When Eris stepped inside the back door to the kitchens of the Belegorn, she did not expect to find Halvel sitting at the counter on a tall stool better befitting a tavern than the lower estate. The woman looked prim and defiant as always and Eris lifted her hand to greet her, intent on keeping it at that as she walked by.
“I have your ring,” Halvel said and pushed the thick gold band sitting on the smooth counter. “Thamben did not flee. He said to give it back.”
Eris stopped. Turning slowly, she looked hard at the ring. The silence stretched between them until Halvel cleared her throat.
“You do not look pleased.”
Halvel flinched back as Eris strode forward and picked up the ring. Gathering herself again, she smoothed her skirts over her thighs and spoke again.
Eris turned the band over and over, staring down at it with a deeply furrowed brow.
“My lady, do you know what this is?” she finally said as an answer. She held the ring up to the light of the trio of candles burning beside Halvel. The ring was ribbed as if it were a band of rope instead of precious metal, braided strong to withstand the tug of the gales at sea. On its smooth face where the signet of a house would be, the relief of a woman with a fish’s tail instead of legs surrounded a spiraling trumpet shell.
“It is your family’s seal,” Halvel replied. “He did not wish to leave his family behind-” she started to explain, but Eris held up her hand.
“I am glad that he did not run. He would have regretted it later, and not just because of honour. War makes demons of us all.” Eris clasped the ring in her fist and turned to go to the room she would have shared with the kitchen maid if it had not been for that war.
“My lady?” Her voice was tired and resigned.
“Why do you stay?”
“They have the Apple. A pirate without her ship is just a rat.”
“They sail for Gondor. I will be here to greet them, won’t I?”
“You don’t have to stay.”
Eris found Halvel’s eyes in the heavy darkness of the kitchen. The woman’s shadow stretched across the floor and covered the toes of her boots.
“There is someone I wish to stay for. If I leave, I betray this person’s trust. And things are not as dark as they seem, my lady Halvel.” She walked into the shadow and held up a card.
“When foundations crumble, new things can be rebuilt. Minas Tirith is sinking in its own despair, but the old must die before the new can be born.” The band of light from the candles beside Halvel fell upon Eris’ lips and she smiled. “Even if we cannot see the light, it is always there waiting for the clouds to part.”
Weather passes. The clouds that hung over Durrow? Not a portent or a sign of her failure. Just the snow that would warm the earth and prepare it for spring.
But still, she couldn’t help but blame herself for finding solace in Rheb’s arms when her husband fought for his life in Angmar. For the life of his men, as well. What sort of woman was she that could forget to worry about one for the warmth of another so easily? What sort of wife?
In her heart, she had faith that Oendir would return, but her guilt turned her thoughts astray. Made her think that if she were a better wife, his burden would be less. That if she didn’t dally with youth, there would be more strength for him to pull from.
But it isn’t dallying, she protested in the dark as she lay alone in bed. My feelings are real. I am real. The trust we have for one another is real.
She missed the rich voice carrying the melody as she harmonized to sing the children to sleep. She missed the debate over the necessity of venison in Solstan’s diet at the dinner table. She missed the laughter filling their home when Neilia stood on his feet to dance. She missed the reassuring smile across the room that they would share to remind one another that everything would be all right.
She was not used to sleeping alone, so she curled around his pillow and breathed in the scent of the woods and waited for him to come home.
Exhaustion allowed Anyatka to sleep. In her dreams she saw the body emerge, heard the laughter that wasn’t his laughter echo off the walls of the tomb. She saw Bree burning as the bodies rose even as their neighbors fell around them to join with the gaunt lord’s army of wights. Over and over again she saw her family fall.
Sleep. She wanted to sleep forever. She wanted to join Morty’s spirit wherever it was, however she could. It didn’t matter. As one of his great hounds sitting at his heel, as a serving girl bringing him his wine, as a gardener tending to his blossoms. She would stay out of the way, she wouldn’t interfere. She just didn’t want to be there in Bree-land, in the Barrows anymore. She could feel herself stretching between those who wanted her to be something there, those who asked her to stay. Eirikr and Abiorn, Eruviel, Anders… They pulled on her every which way and she felt herself tearing in the wind that wanted to rip her to pieces…
Give up your body, a voice said in the dream. Join him, find him again and find peace. You don’t belong here.
Somewhere in her mind, separate from the dream, she remembered his wish for her happiness. She remembered how he blessed her love for Anders. Suddenly, a sharp pain caused her to wince in her sleep and she whimpered quietly.
Lies, so many lies. To make himself free of guilt for leaving you, for abandoning you and all who loved him…so selfish, selfish those lies.
Anyatka whimpered again but could not wake up from the voice whispering in her dreams.
Go to him. Prove your love and bring him back lest the darkness spread.
I can show you the way.