Fallout

The stars hid behind thick clouds when Eris walked along the dock in search of a sign. Her boots click-clacked on the worn boardwalk and few others hung about near the worst of the wreckage in the fading light of the remaining day. But she had to see it. She had to touch to water to know for certain that her life was on the bottom of the bay.

Corsair ships, black and pointed, protruded from the shallows. The dark wood of the south mingled oddly with the lighter woods of Gondor; lighter by nature and by paintbrush, the Gondorian ships glowed beneath the waves lapping against the pontoons keeping the little wooden bridge afloat. They had died in the first fighting, those Gondorian ships. They boosted their southern sisters like a shelf.

Eris did not know how she knew which dock to go to any more than she knew which door handle to try when she was seeking a hood and cloak and a bit of food or which alley to turn down to avoid the patrols. Head down, eyes up, she navigated Pelargir well enough; she had found respite in its port before.

At the end of the plank bridge, she stepped onto the farthest wharf. The transition from wood to stone was always jarring for her. Stone did not hold water like wood did and the disconnect took a moment to shake off. Step, step, down to the very edge of the dock, as far from the solid slab of land that the city rested upon as she could get without diving in. Oh, how she wished to dive into the cool depths of the bay. How long would she have to stop breathing for her to be reunited with her hull? Would the mastheads still stand tall? How soon does the floor of the sea start to reclaim the magic of a worthy vessel with barnacle and weed?

Attached to the stone wharf bobbed a lower wooden platform. It nearly rested on the water itself and in rough weather, the waves wet the planks between the gaps leaving them treacherous. Today, the sea ebbed calmly against the higher jetty. Eris stepped down the rope and plank ladder with ease and then at the edge of the water, she knelt on one knee and touched her palm to the surface of the water.

Flashes from black powder and lightning. The splintering of hulls and shattering of stone. Eris felt herself wince as she felt the water lap over her fingers filtering it for its secrets and searching for her answer. Concussive battering against stone and metal. Shallows empty except for the broken hulls and skeletal masts of ships.

Deeper, farther than she had expected, rested The Golden Apple, or at least what remained of her. Remnants of blackened sails floated in the underwater current along the snapped and scorched ends of the ropes and pulleys. The fire had burned great holes in the hull. Its ironic crackling still echoed in the sea as the waters remembered the hiss and fizzle as the ship sank.

The urge to yank her hand from the pain of the memories nearly overwhelmed her, but she did not pull back. Eris grit her teeth, closed her eyes, and kept her hand in the water until she felt full of the loss of her friend, her love, her ship. The only thing constant on the ocean blue, the only thing controllable and contained was a ship, her ship, and now it was gone. She had to understand that it left this world without her and there was nothing she could do.

“Oi! Whotchoo doin’ da’n there, lassy?”

The voice shook her from her mediation and she stood quickly. The dockhand regarded her suspiciously.

“Rememb’ring that which I’ve lost,” she told him sincerely. “I’m sorry. I’ll go.”

The man’s stern expression softened with pity. “Yes, civilians ought nah be da’n here. ‘S dangerous ’til the builders c’n fix whot’s broke in the fightin’. Best be gahn.”

Without lifting her head, Eris nodded and climbed the ladder. The dockhand stared at her as she rushed past him. She paid him no mind.

~~~***~~~

Paying no mind to the dockhands loading a merchant ship, Halvel strode down the wharf of Dol Amroth. Her aunt made it clear that she was no longer welcome in Minas Tirith and her presence would only be a burden to her now that her uncle and cousin were gone. It seemed cruel somehow that her life had brought her full circle for Gelluines would only buy passage down the Anduin. “Only to a proper place with your own family,” she had said. Halvel did not have it in her to fight and if truth be told, she was more than ready to leave the walls of the White City.

“Hálchon!” she called when she spotted her brother on the deck of one of their remaining fishing vessels. “Hálchon, come down here!” She waved to catch his attention and tried to suppress her scowl when he glared down at her from the rail.

“What are you doing here?!” her brother exclaimed. He paused to give a few orders and then he waved her toward the gangplank.

Reluctantly, Halvel wove her way to the edge and only boarded when Hálchon beckoned her up the boarding ramp.

“What are you doing here?” Hálchon repeated when she joined his side. “I thought you were needed in the Houses of Healing?”

“I lived out my usefulness there,” Halvel said stiffly. “And Aunt Gelluines did not wish to continue paying my upkeep. I cannot say that I blame her with uncle and cousin Tondaer gone.”

Passing his writing tablet to another man, Hálchon held out his hand for her to walk in front of him. He herded her to the aftdeck. “Tondaer treated you well during your stay? He was a good man.”

Halvel nodded and rested a hand on the rail. “He did. It is a shame that he was lost, but as a first circle guard…it is a miracle that any survived at all.”

The severity, the solemnness that overshadowed her normally fiery spirit caught Hálchon’s attention, but he only studied his sister’s profile.

“You could go back to Bree, you know.”

When Halvel did not respond, Hálchon continued, “He wrote you. I must apologize for reading it on your behalf, but you can understand how surprised I was to receive a letter addressed to you from your husband. You really should have written me before, Halvel. You could have come home, could have avoided all the-”

“I didn’t want to come back here, Hálchon. Surely you know that. And I cannot return. You wouldn’t understand.” Halvel stared ahead. “Part of me wishes I had died, brother. At least I would have had a place to belong.”

Nodding, Hálchon turned to lean on the rail with both forearms. “You will always belong here, Halvel,” he assured her gruffly. “But you were never happy here.”

“Did you report the destruction of The Apple to the dockmaster?” she asked abruptly. A passing gull drew her eye briefly.

“No. But I will. I believe he marked it down as missing in action or stolen. I hadn’t bothered correcting the logs yet.”

“It was not necessarily stolen,” Halvel said elusively, “but it was off course. We left it in Pelargir. I heard the Corsairs attacked the harbor. Surely it is lost.”

Hálchon grunted softly and said, “I will have to write Gaelyn. Perhaps you should do it.”

“No,” Halvel answered quickly. “You. I-I cannot.”

“You should,” Hálchon urged gently. “You have been given a second chance, Halvel. Take it.”

“No. You. I will inform the master of the docks. We cannot have the ship on record as stolen.” She adds in a murmur, “Eshe has enough to worry about.”

“What?” Hálchon turned to lean on his elbow and face her and raised a brow when Halvel waved a hand dismissing his question. “I’ll just take it that the good captain is no longer in our employ?”

“She was arrested,” Halvel explained wearily. “I do not think she did anything wrong, but she disappeared during the evacuations. A guard turned up dead. At best she is at large.”

Hálchon shook his head and looked out across the sea. “She better leave this family alone now. If I find her, I will see to it that she does not meander on anyone ever again.”

~~~***~~~

“What do you mean, he is not here?”

The man wore robes of deep scarlet and midnight black and his long hair was tied in two inch sections down to the middle of his back. Though they were mud-splattered and his face was travel-worn, he had a regal command about him that made even Lichen pause.

The conversation with the head of house at the guild hall of that blasted adventuring crew was short and frank. In a delightfully dramatic twirl of his worn cloak, the man turned from her desk and stormed out of Ravenhold in a huff. Only when he reached the cobbled road that led back down to the market square did he pause and rest a hand on his lower back as he turned to look up at the beautiful hall.

“Blast,” he muttered to himself and he looked out over the little village of Durrow-on-Dunwash with a sigh. No use complaining more, he decided. Straightening his robes with a tug on his lapels, the man set off for the Broken Cask, the tavern and inn that blasted woman mentioned as a place he could look for a room and a meal. He could only hope it had a hot bath and a library, though he doubted it. Such plebeian establishments rarely had such touches of civilization.

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Headstrong Heart: Impetuous

Dear Gaelyn,

I wish to apologize for the brevity of my last letter. When pen touched paper, my thoughts scattered and I could not put a sentence together that made sense. I did not wish to hold up the other letters, nor did I wish to leave you without, so I made do with what I had.

I wish I could say all that I want to, but even now, more developed words fail me. Form and function do not fit the multitude of emotions that course through me now. I want to write volumes and volumes, but as the shadow over Minas Tirith darkens, all I can say is this:

I was falling in love with you and I left not because I did not love you, but because I did. I was just too proud to say it.

I did not understand it and had not meant for it to occur. When you told me that you could not do it anymore, I was not prepared for how difficult it was to breathe and could only be thankful that statues did not need to do so to exist. I had been so long in a mode of protection, shielding myself from the shame and the loneliness of my home city, that I did not recognize that I snuffed out any response other than the one I was used to presenting. Formal. Business-like. Matter-of-factual. And I could not dispute the facts: you were not ready.

Now that I sit here in my uncle’s spare room far away from home, from safety, and from you, do I realize what a fool I was to leave Durrow. And not because Durrow is so far away from this place that so soon will be under siege. But because I miss you and have missed you since the day I left. I wish I had another day to play with Atrian and see your smile. Even if it hadn’t been for me, if I had been able to turn this feeling back into friendship, it would have been wonderful to see once the pain went away.

And now, I fear I will die with that pain. I will not evacuate; I have been helping the healers and somehow, as insignificant as my hands are, I find they are needed here. It is funny how our worlds turn out sometimes, is it not? I have searched most of my life in an attempt to find a way to make myself useful despite the delicate nature of my sex. And now, my usefulness will likely be my doom. But I am all right with that. I have found my peace with death and I know that I am doing what I can to defend the kingdom. I only hope that our efforts here buy time for the rest of the Free peoples to gather what strength they can to defend their homes.

Find your happiness, Gaelyn. Thank you for the happiness you have given me.

Yours,

Halvel

 

Headstrong Heart: A Message

Dear Godric,

I wished to let you know that I have landed and made my way to Minas Tirith. Unfortunately, it is not a good time to be in Minas Tirith and my uncle was not pleased at my arrival. He has sent me to the Houses of Healing to assist the healers as they prepare for war.

I must admit that having something to do with my time is a relief. I do not have to think about the encroaching shadow or the oncoming war. I tear and sew (I was never very good at it) and help prepare for worst. 

Do wish the others well. I am hopeful that the darkness that has settled in people’s hearts here does not reach its tendrils into Durrow. I hope that you and the others are safe.

Give my regards to the other Wayfarers. Tell Gael

Sincerely,

Halvel of House Remlor

~~~***~~~

Dear Rosie,

First, I need to apologize. I am so sorry to abandon you and my work at the Broken Cask. I know that my assistance was minimal, but it was a relief to have you there when I was in Bree-land. The loneliness that one experiences when you lose all your friends is very different than the loneliness that descends when you simply have none. 

I have found myself in Minas Tirith, and though I had intended on coming here to live with my uncle, Tomlin, I did not expect to arrive the way I did. I suppose I am lucky to have arrived without something much worse than a bruised eye and broken lip. My uncle was not pleased that he had to present me to others in such a manner, but there was little I could do about it. At least the story of a corsair ship accosting ours earned me some admiration among some of the ladies left in the Houses of Healing.

There are times when I miss you and Glory terribly. I miss Atrian. And Gaelyn. But nothing can be done; it is over and I am gone. I should not have made the choice so rashly. It just hurt so badly when he said he could not anymore. It hurt more than I realized it could. 

If what they say is true, soon it will not matter. Few believe we will survive this storm. If that is true, please tell me that you will be safe, Rosie. Flee into the forest or west to the mountains. The shadow lies over this city and grows each day. It will make the waiting easier to think that you and Glory will be safe. 

Write if you can; I do not know if anything will get through any longer. Know that you are in my thoughts. 

Your friend,

Halvel

~~~***~~~

Dear Gaelyn,

Please know that I am safe in Minas Tirith. My uncle has taken me in and I am working at the House of Healing making bandages and doing simple things where I can. 

I hope Atrian is well. Give him my love.

Halvel

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.

News

Once upon a time, the fields of Fornost were lush and green. Settlements dotted the landscape and folk greeted the armies of Arthedain with cheers and garlands. People farmed and crafted and smithed and life was good among the gentle downs.

Life was good.

Then they came from the north and the east and they destroyed the land and its people.

He fell fleeing to the south with his people, one of a dozen fools to think they could stand against the might of Angmar. They never should have tried to find peace in a land torn by war for generations and generations. They should have known they were to fall among two enemies that day.

I saved him. I saved his spirit from being consumed by the darkness. I saved his spirit from being cursed to wander those broken plains alone.

One day, I will summon him again to me. One day, I will be free of this prison of metal and stone and all of the west will tremble.

~~~***~~~

I think of it often. The crossroads that lead to the four directions: east to hidden wilds, north to cursed lands, west to dangerous territories, and south, back south toward civilization. It is such a lonely place to be, and then he remembered that crossroads when we drew near all those months ago.

If I had the power then that I do now, maybe things could have been different. Maybe I would not have struggled against Faethril, and instead I would have been able to control her anger and use it for good.

Would I have been able to live forever, then, if I had those powers at my disposal? Morty would not have had to be alone. He always ended up alone, and it was because we would always leave him. He had to watch people die around him and he had to bury them again and again. Even if we did not leave him by choice, time would have left him alone.

Is that why? Is that why he let himself go? Esthyr said she found him just lying beneath his oak. That his roses had all died. That he was no longer there inside the shell of Morty Mossfoot. Morty was dead, he was gone, he wasn’t there anymore and he left all of us, Esthyr and Hawk, too.

If I had any doubt in my mind that he was dead, his letter indicated as much. While we were waiting for the horses to be saddled, I remembered the letter Esthyr tucked into my sash and that letter said “They’re probably going to die along with me.” He meant my roses, and he was sorry that they were going to die along with him. That poor little bush that had lived through so many transplants and nights of salted waterings was finally going to die because he did.

But my roses did not die, and I have to know what that means.

~~~***~~~

Holding his child, Halvel could not help but wonder if one day Gaelyn Fletcher would wish for another. He was proud of his son. Any fool could see the love behind the pride when he looked upon Atrian, and though it terrified her at first, it still warmed her heart to see the man bearing the little bundle into the little cabin. And then, he let her hold him.

The noises little Atrian made! Would she learn what each one means? How could she, when all her life the cries of other people’s children hardly moved her or, at their worst, annoyed her? She knew Atrian was part of the deal and she knew Gaelyn would not hold her to their wedding, even if they had consummated the marriage. Did she want this new life of mother and wife that came to her so suddenly?

And then Atrian smiled at her.

Or perhaps he had gas. But it looked like a smile and his big eyes found her face and when she smiled, he seemed happy. When she looked at Gaelyn, he seemed happy, too.

Life is simpler here, she told herself as they walked along the forest path on the way to Ravenhold. She carried Atrian as Gaelyn pointed out new things and the birds sang in the trees around them. Life was simpler, and she told herself that she would do her part to make it home.

~~~***~~~

Emmelina Lilybrook stared at the piece of folded paper in front of her. She sighed and rubbed the back of her neck. Opening the letter, she squinted at the words. She poked them. She traced the first letter of the signature: a line across the top and a line down the middle, like a gallows. It wasn’t Anya’s writing, and she didn’t think it was Abiorn’s since his name started with the same sound as Anya’s. That “T” wasn’t an “A”. She at least knew that much.

“Hey,” she asked one of the girls as she sat at the bar in the Mantle. “Do yeh know how ta read?”

“Some,” the girl answered. “You getting love letters?”

Lina shrugged and held out the bottom portion of the letter. She kept the top folded over onto itself. “Wha’ does that say?” She pointed to what she assumed was the name.

“T…Tor…”

“Tor? That’s too long for ‘Tor’ and what’s he doin’ writin’ me anyways?” Lina jerked back the parchment and frowned at the offending letters.

The girl shrugged. “How’m I supposed to know that? Want me to read it to you?”

“No, no,” Lina said. “Thank yeh, though. I’ve a friend who knows ‘er letters.”

Shrugging again, the girl turned back to her small meal and said, “All right. I’ll be here if you change your mind.”

Lina nodded as she started toward the entrance. “Thanks!” Waving dismissively with one hand, she tucked the letter into her bodice with the other and set off for the South Gate and Durrow.

The Gentle Touch

With the exception of Neilia, I have never thought much about those I love dying. Men die, or they leave, and either way there is always loss for those that remain. My Hobbit friends have passed gracefully (for the most part) due to old age. And Elves…their spirits never die, I’ve heard. They pass on to Mandos’ halls and find their place among their people.

War changes dying. It is brutal and unnatural and it rents one’s spirit into pieces. No healer alone can mend the wounds war brings down upon the land.

I am Neilia’s mother and it is my job to protect her with every fiber of my being. I tell myself that by coming here, to Dol Amroth, I am protecting her by shoring up the war front and making Gondor stronger.

Gondor must hold. Dol Amroth must hold.ScreenShot00474

It is remarkable how a city so known for its disciplined army is so full of undisciplined citizens. The infighting and treachery and treason make it nearly impossible to know who to trust. Oendir always said he did not like the Knight-Captain Aureldir and now he’s played a role in the death of Rivalthor and the other knights recently slain in cowardly assassinations. And while the others had pegged Rivalthor as the villain, he release of his fiancee had made me take a step back.

Unfortunately, it was too late.

Why didn’t I say anything more? A note on a document that I feel half the company does not even bother to read. It was not enough. Did my own dislike for the man allow my tongue to stay silent? Did I truly believe Rivalthor was sending us into a trap? Or was it simply because they do not listen, and I grow weary of the looks that do not hide that they think I’m crazy?

I digress. I often digress recently, though rarely aloud. Oendir is beginning to learn when my mind is going though outwardly I am silent. He remembers to ask when he comes out of his own worries and notices mine. I do not hold it against him that he dwells so often in his own thoughts. He is not used to having another around to consult after Gisla left him, and it will take time for him to remember I am always here.

I try to lessen his burden. He is a good man and he deserves some peace from the constant anxiety that plagues him. He doubts himself too much, but it is the company that should be doubted. Each of them has their own agendas and views on the way things should be. Many of them are willing to do whatever it takes to see them through, all in the cause of the greater good. Funny, isn’t it? We sound so much like the city I despise.

So at the end of the day, I will tell Oendir that he is strong and I will rub his aching foot and I will love him until the end of time.

I will always be at his side, whether I am a Wayfarer or not.

~~~***~~~

I was not sure what to expect on my wedding night. Gaelyn spent more time with me alone than any other man before. I never felt judged or pressured or threatened in his presence. There is an ease about him that I cannot help but be drawn to. He did not pressure me or make demands of my body. I told him things no one else knows. Embarrassing things! He only laughed and smiled and asked me more about myself as though he was actually interested in me and not my family’s money or the scandal or my shame. Is this what is like to be a person again?

Gaelyn is an admirable man. He seems to understand the politics and the thoughts of the city without being drawn into them directly. Perhaps it is his charming smile or the way he grins when he says something he knows is witty. He smiles as though he is so very pleased with himself, but not in that pretentious or off-putting manner. It is more the smile like he knows that you know that it is all a game and it would be easier if everyone just came clean, but he doesn’t mind if they keep playing because he wants to keep playing.

It is a game to him, the ways of Dol Amroth. He does not take things lightly here, nor does he let them become a burden. That balance is refreshing. It cleanses my heart and gives me hope for a future.

A future with Gaelyn Fletcher.

I am now Halvel Fletcher.

No “Lady,” no house. No more shame for blood that I cannot change. No servants or handmaidens. Remlors are fish merchants. What are Fletchers? It remains to be seen.

I want this marriage to work, don’t I? I had tried not to think about it, because Gaelyn was always clear that he would support whatever decisions I made after leaving the city. I did not have to worry about that until we were safely away. But now that I am married and am here with him, I want it to work. I want to wake next to him and see the true wreck that is his hair in the morning. I want to gaze into those green eyes and feel like I am held as an equal. I want to feel his hand in mine and on my skin.

I was afraid of a man’s hands before, but not anymore.

~~~***~~~

I made Abiorn go camping with me. He was incredulous and suspicious, but once I convinced him that I really wanted to go, he started packing right away. He started going on and on about the woods around Durrow and how he was going to show me a lot of neat places, but I did not want to stay near the southern Bree-fields. I wanted to go north, past Bree, past the graveyard. I wanted to go to Starmere Lake.

It had been months and months since I had been there last. Probably closer to over a year. Anric took me there once and we swam all day long in the crystal clear lake. We yelled and laughed when our voices echoed off the surrounding cliffs. He was different there. At ease with himself. And it had been beautiful.

I wrote to Anders to let him know I would be gone for a few days. Though we left a note for Eirikr and Eruviel, I did not think that we would be gone long enough to need it. I just wanted to see that place again.

I thought about writing to Morty, but decided that writing him would not be appropriate. And I didn’t want to write him. I felt like he did not deserve to know, but then all the way up to the lake, I worried about how he would fret if he went and found the house abandoned. I always worry about what he feels.

Starmere LakeIt was beautiful still. A little bowl of solitude and freedom nestled into the Brandy Hills. Abiorn and I set up camp and swam the first day, but the second day, I let him swim out to the islands by himself while I set up my easel and stirred my paints. All around me, I could hear the nature spirits on the wind come to investigate the bear-man and his sister. They stayed near all day, whispering and dancing around me as I worked.

When Abiorn returned, he found me angrily stabbing at the canvas with my paintbrush. Tears flowed down my cheeks, but I did not know it at the time.

Abiorn came to me and put his hand over my own. He urged me to put down the brush and then pulled me into a giant bear hug.

What is it, Anyatka? he had asked in his simple and straightforward manner. How can I help? Do I need to bite someone’s hand off?

It was absurd and I laughed, but still I cried. I did not know what made me ache until the pain turned to anger. I was not an angry person; I did not recognize the emotion even as it made me ruin the bristles of my favorite brush. So Abiorn just hugged me and the light faded as the sun dipped behind the cliffs and I tried to figure out why I was so sad I could hardly even paint.

Eventually, I calmed down enough for Abiorn to release me and cook some fish he caught for dinner. As the smoke rose from the pale slabs of delicate flesh, I realized what it was.

I was angry with Morty.

I was angry with Morty for lying and using me and making me fall so desperately in love with him that still I longed for his smile. I was angry with Morty for liking Anders and approving of the new match like it was easy to get over me because I was just another girl. I was angry with Morty for having a child with Ansithe and never being able to entertain the thought of having a child with me, like I was not good enough to bear his line. And I am angry with Morty that he does not deserve me, he never did deserve me, and he does not want to do anything to try to deserve me.

I know that many of these things were out of my hands over a thousand years ago. It is not my fault that he is what he is and I am what I am and I tell myself I should be honored to have his attention for the short time that I did. That if he did pledge his heart to me for this lifetime, he would suffer the pain of my death and that is not fair of me to ask him to do. But life isn’t fair! If we were given this time to be together again, why should we waste it apart?

The sun had long gone to bed when I was able to look at my painting again. The palate was dark; I did not realize I had chosen to capture such a beautiful day in such somber tones. I raised my hand, anger that even in my art he was present giving my virgin powers strength: a gust of wind rose to knock the easel to its side and it caught the canvas like a sail. It flew into the darkness and just under Abiorn’s shout of surprise, I heard the splash.

Tomorrow, I said to him. Tomorrow, we are going to go foraging. I need new paints. 

Nodding in shock, Abiorn stared at me, but I did not mind. I would come to understand this new feeling, this gift that Morty gave me. I would master it, this Anger. And I will be stronger for it.

The sun will rise tomorrow, and I welcome its heat.

Smoldering Fire: When She’s Gone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eboric.

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

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

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

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

“Grey.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Bitter Pill: Take Flight

Corsair on the Horizen

 

It was warmer here. Or perhaps it was just that it was a different kind of heat than in the Shire. Summers there were mild and warm and snuck up on you like a welcomed afternoon nap. In Dol Amroth, they hit you like the gales rising over the city from the ocean: strong and damp.

One such gale tried to dislodge Cwen’s dark-chocolate hair from the confines of the twists and braids she used to tame it from the sub-tropical humidity. The top layer of her overdress caught in the breeze and flew behind her with the wind in a burst of linen and lace. Her pale blue cloak billowed like a sail and the muscles in her legs hardened as she steadied herself. As she peered down the cold slope of the city wall, she wondered if anyone would pull her back from the edge if she lost her balance. Too bad there was no one around.

The hour was so late that it was early. Even the gulls were quiet and the silence was broken only by the waves crashing against the white walls below. Other districts still echoed with late night life. But not here. The stage was empty; the actors were long gone to the taverns to drink away their earnings. Cwen’s toes hung over the edge of the wall and she wondered if the wings on her cloak would transform and carry her away if only she would let herself fall.

A piece of parchment fluttered in the grip of her left hand. Dark ink stained it with empty words.

My dearest Biramore,

Dol Amroth is beautiful. It is unlike anything I have ever seen in all my travels. Even the cities of the Elves do not possess the same majesty as this mighty city on the edge of the world. It’s different, somehow. Knowing that men built these towering walls and have dwelt here for years and years. 

Everything is so white.

She never felt so out of place. The awe and excitement fell away to self-consciousness. The dresses that were so overdone in Bree seemed poor imitations of respectability on the streets that overflowed with opulence. It was good that she had Neilia with her. The child’s enthusiasm kept Cwen smiling as they explored the twists and turns of the paved streets.

Neilia fits in well. She makes friends with everyone she meets. She gets that from you, I am certain.

I am slowly getting to know the Wayfarers. I wish you were here to meet them. You’d like them. They remind me so much of the Hielda.

Feygil is tough and practical. She brings Aiethel to mind. I wonder what the woman would think about being compared to a young and feisty male Elf. But I trust her at my back like I trusted him. They share the same eye for strategy in the heat of a fight.

Do you remember Aldoon? I think you only met him once or twice. I still wonder what he was…he aged quicker than most. And what Man had the ability to be so playful even when bound with a knife to his throat? Remember the incident with the Archet guard and the pie? Such a trouble-maker. There’s a young lad, Hallem Kemp, that reminds me of Doony. But Aldoon saw things that no one else did. He understood like no one else did. I think Hal does the same.

And Echros. My second-in-command. I don’t know Commander Arrowheart’s second-in-command very well, but they appear to share that same light-hearted spirit. I think Echros let things bring him down more than Gaelyn does. I won’t feign to know enough to draw conclusions based on things that aren’t really there, so I can’t really say much more on him right now.

She didn’t know why she started writing about Hielda Yavanna. She preferred to leave the past in the past. She hadn’t thought about her old companions except in passing for years. A white cat scurrying down the alley reminded her of Castius. The right shade of pale blue fabric could be Baralindes turning the corner. Or a flash of green meant Lychee and Loraelyn and Helehuieth in their uniforms. An arrow in a back was Uilys and her betrayal.

All memories she tried to forget.

Just another checkmark to add to the list of failed relationships and broken promises she couldn’t leave behind. No matter how hard she tried to leave Bree, it always pulled her back when she least expected it. And now, leagues away from the knolls and the meadows, lost in a world above the rough tavern benches and drunken brawls of the Pony, Bree was all she could think about.

She had fallen asleep with the letter left unfinished. Mere hours later, a dream had shaken her awake. Neilia rested peacefully and the estate of House Colagar was quiet. Her mind raced with what she had seen: broken pottery and torn fabrics, trees burning around a house with a circle for a door. No matter how much she told herself it was just a dream, her hand continued to shake as she lit a single candle and stared at herself in the large mirror standing near the vanity.

The Shire was supposed to be a safe place. The thought of ruin coming to the land brought a chill and then a fever to Cwen. She couldn’t bear to sit there in the cold stone walls, so she took up her cloak and ran. 

She couldn’t remember passing through the guard at the gate. Perhaps she looked distraught enough they didn’t think to question her. And then she found herself on the wall behind the Swan Jewel theater staring into the blackness that blocked out the darkened seas below. She could still hear them, though; the roaring waves sang their cadence against the walls and sandy banks and begged her to join them far below.

“I can’t do this, Bira,” she whispered to the wind as it whipped the loose hair about her face. “I can’t. I’m sorry.

“I love you.”

Deliberately, she began to tear the letter into strips. She then tore the strips into smaller and smaller bits, releasing tiny pieces into the wind. As they blew about her and out into the open air, she sighed. Piece by piece, her past drifted away on the wind and water and as the last piece took flight, she felt a great weight lifted from her mind.