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.”

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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.

 

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.

Dalish Charm: Wilted

The Wind has many moods.

A gentle kiss and a playful flip of hair. A cooling splash or a scalding blast. There was a time when Anya never thought much of the wind except for the weather it would bring on its back. That was all it would ever tell her: bring a heavy cloak to the market; it was going to rain tomorrow morning; the day was going to burn without mercy.

Yet, the wind always possessed insight should a man wish to listen. Its voice only falls to a whisper and too often the noise of living would drown it out.  A grumbling stomach, a ripping tear in a sleeve, a beat of a heart. It took practice and focus to hear the voices through the cacophony of contentment and Anya never paid the tugs on her thoughts much mind when she was too afraid or too happy.

But now.

Now that she was safe from those that would hurt her, now that she was feed and clothed, now that she was surrounded by those that loved her and shielded her from harm–

Now that she had the time to listen to the silence of his absence, she found there was no such thing as silence and the voices wanted to be heard.

ScreenShot00470She tried. She tried so hard to be just fine without him, and when she sat and talked with Eruviel or discussed the future with Anders, it was easier. She did not have to think about what she missed about his wispy hair or clever banter. It was easier to forget he would not appear behind her whenever she most needed him. It was easier to avoid the knowledge that he would never smile at her again. That is why she forced herself to visit the Prancing Pony, even if she never spoke to anyone. That is why she still went to the market and parties and got out of bed each morning.

But, as the voices told her, life did not really change. Man sprouted, grew, blossomed, wilted, and died. And when they died, they never came back.

He was never coming back. Not in her lifetime.

She would never love anyone the way she loved him and was loved by him and she would never have such a purpose again–the purpose that he lived because she loved.

It was petty and selfish to think that he lived because of her, and she knew he had others (needed others) and that without her, his life would not have been truly that different. People move on and find others to love and they grow again in the light. And she was trying to stretch out her branches and wrap herself around those who loved her, because without their support, surely bits of her would break off in swirling emotions around her and the voices would keep her from finding her true thoughts again.

Gone.

Lost.

Death.

Alone.

Dying.

Stay strong, people said. Keep living, people encouraged. Move on, people advised.

Then some: It’s okay to be not fine.

She could not be both, yet she was: healthy leaf and branches disguising roots rotting in the soil of his memory. She needed a healthier environment or a stronger fertilizer now that his love was gone. It would be easier to transplant again. The garden of a healer’s son was ideal.

But her roots had grown deep and as the people and the wind and its voices tried to dislodge her from the dirt of Morducai Mossfoot’s grave, they refused to let go. The more she tried, the deeper they burrowed until they began to break and each tendril she stretched out to seek the light of the surviving’s sun began to wilt from lack of nourishment.

For as much as he survived off of her love, she survived on his.

66747aThe voices on the Wind knew she was weak. The gentle nature spirits she first learned to listen to gave way to harsher voices as she trained to enrich her powers. Each brittle leaf of her they sloughed away only weakened her more. She knew she could not keep going like that, keep digging in deeper, but what if she needed more love’s life than Anders could give and she ended up drinking too much, killing them both?

There were things Anders did not understand and could not understand no matter how much he wanted to do so. Morty left too large a wound, had taken too much away. And though Anders could fill the wound of Morty’s absence, it would never be right if she stayed where she was rooted in the dirt where everything else was dying. Her Dalish Charms were testament to how alone she was in that garden, were they not?

And they stayed rooted in their plot on the side of their house. Hardy and resilient, they were. Storms beat them, the lake winds pushed and pulled at their branches and broke them bit by bit. Their delicate petals ripped and bruised in the onslaught. And after every storm, they dropped broken blossoms to grow new ones again because of their strong foundation in the earth, in her love and his love, too.

She tried to drop the broken ones. She tried to grow anew. But it is hard to restore life to petals that have already wilted.

Moving Forward

She could not help but grin. The boards beneath her feet were sturdy and polished. No sign of the scuffle remained. No drop of the scurvy traitor’s blood marred the smooth pine of the deck. The crew that defended him were imprisoned with him in a damp Gondorian cell and replaced (only with some difficulty). For now, the cargo hold was filled will crates of jarred fish the merchant needed shipping and she would serve.

But ultimately, nothing mattered more than the feel of the briny wind on her cheeks and the snap of the sail. The wheel felt comfortable in her hand and she was home again sailing along the coast beneath the golden sun.

~~~***~~~

“Well, it was not very thoughtful. You didn’t think, did you?”

“He insisted on accompanying me. He has lived in Bree all his life; I would have thought he knew what it was like.”

“Little whelp, most people do not go out cavorting with corpses and talking to spirits. The Bree-landers I’ve encountered are bloody terrified of the place.”

“Well, he does not want me to go anymore.”

“…Really, now? I don’t blame him. Surely he just wishes for you to remain in a much safer place than those ghastly tombs.”

“Well, that is what he said. He just cannot imagine what he would do if something happened to me.”

“That is an appropriate response to the place, I think. You are going to listen to him, aren’t you? Stay out of the Barrows? Anya?”

“I, well, I told him I would go visit him less.”

“Hmph. Well, that is a start. You need to keep looking forward, Anya. There is a lot of life to live. I think the grave-digger would want you to always remember that.”

~~~***~~~

Four weeks ago

She told him that she would stay at the house, but she couldn’t stay while he packed the things that he would take to his parents’ manor. She had fled out the window; she probably should have just taken the stairs, but she did not want to feel the dark emptiness of the streets at this time of night. She did not want to feel the emptiness inside of her festering as if each man that came to her took something of her with him when he left her lying there alone.

She wasn’t sure she’d go back to the house even when Pengail had left. He had bought it with his family’s money for their future together. Now what was left there but a cold hearth and a shrinking puddle from the rain.

Rooftops were never really empty. The heat of the living rose to warm the tiles and stone. Her footing was certain and light as she made her way to her cliff overlooking the docks. There she would go to think and dream and fall in love with Dol Amroth all over again.

She loved her city despite everything it asked of her, but how could she reconcile this? It turned on her, twisted her, and now he only saw her as a whore.

Mormerili. Black Rose. Courtesan assassin. Influential and devastatingly effective.

She broke her vow to the order when she married him because of what he gave her: love. A place to belong and a family.

She broke her vow to him because of what the order gave her: power. Power to stand up against the corruption and the darkness that spread through the city with every dawn.

And in the end, she was left alone in the shadowy night in a place where Hathlafel or Hallem would find her if she never moved again. But her husband probably never would.

If he ever looked for her again.

Emergence

Most Men find the air beneath the Mountain stifling at best. It hangs upon you like a damp cloth and if you breathe too deeply, it is easy to forget that eventually you have to breathe out again; your lungs will never be full.

The rush that lifts you when you finally see the stars again is weighty and light at the same time. The air fills your head all at once and your shoulders relax as if the weight of the dark is finally lifted, but then the great expanse of sky floats there to remind you that all the troubles you forgot in the long dark are still waiting patiently for you.

We grow nearer every day. The river separates us from the trees and then we will arrive at their house and there can be no turning back from that moment. I can only move forward from here.

So I put one foot in front of the next. I follow her shadow on the ground before us. The sun will set on another day and we will wait for its light to lead us come morning.

~~~***~~~

There is nothing wrong with me. So I cannot hear the spirits as easily any more. So?

I am happy and I am choosing to be happy and I will not let things get me down. I will visit him this Thursday, I think. My dagger will protect me from any wights. Sadron will be glad to have someone to talk to.

He is not gone. He is only sleeping.

I will take care of him still.

~~~***~~~

I am used to being alone. How could I have expected anything different here in Bree? It was too much for him and far too fast. I should have known better than to hope things would be easy.

Regardless, I will not let this set me back. I am strong and I am intelligent. I can find a way to make a life for myself here.

I don’t need anyone. Only myself.

Good morning, Bree. Here I come. What have you to offer me?

~~~***~~~

It was only a kiss.

And a manifest.

And a card or two.

Men aren’t worth the time, really.

Neither are women.

It was only a kiss.

Nothing’ll come of it.

It’s just news.

And a ship.

My ship.

Just a kiss.

News

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

Life was good.

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

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

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

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

~~~***~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~***~~~

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

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

And then Atrian smiled at her.

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

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

~~~***~~~

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

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

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

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

“T…Tor…”

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

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

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

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

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

The Gentle Touch

With the exception of Neilia, I have never thought much about those I love dying. Men die, or they leave, and either way there is always loss for those that remain. My Hobbit friends have passed gracefully (for the most part) due to old age. And Elves…their spirits never die, I’ve heard. They pass on to Mandos’ halls and find their place among their people.

War changes dying. It is brutal and unnatural and it rents one’s spirit into pieces. No healer alone can mend the wounds war brings down upon the land.

I am Neilia’s mother and it is my job to protect her with every fiber of my being. I tell myself that by coming here, to Dol Amroth, I am protecting her by shoring up the war front and making Gondor stronger.

Gondor must hold. Dol Amroth must hold.ScreenShot00474

It is remarkable how a city so known for its disciplined army is so full of undisciplined citizens. The infighting and treachery and treason make it nearly impossible to know who to trust. Oendir always said he did not like the Knight-Captain Aureldir and now he’s played a role in the death of Rivalthor and the other knights recently slain in cowardly assassinations. And while the others had pegged Rivalthor as the villain, he release of his fiancee had made me take a step back.

Unfortunately, it was too late.

Why didn’t I say anything more? A note on a document that I feel half the company does not even bother to read. It was not enough. Did my own dislike for the man allow my tongue to stay silent? Did I truly believe Rivalthor was sending us into a trap? Or was it simply because they do not listen, and I grow weary of the looks that do not hide that they think I’m crazy?

I digress. I often digress recently, though rarely aloud. Oendir is beginning to learn when my mind is going though outwardly I am silent. He remembers to ask when he comes out of his own worries and notices mine. I do not hold it against him that he dwells so often in his own thoughts. He is not used to having another around to consult after Gisla left him, and it will take time for him to remember I am always here.

I try to lessen his burden. He is a good man and he deserves some peace from the constant anxiety that plagues him. He doubts himself too much, but it is the company that should be doubted. Each of them has their own agendas and views on the way things should be. Many of them are willing to do whatever it takes to see them through, all in the cause of the greater good. Funny, isn’t it? We sound so much like the city I despise.

So at the end of the day, I will tell Oendir that he is strong and I will rub his aching foot and I will love him until the end of time.

I will always be at his side, whether I am a Wayfarer or not.

~~~***~~~

I was not sure what to expect on my wedding night. Gaelyn spent more time with me alone than any other man before. I never felt judged or pressured or threatened in his presence. There is an ease about him that I cannot help but be drawn to. He did not pressure me or make demands of my body. I told him things no one else knows. Embarrassing things! He only laughed and smiled and asked me more about myself as though he was actually interested in me and not my family’s money or the scandal or my shame. Is this what is like to be a person again?

Gaelyn is an admirable man. He seems to understand the politics and the thoughts of the city without being drawn into them directly. Perhaps it is his charming smile or the way he grins when he says something he knows is witty. He smiles as though he is so very pleased with himself, but not in that pretentious or off-putting manner. It is more the smile like he knows that you know that it is all a game and it would be easier if everyone just came clean, but he doesn’t mind if they keep playing because he wants to keep playing.

It is a game to him, the ways of Dol Amroth. He does not take things lightly here, nor does he let them become a burden. That balance is refreshing. It cleanses my heart and gives me hope for a future.

A future with Gaelyn Fletcher.

I am now Halvel Fletcher.

No “Lady,” no house. No more shame for blood that I cannot change. No servants or handmaidens. Remlors are fish merchants. What are Fletchers? It remains to be seen.

I want this marriage to work, don’t I? I had tried not to think about it, because Gaelyn was always clear that he would support whatever decisions I made after leaving the city. I did not have to worry about that until we were safely away. But now that I am married and am here with him, I want it to work. I want to wake next to him and see the true wreck that is his hair in the morning. I want to gaze into those green eyes and feel like I am held as an equal. I want to feel his hand in mine and on my skin.

I was afraid of a man’s hands before, but not anymore.

~~~***~~~

I made Abiorn go camping with me. He was incredulous and suspicious, but once I convinced him that I really wanted to go, he started packing right away. He started going on and on about the woods around Durrow and how he was going to show me a lot of neat places, but I did not want to stay near the southern Bree-fields. I wanted to go north, past Bree, past the graveyard. I wanted to go to Starmere Lake.

It had been months and months since I had been there last. Probably closer to over a year. Anric took me there once and we swam all day long in the crystal clear lake. We yelled and laughed when our voices echoed off the surrounding cliffs. He was different there. At ease with himself. And it had been beautiful.

I wrote to Anders to let him know I would be gone for a few days. Though we left a note for Eirikr and Eruviel, I did not think that we would be gone long enough to need it. I just wanted to see that place again.

I thought about writing to Morty, but decided that writing him would not be appropriate. And I didn’t want to write him. I felt like he did not deserve to know, but then all the way up to the lake, I worried about how he would fret if he went and found the house abandoned. I always worry about what he feels.

Starmere LakeIt was beautiful still. A little bowl of solitude and freedom nestled into the Brandy Hills. Abiorn and I set up camp and swam the first day, but the second day, I let him swim out to the islands by himself while I set up my easel and stirred my paints. All around me, I could hear the nature spirits on the wind come to investigate the bear-man and his sister. They stayed near all day, whispering and dancing around me as I worked.

When Abiorn returned, he found me angrily stabbing at the canvas with my paintbrush. Tears flowed down my cheeks, but I did not know it at the time.

Abiorn came to me and put his hand over my own. He urged me to put down the brush and then pulled me into a giant bear hug.

What is it, Anyatka? he had asked in his simple and straightforward manner. How can I help? Do I need to bite someone’s hand off?

It was absurd and I laughed, but still I cried. I did not know what made me ache until the pain turned to anger. I was not an angry person; I did not recognize the emotion even as it made me ruin the bristles of my favorite brush. So Abiorn just hugged me and the light faded as the sun dipped behind the cliffs and I tried to figure out why I was so sad I could hardly even paint.

Eventually, I calmed down enough for Abiorn to release me and cook some fish he caught for dinner. As the smoke rose from the pale slabs of delicate flesh, I realized what it was.

I was angry with Morty.

I was angry with Morty for lying and using me and making me fall so desperately in love with him that still I longed for his smile. I was angry with Morty for liking Anders and approving of the new match like it was easy to get over me because I was just another girl. I was angry with Morty for having a child with Ansithe and never being able to entertain the thought of having a child with me, like I was not good enough to bear his line. And I am angry with Morty that he does not deserve me, he never did deserve me, and he does not want to do anything to try to deserve me.

I know that many of these things were out of my hands over a thousand years ago. It is not my fault that he is what he is and I am what I am and I tell myself I should be honored to have his attention for the short time that I did. That if he did pledge his heart to me for this lifetime, he would suffer the pain of my death and that is not fair of me to ask him to do. But life isn’t fair! If we were given this time to be together again, why should we waste it apart?

The sun had long gone to bed when I was able to look at my painting again. The palate was dark; I did not realize I had chosen to capture such a beautiful day in such somber tones. I raised my hand, anger that even in my art he was present giving my virgin powers strength: a gust of wind rose to knock the easel to its side and it caught the canvas like a sail. It flew into the darkness and just under Abiorn’s shout of surprise, I heard the splash.

Tomorrow, I said to him. Tomorrow, we are going to go foraging. I need new paints. 

Nodding in shock, Abiorn stared at me, but I did not mind. I would come to understand this new feeling, this gift that Morty gave me. I would master it, this Anger. And I will be stronger for it.

The sun will rise tomorrow, and I welcome its heat.

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?

Dalish Charm: The Descent

It would happen when she was alone and the silence became too heavy for her to bear. Her legs would start to tremble and her ankles weakened with her knees and finally she’d fall to her hands and knees and the tears would burn her eyes and cheeks as they spilled. Her forehead would press against the cold stones that made up the floor, or the prickly grass, or the marshy land where it met the sloshing water of the Little Staddlemere and her sobs would wrack her body with such force, she ached for hours afterward.

Oh, how she missed him. And she hated herself for missing him so much that it hurt. It hurt deep in her chest, so deep that she did not even think it was her heart that ached. Her very core poured itself into her tears and she knew that she would never really get over Morducai Mossfoot. No matter what she said, or who she loved next, she would always cry when the silence reminded her how she was the first one he ever left behind by choice.

Eventually she would fall silent herself, and the sounds that had been drowned out in her pain would return. Birds singing. The wind tickling the leaves. She would pick herself up and smooth out her robes and splash water on her face and go about whatever it was that had been interrupted.

She began to fear the silence, so she started spending more time in Bree. That meant smiling when she felt like screaming and small talk when she felt each flippant statement about the weather mocked her very existence.

“Boo hoo that you are hurting,” they said. “You are a fool to think a prince would ever need you for more than a mistress. You are a fool to think he would ever choose you.”

The voices became louder each day. More insistent. She mustn’t believe them, she argued back. She was loved. Things change. They only knew lies.

Even when she was with Oleander Hawthorn, they whispered their lies. He, too, would leave her one day. He, too, would tire of her clumsiness and lack of clever things to say. He only loved being in love; he did not love her.

She cried.

The voices were getting louder.

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

Dalish Charm: Try So Hard

The streets of Durrow were quiet of people; only dogs barked and crickets sang in the fields as they passed through town. Anya did not say much as Callumn vigilantly walked beside her. His hand extended toward her slightly as if expecting her to fall at any moment. On her other side, Oli trotted along silently. The lynx pressed his flank against her occasionally and she drew strength from the animal’s presence and loyalty.

She should be falling. She should be unconscious, famished from the vigil she kept over Morducai’s heart. Over Melchior’s heart. Over his heart.

The two figures in the dark turned from Long Street onto Chestnut and in short time they stood at the path leading to the Tenorbekk cabin. Hunger and thirst ate at the little energy she had left, but she waved Callumn aside with a thank you and a reassurance she could make it inside. She felt his gentle eyes on her back and, steeling herself, she made it down the path on her own, lifted the latch, and stepped inside to the chorus of loud barks.

Shocked stares greeted her with the more jubilant greetings from the pups. Oli did not follow her inside; he slipped away easily fading into the shadows cast by the light of the fire.

Abiorn was the first to speak. His playful admonishing for not taking him along on her adventure let Anya breathe a little easier. Her younger brother helped her to the couch and then started tea and fetched her some blueberries and honey.

Bear leaped onto the cushion beside her and tried to push his way onto her lap while Vahan sang his greeting at her feet. Eirikr spoke to calm them both, and soon the dogs both rested at her feet panting out their excitement as Anya tasted the sweetness of the fruit Abiorn brought her.

Neither brother asked questions, and she was grateful for it. She knew they would come, but when Abiorn started dragging out the tub they used for baths, she knew they understood. Both brothers went to check on Eruviel’s new home to give her the privacy she needed to wash away the Barrow Downs and its stench.

The water was too hot, but Anya stepped into it anyway. The flush of her skin made it seem like the blood was not hesitant to flow through her sore limbs and as she washed herself, she pictured the hours she sat in the ancient tombs as though she was watching someone else. Occasionally someone would come with drink and she sipped automatically from their hand like a babe, but never did her attention waver from the Star of Cardolan in her palms. Morty’s life was in her hands and she would not fail him.

She must have drifted to sleep because soon she was no longer in Durrow-upon-Dunwash, but in a large and lush garden in the backyard of a tall home in Dale. The judge’s son was there with daisies in his hand and a winsome smile on his lips and he leaned in for a stolen, secret kiss, but his eyes lightened as he moved in and their brown became blue and Aeron was breathing his wife’s name as he kissed her and she felt the heat in her palms as the fear of loss grew in the pit of her stomach and before she knew what was happening next, Morty was leaning over her and she was in the Keep of Tinnudir and he was stroking her hair.

When she awoke in her bed some time later, she tried not to feel embarrassed that one of them must have put her there. The night gown’s ties were open at the throat, but she was well covered and a mass of fur and flesh with two sets of feline ears made her legs hot. Sitting up, she looked out her window and saw stars still shining.

Quickly, she donned her robes and brushed out her hair. Her sleep, though it had been short, had refreshed her enough to recall no one had been tending his garden in the past three days and the roses needed tending to. She did not know when he would be back or if he would be back. She would tend to them. She would not let them die.ScreenShot00466

Her surprise when she saw a light glowing in Morty’s window struck her paralyzed for several moments. Cautiously, she went up to the door and slipped inside.

He was there. He was alive. Hallem and Raenarcam stood glowering, and Morty assured her Cal and Miss Lark were probably off safely home. The real exhaustion hit her then; once the silent worry was assuaged, the fear of losing him forever vanquished, all she felt was the need to sleep. He led her to his bed where she fell asleep.

She only woke once before morning when out of frustration he punched the wall. Her sleep was dreamless and peaceful in his familiar bed and she only regretted the morning because he was not there beside her.

Burrowing deeper into the warmth of bed, she smiled into the pillow just happy to be alive and to know he was alive as well. Soon her body demanded something more substantial than jerky or honey-covered berries, and she forced herself up.

Looking around, Anya realized quickly that she did not know her place there any more. There were no perishables in the house after his long absence; she would have to leave to breakfast and she was not quite sure she was ready to walk out of Morducai Mossfoot’s door for good. Waiting for him to return to force them both into their awkward corners again. No, it was time for her to step out of the shadows and make the choice for herself.

With a piece of charcoal, she wrote on a several pieces of parchment torn from her sketchbook:

Dear Morty,

I do not know where to go from here. I awake to a pale beam of sunlight and the smell of roses and I face a new day both with and without you. 

I had tried so hard to do as you wished. I did not know how. You picked me up, nourished my roots, and allowed me to blossom beneath your loving attention. Without you, I feared I would begin to fade away again and have only a shadowy imitation of life. After all, how could anyone notice me, the second child that was not a boy, but only a bigger disappointment with every move that she made?

Sadron said that he would not be surprised if I was a reoccurrence or recurrence or something like that. We had reached the barrow and I did not think to ask what he meant, but we had been speaking of the Dunedain woman who held your heart when you forged Steve. If I am interpreting his words correctly, I believe I was meant to find you, Morty, and you did need me as much as I needed you. I will always be here to hold your heart until the end of all things. 

What to do with my heart, then? My fea recognizes your fea and neither of us can do anything to stop that loyalty of spirit to spirit. But I understand what you want for me and why you pushed me away before. My heart is still mine to give. I do not take it back from you, but I will change its essence if that it what you need from me now. Through your love, my own has grown and while you keep the first bush, I will give a cutting to another at your behest and his love will help me take root elsewhere and continue to grow. For him, I put away my sadness and began to feel the warmth again.

I will be hard to see you and not embrace you. To pretend that I do not long to be with you, for I know that I will wish it for a long time after I leave this house. But I will try and I hope that long after I am gone and you and Sadron still stand guard over these lands, you will remember me. And perhaps one day, I will be able to hold your heart again should you ever need someone to do so.

Always with love,

Your Anyatka

She folded the parchment in half and rested it against the pillow. She looked around the small, tiny room, and crossed to the mantle where several trinkets still rested in the gathering dust of time. She picked up the small burgundy rose made of sea glass Morty’s brother had given her upon their first meeting and gently blew the dust away before polishing it with the hem of her robes. Beside it she placed the small silver bell her brother gave her when she was just fourteen and faced a world without his protection, and then she stepped back. She took a deep breath.

It was time to go.

The morning sun warmed Anya’s face as she wound her way through the gravestones and out to the Greenway and then south, back to Bree.

Flee, day. Give me night.

Dalish Charm: Twilight Garden

There was darkness and there was light. She did not know where one began and the other began. They merged into a shade of pink on the horizon and she felt him all around her.

Garden his garden

She felt him through the soil both cool and warm
giving life and feeding the roots of the roses all around

Give life
he gives life
gives life
take

Don’t take from me any more
I offer freely what you wish for
I give freely what you wish for
i need you in my soul

there in the space between light and dark
I will be waiting like a dream
reaching blossombloom blossom breach
my mind yearns for your breath
my body aches for your thought
bring me peace and bring me rest

i will rest beside you when the sun shines no more

red rose ruby rose blackened rose of burgundy

in the mornings you cry
because the night has slipped away
and he no longer moves through your bushes

bring me jocund night
and send it splashing through the rain of tears
that day brings

I seek the dark
I need the dark
give me only the dark and I will fly