She wouldn’t tell a single person about this part of the trip even though it was the most exciting.
There was nothing in Trestlebridge except ash and mud. While Rush tramped about seeking his calling, she spent most days distracting the boys around town with coy smiles and giggles, but many had a hard time seeing through the man’s shirt and breeches she wore. Every night she met Rush by the stables and together they’d trudge up the hill where they made a camp meager in all things save the view; the Trestlespan straddling the canyon was still breathtaking even if the town that shared its name was not.
It had been misting most of the day, but the afternoon saw the skies open with a cold rain that soaked through heavy cloaks and carried the weight of a long winter ahead. Even now, the mud and cold added a special excitement to Rush as he learned how to please and be pleased. They added to the normality that the act had become but it was different this time also because she felt that somehow, she knew. She knew he was inexperienced, and for all his casual certainty in his clothes, there was that hesitant fumbling about him now that he was out of them and it made her smile and enjoy him even more.
No, she wouldn’t tell a single person about this part of the trip.
The ladies at the Mantle would surely gossip about Lina schooling a youngster and then the bosses would catch wind and coin would be expected. And even though he offered to help pay for the time she stole from her work before this bit of entertainment was proposed, she had refused his money. She wasn’t going to take a single coin and she wasn’t going to tell anyone.
Though she did not know why.
As the rain continued to fall and their fire died down, Lina arched over Rush and kissed his mouth. He tasted and smelled of whiskey and pipeweed. Such smells for a seventeen year-old boy.
Snow had a way of silencing the land for leagues in all directions that it lay. It’s weight could bring down a roof, yet it fell so calmly from sundropped clouds and settled on Cwen’s shoulders as gently as a lover’s touch. The crystals nested in her dark hair and clung to her lashes causing her to blink at the vision of Fiddler’s Falls half-frozen in its perpetual cascade down the cliff’s side. Even the song of the waterfall seemed dampened beneath the heavy blanket of white.
After the new year, she resolved herself. After the new year, we will return to Buckland and things can return to something normal. Something easy.
She wasn’t running away, she told herself. She had no home here in Durrow and though Ravenhold was welcoming, the gardens were not hers, the beds were his, and the yard was a monument to someone else.
Did she really think she could find a new home here in the land of Men? The house she found with Rheb had been as perfect as any she’d seen in all of the lands of Men: an expansive yard begging to bear fruit and herb and bloom, the Dunwash flowing gracefully past the backyard. But Oendir owned it. Mathdor had lived in it. So many memories that wounded so deeply. In such a small village as Durrow, she knew she could not dodge their shadows forever.
And truth be told, she had unfinished business in Buckland.
The muffled cry of the Falls had no more answers than the Shire night sky.
Without feeling the cold, Cwen sank into the snow and fell back, heedless of winter’s fingers slipping into her collar. As she stared up at the cloudy sky, fluffy flakes began to descend and she made no effort to move as they slowly began to sting the exposed skin of her cheeks and mingled with her icy tears.
Snow came cold and fast in the mountains and held on long into spring. A long, black shadow strode through the breezy flakes of ice toward some unseen purpose. It traveled its path as if it hardly needed eyes to find it and soon, it disappeared around a frozen outcropping.
The cave was illuminated by a central fire and low torches along the smooth, almost circular wall. Parmanen dropped down to his knee beside the fire and added several dry logs from the large pile stashed there in warmer times. The man sighed as he stoked the flames and wiped his brow. Fire.
A sound at the entrance of the cave caught his attention and he turned quickly, his old eyes tired. A head of beautiful raven black hair ducked to avoid the icicles over the entry and Parmanen sighed again as his daughter entered from the cold. Wordlessly, she stared at him as she assessed his reaction.
Stepping further into the cave, Lômiphel finally spoke.
“Expecting someone else, Father?”
Parmanen shook his head and tossed her the bag he carried over his shoulder.
“There is food in there. Eat. We will not stay in these caves long.”
The woman caught the bag against her chest and glared at the man. “Where are we going? Rantost is north. We can rebuild. Get back what we lost.”
“What we lost is not north, my daughter. But we must proceed carefully. In the land of the halflings, we would stand out. The red-haired one revealed they had made friends there, thinking information was what we sought. No, we must take the Hills further east and then past the old capital of Arthedain.”
“This is madness,” Lômiphel spat. “If you are who you say you are and have betrayed who you claim to have betrayed, this will only end with our own, Father. You cannot stand against the power in the East.”
A scoff and a flip of a hand greeted Lômiphel.
“I mean not to challenge the Dark Lord himself, silly girl. I merely wish to take back what I lost. If in the process, some of his enemies are destroyed, the Great Eye will surely see the profit in my actions.
Yes,” Parmanen said as he covered the wall of the cave in a sheet of ice. From the smooth surface, mountains rose, and forests grew, and then rivers cut across the lands of Eriador.
“They are here, somewhere,” he said as he stared at the map of ice and stone. “They cannot hide it from me.”