Smouldering Fire: The Beginning of an End of a Beginning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~***~~~

Nine Years Later

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe they still would some day.

But not today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Emergence

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

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

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

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

~~~***~~~

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

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

He is not gone. He is only sleeping.

I will take care of him still.

~~~***~~~

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

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

I don’t need anyone. Only myself.

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

~~~***~~~

It was only a kiss.

And a manifest.

And a card or two.

Men aren’t worth the time, really.

Neither are women.

It was only a kiss.

Nothing’ll come of it.

It’s just news.

And a ship.

My ship.

Just a kiss.

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.

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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.

A Bitter Pill: Not a Time for Passion

The hut was dark and silent save for Oendir’s steady breathing. Cwen lay beside him–clothed in her heavy chemise, underrobe, and lined trousers–and pulled her bare toes up to rest their tops against the back of his calves as she spooned against him. She pulled the fur blankets to her chin and let out a heavy sigh before draping her arm loosely over his torso.

What in Arda was wrong with him?

Right there in the middle of the Great Lodge! In front of Eruviel! And Hallem! He had not shown such passion or freedom with his emotions in all her time knowing him. Pulling her into his lap and then kissing her with verve so publicly made her pulse race, certainly, and in a way that it had not since she last saw…

But it was disorienting. It did not feel like the Oendir she knew. It was imply off and certainly the others would say the same had he not carried her away while covering her in kisses.

I should not be so ungrateful at these changes in his affection, she thought. But she was, because though perhaps once or twice he asked for milk in his tea, he had not since arriving in Forochel (cows really did not find the ice welcoming) and when she brought him what the ladies told her was milk, he did not even seem to question it. (She certainly did.)

Possibly what disturbed her more than his ready acceptance of pseudo-milk or the simplistic (public) declaration that they should make love was his lack of concern for Atanamir. He did not seem interested in the fact Atanamir had not yet regained consciousness and this above all was untrue to Oendir Arrowheart. She knew Oendir’s protective stance over Atanamir from the moment he let her use her beryl to save his life without question or complaint in Dol Amroth, though she long had suspected he saw the young man much like he saw…

She shifted uncomfortably, though she tried not to disturb him. If he woke, she feared she did not have the energy to stave his sudden interest in coupling again.

Through the haze of Oendir’s kisses, she had thought she heard Dorsett responding to Atanamir’s awakening. She hoped she simply had not imagined it and that the man was much more himself than her own love.

Her love.

She pressed her cheek against his back in the dark. Only through much quick thinking and persistent protesting did Cwen manage to talk Oendir back into his pants. She convinced him to find satisfaction in her declarations of love and her presence beside him, and though several times she insisted that she simply did not think now was the time for shagging, part of her wanted to just finally love him without preamble or pretense.

“Maybe he will sleep it off,” she whispered to herself in an attempt to find comfort enough to sleep, “but still find me so desirable when he’s more himself.”

But sleep was hard in coming for Cwendlwyn that night despite how hard she tried not to think of Oendir’s odd behavior or of the letter in her pocket pressed between the bed of thick furs and her hip.

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

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.

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

A Bitter Pill: Yule Letters

Tacked to the board in Ravenhold:

Dear Wayfarers,

Neilia and I have gone to Buckland to celebrate the Yule with our Hobbit family there. My stay should be brief; three or four days at most. If there is need of my services before we return, you can find me at Gardeneve. Do not hesitate to call upon me regardless of how far I may stray.

I am forever at your service. May Béma guide your path.

Cwendlwyn Tain

~~~***~~~

Left on the map table in Eruviel’s home:

Dear Eruviel,

I am sorry that I missed you. Neilia and I are going to Gardeneve for a few days to celebrate the season with Callee and some other friends. Please do not hesitate to visit if you feel the need to take a true holiday from Bree. My door—regardless of its location—is always open to you.

Regarding our discussion about the commander, I am afraid that the truth has done its damage. After the gathering at Ravenhold, he and I were left alone and the conversation did not go anywhere except to tears. I told him I would do anything, he need only ask. But he doesn’t know what to do any more than I do.

I am tempted to stay in Buckland even though Oendir insists the Wayfarers need me. How can I remain in Bree when he says there is no way to fix us? Even as I struggle to figure out what my heart truly says, I cannot bear it that I am the one who causes such a great man pain.

And Rheb. I am going to try to find him before I go, but what can I do? I have a feeling Rheb will only smile and try to kiss me to make it all better and remind me that he doesn’t mind if I am with Oendir, too. He just does not understand that Oendir minds. And me. Do I mind? I should mind, of course. I am not that sort of woman to have a husband and a lover. Whomever is whichever, I can’t even begin to think about.

I’ve already written too much. I do hope you come visit me now, though I will probably be back in Bree before you could reach Gardeneve. First thing when Neilia and I return shall be our tea. I fear we both need it.

May the Huntsman guide your aim true,

Cwen

~~~***~~~

Left with the mail at Ravenhold, sealed and addressed:

Durrow
Durrow

Dear Atanamir,

I wished to thank you for the conversation we had a while ago regarding Oendir’s foster son, Rheb. The information you provided regarding his unique abilities has proved useful. I know that you are curious about my questions. I do apologize for being so elusive.

I have a favor to ask of you though I do not think you will find it too large a burden. Please pay special attention to Oendir. I am afraid this season might be especially hard on him and I am in no position to make anything about it better. It is unusual for me to ask this of you of all people, I am certain. But he loves you dearly and I can tell he views you as one of his own.

Spend some time with him, if you can. I know you have your own burden to bear, but perhaps together your plights will be less when you have each other to share them. That is what family is for: to lessen the burdens we bear even when in the end, it is us that must face them alone. I know that you have your lover, but Oendir does not. He has Solstan, but a child can only ease the pain; he cannot help his father through it.

This might seem presumptuous of me, but I feel it necessary to say before I am before I leave for Buckland. Both of you are too pigheaded to say it, but you should. That you love each other.

Oh, and if you are afraid Oendir will be angry or disgusted that your bedmate is a ‘he,’ just look at him and say ‘hypocrite.’ If he balks and protests, say, ‘The dream.’ You were in it, too. I assume you will know what I am speaking of, but if you do not, just trust me. He could use a good kick of reality to face the fear that makes you afraid of his disapproval in the first place.

Cwen

~~~***~~~

Sent by post down the Brandywine:

Dear Miss Arameril,

Thank you so much for your letter. It brings me great joy to hear that you and Sir Pengail are getting married. He is a fine young man and together with your strength and spirit, you will make Dol Amroth and all of Arda a better place.

I am glad that you thought of me and the Wayfarers. I will pass along your well wishes and the news of your nuptials. I only wish we could be there to send you off properly. Married life can be a true blessing when the love is as pure as yours. I know that if you listen to each other, stay honest and faithful, and love each other with the same passion ten years from now as you do today, you will do fine.

That is the same advice I will offer young Hallem Kemp and his betrothed, if he ever asks. His engagement is probably the most exciting happy news of those you would know here. I know that you and he were quite friendly with one another, so I hope that he has already written you with the news and I did not spoil the surprise for him. Other than that, there have been a few more journeys and some new scars, but overall, we here in Bree are doing well.

Bree is beautiful with the season. Decorations of big red bows and holly and mistletoe are everywhere. Food is prepared with special care. And people gather to love one another. It is a wonderful season, truth be told. I’m certain Dol Amroth is just as beautiful in its own way.

I’ve included a small painting that represents the season here. A friend did the work. If you like it, I can ask her to do more little pieces that I can send easily.

Do keep writing, my dear. The happiness you have to share is always welcome here.

Deepest regards and best wishes on your wedding,

Cwendlwyn Tain

~~~***~~~

Slipped under the door at his house in Durrow:

Dear Rheb,

I have gone to Buckland to visit some friends. Oendir knows about us and is very hurt. I’m sorry I could not find you before I left. I will try one more time before Neilia and I leave.

K.

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.”

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…

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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