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Old 05-22-2006, 08:30 AM   #321
Nogrod
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They had come to Edoras because of the horse fair. There was always work for carpenters in fairs like this. Stigend had soon been enlisted to the workforce and had been building different stages, fencings, pens and the like for three long and laborous days with all the other hired hands. His wife Modtryth had made it to the workforce too – despite her outlook - preparing the canopies and serving as a general maid preparing food, taking care of the children and so on. Their 8-year old boy Cnebba had had the time of his life with so many other children around, running amok as their hired-hand parents had too much work to do to watch after them.

So Stigend was a carpenter, son of a carpenter. That’s the way it goes. Though he had rebelled against his family and the afore-laid career already in youth, enlisting to the local Men-of-Arms at the age of 16. But he never got used to the discipline of an armed militia or the hierarchical system involved. So he had returned and taken willfully to adopting his father’s trade. His second and the more serious rebel against his family concerned his marriage with Modtryth. “There will be no Dunleding blood in our family! Not a half-Dunleding, not fourth, not eighth, not any! You just realize that! And behave like a decent Rohanian! There are fine ladies to marry out there, and you come up with this Dunleding-monster!”, his father had bellowed to him, as he had told about his intentions to engage with Modtryth, a half-Dunleding.

They had tried to live in peace in their community as an odd pair for several years, raising their firstborn and getting some income from temporary carpentery and maiding. But it had been hard, sometimes unbearable because of the insults and the general scorn, not to mention the actual offences. When Modtryth’s mother accidentally died, they lost their last actual tie to the village they lived in and decided to hit the road. After that they had wandered around the countryside, taking a temporary post here and there. That kind of life had now lasted almost four years to date.

After the horse fair was over, and the workers were pulling down the constructions of the fair, Stigend was approached by one of the fair’s organizers, a man called Rumstan. His friend, a somewhat renowned Sir Byrthold needed a few handy carpenters to build an extention to his house as his stature was climbing up. Stigend was happy to have been picked from the lot, but also weary of having to serve yet another Lord or Sir or something. There was use for the money, but these “better people” just gave him the shivers. They were the ones who didn’t accept other kind of people and who despised ones like his son and wife. To his eyes, they seemed all to think that only strawhaired and blue-eyed people were humans to begin with. And only his sons piercing dark-brown eyes had led to contempt so many times already on different places they had lived in. Anyway, he accepted the offer because of the money involved – these “Sirs” could afford a nice pay if the work was well done.

By the time Stigend was working at Byrthold’s house, both he and Modtryth heard about the local Mead Hall being under renovation. “Think about it. That, if something, would be our chance to get a place - a good place actually - to stay and work in.”, Modtryth had remarked to him the day she had heard of the renovation. She had given him a sharp look and added: "For a bit longer while this time, maybe. You should really try to apply there."

“Those are those fancy folks living in a Mead Hall. You know them! I don’t think they will look at us too kindly there either. Remeber that Dunleding incident at the fair? What would they think of you, or Cnebba? You know the ways of these better people...”. Stigend hadn’t exactly tried to hide the poignancy of his words.

His wife had looked at him and raised an eyebrow. "Nevertheless you should try to apply. You know I've managed with those lordly swines all my life. Funny, one could imagine you were the one with a Dunlending background" she had commented. As Stigend had opened his mouth to say something, she had continued: "As to Cnebba... You can't protect him from despise all his life. He has to learn to deal with it, as I have learned. And besides, not all rohirrim are like that. I believe they will treat our little darling well. If they don't, well, we'll deal with it... This is our chance. It is unlikely that we get another as good an opportunity very soon"

“But why not to try somewhere out of the sight of these pompous lords? Edoras is swarming with them! We should try and find a community to live in – not once again hiring ourselves to some lord who doesn’t care about us as humans but only as work provided!”, he tried to argue his wife for his case not to apply to the Mead Hall.

And this way they had gone to and fro with the discussion or argument, it depends on how you look at it. In the end Modtryth had gotten her will. She had managed also to force Stigend asking lord Byrthold for a letter of recommendation for him.

Sir Byrthold was a busy man and seemed somewhat annoyed by Stigend’s request for an audience. But then again, he had been happy with the effectiveness of these three carpenters his friend Rumstan had hired him, and the quality of the work had delighted him. So he allowed Stigend in. “A recommendation? What for, may I ask?” he had asked wryly from a bit trembling Stigend as he had come forwards with his cause. “For the Mead Hall you say... So you would like to work there?” Surely lord Eodwine had grown in stature, and it could be counted on Byrthold’s credit if he would in this way help Eodwine to get good workers enlisted. But Byrthold had also heard rumours about this man’s wife and child. Well, Eodwine is one of those stranger-lovers, he might even appreciate this. And if some of my friends come asking about my recommendation, I could always say, that I gave it to this decent Rohanian chap only – maybe I didn’t even know about his wife and the child..., Byrthold thought to himself and happily made his signature to a paper that was then to be filled by his clerk.

That evening Stigend and Modtryth embraced each other warmly the first time for a long time. Not that they were not getting along together, but there just hadn’t been that spark about them for a long time. Now everything looked somewhat promising. Although all was still open and Stigend had his doubts – as always. The next day could decide very much of their future.

But there is that court tomorrow... Will that high lord have time for our kind of people at all? I hope Modtryth is right in her hunch that this lord Eodwine is better than most of these lords and sirs. With these thoughts Stigend closed his eyes and immediately fell asleep.

Last edited by Nogrod; 05-22-2006 at 08:47 AM.
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Old 05-22-2006, 08:32 AM   #322
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”Come on, Cnebba! We don’t have the whole day to waste! Your dad’s going to apply for a job to day and we’d better be there before noon. Hurry up now!” Modtryth shouted to her son who was examining a bug he had found from the roadside. Cnebba pulled a face at his mother and hastened to his parents’ side. Modtryth had lifted him to the wagon and took the reins of the horse. Her husband Stigend, who usually led the horse looked a bit surprised, but said nothing and began to walk beside the wagon. The boy immediately started questioning his father about bugs’ life. “What do they eat? Where do they sleep? What do they dream of? Why do they have shells?”

Modtryth was amused to watch the two strawheads very like in appearance, her husband and her son, side by side, the smaller one babbling all the time and the bigger one trying to answer the flood of questions a bit absent-mindedly. Stigend seemed a bit worried as he walked beside the wagon. Modtryth didn’t know if he was still agonising over how his family would be treated or whether he had moved on to agonising would he get the job or not. Modtryth, on the contrary, was confident. She knew her husband would get the place, especially since he had the recommendations from Lord Byrthold. Furthermore she knew that however arrogantly they would be treated, they could deal with it.

Prejudices. Modtryth herself had dealt with them all her life. Her dark brown hair, brown eyes and complexion that was darker than most of the Rohirrim’s had gathered ignorant, unfriendly, despising and even hostile glances wherever she had went in Rohan, her homeland. And all that only because she had happened to have a Dunlending mother.

As they passed by a crossing, Modtryth noticed a couple she had worked with in the Horse Fair. They were talking with a merchant, apparently negotiating about the price of a kettle they were about to buy. The woman noticed Modtryth and waved to her, smiling. Modtryth waved back and continued her way to the Mead Hall.

That couple, like so many other people before them, had first despised Modtryth and tried to avoid her, but in the end their prejudices had been won by Modtryth’s fluent rohirric – her mother tongue, her apparent friendly and humble bahaviour and her diligence. She was sure that if the people in Lord Eodwine’s Mead Hall would give her a chance, she would prove their possible prejudices wrong. It was not herself she was worried about.

It was little Cnebba, with his huge brown eyes and the ability to get involved in everything he should not that worried Modtryth. The boy had showed his tendency to get into trouble during the years. Furthermore, his curiosity and his endless hunger for knowledge could be able to make the things even worse.

Her thoughts were interrupted by Cnebba’s question. “Is it that big building over there?”
“Yes”, Stigend replied and thereby volunteered to be the target of the question flood.
“Why does it look broken?”
“It’s under renovation. That’s why we’re going there. We’re going to help to fix it.

As they reached the Mead Hall, they saw lots of people outside the building. “Why are they all here?” Cnebba asked. Modtryth and Stigend glanced at each other.
“Because Lord Eodwine is holding a court today, dear”, Modtryth said, taking the turn to answer.
“Why is he holding a court?”
Modtryth sighed. “That’s what lords do”, she said simply.
“The people need justice”, Stigend added. Modtryth catched a trace of sarcasm in his voice. Maybe he was referring to the Dunlending incident in the Fair.
“Why do they need justice?” Cnebba asked.
“So that criminals would be punished” Modtryth answered, at length. She felt a bit uncomfortable with the discussion so she decided to change the topic and turned to her husband: “Now we just need to find a place for our horse and our wagons.”
“Easier said than done”, said Stigend.
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Old 05-22-2006, 05:35 PM   #323
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As Léof made his way to the hall, he realized something that made all thoughts of Æðel and his horse fly out of his mind: he should have told Eodwine something about his situation, or at least something about his sister. He intended to bring her here eventually, after all, and Léof began to feel that he had never been completely honest with Eodwine. Eodwine had never asked, and so Léof had never lied, but it still didn’t feel quite right. The story would have to come out eventually; why had he never thought to explain?

The answer came to him immediately: the opportunity had never really come. That first week he had been so concerned with adjusting himself and proving himself that the thought of actually talking to Eodwine had never really crossed his mind, and after that, half the hall had been gone in the search for Linduial. And now there was no time. Léof quailed at the thought of everyone hearing his tale; he wanted this to be between himself and those few he chose to tell or who ought to know. And Gárwine – how would it be for him to hear it like that that Léof had not only not told him the truth, but lied to him – or at least led him to believe something other than the truth?

You messed it up pretty well this time, he told himself as he took his place. And now he had no idea what he ought to do, or what he would do.
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Old 05-22-2006, 09:42 PM   #324
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The past three weeks, Gárwine had remained at the mead hall while the others had left to rescue Linduial. He was disappointed not to join them on their adventure, but Lord Eodwine's decision was sound: the mead hall needed a good guard to stand at watch while the lord was away. But still, Garwine couldn't help but feel a mix of admiration and jealousy when Linduial's rescuers had triumphantly returned to the mead hall. But staying at the mead hall did let Gárwine watch Náin begin his work on Falco's statue. And Lys was recovering from his injuries. Manawyth had gotten himself into some sort of trouble with the law, as Gárwine had expected would eventually happen.

Gárwine woke up that morning with Eodwine's court on his mind. Today was the first day Lord Eodwine would hold his court, and people from all across the Middle Emnet would soon be arriving with their complaints and requests. Gárwine was most eager to see Manawyth's trial. The Dunlending had stolen a horse during the fair and had been caught by a Rider of the Mark. It's about time he was caught for something, Gárwine thought as he climbed out of bed, I knew Lord Eodwine had made a mistake letting him dwell here ever since I first laid eyes on the waelsman. Gárwine now started dressing in his finest clothes. The Dunlending will finally get what he's been asking for today.

Gárwine reached under his bed to retrieve his chain-mail and helm. It was of poor quality, but Gárwine threw a green cloak around his shoulders to hide his armor's imperfections. He buckled his sword belt and reached for his shield leaning against the wall. Gárwine examined it in his hands and frowned. The green paint on his shield was chipped and flaking. He would just have to deal with it. There was no time for him to go find green paint, wherever it might've been hidden in the mead hall.

He sighed and left his room, pulling his cloak around his arm to hide a particularly bare patch on the shield. It was no use, so he just let the cloak drop. What am I, one of the Queen's Men?

He entered the Great Hall and took his place. He stood where he wouldn't gain too many looks, but just enough to remind people that this Eorl had manpower should anything get out of hand. Gárwine could see through the open doors that people already had gathered in the courtyard, eager to get to the Eorl first. He craned his neck to see if Manawyth was in the crowd. What a sight it would be to see Manawyth bound and begging for mercy before Lord Eodwine's throne!
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Old 05-23-2006, 12:15 AM   #325
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Náin had taken his breakfast in the partially finished new kitchen, as had quite a few members of the Mead Hall's household, for the Great Hall was abustle even at that early hour with preparations for the Court.

The Dwarven sculptor was still rather uncomfortable talking one on one with most human women, especially those he didn't know, but three weeks of living in Edoras had made being around humans, of both genders, fairly normal seeming. He rather missed Erebor, where he had been accounted one of the taller ones of his people, but even among the tall Rohirrim he wasn't a Dwarf easily pushed around.

So he ate his impressively large (though not QUITE so large as the Hobbit, Falco's) breakfast in silence, sitting in a corner of the kitchen and Kara and Frodides saw to the feeding of the household, and people came and went fetching and eating food. Following a leisurely after-breakfast drink, Náin departed for the Great Hall with just enough time to beat the start of the proceedings.

He quickly found himself a good spot to watch with several of the Hall's retainers- people he knew, at least somewhat. Náin was not the sort to go stand with strangers when friends were about.

"Excuse me," he pushed his way to the front, "too short to see over your overgrown heads." A smile or two from the Men, and he was there.

Lighting his pipe, Náin made himself comfortable. He was here for the spectacle, there was no doubt about that. Present as a matter of courtesy between the Kings of Rohan and Erebor, he had no position to maintain or acquire.

Falco's statue, he thought to himself, was definitely not going to be finished today.

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Old 05-23-2006, 09:37 PM   #326
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All of Eodwine's household had gathered and found their places. He looked from one to the other, greeting each with a kind look, but a searching one as well. What were they thinking?

Garstan and his children smiled back openly. Garstan was now a friend as well as retainer, after the affair with Linduial. Eodwine had sworn to protect Garstan with his life, but it had been Garstan who had thrown himself in the way of an errant, or perhaps not so errant, dagger, and had taken the wound meant for Eodwine's heart, in his own arm. A good man, Garstan.

There was Léof. Eodwine smiled and greeted him silently. The boy gave him back a fitful smile that fled as quickly as it had come, as if he was fearful. Eodwine hoped that he did not fear for his role as ostler.

Saeryn smiled at him when their eyes met. He smiled quickly back. She was lovely as ever, calm and cool now, seeming happy with the return of her brother. He wondered how she would react to the words he planned for her this day.

Garwine looked stolid as ever, and greeted Eodwine with a respectful nod of his head. Garwine's eyes kept slipping outside to the courtyard. Eodwine followed his glance, and saw the two Meduseld guards between whom was held Manawyth, who had been recaptured after his foolish attempt to escape prison. He had been alone in a dungeon deep beneath Meduseld for two weeks now. Eodwine didn't want dungeons beneath his mead hall. But that was beside the point. He had never had a chance to properly question Manawyth, and wished that he had. He hoped things would not go ill.

Thornden, by his side, seemed a little nervous. Linduial, Farahil, and Marenil had come as well, to see no doubt how such things were done in Rohan. There was Æðelhild, hard to read these days. Eodwine missed that horse dealer and his son and nephew, and wondered what had become of them. Falco Boffin and Naín had managed to sit next to each other, and had seemed to fall into a rather buoyant friendship while Eodwine had been away. Just as well, and no doubt it had just as much to do with the ale cup and pipe as with that statue.

Eodwine nodded to Thornden, who nodded in turn to Garwine, who opened the doors. The crowd that had been waiting in the courtyard, came into the mead hall, filling the place quickly; Eodwine feared that maybe he had designed it big enough after all! The crowd was not silent. Folk talked with each other, gawking at the mead hall's interior, pointing and commenting about this and that. One thing that seemed to draw much attention was the old sign of the White Horse Inn that he had had mounted just below the rafters of the mead hall, off toward the eastern wall. He had wanted that kept, in order for one to honor Bethberry, for another because it was after all a white horse, and the symbol of Rohan was no bad thing. I really must give thought to an insignia for myself, Eodwine thought. He rose. The crowd quieted.

"Good morning to you all! Welcome to the Eorling Mead Hall. I am Eorl Eodwine of the Middle Emnet, and you have come to my first court-holding. I thank you for coming. What first just be done is that those who have sought places in my household will be told their fate after a month's trial.

"The first such one is Garwine."

Eodwine sat down.

"Garwine, come forward," said Thornden.

Garwine walked into the clearing before Eodwine's raised seat and nodded to his lord.

"Garwine, what think you of service to me? How have you fared?"

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Old 05-27-2006, 02:22 PM   #327
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The crowds were milling about the Mead Hall. The proceedings had clearly started already as the main entrance was packed with people, all trying to get their peak inside. Stigend was wondering whether even Meduseld could have housed such a host of friends, relatives and wellwishers to anyone addressing their case in front of the Eorl – not to talk of all the traders and dealers who always appeared when a large enough gathering took place somewhere.

“Hey, you there! Move along, move along! We don’t have the whole day!”. A man called them from behind. Stigend turned to meet the caller. There was a a big wagon, pulled by two horses behind them, trying to make way towards the Mead Hall. Stigend greeted the driver by waving his hand and turned back to Modtryth.

“Ok, we are blocking the road and need to move. We’ll turn ourselves over there.”, Stigend said to her, pointing to their left. There were some small shrubberies on a grassy area that was not so crowded as the immediate surroundings of the main entrance.

“And you lad, you’ll stay right there where you are!”, he turned to Cnebba, pushing him gently but firmly back to the cart from where he was already on his way out of. “No tricks this time”, he added, smiling lightly to the boy. “But why can’t I go and play with the others?”, Cnebba protested. In return Stigend only patted his head, “You just wait...”, he said and took the reins. The man behind them with the wagon looked impatient enough and Stigend wanted no trouble now with anyone.

“Mummy, you let me go? Pleea-se, Mummy? I won’t go far.” Cnebba pleaded her mother in turn as his father seemed busy steering the horse amidst groups of people who had settled on the lawn, waiting for their familymembers or friends cases to be brought up in the court. “You heard your father dear”, Modryth answered him patiently. “And if your father gets work from here, you may play here everyday! Just wait now”, she said to her son, smiling openly and quickly glancing at her husband. Stigend had heard what she had said, but didn’t show any reaction to it.

“But that’s different, Mummy! It’s those other days then, they are not today!”, Cnebba tried to argue, but to no avail. “This is unfair”, he muttered.

Stigend reached a spot he thought good enough for waiting the whole long day for the proceedings to be over and halted the horse. Then he turned towards the sulking boy and raised him from the cart. Holding Cnebba high in the air he told him: “That the rich man has everything and the poor has nothing. That’s unfair. That a good man may die young and a bad man may live a long life. That’s unfair. There is nothing unfair in you not being allowed to get in trouble here with all these people.” With that he released his grip on Cnebba and let him fall, catching him just before his feet touched the ground. Even though Cnebba was already eight, this was still one of his favourites. “One more Daddy!”, Cnebba begged still laughing. And the laughter went up as he was hurled into the air again.

After two more throws and more laughter Stigend let Cnebba down and crouched to meet his eyes. “Do you see that big elm there?”, he said, pointing to a large elm some thirty yards away from them. “If you promise, you won’t go anywhere else, you may go and play in it”. Cnebba’s eyes shined from eagerness and Stigend really had to hold him firmly from the shoulders to make him listen the last thing he wanted to say: “And remember, if there is someone who teases you, you just come back. No scuffles, remember!”. As he loosend his hold Cnebba was already running towards the elm. “You promise!”, Stigend shouted after him. “Ye-ye!”, he answered, not even turning his head back as he ran.

“Now, whose the one again spoiling our son?”, Modryth asked prankingly. Stigend rolled his head and smiled back: “Well, less questions for a while. And this will be a long day anyhow.”

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Old 05-27-2006, 05:27 PM   #328
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Gárwine felt drops of sweat burst upon the back of his neck when he heard Eodwine call his name. He walked into the clearing in front of the Eorl's throne. Despite the heat inside, he unconsciously pulled his green cloak more snugly around him. He glanced at all the people surrounding him once, and then bowed his head to Lord Eodwine.

"Garwine, what think you of service to me?" said Eodwine from his kingly chair, "How have you fared?"

"I have fared well, my lord," Gárwine began, choosing his words carefully. He was off to a safe start. "I have a new home here at your mead hall. I thank you for the hospitality you have shown me and the others who have came here." He bowed gingerly.

"As to being a man-at-arms, I feel that I have fulfilled the post suffieciently. I have carefully watched the comings and goings of travelers, and made sure that no harm comes to this hall. And while you were absent from the hall, searching for the kidnapped Lady Linduial, I kept an especially watchful eye over this hall's visitors. There is nothing more important to me, my lord, than the safety of your hall during your absences."

He glanced up at Lord Eodwine for a moment, but couldn't make out what expression he wore in that brief instant. Gárwine turned his eyes back towards the floor.

"Every day during those three weeks I walked the hallways with my sword and spear," he continued. "Though there were few threats, I still guarded the hall diligently." Gárwine glanced again at Lord Eodwine. "Pray judge me fairly, lord," he muttered, awaiting what he would have to say.
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Old 05-27-2006, 08:00 PM   #329
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Eodwine remembered when he had been in such a position as Gárwine was in, before him, now. He sympathized.

"Pray judge me fairly, lord."

Eodwine did not leave the poor fellow in suspense longer than a moment.

"Gárwine, you have been a good man at arms for my mead hall. I have no complaints. Far from it! You have served me well and diligently. So Marenil has told me. He is most grateful for your aid while I was away. If you will stay with me, I will call you my man for a year and a day, as custom dictates. As that custom further dictates, after that year and a day have come and gone, you and I will sit together and decide once and for all if you will be my man for life. Until then, you shall be my man at arms, and shall rank just below Thornden as more men at arms come to the Eorling Mead Hall. Will you be my man for a year and a day?"

Gárwine's eyes shone with his pleasure at the good review. "I will, lord! I am honored!"

Eodwine smiled. "The day I have devised an ensign for my standing as Eorl, you shall wear it. Stand down of your good will, Gárwine, and be pleased to return to your post."

"With pleasure, lord!" Gárwine bowed and sauntered spiritedly to his position at the Eorling Mead Hall door.

"Next," said Eodwine, I call Kara!"

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Old 05-28-2006, 05:08 AM   #330
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Kara stepped forward, nervous but hopeful. Gárwine had received kind and encouraging words, she only hoped she had done well enough to be deserving of the same.

Eodwine repeated his question, asking her how she thought she had fared. Taking a moment to collect herself, Kara answered truthfully.

"At first my Lord I did not fare so well. The accident that caused Frodides' injury meant that I had no kitchen and no teacher. However, the kindness that was shown by you Lord in allowing Frodides to stay here even though she could not work, and by others in not minding when food was late or not as good as they are used to made me feel welcome, and I knew I was in a good place."

Kara paused to smile up at Eodwine, wanting him to know that she believed what she was saying.

"My cooking is much improved now, even Frodides said no one would know the difference if she were to leave tomorrow, and that is great praise! With a kitchen to work in again I can only hope it will improve further."

She stopped, unsure if she should say anything more. Over the last month she had noted that Eodwine was a man who preferred plain speech that came to the point when it was about something important, and Kara at least felt that this was important. Deciding against it she turned her eyes downward, awaiting his answer.
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Old 05-28-2006, 09:09 PM   #331
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Eodwine listened to Kara, trying very hard not to betray how much he wanted her to feel welcome and confident. If one is to play the part of an eorl, one must withhold judgement, at least in seeming. So he said to himself, but he wasn't sure if it rang true, nor if he could achieve such a goal. When Kara had finished speaking, he was greatly pleased with her words, for she had spoken in a way that he tried to speak to others. She was looking down, waiting for his words.

"Frodides has told me the same of you, Kara, that your skills of the board have vastly improved since you first came to us, and you were no mean cook then. There is a problem, however."

Kara looked up then, worriting in her eyes and a sudden down turn on her lips.

"Frodides wishes to stay on, you see."

Kara swallowed. Her fear was obvious, that the Mead Hall needed but one cook.

"Nevertheless, Frodides has told me that though she wishes to stay on for now, she says that she wishes to only if she can have you as apprentice. For though she knows that you have learned much, there is much more she wishes to teach you. And I would have your learn these things."

By now Kara's frown had disappeared and her eyes had lit up, and she seemed eager.

"I ask you, Kara, will you agree to an apprenticeship of a year and a day under the tutelage of Frodides?"

Kara looked to Frodides, who was smiling and nodding, seemingly quite happy with herself and the prospect of having Kara as her student.

Kara smiled. "I have told you already, lord, that this is a good place. I do not wish to leave."

Eodwine smiled warmly, for he liked Kara well. There were things about her that reminded him of the daughter he had lost, or of how he imagined she might have turned out had she lived.

"Then you shall stay."

"Thank you, lord!" Kara smiled.

"I called you so early that you and Frodides could be excused to your work in the kitchens. Off with you! We shall be wanting good food after this hungry work." Eodwine grinned and winked.

Kara grinned as she scurried off to the kitchen, Frodides limping after.

"Next, I call Léof!" Eodwine said. The lad came forward, barely limping at all anymore on his hoof-stomped right foot, and stood before Eodwine.

"You know my questions, Léof, but I will repeat them. What think you of service to me? How have you fared?"
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Old 05-29-2006, 09:48 AM   #332
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Léof stepped forward nervously, but not because he feared Eodwine would send him away. He knew what he was going to do.

“You know my questions, Léof, but I will repeat them. What think you of service to me? How have you fared?”

“I have fared well, my lord, working here. I did not know what to expect when I came to Edoras; for a while it seemed I would not find work at all, but you gave me a chance, and I have done my best to prove the chance was not ill-given.” That was right; Eodwine had given him a chance, and it had been without inquiries to his circumstances. Why should that matter any more now, after Léof had proven himself? “I have worked hard and done my best to fulfill my duties. I would be honored to continue serving as your ostler.” And that was all. Let Eodwine judge him for what he had done, and not what his father had done to him. The question of his sister coming was a separate issue; he would bring it up with Eodwine when the time came. Besides, he owed it to Gárwine for him not to find out in so blunt a way that Léof had practically lied to him before they even really knew each other. Léof did not care to lose what seemed to be his only good friend in this place (with Æðel and him not talking) in such a way. Having so justified his decision, Léof was able to meet Eodwine’s gaze openly and without fear.
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Old 05-29-2006, 10:11 AM   #333
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Now this was interesting. Eodwine was sure that he had seen Léof looking very nervous when he had first come into the Hall. Now the lad had spoken plainly and clearly, and with a good bit of confidence. Eodwine was actually impressed. He watched Léof measuringly for another moment or two, and did not see so much as an ill at ease shifting of foot to foot; the lad looked at him, eye to eye, simply awaiting the Eorl's response. Eodwine allowed a slow smile.

"Léof, you have done well as ostler. I have just one complaint."

The crowd murmured at that, for so far Eodwine had said no ill thing to the others. He waited for the murmurs to die down, every eye turned to him, waiting for the possibly fatal words.

"It is the matter of your foot. Not that you had an injury, for that could happen to any good ostler with a terrified horse or two to mind. No, it was your refusal to have it cared for. I do not know what passed through your mind to be so mulish about it, but as you know, I overruled you and forced your foot to be looked at, minded, and we hope, healed.

"So I ask you, not only if you will submit to my orders and rulings as they are given, but will you also submit to the rulings of those in whom I place my authority? What is your answer?"
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Old 05-29-2006, 10:40 AM   #334
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Of course that would come up. His confidence wavered visibly as a multitude of thoughts passed through his mind in the space of a few seconds. Certainly this was a reasonable request, and Léof could not say it was surprising, either, although the thought had never occurred to him. But his pride – in the house of his father, rebellion had come as second nature to him; he was used to looking out for himself, although of course Eodwine had no knowledge of this, close-mouthed as he had been. Eodwine’s word, he had accepted as the rule when he had come here asking for work; but to place himself in submission to still more people…

You are foolish, considering your mule-headed pride at a time like this. Would you have Eodwine send you away because of your pride? Surely you would be able to walk away with your head held high, you and your foolish pride!

But still… having to listen, if they thought they knew what was best for him - Thornden, Garwine, Æðel... Léof wondered if Eodwine knew just how much he asked of him.

He raised his gaze from the ground to meet Eodwine’s once more. He hesitated, then nodded slowly and spoke clearly. “It is no easy thing for me to say, but, yes, I will.”
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Old 05-29-2006, 06:48 PM   #335
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Eodwine did not know fully why, but he felt pity rise up within him. He would never tell this to Léof, who desired no man's pity, but Eodwine perceived an unnamed need in the lad. He knew that he had asked an open ended question, and that by answering it in its fullness, Léof was saying much. Now that he had so spoken, Eodwine spoke carefully in return.

"Léofric, you shall remain my ostler. Only one man's authority stands at all times between mine and you, that of my steward. All others will have no call to give you command unless I say so. Thus it shall be for a year and a day, if you choose to remain as you have been this past month. Would you?"

Léof's face had cleared as he listened to Eodwine's words. Though he could read no minds, Eodwine could tell well enough that the lad was glad to be under only one other in Eodwine's Hall.

"I accept your terms, Eorl," Léof responded.

"It is well, Léofric. You may stand down.

"Next, I call Saeryn of the Folde!"

Saeryn looked suddenly at Eodwine in confusion, for they both knew that she was a guest in his Hall and no laborer except by choice. She slowly rose in her confusion.

Eodwine stood and stepped down from the dais. He faced her as she stepped out of the gathered crowd and approached him. By instinct, she took a place opposite and facing him so that his dais and chair could be seen between them by Gárwine who stood by the door.

Eodwine smiled, knowing his purpose, and allowed his smile to broaden ever so slightly, for he intended to enjoy the speaking of it.

"Lady Saeryn, I stand before you as an equal, for you are wellborn. You are my guest, and up until today have been under no obligation to me except what you have chosen."

He had piqued her curiosity; it was all over his face. He allowed a glance to the one called Farahil, who was watching intently. Degas looked quite curious as well.

"Today is a different day," Eodwine declared. "And so I ask you, Lady Saeryn, if you will consent-" Eodwine paused, allowing a murmur to run like a trickle through the gathered crowd before quieting. "-to be the Lady of this Hall-" The murmurs of the crowd flowed like a stream gathering speed. Saeryn's eyes had widened and her mouth had parted. "-until at least one of us should marry?" Stunned silence. Eodwine could feel the eyes of all upon him. He was enjoying it. He could see in his peripheral vision the confoundment of Degas and the astonishment in Farahil. Was that a little bit of outrage, too? He kept a small smile on his face, watching Saeryn carefully.

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Old 05-31-2006, 10:13 PM   #336
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Saeryn's eyes locked with Eodwine's and the Hall around them disappeared. As she processed his request, she looked at him in wonder, her head slightly tilted, an uncertain half-smile adorning her lips. All eyes were on her as she considered his offer, yet for the first time in a rather long time, she was not uncomfortable with the attention. Though her noble status was not the secret she had once meant it to be, she had not cared to publicize the information. Now, standing in the midst of whispers with Eodwine silently and patiently waiting for a response, Saeryn was too preoccupied to care.

A Lady of the Hall? She had been content with the role of hostess, excited for once to have an opportunity to make a name for herself that was not based upon nobility or appearance, but ability and intellect instead. To be the Lady of the Hall... to be Eodwine's lady, at least in seeming?

Linduial had, upon first arrival, believed Eodwine and Saeryn to be wed. Saeryn had laughed and allowed the thought to relocate itself to memory to be reminisced upon, rather than something to be mulled upon. These days, Saeryn saw Eodwine in a more serious light than she had before Linduial had come, though she had ever been grateful to him. Her first true friend at the Horse, her sworn protector. Her confidante. Saeryn sought ways to pay Eodwine back for his kindnesses, finding solace for the chilling feeling of debts unpayable with long hours of work.

When Eodwine had approached her work ethic with confusion and an air of almost impatience for her reluctance to explain it, Saeryn had been left fully uncertain as to how now she could salve her own guilt-ridden consciousness. Friendship was not a loan, but a gift to be cherished. Oaths were not sworn to indebt those protected. Yet Saeryn felt unworthy and had tried, even as she celebrated Lèof's victory at the Fair, to think of a way to respond to Eodwine's generosity. Such thoughts had not left her even as the rescue of Linduial occurred. She had helped to tend Eodwine's home while he was away with as much care as she could give. She had tended to guests and children and household matters, always with the question of Eodwine's approval in her mind. Would he have done certain things such and such a way? What would he say upon his return? Could she feel, finally, as though she were a needed part of the world she lived in, rather than a silly young woman to be protected, humored, and, at best, talked to at late hours?

Now... now Eodwine had offered her a most wonderful way not only to belong, but to truly help him in a way that, perhaps, no other could.

She smiled now, looking down with a faint blush and curtsying low, glad to have chosen a gown for this day.

"My lord, I am honored accept your gracious offer."
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Old 06-01-2006, 05:40 PM   #337
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Saeryn was taking a while to decide. It was only fair that Eodwine should give her the time she needed, seeing as he'd sprung this on her like a jester-in-the-box. It was no jest and she knew it. The crowd was whispering. Eodwine kept his eyes on Saeryn, not changing the hopeful but not too hopeful smile on his face.

She was taking a long time to decide, but her eyes did not leave his. She was thinking it through. Eodwine resisted the urge to shift his wait. Whispers skittered among the crowd like leaves on a swirling wind.

What if she said 'no'? He fought to maintain his hopeful expression. I would be crushed! He was stunned, but forced himself not to show it. Had she come to mean that much to him? How could it be, she less than half his age? 'Robbing the cradle', they would say, or worse. He had a following question in case she refused: Will you consent, then, to remain my guest and hostess, and ward under my sworn protection until fate takes you elsewhere?' He did not want her to leave, nor to feel as if she should.

Her face began to brighten. Eodwine's pulse raced. She began to smile. She opened her mouth and said 'yes', with a curtsy and words becoming of her station. Eodwine could not help the smile that broadened his face, but he kept himself otherwise in strict control; though he wanted to crush her to him. He bowed to her curtsy.

There were two bronze chains around his neck, one thick and one slim. The thick one had five keys on it, the slim had four. He doffed the slim chain and passed it over Saeryn's head, and draped it over her shoulders. She fingered the keys, which fell to her breastbone, and wore a contented smile.

"As Lady of the Eorling Mead Hall, Saeryn," Eodwine announced, "you have the keys to door, larder, safe, and cellar."

Eodwine turned then to Thornden and nodded in a prearranged sign. Thornden nodded back, then moved Eodwine's chair so that it took up the left half of the dais (as the audience viewed it). Thornden placed a second fur-lined chair next to it.

"As Lady of this Hall, Saeryn, you have authority over all matters of hearth and home, and you have my ear for counsel in all matters concerning my court."

"Is this a betrothal then!? (Ouch! don't hit me!)" shouted somebody from the crowd. The voice sounded familiar to Eodwine but he couldn't place it, nor could he see the speaker. He felt his face redden, and Saeryn's cheeks became pink also though she held her peace. No one else spoke, but every eye was on either Eodwine or Saeryn, waiting for his reply.

"If this were a betrothal, I would have said so," Eodwine said with a slight frown. "Call it an apprenticeship, for it fills a need of mine in this Hall, since I have no family - yet."

"Is it courting then!" asked the same speaker, who quickly followed with "stop hitting me, Harreld!" This time Eodwine saw the speaker. He should have known: it was Garreth the Smith. Eodwine allowed a half smile.

"Garreth, you ever were too loose with your tongue."

"And you, lord Eodwine, were ever saying half as much as you meant!"

Laughter. Eodwine joined in, and Saeryn smiled.

"So is this a-courting?" Garreth asked a second time.

Eodwine did not answer right away. He was generally a careful man, though bold when he chose to be. Something in him - maybe the prospect of Saeryn's youth so much a part of his life - broke back to ogre-may-care, and he decided to go with his gut.

"I will not say," Eodwine began slowly, "that it is not." The crowd erupted in a jumble of noiisy speculation. Eodwine looked to Saeryn, whose eyes had gone wide again. He half expected her to rip the chain of keys from her neck and angrily throw them at him. But she simply stared, open mouthed. He waited to see what she would do or say.
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Old 06-01-2006, 08:15 PM   #338
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Degas had watched the events unfold before him in bafflement. He watched Saeryn's face, looking for the signs of the refusal that he almost hoped she would make. While he very much wanted his sister happy, and he could not deny that this arrangement was one very good for her, and he much liked Eodwine, he could not help but feel a burning sensation working its way from his stomach to his chest, trying to burst forth from him in a potentially violent way.

Is this a courtship? It had most certainly better not be. Forgetting immediately his guilt-stricken desire to avoid the presence of Eodwine, Degas worked his way to the front of the crowd, taking note of Linduial and Farahil, spotting the look of fascination upon Farahil's dark face and the look of excitement on Linduial's light one.

Saeryn deserved to be happy. She deserved a place befitting her station and her reputation must be preserved. Certainly this... this apprenticeship as Eodwine called it... would be an appropriate response to all concerns.

However a courtship... Saeryn was young, only just beginning to explore the world and all of its facets. A bird, only just discovering that her gilded cage had been left unlocked and she was free to fly through open skies. Degas thought of his sister's personality more and decided that she was more of a cat than a bird, but could not think of a better analogy. He left the thought behind and continued to fume as he stepped forward. Eodwine had lived long in the world already, had experienced far more than Saeryn. He was old enough to be their father! Saeryn deserved to be happy, but she deserved, in Degas's opinion, to be happy several years from now with a younger man.

He cast another glance toward Farahil before stepping clear of the crowd.

"Surely, Garreth," he spoke quietly, almost coldly, looking at Saeryn before locking eyes with Eodwine, standing to his full height - equal to Eodwine's, "this is no courtship. For if it were, I am sure an honorable man such as the lord of this Hall would have asked leave of the lady's brother."
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Old 06-02-2006, 01:20 AM   #339
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Náin had a good vantage point, he thought, of the proceedings. He was near the front, where he shorter stature would allow him to see, nestled amongst a group of the Hall's retainers with whom he was somewhat familiar. He was thus able to hear clearly Degas' words

"Surely, Garreth, this is no courtship. For if it were, I am sure an honorable man such as the lord of this Hall would have asked leave of the lady's brother."

There was a provocative declaration if Náin had ever heard one. The noise in the hall rose immediately.

"And why is that?" Náin asked Garstan, who was one of those standing near. He did not bother to lower his voice. If anything, he raised it so that it might be heard among the crowd- and more than a few heads turned his way.

"It is the proper way," said Garstan, more quietly. "When wishing to court a lady, one ought to request the permission of her father."

"Degas is not Saeryn's father," pointed out Náin. "And is not Saeryn old enough to choose these things for herself? Among us Dwarves, we let our womenfolk decide- not their fathers, who are our brothers and comrades in arms."

"We are not among Dwarves," said Degas, loudly. "And as Garstan said, such is not the way among the Eorlingas. I am sure that Eodwine would do the honourable thing in this, as in every matter."

"So is your father, and Saeryn's, dead then?" asked Náin loudly, though someone behind him was trying to whisper that he should hush. "Or have you no other, elder brothers."
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Old 06-02-2006, 08:56 AM   #340
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"I require order in my court," Eodwine declared through the growing roil of voices; he had not taken his eyes from Degas'. The young man did have a point, and almost - almost - Eodwine regretted his words, and thanked whatever beings watched over such things that for all the vim he had felt, he had chosen his words carefully. The Hall had quieted.

"I have said that the arrangement I have made with the Lady Saeryn before you all is an apprenticeship of a sort. This is so, regardless of what some may choose to think. I was asked if I am courting the Lady Saeryn. I answered that I will not say that I am not. Nor," Eodwine continued in a stronger voice, "will I say that I am; I leave the question open because, as Degas of the Folde said, it is not a matter solely of my choosing. If acourting comes of this, I would have his blessing, as well as any others of his family. And most certainly I will pursue no such endeavor unless the Lady Saeryn herself permits it, and that only after other critical matters have been dealt with, of which I will not speak now, for they are not for all ears.

"Degas, I ask you to heed my words and hold any further words for a later time when you and I can talk at length. What say you?"
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Old 06-02-2006, 06:07 PM   #341
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Degas reflected over Eodwine's request before answering.

He had travelled far upon Eodwine's orders to inform the lady Linduial's family that she was missing. Out of the frying pan and into the fire, as old Bilbo and Mithrandir had once said, or so the legends went. Flying from those who blamed him for her disappearance to those who would learn, from him, that it was his fault their youngest and beloved was kidnapped.

While Degas knew it was only fair for him to bear his own ill news, his thoughts and judgement were both clouded. Had Eodwine's decision been clouded with a desire to leave Saeryn unattended? Could a man with romantic interest treat a woman under his protection with an impartial eye? Degas pushed the thoughts from his mind to deal with the situation at hand. Surely Eodwine was far too honorable... and he had ridden to rescue Linduial... he had not even been at the Hall. Yet what had transpired between the pair while Degas's mind was caught up in his own romantic difficulties?

He looked to Linduial for a moment and glanced back to Eodwine when Farahil's eyes met his.

"I say that you speak wisely, Lord Eodwine. Not all matters of a Lord and Lady are meant to be judged within their court. My thoughts will remain my own for the remainder of these proceedings excepting the birth of a situation in which their publication becomes required. We shall have further words, I am sure, when the walls have fewer ears."
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Old 06-03-2006, 05:31 AM   #342
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Fewer ears indeed! thought Eodwine. He smiled. "Very well, Degas. You show great wisdom and restraint. Let us continue with matters of court!" Eodwine turned to Saeryn. "Lady?" He had not yet heard nor seen a reaction from Saeryn as to courting, and wondered what was in her thought. He extended his right hand to her, watching her face for any indication. She seemed to be schooling herself. She allowed a slight smile to come to her lips, and placed her left hand in his right. He escorted her the few steps to the dais, releasing her hand when they had climbed the single step of the dais, and stood before the furlined seats. He turned to face the crowd, and she followed his example. He sat down, and so did she, exhibiting a quietness and demureness that he had not yet seen, but which pleased him, for it spoke well of her upbringing and her potential as Lady of the Hall.

But now to the business at hand, he thought.

He called for Æðelhild, who came forward showing some agitation. He asked her the same question that he had put to most of those of his Hall. She answered that she felt she had much to learn before she could feel at ease as healer of the Eorling Mead Hall, and asked to continue to work as an apprentice to Hrethel, the healer of Meduseld. Eodwine granted her request, which finally brought a smile to her face.

"Next I call Thornden to stand before me!"

Thornden made his way to stand before Eodwine - and Saeryn as well now - in his usual confident fashion.

"Thornden, I put to you the same question I have done with others. What think you of service to me? How have you fared as both steward and almbudsman?"
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Old 06-04-2006, 12:23 PM   #343
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Thornden paused a moment before giving Eodwine his answer. Thoughts of the last month passed through his mind. In a second’s time, vivid recollections of conversations and incidents came back to him.

“My lord,” he finally said, looking directly at Eodwine, “I came here without expectations of a stewardship. I may very well have the abilities to stand in your place – to speak with the people who come here, to keep tallies and records in books, to stay here when you go and oversee everything when you can not - but this is not what I came here to do and I do not think that I really am fully prepared to take on all these responsibilities in your absence. When the lady Linduial was kidnapped, we could have had the chance to test my abilities as steward, yet we did not. I went with you and Merenil stayed here. He took the place of a steward.

“I would, therefore, that you did not give to me the place of your steward, for I don’t think that I have truthfully earned it. I do not want to leave, though. I am still willing to be your servant, as your almsbudsman and also one who will be here to help Gárwine keep your halls clear of men or anyone else who mean harm. I would that I could stay at your side always; to ride forth with you when you have to go, and to come back only when you return.

“Give me the place I first came to ask for and I will be satisfied. Find another, better man for your steward. A man who, in your time of need, will not fail you. A man with more years and experience, for I am yet full young to take such a position as you have offered.”

Thornden subsided into silence. He hoped, but was not quite sure, that the people did not take his words as words of cowardice or defeat. He had not come to take the place of the Eorl’s steward. It would prove to be a heavy burden in time, and Thornden thought that though he could bear it, he would not always necessarily bear it well, and Eodwine would soon wish for a man closer to himself in years and experience.

More than anything, though, he hoped Eodwine would understand. He would not for anything have his eorl believe him to be a coward.
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Old 06-04-2006, 01:41 PM   #344
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Eodwine regarded Thornden with a smile. Those who knew him well in the hall saw on his face an expression mixed of amusement, liking, and beneficence, though they would not have used such words in their thought. Eodwine's own thought after Thornden's speech was, I'd forgotten he had such a quick tongue! So many words for such a simple question. All of which means, 'please let me be what I came here to be in the first place, and let Marenil be your steward'. Thornden liked talking and he liked people, and he was a man of his word. Such a man would make a very good steward, yet he did not wish to be one.

Eodwine had given this thought, and had already come to a conclusion, but had wanted to hear Thornden before he decided to follow through on that conclusion. And here it was. He spoke.

"Thornden, you are an honorable man; this I know, and all here should learn it if they don't yet. I have been thinking that I need the role of steward and almbudsman separated between two men in my Hall, and your words strenghten my thought. I deem you to be a good steward already, but I need a man as capable as you for almbudsman. So I will grant your request on one condition: if Marenil will agree to become my steward, then I will release you to be almbudsman and captain of the guard of the Eorling Mead Hall.

"Marenil, I bid you, please rise and stand beside Thornden."

The elderly man did so, slowly, and made his way to stand beside Thornden.

"Marenil, you have heard my thought, and that of Thornden. Please tell this court your own thought on the matter."
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Old 06-06-2006, 12:33 PM   #345
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Léof’s expression had darkened slightly as Eodwine and Thornden began to talk of there being a third person in the position of steward. Now, Léof liked Marenil, but it would be still yet another person Léof might be expected to take orders from. Surely it would have very little effect on his life, but… Someday I’ll be my own man, in the service of no one, and it will just be me and the horses… But he supposed that day would be long in coming.

Léof wondered if he was expected to stay here to watch the whole of the court. Already he was wearying of the lengthy proceedings, and his own part in it was complete, he supposed. He would not be far off, at any rate; just inside the stables, which did, after all, adjoin to the main hall. With this in mind, he quietly excused himself from the hall and made his way to the stables, where he found Æthel’s stall and slipped into it, murmuring softly to her all the while. He leaned his head against her warm shoulder and breathed in her comforting horsy scent as he idly twined his fingers in her mane.

“Life must be awfully easy as a horse,” he told her. “You don’t have to worry about anything at all, not family or secrets or oaths or taking orders… well, maybe you do have to take orders, but that’s what you do, you’re a horse… and you don’t mind, anyway. You trust me, so you do what I ask… simple as that. You don’t have to think about it… I trust Eodwine, I think, anyway… so why’s this so hard? You never had to worry about being independent… you had me, and I had you… Remember the days when we could just ride? When I didn’t have to worry about anything? That was nice, huh, girl?” He lifted himself up onto her bare back. She pawed the ground. “Sorry, girl, can’t go anywhere today… court and all…

“And then, of course,” he continued his monologue, “there’s Cerwyn… I didn’t tell Eodwine about her, you know… not her or father. Maybe it doesn’t matter… maybe it does… and she hasn’t written back, either… I’ve sent two letters, now; surely she would have gotten at least one of those…

“And there’s Æðel, of course… there’s a whole other mess. See how lucky you are? No worries at all. Maybe I worry too much. What do you think, hm? Of course, you really can’t talk back… that’s the real problem, is that no one really understands, not as can help, anyway. What do you reckon? That I ought to be something useful, probably… not sit here bemoaning my struggles to you…”
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Old 06-06-2006, 09:03 PM   #346
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Marenil gave Thornden a friendly glance from under bristled brows. "I reckon I could do a fair job for you, Lord Eodwine. Especially with young arms like this to share the burden."

A shrug, and his bright grey eyes turned sharply to Eodwine's, still amused. "And I'll admit, Lord, it's like to be a light task, after Farlen's household. Not to belittle your issues here, but your house is yet small, and Farlen's could populate half this city, I think sometimes. I'd be honored to do you aid in this. And I reckon this is as good a place as any for a bit of a rest, after my long labor."

"But what about Enna?" The question was not meant to carry, but those on the dais could clearly hear Lin's suddenly concerned voice. Marenil sighed, having hoped not to have to break more sad news to the girl so soon after her ordeal. He knew she'd been having nightmares, as he could hear her rising in the night, could see the fear still haunting her eyes...but there was a new glint of steel in their grey depths, and he prayed every night that it would, in the end, triumph. She needed time to rest, and recuperate...something. He looked up at Eodwine, waiting for permission to leave before taking Lin aside.
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Old 06-07-2006, 08:38 PM   #347
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Eodwine liked the thought of experienced Marenil as steward. The old man knew a thing or two, and could teach a lot not only to Thornden, but to Eodwine. After the whole affair of Linduial's kidnapping, he was more than ever aware of his own inexperience and shortcomings. He had much to learn.

"Marenil, you are my steward as of this day. Only my word and that of the Lady Saeryn comes first. Thornden as chief of my guard is next in authority, regarding matters of the safety and wealth of this Hall, but not of daily matters.

"Ah, but I keep you standing too long. Be pleased to sit you down and take your ease."

Marenil nodded and smiled, and returned to Linduial, seeming to whisper something to her, or maybe not; Eodwine was not sure.

"Now I call before me Garstan the stoneshaper."

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Old 06-08-2006, 08:06 AM   #348
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Marenil stepped down from the dais, leaning forward to grasp Lin's hand firmly, her grey eyes flashing from him to her brother. "What about Enna?" she demanded, pleading. "You can't stay here, Mar, you have to go home to Enna."

He shook his head at her gently, for the sake of her pride ignoring that her weight was firmly supported by her brother, his heart tearing at her weakness. Though he had been assured by the returning rescuers that Lin's courage and intelligence had probably saved her life, if not made the rescue possible, he had seen only the thin, exhausted waif they had brought home, and worry for her was keeping him up at night. "Darling," he whispered. "Enna's gone where I can't follow."

Tears suddenly streamed down her face. Marenil and Farahil exchanged glances, and the younger man took his sister's elbow and led her firmly but gently through the crowd to the relative privacy of the kitchen garden.

Marenil followed, his ears full of the comments of those among the crowd they displaced. "Who's that?" "That girl who was kidnapped and her brother." "She's so pretty!" "Her name's Linduial, right?" "Rescued by the Queen's guard and our own Eorl." "I've heard she was brave." "They tell me she showed courage." "Poor lass, look how tired she is." He shut his mind and hurried after the duo.

Farahil had Lin nestled into a bench, her head resting on his shoulder. She was still crying, and it seemed only to have intensified. Marenil sat down on her other side and held her hand, listening to her wracking sobs. Slowly he realized these tears weren't for Enna, or not just for her. All the stress and fear and tightness of her ordeal was pouring out of her, and he realized with a start of surprise that despite the nightmares and exhaustion, he hadn't yet seen her cry. And she'd needed it. That was apparent.

When she finally calmed and set up, wiping her eyes almost shyly with a kerchief of her brother's, the men both saw immediately the difference. The familiar spark of intelligence and joy was back in her eyes, some part of her old fiery spirit in the curve of her back. And...something new...a mix of fine steel and new wariness.

"So you'll stay here then." Her voice was soft, stating a fact, not asking a question.

"I will," Marenil answered.

"I think I shall go home."

Farahil smiled. "About time, sister. No need for three world tra--"

"I'll be coming back."

Both men stared at her in surprise. Marenil knew, and suspected Farahil had likely been told as well, why she needed to return. The surprise was in her tone: some new force or self-knowledge gave it a hard edge. It was--it was like when Marenil had watched the elder brother, Adragil, in his practice bouts with his sword instructor. The lad had always been good, absorbing all his lessons effortlessly, but he had never been able to defeat his instructor. Then, near-grown, he had accompanied his father on a Corsair raid: his first taste of battle. When he came back and resumed his lessons, the skill and grace had not lessened, but he'd added something new; there was an awareness of the sword that had not been there before, like he'd suddenly learned what it was, and his delighted instructer had lost every bout since.

Linduial had been trained in diplomacy and statecraft, trained to use her words and voice to their utmost. I'll be coming back. Such an innocuous phrase...and yet...Lin knows it's a weapon, Marenil realized suddenly. She's always had the skill, the intelligence; and now she has the strength of mind and heart to use it. And knows why.

Her words brooked no argument, and her brother sat back and agreed. "I'll bring you home then. When do you want to leave?"

"Tomorrow, early." She looked up at Farahil. "If you don't mind leaving so early...Saeryn..."

"...is a pretty lady, but she is not my sister. If you want to leave tomorrow, you'd best pack. I'll tell that ostler of our plans."

"Actually..." Lin cleared her throat, catching her brother's eye with a sparkle. "I'm about sick of being indoors, locked up in little rooms. Will you?" He nodded, and she proceeded with her instructions. "Pack up one of my trunks, but leave the other, and take only my clothes. I'll ask Eodwine to save the room when I talk to him this evening, and I doubt he'll mind if my things stay. I'll go talk to Leof." Immediately the woman--for woman she was, and the girl-child who'd come here was left behind forever--rose and walked briskly towards the stables, pausing only to squeeze Marenil's hand. "I'm sorry for Enna," she said awkwardly, emotion throbbing in her voice. "I loved her."
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Old 06-08-2006, 10:53 AM   #349
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When Léof heard footsteps at the end of the stable aisle, he quickly slid down from Æthel’s back and left her stall with one last fond tug on her forelock. He was rather surprised to find Linduial standing there, apparently looking for him. He had not seen much of her since she had returned to the hall, but from what she had seen, she was different, somehow. Léof had not heard the tale of her kidnapping in full, only garbled parts of it, but at least enough to know that she had gone through quite a bit. He found himself feeling rather surprised that she seemed to have come out stronger for it; perhaps his first impression of her had not been quite fair after all.

Léof managed a smile as he greeted her. “Do you need something?”

“My brother and I are going to leave early tomorrow morning for Dol Amroth, if you could have our horses saddled…”

“They’ll be ready,” Léof said, making a note to himself to give both of them a thorough grooming that night. Still, he could not help being curious. “But if you don’t mind me asking… you’re leaving already? You’ve not been back long, and your brother hasn’t really stayed very long at all…”
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Old 06-08-2006, 11:42 AM   #350
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Lin smiled, heartened to see that she had such friends here. "Don't worry, Leof," she said, climbing one-handed to sit on a high haybale, out of the way. "I'll be coming back. I love it here...you won't get rid of me that easily. I'm even leaving half my things. But my father will be worried about me until he sees me in person, and there's so much news to catch up on. Half the reason Farahil came was to bring me home.

"And...I need to rest. After--after I got back here it seemed as though all the energy drained out of me. I've not been sleeping right, I'm not healing right...and you know how it is. I'm a bit homesick."
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Old 06-08-2006, 06:54 PM   #351
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Despite the importance of Lord Eodwine's court proceedings, Garstan found his mind wandering. Court matters were of significance, he knew. Yet, other than the Eorl's strange announcement of apprenticeship for the Lady of the Hall, he could not find the speeches interesting, and Garstan's attention faltered. He had dilemmas of his own to consider, and with the thought, his grip on Lèoðern's small hand suddenly tightened, causing her to look up at him with a quizzical smile.

"What..." she began. Garstan put a finger to his lips in signal for her to keep silent. Interruptions were inappropriate. Despite his impatience with the day's formality, he knew the importance of the laws of politeness. Lèoðern would have to learn them. Would she? Could she, under the rough tutelage of a simple stoneshaper, struggling to earn his keep? He didn't have the time he needed to teach her and often found himself at a loss for a method when he did attempt it. Yet there was a way now open for her. And as he thought of it, his fingers clutched hers again, bringing the smile back to her face. She raised a finger to her lips in imitation of Garstan's gesture and looked at him, suppressing a string of giggles.

Garstan, weary from his journey, in pain from his wound, and suddenly feeling a deeper pain spring unbidden from his mind, knelt and gathered Lèoðern to his arms. And a single thought echoed in his head: Please, let her always be as she is now. No matter what the years may bring. He knew that changes to her world were coming, hopefully to her betterment. But he feared for her too - feared that she would lose the affectionate, laughing innocence that had always marked her.

Eodwine was speaking again. "Now I call before me Garstan the stoneshaper."

Garstan released his grasp of Lèoðern and stood. "Yes, my lord?"
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Old 06-08-2006, 07:48 PM   #352
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Léof nodded. He knew how homesickness worked, alright. He murmured, “At least you have a home to go back to.” It slipped out before he could think, and when it did he felt his ears and face grow hot. Maybe she hadn’t heard -

No such luck. “What?” Léof could tell from her tone and expression that this came from surprise and not lack of hearing.

“Nothing. I just- it’s nothing,” stammered Léof before she could comment further. He felt trapped. After that little tidbit, she would surely want to know more, and he could hardly make up some nice-sounding story to go with the comment. He wouldn’t lie to her anyway… he had passed the point of wanting to lie about it – not that he was any good at lying anyway. Linduial still looked inclined to ask another question, and his voice took on a fiercer tone. "Really. It's nothing." She wouldn't understand anyway. Then he changed the subject, the only thing he could think to do. “Will you be needing anything else, then?”

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Old 06-09-2006, 07:56 AM   #353
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"Will you be needing anything else, then?"

Lin smiled shyly, giving him a negative answer with a shake of her head. She felt--hurt, somehow, that Leof had so clearly turned the conversation away from himself. Perhaps...perhaps she had not earned such confidences. It did not occur to her that the troubles of the young man before her would not have affected her a few short weeks ago.

"I think...," she paused, trying to phrase this new wish to provide comfort and friendship. "I think that Edoras--this Hall--could be a good place to call home. And surely now, with Eodwine's word today, it is your home? You're officially the head ostler now! Congratulations, Leof!" She grinned at him earnestly. "You should be so happy and proud! Celebrate!"

On a whim, she pushed off the haybale with her good hand, landing firmly on her feet. With a happy cry, she looped her dress over her weak wrist and firmly gripped and placed Leof's right hand on her waist before grabbing the other and spinning him around in a lively reel, to the time of her suddenly light feet, warbling an improvised tune.
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Old 06-09-2006, 08:33 AM   #354
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Farahil carefully emptied what was left in one trunk before lightly folding gowns into shapes far more compact and travel-worthy. He left the packing of womanly necessities to Linduial, as was only appropriate, and took a final look at the trunk, smiling with fond remembrance of Adragil's sudden desire to carve Lin a chest and his immediate departure for country sides unknown wherein to learn the art. Farahil was certain that Linduial could have fit a half dozen more items at the very least had she been taught to pack for adventures at sea and he smiled wider, not minding at all that his baby sister had never learned of such things. She did well as a lady; her power did not come from intimidation by sword or by nightly stealth but by carefully chosen words and a demeanor that called for respect and wariness.

He sat on her bed, smoothing the covers that he had lain in place for her before they had gone downstairs, and he looked at his hands, remembering every scar.

He ran a cold finger over a dark red line that ran from his left forefinger to nearly the inside of his wrist. He'd been playing swords when he was young, gloating that the weapons master had never landed a hit. He was cocky, over-confident; a child, he remembered. The master had grown weary of his foolishness and whipped a dagger from his sheath and sliced carefully forward with it even had he distracted Farahil with his longsword.

I'm bleeding! What have you done?

I've landed a hit, young lord, and don't forget it.

But you cheated! That's bullying! It's unfair.

Is it unfair to use the weapons for which you have been trained? A time will come, Farahil, that you will face an opponent larger, stronger, and far more experienced. That time will be, by all odds, that in which you will be asked to use techniques that they have never learned, weapons with which they have no familiarity. Will you use them? Will you call your learning an unfair advantage and allow them to strike? Your life and those of others are in your own hands, boy. There is an honor among those you will fight that will not extend to you. Do not forget to use what you know. You will bear a scar now, to remind you.

Linduial would bear scars. She would not forget her ordeal. But she had learned more than she could have under the best teachers about what makes a leader and what makes a lady.

Farahil had come to bring her home and he would; but he would also bring her back. She had learned here that which those at Dol Amroth could only partly teach. These people were good people, honest ones, if a little odd. The lady Saeryn... she would be a good friend to Linduial, and the lords Eodwine and Degas... they would protect her from all they could. And Lin... little Linny... she could protect herself.
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Old 06-09-2006, 08:58 AM   #355
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Before Léof even realized what was happening, he found himself swept away by Linduial. He laughed suddenly, not from the fair absurdity of the situation, but from the sudden relief of stress. Strangely enough, he found himself dimly recalling the steps to the dance, and as he spun Linduial, he remembered where from.

On a particular winter evening when Léof was about nine or ten, his father had pulled out his fiddle and begun to play – a rarity, even in those happy days. His mother had come in from the kitchen, and as his father struck up a lively reel, she had pulled him up from his seat and taught him the steps while his father played and Cerwyn laughed and clapped. “Someday you’ll be glad to know how to dance, when you’ve a pretty girl at your side!” his mother had told him. Reluctant at first, he had slowly picked up enthusiasm as the night waned away…

He never would have thought the ‘pretty girl’ would be a young noblewoman from Gondor. But why must she always just be the noblewoman? Why couldn’t she be… a friend? Have you ever really even given her a chance? An odd pair they must look, she in her finery and so light on her feet and he in his working clothes and only remembering the dance as he went along – but if none of that mattered to her, why should it to him?

The dance ended, and Léof bowed slightly as it seemed the right thing to do, but he was grinning for the first time that day. “Thank you, Linduial. I much needed that. I reckon I worry too much – Æthel” – he jerked his head towards his horse, who had poked her head on of the stall to watch the spectacle in the aisle – “could tell you the same. But I guess – I guess you might say that you reminded me what home is like…” And what it’s like to have people you can trust… learn to trust people again. “My mother – she taught me that dance,” he inserted with a slight smile, “died some five years ago. And I suppose home for me died with her.” He was leaving a lot out, but trusts are not built in minutes, and Léof still was not entirely sure of this new Linduial.
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Old 06-09-2006, 09:14 AM   #356
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Some newborn part of Linduial recognized that a confidence was best returned with a confidence, and as she swept Leof a graceful parody of a full courtesy, she offered her own, shyly, like a rosebud revealing a new petal.

"You're lucky. I really don't have any memories of my mother--Marenil's wife, Enna, she was really mother to me. She taught me to weave, and was the first person I ran to when I had some feminine problem I dared not bring to my father." She blushed, then sighed.

"I just found out she died. While I was gone. I don't know what it will be like, going home and not finding her there. It frightens me a bit." Suddenly she realized talking to Leof was taking a lot of the sting out of learning of it so late, and she settled back onto her haybale (this time with a hand up from Leof) somehow...content. "You don't mind if I stay here a while, do you? And watch you work? All those people--" she waved vaguely towards the rest of the building-- "just want to ask me how I feel, and whether I was scared, and what it was like, and if it's true I set my own arm, and this and that. And I just don't want to talk about it. I promise not to say a word. You'll never know I'm here." And then she smiled, and it was a joke again. "Just hide me from the adoring masses. I think the Rohirrim love me as much now as they do Lothiriel, and while I'm honored and such, I wonder how she stands it all the time."
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Old 06-10-2006, 06:21 PM   #357
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"Yes, my lord?" Garstan responded.

Eodwine looked at him and smiled. There was a gravity about him, Eodwine decided, that maybe had always been there and maybe had not; at any rate, Eodwine could see it now.

"Garstan, when the search for the lady Linduial began, I swore you an oath that I would protect your life with my own. I did not have to hold good to that vow, for your life never quite came into danger-" Eodwine paused "-save once, when you saved my life with your own body. You swore me no oath. I honor you.

"I have called for you to stand before my court because I would have you remain as more than guest at the Eorling Mead Hall. I do not desire to bind you in fealty, but as friend. I ask you to stay here for a year and a day, succored by the protections I may offer you, a friend to this house. Though I have not work to keep a stone shaper busy for that long a time, let this Hall be your home, and find work where you may.

"I do not ask you to choose this moment what you will do, but I wish it to be known to all here the regard I hold for you. So take a day or more to think on it, if you wish, or tell me now if you already know your mind. I leave it to your choice, and will hold neither choice as telling me more than you say."

Eodwine ceased his words, which seemed to him had rendered him rather longwinded, and waited for the stoneshaper to speak.
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Old 06-10-2006, 07:10 PM   #358
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Despite Garstan's worry, Eodwine's words brought a faint smile to his face. His memory turned back to the evening before their departure from the Hall - Eodwine's vow, and his own secret promise.

"I have no need of a day, nor yet an hour, to think upon my answer, lord, for I know even now what my choice shall be.

"Yet before I speak, there is something which I would set aright." It was Garstan's turn to pause. He was unsure of how broach the topic of his secret vow to Eodwine's protection. "It is true. I swore no vow that was known to you. But an oath I took to your aid, Eorl, ere we left the safety of your Hall, though it was witnessed, perhaps, only by the breeze at the window. For I could not accept your protection without doing my utmost to guard you in turn. But I should have spoken long before this day, and I beg your forgiveness for having kept my counsel to myself until now.

"And now to your question! I will stay, and hold your friendship in care and in honor."

Having put more words together than he ever had before, Garstan stopped, uneasy under the numerous gazes of the folk of the Mead Hall, and searched Eodwine's face for a response.

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Old 06-11-2006, 05:42 AM   #359
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The response Garstan sought was not long in coming. Eodwine wiped at an eye.

"Garstan, you are a good man," he said gruffly. "Let it be as you say. And I thank you."

Garstan smiled and bowed, and returned to his place beside Léoðern with a light step.

But now it was time for the one part of this court day proceeding that Eodwine did not relish in the least. He turned to Saeryn briefly.

"Watch and listen well, my lady. I would have your counsel in this." She nodded, her forehead knotting prettily in a frown of curiosity.

He turned from her wordlessly and sought out Gárwine with his eyes. It was time for the questioning of Manawyth.
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Old 06-11-2006, 02:41 PM   #360
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Anguirel is a guest of Tom Bombadil.
The Dunlending's Testimony

Manawyth was brought forward, not gently, by Gárwine. His hands were tied behind his back, and his ankles were bound by thick a leather strap so that his steps were shortened of necessity. He looked sullen and frowned balefully at those who stared - which was everybody. At last he was brought to a standstill with a jerk by Gárwine.

Eodwine looked at him. The matter of Linduial had made it impossible to speak with Manawyth earlier, which Eodwine regretted. Now the questioning would have to be done here, before the crowd. Eodwine did not relish the prospect; it would be the hardest thing he had to do.

"Loosen his bonds, Gárwine."

"But lord-!"

"I'll not have this man bound while I question him. There is no way he will escape through this crowd. Loose his bonds."

"Yes, lord."

His bonds removed, Manawyth rubbed and flexed his arms, but had not yet looked up at Eodwine.

"Manawyth, look at me."

***

The accused did not now hesitate to glance upwards to the Eorl on his dais. He seemed to have little spirit for resistance. He could not hold Eodwine's gaze steadily for some time, but at last succeeded in meeting it and keeping his eyes locked. In Dunland they accounted both avoiding a direct exchange of looks and accepting one with too much emphasis signs of guilt. Well, he had managed to commit both.

This was Rohan, not Dunland. But Rohan was no longer the calm place of healing and acceptance Manawyth had briefly been persuaded that it could be.

After the strange false hope of permanent escape Manawyth had been granted, he had got out of the town as quickly, and as quietly, as he could manage. Without arms or harp, he was little good to anyone, and shifted from lord to lord, farm to farm, accepting employment as a churl readily but never remaining in one place for long.

Occasionally he heard extraordinary stories of a notorious Dunlending bandit who had flouted the King's law, plotted to reverse the Geld tax, and now indulged in frequent robberies on the high roads. On such occasions it had been hard to swallow laughter. Things were hardly so glamorous.

His capture had been quite as farcical, stumbled on by a thegn and his companions who were searching for another, rather more upmarket outlaw-a man named Herward, apparently-and decided to take the Dunlending as some compensation for their failures.

Once imprisoned, awaiting his Eorl's decision with the word of Lord Cuichelm firmly against him, things had got still worse due to the occasional visits of Rohirrim with whom he had thought to have reached an understanding-Gárwine for one. It was clear that his innocence was not a possibility they considered.

Yet they were only half right, and Manawyth was now determined upon the course of the truth. He was judging Rohan as it judged him, and if he found her guilty, he would be glad to be relieved of the necessity of dragging out his life in her.

"Lord?" he said simply, obeisance clear.


"You have been arrested and accused of theft of a horse. Perhaps you are aware, Manawyth, that in Rohan, theft itself is a heinous crime, but theft of a horse is judged only a little lesser crime than kidnapping. What have you to say of the charge against you? Are you guilty or innocent?"

***

"Guilty, my lord. But not as charged."

Manawyth paused, waiting for the effects of his answer to settle. Whisperings and even protests were whirling about the Hall; every face showed bewilderment and consternation.

"You have told me that the theft of a horse in Rohan is especially grave among crimes. This I know. Yet I did not steal a horse in Rohan, lord; but in Dunland. The black horse is a Dunlending mount, or was when I took him, and when my lord Cuichelm claims I robbed him of the steed...he lies."

Manawyth did not go on, but his voice was rising in strength and he seemed perfectly willing to continue this strange story if bidden to do so.

This was a most unexpected turn in Eodwine's mind. He wanted to trust Manawyth, but needed a basis for it, and felt that it was as of yet lacking. He needed to hear more.

"Manawyth," Eodwine said presently, "Rohirric law has it such that if Cuichelm is the man of highest rank to speak regarding you, his word is held to be sound. In this chamber, only my word is of greater worth by the will of the King. But I cannot yet speak one way or another until I have heard more of your story. Two things you must explain before I will even begin to consider how to think. First, you must convince me how Cuichelm speaks the lie. Second, you must convince me that this horse was stolen in Dunland and not in Rohan. Nevertheless, you have admitted guilt and made my task the harder. Thus you have made your own task the harder. Speak."

Manawyth nodded, but did not answer for some moments. It looked as if the memories he drew upon were painful ones.

"Lord, you must be told something of the life I lived after the victory of your people in battle. One of my brothers, the least warlike, poor soul, had been killed at the Hornburg, but I had yet two more, and a sister, too. Of our clan they called me the hardiest, and my sister first in beauty. My two remaining brothers were of a different stamp. They were...mickle cunning, you would put it. They planned and thought and saw ahead. They were proud, but canny enough not to show it.

"Dunland was then suffering from the reprisals of the Mark. I lost a second brother in these affairs, and my remaining brother Math took the property of both into his hands. He became more ambitious, fiercer, subtler. The Chieftain of our Caerdom did not trust him...but the affair is contorted. Suffice to say, the Chieftain's son, Gwaer, desired my sister Llian and asked my mother for her hand.

"We were all determined to refuse him, though we knew it would mean a fight. Llian was betrothed instead to the neighbouring Chieftain, on Math's suggestion. On the day of the wedding Gwaer rode into our house, on the very horse I am accused of stealing from Cuichelm. He carried off Llian and his men...cut down my mother as she barred his way.

"Math and I swore blood-vengeance 'gainst Gwaer. Math and Llian's betrothed strove against him with a warband, but I knew they lacked the numbers to punish him. I set off alone to his Caer, where Gwaer's men were cavorting drunkenly...I saw through a window...but Llian stood proud and he smote her across the face. Then I shot him stark dead."

Manawyth left a pause long enough to savour the tale, but short enough to show that he would shortly take it up again.

"Then I crept to the stables and took the black horse. I could see it was the fastest. A horse of the Mark from its breeding. But it was not born in the Mark. Your people rarely bred black steeds when the Dark King's thiefs came searching for them, especially. Gwaer's horse was no exception, and its ancestors may have been rustled from your plains, but it was not."

There Manawyth ended his testimony, waiting for either further questions, or his accuser's answer.
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