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2
The Eastshore

"Name any tree that you love and it shall stand till it dies."

—Tar-Aldarion, 6th King of Númenor

"To the Queen is reserved the Right of Erendis, that each year she may make a tithe of trees that grow upon crown land, in honor of and restitution to Yavanna. Thenceforth, unless the Queen rescind the tithe, none shall cut living wood within the bounds that she has dedicated."

—Tar-Elendil, "The Great Charter of the Realms in Exile", 3320 of the Second Age, Arnor

"Be it known henceforth that the folk of the Eastshore shall be beholden directly to the King of Gondor, in recognition of service rendered him in the war against the pretender. And its people shall in perpetuity hold their land from him and his heirs as bonded men, and render it useful and prosperous as servants of the Crown.

—entry in the Registry of Royal Grants, the year 1438 of the Third Age, Gondor


~~~

16th of March, 1447 of the Third Age

"Aetho." The voice in the darkness called him, and the boy grunted, pulling his blankets higher. "Aetho, lad, wake tha up." A hand was added to the voice, and eleven year-old Aethrin batted irritably at it, then groaned as the covers were stripped from him. "Get tha up!"

"G'way, Fardhan!" Aethrin complained querulously, curling up into a ball as the cold, damp air of morning raised the gooseflesh on bare skin. There came the sound of a match striking, and even in the darkness with his eyes squeezed shut, he was aware of the candle's light near his face.

"Up tha, lad, it's time and time past," his brother said, patting him on the cheek. "I've got the wood for Mam already set to, and she'll be soon calling us to eat."

At that, Aethrin forced his eyes open and sat up. "Tha's readied the wood?" he repeated, and glanced out the unshuttered window at the deep blue sky. "It's that late 't'again?" he asked.

"Not so late. But late 't'enough. Get tha dressed," his brother said, and handed him his clothes. Aethrin, anxious still, took them as he stood, and hurried to pull his trousers on, hopping awkwardly sideways on one leg so as not to be in Fardhan's way of making their bed. Despite his brother's assurances, he thought unhappily of his mother's reproach should she hear of his sluggishness lately. The folk of the Eastshore villages were loggers, woodsmen and fisherfolk who wasted no daylight, nor even darkness, and Aethrin had known no other life.

Especially since Queen Sorrían's tithe had sent the Rangers to Eastshore four years ago, and left the Eastshore unmanned, nearly, all fall and winter and a good part of spring, there was no love for laggards. For the men and boys of age were taken far to the north to do the logging needed against the raids and trials of the pretender, leaving the younger lads like Aethrin and the women to struggle against weather and earth and river, to do the work that must be done to do their duty in the Eastshore by the Crown's charter.

Which meant that even more than in the past, there was no time to waste, and so he made haste to tie his breeches and pull his shirt—one of Fardhan's old ones that was still too large for Aethrin—over his head. But even as he berated himself for sloth, he was reminded why, these days, he preferred to sleep if only he could: his stomach cramped painfully, and he swallowed a curse that even Fardhan would've slapped him for. Still, he whimpered a little, and a hand went unthinkingly to his belly. Fardhan glanced up from tidying their blankets, and gave him a concerned look.

"Aethrin?" he asked.

"Naught," Aethrin replied hastily, and tried to mask the gesture by bunching the excess cloth in his hand as he reached for the old bit of braided rope that served him as a belt. Funny thing to him, that as he grew older, he needed less of it to hold his shirt in place, and he wondered whether he ought to cut it or knot it double and tuck the ends back in.

Mam would have herself a fit if I cut it, he decided, and so tied the rope double and let the ends dangle. Things had to last, and there might come a day when Aethrin would be needing that extra length. Thrift being a virtue every Eastshoreman was raised to, he did not wish to trouble either his mother or the old roper, who would want a fee for his work. Aethrin had none; indeed, few folk had such, and certainly not for such silly things as a new belt when an old one would do. "I'm ready, then."

"Then let's fetch the water and set 't'out the traps," Fardhan said, then added, giving Aethrin a critical look, "And wash tha the face—tha's crust 't'about the eyes!"

"Tha's got hair sticking out strange-like," Aethrin retorted. His brother ran a hand through his unruly curls, then shrugged.

"Wind'll muss it 't'anyways. Come!"

In the kitchen, which was most of the house, in fact, they found the table set already, and their mother shoveling last night's ashes from the hearth. "Give tha good day, and we'll be not 't'a moment, Mam," Fardhan said, pausing in the doorway with Aethrin.

"Well you shouldn't—sun's nearly arisen," Alweth replied. "Go you good, and hurry now!"

"Aye, Mam." With that, Fardhan collected the two pails, handed one to Aethrin, and shepherded his younger brother out the door. Past the oven they went, which glowed a merry red now thanks to Fardhan's preparations, past the little cluster of rough-shingled, wooden houses, past the Rangers standing bored and sleepy at their posts, and down the little muddy path to the riverbank beyond the fishing boats they went, Aethrin letting the pail swing as he went. The hollow beat of the wood against his shins drummed out their morning walk, and Fardhan shook his head at that.

"Tha'll bring the Rangers to see what sounds."

"They know 'tis us. They just saw us. And they've been here long enough, they have, to know a little," Aethrin replied, wrinkling his nose.

"Aye, they've been here long enough tha ought t' know they'll come even so and hear tha speak so of them. Hush tha, then, or they'll have a word for tha and Mam about tha's tongue," Fardhan warned, sternly. "And tha knows who'd have it, eh?"

Aethrin grunted unhappily, but he did still the pail and bite his lip against complaint. True enough, the King's Rangers might come looking no matter what. And if they did, they'd take it ill to hear a beardless lad with hardly any letters say what they ought to know. Worse yet, it'd be Calandil they sent round to speak with Alweth on the matter, and Aethrin, like Fardhan, did not much like the thought of that.

Who's he t' come round Mam like that, 't'all honey-tongued and acting like my Da? Aethrin sniffed inwardly. Not that he had ever known his father, Faladan, for he'd been born the last year of the war, but Fardhan had, and Fardhan was wont to complain of Calandil to Alweth when none of the greencoat Rangers were about to hear it.

"What's that, then? Can't 't'even make sense of him! He's so much the Westshore it drips off his tongue and sticks in the ears. He's not like Da was—Da was straight with tha, spoke tha plain like an Eastshoreman ought!"

"Tha's father's gone, son, rest him ever, but tha's mother's long alone and wearies of widow's weeds," Alweth would reply.

"Then find tha a man here!" Fardhan would plead. "What's to have from Calandil that none here wouldn't give an honored widow? Tha'd not make that 't'a father to tha's sons, surely!"

And Alweth would say, firmly, "Tha's got 't'a father, surely, and one right 't'as rigged; Calandil knows this for he serves the king."

"Eh. Calandil ent dead serving him, neither," Fardhan would retort. "Not like Da."

It never went anywhere, that argument—for all that mother and son got red in the face with anger over it, neither would be moved, and so Calandil kept coming about and Fardhan cursed him the more come the night and the door between him and Alweth. Aethrin shook his head. Troubling as it was to him to see his mother and brother at such odds, it was simply one more wrong thing in a world of troubles. He had his own work to do, even in the stormy quiet between winter and spring, and lately, it was work enough just ignoring his stomach without the distraction of such arguments.

For 'tis river run time again, he reminded himself. Just 't'as soon as the Rangers do come. Once the ice further north upon the river, up near the king's logging grounds, melted, as it usually did by this time of year, then all the Eastshoremen and some crownlanders well beyond it would be gathered to float the fall and winter logs downstream to Minas Anór, Osgiliath, and Pelargir. Hard work, cold, and dangerous, and not simply because of the usual sorts of accidents that could befall a man walking the enormous trunks of trees down the Anduin. With the pretender stirring up trouble to the north, raids could happen. Fardhan, who had been three seasons in the north, had finally seen one last year, when the raiders had at last come in close enough to threaten the main camp where the younger men worked.

"Close it 't'was," he had said when Aethrin had asked him about it, and his face had darkened with the memory. "Such a noise as I've not heard since. And the smell... sap and bodies, both in the smoke..." Beyond that, his brother would say no more, but everyone knew he was one of the lucky ones: there were five men from the Eastshore who had not come home this year, and three of them had fallen to the raiders, who had sent flames racing through the encampment. For Eastshoremen, the loss of so many logs last year was at the back of much debt and hunger this year, and who knew whether the spring run would not fare as badly?

But dangerous or not, river run brought a little coin in, and so more of supper than might otherwise be had. The return on such labor was still not as much as it needed to be—the Ship Tax levy on timber grew yearly, leaving less and less that might actually be sold, even without the depredations of the pretender's men. But there was some, if the year was good, and then there was less need to sell supper across river for the coins the crown's treasury men wanted for Charter Tax. Though Aethrin did not want Fardhan to leave again, and so soon after coming home to winter awhile with them, there was no denying that without the work he did, their own would not be enough to keep them from season to season.

The little path bent right about a stand of trees, turning west directly and before them, Anduin spread itself out, broad and grey, with a hint of glitter in the dawnlight. The sun was just rising behind them, and Fardhan held out a hand for the pail. Aethrin surrendered it, then scampered off a ways upstream to set the snapleg traps for the dawn catch.

A little ways up the river, where the reeds were thick and the trees grew close up to the shore, lay some two dozen net traps, some already in the water, others as yet unused. Picking among them were three other lads, while out on the river with a pair of traps was one of the girls, which made Aethrin grin in relief. It seemed he was not the only one late, for there ought to be three or four more come to cast the traps out.

"Give tha good day, Aetho," one of the lads called out.

"And to tha, Meithel," Aethrin replied, greeting the others with a nod and quickly searching out his own trap.

"What knot's it to be today?" asked Meithel, as Aethrin joined him on the shore and began rolling up the legs of his breeches.

"Star," Aethrin replied.

"Gilly's a'ready got that," his friend replied.

"I do, and if tha's not 't'a want for a sore ear, 'tis 'Gilriel'," the lass replied, and shot the pair a glare as she clambered out of the water, wringing out the hem of her skirts and untying the sashes that had held them up about her thighs.

"Ah, shut it, lass, tha's not my Mam," Meithel replied dismissively, but grinned at Aethrin, who quickly looked down, that no other see him smile. Most lads knew to stay clear of Gilriel and her temper, but there were always a few who never learned the lesson, or else who liked too well to needle her and the other girls. Meithel was one such, and Aethrin could admit it was amusing to watch the two insult each other, at least 'til it came to blows, as it sometimes did.

Or rather, had. Lately, ever since she'd turned thirteen, Gilriel had been wont to give herself airs, playing as if she were a lady, and so would storm off like the Queen herself with her chin held high as ladies were supposed to do, and all without raising a fist.

"Thinks she's the catch of the town, she does," Meithel was wont to say behind her back.

To which Fardhan, when Aethrin told him of it, had said only, "She's got 't'eyes, she does; lasses get t' growing quick—quicker 'n lads."

"What's that mean?" Aethrin had demanded.

But Fardhan, after a moment, had waved it all away. "Naught. No denying she's a catch now. Mayhap not the catch, but t'a catch. Hope she is caught 't'and soon and by one of ours—'t'would be a pity if she went to Pelargir."

"With one of the Rangers, tha means?" Aethrin had asked, for though King's Men in clothes, a number of the Rangers were Pelargir greencoats by birth, as folk were wont to say. That in itself might have kept many from the Eastshore from joining their ranks, did not law ban those not of Dúnadan blood from it. Marriage, however, was a more forgiving institution—there had been a number of lasses from the Eastshore who had wed with Dúnedain Rangers, especially in the past few years, much to the disappointment of many a young Eastshoreman.

"Nah, lad. Her blood's here and she'd not betray it. But she'd get herself to Pelargir for her kin." Which did not truly explain anything to Aethrin, but whatever it meant, it was clearly bad. Worse, in a way, than lasses marrying the king's greencoat Rangers. Folk said it in whispers, or bemoaned it and many were the dark and dreadful looks that greeted such news, and the coins that came across the river were received with tears.

Despite that, Anduin's riverbed saw little of that money, for it meant less trouble paying the Charter and Ship Taxes. Besides, folk said, otherwise "it" would've been for naught. Aethrin could not imagine what a lass like Gilriel—or truly, any of the lasses in the Eastshore—would do in Pelargir if they weren't married. Hard enough to find a spot in a crafthall for a lad, it was, but nevertheless, he'd come to fear such news, and even of Gilriel, he'd not be glad to hear the words.

"Eh? Aetho, tha's tying what today?" Meithel pressed just then, and Aethrin blinked, shaking his head to clear his thoughts.

And since Gilriel was eyeing him with a frown now, he said simply, "If Gilriel's star knots, I've darning needle loops."

"That's a lass's knot," Meithel sniffed. "Tha ought t' change with Gilly."

"Eh, too much trouble," Aethrin said quickly, before Gilriel could let fly with a barb sharp as the look on her face. "Lass's knot 't'or no, none's got them yet, 't'and Fardhan'll be waiting for me."

"That one! Hovers like a bird on her egg, he does," Meithel replied, shaking his head. "Wish he'd hatch whatever worry he's nesting this year past!"

"Good he does hover," Gilriel broke in imperiously, and poked at Meithel's bony chest. "Tha'd be lucky to have a brother like that. Keep tha from troubling others! And tha—" she added, hands on hips as she turned on Aethrin, who had been grinning over Meithel's reprimand "—tha ought not to be about this one. Gives tha's brother grief, it does likely!"

Aethrin coughed at that, and quickly finished tying his knots in the end of the rope, then secured it to a stake in the ground. "Coming?" he asked Meithel pointedly, hoping that business would put them out of range of Gilriel and any further lectures.

"Was waiting on tha," Meithel replied breezily, and gestured largely toward Anduin. Together, then, the boys waded out a ways into the river, pushing aside reeds, hissing as they went, for the water was frigid this time of year, and so early in the day. Long, sickly green leaves tickled their legs, and the riparian sands shifted underfoot.

Awkward herons they looked, stepping high and carefully, 'til the water was above their knees. Some five yards out, past the clumps of reeds, they stopped, and heaved their traps as far as they could; weighted by stone, the traps sank down beneath the surface.

"Think they'll catch much?" Meithel asked.

"I hope so," Aethrin replied, thinking of snaplegs and feeling his mouth water. Not that he'd get to eat them—they sold too well across the river, where all the shipyards and merchants frightened the snaplegs away. But they would pay for a meal or two, perhaps, if Castamir's Charter Tax and the fat merchants in Pelargir did not eat the profits whole.

If we catch any, Aethrin amended glumly, for it was early yet in the season and the snaplegs were sparser than in summer, and smaller as well. Everything's sparser, snaplegs, coin, grain, men... Men, indeed, for land-bonded or no, hard times meant that folk sought ways off of crown land, and lately, the young men especially were taking them when they could.

"Ent right," older folk said, "leavin' Eastshore after buyin' it with our blood so dear!" But none could stop the flight, for no one wished to labor in the woodland camps up north when there was still the Charter Law to serve at home. Better to leave altogether, and so every spring the past few years, even as folk clung the harder to house and hearth, one missed a few more faces. In a town of woodsmen, about the only thing one didn't miss were the trees, which grew thicker than ever under Erendis' law...

"Aetho!" Fardhan's voice sounded then, and Aethrin turned to see his brother standing there beneath the trees with the water pails at his feet.

"Coming!" he called back, then turned to Meithel. "Watch my trap 'til I'm back."

"Surely," his friend replied. "Go tha good."

"My thanks," Aethrin replied. By the time he'd made his way back to shore, the other trappers had arrived and were arguing over knots as well, lads and lasses both. With a wave for the other children, Aethrin brushed at the bits of rotting reeds that had clung to his goosefleshed legs and got between his toes, and rolled his trousers down. Wiping his hands on them, then, he straightened up and nodded at Fardhan.

"All's set. Meithel'll check my trap," he reported, and his brother grunted, though he frowned as well.

"Good. Here, then" said Fardhan, and reached out and caught his chin. Wetting one hand with water from the pail, he wiped then at Aethrin's eyes, while his younger brother protested. "Hush tha and hold still!"

"I'm not 't'a babe!" Aethrin said, though he obeyed the order.

"Ne, tha's not, 't'and tha looks a mess. So hush tha and let me do this, or Mam'll have at tha." Which threat successfully forestalled all complaints, for no lad who'd more than eight years wished to come under the fussy attention of his mother. "There. Let's be off, then." So saying, Fardhan took both pails in hand and left Aethrin to hurry along after him.

"Give me one," Aethrin said, holding out a hand for a bucket.

"Tha'd spill it."

"Wouldn't!" Aethrin shot back instantly, offended. "I've not slopped a pail since I'd seven years!"

"'Tis too heavy for tha."

"No it 't'ent."

"'Twould do tha a hurt."

"Ne, would not!" Aethrin scowled suspiciously up at his brother, ere he said accusingly, "Tha's got strange, just late like."

"Have not."

"Has."

"Have not." Fardhan's mouth twitched tellingly, which only made Aethrin scowl the harder.

"Has!"

"Have not."

"Aye, tha has! Tha's waked early and left me sleeping since tha got back three weeks past; tha's got like Mam with this washing me mornings and combing and suchlike, and now tha won't let me touch a pail, but 't'I'll be hauling full nets not 't'a month coming! And tha prates all the time about Rangers—" and since that was so, Aethrin's voice sank to a whisper on that last "—and even Meithel's got talking about tha."

"Has he, now?" Fardhan asked, mildly, and Aethrin glared at him.

"He has. Year past, he said, tha's been hatching worry. Tha's somewhat in the heart, tha has." And when his brother simply lengthened his stride and kept walking, Aethrin, frustrated, cried out: "Fardhan!"

Fardhan sighed and stopped. He set the pails down, flexing his fingers, and glanced first one way and then another, seeming to seek out any who might be listening. But there was no one to see, not even a guard, and so Fardhan turned back to face Aethrin fully.

"Aye, lad, I've somewhat in the heart, 't'and it'll stay there, hear?" his brother said, in a tone to quell all questions, and Aethrin blinked, surprised. Fardhan had not spoken thus before to him, and somewhat in his voice made him seem much older than his fifteen years in that moment.

"Hear it, 't'aye," Aethrin muttered, lowering his eyes.

"Good. Come tha, then, for Mam's waiting with breakfast." With that, Fardhan stooped, retrieved the water pails, and continued on up the path. After a moment, Aethrin followed, for however strange his brother's recent behavior to him, in these days hunger was the fiercer goad than curiosity.

Upon their return, they found the table ready for them. Fardhan unbent enough to let Aethrin help him pour one of the pails into the iron kettle set beside the fire, then both of them went to stand before their customary places: Fardhan at the foot of the table, and Aethrin to his left. Alweth took the heart's seat.

For a short time, they stood in silence, each of them gazing west towards the empty head of the table, until Alweth broke the Silence with a murmured, "So let 't'our day begin." Then Fardhan and Aethrin sat, while their mother began serving porridge out of a small pot. There was flatbread for them, and also a bit of dried fish, and a little milk from Dame Eldrith's goat.

As soon as Alweth seated herself, Aethrin eagerly attacked his breakfast, wolfing down the porridge, and if it were thin, he hardly cared. Breaking his wafer of bread in half, he used it rather than the spoon, determined to let nothing cling to the sides of the bowl. It was only when Alweth cleared her throat and gave him a rather disapproving stare that he remembered his manners and tried not to gulp his food.

Still, although he made himself chew more slowly, he rolled breakfast about in his mouth to fool his stomach into thinking it got more than it did. Beside him, Fardhan picked at his food, seeming still upset. Had he been less ravenous himself, Aethrin might have thought it odd that anger could rob his brother of an appetite—the winter had been long, and stores meager. But Aethrin had his nose in his bowl, and scarcely noticed aught else.

For a time, breakfast passed in silence as each of them tried to blunt the sharp edge of hunger, but eventually, Alweth set aside her bowl and gave her sons a knowing look. "You're silent too long. Somewhat's between you," she said in a tone of mild reproof, neatly breaking her bread. "I'll not have it so."

"Naught's between us," Fardhan countered immediately, and glanced swiftly at his brother. "Eh, Aetho?"

"Naught," Aethrin echoed around a mouthful of flatbread.

Their mother's expression was severe as she retorted sharply, "I'll not have my sons speak me false under my own roof, either."

"Truly, 'tis naught, Mam," Fardhan protested. "Only Aetho's his belly to think of, and I've somewhat 't'else on the mind."

This seemed to soothe Alweth somewhat, at least as far as Aethrin was concerned, for she but looked once at him before asking of Fardhan, "What so great then, Fardho?"

Fardhan shrugged, ducking his head as he commenced snapping the flatbread, breaking it into tiny pieces. "Just somewhat 't'I've been thinking on awhile, Mam."

"Fardhan—"

"It's naught fit for table."

"Son," Alweth replied sternly, "if tha's thought it so long, it's surely worth saying."

At this, Fardhan sighed, grimacing as he looked up at her. "Mayhap, but 't'I don't know yet, 't'and I ent got 't'a want for long talks this morn. Mal'll be waiting—we're off to Pelargir this day, to see what last night's catch'll fetch. And mayhap see if there's a man on the docks that'll 'prentice us."

"But tha went last month, an' they said tha nay," Aethrin reminded him, unhappily. "And twice after, even!"

"Things change sometimes," Fardhan replied, and then added blithely enough: "An' it's honest work, at least—not like watching folk of thine."

Before Aethrin could speak again, Alweth spoke sharply: "Fardhan, tha'll not use the King's Rangers t' speak sly evil of Calandil."

With a guileless shrug, Fardhan answered, "I but said carting at docks is better than greencoat spying in woods on tha's own in a king's cloak. There's none as don't say it 't'ent right for them to take aught t' keep us out 't'of our own woods and send us far away north when we've got the charter still to keep even so! Or ent we King's Men, Mam, just like them?"

"They're the Queen's woods now—the King's hands're bound, an' we'll speak no more of that 't'or of the Rangers," Alweth replied, still with an edge to her tone. "And tha just be grateful there's work t' do, an' a home t' come back to when it's done."

"Aye, Mam." Fardhan immediately bowed his head, though the air still crackled with his anger.

"We've enough else to talk of," Alweth said after a moment, deliberately changing the subject. "How much for the night's catch, think tha?"

"Not 't'enough, that's certain," Fardhan replied unhappily. "Likely not 't'even enough t'pay 'prentice fees."

"Then why go over there again?" Aethrin asked, unable to help himself.

"A man's his duties to king and kin, an' one without coin cannot do them; give no insult to tha's brother, who does his duty," Alweth rebuked him before Fardhan could begin to answer. She broke a corner from her flatbread and chewed it, gazing at Aethrin in a measuring way the while. At length, she continued in a milder voice, "Indeed, 'tis time tha learned somewhat of that, lad. Fardhan, tha'll take Aethrin with tha this time, eh? Let him see, and mayhap they've a need for lads in the harbor."

At that, Aethrin sat up straight, eyes wide as he swallowed quickly. "Me?" he asked, anxiously, even as Fardhan protested:

"Mam, Pelargir's no place for him, a land-bonded lad a master must pay the more for—"

"Take tha's brother, Fardho," Alweth said firmly, in a tone that brooked no refusal. "Aethrin, 'tis time. Eleven is old enough t' work, if there's work t' be done. Tha'd've been at Faladan's side and tha's brother's, learning woodcraft, were tha's father here still."

"An' it's a spear he'll be learning in the north, grace be t' the Queen's cursed law," Fardhan retorted under his breath.

"What's that then?" Alweth demanded, eyes narrowing.

But Fardhan did not answer, saying only: "Naught, Mam. I'll take Aetho with us. Eh, we're late ‘t’already. Here, lad, soon as tha's finished that porridge, wrap the rest in a kerchief an' we're off."

Aethrin did not bother to speak, only nodded as he hurriedly downed the rest of his breakfast. Fardhan quickly wrapped his own up and tucked it into his scrip, then brought his bowl to the tub, that Alweth might wash it. Their mother, in the mean time, rose, dabbed her lips with her apron, and disappeared into the nook where her bed lay. A moment later she was back with a comb, and, to Aethrin's vast amusement, began attempting to set Fardhan in order.

"Ah, Mam!" Fardhan groaned, but Alweth was quick, and he grasped at air.

"Tha'll but make a stroke and then put it by. Still tha, then, I'll have no son of mine go before a master looking a cur," Alweth replied. At that, Aethrin could not but smirk, though he took care to lower his face, that his brother not see it. And he laid what remained of his fish between the bits of flatbread he had left, then folded the lot into a napkin and scampered up the ladder to the tiny loft he shared with his brother. There, he grabbed a small pouch on a long string off of its hook, dropped his lunch into it, and then stuffed the pouch into his shirt, after looping the cord round his neck.

Upon his return to the kitchen, Fardhan was nowhere to be seen, although Alweth was clearing the table. "Bye, Mam!" Aethrin said, dashing for the door, in hope of escaping the comb himself.

"Take tha's shoes, Aetho," his mother called after him, and Aethrin checked himself enough to stoop and snatch them up without slowing overmuch. "Mind tha's brother, now! Pelargir's not the Eastshore!" Alweth's voice floated after him into the morning sun, and Aethrin glanced back to see her lean out the door, waving him off.

"Aye, Mam, I shall!"

It was, perhaps, a fateful promise. But it was not for Aethrin to think on such, for he rejoined his brother, then, who laid an arm about his shoulders and said, "Aye, tha'll mind me. Pelargir's no kind place. So do tha what ‘t’I say, eh?"

"Aye, Fardhan."

"Good lad." So saying, the two made for the riverbank once more.

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