The Nightingale: Dear Hallem Kemp

Dear Hallem,

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.

With Love,

Merry

The Nightingale: Letter in a Bottle

Take things as they come,
One by one with each rising sun.
One step, one breath, one paper, one pen
And the teardrops will fade and then

Maybe, just maybe, you can breathe again.

~~~

Letter to Pen

~~~

She rolled the paper into a tight little scroll and sealed it up with wax. She chose the bottle with the shoulders and slid the letter inside.

She waited until dark because it was easier that way. The fewer people that saw her, the fewer questions she might have to face. How did you get up so high? What are you doing on that ledge? Aren’t you afraid you’ll fall?

I have fallen once, she told them in her head, and I should have died then.

I wish I had died then.

But they didn’t see her move through the shadows, or if they did, they told themselves it was just the light playing tricks on their eyes. Old eyes in the candle light. Young eyes full of imagination.

She stood on the ledge where she hid so long ago after fleeing from her only home, the Ivory Tower. The Keep of the Swan-Knights loomed in the moonlight and she wished that it was only guard duty that kept him away. The bottle, hard and cold in her hand, glinted, gave her intentions away if anyone cared to look. Did anyone care to look?

With all of her strength, she threw the bottle with the rolled up letter and it sailed in the starlight, through the air, and splashed into the waters below. Every night the ritual was the same since she moved to her father’s house. People kept journals all the time, of course. Letters were normal to send to loved ones.

Arameril shared her journal, her day, with her loved one, and since no post could carry the words to him, she prayed to Elmeleth that they would find him through her offering to the sea.

Over the Edge

The guard lay dead at her feet. The beautiful man, for he was beautiful beneath his mop of black hair, had brought her food in the gaol and sometimes stayed to ask how the straw mat was at night, but he never came into her cell. Only his smile warmed her, that sad, confused little smile he gave her before he moved on to deliver the next meal.

His name was Idhrenor, but that did not matter much anymore. She was certain that he had asked that she be placed with him during the trek through the tunnels and on toward the tiniest glimmer of hope. “I will ensure you are taken to safety, Eshe,” he had said. “No man or woman deserves to die in a cage. And when the enemy is driven back, you’ll have your hearing and surely you will go free. Do not lose hope.”

But what is hope? Nothing but vain fantasy, a thought that the mungu gave a last shit about their trials any more.

Behind them, the smoke rose and she longed to immerse her naked feet in a pond or stream. She needed to know who controlled the tide of the battlefield.

Her father never bothered with sides. Enzi chose the path to protect his family and warned to stay away from the power struggles of the “great ones.” One side always had to lose and the losers were always the villains. “Every army marches with hope, Eshe,” Enzi said. “Even an army of slaves hopes that it will survive, little may that false hope serve them. To be real, to have power, men must fight for more than just their own lives. So they fight for land. For boundaries drawn with binding ink on pieces of parchment. Your grandmother’s powers were not meant to serve those fighting over land. Only on the sea can a man truly be free.”

She wondered how many of her brothers sailed with her people. They needed land and power to protect their families back home. They chose sides and if Mosi had chosen to sail with their people, she knew Chane would have, too. Joshi probably marched with the army. She could only hope Kito sailed free and it was not his black powder that ignited her ship and sent it to the bottom of the bay. Would they recognize the Gondorian ship as hers? Did they knew what they were destroying, or did they even care? Orders came. They would obey. Something she could never do.

“Take off those pants! No man wishes a wife that wears britches better than he!”

“Women cannot be sailors. They are to serve their masters in the home, for who will keep the house when the women chase a man’s position?”

“Cover yourself despite the sweltering heat! Do not tempt a man with your skin!”

“Serve the chieftain in your proper role and do not make waves!”

She bent over Idhrenor’s body and was sorry. “I cannot help but make waves,” she told his corpse as she turned him over. “I try not to, but people insist.” In a scold that masked regret, she continued, “I merely wished to make you sleep and you had to draw your sword. You lost hope in me. And now see where it has gotten you?”

With Idhrenor’s key, she unlocked the irons around her wrists. She stripped her bottom half naked and replaced the dirty skirts with his breeches.Too bad his feet were far too large and she had to abandon his boots. But the hole in his shirt could be mended; the blood washed out. She tucked it into his backpack and gave him her thanks.

Quick work she made of it. The others would come looking. Maybe if she moved through the trees as though they were her ship’s rigging, she could escape a hunt. Would they bother to hunt? It did not matter what they would choose–only that they could choose. She would not make it easy.

Out of the mountains. That was all that mattered now. Away from Gondorian and Orc, Rohirrim and Haradrim. But she did not know where she could go now that The Apple slept tucked safely in bed at the bottom of the bay. So she did not think on it as she took up Idhrenor’s sword and tucked it into his belt around her waist. She kissed his forehead and smoothed his hair. And then she walked away.

~~~***~~~

Upon the highest roof of the Ivory Tower, she blended in with the dark shingles. Her arms were wrapped around her knees so tightly, she halved her already diminutive size. She could have been a great sea bird perched on the roof and not a lonely young woman in tears.

Miss Cirieldis probably did not know she was there, but the woman also did not really care if the Headmistress did know. She did not want to be home alone with no letters to send to Minas Tirith and a stomach full of regret. She knew it was silly, but from the height of the tower, she swore she could see the smoke rising in the east and it helped her come to terms with the breaking of her heart. This feeling in her spirit that knew her people were dying and most likely her father and her husband would never come home.

She hadn’t written Pengail since that first brief letter. He had not written at all. She could only imagine that meant he no longer loved her and everyone around her was right: they had been too young and the courtship had been too quick and he regretted tying himself to something like her. After all, she was only the daughter of a drunk and a prostitute and was only good for lies and death. Black Roses were not meant for romance and love.

Had he thought of her at all, or had he found someone worthy of his heart and status? Did he live? And if he did, did he want her still?

Every time the questions rose, Arameril’s throat tightened and the pain that shot through her chest was akin to a dagger in her heart. Her guilt only rose when hope came in the measure of relief she felt if he did die in battle. Should he die and her father die, she could serve her purpose without fear or guilt. She could serve her city without pain.

It was terrible to think about. The inhumanity of the thought horrified her and she did not let it linger long, but the truth was still there, at least until she remember Cólel and the “aunt” and “grandmother” she promised to visit. More guilt. She had not yet for she feared the condescending aura that surrounded the old woman. She was not Hathlafel’s. She had no right to Hathlafel, and if he should die, she had no right to their attention at all.

As if love and attention was a reward for being worthy.

She should not be concerned with such things. She had the mystery of the missing apprentices to worry about. She had to assist Duvain and discover what threatened Dol Amroth in the dark. The city’s stability relied on the stability of the Illumin much like it relied on the stability of the Mormerili and she knew what could go wrong if that strength was threatened.

Still, she cried. The smoke rose in the east, and she was tired. So tired. No sleep could refresh her. No drink rouse her spirits. She cried silently for her sorrow could find no voice, and at last, as the cool ocean breeze passed through the sleeping city, Arameril passed into an uneasy sleep on the highest roof of the Ivory Tower School for Girls.

No one saw the body fall from the roof and sink down, down behind the high walls of the Tower.

 

 

 

The Nightingale: I am Fine

Dear Father,

Thank you for your letter and for the money. I will see that your sister gets it as soon as I can, though I am afraid of what will happen when I take it there. I would send it with a messenger, except I would not risk it going astray. Therefore, I must swallow my worries and simply face your sister regardless of what she may think of me now that she probably knows I am not really your daughter.

I am glad that you are safe for now. What little time I do get to sleep is usually spent lying awake worrying about you and Pengail. It is so lonely here without the both of you.

I wish that Pengail had not said anything. I fear he spoke only to hurt you for you knowing will do no one any good.

Pen and I had reconciled as much as we possibly could in the week before he left, and I told him that Scarlet let me go. She let me off work for that week and I would that he keep believing that to be the truth. He cannot know that I am still working to bring her down because someone must. If not me, then who? She has hurt you and she has hurt others and someone must put a stop to it.

If you believe Miss Cirieldis can assist me, I will talk to her. But I will not stop until Scarlet has been handled. My life is my city’s and I will rid her of this blemish. As you would protect me, I will protect you.

Please understand.

Love,

Merry

~~~***~~~

Dear Pengail,

I miss you terribly. I do not like being at home alone without you, so please come back.

I do not know what else to say. My world is praying for your safety and the safety of Gondor. I love you, Pengail.

With all my love,

Merry

Premonitions

The docks of Dol Amroth lifted her spirits more than those shoddy, dreary wooden ramshackles up the coast. Perhaps it was because those small, rarely used docks reminded her of the treachery that deprived her of her heart for so long. Perhaps it was the smell of the sea here; it was different, here in the City of Love, and Lust, and Corruption. The balance felt more stable here. The sun and the shadows more balanced somehow.

Eris liked things that way. Balanced. In order. And humans made things difficult to balance with their wants and their needs and their desires. If only they could remain satisfied in their proper places, she thought as she stared up at the intricate stonework that formed the dock. Then first mates would be satisfied with being first mates, and men would not worry about her breasts but her orders, and she would not have to be concerned about a lack of shiny armour to blind her on the way to the Siren’s Call.

“They’ve marched,” she learned as she sat quietly in her corner with one hand raising an ale and the other shuffling her deck as if it were a part of her. “City’s near empty of the lot. Streets are quieter now.”

The hairs on the back of her neck stood up, but otherwise nothing indicated that she even heard.

~~~***~~~

She sailed out of Dol Amroth with a cargo full of pickled fish and a small bundle of letters to send up the river toward Bree-land. So few would risk it these days, though the waters north and west were far safer than the shores east and south. Folks could call her brave if they wanted to; she wouldn’t argue, but neither would she agree.

She did break the seal of Halchon’s letter to his sister, after all. That probably wasn’t a brave thing to do, but she was Southern if not “Southron” and if it was going to be in her best interest to take her ship and leave, she was more than willing to do so.

My dear sister,

It is my intention to write more in your absence than we ever spoke in your presence. Mother misses you dreadfully as do the servants and all those I speak with. Surely some of them speak out of courtesy, but most genuinely miss your tenacious drive and unfailing kindness despite it all.

Even if I could summon you home to help with the books, I would not, however. The Swan-knights have left the city, summoned to Minas Tirith in its defense. It is no secret when any fool would miss them traipsing through the streets. The city is not left defenseless, we are told, and we must trust in our Prince’s words…

She skipped through to ensure he had no intentions of “letting her go” in any way and then used the seal she had made to close it again. As she scratched at a bit of stray wax, she looked out of her captain’s window to watch the last tips of the city’s highest towers disappear over the horizon and for some reason that she could not put her finger on, she felt the scales tip and teeter and she was uneasy.

~~~***~~~

“Lower me! Now!”

There were murmurs that perhaps she’d gone crazy, and one day, maybe they’ll understand, but that really was not her concern. She commanded them to drop anchor, lower her in the lifeboat, and wait. She paddled toward the shore of the small inlet that was her goal. She could see the bottom through the crystal clear water and before the bottom of her boat could brush the sand, she pulled in the oar and stepped out.

From the ship, they presumed she stood in the shallows. They could not see that she only skimmed across the water until she found a pearly pink shell lying on the bottom. They saw her stoop and plunge her hand in to grab it to hold up to the sun.

After a moment, for no particular reason, she threw it back to the water. It plunked and splashed and she walked on.

A black shell, rippled and broken was pulled and tossed aside again.

Finally, she turned back to the boat and climbed in to return to the ship. Her crew stared silently as she attached the pulley ropes to the sides so they could hoist her up; only their “Heave! Ho!” broke the quiet until she was aboard.

“Captain?” her first mate, a friendly, large, and imposing fellow asked as she strode past him on her way to her cabin. “Is everyt’ing a’right?”

Eris stopped and looked at him stonily. “The boss’s sister. Had there been any word on her before we launched from the City?”

“No, sir,” Tendaji said. She had picked him up one night in The Siren’s Call and found him capable and mutually sharing her interest in survival. “No messages dough th’ bossman said he ‘spected somet’ing soon. Why do you ask?”

Eris looked over the crew and then back to Tendaji.

“Be on the lookout for a ship on the horizon. Let me know immediately,” she said instead of answering.

“Of course, sir.” Tendaji nodded. “Right away.”

Nodding, Eris closed her cabin door behind her.

~~~***~~~

“Ship off the port bow! Corsair!”

A day passed before the ship appeared.

Eris took the spyglass from Tendaji and scanned the horizon. “What did you see?” she asked quietly.

“Light blue flag. Fish tail.”

Smirking to herself, Eris corrected him. “Mermaid tail. It is my brother.”

Tendaji’s thick brows rose. “Indeeed.”

“Maintain course and speed. I would speak with him.”

“Of course, sir.”

Tendaji called out the orders and Eris went into her cabin to open the footlocker at the foot of her bed. She pulled out a cloth the same colour as the sail in the distance and ordered it raised. Closer, the men could see the severed tail with the fisherman’s net tangled on its bloody dorsal fin. They murmured quietly among themselves, but Eris did not budge from the deck as she watched the ship gain on them.

As it pulled astern, the men saw the dark crew staring back at them. On the quarterdeck stood a man nearly a head taller than all those around him. His broad captain’s hat sat low on his brow and he grinned.

“Nguva!” he boomed in a congenial, deep voice. “You are here.”

“And you are there,” Eris replied with the same grin. “Good to see you, brother. What news from Uziwa? What do the currents say?”

“Perhaps you had best come aboard, sister mine,” Eris’ brother said. He looked over the Gondorian faces pointed in his direction. “I am not sure I would be welcome on your deck.”

“Mosi? What-”

“Come aboard, Eshe. We have much to discuss.”

~~~***~~~

They tied the ships together and Eris placed Tendaji in charge with Malemen, the ship’s second mate and a Gondorian of a “live and let live” nature, at  his side. The captain disappeared for an hour and when she reemerged, her usual casual expression was stony and intense.

“There is nothing that can be done?” she quietly asked her brother who shook his head and held up a hand.

“No, Eshe. Again, nothing can stop them. We scout and will report truth and soon only black sails will fly across these waters.” Mosi put his hat back on as he followed her to the plank balanced precariously between the ships. The feathers caught a breeze and blew into his eyes. “Fly our colours. Our flag is known to our people. It may save you.”

“Would you like a barrel of fish?”

Mosi’s expression went blank. Then he laughed.

“If you wish to provide, I will not deny free provisions,” he said.

As the men made the transfer, he set a hand on his older sister’s shoulder.

“Keep an eye on the edges of the sea, Eshe,” he advised sincerely. “Warships sail. The northern lands will fall.”

Eris looked up at her brother, eldest son of Enzi the Strong Arm of the Sea.

“Maybe,” she said as she stepped onto the plank. Two steps and she was across and her men lifted the board away. “Then again, maybe not. There is strength left in these lands. There are great men still living among those who have fallen into decline.”

Laughing, Mosi shook his head. “Be careful, Eshe! You cannot walk the rail and expect to remain balanced forever. Eventually, the wave will hit that will rock your ship and you will fall.”

As the ships began to drift apart, Eris smiled. She lifted her hand to wave good-bye.

“Then I will just have to grow a tail, Mosi. The water will stop my fall.”

Letters of Marque: A Ship Sails In

Mood Music: 

Ships sail in and out of the harbor every day. For a sailor without a ship, it is torture to see their sails drop once they have cleared the bay. I watch them from the distance of my window at the Siren’s Call. I do not wipe the grime from the glass; I do not want to miss the wind on my back that much.

I cannot just keep watching, though. Not with the manifest in my pocket. Not with the knowledge that my ship might be sailing in today.

The dock trips me. Stones smoothed down from use catch on my boots as I weave among the people. The docks have been my shelter in my storm; their warehouses loom around me now. The windows watch me as I search for the correct pier. Maybe I don’t want to find it. Maybe I don’t want to see her. Maybe I don’t want to see him.

Why? Why did that Flappy-knight decide to bring me this manifest? What on the high seas possessed him to stick his nose into my business? I was perfectly content to sit in the Siren day in and day out, brooding. No one asked him to come shining in, blinding us with that shiny armour, being all shiny. No one asked him to go out of his way to deliver me the news.

The Apple is due in. Today. And after a week of sitting on that manifest, I know I cannot remain in the dark.

It is only meant to dock long enough to restock. In a day’s time, my baby’s belly will be filled with fish. Desecration of my beautiful, golden ship. It should swallow chests of gold and silk. Stores of spices and wine.

Not fish.

I would probably have never heard about it in time had he not brought me the information. But he had and now I know and I cannot let it leave without seeing if it is really my Golden Apple sitting at dock three waiting for the stink of industry.

As I approach the turn around the high wall, I see her. Not her, not my Apple, but his daughter. Or, his not-daughter. She leans over the edge of the crow’s nest of The Chipper Kipper, and I just look up at her as my feet slow. She smiles now as she calls down to the crew below. Beneath her cheer, beneath the exuberance only the wind in a sail can bring, though, I see it. That evasive expression in unguarded moments that made his brow draw down as he watched her hurry away. Blood or not, he cannot not deny she is his daughter in his heart.

Family is messy.

It creates heavy chains that anchor you to unwelcome shores. It pushes when it should pull and runs when it should advance. It tiptoes around the important things and then steals your heart.

I try not to get swept up in the tide of people boarding the Kipper as I push my way through to the end of the dock.

And there she is. The Golden Apple looking a little worn around the edges, but just as magnificent as I left her. At least Judd is taking care of her.

And there he is. At the helm with a cloth holding his thick braids back from his face. My coat does not fit him right, but it marks him captain. It needs to be cleaned.

My fingers clench into a tight fist and rest on the hilt of my weapon. A knife thrown could not possibly reach him from where I stood. Dockhands, sailors, and Swan-knights traipsed about between us.

Hathlafel said there are ways to get the ship back. I look up at the gulls circling overhead, looking for handouts in discarded guts and fish. Constantly, they cry for more.

I lower my gaze to Judd. He barks orders and swaggers across the deck gesturing to the boom. Men, my men and others I did not know, hustle to carry out his orders.

Somehow, I will manage it. I will get her back.

And then this ache in me might subside.

~~~***~~~

Lyrics to Saints Out of Sailors by Flannel Graph (as heard by me)

Here in the silence I stand like a stone
The face in the mirror don’t look like my own
And the cards that been dealt make me just want to fold
But I won’t give you up
No, I won’t give you up
No, I won’t give you up
‘Cause you’re anchor still holds

The wind it’s been trying to blast us to bits
And the water’s been trying to swallow this ship
And my heart has been throwing the gold overboard
But I won’t give you up
No, I won’t give you up
No, I won’t give you up
Because you are my reward

The one that makes saints out of sailors
Carries my frame on his shoulders
He makes me lie down on green pastures
And leads me beside quiet waters

And he’s coming for me

Here in the darkness I see in the night
The mists and the wastes try to fill me with fright
And my weary soul waits as the morning, it dawns
But I won’t give you up
No, I won’t give you up
No, I won’t give you up
‘Cause your light leads us on

Leads us on

The one that makes saints out of sailors
Carries my frame on his shoulders
He makes me lie down on green pastures
And leads me beside quiet waters
And he’s coming for me
Oh he’s coming me
Yeah, he’s coming for me
Oh he’s coming for me
Yeah he’s coming for me
Oh he’s coming for me
Yeah he’s coming for me
Oh he’s coming for me
Yeah he’s coming for me
Yeah he’s coming for me
Yeah he’s coming for me
Oh he’s coming for me
Yeah he’s coming for me
Yeah he’s coming for me
Yeah he’s coming for me
Oh he’s coming for me

Won’t give me up
Won’t give me up
No, he won’t give me up

‘Cause he’s loved me from old

The Nightingale: What’s Missing Is

Dear Lady Cwendlwyn,

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.

Best wishes,

Arameril

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,

Merry

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!

Ara and Pengail wedding invite

Waiting for Change

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

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

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

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

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

~~~***~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She knew.

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

Arameril willingly gave up the sea for him.

Oh, yes. She knew what the consequences were.

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

Bree was still a possibility.

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

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

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

~~~***~~~

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

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

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

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

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

He took another and fell gently into bed, moaning.

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

Never Eruviel.

~~~***~~~

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

But that collar.

She had to admit to herself that she was afraid.

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

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

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

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

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

The Nightingale: Memories Lost

The grounds of the Colagar estate seemed busy with the increased guard patrolling them. Arameril walked close to the windows as she traveled the various halls of the manor arm-in-arm with Pengail. At each window she would stare longingly outside as they passed. The clouds. The sky. Since Atanamir’s wards had been applied, she dared not touch even the sills to lean out to feel the open breeze on her face.

Pengail slowed at one of the larger windows on the second floor of the sprawling manor. His long stride halted as Arameril gazed on the distant skyline of the city.

“You know, Pen,” she said without turning to look at him, “sometimes, I do miss the Ivory Tower. I left on an errand and never went back. I knew I could not return to that place knowing the Orchid was being held captive there somewhere.

“I had hidden a set of spare leathers near our picnic spot. I left everything else I had behind.”

Pengail placed a warm hand on her in the crook of his elbow. I’m s-sorry, Merry. Mayb-be you will be able t-to… retrieve it wh-when this is… all over.”

Arameril smiled warmly and covered his hand with her own. “Perhaps. I did not have much, but it means something to me. I… I didn’t realize just how much until I realized I missed it.”

Pengail returned the smile and led her to a bench in a recessed alcove where they could sit and watch the city from afar.

“T-tell me?”

Arameril leaned against his good arm. Her head barely met the middle of his bicep.

“Well, clothes. I only owned the simplest gowns and training gear, but they were mine.” She tugged at the fabric of the new dress she wore. As long as Sir Carmanadh or anyone else had purchased it for her, it would never be truly hers. “Is that silly?”

Shaking his head, he said, “N-no!” His gentle eyes looked down at her with sincerity and urged her to continue.

She nodded, her confidence in returning to the memories of her life in the tower growing.

“And I had a little box. A jewelry box I was given the Yule after I earned my ink. The only jewelry I ever owned was this silver necklace.” She touched the chain around Pengail’s neck. “So the only things in it were a coin I had since I was little, some seashells I collected over the years. A few pieces of sea glass. And a wooden coin with a carving of the Kipper on it. Scuppers gave it to me when I had sailed fifty times. Those trinkets represent… they represent my life…”

Her brow creased as she added, “Now, the only things I own are my black leathers and the gifts from my father. I am… what others have built.”

“Merry.” Pengail’s long fingers tipped back her chin as he gazed down at her. “…you are, are… you. Not w-what… they d-did to you. And now… now you c-can be f-fr-free.”

Arameril smiled as she rested her head against him. Her little fingers intertwined with his.

“Meeting you on the Kipper, Pen. That is what set me free.”

Pengail shook his head. He tried to find the words to match his thoughts and she watched his eyes as he worked through it.

“I only… c-caught you. When you st-stumbled. You took the first, first steps yours-self.”

Arameril reached up to lead his face down to hers. She kissed him tenderly. “I love you,” she whispered against his lips.

“I love you.” He smiled and stood holding his hand out to her to help her to her feet.

As they continued down the hall, he asked, “Why a c-coin?”

Shrugging, Arameril said lightly, “I got it when I was very young. From a fountain in the gardens. I don’t remember much about it except that my arms were too short and a nice man… got it out… for me…” Her steps slowed as she spoke each phrase. “Oh, by Elmeleth. Pengail. I think… but it was so long ago. I’ve always had that coin.”

She turned to face the direction from which they came. Down, down the hall and around a left turn and then a right or two. Hathlafel’s room.

“I could never remember his face. He was so kind and I don’t think I even said a word. He… he gave it to me even though they weren’t for taking… He… he…”

Pengail squeezed her hand reassuringly.

“You, you think it was your father?”

“Why… how could it be?”

Smiling, Pengail took both of her hands in his and stood before her. They paused in front of a wide window overlooking the coastline.

“He w-was watching ov-ver you. H-he loves you, M-merry.”

Arameril held his hands as an anchor as her brow worked through her thoughts.

“He was always there, Pen. Always watching over me. I always remember Sir Hathlafel visiting the Ivory Tower every Tuesday to meet with Lady Gwenithel. We had spoken only a few times before… before that day he asked me about… about you.”

Pengail’s brow arched. “He, he asked a-about me?”

Arameril nodded. “Yes. Whether or not I had ‘romantic affection’ for you. If you were important to me. I tried to keep it secret, but he already knew. He just wanted to hear it from me, I guess. To protect you? If he was lessening the dosage to keep you alive… we owe him your life. And mine.”

Pengail nodded. “We do. H-he has always watched over u-us. He… he is g-good, Merry. You c-can help him… re-remember. To-together. We can… h-help him.”

Arameril stood on tiptoe and still had to wait for Pengail to stoop to bring his lips to hers.

“We will, Pen.”

Perspective

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.

Hathlafel.

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.

Almost.

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.

Children.

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.

ScreenShot00369

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.