A Bitter Pill: If I Should Die Before I Wake

Dear Callee,

How are you, my good friend? Is the summer heat waning in Buckland yet, or is it still clinging to the hills with its August ferocity? I miss the way the Brandywine would sparkle like amber when the sun hit it just right. How each little crest of the water flowing ever on was a moment we’d never experience again, like a single heartbeat. Life flowed as a single pulse in the Shire. Even in Bree-land, there was a constant thread to cling to when things became overwhelming. It is not so here in Dol Amroth. There are too many wills at play for power and control beneath the festive thump of the city’s heart.

My company, the Wayfarers, have a deeper vein connecting them to preserving the goodness of this world than I could have imagined. They are no mere coalition of randoms come together to fight for their version of “good” or “justice.” Oen Commander Arrowheart introduced me to a very strong ally and from the wind spirit Fionwe, I have started to dream. They are more like vivid and realistic visions than dreams. The commander said they are messages from the wind spirit, lessons of the members’ ancestors and perhaps links to the origins of the company.

Now, you are a sane, reasonable hobbit, my dear. You perhaps won’t believe in fairies and wind spirits and the inner strength of any Man. But you have not met the commander. His people. They give me hope again, Callee. It is more than I can ask for.

But I do have something to ask from you. You know I draw trouble like bees to my honeysuckle blooms. Even here, it finds me. 

I don’t know who of our lot will be coming back to Bree. Something sinister is afoot and once again, I’m sucked into the brewing storm and I can only trust my companions to lead me out. I won’t say much about what is going on or isn’t going on, for truth be told, I hardly know myself. But I do know that this could end badly and if it does, Callee, promise me you’ll take care of Neilia. Oendir promised he’d make sure she was all right, but she will need you if anything would come to pass that would prevent my return to the Shire. 

I’m trying not to be upset that this happened. Again. Oendir says that we are in the place where we are needed. It’s a different way to look at the events unfolding, for certain. It’s confusing to the fear and bitterness I have in my heart. To consider finding this trouble a calling because we, the Wayfarers, may be able to help takes some adjustment in my mind. 

I will help those who can. You know I will. And I will try to keep my mouth shut, like I always do. But if it is not enough, promise me you’ll help Neilia. That she has a home with you or that you will ensure Oen finds one for her. 

She’s my world.

Your friend,

Cwen

Advertisements

A Bitter Pill: Take Flight

Corsair on the Horizen

 

It was warmer here. Or perhaps it was just that it was a different kind of heat than in the Shire. Summers there were mild and warm and snuck up on you like a welcomed afternoon nap. In Dol Amroth, they hit you like the gales rising over the city from the ocean: strong and damp.

One such gale tried to dislodge Cwen’s dark-chocolate hair from the confines of the twists and braids she used to tame it from the sub-tropical humidity. The top layer of her overdress caught in the breeze and flew behind her with the wind in a burst of linen and lace. Her pale blue cloak billowed like a sail and the muscles in her legs hardened as she steadied herself. As she peered down the cold slope of the city wall, she wondered if anyone would pull her back from the edge if she lost her balance. Too bad there was no one around.

The hour was so late that it was early. Even the gulls were quiet and the silence was broken only by the waves crashing against the white walls below. Other districts still echoed with late night life. But not here. The stage was empty; the actors were long gone to the taverns to drink away their earnings. Cwen’s toes hung over the edge of the wall and she wondered if the wings on her cloak would transform and carry her away if only she would let herself fall.

A piece of parchment fluttered in the grip of her left hand. Dark ink stained it with empty words.

My dearest Biramore,

Dol Amroth is beautiful. It is unlike anything I have ever seen in all my travels. Even the cities of the Elves do not possess the same majesty as this mighty city on the edge of the world. It’s different, somehow. Knowing that men built these towering walls and have dwelt here for years and years. 

Everything is so white.

She never felt so out of place. The awe and excitement fell away to self-consciousness. The dresses that were so overdone in Bree seemed poor imitations of respectability on the streets that overflowed with opulence. It was good that she had Neilia with her. The child’s enthusiasm kept Cwen smiling as they explored the twists and turns of the paved streets.

Neilia fits in well. She makes friends with everyone she meets. She gets that from you, I am certain.

I am slowly getting to know the Wayfarers. I wish you were here to meet them. You’d like them. They remind me so much of the Hielda.

Feygil is tough and practical. She brings Aiethel to mind. I wonder what the woman would think about being compared to a young and feisty male Elf. But I trust her at my back like I trusted him. They share the same eye for strategy in the heat of a fight.

Do you remember Aldoon? I think you only met him once or twice. I still wonder what he was…he aged quicker than most. And what Man had the ability to be so playful even when bound with a knife to his throat? Remember the incident with the Archet guard and the pie? Such a trouble-maker. There’s a young lad, Hallem Kemp, that reminds me of Doony. But Aldoon saw things that no one else did. He understood like no one else did. I think Hal does the same.

And Echros. My second-in-command. I don’t know Commander Arrowheart’s second-in-command very well, but they appear to share that same light-hearted spirit. I think Echros let things bring him down more than Gaelyn does. I won’t feign to know enough to draw conclusions based on things that aren’t really there, so I can’t really say much more on him right now.

She didn’t know why she started writing about Hielda Yavanna. She preferred to leave the past in the past. She hadn’t thought about her old companions except in passing for years. A white cat scurrying down the alley reminded her of Castius. The right shade of pale blue fabric could be Baralindes turning the corner. Or a flash of green meant Lychee and Loraelyn and Helehuieth in their uniforms. An arrow in a back was Uilys and her betrayal.

All memories she tried to forget.

Just another checkmark to add to the list of failed relationships and broken promises she couldn’t leave behind. No matter how hard she tried to leave Bree, it always pulled her back when she least expected it. And now, leagues away from the knolls and the meadows, lost in a world above the rough tavern benches and drunken brawls of the Pony, Bree was all she could think about.

She had fallen asleep with the letter left unfinished. Mere hours later, a dream had shaken her awake. Neilia rested peacefully and the estate of House Colagar was quiet. Her mind raced with what she had seen: broken pottery and torn fabrics, trees burning around a house with a circle for a door. No matter how much she told herself it was just a dream, her hand continued to shake as she lit a single candle and stared at herself in the large mirror standing near the vanity.

The Shire was supposed to be a safe place. The thought of ruin coming to the land brought a chill and then a fever to Cwen. She couldn’t bear to sit there in the cold stone walls, so she took up her cloak and ran. 

She couldn’t remember passing through the guard at the gate. Perhaps she looked distraught enough they didn’t think to question her. And then she found herself on the wall behind the Swan Jewel theater staring into the blackness that blocked out the darkened seas below. She could still hear them, though; the roaring waves sang their cadence against the walls and sandy banks and begged her to join them far below.

“I can’t do this, Bira,” she whispered to the wind as it whipped the loose hair about her face. “I can’t. I’m sorry.

“I love you.”

Deliberately, she began to tear the letter into strips. She then tore the strips into smaller and smaller bits, releasing tiny pieces into the wind. As they blew about her and out into the open air, she sighed. Piece by piece, her past drifted away on the wind and water and as the last piece took flight, she felt a great weight lifted from her mind.

A Bitter Pill: Getting to Go

“Mama, I think you are being silly.”

“Really, Neils, there is nothing silly about this choice. The trip will be long and exhausting and I can’t imagine how bored you shall be on the road.”

“Solsey is going! He’s my age and he gets to go!”

“Neilia Resselin, you are not Solstan Arrowheart. I am sure there is a fine reason why Commander Arrowheart would bring Solstan along. This is no leisurely holiday, Neilia. It will be dangerous. The South always is.”

“You said I’m part Dunlending.”

“Yes, my father was from the Hillmen’s tribes.”

“It’s heritage, Mama.”

“Do you even know what that means?”

“It’s where I’m from. And we’ll get to go see Rohan.”

“Our people call it the Mark, darling.”

“And we’ll get to go see the Mark.”

“Eat your roast, honey, so that I can serve dessert.”

“Solstan doesn’t eat meat.”

“Is your name Solstan? Besides, you always ate it before.”

“He doesn’t like eating animals.”

“Our people hold in highest esteem Béma, The Huntsman. If you are so interested in them, honor our people by eating the bounty of the hunt.”

“Is that why you always say ‘Béma’s balls,’ Mama?”

“Neilia!”

“What?”

“Don’t…don’t say that, please. It isn’t appropriate, er, polite to use that phrase aloud, all right? Sometimes Mama slips.”

“The people around here say ‘Stockard’s balls.'”

Neilia Ress-“

“Sorry! Sorry, Mama.” Beat. “This is why you should take me with you. So you can correct me when I say things like ‘Stockard’s balls.’ What does that mean anyway?”

“It’s a swear people use when they are angry or upset or so surprised their mind stops working for a moment.”

“Oh. That’s boring.”

“Well, then, you shouldn’t use it.”

“All right.” Several beats pass. “Can I go with you to Dol Amroth? Solsey is going.”

“Neilia, we’ve been over this.”

“But it isn’t fair!”

“As I said, I am sure Commander Arrowheart has a reason for allowing him to attend such an arduous journey. Perhaps to ease the burden on his wife since she has such a young child to attend to in his absence.”

“Have you met Com’ander Arrowheart’s wife?”

“No. Actually, now that you mention it, it is a bit odd, I suppose. You would think I would have run into her by now.”

“Isn’t Com’ander Arrowheart really really really nice, Mama?”

“Hm? Oh yes, dear. I agree he is very nice.”

“He reminds me of Biramore how nice he is.”

“Hm. Sometimes, perhaps. He’s a good man. We can trust him to take care of the company.”

“See, Mama? Com’ander Arrowheart will take care of us and make sure nothin’ happens to us.”

“Neilia, really?”

“Mama, you said so. You said he’d take care of us and Solsey gets to go. I should get to go.”

“Neilia…”

Mama. Please, don’t leave me all alooonneee.” 

“Neilia.”

“I should get to go.”