Useless

Two days ago

She did not know that version of Hallem Kemp. Angry. Hateful. Demeaning.

Hallem had always been brutally honest with her, but she could not remember when he was down right mean to her. As she hurried through the darkening streets of Bree clutching the book she borrowed from the Archives to her chest, she swallowed back her tears and ducked her head. Several people called out greetings or warnings of the approaching night, but she did not respond to any of them.

She was not afraid of the night.

What she was afraid of was was being nothing. Forgotten and alone because she was of no use to anybody. She was afraid of being left behind while those around her went off to do brave and noble things to save the world from the Shadow. She was afraid that she was unlovable and that he had only used her as a means to his end and that none of it was real.

That was why she went to Atanamir and begged him to help her change into something worthwhile and valuable. Something strong and powerful. Something coveted beyond time and space so much so that nothing could stop her from protecting her loved ones and finally being able to do something to prove she was worthy. When he said that there was a possibility he could combine her with Faethril and give her control…but in the end she was relieved he had come up with an alternative, even though it would take time. More time than she had, she knew. But it was possible.

Anything was possible.

She did not look at the man who took the book back with a pleasant, unobtrusive smile and a thank you. She nodded and murmured something of a thanks of her own and fled from the building with the intent of fleeing Bree. The walls were suddenly too confining, too stuffy. She needed space and the soothing lap of water against the banks of the Little Staddlemere.

When she reached her willow tree, she plunged through the draping branches and leaned heavily against its trunk. Slowly, she slid down to the smooth dirt below and let the tears flow.

She cried until she was out of tears and her face lay buried in her knees as her breathing slowed. She sat there for a long time just listening to her own breathing. In and out. Slowly in and out. Each breath filled her body like a river filled a waterskin. She felt heavy and weightless at the same time; it was if she were pulling away from her body and floating among the singing branches.

Anya sighed and suddenly she felt the presence around her and like the whispers of a thousand oathbreakers, she heard something not with her ears, but with her heart.

She opened her eyes slowly, but there was nothing there except the wind. She reached out to touch the air and welcome it to her and thank it for the breath of life when he had none and suddenly she understood. In her exhaustion, she found it.

Excited, she sat up quickly and just as fast, her revelation slipped away from her grasp. She did not feel it anymore, but she knew that she could. She knew that it wanted to be known. It wanted to be heard.

She sat cross-legged and straight up. It was easier to breathe when she was not slumped over. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She listened. She breathed. She waited.

It was all that she could do.

Yesterday

The hours she spent lying beneath the graveyard roses before Hallem appeared had left Anya both sore and numb. The rain had stopped eventually, but it would take some scrubbing to get her robes clean. Some part of her scolded the choice to remain lying in the mud, but the ground beneath the beautiful white roses was not as damp as the paths between the bushes and all she could really feel was loss.

The loss of his smile. His cool touch. His gentle, encouraging words.

That is what she missed most. He gave her strength to believe in her drawing by his easy, embracing words. She opened up and bloomed from a tightly wound, fearful bud into the artist and young woman she was today. He did not fear being himself and by following his lead, she no longer did, too.

But just who was he?

She looked up at the sky. The clear sunlight seemed purest after the brief spring rain. She did not agree with Raen; she clung to the idea that the man never fully died and that somehow two became one in his flesh and bones. She felt that duality in him when his eye flashed at her. She knew what it was like to share bodies with consciousnesses that were not your own.

But she did agree with one thing the Elf had said: whether it was the last Prince of Cardolan or Morty Mossfoot that she loved, she loved him. Them. The warmth and the mystery. The gentle and the intense. The life and the death.

That was the only useful bit that she could contribute, really. Her love fed by his love which shone through in her rose bush. Her Dalish Charm planted in the middle of all the others, heavy with blossoms and growing still. Reaching. Reaching for the sun and the moon.

For the light in the darkness.

~~~***~~~

“The commander intends to come here? Just for this boy?”

“He’s not a boy, Eirikr. He has seen two decades pass.”

“Twenty? He is twenty?”

“Perhaps a bit older. Oendir looks at him as a son, though he is…you know, I do not know quite how old his is.”

“And what people say…”

“People say a lot of things, Eirikr. What was that I heard just the other day at the Cask? You and…?”

“Cwen. You know I am not speaking of only the rumour. That village sprouts rumours all the time. Yours has truth behind it, though. You do not keep it a secret when you walk through town holding his hand.”

“We just wanted him to come home, Eirikr. He is not going to return with us; I do not blame him at all, truth be told. The world of Men has not been kind to Rheb. But he misses Oen and my letter said as much to the commander. Oen will come.”

“But to what end? You have done your duty by ensuring the fellow is safe and happy. I don’t see why we have to be here when the commander gets here. Anya’s-”

“Eirikr, please. Do go home. This place is…wretched. I appreciate your accompanying me here, but truthfully, I do not need your protection. No orc will cross me here as long as I wear Rheb’s bracelet.”

“You seem so confident in that thing. What if Rheb turns against you and the orc-men use it to track you down. You wouldn’t even know it until you had the sword in your back, Cwen.”

“Rheb is savage like the orcs to a certain extent, yes. He killed two wargs in Durrow single-handedly. He has skills he hides from all of us because we would fear him more than we do now. He knows he is a monster in Durrow. Here he can be free to be who he truly is. I envy him that. And should he choose to turn against me…I am in his land now.”

“…You really  understand him, don’t you?”

“As much as I can. And I want to understand more. I do love him, Eirikr.”

“And the commander?”

“I love him as well. I will always love them both and I am blessed that they love me.”

“You do not believe that a Man should be with one Woman and vice versa?”

“I believe love is never simple and also it is the simplest thing. Sometimes it works that way: one-to-one. Sometimes it does not. But it should never be looked upon with scorn. It is too precious in these times to waste. It is too precious in any time to waste.”

“You sound like a philosopher at university. An old man caught up in books and artifacts too much and does not remember what it is like outside the walls of his office.”

“You think I am like that?”

“No. You live outside your head. But your ramblings remind me of them.”

“Maybe now when they are old, they choose to live inside their walls because it makes them feel more at home. Safer from the dangers of hatred and malice. Durrow was a safe place to you and to me. But not for Rheb. He had no place there. Here he has men that love him and obey. Here he is someone and not something. He has use for man and orc.  Anlaf said fur traders told him about their camp. Perhaps they would be interested in trading with Bree. I could be Durrow’s envoy.”

“That would allow you to see Rheb and Oen separately. Both in their own worlds.”

“Yes, that is ideal isn’t it?”

“That look. Cwen, what is it?”

“I am waiting for knife in the back. It is too perfect, isn’t it?”

“I’m not going to stab you. Stare at you incredulously, but not stab you.”

“This does put a different twist on things, doesn’t it? My relationship with both of them would no longer be a burden. It would have its purpose.”

“I doubt the villagers would take kindly to the knowledge that we are now trading with the same orcs that destroyed the gate.”

“Would they chase me out, do you think? If they knew he had come for me?”

“I would chase you out. But I like you too much. And Abiorn needs you.”

“Is that the closest to affection you give to folks, Eirikr?”

“Sometimes I will pat your shoulder in an approving manner.”

“Oh, shove off, Tenorbekk.”

“Good talk, Cwen.”

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Dalish Charm: Everything and Nothing

Anyatka Tenorbekk found it hard to smile.

As she gazed into the tired looking glass, she studied the turn of her mouth and the tension in her forehead. She was merely twenty-three years old, yet she felt much older and she feared she had begun to look it.

She practiced a smile. It turned into a grimace and she looked more like her elder brother than she cared to admit. Without realizing it, her brows furrowed and her mouth puckered. The worry weighed her cheeks down and they lacked their normal flush of pink. She pinched them to get the colour back into them, but they turned blotchy instead of rosy.

Is that why he hadn’t come to see her yet? Is that why he seemed to forget her?

Perhaps she was just being silly. She had spent weeks without seeing him before. True, that was when they ventured north to rid of her the possessive spirit taking over her mind and body, but even then, he had come. In the end, he had come and he had been there gazing down at her when she awoke from the nightmare.

She pushed the thoughts from her mind and wiped the embarrassing tears forming before they could fall.

He was just busy with the spring. His roses would need tending. And Hallem went off again with the company, so he was working by himself.

She was being silly.

Patting her cheeks, Anya composed herself and rose from her cushioned stool. She grabbed her sketchbook and glided out of her room, through the front door, and over to her own rose bush. She sat down next to it with the book in her lap and she sighed. She opened it to a blank page and then she looked up.

Abiorn stood down by the edge of lake with Eirikr’s fishing pole. Normally she would frown and tell Abiorn to stop messing with his brother’s things, but today it did not seem like the right thing to do. Eirikr was in Rohan with the Wayfarers. So was Miss Cwen and Eruviel. She was the eldest of the family at present and it was her duty alone to keep the house and guide her brother now. She had to make the real choices for the first time in her life and this time, another depended on her.

As she watched her brother cast his line, her hand moved to select a piece of sharpened charcoal. She didn’t have to look; her fingers knew which one she wanted. It was a fresh piece, but she could tell by its weight and size it was the right density for her stroke. Anders had sharpened more than a few of the pieces he had gathered for her, so all she had to do was put the blackness to the page and let her body do the rest of the work.

Shapes and shadows. That’s what she could create. Her brother’s slender shape that was not quite so slender as the months passed by. The shadow of the too-small cabin that reached for him by the edge of the lake. It suddenly seemed too big, like the breadth of her brother’s shoulders as he reeled in a small flash of silver on top of the water.

He clearly needs a haircut.
He clearly needs a haircut.

Her brother was growing up. He’d be sixteen in three days’ time. Before he left for Rohan, Eirikr had approached him and handed him a small package wrapped in brown paper and tied with a string.

“I won’t be here for your birthday. I am sorry to miss another one, Abbi. Abiorn.” The eldest Tenorbekk cleared his throat loudly and nodded to the package. “Open it now, if you would. I’d like to see if you like it.”

The package contained a dagger made in replica of the one Exio had given him in Evendim. A funny look had passed over Abiorn’s face and for a moment, Anya wondered if it was such a good idea to give the boy something that reminded him of the dead man.

“Thank you,” Abiorn had finally said gruffly. He rubbed his nose with the palm of his hand and nodded. “You had this made for me?”

Eirikr nodded.

“You have a pair now. Twin daggers to protect you and Anya from any more orc invasions.”

The boy had nodded and held out a fragile hand to his older brother. It was grasped firmly, and then Eirikr pulled him into a brief and rare hug.

“I’ll be back before you know it,” Anya heard him murmur to Abiorn. “Take care of each other.”

That night, Abiorn tucked the dagger next to the one already nestled in the chest that he kept beneath his bed.

He had been quieter than usual lately.

Durrow was quieter than she had grown used to lately.

She missed them. She missed him.

As she looked up from her sketch, her eyes fell onto a deep burgundy bud just beginning to unfurl. She touched its delicate petals with the very tip of her sooty finger.

She had kept it alive. Through the moves and broken hearts, she had kept it alive and now the rich scent of the open blooms filled her head with spring. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Slowly, she counted to ten.

And then, she opened her eyes.

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.

Analysis of Anyatka’s Playlist

Anyatka’s Playlistanyas eyes

Learning to Fly by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Anya is growing up. Though she’s in her early twenties, she’s been so sheltered that it seems like only now is she learning about the world around her. It’s her bildungsroman and though she started out alone, she landed in Bree and luckily, there she found people who are teaching her how to fly.

Garden by Noe Venable

This is Anya’s main Morty song. She knows that she only gets stolen moments and that there are hidden secrets between them. But when she’s with him, it is all she needs. Every verse echoes their relationship to me.

Death is rattling the cage/Like a bird that would escape/But there’s no room for thoughts like these/In the garden where we sleep… Come on. It says death.

And I am on a burning ship/Clothes all flying in the wind/But I am beautiful like this/When you hold me in your hands… Something about their love feels like it can only end in a tragic ending, but she feels more beautiful because of that tragedy.

Always searching for those breasts, pumping morphine…Don’t you fly to them, you can fly to me… She’s pleading him to only choose her, though she knows it’s in vain.

I’ll take the moment in my hands/Pull it open ‘til it sings/Before the motion of this place/Where nothing stops to have a name/Will leave us hanging like a tear… Anya savors every moment she has with Morty. She doesn’t know what it is and knows that it will end in tears, but she will live in the moment with him while she can.

Sally’s Song by Amy Lee from Nightmare Revisted

Anya’s pining song for Morty. She is very much Sally in that she’s wiser than some give her credit for, but she lacks the full confidence to fully be heard. Her persistence, like Sally’s, brought her to Jack. I mean Morty.

The Horror of Our Love by Ludo

Ludo is awesome and all my playlists have a Ludo song (except for Zab’s, I think). Just listen to the lyrics. Only, they don’t really like eat each other. Not like that, at least.

I think this song captures Anya’s intensity in her feelings for Morty, though, in all seriousness. She and he are one in her eyes and nothing can end that.

And you bury me in the ocean floor beneath you where they’ll never hear us scream…

Worthy by Ani Difranco

Wow, guess what! Another Morty reference! This was certainly from when they were still doing the cat and mouse chase. Morty’s big line was something to the effect that he’d ruin her and broken and not good enough or something and she was like, SO? Who is, really?

Overlap by Ani Difranco

Another, ahem, Morty song from before they got together.

Mr. Brightside by The Killers

Anya smiles the good smile regarding Morty’s reputation and the fact he’s got others. And she is actually fine with it only because it allows her to be with him as well. But she has her moments when she gets jealous or upset.

Pretty Girl (The Way) by Sugarcult

Anya’s not that good at choosing compatible mates. That aren’t dead.

Asking Too Much by Ani Difranco

I feel like this is pretty self-explanatory and can also be a Cwen song.

Wicked Little Town (Hedwig Version) from the Hedwig and the Angry Inch soundtrack

((Why the hell does she have so many songs?))

You know what, this one would be better for Lina. I’m moving it to hers. So there.

Origin of Love from the Hedwig and the Angry Inch soundtrack

Anya is such a romantic. She truly believes in soulmates and fate bringing two people together and all that shtuff. Faethril and Aeron’s subplot is supposed to support this in her (harhar) and I hope it does so accordingly.

Down Easy by Noe Venable Trio

When she finally took off from Dale, the world was an alternate reality and she often felt like a ghost walking among the folk of Bree. Yet, she started to find her voice and grew into her tragedy.

In addition to this, so often Anya feels let down by people. She’s rather optimistic and believes in the possibility of good in the world, so this can be hard for her.

Calypso by Suzanne Vega

Anric? Morty? Canderas? All of the above?

I think this was first added when she tried to give it a real go with Anric and she chose to let Morty go. She loved Morty so much, but knew she couldn’t keep him, et cetera, et cetera.

That worked out well.

Anticipate by Ani Difranco

When Anya was learning how to get by in the real world, she learned this stuff the hard way. She was incredibly gullible and if she hadn’t run into Morty and Eruviel first thing, who knew what would have happened to her.

‘cause someone you don’t know is someone you don’t know
get a firm grip, girl, before you let go
for every hand extended, another lies in wait
keep your eye on that one

anticipate

Grey by Ani Difranco

The small, dissatisfied part of her feels exactly this way.

you walk through my walls
like a ghost on tv
you penetrate me
and my little pink heart
is on its little brown raft
floating out to sea
and what can i say
but i’m wired this way
and you’re wired to me
and what can i do
but wallow in you
unintentionally
what kind of paradise
am i looking for?
i’ve got everything i want
and still i want more
maybe some tiny shiny key
will wash up on the shore

Don’t You (Forget About Me) by Simple Minds

Anya’s biggest fear is being alone with no one to remember her or love her.

Stay by Lisa Loeb

For a long time, I didn’t know why this was an Anya song. But I think it’s for Anric. She has such complicated feelings for Anric. She truly did love him, but when he left her so she could choose without the pressure of his desires, she felt like she left him because she wasn’t good enough. She felt like the fact she still loved Morty was something wrong with her.

Please by Ludo

This is a plea to Morty to save his best love for her. And she secretly hopes he feels the same way in that he hopes she’ll save her love for him.

Voices in My Head by Stephen Lynch

This is my comic song in reference to Anya’s predicament with Faethril and Aeron taking residence in her brain. She doesn’t need cocaine, though.

Vampire Knight by “Brandon” (English cover of Vampire Knight opening song Futatsu no Kodou to Akai Tsumi, or Two Beating Hearts and a Crimson Sin)

I really enjoy this dude’s cover of Fatatsu no Kodou to Akai Tsumi even though its not the entire song. It fits, though. You can get a different version of the full lyrics here.

When Nightmares Come

Shadows loom in the dark of the mountain.

I am home, am I not? This looks like home. Only Erebor can cast such deep shadows. They swallow our gardens and kill many flowers. They wither and simply fade away.

There. The shadows are creeping up the grass to touch the bright flowers I tried to grow. Papa said it was useless. I am worthless as a gardener; everything I plant only dies. I try to hard to bring them back to life. I want them to grow, to bring butterflies and busy bees.

Eiri says to just plant them in the sun. But Mama says I cannot plant there. That corner is reserved for the gardener and the patio and the guests that wish to feel the magnificence of the Lonely Mountain without feeling so small.

Oh, look! It withers. The petals shrink and the leaves curl and no amount of love will ever bring them back.

I reach for the last bloom: a beautiful burgundy rose that somehow managed to open. The shadow nears. The outer petals start to close and I break the stem quickly in an attempt to sever it from the poison. The thorns draw blood. It drips too quickly and begins to paint the bare dirt beneath my feet. Shadows start to rise from the droplets of blood and as I back away I see the blurred shapes of Men and Dwarves and Elves.

They have come for me.

~*~***~***~*~

Eirikr rubbed a calloused hand through his beard. The nightmare came again. Ninim lying there, the naked, crying child still connected by the cord running from its belly into her. So much blood.

Like in so many of his dreams, suddenly he could not move. He could only watch as the blood rose up around her even as she began to sink. Her features twisted in pain and she called out to him, only no sound reached him from her. He heard only the baby’s crying.

Slowly, the pool climbed up her cheeks and he could feel the tears slide down his own. As the crimson filled her mouth and nose, the infant started wailing.

Do you hear me, Eirikr?
The beast bears our wretched whelp to the woods.

The book. Those words from the book were spoken in his head and the mingled with the screaming. He wanted to run, but still his arms and legs did not respond to his desire.

It was not this nightmare where he read the book. Why couldn’t anyone else see the text written in the book? He remembered it now: the book. Blood. He did not know what it meant and the details wouldn’t find their places in his mind.

A dream within a dream.

He stared at the child as the pool began to drag it forward by its cord. The terror in the child’s newborn face could not be disguised by the wrinkles and crust of birth.

He had to save it.

Him.

Wake up.

~*~***~***~*~

A faint feeling of foreboding stirs the sleep of a half-bred hussy
Beauty of splendor and secretive lies set a stage for the fine-bred and fussy.
She doesn’t fit in and she’ll never quite win
As her dreams fill with damaging mist
A sense of ‘gone wrong’ and a sad howling song
Keep her guilty whenever she’s kissed

Far, far away in a land made of death she dreams of a different touch
One that’s now gone and safe from her harm and thinks he won’t be missed much
But her dreams tell a tale and the winds blow a gale
And the warmth that she feels turns so cold
And when love turns to hate, it will open the gate
For the nightmares to come out of old.

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.

Rain and Snow and Ice

She wouldn’t tell a single person about this part of the trip even though it was the most exciting.

ScreenShot00415
Rush and Lina’s view on a non-rainy afternoon.

There was nothing in Trestlebridge except ash and mud. While Rush tramped about seeking his calling, she spent most days distracting the boys around town with coy smiles and giggles, but many had a hard time seeing through the man’s shirt and breeches she wore. Every night she met Rush by the stables and together they’d trudge up the hill where they made a camp meager in all things save the view; the Trestlespan straddling the canyon was still breathtaking even if the town that shared its name was not.

It had been misting most of the day, but the afternoon saw the skies open with a cold rain that soaked through heavy cloaks and carried the weight of a long winter ahead. Even now, the mud and cold added a special excitement to Rush as he learned how to please and be pleased. They added to the normality that the act had become but it was different this time also because she felt that somehow, she knew. She knew he was inexperienced, and for all his casual certainty in his clothes, there was that hesitant fumbling about him now that he was out of them and it made her smile and enjoy him even more.

No, she wouldn’t tell a single person about this part of the trip.

The ladies at the Mantle would surely gossip about Lina schooling a youngster and then the bosses would catch wind and coin would be expected. And even though he offered to help pay for the time she stole from her work before this bit of entertainment was proposed, she had refused his money. She wasn’t going to take a single coin and she wasn’t going to tell anyone.

Though she did not know why.

As the rain continued to fall and their fire died down, Lina arched over Rush and kissed his mouth. He tasted and smelled of whiskey and pipeweed. Such smells for a seventeen year-old boy.

~~~***~~~

Snow had a way of silencing the land for leagues in all directions that it lay. It’s weight could bring down a roof, yet it fell so calmly from sundropped clouds and settled on Cwen’s shoulders as gently as a lover’s touch. The crystals nested in her dark hair and clung to her lashes causing her to blink at the vision of Fiddler’s Falls half-frozen in its perpetual cascade down the cliff’s side. Even the song of the waterfall seemed dampened beneath the heavy blanket of white.

After the new year, she resolved herself. After the new year, we will return to Buckland and things can return to something normal. Something easy.

She wasn’t running away, she told herself. She had no home here in Durrow and though Ravenhold was welcoming, the gardens were not hers, the beds were his, and the yard was a monument to someone else.

Did she really think she could find a new home here in the land of Men? The house she found with Rheb had been as perfect as any she’d seen in all of the lands of Men: an expansive yard begging to bear fruit and herb and bloom, the Dunwash flowing gracefully past the backyard. But Oendir owned it. Mathdor had lived in it. So many memories that wounded so deeply. In such a small village as Durrow, she knew she could not dodge their shadows forever.

And truth be told, she had unfinished business in Buckland.

B.

The muffled cry of the Falls had no more answers than the Shire night sky.

Without feeling the cold, Cwen sank into the snow and fell back, heedless of winter’s fingers slipping into her collar. As she stared up at the cloudy sky, fluffy flakes began to descend and she made no effort to move as they slowly began to sting the exposed skin of her cheeks and mingled with her icy tears.

~~~***~~~

Snow came cold and fast in the mountains and held on long into spring. A long, black shadow strode through the breezy flakes of ice toward some unseen purpose. It traveled its path as if it hardly needed eyes to find it and soon, it disappeared around a frozen outcropping.

ScreenShot00223The cave was illuminated by a central fire and low torches along the smooth, almost circular wall. Parmanen dropped down to his knee beside the fire and added several dry logs from the large pile stashed there in warmer times. The man sighed as he stoked the flames and wiped his brow. Fire.

A sound at the entrance of the cave caught his attention and he turned quickly, his old eyes tired. A head of beautiful raven black hair ducked to avoid the icicles over the entry and Parmanen sighed again as his daughter entered from the cold. Wordlessly, she stared at him as she assessed his reaction.

Stepping further into the cave, Lômiphel finally spoke.

“Expecting someone else, Father?”

Parmanen shook his head and tossed her the bag he carried over his shoulder.

“There is food in there. Eat. We will not stay in these caves long.”

The woman caught the bag against her chest and glared at the man. “Where are we going? Rantost is north. We can rebuild. Get back what we lost.”

“What we lost is not north, my daughter. But we must proceed carefully. In the land of the halflings, we would stand out. The red-haired one revealed they had made friends there, thinking information was what we sought. No, we must take the Hills further east and then past the old capital of Arthedain.”

“This is madness,” Lômiphel spat. “If you are who you say you are and have betrayed who you claim to have betrayed, this will only end with our own, Father. You cannot stand against the power in the East.”

A scoff and a flip of a hand greeted Lômiphel.

“I mean not to challenge the Dark Lord himself, silly girl. I merely wish to take back what I lost. If in the process, some of his enemies are destroyed, the Great Eye will surely see the profit in my actions.

Yes,” Parmanen said as he covered the wall of the cave in a sheet of ice. From the smooth surface, mountains rose, and forests grew, and then rivers cut across the lands of Eriador.

“They are here, somewhere,” he said as he stared at the map of ice and stone. “They cannot hide it from me.”

Waiting for Change

Anyatka stared into the looking glass hung over the little table Eirikr bought her for getting ready in the morning. Her brush and a fine-toothed comb sat on it as well as a stray auburn hair. She gently pulled it from the teeth of the brush and held it up in front of her face. The image of herself staring at it caught her attention, though almost immediately the effect was lost.

She frowned up at herself and touched the raven black locks that hung around her face. It was a startling change and a constant reminder of what had happened in Evendim. She told her brothers she did not remember much of her captivity with Parmanen, and truthfully, she didn’t, but what she did, she had rather not even whisper aloud. It was cold. It was frightening. But it was never painful. It was just confusing.

Regardless, she did not mind the dark hair. It gave her an element of anonymity that her red hair never had bestowed upon her. People simply were not looking for a black-haired Anyatka Tenorbrook.

No one had commented on the change, really. Perhaps they thought she did it on purpose. It wouldn’t be too hard for a painter to play with the colours until one worked on hair. But black? It was an extreme change and she was not certain she liked it, but she was also not certain she did not like it. What sort of girl took the time to dye her hair black, anyway?

The kind that chose a grave-digger over a jeweler, Anya thought to herself dryly as she grimaced at her reflection.

~~~***~~~

The sound of gulls filled the air as Arameril rushed down the docks toward The Chipper Kipper. She hoped to make the final voyage of the afternoon; certainly becoming a nobleman’s wife would curtail such excursions greatly in the future. Just a few short weeks, she thought.

Autumn was quickly fading into winter and she wondered if she shouldn’t forgo the speedy preparations and allow some breathing room. But a year apart from Pengail’s embrace each day did not sound appealing to her and she wanted a fall wedding, so the only logical choice was the get married and NOW!

She smiled as she passed the dock that served the ferries to the islands lying off the coast of Belfalas.

Her wedding gown was being altered even as she wound her way through the crowded docks. She felt she should write to Lady Golchalad for gifting her the magnificent gown. She wanted to call on her father to reassure him that his inability to pay for such an extravagant expense did nothing to lessen her love for him. But she wasn’t certain if such steps were appropriate, and though Arameril rarely did things ‘appropriately,’ she knew that that had to change.

She rounded the corner and barreled down the long dock to The Chipper Kipper. She greeted Scuppers and a few of the other crewmen before excusing herself from their congratulations and making her way to the rail overlooking the vast expanse of the ocean.

Only from the deck of this ship, she thought as the vessel began to move into open waters, only from this ship will I ever find the freedom of the sea.

Hathlafel did not believe that she understood what she was giving up by marrying so young. Perhaps he thought they only wanted a tumble in bed and were jumping ahead of themselves as they thought with their passions instead of their minds. She was uncertain how to convince her father that she did understand the consequences of marrying Pengail of House Nomin at the age of nineteen.

She knew.

One last voyage or two before the wedding day. Pengail would tolerate a trip on The Chipper Kipper every now and then, but she would not ask him too often. She knew how uncomfortable it made him ever since that first day when he never ventured near the rail and never felt the unbridled spray cleansing his skin as he laughed in the wake of the waves.

Arameril willingly gave up the sea for him.

Oh, yes. She knew what the consequences were.

And still she smiled at the seagulls as they circled the main mast. She greeted the late autumn sun with a hope. She could say goodbye one day to her dreams of sailing on a ship of her own and welcome the dream of Pengail of House Nomin and babies and riding. She would play the lute in the evenings and together they would teach their children how to remain honorable and whole in such a busy place as Dol Amroth. Maybe one day, they would take their family on adventures by traveling across the lands on foot.

Bree was still a possibility.

She thought of her friends there and missed them greatly. For a brief moment, she saw the top of Hallem Kemp’s head as he tucked his chin to stare at the ground after their climb. She felt his hand as they waited for Lady Gwenithel at the exchange that revealed to her that Sir Hathlafel was in fact her father, his expression when she ordered the kill.

Bree was still a possibility, but in a different way. In a different time.

Right now, the waves crashed and the seagulls cried and The Chipper Kipper cut through the surf like a knife through butter and Arameril was content.

~~~***~~~

Eirikr waited until the cabin was empty of his siblings before he climbed out of bed. Anya had tended to his burns with a surprising gentleness, but he was relieved for the quiet that fell when she left to go draw in Staddle. The bandages around his head tickled and itched, though he took it as a good sign that his face no longer felt like it was a raging fire, but more of a dull burn. The pain medicine was finally working.

The journey back from Tinnudir had been agonizing though he tried his best not to show it. Kvígr trod lightly as if he knew his master was in pain, but once he nearly fell out of the saddle, exhausted from the effort it took to keep focused on the road ahead. The others insisted he ride in the waggon to rest and recover and he had little argument as he could barely keep his eyes open. It felt so much better to keep them closed, anyway.

He slipped into Anya’s room and stared at himself in her mirror. He had to stoop to do so and finally he pulled out her little cushioned chair and sat in her place. Carefully, he pulled the bandages aside and grimaced.

It was a burn. A bad burn with blistering and redness and a bit of white around the little dip where the bolt had hit his temple. At least it was no bigger than the tip of my pinky, he thought feeling detached from the face that bore such injuries.

Quickly, however, the fire set in his flesh mounted as he stared at the injury and he felt woozy. It was indeed his face that was marred so. It was his pain that shot through him along every nerve. He had hoped there would be some improvement by now, but he knew it would be a long time until a burn like his healed. He carefully re-wrapped his face. He looked around for the medicine that the healers had given him; the dose Anya had given him before she left clearly was not enough.

He took another and fell gently into bed, moaning.

He wouldn’t show anyone how much pain he was in, not Anya, not Abiorn, not Eruviel.

Never Eruviel.

~~~***~~~

 Cwendlwyn rushed after Hallem as he practically dragged her down the dark tunnel after Maggie and Sahu. She fought back tears as she envisioned Atanamir on his knees with that iron collar around his neck. She knew that somewhere in her memories, her own pain at being controlled, subjugated, and raped amplified her fear for him. From what little she knew of his past, she knew that he was capable and had been through more than she could ever imagine.

But that collar.

She had to admit to herself that she was afraid.

The fear in her lived and grew and had a will of its own. She did not know about Hallem, but she had no magic. No pool of tricks to shoot flame or send tendrils of dark shadows after her enemies. She was just a woman with a sword and a shield and a love of life and things that grew.

How much did she love life? In all her trials, it seemed that only now did she truly understood how much she loved life. The trees, the flowers, the grass beneath her bare feet. Her daughter, her friends. Cooking and healing and growing. That was what she was there for. That was her purpose: to preserve and protect life in any way she could find.

Something changed in her as she ran close next to Hallem. Her fear focused into a point in her chest and instead of choking her, it strengthened her because no matter what happened to her, she knew that life always blossomed after death. The leaves fell to be born anew. The plants died to nourish the next generation. She would fight tooth and nail to protect that which lived, but she found the faith that had evaded her for so long.

Yavanna, even here you are present in the moss on the stones and I would do well to remember that. The cycle continues and I am but a spoke in the wheel. For too long have I wandered in shadow when all the time I have held the light. 

She would fight to free Atanamir and save those dear to her. It was her purpose. It was her calling. And she would do good to remember it and not let the dark tunnels of Moria change her so.

Overdone: The Risen

Heavy boulders and piles of rubble blocked the nondescript door near the submerged docks of Annúminas. A handful of men—dressed in roughspun tunics and leather and armed with daggers and clubs—worked diligently to clear the way to the door.

“Watch that pile!” a man ordered harshly. The pile in question teetered dangerously. A few smaller stones shook loose and fell to the cobblestones. One struck a man on the foot and he let out a disgruntled and pained shout as he hopped away.

“Told you,” muttered the man who had issued the warning. His partner grinned as they stooped together to roll away a particularly large boulder with a series of grunts. It was the last of the major impediments blocking the entrance to the Hidden Vault where Parmanen had disappeared the day before. They had stayed away as ordered; a full day’s time passed before they began excavating the site. Now, the door resisted with a groan as the men pulled it open. The man, who the others called Matt, though none knew his true name, grimaced and muttered about how difficult it was being. Finally, it pulled open.

A stale, heavy smoke poured out into the afternoon sun and the men looked around warily. The last thing they wished to do was alert the patrolling Angmarim of their presence in the city.

Matt squinted and waved a long, slender hand in front of his face to dispell the smoke cloud hanging in the air. Stepping around the remaining rubble, he peered into the long dark tunnel that stretched beneath the city proper. He exchanged a furtive glace with his partner and then said, “C’mon, Gil,” before grabbing a torch and plunging into the darkness.

Gil, along with several other men, followed Matt cautiously as the tunnel steadily rose beneath the city. None save the lead man had ever before ventured into the caves and tunnels. The reward did not keep them out; spells and artifacts and secrets of the fallen kingdom always lured these men. Parmanen alone had kept them from braving the close tunnels. Even the fact that these men alone of dozens stayed by his side after taking the girl did little to sway his mind when it came to the vault. It was far too dangerous, Parmanen had said.

Matt’s sensitive nose, which meant his bedroll was always downwind of the latrine, sniffed the stale air. A fire had burned itself out not too long ago. Old wood and dust. Bracken and mold. No flesh, though, tarnished the smell of the remaining scents of the smouldering flames. Bookshelves were half cinders. Equipment of various types still glowed hotly as they picked their way through the ruins. The heat scorched the delicate skin of their nostrils and most covered their noses and mouths with their tunics.

“Fan out. Look for any sign of him or his enemies.” Matt stepped away from the group and began searching among the remains of the laboratory for any evidence of Parmanen—or his passing.

“What exactly are we lookin’ for?” a man asked. “They ain’t nothing ‘cept smoke and ash left.”

“Any sign that Parmanen lives,” Matt answered gruffly. “His magic is strong; surely a little fire could not end a dark lord such as himself.” He did not like that he did not smell death if only because that left a mystery. Matt greatly preferred no loose ends.

But there was still no scent of burning flesh on the stagnant air. No sense of death, only centuries of knowledge lost. Their torches flickered dully; the thin air vents to the surface slowly replenished the wholesome air in the vault, but breathing was still difficult.

“Matt! Over here!”” Gil’s voice came from the little alcove off the main room.

Hurrying over to the doorway, Matt barked, “What is it?” He felt a chill even as he drew close.

Gil pointed into a corner where his torch barely revealed a figure huddled in on itself. Dark red and black robes dripped steadily into a puddle that body lay in.

“Master Par!” Matt rushed over to the body and turned it over onto its back. Parmanen’s eyes were closed and his face seemed frozen in a peaceful sleep. “What’s wrong with him? Is he breathing?”

Gil lingered in the doorway. “Matt, don’t,” the man whispered hoarsely.

Ignoring him, Matt pried an eye open. It was vacant and partially rolled back into his head. But the body didn’t feel dead. There was a presence in the little room. It surrounded him and urged him to feel the body’s too cold cheek and try to move it’s stiff, no, frozen arm.

The body was thawing steadily.

“What in the…” Matt pulled back in shock at the realization that the body had been frozen as the air had been sucked away.

“Matt, let’s get out of here, there ain’t nothin’…”

Suddenly, Matt felt as though his entire body was being torn in every direction. The scream from his mouth pierced the ears of all who searched the destruction of the vault. His mind protested as something invaded it. Took over his thoughts and his will and his heart…

Gil watched in horror as his friend screamed and threw out his arms. He hovered just like that for what seemed to be an eternity until he collapsed to his hands and knees beside the body of the Black Numenorean. Matt panted for a moment with his head down and his hair brushing the dusty stones.

“M-mate?” Gil asked hesitantly. He did not step toward his fallen friend.

Matt did not need any assistance. Slowly, he raised his head to gaze at Parmanen’s body and then he gracefully climbed to his feet. With a wave of his hand, he gestured to the body.

“Please. We should get out of his gloomy place, don’t you think? Fetch the others. Carry the body out—gently.”

Gil stared at his friend with his mouth gaping. “M-Matt?”

“Matt” turned his head slowly and gave Gil a commanding look that dared the man to question him. “There is a process that must be done quickly if we are to save the body. I could go about in this suit, but I would much rather rejoin with my kin. After nearly fifty years, I have grown rather accustomed to the length of his arm. This man’s arms are much… bulkier.”

Completely bewildered and thoroughly terrified, Gil nodded and called out to the others. Quickly, they picked up the body and carried it down the long tunnel and into the fading sun.

Matt, Delostor, squinted up at the bright orb with a frown. “Into the water,” he ordered. The men lowered the body into the water and Delostor knelt at its edge. “Out.” The men scrambled out of the water as Delostor held Parmanen’s shoulders and closed his eyes to focus. The water around the body froze instantly, trapping the man’s arms up to the elbows.

Delostor began murmuring a spell and the water slowly thawed. Colour returned to the body’s skin and When the ice broke above Parmanen’s face, Delostor raised his mouth and nose above the surface. Shallow breaths stirred the water and suddenly, his arm and legs thrashed wildly.

Matt’s eyes blinked and suddenly he was dropping the body and backing away so quickly he lost his footing and fell to his rear. He watched, eyes wide, as the body floundered in the water before sinking slowly beneath its surface. The murky image floated at the bottom obscured by the mud stirred up by the flailing.

“What happened?” Matt gasped.

Gil opened his mouth to answer, but a huge splash erupted from the lake as Parmanen shot to the surface. The man gasped as the figure rose to its feet and stood there for a moment simply dripping.

Parmanen turned and gazed at Gil and Matt with dark, amused eyes.

“Thank you, gentlemen. I knew I could count on you.”

As Parmanen stepped from the lake, a hot wind wrapped around him and dried his hair and clothes. The men felt the edges of it and backed away.

“Yessir,” Matt said with as much courage as he could muster. As the restored lord advanced on him, he tried not to cower or pull his boots back.

“They will be attempting to contain the spirit of my apprentice in the Dragon statue,” Parmanen said without a trace of emotion. “We will let them. It will be easier to let them think they have won. But Faethril is strong, and will be stronger once she’s whole again.” A soft smile finally curved his lips. “And then we will find Anyatka and her brothers and they will be sorry that they did not kill me when they had the chance.”

Overdone: Life Well Spent

((Much spoilers))

Somewhere in the ruined city of Annúminas

“Why am I here?”

Anya looked up at Bookie – Parmanen – as she sat across the narrow table with him. Her hands, still bound, sat in her lap.

“You have something of mine.” Parmanen’s even tone never faltered, though Anya thought she detected a slight weariness to it that she did not remember from a year ago. “I would like it back.”

“The bracelet?” Anya’s voice broke and a girl wearing an iron collar stepped forward to hold a crystal goblet to her lips. Anya turned her head away stubbornly though her throat burned with thirst. “It is gone. Anric destroyed it. What have you done to him?”

Parmanen’s brown eyes regarded her for a moment before he pressed his fingertips together and looked toward the door to the decrepit dining hall.

“I have relieved him of the burden of loving Anyatka. It’s a pity, you know. The man must be a fool to risk his life for the woman who broke his heart.”

She felt the blow of his words strongly, but did her best not to let her expression shift from her show of indignation. “How did you capture him? He’s far too skilled to be caught by the likes of you! When our caravan was attacked in Bree, you told me to run…”

“My darling Anyatka. Surely you know that all those brigands are dead. Well, except for the ones that now serve me, of course. But regardless, your Anric was not captured. He was found.” Parmanen took a drink from his own goblet and set it down carefully. He rotated it so that it lined up with the silver Dragon statue sitting directly between them. “Washed up on the shores of the…. what do those darling Hobbits call it? The Brandywine? Mhmm, just north of Barad Tharsír, waterlogged and unknowing of his own name.

“My scouts knew he belonged to your party. It was easy to convince him his name was Aeron of Rhudaur and he was in love with his wife, Faethril. And,” Parmanen tapped his heart and then his temple before pointing at Anya, “that I could bring her to him after his years away at war.”

“I am not Faethril,” she said hoarsely. “I never shall be.”

“Oh,” he said, “but it won’t be your choice.” He held her gaze as he stood and walked the long way around the table to stand behind her. “You see, that statue consumed her blood. And because you awoke her in the bracelet, she is inside you. The two parts to a whole. They’re lonely, Anya. Let them be reunited and give her a chance at peace.”

He gently rested a hand on either shoulder. “This wayward piece inside of you, like an arm or a leg, merely wants to join with its body again. But this is not an arm or a leg, Anya.” Parmanen leaned in closely and whispered next to her hear: “It is her conscience, Anya.” He straightened and rested his hand on her shoulder. “No wonder she tried to hurt you. All she wants is to find her dear Aeron again.”

Anya’s voice shook as she said, “Anric is not Aeron. Aeron is dead! He passed on and is at peace with his fate!”

“Then why are you here, my dear child? How did you know to come for the Dragon?”

Anya’s heart leaped. “Wh-what do you mean?”

“You came here looking for this, did you not?” He motioned toward the Dragon sitting in the middle of the table. “How did you know to look for it?”

She looked away from him, flushing deeply.

“Yes. He told you. You see, he has not entirely passed on my dear.” He traced the curve of her ear with a finger. “She bound him to the Dragon as well.”

A shiver ran down her back. “What is it?” she asked in a whisper.

“A worthless relic, a trophy from a false king. Yet it has power because Aeron’s family prized it and my Faethril prized Aeron.” Parmanen picked it up and turned it over in his hand. “So we took it. We enchanted it and cast a spell that bound his spirit to the cold metal and by chance, Faethril’s blood contaminated the spell. It left her too weak to perform her ritual when she went behind my back and bound herself to that bracelet. It almost killed her. But I found her in time.” His fingers trailed over the setting in its forehead for a large, missing, stone.

“And ultimately… it gives us a second chance. Your love ruined it the first time around, didn’t he? Try to save you? That is why you no longer wear the bracelet.”

“Anric was not my love then. He did it out of the goodness of his heart. And Eruviel, too.”

“But then you fell in love with him,” Parmanen pointed out calmly.

“What does that matter?”

The man smiled. “It matters because it allowed Faethril to take hold again. And it allows her to take hold now. But not yet. It’s too soon.” With the utmost care, he placed the Dragon back in the middle of the table.

“There is one more piece to this puzzle,” he said with a smile as he resumed his seat across the table from her. Dinner was brought in by several servants wearing those heavy metal collars. “But once I have it, she will be able to return.”

Anya gave Parmanen a contemplative look. Her soft grey eyes had not flickered since Parmanen bent the firelight around them and they slipped away from the camp at Rantost. Though it was still a struggle to keep Faethril’s visions and thoughts at bay, she found it was easier here near Anric who thought he was Aeron and Parmanen who thought he was a long dead Black Numenorean. It was as if Faethril was less agitated with her lot in life.

“You see, my dearest Anyatka,” Parmanen said softly as he lifted his goblet, “your life for hers. I would say that is a life well spent.”

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: Stars

Safflower Tuffin stood on the hill overlooking Oatbarton. She rubbed her arn as she thought back to two weeks ago when she collapsed in a heap just inside the round door of her little homestead at Northcotton Farms. She remembered how she winced as she pulled the cotton fabric of her sleeve from the drying wound on her arm. The light blue was stained dark brown and she knew that if she pulled it off, the bite would start bleeding again.

“Bloody wolves,” she had cursed beneath her breath.

The animals had begun moving into the Bullroarer’s Sward again and she did not have to wander far to see signs of their passage. For a piemaker, she was extremely well versed in the lay of the surrounding lands all the way up to the far northern sands of the banks of the Brandywine.

The Baranduin Coldaer called it. She had humoured the shaggy man of the wilds and allowed him to teach her the tales of his people and how to read the language found etched in the ruins of all that was left of his people’s legacy. It was he who gave her the shining star trinket for assisting him when she found him wounded and alone on the dunes. It was he who opened her eyes to the Big Folks’ world beyond the Shire.

She thought of the gift he gave her for making the trek to his little haven to deliver food and medicine as he recovered from the injuries he had sustained in his adventures. The little clear star was hardly the size of her thumbnail and it reminded her of the glass stars Ronald made for children’s mobiles. It wasn’t made of glass, however, this little star.

“Adamant,” Coldaer had said. “A gem that is nearly indestructible. I think you are nearly indestructable, Miss Tuffin. You will probably outlive me.”

“Yes, especially if you keep traipsing about without watching your back like you say you do, Master Coldaer!” Safflower had smiled up at the Ranger who, once on his feet, would have been a bit intimidating if it hadn’t been for his gentle brown eyes. Coldaer had laughed but there was something about the way he looked at her that made her regret the joke.

The stars began to rise over the Sward and she thought of Miss Harawyn and Master Tenorbekk and how thoughtful they had been to help her clear the infection that set in from the wolf’s bite. While she didn’t feel like a werewolf (the full moon had passed after all), she knew the villagers would feel better about things now that she had taken the ancient antidote. And besides, it cleared up the infection within the hour.

As the stars twinkled into being, she thought of the empty space in her collection box where the adamant star had sat for years. It was only fitting that she received it for helping a man live and in return she gifted it to her own saviors. Master Tenorbekk had accepted the star with a disgruntled humility she found endearing. She only hoped he had the fortunes of having someone to pass it along to if he should ever have need.

~~~***~~~

ScreenShot00392The ruins of Rantost loomed over the motley collection of men and women that represented the dozen pockets of tomb robbers throughout Evendim. Lômiphel had worked hard to secure their allegiances through temptation or threat over the past year and eight months ago, the return of her father, Parmanen, only made things easier.

Parmanen was timeless; Lômiphel knew her father had to be reaching seventy, but the man looked no more than a weathered late forties. She knew part of it had to do with his command of the elements around him; she knew he possessed a magic that could slow the decay of time. He favored ice over fire and thus the island in the middle of Lake Nenuial was a perfect base for his most loyal followers. She herself had felt the icy blast of his disdain and often wondered why she had no magical influence over ice or fire herself.

Not that it mattered. Her eyes could reel in most men and women and if that failed, she always had her sword or Redford’s brute strength leading the power of the rest of the tomb robbers’ clans to beat the dissenters into submission. Power. And strength. This is what she learned from her father and for that she will always be grateful.

Now, as she watched the boats glide across the deep blue waters of the Nenuial, Lômiphel wondered how a little adamant trinket could possibly bring her father more power or strength. They had been looking for it for months and most men knew the search was a going to yield nothing. Still, Parmanen insisted the little star would find its way to reveal itself and they had to be in position to seize it when it did.

Redford stepped from the boat even before it pulled up fully onto the banks of their island. “Nothing,” he said bitterly and she frowned at her husband.

“So we can rule out Tham Ornen?” she said coolly.

“Yes. You shouldn’t be so surprised.” Redford shot a glance toward the ruins of the large estate. “I thought your father said it was getting closer,” he muttered to her as he joined her side.

“My father never said when it’d show,” she reminded him with a quick yet withering glance. Redford ducked his head and shifted his gaze from her face to the brittle grass beneath their feet. “Besides, it is not as though you came back empty handed.” Lômiphel looked over her shoulder at the second boat which had several large brown sacks stacked in its bow.

“The men are getting restless, Lôm. I  had to let them bring back something. We found a nice-”

“You wasted time.” Parmanen’s voice was crisp in the late autumn air. “You must understand how important this is, Redford. We cannot be complacent.”

Redford ran a hand through his hair and said without looking at his father-in-law, “But if we only knew why…”

The wind picked up around them and tossed Redford’s hair causing him to shudder from the chill running down his spine.

“Do you not have faith, Redford? This artifact will bring us more riches than you can imagine. The men will be placated. It will help us take Annúminas from the Rangers and then the entire city will be ours.”

Though Redford still looked skeptical as he looked at his wife, he nodded. “All right, all right,” he mumbled and quickly went to help his men unload their plunder.

Lômiphel walked up to stand beside her father and they watched as Redford yelled at one of the men for nearly dropping a sack into the lake. A shove and a punch and the man was cowering beneath Redford’s imposing form on the rocky bank.

“He is not pleased with our guest,” Parmanen commented dryly.

“No,” Lômiphel agreed. “He is not. He does not trust him. But you do?” The daughter looked up at the father seeking his guidance.

“Oh, yes. To the extent that any man can be trusted, Lôm. Do not fear him. He is well under control.”

“Do you truly think this gem will bring the power back to the Dragon, Father? It seems to function well without it.”

Parmanen kept his gaze on his son-in-law as the man beat the clumsy robber into submission. “I need it for more than a good luck charm, my daughter. Do not worry about why the Dragon must be whole.” He turned finally and smiled, his dark brown eyes penetrating hers with an intensity that made her feel completely naked and vulnerable.

“In time,” he said softly, “ you will see.”

Nothing

After the encounter with the Gauredain…

The Last Huntress of The Dreadward Tribunal

ScreenShot00215

Anyatka looked up at Esthyr. “You’re his flesh and blood. I see him in you. She shows me what it would be like . . . if he were younger . . . whole. If he loved only . . . me.” Her voice broke again and she lowered her head. By the Valar, she looked tired, and if there was not the threat of unleashing Faethril again, Eruviel would have relieved the woman’s weariness in a heartbeat.

“Well obviously that’s fake, then,” Esthyr snorted. “Morty was never young.”

Eruviel tucked strands of Anya’s hair behind the young woman’s ear. “And I’m sure if he was he would not be half as handsome without the scars.”

Anyatka nodded to both of them and managed a smile. “True.” Looking down at her hands a curious frown creased her face. “What is in my hand?”

“Something from someone called Atanamir,” said Esthyr.

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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.