A Bitter Pill: From the Dark Deeps

Of all of Moria, Cwendlwyn hated the Water-works the most.

If asked, she would never had been able to explain her loathing for the mouldy, festering waters aside from the fact they were mouldy and festering and contained who knew what sort of evils beneath their still surfaces. Normal fears aside, her dread of the place set in long before she placed her foot into the tepid pool at the foot of the long stair as the party attempted to flee from the orcs and the goblins and the trolls.

In the Waterworks
In the Water-works

Of course, it was here that they would encounter the Four Lords. Of course, during that encounter the evils of the place would conquer what good their party possessed. Of course, Sage would be taken and Maludir’s confidence shaken and they would be forced to flee again like rats.

She could only attribute their success to the fact that the Lords had Sage and were preoccupied with the boy. Atanamir led them through tunnels following his map and they found a short moment of reprieve.

As she sat staring at the quill in her hand, her words to Hallem Kemp echoed in her mind. She knew that soon Atanamir would order them to move, but she knew that if she did not take the time to write these letters, they might never be written. She knew that she had to write them.

Saying aloud to Hallem that she was afraid and thought that she was never going to see the sky again; that she was unworthy of Oendir for she was ever so weak; that she had found solace in Rheb’s arms and perhaps a single night was no longer enough; that she was falling to pieces… saying all of these things made the weight on her shoulders ease as Hal had given her his Look, though suddenly she wished she were back in Dol Amroth making apple pie with him and Miss Arameril in the kitchens of House Colagar.

At least there, she felt as though she understood her challenges. Here, in the deep darks of Moria, she could hardly find up before the ground fell away beneath her feet again.

She furtively looked around for Atanamir and decided she had time to try once more to write to Oendir. She dipped her quill into the dark purple ink, took a deep breath, and began to write.

Dear Oendir,

I hope this letter finds you healthy and hale and that your time away renewed you for the duties that await you in Durrow. I have begun to seek some property to purchase pending the sale of Gardeneve, but I remain undecided. For years, that house has been our home and I am incredibly saddened at the thought of leaving it for good. Perhaps time will tell me what choice I should make regarding my housing; for now, at least, the cold stones of Moria are my shelter.

I do not know how I will send this letter to you. We are in a tunnel off the Water-works. We’ve encountered the Four Lords and I fear for us. The four sorcerers are far more powerful than I could have ever imagined. They have taken Sage. Maludir has lost himself a bit to grief and confusion. And I do not believe I will ever see the sky above Ravenhold again.

So I guess I should not fear the words that I write next. Chances are they will rot with my body here in the tepid pools of the drowned deeps. So I may as well just write them, correct?

I am afraid I am falling in love with you. I am afraid because you did not seem to be concerned enough with me to tell me that you were leaving Durrow or where you were going. When Neilia and I went to Overhill to find it cold and empty, my heart froze and I was hurt. Then I chided myself for feeling hurt when I could not claim you as my own; a few kisses and near death experiences did not make one bound to the heart of another. But I realized then that the pain that I felt when you did not tell me you were going meant something. It meant something and I was not sure I was ready to face it.

And then Rheb found me. And he found me again. He looked for me, sought me out. Flattered me and learned me and I was afraid I was falling in love with him. I carry a token of his, Oen. He slipped it into my pack with a note asking me to come back soon and telling me that he missed me. Before I had even left, he missed me. It’s so innocent and so sincere. I have to remind myself how young he is and that he’s not wholly a Man and that there has to be a logical reason why he makes me forget everything else in the world except him. There has to be, right?

These are not words that should be written to a potential lover. These are not things I should speak to you about! But I trust you–even though I do not wish to trust you, or anyone–I feel as though I must be honest with you or else I shall betray anything that is or was or might have been between us.

Is there anything between us?

I am beginning to feel better now that I have written this.

Hal said to just write, and that is what I did. I know you do not see Hal as a full, mature adult, and perhaps it’s all just my own vain naivety, but he is more mature than most give him credit for…he’s just on that precipice between adolescence and adulthood, isn’t he?

That does not make me feel any better about Rheb.

You should not forgive me, Oen. Ultimately, it is your choice and I do ever so hope that you do forgive me, but I cannot beg for your forgiveness for what I’ve done. He is your foster son and to even consider him as a lover would be terrible. Horrible. Because Men simply do not do that.

Rheb is not wholly a Man.

Can I lose you when I don’t even have you?

Cwen stared at the words and could not find a way to end it. How do you end a letter telling the man who you hoped could love you forever that you spent a night in his son’s arms? It was betrayal. It was just as she said: horrible. As remarkably forgiving Oendir was, she could not see how she could move past Rheb, so how could she expect him to?

She watched as the ink dried and then folded the letter carefully. She tucked it in the pocket next to the short note from Rheb that she hadn’t even known was there until she needed her little blue vial in Dolven-view and went searching for it. There it could stay until she found herself faced with a way to actually post the words. Then, the decision would have to be made.

She pulled out another piece of parchment and began to write hastily. She knew they would not be able to afford much more time to rest.

Dear Rheb,

Thank you very much for your gift. I will wear it while in the mines and be stronger because I know that you thought of me.

I miss you, too. I do need time to think things through when I can see the stars to guide me. I hope I will be able to sooner rather than later.

~Cwen

P.S.: I know my name is spelled oddly as ‘c’ does not always make the ‘k’ sound. It should have been spelled ‘Kwen.’ I like it that way. So I shall sign this postscript with just that letter:

K.

She frowned at the postscript. It was too easy to be intimate with him, even with leagues of forests and plains and tons of mountain separating them. It was just a letter, but on the page it was no longer just a letter. Traced with such care and with the little loops at the end of her letters, it was a kiss to the boy back in Durrow who missed her.

She pictured his face: the sharply angled incisors, the tapered ears. The thick flowing hair that he must have used to make the bracelet around her wrist. She pictured Oendir with his brilliant blue eyes. Rheb’s golden ones superimposed themselves on Oendir’s; the dark hair framing their faces merged and blurred. The colors of their irises overlapped into green and then faded into black and white but one thing remained: the earnest hopefulness that she loved in both of them. She clung to that hope whenever she was with either of them. Now, in what felt like a life-time away from both, she grasped at that hope twinkling in their eyes as her lifeline to her inner strength.

To her own hope.

To the surface.

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To Dale: Return of the Sun

The long darks of Moria were more lit than the last time Eirikr had been through. Even so, the paths seemed more dangerous. The lamps cleverly reflecting the light often allowed the enemy to find easy targets or disappeared from the trail without warning, destroyed or stolen. Eruviel and he often lent their bows to the protection of the caravan and progress was slow despite the Dwarven presence at the many holds along the way. Between the Twenty First Hall and the Second, the paths were more often patrolled by goblin than Dwarf. On the fifth day, Eirikr had found himself grinning with satisfaction as each arrow he loosed hit true. Eruviel commented casually about his improved aim, but her eyes twinkled with her satisfaction. In his mind, Eirikr heard her unspoken words: I told you so, heruamin.

Nonplussed, he smiled as he gazed across another gaping chasm impeding their way. A narrow, but passable, bridge had once extended across the dark expanse before him. Now, all that remained were jagged remnants of that bridge and Brogur informed them the Dwarves were forming a new path around the gigantic crack in the stone. At the Edge of the CrackMore delays. They did not plague him as they once did, though. He knew every step, not matter how slow, was taking him closer to his goal.

Right now, it was getting out of Moria. He was tired of the dark and reflected light. Tired of wondering if the next ambush would be orcs and goblins or something even more sinister. Tired of the echoes and tired of the feel of stone. Green. He wanted to see something green and growing.

Nonetheless, as he stood at the broken bridge, he smiled. The sight inspired awe, as so much of the Dwarven architecture did and he kept his spirits up by admiring the work of hands from Ages go. Man in all his pompous grandeur could not hold a candle to the stonework of the Dwarves.

The caravan began moving out; Eruviel rode up beside him leading his own mount.

“Ready, heruamin?” she asked softly.

Nodding, he strode over to her and took the offered reins. “It is unfortunate the bridge is down. I cannot imagine how marvelous it was.”

Eruviel mirrored his nod. “I agree. It was a sight to behold. Perhaps they will rebuild one day.”

They rode in comfortable silence with bows and arrows across their laps. The bridge had once joined the  Second Hall with the First, but now a narrow footpath barely revealed itself along the edge of the chasm. Carefully, they picked their way around and finally found solid footing on the other side.

Norlin directed his wagon beside them once the road widened. “Master Eirikr and Mistress Eruviel! Ye ready for the sun?” the portly Dwarf quipped.

Eruviel smiled and said, “I do think the feel of its warmth is long overdue.”

“Hopefully, it will be daylight when we emerge out the East Gates. If not…well the Mirrormere is no less stunning by the light of the stars.” Norlin shifted on his bench and dropped the reins long enough to light a pipe. They turned down a passage lined with towering columns on either side. “Won’t be long now ’til we’ll see for ourselves.”

Eirikr turned from the columns to peer down the long passageway. As they drew closer, he began to make out the East doors out of the mountain guarded on either side by axe-wielding Dwarves.

“At last,” he murmured.

Slowly, with much clamouring, the caravan made its way out of the kingdom beneath the mountain. They left the rented goats with the Dwarves at the Eastern Stable and trailed after the last wagon, alert and ready. When finally they stepped over the threshold, Eirikr felt the cool air on his face and he breathed deeply. He looked up at the sky.

It was indeed night, but Norlin had not misspoken. As Eirikr walked down the steps and approached the Dwarven camp established outside the doors, his breath was stolen by the sight of a million stars twinkling in the crystalline surface of the lake. The Dimrill DaleLeaving Eruviel behind, he made his way through the Dwarves stirring at the arrival of visitors and found himself at the edge of land and water. He turned back and looked at the mountains. Celebdil loomed and the door soared. A full moon sank over toward the peaks and again, Eirikr smiled.

Goal: get out of Moria? Achieved.

*     *     *

“What do you mean, they won’t let me in?”

Eirikr stared at the stablemaster incredulously. Thalamb, an extremely stern-featured Elf  with his light brown hair knotted carefully on the crown of his head, stared right back.

“We protect our borders with the utmost care, Master Tenorbekk. And while Miss Aranduin may have…some connection with our people, the times require extra caution.”

Eirikr tried to surpress the indignant huff in his lungs.

“There must be something we can do to win the trust of the Lord and Lady, yaaraaer,” Eruviel politely interjected.

“The path between here and the Golden City is dangerous,” Thalamb answered cryptically.

“What about the caravan? Why are they allowed in?” Eirikr asked. He ran a hand through his coppery hair and looked over his shoulder at the wagons and goats.

“I assume they have permission. A delivery, perhaps. It is not my concern.”

Eruviel placed a gentle, but warning hand on Eirikr’s arm. “Yaaraaer, I beg your pardon, but is there nothing we can do to prove our loyalty to the Lord and Lady?”

Thalamb turned his dark brown eyes on his fellow Elf. “There might be. There are several orc camps between here and Echad Andestel. They will be a problem for the Dwarves. Prove you do not serve the Enemy and bring ten spent Elvish arrows each to Celeguien. That will be a start.”

Eirikr blinked. “Elvish arrows? What would Elvish arrows be doing in an orc camp?”

The Elf gave Eirikr what could have been a glare if glaring at Men was not so far beneath him. “The sentinels of Lorien do not allow the Shadow to spread unchecked. Supplies are limited, however, and the incursions come quicker than our fletchers can replenish them. Every arrow is valuable. Every arrow recovered is another dead orc.”

Eirikr met the Elf’s gaze without wavering. “Then recover them we shall. Eruviel?”

He turned and quickly trotted after the caravan. Eruviel took the time to bow  low  before she backed away to follow him.  He barely tried to suppress the snort and had an inkling the self-important Elf heard it.

“Eirikr,” Eruviel said as she caught up with him, “I know the stable master seemed…haughty, but what he speaks is true. The Golden Wood rarely sees visitors for most people feared Lady Galadriel.”

“Hm. Yes, they call her a witch and kept their distance from the borders.”

Eruviel raised a brow. “You do not fear her, then? Despite the legends?”

The pair quickly passed the caravan as it slowly lumbered down the road. As they crested a slight rise in the land, the first orc camp reported its position with the rise of shadowy black smoke. Eirikr nocked his arrow and dropped low. Eruviel turned to gesture to the Dwarves at the front of the caravan and a quiet word spread quickly to halt. “Four, five.” He counted beneath his breath. “At least five patrolling. It is heavily guarded.”

“It will be a challenge, indeed.” Eruviel strung her bow beside him and looked up at him. “Are you ready, heruamin?”

Nodding, he softly responded to her previous inquiry: “No, sister. I do not fear legends when what is before me is worse than any terrible tale spread by ignorance. But I am ready to shed light on the shadows and dispel the fear.

I am ready.”

 

 

 

To Dale: Small Progress

ScreenShot00221As they move closer to the other side of the mountains…

The Last Huntress of The Dreadward Tribunal

Eruviel sat leaning back against the stone pillar, twirling the arrow between her thumb and pointer finger with the fletching whisking against the pant of her left knee. She had already counted the stalactites hanging from the vaulted ceiling as well as the sparks that had floated up from their now smoldering fire. Several merchants and travelers, still talked quietly a short ways away and she eavesdropped on their softly spoken conversations, wondering who best to join.

There were several dwarves headed to the Lonely Mountain, but few of them seemed . . . congenial enough for her to risk spending the time to earn their trust for them to open up to her. There was a stern, self-important merchant with a Gondorian accent who would be of no use to her, and then there was the Barding that appeared to be relatively new to the trade. Norlin had just…

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To Dale: Durin’s Threshold

The Last Huntress of The Dreadward Tribunal

ScreenShot00134

The Hollin Gates closed behind them, the air reverberating from the thud echoing through the vaulted chamber. Eruviel had no intention of turning back, and though she knew it to be irrational she felt trapped in the dim light of Moria. The caravan moved further into Durin’s Threshold, and Eruviel pushed the ridiculous notion of claustrophobia out of her mind as she looked around the great space with a small, familiar smile. She had a number of positive memories of this place, and she chided herself for already failing to take her own advice.

“Are we going to walk the whole way, or are we able to procure goats to carry us through?” said Eirikr, smirking as his question snapped her out of her thoughts.

“Of course, my friend,” she nodded, being careful to conceal her lingering discomfort for the cave. “The week here would be more uncomfortable, and seem…

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To Dale: The Shadow of the Mountain

The sun bore down upon them as they stood on the cliff overlooking the Bruinen. Far below their feet, the river picked up speed as it veered southwest to join with the Greyflood. Eirikr had awoken to find the settlement of Gwingris full of purposeful activity and the sun hanging high on the verge of noontime. At first, anxiety grasped him as the first thought that entered his mind was a threat; could Eruviel have forgotten him in the press of an attack? Only when he saw her across the way speaking with the provisioner did his pulse slow and he was able to breathe again.

The provisioner, Thillosil, approached them holding a carefully wrapped bundle. Eruviel turned and accepted it with a smile and exchanged quiet words with her in Sindarin, shooting an occasional glance at Eirikr’s back. Though he could understand their words if he wished to do so, Eirikr did not bother with trying to listen. He could guess the thread of their conversation and he had little interest in addressing their concerns.

Thillosil nodded to Eruviel and retreated with a bow. Turning back to him, Eruviel clasped the bundle of supplies to her and said, “I am sorry if you did not wish to sleep in this morning, heruamin. I felt it beneficial that you rest.”

Eirikr grunted. He knew she spoke truth.

Eruviel smiled; only the curve of her cheek shifted enough to reveal the change of expression. Eirikr felt her amusement more than he saw it as he turned to look at her. Any irritation he felt at the time lost dissolved around him and he found himself chuckling as he ran a hand through his hair.

“It was,” he admitted as he looked down at the package. “Supplies?”

Nodding, Eruviel turned away from the river and led him to the stable. “If we ride hard, we should make the Walls of Moria soon. I’ve secured steeds to Echad Dunann since we left our horses with Candelleth. We can’t take horses into Moria, though. Still, it is the safer route now that the Dwarves are reclaiming their halls.”

Eirikr looked north to where he left Kvígr with the small Elven camp in the southern Trollshaws. “You still believe the time lost through the mines is worth it?”

Eruviel nodded. “The High Pass is no longer passable. There is little other choice now.”

Setbacks. Delays. He knew the obstacles served their purposes—he needed that sleep if he was honest with himself—but he longed to see the end of their journey.

“All right. Through the darks of Moria it is.”

Again, a small smile curved Eruviel’s lips. “It is not so dark any more. We will not be going through the darkest deeps, at least. Come, heruamin. Let us go.”

They mounted their borrowed steeds and set off. Sticking to the paths, they covered ground quickly, their horses’ hooves thundering through the wild lands as they passed beneath the ancient trees. As the holly and oak fell away, so did the path and Eirikr relied on Eruviel to navigate ever south through the dry river beds cutting across the land. Their passage startled more than one wild creature. As a lynx darted out of a shallow gully, his thoughts flashed to Anya and he wondered briefly how his sister fared back in Bree.

South of Echad Eregion, they found the road again though it often faded into a worn footpath. At the edge of a river long dried up, the stone road branched east and west. They took the eastern road and Eirikr could no longer ignore the towering mountains in the distance. As they grew, a darkness in his heart struggled to resurface. He thought of the poison left to the wilds near Thorenhad. He saw his father’s face. He recalled the dark gloom of the paths through the mountain.

Steeling himself, he looked up at the mountain as the sun sank behind him. He knew the goblins and twisted passageways were not the worst things that stood in his way.

The Mountain