Fallout

The stars hid behind thick clouds when Eris walked along the dock in search of a sign. Her boots click-clacked on the worn boardwalk and few others hung about near the worst of the wreckage in the fading light of the remaining day. But she had to see it. She had to touch to water to know for certain that her life was on the bottom of the bay.

Corsair ships, black and pointed, protruded from the shallows. The dark wood of the south mingled oddly with the lighter woods of Gondor; lighter by nature and by paintbrush, the Gondorian ships glowed beneath the waves lapping against the pontoons keeping the little wooden bridge afloat. They had died in the first fighting, those Gondorian ships. They boosted their southern sisters like a shelf.

Eris did not know how she knew which dock to go to any more than she knew which door handle to try when she was seeking a hood and cloak and a bit of food or which alley to turn down to avoid the patrols. Head down, eyes up, she navigated Pelargir well enough; she had found respite in its port before.

At the end of the plank bridge, she stepped onto the farthest wharf. The transition from wood to stone was always jarring for her. Stone did not hold water like wood did and the disconnect took a moment to shake off. Step, step, down to the very edge of the dock, as far from the solid slab of land that the city rested upon as she could get without diving in. Oh, how she wished to dive into the cool depths of the bay. How long would she have to stop breathing for her to be reunited with her hull? Would the mastheads still stand tall? How soon does the floor of the sea start to reclaim the magic of a worthy vessel with barnacle and weed?

Attached to the stone wharf bobbed a lower wooden platform. It nearly rested on the water itself and in rough weather, the waves wet the planks between the gaps leaving them treacherous. Today, the sea ebbed calmly against the higher jetty. Eris stepped down the rope and plank ladder with ease and then at the edge of the water, she knelt on one knee and touched her palm to the surface of the water.

Flashes from black powder and lightning. The splintering of hulls and shattering of stone. Eris felt herself wince as she felt the water lap over her fingers filtering it for its secrets and searching for her answer. Concussive battering against stone and metal. Shallows empty except for the broken hulls and skeletal masts of ships.

Deeper, farther than she had expected, rested The Golden Apple, or at least what remained of her. Remnants of blackened sails floated in the underwater current along the snapped and scorched ends of the ropes and pulleys. The fire had burned great holes in the hull. Its ironic crackling still echoed in the sea as the waters remembered the hiss and fizzle as the ship sank.

The urge to yank her hand from the pain of the memories nearly overwhelmed her, but she did not pull back. Eris grit her teeth, closed her eyes, and kept her hand in the water until she felt full of the loss of her friend, her love, her ship. The only thing constant on the ocean blue, the only thing controllable and contained was a ship, her ship, and now it was gone. She had to understand that it left this world without her and there was nothing she could do.

“Oi! Whotchoo doin’ da’n there, lassy?”

The voice shook her from her mediation and she stood quickly. The dockhand regarded her suspiciously.

“Rememb’ring that which I’ve lost,” she told him sincerely. “I’m sorry. I’ll go.”

The man’s stern expression softened with pity. “Yes, civilians ought nah be da’n here. ‘S dangerous ’til the builders c’n fix whot’s broke in the fightin’. Best be gahn.”

Without lifting her head, Eris nodded and climbed the ladder. The dockhand stared at her as she rushed past him. She paid him no mind.

~~~***~~~

Paying no mind to the dockhands loading a merchant ship, Halvel strode down the wharf of Dol Amroth. Her aunt made it clear that she was no longer welcome in Minas Tirith and her presence would only be a burden to her now that her uncle and cousin were gone. It seemed cruel somehow that her life had brought her full circle for Gelluines would only buy passage down the Anduin. “Only to a proper place with your own family,” she had said. Halvel did not have it in her to fight and if truth be told, she was more than ready to leave the walls of the White City.

“Hálchon!” she called when she spotted her brother on the deck of one of their remaining fishing vessels. “Hálchon, come down here!” She waved to catch his attention and tried to suppress her scowl when he glared down at her from the rail.

“What are you doing here?!” her brother exclaimed. He paused to give a few orders and then he waved her toward the gangplank.

Reluctantly, Halvel wove her way to the edge and only boarded when Hálchon beckoned her up the boarding ramp.

“What are you doing here?” Hálchon repeated when she joined his side. “I thought you were needed in the Houses of Healing?”

“I lived out my usefulness there,” Halvel said stiffly. “And Aunt Gelluines did not wish to continue paying my upkeep. I cannot say that I blame her with uncle and cousin Tondaer gone.”

Passing his writing tablet to another man, Hálchon held out his hand for her to walk in front of him. He herded her to the aftdeck. “Tondaer treated you well during your stay? He was a good man.”

Halvel nodded and rested a hand on the rail. “He did. It is a shame that he was lost, but as a first circle guard…it is a miracle that any survived at all.”

The severity, the solemnness that overshadowed her normally fiery spirit caught Hálchon’s attention, but he only studied his sister’s profile.

“You could go back to Bree, you know.”

When Halvel did not respond, Hálchon continued, “He wrote you. I must apologize for reading it on your behalf, but you can understand how surprised I was to receive a letter addressed to you from your husband. You really should have written me before, Halvel. You could have come home, could have avoided all the-”

“I didn’t want to come back here, Hálchon. Surely you know that. And I cannot return. You wouldn’t understand.” Halvel stared ahead. “Part of me wishes I had died, brother. At least I would have had a place to belong.”

Nodding, Hálchon turned to lean on the rail with both forearms. “You will always belong here, Halvel,” he assured her gruffly. “But you were never happy here.”

“Did you report the destruction of The Apple to the dockmaster?” she asked abruptly. A passing gull drew her eye briefly.

“No. But I will. I believe he marked it down as missing in action or stolen. I hadn’t bothered correcting the logs yet.”

“It was not necessarily stolen,” Halvel said elusively, “but it was off course. We left it in Pelargir. I heard the Corsairs attacked the harbor. Surely it is lost.”

Hálchon grunted softly and said, “I will have to write Gaelyn. Perhaps you should do it.”

“No,” Halvel answered quickly. “You. I-I cannot.”

“You should,” Hálchon urged gently. “You have been given a second chance, Halvel. Take it.”

“No. You. I will inform the master of the docks. We cannot have the ship on record as stolen.” She adds in a murmur, “Eshe has enough to worry about.”

“What?” Hálchon turned to lean on his elbow and face her and raised a brow when Halvel waved a hand dismissing his question. “I’ll just take it that the good captain is no longer in our employ?”

“She was arrested,” Halvel explained wearily. “I do not think she did anything wrong, but she disappeared during the evacuations. A guard turned up dead. At best she is at large.”

Hálchon shook his head and looked out across the sea. “She better leave this family alone now. If I find her, I will see to it that she does not meander on anyone ever again.”

~~~***~~~

“What do you mean, he is not here?”

The man wore robes of deep scarlet and midnight black and his long hair was tied in two inch sections down to the middle of his back. Though they were mud-splattered and his face was travel-worn, he had a regal command about him that made even Lichen pause.

The conversation with the head of house at the guild hall of that blasted adventuring crew was short and frank. In a delightfully dramatic twirl of his worn cloak, the man turned from her desk and stormed out of Ravenhold in a huff. Only when he reached the cobbled road that led back down to the market square did he pause and rest a hand on his lower back as he turned to look up at the beautiful hall.

“Blast,” he muttered to himself and he looked out over the little village of Durrow-on-Dunwash with a sigh. No use complaining more, he decided. Straightening his robes with a tug on his lapels, the man set off for the Broken Cask, the tavern and inn that blasted woman mentioned as a place he could look for a room and a meal. He could only hope it had a hot bath and a library, though he doubted it. Such plebeian establishments rarely had such touches of civilization.

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Over the Edge

The guard lay dead at her feet. The beautiful man, for he was beautiful beneath his mop of black hair, had brought her food in the gaol and sometimes stayed to ask how the straw mat was at night, but he never came into her cell. Only his smile warmed her, that sad, confused little smile he gave her before he moved on to deliver the next meal.

His name was Idhrenor, but that did not matter much anymore. She was certain that he had asked that she be placed with him during the trek through the tunnels and on toward the tiniest glimmer of hope. “I will ensure you are taken to safety, Eshe,” he had said. “No man or woman deserves to die in a cage. And when the enemy is driven back, you’ll have your hearing and surely you will go free. Do not lose hope.”

But what is hope? Nothing but vain fantasy, a thought that the mungu gave a last shit about their trials any more.

Behind them, the smoke rose and she longed to immerse her naked feet in a pond or stream. She needed to know who controlled the tide of the battlefield.

Her father never bothered with sides. Enzi chose the path to protect his family and warned to stay away from the power struggles of the “great ones.” One side always had to lose and the losers were always the villains. “Every army marches with hope, Eshe,” Enzi said. “Even an army of slaves hopes that it will survive, little may that false hope serve them. To be real, to have power, men must fight for more than just their own lives. So they fight for land. For boundaries drawn with binding ink on pieces of parchment. Your grandmother’s powers were not meant to serve those fighting over land. Only on the sea can a man truly be free.”

She wondered how many of her brothers sailed with her people. They needed land and power to protect their families back home. They chose sides and if Mosi had chosen to sail with their people, she knew Chane would have, too. Joshi probably marched with the army. She could only hope Kito sailed free and it was not his black powder that ignited her ship and sent it to the bottom of the bay. Would they recognize the Gondorian ship as hers? Did they knew what they were destroying, or did they even care? Orders came. They would obey. Something she could never do.

“Take off those pants! No man wishes a wife that wears britches better than he!”

“Women cannot be sailors. They are to serve their masters in the home, for who will keep the house when the women chase a man’s position?”

“Cover yourself despite the sweltering heat! Do not tempt a man with your skin!”

“Serve the chieftain in your proper role and do not make waves!”

She bent over Idhrenor’s body and was sorry. “I cannot help but make waves,” she told his corpse as she turned him over. “I try not to, but people insist.” In a scold that masked regret, she continued, “I merely wished to make you sleep and you had to draw your sword. You lost hope in me. And now see where it has gotten you?”

With Idhrenor’s key, she unlocked the irons around her wrists. She stripped her bottom half naked and replaced the dirty skirts with his breeches.Too bad his feet were far too large and she had to abandon his boots. But the hole in his shirt could be mended; the blood washed out. She tucked it into his backpack and gave him her thanks.

Quick work she made of it. The others would come looking. Maybe if she moved through the trees as though they were her ship’s rigging, she could escape a hunt. Would they bother to hunt? It did not matter what they would choose–only that they could choose. She would not make it easy.

Out of the mountains. That was all that mattered now. Away from Gondorian and Orc, Rohirrim and Haradrim. But she did not know where she could go now that The Apple slept tucked safely in bed at the bottom of the bay. So she did not think on it as she took up Idhrenor’s sword and tucked it into his belt around her waist. She kissed his forehead and smoothed his hair. And then she walked away.

~~~***~~~

Upon the highest roof of the Ivory Tower, she blended in with the dark shingles. Her arms were wrapped around her knees so tightly, she halved her already diminutive size. She could have been a great sea bird perched on the roof and not a lonely young woman in tears.

Miss Cirieldis probably did not know she was there, but the woman also did not really care if the Headmistress did know. She did not want to be home alone with no letters to send to Minas Tirith and a stomach full of regret. She knew it was silly, but from the height of the tower, she swore she could see the smoke rising in the east and it helped her come to terms with the breaking of her heart. This feeling in her spirit that knew her people were dying and most likely her father and her husband would never come home.

She hadn’t written Pengail since that first brief letter. He had not written at all. She could only imagine that meant he no longer loved her and everyone around her was right: they had been too young and the courtship had been too quick and he regretted tying himself to something like her. After all, she was only the daughter of a drunk and a prostitute and was only good for lies and death. Black Roses were not meant for romance and love.

Had he thought of her at all, or had he found someone worthy of his heart and status? Did he live? And if he did, did he want her still?

Every time the questions rose, Arameril’s throat tightened and the pain that shot through her chest was akin to a dagger in her heart. Her guilt only rose when hope came in the measure of relief she felt if he did die in battle. Should he die and her father die, she could serve her purpose without fear or guilt. She could serve her city without pain.

It was terrible to think about. The inhumanity of the thought horrified her and she did not let it linger long, but the truth was still there, at least until she remember Cólel and the “aunt” and “grandmother” she promised to visit. More guilt. She had not yet for she feared the condescending aura that surrounded the old woman. She was not Hathlafel’s. She had no right to Hathlafel, and if he should die, she had no right to their attention at all.

As if love and attention was a reward for being worthy.

She should not be concerned with such things. She had the mystery of the missing apprentices to worry about. She had to assist Duvain and discover what threatened Dol Amroth in the dark. The city’s stability relied on the stability of the Illumin much like it relied on the stability of the Mormerili and she knew what could go wrong if that strength was threatened.

Still, she cried. The smoke rose in the east, and she was tired. So tired. No sleep could refresh her. No drink rouse her spirits. She cried silently for her sorrow could find no voice, and at last, as the cool ocean breeze passed through the sleeping city, Arameril passed into an uneasy sleep on the highest roof of the Ivory Tower School for Girls.

No one saw the body fall from the roof and sink down, down behind the high walls of the Tower.

 

 

 

The Light at the End

Once the men started to trickle in, the flow of blood did not stop. Despite her duties, Halvel tried to not look. But it was hard not to feel like her head was swimming when she held together the flesh of a man’s chest in an attempt to staunch the flooding tide. When the tiles of the bathhouse grew crimson and treacherous. When they brought in her uncle with part of the axle of a catapult sticking through his ribs.

His left leg was crushed, too, but it was easier to pretend that was something else once the blanket covered the mangled limb. Out of sight, out of mind. But the thick piece of hardwood protruding from his torso could not so easily be ignored. The surgeon spoke words to her (condolences? instructions?) and her uncle tried to speak, but even as Halvel strained to hear him, the sound did not penetrate the high pitch screeching in her ears. No one else seemed to hear it and the surgeon barked his orders again and a strong page hurried around to drag Halvel out of the way to let the man pass.

“He is too badly injured!” she finally heard and realized the page was shouting in her face. “Nothing can be done!”

Halvel realized that the young man spoke in response to a babbling voice begging to help the bloody mess that stared at her even now with disdain. After a few moments more, she realized the voice was her own and it stopped.

“My lady, we must help those with a chance!”

Numbly, Halvel nodded. She stepped forward to fix the blanket covering her uncle, but before she could turn away, cold fingers caught her wrist.

“Traitor,” she thought he said, but it could have been, “Water.” It did not matter, though, for his grip relaxed and as he died, she pulled herself free.

~~~***~~~

When the giant ram broke through the Great Gate, Tondaer of House Belegorn fell to his knee. Beside him, the solider turned to flee, but the bodies frozen with fear blocked him and soon he cowered with the others. Things happened in the courtyard beyond, but Tondaer could not tell what. The fell cries of the Black Captain did not chill him; they rent his spirit from his body and he felt as though he were nothing but pain. Agony.

The terror that had nearly ripped him apart hardly melted from the First Circle guard when the doors pushed open to spew the servant of the enemy.

Roars and screams.  Shadows and light. Tondaer gripped his sword and tried to gain his feet. Then, as though the morning rose like any other, a cock crowed. Then horns. Horns sounded in the distance and the terror lessened enough to allow him to raise his head.

The Witch-king was gone. The world seemed light again and Tondaer rose to his feet with renewed hope. Rohan had not forsaken them.

He joined in battle those who awoke from their nightmare to fight. He slew one, two, ten. It did not matter. He did not count.  Then he turned toward the gate.

They have trolls, he thought and somewhere inside him, he laughed. He raised his sword and stood to face the brute bearing down on him. Pain, sharp and penetrating, radiated from his back and as he fell, the servant of Mordor had already moved on to be slain by a knight in bloodied starsilver armour.

~~~***~~~

She knew. She was gone, laid to rest at the bottom of Argillond and she would never see her again.

maj16
From learntarot.com

Always, the cards can only reveal so much, and though the tower fell behind her making way for the new world to be built upon the remaining foundations of Men, she could not have known that her own fortress would crumble around her as well. She had worried and wondered, but she could not have known.

And now, walking as a prisoner of men that live in stone, Erislos Thanat looked back at the smoke of Minas Tirith’s burning and she was glad that they would suffer, both houses of power and greed. And she longed for the sea beyond the bloodied fields of war and knew that nothing would ever be the same.

 

Headstrong Heart: Impetuous

Dear Gaelyn,

I wish to apologize for the brevity of my last letter. When pen touched paper, my thoughts scattered and I could not put a sentence together that made sense. I did not wish to hold up the other letters, nor did I wish to leave you without, so I made do with what I had.

I wish I could say all that I want to, but even now, more developed words fail me. Form and function do not fit the multitude of emotions that course through me now. I want to write volumes and volumes, but as the shadow over Minas Tirith darkens, all I can say is this:

I was falling in love with you and I left not because I did not love you, but because I did. I was just too proud to say it.

I did not understand it and had not meant for it to occur. When you told me that you could not do it anymore, I was not prepared for how difficult it was to breathe and could only be thankful that statues did not need to do so to exist. I had been so long in a mode of protection, shielding myself from the shame and the loneliness of my home city, that I did not recognize that I snuffed out any response other than the one I was used to presenting. Formal. Business-like. Matter-of-factual. And I could not dispute the facts: you were not ready.

Now that I sit here in my uncle’s spare room far away from home, from safety, and from you, do I realize what a fool I was to leave Durrow. And not because Durrow is so far away from this place that so soon will be under siege. But because I miss you and have missed you since the day I left. I wish I had another day to play with Atrian and see your smile. Even if it hadn’t been for me, if I had been able to turn this feeling back into friendship, it would have been wonderful to see once the pain went away.

And now, I fear I will die with that pain. I will not evacuate; I have been helping the healers and somehow, as insignificant as my hands are, I find they are needed here. It is funny how our worlds turn out sometimes, is it not? I have searched most of my life in an attempt to find a way to make myself useful despite the delicate nature of my sex. And now, my usefulness will likely be my doom. But I am all right with that. I have found my peace with death and I know that I am doing what I can to defend the kingdom. I only hope that our efforts here buy time for the rest of the Free peoples to gather what strength they can to defend their homes.

Find your happiness, Gaelyn. Thank you for the happiness you have given me.

Yours,

Halvel

 

Somewhere

Somewhere up north

“You are not yet recovered, Father. You shouldn’t be travellin’ in the open by any means.”

“You’re concerned for me, darkling?”

“I have always been concerned for you. You’ve always been my father whether it as Parmanen or–or that other.”

“I have always been that other. There is no differentiation; only ignorance of the other.”

“…We still should not go south. You are too ill.”

“I have faith that you will watch over me, Lômiphel. And the forces I hide from are averted to other endeavors. The darkness stirs in the south.”

“People will recognize you. Those who protect her won’t let you close. They won’t let me close, neither. We don’t have the strength to start an assault on them, Father.”

“No, we do not. But perhaps…perhaps we can raise an army.”

“What is that look for? Why do you smile so? Father, what are you thinking?”

“All in due time, Lômiphel. All in due time.”

~~~***~~~

Somewhere down south

I left them there in the graveyard. I do not know what compelled me to depart so quickly. I could not stay. I would not stay with all of them standing there staring at him burying his brother.

I heard the mandolin as I walked down the worn dirt path. I heard the song carry over the wind, and I wanted to run away.

What sort of person am I that would run?

Past the cliffs, Bree sat in the distance. I saw her sitting against the hill just waiting for something perceivable in the air, but vaporous, elusive. The warm wind that wound around me stole my breath away.

I could not go back. Nothing was the same.

Oli found me north of Thornley’s. He did not ask with searching eyes, but merely fell into stride as I thudded north: step, thud-step, step, thud-step. My walking stick beat the rhythm of my stuttering heart into the Greenway. Step, thud-step, step, thud-step.

The wind grows foul. I cannot breathe.

~~~***~~~

Somewhere in between

“Oh, why yes, I do remember seeing her! That unusually large cat caught my attention, it did. I thought it was going to eat my pet turtle there! See him? See him down in the grass?”

“I’m sorry, but I cannot.”

“No? Really, no? He’s right there in the tall–Jasper! Jasper, boy, go get Tully out of the tall weeds!”

“That’s really quite all right, sir. Did the girl say where she was going?”

“Oh, just that she wanted to go into the downs, but it wasn’t safe enough for her. My Tilda and I agreed, oh, yes. Them downs ain’t safe, you know. ‘Specially for some lady lookin’ soft as she did. I was amazed her menfolk let her away like she was, all dressed nice like she come from some ceremony.”

“Nah, Pa. More like some sad thing. She was all dressed in dark. Like from a funeral!”

“Funeral’s still a ceremony, Jas. Now you just hush, boy. Git on.”

“So do you know where she was going when she left?”

“No, I’m terribly sorry. I wish I could…wait a darn moment! What do you think you’re doing?”

“This won’t take a moment. I promise.”

Dalish Charm: Used To

Anya was used to not sleeping. Whether from excitement and anticipation or loneliness and despair, she was well used to the sounds of the night filling the world that so many thought was silent when the sun went down.

They were mistaken, those people who went to sleep shortly after dark. Not in going to sleep, but in thinking that the rest of the world slept with them. Animals that they have never seen before come alive at night. The trees mourn for the sun and their sighs form the cadence that all other sounds build upon. Houses creak and moan. And the breathing.

Even in sleep, people make sounds. Sighs, moans, grumblings. Just the sound of their breathing can fill a quiet room, and Morty’s breath filled his broken cabin and rose above the sounds of the cold outdoors.

It was not as strong as she would have liked. His disorientation each time she woke him as he asked lasted only moments before he fell back to sleep again. It was not as deep and peaceful as before, but that was to be expected, she told herself. He had fed off of Callumn’s spirit and the stone glowed strong. It was Morty’s spirit that suffered and flickered now, perhaps wishing for the only end it could ever know.

She did not want him to leave again. She did not want him to forget them and leave without her. She felt stronger when he was near and gave her courage when before she had none.

She looked down at the ring Atanamir had given her. Even as she looked at it, the little ball of air took form. She thought back to how in the tombs, she had used that air to gather more and smashed it against the bodies rising at Kurrakh’s bidding. How it shielded her from their arrows. When she had tried to practice back home, it was so hard to concentrate. It was so tiring to manifest even the tiniest breeze. But she had done it for his daughter. For his people. For him.

The night wore on and still Anya kept her vigil over Morty as he slept. Her eyes drooped as she sat at his bedside and shivered in the drafts stirring the ashes of the logs that burned in the fireplace. Occasionally, she stood to trudge over to add another, but the pile was low. She counted his breaths until the rhythm began to lull her to sleep and then she counted the floorboards. She swore quietly when she remembered her dagger was left in the barrow after it went flying when she went flying when-

She counted her own breaths. The seconds while she held it. The tired gasps when silent sobs rocked her shoulders. The number of times she reached out for him, wanted to climb into bed next to him, but didn’t.

She had been getting used to his absence. She had stopped looking for him in the Prancing Pony and stopped crying when she heard a mandolin coming from a closed window of a stranger. Her smiles for Oleander Hawthorn weren’t as forced and she was beginning to feel less like she was betraying them all by wanting to smile for him. But things change too quickly for her to really get used to, and while she used to tell herself that she would be all right without him, now that he was back she wasn’t so sure anymore.

No Light in the Coming Dawn

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.

“Well?”

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.

“Eris.”

“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.”

“Your family-”

“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.rws_tarot_16_tower

“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.

ScreenShot00470Sleep. 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.

 

Letters of Marque: Confidence

Clouds gathered darkly over the White City. Fewer and fewer folk went about daily business, yet the city still lived, somber and watchful. Eshe Thanat stood on the wall of the Player’s Tier and gazed down at the levels below.

“You are keeping something from them,” Halvel said sternly as she stepped up behind her. “What is it?”

Eris did not turn to look at the lady. “I told them everything they asked for,” she replied.

Behind her, Halvel surely pressed her lips together in a disapproving frown. Eris smiled despite herself.

Halvel broke the silence first. “You need to be frank with me! Anything you can tell them may save lives.”

Turning, Eris stepped down from the wall and leaned back against it. “Whose lives? The men and women who claim freedom in these lands? Or my people, who, to them, are only murderers, rapists, and thieves?”

Flushing indignantly, Halvel held her ground.

“They did not realize the impact of their words on you. Surely they did not realize that you are-”

“My lady, I am not stupid, and neither are they. So what excuse do they have for labeling my brothers and sisters as such even as they wait for me to deliver the fruits of my spy work for them?”

Halvel turned her head away. For the moment she was silenced.

“They’ll find a way if they really want to kill those men and women.” Eris nodded, quiet serious. “Folk like that…they always do. Perhaps we should leave before you make a choice you will sleep with for the rest of your life, my lady.”

“N, no. They said-” Halvel paled and shook her dark hair. “We cannot leave.”

Eris looked up at the dark sky. How she missed the stars.

“You are right in that, my lady. We cannot.”

~~~***~~~

The thick night wrapped Eris in a cloak of concealment as she made her way to the spring that she knew went deep into the rock of the mountain to find its source. That source forked and fed an underground stream that fed an underground river that joined the Anduin someways south of Osgiliath. From the second spring, its waters flowed down, down to the great sea.

Eris cupped a shell in her hand, smooth and spiraled and willing to hold the secrets she whispered into its opening. It glowed in the dark, just a swell of light that vanished before it could be noticed as anything other than a distant candle or a flash of lightning. Down, down the shell sank until it struck the bottom of the spring and the message flowed into the lifestream of the land and down, down on its journey to Pelagrir.

Eris turned from the spring and looked up at the sky. For some time she stared at the shadows passing overhead, and then she hurried away from the spring with the seashell resting in its waters.

Headstrong Heart: A Message

Dear Godric,

I wished to let you know that I have landed and made my way to Minas Tirith. Unfortunately, it is not a good time to be in Minas Tirith and my uncle was not pleased at my arrival. He has sent me to the Houses of Healing to assist the healers as they prepare for war.

I must admit that having something to do with my time is a relief. I do not have to think about the encroaching shadow or the oncoming war. I tear and sew (I was never very good at it) and help prepare for worst. 

Do wish the others well. I am hopeful that the darkness that has settled in people’s hearts here does not reach its tendrils into Durrow. I hope that you and the others are safe.

Give my regards to the other Wayfarers. Tell Gael

Sincerely,

Halvel of House Remlor

~~~***~~~

Dear Rosie,

First, I need to apologize. I am so sorry to abandon you and my work at the Broken Cask. I know that my assistance was minimal, but it was a relief to have you there when I was in Bree-land. The loneliness that one experiences when you lose all your friends is very different than the loneliness that descends when you simply have none. 

I have found myself in Minas Tirith, and though I had intended on coming here to live with my uncle, Tomlin, I did not expect to arrive the way I did. I suppose I am lucky to have arrived without something much worse than a bruised eye and broken lip. My uncle was not pleased that he had to present me to others in such a manner, but there was little I could do about it. At least the story of a corsair ship accosting ours earned me some admiration among some of the ladies left in the Houses of Healing.

There are times when I miss you and Glory terribly. I miss Atrian. And Gaelyn. But nothing can be done; it is over and I am gone. I should not have made the choice so rashly. It just hurt so badly when he said he could not anymore. It hurt more than I realized it could. 

If what they say is true, soon it will not matter. Few believe we will survive this storm. If that is true, please tell me that you will be safe, Rosie. Flee into the forest or west to the mountains. The shadow lies over this city and grows each day. It will make the waiting easier to think that you and Glory will be safe. 

Write if you can; I do not know if anything will get through any longer. Know that you are in my thoughts. 

Your friend,

Halvel

~~~***~~~

Dear Gaelyn,

Please know that I am safe in Minas Tirith. My uncle has taken me in and I am working at the House of Healing making bandages and doing simple things where I can. 

I hope Atrian is well. Give him my love.

Halvel

Letters of Marque: The Brutal Truth

Eris clenched her fist as Halvel spat blood onto the carpet from Rhun covering the polished wooden decking of the Captain’s cabin. The woman winced and thought of the bright red blotch on the delicately interweaving vines and blossoms as the corsair captain chuckled dully from across the room.

The darkly tanned corsair kneeling next to the Gondorian woman raised his fist again, but paused when the captain raised his hand.

“My dear lady,” the captain addressed Eris. “Surely you can provide us something better than fish.” The man’s dark walnut eyes absorbed light instead of reflecting it and it gave him a flat, lifeless look that made Eris uneasy. His thick heavy brows drew the eye to them and it took effort to look away.

“All I have in the world is this ship,” Eris answered raising her arms in a half-shrug. “You’ve that already. What else can I provide for so great a man as Sefu of Umbar?”

“True!” Sefu raised his arms as Eris did and looked around him as if examining the ship for the first time. “And what a beautiful vessel she is. Perhaps she can sail where we cannot. See things that otherwise we would not see.”

As he dropped his hands, Sefu nodded subtly to the tan man. With a grunt, his brute leaned over and backhanded Halvel who had just righted herself. The weak cry that escaped the woman cut at Eris, but she did not let herself flinch or even look at the blow. Halvel swayed as she leaned forward on her hands, dripping blood from her mouth and one nostril.

“She has seen much,” Eris said calmly. “And I believe you wish to benefit from her speed and northern make. Am I right, captain?”

Sefu regarded Eris with a smile. “Yes. Though I am afraid that I misjudged your crew’s usefulness when we first boarded…at least your northern friends.”

“I can easily get new sailors in Pelargir,” she said, though she wondered how much truth was in the statement after her run-in with the last ship they encountered at sea.

“Necessary, yes. Though I will have a compliment to…assist you. Mifupa, here, say. And your Broul.”

Eris could not help but sneer at the name. “Yes, Broul. He will be eager to assist your cause.”

Chuckling, Sefu nodded. “Yes…already he has proven to be useful. Do you request any others of your remaining crew? Those who will serve our purpose well?”

Eris looked down at Halvel who had slipped into a merciful sleep at the feet of Mifupa. “Tendaji is my first mate. He is loyal to me. He will be useful.”

“He is dark. He will raise suspicions.”

“He is familiar with northern cities and customs. He will raise no more than one of your men. Less, I daresay.”

Sefu stared at Eris for a long time. Finally, he leaned back and nodded. “Your first mate. My first sword.” He nodded toward Mifupa. “You know why I offer you this.”

Folding her arms over her chest, Eris nodded. “You know who I am.”

“I do. And you will be of use to us. Or Mifupa will have more fun than he has had in a long time with your pretty little friend.” His dark eyes fell on Halvel’s wilted form.

“Come now,” he said gesturing to a cushioned chair. “Let us discuss exactly how much use you will be.”

Letters of Marque: Sure Thing

“Have you ever been in here before?” Halvel asked. Her soft voice broke through the monotony of the creaking hull and Eris could barely see her in the dark of the hold.

“Once. Twice. Mutiny, you know. Judd did me a favor when he did not simply toss me overboard.”

“And now,  you are here again.” The skirts of her dress rustled as she adjusted her position to tap on the bars of the holding cell. “Is it difficult?”

“What?”

“Being trapped by that which you love?”

Eris took so long to answer, Halvel wondered if she ever would. The Southern men that made up Eris’ crew sat in a similar cell across the water in an escorting ship, sundered from their captain. The Gondorians, long ago it seemed, had found peace beneath the rhythmic waves.

“No. Better to go down in the belly of The Apple than the belly of a shark.”

“Really? Without seeing those you love once more? Without telling them goodbye or that you are sorry for any transgressions?”

Eris’ smooth chuckle filled the hold.

“Every journey starts with an end. Each time a son or a daughter sets sail, it may be until the next beginning. We know this and say farewell accordingly.”

“So your family?”

“Will understand.”

“That includes friends?”

“Friends…” Eris hesitated. “Friends from home understand as well.”

“And the friends you have made in your travels?”

“Friends in my travels.” Only the creaking of the hull spoke for minute. Eris smiled to the dark. “They are few and far between. And if they are truly friends, I believe they, too, understand.” She chuckled again. “But they are few and far between.”

Halvel sniffed, though Eris surmised it was probably from the damp and not from any feeling of superiority. “It sounds lonely.” A statement hung in the air unspoken: I understand.

The women sat listening to the waves against the outside of the hull.

“It’s not that bad,” Eris said finally. “You learn the ones that stick with you; those are the ones worth remembering. But they don’t need remembering, you see. Because they are always there.” She tapped her temple. “In your thoughts.” She pressed her hand over her chest. “In your heart. Who’s in your heart, Lady Remlor? If I may ask.”

“My mother and my brother,” she answered quickly. Not quite so quickly followed, “My father.”

“Aye? Not that new husband, though? I suppose that’d be why you’re here and he’s there.”

Eris could picture Halvel stiffening, adjusting her skirts around her ankles on the coarse straw, and then taking the deep breath that preceded her huffing reply.

“I do not see how that is any of your business.”

“You know, had I known you sought freedom from the city, I would have taken you wherever you wished.”

“I did not know you at the time. I still do not know you.”

“True. Sir Flappy Knight found The Apple for me after you had left. If your brother had not made the arrangement to ship north, I doubt I would be here right now. He would not have wished to keep me on.”

“Sir…Flappy Knight?”

“Mhmm.”

“Really, you call a Swan-knight Sir Flappy Knight? Hardly to his face.”

“I like the look he gives me. It’s amusing the way he pouts.”

“Someone you call friend, then.” Eris smiled to hear one on Halvel’s lips. “One of the few?”

“I don’t know. Perhaps. Does Sir Hathlafel keep friends?”

“Sir Hathlafel helped you recover your ship?” The incredulity in her voice made Eris smile.

“He did. It’s much easier when a man has access to manifests and the power of the Keep behind him, it seems. Was under my nose the whole time. Folks just didn’t use her name…bad luck, if you ask me. She didn’t deserve to be hid all that time.”

“Why in all the deep blue sea did he help you?”

Eris tilted her head to the side even though Halvel probably could not see.

“You would have to ask him. Do you know him well?”

A rustle told her the lady shook her head. “No. Only of him. Who does not know of him?”

A smile crept upon her face. “Few, I’d wager. He does make a name for himself, doesn’t he? Nature of the cards.”

“What’s that?”

Eris just smiled wider, but it quickly faded as several sets of footsteps thudded over their heads. “One’s fortunes, my lady. The stars that shine brightly may blink out one day.”

Halvel probably did not hear her. The woman’s profile stood out as a black shadow against smoke. “Did you hear that? Are they coming for us?” she whispered thinly.

Eris closed her eyes. She listened to the waves. The tread of the feet above her.

“Yes,” she answered calmly. She stood up and brushed the straw and dust from her breeches. “Prepare yourselves. The captain is coming with an offer.” Her lips curled and in the darkness, her teeth flashed.

“We may see through this yet, my lady. Just stay by me and we will see.”

A Bitter Pill: Request

Dear Rheb,

As I write this, I do hope that the rest of your thrusk went without further encounters (violent or otherwise). I am glad that I was able to see you and I hope that you enjoy the paints. Do you remember Anya? She lives with her brothers and their menagerie on the shore below your cliff. She mixes the pigment with some material that makes it sparkle–I forgot to tell you that. She can probably make more if you’d like.

Speaking of your cliff and your house that sat on it, Oendir is renting it to the man he’s chosen as his acting commander when he is not afield. He is Godric of Rohan and he has established himself as a disciplined and caring man if nothing else.

I tell you this for two reasons:

One, he lives there now, but if you want to come visit, I do not want that to deter you. You are always welcome in Durrow; if you’d like, you could stay in my shop on Garden street with Hunyr if the inns are too crowded for you.

Two, he wishes to meet you and I agreed to write to ask you for permission to bring him to the Lone-lands to do so. We could meet on the trading hill or further south by the Forsaken Inn. If you want, I will send him away after a short visit so that we can be left to our own desires.

That sounds far more naughty than I intended when I wrote it. I do hope Han or one of the women is not reading this to you.

On Han, he mentioned that he wished he could stand to translate for us. That you have much more to say than you are able. He said other things, but perhaps those are best left to my next visit.

I love you, Rheb. We all do, in our own ways. Please do not forget your family here in Durrow. I know one day, Oen will be able to visit. I think that you should visit here. I really, truly believe you should.

With love,

Kwen

 

Choices

Yule is spent with family. Then why am I leaving mine so soon after presents have been unwrapped to go to a land without trees and boughs of holly and roasting chestnuts?

I will bring them some. And deer sausage and leathers and fabrics from the south. Just because they live in harshness does not mean they would not like something pretty to wear.

I will bring him paints mixed by Anya: the kind that sparkles from whatever magic she puts into them. It must be magic that makes her snow peaks glitter like gems and her stars glow. Rheb will like that, I hope. He deserves a little bit of Durrow to remember us by and Oen will see that even in the Lone-lands, beauty exists and Rheb is part of creating it.

But then, if Yule is spent with family, shouldn’t he know about the child? Isn’t it my duty to tell him exactly what he’s missing away from Durrow? He wants children. Most men want children to carry on their bloodline, but I know that he wants children. He wants to be a father, and if I will not be the mother, he should know he has a child waiting for him at ho–

Durrow isn’t his home anymore. I cannot pretend that it is when I see him there, with his people, in his lands. I will ask about what I do not see. I will look at the camp with open eyes. They do not hide from me; none of them have. They do not have room for games. Secrets. Lies. The land is too stubborn to tolerate the folly of Men or Orc and I will learn what it has to tell me about its beauty.

~~~***~~~

Her pillow was wet and for the longest time, she simply laid there with her hair crumpled beneath her cheek. He was cruel to show her such things and believe that she had an actual choice. She was not strong enough to stop a storm from coming. She was not strong enough to recognize the ruby she found washed up on the edge of the lake was no regular gem.

It was just a dream, she told herself as she finally pushed herself away from the dampness of her tears. Dreams are nothing and have no sway over me. 

Oh, but they do. She rubbed her eyes. You have always believed in your dreams. 

Silliness. Silly dilly silly. 

You know the only way to stop it is to find it.–Destroy it! –Then we might just stop. He will know what to do. Take it to him.

Louder, louder! He he he!

Dreams have no sway over me.

Over us.

No, you’re all just dreams. Leave me!

A dream a dream is a wish, a wishy wishy washy wish.

Anya took a deep breath, resituated herself to be sitting cross-legged on her bed, and closed her eyes. She let the voices wash over her until they filled her head with their arguing and nonsense.

Bring it to him. Take it to him. Dreamsy dream a dram of dream! Destroy it, destroy it! Destroy them all. Wishy washy! Dead you’ll be. Him. Take it. We’ll never–Dead as a doorknob!–leave until you–Destroy it!–take it to him.–Grow, grow, root and leaf,–Rest, just rest.–reach for star and sun beneath!–Never–Bring it–Can’t…–Wilt, wilt, stalk and bloom,–Go–away–Go!–turn to dust and bring all doom!

The din of their song rose until it reached its peak and then like a wave broke and faded away to the sounds of her room: the reassuring purring of her feline friends, the crackling of a low fire in the other room, the creaking of the stone and wood around her. Though the air around her tingled, it was still. She quieted them for now.

Slipping from her bed, she walked over to set her small traveling easel upright and then stooped to retrieve a set of robes that had fallen from its hanger. She straightened the lace on the collar of a dress and then turned to look for any other damage that needed righting. Seeing nothing too telling, she took another deep breath, let it out slowly, and then turned to choose her garb for the day.

When she stepped out of her room, only the circles beneath her eyes hinted anything was out of the ordinary. Abiorn had already left for the morning taking the dogs with him and she made a note to scold him for leaving the fire so large. Still, he had left her a few biscuits for breakfast and she forced herself to eat them before resigning herself to another day.

Dalish Charm: From a Different View

It surprised me when her people did not insist on putting me in bindings again. Perhaps they were too worried about the girl to even consider the weight of my role in her sudden arrival in the North Downs. Coincidence brought us here, didn’t you know?

Of course, I am not complaining. They did not know of the little ruby I dropped in her backyard one night. It waited patiently to be discovered for such a long time. But she found it. I knew she would. Digging in the dirt, she does, and one day she’ll dig her own grave.

Not yet, though. She was supposed to bring it, but she didn’t. The pull of the gem was too strong for her, I suppose. It overruled her desire to see the statue again and she left Bree without the key to my Father’s happiness. The key to mine.

He promised me that once he had her, he wouldn’t need me anymore. I told him I just wanted to live a simple life somewhere away from Angmar and magic. Maybe find Red, though he’s probably off and gotten himself killed, the idiot.

I miss his doting, even if he was a bloody coward.

Bah, he’s probably dead.

That could be an option, now that I think of it. If she were dead, he’d not want her anymore. He’d have to move on or find some other woman who had her cheekbones to terrorize.

“It’s the eyes, Lôm,” he says. “It’s her eyes.”

I’ve looked at the girl’s eyes and they’re not brown.

“The devotion,” he says, “Not the colour. Colour is meaningless. It is insubstantial. Merely the physical shell that one chooses to walk around in. Do you think this is what I looked like all those years ago? No! A shell, Lômiphel. That is all any of this is.”

I don’t like that idea. I don’t like to think that I am merely some shell for a fea to claim as their own for a time. That the strength of my arm or the keen of my intellect is only for show. And if that were really true, why wouldn’t any old body do for him? If all it is for him is a shell for her.

Ugh. I do hope he has some magical youth potion. He’s a bit old for…you know what? Nah. He’d be fine for her tastes after all.