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Old 05-27-2011, 10:07 AM   #281
Mnemosyne
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"That, Coldan, is precisely why we need to rework the casting," said Brinn. "In fact, unless we want to start pulling orphans off the street, height will be an issue for five out of the nine. I think, at this point, it is better to cast based on who will play the roles well than who will look the part." She paused. The distinct lack of dragon in Elanor's tale was not something that she particularly wanted to bring up at the moment...

"As for the adventures in Mordor, apparently there was little they could do at that point aside from 'starve,' but if we can do it well, I don't have as much of a problem with taking some artistic liberties."

"Zo," said Coldan, "Vhere does ze dragon come in?"

"Whenever the play begins to drag on?" said Rollan.

Brinn glared at him.

"Look," said Rollan, "if my dear wife is speaking correctly, I think she's trying to say that there is no dragon in Elanor's version of the story."

"Not precisely, no," said Brinn, glaring at him even more, "but there is a giant spider..."

She trailed off, seeing the looks on the other Players' faces. Asta was going to kill her.
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Old 05-27-2011, 10:18 AM   #282
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Aerwen stood close to Aldarion as he mumbled his views in the gloom. It was more musty than cold, but if he had watching her, she would have appeared to be shivering a little. In fact, she was in large measure suppressing a peal of gentle laughter.

"So I take it, then, that you still prefer Lord Imrazôr," she whispered back with an unusually mischievous expression. "Indeed, I am not certain whether you are right, either in the reason that makes you hesitate, or the one that attracts you..."

For a moment Aldarion might wonder disconcertingly about the strange, scholarly maiden's words, context and meaning; she clarified herself only after a pause.

"For this playwright can master plain-speaking too; and, what seems to me his noblest form, unrhymed but stately verse. Forgive me if I take the book back..." Aldarion handed it over with a frown. "Something like this," the Lady of Burlach continued as she opened at another section,

"It is the gull that sings so out of tune,
Straining harsh discords, luring off the elves.
Some say the gull makes navigation sweet;
This doth not so, for she divideth us:
Some say the gull and mermaids swap their song,
O, now I would they had changed faces too!
Since craft from craft that voice bids us now moor,
Hunting thee hence with hunt's-up to the shore,
O, now be gone; more land and land it grows
...

"...but no doubt I am boring you, Master Aldarion. I fear, too, that you are wrong about the writer's historical intentions; this play seems to me to exist in a pure void, a world of art, with no reference to any goings on of the legends or the records. As for the name Írildë, well, what's in a name?

"I thought it best though to show you this, as I suspect you will be hearing more about this poet's work this evening. My dear brother seems to have, er, taken an interest in his work; perhaps their apparent common affliction moves him. Anyway, it has become quite common for him to read and act out scenes from these plays of Master Lameleg's, with picked guests, and I would be very surprised indeed if he did not ask you, and our well beloved Gloredhel, to join in tonight..."

Somewhere the distance was a sound of running water, and a chiming of a sort of gong. It seemed to alarm Aerwen sufficiently to break her meditation, and she replaced the book quite suddenly.

"Old Lindir's water clock! We really must be getting on; I do apologise, I had quite lost track of things. Master Lameleg remarks somewhere else that There is no clock i' the forest, an adage that accurately reflects my sense of time whenever I am near books..."

She gave Aldarion a mock-woeful grimace, and led him out in a fitful rush. Her instructions to the coachman were fierce and urgent, and he whirled them up the Fifth and Sixth Highways with extraordinary - indeed nauseous - zeal. Lady and player alike would look and feel quite dizzy as they alighted in front of the manor belonging to Ecsichil of Burlach, their destination fulfilled at last; the coachman, who was used to his trade and barely groggy at all, pre-empted them to step up and give a firm knock on the tall town-house door, with the ceremonial cane kept for just such contingencies.

There was a sound of activity beyond, and soon a number of people opened up, enough to make any less magnificent entrance look quite cramped; the host, Lord Ecsichil, wearing a rich jerkin of tawny orange and his favourite scarlet sash, his handsome but rather brutish face flushed from wine or perhaps waiting; his brother, the evening's master of ceremonies just as their father was the City's, hanging back with his usual confident smile, and...

"Aldarion, at last" the demurely dressed, darkly beautiful woman between them said first, uttering her first substantial words of the evening, "you have been too long, and too much missed among the players of the Swan..."
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Old 05-27-2011, 08:14 PM   #283
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I'm going to kill her, thought Asta. Losing Mary had been bad enough, but this...!

There was a peculiar intensity to the silence, as if the company were holding its collective breath; but Asta was not about to treat them to an explosion this time.

"Oh, very good, Brinn," she replied, with icy precision. "I'd better get to work straight away, then, hadn't I? Of course, I don't have the spare parts to hand, but I'm sure I can manage to strip down Smaug, paint him black and add on a few extra legs."

"It was a very big spider, Asta," said Brinn weakly.

"I'm sure people will flock from far and wide to see it!" Asta turned and climbed down from the waggon. Behind her, clamour erupted, but she did not linger to hear.

Coldan found her in the props waggon a few minutes later, gazing at Smaug with her chin cupped in her hand.

"Asta? Your zister vanted me to–"

"I don't care what my sister wants!" Asta said fiercely. "It's quite clear now that she's taken leave of her senses; she must have struck her head in that fall. Throw out Smaug– the very idea! And Coldan, we have to rescue Aldarion! Without him, this play is headed for the Crack of Doom."

"Your zister said if he is not back by tomorrow..." the prompter reminded her slowly, but Asta saw she had him.

"Not tomorrow!" She sprang to her feet, just avoiding striking her own head on the low ceiling, and caught Coldan's wrist in a tight grip, trying to stare into both of his grey eyes at once. "Today! Remember, the play's the thing! Are you with me?
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Old 05-28-2011, 04:44 AM   #284
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Coldan felt his pulse hammering against Asta's grip around his wrist while she held his gaze as if trying to stare her will into him. Her eyes, usually the colour of a misty summer morning, were burning brightly with the fire of a fey spirit. Here she was again, the fierce, heroic shieldmaiden he loved more than any other side of her. Let her break his heart ever so often, he could refuse her nothing when she was like this.

"To Sammath Naur and back", he answered in a whisper.

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Old 05-28-2011, 10:14 PM   #285
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Now this was more like it. Asta wondered that she could ever have compared Coldan to an Easterling. Not that she had more than a vague idea what an Easterling looked like, but she knew they were supposed to be ugly and brutish– and Coldan, with the lock of dark hair that fell so charmingly across his forehead, with his grey eyes shining...Coldan was anything but ugly.

"To Sammath Naur and back!" Asta repeated, in a whisper equally fervent.

On impulse, she leant forward, closed her eyes, and pressed her lips to his.
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Old 05-29-2011, 04:05 AM   #286
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During the heated discussions in the wagon, Harrenon had remained, as he usually did under such circumstances, as unobtrusive as possible, so much so that he had not even been really noticed. Then Asta left, presumably to the props wagon to take care of Smaug - which was now going to be a spider - and Coldan soon followed her. It was then that Harrenon remembered that he had not told Coldan yet about his morning with Sador – which, he thought, would be a shame if it remained unreported. If he had had to endure that romantic drivel Sador had sprouted all morning, then so did Coldan, especially since it had been on the latter’s orders that Harrenon had spent time with Sador in the first place. Therefore, he left to find Coldan. He knew where to look for him. Since Coldan usually gravitated around Asta quite a lot, then he was bound to be in the props wagon too.

And he did find both Coldan and Asta there, just as he had expected. What he had most certainly not anticipated, however, was to find the two locked in a passionate embrace, just as he had stomped into the wagon. If only he had moved more quietly, then perhaps he would have remained unnoticed and he would have managed to leave before the unexpected situation could become even more uncomfortable. But unfortunately he had made too much noise for that, and the couple became aware of his arrival.

“Oh, I’m…I’m dreadfully sorry!” Harrenon stammered turning around quickly as the two separated to see who had disturbed them. “I…I meant no…I mean, I didn't see anything, really. I was just looking for…well, never mind, I’ll leave now. You two can…well, carry on…”
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Old 05-29-2011, 06:43 AM   #287
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When the impossible happened and Asta kissed him in an instant that shattered his world and made it new, Coldan was for a mere fraction of a second too gobsmacked to react. But then his arms went around her, pressing her against his chest, and he returned the kiss with all the dammed up passion of three years of hopeless yearning -

- or rather, he would have, if Harrenon, whom he hadn't so much as noticed all the time, hadn't picked that very moment to interrupt them. Cursing under his breath, he turned to Harrenon, who prepared to make an awkward retreat as soon as he realized what had been going on, while Asta pulled away from him with a smoldering look in her eyes that presaged little good for the young Gondorian. His only consolation was seeing somebody else blush and stutter in embarrassment for a change.

"No, vait", he sighed, holding Harrenon back by his shirtsleeve. "I vas going to talk to you anyway. Asta, don't kill him yet - ve need him." He grabbed Harrenon's shoulders and brought the two of them face to face, willing him to overcome his befuddlement and concentrate. "Now, Harry, zink - ven vas ze last time you saw Aldarion? Any idea vere he vent zis morning? And did you do vat I asked you last night - you know, about Sador?"
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Old 05-29-2011, 08:30 AM   #288
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Smaug? I do not recall Smaug doing anything during the Siege of Gondor, thought Thiliel. She was calmer now, after Celebrindal truthfully told her all that she could tell about the future of the play, but she was not less confused. Asta, whom she did not like very much yesterday, seemed very upset about that. When Asta found out that Smaug is in fact a spider, she stormed out of the wagon, pushing everyone in the crowded wagon in the process. Coldan made a lame excuse and went out after her.

Celebrindal and the man who Thiliel understood to be her husband were heatedly discussing something else now. The girl listened for a minute or so, after which it suddenly struck her that her uncle might miss her and be looking all over the place, worrying unnecessarily. She quiety slipped away from Sereth, giving her a wink and a small smile, unnoticed by either of the adults.

Before returning to her uncle and her duties, she walked a little bit amongst the wagons, fascinated by the colourful displays, sometimes daring to look inside. She thought about the Smaug problem. She remembered hearing about a dreadful pass in the Mountains of Shadow, Cirith Ungol, the Spider Cleft, that up to this day no man of Gondor dared to cross. But she also heard that two periannath, came throgh unscathed. Or, at least, they were not devoured by the evil that dwelt there. This is where the spider would come in, she assumed. But none of the sroties that her elders ever told her spoke of a dragon.

Walking in a dream-like way, lost in her thoughts, Thiliel was startled when she heard a voice coming from a wagon just a few feet away. "Now, Harry, zink - ven vas ze last time you saw Aldarion? Any idea vere he vent zis morning?" This was Coldan's voice. More about Sador! It seems that Celebrindal hasn't told me all.

Thiliel once again reminded herself that she should be inside, where Ingold could keep an eye on her. But she decided to take a quick peek at what was going on, and then, she promised herself, she'd get on with her chores.

"And did you do vat I asked you last night - you know, about Sador?" Coldan asked a man, probably another actor, who he was holding by his shoulders. "I could tell you abot Lord Sador!" Thiliel said. Coldan and the other man turned to her. "His sister and sister-in-law came to the inn in the morning and took him away in a rich carriage that was decorated with swans."
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Old 05-29-2011, 09:55 AM   #289
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It was truly remarkable, Asta thought, how someone as insignificant as Harrenon could at the same time show such talent for getting in the way. She contented herself with merely glaring at the young actor, as she was very curious to know what his task had been.

So Coldan had already been taking some kind of action about Sador! It was not like him to show so much initiative– but then he had certainly managed to surprise her over the last few days.

Then the aggravating little maid had to burst in, babbling about carriages and swans. Asta felt like slapping her.

"By King Bard's arrow, does this waggon look like a public thoroughfare to you? Of course they have a carriage with swans, they're rich folk (ill-gotten gains, I'm sure); anyway I saw it myself. As if anyone could miss a great thing like that!"

"A swan device, you say?" Harrenon spoke quietly, yet with a note in his voice that made Asta, for once, give him her full attention.

"Yes. Why, is it important?"
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Old 05-29-2011, 12:44 PM   #290
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"Yes. Why, is it important?"

Secretly, Harrenon was glad he could distract Asta from whatever murderous plans she had regarding him. The tone of her question showed that she had guessed that he thought something was not quite right.

“Well, it’s the Swan device,” he said quickly. “Don’t you know what that means?”

He looked from Coldan to Asta, waiting for the two to realise what he was talking about.

"Have you forgotten last year when we performed in Dol Amroth?" he asked. " We saw many such devices there. Well, the swan is the device of those of Dol Amroth. Don't you remember?”

Harrenon paused, and looked at the other three. He frowned.

“I don’t understand,” he said. “What link can there be between Sador and those of Dol Amroth?”

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Old 05-29-2011, 04:46 PM   #291
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Coldan slapped his forehead when Harrenon reminded them of the Swans of Dol Amroth. Of course! Dol Amroth - the Swan Players - Aldarion and his mysterious connection to a no less mysterious lady which Sador had hinted at - it all fit together, even if he wasn't yet sure precisely how; but it corroborated his suspicion that Aldarion's kidnapping wasn't entirely without this connivance.

“I don’t understand,” Harrenon said with a puzzled look. “What link can there be between Sador and those of Dol Amroth?”

"I don't know", Coldan admitted. "But I know of a link betveen Dol Amroth and Aldarion. Zat's vere he joined us, after all, leaving zat other group he vas viz at ze time - ze Svan Players; I'm sure you remember ze arrogant sods."

Last evening, though, Aldarion had spoken of his past career with the Dol Amroth company with positive nostalgia. The greatest company in the history of Gondor! I had it all, and by the Valar, I will rise again!

"Maybe zey vant him back, and Sador is vorking for zem; and zey probably von't vant us to succeed viz zis play and gain ze King's favour in zeir place. Or maybe - " He hesitated to broach this in Asta's presence, willing to spare whatever lingering feelings she might still have for the playwright after what had just happened; but they would find out the truth soon enough - better to spare her a nasty surprise.

"Or maybe Aldarion even consented to being kidnapped. Remember vat Sador told us last night? - No matter", he hastened to continue, "ve're going to find him and rescue him if he vants rescuing." And drag him back by the ears if he doesn't, he added silently.

"Vat say you, Harry? Are you viz us?"
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Old 05-29-2011, 10:03 PM   #292
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"Wait," said Asta, "Harry, you mean only someone from Dol Amroth would use a swan emblem?"

Harrenon nodded. "What you describe would be the device of one of their noble houses."

"Why, that's it, then! That's how they did it! They made Aldarion think he was among friends! The poor fool probably hopped in, never suspecting a thing– until it was too late.

'Coldan, we're to have to be very careful– this so-called Lord Sador plans well ahead."
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Old 05-30-2011, 04:45 PM   #293
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"So it seems", said Coldan. "Anyvay, I zink finding him will lead us to Aldarion. It can't be too difficult to find out vich vay zis carriage vent - if it was such a pompous vehicle as you describe it, people vill hev noticed it." He looked at Harrenon again. "So vat about it, Harry? I'd be glad to hev a native Gondorian in zis rescue party; if ve run into trouble, you vould be better zan I am at talking us out of it, seeing how vell you handled zat situation in ze smithy yesterday; and if ve need to break Aldarion out of some kind of lockup, another pair of strong arms can't hurt."

"Well", Harrenon said after some pondering, "I guess somebody has to take care that you two don't go astray." That earned him a shriveling stare from Asta. "But do I understand right that you mean to keep this expedition hidden from Brinn?"

Coldan nodded. "She's got enough to vorry about already; better not burden her viz zis."

"What about the girl then?" Harrenon pointed at the serving maid. "Can we trust her?"

"We could bind and gag her and lock her in the wagon", Asta suggested. The girl paled, and her eyes widened.

Coldan shot an exasperated glance at Asta. He had noticed that she wasn't particularly fond of Ingold's niece, but that was no reason to scare the maid like that. "Don't be silly! Ingold vould kick us out of ze inn."

He turned to the girl. "Don't mind her, Thilwen - zat's your name, isn't it?"

"Thiliel, sir", she corrected him, still somewhat timidly.

"Right. Thiliel." Now how exactly did you talk to a fourteen year old girl? He tried his best to imitate Brinn's reassuring tone, but still the words came out a bit more brusquely than he meant them. "You vant us to get ze play ready in time for Cormare, don't you?"

Thiliel nodded.

"Zen ve must find Master Aldarion and bring him back. But Mistress Celebrindal still needs rest to recover from her injury, so she shouldn't hev to vorry about zis. If she - or anybody else - asks for us, tell her - tell her Asta and I hev gone looking for spare parts to change Smaug into a spider; and after zat ve vant to be alone viz each other for a vile. Or vatever you zink works best." That didn't cover Harrenon, but it probably wouldn't occur to Brinn to suspect him anyway. "But if we're not back by ze morning bells, it means ve're in trouble, and zen you should tell her ze truth, but not earlier. Can you do zat?"
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Old 05-30-2011, 05:45 PM   #294
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It was the weight and importance of Coldan's words that made Thiliel put herself together, although she was still under the impression of Asta's suggestion. She recovered from the fright just enough to understand the graveness of the matter.

"Can you do zat?" asked Coldan, making sure that she knew what she was putting herself up to.

"Yes, of course, sir," the girl replied. She became calmer, now that she knew for sure that no one really wants to tie her up and hide her in some corner of the mysterious wagons, which just a few minutes ago enchanted her and now made her shiver. "I really want to see the play. I am sure you worked very hard to put it together, and I don't want it to fall apart."

"Zat is very vell," Coldan told her, while Asta glared mistrustfully, "it vill help us a great deal if you do zis."

"You should return to the inn, or Ingold might think that we locked you up for real," the other man winked at Thiliel with a slight chuckle. The comment made the girl's heart leap and her breath catch again. She must have jumped, because that man - was his name Harry? - laughed. Still not very impressed, but appreciating the joke, Thiliel gave all three a nervous smile and dropped a curtsey before turning away and walking quickly towards the entrance of the inn, carefully avoiding the long shadows of the carts.

Thiliel wondered if Asta was always that scary, and why she was so cold towards her. Perhaps she didn't mean what she said, and didn't intend for it to sound so harsh and threatening. But it was still said. How does Sereth stand her? And how does Asta not kill everyone around her, if she has such a temper that she'd want to bind me in one of the wagons overnight. Overnight, because I doubt that anyone would find me in there before next morning... These thoughts made Thiliel recall Asta's interferance with the quarreling men the night before. What would she do with the metal tool if the room wasn't filled with people?...

She was quite sure by now that her uncle will be upset with her for the prolonged absense. She wanted to quietly slip inside, and pretend that she had a headache and was in her room the entire time. Thiliel was not sure that the excuse wold work. Maybe he checked her room already. But there was still a chance of escaping it...

However, that chance was taken away very soon by Ingold's figure standing in the entrance to the hall. Thiliel ran to him and flung her arms around him. For the first time during her stay in Minas Anor, he didn't hug back. He didn't say anything, but Thiliel could feel his anger, and, concealled under it, pain and worry. The silence was uncomfortable, unnatural. She felt it pressing on her from every side. She wanted to break it, to ease it somehow. Ingold always told her plainly what he did not like, and she always tried her hardest to fix it. It was never like this. This time, Thiliel felt, she has made a worse blunder than spilling milk all over the place or serving someone chicken instead of beef.

"Uncle, I'm sorry," she whispered when she couldn't hold it any longer, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean it. I did not mean to... to disappear like that..." Ingold looked into her eyes. There was question and accusation in his gaze. "I didn't go anywhere far, I was here in the yard," Thiliel's voice begun to crack, "I didn't do any trouble. I just forgot that... forgot about the time..."

"Forgot about the time? I haven't seen you around for almost an hour! The sun is almost setting!" Thiliel looked out the window, to see Anor low in the sky, still an hour or so from setting, but still lower than she thought. "You are almost grown up, and you have to act as such," Ingold continued, "You cannot go off for so long without telling me. You have to be more responsible. And what could be so interesting that it captured your attention for all this while?" This question made Thiliel squirm. She knew that he didn't approve of her spending so much time talking to the actors.

"I... Sereth showed me one of the carts. You know, Sereth, the actress." A semitruth though it was, it made the anger in Ingold's eyes melt. All that was left was a tired old man who had too much to worry about without his niece's games.

"Go clean yourself up, and then come back to the commn room," Ingold said, "the men are going to be coming in again soon. I will need your help delivering the food. Go, lass."

From the last words Thiliel could tell that she was forgiven, and the incident was past. Yet she couldn't stop thinking about it, and about her other misadventures this day. Her step lost its spring, and she went about her chores without her usual energy and eagerness.

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Old 05-30-2011, 11:37 PM   #295
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Love's Labours Lost

What were you thinking?” hissed Brinn.

“Sweetheart,” said Rollan, slowly, “what are you talking about?”

“You know perfectly well what I’m talking about! Your slow and stupid act might work fine on stage, but don’t even think about pulling it on your own wife!”

Rollan took a step forward and folded his arms. “I know what you’re trying to do, Brinn. You’re trying to save the show at all costs—even if it means misleading your own sister. That’s not the woman I married.”

“I wasn’t misleading her!”

“You were going to. And she has a right to know.”

“You don’t know that, Rollan. I was obviously going to have to tell her eventually, but… not here, not with so many people poking their heads in and Asta like to see an assassin in every shadow. And just because there wasn’t a dragon doesn’t mean there can’t be one in the play, no matter what Lady Elanor says. But since you stepped in and ruined everything—”

“I ruined nothing. Just as you said when we got here, the worst that happens to us is we get run out of the White City, and all that means…”

“Is Seri cries for weeks, and Aldarion and anyone else who has a dream of grandeur leaves us, and—”

“And we move on, and we make other people smile. This is hurting you, Brinn, and you can’t see it.”

“Really?” said Brinn, sticking her foot out.

“When, exactly, did this show become about you? It wasn’t last night. You weren’t cagey, trying to manipulate people; you were listening to them!”

“About me? I run this group. I keep all of us—crazy, drunk, flighty, headstrong—together. I got us out of the Swan Players mess. And in case you couldn’t tell, we’re dealing with politicians, and you can’t just listen to them; you have to—”

“You don’t have to become them. I know you won’t ask for my advice, but I’ll give it anyway. Leave. Cancel the show. We’re in over our heads; let someone else try to take on this mess. You’re not Bard the Bowman, so don’t get yourself fried fighting the dragon.”

“Get. Out.”

Rollan reached out towards her, but Brinn slapped his hand away. “Out,” she said. “And don’t come back until I tell you.”

Rollan opened his mouth, as if to say more, but shut it and left.

As soon as the door closed behind him, Brinn burst into tears.
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Old 05-31-2011, 12:00 AM   #296
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Brinn

Brinn stumped over to her bed and sat down heavily, grabbed the pillow, started dabbing at her eyes. No one to look in on her, but she would not look weak. She couldn't remember fighting with her husband this hard; he always took her side, always understood, always backed her up...

And oh, how she needed it! Even at the best of times, the King's Players were not exactly the picture of harmony; worse than most families, they bickered. She had to keep them together, but here, now, they were unraveling in her hands--three of them vanished, at least two barely restrained from upsetting the man who might happen to be their worst enemy, and now even Rollan turning against her...

All she'd wanted was to make this work, to see the smiles, tears, gasps of the audience. When did that become so difficult a task?

Since we set foot in this fool City, she thought. And now everything was going upside down and everyone in the Players but her was making it worse... And she restrained, chafing at her sprained foot, able to accomplish more than anyone else...

She blinked, more tears slipping from her eyes. When had she become so selfish?

Rollan had tried to tell her.

Rollan was right. When had she become so attached to the play, to putting it on with no thought to the Players who acted in it?

Elanor. She shook her head--she knew that the hobbit hadn't meant any harm, but she had been so charming, so eager to see the play...

She'd gotten into Brinn's heart. And wasn't that what the old tales about Halflings said? How they could smile, wink, leave a friendly word, and suddenly you found yourself falling over your feet to help them? She thought back to the start of the tale, the real start, with four weak, utterly stupid hobbits setting off on their own, and somehow magically attracting all these folk who were suddenly willing to help them, not just for the peril of their task but because they were so vulnerable and still so endearing?

...at least, they looked vulnerable. Actually could defend themselves in a pinch, obviously, but you wouldn't think it, looking at them, so you had to help them. And they probably didn't even realize they were doing it.

And there were three of them at the court, and one of them had managed to work her way into Brinn's heart in the space of two hours, and now she'd lost her sister and her fool husband, because she'd gotten so caught up in the play that she couldn't even listen...

It wasn't fair, she thought, but she cut it off.

No. No blaming things on anyone else, especially not a hobbit who didn't even realize what she was doing. This was her problem, her fault.

Brinn curled into a ball, and wept alone.
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Old 05-31-2011, 12:13 AM   #297
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Rollan

Rollan walked up to bar and ordered the strongest drink they had, ignoring the stares and the mutters. He didn't feel like apologizing for what he'd said--not yet--but he'd be lucky at this point if Brinn let him back in at all, and losing someone like that hurt.

Besides, she had a point--several, really. Asta looked about ready to burn the entire inn down, and this when their numbers were already so reduced, and, quite honestly, she was the only person with the patience and the will to keep them all together. More than any other member, the Players needed Brinn, and he'd just made her job that much harder, and on top of that, told her that she cared more about the play than any of them...

He stared at his empty glass. They'd tried for children for years, ever since they'd married, but none had ever come. He wanted a family with Brinn, but she ached for it, and the Players had had to become in spirit what they couldn't have in body.

Rollan the Fool, he thought. He was too good at playing the part if this was what he did off the stage.

Well. Nothing to be done for it now. Looking around for a familiar face, he saw Ingold's--daughter? niece?--wandering amidst the tables, a little less cheery than he'd been. He waved her over and slipped her a coin.

"I'm sorry, Miss--" Dash it all, Brinn was the one who remembered everyone's name, not him!

"Thiliel, sir."

"Thiliel, but if you could bring my wife some supper at the proper time I'd much appreciate it. As much as you can be spared her other duties, just--don't press her or anything, but let me know how she's doing. I expect I'll be here late tonight."
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Old 05-31-2011, 12:46 PM   #298
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Thiliel was gone now and Harrenon was very thankful that Asta’s suggestion of tying her up had been disregarded. Otherwise they would have most likely found themselves in a dungeon soon and all the commotion with their silly play would have been the least of their worries. It was strange, Harrenon mused, how Asta could see danger lurking everywhere but sometimes did not seem to anticipate the consequences of her own actions. Now that he thought better of it, the prospect of joining a rescue mission with the two did not seem too attractive.

He was glad that Coldan had told Thiliel to find a way to explain their absence for now – his and Asta’s, that was. If anyone was to look for Harrenon that evening, then he would be the one in hot water since he would not have a plausible explanation for not being around. But, after all, he had the habit of being inconspicuous until there was need of him and Harrenon doubted very much that anyone would have any need of him that evening. He turned to the two others and looked at them questioningly:

“Well, now that the girl’s gone, what do we do? How do we plan this rescue? I think I should tell you, though, that we should be careful. I’ve spent the morning with Sador, after all. He’s…well, he's a romantic fool, but I have to hand it to him: he does not seem to lack imagination. Such people are not easy to deal with.”
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Old 05-31-2011, 03:17 PM   #299
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Harrenon's question caught Coldan somewhat unawares, as he hadn't yet given much thought to planning the mission in detail. He wasn't perturbed for long, though. Asta's kiss, fleeting as it had been, had given his self-confidence a huge boost and filled him with a gush of inspiration he had rarely felt poring over The Fall of King Bladorthin. He had not the slightest doubt in their ability to pull this off.

"Doesn't lack imagination, does he? Vell, neither do ve. Ve're ze King's Players, by Aule's hammer! I bet ve can still teach zat lordling a zing or two about imagination. -

Zis is vat ve'll do." He began to tick off the steps of the plan by the fingers of his right hand. "First we follow ze trail of ze carriage by asking people in ze city about it. Ven ve arrive at its destination, ve reconnoitre ze place - stealthily, to be sure - and try to find out vere Aldarion is being held. If ve can't discover zat from ze outside, ve sneak in - ve'll hev to do zat eventually anyway. Once ve hev found him, ve free him - ve'll need suitable tools, of course, in case he's locked up - and leave viz him as quickly and quietly as we can."

Harrenon didn't seem convinced. "Sneak in? I don't expect that to be easy. Don't you think the place will be guarded?"

Coldan bit his lips. "It probably will", he conceded. "Ve'll hev to create a diversion to distract the guards - you know, like ze last battle at ze Morannon vere ze King engaged ze army of Mordor vile Frodo attacked ze Dark Lord at Barad-dûr."

"I know what diversion means", snapped Asta. "What do you have in mind?"

Coldan's brow furrowed in pondering, while his glance wandered aimlessly around the interior of the cart as if looking for an idea; when it alighted on the looming frame of the mechanical dragon, his face suddenly lit up, and he flashed a mischievous grin at Asta.

"Could you spare some of ze stuff you use to make Smaug breathe fire?"
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Old 05-31-2011, 04:05 PM   #300
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Thiliel was not in the mood for doing more favors for the Players. She could not wait to see the play, but it was because of them that she made her uncle worry. If they wouldn't be at the inn, she wouldn't have done anything wrong. Nor would I be able to meet the real actors, she thought.

But whatever her mood was, customers came first. She carefully listened to the man's request, and nodded when he finished speaking: it was not anything special or hard to do. "I will take a tray to Mistress Celebrindal after I finish serving to everybody inside. If you want, I can give her a message." Thiliel thought for a moment, and then added, "Why, is her ankle worse again?"
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Old 06-01-2011, 12:35 AM   #301
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"Could you spare some of ze stuff you use to make Smaug breathe fire?"

"Coldan, that's a marvellous idea!" Asta beamed. "It would be worth it just to see the looks on their faces!" Despite Harrenon's presence, she very nearly kissed the prompter a second time. "And don't you worry about breaking in," she added, as she quickly selected a number of slender, oddly-shaped picks and wrenches from amongst the large variety of tools hanging on the walls, "I know a thing or two about locks and bolts, I can tell you– Father wasn't just a toymaker. Here, Harry, take this–"

She might have passed Harrenon a live snake, from the way he stared at the long chisel-tipped rod in his hand.

"What am I supposed to do with this?" he asked in a faint voice.

"Why, break the door open– if need be," Asta explained, not very patiently. Really, there were times when Harry seemed positively dense. "You will be careful with it, though, won't you?"
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Old 06-01-2011, 12:22 PM   #302
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Since she had discovered she had been fooled, Sereth had felt so stupid she had wished she could melt into the walls. Luckily, no one seemed to care - they were more interested in redistributing the roles and then, fighting about the dragon.

Asta stormed out - typical, if you asked Sereth - and was followed by Coldan, then Harrenon and finally Thiliel too. There was nobody but her and Brinn and Rollan in the wagon anymore, and maybe she had succeeded in beoming one with the wall, because the couple started arguing with each other as if she wasn't there. When Brinn started talking about cancelling the play and Seri herself crying for weeks, she couldn't help the tears that rose into her eyes. However, she would hide her grief this time.

One wouldn't have needed to have Sereth's skill in moving quietly to exit the wagon without notice - Brinn and Rollan were hardly concentrating on anything else than screaming at each other. Once she was out, Sereth found the darkest corner of the yard and sat there, crying.

Crying didn't make her feel so good though. She realised she had been agitated enough for a few days, she didn't want it anymore. And since all the adults seemed to be flipping out, maybe she should not go crazy too. Decisively, she wiped the tears and ignoring the fact that her eyes must be red she marched into the inn.

She didn't know what she actually wanted to do, but when she saw Rollan, she knew. She needed to make it better.

Rollan didn't look like he particularily wanted to talk to her or anybody else, though, but as Thiliel was already chatting with him, Sereth felt bold enough to join in.

"Rollan," she interrupted whatever discussion that was going on. "I know how we can solve this mess. We can replace the spider with a dragon, dragons are much scarier anyway."

She gave him a tentative smile.
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Old 06-02-2011, 03:48 PM   #303
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Sereth didn't look very well. Her eyes were red and swollen, as if she cried. But she as smiling.

"Rollan, I know how we can solve this mess. We can replace the spider with a dragon, dragons are much scarier anyway."

"But there was no dragon!" Thiliel objected, "Not in the Seige of Gondor! My uncle told me all about it; he was a solider then, you see. There was a huge ram, the size of... well..." Thiliel searched for an appropriate comparisson, "it would hardly fit in the yard if it was twice as big as it really is. And there were beasts. Fell beasts. The Fell Riders rode them. They were like dragons, but not dragons. They were black. And they didn't breathe fire.

I could ask my uncle to tell us all about it after most people leave - in the late evening. He knows everything about the war." This suggestion jerked Thiliel back to her gloomy situation, which she forgot while speaking with Sereth. There was something special about that girl - she could make Thiliel forget about everything.

Which is why I am in trouble. And it's none of her fault.

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Old 06-02-2011, 10:09 PM   #304
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Rollan was relieved, actually, at the inadvertent rescue Sereth had given him. A dragon was a much easier problem to manage than the King's Players crumbling within his wife's--and his--grasp.

"Now, listen, both of you," he said, and he looked at them sharply--not cruelly, but the sort of "sit up and pay attention" look that, somehow, only he could get away with flashing to the audience. "What Brinn never managed to get out before Asta stormed off was that she'd at least think about keeping the dragon, or working it in some other way. I'm not familiar enough with this version of the tale to know how that'd work, but I do know we have to be careful about the 'Frodo' bits because one of our special guests was there."

He looked at Thiliel again. "But we were talking about the Black Land, not the Siege. And you say there were creatures like dragons there? Not, of course, that I'd want you to be more of a bother to your uncle than I'm sure a lass your age already is... but you might have given old Rollan an idea." He eyed her shrewdly. "You don't think folk here would take it badly if we made the siege a little more dramatic, do you?"

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Old 06-03-2011, 08:19 AM   #305
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"Not, of course, that I'd want you to be more of a bother to your uncle than I'm sure a lass your age already is..." Perhaps Rollan did not intend to, but he reminded Thiliel once again of her sins this day. I have to stop this chattering. I have work to do. I need to act my age.

"You don't think folk here would take it badly if we made the siege a little more dramatic, do you?"

Thiliel decided to end the talk with this question. "I suppose not. But many of the elder people still remember it how it was, and those who were born later or were too young to remember heard about it from their sires. You say that the dragon lives in the Black Land. I cannot tell you anything of that. I have not heard of any dragons there. But very few people dared to explore deep into the heart of the land. Who knows what may be still hiding there?"

Thiliel looked at the coin in her hand. She had another one, from Celebrindal, under her pillow. "I apologize, but I have to go now. I have lots of work still to do," she said, turnig around and putting the coin in her pocket.
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Old 06-05-2011, 11:42 AM   #306
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Up at the Treasury


There was a good deal of disturbance going on in the offices of the Lord Warden. Clerks either dashed about or stayed preternaturally still, occasionally and mechanically practising their bowing. That horse, that calvacade, those guards had been spotted, inarguably, on their way in this direction. But he didn't typically visit the Treasury, his own Exchequer; in a manner of speaking, indeed, he wasn't supposed to; his half-forgotten predecessors had none done so since the Kin-Strife's bad old days, when need to secure the money purses had overriden princely decorum. The system was, for established and good reasons, designed to encumber any over-carefree initiative from its master...

"The King Elessar is on his...", a higher commissioner began to his superior, Lord Cirdacil, as that notable paced distractedly past him, his undermighty, compact shape juddering with impatience.

"Do be quiet, I know he is, and why he is, well, that's evidently beyond any of your wit..."

The Lord Warden concluded his response with one of the phglemy coughs that punctuated and plagued his utterances, aging in body but vigorous as ever in will.

"The King Elessar has passed..." another official, hurrying in the opposite direction, tried.

"Through the doorway?"

"Not yet, my lord."

"Then the matter is of no importance, except insofar as it seems to have disturbed you all from your proper business."

Some soldiers, the van of the guard royal, arrived with predictable lack of awareness of punctiliousness, but Cirdacil paid them back in their own coin, waved them dead silent as they came near him; they obeyed at once, for everyone accepted that the whitebeard tyrant of the taxes looked and sounded like a taskmaster to be reckoned with. As if more disdainful than pleased with their show of submission, Cirdacil strode past them without looking to either side of him, under handsome, serried arches of smartly presented ashen spears. He moved as effienctly as anyone had ever seen; and was at the main gate of his station of work to welcome his sovereign's arrival.

"Right glad meeting, your majesty," he got out quickly, extending his arm within. There, that was it. If the King chose to enter now it was at his Warden's invitation; the dangerous precedent had been scotched. King Elessar seemed to be interested in no such principled struggle after all, however. He paused, maddeningly, at Cirdacil's own level, half in and half out of the threshold, as if the Treasury's hallowed ground and the rarefied citadel dirt were all the same to him.

"Are you not over tired, Lord Cirdacil?" formed his greeting, delivered with very perfected concern.

"No more than usual, your Majesty."

"Than usual? Ha! I hate, my sprightly young playmate," (the King liked to chaff Cirdacil about his own greater age, which the Lord Warden always thought a little vulgar of him, under his special circumstances), "to be the cause of making your life always so onerous. Come," he added, putting his arm around the old Lord and steering them in together, thus undoing all Cirdacil's careful efforts to remain the driving impetus on the way into the offices.

"I gather from..., well, I gather, that you privately favour an alteration in the nature of the Cormare revels?" the King asked easily, hauling his old counsellor along in great joviality.

"The actors grow more intractably retrograde every day that passes, sire," Cirdacil replied with a sigh; he had suspected the King would pick this topic, but he didn't have to like it himself. "I thought the traditional bard might save us both - us all - a good quantity of money and time."

"Money and time," King Elessar mused. "Tell me, Lord Cirdacil, which do you prefer?"

Cirdacil recognised the pitfall in the question at once, nor did he have to lie in avoiding it. "That is no kind of choice, sire. We need money to make time endurable, yet gold is no end in itself."

"No end indeed," the King answered thoughtfully. "All that glisters...but forgive me, I am indulging in memory. I fear, Lord Cirdacil, that your joint office lies heavily upon your sense of duty?"

"It has been hard since your Majesty chose so to distinguish me," Cirdacil muttered without inflection, fighting back incipient relief. Was Elessar about to take the Players off him again? Had Hallas decided to come back? Had that absurd fellow in Dol Amroth, his daughter's father-in-law Erchirion, turned up the goods and agreed to be interested at last?

"I don't like the sound of your cough, Cirdacil," the King carried on equably, "and these Players seem to need undivided attention, relatively undemanding though they may be in principle. Tell me, who would you like best to succeed you at the Exchequer?"

It had been a conversation Cirdacil had prepared so thoroughly that he began his automatic reply without taking in its context: "Your Majesty will find my younger son, Lord Beren of Burlach, called...wait..."

Suddenly he realised fully what was going on, and enpurpled, with another sudden cough. This was certainly not supposed to happen, not yet.

"Your Majesty cannot think of removing the Exchequer from me now! I still have much service to offer you! And with every state of retrenching in a parlous and delicate..."

The King had taken a step back. He was watching Cirdacil intently. When the old man trailed his splutter off, he began to speak again, gently.

"Do you know why I gave you the Revels, my lord?"

"To try me, sire," the old lord responded hopefully, "so I could prove my view of these vagabonds' worthlessness..."

But he unstrung humself again. The King's calm expression had not changed, but it wore a strange smile, caught between mirth and sadness, but tender withal...

"Then you were joking," Cirdacil cried bitterly, "as I thought; and my son was wrong to tell me otherwise..."

"No," the King cut in, in his usual, forcefully kind tone, "he was not, my lord of Burlach. I did indeed mean to try you, not to tease you - not, at any rate, entirely. What you have just told me, when I asked you about time and money, assures me you are wise enough, if you follow your own advice, to pass my test. My lord, I can stay no longer."

And he embraced the - younger - man lightly in his strong, long arms, before turning quickly and leaving his Treasury's sanctum, and each of his guards and household with him. He left Cirdacil, Lord of Burlach, in the strange position of a man fighting to remember his own words, carelessly spoken as they had been...

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Old 06-05-2011, 04:08 PM   #307
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Harrenon handled the tool Asta had given him as cautiously as if it could bite him; his face betrayed some serious second thoughts about the mission he had been recruited to, but then he shrugged and tucked the thing inside his waistcoat, hiding it from casual view as best he could. Coldan did likewise with the long metal bar, its ends bent into opposite directions, he was handed, while Asta picked some smaller, more delicate looking implements to stow in her belt pouch, along with two or three tiny sachets of strange smelling powders.

The sun had sunk behind the darkened head of old Mindolluin, lending it an aureole of fading gold, when the three adventurers slunk out of the inn's courtyard as unconspicuously as they could manage and merged with the evening shadows. Most of the deep blue sky was clear, and in the east Eärendil had already launched his barque, but in the south the wind was bringing heavy clouds up from the Ethir and the sea.
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Old 06-05-2011, 06:28 PM   #308
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Vëandur sat on his bed in the Second Circle billet he shared with three others of his ship. He was thankful none of them were there at the moment, especially that fool Darengen, with the incredibly foul odor that followed him like a pall.

Vëandur had tried to nap, mindful of his midnight rendezvous with his great-uncle, and the subsequent party that might carry on until the sun rose the next day, for all he knew. He was unable to banish the thoughts swirling in his head long enough to fall asleep. Why does he want us arriving so late, anyway? Vëandur thought. He'd always considered that nobles and high officials liked their parties to take place early in the evening, making a show of their fine clothing and elegant manners, then tottering off to bed with self-important satisfaction. Maybe that wasn't the case, at least not here. Vëandur wasn't looking forward to it much, but for the sake of his new-found kin, he would go. After all, the man had had no pressing reason to take notice of Vëandur at all, much less invite him to a gathering of his family. And it was better than what he would have otherwise been resigned to: drinking up his pay in the company of his crew, the same people he saw aboard ship for long weeks at a time.

Looking at the late afternoon sun slanting in through the windows, he thought he would take a meal at his leisure, then would have plenty of time to return and get ready. He wanted to leave about an hour before midnight, to give himself plenty of time to travel to the Sixth Circle. Did the carriages even run that late? He wasn't sure; there were enough inns and taverns near where they always stayed that the problem had not come up before.

He stretched, then stood up. Who knew? This night might be interesting, at least.
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Old 06-06-2011, 01:10 PM   #309
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I shouldn’t be doing this. I shouldn’t be doing this. I shouldn’t…

The words were running through Harrenon’s mind like an obsessive refrain and however hard he tried to silence them, they were still there. Yes, perhaps it would have been better if he had stayed put and let Asta and Coldan handle it – whatever it was – by themselves. But it was far too late to turn back now, since they had already left the inn. He tried to imagine the look on Asta’s face if he suddenly announced that he had changed his mind and would like to go back. That was enough to make him want to take his chances with whoever had kidnapped Aldarion.

There were few people on the streets now and most were heading towards their homes, not having much time to spare for the three conspirators. Since Harrenon was actually Gondorian and so the least to rouse too many suspicions, he had been given the task of asking those they encountered about the carriage. A few were able give them an answer and so now at least they knew where they were going. Of course, he still was not too sure what would happen once they got there. He only hoped Coldan and Asta knew what they were doing.
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Old 06-07-2011, 08:31 AM   #310
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Night had fallen by the time the trio found the place they sought, in the Sixth Circle, but the mansion was ablaze with light that spilled out across the road so that they had to watch from quite a distance as late-arriving carriages rattled up and their bejewelled and silk-clad occupants disembarked. No doubt most of these would take them for passers-by, stopped to gawp– but "Lord" Sador might be around, and others of his sinister crew who knew them by sight.

There were swarms of servants in swan-livery darting in and out, but it was the tall ones who kept the door who held Asta's attention. They were the ones she would have to draw away with her flaming powders– but not yet, not until all the guests were inside.

Nearer than the chatter of voices and the rumble of carriage-wheels, she could hear Harry muttering to himself, as he had been doing for half the journey, "I shouldn’t be doing this. I shouldn’t be doing this..." He did not even seem to realise he was speaking aloud. Asta shook her head sadly. Perhaps it had not been such a good idea to bring him after all.

She herself had a sense of elation. She felt like Lúthien Tinúviel, going forth to rescue Beren from the dungeons of Tol-in-Gaurhoth. The sandstone facade did not look much like the dread Sorcerer's tower as depicted on the backdrops the Players had used for that production, but if Sador were under its roof, it harboured an evildoer equally foul. (Well, almost equally. She did not want to start exaggerating, now.)

Suddenly, thinking of Lúthien's subsequent career, Asta had another of her brilliant inspirations. The original plan had a serious flaw, in that it had no provision for how they would escape notice once inside the mansion. She had vaguely hoped they might pass as guests, but now, watching all these finely-dressed aristocrats sweeping in, she had to concede that all three of them would stick out like sore thumbs. But Lúthien and Beren had faced the same problem, and they had worn–

"Disguises! That's it, as soon as we're inside, we'll grab three of the servants, strip them, bind them, stuff them in a closest, and wear their livery. I'm sure none of these lords and ladies will look twice at us!"

"Asta," Harrenon protested, "do all your schemes involve tying people up?"
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Old 06-07-2011, 09:12 AM   #311
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"Aldarion, at last. You have been too long, and too much missed among the players of the Swan."

The sound of Gloredhel's voice instantly transported Aldarion back to Dol Amroth, and it was all he could do to keep himself from rushing forward to greet her. Smiling slightly, Aldarion responded. "So, in other words, 'You're late and you shouldn't have left us!' Hardly the reception I was hoping for."

"Aldarion..." said Gloredhel, shaking her head and smiling in return, "What do you expect me to say, leaving me behind in Valinor like that?"

Aldarion swiftly noted that she had twice led off with his name- a signal that something was not right. Then she referenced being left in Valinor, and Aldarion picked up the thread without missing a beat. "It was too confined for a spirit such as mine, in such close quarters with those seeking to smother my flame."

Gloredhel answered, "But without restraints you will perish in your own fire."

Her answer left him no doubt that she was indeed pointing to a disagreement between Feanor and Nerdanel, a lover's spat, something that should be discussed privately rather than publicly. From that it was clear to Aldarion that Gloredhel needed to speak with him away from prying ears. He would be on the lookout for such an opportunity.

"What has it been... six years since we used that as an audition piece?" he asked Gloredhel.

Gloredhel nodded. "Lord Imrazôr thought it was an excellent choice, I recall."

"Though that red wig looked a bit ridiculous," laughed Aldarion.
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Old 06-07-2011, 05:48 PM   #312
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"Asta," Harrenon protested, "do all your schemes involve tying people up?"

So it seemed, as of late; this time, however, Coldan couldn't help admiring the ingenuity of the idea.

"No, Harry, she's right - ve fit among all zose posh Sixth Circle folk like hobbits in Mordor; short of elven cloaks, disguising ourselves as servants vill be ze best ve can do for secrecy. Even Frodo vent to Barad-dûr dressed as an orc, remember? - If you hev qualms about putting ze real servants out of action", he added, trying to appease his friend's conscience, "you can stand guard outside, just in case anyzing unforeseen happens."

That probably would be better anyway; on their way here, Harrenon had become more and more obviously nervous the closer they came to their destination, and Coldan doubted he would be able to keep a cool head in the moment of truth.

"We'll still have to find a way in first", Harrenon objected.

"Zat's right. As soon as all zis coming and going has stopped and it gets a little quieter out here, I'll try to get a look from all sides at zis fortress of criminal decadence and find out vether it has such a zing as a back door."

Silently they waited, pressed against a wall surrounding an adjacent estate, shadowed by a great plantain tree, while the river of newly arriving guests very gradually slowed down to a trickle. Through the open doors notes of music strayed out into the cooling night air.

"They're having a party in there!" Asta observed, gritting her teeth in outrage. "Sador celebrating the fruition of his foul plans, no doubt!"

"Don't vorry, dear", Coldan reassured her. "Ve'll frustrate his knavish tricks yet."

He wasn't quite sure himself what his confidence was founded on. Not entirely unlike Harrenon, he could hardly believe what he was doing here - and for Aldarion's sake, of all people! - , just like he still couldn't quite believe Asta had really kissed him. Cool reason and long experience with her mood swings told him not to hang his hopes too high - but all these doubts were washed away by the sheer excitement of sharing this adventure with her. He hadn't felt so good since they had come to this city, or indeed for a long, long time before, and cool reason be damned.

At long last, after maybe an hour or more, the great, heavy oaken doors were pulled shut from the inside, and the music was dimmed. Now. Coldan looked up at the sky, which was now completely overcast with low hanging clouds, so that the stars and the Moon were shut out and the only light illuminating the scene was that streaming out of the mansion's open windows. Good. He took Asta's hand and gave her a short squeeze.

"I'll be right back."
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Old 06-07-2011, 06:42 PM   #313
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Beyond the little group huddled at the front atrium of Ecsichil's mansion, a throng of gaily garbed arrivals, somewhat over fifty in all, perhaps, neither an intimate nor an enormous gathering, lounged and conversed at their pleasure. Their hostess, Lady Ecsichil, was well known as the best-bred - that was to say, the silentest - in the city, and a knot of her closest friends emulated her excellent manners in identical torpor, moving their fans far more readily than their lips. For the majority of women, and all the men, who were not of this refined number, the real chatelaine tonight was Lady Circilie of Dol Amroth, whose laugh animated every conversation like a major note in an orchestra, as she scattered her attention about with immaculately fluid social acumen. Every man she exchanged a sentence with felt taller and braver, every woman as if taken into some special confidence; but she allotted more than this to no one.

Her elder brother, Ecsichil, the real if understated host, received Aerwen's and Aldarion's arrival with an air of equability and open boredom that did nothing to change his turgid aspect. As Aldarion and Gloredhel, it seemed, quoted lines from a career ago at each other with pointed specificity, Aerwen alone seemed to fully concentrate on them, frowning slightly, as if committing the poetry to memory, pondering its every implication, all at once, and judging it aesthetically also. Sador appeared genial but barely more absorbed than his brother.

This appearance was only partly deceptive, for in truth Sador thought Lord Imrazôr's verse so mannered and hackneyed that he indeed paid its content none of the respect of consideration. But his amateur interests had given him a keen interest and insight into the body's language, and he had a pretty clear idea that Gloredhel and Aldarion wanted to be alone. He had it in mind to let them be; it would be better if they talked now, probably harmlessly of the past, than later, when really controversial matters were in their minds.

"It is sweet always to see friends unsundered," he remarked in his light way, "and you, friend Aldarion, will have so much to remember with my sister in law, without interruption from our boorish family! For my own part, I would speak with you, sister," he added to Aerwen, "apart for a little; your company is so often claimed from me by your absurd course of study. Let's take a turn in the garden. Beautiful hedges as ever, by the way, Ecsichil. Now why don't you go and rejoin your guests?"

The middle-aged Burlach shambled off in his usual, imperturbable ennui. Sador and Aerwen for their part wove off to the garden gate beyond the Fornost window, leaving Aldarion and Gloredhel comparatively solitary in the front hall.

"Well?" the younger brother asked Aerwen, when they looked to be alone under a quiet eave.

"I showed him Rumillo," the lady-scholar replied cautiously, "and he offered it modest praise. But I think it was not to his taste."

"His taste! That matters not. In any case, it is quite another piece I intend to display tonight, the new tragicomedy, of Celebrindal."

"Is that entirely wise, brother?" Aerwen said with a surprisingly tough note entering her voice. "The...collaborator...had no part in that one...as I recall; the playwright alone is responsible for its content..."

"And I accept that responsibility. I don't need your approval any more, Aerwen, to be certain when a play is great or a scene exquisite. This one is perfect. It is calculated to make her feel sharp repugnance for him..."

"You are confident indeed in your art's power - "

"And then, afterwards, he will not refuse my offer. Think what I will extend, then. A triumphant place in his old company."

"He may prefer his duty to the new."

Sador laughed then, not his usual, fair if insubstantial mirth but a harder note of cruel celebration. "I have seen enough during my visit to be sure he shall not. The King's Players mean less than nothing to this man. He tried to flee when he thought they would be arrested; he trifled with the heart of their most adequate looking actress, and came to blows over her with another player, his rival; but when he was moved to strong emotion, his mind alighted on the company of the Swan; and I will wager my good leg it has stayed there."

He ignored, or did not notice, the pained expression of dissent his words appeared to provoke in his sister, as he summed up his conclusion, "Aldarion may have a true man's face, a fine man's leg, but his heart is only a shadow's - pumping a player's stream of petty pride..."

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Old 06-08-2011, 11:05 AM   #314
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Aldarion stared after Sador and Aerwen as they wove through the guests towards the garden. Sador had pointedly left him free to speak with Gloredhel, and Aldarion wondered whether this was intentional or merely an excuse to have his own private conversation with Aerwen. But either way, he was now free to discover what Gloredhel knew or suspected.

"You know this place much better than I, no doubt."

Gloredhel nodded and immediately turned to her right, followed closely by Aldarion. After walking the length of a hall she turned left and Aldarion found himself emerging from the front of the house. A swath of grass and a couple low hedges stood between them and the main entrance and the drive where several coaches sat unhorsed and unmanned. In the opposite direction towered a wing of the house, jutting out towards the wall surrounding the estate.

Gloredhel continued her stride along the side of the wing, and finally she turned right so as to place them on a narrow walk between the wall and the wing. The walk took them to the corner and then back away from the road again, this time on the wing's opposite side. Quite soon there loomed ahead a tall iron gate. It was unlocked, and Aldarion found himself entering a dimly lit garden.

Gloredhel stopped, glanced around, and then leaped at Aldarion arms flung wide. Aldarion laughed aloud and twirled her in circles as they embraced. "You're still freakishly strong," commented Aldarion as he set her back upon her feet and rubbed his neck. "My head nearly came off there."

"Poor you," said Gloredhel. "Do you realize how boring the theater has been for Amlach and I since you left? In order to stay sane we started bringing an imaginary Aldarion along with us each day." Gloredhel laughed. "You know Amlach- he's an excellent mimic. In rehearsals he's always changing his voice and saying the sorts of things you'd mumble to us."

A blur of amusing rehearsal moments flashed through Aldarion's mind and again he laughed. Only now that he was happy did he realize how long it had been since he had felt genuinely light-hearted. "Well, I suppose it's good to know that in some fashion I'm still involved in the Swan Players. Will Amlach be able to come and see me soon?"

"He'll try," answered Gloredhel. "If he does make it, I assume you'll want us to sneak out at night and fetch you, and we can get into some sort of mischief?" she asked mischeviously. "Minas Tirith is a large place."

"Remember at that inn where we kept replacing everyone's beer with tea, ha ha!"

"Or when you impersonated the Prince and those guards... ha ha... let you in and you... *cough* stole all of his pants, ha ha!"

Aldarion doubled over, remembering how they had barely maintained a straight face the following day upon hearing a messanger crying the official proclamation- "His highness's pants have been removed by parties unknown. Please inform a palace guard if you know anything of this outrageous crime."

As the two of them slowly controlled their breathing, Gloredhel sighed. "But I suppose you'll be too busy with your show to have any fun?"

This reality brought Aldarion's mood crashing down instantly. "Yes," he answered slowly. "I can't recall ever having so much to do in so little time, with such high stakes."

"No matter," said Gloredhel. "We'll celebrate after your play is a success!"

Aldarion nodded his head. "I hope so."

"They'll miss us inside soon, so I'd better hurry and say this," said Gloredhel, now speaking very quietly. "Amlach and I aren't entirely certain what is going on, but we have a suspicion that my father and members of Sador's family are trying to push Sador and I together, and that this is tied to gaining Father a position- perhaps master of revels. Also, Sador fancies himself a playwright, and I imagine he has some scheme or another to foist some work of his upon your troop, or perhaps the Swan Players in exchange for his father giving my father the royal title."

Aldarion opened his mouth to ask a question, but Gloredhel waved him aside and kept speaking. "Finally, I know that Sador wants you around for some reason or another, and so you need to be wary of his manipulation. And I can't really answer any questions, because this is all I know. Frankly, I'm not even certain if their ends are good or bad. All I can really say is to be on guard."
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Old 06-09-2011, 05:43 PM   #315
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The unmanned coaches parked on the drive between the street and the oaken doors gave Coldan good cover as he whisked through the main entrance in the outer wall surrounding the premises. Once in, he threw himself down on the ground behind a low hedge that shielded him from the house and crawled on his hands and knees towards the right-hand corner of the western wing. Rounding it, he found himself on a narrow walk between the outer wall and the mansion itself. Fortunately the windows were set high enough that he could avoid beeing seen by pressing himself closely against the house wall and ducking under the ledges.

Grateful for the music inside that drowned the crunching of gravel under his feet, he made his way along the wing. It wasn't long until he found what he was looking for: an unconspicuous, modest door near the end of the wing (probably for the use of servants and suppliers); further ahead a small gate in the far side of the outer wall opened on a lane parallel to the front street where Asta and Harrenon were waiting - the perfect way of escape when all was done.

Heart pounding, he grabbed the door knob and tried to turn it, but he wasn't surprised to find the door locked. Well, anything else would have been too much to ask; luckily they had come well prepared. Breaking the door open would make noise, but Asta's dragon fire would take care of that.

He might have stopped and gone back there, but having got so far, he decided to go all the way and explore the other sides of the house as well. Between the end of the western wing and the back gate, a man-high, ornamented lattice of cast iron closed off a broad space on the backside of the house - a garden, judging from the looming treetops. Climbing across was risky, because many windows looked out on the garden, but quickly done, and on the other side there were enough trees, bushes and hedges to provide ample cover.

Suddenly a gush of light, music and voices spilled out through a Fornost window on a portico-shadowed terrace protruding between the ends of the two wings, and two figures emerged - one male, one female. Coldan wouldn't have recognized the woman even if he had seen her before, but the man's identity was made evident even from a distance by an unmistakable limp.

Coldan's heartbeat quickened. No matter how high the risk, he couldn't pass by a chance to eavesdrop on Sador and maybe catch a hint about the villain's plans - maybe even a hint where to find Aldarion! Reminding himself to be careful, he got down on his belly and crawled as close to the terrace as he dared without being seen by the couple - close enough to hear Sador saying: "...make her feel sharp repugnance for him."

"You are confident indeed in your art's power - " That was the woman's voice.

" - not refuse my offer." Sador again. Silently Coldan cursed the music and chatter from inside that allowed him to understand only snippets of the conversation. Who were they talking about? Who was he, and who was she? " - triumphant place in his old company." Could that be Aldarion and the Swan Players? But still, who was she?

The woman's next words were lost again, but then the music stopped just long enough to let him hear clearly: "The King's Players mean less than nothing to this man." More wretched music. " - trifled with the heart - another player, his rival - strong emotion ... on the company of the Swan - only a shadow's ... pumping petty pride." If anything more was said before Sador and his companion returned inside, the music drowned it out completely.

Coldan ground his teeth in exasperation. He had heard enough, but yet not enough. Part of that had obviously been about Asta and himself, part about Aldarion's ambition and his yearning for the Swan Players, of that he was sure; but who was the female person Sador had referred to earlier? Asta again, or some other woman - maybe the mysterious lady of Dol Amroth? And most of all, was the man trying to blackmail Aldarion somehow, or counting on him to play along with his ignominous machinations willingly? There was only one way to find that out - get Aldarion out of there, the sooner the better.

Listening to Sador and his companion had cost precious time, and Coldan feared that Asta might do something rash if he took too long. Neglecting caution in favour of speed, he scurried towards the eastern end of the garden -

- and dropped behind a bush just in time to avoid running into another man and woman. Fortune favoured him tonight, because the two were too busy embracing enthusiastically to notice him. He froze with surprise when the man spoke and he recognized Aldarion's voice.

It took every bit of willpower he could muster to force himself to lie still while the couple reveled in fond memories and boasted of pranks that Rollan would have been proud of acting on stage, but he pricked his ears when their talk turned to the Cormare play, and when the woman began to talk about Sador's schemes, she had his full attention. It was plain by now that Aldarion was far from being a captive, but his companion at least obviously thought him innocent of complicity with the lameleg's plans and indeed saw fit to warn him: "All I can really say is to be on guard."

Having heard so much, Coldan could keep still no longer. He had to have a word with Aldarion himself - preferably alone. Groping around in the grass for something to throw, his hand found a fallen nut from a nearby tree; he picked it up and flung it at Aldarion's skull precisely and hard enough to make the playwright cry "Ouch!" and turn in indignation towards him.
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Old 06-10-2011, 11:17 AM   #316
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The common room was packed. Thiliel saw many familiar faces among the guests - many customers came every day, or almost every day. Rollan was sitting near the bar, looking grim. Sereth went by once or twice. Thiliel thought she saw another actor come in, but she could not remember his name.

It seems that everyone is served, Thiliel thought tiredly. She packed a supper tray for Celebrindal, like Rollan asked her to. Looking around for Ingold, she saw him coming out of the hallway. She came over to him.

"Uncle, I am going to the wagons for a short while, I need to bring Mistress Celebrindal her supper," she said.

"Go, then, lass," he replied. "But why? I thought she could walk with her crutches," he continued with a slight frown.

"I know not, but she did not come here, and Master Rollan - her husband - asked me to bring her some food."

"That is curious. But it is not one of my cares, and I shouldn't be prying. Go now. I just want you to be careful. One of the troop's men does not look good to me. The one who looks like an Easterling."

"He seems nice enough, uncle," Thiliel objected. She was greatful to that man for not tying her up in a wagon.

"He seems to be nice and goodwilling, lass, but that does not mean he is. Not all men are honest. Did you not see him yesterday with that other actor, the one with the blade? It was lucky that they did not come to using their weapons inside. I know those Easterlings," said Ingold, pointing to a battle scar on his forearm.

"As you say, Uncle. I'll be careful," Thiliel agreed, though half-heartedly. She took the tray from where she left it and went outside. She smiled slightly to herself, knowing that by this time Coldan would be gone to save the playwright from the double-faced Lord Sador, and that she has no one to be wary about.

Was Coldan double-faced as well? Was he trying to befriend, while secretly aiming at another purpose? Yet he was so sincere, so truthful, when Thiliel heard him talk. So was Lord Sador. He was as charming as one could be to all around him, but he is in a plot against the Players. But how can one speak so sincerely, and lie? He is an actor. He acts. He acts on stage, but he is like any other person the rest of the time. He is also an Easterling. No good can come from this people. But he only looks like one. Inside he is as good as any man of Gondor.

Thiliel was coming close to the carts. If it wasn't for Coldan, she would probably be lying in a dark corner of one of them, unable to move or make a sound. Wasn't Asta's solution the surest way to make her keep her ilence? She shivered. No, he is a friend. A true friend.

Thiliel only found her way because she has been to Celebrindal's wagon a few times before. Clouds, threatening to rain, blocked the stars and the moonlight. It was so dark that she could hardly see the outlines of the carts, forget about telling one from another. She knocked tentatively and said, "Mistress Celebrindal? It is Thiliel. I have supper for you."

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Old 06-10-2011, 09:51 PM   #317
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Aldarion grabbed the back of his head. "Ouch!" he said quietly yet fiercely as he turned round, prepared to scold whatever youth it was that had thought it appropriate to hurl things at his head. But to his surprise, straight in front of him on the other side of a bush stood Coldan, his face clear in the light streaming through the nearest window.

"Get down!" hissed Aldarion immediately, gesturing emphatically with one hand while finding Gloredhel's shoulder with the other. Swiftly Aldarion drew her forward to his side and pulled her with him over to the bush behind which Coldan was now crouching somewhat, but still plainly visible.

"I said get down, Coldan!" whispered Aldarion, but rather than looking at his fellow player he instead turned towards Gloredhel as he spoke. Having already understood his intentions, Gloredhel also turned towards Aldarion and grasped his hand for good measure. To an outside observer, it looked every bit as if Aldarion and Gloredhel were deep in private conversation.

"Stay hidden and speak softly," murmured Aldarion as he smiled at Gloredhel. "Sador mustn't discover you're here. Now- why are you here, and how many of you came?"
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Old 06-11-2011, 06:38 AM   #318
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Asta paused in her relentless pacing.

"What can be keeping him? Harry, there's something wrong!" She glared at the mansion, lair of villainy that it was. "I believe– I believe those fiends have captured him too!"

She should never have let Coldan go into danger alone. It was not as if he had any common sense– no-one in the Company did, save herself, of course. And now Sador and his crew of miscreants had him! Perhaps they had started to torture him even now. A hand of ice seemed to be tightening its grip around her heart.

"Now, Asta," said Harrenon uneasily, "you're not going to do anything... rash, are you? Please?"
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Old 06-11-2011, 07:22 AM   #319
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Coldan had had to get up in order to hit Aldarion's head with the nut, but it wouldn't have taken the playwright's urgent hiss to make him drop down again behind his bush as soon as he was sure he had Aldarion's attention. He wasn't quite as daft as Aldarion seemed to think, and although it irked him to talk to the man while grovelling on the ground, he could put up with it for the sake of secrecy.

At least Aldarion's reaction had made it clear that whatever he was doing here, he wasn't in league with Sador, which was a great relief. He also obviously thought the woman with him - the lady from Dol Amroth? - could be trusted, and from the way she had spoken about Sador earlier, Coldan was inclined to agree with his judgement (not that he had much of another choice).

"Harry and Asta are vaiting for me in ze street", he whispered in answer to Aldarion's question. "Ve hev come to rescue you, zinking you had been kidnapped, but apparently ve hev been mistaken. Ze others don't know ve're here, zey're still down at ze inn - at least Brinn and Rollan, Amdír and Sereth; I heven't seen Branor today, or Therian either." He couldn't quite keep an edge of sarcastic reproach out of his voice as he continued: "I might as vell ask you vat you are doing here, amusing yourself at a party in ze Sixth Circle vile our time is running out and ze troupe is falling to pieces. Sador zinks you care less zan a straw about us, and I'm beginning to zink he may be right."
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Old 06-11-2011, 09:38 AM   #320
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"So," Aerwen murmured, eager to steer her brother away from the rather disagreeable subject of Aldarion's moral qualities, as well as to dismiss the uncomfortable thought that had imposed itself upon her vision, "what parts are you planning to apportion for this new Celebrindal of yours? And...to whom?"

"I'm surprised you have to ask," Sador replied dismissively. "The title character, the immaculate princess, Idril of ancient Gondoline, will be played by..."

"...the dainty and perfect Lady Gloredhel," Aerwen filled in, rolling her eyes a bit. "And then of her two suitors, obviously, the sly and insinuating high born noble, her kinsman, and the great-hearted, upstanding outsider, a hero of Men, will be played by yourself and Aldarion..."

"Well, yes..."

"Respectively..."

"No!" Sador cut in cheerfully. "That is my presence of mind, you see; not respectively, at all. For this evening, sister, my golden locks shall eclipse my...unreliable...gait. I shall make the player take Maeglin," he explained with satisfaction, "After all, he first made his name with a villainous part, and he can continue that way...while I show my quality as the valiant..."

"Yes, yes, very well, I understand. And Circilie? Didn't she say she wanted a comic role?"

"Conveniently enough, I have just such a one...Salgant of the Harps, a part I've swelled specially with bawdy songs and low wit..."

"And," Aerwen muttered, lowering her voice and blushing more strongly than the night could let on, "myself?"

"Don't trouble yourself at all, sister. I know how shy you are in company, and I have made no arrangements to further disturb your evening. Ah, that will be the dinner gong."

One of Lady Ecsichil's strongest - perhaps only? - beliefs was in the virtues of punctuality; and her predominant skill was in the orchestration of eating on a grand scale. These two qualities combined to make the sounding of her dinner gong an affair both impressive and precise; an enormous embossed iron shield, wholly impractical for use in war, was struck by a hammer that required two able bodied servants. The echo resonated with mighty efficiency, only gaining strength as it ricocheted around the branches and hedges of the garden. Sador nodded quickly at the sound of it, and said "Let's get into place. I've arranged for you to be on Aldarion's table, so I hope you aren't bored of him yet." Then he hauled himself awkwardly back over and through the Fornost window.

Aerwen followed him a couple of paces behind. She was smarting at her brother's insensitivity in failing to know her better, to offer her an artistic as well as mechanical role in the evening. But she was also, against her better judgement, a little frightened. The more she tried to dismiss it, the more she was certain the squat, furtive shadow in the corner of her eye had been a man - and she would swear, too, he had been no servant to Dol Amroth or Burlach.
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