Crow |Night-time had caught up with the man's travels. Veering off the road to a nearby thicket of woods, he had set up camp to await the dawn before venturing onwards once more. It was a small, unceremonious camp, yet it satisfied the necessecities. A few slabs of meat were being roasted on the fire, and his horse was hitched at a nearby tree. Sat against a fallen trunk, the traveller had a notepad rested against his leg, and appeared to be sketching a scene, as he hummed a foreign tune quietly.
Haeneth |Night time was not his only new guest. From the forest’s bitter silence, punctured now and again by the croak of a distant frog, ferns whispered as they brushed against each other. The distinct, deliberate snap of twigs under boots too soft to make more sound alerted him, gradually, to the figure that approached. The firelight crept up the dim-colored figure, grey-clad with dark hair and bright, dark-rimmed eyes. She stopped just outside some arbitrary circle she’d chosen was the difference between gentle caution and threat.
Crow |The man appeared indeed alerted to the presence, though he did not at first lift his eyes from his sketch. He took in a deep breath, sniffing the air; a content, delighted smile tugged at the corner of his lips. He blinked slowly, eventually dragging his gaze upwards, towards the figure. His eyes stopped a few paces in front of her -as if indicating where to approach.
Haeneth took the steps, but at an angle, arriving at a place the same distance that he’d indicated. She waited for him to lift his gaze before she pulled down the dust-clad cloth nestled around her nose and lower face. Completing the picture was a woman who did not quite look Dunadan, did not quite not. Dark hair, a silver star pinned to her shoulder, and an elven blade at her side. Her stature hinted at peasant-stock, however, and her face was pin-pricked with freckles.
Crow |He gave her face but a fleeting look, as she approached towards the indicated spot. "Hungry?" His question, posed in Westron, carried a warm, inviting tone. As he awaiteed an answer, he drew a few more lines on the page.
Haeneth |”Very,” she answered with a voice strong despite its strain. She approached slowly, her movement agile, and joined him at a crouch by the fire. She glanced at the meat sizzling near the coals. “I do not eat the flesh of beasts, however, so were you to offer, I would have to decline.”
Crow |The woman's reply garnered a response; "Huh". It may not have indicated much, but it was enough to give pause to his almost singular attention to his sketchbook. Setting it aside, he pulled one of a number of satchels closer, nodding at her unspoken request. From within, he retrieved a baked potato wrapped in a cloth, and tossed it gently at her.
Haeneth caught it, only surprised when she held it in her hand and could tell what it was. A thin smile wafted through her chapped lips. “Thank you,” she said, raising the potato as if it were a glass and the forest around them just another inn.
Crow nodded at her. Leaning forward slightly, he pierced the slabs of meat with a knife, turning them on their other side. "Where are you bound to?"
Haeneth picked at the potato, her calloused fingers sensitive to the heat it released on prying it open. “Here,” she answered plainly. She looked up, but expected to see no change in his expression. “I have been seeking you out.”
Crow nodded wordlessly, as he leaned back again, sitting comfortably against the tree trunk. He appeared unfazed; in fact, he appeared as if it was the most expected answer. With a gesture of his hand, he bade her continue.
Haeneth settled more comfortably on the floor with her legs folded under her. She was slow with her words, as she was mindful of how quickly the potato would cool. “I am not certain you did not let me find you.” She regarded him more intently now, weaving the fabric of what his life might be from the few scraps she was allowed to see.
Crow offered her a good natured smile, as he tilted his head slightly to the one side. "I travel on horseback," he observed. "You do not appear to."
Haeneth |”People expect travel to be on horseback, in these parts…” She offered a half-shrug, then glanced at the steed secured to a branch by a manger tie. “What’s his name?”
Crow "Her," he corrected, his own gaze being drawn at his grazing mare. "Tempest. On account of her being capricious and picky about who she will allow on her saddle."
Haeneth smirked in a manner that said: ‘Of course.’ “It is not always easy to tell with horses, what sex they are. It is not always easy to tell with Men, either, if I might be truthful.” She smiled at the horse more smoothly. “It is a beautiful name.”
Crow |The ebony mare snorted gently, almost as if in response to the woman's words, and shook her mane. Crow, smiling politely, turned back to his campfire companion. "What may I do for you?"
Haeneth thought a moment, though she’d walked side-by-side with such thoughts for days already. “I truly do not know,” she said, meeting his eyes. “I know that you met my daughter, and I know that she urged me to speak with you. Beyond that, I have no agenda.”
Crow "I have met many a mothers' daughters, lady," he said with a slight shrug of his shoulder. The meat was sizzling. He stabbed a slab with his knife. A decisive thrust, the blade sinking into the meat with little resistance. He was looking at her, in no hurry to add his next words. "You would have to be somewhat more specific."
Haeneth did not need to watch the blade to know its speed or precision. Enough of the movement and form of his body revealed that much, already. “How many mothers’ daughters do you confess to killing a fisherman and leaving his tongue a trinket hanging from his door?”
Crow "Three," he replied with a cryptic smirk, half-jokingly. As he took a bite from his dinner, his expression turned serious. "You must be the one that found it, then."
Haeneth didn’t smile, for not dismissing it as a joke or not finding it amusing, if it was really meant in jest. “I was.”
Crow "'Twas my solemn hope it would find a better use in death, than it did in life," he said candidly. "Alas, it appears my hopes were for nought." Crow took another bite from his dinner. "Are you here to take me in?"
Haeneth ‘s brow pinched for the first time. “Where exactly would I take you?”
Crow shrugged. "Guard? Hangman? Wherever you customarily take killers in this land?"
Haeneth ‘s brow smoothed again as she continued to break the potato apart, piece by piece. “Customarily, I kill them, if I find it’s necessary.”
Crow "Mm." There was almost a disappointed tinge in his tone. "And? Do you?"
Haeneth |”In this case?” She plopped another piece of potato into her mouth. A clever woman might make some jest about it being a rude reward for providing her dinner, but looked at the option dispassionately. “Not yet,” she answered. “I am, however, curious for whom the message was left more than I am about how or why you left it.”
Crow "Something of mine was stolen," Crow indulged her curiosity by replying frankly. "Something few people knew about, and fewer still that it was in Hadric's possession." Pausing, he reached into his satchel and produced a silver flask. "Somebody talked." He removed the cap, took a swig, then held it invitingly towards the woman.
Haeneth held up her hand, her tone even. “Thank you, but I would rather not.” Instead she was reminded of her own skin of stale tea she’d made that morning at her own camp. She swigged it, used to its flat taste. “You believe that he did? Or was his mutilation a warning to others who might?”
Crow shook his head. "Hadric was too stupid to talk; it was his finest quality and what made him a useful pawn. No, it was someone else, some link in the chain that was not as secure as I believed." Crow furrowed his brow thoughtfully, as he took another swig from the contents of his flask. A sensitive nose would pick the scent of wine. "He mentioned your friendly neighbours, in his last moments. He sold them what was mine. Sold them for foreign coin. But they would never go knocking unless they knew about the shipment from somewhere. From -someone-."
Haeneth nodded. She seemed relieved that the man had at least some guilt to answer for, whether or not his punishment could be perceived as just. “Coin that can only be traded across the Isen is only useful across the Isen. He would not have gotten far with it, unless he used it to trade with others who have business within the borders of Cymru.” She used the name the Dunlendings gave their own land: "our country" in their own tongue. “I should thank you. I confess I did not know there were so many links in the chain that is the Isen.”
Crow "'Tis one that extends further than you think," he commented. "Or used to, at least," he added as a frown clouded his face fleetingly. "It was my intention to recover my shipment before it ended up turned against you and yours."
Haeneth shook her head. “On that, I was aware. The isen is not a single vein in an otherwise barren landscape. That chain wraps around the Adorn, through to many tributaries, out into the sea…” She did not dwell long on the currents of the rivers and how they guided evil work, lest she be dragged under despite her swimming. “They are not the only hidden links…” she said in a quiet tone, almost distant, before she returned to the fire and her dissection of the potato. “I fear it has been too long since it was stolen to recover your shipment in its entirety, but steps can be taken to see the same does not happen again.”
Crow "It will not." It was the most certain he sounded all night. "That river has trickled its last. 'Tis one reason why I no longer felt necessary to conceal my actions from your daughter."
Haeneth ‘s brows crept closer together again. “Then why reveal them at all?”
Crow shrugged nonchalantly. "I believe in honesty."
Haeneth |A more corporeal smile slid through her lips at that. “As do I.”
Crow looked away at the dancing embers in silence, for some time. "Besides," he said at last, "this situation leaves me in an all too well known predicament. That of purpose; or rather, the lack of one."
Haeneth nearly chuckled. “If you are in want of problems that need solving…” It was the first breath of levity in her tone.
Crow "And thus we come full circle," he mused, smiling softly, as he raised his gaze to look at her. "To the question of what I can do for you."
Haeneth |Solemnity returned to her smile, but it did not make it heavy again. “I would rather...we find a way to benefit each other. I am not in the habit of earning service.”
Crow sunk a brow thoughtfully, as he considered her words. "I do not readily know of what benefit you could be to me."
Haeneth finished the last of the potato and licked her fingers clean, if only to keep the scent from being stamped on her trousers should she wipe them there. “I do not, either,” she said in the plainest tone. “But...I recognize you are, at least, useful. And more besides.”
Crow chuckled at her assessment. "Sometimes. When I am not too busy wasting away."
Haeneth smirked. “It is tiresome work.” She reached into her hip-sack and drew out a pouch that had once been fine, but had since faded so frail that it was a wonder the once-bright embroidery still held the bag together. She held it out for him to take. “In thanks for the supper.”
Crow looked at it curiously, but leaned forward and received it without an argument. He felt it in his palm, before peering in to see its contents.
Haeneth |Beads, or brittle bark, perhaps some of the tea that stank from her water-skin. Inside, instead, he’d see a medley of berries, nuts, and dried fruits and vegetables of the kind not commonly seen in these parts. The mixture smelt potently of every season in bloom, all at once. Lembas were not the only sustenance the elves had created to sustain them on long journeys. “For dessert.”
Crow "Well, this will certainly break the monotony of travel rations, if nothing else," he said, smiling. "Thank you. It's a... Rare gesture." He closed the pouch again, and carefully placed it in a saddle bag hanging over the trunk to his left.
Haeneth smiled, bobbing her head once, as if knowing better than him how rare the gesture was. “Thank you for the supper, and for the company.” She brushed the crumbs she’d littered into a palm and tossed them into the fire. The creatures of the wood could sniff out the smallest morsel.
Crow "The pleasure was mine," he retorted in a polite, yet sincere manner, as he observed her gesture. "Our paths will cross again, I'm sure."
Haeneth stood, swift as she’d descended on his camp. “I intend them to.” She touched her hand to where her heart lay buried underneath, opposite the gleaming silver star pinned to her right shoulder. “I am Hæneth.”
Crow "Haeneth," he echoed, trying the name on his tongue as it rolled out. Almost tasting it. The name he offered in exchange would surprise her, then he dipped his head slightly. "Though you no doubt know me as Crow."
Haeneth smiled, and not only for the acknowledgement she could name his moniker already. She was not chilled by his taste of her name, knowing how little flavor it had in the first place. “I am glad we have met...” and she repeated the name with care, trusted to keep it safe.
Crow "Likewise," he said as he picked up his sketchbook again, setting it against his knee. "Walk safely out there. Not all dangers offer dinner."
Haeneth looked down at the embers. They popped and wriggled, moulding from the withering charcoal shapes only she could see. “No…” she said in a tone dug up from its own pile of ash. “No, sometimes they make you theirs.” Something in the way she faced the conjured figures writhing under flame hinted she did not mean wolves. ”Ride as safely,” she said as she stuck his gaze with hers as quickly as he’d speared meat on his blade. She turned, her boots carrying her from camp so quietly it was clear how deliberate her noisome approach had been.
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