The fist connected firmly with his jaw; he could feel his bottom teeth loosening from the impact and liquid metal filled his mouth. Anger seethed into the warmth of the hit and flowed through his blood to his clenched fists. Wildly, he swung at his assailant who merely laughed as the blow swung wide of its mark.
Another set of knuckles winded him as it met his stomach, quick and sure. He tottered backward and fell over an extended leg, the stonework of the lane connecting solidly with the back of his skull. Bright lights obscured his field of vision and the boot broke two of his ribs undeterred.
“Thought we’d play a little ratcatcher tonight, Tenorbekk,” Mikah said from somewhere above him. “You fell nicely into our little trap.”
“C’mon, he’s not getting up any time soon,” another voice, familiar but faint through the ringing of his ears. “Watch’ll be ’round soon. We had better scram!”
“Don’t come back to the room,” Mikah warned lowly as Eirikr tried in vain to turn onto his side. The blood in his throat made it difficult to breathe and he coughed and gagged. “Don’t come back the the Academy, Tenorbekk. Your kind is never welcome, but rats are to be stamped out for good. Mark me. Brother.”
Footsteps retreated and he was left in the dark still choking on his own blood. Stabbing pain shot through his torso as he finally managed to roll onto his side and then his stomach. He drooled spittle and iron from his gasping mouth, but he did not care when every breath felt like fire.
For a long time, he lay there still and struggling to breathe. At the far end of the lane, he could hear people passing on the brighter wider street, but the beams of the streetlamps did not reach his broken form. To keep his mind off the pain, he counted his breaths until it passed enough to move. Slowly, he sat up.
He touched his broken lip and clutched at his broken rib cage and wondered what in the world he was going to do. He could not go to his father’s. He was supposed to be at the school where he had spent the last two years learning how to fit in with the “noble classes” of Dale. Yes, he thought, Mikah was certainly noble. Royal, even. A royal pain in the ass, and now his roommate’s mischief had landed Eirikr without a bed for the night.
Nin, he thought as his feet automatically turned to trudge down the lane away from the square, away from the bustle of taverns and inns awaiting at the far end of the lane. Nin would let him in through her window and she would let him pass out on her floor. She might even bring him a pan of water to wash the blood out of his mouth.
The trek was not long, but his battered body made it feel as though he was marching all the way to the other side of the Mirkwood in one go. He used his shirt, torn blue material of the finest quality, to wipe his mouth and chin. He awkwardly climbed the yard fence–landing on his back and nearly crying as he tried to regain his senses–and then stumbled to her window to tap tap tap on the pane of glass.
She let him in quickly, gasping and groping at his arms and hands to see the damage done. She brought him the pan of water and bandages to wrap his breaks in and a bit of her mother’s tonic for pain made from the special Eastern powder of something that had been dried before ground to fine dust.
She did not let him collapse onto the floor, but instead fetched her father’s spare nightshirt (sneaking quietly into her parents’ room while her mother dozed by the fire waiting for her father to come home from the tavern). She helped him out of his torn clothes, bathed him with cheeks bright pink in the moonlight, and then eased the cool cotton garment over his aching body.
As the fabric whispered over the bruising plane of his chest, her knuckles brushed against his tan skin; her breath caught. Her blonde hair fluttered in the cool breeze from the window left open after his abrupt arrival. She looked up at him and their lips were touching before he could formulate a thought more than Maia, the old Elvish word for those spirits that helped shape all beginnings, and then Arien, the one they said guided the sun across the sky.
Her warmth surrounded him; he could feel the life returning to him. She was his guiding light in the dark.
Nine Years Later
Eirikr sat up, sweating and gasping. He looked around quickly to gain his bearings and he rubbed his face with both hands as he realized where he was.
The cabin was cavernous; suitable for a family of Beornings. The children slept in their beds and Garric and Avina were closed behind their bedroom door. In his cradle, Eboric slept soundly.
Eruviel was not in the room; Eirikr figured she was sleeping outside in a tree somewhere and for the moment, he was glad her Elfy ways called for her to sleep beneath the stars. He did not like for her to see her this way. He did not want her to see him panicked, confused, and weak.
Silently, he threw off the blanket and went over to the cradle. He gazed down at the boy and marveled at how much he looked just like her in so many ways. The boy’s hair was lightening as he aged. He didn’t dare to hope.
He ran a hand through his hair and stroked the bristles on his chin. He had struggled with the decision all day and he knew that if he did not follow through, he would regret it. Silently, he slipped out of the house and sought the old oak tree by the light of the moon.
He felt it before he saw it. Something in him chilled, but before he could adjust to the internal shift, a gate burst and a rush of hot, raw emotion flooded him. He willed his feet forward until it was clear in the night: her grave.
He went up to it and knelt beside it. Eruviel had clearly been there earlier, though he could not tell when. The plot was cleared and the headmarker clearly taken care of by a diligent and careful hand. Guilt washed over him. Eruviel. Even in this moment, Eruviel selflessly cared for them all.
The stars moved across their quiet routes as he knelt beside the grave without moving. Head bowed, he allowed himself to miss her for the first time in months, ages. Yet he knew that was a lie. He knew that every day, he mourned for golden hair and the smell of peppermint.
“Nin,” he finally croaked softly. “My Sun. I am sorry.”
He touched the letters of her name as the tears blurred his vision.
“I failed you. I never should have left you.”
Salty pools formed at the corners of his mouth as his tears caught in his beard. He wiped them away roughly.
“I should have returned sooner, I should have told my father no. I was selfish and because I pushed you so hard…”
The words jammed in his throat and he could say no more. His grief stooped him until his forehead pressed against the grass covering the mound that was the blanket for her bones. He wanted to join them. He had always thought they would turn to dust together and share the same bed for eternity.
Maybe they still would some day.
But not today.
He sat up, wiping his eyes, and took several steadying breaths. He looked up at the stars and the moon. He exhaled quickly.
“I hope that taking him to Bree is the right thing to do,” he said to her softly as he pushed himself to his feet. “I do not know what the future holds, Nin, but I will not let you down again. I am here now.”
The trees bowed in the breeze. Insects sang in the bushes. He settled down against the trunk of the old oak tree and began to tell her what had transpired in the past year and a half. He spoke as if she sat beside him, snug beneath his arm and they were spending the night out camping beneath the stars. He paused occasionally, waiting for her response, and then continued on as if he heard her sweet laughter encouraging him to continue.
Eventually, the past caught up with the present and he ran out of things to say. He sat in silence for a quarter of an hour and then as if a bell rang signaling the hour, he stood and brushed off the seat of his pants.
“We’ll be back,” he assured the green mound of earth at his feet. “I’ll make sure he knows who his mother is. Don’t worry about that, Ninim Sun. Don’t worry about that.”
The moon was sinking when Eirikr returned to his bedroll. He rested on his back and stared at the ceiling for some time before he rose and picked up the mass of blankets. He resituated them next to the cradle where his wife’s son slept peacefully and reached over the edge to rest his large hand on the babe’s chest. Eboric sighed in his sleep, turned his round little head toward Eirikr, and settled back to into slumber.
Only then did Eirikr rest his head and drift off into a dreamless sleep.
Life flickered throughout the small hamlet of Durrow-upon-Dunwash. In the middle of the settlement, high on the hill, the Fallow-flame filled the sky with its light. Sparks flew high in the air and the smoke burned white as those that attended the flame added fuel gathered with careful hands.
In the forest tiny glowing spiders scurried on through their lives. In the windows of the houses, candles burned like elusive wishes in hearts and eyes alike.
Thorns born of love and attentive care. Her blood stained the sharpest prick and she was careful as she threw the clipping from the rose bush into the flames.
Spirits around us, watching over: protect my family and friends. And let Morty know we are all right. He would not let it show around me, but he will worry.
Stepping back, she smiled at her little family and tried not to feel the hollowness of her contentment.
Questions born of strength and knowledge. He was getting better at using his sister’s paints to create the rash; the dogs lay wrapped around each other as they slumbered against his leg.
I wish to know my past. Please, just tell me who I am. Help me find out who I am.
He toyed the with black claw hanging from the cord around his neck and listened to the wind in the trees.
Bright eyes born from youth and burning firelight. Her dreams and wishes rose on the smoke rising above the roofs of the hamlet.
Please make Mister Commander Arrow’art be nice to my mama and make her be nice to him, too! I really, really want him to by my daddy, please, please, pretty pretty please!
She smiled at her make-shift family and tried not to feel the empty spot inside her.
Hesitation and doubt born from hours of self-council. The feather had found its way into his pocket without him realizing he picked it up, a habit formed from years of hand-crafting fishing lures and scouting the wilds for suitable hackles and tails.
Let her be at peace. Let her hear my voice and let her know that I will fix my mistakes.
As he stepped back from the flames, his eyes fell on his sister and the Elf and he felt a pull in his chest that he could not identify.
Guilt and self-loathing born from her own heart. The hair curled and twisted in her grasp before she released it into the flames.
Guide him home safe and sound. Let it not be him; let him save us from this trap.
I would gladly give my life if it meant saving the rest of Durrow. If it meant letting him know I am sorry that I failed him.
I am sorry that I failed you.
Please, don’t put out the lights.
I am home, am I not? This looks like home. Only Erebor can cast such deep shadows. They swallow our gardens and kill many flowers. They wither and simply fade away.
There. The shadows are creeping up the grass to touch the bright flowers I tried to grow. Papa said it was useless. I am worthless as a gardener; everything I plant only dies. I try to hard to bring them back to life. I want them to grow, to bring butterflies and busy bees.
Eiri says to just plant them in the sun. But Mama says I cannot plant there. That corner is reserved for the gardener and the patio and the guests that wish to feel the magnificence of the Lonely Mountain without feeling so small.
Oh, look! It withers. The petals shrink and the leaves curl and no amount of love will ever bring them back.
I reach for the last bloom: a beautiful burgundy rose that somehow managed to open. The shadow nears. The outer petals start to close and I break the stem quickly in an attempt to sever it from the poison. The thorns draw blood. It drips too quickly and begins to paint the bare dirt beneath my feet. Shadows start to rise from the droplets of blood and as I back away I see the blurred shapes of Men and Dwarves and Elves.
They have come for me.
Eirikr rubbed a calloused hand through his beard. The nightmare came again. Ninim lying there, the naked, crying child still connected by the cord running from its belly into her. So much blood.
Like in so many of his dreams, suddenly he could not move. He could only watch as the blood rose up around her even as she began to sink. Her features twisted in pain and she called out to him, only no sound reached him from her. He heard only the baby’s crying.
Slowly, the pool climbed up her cheeks and he could feel the tears slide down his own. As the crimson filled her mouth and nose, the infant started wailing.
Do you hear me, Eirikr?
The beast bears our wretched whelp to the woods.
The book. Those words from the book were spoken in his head and the mingled with the screaming. He wanted to run, but still his arms and legs did not respond to his desire.
It was not this nightmare where he read the book. Why couldn’t anyone else see the text written in the book? He remembered it now: the book. Blood. He did not know what it meant and the details wouldn’t find their places in his mind.
A dream within a dream.
He stared at the child as the pool began to drag it forward by its cord. The terror in the child’s newborn face could not be disguised by the wrinkles and crust of birth.
He had to save it.
A faint feeling of foreboding stirs the sleep of a half-bred hussy
Beauty of splendor and secretive lies set a stage for the fine-bred and fussy.
She doesn’t fit in and she’ll never quite win
As her dreams fill with damaging mist
A sense of ‘gone wrong’ and a sad howling song
Keep her guilty whenever she’s kissed
Far, far away in a land made of death she dreams of a different touch
One that’s now gone and safe from her harm and thinks he won’t be missed much
But her dreams tell a tale and the winds blow a gale
And the warmth that she feels turns so cold
And when love turns to hate, it will open the gate
For the nightmares to come out of old.
“I’m truly sorry to hear such news,” Eirikr said pensively to Hilton Wheatley as he set the coin down on the counter in front of the man. “I’ve never met Fletcher, but I’ve heard good things about him. He’s Oendir’s second in command of the Wayfarers’, isn’t he?”
Wheatley nodded and wrapped Eirikr’s purchase in heavy brown paper. “Aye. Good fellow. And the missus was a good lady. Smart and kind, she was.” The young man sighed. “The whole thing’s just tragic. ‘Cept, of course, the baby.”
Eirikr agreed, bade Wheatley a good day, and grabbed his package from the counter. He tucked his chin as the winter breeze hit his weathered cheeks and took long strides down the lane from Whitethorn & Wheatley’s. In front of the younger proprietor of the shop, he refused to let his appropriately solemn expression crack beneath the crushing emotion that hit him as soon as Wheatley said “wife died.”
Few people knew him well enough to know that back in Dale, he had been married to the most beautiful woman in all of Arda. That the moment he had met her selling bread at her father’s cart in the market, he had fallen for her and never wished to get back up. Even his brother and sister couldn’t understand why the smell of peppermint made him smile and a daisy could bring him to tears.
The brutal winter wind whipped his cloak about his calves, but Eirikr hardly felt it as he pressed on toward home. He didn’t want to think about her, not now, not ever, because it just hurt too much to think how he failed her not only with her death, but also by her child.
But how could he have cared for the infant in the wilds? In the mines of Moria, or even back in Bree without its mother there?
Sometimes, in the forest, he could hear him crying.
The letter that Eruviel had tried to give him at Yule had said the family had named him Eboric.
Crushing bands of steel around his lungs prevented him from taking a breath.
He did not want the child to have a name. He did not want to see how big his hand had grown or that his hair and eyes had not yet settled into their permanent colours. He did not want to know how strong or smart or funny he was and he definitely did not want to think of him halfway across the lands without him or his mother.
At the gate to the Tenorbekk cabin, Eirikr paused. Beneath his heavy mantle, the hairs on the back of his neck stood up and he felt the heavy gaze from across the road settle on him. Turning slowly, he found the glittering eyes in the trees.
The wolf pushed his head forward enough to confirm Eirikr’s statement and withdrew into the shadows.
Eirikr hesitated only a moment before he crossed the road and plunged into the trees that bordered the land opposite his. A flash of a tail and a trail of fresh paw prints in the snow led him away from the warm fire of home and deeper into the woods. Clutching the package to his chest, he ducked branches and heaps of falling snow until he came into a clearing lined with pines.
Grey sat on his haunches waiting for him. As Eirikr approached, he simply stared up at him with his large, understanding eyes. They followed the man as he knelt in the snow and held his gaze.
“How are you, boy?” Eirikr said. He was surprised at the sound of his voice: hoarse and strained. He raised a hand to touch his cheek and among the cold streaks where snow had melted into watery streams, warm streaks mingled lukewarm on his skin. He didn’t remember letting them come, but they were always there waiting for him to finally face them.
He didn’t wipe the tears away and pressed his face against Grey’s. The wolf nudged him patiently to let him know he was listening.
“What am I doing, boy? He’s out there without family. How can I just ignore him? How can I do that to Nin?”
The wolf did not reply with anything more than a serene gaze.
“I can’t just forget him. Eboric. I can’t forget Eboric. But I miss her so much and it just hurts to even… What do I do?”
Grey pointed his black nose at the sky and let out a long, mournful howl. Then he nudged Eirikr’s arms where he held the package.
Looking down, Eirikr wiped his face with his glove and held up the package. “Just some trail rations,” he explained. “What, you want some?” He began to unwrap the package, but Grey gently pawed at his arm. The great wolf butted his head against the man and nearly pushed him over into the snow.
“Grey! Ho, there!” Eirikr threw back a hand and caught himself. “What’s gotten into you?”
Grey continued to shove Eirikr until he was knocked to his side and then leaped on him when he turned to his back. His heavy paws pressed into Eirikr’s chest as he stared down into the man’s eyes. Once he caught Eirikr’s gaze, he continued to stare, getting closer and closer, until Eirikr finally looked away.
“Fine! Fine, yes. I will write the family. But she’s gone and I don’t know when she’ll be back. She has the letter.”
Satisfied, Grey stepped from Eirikr’s stomach, being careful to launch from his tensed abdomen. The wind was forced from Eirikr’s lungs and he doubled over, glaring at the animal. But as the weight of the wolf lifted from his chest, Eirikr’s mind seemed to clear. Turning onto his side clutching his stomach, with the chill of the snow biting into his cheek, he let out a sigh.
He would write to the family that took in Ninim’s son. His son. He would promise to take care of him now that she’s gone.
Life should be a musical. Or at least that is what I say. Music is that universal language that allows people to express themselves in a way that transcends the things that separate us. Or something else equally cliche and profound.
Eirikr was never really meant to become such a rounded character. I have Eruviel to thank for his development; the Dale plot was initially meant to be a side story for me to blog while focusing on other things in-game. Luckily, it grew, as RP often is wont to do.
As a character, his soundtrack has always existed. Songs like Ludo’s Anything for You easily found their way onto his playlist to define his love for his wife. Since Dale finished, however, Eirikr has changed. Grown some and died some. The following songs are added to the playlist of his life. Enjoy.
The Price of Freedom by Takeharu Ishimoto (cover by “ViolnTay”lor Davis and ArnoMusicTV)
I love Taylor Davis, and this cover is one of my favorite renditions of The Price of Freedom. I will admit, the first time I ever played Crisis Core, I couldn’t even play the end because I was crying so hard. And the next time. And the time after that. Final Fantasy VII introduced me to RPGs, Japan, and video games. As much as some people have problems with it ‘as a game,’ I will always love it for the story (as messed up as some people might think it is).
Cloud carried a burden. The sacrifice of another for his own freedom, the need to prove himself from childhood, and the loss he felt when he couldn’t save Aerith. So much fail.
As I was writing Eirikr, I did not even realize how much Cloud was influencing him, especially Advent Children Cloud. “I’m not fit to help anyone – not my family, not my friends. Nobody.” Eirikr presently suffers from these feelings of guilt and loss and they weigh upon him greatly. The introduction of the wolf probably came directly from the lone wolf of AC – I just didn’t realize it at the time. It first manifested when Eirikr was in Thorenhad debating on how to deal with his father – and thus which path to take: light or dark. And it showed itself again after he returned to Bree without his wife who died in childbirth.
The haunting violin, the strong electric guitar chords. The price of his freedom and the freedom of his siblings. You’re gonna carry that weight…
Zero’s Theme from Vampire Knight
Maybe this says something about me. Undead. Underdog. Painstakingly protecting those he loves despite his desperate desire to protect those he loves from himself. Ah, Kiryuu.
But what does it say about Eirikr?
Simple, haunted, searching. Alone by choice. Loved against will. Hope.
The Mountains Win Again by Blues Traveller
I pick up my smile put it in my pocket
Hold it for a while, try not to have to drop it
Men are not to cry so how am I to stop it
Keep it all inside don’t show how much she rocked ya
Ooh can you feel the same
Ooh you gotta love the pain
Ooh it looks like rain again
Ooh I feel it comin’ in
The mountains win again
The mountains win again
Dreams we dreamed at night were never meant to come to life
I can’t understand the ease she pulled away her hand
This time in my life I was hurt enough to care
I guess from now on I’ll be careful what I share
Ooh can you feel the same
Ooh ya gotta love the pain
Ooh it looks like rain again
Yeah feel it comin’ in
The mountains win again
A pocket is no place for a smile anyway
Someday I will find love again will blow my mind
Maybe it will be that love that got away from me
Is there a line to write that could make you cry tonight
Can you feel the same
Yeah ya gotta love the pain
Ooh it looks like rain again
Ooh feel it comin’ in
The mountains win again
Ooh the mountains win again
The miles that passed underfoot were but numb echoes in Eruviel’s limbs. She could still feel Ninim’s blood on her hands with every arrow she loosed, and see the life fade from the young woman’s eyes whenever her own closed.
It had gone all wrong. Try as they had, Ninim had perished as Eruviel cradled the screaming newborn against her chest. In the moments before Abiorn had taken his little nephew from her she had stared down in horror at the beautiful child, fearful that he might die as well.
Never, she had thought, never will I have children. She would not . . . could not. Not now.
Every night when they made camp her eyes would follow Eirikr as he’d take his leave to stand watch. The memory of his harrowing cry kept her from sleeping when he was gone, and she stood more alert when he would…
They crept out of Esgaroth beneath a new moon. Only the stars lit the way as they traveled north through the Lonely Mountain where a Dwarf Eirikr knew from childhood housed them for two nights. Then down to the borders of the realm of the Wood-elves where Eruviel’s pointy ears helped convince the scouts to let them pass unharmed. The paths through the Mirkwood were slow and tedious. Several times, they almost abandoned the wagon, but it made traveling so much easier on both Abiorn and Ninim. They backtracked. They waited while Eirikr or Eruviel scouted. They made their way through the shadows and fog with a constant vigilance. If their heightened state wasn’t for the spiders and the wargs, then the knowledge that Kolrson Tenorbekk still lived plagued them all.
Eirikr kept a close eye on Abiorn. The boy joked about his lack of handiness – figuratively and literally – when it came to life on the road. His hands found wielding anything larger than a small knife difficult and his crooked legs kept him from ever being graceful. One night, he spilled their entire supper onto the leaves when his grip weakened his hold on the cast iron pan. The boy nearly cried as he scooped up the bits of potato and carrots with his bent fingers. It took both Eruviel and Ninim to calm him with reassurances and shoulder pats and hugs. He then got angry and did his best impression of stomping away to brood at the edge of their makeshift camp. Eirikr took him some food they salvaged and sat next to him in silence as they ate.
Ninim seemed to be holding her own. She rode in the wagon when she grew tired and walked when she would. Soon, though, her ankles started to swell and she became tired much more quickly. She began to rapidly consume their water supply and Eirikr had to push them a little harder to make up the time they had planned to travel. Still, she smiled as they forged their way through the dark wood, never complaining, never stumbling on their path.
Until one day, as they were finally reaching the end of the darkness, she did.
All at once, her legs seemed to give out beneath her and she fell on hand and knee, panting. Her face twisted into a grimace of pain as Eirikr rushed to kneel beside her.
Quickly, Eruviel and Abbi threw up a camp and Eirikr carried his wife to the bed they made. Abbi fumbled with the flint and tinder as Eruviel rushed to examine Ninim to her best ability. Ninim looked up at them with fear and determination. It was time.
The labor was long. Eirikr and Abbi stood as tense sentinels as Eruviel played midwife as best she could. When it lasted past eight hours, Eirikr took her place beside his wife so she could rest, though she went to take his place as guard instead. After twelve hours, Eruviel came back to them and checked on her progress. The Elf shook her head before she could stop herself. Eirikr’s heart stopped in his chest. He felt a terror and it stole his powers of speech.
Fifteen hours. Eighteen.
At the twentieth hour, a long, tortured scream rent the near silence of the Mirkwood followed by the cry of a baby. The sound of sobbing bounced off the trees and died before it could travel far. A man’s cries overpowered the baby’s and lasted throughout the night.
* * *
“Eirikr, I am so sorry, gwador. If only I-”
“Eruviel, stop now. It is not your fault.”
“But if only-”
“Eirik, what about the baby?”
“I do not know. I do not know anything, brother. I do not know.”
“There are ways to sustain a child without its mother’s milk. I have heard of it before. Once we are out of this cursed forest, we can hunt and boil broth for him.”
“We cannot take a baby through Moria, can we? Eruviel, tell him we can’t take him into Moria. He won’t survive!”
“Abiorn, please. One thing at a time.”
“Well, tell him!”
“You want him to die, don’t you? Because it might be his. But he might be yours, too, Eirik! And even if he isn’t, how could you just let him die?”
“Shut your mouth, Abiorn! I do not know!”
“Wait. Silence, both of you. Do you hear it?”
“There, again. In the trees to the north. Someone’s coming.”
“Silence! Quick, behind me!”
* * *
The bear emerged from the shadows to stare at the three travelers. His deep brown eyes traveled to the babe swaddled in the arms of the youngest and then to the still form of what had to be its mother. He sniffed the air. Familiar scents were scattered by blood and tears and pain. But there was life, there, too. And hope, but it was quickly fading. He sniffed again and lumbered forward, his large head lowered docilely as his eyes took in the rest of the rough camp.
The man tensed. He raised his hand toward his back but when he found nothing there, he looked around sharply. His eyes landed on the bow just as the bear reached it. Instead of passing over it or destroying it with its powerful jaws, the bear nudged it with its nose. The man gaped as he nudged it again. Go on, take it, he almost said. I won’t hurt you.
The man approached slowly and picked up the bow. The bear tilted its massive head and regarded him with curiosity. Then it lumbered on toward the boy holding the child.
The Elf let out a shout and pulled boy and baby behind her. Pausing, the bear tilted his head again and waited for the boy to peek around her. Slowly, he stepped out and looked into the bear’s eyes. Nodding, he told the others to break camp. They resisted. The man said some angry words, but eventually, they packed a rugged and beat-up wagon. They lovingly wrapped the body of the woman in a sheet and placed her in the back. Yes, she must be treated properly. He could help see to that.
The bear led the boy holding the baby to a secret trail. The wagon and horses could find the road and the bear grumbled lowly until they left the canopy of the Mirkwood. His pace quickened as they reached a small cottage with smoke rising from the chimney. A woman came out followed by a girl and a boy. They helped the travelers; they fed them and gave them a soft bed to sleep in. The bear wandered off into a grove of thick trees and then came back a man.
The baby was left with the woman and her children and her Man that was more than a man. It did not have to suffer the dark mazes of Moria and the boy promised to come back and visit one day. The man could barely look at the baby. He had buried his wife beneath the old Oak Tree last night and had no more tears to water her grave. He carved a headstone from a branch throughout the night and in the morning, “Ninim, wife of Eirikr In death shall I live” sat above the mound of earth. The Man that was more than a man clapped him on the shoulder and said supportive and encouraging words, but he did not think the man heard them. His grief weighed upon him like iron chains.
They were heading back to Bree-land, the three travelers. They could not take the baby, and when it was time to say goodbye. only the boy and Elf kissed the child’s head and bade him farewell. The man kept his eyes on the western horizon and as the sun rose behind him, he led his party away, fleeing from the light.
“You are all right, then? Not harmed?”
“Nothing that I cannot recover from. I cannot believe you are here. I have waited for so long.”
“I know, deore. Please forgive me for taking so long.”
“But you found her? Your sister?”
“Anya is…different. Than the girl we know, that is. She has touched a different realm and I fear some of the people she has involved herself with are dangerous. They make me uneasy. There are a few who love her and will protect her with their life. She is fortunate, the little whelp.”
“You should not call her that, Eirikr. She is a grown woman.”
“You know as well as I that she is hardly grown. She ran away from home for goodness’ sake!”
“Eiri, she had reason. And she will learn.”
“She will end up hurt, or worse. She is playing a game and does not know the rules. But I don’t know. I could be worried about her over nothing.”
“You do worry, my love.”
“I spend most of my time worried about you. And I had good reason to do so. Ninim?”
“Will you be honest with me?”
“Of course. Always, Eirikr.”
“Did he touch you? Is the child–”
“Ninim. Don’t cry. Please don’t cry.”
“Eirikr, please. I-I can’t — I couldn’t stop him. I tried, I swear to you I tried.”
“Shh. Ninim, please don’t cry. I am sorry I wasn’t here to protect you. I’m sorry, love; please don’t cry. He won’t hurt you any more, I promise.”
“Y-you killed him.”
“I had to. You understand that. You do.”
“I just–just tell me the child is mine, Nin.”
“You left so quickly. There was so time…he was here the night they took you. Not here. There. At the house. Oh, Valar, our house–”
“Nin, I am sorry.”
“Eirikr. The house. Our home.”
“We will rebuild, I promise. We will have a new home. Land. There are lakes in Bree. And trees. We will have quiet. Peace. And a family.”
“A family. A real family.”
“If the child is not yours–”
“Then we shall find a good home for i-what was that?”
“He kicked. Or, at least, he tried. There is not much room for him to move.”
“That was…that was the child?”
“He just kicked my hand. I just felt him kick. He kicked me.”
There was a long silence.
“Our child just kicked my hand.”
“Eirikr, I told you I cannot know…”
“Our child, Ninim. He- he is a part of you. That, well, that makes him a part of me, too.”
“No, Nin. Hush, love. I will protect you and him. Both of you.
((edited – somewhat rushed and poorly – from chatlogs for tense, continuity and clarity))
((Update: 7/11/14 – revised for less suck))
The moon was waning as it rose over the lake. Eirikr stood in the shadow of the large tree across the road from the Tenorbekk cottage. Inside, a light shone through the window. The shadows danced on the wall as he watched for Sten to emerge and leave for the tavern. He craned his neck as he peered from the shadows. “Maybe he is not going tonight,” he murmured softly. “Why hasn’t he left yet?”
Eruviel stood silently, watching their surroundings and the road from the darkness behind a tree further into the woods. She frowned, looking to the house before she started to turn and peer into the night behind them.
Eirikr followed her gaze. “Do you hear something? What is it?” His anticipation stretched his nerves as the minutes tick by so slowly.
Eruviel flexed out her hand in a silent command. “I don’t know,” she breathed, careful to not let her words carry as her eyes narrow, piercing the shadows around them. “Calm, gwador. Do not let your stress run away with you.”
Eirikr turned back to watch the house. “I have not seen her in months, Eruviel. I can only imagine what she has been through since then. My father did not send a kind and loving companion for her.”
Eruviel shot him a pitying look before she turned her eyes back to their vigil. “You will have her back, Eirikr, in a few hours at most. And then we can be rid of the filth that ‘guards’ her.”
Eirikr shot her a grateful look. Suddenly, a woman’s cry and a crash came from the house. Eirikr, without a moment’s hesitation, sprinted for the door, his cloak billowing out behind him like a ghost. “Ninim!” he called.
Eruviel whirled around to pursue him, looking wildly about as if expecting to be ambushed.
Eirikr threw his shoulder into the door heedless of anything beyond. The light from the interior spilled across the lawn as he practically fell inside as the door gave way. Eruviel followed, drawing her dagger as she ran up the steps. An arrow flew past her, slamming into the rough planking of the cottage. She nearly ran into Eirikr as he stopped half in-half out of the house. Sten stood facing away from them as Ninim cowered on the floor with her back to them all. At the noise, he whirled and drew his dagger from its sheath at his side and held it up defensively.
“You,” he sneered.
Eirikr glanced at Ninim and the broken earthenware beside her. “Me. You bastard, don’t you lay a hand on her.”
Eruviel quickly assessed the situation as she pulled out her bow and an arrow. Shooting Sten a dark glare, she looked back out in the direction the first had flown from.
Sten moved to stand directly between Eirikr and Ninim. The woman peeked around, wide-eyed, and stared at her husband. “Eirikr?” she said as if she could not believe her eyes.
He nodded to her. “It’s me, Nin. I’m here.”
Outside, another arrow flew toward Eruviel’s silhouetted form. The Elf grabbed the door, wrenching it over, using it as a shield. As soon as the thwap sounded she reemerged and loosed one arrow then another in the direction of the attacker.
Sten waved the dagger in front of him, as if taunting Eirikr. “Why don’t ye show ‘im the surprise, Ninny.” He stepped back to grab Ninim by the hair and drug her backward. With a cry, she fell to her backside and clutched her enormous stomach.
There was a cry in the darkness as Eruviel’s second arrow hit true. It was nothing compared to Eirikr’s cry of astonishment. So this was what the boy spoke of. Eirikr paled as his mouth went dry. “Nin…”
Behind him, Eruviel’s mouth curved in a smirk at the distant cry only to be jolted by Eirikr’s. Turning to look back, her smirk vanished and the air deflated from her lungs as she saw Ninim.
Sten laughed loudly as he crouched beside Ninim. He held her back against his chest and purred, “Ninny Nin look a li’l different than ye last saw ‘er? Awe, come on, boy. Come give yer wife a kiss.” His eyes on Eirikr, he licked the side of her face as she cringed but did not pull away.
Eirikr clenched his fists and mouthed, “How?”
From the darkness outside emerged two men, one bleeding steadily from his arm and dragging a sword through the dirt. The other ordered the man to the left as he moved to the right; he too bore a weapon: a club as thick as a troll’s left leg.
Eruviel’s knuckles turned white as she gripped her bow. Seeing the two men out of the corner of her eye, her eyes turned a shade darker. “Do you have things here, gwador?” she asked in a chilling tone.
Eirikr gritted his teeth and growled, “It is my home. Of course I have things here.” His eyes glared at the man caressing his wife as his fingers flexed near the short sword at his side. “But only one matters.”
Ninim whimpered in Sten’s grasp. “Eiri…”
Sten pulled her to him tighter. “Come and get ‘er, boy. Give me an excuse to gut you.”
Eruviel looked back at him, hesitating as she leaned her bow against the outer wall. “Right. I won’t be long,” she said quietly. Drawing her sword, her thumb played over the black string wrapped around the hilt as she descended half-way down the steps.
The men approached warily, prepared to lunge if an arrow came their way. They grinned as she set down her bow. As they approached the half-way mark to the door, Club gave a shout and both charged, Swordarm’s battle cry slightly less enthusiastic than Club’s. Eruviel pulled out her long dagger with her off-hand, waiting, ready as they charged at her. Club dodged in first and whipped his weapon toward the side of her head. In an attempt to flank her, Swordarm continued around her left side.
Eruviel dropped under the club as it flew across where her head had been and sliced out with her sword at Clubs legs; her eyes flicked over to the second man.
The force of his swing carried the attacker in a half circle as he pivots on his foot. He let the momentum carry him around to raise the club in a swift upswing. Meanwhile, Swordarm raised his sword with both hands as the blood ran down the dirty fabric of his shirt. He left himself exposed as he slashed down.
Eruviel jumped away from Club, lunging at Swordarm. Raising her dagger to block his weapon, she thrust her swords towards his chest.
Swordarm grunted as the blades penetrated his flesh. He raised his blade with one hand in a feeble attempt to thrust at her side. Meanwhile, Club wheeled back to watch his comrade fall, disbelief on his ugly features.
Eruviel left the sword in him and grabbed his raised arm as they fell into the yard, her hand holding the dagger and ready to stab him once they landed.
As the Elf-maiden dealt with the trouble outside, Sten ran the tip of the dagger down Ninim’s cheek. “Don’t you want yer wifey, boy?”
Eirikr stepped forward as he started to draw his weapon, his eyes cold.
Sten pressed the tip into Ninim’s cheek, drawing blood. “Keep on comin’, boy. I’ll give ‘er to ye in pieces. Make it last longer.”
Eirikr stopped as he saw the spot of red on Ninim’s pale skin. “Let her go. Face me like a man.”
As Sten focused on taunting Eirikr, Ninim’s hand reached for a jagged piece of the earthenware scattered across the floor. Her fingers strained as she tried not to pull away revealing her purpose.
With a quick flit of his eye, Eirikr noted Ninim’s movement. He said to Sten, his deep voice rumbling, “How much did my father pay you to babysit a woman, Sten? What, are you too old for the caravans any more?”
The man grunted and pulled Ninim tight again. “‘E paid me well enough. Plus, I got to feast on some nice, succulent flesh every night.” As he leaned over to lick Ninim again, the movement was enough to let Ninim get a grasp on the scrap. She brought it up quickly and jammed it in his face. With a pained, ferocious growl, Sten released her and clutched at his nose. Ninim scrambled away beneath the table as quickly as her belly would allow.
“Bitch!” Sten spat out. Blood spatters the tile floor. “I’ll deal with you later.” He eyed Eirikr and laughs. “Still scared, boy? Or does your woman have to finish what she started?”
Fuming, Eirikr hesitated just long enough to see Ninim escape to safety before turning on Sten. He lunged forward in an attempt to stab Sten in the stomach, but the delay allowed the man to regain his senses enough to raise the dagger toward Eirikr. Sten lowered the hand covering his face – an eye was badly damaged and his nose clearly broken and bleeding inside and out. Sten parried the sword with his dagger, directing it toward the wall. As he turns away, he slashed up catching Eirikr across the cheek.
Outside as Swordarm landed in the grass, a cloud of dust billowed up around him. Club took the chance to charge forward to slam the club down into the back of Eruviel’s skull. Eruviel rolled off of Swordarm, taking her sword with her. The club rushed down at her and grazed her cheek as she flung herself to the side. Crying out, she leapt to her feet and retreated back to the path through the yard.
Club recovered from slamming the weapon into the ground. He turned to Eruviel, cracking his neck with a jerk. “Pre’ty li’l Elf. Come play with me, She-Elf.” He raised his fist and motioned her forward with the club raised in the other hand.
Eruviel spat a bit of blood to the side as she flipped her dagger around in her hand. Switching her footing, she stepped to the side, eyeing the large man, smirking at his words. She tilted her head in a feigned thoughtful motion. “You’re too tall to be my playmate,” she said as her steps bring her closer to the front stairs. “We will have to cut you down to size.”
Grinning, Club leapt toward her without grace. He swung the club toward her aiming for her head. She jumped back, dancing around him to find a more advantageous opening as her eyes flicked for a moment to the house. Club placed both hands on the club and licked his lips in anticipation. Soon, he grunted as he began to tire. His swings were slower but still bore much brute strength behind them. Finally, he feinted to Eruviel’s off-hand side.
Eruviel dodged, thrusting her sword to his open side, not bothering to check to see if she struck him before prancing back out of range. The brute bellowed in pain. He clutched the wound for a moment before charging recklessly.
Eruviel spun to the side as he drew near, dropping low to slash at his leg with her dagger. He crumpled toward his injured leg and she planted her feet, slashing at the man’s hand still clutching the club. It dropped and he howled like a wounded animal, throwing a beefy fist toward Eruviel.
She stepped easily outside his punch and swiftly came up beside him to slash her sword under his raised arm. The man fell to his side and howled again in pain. He glared up at Eruviel with hatred. “Filthy Elf,” he spat out as he groped for his weapon.
Eruviel jumped at him, her sword aimed at his side and dagger ready to block. “Oh, no you don’t,” she growled. At his side, the man grasped the end of the club and pulled it to him to get a better grip. She shifted her footing at the last second, stomping down on his armed hand with one foot and slamming the hilt of her sword into the side of his face. He groaned and reached feebly but his hands found nothing.
Eruviel did not hesitate as she swung her dagger up, towards the side to the man’s neck.
As Eruviel battled Sten’s henchmen, inside, Eirikr switched sword hands and crushed his fist into Sten’s face as he let out a roar from the pain of Sten’s dagger. Righting himself, he followed through with a slash with his off-hand. Sten staggered and shook his head. He barely managed to evade the slash. Stumbling across the room to several swords leaning against the wall, he grabbed one and whirled on Eirikr swinging wildly. The huntsman parried each swing that Sten threw his way. On his back, his quiver bounced against his bow. “I should have put an arrow in your eye last night!”
Sten sneered as he attacked vicously. “Coward, ye are. Never could follow through.” The tip of the sword sliced through Eirikr’s sleeve drawing blood.
Eirikr ignored the pain as he took Sten’s moment of selfish triumph to press his advantage. He switched his stance from defense to offense and landed a slash across Sten’s chest. The man gasped and staggered back to one knee. His hands desperately tried to hold the rent flesh together as he glared up at Eirikr. “Yer father underestimates you,” he grunted through the pain. “He coulda trained ye nice for all his dirty work. That Watcher woulda been no problem for ye.”
Eirikr returned the glare and asked evenly, “What Watcher?”
Sten grinned, blood staining his teeth. “Watcher yer father sent me to kill about a decade ago. Hardest kill I ever made. Smart fella. Was on to the dealin’s boss had with the wainriders.”
His eyes betraying his uncertainty, Eirikr approached Sten slowly, his sword pointed at him. “My father would not deal with wainriders. You lie.”
The downed man laughed and then coughed up more blood. He fell forward to his hands and knees, blood dripping to the cold stone floor. “He would. And does. They promise him stature and wealth after they conquer this little shithole and Dale.” He laughed again even as it caused the blood to gush out faster.
Eirikr stepped up to Sten, sword raised. “Take your filth to the grave, worm.” He started to lower it when Ninim shouted from under the table, “Eiri, no!” Surprised, he froze and looked back at her. Sten took the opportunity to hurl a knife hidden in his sleeve at him. It sank into his thigh and he let out a cry of surprise and rage. As he struck out, Sten knocked his sword away and launched himself at him with his remaining energy. Without thinking, Eirikr reached back to grab an arrow; as he brought it forward, Sten impaled his neck on the barbed point with a gurgle of shock.
As Sten sank forward, Eirikr stumbled back and let the body fall. Each beat pumped more blood from the wound in Sten’s neck and chest. As the man’s life ebbed away, Eirikr turned to comfort his wife. Ninim crawled to the edge of the table but looked toward the door. “The Elf,” she said in a worried tone. Following her gaze, he nodded and rushed to the doorway as quickly as the knife in his leg allowed. Behind him, Sten exhaled his last breath, his glossy eyes staring at Ninim as she sat beneath the table, swollen with child.
Eirikr watched from the doorway as Eruviel stabbed the brute. From the outside, his expression was indiscernible as he is back-lit by the firelight. Inside, Ninim stared at the blood pooling behind him and when he pulled the knife from his thigh, she finally started to sob.
Eruviel quickly landed a second strike to make sure he’s was dead before she stood, her chest heaving from exertion, and kicked the body over. “You feast of wolves,” she muttered in Sindarin, wiping the blood off on his shirt before looking up to the house and Eirikr.
Eirikr breathed heavily from the exertion. “Eruviel?”
Eruviel stepped over the large corpse, striding across the yard to the house. “It is done, Eirikr.” Taking the steps two at a time she stopped beside him, frowning. “You could be worse for wear, I suppose. How — how is she?”
“I-” he looked over at her and immediately hobbled to her. He collapsed beside her and took her up in his arms. “Ninim? Ninim, it’s me, I’m here. Ninim, I’m here.” He stroked her hair. “He’s gone, my love. He’s gone.”
Eruviel looked down with a cold expression at Sten’s body, nodding more to herself in assurance as she saw the arrow in his neck. Glancing over to the reunited couple she began to search the cupboards for a clean sheet.
He looked over at Eruviel with extreme gratitude. “The other men. You handled them both exceedingly better than I did Sten if we went by injury alone, my friend.”
Eruviel pulled out a sheet, promptly tearing it into long strips. “I can only assume you let him dialog, brother,” she quipped with an amused smile. “I had shot the smaller man before, but I was fortunate the big one lacked dexterity.”
Eirikr watched her tear the sheet with a slightly amused grin beneath the pain. “He did talk. He always was full of himself.”
Ninim looked up from his chest with tear streaked cheeks. “Eirikr…what do we do now? We cannot hide this. Half the town surely heard the yells.”
Eirikr looked down at her and then up at Eruviel. “We must leave, Nin. Do you think you can travel?”
Eruviel walked over and knelt next to him. “Hold the end down,” she instructed as she began to bind Eirikr’s leg.
Before Eirikr can do it, Ninim reached out and held the end in place. “I think I can,” she said to him. “Where are we going?”
Eirikr sighed. “Ninim, we need to leave the Dale-lands. It is not safe here any more.” A question hangs on his tongue, but he bit it back. “We are going to go get Abbi and we are going to where I found Anya.”
Eruviel smiled kindly to Ninim, nodding as she wrapped up the wound. She assessed the woman and her bulging belly, checking for any injury.
Ninim’s eyes widened. “You found your sister? That is what he wanted? Where?” Her cheek was bruised from where Sten struck her, but other than that she seemed healthy, if tired and stressed.
Eruviel tied of the bandage and stood, leaving the linens behind with a look at Eirikr’s arm. “I am going to bring the bodies inside while you two work things out,” she said with a concerned glance out the window.
Eirikr sighed. “Bree. Of all places in the world, she found herself in Bree. Such a little hole in the wall, really.” He nodded to Eruviel. “I have an idea of what we can do.” Giving Ninim a look, he said, “We need to burn the house down.”
Eruviel nodded with approval, offering Ninim an apologetic smile before stepping back out into the night.
Ninim looked horrified at the thought. “Eirik, how could you say such a thing? This is our home!”
Eirikr replied slowly so that she would fully understand how serious he was. “Nin. My love. There is a dead body over there. Two more will soon join it. It is enough to hope that a rain will come to wash away the blood. As long as I have you, I can live anywhere. My life is you, Ninim. But we must leave Esgaroth.”
Eruviel grunted with effort as she dragged the larger body through the door. “By the Valar,” she grumbled, letting the corpse fall a short ways further in past Sten’s.
Eirikr frowned as he watched Eruviel struggle a bit with the bodies. His face showed how much he wanted to help her, but how much he knew he wasn’t in much shape to do so and really didn’t want to let go of his wife. “Do you understand, Nin?”
Nodding slowly, she whispered loudly enough for Eruviel to probably hear, “Do you think those things he said about your father were true? That he works with the wainriders and had a Watcher killed?”
Eirikr glanced up at Eruviel. “I do not know, Ninim.”
Eruviel ‘s step faltered as she walked back to the door. Glancing over at Ninim, then Eirikr, she continued on to retrieve the club and the smaller man.
Eirikr struggled to his feet and helped Ninim up. “I need to you pack. We will take the wagon and head for the Silver Reel. You will stay with Eruviel and I will meet you outside of Dale in three days, all right?”
Eruviel dragged the other man further in still, leaving the club by him. “That’s the last of them,” she said quietly, dusting off her hands. Looking up she nodded reluctantly. “I don’t like you going on your own, gwador, but I understand how plans have changed.”
Ninim nodded and waddled off to go do as he said. He watched her disappear into the bedroom before turning to Eruviel. “I trust you with my life, systir mine. Once I retrieve Abbi, we will leave via the route through the Lonely Mountain.”
Eruviel nodded curtly. “I will wait for word from you. Do not fret for her, Eirikr.”
Eirikr smiled wearily and rested a hand on her shoulder. “I trust you with my life,” he repeats. “And she is my life, Eru. I know you will keep her safe.” Looking over his shoulder toward the bedroom, he added, “I will wait for you two to leave, and then I will set the flame. She needn’t see our home burn. I will then meet you at the inn and leave for Dale as soon as you are settled in.”
Eruviel gave him an encouraging smile, resting a hand on his arm. “I will see her safely there, Eirikr. Do not worry for us. Just be careful on your way.”
Eirikr nodded as Ninim came bustling out of the room. She hurried to the kitchen and packed some cookware and mess supplies. Once she was ready, Eirikr packed the wagon under the cover of night and watched as Eruviel drove away.
Ninim Tenorbekk knelt by the shore of Long Lake as she scrubbed out the week’s laundry in the fading twilight. Her lithe body moved awkwardly beneath its burden; her back ached and she was hungry. She had aged beneath the weight of her house guest. He took too much. Used too much. And after eight months of his attentions, gave too much as well.
She wrung out the last of Sten’s shirts and hated the fact it was not her husband’s. As she tossed it into the basket, she cut off sob that threatened to escape her throat. No. She would not fall to pieces. She would not fall to pieces. She should not fall to pieces. Eirikr would return and together, they would end the time stolen from them. They would reclaim their lives, rid themselves of the parasite, and start new. Start fresh.
Standing, she braced the basket of wet clothes against her hip and held on to it as best she could as she waddled toward the backyard where the drying line stretched between two trees. The sob threatened to loosen from her throat where it lay like a chicken bone, choking and painful. How could they start new with this…this thing growing inside her? The first time Sten pushed open her bedroom door, she thought it was a dream. Indeed, the entire evening seemed fragmented after they had eaten dinner. The bruises on her wrists the next morning and the scent of him on her bedsheets were the only signs that her memories were no mere dreams.
When she started watching her food and drink, robbing Sten of the opportunity to drug her, it only led to a harsher waking world. He did not care when she fought back. In fact, he seemed to savor every slap he laid across her face until her head was swimming enough to staunch her resistance. She learned quickly to accept his attentions in order to protect herself from physical harm. Every night, her spirit suffered all the more.
As she hung the clothes in the dark, she longed to sink into the earth and dissolve into nothingness. She worked when no one could see her, for even when she was complacent, he still sometimes hit her for the fun of it. No one would believe the bruises came from his hand. Sten quickly made friends with the neighbors, spinning tales of half-truths involving Eirikr’s family emergency and a sense of duty to protect his “sister-in-law”. If anyone questioned why he had not gone after the wayward Tenorbekk himself, Sten would laugh and say, “I am no fighter! The Mirkwoods scare me to death. No, Eirikr knows the trails and the ways to survive on them. It’s all I can do to help around the house until he returns.”
With the last shirt hung, Ninim gathered up the basket and headed for the house. She braced her hand beneath her bulging belly and hesitated at the back door. Closing her eyes, she felt the baby within her stir. It tried to stretch without much success. It was crowded in there.
Her eyes still closed, she leaned her head against the rough door. Eight months he had been terrorizing her. Nine months since Eirkir had left for Bree. Her letter must have reached him. It had to have reached him. He had to be coming right now to silence her fears and to love her again.
He would love her, no matter what. Holding this in her heart, she shifted the basket around her pregnant belly and lifted the latch to face her life.
Eirikr stood on the ledge of the rock wall surrounding Thorenhad. The surrounding woods stirred with the noises of the nocturnal: the howl of wolves, the flutter of bats, the song of the owl. All around him, he felt the quiet pulse of life.
He was in his element.
Thorenhad was little more than a ruin slowly losing itself to the growth of the forest. The Elves that kept vigil did not seem to mind the crumbling walls or the open sky. Eirikr looked up at the stars – he found the familiar constellations waiting for him. They were ready to lead him home.
Behind him, he heard the low murmur of conversation. Elves needed no sleep. They rested; he had witnessed Eruviel settle down in her trance that she called sleep. He had to admit to himself that it unsettled him at first, but as they traveled, her habits and mannerisms slowly became as natural as his own. The wilderness did that; it stripped away the pretenses of civilization and left people naked – figuratively at least.
As he stood at the edge of the wall, a breeze picked up and caught his cloak. It whipped about him and he suddenly missed his wife. Since receiving her letter, he had been solely focused on returning to Dale and pulling her out of the mess she was in because of him and his family. He had cursed his father and his need to win at all costs. He had plotted and schemed so far as to purchase the vial of poison resting in his coin purse. But he hardly stopped to contemplate why.
At the bottom of the wall, a noise drew his attention. The light from the stars easily illuminated the outline of a sleek animal: a wolf. Eirikr tensed and immediately reached for his bow. The wolf sniffed about in the roughage below for only a moment before it disappeared into the shadows. Frowning, Eirikr rolled his shoulder and looked back up at the stars. They twinkled against the inky black of the moonless sky. A quiet fell.
Eirikr thought of Ninim as he stood there in the night. He thought of her eyes and her touch. Try as he could, he could not remember her smile. It chilled him more than the thought of Sten near her. More than the idea of what he planned to do.
Reaching into his pouch, he withdrew the small vial he bought from Cwendlwyn. He tipped it and watched the dark liquid flow back and forth. As he looked up at the stars, he let it fall from his grasp to the earth below.
Turning from the ledge, he went over to his bedroll near the campfire. He laid down on his back and linked his hands behind his head like a pillow. His heart light for the first time in months, he smiled.
Far off in the wood, a wolf howled.
((OOC Note: Apparently, I have called Sten “Sven” in several posts. Eventually, I will correct that.))
Eruviel led the way down the narrow path leading into the valley of Lord Elrond with Eirikr following on Kvígr close behind. Normally rather stoic to begin with, he found no words as she led them over the soft paths toward the stable. There was no hesitation in his steed’s stride as they crossed an ancient bridge made from a fallen tree. It knew the very land beneath its hooves seemed sacred.
Eruviel took him over graceful bridges spanning rushing waters to the Last Homely House where he hesitated on the threshold, questioning his worth. Inside, the vast hall rendered him speechless. In the library where he saw more tomes than he thought could exist in the world, Lord Elrond greeted him by name, to which he reacted like a nervous schoolboy afraid of reprimand. He had a vague notion that the Lord of the valley and Eruviel had been exchanging silent and amused thoughts about him as he stood there wishing to be gone already, but unable to get the desire to go.
After his introduction to Lord Elrond, Eruviel introduced him to an Elvish meal and as they ate, he brought up something that had been in his mind since she let it drop on their way from the stables.
“So, you said you were fifteen hundred years old?”
The question had caught Eruviel off guard, but she recovered quickly and with an openness that he found unsettling. She was not like most Elves he knew from his work on his father’s trade routes. They were tolerant, even welcoming, but never so revealing or open about their pasts. Or that they had loved…Men.
He looked out over the vale from the balcony of his room and licked his lips. Eruviel had said her first kiss had been to a Ranger. And she had been married to a captain of Gondor. Rubbing his chin, he pondered why he kept pondering this fact.
His room overlooked the falls behind the majestic building. He could feel the gentle spray even as he leaned on the rail and took a deep, cleansing breath. A peace fell over him that he hadn’t known since leaving Dale in pursuit of his sister and he closed his eyes for a moment, just breathing.
He let his train of thought flow without interruption. It drifted over mountain and forest and dipped low over the waters of Long Lake, through the streets of Esgaroth and into the tiny front room of a low stone house. Ninim sat there, knitting. Her kind face shone despite the man sitting across from her who was not her husband. She remained composed as the man drank ale from Eirikr’s flagon. She rose and refilled the drink at the man’s request. She excused herself and went to bed, securing the door behind her with a chair beneath the knob and lifting the pillow to ensure the knife still lay hidden.
Yes. Ninim could play the game; she would take care of herself the best she could. He did not give her enough credit, he realized as the falls drowned out all other sounds and forced him to focus on things with a fresh eye. Nevertheless, she needed him and he needed her.
“I am coming, Nin,” he whispered to the wind.
The stab of worry seemed to ease and his thoughts drifted north, to Dale. Yes. Ninim and then Abiorn. Once his wife was secured, they would be free to retrieve his little brother. Something told him the move would be unexpected. If somehow Sven escaped and sent word to his father, Eirikr knew the man would assume they would flee immediately. A smile tested the muscles of his face; Kolrson would send men out to search and leave himself vulnerable. Eruviel and he would then have an advantage.
The Elf baffled him. She seemed more Man than Elf and had an uncanny knack of loving and accepting that had first put him on edge. No one would just welcome some stray woman into their home and expect nothing in return. When he showed up with the coinpurse, he had fully expected a demand of compensation from her, but none came. Then, after his injury, she allowed him shelter to recover. Again, asking nothing.
Now, she accompanied him to Dale. But why? She called Anya sister and her love for the woman clearly explained an investment in the outcome of the journey. But why so insistent in accompanying him? Hadn’t she mentioned her own reasons…
There. A piece that he had missed. What personal interest did Eruviel have in Dale? She had never been there, in her fifteen hundred years. What was there now that had her so interested in facing the cold of the Misties and the shadows of Mirkwood?
He must find out.
Exhaustion fell even as he came to the conclusion of his thoughts. His hair was slightly damp from the mists and he turned to find his first good night’s sleep since he learned Anya left Dale. Leaving Dale. Going. Leaving Bree. Going.
His journey would find its end in one or the other.
Anya peeked out the window overlooking the cliff above the small pond behind the house. She raised her hand to shield her eyes from the glare and smudged the smoky pane with vermillion. Swearing silently, she turned back to the table and grabbed her rainbow rag to wipe away the paint. Rubbing in small circles, she cleaned away the soot accumulated from a winter of constantly burning fires. Once one pane was clean, she couldn’t leave the rest and polished each glass until she could see through it clearly.
Peering through the panes, she turned her head from side to side to see if Eirikr was fishing off the cliff. He wasn’t. Anya huffed, fogging the glass slightly, and turned quickly on her heel to see if he was out front.
As soon as she opened the door, she heard the twang of a bowstring. Eirikr stood over near the fire pit aiming at several bales of straw he propped up on the low stone wall. The outline of a boar was painted in the side of the midmost bale and she wondered when he got into her paints as she descended the stairs.
The arrow had sunk into the bale far to the left of the target. It landed among several other shafts jutting out of the hay. Eirikr grunted and drew another arrow from the quiver on his back. His left hand raised the bow as he nocked the arrow, drew, and took aim in one nearly seamless motion. Before relaxing the three fingers that held the string, he hesitated. Anya saw the bow waver slightly and flinched as Eirikr loosed another arrow far left of its mark. He swore loudly.
“Eirik?” She tried to not to startle him, but he jerked around with a flushed face.
“Anya. I didn’t know you were there.”
Lowering her eyes because she didn’t want to appear to stare, Anya clasped her hands in front of her. “I was looking for you. I was wondering if you had spoken with Eruviel. To see if you knew if she was coming home tonight.”
He turned to retrieve his arrows as he answered. “No, I haven’t, but I would assume she is coming home. Why would she not?”
Anya raised her eyes to watch her brother yank each arrow from the hay and shove it back into his quiver. The muscles of his shoulders flexed beneath the thin cotton shirt he wore. He did not seem to feel the chill clinging to the afternoon. The last arrow he pulled out, he kept in his hand as he retreated to his firing spot. He took a deep breath and Anya could tell he was trying to calm himself. In another skilled, graceful movement, he loosed the arrow. Once again, it missed its mark.
“You’re pulling to the left.”
“You think I don’t know that?” he snapped at her. He shot another arrow and shouted out in frustration.
Wincing, Anya stepped forward and placed a hand on Eirikr’s shoulder. “Eiri, please,” she said softly, “be patient. You can relearn and adjust. Your aim will return, I know it will.”
His dark grey eyes fell on her and she took a step back in alarm. Cold fire burned deeply in each orb as he glared down at her.
“Anya. I don’t have the time to be patient. Ninim needs me now and every second I delay is a second she has to spend under Sven’s watch. I won’t let our father do this to her, to me. It is time he is stopped.”
A frown creased her forehead and she replied lowly, “Eirikr, what do you mean?” Her own grey eyes searched his eyes for meaning and her blood froze at what she saw behind her brother’s steely gaze.
“I will stop him, Anyatka. And he will leave us alone for good. I promise you, or I will die trying.”
Without waiting for a reply, he turned back to his target and took aim.
Lina hadn’t worried about it when Falros and she decided without words to start to drift apart. It happened just as suddenly as their drifting together. She didn’t remember how she ended up in the back stall of the South Gate stables, but she supposed she had a good time.
And that very day, she received a visitor with unexpected news. The farmhand refused to meet her eye as he spoke. Her mother was dying. She needed to go home.
For a very long time, she sat in her aunt’s parlour and stared at the small pouch of coins that came with the message. The money was to pay for post back to the farmsteads. The farmhand begged for haste as she sat there weighing the coin. Her mother had received injuries during a brigand onslaught. They had burned everything they could: only the stone of the main house had protected what family possessions survived. The barn, the pastures were cinder and ash. The youth, who couldn’t have been much older than Lina herself, described the devastation in detail. Only when he started to describe the barn roof ablaze over the screaming horses did she move. Quickly, she ordered him to hire the post horses and meet her at the North Gate.
Without explaining to her aunt, who had stood at the door to eavesdrop anyway, she fled the house and rushed back to Falros’s. She didn’t really have anything to gather. Packing was quick: three or four mismatched outfits, her dagger. She gave Moose, the large, stolen piece of taxidermy art on Fal’s bedroom wall, a loving pat and scanned the sparse room. She tried. She really did. Maybe he’d miss her. Maybe she’d find out one day.
* * *
Her mother was not dying. The woman lay in bed with a bruise on her forehead from fainting into the kitchen table. Her father was far worse off, at least appearance-wise; the man had multiple cuts and lacerations from fighting off the attackers with his old garrison blade. His brows were scorched away from fighting the fire that consumed his livelihood.
Though she was relieved that the farmhand had exaggerated (under her mother’s duress, she was certain), Lina grumbled that she had ridden half a day for a bruise.
“Emma!” her mother cried from her bed. Lina held the woman’s tea as she gestured grandly toward the walls of the room. The entire place smelled of charcoal and smoke. The brigands had driven off her family’s swine; a few came wandering back, but there was little they could do except bring them into the main house. Their earthy scent mingled with the acrid scent of burns and caused Lina to gag. How her mother could handle it, she hadn’t a clue. “How can ye think o’ leavin’ us now wit’ all th’ work tha’ needs ta be done?!”
“Mother, may I remind ye that ye sent me to Bree two years ago.” Lina handed her the tea and held her palm up for the saucer she knew was about to be handed back. She set it on the night stand.
“But things are different now, Emma. Ye must see tha’ we need the helpin’ hand. We are your family!”
Looking out the bedroom window, Lina held her tongue. Her father labored outside with the farmhands, cleaning up the remnants of the barn. The pile of debris grew as the men shifted through the ruins searching for salvageable material. Despite the deception, despite the past, in that moment Lina knew her mother only spoke the truth: they needed her.
“I will not stay indefinitely,” she said as she watched the men work, “but I will stay until the farm is cleaned up.”
“Until it is cleaned up, Mother. And no more.”
** ** ** ** ** **
Two days ago…
Zhevruil | The two of them ride to Buckland, to home.
Cwen stretched languidly, her body pressed against Zhevruil’s as the rising sun filtered through the dark blue curtains. She propped her head up and perused his beaten brow: the bruises were yellowing and would fade away completely but the scars… She reached out to gently touch his lip. She remembered when they were unmarred, years ago. The stripes across his back, hidden beneath cloth or sheltered from her eyes carefully throughout their night, caused her heart to stop with the pain of of her sympathy. She saw it in his eyes that he didn’t want it. He didn’t want her to feel sorry for him.
“Zhevruil,” she whispers, the name hanging on her lips like honey.
She should feel guilty. Biramore had been missing for weeks, and the time stretched thin like she took each second as a step along a wire stretched across the deep chasms of Moria. Her time spent in Bree added to her depression – the memories, the memories. But she was beholden to her heart and with Laerlin away, she worried a competent healer would not be readily available to the girl upon her return. And then the theft of her ring…
She knew that her return to Bree set into motion something bigger than her plans to retire quietly in Buckland. Biramore’s disappearance, Zhevruil’s reappearance, and the missing ring could hardly have been connected, but she wondered sometimes if the fates worked in threes.
Zhevruil mumbled in his sleep and turned his face away from her. Callee would be awake soon to take Neilia across the river to play with the Stock children as she did every Wednesday. It was market day.
Things seemed so much simpler in the Shire.
** ** ** ** ** **
Eirikr stared at the letter in disbelief. The hand that covered his mouth trembled. His left held the parchment open with some difficulty, the sling hanging loose as he sat leaning his elbow on his knee. As his trembling increased, the paper fell from his grasp. It floated to the floor oh so slowly and landed dangerously close to the embers of the cooking fire.
The house was deathly empty without Anya’s presence. The week between her return from Fornost and their departure for the Red Pass had been spent in her near constant company after Faethril had emerged on the streets of Bree. The angry spirit attacked Eruviel and had to be wrestled to the ground. Anya had been able to control the whispers of the spirit much better at the Elf’s home.
He had taken it upon himself to keep her entertained so her mind would not dwell on what she had to face. They talked of everything from the water-bugs that still dotted the pond beneath Eruviel’s home to the state of Dale when Anya departed. He watched her paint and draw with an embarrassed awe. He never realized his sister’s talent. At night when Eruviel was home, their laughter filled the confines of their solitude and the world was brighter despite the dark. Since his sister left, it seemed as if every stretch of silence could only be broken by a crow’s call.
Ninim’s penmanship flowed over the page. It spoke lightly of the winter markets and the skulk of foxes that ran through their back yard leaving tracks in the fresh fallen snow. It told how Hulda next door was expecting her fifth child. And it spoke of how Kolrson Tenorbekk sent Sven the Shiv to “protect and watch over” her, his wife, while he was away fetching the wayward daughter.
Hovering over his wife.
He could do nothing.
He stood quickly and strode to the window, throwing it open to let a cold breeze rush in. He closed his eyes and let the wind assault his heated face. Raising his left hand, he tried to make a fist. The fingers responded slowly. Resisted. Gritting his teeth, he tried again. And again.
When Anya returned – and she would return – he would go back to Dale without her if he had to and get Ninim away from the clutches of that man. He could protect her; he would protect her. Abiorn, too, if he had to. No man was going to touch his wife and get away with it.
He would keep making a fist until Anya walked through the door, determined to use it to knock anyone who got in his way, out.