrap around the mug. She stood by, watching as he tentatively sipped the hot brew. She regretted that she had not brought a cloth with cool water.

The tea lowered from his lips and drooped dangerously towards the covers. Saeryn gripped the rim and carefully removed it from Wilheard's hands.

"Try eating some bread. I will be back." She placed the plate with the bread on his lap and left him to get a bowl of cool water and a cloth.

She reflected on what may be the cause of his fever, an she began to fear that whatever it was might spread. As she passed through the hall to the kitchen, she looked anxiously towards her children. So soon after a period of near starvation, she was not sure they nor anyone else would be able to stay well in the face of sickness. She suppressed her thoughts and went into the kitchen to fetch the water.

Wilheard was still sitting up, but he had apparently not been able to eat much. Saeryn placed the bowl of water by the tea and wrung out the cloth. She began to sponge the sweat from his face.

"Do you have any pain?" she asked.

Folwren 10-07-2015 03:25 PM

Javan opened his mouth to ask who Poppy was, but Thornden cut him short. "We'll sit here all day chatting like women at this rate," he said. "There's work to be done. Javan, you can help Elfthain finish grooming his horse." A smile tugged at his lips. He had considered calling her a sow, but thought that perhaps Elfthain, who sometimes seemed quite serious, would see it as a liberty and may not appreciate such humor. He went on. "Léof, do you want to look and find if we have what you need for your leather soap? I will go and find Eodwine and put our question to him."

He stood up, and the others followed his example. Even Eoghan scrambled to his feet. "I need to find Papa, too," he announced.

"What about me?" Ruari cried, not one to be willingly left out.

"You've hardly begun eating," Thornden told her, pointing to the porridge Kara had just a moment given her. "Finish up."

Mithalwen 10-08-2015 03:17 PM

Having emptied bowl and cup of their last contents, Elfthain rose and left the Hall with Javan who, no longer stymied by his brother's presence, asked who Poppy was.

"Poppy? She is a little girl my mother is fostering. We don't really know anything about her, not even her right name. A traveller was found dying in the snow near where I live. The child was with her, we don't even know if she was the mother.. they didn't look anything alike and the girl was too young to tell us and the woman never spoke before she died. So she is a bit of a mystery but she is a sweet little thing really and my mother adores her."

They reached the stables again and Elfthain apologised to Javan "Sorry you have got lumbered helping with this. She is a disgrace; aren't you Saffy, my dear?" He pulled the little mare's ears affectionately and she whickered drawing attention to her depleted supply of hay. "She is usually fine about being groomed but she can be a bit ticklish when her tummy is brushed so you might want to leave that to me. Though if we give her more hay she probably won't care what we do with her". He sighed as he took in the amount of work left and looked around for his brushes.

littlemanpoet 10-11-2015 05:38 AM

Rowenna strode through the growing puddles to the smoke house. The rain came down steadily and she was soaked through. The smoke house would be dry and warm. And overpowering with the smell of smoked meat. She wondered if Nydfara liked that smell. Surely he did, as it was meat and men liked their meat. She shook her head. What matter? Silly thoughts. She did not matter to Nydfara, nor he to her. It angered her that these thoughts came upon her unawares, as if something deep inside betrayed her.

She opened the door to the smoke house and went inside. She liked it in here. It was warm and dry. She wished she could stay here much longer than need required. She took a cut of wood from the dry-store and placed it carefully in the oven.

That little Ruari was not really the same as she had been at that age. She had been happy and carefree and full of dance and play. She had been so until the brigands had come and destroyed her life. She had learned to be tough and skilled in surviving, learned how to make others want what she wanted; or at least, what she said she wanted.

Ruari was different. She could see it in her eyes. That little girl's thought was already the way she had had to learn to be. "You're a silly fool," she whispered. The knot in her stomach refused to go away, and only seemed to tighten the more she thought about her past, the little girl, and that troublesome Nydfara.

How would she have handled him among the brigands? She would have listened to him until she had learned what he most desired, what he craved, and then would use that knowledge to bait him into giving her what she wanted, or doing what she wanted, or, in Nydfara's case, telling her what she wanted to know.

So she had better go find the cur and find out what drove him. She grabbed a side of deermeat and walked back into the rain.

Firefoot 10-11-2015 02:11 PM

Scyld set off down from the Scar quickly, hoping to make it back to the Hall before the worst of the rain came. It was not to be: the drops soon started hitting harder and faster, and more than once he nearly lost his footing on the muddy, rocky ground. It had been foolish of him to come up here before a rainstorm, he realized. He slowed his pace; better to return wet and whole than to turn an ankle in the muck and be unable to return at all.

By the time he reached the fields separating the Scar from the Hall, the drizzle had turned into a downpour. Between the snowmelt and the constant rain, the soggy ground could hold no more water and the puddles in many places were up to his ankles. No point in running then: the water would only splash higher. As he came up to the Hall, even his thick wool cloak was soaking through, which felt thoroughly unpleasant, not to mention heavy. Squinting through the rain, he saw another figure approaching the Hall from the opposite direction, seemingly bearing a large burden.

It was Rowenna, he realized, as she drew closer. Her clothing was drenched, and he could not help but notice that the way the wet fabric clung to her was not unflattering. He shook his head of the thought. He had to keep his mind sharp if he was to have any hope of understanding how he had managed to irritate her so. At least now if she had something to say to him, it would be out of Eodwine’s hearing.

He reached the door just before she did. “May I hold the door for you, or would you prefer to have another reason to glower at me?” he asked as he held out the door with his free hand.

Galadriel55 10-11-2015 05:19 PM

Lady Brithiel appeared somewhat bemused while Ledwyn spoke. Her response confirmed Ledwyn's doubts.

"No, no. Everything is good. Thank you, Ledwyn."

The lady's face said that everything was definitely not good. Was she too polite to accept Ledwyn's offer? Did she understand what Ledwyn said? Ledwyn knew that the newcomer knew some of the Eorling speech; more than she knew Westron. She ought to make her understand something.

"My lady, I fear I have not made you feel welcome here as I should have. There must be something I can do to amend that."

Ledwyn prayed that the lady would understand.

littlemanpoet 10-12-2015 07:16 PM

Well, this had turned out to be easier than she expected. Here came the rogue now, from the Scar, walking slowly in the rain as if he reveled in it. He glanced her way and made it to the door to the Hall just before her. He gave her that typically sardonic look, which at this moment she found most annoying.

“May I hold the door for you, or would you prefer to have another reason to glower at me?”

A verbal attack. Why did it have to hit so close to home? She was unable to remove the frown from her face, and knew that she did not have the self-control she needed, so she must say only what was needful.

"You may," she nodded. "Better than standing here in the pouring rain debating the matter." Now, why had that come blurting out of her?

Folwren 10-14-2015 05:23 PM

Thornden split ways with Léof and the others. Eoghan followed at his side as he walked across the hall to Eodwine.

"Eodwine, have you met the lad, Elfthain, who came with the caravan? He is about Javan's age."

"I do not believe so."

"Oh." Thornden turned and glanced about the hall quickly, but Elfthain and Javan had already gone outside. He realized that to best put his query, he should have brought Elfthain with him. "He came with Wilheard in the caravan. He has expressed interest in staying here with us and being a squire here, instead of returning to his master when the caravan leaves. I told him I would put the question to you. I find him to be humble, and he has a good wit, and I think he would be a good addition to our hall."

"Does he owe anything to his master? Is he sworn to him until any fixed time?"

"That I do not know. His master is Elwin, Captain in the King's Guard, and was his father's friend. Elfthain says he was sent with the convoy to give him experience, and he thought Elwin would not be against his staying here longer, if you were willing to let him stay."

Eodwine nodded. "I will be holding court later today. Have him come. You may speak for him at that time, but he will need to speak for himself. Tell him so. Then tell me how he receives this."

"I will do so," Thornden said, and departed to find Elfthain and his brother.

Eoghan tarried behind and once Thornden had left, he approached his father with a hopeful smile on his face.

"Papa, Leof says I may ride his horse when the weather clears, but that you must first say I can. May I?"

Eodwine smiled at his son's excitement and interest. This was to be expected, and encouraged, but in the right time and way. He sat down. "Come here, Eoghan. Sit on my lap."

Eoghan trotted over to him and clambered up onto his knee. He faced his father, laying one arm across Eodwine's, with his hand resting on his shoulder. His bright eyes shone with eager expectation as he looked up at his father's face, waiting.

Eodwine gave the boy a hug and kept his arm behind his back, smiling. "Did you get to ride a horse today? Tell me all about it!"

"No, Papa!" Eoghan said, somewhat reproachfully as he knit his eyebrows together a little. "I couldn't ride today - it was raining! Leof showed me Cinderfoot and said she is almost ready to have her baby. I asked if I could have the baby, and he said, no, I wasn't big enough yet, but maybe I could ride his horse, when the rain stops. But I must ask you if I may." Eoghan looked solemnly up at his father. He cupped his two little hands around Eodwine's face, beginning to be impatient for an answer. "Can I?"

"Of course you may, as long as Leof or someone he trusts is with you. You are high up on a horse's back, and I want you to be safe just as much as I want you to love riding."

Eoghan's face beamed with excitement. He wriggled free from Eodwine arm and jumped down from his lap. "I'm going to find Leof and tell him straight away!"

Eodwine was tempted to tell his son to wait, that he would go with him; but he judged this a moment to allow him a small amount of being in charge of himself. If anything happened, he was sure that he would hear of it soon enough.

Firefoot 10-15-2015 06:16 AM

“Indeed,” said Scyld, cocking an eyebrow. So now she chose to be civil with him? Well, if she wished to pretend that nothing had happened that morning, he could play along, but he would not forget.

He followed her inside, pushing back the hood of his cloak. As he stepped down on the wet floor, his foot slid out from under him. His arms flailed as he strove to catch his balance. He managed not to fall, but the pouch that had made it clean and dry all the way down the trail dropped and landed in the mud skid with a clatter. Feeling both foolish and irritated but wishing to show neither, he quickly knelt to collect his pouch and began wiping it off with the edge of his cloak. It had fortunately stayed closed, saving him the further embarrassment of scattering his tools across the floor. “It seems my boots were muddier than I thought,” he said.

Folwren 10-15-2015 09:24 PM

Thornden went towards the door in thought. He was drawn out of his reverie when he opened it and found water streaming down just outside. He turned back around, went to the guardroom and fetched his hooded cloak.

The raindrops had become large and fast by the time he exited the hall, and the cloak did only kept him partially dry. He stopped inside the stables to shake the excess water from the folds of cloth and to try to scrape some of the mud off his boots before he went on to find Javan and Elfthain.

They were working out back behind the stables but still under the awning. They had not made much progress by the look of things.

"Elfhain!" Thornden hailed as he drew near. "I spoke with Eodwine, and he said he would like to hear more of you. He plans to hold court today and he wishes to decide on the matter then. He will ask you about your master and how long you are bound to him, and why."

Folwren 10-15-2015 09:32 PM

Eoghan trotted away from his father, brimming with excitement. He passed down the long hall towards the kitchen, and as he did, he went near where Ruari sat, still eating her stew. He could not resist bragging to her about riding. He veered off course and went and leaned with both hands on the stool, bending close to her and saying quietly, but triumphantly,

"Papa has said I might ride, when the weather is clear!"

Ruari's hand was arrested half way up to her mouth. She returned the spoon to the bowl and said, without turning her head, "I can, too."

Eoghan stood up. "No you can't! Not till Papa or Mama says you can!" He scurried away without waiting a response, but several paces away he turned his head to glance at his sister over his shoulder. He was gratified to see a look of sour envy on her face.

He entered the kitchen and found, as he expected, Léof standing there. He went to him and threw his arms about Léof's waist. "Papa says I might ride! You must be with me when I do."

Mithalwen 10-17-2015 02:02 PM

Elfthain nodded but puzzled a little over the "why" - was it not usual for squires to be bound to their knights? It was just a variant on the normal apprenticeship - a commitment to serve in return for training. He had never given the matter much thought, the legal bounds being a formality in comparison to the ones of blood and affection that had held him all the days of his life. He decided that there was nothing to worry about - the worst thing that could happen was that he would be sent home and maybe Javan could visit. He knew he wouldn't lie but was uncertain how much he would volunteer beyond that which was asked.

"Do you know when it will be? I should change my clothes and will it go on long - I mean should I try to exercise Saff first or will there be time later?".

littlemanpoet 10-17-2015 07:53 PM

Rowenna heard a thump and clatter behind her. She turned. Nydfara had slipped and fallen, but had recovered himself quickly, and wiped at a stain on his pouch.

“It seems my boots were muddier than I thought,” he said.

She had not seen him fall, it had happened so fast. "You are all right?"

"Well enough."

"I will bring this side of deer to the kitchen and come back with clean water and rags. Stay here and keep others from falling."

She left him and hurried to the kitchen.

Firefoot 10-17-2015 09:37 PM

Léof set off for the kitchen, knowing that several if not all the supplies he would need for soap could be found there. He may have to go to the storeroom for some, but even then he wanted to check with the women before taking off with the supplies, in case they were low in stock or needed elsewhere. He’d made the soap so many times he had the recipe memorized, and as he walked he mentally reviewed the ingredient list: six parts tallow, one part neatsfoot oil, two parts beeswax, three parts water, and one part lye.

He found Kara in the kitchen and recited this list to her. She told him to help himself to what he needed, and to let her know if he needed help finding anything. He headed for the shelves where the supplies were usually kept and scanned the labels of the items stored there. He quickly spotted the jar of lye flakes and pulled it down, followed by the beeswax and tallow. The neatsfoot oil he did not see, and suspected it would be found in the storeroom instead – they had little use for it in the kitchen.

As he took one last look, Eoghan found him and wrapped his arms around Léof’s waist, saying: “Papa says I might ride! You must be with me when I do."

Léof tousled the boy’s hair affectionately. “I’m glad to hear it. We will go as soon as the rain stops.” As he spoke, Rowenna came into the kitchen with a large slab of meat. She seemed pre-occupied as Léof and Eoghan ducked out of the way, and Léof said, “Come, Eoghan, we are in the women’s way. Will you help me carry a few things out?” He held out the box of tallow cakes, which was both safe and non-breakable.

littlemanpoet 10-19-2015 06:10 PM

Rowenna entered the kitchen, her thoughts all akilter. Why could she not be as she wished when near Nydfara?

She almost bumped into Léof, who said, “Come, Eoghan, we are in the women’s way. Will you help me carry a few things out?” He held out the box of tallow cakes, which was both safe and non-breakable. The boy took the box and followed the ostler out. That was good to see.

Now, where were the supplies she sought? Bucket, rags, broom. She gathered them and hurried out to Nydfara. He was standing where she had left him, watching her with that distant, measuring look in his eye that made her heart beat more rapidly. What did he think when he looked at her that way?

"Here," she held out the broom. "I'll wet and scrub while you push the mess back out the door."

Firefoot 10-20-2015 09:15 PM

Scyld watched a moment as Rowenna hurried off before turning his attention back to his pouch. He’d gotten the worst of the mud off; the rest could wait until later when he had something better to clean it than his wet cloak. He set the pouch aside, then took off his cloak and hung it up to dry nearby. He felt a bit foolish then standing there with naught to but guard the mud puddle, but it also gave him a few moments to collect himself before Rowenna came back from the kitchen.

She returned soon enough, laden down with a broom, bucket, and rags: a somewhat unwieldy combination, but she managed well. It occurred to him that he never seemed to see her at ease: she always seemed burdened down, or to have taken on some particularly difficult or unpleasant task. He’d not paid much attention to it once, but now having spent much time with his sisters and his brothers’ wives, it struck him as odd. His sisters, though hard working, were forever asking each other or the older children for help, not because they were unable to do without it but because (he supposed) they valued the companionship and sought to ease everyone’s burden by sharing the work around (though he was unconvinced of the efficiency of this way of thinking). Rowenna seemed to act far more independently, almost as if she felt she had something to prove.

He did not have long to think on it as she walked up and handed him the broom. He was a little surprised but did not mind, and he set to sweeping out the muck. He changed his mind about letting go of her ire and decided to try again. “So did you learn what you wished to know this morning?” he asked dryly.

Galadriel55 10-21-2015 01:59 PM

Cerwyn and Balan - On The Road
Balan winked at the lad. He thought the young man would refuse his offer, but it was worth a try.

"A road shared by two is only half as long. I have food enough for both of us, and a canvas sheet to cover us from the rain while it is heavy. You look tired; let us rest a while, and continue our journeys with double speed when the downpour stops. Quicker steps do not always lead to a quicker finish, you know."

Cerwyn hesitated. If this man had been sent after her, he would be seeking a young woman, not a lad, and his offer might be just as it seemed, if she could keep up her disguise. Nor was he wrong: her stomach rumbled at the mention of food. Her own fare on the road had been basic, and all she had left was some dried meat, which would be plenty sufficient if indeed she were to reach Scarburg today. Sufficient, but not satisfying. As she stood there deciding, the rain suddenly picked up, and, with that, physical discomfort won out over caution. "Your offer is much appreciated," she said. "Thank you."

Balan nodded. "Then let us find a place to sit," he said with a smile. He soon located a log that could serve as a bench, and draped the canvas sheet over a pole above it to make a tent. The alcove did not shield all the water, but at least it lessened the amount of rain over their heads to a few droplets. While taking out the food, Balan observed the young man. There was something odd about him. He seemed wary and slightly uncertain in his actions. But maybe that came from being small and soft-featured, not seen as a man yet.

"And where does your journey end?" Balan asked as he passed the bread over.

Cerwyn thought it seemed like a harmless enough question. "Scarburg," she answered. She wondered if it meant anything to him; it hardly meant anything to her - just a name, with a slim thread of hope attached to it. "And yourself? You seem well-used to traveling." He was certainly better equipped than herself, between the canvas shelter and the moderately fresh bread, both of which she was extremely grateful for at the moment.

Balan chuckled. "My journey ends ever yonder, across the distant fields, and down the flowing rivers, and beyond the farthest mountains. Aye, I suppose I am well-used to travelling," he added as an afterthought. "But Scarburg..." The name rang in his head with a dim echo. "It cannot be the new Mead Hall here in the Middle Emnet? The young one, built only a handful of years ago?"

He spoke oddly, Cerwyn thought, like a character in a song or tale. Fanciful, her father would say, though he seemed sane enough. She wondered what it would be like to have that sort of freedom, to go where she wanted when she wanted. Then she thought of the miserable rainy road, and her envy tapered.

"Yes, I think so," she said. "It is close, I believe. I hoped to reach it today. Do you know it?"

"I have passed by it once. It was like a sapling - a young place, still fragile and growing, but with firm roots." Something in the lad's voice was too hopeful, too eager. Too afraid. "Yet it seems to me that you hope to reach more than the Mead Hall today."

Balan stopped himself. If this boy - Balan thought of him more and more as such rather than a man - has indeed a deeper hope, that is his story to share. All men have their own stories; Balan respected stories, and he respected men. Stories should never be forced out of people; they will come in their own time. Watching the lad's face closely, Balan realized that he was right not to press more questions.

"But that is your own affair. I am sure it would make a thrilling tale, should you choose to tell it, and I would gladly listen to it, but it is yours alone to give or to keep. As for me, I must stop for the night in the nearest village to gather some food for the next days. I do not usually stay long so as to not be a burden on the village folk, but I could linger for a few days in a Mead Hall." It would be nice to stay awhile in one place, to know its folk and see its life, Balan thought.

Cerwyn eyed the man suspiciously from under the hood of her cloak. She had a hard time believing he was merely being respectful of her privacy, and that he was not backhandedly asking for information. She was not ready to give it to him yet. She must at least reach the Mead Hall. After that, either Leof would help her or she would have to return to Edoras anyway.

"It seems we are going the same direction then," she said. The conversation lapsed briefly, as they chewed their bread and listened to the rain pattering against the canvas. She swallowed, then said, "If you don't mind my asking, what is it you do at all these places you travel to?"

What a curious question. Some people would think he did nothing. Others would think he did everything.

"I watch, I listen, and I tell." Balan did not like to speak too much of himself. He preferred to let people wonder. But he did not ask this lad to join him to sit in secrecy and silence, so he continued. "Every thing has a tale. Some people believe that there is only one true tale - an account of this thing's life, a history. There are men who spend their years learning the lore of the past, following the thread of this tale into the depths of time, trying to unravel it where it knots and intertwines with other threads or disappears from sight completely, or else spinning the thread of their time, making it strong and clear, that ages hence it would still be visible. Theirs is a noble and laborious task. My task is lighter, for I am not bound to a single truth, but rather speak of many truths. I tell stories. I rarely speak of things that are, or that were; that is for men more learned than me. I speak of things that could be, and might be, and would have been. These are tales that cannot be true, and yet are no less true than any other. I believe that each thing can have many tales, all of them possible - though perhaps not here and not now. I can see the tales floating around the objects like the seeds of a lion's tooth flower. I capture the seeds, and let them grow and blossom, and then pick a spray and make a gift of it in hope that some of these flowers would give more seeds that would now grow and bloom in other gardens."

Balan spoke for longer than he intended to. Before he could catch himself, he was swept off his feet in the telling and carried off by a current of words. I cannot say even a simple thing without making it into a story. The thought, though warm on the whole, had a sour echo of a bad jest. Balan pushed it aside. Now it was the lad's turn. He decided to surprise him into speech, not so much to learn his business as to see his character.

"And you? Do you believe that a tale - a thing that to most has no substance, truth, or use - can be a gift?"

"I - I suppose so," answered Cerwyn, startled by the question at the end of the man's poetic philosophizing. She had tried to follow his speech, but, by some combination of lack of context and lack of interest, she had gotten lost in his metaphors.

She liked tales; all of her small village would show up when a wandering storyteller or minstrel came through town. She supposed he must be one of these, though why he had not just come out and say it, she did not know. She considered his question again. Many tales were untrue, of course - legends and fables that may once have had a basis in fact but had become exaggerated or confused over many years of telling. "But tales may have many uses - to teach, or enlighten, or entertain, or distract..." she trailed off. Maybe she had answered over-hastily. "The sort of tale you describe seems like a rather poor gift."

Balan smiled at the lad. "Yet a gift is neither poor nor rich. It is merely what it is. It is the people who give and who accept that make the gift useful or useless. A seashell may be worth more that a dragon hoard, and a feather way more than an iron sword. A word is at times the most useless gift of all, and at times the best gift one can give, but there is no difference in the word itself, only in what people make of it."

Cerwyn made a polite noise of acknowledgement. In truth, she was quite irritated: he'd asked her opinion, and, when she tried to give one, he'd twisted her words around and told her she was wrong. What was she doing here anyway? This was getting to be a waste of time. "I think the rain is letting up," she said, and indeed it was. The downpour had been as brief as it had been fierce, and was now settling into the sort of steady drizzle that could keep up for hours. They'd be sitting here all day if they waited for it to stop. "Thank you for the bread," she added as she reached for her pack.

Balan could sense interest cool in the lad's eyes, replaced with mild annoyance. Balan felt a tinge of disappointment, though he knew he should not have. People were busy with their own lives, he kept reminding himself; not all have time for words and wonders, and it is not always an ill thing.

He nodded in acknowledgement to the lad, who bent down for his sack, preferring not to speak. In that moment, the boy's features appeared even more childish, almost feminine, an illusion heightened by a stray lock of hair falling over his cheek. But in a moment, he brushed it aside, and the vision was gone.

Balan did not need long to bring down the simple tent. He joined the lad on the road as both resumed their trudge northward, towards the shelter of walls and roofs.

Firefoot 10-22-2015 02:32 PM

They were silent for a time as they walked along in the rain, and Cerwyn began to feel awkward with the lack of conversation. However, she wished neither to speak of herself nor to be drawn into another of the man's odd and frustrating conversations.

She also thought it awkward that she did not know his name but as she did not wish to volunteer her own, she did not ask.

Finally, she said, "Might you be willing to tell a story? It would make the road go faster, I think, and the rain seem less dreary."

littlemanpoet 10-24-2015 03:12 AM

Nydfara finished pushing the mud out the door and Rowenna got on her hands and knees and set to scrubbing the floor to rid it of that which the broom could not.

“So did you learn what you wished to know this morning?” asked Nydfara.

What was he asking? Rowenna paused, sitting back on her heels, and stared at nothing. Oh ... his talk with Eodwine. She looked up at him. His head was cocked in that way he had, looking down his nose at her, as if he were above her in more ways than mere height. It annoyed her and her face tightened into the beginnings of a frown.

But he was baiting her and she was not to be baited. "No, of course not." She began scrubbing again. "For you are full of untold stories. But your secrets are yours and I will not pry. If you bring the broom back to the kitchen you may get on with whatever it is that you have to do."

She kept scrubbing.

Firefoot 10-24-2015 09:37 AM

Despite her obvious dismissal he did not immediately leave. “You will not pry, but you will eavesdrop?” he said. There was no accusation in his voice; he was himself far too accomplished of an eavesdropper to find the habit distasteful. “But no matter. It seems everything I told Eodwine shall soon become public knowledge anyhow.”

She continued scrubbing. Frustrated, he bent to pick up his pouch from where he had left it. She was angry with him, it was clear; what was less clear was why. He realized he did not like having her angry with him, something of a novel feeling. He liked aggravating people, figuring out what bothered them and then using it. Well, this time her irritation was not his intention, and he did not know how to make her speak to him.

An image of his brother and his wife popped in to his mind, of them making up after a fight. Apologize. It galled him. He didn’t even think that he had done anything wrong, but he somehow knew that it was what Bedric would have done, though, and his brother seemed to have women figured out far better than him.

“I am sorry if I have somehow offended you,” he said stiffly, and turned to take the broom back to the kitchen.

littlemanpoet 10-24-2015 12:58 PM

She stopped scrubbing. His apology had come out stiff and curt, but it had been an apology.

"Nydfara! Stop!" He slowed but kept walking. "Please!" He stopped and turned.

"Answer me this and I will leave you be. Why did you come only to leave again?"

Firefoot 10-24-2015 04:27 PM

When Scyld turned around, there were many things he thought Rowenna might say, but this was not one of them. Who told her that he was leaving? He certainly had never said so. He did not try to hide his confusion.

"I have no plans for leaving," he said slowly. "Lord Eodwine has agreed to take me on for a year and a day, as a trial, and save that he cast me out or I find myself wholly unwelcome, I mean to stay." Amused, now, he asked, "When and to where had you heard that I was to go?"

littlemanpoet 10-24-2015 07:19 PM

"I - I thought I overheard..."

She must have heard wrong, or, miscast in her thought what she had heard. He had no intention of leaving. Her shoulders were relaxing and her face, which had been taut with pained anger, softened. The knots in her stomach untied and she felt elated. Why does this man mean this much to me? She needed to have a care.

"Well. I misheard." She put a smile on her face. "It is my turn to apologize. I am sorry for misreading your ... your ... you." She wanted to ask him if he had come back because of her, but to ask such a question would put her heart in his hands, and that was more than she could dare. For now. Not until she knew more of his purpose. If even then.

She allowed a smirk. "That broom is not going to walk itself back into the kitchen."

Galadriel55 10-25-2015 10:43 AM

They walked a long time in silence. After a while, the lad spoke. "Might you be willing to tell a story? It would make the road go faster, I think, and the rain seem less dreary."

“Then I shall tell you a tale of a land as dry and hot as ours is filled with rain and chill of late,” Balan responded smoothly. He did not yet know how the story would end; he only had a seed, and he would let it grow.

And so he told his companion of the Wraith of the Desert, cursed to live in endless thirst. Once the guardian of a bounteous land, he was charged to stand watch over its people and treasures, and for that he was honoured. He was the warden of the land’s tall towers, and of its lush shady trees, and its round silver pearls, and of its colourful blossoms. Yet, as the time went by, he forgot his duty, and disobeyed his task. With little thought for his people, he cared mostly for his own affairs. He tried to gain new treasures and new power, and sought them where one ought not go. He was hopelessly lost in broken promises and trickery, until finally, when hoodwinked by a black wizard, he traded him all of the land’s treasures for the greatest knowledge that there was. But the wizard deceived him, and escaped with the riches, and hid them in the four corners of the world.

Gone were the pools filled with glittering pearls. Without the shade of the trees, the sun scorched the land. Its towers crumbled to dust, and its blossoming fields were replaced by colourless mounds. And a great wrath rose from the people of the land, and they cursed the wayward guardian with a curse of great power, for so great was their grief and rage; never shall he part from this land, and suffer always the loss that he brought on it. Any towers that he builds shall scatter like sand on the wind; any colour that he paints shall starve and fade beneath the blazing sun; no roof shall shield him from the burning rays; no wealth shall he have to trade for the meanest harvest. The spirit of the land, he shall be what the earth is, and feel what the earth feels, until a child of this land entrusts him once again with the treasures that he so irreverently relinquished. Cursing him thus, the people left, homeless, hopeless, and bitter, to seek a place where they could live. Some went east, to the far mountains; others went west, to the restless sea; yet others went south, where the wetlands rule; and some went north, to the hard hills and gnarled pines; and none of them came back to their land, and it became truly desolate. Men shunned the place, for only thing that awaited them there was death.

For many years the desert grew, ever drinking up any moisture, ever thirsting for more. No amount of water that rare travelers brought with them could quench its thirst. The desert swallowed them all – the travelers with the water. Thus this land became known as the Thirsty Desert.

And Balan told the boy of the fate of the exiles, how their numbers dwindled, and their rage abated, and their hate was replaced by sorrow. He spoke how the last of the descendants of these people came together, men and women, old and young, to find the lost treasures that the black wizard hid on the edges of the world. Long was their search, and many died along the way. Balan gave each a name and a fate, and spoke long of their toils and adventures. By the end, only five of them remained, sailing eastward on a ship with the lost treasures. But the wind was treacherous and the shore was hostile; a storm seized the ship, carrying it away from safe havens, and broke it against the rocky cliffs, and drowned the gathered treasures. Only a young lad survived the storm, carried onto the shore by a wooden splinter. For a day he searched up and down the coast, calling the names of his companions, but all he heard was the dull roar of the diminishing waves and the mocking cackles of the gulls. Yet, when he was about to lose hope, he heard the sound of a human voice. He ran towards it and found the eldest of their crew, washed up ashore. The boy was glad, but the old man stopped him: he did not drown, but he was the last to live, and his bones were smashed against the rocks on the coast, and he would not live until sunset. He bid the boy to remember their quest, and find the wasteland that was once their home without delay, and give it all that he has yet to give, for the treasures were lost and this boy was the last of their people. But the boy stayed until the old man passed beyond this life, and wept for him, and built a cairn over him as best as he could. And with a mad despair in his heart, he set out to the Thirsty Desert. Onwards he went, though his food pouch emptied and his water flask dried. He did not stop at the edge of the desert, but toiled onwards to the heart of the desert, sinking in its colourless sand and choking on its hot dust.

Balan watched his companion during the telling. Now, the lad was looking straight ahead, but his eyes were clearly seeing sand dunes instead of puddles.

“And when the boy could walk no more..." Suddenly, a new path for the story occurred to Balan. "...he took off the hat that shielded him from sun and rain alike, and long locks spilled onto her shoulders, for this was not a boy but a young maiden.”

Balan looked at his companion with a hint of a smile and a mischievous spark in his eyes, waiting to confirm his suspicions or put them to rest and continue on with the story.

Firefoot 10-25-2015 01:19 PM

"Indeed it will not," Scyld agreed, and turned from Rowenna for the second time to take the broom to the kitchen. He felt exasperated and amused, and still not wholly sure he understood her.

All of that anger, over something she’d only thought he’d said? Maybe he ought to be more annoyed than he was, but he was much more amused at the memory of her flustered. Even when he tried, it was difficult to catch her at a loss for words. He liked seeing her so, with her defenses stripped away, if even for a few moments. Even more, it pleased him what he saw in those moments: that she would have been upset at his leaving and was now glad of his staying.

His good mood was tempered though, by the knowledge that she did not yet know everything. Wait until she heard the rest.

Firefoot 10-25-2015 03:23 PM

Wrapped up in the story, Cerwyn forgot the drudgery of their trek, her irritation at her companion, and even her fear of being found out. So when it was revealed that the lad in the story was actually a maiden, she was caught completely off guard.

She stopped and whirled around to face the storyteller. He had (what seemed to her) a knowing smirk on his face. “But how – when –” she spluttered. Her heart was racing and her stance wary, but he seemed no more threatening than he had when he thought her a boy. “What gave me away?” she asked.

Galadriel55 10-25-2015 04:49 PM

Balan watched as his companion staggered in surprise. He waited for her to regain her composure before he spoke.

“What gave me away?” she uttered finally.

“It is hard to tell,” Balan told her. “A bit of this, a bit of that. The way you reacted to some of the characters and adventures of the tale. The way your face looked when you were eager or anxious for what was to happen next. But I was not certain until now.”

The woman did not say anything at first, so Balan gestured to her to start walking again. “I see you would rather be a lad than a lass on this road,” Balan told her, “and I do not see why you should not remain such to others. If you do not wish it, I will not reveal you to the first passing stranger that we meet – if anyone else has the bad luck or bad sense to be on the road this day. But beware that you do not overstep yourself – I will not lie to other men to get you out of trouble. This is hardly your deepest secret, but I would grant you silence, if you so wish, in return for your friendship. Do you accept my offer?”

Firefoot 10-25-2015 06:14 PM

“I have committed no crime,” she said, irritated at his implications. “My brother is estranged from my father, and I wish to find him. I believe him to be at Scarburg, so if we are as close as I think, it hardly matters whether my gender is known or not.”

She sighed. “Nevertheless, it seems I have no choice. I will accept your offer, as long as you will finish the story,” she said, smiling slightly. “My name is Cerwyn.”

Galadriel55 10-25-2015 08:22 PM

“And mine is Balan,” he replied. “But I fear you mistook me: I never thought you had committed any crime, but I feared you might do so in the future. When desperation is great enough to make such a small secret matter so much – think of the deeds done by desperate men. And seeing how loathe you were to let go of your secret, surely it is not as unimportant as you make it sound.” Balan sighed. “But I will leave that for you, and finish the tale I began.”

So Balan spoke of the maiden, the last of the people who once dwelt in the land of the Thirsty Desert. ”O Wraith of the Desert!” she called, “Guardian of the Land-That-Once-Was! Come forth and accept these gifts into your keeping!” Her hands burning, she built a round mound from the heated sand. “Wraith of the Desert, I bequeath to you our tall towers!” With her knife, she pricked her thumb and let the blood stain the sand. “Wraith of the Desert, I bequeath to you the colours of our fields in bloom!” She spread her arms, shielding the mound from the sun. “Wraith of the Desert, I bequeath to you the shade of our mighty trees!” A silver tear rolled down her cheek and sunk into the thirsty ground. “Wraith of the Desert, I bequeath to you our glittering pearls and flowing rivers!” And with those words her last strength left her, and she fell onto the mound. “O Land-That-Once-Was,” she whispered, “I bequeath to you our quest and my life.”

She never left that mound, but around it an oasis grew. The maiden’s gifts were not powerful enough to restore the land to its former glory, but they were enough to change the desert. The rare travelers who braved that country noticed an island of green at the heart of the yellow wasteland. Thick grasses carpeted the ground, and leafy trees threw out their branches high above. Scarlet flowers bloomed all around. A creek flowed over a bed of while pebbles, until it was sucked in by the dry sand of the desert. The creek flowed from a small round well at the heart of the island, rimmed with sandstone and filled with sweet water. No matter how much the Thirsty Desert drank, the well never emptied. But men who would drink from that well said that as they leaned over the rim, they would hear a girl’s voice whispering to them; and they would say that the maiden never died, but became the guardian of the Green Island. They say also that every day the Wraith of the Desert comes to drink from her well, and he hungers not anymore for the lives of wayfarers. At the Green Island he quenches his thirst, and day after day marvels at the great depths of selflessness.

Folwren 10-27-2015 08:18 PM

"Do you know when it will be?" Elfthain asked. "I should change my clothes and will it go on long - I mean should I try to exercise Saff first or will there be time later?"

Thornden shook his head. “You’ll have time to ride her before court, I’ve no doubt,” he said hesitantly, “but with the rain coming down like it is, and the state of the roads, I would not exercise her today. But you are free to do as you please,” he added. He addressed himself to Javan before departing. “When you have finished helping Elfthain here, lend a hand to Léof.”

After leaving the young men at work on grooming Saff, Thornden went to find Léof.

“I was wrong, Léof,” he said when he found him hard at work mixing the soap for the leather. “There is to be court today after all, so there is probably not enough time to clean all of the leather. However, if you still wish to at least begin, Javan will help. I will, too, as I have time. I must make preparations for this afternoon. You have until the noon meal.”

He left Léof for the time being and spoke to Saeryn about getting dinner set early. He saw to it that the men and women knew that court was to be held that afternoon and to see to their daily tasks early and quickly.

The people of the hall were not idle that morning. Each worked quickly to accomplish as much as possible before the dinner at noon. After their meal, the tables were pushed to the sides of the room and the benches and stools pulled and arranged in a sort of semicircle facing the head table, which remained in place. A free space was left clear before the table.

Firefoot 10-27-2015 09:13 PM

Cerwyn enjoyed the rest of the story well enough, but the spell was broken. When it was over, they trudged along in silence for a time. Cerwyn’s mind wandered as she considered in turn the tale, her irritation at herself for having revealed herself, her even greater irritation at Balan for discovering her secret, and a certain level of resentment at the way he’d spoken to her regarding her secret. He kept talking about her “secrets” as if he knew better than she did, but he’d hardly listened at all when she tried to explain herself. He didn’t know her at all – who was he to give her advice?

Well, she had been doing just fine before he came along. Hadn’t he said, too, that he never stayed in one place long? Likely she would never see him again after a few days. The thought made her feel slightly more agreeable.

She walked with her head bent against the ongoing drizzle, but at some point she looked up and saw a rocky ridge rising before them. It might be pretty, she thought, in more pleasant weather. Now, though, a few ugly, half-melted drifts of snow were still clinging to the earth, and the low-lying fields around them were beginning to resemble small ponds. Rain ought to make the land feel clean, but instead it had created a dreary, muddy mess.

The road was following the base of a few small hills, and as they came around a bend, several buildings suddenly came into sight – much larger than the many small farmers’ crofts they’d passed. A curl of smoke was rising from the chimney. Cerwyn’s breath caught in her throat. “Is that it?” she asked.

“Yes,” said Balan. “It has changed a bit, but it is much as I remember.”

With their goal in sight, their pace quickened. When they drew near, Cerwyn said, “If I know my brother at all, he will be in the stables. I would look for him there first, but I will see you inside, I suppose.”

littlemanpoet 10-29-2015 05:04 AM

The rain pounding on the roof of the Hall made a dull roar. Eodwine sat at the head table and thought how humble this Hall was compared to other Mead Halls he had been in. Meduseld was the king of Mead Halls, and well it should be. It had length of days in its very feel. It was as if you could feel the presence of old dead kings and their eorlings right there in the hall with you. Here, it was just a big room with tables and chairs and all the earmarks of daily bustle. Eodwine smiled. He liked this. It was right for him.

That he was Eorl of this place seemed too grand a title, but he had learned to accept it. The folk gathered and sat in chairs. The tradition was that those with business at court lined up opposite the Eorl, and waited patiently until it was their turn.

Eodwine had done that his first few times, but it seemed unnecessary to him for folk to have to stand and wait. He had had small rocks that could fit in one's palm, gathered from the Scar, and had numbers chiseled in them. Thus, each of the wights who had business at court was given a place in line and could sit or stand where they wished. It was more comfortable.

Almost all had gathered. Just a little more time and they would begin.

Firefoot 10-30-2015 05:54 PM

Léof had spent most of the morning inside the Hall cleaning leather, as planned, and had just a few things to take back to the stables before Eodwine held court. He stowed them in the tack room, but as he was coming out he noticed a strange lad standing in the aisle, facing Æthel’s stall.

“Can I help you?” he asked, frowning and walking toward him.

The stranger turned toward him and laughed, a shockingly feminine sound. “It seems that Æthel has recognized me quicker than you have,” she said.

For a moment, Léof did not understand. Then: “Cerwyn? What are you doing here?” But he did not wait for an answer before sweeping her up in a hug. For a moment, Cerwyn felt years younger, remembering a time when her older brother’s hug had reassured that somehow everything would turn out alright.

“You’re soaking wet!” Léof laughed, stepping back and taking another look at her. “Are you wearing my clothes?”

“Yes,” she admitted.

Léof laughed again. He could still hardly believe she was here. “But what are you doing here?” he repeated. “And how?”

“I came to find you, of course,” she said. “You said you’d come back for me. I was tired of waiting.”

Léof flushed. “I never forgot about you.”

“So when were you planning to do something about it?” It came out more angrily than Cerwyn had meant, but in that moment she felt justified.

“I didn’t know how!” said Léof. “And I still don’t know what you think I can do.”

“Come home,” she said.

“You know I can’t do that,” he said.

“Maybe you can! Father is changing, I think. He’s going to remarry.”

“What! To whom?” If anything could startle Léof more than Cerwyn’s mere presence here, it was this piece of news: that his drunkard father could find someone to marry him.

“Everild – her husband died, a few years back,” she said. Léof recalled her – she had been kind to them, after their mother died.

“So he managed to put aside his drink long enough to go courting, did he?” asked Léof bitterly.

“At least a bit,” said Cerwyn. “She’s good for him, I think. He let me go to Edoras with her and her daughter and son-in-law, for tools and goods we could not buy nearby, which is more freedom than I’ve had in years.”

“And then you ran off from Edoras?” asked Léof incredulously. “He’ll never let you out of sight again.”

“It would be worth it, if you would just come home with me.”

“No.” Léof did not hesitate. “This is my home now.”

“But…” It had not occurred to her that Léof would not want to return with her. What about your family, she wanted to say. What about me?

“Father made it quite clear I was no longer welcome in his household. If he wants me back, he can come and tell me himself. Maybe then I would come to the wedding – but I would not stay. I belong here.”

“You’d rather play stableboy for some lord than be with your own family?” said Cerwyn, hurt creeping into her voice.

“Is that what you think I’m doing? Look around, Cerwyn! I run these stables, and I’m good at it! I don’t want to farm. I don’t want to work for Father. At least here I give my loyalty and service freely to a man who is worthy of it.”

“You’d send me back alone?”

“If Father’s changed so much, I don’t see why that would be such a problem.”

“Don’t you see? Now that he’s taking a wife, he won’t need me to keep house. He’ll marry me off, and he’s estranged so many of the men nearby with his tempers. He’s had a few men come by – possible suitors, I think. And they are all so old, or poor, wanting me only for my dowry and my housekeeping skills.”

“And what do you think I could do for you, by coming back?” asked Léof. “Just because Father might let me come home does not mean he would suddenly listen to me.” He held up a hand to cut off her angry retort. “Let me think, alright? Come on, you should change into some dry clothes. You can use my room for now.”

He led her to his small room in the stables. She went inside and closed the door behind her, looking around curiously. It was a simple, functional space, without much to decorate or personalize it. It did not look like the sort of home that her brother would claim to be so attached to. She would have to think of another way to convince him to come home.

She quickly stripped off her wet clothes and hung them to dry. There was a small towel beside a wash basin that she helped herself to, drying herself and rubbing away the worst of the mud and grime. Then she dug into her pack for a dress, relatively clean and dry.

Outside the room in the aisle of the stables, Léof paced anxiously. He was thrilled to see Cerwyn, of course; he and his sister had always been close. Nevertheless, her appearance complicated his life rather thoroughly. He would not leave Scarburg, but his sister could not be sent to make the journey home alone. She would have many people worried and angry with her; it would be best to at least send word quickly, if the roads were at all passable. Of course, he did not wish to force her to leave, if she would rather stay with him, but then they would have to speak with Eodwine…

Suddenly he remembered the court, which he was almost certainly now late to. Which it now seemed he had business to bring to. He nearly called in to Cerwyn to hurry, when the door opened and she came out, looking much more like herself in her own clothing – but also much more like a woman than the girl he remembered. She’s changed, he realized, and in more ways than one. He would never had dreamed she would have run off like she did; once, she had been the obedient one of the pair.

“We need to get inside,” he said. “Lord Eodwine – the Eorl – is holding court.”

Cerwyn didn’t fully understand what this meant, but she hurried to keep pace beside her brother.

“Look,” Léof said, thinking aloud. “I won’t move back home, but maybe you might come here. If it’s marriage father wants for you, there are many promising young men here of good standing.”

“I do not need you to marry me off, either,” said Cerwyn sullenly.

Léof smiled at her. “Sister, I do not care if you choose to stay unwed until you die, if that pleases you. You still need a good reason for Father to let you stay here, though, and I’m afraid you made it all the harder by running off from Edoras.”

Cerwyn nodded slowly. Yes, Father might see the sense in this plan, if she had not over-estimated his willingness to reconcile with Léof. But did she want to live here? She’d known one home all her life, and she did not know if she wished to leave it. “I will consider it.”

“Well, then,” said Léof. “I guess you ought to meet the rest of the Hall.” And they slipped quietly inside, not wishing to interrupt if court had already begun.

Mithalwen 11-03-2015 06:24 PM

Elfthain waited with an unexpected sense of mild anxiety. He fiddled with the numbered stone, passing it from hand to hand or shaking it like a die in his closed fist. He wasn't sure why he was nervous. Either he would be allowed to remain he would be sent back and he wasn't sure that wouldn't be a relief. Certainly Scarburg and it's environs compared unfavourably with Edoras and the Harrowdale.

This had been brought home to him on his ride. Thornden's words of discouragement had reminded him that his time might very soon be at another's disposal and having been raised that his horse's welfare was more important than his own comfort, he had decided to venture forth. He had reasoned that after a certain point it you couldn't be any wetter and there was no way he was going to turn Safran out in to the mudbath created by the heavy rain. It had taken the combined efforts of himself and Javan ages just to get her clean enough to saddle and she was a long way off the standard of grooming expected in his Eored.

Safran had been pleased to escape her confinement but even she found the conditions dismal, despite her master's cloak probably affording her as much protection as it did him. They sploshed their way to some woods a couple of miles East of Scarburg which Elfthain hoped would provide some shelter for him to school the mare but many trees had clearly been sacrificed during the Winter and the cover was inadequate. So after some perfunctory exercises and a very short canter on a drier stretch of track they had sploshed back.

It had been more an airing than a ride and Elfthain had been hard pushed to do all he needed to before the court. Safran had been rubbed down and reunited with her hay net. His tack was not too bad having been well cleaned the day before but his own cleanliness was a different matter. He had swilled as much dirt as he could off in the yard and then begged some warm water from the ladies in the kitchen and was again grateful for his mother's considerate gifts that may have induced them to grant this favour in the midst of their other tasks. Washed and dressed in his cleanest garments he was at least presentable. It might not be the level of dress or grooming he would have chosen for such a formal occasion before the king's representative but it was the best he could muster.

A slight creak from the door drew his attention and he turned to see Leof enter with a girl. A faint smile quirked Elfthain's lips as he wondered where the ostler had been hiding her up until now. Not that he blamed him for so doing: she really was very pretty.

Folwren 11-03-2015 08:10 PM

The people were gathering for court. The hall was filled with a polite buzz of conversation. Eodwine sat at the head table, patiently waiting until everyone was present. Thornden approached and leaned on the table, bending towards him.

"The lad Elfthain is here, as you wished, Eodwine. I told him you would hear him here at court. I watched him, as you bid me, and he was a little surprised, though not unduly so." He turned and looked behind him at the gathering people. "That is him, sitting there by Javan."

For a moment he considered him, and then turned back to Eodwine. "It looks as though he rode his horse today after all," he observed. "In truth, when I spoke to him of court, he seemed more concerned about whether it would interfere with his exercising than about appearing before you here."

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