Smoldering Fire: When She’s Gone

“I’m truly sorry to hear such news,” Eirikr said pensively to Hilton Wheatley as he set the coin down on the counter in front of the man. “I’ve never met Fletcher, but I’ve heard good things about him. He’s Oendir’s second in command of the Wayfarers’, isn’t he?”

Wheatley nodded and wrapped Eirikr’s purchase in heavy brown paper. “Aye. Good fellow. And the missus was a good lady. Smart and kind, she was.” The young man sighed. “The whole thing’s just tragic. ‘Cept, of course, the baby.”

Eirikr agreed, bade Wheatley a good day, and grabbed his package from the counter. He tucked his chin as the winter breeze hit his weathered cheeks and took long strides down the lane from Whitethorn & Wheatley’s. In front of the younger proprietor of the shop, he refused to let his appropriately solemn expression crack beneath the crushing emotion that hit him as soon as Wheatley said “wife died.”

Few people knew him well enough to know that back in Dale, he had been married to the most beautiful woman in all of Arda. That the moment he had met her selling bread at her father’s cart in the market, he had fallen for her and never wished to get back up. Even his brother and sister couldn’t understand why the smell of peppermint made him smile and a daisy could bring him to tears.

The brutal winter wind whipped his cloak about his calves, but Eirikr hardly felt it as he pressed on toward home. He didn’t want to think about her, not now, not ever, because it just hurt too much to think how he failed her not only with her death, but also by her child.

But how could he have cared for the infant in the wilds? In the mines of Moria, or even back in Bree without its mother there?

Sometimes, in the forest, he could hear him crying.

Eboric.

The letter that Eruviel had tried to give him at Yule had said the family had named him Eboric.

Crushing bands of steel around his lungs prevented him from taking a breath.

He did not want the child to have a name. He did not want to see how big his hand had grown or that his hair and eyes had not yet settled into their permanent colours. He did not want to know how strong or smart or funny he was and he definitely did not want to think of him halfway across the lands without him or his mother.

At the gate to the Tenorbekk cabin, Eirikr paused. Beneath his heavy mantle, the hairs on the back of his neck stood up and he felt the heavy gaze from across the road settle on him. Turning slowly, he found the glittering eyes in the trees.

“Grey.”

The wolf pushed his head forward enough to confirm Eirikr’s statement and withdrew into the shadows.

Eirikr hesitated only a moment before he crossed the road and plunged into the trees that bordered the land opposite his. A flash of a tail and a trail of fresh paw prints in the snow led him away from the warm fire of home and deeper into the woods. Clutching the package to his chest, he ducked branches and heaps of falling snow until he came into a clearing lined with pines.

Grey sat on his haunches waiting for him. As Eirikr approached, he simply stared up at him with his large, understanding eyes. They followed the man as he knelt in the snow and held his gaze.

“How are you, boy?” Eirikr said. He was surprised at the sound of his voice: hoarse and strained. He raised a hand to touch his cheek and among the cold streaks where snow had melted into watery streams, warm streaks mingled lukewarm on his skin. He didn’t remember letting them come, but they were always there waiting for him to finally face them.

He didn’t wipe the tears away and pressed his face against Grey’s. The wolf nudged him patiently to let him know he was listening.

“What am I doing, boy? He’s out there without family. How can I just ignore him? How can I do that to Nin?”

The wolf did not reply with anything more than a serene gaze.

“I can’t just forget him. Eboric. I can’t forget Eboric. But I miss her so much and it just hurts to even… What do I do?”

Grey pointed his black nose at the sky and let out a long, mournful howl. Then he nudged Eirikr’s arms where he held the package.

Looking down, Eirikr wiped his face with his glove and held up the package. “Just some trail rations,” he explained. “What, you want some?” He began to unwrap the package, but Grey gently pawed at his arm. The great wolf butted his head against the man and nearly pushed him over into the snow.

“Grey! Ho, there!” Eirikr threw back a hand and caught himself. “What’s gotten into you?”

Grey continued to shove Eirikr until he was knocked to his side and then leaped on him when he turned to his back. His heavy paws pressed into Eirikr’s chest as he stared down into the man’s eyes. Once he caught Eirikr’s gaze, he continued to stare, getting closer and closer, until Eirikr finally looked away.

“Fine! Fine, yes. I will write the family. But she’s gone and I don’t know when she’ll be back. She has the letter.”

Satisfied, Grey stepped from Eirikr’s stomach, being careful to launch from his tensed abdomen. The wind was forced from Eirikr’s lungs and he doubled over, glaring at the animal. But as the weight of the wolf lifted from his chest, Eirikr’s mind seemed to clear. Turning onto his side clutching his stomach, with the chill of the snow biting into his cheek, he let out a sigh.

He would write to the family that took in Ninim’s son. His son. He would promise to take care of him now that she’s gone.

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Smoldering Fire: Let it Lie

Ravenhold all dressed up for Yule.
Ravenhold all dressed up for Yule.

Eirikr burst from the door of Ravenhold and barreled down the steps. Behind him, Abiorn caught the door with his shoulder, a hand out to protect the puppy from the cold wind.

“Eirik! Wait!” the younger brother called. The puppy squirmed anxiously in his arms. “Eirikr, hold on, what happened?”

The older brother did not respond as he practically flew down the path that cut through the land of Ravenhold to the road. His back hardened beneath his festive red and green shirt and the tension surrounded him. He did not ease until he turned down Chestnut Street, but even then it was less of a relaxing and more of a channeling of the hot energy surrounding him.

Abiorn caught up with him as he stooped to gather an armload of firewood from the side of the house.

“Eirik, listen, what just happened back there?” he gasped. The puppy stared up at Eirikr with soft blue eyes from Abiorn’s arms and seemed to know something was amiss.

“Nothing,” Eirikr lied as he tried to push past Abiorn. The boy held his ground and shook his head.

“Horseshit. You were fine and then Eruviel showed you something and you made her upset and just left.” Abiorn shifted Bear to his other arm. “You can’t tell me everything is fine. Was it Anric’s present to her? I don’t think the guy meant any harm.”

Eirikr’s brow furrowed as he stared down at his brother. “What are you talking about?” His tone shifted; less angry, more cautious.

Abiorn had the decency to look sheepish. “Um. Some people been talking that you and she are sweet on one another, that’s all. I mean, jealousy is a dangerous beast, brother, so if you’re worried-”

Grunting, Eirikr walked around Abiorn. “No. It wasn’t Anric. Though he and his brainwashed self aren’t good enough for her and he should know that.”

Abiorn sidestepped to block him again. Maybe any other day, Eirikr would have not had a problem bumping his little brother to his rear, but this night: puppy.

“Look, then, what happened? The only other time I ever saw her look like that was when Ninim died.”

Eirikr’s eyes darkened and the pain shot from him like arrows. Even Abiorn was struck with the power of the man’s anguish.

“Ask her if you’re so curious.”

With one hand, Eirikr used Abiorn’s shoulder to direct him to the side and he went into the house. He dumped the firewood on the rack and then went to the table where his bow leaned and his quiver lay. Using quick and automatic motions, he checked the bow and then slung it over his shoulder. Abiorn watched from just inside the door as he bent to pull his pack from beneath his bed. Without checking it, he walked toward the door.

“You’re leaving, then?” Abiorn stated with more than a hint of bitterness. He did not move away from the door. “You were ready. You knew you’d do this again.”

Without looking down at him, Eirikr bit out, “I am going to kill something. Now move before it is you.”

Abiorn shook his head. “You wouldn’t kill me. I have a puppy.”

“Abiorn.” Eirikr’s voice was low and full of anger, but the rage was not what made Abiorn blink and step aside. He looked up at his brother and saw the man who just lost his wife in the shadows of Mirkwood. Time had not dissipated the anguish Ninim’s death caused; it had merely buried it until whatever Eruviel did brought it back to the surface to strike Eirikr again.

His gaze dropped to the tile as he stepped aside. “When are you coming back?” he asked.

“Tomorrow by supper.”

“You promise?”

A thick silence fell on the cabin and their breaths hung in the air. From Anya’s bedroom, Sally Stitches let out a quizzical mew and then she sat on her haunches in the doorway to stare at the mass of golden fur wiggling in Abiorn’s arms. The tabby’s ear flicked, clearly irritated at being so disturbed from her nap. After a moment, she hissed and darted back into the room with a flick of her banded tail.

“Eirikr. Promise you will be back tomorrow. Anya’s going to start to worry and I just can’t handle that.” He set the puppy down and he took off toward Anya’s room after Sally. The hissing and barking hardly caused a brother to blink as they stared at one another.

“I promise,” Eirikr finally said, his dark grey eyes holding Abiorn’s.

Nodding, Abiorn stepped aside and ran his hand through his shaggy hair.

“Be careful, brother,” he said quietly.

Eirikr nodded and walked out of the door leaving Abiorn with the showdown beneath Anya’s bed. He sighed and trudged into his sister’s room. He grabbed the puppy around his middle; Bear whirled and snapped at Abiorn’s hand, but the boy pulled it back quickly and waggled a finger at the pup.

“Now, now. You don’t smell all that nice yourself, you know,” he said with a grin. “Leave poor Sally alone. Anya’d kill me if she came home and her cat was minced kitty.”

The puppy looked at Abiorn and then squirmed to get out of his grasp. He didn’t go for Sally, though. Instead, he padded over to the door, his sharp puppy nails clicking on the cold tile.

“You want to go outside?” Abiorn asked it sweetly. He looked around for something to make a leash; he settled on the sash to one of Anya’s dresses. He frowned at the idea of putting it around the puppy’s neck, so he made several loops to hook around his front legs and fasten into a harness. “There we go. Let’s pee.”

Abiorn took the puppy outside and let him sniff around the house. He did his duty and continued to sniff: the waggon, the vegetable bed, the wood pile, the stoop. Near the road, the puppy let out a yelp and tried to charge down the lane toward the Chestnut Woods.

“Whoa! Easy, boy. What is it? You smell Eirikr?” Aboirn sniffed the air and then dropped into a squat beside the puppy. Sniffing lower, he caught his brother’s scent. “Ah. Yeah, you like him better, don’t you? Sorry he’s such a pain.” The golden dog whimpered and settled on his belly as he stared down the street.

“I know. He’ll be back though, boy. And you can meet our sister when she gets home from her boyfriend’s graveyard.” He added with a nod, “I know. She’s weird.”

Settling down next to the puppy, Abiorn crossed his legs and rested a hand on the back of the pup’s shaggy head. Scratching him behind the ears, he said, “We can sit here for a while, okay? Just to see if he changes his mind. But I wouldn’t count on it, Bear. Not until he said he would.”

The puppy whimpered again, and Abiorn sighed.

“I know, buddy. I know.”