Through the Mirror

Streets never scared her before. Fear came from closed doors with chains. Tight places where she could barely move. Long marches to foreign lands. Angry silences before the fall of the lash. Things so rare that she felt as though she deserved them when they came for her because she must have done something wrong, so very wrong. Her life in-between those moments of fear never seemed to raise the hairs on the back of her neck or compel her to glance over her shoulder on the walk home from the market. In day to day life, walking down the street had never scared her before.

In day to day life, walking down the street had never scared her before.

Walking down the street now was different for Najwa. She kept her hood up and her head down and tried not to think about the familiar streets back home. So many leagues, mountains, and forests separated her from them that she doubted she would ever find herself walking their paths again. She hardly thought of them by day, but at night in the fading twilight, they felt comforting and familiar and the cold streets of Bree felt like the foreign land they belonged to. Wary. Strange. Different.

Different somehow from the days when she had a large house full of powerful men or a cabin full of cats to call home instead of a tiny shared room in a house full of girls in various stages of alone. They lived by twos in those tiny rooms: two beds, two trunks, two hooks for gowns. Two girls to each tiny closet, yet for Najwa, she might as well have lived alone; at least she would accept her own presence without suspicion.

She should be thankful, she told herself. So she lost her life from before they marched to the Mrachniiles to face the tall knife-ears with their arrows and spears. She lost the beds of silk pillows on sun-warmed stones. No more lavish banquets at which to pour wine and listen to the secret dealings of the chieftains as she sat at their heels. No wooden bowls to mix dough for the hearth fire. No masters to nourish and no earning their praise.

But she had a bed nonetheless. And she had friends even if her dour roommate was not one of them. She would find a better place, she told herself. And as long as she kept her head down and her eyes low, she could find her way through the streets of Bree. And if they stayed in color, and mud brown was better than black and white any day.

~~~***~~~

The warmth of the fire kept the hut cozy. Cwendlwyn resisted the sounds of morning filling the camp; she did not want to go out into the cold winter air to pack her saddlebags and leave Rheb and the simplicity of her life in the Lone-lands behind. The flat of his nails trailed down her back as he began to rejoin the waking world and the gentle pressure reassured her.

The flat of his nails trailed down her back as he began to rejoin the waking world and the gentle pressure reassured her.

Tomorrow, she would go home. Her husband would take her in his arms and smile and ask how she was because he cares. Maybe he would have flowers or a gift to show his love. Their children would celebrate the sweets she would bake.

But for now, Rheb’s nail slid across her shoulder and the warmth of her blood slipping down her back made her growl.

(Two of six I need to write.)

 

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A Bitter Pill: Selfish

Are you all right?
“What if Oendir remembers and is hurt because you left?”
“Things will work out in time.”
“How will Rheb find you?”
“How can you take the children away from Durrow?”
“What’s wrong with you?”
“I think you’re being selfish.”


Cwendlwyn, daughter of Framham of the Mark–of Dunland, did not ride her horse to Buckland. When she climbed into the saddle, it took far too long for her to fit her toe in the stirrup and she had difficulty situating her legs over the saddle. Then, she kept dropping her reins. Anyatka, daughter of Kolrson of Dale, suggested that they all ride together in the worn wagon so they could keep each other company. So Cwendlwyn found herself in the wagon with Solstan and Neilia and Bean, Jr. walked beside them as the rode.

Truth be told, she thought that she slept a good portion of the ride, but time was hard to grasp nowadays. The wagon rocked gently back and forth; they did not rush. They had no need to speed their way to the Shire. Time moved differently there, Cwendlwyn said. It would be the same tomorrow as it was today.

She had taken Callee’s letters regarding the influx of southern Men as a consequence of the war to the south. Bree surely had its handful and a half of refugees seeking peace. The problems with money and curfews and Men were not things she was unfamiliar with. So she didn’t think much of it.

Cwendlwyn didn’t think much of anything, really. When she did think, the thoughts turned on her and she did not want them anymore. The thought was considered that a potion to quiet the other thoughts forever would be nice, but a potion like that would quiet everything and she wouldn’t be anymore. Luckily, the thought that some people might actually be upset about that jolted her out of that musing. She had already been weighing which ingredients would work best in such a concoction when the sound of Solstan and Neilia arguing about who would eat the most cake pulled her from herself and she remembered who she was.

She smiled at them. Their driver, a local boy from Bree called Bud Goldenleaf, whistled a cheerful summer tune. She reminded them that there would be enough for both. Callee would bake until their hearts were content.

~~~***~~~

What transpired at the Hay Gate would have bothered Cwendlwyn on another day. She watched the debate between Bud and the Man and knew that wasn’t right. Why did men speak for Hobbits? The Bounders stood aside, present but silent. Eventually, had to climb out of the wagon herself to see what was the hold up.

She strapped on her sword. She gave the men a Look. Her temper was dampened by southern flowers and she handed over the gold with a roll of her eyes and a bit of a stagger just so they could be on their way.

Callee had the candles burning. Bud was given a guest room to sleep after the horses were stabled nearby. He helped carry the children to bed and Cwendwlyn couldn’t place why her chest tightened at the sight of Solstan’s sleepy head resting on the shoulder of the man who was not his father. She had him put him in her bed and she laid Neilia down beside him. Let them comfort one another, she thought somewhere among the fog.

~~~***~~~

As Callee sat down at the kitchen table, Cwendlwyn stirred her tea. She had hardly moved from her chair after Bud was gone and the children were settled. Only her hand with the silver spoon stirred and stirred slow circles in the porcelain cup.

“Now,” Callee said as she stirred her own tea, “what in the world is going on?”

Cwendlwyn stirred.

“Cwendlwyn! Look at me,” Callee demanded. The little Hobbit reached out a hand to gently smack the table between them, twice. “Where is your Oendir? Wouldn’t he wish to be here for Solstan’s birthday as well?”

Slowly, Cwendlwyn looked up. Just as slowly, she began speaking as though she was telling someone else’s story: haltingly, backtracking for forgotten pieces, expressive, but unemotional. “Isn’t that something?” she ended with. “And if I stayed, how could I, Callee? Knowing that I could bring him that sort of pain. I know what it’s like to be violated. To have something like that taken from me. And what happened to him was so much worse, Callee. What happened to him…and I am weak.” Her face twisted into tears. “I cannot be strong for him. What good am I to him except for more pain?”

Callee sat for a long time stirring while Cwendlwyn fell into silent, wrenching tears. They poured down her cheeks, yet the distant look in her eyes said she didn’t really understand them.

“I felt myself splitting there,” she broke the silence. Tears slipped into the corners of her mouth, but she only tasted the sea. “I felt torn asunder sure as any blade could do. And then Hallem and Pheadra said we should stop trying, stop trying to help him remember because it isn’t really helping him. They knew him longer than me. How can I ask Oendir to remember?”

Callee finally spoke. “They knew him longer, but do they know him best, love? And it sounds as though he is still him. What you fell in love with. The good bits, darling, the bits one should keep should one lose one’s memory.”

“Even if…even so…Look what I’ve done. I’ve messed it all up.”

Callee pursed her lips. “What have you done, Cwendlwyn.”

“I took it.”

“What did you take, love?”

“The opium. The sort they use in medicine, the sort I got from the medical stores in Dol Amroth. It makes the pain stop, Callee. I just wanted it to stop for one night, one moment so that I could think clearly and now…” Cwendlwyn’s eyes welled up again. “I cannot stop taking it. I feel like I’m dying. At times, I wish I were. And I am almost out of it, I didn’t bring enough and even if I wrote them for more it would take ages to get here and if I were Imrahil, I wouldn’t let them give me anything anymore anyway, and…”

“Shh, love. Cwen. Cwen, look at me.” Callee reached out to hold her hand across the table. Reluctantly, Cwendlwyn lifted her eyes.

“Cwen,” Callee said soothingly, “you will heal here. I will help you. I promise, love, I am always here. Here was the first place you ever felt safe in the world. That’s what you told me only months after you came to us.” She gave her a kind, motherly smile. “Be safe here. Rest and let go of what is hurting you. We’ll take care of you and get you back on your feet.”

“It is bad, Callee,” Cwendlwyn whimpered. With her  unnatural youth, her tears and weak, tired voice, she reminded the Hobbit of her first days after she came up the river to Buckleberry Ferry. Yet, Callee thought, there was a strength then that Cwendlwyn lost somewhere in the years between. Time had chipped away at her stubborn resolution. Or maybe it was not time, but the little bottle that sat on the table next to their clasped hands.

“We will fix it, my Cwendlwyn,” Callee said firmly. “We will find your roots again and you’ll see. You’ll be right as rain and ready to go back to your life in Bree. For now…this.” She nodded toward the bottle. “I am going to take it and keep it safe. If you ask for it, I will not give it to you, my dear. Not until the third time, because if you ask for it three times, I know you will do what it takes to get more. But think on it. You know the Prince may have stopped your access to their stores. You know it will take ages for it to get here, if you ask. It seems wrong for you to be so beholden, love, to something that cannot give back to you.”

Cwendlwyn thought about it, her dull eyes roaming over the polished wood of the table before her.

“Go to sleep, love. Take the second bedroom. I will make up the second guest room.”

“Callee,” Cwendlwyn said haltingly as she looked up. “It will be bad. The children…”

“You will be strong for them, Cwendlwyn.” Callee’s tone offered no argument. “When you are ill, you be ill. When you can sit, you will join us.”

“They shouldn’t see me…”

“You’re Neilia’s mother. She will know and make up something worse in her head, dear, you know that. And Solstan will worry, too. Now sleep.”

Cwendlwyn rose obediently and padded down the familiar hall to the bedroom. She sat on the edge of the bed and looked at the dark window for a long time before lying down. Callee was right. She needed to sleep now before the medicine was out of her system and sleep would be harder to come by.

~~~***~~~

ScreenShot00013They baked a cake the next day and Solstan decorated it himself with horses and ships in white icing. Cwen wore her apron and helped stir, but let Callee direct the measuring and pouring and keeping of time. She only had to excuse herself once because the room started spinning a bit and a she broke out into a cold sweat. There it is, she thought. The last relief is floating away.

That evening after a day of sending out little presents to all of the Hobbits he knew, Solstan settled down to play with the new toy ship he received for his birthday.

“You’re gathering quite a fleet,” Cwendlwyn said with a smile even as she broke out into a heavy sweat beneath her gown. Solstan grinned up from the rug and then stood to rush to hug her. She hugged him back and then Neilia joined with a laugh. Cwendlwyn held them tightly

“I wish Papa was here,” he murmured against her hair. “I miss him.”

“I know, darling,” Cwendlwyn said and with effort, she kept her voice steady. “We will go see him when he is ready.”

“Really?” He pulled back from her and looked for her comforting gaze.

“Yes, baby. It will be a lovely journey if he cannot come to us sooner.”

“I’ve never been to Rivendell!” Neilia said excitedly. “It must be so pretty!” she gasped dramatically.

“It is, darling, and you will love it,” Cwendlwyn assured her.

“When will we go?” Solstan asked with some nervous trepidation in the quaver of his voice.

“When the time is right, dearie,” Callee interjected. “Come, show me your fleet. What is a fleet?”

Solstan went to Callee with the ship and sat beside her to explain the rigging and the lines. Neilia stayed in Cwendlwyn’s lap and for a moment, the pounding in her chest calmed.

~~~***~~~

That night she slept outside. The breeze cooled her sweats and the song of the trees soothed her restlessness and anxiety. The nausea hit with less force when the stars bathed her forehead.

In the moments of peace, when the nausea was at bay and her skin cooled  enough to dry, she could hear the voice of the world around her growing, changing. Leaves furled to rest in the absence of the sun. Roots sought the nutrients of the water and soil. Life persisted.

And so would she.


Note: All songs are taken from Cwendlwyn’s established playlist!

A Bitter Pill: Shatter Me

Like a fallen looking glass
out of place and out of time,
I sit and send pieces of me
throughout the world.
In fragments, I release my worries
–all my pain and fear–
in droplets of pale black ink
With undercurrents of berry, black and blue.


Dear Taja,

I hope this reaches you soon. I was distressed to hear of your hasty departure, though I understand the need to run away from the troubles of this community. Had you asked, perhaps I would have gone with you to explore the ice shelves of Forochel again without the threats of war between your peoples. There is always a threat no matter where one is though, isn’t there? Our recent travels have shown that us that much.

Godric may have allowed you to simply leave, but I do wish you would have said farewell to people. Many care about you quite a bit. Myself included. So do take care, Taja. If you need anything, anything at all, do let us know. (I hope you kept your acorn whistle!)

Most sincerely,

Cwendlwyn

~~~***~~~

Dear Orendir,

I hope this letter brings a warm spring for you all the way up north. How is the family? Solstan and Neilia are well; Oendir and I wed last year.

Unfortunately, Oendir has gone missing. As his father, I thought that you should know, though there is little that you could do to help in the search unless for some reason he left the Trollshaws to run naked through the snow. I highly doubt that is where his feet have taken him, but one thing I have learned is that nothing is out of possibility.

Give my regards to Simi and the children, especially Kipina. You are in our thoughts.

Sincerely,

Cwendlwyn

P.S. If you think of it, could you write me about how Taja is doing? Did he return to the settlement? He left us abruptly and I am worried about him. ~C.

~~~***~~~

Dear Attie,

My patch of lemon balm is not doing well this spring. How has your garden been faring? Do you have any tricks for the herb? I know I will be using a bit of it this season.

Please let your father and mother know that I will be in town for a bit if they are interested in tea.

Sincerely,

Cwendlwyn

~~~***~~~

My dear Callee,

Greetings, my friend. I will be bringing the children to Gardeneve on the first of the month to enjoy a bit of a holiday and help with the early spring drying. I was glad to hear that the wedding of Giles and Vera went of without too much of a hitch. It is always interesting when your folk step outside your farthings to fall in love. It is dreadful about the lack of garlic mashed potatoes at the party, though, I agree.

We have much to catch up on. I look forward to seeing you soon.

Cwen

~~~***~~~

My dear Rheb,

How are you? How is the tribe?

I wanted to let you know that we are still searching for Oendir. The company has been travelling a lot on assignments, so there has not been a lot of time to look. I still believe he is alive.

I’ve enclosed some paints in the package and some canvas for stretching. I know that Han does not wish for you to waste time on your art, but you could paint anyway. The camp could use some colour. And if Han gets snappy, tell him that all cultures create art. It is what separates Man from Animal.

Though sometimes I think that the burns Solstan’s salamander leaves in my garden is his form of art…

I miss you. Be safe.

Kwen

A Bitter Pill: Request

Dear Rheb,

As I write this, I do hope that the rest of your thrusk went without further encounters (violent or otherwise). I am glad that I was able to see you and I hope that you enjoy the paints. Do you remember Anya? She lives with her brothers and their menagerie on the shore below your cliff. She mixes the pigment with some material that makes it sparkle–I forgot to tell you that. She can probably make more if you’d like.

Speaking of your cliff and your house that sat on it, Oendir is renting it to the man he’s chosen as his acting commander when he is not afield. He is Godric of Rohan and he has established himself as a disciplined and caring man if nothing else.

I tell you this for two reasons:

One, he lives there now, but if you want to come visit, I do not want that to deter you. You are always welcome in Durrow; if you’d like, you could stay in my shop on Garden street with Hunyr if the inns are too crowded for you.

Two, he wishes to meet you and I agreed to write to ask you for permission to bring him to the Lone-lands to do so. We could meet on the trading hill or further south by the Forsaken Inn. If you want, I will send him away after a short visit so that we can be left to our own desires.

That sounds far more naughty than I intended when I wrote it. I do hope Han or one of the women is not reading this to you.

On Han, he mentioned that he wished he could stand to translate for us. That you have much more to say than you are able. He said other things, but perhaps those are best left to my next visit.

I love you, Rheb. We all do, in our own ways. Please do not forget your family here in Durrow. I know one day, Oen will be able to visit. I think that you should visit here. I really, truly believe you should.

With love,

Kwen

 

Choices

Yule is spent with family. Then why am I leaving mine so soon after presents have been unwrapped to go to a land without trees and boughs of holly and roasting chestnuts?

I will bring them some. And deer sausage and leathers and fabrics from the south. Just because they live in harshness does not mean they would not like something pretty to wear.

I will bring him paints mixed by Anya: the kind that sparkles from whatever magic she puts into them. It must be magic that makes her snow peaks glitter like gems and her stars glow. Rheb will like that, I hope. He deserves a little bit of Durrow to remember us by and Oen will see that even in the Lone-lands, beauty exists and Rheb is part of creating it.

But then, if Yule is spent with family, shouldn’t he know about the child? Isn’t it my duty to tell him exactly what he’s missing away from Durrow? He wants children. Most men want children to carry on their bloodline, but I know that he wants children. He wants to be a father, and if I will not be the mother, he should know he has a child waiting for him at ho–

Durrow isn’t his home anymore. I cannot pretend that it is when I see him there, with his people, in his lands. I will ask about what I do not see. I will look at the camp with open eyes. They do not hide from me; none of them have. They do not have room for games. Secrets. Lies. The land is too stubborn to tolerate the folly of Men or Orc and I will learn what it has to tell me about its beauty.

~~~***~~~

Her pillow was wet and for the longest time, she simply laid there with her hair crumpled beneath her cheek. He was cruel to show her such things and believe that she had an actual choice. She was not strong enough to stop a storm from coming. She was not strong enough to recognize the ruby she found washed up on the edge of the lake was no regular gem.

It was just a dream, she told herself as she finally pushed herself away from the dampness of her tears. Dreams are nothing and have no sway over me. 

Oh, but they do. She rubbed her eyes. You have always believed in your dreams. 

Silliness. Silly dilly silly. 

You know the only way to stop it is to find it.–Destroy it! –Then we might just stop. He will know what to do. Take it to him.

Louder, louder! He he he!

Dreams have no sway over me.

Over us.

No, you’re all just dreams. Leave me!

A dream a dream is a wish, a wishy wishy washy wish.

Anya took a deep breath, resituated herself to be sitting cross-legged on her bed, and closed her eyes. She let the voices wash over her until they filled her head with their arguing and nonsense.

Bring it to him. Take it to him. Dreamsy dream a dram of dream! Destroy it, destroy it! Destroy them all. Wishy washy! Dead you’ll be. Him. Take it. We’ll never–Dead as a doorknob!–leave until you–Destroy it!–take it to him.–Grow, grow, root and leaf,–Rest, just rest.–reach for star and sun beneath!–Never–Bring it–Can’t…–Wilt, wilt, stalk and bloom,–Go–away–Go!–turn to dust and bring all doom!

The din of their song rose until it reached its peak and then like a wave broke and faded away to the sounds of her room: the reassuring purring of her feline friends, the crackling of a low fire in the other room, the creaking of the stone and wood around her. Though the air around her tingled, it was still. She quieted them for now.

Slipping from her bed, she walked over to set her small traveling easel upright and then stooped to retrieve a set of robes that had fallen from its hanger. She straightened the lace on the collar of a dress and then turned to look for any other damage that needed righting. Seeing nothing too telling, she took another deep breath, let it out slowly, and then turned to choose her garb for the day.

When she stepped out of her room, only the circles beneath her eyes hinted anything was out of the ordinary. Abiorn had already left for the morning taking the dogs with him and she made a note to scold him for leaving the fire so large. Still, he had left her a few biscuits for breakfast and she forced herself to eat them before resigning herself to another day.

A Bitter Pill: I Really Shouldn’t

My dearest Rheb,

The Wayfarers and I have returned to Durrow mostly unscathed. Some changes have occurred within our ranks, as it seems to happen frequently as of late, but none were lost through death. In fact, Kemendin returned to us, though he chose to stay in Dol Amroth. Oendir promised that we would check on his house on occasion. He misses you, as does Solstan and Neilia.

I would like to see you soon. I am uncertain who will be coming with me; I will bring wares from some of the Durrow vendors, but I will respect your request to limit guards to those you noted. It may just be me and an escort.

Do write quickly. Let me know when I can come to you. You will be there this time, won’t you? I was so sad that you were not last time. Perhaps you could show me your camp if I come alone. It has been years since I have seen a full moon over Weathertop.

I hope all is well. I miss you.

Love,

Kwen

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

Useless

Two days ago

She did not know that version of Hallem Kemp. Angry. Hateful. Demeaning.

Hallem had always been brutally honest with her, but she could not remember when he was down right mean to her. As she hurried through the darkening streets of Bree clutching the book she borrowed from the Archives to her chest, she swallowed back her tears and ducked her head. Several people called out greetings or warnings of the approaching night, but she did not respond to any of them.

She was not afraid of the night.

What she was afraid of was was being nothing. Forgotten and alone because she was of no use to anybody. She was afraid of being left behind while those around her went off to do brave and noble things to save the world from the Shadow. She was afraid that she was unlovable and that he had only used her as a means to his end and that none of it was real.

That was why she went to Atanamir and begged him to help her change into something worthwhile and valuable. Something strong and powerful. Something coveted beyond time and space so much so that nothing could stop her from protecting her loved ones and finally being able to do something to prove she was worthy. When he said that there was a possibility he could combine her with Faethril and give her control…but in the end she was relieved he had come up with an alternative, even though it would take time. More time than she had, she knew. But it was possible.

Anything was possible.

She did not look at the man who took the book back with a pleasant, unobtrusive smile and a thank you. She nodded and murmured something of a thanks of her own and fled from the building with the intent of fleeing Bree. The walls were suddenly too confining, too stuffy. She needed space and the soothing lap of water against the banks of the Little Staddlemere.

When she reached her willow tree, she plunged through the draping branches and leaned heavily against its trunk. Slowly, she slid down to the smooth dirt below and let the tears flow.

She cried until she was out of tears and her face lay buried in her knees as her breathing slowed. She sat there for a long time just listening to her own breathing. In and out. Slowly in and out. Each breath filled her body like a river filled a waterskin. She felt heavy and weightless at the same time; it was if she were pulling away from her body and floating among the singing branches.

Anya sighed and suddenly she felt the presence around her and like the whispers of a thousand oathbreakers, she heard something not with her ears, but with her heart.

She opened her eyes slowly, but there was nothing there except the wind. She reached out to touch the air and welcome it to her and thank it for the breath of life when he had none and suddenly she understood. In her exhaustion, she found it.

Excited, she sat up quickly and just as fast, her revelation slipped away from her grasp. She did not feel it anymore, but she knew that she could. She knew that it wanted to be known. It wanted to be heard.

She sat cross-legged and straight up. It was easier to breathe when she was not slumped over. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She listened. She breathed. She waited.

It was all that she could do.

Yesterday

The hours she spent lying beneath the graveyard roses before Hallem appeared had left Anya both sore and numb. The rain had stopped eventually, but it would take some scrubbing to get her robes clean. Some part of her scolded the choice to remain lying in the mud, but the ground beneath the beautiful white roses was not as damp as the paths between the bushes and all she could really feel was loss.

The loss of his smile. His cool touch. His gentle, encouraging words.

That is what she missed most. He gave her strength to believe in her drawing by his easy, embracing words. She opened up and bloomed from a tightly wound, fearful bud into the artist and young woman she was today. He did not fear being himself and by following his lead, she no longer did, too.

But just who was he?

She looked up at the sky. The clear sunlight seemed purest after the brief spring rain. She did not agree with Raen; she clung to the idea that the man never fully died and that somehow two became one in his flesh and bones. She felt that duality in him when his eye flashed at her. She knew what it was like to share bodies with consciousnesses that were not your own.

But she did agree with one thing the Elf had said: whether it was the last Prince of Cardolan or Morty Mossfoot that she loved, she loved him. Them. The warmth and the mystery. The gentle and the intense. The life and the death.

That was the only useful bit that she could contribute, really. Her love fed by his love which shone through in her rose bush. Her Dalish Charm planted in the middle of all the others, heavy with blossoms and growing still. Reaching. Reaching for the sun and the moon.

For the light in the darkness.

~~~***~~~

“The commander intends to come here? Just for this boy?”

“He’s not a boy, Eirikr. He has seen two decades pass.”

“Twenty? He is twenty?”

“Perhaps a bit older. Oendir looks at him as a son, though he is…you know, I do not know quite how old his is.”

“And what people say…”

“People say a lot of things, Eirikr. What was that I heard just the other day at the Cask? You and…?”

“Cwen. You know I am not speaking of only the rumour. That village sprouts rumours all the time. Yours has truth behind it, though. You do not keep it a secret when you walk through town holding his hand.”

“We just wanted him to come home, Eirikr. He is not going to return with us; I do not blame him at all, truth be told. The world of Men has not been kind to Rheb. But he misses Oen and my letter said as much to the commander. Oen will come.”

“But to what end? You have done your duty by ensuring the fellow is safe and happy. I don’t see why we have to be here when the commander gets here. Anya’s-”

“Eirikr, please. Do go home. This place is…wretched. I appreciate your accompanying me here, but truthfully, I do not need your protection. No orc will cross me here as long as I wear Rheb’s bracelet.”

“You seem so confident in that thing. What if Rheb turns against you and the orc-men use it to track you down. You wouldn’t even know it until you had the sword in your back, Cwen.”

“Rheb is savage like the orcs to a certain extent, yes. He killed two wargs in Durrow single-handedly. He has skills he hides from all of us because we would fear him more than we do now. He knows he is a monster in Durrow. Here he can be free to be who he truly is. I envy him that. And should he choose to turn against me…I am in his land now.”

“…You really  understand him, don’t you?”

“As much as I can. And I want to understand more. I do love him, Eirikr.”

“And the commander?”

“I love him as well. I will always love them both and I am blessed that they love me.”

“You do not believe that a Man should be with one Woman and vice versa?”

“I believe love is never simple and also it is the simplest thing. Sometimes it works that way: one-to-one. Sometimes it does not. But it should never be looked upon with scorn. It is too precious in these times to waste. It is too precious in any time to waste.”

“You sound like a philosopher at university. An old man caught up in books and artifacts too much and does not remember what it is like outside the walls of his office.”

“You think I am like that?”

“No. You live outside your head. But your ramblings remind me of them.”

“Maybe now when they are old, they choose to live inside their walls because it makes them feel more at home. Safer from the dangers of hatred and malice. Durrow was a safe place to you and to me. But not for Rheb. He had no place there. Here he has men that love him and obey. Here he is someone and not something. He has use for man and orc.  Anlaf said fur traders told him about their camp. Perhaps they would be interested in trading with Bree. I could be Durrow’s envoy.”

“That would allow you to see Rheb and Oen separately. Both in their own worlds.”

“Yes, that is ideal isn’t it?”

“That look. Cwen, what is it?”

“I am waiting for knife in the back. It is too perfect, isn’t it?”

“I’m not going to stab you. Stare at you incredulously, but not stab you.”

“This does put a different twist on things, doesn’t it? My relationship with both of them would no longer be a burden. It would have its purpose.”

“I doubt the villagers would take kindly to the knowledge that we are now trading with the same orcs that destroyed the gate.”

“Would they chase me out, do you think? If they knew he had come for me?”

“I would chase you out. But I like you too much. And Abiorn needs you.”

“Is that the closest to affection you give to folks, Eirikr?”

“Sometimes I will pat your shoulder in an approving manner.”

“Oh, shove off, Tenorbekk.”

“Good talk, Cwen.”

Devils and Strumpets

Doing the same thing over and over again gets dull. Even something that feels as good as this.

This bloke ain’t bad. He has a nice smile and his teeth are straight. But it gets repetitive night after night. The same motions. The same sighs and sounds to ensure each man gets not just his pleasure, but his confidence bolstered as well.

That’s why they come here, after all. They’ve been rejected by a woman and thus must pay to feel like a man again. We buy pretty dresses and powders for our faces to make us feel more like women. Men buy us to make themselves feel more like men.

Everyone has something to sell. Everyone pays the price.

It’s hard work building up a man’s ego. Smithies toil all day in the heat of their forges. Their muscles grow and tire with their work. Their names become celebrated for their skill and their wares allow men to conquer their fears and slay their enemies.

How different am I? Is it because they cannot own me?

I sweat and I toil for the bravery of men. My skill will give a man the strength to pick up that hunk of metal and risk its bite in battle. My talent will serve as the final reward when he comes home to a cold bed next to his wife.

An emasculated man is hardly a man at all.

But after I deliver my wares, I will never be looked upon with respect and reverence like the Dwarven smiths. My skill and agility will never become the stuff of legends like the Elves. And my strength to take these men again and again, to withstand their most brutal acts of control…no bard will immortalize that strength in a tale sung at the Prancing Pony.

How many women live their lives in such obscurity? How many are hated for just being what they are?

Men want angels in the daylight, but demons in their beds. You cannot conquer an angel.

~~~***~~~

You would think that she would learn. Time and time again she could not sort through to find reason, and impulse bade her do things that perhaps she should not have.

For instance her letter to Prince Imrahil accepted his courtship, but she had hardly stopped to ask herself why.

Why would she be able to develop a relationship across leagues when she could hardly keep one when the man lived down the street? Why would she wish to add another Complication to the swirl of emotions that drowned her each night even as she lay alone? Why would she consider herself even partially worthy of royalty?

To stop it, of course. To halt the twisted windstorm bred when Oendir met Rheb in her heart and mind. To give her an out: an escape.

She just wanted to quiet her mind and in his arms back in Dol Amroth, she had a focus. She had a purpose again and understood clearly what it was: to support the Prince in his darkest hour and give him the honest love and sanity he longed for. What greater purpose was there for a human being than to inspire and lift their loved ones up to higher ground? To influence and bolster him as he led his army to face the hordes of Mordor was a great honor and he chose to offer her the role.

What role did she play in Bree?

As Oendir’s–what was she even to Oendir? A lover? They had never made love. A future wife? He said himself he did not think he’d find interest in marriage again. An adviser? He hardly spoke to her about things of importance.

She was there for a kiss. A swim in the lake. A balm for him when he had the time.

She knew how much he needed her deep down inside himself. She had felt it in him when their spirits were exchanged in Forochel. He wanted love. He was as starved for it as she was and time and time again his sources of that love failed him. She did not want to fail him, too, but how could she not? Each time she chose, she hurt another. And every moment was a choice.

Every moment she hurt herself, for she longed to be with Rheb.

If she listened to her heart, she knew she wanted the youthful freedom his love provided. Pure, unattached love created when two people were simply built for one another. Their bodies melded as one and their souls rejoiced in each other’s presence. It was greater than any emotion she could distill into her potions. He was in ever fiber of her being, now, and without him, she felt lost.

Stuck between worlds, never fitting in, denying one to never find acceptance in another–both of them knew what it was like to feel the emptiness of their missing worlds and the completion they found in each other’s arms.

But she messed things up again. And that is why she wrote the Bluejay accepting his courtship.

If she had to go out as a shallow and fickle strumpet in Bree, she might as well go to Dol Amroth as royalty.

At least, that is what she told herself while she laid in bed alone.

A Bitter Pill: Dear Master J

Cwendlwyn Tain, field medic of the Wayfarers Guild and accomplished cook and gardener, returned to the house she was occupying with her daughter Neilia the day after the half-orc made his demands and she was sodden from head to toe. One could only guess the woman had fallen into the river and several residents of Durrow expressed either concern or cheerful warnings as they inquired about her state and informed her that the orcs had seemed to have moved off.

Cwen paled during these discussions and found relief when the darkness closed around her upon entering the house on Garden Street. Wendy Whitethorn, on her way to Ravenhold to seek the mayor’s opinion on the state of affairs, had been particularly worried that her new neighbor might be falling ill and while Cwen appreciated the concern the matriarch of the Whitethorn farm displayed, she did not want the wives of Durrow lining up to bring her chicken soup or herbal remedies any time soon. She only wanted to be alone.

The front room of the spacious house was in a disarray from their renovations and only mirrored the mess of thoughts cluttering Cwen’s mind. She felt trapped. Her lungs constricted but would not expand. She couldn’t breathe.

The writing desk shoved against the far wall behind the sales counter caught her attention as the morning sun rose high enough to shine its beam through her back window and reflect off the inkwell sitting on its surface. The flash blinded her. Blue feathers filled her mind. Delicate pastries and enchanting music and the strong arms of the Bluejay leading her through the dance steps soothed her.

She inked her quill and smoothed the parchment. The words appeared without struggle and flowed with ease.

My dear Master J,

I hope this letter finds you well. I do apologize for the delay. There was an unfortunate incidence with the main gate that trapped everyone in the village for several weeks. The Wayfarers fared as they would in such circumstances: they assisted Oendir in managing the town’s stores, setting day and night patrols, and tending the Fallowmath flame. 

I had not participated in a Fallowmath lighting since I was sixteen. The ritual was held even in my small village on the far side of the gap. I found a peace in the lighting of the massive tent of trees like I was casting aside the life I led the year before and asking my ancestors to lead me forward into the next season with their wisdom. In that act, I was a part of them and not such an outsider. 

Did they see the little girl kneeling before to fire and know that she wished more than anything to see her mother again?

I wondered this year, after so many years of neglect, which of my kin would visit me. I have so few that I know of in truth. Some would be welcome. My mother, of course. But some…some would not be so welcome. The Flame was only supposed to draw benevolent spirits, but I always wondered how it could know the difference. 

I do have some blood in my past that would not return out of benevolence.

This hardly seems like a letter to write to ro[the rest of the word is scratched out completely] one with so many more important things to concern himself with. But I feel as though you want to know. That you are listening, even as I cannot speak in a way that you will hear my voice.

My dear Master J, I would be glad to look for your letter in response to mine. I would welcome the correspondence as the first steps of a potential courtship. But I need you to know the full me. I will not hide anything from you. I am so tired of hiding.

The woman you wish to court is a tired mother left by her Rhunic husband because of the simple fact he was a scoundrel. He is a scoundrel to this very day, wherever he may be, and I am certain he does not waste a single blink in wondering about his daughter. This woman is lost between worlds and every time she tries to settle down in one, she gets beaten up and tossed aside by her own heart. She cannot make a good choice when it comes to anything having to do with trusting in herself. I simply cannot.

Perhaps this is because she lost her mother when she was seven and then found out a mere decade later that her father was from Dunland and wanted to destroy everything she thought he had held dear, including her.

I never could blend in to the stock of the Men of the Mark and I had grown up hating the Hillmen on principle. I was stuck between who I wanted  to be and what I wanted to do. So many times in my world do I have to make that distinction. I hardly ever feel whole.

So, my Prince, if you wish still to write me, your words will find their way even if I may not be here when they arrive. I have faith that if we are truly meant to find each other, no miles will be able to keep us apart.

Most sincerely,

Cwendlwyn 

Within hours of the gate being clear enough, Cwendlwyn donned her traveling robes and set off for Bree. She would post the letter and make some inquiries.

She would not stand by helpless, though, and simply wait for the next tide to bring in something new. After she sent the letter, she would investigate next week’s caravans to the Lone-lands, and as soon as she could, she would seek Oendir’s permission to travel, even if she had to go alone.

A Bitter Pill: A Damn Cold Night

Last Night

She should be used to the feel of floorboards by now.

Her body relaxed against them because her muscles simply had no more power to support her, but in the past they had cradled her in times like these. When isolation threatened to crush her, the floorboards were there to keep her from sinking into the Void.

These particular boards were even more familiar; she had stood at this window many times before. She had sunk to her knees here; her palms knew the knots and ridges of the planks and the smell of their polish.

In this room.

She remembered that this was the room Oendir had assigned to her and Neilia when she first joined the Wayfarers. She would watch the wind rustle the leaves of the Chestnut from the window, and so often she had thought of climbing out to disappear again from the world of Men for good.

But she had honor. And obligations. And she had the honor to see them through.

As she lay there, the memories flooded her vision. She could not stop their flow; they would drown her.

They had not found the floorboards that day; he had taken her against the wall and in the open doorway. Even has he brought her to ecstasy again and again, she had the underlying terror that someone would turn into the hallway and see them there against the door-frame.

The fear only heightened the experience of him, though, and by being able to identify the fear, she was able to finally master it. She pushed past everything that ever held her back before and her heart opened to him without its cynical armour, and she understood.

Here is someone who comes for her out of love, not hate. Here was a man who was devoted to her care and pleasure, not her pain.

And Rheb came for her, always.

Now, she would go to him.

The gate of Durrow was still blocked by the avalanche and the orcs still probably roamed the hills, but despite their presence and despite the warg attack, she knew that she was safe. She had offered herself to the orcs to buy them time not because she was brave. Not because she wanted to be a hero like young Margaret claimed, but because she knew that Rheb would protect her from the orcs and men and half-orcs of the camp and anything else besides.

She could not claim bravery when she knew there was no danger.

The view from the window was breathtaking as always, but she did not look forward. She looked down.

Rheb had lowered himself from the windowsill easily; Oendir claimed he was not a climber, but he appeared perfectly capable of climbing to her. Oendir so often refused to see what Rheb was capable of or what Rheb needed. Tears stung her eyes as she let herself hang from the window before letting herself fall to the grass below. Alone. Rheb had always been so alone and had anyone truly been there for him?

And she was just the same.

Fiddler Falls
A round moon rises over Ravenhold and Fiddler Falls.

Her eyes never wavered from her path; night was falling and the moon was nearly full as it rose above the treetops.The melodic song of Fiddler Falls soon met her ears and she hastened to the bank of the river. The high cliffs rose above her; without pause, she plunged into the cool water and swam for the cave she now swore that Rheb had told her about not so long ago.

How had she forgotten that detail? It had been raining that day; she had been standing in the broken shelter of the tree for a long time before he found her there. They had talked about other things and it must have gotten lost in the overwhelming presence of him. The little things they shared like the floorboards of Garden and Pinecrest-these are the things she remembered. These are the things that were branded into her mind and prevented her from recalling the little things like caves that led out from Durrow.

Like how much he loved her.

And how persistent he was in trying to claim her.

ScreenShot00457The force of the falls did not daunt her. She plunged into them and swam through to find the mouth of the cave just as he said it would be. The passage was narrow as he claimed. The men would have had a hard time fitting through, but the women and children had a way out. He had shown her the way.

But why? Why wait for so long when he could have told her from the first day? Why not go to Oendir with the information? Why make them suffer?

She climbed through cautiously, ducking low and eventually having to turn and twist to fit through some of the more awkward spots. Her bun caught on a sharp claw of overhang; she pulled her hair down to unhook herself and finally she felt the air lighten and the thought she could see a change in the darkness of the narrow passageway to freedom. Lights seemed to flicker ahead. She sped up and soon emerged outside of Durrow and took a deep breath of the fresh air.

She half expected a company of orcs waiting on the other side of the tunnel to capture her and drag her away. Only the lightning bugs and stars greeted her and she looked around for signs of his flight.  Nothing. Stillness.

And then the sound of tree frogs began and the noises of the living forest at night washed over her.

The lack of silence startled her. It seemed to scold her for not seeing things sooner.

Here she was, standing on the other side of the cliffs surrounding Durrow, and he had known of escape the entire time. His garb when she saw him-dirty breeches when he saved her from the wargs and then only the loincloth moments before in her room at Ravenhold-were not right for a Rheb that lingered in Durrow. She had put him in fresh pants herself after washing the blood away from his skin and they had not been lying on the floor when she woke the next morning.

Where have you been? she had asked and he had no answer.

Suddenly she knew and the weight of it knocked her back to her knees.

He came for her, always.

But he hadn’t come alone.

Cwen stayed there bent over at the hips until the moon began to set. The hands covering her head could not ward off the realizations as her tears watered the grass tickling her face. The cold and the damp seemed to sink into her bones and she wished she would dissolve with the morning’s dew once the sun rose and cast her ignorance in its glaring light.

She had been about to give in. She had been about to admit she loved him more, and only her obligations to the Wayfarers held her back. She had been about to tell him that she would go with him wherever he wished and that they would find their way somehow. She was going to ask him to only wait for her to get her things situated, but she had been too late.

It doesn’t matter anymore.

He wasn’t the one alone.

She was.

And he wasn’t going to come for her anymore.

A Bitter Pill: Cleansed

Pinecrest smelled of dust and blood. The windows stood open and a bright afternoon sun shone through, but the smell dispelled much slower than the darkness.

Outside, a blue jay jeered loudly and then landed on the front sill. It watched Cwen as she scrubbed the dark wood floors in front of the fireplace.

The buckets of water she had used to clean the blood away from his body were now refilled and used to scrub the floors. Rheb had lost so much before she arrived. She had ruined her dress in the pools as she cleaned the cuts and scrapes that covered him and stitched the wound in his arm. The warg’s teeth and claws had been like a flurry of daggers as they fought. When she closed her eyes, she still saw Rheb ripping the flesh of its throat and then turning to face the one advancing on her.

He bled to save her and her daughter, and once again she owed him her life.

When the boys had returned to the Broken Cask with their report of the scene, Cwen had been certain they would report of two wolves and a dead half-orc. How could he take on both of them even as injured as they were?

She thought of the second warg sneezing on the pepper she hurled at its great ugly face and she grinned to herself as she dipped her scrub brush into the bucket. Rheb had pulled her bodily from the back of the warg and only because Neilia was cowering in the bushes did Cwen leave him to face both alone. She could have made it bleed more. She could have prevented some of the pain Rheb now suffered on her behalf.

She scrubbed harder at the bloodstains.

Oendir had said to not worry about the floor because he needed to replace it anyway. Still, she did not want Rheb coming home to his blood everywhere. He had said it was his home, and she was going to make sure it was welcoming when he decided to finally come back for good.

Cwen frowned as she rubbed at a particularly dark spot and hoped Oendir would be able to find him hiding somewhere in the hamlet. She was relieved when he offered to look for him, though she was not sure how he would find the time between the demands of a Durrow in crisis.

Still, Oendir’s expression, his joyful relief when she told him that Rheb was not a part of the siege and was in Durrow ScreenShot00455had been palpable and warm as he embraced her. Her frown faded as she thought of Oendir looking so light and strong as the stress of Rheb’s disappearance lifted from him. It turned to a smile as she thought of their swim in the lake after. They had broken through some barrier that had kept them from each other. She felt it wash away in the cold water. In the way he finally looked at her in the sun.

They could make this work, she thought. They would make this work. After all, Fallowmath was about ancestors and family. All of three of them had broken pasts when it came to family. Perhaps now it was time to start with a clean slate and build a new one.

Will-o-Wishes

Life flickered throughout the small hamlet of Durrow-upon-Dunwash. In the middle of the settlement, high on the hill, the Fallow-flame filled the sky with its light. Sparks flew high in the air and the smoke burned white as those that attended the flame added fuel gathered with careful hands.

In the forest tiny glowing spiders scurried on through their lives. In the windows of the houses, candles burned like elusive wishes in hearts and eyes alike.

~~~***~~~

Thorns born of love and attentive care. Her blood stained the sharpest prick and she was careful as she threw the clipping from the rose bush into the flames.

Spirits around us, watching over: protect my family and friends. And let Morty know we are all right. He would not let it show around me, but he will worry.

Stepping back, she smiled at her little family and tried not to feel the hollowness of her contentment.

 ~~~***~~~

Questions born of strength and knowledge. He was getting better at using his sister’s paints to create the rash; the dogs lay wrapped around each other as they slumbered against his leg.

I wish to know my past. Please, just tell me who I am. Help me find out who I am.

He toyed the with black claw hanging from the cord around his neck and listened to the wind in the trees.

~~~***~~~

Bright eyes born from youth and burning firelight. Her dreams and wishes rose on the smoke rising above the roofs of the hamlet.

Please make Mister Commander Arrow’art be nice to my mama and make her be nice to him, too! I really, really want him to by my daddy, please, please, pretty pretty please!

She smiled at her make-shift family and tried not to feel the empty spot inside her.

~~~***~~~

Hesitation and doubt born from hours of self-council. The feather had found its way into his pocket without him realizing he picked it up, a habit formed from years of hand-crafting fishing lures and scouting the wilds for suitable hackles and tails.

Let her be at peace. Let her hear my voice and let her know that I will fix my mistakes.

As he stepped back from the flames, his eyes fell on his sister and the Elf and he felt a pull in his chest that he could not identify.

Find peace.

~~~***~~~

Guilt and self-loathing born from her own heart. The hair curled and twisted in her grasp before she released it into the flames.

Guide him home safe and sound. Let it not be him; let him save us from this trap.

I would gladly give my life if it meant saving the rest of Durrow. If it meant letting him know I am sorry that I failed him.

The Fallow-flame

 I am sorry that I failed you.
Please, don’t put out the lights.

When Nightmares Come

Shadows loom in the dark of the mountain.

I am home, am I not? This looks like home. Only Erebor can cast such deep shadows. They swallow our gardens and kill many flowers. They wither and simply fade away.

There. The shadows are creeping up the grass to touch the bright flowers I tried to grow. Papa said it was useless. I am worthless as a gardener; everything I plant only dies. I try to hard to bring them back to life. I want them to grow, to bring butterflies and busy bees.

Eiri says to just plant them in the sun. But Mama says I cannot plant there. That corner is reserved for the gardener and the patio and the guests that wish to feel the magnificence of the Lonely Mountain without feeling so small.

Oh, look! It withers. The petals shrink and the leaves curl and no amount of love will ever bring them back.

I reach for the last bloom: a beautiful burgundy rose that somehow managed to open. The shadow nears. The outer petals start to close and I break the stem quickly in an attempt to sever it from the poison. The thorns draw blood. It drips too quickly and begins to paint the bare dirt beneath my feet. Shadows start to rise from the droplets of blood and as I back away I see the blurred shapes of Men and Dwarves and Elves.

They have come for me.

~*~***~***~*~

Eirikr rubbed a calloused hand through his beard. The nightmare came again. Ninim lying there, the naked, crying child still connected by the cord running from its belly into her. So much blood.

Like in so many of his dreams, suddenly he could not move. He could only watch as the blood rose up around her even as she began to sink. Her features twisted in pain and she called out to him, only no sound reached him from her. He heard only the baby’s crying.

Slowly, the pool climbed up her cheeks and he could feel the tears slide down his own. As the crimson filled her mouth and nose, the infant started wailing.

Do you hear me, Eirikr?
The beast bears our wretched whelp to the woods.

The book. Those words from the book were spoken in his head and the mingled with the screaming. He wanted to run, but still his arms and legs did not respond to his desire.

It was not this nightmare where he read the book. Why couldn’t anyone else see the text written in the book? He remembered it now: the book. Blood. He did not know what it meant and the details wouldn’t find their places in his mind.

A dream within a dream.

He stared at the child as the pool began to drag it forward by its cord. The terror in the child’s newborn face could not be disguised by the wrinkles and crust of birth.

He had to save it.

Him.

Wake up.

~*~***~***~*~

A faint feeling of foreboding stirs the sleep of a half-bred hussy
Beauty of splendor and secretive lies set a stage for the fine-bred and fussy.
She doesn’t fit in and she’ll never quite win
As her dreams fill with damaging mist
A sense of ‘gone wrong’ and a sad howling song
Keep her guilty whenever she’s kissed

Far, far away in a land made of death she dreams of a different touch
One that’s now gone and safe from her harm and thinks he won’t be missed much
But her dreams tell a tale and the winds blow a gale
And the warmth that she feels turns so cold
And when love turns to hate, it will open the gate
For the nightmares to come out of old.

A Bitter Pill: Cwendlwyn Of

Cwendlwyn of Buckland stood on a balcony of the Colagar Estate and held in her hand a parchment. The formality of the request made her ache for the neighborly greetings of her Hobbit neighbors and she missed the sound of bare feet padding through a cozy Hobbit hole. A little dirt beneath the nails never harmed anyone, and in the Shire, it showed one’s hard work and worth.

Cwendlwyn of Bree stood on a balcony of the Colagar Estate and held in her hand a parchment. She felt the old clashing with the new in Dol Amroth and realized the tension was not unfamiliar; Durrow was undergoing a similar change now that Oendir was officially mayor. She had not been around for the election, but wondered how much turmoil it had caused. He was a good man, and a brave man, and a man that she would lay down her life for. But surely some will be watching like a hawk for the first fault they can find. And how will her Oendir manage leadership of a village and the Wayfarers? Just the one seemed to cause him so much stress already. She remembered the pain of his headache when the company found each other in the wrong shoes. He was working hard to rebuild ranks after the loss of Kemendin and firing of Hallem in Forochel.

Cwendlwyn of Rohan stood on a balcony of the Colagar Estate and held in her hand a parchment. She saw the orchards and the sea and the city in all its glory rising behind its secretive walls. She felt so small. At least in Eriador, she never felt so out of place. So alone. But in Rohan, for a time, she did. She remembered the children teasing her about her dark hair. With no protection from the Gap, their lands were always shrouded with that silent threat. The descendants of Wulf were watching. Waiting. And finally one day, they came to take back some of what they lost. She discovered from whence she came.

And she knew what it was like to be truly alone.

Cwendlwyn of the Wayfarers turned away from the deceptive beauty of the city and sea and sought writing instruments and parchment in the drawer of the desk in the small sitting room she shared with Oendir and the children. She stared at the pattern of the dappled feathers of the quill for several minutes before she put the nib to paper.

My dear lord,

It is a honour to receive your note and I would very much like to honour my invitation by joining you before the wedding. I believe there are a few days of informal socializing and last minute preparations, and I am certain no one would notice my absence from the estate.

Perhaps the best way to maintain the necessary obligations both of us have, as you are surely more occupied with obligations than I, is for you to send a messenger with the time. I will know that it is you and where to go; no one else would be sending for me in this city. All I know is here at the estate already.

I look forward to our tea.

Until then,

Cwendlwyn Tain of

She hesitated. Carefully, she traced over the ‘of’ until it became an ‘at’ and then she did the same to her name to make it look more deliberate.

Cwendlwyn Tain at House Colagar

Setting aside The Bluejay’s letter, she drew out another piece and quickly penned a note for the north.

Dear Eirikr,

Are you and young Mister Abiorn well? I hope the spring is not having a hard time emerging this year. I will miss witnessing the first blooms in Durrow.

Like the rest of us when we first came, Anya appears very awed by the wonders of the city. She seems to be enjoying herself even if she was still suffering from the aftereffects of her seasickness and had to miss the welcoming dinner. I am sure she will tell you more.

I am writing you with a small request. Your neighbor, Rheb, has not been seen in some time and I fear it is my fault. I had hoped he would return before we left for Dol Amroth, but luck was not on my side. If you happen upon him in your exploration of the surrounding lands, please tell him Oendir is very worried about his well-being and perhaps encourage him to return to Durrow soon. Do not mention me—I will explain when I return.

Oen said you have chosen to join the Wayfarers as well. I wish to welcome you to the company and ensure you that they are a fine employer.

Most Sincerely,

Cwen