In his bed at his family estate, Canderas lay beside her sleeping soundly. A small grin of contentment even now curled his lip. She studied his face in the dying firelight: smooth, chiseled features except the scar on the right side, pale lashes resting on his cheeks. His mouth. He had a lovely mouth. So often it showered her with kisses and left her pulse racing.
Quietly so as to not disturb him, Anya rolled from her side to her back and stared at the ceiling. The deep, dull ache low in her belly did not subside as her naked flesh pressed against his. She would have thought that she’d feel more embarrassed being nude with a man, but Canderas looked upon her as a beggar would a Dwarven treasure trove. He made her feel glamorous.
Still, glamor did not ease the feeling of anxious frustration deep in her core. It did little to fill the hallow cavern she felt growing inside her each day. Her hand moved to squeeze her breast; she blushed. The heat nearly burned the fingers she raised to her cheek. Proper ladies did not do such things, her mother’s scolding voice rang out in her head. She sighed. Like she needed more voices in her head.
She looked over at Canderas. She should be satisfied. She had made him happy – a trembling, shaking mess happy – and that should be good enough. A woman’s place was making her husband happy, her mother said when the Merchants’ Guild Master’s son first took an interest in her. Not to worry about her own needs, wants, or desires, but to fulfill her husband’s to the best of her ability. Her mother would have frowned at her current situation, though that mattered little to Anya. Things were different now. She needed no husband, but a lover? A lover she could enjoy and her duty was to please him.
And his duty should be to please you.
Her brow creased and she thought for a long minute. Without speaking aloud, she said, “But he will not unless I please him first. It is how it should be.”
Nonsense. There were nights when all I did was please Fae. It was enough to make her sigh. And moan. And scream.
“Why – why would you tell me this, Aeron?”
Because you need to know. You need to see all relationships are not like your mother and your father’s. They are not like what you think that other Man has with his lovers. There are some that are strong and good where duties – and love – are shared equally.
“But a man would leave a woman who demands from him. There are so many more he could go to that would not.”
Little Anya, that is not so. Not if the man is there for the right reasons.
She continued to gaze at Canderas as he slept. “Is he here for the right reasons?”
I do not know, Anya. I only know what you know and see what you see.
She suddenly blushed and gasped aloud.
“Oh, by Bard’s arrow, I am so sorry.”
I, um, respectfully closed my eyes. And sang. Loudly. To myself.
“Did, um, it work?”
“I am so embarrassed.”
He laughed, a deep, comforting sound. You shouldn’t be. It’s a natural thing.
“This seems unlike you. You always seem so stuffy.”
When I have to be. But we share a mind, Anya. It isn’t like we can keep much from one another.
“This is true.” Her face flushed deeper. “I am worried about him. He is a bit headstrong and though he’s seen battle, I am not sure about what we will face.” She studied the scarring on his face. “Was Fae your first?”
No. But she was my last.
“That is what is important, isn’t it?”
She could picture him nodding. I think so. Do not fear tomorrow, Anya. Live in the moment, and not in the past nor the future.
A smile crept up on her. She rested her hand on Canderas’s bare chest and kissed his shoulder.
“And right now, the moment is good.”
*** *** *** *** ***
Eirikr lay staring at the ceiling of the small room in Trestlebridge. His shoulder burned from the Orc’s blade and he was left with nothing but his thoughts. He knew with his injury he would only be a burden to the others, but he cursed his fortunes. His sister needed him, and he had failed to see the Orc that surprised him.
He thought on the moment that it happened: the Orc leapt from the cover of some debris and was on him before he could blink. The dagger plunged into his shoulder and missed his vital organs and arteries by pure luck. One of his companions delivered an arrow to the beast’s eye. Canderas.
The young man saved his life, no doubt. His weapons had been pinned beneath him and with his injury, his bow was practically useless anyway. The Elf had mended it as best she could, and the healer in town saw to stitches and further treatment, but Canderas had been the one to react first and give him the body that could be healed.
Though little good it does me now, he thought dryly. He reached over to press his fingers against the bandage covering the wound. He winced and tried to wiggle the fingers on his injured side. They responded weakly and he tried to suppress the rising panic gathering in his chest.
Someone knocked on the door.
“Eirikr?” Anya’s voice came through the thin wood and the door opened a crack. “Are you awake?”
“Yes,” he answered and struggled to sit up with a smile. He hoped his face concealed his pain.
“Eiri, I am so sorry,” she said as she came into the room and closed the door behind her. “We never should have come here.”
He grunted and waved his good hand dismissively. “Nonsense, Anyatka. We must get you well again. It was my own fault; I did not see the brute.”
Anya sat on the edge of the bed carefully. “Will you be all right?”
Nodding, he assured her, “Of course. It will mend and everything will be fine. I only worry about you, but I think you are in capable hands.” He took hers in his own. “They will fight to protect you, my systir. I know it.”
Her face fell some and she said softly, “Canderas is missing.”
The corner of his mouth twitched and he asked, “What do you mean?”
She answered in a quavering voice. “Mister Torlach believes he went to scout ahead, but there has been no sign of him since you were injured. I fear something terrible has happened.”
Eirikr squeezed her hand to reassure her. “Anya, I am sure he is fine. Perhaps he camped somewhere along the road. Have faith that things will be okay.”
“How can I? Already you have been hurt. Canderas gone. I fear our company is falling apart at the seams, brodhir.”
He leaned forward and pressed his forehead against hers. “As long as you stand, systir, your friends will stand with you. He will return. I will heal. My heart goes where I cannot. I am with you, little whelp. Always.”
*** *** *** *** ***
The Fields of Fornost ((edited from chat logs))
Anya sat uneasily in a saddle on most occasions, but the fields themselves seemed to ooze with a nervous chill. As Torlach and Nillariel led the way, she had only concerned herself with keeping them in sight. Eruviel rode close by, and the absence of Canderas and Eirikr hung over her like a cloud.
As they approached a crossing, suddenly Anya stopped. She looked up at the signpost, eyes dark. “This place…”
Just ahead, Torlach reined in his steed and said, “Is something wrong?”
Eruviel pulled her horse up beside Anya. “What do you remember?”
Torlach listened silently, frowning, and glancing about. He drew his cloak about him at a chill wind, looking almost afraid.
Eruviel pursed her lips, glancing over to Nillariel and Torlach.
Nillariel drew her blade, carrying it on her side. She looked over, “This place… it’s a-absent of light. There’s n-nothing here. It’s like t-the whole place is d-dead.”
Torlach replied, “The whole place is dead…”
Anyatka pressed her lips together as she rubbed her eyes. They opened and were fully black. “We were pressed south while the main body fled west. It was in Bree-land that I fell. But the spell was cast to the North.”
Eruviel’s eyes returned from looking into the distance, sucking in as she remembers to breathe.
Anyatka continued, “Dead is not that bad of a place, my friends. I would return.” She dug her heels into the steed’s sides to spur it into a gallop.
Nillariel blinked, “W-what’s… where’s she going?”
Torlach followed, silent.
They pressed onward until dead trees gave way to crumbling walls and the evidence of Orc and warg. Blockades lined the untended path to the gate. When they reached the main entrance to the city, a wall of wood and spikes halted their advance.
Anyatka’s blackened eyes looked up. “What has happened here? Has no one reclaimed it after all this time?”
Torlach said, “It was abandoned. The North Kingdom fell long ago.”
Nillariel looked around, “Oh… s-someone may have reclaimed it. I fear our luck i-is not that good.”
Anyatka grunted as she looked around. From within her, Aeron saw what became of his home so many years ago. “I was there. I watched it happen.” She sat for a long moment, deep in Aeron’s thoughts.
Seeing Anya pause, Torlach reluctantly led on at a slower pace.
*** *** *** *** ***
There were trolls in the dungeons. And in the main halls. And in the streets. Large, hulking trolls.
The battle raged on from the moment they stepped foot inside the city gates. As they gained access to the higher tiers of the city, the enemies grew stronger. Goblins and orcs. Wargs. And now trolls. Anya held toward the back as best she could, though on this second day in the city, she grew weary and she found herself lagging. Torlach pressed on relentlessly, his sword slashing through their enemies. Eruviel’s arrows flew straight and true. But the trolls.
Anya yelled as one of the hulking beasts charged at her. Eruviel turned and loosed a series of arrows in quick succession. The troll staggered but kept its feet. With blood running down her cheek, Anya stood her ground with her staff in her hand, but Eruviel knew even Aeron’s presence could not save her from a direct assault from a fully armoured troll. Without hesitation, she lept to stop its path.
The troll roared angrily and swept its gigantic mace at the Elf. With the grace of the Eldar, she dodged and lept, blade raised. With a yell, she slashed its throat on her foreswing and drove her blade home deep in its chest on the follow through. Its scream rent the air and it shook dislodging Eruviel and flinging her to the ground. Quickly, she was on her feet to jump back from the troll’s attack. Too late, it struck her side and sent her flying. The troll stumbled after her, but fell to its knees as the black blood streamed with each beat of its tainted heart.
As it crashed to the ground, Anya rushed to Eruviel’s side and knelt beside her. “Are you all right?” Aeron’s calm kept her voice steady.
The Elf nodded and climbed to her feet. She rubbed at the dent in her armour and rolled her shoulder but seemed able to carry on. Anya nodded in return and they looked around at the carnage.
Torlach stood over several bodies ensuring they were indeed bodies. His blade dripped with the blood of the slain as he plunged it into the chest of an Orc that dared to still live. He looked up, expression neutral. He looked to the north.
“Not here,” Aeron said through Anya as she came to stand next to him. Eruviel stood behind them, face stern to hide the discomfort of her three broken ribs. Torlach nodded and the walked on, weapons leaving a trail of blood in their wake.
*** *** *** *** ***
to be continued…