To Dale: The Exchange

Eirikr adjusted the pack on his back as he walked up the path leading from the field of the northern most farm. The path wound its way in front of a couple Hobbit houses built into the hill and ended at a small stone ruin. Until Cwendlwyn had written that they could meet there, he had been ignorant of the spot’s existence. He stood at the edge of the cliff overlooking the whole of Bree-town and sighed. Overlook, EirikrThe second floor of the Pony seemed far below and the air was clearer. Easier to breathe.

He didn’t want to resort to the plan that had been formulating in his mind from the moment he calmed down enough to focus on such a thing. He would not let Eruviel find out and he certainly could not let Anya ever know, though he suspected that she already had an idea of what might happen once Eirikr stepped into Dale.

He wished he could just bypass Dale all together, but he knew he could never be that close and not step in to take Abiorn with him. Anya, and he felt Ninim, and probably Eruviel, too, would want to take the boy from that home.

Boy. Abiorn would be fifteen now. Eirikr pictured his brother in his mind: frail, crooked limbs, darker features than either older sibling, and laughing. Abbi had quickly learned subterfuge and avoidance to protect himself and therefore, he was often able to smile.

A sound behind him made him turn. The dark-haired woman approached slowly with a girl of about seven at her side. Eirikr frowned, but Cwendlwyn made a gesture to the girl and spoke some soft words. The little one nodded and sat down at the crest of the hill with her back to him.

Cwendlwyn briefly ruffled the girl’s hair and then approached. Though Eirikr had only met her twice in the form of a patient, she had agreed to provide him with means for his backup plan. For some reason, he trusted her not to divulge the secret to anyone including his sister. He observed her in the faded light of the overcast afternoon. Her long, dark hair was pulled back in a neat and severe knot and her face looked a bit worn, though not thin. Her eyes–he saw something there that hinted at a kindred spirit. She knew a pain deep in her bones caused by the very reason she was alive. She had not hesitated when he inquired about sedatives and lethal dosages on her second visit to check on his injury earlier in the week.

“I have what you are seeking, Eirikr,” she said lowly as she drew near. She stopped less than a foot away from him. They could have been lovers meeting in secret. In fact, she took his arm and drew him away from the edge and deeper into the shadow cast by the stone walls of the crumbling tower. “I am sure this tincture will work for the pain that has been plaguing you your entire life.”

“Thank you,” he said in an equally low voice. He drew a coinpouch from his belt and handed it to her. “It should all be there.”

Shaking her head, she assured him, “I am certain it is fine. It is funny, isn’t it?” She looked up at the clouds. “Such a cute little white flower can hold such devastating power. I do implore you to only use this as a last resort, however. There are other ways of treating your problem.”

He nodded. “I intend for this to be unnecessary. But–“

She raised her hand to stop him. “I know. You will do whatever is necessary. I understand, Eirikr. Believe me, I do. I only ask you to consider one thing.”

He looked over at the girl who sat reading. A lookout, he surmised. Cwendlwyn might have had the appearance of a kind though serious healer, but clearly she had dealt with being the antithesis of her profession before. She held out her hand as if to offer a handshake. He took hers in his own and palmed the vial she held. Before he could pull away, she clasped his hand in both of hers, the glass, warmed by her hold, pressing into his skin.

“Consider what you have: your sister, your wife, your brother, and fifty years of life before you. Your shoulder has healed much better than I would have predicted. And I know you are frustrated with the loss of control, but you are working hard to regain that, and I believe it will return. Eirikr,” she nearly whispered as she stepped even closer, “Remember that even if he dies, you will have to live. And that, my friend, is the hardest part.”

His breath caught in his throat. She released him and stepped back, her brilliant green eyes piercing into his as he nodded silently.

“Safe travels, Eirikr son of Kolrson of Dale,” she bid him as she curtsied to him. It was a graceful, practiced movement of respect that he suddenly felt he didn’t deserve. “I will see you again.”

Again he could only nod as he gripped the hellebore tincture in his fist. He watched as with a gentle touch on her daughter’s shoulder, Cwen led the girl down the path holding her hand and singing.


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