To Dale: Sten the Shiv

((edited – somewhat rushed and poorly –  from chatlogs for tense, continuity and clarity))

((Update: 7/11/14 – revised for less suck))

The moon was waning as it rose over the lake. Eirikr stood in the shadow of the large tree across the road from the Tenorbekk cottage. Inside, a light shone through the window. The shadows danced on the wall as he watched for Sten to emerge and leave for the tavern. He craned his neck as he peered from the shadows. “Maybe he is not going tonight,” he murmured softly. “Why hasn’t he left yet?”

Eruviel stood silently, watching their surroundings and the road from the darkness behind a tree further into the woods. She frowned, looking to the house before she started to turn and peer into the night behind them.

Eirikr followed her gaze. “Do you hear something? What is it?” His anticipation stretched his nerves as the minutes tick by so slowly.

Eruviel flexed out her hand in a silent command. “I don’t know,” she breathed, careful to not let her words carry as her eyes narrow, piercing the shadows around them. “Calm, gwador. Do not let your stress run away with you.”

Eirikr turned back to watch the house. “I have not seen her in months, Eruviel. I can only imagine what she has been through since then. My father did not send a kind and loving companion for her.”

Eruviel shot him a pitying look before she turned her eyes back to their vigil. “You will have her back, Eirikr, in a few hours at most. And then we can be rid of the filth that ‘guards’ her.”

Eirikr shot her a grateful look. Suddenly, a woman’s cry and a crash came from the house. Eirikr, without a moment’s hesitation, sprinted for the door, his cloak billowing out behind him like a ghost. “Ninim!” he called.

Eruviel whirled around to pursue him, looking wildly about as if expecting to be ambushed.

Eirikr threw his shoulder into the door heedless of anything beyond. The light from the interior spilled across the lawn as he practically fell inside as the door gave way. Eruviel followed, drawing her dagger as she ran up the steps. An arrow flew past her, slamming into the rough planking of the cottage. She nearly ran into Eirikr as he stopped half in-half out of the house. Sten stood facing away from them as Ninim cowered on the floor with her back to them all. At the noise, he whirled and drew his dagger from its sheath at his side and held it up defensively.

“You,” he sneered.

Eirikr glanced at Ninim and the broken earthenware beside her. “Me. You bastard, don’t you lay a hand on her.”

Eruviel quickly assessed the situation as she pulled out her bow and an arrow. Shooting Sten a dark glare, she looked back out in the direction the first had flown from.

Sten moved to stand directly between Eirikr and Ninim. The woman peeked around, wide-eyed, and stared at her husband. “Eirikr?” she said as if she could not believe her eyes.

He nodded to her. “It’s me, Nin. I’m here.”

Outside, another arrow flew toward Eruviel’s silhouetted form. The Elf grabbed the door, wrenching it over, using it as a shield. As soon as the thwap sounded she reemerged and loosed one arrow then another in the direction of the attacker.

Sten waved the dagger in front of him, as if taunting Eirikr. “Why don’t ye show ‘im the surprise, Ninny.” He stepped back to grab Ninim by the hair and drug her backward. With a cry, she fell to her backside and clutched her enormous stomach.

There was a cry in the darkness as Eruviel’s second arrow hit true. It was nothing compared to Eirikr’s cry of astonishment. So this was what the boy spoke of. Eirikr paled as his mouth went dry. “Nin…”

Behind him, Eruviel’s mouth curved in a smirk at the distant cry only to be jolted by Eirikr’s. Turning to look back, her smirk vanished and the air deflated from her lungs as she saw Ninim.

Sten laughed loudly as he crouched beside Ninim. He held her back against his chest and purred, “Ninny Nin look a li’l different than ye last saw ‘er? Awe, come on, boy. Come give yer wife a kiss.” His eyes on Eirikr, he licked the side of her face as she cringed but did not pull away.

Eirikr clenched his fists and mouthed, “How?”

From the darkness outside emerged two men, one bleeding steadily from his arm and dragging a sword through the dirt. The other ordered the man to the left as he moved to the right; he too bore a weapon: a club as thick as a troll’s left leg.

Eruviel’s knuckles turned white as she gripped her bow. Seeing the two men out of the corner of her eye, her eyes turned a shade darker. “Do you have things here, gwador?” she asked in a chilling tone.

Eirikr gritted his teeth and growled, “It is my home. Of course I have things here.” His eyes glared at the man caressing his wife as his fingers flexed near the short sword at his side. “But only one matters.”

Ninim whimpered in Sten’s grasp. “Eiri…”

Sten pulled her to him tighter. “Come and get ‘er, boy. Give me an excuse to gut you.”

Eruviel looked back at him, hesitating as she leaned her bow against the outer wall. “Right. I won’t be long,” she said quietly. Drawing her sword, her thumb played over the black string wrapped around the hilt as she descended half-way down the steps.

The men approached warily, prepared to lunge if an arrow came their way. They grinned as she set down her bow. As they approached the half-way mark to the door, Club gave a shout and both charged, Swordarm’s battle cry slightly less enthusiastic than Club’s. Eruviel pulled out her long dagger with her off-hand, waiting, ready as they charged at her. Club dodged in first and whipped his weapon toward the side of her head. In an attempt to flank her, Swordarm continued around her left side.

Eruviel dropped under the club as it flew across where her head had been and sliced out with her sword at Clubs legs; her eyes flicked over to the second man.

The force of his swing carried the attacker in a half circle as he pivots on his foot. He let the momentum carry him around to raise the club in a swift upswing. Meanwhile, Swordarm raised his sword with both hands as the blood ran down the dirty fabric of his shirt. He left himself exposed as he slashed down.

Eruviel jumped away from Club, lunging at Swordarm. Raising her dagger to block his weapon, she thrust her swords towards his chest.

Swordarm grunted as the blades penetrated his flesh. He raised his blade with one hand in a feeble attempt to thrust at her side. Meanwhile, Club wheeled back to watch his comrade fall, disbelief on his ugly features.

Eruviel left the sword in him and grabbed his raised arm as they fell into the yard, her hand holding the dagger and ready to stab him once they landed.

As the Elf-maiden dealt with the trouble outside, Sten ran the tip of the dagger down Ninim’s cheek. “Don’t you want yer wifey, boy?”

Eirikr stepped forward as he started to draw his weapon, his eyes cold.

Sten pressed the tip into Ninim’s cheek, drawing blood. “Keep on comin’, boy. I’ll give ‘er to ye in pieces. Make it last longer.”

Eirikr stopped as he saw the spot of red on Ninim’s pale skin. “Let her go. Face me like a man.”

As Sten focused on taunting Eirikr, Ninim’s hand reached for a jagged piece of the earthenware scattered across the floor. Her fingers strained as she tried not to pull away revealing her purpose.

With a quick flit of his eye, Eirikr noted Ninim’s movement. He said to Sten, his deep voice rumbling, “How much did my father pay you to babysit a woman, Sten? What, are you too old for the caravans any more?”

The man grunted and pulled Ninim tight again. “‘E paid me well enough. Plus, I got to feast on some nice, succulent flesh every night.” As he leaned over to lick Ninim again, the movement was enough to let Ninim get a grasp on the scrap. She brought it up quickly and jammed it in his face. With a pained, ferocious growl, Sten released her and clutched at his nose. Ninim scrambled away beneath the table as quickly as her belly would allow.

“Bitch!” Sten spat out. Blood spatters the tile floor. “I’ll deal with you later.” He eyed Eirikr and laughs. “Still scared, boy? Or does your woman have to finish what she started?”

Fuming, Eirikr hesitated just long enough to see Ninim escape to safety before turning on Sten. He lunged forward in an attempt to stab Sten in the stomach, but the delay allowed the man to regain his senses enough to raise the dagger toward Eirikr. Sten lowered the hand covering his face – an eye was badly damaged and his nose clearly broken and bleeding inside and out. Sten parried the sword with his dagger, directing it toward the wall. As he turns away, he slashed up catching Eirikr across the cheek.

Outside as Swordarm landed in the grass, a cloud of dust billowed up around him. Club took the chance to charge forward to slam the club down into the back of Eruviel’s skull. Eruviel rolled off of Swordarm, taking her sword with her. The club rushed down at her and grazed her cheek as she flung herself to the side. Crying out, she leapt to her feet and retreated back to the path through the yard.

Club recovered from slamming the weapon into the ground. He turned to Eruviel, cracking his neck with a jerk. “Pre’ty li’l Elf. Come play with me, She-Elf.” He raised his fist and motioned her forward with the club raised in the other hand.

Eruviel spat a bit of blood to the side as she flipped her dagger around in her hand. Switching her footing, she stepped to the side, eyeing the large man, smirking at his words. She tilted her head in a feigned thoughtful motion. “You’re too tall to be my playmate,” she said as her steps bring her closer to the front stairs. “We will have to cut you down to size.”

Grinning, Club leapt toward her without grace. He swung the club toward her aiming for her head. She jumped back, dancing around him to find a more advantageous opening as her eyes flicked for a moment to the house. Club placed both hands on the club and licked his lips in anticipation. Soon, he grunted as he began to tire. His swings were slower but still bore much brute strength behind them. Finally, he feinted to Eruviel’s off-hand side.

Eruviel dodged, thrusting her sword to his open side, not bothering to check to see if she struck him before prancing back out of range. The brute bellowed in pain. He clutched the wound for a moment before charging recklessly.

Eruviel spun to the side as he drew near, dropping low to slash at his leg with her dagger. He crumpled toward his injured leg and she planted her feet, slashing at the man’s hand still clutching the club. It dropped and he howled like a wounded animal, throwing a beefy fist toward Eruviel.

She stepped easily outside his punch and swiftly came up beside him to slash her sword under his raised arm. The man fell to his side and howled again in pain. He glared up at Eruviel with hatred. “Filthy Elf,” he spat out as he groped for his weapon.

Eruviel jumped at him, her sword aimed at his side and dagger ready to block. “Oh, no you don’t,” she growled. At his side, the man grasped the end of the club and pulled it to him to get a better grip. She shifted her footing at the last second, stomping down on his armed hand with one foot and slamming the hilt of her sword into the side of his face. He groaned and reached feebly but his hands found nothing.

Eruviel did not hesitate as she swung her dagger up, towards the side to the man’s neck.

As Eruviel battled Sten’s henchmen, inside, Eirikr switched sword hands and crushed his fist into Sten’s face as he let out a roar from the pain of Sten’s dagger. Righting himself, he followed through with a slash with his off-hand. Sten staggered and shook his head. He barely managed to evade the slash. Stumbling across the room to several swords leaning against the wall, he grabbed one and whirled on Eirikr swinging wildly. The huntsman parried each swing that Sten threw his way. On his back, his quiver bounced against his bow. “I should have put an arrow in your eye last night!”

Sten sneered as he attacked vicously. “Coward, ye are. Never could follow through.” The tip of the sword sliced through Eirikr’s sleeve drawing blood.

Eirikr ignored the pain as he took Sten’s moment of selfish triumph to press his advantage. He switched his stance from defense to offense and landed a slash across Sten’s chest. The man gasped and staggered back to one knee. His hands desperately tried to hold the rent flesh together as he glared up at Eirikr. “Yer father underestimates you,” he grunted through the pain. “He coulda trained ye nice for all his dirty work. That Watcher woulda been no problem for ye.”

Eirikr returned the glare and asked evenly, “What Watcher?”

Sten grinned, blood staining his teeth. “Watcher yer father sent me to kill about a decade ago. Hardest kill I ever made. Smart fella. Was on to the dealin’s boss had with the wainriders.”

His eyes betraying his uncertainty, Eirikr approached Sten slowly, his sword pointed at him. “My father would not deal with wainriders. You lie.”

The downed man laughed and then coughed up more blood. He fell forward to his hands and knees, blood dripping to the cold stone floor. “He would. And does. They promise him stature and wealth after they conquer this little shithole and Dale.” He laughed again even as it caused the blood to gush out faster.

Eirikr stepped up to Sten, sword raised. “Take your filth to the grave, worm.” He started to lower it when Ninim shouted from under the table, “Eiri, no!” Surprised, he froze and looked back at her. Sten took the opportunity to hurl a knife hidden in his sleeve at him. It sank into his thigh and he let out a cry of surprise and rage. As he struck out, Sten knocked his sword away and launched himself at him with his remaining energy. Without thinking, Eirikr reached back to grab an arrow; as he brought it forward, Sten impaled his neck on the barbed point with a gurgle of shock.

As Sten sank forward, Eirikr stumbled back and let the body fall. Each beat pumped more blood from the wound in Sten’s neck and chest. As the man’s life ebbed away, Eirikr turned to comfort his wife. Ninim crawled to the edge of the table but looked toward the door. “The Elf,” she said in a worried tone. Following her gaze, he nodded and rushed to the doorway as quickly as the knife in his leg allowed. Behind him, Sten exhaled his last breath, his glossy eyes staring at Ninim as she sat beneath the table, swollen with child.

Eirikr watched from the doorway as Eruviel stabbed the brute. From the outside, his expression was indiscernible as he is back-lit by the firelight. Inside, Ninim stared at the blood pooling behind him and when he pulled the knife from his thigh, she finally started to sob.

Eruviel quickly landed a second strike to make sure he’s was dead before she stood, her chest heaving from exertion, and kicked the body over. “You feast of wolves,” she muttered in Sindarin, wiping the blood off on his shirt before looking up to the house and Eirikr.

Eirikr breathed heavily from the exertion. “Eruviel?”

Eruviel stepped over the large corpse, striding across the yard to the house. “It is done, Eirikr.” Taking the steps two at a time she stopped beside him, frowning. “You could be worse for wear, I suppose. How — how is she?”

“I-” he looked over at her and immediately hobbled to her. He collapsed beside her and took her up in his arms. “Ninim? Ninim, it’s me, I’m here. Ninim, I’m here.” He stroked her hair. “He’s gone, my love. He’s gone.”

Eruviel looked down with a cold expression at Sten’s body, nodding more to herself in assurance as she saw the arrow in his neck. Glancing over to the reunited couple she began to search the cupboards for a clean sheet.

He looked over at Eruviel with extreme gratitude. “The other men. You handled them both exceedingly better than I did Sten if we went by injury alone, my friend.”

Eruviel pulled out a sheet, promptly tearing it into long strips. “I can only assume you let him dialog, brother,” she quipped with an amused smile. “I had shot the smaller man before, but I was fortunate the big one lacked dexterity.”

Eirikr watched her tear the sheet with a slightly amused grin beneath the pain. “He did talk. He always was full of himself.”

Ninim looked up from his chest with tear streaked cheeks. “Eirikr…what do we do now? We cannot hide this. Half the town surely heard the yells.”

Eirikr looked down at her and then up at Eruviel. “We must leave, Nin. Do you think you can travel?”

Eruviel walked over and knelt next to him. “Hold the end down,” she instructed as she began to bind Eirikr’s leg.

Before Eirikr can do it, Ninim reached out and held the end in place. “I think I can,” she said to him. “Where are we going?”

Eirikr sighed. “Ninim, we need to leave the Dale-lands. It is not safe here any more.” A question hangs on his tongue, but he bit it back. “We are going to go get Abbi and we are going to where I found Anya.”

Eruviel smiled kindly to Ninim, nodding as she wrapped up the wound. She assessed the woman and her bulging belly, checking for any injury.

Ninim’s eyes widened. “You found your sister? That is what he wanted? Where?” Her cheek was bruised from where Sten struck her, but other than that she seemed healthy, if tired and stressed.

Eruviel tied of the bandage and stood, leaving the linens behind with a look at Eirikr’s arm. “I am going to bring the bodies inside while you two work things out,” she said with a concerned glance out the window.

Eirikr sighed. “Bree. Of all places in the world, she found herself in Bree. Such a little hole in the wall, really.” He nodded to Eruviel. “I have an idea of what we can do.” Giving Ninim a look, he said, “We need to burn the house down.”

Eruviel nodded with approval, offering Ninim an apologetic smile before stepping back out into the night.

Ninim looked horrified at the thought. “Eirik, how could you say such a thing? This is our home!”

Eirikr replied slowly so that she would fully understand how serious he was. “Nin. My love. There is a dead body over there. Two more will soon join it. It is enough to hope that a rain will come to wash away the blood. As long as I have you, I can live anywhere. My life is you, Ninim. But we must leave Esgaroth.”

Eruviel grunted with effort as she dragged the larger body through the door. “By the Valar,” she grumbled, letting the corpse fall a short ways further in past Sten’s.

Eirikr frowned as he watched Eruviel struggle a bit with the bodies. His face showed how much he wanted to help her, but how much he knew he wasn’t in much shape to do so and really didn’t want to let go of his wife. “Do you understand, Nin?”

Nodding slowly, she whispered loudly enough for Eruviel to probably hear, “Do you think those things he said about your father were true? That he works with the wainriders and had a Watcher killed?”

Eirikr glanced up at Eruviel. “I do not know, Ninim.”

Eruviel ‘s step faltered as she walked back to the door. Glancing over at Ninim, then Eirikr, she continued on to retrieve the club and the smaller man.

Eirikr struggled to his feet and helped Ninim up. “I need to you pack. We will take the wagon and head for the Silver Reel. You will stay with Eruviel and I will meet you outside of Dale in three days, all right?”

Eruviel dragged the other man further in still, leaving the club by him. “That’s the last of them,” she said quietly, dusting off her hands. Looking up she nodded reluctantly. “I don’t like you going on your own, gwador, but I understand how plans have changed.”

Ninim nodded and waddled off to go do as he said. He watched her disappear into the bedroom before turning to Eruviel. “I trust you with my life, systir mine. Once I retrieve Abbi, we will leave via the route through the Lonely Mountain.”

Eruviel nodded curtly. “I will wait for word from you. Do not fret for her, Eirikr.”

Eirikr smiled wearily and rested a hand on her shoulder. "I trust you with my life," he repeats. "And she is my life, Eru. I know you will keep her safe."
Eirikr smiled wearily and rested a hand on her shoulder. “I trust you with my life,” he repeats. “And she is my life, Eru. I know you will keep her safe.”

Eirikr smiled wearily and rested a hand on her shoulder. “I trust you with my life,” he repeats. “And she is my life, Eru. I know you will keep her safe.” Looking over his shoulder toward the bedroom, he added, “I will wait for you two to leave, and then I will set the flame. She needn’t see our home burn. I will then meet you at the inn and leave for Dale as soon as you are settled in.”

Eruviel gave him an encouraging smile, resting a hand on his arm. “I will see her safely there, Eirikr. Do not worry for us. Just be careful on your way.”

Eirikr nodded as Ninim came bustling out of the room. She hurried to the kitchen and packed some cookware and mess supplies. Once she was ready, Eirikr packed the wagon under the cover of night and watched as Eruviel drove away.

 

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To Dale: Discovery and Darkness

 

A light from the window illuminated the sparse lawn in front of the Tenorbekk cottage. It stood at the end of a dirt lane on the edge of the town where houses sprung up on the banks near the forest. Eirikr stood in the shadow of a large oak tree across the road and watched the front door for an hour before a man emerged and shouted something back inside before slamming the door shut. As he walked down the path to the road leading to the town, he whistled out of tune.

Eirikr ducked back behind the tree; he did not have to look to see the man would have been handsome except that his features were sharp and cruel. He knew them well; any time his father needed something “taken care of,” Sten showed up in the parlour in his dirty shoes and cap. The first time he saw him, the man was barely a man: he was a lad of seventeen who already had an air about him that gave six-year-old Eirikr an uneasy feeling. When his cold blue eyes settled on the boy, his grin caused Eirikr’s heart to skip a beat from fear. Kolrson Tenorbekk gave Sten orders to guard a particularly large sum of money being used as bait to trap a shopkeeper that had been skimming profits.

“You will go unnoticed and then strike if necessary,” Kolrson had said.

His father had not blinked an eye when Sten reported the shopkeeper had stumbled into his knife and was dead.

At the end of the road, a man joined Sten and they laughed loudly as they clapped each other on the back. As they disappeared around the corner, their raucous conversation echoed through the fading evening. Eirikr bet that they were heading down to the pub when he looked around the tree toward his home. Every fiber of his being wanted to go inside and embrace Ninim. He could hardly breathe he craved her touch so much; instead, he turned and followed after Sten relying on the man’s voice to lead the way.

He managed to trail Sten and his buddy to a seedy tavern near the northern docks. He waited outside for half an hour before deciding he should not keep Eruviel waiting any longer. With his gaze still on the door of the tavern, he started to turn and head down the alley.

“Oof!”

A boy half his age went tumbling to the boards of the road.

“Hari! What are you doing here?” Eirikr reached down and hoisted the boy to his feet as he pushed back his hood.

Hari ducked his head and mumbled something Eirikr couldn’t quite catch. Eirikr knelt to level his eyes with his. Hari repeated his words but kept his eyes on the ground at their feet. “Ma told me to watch fer ye. She dinna think ye were dead like that man said.” Hari lived two houses down from him and Ninim. His father Harek often hunted with Eirikr and his mother made the best venison sausage in Esgaroth. Ninim loved to learn from the other woman and they often spent many hours cooking together.

“Your mother told you to watch for me? Tell me what you know, Hari.” Eirikr spoke in a whisper with his finger to his lips. His eyes darted to the tavern across the alley.

“That man ye followed here,” Hari said quickly, “he said ye died in the Mirkwoods. That he were ye cousin from Dale and he were here to take care of Missus Ninim. But all he does is yell at us kids and throw up in the garden. He-” the boy looked up briefly and turned red, “-he isn’t very nice to anyone, Master Tenorbekk. Not even Missus Ninim.”

Eirikr nodded. “I know he isn’t, Hari. I am here to make sure he goes away.”

Hari’s eyes brightened as he looked up at Eirikr. “Ye are? How are ye gonna do that?”

Eirikr took a deep breath. “I am not sure about that yet. But he is here because Missus Ninim is here. If I take her with me, he will leave, too.”

The boy ducked his head again and Eirikr could see his cheeks darken. “I dunno if the Missus would be able to go anywhere, Master Tenorbekk.”

“What do you mean, boy?”

Eirikr did not mean to sound so cold that the boy took a step back.

“I-I shouldn’t say, sir. It isn’t my place to say.” Hari took another step back and started to turn. “I should get home, sir. Ma will start to worry as it’s after dark.”

Eirikr caught Hari’s arm and held him firmly. “Hari. What did you mean?” he demanded with what he hoped was calm authority instead of the panic he felt inside. “Is Ninim all right?”

Hari shook his head and said, “Y-yes. I think so. I promise not to tell Ma yer back. She’d just make a big fuss over all of it, anyway.”

Eirikr looked at the boy for a moment. “Hari, I do not know what is going to happen over the next few days. I want you to stay away if you can, though, okay? Play down in the square or go into the woods. Go fishing with your father and then stay inside at night.”

Eyes wide, Hari nodded and Eirikr finally released him. “I promise, Master Tenorbekk. Just…just you take care of Missus Ninim, okay!”

As the boy ran off down the dark alley between two merchants’ homes, Eirikr stood and watched him. He looked back at the tavern where Sten drank with his associates and then raised his hood back over his head and started back toward the nicer part of town.

 

* * *

Eirikr stepped inside the Silver Reel and scanned the common room for the familiar face. Eruviel sat drinking at a table well to the side of the busy room and he made a beeline to the chair opposite her. He kept his hood up as he sat trusting in her instinct and Elvish senses to keep his back.

Eruviel looked at him expectantly. “Well, mellon?”

“You look comfortable,” he noted instead of answering her implied question. “Did the men in the square shed tears when you bought trousers instead of skirts?”

A dark brow arched over her green eyes. “You better order a drink, gwador, before your empty hand brings a tear to the barman.”

Eirikr smirked and said, “He knows my face; perhaps you should buy it for me.”

Rolling her eyes, she pushes her drink toward him. “You have news. You best be ready to share when I return.” Eruviel stood and patted his shoulder as she passed him to go order another drink.

Eirikr took up the mug and savored the house ale. He missed the bitterness of the pale lager Ditmar brewed and the cool finish revitalized him.

When Eruviel returned, he looked up at her with sincerity.

“I was followed. There is no need for concern, but my pursuer did provide some insight.”

Eruviel glanced toward the door. “Is he here? Where is he?”

With a shake of his head, he brushed aside her concern. “I sent him home. Hari revealed Sten’s presence is unwelcome by all, but he also said that he did not think Ninim would be able to travel. He would not say any more.”

Her eyes wrinkled as she frowned. “Do you think she’s ill?”

Eirikr tried to maintain a neutral expression. “It is hard to say. I did not see her when I trailed Sten from the house to a tavern on the north side. I hoped to – I won’t lie and say I did not. But the evening would be the best time to strike if he has a habit of spending his time with the dockworkers.”

Eruviel nodded. “I had an encounter with some lovely young men in the market. It seems your farrier friend was correct; trouble is brewing in Lake-town. We need to be cautious.”

Nodding, he downed the rest of the drink and passed her some coin. “Get a room here. We can bring Ninim here to regroup; they would never expect us to do anything but flee as soon as we extract her.”

Again her brow arched. “Are you sure? Wouldn’t that allow your father’s men to return to him?”

Eirikr dipped his head. “Yes. But he would never believe we would not run. He would never believe we would try to get Abiorn nor would he guess you have business in Dale that needs tending.”

She nodded slowly, her eyes never leaving his face. “You think he would send pursuit away from Dale, leaving him vulnerable.”

“If we are lucky. I hope he will realize the trouble is not worth the coin.”

“And what of you? I assume you don’t intend on staying here.”

He shot a glance over his shoulder. “No. I don’t think it’s safe for me to do so. In fact, I should head for the woods now. I tomorrow night, I will meet you on the north side of the square…” he trailed off as he felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. “Do what you will until then.” Before she could protest, he stood and strode away from the table. Sticking to the edges of the room, he made his way to the door and quickly ducked out into the street. He walked briskly to the east toward the bridges to the shores. The feeling of being watched did not fade as he ducked down shadowy shortcuts trying to lose the tail.

It wasn’t until he crossed the bridge and neared the shadows of the trees did the sound of something whistling through the air warn him of the knife. He spun to the left and stooped to his knee as the blade whizzed past and struck the trunk of an evergreen. The thud of boots storming near alerted him of his charging attacker. Instead of rising to meet him, Eirikr stayed low feigning injury. As the man reached for his neck, Eirikr burst to his feet and knocked him off balance. As he fell, the attacker kicked out at Eirikr’s knee. He only just managed to dodge the impact, but the movement it took caused him, too, to fall in a heap on the grass.

The moonlight flashed off the dagger pulled from a sheath beneath the man’s arm. Before he could get a grip on it, Eirikr slammed his fist into the man’s mouth. His knuckled bruised against teeth and in the back of his mind, he mused that they were probably torn. He rolled, dragging the man with him. The momentum caused them to tumble over one another until his attacker sucked in a cry; Eirikr pulled back and saw the knife in the man’s neck. The blood pulsed from the wound, pooling beneath the man’s head and soaking into the ground beneath him.

Scrambling to his feet, Eirikr wiped his mouth with his swollen knuckles and looked down at the dying man.

“Who are you?” he demanded.

Choking on his own blood, the man possessed the audacity to laugh. Flecks of red flew out from between his lips and spotted his dirty shirt.

“Y-yer wife s-says hullo,” the man managed to articulate before he started drowning on his own blood. Eirikr watched the blood slow to an ooze with each pulse of the cretin’s heart. He would not have the luxury of bleeding out quickly. No, it would be a slow death.

Gritting his teeth, he reached down and pulled a third knife from the man’s belt. He had helped the passing of animals he hunted. He knew how to end suffering quickly and with mercy.

His fingers flexed around the hilt of the knife and he slowly raised it as he stared down at it. It was long – more a dirk than a dagger. He turned it over and stared at the carving of a wagon wheel in the dark wood.

“Where did you get this?” he asked. He did not need to. It had lain in a chest beneath Ninim’s wedding gown. His hand tightened around the hilt and he dropped to his knee beside the man. “How did you come across this weapon?”

The man looked as though he wanted to laugh again. Eirikr seized the front of his bloodied shirt and pulled him up.

“How?!”

The man’s eyes started to glaze.

“No, damnit, where did you get this?”

The man went slack as he lost consciousness. A growl of frustration escaped Eirikr as he sunk the dirk into the man’s chest with both hands, sending him – and the answers to Eirikr’s questions – to the beyond.

 

To Dale: The Child

((OOC: Potential trigger warning))

 In Esgaroth, the Tenorbekk cottage

Ninim Tenorbekk knelt by the shore of Long Lake as she scrubbed out the week’s laundry in the fading twilight. Her lithe body moved awkwardly beneath its burden; her back ached and she was hungry. She had aged beneath the weight of her house guest. He took too much. Used too much. And after eight months of his attentions, gave too much as well.

She wrung out the last of Sten’s shirts and hated the fact it was not her husband’s. As she tossed it into the basket, she cut off sob that threatened to escape her throat. No. She would not fall to pieces. She would not fall to pieces. She should not fall to pieces. Eirikr would return and together, they would end the time stolen from them. They would reclaim their lives, rid themselves of the parasite, and start new. Start fresh.

Standing, she braced the basket of wet clothes against her hip and held on to it as best she could as she waddled toward the backyard where the drying line stretched between two trees. The sob threatened to loosen from her throat where it lay like a chicken bone, choking and painful. How could they start new with this…this thing growing inside her? The first time Sten pushed open her bedroom door, she thought it was a dream. Indeed, the entire evening seemed fragmented after they had eaten dinner. The bruises on her wrists the next morning and the scent of him on her bedsheets were the only signs that her memories were no mere dreams.

When she started watching her food and drink, robbing Sten of the opportunity to drug her, it only led to a harsher waking world. He did not care when she fought back. In fact, he seemed to savor every slap he laid across her face until her head was swimming enough to staunch her resistance. She learned quickly to accept his attentions in order to protect herself from physical harm. Every night, her spirit suffered all the more.

As she hung the clothes in the dark, she longed to sink into the earth and dissolve into nothingness. She worked when no one could see her, for even when she was complacent, he still sometimes hit her for the fun of it. No one would believe the bruises came from his hand. Sten quickly made friends with the neighbors, spinning tales of half-truths involving Eirikr’s family emergency and a sense of duty to protect his “sister-in-law”. If anyone questioned why he had not gone after the wayward Tenorbekk himself, Sten would laugh and say, “I am no fighter! The Mirkwoods scare me to death. No, Eirikr knows the trails and the ways to survive on them. It’s all I can do to help around the house until he returns.”

With the last shirt hung, Ninim gathered up the basket and headed for the house. She braced her hand beneath her bulging belly and hesitated at the back door. Closing her eyes, she felt the baby within her stir. It tried to stretch without much success. It was crowded in there.

Her eyes still closed, she leaned her head against the rough door. Eight months he had been terrorizing her. Nine months since Eirkir had left for Bree. Her letter must have reached him. It had to have reached him. He had to be coming right now to silence her fears and to love her again.

He would love her, no matter what. Holding this in her heart, she shifted the basket around her pregnant belly and lifted the latch to face her life.