Fornost: Free (part 2)

Jarn-olog Warrior says, ”Ow.”

Scrapes and Bruises

Anya paused only to wipe the blood from her face. Her entire body ached from the perpetual tension stretching her senses beyond all limits. Aeron kept a regular mantra reminding her to breathe and move. He took over instinctually whenever an enemy came too close wielding her staff with a cold efficiency that surprised her.

“I thought you were a swordsman,” she thought.

When you grow up bashing your friends with sticks, you pick up a thing or two. 

“Fair enough,” she told him, her mind refocusing on a small pale slave rushing toward her with fists raised. The staff whirled around her body in a figure eight propelled by both hands and she thrust suddenly connecting with its head with a loud crack. Her right wrist twisted as it served as the pivot for the weapon, her left steadying the pole’s impact. “You’re right-handed.”

And you are left.

“Does it make it awkward?”

No. You’re not fighting me. Just keep relaxed and let me work, Anya. Find a blade.

She looked around and saw a jagged orc scimitar lying a few feet from its fallen owner. Sprinting, she rushed for it. A large lieutenant spotted her and began thundering over to intercept. Behind it, Torlach severed the head of his adversary, the blood spray from his sword flecking across his face. As he turned, he caught the movement of the rushing orc and yelled, “Anya!” as he started for her.

Hold and relax. Let it flow.

She tried.

As the lieutenant charged, she sank low to take up the sword in her right hand. She turned quickly and sank into a crouch balanced evenly on the balls of her feet. Her sword she held poised at the ready. Her fingers flexed around the staff and she focused on the gigantic orc. Instinct – or Aeron – took over. She parried the orc’s reckless attack with the staff and as it was knocked from her grasp, she released it, throwing the orc off balance and creating an opening. Aeron did not hesitate: the blade slashed deeply across its leg and then its back. Its cry echoed off the outer walls of Barad Narthan and filled the sky. The crows answered.

Torlach ground to a halt as the lieutenant fell, the last of the small band blocking entrance to the tower. True to form, he merely stared at her for a moment before turning to look for the Elf.

Panting slightly from the fight, Eruviel came up to them and looked up at the tower. They exchanged glances and walked through the double doors three abreast.

***     ***     ***     ***     ***

Bound

The ground was littered with bones. The three gazed at the courtyard in silence for several minutes before Anya said, “We cannot let these monsters hold my brothers.”

Torlach answered, “We go on, then.”

Eruviel glanced to Anya and nodded solemnly. She shivered.

Anya returned her nod. “Shall we?” She stepped forward.

FreedomShades rose randomly around them as they passed. They called out to the living in thin voices with outstretched hands. “I am free…” Anya felt her blood freeze as one rose within inches of her. Its bluish hand grasped at her arm as it hissed, “At lassst…” She felt a jolt in her heart: Aeron gasped.

My shield-brothers. What is this curse? Faethril surely did not cause this.

“No,” she thought as they moved deeper into the courtyard. “I do not think she could have caused this. And why were you not bound here?”

Faethril’s spell bound me to the heirloom, and I did not die here. 

“When the necklace broke, why weren’t you released? Why did you bind to me?”

Perhaps the sorcery here holds me to these lands. We must end it, Anya. We must give them rest, even if it is for a short respite. 

“We will, Aeron. I promise.” She followed along behind Torlach and Eruviel as they wove their way closer to the the highest tower overlooking the keep. “You will find rest.”

Another voice. Hissing in her mind. Give it back…he needssss it…he musssst have it…

“Aeron?!”

Fae. I have sensed her for some time now. She is getting stronger.

“When we put an end to this, will she be released, too?”

No. She was not a soldier here. She would not be bound by whatever foul wraith holds the souls of my brothers in arms.

“So it will not end here.”

No. It will not. My instinct tells me to begin where it began: Rhudaur. While I and my brothers chose to attempt peace, Angmar had its hold on the lands. Faethril could easily have fallen beneath the influence of that dark sorcery if it meant a chance at saving me. Where did you find her bracelet?

“Just south of a land they called the Circle of Blood.”

Circle of Blood. Fitting. You must go, there, Anya, to be rid of her. I-I don’t know if she can be saved.

“We will do everything we can, Aeron. She needs you. You need her.” Her throat tightened as she thought of Canderas, wounded and resting back at camp. He had found his way to them after falling from a cliff near Trestlebridge, his Rohirric steed bearing him with the utmost speed. He found them in the lower tiers of Fornost, directed by Nillariel who stayed behind at the Free People’s camp to assist the wounded there. Only after they returned for the evening did he show signs of a leg injury and allow Nillariel to cleanse the abrasions from his fall. Anya had insisted they let him sleep and recover so they left him early in the morning near the campfires. The sight of him limping caused her so much concern, all irritation at his unexplained disappearance vanished. “We will reunite you.”

Anya, you are more important now. You focus on you. Your family here. They love you.

She looked ahead at Eruviel and Torlach as they cut through another group of orcs. Her family. She needed to say something to them, anything, to express how grateful she was to have them by her side, but the words seemed small as they protected her with their lives. Elf and Man worked exceedingly well together as they learned each other’s styles and started to play to each other’s strengths. Eruviel looked over her shoulder at her to check to see if she was whole. Torlach flung the blood from his blade with a flick of his wrists.

Anya walked forward and looked at them with gratitude. Together, her family crossed into a yard surrounded by a circular wall and looked upon an idol to the Enemy. Without a word, Torlach approached it and rent it with a single blow of his sword. As it collapsed around his feet, a deep, jagged voice rang out behind them and the doors to the yard slammed shut.They burn

“It seems you have taken down one of my brethren. Do you think to goad me into battle with your meagre show of strength? It is true, however, that you are trespassing on Angmar. For that, I think we will have a bit of fun. Boys, get them!”

The looming Orc leaped down from the wall leading a large group of his comrades. Anya, Eruviel, and Torlach steeled themselves and raised their weapons as one.

***     ***     ***     ***     ***

Good-bye, my Brodhir ((edited from chat log))

Wargs ReignedWargs reigned in Minas Erain. Aeron looked on the highest tower of the keep and mourned for his past.

As he gazed through Anya’s eyes, he said, “Here. Minas Erain. So different now.”

“I am sure,” said Torlach. “Let us cleanse it.”

They fought their way up each level until they reached the summit. There, three golden braziers sat dormant and the foul spirit clad in armour greeted them with scorn.

As they stood before Remmenaeg, Eruviel glanced to Anya. “Aeron . . are you two doing alright?”

Anya nodded curtly. “We kill it, I am free.”

Torlach twirled his bastard sword and said, “Stay back, then.”

Anya looked over at Eruviel. “She has something to tell you by the way. But that is for later.”

Eruviel smiled slightly, readying an arrow.

They charged.Fell Spirits

Cleansing LightAnya fell to the ground as she lit the last brazier, flooding the balcony with light. When the armour of Remmenaeg finally fell to the stone tiles, Eruviel rushed over to Anyatka. “Oselle . . . Anyatka?!”

Torlach said, “Is this done, then?” He raised his brows slightly, lowering his blooded blade. He still stomped the wraith’s helmet, leaving it useless, before stepping over and remaining silent.

Eruviel shook her head, unsure. They carried her unconscious form back down the long road to the Free People’s camp and laid her down gently on the dead grass. Her body seemed to shimmer like the air on a hot summer’s day. As she lay prone, a spirit rose from her: the image of a man in his late twenties with dark hair and blue eyes.

Eruviel watched the spectre, her chest still heaving from the last battle. “You are Aeron?”

The form nodded. “Yes, I am.” He looked down at Anya and frowned. “I am free, but I fear her journey is not over.”You are Aeron?

Torlach rolled his eyes, leaning on his sword like a staff. “Of course it isn’t.”

Eruviel frowned slightly but after a moment her eyes widened. “You mean the bracelet?”

Aeron nodded. “Faethril is still there. I could feel her, towards the end. She is not herself. While I accept my fate and existed with Anya the best I could, I wished her no harm. My presence calmed her. Fae – ” he sighed, a gust of chill wind flowing through the camp. “Fae would kill her if it meant rejoining me. She does not understand, not in her present state. She must be stopped.”

Torlach sighed, rubbing his forehead with a sweaty palm. “And how are we to do this, pray tell? I see no instruction book.” He is obviously annoyed, and fairly eager to leave Fornost.

Eruviel swallowed but noded to Aeron. “I see.” She glanced at Torlach before turning back to the spirit. “Heruamin?”

Tilting his head, he observed Torlach. “Yes. The spirits will rise again. But you are safe at present.” He turned to address them both. “Anya spoke of my homeland. How it has grown wild and corrupt. How she found the bracelet near what they call the Circle of Blood.”

Eruviel brushed a small wave of stray strands of hair out of her eyes. “Yes, she mentioned it.”

Torlach ‘hmph’ed, frowning. He wiped both black and red blood from his blade, before sheathing it over his back. He listened silently, committing detail to memory.

Aeron continued, “You must go there. Cleanse the land, release the spirits held by the corruption, just as you did here. The purge will set Fae free, or destroy her.” Pain flashed across his face for a moment. “Either way, Anya will be free of her.”

Eruviel studied the shimmering face for a moment. “Is there any guarantee that Anyatka will survive being rid of Fae?”

Aeron’s ruggedly handsome face turned to Anya. He knelt behind her and moved his hand as if to brush the hair from her face. The strands moved slightly as if a breath of wind stirred them. “No. I cannot guarantee anything except Faethril will be gone. I pray that her hold on Anya is not strong enough to take her with her when she’s vanquished. But I cannot promise.”

Eruviel ‘s eyes darkened but she bobbed her head, knowing that part was out of her hands. “We . . .” she glanced to Torlach, “will see it done, Astalder. You have my eternal thanks. I — I know Anya and I will miss you once you depart.”

A small smile formed on his lips. “I will miss you as well.” He stood and walked to stand before her. “She loves you very much, though she’s bad at saying it. Piss poor, precisely.”

Eruviel bowed deeply before Aeron, a warm smile lighting her face. “It is enough to hear it from you, my friend.”Take care of her, sister.

He grinned and tapped his temple. “I know more of what she should tell you, but I will let her work on that. Ask her about her night before we left, why don’t you? When she didn’t come home?” He chuckled and moved as if to embrace Eruviel. He stopped himself and bowed deeply to her instead. “Take care of her, sister.”

Torlach watched quietly, near expressionless, hands clasped behind his back. He nodded to Aeron, as a form of respect.

Eruviel shifted, her smile melting into a grin. “I will remember. I would embrace you as I once did my brothers. But I will simply pray that Iluvitar shine brightly upon you as you go to join him, toron.”

He nodded and looked over to Torlach. “You, sir. She does not know why you protect her, but I am grateful that you do. See her through to the end?”

Torlach nodded again. “I will.” He went silent, not figuring anything else needs saying.

After emerging from a bedroll, Canderas yawned after seemingly oversleeping and hobbled on a seemingly better leg but still hindered. He  looked to his companions and raised a brow…he looked to Anya with dire concern and looked to Torlach and Eruviel to see what is going on.

Aeron turned to Canderas and started to laugh. The sound echoed off the stone walls of the makeshift keep. “And you,” the spirit said. “Ladies first.”

Eruviel nearly choked on a laugh.

Canderas raised a brow. ” So this is what I get for oversleeping.”

Torlach did not laugh, his limited sense of humour not finding the jest.

Canderas looked to Aeron and the others with slight astonishment. He looked upon Anya’s prone form not knowing how to react.

Anya stirred, moaning. She blinked several times as she rolled to her back. Aeron moved to kneel beside her and said softly, “It is over.”

She blinked up at him again and gasped. “You.”

He noded. “Fae is still inside you. But your friends will take care of you now.”

Canderas placed one hand on his sword hilt uncomfortable with all of this and very uneasy being injured.

Eruviel watched Anya and Aeron as her smile quickly faded into a once-more serious expression.

Anya nodded. “You’re going?”

He mirrored it. “I will see you again, someday,” he said hopefully. “Take care of yourself, Little Anya. And not just because you bear my wife.” He stood and gazed down at her as he slowly started to fade. “Good-bye. Systir.”

AeronAnyatka struggled to sit up and said, “Good-bye, brodhir!” She watched the spectre dissipate and then closed her eyes.

Canderas watched as the conversation came to a close. He looked to Anya with concern and bewilderment.

Eruviel lowered her head in respect as the man’s spirit vanished. Glancing to the two men she knelt beside Anyatka. “Oselle?” she asked softly.

Anya threw her arms around Eruviel and started to cry. “Why am I so sad that he’s gone?”

Torlach turned and moved to lean on a wall, closing his eyes slowly. He seemed to relax slightly, fairly tired from the fighting.

Canderas looked to Anya sadly as she began to release her tears. He eased his grip off his sword hilt and looked to Eruviel and Anya with confusion as he was sleeping through the events.

Eruviel froze for a second as Anya began to cry before wrapping her arms around the young woman. “I will miss him as well, oselle. But he is free now. You should rejoice for him.” She gently caressed Anya’s head as she glanced over to Canderas.

Anya cried for a few moments more before pulling back and nodding. As she did, she said, “Are you hurt? And Torlach?” She looked over at Torlach. He shook his head to Anyatka, only having a few cuts and bruises. She looked back to Eruviel.

Eruviel smiled softly. “I am mostly unscathed. Nothing that will not heal. You are not injured, are you Anya?”

Canderas took a step toward Anya and then stoped himself…he then stopped and looked amongst the ruins of Fornost and the folk of the Free People’s Camp. “So everyone is alright then? All is well with the spirits?”

Anyatka swallowed and shook her head. “I am all right.” She turned to look at Canderas and noted his bewilderment. She held out her hand and beckoned him over.

Canderas struggled to sit down next to Anya and took a long breath when he sat beside her. ” That will be an interesting story for around a Campfire.” Canderas looked to Anya with feigned joking as his masked emotion was clearly that of concern.

Anyatka chuckled and took his hand. “Yes. It will be.” She squeezed his hand and asked, “How are you? Is your leg healing properly?” 

Canderas nodded to Anya as he looked her over. He made note of her freckled cheeks and met her eyes. He assessed if she was well. He grasped her hand comfortably in his as he looked relieved when she seemed well.

Anya was indeed well, but exhausted and disoriented without Aeron’s calm presence. She looked between her companions, a grateful appreciation for each on her face. She threaded her fingers through his and looked to the others. “Shall we rest a night and then head back to Trestlebridge? I would see how Eirikr is doing.” 

Eruviel looked back over her shoulder to Torlach. Studying him for a moment, she tilted her head towards him respectfully before looking back to Anya.

Canderas looked to Anya and shrugs..” Either would do…I feel well rested.”

Anyatka smiled to him. “You’ve been asleep most of the day, dear.”

Canderas shrugged. “Falling hundreds of feet into river, then being dragged in the current is quite a beating.” In fact, he  looked exhausted yet still from his journey to Fornost that involved him being separated and weary half of the way.

Eruviel furrows her brow at Canderas. “It is incredible you survived, heruamin.”

Anya leaned over against Canderas and closed her eyes. “I am so glad that you are okay,” she said and nodded in agreement with Eruviel.

Canderas nodded to Eruviel. “I am glad we are all here before each other alive and well…I would not have it any other way.” He looked to Torlach and firmly grasped Anya’s hand in his own. “Tis good to be with friendly company.”

Eruviel said, “Indeed it is, though our journey is not yet complete.”

Canderas nodded. “Where does our road take us next then?”

Anyatka looked at Eruviel without surprise. “I had a feeling it was not. Aeron was released, but Fae?”

Eruviel shook her head solemnly. “We will need to journey to the Blood Circle and cleanse the land to free Anya of Fae . . . though she — Faethril will most likely put up a fight.”

Canderas said, “Well let us be done with it then! And rid of her!” He grinned a bit looking between them all and shrugged. “We mustn’t let this spirit linger any longer within our friend.”

Eruviel’s eyes flickered sadly. “Aeron could not promise that you would survive, oselle,” she said quietly to Anya. “On this last leg you will need to be stronger than ever.”

Anya closed her eyes and turned her face into Canderas’s sleeve. She sighed heavily and nodded. “But we should not put this one off, should we? Fae is no Aeron. I-I can’t control her.” She looked out at her. “She remained hidden because Aeron kept her in check.”

Eruviel sighed heavily, raising her head to meet Anya’s gaze. “I agree. We should not tarry.”

“Then tomorrow, I say we leave to return to Trestlebridge, gather Eiri, and make it back to Bree. We take a week to re-provision and…” she looked at the others to see if they had any objections.

Eruviel nodded. “We should not delay longer than that, though. And I insist you not be left alone. Fae would willingly kill you, oselle.” She then looked to Canderas and added, “I hope you intend to come with. One of us will need to be present, ready to restrain Anya if necessary if indeed Faethril become violent.”

Canderas said, “I will be there indeed. I will not slow ye down despite my leg either… my steed will carry me most the way.”

Eruviel bowed her head, looking relieved. “I am grateful to you. Hopefully there is a healer in Bree that can speed the healing process.”

Canderas nodded.

Anyatka looked up from Canderas’s shoulder. “Is Cwen still in town?” she asked quietly.

Eruviel skewed her mouth. “I hope so.” She then chuckled lightly. “If not I will make haste to fetch her!”

Anyatka chuckled as well. “She lives in the Shire, right? About a day’s ride away?”

Eruviel nodded. “She does.”

Anyatka yawned. “Then if she’s left, we should find her. To look over all of you.” She smiled sleepily at them each in turn.

Canderas smiled and nodded in agreement to Anya. He looked to the Guards to take note of their progress so near to Fornost.

Eruviel nodded in agreement, wincing slightly as she shifted her sitting position.

Anyatka frowned. “You are hurt worse than you let on, systir.”

Eruviel smiled slightly to Anya. “Am I not always discreet about my wounds? But honestly. It is nothing that can’t wait for the lady Cwen.”

Canderas stood as his leg began to tighten from being on the ground. He slid his fingers from Anya’s and he walked around to stretch. He sighed.

Anyatka nodded and released Can reluctantly. “We should to bed soon.” She watched him stretch with a smile.

Eruviel rose slowly and carefully. “I will return in a moment. I must speak with one of the fighters here, then we should indeed get some much needed rest.”

Anyatka nodded and climbed to her feet herself. She wandered over by the fire and to sit on a bedroll.

Canderas grabbed Anya before she managed to sit.

Anyatka paused and looked at Canderas. “What is it, dyrr?”

Canderas kissed her gently on the lips before offering her a pleased smile and expression. “Rest well m’lady. I am glad ye’ are well. And will try not to fall into any rivers on the way to the Red Pools in the Lone-Lands.”

Anyatka chuckled softly and nodded saying quietly, “Lay near me?”

Canderas answered, “Aye, I will remain with ye this night, and any other you choose to have me at your side when the road and wilds do not demand otherwise. For I have grown quite fond of being there. “

Eruviel whistled for her horse and rummaged through her saddle bag, retrieving a small package wrapped in a large leaf. She pulled out a wafer of lembas and broke it into four pieces as she carried it over to Anya and Canderas. “Ignore my presence, but here, this will tide you both over till we return home.” She handed each of them a piece, smiling slightly at their exchange.

Canderas smiled widely in thanks as he was familiar with lembas. He took a bite and rubbed his already growling belly. Anya looked down at the way-bread and blinked in surprise. “Eruviel,” she said only as she took it. 

Eruviel offered the third piece out to Torlach. He ambled over and sat down slowly by the fire. He watched each of them silently, chewing idly on the stem of his unlit pipe. To Eruviel, he raised a hand, politely declining.

Canderas said, “Don’t suppose they will share that creature on the spit there.”  He chuckled and looked around to the folk of the Free Peoples camp, grinning widely to the Took by the tent.

Anyatka pointed at his lembas. “You shouldn’t need to eat anything else of you have the Elvish way-bread,” she said before taking a bite of her own.

Canderas nodded rubbing his belly feeling somehow cheated of a juicy meal from the bite of lembas that indeed made him full.

Eruviel nodded to Torlach and gave the third piece to the hobbit attending the camp. Laughing quietly at Canderas she said, “Rest well, mellyn.” She bowed and walked over to the corner where the walls meet and sat, leaning back with a small sigh.

Anyatka curtsied to Eruviel before settling down on the bedroll at last. She looked up at Canderas with a smile. He  sat next to her and wrapped his arms around her in a comfortable manner as to help ease her to sleep.

Torlach glanced at the two on the bedroll, raising a brow, before politely looking the other way.

Anyatka leaned against him and closed her eyes. She soon eased into a deep sleep.

Click here for Eruviel’s account of the end of their journey to Fornost.

Advertisements

Fornost (part 1)

Stolen Moments

In his bed at his family estate, Canderas lay beside her sleeping soundly. A small grin of contentment even now curled his lip. She studied his face in the dying firelight: smooth, chiseled features except the scar on the right side, pale lashes resting on his cheeks. His mouth. He had a lovely mouth. So often it showered her with kisses and left her pulse racing.

Quietly so as to not disturb him, Anya rolled from her side to her back and stared at the ceiling. The deep, dull ache low in her belly did not subside as her naked flesh pressed against his. She would have thought that she’d feel more embarrassed being nude with a man, but Canderas looked upon her as a beggar would a Dwarven treasure trove. He made her feel glamorous.

Still, glamor did not ease the feeling of anxious frustration deep in her core. It did little to fill the hallow cavern she felt growing inside her each day. Her hand moved to squeeze her breast; she blushed. The heat nearly burned the fingers she raised to her cheek. Proper ladies did not do such things, her mother’s scolding voice rang out in her head. She sighed. Like she needed more voices in her head.

She looked over at Canderas. She should be satisfied. She had made him happy – a trembling, shaking mess happy – and that should be good enough. A woman’s place was making her husband happy, her mother said when the Merchants’ Guild Master’s son first took an interest in her. Not to worry about her own needs, wants, or desires, but to fulfill her husband’s to the best of her ability. Her mother would have frowned at her current situation, though that mattered little to Anya. Things were different now. She needed no husband, but a lover? A lover she could enjoy and her duty was to please him.

And his duty should be to please you.

Her brow creased and she thought for a long minute. Without speaking aloud, she said, “But he will not unless I please him first. It is how it should be.”

Nonsense. There were nights when all I did was please Fae. It was enough to make her sigh. And moan. And scream.

“Why – why would you tell me this, Aeron?”

Because you need to know. You need to see all relationships are not like your mother and your father’s. They are not like what you think that other Man has with his lovers. There are some that are strong and good where duties – and love – are shared equally.

“But a man would leave a woman who demands from him. There are so many more he could go to that would not.”

Little Anya, that is not so. Not if the man is there for the right reasons.

She continued to gaze at Canderas as he slept. “Is he here for the right reasons?”

I do not know, Anya. I only know what you know and see what you see.

She suddenly blushed and gasped aloud.

“Oh, by Bard’s arrow, I am so sorry.”

I, um, respectfully closed my eyes. And sang. Loudly. To myself.

“Did, um, it work?”

Well enough.

“I am so embarrassed.”

He laughed, a deep, comforting sound. You shouldn’t be. It’s a natural thing.

“This seems unlike you. You always seem so stuffy.”

When I have to be. But we share a mind, Anya. It isn’t like we can keep much from one another.

“This is true.” Her face flushed deeper. “I am worried about him. He is a bit headstrong and though he’s seen battle, I am not sure about what we will face.” She studied the scarring on his face. “Was Fae your first?”

No. But she was my last.

“That is what is important, isn’t it?”

She could picture him nodding. I think so. Do not fear tomorrow, Anya. Live in the moment, and not in the past nor the future. 

A smile crept up on her. She rested her hand on Canderas’s bare chest and kissed his shoulder.

“And right now, the moment is good.”

*** *** *** *** ***

Fallen

Eirikr lay staring at the ceiling of the small room in Trestlebridge. His shoulder burned from the Orc’s blade and he was left with nothing but his thoughts. He knew with his injury he would only be a burden to the others, but he cursed his fortunes. His sister needed him, and he had failed to see the Orc that surprised him.

He thought on the moment that it happened: the Orc leapt from the cover of some debris and was on him before he could blink. The dagger plunged into his shoulder and missed his vital organs and arteries by pure luck. One of his companions delivered an arrow to the beast’s eye. Canderas.

The young man saved his life, no doubt. His weapons had been pinned beneath him and with his injury, his bow was practically useless anyway. The Elf had mended it as best she could, and the healer in town saw to stitches and further treatment, but Canderas had been the one to react first and give him the body that could be healed.

Though little good it does me now, he thought dryly. He reached over to press his fingers against the bandage covering the wound. He winced and tried to wiggle the fingers on his injured side. They responded weakly and he tried to suppress the rising panic gathering in his chest.

Someone knocked on the door.

“Eirikr?” Anya’s voice came through the thin wood and the door opened a crack. “Are you awake?”

“Yes,” he answered and struggled to sit up with a smile. He hoped his face concealed his pain.

“Eiri, I am so sorry,” she said as she came into the room and closed the door behind her. “We never should have come here.”

He grunted and waved his good hand dismissively. “Nonsense, Anyatka. We must get you well again. It was my own fault; I did not see the brute.”

Anya sat on the edge of the bed carefully. “Will you be all right?”

Nodding, he assured her, “Of course. It will mend and everything will be fine. I only worry about you, but I think you are in capable hands.” He took hers in his own. “They will fight to protect you, my systir. I know it.”

Her face fell some and she said softly, “Canderas is missing.”

The corner of his mouth twitched and he asked, “What do you mean?”

She answered in a quavering voice. “Mister Torlach believes he went to scout ahead, but there has been no sign of him since you were injured. I fear something terrible has happened.”

Eirikr squeezed her hand to reassure her. “Anya, I am sure he is fine. Perhaps he camped somewhere along the road. Have faith that things will be okay.”

“How can I? Already you have been hurt. Canderas gone. I fear our company is falling apart at the seams, brodhir.”

He leaned forward and pressed his forehead against hers. “As long as you stand, systir, your friends will stand with you. He will return. I will heal. My heart goes where I cannot. I am with you, little whelp. Always.”

*** *** *** *** ***

The Fields of Fornost ((edited from chat logs))

Anya sat uneasily in a saddle on most occasions, but the fields themselves seemed to ooze with a nervous chill. As Torlach and Nillariel led the way, she had only concerned herself with keeping them in sight. Eruviel rode close by, and the absence of Canderas and Eirikr hung over her like a cloud.

As they approached a crossing, suddenly Anya stopped. She looked up at the signpost, eyes dark. “This place…”

Just ahead, Torlach reined in his steed and said, “Is something wrong?”

Eruviel pulled her horse up beside Anya. “What do you remember?”

Crossroads in the Fields of FornostAnyatka reached out to touch the wood. “They’ve replaced it…it was here we were separated. Here we lost the rest of the company.” Her voice was calm, confident. And incredibly sad.

Torlach listened silently, frowning, and glancing about. He drew his cloak about him at a chill wind, looking almost afraid.

Eruviel pursed her lips, glancing over to Nillariel and Torlach.

Nillariel drew her blade, carrying it on her side. She looked over, “This place… it’s a-absent of light. There’s n-nothing here. It’s like t-the whole place is d-dead.”

Torlach replied, “The whole place is dead…”

Anyatka pressed her lips together as she rubbed her eyes. They opened and were fully black. “We were pressed south while the main body fled west. It was in Bree-land that I fell. But the spell was cast to the North.”

Eruviel’s eyes returned from looking into the distance, sucking in as she remembers to breathe.

Anyatka continued, “Dead is not that bad of a place, my friends. I would return.” She dug her heels into the steed’s sides to spur it into a gallop.

Nillariel blinked, “W-what’s… where’s she going?”

Torlach followed, silent.

They pressed onward until dead trees gave way to crumbling walls and the evidence of Orc and warg. Blockades lined the untended path to the gate. When they reached the main entrance to the city, a wall of wood and spikes halted their advance.

The Norbury Gates

Anyatka’s blackened eyes looked up. “What has happened here? Has no one reclaimed it after all this time?”

Torlach said, “It was abandoned. The North Kingdom fell long ago.”

Nillariel looked around, “Oh… s-someone may have reclaimed it. I fear our luck i-is not that good.”

Anyatka grunted as she looked around. From within her, Aeron saw what became of his home so many years ago. “I was there. I watched it happen.” She sat for a long moment, deep in Aeron’s thoughts.

Seeing Anya pause, Torlach reluctantly led on at a slower pace.

*** *** *** *** ***

To Battle

There were trolls in the dungeons. And in the main halls. And in the streets. Large, hulking trolls.

The battle raged on from the moment they stepped foot inside the city gates. As they gained access to the higher tiers of the city, the enemies grew stronger. Goblins and orcs. Wargs. And now trolls.  Anya held toward the back as best she could, though on this second day in the city, she grew weary and she found herself lagging. Torlach pressed on relentlessly, his sword slashing through their enemies. Eruviel’s arrows flew straight and true. But the trolls.

Anya yelled as one of the hulking beasts charged at her. Eruviel turned and loosed a series of arrows in quick succession. The troll staggered but kept its feet. With blood running down her cheek, Anya stood her ground with her staff in her hand, but Eruviel knew even Aeron’s presence could not save her from a direct assault from a fully armoured troll. Without hesitation, she lept to stop its path.

The troll roared angrily and swept its gigantic mace at the Elf. With the grace of the Eldar, she dodged and lept, blade raised. With a yell, she slashed its throat on her foreswing and drove her blade home deep in its chest on the follow through. Its scream rent the air and it shook dislodging Eruviel and flinging her to the ground. Quickly, she was on her feet to jump back from the troll’s attack. Too late, it struck her side and sent her flying. The troll stumbled after her, but fell to its knees as the black blood streamed with each beat of its tainted heart.

As it crashed to the ground, Anya rushed to Eruviel’s side and knelt beside her. “Are you all right?” Aeron’s calm kept her voice steady.

The Elf nodded and climbed to her feet. She rubbed at the dent in her armour and rolled her shoulder but seemed able to carry on. Anya nodded in return and they looked around at the carnage.

Torlach stood over several bodies ensuring they were indeed bodies. His blade dripped with the blood of the slain as he plunged it into the chest of an Orc that dared to still live. He looked up, expression neutral. He looked to the north.

“Not here,” Aeron said through Anya as she came to stand next to him. Eruviel stood behind them, face stern to hide the discomfort of her three broken ribs. Torlach nodded and the walked on, weapons leaving a trail of blood in their wake.

*** *** *** *** ***

to be continued…

Letters to Nowhere: Caught in the Act

The Map Table

My dearest brother,

So you are here now. That makes this awkward. That I write to you and you are just a short walk away in your room at the Pony. That I write to you letters that you will probably never see!

I know you do not wish to stay here, Eiri, and that you long for your wife back in Esgaroth. And I know that you will not leave the Bree-lands without me. You truly believe that Father will send someone for me, but I don’t think so, Eiri! What purpose would such a waste of manpower serve our father? He sent you, yes. The expendable son that already refused to follow in his footsteps. Do you ever wonder if he even expects to see you again?

Eiri, I think you should stay. I think you should stay here with me and make a life in Bree. We could send for Ninim and Abbi and life could continue as if it were never interrupted! You could fish and hunt; I could work on my sketches and learn how to paint. Abbi could find something here, Eiri. People read books and write stories and there is no standard for decorum other than what we set for ourselves. Father could no longer send men to drag you out of your own home. His lash does not reach this far.

Think about it, Eiri. I beg you to think about it. You are stubborn, but I am stubborn, too! And I know you will not force me to do something I do

A loud knock on the door startled Anya and a single drop of berry red ink dropped to the parchment of her journal. She dabbed at the blotch with her fingers as she returned the quill to the jar. The knock came again, loud and insistent. In her haste, she nearly tripped over a boot left by the entryway and fell into the door.

“Who is there?”

“Anya, it is me.”

Trying to hide a frown, Anya let Eirikr into the house. He wore his hunting leathers with his bow slung over his back. His normally stern face held a level of curiosity as he looked around the Bree-land home full of Elvish decor. Without waiting for an invitation, he crossed to the table to look at an unfurled map of the North Downs. His eyes perused the towns and his finger traced the outline of the mountains bordering the land. “This is detailed. Did you draw this?”

Shaking her head, she said, “No. It is one of Eruviel’s. I do not know where she got it.”

Nodding slowly, he smiled up at her briefly. His eyes shifted to the open journal she had been writing in and her heart dropped. Let him pass over, she prayed, but his gaze did not waver. He reached out to pick it up and started to read.

“That is private,” she said softly, more nerves in her voice than anger.

“It is addressed to your dearest brother. Is this for Abbi, then?” Without waiting for an answer, Eirikr continued to read. His brow creased as his eyes traveled across the page and when he came to the end, he flipped it. Finding the next blank, he started turning them back until he was at the beginning. Anya held her breath as he slowly turned each page.

His mouth moved agonizingly slowly as he read: “A loud noise and then some pictures in my head. Then Morty was there. I was in my room in Bree and the sun was rising…” and “Perhaps it is a good thing that Aeron comes out to face him…” He set his mouth in a hard line and continued to stare at the last page for several moments. Anya waited for it to come, her eyes downcast and her heart racing.

“You-you seemed to have more feelings for this Mossfoot fellow than you let on, little sister,” he said finally in a voice so low it could barely be heard over the fire. “And he merely toys with you?”

She shook her head.

“But it seems this is the truth.” He turned back and reread the last lines of that entry that never should have been seen. “You choose very strong words, little sister. Words that are indeed unfitting of a Tenorbekk.”

Anya continued to stand in silence. She felt answers hanging on the air unformed between them and she did not want to grab the wrong ones.

Eirikr continued: “I am not sure what to think of this. He seems like a decent fellow, from what I’ve seen. He did not show any inappropriate behavior toward you, and he seemed genuinely pleased to meet me. He-” He looked down at the page again and flipped back. “He stayed with you? The only one after your injury. He seems to want to protect you. I can even see his refusal to take advantage of you as just that: he is protecting you, sister, from the gossips and the rumours that can ruin one’s life worse than you can imagine.

“But to have you feel this way when the Man can never return your affections – I do not like it, Anyatka. It is not healthy.”

Anya still did not speak. Her eyes fell to the tabletop.

“Why do you smile?”

“Because things have progressed, brother. I am learning. Loving without wanting. And,” she blushed, “though he will always have a place in my heart and who knows what the future will bring, I think I am starting to move on.” Her finger traced a pattern on the surface of the table. “You interrupted the last entry. It was very inconsiderate of you to do so.” She looked up with the small smile curving the corners of her mouth. “If I had finished, I would have written of a man named Canderas and how he makes me smile.”

Eirikr stood up straighter at that. His eyes, so alike Anya’s in shape and color, showed an alertness that accompanies good news tinged with a shadowy uneasiness. “Canderas? Have I met this man?”

Biting her lip, Anya looked up and searched her memory. “I do not think so. He had been away for quite some time on the warfronts to the north.”

Sighing, Eirikr regarded her for a minute with an unreadable expression.

“I will introduce you as soon as I can, I promise.”

Nodding, Eirikr’s looked down at the journal in his broad hands. He gingerly placed it back on the table and turned to face her fully. She could tell his mind was at work, perhaps running through the many faces that pass through the Prancing Pony each evening. A small ‘v’ formed between his brows and she laughed.

“Eirikr, it is not so bad,” she reassured him as she moved to take his arm. “Would you rather me in tears bemoaning the evils of men? Eruviel found it so upsetting after a time.”

His brow raised speculatively. “Perhaps. That would mean that I would not have to worry about you when you were alone. Or, not alone,” he added with a smirk.

She patted him on the arm, her head tilted in sympathy. “Brother, I am not a little girl anymore. You can stop watching over me; I will be fine.”

He grunted  and pulled her to him in an embrace. “Never, little whelp. I will always look after you, though I must admit you need it less and less. Which brings me to why I came.” He cleared his throat softly. “I have sent a letter to Ninim explaining that I have found you but I will be longer than anticipated. I tried to make it rather vague, but she will understand.”

Anya looked up at him with searching eyes.

“I will give you time, little Anyatka, to prove that you can hold your own here. And I need to see that you are well.” He cleared his throat. “After speaking with some of your friends, I realize you have a journey to go on before any decision is made. I would be here for that journey. And perhaps take it with you.”

Her eyes lit up and she hugged him tightly. “Eirikr, I love you so much. I could not risk you injured or worse. I would never forgive myself.”

“And neither would I, were you the one to fall into peril and I nowhere to be found. Anya, you have my bow to protect you. One more will only increase the odds of survival.”

“We shall discuss it, brother.”

He nodded as he looked down into her stormy grey eyes.

“Yes, Anyatka. That we shall.”