“Now, don’t you worry, Anya. I’m sure your brother and Eruviel will arrive home well and whole. I doubt they will run into anything much worse than the scum that can be found wandering the streets of Bree nowadays.”

Cwen spoke crisply as she cut the skin from the rabbit. She had given Anya the coin and sent her down the street to the Hobbithole down the road. The young Hobbit gladly sold her the rabbit and thanked her kindly for her patronage and gave his regards to Miss Cwen. Since returning, Anya noted the quick, almost jerky movements of Cwen as she treated the rabbit for that evening’s stew. The woman’s brow seemed sterner than usual and her eyes had dark circles beneath them.

“I know it is no good worrying, Cwen. But I still do.”

Anya stood watching the older woman work for a moment. As Cwen began hacking the meat into sloppy chunks, she had to ask, “Cwen…is something the matter?”

With a loud thunk, Cwen sunk the cleaver into the thick cutting board covering the table. “Whatever makes you think there is something the matter, Anya?”

“You seem…upset about something. Is it okay that I am here? I do not wish to intrude. I just, well, I had to get away for a while.”

Her host laughed dryly. “Anyatka, dearie, you chose to live in Bree. The urge to flee should come often.” Cwen scooped up the pieces and dropped them into a frying pan to brown. “You are most welcome at any time. But where is your husband? I would have expected him to come with you.”

Trying to hide the blush with a curtain of hair, Anya sputtered, “Oh, he’s not, we’re not…I know it isn’t proper to live together before marriage, but under the circumstances we all thought…”

Smirking, Cwen waved a greasy hand at her. “Never you mind, Anya. Biramore is not my husband, either.”

Anya tried to hide the surprise. “He isn’t?”

“Oh, no, dear. I have been married once, to a foolish, selfish man. Biramore and I chose to love one another without the pretenses of ceremony.” Cwen poured some liquid into the pan and began adding fresh herbs. “It was a grand ceremony, though. Anidore wore a deep, lush burgundy robe and the bridesmaids a vibrant blue. I led a company of folk back then. The weddingThe groomsmen all wore the uniforms of green and gold.” She paused and smiled slightly. “My dearest Aldoon officiated. One of the rare times he paused in his travels just long enough to do so. And Castius! Castius brought his tamed cat – one that would make your little Oli look like a house pet.” Chuckling, she stirred the mixture as it rose to a low boil.

“You do not appear like one to want a huge ceremony like that, Cwen. That surprises me.” Anya reached over the island between them and took up a paring knife and a large potato.

Cwen shrugged. “That was a long time ago. Neilia’s father. She’s nearly eight now. Though she acts like she’s thirty.” The thought of her daughter brought a smile to her lips.

“How does Biramore do with Neilia? I imagine well.”

The smile vanished as quickly as it came. “He did splendidly. Thought of her as his own, I’m certain.”

“Did?”

The falter in Cwen’s stirring would have been missed by most. Only because Anya was watching her friend so closely did she catch it.

“Biramore traveled a great deal protecting caravans. Merchants. Over six months ago, he left for Needlehole and never came back.”

Cwen’s voice was even. Calm. She moved about preparing the coney stew with practiced grace. She added the potatoes and set to chopping carrots.

Finally, Anya broke the silence. “He’s gone?”

“Well, yes. Dead, probably. Seeking revenge for his sister’s death. Or taken by goblins or orcs or bandits.”

“Are…are you okay?”

Cwen set down the knife and looked over at Anya. “Are you all right? Knowing your brother could be dead or on his way to death? Are any of us all right, Anya?”

Anya blinked and took a step back. “There was another man…” she blurted out under the pressure of Cwen’s cold response. “I remember seeing you with another man in Bree.”

“Zhevruil. His name was Zhevruil. He’s disappeared again, as well. I have a special knack for that Anya. Making men disappear. I have grown used to it.”

“He’s dead, too?”

“Possibly. Though Zhev is like a fox—hard to catch and hard to kill. More likely, he made a bad deal and had to vanish to avoid the consequences.”

Anya watched as Cwen finished dumping things into the pot. Her host wiped her hands on her apron and sighed. “Men are fickle, Anya. They always will be. They chase glory or adventure or gold. Occasionally they remember their woman back home. It helps when they have children with her. But even then—” she shrugged. “Well, look at Neilia’s father.”

“My Anric is faithful and true,” Anya insisted.

Cwen smirked as if she knew something Anya did not. “Thus far, yes. Anric seems like a nice lad from what you’ve told me. Would probably do right by you. But the passion fades, Anya. Love dies down to acceptance of each other’s company.”

“It goes away?”

She shook her head. “No. Not like that. But it doesn’t burn like it does in the beginning. People like that: the burn. The excitement. The rush.” She put her fist on her hip and looked at Anya intently. “Do you know what I mean?”

Blushing, Anya thought not of Anric, but of Morducai Mossfoot. Her cheeks did not flush around him simply because he had a tendency to be flirtatious and crass. The burn consumed her when she thought of him. The excitement declared itself in her voice whenever she greeted him. The rush made her head swim whenever he leaned in close. She forced her thoughts to her lover, to Anric. There was warmth there. Affection. And love. She did love Anric and she knew that he loved her, too. But there was no burn.

“Burns hurt, though,” she whispered. “And eventually, they cool.”

Cwen leaned over the pot and took a deep breath of the rising aroma. “They do. On both accounts. Which is why people settle…or wander. But they always look for that feeling, just to make sure they are still alive.”

Anya turned to look out the window overlooking the front lawn. Cwen’s house was not built Hobbit-style beneath the ground, but it bore the roundness of traditional Hobbit homes. Even in the front lawn, Cwen had planted crops and herbs among her flowering garden. She thought of the little plot of land she and Anric were trying to turn into a vegetable garden. Without her bidding, her thoughts shifted to the Dalish Charm removed because of her negligence.

“Why don’t people just accept that, then? If folk always do it. Always look for something else.”

Behind her, Cwen shrugged. “Tradition. Family. It is easier to raise a family when you know the spouse will be there.”

“Not everyone falls for tradition, though. You, for instance. And there are others I know.”

“Mhmm. Indeed there are. Anidore, for instance, went back to his womanizing ways after we split apparently. I would say I was hurt and surprised, but really, just hurt.” She lets out a self-depreciating laugh. “And not really even hurt. I just felt foolish.”

Anya nodded and asked very cautiously,“Do you ever wonder what it would have been like to just…let him?”

Cwen turned to look at her. “Let him…sleep around? Oh, heavens, no. I don’t think that ever crossed my mind. At least not then.”

“But what about now?”

The older woman ran her fingers along her hairline brushing back any flyaways that escaped from the loose bun on the crown of her head. “I think that now, I wouldn’t mind it so much. It would be difficult to see the one I love with someone else at first, but if I knew that in the end, their heart belonged to me, I think I would be more open to it.”

“If you loved them and they loved you.”

“Maybe. Though I am not sure I could actually do it when it comes down to it. See my love with another.” Cwen smiled kindly and reached over to pat her hand. “I am jealous like that, I suppose.”

Anya nodded. “I think most people are.”

“Jealous and perhaps selfish. In the end, people don’t want the pain that comes with the burn.” She laughed. “After all, only crazy people hurt themselves on purpose, right?”

“Right.”

 

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To Dale: The Colours of Fall

Entering Rivendell

He hadn’t been prepared for its beauty.

Eruviel led the way down the narrow path leading into the valley of Lord Elrond with Eirikr following on Kvígr close behind. Normally rather stoic to begin with, he found no words as she led them over the soft paths toward the stable. There was no hesitation in his steed’s stride as they crossed an ancient bridge made from a fallen tree. It knew the very land beneath its hooves seemed sacred.

Eruviel took him over graceful bridges spanning rushing waters to the Last Homely House where he hesitated on the threshold, questioning his worth. The Last Homely HouseInside, the vast hall rendered him speechless. In the library where he saw more tomes than he thought could exist in the world, Lord Elrond greeted him by name, to which he reacted like a nervous schoolboy afraid of reprimand. He had a vague notion that the Lord of the valley and Eruviel had been exchanging silent and amused thoughts about him as he stood there wishing to be gone already, but unable to get the desire to go.

After his introduction to Lord Elrond, Eruviel introduced him to an Elvish meal and as they ate, he brought up something that had been in his mind since she let it drop on their way from the stables.

“So, you said you were fifteen hundred years old?”

The question had caught Eruviel off guard, but she recovered quickly and with an openness that he found unsettling. She was not like most Elves he knew from his work on his father’s trade routes. They were tolerant, even welcoming, but never so revealing or open about their pasts. Or that they had loved…Men.

He looked out over the vale from the balcony of his room and licked his lips. Eruviel had said her first kiss had been to a Ranger. And she had been married to a captain of Gondor. Rubbing his chin, he pondered why he kept pondering this fact.

In RivendellHis room overlooked the falls behind the majestic building. He could feel the gentle spray even as he leaned on the rail and took a deep, cleansing breath. A peace fell over him that he hadn’t known since leaving Dale in pursuit of his sister and he closed his eyes for a moment, just breathing.

He let his train of thought flow without interruption. It drifted over mountain and forest and dipped low over the waters of Long Lake, through the streets of Esgaroth and into the tiny front room of a low stone house. Ninim sat there, knitting. Her kind face shone despite the man sitting across from her who was not her husband. She remained composed as the man drank ale from Eirikr’s flagon. She rose and refilled the drink at the man’s request. She excused herself and went to bed, securing the door behind her with a chair beneath the knob and lifting the pillow to ensure the knife still lay hidden.

Yes. Ninim could play the game; she would take care of herself the best she could. He did not give her enough credit, he realized as the falls drowned out all other sounds and forced him to focus on things with a fresh eye. Nevertheless, she needed him and he needed her.

“I am coming, Nin,” he whispered to the wind.

The stab of worry seemed to ease and his thoughts drifted north, to Dale. Yes. Ninim and then Abiorn. Once his wife was secured, they would be free to retrieve his little brother. Something told him the move would be unexpected. If somehow Sven escaped and sent word to his father, Eirikr knew the man would assume they would flee immediately. A smile tested the muscles of his face; Kolrson would send men out to search and leave himself vulnerable. Eruviel and he would then have an advantage.

Eruviel.

The Elf baffled him. She seemed more Man than Elf and had an uncanny knack of loving and accepting that had first put him on edge. No one would just welcome some stray woman into their home and expect nothing in return. When he showed up with the coinpurse, he had fully expected a demand of compensation from her, but none came. Then, after his injury, she allowed him shelter to recover. Again, asking nothing.

Now, she accompanied him to Dale. But why? She called Anya sister and her love for the woman clearly explained an investment in the outcome of the journey. But why so insistent in accompanying him? Hadn’t she mentioned her own reasons…

There. A piece that he had missed. What personal interest did Eruviel have in Dale? She had never been there, in her fifteen hundred years. What was there now that had her so interested in facing the cold of the Misties and the shadows of Mirkwood?

He must find out.

Exhaustion fell even as he came to the conclusion of his thoughts. His hair was slightly damp from the mists and he turned to find his first good night’s sleep since he learned Anya left Dale. Leaving Dale. Going. Leaving Bree. Going.

His journey would find its end in one or the other.

Imladris

 

To Dale: From Ost Guruth to Rivendell

The Last Huntress of The Dreadward Tribunal

A stagnant air hovered over Ost Guruth. Eruviel could sense the restless spirits from beyond the Red Pass, and the weight of their wickedness and sorrow made her skin crawl.

Eirikr walked up beside her and looked out as the sun crawled up over the horizon. “Sleep well?” he asked gruffly.

Biting her lower lip slightly, Eruviel fixed her cloak over her shoulders. “No, unfortunately. But it was sleep, I suppose.”

Eirikr turned his head only slightly to look at her as he started for the stables. “It was rhetorical. I didn’t realize Elves slept.”

“Some times,” she said with a small smile, shrugging as she followed him down the broken stone steps. How little the man knew of the Eldar. They did not sleep, not like the race of men did, but they required rest just as much as the other children of Iluvatar. How she delighted of visions…

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Letters to Nowhere: Dalish Charm

*sent tied to the leg of a very put out bird*

Dear Eruviel,

This is to nowhere, because I do not know if it will ever find you on your journey. I guess I could have written to Eirikr, but he’s so sullen and all too worried about Ninim to pay much mind to something as small as a rosebush. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Anric’s home is actually under the mountain. Luckily there is an opening above it so that I can still see the sky. I think that I would go mad there otherwise, being so cut off from the rest of the world. He loves it, though; he always jokes that he’s either half-Dwarf or half-goat. He seems perfectly at ease beneath the mountains in the vast  caverns with their twists and turns. I still get lost going from his home, just off the square, to the gates of the neighborhood. He keeps encouraging me and telling me that I’ll find my way. He reminds me so much of Morty the way he nurtures me. He believes in me in a way no one else has, except maybe you.

Speaking of Morty, I wrote him before we left to inform him of my absence (not that he cares) and to inquire about the rosebush (he took it back). When I first saw his reply, I admit that it crushed something delicate inside my heart. I never imagined he would take the bush back! I’m certain he just does not wish it to die, but I was coming back. I was going to take care of it.

Rose Burgundy Iceberg™
Rose Burgundy Iceberg from White Flower Farm (used pending permission) Click to visit the site!

I just wanted to know how often I needed to come back and tend it – it was my excuse to come back and tend it. Eruviel, I do not know how to read him now; he wrote as if I was going into the Dark Lord’s realm never to return. Anricwulf is being very understanding about all of it. He promised we could get a hearty bush to plant outside his home, but no matter what we get, it won’t be the Dalish Charm. It won’t be Morty’s own creation. I feel like I’ve betrayed him somehow: he left one of his children with me and I neglected it. But I am being foolish – it’s just a flower, right? It isn’t as if I was out shopping with Esthyr and lost track of the girl.

I wish you were here. I wish Eirikr was  here and that this whole mess was behind us and everyone was safe from harm. Things here feel like they should be that way: trouble-free and happy. Anric is traveling a bit less, but we find things with which to occupy ourselves within Durin’s Hall. There’s always a bustle and the fires always burn. Snow fell yesterday – so much for spring! It was just a light dusting, though I could only imagine what it would have looked like on the burgundy petals of those rosebuds. Would a chill like that kill them? Can such a delicate thing survive the cold stone of the mountains?

Dwarves aren’t as interested in drawing and painting as Elves and Men. They prefer statues made of their heavy stones and metals. I’m just trying to fit in, really. You would think it wasn’t all that hard since the trade between Erebor and Dale had strong ties. Yet, I never really saw that part of things. I never dealt with not knowing what someone was saying as they laughed and stared at me. I never found myself a minority among a strange people with foreign customs. I always faced the selected Dwarves my father brought home to banquet. They were on Man’s turf, just as they were in Bree.

Now I am on their turf. And of all that I might have learned in my homeland, my little Dalish charm isn’t getting me very far.

With love,

Anyatka

 

To Dale: Waiting for the Dawn

ERUVIEL

Eruviel’s first post in the series:

 

The Last Huntress of The Dreadward Tribunal

“Behind you!” a muffled voice cried out. Whirling around, Eruviel narrowly missed the blade that whistled past her head. Her armour weighed her down, and her joints felt sluggish as she struck down the faceless Barding criminal. Who are these men? her mind wondered as she worked to keep herself from panicking.

Eirikr fought the swarm of faceless men who had attacked them as they had passed through the grand, stone city gates of . . . was this Dale? Glancing behind her, Eruviel let out a horrified cry as she saw Eirikr stumble forward with a spear stuck in his back. “Why will my feet not move?” her mind screamed. She had to help him! Anya would never forgive her. . . nor could she forgive herself.

Hardly fifteen feet beyond her reach an older man who could have only been her companions father, Kolrson, emerged from the clouds…

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To Dale: The Exchange

Eirikr adjusted the pack on his back as he walked up the path leading from the field of the northern most farm. The path wound its way in front of a couple Hobbit houses built into the hill and ended at a small stone ruin. Until Cwendlwyn had written that they could meet there, he had been ignorant of the spot’s existence. He stood at the edge of the cliff overlooking the whole of Bree-town and sighed. Overlook, EirikrThe second floor of the Pony seemed far below and the air was clearer. Easier to breathe.

He didn’t want to resort to the plan that had been formulating in his mind from the moment he calmed down enough to focus on such a thing. He would not let Eruviel find out and he certainly could not let Anya ever know, though he suspected that she already had an idea of what might happen once Eirikr stepped into Dale.

He wished he could just bypass Dale all together, but he knew he could never be that close and not step in to take Abiorn with him. Anya, and he felt Ninim, and probably Eruviel, too, would want to take the boy from that home.

Boy. Abiorn would be fifteen now. Eirikr pictured his brother in his mind: frail, crooked limbs, darker features than either older sibling, and laughing. Abbi had quickly learned subterfuge and avoidance to protect himself and therefore, he was often able to smile.

A sound behind him made him turn. The dark-haired woman approached slowly with a girl of about seven at her side. Eirikr frowned, but Cwendlwyn made a gesture to the girl and spoke some soft words. The little one nodded and sat down at the crest of the hill with her back to him.

Cwendlwyn briefly ruffled the girl’s hair and then approached. Though Eirikr had only met her twice in the form of a patient, she had agreed to provide him with means for his backup plan. For some reason, he trusted her not to divulge the secret to anyone including his sister. He observed her in the faded light of the overcast afternoon. Her long, dark hair was pulled back in a neat and severe knot and her face looked a bit worn, though not thin. Her eyes–he saw something there that hinted at a kindred spirit. She knew a pain deep in her bones caused by the very reason she was alive. She had not hesitated when he inquired about sedatives and lethal dosages on her second visit to check on his injury earlier in the week.

“I have what you are seeking, Eirikr,” she said lowly as she drew near. She stopped less than a foot away from him. They could have been lovers meeting in secret. In fact, she took his arm and drew him away from the edge and deeper into the shadow cast by the stone walls of the crumbling tower. “I am sure this tincture will work for the pain that has been plaguing you your entire life.”

“Thank you,” he said in an equally low voice. He drew a coinpouch from his belt and handed it to her. “It should all be there.”

Shaking her head, she assured him, “I am certain it is fine. It is funny, isn’t it?” She looked up at the clouds. “Such a cute little white flower can hold such devastating power. I do implore you to only use this as a last resort, however. There are other ways of treating your problem.”

He nodded. “I intend for this to be unnecessary. But–“

She raised her hand to stop him. “I know. You will do whatever is necessary. I understand, Eirikr. Believe me, I do. I only ask you to consider one thing.”

He looked over at the girl who sat reading. A lookout, he surmised. Cwendlwyn might have had the appearance of a kind though serious healer, but clearly she had dealt with being the antithesis of her profession before. She held out her hand as if to offer a handshake. He took hers in his own and palmed the vial she held. Before he could pull away, she clasped his hand in both of hers, the glass, warmed by her hold, pressing into his skin.

“Consider what you have: your sister, your wife, your brother, and fifty years of life before you. Your shoulder has healed much better than I would have predicted. And I know you are frustrated with the loss of control, but you are working hard to regain that, and I believe it will return. Eirikr,” she nearly whispered as she stepped even closer, “Remember that even if he dies, you will have to live. And that, my friend, is the hardest part.”

His breath caught in his throat. She released him and stepped back, her brilliant green eyes piercing into his as he nodded silently.

“Safe travels, Eirikr son of Kolrson of Dale,” she bid him as she curtsied to him. It was a graceful, practiced movement of respect that he suddenly felt he didn’t deserve. “I will see you again.”

Again he could only nod as he gripped the hellebore tincture in his fist. He watched as with a gentle touch on her daughter’s shoulder, Cwen led the girl down the path holding her hand and singing.

Through the Red Pass

Anyatka nods and manages a smile. “Yes. It is three. I tend to be rather demanding; I apologize.” She swallows at her mention of her appearance. “Sleep will come,” she says softly. “I will spread word of your flowers. Do take care, Esthyr. He loves you very much.” With that, she curtsies and turns to leave.

Eruviel nods to Anyatka. “Are you ready, oselle?”

Esthyr calls after her, “People tell me that, too. Tell them you aren’t demanding; you just know what you want!”

Anyatka looks ahead and nods to Eruviel. She smiles at Esthyr’s parting words and actually chuckles.

Anya sat astride her horse – her horse, not a rental – and took a deep breath. They rode at a leisurely pace, which suited her just well. She suppressed the feeling that she would never see Bree again as they passed the Yellow Tree and she could not help looking back.

Eruviel rode slightly behind her and caught her backward glance. She offered her friend a small smile and turned to face forward again. One hand gripped the reins and the other held the stems of the five lily-of-the-valleys she bought from Esthyr Mossfoot. She spent the three silver on the five blossoms mere moments before she left the Pony, sneaking out through the kitchens as if to avoid anyone she might know. She had asked Miss Esthyr to take care of herself. She told her she wanted to get to know her better. She asked if she would say hello to her father for her.

Because I may never be able to again.

She pushed the thought from her mind. Focus and determination, Eirikr had said. Instead of a pretty young girl with pure white flowers contrasting her dark attire, she pictured her brother as they rode away from the familiar lands surrounding Bree. He walked them to the edge of the homesteads, his arm in a sling. When they reached the gate, he had looked down on her for the longest time just holding her shoulders as if to keep her there. She had looked down. Still she felt his gaze on her and finally he pulled her into a tight embrace.

“I love you, Anyakta. You are in good hands. Eruviel will bring you home.”

Turning in her saddle, she looked back at Eruviel again. Her “sister,” to whom she owed so much. Who, despite injuries that plagued her far worse than she let on, still rode into certain battle with Anya. Her gaze shifted to Anricwulf. The Bardian was more than welcome in her small company. She couldn’t help but think about the danger each was willing to put themselves in just to try to save her.

Her thoughts drifted north to where Canderas had been called back to duty. Their parting had been bittersweet and brief. He took his duty seriously though he swore he wished he could accompany her to the Circle of Blood. Torlach, despite his promise to see things through to the end, had declined accompanying them. Anya struggled with her thoughts and feelings about his decision. His wife demanded his attentions and family first, and Anya knew that it was the way it should be. Still, she felt a cold fear without him by her side. He had been there from the start, from the first glimpse he had of the bracelet to the release of Aeron at Fornost. They should have pushed back their journey until he could have gone. Without him, would they survive?

Anricwulf rode slightly behind as they left the shelter of the Southern Chetwood. As the road passed through the southernmost tips of the Midgewater Marshes, he said, “Do we have a more straightforward plan this time? Or simply go inside and see what happens?”

Anya sighed. “I hope to learn more as we go.”

However, beside him, Eruviel smirked slightly. “We do, thank the Valar. But I feel it safer not to elaborate till we get there . . . For Anya’s sake more than ours.”

Anricwulf said, “Very well.” He took his spear and began to sharpen it.

Anya turned in the saddle to look back at them. “Eruviel, what?”

Eruviel thought for a moment, then asked, “How well have you been managing her– the spirit?”

Anya ran the tip of her tongue over her lip. “While at the house…it was almost as if she wasn’t there. Eirikr and I spent most of our time catching up, drawing. That sort of thing. But since leaving…” her voice was strained.

Anricwulf spoke up. “Garth Agarwen…that’s where we’re headed, is it not?”

Eruviel looked back to him. “Yes, that is whre we are headed.” She then nodded, as if Anya answered her own question. “I keep that house in the state of an elf haven. I should not be too surprised that she did not emerge there. But I do not want to risk her taking control of you so early in our journey.”

Anya looked down the road. “We should make haste through the Lone-lands,” she says quietly.

Anricwulf fell silent again, still sharpening his spear. After a pause, he said, “I’ve been in those ruins many times…And I agree.”

She knew full well what would happen if Faethril heard the intentions of the party. So far, she had been able to keep things separate and shut her out of her private thoughts. But as they drew closer to Faethril’s homelands, Anya began to feel her presence growing like a shadow in her mind. It was a relief when they passed the Forsaken Inn and broke into a hard gallop because she had to concentrate on staying in the saddle. As she focused on the rhythm of the hoof beats, she could not feel the shadow swallow her whole.

They rode into Ost Guruth three abreast. Three

“Our goal,” said Eruviel as they surveyed the Eglain that lived so beset on all sides by foe, “I will now tell you, is to clear the land past the Rest Pass of the fell spirits. Once the land has been cleansed, Fae should be expelled from Anya.”

Anricwulf scoffed. “All the spirits? For good?”

Eruviel looked to Anya. “If we can,” she said softly.

Anricwulf said, “Then you are a fool. Those lands are as dark as a moonless night. We may drive some of the spirits away for a time, but there is nothing that can cleanse those lands of all the evil.”

Anya suddenly stiffened, her eyes rolling up. She slumped forward a moment over the horse’s muscular neck and and her fists tightened around the reins. “No…” she groaned through clenched teeth She sat up, eyes shooting open and jet black. “No!” Her steed cried out and reared, throwing her backwards. She landed on her back but sprung to her hands and knees.

Anricwulf looked to Anya, unsure of what was going on.

Eruviel shot him a cold look. “We will do what we can . . . and what we must.” Seeing Anya fall she pulled a decent amount of elvish rope from her saddle bag. “Oselle?”

Anya pushed up into a low crouch and took a step back. Her voice hissed out high and clear. “Give it to him – he needs it!”

Eruviel opened her mouth to respond, shut it, then sat up straight. “Aeron is gone, broken one. He has passed to an eternity of peace you deprived him of.” Her expression softened. “You can still join him, Faethril, if you let us help you.”

Anyatka hissed and an inhuman scream came from her. “You lie!” She turned toward the entrance to make a break for it.

Anricwulf rode after her, taking his blunt end of his spear and aiming for a knockout blow.

Eruviel jumped off her horse, pulling the small pouch out from her armour. “You want this?! It is broken, Faethril. We were in Fornost a week ago and set him free. Do you not love him any more? He hopes for your redemption!”

Anyatka screamed loudly and lunged for Eruviel. Unfortunately – or fortunately – Anricwulf landed his blow. She fell forward in a heap.

Anricwulf slid off Fjall. “This should keep her calm until we get to the ruins. I suggest you help me get her onto my goat; I’d like to be inside before she comes to.”

Eruviel sucked in a deep breath, stuffing the pouch back into its hiding place and giving Anric a sad but thankful smile. “That would be ideal.” She moved to take one of Anya’s arms, grimacing slightly as she stooped low.

Anricwulf took Anya’s other arm, and lifted to drape the lass across Fjall’s saddle in the back. Anya was just a sack of unconscious potatoes.

Eruviel took her rope and offered it to Anric. “If you think this would help . . .”

Anricwulf said, “If you wish to restrain her arms and legs you are welcome to. I’ve no intention of lashing anyone to Fjall. She’s a sturdy goat; no fear of her falling off.”

Eruviel noded slightly, her eyes moistening slightly as she bound Anya’s arms and then her feet together.

Keeping a hand on Anya for extra stability, Anricwulf said, “Let’s be off.”

Together, the two started for the Red Pass to put an end to it, once and for all. Anya regained consciousness shortly after entering Garth Agarwen; they loosed her feet but kept her hands tied as her eyes flashed with Faethril’s darkness. They fought their way through the outlying Créoth camps, Anric leading the way. His time spent in the Lone-lands served them well. They searched the ruins and red pools until they found it: the remnants of an alter and a secret ritual still carried out by the evil men.

The battle for the sacred site raged epically until the corruption was put to a stop. When the last Créoth fell, Eruviel gasped for breath, looking to ensure Anya was whole. She saw Anya fall into the darkened water, submerged. Red WatersHer body flailed for a moment and then stilled. Anricwulf knelt before Anya, checking for vitals, as Eruviel dropped to her knees, pulling Anya’s head above the surface.

She looked up to Anric. “Is she . . . .”‘

Below the water, the bracelet around Anya’s wrist glowed hotly.

Anricwulf said, “No…her pulse is weak, but it’s still there…” He noticed the bracelet and lifted Anya’s arm out of the water to have a closer look.

Eruviel swallowed, her eye catching the glint of the bracelet. “Will you hold her up? I will attempt to remove it.”

Anricwulf nodded, sat in the water and hoisted Anya’s body onto his lap.

The bracelet burned brightly, the little blue jewel darkening to black. Anya’s wrist, which never was burned before, started to redden around its edges.

Eruviel reached over, bracing herself, and attempted to undo the clasp. As she tried, Anricwulf took handfuls of water and poured it over Anya’s wrist, trying to cool the bracelet and the burn on her wrist. It didn’t budge; it was if there was no end nor beginning: the bracelet was whole and seamless, grown tightly around Anya’s limb as Faethril had grown in power. The water seemed to help ease the burn though she remained unconscious.

A voice on the wind could barely be heard, masculine and deep. “Ost Guruth…take her home…”

Anricwulf blinked. “I’m not the only one who heard that, right?”

Eruviel pulled back and rose to her feet. “Anric, would you mind carrying her as we leave this place?”

He nodded. “If you’ll help her onto my back.” He knelt down to make it easier to get Anya onto his back.

Eruviel bobbed her head, lifting the soaked woman and placing her arms over Anric’s shoulders. “I will pave the way back.”

Back in Ost Guruth, they took Anya to the metalsmith. He loaned them some sheers and Anric dug out his jeweler’s tools. As they examined the cooled bracelet, they noticed it had loosened: it would turn around her wrist but they were still unable to slip it over her hand.

Anricwulf took out a hand clamp, seeing if he can fit it between the bracelet and her wrist. Suddenly, Anya jerked as if her body was trying to get away from the clamp. Eruviel sat by Anya and pulled the woman onto her lap to better hold her still. Anricwulf fiddled his hand clamp between Anya’s wrist and the bracelet. He gave the clamp a squeeze, trying to work the spot on the bracelet thinner so the shears had less metal to cut through. Once he was satisfied with the thinning process, he worked the shears under the bracelet and squeezed to cut the bracelet off. Eruviel watched the man work, holding Anya down to prevent her from getting hurt.

Anyatka started to thrash and jerk as if the bracelet knew its time had come. A scream was rent from her as Eruviel held her still as best she could. The Elf struggled to hold Anya down, setting her jaw and whispering encouragements in Anya’s ear.

Anricwulf squeezed harder, forcing the shear blades through the metal with brute force. As the bracelet is destroyed, her scream echoed off the broken stone walls. A cold wind rushed through the compound and a figure emerged.

Eruviel’s eyes darted to Anric, then up to the figure suddenly standing beside them.

Faethril emerges and stands before them.
Faethril emerges and stands before them.

Anricwulf looked up at the figure, dropping the shears and reaching for his spear.

Faethril shimmered near Anya’s prone form. She stared at them for a minute, her cool blue eyes wondering.

Eruviel reached out her hand to Anric. “Who . . . Is it you?” she asked, frowning up at the female spectre.

Faethril turned her head to look at Eruviel. “You? Who?”

Anricwulf lowered his spear in order to avoid provoking whomever it is that has appeared in front of them.

Eruviel swallowed a little. “You must be Faethril. I am Eruviel. We’ve — spoken before.”

Anyatka moaned softly.

Faethril nodded. “I am Faethril. We have spoken? Who are you?” Her eyes roamed to each of them.

Eruviel brushed her hand softly over Anya’s forehead that still rested in her lap. “I am the elf Eruviel Aranduin. The gentleman is Anricwulf, and the lady you just emerged from is Anyatka Tenorbrook.” She hesitated before continuing. “We were friends of your husband’s. He sent us to see to your well-being.” She watched Faethril carefully.

Faethril looked around. “You know Aeron? Howso…did you serve at Fornost with him?” She noted Anya’s condition. “Is she all right?”

Anricwulf looked to the elf, wondering how much they should speak of, and how much of the truth they should bring up.

Eruviel sighed sadly. “I did not, though I suppose my brother did.” She paused before continuing on more confidently. “You were within her, Faethril. This year is far past your time. The last time I saw Aeron, he was a shade as you are, rising from Anya, telling us how to . . . how to save the two of you.” She shrugged her shoulders at Anric. She added, “He wanted us to save you so that you could join him, my friend.”

Anricwulf nodded enthusiastically, deciding not to speak to avoid saying the wrong thing.

Faethril ‘s eyes widened and she looked around her again as if seeing for the first time. “Sa-save me…join him…he…he’s dead?” She shade began to solidify and her blue eyes started to blacken. “No…no, it cannot be…”

Eruviel carefully set Anya’s head down to the ground and stood, offering a kind hand and sad look to the woman. “Why are you so filled with fear and anger? He was . . and is a brave man who wants the best for you. My friend, there is a far better place beyond us where you will never be parted. You need only accept that beautiful truth. Even I envy men their eternity with Iluvatar.”

Faethril shook her head as she backs away from Eruviel. “No…those are lies…no one knows…where is it…it will save him…” Her voice took on a feral tone and her hands clenched into claws. “No…he needs it…”

Anricwulf said, “Faethril…do not believe the darkness. Your beloved has found peace, and wishes for you to find the same peace. Let the sadness leave you, and he will guide you to happiness…”

Eruviel turned her head so that Faethril can see the still-red claw marks that showed along her jaw. “You are better than this, mellon. You are stronger than to give into despair.”

Faethril continued to shake her head. She doubled upon herself, holding her head. “No! The necklace will save him! It will unite with the bangle and save him!” She reached for her wrist and screamed when the bracelet was not there. “Where is it?!”

Anricwulf looked to Eruviel, unsure of what necklace she speaks of.

Eruviel turned and nodded to Anric, mouthing “the bracelet” to him as she reached a hand beneath her armour to once again pull out the pouch, undoing the leather ties. At her feet, Anyatka looked pale in the moonlight.

Anricwulf slipped Eruviel the bracelet as stealthy as he could manage.

Eruviel looked up in attempt to meet Faethril’s eyes. “Did you love him so little as to think binding him to darkness would help? You should have trusted Aeron, my lost friend.” She carefully dropped the broken necklace into her other palm.

Faethril turned to Eruviel. “YOU!” More corporeal now than ghost, she lunged toward Eruviel to reclaim her tokens. Eruviel braced herself, a ruined token in each hand. Anricwulf moved forward, shield up to try and keep the spectre away from Eruviel. The dead woman lashed out at Anricwulf with her right hand to knock him away.

Anricwulf took the hit with his shield, but was ultimately knocked to the ground.

Eruviel ‘s eyes darted to the molten metal by the forge. “Faethril, please, stop this!”

Faethril leaped to land on Anric as her focus was taken by his block attempt.

Anricwulf groaned, still stunned by the power the spectre had behind her attacks, unable to defend himself.

Eruviel lunged forward, knocking Faethril off of Anric. Faethril was thrown backward from the impact. She landed hard on the ground with an oof. Raising her fist, she brought it up toward Eruviel’s head. Eruviel took the punch across the face, stumbling back but able to keep her footing.

Anyatka slowly rolled to her side, moaning.

Faethril lept to her feet and moved to rugby tackle the Elf. “Give them to me!”

Anricwulf staggered to his feet, trying to determine if attacking is a good idea.

Eruviel smoothly dodged to the side, tripping Faethril. Dodging away she stopped beside the vat of molten metal. “Faethril, they are both broken! You are a hundred years too late!”

Anyatka pushed herself to her feet, groaning. “What is happening?” she muttered.

Eruviel extended an arm to Anya, the broken end of the bracelet peeking out of her fist. “Oselle, stay back!”

Faethril fell into a heap, dust flying up all around her. She looked up at Eruviel and screamed incoherently, an unnatural sound, as she reached in vain for the jewelry.

Anyatka stepped back, still unfocused and looking startled.

Eruviel jerked her head, motioning for Anric to take the jewelry. “If she does not stop, drop them both into the vat.” She handed him the tokens and began to step towards Faethril.

Anricwulf nodded, took the jewelry and stood by the vat of molten metal.

Faethril shouted, “No!” and attempted to climb to her feet again. She would not stop unless they are joined or destroyed.

Anricwulf noticed the movement and went to drop the jewelry into the vat.

Faethril gained her feet and launched herself toward Anricwulf. She slammed into him, knocking the gems from his hand. He lost his grip on the pieces of jewelry and Faethril snatched the gems as they tumbled toward the vat.

Anya called out, “Anric!”

Anricwulf stumbled back. Acting quickly, he screamed ”MOVE!” and kicked the vat of molten metal at Faethril.

Eruviel whirled around and lept away just in time.

Faethril screamed, this time in pain, as the magma and miasma of the molten metal covered her. The jewelry was coated in the hot plasma. They were destroyed, melting beneath the heat, and Faethril lost substance. As the gems in each piece burst, her face took on a serenity and then, she was gone. In that moment, Anya fell to her knees as if struck.

Anricwulf scampered to his feet to avoid any of the molten metal he just splashed at the spectre. Regaining his composure and dusting himself off, he nodded satisfied at the results.

Eruviel turned to shield Anya in case there were to be any sparks or metal flung their way. “Anya!” She cried out before glancing back to make sure Anric was alright.

Anricwulf said, “Well, that worked out well.”

Anyatka had fallen forward to her hands and stared at the dirt. “They’re…she’s gone.”

Eruviel nodded to the man, “That was quick thinking on your part, mellon. I am in your debt.” She then placed a hand softly on Anya’s back. “How do you feel, oselle?”

Anyatka looked up at her. Her gaze slowly shifted to Anricwulf. “I…I feel so light.” She curled her legs beneath herself to sit. Rubbing her hands to dust them off, she addded, “Are you two all right?”

Anricwulf cracked his neck. “I may be a lousy shot with a bow, but I can throw or kick anything towards a target.”

Eruviel let out a sigh of relief. “That was an expert kick, Anric.” Smiling down at Anya, she shook her head. “I am unscathed, Anyatka.”

Anricwulf said, “Always happy to help.”

Anyatka nodded in relief. She, on the other hand, felt a sharp pain down her back and her cloak was ripped. She winced and slowly climbed to her feet, mud clinging to her clothes.

Anricwulf said, “So…I suppose our quest is done then?” He moved towards the group, the metal sufficiently cooled to walk over.

Eruviel nodded to the man. “I do believe so . . .” her voice trails off as she sees Anya wince. “What is it?”

Anyatka nodded to Anric. “I think so…” She looked at Eruviel and shook her head. “It’s nothing. A blade caught me, but I am fine.”

Eruviel frowned rather darkly. “What blade — where are you hurt.” She then smirked. “You do not let me off the hook so easily when I am injured.”

Anricwulf said, “I’ll go get some help.” He headed toward the infirmary to seek a healer.

Anyatka nodded and said, “One of the men…I shall be fine.”

Eruviel did not look convinced. “We will find you a healer. And I want to know when you got the wound. Was it when we were beyond the Red Pass?”

Anyatka nodded. “I didn’t see it coming and it just caught my back.”

As the healers of Ost Guruth worked to sew Anya’s back shut, Eruviel sat beside her, holding her hand. Anric stood watch with the guard for a long time that night, and for the first time in an age, Anya slept peacefully. In her bag, the delicate bell flowers waited. Despite their delicateness, their tiny blossoms survived.

Fornost: Free (part 2)

Jarn-olog Warrior says, ”Ow.”

Scrapes and Bruises

Anya paused only to wipe the blood from her face. Her entire body ached from the perpetual tension stretching her senses beyond all limits. Aeron kept a regular mantra reminding her to breathe and move. He took over instinctually whenever an enemy came too close wielding her staff with a cold efficiency that surprised her.

“I thought you were a swordsman,” she thought.

When you grow up bashing your friends with sticks, you pick up a thing or two. 

“Fair enough,” she told him, her mind refocusing on a small pale slave rushing toward her with fists raised. The staff whirled around her body in a figure eight propelled by both hands and she thrust suddenly connecting with its head with a loud crack. Her right wrist twisted as it served as the pivot for the weapon, her left steadying the pole’s impact. “You’re right-handed.”

And you are left.

“Does it make it awkward?”

No. You’re not fighting me. Just keep relaxed and let me work, Anya. Find a blade.

She looked around and saw a jagged orc scimitar lying a few feet from its fallen owner. Sprinting, she rushed for it. A large lieutenant spotted her and began thundering over to intercept. Behind it, Torlach severed the head of his adversary, the blood spray from his sword flecking across his face. As he turned, he caught the movement of the rushing orc and yelled, “Anya!” as he started for her.

Hold and relax. Let it flow.

She tried.

As the lieutenant charged, she sank low to take up the sword in her right hand. She turned quickly and sank into a crouch balanced evenly on the balls of her feet. Her sword she held poised at the ready. Her fingers flexed around the staff and she focused on the gigantic orc. Instinct – or Aeron – took over. She parried the orc’s reckless attack with the staff and as it was knocked from her grasp, she released it, throwing the orc off balance and creating an opening. Aeron did not hesitate: the blade slashed deeply across its leg and then its back. Its cry echoed off the outer walls of Barad Narthan and filled the sky. The crows answered.

Torlach ground to a halt as the lieutenant fell, the last of the small band blocking entrance to the tower. True to form, he merely stared at her for a moment before turning to look for the Elf.

Panting slightly from the fight, Eruviel came up to them and looked up at the tower. They exchanged glances and walked through the double doors three abreast.

***     ***     ***     ***     ***

Bound

The ground was littered with bones. The three gazed at the courtyard in silence for several minutes before Anya said, “We cannot let these monsters hold my brothers.”

Torlach answered, “We go on, then.”

Eruviel glanced to Anya and nodded solemnly. She shivered.

Anya returned her nod. “Shall we?” She stepped forward.

FreedomShades rose randomly around them as they passed. They called out to the living in thin voices with outstretched hands. “I am free…” Anya felt her blood freeze as one rose within inches of her. Its bluish hand grasped at her arm as it hissed, “At lassst…” She felt a jolt in her heart: Aeron gasped.

My shield-brothers. What is this curse? Faethril surely did not cause this.

“No,” she thought as they moved deeper into the courtyard. “I do not think she could have caused this. And why were you not bound here?”

Faethril’s spell bound me to the heirloom, and I did not die here. 

“When the necklace broke, why weren’t you released? Why did you bind to me?”

Perhaps the sorcery here holds me to these lands. We must end it, Anya. We must give them rest, even if it is for a short respite. 

“We will, Aeron. I promise.” She followed along behind Torlach and Eruviel as they wove their way closer to the the highest tower overlooking the keep. “You will find rest.”

Another voice. Hissing in her mind. Give it back…he needssss it…he musssst have it…

“Aeron?!”

Fae. I have sensed her for some time now. She is getting stronger.

“When we put an end to this, will she be released, too?”

No. She was not a soldier here. She would not be bound by whatever foul wraith holds the souls of my brothers in arms.

“So it will not end here.”

No. It will not. My instinct tells me to begin where it began: Rhudaur. While I and my brothers chose to attempt peace, Angmar had its hold on the lands. Faethril could easily have fallen beneath the influence of that dark sorcery if it meant a chance at saving me. Where did you find her bracelet?

“Just south of a land they called the Circle of Blood.”

Circle of Blood. Fitting. You must go, there, Anya, to be rid of her. I-I don’t know if she can be saved.

“We will do everything we can, Aeron. She needs you. You need her.” Her throat tightened as she thought of Canderas, wounded and resting back at camp. He had found his way to them after falling from a cliff near Trestlebridge, his Rohirric steed bearing him with the utmost speed. He found them in the lower tiers of Fornost, directed by Nillariel who stayed behind at the Free People’s camp to assist the wounded there. Only after they returned for the evening did he show signs of a leg injury and allow Nillariel to cleanse the abrasions from his fall. Anya had insisted they let him sleep and recover so they left him early in the morning near the campfires. The sight of him limping caused her so much concern, all irritation at his unexplained disappearance vanished. “We will reunite you.”

Anya, you are more important now. You focus on you. Your family here. They love you.

She looked ahead at Eruviel and Torlach as they cut through another group of orcs. Her family. She needed to say something to them, anything, to express how grateful she was to have them by her side, but the words seemed small as they protected her with their lives. Elf and Man worked exceedingly well together as they learned each other’s styles and started to play to each other’s strengths. Eruviel looked over her shoulder at her to check to see if she was whole. Torlach flung the blood from his blade with a flick of his wrists.

Anya walked forward and looked at them with gratitude. Together, her family crossed into a yard surrounded by a circular wall and looked upon an idol to the Enemy. Without a word, Torlach approached it and rent it with a single blow of his sword. As it collapsed around his feet, a deep, jagged voice rang out behind them and the doors to the yard slammed shut.They burn

“It seems you have taken down one of my brethren. Do you think to goad me into battle with your meagre show of strength? It is true, however, that you are trespassing on Angmar. For that, I think we will have a bit of fun. Boys, get them!”

The looming Orc leaped down from the wall leading a large group of his comrades. Anya, Eruviel, and Torlach steeled themselves and raised their weapons as one.

***     ***     ***     ***     ***

Good-bye, my Brodhir ((edited from chat log))

Wargs ReignedWargs reigned in Minas Erain. Aeron looked on the highest tower of the keep and mourned for his past.

As he gazed through Anya’s eyes, he said, “Here. Minas Erain. So different now.”

“I am sure,” said Torlach. “Let us cleanse it.”

They fought their way up each level until they reached the summit. There, three golden braziers sat dormant and the foul spirit clad in armour greeted them with scorn.

As they stood before Remmenaeg, Eruviel glanced to Anya. “Aeron . . are you two doing alright?”

Anya nodded curtly. “We kill it, I am free.”

Torlach twirled his bastard sword and said, “Stay back, then.”

Anya looked over at Eruviel. “She has something to tell you by the way. But that is for later.”

Eruviel smiled slightly, readying an arrow.

They charged.Fell Spirits

Cleansing LightAnya fell to the ground as she lit the last brazier, flooding the balcony with light. When the armour of Remmenaeg finally fell to the stone tiles, Eruviel rushed over to Anyatka. “Oselle . . . Anyatka?!”

Torlach said, “Is this done, then?” He raised his brows slightly, lowering his blooded blade. He still stomped the wraith’s helmet, leaving it useless, before stepping over and remaining silent.

Eruviel shook her head, unsure. They carried her unconscious form back down the long road to the Free People’s camp and laid her down gently on the dead grass. Her body seemed to shimmer like the air on a hot summer’s day. As she lay prone, a spirit rose from her: the image of a man in his late twenties with dark hair and blue eyes.

Eruviel watched the spectre, her chest still heaving from the last battle. “You are Aeron?”

The form nodded. “Yes, I am.” He looked down at Anya and frowned. “I am free, but I fear her journey is not over.”You are Aeron?

Torlach rolled his eyes, leaning on his sword like a staff. “Of course it isn’t.”

Eruviel frowned slightly but after a moment her eyes widened. “You mean the bracelet?”

Aeron nodded. “Faethril is still there. I could feel her, towards the end. She is not herself. While I accept my fate and existed with Anya the best I could, I wished her no harm. My presence calmed her. Fae – ” he sighed, a gust of chill wind flowing through the camp. “Fae would kill her if it meant rejoining me. She does not understand, not in her present state. She must be stopped.”

Torlach sighed, rubbing his forehead with a sweaty palm. “And how are we to do this, pray tell? I see no instruction book.” He is obviously annoyed, and fairly eager to leave Fornost.

Eruviel swallowed but noded to Aeron. “I see.” She glanced at Torlach before turning back to the spirit. “Heruamin?”

Tilting his head, he observed Torlach. “Yes. The spirits will rise again. But you are safe at present.” He turned to address them both. “Anya spoke of my homeland. How it has grown wild and corrupt. How she found the bracelet near what they call the Circle of Blood.”

Eruviel brushed a small wave of stray strands of hair out of her eyes. “Yes, she mentioned it.”

Torlach ‘hmph’ed, frowning. He wiped both black and red blood from his blade, before sheathing it over his back. He listened silently, committing detail to memory.

Aeron continued, “You must go there. Cleanse the land, release the spirits held by the corruption, just as you did here. The purge will set Fae free, or destroy her.” Pain flashed across his face for a moment. “Either way, Anya will be free of her.”

Eruviel studied the shimmering face for a moment. “Is there any guarantee that Anyatka will survive being rid of Fae?”

Aeron’s ruggedly handsome face turned to Anya. He knelt behind her and moved his hand as if to brush the hair from her face. The strands moved slightly as if a breath of wind stirred them. “No. I cannot guarantee anything except Faethril will be gone. I pray that her hold on Anya is not strong enough to take her with her when she’s vanquished. But I cannot promise.”

Eruviel ‘s eyes darkened but she bobbed her head, knowing that part was out of her hands. “We . . .” she glanced to Torlach, “will see it done, Astalder. You have my eternal thanks. I — I know Anya and I will miss you once you depart.”

A small smile formed on his lips. “I will miss you as well.” He stood and walked to stand before her. “She loves you very much, though she’s bad at saying it. Piss poor, precisely.”

Eruviel bowed deeply before Aeron, a warm smile lighting her face. “It is enough to hear it from you, my friend.”Take care of her, sister.

He grinned and tapped his temple. “I know more of what she should tell you, but I will let her work on that. Ask her about her night before we left, why don’t you? When she didn’t come home?” He chuckled and moved as if to embrace Eruviel. He stopped himself and bowed deeply to her instead. “Take care of her, sister.”

Torlach watched quietly, near expressionless, hands clasped behind his back. He nodded to Aeron, as a form of respect.

Eruviel shifted, her smile melting into a grin. “I will remember. I would embrace you as I once did my brothers. But I will simply pray that Iluvitar shine brightly upon you as you go to join him, toron.”

He nodded and looked over to Torlach. “You, sir. She does not know why you protect her, but I am grateful that you do. See her through to the end?”

Torlach nodded again. “I will.” He went silent, not figuring anything else needs saying.

After emerging from a bedroll, Canderas yawned after seemingly oversleeping and hobbled on a seemingly better leg but still hindered. He  looked to his companions and raised a brow…he looked to Anya with dire concern and looked to Torlach and Eruviel to see what is going on.

Aeron turned to Canderas and started to laugh. The sound echoed off the stone walls of the makeshift keep. “And you,” the spirit said. “Ladies first.”

Eruviel nearly choked on a laugh.

Canderas raised a brow. ” So this is what I get for oversleeping.”

Torlach did not laugh, his limited sense of humour not finding the jest.

Canderas looked to Aeron and the others with slight astonishment. He looked upon Anya’s prone form not knowing how to react.

Anya stirred, moaning. She blinked several times as she rolled to her back. Aeron moved to kneel beside her and said softly, “It is over.”

She blinked up at him again and gasped. “You.”

He noded. “Fae is still inside you. But your friends will take care of you now.”

Canderas placed one hand on his sword hilt uncomfortable with all of this and very uneasy being injured.

Eruviel watched Anya and Aeron as her smile quickly faded into a once-more serious expression.

Anya nodded. “You’re going?”

He mirrored it. “I will see you again, someday,” he said hopefully. “Take care of yourself, Little Anya. And not just because you bear my wife.” He stood and gazed down at her as he slowly started to fade. “Good-bye. Systir.”

AeronAnyatka struggled to sit up and said, “Good-bye, brodhir!” She watched the spectre dissipate and then closed her eyes.

Canderas watched as the conversation came to a close. He looked to Anya with concern and bewilderment.

Eruviel lowered her head in respect as the man’s spirit vanished. Glancing to the two men she knelt beside Anyatka. “Oselle?” she asked softly.

Anya threw her arms around Eruviel and started to cry. “Why am I so sad that he’s gone?”

Torlach turned and moved to lean on a wall, closing his eyes slowly. He seemed to relax slightly, fairly tired from the fighting.

Canderas looked to Anya sadly as she began to release her tears. He eased his grip off his sword hilt and looked to Eruviel and Anya with confusion as he was sleeping through the events.

Eruviel froze for a second as Anya began to cry before wrapping her arms around the young woman. “I will miss him as well, oselle. But he is free now. You should rejoice for him.” She gently caressed Anya’s head as she glanced over to Canderas.

Anya cried for a few moments more before pulling back and nodding. As she did, she said, “Are you hurt? And Torlach?” She looked over at Torlach. He shook his head to Anyatka, only having a few cuts and bruises. She looked back to Eruviel.

Eruviel smiled softly. “I am mostly unscathed. Nothing that will not heal. You are not injured, are you Anya?”

Canderas took a step toward Anya and then stoped himself…he then stopped and looked amongst the ruins of Fornost and the folk of the Free People’s Camp. “So everyone is alright then? All is well with the spirits?”

Anyatka swallowed and shook her head. “I am all right.” She turned to look at Canderas and noted his bewilderment. She held out her hand and beckoned him over.

Canderas struggled to sit down next to Anya and took a long breath when he sat beside her. ” That will be an interesting story for around a Campfire.” Canderas looked to Anya with feigned joking as his masked emotion was clearly that of concern.

Anyatka chuckled and took his hand. “Yes. It will be.” She squeezed his hand and asked, “How are you? Is your leg healing properly?” 

Canderas nodded to Anya as he looked her over. He made note of her freckled cheeks and met her eyes. He assessed if she was well. He grasped her hand comfortably in his as he looked relieved when she seemed well.

Anya was indeed well, but exhausted and disoriented without Aeron’s calm presence. She looked between her companions, a grateful appreciation for each on her face. She threaded her fingers through his and looked to the others. “Shall we rest a night and then head back to Trestlebridge? I would see how Eirikr is doing.” 

Eruviel looked back over her shoulder to Torlach. Studying him for a moment, she tilted her head towards him respectfully before looking back to Anya.

Canderas looked to Anya and shrugs..” Either would do…I feel well rested.”

Anyatka smiled to him. “You’ve been asleep most of the day, dear.”

Canderas shrugged. “Falling hundreds of feet into river, then being dragged in the current is quite a beating.” In fact, he  looked exhausted yet still from his journey to Fornost that involved him being separated and weary half of the way.

Eruviel furrows her brow at Canderas. “It is incredible you survived, heruamin.”

Anya leaned over against Canderas and closed her eyes. “I am so glad that you are okay,” she said and nodded in agreement with Eruviel.

Canderas nodded to Eruviel. “I am glad we are all here before each other alive and well…I would not have it any other way.” He looked to Torlach and firmly grasped Anya’s hand in his own. “Tis good to be with friendly company.”

Eruviel said, “Indeed it is, though our journey is not yet complete.”

Canderas nodded. “Where does our road take us next then?”

Anyatka looked at Eruviel without surprise. “I had a feeling it was not. Aeron was released, but Fae?”

Eruviel shook her head solemnly. “We will need to journey to the Blood Circle and cleanse the land to free Anya of Fae . . . though she — Faethril will most likely put up a fight.”

Canderas said, “Well let us be done with it then! And rid of her!” He grinned a bit looking between them all and shrugged. “We mustn’t let this spirit linger any longer within our friend.”

Eruviel’s eyes flickered sadly. “Aeron could not promise that you would survive, oselle,” she said quietly to Anya. “On this last leg you will need to be stronger than ever.”

Anya closed her eyes and turned her face into Canderas’s sleeve. She sighed heavily and nodded. “But we should not put this one off, should we? Fae is no Aeron. I-I can’t control her.” She looked out at her. “She remained hidden because Aeron kept her in check.”

Eruviel sighed heavily, raising her head to meet Anya’s gaze. “I agree. We should not tarry.”

“Then tomorrow, I say we leave to return to Trestlebridge, gather Eiri, and make it back to Bree. We take a week to re-provision and…” she looked at the others to see if they had any objections.

Eruviel nodded. “We should not delay longer than that, though. And I insist you not be left alone. Fae would willingly kill you, oselle.” She then looked to Canderas and added, “I hope you intend to come with. One of us will need to be present, ready to restrain Anya if necessary if indeed Faethril become violent.”

Canderas said, “I will be there indeed. I will not slow ye down despite my leg either… my steed will carry me most the way.”

Eruviel bowed her head, looking relieved. “I am grateful to you. Hopefully there is a healer in Bree that can speed the healing process.”

Canderas nodded.

Anyatka looked up from Canderas’s shoulder. “Is Cwen still in town?” she asked quietly.

Eruviel skewed her mouth. “I hope so.” She then chuckled lightly. “If not I will make haste to fetch her!”

Anyatka chuckled as well. “She lives in the Shire, right? About a day’s ride away?”

Eruviel nodded. “She does.”

Anyatka yawned. “Then if she’s left, we should find her. To look over all of you.” She smiled sleepily at them each in turn.

Canderas smiled and nodded in agreement to Anya. He looked to the Guards to take note of their progress so near to Fornost.

Eruviel nodded in agreement, wincing slightly as she shifted her sitting position.

Anyatka frowned. “You are hurt worse than you let on, systir.”

Eruviel smiled slightly to Anya. “Am I not always discreet about my wounds? But honestly. It is nothing that can’t wait for the lady Cwen.”

Canderas stood as his leg began to tighten from being on the ground. He slid his fingers from Anya’s and he walked around to stretch. He sighed.

Anyatka nodded and released Can reluctantly. “We should to bed soon.” She watched him stretch with a smile.

Eruviel rose slowly and carefully. “I will return in a moment. I must speak with one of the fighters here, then we should indeed get some much needed rest.”

Anyatka nodded and climbed to her feet herself. She wandered over by the fire and to sit on a bedroll.

Canderas grabbed Anya before she managed to sit.

Anyatka paused and looked at Canderas. “What is it, dyrr?”

Canderas kissed her gently on the lips before offering her a pleased smile and expression. “Rest well m’lady. I am glad ye’ are well. And will try not to fall into any rivers on the way to the Red Pools in the Lone-Lands.”

Anyatka chuckled softly and nodded saying quietly, “Lay near me?”

Canderas answered, “Aye, I will remain with ye this night, and any other you choose to have me at your side when the road and wilds do not demand otherwise. For I have grown quite fond of being there. “

Eruviel whistled for her horse and rummaged through her saddle bag, retrieving a small package wrapped in a large leaf. She pulled out a wafer of lembas and broke it into four pieces as she carried it over to Anya and Canderas. “Ignore my presence, but here, this will tide you both over till we return home.” She handed each of them a piece, smiling slightly at their exchange.

Canderas smiled widely in thanks as he was familiar with lembas. He took a bite and rubbed his already growling belly. Anya looked down at the way-bread and blinked in surprise. “Eruviel,” she said only as she took it. 

Eruviel offered the third piece out to Torlach. He ambled over and sat down slowly by the fire. He watched each of them silently, chewing idly on the stem of his unlit pipe. To Eruviel, he raised a hand, politely declining.

Canderas said, “Don’t suppose they will share that creature on the spit there.”  He chuckled and looked around to the folk of the Free Peoples camp, grinning widely to the Took by the tent.

Anyatka pointed at his lembas. “You shouldn’t need to eat anything else of you have the Elvish way-bread,” she said before taking a bite of her own.

Canderas nodded rubbing his belly feeling somehow cheated of a juicy meal from the bite of lembas that indeed made him full.

Eruviel nodded to Torlach and gave the third piece to the hobbit attending the camp. Laughing quietly at Canderas she said, “Rest well, mellyn.” She bowed and walked over to the corner where the walls meet and sat, leaning back with a small sigh.

Anyatka curtsied to Eruviel before settling down on the bedroll at last. She looked up at Canderas with a smile. He  sat next to her and wrapped his arms around her in a comfortable manner as to help ease her to sleep.

Torlach glanced at the two on the bedroll, raising a brow, before politely looking the other way.

Anyatka leaned against him and closed her eyes. She soon eased into a deep sleep.

Click here for Eruviel’s account of the end of their journey to Fornost.

Fornost (part 1)

Stolen Moments

In his bed at his family estate, Canderas lay beside her sleeping soundly. A small grin of contentment even now curled his lip. She studied his face in the dying firelight: smooth, chiseled features except the scar on the right side, pale lashes resting on his cheeks. His mouth. He had a lovely mouth. So often it showered her with kisses and left her pulse racing.

Quietly so as to not disturb him, Anya rolled from her side to her back and stared at the ceiling. The deep, dull ache low in her belly did not subside as her naked flesh pressed against his. She would have thought that she’d feel more embarrassed being nude with a man, but Canderas looked upon her as a beggar would a Dwarven treasure trove. He made her feel glamorous.

Still, glamor did not ease the feeling of anxious frustration deep in her core. It did little to fill the hallow cavern she felt growing inside her each day. Her hand moved to squeeze her breast; she blushed. The heat nearly burned the fingers she raised to her cheek. Proper ladies did not do such things, her mother’s scolding voice rang out in her head. She sighed. Like she needed more voices in her head.

She looked over at Canderas. She should be satisfied. She had made him happy – a trembling, shaking mess happy – and that should be good enough. A woman’s place was making her husband happy, her mother said when the Merchants’ Guild Master’s son first took an interest in her. Not to worry about her own needs, wants, or desires, but to fulfill her husband’s to the best of her ability. Her mother would have frowned at her current situation, though that mattered little to Anya. Things were different now. She needed no husband, but a lover? A lover she could enjoy and her duty was to please him.

And his duty should be to please you.

Her brow creased and she thought for a long minute. Without speaking aloud, she said, “But he will not unless I please him first. It is how it should be.”

Nonsense. There were nights when all I did was please Fae. It was enough to make her sigh. And moan. And scream.

“Why – why would you tell me this, Aeron?”

Because you need to know. You need to see all relationships are not like your mother and your father’s. They are not like what you think that other Man has with his lovers. There are some that are strong and good where duties – and love – are shared equally.

“But a man would leave a woman who demands from him. There are so many more he could go to that would not.”

Little Anya, that is not so. Not if the man is there for the right reasons.

She continued to gaze at Canderas as he slept. “Is he here for the right reasons?”

I do not know, Anya. I only know what you know and see what you see.

She suddenly blushed and gasped aloud.

“Oh, by Bard’s arrow, I am so sorry.”

I, um, respectfully closed my eyes. And sang. Loudly. To myself.

“Did, um, it work?”

Well enough.

“I am so embarrassed.”

He laughed, a deep, comforting sound. You shouldn’t be. It’s a natural thing.

“This seems unlike you. You always seem so stuffy.”

When I have to be. But we share a mind, Anya. It isn’t like we can keep much from one another.

“This is true.” Her face flushed deeper. “I am worried about him. He is a bit headstrong and though he’s seen battle, I am not sure about what we will face.” She studied the scarring on his face. “Was Fae your first?”

No. But she was my last.

“That is what is important, isn’t it?”

She could picture him nodding. I think so. Do not fear tomorrow, Anya. Live in the moment, and not in the past nor the future. 

A smile crept up on her. She rested her hand on Canderas’s bare chest and kissed his shoulder.

“And right now, the moment is good.”

*** *** *** *** ***

Fallen

Eirikr lay staring at the ceiling of the small room in Trestlebridge. His shoulder burned from the Orc’s blade and he was left with nothing but his thoughts. He knew with his injury he would only be a burden to the others, but he cursed his fortunes. His sister needed him, and he had failed to see the Orc that surprised him.

He thought on the moment that it happened: the Orc leapt from the cover of some debris and was on him before he could blink. The dagger plunged into his shoulder and missed his vital organs and arteries by pure luck. One of his companions delivered an arrow to the beast’s eye. Canderas.

The young man saved his life, no doubt. His weapons had been pinned beneath him and with his injury, his bow was practically useless anyway. The Elf had mended it as best she could, and the healer in town saw to stitches and further treatment, but Canderas had been the one to react first and give him the body that could be healed.

Though little good it does me now, he thought dryly. He reached over to press his fingers against the bandage covering the wound. He winced and tried to wiggle the fingers on his injured side. They responded weakly and he tried to suppress the rising panic gathering in his chest.

Someone knocked on the door.

“Eirikr?” Anya’s voice came through the thin wood and the door opened a crack. “Are you awake?”

“Yes,” he answered and struggled to sit up with a smile. He hoped his face concealed his pain.

“Eiri, I am so sorry,” she said as she came into the room and closed the door behind her. “We never should have come here.”

He grunted and waved his good hand dismissively. “Nonsense, Anyatka. We must get you well again. It was my own fault; I did not see the brute.”

Anya sat on the edge of the bed carefully. “Will you be all right?”

Nodding, he assured her, “Of course. It will mend and everything will be fine. I only worry about you, but I think you are in capable hands.” He took hers in his own. “They will fight to protect you, my systir. I know it.”

Her face fell some and she said softly, “Canderas is missing.”

The corner of his mouth twitched and he asked, “What do you mean?”

She answered in a quavering voice. “Mister Torlach believes he went to scout ahead, but there has been no sign of him since you were injured. I fear something terrible has happened.”

Eirikr squeezed her hand to reassure her. “Anya, I am sure he is fine. Perhaps he camped somewhere along the road. Have faith that things will be okay.”

“How can I? Already you have been hurt. Canderas gone. I fear our company is falling apart at the seams, brodhir.”

He leaned forward and pressed his forehead against hers. “As long as you stand, systir, your friends will stand with you. He will return. I will heal. My heart goes where I cannot. I am with you, little whelp. Always.”

*** *** *** *** ***

The Fields of Fornost ((edited from chat logs))

Anya sat uneasily in a saddle on most occasions, but the fields themselves seemed to ooze with a nervous chill. As Torlach and Nillariel led the way, she had only concerned herself with keeping them in sight. Eruviel rode close by, and the absence of Canderas and Eirikr hung over her like a cloud.

As they approached a crossing, suddenly Anya stopped. She looked up at the signpost, eyes dark. “This place…”

Just ahead, Torlach reined in his steed and said, “Is something wrong?”

Eruviel pulled her horse up beside Anya. “What do you remember?”

Crossroads in the Fields of FornostAnyatka reached out to touch the wood. “They’ve replaced it…it was here we were separated. Here we lost the rest of the company.” Her voice was calm, confident. And incredibly sad.

Torlach listened silently, frowning, and glancing about. He drew his cloak about him at a chill wind, looking almost afraid.

Eruviel pursed her lips, glancing over to Nillariel and Torlach.

Nillariel drew her blade, carrying it on her side. She looked over, “This place… it’s a-absent of light. There’s n-nothing here. It’s like t-the whole place is d-dead.”

Torlach replied, “The whole place is dead…”

Anyatka pressed her lips together as she rubbed her eyes. They opened and were fully black. “We were pressed south while the main body fled west. It was in Bree-land that I fell. But the spell was cast to the North.”

Eruviel’s eyes returned from looking into the distance, sucking in as she remembers to breathe.

Anyatka continued, “Dead is not that bad of a place, my friends. I would return.” She dug her heels into the steed’s sides to spur it into a gallop.

Nillariel blinked, “W-what’s… where’s she going?”

Torlach followed, silent.

They pressed onward until dead trees gave way to crumbling walls and the evidence of Orc and warg. Blockades lined the untended path to the gate. When they reached the main entrance to the city, a wall of wood and spikes halted their advance.

The Norbury Gates

Anyatka’s blackened eyes looked up. “What has happened here? Has no one reclaimed it after all this time?”

Torlach said, “It was abandoned. The North Kingdom fell long ago.”

Nillariel looked around, “Oh… s-someone may have reclaimed it. I fear our luck i-is not that good.”

Anyatka grunted as she looked around. From within her, Aeron saw what became of his home so many years ago. “I was there. I watched it happen.” She sat for a long moment, deep in Aeron’s thoughts.

Seeing Anya pause, Torlach reluctantly led on at a slower pace.

*** *** *** *** ***

To Battle

There were trolls in the dungeons. And in the main halls. And in the streets. Large, hulking trolls.

The battle raged on from the moment they stepped foot inside the city gates. As they gained access to the higher tiers of the city, the enemies grew stronger. Goblins and orcs. Wargs. And now trolls.  Anya held toward the back as best she could, though on this second day in the city, she grew weary and she found herself lagging. Torlach pressed on relentlessly, his sword slashing through their enemies. Eruviel’s arrows flew straight and true. But the trolls.

Anya yelled as one of the hulking beasts charged at her. Eruviel turned and loosed a series of arrows in quick succession. The troll staggered but kept its feet. With blood running down her cheek, Anya stood her ground with her staff in her hand, but Eruviel knew even Aeron’s presence could not save her from a direct assault from a fully armoured troll. Without hesitation, she lept to stop its path.

The troll roared angrily and swept its gigantic mace at the Elf. With the grace of the Eldar, she dodged and lept, blade raised. With a yell, she slashed its throat on her foreswing and drove her blade home deep in its chest on the follow through. Its scream rent the air and it shook dislodging Eruviel and flinging her to the ground. Quickly, she was on her feet to jump back from the troll’s attack. Too late, it struck her side and sent her flying. The troll stumbled after her, but fell to its knees as the black blood streamed with each beat of its tainted heart.

As it crashed to the ground, Anya rushed to Eruviel’s side and knelt beside her. “Are you all right?” Aeron’s calm kept her voice steady.

The Elf nodded and climbed to her feet. She rubbed at the dent in her armour and rolled her shoulder but seemed able to carry on. Anya nodded in return and they looked around at the carnage.

Torlach stood over several bodies ensuring they were indeed bodies. His blade dripped with the blood of the slain as he plunged it into the chest of an Orc that dared to still live. He looked up, expression neutral. He looked to the north.

“Not here,” Aeron said through Anya as she came to stand next to him. Eruviel stood behind them, face stern to hide the discomfort of her three broken ribs. Torlach nodded and the walked on, weapons leaving a trail of blood in their wake.

*** *** *** *** ***

to be continued…

Anya: Hypnotized – ooc

I recall that moment, standing in Bree in front of the Pony’s mailbox, wondering if RP would ever pick up for me. Especially since the past few times I had tried to come back to the server, things fell apart rather quickly. Quality of ideas. Quality of players. It was poor quality on this side of the screen and that. So I was standing. I don’t even know if I had my RP tag on. White or bile yellow. I don’t know. I was just standing there.

Anya was a new toon that I had attempted once or twice before. Her background was slowly formulating, coalescing into something tangible. Dale. Runaway. Sheltered. Shy. 

She was very lost because I was very lost. I couldn’t remember how to do what I was doing, even though the words begged to flow from the tips of my fingers.

And then a man with a scarred face and glossy eye tipped his fopish hat to her as he went to check his mail.

I didn’t even realize the emote was there at first. I’m not sure how long he was standing there and she was standing there. I had her come back to reality out of a daydream (the start of her astute ability to get lost in her own thoughts). And she said hello.

For some reason, this song keeps playing for Anya whenever I think of her. I think back to that moment that invited me back into the world of RP on Landroval. A random RP. A tip of the hat. A startled blush.

And I’m hypnotized.

(skip to 0:45 for the song)

hypnotized by ani difranco

so that’s how you found me
rain falling around me
lookin down at a worm
with a long way to go
and the traffic was hissing by
and i was homesick
and i was high

i was surrounded by a language
in which i could say only hello
and thank you very much
but you spoke so i could understand
and i drew a treasure map on your hand

and you were no picnic
you were no prize
but you had just enough pathos
to keep me hypnotized
hypnotized

the map led to an island
in a sea of store-bought dreams
where soulless singers sang
over beats built by machines

and lovely girls were hovering
above my head like gulls
with their long slender necks
and their delicate skulls

and i was no picnic
i was no prize
but i had just enough sweetness
to keep you hypnotized
hypnotized

so that’s how you found me
rain falling around me
lookin down at a worm
with a long way to go

As the Shadows Shift

Emmelina stood in the doorway chewing a piece of straw. She eyed the Elf that stood over Anya and gently tried to wake her. Anya stirred beneath the twisted covers and Eruviel spoke softly.

“My friend, someone is here to see you.”

Lina snorted. She would have dumped the girl to the floor ages ago.

Finally, Anya groaned.

“Really, Anya, whatever has gotten into you?” Eruviel sighed and lifted the cup of water from the small table next to the bed. She held it out to the Woman as she sat up holding her head.

“Dunno,” Anya muttered under her breath. She reached for the water without opening her eyes and Eruviel obliged by placing it in her hand. “I dunno anything any more.”

“Well, by the Valar, what started this in the first place? You spoke of Men last night, though none of it made much sense.” Eruviel frowned down on her friend and shook her head at the mess Anya was: her only robes wrinkled and stained, hair a tangle, face blotchy from her night of drink.

“I did.” Anya stared for along moment at the satchel discarded on the floor. Lina’s eyes followed her gaze and immediately went to retrieve it.

“What’s in here, Anya?” Without waiting for an answer, she unbuckled the clasp and dumped the contents on the foot of her bed.

Pencils and charcoals fell to the spread in a cloud of fine black dust. Her sketchbook and a smaller journal came out along with some pieces of loose paper and a stuffed bunny. A small silver bell tinkled as it rolled to the floor. A crumpled ball of paper landed on top and Lina picked it up. She smoothed the page out on the bed and snorted. “Thought so.”

“Lina, what are you doing here?” Anya croaked rubbing her forehead.

The tall girl shrugged. “Thought I’d stop by ‘fore heading to work. See how you was doin’.” She pointed down at the picture: half the face of a man, one eye heavily scarred with five streaks down the left side of his face, foppish hat, roguish grin. “This that fella you had me chasin’ for all over town, eh?”

Eruviel looked carefully at the drawing. “Hm. You drew this last night at the Pony, Anya. Could you explain?”

Lina shot Anya a quick glance through her lashes. Anya had come home late an evening before, tipsy and giddy. Lina had taken a run at her for being out by herself, but Anya had just waved her hand and brushed it off before turning in for the night. The next day, she looked a bit worse for wear and had spent the morning composing the letter. She begged Lina to deliver it and when she had forgotten, got very upset. Lina had begrudgingly sought after the man at Anya’s insistence and gave him the note. Upon returning to their room that evening, Lina asked who he was. In fact, she had persisted until Anya had angrily stalked out despite looking tragically pale and unsteady.

She was surprised then when Anya nodded slowly, her eyes closed. “I think I need to talk to someone about it,” she admitted in a voice so soft, Lina could barely hear it at the foot of the bed.

Eruviel put a comforting hand on Anya’s arm. “Please do, my friend. I think it will help.”

And Lina listened as Anya began spilling the tale of her yesterday.

The picture is of Morty Mossfoot, Bree’s grave-digger. I met him one day outside the Pony when I was standing by the Postbox, lost in my own thoughts. He was polite and charming despite my blatant inability to look away from the terrible scarring of his face. He probably thought my permanent shade was strawberry red, I was so embarrassed.

Morty was kind to me; after running into him at the Market, he had a dress made in the likeness of the one he found me admiring. I was so flattered, but also amazed that after only two or three encounters, he was willing to procure such an item for me. He called it a welcoming gift. And it wasn’t the last thing he did for me as I tried to start my new life here.

He helped me get the room at the boarding house where I met you, Lina. And he talked up my drawings until I had the courage to show them to someone who was interested in buying. I feel like he’s this amazing person who showed me a second chance at life. I needed that, so desperately. Almost as desperately as I feel I need him now.

Which is foolish of me. Entirely and utterly foolish. He has no interest in me other than the conquest: another woman to dote upon until she’s done with him. He never lied to me about what he did. Who he, and all of Bree, thought he was. So, I tried to just see him. Not think too much on our time spent together or the talk of people. See him as kind company for my loneliness. Soon, the loneliness fell away, only he didn’t. And then – I saw him. And I couldn’t stop seeing.

It’s stupid. It’s childish. He probably just reminds me of Bookie, the man who brought me to the Bree-lands. I trusted him too much, just like I am trusting Morty. I have reason not to trust Morty. As I said, he’s never hidden from me, and I guess that is refreshing after a life of hiding in Dale. But I’m trusting him too much, and his honesty stabs at me. Then I just rub salt in the wounds.

Yesterday, I saw him outside the Pony. He got the letter and tea I sent; he often looks so unwell. Once inside, he confronted me about Falros. Falros! I had written to him about our journey – let him know that Falros was going so that he’d know I’d have protection that he could trust. But he warned me of him. He said, “This may sound like a real riot coming from me, but…be careful around him.” Be careful! As if Falros would have any interest in me! Virgin or no, I doubt Falros sees me as having anything worth stealing!

This upset me. That he would question things that way. And so what if he did?! So what if Falros wanted me…it might as well have gone to him! None of them can be trusted — they have no interests beside their own.

And then, as if I wanted to really drive home the self-inflicted pain…I asked about Orchil. She’s a sad woman who I suspected Morty had an affair with. Has an affair with. I don’t really know, to be honest, but I asked. And he told me plainly: yes. They had been together and to this day things seem unresolved.

How can I let that hurt me? How can I let something so foolish drive a knife into my heart and just…bleed?

Lina pressed her lips together and stared at Anya as she told her story. She tried to suppress a snort or two. She could remember those days, when love and lust mingled in one confusing throng of agony. It surprised her that the older woman seemed so distraught over such matters, though if she was honest with herself, she had been like that once. She looked at the young woman and felt pity for her – briefly. She didn’t have time for that any more.

“It’ll pass, Any,” she said. “They’re all the same, anyway, in th’end. They only think with their passions and can’t be bothered until they don’t have a choice.” She snorted. “And even then, some can’t be accounted for.”

Eruviel gave Lina a hard look. She refilled Anya’s cup with a pitcher from the stand. “Anya, things are not as bad as they seem, my dear. They will work their way out in the end. But I would like to tell you what happened last night at the Pony…”

Some men started taking a go at the cause of your troubles…

Anyatka waves her hand dismissively and picks up her mug for another long drink. She doesn’t raise her head from her hand.

Teiblanc raises a brow in Anya’s direction and crosses her arms. “Hmm is something the matter miss Anya?”

Rhetyn leans to Eruviel. “I think your friend could use a strong drink.”

Anyatka shrugs and takes another drink only to turn the mug upside down, A thin stream lands on the table. “Bard’s bloody bow,” she mutters and turns to go get more.

Eruviel looks to Rhetyn, “Unfortunately she already has one . . . but may need another.”

Marnal grins, “No, you’re not so bad. Watch out for the sad woman behind you.”

Anyatka nearly bumps into Nill. She turns to avoid her and scratches her head. Dragging her feet, she goes for another ale.

Teiblanc frowns in concern as she rises and raises a hand in a questioning manner but is unable to say anything.

Rhetyn chuckles. “So it seems.” He watches Anyatka drag herself across the room and shrugs. “My money is on man problems.”

Teiblanc says, ‘What happened to make her this way?’

Marnal turns to Rhetyn, “Are you starting a betting pool?”

Eruviel shrugs sadly, but gives Rhetyn a half-hearted smile. “Part of me hopes not, but you may be right, good sir.”

You spoke of a man who was lost…

Anyatka flops to the side and stretches out on the bench. “Didn’t come. Was brought. Stupid man. Stupid stupid MEN!” She reaches up to pull the mug down to her.

Anyatka looks blearily from Eruviel to Rhetyn. “What was I talkin’ about?”

Eruviel slowly reaches across the table and draws Anatka’s mug away from her. “You were talking about how terrible men are . . .”

Anyatka points emphatically. “Not men. Bookie. Bookie the Bastard!” She laughs at her lame insult and slaps her knee.

Rhetyn says, ‘And how you were dragged here from your home.’ Rhetyn shrugs back to Eruviel.

Anyatka turns to Rhet. “He lied. A lot.” She reaches for her mug and looks confused. “He told me he could protect us and look how that turned out!”

Eruviel frowns, “Anya, who lied to you?”

Anyatka shakes her head at Rhet. “No, ’cause I ran.” She swivels to Eruviel. “Bookie lied. He fed me lies for years and now I’m here and he’s not.” She spots Eruviel with two mugs and reaches for one.

Rhetyn says, ‘And you are just now upset about it?’

Eruviel hands over her own mug that’s half full with a light wine.

Anyatka shakes her head. “What’dya mean just now? Happened two weeks ago!”

Rhetyn says, ‘Exactly my point. This is a bit of a delayed reaction, isn’t it? Two weeks ago and you’re just now drinking about it? I thought you were a Dalish woman!’

Eruviel shakes her head sharply at Rhetyn, knowing that it’s been a sore subject for Anyatka.

Anyatka shakes her head and gestures to Rhet with her mug. “No. No. He’s dead, for all I know. He’s gone. Or he’s fine, and just not come looking. Whatever. I’m here now. I’m here.” She takes a drink. “But MEN!”

And seemed rather displeased with their gender as a whole…

Anyatka raises a hand to wave dismissively and leans over to take another drink. “Bard’s arrow can take men and send them to the moon.”

And then Falros showed up and, well…

Eruviel frowns, seeing Falros approaching.

Falros blinks at Eruviel and gestures with a pint, “Don’ gimme tha’ look! I ain’t even make fun o’ ye yet!”

Nillariel sets down the lute, walking over to the loud commotion.

Rhetyn grins and raises his mug in greeting to Falros.

Anyatka moans against the tabletop and reaches for the mug Eruviel handed her. She sits up to drink and makes a face. “This isn’t ale!” Hashtag faceplant.

Eruviel discreetly pours Anya’s ale out onto the floor beneath the table.

Rhetyn says, ‘She’s having man problems.’

Falros groans, "Shite.. I ain't want any part o' this!"
Falros groans, “Shite.. I ain’t want any part o’ this!”

Renaron shakes his head slightly at the waste of perfectly decent ale.

Nillariel thinks for a moment, “L-like… race of man problems?”

Falros groans, “Shite.. I ain’t want any part o’ this!”

Anyatka sits up and leaps to her feet. She climbs up onto the bench, hands out. “No! No!” Nothing to see here…

Eruviel reaches up to Anyatka, “Dear, you should sit back down . . .” Eruviel reaches out to steady Anyatka.

Falros stares up at Anyatka, then Eruviel, and suddenly starts laughing.

Nillariel blinks, “Uhm…”

Eruviel glares at Falros.

Falros says, ‘Poor lass gots ‘er hands full.’

Anyatka darts forward toward Falros. “He didn’t say nuthin’ about you!” she exclaims. She tries to get down the other side without a hashtag faceplant.

Falros backs up, lest he get spewed upon! Carefully holding his mugs up, he watches Anya, “.. wha’?”

Eruviel nearly falls forward as Anyatka moves across the table. “Now, Anya, you really should sit back down.”

Renaron bends a bit to look around the post where he leans, watching curiously to see whatever might happen.

Anyatka lands, barely, arms out to catch her shaky balance. “Whoa,” she says.

Rhetyn chuckles and gets up, downing the last of his drink. He makes his way to the bar, shaking his head.

Nillariel looks over, “Uh… I think you s-should run.” She smirks at Falros, “Hell hath n-no fury like a woman scorned.”

Falros blinks at Nillariel, “Uh.. she ain’t me girl… an’ I ain’t -think- I pissed ‘er off…” He glances up as if trying to recall what he’s done in the last day or two.

Eruviel puts her arms out, ready to catch the inebriated Anyatka should she fall.

Anyatka shakes her head at Nill’s comment. “No, no, no. He’s good.” She points at Falros. “He’s not a man.” She meant ‘bad man’ but, eh.

Falros says, ‘Wha’!’

Rhetyn passes over payment for his own, plus Anyatka and Eruviel’s drinks, then turns to leave, chuckling.

Falros scoffs and grumbles defensively, “I be as manly as they get, thank ye very much.”

Nillariel glances over, “You… t-tripped into a barfight.”

Eruviel looks to Falros apologetically. “She’s gotten worse and worse since she came inside earlier. Please forgive her.”

Falros says, ‘… Ye stay outta this!’ He looks to Eruviel, “Aren’t ye Elves s’posed t’ be.. I dunno.. carin’ er somethin’? How’d ye let ‘er get this loaded?”

Anyatka waves at Nillariel and Falros. “No, no, no fightin’.” She plunks back down on the bench. “Whoa.” Looking up at Falros, she holds out her hands in welcome. “Falros! My friend!”

Renaron settles again to lean against his post, now that things seem boring. Or settled. Maybe both.

Eruviel shoots him a dark look. “I tried Falros. She drank faster than I could stop her.”

Falros looks left, then right. “.. this a trap?”

Eruviel rolls her eyes and heaves a heavy sigh.

Nillariel glances over, “W-well, it sin’t a good one i-if it is. You could m-make a bolt for the door, bust a window open…”

Eruviel turns to Anyatka. “You. Stay.”

Falros nods to Nillariel, “Good thinkin’.”

Anyatka pushes up from the bench and walk-stumbles over to him. She pats him hard on the chest. “No, no. Friend.” She reaches up and pets his bald head.

Nillariel looks to the elf over her shoulder, then looks back to the plastered woman.

"I would like to tell you what happened last night at the Pony…"
“I would like to tell you what happened last night at the Pony…”

Eruviel says, “Barliman, a cold towel please.”

Falros freezes. He’s been spotted! Holding his mugs at a safe distance away from Anya, he stared, mouth hanging open. “Uhhhh…”

Nillariel thinks Anya turned him off by touching the top of his head.

Eruviel takes Anyatka’s arm, “Here, lets go back to the table.” She draws Anya back to sit on the bench.

Anyatka stumbles backward, hand still reaching to pat his head.

Nillariel walks over, “You alright? K-kind of froze up there.”

Falros mumbles toward Nillariel, “If I close me eyes, she won’t be able t’ see me, aye?”

And finally, a man gave you a bunny…

Grygg reaches into his right pocket and pulls out a small, beanbag bunny, then sets it on the table in front of Anyatka, “For you, if you wish.”

Falros says, ‘… th’ dreaded bunny.’

Forthogar just blinks, not grasping the situation in the slightest, but truth be told, he’s not trying very hard.

Falros says, ‘Wha’ were th’ bunny’s name again?’

Eruviel looks at the beanbag bunny, fearing for its life.

Grygg tells Falros, “Each person names their own.”

Anyatka blinks at the bunny for a moment. “I don’t want your blasted bunny!” she says and starts to bawl.

Falros eyes the bunny for a moment, then looks back to Grygg, “Ye got anythin’ other ‘n bunnies?… like.. a stuffed troll? Aye! I’d take a stuffed troll.’

Grygg reaches into his left pocket, bringing out three small beanbag balls, “Just this.” Grygg juggles a bit.

Falros says, ‘…. tha’ ain’t very excitin’.’

Anyatka hiccups and pokes the bunny in the nose.

Grygg stops juggling and re-pockets the beanbags. “I do not really come equipped for full entertainment, these days.”

Lina held up the bunny and made it hop. Hop. Hop. Anya stared at it blearily, tears clinging to her lower lashes. After a moment more of watching the hopping, she lowered her face to her hands and said, “I can never go back there again.”

Rolling her eyes, Lina sat on the edge of the bed and asked, “Why not? You think they never saw a mess before? Shucks, it sounds like those men knew exactly what your problem was. Sure they saw it before.”

Anya shook her head, moaning, “But I drew that! Right there? And it’s so much more than just Morty.” Her hands dropped and she stared at them with pleading eyes. “Really.”

Lina looked at her dubiously. “Uh-huh,” she said and handed her the bunny. “Ya keep tellin’ yerself that, honey.”

Story Sketches: Steve the Shovel

The man of the hour.
The man of the hour.

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.