Moving Forward

She could not help but grin. The boards beneath her feet were sturdy and polished. No sign of the scuffle remained. No drop of the scurvy traitor’s blood marred the smooth pine of the deck. The crew that defended him were imprisoned with him in a damp Gondorian cell and replaced (only with some difficulty). For now, the cargo hold was filled will crates of jarred fish the merchant needed shipping and she would serve.

But ultimately, nothing mattered more than the feel of the briny wind on her cheeks and the snap of the sail. The wheel felt comfortable in her hand and she was home again sailing along the coast beneath the golden sun.

~~~***~~~

“Well, it was not very thoughtful. You didn’t think, did you?”

“He insisted on accompanying me. He has lived in Bree all his life; I would have thought he knew what it was like.”

“Little whelp, most people do not go out cavorting with corpses and talking to spirits. The Bree-landers I’ve encountered are bloody terrified of the place.”

“Well, he does not want me to go anymore.”

“…Really, now? I don’t blame him. Surely he just wishes for you to remain in a much safer place than those ghastly tombs.”

“Well, that is what he said. He just cannot imagine what he would do if something happened to me.”

“That is an appropriate response to the place, I think. You are going to listen to him, aren’t you? Stay out of the Barrows? Anya?”

“I, well, I told him I would go visit him less.”

“Hmph. Well, that is a start. You need to keep looking forward, Anya. There is a lot of life to live. I think the grave-digger would want you to always remember that.”

~~~***~~~

Four weeks ago

She told him that she would stay at the house, but she couldn’t stay while he packed the things that he would take to his parents’ manor. She had fled out the window; she probably should have just taken the stairs, but she did not want to feel the dark emptiness of the streets at this time of night. She did not want to feel the emptiness inside of her festering as if each man that came to her took something of her with him when he left her lying there alone.

She wasn’t sure she’d go back to the house even when Pengail had left. He had bought it with his family’s money for their future together. Now what was left there but a cold hearth and a shrinking puddle from the rain.

Rooftops were never really empty. The heat of the living rose to warm the tiles and stone. Her footing was certain and light as she made her way to her cliff overlooking the docks. There she would go to think and dream and fall in love with Dol Amroth all over again.

She loved her city despite everything it asked of her, but how could she reconcile this? It turned on her, twisted her, and now he only saw her as a whore.

Mormerili. Black Rose. Courtesan assassin. Influential and devastatingly effective.

She broke her vow to the order when she married him because of what he gave her: love. A place to belong and a family.

She broke her vow to him because of what the order gave her: power. Power to stand up against the corruption and the darkness that spread through the city with every dawn.

And in the end, she was left alone in the shadowy night in a place where Hathlafel or Hallem would find her if she never moved again. But her husband probably never would.

If he ever looked for her again.

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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.

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.

What Keeps Us Awake at Night

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

~~~***~~~

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

~~~***~~~

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

~~~***~~~

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

~~~***~~~

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

~~~***~~~

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

~~~***~~~

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

~~~***~~~

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

~~~***~~~

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

~~~***~~~

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

What the Letters Say

What the Letters Say

Dear Rheb,

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

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

I hope you are well. We miss you.

With love,

Kwen

~~~***~~~

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

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

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

Wishing you and your city good health and happy days,

Cwendlwyn Tain of Bree
Field medic of the Wayfarers

~~~***~~~

Dear Callee,

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

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

All my love, darling,

Cwen

~~~***~~~

Dear Kupsa,

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

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

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

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

Write back! (if you can)

Your friend,

Abiorn of Dale

~~~***~~~

Dear cats that belong to my sister:

STAY OFF MY BED.

I know you can read this, you blasted lynx.

~~~***~~~

Dear Father,

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

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

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

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

Your daughter

~~~***~~~

Your excellency,

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

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

Kolrson, son of Sote

Dalish Charm: Try So Hard

The streets of Durrow were quiet of people; only dogs barked and crickets sang in the fields as they passed through town. Anya did not say much as Callumn vigilantly walked beside her. His hand extended toward her slightly as if expecting her to fall at any moment. On her other side, Oli trotted along silently. The lynx pressed his flank against her occasionally and she drew strength from the animal’s presence and loyalty.

She should be falling. She should be unconscious, famished from the vigil she kept over Morducai’s heart. Over Melchior’s heart. Over his heart.

The two figures in the dark turned from Long Street onto Chestnut and in short time they stood at the path leading to the Tenorbekk cabin. Hunger and thirst ate at the little energy she had left, but she waved Callumn aside with a thank you and a reassurance she could make it inside. She felt his gentle eyes on her back and, steeling herself, she made it down the path on her own, lifted the latch, and stepped inside to the chorus of loud barks.

Shocked stares greeted her with the more jubilant greetings from the pups. Oli did not follow her inside; he slipped away easily fading into the shadows cast by the light of the fire.

Abiorn was the first to speak. His playful admonishing for not taking him along on her adventure let Anya breathe a little easier. Her younger brother helped her to the couch and then started tea and fetched her some blueberries and honey.

Bear leaped onto the cushion beside her and tried to push his way onto her lap while Vahan sang his greeting at her feet. Eirikr spoke to calm them both, and soon the dogs both rested at her feet panting out their excitement as Anya tasted the sweetness of the fruit Abiorn brought her.

Neither brother asked questions, and she was grateful for it. She knew they would come, but when Abiorn started dragging out the tub they used for baths, she knew they understood. Both brothers went to check on Eruviel’s new home to give her the privacy she needed to wash away the Barrow Downs and its stench.

The water was too hot, but Anya stepped into it anyway. The flush of her skin made it seem like the blood was not hesitant to flow through her sore limbs and as she washed herself, she pictured the hours she sat in the ancient tombs as though she was watching someone else. Occasionally someone would come with drink and she sipped automatically from their hand like a babe, but never did her attention waver from the Star of Cardolan in her palms. Morty’s life was in her hands and she would not fail him.

She must have drifted to sleep because soon she was no longer in Durrow-upon-Dunwash, but in a large and lush garden in the backyard of a tall home in Dale. The judge’s son was there with daisies in his hand and a winsome smile on his lips and he leaned in for a stolen, secret kiss, but his eyes lightened as he moved in and their brown became blue and Aeron was breathing his wife’s name as he kissed her and she felt the heat in her palms as the fear of loss grew in the pit of her stomach and before she knew what was happening next, Morty was leaning over her and she was in the Keep of Tinnudir and he was stroking her hair.

When she awoke in her bed some time later, she tried not to feel embarrassed that one of them must have put her there. The night gown’s ties were open at the throat, but she was well covered and a mass of fur and flesh with two sets of feline ears made her legs hot. Sitting up, she looked out her window and saw stars still shining.

Quickly, she donned her robes and brushed out her hair. Her sleep, though it had been short, had refreshed her enough to recall no one had been tending his garden in the past three days and the roses needed tending to. She did not know when he would be back or if he would be back. She would tend to them. She would not let them die.ScreenShot00466

Her surprise when she saw a light glowing in Morty’s window struck her paralyzed for several moments. Cautiously, she went up to the door and slipped inside.

He was there. He was alive. Hallem and Raenarcam stood glowering, and Morty assured her Cal and Miss Lark were probably off safely home. The real exhaustion hit her then; once the silent worry was assuaged, the fear of losing him forever vanquished, all she felt was the need to sleep. He led her to his bed where she fell asleep.

She only woke once before morning when out of frustration he punched the wall. Her sleep was dreamless and peaceful in his familiar bed and she only regretted the morning because he was not there beside her.

Burrowing deeper into the warmth of bed, she smiled into the pillow just happy to be alive and to know he was alive as well. Soon her body demanded something more substantial than jerky or honey-covered berries, and she forced herself up.

Looking around, Anya realized quickly that she did not know her place there any more. There were no perishables in the house after his long absence; she would have to leave to breakfast and she was not quite sure she was ready to walk out of Morducai Mossfoot’s door for good. Waiting for him to return to force them both into their awkward corners again. No, it was time for her to step out of the shadows and make the choice for herself.

With a piece of charcoal, she wrote on a several pieces of parchment torn from her sketchbook:

Dear Morty,

I do not know where to go from here. I awake to a pale beam of sunlight and the smell of roses and I face a new day both with and without you. 

I had tried so hard to do as you wished. I did not know how. You picked me up, nourished my roots, and allowed me to blossom beneath your loving attention. Without you, I feared I would begin to fade away again and have only a shadowy imitation of life. After all, how could anyone notice me, the second child that was not a boy, but only a bigger disappointment with every move that she made?

Sadron said that he would not be surprised if I was a reoccurrence or recurrence or something like that. We had reached the barrow and I did not think to ask what he meant, but we had been speaking of the Dunedain woman who held your heart when you forged Steve. If I am interpreting his words correctly, I believe I was meant to find you, Morty, and you did need me as much as I needed you. I will always be here to hold your heart until the end of all things. 

What to do with my heart, then? My fea recognizes your fea and neither of us can do anything to stop that loyalty of spirit to spirit. But I understand what you want for me and why you pushed me away before. My heart is still mine to give. I do not take it back from you, but I will change its essence if that it what you need from me now. Through your love, my own has grown and while you keep the first bush, I will give a cutting to another at your behest and his love will help me take root elsewhere and continue to grow. For him, I put away my sadness and began to feel the warmth again.

I will be hard to see you and not embrace you. To pretend that I do not long to be with you, for I know that I will wish it for a long time after I leave this house. But I will try and I hope that long after I am gone and you and Sadron still stand guard over these lands, you will remember me. And perhaps one day, I will be able to hold your heart again should you ever need someone to do so.

Always with love,

Your Anyatka

She folded the parchment in half and rested it against the pillow. She looked around the small, tiny room, and crossed to the mantle where several trinkets still rested in the gathering dust of time. She picked up the small burgundy rose made of sea glass Morty’s brother had given her upon their first meeting and gently blew the dust away before polishing it with the hem of her robes. Beside it she placed the small silver bell her brother gave her when she was just fourteen and faced a world without his protection, and then she stepped back. She took a deep breath.

It was time to go.

The morning sun warmed Anya’s face as she wound her way through the gravestones and out to the Greenway and then south, back to Bree.

Flee, day. Give me night.

Useless

Two days ago

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

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

She was not afraid of the night.

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

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

Anything was possible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was all that she could do.

Yesterday

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

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

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

But just who was he?

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

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

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

For the light in the darkness.

~~~***~~~

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

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

“Twenty? He is twenty?”

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

“And what people say…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And the commander?”

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

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

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

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

“You think I am like that?”

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

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

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

“Yes, that is ideal isn’t it?”

“That look. Cwen, what is it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, shove off, Tenorbekk.”

“Good talk, Cwen.”

Blinded

Eirikr rode in silence. He did not want to look at his companions as he kept Kvígr close to Taja’s steed. He had given Pharazanû back to him after the man mounted up and he rested limply against the Lossoth. The gleam of the young man’s pale hair shone even in the fading light as they rode toward Lothlorien. The White Witch’s Wood. O, he tried not to recall the tales of the place as they drew ever nearer.

He had half a mind to stay with Langafel’s men at its border, but that would be cowardly. His place was with his company. His place was to protect his company, even if it was from themselves.

He had to hand it to Oen; the man had an interesting recruitment philosophy. And he knew that aside from Cwen and Eruviel, he hardly knew the other members. They seemed hot-headed and and quick to draw. And while at first everything seemed black and white, he began to feel that things were not quite what they seemed with the enemy. Still, he watched. He waited. He spoke only when he felt it absolutely necessary. And while everyone’s hatred for the sorcerers clouded their judgement, he tried to remain objective and true to his core beliefs.

After all, it wasn’t personal for him. He had met Atanamir a mere handful of times, and they were in passing. He thought the gentleman could make his own decisions, and he did: he chose the sorcerer.

He just hoped he would never have to kill him for it one day.

Still, there was a long road ahead to Lorien and things could possibly change before they returned. If the eaves of Mirkwood had taught him anything, it was you could rarely see what was around the next bend in the road ahead.

~~~***~~~

Zab's flowersHe did not see.

The nights when Pharazanû came to him burned feverishly in Zabathôr’s mind. Now as he stared at the letter in one hand and held the stem of the flowers carefully with the other, he pictured him lying beneath the coverlet with dozens of the tiny blue blossoms in his hair.

His chest tightened.

Was he getting too old for this?

Age was hardly an excuse. He had spent a mere half-century walking the paths of the Eye, give or take a handful of years. The journey kept his body healthy and fit while his mind stayed sharp. The only thing that had changed was that he no longer walked it alone.

Something blurred his vision as he tried to reread the letter Pharazanû must have left before they had marched to the Flame.

What was this?

He rubbed his eyes to clear his vision and his fingers came away wet. He had not cried since he was a boy of seven and his own foolish machinations had set his own hair on fire. A surge of anger welled in his chest now, and he grit his teeth as the air crackled with heat around him.

Zabathôr took several deep breaths and willed the flush out of his cheeks. He turned from his bedside table and went to the chaise where he pushed several books to the floor before lifting a leg to fall to the cushions.

He laid himself back against the support and thought about how much Pharazanû had changed in the past months. Ambition and drive to complete the Flame had not left much room for Zabathôr to contemplate matters of emotion. Emotion was messy. It was too complicated to deal with and made one weak. It was best left to the other side. The “free peoples.”

He read the last lines of Pharazanû’s letter and again it sounded like a goodbye. He thought of his last words to the boy, and he realized they had not been enough. As that wretched company took him to Lorien, they took him further and further from his grasp. He closed his eyes to block the fading light that bathed his chamber now that the shadow was gone.

He did not want to think about tomorrow when the Four Lords would be three, or even worse, halved. What would happen to them now that they were drawn and quartered? Would the Eye send them to the far corners of his empire as slaves to remind others what would happen if they failed? The gift of life seemed so new and precious to him suddenly. And was it such a gift if it meant living in torture as nothing but a mocking shadow of his former self.

The day will dawn and one way or the other, he thought it would bring freedom to his young lover in life or death. And with its light, Zabathôr realized he did not know the path before his feet and he could only stare out the window at the setting sun.

~~~***~~~

The bear was grumbling to himself. Of course, if anyone happened to pass by, his complaints sounded like growls and snarls and slobbery lip blowing. But he was complaining, though he knew no one would understand.

He just did not understand why Anya had asked him to stay up all night watching for the past week and a half. He missed the sun and the Broken Cask and the way the light sparkled on the lake. He wanted to go look for another beehive and eat the guts out of it.

Anya wouldn’t tell him why he was watching or what he was watching for, but so far it had been a stray dog (which Anya did not let him keep despite the big bear eyes) and several squirrels. Oh, and a rabbit. The rabbit didn’t like him very much and moved on from Anya’s small garden rather quickly when it caught scent of him.

Still, he’d watch. He wouldn’t fall asleep and he hadn’t really fallen asleep the past two nights. It was hard to stay awake with the sounds of the night lulling all around you. She had to understand that, right?

Besides, there was nothing to see.

He could be sleeping right now.

But then again, out here, he couldn’t hear his sister crying at night. Sometimes, he thought she’d make it without tears, but inevitably, he’d hear the sniffling and then the sharp gasp and he’d try not to roll his eyes as her feet hit the floor and she shuffled across her room to the opposite corner of her bed. Sometimes Sally Stitches would let out a plaintive meow or one of the dogs would bark, but after a few minutes, the bed in the other room would creak again and the room fell silent.

The bear huffed and turned his big head to gaze up at the stars. The light was growing at the tops of the trees and he slowly lumbered across the lane into the yard of the little cabin. The floorboards of the wagon creaked as he climbed into the back with the intention of changing back into his lanky self. But instead of a shimmer and a shift, there was a slump and a sigh and Abiorn fell asleep there in the wagon with the cover blocking out the first rays of the morning sun.

And he did not see the stray dog, turned away two days back, sitting up on the cliffs of Pinecrest overlooking the cabin.

Shift

After the meeting with the surprise sorcerer, Eirikr strode back and forth rather angrily in his tent. The impromptu interrogation session with the Black Numenorian had put him in a foul mood and though now they had options, he thought they had more questions than answers. Eirikr Tenorbekk did not like being in the dark. Especially when at that very moment, Eruviel was on her way to Ost Celebrant with Langafel.

Eirikr knew her to be a capable scout and an excellent fighter. A kind and humorous companion. But he had never known her like this before.

When he looked at her now, he did not just see an Elf clad in leather armour with a bow on her back and a sword on her hip. He saw the soft curve of her lip and the gentle fall of her braid across her shoulder. He saw her smile and heard her laughter and felt her fingers upon his brow. Delicate. Precious. Irreplaceable.

He scowled as he realized his thoughts made it seem like he did not value her before. He had, of course, but sometime between Evendim and Rohan, things had shifted inside of him when it came to her. He had not meant for it to happen. In fact, if he had been truly aware of it, he would have put a stop to it immediately, but perhaps now it was too late.

The truth was, his agitation sprouted from this new intense desire to put her in a safe, secure place and protect her from the Black Numenorians she now rode toward. He wanted to pull her close and shield her from the darkness. He wanted to do all these things that he never thought he’d want to do again and he hated that he would never be good enough to do any of it. He hated that he did not want to be good enough.

He did not want to cause her pain in any way, and a love between mortal and immortal could end in only that. Didn’t the legends say only by the intervention of the Valar themselves did Beren and Luthien find peace? And didn’t they have to die first?

Eirikr scowled again, his heavy brow drawing down deeply over his stormy eyes. He reminded himself that Eruviel had survived things he could hardly imagine. She would continue to survive things long after his bones had turned to dust, if not in this world, then across the Sea with her people and away from this land of strife.

He slipped through the flap of his small tent and looked out across the camp. Miss Cwen was meandering away from the main fire holding her lute; Hallem sat there still looking solemn by the flames.

Deciding that he could not sit by and not do anything but wait, he stalked after Cwen. The Black Numenorean may have slipped through their grasp, but he could still get answers from somewhere, and that was doing something.

~~~***~~~

Cwendlwyn of Rohan was digging through trash bins. She did not remember discarding the item she was looking for, but she knew that she packed it then and she needed it now; she did not wish to go to bed that night without it. Without flinching, she pulled over a partially broken crate filled with broken bits of metal and leather and scraps of frayed rope. Carefully, she tried to search the bin without having to dump it out.

She mumbled to herself in a bare whisper as she searched. Ever since Pharazanû had vanished, she acted more eccentric regardless of who was around. She simply gave less of a damn about what other people thought than before and she had hardly cared at all to begin with. Still, she began to suspect that Langafel’s men had begun to suspect that she was a bit daft.

Maybe they were right.

Feygil and Eirikr had criticised her choice to force the Black Numenorean to heal her arm seeing it only as a verification of the sorcerer’s abilities. Both of them and Hallem had asked her why any one of them could trust him. The looks on their faces might have upset her a year ago. She hadn’t bothered to pay any attention to her companions’ reactions when she tested Pharazanû, but that was because she had been so intent on his response.Camp

Cwen was certain that few of them if any understood what she did or why, but that did not matter. It was not, nor had it ever been, about trusting the man.

After all, what was trust, really? Could anyone be truly trusted?

She did not trust the sorcerer any more than they did. She just understood something about him. She saw him differently. She did not peg him as evil just because he was the enemy. Even enemies can have respect for one another, and, besides, in his eyes, wouldn’t they be the enemy? Yet he came to them with information. They seemed intent on the same goal. And what else brings people together more than a common goal?

The more she pondered these questions in the passing time between waiting and worrying, she began to question more and more.

For instance, what is the difference between an Elf and an Orc?

The legends say the black pits of Thangorodrim twisted the prisoners kept there into the ghastly race today known as orc. Their fates altered, they were forced to adapt or die. They were forced to serve, to listen to their master, and obey the commands given them in order to create a more powerful structure of society. Common purpose. Greater good.

Hold a moment–which society was she thinking of? The Elves that obeyed the summons… the orcs twisted by Morgoth? Obey. The Valar let the Elves decide their own fate. Was that the difference? Apart from the physical, the brutish and the beautiful, is that what separated Orc and Elf? The choice?

If an Orc was given the choice, would he be able to choose mercy if all he’d learned was brutality? And was it his fault he did not know of the other choice?

Was it an orc’s fault, then, that he was an orc?

Was it that man’s fault he was born beneath the shadowed sky instead of the open plains of the Mark?

What would she have been like if she had been born in Dunland instead of near Cliving in the Norcrofts? How would her life had been different if her father had taken her to his clan’s homeland instead of settling on the western edges of the Gap?

“It’s all perspective,” she murmured as she went into the bucket of scraps from the night’s dinner with both hands. “People don’t know how to change perspective.”

Her fist pushed past something squishy and warm, then closed around something hard and cold. Cylindrical.

“Aha!”

She sat back on her heels and wiped the slime away from the little blue vial of liquid. She kept it in her bag with the other mixes and medicines she thought might be useful, but only after she had sworn to herself she would never use it on herself again.

So how it found its way into her sleeve at mealtime, she had no inkling. Her head had ached; perhaps she thought it was the willow bark tincture instead. But then, when she realized what she had and how much she wanted to forget everything that was going on around her and how much she missed them, she slipped the vial back into her sleeve to forget it and it must have fallen when she tossed away the bones of the water fowl they had roasted that evening.

That night, she found it especially hard to sleep with no moon to tell her to rest and no sun to help her wake, and soon she realized she was not going to be able to sleep. Not enough to be good for anything other than a rambling, distracted fool, at least, and she rose from her bedroll and slipped out of the tent and ignored the curious looks from the men on watch as she went from bin to bin searching for a means to stop the noisy questions.

So many questions.

There was one to which she knew the answer as she carried the little blue vial in the palm of her fist and returned to her tent.

People who fall in love suddenly see the world differently; they operate under different motivations than before love and sometimes, they find they are strong with that single purpose directing their choices. They take risks to protect and to prove themselves worthy of their affection’s heart, and sometimes, the risks they choose go against everything they ever were or ever knew before.

But for now, Cwen chose to forget love and sorcerers and orcs and men. She closed her tent off from the shadowy sky, took a sip of the sweet blue liquid, and finally fell into a dreamless sleep.

~~~***~~~

Zabathôr seethed as he stood at the window of his rooms in the high tower of Ost Celebrant. He stared down at the splash of pale hair that told him Pharazanû still knelt before the necromancer’s body. The man’s penetrating gaze bore down on the scene in the courtyard below and the air around him warped and steamed.

It was too soon. The enemy had moved too quickly and seemed far too confident to suit Zabathôr’s needs. What if the fool had managed to do real damage? And the surrender.

Really. What was that?

Zabathôr snorted with disgust as he turned away from the sight in a flurry of dark robes. The door to his chambers cracked against the wall as he stormed through it and to the stair that led to the roof of the tower. The climb was steep and narrow, and when he emerged at the top he could see the land in all directions.

Far below, he thought he could see Pharazanû still at the foot of the shrine built for the fallen man.

What was his name? ‘O’ something, wasn’t it? Oh, yes. Orthan. A tolerable, seemingly competent young man and a skilled sorcerer. Pity he could not have been put to more use before the Horseman ended his miserable existence.

Zabathôr turned to look away from the fortress and out toward the land as if to find the camp that held the ones who dared to challenge the Great Eye. He placed both of his delicate yet powerful hands on the stones that formed the battlements and closed his eyes. He sent his thought into the stone and felt along its strengths and weaknesses. Deep, deep into the living earth to seek the fault lines far beneath the surface of the dying grass.

He sought until he grew tired from his searching and glared out over the land in frustration. No great crack in the earth existed in a manner that would not also topple the fortress he stood upon. He turned from the wall to descend quickly into the tower and back to his rooms.

“Call the Four,” he ordered the guard as he brushed past him. “Immediately.”

The guard saluted and barked orders to his subordinate to find the others of the four lords before the door swung shut behind him. Zabathôr returned to the window and calmed his breath as he stared at the unchanged scene below.

His fingers flexed.

The air sparked.

He was still in control. If he could not move them by moving the earth, he would find another way to shift the advantage back to his side of the game.

And he would win.

ScreenShot00462

Dalish Charm: Everything and Nothing

Anyatka Tenorbekk found it hard to smile.

As she gazed into the tired looking glass, she studied the turn of her mouth and the tension in her forehead. She was merely twenty-three years old, yet she felt much older and she feared she had begun to look it.

She practiced a smile. It turned into a grimace and she looked more like her elder brother than she cared to admit. Without realizing it, her brows furrowed and her mouth puckered. The worry weighed her cheeks down and they lacked their normal flush of pink. She pinched them to get the colour back into them, but they turned blotchy instead of rosy.

Is that why he hadn’t come to see her yet? Is that why he seemed to forget her?

Perhaps she was just being silly. She had spent weeks without seeing him before. True, that was when they ventured north to rid of her the possessive spirit taking over her mind and body, but even then, he had come. In the end, he had come and he had been there gazing down at her when she awoke from the nightmare.

She pushed the thoughts from her mind and wiped the embarrassing tears forming before they could fall.

He was just busy with the spring. His roses would need tending. And Hallem went off again with the company, so he was working by himself.

She was being silly.

Patting her cheeks, Anya composed herself and rose from her cushioned stool. She grabbed her sketchbook and glided out of her room, through the front door, and over to her own rose bush. She sat down next to it with the book in her lap and she sighed. She opened it to a blank page and then she looked up.

Abiorn stood down by the edge of lake with Eirikr’s fishing pole. Normally she would frown and tell Abiorn to stop messing with his brother’s things, but today it did not seem like the right thing to do. Eirikr was in Rohan with the Wayfarers. So was Miss Cwen and Eruviel. She was the eldest of the family at present and it was her duty alone to keep the house and guide her brother now. She had to make the real choices for the first time in her life and this time, another depended on her.

As she watched her brother cast his line, her hand moved to select a piece of sharpened charcoal. She didn’t have to look; her fingers knew which one she wanted. It was a fresh piece, but she could tell by its weight and size it was the right density for her stroke. Anders had sharpened more than a few of the pieces he had gathered for her, so all she had to do was put the blackness to the page and let her body do the rest of the work.

Shapes and shadows. That’s what she could create. Her brother’s slender shape that was not quite so slender as the months passed by. The shadow of the too-small cabin that reached for him by the edge of the lake. It suddenly seemed too big, like the breadth of her brother’s shoulders as he reeled in a small flash of silver on top of the water.

He clearly needs a haircut.
He clearly needs a haircut.

Her brother was growing up. He’d be sixteen in three days’ time. Before he left for Rohan, Eirikr had approached him and handed him a small package wrapped in brown paper and tied with a string.

“I won’t be here for your birthday. I am sorry to miss another one, Abbi. Abiorn.” The eldest Tenorbekk cleared his throat loudly and nodded to the package. “Open it now, if you would. I’d like to see if you like it.”

The package contained a dagger made in replica of the one Exio had given him in Evendim. A funny look had passed over Abiorn’s face and for a moment, Anya wondered if it was such a good idea to give the boy something that reminded him of the dead man.

“Thank you,” Abiorn had finally said gruffly. He rubbed his nose with the palm of his hand and nodded. “You had this made for me?”

Eirikr nodded.

“You have a pair now. Twin daggers to protect you and Anya from any more orc invasions.”

The boy had nodded and held out a fragile hand to his older brother. It was grasped firmly, and then Eirikr pulled him into a brief and rare hug.

“I’ll be back before you know it,” Anya heard him murmur to Abiorn. “Take care of each other.”

That night, Abiorn tucked the dagger next to the one already nestled in the chest that he kept beneath his bed.

He had been quieter than usual lately.

Durrow was quieter than she had grown used to lately.

She missed them. She missed him.

As she looked up from her sketch, her eyes fell onto a deep burgundy bud just beginning to unfurl. She touched its delicate petals with the very tip of her sooty finger.

She had kept it alive. Through the moves and broken hearts, she had kept it alive and now the rich scent of the open blooms filled her head with spring. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Slowly, she counted to ten.

And then, she opened her eyes.

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.

Analysis of Eiríkr’s Playlist

I know I said I was going to do Cwen’s next in that comment, but Cwen’s list is like Anya’s…it never ends.

Erirkr is so much easier. And I think I’ve done this somewhere, or at least listed most of the songs out. But heck, might as well.

Rain by Yoko Kanno

This song is from Cowboy Bebop. It’s a tragic anthem for a man whose lost his love and is walking through a nightmare he can’t wake up from. He moves through life half in the past, hardly in the present. For a long time after Ninim died, this was Eirikr.

The Price of Freedom by Tekaharu Ishimoto from Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core

Eirikr paid a huge price for freedom from his father’s tyranny. While he is grateful that his brother and sister are safe, his heart remains sorrowful. He wishes it had been him that died beneath the eaves of Mirkwood, but knows that without him, his brother and sister would be left alone.

Zero Kiryuu Theme from Vampire Knight

A sad, lonely instrumental about a man (vampire) that hates himself for being what he is. Who lost everything. And who can never have that which he loves.

The Mountains Win Again by Blues Traveler

Eirikr has a wandering heart and a sad soul. He feels keenly the pain of the world. But he tries not to let the surface crack; stoic and solid.

Men are not to cry so how am I to stop it
Keep it all inside don’t show how much she rocked ya…

Anything for You by Ludo

His song for Ninim.

Never, Never Gonna Give You Up by Cake

Another song for Ninim that reflects the lighter, more playful side of him. The Barry White version is just too pr0nstarish.

Drunken Lament by Ludo

Another “my wife is dead and there isn’t enough sorrow to drown my alcohol in” type of song.

Hey Leonardo (She Likes Me for Me) by Blessid Union of Souls

This is how Eirikr feels around Eruviel.

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.

Dear Eruviel

Dear sister,

I was so excited to receive your letter! Your pictures and your words make me wish I had gone with you. I still cannot believe that Eirikr agreed to allow Abiorn to go. Thank you for reminding him to write to us. It meant a lot. I have included a small note for him as well. I do not wish to appear nagging, so I kept it short.

Things have been quiet here in Bree. There has been a lot of snowfall, but I would surmise that is nothing compared to what you see. The lake is quite beautiful all covered in ice, but sometimes I miss trekking all the way out to the Little Staddlemere to paint.

Bear is good! Abiorn will be pleased to know that, I am sure. He actually got out of the house the other day and caused quite a ruckus in the market. Eirikr had to pay for several legs of lamb that we certainly did not eat. But he is just so adorably cuddly that it is hard to be mad at him for long. To keep him occupied (and to tire him out!), Eirik often takes him into the forest with him. I think he wants to turn him into a hunting dog, but I am not sure Bear has the attention for it.

Eirikr himself has been spending a lot of time out of the house. When he is not hunting, he is caring for your house. I hope you do not mind him spending hours there. I think he misses you.

Keep writing. And drawing! I miss you dearly and hope to see you sooner rather than later.

With love,

Anya

~~~***~~~

Dear Abiorn,

Hello, my brother! How is your first adventure without us? I do hope you are keeping warm and that you are listening to Eruviel and Miss Cwendlwyn. And that you are not getting in the way of any business they must attend to, being part of Master Arrowheart’s company.

The animals are well. Bear is quite recovered and I think you will be pleased to know he has taken to sleeping in your bed. You will have to share when you return. Eirikr will not let him sleep with him and Sally Stitches and Oli keep him from sleeping with me.

Eruviel told me that you have encountered the spirit world. I would not have believed it had I not experience with spirits of my own. Do be safe, Abiorn. Come back home hale and whole.

Lina has asked about you since you have been gone. She is her normal Lina-self, though I believe she has been spending some time with that fellow Rush.

Give my regards to Miss Cwen. And Abbi, do behave.

Love,

Anyatka

~~~***~~~

Eruviel,

I wish I could say your letter brought me only joy. While I was joyful to receive news, I could have done without the dark creatures and dangerous situations. I worry about you and Abiorn up there, and it seems as though my worries are not without reason. I trust in your strength and courage and good head to keep the both of you safe.

Durrow is rather quiet with half its main rabble rousers in Forochel with you folks. I have spent many hours in Glaston reading in the cellar and I dare say I have not come any closer to a clue about how to destroy the dragon. Perhaps before I would have been hesitant to include someone we hardly know in such matters, but after Evendim, I will not turn away the help of a Wayfarer. Which is Atanamir? I remember Abiorn mentioning the name, but of course, he is with you and I cannot ask him. I am certain Anya would know, but I do not wish to alert her to our activities until we actually have something to show for it.

I am not sure what to think about you being in Abiorn’s body. Or he being in some other poor soul’s. I hope he has been minding orders and setting a good example for the Lossoth.

Do come home soon. I miss you 

I hope you are enjoying your time more than you are troubled by it. Come home safely.

Eirikr

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.