The Gentle Touch

With the exception of Neilia, I have never thought much about those I love dying. Men die, or they leave, and either way there is always loss for those that remain. My Hobbit friends have passed gracefully (for the most part) due to old age. And Elves…their spirits never die, I’ve heard. They pass on to Mandos’ halls and find their place among their people.

War changes dying. It is brutal and unnatural and it rents one’s spirit into pieces. No healer alone can mend the wounds war brings down upon the land.

I am Neilia’s mother and it is my job to protect her with every fiber of my being. I tell myself that by coming here, to Dol Amroth, I am protecting her by shoring up the war front and making Gondor stronger.

Gondor must hold. Dol Amroth must hold.ScreenShot00474

It is remarkable how a city so known for its disciplined army is so full of undisciplined citizens. The infighting and treachery and treason make it nearly impossible to know who to trust. Oendir always said he did not like the Knight-Captain Aureldir and now he’s played a role in the death of Rivalthor and the other knights recently slain in cowardly assassinations. And while the others had pegged Rivalthor as the villain, he release of his fiancee had made me take a step back.

Unfortunately, it was too late.

Why didn’t I say anything more? A note on a document that I feel half the company does not even bother to read. It was not enough. Did my own dislike for the man allow my tongue to stay silent? Did I truly believe Rivalthor was sending us into a trap? Or was it simply because they do not listen, and I grow weary of the looks that do not hide that they think I’m crazy?

I digress. I often digress recently, though rarely aloud. Oendir is beginning to learn when my mind is going though outwardly I am silent. He remembers to ask when he comes out of his own worries and notices mine. I do not hold it against him that he dwells so often in his own thoughts. He is not used to having another around to consult after Gisla left him, and it will take time for him to remember I am always here.

I try to lessen his burden. He is a good man and he deserves some peace from the constant anxiety that plagues him. He doubts himself too much, but it is the company that should be doubted. Each of them has their own agendas and views on the way things should be. Many of them are willing to do whatever it takes to see them through, all in the cause of the greater good. Funny, isn’t it? We sound so much like the city I despise.

So at the end of the day, I will tell Oendir that he is strong and I will rub his aching foot and I will love him until the end of time.

I will always be at his side, whether I am a Wayfarer or not.

~~~***~~~

I was not sure what to expect on my wedding night. Gaelyn spent more time with me alone than any other man before. I never felt judged or pressured or threatened in his presence. There is an ease about him that I cannot help but be drawn to. He did not pressure me or make demands of my body. I told him things no one else knows. Embarrassing things! He only laughed and smiled and asked me more about myself as though he was actually interested in me and not my family’s money or the scandal or my shame. Is this what is like to be a person again?

Gaelyn is an admirable man. He seems to understand the politics and the thoughts of the city without being drawn into them directly. Perhaps it is his charming smile or the way he grins when he says something he knows is witty. He smiles as though he is so very pleased with himself, but not in that pretentious or off-putting manner. It is more the smile like he knows that you know that it is all a game and it would be easier if everyone just came clean, but he doesn’t mind if they keep playing because he wants to keep playing.

It is a game to him, the ways of Dol Amroth. He does not take things lightly here, nor does he let them become a burden. That balance is refreshing. It cleanses my heart and gives me hope for a future.

A future with Gaelyn Fletcher.

I am now Halvel Fletcher.

No “Lady,” no house. No more shame for blood that I cannot change. No servants or handmaidens. Remlors are fish merchants. What are Fletchers? It remains to be seen.

I want this marriage to work, don’t I? I had tried not to think about it, because Gaelyn was always clear that he would support whatever decisions I made after leaving the city. I did not have to worry about that until we were safely away. But now that I am married and am here with him, I want it to work. I want to wake next to him and see the true wreck that is his hair in the morning. I want to gaze into those green eyes and feel like I am held as an equal. I want to feel his hand in mine and on my skin.

I was afraid of a man’s hands before, but not anymore.

~~~***~~~

I made Abiorn go camping with me. He was incredulous and suspicious, but once I convinced him that I really wanted to go, he started packing right away. He started going on and on about the woods around Durrow and how he was going to show me a lot of neat places, but I did not want to stay near the southern Bree-fields. I wanted to go north, past Bree, past the graveyard. I wanted to go to Starmere Lake.

It had been months and months since I had been there last. Probably closer to over a year. Anric took me there once and we swam all day long in the crystal clear lake. We yelled and laughed when our voices echoed off the surrounding cliffs. He was different there. At ease with himself. And it had been beautiful.

I wrote to Anders to let him know I would be gone for a few days. Though we left a note for Eirikr and Eruviel, I did not think that we would be gone long enough to need it. I just wanted to see that place again.

I thought about writing to Morty, but decided that writing him would not be appropriate. And I didn’t want to write him. I felt like he did not deserve to know, but then all the way up to the lake, I worried about how he would fret if he went and found the house abandoned. I always worry about what he feels.

Starmere LakeIt was beautiful still. A little bowl of solitude and freedom nestled into the Brandy Hills. Abiorn and I set up camp and swam the first day, but the second day, I let him swim out to the islands by himself while I set up my easel and stirred my paints. All around me, I could hear the nature spirits on the wind come to investigate the bear-man and his sister. They stayed near all day, whispering and dancing around me as I worked.

When Abiorn returned, he found me angrily stabbing at the canvas with my paintbrush. Tears flowed down my cheeks, but I did not know it at the time.

Abiorn came to me and put his hand over my own. He urged me to put down the brush and then pulled me into a giant bear hug.

What is it, Anyatka? he had asked in his simple and straightforward manner. How can I help? Do I need to bite someone’s hand off?

It was absurd and I laughed, but still I cried. I did not know what made me ache until the pain turned to anger. I was not an angry person; I did not recognize the emotion even as it made me ruin the bristles of my favorite brush. So Abiorn just hugged me and the light faded as the sun dipped behind the cliffs and I tried to figure out why I was so sad I could hardly even paint.

Eventually, I calmed down enough for Abiorn to release me and cook some fish he caught for dinner. As the smoke rose from the pale slabs of delicate flesh, I realized what it was.

I was angry with Morty.

I was angry with Morty for lying and using me and making me fall so desperately in love with him that still I longed for his smile. I was angry with Morty for liking Anders and approving of the new match like it was easy to get over me because I was just another girl. I was angry with Morty for having a child with Ansithe and never being able to entertain the thought of having a child with me, like I was not good enough to bear his line. And I am angry with Morty that he does not deserve me, he never did deserve me, and he does not want to do anything to try to deserve me.

I know that many of these things were out of my hands over a thousand years ago. It is not my fault that he is what he is and I am what I am and I tell myself I should be honored to have his attention for the short time that I did. That if he did pledge his heart to me for this lifetime, he would suffer the pain of my death and that is not fair of me to ask him to do. But life isn’t fair! If we were given this time to be together again, why should we waste it apart?

The sun had long gone to bed when I was able to look at my painting again. The palate was dark; I did not realize I had chosen to capture such a beautiful day in such somber tones. I raised my hand, anger that even in my art he was present giving my virgin powers strength: a gust of wind rose to knock the easel to its side and it caught the canvas like a sail. It flew into the darkness and just under Abiorn’s shout of surprise, I heard the splash.

Tomorrow, I said to him. Tomorrow, we are going to go foraging. I need new paints. 

Nodding in shock, Abiorn stared at me, but I did not mind. I would come to understand this new feeling, this gift that Morty gave me. I would master it, this Anger. And I will be stronger for it.

The sun will rise tomorrow, and I welcome its heat.

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A Bitter Pill: Dear Master J, No. 3

Dated four days before the wedding of Oendir Arrowheart and Cwendlwyn Tain

Dear Master J,

Thank you for your letter. I will be honest and say that for some time, I did not think you were going to write me back. I am glad that you did, though I fear my response will not bring either of us joy.

When I read your letter, I closed my eyes and imagined what you described. Part of me wants that. So much of me wants to know a man who can express himself so eloquently and make me feel loved even with leagues between us. One who will love Neilia as his own and give her everything that she deserves.

My dear J, I cannot marry you. This weekend, I will be married to Oendir Arrowheart. Our children love each other as brother and sister. He has been in my heart since I first met him. We both bear so much trouble from our pasts, I never dreamed he would propose marriage, but when he did, I knew it was the right thing to do.

I mourn the loss of our future together. I mourn the friendship that we would have had. I am selfish enough to wish for our friendship to continue. That I can still be the honest voice at your side among the gossip and lies that fill the streets and taverns of that city, even from afar. But it is wrong of me to wish such a thing. Is it not?

Please do not hate me or think ill of Oendir. He knows nothing of my accepting your proposal; only that it existed. If you must choose between the two, then only I deserve your wrath, my lord. I will bear it.

The company will be journeying south again in a few week’s time. I believe it is Oendir’s intention to visit his brother, Sir Carmanadh. Please, do not let my actions hurt them. It is more than I should ask, but ask I must.

I am so sorry. The ink of the ‘ry’ is smudged and a circular stain mars the fine parchment.

With deepest regret for the pain I have caused,

Cwendlwyn

A Bitter Pill: Dear Master J, No. 2

My dear Master J,

I fear that my last letter was sent in haste and without allowing my distress to cool before I spilled my thoughts into the paper. I may have written too much, but at the same time I feel as though I hardly wrote enough. So much is flooding my mind now that I have begun sharing what has been trapped inside of me for decades.

I am in the land of my forefathers. Fore-mothers at least. We are in the far eastern part of the Mark; my mother was born not far from here, and I as well. Only her death took me west past the Gap and onto the banks of another river. 

I had never intended to return to these lands, but since I met Oendir, the commander of this company, I have visited here twice. Once to face one of his personal shadows and now to face a more dangerous one: four dark sorcerers who have blackened the skies and intend to bring destruction to the land. Their triumph will eliminate all life here and the death will spread like a disease. 

So we must stop it. Here and now.

Have you marched yet to Minas Tirith? Has your final summons to lead your men into the shadow come?

I am no leader here. We have no leader here. Oendir remained in the village where he was elected mayor to serve and protect the simple villagers there. He appointed a stand-in by seniority and battle skill; someone who is a good solider who I trust at my side, but who does not have the patience or diplomacy that we are used to with Oen.

Cwendlwyn frowned and put the tip of her quill to the period and used the dot to start a “d.”

…Oen.dir. And while I miss his leadership, what I miss most is his warmth. The comfort I have just being near him. Being separated by distance and not just our silences makes my chest ache. The touch of his eyes restores me more than anything I can think of stowed away in my chest of medicines and herbs.

Is this what love is, my lord? This deep and coring loss when he is not here in the darkest hour? I have walked this earth for nearly three and a half decades and I am unsure what love is. I have been abandoned so many times in my attempts to love that I fear it. I drive it away, as perhaps I am doing now by being far too open with you, a potential lover. Yet I feel safe telling you these things. Is it because your are so far from me and the pain of being vulnerable? Or is that love? That trust that you will not abandon me for no matter what, there is something there that connects us?

I don’t know. I only know that as I am heading to face the shadow, I wanted to write to you because I know that you will hear me. 

Your frank and lonely

Cwendlwyn

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: 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