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.

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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.

A Bitter Pill: Broken

“In this farewell
There’s no blood, there’s no alibi
‘Cause I’ve drawn regret
From the truth of a thousand lies
So let mercy come and wash away
What I’ve done”

-“What I’ve Done” by Linkin Park

From Enjin mail RP with Hallowisp (Rheb), edited to include the colour of her skirts, because somehow that is important:

Full of alarm, Cwen called after him, but it was far too late. Heedless of the mud, she hitched up her deep pink and white skirts only to keep them from impeding her stride as she ran toward the spot where he disappeared over the land.

“Rheb! Rheb, wait, please!”

Reaching the crest, she searched the darkness with vision blurred by tears.

“Rheb!”

It was no use. Though his flight left scars in the mud, she knew she’d be unable to track him in the dark for long. She sank to her knees and buried her face in her hands.

She cried there until the cool air, warm compared to Forochel’s frost, sank into her body and numbed her sobs. Her hat had come half-off in her pursuit and she pulled the rest of the pins free. Long, dark hair fell around her face and shoulders and she didn’t bother putting it back up.

Cold.

She began to shiver harder and suddenly concern darkened her features. She pushed herself to her feet. Long streaks of brown sullied her skirt outlining her knees. She didn’t notice them.

“What have I done?” she whispered to the woods.

~*~

The Bottle by Cwen

Little blue,
I see you.
Beckon to me with promise: release.
Freedom, find me; grant me peace.
Go numb, regret.
Forget
What I’ve done.
And what’s been done to me,
too.

~*~

“Please
Don’t wake me from the dream
It’s really everything it seemed
I’m so free
No black and white in the blue”

-“Blue” by The Seatbelts

~*~

“It was just a dream,” Cwen murmured as she sat on the banks of the Dunwash near Fiddler Falls. “Dreams have to come of an end. You have to wake up.”

The musical cascade of the falls soothed her as she watched the sun play in the spray with bleary, red eyes. Each outstanding blood vessel could lead a brave soul willing to hold her gaze to a different memory that threatened to hemorrhage with each passing breath.

“So pretty,” she murmured as she reached for a blurry rainbow that dissipated as quickly as it formed leaving behind only the blue of the rushing water.

Without warning, tears welled up and clung to her thick lashes. Her eyes closed and she swayed gently from side to side as they fell in rivers down her cheeks and off her chin to splash against her hands that rested on her ruined skirts. Her breath caught, ragged in her throat, and the swaying stopped.

“I have to wake up. It was just a dream.”

She opened her eyes.

A Bitter Pill: Not a Time for Passion

The hut was dark and silent save for Oendir’s steady breathing. Cwen lay beside him–clothed in her heavy chemise, underrobe, and lined trousers–and pulled her bare toes up to rest their tops against the back of his calves as she spooned against him. She pulled the fur blankets to her chin and let out a heavy sigh before draping her arm loosely over his torso.

What in Arda was wrong with him?

Right there in the middle of the Great Lodge! In front of Eruviel! And Hallem! He had not shown such passion or freedom with his emotions in all her time knowing him. Pulling her into his lap and then kissing her with verve so publicly made her pulse race, certainly, and in a way that it had not since she last saw…

But it was disorienting. It did not feel like the Oendir she knew. It was imply off and certainly the others would say the same had he not carried her away while covering her in kisses.

I should not be so ungrateful at these changes in his affection, she thought. But she was, because though perhaps once or twice he asked for milk in his tea, he had not since arriving in Forochel (cows really did not find the ice welcoming) and when she brought him what the ladies told her was milk, he did not even seem to question it. (She certainly did.)

Possibly what disturbed her more than his ready acceptance of pseudo-milk or the simplistic (public) declaration that they should make love was his lack of concern for Atanamir. He did not seem interested in the fact Atanamir had not yet regained consciousness and this above all was untrue to Oendir Arrowheart. She knew Oendir’s protective stance over Atanamir from the moment he let her use her beryl to save his life without question or complaint in Dol Amroth, though she long had suspected he saw the young man much like he saw…

She shifted uncomfortably, though she tried not to disturb him. If he woke, she feared she did not have the energy to stave his sudden interest in coupling again.

Through the haze of Oendir’s kisses, she had thought she heard Dorsett responding to Atanamir’s awakening. She hoped she simply had not imagined it and that the man was much more himself than her own love.

Her love.

She pressed her cheek against his back in the dark. Only through much quick thinking and persistent protesting did Cwen manage to talk Oendir back into his pants. She convinced him to find satisfaction in her declarations of love and her presence beside him, and though several times she insisted that she simply did not think now was the time for shagging, part of her wanted to just finally love him without preamble or pretense.

“Maybe he will sleep it off,” she whispered to herself in an attempt to find comfort enough to sleep, “but still find me so desirable when he’s more himself.”

But sleep was hard in coming for Cwendlwyn that night despite how hard she tried not to think of Oendir’s odd behavior or of the letter in her pocket pressed between the bed of thick furs and her hip.

A Bitter Pill: Home is Where the Heart Is


Ravenhold

The room in Ravenhold was just as she found it the day Oendir opened the door and motioned her inside. That evening seemed so long ago, but not even a year had passed since then. Cwen had not had the chance to see the fields lying thick and green with crops and blossoms and that saddened her as she stared at the empty room. She loved the lay of the grounds of Ravenhold and, somehow, she knew the view from the fountain would be spectacular when the grain fields were swaying like an ocean of gold before harvest.

But, she told herself, the view from her parlour at Gardeneve was spectacular, too.

The wagon was loaded. Neilia was already downstairs saying goodbye to the staff that rose to prepare for dawn. The girl remained chipper as she told everyone she would be back soon and that they should not be sad to see her leave. Most gave her pats and hugs and appropriately sad smiles that they would not give her mother. Cwen did not seek them. She did not want to see the rumours and the truths in their eyes. She only wished to be done with this journey and find the peace she desperately needed in the quiet life of the Shire.

As she turned her back on the room, she ran a finger along the edge of the letter she had spent most of the night writing over and over again. Each failed attempt found the fire; she had watched them curl in the flame as it consumed her words, and for some reason it calmed her. The uncertainty of her decision lifted with each tiny piece that floated on the hot air and faded away. The issue of Biramore could not be dealt with here in Bree. That chapter of her life needed to be finished before she could truly begin the next.

But still, it was hard to find the words to tell Oendir what she felt needed to be said. She struggled to capture each emotion and trap it on the page. Even now, she could still toss the letter on the fire and watch it burn until all that was left was a dark purplish stain of wax left on the logs. But she didn’t. Instead she turned from the room and walked with a stubborn purpose.

She looked up at the staircase that led to the third floor and then on to Oendir’s study. He wouldn’t be there, she thought to herself as she willed herself forward. She would leave it for him to read or discard. It was his choice.

The study felt small despite its size. The smell of woodsmoke and fresh air surrounded her, but she pushed it away from her thoughts as she crossed to his desk and slipped the note among other unopened letters on his desk.

The moment the letter left her hand, the desire to flee Ravenhold overwhelmed her and Cwen rushed down to the yard where Neilia waited with Cook and grumpy Benjamin holding the reins of Bean for her. The small band they were traveling with to Buckland would be leaving from the West Gate soon; swift goodbyes and an unusually stoic Neilia sat before Cwen on the great horse’s back as they rode away from Durrow and the family they had found there.

Home, Cwen thought as the sun rose high enough to warm her back. I’m on the road to home.

***~~~***

A week later, old Benjamin trudged up the steps of Ravenhold to discuss the quality of the remaining feed and oats stored for the winter with the commander. He held a bill of sale and several other envelopes and he was determined that something was amiss with the latest deliveries for the horses; and confound it, he was going to right it if it was last thing he’d do!

Unfortunately, the commander was not in. He was often ‘not in’ lately, though it seemed as though it was not because he was off gallivanting around in who-knows-where or anything of that sort. Being mayor must occupy much of his time and being a father ought to occupy the rest.

Benjamin grumbled despite this. He considered leaving the bill of sale on Oendir’s desk, but he knew the man would not understand without him to explain the discrepancy. Heaving a sigh for the time he would lose trying to explain it to the commander, he turned to trudge back down to the stables when the corner of an unusual envelope caught his eye.

Who in Stockard’s grave would be sending the commander a letter in a lavender envelope? Who went to such an effort to procure a bloody lavender envelope?

Without much consideration for the act, Benjamin snagged the lavender envelope and relieved it of the pile of other envelopes stacked atop it. The dark purple seal was already broken. He carried it against his side and kept it covered with the papers he held until he found sanctuary from prying eyes in the stables.

He opened the letter and read a simple note of affection and thanks:

Dear Comander Oendir Arrowheart,

Thank you for Songhorn. He is my most favorit present I have ever got. Even more than my dresses in Dol Amroth. I will miss you. You are brave and strong! I hope Solsey grows up brave and strong like you so he can fite bad people and safe us, too. 

Please come visit me and Mama in Buckland. You are nice and I like it when you make me laff!

Sinserly,

Neilia

Benjamin felt a bit guilty for pilfering the note now that he saw it was from the little girl. The yard was much quieter in these cold days without her shrill shouts of laughter as she played. Often the children from the nursery would come to play as well and together they filled the neighborhood with their energy. Yes, it was quieter with her gone from Ravenhold.

Another slip of parchment was behind the little girl’s note.

Oendir,

I know that it seems as though I am running away. Many see it that way and there is little I can do to explain to them that I am not running. I think you understood when I told you that I did not have a home in Durrow and that I needed home right now. I hope you understood.

Now that I am looking at leaving Ravenhold, leaving you, my hope is that you can find it in your heart to forgi

Benjamin started to read, but quickly stuffed the papers back into the envelope and decided it was better to replace the thing at his earliest convenience. He tried to ignore the rumour mongering of the town gossips; he did not want to know what else Miss Cwendlwyn had to say to the commander. It was none of his business. It was none of anybody’s business.

And even though he had more than a few complaints about the know-it-all from the south, Benjamin felt sorry for Arrowheart as he turned back to the horses gazing out at him evenly. As one, their gazes shifted to the stall where Miss Cwendlwyn’s steed had been kept as if they knew what was on the old stablemaster’s mind.

Grumbling, Benjamin shoved the purple envelope onto a table where several harnesses lay to be tuned, the metal pieces polished. Horses were easy, he thought as he picked up a worn bit of leather strap. Women. Women were the tough ones.

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.”

That Random Song that Gets You in the Feels

As I was grading papers today, I was listening to a random YouTube mix based off of Newton Faulkner. I wasn’t really listening to the playlist, though, because grading. So as I was typing out answers to the parts of speech exercises in order to create an answer key, I didn’t understand why I suddenly got incredibly depressed. I mean, typing out

  1. noun
  2. adjective
  3. pronoun
  4. noun

isn’t really all that emotional.

So I paused my work and clicked over to the YouTube tab and restarted the song that was playing. I don’t listen to a lot of radio, nor do I expose myself to a lot of random music on internet or app stations, so I had never actively heard “Let Her Go” by Passenger, and that was the song.

Music effects me (as it does most of us) pretty strongly and that is one of the reasons why I love it so much. But I don’t appreciate it when it sneaks up on me and makes me tear up right before students are about to march in for the next class! I mean, it’s hard to explain to a bunch of fourteen year-olds that this song is perfect for Cwen right now… all you have to do is change “her” to “him.” They don’t really get that because it’s snowing outside, it makes the lyrics cut sharper. It’s more than hard… it’s ridiculous. (Though there is that handful that get what I’m talking about, they’re not in the class that was coming in, unfortunately.)

So, I drank some hot tea and focused the feels into this blog post, and now I can share the feels with you.

Happy Thursday.

A Bitter Pill: Ghost Lilies

Gardeneve quickly transformed from a cold shell of a house to a warm and welcoming beacon in the cold Buckland night. Cwen and Neilia worked diligently for half a day to get the house in living condition; their work was certainly made easier by Callee’s diligence while they lived in Durrow. After the furniture was uncovered and the dust swept out, they set on the kitchen like two madwomen. Shortbread, sugar, gingerbread. Flour covered every countertop as they baked dozen after dozen and set them out to cool. Jellies, jams, crystallized sugar sprinkles. The Hobbits were coming, and they expected full bellies.

They baked late into the evening and then settled down in the parlour to to enjoy some of the fruits of their labor. Before a cozy fire, Cwen read to Neilia from a book of tales from the first age she had purchased in Dol Amroth. The little girl interrupted frequently to point out character flaws and plot twists and the tragedy of it all.

“Mama, you could be in a book like this!” Neilia declared at the end of the tale of Eärendil’s voyage. “You go off to save people and stop the bad things in the world, too.”

Smiling, Cwen brushed a bit of flour from the girl’s cheek. “I am no great hero, love. I just go where people need help when I am called upon. And even then, it is not that frequently that I am in the field any more.”

Neilia looked up at Cwen with big, wide eyes. “But you have! Since you met Mister Arrow’art.”

Cwen swallowed and kept smiling at her daughter. “I know working with the Wayfarers has taken me away from you more than I should be, Neilia. I am sorry.”

“It’s okay, Mama. I like it in Bree.”

Bree“Do you?” The fire sparked and mother and daughter watched the red glow leap into the air and fade away before it could hit the ground. “Would you like to stay there? Or do you miss home enough and wish to return here permanently?”

“That means stay here forever?” Neilia asked. “What about Ravenhold? That’s home, too.”

Cwen sighed and stroked the dark hair from Neilia’s forehead. “We need a house, Neilia. Not a barracks. And it is not right for me to be away so much, nor is it right for me to take you into harm’s way. When my contract with the company is over… I was thinking we could return here. Perhaps offer the spare rooms to folks on holiday. Give them a bed and a breakfast during their travels.”

Neilia sat up in alarm. “No, Ma! What are you talking about? We live in Durrow now so you can be near the c’mander. How can you two get married if we live so far away?”

Cwen’s heart nearly stopped before it took off like a Mearas .

“Neilia, don’t be hasty. The commander has many more things with which to occupy his time than me.”

Neilia rolled her eyes. “C’mon, Mama. He likes you a lot. And you like him.”

“But that does not mean we shall get married, Neilia. There are a lot of… factors to consider.”

“Like what?”

“Like… who will take care of our ghost lilies? Callee forgot to cut them back. We shall have to do that in the morning.”

Not buying it, Neilia frowned and turned to give her mother the same look Cwen gave her many times. “Mama. We can dig up the lilies and plant them in Bree.”

Cwen sighed. “Neilia, honey, it’s time for bed. We can talk more about this later. But don’t get your hopes up, love. You must be practical; the future is always uncertain. But regardless, I will love you and be here for you.”

Huffing in protest over bedtime, Neilia slid off of Cwen’s lap and padded into her room. Cwen sat for a moment rubbing her brow before pushing up from her chair to go tuck her daughter into bed.

 

The garden was bedded down for the winter; Callee’s visits had seen to it that the post was collected and the weeds kept in check; most of the flower beds had been cut back for the cold, but a group of ghost lily husks stood brown and dead in a far corner of the yard. Though Cwen told Neilia they would take care of it in the morning, sleep eluded her and the full moon illuminated the withered stalks well enough to take the shears to them.

Cutting back the plants was easy enough. She piled the stems by the bed and sat back on her heels. The lilies were hardy and would have done fine without the trim, but by clearing the old out, she knew the new growth would have the space it needed to thrive. Tomorrow, she and Neilia could go to the woodworker’s for wood chips to keep the earth from shedding all its warmth.

As she sat staring up at the Buckland sky, she sighed as her thoughts drifted back to Oendir, and Neilia’s hopes. Gardening applied to life, she knew. Yet it was so much more difficult to do to life. It would not be dead stems that would be tossed aside if she trimmed the ghosts that crowded her heart. But who would it be? Rheb, whose attention and devotion made her feel like a (very satisfied) queen? Or Oendir, whose quiet strength and goodness bolstered her own will and desire to create good in the world?

She needed both.

Didn’t every woman deserve both?

The stars whispered no answer. Inside her breast, her heart waged war on itself and her reasoning was no help, for it knew that one way or the other, now that Rheb said he loved her, they would all suffer for it, not just her and Oendir.

She thought of Oendir’s words the day after that fateful dream. Since then she had begged him to let her go, let her run away to the land of furry feet and elevensies and rich soil. Each time, he brought up her contract, her duty. How a good field medic was so hard to find. No matter how much both of them were hurting, he would separate personal pain from duty and carry on.

The amount of composure with which he delivered his words chilled her now as they did then.

The Wayfarers need you, and I’m not going to fight with my own son. Any other man, Cwen, and yes. I’d probably battle a dragon.

But not Rheb.

Always, Oendir put others first. His selfless protection of those around him had drawn her to him in the first place. The irony of it tasted bitter.

He didn’t want to break Rheb’s heart. Hadn’t she already? Hadn’t she broken all of them now that her relationship with Rheb was out in the open?

Her racing thoughts paused. Her relationship. Yes, it was a relationship, not just an affair spawn from loneliness and despair. She was genuinely fond of the youth and had begun to share more than just her body with him. She did not know when it began, the trust. She did not know how to stop it.

Cwen closed her eyes and pictured Rheb digging shirtless in his yard, the dirt flying out of the knee-deep hole as he flung it with his bare hands. The sweat on his skin glistened like the remnants of the tears he perhaps was attempting to bury. She did not have to go to him; even as he hurt knowing that Oendir knew, he reached out to comfort her. It had taken every ounce of her willpower to not give in, not crawl into the sanctuary of his arms, and not to lose herself in his version of love.

Now, she did not have to be wrapped in his scent to be overcome by him. Now, she only had to think his name and her heart fluttered and longed for the next time her eyes would find him again. Without her permission, she had begun to fall in love with the son just as she had fallen in love with the father.

When would she learn to temper her heart?

Her fingers were so chilled she had trouble with the knob in the circular door that led back into the warmth and comfort of her home. Cwen gathered up the post from the table just in the entryway and hurried back into the parlour to warm herself by the fire.

A few general notices regarding events in Buckland including Harvestmath concerts and the seasonal horse races. A newsletter from the Mathom Society thanking her for her yearly donation and requesting another for the Yule season. She mused on a Hobbit’s value of a bluejay feather from Dol Amroth as she flipped to a dirty envelope sealed with a dark red wax and a plain stamp. Her name and address was written in a jagged, shaking hand that seemed familiar somehow, but a sense of uneasiness descended upon her. She looked around the quiet room for its source, but only found the familiar furnishings of nearly half a decade of living.

Carefully, Cwen broke the seal and opened the letter.

The hand that wrote the letter was either uncertain or unlearned. The text itself revealed little; only the last stroke caused her to pause.

B.Hillman Camp, ND

Her breath caught. Then she gasped and this last component tipped her scales completely upside down.

Cupboard doors banged open and shut. The sound of boiling water soon filled the kitchen and with a shaking hand, Cwen added three drops of a dark liquid from the little blue vial to the tea. She had done so well since Dol Amroth; her addiction to Rheb had replaced her need for the sedative and she only thought of the opium in the deepest dark of night when she lay alone in Ravenhold longing for sleep.

Just to calm my nerves, she thought. Just so I can think on this clearly. It isn’t as though it is the opium. Just some herbs and roots to slow my trembling heart.

“Truly, it could not be him,” she whispered over the steaming cup as she brought it to her lips. “It is some ruse. Or someone else entirely.”

But she knew who sent the letter that lay open on the floor of the parlour. She wondered when it arrived, but more importantly, where in the world Biramore was now.

A Bitter Pill: Yule Letters

Tacked to the board in Ravenhold:

Dear Wayfarers,

Neilia and I have gone to Buckland to celebrate the Yule with our Hobbit family there. My stay should be brief; three or four days at most. If there is need of my services before we return, you can find me at Gardeneve. Do not hesitate to call upon me regardless of how far I may stray.

I am forever at your service. May Béma guide your path.

Cwendlwyn Tain

~~~***~~~

Left on the map table in Eruviel’s home:

Dear Eruviel,

I am sorry that I missed you. Neilia and I are going to Gardeneve for a few days to celebrate the season with Callee and some other friends. Please do not hesitate to visit if you feel the need to take a true holiday from Bree. My door—regardless of its location—is always open to you.

Regarding our discussion about the commander, I am afraid that the truth has done its damage. After the gathering at Ravenhold, he and I were left alone and the conversation did not go anywhere except to tears. I told him I would do anything, he need only ask. But he doesn’t know what to do any more than I do.

I am tempted to stay in Buckland even though Oendir insists the Wayfarers need me. How can I remain in Bree when he says there is no way to fix us? Even as I struggle to figure out what my heart truly says, I cannot bear it that I am the one who causes such a great man pain.

And Rheb. I am going to try to find him before I go, but what can I do? I have a feeling Rheb will only smile and try to kiss me to make it all better and remind me that he doesn’t mind if I am with Oendir, too. He just does not understand that Oendir minds. And me. Do I mind? I should mind, of course. I am not that sort of woman to have a husband and a lover. Whomever is whichever, I can’t even begin to think about.

I’ve already written too much. I do hope you come visit me now, though I will probably be back in Bree before you could reach Gardeneve. First thing when Neilia and I return shall be our tea. I fear we both need it.

May the Huntsman guide your aim true,

Cwen

~~~***~~~

Left with the mail at Ravenhold, sealed and addressed:

Durrow
Durrow

Dear Atanamir,

I wished to thank you for the conversation we had a while ago regarding Oendir’s foster son, Rheb. The information you provided regarding his unique abilities has proved useful. I know that you are curious about my questions. I do apologize for being so elusive.

I have a favor to ask of you though I do not think you will find it too large a burden. Please pay special attention to Oendir. I am afraid this season might be especially hard on him and I am in no position to make anything about it better. It is unusual for me to ask this of you of all people, I am certain. But he loves you dearly and I can tell he views you as one of his own.

Spend some time with him, if you can. I know you have your own burden to bear, but perhaps together your plights will be less when you have each other to share them. That is what family is for: to lessen the burdens we bear even when in the end, it is us that must face them alone. I know that you have your lover, but Oendir does not. He has Solstan, but a child can only ease the pain; he cannot help his father through it.

This might seem presumptuous of me, but I feel it necessary to say before I am before I leave for Buckland. Both of you are too pigheaded to say it, but you should. That you love each other.

Oh, and if you are afraid Oendir will be angry or disgusted that your bedmate is a ‘he,’ just look at him and say ‘hypocrite.’ If he balks and protests, say, ‘The dream.’ You were in it, too. I assume you will know what I am speaking of, but if you do not, just trust me. He could use a good kick of reality to face the fear that makes you afraid of his disapproval in the first place.

Cwen

~~~***~~~

Sent by post down the Brandywine:

Dear Miss Arameril,

Thank you so much for your letter. It brings me great joy to hear that you and Sir Pengail are getting married. He is a fine young man and together with your strength and spirit, you will make Dol Amroth and all of Arda a better place.

I am glad that you thought of me and the Wayfarers. I will pass along your well wishes and the news of your nuptials. I only wish we could be there to send you off properly. Married life can be a true blessing when the love is as pure as yours. I know that if you listen to each other, stay honest and faithful, and love each other with the same passion ten years from now as you do today, you will do fine.

That is the same advice I will offer young Hallem Kemp and his betrothed, if he ever asks. His engagement is probably the most exciting happy news of those you would know here. I know that you and he were quite friendly with one another, so I hope that he has already written you with the news and I did not spoil the surprise for him. Other than that, there have been a few more journeys and some new scars, but overall, we here in Bree are doing well.

Bree is beautiful with the season. Decorations of big red bows and holly and mistletoe are everywhere. Food is prepared with special care. And people gather to love one another. It is a wonderful season, truth be told. I’m certain Dol Amroth is just as beautiful in its own way.

I’ve included a small painting that represents the season here. A friend did the work. If you like it, I can ask her to do more little pieces that I can send easily.

Do keep writing, my dear. The happiness you have to share is always welcome here.

Deepest regards and best wishes on your wedding,

Cwendlwyn Tain

~~~***~~~

Slipped under the door at his house in Durrow:

Dear Rheb,

I have gone to Buckland to visit some friends. Oendir knows about us and is very hurt. I’m sorry I could not find you before I left. I will try one more time before Neilia and I leave.

K.

A Bitter Pill: From the Dark Deeps

Of all of Moria, Cwendlwyn hated the Water-works the most.

If asked, she would never had been able to explain her loathing for the mouldy, festering waters aside from the fact they were mouldy and festering and contained who knew what sort of evils beneath their still surfaces. Normal fears aside, her dread of the place set in long before she placed her foot into the tepid pool at the foot of the long stair as the party attempted to flee from the orcs and the goblins and the trolls.

In the Waterworks
In the Water-works

Of course, it was here that they would encounter the Four Lords. Of course, during that encounter the evils of the place would conquer what good their party possessed. Of course, Sage would be taken and Maludir’s confidence shaken and they would be forced to flee again like rats.

She could only attribute their success to the fact that the Lords had Sage and were preoccupied with the boy. Atanamir led them through tunnels following his map and they found a short moment of reprieve.

As she sat staring at the quill in her hand, her words to Hallem Kemp echoed in her mind. She knew that soon Atanamir would order them to move, but she knew that if she did not take the time to write these letters, they might never be written. She knew that she had to write them.

Saying aloud to Hallem that she was afraid and thought that she was never going to see the sky again; that she was unworthy of Oendir for she was ever so weak; that she had found solace in Rheb’s arms and perhaps a single night was no longer enough; that she was falling to pieces… saying all of these things made the weight on her shoulders ease as Hal had given her his Look, though suddenly she wished she were back in Dol Amroth making apple pie with him and Miss Arameril in the kitchens of House Colagar.

At least there, she felt as though she understood her challenges. Here, in the deep darks of Moria, she could hardly find up before the ground fell away beneath her feet again.

She furtively looked around for Atanamir and decided she had time to try once more to write to Oendir. She dipped her quill into the dark purple ink, took a deep breath, and began to write.

Dear Oendir,

I hope this letter finds you healthy and hale and that your time away renewed you for the duties that await you in Durrow. I have begun to seek some property to purchase pending the sale of Gardeneve, but I remain undecided. For years, that house has been our home and I am incredibly saddened at the thought of leaving it for good. Perhaps time will tell me what choice I should make regarding my housing; for now, at least, the cold stones of Moria are my shelter.

I do not know how I will send this letter to you. We are in a tunnel off the Water-works. We’ve encountered the Four Lords and I fear for us. The four sorcerers are far more powerful than I could have ever imagined. They have taken Sage. Maludir has lost himself a bit to grief and confusion. And I do not believe I will ever see the sky above Ravenhold again.

So I guess I should not fear the words that I write next. Chances are they will rot with my body here in the tepid pools of the drowned deeps. So I may as well just write them, correct?

I am afraid I am falling in love with you. I am afraid because you did not seem to be concerned enough with me to tell me that you were leaving Durrow or where you were going. When Neilia and I went to Overhill to find it cold and empty, my heart froze and I was hurt. Then I chided myself for feeling hurt when I could not claim you as my own; a few kisses and near death experiences did not make one bound to the heart of another. But I realized then that the pain that I felt when you did not tell me you were going meant something. It meant something and I was not sure I was ready to face it.

And then Rheb found me. And he found me again. He looked for me, sought me out. Flattered me and learned me and I was afraid I was falling in love with him. I carry a token of his, Oen. He slipped it into my pack with a note asking me to come back soon and telling me that he missed me. Before I had even left, he missed me. It’s so innocent and so sincere. I have to remind myself how young he is and that he’s not wholly a Man and that there has to be a logical reason why he makes me forget everything else in the world except him. There has to be, right?

These are not words that should be written to a potential lover. These are not things I should speak to you about! But I trust you–even though I do not wish to trust you, or anyone–I feel as though I must be honest with you or else I shall betray anything that is or was or might have been between us.

Is there anything between us?

I am beginning to feel better now that I have written this.

Hal said to just write, and that is what I did. I know you do not see Hal as a full, mature adult, and perhaps it’s all just my own vain naivety, but he is more mature than most give him credit for…he’s just on that precipice between adolescence and adulthood, isn’t he?

That does not make me feel any better about Rheb.

You should not forgive me, Oen. Ultimately, it is your choice and I do ever so hope that you do forgive me, but I cannot beg for your forgiveness for what I’ve done. He is your foster son and to even consider him as a lover would be terrible. Horrible. Because Men simply do not do that.

Rheb is not wholly a Man.

Can I lose you when I don’t even have you?

Cwen stared at the words and could not find a way to end it. How do you end a letter telling the man who you hoped could love you forever that you spent a night in his son’s arms? It was betrayal. It was just as she said: horrible. As remarkably forgiving Oendir was, she could not see how she could move past Rheb, so how could she expect him to?

She watched as the ink dried and then folded the letter carefully. She tucked it in the pocket next to the short note from Rheb that she hadn’t even known was there until she needed her little blue vial in Dolven-view and went searching for it. There it could stay until she found herself faced with a way to actually post the words. Then, the decision would have to be made.

She pulled out another piece of parchment and began to write hastily. She knew they would not be able to afford much more time to rest.

Dear Rheb,

Thank you very much for your gift. I will wear it while in the mines and be stronger because I know that you thought of me.

I miss you, too. I do need time to think things through when I can see the stars to guide me. I hope I will be able to sooner rather than later.

~Cwen

P.S.: I know my name is spelled oddly as ‘c’ does not always make the ‘k’ sound. It should have been spelled ‘Kwen.’ I like it that way. So I shall sign this postscript with just that letter:

K.

She frowned at the postscript. It was too easy to be intimate with him, even with leagues of forests and plains and tons of mountain separating them. It was just a letter, but on the page it was no longer just a letter. Traced with such care and with the little loops at the end of her letters, it was a kiss to the boy back in Durrow who missed her.

She pictured his face: the sharply angled incisors, the tapered ears. The thick flowing hair that he must have used to make the bracelet around her wrist. She pictured Oendir with his brilliant blue eyes. Rheb’s golden ones superimposed themselves on Oendir’s; the dark hair framing their faces merged and blurred. The colors of their irises overlapped into green and then faded into black and white but one thing remained: the earnest hopefulness that she loved in both of them. She clung to that hope whenever she was with either of them. Now, in what felt like a life-time away from both, she grasped at that hope twinkling in their eyes as her lifeline to her inner strength.

To her own hope.

To the surface.

A Bitter Pill: Instincts

She didn’t mean for it to happen. She would have never entertained such a thought, but the man that Oendir introduced as his foster-son invited her in from the cold. He invited her to warm herself by the fire. And then he spoke as if he knew her intimately for years past. Her secrets. Her desires. He said he wanted her smell. He said he wanted her.

He smelled… she could never quite place the feral, masculine scent of him, and she only understood that it drove her mad with desire. He triggered something deep within her belly that the feel of his nails on her back only intensified by a hundredfold. A thousandfold. Her lust for him surged until it overloaded her skin and left it tingling in greedy anticipation. She didn’t understand how the young man evoked such a dizzying wave of need in her that she could hardly formulate a thought to protest against him looming over her, tasting her neck, kissing the fabric over her belly. She was caught like a bird in his snare and she would only tear herself to shreds if she tried to escape his claws.

It was a coincidence, surely, that the gate she stood at belonged to the house he currently occupied. It overlooked the Tenorbekk residence where she and Neilia stayed until the family returned from their journey north. She wondered if he knew that, and if he stood at the edge of the cliff and watched her with those predatory eyes. ScreenShot00390

Those eyes. They sparkled with tiny flecks of amber gems when he drew near. She should cower from those eyes. His sharp teeth. His claws.

She shivered each time she thought of those claws raking down the cloth of her gown. The feel of their gentle, yet dangerous, press into her skin woke her at night. As she lay panting in one of the Tenorbekk’s beds, she would find herself thinking of her time with Anidore. They pushed each other’s limits and explored the boundaries of pleasure and pain together during their brief and fiery relationship. She had not abandoned herself to passion since.

But Anidore turned back to his old ways of violence and promiscuity. As much as she loved him, she could not travel down that path. For years she dwelt on her choice to love him as if love were a choice. She berated herself for not following her instincts with him, but then again, she would have never had Neilia.

After Anidore, her choices did not improve. Over and over again she showed herself that when it came to love and lust, she made poor choices and her instincts rarely served to protect her. So to hell with choice; she had long ago resigned herself to be tossed about on the winds.

But now she could not tell which way the winds were blowing.

She did right. She told him (in not so many words) that she hoped she had something with Oendir and wanted to discover what each day that dawned with him had to teach her. He stepped back. Gave her space. Her head started to clear. Be he still insisted he wanted her for a mate. That he could dispel her loneliness before time buried her beneath it.

She left him to prepare for bed alone and walked down the chilly lane and back to the Tenorbekk cabin. As she looked up at the cliffs that cradled the little bit of property, she shivered. Hugging herself, she thought of Rheb’s lips on her neck and her body flooded with warmth.

The wind growled around her as it pushed and pulled her as she made her way to the stoop of her temporary home.

Chapter Five: The Enemy

((Trigger warning))

“One! Two! Three! Again!”

Dusk was falling. Cwen leaned against the wall of the stable as she watched Danick spar with a fellow soldier, Grenwal. She stayed in the shadows; the soldier camp had no skirts or blouses. She was uncomfortable in the men’s garments she wore no matter how loose she made them. They revealed too much of her leg, her hip. She often felt exposed and the gazes of the men of the watch post did nothing to help alleviate the feeling. She was grateful that Danick and Grenwal’s friendly match drew the men’s attention.

A small ring of onlookers was forming; both men were apparently fine swordsmen, but apparently several of the men found Danick’s skill amusing.

“The huntsman can wield a sword better than you, Hema,” one solider near her goaded his companion. “Too bad he wastes his energies on tracking.”

“What use is a sword or spear to such an ‘excellent’ tracker,” Hema replied. “They hide and strike from afar. They run before facing another in hand-to-hand combat.”

“I can hear you, you know,” Danick said loudly as he parried several quick, vicious strikes in a row.

“Oi! Danick! When you gonna bring home somethin’ better than a lame kitty cat from those woods, eh? Somethin’ t’eat with meat on its bones, say!”

“I wouldn’t mind eatin’ up that kitty cat,” Hema’s companion quipped. “She’s got some meat on her bones worth chewing on, eh?” He nudged Hema with a leering grin and did not notice the sword until it embedded itself in the post the man leaned against.

“Boy! You do that again!” the solider shouted angrily as he stomped toward Danick. “I’ll see to it you never see the other side of the Gap!”

Though the man stood several inches taller than Danick who was now unarmed, Danick did not step back. He glowered at the man and said in a low, even tone, “Thunor. If you do not get out of my face, the next time shall not be a warning to hold your tongue. I will ensure that you do so by placing it in your limp hand myself.”

“Soldiers! Break it up!”

Aldin, the commander’s second. The circle quickly broke up beneath the grizzled man’s cold stare.

Thunor stood over Danick for a moment longer before poking his shoulder. “This isn’t over, pup.” The man turned and stalked away and only when he was out of sight did Danick relax.

Aldin glared at him. The two had a short, curt exchange with Danick nodding before Aldin continued his patrol of the watch tower. Danick rubbed his brow as Grenwal grinned and made some sort of joke that caused Danick to smile. Then, his eyes fell on Cwen as she stood in the shadow of the stable and they narrowed, studying her. He nodded once and then turned toward the commander’s building. Grenwal gave her a look, his expression unreadable. Then he, too, turned and walked away.The Mark

Cwen frowned as she moved away from the stables. She slipped through the gate and into the woods surrounding the post. Danick had warned her to stay near especially with the Dunlendings on the move. She hated being cooped up in the high walls, though. She needed space. Trees. Moss underfoot. Two weeks had passed since coming to the watch post and in that time, her physical wounds had healed greatly. Her spirit, however, dwelled in the ashes she left behind.

She found herself in a clearing where she often went to think. Pine needles and bracken covered the forest floor in a soft blanket. The moon broke through the canopy and bathed the center of the clearing and there she sank to her rear and brought her legs up close to her chest. She sat for a long time simply listening to the sounds of the forest and wishing she still had a home to miss.

The snap of a branch underfoot alerted her too late of the danger. A rough, thickly calloused hand seized her from behind and drug her backwards out of the patch of moonlight.

“I think it’s time I get my fill of the little pussy cat,” Thunor’s voice grated in her ears. “I don’t believe you’re one of us, little pussy cat. Your lies might have convinced the tracker boy, but they don’t convince me.”

Cwen’s arms were pinned to the leaves beneath her as Thunor’s weight settled on top of her. She was too scared to breathe, to fight back, to scream. She was frozen as the terror ripped through her again and the nightmares that had plagued her since that day in the abandoned cabin came true.

“Rip her clothes off, Thunor,” came Hema’s voice. “She looks like a boy with that hair cut so short. Let’s make sure she’s really a she.”

She struggled futilely to free her wrists.

“Look at her tremble. She wants it.” Thunor pushed her hands together above her head and held them tightly as he started to rip her shirt.

She stopped struggling. She had struggled against Tyne and it gave him the excuse to taunt her. Hurt her. She would not give these men that satisfaction. She clenched her eyes on the tears and thought of the Adorn rushing by after the spring thaw. The rush of the wind when she rode Bean through the fields. The sight of a fresh bud breaking through the warm earth. Good things. Wholesome things.

Not again.

Suddenly, Thunor let out a shout and the tip of an arrow whizzed past his head and embedded in the trunk of the oak in front of him. He rolled away from Cwen as and screamed in anger. Hema reeled and looked about for the shooter as he drew his sword. “Show yourself!”

Danick emerged from the shadows of the forest. His sword was in his hand and his bow was on his back. The full moon revealed to cool rage in his eyes.

“Drop your weapon, Hema,” he said cooly. “Grenwal is almost as good of a shot as I am. He’s here and ready to stop you if you try to interfere.”

“Hema!” Thunor climbed to his feet, sword drawn. “We put this pup to sleep for good,” he growled.

“Hema, I would hate for you to get an arrow in your eye,” Danick answered.

“Don’t listen to him! He’s a liar caught in that Dunlending witch’s spell. Kill him for his own good!” Thunor swung his sword in a circle with a swivel of his wrist.

“Thunor…” Hema looked conflicted until the arrow nearly nicked his cheek. “All right! All right!” He tossed his sword to the side. “Yer on your own, lad!”

“Good,” Danick said, “I will deal with you momentarily.”

Danick attacked swift and sure, his blade slicing the air almost too quickly for Thunor to react. The clang of the blades striking shattered the solace of the woods. Cwen curled up at the base of the oak and cowered. She watched the fight from the frame of her arms as she covered her head.

Quickly, Danick wore the larger man down with his controlled assault. He easily deflected Thunor’s blows with dodges and parries. A twist and a flick and the man’s sword fell to the bed of needles beneath their feet. Grenwal, arrow drawn on Hema, stepped out of the shadows as Danick kicked the sword over to him.

“You will turn yourself in,” Danick said softly as he went to retrieve the other discarded sword. “Face your punishment like men. If you run, it only gives me leave to hunt you down and kill you. And, as you said so yourself, I am an excellent tracker. I will find you.”

He handed the other blade to Grenwal even as the two defeated men stumbled up and toward the watch tower. Ignoring them, Danick went to Cwen and eased her to her feet.

“All right?” he asked gently. His bright blue eyes revealed his genuine concern. “I was worried when I could not find you in camp. I am only sorry I did not find you sooner.”

Cwen shook her head and hugged him tightly. The shocked expression on his face quickly faded as he held her.

“You should stay with others,” he said as he looked down at her. “It isn’t safe by yourself. I wish it were not the case…” His fine brow knit as he frowned.

From behind him, Grenwal said, “Danick. We need to get back. If they do return, we should be there to make sure they remember their story properly.” The man moved to retrieve the arrows spent as warnings and then plunged into the forest to return to the watch post.

Danick nodded and began to steer Cwen back to camp. “Stay with me. The commander has given me permission to act as your guard. It isn’t safe being the only woman with a group of men in the middle of nowhere. The next time supplies come, we will send you back with the wagons. You can find a new home and start again.”

Cwen looked up at him in alarm. “But I will not know where to begin. I have nothing. How can I start again when I don’t have anything to start with?”

Danick’s expression was of forced neutrality as he said, “You’ve made it this far. You will find a way.”

She opened her mouth to further prod into that unreadable expression but was cut off by a harsh shout and a body flying at Danick. The crunch of flesh impacting flesh. Flesh impacting the hard floor. And a soft gurgle and whimper of pain.

Her scream faded as she rushed to pull Thunor’s form from off of Danick’s. The blade of a dagger had sunk deeply into the man’s chest.

Danick stared in shock. His hand was open from where he released the dagger he had drawn instinctively. The man’s sword lay uselessly above his head where it had fallen.

The sound of someone crashing through the underbrush brought him to his feet. Grenwal stared at the bloodied mess of Thunor’s shirt front for only a moment before moving to his friend.

“Danick, what happened?”

Shaking his head, Danick said, “A healer, we need to get him to the healers.” Thunor made a helpless noise of gurgling.

“You’re hurt!” Grenwal reached up to touch the blood dripping from Danick’s ear.

“Just a scratch,” Danick assured him and then reached down to take up the dying man’s arm. “Help me carry him back.”

Cwen followed helplessly as the men dragged Thunor through the forest and back to camp. Others rushed to assist them upon nearing the gate and they took the man to the infirmary located in the larger of the two permanent buildings of the post. The healers, two older men who usually looked thoroughly bored with their stock in life, shook their head as they worked over him speaking in low tones.

“I need to report to the comman-” Danick’s words failed him and he would have fallen if Grenwal had not caught him beneath the arm. The man’s face was pale and sweaty. His ear still oozed blood, but now a yellow ichor mixed with the blood. Grenwal reached out to touch the ooze, but Cwen shouted and grabbed his arm.

“No! It is poison.”

Danick, weak and pale, stared up at her and laughed. “Who could have known…”

Pushing her way to him, Cwen leaned over and sniffed the wound. She looked down at Danick’s face and whispered softly, “You must hold on. I will fix this.” And before anyone could stop her, she turned and fled from the room.

Cwen Sings: 32 Flavors

I am so grateful that Cwen is back in the swing of things. One of my students who may or may not be stalking me noticed all my handles were “Cwen” or “Cweny Cwen” and he was like, “Is all your gaming accounts Cwen?” He was looking at grooveshark, but I took his point and told him pretty much, yes. Cwen is League of Legends, my main in TOR, what I name my main characters in any single player, and basically how I identify myself to the world.

Cwen means either “queen” or “woman” in Old English, depending on how far back the source goes. There is a whole heckuva lot of me that goes into her, I must admit. One of her main songs is also my life theme song.

And apparently, it just takes two glasses of Apothic Dark to get me relaxed enough to do a one-take.

Say wut.

A Bitter Pill: Bitter Dust

Bitter Dust

like a ball jointed socket,
i’ll turn in the mortar
my duty to grind and crush and distill you
down to the parts of you that are precious

(extracting the bits and pieces of you)

i hold that which you leave behind
the stems and the fibers of your being      only
fit for the fires to burn away                      garbage

shift away from me the goodness
leave the refuse of your skeleton behind

grinding, grinding, i’ll pound into you
breaking away the bits and pieces of you
over and again i’ll churn
grinding away to bitter dust
infusing the air
the mind
the soul
the secret poisons of this full moon

i’ll give you freedom; run naked beneath the stars

i cradle you and support you
i gather you up in my palms
i offer you to the lips of the Valar
take from me your fill
drink from me your happiness
i chase the Shadows back to their darkness
just grind against me until you break your bones

i give you the freedom to run naked beneath the stars

mortar-pestle-grey-marble

((A note to my Free Folk: Not quite the post I set out to write, but this is what’s brewing in me regarding Cwen and the drug abuse. It’s so much more than the high as anyone who has dealt with it as a user or as someone who loves a user might understand. In addition, the mortar and pestle personification is also symbolic of how addiction is so often a substitute for love and support, whether it be to drugs or sex. In this case, the mortar and pestle stands for both Cwen’s addiction to the drugs and quite possibly sex, or at least the affections of another.

Wow, she just got a lot more complicated. *apologies to Oen…*))

A Bitter Pill: If I Should Die Before I Wake

Dear Callee,

How are you, my good friend? Is the summer heat waning in Buckland yet, or is it still clinging to the hills with its August ferocity? I miss the way the Brandywine would sparkle like amber when the sun hit it just right. How each little crest of the water flowing ever on was a moment we’d never experience again, like a single heartbeat. Life flowed as a single pulse in the Shire. Even in Bree-land, there was a constant thread to cling to when things became overwhelming. It is not so here in Dol Amroth. There are too many wills at play for power and control beneath the festive thump of the city’s heart.

My company, the Wayfarers, have a deeper vein connecting them to preserving the goodness of this world than I could have imagined. They are no mere coalition of randoms come together to fight for their version of “good” or “justice.” Oen Commander Arrowheart introduced me to a very strong ally and from the wind spirit Fionwe, I have started to dream. They are more like vivid and realistic visions than dreams. The commander said they are messages from the wind spirit, lessons of the members’ ancestors and perhaps links to the origins of the company.

Now, you are a sane, reasonable hobbit, my dear. You perhaps won’t believe in fairies and wind spirits and the inner strength of any Man. But you have not met the commander. His people. They give me hope again, Callee. It is more than I can ask for.

But I do have something to ask from you. You know I draw trouble like bees to my honeysuckle blooms. Even here, it finds me. 

I don’t know who of our lot will be coming back to Bree. Something sinister is afoot and once again, I’m sucked into the brewing storm and I can only trust my companions to lead me out. I won’t say much about what is going on or isn’t going on, for truth be told, I hardly know myself. But I do know that this could end badly and if it does, Callee, promise me you’ll take care of Neilia. Oendir promised he’d make sure she was all right, but she will need you if anything would come to pass that would prevent my return to the Shire. 

I’m trying not to be upset that this happened. Again. Oendir says that we are in the place where we are needed. It’s a different way to look at the events unfolding, for certain. It’s confusing to the fear and bitterness I have in my heart. To consider finding this trouble a calling because we, the Wayfarers, may be able to help takes some adjustment in my mind. 

I will help those who can. You know I will. And I will try to keep my mouth shut, like I always do. But if it is not enough, promise me you’ll help Neilia. That she has a home with you or that you will ensure Oen finds one for her. 

She’s my world.

Your friend,

Cwen