The Gentle Touch

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

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

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

Gondor must hold. Dol Amroth must hold.ScreenShot00474

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

Unfortunately, it was too late.

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

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

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

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

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

~~~***~~~

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

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

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

A future with Gaelyn Fletcher.

I am now Halvel Fletcher.

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

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

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

~~~***~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was angry with Morty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Every Saint has a Past…

…every sinner has a future. -Ludo “Topeka”

 

Cwendlwyn stood on the banks of the Brandywine and watched the brown water stream by the steep banks. The wagon borrowed from Blanco Banks broke an axle just north of the hedges separating Buckland from the the Great East Road. Unloading their possessions took most of the morning and now they waited for the spare part to arrive from the carpenter. Neilia splashed in the shallows of the river, closely watched by Callee. The Hobbit had willingly agreed to accompany them to Ravenhold to help mother and daughter settle in before returning to Buckland to be caretaker for their home while they were gone. Cwen thought longingly of her gardens but knew that moving to Bree for the time being was best for her little family.

After all, Biramore was not coming back. Cwen had to face that now that the money they had saved was running low. The spacious home and grand kitchen seemed cold without the parties of neighbors and friends visiting from Bree. She couldn’t keep up with the gardens and the cleaning and the cooking anymore though it had never been a problem before. She couldn’t put her finger on what was wrong since he was gone. It wasn’t like it was the first time she was loved and left. Perhaps it was because for once, she truly thought it would last. She had picked a man that put family first and did not involve himself with plots and schemes. She did not have to heal injuries without knowing their cause because it was ‘safer’ if she didn’t know. They were honest with each other. They were true.

She thought about her conversations with Anya as she watched Neilia splash after a toad. She had been surprised when Anric told her that the two had separated and she did not pry when he resisted saying anything more on the matter. She now knew Anya was entertaining thoughts about someone other than Anric, but she never imagined she would act upon them. Perhaps the girl’s honesty revealed too much of the situation and that is why he left her. Cwen hadn’t the heart to ask when she visited Eirikr’s new home in Durrow. The poor girl looked on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

A frown knit her brow as she considered how her words might have played a role in the destruction of Anya and Anric’s relationship. Such talk of burning and faithfulness. What did she know about such things anyway? She had not felt the burn since Anidore and that turned out lovely, didn’t it? As she watched Neilia play, she answered own question without her usual sarcasm: yes, it did. She had Neilia and she always had to remember that. The time she would spend away on her duties was for Neilia’s benefit; vegetables and coney pies would not bring in enough coin to ensure she was taken care of in the future. If anything happened to her, Cwen knew somehow that Oendir Arrowheart would not let Neilia starve on the streets.

Sighing, Cwen turned to check on the repair progress. It was a long day’s journey, and they would have to make camp now that most of the day was lost. Neilia would take the news well; she always had an adventurous spirit and saw the move as a great mystery waiting for her in the land of Men. She was certain to enjoy camping beneath the stars.

She smiled slightly as she climbed the bank of the river. She would have to get used to camp again now that she was employed as a Wayfarer.

* * *

Eirikr poked the campfire with a long, spindly stick. The woods spoke quiet comfort as the dusk settled in around him for a quick hug before sinking beneath the treetops. The rosy skies did little to brighten his mood. Nothing seemed to these days.

A snap of a twig alerted him that he was not alone. The Chetwood was full of bandits and beasts – surely a beast would not have made such a tell-tale sound. His hand flew to the hilt of his sword and he held the stick out in front of him ready to swing at the first thing that moved.

A pair of eyes reflected the firelight as the sun finally sank beneath the horizon, plunging the woods into night. They watched him, unblinking, until Eirikr relaxed and lowered the stick slightly. A black nose and then a muzzle emerged from the shadows followed by the yellow eyes of the wolf.

Eirikr stared back at the animal, fascinated. The remains of his supper rested on a leather scrap he used as a plate. He picked up the roasted rabbit and took a bite before holding it out to the wolf. He expected the animal to run – or charge – but it did neither. It simply padded over to sniff the food before accepting it with a chomp.

He wiped his hands on his tunic and sat back to watch the wolf eat. The meat was gone in seconds and the wolf licked its muzzle of the grizzle. Then, it settled down with its massive paws stretched out before him and stared into the fire.

For a long time, Eirikr watched the wolf for any signs of aggression. His instinct, however, told him there was no threat and the wolf did not see him as something foreign to the trees and night air. Eventually, it laid its head down and closed its eyes.

Eirikr looked up at the stars showing through the gaps in the trees and for the first time since he received Ninim’s letter, their beauty did not sting.

* * *

The Watcher passed by her hiding spot with that overconfident stride all of them seemed to adopt when on duty. She didn’t know why she loathed them so much lately. She knew many of them and had liked them well enough before. Things were getting more difficult, though, and she refused to go home and admit defeat. It would work out, this time, she just knew it.

When she was sure he was gone, Lina swung her legs over the wall and let herself fall to the stones covering the ground. Her arms ached from holding herself balanced for so long and she unhooked the pouch of coin from her belt with a frown. “So much work for so little,” she muttered.

“And it really wasn’t worth any of it, now, was it?” The deep voice precluded the hand that grasped her tightly around the shoulders from behind. She looked down and saw the Watcher’s colors and scowled. With her heels, she kicked at his shins, but he anticipated the move and lifted her up and back causing her to kick forward in an attempt to regain equilibrium. A rope was thrown around her arms and looped expertly around her wrists to draw them behind her. Before she knew it, she was trussed and practically helpless kneeling on the cold cobblestones of the alley.

“Honest, mis’er Watcher, sir, I didn’t do nothin’.”

The man’s cold blue eyes stared into her own as he reached for the pouch she dropped. He smiled as he straightened.

“Oh? Then what is this?” He emptied the contents of the bag into his hand and the gold coins slid from his palm to the street. An empty vial also fell into his palm and Lina’s eyes widened.

“What is this indeed,” he continued and tucked the bag into his belt. He uncorked the vial and sniffed. “Poison? I’d bet my life on it. What would a little girl like you be doing with poison?” His broad shoulders blocked out the sun as he looked down on her.

“Wha-I-I-” Lina stammered for words but had none. Damnit all!

“Empty. What have you been doing, little girl?”

“I ain’t li’l and I ain’t been doin’ nothin’!” she insisted, though she felt it was useless to protest any more. She did not think this particular Watcher was a particularly good man who was interested in the truth and something told her that she was going to regret lifting this particular purse.

“It’s empty. Tell me, did you know a Dwarf was recently poisoned right in the Prancing Pony? They have no idea who did it. The Watch is just puzzled about the whole thing. And here you are. With an empty vial of poison. That is such a coincidence. Isn’t that right?” Another man emerged from the shadows behind him. He grinned with a nod.

“Tha’s right, Dama, right shame.”

“Ye mean ta tell me ye ain’t got one clue about the culprit! What ’bout th’Elf I lifted tha’ from?” She added a bit late, “Mis’er Watcher, sir?”

Dama’s eyes widened briefly and then he smiled even broader. “Well, no, he just arrived in town today and we are stumped. But I think we might remain stumped if say, you could pay an Information Fee. That would ensure that this information would stay just between the three of us.”

“B-bu…I ain’t got no money. Tha’s why I was stealin’ in the first place!”

The man grinned down at her and lifted her head by her shaggy hair. His teeth gleamed as he said, “Then ye best be finding some, little girl. You have three days. And then I will deal with you my way.”

Some Lake Somewhere