Not Alone

An odd sound filled the room. He had never heard it before and now he wondered what it might be. The shelter was small, and it wasn’t coming from the room with the beds and table, so he figured it must be coming from the room where the girl slept and made handsome colours on sheets of rough cloth. He liked watching her stretch new squares of cloth. Her face usually turned red and she would swear when she thought no one was listening.

Bear investigating the source of the odd noise.
Bear investigating the source of the odd noise.

Tick tick tick his claws went as he padded quietly across the room to nose the door. It swung into the room slowly and the noise grew. Salt and sorrow. His soft black nose could smell salt and sorrow and his golden ears perked up with concern.

There.

The girl with the strange two-toned hair sat curled in the far corner of her bed with her back pressed against the headboard and her knees drawn up to her chest. Both arms wrapped around her legs, and her chin rested on her kneecaps. Her shoulders jerked with each unusual noise and her face sparkled in the sunlight coming in through her parted curtains. She looked so miserable and he felt a tightening in his chest to see her so sad.

Next to her hip lay the big, sleek feline and the cranky one rested on her feet and stared at Bear when he pushed open the door. He just stared right back. Clearly they weren’t doing enough to make the girl feel better! Felines just did not understand that sitting there wasn’t good enough to make humans feel better. They needed more than the disdainful acceptance of their presence. He would show her what the human needed! Maybe when his human returned smelling like the Elf, he would give him a special treat if he made the girl smile and forget whatever made her heart sad.

It was such an excellent idea! With one giant leap, Bear bounded onto the girl’s bed, which sent the mackerel flying after an evil, cranky hiss, and licked her bouncing face. ScreenShot00433She kept moving! So he leaped to get a better angle for licking, causing them both to rock and bob on the soft bed. The sleek cat, who had told him his name was Olavi and that he was called a lynx, remained unperturbed and merely watched them both with half-hooded eyes.

“Bear! Bear, no!” the girl said, harshly at first. Her voice sounded deeper than normal, and scratchy. This made him sad, too, so he tried to lick her throat to make it feel better. Lick lick lick. Licking always made his hurts feel better.

The girl finally started laughing, though water kept leaking from her eyes. She started to pet his head between the ears and he stopped jumping to brace both paws on her legs to continue licking the salty water away. As her face cleared of them, she smiled. That must be what was making her sad! Maybe it hurt her, or maybe it just made her itchy. He got all of it now, though. She didn’t have to be sad anymore.

“Hi, boy,” she said as she stroked his soft fur. “Are you sad that I’m sad? It is okay. I will be fine.”

His tongue lolled out and he smiled at her as he panted in her face. Maybe she was cold, too. He’d make her warm!

“Oh, Bear, your breath is rather…warm.” Yes! “Here, get off me, boy. Sit. Sit. Good dog.”

The woman crossed her legs in front of her as he sat back on his haunches.

“Do you miss them, too? It is rather quiet with Abiorn up north and Eiri doing… whatever it is he is doing over at Eruviel’s all the time. You know, I’m surprised he does not take you with him. Maybe you could help him guard the place, hm?”

His head fell to the side as he listened to the human talk. It was nice when the girl spoke. Smooth and rich sounds, like the humming of his mum. He missed his mum and his brothers and sisters, but he liked these humans well enough. The one she called Eiri let him out of the box, after all. It was dark in the box.

“You know, sometimes,” she said in a low, conspiratory voice, “Sometimes, I wish I could have just stayed happy with Anric. You probably do not know who that is, but that is all right. You do not have to know him. Just that he was with me for some time. When I was not quite so alone.”

She scratched behind his ears and he closed his eyes in pleasure.

“But I just didn’t love him enough. He couldn’t handle that I loved Morty at all. But I do. And I guess that is why right now I am alone.”

He pushed his forehead against back of the girl’s hand. She wasn’t alone! Even before he barged in, she had that stupid cat, after all, and the sleek lynx.

The girl smiled and stroked his ears. “I know. Morty loves me. Morty loves me as much as he is able to love me. It is not what I pictured for myself, though. Living cramped here with my brothers when they have the time to think of home. Or going to Morty’s hoping each time to find him unoccupied. It would be nice to have something normal, don’t you think? Someone-no offense-to come home to every night. Who you know will be there.”

He sighed and licked her hand. It was all he could do. As her eyes misted again, he crawled into her lap without waiting for an invitation. Olavi raised his head to look at him lazily, then set it back down again. The feline came up slowly once he was settled, but he ignored her. He did not want to scare her away again. Her human needed her and he wasn’t going to prevent cuddles. Cuddles made the world a better place.

~~~***~~~

Vahan knew how to cuddle, Abiorn would give him that. The excited pup would leap about the surface of the snow barely seeming to break through far enough to give credence to his weight and then bound back into Abiorn’s waiting arms to lick and burrow into the boy’s warmth. The black and white husky runt growled at the falling snow and then made a crazy woo-ing noise that reminded Abiorn of off-key singing if there had been words. Each clump of white was a bird or a hare tempting the pup to go straight for the jugular.

Abiorn grinned as Vahan lept from place to place and then back to him. The pup might be small, but he was smart, Abiorn could tell. He brought out a pocketful of jerky and Vahan had already discovered that if he sat and waited patiently, he’d get a piece. Well, most of the time.

“Come on, Vahan,” he said and started back across the ice toward the hut he was staying in. He took several steps away and blinked down at the puppy who simply sat with his head cocked to the side. “Vahan! Come, boy! Come on, let’s go get warm!”

vahan
Vahan, the husky runt

“Rooooo arroo arroo arroooooooo.”

Abiorn had the odd notion that he had just been told off.

“Vahan! Come on, boy, I’m cold! Let’s see if there’s any goodness to munch on inside.” Abiorn patted his thigh hoping the dog would follow the sound.

“Araaahgh arraaahghhh rrrooorrororrrrooooo.”

“Seriously?” Abiorn stared at the puppy and wondered what he could do. He could always pick the pup up and carry him inside. But then he pictured himself carrying a larger dog several years down the road and he just wasn’t interested in that. He could lure the dog with treats. But then, the future Vahan just turned into a huge, fat ball of fluff that he’d still probably end up carrying around in several years.

What if he just walked away? Said once more that it was time to go and then expected Vahan to follow. Did he have that sort of flair, that sort of leadership quality hidden somewhere inside of him? He doubted it. But before he resorted to leaving out a trail of treats for the puppy, he had to give it a try.

Abiorn spoke in a firm but gentle tone. “Vahan. It’s time to go inside.” He jerked his head toward the hut and tried to keep his body language relaxed and confident. He gave Vahan one last confident look that brokered no other option and turned to head inside.

A high, alarmed yip came from the puppy. Another woo-roo or two sounded from his white throat, and then he bounded after Abiorn and circled his feet at a respectful distance before falling into a trot beside him.

“Yeah, I thought so,” Abiorn mumbled to himself. “Didn’t want to be left alone, didcha?”

He smiled down at the little husky runt that only wanted in on harnesses and treats with the rest of his pack. Vahan would see no harness, but he would find a pack that would love him, Abiorn thought to himself.

Then he laughed loud and clear in the crisp air.

Anya was going to kill him.

But she knew he would love the newest addition to their growing menagerie. She was never one to turn out a member of the pack, runt or no.

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Grin and Bear It: From Forochel

The Northern Lights

Dear brother and sister,

Eruviel reminded me that I needed to write to you. Not that I forgot. There’s just a lot going on and it’s only the first day here in Suki- Suri-Coola Suli-Kura the capitol of the ice land.

We have met a lot of people so far. Commander Arrowheart’s father (I think) and his really beautiful daughter. Her name is Kipinä and seemed really impressed that The Wayfarers were there. Like she admired them a lot. I’m going to tell her all about Anya’s stupidity and Bookie and see if she’s impressed that I was a part of that. Maybe she’ll be impressed.

We also met the man we were travelling to visit, Panja. Anya, he makes me look timid. Just saying. I think you would find him funny, though. And Eirik, there are hunters here, too, you know. It’s a different kind of hunt, but they’re impressive. One named Taja has these things called “spirit-eyes” and it means he can see things that exist both in our world and the spirit world. They’re all yellow and sparkling and I want some.

I forgot to tell you about the spirit world. We had to go meditate or something at this place and it took us up to the spirit world. Getting there reminded me of when I shift into a bear. Only less painful. Like the world around me just blurs and shifts and I feel all separate from my body and floaty and then the world looks the same, but completely different. I wonder what would happen if I tried to change into a bear when I’m there.

Anyway, I almost knocked over the inkpot my eyes are so crossed from tiredness. Just know you’re completely missing out and I know that you don’t want to be away from your Morty, Anya, and you’re all worried about him and stuff, but you would LOVE it here. The northern lights are brilliant and I think you’d do good to paint them one day. That means we need to come visit, the three of us. Maybe even Eruviel would come with us Eirikr. I know you’d like that!

Your brother who is not yet an ice sculpture of the sexiest person in Durrow,

Abiorn

P.S. Atanamir keeps near this guy named Dorsett. Dorsett does not look like one who would be travelling to such a harsh place! Or one who would be hanging around Atanamir so much. He’s all smart and not brawny, though. Like me before the bear. He just seems so nice. I’m going to keep spying on them. And ha! You can’t stop me! Love, Abbi

Smoldering Fire: Let it Lie

Ravenhold all dressed up for Yule.
Ravenhold all dressed up for Yule.

Eirikr burst from the door of Ravenhold and barreled down the steps. Behind him, Abiorn caught the door with his shoulder, a hand out to protect the puppy from the cold wind.

“Eirik! Wait!” the younger brother called. The puppy squirmed anxiously in his arms. “Eirikr, hold on, what happened?”

The older brother did not respond as he practically flew down the path that cut through the land of Ravenhold to the road. His back hardened beneath his festive red and green shirt and the tension surrounded him. He did not ease until he turned down Chestnut Street, but even then it was less of a relaxing and more of a channeling of the hot energy surrounding him.

Abiorn caught up with him as he stooped to gather an armload of firewood from the side of the house.

“Eirik, listen, what just happened back there?” he gasped. The puppy stared up at Eirikr with soft blue eyes from Abiorn’s arms and seemed to know something was amiss.

“Nothing,” Eirikr lied as he tried to push past Abiorn. The boy held his ground and shook his head.

“Horseshit. You were fine and then Eruviel showed you something and you made her upset and just left.” Abiorn shifted Bear to his other arm. “You can’t tell me everything is fine. Was it Anric’s present to her? I don’t think the guy meant any harm.”

Eirikr’s brow furrowed as he stared down at his brother. “What are you talking about?” His tone shifted; less angry, more cautious.

Abiorn had the decency to look sheepish. “Um. Some people been talking that you and she are sweet on one another, that’s all. I mean, jealousy is a dangerous beast, brother, so if you’re worried-”

Grunting, Eirikr walked around Abiorn. “No. It wasn’t Anric. Though he and his brainwashed self aren’t good enough for her and he should know that.”

Abiorn sidestepped to block him again. Maybe any other day, Eirikr would have not had a problem bumping his little brother to his rear, but this night: puppy.

“Look, then, what happened? The only other time I ever saw her look like that was when Ninim died.”

Eirikr’s eyes darkened and the pain shot from him like arrows. Even Abiorn was struck with the power of the man’s anguish.

“Ask her if you’re so curious.”

With one hand, Eirikr used Abiorn’s shoulder to direct him to the side and he went into the house. He dumped the firewood on the rack and then went to the table where his bow leaned and his quiver lay. Using quick and automatic motions, he checked the bow and then slung it over his shoulder. Abiorn watched from just inside the door as he bent to pull his pack from beneath his bed. Without checking it, he walked toward the door.

“You’re leaving, then?” Abiorn stated with more than a hint of bitterness. He did not move away from the door. “You were ready. You knew you’d do this again.”

Without looking down at him, Eirikr bit out, “I am going to kill something. Now move before it is you.”

Abiorn shook his head. “You wouldn’t kill me. I have a puppy.”

“Abiorn.” Eirikr’s voice was low and full of anger, but the rage was not what made Abiorn blink and step aside. He looked up at his brother and saw the man who just lost his wife in the shadows of Mirkwood. Time had not dissipated the anguish Ninim’s death caused; it had merely buried it until whatever Eruviel did brought it back to the surface to strike Eirikr again.

His gaze dropped to the tile as he stepped aside. “When are you coming back?” he asked.

“Tomorrow by supper.”

“You promise?”

A thick silence fell on the cabin and their breaths hung in the air. From Anya’s bedroom, Sally Stitches let out a quizzical mew and then she sat on her haunches in the doorway to stare at the mass of golden fur wiggling in Abiorn’s arms. The tabby’s ear flicked, clearly irritated at being so disturbed from her nap. After a moment, she hissed and darted back into the room with a flick of her banded tail.

“Eirikr. Promise you will be back tomorrow. Anya’s going to start to worry and I just can’t handle that.” He set the puppy down and he took off toward Anya’s room after Sally. The hissing and barking hardly caused a brother to blink as they stared at one another.

“I promise,” Eirikr finally said, his dark grey eyes holding Abiorn’s.

Nodding, Abiorn stepped aside and ran his hand through his shaggy hair.

“Be careful, brother,” he said quietly.

Eirikr nodded and walked out of the door leaving Abiorn with the showdown beneath Anya’s bed. He sighed and trudged into his sister’s room. He grabbed the puppy around his middle; Bear whirled and snapped at Abiorn’s hand, but the boy pulled it back quickly and waggled a finger at the pup.

“Now, now. You don’t smell all that nice yourself, you know,” he said with a grin. “Leave poor Sally alone. Anya’d kill me if she came home and her cat was minced kitty.”

The puppy looked at Abiorn and then squirmed to get out of his grasp. He didn’t go for Sally, though. Instead, he padded over to the door, his sharp puppy nails clicking on the cold tile.

“You want to go outside?” Abiorn asked it sweetly. He looked around for something to make a leash; he settled on the sash to one of Anya’s dresses. He frowned at the idea of putting it around the puppy’s neck, so he made several loops to hook around his front legs and fasten into a harness. “There we go. Let’s pee.”

Abiorn took the puppy outside and let him sniff around the house. He did his duty and continued to sniff: the waggon, the vegetable bed, the wood pile, the stoop. Near the road, the puppy let out a yelp and tried to charge down the lane toward the Chestnut Woods.

“Whoa! Easy, boy. What is it? You smell Eirikr?” Aboirn sniffed the air and then dropped into a squat beside the puppy. Sniffing lower, he caught his brother’s scent. “Ah. Yeah, you like him better, don’t you? Sorry he’s such a pain.” The golden dog whimpered and settled on his belly as he stared down the street.

“I know. He’ll be back though, boy. And you can meet our sister when she gets home from her boyfriend’s graveyard.” He added with a nod, “I know. She’s weird.”

Settling down next to the puppy, Abiorn crossed his legs and rested a hand on the back of the pup’s shaggy head. Scratching him behind the ears, he said, “We can sit here for a while, okay? Just to see if he changes his mind. But I wouldn’t count on it, Bear. Not until he said he would.”

The puppy whimpered again, and Abiorn sighed.

“I know, buddy. I know.”

Shameless: Rush

Anyatka opened the door even as the fist on the outside pounded on it again. She blinked into the darkness and focused on a figure squinting into the brightness of the Tenorbekk’s front room.

“Lina? What are you doing here?” She stepped back to let the girl in and noted her flushed cheeks and breathlessness. “Are you quite well? What is it?”

From the dinner table, Eirikr looked up and his visible eye narrowed beneath the bandage wrapped around his head. Abiorn, Anya’s younger brother, looked incredibly interested in what interrupted their dinner. As Lina brushed past Anya, he grinned and leaned his chin on the palm of his hand.

“Anya, beg yer pardon, but I need yer help an’ it’s gotta be quick!” Lina turned in a whirlwind and leaned back against the couch. She crossed her leather-clad leg over the other. “Yeh got a bedroll an’ some campin’ supplies I can borrow?”

Anya nodded and strode forward to take the girl by her arms. “Lina, slow down. Are you in trouble? Why in such a rush? We can help you; you do not have to run.”

Lina’s slender neck stretched as she leaned her head back to laugh. “Oh, no! I’m not in trouble. The Missus gave me permission an’ everything. I just told ‘im I’d meet ‘im in an hour and goin’ by the Mantle took up near half. I gotta get supplies an’ meet him, or he’ll think I stood ‘im up.”

Not one to remain silent on the sidelines, Abiorn asked, “Who’s that, Lina?”

Grinning at the boy, Lina answered, “Rush. We’re goin’ ta Trestlebridge. Maybe farther north, who knows. But I’m gettin’ outta Bree fer a while, and that’s all tha’matters.”

Anya and Eirikr exchanged a concerned look. She nodded to her brother and he stood to fetch the supplies she’d need for the journey.

“Lina, who is this Rush?” Anya asked with measured politeness. “What does he do?”

Flushed from her rush, Lina ran a hand through her short hair. “Jus’ a boy. My age. My real age. Have I told yeh my real age? I’m not nineteen, I’m seventeen. But he doesn’t do anythin’ really, and tha’s why he wants to go to Trestlebridge. He’s done all sortsa jobs, but doesn’t like a one.”

“Does he know what you do?” Abiorn blurted.

Lina nodded. “Mhmm. Doesn’t phase him. Actually, he bartended at the Mantle for a bit. Didn’t last. He’s a decent fella, just kinda listless. Needs a kick in th’arse, prolly.”

“And you intend to give it to him?” Eirikr asked as he dropped a bedroll and a woolen blanket on his bed. He didn’t look at Lina as he rolled it into a compact bundle for her. “Where’s your pack?”

Lina thrust her pack at Eirikr. He took and pulled it open and then started adding things to it and taking some things out.

“Nah, look, it’s just a chance t’get outta Bree fer a while. I trust this fella. He’s got lots of brothers an’ sisters an’ just needs ta get out on his own a bit, tha’s all.” Lina bounced on her toes. “Yeh almost done? Don’t mean ta rush ya or anythin’, I just don’t want ‘im ta think I stood ‘im up.”

Eirikr knotted her pack and held it out to her. “Yes. You’ve said that.” Looking over her head to his sister, he cocked a critical brow. Anya shook her head and shrugged.

“Lina, promise you’ll write when you get to Trestlebridge? Especially if you intend on staying for an extended period of time, or leaving to go somewhere else, please?”

Lina took the pack with an appreciative grin and raised it to Eirikr. “Thanks, big brother,” she said. Looking at Anya, she wrinkled her nose. “Anya, yeh know I can’t write.”

Anya sighed. “Well, maybe this Rush can. Have him take dictation. Please.”

Lina shrugged. “If I remember. Can’t stay, though. I’ll bring yer things back when we return!” Quickly, she left in a flurry.

Abiorn watched the door for a moment after it closed behind her.

“You think she’ll make him pay?” he asked with a grin.

Eirikr slapped him on the back of his head. “Abiorn. Not appropriate.”

Anya blushed and frowned as she resumed her seat at the dinner table. “Yes, really, Abbi. That is none of your business if this man is a client of hers. Or just a friend.”

“Ever heard of him? Didn’t she say he was her age? She’s not that much older than me. How could a kid like me afford Lina for a week?” Abiorn stuck his finger into his mashed taters and sucked it clean.

“Ugh, Abbi.” She tossed a cloth at him, but he only laughed when it hit his face. “That’s none of your concern, anyway. What Lina does is Lina’s business.”

Who Lina does, you mean.

Ow! Damnit, Eirikr.”

After dinner, Anya knelt by the fire and scrubbed the fine china dishes Eirikr and Abiorn brought back from Dale in a tub full of lukewarm water. “Don’t you think we should have stopped her?” Eirikr grumbled as he brought her his and Abiorn’s plates.

“It would have done no good. She would have found the man and ran off with him anyway, Eirikr, you know that as well as I.”

“She’s your friend. Anya. I hardly know anything about her except that I should usually be concerned for her. What if this lad hurts her?”

Anya’s dishrag slowed for a moment. “Don’t underestimate Lina. I know she looks thin and helpless, but I doubt that she is. She had lived in Beggar’s Alley for quite some time before I met her. And before that… she rarely wanted to talk about before that, Eirik. Somehow, I think she can handle herself better than I could in her situation, that’s for certain.”

Eirikr picked up a dish from the line Anya was leaving along the stone hearth. “I hope you’re right, sister.”

Anya nodded. “I know. Me, too.”

Waiting for Change

Anyatka stared into the looking glass hung over the little table Eirikr bought her for getting ready in the morning. Her brush and a fine-toothed comb sat on it as well as a stray auburn hair. She gently pulled it from the teeth of the brush and held it up in front of her face. The image of herself staring at it caught her attention, though almost immediately the effect was lost.

She frowned up at herself and touched the raven black locks that hung around her face. It was a startling change and a constant reminder of what had happened in Evendim. She told her brothers she did not remember much of her captivity with Parmanen, and truthfully, she didn’t, but what she did, she had rather not even whisper aloud. It was cold. It was frightening. But it was never painful. It was just confusing.

Regardless, she did not mind the dark hair. It gave her an element of anonymity that her red hair never had bestowed upon her. People simply were not looking for a black-haired Anyatka Tenorbrook.

No one had commented on the change, really. Perhaps they thought she did it on purpose. It wouldn’t be too hard for a painter to play with the colours until one worked on hair. But black? It was an extreme change and she was not certain she liked it, but she was also not certain she did not like it. What sort of girl took the time to dye her hair black, anyway?

The kind that chose a grave-digger over a jeweler, Anya thought to herself dryly as she grimaced at her reflection.

~~~***~~~

The sound of gulls filled the air as Arameril rushed down the docks toward The Chipper Kipper. She hoped to make the final voyage of the afternoon; certainly becoming a nobleman’s wife would curtail such excursions greatly in the future. Just a few short weeks, she thought.

Autumn was quickly fading into winter and she wondered if she shouldn’t forgo the speedy preparations and allow some breathing room. But a year apart from Pengail’s embrace each day did not sound appealing to her and she wanted a fall wedding, so the only logical choice was the get married and NOW!

She smiled as she passed the dock that served the ferries to the islands lying off the coast of Belfalas.

Her wedding gown was being altered even as she wound her way through the crowded docks. She felt she should write to Lady Golchalad for gifting her the magnificent gown. She wanted to call on her father to reassure him that his inability to pay for such an extravagant expense did nothing to lessen her love for him. But she wasn’t certain if such steps were appropriate, and though Arameril rarely did things ‘appropriately,’ she knew that that had to change.

She rounded the corner and barreled down the long dock to The Chipper Kipper. She greeted Scuppers and a few of the other crewmen before excusing herself from their congratulations and making her way to the rail overlooking the vast expanse of the ocean.

Only from the deck of this ship, she thought as the vessel began to move into open waters, only from this ship will I ever find the freedom of the sea.

Hathlafel did not believe that she understood what she was giving up by marrying so young. Perhaps he thought they only wanted a tumble in bed and were jumping ahead of themselves as they thought with their passions instead of their minds. She was uncertain how to convince her father that she did understand the consequences of marrying Pengail of House Nomin at the age of nineteen.

She knew.

One last voyage or two before the wedding day. Pengail would tolerate a trip on The Chipper Kipper every now and then, but she would not ask him too often. She knew how uncomfortable it made him ever since that first day when he never ventured near the rail and never felt the unbridled spray cleansing his skin as he laughed in the wake of the waves.

Arameril willingly gave up the sea for him.

Oh, yes. She knew what the consequences were.

And still she smiled at the seagulls as they circled the main mast. She greeted the late autumn sun with a hope. She could say goodbye one day to her dreams of sailing on a ship of her own and welcome the dream of Pengail of House Nomin and babies and riding. She would play the lute in the evenings and together they would teach their children how to remain honorable and whole in such a busy place as Dol Amroth. Maybe one day, they would take their family on adventures by traveling across the lands on foot.

Bree was still a possibility.

She thought of her friends there and missed them greatly. For a brief moment, she saw the top of Hallem Kemp’s head as he tucked his chin to stare at the ground after their climb. She felt his hand as they waited for Lady Gwenithel at the exchange that revealed to her that Sir Hathlafel was in fact her father, his expression when she ordered the kill.

Bree was still a possibility, but in a different way. In a different time.

Right now, the waves crashed and the seagulls cried and The Chipper Kipper cut through the surf like a knife through butter and Arameril was content.

~~~***~~~

Eirikr waited until the cabin was empty of his siblings before he climbed out of bed. Anya had tended to his burns with a surprising gentleness, but he was relieved for the quiet that fell when she left to go draw in Staddle. The bandages around his head tickled and itched, though he took it as a good sign that his face no longer felt like it was a raging fire, but more of a dull burn. The pain medicine was finally working.

The journey back from Tinnudir had been agonizing though he tried his best not to show it. Kvígr trod lightly as if he knew his master was in pain, but once he nearly fell out of the saddle, exhausted from the effort it took to keep focused on the road ahead. The others insisted he ride in the waggon to rest and recover and he had little argument as he could barely keep his eyes open. It felt so much better to keep them closed, anyway.

He slipped into Anya’s room and stared at himself in her mirror. He had to stoop to do so and finally he pulled out her little cushioned chair and sat in her place. Carefully, he pulled the bandages aside and grimaced.

It was a burn. A bad burn with blistering and redness and a bit of white around the little dip where the bolt had hit his temple. At least it was no bigger than the tip of my pinky, he thought feeling detached from the face that bore such injuries.

Quickly, however, the fire set in his flesh mounted as he stared at the injury and he felt woozy. It was indeed his face that was marred so. It was his pain that shot through him along every nerve. He had hoped there would be some improvement by now, but he knew it would be a long time until a burn like his healed. He carefully re-wrapped his face. He looked around for the medicine that the healers had given him; the dose Anya had given him before she left clearly was not enough.

He took another and fell gently into bed, moaning.

He wouldn’t show anyone how much pain he was in, not Anya, not Abiorn, not Eruviel.

Never Eruviel.

~~~***~~~

 Cwendlwyn rushed after Hallem as he practically dragged her down the dark tunnel after Maggie and Sahu. She fought back tears as she envisioned Atanamir on his knees with that iron collar around his neck. She knew that somewhere in her memories, her own pain at being controlled, subjugated, and raped amplified her fear for him. From what little she knew of his past, she knew that he was capable and had been through more than she could ever imagine.

But that collar.

She had to admit to herself that she was afraid.

The fear in her lived and grew and had a will of its own. She did not know about Hallem, but she had no magic. No pool of tricks to shoot flame or send tendrils of dark shadows after her enemies. She was just a woman with a sword and a shield and a love of life and things that grew.

How much did she love life? In all her trials, it seemed that only now did she truly understood how much she loved life. The trees, the flowers, the grass beneath her bare feet. Her daughter, her friends. Cooking and healing and growing. That was what she was there for. That was her purpose: to preserve and protect life in any way she could find.

Something changed in her as she ran close next to Hallem. Her fear focused into a point in her chest and instead of choking her, it strengthened her because no matter what happened to her, she knew that life always blossomed after death. The leaves fell to be born anew. The plants died to nourish the next generation. She would fight tooth and nail to protect that which lived, but she found the faith that had evaded her for so long.

Yavanna, even here you are present in the moss on the stones and I would do well to remember that. The cycle continues and I am but a spoke in the wheel. For too long have I wandered in shadow when all the time I have held the light. 

She would fight to free Atanamir and save those dear to her. It was her purpose. It was her calling. And she would do good to remember it and not let the dark tunnels of Moria change her so.

Overdone: Failure

I am no leader. Everywhere I look is my failure to protect the ones I love. It is only by pure luck that Eruviel is safe. But the others I love. I have failed them.

Anyatka taken.

Abiorn injured.

What kind of older brother am I?

Ninim dead.

The child abandoned.

As I stand here now, it seems as all the choices I have made in life have led to sorrow.

What am I doing?

Why am I pretending I can lead these people? It is clear that I cannot. I never asked to be a leader. All I wanted was my sister safe and whole and alone in her own mind. The urge to lose myself in the woods and let my hair grow wild again is strong. To run until I pass out on a soft bed of pine needles or stalk a deer through the trees. Simpler things. Easy things. Things that allow me to forget.

Now she is gone. I can only hope Esthyr and Hallem return with good news. But that man’s power… how can little Esthyr’s wards stand up to the power Parmanen wields?

That man.

That evil son of a bitch.

I never liked him. He smiled too much and preened and cooed over my family far too easily. And he never took anything save a meal. Never called in a favor. Never demanded better prices. I know what he wanted now for all those years when he sat at our table and broke bread with us and charmed my sister with his tales of adventure and Beren and Luthien and Túrin son of Húrin and his sister Lalaith and Idril Celebrindal and the rise and fall of the Elves in Beleriand. Of the rise and fall of Númenor. Of the beauty of Lake Nenuial and the northern capital of Arnor, Annúminas, in its full and domineering glory.

And then his tales of the present day. The ruins left as the only remnants of the past glories. How he and his band of merry adventurers would explore and record their findings in order to preserve the great history of the lands. How they needed someone with a strong hand not with a sword, but with a pen to help with the process.

Anya’s basic training in drawing and painting had served her well as a woman of status. But she had never been allowed to nurture it and let it grow and once I realized how far her talent had come once she had the freedom to find her muse in Bree, I understood how much she was controlled. Held back. Devalued. Bookie saw that. He fed her desire to create. To contribute. To be worthy of something. He exploited that in her because he needed her.

And now he has her.

I cannot lose myself this time. I cannot disappear into the wilds. My sister needs me. My brother needs me.

This time, I will not fail.

Overdone: Plans

Over the past two days, we have scouted the island in order to plan for our quest to obtain the Dragon for my sister. According to Threz, the leader of the band of tomb robbers is Lômiphel and her influence stretches all the way to the Baranduin. How this woman took control of the various bands of men and women throughout the region, I can hardly imagine. Their activities make the believe there is a bigger plot at bay.

The men take turns patrolling the shoreline to ascertain the movements of the robbers. It seems as though they stay relatively clear of the Eavespires and I cannot say I blame them. Several visual contacts of Gauredain have been reported and as the wolf-men could probably watch us without revealing their positions, I can only assume they are making their presence known.

Bayn has found us at the Eavespires camp  and has generously gathered and confirmed valuable information. He reports approximately three dozen men and women occupy the island at any one time. No shipments out are occurring and very few shipments in have been seen in the past two days. The robbers appear to be well fortified within the remains of the old estate and he believes he has identified Lômiphel as a tall woman with raven black hair worn in a braid to her waist and sharp, angled features.

After several discussions with all involved, I believe that a combination of tactics would be best. Threz will contact and arrange a meeting with Lômiphel on the far eastern shores of the island. Concurrently, Hallem will lead a second team to cause a distraction that will lead the robbers away from the estate. Our best bet is to set fire to the brush on the eastern shore near their camp. After setting the blaze, that team will enter the estate from the back, semi-flooded stairwell on the western side of the estate to search for the Dragon. With any luck, we can find the statue and be out of there before the tomb robbers are able to control the blaze.

If luck failed to find us… there is always our blades…

Overdone: Stars

Safflower Tuffin stood on the hill overlooking Oatbarton. She rubbed her arn as she thought back to two weeks ago when she collapsed in a heap just inside the round door of her little homestead at Northcotton Farms. She remembered how she winced as she pulled the cotton fabric of her sleeve from the drying wound on her arm. The light blue was stained dark brown and she knew that if she pulled it off, the bite would start bleeding again.

“Bloody wolves,” she had cursed beneath her breath.

The animals had begun moving into the Bullroarer’s Sward again and she did not have to wander far to see signs of their passage. For a piemaker, she was extremely well versed in the lay of the surrounding lands all the way up to the far northern sands of the banks of the Brandywine.

The Baranduin Coldaer called it. She had humoured the shaggy man of the wilds and allowed him to teach her the tales of his people and how to read the language found etched in the ruins of all that was left of his people’s legacy. It was he who gave her the shining star trinket for assisting him when she found him wounded and alone on the dunes. It was he who opened her eyes to the Big Folks’ world beyond the Shire.

She thought of the gift he gave her for making the trek to his little haven to deliver food and medicine as he recovered from the injuries he had sustained in his adventures. The little clear star was hardly the size of her thumbnail and it reminded her of the glass stars Ronald made for children’s mobiles. It wasn’t made of glass, however, this little star.

“Adamant,” Coldaer had said. “A gem that is nearly indestructible. I think you are nearly indestructable, Miss Tuffin. You will probably outlive me.”

“Yes, especially if you keep traipsing about without watching your back like you say you do, Master Coldaer!” Safflower had smiled up at the Ranger who, once on his feet, would have been a bit intimidating if it hadn’t been for his gentle brown eyes. Coldaer had laughed but there was something about the way he looked at her that made her regret the joke.

The stars began to rise over the Sward and she thought of Miss Harawyn and Master Tenorbekk and how thoughtful they had been to help her clear the infection that set in from the wolf’s bite. While she didn’t feel like a werewolf (the full moon had passed after all), she knew the villagers would feel better about things now that she had taken the ancient antidote. And besides, it cleared up the infection within the hour.

As the stars twinkled into being, she thought of the empty space in her collection box where the adamant star had sat for years. It was only fitting that she received it for helping a man live and in return she gifted it to her own saviors. Master Tenorbekk had accepted the star with a disgruntled humility she found endearing. She only hoped he had the fortunes of having someone to pass it along to if he should ever have need.

~~~***~~~

ScreenShot00392The ruins of Rantost loomed over the motley collection of men and women that represented the dozen pockets of tomb robbers throughout Evendim. Lômiphel had worked hard to secure their allegiances through temptation or threat over the past year and eight months ago, the return of her father, Parmanen, only made things easier.

Parmanen was timeless; Lômiphel knew her father had to be reaching seventy, but the man looked no more than a weathered late forties. She knew part of it had to do with his command of the elements around him; she knew he possessed a magic that could slow the decay of time. He favored ice over fire and thus the island in the middle of Lake Nenuial was a perfect base for his most loyal followers. She herself had felt the icy blast of his disdain and often wondered why she had no magical influence over ice or fire herself.

Not that it mattered. Her eyes could reel in most men and women and if that failed, she always had her sword or Redford’s brute strength leading the power of the rest of the tomb robbers’ clans to beat the dissenters into submission. Power. And strength. This is what she learned from her father and for that she will always be grateful.

Now, as she watched the boats glide across the deep blue waters of the Nenuial, Lômiphel wondered how a little adamant trinket could possibly bring her father more power or strength. They had been looking for it for months and most men knew the search was a going to yield nothing. Still, Parmanen insisted the little star would find its way to reveal itself and they had to be in position to seize it when it did.

Redford stepped from the boat even before it pulled up fully onto the banks of their island. “Nothing,” he said bitterly and she frowned at her husband.

“So we can rule out Tham Ornen?” she said coolly.

“Yes. You shouldn’t be so surprised.” Redford shot a glance toward the ruins of the large estate. “I thought your father said it was getting closer,” he muttered to her as he joined her side.

“My father never said when it’d show,” she reminded him with a quick yet withering glance. Redford ducked his head and shifted his gaze from her face to the brittle grass beneath their feet. “Besides, it is not as though you came back empty handed.” Lômiphel looked over her shoulder at the second boat which had several large brown sacks stacked in its bow.

“The men are getting restless, Lôm. I  had to let them bring back something. We found a nice-”

“You wasted time.” Parmanen’s voice was crisp in the late autumn air. “You must understand how important this is, Redford. We cannot be complacent.”

Redford ran a hand through his hair and said without looking at his father-in-law, “But if we only knew why…”

The wind picked up around them and tossed Redford’s hair causing him to shudder from the chill running down his spine.

“Do you not have faith, Redford? This artifact will bring us more riches than you can imagine. The men will be placated. It will help us take Annúminas from the Rangers and then the entire city will be ours.”

Though Redford still looked skeptical as he looked at his wife, he nodded. “All right, all right,” he mumbled and quickly went to help his men unload their plunder.

Lômiphel walked up to stand beside her father and they watched as Redford yelled at one of the men for nearly dropping a sack into the lake. A shove and a punch and the man was cowering beneath Redford’s imposing form on the rocky bank.

“He is not pleased with our guest,” Parmanen commented dryly.

“No,” Lômiphel agreed. “He is not. He does not trust him. But you do?” The daughter looked up at the father seeking his guidance.

“Oh, yes. To the extent that any man can be trusted, Lôm. Do not fear him. He is well under control.”

“Do you truly think this gem will bring the power back to the Dragon, Father? It seems to function well without it.”

Parmanen kept his gaze on his son-in-law as the man beat the clumsy robber into submission. “I need it for more than a good luck charm, my daughter. Do not worry about why the Dragon must be whole.” He turned finally and smiled, his dark brown eyes penetrating hers with an intensity that made her feel completely naked and vulnerable.

“In time,” he said softly, “ you will see.”

Nothing

After the encounter with the Gauredain…

The Last Huntress of The Dreadward Tribunal

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Anyatka looked up at Esthyr. “You’re his flesh and blood. I see him in you. She shows me what it would be like . . . if he were younger . . . whole. If he loved only . . . me.” Her voice broke again and she lowered her head. By the Valar, she looked tired, and if there was not the threat of unleashing Faethril again, Eruviel would have relieved the woman’s weariness in a heartbeat.

“Well obviously that’s fake, then,” Esthyr snorted. “Morty was never young.”

Eruviel tucked strands of Anya’s hair behind the young woman’s ear. “And I’m sure if he was he would not be half as handsome without the scars.”

Anyatka nodded to both of them and managed a smile. “True.” Looking down at her hands a curious frown creased her face. “What is in my hand?”

“Something from someone called Atanamir,” said Esthyr.

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Overdone: Instincts

From High King's Crossing

The shield was dirty and it made Abiorn’s face look dirty. Dirty streaks crossed his features as he touched his cheek and then his chin. Was this his face? What happened in those ruins?

He looked down and turned over his hands. The bruises that ran across his palms from wrist to ring finger attested that yes, he was the one who had caught the club of the hulking tomb robber. His hands turned into burly claws and he was the one that ripped out the man’s throat with his teeth. His eyes in the mirrored surface of the shield were his eyes. Those were his shoulders, though, yes, in the time he spent since leaving Dale, they were broader. Stronger. Work around the cabin had made them so. His hair was a wild frame around his face; he rarely spent much time on it anyway.

He touched his lips and could still taste the robber’s blood on his tongue. No matter how many times he rinsed his mouth out, he could not remove the taste. But that did not bother him quite as much as the simple fact that he had liked it.

He had liked the raw power rippling through his muscles as he stood on his hind legs and easily overpowered the lumbering robber. He had liked watching the body fall as an enemy vanquished. He had liked the fear he saw in the eyes of the humans around him, friend and foe alike.

It felt strong. It felt powerful. It felt right.

The boy touched his lips again and ran his tongue over his front teeth as he bared them in a snarl.

Abiorn the Bear. Not the weak, crippled boy that he lived as all his life.

Yes, that felt right.

~~~***~~~

Every instinct in my body tells me to look at her as I used to before we left for the dark road to Dale. Even as we slept side by side beneath the changing moon, I only saw her as a companion of the woods. A companion in arms. A fellow marksman and tracker and a systir. Never did I see her as I do now each time I close my eyes. Each time I look at her and see her smiling up at me with sparkles in her hair. Each time I simply want to dive into her and lose myself.

How many times has my pain been removed by her touch?

How many times has she saved my life and I saved hers?

Yet, she is an Eldar. Men and Eldar cannot find happiness in such a union. Our fates lead us down different paths and despite how she is becoming my journey, I know I am just a detour in hers.

From High King's Crossing

~~~***~~~

Anya’s lips curled into a smile as Morty’s hands roamed over her bare skin. She arched into the gentle weight of him as he hovered above her and she looked up into his warm brown eyes and kissed him.

“Only you,” he murmured into her ear as the moonlight bathed them in its gentle glow. “Only you, my Anya.”

Somewhere in the far corners of her pleasure-logged mind, a bell went off. A silver tinkling like the sound of the little bell she left on Morty’s mantle grew louder and louder until she could no longer hear the heavy breath of her lover. She could only hear the ringing of the bell.

Anya pushed against Morty’s chest and looked up into his face. Clear of scars. Soft brown eyes. Not Morty.

Her heart stopped to coil into a tight pain and then it raced ahead in panic and fear.

Not Morty.

“Anya…” His voice was worried and still laden with desire as he leaned in to kiss her temple. Her forehead. His lips were warm and she felt his heart thudding against her breast.

Not Morty.

She pushed harder against him and tried to sit up. He gripped her shoulders and tried to catch her eye.

“Anya, what is it, love?”

Not Morty.

Every fiber in her body screamed for release from him in both senses of the word. She arched against him to push him away and when he did not move, she hit him. His rough grave-digger’s hands easily pinned her wrists to the mattress.

Not Morty.

“No! Release me! Let me go!”

Then he laughed and it was cruel. His perfect face faded and she was left naked on a cold stone floor. Blue flames surrounded her in her nightmare and she saw Faethril on the other side.

We could make it so, you know. Mend his pain and make him yours.

“Never… I will never give in to you!”

You don’t want him all to yourself? Just you and he to make babies and eat supper together every night?

“That’s not us. That’s not Morty.”

But are you sure it isn’t you? We can make it so.

“It would not be right. I know it in my heart it would not be true to who he is or who I am!”

Oh, but little dear… who are you? What colour is your hair?

“I know who I am. I feel it in my gut, I am me! I will never be you!”

And I feel it in my soul that I will have you. Call it… a premonition. My instincts tell me that you will join me if it means having him. In time, you will see.

Overdone: Whispers in the Dark

You hate him.

Anya sat up in bed. Her room was dark and not a sound whispered in the night. Eruviel was not there in the chair where she spent her vigil. Morty was not there staring at her with one eye his soft, warm brown and the other glittering opaquely in the moonlight. No sound of her brothers snoring softly in the other room.

You hate him. If you admit it, it will make this much easier.

Inside. The voice was inside her head and though she had never heard it before, she knew who it was.

Oh, how she wished it was his voice instead, but since that day by the Little Staddlemere, Aeron had not reappeared. Maybe it had been a dream, a secret wish of her heart that the one who knew her best would return to be her guide. Anric’s anger. Eirikr’s pain. Abiorn’s isolation. Eruviel’s heartbreak.

“No wonder she came back,” Anya whispered to the dark.

I’m right here, darling. You really should not speak of one as if she was not in the room.Anya's Room

“I have nothing to say to you. Leave me!”

If I leave, who will you have? Your brothers are too selfish. Men think only of themselves.

“You do not know what you are speaking of. My brothers are brave and true. Eirikr went back to Dale to save his wife. Abiorn will find his way. Leave them alone!”

Eirikr’s selfish drive killed his wife in the dark eves of Mirkwood. He pushed her too far. He did not see.

“Shut up! You know nothing!”

And then he fled like a coward to the woods, hiding from his pain and leaving it with you to bear.

“I do not blame him! He-”

Oh, but you do. You hate him for abandoning you. Like your love.

“Morty will never abandon me. Women leave him, not the other way around.”

I speak of the man with the hair like yours. Such a lovely colour. But you will look so lovely with raven-feathers instead of fire.

“Anric did not abandon me. I hurt him. I don’t blame him.”

Anric’s first thought was to run from you. Leave you to your misery. Instead of facing his adversary, he left you, the prize. He abandoned you, treated you as worthless.

“He did that to give me time. Space. To figure out what I wanted.”

He left you. He gave you no choice. And now he wants to bed you. Taste your body like it were merely some succulent bird and then toss aside the bones. He does not love you. He will not love you if he has to share your heart with another.

“Anric knows that I love him and Morty both.”

Foolish girl. He is the cause of all your pain. I would not be here if it were not for him.

“Anric?”

The grave-digger. The most selfish of them all.

“Morty is kind. Loving. You just do not like that he can beat you!”

He knows a few wards, yes. He is not of your world and thus has a certain power…but you will not be with him soon. You shall be alone and I will take you. And then, I will destroy him.

“Why? Why won’t you just go where you belong? They have done nothing!”

He left me. You hate him. He has left you, too.

“Who has left you? Who?”

He left me for his war and as I feared, he never came home.

“Aeron?”

I will find him. I will bring him back.

“Faethril, you have to let him go!”

I will bring him back and I will have the power to protect us both.

“Please, Aeron never wanted this. He is waiting for you, you just have to be patience.”

I wanted a family. I wanted happiness. I wanted my husband.

“Patience…”

Patience is for the weak. I will have him. But I will have you now.

Pain. Like a fist around her heart poking at all the raw spots Faethril had opened up with her words. The pain made Anya fall back, cry out, rip at the cotton chemise she wore. The silence mocked her; there was no one there. No one to come save her. No one to love her ever again.

Tears streamed as the pain only grew and spread from her chest throughout her body. “Fight it!” she thought. “You are stronger than she! Fight!”

Burning, like the flesh around her wrist when Faethril had tried to take her the first time in Ost Guruth. Only then, Anric was there and Eruviel. They fought for her. They destroyed the bracelet and freed her from Faethril’s grasp. There was no one to stop the burning now and it wrapped itself around her heart and flowed through her like poison in her veins.

“Fight…”

She thought of Anric. Her brothers. Morty. She thought of her father who could not love anything but power. No, they were not like him, they were not like Faethril. They loved her. She could feel it.

Like a spear to her heart, the pain shot through her and then it dissipated and she was in her bed and Eruviel held her in a panic and Abiorn was pulling at her hands and Eirikr stood stoic at her feet. The sounds of the world had returned; a wolf called in the distance and both Sally Stitches and Oli peered at her through the dark of the far corner.

She was not alone. Her family would never leave her side, she knew that in her heart, and if they ever strayed they would be back again. As she reassured them it was only a nightmare, she was relieved they would be leaving within the week. It wasn’t fair to them to worry over her so.

Life isn’t fair…unless you make it fair…

She ignored the voice as she hugged Abiorn’s shoulders – much broader since his arrival in Bree – and leaned against Eruviel’s body. She was safe. She was protected.

She had their love.

TFF September 2014 Challenge: A Day in Durrow

The morning was blossoming pink over the treetops and the birds were singing high as Alder Leigh stretched beneath the warm quilt. He smiled as the first rays of sunlight warmed his face and threw back the covers. He had a meeting with the new resident after lunchtime. He didn’t know much about the lad or his family, but he knew there were more people in that little cabin than would be comfortable. If all went well, he’d have a new project commissioned by supper time.

As he dressed, Alder heard his children milling about in the other room and he hoped Caroline was preparing breakfast. The thought of fresh eggs and hashed potatoes made his stomach rumble lowly.

When he entered the kitchen, he found both Caroline and Dane sitting at the table waiting for him to eat. The potatoes weren’t hashed, but fried in little pancakes that he liked well enough. The children chatted about their plans for the day and he nodded and smiled and frowned when necessary. Dane commented on how quiet the village was with the Wayfarers and all their lot gone, and Caroline got a wistful expression on her face that make Alder shake his head and sigh.

Alder’s apprentice, Bran Bullrush, knocked on the open window and grinned at them from outside. As Dane greeted the young man, he waved and walked out of view only to reappear after a few moments, inside and taking a hearty helping of potato pancake for himself. The gathering ate merrily, enjoying the slow morning and each other’s company.

Once dishes had been cleared and washed, Alder bid farewell ’til the evening to Caroline and Dane as he and Bran headed down the well worn path toward Ruby Lake. The fisherman’s cabin – now the Tenorbekk Cabin – sat low between two high cliffs with its back yard running right into the water. The elder brother, who bought the property right out from Oendir Arrowheart, wanted another room added to accommodate his siblings.

It would be a big project and there hadn’t been a wall raising in a while. The challenge would be where to put it, but that’s what he loved about the project. No repairs. No restorations. Creation, something that would blend in with the landscape and the current structure. And then, building the furnishings, unless the moneyed Dalish lad had all they needed beneath that beat up tarp covering the equally beat up wagon in his yard.

The meeting was shorter than he expected. The young man was brisk but not rude. He simply knew exactly what he wanted and had a good idea of how the structure should be added on to begin with. He built his house in Esgaroth, he said. His own hands had carved the dragon into the headboard of his wife’s bridal bed.

He didn’t have the time with his brother and sister, he said, to do it again. But Alder heard something else in the man’s tone. He didn’t want to do it again.

Alder had heard he lost his wife, just as he had lost his so long ago.

Bran took measurements (that he covertly double-checked) and together they bid the young man farewell. The sun was still high and he and his apprentice returned home. On the way, they ran into Nancy Thistle on an afternoon walk with her son and Alder paused to smile and chat with the boy. Tipping his hat to Mrs. Thistle, he led Bran back to the shop.

Bran sharpened the chisels and saws while he sanded several miter cuts that had torn out. They joked and counted nails and then Caroline came home with a basket of fresh biscuits from the shop up at Ravenhold. Though she smiled, Alder could tell she missed Maludir and Maggie and Sage.

Dinner was hearty and the family sat out on the lawn counting stars as they came out. Dane nodded to his sister and his father and trotted off down the lane. The young man had plans and Alder knew better than to ask.

When the mosquitoes started to eat them alive, they turned in and called it a night. Alder hugged and kissed Caroline good night; he patted the girl’s hair as she turned to her room. In his own, he washed in the basin and ran a comb through his hair. He did some stretches to work out his back muscles before turning in.

As he settled down beneath the warm quilt, he peered out the window at the full moon above.

“Good night,” he whispered before rolling over. “Another good day. Sweet dreams.”

 

Smoldering Fire: Kindling

((Exposition added; all other taken from RP chat logs edited for conventions and tense))

The streets of Bree always seemed to dirty to Eirikr. Tonight, they stank of the late summer evening and the presence of a growing number of Bree’s paltry residents. Each passing day brought more foreigners to the city; while he felt the anonymity of being a part of an increasing minority population, he also felt each Barding meant an increased chance of discovery.

Perhaps it was silly being so paranoid. The chances his father would have recovered from the loss of Sten and so many of his guard so quickly seemed unlikely, but Eirikr never discounted the resourcefulness of the man. He knew that one day, a shadow of Kolrson Tenorbekk would find his way to Bree and there would be a knife at his back.

For now, he merely sought the refuge of a crowded room without his siblings on top of him. He loved them both dearly, but years of living with just Ninim spoiled him of the joys of living in close proximity to his brother and sister. Even back home in Dale, they each had their own sections of the estate and rarely had to encounter each other unless they willed it. Since selling the large family home he had bought in Bree for Ninim, the three siblings dwelt in the small fisherman’s cabin in Durrow-on-Dunwash. It was a good, sturdy home, but he had never imagined Anya would be claiming the single bedroom leaving Abiorn and he to share the small front room with the tables and cabinets.

At least the floors are laid and set, he thought to himself as he pulled open the heavy door to the Prancing Pony.ScreenShot00352

The wave of heat hit his face as he stepped inside. He frowned. It was crowded; moreso than he was comfortable with. The weeks lost in the Far Chetwood still clung to him and people packed into the front room of the Pony immediately caused him to tense. Without meeting anyone’s eye, he made his way to the bar and ordered a drink. Butterbur served him with his general jovial small talk and then set to other business leaving Eirikr to scan the room for a familiar face.

He saw her walk in.

With a man that was not her ‘husband’.

He grunted and let a short woman pass by before crossing the hearth to her.

“Eruviel.”

She was speaking of searching and swordsmanship and it all made his stomach leap and twist into knots. He had to remind himself that she could handle her own better than most Men he knew.

He waited patiently for her to finish speaking with the man and finally turn to greet him. After she explained it was her neighbor and exchanging pleasantries and noting she looked a bit strained, he offered to buy her a drink.

She nodded, smiling at him. “I don’t need one, but I am getting one,” she chuckled. “Just a moment.”

Eirikr nodded and remained awkwardly standing as she stepped to the bar to order herself a drink. He remembered the drink in his hand and took a long swig to steady his nerves. The din of the inn filled his head and he couldn’t think clearly. Why was it a good idea to come here again? he thought.

Eruviel talked briefly with Barliman and, trading her coin for a pint of cold cider, she walked back over, tapping her mug against Eirikr’s. “Care to find a seat?”

He looked down at the clinking mugs in surprise having been lost in his own thoughts. “Certainly.” He looked around before adding, “Perhaps in a far corner somewhere,” in a mumble.

Eruviel glanced around the room, nodding. “Perhaps the fire down the hall is unoccupied?”

He nodded, grateful. “Wouldn’t hurt to look,” he said without emotion, outwardly at least.

Eruviel arched a brow at him but shrugged slightly and began making her way towards the steps. She skipped faintly at seeing the vacant room. “Ah, good!” Eirikr danced around her to hold the chair for her to sit in and she arched her brow at him but nodded as she sat. “Thank you, Eirikr.”

Eirikr nodded back and settled in the chair across from her. He took another drink before saying. “I wanted to thank you. For helping us.”

Eruviel smiled at him over the rim of her mug. “I told you before, you do not need to thank me. I was more than happy to help. I need to come over soon to see it.”

He nodded. “It looks wonderful. Like the Dwarves themselves set the stone.” The corner of his mouth twitched.

Eruviel chuckled. “I do not think we did /that/ magnificent of a job laying tile, but I am sure it looks very good.”

Grinning, he asked, “So what have you been up to, Eruviel? Between laying tile and…whatever else it is you do?”

Eruviel licked a bit of cider from her lips, relaxing back into her chair. “I have been hunting mostly, taking smaller commissions, and telling tales to a little friend of mine who is keen on writing a book.”

His eyes fell her her pink tongue as she licked her lips. Looking up quickly, he raised a thick brow. “A book? About…you?”

The Elf scrunched up her face in a smile, shaking her head. “My tales are just to educate and inspire her. She is a younger elf who had never ventured far from Rivendell. Though, I think I tell her too many tales of adventures. She’s gone off to explore local ruins.”

Eirikr’s eyes traveled over her face and down to her boots before they returned to her eyes. “Does she know how to defend herself? I avoid ruins when I can… too many bandits trying to get rich as quickly as possible with the least amount of work as possible.”

She looked back over to him as his eyes reached her face again. “I tried to teach her how to use a bow, but her skills are elementary. She has a close friend who travels with her.”

Eirikr nodded slowly. “She know how to protect herself?” he asked, making casual assumptions about the pronoun.

Eruviel smiled, nodding. “She does.” Taking a sip of her cider, she inclined her head towards him. “But what of you? We have not gotten a chance to speak much. How are you doing, Eirikr?”

He looked down into his mug as he swirled the amber contents. “I’m doing. Not much else to be done,” he said rather cryptically.

Eruviel studied him for a moment. “Your tone makes me wonder if there is a condition to that,” she said with a sad smile. “What would it be if there /was/ something to be done?”

He was beginning to dislike how she could see through him. Only Ninim had ever been able to do that, and it made him feel open and exposed. Vulnerable. He pressed his lips together into a thin line. “I guess if I knew, I’d do it.”

Eruviel nodded slowly looking to the fire as she took a drink. “Well, when you find out, let me know.”

He chuckled without much mirth. “I will.” He mulled over his thoughts for a moment as he stared into the fire, his mug gripped between both hands as he leaned his elbows on his knees.

She frowned slightly as she watched him. “What is on your mind, Eirikr?” she asked quietly after a moment of hesitation. “I would have you laugh like you did the other day.”

Eirikr looked up at her, startled. His eyes flicked over her face before a small grin curled his lip. “It was good to laugh again.” He sat back in the chair and drummed his fingers on the arm. “I suppose you will just have to do something to make me laugh.”

Eruviel smirked, though not unkindly as she crossed her right leg over her knee. “That would entail me either making a fool of myself or making a delightedly oblivious comment, both which are common enough, but I would hate to make a bigger fool of myself and not be funny.”

He grinned and held out a hand. “Well, my systir, however shall I laugh?”

Eruviel leaned forward, her mouth twisted to one side as she looked to his hand. “I have not the slightest idea where to begin, gwador.” She then chuckled, reaching out to tap her fingers on his palm. “Has Abbi cursed much lately?”

Eirikr grunted a laugh. “Every day as much as he can get away with. Foolish boy thinks it makes him sound like an adult, I’m sure.”

She grinned, shaking her head. “He grew quite sullen after I had him insult me. I had hoped that would curb it, but my example or a proper retort was poor to begin with.”

He laughed fully. “Well, you tried. I think he’s trying to prove a point now, but Bard knows I don’t know what it is.”

Her face lit with a smile at his laugh, nodding before she narrowed her eyes in a playful glare. “Then I /should/ stop by. I will have to gather up my wits, wherever they’ve gone off to, and see if I can find out.”

Eirikr grinned. “Your wits are perfectly fine, Eru.”

She snickered, shaking her head. “They have dulled some as my blade has gotten sharper, I fear. But I think more time with you and Abbi will remedy that. That boy must keep you on your toes.”

Eirikr let out a frustrated noise of disgruntlement. “You have no idea. He’s mother’s wits and father’s tenacity. And, well, I’m not sure where he gets his sense of humour from. Have you seen the spiders that are found in the Chetwood? The little ones that glow?”

Eruviel nodded. “I have. It is rather lovely, though most wild things that glow are best admired from a distance.”

He nodded. “I agree. Abbi doesn’t understand that. He thinks they belong in Anyatka’s paint pots.” He smiled ruefully.

Eruviel sputtered mid-drink. “Oh please, please tell me she plans to paint soon.”

He pursed his lips. “She’s found some of them. Made me kill them all. I didn’t realize she had such issues with spiders. They’re nothing here compared to…” he shivered slightly as he recalled Mirkwood. “But he keeps catching them. Just you wait, she’ll find some when you’re around.”

Eruviel nodded, a gleam in her eyes as she smiled. “I look forward to it.” She stopped suddenly and quirked a brow. “They are not poisonous, are they?”

Eirikr shook his head. “Not that I’ve noticed. Though, they are small. Perhaps too small yet to bite.”

She nodded, quickly concealing a mischievous smile. “Let us hope we do not find out if they are.”

Eirikr nodded, smiling. “I agree.” He regarded her fondly for a moment and then cleared his throat. Taking another drink, he turned his gaze back to the fire.

Eruviel sipped her cider thoughtfully, arching a brow at him as he cleared his throat. “You are not becoming ill, are you?”

Eirikr shook his head. “No, I do not think so. Just…thirsty.” How lame.

Eruviel nodded. “Good. That was the third time you’ve cleared your throat tonight. Don’t worry me like that,” she smirked, reaching out to kick his foot. “Men are hopeless when they get sick, and before you know it Abbi and Anya will be ill as well and I’ll have to tend all three of you.”

He arched a brow. “You wouldn’t need to take care of all of us. I’m sure I’d recover before any illness set into them.”

Eruviel continued to smirk. “Of course you would. Though, if they do ever fall ill, I call taking care of Abbi.”

It was Eirikr’s turn to smirk. “He’s funny when he’s feeling well, but when he catches the slightest cold, he milks it for all it’s worth. It’s quite miserable being around him actually.”

She chuckled. “What is Anya like when she falls ill?”

Eirikr thought about it for a moment before answering. “She’s much better than Abiorn. She tries to keep it to herself as much as possible, but will certainly try to find comfort in your pity if she’s able.” He swirled the ale at the bottom of his mug. “Or at least she was like that. When we were littler.”

Eruviel nodded, smiling softly as she looked to the fire. “I can see her being like that still. Since it would be unfair of me, I will not retract my earlier claim to care for Abbi if he falls ill,” she said with a playful wink. Lifting her mug and finding it empty she set it down on the floor beside her chair.

Eirikr followed her action with his steady gaze. “Do you need another?” he asked rather quickly.

She caught his look and smiled slightly, shaking her head as she stretched out her arms in a rather cat-like motion. “I do not, but you can cover my drink the next time. I am too full and warm to enjoy another as I should,” she chuckled, leaning against one arm of her chair.

He nodded. “As you wish. Do you wish for me to walk you home?”

She rolled her shoulders as she sat forward in her chair. “If you have no other business in town and would like to. I would be glad for the company.”

He nodded again. “I just came to get away from…” he blushed beneath his tan, “…well, it gets crowded in our little cabin.”

She nodded in understanding. “I would think so. We should see about expanding it so you and Abbi can have your own rooms without stealing Anya’s.”

Eirikr smiled as he set his mug down and stood. He offered her his hand. “Shall we, then, my lady?”

Eruviel laughed merrily and, taking his hand, rose to her feet in one smooth, graceful motion. “Why yes, let’s, my good sir.”

Eirikr returned her laugh with a smile. He tucked her hand into the crook of his arm and led her toward the back exit to escort her home.

Welcome Home

The light was on.

A lantern hung in the window of the little cabin on Ruby Lake and laughter could be heard all the way out by the lane. The man paused at the gate with his bow slung over his shoulder. His hair and beard made him appear wild; bits of the far Chetwood clung to him everywhere and he pulled his fingers through his the tangled net on his head. His eyes were weary and wary as he looked upon the small dwelling. ScreenShot00347There was guilt in the way he drug his feet as he approached the door. He raised a fist to knock and then remembered who the house belonged to. He carved a smile into the weathered bark that was his skin and took a deep breath. The latch lifted easily and he pushed the door open.

Inside, a woman and a teenage boy sat facing the fire burning low on the hearth. Smoking nuts sat in a pile between them and as he watched, the boy took one and tossed it into the fire. It popped loudly and the woman batted at his arm.

“Abbi, stop! I want to eat those!” she exclaimed with a laugh.

The boy laughed and tossed a handful into the flames. “They’ll be extra crunchy for you.”

The woman threw a handful the boy. He ducked, laughing, and leaped up and away from her. As he grinned, he spotted the man in the doorway and his eyes lit up.

“Eirikr!”

The boy called Abbi limped over to the man and hugged him. “Brother, it is good to see you!”

The elder brother looked down at his younger and his creaking smile splintered. The boy glistened with sweat and a rash covered the skin exposed by his loosened tunic. Eirikr placed a hand on his forehead before he could protest.

“Abbi, you have a fever. You should be resting.”

The boy smiled. “No, no. I’m fine, brother. Just happy to see you. You look like hell.”

The woman stood and turned to face the reunion. She scolded Abbi gently, “Watch your words, Abiorn.” Eirikr stared at his sister in disbelief. Every time he saw her, it seemed like there was something new. Tonight, the quiet joy he had felt from her was only slightly dampered by his sudden appearance. He hadn’t been sure what to expect. Tears and anger? Embraces and jubilation? He had years of experience dealing with both from her. He did not know how to take a cool and responsible Anya. He looked at his brother for a lead.

Abiorn waved off the gentle reprimand and shuffled to the hearth. “Let me make some tea, Eirik.” He looped his hand beneath the handle of the tea kettle and set it on the rack to heat.

“Thank you,” the man said from just inside the door.

The cabin never felt so small. Anya simply stood, staring, while Abiorn placed three cups on the table with hands swollen at the knuckles. He fumbled and the noise from the clay cup hitting a saucer split the silence otherwise punctuated only by the popping of the fire.

“Didn’t chip,” Abiorn assured himself as he tried to measure out tea leaves.

“Here, Abbi.” Their sister walked over to take the jar of leaves and the spoon. She placed the leaves in the teapot and then replaced it on the shelf. Each movement seemed deliberate. Measured. Eirikr’s chest tightened the more he watched his sister treat him with such wariness. He couldn’t blame her. He had lost track of the days while he traveled the Chetwood and the northern mountain range surrounding Nen Harn. He ate what he shot or fished from the waters. If his bow or hook found nothing, he chewed pine bark or found what he could in the way of greens and mushrooms. He didn’t mind roughing it and he had done it many times before.

The look his sister gave him now, however, made him pause. It was if she thought he might spring at them at any moment. As if he was a stranger.

“I’m sorry it was such a long time,” he said to break the silence between them. “I…lost my way near Trestlebridge. Orcs nearly surround the place. I had to circle around to avoid…”

Anya nodded without looking at him. He felt his stomach drop and he took an involuntary step backwards. His hand reached for the door.

“We were just eating these nuts Anya got from the market,” Abbi interjected. “They’re from down south. Come on, Eirik. Sit down and try some.” He hurried over to the stack and picked up a fistful and shoved them in his mouth. “They’re good!”

Eirikr nodded and moved to sit where Abbi indicated. He watched his sister’s rigid back as she fetched the kettle and made the tea. Her grey eyes shone as he caught a glimpse when she brought him a cup, but she turned away before he could ascertain why.

When the pile of nuts was depleted and the flames of the fire replaced by the soft glow of smoldering embers, Anya excused herself for bed. She hugged Abiorn tightly and then gave Eirikr a little pat on the shoulder. She passed into the sole bedroom and as the brothers watched her form disappear behind the door, Eirikr let out a heavy sigh.

“You were gone a long time, Eirik. Near three weeks, I’d reckon. Hell, she probably didn’t think you were ever coming back.”

“Abbi, your language. You’re still a gentleman.”

“Like you, brother?” Abiorn leaned back in his chair and propped his feet up on one Anya had abandoned. “Sorry. Didn’t mean it like that. But I’d like to think I left all that rubbish behind in Dale.”

Eirikr didn’t answer right away. His thoughts drifted north to the woods and the banks of the lake. When Eruviel found him there, he was more wounded beast than man. His pain made him deaf to her concern and imploring. He had hurt her. And he had hurt Abiorn and Anyatka. He did not look at his brother, but he knew the young lad’s eyes were on him. They always were on him, even when he wasn’t here to be seen.

In the quiet that fell between them, he thought he heard a distant howl. “We left a lot of things, Abbi. But we shouldn’t forget who we are.” He rubbed the thick beard covering his chin. “I need a trim.”

His brother grinned and nodded. “Aye. You do, or you’ll scare the neighbors. They’re pretty decent folk, far as I can tell.”

“Think they’d appreciate if we got that tile out of the yard?”

“Yeah, I think so. Eruviel came by the other day and offered to help. We didn’t know when you’d be coming home.”

Eruviel. He owed her so much. He owed all of them for disappearing for so long. He looked over to his brother and together their heads turned to the closed bedroom door.

“She’ll come ‘round, Eirik. She’s been lots better recently and seein’ you back’s probably just a shock, you know?”

He nodded and offered him a meek smile. The muscles around his mouth protested and his cheeks felt unusually hot. Abiorn grinned in return and punched him in the shoulder.

“Just don’t go runnin’ off for so long again, okay? Then she won’t act like she’s seen a ghost or something next time you come back.”

The smile eased and he managed a quiet laugh.

“All right, Abbi. I won’t.”

Interlude: Eirikr’s playlist, updated

Life should be a musical. Or at least that is what I say. Music is that universal language that allows people to express themselves in a way that transcends the things that separate us. Or something else equally cliche and profound.

Eirikr was never really meant to become such a rounded character. I have Eruviel to thank for his development; the Dale plot was initially meant to be a side story for me to blog while focusing on other things in-game. Luckily, it grew, as RP often is wont to do.

As a character, his soundtrack has always existed. Songs like Ludo’s Anything for You easily found their way onto his playlist to define his love for his wife. Since Dale finished, however, Eirikr has changed. Grown some and died some. The following songs are added to the playlist of his life. Enjoy.

The Price of Freedom by Takeharu Ishimoto (cover by “ViolnTay”lor Davis and ArnoMusicTV)

I love Taylor Davis, and this cover is one of my favorite renditions of The Price of Freedom. I will admit, the first time I ever played Crisis Core, I couldn’t even play the end because I was crying so hard. And the next time. And the time after that. Final Fantasy VII introduced me to RPGs, Japan, and video games. As much as some people have problems with it ‘as a game,’ I will always love it for the story (as messed up as some people might think it is).

Cloud carried a burden. The sacrifice of another for his own freedom, the need to prove himself from childhood, and the loss he felt when he couldn’t save Aerith. So much fail.

As I was writing Eirikr, I did not even realize how much Cloud was influencing him, especially Advent Children Cloud. “I’m not fit to help anyone – not my family, not my friends. Nobody.”  Eirikr presently suffers from these feelings of guilt and loss and they weigh upon him greatly. The introduction of the wolf probably came directly from the lone wolf of AC – I just didn’t realize it at the time. It first manifested when Eirikr was in Thorenhad debating on how to deal with his father – and thus which path to take: light or dark. And it showed itself again after he returned to Bree without his wife who died in childbirth.

The haunting violin, the strong electric guitar chords. The price of his freedom and the freedom of his siblings. You’re gonna carry that weight…

Zero’s Theme from Vampire Knight 

Maybe this says something about me. Undead. Underdog. Painstakingly protecting those he loves despite his desperate desire to protect those he loves from himself. Ah, Kiryuu.

But what does it say about Eirikr?

Simple, haunted, searching. Alone by choice. Loved against will. Hope.

The Mountains Win Again by Blues Traveller

I pick up my smile put it in my pocket
Hold it for a while, try not to have to drop it
Men are not to cry so how am I to stop it
Keep it all inside don’t show how much she rocked ya

Ooh can you feel the same
Ooh you gotta love the pain
Ooh it looks like rain again
Ooh I feel it comin’ in
The mountains win again
The mountains win again

Dreams we dreamed at night were never meant to come to life
I can’t understand the ease she pulled away her hand
This time in my life I was hurt enough to care
I guess from now on I’ll be careful what I share

Ooh can you feel the same
Ooh ya gotta love the pain
Ooh it looks like rain again
Yeah feel it comin’ in
The mountains win again

A pocket is no place for a smile anyway
Someday I will find love again will blow my mind
Maybe it will be that love that got away from me
Is there a line to write that could make you cry tonight
Can you feel the same
Yeah ya gotta love the pain
Ooh it looks like rain again
Ooh feel it comin’ in
The mountains win again
Ooh the mountains win again