Ludo is a band that I would probably follow around the country in a van. Well, was as they are no longer a band, but they should be. They were so absolutely wonderful and their music still is.
After a chit chat and channel spam of Ludo songs, I decided that an official blog post dedicated to their songs and how my characters would love them was in order. So, here we are: Ludo in Lotro, which can be found here on Audiosplitter.
“The Horror of Our Love” – Anya gets a bit obsessive. While she’s not gone off the deep end yet, the potential it totally there. Is it murder if he’s already dead?
Ultimately, “The Horror of Our Love” is about the all consuming love that turns one into a insatiable monster. Anya can definitely be a monster when it comes to Morty.
“Please” – She wants something special with Morty, something that’s just between the two of them. Each love is special, and once she accepts that, she may find contentment and happiness. “Please save this for me; I’ll come back to you, love, I promise you. Please save this for me and until I return, my love will burn…”
“Too Tired to Wink” – Having been through a lot, Cwen often feels rather zombie-ish. She pushes through and tries to remember that there is always a light at the edge of the Mirkwood. “Look at all the stars, we’ve come so far even if we don’t know where we are it’s gotta be somewhere great…or am I just too tired to wink?”
“Such as it Ends” – “Love, such as it ends, breaking the hearts that wouldn’t bend…
“Whipped Cream” – What can I say. Lina likes sex. She likes things that are good and whipped cream are good. She likes fun. “I really want it…”
“All the Stars in Texas” – She’s a bit of a bad girl when she needs to be. She’s a bit of a good girl when she needs to be. She does what she wants. “All the stars in Texas ain’t got nothin’ on your eyes when you say let’s hit ’em one more time…”
“Anything for You” – Eirikr defined himself by his love for his wife. Ninim was his world. “I’ve gotten drunk and shot the breeze with kings of far off lands; they showed me wealth as far as I could see. But their kingdoms seemed all shrivelly and they cried with jealousy when I leaned in and told them about you.”
“Drunken Lament” – “Now you’re gone and I’m lost, in the swells I am tossed – bobbing and choking and losing the fight in the fog. You said, “Forever.” Tell me, why can’t you stay?”
“Battle Cry” – Poor Abbi. Truth be told, he doesn’t even have a bio yet. I mean, he has the background his siblings have given him, but a purpose and motivation of his own? No. Which is why I feel “Battle Cry” is appropriate. “We are young and we will never die. We won’t give up; this is our battle cry! We will defeat the other guy!”
“Topeka” – Aeron is like a whole person. He’s a white knight that isn’t trying to be a white knight. He just really is that nice of a guy. A thousand years between birth and death as a Man gives a certain type of insight. “Topeka” is about finding a truth, a belief. A self.
“I’ll Never be Lonely Again” – While he will not be reunited with his love until the end of Time, he deals.
A light from the window illuminated the sparse lawn in front of the Tenorbekk cottage. It stood at the end of a dirt lane on the edge of the town where houses sprung up on the banks near the forest. Eirikr stood in the shadow of a large oak tree across the road and watched the front door for an hour before a man emerged and shouted something back inside before slamming the door shut. As he walked down the path to the road leading to the town, he whistled out of tune.
Eirikr ducked back behind the tree; he did not have to look to see the man would have been handsome except that his features were sharp and cruel. He knew them well; any time his father needed something “taken care of,” Sten showed up in the parlour in his dirty shoes and cap. The first time he saw him, the man was barely a man: he was a lad of seventeen who already had an air about him that gave six-year-old Eirikr an uneasy feeling. When his cold blue eyes settled on the boy, his grin caused Eirikr’s heart to skip a beat from fear. Kolrson Tenorbekk gave Sten orders to guard a particularly large sum of money being used as bait to trap a shopkeeper that had been skimming profits.
“You will go unnoticed and then strike if necessary,” Kolrson had said.
His father had not blinked an eye when Sten reported the shopkeeper had stumbled into his knife and was dead.
At the end of the road, a man joined Sten and they laughed loudly as they clapped each other on the back. As they disappeared around the corner, their raucous conversation echoed through the fading evening. Eirikr bet that they were heading down to the pub when he looked around the tree toward his home. Every fiber of his being wanted to go inside and embrace Ninim. He could hardly breathe he craved her touch so much; instead, he turned and followed after Sten relying on the man’s voice to lead the way.
He managed to trail Sten and his buddy to a seedy tavern near the northern docks. He waited outside for half an hour before deciding he should not keep Eruviel waiting any longer. With his gaze still on the door of the tavern, he started to turn and head down the alley.
A boy half his age went tumbling to the boards of the road.
“Hari! What are you doing here?” Eirikr reached down and hoisted the boy to his feet as he pushed back his hood.
Hari ducked his head and mumbled something Eirikr couldn’t quite catch. Eirikr knelt to level his eyes with his. Hari repeated his words but kept his eyes on the ground at their feet. “Ma told me to watch fer ye. She dinna think ye were dead like that man said.” Hari lived two houses down from him and Ninim. His father Harek often hunted with Eirikr and his mother made the best venison sausage in Esgaroth. Ninim loved to learn from the other woman and they often spent many hours cooking together.
“Your mother told you to watch for me? Tell me what you know, Hari.” Eirikr spoke in a whisper with his finger to his lips. His eyes darted to the tavern across the alley.
“That man ye followed here,” Hari said quickly, “he said ye died in the Mirkwoods. That he were ye cousin from Dale and he were here to take care of Missus Ninim. But all he does is yell at us kids and throw up in the garden. He-” the boy looked up briefly and turned red, “-he isn’t very nice to anyone, Master Tenorbekk. Not even Missus Ninim.”
Eirikr nodded. “I know he isn’t, Hari. I am here to make sure he goes away.”
Hari’s eyes brightened as he looked up at Eirikr. “Ye are? How are ye gonna do that?”
Eirikr took a deep breath. “I am not sure about that yet. But he is here because Missus Ninim is here. If I take her with me, he will leave, too.”
The boy ducked his head again and Eirikr could see his cheeks darken. “I dunno if the Missus would be able to go anywhere, Master Tenorbekk.”
“What do you mean, boy?”
Eirikr did not mean to sound so cold that the boy took a step back.
“I-I shouldn’t say, sir. It isn’t my place to say.” Hari took another step back and started to turn. “I should get home, sir. Ma will start to worry as it’s after dark.”
Eirikr caught Hari’s arm and held him firmly. “Hari. What did you mean?” he demanded with what he hoped was calm authority instead of the panic he felt inside. “Is Ninim all right?”
Hari shook his head and said, “Y-yes. I think so. I promise not to tell Ma yer back. She’d just make a big fuss over all of it, anyway.”
Eirikr looked at the boy for a moment. “Hari, I do not know what is going to happen over the next few days. I want you to stay away if you can, though, okay? Play down in the square or go into the woods. Go fishing with your father and then stay inside at night.”
Eyes wide, Hari nodded and Eirikr finally released him. “I promise, Master Tenorbekk. Just…just you take care of Missus Ninim, okay!”
As the boy ran off down the dark alley between two merchants’ homes, Eirikr stood and watched him. He looked back at the tavern where Sten drank with his associates and then raised his hood back over his head and started back toward the nicer part of town.
* * *
Eirikr stepped inside the Silver Reel and scanned the common room for the familiar face. Eruviel sat drinking at a table well to the side of the busy room and he made a beeline to the chair opposite her. He kept his hood up as he sat trusting in her instinct and Elvish senses to keep his back.
Eruviel looked at him expectantly. “Well, mellon?”
“You look comfortable,” he noted instead of answering her implied question. “Did the men in the square shed tears when you bought trousers instead of skirts?”
A dark brow arched over her green eyes. “You better order a drink, gwador, before your empty hand brings a tear to the barman.”
Eirikr smirked and said, “He knows my face; perhaps you should buy it for me.”
Rolling her eyes, she pushes her drink toward him. “You have news. You best be ready to share when I return.” Eruviel stood and patted his shoulder as she passed him to go order another drink.
Eirikr took up the mug and savored the house ale. He missed the bitterness of the pale lager Ditmar brewed and the cool finish revitalized him.
When Eruviel returned, he looked up at her with sincerity.
“I was followed. There is no need for concern, but my pursuer did provide some insight.”
Eruviel glanced toward the door. “Is he here? Where is he?”
With a shake of his head, he brushed aside her concern. “I sent him home. Hari revealed Sten’s presence is unwelcome by all, but he also said that he did not think Ninim would be able to travel. He would not say any more.”
Her eyes wrinkled as she frowned. “Do you think she’s ill?”
Eirikr tried to maintain a neutral expression. “It is hard to say. I did not see her when I trailed Sten from the house to a tavern on the north side. I hoped to – I won’t lie and say I did not. But the evening would be the best time to strike if he has a habit of spending his time with the dockworkers.”
Eruviel nodded. “I had an encounter with some lovely young men in the market. It seems your farrier friend was correct; trouble is brewing in Lake-town. We need to be cautious.”
Nodding, he downed the rest of the drink and passed her some coin. “Get a room here. We can bring Ninim here to regroup; they would never expect us to do anything but flee as soon as we extract her.”
Again her brow arched. “Are you sure? Wouldn’t that allow your father’s men to return to him?”
Eirikr dipped his head. “Yes. But he would never believe we would not run. He would never believe we would try to get Abiorn nor would he guess you have business in Dale that needs tending.”
She nodded slowly, her eyes never leaving his face. “You think he would send pursuit away from Dale, leaving him vulnerable.”
“If we are lucky. I hope he will realize the trouble is not worth the coin.”
“And what of you? I assume you don’t intend on staying here.”
He shot a glance over his shoulder. “No. I don’t think it’s safe for me to do so. In fact, I should head for the woods now. I tomorrow night, I will meet you on the north side of the square…” he trailed off as he felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. “Do what you will until then.” Before she could protest, he stood and strode away from the table. Sticking to the edges of the room, he made his way to the door and quickly ducked out into the street. He walked briskly to the east toward the bridges to the shores. The feeling of being watched did not fade as he ducked down shadowy shortcuts trying to lose the tail.
It wasn’t until he crossed the bridge and neared the shadows of the trees did the sound of something whistling through the air warn him of the knife. He spun to the left and stooped to his knee as the blade whizzed past and struck the trunk of an evergreen. The thud of boots storming near alerted him of his charging attacker. Instead of rising to meet him, Eirikr stayed low feigning injury. As the man reached for his neck, Eirikr burst to his feet and knocked him off balance. As he fell, the attacker kicked out at Eirikr’s knee. He only just managed to dodge the impact, but the movement it took caused him, too, to fall in a heap on the grass.
The moonlight flashed off the dagger pulled from a sheath beneath the man’s arm. Before he could get a grip on it, Eirikr slammed his fist into the man’s mouth. His knuckled bruised against teeth and in the back of his mind, he mused that they were probably torn. He rolled, dragging the man with him. The momentum caused them to tumble over one another until his attacker sucked in a cry; Eirikr pulled back and saw the knife in the man’s neck. The blood pulsed from the wound, pooling beneath the man’s head and soaking into the ground beneath him.
Scrambling to his feet, Eirikr wiped his mouth with his swollen knuckles and looked down at the dying man.
“Who are you?” he demanded.
Choking on his own blood, the man possessed the audacity to laugh. Flecks of red flew out from between his lips and spotted his dirty shirt.
“Y-yer wife s-says hullo,” the man managed to articulate before he started drowning on his own blood. Eirikr watched the blood slow to an ooze with each pulse of the cretin’s heart. He would not have the luxury of bleeding out quickly. No, it would be a slow death.
Gritting his teeth, he reached down and pulled a third knife from the man’s belt. He had helped the passing of animals he hunted. He knew how to end suffering quickly and with mercy.
His fingers flexed around the hilt of the knife and he slowly raised it as he stared down at it. It was long – more a dirk than a dagger. He turned it over and stared at the carving of a wagon wheel in the dark wood.
“Where did you get this?” he asked. He did not need to. It had lain in a chest beneath Ninim’s wedding gown. His hand tightened around the hilt and he dropped to his knee beside the man. “How did you come across this weapon?”
The man looked as though he wanted to laugh again. Eirikr seized the front of his bloodied shirt and pulled him up.
The man’s eyes started to glaze.
“No, damnit, where did you get this?”
The man went slack as he lost consciousness. A growl of frustration escaped Eirikr as he sunk the dirk into the man’s chest with both hands, sending him – and the answers to Eirikr’s questions – to the beyond.
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.
“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. Her 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.
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.
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.
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.
*** *** *** *** ***
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.
Shades 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…
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.
“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))
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.
Anya 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?”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.’
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.
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.”
My dear brother,
I write this in my journal. The one you made for me last summer for my twenty-second birthday. I still remember the face Father made when I opened your package. I know that you will always love me no matter what I do.
So I hope that you understand why I left, though I doubt now that I will ever be able to see if you do. I am lucky to be sitting here by this poor excuse of a lake looking north to the walls of a town sitting on a sloping hill. It is nothing like Dale, here, Eiri. I do wish you could see it. I wish you were here beside me.
Then I would not have to regret never saying good-bye.
I know I cannot send this to you. The roads we traveled grew increasingly dangerous. Just yesterday, my caravan was attacked and now I am alone. I do not know what happened to Bookie. I ran so fast, Eiri. I never knew I could run so fast.
I want to come home. I want to see you and Mother and even Father again. Abbi and Thyrna. I miss you all.
I send you my love. Across all the vast stretches of country between us, I send you my love with all of my heart.
Wish me luck, big brother. I can’t put off going into town any more. I’m out of food and days are growing colder.
Loxwyn slowly squats down into the water.
“Come to me, and bring your ale;
the beauty see, she flushes pale;
the waters they sparkle, the stars shine so bright;
who could have known blood flows that night?”
Loxwyn turns and looks at him, her eyes shining with a light few have seen before and lived.
“Fly, fly away, the night is born;
fall beneath a woman’s scorn…
fly away fly away home…
living life in living tomb…”
She stares at Vallon, her head tilted to the side at an awkward angle, like a doll whose neck was snapped when it was discarded.
Bright morning sunlight reflected off the broken canopy of Chetwood forest. The soft beams that managed to find their way through the branches rarely found the forest floor. A large spider crept past a pile of leaves gathered in a shallow dip in the land; it smelled something. Its mandibles chittered as it circled back to the pile of leaves. Flesh. It could smell flesh.
Before it could explore beneath the brown pile, a coal black lynx sprung out sending the leaves flying in all directions. Growling, it swiped at the spider which reared and hissed with its front legs batting at the sudden shadow. Undaunted, the lynx’s claws slashed at the spiders multifaceted eyes and sent it scurrying. Spitting with contempt, it prowled around the pile seeking further challengers before returning to the disturbance from whence it emerged.
A small, feminine hand appeared among the leaves and the lynx gave the palm a gentle head-butt. It pawed at the debris, digging out a young woman in a dirty, travel-worn hood and cloak and robes that at one time could have been found behind a merchant’s counter.
“Get off me, Oli,” a soft and low voice said. The woman tried to burrow deeper into the warmth of the leaves. “Go on, get off me.” She gave the lynx a shove, but it nudged her side until she growled.
“Oh, all right then, you stubborn cat.” Pushing herself into a sitting position, the woman looked around with bleary gray eyes.
Around them, the woods were active with morning sounds. A jay called from the branches of a nearby tree, and Anya could smell the dew on the leaves. It would be a warmer day, though the relative temperatures still made it a cold winter for travelling.
“You woke me too early,” she said to the lynx who simply sat back on its haunches and stared at her. Anya stared back for a long moment before she looked away covering her eyes. “All right, all right. You win. I’ll get up.” Climbing to her feet, she brushed the bracken from her robes and turned a circle, seeking the waypoint she made for herself before turning in the night before.
A hundred meters off, the large rock stood a sentinel to her passage. Without looking back, Anya set off at a steady pace toward what she hoped was civilization. The dark shape of the feline loped close behind.
As the sun rose in the sky, she grew hungry. She was tired. Her body longed for a proper bed if only she could find a town where one was located. Their caravan had been on the way to Bree, and Bookie had said they were less than a day or so away. When the bandits struck after nightfall, she had fled north of the road in a panic, though she couldn’t be certain that she had maintained a northern heading in her flight. She could only hope that by travelling south she could find the road again.
When her feet finally found cobblestone, she realized she had not fled as far as it had seemed. She had travelled only a half an hour or so before regaining the road. West, he had said, is the land of mystery and adventure where ancient ruins lay undisturbed just waiting to tell their stories to any who braved the ghosts of the dead. Looking up at the sky, she found her direction and set off to follow the road into the West.
Through the mists that fell
with the sword and axe
All was Lost
A vision of a future bright
came crashing down with
the end of Night
Shadows chased away by dawn
Replaced by fire;
The screams! they rent the air so pure
now choked with ashes
The Innocent murdered with the rising sun
from each one
a candle burning: snuffed
the Dead they linger still
the Living shall forever burn
That afternoon sun blazed high above the trees filling the wood with beams of light. Breathing in the fresh, clean air filled her with a renewed energy. She set off to the north, away from the river, the village, and the chance she would run into the Dunlendings. She moved slower than she liked favoring her arm to protect her shoulder. The joint ached, still stiff and swollen in its socket. Her mending ribs prevented her from travelling much quicker than a gentle walk. She thought of binding them, but could think of nothing that would serve.
After fifteen minutes of walking, she knew her shoulder would need a sling. The effort of holding it still was exhausting her far more than a day of cooking before a festival. She stopped beneath a tall ash tree, leaning against the diamond-shaped ridges of the trunk cradling one arm in her other. Sighing heavily, she shrugged the pack off her back and opened the leather tie.
Below her mother’s dress was a large shirt, probably meant for Tyne. She ripped the fabric as best she could with her limited movement. Tieing the knot tight, she fashioned a loop around her neck. She slid her arm into the sling and sighed in relief as the pressure was taken off her joint. After a minute’s thought, she ripped another piece of fabric and tied it around her torso, wrapping it around her bicep to stabilize the joint further. The bow she tied beneath her breast reminded her of a decorative ribbon on a festival dress and she found herself laughing loudly. Her amusement was baffling, but consuming, her head thrown back and the corners of her eyes wrinkled and tearing.
“Fit for the Midsummer,” she said aloud to the wood, giggling still. She rifled through her hip pack and found a small rectangular vial. The glass was black from the fire and the cork showed much use. Between the sling and her laughter, the cork proved to be a bit of a challenge. Finally, it popped out and she drank a mouthful of the foul-smelling liquid. Her eyes widened at the taste, then softened and calmed. She took a deep breath and sat for the longest moment simply staring at an ant meandering up the trunk of the ash.
Eventually she pushed herself to her feet and began walking north again. She knew of a watchpost at the foot of the White Mountains. It was established to serve as a waypoint between the Westfold and the villages further east along the line to the Gap of Rohan and Isengard. Frequent invasions from the Dunland tribes required a system of posts to be kept so the Eorlingas could be summoned quickly. If she could reach the northern post, perhaps she could find a night’s rest and a warm meal.
She trudged on, the light growing dimmer as the sun began sinking below the treetops. Always on alert for a shadow, her eyes never stopped finding their way over her shoulder. Once, about two miles from where she thought the post ought to be, she suspected she heard a steady footfall behind her, too heavy to be that of a forest creature. She had paused, ducking down beneath a high bush as she held her breath and listened. The sound was not there, despite waiting a full five minutes for it to recur. Only the occasional bird call or rustling of squirrels in the trees accompanied her shallow breath.
“You’re being foolish, Cwendlwyn Tain,” she muttered to herself. The leaves of the bush tickled her cheek. Peering through a fork in the branches, she saw only forest shadows and plant life. She began to stand cautiously, her eyes searching for what was causing the hairs to rise on the back of her neck. “Foolish…”
“Indeed,” said a voice behind her and a gloved hand descended from above to grasp her around the middle.
Her struggle was hampered by her sling and the iron strength of the arms pinning her against a broad chest. She cried out, kicking her legs wildly as she was pulled backwards into a clearing. The man’s grip tightened. “No!” she cried, terror causing her voice to crack. “Bemá protect me!”
A ray of light broke through the canopy above and blinded the man briefly, his arms slacking in its grip around her. The sun shining through the leaves gave her the slightest moment to break the man’s hold. She bucked against him like a wild hart at bay, the heels of her leather boots slamming into his shins, and he dropped her to the ground with a roar. The impact jarred her bones, but she crawled away quickly, desperately attempting to scramble to her feet. She fell, hindered by her injuries.
“Stop!” the man cried out, and in his voice there was no anger.
Cwen hesitated, glancing back over her shoulder with wide eyes. The man’s yellow hair fell down over his face, masking his expression. He wore leather armour dyed a hunter’s green and brown, the quality beyond that of a Wild Man’s In fact, it far outstretched the carefully crafted armour of the village watch.
“My lady,” the man said quickly, “please hold.” He pushed the hair out of his face and took a hesitant step forward.
Cwen stared up at him, her mouth hung open in uncertainty.
“Forgive me,” the man paused his advance, holding his hands up away from the sword hanging at his side. “From your appearance, I thought – “ he bit his lip frowning. A series of emotions passed over his face as he seemed to come to a quick decision.
“Who are you? And what business have you so near the West Watch?” he demanded severely.
“Cwenlwyn of Riverwide. We were attacked without warning. My –“ Her voice caught in her throat. “It’s all gone,” she managed to say, tears threatening to well up inside her chest once more. “All of it is gone. All of it. Gone.” The tears caught in her throat as she could only repeat, “Gone. All gone.”
All of her pain and exhaustion seemed to descend upon her at once. She had no more energy to block the emotions that now overwhelmed her and the tears began to flow in rivulets down her cheeks. She covered her face, sitting with her shoulders hunched and shaking with her sobs.
The man stood uncertainly, the shock at her response pulling his brows down and pursing his lips. He shifted from one foot to the other before moving forward to kneel beside her.
“Miss,” he said cautiously, “you hail from a river village? You were attacked?”
She could only nod. She felt his hard stare. Suddenly, his arms went around her again, this time to lift her. He cradled her gently and began walking north in a quick trot. Cwen sobbed quietly as he carried her through the forest. She lay limp in his arms, completely reliant on the man’s strength to support her. She closed her eyes and rested her head on his broad chest, the tears finally slowing but still flowing steadily from her eyes.
She heard the heavy breath of the horse as she was shifted away from the warmth of the man. “Woah,” he said gently to the steed as he placed her upon its back. He kept a hand on her to steady her, then leaped into the saddle behind her. She cried still, but was comforted by his arms around her holding the reins.
They set out at a quick trot and soon reached a small encampment constructed from timber. High walls surrounded the two permanent buildings and a row of tents. The guard on the wall shouted to the man with surprise, but he did not respond and rode up to the smaller of the two buildings. Another man emerged from the doorway and after a quick exchange with the rider, reached for Cwen. Instantly she tensed, resisting the new set of hands.
“My lady,” the rider said, “This is Grenwal. Allow him to help you down,” he urged gently. “I shall be right here,” he added just for her to hear.
She resisted a moment longer, then allowed Grenwal to pull her to the ground. His hands were calloused but gentle as they supported her. Quickly, the rider dismounted and took her back into his arms. He carried her into the dark calm of the building and into a small room off the wide hall.
A man sat writing behind a work table. He looked up at the sound of the their approach. His face was hard and rugged from exposure, but not cruel. His mouth was set firmly below a straight nose and his eyes reflected the candlelight illuminating the room.
“Danick,” he said in a deep, gravelly voice, “what is this?”
“I found her in the woods, sir. She was hysterical; said she came from a village along the river.” Danick held her still and she buried her face in his shoulder unwilling to look at the man behind the desk.
“She does not look as one from the river villages does. She bears the garb of the Dunlendings.”
“She called to Bemá, sir. She said the village of Riverwide was attacked.”
“Put her on her feet, Danick.” She heard the man stand, the legs of the chair scraping across the floor.
“Sir, I—“ Danick protested, but the man cut him off.
“I need to see her face. On her feet,” he demanded.
Danick eased her to her feet in front of him, keeping his hands braced on her hips. She swayed slightly, but his touch steadied her. Her eyes down, she stood there silently feeling the man’s eyes on her, examining her carefully. She will herself to stay still. She steeled her resolve to stay on her feet. She would not faint in this hut in the woods.
“Look at me,” the man commanded.
Slowly, she raised her eyes to look at him. He was closer than she expected, his brilliant blue eyes boring into her own. Unblinking, his eyes held hers until finally he broke the silence.
“You look like one of them,” he said. “Yet, your eyes—“ he stopped speaking, his face so close his hot breath closed in on her. She shrank back without thinking, but Danick blocked her retreat. He stood firm, his hands still gently supporting her.
The images of Tyne towering over her assaulted her eyes again. She cried out, unable to hide herself from the prying eyes of men. Throwing her hands up, she braced herself for attack half-cringing, half-sprung to retaliate.
“Sir!” Danick’s voice called out. his arms went around her, pulling her back. She tensed, ready to fight her way out this time, but he picked her up from her feet and swung her around, protecting her. “Sir, permission to speak!”
The man had stepped back with surprise widening his eyes. “Granted.”
“Sir,” Danick said, an arm still across her keeping her behind him. “I believe she is what she says she is. She is quite—“ he paused, struggling for words, “—quite broken. I do not think she is a danger, sir, but something terribly traumatic has happened to her.”
“You would allow a wild beast into our camp?” The commander’s eyes narrowed.
“Sir, any injured animal may lash out in self-preservation. But if mended…”
The commander held up a hand. “They may be the most loyal of servants. Yes, Danick, I have heard much the same. Yet, her appearance here is quite coincidental regarding the reports that came in today.”
Cwen’s face was down, hidden in the dark shadow cast by Danick’s form. Yet her eyes were alert as she listened to the men discuss her fate. Her own hand rested on Danick’s back. There was comfort from his closeness. She felt safe near him, a feeling she had abandoned with each jolting injury laid upon her by Tyne.
“What news would that be, sir?”
The man stared hard at her protector and she felt him waver under his gaze.
“Forgive me, sir. I overstep my bounds,” he said with a small bow.
“Danick, you are my best man here at this post, I do trust you in many things, but you bring me a Dunlending—“
“I am no Dunlending!”
Her voice erupted from her surprising all in the room. She hid behind Danick clinging to the back of his hauberk.
The commander’s voice was calm. “Your appearance would say otherwise.”
“These are not my clothes! The Dunlendings came with mid-morn and killed everyone who stood in their path. The village no longer stands, our labours and loves now dust and ash.” She came forward from behind Danick, standing tall and defiant in front of the skeptical man. “I am a survivor of that attack. And the later attack on me personally by the betrayers of my people.”
The commander’s narrow eyes were dark slits in the candlelight. “Betrayers? What betrayers do you speak of?”
Cwen’s voice failed to answer.
“You say you are not one of them. Then you must be open with us! Tell us what you know.”
Danick’s arm was still on her back and his support strengthened her resolve.
“Sir, two members of the village fought on the side of the invaders. I know not the extent of their involvement, but they found me…they found me after I fled and—“ her voice broke.
“They attacked me, sir. Left me for dead. I—“ she swallowed hard. “I came north seeking help.”
The commander’s eyes perused her stance, her bruised and cut face, her arm bound to her side. She wondered if the wound potion had mended the injuries beyond belief. She felt the skepticism in his gaze. But she did not back down.
“Commander,” Danick began, but Cwen cut him off.
“Sir, I will tell you that the men that betrayed us were my father and my fiance. Framham Tain and Tyne Dernhere. They sided with the Dunlendings because they sided with their own people. They betrayed us all.” She did not lower her face or look away. “Yes,” she said to his narrow eyes. “That means that I too have the blood of the enemy in me. But, sir, I am Cwendlwyn Tain of the Mark and I would ask to earn my right to seek vengeance on the ones that destroyed my world.” The men stared at her. “And my lord,” she continued, “Tyne took more than my home and destroyed it.” Her eyes remained straight forward. Her jaw set defiantly.
Danick’s arm stiffened around her back and his body drew away from her unexpectedly. Her shoulders dropped but she raised her chest defiantly, not allowing her shame to cripple her. She knew that admitting what Tyne did to her would make her a pariah. Soiled and unwanted. Unclean. But she needed these men to understand what happened to her. They had to know that she spoke the truth.
She could not see the commander’s face as she stared straight ahead. She waited, the faint red flush on her face slowly creeping down her cheeks and across the bridge of her nose. She heard Danick shuffle from one foot to the other, his leather armour creaking as he moved. She could hear the noise of the night, soldiers moving within the compound, the wind in the trees. Finally, the commander cleared his throat.
“Danick,” he said quietly, a trace of kindness and perhaps sympathy in his voice, “take her to my quarters. See that she has a bath drawn – hot water – and a warm meal. Have her rest.” He returned to his chair. “See that it is done and that she remain protected.”
Danick’s arm withdrew from around her waist and he bowed to the commander. “Yessir,” he said firmly, and then he turned to her and led her from the building.
Cwen kept her eyes down to avoid the stares of the soldiers gathered around flickering campfires for the evening meal. Word of Danick’s catch had spread quickly throughout the camp and many had gathered around the central campfire to see the ‘wild lynx.’ The misconception that she was Dunlending seemed to have travelled with the news of her arrival and there were several taunting calls directed toward her. Danick guided her by the elbow, barely touching her. She swallowed with difficulty, tears welling in her throat again.
They went into the other building. The front room appeared to be a sitting area and two men lounged on wooden chairs around the small table. They straightened up when she came in and the taller one questioned Danick in a high baritone surprising for his size. Danick quickly explained the situation and the tall man stood, going through a doorway which he shut behind him with a thud. Danick grasped her elbow again and directed her toward the door opposite the entryway.
The door led to a small room with a low bed and small wooden dresser. The spartan decorations gave no hint as to who the room belonged to. She stood quietly, unsure and nervous in the small setting. She reached for a strand of hair to twirl around her finger forgetting that nothing hung there. Her hand fell instead on her shoulder, which she massaged with tense fingers. Danick moved around her silently, changing the bedsheets and opening the dresser drawers.
The door opened behind her and she flinched. The tall man brought in a large wooden tub and set it in the middle of the room. He left for a moment and returned with a bucket of boiling water. The sound of the water pouring into the tub filled the silence once, twice, three times. The tub steamed, filling the room with a hazy fog. Two buckets of well water later, the man was bowing to her, eyes down, and then leaving the room.
“Forgive the crude accommodations,” Danick said. He was suddenly standing in front of her filling her field of vision. “We do not have any fine oils or luxuries.”
She gazed up at the man and studied his face carefully. She almost laughed at his apology. Who did he think she was to expect oils? Who did he think he was that it was expected of him?
“I will leave you to wash,” he said quietly. “There are clothes on the bed; men’s garments, but they will fit you better than those that you wear now.” He paused a moment as if he wanted to say more but was unsure of the words. “Captain’s orders,” he said finally and she looked up to see a faint blush on his cheeks.
Cwen suddenly felt embarrassed. This man did not wake up expecting to cater to some wild woman he found in the forest. She wondered what grief he would receive from his fellow soldiers for acting as her serving maid.
“I’m sorry,” she said quickly. She looked up at him, willing him to look at her. “For everything.”
Danick looked down at her, his eyes confused. “What for?” he said gruffly averting his eyes again quickly.
“You have been so kind…I do not mean to be a burden.”
Danick looked down at her again, his eyes narrowed.
“Do not apologize for what you could not control,” he said. She heard anger in his voice, though it was effervescent and not focused toward her. Seeing her shrink back from him, his face softened and his voice became kind again. “You did not ask for the enemy to descend upon you. And besides, I may have a sister.” He reached out and touched her cheek, his fingers barely grazing her skin. He pulled his hand back abruptly and pressed his lips together in a frown. “Excuse me, I will leave you to bathe…” he moved around her to leave.
“Danick,” she turned to face him.
He paused with his hand on the door to push it open. “Yes, m’am?”
He turned to look at her. For the first time she noticed how crystalline blue his eyes were.
“You’re welcome,” he replied quietly, a smile on his lips. Then he was gone.
Cwen heard her father tisk, though she could not turn her head to look at him.
“No need to be cruel, Tyne.” His tone lacked reprimand.
Tyne sneered up at her father, his handsome features twisted with his hate. “She is your daughter. You are not going to save her?”
“It was her mother ‘twas beautiful and precious. She was merely the expected consequence.”
Pain and anger boiled inside her. Her heart ached at the turning of her father and the cruelty of the man she thought loved her. Tyne’s face hovered above her own, his hand dragging her head back by the roots of her hair. The tears ran back to add to the dirt and sweat plastering her hair to her scalp, and she wished they could burn his hand like fire. The memory of her mother hot through her: blue-eyed and fair with hair like spun gold, her mother had been killed during a journey to the Isen River for ingredients needed for her father’s potions. Cwen recalled the journey with her parents in a quick flash: her mother’s resistance from the proposal of the trip, the hard days’ travel that often went far into the night, and the ambush that left her mother dead and a young girl of seven in an aloof father’s care.
They had not returned to their village. After her mother’s death, they pushed on down the Isen to the mouth of the Adorn. They then followed its northern shore to Riverwide where they made their home. The villagers accepted her father’s skill as a healer, thought they long treated them as outsiders. Frieda’s acceptance and Tyne’s attentions made the years bearable, but now she realized she had had nothing but a farce.
The new emotions pushed aside her fear, knotting into a fiery ball over her heart. She narrowed her eyes, her face hardening into a scowl.
Tyne’s laugh at her father’s comment distracted him enough to relax his hold on her hair. Cwen took the chance and grabbed his wrist, twisting her body to duck beneath his arm, twisting his arm as she turned. She felt the strands rips from her scalp, but her desire to live mattered more to her than a few hairs. She drove her elbow into his face, throwing him back and giving her enough room to grab the lute at his feet. Staying low, she barreled into her father’s knees. He fell back in surprise, crashing into the far wall. Before Cwen could reach the door, a large hand grabbed the collar of her shirt, dragging back.
“Break my nose, will you?” Tyne’s arm came around her neck, cutting off her windpipe. Her feet left the floor and he threw her across the room. She collapsed against the wall and fell to her hands and knees.
“Deal with her, Tyne.” Her father’s voice sent a chill down her spine. The boot connected with her rib cage with a loud crack. The pain stunned her and she fell on her face. Her father’s footsteps echoed loudly as he left the hut, the door closing ominously behind him.
** ** **
The passage of time was irrelevant. The shadows faded in and out of her visions: blue and yellow lights dancing and floating as if elhudans of Enedwaith had descended upon her mind. She reached out to grasp for one as it flitted by, but the movement caused daggers to pierce her side, causing her to gasp. The darkness reached for her, scattering the lights until they left her in solitude.
** ** **
Her breath was ragged and shallow, the darkness tangible. She struggled against it, trying to push it off of her eyes with hands that struggled to respond. Her fingers found her face, reached for her eyelids, but only found a warm, swollen mass. It yielded slightly beneath her fingertips and weighed her left lid down, preventing her from opening her eye. Her right eye was crusted, and she gently rubbed away the grime until she could see the ceiling of the hunter’s cabin above her.
Faint light filled the cabin; the sun’s beams illuminating the dust stirred up in the air. Morning was come, the cabin was empty save her, and only the Valar knew why her heart still beat fiercely in her chest.
Her entire body ached. Tyne showed no mercy to her, the love he feigned turned to hatred as he abused her body. Slowly, disrupting her broken ribs as little as possible, she shifted on the tabletop where he had left her to die to ease the pressure on her left shoulder. It felt out of place and she was unable to roll the joint in its socket. She attempted to move her fingers; they wiggled in the air freely with no pain. Only when she attempted to move her shoulder did the shock rack her body.
Gingerly, she prodded the joint with her other hand, getting a feel for the dislocation. Finally, she made a decision and gritting her teeth, she knew she had no choice: she gripped the edge of the table tightly, then threw her weight back and up, kicking her feet of the floor for leverage. Her scream rent the air, silencing the forest sounds around the cabin. She felt the shoulder slide back into place before blacking out again.
When she awoke, sunlight filled the cabin cheerily. She moaned, her body famished and broken. As she turned, she fell from the tabletop, pain shooting through her as she hit the dirt floor. For a long time she lay, her breath jagged. Finally, through pure will, she pushed herself over, wincing at the tender resistance her shoulder gave to any weight placed upon it.
Cwen looked around the room, unable to focus at first. Her eye finally found a small brown object on the floor near the hearth. As she stared, her father’s satchel took shape. Scooting herself across the floor, she reached for the bag, finding instead of rations, a store of vials and small clay pots. Her fingers grasped one glass vial stoppered with beeswax and realized she held a healing draught, strong enough to mend her wounds. Unstoppering the bottle quickly, she drank the contents of the vial without hesitation. Immediately, she felt invigorated and warm, the pain in her joints and muscles easing as it flowed through her veins.
She wondered at the find, realizing that wherever they were now, her father and Tyne had intentions of coming back. She saw the rations piled on the hearth, wrapped in broad leaves. Her lute lay beneath the table, kicked aside during the savage attack. As quickly as she could, she climbed to her feet and began gathering the items. Another bag, larger than hers, sat in the corner by the door. She opened it and sucked in her breath, shocked.
A dress lay on top of nondescript items filling the bag. The rich velvet was dyed a gentle rose, like the sky before the sunrise. She touched the soft fabric in awe, amazed that her father would have saved such a trivial thing.
Cwen’s own clothes were tattered, ripped by Tyne. Beneath her mother’s dress was a set of worn clothes, which she used to replace her own ruined dress. The leggings were tight, and the shirt was torn at the sleeve. They covered her body well enough, and would serve her purpose as she meant to travel hard and fast through the land. Placing the satchel of medicines over her shoulder on her hip, she looked around the room one last time. With her lute on her back and her mother’s dress safely in the pack on her back, she limped out the door into the afternoon sun.
Tyne’s hulking form filled the doorway, blocking the evening light and casting a shadow across the floor. It stretched toward her and she inched back, trying to keep it from touching her toes.
“Cwendlwyn,” his voice rumbled deep within his chest. “You made it here alive. I am so pleased.” His face was shadowed as he stepped into the hut. Her father came to her holding out his hands. They were familiar hands that had comforted her when they could. They had carried her from the Eastfold clear across the mark after the death of her mother, leading her from the darkness of her sorrow in and out of shadow until they found the village he chose as their home. Still when she placed her hands in his, a chill flowed from his fingers instead of loving warmth and Cwen knew she had never really known her father’s deepest secrets.
“I ran as soon as I was able,” she said quietly. “I tried to save Bean, the stables –” she could not look her father in the eye, but saw his dark features instead on the Dunlending she had killed, the one whose blood still stained her rough cotton shirt. “I did not know where to go, therefore I came here…” her voice trailed off into silence.
“You are very clever, Cwendlwyn, my child.” Her father held her hands loosely, keeping her an arm’s length away. “You were good to run so quickly, before the main host of the attackers came.”
“The main host?” she questioned. She longed to pull her hands from her father’s grasp. She knew to do so would be unwise.
“Aye.” Her father continued. “The first attackers at dawn merely cleared the way for the main host to attack at will. They had no resistance after the Watch was eliminated.” Cwen thought a gleam flashed in her father’s eye as she described the attack. “The village was completely destroyed by the fires. All the women, children…they are hunting those that hid or ran. I doubt anyone was able to escape.” His eyes bore into her face. “Only you.”
“Such a fortunate stroke of luck,” Tyne said from the doorway, “that you, my love, were able to flee.”
“Aye,” she whispered, shrinking away as he moved into the room. The setting sun blinded her over his shoulder, peering into the room and filling it with fire. Tyne strode across the floor and slammed the mace on the table beside her. She was closed in, pinioned in a corner with a wall of man-flesh blocking her way to safety.
Tyne stepped closer to her, looming above as he looked down at her, his face hallowed in the light of the setting sun. The backlight prevented scrutiny, and she could not decipher his expression. “What shall we do now,” he growled, “now that we are here, escaped from the danger and free to do as we please?”
“We should go back,” she whispered. “Help those we can.”
“Against an entire army of Dunlendings? Are you mad?” her father questioned.
“Some may have escaped the attack. We can save them, Da.” She did not understand what would cause her father to deny help to those who needed it.
“No,” he growled. “None will be saved.”
“Da…” the word barely escaped her mouth when Tyne grabbed her by the throat. He lifted her off her feet, his face close to her own.
“You want to save those forgoil, you pretty one?” His teeth gleamed as he growled out, “The ones who scorned you for your blood, for bearing a mark of the Wild Men?” A brutal hand stroked her hair. Wrapping a length of it around his fingers, he yanked. The chunk ripped from her scalp, bringing tears to her eyes and a cry of pain from her lips. He dangled it in front of her as she clawed at his grip on her throat. Her nails drew blood; still his grip held. Her gasps for air became weak, strangled. Bright spots began to appear in the corners of her vision.
“Tyne—enough!” her father’s voice commanded. Tyne released her and she fell on her face on the ground, gasping, her throat raw. She sensed the boot before she saw it, but could not roll out of the way in time. The kick caught her in the side, knocking what little breath she had drawn in out from her lungs with a harsh whoosh.
“How does it feel,” Tyne sneered, “how does it feel, little Eorling, to have your world taken from you, burned down around you?”
Tears slid down her face. She stared at the dirty shoes in front of her, unable to speak.
Tyne took her face in his hand, squeezing her cheeks painfully as he lifted her face to look into his own.
“How does it feel to have your world destroyed?”
“Tyne,” she managed to whisper, “please…why…”
He squeezed harder. “You know why. Look at me. Look at your father, and you will see the answer, Cwendlwyn of the Riddermark.”
She could taste blood in her mouth as the pressure of his grip causes the sensitive flesh inside her cheeks to cut against her teeth. A whimper escaped her lips, and she closed her eyes, to blot out the image of his snarling eyes, so foreign to her in their rage.
“You, too, have the dark blood in you,” Tyne continued. He released her face only to grasp a fist full of her hair. He pulled her head back cruelly. “Your father gave you this black mane covering your pretty little scalp. Did you never wonder how such darkness found its way into your blood? You are covered by the shadow.” His eyes gazed across her shoulders at the burnt ends lying there unevenly. “Well, you were covered by the shadow,” he sneered. “Now all that is left is ash.”
Cwendlwyn stood staring at the burning houses that were once the village called Riverwide. Screams reached her ears even where she stood on the hilltop that led to the forest below the mountains, her only possession clutched to her chest. Her father had finished stringing the lute just that morning, smiling sadly as he placed the instrument in her hands. Had he sensed what the day would bring? Could he have known that their life would be destroyed – again – by forces out of their control?
Turning from the scene, she raised a shaking hand to her face. Blood streamed from a gash on her cheek. She had not felt the pain until the threat of the attackers had dissipated with distance. Now that she was relatively safe from harm, the entire left side of her face began to throb. She had none of her father’s herbs or potions that would quickly stop the oozing of the wound. Surely they were all destroyed by the fires. Perhaps her father would have had the sense to pack some before the attackers had reached their home. A scar would remain without the treatment her father’s salves could provide. It would be little compared with the other scars of the day, she thought, and began to walk toward the wood situated at the bottom of the range of rolling hills.
She plunged into the trees without hesitation. Being a bit of a loner, she knew the wood by heart and quickly found familiar landmarks: the squirrel’s nest in the oak, the fallen rowan, the spring with its small brook that joined the Adorn to the south of the village. She stopped at the spring to ease the burn in her throat and clear the taste of smoke from her mouth. The cool, clear water slaked her thirst, but showed a reflection that caused more pain to her than she realized her own image could induce, considering the circumstances. Her home burned, her few gathered possessions lost, her father missing or dead. None of these struck her as her own bloodied image in the crystal pool.
Before this day, Cwendlwyn’s hair had hung like night past her shoulders to her waist. She knew as she sought to save her beloved horse from the town stable that her flyaway tresses were in danger from the building flames. She had woken from a nap to the sounds of screaming and harsh guttural cries. She had had no time to braid and confine the wild mane before she fled from the small hut she lived in with her father. She recalled now the acrid scent of burning hair and realized it was not just the manes of the beautiful horses trapped in the stable being burnt away. A good length of her hair was gone, the ends broken and brittle. She ran a shaky hand across her scalp and a great clump of it pulled away. She stared in horror at the delicate strands clinging to her fingers, shocked that she had not noticed, angered that the only thing she felt was beautiful about herself was gone.
A small black water beetle stroked its way across the still pool, shattering her image as it flitted past. Her gaze broken, she clasped her hand to her throat. It was tightening uncharacteristically, threatening to overcome her and choke her with tears. If only she could prevent them from spilling, if only she could tear it all away – the broken remnants of her hair, the images of the familiar huts burning in the morning air, the visages of the Dunlendings running down the familiar paths with axes and maces raised, hacking and slashing the familiar faces that after eight years had become almost family to her.
The golden blonde mane of Frieda, newly married and the first true friend Cwendlwyn had ever made, captured the early morning light, blazing crimson against the blue sky above her. She had cried out to Cwen, reaching through the rare second story window of the home her husband, son of the village elder, had built for them. The hungry flames crept up the thatch to overwhelm her. Her screams as her hair caught fire echoed in Cwen’s brain, magnified by the screams of a hundred women and children.
Cwen had wanted to help her friend, just as she had wanted to save Bean, her beautiful chestnut. She had stared, horrified as her world burned down around her, powerless to stop it. Only the rush of a Wild Man bearing a blackened sword rushing toward her broke her from the shock of seeing Frieda burned alive. In one swift movement, Cwen drew the dagger from the sheath around her calf, stooping below her attacker’s swing and turning to bury the blade in his side as he tumbled past. With a feral scream that seemed to stun the wounded man to stillness, Cwen ripped the dagger from his flesh and thrust it into his neck. Without hesitation, she turned and ran, knowing the man was dead, dodging bodies without noting friend or foe for everywhere she looked was fire.
None noted her, as the invaders seemed set on the total destruction of the village. Men of Riverwide took up arms where they could and fought back, but most were caught unawares during the morning attack, and died unarmed, fleeing or defending their homes with fist and heart. She was almost to the meadow that led into the mountains when a Dunlending appeared from the smoke, brandishing a mace. With a ferocious cry, Cwen charged the man, dagger raised, chanting a song of the brave. The man turned and fled, dropping a brown satchel as he ran. Cwen recognized the leaves stitched into the seams as her father’s mark, the sign of his trade. She ran forward to retrieve the pack and later found her risk was worth it: the sack contained some simple trail rations and the lute her father made.
But where was her father now?
The question roused her from her shock and she realized the moisture on her cheeks were tears. Once more she touched her hair, the gash marring her left cheek. A support beam had collapsed in the stables, causing the roof to cave and throwing debris in the air. Only when a board smashed into her face did she give up trying to reach Bean, and she knew that she was lost beneath the rubble. She allowed the tears to flow until the count of ten, then she wiped her eyes on the hem of her tattered sleeve and climbed to her feet.
She followed the brook until a small hunter’s path branched away form its banks. Stepping carefully and quietly as Tyne had taught her, she made her way through the wood to the tiny hut that had been their hideaway many times before. She approached cautiously, listening for occupants, human or otherwise. She peered in through a low window and saw the cold hearth and dust on the table.
Convinced that the hut was unoccupied, she went inside and set to kindling a fire. She had searched the bag on the hilltop and had saved the rations then. She now munched one without tasting its dryness or feeling any hunger. Cwen knew that Tyne would find her and her father and they would escape into the woods yet again, together. Once the fire crackled warmly on the stones, Cwen sat in the lone wooden chair and waited.
She did not have to wait long. Soon, the sound of a quiet footfall reached her ears and she rushed to the door to greet him. She stopped short at the sound of two voices talking lowly. Father! she thought, but her excitement was quickly replaced with shock and disbelief. She did not understand the language spoken, though it was familiar. It had the same rhythm and cadence as the invaders’ cries to each other as they pillaged Riverwide. Ice froze her blood, threatening to turn her to stone. She forced herself to back away from the door, hearing the voice that was plainly her father’s say, in Rohirric, “If it be her, and not forgoil flown from the village, treat her in turn.”
Fear crept up Cwen’s spine and her feet stepped backward under their own volition. As her rear hit the low table across the room, the door opened and her father stepped across the threshold, followed by Tyne Dernhere, her beloved, her fiancé.
Never before had she seen Tyne as she saw him now: dirty, blackened with soot, and carrying a bloodied mace, much like the one borne by the Dunlending who attacked her.