Two days ago
She did not know that version of Hallem Kemp. Angry. Hateful. Demeaning.
Hallem had always been brutally honest with her, but she could not remember when he was down right mean to her. As she hurried through the darkening streets of Bree clutching the book she borrowed from the Archives to her chest, she swallowed back her tears and ducked her head. Several people called out greetings or warnings of the approaching night, but she did not respond to any of them.
She was not afraid of the night.
What she was afraid of was was being nothing. Forgotten and alone because she was of no use to anybody. She was afraid of being left behind while those around her went off to do brave and noble things to save the world from the Shadow. She was afraid that she was unlovable and that he had only used her as a means to his end and that none of it was real.
That was why she went to Atanamir and begged him to help her change into something worthwhile and valuable. Something strong and powerful. Something coveted beyond time and space so much so that nothing could stop her from protecting her loved ones and finally being able to do something to prove she was worthy. When he said that there was a possibility he could combine her with Faethril and give her control…but in the end she was relieved he had come up with an alternative, even though it would take time. More time than she had, she knew. But it was possible.
Anything was possible.
She did not look at the man who took the book back with a pleasant, unobtrusive smile and a thank you. She nodded and murmured something of a thanks of her own and fled from the building with the intent of fleeing Bree. The walls were suddenly too confining, too stuffy. She needed space and the soothing lap of water against the banks of the Little Staddlemere.
When she reached her willow tree, she plunged through the draping branches and leaned heavily against its trunk. Slowly, she slid down to the smooth dirt below and let the tears flow.
She cried until she was out of tears and her face lay buried in her knees as her breathing slowed. She sat there for a long time just listening to her own breathing. In and out. Slowly in and out. Each breath filled her body like a river filled a waterskin. She felt heavy and weightless at the same time; it was if she were pulling away from her body and floating among the singing branches.
Anya sighed and suddenly she felt the presence around her and like the whispers of a thousand oathbreakers, she heard something not with her ears, but with her heart.
She opened her eyes slowly, but there was nothing there except the wind. She reached out to touch the air and welcome it to her and thank it for the breath of life when he had none and suddenly she understood. In her exhaustion, she found it.
Excited, she sat up quickly and just as fast, her revelation slipped away from her grasp. She did not feel it anymore, but she knew that she could. She knew that it wanted to be known. It wanted to be heard.
She sat cross-legged and straight up. It was easier to breathe when she was not slumped over. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She listened. She breathed. She waited.
It was all that she could do.
The hours she spent lying beneath the graveyard roses before Hallem appeared had left Anya both sore and numb. The rain had stopped eventually, but it would take some scrubbing to get her robes clean. Some part of her scolded the choice to remain lying in the mud, but the ground beneath the beautiful white roses was not as damp as the paths between the bushes and all she could really feel was loss.
The loss of his smile. His cool touch. His gentle, encouraging words.
That is what she missed most. He gave her strength to believe in her drawing by his easy, embracing words. She opened up and bloomed from a tightly wound, fearful bud into the artist and young woman she was today. He did not fear being himself and by following his lead, she no longer did, too.
But just who was he?
She looked up at the sky. The clear sunlight seemed purest after the brief spring rain. She did not agree with Raen; she clung to the idea that the man never fully died and that somehow two became one in his flesh and bones. She felt that duality in him when his eye flashed at her. She knew what it was like to share bodies with consciousnesses that were not your own.
But she did agree with one thing the Elf had said: whether it was the last Prince of Cardolan or Morty Mossfoot that she loved, she loved him. Them. The warmth and the mystery. The gentle and the intense. The life and the death.
That was the only useful bit that she could contribute, really. Her love fed by his love which shone through in her rose bush. Her Dalish Charm planted in the middle of all the others, heavy with blossoms and growing still. Reaching. Reaching for the sun and the moon.
For the light in the darkness.
“The commander intends to come here? Just for this boy?”
“He’s not a boy, Eirikr. He has seen two decades pass.”
“Twenty? He is twenty?”
“Perhaps a bit older. Oendir looks at him as a son, though he is…you know, I do not know quite how old his is.”
“And what people say…”
“People say a lot of things, Eirikr. What was that I heard just the other day at the Cask? You and…?”
“Cwen. You know I am not speaking of only the rumour. That village sprouts rumours all the time. Yours has truth behind it, though. You do not keep it a secret when you walk through town holding his hand.”
“We just wanted him to come home, Eirikr. He is not going to return with us; I do not blame him at all, truth be told. The world of Men has not been kind to Rheb. But he misses Oen and my letter said as much to the commander. Oen will come.”
“But to what end? You have done your duty by ensuring the fellow is safe and happy. I don’t see why we have to be here when the commander gets here. Anya’s-”
“Eirikr, please. Do go home. This place is…wretched. I appreciate your accompanying me here, but truthfully, I do not need your protection. No orc will cross me here as long as I wear Rheb’s bracelet.”
“You seem so confident in that thing. What if Rheb turns against you and the orc-men use it to track you down. You wouldn’t even know it until you had the sword in your back, Cwen.”
“Rheb is savage like the orcs to a certain extent, yes. He killed two wargs in Durrow single-handedly. He has skills he hides from all of us because we would fear him more than we do now. He knows he is a monster in Durrow. Here he can be free to be who he truly is. I envy him that. And should he choose to turn against me…I am in his land now.”
“…You really understand him, don’t you?”
“As much as I can. And I want to understand more. I do love him, Eirikr.”
“And the commander?”
“I love him as well. I will always love them both and I am blessed that they love me.”
“You do not believe that a Man should be with one Woman and vice versa?”
“I believe love is never simple and also it is the simplest thing. Sometimes it works that way: one-to-one. Sometimes it does not. But it should never be looked upon with scorn. It is too precious in these times to waste. It is too precious in any time to waste.”
“You sound like a philosopher at university. An old man caught up in books and artifacts too much and does not remember what it is like outside the walls of his office.”
“You think I am like that?”
“No. You live outside your head. But your ramblings remind me of them.”
“Maybe now when they are old, they choose to live inside their walls because it makes them feel more at home. Safer from the dangers of hatred and malice. Durrow was a safe place to you and to me. But not for Rheb. He had no place there. Here he has men that love him and obey. Here he is someone and not something. He has use for man and orc. Anlaf said fur traders told him about their camp. Perhaps they would be interested in trading with Bree. I could be Durrow’s envoy.”
“That would allow you to see Rheb and Oen separately. Both in their own worlds.”
“Yes, that is ideal isn’t it?”
“That look. Cwen, what is it?”
“I am waiting for knife in the back. It is too perfect, isn’t it?”
“I’m not going to stab you. Stare at you incredulously, but not stab you.”
“This does put a different twist on things, doesn’t it? My relationship with both of them would no longer be a burden. It would have its purpose.”
“I doubt the villagers would take kindly to the knowledge that we are now trading with the same orcs that destroyed the gate.”
“Would they chase me out, do you think? If they knew he had come for me?”
“I would chase you out. But I like you too much. And Abiorn needs you.”
“Is that the closest to affection you give to folks, Eirikr?”
“Sometimes I will pat your shoulder in an approving manner.”
“Oh, shove off, Tenorbekk.”
“Good talk, Cwen.”