Through the Mirror

Streets never scared her before. Fear came from closed doors with chains. Tight places where she could barely move. Long marches to foreign lands. Angry silences before the fall of the lash. Things so rare that she felt as though she deserved them when they came for her because she must have done something wrong, so very wrong. Her life in-between those moments of fear never seemed to raise the hairs on the back of her neck or compel her to glance over her shoulder on the walk home from the market. In day to day life, walking down the street had never scared her before.

In day to day life, walking down the street had never scared her before.

Walking down the street now was different for Najwa. She kept her hood up and her head down and tried not to think about the familiar streets back home. So many leagues, mountains, and forests separated her from them that she doubted she would ever find herself walking their paths again. She hardly thought of them by day, but at night in the fading twilight, they felt comforting and familiar and the cold streets of Bree felt like the foreign land they belonged to. Wary. Strange. Different.

Different somehow from the days when she had a large house full of powerful men or a cabin full of cats to call home instead of a tiny shared room in a house full of girls in various stages of alone. They lived by twos in those tiny rooms: two beds, two trunks, two hooks for gowns. Two girls to each tiny closet, yet for Najwa, she might as well have lived alone; at least she would accept her own presence without suspicion.

She should be thankful, she told herself. So she lost her life from before they marched to the Mrachniiles to face the tall knife-ears with their arrows and spears. She lost the beds of silk pillows on sun-warmed stones. No more lavish banquets at which to pour wine and listen to the secret dealings of the chieftains as she sat at their heels. No wooden bowls to mix dough for the hearth fire. No masters to nourish and no earning their praise.

But she had a bed nonetheless. And she had friends even if her dour roommate was not one of them. She would find a better place, she told herself. And as long as she kept her head down and her eyes low, she could find her way through the streets of Bree. And if they stayed in color, and mud brown was better than black and white any day.

~~~***~~~

The warmth of the fire kept the hut cozy. Cwendlwyn resisted the sounds of morning filling the camp; she did not want to go out into the cold winter air to pack her saddlebags and leave Rheb and the simplicity of her life in the Lone-lands behind. The flat of his nails trailed down her back as he began to rejoin the waking world and the gentle pressure reassured her.

The flat of his nails trailed down her back as he began to rejoin the waking world and the gentle pressure reassured her.

Tomorrow, she would go home. Her husband would take her in his arms and smile and ask how she was because he cares. Maybe he would have flowers or a gift to show his love. Their children would celebrate the sweets she would bake.

But for now, Rheb’s nail slid across her shoulder and the warmth of her blood slipping down her back made her growl.

(Two of six I need to write.)

 

After Death

Abiorn prowled. He prowled and prowled and the bit of him that was human hoped that someone had picked up his cloak because he liked that cloak and fixing it to break away easily upon transformation had proven to be difficult. But mainly, he prowled.

He encountered little wildlife on the ice. For that, he felt grateful and grateful felt better than anything else he could be feeling right now. His animal mind wrestled with the feelings without having the human mind dwell on their meaning.

Grief.

Shock.

Pain.

Emptiness.

Betrayal.

Guilt.

How could he feel betrayed that Godric died? His commander. His leader. His boss. He felt betrayed, let down, angry. But he did not feel those things toward Godric, did he? But the man should not have gone off on his own, he knew better, he was the commander, he was his commander, he shouldn’t have gone off on his own…

Salmon. He could smell it. He lifted his head to sniff the air and followed the naked trail of fishiness to the bay. Catching a fish came easy. Thinking about Godric was too hard. Being a human was too hard…

What happens when a man dies?

After Godric fell from the fort’s wall, Taja had sat down to lead his spirit to where spirits go. Not the Henki-maa. The other place out of reach and time.

When he died, where would he go? He was more than a man. Would he be stuck there on the spirit plains? Would he descend into a hukassa? Would he join Joren and live with spirits of the bear-men instead? What about his brother and sister…

Fish. Focus on fish and sweet berries. There are no bees in Forochel.

~~~***~~~

The cold seeped into old bones. It crept into the marrow and stopped the heart though the lungs kept breathing in and out. In and out. In and out.

He did not want to breathe in and out anymore.

The boy had used his power enough to close the wound and stop the blood from draining out, but to what cause? Zabathôr knew that he was not in a pile of Lossoth furs being tended to by one of their beautiful women. He knew he was truly alone in the world for the first time. No slaves. No servants. No hope.

His crusted eyes fought to open beneath the warmth of the summer sun. He could not  understand why they tried. He could not fathom how they succeeded. The white and grey  blinded him. The blue suffocated. The world around him weaved in and out of his vision in a waterfall of colour. He could not stop looking.

His old bones ached from the cold.

Slowly, he turned his head to look across the parapet where that cursed boy cut him down. The Angmarim had fled quickly, but thoroughly. Only a broken barrel remained in his field of vision. A barrel and blood on the cold stones.

Weakly, he lifted a hand and the wood ignited. It flared brightly, blinding his tired eyes and then settled into a low burn. It would not last long. He would not last long if he remained exposed to the Forochel air. Perhaps something remained…

Above him, a black shadow circled.

Slowly, he rolled over to his side, wincing and biting back a groan. Even though only the cold stones towered around him to hear it, he kept it inside as he pushed himself up into a sitting position. His hand braced his torso. Pain exploded beneath his cool composure, but he was used to pain. He had not always been the most powerful of the Four Lords. He knew how to bear the fires of pain.

“My poor chest,” he murmured as he pulled himself closer to the fire. “All these years and I managed not to mar it…”

He pulled the sliced pieces of his robe tighter over his cold chest to hide the angry red wound.

The black shadow above cawed down to him to die. It was hungry. So was he.

Gritting his teeth, he lifted a hand and murmured the words. He was too tired to do it without the words. Even as the carrion bird fell to the stonework of the fort, he paled. It would be a while until he could do that again. Its feathers smoldered nearby. He could not let the fire he had go out…

It would be easier to die. He wasn’t sure he could stomach the bird after he defeathered the carcass. He used a fine dagger used for decoration more than slicing flesh and severing ligaments. He skewered a bit of meat on its end to hold over the barrel fire. He managed to eat a few bites and then he set the rest on the cold stones and looked around himself. Saw the door. Managed to stand with the help of the low wall that their commander had toppled over so poetically. He smiled.

The Ironspan claimed many men in its time. It would claim many more in the times to come. But Zabathôr knew that it would not claim him that night.

((Sidenote: Because I am indecisive, I rolled a lot for Zab’s situation. 14 to survive the night. 18 to survive waking up. 6 to be found by someone. 17 to stand and make it to shelter. He clearly wants to live. 😉 ))

What Keeps Us Awake at Night

All I want in the world is to know who I am and where I come from and to find a place without all the lies. I am so tired of lies and half-truths and people thinking that those things can somehow make things better. They can’t.

~~~***~~~

I will be fine. This will all be fine. I am a strong, loved person and everything will turn out perfectly fine and I will not think about it at all.

~~~***~~~

Why do things always get so complicated? Things aren’t that complicated when you live by yourself in your own little world. Sometimes, I wish I would have never left my own little world, but then again, I would have never met him and knowing him makes it worth it, especially after all those people just think that I’m a freak after seeing me change.

~~~***~~~

ScreenShot00473

This city makes me miss Dale. How is that even possible.

~~~***~~~

Day and night, it’s always the same. Wake up, lie down, roll over. When did my life become so boring? Makes me want to go steal a coinpurse just for old time’s sake.

~~~***~~~

I’ve never felt so confident in all my life and all I did was make a little breeze. It is empowering! Yet…he does not know this world of spirits and sorcery and I know I will not need it if I were to become his wife. Why do I feel so empty at the thought of leaving my training now? Is it another link to him, the magic of his presence, the mystery of his life and power? Will he always haunt my thoughts and dreams?

~~~***~~~

When everything you knew about a person is veiled in a lie, how do you go about trusting him again, even if it is your own father? Is it all worth it when it’s just a damn charade to get an old man his kicks? Living here has made me live a normal life and for the first time, I like the thought of waking up with a husband that worked digging fields and not ruins. What if I want my own life and not the life he is forcing upon me?

~~~***~~~

The simplicity of this place is astounding. We get up. We find food. We cook it. We mend our clothes. We sweep our floors. He swims in the pools and waterfalls around the lake. Nothing is more beautiful than he is beneath the falls when the sun sinks behind the purple mountains and the colours of the light catch in his hair. We eat. We make love. He is happy. For him, for him, I will be happy for now.

~~~***~~~

I will shake this from me. His actions are not my actions and I am as good as any man. Hard work and intelligence will lead me to where I wish to go. If only the people saw it the same way, this city would be the better for it. I will continue to hold my head up high and convince Mother that I do not need a man to make my way. I won’t be sold to him for his title.

~~~***~~~

Who’s a girl gotta do to get some revenge up in here? Anyone? Anyone?

What the Letters Say

What the Letters Say

Dear Rheb,

In ten day’s time, I will come with a few traders and goodsmen from Durrow and the nearby lands. I will sell for a few; we shall have summer vegetables, breads and dried meats, and some clothing, and I had Callee, my Hobbit friend, brew my favorite honeymead for you.

I believe it best if only the women come to do the trading. If there are Men-men, and not Orc-men, that should be fine, but I hope to establish create a good relationship before the others discover you have orcs. I want to protect you and your people from those who will not understand.

I hope you are well. We miss you.

With love,

Kwen

~~~***~~~

To the Keeper of the House of Medicine of Dol Amroth:

How are you, Nestor? I do hope life has settled for you and no further mischief has overcome the city. You know my propensity for disliking Dol Amroth, but I do love the people there and hope they have found happiness during the summer months.

I am writing to request the list of herbs accompanying this letter. I have a patient here in Bree who would benefit from their properties. If you have any insight into how to brew them in a way that would most benefit someone having nightmares, I would greatly appreciate your wisdom.

Wishing you and your city good health and happy days,

Cwendlwyn Tain of Bree
Field medic of the Wayfarers

~~~***~~~

Dear Callee,

I have spoken with Oendir and the eleventh it is. If you could arrive on the ninth for final preparations, I believe we will be able to solidify all plans in time.

Neilia looks forward to seeing you. Do you think the larkspur back by the lilies would survive the trip? I wish my garden here was more established. I am hoping Oen will agree to me keeping the property and continuing with my plant nursery. I do not see why he would be opposed to it.

All my love, darling,

Cwen

~~~***~~~

Dear Kupsa,

Damn, I hope you can read common. Have your dad read this to you if you can’t. ORENDIR <— have him read it!

I just wanted to say hi and ask how everyone was up there. Is it really still ice even though it is summer? Bree is all right. There’s lots of flowers and honey to be had and everything tastes fresh. You should come visit with your brother and sister sometime. I think you folks would love it, especially Kipina. How is she, by the way?

Vahan is doing great. I know he’s just the runt, but down here, he’s really something special. My brother Eirikr is training him and he’s pretty good most of the time. He gets along really well with our other dog, Bear, but not so much with my sister’s cats. But no one really gets along with them.

Maybe this year we can come visit you again. I think Vahan misses the snow.

Write back! (if you can)

Your friend,

Abiorn of Dale

~~~***~~~

Dear cats that belong to my sister:

STAY OFF MY BED.

I know you can read this, you blasted lynx.

~~~***~~~

Dear Father,

The relic is still guarded well by a sorcerer of some power. My own is not strong enough to dispel the wards placed over it.

I am biding my time and getting to know the people, as you said. There is one who is incredibly suspicious of me; I recall his face from the Ranger’s keep. It is hard to forget.

I do not feel as though he is a normal grave-digger. The girl disappeared for several days after he did; he returned with a sword of some magnificence, but otherwise appears unchanged. How would you like for me to proceed with him?

I will travel to the ruins as before. North, this time.

Your daughter

~~~***~~~

Your excellency,

It is with great pleasure that I congratulate you on the engagement of your son Dunstan to the daughter of Magan. He is a fine man. My only regret, of course, is that it is not my daughter! The foolish girl does not deserve so fine a young man.

Regarding the shipment, it is on schedule to arrive in two weeks. Your influence with the Captain of the Guard will be most beneficial to its safety. Again, I cannot thank you for your assistance in this matter in any other way than my support for your illustrious position. May your court remain true to justice and continue to measure the men of Dale with its wisdom and mercy.

Kolrson, son of Sote

Blinded

Eirikr rode in silence. He did not want to look at his companions as he kept Kvígr close to Taja’s steed. He had given Pharazanû back to him after the man mounted up and he rested limply against the Lossoth. The gleam of the young man’s pale hair shone even in the fading light as they rode toward Lothlorien. The White Witch’s Wood. O, he tried not to recall the tales of the place as they drew ever nearer.

He had half a mind to stay with Langafel’s men at its border, but that would be cowardly. His place was with his company. His place was to protect his company, even if it was from themselves.

He had to hand it to Oen; the man had an interesting recruitment philosophy. And he knew that aside from Cwen and Eruviel, he hardly knew the other members. They seemed hot-headed and and quick to draw. And while at first everything seemed black and white, he began to feel that things were not quite what they seemed with the enemy. Still, he watched. He waited. He spoke only when he felt it absolutely necessary. And while everyone’s hatred for the sorcerers clouded their judgement, he tried to remain objective and true to his core beliefs.

After all, it wasn’t personal for him. He had met Atanamir a mere handful of times, and they were in passing. He thought the gentleman could make his own decisions, and he did: he chose the sorcerer.

He just hoped he would never have to kill him for it one day.

Still, there was a long road ahead to Lorien and things could possibly change before they returned. If the eaves of Mirkwood had taught him anything, it was you could rarely see what was around the next bend in the road ahead.

~~~***~~~

Zab's flowersHe did not see.

The nights when Pharazanû came to him burned feverishly in Zabathôr’s mind. Now as he stared at the letter in one hand and held the stem of the flowers carefully with the other, he pictured him lying beneath the coverlet with dozens of the tiny blue blossoms in his hair.

His chest tightened.

Was he getting too old for this?

Age was hardly an excuse. He had spent a mere half-century walking the paths of the Eye, give or take a handful of years. The journey kept his body healthy and fit while his mind stayed sharp. The only thing that had changed was that he no longer walked it alone.

Something blurred his vision as he tried to reread the letter Pharazanû must have left before they had marched to the Flame.

What was this?

He rubbed his eyes to clear his vision and his fingers came away wet. He had not cried since he was a boy of seven and his own foolish machinations had set his own hair on fire. A surge of anger welled in his chest now, and he grit his teeth as the air crackled with heat around him.

Zabathôr took several deep breaths and willed the flush out of his cheeks. He turned from his bedside table and went to the chaise where he pushed several books to the floor before lifting a leg to fall to the cushions.

He laid himself back against the support and thought about how much Pharazanû had changed in the past months. Ambition and drive to complete the Flame had not left much room for Zabathôr to contemplate matters of emotion. Emotion was messy. It was too complicated to deal with and made one weak. It was best left to the other side. The “free peoples.”

He read the last lines of Pharazanû’s letter and again it sounded like a goodbye. He thought of his last words to the boy, and he realized they had not been enough. As that wretched company took him to Lorien, they took him further and further from his grasp. He closed his eyes to block the fading light that bathed his chamber now that the shadow was gone.

He did not want to think about tomorrow when the Four Lords would be three, or even worse, halved. What would happen to them now that they were drawn and quartered? Would the Eye send them to the far corners of his empire as slaves to remind others what would happen if they failed? The gift of life seemed so new and precious to him suddenly. And was it such a gift if it meant living in torture as nothing but a mocking shadow of his former self.

The day will dawn and one way or the other, he thought it would bring freedom to his young lover in life or death. And with its light, Zabathôr realized he did not know the path before his feet and he could only stare out the window at the setting sun.

~~~***~~~

The bear was grumbling to himself. Of course, if anyone happened to pass by, his complaints sounded like growls and snarls and slobbery lip blowing. But he was complaining, though he knew no one would understand.

He just did not understand why Anya had asked him to stay up all night watching for the past week and a half. He missed the sun and the Broken Cask and the way the light sparkled on the lake. He wanted to go look for another beehive and eat the guts out of it.

Anya wouldn’t tell him why he was watching or what he was watching for, but so far it had been a stray dog (which Anya did not let him keep despite the big bear eyes) and several squirrels. Oh, and a rabbit. The rabbit didn’t like him very much and moved on from Anya’s small garden rather quickly when it caught scent of him.

Still, he’d watch. He wouldn’t fall asleep and he hadn’t really fallen asleep the past two nights. It was hard to stay awake with the sounds of the night lulling all around you. She had to understand that, right?

Besides, there was nothing to see.

He could be sleeping right now.

But then again, out here, he couldn’t hear his sister crying at night. Sometimes, he thought she’d make it without tears, but inevitably, he’d hear the sniffling and then the sharp gasp and he’d try not to roll his eyes as her feet hit the floor and she shuffled across her room to the opposite corner of her bed. Sometimes Sally Stitches would let out a plaintive meow or one of the dogs would bark, but after a few minutes, the bed in the other room would creak again and the room fell silent.

The bear huffed and turned his big head to gaze up at the stars. The light was growing at the tops of the trees and he slowly lumbered across the lane into the yard of the little cabin. The floorboards of the wagon creaked as he climbed into the back with the intention of changing back into his lanky self. But instead of a shimmer and a shift, there was a slump and a sigh and Abiorn fell asleep there in the wagon with the cover blocking out the first rays of the morning sun.

And he did not see the stray dog, turned away two days back, sitting up on the cliffs of Pinecrest overlooking the cabin.

Will-o-Wishes

Life flickered throughout the small hamlet of Durrow-upon-Dunwash. In the middle of the settlement, high on the hill, the Fallow-flame filled the sky with its light. Sparks flew high in the air and the smoke burned white as those that attended the flame added fuel gathered with careful hands.

In the forest tiny glowing spiders scurried on through their lives. In the windows of the houses, candles burned like elusive wishes in hearts and eyes alike.

~~~***~~~

Thorns born of love and attentive care. Her blood stained the sharpest prick and she was careful as she threw the clipping from the rose bush into the flames.

Spirits around us, watching over: protect my family and friends. And let Morty know we are all right. He would not let it show around me, but he will worry.

Stepping back, she smiled at her little family and tried not to feel the hollowness of her contentment.

 ~~~***~~~

Questions born of strength and knowledge. He was getting better at using his sister’s paints to create the rash; the dogs lay wrapped around each other as they slumbered against his leg.

I wish to know my past. Please, just tell me who I am. Help me find out who I am.

He toyed the with black claw hanging from the cord around his neck and listened to the wind in the trees.

~~~***~~~

Bright eyes born from youth and burning firelight. Her dreams and wishes rose on the smoke rising above the roofs of the hamlet.

Please make Mister Commander Arrow’art be nice to my mama and make her be nice to him, too! I really, really want him to by my daddy, please, please, pretty pretty please!

She smiled at her make-shift family and tried not to feel the empty spot inside her.

~~~***~~~

Hesitation and doubt born from hours of self-council. The feather had found its way into his pocket without him realizing he picked it up, a habit formed from years of hand-crafting fishing lures and scouting the wilds for suitable hackles and tails.

Let her be at peace. Let her hear my voice and let her know that I will fix my mistakes.

As he stepped back from the flames, his eyes fell on his sister and the Elf and he felt a pull in his chest that he could not identify.

Find peace.

~~~***~~~

Guilt and self-loathing born from her own heart. The hair curled and twisted in her grasp before she released it into the flames.

Guide him home safe and sound. Let it not be him; let him save us from this trap.

I would gladly give my life if it meant saving the rest of Durrow. If it meant letting him know I am sorry that I failed him.

The Fallow-flame

 I am sorry that I failed you.
Please, don’t put out the lights.

Secrets and Lies

Somehow, despite everyone’s best efforts to stay together, the shadowed spirit forest managed to scatter them far and wide. Abiorn can no longer see or hear any of the other Wayfarers. There is only icy snow, and the smell of wet bark, and snow-patched boughs of pine.

Kipinä’s voice rang out through the forest.”Abbi?! Abbi! Help!”

Abiorn paused in his stride and looked up wildly. He turned a full circle, batting boughs out of his face and getting smacked about by them in the process.

“Kip?! Kipinä! Kipinä, where are you?” he shouted as he spun.

Ahead, between the trees, Kipinä lay prone, struggling to escape the clutches of a slithering, undulating shadow creature. Angry red eyes flashed from within its depths as ht clutched at her legs.

A frightened gasp escaped Abiorn as he rushed toward her. “No!” he cried as he grasped at her. “Kick, Kip, kick it off!” He pulled on her shoulders.

Kipinä wept as she gripped at his hands.

“Help me, Abbi! You have to pull! You have to be stronger than it!”

Stricken by her tears, Abiorn wrapped his arms beneath hers and started hauling back with all his might. The tension in his jaw as he ground his teeth against the pain was reflected in his eyes as he kept pulling.

“Don’t give up, Kipinä!” he growled. He tugged again and then shouted at the spirit.

“Oi! Gerroff her! Let go of her!”

Eventually, the demon squealed, and released its hold on her. It bubbled back down into the snow, and is gone.

“Thank you!” said Kipinä. She threw her furred arms around his neck, and kissed him passionately. Her body trembled with lingering fear.

Startled, Abiorn froze with his arms still about Kipinä’s torso. After the shock melted into the sensation of her lips against his, he closed his eyes and pulled her tightly against him as he returned the kiss. With passionate eagerness that bordered on clumsiness, his lips moved against hers and parted instinctively.

Kipinä’s kiss was bold and exploratory. Her gloved hands patted his cheeks and neck, and finally came to rest in the v of his furred collar. She grinned, a nit shyly.

“I’ve been wanting to do that since we met.”

Breathless and blinking, Abiorn tried to focus.

“No…” he finally managed to piece together, “wait. You… no, you barely… how are you here?”

His pale brow furrowed with his confusion and he looked about them for answers.

Kipinä leaned back, and stared at him.

“…I followed you,” she said, uncertainly. “I was worried.”

“Step away from the boy,” said a deep, rich voice from behind Abiorn.

A massive white bear galloped through the snow, its dark eyes fixed on Kipinä. Kipinä scrambled away, eyes wide.

Abiorn blinked and then looked back and forth between bear and Kipinä without understanding.

“Wha-?”

The white bear lifted a massive paw, and slashed at Kipinä. The girl went flying backward, screaming as blood gushed from her.

Alarmed, Abiorn reached out for Kipinä.

“No! What are you doing! What is going on?”

He turned to stare at the bear for a moment and then back at Kipinä.

“Look,” rumbled the bear.

Kipinä’s body slowly faded, and then burst into a plume of black, smoky shadow. Slowly, the shadow drifted away on the wind, leaving nothing behind.

“Nothing familiar can be trusted, in this place,” said the bear. He swung his mighty head around to look at Abiorn.

“I am Joren. You and I have business. But right now, you must leave this place before it ensnares you forever.”

The bear lifted a paw, and rolled Abiorn away, as if herding a cub. Suddenly, the forest fell away, replaced by snowy white foothills. Beyond them, at the top of an impossibly high mountain, Veli-koti loomed.

~~~***~~~

Somehow, despite everyone’s best efforts to stay together, the shadowed spirit forest managed to scatter them far and wide. Cwen and Oen can no longer see or hear any of the other Wayfarers. There is only icy snow, and the smell of wet bark, and snow-patched boughs of pine.

Oendir paused for a moment to scan the circumference of a small clearing. He reached up to brush ice from his hair.

“I think we might be going in circles. All of this forest looks the same.”

Cwen frowned as Oendir paused. “I certainly hope not. You are a better tracker than that, Oen.”

She ran an open palm over a low-hanging branch. “Should we start leaving a trail? Perhaps if someone stumble upon it, they can find us as well.”

Oendir gave Cwen a slightly irritable look.

“It would help if we were in the real world, you know. What are you going to leave a trail with? Spirit crumbs?”

Returning the look, Cwen said, “We could break the branches in a specific way. Or, certainly, conjure spirit crumbs. Though the spirit animals will probably gobble them up.”

Oendir let out a strained sigh, and waved a hand.

“Do what you like,” he said, his voice tired. “I’m going to focus on getting us out of here.”

Cwen dropped her hand from the branch and stood there for a moment with her lips in a modest pout.

“If you do not believe it is a good idea,” she finally muttered, “then you could simply say so. I am trying to help and if plodding ahead like a…like that stupid mammoth is all you can do, then…”

Flushed with her frustration, Cwen turned away from him and fell silent.

“What?!” said Oendir, spinning around to face her. “I’m trying to get us out of here. All you’re doing is criticizing me.” He let out a slightly bitter laugh. “Not that I should be surprised. You only see my faults.”

Cwen turned back to him with a mouth gaping in astonishment. “How am I criticizing you?! I…I said you are a better tracker than to get us lost! That’s a compliment, you know, and then you got all… all sarcastic! Why would you even think that all I do is see fault in you? I’m the one who doesn’t deserve you!”

“You’re right,” said Oendir, lips pursed. “You don’t.”

He let out a breath, and turned away.

Stunned and hurt, Cwen blinked at his back. Tears blurred his shape and finally she turned away to hide them as they began to softly fall.

“Then I’ll just go back and wait for you at the Ferry.” She forced the quaver from her voice I…I’ll w-watch over us all until you return and then I will go back to…back home. I do not know why you force me to keep my contract if you think I am so unworthy, unless it is simply to punish me.”

Even as she finished speaking, her calm broke and she started for a direction away from forward but probably not quite back.

“Why I force you?!” said Oendir, spinning back around. “I’ve never once forced you to do anything! Do you see the worst in all men, or just me?”

“You don’t want to release the terms! I will not break it, no matter how unfaithful you think I am, I will not break that contract without your permission.”

She kept her back to him and the muscles in her neck strained to hide her trembling.

“Men will always force their will upon women. It is their nature.”

“No, it isn’t!” Oendir insisted. “You just want it to be! From the first night we met, you’ve been judging me by what you think men do, instead of seeing who I actually am.”

Whirling finally, Cwen faced him with glistening, and angrily flushed, cheeks.

“I see you as something so nearly perfect that I am constantly reminded exactly how unworthy I am for you simply by the thought of you! And regardless of your perfection–you still vanished without thought or consideration for me! Or Neilia!

She was devastated when we showed up at Overhill and you simply were not there. What could I tell her? Yet another man just up and left her without good-byes, without explanation? Her own father at least gave her the courtesy to simply leave… he didn’t allow her to be raped and left for dead, thank the gods!”

Oendir blinked into the force of her words, as if stunned by a sudden blast of icy wind.

“What…” he said, almost too quiet to hear. “Is that what happened to you?”

Now that it was said, the weight of it seemed to both crush and free her. She sank to her knees and the tears dripped from her chin quiet and unheeded.

“After he and my fiance burned down our village. They were infiltrators. Dunlending blood. I am what I hate most in the world.”

She closed her eyes and bowed her head.

“It is nothing. It is over and done.”

Oendir knelt down in the snow, and circled her in his arms.

“I’m so sorry,” he murmured into her collar. “I didn’t know.”

He rubbed her back gently.

“We clearly have some…things to talk about. But we can do it later. Somewhere other than this forest.”

Suddenly, the forest shifted, and deposited them both at its edge. In front of them, white foothills stood in front of a majestic blue-white peak. High above them, ghostly Veli-koti loomed, silent.

((From RP mailz with Oendir as Kipinä, Joren, and Oendir. Thank you bestest GM eva!))

((Edit: Sorry for the wonky paragraph spacing earlier. The visual editor did not show the html formatting and so some invisi spacing was left broken when I got rid of images and stuff from Enjin. And I caught more tense shifts. Stupid tense.))

Dear Eruviel

Dear sister,

I was so excited to receive your letter! Your pictures and your words make me wish I had gone with you. I still cannot believe that Eirikr agreed to allow Abiorn to go. Thank you for reminding him to write to us. It meant a lot. I have included a small note for him as well. I do not wish to appear nagging, so I kept it short.

Things have been quiet here in Bree. There has been a lot of snowfall, but I would surmise that is nothing compared to what you see. The lake is quite beautiful all covered in ice, but sometimes I miss trekking all the way out to the Little Staddlemere to paint.

Bear is good! Abiorn will be pleased to know that, I am sure. He actually got out of the house the other day and caused quite a ruckus in the market. Eirikr had to pay for several legs of lamb that we certainly did not eat. But he is just so adorably cuddly that it is hard to be mad at him for long. To keep him occupied (and to tire him out!), Eirik often takes him into the forest with him. I think he wants to turn him into a hunting dog, but I am not sure Bear has the attention for it.

Eirikr himself has been spending a lot of time out of the house. When he is not hunting, he is caring for your house. I hope you do not mind him spending hours there. I think he misses you.

Keep writing. And drawing! I miss you dearly and hope to see you sooner rather than later.

With love,

Anya

~~~***~~~

Dear Abiorn,

Hello, my brother! How is your first adventure without us? I do hope you are keeping warm and that you are listening to Eruviel and Miss Cwendlwyn. And that you are not getting in the way of any business they must attend to, being part of Master Arrowheart’s company.

The animals are well. Bear is quite recovered and I think you will be pleased to know he has taken to sleeping in your bed. You will have to share when you return. Eirikr will not let him sleep with him and Sally Stitches and Oli keep him from sleeping with me.

Eruviel told me that you have encountered the spirit world. I would not have believed it had I not experience with spirits of my own. Do be safe, Abiorn. Come back home hale and whole.

Lina has asked about you since you have been gone. She is her normal Lina-self, though I believe she has been spending some time with that fellow Rush.

Give my regards to Miss Cwen. And Abbi, do behave.

Love,

Anyatka

~~~***~~~

Eruviel,

I wish I could say your letter brought me only joy. While I was joyful to receive news, I could have done without the dark creatures and dangerous situations. I worry about you and Abiorn up there, and it seems as though my worries are not without reason. I trust in your strength and courage and good head to keep the both of you safe.

Durrow is rather quiet with half its main rabble rousers in Forochel with you folks. I have spent many hours in Glaston reading in the cellar and I dare say I have not come any closer to a clue about how to destroy the dragon. Perhaps before I would have been hesitant to include someone we hardly know in such matters, but after Evendim, I will not turn away the help of a Wayfarer. Which is Atanamir? I remember Abiorn mentioning the name, but of course, he is with you and I cannot ask him. I am certain Anya would know, but I do not wish to alert her to our activities until we actually have something to show for it.

I am not sure what to think about you being in Abiorn’s body. Or he being in some other poor soul’s. I hope he has been minding orders and setting a good example for the Lossoth.

Do come home soon. I miss you 

I hope you are enjoying your time more than you are troubled by it. Come home safely.

Eirikr

Not Alone

An odd sound filled the room. He had never heard it before and now he wondered what it might be. The shelter was small, and it wasn’t coming from the room with the beds and table, so he figured it must be coming from the room where the girl slept and made handsome colours on sheets of rough cloth. He liked watching her stretch new squares of cloth. Her face usually turned red and she would swear when she thought no one was listening.

Bear investigating the source of the odd noise.
Bear investigating the source of the odd noise.

Tick tick tick his claws went as he padded quietly across the room to nose the door. It swung into the room slowly and the noise grew. Salt and sorrow. His soft black nose could smell salt and sorrow and his golden ears perked up with concern.

There.

The girl with the strange two-toned hair sat curled in the far corner of her bed with her back pressed against the headboard and her knees drawn up to her chest. Both arms wrapped around her legs, and her chin rested on her kneecaps. Her shoulders jerked with each unusual noise and her face sparkled in the sunlight coming in through her parted curtains. She looked so miserable and he felt a tightening in his chest to see her so sad.

Next to her hip lay the big, sleek feline and the cranky one rested on her feet and stared at Bear when he pushed open the door. He just stared right back. Clearly they weren’t doing enough to make the girl feel better! Felines just did not understand that sitting there wasn’t good enough to make humans feel better. They needed more than the disdainful acceptance of their presence. He would show her what the human needed! Maybe when his human returned smelling like the Elf, he would give him a special treat if he made the girl smile and forget whatever made her heart sad.

It was such an excellent idea! With one giant leap, Bear bounded onto the girl’s bed, which sent the mackerel flying after an evil, cranky hiss, and licked her bouncing face. ScreenShot00433She kept moving! So he leaped to get a better angle for licking, causing them both to rock and bob on the soft bed. The sleek cat, who had told him his name was Olavi and that he was called a lynx, remained unperturbed and merely watched them both with half-hooded eyes.

“Bear! Bear, no!” the girl said, harshly at first. Her voice sounded deeper than normal, and scratchy. This made him sad, too, so he tried to lick her throat to make it feel better. Lick lick lick. Licking always made his hurts feel better.

The girl finally started laughing, though water kept leaking from her eyes. She started to pet his head between the ears and he stopped jumping to brace both paws on her legs to continue licking the salty water away. As her face cleared of them, she smiled. That must be what was making her sad! Maybe it hurt her, or maybe it just made her itchy. He got all of it now, though. She didn’t have to be sad anymore.

“Hi, boy,” she said as she stroked his soft fur. “Are you sad that I’m sad? It is okay. I will be fine.”

His tongue lolled out and he smiled at her as he panted in her face. Maybe she was cold, too. He’d make her warm!

“Oh, Bear, your breath is rather…warm.” Yes! “Here, get off me, boy. Sit. Sit. Good dog.”

The woman crossed her legs in front of her as he sat back on his haunches.

“Do you miss them, too? It is rather quiet with Abiorn up north and Eiri doing… whatever it is he is doing over at Eruviel’s all the time. You know, I’m surprised he does not take you with him. Maybe you could help him guard the place, hm?”

His head fell to the side as he listened to the human talk. It was nice when the girl spoke. Smooth and rich sounds, like the humming of his mum. He missed his mum and his brothers and sisters, but he liked these humans well enough. The one she called Eiri let him out of the box, after all. It was dark in the box.

“You know, sometimes,” she said in a low, conspiratory voice, “Sometimes, I wish I could have just stayed happy with Anric. You probably do not know who that is, but that is all right. You do not have to know him. Just that he was with me for some time. When I was not quite so alone.”

She scratched behind his ears and he closed his eyes in pleasure.

“But I just didn’t love him enough. He couldn’t handle that I loved Morty at all. But I do. And I guess that is why right now I am alone.”

He pushed his forehead against back of the girl’s hand. She wasn’t alone! Even before he barged in, she had that stupid cat, after all, and the sleek lynx.

The girl smiled and stroked his ears. “I know. Morty loves me. Morty loves me as much as he is able to love me. It is not what I pictured for myself, though. Living cramped here with my brothers when they have the time to think of home. Or going to Morty’s hoping each time to find him unoccupied. It would be nice to have something normal, don’t you think? Someone-no offense-to come home to every night. Who you know will be there.”

He sighed and licked her hand. It was all he could do. As her eyes misted again, he crawled into her lap without waiting for an invitation. Olavi raised his head to look at him lazily, then set it back down again. The feline came up slowly once he was settled, but he ignored her. He did not want to scare her away again. Her human needed her and he wasn’t going to prevent cuddles. Cuddles made the world a better place.

~~~***~~~

Vahan knew how to cuddle, Abiorn would give him that. The excited pup would leap about the surface of the snow barely seeming to break through far enough to give credence to his weight and then bound back into Abiorn’s waiting arms to lick and burrow into the boy’s warmth. The black and white husky runt growled at the falling snow and then made a crazy woo-ing noise that reminded Abiorn of off-key singing if there had been words. Each clump of white was a bird or a hare tempting the pup to go straight for the jugular.

Abiorn grinned as Vahan lept from place to place and then back to him. The pup might be small, but he was smart, Abiorn could tell. He brought out a pocketful of jerky and Vahan had already discovered that if he sat and waited patiently, he’d get a piece. Well, most of the time.

“Come on, Vahan,” he said and started back across the ice toward the hut he was staying in. He took several steps away and blinked down at the puppy who simply sat with his head cocked to the side. “Vahan! Come, boy! Come on, let’s go get warm!”

vahan
Vahan, the husky runt

“Rooooo arroo arroo arroooooooo.”

Abiorn had the odd notion that he had just been told off.

“Vahan! Come on, boy, I’m cold! Let’s see if there’s any goodness to munch on inside.” Abiorn patted his thigh hoping the dog would follow the sound.

“Araaahgh arraaahghhh rrrooorrororrrrooooo.”

“Seriously?” Abiorn stared at the puppy and wondered what he could do. He could always pick the pup up and carry him inside. But then he pictured himself carrying a larger dog several years down the road and he just wasn’t interested in that. He could lure the dog with treats. But then, the future Vahan just turned into a huge, fat ball of fluff that he’d still probably end up carrying around in several years.

What if he just walked away? Said once more that it was time to go and then expected Vahan to follow. Did he have that sort of flair, that sort of leadership quality hidden somewhere inside of him? He doubted it. But before he resorted to leaving out a trail of treats for the puppy, he had to give it a try.

Abiorn spoke in a firm but gentle tone. “Vahan. It’s time to go inside.” He jerked his head toward the hut and tried to keep his body language relaxed and confident. He gave Vahan one last confident look that brokered no other option and turned to head inside.

A high, alarmed yip came from the puppy. Another woo-roo or two sounded from his white throat, and then he bounded after Abiorn and circled his feet at a respectful distance before falling into a trot beside him.

“Yeah, I thought so,” Abiorn mumbled to himself. “Didn’t want to be left alone, didcha?”

He smiled down at the little husky runt that only wanted in on harnesses and treats with the rest of his pack. Vahan would see no harness, but he would find a pack that would love him, Abiorn thought to himself.

Then he laughed loud and clear in the crisp air.

Anya was going to kill him.

But she knew he would love the newest addition to their growing menagerie. She was never one to turn out a member of the pack, runt or no.

Grin and Bear It: From Forochel

The Northern Lights

Dear brother and sister,

Eruviel reminded me that I needed to write to you. Not that I forgot. There’s just a lot going on and it’s only the first day here in Suki- Suri-Coola Suli-Kura the capitol of the ice land.

We have met a lot of people so far. Commander Arrowheart’s father (I think) and his really beautiful daughter. Her name is Kipinä and seemed really impressed that The Wayfarers were there. Like she admired them a lot. I’m going to tell her all about Anya’s stupidity and Bookie and see if she’s impressed that I was a part of that. Maybe she’ll be impressed.

We also met the man we were travelling to visit, Panja. Anya, he makes me look timid. Just saying. I think you would find him funny, though. And Eirik, there are hunters here, too, you know. It’s a different kind of hunt, but they’re impressive. One named Taja has these things called “spirit-eyes” and it means he can see things that exist both in our world and the spirit world. They’re all yellow and sparkling and I want some.

I forgot to tell you about the spirit world. We had to go meditate or something at this place and it took us up to the spirit world. Getting there reminded me of when I shift into a bear. Only less painful. Like the world around me just blurs and shifts and I feel all separate from my body and floaty and then the world looks the same, but completely different. I wonder what would happen if I tried to change into a bear when I’m there.

Anyway, I almost knocked over the inkpot my eyes are so crossed from tiredness. Just know you’re completely missing out and I know that you don’t want to be away from your Morty, Anya, and you’re all worried about him and stuff, but you would LOVE it here. The northern lights are brilliant and I think you’d do good to paint them one day. That means we need to come visit, the three of us. Maybe even Eruviel would come with us Eirikr. I know you’d like that!

Your brother who is not yet an ice sculpture of the sexiest person in Durrow,

Abiorn

P.S. Atanamir keeps near this guy named Dorsett. Dorsett does not look like one who would be travelling to such a harsh place! Or one who would be hanging around Atanamir so much. He’s all smart and not brawny, though. Like me before the bear. He just seems so nice. I’m going to keep spying on them. And ha! You can’t stop me! Love, Abbi

Overdone: Plans

Over the past two days, we have scouted the island in order to plan for our quest to obtain the Dragon for my sister. According to Threz, the leader of the band of tomb robbers is Lômiphel and her influence stretches all the way to the Baranduin. How this woman took control of the various bands of men and women throughout the region, I can hardly imagine. Their activities make the believe there is a bigger plot at bay.

The men take turns patrolling the shoreline to ascertain the movements of the robbers. It seems as though they stay relatively clear of the Eavespires and I cannot say I blame them. Several visual contacts of Gauredain have been reported and as the wolf-men could probably watch us without revealing their positions, I can only assume they are making their presence known.

Bayn has found us at the Eavespires camp  and has generously gathered and confirmed valuable information. He reports approximately three dozen men and women occupy the island at any one time. No shipments out are occurring and very few shipments in have been seen in the past two days. The robbers appear to be well fortified within the remains of the old estate and he believes he has identified Lômiphel as a tall woman with raven black hair worn in a braid to her waist and sharp, angled features.

After several discussions with all involved, I believe that a combination of tactics would be best. Threz will contact and arrange a meeting with Lômiphel on the far eastern shores of the island. Concurrently, Hallem will lead a second team to cause a distraction that will lead the robbers away from the estate. Our best bet is to set fire to the brush on the eastern shore near their camp. After setting the blaze, that team will enter the estate from the back, semi-flooded stairwell on the western side of the estate to search for the Dragon. With any luck, we can find the statue and be out of there before the tomb robbers are able to control the blaze.

If luck failed to find us… there is always our blades…

Overdone: Instincts

From High King's Crossing

The shield was dirty and it made Abiorn’s face look dirty. Dirty streaks crossed his features as he touched his cheek and then his chin. Was this his face? What happened in those ruins?

He looked down and turned over his hands. The bruises that ran across his palms from wrist to ring finger attested that yes, he was the one who had caught the club of the hulking tomb robber. His hands turned into burly claws and he was the one that ripped out the man’s throat with his teeth. His eyes in the mirrored surface of the shield were his eyes. Those were his shoulders, though, yes, in the time he spent since leaving Dale, they were broader. Stronger. Work around the cabin had made them so. His hair was a wild frame around his face; he rarely spent much time on it anyway.

He touched his lips and could still taste the robber’s blood on his tongue. No matter how many times he rinsed his mouth out, he could not remove the taste. But that did not bother him quite as much as the simple fact that he had liked it.

He had liked the raw power rippling through his muscles as he stood on his hind legs and easily overpowered the lumbering robber. He had liked watching the body fall as an enemy vanquished. He had liked the fear he saw in the eyes of the humans around him, friend and foe alike.

It felt strong. It felt powerful. It felt right.

The boy touched his lips again and ran his tongue over his front teeth as he bared them in a snarl.

Abiorn the Bear. Not the weak, crippled boy that he lived as all his life.

Yes, that felt right.

~~~***~~~

Every instinct in my body tells me to look at her as I used to before we left for the dark road to Dale. Even as we slept side by side beneath the changing moon, I only saw her as a companion of the woods. A companion in arms. A fellow marksman and tracker and a systir. Never did I see her as I do now each time I close my eyes. Each time I look at her and see her smiling up at me with sparkles in her hair. Each time I simply want to dive into her and lose myself.

How many times has my pain been removed by her touch?

How many times has she saved my life and I saved hers?

Yet, she is an Eldar. Men and Eldar cannot find happiness in such a union. Our fates lead us down different paths and despite how she is becoming my journey, I know I am just a detour in hers.

From High King's Crossing

~~~***~~~

Anya’s lips curled into a smile as Morty’s hands roamed over her bare skin. She arched into the gentle weight of him as he hovered above her and she looked up into his warm brown eyes and kissed him.

“Only you,” he murmured into her ear as the moonlight bathed them in its gentle glow. “Only you, my Anya.”

Somewhere in the far corners of her pleasure-logged mind, a bell went off. A silver tinkling like the sound of the little bell she left on Morty’s mantle grew louder and louder until she could no longer hear the heavy breath of her lover. She could only hear the ringing of the bell.

Anya pushed against Morty’s chest and looked up into his face. Clear of scars. Soft brown eyes. Not Morty.

Her heart stopped to coil into a tight pain and then it raced ahead in panic and fear.

Not Morty.

“Anya…” His voice was worried and still laden with desire as he leaned in to kiss her temple. Her forehead. His lips were warm and she felt his heart thudding against her breast.

Not Morty.

She pushed harder against him and tried to sit up. He gripped her shoulders and tried to catch her eye.

“Anya, what is it, love?”

Not Morty.

Every fiber in her body screamed for release from him in both senses of the word. She arched against him to push him away and when he did not move, she hit him. His rough grave-digger’s hands easily pinned her wrists to the mattress.

Not Morty.

“No! Release me! Let me go!”

Then he laughed and it was cruel. His perfect face faded and she was left naked on a cold stone floor. Blue flames surrounded her in her nightmare and she saw Faethril on the other side.

We could make it so, you know. Mend his pain and make him yours.

“Never… I will never give in to you!”

You don’t want him all to yourself? Just you and he to make babies and eat supper together every night?

“That’s not us. That’s not Morty.”

But are you sure it isn’t you? We can make it so.

“It would not be right. I know it in my heart it would not be true to who he is or who I am!”

Oh, but little dear… who are you? What colour is your hair?

“I know who I am. I feel it in my gut, I am me! I will never be you!”

And I feel it in my soul that I will have you. Call it… a premonition. My instincts tell me that you will join me if it means having him. In time, you will see.

Welcome Home

The light was on.

A lantern hung in the window of the little cabin on Ruby Lake and laughter could be heard all the way out by the lane. The man paused at the gate with his bow slung over his shoulder. His hair and beard made him appear wild; bits of the far Chetwood clung to him everywhere and he pulled his fingers through his the tangled net on his head. His eyes were weary and wary as he looked upon the small dwelling. ScreenShot00347There was guilt in the way he drug his feet as he approached the door. He raised a fist to knock and then remembered who the house belonged to. He carved a smile into the weathered bark that was his skin and took a deep breath. The latch lifted easily and he pushed the door open.

Inside, a woman and a teenage boy sat facing the fire burning low on the hearth. Smoking nuts sat in a pile between them and as he watched, the boy took one and tossed it into the fire. It popped loudly and the woman batted at his arm.

“Abbi, stop! I want to eat those!” she exclaimed with a laugh.

The boy laughed and tossed a handful into the flames. “They’ll be extra crunchy for you.”

The woman threw a handful the boy. He ducked, laughing, and leaped up and away from her. As he grinned, he spotted the man in the doorway and his eyes lit up.

“Eirikr!”

The boy called Abbi limped over to the man and hugged him. “Brother, it is good to see you!”

The elder brother looked down at his younger and his creaking smile splintered. The boy glistened with sweat and a rash covered the skin exposed by his loosened tunic. Eirikr placed a hand on his forehead before he could protest.

“Abbi, you have a fever. You should be resting.”

The boy smiled. “No, no. I’m fine, brother. Just happy to see you. You look like hell.”

The woman stood and turned to face the reunion. She scolded Abbi gently, “Watch your words, Abiorn.” Eirikr stared at his sister in disbelief. Every time he saw her, it seemed like there was something new. Tonight, the quiet joy he had felt from her was only slightly dampered by his sudden appearance. He hadn’t been sure what to expect. Tears and anger? Embraces and jubilation? He had years of experience dealing with both from her. He did not know how to take a cool and responsible Anya. He looked at his brother for a lead.

Abiorn waved off the gentle reprimand and shuffled to the hearth. “Let me make some tea, Eirik.” He looped his hand beneath the handle of the tea kettle and set it on the rack to heat.

“Thank you,” the man said from just inside the door.

The cabin never felt so small. Anya simply stood, staring, while Abiorn placed three cups on the table with hands swollen at the knuckles. He fumbled and the noise from the clay cup hitting a saucer split the silence otherwise punctuated only by the popping of the fire.

“Didn’t chip,” Abiorn assured himself as he tried to measure out tea leaves.

“Here, Abbi.” Their sister walked over to take the jar of leaves and the spoon. She placed the leaves in the teapot and then replaced it on the shelf. Each movement seemed deliberate. Measured. Eirikr’s chest tightened the more he watched his sister treat him with such wariness. He couldn’t blame her. He had lost track of the days while he traveled the Chetwood and the northern mountain range surrounding Nen Harn. He ate what he shot or fished from the waters. If his bow or hook found nothing, he chewed pine bark or found what he could in the way of greens and mushrooms. He didn’t mind roughing it and he had done it many times before.

The look his sister gave him now, however, made him pause. It was if she thought he might spring at them at any moment. As if he was a stranger.

“I’m sorry it was such a long time,” he said to break the silence between them. “I…lost my way near Trestlebridge. Orcs nearly surround the place. I had to circle around to avoid…”

Anya nodded without looking at him. He felt his stomach drop and he took an involuntary step backwards. His hand reached for the door.

“We were just eating these nuts Anya got from the market,” Abbi interjected. “They’re from down south. Come on, Eirik. Sit down and try some.” He hurried over to the stack and picked up a fistful and shoved them in his mouth. “They’re good!”

Eirikr nodded and moved to sit where Abbi indicated. He watched his sister’s rigid back as she fetched the kettle and made the tea. Her grey eyes shone as he caught a glimpse when she brought him a cup, but she turned away before he could ascertain why.

When the pile of nuts was depleted and the flames of the fire replaced by the soft glow of smoldering embers, Anya excused herself for bed. She hugged Abiorn tightly and then gave Eirikr a little pat on the shoulder. She passed into the sole bedroom and as the brothers watched her form disappear behind the door, Eirikr let out a heavy sigh.

“You were gone a long time, Eirik. Near three weeks, I’d reckon. Hell, she probably didn’t think you were ever coming back.”

“Abbi, your language. You’re still a gentleman.”

“Like you, brother?” Abiorn leaned back in his chair and propped his feet up on one Anya had abandoned. “Sorry. Didn’t mean it like that. But I’d like to think I left all that rubbish behind in Dale.”

Eirikr didn’t answer right away. His thoughts drifted north to the woods and the banks of the lake. When Eruviel found him there, he was more wounded beast than man. His pain made him deaf to her concern and imploring. He had hurt her. And he had hurt Abiorn and Anyatka. He did not look at his brother, but he knew the young lad’s eyes were on him. They always were on him, even when he wasn’t here to be seen.

In the quiet that fell between them, he thought he heard a distant howl. “We left a lot of things, Abbi. But we shouldn’t forget who we are.” He rubbed the thick beard covering his chin. “I need a trim.”

His brother grinned and nodded. “Aye. You do, or you’ll scare the neighbors. They’re pretty decent folk, far as I can tell.”

“Think they’d appreciate if we got that tile out of the yard?”

“Yeah, I think so. Eruviel came by the other day and offered to help. We didn’t know when you’d be coming home.”

Eruviel. He owed her so much. He owed all of them for disappearing for so long. He looked over to his brother and together their heads turned to the closed bedroom door.

“She’ll come ‘round, Eirik. She’s been lots better recently and seein’ you back’s probably just a shock, you know?”

He nodded and offered him a meek smile. The muscles around his mouth protested and his cheeks felt unusually hot. Abiorn grinned in return and punched him in the shoulder.

“Just don’t go runnin’ off for so long again, okay? Then she won’t act like she’s seen a ghost or something next time you come back.”

The smile eased and he managed a quiet laugh.

“All right, Abbi. I won’t.”

Layers

Abiorn awoke sitting up with the screams of his sister-in-law ringing in his ears. The corners of the floor tiles that arrived by Dwarven wagon poked into his back as he stared up at the late July sun.

It sat high as it neared its zeniSun in Homesteadsth; he touched the bridge of his nose and felt the heat. He would peel again if he didn’t put something on it. He would probably peel anyway. The journey from Dale to Bree exposed him to more elements than he had faced in the fifteen years he spent in Dale. He shed layers of his face and neck twice. Eruviel found plants along the banks of the Anduin that eased the itch and once they settled down in Bree, a healer named Cwendlwyn visited and gave him an entire shelf of pots and bottles. The round one to ease the ache, the green muck helps with the itching. The vial of blue to ease the pain. Anya painted labels on them to make sure he kept them straight.

He rubbed his eyes and pushed himself away from the stack of tile. His fishing pole lay beneath his legs and he picked it up to find the line snapped. There goes dinner, he thought dryly. Perhaps he would venture into the small market today and buy some food for a decent meal. Anya was home sporadically and she was the cook of the family. Even Eirikr could cook the meat he brought home, but Abiorn’s involvement in meals back home involved consuming them, not preparing them.

Gazing into the tranquil water of Ruby Lake, he thought of his brother. Eirikr had never been gone for more than two or three days. He would bring game and Anya would work in the garden the healer, Cwen, planted when she stayed with them for a few days. Cwen made Abiorn laugh when her wry comments made Anya blush or flee to make tea. She even made Eirikr smile when he came home, but it never reached his eyes and he never stayed. He missed the sound of their voices, especially in the evening. Now, with the sun and the lapping waves, it wasn’t too bad. But in the evening, Eirikr’s absence stretched between the remaining siblings like a chasm neither wished to leap across. It separated them; he knew Anya wanted to know more about their journey from Dale than he was willing to tell her. It wasn’t his pain to share, though, and what he told her only scratched the surface: Ninim died in childbirth beneath the dark canopy of the Mirkwood. A woodsman found them and his family volunteered to take in the baby. And with each passing mile, he knew he was leaving his brother behind in the dark forest with his dead wife.

Abiorn rubbed his chin and rounded the corner of the house. His sister was coming down the lane, smiling and humming to herself.

“Anyatka! Where were you?” Abiorn rushed forward to greet her.

She ducked the wayward point of his fishing pole and hugged him carefully. “I was visiting a friend. Did you have a good morning?” She tweaked the end of his nose and he winced. “It looks like you need a thick layer of cream, bróðir. Did you not feel yourself starting to burn?”

His hand shot up to rub his nose. “No. I fell asleep by the lake. What about you, sis? You’re all…soft looking.” He winkles his nose. “And you smell like roses.”

Blushing, Anya laughed and brushed past him to go into the house. He followed her inside and leaned the pole against the wall. Several fishing flies lay on the table with some loose feathers and line. Anya dropped her bag with a thunk and fingered a bright blue feather. “Has he been home?”

Abiorn dipped his head to hide his disappointment. “No. Those are mine. Eirik gave them to me. I tried to copy this one, see?” He pointed at a mess of brown speckled feathers and line. “Though, I can’t tie it. The feathers keep falling and I can’t hold onto it. It’s too small.”

Anya picked up the unfinished fly. The feather fell away and left the naked hook and nettle-hemp line in her grasp. Abiorn flushed and reached out to take it from her.

“Eirik can help me when he gets back,” he said as he started tucking away the bits and pieces. “I’ll clean this up.”

“He will come back, you know.” Anya stopped him with a gentle hand on his arm. When he looked at her, he saw something changed about her eyes. The pain from her separation from Anricwulf seemed to have dissolved leaving behind a calm, confident woman. Abiorn secretly missed the neurotic and anxious mess she usually was. It provided a nice distraction from the dreams.

“Why do you think he’s been gone so long this time? Doesn’t he get lonely out there?”

Shrugging, Anya began gathering items to make some lunch. “I think he needs it right now, Abbi. He will be all right. He just needs time. Besides, Eruviel went looking for him, and I think he has a certain fondness for her. He will listen and he will return. When he’s ready.”

“The tiles for the floor came. He’s supposed to teach me how to lay them.”

Anya’s brow arched over her grey eye. For only a moment, Abiorn swore they turned blue.

“Since when does Eirikr know how to lay tile floors?”

He shrugged. “He built his house in Esgaroth.”

“I guess so.”

Abiorn watched her begin to cut thin slices of cheese. “Can I help?”

She looked at him without raising her head. “All right.”

She stepped back and he took her place at the cutting board. With a look of intense concentration, he cut a jagged slice. His second slice was not much better, but Anya smiled and patted his shoulder. “Try pushing down, not carving. It’s not a chicken, you know.”

“It’s just going to be all chewed up anyway, right?” he grunted as he cut a third piece. “How much of this do you want?”

“As much as you are willing to slice, my brother. You never know, he might come home and be starving.”