The streets of Durrow were quiet of people; only dogs barked and crickets sang in the fields as they passed through town. Anya did not say much as Callumn vigilantly walked beside her. His hand extended toward her slightly as if expecting her to fall at any moment. On her other side, Oli trotted along silently. The lynx pressed his flank against her occasionally and she drew strength from the animal’s presence and loyalty.
She should be falling. She should be unconscious, famished from the vigil she kept over Morducai’s heart. Over Melchior’s heart. Over his heart.
The two figures in the dark turned from Long Street onto Chestnut and in short time they stood at the path leading to the Tenorbekk cabin. Hunger and thirst ate at the little energy she had left, but she waved Callumn aside with a thank you and a reassurance she could make it inside. She felt his gentle eyes on her back and, steeling herself, she made it down the path on her own, lifted the latch, and stepped inside to the chorus of loud barks.
Shocked stares greeted her with the more jubilant greetings from the pups. Oli did not follow her inside; he slipped away easily fading into the shadows cast by the light of the fire.
Abiorn was the first to speak. His playful admonishing for not taking him along on her adventure let Anya breathe a little easier. Her younger brother helped her to the couch and then started tea and fetched her some blueberries and honey.
Bear leaped onto the cushion beside her and tried to push his way onto her lap while Vahan sang his greeting at her feet. Eirikr spoke to calm them both, and soon the dogs both rested at her feet panting out their excitement as Anya tasted the sweetness of the fruit Abiorn brought her.
Neither brother asked questions, and she was grateful for it. She knew they would come, but when Abiorn started dragging out the tub they used for baths, she knew they understood. Both brothers went to check on Eruviel’s new home to give her the privacy she needed to wash away the Barrow Downs and its stench.
The water was too hot, but Anya stepped into it anyway. The flush of her skin made it seem like the blood was not hesitant to flow through her sore limbs and as she washed herself, she pictured the hours she sat in the ancient tombs as though she was watching someone else. Occasionally someone would come with drink and she sipped automatically from their hand like a babe, but never did her attention waver from the Star of Cardolan in her palms. Morty’s life was in her hands and she would not fail him.
She must have drifted to sleep because soon she was no longer in Durrow-upon-Dunwash, but in a large and lush garden in the backyard of a tall home in Dale. The judge’s son was there with daisies in his hand and a winsome smile on his lips and he leaned in for a stolen, secret kiss, but his eyes lightened as he moved in and their brown became blue and Aeron was breathing his wife’s name as he kissed her and she felt the heat in her palms as the fear of loss grew in the pit of her stomach and before she knew what was happening next, Morty was leaning over her and she was in the Keep of Tinnudir and he was stroking her hair.
When she awoke in her bed some time later, she tried not to feel embarrassed that one of them must have put her there. The night gown’s ties were open at the throat, but she was well covered and a mass of fur and flesh with two sets of feline ears made her legs hot. Sitting up, she looked out her window and saw stars still shining.
Quickly, she donned her robes and brushed out her hair. Her sleep, though it had been short, had refreshed her enough to recall no one had been tending his garden in the past three days and the roses needed tending to. She did not know when he would be back or if he would be back. She would tend to them. She would not let them die.
Her surprise when she saw a light glowing in Morty’s window struck her paralyzed for several moments. Cautiously, she went up to the door and slipped inside.
He was there. He was alive. Hallem and Raenarcam stood glowering, and Morty assured her Cal and Miss Lark were probably off safely home. The real exhaustion hit her then; once the silent worry was assuaged, the fear of losing him forever vanquished, all she felt was the need to sleep. He led her to his bed where she fell asleep.
She only woke once before morning when out of frustration he punched the wall. Her sleep was dreamless and peaceful in his familiar bed and she only regretted the morning because he was not there beside her.
Burrowing deeper into the warmth of bed, she smiled into the pillow just happy to be alive and to know he was alive as well. Soon her body demanded something more substantial than jerky or honey-covered berries, and she forced herself up.
Looking around, Anya realized quickly that she did not know her place there any more. There were no perishables in the house after his long absence; she would have to leave to breakfast and she was not quite sure she was ready to walk out of Morducai Mossfoot’s door for good. Waiting for him to return to force them both into their awkward corners again. No, it was time for her to step out of the shadows and make the choice for herself.
With a piece of charcoal, she wrote on a several pieces of parchment torn from her sketchbook:
I do not know where to go from here. I awake to a pale beam of sunlight and the smell of roses and I face a new day both with and without you.
I had tried so hard to do as you wished. I did not know how. You picked me up, nourished my roots, and allowed me to blossom beneath your loving attention. Without you, I feared I would begin to fade away again and have only a shadowy imitation of life. After all, how could anyone notice me, the second child that was not a boy, but only a bigger disappointment with every move that she made?
Sadron said that he would not be surprised if I was a reoccurrence or recurrence or something like that. We had reached the barrow and I did not think to ask what he meant, but we had been speaking of the Dunedain woman who held your heart when you forged Steve. If I am interpreting his words correctly, I believe I was meant to find you, Morty, and you did need me as much as I needed you. I will always be here to hold your heart until the end of all things.
What to do with my heart, then? My fea recognizes your fea and neither of us can do anything to stop that loyalty of spirit to spirit. But I understand what you want for me and why you pushed me away before. My heart is still mine to give. I do not take it back from you, but I will change its essence if that it what you need from me now. Through your love, my own has grown and while you keep the first bush, I will give a cutting to another at your behest and his love will help me take root elsewhere and continue to grow. For him, I put away my sadness and began to feel the warmth again.
I will be hard to see you and not embrace you. To pretend that I do not long to be with you, for I know that I will wish it for a long time after I leave this house. But I will try and I hope that long after I am gone and you and Sadron still stand guard over these lands, you will remember me. And perhaps one day, I will be able to hold your heart again should you ever need someone to do so.
Always with love,
She folded the parchment in half and rested it against the pillow. She looked around the small, tiny room, and crossed to the mantle where several trinkets still rested in the gathering dust of time. She picked up the small burgundy rose made of sea glass Morty’s brother had given her upon their first meeting and gently blew the dust away before polishing it with the hem of her robes. Beside it she placed the small silver bell her brother gave her when she was just fourteen and faced a world without his protection, and then she stepped back. She took a deep breath.
It was time to go.
The morning sun warmed Anya’s face as she wound her way through the gravestones and out to the Greenway and then south, back to Bree.