Chapter Five: The Enemy

((Trigger warning))

“One! Two! Three! Again!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Soldiers! Break it up!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She struggled futilely to free her wrists.

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

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

Not again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Danick, what happened?”

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

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

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

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

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

“No! It is poison.”

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

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

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Prompted Pasts

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Prompt: Write a brief scene illustrating an important moment in your character’s past (before you started playing them).

Danick tugged Cwen’s arm as he barreled through the woods. Faster, he urged. Faster. The sound of the attack on the watchtower grew faint but still he did not slow. His hood covered his bright yellow hair and allowed him to move through the shadows of the fading light. It also prevented her from reading his expression as he led them north, away from the Adorn River, away from their homeland that was besought on all sides by the Dunlendings.

Only when Cwen could run no more, falling and gasping on the rough lichen beneath her, did he stop. He disappeared only a moment and then picked her up and carried her to a small copse where a ring of oak trees formed a clearing. He sank to his knees and held her, rocking back and forth.

“You will run,” he said into her hair. “Promise me.”

“Danick -” she protested, “I have no where to run to.”

“You will run,” he repeated into her hair. His lips pressed against her dark tresses and then he tilted her chin up to look at him.

“Where can I go? Danick, let me go back and help – ”

“Go north,” Danick said calmly. “The watchtower is lost. With their armies in our lands, you will be able to sneak through. Stay aground. Stay smart. Cwendlwyn, you’re so smart – you can do this. Make it to the North, where this won’t exist. There is peace in the north.”

“Your men,” she said as she buried her face in his chest. “Your friends.”

“They die protecting what they hold sacred, Cwen. Wenfried’s mother and Biroan’s wife. Halulm’s sister.” Danick held her face in his hands. As the baying of the wolves grew louder, he closed his eyes. “I could not protect Thira, but Bema help me, I will protect you.” He looked at her intently. “Cwen. They’re coming. Run.”

She wanted to scream; the sound rose in her and caught in her throat, forcing tears from her eyes and her hands to grope for his strength. He took her in his arms and poured all his hopes into her. Their lips parted for the first and last time only when Danick let out a harsh cry. She tasted blood.

He looked at her, fear tainting his serene blue eyes for the first time.

“Run.”

He fell to his knees and Cwen saw the arrow in his back. Crying out, she reached for it and was nearly buzzed by another black arrow. It only narrowly missed.

“RUN!”

Danick drew his sword and staggered to his feet. He turned to face their foe and never looked back.

She ran.

** ** ** ** **

Jameson Sicklefoose stood over Emmelina Lilybrook with a triumphant grin on his face.

“Told ye I could steal Old Man Palater’s pocketwatch ‘n he wouldn’t e’en know.”

“So what?” asked Lina. “He wouldn’t even know it’s missing.”

“Well, then, little Emma. Let’s see what ye can do.”

She expected him to point out the tavern door and order her to rob the next fool to stumble through, but instead he grabbed her by the neck and drug her forward. His lips crushed hers and his whiskery face scratched her pale skin. He smelled of pipeweed and whiskey. Such manly smells for a nineteen year old boy.

When he pulled away, Lina could barely keep her feet. Her head spun and she gasped for breath.

“Ye serious ‘bout this, Cherry? Ye really want inta our little family?”

“Yeah,” Lina reassured him. “I want in. I need th’ money.”

Jameson growled against her lips. “Ye’ll git yer money. After ye earn it first.”

The eyes of the barn cats reflected like mirrors. A horned owl flew by to perch in the branches of the Kissing Tree. Exhausted, spent, Jameson pet Lina’s brown hair, disheveled and loose from the long braid down her back.

“Welcome ta th’family, Emma. I’ll take care o’ya now.”

** ** ** ** **

Frigga Tenorbekk stood in the large window overlooking the garden. She fanned herself, refusing to shed a single layer despite the July heat. She stood watch over the ladies cleaning for the evening – watching to make sure they did not sneak anything for themselves, to be sure.

“Your guest tonight was rather unusual, Kolrson,” she said to her husband as he strode into the room. “Wherever did you find him?”
“Came into the store,” the husband answered. He barked several orders to the servants clearing away the remains of the evening. “He travels and tells fantastic stories. If no contacts could be made, I figured at least the children would be entertained tonight.”

“How pleasant of you to think of them, dear. But their entertainment is not our priority.”

Kolrson grunted.

Sitting on the floor in the pantry sneaking the meal she was denied at dinner (”Proper ladies do not eat their food. You do not wish to be considered fat nor greedy.”), Anya paused as she heard her parents’ conversation shift to their evening guest. Anya had found the man to be absolutely fascinating. She often dreamed of the world beyond Dale and the shadow of Erebor. The man who called himself Bookie told great tales that evening of Golden Woods and spider infested forests. He claimed to know many more stories from both east and west, north and south.

“Luckily, he will serve as a great connection to the trade in Rhun. Hopefully, he won’t get any fool notion to head West again. There’s little profit there now. The woods have grown dangerous.”

Her mother scoffed. “I suppose we shall be seeing more of the man, then?”

There was a pause where Anya could picture her father nodding.

“Fair enough. Perhaps we can arrange for he and Ludwig to meet. Their stories would keep guests entertained for an entire evening. It would be like hiring a professional minstrel without the racket of the singing and playing.”

“And the expense of paying,” Kolrson stated with a gruff laugh.

Footsteps approached the pantry. Anya froze, a small tomato raised to her lips. The door swung open on silent hinges and her mother stood above her in shock.

“Anya! What are you doing?”

Without thinking, Anya bolted past her mother, knocking her aside. Her little ten year old feet thundered through the halls as she ran for the boys’ wing.

“Get back here!” roared her father. She could feel the floor tremble beneath his strides. She mounted the stairs and took them two at a time. Glancing back, her father was right behind her. He grabbed her just as she ducked a breath too late. Kolrson threw his daughter backwards down the stone steps. She tumbled and rolled, managing to sustain mainly bruises until her forehead connected with the edge of the bottom step. Bright lights clouded her vision.

“Creeping about like a sneak-thief!” her father bellowed. “Stealing from your own family! The food we serve you at dinner is not enough to satisfy the fat cow?”

“Kolrson, really! Just beat her and get it over with.” Frigga came out of the kitchen and surveyed the scene before her with distaste. Looking up, she saw her eldest son at the top of the stairs leading to the west wing. “Eirikr! Back to your rooms, now!”

Eirikr stood with clenched fists staring down at the dazed form of his sister. The anger seethed in his eyes.

“Immediately, young man!”

“No!”

Eirikr’s little twelve year old body rushed down the steps and knelt beside Anya. “Isn’t being thrown down the stairs enough? She’s bleeding! Someone get help!” The boy took his own shirt and pressed it against the wound. “Gregor, go get a surgeon!”

As the servant ran for the door, Eirikr was lifted from the floor and raised to stare into his father’s eyes.

“You’ll pay for that, boy. She fell, you hear me? She’s always tripping over her skirts, the lass. And if you want to have any skin left on your back, you’ll disappear until I come for you with my whip.” Kolrson released the boy and he fell to his knees. “Now get.”

Ignoring the order, Eirikr dropped back over Anya, pressing his bloodied shirt to her head again. He sensed it and tried to relax to absorb the impact of the kick. His body tumbled over and over. His breath was knocked out from him and his head tilted back as his father grabbed a fist full of his hair.

“Now. Get.”

Eirikr slowly climbed to his feet. Before he could take a step, his mother grabbed him and drug him up the stairs into the west wing where the boys’ rooms were located. She pushed him into the room and locked the door with her key. Abiorn huddled in the corner with his nanny, the toddler’s face streaked with tears.

Below, Eirikr heard the surgeon arrive and the false concern in his parents’ voices as they explained the ‘accident.’ He could feel the sting of his father’s lash with each lie. Powerless to stop it, he bowed his head and cried.

Character Questionnaire

Character Questionnaire 1

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This questionnaire is found in Gotham Writers’ Workshop’s Writing Fiction.

• What is your character’s name? Does the character have a nickname?

Anyatka: Anyatka Tenorbekk, or Tenorbrook. Most people call her Anya and only those she is most intimate with will she allow to call her Anyatka.

Cwendlwyn: Cwendlwyn Tain, once Cwendlwyn Resselin when married to Anidore. She introduces herself as Cwen (pronounced K-when)

Emmelina: Emmelina Lilybrook, mainly known as Lina. The only one who attempts to use her full name is Falros, though he usually cannot get much farther than “Emmmm…”

Eiriikr: Eirikr Tenorbekk, or Tenorbrook. Anya calls him Eiri, his wife calls him Ricky, but each only in private.

• What is your character’s hair color? Eye color?

Anyatka: Medium-long auburn colored hair with soft grey eyes.

Cwendlwyn: Dark brown, almost black hair and brilliant green eyes.

Emmelina: Short mousy brown hair, kept bobbed and a bit wild. Her eyes transition between grey and greenish-grey.

Eiriikr: Neatly trimmed auburn hair and dark grey eyes.

• What kind of distinguishing facial features does your character have?

Anyatka: Anya has a rather large nose and lips. Her nose and cheeks are dotted with freckles. She has a small scar just above her hairline but her hair usually covers it. Other than that, she thinks she’s rather nondiscript.

Cwendlwyn: Cwen has a rough scar on her left cheek. Her eyes are probably her most distinguishable feature as they are a striking green

Emmelina: Lina has some freckles, and is fairly attractive. Her main attraction isn’t her face, however.

Eiriikr: Eirik has wide, friendly eyes and a roguish grin of even white teeth.

• Does your character have a birthmark? Where is it? What about scars? How did he get them?

Anyatka: Anyatka has a scar along her hairline that is the result of a beating from her father when she was seven.

Cwendlwyn: The scar on her left cheek is the result of a falling beam in a burning stable. She was trying to save her Rohirric steed, Bean.

Emmelina: Lina has a birthmark on her right shoulder the shape of an egg.

Eiriikr: Eirikr’s back is covered in the scars of many lashings. Standing out are two particularly wide scars: one crosses from his left shoulder to his right hip and the other from just below his left armpit to the other side. He rarely appears without a shirt because of this.

• Who are your character’s friends and family? Who does she surround herself with? Who are the people your character is closest to? Who does he wish he were closest to?

Anyatka: Anya is the middle child of three. Her elder brother is Eirikr and her younger is Abiorn. She likes people though is terribly shy. She is a bit of a push over. She is becoming very close with Eruviel, her Elvish housemate and spends a lot of time with Morducai Mossfoot. She wishes she was closer to Morty, but at the same time is afraid to get too close because of her conflicting feelings toward him. She has a quietly tumultuous relationship with her parents, who she assumes have disowned her since she left Dale.

Cwendlwyn: Cwen’s beau is Biramore and together they raise her daughter Neilia with the assistance of the Hobbit folk in their neighborhood. Callee is practically part of the family since she’s helped raise Neilia since she was a babe and Cwen was still married to Anidore. Cwen prefers to keep the company of Hobbits over Men for the most part. Her parents are both dead and she has little ties to her homeland in the Westemnet.

Emmelina: Lina is close to no one, though she is starting to let Anya get to her.

Eiriikr: Eirikr is the oldest child of a wealthy Dale merchant family. He is fiercely protective of his two younger siblings and wife.

• Where was your character born? Where has she lived since then? Where does she call home?

Anyatka: Anya was born and raised in Dale. She currently lives with Eruviel in the Bree-land neighborhood of Glaston.

Cwendlwyn: Born in the Eastemnet, Cwen spent the first several years of her life there. When she was around seven, her father took her to the Westemnet village of Riverwide where she grew up. After spending a good portion of her late twenties in Bree and traveling Middle-earth, she settled down in Buckland with her beau, Biramore.

Emmelina: Lina grew up in a small village in Bree-land. She moved to Bree-town two years ago and lives in a boarding house for young women located in Beggar’s Alley.

Eiriikr: Born in Dale, Eirikr took the first opportunity to move to the recovering Lake-town after coming of age. His wife, Ninim accompanied him.

• Where does your character go when he’s angry?

Anyatka: Anya rarely gets angry, but if she’s upset or in a foul mood, she will go seek water: a lake, river, stream, or even a rain barrel.

Cwendlwyn: Cwen will go to her garden whenever she’s upset and work on her crops. When she’s really angry, she will go for long walks north along the Brandywine.

Emmelina: Lina tends to drown her emotions in liquor. She won’t hesitate to go to the Pony and make a scene to forget about her problems.

Eiriikr: Eirikr finds solace high in the mountains. Usually, he just swallows his anger and eventually lets it go.

• What is her biggest fear? Who has she told this to? Who would she never tell this to? Why?

Anyatka: Anya is terribly afraid of being alone. She has never told anyone, though Eirikr could probably take a good guess. She would never admit it to her parents because she does not believe they truly care about her and her fear mainly stems from their habit of forgetting about her.

Cwendlwyn: Cwen is afraid of losing her family. Above all, she is afraid of doing something that would somehow damage Neilia so she has trouble trusting herself to make good decisions as a mother and will often defer that sort of thing to Biramore or Callee. She trusts Biramore alone with this information, though if asked, she probably would eventually speak of it.

Emmelina: Lina is afraid no one will ever want her again after the miscarriage. She has told no one and will probably never tell anyone. She doesn’t yet trust anyone enough to share her past.

Eiriikr: Eirikr has a fear of failure instilled in him by his father. Ninim, his wife, knows, and he might discuss it with Aldoon if ever they calmed down enough when together to talk about serious things. This is unlikely to occur, however.

• Does she have a secret?

Anyatka: She does, though she’s not even consciously aware of it herself.

Cwendlwyn: Cwendlwyn’s journey back home to Rohan included tracking down and murdering her father that led the Dunlendings to destroy their hometown. This experience was the end of a haunting, disturbed part of her life, but it opened up a whole new dimension of guilt for her.

Emmelina: Lina had a miscarriage two years ago at age fifteen. It is why she was sent to Bree.

Eiriikr: He desires nothing more than to see the death of his father for all the abuse he endured.

• What makes your character laugh out loud?

Anyatka: She’s rather ticklish. Falros cracks(ed) her up on a regular basis.

Cwendlwyn: Hobbits tend to amuse Cwen. She finds them endearing. Also, a cool summer breeze on her face as it blows her hair back.

Emmelina: Lina’s humour is rather raunchy for a seventeen year old girl. She finds men who find themselves rather self-important hysterical.

Eiriikr: Eirik has a good humour that has helped to keep him sane, so he’s always up for a good laugh.

• When has your character been in love? Had a broken heart?

Anyatka: Anya may or may not be in love with Morducai Mossfoot. Regardless, she knows she cannot have him all to herself, so she settles for his friendship at present. Before the Incident of the Necklace, she had been steeling herself for the inevitable broken heart, but since then, she’s just happy to see him. See anyone, really.

Cwendlwyn: Cwen’s first love was a lie. She was crushed, but recovered, especially when Legbadhon skewered Tyne in Trestlebridge. Her marriage to Anidore Resselin was intense, but short lived and they parted on mutual terms. She loves Biramore, but it is not the soul absorbing love she had with Anidore or the innocent adoration with Tyne.

Emmelina: Lina was hopelessly in love with Jameson Sicklefoose. She was destroyed when he left her and figuratively died when she lost his child.

Eiriikr: Eirikr is completely devoted to his wife, Ninim.

• What is in your character’s refrigerator right now? On her bedroom floor? On her nightstand? In her garbage can?

Anyatka: Anya’s pantry contains whatever Eruviel buys for them. Luckily, the Elf doesn’t mind meat. Her floor is pristine though her nightstand is piled with pages covered in drawings, pencils, and now an assortment of paints and brushes.

Cwendlwyn: Cwen’s pantry is stocked like the best Hobbit pantries are: meats and cheese and wine and veggies and fruits galore. Her garbage is mainly compost or food scraps as she cooks all the time. Her nightstand is clean with perhaps a book or two and glass of water, but her floor will often be scattered with clothes.

Emmelina: Lina doesn’t own a pantry or stove. Her bedroom floor is clear because there isn’t much to throw down there to begin with.

Eiriikr: Eirikr doesn’t mess with the pantry unless it’s bringing home game and fish. He and Ninim keep a clean and orderly house – Eirikr might be a little OCD when it comes to it.

• Look at your character’s feet. Describe what you see there. Does he wear dress shoes, gym shoes, or none at all? Is he in socks that are ratty and full of holes? Or is he wearing a pair of blue and gold slippers knitted by his grandmother?

Anyatka: Anya wears comfortable leather boots most of the time. She owns one pair of slippers that she wears with a dress she ‘borrowed’ from Eruviel.

Cwendlwyn: Cwen wears well worn leather shoes or sandals in the summer.

Emmelina: Lina wears whatever she can scrounge or afford at the time.

Eiriikr: Eirikr wears fine leather hunting boots most of the time.

• When your character thinks of her childhood kitchen, what smell does she associate with it? Sauerkraut? Oatmeal cookies? Paint? Why is that smell so resonant for her?

Anyatka: Anya most distinctly recalls the smell of the cooking fire. She often helped prepare the meals served for the people her parents were trying to impress.

Cwendlwyn: She smells apple pie. Her mother used to make it every week as a special treat.

Emmelina: Pine. Lina smells the pine soap her mother used to keep everything disgustingly spotless.

Eiriikr: He remembers the smell of pot roasts that he associates with the feasts his family would host for local important people and visiting clients. The smell of roast in the morning would let the entire household know to expect a feast that night.

• Your character is doing intense spring cleaning. What is easy for her to throw out? What is difficult for her to part with? Why?

Anyatka: Anyatka owns 2 outfits, a walking stick, a writing journal, and her drawing supplies. She has nothing to throw out, though she would find it difficult to just toss any of her completed drawings.

Cwendlwyn: Cwen hordes a bit. Helps her fit right in with the Hobbits. She would find it difficult to part with anything to do with her past, no matter how painful the memory associated with it. Hence the three rings she wears on a chain around her neck: her marriage band from Anidore, Arodionn Vallanor’s family crest, and a gift from the Elf Elodir.

Emmelina: Lina doesn’t possess a lot, just clothes, really. She has no trouble getting rid of those to suit her mood or needs.

Eiriikr: Eirikr has a collection of fishing lures he values greatly and never any of them away. He hand made each one, taught by his grandfather during the summer holidays his family took to Lake-town. They are a memory of the calmer, more peaceful times for him in his childhood. He has no attachment to clothes or furniture.

• It’s Saturday at noon. What is your character doing? Give details. If he’s eating breakfast, what exactly does he eat? If she’s stretching out in her backyard to sun, what kind of blanket or towel does she lie on?

Anyatka: Anya would probably be drawing near the Staddlemere or Halecatch or perhaps moping about waiting for the sun to go down so she could accidentally run into Morty. However, with her concussion, she would be stuck around her homestead.

Cwendlwyn: Cwen would be cooking, gardening, or brewing.

Emmelina: Unfortunately, Lina would still be at work on Saturday at noon. She volunteers for the extra day’s pay.

Eiriikr: Eirikr would be spending time with Ninim, doting on her to his best ability. A lot of the time, this means going to the weekend market to window shop.

• What is one strong memory that has stuck with your character from childhood? Why is it so powerful and lasting?

Anyatka: Anya will never forget the day Eirikr pretty much saved Abbi’s life. Her younger brother had broken a vase meant as a gift to a visiting merchant. The cool porcelain had slipped from his crippled six-year-old hands. Their father beat him until Eirikr, then sixteen, intervened by launching himself at the red-faced man. Kolrson turned the lash on Eirikr and beat him unconscious. Anya nursed her older brother back to health.

Cwendlwyn: Cwen remembers the night they arrived in Riverwide. She had lost her mother and now her father took her to some foreign town to start new without even returning to their old home. It was the start of a whole new life for her, one that turned out to be not at all what it seemed.

Emmelina: Though only two years ago and not quite still a child, Lina remembers the night she woke to find herself covered in blood as she lost her child.

Eiriikr: Eirikr remembers when he made his first kill out hunting when he was about eight. It was the first moment in his life he felt worthy and capable of taking control of things.

• Your character is getting ready for a night out. Where is she going? What does she wear? Who will she be with?

Anyatka: Wearing mainly simple robes, Anya would most likely spend the night out at the Pony at present. She would hope to be joined by Eruviel, Morty, or -at least in the past- Falros, and any other people she would happen to meet.

Cwendlwyn: Cwen dresses elegantly in long flowing gowns. She enjoys feasts (especially Hobbit parties) and concerts.

Emmelina: Party at the Pony! Or anywhere there’s booze! And men! Or women! People!

Eiriikr: Eirikr would enjoy a small gathering of friends at the local tavern. He would wear clothes that fit; he’s not particularly interested in style but dresses for comfort and utility.

Emergence

Bright morning sunlight reflected off the broken canopy of Chetwood forest. The soft beams that managed to find their way through the branches rarely found the forest floor. A large spider crept past a pile of leaves gathered in a shallow dip in the land; it smelled something. Its mandibles chittered as it circled back to the pile of leaves. Flesh. It could smell flesh.

Before it could explore beneath the brown pile, a coal black lynx sprung out sending the leaves flying in all directions. Growling, it swiped at the spider which reared and hissed with its front legs batting at the sudden shadow. Undaunted, the lynx’s claws slashed at the spiders multifaceted eyes and sent it scurrying. Spitting with contempt, it prowled around the pile seeking further challengers before returning to the disturbance from whence it emerged.

A small, feminine hand appeared among the leaves and the lynx gave the palm a gentle head-butt. It pawed at the debris, digging out a young woman in a dirty, travel-worn hood and cloak and robes that at one time could have been found behind a merchant’s counter.

“Get off me, Oli,” a soft and low voice said. The woman tried to burrow deeper into the warmth of the leaves. “Go on, get off me.” She gave the lynx a shove, but it nudged her side until she growled.

“Oh, all right then, you stubborn cat.” Pushing herself into a sitting position, the woman looked around with bleary gray eyes.

Around them, the woods were active with morning sounds. A jay called from the branches of a nearby tree, and Anya could smell the dew on the leaves. It would be a warmer day, though the relative temperatures still made it a cold winter for travelling.

“You woke me too early,” she said to the lynx who simply sat back on its haunches and stared at her. Anya stared back for a long moment before she looked away covering her eyes. “All right, all right. You win. I’ll get up.” Climbing to her feet, she brushed the bracken from her robes and turned a circle, seeking the waypoint she made for herself before turning in the night before.

Climbing to her feet, she brushed the bracken from her robes and turned a circle, seeking the waypoint she made for herself before turning in the night before.
Climbing to her feet, she brushed the bracken from her robes and turned a circle, seeking the waypoint she made for herself before turning in the night before.

A hundred meters off, the large rock stood a sentinel to her passage. Without looking back, Anya set off at a steady pace toward what she hoped was civilization. The dark shape of the feline loped close behind.

As the sun rose in the sky, she grew hungry. She was tired. Her body longed for a proper bed if only she could find a town where one was located. Their caravan had been on the way to Bree, and Bookie had said they were less than a day or so away. When the bandits struck after nightfall, she had fled north of the road in a panic, though she couldn’t be certain that she had maintained a northern heading in her flight. She could only hope that by travelling south she could find the road again.

When her feet finally found cobblestone, she realized she had not fled as far as it had seemed. She had travelled only a half an hour or so before regaining the road. West, he had said, is the land of mystery and adventure where ancient ruins lay undisturbed just waiting to tell their stories to any who braved the ghosts of the dead. Looking up at the sky, she found her direction and set off to follow the road into the West.

Chapter Four: Danick

DANICK

That afternoon sun blazed high above the trees filling the wood with beams of light. Breathing in the fresh, clean air filled her with a renewed energy. She set off to the north, away from the river, the village, and the chance she would run into the Dunlendings. She moved slower than she liked favoring her arm to protect her shoulder. The joint ached, still stiff and swollen in its socket. Her mending ribs prevented her from travelling much quicker than a gentle walk. She thought of binding them, but could think of nothing that would serve.

After fifteen minutes of walking, she knew her shoulder would need a sling. The effort of holding it still was exhausting her far more than a day of cooking before a festival. She stopped beneath a tall ash tree, leaning against the diamond-shaped ridges of the trunk cradling one arm in her other. Sighing heavily, she shrugged the pack off her back and opened the leather tie.

Below her mother’s dress was a large shirt, probably meant for Tyne. She ripped the fabric as best she could with her limited movement. Tieing the knot tight, she fashioned a loop around her neck. She slid her arm into the sling and sighed in relief as the pressure was taken off her joint. After a minute’s thought, she ripped another piece of fabric and tied it around her torso, wrapping it around her bicep to stabilize the joint further. The bow she tied beneath her breast reminded her of a decorative ribbon on a festival dress and she found herself laughing loudly. Her amusement was baffling, but consuming, her head thrown back and the corners of her eyes wrinkled and tearing.

“Fit for the Midsummer,” she said aloud to the wood, giggling still. She rifled through her hip pack and found a small rectangular vial. The glass was black from the fire and the cork showed much use. Between the sling and her laughter, the cork proved to be a bit of a challenge. Finally, it popped out and she drank a mouthful of the foul-smelling liquid.  Her eyes widened at the taste, then softened and calmed. She took a deep breath and sat for the longest moment simply staring at an ant meandering up the trunk of the ash.

Eventually she pushed herself to her feet and began walking north again. She knew of a watchpost at the foot of the White Mountains. It was established to serve as a waypoint between the Westfold and the villages further east along the line to the Gap of Rohan and Isengard. Frequent invasions from the Dunland tribes required a system of posts to be kept so the Eorlingas could be summoned quickly. If she could reach the northern post, perhaps she could find a night’s rest and a warm meal.

She trudged on, the light growing dimmer as the sun began sinking below the treetops. Always on alert for a shadow, her eyes never stopped finding their way over her shoulder. Once, about two miles from where she thought the post ought to be, she suspected she heard a steady footfall behind her, too heavy to be that of a forest creature. She had paused, ducking down beneath a high bush as she held her breath and listened. The sound was not there, despite waiting a full five minutes for it to recur. Only the occasional bird call or rustling of squirrels in the trees accompanied her shallow breath.

“You’re being foolish, Cwendlwyn Tain,” she muttered to herself. The leaves of the bush tickled her cheek. Peering through a fork in the branches, she saw only forest shadows and plant life. She began to stand cautiously, her eyes searching for what was causing the hairs to rise on the back of her neck. “Foolish…”

“Indeed,” said a voice behind her and a gloved hand descended from above to grasp her around the middle.

Her struggle was hampered by her sling and the iron strength of the arms pinning her against a broad chest.  She cried out, kicking her legs wildly as she was pulled backwards into a clearing. The man’s grip tightened. “No!” she cried, terror causing her voice to crack. “Bemá protect me!”

A ray of light broke through the canopy above and blinded the man briefly, his arms slacking in its grip around her. The sun shining through the leaves gave her the slightest moment to break the man’s hold. She bucked against him like a wild hart at bay, the heels of her leather boots slamming into his shins, and he dropped her to the ground with a roar. The impact jarred her bones, but she crawled away quickly, desperately attempting to scramble to her feet. She fell, hindered by her injuries.

“Stop!” the man cried out, and in his voice there was no anger.

Cwen hesitated, glancing back over her shoulder with wide eyes. The man’s yellow hair fell down over his face, masking his expression. He wore leather armour dyed a hunter’s green and brown, the quality beyond that of a Wild Man’s In fact, it far outstretched the carefully crafted armour of the village watch.

“My lady,” the man said quickly, “please hold.” He pushed the hair out of his face and took a hesitant step forward.

Cwen stared up at him, her mouth hung open in uncertainty.

“Forgive me,” the man paused his advance, holding his hands up away from the sword hanging at his side. “From your appearance, I thought – “ he bit his lip frowning. A series of emotions passed over his face as he seemed to come to a quick decision.

“Who are you? And what business have you so near the West Watch?” he demanded severely.

“Cwenlwyn of Riverwide. We were attacked without warning. My –“ Her voice caught in her throat. “It’s all gone,” she managed to say, tears threatening to well up inside her chest once more. “All of it is gone. All of it. Gone.” The tears caught in her throat as she could only repeat, “Gone. All gone.”

All of her pain and exhaustion seemed to descend upon her at once. She had no more energy to block the emotions that now overwhelmed her and the tears began to flow in rivulets down her cheeks. She covered her face, sitting with her shoulders hunched and shaking with her sobs.

The man stood uncertainly, the shock at her response pulling his brows down and pursing his lips. He shifted from one foot to the other before moving forward to kneel beside her.

“Miss,” he said cautiously, “you hail from a river village? You were attacked?”

She could only nod. She felt his hard stare. Suddenly, his arms went around her again, this time to lift her. He cradled her gently and began walking north in a quick trot. Cwen sobbed quietly as he carried her through the forest. She lay limp in his arms, completely reliant on the man’s strength to support her. She closed her eyes and rested her head on his broad chest, the tears finally slowing but still flowing steadily from her eyes.

She heard the heavy breath of the horse as she was shifted away from the warmth of the man. “Woah,” he said gently to the steed as he placed her upon its back. He kept a hand on her to steady her, then leaped into the saddle behind her. She cried still, but was comforted by his arms around her holding the reins.

They set out at a quick trot and soon reached a small encampment constructed from timber. High walls surrounded the two permanent buildings and a row of tents. The guard on the wall shouted to the man with surprise, but he did not respond and rode up to the smaller of the two buildings. Another man emerged from the doorway and after a quick exchange with the rider, reached for Cwen. Instantly she tensed, resisting the new set of hands.

“My lady,” the rider said, “This is Grenwal. Allow him to help you down,” he urged gently. “I shall be right here,” he added just for her to hear.

She resisted a moment longer, then allowed Grenwal to pull her to the ground. His hands were calloused but gentle as they supported her. Quickly, the rider dismounted and took her back into his arms. He carried her into the dark calm of the building  and into a small room off the wide hall.

A man sat writing behind a work table. He looked up at the sound of the their approach. His face was hard and rugged from exposure, but not cruel. His mouth was set firmly below a straight nose and his eyes reflected the candlelight illuminating the room.

“Danick,” he said in a deep, gravelly voice, “what is this?”

“I found her in the woods, sir. She was hysterical; said she came from a village along the river.” Danick held her still and she buried her face in his shoulder unwilling to look at the man behind the desk.

“She does not look as one from the river villages does. She bears the garb of the Dunlendings.”

“She called to Bemá, sir. She said the village of Riverwide was attacked.”

“Put her on her feet, Danick.” She heard the man stand, the legs of the chair scraping across the floor.

“Sir, I—“ Danick protested, but the man cut him off.

“I need to see her face. On her feet,” he demanded.

Danick eased her to her feet in front of him, keeping his hands braced on her hips. She swayed slightly, but his touch steadied her. Her eyes down, she stood there silently feeling the man’s eyes on her, examining her carefully. She will herself to stay still. She steeled her resolve to stay on her feet. She would not faint in this hut in the woods.

“Look at me,” the man commanded.

Slowly, she raised her eyes to look at him. He was closer than she expected, his brilliant blue eyes boring into her own. Unblinking, his eyes held hers until finally he broke the silence.

“You look like one of them,” he said. “Yet, your eyes—“ he stopped speaking, his face so close his hot breath closed in on her. She shrank back without thinking, but Danick blocked her retreat. He stood firm, his hands still gently supporting her.

The images of Tyne towering over her assaulted her eyes again. She cried out, unable to hide herself from the prying eyes of men. Throwing her hands up, she braced herself for attack half-cringing, half-sprung to retaliate.

“Sir!” Danick’s voice called out. his arms went around her, pulling her back. She tensed, ready to fight her way out this time, but he picked her up from her feet and swung her around, protecting her. “Sir, permission to speak!”

The man had stepped back with surprise widening his eyes. “Granted.”

“Sir,” Danick said, an arm still across her keeping her behind him. “I believe she is what she says she is. She is quite—“ he paused, struggling for words, “—quite broken. I do not think she is a danger, sir, but something terribly traumatic has happened to her.”

“You would allow a wild beast into our camp?” The commander’s eyes narrowed.

“Sir, any injured animal may lash out in self-preservation. But if mended…”

The commander held up a hand. “They may be the most loyal of servants. Yes, Danick, I have heard much the same. Yet, her appearance here is quite coincidental regarding the reports that came in today.”

Cwen’s face was down, hidden in the dark shadow cast by Danick’s form. Yet her eyes were alert as she listened to the men discuss her fate. Her own hand rested on Danick’s back. There was comfort from his closeness. She felt safe near him, a feeling she had abandoned with each jolting injury laid upon her by Tyne.

“What news would that be, sir?”

The man stared hard at her protector and she felt him waver under his gaze.

“Forgive me, sir. I overstep my bounds,” he said with a small bow.

“Danick, you are my best man here at this post, I do trust you in many things, but you bring me a Dunlending—“

“I am no Dunlending!”

Her voice erupted from her surprising all in the room. She hid behind Danick clinging to the back of his hauberk.

The commander’s voice was calm. “Your appearance would say otherwise.”

“These are not my clothes! The Dunlendings came with mid-morn and killed everyone who stood in their path. The village no longer stands, our labours and loves now dust and ash.” She came forward from behind Danick, standing tall and defiant in front of the skeptical man. “I am a survivor of that attack. And the later attack on me personally by the betrayers of my people.”

The commander’s narrow eyes were dark slits in the candlelight. “Betrayers? What betrayers do you speak of?”

Cwen’s voice failed to answer.

“You say you are not one of them. Then you must be open with us! Tell us what you know.”

Danick’s arm was still on her back and his support strengthened her resolve.

“Sir, two members of the village fought on the side of the invaders. I know not the extent of their involvement, but they found me…they found me after I fled and—“ her voice broke.

“And?”

“They attacked me, sir. Left me for dead. I—“ she swallowed hard. “I came north seeking help.”

The commander’s eyes perused her stance, her bruised and cut face, her arm bound to her side. She wondered if the wound potion had mended the injuries beyond belief. She felt the skepticism in his gaze. But she did not back down.

“Commander,” Danick began, but Cwen cut him off.

“Sir, I will tell you that the men that betrayed us were my father and my fiance. Framham Tain and Tyne Dernhere. They sided with the Dunlendings because they sided with their own people. They betrayed us all.” She did not lower her face or look away. “Yes,” she said to his narrow eyes. “That means that I too have the blood of the enemy in me. But, sir, I am Cwendlwyn Tain of the Mark and I would ask to earn my right to seek vengeance on the ones that destroyed my world.” The men stared at her. “And my lord,” she continued, “Tyne took more than my home and destroyed it.” Her eyes remained straight forward. Her jaw set defiantly.

Danick’s arm stiffened around her back and his body drew away from her unexpectedly. Her shoulders dropped but she raised her chest defiantly, not allowing her shame to cripple her. She knew that admitting what Tyne did to her would make her a pariah. Soiled and unwanted. Unclean. But she needed these men to understand what happened to her. They had to know that she spoke the truth.

She could not see the commander’s face as she stared straight ahead. She waited, the faint red flush on her face slowly creeping down her cheeks and across the bridge of her nose. She heard Danick shuffle from one foot to the other, his leather armour creaking as he moved. She could hear the noise of the night, soldiers moving within the compound, the wind in the trees. Finally, the commander cleared his throat.

“Danick,” he said quietly, a trace of kindness and perhaps sympathy in his voice, “take her to my quarters. See that she has a bath drawn – hot water – and a warm meal. Have her rest.” He returned to his chair. “See that it is done and that she remain protected.”

Danick’s arm withdrew from around her waist and he bowed to the commander. “Yessir,” he said firmly, and then he turned to her and led her from the building.

Cwen kept her eyes down to avoid the stares of the soldiers gathered around flickering campfires for the evening meal. Word of Danick’s catch had spread quickly throughout the camp and many had gathered around the central campfire to see the ‘wild lynx.’ The misconception that she was Dunlending seemed to have travelled with the news of her arrival and there were several taunting calls directed toward her. Danick guided her by the elbow, barely touching her. She swallowed with difficulty, tears welling in her throat again.

They went into the other building. The front room appeared to be a sitting area and two men lounged on wooden chairs around the small table. They straightened up when she came in and the taller one questioned Danick in a high baritone surprising for his size. Danick quickly explained the situation and the tall man stood, going through a doorway which he shut behind him with a thud. Danick grasped her elbow again and directed her toward the door opposite the entryway.

The door led to a small room with a low bed and small wooden dresser. The spartan decorations gave no hint as to who the room belonged to. She stood quietly, unsure and nervous in the small setting. She reached for a strand of hair to twirl around her finger forgetting that nothing hung there. Her hand fell instead on her shoulder, which she massaged with tense fingers. Danick moved around her silently, changing the bedsheets and opening the dresser drawers.

The door opened behind her and she flinched. The tall man brought in a large wooden tub and set it in the middle of the room. He left for a moment and returned with a bucket of boiling water. The sound of the water pouring into the tub filled the silence once, twice, three times. The tub steamed, filling the room with a hazy fog. Two buckets of well water later, the man was bowing to her, eyes down, and then leaving the room.

“Forgive the crude accommodations,” Danick said. He was suddenly standing in front of her filling her field of vision. “We do not have any fine oils or luxuries.”

She gazed up at the man and studied his face carefully. She almost laughed at his apology. Who did he think she was to expect oils? Who did he think he was that it was expected of him?

“I will leave you to wash,” he said quietly. “There are clothes on the bed; men’s garments, but they will fit you better than those that you wear now.” He paused a moment as if he wanted to say more but was unsure of the words. “Captain’s orders,” he said finally and she looked up to see a faint blush on his cheeks.

Cwen suddenly felt embarrassed. This man did not wake up expecting to cater to some wild woman he found in the forest. She wondered what grief he would receive from his fellow soldiers for acting as her serving maid.

“I’m sorry,” she said quickly. She looked up at him, willing him to look at her. “For everything.”

Danick looked down at her, his eyes confused. “What for?” he said gruffly averting his eyes again quickly.

“You have been so kind…I do not mean to be a burden.”

Danick looked down at her again, his eyes narrowed.

“Do not apologize for what you could not control,” he said. She heard anger in his voice, though it was effervescent and not focused toward her. Seeing her shrink back from him, his face softened and his voice became kind again. “You did not ask for the enemy to descend upon you. And besides, I may have a sister.” He reached out and touched her cheek, his fingers barely grazing her skin. He pulled his hand back abruptly and pressed his lips together in a frown. “Excuse me, I will leave you to bathe…” he moved around her to leave.

“Danick,” she turned to face him.

He paused with his hand on the door to push it open. “Yes, m’am?”

“Thank you.”

He turned to look at her. For the first time she noticed how crystalline blue his eyes were.

“You’re welcome,” he replied quietly, a smile on his lips. Then he was gone.

©Lindsey Smith

Chapter Three: Torment

Cwen heard her father tisk, though she could not turn her head to look at him.

“No need to be cruel, Tyne.”  His tone lacked reprimand.

Tyne sneered up at her father, his handsome features twisted with his  hate. “She is your daughter. You are not going to save her?”

“It was her mother ‘twas beautiful and precious. She was merely the expected consequence.”

Pain and anger boiled inside her. Her heart ached at the turning of her father and the cruelty of the man she thought loved her. Tyne’s face hovered above her own, his hand dragging her head back by the roots of her hair. The tears ran back to add to the dirt and sweat plastering her hair to her scalp, and she wished they could burn his hand like fire.  The memory of her mother hot through her: blue-eyed and fair with hair like spun gold, her mother had been killed during a journey to the Isen River for ingredients needed for her father’s potions. Cwen recalled the journey with her parents in a quick flash: her mother’s resistance from the proposal of the trip, the hard days’ travel that often went far into the night, and the ambush that left her mother dead and a young girl of seven in an aloof father’s care.

They had not returned to their village.  After her mother’s death, they pushed on down the Isen to the mouth of the Adorn.  They then followed its northern shore to Riverwide where they made their home. The villagers accepted her father’s skill as a healer, thought they long treated them as outsiders. Frieda’s acceptance and Tyne’s attentions made the years bearable, but now she realized she had had nothing but a farce.

The new emotions pushed aside her fear, knotting into a fiery ball over her heart. She narrowed her eyes, her face hardening into a scowl.

Tyne’s laugh at her father’s comment distracted him enough to relax his hold on her hair.  Cwen took the chance and grabbed his wrist, twisting her body to duck beneath his arm, twisting his arm as she turned. She felt the strands rips from her scalp, but her desire to live mattered more to her than a few hairs. She drove her elbow into his face, throwing him back and giving her enough room to grab the lute at his feet. Staying low, she barreled into her father’s knees. He fell back in surprise, crashing into the far wall. Before Cwen could reach the door, a large hand grabbed the collar of her shirt, dragging back.

“Break my nose, will you?” Tyne’s arm came around her neck, cutting off her windpipe. Her feet left the floor and he threw her across the room. She collapsed against the wall and fell to her hands and knees.

“Deal with her, Tyne.” Her father’s voice sent a chill down her spine. The boot connected with her rib cage with a loud crack. The pain stunned her and she fell on her face. Her father’s footsteps echoed loudly as he left the hut, the door closing ominously behind him.

**         **         **

The passage of time was irrelevant. The shadows faded in and out of her visions: blue and yellow lights dancing and floating as if elhudans of Enedwaith had descended upon her mind. She reached out to grasp for one as it flitted by, but the movement caused daggers to pierce her side, causing her to gasp. The darkness reached for her, scattering the lights until they left her in solitude.

The shadows faded in and out of her visions: blue and yellow lights dancing and floating as if elhudans of Enedwaith had descended upon her mind.
The shadows faded in and out of her visions: blue and yellow lights dancing and floating as if elhudans of Enedwaith had descended upon her mind.

**         **         **

Her breath was ragged and shallow, the darkness tangible. She struggled against it, trying to push it off of her eyes with hands that struggled to respond. Her fingers found her face, reached for her eyelids, but only found a warm, swollen mass. It yielded slightly beneath her fingertips and weighed her left lid down, preventing her from opening her eye. Her right eye was crusted, and she gently rubbed away the grime until she could see the ceiling of the hunter’s cabin above her.

Faint light filled the cabin; the sun’s beams illuminating the dust stirred up in the air. Morning was come, the cabin was empty save her, and only the Valar knew why her heart still beat fiercely in her chest.

Her entire body ached. Tyne showed no mercy to her, the love he feigned turned to hatred as he abused her body. Slowly, disrupting her broken ribs as little as possible, she shifted on the tabletop where he had left her to die to ease the pressure on her left shoulder. It felt out of place and she was unable to roll the joint in its socket. She attempted to move her fingers; they wiggled in the air freely with no pain. Only when she attempted to move her shoulder did the shock rack her body.

Gingerly, she prodded the joint with her other hand, getting a feel for the dislocation. Finally, she made a decision and gritting her teeth, she knew she had no choice: she gripped the edge of the table tightly, then threw her weight back and up, kicking her feet of the floor for leverage. Her scream rent the air, silencing the forest sounds around the cabin. She felt the shoulder slide back into place before blacking out again.

When she awoke, sunlight filled the cabin cheerily. She moaned, her body famished and broken. As she turned, she fell from the tabletop, pain shooting through her as she hit the dirt floor. For a long time she lay, her breath jagged. Finally, through pure will, she pushed herself over, wincing at the tender resistance her shoulder gave to any weight placed upon it.

Cwen looked around the room, unable to focus at first. Her eye finally found a small brown object on the floor near the hearth. As she stared, her father’s satchel took shape. Scooting herself across the floor, she reached for the bag, finding instead of rations, a store of vials and small clay pots. Her fingers grasped one glass vial stoppered with beeswax and realized she held a healing draught, strong enough to mend her wounds. Unstoppering the bottle quickly, she drank the contents of the vial without hesitation. Immediately, she felt invigorated and warm, the pain in her joints and muscles easing as it flowed through her veins.

She wondered at the find, realizing that wherever they were now, her father and Tyne had intentions of coming back. She saw the rations piled on the hearth, wrapped in broad leaves. Her lute lay beneath the table, kicked aside during the savage attack. As quickly as she could, she climbed to her feet and began gathering the items. Another bag, larger than hers, sat in the corner by the door. She opened it and sucked in her breath, shocked.

A dress lay on top of nondescript items filling the bag. The rich velvet was dyed a gentle rose, like the sky before the sunrise. She touched the soft fabric in awe, amazed that her father would have saved such a trivial thing.

Cwen’s own clothes were tattered, ripped by Tyne. Beneath her mother’s dress was a set of worn clothes, which she used to replace her own ruined dress. The leggings were tight, and the shirt was torn at the sleeve. They covered her body well enough, and would serve her purpose as she meant to travel hard and fast through the land. Placing the satchel of medicines over her shoulder on her hip, she looked around the room one last time. With her lute on her back and her mother’s dress safely in the pack on her back, she limped out the door into the afternoon sun.

©Lindsey Smith

Chapter Two: Betrayal

BETRAYAL

Tyne’s hulking form filled the doorway, blocking the evening light and casting a shadow across the floor.  It stretched toward her and she inched back, trying to keep it from touching her toes.

“Cwendlwyn,” his voice rumbled deep within his chest.  “You made it here alive.  I am so pleased.”  His face was shadowed as he stepped into the hut.  Her father came to her holding out his hands.  They were familiar hands that had comforted her when they could.  They had carried her from the Eastfold clear across the mark after the death of her mother, leading her from the darkness of her sorrow in and out of shadow until they found the village he chose as their home.  Still when she placed her hands in his, a chill flowed from his fingers instead of loving warmth and Cwen knew she had never really known her father’s deepest secrets.

“I ran as soon as I was able,” she said quietly.  “I tried to save Bean, the stables –” she could not look her father in the eye, but saw his dark features instead on the Dunlending she had killed, the one whose blood still stained her rough cotton shirt.  “I did not know where to go, therefore I came here…” her voice trailed off into silence.

“You are very clever, Cwendlwyn, my child.”  Her father held her hands loosely, keeping her an arm’s length away.  “You were good to run so quickly, before the main host of the attackers came.”

“The main host?” she questioned.  She longed to pull her hands from her father’s grasp.  She knew to do so would be unwise.

“Aye.”  Her father continued. “The first attackers at dawn merely cleared the way for the main host to attack at will. They had no resistance after the Watch was eliminated.” Cwen thought a gleam flashed in her father’s eye as she described the attack. “The village was completely destroyed by the fires. All the women, children…they are hunting those that hid or ran. I doubt anyone was able to escape.” His eyes bore into her face. “Only you.”

“Such a fortunate stroke of luck,” Tyne said from the doorway, “that you, my love, were able to flee.”

“Aye,” she whispered, shrinking away as he moved into the room. The setting sun blinded her over his shoulder, peering into the room and filling it with fire. Tyne strode across the floor and slammed the mace on the table beside her. She was closed in, pinioned in a corner with a wall of man-flesh blocking her way to safety.

Tyne stepped closer to her, looming above as he looked down at her, his face hallowed in the light of the setting sun. The backlight prevented scrutiny, and she could not decipher his expression. “What shall we do now,” he growled, “now that we are here, escaped from the danger and free to do as we please?”

played by Torlach
played by Torlach

“We should go back,” she whispered. “Help those we can.”

“Against an entire army of Dunlendings? Are you mad?” her father questioned.

“Some may have escaped the attack. We can save them, Da.” She did not understand what would cause her father to deny help to those who needed it.

“No,” he growled. “None will be saved.”

“Da…” the word barely escaped her mouth when Tyne grabbed her by the throat.  He lifted her off her feet, his face close to her own.

“You want to save those forgoil, you pretty one?” His teeth gleamed as he growled out, “The ones who scorned you for your blood, for bearing a mark of the Wild Men?” A brutal hand stroked her hair. Wrapping a length of it around his fingers, he yanked. The chunk ripped from her scalp, bringing tears to her eyes and a cry of pain from her lips.  He dangled it in front of her as she clawed at his grip on her throat.  Her nails drew blood; still his grip held. Her gasps for air became weak, strangled. Bright spots began to appear in the corners of her vision.

“Tyne—enough!” her father’s voice commanded. Tyne released her and she fell on her face on the ground, gasping, her throat raw. She sensed the boot before she saw it, but could not roll out of the way in time. The kick caught her in the side, knocking what little breath she had drawn in out from her lungs with a harsh whoosh.

“How does it feel,” Tyne sneered, “how does it feel, little Eorling, to have your world taken from you, burned down around you?”

Tears slid down her face. She stared at the dirty shoes in front of her, unable to speak.

Tyne took her face in his hand, squeezing her cheeks painfully as he lifted her face to look into his own.

“How does it feel to have your world destroyed?”

“Tyne,” she managed to whisper, “please…why…”

He squeezed harder. “You know why.  Look at me. Look at your father, and you will see the answer, Cwendlwyn of the Riddermark.”

She could taste blood in her mouth as the pressure of his grip causes the sensitive flesh inside her cheeks to cut against her teeth.  A whimper escaped her lips, and she closed her eyes, to blot out the image of his snarling eyes, so foreign to her in their rage.

“You, too, have the dark blood in you,” Tyne continued. He released her face only to grasp a fist full of her hair. He pulled her head back cruelly. “Your father gave you this black mane covering your pretty little scalp.  Did you never wonder how such darkness found its way into your blood? You are covered by the shadow.” His eyes gazed across her shoulders at the burnt ends lying there unevenly. “Well, you were covered by the shadow,” he sneered. “Now all that is left is ash.”

©Lindsey Smith

Chapter One: The Burning

After an attack
After an attack

Cwendlwyn stood staring at the burning houses that were once the village called Riverwide. Screams reached her ears even where she stood on the hilltop that led to the forest below the mountains, her only possession clutched to her chest.  Her father had finished stringing the lute just that morning, smiling sadly as he placed the instrument in her hands.  Had he sensed what the day would bring? Could he have known that their life would be destroyed – again – by forces out of their control?

Turning from the scene, she raised a shaking hand to her face. Blood streamed from a gash on her cheek.  She had not felt the pain until the threat of the attackers had dissipated with distance. Now that she was relatively safe from harm, the entire left side of her face began to throb. She had none of her father’s herbs or potions that would quickly stop the oozing of the wound. Surely they were all destroyed by the fires. Perhaps her father would have had the sense to pack some before the attackers had reached their home. A scar would remain without the treatment her father’s salves could provide. It would be little compared with the other scars of the day, she thought, and began to walk toward the wood situated at the bottom of the range of rolling hills.

She plunged into the trees without hesitation. Being a bit of a loner, she knew the wood by heart and quickly found familiar landmarks: the squirrel’s nest in the oak, the fallen rowan, the spring with its small brook that joined the Adorn to the south of the village. She stopped at the spring to ease the burn in her throat and clear the taste of smoke from her mouth.  The cool, clear water slaked her thirst, but showed a reflection that caused more pain to her than she realized her own image could induce, considering the circumstances. Her home burned, her few gathered possessions lost, her father missing or dead. None of these struck her as her own bloodied image in the crystal pool.

Before this day, Cwendlwyn’s hair had hung like night past her shoulders to her waist. She knew as she sought to save her beloved horse from the town stable that her flyaway tresses were in danger from the building flames. She had woken from a nap to the sounds of screaming and harsh guttural cries. She had had no time to braid and confine the wild mane before she fled from the small hut she lived in with her father. She recalled now the acrid scent of burning hair and realized it was not just the manes of the beautiful horses trapped in the stable being burnt away. A good length of her hair was gone, the ends broken and brittle. She ran a shaky hand across her scalp and a great clump of it pulled away. She stared in horror at the delicate strands clinging to her fingers, shocked that she had not noticed, angered that the only thing she felt was beautiful about herself was gone.

A small black water beetle stroked its way across the still pool, shattering her image as it flitted past. Her gaze broken, she clasped her hand to her throat. It was tightening uncharacteristically, threatening to overcome her and choke her with tears. If only she could prevent them from spilling, if only she could tear it all away – the broken remnants of her hair, the images of the familiar huts burning in the morning air, the visages of the Dunlendings running down the familiar paths with axes and maces raised, hacking and slashing the familiar faces that after eight years had become almost family to her.

The golden blonde mane of Frieda, newly married and the first true friend Cwendlwyn had ever made, captured the early morning light, blazing crimson against the blue sky above her. She had cried out to Cwen, reaching through the rare second story window of the home her husband, son of the village elder, had built for them. The hungry flames crept up the thatch to overwhelm her. Her screams as her hair caught fire echoed in Cwen’s brain, magnified by the screams of a hundred women and children.

Cwen had wanted to help her friend, just as she had wanted to save Bean, her beautiful chestnut. She had stared, horrified as her world burned down around her, powerless to stop it.  Only the rush of a Wild Man bearing a blackened sword rushing toward her broke her from the shock of seeing Frieda burned alive. In one swift movement, Cwen drew the dagger from the sheath around her calf, stooping below her attacker’s swing and turning to bury the blade in his side as he tumbled past. With a feral scream that seemed to stun the wounded man to stillness, Cwen ripped the dagger from his flesh and thrust it into his neck.  Without hesitation, she turned and ran, knowing the man was dead, dodging bodies without noting friend or foe for everywhere she looked was fire.

None noted her, as the invaders seemed set on the total destruction of the village. Men of Riverwide took up arms where they could and fought back, but most were caught unawares during the morning attack, and died unarmed, fleeing or defending their homes with fist and heart. She was almost to the meadow that led into the mountains when a Dunlending appeared from the smoke, brandishing a mace. With a ferocious cry, Cwen charged the man, dagger raised, chanting a song of the brave. The man turned and fled, dropping a brown satchel as he ran. Cwen recognized the leaves stitched into the seams as her father’s mark, the sign of his trade. She ran forward to retrieve the pack and later found her risk was worth it: the sack contained some simple trail rations and the lute her father made.

But where was her father now?

The question roused her from her shock and she realized the moisture on her cheeks were tears. Once more she touched her hair, the gash marring her left cheek. A support beam had collapsed in the stables, causing the roof to cave and throwing debris in the air. Only when a board smashed into her face did she give up trying to reach Bean, and she knew that she was lost beneath the rubble. She allowed the tears to flow until the count of ten, then she wiped her eyes on the hem of her tattered sleeve and climbed to her feet.

She followed the brook until a small hunter’s path branched away form its banks. Stepping carefully and quietly as Tyne had taught her, she made her way through the wood to the tiny hut that had been their hideaway many times before. She approached cautiously, listening for occupants, human or otherwise. She peered in through a low window and saw the cold hearth and dust on the table.

Convinced that the hut was unoccupied, she went inside and set to kindling a fire. She had searched the bag on the hilltop and had saved the rations then.  She now munched one without tasting its dryness or feeling any hunger. Cwen knew that Tyne would find her and her father and they would escape into the woods yet again, together. Once the fire crackled warmly on the stones, Cwen sat in the lone wooden chair and waited.

She did not have to wait long. Soon, the sound of a quiet footfall reached her ears and she rushed to the door to greet him. She stopped short at the sound of two voices talking lowly.  Father! she thought, but her excitement was quickly replaced with shock and disbelief.  She did not understand the language spoken, though it was familiar. It had the same rhythm and cadence as the invaders’ cries to each other as they pillaged Riverwide. Ice froze her blood, threatening to turn her to stone. She forced herself to back away from the door, hearing the voice that was plainly her father’s say, in Rohirric, “If it be her, and not forgoil flown from the village, treat her in turn.”

Fear crept up Cwen’s spine and her feet stepped backward under their own volition. As her rear hit the low table across the room, the door opened and her father stepped across the threshold, followed by Tyne Dernhere, her beloved, her fiancé.

Never before had she seen Tyne as she saw him now: dirty, blackened with soot, and carrying a bloodied mace, much like the one borne by the Dunlending who attacked her.

©Lindsey Smith