Somewhere

Somewhere up north

“You are not yet recovered, Father. You shouldn’t be travellin’ in the open by any means.”

“You’re concerned for me, darkling?”

“I have always been concerned for you. You’ve always been my father whether it as Parmanen or–or that other.”

“I have always been that other. There is no differentiation; only ignorance of the other.”

“…We still should not go south. You are too ill.”

“I have faith that you will watch over me, Lômiphel. And the forces I hide from are averted to other endeavors. The darkness stirs in the south.”

“People will recognize you. Those who protect her won’t let you close. They won’t let me close, neither. We don’t have the strength to start an assault on them, Father.”

“No, we do not. But perhaps…perhaps we can raise an army.”

“What is that look for? Why do you smile so? Father, what are you thinking?”

“All in due time, Lômiphel. All in due time.”

~~~***~~~

Somewhere down south

I left them there in the graveyard. I do not know what compelled me to depart so quickly. I could not stay. I would not stay with all of them standing there staring at him burying his brother.

I heard the mandolin as I walked down the worn dirt path. I heard the song carry over the wind, and I wanted to run away.

What sort of person am I that would run?

Past the cliffs, Bree sat in the distance. I saw her sitting against the hill just waiting for something perceivable in the air, but vaporous, elusive. The warm wind that wound around me stole my breath away.

I could not go back. Nothing was the same.

Oli found me north of Thornley’s. He did not ask with searching eyes, but merely fell into stride as I thudded north: step, thud-step, step, thud-step. My walking stick beat the rhythm of my stuttering heart into the Greenway. Step, thud-step, step, thud-step.

The wind grows foul. I cannot breathe.

~~~***~~~

Somewhere in between

“Oh, why yes, I do remember seeing her! That unusually large cat caught my attention, it did. I thought it was going to eat my pet turtle there! See him? See him down in the grass?”

“I’m sorry, but I cannot.”

“No? Really, no? He’s right there in the tall–Jasper! Jasper, boy, go get Tully out of the tall weeds!”

“That’s really quite all right, sir. Did the girl say where she was going?”

“Oh, just that she wanted to go into the downs, but it wasn’t safe enough for her. My Tilda and I agreed, oh, yes. Them downs ain’t safe, you know. ‘Specially for some lady lookin’ soft as she did. I was amazed her menfolk let her away like she was, all dressed nice like she come from some ceremony.”

“Nah, Pa. More like some sad thing. She was all dressed in dark. Like from a funeral!”

“Funeral’s still a ceremony, Jas. Now you just hush, boy. Git on.”

“So do you know where she was going when she left?”

“No, I’m terribly sorry. I wish I could…wait a darn moment! What do you think you’re doing?”

“This won’t take a moment. I promise.”

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What the Letters Say

What the Letters Say

Dear Rheb,

In ten day’s time, I will come with a few traders and goodsmen from Durrow and the nearby lands. I will sell for a few; we shall have summer vegetables, breads and dried meats, and some clothing, and I had Callee, my Hobbit friend, brew my favorite honeymead for you.

I believe it best if only the women come to do the trading. If there are Men-men, and not Orc-men, that should be fine, but I hope to establish create a good relationship before the others discover you have orcs. I want to protect you and your people from those who will not understand.

I hope you are well. We miss you.

With love,

Kwen

~~~***~~~

To the Keeper of the House of Medicine of Dol Amroth:

How are you, Nestor? I do hope life has settled for you and no further mischief has overcome the city. You know my propensity for disliking Dol Amroth, but I do love the people there and hope they have found happiness during the summer months.

I am writing to request the list of herbs accompanying this letter. I have a patient here in Bree who would benefit from their properties. If you have any insight into how to brew them in a way that would most benefit someone having nightmares, I would greatly appreciate your wisdom.

Wishing you and your city good health and happy days,

Cwendlwyn Tain of Bree
Field medic of the Wayfarers

~~~***~~~

Dear Callee,

I have spoken with Oendir and the eleventh it is. If you could arrive on the ninth for final preparations, I believe we will be able to solidify all plans in time.

Neilia looks forward to seeing you. Do you think the larkspur back by the lilies would survive the trip? I wish my garden here was more established. I am hoping Oen will agree to me keeping the property and continuing with my plant nursery. I do not see why he would be opposed to it.

All my love, darling,

Cwen

~~~***~~~

Dear Kupsa,

Damn, I hope you can read common. Have your dad read this to you if you can’t. ORENDIR <— have him read it!

I just wanted to say hi and ask how everyone was up there. Is it really still ice even though it is summer? Bree is all right. There’s lots of flowers and honey to be had and everything tastes fresh. You should come visit with your brother and sister sometime. I think you folks would love it, especially Kipina. How is she, by the way?

Vahan is doing great. I know he’s just the runt, but down here, he’s really something special. My brother Eirikr is training him and he’s pretty good most of the time. He gets along really well with our other dog, Bear, but not so much with my sister’s cats. But no one really gets along with them.

Maybe this year we can come visit you again. I think Vahan misses the snow.

Write back! (if you can)

Your friend,

Abiorn of Dale

~~~***~~~

Dear cats that belong to my sister:

STAY OFF MY BED.

I know you can read this, you blasted lynx.

~~~***~~~

Dear Father,

The relic is still guarded well by a sorcerer of some power. My own is not strong enough to dispel the wards placed over it.

I am biding my time and getting to know the people, as you said. There is one who is incredibly suspicious of me; I recall his face from the Ranger’s keep. It is hard to forget.

I do not feel as though he is a normal grave-digger. The girl disappeared for several days after he did; he returned with a sword of some magnificence, but otherwise appears unchanged. How would you like for me to proceed with him?

I will travel to the ruins as before. North, this time.

Your daughter

~~~***~~~

Your excellency,

It is with great pleasure that I congratulate you on the engagement of your son Dunstan to the daughter of Magan. He is a fine man. My only regret, of course, is that it is not my daughter! The foolish girl does not deserve so fine a young man.

Regarding the shipment, it is on schedule to arrive in two weeks. Your influence with the Captain of the Guard will be most beneficial to its safety. Again, I cannot thank you for your assistance in this matter in any other way than my support for your illustrious position. May your court remain true to justice and continue to measure the men of Dale with its wisdom and mercy.

Kolrson, son of Sote

Rain and Snow and Ice

She wouldn’t tell a single person about this part of the trip even though it was the most exciting.

ScreenShot00415
Rush and Lina’s view on a non-rainy afternoon.

There was nothing in Trestlebridge except ash and mud. While Rush tramped about seeking his calling, she spent most days distracting the boys around town with coy smiles and giggles, but many had a hard time seeing through the man’s shirt and breeches she wore. Every night she met Rush by the stables and together they’d trudge up the hill where they made a camp meager in all things save the view; the Trestlespan straddling the canyon was still breathtaking even if the town that shared its name was not.

It had been misting most of the day, but the afternoon saw the skies open with a cold rain that soaked through heavy cloaks and carried the weight of a long winter ahead. Even now, the mud and cold added a special excitement to Rush as he learned how to please and be pleased. They added to the normality that the act had become but it was different this time also because she felt that somehow, she knew. She knew he was inexperienced, and for all his casual certainty in his clothes, there was that hesitant fumbling about him now that he was out of them and it made her smile and enjoy him even more.

No, she wouldn’t tell a single person about this part of the trip.

The ladies at the Mantle would surely gossip about Lina schooling a youngster and then the bosses would catch wind and coin would be expected. And even though he offered to help pay for the time she stole from her work before this bit of entertainment was proposed, she had refused his money. She wasn’t going to take a single coin and she wasn’t going to tell anyone.

Though she did not know why.

As the rain continued to fall and their fire died down, Lina arched over Rush and kissed his mouth. He tasted and smelled of whiskey and pipeweed. Such smells for a seventeen year-old boy.

~~~***~~~

Snow had a way of silencing the land for leagues in all directions that it lay. It’s weight could bring down a roof, yet it fell so calmly from sundropped clouds and settled on Cwen’s shoulders as gently as a lover’s touch. The crystals nested in her dark hair and clung to her lashes causing her to blink at the vision of Fiddler’s Falls half-frozen in its perpetual cascade down the cliff’s side. Even the song of the waterfall seemed dampened beneath the heavy blanket of white.

After the new year, she resolved herself. After the new year, we will return to Buckland and things can return to something normal. Something easy.

She wasn’t running away, she told herself. She had no home here in Durrow and though Ravenhold was welcoming, the gardens were not hers, the beds were his, and the yard was a monument to someone else.

Did she really think she could find a new home here in the land of Men? The house she found with Rheb had been as perfect as any she’d seen in all of the lands of Men: an expansive yard begging to bear fruit and herb and bloom, the Dunwash flowing gracefully past the backyard. But Oendir owned it. Mathdor had lived in it. So many memories that wounded so deeply. In such a small village as Durrow, she knew she could not dodge their shadows forever.

And truth be told, she had unfinished business in Buckland.

B.

The muffled cry of the Falls had no more answers than the Shire night sky.

Without feeling the cold, Cwen sank into the snow and fell back, heedless of winter’s fingers slipping into her collar. As she stared up at the cloudy sky, fluffy flakes began to descend and she made no effort to move as they slowly began to sting the exposed skin of her cheeks and mingled with her icy tears.

~~~***~~~

Snow came cold and fast in the mountains and held on long into spring. A long, black shadow strode through the breezy flakes of ice toward some unseen purpose. It traveled its path as if it hardly needed eyes to find it and soon, it disappeared around a frozen outcropping.

ScreenShot00223The cave was illuminated by a central fire and low torches along the smooth, almost circular wall. Parmanen dropped down to his knee beside the fire and added several dry logs from the large pile stashed there in warmer times. The man sighed as he stoked the flames and wiped his brow. Fire.

A sound at the entrance of the cave caught his attention and he turned quickly, his old eyes tired. A head of beautiful raven black hair ducked to avoid the icicles over the entry and Parmanen sighed again as his daughter entered from the cold. Wordlessly, she stared at him as she assessed his reaction.

Stepping further into the cave, Lômiphel finally spoke.

“Expecting someone else, Father?”

Parmanen shook his head and tossed her the bag he carried over his shoulder.

“There is food in there. Eat. We will not stay in these caves long.”

The woman caught the bag against her chest and glared at the man. “Where are we going? Rantost is north. We can rebuild. Get back what we lost.”

“What we lost is not north, my daughter. But we must proceed carefully. In the land of the halflings, we would stand out. The red-haired one revealed they had made friends there, thinking information was what we sought. No, we must take the Hills further east and then past the old capital of Arthedain.”

“This is madness,” Lômiphel spat. “If you are who you say you are and have betrayed who you claim to have betrayed, this will only end with our own, Father. You cannot stand against the power in the East.”

A scoff and a flip of a hand greeted Lômiphel.

“I mean not to challenge the Dark Lord himself, silly girl. I merely wish to take back what I lost. If in the process, some of his enemies are destroyed, the Great Eye will surely see the profit in my actions.

Yes,” Parmanen said as he covered the wall of the cave in a sheet of ice. From the smooth surface, mountains rose, and forests grew, and then rivers cut across the lands of Eriador.

“They are here, somewhere,” he said as he stared at the map of ice and stone. “They cannot hide it from me.”

Waiting for Change

Anyatka stared into the looking glass hung over the little table Eirikr bought her for getting ready in the morning. Her brush and a fine-toothed comb sat on it as well as a stray auburn hair. She gently pulled it from the teeth of the brush and held it up in front of her face. The image of herself staring at it caught her attention, though almost immediately the effect was lost.

She frowned up at herself and touched the raven black locks that hung around her face. It was a startling change and a constant reminder of what had happened in Evendim. She told her brothers she did not remember much of her captivity with Parmanen, and truthfully, she didn’t, but what she did, she had rather not even whisper aloud. It was cold. It was frightening. But it was never painful. It was just confusing.

Regardless, she did not mind the dark hair. It gave her an element of anonymity that her red hair never had bestowed upon her. People simply were not looking for a black-haired Anyatka Tenorbrook.

No one had commented on the change, really. Perhaps they thought she did it on purpose. It wouldn’t be too hard for a painter to play with the colours until one worked on hair. But black? It was an extreme change and she was not certain she liked it, but she was also not certain she did not like it. What sort of girl took the time to dye her hair black, anyway?

The kind that chose a grave-digger over a jeweler, Anya thought to herself dryly as she grimaced at her reflection.

~~~***~~~

The sound of gulls filled the air as Arameril rushed down the docks toward The Chipper Kipper. She hoped to make the final voyage of the afternoon; certainly becoming a nobleman’s wife would curtail such excursions greatly in the future. Just a few short weeks, she thought.

Autumn was quickly fading into winter and she wondered if she shouldn’t forgo the speedy preparations and allow some breathing room. But a year apart from Pengail’s embrace each day did not sound appealing to her and she wanted a fall wedding, so the only logical choice was the get married and NOW!

She smiled as she passed the dock that served the ferries to the islands lying off the coast of Belfalas.

Her wedding gown was being altered even as she wound her way through the crowded docks. She felt she should write to Lady Golchalad for gifting her the magnificent gown. She wanted to call on her father to reassure him that his inability to pay for such an extravagant expense did nothing to lessen her love for him. But she wasn’t certain if such steps were appropriate, and though Arameril rarely did things ‘appropriately,’ she knew that that had to change.

She rounded the corner and barreled down the long dock to The Chipper Kipper. She greeted Scuppers and a few of the other crewmen before excusing herself from their congratulations and making her way to the rail overlooking the vast expanse of the ocean.

Only from the deck of this ship, she thought as the vessel began to move into open waters, only from this ship will I ever find the freedom of the sea.

Hathlafel did not believe that she understood what she was giving up by marrying so young. Perhaps he thought they only wanted a tumble in bed and were jumping ahead of themselves as they thought with their passions instead of their minds. She was uncertain how to convince her father that she did understand the consequences of marrying Pengail of House Nomin at the age of nineteen.

She knew.

One last voyage or two before the wedding day. Pengail would tolerate a trip on The Chipper Kipper every now and then, but she would not ask him too often. She knew how uncomfortable it made him ever since that first day when he never ventured near the rail and never felt the unbridled spray cleansing his skin as he laughed in the wake of the waves.

Arameril willingly gave up the sea for him.

Oh, yes. She knew what the consequences were.

And still she smiled at the seagulls as they circled the main mast. She greeted the late autumn sun with a hope. She could say goodbye one day to her dreams of sailing on a ship of her own and welcome the dream of Pengail of House Nomin and babies and riding. She would play the lute in the evenings and together they would teach their children how to remain honorable and whole in such a busy place as Dol Amroth. Maybe one day, they would take their family on adventures by traveling across the lands on foot.

Bree was still a possibility.

She thought of her friends there and missed them greatly. For a brief moment, she saw the top of Hallem Kemp’s head as he tucked his chin to stare at the ground after their climb. She felt his hand as they waited for Lady Gwenithel at the exchange that revealed to her that Sir Hathlafel was in fact her father, his expression when she ordered the kill.

Bree was still a possibility, but in a different way. In a different time.

Right now, the waves crashed and the seagulls cried and The Chipper Kipper cut through the surf like a knife through butter and Arameril was content.

~~~***~~~

Eirikr waited until the cabin was empty of his siblings before he climbed out of bed. Anya had tended to his burns with a surprising gentleness, but he was relieved for the quiet that fell when she left to go draw in Staddle. The bandages around his head tickled and itched, though he took it as a good sign that his face no longer felt like it was a raging fire, but more of a dull burn. The pain medicine was finally working.

The journey back from Tinnudir had been agonizing though he tried his best not to show it. Kvígr trod lightly as if he knew his master was in pain, but once he nearly fell out of the saddle, exhausted from the effort it took to keep focused on the road ahead. The others insisted he ride in the waggon to rest and recover and he had little argument as he could barely keep his eyes open. It felt so much better to keep them closed, anyway.

He slipped into Anya’s room and stared at himself in her mirror. He had to stoop to do so and finally he pulled out her little cushioned chair and sat in her place. Carefully, he pulled the bandages aside and grimaced.

It was a burn. A bad burn with blistering and redness and a bit of white around the little dip where the bolt had hit his temple. At least it was no bigger than the tip of my pinky, he thought feeling detached from the face that bore such injuries.

Quickly, however, the fire set in his flesh mounted as he stared at the injury and he felt woozy. It was indeed his face that was marred so. It was his pain that shot through him along every nerve. He had hoped there would be some improvement by now, but he knew it would be a long time until a burn like his healed. He carefully re-wrapped his face. He looked around for the medicine that the healers had given him; the dose Anya had given him before she left clearly was not enough.

He took another and fell gently into bed, moaning.

He wouldn’t show anyone how much pain he was in, not Anya, not Abiorn, not Eruviel.

Never Eruviel.

~~~***~~~

 Cwendlwyn rushed after Hallem as he practically dragged her down the dark tunnel after Maggie and Sahu. She fought back tears as she envisioned Atanamir on his knees with that iron collar around his neck. She knew that somewhere in her memories, her own pain at being controlled, subjugated, and raped amplified her fear for him. From what little she knew of his past, she knew that he was capable and had been through more than she could ever imagine.

But that collar.

She had to admit to herself that she was afraid.

The fear in her lived and grew and had a will of its own. She did not know about Hallem, but she had no magic. No pool of tricks to shoot flame or send tendrils of dark shadows after her enemies. She was just a woman with a sword and a shield and a love of life and things that grew.

How much did she love life? In all her trials, it seemed that only now did she truly understood how much she loved life. The trees, the flowers, the grass beneath her bare feet. Her daughter, her friends. Cooking and healing and growing. That was what she was there for. That was her purpose: to preserve and protect life in any way she could find.

Something changed in her as she ran close next to Hallem. Her fear focused into a point in her chest and instead of choking her, it strengthened her because no matter what happened to her, she knew that life always blossomed after death. The leaves fell to be born anew. The plants died to nourish the next generation. She would fight tooth and nail to protect that which lived, but she found the faith that had evaded her for so long.

Yavanna, even here you are present in the moss on the stones and I would do well to remember that. The cycle continues and I am but a spoke in the wheel. For too long have I wandered in shadow when all the time I have held the light. 

She would fight to free Atanamir and save those dear to her. It was her purpose. It was her calling. And she would do good to remember it and not let the dark tunnels of Moria change her so.

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.”

Overdone: Life Well Spent

((Much spoilers))

Somewhere in the ruined city of Annúminas

“Why am I here?”

Anya looked up at Bookie – Parmanen – as she sat across the narrow table with him. Her hands, still bound, sat in her lap.

“You have something of mine.” Parmanen’s even tone never faltered, though Anya thought she detected a slight weariness to it that she did not remember from a year ago. “I would like it back.”

“The bracelet?” Anya’s voice broke and a girl wearing an iron collar stepped forward to hold a crystal goblet to her lips. Anya turned her head away stubbornly though her throat burned with thirst. “It is gone. Anric destroyed it. What have you done to him?”

Parmanen’s brown eyes regarded her for a moment before he pressed his fingertips together and looked toward the door to the decrepit dining hall.

“I have relieved him of the burden of loving Anyatka. It’s a pity, you know. The man must be a fool to risk his life for the woman who broke his heart.”

She felt the blow of his words strongly, but did her best not to let her expression shift from her show of indignation. “How did you capture him? He’s far too skilled to be caught by the likes of you! When our caravan was attacked in Bree, you told me to run…”

“My darling Anyatka. Surely you know that all those brigands are dead. Well, except for the ones that now serve me, of course. But regardless, your Anric was not captured. He was found.” Parmanen took a drink from his own goblet and set it down carefully. He rotated it so that it lined up with the silver Dragon statue sitting directly between them. “Washed up on the shores of the…. what do those darling Hobbits call it? The Brandywine? Mhmm, just north of Barad Tharsír, waterlogged and unknowing of his own name.

“My scouts knew he belonged to your party. It was easy to convince him his name was Aeron of Rhudaur and he was in love with his wife, Faethril. And,” Parmanen tapped his heart and then his temple before pointing at Anya, “that I could bring her to him after his years away at war.”

“I am not Faethril,” she said hoarsely. “I never shall be.”

“Oh,” he said, “but it won’t be your choice.” He held her gaze as he stood and walked the long way around the table to stand behind her. “You see, that statue consumed her blood. And because you awoke her in the bracelet, she is inside you. The two parts to a whole. They’re lonely, Anya. Let them be reunited and give her a chance at peace.”

He gently rested a hand on either shoulder. “This wayward piece inside of you, like an arm or a leg, merely wants to join with its body again. But this is not an arm or a leg, Anya.” Parmanen leaned in closely and whispered next to her hear: “It is her conscience, Anya.” He straightened and rested his hand on her shoulder. “No wonder she tried to hurt you. All she wants is to find her dear Aeron again.”

Anya’s voice shook as she said, “Anric is not Aeron. Aeron is dead! He passed on and is at peace with his fate!”

“Then why are you here, my dear child? How did you know to come for the Dragon?”

Anya’s heart leaped. “Wh-what do you mean?”

“You came here looking for this, did you not?” He motioned toward the Dragon sitting in the middle of the table. “How did you know to look for it?”

She looked away from him, flushing deeply.

“Yes. He told you. You see, he has not entirely passed on my dear.” He traced the curve of her ear with a finger. “She bound him to the Dragon as well.”

A shiver ran down her back. “What is it?” she asked in a whisper.

“A worthless relic, a trophy from a false king. Yet it has power because Aeron’s family prized it and my Faethril prized Aeron.” Parmanen picked it up and turned it over in his hand. “So we took it. We enchanted it and cast a spell that bound his spirit to the cold metal and by chance, Faethril’s blood contaminated the spell. It left her too weak to perform her ritual when she went behind my back and bound herself to that bracelet. It almost killed her. But I found her in time.” His fingers trailed over the setting in its forehead for a large, missing, stone.

“And ultimately… it gives us a second chance. Your love ruined it the first time around, didn’t he? Try to save you? That is why you no longer wear the bracelet.”

“Anric was not my love then. He did it out of the goodness of his heart. And Eruviel, too.”

“But then you fell in love with him,” Parmanen pointed out calmly.

“What does that matter?”

The man smiled. “It matters because it allowed Faethril to take hold again. And it allows her to take hold now. But not yet. It’s too soon.” With the utmost care, he placed the Dragon back in the middle of the table.

“There is one more piece to this puzzle,” he said with a smile as he resumed his seat across the table from her. Dinner was brought in by several servants wearing those heavy metal collars. “But once I have it, she will be able to return.”

Anya gave Parmanen a contemplative look. Her soft grey eyes had not flickered since Parmanen bent the firelight around them and they slipped away from the camp at Rantost. Though it was still a struggle to keep Faethril’s visions and thoughts at bay, she found it was easier here near Anric who thought he was Aeron and Parmanen who thought he was a long dead Black Numenorean. It was as if Faethril was less agitated with her lot in life.

“You see, my dearest Anyatka,” Parmanen said softly as he lifted his goblet, “your life for hers. I would say that is a life well spent.”

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: 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.”