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.”

Advertisements

Shameless: Rush

Anyatka opened the door even as the fist on the outside pounded on it again. She blinked into the darkness and focused on a figure squinting into the brightness of the Tenorbekk’s front room.

“Lina? What are you doing here?” She stepped back to let the girl in and noted her flushed cheeks and breathlessness. “Are you quite well? What is it?”

From the dinner table, Eirikr looked up and his visible eye narrowed beneath the bandage wrapped around his head. Abiorn, Anya’s younger brother, looked incredibly interested in what interrupted their dinner. As Lina brushed past Anya, he grinned and leaned his chin on the palm of his hand.

“Anya, beg yer pardon, but I need yer help an’ it’s gotta be quick!” Lina turned in a whirlwind and leaned back against the couch. She crossed her leather-clad leg over the other. “Yeh got a bedroll an’ some campin’ supplies I can borrow?”

Anya nodded and strode forward to take the girl by her arms. “Lina, slow down. Are you in trouble? Why in such a rush? We can help you; you do not have to run.”

Lina’s slender neck stretched as she leaned her head back to laugh. “Oh, no! I’m not in trouble. The Missus gave me permission an’ everything. I just told ‘im I’d meet ‘im in an hour and goin’ by the Mantle took up near half. I gotta get supplies an’ meet him, or he’ll think I stood ‘im up.”

Not one to remain silent on the sidelines, Abiorn asked, “Who’s that, Lina?”

Grinning at the boy, Lina answered, “Rush. We’re goin’ ta Trestlebridge. Maybe farther north, who knows. But I’m gettin’ outta Bree fer a while, and that’s all tha’matters.”

Anya and Eirikr exchanged a concerned look. She nodded to her brother and he stood to fetch the supplies she’d need for the journey.

“Lina, who is this Rush?” Anya asked with measured politeness. “What does he do?”

Flushed from her rush, Lina ran a hand through her short hair. “Jus’ a boy. My age. My real age. Have I told yeh my real age? I’m not nineteen, I’m seventeen. But he doesn’t do anythin’ really, and tha’s why he wants to go to Trestlebridge. He’s done all sortsa jobs, but doesn’t like a one.”

“Does he know what you do?” Abiorn blurted.

Lina nodded. “Mhmm. Doesn’t phase him. Actually, he bartended at the Mantle for a bit. Didn’t last. He’s a decent fella, just kinda listless. Needs a kick in th’arse, prolly.”

“And you intend to give it to him?” Eirikr asked as he dropped a bedroll and a woolen blanket on his bed. He didn’t look at Lina as he rolled it into a compact bundle for her. “Where’s your pack?”

Lina thrust her pack at Eirikr. He took and pulled it open and then started adding things to it and taking some things out.

“Nah, look, it’s just a chance t’get outta Bree fer a while. I trust this fella. He’s got lots of brothers an’ sisters an’ just needs ta get out on his own a bit, tha’s all.” Lina bounced on her toes. “Yeh almost done? Don’t mean ta rush ya or anythin’, I just don’t want ‘im ta think I stood ‘im up.”

Eirikr knotted her pack and held it out to her. “Yes. You’ve said that.” Looking over her head to his sister, he cocked a critical brow. Anya shook her head and shrugged.

“Lina, promise you’ll write when you get to Trestlebridge? Especially if you intend on staying for an extended period of time, or leaving to go somewhere else, please?”

Lina took the pack with an appreciative grin and raised it to Eirikr. “Thanks, big brother,” she said. Looking at Anya, she wrinkled her nose. “Anya, yeh know I can’t write.”

Anya sighed. “Well, maybe this Rush can. Have him take dictation. Please.”

Lina shrugged. “If I remember. Can’t stay, though. I’ll bring yer things back when we return!” Quickly, she left in a flurry.

Abiorn watched the door for a moment after it closed behind her.

“You think she’ll make him pay?” he asked with a grin.

Eirikr slapped him on the back of his head. “Abiorn. Not appropriate.”

Anya blushed and frowned as she resumed her seat at the dinner table. “Yes, really, Abbi. That is none of your business if this man is a client of hers. Or just a friend.”

“Ever heard of him? Didn’t she say he was her age? She’s not that much older than me. How could a kid like me afford Lina for a week?” Abiorn stuck his finger into his mashed taters and sucked it clean.

“Ugh, Abbi.” She tossed a cloth at him, but he only laughed when it hit his face. “That’s none of your concern, anyway. What Lina does is Lina’s business.”

Who Lina does, you mean.

Ow! Damnit, Eirikr.”

After dinner, Anya knelt by the fire and scrubbed the fine china dishes Eirikr and Abiorn brought back from Dale in a tub full of lukewarm water. “Don’t you think we should have stopped her?” Eirikr grumbled as he brought her his and Abiorn’s plates.

“It would have done no good. She would have found the man and ran off with him anyway, Eirikr, you know that as well as I.”

“She’s your friend. Anya. I hardly know anything about her except that I should usually be concerned for her. What if this lad hurts her?”

Anya’s dishrag slowed for a moment. “Don’t underestimate Lina. I know she looks thin and helpless, but I doubt that she is. She had lived in Beggar’s Alley for quite some time before I met her. And before that… she rarely wanted to talk about before that, Eirik. Somehow, I think she can handle herself better than I could in her situation, that’s for certain.”

Eirikr picked up a dish from the line Anya was leaving along the stone hearth. “I hope you’re right, sister.”

Anya nodded. “I know. Me, too.”

Shameless: Try to Forget

Emmelina left Lalia’s Market hugging herself as if that would do something to protect her from the cold she felt inside that had nothing to do with the rain. Her mousy hair quickly plastered itself to her thick skull and she cursed herself and the elements that made her shiver.

Her feet traveled automatically; she had no sense of time or place until she found herself at the steps of the boarding house where she met Anya. It was funny, she thought, how much she hated that grave-digger fellow and she didn’t even really know him. Anya did seem happy yesterday when she stopped in for tea before her evening shift. She even brushed of Lina’s relentless teasing about her hair like it was nothing. It was very un-self-conscious-wimpy-doormat Anya. Though she seemed happy, and that was the most important thing.

Right?Beggar's Alley

Staring up at the boarding house, she thought about things she tried desperately to forget. That’s why being a Lady’s Mantle girl was so easy. Always work to do or the other girls to chat with so there was never a dull moment where memories could sneak in and make you hurt. Or anger.

Or cry.

Damn Hallem Kemp for getting beneath her skin.

Maybe it was because he had been the first for her there at the Mantle and lying with him was the final good-bye to what she used to be. Not a laundry girl or a tarnished girl or a disgrace or grieving mother. When she shut the door to the little room at the far end of the hall, she had shut the door on her past.

Hallem was safe. He was honorable, considering. He was the better option over that ratty man who seemed so interested in the new meat offered up as auction. And Hallem hadn’t even pushed the issue of sex; only under her assurances that it was just her job and she might as well get used to it did he drop his pants and go for a tumble. In a way, perhaps she had underestimated the power of naked flesh over a man. Hadn’t she come to learn men’s purse strings were always looser the more her bodice slid down over her breast?

She did not want to go back, not tonight. Not when every face she’d see would be Jameson Sicklefoose and every jerking climax would only remind her that the men needn’t worry about bastard children with her. The healers had been very clear on that two years ago as they gave her parents the prognosis. They left no reason to doubt that the baby was lost because she wasn’t shaped right to carry a child. She was lucky that it aborted when it did; another month and it would have been much more dangerous.

Standing before the boarding house, she closed her eyes tightly and her tears flowed indiscernible from the rain.

Frustrated with herself, she pushed the heels of her palms into her eyes to stopper the tears. She scowled as she stomped away from the boarding house. Thick Beggar’s Alley mud sucked at her boots and she was thankful she wore her leather breeches and a man’s tunic instead of one of her fine Mantle dresses. Madam Lark would not find the ruining of a gown amusing, she was sure.

She needed to find a place to get in out of the rain.

She thought of her options. The Pony was sure to be crowded and she really did not want to run into the type of folk she found there. The training hall would be emptier, but that also meant the barkeep would be free to question why a sopping gutter rat dripped on his bar. She had been hungry before her conversation with Hallem in the market, but the revelations of that had put a lump in her throat and a knot in her belly.

Now she knew and he knew and she didn’t understand why it mattered so much.

Lina found herself at the gates of Durrow. If she couldn’t go stumble into Hallem, she could always find a warm hearth at Anya’s. Maybe Abiorn would tell lots of jokes and help her forget again. Maybe Anya would have another painting finished she could hawk to another john who felt it beneath him to lie with a girl that looked like a boy but who he couldn’t ignore. Maybe Eirikr would be feeling well enough that she could tease him mercilessly and not feel bad doing so. The Tenorbekks didn’t know her accent was fake and her past was full of bad choices and she already missed the boy who made her forget the most.