Halla closed her eyes, allowing the sun to touch her face. She smiled for the pleasure. She straightened her back a bit, arched it, tested the pain and judged herself mending quickly, and well.

"The… baby… broke your back?" Bregun asked.

"The birth," Halla corrected. "Luka was just big. And it was my tailbone, not my back."

Bregun frowned. "And are they all… big? The babies… with Uruk-hai?"

"I've no idea. Luka is all I know."

"My sister was pregnant when I saw her. Not far along, but… I s'pose she had it on the road somewhere. Heading north. It was just her and him… the Uruk… D'you think she died?"

"Haven't you Sight?"

"It don't work that way. I can't see whatever I want, whenever I want. It just comes to me. I can't see my sister. I've tried. There's no hope for it. She's my twin, and I thought… But no."

Halla turned to look at the woman: a little scowl on Bregun's face, a crease between her brows suggesting that the scowl was no new visitor to the freckled complexion. "You were very close with your sister, then?"

"No point in being close to anyone. They die. They leave. The don't love you back."

"That's not what I asked you," Halla said, softly.

"She said she was the stronger of us, that she'd go to serve the wizard. I wish I'd gone in her place. She'd have put a blade in my husband's ribs on that first night. I begged her to stay with me when she came through with the Uruk, but she said my husband's folk would never have it, and she was going to find a place where they could be together and raise the… the baby. She's dead, or she's hiding somewhere like you are. Like we are… Unless you're going to kill me."

Halla sighed. There was a warm wind ringing round the mountain. If they climbed a bit, Halla could see all the way down to Birchleigh. The foals would be getting big now, the wheat and barley to her hips at least, the apples growing in the orchard. Ailith's tavern would be doing well, Halla imagined. Ailith might even have learned to smile again. To trust. To have a friend, maybe even a lover. Halla wondered, what if Finnan hadn't only raped her the one night? What if it had been every night, from the first night? Halla looked to Bregun, saw that the set of her shoulders was rigid, saw that the dark eyes never seemed to rest on leaves and swirls of bark, on blue skies or jagged peaks, but shifted about endlessly, looking for the enemy behind everything.

"Bregun, what do you want with us?"

Bregun shrugged.

"That's not good enough. Everyone here's running from something. Everyone here wants to be safe, not just you. Please don't misunderstand me. What you've mentioned of your own life is terrible, and you've my sympathy. But do you bring terror to me? To my baby? We only want to live. Your husband was a monster to you; are you a monster to me?"

Bregun swallowed hard and murmured, "Whatever I say, you'll think's a lie."

"Try me."

"Will they kill me?"

Halla exhaled frustration. "Are you an enemy? If so, yes, I believe they will. If you want peace? Then anyone trying to hurt you would have to come through them, all of them. You ought not to have come as you did, you ought not to have given half-truths and half-lies together. But did you risk their lives for selfishness and stupidity? For desperation? Or for malice? These are the answers I would have from you."

"So it's you, then, who decides."

"Me? No. Baiurz is the leader."

"I say, you are wrong. I say, it's your choice. It's always been your choice. I say now, your choice has changed something in the world, I don't know what exactly, I don't know how, but that's the Sight. I see nothing good for myself, but I can see that. And my life is your choice as well."

"Don't fill my head with nonsense, hoping it helps you. I warn you: Maukurz and Luka are everything to me. This cave, and those in it, are my life now, and I will love them and protect them. But I would have you here with us, if you wanted it. I would be a friend to you. But only if you were a friend to me. I've learned once, and I've paid for it already, although… well, the one I would be friends with was a friend in the end. I'd rather skip the part where I offer friendship and have you do a thing that causes me pain. I'd rather know right now, what your true intentions are. So it's your choice, really, isn't it? And I might not be able to smell a lie, but I think Uliima can."

"I don't know!" Bregun snapped, and then she sighed and wrapped her arms around her body. "I don't know what a friend is! I had a sister. She is lost. As for what I wanted, it was to get away. And yes, I wanted your Uruk-hai to punish the ones I hated! Wouldn't you? Haven't you ever hated anyone?"

"Not to where I'd use others for revenge, Bregun. Are you capable of simply living in peace? Or are the ones who hurt you still so much a part of you that you can't be rid of them, even if it means losing a chance to have a better life, where you're valued and treated with love and kindness?"

Bregun closed her eyes; Halla saw her swallow something heavy, something that clogged her throat. "I don't know. If that's not enough for you, then kill me now."

Halla looked away, down across the green forest that crept up the mountainside. There were no clear answers, nothing she could tell Maukurz that would allow him to recommend a course to Baiurz. "Dammit, Bregun," Halla murmured, to herself more than the other woman. Composing herself, Halla said, "I've got to make soap for us, now we've fat from the deer. Would you help me?"

Bregun looked to Halla: not directly, but from the corners of her wide dark eyes. She swallowed again, and said in a small voice, "I can make soap."

"Well, then. Let's get it done, before my back starts aching again."

Eaglecrest Mountain rode astride the horizon, grasping and pulling the land up to the heavens. It pulled armies near single file into tight, winding channels of vertical rock and threatened them with torrents of boulders, placed through the will and might of Edwyn's long dead ancestors, while all the while, the namesake eagles screamed overhead, sweeping and soaring to this very day. Those boulders had eyes, too, and long before Edwyn and his solicitor broke through the fine cool clouds, his reception was prepared. On a high platform of stone, lined with columns of wood carved into the forms of rampant stallions, was an old man, flanked by spearmen in helms of silver and gold.

Edwyn leaped down from his horse, passed the reins off to a boy who stood with head bowed, and dashed up the steps carved straight from the mountain itself. His father was in a chair, he saw, a chair set on wheels, beneath a blanket of wolf fur. He'd had hard words for his father, at his mother's funeral; then the war had come, and they'd worked together to prepare, but it had not been the same. Now, Edwyn jumped the last stairs and landed on a knee before the chair, his head humbled low.

"Well," Lord Edric growled. "Let me see you."

Edwyn rose, the wind catching and snapping his cloak. The years had cut deeper grooves into the old man's chiseled face; the long grey curls and beard were icing over now, freezing to snow. But the sky-blue eyes were keen still, and now they narrowed, and the hard bony hands grasped at the arms of the chair. Scowling fierce, the old man's growl deepened, and he began to push himself up onto swollen feet and legs. A guard moved to help him, and he barked, "Ah, back with you, boy, dammit!"

The guard flinched away, and a smile twitched a corner of Edwyn's mouth.

"Hmph!" the old man grunted, pain cursing his halting steps. But he came before Edwyn and his eyes slit narrower still, and then the rough hands came up, one on either side of Edwyn's face. As he'd maul his dogs, the old man shook Edwyn's head a bit, and then the gruff laughter began. "You look well, my son. Gave that bastard Sauron a sting he'd not recover from, didn't you!"

"Hardly on my own, my lord," Edwyn laughed, and he placed his hands on his father's shoulders, and his face did not register the frailness his hands detected. "And you also look well."

"Ah, you're not as good a liar as you think you are."

"I need your help, Father," Edwyn said.

"I suspected as much. And your traveling companion?" he asked, for the solicitor was on a lower stair, kneeling still. Edric looked down on him, angling his head a few times as he measured the commoner with his black woolen cloak and his green face.

"That is Tir. Tir needs a bit of refreshment, after the ride. He is not accustomed."

Edric snapped at one of his men, who descended to tend to the solicitor. Then he put his arm around Edywn and said, "Come, we'll have meade and meat, and talk it over."

The old man limped, and Edwyn indicted the chair. His hand was swat down again, and so they walked, slowly, into the great hall.

Once Edwyn had drank away the road's dust, and they were on their own, the father narrowed his eyes in suspicion and asked, "Who's the peasant, really?"

"He's not my lover, if that's what you really ask," Edwyn said, grinning as he sopped the juice of the meat with his honey-wheat bread.

The old man cackled lasciviously and said, "I didn't think so, he looks like a crumpled page in my grandfather's ledger."

"Father, it saddens me you think me so shallow. Looks are not all, surely."

"Nonsense. But what's he for?"

"Tir is a solicitor, Father. From Minas Tirith. He's been charged with bringing uniformity to the King of Men's laws."

"Ah, that catastrophe. Won't make old Elf-Stone any friends in this part of the world. What have you to do with it?"

"I shall make a friend of Tir. I believe I'm well on my way."

"Are you? To what end?"

Edwyn shrugged, a casual soft thing. "I believe I shall cause the justice in my heart to fill his pages."

The old man frowned, inspecting his son. Then he chuckled. "Well, that should be something to see, should I live long enough! My son shall have all to rule, a bright shadow behind the great high throne! I wondered what your will might be, for this world, and when you'd set about ordering it all. But it's good of you to come home first, and sup with an old man."

"Tir has another occupation, a small matter I'd put to rights in a western fife. I've lost someone, Father. A lord. He rode off to hunt Orcs, and never returned, but I fear I lost him well before that, only I'm not quite sure when."

"Onward, then," the father counselled.

"Aye," Edwyn said, softly. "But I would see justice for the man's wife. The in-laws are wretched and want to throw her off the land. We've gotten an order signed in Edoras prohibiting it for three years, but the level of… the miserable nature of these in-laws, the petty meanness…"

"You long for a show when you return to present the order, to give heart to the poor widow. And to piss in the eyes of someone who's spoken impudently towards you, perhaps?"

"You have it exactly, Father."

"Well, we can do a show well enough, though many of our own have gone off on these Orc-hunting adventures. A dozen knights?"

"I'd thought two dozen."

"Why not?"

"Thank you," Edwyn said, raising the gilt-and-horn meade vessel. A brush of sadness colored his voice as he said, "I fear this must be done soon, Father, and the ride is long…"

"It shouldn't need more than a few days' doing, and then you're off. But you'll be back before too long, Edwyn. Prepare yourself."

Edwyn recoiled, protesting, "I see no shades upon you, my lord!"

"Hush, boy. I reach the end of my ride, and a fine ride it's been. Don't waste tears on an old man whose time has come. I shall pass the reins to you. Since you've a care for widows, look after your little sister and her boy, and rule this land well and wisely. If you'll but swear to that, I can die in peace."

Had it been a month prior, Edwyn would have felt himself buried alive. But he knew what he was for, now. It had all come together, in a common tavern in Minas Tirith. He didn't fear it, and no idleness nor youthful pleasures could detour him from it. He rose from the table, and knelt before his father, raising his steepled hands above his head. He did not allow the tears in his heart to touch his eyes. The father, groaning and straining, pushed himself up to his full height, grasped the son's hands in his own, and took the ancient oath from Edwyn's lips.