Anyatka looked up at Esthyr. “You’re his flesh and blood. I see him in you. She shows me what it would be like . . . if he were younger . . . whole. If he loved only . . . me.” Her voice broke again and she lowered her head. By the Valar, she looked tired, and if there was not the threat of unleashing Faethril again, Eruviel would have relieved the woman’s weariness in a heartbeat.
“Well obviously that’s fake, then,” Esthyr snorted. “Morty was never young.”
Eruviel tucked strands of Anya’s hair behind the young woman’s ear. “And I’m sure if he was he would not be half as handsome without the scars.”
Anyatka nodded to both of them and managed a smile. “True.” Looking down at her hands a curious frown creased her face. “What is in my hand?”
“Something from someone called Atanamir,” said Esthyr.
The shield was dirty and it made Abiorn’s face look dirty. Dirty streaks crossed his features as he touched his cheek and then his chin. Was this his face? What happened in those ruins?
He looked down and turned over his hands. The bruises that ran across his palms from wrist to ring finger attested that yes, he was the one who had caught the club of the hulking tomb robber. His hands turned into burly claws and he was the one that ripped out the man’s throat with his teeth. His eyes in the mirrored surface of the shield were his eyes. Those were his shoulders, though, yes, in the time he spent since leaving Dale, they were broader. Stronger. Work around the cabin had made them so. His hair was a wild frame around his face; he rarely spent much time on it anyway.
He touched his lips and could still taste the robber’s blood on his tongue. No matter how many times he rinsed his mouth out, he could not remove the taste. But that did not bother him quite as much as the simple fact that he had liked it.
He had liked the raw power rippling through his muscles as he stood on his hind legs and easily overpowered the lumbering robber. He had liked watching the body fall as an enemy vanquished. He had liked the fear he saw in the eyes of the humans around him, friend and foe alike.
It felt strong. It felt powerful. It felt right.
The boy touched his lips again and ran his tongue over his front teeth as he bared them in a snarl.
Abiorn the Bear. Not the weak, crippled boy that he lived as all his life.
Yes, that felt right.
Every instinct in my body tells me to look at her as I used to before we left for the dark road to Dale. Even as we slept side by side beneath the changing moon, I only saw her as a companion of the woods. A companion in arms. A fellow marksman and tracker and a systir. Never did I see her as I do now each time I close my eyes. Each time I look at her and see her smiling up at me with sparkles in her hair. Each time I simply want to dive into her and lose myself.
How many times has my pain been removed by her touch?
How many times has she saved my life and I saved hers?
Yet, she is an Eldar. Men and Eldar cannot find happiness in such a union. Our fates lead us down different paths and despite how she is becoming my journey, I know I am just a detour in hers.
Anya’s lips curled into a smile as Morty’s hands roamed over her bare skin. She arched into the gentle weight of him as he hovered above her and she looked up into his warm brown eyes and kissed him.
“Only you,” he murmured into her ear as the moonlight bathed them in its gentle glow. “Only you, my Anya.”
Somewhere in the far corners of her pleasure-logged mind, a bell went off. A silver tinkling like the sound of the little bell she left on Morty’s mantle grew louder and louder until she could no longer hear the heavy breath of her lover. She could only hear the ringing of the bell.
Anya pushed against Morty’s chest and looked up into his face. Clear of scars. Soft brown eyes. Not Morty.
Her heart stopped to coil into a tight pain and then it raced ahead in panic and fear.
“Anya…” His voice was worried and still laden with desire as he leaned in to kiss her temple. Her forehead. His lips were warm and she felt his heart thudding against her breast.
She pushed harder against him and tried to sit up. He gripped her shoulders and tried to catch her eye.
“Anya, what is it, love?”
Every fiber in her body screamed for release from him in both senses of the word. She arched against him to push him away and when he did not move, she hit him. His rough grave-digger’s hands easily pinned her wrists to the mattress.
“No! Release me! Let me go!”
Then he laughed and it was cruel. His perfect face faded and she was left naked on a cold stone floor. Blue flames surrounded her in her nightmare and she saw Faethril on the other side.
We could make it so, you know. Mend his pain and make him yours.
“Never… I will never give in to you!”
You don’t want him all to yourself? Just you and he to make babies and eat supper together every night?
“That’s not us. That’s not Morty.”
But are you sure it isn’t you? We can make it so.
“It would not be right. I know it in my heart it would not be true to who he is or who I am!”
Oh, but little dear… who are you? What colour is your hair?
“I know who I am. I feel it in my gut, I am me! I will never be you!”
And I feel it in my soul that I will have you. Call it… a premonition. My instincts tell me that you will join me if it means having him. In time, you will see.
Anya sat up in bed. Her room was dark and not a sound whispered in the night. Eruviel was not there in the chair where she spent her vigil. Morty was not there staring at her with one eye his soft, warm brown and the other glittering opaquely in the moonlight. No sound of her brothers snoring softly in the other room.
You hate him. If you admit it, it will make this much easier.
Inside. The voice was inside her head and though she had never heard it before, she knew who it was.
Oh, how she wished it was his voice instead, but since that day by the Little Staddlemere, Aeron had not reappeared. Maybe it had been a dream, a secret wish of her heart that the one who knew her best would return to be her guide. Anric’s anger. Eirikr’s pain. Abiorn’s isolation. Eruviel’s heartbreak.
“No wonder she came back,” Anya whispered to the dark.
I’m right here, darling. You really should not speak of one as if she was not in the room.
“I have nothing to say to you. Leave me!”
If I leave, who will you have? Your brothers are too selfish. Men think only of themselves.
“You do not know what you are speaking of. My brothers are brave and true. Eirikr went back to Dale to save his wife. Abiorn will find his way. Leave them alone!”
Eirikr’s selfish drive killed his wife in the dark eves of Mirkwood. He pushed her too far. He did not see.
“Shut up! You know nothing!”
And then he fled like a coward to the woods, hiding from his pain and leaving it with you to bear.
“I do not blame him! He-”
Oh, but you do. You hate him for abandoning you. Like your love.
“Morty will never abandon me. Women leave him, not the other way around.”
I speak of the man with the hair like yours. Such a lovely colour. But you will look so lovely with raven-feathers instead of fire.
“Anric did not abandon me. I hurt him. I don’t blame him.”
Anric’s first thought was to run from you. Leave you to your misery. Instead of facing his adversary, he left you, the prize. He abandoned you, treated you as worthless.
“He did that to give me time. Space. To figure out what I wanted.”
He left you. He gave you no choice. And now he wants to bed you. Taste your body like it were merely some succulent bird and then toss aside the bones. He does not love you. He will not love you if he has to share your heart with another.
“Anric knows that I love him and Morty both.”
Foolish girl. He is the cause of all your pain. I would not be here if it were not for him.
The grave-digger. The most selfish of them all.
“Morty is kind. Loving. You just do not like that he can beat you!”
He knows a few wards, yes. He is not of your world and thus has a certain power…but you will not be with him soon. You shall be alone and I will take you. And then, I will destroy him.
“Why? Why won’t you just go where you belong? They have done nothing!”
He left me. You hate him. He has left you, too.
“Who has left you? Who?”
He left me for his war and as I feared, he never came home.
I will find him. I will bring him back.
“Faethril, you have to let him go!”
I will bring him back and I will have the power to protect us both.
“Please, Aeron never wanted this. He is waiting for you, you just have to be patience.”
I wanted a family. I wanted happiness. I wanted my husband.
Patience is for the weak. I will have him. But I will have you now.
Pain. Like a fist around her heart poking at all the raw spots Faethril had opened up with her words. The pain made Anya fall back, cry out, rip at the cotton chemise she wore. The silence mocked her; there was no one there. No one to come save her. No one to love her ever again.
Tears streamed as the pain only grew and spread from her chest throughout her body. “Fight it!” she thought. “You are stronger than she! Fight!”
Burning, like the flesh around her wrist when Faethril had tried to take her the first time in Ost Guruth. Only then, Anric was there and Eruviel. They fought for her. They destroyed the bracelet and freed her from Faethril’s grasp. There was no one to stop the burning now and it wrapped itself around her heart and flowed through her like poison in her veins.
She thought of Anric. Her brothers. Morty. She thought of her father who could not love anything but power. No, they were not like him, they were not like Faethril. They loved her. She could feel it.
Like a spear to her heart, the pain shot through her and then it dissipated and she was in her bed and Eruviel held her in a panic and Abiorn was pulling at her hands and Eirikr stood stoic at her feet. The sounds of the world had returned; a wolf called in the distance and both Sally Stitches and Oli peered at her through the dark of the far corner.
She was not alone. Her family would never leave her side, she knew that in her heart, and if they ever strayed they would be back again. As she reassured them it was only a nightmare, she was relieved they would be leaving within the week. It wasn’t fair to them to worry over her so.
Life isn’t fair…unless you make it fair…
She ignored the voice as she hugged Abiorn’s shoulders – much broader since his arrival in Bree – and leaned against Eruviel’s body. She was safe. She was protected.
Really! Less than a week’s notice. What does Miss Anya think I am, a miracle worker?
It’s good that I have kept Gardeneve in good condition while Miss Cwendlwyn has been away with that adventuring company with whom she signed. I cannot imagine all that travel. The transition from Oatbarton to Buckland alone caused me such anxiety. Her latest letter did nothing to reassure me that travel was a safe endeavor. Certainly, she is on her way home and things worked out down in that Big Folk city, but really. Such trauma should be left for the ghost stories and minds of much less savory folk.
No, travel is certainly not for me. I shall stick to the simple task of keeping my house and Miss Cwendlwyn’s. Six people in that cottage! And Miss Anya said there could be more. It is good that Master Biramore built it large. Too large for my liking, but I suppose it will serve its purpose now.
Less than a week’s notice.
At least Miss Anya said I did not have to worry about stocking the pantry. I cannot believe that Miss Cwendlwyn would mind terribly that the house was being used. She had specifically said if Miss Anya needed it, she had permission to access it. But with so many visitors? Whatever could cause that girl to need such a large company?
Linens washed, beds made, rooms aired, surfaces dusted. The front gardens need to be weeded. Surely the neighborhood boys have plucked her vegetables clean. Miss Cwendlwyn needs to get her head out of the clouds and let her feet feel solid earth beneath them again. And soon.
So much to prepare, and really, I should be focusing on deciphering that recipe. I wish I had paid more attention when that Ranger had tried to teach us that flowery writing. Just one part, and then I shall have the recipe and I will be able to prepare the medicine that will make everything okay again.
The house was quiet for once. Sally Stitches curled up at Anya’s feet on top of the quilt and stared lazily at Morty as he sat and held vigil at the foot of her bed. Every so often, the brown mackerel tabby would flick her tail and the low purr of her guardian should have lulled Anya to sleep.
Instead, she stared at the circle of pale flesh around her wrist. The bracelet that had burned its impression into her skin had been destroyed in the forges of Ost Guruth and the necklace that shattered and started it all by releasing Aeron’s spirit to attach to her had melted in the fires of Thorin’s Hall in the Blue Mountains. She had never thought the spirits would return to plague her again. She had seen Faethril dissolve beneath the heat of the molten metal. The look on the ghost’s face had been of peace. What had brought her back?
She felt blind in the dark. There was nothing solid to link her to, not like the last time. This was a different magic at work, something that went beyond cursed jewelry and ancient curses. A magic that only Morty seemed to be able to control.
She knew he would not go with them, so she did not even ask. The words rested on her tongue always, but instead of coming out as a request to leave all he knew to accompany her to the wilds of the ancient kingdom, they tumbled out in pleas to stay with her now. Four more days, she had reminded him. Four more days before they left and who knew if she would survive to return?
The skin around her wrist tingled as it often did at night. She closed her eyes instead of rubbing it and pictured Morty’s face as he realized what her words meant. Did he care enough to mourn her if she fell among the ruins and forests of Evendim? Would he miss her enough to cover her grave with his Dalish Charms on the anniversary of her death? Or would he forget her as one of the women that left him?
She didn’t want to leave him.
Anya knew that with her brothers in the next room, Morty would not come to her bed that night. She missed his cool warmth, the comforting pulse in his neck even as she missed what she imagined was the sound of his heartbeat. The nights they were not together never tugged at her heart as this night when he was right there, but so far out of reach.
Was he ever really in reach?
Anya burrowed deeper beneath her quilt disrupting Sally’s stoic watch. The cat mewed and stretched, her claws tugging on the quilt. Normally, she would have gently nudged the feline off the bed to prevent her from ripping the bedcovers, but tonight, Anya merely listened to her claws dig into the fabric. She did not want to disrupt this moment where she felt like he loved her.
In the morning, it would be three days time.
Three days to prepare for the long separation from all she had learned to love as home, perhaps forever. Three days to try to love Morty Mossfoot with all her heart so he would not forget her while she was away trying to send home another lost lover simply searching for her missing solider.
It would be enough because it had to be enough. Faethril was getting stronger and Anya worried that Morty called her Miss Murderess with such casualness. It wasn’t good. None of it was good.
As the owls questioned the darkness of the overcast sky, she longed for the arms of the man less than three feet away. Three feet. Three days.
Slipping past the patrons in the common room Eruviel slid out the open door before it could close. There he is. She saw the top of the man’s red hair disappear down the street heading towards the West Gate. Skipping the steps, Eruviel leapt off the porch and ran across the cobbled square after him. “Anric!”
When she’d caught up to him, Anricwulf was murmuring angrily to himself as he prepared his mount’s saddlebags.
“What has gotten into you?” she demanded coming to a quick halt by the man and reaching a hand out to him.
Anricwulf knocked her hand away. “If you’ve come to lecture me I won’t hear it. I should be lecturing you — standing by as that creature makes a mockery of the natural order.”
Eruviel batted his hand back. “And what, you were just going to kill her because the damned…
I have not seen you since you returned from Dale. I have gone to the house you purchased before you left for the East, but you are never there. I miss you, bróðir. Where are you?
It sounds insane, I know, but I have decided to go to Evendim. There is something there that I must find. I would tell you what I am looking for and how I know it is there, but you will think I am crazy. Besides, I need to get out of the Bree-lands and Buckland just is not far enough and I have heard it is beautiful there.
I am not sure when I will be leaving. There is no pressure to get there; what I seek is not being sought by any other and it has lain there for a thousand years. I would like for you to come if you would. Come find me, Eirikr. I need you.
If you find this at the Pony by chance, know that you will not find me in Folchet anymore. Some things happened, Eiri, and I fear I did not handle them very well. Though how would you handle a living dead man? I know how Anric will handle him. Anric will kill him. He will see it as his duty to help him leave this world by any means possible. He joined us first and foremost because he needed to be sure Aeron found his place with the dead. I know that now. I had always been so curious why he was willing to believe me when he heard the purpose of our journey. Why he was willing to risk his life for some girl he just met. He needed to see Aeron and Faethril pass on.
He left me, Eirikr. Anric left me because I cannot love only him. I want to love only him. Right now, I want to love only him because if I don’t have him, then all I have is him and that will not do. He will have all of me and I will not be able to temper the need I have to love him. What will become of me when all I have is him?
Morty says he doesn’t need love. Not romantic love. The love of Esthyr is enough for him. And the baby. He is having a baby. Well, not him, of course. That would be impossible. He is not the one who is going to have the baby, but I am sure you understand what I mean. And, anyway, all he needs is his children. He does not need Cal. He does not need the love of a woman. He “loves” many and he cannot love just one.
Will not, he should say.
But children grow up. They go their own way. It isn’t the same as someone who knows you and loves you and will always be by your side. Everyone wants someone like that. Someone who understands what you are trying to say before you yourself understand it.
And he says he cannot love me the way I want him to love me. How does he know how I want him to love me when I do not even know myself? Eruviel, Aeron. They say I do not want the a man who would wanders. But is sex the same thing as love? Can you have sex without love? Cwen seemed to believe it was possible. Sex is just a physical act, isn’t it? One night stands do not mean you must love the person.
He said it was a one night stand.
My cheeks just flushed. I feel the damn heat as I sit here and I hate it. Why am I so easy to read? Is it just easy for him to play me so? Is he truly cruel and uncaring and simply deriving a sick pleasure from tormenting me so? Does a lack if a heart mean he is incapable of love or that he simply does not love me?
Why can’t I just let him go?!!!!!!!
I realize I am writing crazy. Perhaps I should burn this so no one can discover such crazy thoughts. But I simply cannot understand it. He spent so much time telling me no. There were plenty of reasons why he told me no.
He did not sully virgins.
He could not love only me.
He would not when I had a good man like Anric.
I would love only him.
But, I do love Anric. I love him still even though I know he has left me. He just left me there in the meadow outside the West Gate. I hurt and I hurt Anric because I could not love only him. What does that say about me? Am I no better than Morty deep down, unable to save my love for just one man?
Is it so wrong that I want them both? Love and affection and attention and someone who knows me deeply and intimately without even touching me before? Someone who takes my breath away?
The earth was terribly dry. Already the leaves were wilting and the petals had crumpled to hang down in drops the color of coagulated blood: a red so dark it was nearly black. She wanted to rip the petals off one by one. Little girls played that game still, didn’t they? Now he loves me…he loves me not…
Because it was so dry, it was difficult to dig. Anya had found the little hand spade where she had tossed it so carelessly only days before. Was it so recent that she had celebrated her birthday with cakes and presents? Only weeks ago. She almost had not gone to him to get the rose bush. Surely the drawing of the blossom he had sent with Esthyr should have been enough. Why was it never enough?
Eruviel said Anric went on a trip. He had never mentioned a trip to her. Or had he? She was so distracted lately. Perhaps he was just getting away from how terrible everything was now that… And then, all this. She never wanted something like this.
What did she want? Eruviel’s voice echoed in her mind. Do you even know what you need?
The metal of the spade cut into the dirt. How could it be so dry when it was so close to the water? It should not be thirsty. She looked up at the sky. The sun had faded long ago. The darkness enveloped her and gave her the courage to trespass onto Anric’s lawn to dig in his backyard. Perhaps the neighbors did not know yet that he kicked her out. They seemed fond of her. They could not have known she kept such turmoil trapped inside.
Thunk. Thunk. Thunk. The spade fell rhythmically like the beat of her heart.
Thunk. Shh. Thunk. Shh. The earth fell in an ever growing pile. She would have to put it back. Perhaps Anric really would never know.
Thunk-shh. Thunk. Thunk-shh. Thunk. Her arms grew tired and started to drag across the lawn. She was so tired.
Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.
She jabbed the ground with the spade and felt it penetrate a root. The rose bush shuddered. Appalled at her carelessness, she let out a cry and dropped the shovel.
“Oh, no, no-no-no. I am so sorry, little Charm, so sorry.” She reached into the dirt to pull it away with her hands. “So sorry. So so sorry.”
As she dragged the dirt out of the hole, more fell back in. She dug in deeper, pulling more and more away onto to have it tumble right back.
“So sorry so-.”
The sob broke out across the lake and bounced off rock to fly back to Anya’s ears. The noise triggered something inside of her and the tears fell to the crumbling ground before her. Her cries shook her with terrible, wracking jolts throughout her entire body. She fell forward onto her hands and then sank to the ground.
“I’m so sorry.”
Her cheek rested against the earth as the floodgates finally opened and all her pain, confusion, and fear fell to the soil around the roots of the Dalish Charm in Anricwulf’s backyard.
“I’m so sorry. Don’t die.”
Her tears watered the land as the moon passed in its wavering course and the nightingales sang to the stars.
The sun had begun to sink behind the distant trees before Anyatka Tenorbekk even realized she sat on the edge of the Little Staddlemere beneath her favorite willow tree. She searched her memory for the trek from the graveyard to Staddle, but she only found things she was not certain she was ready to face: Callumn’s distress as Morty’s strong hands crushed his windpipe, the rage on the grave-digger’s face, Hallem Kemp shoving Morty among the dead generations of Bree. The cradle in the front room. The stillness in Morty’s chest when his cool hand took her own and held it there. She did not want to remember.
She looked around quickly as she sought to find a distraction from the flood of thoughts tumbling through her brain. Her eyes fell on Hal sitting a short distance away at the end of the fishing dock. He watched her with a sort of interest like the kind that arose because there was something strange and terrible coming. He often looked at her that way, and she wondered if his interest would wane since now he knew the source of her “weird” behavior.
Her slip,the shouted “I love you!” out of desperation to know the truth Morty kept avoiding, was pebbles compared to what she learned when he finally gave in. His groan still stung, but her feelings did not change when he told her and Hal about the deaths that left him in charge of his younger brother Callumn, how he tried to raise his dead grandparents only to succeed, and his own death at the hands of the gaunt-lord his grandfather had become while Callumn, only thirteen, fled in horror.
The anger that drove Morty to attack Callumn terrified her. She had never imagined such rage could exist inside the charming man. And next to Callumn’s cheery friendliness, it had been a winter storm in June. She knew that she should have stayed with the injured man, though she knew also she could not have done much to help him. The woman, Jocelynn, had not been very reassuring when Anya had gone back to retrieve her bag that she dropped when Morty lunged at his brother. She could not say if Callumn was all right or not. She hoped for his sake he was well enough to find the next ship down to the sea. Morty repeated many times that he would kill Callumn if he saw him again. She understood this much at least: to Morty, it would be an eye for an eye.
She blinked several times and realized she was still staring at Hal who kept watching her with lazy anticipation. He probably was expecting her to start crying or raving. She probably should be crying or raving. But she couldn’t. She was not certain what she felt. It was as if all her emotions were running around inside of her at once. She just wanted them to stop so she could focus. She looked down and saw a thin green caterpillar trekking across a fallen branch. It passed the brown leaves on either side as it sought the end of the narrow bridge.
She closed her eyes.
A soft breeze ruffled her hair. It cooled her cheeks as she turned her face into it. She felt his presence beside her long before she opened her eyes.
At the sound of his voice, she opened her eyes and there he sat broad-shouldered and blue-eyed.
“I did not call you.” Her voice sounded much calmer than she felt as she drank in his face. “But I am glad that you are here. How?”
Aeron shrugged. He wore a simple robe of navy blue and his bare feet were tucked beneath him as he sat cross-legged. His dark hair was pulled back from his chiseled features and he had a look of contentment about him that Anya longed to share.
“Your heart called to me even if your voice did not.” He looked over at her and sadness tinged his serene expression. “Why, systir? Why do you grieve so?”
Anya turned to look toward the pier. Hal was no where to be seen. In fact, aside from the breeze rustling the branches of the willow, it was eerily quiet. No sounds from Hobbit settlement floated down on the wind. Not a single barking dog or buzzing midge.
“Where are we?” she asked. “Are we still in Staddle?”
Aeron followed her gaze. “I believe so. But not a Staddle you could return to on your own. A Staddle somewhere between mine and yours.”
Anya looked over at him. “I do not want to go back to my Staddle,” she said softly.
A crease appeared on his forehead. “I do not like that sort of talk. Anya, I am no longer in your mind. You must tell me what it is that is troubling you.”
Taking a very deep breath, she stared at him. And then she told him. Everything. He sat listening in silence, a deep frown marring his features. When her voice broke, his deep voice rumbled with concern.
“I had rather hoped you would have let go of your feelings for the grave-digger, Anyatka. Clearly, the man is not moral nor is he trustworthy.” Aeron’s lips formed a thin, critical line. “The presence of the cradle should tell you that he will not have you, my systir. And that you should not want him.”
Anya opened her mouth to protest, but Aeron continued talking.
“Anya, remember what I told you that night before we left for Fornost?” he said. “That it should be mutual. Equal. Your relationship with this man is not equal. And unless it is equal, it is not worthy of you. To begin with, he is not natural. He shouldn’t be there at all, Anya.”
“But he is,” she insisted as if that was all that mattered.
Patiently, he went on, “And even though he is, his choices remain a burden to your happiness. You don’t want to live with a love that does not love you back. Who cannot remain faithful. Do you?” Her hesitation brought another frown to his lips. “Anyatka, if you please, do not make such a foolhardy mistake. You do not want that. I have seen that much in your heart and mind.” He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “The other man you spoke of. Anricwulf.”
“How did you meet him if your heart has been for the grave-digger?”
The wind died down and a stillness came over the water. It reflected the pale blue of the clear sky. Anya wanted to sink beneath its surface and dissolve like a sugar cube in hot tea. She wanted the feelings to evaporate and just leave her in peace. Instead, she told him how Anricwulf attached himself to their party in Bree before they left for Ost Guruth. How he knew the lands and not only helped them free the Circle of Blood of the evil for a time, but also destroyed Faethril when the shadow consumed her. Aeron sat quietly when she finished. His hands that rested on his knees tightened into fists and his eyes closed. After a moment, he relaxed and sighed.
“Then she fell completely. That is why she did not come? I have been waiting.”
Anya lowered her gaze as her heart ached for him. They had tried to reason with Faethril, but she had been in the dark for far too long. Anya had wished for her to still find Aeron and that love would be stronger than the fear that drove the woman to such dark deeds. But it seemed it was not so.
Aeron shook his head. “So it will be until the end of time. Still, I will wait.”
They sat in silence for some time, though no sun recorded its passage. Anya found an anchor in Aeron’s silent grief. She clung to her friend’s pain with relief that it was not her own. As always, his presence calmed her much like her brother’s. Another person’s pain to cling on to. Another who lost his love. She felt the shame rise – her brøðurnir had experienced true loss. What right did she have to be mourning for a dead man who was not dead? Who did not love her back with a mere fraction of the sincerity that she loved him? When she had Anricwulf who loved her truly and sincerely?
“…but you should not ever have to try.”
She was trying too hard. She did not want to try any more.
Aeron spoke. “Anricwulf does not know what you have told me?”
Shaking her head, she whispered, “I have only learned these things just now. I do not know if I can tell him.”
The wind picked back up again as Aeron have her a hard look. “You need to tell him, Anya, and you know that. He deserves to know. Secrets separate. They are the only thing that can truly destroy the bonds of love. Fae learned that the hard way.” Seeing her distress, he reached over to take her hand. Unlike Morty’s, it warmed her cold fingers as he squeezed them gently. “You will do the right thing. Do not succumb to the shadow in your heart. It will pass.” He fell silent again as he gazed out over the lake, his blue eyes sparkling like the peaks of the tiny waves cutting across the water.
Anya dropped her gaze to their hands. She stared at her nails criss-crossed in paint. Her cuticles were stained various shades of green and blue. Earthen tones clung to her knuckles and she compared their smooth creases to Aeron’s. The strength in his hands belied their gentleness. He was a warrior and soldier, but still just a man.
A man who had been dead far longer than Morducai Mossfoot. Who loved truly and deeply and had experienced the loss of his life and the ideals he fought for. Fornost had been overrun. His people fell to the shadow, his wife among them. He died trying to save what he thought was good.
Even as the realizations began to sink in, she had to point out: “Aeron. You are dead, too.”
A rough laugh full of irony escaped him. He gave her hand a squeeze. “I am, yes. But I am not in your world, Anya. And I would not stay there if I was.”
The truth. The difference. Aeron would leave when this was all over. She would be left alone, and the despair would return, but his love would still be there. And life would go on.
Her eyes closed and another silence fell between them. She felt so tired; she leaned against his shoulder and felt his head incline to rest upon hers. It was so good to be able to feel his warmth. She felt the calm flowing through her and for the time, she was able to relax.
“You left your brother’s bell with the grave-digger,” Aeron said quietly as if loathe to break the peaceful silence. “And my necklace – I assume the necklace was destroyed?”
Anya nodded. “I moved to Ered Luin for a time. I threw it in the fires of the Dwarven forges to make sure you would remain at rest.”
She felt his head turn as he looked down at her.
“I did not feel the Bree-land forges would be hot enough.”
“Oh, Anya,” he said gently, “you always do have a flair for the dramatic.”
“It seemed fitting.”
Aeron chuckled but then became more sombre. “The bell. The necklace. You have nothing left to remind you of your brothers.”
She shrugged against him. “I do not regret leaving the bell with Morty.”
“Even though he won’t know its significance to you?”
“He doesn’t have to.”
“You should have something back for your gift.”
“I don’t ask for anything back.”
“But I will give you something nonetheless. Unfortunately, I am not in a position to retrieve it.”
Aeron raised his free hand. Sitting on his palm was a silver dragon with beryls in place of its eyes.
“Not at Fornost. Not even at Ost Guruth. My father died near Annúminas on the southern shores of Nenuial. Have you ever been to Evendim, Anyatka?”
“The old capital city of the Kingdom of Arnor?”
Aeron nodded. “My father was born and raised in the North Downs. The king himself gave this to my father for services against the Witch-king. My father carried it with him though it added weight to his pack. He was sentimental like that. When he met my mother in Rhudar, this sat on their mantle until I fifteen. Then, my father was called for one last duty and he packed it away and left for old capital in an attempt to recover the Palantír rumored to be left there. He never returned. His unit was overcome by wolf-men along the far banks of the lake. They had approached from west in hopes to avoid the tombs that lined the eastern approach.” He took an audible breath. “It is why I chose to serve the king at Fornost and why Faethril understood. I honored my father and the blood of the Arthedain.” After a pause, he added, “I always meant to go to Evendim to search the city and the west banks for the treasure and see what we once were. I’ve heard it is beautiful there.”
Anya waited as he released her hand and turned the dragon over, studying it.
“If you want it, it’s yours.” He took her hand and wrapped her fingers around it. “Take Anric and a company of adventurers and find yourself again.” A smile curled his lips. “I would love to see the work you produced sitting on the banks near Tinnundir.”
She clutched the dragon to her chest and nodded. “Do you believe I can handle a journey into the wilds of Evendim?”
Aeron smiled and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “I believe in you, Anya. Many people do, and those that do not should take the time to see it in you. Journeys make one strong. And home will always be waiting for you.”
She nodded and looked up at him. “You are going back now, aren’t you?”
He looked upon her with understanding. “I am. I am always with you, Anyatka. Do not forget the ones that love you.”
She closed her eyes and the breeze blew her hair all about her face. As it died down, she knew he was gone and she was back in her Staddle and Hal Kemp would be staring at her like she was crazy. Perhaps she was.
She looked over at him. He had not moved and she wondered how much time had passed here in Bree-land while she was with Aeron. Looking down, she saw the same caterpillar making its way across the dead branch.
With a sigh, she stood. She would tell Anric about Morty and hope that he would not take matters into his own hands. His abhorrence for the undead worried her; her feelings for Morty did, too. But she had to deal with both fears. She had to find the strength to stand on her own.
It would take time. Looking south toward where the Great East Road wound its way through the lands, she knew she would go to Evendim and retrieve the last remnants of Aeron left in the world. She would take Anric if he’d have her and perhaps find some new friends along the way. But she made the decision to wait until Esthyr’s wedding; she would not run away. She had more than one purpose in life if she’d accept them.
The dirt crumbled beneath her hand spade. It was such a little thing in her grasp, but it tossed the dirt from the hole well enough. She had chosen a spot well away from the house and around the back so that she did not have to look at the damn bush every time she came home with Anricwulf. In truth, she did not know why she accepted it again. She certainly did not have a green thumb, especially when she compared her little garden to what she saw in the Shire, but something in her drove her to plant.
The vegetables grew out of Anric’s practicality. If they were to grow a garden, they should be able to benefit from it by consuming the berries and beans and leaves of the plants. Never mind that he seemed to have wagon-loads of money from the jewels and precious metals he found so easily.
She agreed, of course. And there was a pleasant satisfaction from harvesting the evening meal herself. And the blossoms were pleasant enough to look at before they transformed into their foodstuff. Yet, the peas and strawberries and raspberries were not what she craved to see. They grew only as a substitute to what she really wanted.
The metal of the spade clanged sharply as it struck something in the dirt. Leaning over, Anya dug her fingers into the hole and pulled away the earth until the tip of a rock appeared. Frowning, she pulled it out with a grunt and flung it into the lake.
“Not in my hole, stupid rock,” she muttered as she set back to work widening the hole enough for the root ball of the bush lying next to her foot. The burgundy blooms were already beginning to wilt and though Morty reassured her roses were hardy plants and sent instructions, she still feared it might never bloom again.
A few minutes more of digging and the hole was satisfactory. She took a handful of soil to make a little hill at the bottom so the roots would have something to spread around. Cradling the rose bush carefully, she turned it about to examine which side to plant toward the front yard. Two blossoms remained on one side and she lowered the plant into the ground so that they faced the yard and the sun. Gently, she pushed the earth back into the hole and pressed it back into place around the roots of the Dalish Charm. She had a bucket of water prepared and she poured it around the rose bush carefully. Not too fast, not too slow.
“Well, little Charm,” she said as she watched the water sink into the ground, “here is your new home. I promise that this time, you will not have to move again.” From a basket usually used for picnics, she withdrew a handful of wood chips she got from the Combe lumber camp. A blanket of the chips to protect the bare soil and she was done.
As she stood up rubbing the dirt from her fingernails, she thought of the necklaces and jewels lying wrapped in paper in the bottom drawer of her armoire. Anya was happy. She really was. Beneath the jewels was a box of letters she kept because she could not bear to throw away someone’s thoughts so easily. Letters from Eruviel and Cwen and Esthyr. And Morty. And one from a man she only met once: Dorsett Lacewood. His letter was brief and intimate and touched on the truth of what had been causing her to pull away from all those around her in the recent days.
I do not know how you feel about Anric, Miss Anya, but you should not ever have to try. Not like that. Not if, ultimately, you will never be unhappy, but never be truly happy, either.
Dorsett’s words often rumbled around in her head. She was happy. Anric loved her and she loved him. They took care of one another. She was happier with him than if she were with someone who always stepped out on her. Right? Because that would make her incredibly unhappy. To be home alone while he-
She shook her head and looked out over the lake. A breeze rushed through the yard and whipped Anya’s hair around her face. She closed her eyes and raised her face to the sun as if she were a rose seeking the light of growth. At her feet, the leaves of the Dalish Charm rustled in the wind.
She could plant her roots here, with Anric, if she tried. She could grow to be content and life would find its meaning. Her family could find peace and start its process of regrowth.
“Now, don’t you worry, Anya. I’m sure your brother and Eruviel will arrive home well and whole. I doubt they will run into anything much worse than the scum that can be found wandering the streets of Bree nowadays.”
Cwen spoke crisply as she cut the skin from the rabbit. She had given Anya the coin and sent her down the street to the Hobbithole down the road. The young Hobbit gladly sold her the rabbit and thanked her kindly for her patronage and gave his regards to Miss Cwen. Since returning, Anya noted the quick, almost jerky movements of Cwen as she treated the rabbit for that evening’s stew. The woman’s brow seemed sterner than usual and her eyes had dark circles beneath them.
“I know it is no good worrying, Cwen. But I still do.”
Anya stood watching the older woman work for a moment. As Cwen began hacking the meat into sloppy chunks, she had to ask, “Cwen…is something the matter?”
With a loud thunk, Cwen sunk the cleaver into the thick cutting board covering the table. “Whatever makes you think there is something the matter, Anya?”
“You seem…upset about something. Is it okay that I am here? I do not wish to intrude. I just, well, I had to get away for a while.”
Her host laughed dryly. “Anyatka, dearie, you chose to live in Bree. The urge to flee should come often.” Cwen scooped up the pieces and dropped them into a frying pan to brown. “You are most welcome at any time. But where is your husband? I would have expected him to come with you.”
Trying to hide the blush with a curtain of hair, Anya sputtered, “Oh, he’s not, we’re not…I know it isn’t proper to live together before marriage, but under the circumstances we all thought…”
Smirking, Cwen waved a greasy hand at her. “Never you mind, Anya. Biramore is not my husband, either.”
Anya tried to hide the surprise. “He isn’t?”
“Oh, no, dear. I have been married once, to a foolish, selfish man. Biramore and I chose to love one another without the pretenses of ceremony.” Cwen poured some liquid into the pan and began adding fresh herbs. “It was a grand ceremony, though. Anidore wore a deep, lush burgundy robe and the bridesmaids a vibrant blue. I led a company of folk back then. The groomsmen all wore the uniforms of green and gold.” She paused and smiled slightly. “My dearest Aldoon officiated. One of the rare times he paused in his travels just long enough to do so. And Castius! Castius brought his tamed cat – one that would make your little Oli look like a house pet.” Chuckling, she stirred the mixture as it rose to a low boil.
“You do not appear like one to want a huge ceremony like that, Cwen. That surprises me.” Anya reached over the island between them and took up a paring knife and a large potato.
Cwen shrugged. “That was a long time ago. Neilia’s father. She’s nearly eight now. Though she acts like she’s thirty.” The thought of her daughter brought a smile to her lips.
“How does Biramore do with Neilia? I imagine well.”
The smile vanished as quickly as it came. “He did splendidly. Thought of her as his own, I’m certain.”
The falter in Cwen’s stirring would have been missed by most. Only because Anya was watching her friend so closely did she catch it.
“Biramore traveled a great deal protecting caravans. Merchants. Over six months ago, he left for Needlehole and never came back.”
Cwen’s voice was even. Calm. She moved about preparing the coney stew with practiced grace. She added the potatoes and set to chopping carrots.
Finally, Anya broke the silence. “He’s gone?”
“Well, yes. Dead, probably. Seeking revenge for his sister’s death. Or taken by goblins or orcs or bandits.”
“Are…are you okay?”
Cwen set down the knife and looked over at Anya. “Are you all right? Knowing your brother could be dead or on his way to death? Are any of us all right, Anya?”
Anya blinked and took a step back. “There was another man…” she blurted out under the pressure of Cwen’s cold response. “I remember seeing you with another man in Bree.”
“Zhevruil. His name was Zhevruil. He’s disappeared again, as well. I have a special knack for that Anya. Making men disappear. I have grown used to it.”
“He’s dead, too?”
“Possibly. Though Zhev is like a fox—hard to catch and hard to kill. More likely, he made a bad deal and had to vanish to avoid the consequences.”
Anya watched as Cwen finished dumping things into the pot. Her host wiped her hands on her apron and sighed. “Men are fickle, Anya. They always will be. They chase glory or adventure or gold. Occasionally they remember their woman back home. It helps when they have children with her. But even then—” she shrugged. “Well, look at Neilia’s father.”
“My Anric is faithful and true,” Anya insisted.
Cwen smirked as if she knew something Anya did not. “Thus far, yes. Anric seems like a nice lad from what you’ve told me. Would probably do right by you. But the passion fades, Anya. Love dies down to acceptance of each other’s company.”
“It goes away?”
She shook her head. “No. Not like that. But it doesn’t burn like it does in the beginning. People like that: the burn. The excitement. The rush.” She put her fist on her hip and looked at Anya intently. “Do you know what I mean?”
Blushing, Anya thought not of Anric, but of Morducai Mossfoot. Her cheeks did not flush around him simply because he had a tendency to be flirtatious and crass. The burn consumed her when she thought of him. The excitement declared itself in her voice whenever she greeted him. The rush made her head swim whenever he leaned in close. She forced her thoughts to her lover, to Anric. There was warmth there. Affection. And love. She did love Anric and she knew that he loved her, too. But there was no burn.
“Burns hurt, though,” she whispered. “And eventually, they cool.”
Cwen leaned over the pot and took a deep breath of the rising aroma. “They do. On both accounts. Which is why people settle…or wander. But they always look for that feeling, just to make sure they are still alive.”
Anya turned to look out the window overlooking the front lawn. Cwen’s house was not built Hobbit-style beneath the ground, but it bore the roundness of traditional Hobbit homes. Even in the front lawn, Cwen had planted crops and herbs among her flowering garden. She thought of the little plot of land she and Anric were trying to turn into a vegetable garden. Without her bidding, her thoughts shifted to the Dalish Charm removed because of her negligence.
“Why don’t people just accept that, then? If folk always do it. Always look for something else.”
Behind her, Cwen shrugged. “Tradition. Family. It is easier to raise a family when you know the spouse will be there.”
“Not everyone falls for tradition, though. You, for instance. And there are others I know.”
“Mhmm. Indeed there are. Anidore, for instance, went back to his womanizing ways after we split apparently. I would say I was hurt and surprised, but really, just hurt.” She lets out a self-depreciating laugh. “And not really even hurt. I just felt foolish.”
Anya nodded and asked very cautiously,“Do you ever wonder what it would have been like to just…let him?”
Cwen turned to look at her. “Let him…sleep around? Oh, heavens, no. I don’t think that ever crossed my mind. At least not then.”
“But what about now?”
The older woman ran her fingers along her hairline brushing back any flyaways that escaped from the loose bun on the crown of her head. “I think that now, I wouldn’t mind it so much. It would be difficult to see the one I love with someone else at first, but if I knew that in the end, their heart belonged to me, I think I would be more open to it.”
“If you loved them and they loved you.”
“Maybe. Though I am not sure I could actually do it when it comes down to it. See my love with another.” Cwen smiled kindly and reached over to pat her hand. “I am jealous like that, I suppose.”
Anya nodded. “I think most people are.”
“Jealous and perhaps selfish. In the end, people don’t want the pain that comes with the burn.” She laughed. “After all, only crazy people hurt themselves on purpose, right?”
This is to nowhere, because I do not know if it will ever find you on your journey. I guess I could have written to Eirikr, but he’s so sullen and all too worried about Ninim to pay much mind to something as small as a rosebush. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Anric’s home is actually under the mountain. Luckily there is an opening above it so that I can still see the sky. I think that I would go mad there otherwise, being so cut off from the rest of the world. He loves it, though; he always jokes that he’s either half-Dwarf or half-goat. He seems perfectly at ease beneath the mountains in the vast caverns with their twists and turns. I still get lost going from his home, just off the square, to the gates of the neighborhood. He keeps encouraging me and telling me that I’ll find my way. He reminds me so much of Morty the way he nurtures me. He believes in me in a way no one else has, except maybe you.
Speaking of Morty, I wrote him before we left to inform him of my absence (not that he cares) and to inquire about the rosebush (he took it back). When I first saw his reply, I admit that it crushed something delicate inside my heart. I never imagined he would take the bush back! I’m certain he just does not wish it to die, but I was coming back. I was going to take care of it.
I just wanted to know how often I needed to come back and tend it – it was my excuse to come back and tend it. Eruviel, I do not know how to read him now; he wrote as if I was going into the Dark Lord’s realm never to return. Anricwulf is being very understanding about all of it. He promised we could get a hearty bush to plant outside his home, but no matter what we get, it won’t be the Dalish Charm. It won’t be Morty’s own creation. I feel like I’ve betrayed him somehow: he left one of his children with me and I neglected it. But I am being foolish – it’s just a flower, right? It isn’t as if I was out shopping with Esthyr and lost track of the girl.
I wish you were here. I wish Eirikr was here and that this whole mess was behind us and everyone was safe from harm. Things here feel like they should be that way: trouble-free and happy. Anric is traveling a bit less, but we find things with which to occupy ourselves within Durin’s Hall. There’s always a bustle and the fires always burn. Snow fell yesterday – so much for spring! It was just a light dusting, though I could only imagine what it would have looked like on the burgundy petals of those rosebuds. Would a chill like that kill them? Can such a delicate thing survive the cold stone of the mountains?
Dwarves aren’t as interested in drawing and painting as Elves and Men. They prefer statues made of their heavy stones and metals. I’m just trying to fit in, really. You would think it wasn’t all that hard since the trade between Erebor and Dale had strong ties. Yet, I never really saw that part of things. I never dealt with not knowing what someone was saying as they laughed and stared at me. I never found myself a minority among a strange people with foreign customs. I always faced the selected Dwarves my father brought home to banquet. They were on Man’s turf, just as they were in Bree.
Now I am on their turf. And of all that I might have learned in my homeland, my little Dalish charm isn’t getting me very far.
I hope this letter finds you well. I have been concerned as I have not seen you lately, but I have also been traveling in the local lands quite a bit recently, so that is my fault as much as anything.
How are you?
I am well considering. Eirikr and Eruviel are going to be leaving for Dale any day now. Because I do not look forward to months of being alone and some things have been going on in Bree that makes Eruviel nervous, I will be moving to Ered Luin for some time. Anricwulf has offered his spare room to me, and even though it might not be the most proper thing to do, I have agreed. I am sure we will be visiting Bree frequently, but I am saddened at the thought of leaving the town. It has been my first real home and I love it.
The main reason I write is to inquire about the rose bush you gave me. I cannot imagine that another transplant would be good for it, so I am not taking it with me. However, I do not want it to die. How often should we come back to tend it? Should I get a neighbor to look in on it? I know you gave me those books, but I’ve not taken the time to read them yet. And besides, I wanted to write you.
How’s the wedding planning going? If Esthyr ever wants a woman’s assistance, let her know bargaining is in my blood.
So you are here now. That makes this awkward. That I write to you and you are just a short walk away in your room at the Pony. That I write to you letters that you will probably never see!
I know you do not wish to stay here, Eiri, and that you long for your wife back in Esgaroth. And I know that you will not leave the Bree-lands without me. You truly believe that Father will send someone for me, but I don’t think so, Eiri! What purpose would such a waste of manpower serve our father? He sent you, yes. The expendable son that already refused to follow in his footsteps. Do you ever wonder if he even expects to see you again?
Eiri, I think you should stay. I think you should stay here with me and make a life in Bree. We could send for Ninim and Abbi and life could continue as if it were never interrupted! You could fish and hunt; I could work on my sketches and learn how to paint. Abbi could find something here, Eiri. People read books and write stories and there is no standard for decorum other than what we set for ourselves. Father could no longer send men to drag you out of your own home. His lash does not reach this far.
Think about it, Eiri. I beg you to think about it. You are stubborn, but I am stubborn, too! And I know you will not force me to do something I do
A loud knock on the door startled Anya and a single drop of berry red ink dropped to the parchment of her journal. She dabbed at the blotch with her fingers as she returned the quill to the jar. The knock came again, loud and insistent. In her haste, she nearly tripped over a boot left by the entryway and fell into the door.
“Who is there?”
“Anya, it is me.”
Trying to hide a frown, Anya let Eirikr into the house. He wore his hunting leathers with his bow slung over his back. His normally stern face held a level of curiosity as he looked around the Bree-land home full of Elvish decor. Without waiting for an invitation, he crossed to the table to look at an unfurled map of the North Downs. His eyes perused the towns and his finger traced the outline of the mountains bordering the land. “This is detailed. Did you draw this?”
Shaking her head, she said, “No. It is one of Eruviel’s. I do not know where she got it.”
Nodding slowly, he smiled up at her briefly. His eyes shifted to the open journal she had been writing in and her heart dropped. Let him pass over, she prayed, but his gaze did not waver. He reached out to pick it up and started to read.
“That is private,” she said softly, more nerves in her voice than anger.
“It is addressed to your dearest brother. Is this for Abbi, then?” Without waiting for an answer, Eirikr continued to read. His brow creased as his eyes traveled across the page and when he came to the end, he flipped it. Finding the next blank, he started turning them back until he was at the beginning. Anya held her breath as he slowly turned each page.
His mouth moved agonizingly slowly as he read: “A loud noise and then some pictures in my head. Then Morty was there. I was in my room in Bree and the sun was rising…” and “Perhaps it is a good thing that Aeron comes out to face him…” He set his mouth in a hard line and continued to stare at the last page for several moments. Anya waited for it to come, her eyes downcast and her heart racing.
“You-you seemed to have more feelings for this Mossfoot fellow than you let on, little sister,” he said finally in a voice so low it could barely be heard over the fire. “And he merely toys with you?”
She shook her head.
“But it seems this is the truth.” He turned back and reread the last lines of that entry that never should have been seen. “You choose very strong words, little sister. Words that are indeed unfitting of a Tenorbekk.”
Anya continued to stand in silence. She felt answers hanging on the air unformed between them and she did not want to grab the wrong ones.
Eirikr continued: “I am not sure what to think of this. He seems like a decent fellow, from what I’ve seen. He did not show any inappropriate behavior toward you, and he seemed genuinely pleased to meet me. He-” He looked down at the page again and flipped back. “He stayed with you? The only one after your injury. He seems to want to protect you. I can even see his refusal to take advantage of you as just that: he is protecting you, sister, from the gossips and the rumours that can ruin one’s life worse than you can imagine.
“But to have you feel this way when the Man can never return your affections – I do not like it, Anyatka. It is not healthy.”
Anya still did not speak. Her eyes fell to the tabletop.
“Why do you smile?”
“Because things have progressed, brother. I am learning. Loving without wanting. And,” she blushed, “though he will always have a place in my heart and who knows what the future will bring, I think I am starting to move on.” Her finger traced a pattern on the surface of the table. “You interrupted the last entry. It was very inconsiderate of you to do so.” She looked up with the small smile curving the corners of her mouth. “If I had finished, I would have written of a man named Canderas and how he makes me smile.”
Eirikr stood up straighter at that. His eyes, so alike Anya’s in shape and color, showed an alertness that accompanies good news tinged with a shadowy uneasiness. “Canderas? Have I met this man?”
Biting her lip, Anya looked up and searched her memory. “I do not think so. He had been away for quite some time on the warfronts to the north.”
Sighing, Eirikr regarded her for a minute with an unreadable expression.
“I will introduce you as soon as I can, I promise.”
Nodding, Eirikr’s looked down at the journal in his broad hands. He gingerly placed it back on the table and turned to face her fully. She could tell his mind was at work, perhaps running through the many faces that pass through the Prancing Pony each evening. A small ‘v’ formed between his brows and she laughed.
“Eirikr, it is not so bad,” she reassured him as she moved to take his arm. “Would you rather me in tears bemoaning the evils of men? Eruviel found it so upsetting after a time.”
His brow raised speculatively. “Perhaps. That would mean that I would not have to worry about you when you were alone. Or, not alone,” he added with a smirk.
She patted him on the arm, her head tilted in sympathy. “Brother, I am not a little girl anymore. You can stop watching over me; I will be fine.”
He grunted and pulled her to him in an embrace. “Never, little whelp. I will always look after you, though I must admit you need it less and less. Which brings me to why I came.” He cleared his throat softly. “I have sent a letter to Ninim explaining that I have found you but I will be longer than anticipated. I tried to make it rather vague, but she will understand.”
Anya looked up at him with searching eyes.
“I will give you time, little Anyatka, to prove that you can hold your own here. And I need to see that you are well.” He cleared his throat. “After speaking with some of your friends, I realize you have a journey to go on before any decision is made. I would be here for that journey. And perhaps take it with you.”
Her eyes lit up and she hugged him tightly. “Eirikr, I love you so much. I could not risk you injured or worse. I would never forgive myself.”
“And neither would I, were you the one to fall into peril and I nowhere to be found. Anya, you have my bow to protect you. One more will only increase the odds of survival.”
“We shall discuss it, brother.”
He nodded as he looked down into her stormy grey eyes.