Kin-Strife of Gondor ~ The Reign of Castamir

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Kin-Strife of Gondor ~ The Reign of Castamir

Post by Snowdog »

Kin Strife of Gondor ~ The Reign of King Castamir

by Amarwen (Elora) and Halvarin (Snowdog)

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Of all of Gondor's long history, no chapter matches the tragedy or brutality of the Kin-Strife. This internecine conflict effectively started with the death of King Valacar in the year 1432 of the Third Age and ended some 16 years later. Castamir, claiming his pure Númenórean bloodline and a descendant of the Royal line, overthrew Valacar's rightful successor on the grounds that Eldacar was of mixed Gondorian-Rhovanion descent.

This tale is one of many. It tells of some of the people who got caught up in the dark and brutal civil war in Gondor and begins with Castamir claiming the crown of Gondor from the defeated King Eldacar.

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This is a Gondorian tale co-written by Halvarin (written by Halasían) and Amarwen (written by Elora) from their character perspective. We are real-life partners and enjoy writing collaborative roleplay stories together. Unless stated otherwise in the chapter notes, the Prologue and the odd-numbered chapters were written by Halvarin, and the even-numbered chapters were written by Amarwen. I would also like to thank Amarwen for her editing and taking off the rough edges from my writing. Any comments about this story can be made here.

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The discontent that led to the tragic Kin-Strife in Gondor was caused by the actions of Prince Valacar, son of King Rómendacil II, but the seeds were sown long before this time. In King Rómendacil's reign, there was war with the Easterling warrior clans of Rhûn. He succeeded in developing a strong alliance with the Northmen of Rhovanion who lived to the east of Mirkwood and also suffered at the hands of the Easterlings. With their combined might and leadership, they were able to defeat the Easterlings in battle, and after their great victory, Rómendacil furthered this close friendship between Gondor and Rhovanion by sending his son Valacar to be ambassador to the court of their leader Vidugavia of Rhovanion.

Rómendacil had intended that his son should learn something of the language and culture of the Men of Rhovanion, but he could not know that Valacar would fall in love with Vidumavi, daughter of Vidugavia. They were soon wed and to them a son was born. He was named Vinitharya but was later given the name of Eldacar when Valacar returned to Gondor with him. As the firstborn son of Valacar, Eldacar was the rightful heir to the throne of Gondor. The marriage between Valacar and Vidumavi would be the catalyst that would bring unrest in the future.

In Gondor, it was widely feared that the pure Númenórean blood of the Royal House would be lost with this mingling with the “lesser” men of the north. The men of Rhovanion were strong and fierce, but their lives withered much sooner than those of the Númenórean line and intermingling of Valacar and Vidumavi was seen by many as an unwise act. When Vidumavi died before Valacar became King of Gondor, this “weakness” was confirmed in the minds of many Gondorians of the Rhovanion blood.

Divisions in Gondor began to form, and unrest stirred, mainly in Pelargir and Umbar. The discord was muted under Valacar as king, as many held hope that he would marry again to a high Gondorian woman who would bear him a Númenórean heir. But no other would be named as heir to the throne. Eldacar would secede to the Gondorian kingship as Valacar, his father had wished. So began the Kin Strife of Gondor in 1432...

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Prologue ~ Seeds of the Kin-Strife

In 1432 when King Valacar died, unrest in the southern provinces burst into open rebellion with the coronation of Eldacar as King of Gondor. The powerful Mariner's Guild of Gondor, based in Pelargir and led by Castamir as Master of Ships, fanned the embers of unrest. Castamir was the great grandson of King Calmacil and claimed royal descent through that line. Castamir’s grandfather Calimehtar was the younger brother of Minaltar, later known as King Rómendacil II. Calimehtar had been content to serve his brother as Naval Commander and Master of the Mariners Guild. He maintained Gondor’s great fleet of ships in Pelargir, served as Governor of the province of Harondor, managed the affairs the tributary lands of Harad and the great port of Umbar. Through the line of Calimehtar, the Mariners Guild became a powerful faction and immensely influential within the realm of Gondor.

In later generations, when the line of Rómendacil mingled with the “lesser” blood of the Rhovanions, Castamir put himself forward as the rightful Númenórean heir of undiminished descent. He ignored Gondor's laws of succession and proclaimed himself the true King of Gondor. At Castamir’s proclamation, a rebellion in Pelargir erupted against Eldacar shortly after his coronation and it soon spread through the southern provinces to become a civil war.

For the next four years, a brutal war between Gondor’s people raged, each side convinced of their righteousness. The Governors of the southern provinces of Anfalas, Belfalas, Lebennin, Harondor, and Lossarnarch declared for Castamir, while those of Ithilien, Anórien, Dol Amroth, Edhellond and the rough and hardy men who lived in the western lands of Calenardhon and Enedwaith swore allegiance to Eldacar. Not all within these provinces agreed with who their Governor supported, and the fighting among the citizenry was grim. There were brutal raids and massacres of unarmed civilians by supporters of both sides in most provinces in that first year. After that, most of the dissenters had either been slain or had fled for friendlier lands.

The fighting mostly settled between the opposing armies, quickly stagnating along a line across Ithilien south of Emyn Arnen to the east of the Anduin and along the Erui River to the west of the Anduin. For two years, the ships of Castamir tried relentlessly to break their line by forcing the Anduin River passage with his ships. However, Eldacar held most of the siege engines and had them well placed to fire on the ships from both sides of the river. Also, cross river chains and log barriers were set to impede the ships’ ability to move upstream. Castamir's attempts to thwart his rival were defeated until such time as Castamir amassed enough of a force to mount an attack on three fronts. In the beginning of 1436, Castamir lead his army himself to force his way through the Crossing of the Erui. This came after twelve days of fighting and at great cost, still it was a victory long denied to Castamir.

Eldacar’s army fell back in disarray and were not able to regain a defensive footing until they reached fortifications in the narrows between the east end of the White Mountains, just south of Harlond. Castamir’s army destroyed the siege engines on the west bank of the Anduin and disabled the cross-river defences. At the same time, fierce Haradian mercenaries drove up the eastern bank of the Anduin, driving a wedge between Eldacar’s army and the river. They were able to destroy the siege engines on the east side of the Anduin, but unlike Eldacar’s army on the west side, the Ithilien army was able to regroup and counterattack the Haradrim mercenaries.

Eight relentless days of fighting followed. The Haradians were, for the most part decimated. Those few who remained, most of them the Haradian leaders and Castamir’s officers, fled to the south. It was a pyric victory in Ithillen, for Castamir’s ships were now able to pass freely up the river. In Harlond, the quays were burned, and the riverfront fortified. The few remaining siege engines Eldacar retained control of were used to bombard the approaching ships. After much damage and loss, Castamir’s ships were again forced to retreat downriver. Castamir sought to continue his attack on the west side, but his men were exhausted and had suffered great loss whereas Eldacar’s defense was strong. Thus, attack foundered, and the lines stagnated for the next four years.

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Osgiliath ~ 22 Ringarë 1436 III

Eldacar stood beneath the Dome of the Stars, within the Great Library of Osgiliath. He held the palantír in his gaze, unable to look away from what it might reveal. His position had become tenuous. He had few reserves of men and though a small army had come from Rhovanion to his aid, the best he could hope to mount with all that remained was a defense. He had no capacity to attack the armies that waited beyond Osgiliath’s walls. His elder son, Ornedil, the fortress of Minas Anor and the command of his western armeis. His younger son, Aldamir, held Minas Ithil and command of his eastern forces. Still, Gondor's true and loyal strength was fading and with it, his hope to retain Gondor and reunite her peoples. His vision was unclear and the palantír held nothing he might look to. Stagnant as this war was, a divided Gondor could not hold forever. There had to be a way forward, but he could not see it.

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Minas Anor & Harlond ~ 4 Narvinyë 1437 III

It was late in the evening a few days after the New Year, and Ornendil was reviewing the defensive lines near Minas Anor. The chill air from the north had laid a thick frost overall and as the steam from his breath swirled about him, he listened closely in the quiet night. Something wasn’t right. It was too quiet. He waved for his line commander.

“Make sure the men remain watchful this night. Something is amiss.”

The commander nodded and sent a signal down the line, but as the next signaller turned, an arrow hit him in the neck. A cry went up and the Castamirian army began to bellow. A night attack!

Ornendil quickly ordered the archers to ready, but again an arrow took down his signaller. When his second fell and the sound of swords rang all along the front line, Ornendil realised his position was swiftly deteriorating. But how, for he had sent orders for the river and siege engines to be watched.

What Ornedil did not know is that despite his efforts and care, Castamir's spies had still managed to infiltrate his command. Instead of running Ornedil's river boats upstream, smaller boats that carried twelve men were sent along the river banks where Castamir's men could swiftly disembark and ambush the guards at strongpoints. With several of these groups along both sides of the river, the Castamirians caused much disruption and chaos behind Ornendil’s defensive line.

Before Ornendil could assess the situation clearly, his flank on the river was compromised. The larger ships moved upriver and disgorged a larger army into the Harlond itself. In the western end of the line, rugged highlanders of Lebennin managed to take the furthest stronghold which allowed men to pour in unopposed.

When reports managed to find Ornendil, he realised his line of defense was now untenable. Finding a lack of officers around him, Ornendil had to trust to unit leaders to try to organise a withdrawal from the centre of the line. But with his right flank crumbling and his left flank in Harlond already lost, time was not on his side. The assault on his communications was effective to the point that Ornendil could not reliably know if any of his commands had gotten to whom he had them sent to. Likewise, the few messages that he did receive were filled with ill news. For the gates of Minas Anor had fallen without contest to Castamirian raiders.

Castamir's soldiers took cloaks and emblems from dead and captured Eldacarian soldiers and disguised themselves. Their deception worked. At first, acting like they were reinforcements for Eldacar, they were able to walk in the open gates and take control from the unsuspecting city guard. They drew in as many of their men as they could before it became known that the gate had fallen.

At this, Ornendil's hope was shaken. No longer could he look to fend off the usurper from within the city. Gathering men to him, Ornendil had each man pass the word that they needed to assault the gates of Minas Anor. Likewise, the City Guard tried to re-take the gates from the inside, but the attacks were not coordinated, and the raiders were able to fend off both attacks. With the gates held, it was deemed time by Castamir’s sympathisers to take down the guards at the secondary doors and open them to Castamir’s men coming up from Harlond.

After a second attempt to storm the gates foundered, Ornendil saw that the city was lost. With the confusion and chaos of his army on the field, they had no choice but to retreat across the Pelennor Field toward Osgiliath.

Eldacar’s men trapped inside Minas Anor fought on, level by level into the morning, but when they were making a stand at the fourth level, the commander of the naval forces that had come up the river offered terms to Eldacar’s men. After considering the limited options, the ranking commander of Eldacar’s Minas Anor army, surrendered. The surrendering soldiers were herded into the courtyard where those who lived in the city were escorted to their homes. The soldiers who had no families, or were from outside the city, were immediately asked to swear fealty to King Castamir. Those who did were given a chance to prove their loyalty by fighting for Castamir in a penal unit. Those who would not were, along with any Rhovanions, put to death.

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Osgiliath ~ 4 Narvinyë 1437 III

By the time word came to Osgiliath of the fall of Minas Anor, it was already too late to sway the outcome of the war. Eldacar ordered his elite Royal Guard out to reinforce Ornedil in Minas Anor, but they could not reach him. When the Highladers that broke the west end of Ornedil’s line made contact, the Royal Guard were forced to stand fast, and they set a defensive perimeter a few miles out around the gates of Osgiliath. There they were able to fend off any Castamirians who were so bold to pursue of the remnants of Ornendil’s retreating army. With the Rhovanion Royal Guard on the forefront, the Gondorian Royal Guard aided stragglers from Minas Anor to reach the city.

The first attack toward Osgiliath by the pursuing Castamirians was stopped by the Rhovanions at great cost to both armies. With their strength spent, the Rhovanions retreated to hastily prepared defensive positions around Osgiliath while the Castamirians fell back to Minas Anor. There were still pockets of resistance inside the walls of the city. Against all expectations, Castamir's army had subdued and secured the city by the time morning light came.

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Minas Anor ~ 5 Narvinyë 1437 III

To have secured Minas Anor was a success beyond all expectations. Castamir expected to have to lay siege to the city, and he determined he had enough strength to stranglehold it while fending off attacks from Osgiliath. Thinking it would likely take many weeks if not months. Now, with the fortress secured, he could plan his move on Osgiliath, Taking the nation’s capital and Eldacar’s seat, would not be easy, but he was able to make his move much sooner than he had dared hope for. Wasting no time, he sent two of the river ships onward without disembarking in hopes they could press their advantage. It was a gamble, but if they could gain East Osgiliath, Eldacar’s eastern army would be cut off and isolated.

Captain Silares took command of this force as they pushed upriver, and trusted Halvarin, his navigator to take them through. The soldiers aboard were itching to disembark at Harlond, but when they heard they were the northern force making an assault on Osgiliath, they settled and grew determined to take their objective. But like the attack on Osgiliath in Pelennor, the two ships full of men were not enough. Though they had nearly achieved surprise, a company of Aldamir’s men in Ithilien spotted the ships in the dark as they passed by.

The commander sent word to Osgiliath by their fastest two runners that an attack was imminent on the city from the river. The company was also able to attack Silares’ lead ship with burning arrows. It did little damage, but it did illuminate the two ships for a time, so the attempt at a surprise landing in East Osgiliath failed. Silares ordered the ships back to Harlond, reluctant to risk both ships and men in an attack on a prepared city.

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Osgiliath ~ Nénimë 1437 III

It would be a week before Castamir could wage another attack against Osgiliath. It was time that served Eldacar well. The winds warmed and the cold rains made movement hard on the muddy field. Castamir’s attack ended a few days later, his men exhausted. Though the thrust failed to achieve much, it did cause Eldacar to pull his remaining forces back behind the city wall. Castamir’s men closed a ring around West Osgiliath but faced a battle with the elements of winter outside the wall of the city.

It would be another month before Castamir could attack again, for the brief warming had passed and winter fell hard a couple days later. Frigid north winds were relentless through the month of Nénimë 1437. The Rhovanions, wearing their traditional furs, managed to withstand the cold better than the Gondorians, but the snows that came with the winds were fierce. Castamir’s men froze in the fields and Eldacar’s men tried their best to stay warm in the city. There would be no fighting while the winter held.

Eldacar used the time to prepare defences, and his son Aldamir sent what men he could spare from the East Watch of Cirith Ungol to Osgiliath to help strengthen the city. Knowing that his southern reach was now untenable with the loss of Minas Anor, Aldamir anticipated Castamir would attack soon. He prepared a defensive line anchored in the east against the spur of Ephel Dúath that reached for Minas Ithil, then from the city to the road.

At the crossing of the river, he fortified both sides, and to the west, he set a line along the north bank of the river. To the south he had his elite Ithilien Rangers hold the line to wait for the attack. When it came, they would harass the advancing Castamirians and fall back to Minas Ithil. Aldamir’s leadership gave the men east of the Anduin hope, if not in victory, then in strength. But Aldamir could see the dire position they were in. All he could hope for was to resist Castamir, and plan for the eventual need to flee north to Rhovanion. Eldacar was fortunate that his younger son had the foresight to make even the most rudimentary plans to evacuate.

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Osgiliath ~ Nénimë 1437 III

Eldacar was solemn, aware that the thaw would mean Castamir's next assault against the city was imminent. The field, still muddy with melting snow, prevented any siege engines to be brought forth. But the sun returned day after day and with-it warm winds from the south. Soon the ground would dry, and the fighting would erupt again. Aldamir had reported their delaying retreat had cost Castamir’s eastern army dearly, but they had gathered now on the line Aldamir had set. There would be no more reinforcements coming from the east. Their only hope was to the north, and any men Rhovanion could send.

Little did Eldacar know that with little if any Gondorian presence in North Ithilien, it fell to the Rhovanions to keep the Easterling clans at bay. Not yet strong enough to launch an attack of any significance, they had increasingly turned to harassing the Rhovanion farmer, not forgetting that they had aided their enemy Gondor in their great defeat years before. Vidugavia sent word to Osgiliath that no further aid could be spared at this time. The messengers had to travel treacherous ways through Dagorlad to North Ithilien to get to East Osgiliath, and word only came late in the month.

Eldacar and his sons stood alone against the rising popularity of the Númenórean-blooded Castamir, even though he officially had no right to the crown. It was he, Eldacar, son of Valacar, son of Rómendacil II, who was rightful king of Gondor, and if he fell fighting for the crown, so be it. He gave his sons the choice of slipping away to the north to dwell with their grandmother’s kin, but each stood tall with their father, preferring death if not victory for their father’s crown. So, the stage was set for the final battle.

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The Defeat of Eldacar ~ The Fall of Osgiliath ~ 5 Súlimë 1437 III

The first attack took place in the east. Aldamir’s line held the initial assault, and only gave way slightly to the second one. For five days he held his line and hoped to weather the onslaught. In the west, the heavy engines that Eldacar had used against Castamir’s ships had been repaired and moved to within range of Osgiliath, and Castamir wasted no time in sending both flaming and heavy solid projectiles. Eldacar had little to use to return fire, for most of the engines had been moved south in earlier years. The few he had were aimed at the river where Castamir’s ships would eventually come.

For three days, there was no attack directly on the city. But on the night of the third day, Castamir used the tactic that worked so well in taking Minas Anor and sent small boats of men up both sides of the river. Ornedil would not be fooled so easily a second time. At first sign, he sent the Rhovanion Guard to counter the raiders. Vilmaith led the Rhovanions toward the river. They had caught the raiders not long after they had landed, yet they fought with intense precision.

Vilmaith managed to match the raiders, but when Rhinnin was slain before her, she froze as she watched blood gush from Rhinnin’s neck as her head turned, eyes bulging and closing as she fell and bled out. It all seemed to happen so slowly in Vilmiath’s eyes. Of all the battles in the tournaments she had been in and had won, this fight was real, and it was the first death of a close friend she had experienced. The sounds of swords clashing; the yelling and the groaning seemed to pass through her slowly, yet Vilmiath could not take her eyes off Rhinnin. It was the hands of one of her Rhovanion countryman that grabbed her tunic and spun her around…

”Vilmiath! Rhinnin is dead! And we have need of you!”

His beseeching words sliced through Vilmaith's moment of shock. She blinked a few times and saw him staring into her eyes when the sword struck him in the back of the head. His blood splattered over her, and she lunged with her sword, killing the attacker as the Rhovanion man fell toward her and to the ground. As if the spell was broken, Vilmiath turned and deflected a sword aimed at her neck, then pushed forth with some other Rhovanions. The battle raged until sunrise, and the light of day found Vilmiath and the remnants of her Royal Guards victorious. They prevented the raiders from getting a foothold in the city. Just.

On the east side of the river, the raiders fared better. They had managed to defeat the Ithilien Guard that held the confluence of the Anduin and the Morgulduin and managed to breach the line Aldamir had set in place. Their penetration was not far, and losses were heavy for the raiders, but they held their hard-won key ground. It was to be the beginning of the battle of Osgiliath.

The armies of Castamir surged toward the gates of Osgiliath, and as the projectiles of the engines rained down upon the city, they managed to bring a ram to the gates. At the same time, ships led by Silares came upriver from Harlond carrying men who would land on both sides of the river. The engines Eldacar had managed to sink one ship and damage others, but most of the men were able to land on the east side. After three days, East Osgiliath had fallen, dividing Eldacar’s forces.

Aldamir tried to force his way to the city but ended up retreating to Minas Ithil. That same day, the gates of Osgiliath were broken and Castamir’s army poured into the city. After days of bloody fighting in the streets, Ornedil was forced into a pocket in the north of the city along with the Lord of Edhellond and his men. He and the Lord of Edhellond led a counterattack while Eldacar led the evacuation to Rhovanion. The city fell a day later, the crown prince and Edhellond’s Lord captured. In the east, Aldamir fought on, and with a great push against Castamir’s army, he had his Ithilien Rangers cover their withdrawal to the north. With Osgiliath in Castamir’s hands, they were forced to make their way through Dagorlad to east Rhovanion.

Eldacar had tried to get all his Rhovanion Guard out of the city, for he knew there would be no quarter for them. But they were fierce and would not stand down from a fight unless directly ordered. When he took account of his Guard in Rhovanion, too many had been lost. He knew not the whereabouts Vilmiath, or the twins Vilna and Vidnavi, the shieldmaidens of Rhovanion. He had no word of their deaths, nor were they with him in his escape. Eldacar was left now in exile among his mother’s people, and Castamir had forced his kingship over all of Gondor. And if that was not bitter enough, his eldest son was now Castamir’s prisoner and it was unlikely that the usurper would suffer him to live, not with two sons of his own to see to the throne.

Word from Gondor was sparse and chaotic. Confusion reigned in those early days of defeat. Those nobles that remained loyal scrambled north as best they could, harried all the way by Castamir’s forces for the usurper was eager to wither Eldacar’s ranks and supporters however he might. Those that survived told grim tales of vicious pogroms. The slaughter had not ended with Castamir’s victory. His thirst for power merely morphed to a thirst for vengeance. Those further afield stood little chance of escaping the usurper's heavy boot.

And so it came to be that Eldacar was alone, far from Gondor, surrounded by the battered remnants of his royal court, the remains of his loyal Gondorian Royal Guard and army, and the few remaining Rhovanion Royal Guards that had lived.

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(I'll have to work on the coding as the code parameters from Tolkien Forums (xenforo) are different than Hall of Fire (PHPBB). I do think I have a workaround from another site though. I'll see how it goes)
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Kin-Strife of Gondor ~ The Reign of Castamir

Post by Snowdog »

The Sack of Edhellond ~ 27 Súlimë 1437 III

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How was this possible, Amarwen wondered. She stared at her reflection in the mirror. Her hair had been brushed until its ebony lengths glowed and then set into a high braid that fell over one shoulder to her waist. She had donned Edhellond's colours in a dress of rich gold velvet but Amarwen saw none of this. Her thoughts were scattered, elsewhere.

They had burned Osgiliath. The glorious Dome of Stars cracked and charred. The Master Stone drowned in the Anduin. Her hands closed into fists as a fierce wave of satisfaction swept through her. At least the usurper would not have the palantír amongst his ill-gotten spoils. As her thoughts turned to the sacking of the city, and the slaughter of the people unable to flee or hide, her satisfaction curdled. Soldiers going door to door, street to street, hunting civilians down. In the nation's capitol was a shock in itself. That it had been done to them by their own people...that was an anathema to Amarwen.

And where was father? Alive? Dead? Prisoner and if so for how long? He'd been with Eldacar when the siege of Osgiliath had begun and there had been no word of his fate now that the city had fallen. Her father, the king and his sons? Where were they all in this brutal carnage? Dead? Hiding? Prisoner? No one knew in this chaos. A chill ran through her blood and she shivered as a tap sounded at her door. In the mirror, Amarwen saw her mother slip through her door and so she swept her fear and her sorrow into a firm grip. For her mother's sake. Since the tidings of Osgiliath's fall had reached them in Edhellond, her mother had neither slept nor ate. The Lady of Edhellond was pale as a ghost and in her eyes was dreadful fear. Amarwen rose and crossed her bedroom to take her mother in her arms. This woman had always been Amarwen's haven in a storm. Now, it fell to her to be the same.

Her mother leaned into Amarwen's embrace for a long moment and then collected herself up. She quivered like a leaf but her jaw was clenched. She, too, had dressed formally to receive the men below. She had added her circlet, a clear symbol that she too was descended from a line of kings. Perhaps Hyarmendacil's blood would be enough to give those waiting below pause for thought. Perhaps. If they were too much the usurper's creatures then it was unlikely. Such men cared not for the line of kings in truth.

"They are waiting," her mother said through her tense jaw, voice strained.

Amarwen's first response was to let them wait longer still but that would not serve them well. They needed to secure Father's release before all else. Hostage negotiations must commence at once.

She gathered her mother's hands in her own, "Then let us begin."

Down to the Great Hall they went, arm in arm. The household staff were silent, fearful. For the men waiting within were hardly guests. Guests did not arrive swathed in armour and gripping their weapons, the stink of a sacked city still thick on their charred cloaks. Guests did not pound on the doors and demand entry on pain of death.

Their Chamberlain met them at the doors to the Great Hall with pleading eyes, a silent plea for what he had begged them to do only yesterday - to flee as so many were. To leave Edhellond and its people to the usurper and those he would replace them with. To meet the same foul treatment as that which Osgiliath had reaped. No, her mother had declared and Amarwen agreed with her wholeheartedly. They would stand. They would weather the storm. They would secure Father's release and negotiate a peace that would protect Edhellond and its people.

"These...these men, they are-" he began, stumbling over his words for no one expected the usurper to have turned his eyes so swiftly to Edhellond.

"I know what they are," her mother answered the Chamberlain, finding a store of steely resolve conserved and shepherded for just this.

Their retainers must see them staunch, unbowed, determined to stay the course no matter how fearful they were. There there could be no relenting until Father was secured. The Chamberlain bowed his head, turned away and, with a fretful frown, pushed open the doors to admit them into their hall.

The first thing Amarwen noted was their number. There had to be at least ten men gathered. All wore mail, some plate and no few weapons. Hard travel stained their gear, and that was not all. She did indeed see smoke and blood and a fresh wave of anger began to bubble. These were not men sent to negotiate. Osgiliath had been sacked by grim, stone-faced men such as these and there had been no measure of decency or mercy there if half the tales they heard were correct.

The men had been gathered together, quietly talking to themselves but now they swung about. Most Amarwen did not know or recognise save for two of their number. Calamir, the Master of the Mariner's Guild, had been a frequent guest at this very hall over the years. He had been a staunch ally of Therald, her father, within the Guild. She had heard her parents discuss him of late but until now she had not been able to believe that he had declared for the usurper Castamir. He had made of himself their foe. The Guild Master had the decency, at least, to incline his head to her mother in deference to her position. At his shoulder stood his son, Halvarin. His expression was taut and she could not tell what he thought as his eyes flickered over her and her mother. A muscle feathered in his jaw as his gaze returned to her and it took all her restraint to hold her position by her mother. The man that gazed to her now, she almost did not recognise him for the man she knew him to be. He was both familiar and strange to her both.

"Your Grace," Calamir intoned as they closed.

Her mother said nothing as she stared at the Guild Master. As if she somehow perceived the tidings he bore. The tension mounted rapidly until Amarwen could remain quiet no longer.

"The Lord of Edhellond, what is his fate?"

A blunt question to be sure, but Amarwen saw little to be gained otherwise. These men had come from war, for war. Of that she was all but certain.

"Alive," Halvarin answered and at that her mother sagged on her arm.

Calamir stepped forward so quickly that Amarwen had little choice but to surrender her mother to him. Her teeth set as she watched him assist her mother to a chair. The other men swiftly gathered around it and Amarwen made to force herself through their press to her mother's side. Halvarin's hand on her arm drew her back and away.

"Why did he ride out for Eldacar?" Halvarin hissed in her ear.

Amarwen's gaze did not shift from the knot of men crowding her mother but her tone was ice, "Because treason holds no appeal in these halls. As well you should know."

"I am no traitor!"

"Were you there, at Osgiliath, Hal? How many traitors did you find amongst the women and children slain in those streets?"

"Osgiliath chose to fight, even though they had no hope of prevailing. It was foolish. Reckless. Had they surrendered, none of it would have been necessary."

"When is wholesale slaughter is ever necessary?," she returned, her fury mounting. Amarwen's attention returned to the men gathered around her mother. They were gathered so tightly she could not even see her.

"Edhellond will be next. Open the harbour for pity's sake. It need not come to this. Not here," Halvarin implored. "It's the only path out of this."

Amarwen's heart felt cold and heavy as she shook her head from side to side. This man, the man she loved, was not here to defend them. "The harbour will only open when my father is safely returned to Edhellond. It is as simple as that."

Beside her, Halvarin pushed out a sorrowful sigh, "Nothing is simple any more, Ami."

The plaintive note in his voice pulled her eyes to his and she was struck, as had so often occurred in the past, by their colour. Like the storm tossed sea, they were, blue and grey both depending on how the light hit them. There had been a night not so long ago that she had gazed into them and they had been laughing. Filled with joy and no small degree of mischief as they danced in this very hall. She still remembered the feel of his arms around her, sure and steady, when they had slipped away to the gardens that night. How had they been so foolish to think they could withstand this?

"Perhaps you are right," she sighed, for his eyes seemed as bleak as her heart. Amarwen washed a hand over her face but before anything more could be said, her mother rose to her feet and began to push her way out from the men around her.

Amarwen's eyes widened at the terrible wrath upon her mother's face. She made to step forward but Halvarin caught her elbow as the men around her mother closed again.

"Never. This house, nor Edhellond, will bow neither head nor knee to the Usurper!" Her mother's voice rang through the hall.

"A terrible mistake, your Grace," Calamir declared ominously, "Unlike Osgiliath, Edhellond is indefensible. You fail to comprehend, though I do not know how, that you are alone in your opposition to the King. All the others are dead or have fled fled."

"Castamir is no more King than I."

"This intransigence is why your husband will die and your people starve. How long before they turn on themselves, or you?"

Again Amarwen tried to go to her mother but Halvarin held her fast. "Do not," he warned and at that the doors opened, pushed in by the men of the household.

From the Chamberlain to those that tended the kitchen and stables, some of them armed with no more than their fists, all with a frenzied, desperate light in their eyes.

"Unhand our Lady and quit this place," the Chamberlain said, lifting his silvered chin.

Amarwen had never seen him so wroth before. This was a man that had tossed her on his knee.

"Have them stand down," Halvarin pleaded in a low voice, "It need not end like this."

But already it was too late, for one of the men by Amarwen's mother seized her roughly and threw her to his fellows as he cleared his sword. The great hall filled with the terrible scrape of steel clearing scabbards and this sent those in the doorway flying forwards, intent on casting these men out. But, valiant as they were, they were no match for the men they sought to drive forth. Horrified, Amarwen was momentarily transfixed until Halvarin pulled her away.

"Hide," he hissed at her, urgent, even as he drew his sword.

She heard her mother cry out, "RUN AMARWEN! RU-"

A strangled sound and then nothing as Calamir turned to where she stood. Behind him, she could see her mother's form, prone on the flagstone floor. An outstretched hand, limp. Blood pooling. Fingers weakly twitching and then still... and the drip of her mother's blood from the Guild Master's sword to the floor. The horror paralyzed Amarwen where she stood.

"Bring the girl here, lad," his father barked to Halvarin. Halvarin's arm around Amarwen's elbow twitched, tightening at his father's instructions. Whether to obey his father or deny him, Amarwen could not say and dared not venture.

She blinked at the absence of tone in the Calamir's voice. It was as stark and bleak as his face and that realisation broke through Amarwen's shock. This man would kill her just as he had her mother. She could hear those still fighting towards the doors. Cries of anger, fear, pain and outrage fading as they cut through the largely unarmed retainers like a hot knife through butter. Then Halvarin's grip loosened and she slipped free, collected up her heavy velvet skirts and did as her mother had bade her to do with her last breath. Amarwen ran...

Running was something she had always been good at, skirts or not. She was fleet as fox and she knew her family halls far better than those pursuing her. Amarwen did not dare look back at those pounding after her. Their weapons and armour weighed far more heavily that her skirts and unlike them, she could get to the harbour and a ship without fear of being harried. Once she had the wind in her sails she would elude them no matter how fast their horses were. Whilst she slipped through the streets of her childhood home, those pursuing her were not so fortunate.

As fortune would have it, she was on the water with the tide before Calamir and his men gained the docks. Unlike her, they had been stalled and waylaid at every pass by the people of Edhellond angered by the fresh blood bright on their blades and the murder in their faces. And if they thought they'd appropriate a ship to pursue her, the actions of Edhellond's Harbour Master put paid to that.

Amarwen whipped towards the sea with the ships of Edhellond aflame at her back. It was a sight terrible and stunning to behold. Back on the docks, Halvarin pressed his arm over his mouth and nose to keep the smoke at bay.

"Every last ship, boat and dinghy," Calamir raged, appalled as any mariner would be, "These people are mad!"

Halvarin said nothing, his eyes tracking the small sail of the one ship that had slipped away. Amarwen was doomed now, he thought to himself with a growing sense of helpless and overwhelming despair. She'd be a fugitive now, a traitor to be hunted down. Castamir would show no mercy. Assuming she somehow managed to land the tiny boat safely. It was not made to withstand the sea and she could not risk hugging the coast where she might be seen and apprehended.

He pushed out a sigh and then returned his attention to their immediate surrounds. The smoke was thickening and the people of Edhellond had proven themselves wroth. Whilst Amarwen's father had taken most of the men at arms with him to Osgiliath, there was no telling how emboldened the townsfolk would be once the smoke gave them cover. Particularly once word of events at the hall reached them. That would not take long for they had been too preoccupied with pursuing Amarwen to ensure none lived to speak of it. And so, in that sense, Amarwen had saved a good many lives this day with her flight for they lacked the number to return to the hall and quell the burgeoning violence brewing around them in the port.

"We should be away, Father," he said, "There is nothing to be gained here."

Calamir muttered an oath under his breath as he turned on his heels. As they strode back to where they had left their horses, Halvarin asked what was likely unwise, "Was it necessary to kill the Lady of Edhellond?"

Calamir rolled his shoulders, "I had hoped that she might see reason. For Edhellond, for her daughter."

"What of the Lord of Edhellond now?" he asked.

"For the King to decide," his father answered with a grimace, "But I doubt it will be a merciful one."

"And Amarwen?" he pressed, at which his father turned about to study him.

He lifted a hand to set upon Halvarin's shoulder, "The kindest thing, lad, is to hope the sea claims the lass before the King does."

By the time they had ridden back to Minas Anor, his father's words proved true. The new King had swept through the court of Gondor like a bloody scythe. The dead included the Lord of Edhellond and Eldacar's eldest son Ornendil, both executed scant hours after Halvarin had ridden out for Edhellond, fearful to let his father go on without him.

The discovery that Therald had been dead by the time they had gained Edhellond's halls was another stone in Halvarin's stomach. He had told Amarwen that her father was alive. One more thing she could never forgive him for.

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