The Nightingale: Dear Hallem Kemp

Dear Hallem,

I realized it had been ages and ages since I wrote you last. I hope that you are well and the company has had a lot of (safe!) work to keep you busy. Are you still digging graves, too? I never imagined that I would write a such a sentence as that, but there you go! You are an eclectic man. Have you climbed any good cliffs lately? I, unfortunately, had a terrible fall a bit ago. It was before the battle near Minas Tirith. I was on a roof at the Tower and I fell. Luckily, I was not dead and they found me and Miss Cirieldis took care of me while I recovered, but sometimes I wish .   . that I had more things to do than stare out of the window. While I was laid up in bed.

Something terrible has happened, but I don’t really want to talk about it. At least Father is not dead as the reports originally said. I have moved in with him, with Hathlafel. He still wants me as a daughter even though I am not his and I cannot be more thankful for that. Without him, I feel like I would truly have no family anymore.

Sirifast, his brother, is tending to the house he bought. It is in my name. It was kind of him to do that for me, but I don’t know what to do with a house I cannot live in. Did you meet Sirifast? I cannot recall if you ever did.

Oh, Miss Ciri also helped me to get out of working for you-know-who. Another girl, one “trained” for such work, took my place. I cannot help but feel terrible that another girl is doing that and because I couldn’t. It nearly destroyed everything before the Swan-knights left for Minas Tirith. So, you see, it really had been forever since I had lived in that house. I lived at the Tower instead.

It’s so empty now. Surely there is a fine layer of dust over everything. Is it wrong of me that I wish to sell the property? I wish to forget everything about that bit of my past because it hurts too much and to see his remaining family hurts too much and I should never have married him in the first place. Romantic relationships outside the order complicate things. Roses aren’t supposed to marry.

Miss Cirieldis doesn’t think that way. She is in love with Sir Aureldir. Sometimes I remember that I once believed he was my father and it seems like so long ago. This is turning into something quite unlike what I had intended. I’m sorry for not staying very well on topic–Hello, Hallem, how are you, Hallem, I am well, Hallem. That sort of thing. I just miss you so much and there is so much to say and I don’t really want to think about any of it, really, but I should. I need to talk to people, don’t I? I need people to help me remember the world has good in it still. That it isn’t just murders and kidnappings and lies and death.

Do you remember Lord Claur of House Baudh? He was injured recently and I have been helping him with his research. It was a nice diversion while my own injuries kept me from being able to work as much as I wished. I am mostly recovered; I simply cannot waltz back onto the ship full stop so soon. It would raise suspicions.

He is a nice man, Claur. I enjoyed working with him. He took the time to hear my thoughts about his topics and it felt good to have someone listen to me.

This is probably too long to be a proper letter. I hope life in Bree is good. Please write me back. I miss you.

With Love,

Merry

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The Nightingale: Letter in a Bottle

Take things as they come,
One by one with each rising sun.
One step, one breath, one paper, one pen
And the teardrops will fade and then

Maybe, just maybe, you can breathe again.

~~~

Letter to Pen

~~~

She rolled the paper into a tight little scroll and sealed it up with wax. She chose the bottle with the shoulders and slid the letter inside.

She waited until dark because it was easier that way. The fewer people that saw her, the fewer questions she might have to face. How did you get up so high? What are you doing on that ledge? Aren’t you afraid you’ll fall?

I have fallen once, she told them in her head, and I should have died then.

I wish I had died then.

But they didn’t see her move through the shadows, or if they did, they told themselves it was just the light playing tricks on their eyes. Old eyes in the candle light. Young eyes full of imagination.

She stood on the ledge where she hid so long ago after fleeing from her only home, the Ivory Tower. The Keep of the Swan-Knights loomed in the moonlight and she wished that it was only guard duty that kept him away. The bottle, hard and cold in her hand, glinted, gave her intentions away if anyone cared to look. Did anyone care to look?

With all of her strength, she threw the bottle with the rolled up letter and it sailed in the starlight, through the air, and splashed into the waters below. Every night the ritual was the same since she moved to her father’s house. People kept journals all the time, of course. Letters were normal to send to loved ones.

Arameril shared her journal, her day, with her loved one, and since no post could carry the words to him, she prayed to Elmeleth that they would find him through her offering to the sea.

Over the Edge

The guard lay dead at her feet. The beautiful man, for he was beautiful beneath his mop of black hair, had brought her food in the gaol and sometimes stayed to ask how the straw mat was at night, but he never came into her cell. Only his smile warmed her, that sad, confused little smile he gave her before he moved on to deliver the next meal.

His name was Idhrenor, but that did not matter much anymore. She was certain that he had asked that she be placed with him during the trek through the tunnels and on toward the tiniest glimmer of hope. “I will ensure you are taken to safety, Eshe,” he had said. “No man or woman deserves to die in a cage. And when the enemy is driven back, you’ll have your hearing and surely you will go free. Do not lose hope.”

But what is hope? Nothing but vain fantasy, a thought that the mungu gave a last shit about their trials any more.

Behind them, the smoke rose and she longed to immerse her naked feet in a pond or stream. She needed to know who controlled the tide of the battlefield.

Her father never bothered with sides. Enzi chose the path to protect his family and warned to stay away from the power struggles of the “great ones.” One side always had to lose and the losers were always the villains. “Every army marches with hope, Eshe,” Enzi said. “Even an army of slaves hopes that it will survive, little may that false hope serve them. To be real, to have power, men must fight for more than just their own lives. So they fight for land. For boundaries drawn with binding ink on pieces of parchment. Your grandmother’s powers were not meant to serve those fighting over land. Only on the sea can a man truly be free.”

She wondered how many of her brothers sailed with her people. They needed land and power to protect their families back home. They chose sides and if Mosi had chosen to sail with their people, she knew Chane would have, too. Joshi probably marched with the army. She could only hope Kito sailed free and it was not his black powder that ignited her ship and sent it to the bottom of the bay. Would they recognize the Gondorian ship as hers? Did they knew what they were destroying, or did they even care? Orders came. They would obey. Something she could never do.

“Take off those pants! No man wishes a wife that wears britches better than he!”

“Women cannot be sailors. They are to serve their masters in the home, for who will keep the house when the women chase a man’s position?”

“Cover yourself despite the sweltering heat! Do not tempt a man with your skin!”

“Serve the chieftain in your proper role and do not make waves!”

She bent over Idhrenor’s body and was sorry. “I cannot help but make waves,” she told his corpse as she turned him over. “I try not to, but people insist.” In a scold that masked regret, she continued, “I merely wished to make you sleep and you had to draw your sword. You lost hope in me. And now see where it has gotten you?”

With Idhrenor’s key, she unlocked the irons around her wrists. She stripped her bottom half naked and replaced the dirty skirts with his breeches.Too bad his feet were far too large and she had to abandon his boots. But the hole in his shirt could be mended; the blood washed out. She tucked it into his backpack and gave him her thanks.

Quick work she made of it. The others would come looking. Maybe if she moved through the trees as though they were her ship’s rigging, she could escape a hunt. Would they bother to hunt? It did not matter what they would choose–only that they could choose. She would not make it easy.

Out of the mountains. That was all that mattered now. Away from Gondorian and Orc, Rohirrim and Haradrim. But she did not know where she could go now that The Apple slept tucked safely in bed at the bottom of the bay. So she did not think on it as she took up Idhrenor’s sword and tucked it into his belt around her waist. She kissed his forehead and smoothed his hair. And then she walked away.

~~~***~~~

Upon the highest roof of the Ivory Tower, she blended in with the dark shingles. Her arms were wrapped around her knees so tightly, she halved her already diminutive size. She could have been a great sea bird perched on the roof and not a lonely young woman in tears.

Miss Cirieldis probably did not know she was there, but the woman also did not really care if the Headmistress did know. She did not want to be home alone with no letters to send to Minas Tirith and a stomach full of regret. She knew it was silly, but from the height of the tower, she swore she could see the smoke rising in the east and it helped her come to terms with the breaking of her heart. This feeling in her spirit that knew her people were dying and most likely her father and her husband would never come home.

She hadn’t written Pengail since that first brief letter. He had not written at all. She could only imagine that meant he no longer loved her and everyone around her was right: they had been too young and the courtship had been too quick and he regretted tying himself to something like her. After all, she was only the daughter of a drunk and a prostitute and was only good for lies and death. Black Roses were not meant for romance and love.

Had he thought of her at all, or had he found someone worthy of his heart and status? Did he live? And if he did, did he want her still?

Every time the questions rose, Arameril’s throat tightened and the pain that shot through her chest was akin to a dagger in her heart. Her guilt only rose when hope came in the measure of relief she felt if he did die in battle. Should he die and her father die, she could serve her purpose without fear or guilt. She could serve her city without pain.

It was terrible to think about. The inhumanity of the thought horrified her and she did not let it linger long, but the truth was still there, at least until she remember Cólel and the “aunt” and “grandmother” she promised to visit. More guilt. She had not yet for she feared the condescending aura that surrounded the old woman. She was not Hathlafel’s. She had no right to Hathlafel, and if he should die, she had no right to their attention at all.

As if love and attention was a reward for being worthy.

She should not be concerned with such things. She had the mystery of the missing apprentices to worry about. She had to assist Duvain and discover what threatened Dol Amroth in the dark. The city’s stability relied on the stability of the Illumin much like it relied on the stability of the Mormerili and she knew what could go wrong if that strength was threatened.

Still, she cried. The smoke rose in the east, and she was tired. So tired. No sleep could refresh her. No drink rouse her spirits. She cried silently for her sorrow could find no voice, and at last, as the cool ocean breeze passed through the sleeping city, Arameril passed into an uneasy sleep on the highest roof of the Ivory Tower School for Girls.

No one saw the body fall from the roof and sink down, down behind the high walls of the Tower.

 

 

 

The Nightingale: I am Fine

Dear Father,

Thank you for your letter and for the money. I will see that your sister gets it as soon as I can, though I am afraid of what will happen when I take it there. I would send it with a messenger, except I would not risk it going astray. Therefore, I must swallow my worries and simply face your sister regardless of what she may think of me now that she probably knows I am not really your daughter.

I am glad that you are safe for now. What little time I do get to sleep is usually spent lying awake worrying about you and Pengail. It is so lonely here without the both of you.

I wish that Pengail had not said anything. I fear he spoke only to hurt you for you knowing will do no one any good.

Pen and I had reconciled as much as we possibly could in the week before he left, and I told him that Scarlet let me go. She let me off work for that week and I would that he keep believing that to be the truth. He cannot know that I am still working to bring her down because someone must. If not me, then who? She has hurt you and she has hurt others and someone must put a stop to it.

If you believe Miss Cirieldis can assist me, I will talk to her. But I will not stop until Scarlet has been handled. My life is my city’s and I will rid her of this blemish. As you would protect me, I will protect you.

Please understand.

Love,

Merry

~~~***~~~

Dear Pengail,

I miss you terribly. I do not like being at home alone without you, so please come back.

I do not know what else to say. My world is praying for your safety and the safety of Gondor. I love you, Pengail.

With all my love,

Merry

Moving Forward

She could not help but grin. The boards beneath her feet were sturdy and polished. No sign of the scuffle remained. No drop of the scurvy traitor’s blood marred the smooth pine of the deck. The crew that defended him were imprisoned with him in a damp Gondorian cell and replaced (only with some difficulty). For now, the cargo hold was filled will crates of jarred fish the merchant needed shipping and she would serve.

But ultimately, nothing mattered more than the feel of the briny wind on her cheeks and the snap of the sail. The wheel felt comfortable in her hand and she was home again sailing along the coast beneath the golden sun.

~~~***~~~

“Well, it was not very thoughtful. You didn’t think, did you?”

“He insisted on accompanying me. He has lived in Bree all his life; I would have thought he knew what it was like.”

“Little whelp, most people do not go out cavorting with corpses and talking to spirits. The Bree-landers I’ve encountered are bloody terrified of the place.”

“Well, he does not want me to go anymore.”

“…Really, now? I don’t blame him. Surely he just wishes for you to remain in a much safer place than those ghastly tombs.”

“Well, that is what he said. He just cannot imagine what he would do if something happened to me.”

“That is an appropriate response to the place, I think. You are going to listen to him, aren’t you? Stay out of the Barrows? Anya?”

“I, well, I told him I would go visit him less.”

“Hmph. Well, that is a start. You need to keep looking forward, Anya. There is a lot of life to live. I think the grave-digger would want you to always remember that.”

~~~***~~~

Four weeks ago

She told him that she would stay at the house, but she couldn’t stay while he packed the things that he would take to his parents’ manor. She had fled out the window; she probably should have just taken the stairs, but she did not want to feel the dark emptiness of the streets at this time of night. She did not want to feel the emptiness inside of her festering as if each man that came to her took something of her with him when he left her lying there alone.

She wasn’t sure she’d go back to the house even when Pengail had left. He had bought it with his family’s money for their future together. Now what was left there but a cold hearth and a shrinking puddle from the rain.

Rooftops were never really empty. The heat of the living rose to warm the tiles and stone. Her footing was certain and light as she made her way to her cliff overlooking the docks. There she would go to think and dream and fall in love with Dol Amroth all over again.

She loved her city despite everything it asked of her, but how could she reconcile this? It turned on her, twisted her, and now he only saw her as a whore.

Mormerili. Black Rose. Courtesan assassin. Influential and devastatingly effective.

She broke her vow to the order when she married him because of what he gave her: love. A place to belong and a family.

She broke her vow to him because of what the order gave her: power. Power to stand up against the corruption and the darkness that spread through the city with every dawn.

And in the end, she was left alone in the shadowy night in a place where Hathlafel or Hallem would find her if she never moved again. But her husband probably never would.

If he ever looked for her again.

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?

The Nightingale: From the Crow’s Nest

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Some say the crow’s nest was a punishment. The toss and the turn of the sea often was enough to make a seasoned sailor spill his guts at such a height. But Arameril did not feel nauseated as she leaned over the rail of the little platform to scan the surrounding waters for the prize.

“There she blows! Off the port bow! To the left, people, the left!”

The spray from the whale’s exhale reached her all the way up at the top of the mast and Arameril giggled in a very un-sailor-like manner. Below her, tourists and citizens rushed to the left rail to see the giant animal for themselves as Scuppers ushered the more reluctant ones to the view.

The sharp wind caught Arameril’s hair and she laughed as she held onto the rail lightly. Her feet were sure and adjusted to each roll of the ship naturally; she was born to climb the rigging and balance across tight ropes and sails and have the salt breeze on her skin.

The other sailors knew her well enough from her frequent visits as a patron to know her true passion for the sea. Her transition from school girl to sailor went as smoothly as it could have. Salty Sal, the ship’s captain, ensured that she did not hear any off colour comments, at least. Though if she had heard any, she had several comebacks prepared.

It helped that when the captain had ordered her to to top of the mainsail on the first day aboard, she beat the other men despite the strong wind that necessitated the refastening of the rope that had come loose. She heaved and hoed with the strongest, and if they marveled how such a petite little thing could lift so much, they did not ask.

She wondered if they remembered the trial.

Still, her life was happy. She had what she wanted, and her father had made it so. Her only regret was Neneth was the one cooking for Pengail and washing his clothes. Soon, she would be able to use her wages to pay her fee and relieve her father of the burden. Pengail would be able to give up the second (and third) shifts, and they would be able to spend more time together.

The ship began to turn back to the docks and Arameril smiled at the children rushing to the other rail to watch the city as they turned. Her city. And while the rumours of dark things stirring the past year grew with each passing day, she knew that her city would find its light as long as there were people to protect it.

People like her Pengail. People like her.

As the wind tossed her hair, she leaned over to watch over the docking of The Chipper Kipper. Already folks were lining up for the next tour. Once the ship was moored, she jumped lightly to a line and slid down to the deck below to laughter and light clapping. She helped people disembark with Scuppers. She greeted those coming aboard. She hoisted sail in open waters and climbed back to her perch and called out when she spotted a school of dolphins leaping in their wake.

Arameril was content in the near perfection of the moment, and she relished every bit of it.

A Bitter Pill: Yule Letters

Tacked to the board in Ravenhold:

Dear Wayfarers,

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

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

Cwendlwyn Tain

~~~***~~~

Left on the map table in Eruviel’s home:

Dear Eruviel,

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

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

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

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

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

May the Huntsman guide your aim true,

Cwen

~~~***~~~

Left with the mail at Ravenhold, sealed and addressed:

Durrow
Durrow

Dear Atanamir,

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

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

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

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

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

Cwen

~~~***~~~

Sent by post down the Brandywine:

Dear Miss Arameril,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deepest regards and best wishes on your wedding,

Cwendlwyn Tain

~~~***~~~

Slipped under the door at his house in Durrow:

Dear Rheb,

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

K.

The Nightingale: What’s Missing Is

Dear Lady Cwendlwyn,

I hope this letter finds you and your daughter well. Things are quickly falling back into normalcy here in Dol Amroth. Is that how it always is after such turmoil? People just go through the motions of life until they actually feel alive again?

I do beg your pardon; that is not a very cheerful way to begin a letter!

I suppose for many, the entire affair was a tragic attack on the city itself and that made it less personal. And, ultimately, that is what it was unless  your loved one fell in the battle. The walls can be rebuilt, the trees replanted. But for us, it was much more personal, wasn’t it? Our loved ones were not just in the line of fire, we truly knew what was at stake and that the Lady’s personal greed drove all the pain that fell upon the shoulders of the city that day. I still miss Lady Deludhae’s smile and her kind words of wisdom. I never knew how much I would miss them until now.

I digress. This was supposed to be a happy letter! Pengail and I have set the date for our wedding and it is with great regret that I enclose our invitation only because I know  you will not be able to come. Still, I wanted to send it to you to share with the Wayfarers because you folk are as close to me as any family I could have and dearer to me than any I could ask for. Know that as Pen and I say our vows, you will be in our hearts.

If it would please you, do write back and tell me about life in Bree. There is a part of me that wishes my destiny had taken Pengail and me with you even now as we plan our life in Dol Amroth. For me the city will never be the same, but in the end, I love it still. Perhaps one day I will still get to visit the town and see for myself what the big hubub is about.

I hope your Yule is beautiful and filled with love. It is thanks to you and Sir Arrowheart that I have mine.

Best wishes,

Arameril

P.S.: Pengail says hello and thank you again for all that you’ve done for us!

~~~***~~~

Dear Hallem Kemp,

Greetings! How are things in Bree? Have you climbed anything tall lately? I hope the gear from the Prince has served you well. I miss having those little ropes and hooks to help me along.

Not that I have much time to climb recently, not even the Tower! Pengail and I have set the date for the wedding and you would not guess how ridiculous I am being (or maybe you would). We are getting married before Yule! It will be a small affair with only those we love most and those we cannot avoid. I wish we were not so far apart and that you could come. and bring the rest of the Wayfarers, of course. I miss all of you very much. I have enclosed one of the wedding invitations we had made. Maybe think about us on the eighteenth and send us your warmest wishes, if you would. That would be the best wedding gift I can think of at present under the current circumstances.

I hope that Lord Carmanadh and Lady Mredothyn will be able to attend. Pengail would both love that and be terrified to have the Knight-captain in the audience, I think. It’s not like he didn’t bleed all over the man’s mattress, though right? 

Well, not his mattress. That would be odd and I would highly question Pengail if that had been the case. 

I am laughing so hard I can hardly write! But I know I am just being silly. 

My father has been trying his hardest to find a place in my life. I am grateful for that, but he can be so awkward. And he certainly has a chip on his shoulder that creates a barrier to getting to know him. Lady Nomin, Pengail’s mother, invited him to dress shopping with us; I suppose any man would find that difficult to bear, but Hathlafel seemed so out of place there without his armour to protect him from the city’s scrutiny. I felt so sorry for him when he showed up in his homespun along the opulent street in the clothier’s district. Lady Nomin bought my dress for me as a gift, though I believe it was also to protect my father from having to find the funds to pay for it. 

It is a glorious dress, Hallem Kemp. 

Ha! I am writing as if you were a girl friend who would be interested in such things. Perhaps you would rather hear about the delicious menu we are preparing instead? That should make any man jealous! Not that I’m trying to make you jealous. The cooks at House Nomin are simply wonderful.

In any case, I do hope you are settling into Bree again and that your Yule season is bright and full of love. Enjoy the barley candies I’ve sent! And give a few to Mister Mathdor for me, if you would. We did not get to say a proper good-bye and I owe him a great deal.

With love from Dol Amroth,

Merry

P.S.: Did Master Kemendin return to Bree? Lady Cirieldis said that he had to leave for about a month, but it has been longer than that. If so, I am cranky at him that he did not say good-bye! Is that an Elf behavior, not to say good-bye? If he’s there, tell him good-bye for me!

Ara and Pengail wedding invite

Waiting for Change

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

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

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

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

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

~~~***~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She knew.

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

Arameril willingly gave up the sea for him.

Oh, yes. She knew what the consequences were.

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

Bree was still a possibility.

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

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

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

~~~***~~~

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

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

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

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

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

He took another and fell gently into bed, moaning.

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

Never Eruviel.

~~~***~~~

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

But that collar.

She had to admit to herself that she was afraid.

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

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

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

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

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

The Nightingale: Memories Lost

The grounds of the Colagar estate seemed busy with the increased guard patrolling them. Arameril walked close to the windows as she traveled the various halls of the manor arm-in-arm with Pengail. At each window she would stare longingly outside as they passed. The clouds. The sky. Since Atanamir’s wards had been applied, she dared not touch even the sills to lean out to feel the open breeze on her face.

Pengail slowed at one of the larger windows on the second floor of the sprawling manor. His long stride halted as Arameril gazed on the distant skyline of the city.

“You know, Pen,” she said without turning to look at him, “sometimes, I do miss the Ivory Tower. I left on an errand and never went back. I knew I could not return to that place knowing the Orchid was being held captive there somewhere.

“I had hidden a set of spare leathers near our picnic spot. I left everything else I had behind.”

Pengail placed a warm hand on her in the crook of his elbow. I’m s-sorry, Merry. Mayb-be you will be able t-to… retrieve it wh-when this is… all over.”

Arameril smiled warmly and covered his hand with her own. “Perhaps. I did not have much, but it means something to me. I… I didn’t realize just how much until I realized I missed it.”

Pengail returned the smile and led her to a bench in a recessed alcove where they could sit and watch the city from afar.

“T-tell me?”

Arameril leaned against his good arm. Her head barely met the middle of his bicep.

“Well, clothes. I only owned the simplest gowns and training gear, but they were mine.” She tugged at the fabric of the new dress she wore. As long as Sir Carmanadh or anyone else had purchased it for her, it would never be truly hers. “Is that silly?”

Shaking his head, he said, “N-no!” His gentle eyes looked down at her with sincerity and urged her to continue.

She nodded, her confidence in returning to the memories of her life in the tower growing.

“And I had a little box. A jewelry box I was given the Yule after I earned my ink. The only jewelry I ever owned was this silver necklace.” She touched the chain around Pengail’s neck. “So the only things in it were a coin I had since I was little, some seashells I collected over the years. A few pieces of sea glass. And a wooden coin with a carving of the Kipper on it. Scuppers gave it to me when I had sailed fifty times. Those trinkets represent… they represent my life…”

Her brow creased as she added, “Now, the only things I own are my black leathers and the gifts from my father. I am… what others have built.”

“Merry.” Pengail’s long fingers tipped back her chin as he gazed down at her. “…you are, are… you. Not w-what… they d-did to you. And now… now you c-can be f-fr-free.”

Arameril smiled as she rested her head against him. Her little fingers intertwined with his.

“Meeting you on the Kipper, Pen. That is what set me free.”

Pengail shook his head. He tried to find the words to match his thoughts and she watched his eyes as he worked through it.

“I only… c-caught you. When you st-stumbled. You took the first, first steps yours-self.”

Arameril reached up to lead his face down to hers. She kissed him tenderly. “I love you,” she whispered against his lips.

“I love you.” He smiled and stood holding his hand out to her to help her to her feet.

As they continued down the hall, he asked, “Why a c-coin?”

Shrugging, Arameril said lightly, “I got it when I was very young. From a fountain in the gardens. I don’t remember much about it except that my arms were too short and a nice man… got it out… for me…” Her steps slowed as she spoke each phrase. “Oh, by Elmeleth. Pengail. I think… but it was so long ago. I’ve always had that coin.”

She turned to face the direction from which they came. Down, down the hall and around a left turn and then a right or two. Hathlafel’s room.

“I could never remember his face. He was so kind and I don’t think I even said a word. He… he gave it to me even though they weren’t for taking… He… he…”

Pengail squeezed her hand reassuringly.

“You, you think it was your father?”

“Why… how could it be?”

Smiling, Pengail took both of her hands in his and stood before her. They paused in front of a wide window overlooking the coastline.

“He w-was watching ov-ver you. H-he loves you, M-merry.”

Arameril held his hands as an anchor as her brow worked through her thoughts.

“He was always there, Pen. Always watching over me. I always remember Sir Hathlafel visiting the Ivory Tower every Tuesday to meet with Lady Gwenithel. We had spoken only a few times before… before that day he asked me about… about you.”

Pengail’s brow arched. “He, he asked a-about me?”

Arameril nodded. “Yes. Whether or not I had ‘romantic affection’ for you. If you were important to me. I tried to keep it secret, but he already knew. He just wanted to hear it from me, I guess. To protect you? If he was lessening the dosage to keep you alive… we owe him your life. And mine.”

Pengail nodded. “We do. H-he has always watched over u-us. He… he is g-good, Merry. You c-can help him… re-remember. To-together. We can… h-help him.”

Arameril stood on tiptoe and still had to wait for Pengail to stoop to bring his lips to hers.

“We will, Pen.”

Perspective

I just needed a little perspective. To see what the Swan-knights were going through. It was new and curious and how could anyone expect me in good faith to administer the tablets without knowing what they would do? Without confirming how effective they truly were. Without feeling the consequences I dealt to each patient who trusted me with their life and spirit? I never imagined something other than hate could be so consuming. It has infected my mind. Shifted my priorities. I feel the call long thought banished from my heart and I don’t want to listen, but it keeps getting more insistent and I don’t just want it, I need it.

I need it to make it stop.

Now that Hallem knows and Atanamir knows, I can see myself through their eyes. I am not well; I know this, but still I need it and even though to them it is bad, it is dangerous, I can control it, I really can, all I have to do is change their perspective.

~~~* * *~~~

It was the last time she would find the grips to climb to the highest rooftop of the Colagar manor. She told Pengail she needed to see something and he smiled and kissed her hand and asked if she wanted company. When she told him no, he only smiled and kissed her again  — on her lips, this time — and said he’d be waiting for her return.

The air was growing colder as the heat of summer burrowed deeper into the belly of the earth. The chill wind made her fingers numb, but she persisted and pulled herself up onto the rough tiles of the roof.

She straightened and turned slowly. There it was. The sea.

She could smell the ocean waters from there. The winds carried the scent to her and as it washed over her, she felt the weight of the world lift from her shoulders as it always did when she could connect with the sea. Perhaps Hathlafel was right. Perhaps his love of the sea passed on to her.

Hathlafel.

Surely it would get easier, she thought as she sank to the roof with her knees pulled up to her chest. Force of habit made her weigh every word and analyze every flicker in his eye. And now that the poison was drawn from his wounds and he was more himself again (but not himself, she thought in tandem), the twinkle was there more often.

She didn’t want to be charmed by him. She didn’t want to give him her trust like it was easy and natural. But it was, she admitted to herself as she watched the tall mainsail ease across the treetops. Perspective, she thought. Perspective changes everything.

For instance, perspective made the orchards surrounding the manor a quiltwork blanket shielding the grounds from view. Perspective made the oppressive canopy a comforting blanket.

Perspective made the clouds seem not so far out of reach.

Perspective made Hathlafel’s behavior and half-truths justified and noble acts of love.

Almost.

Pengail’s words echoed in her head as the breeze picked up strength and turned into a wind.

…From another perspective, that was… running away.

…he is free now. To choose good. You can help him make that choice …if you wish.

What did she wish for?

A family. Her family. People to love and who love her back. People to protect and will protect her in turn. Pengail. Her father.

Children.

What would she have done if she had been in her father’s place? If her child had been used as a pawn to control her and make her do terrible things? Would she have given in and done the bidding of that demon lady? Or would she have fought for them both and fled? OR, as they did now, fight to bring her down?

She wouldn’t have been able to do it on her own. She would have needed companions that were brave and just and who understood sacrifice.

Companions like the Wayfarers. Like Miss Lalaith and Sir Carmanadh. Nallo. Hallem and Mathdor. Even Atanamir and Oendir acted only out of the best interests of their friends.

Her father, Hathlafel, agreed to cooperate with the Wayfarers. Agreed to testify against House Aearanel. He would only have done that if he truly believed they had the ability to stand up against Lady Gwenithel and that they could keep her safe.

Unless it was all part of a deeper plot.

She shook her head and realized the coolness on her cheeks was not just the evening breeze. She wiped the moisture away and let out the breath she had been holding. She didn’t want to think that way any more. Not about him. Not about her father.

You can help him make that choice.

The sail of the ship grew smaller as it put out to sea. More of the vessel came into view as it pulled farther away from the shore. As she watched it both grow and shrink, Arameril made a choice.

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Her grip was sure as she climbed back down the side of the Colagar mansion. Dusk was falling before her tentative feet finally found the sill where she liked to perch and sing while Pengail slept. Just this time she ensured her grip would stay strong as she swung into the room, and then she wouldn’t use her powers anymore. The ink would diminish and with it her strength and speed. She wouldn’t use them anymore.

Once her feet were safely on the floor, she leaned out of the window and turned to look up. The roof was so far away. She felt little and weak from this perspective. She shuddered and frowned.

Wrapping her arms around herself, she turned to survey the room. Her father’s book on the blankets beside Pengail as he slumbered. The hard candies and last bit of chocolate sitting on the nightstand beside the beeswax candles. Her cloak with the swan-wings for a clasp. Gifts of her father’s love.

She looked out of the window facing the orchards. Once more she leaned out and looked up, only not at the roof but at the sky. The smokey blue of the evening absorbed the high clouds and the sky didn’t seem so far away anymore.

The Nightingale: No Matter the Consequence

My dearest Pengail,

I was five when I knew things were not as they seemed in my life. We were in the study and one of the girls, Romdin, bumped into a round mahogany side table. A fine porcelain vase fell to the floor. It never hit. I caught it. I never knew how, but that was what caught the attention of the Order, Deludhae told me. The swiftness of my reaction pleased her and she put me through a series of games that were really tests and I was on my path toward becoming a Rose.

I was five.

It was around the age of ten that I took the ink and the real learning began.

The power it gives is intoxicating. The world appears different when you know the strength of your arm can bend metal and render death in the blink of an eye. But it quickly became something terrible and frightening. The control needed to blend in with the rest of the citizenry was exhausting. The secret of it ate away at the heart and was crippling. And we needed more. We always needed more to survive. Without it, we would fade away to nothing and become mere shadows of who we once were.

The girls that were chosen to be Roses always had nothing else to turn to. When you owe the Lady your life, you give it. We were slaves or lacked family to protect us. If we disappeared, died, or shunned marriage no one would care enough to question it. We were forbidden to engage in relationships outside the Order to prevent such a care from forming.

And only since I found you do I understand why.

The strength and speed of the ink is nothing to the power I feel when I am charged with your love. I have everything to lose because I have you and you are everything. I cannot fix the pain I have caused you by keeping the truth from you. There is no time to regain your trust. Innocent people are hurting and lives are at risk because of me. I should have stood up to her long ago.

Master Kemendin fears I will not return from House Aearanel.

But it must be done.

Just as you said, I have to do good, Pen, no matter the consequence. If I did not do this, there would be no way I was worthy enough to even ask for your trust. Your love. You are my conscience and my guide to redemption.

Thank you. Thank you for giving the freedom of your love. I only wish I could grow old with you by my side and raise little horsemen that could jump so high they could fly and girls that could run as fast as the wind. I wish we were free to watch the stars come out each night and wake to the rosy dawn each morning and measure our lives only with our love.

Pengail, I know in my heart that even if I go there to die, we will find one another again. I will always be with you.

Always.

With all my heart,

~Arameril

P.S. Please take care of Auriel for me. She only just found her way to me.

The Nightingale: Bread Crumbs

Merry's Cliff

A tiny figure in black cowered in the shadows of the corner formed by the outer walls lining Dol Amroth and the sea cliff overlooking the Keep of the Swan-knights. Even though “Faindir” had found her there the day before, she had little where else she could go. She kept back from the edge and pressed against the stone wall; surely no one would look there for her twice. On the other side of the wall, the sound of the garden patrons would set her on edge every once and a while, but most of the time only the call of the seagulls interrupted the steady rush of the ocean and clang of weapons training from the court of the Keep. Here at least she could be near the sea.

Ships coasted past bearing their men to far away places, but for once her heart did not long to feel the wooden decks beneath her feet. Her eyes dwelt on doors of the keep and the bridge connecting it to the mainland.

His letter was folded and tucked inside her shirt for safe keeping. She had read and reread the words a thousand times since she left his arms that morning in the Keep. He had written it before she shattered his trust with the truth, but still she repeated one line of the letter like a mantra: Perhaps soon I will be released from the infirmary and I can come to you. 

I can come to you.

The plan was to meet him four days from now. She would be there in the black leathers that were all she would take with her from her past life and in the wilds she would rebuild the trust that had broken with her honesty. She would come with what she could steal or scrounge. Food. Water skins. Blankets. Though it would be a long time until the suspicion and disappointment would fade from his eyes, she trusted him. She could only hope that one day, he’d be able to trust her again.

As the sun set behind the cliffs of the coast, a gleam caught her eye. She unwrapped her arms from around her legs and crawled over to the small rock cluster clinging to the cliff side. A bulky package wrapped in waxed brown paper sat wedged into a rock and had caught the last beam’s light before the sun disappeared.

Frowning, she plucked off the note attached to the package. It was addressed to her and she quickly opened the attached note.

My dearest Arameril,

I know you have no reason to trust a gift from a stranger, but when I learned of your flight from the Ivory Tower, my heart went out to you. I know all this is a poor substitute for my absence from your life, but only now with your breaking from the Mormerili is it safe for me to contact you.

I’m not worried for your safety. I know you’re a clever girl and can take care of yourself. But I also know that without the protective circle of the Ivory Tower around you, you’ll need every windfall you can find. I only wish I could do more.

I pray that you and I will have a chance to meet openly soon, though I know better than to think it likely. Until that day, my dear, know that you have always been precious to me, and always will be. Keep Elmeleth in your heart, and never stop hoping for better.

All my love,
Your Father

She reread the signature. Your Father. Without smiling, she opened the package and found a new bedroll, a waterskin, a fire-starting kit, a well-made butterfly knife with a carved horn handle, and a week’s worth of hard tack rations.

She turned the knife over and ran her fingers across the handle. “How…” Who could have known she had left the Order so quickly? And how could she have a father after nineteen years of not even being able to ask if she had one?

Most of the girls in the Order were orphans. Slaves ‘rescued’ by Lady Gwenithel. She was just another charity case who secretly paid for her meals with blood, secrets, and lies. She had no father.

But it seemed as though that was a lie, too.

Very slowly, she wrapped the travel supplies back in the paper and tied the string into a perfectly even knot. She slipped the package back into the crevasse where she found it and quickly scaled the city wall for the nearest roof. She leaped without looking as she rushed for the unfamiliar trails of the forest. Her fingers and feet found their holds instinctively and soon she found herself standing on the banks of the waterfall near the stables where she and Pengail stole a morning when things were simpler.

Even though Pengail had warned that there were frequent visitors to the glen she doubted any would be out so late in the evening. The black leather came off in a rush. She plunged into the water and let the falls rinse away the scents of the city. As she stood beneath the frigid cascade, she lifted her face up and screamed, the water drowning out the sound. Slowly, she sank to her knees and sat staring at the wet stones that forced the water to plunge and froth around her. She sobbed.

Too many things were shifting and her paradigm could not keep up.

Waterlogged and exhausted, she dragged herself out of the falls. Leaving her clothes on the banks, she crawled into the shelter of a cluster of dense brush. Sheltered from any gaze save the forest animals, she lay in the darkness until the first stars blinked to life. Only then did she pull herself up, slip back into the leathers of the Black Roses, and start the slow journey back to the city.

She couldn’t leave just yet.

((Letter copy by Atanamir))