Through the Mirror

Streets never scared her before. Fear came from closed doors with chains. Tight places where she could barely move. Long marches to foreign lands. Angry silences before the fall of the lash. Things so rare that she felt as though she deserved them when they came for her because she must have done something wrong, so very wrong. Her life in-between those moments of fear never seemed to raise the hairs on the back of her neck or compel her to glance over her shoulder on the walk home from the market. In day to day life, walking down the street had never scared her before.

In day to day life, walking down the street had never scared her before.

Walking down the street now was different for Najwa. She kept her hood up and her head down and tried not to think about the familiar streets back home. So many leagues, mountains, and forests separated her from them that she doubted she would ever find herself walking their paths again. She hardly thought of them by day, but at night in the fading twilight, they felt comforting and familiar and the cold streets of Bree felt like the foreign land they belonged to. Wary. Strange. Different.

Different somehow from the days when she had a large house full of powerful men or a cabin full of cats to call home instead of a tiny shared room in a house full of girls in various stages of alone. They lived by twos in those tiny rooms: two beds, two trunks, two hooks for gowns. Two girls to each tiny closet, yet for Najwa, she might as well have lived alone; at least she would accept her own presence without suspicion.

She should be thankful, she told herself. So she lost her life from before they marched to the Mrachniiles to face the tall knife-ears with their arrows and spears. She lost the beds of silk pillows on sun-warmed stones. No more lavish banquets at which to pour wine and listen to the secret dealings of the chieftains as she sat at their heels. No wooden bowls to mix dough for the hearth fire. No masters to nourish and no earning their praise.

But she had a bed nonetheless. And she had friends even if her dour roommate was not one of them. She would find a better place, she told herself. And as long as she kept her head down and her eyes low, she could find her way through the streets of Bree. And if they stayed in color, and mud brown was better than black and white any day.

~~~***~~~

The warmth of the fire kept the hut cozy. Cwendlwyn resisted the sounds of morning filling the camp; she did not want to go out into the cold winter air to pack her saddlebags and leave Rheb and the simplicity of her life in the Lone-lands behind. The flat of his nails trailed down her back as he began to rejoin the waking world and the gentle pressure reassured her.

The flat of his nails trailed down her back as he began to rejoin the waking world and the gentle pressure reassured her.

Tomorrow, she would go home. Her husband would take her in his arms and smile and ask how she was because he cares. Maybe he would have flowers or a gift to show his love. Their children would celebrate the sweets she would bake.

But for now, Rheb’s nail slid across her shoulder and the warmth of her blood slipping down her back made her growl.

(Two of six I need to write.)

 

A Bitter Pill: Three Times

She asked once on the third day. The children ran off to play; the birthday festivities were mostly done. With less to distract her mind, she struggled to forget the fire in her arms and legs and belly as her body demanded the drug that would ease its suffering. So she asked.

Callee did not falter in her sewing. The dress of Neilia’s doll had a tiny rip, a perfect rip for Hobbit fingers to mend, and Callee did not miss a stitch as she told Cwendlwyn simply, “No.”

Cwendlywn threw up.

She went outside, of course, and found shade beneath the peonies after and let the shaded earth cool her flushed cheek.

The next time she asked for it, she hadn’t eaten in two days. Nothing would stay down. Again, Callee did not look up from pulling weeds and answered with a simple, “No.”

Though when Cwendlwyn did not immediately walk away, she added, “One more time. Why don’t you go write Oendir? Let him know what is going on.”

Cwendlwyn hesitated still.

“Woman, go write to your husband. He is your husband, no matter the reasons why you are where you are now.”

Obediently, Cwenldywn went inside the tall house–Hobbit in style, Man in size–and found her study full of bits and bobs added by Callee throughout the years that the lass had been Gardeneve’s caretaker. A collection of smooth beach stones sat in a jar on the windowsill and Cwendlwyn could not help but remember Dol Amroth and the smell of the sea and Oendir’s gnarled foot in her lap as the children played in the surf. The boundaries between patient and healer, commander and soldier blurred in those moments between them when even before they looked upon each other as lovers, they saw each other as kindred spirits fighting for some smudge of happiness after all the twists that life threw at them.

It took many attempts for her to start writing. Several blotches of dark blue ink splattered the top of the parchment where her quill hovered as she sat in her muddled thoughts.

Dear Oendir,

I do not know how to start this letter, so I will simply begin in the thing that is hardest for me. I could not stay with you in Rivendell because of my own weakness and I am ashamed that I have failed you so.

In Dol Amroth, some years ago we discovered a plot to overthrow the Prince through a conspiracy with Southron Corsairs. These mysterious folk from the southern lands brought two dangers to our lands: a weapon that could shoot little balls of lead using fire and a medicine that if abused, caused more ill than it cured. 

I am a healer, Oendir. That is why I travel with the Wayfarers and why you recruited me. A young Swan-knight by the name of Sir Pengail of House Nomin was injured by one of those terrible fire sticks and the injury was beyond my abilities. A Southron physician tended the young man and prescribed him a pill of what they call opium to ease the searing pain.

This opium came in many forms and it was used to poison many Swan-knights who fell beholden to its powerful effects. It dulls the senses–all senses. It makes pain go away, makes one drowsy, inured to the problems of the world. 

In Dol Amroth, as a matter of professionalism, I tested it on myself so I knew what I was administering to that poor knight. I quickly discovered that if I did not take more, I became violently ill. 

Back then, even then, you did not understand what was happening to me. Hardly anyone did save Hallem Kemp, who has apparently experimented with potions and mysterious, unknown mixtures before. I weaned myself off of them then and swore to never touch the stuff again, but when circumstances fell on me, already sick with worry about you, and when Hallem said that we should stop trying to help you remember your past, I fell to my weakness again. I am ashamed and I am ill and I am trying to get better so that I can come back to you. You need me strong and patient and loving. Not sweating and groaning and vomiting. 

Oen, our past is nothing if not turbulent. The life of an adventurer is always so. There is one thing that is steady through all of it, through the travel and the pain and the loss and the triumph. It is you and my affection for you. You are my best friend, my confidant. The one who knows me best. Sadly, that might not be very well after all we have been through. We are both rather guarded individuals. We keep our pain closeted away so we do not have to burden others who already bear so much. We need to be more open with one another, Oen. I need to remember that I trust that no matter what, we will always return to one another again.

I will come to you soon, if you will have me back. I am getting better. This will pass. Our children miss you, and I believe they are strong enough to know what is happening to you. I am going to bring them with me and you can decide if you wish for us to stay there with you, or if you wish to come back to Durrow. 

For now, I hope that you are resting and happy. I love you, Oendir. I think that part of you still remembers that you love me.

Always,

Your Cwen

Cwendlwyn looped the tail of her “n” low beneath the line of letters and drew it into graceful bows and loops to empty the nib of her quill. She folded it, sealed it, and then carried it out to Callee.

“Here,” she said. “I wrote him.”

“Good,” Callee answered as she tugged on a stubborn weed with deep roots crowding the hydrangea. “Set it with the others and I’ll take it to post in a bit.”

“Actually, I will take them. I would like the bottle as well, please.”

Callee’s stern eyes rose to study Cwendlywn’s face. She frowned, but nodded and pulled it from her sash.

“Are you certain?” she asked as she handed it to her. Cwendlwyn nodded and turned to go back inside to gather the rest of the mail.

On her way back from the post master’s, she took a detour to a low bank of the Brandywine River. The muddy waters rushed by as they had each time she had stood there in that same spot north of Buckleberry Ferry. Squatting to sit on her heels, Cwendlwyn dipped her hand into water and thought to herself that even though it was still the Brandywine River, it was not the same Brandywine River as before. Fresh waters flowed forever, a mix of old and new as it swirled past. Just like the Adorn back home, she thought, and for the first time in a long time, she thought of the Riddermark as home.

I have many homes, she thought as she uncorked the vial and poured its meager contents into the murky waters. In an instant, the opium washed away and fresh waters cleansed her fingers. For good measure, she tossed the bottle in, too.

For a few more moments, Cwendlwyn sat there in her unladylike squat hugging her knees. Then, slowly, awkwardly, she unfolded herself and stood. With a deep breath, she turned to go back to her family.

 

 

A Bitter Pill: Selfish

Are you all right?
“What if Oendir remembers and is hurt because you left?”
“Things will work out in time.”
“How will Rheb find you?”
“How can you take the children away from Durrow?”
“What’s wrong with you?”
“I think you’re being selfish.”


Cwendlwyn, daughter of Framham of the Mark–of Dunland, did not ride her horse to Buckland. When she climbed into the saddle, it took far too long for her to fit her toe in the stirrup and she had difficulty situating her legs over the saddle. Then, she kept dropping her reins. Anyatka, daughter of Kolrson of Dale, suggested that they all ride together in the worn wagon so they could keep each other company. So Cwendlwyn found herself in the wagon with Solstan and Neilia and Bean, Jr. walked beside them as the rode.

Truth be told, she thought that she slept a good portion of the ride, but time was hard to grasp nowadays. The wagon rocked gently back and forth; they did not rush. They had no need to speed their way to the Shire. Time moved differently there, Cwendlwyn said. It would be the same tomorrow as it was today.

She had taken Callee’s letters regarding the influx of southern Men as a consequence of the war to the south. Bree surely had its handful and a half of refugees seeking peace. The problems with money and curfews and Men were not things she was unfamiliar with. So she didn’t think much of it.

Cwendlwyn didn’t think much of anything, really. When she did think, the thoughts turned on her and she did not want them anymore. The thought was considered that a potion to quiet the other thoughts forever would be nice, but a potion like that would quiet everything and she wouldn’t be anymore. Luckily, the thought that some people might actually be upset about that jolted her out of that musing. She had already been weighing which ingredients would work best in such a concoction when the sound of Solstan and Neilia arguing about who would eat the most cake pulled her from herself and she remembered who she was.

She smiled at them. Their driver, a local boy from Bree called Bud Goldenleaf, whistled a cheerful summer tune. She reminded them that there would be enough for both. Callee would bake until their hearts were content.

~~~***~~~

What transpired at the Hay Gate would have bothered Cwendlwyn on another day. She watched the debate between Bud and the Man and knew that wasn’t right. Why did men speak for Hobbits? The Bounders stood aside, present but silent. Eventually, had to climb out of the wagon herself to see what was the hold up.

She strapped on her sword. She gave the men a Look. Her temper was dampened by southern flowers and she handed over the gold with a roll of her eyes and a bit of a stagger just so they could be on their way.

Callee had the candles burning. Bud was given a guest room to sleep after the horses were stabled nearby. He helped carry the children to bed and Cwendwlyn couldn’t place why her chest tightened at the sight of Solstan’s sleepy head resting on the shoulder of the man who was not his father. She had him put him in her bed and she laid Neilia down beside him. Let them comfort one another, she thought somewhere among the fog.

~~~***~~~

As Callee sat down at the kitchen table, Cwendlwyn stirred her tea. She had hardly moved from her chair after Bud was gone and the children were settled. Only her hand with the silver spoon stirred and stirred slow circles in the porcelain cup.

“Now,” Callee said as she stirred her own tea, “what in the world is going on?”

Cwendlwyn stirred.

“Cwendlwyn! Look at me,” Callee demanded. The little Hobbit reached out a hand to gently smack the table between them, twice. “Where is your Oendir? Wouldn’t he wish to be here for Solstan’s birthday as well?”

Slowly, Cwendlwyn looked up. Just as slowly, she began speaking as though she was telling someone else’s story: haltingly, backtracking for forgotten pieces, expressive, but unemotional. “Isn’t that something?” she ended with. “And if I stayed, how could I, Callee? Knowing that I could bring him that sort of pain. I know what it’s like to be violated. To have something like that taken from me. And what happened to him was so much worse, Callee. What happened to him…and I am weak.” Her face twisted into tears. “I cannot be strong for him. What good am I to him except for more pain?”

Callee sat for a long time stirring while Cwendlwyn fell into silent, wrenching tears. They poured down her cheeks, yet the distant look in her eyes said she didn’t really understand them.

“I felt myself splitting there,” she broke the silence. Tears slipped into the corners of her mouth, but she only tasted the sea. “I felt torn asunder sure as any blade could do. And then Hallem and Pheadra said we should stop trying, stop trying to help him remember because it isn’t really helping him. They knew him longer than me. How can I ask Oendir to remember?”

Callee finally spoke. “They knew him longer, but do they know him best, love? And it sounds as though he is still him. What you fell in love with. The good bits, darling, the bits one should keep should one lose one’s memory.”

“Even if…even so…Look what I’ve done. I’ve messed it all up.”

Callee pursed her lips. “What have you done, Cwendlwyn.”

“I took it.”

“What did you take, love?”

“The opium. The sort they use in medicine, the sort I got from the medical stores in Dol Amroth. It makes the pain stop, Callee. I just wanted it to stop for one night, one moment so that I could think clearly and now…” Cwendlwyn’s eyes welled up again. “I cannot stop taking it. I feel like I’m dying. At times, I wish I were. And I am almost out of it, I didn’t bring enough and even if I wrote them for more it would take ages to get here and if I were Imrahil, I wouldn’t let them give me anything anymore anyway, and…”

“Shh, love. Cwen. Cwen, look at me.” Callee reached out to hold her hand across the table. Reluctantly, Cwendlwyn lifted her eyes.

“Cwen,” Callee said soothingly, “you will heal here. I will help you. I promise, love, I am always here. Here was the first place you ever felt safe in the world. That’s what you told me only months after you came to us.” She gave her a kind, motherly smile. “Be safe here. Rest and let go of what is hurting you. We’ll take care of you and get you back on your feet.”

“It is bad, Callee,” Cwendlwyn whimpered. With her  unnatural youth, her tears and weak, tired voice, she reminded the Hobbit of her first days after she came up the river to Buckleberry Ferry. Yet, Callee thought, there was a strength then that Cwendlwyn lost somewhere in the years between. Time had chipped away at her stubborn resolution. Or maybe it was not time, but the little bottle that sat on the table next to their clasped hands.

“We will fix it, my Cwendlwyn,” Callee said firmly. “We will find your roots again and you’ll see. You’ll be right as rain and ready to go back to your life in Bree. For now…this.” She nodded toward the bottle. “I am going to take it and keep it safe. If you ask for it, I will not give it to you, my dear. Not until the third time, because if you ask for it three times, I know you will do what it takes to get more. But think on it. You know the Prince may have stopped your access to their stores. You know it will take ages for it to get here, if you ask. It seems wrong for you to be so beholden, love, to something that cannot give back to you.”

Cwendlwyn thought about it, her dull eyes roaming over the polished wood of the table before her.

“Go to sleep, love. Take the second bedroom. I will make up the second guest room.”

“Callee,” Cwendlwyn said haltingly as she looked up. “It will be bad. The children…”

“You will be strong for them, Cwendlwyn.” Callee’s tone offered no argument. “When you are ill, you be ill. When you can sit, you will join us.”

“They shouldn’t see me…”

“You’re Neilia’s mother. She will know and make up something worse in her head, dear, you know that. And Solstan will worry, too. Now sleep.”

Cwendlwyn rose obediently and padded down the familiar hall to the bedroom. She sat on the edge of the bed and looked at the dark window for a long time before lying down. Callee was right. She needed to sleep now before the medicine was out of her system and sleep would be harder to come by.

~~~***~~~

ScreenShot00013They baked a cake the next day and Solstan decorated it himself with horses and ships in white icing. Cwen wore her apron and helped stir, but let Callee direct the measuring and pouring and keeping of time. She only had to excuse herself once because the room started spinning a bit and a she broke out into a cold sweat. There it is, she thought. The last relief is floating away.

That evening after a day of sending out little presents to all of the Hobbits he knew, Solstan settled down to play with the new toy ship he received for his birthday.

“You’re gathering quite a fleet,” Cwendlwyn said with a smile even as she broke out into a heavy sweat beneath her gown. Solstan grinned up from the rug and then stood to rush to hug her. She hugged him back and then Neilia joined with a laugh. Cwendlwyn held them tightly

“I wish Papa was here,” he murmured against her hair. “I miss him.”

“I know, darling,” Cwendlwyn said and with effort, she kept her voice steady. “We will go see him when he is ready.”

“Really?” He pulled back from her and looked for her comforting gaze.

“Yes, baby. It will be a lovely journey if he cannot come to us sooner.”

“I’ve never been to Rivendell!” Neilia said excitedly. “It must be so pretty!” she gasped dramatically.

“It is, darling, and you will love it,” Cwendlwyn assured her.

“When will we go?” Solstan asked with some nervous trepidation in the quaver of his voice.

“When the time is right, dearie,” Callee interjected. “Come, show me your fleet. What is a fleet?”

Solstan went to Callee with the ship and sat beside her to explain the rigging and the lines. Neilia stayed in Cwendlwyn’s lap and for a moment, the pounding in her chest calmed.

~~~***~~~

That night she slept outside. The breeze cooled her sweats and the song of the trees soothed her restlessness and anxiety. The nausea hit with less force when the stars bathed her forehead.

In the moments of peace, when the nausea was at bay and her skin cooled  enough to dry, she could hear the voice of the world around her growing, changing. Leaves furled to rest in the absence of the sun. Roots sought the nutrients of the water and soil. Life persisted.

And so would she.


Note: All songs are taken from Cwendlwyn’s established playlist!

A Bitter Pill: The Tired Road Home

At times, Cwen worried that she would lose her way in the dense forest of the Trollshaws. Occasionally, the gorge would rise in her stomach and she would quickly slide from Bean the Second’s back to vomit violently at the base of a regal beech. Then she would cry for an indeterminate amount of time, sometimes fall into a dreamless sleep, and then jolt awake, ashamed of herself, disoriented, and exhausted. Bean would stomp the earth impatiently and she would climb back into the saddle , take out the bottle of morphia, and then put it away again. ScreenShot00004

Yesterday she had passed through the Ford of Bruinen. The Loudwater lived up to its name; the fall of the rapids pierced her ears and the light bouncing off its waves blinded her. The mists chilled her to the bone causing her to shiver. Just as quickly the sun, unhindered by the canopy of the forest, heated her blood to a sweat. As miserable as she had been, she preferred the mild discomfort of changing body temperatures and a runny nose to this headache and nausea that refused to ease even in sleep. It was growing stronger. She drank more water.

She took a dose.

The headache eased. The nausea subsided. And the world looked less frightening and bleak for a time.

She had to reach the children, she told herself. She would take them to the Shire and protect them from everything that was drawn to folk like the Wayfarers: the conflict, the questions, the enemy. They could laugh and play at Gardeneve and be free from worry. Callee would care for them all and the children would enjoy their “vacation” pampered, loved, and well-fed. Oendir, if he ever found himself again, would know where to find them and maybe they would decide to stay there and finally find peace.

When the opiate’s effect faded, tears flowed freely. Her feeling of isolation consumed her. The heavy heart returned with the nausea and she hardly knew where her horse was taking her. ScreenShot00005Looking up at the sky, she wished she would turn to the wind and blow away like dust, return to the earth, start over again. Leaves could fall. Men could fall. Women could fall, too, but no, they had to be strong for their men, they had to be silent, be still. They had to bend to the whims of their men but keep a firm foot in the soil else the entire world around them would go topsy-turvy, upside-down. They could not rattle and moan and shake and let go. Women were the roots, the trunk, the conduit of men’s strength and if the women failed, the family failed, the tree was broken. A tree could only survive being ripped from the earth so many times.

Uprooted again. Another part of her torn away by choices and fate. She had lost sight of what was important and this was her penance, her punishment. She punished herself for loving Rheb, for daring to dream of becoming a princess, for swallowing the poison she gave herself even now. For letting a man get in the way of her child. Her children.

Was Solstan hers now that Oendir was gone? What is better…a child without a father or a child with a father who doesn’t care about him?

She was weak. She didn’t want to think about these things. It wasn’t his fault, it wasn’t his fault, he only left to heal, he didn’t know that he would forget them, he’d forget them, he forgot them…

She wanted to forget, too.

She wanted all the dead leaves, the broken branches, the bits of her broken and torn to drop away like the leaves in the fall. She wanted to shed the colours others saw and grow something new. She wanted Oendir to find her and all the little pieces and pluck away the dead bits of her and graft himself to her and grow together. Grow together.

She wanted to belong.

She made sure to avoid any travelers. Bean turned north toward Thorenhad and let her displeasure known when she was turned away. Cwen promised her an apple, but she did not have any apples, so she promised an apple and some sugar cubes when they got to Durrow, but we cannot stay, they cannot stay.

For days, Cwen rode in silence save her sobs and slept in broken fragments stolen here and there just far enough off the trail to be passed by.

She took another dose.

What if she wasn’t the roots and trunk but the leaves and that is why people shed her so easily? What if she had no heartwood, only her pretty colors, her pretty face and once the leaves started to wilt and fade, people realized it wasn’t to last? ScreenShot00007The green would fade. The reds would crumble. People shed her so they could be renewed again.

Don’t think. Don’t feel.

She took another dose.

It was the headaches. It was the nausea. She had to get home to her children. She had to find some place safe. Durrow wasn’t safe. Memories weren’t safe. They weren’t enough to hold on to. They hurt too much to hold on to.

Bean’s hooves click click clopped across the Last Bridge. The stones were warm from the day’s heat and the water was not so harsh as the sun dropped in the sky. Camp. Just a soft, stone-free space of land. Sleep without dreams, without–

ScreenShot00009Memories drifted in and out of her sleep. The visions came stronger than any dream. Fire and burning horse flesh. Hot blood on her virgin thighs. Laughter full of derision as the elhudans danced in her vision. Bright spots of pain. Violation. Her father’s hand reaching for her with death in his eyes.

What happened to Oendir was worse, she told herself. What happened to Oendir was worse.

She wanted someone to comfort her, but there was nothing except the night and the breeze catching her hair. The full moon shone bright above her and the stars gave back their warm glow. Choosing distance over sleep, she saddled Bean and rode on through the lonely lands in the night. She did not fear the orcs or the orc-blooded men. She did not fear the wolves or the wild boar. She did not feel the fear that drove her on through the night because she took another dose so she could keep going. Just enough to take the edge off, she said in her head. Just enough to keep going.

 

A Bitter Pill: love loses in life, longingly

love loses in life, longingly looking
finding nothing but fortune floundering in fetid
memories mashed to muck

meandering memories
missing memories

my memories are yours

yet your yearnings for yesterday
are false fortunes of fatality
nothing
absolutely nothing

because if they are something, then
why do you tear them out of your head

heavy with self-hatred you run from home
and leave us in the Void
how long before we vanished?
are your demons finally vanquished?

as you go blithely on with life
now that you’ve forgotten your children and wife
go blithely on with life

~~~***~~~

Dear Faronlos,

I fear that I must return to my home. I am leaving the Wayfarers; they do not need my services no matter what they claim. They always have allies to treat anything their own skill cannot mend. My children need me and they need to be in a place where they are safe again.

If you ever regain your memories, I will be where the flowers bloom brightest in good, rich soil and the spirit is nearly always content with a full belly. You will know where that is if you wish to find us.

Sincerely,

Cwendlwyn Tain

A Bitter Pill: Burn

Hair releases such a stringent, unmistakable smell when it burns. The nostrils recoil. They know that that smell means something is terribly wrong in the world.

The hairs on the back of your arms curl from heat. Her hair had never curled properly; gravity drew the heavy locks straight within the hour. Hot stones, burning irons. How silly they had been to wish to curl the hair on their heads when they should have been grateful to have hair there at all. How silly, when within the week, they would learn that even such tiny hairs as those on the back of one’s arms can curl under the right circumstances.

Freida stood in the window. The young woman leaned out to reach for Cwen, but Cwen could do nothing but look up and fear that if her friend leaned much further, she’d fall to her death. But then the blonde locks caught. The flames spread through her hair quickly. Detached, somehow knowing the thought was broken, Cwen recalled the oils they had mixed to smooth their hair the day before. Flames soon consumed her friend, but instead of running away from the window as she should have, Freida stayed. She stayed and lowered her arm to point at Cwen as the roar of the flames devouring the house roared around her.

Before Cwen could scream, a sharp, stabbing pain shot through her back straight through her. Her lung refused to expand so that she could gasp. A heavy hand fell on her shoulder as the dirk in her back twisted and as if time slowed, she looked back to see the cold smile of her father before she felt her body flying into the oven of a house…

Her true gasp awoke her and the smell of burning hair caused Cwen to bolt upright in her bedroll and grasp for her hair. Her jagged breathing tore her throat as she looked around wildly to gain a bearing in this world, this waking world where the smell of burning hair was real.

Unable to shake the dream, she flung her arm out to reach for the candlestick on the bedside table, only she was not in her tiny closet room in Riverwide, she was in the Trollshaws a hundred leagues away from her childhood home. The movement made the burns on her arms shoot venomous reminders to her brain and the day before came back to her.

The bridge.

The wood trolls.

Oendir’s necklace and three words carved into a tree.

She reached to her neck to feel for the black cord that kept the coin, Oendir’s good luck charm, safely attached to her. She traced the length down to the metal and it was warm against her skin. Closing her fist around it tightly, she squeezed her eyes shut and slowly counted to ten.

Bemá, give me strength to find him. Watch over him, your servant. Help him find peace, please.

Quietly in the dark, she searched for the pot of salve that would cool the heat of her wounds.

She told herself it was not real, the dream, and it wasn’t. Her father had not stabbed her nor had he thrown her into a burning house. She lost her hair in the stables, not from watching Freida burn. That was years ago and only the stress of the bridge crossing and the fire must have brought them back. It had been some time since she had drifted back.

Slathered with medicine, stinking of witch hazel and burnt hair, Cwen laid down.

It was a long time before exhaustion closed her eyes.

 

A Bitter Pill: Shatter Me

Like a fallen looking glass
out of place and out of time,
I sit and send pieces of me
throughout the world.
In fragments, I release my worries
–all my pain and fear–
in droplets of pale black ink
With undercurrents of berry, black and blue.


Dear Taja,

I hope this reaches you soon. I was distressed to hear of your hasty departure, though I understand the need to run away from the troubles of this community. Had you asked, perhaps I would have gone with you to explore the ice shelves of Forochel again without the threats of war between your peoples. There is always a threat no matter where one is though, isn’t there? Our recent travels have shown that us that much.

Godric may have allowed you to simply leave, but I do wish you would have said farewell to people. Many care about you quite a bit. Myself included. So do take care, Taja. If you need anything, anything at all, do let us know. (I hope you kept your acorn whistle!)

Most sincerely,

Cwendlwyn

~~~***~~~

Dear Orendir,

I hope this letter brings a warm spring for you all the way up north. How is the family? Solstan and Neilia are well; Oendir and I wed last year.

Unfortunately, Oendir has gone missing. As his father, I thought that you should know, though there is little that you could do to help in the search unless for some reason he left the Trollshaws to run naked through the snow. I highly doubt that is where his feet have taken him, but one thing I have learned is that nothing is out of possibility.

Give my regards to Simi and the children, especially Kipina. You are in our thoughts.

Sincerely,

Cwendlwyn

P.S. If you think of it, could you write me about how Taja is doing? Did he return to the settlement? He left us abruptly and I am worried about him. ~C.

~~~***~~~

Dear Attie,

My patch of lemon balm is not doing well this spring. How has your garden been faring? Do you have any tricks for the herb? I know I will be using a bit of it this season.

Please let your father and mother know that I will be in town for a bit if they are interested in tea.

Sincerely,

Cwendlwyn

~~~***~~~

My dear Callee,

Greetings, my friend. I will be bringing the children to Gardeneve on the first of the month to enjoy a bit of a holiday and help with the early spring drying. I was glad to hear that the wedding of Giles and Vera went of without too much of a hitch. It is always interesting when your folk step outside your farthings to fall in love. It is dreadful about the lack of garlic mashed potatoes at the party, though, I agree.

We have much to catch up on. I look forward to seeing you soon.

Cwen

~~~***~~~

My dear Rheb,

How are you? How is the tribe?

I wanted to let you know that we are still searching for Oendir. The company has been travelling a lot on assignments, so there has not been a lot of time to look. I still believe he is alive.

I’ve enclosed some paints in the package and some canvas for stretching. I know that Han does not wish for you to waste time on your art, but you could paint anyway. The camp could use some colour. And if Han gets snappy, tell him that all cultures create art. It is what separates Man from Animal.

Though sometimes I think that the burns Solstan’s salamander leaves in my garden is his form of art…

I miss you. Be safe.

Kwen

A Bitter Pill: Request

Dear Rheb,

As I write this, I do hope that the rest of your thrusk went without further encounters (violent or otherwise). I am glad that I was able to see you and I hope that you enjoy the paints. Do you remember Anya? She lives with her brothers and their menagerie on the shore below your cliff. She mixes the pigment with some material that makes it sparkle–I forgot to tell you that. She can probably make more if you’d like.

Speaking of your cliff and your house that sat on it, Oendir is renting it to the man he’s chosen as his acting commander when he is not afield. He is Godric of Rohan and he has established himself as a disciplined and caring man if nothing else.

I tell you this for two reasons:

One, he lives there now, but if you want to come visit, I do not want that to deter you. You are always welcome in Durrow; if you’d like, you could stay in my shop on Garden street with Hunyr if the inns are too crowded for you.

Two, he wishes to meet you and I agreed to write to ask you for permission to bring him to the Lone-lands to do so. We could meet on the trading hill or further south by the Forsaken Inn. If you want, I will send him away after a short visit so that we can be left to our own desires.

That sounds far more naughty than I intended when I wrote it. I do hope Han or one of the women is not reading this to you.

On Han, he mentioned that he wished he could stand to translate for us. That you have much more to say than you are able. He said other things, but perhaps those are best left to my next visit.

I love you, Rheb. We all do, in our own ways. Please do not forget your family here in Durrow. I know one day, Oen will be able to visit. I think that you should visit here. I really, truly believe you should.

With love,

Kwen

 

Choices

Yule is spent with family. Then why am I leaving mine so soon after presents have been unwrapped to go to a land without trees and boughs of holly and roasting chestnuts?

I will bring them some. And deer sausage and leathers and fabrics from the south. Just because they live in harshness does not mean they would not like something pretty to wear.

I will bring him paints mixed by Anya: the kind that sparkles from whatever magic she puts into them. It must be magic that makes her snow peaks glitter like gems and her stars glow. Rheb will like that, I hope. He deserves a little bit of Durrow to remember us by and Oen will see that even in the Lone-lands, beauty exists and Rheb is part of creating it.

But then, if Yule is spent with family, shouldn’t he know about the child? Isn’t it my duty to tell him exactly what he’s missing away from Durrow? He wants children. Most men want children to carry on their bloodline, but I know that he wants children. He wants to be a father, and if I will not be the mother, he should know he has a child waiting for him at ho–

Durrow isn’t his home anymore. I cannot pretend that it is when I see him there, with his people, in his lands. I will ask about what I do not see. I will look at the camp with open eyes. They do not hide from me; none of them have. They do not have room for games. Secrets. Lies. The land is too stubborn to tolerate the folly of Men or Orc and I will learn what it has to tell me about its beauty.

~~~***~~~

Her pillow was wet and for the longest time, she simply laid there with her hair crumpled beneath her cheek. He was cruel to show her such things and believe that she had an actual choice. She was not strong enough to stop a storm from coming. She was not strong enough to recognize the ruby she found washed up on the edge of the lake was no regular gem.

It was just a dream, she told herself as she finally pushed herself away from the dampness of her tears. Dreams are nothing and have no sway over me. 

Oh, but they do. She rubbed her eyes. You have always believed in your dreams. 

Silliness. Silly dilly silly. 

You know the only way to stop it is to find it.–Destroy it! –Then we might just stop. He will know what to do. Take it to him.

Louder, louder! He he he!

Dreams have no sway over me.

Over us.

No, you’re all just dreams. Leave me!

A dream a dream is a wish, a wishy wishy washy wish.

Anya took a deep breath, resituated herself to be sitting cross-legged on her bed, and closed her eyes. She let the voices wash over her until they filled her head with their arguing and nonsense.

Bring it to him. Take it to him. Dreamsy dream a dram of dream! Destroy it, destroy it! Destroy them all. Wishy washy! Dead you’ll be. Him. Take it. We’ll never–Dead as a doorknob!–leave until you–Destroy it!–take it to him.–Grow, grow, root and leaf,–Rest, just rest.–reach for star and sun beneath!–Never–Bring it–Can’t…–Wilt, wilt, stalk and bloom,–Go–away–Go!–turn to dust and bring all doom!

The din of their song rose until it reached its peak and then like a wave broke and faded away to the sounds of her room: the reassuring purring of her feline friends, the crackling of a low fire in the other room, the creaking of the stone and wood around her. Though the air around her tingled, it was still. She quieted them for now.

Slipping from her bed, she walked over to set her small traveling easel upright and then stooped to retrieve a set of robes that had fallen from its hanger. She straightened the lace on the collar of a dress and then turned to look for any other damage that needed righting. Seeing nothing too telling, she took another deep breath, let it out slowly, and then turned to choose her garb for the day.

When she stepped out of her room, only the circles beneath her eyes hinted anything was out of the ordinary. Abiorn had already left for the morning taking the dogs with him and she made a note to scold him for leaving the fire so large. Still, he had left her a few biscuits for breakfast and she forced herself to eat them before resigning herself to another day.

A Bitter Pill: I Really Shouldn’t

My dearest Rheb,

The Wayfarers and I have returned to Durrow mostly unscathed. Some changes have occurred within our ranks, as it seems to happen frequently as of late, but none were lost through death. In fact, Kemendin returned to us, though he chose to stay in Dol Amroth. Oendir promised that we would check on his house on occasion. He misses you, as does Solstan and Neilia.

I would like to see you soon. I am uncertain who will be coming with me; I will bring wares from some of the Durrow vendors, but I will respect your request to limit guards to those you noted. It may just be me and an escort.

Do write quickly. Let me know when I can come to you. You will be there this time, won’t you? I was so sad that you were not last time. Perhaps you could show me your camp if I come alone. It has been years since I have seen a full moon over Weathertop.

I hope all is well. I miss you.

Love,

Kwen

What Keeps Us Awake at Night

All I want in the world is to know who I am and where I come from and to find a place without all the lies. I am so tired of lies and half-truths and people thinking that those things can somehow make things better. They can’t.

~~~***~~~

I will be fine. This will all be fine. I am a strong, loved person and everything will turn out perfectly fine and I will not think about it at all.

~~~***~~~

Why do things always get so complicated? Things aren’t that complicated when you live by yourself in your own little world. Sometimes, I wish I would have never left my own little world, but then again, I would have never met him and knowing him makes it worth it, especially after all those people just think that I’m a freak after seeing me change.

~~~***~~~

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This city makes me miss Dale. How is that even possible.

~~~***~~~

Day and night, it’s always the same. Wake up, lie down, roll over. When did my life become so boring? Makes me want to go steal a coinpurse just for old time’s sake.

~~~***~~~

I’ve never felt so confident in all my life and all I did was make a little breeze. It is empowering! Yet…he does not know this world of spirits and sorcery and I know I will not need it if I were to become his wife. Why do I feel so empty at the thought of leaving my training now? Is it another link to him, the magic of his presence, the mystery of his life and power? Will he always haunt my thoughts and dreams?

~~~***~~~

When everything you knew about a person is veiled in a lie, how do you go about trusting him again, even if it is your own father? Is it all worth it when it’s just a damn charade to get an old man his kicks? Living here has made me live a normal life and for the first time, I like the thought of waking up with a husband that worked digging fields and not ruins. What if I want my own life and not the life he is forcing upon me?

~~~***~~~

The simplicity of this place is astounding. We get up. We find food. We cook it. We mend our clothes. We sweep our floors. He swims in the pools and waterfalls around the lake. Nothing is more beautiful than he is beneath the falls when the sun sinks behind the purple mountains and the colours of the light catch in his hair. We eat. We make love. He is happy. For him, for him, I will be happy for now.

~~~***~~~

I will shake this from me. His actions are not my actions and I am as good as any man. Hard work and intelligence will lead me to where I wish to go. If only the people saw it the same way, this city would be the better for it. I will continue to hold my head up high and convince Mother that I do not need a man to make my way. I won’t be sold to him for his title.

~~~***~~~

Who’s a girl gotta do to get some revenge up in here? Anyone? Anyone?

A Bitter Pill: Dear Master J, No. 3

Dated four days before the wedding of Oendir Arrowheart and Cwendlwyn Tain

Dear Master J,

Thank you for your letter. I will be honest and say that for some time, I did not think you were going to write me back. I am glad that you did, though I fear my response will not bring either of us joy.

When I read your letter, I closed my eyes and imagined what you described. Part of me wants that. So much of me wants to know a man who can express himself so eloquently and make me feel loved even with leagues between us. One who will love Neilia as his own and give her everything that she deserves.

My dear J, I cannot marry you. This weekend, I will be married to Oendir Arrowheart. Our children love each other as brother and sister. He has been in my heart since I first met him. We both bear so much trouble from our pasts, I never dreamed he would propose marriage, but when he did, I knew it was the right thing to do.

I mourn the loss of our future together. I mourn the friendship that we would have had. I am selfish enough to wish for our friendship to continue. That I can still be the honest voice at your side among the gossip and lies that fill the streets and taverns of that city, even from afar. But it is wrong of me to wish such a thing. Is it not?

Please do not hate me or think ill of Oendir. He knows nothing of my accepting your proposal; only that it existed. If you must choose between the two, then only I deserve your wrath, my lord. I will bear it.

The company will be journeying south again in a few week’s time. I believe it is Oendir’s intention to visit his brother, Sir Carmanadh. Please, do not let my actions hurt them. It is more than I should ask, but ask I must.

I am so sorry. The ink of the ‘ry’ is smudged and a circular stain mars the fine parchment.

With deepest regret for the pain I have caused,

Cwendlwyn

What the Letters Say

What the Letters Say

Dear Rheb,

In ten day’s time, I will come with a few traders and goodsmen from Durrow and the nearby lands. I will sell for a few; we shall have summer vegetables, breads and dried meats, and some clothing, and I had Callee, my Hobbit friend, brew my favorite honeymead for you.

I believe it best if only the women come to do the trading. If there are Men-men, and not Orc-men, that should be fine, but I hope to establish create a good relationship before the others discover you have orcs. I want to protect you and your people from those who will not understand.

I hope you are well. We miss you.

With love,

Kwen

~~~***~~~

To the Keeper of the House of Medicine of Dol Amroth:

How are you, Nestor? I do hope life has settled for you and no further mischief has overcome the city. You know my propensity for disliking Dol Amroth, but I do love the people there and hope they have found happiness during the summer months.

I am writing to request the list of herbs accompanying this letter. I have a patient here in Bree who would benefit from their properties. If you have any insight into how to brew them in a way that would most benefit someone having nightmares, I would greatly appreciate your wisdom.

Wishing you and your city good health and happy days,

Cwendlwyn Tain of Bree
Field medic of the Wayfarers

~~~***~~~

Dear Callee,

I have spoken with Oendir and the eleventh it is. If you could arrive on the ninth for final preparations, I believe we will be able to solidify all plans in time.

Neilia looks forward to seeing you. Do you think the larkspur back by the lilies would survive the trip? I wish my garden here was more established. I am hoping Oen will agree to me keeping the property and continuing with my plant nursery. I do not see why he would be opposed to it.

All my love, darling,

Cwen

~~~***~~~

Dear Kupsa,

Damn, I hope you can read common. Have your dad read this to you if you can’t. ORENDIR <— have him read it!

I just wanted to say hi and ask how everyone was up there. Is it really still ice even though it is summer? Bree is all right. There’s lots of flowers and honey to be had and everything tastes fresh. You should come visit with your brother and sister sometime. I think you folks would love it, especially Kipina. How is she, by the way?

Vahan is doing great. I know he’s just the runt, but down here, he’s really something special. My brother Eirikr is training him and he’s pretty good most of the time. He gets along really well with our other dog, Bear, but not so much with my sister’s cats. But no one really gets along with them.

Maybe this year we can come visit you again. I think Vahan misses the snow.

Write back! (if you can)

Your friend,

Abiorn of Dale

~~~***~~~

Dear cats that belong to my sister:

STAY OFF MY BED.

I know you can read this, you blasted lynx.

~~~***~~~

Dear Father,

The relic is still guarded well by a sorcerer of some power. My own is not strong enough to dispel the wards placed over it.

I am biding my time and getting to know the people, as you said. There is one who is incredibly suspicious of me; I recall his face from the Ranger’s keep. It is hard to forget.

I do not feel as though he is a normal grave-digger. The girl disappeared for several days after he did; he returned with a sword of some magnificence, but otherwise appears unchanged. How would you like for me to proceed with him?

I will travel to the ruins as before. North, this time.

Your daughter

~~~***~~~

Your excellency,

It is with great pleasure that I congratulate you on the engagement of your son Dunstan to the daughter of Magan. He is a fine man. My only regret, of course, is that it is not my daughter! The foolish girl does not deserve so fine a young man.

Regarding the shipment, it is on schedule to arrive in two weeks. Your influence with the Captain of the Guard will be most beneficial to its safety. Again, I cannot thank you for your assistance in this matter in any other way than my support for your illustrious position. May your court remain true to justice and continue to measure the men of Dale with its wisdom and mercy.

Kolrson, son of Sote

Useless

Two days ago

She did not know that version of Hallem Kemp. Angry. Hateful. Demeaning.

Hallem had always been brutally honest with her, but she could not remember when he was down right mean to her. As she hurried through the darkening streets of Bree clutching the book she borrowed from the Archives to her chest, she swallowed back her tears and ducked her head. Several people called out greetings or warnings of the approaching night, but she did not respond to any of them.

She was not afraid of the night.

What she was afraid of was was being nothing. Forgotten and alone because she was of no use to anybody. She was afraid of being left behind while those around her went off to do brave and noble things to save the world from the Shadow. She was afraid that she was unlovable and that he had only used her as a means to his end and that none of it was real.

That was why she went to Atanamir and begged him to help her change into something worthwhile and valuable. Something strong and powerful. Something coveted beyond time and space so much so that nothing could stop her from protecting her loved ones and finally being able to do something to prove she was worthy. When he said that there was a possibility he could combine her with Faethril and give her control…but in the end she was relieved he had come up with an alternative, even though it would take time. More time than she had, she knew. But it was possible.

Anything was possible.

She did not look at the man who took the book back with a pleasant, unobtrusive smile and a thank you. She nodded and murmured something of a thanks of her own and fled from the building with the intent of fleeing Bree. The walls were suddenly too confining, too stuffy. She needed space and the soothing lap of water against the banks of the Little Staddlemere.

When she reached her willow tree, she plunged through the draping branches and leaned heavily against its trunk. Slowly, she slid down to the smooth dirt below and let the tears flow.

She cried until she was out of tears and her face lay buried in her knees as her breathing slowed. She sat there for a long time just listening to her own breathing. In and out. Slowly in and out. Each breath filled her body like a river filled a waterskin. She felt heavy and weightless at the same time; it was if she were pulling away from her body and floating among the singing branches.

Anya sighed and suddenly she felt the presence around her and like the whispers of a thousand oathbreakers, she heard something not with her ears, but with her heart.

She opened her eyes slowly, but there was nothing there except the wind. She reached out to touch the air and welcome it to her and thank it for the breath of life when he had none and suddenly she understood. In her exhaustion, she found it.

Excited, she sat up quickly and just as fast, her revelation slipped away from her grasp. She did not feel it anymore, but she knew that she could. She knew that it wanted to be known. It wanted to be heard.

She sat cross-legged and straight up. It was easier to breathe when she was not slumped over. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She listened. She breathed. She waited.

It was all that she could do.

Yesterday

The hours she spent lying beneath the graveyard roses before Hallem appeared had left Anya both sore and numb. The rain had stopped eventually, but it would take some scrubbing to get her robes clean. Some part of her scolded the choice to remain lying in the mud, but the ground beneath the beautiful white roses was not as damp as the paths between the bushes and all she could really feel was loss.

The loss of his smile. His cool touch. His gentle, encouraging words.

That is what she missed most. He gave her strength to believe in her drawing by his easy, embracing words. She opened up and bloomed from a tightly wound, fearful bud into the artist and young woman she was today. He did not fear being himself and by following his lead, she no longer did, too.

But just who was he?

She looked up at the sky. The clear sunlight seemed purest after the brief spring rain. She did not agree with Raen; she clung to the idea that the man never fully died and that somehow two became one in his flesh and bones. She felt that duality in him when his eye flashed at her. She knew what it was like to share bodies with consciousnesses that were not your own.

But she did agree with one thing the Elf had said: whether it was the last Prince of Cardolan or Morty Mossfoot that she loved, she loved him. Them. The warmth and the mystery. The gentle and the intense. The life and the death.

That was the only useful bit that she could contribute, really. Her love fed by his love which shone through in her rose bush. Her Dalish Charm planted in the middle of all the others, heavy with blossoms and growing still. Reaching. Reaching for the sun and the moon.

For the light in the darkness.

~~~***~~~

“The commander intends to come here? Just for this boy?”

“He’s not a boy, Eirikr. He has seen two decades pass.”

“Twenty? He is twenty?”

“Perhaps a bit older. Oendir looks at him as a son, though he is…you know, I do not know quite how old his is.”

“And what people say…”

“People say a lot of things, Eirikr. What was that I heard just the other day at the Cask? You and…?”

“Cwen. You know I am not speaking of only the rumour. That village sprouts rumours all the time. Yours has truth behind it, though. You do not keep it a secret when you walk through town holding his hand.”

“We just wanted him to come home, Eirikr. He is not going to return with us; I do not blame him at all, truth be told. The world of Men has not been kind to Rheb. But he misses Oen and my letter said as much to the commander. Oen will come.”

“But to what end? You have done your duty by ensuring the fellow is safe and happy. I don’t see why we have to be here when the commander gets here. Anya’s-”

“Eirikr, please. Do go home. This place is…wretched. I appreciate your accompanying me here, but truthfully, I do not need your protection. No orc will cross me here as long as I wear Rheb’s bracelet.”

“You seem so confident in that thing. What if Rheb turns against you and the orc-men use it to track you down. You wouldn’t even know it until you had the sword in your back, Cwen.”

“Rheb is savage like the orcs to a certain extent, yes. He killed two wargs in Durrow single-handedly. He has skills he hides from all of us because we would fear him more than we do now. He knows he is a monster in Durrow. Here he can be free to be who he truly is. I envy him that. And should he choose to turn against me…I am in his land now.”

“…You really  understand him, don’t you?”

“As much as I can. And I want to understand more. I do love him, Eirikr.”

“And the commander?”

“I love him as well. I will always love them both and I am blessed that they love me.”

“You do not believe that a Man should be with one Woman and vice versa?”

“I believe love is never simple and also it is the simplest thing. Sometimes it works that way: one-to-one. Sometimes it does not. But it should never be looked upon with scorn. It is too precious in these times to waste. It is too precious in any time to waste.”

“You sound like a philosopher at university. An old man caught up in books and artifacts too much and does not remember what it is like outside the walls of his office.”

“You think I am like that?”

“No. You live outside your head. But your ramblings remind me of them.”

“Maybe now when they are old, they choose to live inside their walls because it makes them feel more at home. Safer from the dangers of hatred and malice. Durrow was a safe place to you and to me. But not for Rheb. He had no place there. Here he has men that love him and obey. Here he is someone and not something. He has use for man and orc.  Anlaf said fur traders told him about their camp. Perhaps they would be interested in trading with Bree. I could be Durrow’s envoy.”

“That would allow you to see Rheb and Oen separately. Both in their own worlds.”

“Yes, that is ideal isn’t it?”

“That look. Cwen, what is it?”

“I am waiting for knife in the back. It is too perfect, isn’t it?”

“I’m not going to stab you. Stare at you incredulously, but not stab you.”

“This does put a different twist on things, doesn’t it? My relationship with both of them would no longer be a burden. It would have its purpose.”

“I doubt the villagers would take kindly to the knowledge that we are now trading with the same orcs that destroyed the gate.”

“Would they chase me out, do you think? If they knew he had come for me?”

“I would chase you out. But I like you too much. And Abiorn needs you.”

“Is that the closest to affection you give to folks, Eirikr?”

“Sometimes I will pat your shoulder in an approving manner.”

“Oh, shove off, Tenorbekk.”

“Good talk, Cwen.”

A Bitter Pill: Dear Master J, No. 2

My dear Master J,

I fear that my last letter was sent in haste and without allowing my distress to cool before I spilled my thoughts into the paper. I may have written too much, but at the same time I feel as though I hardly wrote enough. So much is flooding my mind now that I have begun sharing what has been trapped inside of me for decades.

I am in the land of my forefathers. Fore-mothers at least. We are in the far eastern part of the Mark; my mother was born not far from here, and I as well. Only her death took me west past the Gap and onto the banks of another river. 

I had never intended to return to these lands, but since I met Oendir, the commander of this company, I have visited here twice. Once to face one of his personal shadows and now to face a more dangerous one: four dark sorcerers who have blackened the skies and intend to bring destruction to the land. Their triumph will eliminate all life here and the death will spread like a disease. 

So we must stop it. Here and now.

Have you marched yet to Minas Tirith? Has your final summons to lead your men into the shadow come?

I am no leader here. We have no leader here. Oendir remained in the village where he was elected mayor to serve and protect the simple villagers there. He appointed a stand-in by seniority and battle skill; someone who is a good solider who I trust at my side, but who does not have the patience or diplomacy that we are used to with Oen.

Cwendlwyn frowned and put the tip of her quill to the period and used the dot to start a “d.”

…Oen.dir. And while I miss his leadership, what I miss most is his warmth. The comfort I have just being near him. Being separated by distance and not just our silences makes my chest ache. The touch of his eyes restores me more than anything I can think of stowed away in my chest of medicines and herbs.

Is this what love is, my lord? This deep and coring loss when he is not here in the darkest hour? I have walked this earth for nearly three and a half decades and I am unsure what love is. I have been abandoned so many times in my attempts to love that I fear it. I drive it away, as perhaps I am doing now by being far too open with you, a potential lover. Yet I feel safe telling you these things. Is it because your are so far from me and the pain of being vulnerable? Or is that love? That trust that you will not abandon me for no matter what, there is something there that connects us?

I don’t know. I only know that as I am heading to face the shadow, I wanted to write to you because I know that you will hear me. 

Your frank and lonely

Cwendlwyn