Smouldering Fire: The Beginning of an End of a Beginning

The fist connected firmly with his jaw; he could feel his bottom teeth loosening from the impact and liquid metal filled his mouth. Anger seethed into the warmth of the hit and flowed through his blood to his clenched fists. Wildly, he swung at his assailant who merely laughed as the blow swung wide of its mark.

Another set of knuckles winded him as it met his stomach, quick and sure. He tottered backward and fell over an extended leg, the stonework of the lane connecting solidly with the back of his skull. Bright lights obscured his field of vision and the boot broke two of his ribs undeterred.

“Thought we’d play a little ratcatcher tonight, Tenorbekk,” Mikah said from somewhere above him. “You fell nicely into our little trap.”

“C’mon, he’s not getting up any time soon,” another voice, familiar but faint through the ringing of his ears. “Watch’ll be ’round soon. We had better scram!”

“Don’t come back to the room,” Mikah warned lowly as Eirikr tried in vain to turn onto his side. The blood in his throat made it difficult to breathe and he coughed and gagged. “Don’t come back the the Academy, Tenorbekk. Your kind is never welcome, but rats are to be stamped out for good. Mark me. Brother.”

Footsteps retreated and he was left in the dark still choking on his own blood. Stabbing pain shot through his torso as he finally managed to roll onto his side and then his stomach. He drooled spittle and iron from his gasping mouth, but he did not care when every breath felt like fire.

For a long time, he lay there still and struggling to breathe. At the far end of the lane, he could hear people passing on the brighter wider street, but the beams of the streetlamps did not reach his broken form. To keep his mind off the pain, he counted his breaths until it passed enough to move. Slowly, he sat up.

He touched his broken lip and clutched at his broken rib cage and wondered what in the world he was going to do. He could not go to his father’s. He was supposed to be at the school where he had spent the last two years learning how to fit in with the “noble classes” of Dale. Yes, he thought, Mikah was certainly noble. Royal, even. A royal pain in the ass, and now his roommate’s mischief had landed Eirikr without a bed for the night.

Nin, he thought as his feet automatically turned to trudge down the lane away from the square, away from the bustle of taverns and inns awaiting at the far end of the lane. Nin would let him in through her window and she would let him pass out on her floor. She might even bring him a pan of water to wash the blood out of his mouth.

The trek was not long, but his battered body made it feel as though he was marching all the way to the other side of the Mirkwood in one go. He used his shirt, torn blue material of the finest quality, to wipe his mouth and chin. He awkwardly climbed the yard fence–landing on his back and nearly crying as he tried to regain his senses–and then stumbled to her window to tap tap tap on the pane of glass.

She let him in quickly, gasping and groping at his arms and hands to see the damage done. She brought him the pan of water and bandages to wrap his breaks in and a bit of her mother’s tonic for pain made from the special Eastern powder of something that had been dried before ground to fine dust.

She did not let him collapse onto the floor, but instead fetched her father’s spare nightshirt (sneaking quietly into her parents’ room while her mother dozed by the fire waiting for her father to come home from the tavern). She helped him out of his torn clothes, bathed him with cheeks bright pink in the moonlight, and then eased the cool cotton garment over his aching body.

As the fabric whispered over the bruising plane of his chest, her knuckles brushed against his tan skin; her breath caught. Her blonde hair fluttered in the cool breeze from the window left open after his abrupt arrival. She looked up at him and their lips were touching before he could formulate a thought more than Maia, the old Elvish word for those spirits that helped shape all beginnings, and then Arien, the one they said guided the sun across the sky.

Her warmth surrounded him; he could feel the life returning to him. She was his guiding light in the dark.

~~~***~~~

Nine Years Later

Eirikr sat up, sweating and gasping. He looked around quickly to gain his bearings and he rubbed his face with both hands as he realized where he was.

The cabin was cavernous; suitable for a family of Beornings. The children slept in their beds and Garric and Avina were closed behind their bedroom door. In his cradle, Eboric slept soundly.

Eruviel was not in the room; Eirikr figured she was sleeping outside in a tree somewhere and for the moment, he was glad her Elfy ways called for her to sleep beneath the stars. He did not like for her to see her this way. He did not want her to see him panicked, confused, and weak.

Silently, he threw off the blanket and went over to the cradle. He gazed down at the boy and marveled at how much he looked just like her in so many ways. The boy’s hair was lightening as he aged. He didn’t dare to hope.

He ran a hand through his hair and stroked the bristles on his chin. He had struggled with the decision all day and he knew that if he did not follow through, he would regret it. Silently, he slipped out of the house and sought the old oak tree by the light of the moon.

He felt it before he saw it. Something in him chilled, but before he could adjust to the internal shift, a gate burst and a rush of hot, raw emotion flooded him. He willed his feet forward until it was clear in the night: her grave.

He went up to it and knelt beside it. Eruviel had clearly been there earlier, though he could not tell when. The plot was cleared and the headmarker clearly taken care of by a diligent and careful hand. Guilt washed over him. Eruviel. Even in this moment, Eruviel selflessly cared for them all.

The stars moved across their quiet routes as he knelt beside the grave without moving. Head bowed, he allowed himself to miss her for the first time in months, ages. Yet he knew that was a lie. He knew that every day, he mourned for golden hair and the smell of peppermint.

“Nin,” he finally croaked softly. “My Sun. I am sorry.”

He touched the letters of her name as the tears blurred his vision.

“I failed you. I never should have left you.”

Salty pools formed at the corners of his mouth as his tears caught in his beard. He wiped them away roughly.

“I should have returned sooner, I should have told my father no. I was selfish and because I pushed you so hard…”

The words jammed in his throat and he could say no more. His grief stooped him until his forehead pressed against the grass covering the mound that was the blanket for her bones. He wanted to join them. He had always thought they would turn to dust together and share the same bed for eternity.

Maybe they still would some day.

But not today.

He sat up, wiping his eyes, and took several steadying breaths. He looked up at the stars and the moon. He exhaled quickly.

“I hope that taking him to Bree is the right thing to do,” he said to her softly as he pushed himself to his feet. “I do not know what the future holds, Nin, but I will not let you down again. I am here now.”

The trees bowed in the breeze. Insects sang in the bushes. He settled down against the trunk of the old oak tree and began to tell her what had transpired in the past year and a half. He spoke as if she sat beside him, snug beneath his arm and they were spending the night out camping beneath the stars. He paused occasionally, waiting for her response, and then continued on as if he heard her sweet laughter encouraging him to continue.

Eventually, the past caught up with the present and he ran out of things to say. He sat in silence for a quarter of an hour and then as if a bell rang signaling the hour, he stood and brushed off the seat of his pants.

“We’ll be back,” he assured the green mound of earth at his feet. “I’ll make sure he knows who his mother is. Don’t worry about that, Ninim Sun. Don’t worry about that.”

The moon was sinking when Eirikr returned to his bedroll. He rested on his back and stared at the ceiling for some time before he rose and picked up the mass of blankets. He resituated them next to the cradle where his wife’s son slept peacefully and reached over the edge to rest his large hand on the babe’s chest. Eboric sighed in his sleep, turned his round little head toward Eirikr, and settled back to into slumber.

Only then did Eirikr rest his head and drift off into a dreamless sleep.

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Emergence

Most Men find the air beneath the Mountain stifling at best. It hangs upon you like a damp cloth and if you breathe too deeply, it is easy to forget that eventually you have to breathe out again; your lungs will never be full.

The rush that lifts you when you finally see the stars again is weighty and light at the same time. The air fills your head all at once and your shoulders relax as if the weight of the dark is finally lifted, but then the great expanse of sky floats there to remind you that all the troubles you forgot in the long dark are still waiting patiently for you.

We grow nearer every day. The river separates us from the trees and then we will arrive at their house and there can be no turning back from that moment. I can only move forward from here.

So I put one foot in front of the next. I follow her shadow on the ground before us. The sun will set on another day and we will wait for its light to lead us come morning.

~~~***~~~

There is nothing wrong with me. So I cannot hear the spirits as easily any more. So?

I am happy and I am choosing to be happy and I will not let things get me down. I will visit him this Thursday, I think. My dagger will protect me from any wights. Sadron will be glad to have someone to talk to.

He is not gone. He is only sleeping.

I will take care of him still.

~~~***~~~

I am used to being alone. How could I have expected anything different here in Bree? It was too much for him and far too fast. I should have known better than to hope things would be easy.

Regardless, I will not let this set me back. I am strong and I am intelligent. I can find a way to make a life for myself here.

I don’t need anyone. Only myself.

Good morning, Bree. Here I come. What have you to offer me?

~~~***~~~

It was only a kiss.

And a manifest.

And a card or two.

Men aren’t worth the time, really.

Neither are women.

It was only a kiss.

Nothing’ll come of it.

It’s just news.

And a ship.

My ship.

Just a kiss.

Will-o-Wishes

Life flickered throughout the small hamlet of Durrow-upon-Dunwash. In the middle of the settlement, high on the hill, the Fallow-flame filled the sky with its light. Sparks flew high in the air and the smoke burned white as those that attended the flame added fuel gathered with careful hands.

In the forest tiny glowing spiders scurried on through their lives. In the windows of the houses, candles burned like elusive wishes in hearts and eyes alike.

~~~***~~~

Thorns born of love and attentive care. Her blood stained the sharpest prick and she was careful as she threw the clipping from the rose bush into the flames.

Spirits around us, watching over: protect my family and friends. And let Morty know we are all right. He would not let it show around me, but he will worry.

Stepping back, she smiled at her little family and tried not to feel the hollowness of her contentment.

 ~~~***~~~

Questions born of strength and knowledge. He was getting better at using his sister’s paints to create the rash; the dogs lay wrapped around each other as they slumbered against his leg.

I wish to know my past. Please, just tell me who I am. Help me find out who I am.

He toyed the with black claw hanging from the cord around his neck and listened to the wind in the trees.

~~~***~~~

Bright eyes born from youth and burning firelight. Her dreams and wishes rose on the smoke rising above the roofs of the hamlet.

Please make Mister Commander Arrow’art be nice to my mama and make her be nice to him, too! I really, really want him to by my daddy, please, please, pretty pretty please!

She smiled at her make-shift family and tried not to feel the empty spot inside her.

~~~***~~~

Hesitation and doubt born from hours of self-council. The feather had found its way into his pocket without him realizing he picked it up, a habit formed from years of hand-crafting fishing lures and scouting the wilds for suitable hackles and tails.

Let her be at peace. Let her hear my voice and let her know that I will fix my mistakes.

As he stepped back from the flames, his eyes fell on his sister and the Elf and he felt a pull in his chest that he could not identify.

Find peace.

~~~***~~~

Guilt and self-loathing born from her own heart. The hair curled and twisted in her grasp before she released it into the flames.

Guide him home safe and sound. Let it not be him; let him save us from this trap.

I would gladly give my life if it meant saving the rest of Durrow. If it meant letting him know I am sorry that I failed him.

The Fallow-flame

 I am sorry that I failed you.
Please, don’t put out the lights.

When Nightmares Come

Shadows loom in the dark of the mountain.

I am home, am I not? This looks like home. Only Erebor can cast such deep shadows. They swallow our gardens and kill many flowers. They wither and simply fade away.

There. The shadows are creeping up the grass to touch the bright flowers I tried to grow. Papa said it was useless. I am worthless as a gardener; everything I plant only dies. I try to hard to bring them back to life. I want them to grow, to bring butterflies and busy bees.

Eiri says to just plant them in the sun. But Mama says I cannot plant there. That corner is reserved for the gardener and the patio and the guests that wish to feel the magnificence of the Lonely Mountain without feeling so small.

Oh, look! It withers. The petals shrink and the leaves curl and no amount of love will ever bring them back.

I reach for the last bloom: a beautiful burgundy rose that somehow managed to open. The shadow nears. The outer petals start to close and I break the stem quickly in an attempt to sever it from the poison. The thorns draw blood. It drips too quickly and begins to paint the bare dirt beneath my feet. Shadows start to rise from the droplets of blood and as I back away I see the blurred shapes of Men and Dwarves and Elves.

They have come for me.

~*~***~***~*~

Eirikr rubbed a calloused hand through his beard. The nightmare came again. Ninim lying there, the naked, crying child still connected by the cord running from its belly into her. So much blood.

Like in so many of his dreams, suddenly he could not move. He could only watch as the blood rose up around her even as she began to sink. Her features twisted in pain and she called out to him, only no sound reached him from her. He heard only the baby’s crying.

Slowly, the pool climbed up her cheeks and he could feel the tears slide down his own. As the crimson filled her mouth and nose, the infant started wailing.

Do you hear me, Eirikr?
The beast bears our wretched whelp to the woods.

The book. Those words from the book were spoken in his head and the mingled with the screaming. He wanted to run, but still his arms and legs did not respond to his desire.

It was not this nightmare where he read the book. Why couldn’t anyone else see the text written in the book? He remembered it now: the book. Blood. He did not know what it meant and the details wouldn’t find their places in his mind.

A dream within a dream.

He stared at the child as the pool began to drag it forward by its cord. The terror in the child’s newborn face could not be disguised by the wrinkles and crust of birth.

He had to save it.

Him.

Wake up.

~*~***~***~*~

A faint feeling of foreboding stirs the sleep of a half-bred hussy
Beauty of splendor and secretive lies set a stage for the fine-bred and fussy.
She doesn’t fit in and she’ll never quite win
As her dreams fill with damaging mist
A sense of ‘gone wrong’ and a sad howling song
Keep her guilty whenever she’s kissed

Far, far away in a land made of death she dreams of a different touch
One that’s now gone and safe from her harm and thinks he won’t be missed much
But her dreams tell a tale and the winds blow a gale
And the warmth that she feels turns so cold
And when love turns to hate, it will open the gate
For the nightmares to come out of old.

Smoldering Fire: When She’s Gone

“I’m truly sorry to hear such news,” Eirikr said pensively to Hilton Wheatley as he set the coin down on the counter in front of the man. “I’ve never met Fletcher, but I’ve heard good things about him. He’s Oendir’s second in command of the Wayfarers’, isn’t he?”

Wheatley nodded and wrapped Eirikr’s purchase in heavy brown paper. “Aye. Good fellow. And the missus was a good lady. Smart and kind, she was.” The young man sighed. “The whole thing’s just tragic. ‘Cept, of course, the baby.”

Eirikr agreed, bade Wheatley a good day, and grabbed his package from the counter. He tucked his chin as the winter breeze hit his weathered cheeks and took long strides down the lane from Whitethorn & Wheatley’s. In front of the younger proprietor of the shop, he refused to let his appropriately solemn expression crack beneath the crushing emotion that hit him as soon as Wheatley said “wife died.”

Few people knew him well enough to know that back in Dale, he had been married to the most beautiful woman in all of Arda. That the moment he had met her selling bread at her father’s cart in the market, he had fallen for her and never wished to get back up. Even his brother and sister couldn’t understand why the smell of peppermint made him smile and a daisy could bring him to tears.

The brutal winter wind whipped his cloak about his calves, but Eirikr hardly felt it as he pressed on toward home. He didn’t want to think about her, not now, not ever, because it just hurt too much to think how he failed her not only with her death, but also by her child.

But how could he have cared for the infant in the wilds? In the mines of Moria, or even back in Bree without its mother there?

Sometimes, in the forest, he could hear him crying.

Eboric.

The letter that Eruviel had tried to give him at Yule had said the family had named him Eboric.

Crushing bands of steel around his lungs prevented him from taking a breath.

He did not want the child to have a name. He did not want to see how big his hand had grown or that his hair and eyes had not yet settled into their permanent colours. He did not want to know how strong or smart or funny he was and he definitely did not want to think of him halfway across the lands without him or his mother.

At the gate to the Tenorbekk cabin, Eirikr paused. Beneath his heavy mantle, the hairs on the back of his neck stood up and he felt the heavy gaze from across the road settle on him. Turning slowly, he found the glittering eyes in the trees.

“Grey.”

The wolf pushed his head forward enough to confirm Eirikr’s statement and withdrew into the shadows.

Eirikr hesitated only a moment before he crossed the road and plunged into the trees that bordered the land opposite his. A flash of a tail and a trail of fresh paw prints in the snow led him away from the warm fire of home and deeper into the woods. Clutching the package to his chest, he ducked branches and heaps of falling snow until he came into a clearing lined with pines.

Grey sat on his haunches waiting for him. As Eirikr approached, he simply stared up at him with his large, understanding eyes. They followed the man as he knelt in the snow and held his gaze.

“How are you, boy?” Eirikr said. He was surprised at the sound of his voice: hoarse and strained. He raised a hand to touch his cheek and among the cold streaks where snow had melted into watery streams, warm streaks mingled lukewarm on his skin. He didn’t remember letting them come, but they were always there waiting for him to finally face them.

He didn’t wipe the tears away and pressed his face against Grey’s. The wolf nudged him patiently to let him know he was listening.

“What am I doing, boy? He’s out there without family. How can I just ignore him? How can I do that to Nin?”

The wolf did not reply with anything more than a serene gaze.

“I can’t just forget him. Eboric. I can’t forget Eboric. But I miss her so much and it just hurts to even… What do I do?”

Grey pointed his black nose at the sky and let out a long, mournful howl. Then he nudged Eirikr’s arms where he held the package.

Looking down, Eirikr wiped his face with his glove and held up the package. “Just some trail rations,” he explained. “What, you want some?” He began to unwrap the package, but Grey gently pawed at his arm. The great wolf butted his head against the man and nearly pushed him over into the snow.

“Grey! Ho, there!” Eirikr threw back a hand and caught himself. “What’s gotten into you?”

Grey continued to shove Eirikr until he was knocked to his side and then leaped on him when he turned to his back. His heavy paws pressed into Eirikr’s chest as he stared down into the man’s eyes. Once he caught Eirikr’s gaze, he continued to stare, getting closer and closer, until Eirikr finally looked away.

“Fine! Fine, yes. I will write the family. But she’s gone and I don’t know when she’ll be back. She has the letter.”

Satisfied, Grey stepped from Eirikr’s stomach, being careful to launch from his tensed abdomen. The wind was forced from Eirikr’s lungs and he doubled over, glaring at the animal. But as the weight of the wolf lifted from his chest, Eirikr’s mind seemed to clear. Turning onto his side clutching his stomach, with the chill of the snow biting into his cheek, he let out a sigh.

He would write to the family that took in Ninim’s son. His son. He would promise to take care of him now that she’s gone.