After the meeting with the surprise sorcerer, Eirikr strode back and forth rather angrily in his tent. The impromptu interrogation session with the Black Numenorian had put him in a foul mood and though now they had options, he thought they had more questions than answers. Eirikr Tenorbekk did not like being in the dark. Especially when at that very moment, Eruviel was on her way to Ost Celebrant with Langafel.
Eirikr knew her to be a capable scout and an excellent fighter. A kind and humorous companion. But he had never known her like this before.
When he looked at her now, he did not just see an Elf clad in leather armour with a bow on her back and a sword on her hip. He saw the soft curve of her lip and the gentle fall of her braid across her shoulder. He saw her smile and heard her laughter and felt her fingers upon his brow. Delicate. Precious. Irreplaceable.
He scowled as he realized his thoughts made it seem like he did not value her before. He had, of course, but sometime between Evendim and Rohan, things had shifted inside of him when it came to her. He had not meant for it to happen. In fact, if he had been truly aware of it, he would have put a stop to it immediately, but perhaps now it was too late.
The truth was, his agitation sprouted from this new intense desire to put her in a safe, secure place and protect her from the Black Numenorians she now rode toward. He wanted to pull her close and shield her from the darkness. He wanted to do all these things that he never thought he’d want to do again and he hated that he would never be good enough to do any of it. He hated that he did not want to be good enough.
He did not want to cause her pain in any way, and a love between mortal and immortal could end in only that. Didn’t the legends say only by the intervention of the Valar themselves did Beren and Luthien find peace? And didn’t they have to die first?
Eirikr scowled again, his heavy brow drawing down deeply over his stormy eyes. He reminded himself that Eruviel had survived things he could hardly imagine. She would continue to survive things long after his bones had turned to dust, if not in this world, then across the Sea with her people and away from this land of strife.
He slipped through the flap of his small tent and looked out across the camp. Miss Cwen was meandering away from the main fire holding her lute; Hallem sat there still looking solemn by the flames.
Deciding that he could not sit by and not do anything but wait, he stalked after Cwen. The Black Numenorean may have slipped through their grasp, but he could still get answers from somewhere, and that was doing something.
Cwendlwyn of Rohan was digging through trash bins. She did not remember discarding the item she was looking for, but she knew that she packed it then and she needed it now; she did not wish to go to bed that night without it. Without flinching, she pulled over a partially broken crate filled with broken bits of metal and leather and scraps of frayed rope. Carefully, she tried to search the bin without having to dump it out.
She mumbled to herself in a bare whisper as she searched. Ever since Pharazanû had vanished, she acted more eccentric regardless of who was around. She simply gave less of a damn about what other people thought than before and she had hardly cared at all to begin with. Still, she began to suspect that Langafel’s men had begun to suspect that she was a bit daft.
Maybe they were right.
Feygil and Eirikr had criticised her choice to force the Black Numenorean to heal her arm seeing it only as a verification of the sorcerer’s abilities. Both of them and Hallem had asked her why any one of them could trust him. The looks on their faces might have upset her a year ago. She hadn’t bothered to pay any attention to her companions’ reactions when she tested Pharazanû, but that was because she had been so intent on his response.
Cwen was certain that few of them if any understood what she did or why, but that did not matter. It was not, nor had it ever been, about trusting the man.
After all, what was trust, really? Could anyone be truly trusted?
She did not trust the sorcerer any more than they did. She just understood something about him. She saw him differently. She did not peg him as evil just because he was the enemy. Even enemies can have respect for one another, and, besides, in his eyes, wouldn’t they be the enemy? Yet he came to them with information. They seemed intent on the same goal. And what else brings people together more than a common goal?
The more she pondered these questions in the passing time between waiting and worrying, she began to question more and more.
For instance, what is the difference between an Elf and an Orc?
The legends say the black pits of Thangorodrim twisted the prisoners kept there into the ghastly race today known as orc. Their fates altered, they were forced to adapt or die. They were forced to serve, to listen to their master, and obey the commands given them in order to create a more powerful structure of society. Common purpose. Greater good.
Hold a moment–which society was she thinking of? The Elves that obeyed the summons… the orcs twisted by Morgoth? Obey. The Valar let the Elves decide their own fate. Was that the difference? Apart from the physical, the brutish and the beautiful, is that what separated Orc and Elf? The choice?
If an Orc was given the choice, would he be able to choose mercy if all he’d learned was brutality? And was it his fault he did not know of the other choice?
Was it an orc’s fault, then, that he was an orc?
Was it that man’s fault he was born beneath the shadowed sky instead of the open plains of the Mark?
What would she have been like if she had been born in Dunland instead of near Cliving in the Norcrofts? How would her life had been different if her father had taken her to his clan’s homeland instead of settling on the western edges of the Gap?
“It’s all perspective,” she murmured as she went into the bucket of scraps from the night’s dinner with both hands. “People don’t know how to change perspective.”
Her fist pushed past something squishy and warm, then closed around something hard and cold. Cylindrical.
She sat back on her heels and wiped the slime away from the little blue vial of liquid. She kept it in her bag with the other mixes and medicines she thought might be useful, but only after she had sworn to herself she would never use it on herself again.
So how it found its way into her sleeve at mealtime, she had no inkling. Her head had ached; perhaps she thought it was the willow bark tincture instead. But then, when she realized what she had and how much she wanted to forget everything that was going on around her and how much she missed them, she slipped the vial back into her sleeve to forget it and it must have fallen when she tossed away the bones of the water fowl they had roasted that evening.
That night, she found it especially hard to sleep with no moon to tell her to rest and no sun to help her wake, and soon she realized she was not going to be able to sleep. Not enough to be good for anything other than a rambling, distracted fool, at least, and she rose from her bedroll and slipped out of the tent and ignored the curious looks from the men on watch as she went from bin to bin searching for a means to stop the noisy questions.
So many questions.
There was one to which she knew the answer as she carried the little blue vial in the palm of her fist and returned to her tent.
People who fall in love suddenly see the world differently; they operate under different motivations than before love and sometimes, they find they are strong with that single purpose directing their choices. They take risks to protect and to prove themselves worthy of their affection’s heart, and sometimes, the risks they choose go against everything they ever were or ever knew before.
But for now, Cwen chose to forget love and sorcerers and orcs and men. She closed her tent off from the shadowy sky, took a sip of the sweet blue liquid, and finally fell into a dreamless sleep.
Zabathôr seethed as he stood at the window of his rooms in the high tower of Ost Celebrant. He stared down at the splash of pale hair that told him Pharazanû still knelt before the necromancer’s body. The man’s penetrating gaze bore down on the scene in the courtyard below and the air around him warped and steamed.
It was too soon. The enemy had moved too quickly and seemed far too confident to suit Zabathôr’s needs. What if the fool had managed to do real damage? And the surrender.
Really. What was that?
Zabathôr snorted with disgust as he turned away from the sight in a flurry of dark robes. The door to his chambers cracked against the wall as he stormed through it and to the stair that led to the roof of the tower. The climb was steep and narrow, and when he emerged at the top he could see the land in all directions.
Far below, he thought he could see Pharazanû still at the foot of the shrine built for the fallen man.
What was his name? ‘O’ something, wasn’t it? Oh, yes. Orthan. A tolerable, seemingly competent young man and a skilled sorcerer. Pity he could not have been put to more use before the Horseman ended his miserable existence.
Zabathôr turned to look away from the fortress and out toward the land as if to find the camp that held the ones who dared to challenge the Great Eye. He placed both of his delicate yet powerful hands on the stones that formed the battlements and closed his eyes. He sent his thought into the stone and felt along its strengths and weaknesses. Deep, deep into the living earth to seek the fault lines far beneath the surface of the dying grass.
He sought until he grew tired from his searching and glared out over the land in frustration. No great crack in the earth existed in a manner that would not also topple the fortress he stood upon. He turned from the wall to descend quickly into the tower and back to his rooms.
“Call the Four,” he ordered the guard as he brushed past him. “Immediately.”
The guard saluted and barked orders to his subordinate to find the others of the four lords before the door swung shut behind him. Zabathôr returned to the window and calmed his breath as he stared at the unchanged scene below.
His fingers flexed.
The air sparked.
He was still in control. If he could not move them by moving the earth, he would find another way to shift the advantage back to his side of the game.
And he would win.