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 Post subject: Re: The Waning Days of King Valacar
PostPosted: October 6th, 2018, 9:51 am 
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The hour was late when Amarwen entered the palace kitchens. She hoped they might be something like the kitchens of her mother’s hall. There, in moments of restlessness such as this, the kitchen had been something of a refuge. Warm and inviting. The palace kitchens of Osgiliath were certainly warm but the vast grandeur of them lent an imposing air. She stared at the cavernous space and wondered if it might not be better to seek diversion elsewhere.

As she considered this, the staff of the kitchen continued on unperturbed by her arrival. She doubted they had even noted her presence until she heard a voice call her name. To her immense surprise, she saw none other than the King himself approach. Unprepared for such a meeting, Amarwen sank into the deepest curtsy she could. So deep she was practically sitting on the stone floor underfoot.

”Enough with such nonsense,” the king declared, startling Amarwen so much that she broke protocol entirely to peer up at the realm’s monarch with wide eyed dismay. ”On your feet, young lady,” Valacar gestured impatiently at her, ”Let’s get a proper look at you.”

Realising her lapse, Amarwen dropped her eyes and rose. She continued to stare at the floor, hands clasped before her. Valacar grew weary of waiting for he reached out to grasp her chin. She was surprised at how firm his fingers were for one so advanced in age as he. She swallowed as he tipped her face into view.

”Have you something to hide?”

She did indeed but Amarwen did not want the King to know about any of it. She willed her eyes to remain steady as they locked with the aged king’s. There was no hint of blue nor green. They were like steel, polished and still sharp. As abruptly as Valacar had grasped her chin did he release it.

”Yes, I see now,” he muttered to himself cryptically. ”The lad is consistent.”

With no further explanation, the king turned from her. She watched him walk away several steps only to pause and peer back at her. ”Somewhere better to be at this hour, m’Lady?”

“Of course not,”
Amarwen muttered as she hastened to his shoulder. She hovered, careful to remain behind the King.

Valacar said nothing as he made his way carefully through the kitchen. He settled at the end of a long and battered table. Once seated, he picked up a strange piece of food. She’d not seen it’s like before. It was roughly spherical, its skin pitted. He’d peeled it partially already and it was the most extraordinary colour. Ruddy, like the sunset. The king resumed peeling it, wedging a finger or thumb under the skin and prising it back to reveal the soft flesh of the remarkable fruit.

”You have my grandson all in a lather,” he said as he peeled. His eyes cut sideways at her briefly.

”With respect, Sire, I do not believe that is so.”

“You scarcely know him,”
Valacar let the statement dangle. ”I am told he gifted you with a horse today?”

“Oh no, Sire! Not at all! A temporary arrangement, I believe...”
Her reply faded as she realised the king was looking at her again.

”That is not what the Master of the Royal Stables believes and he is rarely mistaken.”

Amarwen blinked rapidly, baffled by such largesse. It was not as if Aldamir had to win her hand. ”Why would he do such a thing?”

Valacar glanced at her sidelong. ”I can’t imagine,” he replied, his manner inexplicably wry as he finished peeling the fruit. He set it down and picked up a cloth to dry fingers made sticky by the fruit. The king pushed a breath through his nose at her statement and picked up a knife. He began to separate out lobes of fruit into delicate segments. Amarwen could not help but watch them fall, one by one.

”Forgive me my ignorance, Sire, but what is that?” she asked.

”An orange,” he replied and Amarwen frowned.

”Orange is a colour...and a fruit?”

“It has another name, I am certain, at its origin. Grown far to the south, around Umbar. Conditions further north are too cold for the trees to fruit, or so I am told.”
Having finished sectioning the orange, the king laid down the knife and dried his hands again. The king pushed the plate of segmented fruit towards her.

”What does it taste like? Is it sweet?”

“Depends on the orange, I have found.”


He nodded at her, still drying off his hands and so she picked up the smallest segment and hesitantly placed it in her mouth. The king watched as she chewed it and when her eyes widened, he offered her his first smile of their exchange. He popped an orange segment into his own mouth.

”Shall we speak frankly?” he asked. ”I confess that I was surprised Edhellond had reversed a policy of non-involvement that has served it well. Edhellond ‘s prosperity lies in no small part from its arms’ length from the politics that beset the rest of the realm and yet here you sit, betrothed to my grandson and eating oranges in my kitchen.”

“These are strange and testing times, your Majesty.”

“And so, I ask you plainly...is it possible for love to spring from such inauspicious beginnings?”


Amarwen stared at Valacar. ”I would think there are more pressing concerns. Does it matter one way or the other?”

“It does,”
he answered. ”Certainly for Aldamir. For you also, I suspect.”

”The heart is a complicated creature. Who amongst us can say where our hearts will lead us?” Amarwen found the king was studied her with a familiar intensity that she had observed in Aldamir. She inclined her head to him.

”Who indeed,” the monarch mused.

When she looked up again, the king was smiling. He turned away briefly to beckon one of the staff to him. ”Fetch another orange. This young lady has earned her own.”

“Thank you, Sire,”
she said and Valacar leaned towards her.

”I believe Farien chose wisely in selecting you, my Lady,” he murmured and patted her hand gently. Then he set to showing her how to peel an orange without a knife. A sticky, messy affair, but perversely enjoyable. By the time she quit the palace kitchens, Amarwen found herself smiling. Still, she was certain there had been more to her exchange with the king than she understood.


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 Post subject: Re: The Waning Days of King Valacar
PostPosted: October 10th, 2018, 5:44 pm 
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By nightfall the docks were ablaze with guild ships. Nearly half the ships they had in port!

Rie-Zunic did not stop there either. Days following brought one break out of anarchy after another. It was all out war. Soon the crown would have no way to deny what was happening. They would be forced to take action.

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 Post subject: Re: The Waning Days of King Valacar
PostPosted: October 11th, 2018, 7:10 am 
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Aldamir arrived in Minas Anor, and he soon found his brother with his son Vinyarion. They were at the sixth level talking on a bench. Aldamir looked around and sat down with them. He said,

“We have an active incursion building right under us. The Mariners Guild always opposed father, but they had always stopped short of outright rebellion.”

“Where did you come by this information?”


Ornedil asked. Aldamir said,

”From what I believe is a reliable source. Vinyarion then said,

”It seems to be a common view among the Rhovanions in Osgiliath.”

Both his father and his uncle looked at him. Vinyarion looked back at them both and said,

”I’ve been listening while in the north quarter gambling. It has been a suspicion of theirs for a while now.”

Ornedil nodded before asking,

“We have Rhovanion suspicions and word from a reliable source. But do we have any hard evidence?”[/i]

Ornedil looked at Aldamir, then to Vinyarion. They were silent as they had no proof. Vinyarion made an observation,

“No. There was the shieldmaidens attacking the guildhouse a while back.”

“And unfortunately I heard rumour as I left that there was some stealth attack on some guildsmen.”


Ornedil nodded.

“See, it is the wild northmen causing troubles with the Mariners Guild. At least that is the word getting out there. If we come out with these claims of the Guild planning a coup, it will only look like we’re trying to oppose them. We must be wary and ready to act, but we can’t go to father or grandfather with this now. Now little brother, get yourself back to Osgiliath and attend to matters of your house!”

Aldamir sighed. He looked at Vinyarion and said,

”And you son, get back to Pelargir and get back to study!”

They all went in different directions.



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 Post subject: Re: The Waning Days of King Valacar
PostPosted: October 12th, 2018, 5:01 am 
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Mettarë

Winter lay thick over Osgiliath. The entire city was determined to mark the High Season with joy made sharper and sweeter by the anguish and sorrow that had gone before it. The fire that had sprung up in the city’s harbour had left a pall that had taken months to fade. In that time, the hostility in the streets towards Rhovanians flared for they were widely held accountable for setting so many ships and men ablaze with burning oil. Many Rhovanians fled, returning to their ancestral lands unable or unwilling to endure the palpable resentment.

The Guild, predictably, were swift to claim recompense from the crown. Then word came from Amarwen’s father that the Guild had commissioned from him new ocean going vessels with deep draughts entirely unsuited for plying the Anduin. It all but confirmed a horrid suspicion that the Guild had staged the attacked upon itself. Setting aside the horrific human toll, if true it was a masterful tactical stroke. The attack had inflamed suspicions towards Rhovanions, drained the crown’s coffers, and now fattened the fleet of the Master of Ships. Worse yet was how brazen Lord Castimir was. He made no attempt to conceal the fact that the realm’s gold would not restore the river vessels destroyed by fire yet little could be done to halt him. Whoever was behind the attack in truth, they had weakened the crown and it would take time to recover and restore faith. Time they may not have, for the king’s vigour was improving.

Autumn rains had washed the sickly charnel stench away and the annual tithe came and went. The nation’s coffers were in sore need, having paid out so much to the Guild and the families of those men lost in the fire. Another attack such as the one that had taken place would come close to draining the treasury, particularly when a number of usually prosperous territories had inexplicably bad seasons. So bad as to be unable to meet their full tithe, if at all. There was little doubt in Aldamir’s mind that the tithe contributions found their way further south, trickling in the coffers of a would be king who waited in the shadows, growing fatter day by day. Again, there was no proof to be had.

In these troubling times Amarwen saw little of Almara. Brief visits only, with increasing absences between. And what time they did have left Amarwen with the distinct sense that Almara was keeping something from her. What, she could not say, but it worried her for she knew so little, in truth, about Almara. Though she searched for some way to amend that, the opportunity never seemed to arrive.

And so, perhaps it was inevitable that Amarwen increasingly turned to Aldamir. By the close of autumn a day did not pass without them speaking. As the city healed from the violence that had marred the warmer months, so too did her heart. Piece by aching piece she reassembled it, though it had to be said that Aldamir certainly knew how to make such a gruelling task easier. The prince had a way of making her feel like she was the most important thing in the world to him. His strong jaw and chiselled features certainly helped too, as did the way he made her laugh.

She felt whole once more. Her feelings for Aldamir had grown. She had come to care deeply for the man she was to wed. Perhaps she had even come to love him. She wasn't sure, for it felt so very different. It was not as strong as the way she felt about Halvarin and that worried her. Happiness would never be hers if Halvarin was indeed the love of her life. For the love of her life was a lie. A cruel and heartless trick. The pieces of her heart did not fit together the way they once had. Lessons learned that she could not forget. She was different now. Changed. She had found a resilience within her that she had not realised existed. She was scarred, but so much stronger for this.

And so now here she was in the great hall, nearly six months to the day since she had first stood here to meet her fate. The flowers were gone, replaced with holly carefully wrapped around her circlet to tame the points of the dark, glossy leaves. Her golden silk had given way to a velvet that was so blue as to be almost black in places. At her hips the same girdle of fat, vibrant rubies - Aldamir's gift to her. And around her now, as before, people watched and whispered. Scrutinised. Let them, she thought to herself as they milled about. She held her chin high as the heralds announced the arrival of the royal family.

Aldamir smiled at her upon his arrival in such a way as to make her heart expand under her ribs. This had been happening for some time now. She had always felt that draw, right at the outset, but something had shifted in her on the day they had both tumbled on an icy garden path towards the end of autumn. A passing fugue she thought, until it happened again. And again. And now, here. As she swept into a courtesy befitting her rank, she knew what she would have to do by night’s close.

”My Prince,” she murmured, head inclined as he collected her hand and lifted it to his lips. Her use of the endearment had not escaped Aldamir's notice.

His eyes locked on hers in such a way as to heat her cheeks. She saw from the way his eyes shone, his spirits were as high as her own. The season, Mettarë, always seemed to bring out this in her. Of all nights of the year, perhaps this was the one to bring the happiness she feared eternally elusive. He adjusted the way he held her hand and they fell into step side by side, her arm looped through his comfortably. ”I hope I have not kept you waiting overlong.”

“I kept myself entertained,”
she replied.

Aldamir chuckled knowingly.”Of that I have little doubt.”

Before the night was done, she would tell him what she had learned in the hour she had spent in the hall prior to his arrival. They would discuss in the privacy of his rooms all she had heard and observed. Who was in attendance and who was not. Who she had spoken to and what had been divulged. All the wiles and skills her mother had spent years instructing her in for Edhellond's trade negotiations had been reshaped into something else in the time she had been at court. But all that would come later, after the guests had departed.

As of now, she had the feast to enjoy. Amarwen unlinked her arm to fetch two glasses from a passing tray. She passed one to Aldamir whose gaze lingered upon her still.

”You are enchanting,” he declared as she sipped at her wine. It had been steeped in spice and warmed. Simply glorious. She tasted orange, of course. For the aged King who so loved them.

Amarwen arched a brow at Aldamir. ”Am I mistaken, or has his Highness declared me a witch?”

“There is but one way to settle this,”
he replied, drawing so close that she had to tilt her head back.

Like her, seasonal holly was woven with his circlet and his fine coat was of the same velvet as her gown. She felt his hand slip around her waist to settle into the curve of her back and his mouth tasted of mulled wine. There was no hint of artifice or performance in this and by the time it had ended, her heart racing.

”Will you dance with me this night?” Aldamir murmured, lips brushing her ear.

”Yes,” she answered in turn. ”That and...more.”

His response to that was to lightly nip her ear before he drew back to drain his wine. She followed suit and soon they were amid the other dancers in a glittering hall.

Amongst those watching was Lord Calimir. He had not arrived alone for the evening’s festivities. At his side stood the eldest son of the Master of Ships. Both sipped at goblets of mulled wine and both studied Amarwen of Edhellond. She was difficult to miss amongst the dancers.

”She’s very pale,” the younger man observed, nonplussed.

Calimir, aware of the fellow’s preferences, checked an impatient sigh. ”The likelihood of finding the attributes you best prefer in a suitable match are scant to say the least.”

Castimir’s son grunted at that and took a healthy swig of his wine. He watched for a while longer, eyes glittering as he studied the young woman in question. Though the half breed prince she was presently shackled to held her close to him, it was not difficult to appreciate her charms. Particularly when she tipped her head back to laugh.

”She’ll serve, I suppose,” the young man allowed, his reticence abundantly clear.

”You’ll be hard pressed to find another of such impeccable lineage,” Calimir pressed.

“I said she’ll serve,” the younger man tersely replied and took another swing at his wine to drain it. "They’re much the same once the lights are out in any case.”

He turned away to drop his glass on a passing tray and shouldered past Calimir to depart. Lord Calimir, though lingered. Unwise as it was to permit Castimir’s son to wander Osgiliath’s streets alone, he was troubled. He had watched her grow with his son, from early childhood on. Amarwen’s father was one of his oldest friends. The life that awaited her was not going to be a pleasant one. There’d be no dancing nor courting. She’d be married and pressed into service before her feet so much as hit the ground and after that there would be no turning back.

But, should she prove her worth swiftly, perhaps he could persuade Castimir to allow her some small kindnesses. The unpleasant reality was that they were reduced to such measures by the wilful and reckless decision of the elderly man that was presently nodding off scarcely an hour into his arrival. Had Valacar selected a suitable Queen they would not be at this pass. Distasteful as he found it, there was naught that could now be done. What approached was an inevitable as the coming dawn. All that remained to be determined was how difficult the transition would be. If Gondor had to be torn asunder to save it from its present decline, then so be it.

At least his own son was well clear of it now. Not once had Halvarin attempted to make contact with Amarwen. Aside from two letters in quick succession, both destroyed unopened, Amarwen had abandoned her own attempts at correspondence. Just as well. The fact that Halvarin happened to be Calimir's son would not purchase the lad any protection should the Master of Ships perceive him to be an interloping rival. Castimir was ruthless when it came to opposition of any sort. He would crush Halvarin if that is what it took to obtain that which the Master of Ships desired: an established dynasty of High Numénorean bloodline that would ensure that the throne, once seized, would remain in the hands of his heirs for generations to come.

Halvarin's survival, his future, depended on him keeping well out of it. In time, Calimir hoped that his son would come to understand, if not forgive him, for he was well aware that his role in attempting to abduct Amarwen months ago remained an open wound between them. As for the child he had watched grow up beside his own son, her fate was perforce a different one. Not one of her choosing but that was the lot of the High Born. Lord Calimir sighed and, with a shake of his head, turned to follow Castimir’s son from the hall.


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 Post subject: Re: The Waning Days of King Valacar
PostPosted: Today, 12:08 am 
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Much had transpired since Rie-Zunic and Almara had waged war on the guild. Some of their efforts seemed fruitful, while others seemed to backfire. It was those set backs that led Rie-Zunic to the argument the two now found themselves in.

“It is the only way!” Rie-Zunic insisted.

“It’s murder!” Almara countered vehemently.

“Not in war time,” Rie-Zunic snapped back. “If we burn their ships, the crown replaces them! We ruin their supplies, but they ship in more! There is only one thing they can not so easily replace... their lives.”

Almara shook her head. “Rie... I feel this is a line we can not cross. If we are caught-“

“We won’t be.”

“You don’t know that.”

Rie-Zunic let a scrutinizing gaze settle on Almara. “It’s not like you haven’t killed men before.”

“Here and there, when necessary,” Almara defended herself. “But what you are talking about... it’s too much.”

“I thought you said you were with me,” Rie-Zunic challenged. “That we were together for good this time.”

Almara sighed and hung her head. She gazed down at her latest addition to her attire. A gold band with a small diamond adorned her finger. She let her hand settle on her stomach, not considering her actions. She hadn’t told Rie-Zunic...

“Almara?” Rie-Zunic pressed her.

Almara cleared her mind and walked over to him, placing a hand on his chest. “I’m with you. For better or for worse.” She leaned forwards and kissed his lips in the darkness of their hideout, and prayed they would all live to see these dark times as a thing of the past.


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