Through Shadows

Chapter 18

Chapter 18

Juniper

And tidings now came by swift riders from Cair Andros of all that was done, and the City made ready for the coming of the King.

quoted from: The Steward and the King; The Return of the King; book IV by J.R.R. Tolkien

Minas Tirith, 27th March, 3019, Third Age

The shadows of Mindoluin were already stretching eastwards when Éowyn finally climbed up onto the walls as she had been inclined to in the morning. The Steward had suggested that Merry should accompany them, and now the hobbit stood between them, making use of a gap in the parapet to get a view of the Pelennor. Watching him out of the corner of her eye, Éowyn noticed how pale he was despite his weatherbeaten complexion, and though she was impatient for Elfhelm's Riders to return with the messengers from the host, she could not but worry for Merry's sake about the news they would bring.

It had been no problem to find Ioreth that morning, and the garrulous healer had only been too pleased to oblige the "Lord Perian", assuring her that her cousin certainly had the needed mushrooms in store and would most willingly prepare the required dish. And it had been a really delicious meal of buttered noodles, mushrooms and fried garlic, sprinkled generously with chopped herbs and grated cheese, which Ioreth had presented them with when they had come back from their visit to the camp.

And yet her plan of encouraging the Halfling had nearly failed, because when he had entered the Steward's room the sight of the table ready laid and the smell of the food had caused him to break out in tears. And while she had stood, not knowing how to react, the Steward had simply knelt down in front of Merry, pulling him close into a comradely embrace and held him until his sobs had subsided.

Stealthily her gaze wandered over to the man standing beside the hobbit. How could it be that his gesture had seemed so natural? Not the least condescending as she had feared her own attempt to console the crying Halfling would have been? And how different he had acted in the camp, appearing as the proud, stern leader, parading his status and at the same time treating Elfhelm with total respect, making clear he was seeing him as an equal. He certainly understood how to act according to the demands and expectations of his various counterparts. And yet she could find no fault with his behaviour, no hint of play-acting to get control. It rather felt as if he slipped into different garments, depending on the demands of the respective situation while at the same time the core of his personality did not change.

Proud and lordly he had seemed when being given the tour of the camp by the marshal and yet he had conveyed great interest in everything. With expertise he had eyed the horses, and his talk with the grooms who tended the injured steeds had shown more than just nominal interest. And how he had eased the stable-boy's insecurity, when the lad had been clumsy when serving the cup of welcome! Nothing more but a smile, an assuring nod, but the boy had loosened up as if a heavy load had been taken off his shoulders. Perhaps Merry's comparison of him to Gandalf Greyhame was not entirely amiss, there certainly was something magical in the way the Steward managed to influence people's hearts.

Now he stood on the walls, gazing out to where the road crossed the river on a provisional bridge, his hands resting on the parapet. His face was grave, his posture seemingly radiating calm confidence, and yet, schooled in the years of the Worm's machinations, she could not but notice the slight tenseness of his shoulders, as if there was something he was trying to control. Alerted she scanned his face. In profile the aquiline form of his nose was rather striking. The Númenórean beak Théodred had called this feature that had been even more prominent on Boromir. And had she not seen similar noses on him and all his kinsmen from the north? Birds of prey they were, eagles to soar far above the fates of lesser men.

Angrily she tore her eyes away. It did not matter who and what they were, all of them. She had tried to fly, tried to soar into the freedom of glorious death in battle, only to be caught in the net of earthbound duty again. And it had been his hand that had brought her back to life, only to push her back into the shackles she had so desperately tried to leave behind. Duty! She clenched her hand. At least the House of Eorl had risen again from the mirk of dishonour. Once again the Eorlingas stood proud, victorious over a foe that had outnumbered them greatly.

Suppressing a sigh, she looked at Merry. Poor fellow, torn between hope and despair! What was hope but a worm, gnawing at the core of one's heart, hollowing it out from within like a maggot-ridden apple? They had to face the facts, whatever these facts would be, though she could not deny that as the arrival of news from the Morannon grew near, her own anxiety was growing by the minute. One by one the men who had been close to her heart had died in battle: Her father, Fréaláf, Erwig of Westfold, her husband to be, Théodred, and only twelve days ago down there on the blood-soaked fields of the Pelennor, Théoden King. She gritted her teeth. There certainly was a possibility that Éomer lived, that Pippin lived, as well as Prince Imrahil and his son Erchirion, who her brother seemed to have befriended so easily, but she would not allow herself the weakness to hope for it.

But were not the latter the Steward's kinsmen? Her gaze stole over to him again, perusing his grave face. What was he hoping for, seeming so composed and yet being so tense? Was there any hope at all in his features and bearing? With a frown she noticed the hard and determined set of his mouth. And why did his fingernails spot that white discolouration as if he was pressing his fingers down on the stones of the parapet in a desperate attempt to keep his composure? Was that only anticipation? Thoughtfully she let her gaze follow his line of vision, and all of a sudden she understood: The Causeway Forts!

Partly shrouded in the mists that were beginning to rise from the Great River, the ruins of the fortifications stood like the blackened bones of some burnt carcass. She suppressed a shudder, imagining what had been going on there. How must this good man feel, reliving that nightmare?

"Look!" The Halfling's voice tore her out of her musings. His eyes wide, he pointed out over to the river, and then Éowyn saw them too: a group of riders, still too far for her to make out their exact number, approaching the city at a fast trot. All of a sudden she felt anxiety clutch her heart. What news would they bring? What had become of Éomer? She pressed her lips together to prevent them from quivering and tried to calm herself, squaring her shoulders and breathing deeply and slowly through the nose. How long would it take for them to reach the town? How long to climb up to the sixth level? She swallowed, unable to tear her eyes away from the approaching group.

"It's almost four leagues from the Causeway Forts, my lady."

She nearly jumped with surprise. Could this man read her thoughts? Gathering her composure, she turned to him. "That would mean at least one hour till they reach the gate, and probably another half until they can be up here."

The Steward nodded. "I'll send a man down to the gate to lead them here directly." His gaze wandered to Merry, who still stood motionless, staring at the riders."What do you think, my lady? Should we not leave the walls, as it is getting too dark for a clear view anyway, and have a light supper down in the garden?"

She was not sure if the Hobbit had even heard him, so taking the Steward's hint, she took a turn to address Merry. "Holdwine, what about a snack as we wait for the messengers to arrive?"

He looked at her and tried to smile, but failed miserably. "I thank you very much for your care and concern, my lady, but I'm afraid I couldn't eat a single morsel. I simply couldn't get anything down. I..."

"Come then, Merry and let's try and walk the anxiety off." The Steward's voice was calm, and seemed to have a soothing influence on the nervous Halfling, and soon they found themselves pacing the garden. After a while Merry started to talk, and encouraged by the Steward's questions he plunged into telling them about his childhood in Buckland, about the Shire, all the time carefully avoiding to mention his friends' names, as if being afraid to evoke harm if he did.

Darkness grew, the lanterns under the arcades of the ambulatory were lit, and then suddenly they were there, a Rider of the Mark and a Gondorean soldier, covered in sweat and dust, both eager to hide their exhaustion behind a proud bearing. While the Eorling bowed, his helm under his left arm and his right on the pommel of his sword, the Gondorean dropped on one knee, and Éowyn nearly cringed, imagining the problems the poor soldier would have to get on his legs again after having spent at least two days in the saddle, riding at quick pace. For a moment they hesitated, unsure who of them was to speak first, but then the Steward motioned to the Rider, and bowing again, the man addressed Éowyn in the language of the Mark.

"Westu, Éowyn Éomund's dohtor hál! Tidings I bring of raging battle, of valiant deeds of gallant men, of glorious victory over the Dark Lord. And greetings I bring from Éomer King, lionhearted leader in battle, who hailed his sister when raising the cup of victory."

She gulped. Éomer... He lived! Her big oaf of a brother... He lived! All the emotions she had bottled up so carefully these last days suddenly flooded her very being, and relief swept over her like a crushing wave. She closed her eyes in an attempt to keep the raising tears from brimming over and for a split second she swayed, only to be steadied immediately by strong hands.

"My lady! Lady Éowyn!" The Steward's voice sounded alarmed and urgent.

Opening her eyes, she looked into his, and the deep worry and care she beheld in them caused her to swallow a second time. "I'm well, my lord. I just..." She drew a deep breath. "He lives... My brother lives."

Nodding in his grave way, he released her, but stayed close at her side, obviously not wanting to take any risk. She could not help a smile at his reserved but nevertheless protective attitude. Being able to call such a man "friend" certainly was one of the better things of life. Squaring her shoulders, she turned again to the messenger, motioning to Merry and the Steward.

"I thank you for your message, King's Rider. But now let us hear of their friends' and relatives' fate."


"So, where now is this Cormallen they have been talking about?" Eagerly Merry helped to unroll the map Éowyn had ordered him to bring to the Steward's room. His cheeks flushed with excitement and the effect of the sweet golden wine the Steward had served them, he leaned forward to have a better look.

"Over there, down by the Anduin, just opposite of Cair Andros." The Steward's finger pointed at the long island.

"So that is the place the Lord Aragorn sent troops to on his march on the gate. What do you think about their chance of success, my lord?" Only when she had finished her sentence did Éowyn realise that she had mentioned his name without the slightest pang whatsoever. Surprised at herself she frowned, but the Steward's answer forestalled any further musings.

"There is a fair chance, my lady. Access from the Ithilien bank of the river is easier than from the other, though there are no bridges. There are moorings and at least two rather large boats. And no doubt horses can swim the river. On the island itself horses would be of little use though. The northern part of it holds the fortifications and is steep rock, and no doubt the enemies would retreat there, and it would be a hard nut to crack. But we do not know how much of the gates and ramparts was already destroyed by Sauron's troops when they overran Cair Andros. In the end their own destructive frenzy might prove helpful for our men." He shrugged. "But that is mere speculation. And even if the men the King sent did not succeed, certainly he would send troops to clean and secure the surroundings before moving the wounded or even the baggage train down there. What worries me more is the possibility that scattered bands of orcs and Easterlings might manage to gain the Anórien bank from there." He pointed at the southernmost end of the island. "It is quite flat there, so if they have boats they might flee, and also swimming the river is not impossible though rather demanding with the current. But there are no rocks further down and one can simply drift downriver and try to float towards the opposite bank."

"But would they risk it?" Merry scratched his head. "I mean they don't know about the lay of the riverbed and the opposite bank, do they?"

Éowyn gave a mirthless laugh. "Probably they don't know, Holdwine, but what would you do in their shoes? Finding themselves outnumbered and having boats, they will certainly try, but I have never heard of orcs swimming the river."

The Steward looked grave. "They try to avoid swimming if they can, but I assure you, they certainly know how to swim. And it is not only orcs that attacked Cair Andros."

Forcefully, Éowyn put down her cup. "Well, my lord, I think it would not be amiss to send some swift troops to comb the Anórien riverbank and hinterland to keep those rats from infiltrating. We had better talk with Elfhelm. But any éoreds sent upriver would need some scouts and guides who know the place."

His eyes shining with open admiration as their gazes met, the Steward nodded his agreement. "I'll have the barracks searched for men from the area. There certainly will be a number of soldiers from Anòrien, but we have to make sure they are up to the task, and first of all, able to ride at the speed of the Rohirrim."

He turned to Beregond and was giving him instructions for the captains of the different units, when after a short knock at the door Marshal Elfhelm entered.

Nodding a greeting without addressing anyone especially, he pulled himself a spare chair from the corner of the room and sat down, his eyes on the map before them. Wordlessly the Steward filled his own cup again and shoved it over to the marshal, who nodded his thanks and after taking a swig, eyed the cup approvingly. "Hm, quite different from the stuff they serve the troops."

"A present from Cousin Amrothos who prefers stronger beverages. It's called Fluid Amber, a local speciality of Tolfalas."

Elfhelm swirled the contents of his cup and took another swig. "Quite a fitting name." He smacked his lips. "That would be something Hrodwyn would delight in. Almost matches mead."

"Your lady wife?" With a smile, the Steward topped Elfhelm's cup. "I shall make sure that a casket finds its way into her larder. And she certainly will like the fact that the first vines came to the island as a wedding gift to Lady Earendilme in 1449 after the final victory of King Eldacar over Castamir the Usurper. They originally hale from the coastal lands of Umbar."

The marshal snorted. "Well, then that is at least one good thing that came out of that cursed part of Middle-earth. But as sure as my wife would enjoy the idea to somehow participate in an ancient wedding gift, I'm afraid we have to talk about more serious aspects at the moment."

Éowyn noticed the slight twitch of the Steward's eyebrow, but his face did not give away any emotion at Elfhelm's grumpy remark. "So we certainly have. I would have called upon you tomorrow morning, as again I need yours and your Riders' help. There are still some arrangements I would liked to have made clear beforehand, but I assure you, I am happy you came and thus enable us to plan ahead."

Turning the cup in his large hands, the marshal nodded. "I'm afraid there are a number of things we have to heed, and I'm most willing to listen to your request, but I am here on behalf of the Mark." He put down the cup and faced the Steward directly. "Faramir, now that I know that Éomer lives, I want to send as many men as possible back."

If he was surprised, the Steward's face did not show it. "I understand Rohan's urgent need, but I would not like you to be too hasty. Would it not be better to correspond first with your king, who by now will be at Cormallen and can be reached within less than two days?"

"There is no need of that, my lord." Elfhelm's voice was cold, his stony face only poorly masking his annoyance. "I have orders from Éomer King to send as many men as can be spared as soon as possible back to the Mark. Erkenbrand of Westfold has enough warriors left to assure quiet at the western borders of the Mark, but on our ride to Gondor we learned about orcs having crossed the Great River into the Wold. None of my men would like to sit here idly while those monsters are roaming our eastern plains."

Éowyn swallowed. So Éomer had given orders before leaving, had clung to the slight chance that he might be able to do something to protect his daughter. But was there any realistic chance that Bealdric had held out that long?

"How many do you plan to send forth, and what kind of equipment do you need?" The Steward's question came without the slightest hesitation.

"Three éoreds to ride directly to the Wold, as we cannot provide more uninjured and well-rested mounts at the moment. They can ride at sunrise, or even right now, if the necessary food supplies could be had." He shrugged. "That would also keep them away from the temptation of the feast tonight, though I do not really deem it dangerous to have them start boozed up tomorrow morning as the first hours will be on cleared terrain."

The Steward motioned to Beregond. "Inform the commissary of stores. Provisions for 360 are to be sent down to the Rohir camp immediately." He turned to Elfhelm. "What about forage for the horses? And how many days will you need?"

Elfhelm slowly shook his head. "We want to ride light. Oats for men and horses, some dried meat. All in all enough to keep us for at least a sennight."

"Very well. That will mean Ranger's rations." With a nod the Steward released his man, and then turned back to the marshal. "The supplies for the Ithilien Rangers consist of dried food that is light and can be transported easily but is quite nourishing at the same time. I leave it to you to decide what to take. Will you yourself lead the troops?"

Elfhelm shook his head. "No, Arnulf volunteered, and he not only has proved himself quite a capable leader but he also knows the Eastemnet and the Wold like the back of his hand."

And he no doubt has a reason to get back to the Mark as soon as possible. Éowyn had pushed her chair back a bit and watched the two men with undisguised interest. The first awkward moments being over, they both seemed to have opened up to each other if she read their more relaxed posture correctly. Despite the oddness of his shaved face, the Steward's features were not at all displeasing to the eye, if one was ready to accept dark hair and a rather prominent nose. It was difficult to tell his age, and though she knew he was some years younger than Boromir she was not sure if she would have realized it had she seen the brothers side by side. And yet his face did not seem old, but rather in a strange way ageless. Elfhelm on the other hand looked every single of the fifty-three years he had. Tall and lean, with the clear-cut features typical of the Eastemnet, he always had had a tendency to appear bony, but after the demands of the last weeks his face simply looked gaunt.

"I thank you for your support, Faramir. But to tell you the truth, I would generally like to get as many men as soon as possible to the Mark."

Éowyn could sense how uncomfortable the marshal felt, but she did not doubt a moment he would nevertheless say what he thought necessary. He cleared his voice.

"Most of our éoreds consist of herders and farmers who are needed at home, especially at this time of the year. You have enough men from Gondor at Minas Tirith to assure her safety, though I admit no riders, but I don't believe you need all of the Eorlingas that are here."

The Steward nodded thoughtfully, and Elfhelm continued. "I suppose the evacuated women and children will soon come back, and that surely will make the situation more difficult, reminding the men of what they miss. I will send anybody home who can travel and is not urgently needed here, and that also means that I will draw back men from duties as guards in the city. I don't want to fuel already existing rivalries."

Having made his intent clear, the marshal drained his cup. "I had better get myself down to the camp. The men will be celebrating tonight, and I'll have to make sure that at least the guards stay considerably sober."

"Do you think it possible to keep some more heads out of the kegs?" The Steward's face did not give away anything, and the marshal faced him with a likewise deadpan expression.

"If your reasons are good that will be no problem."

The Steward's finger tapped on the map. "I need swift and dedicated men to control the riverbank near Cair Andros. I want to make sure that no scattered troops of the Enemy, be it orcs or men, maraud in Anorien. They could also be a threat for any traffic on the river that will be supplying the army at Cormallen."

"You plan to send boats?" The marshal frowned. "Rowing against the current will be no picnic. I dare say a couple of good packhorses could do the job much swifter."

"They will sail if possible. Until far upriver of Cair Andros the river is wide enough for that. And on the way back they can make use of the current. Also as a means of transport for the wounded boats will be much more comfortable than any horse litter or wain can be."

"I'll give you that." The marshal stroked his beard. "Well then, how many Riders do you need, and where do you want them to go?"

The Steward spread what he had called the Captain's map on top of the other, and soon both men were hunched over it, discussing probable hideouts and paths near the river.

"Lady Éowyn?" Hearing Merry's whisper, Éowyn realized that she had totally forgotten about him. He pointed hesitantly at the map. "If there will be traffic, I mean if goods and people will be sent upriver to Cormallen, do you think I could manage to get a lift?" He nervously shifted in his chair. "I still can't believe that they live, all of them that is, and I would like very much to go and see them."

Before she could answer, the Steward spoke. "Give us some time, Merry, to make sure the passage is safe. I would not like you to come to harm, now, after surviving such perils as you have faced. It will take not more than a couple of days, and then there will be constant travelling and certainly means for you to go to see your kinsmen. But ask the healers first. You seem to have overcome the Black Breath swifter than anyone else suffering from it, but you should not risk a relapse."

Seeing the hobbit's disappointed face, the Steward smiled encouragingly. "I do not doubt they will permit you travelling, Merry, especially if you consent to make the journey by boat. So be comforted. It is more than likely that you will be aboard one of the first boats sailing up to Cair Andros."

Merry mumbled his thanks, blushing, but unable to hide his smile, and looking at him, Éowyn wondered what he would feel when meeting his friends and kin again. Pippin was said to have nearly been smashed by a huge troll falling on him, but certainly some broken ribs were nothing the healers could not set right, as long as no internal organs were damaged. But what about the other two, those who had entered the Cursed Realm under the everlasting threat of the Enemy's eye? Who had endured and finally thrown the Enemy's ring of power into the fiery chasms of Mount Doom? The messenger said they lived, rescued by Greyhame and the Great Eagles of the north, but could anybody truly live after facing what they must have faced? How changed would he find them? And was there a real chance for them to recover and be whole again?

Absentmindedly she reached for her cup. If there was a possibility to go by boat, could not she herself go? Certainly her broken arm would not be an obstacle if she did not have to ride. It would be bliss to see Éomer again, to make certain that he really had not suffered any severe injuries. But would she be up to meeting him? King of Gondor now, though still uncrowned, victorious over an enemy whose power her mind was unable to grasp. Even when she had seen him in his ragged ranger's garb had she sensed his nobility, and how impressed she had felt when he had stood before her, attired in the best the armoury of Meduseld could provide. A true warrior-king out of the tales of old he had seemed, a legend come alive, and her heart had sung in joy and admiration.

Somewhere on the periphery of her attention she noticed the men's ongoing discussion, and only when Merry rose at her side and asked to be allowed to retire she came out of her musings. It seemed that all had been said and arranged, and she was about to also take her leave, when Elfhelm spoke again.

"There is one more thing, Faramir. Nothing urgent, but nonetheless important in the long run." He paused and emptied his cup, but shook his head when the Steward made to refill it. "No, thank you. I will need a clear mind tonight." He turned the cup in his large hands. "It's those prisoners... The wenches I mean. We won't take any of them with us." He shrugged. "Not that there are no brothels in the Mark, but times are hard, and it would be a folly to bring in rivals for our own whores. It would only create problems on top of those we already have. We would prefer to set them free and return them to their home country, but I don't see any chance for them to go there with the current insecure situation."

Éowyn set her cup on the table. "And there is the problem of how they would be received back home. I don't know about the Southron's habits, but no Rohir would be delighted to have a woman back that most certainly was pregnant with his foes' offspring."

Elfhelm scratched his beard. "There is that, too, and it truly gives me a headache. The men are unwilling to let the wenches go and take a chance that their possible children will grow up in the South fatherless."

Éowyn snorted. "They should have thought of it before they went into action. One cannot behave like a sounder of boars in rut and only afterwards think of the consequences."

The marshal shrugged. "Irodebasa said we needn't worry as they are professionals and know how to avoid getting pregnant. She also said something about whoring being their tribe's traditional profession, but I am sure I got that wrong."

"No, you didn't." The Steward pointedly avoided meeting Éowyn's gaze. "As I have been told there is a certain tribe on the banks of the Harnen who supplies the court of Near Harad with dancers, singers and any other kind of entertainers you can imagine. We had a number of them in Minas Tirith too, but they were evacuated with the other women and I am not sure if they will think it safe to return to the city after the war." He shook his head. "There were always more of them in the coastal towns, but with the corsairs from Umbar having harried Pelargir, even there they won't be welcome now."

With a sound between grunt and sigh the marshal put the cup back on the table. "As far as I understood they want to go home, but can't do with the roads still being unsafe. As long as any Riders are here, we'll keep an eye on them, but I would like you to think about something. They might be foes and they might be whores, but they are women, and it does not do to send them to certain death."

The Steward grimaced: "How many of them are there?"

Again Elfhelm shrugged. "I don't know exactly, as I left counting to my captains. About two-hundred, I would guess."

The Steward's eyebrows shot up, but he did not phrase his surprise. Éowyn suppressed a smirk. Obviously the Haradric troops had a very specific idea of how to spend their time off duty. Finally the Steward heaved a breath and shrugged.

"I'll see what can be done, Elfhelm. I dare say it might take a bit of time till the last Rohirrim will return to the Mark, and there should be found a solution until then. Has Irodebasa said anything about herself?"

Intrigued, Éowyn leaned forward, eager to learn more about the strange, proud woman, but the marshal shook his head.

"Not exactly. We talked in general, as she seems to be the only one to understand some Westron. She deems the way to Far Harad much too dangerous for herself and the others, but also I got the impression that they might not be well-received there, though I did not understand why. Perhaps talking to her yourself would not be a bad idea."

Thoughtfully the Steward tapped his front-teeth with his knuckles. "I doubt she is just an ordinary commoner. And I think we should try to find out more about her." He faced the marshal. "What about the children?"

"I don't know, to tell the truth." Elfhelm grimaced. "The Riders pamper them like a bunch of pets, them and the kitchen lass that cares for them. Call them their puppies."

"And how do they communicate?"

It was not more than a raised eyebrow and the fingers of his left hand, pressed slightly on the table that told Éowyn of the Steward's sudden alertness. His posture, face and voice stayed absolutely even. Interesting... Leaning back she watched him from under half-closed lids, searching for more subtle signs that might tell her about his emotions.

Elfhelm only shrugged. "How do you expect them to communicate? More on less with hands and feet and a lot of grins. Every child understands when a smiling man crouches down in front of him with a smile and offers him food or sweets. Though there is one of our stable lads who seems to have learned the odd word. You remember the lad who helped with the children?"

Faramir nodded. "Do you think he would be able to ask the boys certain things? Or even better the kitchen lass?"

The marshal locked doubtful. "He's a clever lad, and the girl certainly is no idiot, but I doubt you will be able to get anything specific out of them. But it might well be worth a try."

"Very well then." The Steward rolled up the Captain's map and stowed it away. "The supplies for the Riders bound to the Mark should be sent down within the hour, so it is yours to decide if you'll send them off tonight or at dawn. The contingent for Anorien should depart as soon as Beregond has found men to guide them. I'll think about the Haradrim wenches, and I'll come down to the camp tomorrow at noon to talk with Irodebasa and the boys."

Elfhelm grinned. "That should be late enough for most Riders to be among the living again. I'll see you then. Good night for now, Faramir." He pushed back his chair, and Éowyn also rose and bid the Steward good night.

They walked down the corridor in silence, but when they stopped in front of Éowyn's door, Elfhelm flexed his shoulders, as if a weight had been taken off him. "I'm not too fond of this dratted city and the whole of Stoningland, but I have to admit this Steward certainly is one of the better men I have met in my life."

She could not but chuckle at his grudging compliment, but she said nothing, though with surprise she realised that she agreed with the marshal from the bottom of her heart.

Annotations:

In Northern Mythology juniper was seen as a tree of life that also had the potency to protect against demons and clear people's minds and hearts from doubts and grief. In herbalism it is also seen as an important plant, used to treat a number of different ailments.


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