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.

~~~***~~~

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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?

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Dalish Charm: Stories

The boys were gone. Abiorn continued to read about Bree culture and history from the books he borrowed from the Archives in town. Anya worried that he spent less time in the forest these past few weeks, and though he did not say anything, she often heard him tossing in his bed as she sat up late at night watching the moon pass through the sky. Eirikr was in Gondor with Eruviel; his letter told her they arrived at Imloth Melui without trouble, but she had not heard anything since.

Anyatka Tenorbekk of Dale tried not to worry. But worrying was in her blood.

Her mother’s worries revolved around appearance. Sit up straight, comb your hair, wash your face, cross your ankles, hold your hands in your lap, smile, don’t smile, curtsy, don’t blush. If it was not Anya’s appearance, then it was the manor’s: dust the mantles, beat the rugs, place the little fork on the inside, polish the silver, make that plant grow straighter. Never could the woman find pleasure in sitting still. Never could she be satisfied with the way things were.

“Improvement! There is always room for improvement, Anyatka, do not forget you are not perfect. You will never be perfect. Go have Moll fix your hair! It has come out of its braid; you stupid girl, you were running again, weren’t you?”

Today her hair had finally grown long enough to cut away all the black. The remaining strands did not brush her shoulders as she was accustomed to, but something in her wanted the last few inches gone. Even. Red.

No more traces remained of the ordeal except for the statue hidden in Atanamir’s library and the unexpected presence of his daughter in Bree. No move had been made against the statue since Atanamir placed his protections over it. Perhaps he was strong enough to deter the woman. Perhaps, like her, his daughter only wanted to live a life away from a crazy father now.

Hand on her arm. Grasping at her neck. And then air, its kiss so sweet on her cheeks as she fell. The feeling of weightlessness slowed time. For a moment she could not hear him yelling. For a moment he could not reach her and she flew.

Then, the edge of a marble step followed by another and then another until her little body crashed to the floor.

Anya wiped her eyes. She did not know why these memories came to her today, but once they started, they did not stop. Perhaps even now, leagues away from her, they knew she dared to be happy. They knew someone loved her and wanted her and did not have hidden agendas or a need for wealth or social status. Could they send their anger and hate all that way by sheer force of their stubborn wills?

She was someone who could be loved. She was someone who had worth.

She would prove it.

Atanamir’s ring sat in her keepsake box. For some time, hesitation caused her to avoid it. Did she want it anymore? Without the threats of lingering spirits of Men and bodily harm, her lessons seemed less important. Selfish, even. Who was she to upset the natural order of things to learn something like sorcery?

The sunlight glinted off the orange stone. Tourmaline. She had Abiorn bring home a book on gemstones the last time he went to the Archives. Cleansing. Focusing. Growing. Balancing. She did not realize different colours of stones could influence their properties (or that they had properties at all). Orange tourmaline assisted “the energy of action” according to the author whose name she could not pronounce. Did he want her to do something, then?

Frowning, she turned the ring over and examined the band. Nothing noteworthy stood out to her.

She saw little else to do with it; she slipped it onto her first finger.

After a mere second, a ball of wind formed above the stone. Her eyes widened as she watched it form. She could see it form. This was new.

With her other hand, she tried to poke the ball. She could feel the air swirl and part around the blockade. The interruption of her fingers caused little ripples on the surface of the ball and disturbed her hair. Eyes widened, she looked up and saw the still branches of the trees in her yard and just beyond them the lake sparkled.

She smiled.

~~~***~~~

That evening, the residents of Durrow gathered in the Broken Cask as they are wont to do. Over their meals and tankards of ale, talk ranged from the quality of the soil to how big the Furrow tomatoes were this season.

At one table, Henry Reed told an tale that the others dismissed as usual fairy tale and overactive imagination.

While the man was working with his glass that afternoon, Ruby Lake shone like a mirror beneath the sun. The heat from his fire rose in waves. He considered an afternoon nap, but just as the thought crystalized, a wild breeze rushed up over the land. It came from the lake, which in itself was not unusual, but for the suddenness and force of the gale. It nearly blew his latest piece from his worktable.

Just as suddenly as it came, the wind was gone. Something pricked at the back of his neck; he realized a quiet had fallen. Something unnatural caused that wind, he claimed. Fairies, he claimed, cast a magic spell to disrupt his work, it was.

Leland Whitethorn dismissed Reed’s tale with a laugh and told him to save it for his daughter. She’d like such a tale, he said, you know Honey. The heat was getting to you, Henry, that’s all, he said. And he bought the man another ale.

A Bitter Pill: Dear Master J, No. 3

Dated four days before the wedding of Oendir Arrowheart and Cwendlwyn Tain

Dear Master J,

Thank you for your letter. I will be honest and say that for some time, I did not think you were going to write me back. I am glad that you did, though I fear my response will not bring either of us joy.

When I read your letter, I closed my eyes and imagined what you described. Part of me wants that. So much of me wants to know a man who can express himself so eloquently and make me feel loved even with leagues between us. One who will love Neilia as his own and give her everything that she deserves.

My dear J, I cannot marry you. This weekend, I will be married to Oendir Arrowheart. Our children love each other as brother and sister. He has been in my heart since I first met him. We both bear so much trouble from our pasts, I never dreamed he would propose marriage, but when he did, I knew it was the right thing to do.

I mourn the loss of our future together. I mourn the friendship that we would have had. I am selfish enough to wish for our friendship to continue. That I can still be the honest voice at your side among the gossip and lies that fill the streets and taverns of that city, even from afar. But it is wrong of me to wish such a thing. Is it not?

Please do not hate me or think ill of Oendir. He knows nothing of my accepting your proposal; only that it existed. If you must choose between the two, then only I deserve your wrath, my lord. I will bear it.

The company will be journeying south again in a few week’s time. I believe it is Oendir’s intention to visit his brother, Sir Carmanadh. Please, do not let my actions hurt them. It is more than I should ask, but ask I must.

I am so sorry. The ink of the ‘ry’ is smudged and a circular stain mars the fine parchment.

With deepest regret for the pain I have caused,

Cwendlwyn

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

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.”

A Bitter Pill: Dear Master J, No. 2

My dear Master J,

I fear that my last letter was sent in haste and without allowing my distress to cool before I spilled my thoughts into the paper. I may have written too much, but at the same time I feel as though I hardly wrote enough. So much is flooding my mind now that I have begun sharing what has been trapped inside of me for decades.

I am in the land of my forefathers. Fore-mothers at least. We are in the far eastern part of the Mark; my mother was born not far from here, and I as well. Only her death took me west past the Gap and onto the banks of another river. 

I had never intended to return to these lands, but since I met Oendir, the commander of this company, I have visited here twice. Once to face one of his personal shadows and now to face a more dangerous one: four dark sorcerers who have blackened the skies and intend to bring destruction to the land. Their triumph will eliminate all life here and the death will spread like a disease. 

So we must stop it. Here and now.

Have you marched yet to Minas Tirith? Has your final summons to lead your men into the shadow come?

I am no leader here. We have no leader here. Oendir remained in the village where he was elected mayor to serve and protect the simple villagers there. He appointed a stand-in by seniority and battle skill; someone who is a good solider who I trust at my side, but who does not have the patience or diplomacy that we are used to with Oen.

Cwendlwyn frowned and put the tip of her quill to the period and used the dot to start a “d.”

…Oen.dir. And while I miss his leadership, what I miss most is his warmth. The comfort I have just being near him. Being separated by distance and not just our silences makes my chest ache. The touch of his eyes restores me more than anything I can think of stowed away in my chest of medicines and herbs.

Is this what love is, my lord? This deep and coring loss when he is not here in the darkest hour? I have walked this earth for nearly three and a half decades and I am unsure what love is. I have been abandoned so many times in my attempts to love that I fear it. I drive it away, as perhaps I am doing now by being far too open with you, a potential lover. Yet I feel safe telling you these things. Is it because your are so far from me and the pain of being vulnerable? Or is that love? That trust that you will not abandon me for no matter what, there is something there that connects us?

I don’t know. I only know that as I am heading to face the shadow, I wanted to write to you because I know that you will hear me. 

Your frank and lonely

Cwendlwyn

Shift

After the meeting with the surprise sorcerer, Eirikr strode back and forth rather angrily in his tent. The impromptu interrogation session with the Black Numenorian had put him in a foul mood and though now they had options, he thought they had more questions than answers. Eirikr Tenorbekk did not like being in the dark. Especially when at that very moment, Eruviel was on her way to Ost Celebrant with Langafel.

Eirikr knew her to be a capable scout and an excellent fighter. A kind and humorous companion. But he had never known her like this before.

When he looked at her now, he did not just see an Elf clad in leather armour with a bow on her back and a sword on her hip. He saw the soft curve of her lip and the gentle fall of her braid across her shoulder. He saw her smile and heard her laughter and felt her fingers upon his brow. Delicate. Precious. Irreplaceable.

He scowled as he realized his thoughts made it seem like he did not value her before. He had, of course, but sometime between Evendim and Rohan, things had shifted inside of him when it came to her. He had not meant for it to happen. In fact, if he had been truly aware of it, he would have put a stop to it immediately, but perhaps now it was too late.

The truth was, his agitation sprouted from this new intense desire to put her in a safe, secure place and protect her from the Black Numenorians she now rode toward. He wanted to pull her close and shield her from the darkness. He wanted to do all these things that he never thought he’d want to do again and he hated that he would never be good enough to do any of it. He hated that he did not want to be good enough.

He did not want to cause her pain in any way, and a love between mortal and immortal could end in only that. Didn’t the legends say only by the intervention of the Valar themselves did Beren and Luthien find peace? And didn’t they have to die first?

Eirikr scowled again, his heavy brow drawing down deeply over his stormy eyes. He reminded himself that Eruviel had survived things he could hardly imagine. She would continue to survive things long after his bones had turned to dust, if not in this world, then across the Sea with her people and away from this land of strife.

He slipped through the flap of his small tent and looked out across the camp. Miss Cwen was meandering away from the main fire holding her lute; Hallem sat there still looking solemn by the flames.

Deciding that he could not sit by and not do anything but wait, he stalked after Cwen. The Black Numenorean may have slipped through their grasp, but he could still get answers from somewhere, and that was doing something.

~~~***~~~

Cwendlwyn of Rohan was digging through trash bins. She did not remember discarding the item she was looking for, but she knew that she packed it then and she needed it now; she did not wish to go to bed that night without it. Without flinching, she pulled over a partially broken crate filled with broken bits of metal and leather and scraps of frayed rope. Carefully, she tried to search the bin without having to dump it out.

She mumbled to herself in a bare whisper as she searched. Ever since Pharazanû had vanished, she acted more eccentric regardless of who was around. She simply gave less of a damn about what other people thought than before and she had hardly cared at all to begin with. Still, she began to suspect that Langafel’s men had begun to suspect that she was a bit daft.

Maybe they were right.

Feygil and Eirikr had criticised her choice to force the Black Numenorean to heal her arm seeing it only as a verification of the sorcerer’s abilities. Both of them and Hallem had asked her why any one of them could trust him. The looks on their faces might have upset her a year ago. She hadn’t bothered to pay any attention to her companions’ reactions when she tested Pharazanû, but that was because she had been so intent on his response.Camp

Cwen was certain that few of them if any understood what she did or why, but that did not matter. It was not, nor had it ever been, about trusting the man.

After all, what was trust, really? Could anyone be truly trusted?

She did not trust the sorcerer any more than they did. She just understood something about him. She saw him differently. She did not peg him as evil just because he was the enemy. Even enemies can have respect for one another, and, besides, in his eyes, wouldn’t they be the enemy? Yet he came to them with information. They seemed intent on the same goal. And what else brings people together more than a common goal?

The more she pondered these questions in the passing time between waiting and worrying, she began to question more and more.

For instance, what is the difference between an Elf and an Orc?

The legends say the black pits of Thangorodrim twisted the prisoners kept there into the ghastly race today known as orc. Their fates altered, they were forced to adapt or die. They were forced to serve, to listen to their master, and obey the commands given them in order to create a more powerful structure of society. Common purpose. Greater good.

Hold a moment–which society was she thinking of? The Elves that obeyed the summons… the orcs twisted by Morgoth? Obey. The Valar let the Elves decide their own fate. Was that the difference? Apart from the physical, the brutish and the beautiful, is that what separated Orc and Elf? The choice?

If an Orc was given the choice, would he be able to choose mercy if all he’d learned was brutality? And was it his fault he did not know of the other choice?

Was it an orc’s fault, then, that he was an orc?

Was it that man’s fault he was born beneath the shadowed sky instead of the open plains of the Mark?

What would she have been like if she had been born in Dunland instead of near Cliving in the Norcrofts? How would her life had been different if her father had taken her to his clan’s homeland instead of settling on the western edges of the Gap?

“It’s all perspective,” she murmured as she went into the bucket of scraps from the night’s dinner with both hands. “People don’t know how to change perspective.”

Her fist pushed past something squishy and warm, then closed around something hard and cold. Cylindrical.

“Aha!”

She sat back on her heels and wiped the slime away from the little blue vial of liquid. She kept it in her bag with the other mixes and medicines she thought might be useful, but only after she had sworn to herself she would never use it on herself again.

So how it found its way into her sleeve at mealtime, she had no inkling. Her head had ached; perhaps she thought it was the willow bark tincture instead. But then, when she realized what she had and how much she wanted to forget everything that was going on around her and how much she missed them, she slipped the vial back into her sleeve to forget it and it must have fallen when she tossed away the bones of the water fowl they had roasted that evening.

That night, she found it especially hard to sleep with no moon to tell her to rest and no sun to help her wake, and soon she realized she was not going to be able to sleep. Not enough to be good for anything other than a rambling, distracted fool, at least, and she rose from her bedroll and slipped out of the tent and ignored the curious looks from the men on watch as she went from bin to bin searching for a means to stop the noisy questions.

So many questions.

There was one to which she knew the answer as she carried the little blue vial in the palm of her fist and returned to her tent.

People who fall in love suddenly see the world differently; they operate under different motivations than before love and sometimes, they find they are strong with that single purpose directing their choices. They take risks to protect and to prove themselves worthy of their affection’s heart, and sometimes, the risks they choose go against everything they ever were or ever knew before.

But for now, Cwen chose to forget love and sorcerers and orcs and men. She closed her tent off from the shadowy sky, took a sip of the sweet blue liquid, and finally fell into a dreamless sleep.

~~~***~~~

Zabathôr seethed as he stood at the window of his rooms in the high tower of Ost Celebrant. He stared down at the splash of pale hair that told him Pharazanû still knelt before the necromancer’s body. The man’s penetrating gaze bore down on the scene in the courtyard below and the air around him warped and steamed.

It was too soon. The enemy had moved too quickly and seemed far too confident to suit Zabathôr’s needs. What if the fool had managed to do real damage? And the surrender.

Really. What was that?

Zabathôr snorted with disgust as he turned away from the sight in a flurry of dark robes. The door to his chambers cracked against the wall as he stormed through it and to the stair that led to the roof of the tower. The climb was steep and narrow, and when he emerged at the top he could see the land in all directions.

Far below, he thought he could see Pharazanû still at the foot of the shrine built for the fallen man.

What was his name? ‘O’ something, wasn’t it? Oh, yes. Orthan. A tolerable, seemingly competent young man and a skilled sorcerer. Pity he could not have been put to more use before the Horseman ended his miserable existence.

Zabathôr turned to look away from the fortress and out toward the land as if to find the camp that held the ones who dared to challenge the Great Eye. He placed both of his delicate yet powerful hands on the stones that formed the battlements and closed his eyes. He sent his thought into the stone and felt along its strengths and weaknesses. Deep, deep into the living earth to seek the fault lines far beneath the surface of the dying grass.

He sought until he grew tired from his searching and glared out over the land in frustration. No great crack in the earth existed in a manner that would not also topple the fortress he stood upon. He turned from the wall to descend quickly into the tower and back to his rooms.

“Call the Four,” he ordered the guard as he brushed past him. “Immediately.”

The guard saluted and barked orders to his subordinate to find the others of the four lords before the door swung shut behind him. Zabathôr returned to the window and calmed his breath as he stared at the unchanged scene below.

His fingers flexed.

The air sparked.

He was still in control. If he could not move them by moving the earth, he would find another way to shift the advantage back to his side of the game.

And he would win.

ScreenShot00462

Devils and Strumpets

Doing the same thing over and over again gets dull. Even something that feels as good as this.

This bloke ain’t bad. He has a nice smile and his teeth are straight. But it gets repetitive night after night. The same motions. The same sighs and sounds to ensure each man gets not just his pleasure, but his confidence bolstered as well.

That’s why they come here, after all. They’ve been rejected by a woman and thus must pay to feel like a man again. We buy pretty dresses and powders for our faces to make us feel more like women. Men buy us to make themselves feel more like men.

Everyone has something to sell. Everyone pays the price.

It’s hard work building up a man’s ego. Smithies toil all day in the heat of their forges. Their muscles grow and tire with their work. Their names become celebrated for their skill and their wares allow men to conquer their fears and slay their enemies.

How different am I? Is it because they cannot own me?

I sweat and I toil for the bravery of men. My skill will give a man the strength to pick up that hunk of metal and risk its bite in battle. My talent will serve as the final reward when he comes home to a cold bed next to his wife.

An emasculated man is hardly a man at all.

But after I deliver my wares, I will never be looked upon with respect and reverence like the Dwarven smiths. My skill and agility will never become the stuff of legends like the Elves. And my strength to take these men again and again, to withstand their most brutal acts of control…no bard will immortalize that strength in a tale sung at the Prancing Pony.

How many women live their lives in such obscurity? How many are hated for just being what they are?

Men want angels in the daylight, but demons in their beds. You cannot conquer an angel.

~~~***~~~

You would think that she would learn. Time and time again she could not sort through to find reason, and impulse bade her do things that perhaps she should not have.

For instance her letter to Prince Imrahil accepted his courtship, but she had hardly stopped to ask herself why.

Why would she be able to develop a relationship across leagues when she could hardly keep one when the man lived down the street? Why would she wish to add another Complication to the swirl of emotions that drowned her each night even as she lay alone? Why would she consider herself even partially worthy of royalty?

To stop it, of course. To halt the twisted windstorm bred when Oendir met Rheb in her heart and mind. To give her an out: an escape.

She just wanted to quiet her mind and in his arms back in Dol Amroth, she had a focus. She had a purpose again and understood clearly what it was: to support the Prince in his darkest hour and give him the honest love and sanity he longed for. What greater purpose was there for a human being than to inspire and lift their loved ones up to higher ground? To influence and bolster him as he led his army to face the hordes of Mordor was a great honor and he chose to offer her the role.

What role did she play in Bree?

As Oendir’s–what was she even to Oendir? A lover? They had never made love. A future wife? He said himself he did not think he’d find interest in marriage again. An adviser? He hardly spoke to her about things of importance.

She was there for a kiss. A swim in the lake. A balm for him when he had the time.

She knew how much he needed her deep down inside himself. She had felt it in him when their spirits were exchanged in Forochel. He wanted love. He was as starved for it as she was and time and time again his sources of that love failed him. She did not want to fail him, too, but how could she not? Each time she chose, she hurt another. And every moment was a choice.

Every moment she hurt herself, for she longed to be with Rheb.

If she listened to her heart, she knew she wanted the youthful freedom his love provided. Pure, unattached love created when two people were simply built for one another. Their bodies melded as one and their souls rejoiced in each other’s presence. It was greater than any emotion she could distill into her potions. He was in ever fiber of her being, now, and without him, she felt lost.

Stuck between worlds, never fitting in, denying one to never find acceptance in another–both of them knew what it was like to feel the emptiness of their missing worlds and the completion they found in each other’s arms.

But she messed things up again. And that is why she wrote the Bluejay accepting his courtship.

If she had to go out as a shallow and fickle strumpet in Bree, she might as well go to Dol Amroth as royalty.

At least, that is what she told herself while she laid in bed alone.

A Bitter Pill: Dear Master J

Cwendlwyn Tain, field medic of the Wayfarers Guild and accomplished cook and gardener, returned to the house she was occupying with her daughter Neilia the day after the half-orc made his demands and she was sodden from head to toe. One could only guess the woman had fallen into the river and several residents of Durrow expressed either concern or cheerful warnings as they inquired about her state and informed her that the orcs had seemed to have moved off.

Cwen paled during these discussions and found relief when the darkness closed around her upon entering the house on Garden Street. Wendy Whitethorn, on her way to Ravenhold to seek the mayor’s opinion on the state of affairs, had been particularly worried that her new neighbor might be falling ill and while Cwen appreciated the concern the matriarch of the Whitethorn farm displayed, she did not want the wives of Durrow lining up to bring her chicken soup or herbal remedies any time soon. She only wanted to be alone.

The front room of the spacious house was in a disarray from their renovations and only mirrored the mess of thoughts cluttering Cwen’s mind. She felt trapped. Her lungs constricted but would not expand. She couldn’t breathe.

The writing desk shoved against the far wall behind the sales counter caught her attention as the morning sun rose high enough to shine its beam through her back window and reflect off the inkwell sitting on its surface. The flash blinded her. Blue feathers filled her mind. Delicate pastries and enchanting music and the strong arms of the Bluejay leading her through the dance steps soothed her.

She inked her quill and smoothed the parchment. The words appeared without struggle and flowed with ease.

My dear Master J,

I hope this letter finds you well. I do apologize for the delay. There was an unfortunate incidence with the main gate that trapped everyone in the village for several weeks. The Wayfarers fared as they would in such circumstances: they assisted Oendir in managing the town’s stores, setting day and night patrols, and tending the Fallowmath flame. 

I had not participated in a Fallowmath lighting since I was sixteen. The ritual was held even in my small village on the far side of the gap. I found a peace in the lighting of the massive tent of trees like I was casting aside the life I led the year before and asking my ancestors to lead me forward into the next season with their wisdom. In that act, I was a part of them and not such an outsider. 

Did they see the little girl kneeling before to fire and know that she wished more than anything to see her mother again?

I wondered this year, after so many years of neglect, which of my kin would visit me. I have so few that I know of in truth. Some would be welcome. My mother, of course. But some…some would not be so welcome. The Flame was only supposed to draw benevolent spirits, but I always wondered how it could know the difference. 

I do have some blood in my past that would not return out of benevolence.

This hardly seems like a letter to write to ro[the rest of the word is scratched out completely] one with so many more important things to concern himself with. But I feel as though you want to know. That you are listening, even as I cannot speak in a way that you will hear my voice.

My dear Master J, I would be glad to look for your letter in response to mine. I would welcome the correspondence as the first steps of a potential courtship. But I need you to know the full me. I will not hide anything from you. I am so tired of hiding.

The woman you wish to court is a tired mother left by her Rhunic husband because of the simple fact he was a scoundrel. He is a scoundrel to this very day, wherever he may be, and I am certain he does not waste a single blink in wondering about his daughter. This woman is lost between worlds and every time she tries to settle down in one, she gets beaten up and tossed aside by her own heart. She cannot make a good choice when it comes to anything having to do with trusting in herself. I simply cannot.

Perhaps this is because she lost her mother when she was seven and then found out a mere decade later that her father was from Dunland and wanted to destroy everything she thought he had held dear, including her.

I never could blend in to the stock of the Men of the Mark and I had grown up hating the Hillmen on principle. I was stuck between who I wanted  to be and what I wanted to do. So many times in my world do I have to make that distinction. I hardly ever feel whole.

So, my Prince, if you wish still to write me, your words will find their way even if I may not be here when they arrive. I have faith that if we are truly meant to find each other, no miles will be able to keep us apart.

Most sincerely,

Cwendlwyn 

Within hours of the gate being clear enough, Cwendlwyn donned her traveling robes and set off for Bree. She would post the letter and make some inquiries.

She would not stand by helpless, though, and simply wait for the next tide to bring in something new. After she sent the letter, she would investigate next week’s caravans to the Lone-lands, and as soon as she could, she would seek Oendir’s permission to travel, even if she had to go alone.

A Bitter Pill: A Damn Cold Night

Last Night

She should be used to the feel of floorboards by now.

Her body relaxed against them because her muscles simply had no more power to support her, but in the past they had cradled her in times like these. When isolation threatened to crush her, the floorboards were there to keep her from sinking into the Void.

These particular boards were even more familiar; she had stood at this window many times before. She had sunk to her knees here; her palms knew the knots and ridges of the planks and the smell of their polish.

In this room.

She remembered that this was the room Oendir had assigned to her and Neilia when she first joined the Wayfarers. She would watch the wind rustle the leaves of the Chestnut from the window, and so often she had thought of climbing out to disappear again from the world of Men for good.

But she had honor. And obligations. And she had the honor to see them through.

As she lay there, the memories flooded her vision. She could not stop their flow; they would drown her.

They had not found the floorboards that day; he had taken her against the wall and in the open doorway. Even has he brought her to ecstasy again and again, she had the underlying terror that someone would turn into the hallway and see them there against the door-frame.

The fear only heightened the experience of him, though, and by being able to identify the fear, she was able to finally master it. She pushed past everything that ever held her back before and her heart opened to him without its cynical armour, and she understood.

Here is someone who comes for her out of love, not hate. Here was a man who was devoted to her care and pleasure, not her pain.

And Rheb came for her, always.

Now, she would go to him.

The gate of Durrow was still blocked by the avalanche and the orcs still probably roamed the hills, but despite their presence and despite the warg attack, she knew that she was safe. She had offered herself to the orcs to buy them time not because she was brave. Not because she wanted to be a hero like young Margaret claimed, but because she knew that Rheb would protect her from the orcs and men and half-orcs of the camp and anything else besides.

She could not claim bravery when she knew there was no danger.

The view from the window was breathtaking as always, but she did not look forward. She looked down.

Rheb had lowered himself from the windowsill easily; Oendir claimed he was not a climber, but he appeared perfectly capable of climbing to her. Oendir so often refused to see what Rheb was capable of or what Rheb needed. Tears stung her eyes as she let herself hang from the window before letting herself fall to the grass below. Alone. Rheb had always been so alone and had anyone truly been there for him?

And she was just the same.

Fiddler Falls
A round moon rises over Ravenhold and Fiddler Falls.

Her eyes never wavered from her path; night was falling and the moon was nearly full as it rose above the treetops.The melodic song of Fiddler Falls soon met her ears and she hastened to the bank of the river. The high cliffs rose above her; without pause, she plunged into the cool water and swam for the cave she now swore that Rheb had told her about not so long ago.

How had she forgotten that detail? It had been raining that day; she had been standing in the broken shelter of the tree for a long time before he found her there. They had talked about other things and it must have gotten lost in the overwhelming presence of him. The little things they shared like the floorboards of Garden and Pinecrest-these are the things she remembered. These are the things that were branded into her mind and prevented her from recalling the little things like caves that led out from Durrow.

Like how much he loved her.

And how persistent he was in trying to claim her.

ScreenShot00457The force of the falls did not daunt her. She plunged into them and swam through to find the mouth of the cave just as he said it would be. The passage was narrow as he claimed. The men would have had a hard time fitting through, but the women and children had a way out. He had shown her the way.

But why? Why wait for so long when he could have told her from the first day? Why not go to Oendir with the information? Why make them suffer?

She climbed through cautiously, ducking low and eventually having to turn and twist to fit through some of the more awkward spots. Her bun caught on a sharp claw of overhang; she pulled her hair down to unhook herself and finally she felt the air lighten and the thought she could see a change in the darkness of the narrow passageway to freedom. Lights seemed to flicker ahead. She sped up and soon emerged outside of Durrow and took a deep breath of the fresh air.

She half expected a company of orcs waiting on the other side of the tunnel to capture her and drag her away. Only the lightning bugs and stars greeted her and she looked around for signs of his flight.  Nothing. Stillness.

And then the sound of tree frogs began and the noises of the living forest at night washed over her.

The lack of silence startled her. It seemed to scold her for not seeing things sooner.

Here she was, standing on the other side of the cliffs surrounding Durrow, and he had known of escape the entire time. His garb when she saw him-dirty breeches when he saved her from the wargs and then only the loincloth moments before in her room at Ravenhold-were not right for a Rheb that lingered in Durrow. She had put him in fresh pants herself after washing the blood away from his skin and they had not been lying on the floor when she woke the next morning.

Where have you been? she had asked and he had no answer.

Suddenly she knew and the weight of it knocked her back to her knees.

He came for her, always.

But he hadn’t come alone.

Cwen stayed there bent over at the hips until the moon began to set. The hands covering her head could not ward off the realizations as her tears watered the grass tickling her face. The cold and the damp seemed to sink into her bones and she wished she would dissolve with the morning’s dew once the sun rose and cast her ignorance in its glaring light.

She had been about to give in. She had been about to admit she loved him more, and only her obligations to the Wayfarers held her back. She had been about to tell him that she would go with him wherever he wished and that they would find their way somehow. She was going to ask him to only wait for her to get her things situated, but she had been too late.

It doesn’t matter anymore.

He wasn’t the one alone.

She was.

And he wasn’t going to come for her anymore.

A Bitter Pill: Cleansed

Pinecrest smelled of dust and blood. The windows stood open and a bright afternoon sun shone through, but the smell dispelled much slower than the darkness.

Outside, a blue jay jeered loudly and then landed on the front sill. It watched Cwen as she scrubbed the dark wood floors in front of the fireplace.

The buckets of water she had used to clean the blood away from his body were now refilled and used to scrub the floors. Rheb had lost so much before she arrived. She had ruined her dress in the pools as she cleaned the cuts and scrapes that covered him and stitched the wound in his arm. The warg’s teeth and claws had been like a flurry of daggers as they fought. When she closed her eyes, she still saw Rheb ripping the flesh of its throat and then turning to face the one advancing on her.

He bled to save her and her daughter, and once again she owed him her life.

When the boys had returned to the Broken Cask with their report of the scene, Cwen had been certain they would report of two wolves and a dead half-orc. How could he take on both of them even as injured as they were?

She thought of the second warg sneezing on the pepper she hurled at its great ugly face and she grinned to herself as she dipped her scrub brush into the bucket. Rheb had pulled her bodily from the back of the warg and only because Neilia was cowering in the bushes did Cwen leave him to face both alone. She could have made it bleed more. She could have prevented some of the pain Rheb now suffered on her behalf.

She scrubbed harder at the bloodstains.

Oendir had said to not worry about the floor because he needed to replace it anyway. Still, she did not want Rheb coming home to his blood everywhere. He had said it was his home, and she was going to make sure it was welcoming when he decided to finally come back for good.

Cwen frowned as she rubbed at a particularly dark spot and hoped Oendir would be able to find him hiding somewhere in the hamlet. She was relieved when he offered to look for him, though she was not sure how he would find the time between the demands of a Durrow in crisis.

Still, Oendir’s expression, his joyful relief when she told him that Rheb was not a part of the siege and was in Durrow ScreenShot00455had been palpable and warm as he embraced her. Her frown faded as she thought of Oendir looking so light and strong as the stress of Rheb’s disappearance lifted from him. It turned to a smile as she thought of their swim in the lake after. They had broken through some barrier that had kept them from each other. She felt it wash away in the cold water. In the way he finally looked at her in the sun.

They could make this work, she thought. They would make this work. After all, Fallowmath was about ancestors and family. All of three of them had broken pasts when it came to family. Perhaps now it was time to start with a clean slate and build a new one.

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.

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.

A Bitter Pill: Cwendlwyn Of

Cwendlwyn of Buckland stood on a balcony of the Colagar Estate and held in her hand a parchment. The formality of the request made her ache for the neighborly greetings of her Hobbit neighbors and she missed the sound of bare feet padding through a cozy Hobbit hole. A little dirt beneath the nails never harmed anyone, and in the Shire, it showed one’s hard work and worth.

Cwendlwyn of Bree stood on a balcony of the Colagar Estate and held in her hand a parchment. She felt the old clashing with the new in Dol Amroth and realized the tension was not unfamiliar; Durrow was undergoing a similar change now that Oendir was officially mayor. She had not been around for the election, but wondered how much turmoil it had caused. He was a good man, and a brave man, and a man that she would lay down her life for. But surely some will be watching like a hawk for the first fault they can find. And how will her Oendir manage leadership of a village and the Wayfarers? Just the one seemed to cause him so much stress already. She remembered the pain of his headache when the company found each other in the wrong shoes. He was working hard to rebuild ranks after the loss of Kemendin and firing of Hallem in Forochel.

Cwendlwyn of Rohan stood on a balcony of the Colagar Estate and held in her hand a parchment. She saw the orchards and the sea and the city in all its glory rising behind its secretive walls. She felt so small. At least in Eriador, she never felt so out of place. So alone. But in Rohan, for a time, she did. She remembered the children teasing her about her dark hair. With no protection from the Gap, their lands were always shrouded with that silent threat. The descendants of Wulf were watching. Waiting. And finally one day, they came to take back some of what they lost. She discovered from whence she came.

And she knew what it was like to be truly alone.

Cwendlwyn of the Wayfarers turned away from the deceptive beauty of the city and sea and sought writing instruments and parchment in the drawer of the desk in the small sitting room she shared with Oendir and the children. She stared at the pattern of the dappled feathers of the quill for several minutes before she put the nib to paper.

My dear lord,

It is a honour to receive your note and I would very much like to honour my invitation by joining you before the wedding. I believe there are a few days of informal socializing and last minute preparations, and I am certain no one would notice my absence from the estate.

Perhaps the best way to maintain the necessary obligations both of us have, as you are surely more occupied with obligations than I, is for you to send a messenger with the time. I will know that it is you and where to go; no one else would be sending for me in this city. All I know is here at the estate already.

I look forward to our tea.

Until then,

Cwendlwyn Tain of

She hesitated. Carefully, she traced over the ‘of’ until it became an ‘at’ and then she did the same to her name to make it look more deliberate.

Cwendlwyn Tain at House Colagar

Setting aside The Bluejay’s letter, she drew out another piece and quickly penned a note for the north.

Dear Eirikr,

Are you and young Mister Abiorn well? I hope the spring is not having a hard time emerging this year. I will miss witnessing the first blooms in Durrow.

Like the rest of us when we first came, Anya appears very awed by the wonders of the city. She seems to be enjoying herself even if she was still suffering from the aftereffects of her seasickness and had to miss the welcoming dinner. I am sure she will tell you more.

I am writing you with a small request. Your neighbor, Rheb, has not been seen in some time and I fear it is my fault. I had hoped he would return before we left for Dol Amroth, but luck was not on my side. If you happen upon him in your exploration of the surrounding lands, please tell him Oendir is very worried about his well-being and perhaps encourage him to return to Durrow soon. Do not mention me—I will explain when I return.

Oen said you have chosen to join the Wayfarers as well. I wish to welcome you to the company and ensure you that they are a fine employer.

Most Sincerely,

Cwen