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Once upon a time, the fields of Fornost were lush and green. Settlements dotted the landscape and folk greeted the armies of Arthedain with cheers and garlands. People farmed and crafted and smithed and life was good among the gentle downs.

Life was good.

Then they came from the north and the east and they destroyed the land and its people.

He fell fleeing to the south with his people, one of a dozen fools to think they could stand against the might of Angmar. They never should have tried to find peace in a land torn by war for generations and generations. They should have known they were to fall among two enemies that day.

I saved him. I saved his spirit from being consumed by the darkness. I saved his spirit from being cursed to wander those broken plains alone.

One day, I will summon him again to me. One day, I will be free of this prison of metal and stone and all of the west will tremble.

~~~***~~~

I think of it often. The crossroads that lead to the four directions: east to hidden wilds, north to cursed lands, west to dangerous territories, and south, back south toward civilization. It is such a lonely place to be, and then he remembered that crossroads when we drew near all those months ago.

If I had the power then that I do now, maybe things could have been different. Maybe I would not have struggled against Faethril, and instead I would have been able to control her anger and use it for good.

Would I have been able to live forever, then, if I had those powers at my disposal? Morty would not have had to be alone. He always ended up alone, and it was because we would always leave him. He had to watch people die around him and he had to bury them again and again. Even if we did not leave him by choice, time would have left him alone.

Is that why? Is that why he let himself go? Esthyr said she found him just lying beneath his oak. That his roses had all died. That he was no longer there inside the shell of Morty Mossfoot. Morty was dead, he was gone, he wasn’t there anymore and he left all of us, Esthyr and Hawk, too.

If I had any doubt in my mind that he was dead, his letter indicated as much. While we were waiting for the horses to be saddled, I remembered the letter Esthyr tucked into my sash and that letter said “They’re probably going to die along with me.” He meant my roses, and he was sorry that they were going to die along with him. That poor little bush that had lived through so many transplants and nights of salted waterings was finally going to die because he did.

But my roses did not die, and I have to know what that means.

~~~***~~~

Holding his child, Halvel could not help but wonder if one day Gaelyn Fletcher would wish for another. He was proud of his son. Any fool could see the love behind the pride when he looked upon Atrian, and though it terrified her at first, it still warmed her heart to see the man bearing the little bundle into the little cabin. And then, he let her hold him.

The noises little Atrian made! Would she learn what each one means? How could she, when all her life the cries of other people’s children hardly moved her or, at their worst, annoyed her? She knew Atrian was part of the deal and she knew Gaelyn would not hold her to their wedding, even if they had consummated the marriage. Did she want this new life of mother and wife that came to her so suddenly?

And then Atrian smiled at her.

Or perhaps he had gas. But it looked like a smile and his big eyes found her face and when she smiled, he seemed happy. When she looked at Gaelyn, he seemed happy, too.

Life is simpler here, she told herself as they walked along the forest path on the way to Ravenhold. She carried Atrian as Gaelyn pointed out new things and the birds sang in the trees around them. Life was simpler, and she told herself that she would do her part to make it home.

~~~***~~~

Emmelina Lilybrook stared at the piece of folded paper in front of her. She sighed and rubbed the back of her neck. Opening the letter, she squinted at the words. She poked them. She traced the first letter of the signature: a line across the top and a line down the middle, like a gallows. It wasn’t Anya’s writing, and she didn’t think it was Abiorn’s since his name started with the same sound as Anya’s. That “T” wasn’t an “A”. She at least knew that much.

“Hey,” she asked one of the girls as she sat at the bar in the Mantle. “Do yeh know how ta read?”

“Some,” the girl answered. “You getting love letters?”

Lina shrugged and held out the bottom portion of the letter. She kept the top folded over onto itself. “Wha’ does that say?” She pointed to what she assumed was the name.

“T…Tor…”

“Tor? That’s too long for ‘Tor’ and what’s he doin’ writin’ me anyways?” Lina jerked back the parchment and frowned at the offending letters.

The girl shrugged. “How’m I supposed to know that? Want me to read it to you?”

“No, no,” Lina said. “Thank yeh, though. I’ve a friend who knows ‘er letters.”

Shrugging again, the girl turned back to her small meal and said, “All right. I’ll be here if you change your mind.”

Lina nodded as she started toward the entrance. “Thanks!” Waving dismissively with one hand, she tucked the letter into her bodice with the other and set off for the South Gate and Durrow.

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