I realized it had been ages and ages since I wrote you last. I hope that you are well and the company has had a lot of (safe!) work to keep you busy. Are you still digging graves, too? I never imagined that I would write a such a sentence as that, but there you go! You are an eclectic man. Have you climbed any good cliffs lately? I, unfortunately, had a terrible fall a bit ago. It was before the battle near Minas Tirith. I was on a roof at the Tower and I fell. Luckily, I was not dead and they found me and Miss Cirieldis took care of me while I recovered, but sometimes I wish . . that I had more things to do than stare out of the window. While I was laid up in bed.
Something terrible has happened, but I don’t really want to talk about it. At least Father is not dead as the reports originally said. I have moved in with him, with Hathlafel. He still wants me as a daughter even though I am not his and I cannot be more thankful for that. Without him, I feel like I would truly have no family anymore.
Sirifast, his brother, is tending to the house he bought. It is in my name. It was kind of him to do that for me, but I don’t know what to do with a house I cannot live in. Did you meet Sirifast? I cannot recall if you ever did.
Oh, Miss Ciri also helped me to get out of working for you-know-who. Another girl, one “trained” for such work, took my place. I cannot help but feel terrible that another girl is doing that and because I couldn’t. It nearly destroyed everything before the Swan-knights left for Minas Tirith. So, you see, it really had been forever since I had lived in that house. I lived at the Tower instead.
It’s so empty now. Surely there is a fine layer of dust over everything. Is it wrong of me that I wish to sell the property? I wish to forget everything about that bit of my past because it hurts too much and to see his remaining family hurts too much and I should never have married him in the first place. Romantic relationships outside the order complicate things. Roses aren’t supposed to marry.
Miss Cirieldis doesn’t think that way. She is in love with Sir Aureldir. Sometimes I remember that I once believed he was my father and it seems like so long ago. This is turning into something quite unlike what I had intended. I’m sorry for not staying very well on topic–Hello, Hallem, how are you, Hallem, I am well, Hallem. That sort of thing. I just miss you so much and there is so much to say and I don’t really want to think about any of it, really, but I should. I need to talk to people, don’t I? I need people to help me remember the world has good in it still. That it isn’t just murders and kidnappings and lies and death.
Do you remember Lord Claur of House Baudh? He was injured recently and I have been helping him with his research. It was a nice diversion while my own injuries kept me from being able to work as much as I wished. I am mostly recovered; I simply cannot waltz back onto the ship full stop so soon. It would raise suspicions.
He is a nice man, Claur. I enjoyed working with him. He took the time to hear my thoughts about his topics and it felt good to have someone listen to me.
This is probably too long to be a proper letter. I hope life in Bree is good. Please write me back. I miss you.
She did not know that version of Hallem Kemp. Angry. Hateful. Demeaning.
Hallem had always been brutally honest with her, but she could not remember when he was down right mean to her. As she hurried through the darkening streets of Bree clutching the book she borrowed from the Archives to her chest, she swallowed back her tears and ducked her head. Several people called out greetings or warnings of the approaching night, but she did not respond to any of them.
She was not afraid of the night.
What she was afraid of was was being nothing. Forgotten and alone because she was of no use to anybody. She was afraid of being left behind while those around her went off to do brave and noble things to save the world from the Shadow. She was afraid that she was unlovable and that he had only used her as a means to his end and that none of it was real.
That was why she went to Atanamir and begged him to help her change into something worthwhile and valuable. Something strong and powerful. Something coveted beyond time and space so much so that nothing could stop her from protecting her loved ones and finally being able to do something to prove she was worthy. When he said that there was a possibility he could combine her with Faethril and give her control…but in the end she was relieved he had come up with an alternative, even though it would take time. More time than she had, she knew. But it was possible.
Anything was possible.
She did not look at the man who took the book back with a pleasant, unobtrusive smile and a thank you. She nodded and murmured something of a thanks of her own and fled from the building with the intent of fleeing Bree. The walls were suddenly too confining, too stuffy. She needed space and the soothing lap of water against the banks of the Little Staddlemere.
When she reached her willow tree, she plunged through the draping branches and leaned heavily against its trunk. Slowly, she slid down to the smooth dirt below and let the tears flow.
She cried until she was out of tears and her face lay buried in her knees as her breathing slowed. She sat there for a long time just listening to her own breathing. In and out. Slowly in and out. Each breath filled her body like a river filled a waterskin. She felt heavy and weightless at the same time; it was if she were pulling away from her body and floating among the singing branches.
Anya sighed and suddenly she felt the presence around her and like the whispers of a thousand oathbreakers, she heard something not with her ears, but with her heart.
She opened her eyes slowly, but there was nothing there except the wind. She reached out to touch the air and welcome it to her and thank it for the breath of life when he had none and suddenly she understood. In her exhaustion, she found it.
Excited, she sat up quickly and just as fast, her revelation slipped away from her grasp. She did not feel it anymore, but she knew that she could. She knew that it wanted to be known. It wanted to be heard.
She sat cross-legged and straight up. It was easier to breathe when she was not slumped over. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She listened. She breathed. She waited.
It was all that she could do.
The hours she spent lying beneath the graveyard roses before Hallem appeared had left Anya both sore and numb. The rain had stopped eventually, but it would take some scrubbing to get her robes clean. Some part of her scolded the choice to remain lying in the mud, but the ground beneath the beautiful white roses was not as damp as the paths between the bushes and all she could really feel was loss.
The loss of his smile. His cool touch. His gentle, encouraging words.
That is what she missed most. He gave her strength to believe in her drawing by his easy, embracing words. She opened up and bloomed from a tightly wound, fearful bud into the artist and young woman she was today. He did not fear being himself and by following his lead, she no longer did, too.
But just who was he?
She looked up at the sky. The clear sunlight seemed purest after the brief spring rain. She did not agree with Raen; she clung to the idea that the man never fully died and that somehow two became one in his flesh and bones. She felt that duality in him when his eye flashed at her. She knew what it was like to share bodies with consciousnesses that were not your own.
But she did agree with one thing the Elf had said: whether it was the last Prince of Cardolan or Morty Mossfoot that she loved, she loved him. Them. The warmth and the mystery. The gentle and the intense. The life and the death.
That was the only useful bit that she could contribute, really. Her love fed by his love which shone through in her rose bush. Her Dalish Charm planted in the middle of all the others, heavy with blossoms and growing still. Reaching. Reaching for the sun and the moon.
For the light in the darkness.
“The commander intends to come here? Just for this boy?”
“He’s not a boy, Eirikr. He has seen two decades pass.”
“Twenty? He is twenty?”
“Perhaps a bit older. Oendir looks at him as a son, though he is…you know, I do not know quite how old his is.”
“And what people say…”
“People say a lot of things, Eirikr. What was that I heard just the other day at the Cask? You and…?”
“Cwen. You know I am not speaking of only the rumour. That village sprouts rumours all the time. Yours has truth behind it, though. You do not keep it a secret when you walk through town holding his hand.”
“We just wanted him to come home, Eirikr. He is not going to return with us; I do not blame him at all, truth be told. The world of Men has not been kind to Rheb. But he misses Oen and my letter said as much to the commander. Oen will come.”
“But to what end? You have done your duty by ensuring the fellow is safe and happy. I don’t see why we have to be here when the commander gets here. Anya’s-”
“Eirikr, please. Do go home. This place is…wretched. I appreciate your accompanying me here, but truthfully, I do not need your protection. No orc will cross me here as long as I wear Rheb’s bracelet.”
“You seem so confident in that thing. What if Rheb turns against you and the orc-men use it to track you down. You wouldn’t even know it until you had the sword in your back, Cwen.”
“Rheb is savage like the orcs to a certain extent, yes. He killed two wargs in Durrow single-handedly. He has skills he hides from all of us because we would fear him more than we do now. He knows he is a monster in Durrow. Here he can be free to be who he truly is. I envy him that. And should he choose to turn against me…I am in his land now.”
“…You really understand him, don’t you?”
“As much as I can. And I want to understand more. I do love him, Eirikr.”
“And the commander?”
“I love him as well. I will always love them both and I am blessed that they love me.”
“You do not believe that a Man should be with one Woman and vice versa?”
“I believe love is never simple and also it is the simplest thing. Sometimes it works that way: one-to-one. Sometimes it does not. But it should never be looked upon with scorn. It is too precious in these times to waste. It is too precious in any time to waste.”
“You sound like a philosopher at university. An old man caught up in books and artifacts too much and does not remember what it is like outside the walls of his office.”
“You think I am like that?”
“No. You live outside your head. But your ramblings remind me of them.”
“Maybe now when they are old, they choose to live inside their walls because it makes them feel more at home. Safer from the dangers of hatred and malice. Durrow was a safe place to you and to me. But not for Rheb. He had no place there. Here he has men that love him and obey. Here he is someone and not something. He has use for man and orc. Anlaf said fur traders told him about their camp. Perhaps they would be interested in trading with Bree. I could be Durrow’s envoy.”
“That would allow you to see Rheb and Oen separately. Both in their own worlds.”
“Yes, that is ideal isn’t it?”
“That look. Cwen, what is it?”
“I am waiting for knife in the back. It is too perfect, isn’t it?”
“I’m not going to stab you. Stare at you incredulously, but not stab you.”
“This does put a different twist on things, doesn’t it? My relationship with both of them would no longer be a burden. It would have its purpose.”
“I doubt the villagers would take kindly to the knowledge that we are now trading with the same orcs that destroyed the gate.”
“Would they chase me out, do you think? If they knew he had come for me?”
“I would chase you out. But I like you too much. And Abiorn needs you.”
“Is that the closest to affection you give to folks, Eirikr?”
“Sometimes I will pat your shoulder in an approving manner.”
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.
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.
I hope this letter finds you and your daughter well. Things are quickly falling back into normalcy here in Dol Amroth. Is that how it always is after such turmoil? People just go through the motions of life until they actually feel alive again?
I do beg your pardon; that is not a very cheerful way to begin a letter!
I suppose for many, the entire affair was a tragic attack on the city itself and that made it less personal. And, ultimately, that is what it was unless your loved one fell in the battle. The walls can be rebuilt, the trees replanted. But for us, it was much more personal, wasn’t it? Our loved ones were not just in the line of fire, we truly knew what was at stake and that the Lady’s personal greed drove all the pain that fell upon the shoulders of the city that day. I still miss Lady Deludhae’s smile and her kind words of wisdom. I never knew how much I would miss them until now.
I digress. This was supposed to be a happy letter! Pengail and I have set the date for our wedding and it is with great regret that I enclose our invitation only because I know you will not be able to come. Still, I wanted to send it to you to share with the Wayfarers because you folk are as close to me as any family I could have and dearer to me than any I could ask for. Know that as Pen and I say our vows, you will be in our hearts.
If it would please you, do write back and tell me about life in Bree. There is a part of me that wishes my destiny had taken Pengail and me with you even now as we plan our life in Dol Amroth. For me the city will never be the same, but in the end, I love it still. Perhaps one day I will still get to visit the town and see for myself what the big hubub is about.
I hope your Yule is beautiful and filled with love. It is thanks to you and Sir Arrowheart that I have mine.
P.S.: Pengail says hello and thank you again for all that you’ve done for us!
Dear Hallem Kemp,
Greetings! How are things in Bree? Have you climbed anything tall lately? I hope the gear from the Prince has served you well. I miss having those little ropes and hooks to help me along.
Not that I have much time to climb recently, not even the Tower! Pengail and I have set the date for the wedding and you would not guess how ridiculous I am being (or maybe you would). We are getting married before Yule! It will be a small affair with only those we love most and those we cannot avoid. I wish we were not so far apart and that you could come. and bring the rest of the Wayfarers, of course. I miss all of you very much. I have enclosed one of the wedding invitations we had made. Maybe think about us on the eighteenth and send us your warmest wishes, if you would. That would be the best wedding gift I can think of at present under the current circumstances.
I hope that Lord Carmanadh and Lady Mredothyn will be able to attend. Pengail would both love that and be terrified to have the Knight-captain in the audience, I think. It’s not like he didn’t bleed all over the man’s mattress, though right?
Well, not his mattress. That would be odd and I would highly question Pengail if that had been the case.
I am laughing so hard I can hardly write! But I know I am just being silly.
My father has been trying his hardest to find a place in my life. I am grateful for that, but he can be so awkward. And he certainly has a chip on his shoulder that creates a barrier to getting to know him. Lady Nomin, Pengail’s mother, invited him to dress shopping with us; I suppose any man would find that difficult to bear, but Hathlafel seemed so out of place there without his armour to protect him from the city’s scrutiny. I felt so sorry for him when he showed up in his homespun along the opulent street in the clothier’s district. Lady Nomin bought my dress for me as a gift, though I believe it was also to protect my father from having to find the funds to pay for it.
It is a glorious dress, Hallem Kemp.
Ha! I am writing as if you were a girl friend who would be interested in such things. Perhaps you would rather hear about the delicious menu we are preparing instead? That should make any man jealous! Not that I’m trying to make you jealous. The cooks at House Nomin are simply wonderful.
In any case, I do hope you are settling into Bree again and that your Yule season is bright and full of love. Enjoy the barley candies I’ve sent! And give a few to Mister Mathdor for me, if you would. We did not get to say a proper good-bye and I owe him a great deal.
With love from Dol Amroth,
P.S.: Did Master Kemendin return to Bree? Lady Cirieldis said that he had to leave for about a month, but it has been longer than that. If so, I am cranky at him that he did not say good-bye! Is that an Elf behavior, not to say good-bye? If he’s there, tell him good-bye for me!
Emmelina left Lalia’s Market hugging herself as if that would do something to protect her from the cold she felt inside that had nothing to do with the rain. Her mousy hair quickly plastered itself to her thick skull and she cursed herself and the elements that made her shiver.
Her feet traveled automatically; she had no sense of time or place until she found herself at the steps of the boarding house where she met Anya. It was funny, she thought, how much she hated that grave-digger fellow and she didn’t even really know him. Anya did seem happy yesterday when she stopped in for tea before her evening shift. She even brushed of Lina’s relentless teasing about her hair like it was nothing. It was very un-self-conscious-wimpy-doormat Anya. Though she seemed happy, and that was the most important thing.
Staring up at the boarding house, she thought about things she tried desperately to forget. That’s why being a Lady’s Mantle girl was so easy. Always work to do or the other girls to chat with so there was never a dull moment where memories could sneak in and make you hurt. Or anger.
Damn Hallem Kemp for getting beneath her skin.
Maybe it was because he had been the first for her there at the Mantle and lying with him was the final good-bye to what she used to be. Not a laundry girl or a tarnished girl or a disgrace or grieving mother. When she shut the door to the little room at the far end of the hall, she had shut the door on her past.
Hallem was safe. He was honorable, considering. He was the better option over that ratty man who seemed so interested in the new meat offered up as auction. And Hallem hadn’t even pushed the issue of sex; only under her assurances that it was just her job and she might as well get used to it did he drop his pants and go for a tumble. In a way, perhaps she had underestimated the power of naked flesh over a man. Hadn’t she come to learn men’s purse strings were always looser the more her bodice slid down over her breast?
She did not want to go back, not tonight. Not when every face she’d see would be Jameson Sicklefoose and every jerking climax would only remind her that the men needn’t worry about bastard children with her. The healers had been very clear on that two years ago as they gave her parents the prognosis. They left no reason to doubt that the baby was lost because she wasn’t shaped right to carry a child. She was lucky that it aborted when it did; another month and it would have been much more dangerous.
Standing before the boarding house, she closed her eyes tightly and her tears flowed indiscernible from the rain.
Frustrated with herself, she pushed the heels of her palms into her eyes to stopper the tears. She scowled as she stomped away from the boarding house. Thick Beggar’s Alley mud sucked at her boots and she was thankful she wore her leather breeches and a man’s tunic instead of one of her fine Mantle dresses. Madam Lark would not find the ruining of a gown amusing, she was sure.
She needed to find a place to get in out of the rain.
She thought of her options. The Pony was sure to be crowded and she really did not want to run into the type of folk she found there. The training hall would be emptier, but that also meant the barkeep would be free to question why a sopping gutter rat dripped on his bar. She had been hungry before her conversation with Hallem in the market, but the revelations of that had put a lump in her throat and a knot in her belly.
Now she knew and he knew and she didn’t understand why it mattered so much.
Lina found herself at the gates of Durrow. If she couldn’t go stumble into Hallem, she could always find a warm hearth at Anya’s. Maybe Abiorn would tell lots of jokes and help her forget again. Maybe Anya would have another painting finished she could hawk to another john who felt it beneath him to lie with a girl that looked like a boy but who he couldn’t ignore. Maybe Eirikr would be feeling well enough that she could tease him mercilessly and not feel bad doing so. The Tenorbekks didn’t know her accent was fake and her past was full of bad choices and she already missed the boy who made her forget the most.
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.
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.
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.
Of all of Moria, Cwendlwyn hated the Water-works the most.
If asked, she would never had been able to explain her loathing for the mouldy, festering waters aside from the fact they were mouldy and festering and contained who knew what sort of evils beneath their still surfaces. Normal fears aside, her dread of the place set in long before she placed her foot into the tepid pool at the foot of the long stair as the party attempted to flee from the orcs and the goblins and the trolls.
Of course, it was here that they would encounter the Four Lords. Of course, during that encounter the evils of the place would conquer what good their party possessed. Of course, Sage would be taken and Maludir’s confidence shaken and they would be forced to flee again like rats.
She could only attribute their success to the fact that the Lords had Sage and were preoccupied with the boy. Atanamir led them through tunnels following his map and they found a short moment of reprieve.
As she sat staring at the quill in her hand, her words to Hallem Kemp echoed in her mind. She knew that soon Atanamir would order them to move, but she knew that if she did not take the time to write these letters, they might never be written. She knew that she had to write them.
Saying aloud to Hallem that she was afraid and thought that she was never going to see the sky again; that she was unworthy of Oendir for she was ever so weak; that she had found solace in Rheb’s arms and perhaps a single night was no longer enough; that she was falling to pieces… saying all of these things made the weight on her shoulders ease as Hal had given her his Look, though suddenly she wished she were back in Dol Amroth making apple pie with him and Miss Arameril in the kitchens of House Colagar.
At least there, she felt as though she understood her challenges. Here, in the deep darks of Moria, she could hardly find up before the ground fell away beneath her feet again.
She furtively looked around for Atanamir and decided she had time to try once more to write to Oendir. She dipped her quill into the dark purple ink, took a deep breath, and began to write.
I hope this letter finds you healthy and hale and that your time away renewed you for the duties that await you in Durrow. I have begun to seek some property to purchase pending the sale of Gardeneve, but I remain undecided. For years, that house has been our home and I am incredibly saddened at the thought of leaving it for good. Perhaps time will tell me what choice I should make regarding my housing; for now, at least, the cold stones of Moria are my shelter.
I do not know how I will send this letter to you. We are in a tunnel off the Water-works. We’ve encountered the Four Lords and I fear for us. The four sorcerers are far more powerful than I could have ever imagined. They have taken Sage. Maludir has lost himself a bit to grief and confusion. And I do not believe I will ever see the sky above Ravenhold again.
So I guess I should not fear the words that I write next. Chances are they will rot with my body here in the tepid pools of the drowned deeps. So I may as well just write them, correct?
I am afraid I am falling in love with you. I am afraid because you did not seem to be concerned enough with me to tell me that you were leaving Durrow or where you were going. When Neilia and I went to Overhill to find it cold and empty, my heart froze and I was hurt. Then I chided myself for feeling hurt when I could not claim you as my own; a few kisses and near death experiences did not make one bound to the heart of another. But I realized then that the pain that I felt when you did not tell me you were going meant something. It meant something and I was not sure I was ready to face it.
And then Rheb found me. And he found me again. He looked for me, sought me out. Flattered me and learned me and I was afraid I was falling in love with him. I carry a token of his, Oen. He slipped it into my pack with a note asking me to come back soon and telling me that he missed me. Before I had even left, he missed me. It’s so innocent and so sincere. I have to remind myself how young he is and that he’s not wholly a Man and that there has to be a logical reason why he makes me forget everything else in the world except him. There has to be, right?
These are not words that should be written to a potential lover. These are not things I should speak to you about! But I trust you–even though I do not wish to trust you, or anyone–I feel as though I must be honest with you or else I shall betray anything that is or was or might have been between us.
Is there anything between us?
I am beginning to feel better now that I have written this.
Hal said to just write, and that is what I did. I know you do not see Hal as a full, mature adult, and perhaps it’s all just my own vain naivety, but he is more mature than most give him credit for…he’s just on that precipice between adolescence and adulthood, isn’t he?
That does not make me feel any better about Rheb.
You should not forgive me, Oen. Ultimately, it is your choice and I do ever so hope that you do forgive me, but I cannot beg for your forgiveness for what I’ve done. He is your foster son and to even consider him as a lover would be terrible. Horrible. Because Men simply do not do that.
Rheb is not wholly a Man.
Can I lose you when I don’t even have you?
Cwen stared at the words and could not find a way to end it. How do you end a letter telling the man who you hoped could love you forever that you spent a night in his son’s arms? It was betrayal. It was just as she said: horrible. As remarkably forgiving Oendir was, she could not see how she could move past Rheb, so how could she expect him to?
She watched as the ink dried and then folded the letter carefully. She tucked it in the pocket next to the short note from Rheb that she hadn’t even known was there until she needed her little blue vial in Dolven-view and went searching for it. There it could stay until she found herself faced with a way to actually post the words. Then, the decision would have to be made.
She pulled out another piece of parchment and began to write hastily. She knew they would not be able to afford much more time to rest.
Thank you very much for your gift. I will wear it while in the mines and be stronger because I know that you thought of me.
I miss you, too. I do need time to think things through when I can see the stars to guide me. I hope I will be able to sooner rather than later.
P.S.: I know my name is spelled oddly as ‘c’ does not always make the ‘k’ sound. It should have been spelled ‘Kwen.’ I like it that way. So I shall sign this postscript with just that letter:
She frowned at the postscript. It was too easy to be intimate with him, even with leagues of forests and plains and tons of mountain separating them. It was just a letter, but on the page it was no longer just a letter. Traced with such care and with the little loops at the end of her letters, it was a kiss to the boy back in Durrow who missed her.
She pictured his face: the sharply angled incisors, the tapered ears. The thick flowing hair that he must have used to make the bracelet around her wrist. She pictured Oendir with his brilliant blue eyes. Rheb’s golden ones superimposed themselves on Oendir’s; the dark hair framing their faces merged and blurred. The colors of their irises overlapped into green and then faded into black and white but one thing remained: the earnest hopefulness that she loved in both of them. She clung to that hope whenever she was with either of them. Now, in what felt like a life-time away from both, she grasped at that hope twinkling in their eyes as her lifeline to her inner strength.
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…
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.
I just needed a little perspective. To see what the Swan-knights were going through. It was new and curious and how could anyone expect me in good faith to administer the tablets without knowing what they would do? Without confirming how effective they truly were. Without feeling the consequences I dealt to each patient who trusted me with their life and spirit? I never imagined something other than hate could be so consuming. It has infected my mind. Shifted my priorities. I feel the call long thought banished from my heart and I don’t want to listen, but it keeps getting more insistent and I don’t just want it, I need it.
I need it to make it stop.
Now that Hallem knows and Atanamir knows, I can see myself through their eyes. I am not well; I know this, but still I need it and even though to them it is bad, it is dangerous, I can control it, I really can, all I have to do is change their perspective.
~~~* * *~~~
It was the last time she would find the grips to climb to the highest rooftop of the Colagar manor. She told Pengail she needed to see something and he smiled and kissed her hand and asked if she wanted company. When she told him no, he only smiled and kissed her again — on her lips, this time — and said he’d be waiting for her return.
The air was growing colder as the heat of summer burrowed deeper into the belly of the earth. The chill wind made her fingers numb, but she persisted and pulled herself up onto the rough tiles of the roof.
She straightened and turned slowly. There it was. The sea.
She could smell the ocean waters from there. The winds carried the scent to her and as it washed over her, she felt the weight of the world lift from her shoulders as it always did when she could connect with the sea. Perhaps Hathlafel was right. Perhaps his love of the sea passed on to her.
Surely it would get easier, she thought as she sank to the roof with her knees pulled up to her chest. Force of habit made her weigh every word and analyze every flicker in his eye. And now that the poison was drawn from his wounds and he was more himself again (but not himself, she thought in tandem), the twinkle was there more often.
She didn’t want to be charmed by him. She didn’t want to give him her trust like it was easy and natural. But it was, she admitted to herself as she watched the tall mainsail ease across the treetops. Perspective, she thought. Perspective changes everything.
For instance, perspective made the orchards surrounding the manor a quiltwork blanket shielding the grounds from view. Perspective made the oppressive canopy a comforting blanket.
Perspective made the clouds seem not so far out of reach.
Perspective made Hathlafel’s behavior and half-truths justified and noble acts of love.
Pengail’s words echoed in her head as the breeze picked up strength and turned into a wind.
…From another perspective, that was… running away.
…he is free now. To choose good. You can help him make that choice …if you wish.
What did she wish for?
A family. Her family. People to love and who love her back. People to protect and will protect her in turn. Pengail. Her father.
What would she have done if she had been in her father’s place? If her child had been used as a pawn to control her and make her do terrible things? Would she have given in and done the bidding of that demon lady? Or would she have fought for them both and fled? OR, as they did now, fight to bring her down?
She wouldn’t have been able to do it on her own. She would have needed companions that were brave and just and who understood sacrifice.
Companions like the Wayfarers. Like Miss Lalaith and Sir Carmanadh. Nallo. Hallem and Mathdor. Even Atanamir and Oendir acted only out of the best interests of their friends.
Her father, Hathlafel, agreed to cooperate with the Wayfarers. Agreed to testify against House Aearanel. He would only have done that if he truly believed they had the ability to stand up against Lady Gwenithel and that they could keep her safe.
Unless it was all part of a deeper plot.
She shook her head and realized the coolness on her cheeks was not just the evening breeze. She wiped the moisture away and let out the breath she had been holding. She didn’t want to think that way any more. Not about him. Not about her father.
You can help him make that choice.
The sail of the ship grew smaller as it put out to sea. More of the vessel came into view as it pulled farther away from the shore. As she watched it both grow and shrink, Arameril made a choice.
Her grip was sure as she climbed back down the side of the Colagar mansion. Dusk was falling before her tentative feet finally found the sill where she liked to perch and sing while Pengail slept. Just this time she ensured her grip would stay strong as she swung into the room, and then she wouldn’t use her powers anymore. The ink would diminish and with it her strength and speed. She wouldn’t use them anymore.
Once her feet were safely on the floor, she leaned out of the window and turned to look up. The roof was so far away. She felt little and weak from this perspective. She shuddered and frowned.
Wrapping her arms around herself, she turned to survey the room. Her father’s book on the blankets beside Pengail as he slumbered. The hard candies and last bit of chocolate sitting on the nightstand beside the beeswax candles. Her cloak with the swan-wings for a clasp. Gifts of her father’s love.
She looked out of the window facing the orchards. Once more she leaned out and looked up, only not at the roof but at the sky. The smokey blue of the evening absorbed the high clouds and the sky didn’t seem so far away anymore.
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.
The sun had begun to sink behind the distant trees before Anyatka Tenorbekk even realized she sat on the edge of the Little Staddlemere beneath her favorite willow tree. She searched her memory for the trek from the graveyard to Staddle, but she only found things she was not certain she was ready to face: Callumn’s distress as Morty’s strong hands crushed his windpipe, the rage on the grave-digger’s face, Hallem Kemp shoving Morty among the dead generations of Bree. The cradle in the front room. The stillness in Morty’s chest when his cool hand took her own and held it there. She did not want to remember.
She looked around quickly as she sought to find a distraction from the flood of thoughts tumbling through her brain. Her eyes fell on Hal sitting a short distance away at the end of the fishing dock. He watched her with a sort of interest like the kind that arose because there was something strange and terrible coming. He often looked at her that way, and she wondered if his interest would wane since now he knew the source of her “weird” behavior.
Her slip,the shouted “I love you!” out of desperation to know the truth Morty kept avoiding, was pebbles compared to what she learned when he finally gave in. His groan still stung, but her feelings did not change when he told her and Hal about the deaths that left him in charge of his younger brother Callumn, how he tried to raise his dead grandparents only to succeed, and his own death at the hands of the gaunt-lord his grandfather had become while Callumn, only thirteen, fled in horror.
The anger that drove Morty to attack Callumn terrified her. She had never imagined such rage could exist inside the charming man. And next to Callumn’s cheery friendliness, it had been a winter storm in June. She knew that she should have stayed with the injured man, though she knew also she could not have done much to help him. The woman, Jocelynn, had not been very reassuring when Anya had gone back to retrieve her bag that she dropped when Morty lunged at his brother. She could not say if Callumn was all right or not. She hoped for his sake he was well enough to find the next ship down to the sea. Morty repeated many times that he would kill Callumn if he saw him again. She understood this much at least: to Morty, it would be an eye for an eye.
She blinked several times and realized she was still staring at Hal who kept watching her with lazy anticipation. He probably was expecting her to start crying or raving. She probably should be crying or raving. But she couldn’t. She was not certain what she felt. It was as if all her emotions were running around inside of her at once. She just wanted them to stop so she could focus. She looked down and saw a thin green caterpillar trekking across a fallen branch. It passed the brown leaves on either side as it sought the end of the narrow bridge.
She closed her eyes.
A soft breeze ruffled her hair. It cooled her cheeks as she turned her face into it. She felt his presence beside her long before she opened her eyes.
At the sound of his voice, she opened her eyes and there he sat broad-shouldered and blue-eyed.
“I did not call you.” Her voice sounded much calmer than she felt as she drank in his face. “But I am glad that you are here. How?”
Aeron shrugged. He wore a simple robe of navy blue and his bare feet were tucked beneath him as he sat cross-legged. His dark hair was pulled back from his chiseled features and he had a look of contentment about him that Anya longed to share.
“Your heart called to me even if your voice did not.” He looked over at her and sadness tinged his serene expression. “Why, systir? Why do you grieve so?”
Anya turned to look toward the pier. Hal was no where to be seen. In fact, aside from the breeze rustling the branches of the willow, it was eerily quiet. No sounds from Hobbit settlement floated down on the wind. Not a single barking dog or buzzing midge.
“Where are we?” she asked. “Are we still in Staddle?”
Aeron followed her gaze. “I believe so. But not a Staddle you could return to on your own. A Staddle somewhere between mine and yours.”
Anya looked over at him. “I do not want to go back to my Staddle,” she said softly.
A crease appeared on his forehead. “I do not like that sort of talk. Anya, I am no longer in your mind. You must tell me what it is that is troubling you.”
Taking a very deep breath, she stared at him. And then she told him. Everything. He sat listening in silence, a deep frown marring his features. When her voice broke, his deep voice rumbled with concern.
“I had rather hoped you would have let go of your feelings for the grave-digger, Anyatka. Clearly, the man is not moral nor is he trustworthy.” Aeron’s lips formed a thin, critical line. “The presence of the cradle should tell you that he will not have you, my systir. And that you should not want him.”
Anya opened her mouth to protest, but Aeron continued talking.
“Anya, remember what I told you that night before we left for Fornost?” he said. “That it should be mutual. Equal. Your relationship with this man is not equal. And unless it is equal, it is not worthy of you. To begin with, he is not natural. He shouldn’t be there at all, Anya.”
“But he is,” she insisted as if that was all that mattered.
Patiently, he went on, “And even though he is, his choices remain a burden to your happiness. You don’t want to live with a love that does not love you back. Who cannot remain faithful. Do you?” Her hesitation brought another frown to his lips. “Anyatka, if you please, do not make such a foolhardy mistake. You do not want that. I have seen that much in your heart and mind.” He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “The other man you spoke of. Anricwulf.”
“How did you meet him if your heart has been for the grave-digger?”
The wind died down and a stillness came over the water. It reflected the pale blue of the clear sky. Anya wanted to sink beneath its surface and dissolve like a sugar cube in hot tea. She wanted the feelings to evaporate and just leave her in peace. Instead, she told him how Anricwulf attached himself to their party in Bree before they left for Ost Guruth. How he knew the lands and not only helped them free the Circle of Blood of the evil for a time, but also destroyed Faethril when the shadow consumed her. Aeron sat quietly when she finished. His hands that rested on his knees tightened into fists and his eyes closed. After a moment, he relaxed and sighed.
“Then she fell completely. That is why she did not come? I have been waiting.”
Anya lowered her gaze as her heart ached for him. They had tried to reason with Faethril, but she had been in the dark for far too long. Anya had wished for her to still find Aeron and that love would be stronger than the fear that drove the woman to such dark deeds. But it seemed it was not so.
Aeron shook his head. “So it will be until the end of time. Still, I will wait.”
They sat in silence for some time, though no sun recorded its passage. Anya found an anchor in Aeron’s silent grief. She clung to her friend’s pain with relief that it was not her own. As always, his presence calmed her much like her brother’s. Another person’s pain to cling on to. Another who lost his love. She felt the shame rise – her brøðurnir had experienced true loss. What right did she have to be mourning for a dead man who was not dead? Who did not love her back with a mere fraction of the sincerity that she loved him? When she had Anricwulf who loved her truly and sincerely?
“…but you should not ever have to try.”
She was trying too hard. She did not want to try any more.
Aeron spoke. “Anricwulf does not know what you have told me?”
Shaking her head, she whispered, “I have only learned these things just now. I do not know if I can tell him.”
The wind picked back up again as Aeron have her a hard look. “You need to tell him, Anya, and you know that. He deserves to know. Secrets separate. They are the only thing that can truly destroy the bonds of love. Fae learned that the hard way.” Seeing her distress, he reached over to take her hand. Unlike Morty’s, it warmed her cold fingers as he squeezed them gently. “You will do the right thing. Do not succumb to the shadow in your heart. It will pass.” He fell silent again as he gazed out over the lake, his blue eyes sparkling like the peaks of the tiny waves cutting across the water.
Anya dropped her gaze to their hands. She stared at her nails criss-crossed in paint. Her cuticles were stained various shades of green and blue. Earthen tones clung to her knuckles and she compared their smooth creases to Aeron’s. The strength in his hands belied their gentleness. He was a warrior and soldier, but still just a man.
A man who had been dead far longer than Morducai Mossfoot. Who loved truly and deeply and had experienced the loss of his life and the ideals he fought for. Fornost had been overrun. His people fell to the shadow, his wife among them. He died trying to save what he thought was good.
Even as the realizations began to sink in, she had to point out: “Aeron. You are dead, too.”
A rough laugh full of irony escaped him. He gave her hand a squeeze. “I am, yes. But I am not in your world, Anya. And I would not stay there if I was.”
The truth. The difference. Aeron would leave when this was all over. She would be left alone, and the despair would return, but his love would still be there. And life would go on.
Her eyes closed and another silence fell between them. She felt so tired; she leaned against his shoulder and felt his head incline to rest upon hers. It was so good to be able to feel his warmth. She felt the calm flowing through her and for the time, she was able to relax.
“You left your brother’s bell with the grave-digger,” Aeron said quietly as if loathe to break the peaceful silence. “And my necklace – I assume the necklace was destroyed?”
Anya nodded. “I moved to Ered Luin for a time. I threw it in the fires of the Dwarven forges to make sure you would remain at rest.”
She felt his head turn as he looked down at her.
“I did not feel the Bree-land forges would be hot enough.”
“Oh, Anya,” he said gently, “you always do have a flair for the dramatic.”
“It seemed fitting.”
Aeron chuckled but then became more sombre. “The bell. The necklace. You have nothing left to remind you of your brothers.”
She shrugged against him. “I do not regret leaving the bell with Morty.”
“Even though he won’t know its significance to you?”
“He doesn’t have to.”
“You should have something back for your gift.”
“I don’t ask for anything back.”
“But I will give you something nonetheless. Unfortunately, I am not in a position to retrieve it.”
Aeron raised his free hand. Sitting on his palm was a silver dragon with beryls in place of its eyes.
“Not at Fornost. Not even at Ost Guruth. My father died near Annúminas on the southern shores of Nenuial. Have you ever been to Evendim, Anyatka?”
“The old capital city of the Kingdom of Arnor?”
Aeron nodded. “My father was born and raised in the North Downs. The king himself gave this to my father for services against the Witch-king. My father carried it with him though it added weight to his pack. He was sentimental like that. When he met my mother in Rhudar, this sat on their mantle until I fifteen. Then, my father was called for one last duty and he packed it away and left for old capital in an attempt to recover the Palantír rumored to be left there. He never returned. His unit was overcome by wolf-men along the far banks of the lake. They had approached from west in hopes to avoid the tombs that lined the eastern approach.” He took an audible breath. “It is why I chose to serve the king at Fornost and why Faethril understood. I honored my father and the blood of the Arthedain.” After a pause, he added, “I always meant to go to Evendim to search the city and the west banks for the treasure and see what we once were. I’ve heard it is beautiful there.”
Anya waited as he released her hand and turned the dragon over, studying it.
“If you want it, it’s yours.” He took her hand and wrapped her fingers around it. “Take Anric and a company of adventurers and find yourself again.” A smile curled his lips. “I would love to see the work you produced sitting on the banks near Tinnundir.”
She clutched the dragon to her chest and nodded. “Do you believe I can handle a journey into the wilds of Evendim?”
Aeron smiled and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “I believe in you, Anya. Many people do, and those that do not should take the time to see it in you. Journeys make one strong. And home will always be waiting for you.”
She nodded and looked up at him. “You are going back now, aren’t you?”
He looked upon her with understanding. “I am. I am always with you, Anyatka. Do not forget the ones that love you.”
She closed her eyes and the breeze blew her hair all about her face. As it died down, she knew he was gone and she was back in her Staddle and Hal Kemp would be staring at her like she was crazy. Perhaps she was.
She looked over at him. He had not moved and she wondered how much time had passed here in Bree-land while she was with Aeron. Looking down, she saw the same caterpillar making its way across the dead branch.
With a sigh, she stood. She would tell Anric about Morty and hope that he would not take matters into his own hands. His abhorrence for the undead worried her; her feelings for Morty did, too. But she had to deal with both fears. She had to find the strength to stand on her own.
It would take time. Looking south toward where the Great East Road wound its way through the lands, she knew she would go to Evendim and retrieve the last remnants of Aeron left in the world. She would take Anric if he’d have her and perhaps find some new friends along the way. But she made the decision to wait until Esthyr’s wedding; she would not run away. She had more than one purpose in life if she’d accept them.
Anyatka glances over at Tor nervously. Silence is unnerving. Speaking is unnerving. Torlach is unnerving.
With so much going on with my characters, I often copy and paste quotes or chat log just to keep things straight. I save important plot points or particularly spectacular moments in my Scrivner project that holds all my blog posts, character sheets, and ideas. This past week, a lot has happened for all three of my girls. Lina has entered a committed relationship, Anya’s possession is gathering interest, and Cwen – well, heck, she’s back in Bree RPing. As a nearly retired character who had been out of the scene for almost an irl year, that’s saying something.
As an English teacher, I cannot help but start to analyze the characters and their interactions. RP is living, breathing. One person alone does not control it (unless they’re RPing with themselves, and that’s a whole ‘nother story). It is not unusual for me to go back and spot missed posts – especially in the Pony – or situations where something someone said could have been taken entirely the wrong way. Art imitates life, and RP is an art. It only serves that misunderstandings might take place, profound and wise words might be uttered, or characters grow in ways unexpected. **Warning: potential spoilers for The Necklace/Bracelet plot which should be renamed to something equal parts lame and sexy, like “Bound by Fate”**
To Hallem: Emmelina scratches her cheek and laughs. “I remind ye o’ a mad-woman? Wait’ll ye get t’know me.” She grins at him as she raises the mug to him and then tips it back to chug it down. Smacking her lips, she nods to Barliman for another. “Wha’ makes ye say I remind ye of her?” Lina is proud of her mask, and mask it is. She doesn’t want anyone getting past it to poke at the pain she drowns in ale and crazy antics. Emmelina raises a brow and shifts her weight from one leg to the other. “Grave-diggin’ eh? But rather be climbin’ the earth rather than diggin’ in it?” She takes a more measured sip from her ale. “Interestin’ combination.” Despite her youth and apparent idiocy, her mind is sharp and oftentimes, Lina will say things that reflect deep wisdom that comes from experience and a certain level of instinct about people. She simply chooses to be carefree because the alternate is life-crushing. She is a young woman of extremes.
To Falros: Emmelina nods. “Long day. Lotta clothes.” She starts to turn to tromp down the steps but only makes it down two before turning back and returning to him. “Where’m I goin’?” Lina is very uncertain about her relationship with Falros at first. The context of sex has her all confuddled. She’s blunt enough to ask in the middle of the Pony whether she’s going to her place or his for the night, but elusive enough to make the true question unclear. Falros might have assumed she meant directions for his house, not her place in his world. Regardless, they have worked things out and Lina has found a place at Falros’s side.
Anyatka tucks her hair back behind her ear and says, “Go lurk in some other corner, Torlach. If you please.” Self explanatory! Though Anya actually standing up to Torlach is something new. Perhaps the influence of Aeron’s cool confidence? Or is Anya finally growing up a little? Regardless, Torlach is vital to her survival now that he has the necklace.
At Torlach: Anyatka didn’t not mean to sound like gollum in any way shape or form. Anyatka ducks away from his hand and swings below his arm to rugby tackle him. Since she’s rather average and scholarly, let’s see how far back she bounces! This was just hilarious. Faethril-Anya taking on Torlach. For realz, bro. Oh, and she bounced far.
To Morty: Anyatka snaps, “Aeron, son of Arithorn. And you?” Morducai touches the bracelet, appears unscathed where others were burnt, and makes contact with Aeron. Aeron isn’t amused. Anya’s dismayed that he’s not burned, or at least doesn’t show it. Further proof for her suspicions, if only she could get Aeron to leave her alone when Morty was around.
To Dunstann and Misree: Cwendlwyn looks over to Dunstann with a smirk. “Cwen,” she corrects him gently. “And aye. Pleasure to see you again,” she says to Dun with a bow of her head. She turns back to Ree shaking her head. “No, I was not referring to your face. Though, I have something for that as well. I refer to the way you’re sitting, favoring your side.” Cwen knows her shizznit. Though I need to brush up on my herbalism. Did you know nettle tea really does taste a lot like grass? The tingle goes away after you get used to it. Not sure how else to explain it. And dandelion root tea is heavy enough to be very satisfying as a sort of snack. Good stuff.
To Torlach and Eruviel: Cwendlwyn continues to gaze down at them for a moment before she plasters on a smile. “Of course! This one,” she holds up the plain band, “is my wedding ring from my union with Anidore Resselin. And this one,” she holds up the one with the family crest, “was given me by Arodionn Vallanor, a man I…” she looks down again, the false cheer cracking. And that doesn’t even include the gold and silver band she wears openly which is not Biramore’s, but the Elf Elodir’s who sailed to the West. Girl’s got a past! Anidore and I agreed their daughter is seven, now, so that will limit her adventuring. Maybe one day Neilia will come sauntering into Bree – will she be more like mum or da? Anyatka repeats, “Well. You?” She starts to sketch: rolling hills, towering, um, towers. Sometimes, words fail. Anyatka nods. “That is what Morty said.” She presses her lips together and adds, “He also said to try not to let him know he’s dead.” Oopsie daisy, Raen sort of told Aeron he was dead and then Faethril went apeshit. Anya ended up unconscious on a pile of cushions muttering in her sleep as Orchil and Raen watched and discussed their involvement with her fate. The fact that Morty found out about the necklace being from the Barrows and is outraged did no good for Anya’s already fragile feelings.
To Morty, while telling Raen the sordid tale: Anyatka looks over at Morty for a moment in silence. “I guessed,” she whispers, blinking as the tears flow slowly. “But it didn’t matter to me.” She looks back at Raen and takes a deep breath to continue. Re-reading this portion, Morty might have mistaken Anya’s “But it didn’t matter to me” as a flippant dismissal of his curse in her pursuit of ancient artifacts and adventure. It was not. It was her admittance that she guessed from his obsessive concern about the Barrows, his longevity against hope, and his glowy-eye that there was more to him than appeared. It was her admittance that despite the fact he could be a monster and his insistence that she does not, she loved him. Her tears were a mixture of shame that she betrayed his trust by taking the adventure with Teiblanc, horror that he now knew, and fear that he’d never speak to her again. And of course, the classic crying because you’re crying when you promised yourself you wouldn’t cry any more.
Anyatka will continue to sleep-talk for several hours. Several times she will throw her arms up as if defending herself while crying out. Each time ‘Morty’ passes her lips, her eyes open and flash as if Aeron were connecting with her feelings for him. Several times, she whimpers and pleads for the necklace, muttering how ‘he’ needs it for protection. Ultimately, Anya’s possession is a love story. Faethril, even in the demonic form that she exists in presently, only seeks Aeron’s safety which she tied to the old family heirloom, his necklace. Aeron, though much more sentient than his lover, also rears a much more feral persona whenever Anya is overwhelmed or hurt by her feelings for Morty. Aeron surges forth to protect her, feeling the connection between her and Faethril and seeking to rid her of the pain.
Anya swayed slowly back and forth as she walked with a light step through the dark night toward the boarding house. Her fingers were black with soot from her sketches, a fading smudge still on her right temple. Her sketchbook was clutched to her chest as she hugged herself happily. Looking up, her eyes found a single brilliant star glowing fiercely in the sky. For a moment, she paused, just standing there, face raised to the sky as the light of the Mariner bathed her in its warmth. She took a deep breath and held it, a grin spreading wide and glistening in the night.
For the first time in what felt like an age, she smiled as she walked down the streets of Bree.