((OOC: Potential trigger warning))
In Esgaroth, the Tenorbekk cottage
Ninim Tenorbekk knelt by the shore of Long Lake as she scrubbed out the week’s laundry in the fading twilight. Her lithe body moved awkwardly beneath its burden; her back ached and she was hungry. She had aged beneath the weight of her house guest. He took too much. Used too much. And after eight months of his attentions, gave too much as well.
She wrung out the last of Sten’s shirts and hated the fact it was not her husband’s. As she tossed it into the basket, she cut off sob that threatened to escape her throat. No. She would not fall to pieces. She would not fall to pieces. She should not fall to pieces. Eirikr would return and together, they would end the time stolen from them. They would reclaim their lives, rid themselves of the parasite, and start new. Start fresh.
Standing, she braced the basket of wet clothes against her hip and held on to it as best she could as she waddled toward the backyard where the drying line stretched between two trees. The sob threatened to loosen from her throat where it lay like a chicken bone, choking and painful. How could they start new with this…this thing growing inside her? The first time Sten pushed open her bedroom door, she thought it was a dream. Indeed, the entire evening seemed fragmented after they had eaten dinner. The bruises on her wrists the next morning and the scent of him on her bedsheets were the only signs that her memories were no mere dreams.
When she started watching her food and drink, robbing Sten of the opportunity to drug her, it only led to a harsher waking world. He did not care when she fought back. In fact, he seemed to savor every slap he laid across her face until her head was swimming enough to staunch her resistance. She learned quickly to accept his attentions in order to protect herself from physical harm. Every night, her spirit suffered all the more.
As she hung the clothes in the dark, she longed to sink into the earth and dissolve into nothingness. She worked when no one could see her, for even when she was complacent, he still sometimes hit her for the fun of it. No one would believe the bruises came from his hand. Sten quickly made friends with the neighbors, spinning tales of half-truths involving Eirikr’s family emergency and a sense of duty to protect his “sister-in-law”. If anyone questioned why he had not gone after the wayward Tenorbekk himself, Sten would laugh and say, “I am no fighter! The Mirkwoods scare me to death. No, Eirikr knows the trails and the ways to survive on them. It’s all I can do to help around the house until he returns.”
With the last shirt hung, Ninim gathered up the basket and headed for the house. She braced her hand beneath her bulging belly and hesitated at the back door. Closing her eyes, she felt the baby within her stir. It tried to stretch without much success. It was crowded in there.
Her eyes still closed, she leaned her head against the rough door. Eight months he had been terrorizing her. Nine months since Eirkir had left for Bree. Her letter must have reached him. It had to have reached him. He had to be coming right now to silence her fears and to love her again.
He would love her, no matter what. Holding this in her heart, she shifted the basket around her pregnant belly and lifted the latch to face her life.