The miles that passed underfoot were but numb echoes in Eruviel’s limbs. She could still feel Ninim’s blood on her hands with every arrow she loosed, and see the life fade from the young woman’s eyes whenever her own closed.
It had gone all wrong. Try as they had, Ninim had perished as Eruviel cradled the screaming newborn against her chest. In the moments before Abiorn had taken his little nephew from her she had stared down in horror at the beautiful child, fearful that he might die as well.
Never, she had thought, never will I have children. She would not . . . could not. Not now.
Every night when they made camp her eyes would follow Eirikr as he’d take his leave to stand watch. The memory of his harrowing cry kept her from sleeping when he was gone, and she stood more alert when he would…
They crept out of Esgaroth beneath a new moon. Only the stars lit the way as they traveled north through the Lonely Mountain where a Dwarf Eirikr knew from childhood housed them for two nights. Then down to the borders of the realm of the Wood-elves where Eruviel’s pointy ears helped convince the scouts to let them pass unharmed. The paths through the Mirkwood were slow and tedious. Several times, they almost abandoned the wagon, but it made traveling so much easier on both Abiorn and Ninim. They backtracked. They waited while Eirikr or Eruviel scouted. They made their way through the shadows and fog with a constant vigilance. If their heightened state wasn’t for the spiders and the wargs, then the knowledge that Kolrson Tenorbekk still lived plagued them all.
Eirikr kept a close eye on Abiorn. The boy joked about his lack of handiness – figuratively and literally – when it came to life on the road. His hands found wielding anything larger than a small knife difficult and his crooked legs kept him from ever being graceful. One night, he spilled their entire supper onto the leaves when his grip weakened his hold on the cast iron pan. The boy nearly cried as he scooped up the bits of potato and carrots with his bent fingers. It took both Eruviel and Ninim to calm him with reassurances and shoulder pats and hugs. He then got angry and did his best impression of stomping away to brood at the edge of their makeshift camp. Eirikr took him some food they salvaged and sat next to him in silence as they ate.
Ninim seemed to be holding her own. She rode in the wagon when she grew tired and walked when she would. Soon, though, her ankles started to swell and she became tired much more quickly. She began to rapidly consume their water supply and Eirikr had to push them a little harder to make up the time they had planned to travel. Still, she smiled as they forged their way through the dark wood, never complaining, never stumbling on their path.
Until one day, as they were finally reaching the end of the darkness, she did.
All at once, her legs seemed to give out beneath her and she fell on hand and knee, panting. Her face twisted into a grimace of pain as Eirikr rushed to kneel beside her.
Quickly, Eruviel and Abbi threw up a camp and Eirikr carried his wife to the bed they made. Abbi fumbled with the flint and tinder as Eruviel rushed to examine Ninim to her best ability. Ninim looked up at them with fear and determination. It was time.
The labor was long. Eirikr and Abbi stood as tense sentinels as Eruviel played midwife as best she could. When it lasted past eight hours, Eirikr took her place beside his wife so she could rest, though she went to take his place as guard instead. After twelve hours, Eruviel came back to them and checked on her progress. The Elf shook her head before she could stop herself. Eirikr’s heart stopped in his chest. He felt a terror and it stole his powers of speech.
Fifteen hours. Eighteen.
At the twentieth hour, a long, tortured scream rent the near silence of the Mirkwood followed by the cry of a baby. The sound of sobbing bounced off the trees and died before it could travel far. A man’s cries overpowered the baby’s and lasted throughout the night.
* * *
“Eirikr, I am so sorry, gwador. If only I-”
“Eruviel, stop now. It is not your fault.”
“But if only-”
“Eirik, what about the baby?”
“I do not know. I do not know anything, brother. I do not know.”
“There are ways to sustain a child without its mother’s milk. I have heard of it before. Once we are out of this cursed forest, we can hunt and boil broth for him.”
“We cannot take a baby through Moria, can we? Eruviel, tell him we can’t take him into Moria. He won’t survive!”
“Abiorn, please. One thing at a time.”
“Well, tell him!”
“You want him to die, don’t you? Because it might be his. But he might be yours, too, Eirik! And even if he isn’t, how could you just let him die?”
“Shut your mouth, Abiorn! I do not know!”
“Wait. Silence, both of you. Do you hear it?”
“There, again. In the trees to the north. Someone’s coming.”
“Silence! Quick, behind me!”
* * *
The bear emerged from the shadows to stare at the three travelers. His deep brown eyes traveled to the babe swaddled in the arms of the youngest and then to the still form of what had to be its mother. He sniffed the air. Familiar scents were scattered by blood and tears and pain. But there was life, there, too. And hope, but it was quickly fading. He sniffed again and lumbered forward, his large head lowered docilely as his eyes took in the rest of the rough camp.
The man tensed. He raised his hand toward his back but when he found nothing there, he looked around sharply. His eyes landed on the bow just as the bear reached it. Instead of passing over it or destroying it with its powerful jaws, the bear nudged it with its nose. The man gaped as he nudged it again. Go on, take it, he almost said. I won’t hurt you.
The man approached slowly and picked up the bow. The bear tilted its massive head and regarded him with curiosity. Then it lumbered on toward the boy holding the child.
The Elf let out a shout and pulled boy and baby behind her. Pausing, the bear tilted his head again and waited for the boy to peek around her. Slowly, he stepped out and looked into the bear’s eyes. Nodding, he told the others to break camp. They resisted. The man said some angry words, but eventually, they packed a rugged and beat-up wagon. They lovingly wrapped the body of the woman in a sheet and placed her in the back. Yes, she must be treated properly. He could help see to that.
The bear led the boy holding the baby to a secret trail. The wagon and horses could find the road and the bear grumbled lowly until they left the canopy of the Mirkwood. His pace quickened as they reached a small cottage with smoke rising from the chimney. A woman came out followed by a girl and a boy. They helped the travelers; they fed them and gave them a soft bed to sleep in. The bear wandered off into a grove of thick trees and then came back a man.
The baby was left with the woman and her children and her Man that was more than a man. It did not have to suffer the dark mazes of Moria and the boy promised to come back and visit one day. The man could barely look at the baby. He had buried his wife beneath the old Oak Tree last night and had no more tears to water her grave. He carved a headstone from a branch throughout the night and in the morning, “Ninim, wife of Eirikr In death shall I live” sat above the mound of earth. The Man that was more than a man clapped him on the shoulder and said supportive and encouraging words, but he did not think the man heard them. His grief weighed upon him like iron chains.
They were heading back to Bree-land, the three travelers. They could not take the baby, and when it was time to say goodbye. only the boy and Elf kissed the child’s head and bade him farewell. The man kept his eyes on the western horizon and as the sun rose behind him, he led his party away, fleeing from the light.
((A combination of exposition and chat logs edited for tense))
Eirikr did not even try for subtlety as he led Eruviel up the stone staircase to the second floor. His low voice boomed throughout the hall as he called for his brother.
A strained, thin voice came from the west wing. Eirikr took the stairs two at a time as his brother called back, “Eirikr? Eirikr, it is okay. Go away! I-I do not want to go with you, all right, brother?”
Eririkr paused on the landing and listened carefully. He held up a hand to Eruviel as she opened her mouth to speak. In the unsettling quiet that fell, Eirikr heard the faint melody of a bell. The sound was not heavy and threatening like the bell his father used to summon his guard. A haunting plea sounded in the gentle rustling of the metal.
Tinkle tink tink
Quick as a jackrabbit, Eirikr bounded up the stairs and rushed to the closed door at the end of the hall.
Abion had taken over his brother’s space when he moved to Esgaroth with his wife. The parlor was small, but spacious and opened to a larger bedroom with soaring windows. The heavy drapes concealed the pale blue sky reflecting off the waters of Long Lake. The boy lived in a world of darkness to hide him from prying eyes. His weak muscles and bent limbs could be concealed with loose fitting garb and a pleasant smile, but his shuffling gait could not.
Now, as Eirikr stared with eyes burning with low rage, Abiorn sat in the stuffed chair, a dagger point just drawing blood from his neck. In his hand he clutched the tiny silver bell with trembling fingers, but the practiced calm of his face was betrayed only by his terrified eyes.
Eruviel looked past Eirikr to the boy, her eyes wide as glanced from him to the stairs, and back.
Eiriikr ‘s fingers flexed around his bow. His eyes leveled with his father’s as he demanded, “Let him go. He’s a child.”
Kolrson shook his head. “You bested four guards, hm? The fact you made it back at all astounds me. Gregor was right. I did not give you enough credit. But I will not allow you to take this son from me as well.”
Eiriikr kept his gaze steady, though the veins of his forearm showed from his restraint. “You would rather see him dead then free?” Behind him, Eruviel gripped the hilt of her sword as she glared at the man, waiting, listening.
He raised the hand resting on the back of Abiorn’s chair. “I do not give away anything for free, son. You should know that by now. If you and your sister insist on freedom, a price must be paid.”
Eiriikr shook his head, his red hair grown long from the journey. “This is madness. You would kill your own son or daughter just to have your own way!” He motioned subtly with his free hand for Eruviel to move in closer. She stepped forward, giving him the faintest of nods.
Kolrson noticed the movement and grabbed Abiorn by his auburn curls. “Don’t come any closer, She-elf! What are you really, Eirikr, bringing one of those with you for protection?”
Eiriikr kept his eyes on Kolrson and raise a hand at his hip to Eruviel. “I thought you liked Elves, Father.”
He sneered, “I like their gold, boy.”
Eruviel smirked. “I can leave, gwador, if you think it best.”
Eiriikr managed a tight smile. “I prefer you watching my back, systir mine.” He rolled his shoulder. “How fast is your draw lately, systir?”
Eruviel’s fingers tightened around her bow. “My draw is far faster than yours, brother,” she snickered, her eyes still locked on Kolrson.
Eiriikr raised a brow. “Oh, you believe so? I recall you complimenting me on my skills several times on the path here.”
Kolrson tensed as he watched the exchange. With wide eyes, Abiorn looked up at his father and then at the two across the room. His hand tightened around the bell in a fist. Tinkle tink tink Finally, the man sneered, marring his already severe features. He barked out with impatience, “Stop chattering! What is wrong with you?!”
Eiriikr laughed mirthlessly. “What is wrong, Father?” The word ‘father’ dripped off his tongue like poison. “Not the center of attention?”
Eruviel ‘s shoulders relaxed as a wry smile curved up her mouth. “Do not make me eat my words. I would hate to have to let you win.”
Eiriikr grinned. His white teeth glistened in the firelight. “He can’t dodge two, I don’t think. Not a soft old man like him.”
Eruviel nodded once. “We will not know unless we try.”
Abiorn sank lower in the chair only to be stopped by the fist in his hair. He looked on at Eirikr in terror. He wouldn’t shoot…would he?
Eiriikr nodded, still grinning. He motioned a countdown with his fingers. Three…two…one…
As Kolrson watched the obvious countdown, his eyes grew wide. As Eirikr counted down to one, he attempted to duck behind the chair. Eruviel whisked out an arrow, and anticipating the cruel man’s flight, knocked and fired without hesitation. The man screamed as Eruviel’s arrow penetrated his calf. However, it was a feint! As Eruviel shot, Eirikr charged and tackled Abiorn right in the chair. The entire seat moved back, checking into Kolrson and knocking him over. The force of the chair crashing into him knocked him to his side and he lost hold of the dagger tipped with Abiorn’s blood. Eruviel lept forward and snatched up the dagger before it could be recovered.
Abiorn let out a shout that was abruptly cut off by the force of his brother’s full weight. As he toppled backward, his frail arms and legs flailed about and tried to catch the landing that never came. Eirikr rolled away from the pile-up, dragging his brother with him. He shielded his brother with his body as he looked over toward the chair and fallen man. “Eruviel!” he called out, motioning for her to take hold of Kolrson before he could manage to recover.
Eruviel ran over to grapple Kolrson at Eirikr’s command, dropping her weapons to the side. Bleeding profusely from the arrow in his leg, Kolrson attempted to manipulate Eruviel to the ground. As he rolled her over, his momentum carried him back on to his back where she suddenly had the advantage. He cursed and grabbed for his dagger.
Eiriikr looked down at Abiorn. The boy was fighting back tears and clutching his arm. “Are there any other guards? We faced four downstairs.” Abiorn shook his head yes. “Where are they?”
Eruviel grabbed his reaching hand as she pulled her other arm back to throw a punch. Her fist connected squarely and he sputtered as blood spurted from his nose. He howled in anger and threw his weight toward her to knock her off balance.
Abiorn answered softly, “He probably sent the back guards after you. Most are on leave until the evening. Wh-what are you doing here, Eirikr?”
Eiriikr shook his head. “We are leaving, brother. Your arm?” He frowned down at him and touched his arm gently.
Abiorn shook his head in dismissal. “It is nothing. Sore.”
Eruviel’s eyes widened in surprise as the man threw her. She tumbled over and attempted to scramble back to get a hold on him. Kolrson pushed her away and tried to crawl on his hands and knees, leaving a trail of blood on the floor toward the door. She fell back but rolled, grabbing at the man’s foot to pull him back as she braced her feet to right herself. He kicked weakly as his leg was latched onto by the Elf, shouting out in pain.
Eiriikr nodded and looked over to the two struggling. He grinned at Abiorn as he helped him sit up. “Should I help her?”
Abiorn looked alarmed for a moment and then relaxed into a grin. “You might just get in the way.”
Eruviel dodged Kolrson’s kick and grabbed his free foot with her other hand. Quickly rising to her feet she pulled, hoping to drag the man further back into the room. He flailed his legs, but the injury was too much. Bending at the waist, he grabbed at her hands, but his rather rotund belly got in the way.
Eiriikr grinned back at his brother and strode over to Eruviel and Kolrson. He grabbed the man by the front of his robes and lifted him with one heave so he can punch him in the face. Kolrson used the opportunity to punch Eirikr in the gut. He crashed back to the floor and kicked out at Eruviel again hoping the inertia of his fall would assist him in gaining his freedom. Eruviel batted away the kick and grabbed for one of his feet as she attempted to draw her sword with her free hand.
Eiriikr doubled over and gasped for breath. He drew his sword as he struggled to catch his breath. His father growled as he was denied and grabbed at the Elf’s sword. Stepping forward, Eirikr lowered the sword to Kolrson’s throat.
The older man stilled and looked up at his son from his back. “You wouldn’t kill your own flesh and blood, would you, son?” he sneered.
Eruviel’s hand grabbed her sword and she froze, still holding on to Kolrson. “You filth,” she growled. “You are one to talk.”
Kolrson kicked out at Eruviel just for spite. “I’ve not killed one of my own,” he said before stilling as the cold metal of Eirikr’s sword touched his skin. “So, what now, boy?”
Eiriikr growled, “You may not have killed any of us, but the damage you set upon us is proof enough: you don’t deserve life, old man.” He went in for the kill, but a sound of alarm from Abiorn stayed his hand. He glanced back, the sword tip wavering.
Seeing the moment of weakness in his son, Kolrson reached up to grab the sword from his hand. Eruviel swiftly drew her blade as Eirikr looked behind them, but Eiriikr turned around in time to see him grab at the sword. He took a step back as he pulled away, and Kolrson reached out to trip him.
Eruviel thrusted her blade down, hoping to parry Korlson’s movement, stabbing him in the arm in the process. He laid back and clutched his wound, glaring at the two.
Eiriikr redirected his sword to point at Kolrson again. To Abiorn, he said, “Abbi. Go. We will follow.”
The boy nodded and edged around the room for the door. Once he reached it, he slid out reluctantly.
Eruviel glanced back to the door. “Should I stay or follow him, brother?” she asked quietly.
Eiriikr shrugged. “He said the only guard is in the front now. We shall thus exit the back.” He walked around his father slowly and nodded for Eruviel to leave. “Take Abiorn to Ninim. I will raid my father’s safe and then we shall leave. A small restitution for the suffering his actions have caused, I think.”
Eruviel shot a withering glance at the wounded Kolrson and nodded curtly as she turned for the door. “I will see him safely there. Don’t be long, Eirikr.”
Eiriikr nodded, his eyes on his father. As Eruviel left, he said simply. “Don’t send anyone after us. They will die, or end up like the men you’ve hired downstairs. Don’t try to find us, as we are better off without you. Sten is dead. You could be, too. Be thankful I am nothing like you, Father.”
Still clutching his arm as it bled, Kolrson glared up at his son. “You won’t have a single night of peace. I heard Sten gave your wife a present, didn’t he?”
At those words, Eirikr stopped in his tracks and turned. He grabbed his father by the robes and slammed his fist into his face. Without a word, he followed Eruviel out, heading for the safe and leaving his father dazed and bleeding on the floor.
((edited from chat logs for tense and exposition. all fight action based on a d20 roll with an AC of 10))
Eirikr stood staring at the house. The rain fell around him and dampened his light auburn hair to a deep rust. The yard was quiet; no one was out in the rain. He walked up the worn path slowly as if willing the moment he has to enter the house to pass him by. Behind him and unbeknown to him, Eruviel walked up the path, remaining hidden as she observed her surroundings before setting her sights on the large home ahead.
As he approached the stone entryway, a man emergesd from a side entrance. From beneath his heavy hood, he gaped at Eirikr before rushing forward. “Master Tenorbekk! You have returned. Your father will be…forgive me, sir, but where is Miss Tenorbekk?”
Eirikr raised his hands to hush the old man. “Pyotr, please. I am not here with good news. I am here for Abiorn.” He looked up at the house, blinking through the water clinging to his lashes. “We are leaving this place, Pyotr. It might be best if you gathered everyone in the servant’s wing.”
Pyotr gaped some more and nodded vigorously. “But, sir, your father will not let you take your brother. You surely know-”
Eirikr cut him off with a shake of his head. “I know, Pyotr. Get everyone, especially the women and children, into the servants’ wing. Now.” Without another glance at the servant, he looked up to the house and strode for the door.
From the shadowy lane, Eruviel risked a glance over the stone wall. Seeing Eirikr walk inside, she ducked and retreated down the path to circle around the house to find a better place to hide and to hopefully listen.
Mumbling to himself, the old servant hurried back into the house via the side door.
Eirikr closed the door softly behind him. He looked down at the old floorboards in the entryway and stepped carefully. The house was clearly being prepared for a feast. Tables and chairs were out of place as apparently they were recently abandoned. The clutter led to the main hall. Kolrson Tenorbekk stood in the middle of it all, bellowing about lazy layabouts and whippings.
Eirikr could not help but smirk when he saw his father out of sorts. He stepped into the room with his hand loosely on the sword at his side. “Good day, Father. I see you are well.”
Kolrson whirled to face his son. He glowered a moment as he searched for the shadow he expected to be clinging to Eirikr’s sleeve. “Where is your sister?” he asked finally.
Eirikr shrugged. “She didn’t want to come back. I don’t blame her.”
Kolrson’s eyes narrowed as he strode forward angrily. “Do not play games with me, boy. I sent you after your sister and you were supposed to bring her back.”
Eirikr stood his ground and looked down at his father. The son stood a good three inches taller than the man. “I chose not to. We like it where she is. I think Abiorn will like it, too.”
Shaking his head, Kolrson glowered in disbelief. “Never. Abiorn knows his place. You might be a grown man, Eirikr, but I will still teach you yours.” Turning, he reached into his pocket and withdrew a large silver bell. Its sound pealed through the grand hall and rushing footsteps followed. Two men arrived through the door and stared stupidly at Eirikr and Kolrson, their hands on the grips of their swords. “What is it, sir?” asked one.
Eirikr shifted into a slightly defensive stance but did not draw his weapon. “Hello, Karl. Tjorn.” The guards looked uncertainly between the two men.
Kolrson smirked. “Now, now, Eirikr. See how foolish it was to come here alone? Do you actually think just sauntering in here was going to work? It is a shame you didn’t declare yourself properly so the guards knew who you were. Accidents do happen, though.”
Eirikr narrowed his eyes. “What, Father? You can’t face me yourself?”
Just around the corner in the entryway, Eruviel silently glided over to stand near the front door.
Kolrson mounted a platform that appeared to be set up for a performance. “Why waste the energy. Karl? Tjorn. Show my son what happens when I become disappointed. And then send word to Sten in Lake-town. Tell him to slit that bitch’s throat.”
Eirikr grinned openly. “Sten is dead, Father. Ninim is safe from the likes of you. Your goons cannot touch her any more.”
Turning, Kolrson stared at his son. “You lie. You would not be here if that were true. Only a fool would do such a thing.”
Eirikr drew his sword. “Or someone who loves his brother. You’ve never understood that, Father. I don’t expect you to now.”
Red-faced, Kolrson gave the order. “Just kill him!” The two guards advanced with grins. One said to the other, “I always wanted to gut him, didn’t you, Karl?” In response, Karl said, “Nah, I never really cared one way or the other. But I don’t mind it now.”
Eruviel opened and slammed the front door shut, promptly kicking over the wooden chair with a loud crash.
Eirikr spun around at the noise, ducking. His back turned to the guards, they charged forward throwing caution to the wind. Eirikr whirled around in time to parry one blow only to be tackled by the other man. Karl slammed Eirikr backward into the large pillar supporting the vaulted ceiling and punched him in the gut.
Eruviel ran into the room, taking everything in before taking a swing at the man who punched Eirikr. “Sorry I’m late.”
Eirikr wheezed as the breath is knocked out of him twice. He crumpled down and fell to his knees as the man took Eruviel’s blow without any attempt at defense. Karl flew backward from the force of the blow. Tjorn swung his sword toward her as he tried to hide his surprise.
Eruviel dipped into a bow in the same motion as her punch. “You must be Kolrson.” She then turned to the armed man and drew her sword.
Eirikr looked up at Eruviel with a glare that fell somewhere between thankfulness and annoyance.
Kolrson slammed his hand down on the table in front of him. “Who are you? Get out of my house! Guards!”
Eruviel drew out her dagger as she attacked Tjorn. “Do not worry, gwador. You will be buying me dinner on the trip home, though.”
Eirikr pulled himself up on the pillar. “Eruviel, I thought you were staying with Ninim!” he gasped.
Tjorn parried and counterattacked with skill. He was no cheap mercenary, but a trained guard bought from the Dalish army. “Watch your head, now, pretty lady,” he taunted as he swung toward her thigh. Meanwhile, Karl, recovered from the blow, walked around her to seek an opening.
Eruviel continued to fight Tjorn, hardly giving him time to block her blows. “She is safe! Hence my coin-purse being empty.”
Eirikr kicked out his foot to trip Karl. As the man landed, Eirikr grabbed at his sword fallen beside him and raised it to strike. Too late, the man caught his wrist and caught him in a grapple. They rolled over each other and Eirikr gritted his teeth as he released the sword to slam his fist down into Karl’s face. “You did what?”
Tjorn, a man with an athletic build beneath his armour, kept up with Eruviel surprisingly well. He was unable to press an advantage as he was in full defense mode. On the floor, Karl’s head swam as Eirikr punched him again and again. Two more guards appeared in the doorway looking bewildered.
Practically screeching, Kolrson pointed at the fight and ordered, “Kill them! Kill them both! Make yourselves useful for once and kill them!”
Eruviel glanced over to Kolrson as she pressed Tjorn harder, changing her footwork. “Now is not the best time for details, Eirikr.” She moved to trip Tjorn, hoping for a chance to draw her bow.
As Eirikr looked up to see the guards, Karl’s right hand worked at the wrist sheath beneath his sleeve. In one blind, but swift motion, he jabbed it the arm pinning him down. With a yell, Eirikr dropped his sword and grabbed his bicep.
The new guards bore spears and hesitated only a moment before charging toward the fray. Kolrson took the opportunity to run for the stairway leading to the upper wings.
Tjorn, thrown off by Eruviel’s fancy footwork, fell into her trick and tripped to the stone floor. His sword stayed firmly in his grasp and he swung it at her even as he fell. Eruviel leapt away from Tjorn and cast her dagger across the room to one of the charging guards. The dagger missed the far guard by a hair. He and his partner paused to exchange glances and started to approach with more caution. From the ground, Tjorn reached out for Eruviel’s legs to trip her in turn. She attempted to shift her footing, thrusting her sword down towards his outstretched arm. The guards scowl as the Elf’s strike nearly severs the man’s arm off.
Eirikr threw himself forward as Karl tried to toss him off. He ripped the dagger from his arm and slammed his fist into the guard’s face once again. The man’s eyes rolled back as he lost consciousness.
Eirikr regained his feet with his sword in his hand. He shot a glance at Eruviel. “Though this might now be the time, I do wonder who it is who is with her.”
Tjorn, being rather torn, rolled on the ground clutching his bleeding arm. Eruviel picked up the bleeding man’s sword, and turned to face the men armed with spears. “The young lad, Hari? Him, the waitress I befriended, and a soldier both Hari and Ninim approved of are taking turns watching her. No one knows where she is, and I bought up all the rooms on the top floor so she should not be found out.”
Across the room, the guard stare at Eruviel in wonder. They exchange looks.
Eirikr gave her a shake of his head and advanced with her. “You never cease to amaze me, systir.”
Eruviel snickered. “It is difficult to protect two people in separate places.” She then narrowed her eyes at the guards. “Are you going to stand down, or do want to trade me a sword for your spear before we start this?” she asked matter-of-factly.
The guards looked less seasoned than the other two. One gulped. “Um, perhaps…Mister Tenorbekk don’t pay us t’ face no Elf.”
Eirikr smirked and looked over to watch Eruviel’s response. Shel nodded to the two. “A little coin is not worth your lives. If you fight me I cannot guarantee that you will not end up like him,” she gestured of her shoulder, “or worse.”
They exchanged glances again. “By golly, Jossr, let’s get out of here. I ain’t int’rested in killin’ no She-Elf t’night.”
Eirikr stated, “You aren’t interested in losing a limb or dying tonight, you mean. Now stand aside so we can find my brother.”
Eruviel gave the guards an almost motherly smile. “I had hoped not.” She then nodded in agreement with Eirikr.
The guards backed up, though Jossr seemed less inclined to stand down. “I dunna think we should let you inta th’ house, Mister Tenorbekk. So why dunna you jes’ walk away. Save ev’ryone tha trouble.”
Eirikr shook his head no. “I am here for my brother. You will stand aside, or you will face us. Make a choice.”
Jossr stopped and shook his head. “I can’t let you in, sir.” He lowered the spear in a defensive grip in front of the door.
Eruviel adjusted her grip on the two swords, shifting her stance as she looked to the other guard. “Is this really what you want?”
The guard looked at his companion but was clearly not the leader. “Jossr?” Jossr glared over at him.
Eirikr rolled his shoulder and sheathed his sword. “So be it,” he said as he drew his bow and an arrow from his back. Eruviel nodded and followed suit. Bringing her bow up a blade mounted on the outer curve of the bow was made apparent.
The hesitant one saw the bows and backed up. “No, this isn’t worth it. Mister Tenorbekk can just take his coin back!” The man quickly retreated out of the door. Jossr watched him flee and turned back to the two archers, wide-eyed. “Uhhhhh…”
Eirikr nocked the arrow and pointed it at the man. “Come on, Jossr. Come and get us.”
Eruviel remained silent, her bow drawn as she kept her steady gaze on Jossr.
The last standing guard shook his head. “I will take my chances from over here.” He crouched with the spear at the ready and prepared to dodge the arrows.
Eirikr shrugged before he rolled his shoulder again. He raisedthe bow and loosed an arrow. Eruviel held for a breath, waiting for the guard to dodge before loosing her own arrow.
He could not move in time. The arrows penetrated his armour at the junction between breastplate and shoulder guard. “Aarsahsfhgggrrr!” Jossr screamed, but remains on his feet. “Come at me like a real man!” he challenged.
Eirikr watchedthe blood course down the man’s arm. Ignoring the taunt, he nocked another arrow. “Two more for you, Jossr?”
Jossr, driven by adrenaline, dodged. The arrow sank into the wall behind him.
Eruviel nocked another arrow and took aim. “Your friend had the right idea, young one.”
Jossr grinned and shook his head. “I don’t abandon my duty.”
Eruviel glared at Jossr. “We do not have time for this.” Loosing her arrow she leapt forward, gripping her bow with her left hand as she drew her sword mid-stride.
Jossr manages to dodge the arrow only to fall to one knee from pain. Eirikr drew his sword as well. Eruviel batted Jossr’s spear to the side and drove her blade towards him, intent on stopping a hairs breadth from his neck.
The man froze so that the blade barely brushed the skin of his neck. He did not even have time to raise his spear.
Eruviel narrowed her eyes as she held steady. “I suggest you drop it.”
He dropped it with a clatter and sank back to his haunches. Eirikr came up to him and smashed the hilt of his sword into his skull, knocking him out.
Eruviel rotated her jaw around to one side, looking at the guard before moving to retrieve her dagger from where it had stuck in the wall. “Shall we?”
Eirikr nodded. “We shall.” He led them out of the hall deeper into the house and up to the second floor.
A cool draft wafted through the dark room. No, it is not so dark. A trickle of light seeped in from the lantern hanging one door down the hall. A soft white beam from the moon rimmed the window and a faint orange glow from the fire on the edge of town danced along the ceiling.
Eruviel sat in one of the two chairs in her smaller room, her feet propped up on the second as she sat watching the hall. She had left the door to her room cracked open to keep an eye on the hall. Eirikr had finally returned, having been let in from the back by the barmaid Eruviel had befriended. She could only hope that after all this time, and after everything both of them had been through — especially Ninim — that they were able to reconcile.
“You are all right, then? Not harmed?”
“Nothing that I cannot recover from. I cannot believe you are here. I have waited for so long.”
“I know, deore. Please forgive me for taking so long.”
“But you found her? Your sister?”
“Anya is…different. Than the girl we know, that is. She has touched a different realm and I fear some of the people she has involved herself with are dangerous. They make me uneasy. There are a few who love her and will protect her with their life. She is fortunate, the little whelp.”
“You should not call her that, Eirikr. She is a grown woman.”
“You know as well as I that she is hardly grown. She ran away from home for goodness’ sake!”
“Eiri, she had reason. And she will learn.”
“She will end up hurt, or worse. She is playing a game and does not know the rules. But I don’t know. I could be worried about her over nothing.”
“You do worry, my love.”
“I spend most of my time worried about you. And I had good reason to do so. Ninim?”
“Will you be honest with me?”
“Of course. Always, Eirikr.”
“Did he touch you? Is the child–”
“Ninim. Don’t cry. Please don’t cry.”
“Eirikr, please. I-I can’t — I couldn’t stop him. I tried, I swear to you I tried.”
“Shh. Ninim, please don’t cry. I am sorry I wasn’t here to protect you. I’m sorry, love; please don’t cry. He won’t hurt you any more, I promise.”
“Y-you killed him.”
“I had to. You understand that. You do.”
“I just–just tell me the child is mine, Nin.”
“You left so quickly. There was so time…he was here the night they took you. Not here. There. At the house. Oh, Valar, our house–”
“Nin, I am sorry.”
“Eirikr. The house. Our home.”
“We will rebuild, I promise. We will have a new home. Land. There are lakes in Bree. And trees. We will have quiet. Peace. And a family.”
“A family. A real family.”
“If the child is not yours–”
“Then we shall find a good home for i-what was that?”
“He kicked. Or, at least, he tried. There is not much room for him to move.”
“That was…that was the child?”
“He just kicked my hand. I just felt him kick. He kicked me.”
There was a long silence.
“Our child just kicked my hand.”
“Eirikr, I told you I cannot know…”
“Our child, Ninim. He- he is a part of you. That, well, that makes him a part of me, too.”
“No, Nin. Hush, love. I will protect you and him. Both of you.
((edited – somewhat rushed and poorly – from chatlogs for tense, continuity and clarity))
((Update: 7/11/14 – revised for less suck))
The moon was waning as it rose over the lake. Eirikr stood in the shadow of the large tree across the road from the Tenorbekk cottage. Inside, a light shone through the window. The shadows danced on the wall as he watched for Sten to emerge and leave for the tavern. He craned his neck as he peered from the shadows. “Maybe he is not going tonight,” he murmured softly. “Why hasn’t he left yet?”
Eruviel stood silently, watching their surroundings and the road from the darkness behind a tree further into the woods. She frowned, looking to the house before she started to turn and peer into the night behind them.
Eirikr followed her gaze. “Do you hear something? What is it?” His anticipation stretched his nerves as the minutes tick by so slowly.
Eruviel flexed out her hand in a silent command. “I don’t know,” she breathed, careful to not let her words carry as her eyes narrow, piercing the shadows around them. “Calm, gwador. Do not let your stress run away with you.”
Eirikr turned back to watch the house. “I have not seen her in months, Eruviel. I can only imagine what she has been through since then. My father did not send a kind and loving companion for her.”
Eruviel shot him a pitying look before she turned her eyes back to their vigil. “You will have her back, Eirikr, in a few hours at most. And then we can be rid of the filth that ‘guards’ her.”
Eirikr shot her a grateful look. Suddenly, a woman’s cry and a crash came from the house. Eirikr, without a moment’s hesitation, sprinted for the door, his cloak billowing out behind him like a ghost. “Ninim!” he called.
Eruviel whirled around to pursue him, looking wildly about as if expecting to be ambushed.
Eirikr threw his shoulder into the door heedless of anything beyond. The light from the interior spilled across the lawn as he practically fell inside as the door gave way. Eruviel followed, drawing her dagger as she ran up the steps. An arrow flew past her, slamming into the rough planking of the cottage. She nearly ran into Eirikr as he stopped half in-half out of the house. Sten stood facing away from them as Ninim cowered on the floor with her back to them all. At the noise, he whirled and drew his dagger from its sheath at his side and held it up defensively.
“You,” he sneered.
Eirikr glanced at Ninim and the broken earthenware beside her. “Me. You bastard, don’t you lay a hand on her.”
Eruviel quickly assessed the situation as she pulled out her bow and an arrow. Shooting Sten a dark glare, she looked back out in the direction the first had flown from.
Sten moved to stand directly between Eirikr and Ninim. The woman peeked around, wide-eyed, and stared at her husband. “Eirikr?” she said as if she could not believe her eyes.
He nodded to her. “It’s me, Nin. I’m here.”
Outside, another arrow flew toward Eruviel’s silhouetted form. The Elf grabbed the door, wrenching it over, using it as a shield. As soon as the thwap sounded she reemerged and loosed one arrow then another in the direction of the attacker.
Sten waved the dagger in front of him, as if taunting Eirikr. “Why don’t ye show ‘im the surprise, Ninny.” He stepped back to grab Ninim by the hair and drug her backward. With a cry, she fell to her backside and clutched her enormous stomach.
There was a cry in the darkness as Eruviel’s second arrow hit true. It was nothing compared to Eirikr’s cry of astonishment. So this was what the boy spoke of. Eirikr paled as his mouth went dry. “Nin…”
Behind him, Eruviel’s mouth curved in a smirk at the distant cry only to be jolted by Eirikr’s. Turning to look back, her smirk vanished and the air deflated from her lungs as she saw Ninim.
Sten laughed loudly as he crouched beside Ninim. He held her back against his chest and purred, “Ninny Nin look a li’l different than ye last saw ‘er? Awe, come on, boy. Come give yer wife a kiss.” His eyes on Eirikr, he licked the side of her face as she cringed but did not pull away.
Eirikr clenched his fists and mouthed, “How?”
From the darkness outside emerged two men, one bleeding steadily from his arm and dragging a sword through the dirt. The other ordered the man to the left as he moved to the right; he too bore a weapon: a club as thick as a troll’s left leg.
Eruviel’s knuckles turned white as she gripped her bow. Seeing the two men out of the corner of her eye, her eyes turned a shade darker. “Do you have things here, gwador?” she asked in a chilling tone.
Eirikr gritted his teeth and growled, “It is my home. Of course I have things here.” His eyes glared at the man caressing his wife as his fingers flexed near the short sword at his side. “But only one matters.”
Ninim whimpered in Sten’s grasp. “Eiri…”
Sten pulled her to him tighter. “Come and get ‘er, boy. Give me an excuse to gut you.”
Eruviel looked back at him, hesitating as she leaned her bow against the outer wall. “Right. I won’t be long,” she said quietly. Drawing her sword, her thumb played over the black string wrapped around the hilt as she descended half-way down the steps.
The men approached warily, prepared to lunge if an arrow came their way. They grinned as she set down her bow. As they approached the half-way mark to the door, Club gave a shout and both charged, Swordarm’s battle cry slightly less enthusiastic than Club’s. Eruviel pulled out her long dagger with her off-hand, waiting, ready as they charged at her. Club dodged in first and whipped his weapon toward the side of her head. In an attempt to flank her, Swordarm continued around her left side.
Eruviel dropped under the club as it flew across where her head had been and sliced out with her sword at Clubs legs; her eyes flicked over to the second man.
The force of his swing carried the attacker in a half circle as he pivots on his foot. He let the momentum carry him around to raise the club in a swift upswing. Meanwhile, Swordarm raised his sword with both hands as the blood ran down the dirty fabric of his shirt. He left himself exposed as he slashed down.
Eruviel jumped away from Club, lunging at Swordarm. Raising her dagger to block his weapon, she thrust her swords towards his chest.
Swordarm grunted as the blades penetrated his flesh. He raised his blade with one hand in a feeble attempt to thrust at her side. Meanwhile, Club wheeled back to watch his comrade fall, disbelief on his ugly features.
Eruviel left the sword in him and grabbed his raised arm as they fell into the yard, her hand holding the dagger and ready to stab him once they landed.
As the Elf-maiden dealt with the trouble outside, Sten ran the tip of the dagger down Ninim’s cheek. “Don’t you want yer wifey, boy?”
Eirikr stepped forward as he started to draw his weapon, his eyes cold.
Sten pressed the tip into Ninim’s cheek, drawing blood. “Keep on comin’, boy. I’ll give ‘er to ye in pieces. Make it last longer.”
Eirikr stopped as he saw the spot of red on Ninim’s pale skin. “Let her go. Face me like a man.”
As Sten focused on taunting Eirikr, Ninim’s hand reached for a jagged piece of the earthenware scattered across the floor. Her fingers strained as she tried not to pull away revealing her purpose.
With a quick flit of his eye, Eirikr noted Ninim’s movement. He said to Sten, his deep voice rumbling, “How much did my father pay you to babysit a woman, Sten? What, are you too old for the caravans any more?”
The man grunted and pulled Ninim tight again. “‘E paid me well enough. Plus, I got to feast on some nice, succulent flesh every night.” As he leaned over to lick Ninim again, the movement was enough to let Ninim get a grasp on the scrap. She brought it up quickly and jammed it in his face. With a pained, ferocious growl, Sten released her and clutched at his nose. Ninim scrambled away beneath the table as quickly as her belly would allow.
“Bitch!” Sten spat out. Blood spatters the tile floor. “I’ll deal with you later.” He eyed Eirikr and laughs. “Still scared, boy? Or does your woman have to finish what she started?”
Fuming, Eirikr hesitated just long enough to see Ninim escape to safety before turning on Sten. He lunged forward in an attempt to stab Sten in the stomach, but the delay allowed the man to regain his senses enough to raise the dagger toward Eirikr. Sten lowered the hand covering his face – an eye was badly damaged and his nose clearly broken and bleeding inside and out. Sten parried the sword with his dagger, directing it toward the wall. As he turns away, he slashed up catching Eirikr across the cheek.
Outside as Swordarm landed in the grass, a cloud of dust billowed up around him. Club took the chance to charge forward to slam the club down into the back of Eruviel’s skull. Eruviel rolled off of Swordarm, taking her sword with her. The club rushed down at her and grazed her cheek as she flung herself to the side. Crying out, she leapt to her feet and retreated back to the path through the yard.
Club recovered from slamming the weapon into the ground. He turned to Eruviel, cracking his neck with a jerk. “Pre’ty li’l Elf. Come play with me, She-Elf.” He raised his fist and motioned her forward with the club raised in the other hand.
Eruviel spat a bit of blood to the side as she flipped her dagger around in her hand. Switching her footing, she stepped to the side, eyeing the large man, smirking at his words. She tilted her head in a feigned thoughtful motion. “You’re too tall to be my playmate,” she said as her steps bring her closer to the front stairs. “We will have to cut you down to size.”
Grinning, Club leapt toward her without grace. He swung the club toward her aiming for her head. She jumped back, dancing around him to find a more advantageous opening as her eyes flicked for a moment to the house. Club placed both hands on the club and licked his lips in anticipation. Soon, he grunted as he began to tire. His swings were slower but still bore much brute strength behind them. Finally, he feinted to Eruviel’s off-hand side.
Eruviel dodged, thrusting her sword to his open side, not bothering to check to see if she struck him before prancing back out of range. The brute bellowed in pain. He clutched the wound for a moment before charging recklessly.
Eruviel spun to the side as he drew near, dropping low to slash at his leg with her dagger. He crumpled toward his injured leg and she planted her feet, slashing at the man’s hand still clutching the club. It dropped and he howled like a wounded animal, throwing a beefy fist toward Eruviel.
She stepped easily outside his punch and swiftly came up beside him to slash her sword under his raised arm. The man fell to his side and howled again in pain. He glared up at Eruviel with hatred. “Filthy Elf,” he spat out as he groped for his weapon.
Eruviel jumped at him, her sword aimed at his side and dagger ready to block. “Oh, no you don’t,” she growled. At his side, the man grasped the end of the club and pulled it to him to get a better grip. She shifted her footing at the last second, stomping down on his armed hand with one foot and slamming the hilt of her sword into the side of his face. He groaned and reached feebly but his hands found nothing.
Eruviel did not hesitate as she swung her dagger up, towards the side to the man’s neck.
As Eruviel battled Sten’s henchmen, inside, Eirikr switched sword hands and crushed his fist into Sten’s face as he let out a roar from the pain of Sten’s dagger. Righting himself, he followed through with a slash with his off-hand. Sten staggered and shook his head. He barely managed to evade the slash. Stumbling across the room to several swords leaning against the wall, he grabbed one and whirled on Eirikr swinging wildly. The huntsman parried each swing that Sten threw his way. On his back, his quiver bounced against his bow. “I should have put an arrow in your eye last night!”
Sten sneered as he attacked vicously. “Coward, ye are. Never could follow through.” The tip of the sword sliced through Eirikr’s sleeve drawing blood.
Eirikr ignored the pain as he took Sten’s moment of selfish triumph to press his advantage. He switched his stance from defense to offense and landed a slash across Sten’s chest. The man gasped and staggered back to one knee. His hands desperately tried to hold the rent flesh together as he glared up at Eirikr. “Yer father underestimates you,” he grunted through the pain. “He coulda trained ye nice for all his dirty work. That Watcher woulda been no problem for ye.”
Eirikr returned the glare and asked evenly, “What Watcher?”
Sten grinned, blood staining his teeth. “Watcher yer father sent me to kill about a decade ago. Hardest kill I ever made. Smart fella. Was on to the dealin’s boss had with the wainriders.”
His eyes betraying his uncertainty, Eirikr approached Sten slowly, his sword pointed at him. “My father would not deal with wainriders. You lie.”
The downed man laughed and then coughed up more blood. He fell forward to his hands and knees, blood dripping to the cold stone floor. “He would. And does. They promise him stature and wealth after they conquer this little shithole and Dale.” He laughed again even as it caused the blood to gush out faster.
Eirikr stepped up to Sten, sword raised. “Take your filth to the grave, worm.” He started to lower it when Ninim shouted from under the table, “Eiri, no!” Surprised, he froze and looked back at her. Sten took the opportunity to hurl a knife hidden in his sleeve at him. It sank into his thigh and he let out a cry of surprise and rage. As he struck out, Sten knocked his sword away and launched himself at him with his remaining energy. Without thinking, Eirikr reached back to grab an arrow; as he brought it forward, Sten impaled his neck on the barbed point with a gurgle of shock.
As Sten sank forward, Eirikr stumbled back and let the body fall. Each beat pumped more blood from the wound in Sten’s neck and chest. As the man’s life ebbed away, Eirikr turned to comfort his wife. Ninim crawled to the edge of the table but looked toward the door. “The Elf,” she said in a worried tone. Following her gaze, he nodded and rushed to the doorway as quickly as the knife in his leg allowed. Behind him, Sten exhaled his last breath, his glossy eyes staring at Ninim as she sat beneath the table, swollen with child.
Eirikr watched from the doorway as Eruviel stabbed the brute. From the outside, his expression was indiscernible as he is back-lit by the firelight. Inside, Ninim stared at the blood pooling behind him and when he pulled the knife from his thigh, she finally started to sob.
Eruviel quickly landed a second strike to make sure he’s was dead before she stood, her chest heaving from exertion, and kicked the body over. “You feast of wolves,” she muttered in Sindarin, wiping the blood off on his shirt before looking up to the house and Eirikr.
Eirikr breathed heavily from the exertion. “Eruviel?”
Eruviel stepped over the large corpse, striding across the yard to the house. “It is done, Eirikr.” Taking the steps two at a time she stopped beside him, frowning. “You could be worse for wear, I suppose. How — how is she?”
“I-” he looked over at her and immediately hobbled to her. He collapsed beside her and took her up in his arms. “Ninim? Ninim, it’s me, I’m here. Ninim, I’m here.” He stroked her hair. “He’s gone, my love. He’s gone.”
Eruviel looked down with a cold expression at Sten’s body, nodding more to herself in assurance as she saw the arrow in his neck. Glancing over to the reunited couple she began to search the cupboards for a clean sheet.
He looked over at Eruviel with extreme gratitude. “The other men. You handled them both exceedingly better than I did Sten if we went by injury alone, my friend.”
Eruviel pulled out a sheet, promptly tearing it into long strips. “I can only assume you let him dialog, brother,” she quipped with an amused smile. “I had shot the smaller man before, but I was fortunate the big one lacked dexterity.”
Eirikr watched her tear the sheet with a slightly amused grin beneath the pain. “He did talk. He always was full of himself.”
Ninim looked up from his chest with tear streaked cheeks. “Eirikr…what do we do now? We cannot hide this. Half the town surely heard the yells.”
Eirikr looked down at her and then up at Eruviel. “We must leave, Nin. Do you think you can travel?”
Eruviel walked over and knelt next to him. “Hold the end down,” she instructed as she began to bind Eirikr’s leg.
Before Eirikr can do it, Ninim reached out and held the end in place. “I think I can,” she said to him. “Where are we going?”
Eirikr sighed. “Ninim, we need to leave the Dale-lands. It is not safe here any more.” A question hangs on his tongue, but he bit it back. “We are going to go get Abbi and we are going to where I found Anya.”
Eruviel smiled kindly to Ninim, nodding as she wrapped up the wound. She assessed the woman and her bulging belly, checking for any injury.
Ninim’s eyes widened. “You found your sister? That is what he wanted? Where?” Her cheek was bruised from where Sten struck her, but other than that she seemed healthy, if tired and stressed.
Eruviel tied of the bandage and stood, leaving the linens behind with a look at Eirikr’s arm. “I am going to bring the bodies inside while you two work things out,” she said with a concerned glance out the window.
Eirikr sighed. “Bree. Of all places in the world, she found herself in Bree. Such a little hole in the wall, really.” He nodded to Eruviel. “I have an idea of what we can do.” Giving Ninim a look, he said, “We need to burn the house down.”
Eruviel nodded with approval, offering Ninim an apologetic smile before stepping back out into the night.
Ninim looked horrified at the thought. “Eirik, how could you say such a thing? This is our home!”
Eirikr replied slowly so that she would fully understand how serious he was. “Nin. My love. There is a dead body over there. Two more will soon join it. It is enough to hope that a rain will come to wash away the blood. As long as I have you, I can live anywhere. My life is you, Ninim. But we must leave Esgaroth.”
Eruviel grunted with effort as she dragged the larger body through the door. “By the Valar,” she grumbled, letting the corpse fall a short ways further in past Sten’s.
Eirikr frowned as he watched Eruviel struggle a bit with the bodies. His face showed how much he wanted to help her, but how much he knew he wasn’t in much shape to do so and really didn’t want to let go of his wife. “Do you understand, Nin?”
Nodding slowly, she whispered loudly enough for Eruviel to probably hear, “Do you think those things he said about your father were true? That he works with the wainriders and had a Watcher killed?”
Eirikr glanced up at Eruviel. “I do not know, Ninim.”
Eruviel ‘s step faltered as she walked back to the door. Glancing over at Ninim, then Eirikr, she continued on to retrieve the club and the smaller man.
Eirikr struggled to his feet and helped Ninim up. “I need to you pack. We will take the wagon and head for the Silver Reel. You will stay with Eruviel and I will meet you outside of Dale in three days, all right?”
Eruviel dragged the other man further in still, leaving the club by him. “That’s the last of them,” she said quietly, dusting off her hands. Looking up she nodded reluctantly. “I don’t like you going on your own, gwador, but I understand how plans have changed.”
Ninim nodded and waddled off to go do as he said. He watched her disappear into the bedroom before turning to Eruviel. “I trust you with my life, systir mine. Once I retrieve Abbi, we will leave via the route through the Lonely Mountain.”
Eruviel nodded curtly. “I will wait for word from you. Do not fret for her, Eirikr.”
Eirikr smiled wearily and rested a hand on her shoulder. “I trust you with my life,” he repeats. “And she is my life, Eru. I know you will keep her safe.” Looking over his shoulder toward the bedroom, he added, “I will wait for you two to leave, and then I will set the flame. She needn’t see our home burn. I will then meet you at the inn and leave for Dale as soon as you are settled in.”
Eruviel gave him an encouraging smile, resting a hand on his arm. “I will see her safely there, Eirikr. Do not worry for us. Just be careful on your way.”
Eirikr nodded as Ninim came bustling out of the room. She hurried to the kitchen and packed some cookware and mess supplies. Once she was ready, Eirikr packed the wagon under the cover of night and watched as Eruviel drove away.
The tension in the air lingered as Eirikr left the inn. She watched him as he strode away, a considering, neutral expression carefully fixed on her face. For a brief moment she thought she saw a shadow follow after her friend, and she thought about making pursuit but not all the tension left with him. There were still a number of patrons in the inn and if any of them had been watching every move she made would be scrutinized.
Sitting back in her chair Eruviel twisted her mouth as she watched the door of the inn for another minute, drinking slowly from her ale. Licking the moisture from her lips she glanced around with a casual air. No one looked her way at the moment. Downing the last of her drink she rose to make her way towards the innkeeper. Carefully winding around the filled tables she silently thanked…
A light from the window illuminated the sparse lawn in front of the Tenorbekk cottage. It stood at the end of a dirt lane on the edge of the town where houses sprung up on the banks near the forest. Eirikr stood in the shadow of a large oak tree across the road and watched the front door for an hour before a man emerged and shouted something back inside before slamming the door shut. As he walked down the path to the road leading to the town, he whistled out of tune.
Eirikr ducked back behind the tree; he did not have to look to see the man would have been handsome except that his features were sharp and cruel. He knew them well; any time his father needed something “taken care of,” Sten showed up in the parlour in his dirty shoes and cap. The first time he saw him, the man was barely a man: he was a lad of seventeen who already had an air about him that gave six-year-old Eirikr an uneasy feeling. When his cold blue eyes settled on the boy, his grin caused Eirikr’s heart to skip a beat from fear. Kolrson Tenorbekk gave Sten orders to guard a particularly large sum of money being used as bait to trap a shopkeeper that had been skimming profits.
“You will go unnoticed and then strike if necessary,” Kolrson had said.
His father had not blinked an eye when Sten reported the shopkeeper had stumbled into his knife and was dead.
At the end of the road, a man joined Sten and they laughed loudly as they clapped each other on the back. As they disappeared around the corner, their raucous conversation echoed through the fading evening. Eirikr bet that they were heading down to the pub when he looked around the tree toward his home. Every fiber of his being wanted to go inside and embrace Ninim. He could hardly breathe he craved her touch so much; instead, he turned and followed after Sten relying on the man’s voice to lead the way.
He managed to trail Sten and his buddy to a seedy tavern near the northern docks. He waited outside for half an hour before deciding he should not keep Eruviel waiting any longer. With his gaze still on the door of the tavern, he started to turn and head down the alley.
A boy half his age went tumbling to the boards of the road.
“Hari! What are you doing here?” Eirikr reached down and hoisted the boy to his feet as he pushed back his hood.
Hari ducked his head and mumbled something Eirikr couldn’t quite catch. Eirikr knelt to level his eyes with his. Hari repeated his words but kept his eyes on the ground at their feet. “Ma told me to watch fer ye. She dinna think ye were dead like that man said.” Hari lived two houses down from him and Ninim. His father Harek often hunted with Eirikr and his mother made the best venison sausage in Esgaroth. Ninim loved to learn from the other woman and they often spent many hours cooking together.
“Your mother told you to watch for me? Tell me what you know, Hari.” Eirikr spoke in a whisper with his finger to his lips. His eyes darted to the tavern across the alley.
“That man ye followed here,” Hari said quickly, “he said ye died in the Mirkwoods. That he were ye cousin from Dale and he were here to take care of Missus Ninim. But all he does is yell at us kids and throw up in the garden. He-” the boy looked up briefly and turned red, “-he isn’t very nice to anyone, Master Tenorbekk. Not even Missus Ninim.”
Eirikr nodded. “I know he isn’t, Hari. I am here to make sure he goes away.”
Hari’s eyes brightened as he looked up at Eirikr. “Ye are? How are ye gonna do that?”
Eirikr took a deep breath. “I am not sure about that yet. But he is here because Missus Ninim is here. If I take her with me, he will leave, too.”
The boy ducked his head again and Eirikr could see his cheeks darken. “I dunno if the Missus would be able to go anywhere, Master Tenorbekk.”
“What do you mean, boy?”
Eirikr did not mean to sound so cold that the boy took a step back.
“I-I shouldn’t say, sir. It isn’t my place to say.” Hari took another step back and started to turn. “I should get home, sir. Ma will start to worry as it’s after dark.”
Eirikr caught Hari’s arm and held him firmly. “Hari. What did you mean?” he demanded with what he hoped was calm authority instead of the panic he felt inside. “Is Ninim all right?”
Hari shook his head and said, “Y-yes. I think so. I promise not to tell Ma yer back. She’d just make a big fuss over all of it, anyway.”
Eirikr looked at the boy for a moment. “Hari, I do not know what is going to happen over the next few days. I want you to stay away if you can, though, okay? Play down in the square or go into the woods. Go fishing with your father and then stay inside at night.”
Eyes wide, Hari nodded and Eirikr finally released him. “I promise, Master Tenorbekk. Just…just you take care of Missus Ninim, okay!”
As the boy ran off down the dark alley between two merchants’ homes, Eirikr stood and watched him. He looked back at the tavern where Sten drank with his associates and then raised his hood back over his head and started back toward the nicer part of town.
* * *
Eirikr stepped inside the Silver Reel and scanned the common room for the familiar face. Eruviel sat drinking at a table well to the side of the busy room and he made a beeline to the chair opposite her. He kept his hood up as he sat trusting in her instinct and Elvish senses to keep his back.
Eruviel looked at him expectantly. “Well, mellon?”
“You look comfortable,” he noted instead of answering her implied question. “Did the men in the square shed tears when you bought trousers instead of skirts?”
A dark brow arched over her green eyes. “You better order a drink, gwador, before your empty hand brings a tear to the barman.”
Eirikr smirked and said, “He knows my face; perhaps you should buy it for me.”
Rolling her eyes, she pushes her drink toward him. “You have news. You best be ready to share when I return.” Eruviel stood and patted his shoulder as she passed him to go order another drink.
Eirikr took up the mug and savored the house ale. He missed the bitterness of the pale lager Ditmar brewed and the cool finish revitalized him.
When Eruviel returned, he looked up at her with sincerity.
“I was followed. There is no need for concern, but my pursuer did provide some insight.”
Eruviel glanced toward the door. “Is he here? Where is he?”
With a shake of his head, he brushed aside her concern. “I sent him home. Hari revealed Sten’s presence is unwelcome by all, but he also said that he did not think Ninim would be able to travel. He would not say any more.”
Her eyes wrinkled as she frowned. “Do you think she’s ill?”
Eirikr tried to maintain a neutral expression. “It is hard to say. I did not see her when I trailed Sten from the house to a tavern on the north side. I hoped to – I won’t lie and say I did not. But the evening would be the best time to strike if he has a habit of spending his time with the dockworkers.”
Eruviel nodded. “I had an encounter with some lovely young men in the market. It seems your farrier friend was correct; trouble is brewing in Lake-town. We need to be cautious.”
Nodding, he downed the rest of the drink and passed her some coin. “Get a room here. We can bring Ninim here to regroup; they would never expect us to do anything but flee as soon as we extract her.”
Again her brow arched. “Are you sure? Wouldn’t that allow your father’s men to return to him?”
Eirikr dipped his head. “Yes. But he would never believe we would not run. He would never believe we would try to get Abiorn nor would he guess you have business in Dale that needs tending.”
She nodded slowly, her eyes never leaving his face. “You think he would send pursuit away from Dale, leaving him vulnerable.”
“If we are lucky. I hope he will realize the trouble is not worth the coin.”
“And what of you? I assume you don’t intend on staying here.”
He shot a glance over his shoulder. “No. I don’t think it’s safe for me to do so. In fact, I should head for the woods now. I tomorrow night, I will meet you on the north side of the square…” he trailed off as he felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. “Do what you will until then.” Before she could protest, he stood and strode away from the table. Sticking to the edges of the room, he made his way to the door and quickly ducked out into the street. He walked briskly to the east toward the bridges to the shores. The feeling of being watched did not fade as he ducked down shadowy shortcuts trying to lose the tail.
It wasn’t until he crossed the bridge and neared the shadows of the trees did the sound of something whistling through the air warn him of the knife. He spun to the left and stooped to his knee as the blade whizzed past and struck the trunk of an evergreen. The thud of boots storming near alerted him of his charging attacker. Instead of rising to meet him, Eirikr stayed low feigning injury. As the man reached for his neck, Eirikr burst to his feet and knocked him off balance. As he fell, the attacker kicked out at Eirikr’s knee. He only just managed to dodge the impact, but the movement it took caused him, too, to fall in a heap on the grass.
The moonlight flashed off the dagger pulled from a sheath beneath the man’s arm. Before he could get a grip on it, Eirikr slammed his fist into the man’s mouth. His knuckled bruised against teeth and in the back of his mind, he mused that they were probably torn. He rolled, dragging the man with him. The momentum caused them to tumble over one another until his attacker sucked in a cry; Eirikr pulled back and saw the knife in the man’s neck. The blood pulsed from the wound, pooling beneath the man’s head and soaking into the ground beneath him.
Scrambling to his feet, Eirikr wiped his mouth with his swollen knuckles and looked down at the dying man.
“Who are you?” he demanded.
Choking on his own blood, the man possessed the audacity to laugh. Flecks of red flew out from between his lips and spotted his dirty shirt.
“Y-yer wife s-says hullo,” the man managed to articulate before he started drowning on his own blood. Eirikr watched the blood slow to an ooze with each pulse of the cretin’s heart. He would not have the luxury of bleeding out quickly. No, it would be a slow death.
Gritting his teeth, he reached down and pulled a third knife from the man’s belt. He had helped the passing of animals he hunted. He knew how to end suffering quickly and with mercy.
His fingers flexed around the hilt of the knife and he slowly raised it as he stared down at it. It was long – more a dirk than a dagger. He turned it over and stared at the carving of a wagon wheel in the dark wood.
“Where did you get this?” he asked. He did not need to. It had lain in a chest beneath Ninim’s wedding gown. His hand tightened around the hilt and he dropped to his knee beside the man. “How did you come across this weapon?”
The man looked as though he wanted to laugh again. Eirikr seized the front of his bloodied shirt and pulled him up.
The man’s eyes started to glaze.
“No, damnit, where did you get this?”
The man went slack as he lost consciousness. A growl of frustration escaped Eirikr as he sunk the dirk into the man’s chest with both hands, sending him – and the answers to Eirikr’s questions – to the beyond.
((edited from chat logs for tense, exposition, and continuity))
Mirkwood was as miserable as ever, but Eirikr took them north along the Great River and found the traces of the Elvish path so they did not have to cross through the forest the long way. Straight across, not horizontally from southwest to northeast, he thought. Besides, the Anduin was refreshing after such a long time in Moria. The sun on the rapids helped dispel some of the shadows that remained from the caves. The journey through the dark forest remained uneventful – the incursion of the Galadhrim pulled the attention of much of the evil in the woods and their path remained relatively clear. When they emerged on the edges of the forest, they could see far in the distance the outline of the mountain in the northeast; down the Forest River, the waters merged with the Long Lake and Eirikr could almost smell the scent of fish from where he stood. He breathed deeply; he was nearly home.
They bought passage across the waters on the small boat of a farrier Eirikr knew from Esgaroth. Tyrvi was a jovial man in his late forties who spent little time on land. He inquired about the hunting as of late and the troubles in Esgaroth and Dale due to raiding Easternlings.
“Bold as brass they are!” he exclaimed as they sailed through the fading evening. “I tell you, Master Tenorbekk, things ain’t right in the land. Trouble’s a-brewin’ and we best be wary!”
Eirikr and Eruviel exchanged glances. The troubles in Bree-land were not isolated then. The enemy grew bolder not only in the north, and with more than one front, the free peoples of Middle-earth would be the worser for it.
But how would these tidings influence his goal? Eirikr knew his father often traveled to the East. His trade thrived on it. The exotic fabrics from the Men of Rhun, the imports from farther south since the Easterlings often worked with the Men of Harad…
The last of the sun’s beams stretched fiery streaks across the horizon as they stepped from the boat and onto the dock. As Eirikr paid the farrier, Eruviel found herself walking up the weathered boards toward Esgaroth. She set her stern gaze on the town ahead of them. “It is all so foreign,” she said quietly as he joined her side. Looking over to him, she asked, “What is the plan, gwador?”
Eirikr looked over at her and chuckled. When he first heard the Elf call his sister “oselle,” he hardly knew what to think. But then united by the need to save Anya’s life, Eirikr was able to see how Eruviel loved his sister as her own. Then, soon after, he became “gwador”. And finally, he was grateful for a sibling who could take care of herself.
“It is not so foreign, really. Just another town full of men.” He looked ahead and pursed his lips. “I am truly not certain of our next step, though. I envisioned bursting in and carrying Ninim away to safety, but now that we are here, I do not think that would be wise.”
His companion wrinkled her nose slightly, a small smile cracking her expression. “I will go along with what you think is best, but would it be better if we avoid prying eyes?”
Nodding, he agreed. “Most likely. The farrier spoke of the Eastern threat. There is more trouble here than perhaps we bargained for.” They crossed a side street and took a narrow alley between a row of houses.
Eruviel ‘s eyes darted around, searching for nothing in particular, taking everything in. “If we could only figure out if there was a time he would be away to allow us time to sneak in and get her out.”
Eirikr grunted. “Perhaps in the evening. Or if he had another assignment from my father. I suppose it just depends on the current business needs of the caravans.”
Eruviel ‘hmm’ed’ quietly to herself. “So we are running blind.” Her head tilting to the side, she offered him a smile. “What would he least expect? Us walking up to the house asking what time dinner is served?”
He laughed, a rather loud and surprising sound that echoed off the stone walls of the buildings. “I suppose that is always an option. It would certainly catch him off guard. We should probably observe him for a bit…make sure he is the only one. He rarely is, though. He is a coward and a sneak and I doubt he has left his back exposed.”
She could not help but grin at the sound of the laugh. “I am rather good at observing,” she chuckled. “And it is not as risky for me to be seen and to talk to the townsfolk. It might be wise, on the other hand, for you to stay hidden as much as possible.”
The sun had set fully and the shadows cast by the light from the passing windows cloaked his expression as he looked down at her. He nodded after a brief moment. “More than wise. I know how to lay low and avoid being seen. Be aware though: an Elf here would gain some attention. They are not as common since Dale has been rebuilt.”
They paused at the end of the alley and the light from a tavern fell upon his face. Eruviel studied him, nodding. “I have some coin on me. I will procure more appropriate attire before I look about. An Eldar lady in armour is bound to draw more than just notice, and I hope to keep my dress nice for Dale.”
Eirikr smirked as he nodded. “You will find something easily in the trader’s market. This place still has the heart of a market town; if you hurry you may find someone still peddling.” He gave specific directions with landmarks and street names where they had one. “There is an inn just north of the square. Nicer than,” he gestured across the street. “I will find you there.” He pulled his hood up and nodded to her.
Eruviel returned the nod as she let her cloak fall around her, concealing her armour for the most part. “I will see you then.”
Eruviel nodded curtly as she nocked an arrow. Looking ahead to the rise she stepped forward, Eirikr moving with her. “Retrieve as many of your own arrows as you can,” she said quietly as they took advantage of the cover afforded them by the boulders and darkness of night. “It will not do to return the sentinels their arrows and leave our own behind.” She did not want to admit she felt a little bitter at them being initially denied access to Lothlorien. They have their reasons, and we would have had to fight the orcs anyways, she told herself. A dry smile curved up her mouth as her eyes pierced into the shadowed distance. Only ten arrows.
Ducking behind a small growth of trees Eirikr peered around the trunk at the nearest lumbering orc. Exchanging looks with her he slid out into the open, loosing his…
The long darks of Moria were more lit than the last time Eirikr had been through. Even so, the paths seemed more dangerous. The lamps cleverly reflecting the light often allowed the enemy to find easy targets or disappeared from the trail without warning, destroyed or stolen. Eruviel and he often lent their bows to the protection of the caravan and progress was slow despite the Dwarven presence at the many holds along the way. Between the Twenty First Hall and the Second, the paths were more often patrolled by goblin than Dwarf. On the fifth day, Eirikr had found himself grinning with satisfaction as each arrow he loosed hit true. Eruviel commented casually about his improved aim, but her eyes twinkled with her satisfaction. In his mind, Eirikr heard her unspoken words: I told you so, heruamin.
Nonplussed, he smiled as he gazed across another gaping chasm impeding their way. A narrow, but passable, bridge had once extended across the dark expanse before him. Now, all that remained were jagged remnants of that bridge and Brogur informed them the Dwarves were forming a new path around the gigantic crack in the stone. More delays. They did not plague him as they once did, though. He knew every step, not matter how slow, was taking him closer to his goal.
Right now, it was getting out of Moria. He was tired of the dark and reflected light. Tired of wondering if the next ambush would be orcs and goblins or something even more sinister. Tired of the echoes and tired of the feel of stone. Green. He wanted to see something green and growing.
Nonetheless, as he stood at the broken bridge, he smiled. The sight inspired awe, as so much of the Dwarven architecture did and he kept his spirits up by admiring the work of hands from Ages go. Man in all his pompous grandeur could not hold a candle to the stonework of the Dwarves.
The caravan began moving out; Eruviel rode up beside him leading his own mount.
“Ready, heruamin?” she asked softly.
Nodding, he strode over to her and took the offered reins. “It is unfortunate the bridge is down. I cannot imagine how marvelous it was.”
Eruviel mirrored his nod. “I agree. It was a sight to behold. Perhaps they will rebuild one day.”
They rode in comfortable silence with bows and arrows across their laps. The bridge had once joined the Second Hall with the First, but now a narrow footpath barely revealed itself along the edge of the chasm. Carefully, they picked their way around and finally found solid footing on the other side.
Norlin directed his wagon beside them once the road widened. “Master Eirikr and Mistress Eruviel! Ye ready for the sun?” the portly Dwarf quipped.
Eruviel smiled and said, “I do think the feel of its warmth is long overdue.”
“Hopefully, it will be daylight when we emerge out the East Gates. If not…well the Mirrormere is no less stunning by the light of the stars.” Norlin shifted on his bench and dropped the reins long enough to light a pipe. They turned down a passage lined with towering columns on either side. “Won’t be long now ’til we’ll see for ourselves.”
Eirikr turned from the columns to peer down the long passageway. As they drew closer, he began to make out the East doors out of the mountain guarded on either side by axe-wielding Dwarves.
“At last,” he murmured.
Slowly, with much clamouring, the caravan made its way out of the kingdom beneath the mountain. They left the rented goats with the Dwarves at the Eastern Stable and trailed after the last wagon, alert and ready. When finally they stepped over the threshold, Eirikr felt the cool air on his face and he breathed deeply. He looked up at the sky.
It was indeed night, but Norlin had not misspoken. As Eirikr walked down the steps and approached the Dwarven camp established outside the doors, his breath was stolen by the sight of a million stars twinkling in the crystalline surface of the lake. Leaving Eruviel behind, he made his way through the Dwarves stirring at the arrival of visitors and found himself at the edge of land and water. He turned back and looked at the mountains. Celebdil loomed and the door soared. A full moon sank over toward the peaks and again, Eirikr smiled.
Goal: get out of Moria? Achieved.
* * *
“What do you mean, they won’t let me in?”
Eirikr stared at the stablemaster incredulously. Thalamb, an extremely stern-featured Elf with his light brown hair knotted carefully on the crown of his head, stared right back.
“We protect our borders with the utmost care, Master Tenorbekk. And while Miss Aranduin may have…some connection with our people, the times require extra caution.”
Eirikr tried to surpress the indignant huff in his lungs.
“There must be something we can do to win the trust of the Lord and Lady, yaaraaer,” Eruviel politely interjected.
“The path between here and the Golden City is dangerous,” Thalamb answered cryptically.
“What about the caravan? Why are they allowed in?” Eirikr asked. He ran a hand through his coppery hair and looked over his shoulder at the wagons and goats.
“I assume they have permission. A delivery, perhaps. It is not my concern.”
Eruviel placed a gentle, but warning hand on Eirikr’s arm. “Yaaraaer, I beg your pardon, but is there nothing we can do to prove our loyalty to the Lord and Lady?”
Thalamb turned his dark brown eyes on his fellow Elf. “There might be. There are several orc camps between here and Echad Andestel. They will be a problem for the Dwarves. Prove you do not serve the Enemy and bring ten spent Elvish arrows each to Celeguien. That will be a start.”
Eirikr blinked. “Elvish arrows? What would Elvish arrows be doing in an orc camp?”
The Elf gave Eirikr what could have been a glare if glaring at Men was not so far beneath him. “The sentinels of Lorien do not allow the Shadow to spread unchecked. Supplies are limited, however, and the incursions come quicker than our fletchers can replenish them. Every arrow is valuable. Every arrow recovered is another dead orc.”
Eirikr met the Elf’s gaze without wavering. “Then recover them we shall. Eruviel?”
He turned and quickly trotted after the caravan. Eruviel took the time to bow low before she backed away to follow him. He barely tried to suppress the snort and had an inkling the self-important Elf heard it.
“Eirikr,” Eruviel said as she caught up with him, “I know the stable master seemed…haughty, but what he speaks is true. The Golden Wood rarely sees visitors for most people feared Lady Galadriel.”
“Hm. Yes, they call her a witch and kept their distance from the borders.”
Eruviel raised a brow. “You do not fear her, then? Despite the legends?”
The pair quickly passed the caravan as it slowly lumbered down the road. As they crested a slight rise in the land, the first orc camp reported its position with the rise of shadowy black smoke. Eirikr nocked his arrow and dropped low. Eruviel turned to gesture to the Dwarves at the front of the caravan and a quiet word spread quickly to halt. “Four, five.” He counted beneath his breath. “At least five patrolling. It is heavily guarded.”
“It will be a challenge, indeed.” Eruviel strung her bow beside him and looked up at him. “Are you ready, heruamin?”
Nodding, he softly responded to her previous inquiry: “No, sister. I do not fear legends when what is before me is worse than any terrible tale spread by ignorance. But I am ready to shed light on the shadows and dispel the fear.
Eruviel sat leaning back against the stone pillar, twirling the arrow between her thumb and pointer finger with the fletching whisking against the pant of her left knee. She had already counted the stalactites hanging from the vaulted ceiling as well as the sparks that had floated up from their now smoldering fire. Several merchants and travelers, still talked quietly a short ways away and she eavesdropped on their softly spoken conversations, wondering who best to join.
There were several dwarves headed to the Lonely Mountain, but few of them seemed . . . congenial enough for her to risk spending the time to earn their trust for them to open up to her. There was a stern, self-important merchant with a Gondorian accent who would be of no use to her, and then there was the Barding that appeared to be relatively new to the trade. Norlin had just…
Ninim Tenorbekk knelt by the shore of Long Lake as she scrubbed out the week’s laundry in the fading twilight. Her lithe body moved awkwardly beneath its burden; her back ached and she was hungry. She had aged beneath the weight of her house guest. He took too much. Used too much. And after eight months of his attentions, gave too much as well.
She wrung out the last of Sten’s shirts and hated the fact it was not her husband’s. As she tossed it into the basket, she cut off sob that threatened to escape her throat. No. She would not fall to pieces. She would not fall to pieces. She should not fall to pieces. Eirikr would return and together, they would end the time stolen from them. They would reclaim their lives, rid themselves of the parasite, and start new. Start fresh.
Standing, she braced the basket of wet clothes against her hip and held on to it as best she could as she waddled toward the backyard where the drying line stretched between two trees. The sob threatened to loosen from her throat where it lay like a chicken bone, choking and painful. How could they start new with this…this thing growing inside her? The first time Sten pushed open her bedroom door, she thought it was a dream. Indeed, the entire evening seemed fragmented after they had eaten dinner. The bruises on her wrists the next morning and the scent of him on her bedsheets were the only signs that her memories were no mere dreams.
When she started watching her food and drink, robbing Sten of the opportunity to drug her, it only led to a harsher waking world. He did not care when she fought back. In fact, he seemed to savor every slap he laid across her face until her head was swimming enough to staunch her resistance. She learned quickly to accept his attentions in order to protect herself from physical harm. Every night, her spirit suffered all the more.
As she hung the clothes in the dark, she longed to sink into the earth and dissolve into nothingness. She worked when no one could see her, for even when she was complacent, he still sometimes hit her for the fun of it. No one would believe the bruises came from his hand. Sten quickly made friends with the neighbors, spinning tales of half-truths involving Eirikr’s family emergency and a sense of duty to protect his “sister-in-law”. If anyone questioned why he had not gone after the wayward Tenorbekk himself, Sten would laugh and say, “I am no fighter! The Mirkwoods scare me to death. No, Eirikr knows the trails and the ways to survive on them. It’s all I can do to help around the house until he returns.”
With the last shirt hung, Ninim gathered up the basket and headed for the house. She braced her hand beneath her bulging belly and hesitated at the back door. Closing her eyes, she felt the baby within her stir. It tried to stretch without much success. It was crowded in there.
Her eyes still closed, she leaned her head against the rough door. Eight months he had been terrorizing her. Nine months since Eirkir had left for Bree. Her letter must have reached him. It had to have reached him. He had to be coming right now to silence her fears and to love her again.
He would love her, no matter what. Holding this in her heart, she shifted the basket around her pregnant belly and lifted the latch to face her life.
The Hollin Gates closed behind them, the air reverberating from the thud echoing through the vaulted chamber. Eruviel had no intention of turning back, and though she knew it to be irrational she felt trapped in the dim light of Moria. The caravan moved further into Durin’s Threshold, and Eruviel pushed the ridiculous notion of claustrophobia out of her mind as she looked around the great space with a small, familiar smile. She had a number of positive memories of this place, and she chided herself for already failing to take her own advice.
“Are we going to walk the whole way, or are we able to procure goats to carry us through?” said Eirikr, smirking as his question snapped her out of her thoughts.
“Of course, my friend,” she nodded, being careful to conceal her lingering discomfort for the cave. “The week here would be more uncomfortable, and seem…