Overdone: The Risen

Heavy boulders and piles of rubble blocked the nondescript door near the submerged docks of Annúminas. A handful of men—dressed in roughspun tunics and leather and armed with daggers and clubs—worked diligently to clear the way to the door.

“Watch that pile!” a man ordered harshly. The pile in question teetered dangerously. A few smaller stones shook loose and fell to the cobblestones. One struck a man on the foot and he let out a disgruntled and pained shout as he hopped away.

“Told you,” muttered the man who had issued the warning. His partner grinned as they stooped together to roll away a particularly large boulder with a series of grunts. It was the last of the major impediments blocking the entrance to the Hidden Vault where Parmanen had disappeared the day before. They had stayed away as ordered; a full day’s time passed before they began excavating the site. Now, the door resisted with a groan as the men pulled it open. The man, who the others called Matt, though none knew his true name, grimaced and muttered about how difficult it was being. Finally, it pulled open.

A stale, heavy smoke poured out into the afternoon sun and the men looked around warily. The last thing they wished to do was alert the patrolling Angmarim of their presence in the city.

Matt squinted and waved a long, slender hand in front of his face to dispell the smoke cloud hanging in the air. Stepping around the remaining rubble, he peered into the long dark tunnel that stretched beneath the city proper. He exchanged a furtive glace with his partner and then said, “C’mon, Gil,” before grabbing a torch and plunging into the darkness.

Gil, along with several other men, followed Matt cautiously as the tunnel steadily rose beneath the city. None save the lead man had ever before ventured into the caves and tunnels. The reward did not keep them out; spells and artifacts and secrets of the fallen kingdom always lured these men. Parmanen alone had kept them from braving the close tunnels. Even the fact that these men alone of dozens stayed by his side after taking the girl did little to sway his mind when it came to the vault. It was far too dangerous, Parmanen had said.

Matt’s sensitive nose, which meant his bedroll was always downwind of the latrine, sniffed the stale air. A fire had burned itself out not too long ago. Old wood and dust. Bracken and mold. No flesh, though, tarnished the smell of the remaining scents of the smouldering flames. Bookshelves were half cinders. Equipment of various types still glowed hotly as they picked their way through the ruins. The heat scorched the delicate skin of their nostrils and most covered their noses and mouths with their tunics.

“Fan out. Look for any sign of him or his enemies.” Matt stepped away from the group and began searching among the remains of the laboratory for any evidence of Parmanen—or his passing.

“What exactly are we lookin’ for?” a man asked. “They ain’t nothing ‘cept smoke and ash left.”

“Any sign that Parmanen lives,” Matt answered gruffly. “His magic is strong; surely a little fire could not end a dark lord such as himself.” He did not like that he did not smell death if only because that left a mystery. Matt greatly preferred no loose ends.

But there was still no scent of burning flesh on the stagnant air. No sense of death, only centuries of knowledge lost. Their torches flickered dully; the thin air vents to the surface slowly replenished the wholesome air in the vault, but breathing was still difficult.

“Matt! Over here!”” Gil’s voice came from the little alcove off the main room.

Hurrying over to the doorway, Matt barked, “What is it?” He felt a chill even as he drew close.

Gil pointed into a corner where his torch barely revealed a figure huddled in on itself. Dark red and black robes dripped steadily into a puddle that body lay in.

“Master Par!” Matt rushed over to the body and turned it over onto its back. Parmanen’s eyes were closed and his face seemed frozen in a peaceful sleep. “What’s wrong with him? Is he breathing?”

Gil lingered in the doorway. “Matt, don’t,” the man whispered hoarsely.

Ignoring him, Matt pried an eye open. It was vacant and partially rolled back into his head. But the body didn’t feel dead. There was a presence in the little room. It surrounded him and urged him to feel the body’s too cold cheek and try to move it’s stiff, no, frozen arm.

The body was thawing steadily.

“What in the…” Matt pulled back in shock at the realization that the body had been frozen as the air had been sucked away.

“Matt, let’s get out of here, there ain’t nothin’…”

Suddenly, Matt felt as though his entire body was being torn in every direction. The scream from his mouth pierced the ears of all who searched the destruction of the vault. His mind protested as something invaded it. Took over his thoughts and his will and his heart…

Gil watched in horror as his friend screamed and threw out his arms. He hovered just like that for what seemed to be an eternity until he collapsed to his hands and knees beside the body of the Black Numenorean. Matt panted for a moment with his head down and his hair brushing the dusty stones.

“M-mate?” Gil asked hesitantly. He did not step toward his fallen friend.

Matt did not need any assistance. Slowly, he raised his head to gaze at Parmanen’s body and then he gracefully climbed to his feet. With a wave of his hand, he gestured to the body.

“Please. We should get out of his gloomy place, don’t you think? Fetch the others. Carry the body out—gently.”

Gil stared at his friend with his mouth gaping. “M-Matt?”

“Matt” turned his head slowly and gave Gil a commanding look that dared the man to question him. “There is a process that must be done quickly if we are to save the body. I could go about in this suit, but I would much rather rejoin with my kin. After nearly fifty years, I have grown rather accustomed to the length of his arm. This man’s arms are much… bulkier.”

Completely bewildered and thoroughly terrified, Gil nodded and called out to the others. Quickly, they picked up the body and carried it down the long tunnel and into the fading sun.

Matt, Delostor, squinted up at the bright orb with a frown. “Into the water,” he ordered. The men lowered the body into the water and Delostor knelt at its edge. “Out.” The men scrambled out of the water as Delostor held Parmanen’s shoulders and closed his eyes to focus. The water around the body froze instantly, trapping the man’s arms up to the elbows.

Delostor began murmuring a spell and the water slowly thawed. Colour returned to the body’s skin and When the ice broke above Parmanen’s face, Delostor raised his mouth and nose above the surface. Shallow breaths stirred the water and suddenly, his arm and legs thrashed wildly.

Matt’s eyes blinked and suddenly he was dropping the body and backing away so quickly he lost his footing and fell to his rear. He watched, eyes wide, as the body floundered in the water before sinking slowly beneath its surface. The murky image floated at the bottom obscured by the mud stirred up by the flailing.

“What happened?” Matt gasped.

Gil opened his mouth to answer, but a huge splash erupted from the lake as Parmanen shot to the surface. The man gasped as the figure rose to its feet and stood there for a moment simply dripping.

Parmanen turned and gazed at Gil and Matt with dark, amused eyes.

“Thank you, gentlemen. I knew I could count on you.”

As Parmanen stepped from the lake, a hot wind wrapped around him and dried his hair and clothes. The men felt the edges of it and backed away.

“Yessir,” Matt said with as much courage as he could muster. As the restored lord advanced on him, he tried not to cower or pull his boots back.

“They will be attempting to contain the spirit of my apprentice in the Dragon statue,” Parmanen said without a trace of emotion. “We will let them. It will be easier to let them think they have won. But Faethril is strong, and will be stronger once she’s whole again.” A soft smile finally curved his lips. “And then we will find Anyatka and her brothers and they will be sorry that they did not kill me when they had the chance.”

Advertisements

Overdone: Failure

I am no leader. Everywhere I look is my failure to protect the ones I love. It is only by pure luck that Eruviel is safe. But the others I love. I have failed them.

Anyatka taken.

Abiorn injured.

What kind of older brother am I?

Ninim dead.

The child abandoned.

As I stand here now, it seems as all the choices I have made in life have led to sorrow.

What am I doing?

Why am I pretending I can lead these people? It is clear that I cannot. I never asked to be a leader. All I wanted was my sister safe and whole and alone in her own mind. The urge to lose myself in the woods and let my hair grow wild again is strong. To run until I pass out on a soft bed of pine needles or stalk a deer through the trees. Simpler things. Easy things. Things that allow me to forget.

Now she is gone. I can only hope Esthyr and Hallem return with good news. But that man’s power… how can little Esthyr’s wards stand up to the power Parmanen wields?

That man.

That evil son of a bitch.

I never liked him. He smiled too much and preened and cooed over my family far too easily. And he never took anything save a meal. Never called in a favor. Never demanded better prices. I know what he wanted now for all those years when he sat at our table and broke bread with us and charmed my sister with his tales of adventure and Beren and Luthien and Túrin son of Húrin and his sister Lalaith and Idril Celebrindal and the rise and fall of the Elves in Beleriand. Of the rise and fall of Númenor. Of the beauty of Lake Nenuial and the northern capital of Arnor, Annúminas, in its full and domineering glory.

And then his tales of the present day. The ruins left as the only remnants of the past glories. How he and his band of merry adventurers would explore and record their findings in order to preserve the great history of the lands. How they needed someone with a strong hand not with a sword, but with a pen to help with the process.

Anya’s basic training in drawing and painting had served her well as a woman of status. But she had never been allowed to nurture it and let it grow and once I realized how far her talent had come once she had the freedom to find her muse in Bree, I understood how much she was controlled. Held back. Devalued. Bookie saw that. He fed her desire to create. To contribute. To be worthy of something. He exploited that in her because he needed her.

And now he has her.

I cannot lose myself this time. I cannot disappear into the wilds. My sister needs me. My brother needs me.

This time, I will not fail.

Overdone: Plans

Over the past two days, we have scouted the island in order to plan for our quest to obtain the Dragon for my sister. According to Threz, the leader of the band of tomb robbers is Lômiphel and her influence stretches all the way to the Baranduin. How this woman took control of the various bands of men and women throughout the region, I can hardly imagine. Their activities make the believe there is a bigger plot at bay.

The men take turns patrolling the shoreline to ascertain the movements of the robbers. It seems as though they stay relatively clear of the Eavespires and I cannot say I blame them. Several visual contacts of Gauredain have been reported and as the wolf-men could probably watch us without revealing their positions, I can only assume they are making their presence known.

Bayn has found us at the Eavespires camp  and has generously gathered and confirmed valuable information. He reports approximately three dozen men and women occupy the island at any one time. No shipments out are occurring and very few shipments in have been seen in the past two days. The robbers appear to be well fortified within the remains of the old estate and he believes he has identified Lômiphel as a tall woman with raven black hair worn in a braid to her waist and sharp, angled features.

After several discussions with all involved, I believe that a combination of tactics would be best. Threz will contact and arrange a meeting with Lômiphel on the far eastern shores of the island. Concurrently, Hallem will lead a second team to cause a distraction that will lead the robbers away from the estate. Our best bet is to set fire to the brush on the eastern shore near their camp. After setting the blaze, that team will enter the estate from the back, semi-flooded stairwell on the western side of the estate to search for the Dragon. With any luck, we can find the statue and be out of there before the tomb robbers are able to control the blaze.

If luck failed to find us… there is always our blades…

Overdone: Stars

Safflower Tuffin stood on the hill overlooking Oatbarton. She rubbed her arn as she thought back to two weeks ago when she collapsed in a heap just inside the round door of her little homestead at Northcotton Farms. She remembered how she winced as she pulled the cotton fabric of her sleeve from the drying wound on her arm. The light blue was stained dark brown and she knew that if she pulled it off, the bite would start bleeding again.

“Bloody wolves,” she had cursed beneath her breath.

The animals had begun moving into the Bullroarer’s Sward again and she did not have to wander far to see signs of their passage. For a piemaker, she was extremely well versed in the lay of the surrounding lands all the way up to the far northern sands of the banks of the Brandywine.

The Baranduin Coldaer called it. She had humoured the shaggy man of the wilds and allowed him to teach her the tales of his people and how to read the language found etched in the ruins of all that was left of his people’s legacy. It was he who gave her the shining star trinket for assisting him when she found him wounded and alone on the dunes. It was he who opened her eyes to the Big Folks’ world beyond the Shire.

She thought of the gift he gave her for making the trek to his little haven to deliver food and medicine as he recovered from the injuries he had sustained in his adventures. The little clear star was hardly the size of her thumbnail and it reminded her of the glass stars Ronald made for children’s mobiles. It wasn’t made of glass, however, this little star.

“Adamant,” Coldaer had said. “A gem that is nearly indestructible. I think you are nearly indestructable, Miss Tuffin. You will probably outlive me.”

“Yes, especially if you keep traipsing about without watching your back like you say you do, Master Coldaer!” Safflower had smiled up at the Ranger who, once on his feet, would have been a bit intimidating if it hadn’t been for his gentle brown eyes. Coldaer had laughed but there was something about the way he looked at her that made her regret the joke.

The stars began to rise over the Sward and she thought of Miss Harawyn and Master Tenorbekk and how thoughtful they had been to help her clear the infection that set in from the wolf’s bite. While she didn’t feel like a werewolf (the full moon had passed after all), she knew the villagers would feel better about things now that she had taken the ancient antidote. And besides, it cleared up the infection within the hour.

As the stars twinkled into being, she thought of the empty space in her collection box where the adamant star had sat for years. It was only fitting that she received it for helping a man live and in return she gifted it to her own saviors. Master Tenorbekk had accepted the star with a disgruntled humility she found endearing. She only hoped he had the fortunes of having someone to pass it along to if he should ever have need.

~~~***~~~

ScreenShot00392The ruins of Rantost loomed over the motley collection of men and women that represented the dozen pockets of tomb robbers throughout Evendim. Lômiphel had worked hard to secure their allegiances through temptation or threat over the past year and eight months ago, the return of her father, Parmanen, only made things easier.

Parmanen was timeless; Lômiphel knew her father had to be reaching seventy, but the man looked no more than a weathered late forties. She knew part of it had to do with his command of the elements around him; she knew he possessed a magic that could slow the decay of time. He favored ice over fire and thus the island in the middle of Lake Nenuial was a perfect base for his most loyal followers. She herself had felt the icy blast of his disdain and often wondered why she had no magical influence over ice or fire herself.

Not that it mattered. Her eyes could reel in most men and women and if that failed, she always had her sword or Redford’s brute strength leading the power of the rest of the tomb robbers’ clans to beat the dissenters into submission. Power. And strength. This is what she learned from her father and for that she will always be grateful.

Now, as she watched the boats glide across the deep blue waters of the Nenuial, Lômiphel wondered how a little adamant trinket could possibly bring her father more power or strength. They had been looking for it for months and most men knew the search was a going to yield nothing. Still, Parmanen insisted the little star would find its way to reveal itself and they had to be in position to seize it when it did.

Redford stepped from the boat even before it pulled up fully onto the banks of their island. “Nothing,” he said bitterly and she frowned at her husband.

“So we can rule out Tham Ornen?” she said coolly.

“Yes. You shouldn’t be so surprised.” Redford shot a glance toward the ruins of the large estate. “I thought your father said it was getting closer,” he muttered to her as he joined her side.

“My father never said when it’d show,” she reminded him with a quick yet withering glance. Redford ducked his head and shifted his gaze from her face to the brittle grass beneath their feet. “Besides, it is not as though you came back empty handed.” Lômiphel looked over her shoulder at the second boat which had several large brown sacks stacked in its bow.

“The men are getting restless, Lôm. I  had to let them bring back something. We found a nice-”

“You wasted time.” Parmanen’s voice was crisp in the late autumn air. “You must understand how important this is, Redford. We cannot be complacent.”

Redford ran a hand through his hair and said without looking at his father-in-law, “But if we only knew why…”

The wind picked up around them and tossed Redford’s hair causing him to shudder from the chill running down his spine.

“Do you not have faith, Redford? This artifact will bring us more riches than you can imagine. The men will be placated. It will help us take Annúminas from the Rangers and then the entire city will be ours.”

Though Redford still looked skeptical as he looked at his wife, he nodded. “All right, all right,” he mumbled and quickly went to help his men unload their plunder.

Lômiphel walked up to stand beside her father and they watched as Redford yelled at one of the men for nearly dropping a sack into the lake. A shove and a punch and the man was cowering beneath Redford’s imposing form on the rocky bank.

“He is not pleased with our guest,” Parmanen commented dryly.

“No,” Lômiphel agreed. “He is not. He does not trust him. But you do?” The daughter looked up at the father seeking his guidance.

“Oh, yes. To the extent that any man can be trusted, Lôm. Do not fear him. He is well under control.”

“Do you truly think this gem will bring the power back to the Dragon, Father? It seems to function well without it.”

Parmanen kept his gaze on his son-in-law as the man beat the clumsy robber into submission. “I need it for more than a good luck charm, my daughter. Do not worry about why the Dragon must be whole.” He turned finally and smiled, his dark brown eyes penetrating hers with an intensity that made her feel completely naked and vulnerable.

“In time,” he said softly, “ you will see.”

Nothing

After the encounter with the Gauredain…

The Last Huntress of The Dreadward Tribunal

ScreenShot00215

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.

View original post 923 more words

Overdone: Instincts

From High King's Crossing

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.

From High King's Crossing

~~~***~~~

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.

Not Morty.

“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.

Not Morty.

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?”

Not Morty.

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.

Not Morty.

“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.

Overdone: The Strength of One

His scent is heavy. Both young and wise in such a Man’s body. He follows their trails to ensure they are safe.

I will do the same.

Mainy seasons have passed since I left the sanctuary of the forest. Perhaps my paws have forgotten the feel of the grass of the Shire. The sands of the Barandalf. How long has it been since my muscles have strained as I tore over open plains?

My pack is strong. I trust them to keep the vigil and watch over her as I have watched over her since I returned from the burning Brown Lands to find her still and beautiful. I can finally leave the forest without fear.

Her scent keeps me alive.

Her understanding keeps me strong.

Her forgiveness guides me.

She tells me in my slumber that the Mountain-lake Pack is troubled. Their members quarrel and stray. In the years since I was exiled, the descendants of Shadowclaw have only grown fatter and more frivolous. They see not what their actions do to the security of the pack. They did not listen. They would not help me. They forced my hand and I pay the price to this day.

And now, as Bregamir and Hara… Hara move north…

I will not help them but I’ll help Them.

His scent is heavy.

It keeps me strong.

She tells me they are strong through visions of trees and flowers. They reach the sky, tall and terrible to behold with the majesty of the days when the Old Forest took me from the western sea to the Anduin. Brilliant colours: crimson and greens and blues. Gold and orange. Then the vision shifts and I understand they seek great peril. A great winged-worm of silver. An iris such a deep burgundy it is black. The earth speaks deep secrets if only one is willing to listen.

He listens. They will hear.

Or they will die.

Silloth, when will I hear your shining laughter again?

~~~***~~~

Arrival in Oatbarton

They arrived in Oatbarton without incident. Anya’s wrists chafed beneath the cords that wrapped around her wrists, but she did not complain. For most of the ride, she simply listened to Abiorn ramble about tracking and hunting and Bregamir’s training. She hoped the boy understood that he would never be able to keep up with “normal” young men. She hoped his hopes wouldn’t be crushed.

The waggon turned and climbed a steep slope up to the farms. She listened to the others debate about what was good for her and what was not and tried not to respond with the emotions that rolled through her. She understood that they were acting in her best interest. Their best interest. She felt Faethril surge when Anric sat in the back of the waggon with her. But it didn’t make it any easier.

See how they leave you behind?

She tried not to jump as the voice echoed in her head.

“They didn’t leave me behind. People stayed with me.”

To watch over you. To bind you. Try to control you. They do not trust you; they fear you for no reason. Give them a reason to fear you. Take control by accepting the power only I can give you. Strike down those that try to wear you away to the small, suffering whelp you once were.

“Why? Why do you do this?”

Let me show you…

Blackness that faded into a midnight sky. No stars dotted the great expanse above. A swirling disorientation and Anya was standing before the Tower in the Lone-lands where she knew Faethril’s master, Delostor kept his study. Anya moved forward and reached to the worn handle. Her footsteps echoed off the stone walls. There. At his workstation with his back to the stairs, Master Delostor held the heirloom in his hand. He chanted over the small silver dragon as he held it in the smoke rising from his ritual bowl.

She stood at the top of the stair with her hands clasped in front of her. She could feel the power of the experiment.

“You are certain you wish to do this? Once done, it can not be undone.” Her master’s voice was silky and rich. It cooed like a lover even as the purple smoke curled around his head as if caressing him.

She nodded.

“Very well. You have it?”

She held out her hand. A few strands of hair. His hair, freshly pulled as he slumbered next to her. He would never miss the few she plucked from his scalp; in fact, he had only winced and rolled over. As she murmured the soothing spell over him, the Adûnaic flowing with her remarkable penchant for language, he stilled and sighed. It was for him. This would make him strong – both of them strong. He would survive.

Master Delostor’s eye gleamed as he took the hair and added it to the fire.

“For the last ingredient,” he said as the smoke swirled angrily as the hairs burned, “I need your arm. Please, Faethril. Step forward.”

Anya felt herself stepping forward and she held out her left arm to the sorcerer. She felt herself cringe slightly as the jagged dagger left its sheath, but she did not pull away.

Pain.

A steady stream of crimson blood. A low hiss as a drop missed the open mouth of the dragon and fell into the flames. The smoke turned black and then a rich, warm burgundy. With a noise like a child slurping from a running stream, the dragon swallowed the smoke until it’s emerald eyes flashed like aquamarine. As they faded back to green, the remaining smoke cleared and Faethril’s master handed her the statue.

“This will protect him?”

Anya took the dragon from Master Delostor and though the metal was hot, it did not burn her. As she tilted the statue to the side, she thought she saw Aeron’s image flash in the adamant star mounted on its forehead. She ran her finger down the six set into its hide. The irony of the trophy from the King… his father’s pride. Her master had assured her the use of the Arthedain relic would not weaken the spell.

“Yes. He cannot be killed as long as this statue is whole. It will take the power of the Witch-king himself to destroy it. And your blood only strengthens the spell; you have bound your souls together until the end of time.” Delostor looked at Anya with his changeling eyes and she smiled even as she trembled.

“Thank you, my lord.” She curtsied deeply, sinking all the way to the cold stones of the tower’s floor…

You see, I will do anything. He is my strength and my succor. This world took him from me and for that it shall suffer.

Anya closed her eyes and shook her head. She heard the horses whinnying outside the waggon. She felt the heat of the fire on her face still as she leaned back against the canvas.

I will bring him back. We will have the life that was stolen from us once these Men with their petty quarrels have paid.

As she fought to ignore the sinister undercurrent, Anya whispered to her solitude, “Give me strength.”

Overdone: Whispers in the Dark

You hate him.

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.Anya's 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.

“Anric?”

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.

“Aeron?”

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…”

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.

“Fight…”

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.

She had their love.

Overdone: Preparations

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.

It was too much and it would never be enough.

Overdone: In Love Again

The inky black sky was sugared with stars as Anya walked along a side road in Durrow. She liked nights like this when the new moon allowed the true brilliance of the sky to sparkle like tiny adamants were tossed by the handful into the air.

She was taking a risk, she thought, going to him in the night. She wasn’t naive enough to think he spent them alone. But she missed Morty’s smile. His voice. The scent of his roses.

Anya cast a glance upwards and didn’t notice the rut in the dirt road. As her weight shifted unexpectedly, she let out a cry of surprise as she fell on the twisting ankle. The pain shot brightly through her, but she’d felt worse. It was nothing, really. Nothing until she hit the cold dirt and then…

It was midday and she stood looking out over yellow plains that stretched into rolling hills. The sun was brutally hot; it was midsummer and the men would be expecting the arrival of the shipment from the west as payment for the armour the fortress sent to the young settlements trying to gain a foothold as they fought over the invisible borders that ran through the Lone-lands. Rhudaur had an advantage, and though some were jostling for a temporary peace with Cardolan, Amon Sul would never find peace. Not while the palantir sat at the top of the hill and not while the Witch-king kept his heavy hand in the land. 

The elders grumbled among themselves as they crossed the courtyard. They were always grumbling to themselves these days. They disliked the tower being occupied by the dark sorcerer and did their best to keep the people away. She found him fascinating, however. He wore a robe made from the skin of a great crimson long-worm that he claimed he slaughtered in Angmar. If he ever left the tower, he carried a gnarled grey staff topped with sickly green jewels. She wondered how much truth existed in the rumours of his power and dreamed of learning his secrets.

She turned and walked down the narrow stone steps. Glancing into a rain barrel, she pulled at the corner of her sharp blue eye stretching the skin smooth. Sighing heavily, she frowned. Then, without looking up, she turned and ran into the solid mass of a man.

Strong arms caught her. They set her on her feet and a gentle, deep baritone went, “Woah, there. Easy now.”

She looked up into eyes as blue as the sapphire stones the Dwarves brought from the mountains far away. Her breath caught and her heart stopped beating. She realized her hands had grabbed hold of him in their frantic flailing and she felt his muscles flex as he steadied her and stepped back.

Aeron. He was dressed in hunting leathers instead of his metal breastplate. His arms were bare and he wore an easy smile. She had never looked at him so closely before. He was just a solider, after all. Nothing new or exciting there. Except… the way his head tilted as he regarded her. And the set of his lips as they curved into that amused smile.

“Are you all right?”

Her heart didn’t start beating again. It took off at a gallop and leapt into her throat.

Ost GuruthThen suddenly, it was night again. The stars twinkled steadily in the sky and the Valacirca hung low over the sorcerer’s tower. She felt his warmth around her, enveloping her like a warm bath. He smelled of soap and leather. His touch ignited her skin…

When Anya awoke, every bone in her body ached with damp and cold. The sharp pain in her ankle still throbbed and brought her quickly to her senses. Tears began to flow before she even tried to push herself up from the ground.

What happened? she thought as the looked up and found the Sickle high in the sky. Several hours had passed since she left for Morty’s little home on the edge of the graveyard. High above was still an inky black. Clouds had moved in blotting out the stars and for a moment, she didn’t know where she was.

The Lone-lands. She never wanted to go back. Was it a dream? It felt so real. Aeron. She saw Aeron young and alive and suddenly she missed him dreadfully. It ate away at her and made her want to bawl for want of him. The confusion that sprung up in her mind conflicted with the certainty in her heart. Why would she feel like a limb was missing? Like she’d never see sunshine again? She must have been seeing the world through Faethril’s eyes. She shuddered at the thought.

Slowly, she pulled herself to her feet and tested her swollen ankle. She looked around and regained her bearings; she was at the gate near Ravenhold. Her own home was closer than Morty’s. She tried her best to keep her weight off her tender ankle as she slowly hobbled home still pondering the dream.

Beyond the Grave

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. The Little Staddlemere

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.

“You called?”

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.”

A Staddle somewher between mine and yours.
A Staddle somewhere between mine and yours.

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.”

She nodded.

“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.”

Aeron

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.

It was time to find her way.