After Death

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

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

Grief.

Shock.

Pain.

Emptiness.

Betrayal.

Guilt.

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

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

What happens when a man dies?

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

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

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

~~~***~~~

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

He did not want to breathe in and out anymore.

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

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

His old bones ached from the cold.

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

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

Above him, a black shadow circled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Gentle Touch

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

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

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

Gondor must hold. Dol Amroth must hold.ScreenShot00474

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

Unfortunately, it was too late.

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

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

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

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

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

~~~***~~~

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

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

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

A future with Gaelyn Fletcher.

I am now Halvel Fletcher.

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

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

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

~~~***~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was angry with Morty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Keeps Us Awake at Night

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

~~~***~~~

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

~~~***~~~

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

~~~***~~~

ScreenShot00473

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

~~~***~~~

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

~~~***~~~

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

~~~***~~~

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

~~~***~~~

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

~~~***~~~

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

~~~***~~~

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

What the Letters Say

What the Letters Say

Dear Rheb,

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

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

I hope you are well. We miss you.

With love,

Kwen

~~~***~~~

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

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

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

Wishing you and your city good health and happy days,

Cwendlwyn Tain of Bree
Field medic of the Wayfarers

~~~***~~~

Dear Callee,

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

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

All my love, darling,

Cwen

~~~***~~~

Dear Kupsa,

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

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

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

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

Write back! (if you can)

Your friend,

Abiorn of Dale

~~~***~~~

Dear cats that belong to my sister:

STAY OFF MY BED.

I know you can read this, you blasted lynx.

~~~***~~~

Dear Father,

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

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

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

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

Your daughter

~~~***~~~

Your excellency,

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

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

Kolrson, son of Sote

Dalish Charm: Try So Hard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Morty,

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

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

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

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

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

Always with love,

Your Anyatka

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

It was time to go.

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

Flee, day. Give me night.

Blinded

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~***~~~

Zab's flowersHe did not see.

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

His chest tightened.

Was he getting too old for this?

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

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

What was this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~***~~~

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

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

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

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

Besides, there was nothing to see.

He could be sleeping right now.

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

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

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

Shameless: Friends

“Thanks, Lina!”

Abiorn turned the ceramic mug over to inspect each side. The relief of a bears could have been ugly (Anya would have expected it to be ugly), but Lina had found something subtle and quite perfect for Abiorn’s sixteenth birthday. He clearly liked it.

“‘Course, Abbi,” Lina said with her lopsided grin. “Business has been good,” she said.

“You wanna go down to the Cask? Try it out?” Abiorn said eagerly. “Maybe we’ll run into Penn and he’ll be jealous.”

Anya sighed and frowned, but did not say anything to stop him.

“Sure,” Lina said agreeably, “but I’ll meetcha down there. I wanna talk to Anya ’bout sumthin’ first, ‘kay?”

Abiorn nodded and pushed back from the table and his plate, picked clean of his birthday supper.

“All right, meetcha at the Ford,” he said. He eyed the two girls before stomping out the door.

With another sigh, Anya stood to begin cleaning up dinner.

“Thank you for invitin’ me,” Lina said as she watched Anya work. “I, ah, so.”

Anya gave the girl a look. “Of course. Abiorn’s fond of you and you are one of my first friends here, Lina. I wish you came around more.”

“Work,” was all Lina answered. She shifted the remaining crusts of bread around on her plate. “So. Ah, how’re yeh?”

“I am all right,” Anya said and Lina looked up at her sharply. Even though she didn’t come around much, Lina could tell Anya was not quite “all right.”

“Really? I mean, I ran inta Morty at the Pony. I wanted ta come by even if it hadn’t been Abbi’s birthday.”

Lina could see Anya tense immedately. Her friend’s voice strained for control as she answered.

“What did he say? Was he grumpy? I am sorry if he was. He seems to be… under some stress lately.”

Shaking her head with disbelief, Lina replied, “Anya. Look, he said he tried ta break it off with yeh. I couldn’t give a lesser shite what he’s under. I wanna know why yeh want ta be with a man who don’t wanta be with you.”

Anya set down the carving knife and turned to Lina with a cold expression that masked a greater underlying fear.

“Lina, what do you mean? What did he say?”

Shifting uncomfortably in her chair, Lina admitted, “Tha’ he didn’t wanna hurt yeh no more. Tha’ he though’ he was stealin’ the best yearsa yer life or somethin’ like that. He said he tried ta break it off with yeh. Looked real tore up about it, though.”

What little colour was left in Anya’s cheeks had drained from them. She stood as still as a statue, her palms braced on the wooden table before her, as she answered.

“I know he thinks that right now. He does not understand that it does not matter how old he is or what he does when he is not with me. I love him.”

Lina shook her head and said vehemently, “Bu’ tha’s just it, Anya. He knows he’s doin’ yeh wrong and yeh just let him! Yer young an’ pretty, an’ tha’s why he likes yeh. Yeh don’t see him chasin’ skirts’a women as ancient as he is, do yeh?”

“He loves me.”

“If he loved yeh, he’d take better care’a yeh. Anya, girls down at the Mantle’s got blokes’re more attentive than he is. How can he be when he’s got girls all over the place…”

“I don’t want to know about his other girls! I don’t care who they are!”

Lina blinked up at Anya. A dark, angry flush crept up her friend’s cheeks and now she looked like one of the girls before they learned how to apply the paint properly to their faces. Pale and comical and sad.

“Anya. Really. He ain’t all that special. He’s jus’ another bloke.”

“He’s not just another ‘bloke’!” Anya insisted angrily. Lina grew wary as the rush of words included contractions: something that happened when Anya lost her composure completely. “He’s so much more than what he makes himself out to be, I know he is and everyone always leaves him, not the other way around! Well, I won’t, Lina, I just won’t! He deserves to be loved for who he is and what he is and I will always love him! Why don’t you get that? Why doesn’t he?”

The delicate girl slammed her fist into the oak table and immediately let out a harsh cry of pain. She clutched her knuckles to her chest and glared at Lina who had sat through the tirade giving her a sad look.

“You are the one, aren’t you?” Anya accused lowly. Her low, rich voice broke harshly. “You convinced him to leave me. It is why he told you those things.”

Lina rubbed her nose with the palm of her hand.

“Yeah. I guess so, but I hadn’t meant to. He was gushin’ on an’ on ’bout his kids and how much he loved ’em and I told ’em yeh’d give ’em more babies if he’d only asked.” Lina shook her head. “I don’t understand how that made ’em all wantin’ to leave all his women all the sudden. He wanted babies. He’s got women willin’ t’give’em babies. Darn fool seems to have ‘sactly what he wants, yeh ask me.”

The color flamed in Anya’s cheeks and for a moment, she did not look like herself at all. It must have been the cloud that passed over outside or the dark hair from her ordeal with the spirit. But for a moment, her features almost seemed to appear more sharply angled, her eyebrow more dangerously arch. Even the several inches of reddish roots in her hair seemed black in the shadow that passed over the house.

“Anya,” Lina said more cautiously, “I jus’ think…I jus’ think yer better’n what he’s got. When Anric ditched yeh, yeh had Mossfoot. Ditch Mossfoot an’ I’m sure someone’ll come along. I could see if Rush knows anyone, yeh know. Mehbe one’ve his brothers or somethin’.”

“Lina, I think you should go now.”

Startled at the abrupt dismissal, Lina protested, “I’m jus’ tryin’ta help yeh, Anya. He don’t even have it in ’em ta do what’s right when he knows it’s right.”

“Please leave!” In a calmer, though more dangerous tone, Anya added, “Abiorn is probably waiting for you. At the ford.”

Lina stood up and rubbed the back of her head.

“Sorry, Anya,” she murmured before taking her leave.

Anya’s silence as she left followed her all the way through the market and to the ford where Abion was waiting.

“Come on!” he said eagerly as she sauntered up to him with her hands shoved in the waistband of her breeches. “What’s wrong? Let’s go to the tavern!” She hadn’t noticed how much he’d grown since he came to Bree: an inch or two at least. Despite the boyish eagerness of his grin, he looked less kid and more man and Lina sighed and wondered when he’d start looking at women as only playthings.

She rearranged her features into her easy, eager smile. Her eyes lit up with a false fire and reached for Abiorn’s arm.

“Sure thing, Mister Tenorbekk,” she teased. “Whatever yer heart’s desire.”

~~~***~~~

Beneath the house of the Elf, in a crate and warded safe, a statue of a dragon lay cold and alone. Upon its forehead, an adamant star begins to glow.

A cold wind blows, whispering around the empty home.

Out. Out. Through the spirit and out the soul. Out. Out. 

Dalish Charm: Everything and Nothing

Anyatka Tenorbekk found it hard to smile.

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

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

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

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

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

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

She was being silly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eirikr nodded.

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

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

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

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

He had been quieter than usual lately.

Durrow was quieter than she had grown used to lately.

She missed them. She missed him.

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

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

And then, she opened her eyes.

Will-o-Wishes

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

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

~~~***~~~

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

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

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

 ~~~***~~~

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

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

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

~~~***~~~

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

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

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

~~~***~~~

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

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

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

Find peace.

~~~***~~~

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

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

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

The Fallow-flame

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

Secrets and Lies

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kipinä wept as she gripped at his hands.

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

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

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

“Oi! Gerroff her! Let go of her!”

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

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

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

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

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

Breathless and blinking, Abiorn tried to focus.

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

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

Kipinä leaned back, and stared at him.

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

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

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

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

“Wha-?”

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

Alarmed, Abiorn reached out for Kipinä.

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

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

“Look,” rumbled the bear.

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

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

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

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

~~~***~~~

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

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

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

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

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

Oendir gave Cwen a slightly irritable look.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He let out a breath, and turned away.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She closed her eyes and bowed her head.

“It is nothing. It is over and done.”

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

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

He rubbed her back gently.

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

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

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

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

Dear Eruviel

Dear sister,

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

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

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

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

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

With love,

Anya

~~~***~~~

Dear Abiorn,

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

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

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

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

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

Love,

Anyatka

~~~***~~~

Eruviel,

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

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

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

Do come home soon. I miss you 

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

Eirikr

Not Alone

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

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

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

There.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~***~~~

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

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

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

vahan
Vahan, the husky runt

“Rooooo arroo arroo arroooooooo.”

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

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

“Araaahgh arraaahghhh rrrooorrororrrrooooo.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then he laughed loud and clear in the crisp air.

Anya was going to kill him.

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

Grin and Bear It: From Forochel

The Northern Lights

Dear brother and sister,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abiorn

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

Smoldering Fire: Let it Lie

Ravenhold all dressed up for Yule.
Ravenhold all dressed up for Yule.

Eirikr burst from the door of Ravenhold and barreled down the steps. Behind him, Abiorn caught the door with his shoulder, a hand out to protect the puppy from the cold wind.

“Eirik! Wait!” the younger brother called. The puppy squirmed anxiously in his arms. “Eirikr, hold on, what happened?”

The older brother did not respond as he practically flew down the path that cut through the land of Ravenhold to the road. His back hardened beneath his festive red and green shirt and the tension surrounded him. He did not ease until he turned down Chestnut Street, but even then it was less of a relaxing and more of a channeling of the hot energy surrounding him.

Abiorn caught up with him as he stooped to gather an armload of firewood from the side of the house.

“Eirik, listen, what just happened back there?” he gasped. The puppy stared up at Eirikr with soft blue eyes from Abiorn’s arms and seemed to know something was amiss.

“Nothing,” Eirikr lied as he tried to push past Abiorn. The boy held his ground and shook his head.

“Horseshit. You were fine and then Eruviel showed you something and you made her upset and just left.” Abiorn shifted Bear to his other arm. “You can’t tell me everything is fine. Was it Anric’s present to her? I don’t think the guy meant any harm.”

Eirikr’s brow furrowed as he stared down at his brother. “What are you talking about?” His tone shifted; less angry, more cautious.

Abiorn had the decency to look sheepish. “Um. Some people been talking that you and she are sweet on one another, that’s all. I mean, jealousy is a dangerous beast, brother, so if you’re worried-”

Grunting, Eirikr walked around Abiorn. “No. It wasn’t Anric. Though he and his brainwashed self aren’t good enough for her and he should know that.”

Abiorn sidestepped to block him again. Maybe any other day, Eirikr would have not had a problem bumping his little brother to his rear, but this night: puppy.

“Look, then, what happened? The only other time I ever saw her look like that was when Ninim died.”

Eirikr’s eyes darkened and the pain shot from him like arrows. Even Abiorn was struck with the power of the man’s anguish.

“Ask her if you’re so curious.”

With one hand, Eirikr used Abiorn’s shoulder to direct him to the side and he went into the house. He dumped the firewood on the rack and then went to the table where his bow leaned and his quiver lay. Using quick and automatic motions, he checked the bow and then slung it over his shoulder. Abiorn watched from just inside the door as he bent to pull his pack from beneath his bed. Without checking it, he walked toward the door.

“You’re leaving, then?” Abiorn stated with more than a hint of bitterness. He did not move away from the door. “You were ready. You knew you’d do this again.”

Without looking down at him, Eirikr bit out, “I am going to kill something. Now move before it is you.”

Abiorn shook his head. “You wouldn’t kill me. I have a puppy.”

“Abiorn.” Eirikr’s voice was low and full of anger, but the rage was not what made Abiorn blink and step aside. He looked up at his brother and saw the man who just lost his wife in the shadows of Mirkwood. Time had not dissipated the anguish Ninim’s death caused; it had merely buried it until whatever Eruviel did brought it back to the surface to strike Eirikr again.

His gaze dropped to the tile as he stepped aside. “When are you coming back?” he asked.

“Tomorrow by supper.”

“You promise?”

A thick silence fell on the cabin and their breaths hung in the air. From Anya’s bedroom, Sally Stitches let out a quizzical mew and then she sat on her haunches in the doorway to stare at the mass of golden fur wiggling in Abiorn’s arms. The tabby’s ear flicked, clearly irritated at being so disturbed from her nap. After a moment, she hissed and darted back into the room with a flick of her banded tail.

“Eirikr. Promise you will be back tomorrow. Anya’s going to start to worry and I just can’t handle that.” He set the puppy down and he took off toward Anya’s room after Sally. The hissing and barking hardly caused a brother to blink as they stared at one another.

“I promise,” Eirikr finally said, his dark grey eyes holding Abiorn’s.

Nodding, Abiorn stepped aside and ran his hand through his shaggy hair.

“Be careful, brother,” he said quietly.

Eirikr nodded and walked out of the door leaving Abiorn with the showdown beneath Anya’s bed. He sighed and trudged into his sister’s room. He grabbed the puppy around his middle; Bear whirled and snapped at Abiorn’s hand, but the boy pulled it back quickly and waggled a finger at the pup.

“Now, now. You don’t smell all that nice yourself, you know,” he said with a grin. “Leave poor Sally alone. Anya’d kill me if she came home and her cat was minced kitty.”

The puppy looked at Abiorn and then squirmed to get out of his grasp. He didn’t go for Sally, though. Instead, he padded over to the door, his sharp puppy nails clicking on the cold tile.

“You want to go outside?” Abiorn asked it sweetly. He looked around for something to make a leash; he settled on the sash to one of Anya’s dresses. He frowned at the idea of putting it around the puppy’s neck, so he made several loops to hook around his front legs and fasten into a harness. “There we go. Let’s pee.”

Abiorn took the puppy outside and let him sniff around the house. He did his duty and continued to sniff: the waggon, the vegetable bed, the wood pile, the stoop. Near the road, the puppy let out a yelp and tried to charge down the lane toward the Chestnut Woods.

“Whoa! Easy, boy. What is it? You smell Eirikr?” Aboirn sniffed the air and then dropped into a squat beside the puppy. Sniffing lower, he caught his brother’s scent. “Ah. Yeah, you like him better, don’t you? Sorry he’s such a pain.” The golden dog whimpered and settled on his belly as he stared down the street.

“I know. He’ll be back though, boy. And you can meet our sister when she gets home from her boyfriend’s graveyard.” He added with a nod, “I know. She’s weird.”

Settling down next to the puppy, Abiorn crossed his legs and rested a hand on the back of the pup’s shaggy head. Scratching him behind the ears, he said, “We can sit here for a while, okay? Just to see if he changes his mind. But I wouldn’t count on it, Bear. Not until he said he would.”

The puppy whimpered again, and Abiorn sighed.

“I know, buddy. I know.”

Shameless: Rush

Anyatka opened the door even as the fist on the outside pounded on it again. She blinked into the darkness and focused on a figure squinting into the brightness of the Tenorbekk’s front room.

“Lina? What are you doing here?” She stepped back to let the girl in and noted her flushed cheeks and breathlessness. “Are you quite well? What is it?”

From the dinner table, Eirikr looked up and his visible eye narrowed beneath the bandage wrapped around his head. Abiorn, Anya’s younger brother, looked incredibly interested in what interrupted their dinner. As Lina brushed past Anya, he grinned and leaned his chin on the palm of his hand.

“Anya, beg yer pardon, but I need yer help an’ it’s gotta be quick!” Lina turned in a whirlwind and leaned back against the couch. She crossed her leather-clad leg over the other. “Yeh got a bedroll an’ some campin’ supplies I can borrow?”

Anya nodded and strode forward to take the girl by her arms. “Lina, slow down. Are you in trouble? Why in such a rush? We can help you; you do not have to run.”

Lina’s slender neck stretched as she leaned her head back to laugh. “Oh, no! I’m not in trouble. The Missus gave me permission an’ everything. I just told ‘im I’d meet ‘im in an hour and goin’ by the Mantle took up near half. I gotta get supplies an’ meet him, or he’ll think I stood ‘im up.”

Not one to remain silent on the sidelines, Abiorn asked, “Who’s that, Lina?”

Grinning at the boy, Lina answered, “Rush. We’re goin’ ta Trestlebridge. Maybe farther north, who knows. But I’m gettin’ outta Bree fer a while, and that’s all tha’matters.”

Anya and Eirikr exchanged a concerned look. She nodded to her brother and he stood to fetch the supplies she’d need for the journey.

“Lina, who is this Rush?” Anya asked with measured politeness. “What does he do?”

Flushed from her rush, Lina ran a hand through her short hair. “Jus’ a boy. My age. My real age. Have I told yeh my real age? I’m not nineteen, I’m seventeen. But he doesn’t do anythin’ really, and tha’s why he wants to go to Trestlebridge. He’s done all sortsa jobs, but doesn’t like a one.”

“Does he know what you do?” Abiorn blurted.

Lina nodded. “Mhmm. Doesn’t phase him. Actually, he bartended at the Mantle for a bit. Didn’t last. He’s a decent fella, just kinda listless. Needs a kick in th’arse, prolly.”

“And you intend to give it to him?” Eirikr asked as he dropped a bedroll and a woolen blanket on his bed. He didn’t look at Lina as he rolled it into a compact bundle for her. “Where’s your pack?”

Lina thrust her pack at Eirikr. He took and pulled it open and then started adding things to it and taking some things out.

“Nah, look, it’s just a chance t’get outta Bree fer a while. I trust this fella. He’s got lots of brothers an’ sisters an’ just needs ta get out on his own a bit, tha’s all.” Lina bounced on her toes. “Yeh almost done? Don’t mean ta rush ya or anythin’, I just don’t want ‘im ta think I stood ‘im up.”

Eirikr knotted her pack and held it out to her. “Yes. You’ve said that.” Looking over her head to his sister, he cocked a critical brow. Anya shook her head and shrugged.

“Lina, promise you’ll write when you get to Trestlebridge? Especially if you intend on staying for an extended period of time, or leaving to go somewhere else, please?”

Lina took the pack with an appreciative grin and raised it to Eirikr. “Thanks, big brother,” she said. Looking at Anya, she wrinkled her nose. “Anya, yeh know I can’t write.”

Anya sighed. “Well, maybe this Rush can. Have him take dictation. Please.”

Lina shrugged. “If I remember. Can’t stay, though. I’ll bring yer things back when we return!” Quickly, she left in a flurry.

Abiorn watched the door for a moment after it closed behind her.

“You think she’ll make him pay?” he asked with a grin.

Eirikr slapped him on the back of his head. “Abiorn. Not appropriate.”

Anya blushed and frowned as she resumed her seat at the dinner table. “Yes, really, Abbi. That is none of your business if this man is a client of hers. Or just a friend.”

“Ever heard of him? Didn’t she say he was her age? She’s not that much older than me. How could a kid like me afford Lina for a week?” Abiorn stuck his finger into his mashed taters and sucked it clean.

“Ugh, Abbi.” She tossed a cloth at him, but he only laughed when it hit his face. “That’s none of your concern, anyway. What Lina does is Lina’s business.”

Who Lina does, you mean.

Ow! Damnit, Eirikr.”

After dinner, Anya knelt by the fire and scrubbed the fine china dishes Eirikr and Abiorn brought back from Dale in a tub full of lukewarm water. “Don’t you think we should have stopped her?” Eirikr grumbled as he brought her his and Abiorn’s plates.

“It would have done no good. She would have found the man and ran off with him anyway, Eirikr, you know that as well as I.”

“She’s your friend. Anya. I hardly know anything about her except that I should usually be concerned for her. What if this lad hurts her?”

Anya’s dishrag slowed for a moment. “Don’t underestimate Lina. I know she looks thin and helpless, but I doubt that she is. She had lived in Beggar’s Alley for quite some time before I met her. And before that… she rarely wanted to talk about before that, Eirik. Somehow, I think she can handle herself better than I could in her situation, that’s for certain.”

Eirikr picked up a dish from the line Anya was leaving along the stone hearth. “I hope you’re right, sister.”

Anya nodded. “I know. Me, too.”