Through the Mirror

Streets never scared her before. Fear came from closed doors with chains. Tight places where she could barely move. Long marches to foreign lands. Angry silences before the fall of the lash. Things so rare that she felt as though she deserved them when they came for her because she must have done something wrong, so very wrong. Her life in-between those moments of fear never seemed to raise the hairs on the back of her neck or compel her to glance over her shoulder on the walk home from the market. In day to day life, walking down the street had never scared her before.

In day to day life, walking down the street had never scared her before.

Walking down the street now was different for Najwa. She kept her hood up and her head down and tried not to think about the familiar streets back home. So many leagues, mountains, and forests separated her from them that she doubted she would ever find herself walking their paths again. She hardly thought of them by day, but at night in the fading twilight, they felt comforting and familiar and the cold streets of Bree felt like the foreign land they belonged to. Wary. Strange. Different.

Different somehow from the days when she had a large house full of powerful men or a cabin full of cats to call home instead of a tiny shared room in a house full of girls in various stages of alone. They lived by twos in those tiny rooms: two beds, two trunks, two hooks for gowns. Two girls to each tiny closet, yet for Najwa, she might as well have lived alone; at least she would accept her own presence without suspicion.

She should be thankful, she told herself. So she lost her life from before they marched to the Mrachniiles to face the tall knife-ears with their arrows and spears. She lost the beds of silk pillows on sun-warmed stones. No more lavish banquets at which to pour wine and listen to the secret dealings of the chieftains as she sat at their heels. No wooden bowls to mix dough for the hearth fire. No masters to nourish and no earning their praise.

But she had a bed nonetheless. And she had friends even if her dour roommate was not one of them. She would find a better place, she told herself. And as long as she kept her head down and her eyes low, she could find her way through the streets of Bree. And if they stayed in color, and mud brown was better than black and white any day.

~~~***~~~

The warmth of the fire kept the hut cozy. Cwendlwyn resisted the sounds of morning filling the camp; she did not want to go out into the cold winter air to pack her saddlebags and leave Rheb and the simplicity of her life in the Lone-lands behind. The flat of his nails trailed down her back as he began to rejoin the waking world and the gentle pressure reassured her.

The flat of his nails trailed down her back as he began to rejoin the waking world and the gentle pressure reassured her.

Tomorrow, she would go home. Her husband would take her in his arms and smile and ask how she was because he cares. Maybe he would have flowers or a gift to show his love. Their children would celebrate the sweets she would bake.

But for now, Rheb’s nail slid across her shoulder and the warmth of her blood slipping down her back made her growl.

(Two of six I need to write.)

 

After Death

Abiorn prowled. He prowled and prowled and the bit of him that was human hoped that someone had picked up his cloak because he liked that cloak and fixing it to break away easily upon transformation had proven to be difficult. But mainly, he prowled.

He encountered little wildlife on the ice. For that, he felt grateful and grateful felt better than anything else he could be feeling right now. His animal mind wrestled with the feelings without having the human mind dwell on their meaning.

Grief.

Shock.

Pain.

Emptiness.

Betrayal.

Guilt.

How could he feel betrayed that Godric died? His commander. His leader. His boss. He felt betrayed, let down, angry. But he did not feel those things toward Godric, did he? But the man should not have gone off on his own, he knew better, he was the commander, he was his commander, he shouldn’t have gone off on his own…

Salmon. He could smell it. He lifted his head to sniff the air and followed the naked trail of fishiness to the bay. Catching a fish came easy. Thinking about Godric was too hard. Being a human was too hard…

What happens when a man dies?

After Godric fell from the fort’s wall, Taja had sat down to lead his spirit to where spirits go. Not the Henki-maa. The other place out of reach and time.

When he died, where would he go? He was more than a man. Would he be stuck there on the spirit plains? Would he descend into a hukassa? Would he join Joren and live with spirits of the bear-men instead? What about his brother and sister…

Fish. Focus on fish and sweet berries. There are no bees in Forochel.

~~~***~~~

The cold seeped into old bones. It crept into the marrow and stopped the heart though the lungs kept breathing in and out. In and out. In and out.

He did not want to breathe in and out anymore.

The boy had used his power enough to close the wound and stop the blood from draining out, but to what cause? Zabathôr knew that he was not in a pile of Lossoth furs being tended to by one of their beautiful women. He knew he was truly alone in the world for the first time. No slaves. No servants. No hope.

His crusted eyes fought to open beneath the warmth of the summer sun. He could not  understand why they tried. He could not fathom how they succeeded. The white and grey  blinded him. The blue suffocated. The world around him weaved in and out of his vision in a waterfall of colour. He could not stop looking.

His old bones ached from the cold.

Slowly, he turned his head to look across the parapet where that cursed boy cut him down. The Angmarim had fled quickly, but thoroughly. Only a broken barrel remained in his field of vision. A barrel and blood on the cold stones.

Weakly, he lifted a hand and the wood ignited. It flared brightly, blinding his tired eyes and then settled into a low burn. It would not last long. He would not last long if he remained exposed to the Forochel air. Perhaps something remained…

Above him, a black shadow circled.

Slowly, he rolled over to his side, wincing and biting back a groan. Even though only the cold stones towered around him to hear it, he kept it inside as he pushed himself up into a sitting position. His hand braced his torso. Pain exploded beneath his cool composure, but he was used to pain. He had not always been the most powerful of the Four Lords. He knew how to bear the fires of pain.

“My poor chest,” he murmured as he pulled himself closer to the fire. “All these years and I managed not to mar it…”

He pulled the sliced pieces of his robe tighter over his cold chest to hide the angry red wound.

The black shadow above cawed down to him to die. It was hungry. So was he.

Gritting his teeth, he lifted a hand and murmured the words. He was too tired to do it without the words. Even as the carrion bird fell to the stonework of the fort, he paled. It would be a while until he could do that again. Its feathers smoldered nearby. He could not let the fire he had go out…

It would be easier to die. He wasn’t sure he could stomach the bird after he defeathered the carcass. He used a fine dagger used for decoration more than slicing flesh and severing ligaments. He skewered a bit of meat on its end to hold over the barrel fire. He managed to eat a few bites and then he set the rest on the cold stones and looked around himself. Saw the door. Managed to stand with the help of the low wall that their commander had toppled over so poetically. He smiled.

The Ironspan claimed many men in its time. It would claim many more in the times to come. But Zabathôr knew that it would not claim him that night.

((Sidenote: Because I am indecisive, I rolled a lot for Zab’s situation. 14 to survive the night. 18 to survive waking up. 6 to be found by someone. 17 to stand and make it to shelter. He clearly wants to live. 😉 ))

Spokoystviye: Little Fingers

After the last customer left the shop, Mister Redoak turned the sign until it said “Closed for the Day” and Najwa knew it was time to sweep the floors. So she swept the floors.

She swept them so efficiently that Mister Redoak did not believe that she had swept them at all, so she swept them again while he counted the dried beans that fell onto the counter throughout the day. Beneath the counter where he stood hung a little drawer that he brushed the strays after the customers left and each day he seemed to take pleasure in counting the beans as if to say “I have saved this much from the dustbin! Look at how much I have saved to sell tomorrow.”

Sometimes, it was as much as a quarter of a pound and he was very pleased.

Today, it was not so much, which might seem like a reasonable end of the day (little spillage, little waste!) but Mister Redoak grumbled nonetheless. Najwa knew when to smile and when to look contrite and as she swept the day’s dust into the yard, she knew that a solemn expression was needed, v samom dele. So she kept her gaze down and didn’t respond when he stomped his boots and hurried to help him finish the day’s chores.

“Nad-juh-wuh!” he said as he fumbled with the knot of his apron. “Confound it all…”

Najwa’s confident fingers quickly tugged the knot loose. She stepped back to let Mister Redoak pull it free.

“There, Mister Redoak,” she said carefully in her cheerful accent. “You will have good evening?”

Grumbling, Mister Redoak said something along the lines of “of course” and “you, too” as he closed up the shop and sent her on her own way back to the Pony where she roomed.

Dusk was just descending upon Bree, earlier than the week before, but still late enough for it to be late. She was certain the common room of the Pony would be bursting with patrons by the time she made it home. Perhaps she’d meander a bit down the alley to the more interesting parts of town, she thought, as he feet began to take her that way without even coming to the solid decision.

Children milled about unwilling to make the day end with their retreat into sagging houses. Mothers called impatiently that dinner was getting cold. Najwa only understood bits and pieces of the yelling and summoning, but she understood the magic that flowed through the streets. The bonds of family and companionship. The demands of survival and splendor. She smiled as a little girl rushed up a narrow flight of stairs to a room rented above a fur shop and then-

The color of the world flickered to black and white. She blinked and it was brown mud and honey red splashing off of windows again. Heart pounding in her ears, she took a few more steps. Shades of grey. A world the same and yet…bleaker. Void. Flashes of red, not honey red, blood red, and brown, brown skin, brown hair, black and white again.

Oh, no, she thought in a panic. Not again.

She stumbled into a corner out of the way and shrank into a tiny shadow. A quiet corner hid the frightened woman clutching her head as she rocked on her heels. She waited and waited until the color came back for good, only to find darkness had descended around her casting the entire world in black.

Shaking, Najwa looked up until she found the stars past the rooftops and chimneys. She counted each fallen warrior in the sky. With a deep breath, she pushed herself up the wall to stand on her own too feet and brushed her hair back from her face.

The headache was back again. The pain in her neck that spread down through her shoulders and into her very fingertips. The visions she saw when the world flickered off and on again haunted each step back to the cheerful light of the Prancing Pony and only when she stepped inside, looked around, and saw Valthier lounging in his seat with a half-empty glass of wine did she feel close to herself again.

She went over to him.

“Hello, Mister Valthier! It is very nice to see you!” She made a show of looking at his wine glass. “Do you want drink?”

As her little fingers set the coin in Butterbur’s palm, the ache in her neck nearly faded completely, but she was no closer to understanding what it was she saw in her head.

 

 

A Bitter Pill: Three Times

She asked once on the third day. The children ran off to play; the birthday festivities were mostly done. With less to distract her mind, she struggled to forget the fire in her arms and legs and belly as her body demanded the drug that would ease its suffering. So she asked.

Callee did not falter in her sewing. The dress of Neilia’s doll had a tiny rip, a perfect rip for Hobbit fingers to mend, and Callee did not miss a stitch as she told Cwendlwyn simply, “No.”

Cwendlywn threw up.

She went outside, of course, and found shade beneath the peonies after and let the shaded earth cool her flushed cheek.

The next time she asked for it, she hadn’t eaten in two days. Nothing would stay down. Again, Callee did not look up from pulling weeds and answered with a simple, “No.”

Though when Cwendlwyn did not immediately walk away, she added, “One more time. Why don’t you go write Oendir? Let him know what is going on.”

Cwendlwyn hesitated still.

“Woman, go write to your husband. He is your husband, no matter the reasons why you are where you are now.”

Obediently, Cwenldywn went inside the tall house–Hobbit in style, Man in size–and found her study full of bits and bobs added by Callee throughout the years that the lass had been Gardeneve’s caretaker. A collection of smooth beach stones sat in a jar on the windowsill and Cwendlwyn could not help but remember Dol Amroth and the smell of the sea and Oendir’s gnarled foot in her lap as the children played in the surf. The boundaries between patient and healer, commander and soldier blurred in those moments between them when even before they looked upon each other as lovers, they saw each other as kindred spirits fighting for some smudge of happiness after all the twists that life threw at them.

It took many attempts for her to start writing. Several blotches of dark blue ink splattered the top of the parchment where her quill hovered as she sat in her muddled thoughts.

Dear Oendir,

I do not know how to start this letter, so I will simply begin in the thing that is hardest for me. I could not stay with you in Rivendell because of my own weakness and I am ashamed that I have failed you so.

In Dol Amroth, some years ago we discovered a plot to overthrow the Prince through a conspiracy with Southron Corsairs. These mysterious folk from the southern lands brought two dangers to our lands: a weapon that could shoot little balls of lead using fire and a medicine that if abused, caused more ill than it cured. 

I am a healer, Oendir. That is why I travel with the Wayfarers and why you recruited me. A young Swan-knight by the name of Sir Pengail of House Nomin was injured by one of those terrible fire sticks and the injury was beyond my abilities. A Southron physician tended the young man and prescribed him a pill of what they call opium to ease the searing pain.

This opium came in many forms and it was used to poison many Swan-knights who fell beholden to its powerful effects. It dulls the senses–all senses. It makes pain go away, makes one drowsy, inured to the problems of the world. 

In Dol Amroth, as a matter of professionalism, I tested it on myself so I knew what I was administering to that poor knight. I quickly discovered that if I did not take more, I became violently ill. 

Back then, even then, you did not understand what was happening to me. Hardly anyone did save Hallem Kemp, who has apparently experimented with potions and mysterious, unknown mixtures before. I weaned myself off of them then and swore to never touch the stuff again, but when circumstances fell on me, already sick with worry about you, and when Hallem said that we should stop trying to help you remember your past, I fell to my weakness again. I am ashamed and I am ill and I am trying to get better so that I can come back to you. You need me strong and patient and loving. Not sweating and groaning and vomiting. 

Oen, our past is nothing if not turbulent. The life of an adventurer is always so. There is one thing that is steady through all of it, through the travel and the pain and the loss and the triumph. It is you and my affection for you. You are my best friend, my confidant. The one who knows me best. Sadly, that might not be very well after all we have been through. We are both rather guarded individuals. We keep our pain closeted away so we do not have to burden others who already bear so much. We need to be more open with one another, Oen. I need to remember that I trust that no matter what, we will always return to one another again.

I will come to you soon, if you will have me back. I am getting better. This will pass. Our children miss you, and I believe they are strong enough to know what is happening to you. I am going to bring them with me and you can decide if you wish for us to stay there with you, or if you wish to come back to Durrow. 

For now, I hope that you are resting and happy. I love you, Oendir. I think that part of you still remembers that you love me.

Always,

Your Cwen

Cwendlwyn looped the tail of her “n” low beneath the line of letters and drew it into graceful bows and loops to empty the nib of her quill. She folded it, sealed it, and then carried it out to Callee.

“Here,” she said. “I wrote him.”

“Good,” Callee answered as she tugged on a stubborn weed with deep roots crowding the hydrangea. “Set it with the others and I’ll take it to post in a bit.”

“Actually, I will take them. I would like the bottle as well, please.”

Callee’s stern eyes rose to study Cwendlywn’s face. She frowned, but nodded and pulled it from her sash.

“Are you certain?” she asked as she handed it to her. Cwendlwyn nodded and turned to go back inside to gather the rest of the mail.

On her way back from the post master’s, she took a detour to a low bank of the Brandywine River. The muddy waters rushed by as they had each time she had stood there in that same spot north of Buckleberry Ferry. Squatting to sit on her heels, Cwendlwyn dipped her hand into water and thought to herself that even though it was still the Brandywine River, it was not the same Brandywine River as before. Fresh waters flowed forever, a mix of old and new as it swirled past. Just like the Adorn back home, she thought, and for the first time in a long time, she thought of the Riddermark as home.

I have many homes, she thought as she uncorked the vial and poured its meager contents into the murky waters. In an instant, the opium washed away and fresh waters cleansed her fingers. For good measure, she tossed the bottle in, too.

For a few more moments, Cwendlwyn sat there in her unladylike squat hugging her knees. Then, slowly, awkwardly, she unfolded herself and stood. With a deep breath, she turned to go back to her family.

 

 

A Bitter Pill: Selfish

Are you all right?
“What if Oendir remembers and is hurt because you left?”
“Things will work out in time.”
“How will Rheb find you?”
“How can you take the children away from Durrow?”
“What’s wrong with you?”
“I think you’re being selfish.”


Cwendlwyn, daughter of Framham of the Mark–of Dunland, did not ride her horse to Buckland. When she climbed into the saddle, it took far too long for her to fit her toe in the stirrup and she had difficulty situating her legs over the saddle. Then, she kept dropping her reins. Anyatka, daughter of Kolrson of Dale, suggested that they all ride together in the worn wagon so they could keep each other company. So Cwendlwyn found herself in the wagon with Solstan and Neilia and Bean, Jr. walked beside them as the rode.

Truth be told, she thought that she slept a good portion of the ride, but time was hard to grasp nowadays. The wagon rocked gently back and forth; they did not rush. They had no need to speed their way to the Shire. Time moved differently there, Cwendlwyn said. It would be the same tomorrow as it was today.

She had taken Callee’s letters regarding the influx of southern Men as a consequence of the war to the south. Bree surely had its handful and a half of refugees seeking peace. The problems with money and curfews and Men were not things she was unfamiliar with. So she didn’t think much of it.

Cwendlwyn didn’t think much of anything, really. When she did think, the thoughts turned on her and she did not want them anymore. The thought was considered that a potion to quiet the other thoughts forever would be nice, but a potion like that would quiet everything and she wouldn’t be anymore. Luckily, the thought that some people might actually be upset about that jolted her out of that musing. She had already been weighing which ingredients would work best in such a concoction when the sound of Solstan and Neilia arguing about who would eat the most cake pulled her from herself and she remembered who she was.

She smiled at them. Their driver, a local boy from Bree called Bud Goldenleaf, whistled a cheerful summer tune. She reminded them that there would be enough for both. Callee would bake until their hearts were content.

~~~***~~~

What transpired at the Hay Gate would have bothered Cwendlwyn on another day. She watched the debate between Bud and the Man and knew that wasn’t right. Why did men speak for Hobbits? The Bounders stood aside, present but silent. Eventually, had to climb out of the wagon herself to see what was the hold up.

She strapped on her sword. She gave the men a Look. Her temper was dampened by southern flowers and she handed over the gold with a roll of her eyes and a bit of a stagger just so they could be on their way.

Callee had the candles burning. Bud was given a guest room to sleep after the horses were stabled nearby. He helped carry the children to bed and Cwendwlyn couldn’t place why her chest tightened at the sight of Solstan’s sleepy head resting on the shoulder of the man who was not his father. She had him put him in her bed and she laid Neilia down beside him. Let them comfort one another, she thought somewhere among the fog.

~~~***~~~

As Callee sat down at the kitchen table, Cwendlwyn stirred her tea. She had hardly moved from her chair after Bud was gone and the children were settled. Only her hand with the silver spoon stirred and stirred slow circles in the porcelain cup.

“Now,” Callee said as she stirred her own tea, “what in the world is going on?”

Cwendlwyn stirred.

“Cwendlwyn! Look at me,” Callee demanded. The little Hobbit reached out a hand to gently smack the table between them, twice. “Where is your Oendir? Wouldn’t he wish to be here for Solstan’s birthday as well?”

Slowly, Cwendlwyn looked up. Just as slowly, she began speaking as though she was telling someone else’s story: haltingly, backtracking for forgotten pieces, expressive, but unemotional. “Isn’t that something?” she ended with. “And if I stayed, how could I, Callee? Knowing that I could bring him that sort of pain. I know what it’s like to be violated. To have something like that taken from me. And what happened to him was so much worse, Callee. What happened to him…and I am weak.” Her face twisted into tears. “I cannot be strong for him. What good am I to him except for more pain?”

Callee sat for a long time stirring while Cwendlwyn fell into silent, wrenching tears. They poured down her cheeks, yet the distant look in her eyes said she didn’t really understand them.

“I felt myself splitting there,” she broke the silence. Tears slipped into the corners of her mouth, but she only tasted the sea. “I felt torn asunder sure as any blade could do. And then Hallem and Pheadra said we should stop trying, stop trying to help him remember because it isn’t really helping him. They knew him longer than me. How can I ask Oendir to remember?”

Callee finally spoke. “They knew him longer, but do they know him best, love? And it sounds as though he is still him. What you fell in love with. The good bits, darling, the bits one should keep should one lose one’s memory.”

“Even if…even so…Look what I’ve done. I’ve messed it all up.”

Callee pursed her lips. “What have you done, Cwendlwyn.”

“I took it.”

“What did you take, love?”

“The opium. The sort they use in medicine, the sort I got from the medical stores in Dol Amroth. It makes the pain stop, Callee. I just wanted it to stop for one night, one moment so that I could think clearly and now…” Cwendlwyn’s eyes welled up again. “I cannot stop taking it. I feel like I’m dying. At times, I wish I were. And I am almost out of it, I didn’t bring enough and even if I wrote them for more it would take ages to get here and if I were Imrahil, I wouldn’t let them give me anything anymore anyway, and…”

“Shh, love. Cwen. Cwen, look at me.” Callee reached out to hold her hand across the table. Reluctantly, Cwendlwyn lifted her eyes.

“Cwen,” Callee said soothingly, “you will heal here. I will help you. I promise, love, I am always here. Here was the first place you ever felt safe in the world. That’s what you told me only months after you came to us.” She gave her a kind, motherly smile. “Be safe here. Rest and let go of what is hurting you. We’ll take care of you and get you back on your feet.”

“It is bad, Callee,” Cwendlwyn whimpered. With her  unnatural youth, her tears and weak, tired voice, she reminded the Hobbit of her first days after she came up the river to Buckleberry Ferry. Yet, Callee thought, there was a strength then that Cwendlwyn lost somewhere in the years between. Time had chipped away at her stubborn resolution. Or maybe it was not time, but the little bottle that sat on the table next to their clasped hands.

“We will fix it, my Cwendlwyn,” Callee said firmly. “We will find your roots again and you’ll see. You’ll be right as rain and ready to go back to your life in Bree. For now…this.” She nodded toward the bottle. “I am going to take it and keep it safe. If you ask for it, I will not give it to you, my dear. Not until the third time, because if you ask for it three times, I know you will do what it takes to get more. But think on it. You know the Prince may have stopped your access to their stores. You know it will take ages for it to get here, if you ask. It seems wrong for you to be so beholden, love, to something that cannot give back to you.”

Cwendlwyn thought about it, her dull eyes roaming over the polished wood of the table before her.

“Go to sleep, love. Take the second bedroom. I will make up the second guest room.”

“Callee,” Cwendlwyn said haltingly as she looked up. “It will be bad. The children…”

“You will be strong for them, Cwendlwyn.” Callee’s tone offered no argument. “When you are ill, you be ill. When you can sit, you will join us.”

“They shouldn’t see me…”

“You’re Neilia’s mother. She will know and make up something worse in her head, dear, you know that. And Solstan will worry, too. Now sleep.”

Cwendlwyn rose obediently and padded down the familiar hall to the bedroom. She sat on the edge of the bed and looked at the dark window for a long time before lying down. Callee was right. She needed to sleep now before the medicine was out of her system and sleep would be harder to come by.

~~~***~~~

ScreenShot00013They baked a cake the next day and Solstan decorated it himself with horses and ships in white icing. Cwen wore her apron and helped stir, but let Callee direct the measuring and pouring and keeping of time. She only had to excuse herself once because the room started spinning a bit and a she broke out into a cold sweat. There it is, she thought. The last relief is floating away.

That evening after a day of sending out little presents to all of the Hobbits he knew, Solstan settled down to play with the new toy ship he received for his birthday.

“You’re gathering quite a fleet,” Cwendlwyn said with a smile even as she broke out into a heavy sweat beneath her gown. Solstan grinned up from the rug and then stood to rush to hug her. She hugged him back and then Neilia joined with a laugh. Cwendlwyn held them tightly

“I wish Papa was here,” he murmured against her hair. “I miss him.”

“I know, darling,” Cwendlwyn said and with effort, she kept her voice steady. “We will go see him when he is ready.”

“Really?” He pulled back from her and looked for her comforting gaze.

“Yes, baby. It will be a lovely journey if he cannot come to us sooner.”

“I’ve never been to Rivendell!” Neilia said excitedly. “It must be so pretty!” she gasped dramatically.

“It is, darling, and you will love it,” Cwendlwyn assured her.

“When will we go?” Solstan asked with some nervous trepidation in the quaver of his voice.

“When the time is right, dearie,” Callee interjected. “Come, show me your fleet. What is a fleet?”

Solstan went to Callee with the ship and sat beside her to explain the rigging and the lines. Neilia stayed in Cwendlwyn’s lap and for a moment, the pounding in her chest calmed.

~~~***~~~

That night she slept outside. The breeze cooled her sweats and the song of the trees soothed her restlessness and anxiety. The nausea hit with less force when the stars bathed her forehead.

In the moments of peace, when the nausea was at bay and her skin cooled  enough to dry, she could hear the voice of the world around her growing, changing. Leaves furled to rest in the absence of the sun. Roots sought the nutrients of the water and soil. Life persisted.

And so would she.


Note: All songs are taken from Cwendlwyn’s established playlist!

The Nightingale: Dear Hallem Kemp

Dear Hallem,

I realized it had been ages and ages since I wrote you last. I hope that you are well and the company has had a lot of (safe!) work to keep you busy. Are you still digging graves, too? I never imagined that I would write a such a sentence as that, but there you go! You are an eclectic man. Have you climbed any good cliffs lately? I, unfortunately, had a terrible fall a bit ago. It was before the battle near Minas Tirith. I was on a roof at the Tower and I fell. Luckily, I was not dead and they found me and Miss Cirieldis took care of me while I recovered, but sometimes I wish .   . that I had more things to do than stare out of the window. While I was laid up in bed.

Something terrible has happened, but I don’t really want to talk about it. At least Father is not dead as the reports originally said. I have moved in with him, with Hathlafel. He still wants me as a daughter even though I am not his and I cannot be more thankful for that. Without him, I feel like I would truly have no family anymore.

Sirifast, his brother, is tending to the house he bought. It is in my name. It was kind of him to do that for me, but I don’t know what to do with a house I cannot live in. Did you meet Sirifast? I cannot recall if you ever did.

Oh, Miss Ciri also helped me to get out of working for you-know-who. Another girl, one “trained” for such work, took my place. I cannot help but feel terrible that another girl is doing that and because I couldn’t. It nearly destroyed everything before the Swan-knights left for Minas Tirith. So, you see, it really had been forever since I had lived in that house. I lived at the Tower instead.

It’s so empty now. Surely there is a fine layer of dust over everything. Is it wrong of me that I wish to sell the property? I wish to forget everything about that bit of my past because it hurts too much and to see his remaining family hurts too much and I should never have married him in the first place. Romantic relationships outside the order complicate things. Roses aren’t supposed to marry.

Miss Cirieldis doesn’t think that way. She is in love with Sir Aureldir. Sometimes I remember that I once believed he was my father and it seems like so long ago. This is turning into something quite unlike what I had intended. I’m sorry for not staying very well on topic–Hello, Hallem, how are you, Hallem, I am well, Hallem. That sort of thing. I just miss you so much and there is so much to say and I don’t really want to think about any of it, really, but I should. I need to talk to people, don’t I? I need people to help me remember the world has good in it still. That it isn’t just murders and kidnappings and lies and death.

Do you remember Lord Claur of House Baudh? He was injured recently and I have been helping him with his research. It was a nice diversion while my own injuries kept me from being able to work as much as I wished. I am mostly recovered; I simply cannot waltz back onto the ship full stop so soon. It would raise suspicions.

He is a nice man, Claur. I enjoyed working with him. He took the time to hear my thoughts about his topics and it felt good to have someone listen to me.

This is probably too long to be a proper letter. I hope life in Bree is good. Please write me back. I miss you.

With Love,

Merry

A Bitter Pill: The Tired Road Home

At times, Cwen worried that she would lose her way in the dense forest of the Trollshaws. Occasionally, the gorge would rise in her stomach and she would quickly slide from Bean the Second’s back to vomit violently at the base of a regal beech. Then she would cry for an indeterminate amount of time, sometimes fall into a dreamless sleep, and then jolt awake, ashamed of herself, disoriented, and exhausted. Bean would stomp the earth impatiently and she would climb back into the saddle , take out the bottle of morphia, and then put it away again. ScreenShot00004

Yesterday she had passed through the Ford of Bruinen. The Loudwater lived up to its name; the fall of the rapids pierced her ears and the light bouncing off its waves blinded her. The mists chilled her to the bone causing her to shiver. Just as quickly the sun, unhindered by the canopy of the forest, heated her blood to a sweat. As miserable as she had been, she preferred the mild discomfort of changing body temperatures and a runny nose to this headache and nausea that refused to ease even in sleep. It was growing stronger. She drank more water.

She took a dose.

The headache eased. The nausea subsided. And the world looked less frightening and bleak for a time.

She had to reach the children, she told herself. She would take them to the Shire and protect them from everything that was drawn to folk like the Wayfarers: the conflict, the questions, the enemy. They could laugh and play at Gardeneve and be free from worry. Callee would care for them all and the children would enjoy their “vacation” pampered, loved, and well-fed. Oendir, if he ever found himself again, would know where to find them and maybe they would decide to stay there and finally find peace.

When the opiate’s effect faded, tears flowed freely. Her feeling of isolation consumed her. The heavy heart returned with the nausea and she hardly knew where her horse was taking her. ScreenShot00005Looking up at the sky, she wished she would turn to the wind and blow away like dust, return to the earth, start over again. Leaves could fall. Men could fall. Women could fall, too, but no, they had to be strong for their men, they had to be silent, be still. They had to bend to the whims of their men but keep a firm foot in the soil else the entire world around them would go topsy-turvy, upside-down. They could not rattle and moan and shake and let go. Women were the roots, the trunk, the conduit of men’s strength and if the women failed, the family failed, the tree was broken. A tree could only survive being ripped from the earth so many times.

Uprooted again. Another part of her torn away by choices and fate. She had lost sight of what was important and this was her penance, her punishment. She punished herself for loving Rheb, for daring to dream of becoming a princess, for swallowing the poison she gave herself even now. For letting a man get in the way of her child. Her children.

Was Solstan hers now that Oendir was gone? What is better…a child without a father or a child with a father who doesn’t care about him?

She was weak. She didn’t want to think about these things. It wasn’t his fault, it wasn’t his fault, he only left to heal, he didn’t know that he would forget them, he’d forget them, he forgot them…

She wanted to forget, too.

She wanted all the dead leaves, the broken branches, the bits of her broken and torn to drop away like the leaves in the fall. She wanted to shed the colours others saw and grow something new. She wanted Oendir to find her and all the little pieces and pluck away the dead bits of her and graft himself to her and grow together. Grow together.

She wanted to belong.

She made sure to avoid any travelers. Bean turned north toward Thorenhad and let her displeasure known when she was turned away. Cwen promised her an apple, but she did not have any apples, so she promised an apple and some sugar cubes when they got to Durrow, but we cannot stay, they cannot stay.

For days, Cwen rode in silence save her sobs and slept in broken fragments stolen here and there just far enough off the trail to be passed by.

She took another dose.

What if she wasn’t the roots and trunk but the leaves and that is why people shed her so easily? What if she had no heartwood, only her pretty colors, her pretty face and once the leaves started to wilt and fade, people realized it wasn’t to last? ScreenShot00007The green would fade. The reds would crumble. People shed her so they could be renewed again.

Don’t think. Don’t feel.

She took another dose.

It was the headaches. It was the nausea. She had to get home to her children. She had to find some place safe. Durrow wasn’t safe. Memories weren’t safe. They weren’t enough to hold on to. They hurt too much to hold on to.

Bean’s hooves click click clopped across the Last Bridge. The stones were warm from the day’s heat and the water was not so harsh as the sun dropped in the sky. Camp. Just a soft, stone-free space of land. Sleep without dreams, without–

ScreenShot00009Memories drifted in and out of her sleep. The visions came stronger than any dream. Fire and burning horse flesh. Hot blood on her virgin thighs. Laughter full of derision as the elhudans danced in her vision. Bright spots of pain. Violation. Her father’s hand reaching for her with death in his eyes.

What happened to Oendir was worse, she told herself. What happened to Oendir was worse.

She wanted someone to comfort her, but there was nothing except the night and the breeze catching her hair. The full moon shone bright above her and the stars gave back their warm glow. Choosing distance over sleep, she saddled Bean and rode on through the lonely lands in the night. She did not fear the orcs or the orc-blooded men. She did not fear the wolves or the wild boar. She did not feel the fear that drove her on through the night because she took another dose so she could keep going. Just enough to take the edge off, she said in her head. Just enough to keep going.

 

A Bitter Pill: love loses in life, longingly

love loses in life, longingly looking
finding nothing but fortune floundering in fetid
memories mashed to muck

meandering memories
missing memories

my memories are yours

yet your yearnings for yesterday
are false fortunes of fatality
nothing
absolutely nothing

because if they are something, then
why do you tear them out of your head

heavy with self-hatred you run from home
and leave us in the Void
how long before we vanished?
are your demons finally vanquished?

as you go blithely on with life
now that you’ve forgotten your children and wife
go blithely on with life

~~~***~~~

Dear Faronlos,

I fear that I must return to my home. I am leaving the Wayfarers; they do not need my services no matter what they claim. They always have allies to treat anything their own skill cannot mend. My children need me and they need to be in a place where they are safe again.

If you ever regain your memories, I will be where the flowers bloom brightest in good, rich soil and the spirit is nearly always content with a full belly. You will know where that is if you wish to find us.

Sincerely,

Cwendlwyn Tain

Headstrong Heart: Just Fine

“You need to come home. Mother is not well and she is asking for you.”

“I need to finish updating this ledger, brother. I will be home when I have completed my task.”

“The numbers can wait until morning. They are not going anywhere.”

“Hálchon, I will only be a bit more.”

“The sun is setting; I don’t want you walking home by yourself. The streets aren’t…”

“Brother. I will be fine. Go home to supper before it gets cold and Mother has something more to yell about.”

“Have you eaten today?”

“Yes.”

“What have you eaten? I didn’t see you.”

“I ate some…nuts. Nuts and berries that one of the delivery boys brought for me.”

“So even the delivery boys can see that you’re not eating?”

“Hálchon, you’re making such a fuss over nothing.”

“Halvel, this has got to stop. Come home and eat dinner with your family.”

“I have to finish these for the quartermaster if we want the Cognac to make it out of port by noon. He won’t be able to get the supplies in time and then we will be late getting in to Pelargir and they need these supplies.”

“I am glad that we have decided to assist in the rebuilding, Halvel, I truly am, but with the most sincerity I can muster, here…they can do without the fish for a few hours.Things happen at sea, you above all should know that. You must rest. Eat. You hardly ever sleep.”

“I am fine, really. I just need to fix these numbers. I will be home soon. Go. She’ll yell and she shouldn’t with how ill she’s been…”

“If you are not home by the end of dinner, I am coming back for you.”

“If it grows too late, I will sleep here.”

“That isn’t proper, Halvel! You cannot sleep here on the ship with the men.”

“I’ve slept on a ship before. I will be fine, Hálchon. Go home.”

The Nightingale: Letter in a Bottle

Take things as they come,
One by one with each rising sun.
One step, one breath, one paper, one pen
And the teardrops will fade and then

Maybe, just maybe, you can breathe again.

~~~

Letter to Pen

~~~

She rolled the paper into a tight little scroll and sealed it up with wax. She chose the bottle with the shoulders and slid the letter inside.

She waited until dark because it was easier that way. The fewer people that saw her, the fewer questions she might have to face. How did you get up so high? What are you doing on that ledge? Aren’t you afraid you’ll fall?

I have fallen once, she told them in her head, and I should have died then.

I wish I had died then.

But they didn’t see her move through the shadows, or if they did, they told themselves it was just the light playing tricks on their eyes. Old eyes in the candle light. Young eyes full of imagination.

She stood on the ledge where she hid so long ago after fleeing from her only home, the Ivory Tower. The Keep of the Swan-Knights loomed in the moonlight and she wished that it was only guard duty that kept him away. The bottle, hard and cold in her hand, glinted, gave her intentions away if anyone cared to look. Did anyone care to look?

With all of her strength, she threw the bottle with the rolled up letter and it sailed in the starlight, through the air, and splashed into the waters below. Every night the ritual was the same since she moved to her father’s house. People kept journals all the time, of course. Letters were normal to send to loved ones.

Arameril shared her journal, her day, with her loved one, and since no post could carry the words to him, she prayed to Elmeleth that they would find him through her offering to the sea.

A Bitter Pill: Burn

Hair releases such a stringent, unmistakable smell when it burns. The nostrils recoil. They know that that smell means something is terribly wrong in the world.

The hairs on the back of your arms curl from heat. Her hair had never curled properly; gravity drew the heavy locks straight within the hour. Hot stones, burning irons. How silly they had been to wish to curl the hair on their heads when they should have been grateful to have hair there at all. How silly, when within the week, they would learn that even such tiny hairs as those on the back of one’s arms can curl under the right circumstances.

Freida stood in the window. The young woman leaned out to reach for Cwen, but Cwen could do nothing but look up and fear that if her friend leaned much further, she’d fall to her death. But then the blonde locks caught. The flames spread through her hair quickly. Detached, somehow knowing the thought was broken, Cwen recalled the oils they had mixed to smooth their hair the day before. Flames soon consumed her friend, but instead of running away from the window as she should have, Freida stayed. She stayed and lowered her arm to point at Cwen as the roar of the flames devouring the house roared around her.

Before Cwen could scream, a sharp, stabbing pain shot through her back straight through her. Her lung refused to expand so that she could gasp. A heavy hand fell on her shoulder as the dirk in her back twisted and as if time slowed, she looked back to see the cold smile of her father before she felt her body flying into the oven of a house…

Her true gasp awoke her and the smell of burning hair caused Cwen to bolt upright in her bedroll and grasp for her hair. Her jagged breathing tore her throat as she looked around wildly to gain a bearing in this world, this waking world where the smell of burning hair was real.

Unable to shake the dream, she flung her arm out to reach for the candlestick on the bedside table, only she was not in her tiny closet room in Riverwide, she was in the Trollshaws a hundred leagues away from her childhood home. The movement made the burns on her arms shoot venomous reminders to her brain and the day before came back to her.

The bridge.

The wood trolls.

Oendir’s necklace and three words carved into a tree.

She reached to her neck to feel for the black cord that kept the coin, Oendir’s good luck charm, safely attached to her. She traced the length down to the metal and it was warm against her skin. Closing her fist around it tightly, she squeezed her eyes shut and slowly counted to ten.

Bemá, give me strength to find him. Watch over him, your servant. Help him find peace, please.

Quietly in the dark, she searched for the pot of salve that would cool the heat of her wounds.

She told herself it was not real, the dream, and it wasn’t. Her father had not stabbed her nor had he thrown her into a burning house. She lost her hair in the stables, not from watching Freida burn. That was years ago and only the stress of the bridge crossing and the fire must have brought them back. It had been some time since she had drifted back.

Slathered with medicine, stinking of witch hazel and burnt hair, Cwen laid down.

It was a long time before exhaustion closed her eyes.

 

A Bitter Pill: Shatter Me

Like a fallen looking glass
out of place and out of time,
I sit and send pieces of me
throughout the world.
In fragments, I release my worries
–all my pain and fear–
in droplets of pale black ink
With undercurrents of berry, black and blue.


Dear Taja,

I hope this reaches you soon. I was distressed to hear of your hasty departure, though I understand the need to run away from the troubles of this community. Had you asked, perhaps I would have gone with you to explore the ice shelves of Forochel again without the threats of war between your peoples. There is always a threat no matter where one is though, isn’t there? Our recent travels have shown that us that much.

Godric may have allowed you to simply leave, but I do wish you would have said farewell to people. Many care about you quite a bit. Myself included. So do take care, Taja. If you need anything, anything at all, do let us know. (I hope you kept your acorn whistle!)

Most sincerely,

Cwendlwyn

~~~***~~~

Dear Orendir,

I hope this letter brings a warm spring for you all the way up north. How is the family? Solstan and Neilia are well; Oendir and I wed last year.

Unfortunately, Oendir has gone missing. As his father, I thought that you should know, though there is little that you could do to help in the search unless for some reason he left the Trollshaws to run naked through the snow. I highly doubt that is where his feet have taken him, but one thing I have learned is that nothing is out of possibility.

Give my regards to Simi and the children, especially Kipina. You are in our thoughts.

Sincerely,

Cwendlwyn

P.S. If you think of it, could you write me about how Taja is doing? Did he return to the settlement? He left us abruptly and I am worried about him. ~C.

~~~***~~~

Dear Attie,

My patch of lemon balm is not doing well this spring. How has your garden been faring? Do you have any tricks for the herb? I know I will be using a bit of it this season.

Please let your father and mother know that I will be in town for a bit if they are interested in tea.

Sincerely,

Cwendlwyn

~~~***~~~

My dear Callee,

Greetings, my friend. I will be bringing the children to Gardeneve on the first of the month to enjoy a bit of a holiday and help with the early spring drying. I was glad to hear that the wedding of Giles and Vera went of without too much of a hitch. It is always interesting when your folk step outside your farthings to fall in love. It is dreadful about the lack of garlic mashed potatoes at the party, though, I agree.

We have much to catch up on. I look forward to seeing you soon.

Cwen

~~~***~~~

My dear Rheb,

How are you? How is the tribe?

I wanted to let you know that we are still searching for Oendir. The company has been travelling a lot on assignments, so there has not been a lot of time to look. I still believe he is alive.

I’ve enclosed some paints in the package and some canvas for stretching. I know that Han does not wish for you to waste time on your art, but you could paint anyway. The camp could use some colour. And if Han gets snappy, tell him that all cultures create art. It is what separates Man from Animal.

Though sometimes I think that the burns Solstan’s salamander leaves in my garden is his form of art…

I miss you. Be safe.

Kwen

Stable Talk: Einar and Willoric Scary

One. Two. Three. Four. Five.

Quite content in the stables, Einar counted the strokes he made with the brush over Ai’s buckskin hide. Cook had been hollering about missing muffins and the man from the Mark would rather face Benjamin the Curmudgeons over Cook the Wrathful any day.

Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten.

Ai let out a gentle and appreciative whinny and tossed his dark mane as he stretched his neck to watch Einar brush him.

Eleven. Twelve. Thirteen. Fourtee-

A noise from above drew the attention of both horseman and horse. The brush paused on Ai’s flank. The horse flicked his tail as though to brush it away.

Dust fell from the thick beams of the rafters. Einar blinked away the tears forming to wash it from his eyes. Then, there was the faint sound of a gasp and an object sailed down from above and a small, child-like hand just missed snagging it back up again.

“Drat!”

Einar blinked in surprise and then calmly stepped out of the way. He reached up to catch the thing from the rafters and grunted when the soft muffin crumbled in his large hand.

“Sorry!” a voice called down to him. Einar looked up and gazed (with no surprise on his face) at Willoric Scary’s fuzzy head leaning over the rafter to peer down at him. “It slipped, only. I did not throw it at you, I swear!”

Ai stomped his hoof on the dry stable floor impatiently. He snorted at Einar and stared at him with his teeth showing. It’s just that silly half-man. Go on. Go about your business now, he said.

He is a Hobbit, Einar clarified with a look and a touch of his bare hand to Ai’s back. “Get down,” he said aloud without looking up.

“No, no, I don’t think that is all that good of an idea,” Willoric, who asked to be called Will, said. “Not until later this afternoon at the least. Then perhaps things will have blown over and I will keep my head at dinner time. What do you think Cook will serve tonight? I do hope it is a good roast chicken just dripping with herbs, or a pie like those you get down at the Flour Pot. Or like Miss Rosemead’s duck! That was delicious, was it not? I do hope she hosts another Wayfarer night again soon, don’t you?”

He does not shut up, that little one. The horse snorted with disgruntlement. His peace and quiet was being disturbed. In the next stall, Kvígr lifted his head as well. The horse’s accent made him difficult to understand at times, but Einar thought he said something about eating apples in peace.

If you just ignore him, he will go away eventually. I would wager the lad is used to it, he told them both. The horses snorted, wide nostrils flaring, and then in unison began to chew the sweet hay in the rack between their stalls.

“Einar,” Will continued without going away at all, “Einar, what do you think Cook will serve for supper tonight?”

“Food,” Einar answered and he resumed brushing Ai’s coat.

“Well, that’s helpful,” Will said in a tone that noted just unhelpful the answer was. “Are you going for a ride?” he asked to change the subject. If you wanted to get to make friends, after all, it was best to talk about topics that interested them, not you. At least, that is what his mother said.

“Perhaps.” Fifteen. Sixteen. Seventeen. Eighteen.

“Can I go with  you?” From the sound of it, he had a mouth full of muffin.

“No.” Nineteen. Twenty. Twenty-one.

“Do you not like company? I had to like company, or at least get used to it. Otherwise, I would have gone mad. All my brothers and sisters and their friends. People always came to Scary, you know, to see the quarry or to court one of my sisters. Do you have sisters?” Will’s face appeared over the edge of the rafter again and he peered down at Einar curiously. When the man did not respond but kept on brushing his horse, the young Hobbit frowned and pulled back again.

“Why are you brushing your horse so much?”

“Builds the bond.” Einar switched the brush to the other hand and stroked Ai’s strong neck. You could tell him to go away, you know, Ai said with some humour in his tone. Then we can all have peace and quiet.

He is lonely, Einar replied, and correct in his assumption about Cook. She will have his head for getting into her kitchen again. He is useful in the field.

“I do not have a horse,” Will said as though Einar had asked about it. “I came here with a trade caravan by some of the coin my mother gave me. I should like one, though, only not a horse, but a pony.”

He sure does talk a lot! Ai stamped the earth again and Einar smiled. Perhaps I am the only one that has let him talk so much and it is all pouring out now.

“Would you teach me about horses should I get one?” Will’s face appeared again with hopeful, bright eyes. Einar looked up and regarded him for a time and then nodded. Will broke into a grin. “Splendid! That is truly good of you, thank you! You are from Rohan, after all, and who better to learn about horses from than one of the horselords themselves!”

Einar swore he saw Ai roll his eyes and he chuckled quietly. In the next stall, Kvígr looked up with golden hay poking out of the corners of his mouth and looked at them both critically. Having reached a hundred strokes, Einar turned to pick up the saddle blanket and saddle to strap in to place.

“Oh, are you going now?” Will peered down again. Suddenly, the lad sneezed from the dust. “Oh, bless my soul!” Rubbing his nose, he asked, “Will you be back by supper?”

“Maybe,” Einar answered as he took the reins to lead Ai out.

“Well, all right,” Will said with a little bit of disappointment. “I will see you at supper!” he added.

“See you, Will,” Einar said much to the delight of the young lad in the rafters. As he mounted Ai in the bright mid-day sun, the horse laughed. You have a new friend, he said as he started toward the gates of Durrow. Whether you want one or not.

He will get bored eventually, though. I am not worried. I’d rather have a thief on my side than against me.

As they passed through Durrow’s gates, Einar waved once to Finch. He waited until he could smell the marshlands before he nudged Ai into a gallop and the solitude of the space in-between where he could ride for hours without worry or memory.

 

 

Fallout

The stars hid behind thick clouds when Eris walked along the dock in search of a sign. Her boots click-clacked on the worn boardwalk and few others hung about near the worst of the wreckage in the fading light of the remaining day. But she had to see it. She had to touch to water to know for certain that her life was on the bottom of the bay.

Corsair ships, black and pointed, protruded from the shallows. The dark wood of the south mingled oddly with the lighter woods of Gondor; lighter by nature and by paintbrush, the Gondorian ships glowed beneath the waves lapping against the pontoons keeping the little wooden bridge afloat. They had died in the first fighting, those Gondorian ships. They boosted their southern sisters like a shelf.

Eris did not know how she knew which dock to go to any more than she knew which door handle to try when she was seeking a hood and cloak and a bit of food or which alley to turn down to avoid the patrols. Head down, eyes up, she navigated Pelargir well enough; she had found respite in its port before.

At the end of the plank bridge, she stepped onto the farthest wharf. The transition from wood to stone was always jarring for her. Stone did not hold water like wood did and the disconnect took a moment to shake off. Step, step, down to the very edge of the dock, as far from the solid slab of land that the city rested upon as she could get without diving in. Oh, how she wished to dive into the cool depths of the bay. How long would she have to stop breathing for her to be reunited with her hull? Would the mastheads still stand tall? How soon does the floor of the sea start to reclaim the magic of a worthy vessel with barnacle and weed?

Attached to the stone wharf bobbed a lower wooden platform. It nearly rested on the water itself and in rough weather, the waves wet the planks between the gaps leaving them treacherous. Today, the sea ebbed calmly against the higher jetty. Eris stepped down the rope and plank ladder with ease and then at the edge of the water, she knelt on one knee and touched her palm to the surface of the water.

Flashes from black powder and lightning. The splintering of hulls and shattering of stone. Eris felt herself wince as she felt the water lap over her fingers filtering it for its secrets and searching for her answer. Concussive battering against stone and metal. Shallows empty except for the broken hulls and skeletal masts of ships.

Deeper, farther than she had expected, rested The Golden Apple, or at least what remained of her. Remnants of blackened sails floated in the underwater current along the snapped and scorched ends of the ropes and pulleys. The fire had burned great holes in the hull. Its ironic crackling still echoed in the sea as the waters remembered the hiss and fizzle as the ship sank.

The urge to yank her hand from the pain of the memories nearly overwhelmed her, but she did not pull back. Eris grit her teeth, closed her eyes, and kept her hand in the water until she felt full of the loss of her friend, her love, her ship. The only thing constant on the ocean blue, the only thing controllable and contained was a ship, her ship, and now it was gone. She had to understand that it left this world without her and there was nothing she could do.

“Oi! Whotchoo doin’ da’n there, lassy?”

The voice shook her from her mediation and she stood quickly. The dockhand regarded her suspiciously.

“Rememb’ring that which I’ve lost,” she told him sincerely. “I’m sorry. I’ll go.”

The man’s stern expression softened with pity. “Yes, civilians ought nah be da’n here. ‘S dangerous ’til the builders c’n fix whot’s broke in the fightin’. Best be gahn.”

Without lifting her head, Eris nodded and climbed the ladder. The dockhand stared at her as she rushed past him. She paid him no mind.

~~~***~~~

Paying no mind to the dockhands loading a merchant ship, Halvel strode down the wharf of Dol Amroth. Her aunt made it clear that she was no longer welcome in Minas Tirith and her presence would only be a burden to her now that her uncle and cousin were gone. It seemed cruel somehow that her life had brought her full circle for Gelluines would only buy passage down the Anduin. “Only to a proper place with your own family,” she had said. Halvel did not have it in her to fight and if truth be told, she was more than ready to leave the walls of the White City.

“Hálchon!” she called when she spotted her brother on the deck of one of their remaining fishing vessels. “Hálchon, come down here!” She waved to catch his attention and tried to suppress her scowl when he glared down at her from the rail.

“What are you doing here?!” her brother exclaimed. He paused to give a few orders and then he waved her toward the gangplank.

Reluctantly, Halvel wove her way to the edge and only boarded when Hálchon beckoned her up the boarding ramp.

“What are you doing here?” Hálchon repeated when she joined his side. “I thought you were needed in the Houses of Healing?”

“I lived out my usefulness there,” Halvel said stiffly. “And Aunt Gelluines did not wish to continue paying my upkeep. I cannot say that I blame her with uncle and cousin Tondaer gone.”

Passing his writing tablet to another man, Hálchon held out his hand for her to walk in front of him. He herded her to the aftdeck. “Tondaer treated you well during your stay? He was a good man.”

Halvel nodded and rested a hand on the rail. “He did. It is a shame that he was lost, but as a first circle guard…it is a miracle that any survived at all.”

The severity, the solemnness that overshadowed her normally fiery spirit caught Hálchon’s attention, but he only studied his sister’s profile.

“You could go back to Bree, you know.”

When Halvel did not respond, Hálchon continued, “He wrote you. I must apologize for reading it on your behalf, but you can understand how surprised I was to receive a letter addressed to you from your husband. You really should have written me before, Halvel. You could have come home, could have avoided all the-”

“I didn’t want to come back here, Hálchon. Surely you know that. And I cannot return. You wouldn’t understand.” Halvel stared ahead. “Part of me wishes I had died, brother. At least I would have had a place to belong.”

Nodding, Hálchon turned to lean on the rail with both forearms. “You will always belong here, Halvel,” he assured her gruffly. “But you were never happy here.”

“Did you report the destruction of The Apple to the dockmaster?” she asked abruptly. A passing gull drew her eye briefly.

“No. But I will. I believe he marked it down as missing in action or stolen. I hadn’t bothered correcting the logs yet.”

“It was not necessarily stolen,” Halvel said elusively, “but it was off course. We left it in Pelargir. I heard the Corsairs attacked the harbor. Surely it is lost.”

Hálchon grunted softly and said, “I will have to write Gaelyn. Perhaps you should do it.”

“No,” Halvel answered quickly. “You. I-I cannot.”

“You should,” Hálchon urged gently. “You have been given a second chance, Halvel. Take it.”

“No. You. I will inform the master of the docks. We cannot have the ship on record as stolen.” She adds in a murmur, “Eshe has enough to worry about.”

“What?” Hálchon turned to lean on his elbow and face her and raised a brow when Halvel waved a hand dismissing his question. “I’ll just take it that the good captain is no longer in our employ?”

“She was arrested,” Halvel explained wearily. “I do not think she did anything wrong, but she disappeared during the evacuations. A guard turned up dead. At best she is at large.”

Hálchon shook his head and looked out across the sea. “She better leave this family alone now. If I find her, I will see to it that she does not meander on anyone ever again.”

~~~***~~~

“What do you mean, he is not here?”

The man wore robes of deep scarlet and midnight black and his long hair was tied in two inch sections down to the middle of his back. Though they were mud-splattered and his face was travel-worn, he had a regal command about him that made even Lichen pause.

The conversation with the head of house at the guild hall of that blasted adventuring crew was short and frank. In a delightfully dramatic twirl of his worn cloak, the man turned from her desk and stormed out of Ravenhold in a huff. Only when he reached the cobbled road that led back down to the market square did he pause and rest a hand on his lower back as he turned to look up at the beautiful hall.

“Blast,” he muttered to himself and he looked out over the little village of Durrow-on-Dunwash with a sigh. No use complaining more, he decided. Straightening his robes with a tug on his lapels, the man set off for the Broken Cask, the tavern and inn that blasted woman mentioned as a place he could look for a room and a meal. He could only hope it had a hot bath and a library, though he doubted it. Such plebeian establishments rarely had such touches of civilization.