After Death

Abiorn prowled. He prowled and prowled and the bit of him that was human hoped that someone had picked up his cloak because he liked that cloak and fixing it to break away easily upon transformation had proven to be difficult. But mainly, he prowled.

He encountered little wildlife on the ice. For that, he felt grateful and grateful felt better than anything else he could be feeling right now. His animal mind wrestled with the feelings without having the human mind dwell on their meaning.

Grief.

Shock.

Pain.

Emptiness.

Betrayal.

Guilt.

How could he feel betrayed that Godric died? His commander. His leader. His boss. He felt betrayed, let down, angry. But he did not feel those things toward Godric, did he? But the man should not have gone off on his own, he knew better, he was the commander, he was his commander, he shouldn’t have gone off on his own…

Salmon. He could smell it. He lifted his head to sniff the air and followed the naked trail of fishiness to the bay. Catching a fish came easy. Thinking about Godric was too hard. Being a human was too hard…

What happens when a man dies?

After Godric fell from the fort’s wall, Taja had sat down to lead his spirit to where spirits go. Not the Henki-maa. The other place out of reach and time.

When he died, where would he go? He was more than a man. Would he be stuck there on the spirit plains? Would he descend into a hukassa? Would he join Joren and live with spirits of the bear-men instead? What about his brother and sister…

Fish. Focus on fish and sweet berries. There are no bees in Forochel.

~~~***~~~

The cold seeped into old bones. It crept into the marrow and stopped the heart though the lungs kept breathing in and out. In and out. In and out.

He did not want to breathe in and out anymore.

The boy had used his power enough to close the wound and stop the blood from draining out, but to what cause? Zabathôr knew that he was not in a pile of Lossoth furs being tended to by one of their beautiful women. He knew he was truly alone in the world for the first time. No slaves. No servants. No hope.

His crusted eyes fought to open beneath the warmth of the summer sun. He could not  understand why they tried. He could not fathom how they succeeded. The white and grey  blinded him. The blue suffocated. The world around him weaved in and out of his vision in a waterfall of colour. He could not stop looking.

His old bones ached from the cold.

Slowly, he turned his head to look across the parapet where that cursed boy cut him down. The Angmarim had fled quickly, but thoroughly. Only a broken barrel remained in his field of vision. A barrel and blood on the cold stones.

Weakly, he lifted a hand and the wood ignited. It flared brightly, blinding his tired eyes and then settled into a low burn. It would not last long. He would not last long if he remained exposed to the Forochel air. Perhaps something remained…

Above him, a black shadow circled.

Slowly, he rolled over to his side, wincing and biting back a groan. Even though only the cold stones towered around him to hear it, he kept it inside as he pushed himself up into a sitting position. His hand braced his torso. Pain exploded beneath his cool composure, but he was used to pain. He had not always been the most powerful of the Four Lords. He knew how to bear the fires of pain.

“My poor chest,” he murmured as he pulled himself closer to the fire. “All these years and I managed not to mar it…”

He pulled the sliced pieces of his robe tighter over his cold chest to hide the angry red wound.

The black shadow above cawed down to him to die. It was hungry. So was he.

Gritting his teeth, he lifted a hand and murmured the words. He was too tired to do it without the words. Even as the carrion bird fell to the stonework of the fort, he paled. It would be a while until he could do that again. Its feathers smoldered nearby. He could not let the fire he had go out…

It would be easier to die. He wasn’t sure he could stomach the bird after he defeathered the carcass. He used a fine dagger used for decoration more than slicing flesh and severing ligaments. He skewered a bit of meat on its end to hold over the barrel fire. He managed to eat a few bites and then he set the rest on the cold stones and looked around himself. Saw the door. Managed to stand with the help of the low wall that their commander had toppled over so poetically. He smiled.

The Ironspan claimed many men in its time. It would claim many more in the times to come. But Zabathôr knew that it would not claim him that night.

((Sidenote: Because I am indecisive, I rolled a lot for Zab’s situation. 14 to survive the night. 18 to survive waking up. 6 to be found by someone. 17 to stand and make it to shelter. He clearly wants to live. 😉 ))

Advertisements

Fallout

The stars hid behind thick clouds when Eris walked along the dock in search of a sign. Her boots click-clacked on the worn boardwalk and few others hung about near the worst of the wreckage in the fading light of the remaining day. But she had to see it. She had to touch to water to know for certain that her life was on the bottom of the bay.

Corsair ships, black and pointed, protruded from the shallows. The dark wood of the south mingled oddly with the lighter woods of Gondor; lighter by nature and by paintbrush, the Gondorian ships glowed beneath the waves lapping against the pontoons keeping the little wooden bridge afloat. They had died in the first fighting, those Gondorian ships. They boosted their southern sisters like a shelf.

Eris did not know how she knew which dock to go to any more than she knew which door handle to try when she was seeking a hood and cloak and a bit of food or which alley to turn down to avoid the patrols. Head down, eyes up, she navigated Pelargir well enough; she had found respite in its port before.

At the end of the plank bridge, she stepped onto the farthest wharf. The transition from wood to stone was always jarring for her. Stone did not hold water like wood did and the disconnect took a moment to shake off. Step, step, down to the very edge of the dock, as far from the solid slab of land that the city rested upon as she could get without diving in. Oh, how she wished to dive into the cool depths of the bay. How long would she have to stop breathing for her to be reunited with her hull? Would the mastheads still stand tall? How soon does the floor of the sea start to reclaim the magic of a worthy vessel with barnacle and weed?

Attached to the stone wharf bobbed a lower wooden platform. It nearly rested on the water itself and in rough weather, the waves wet the planks between the gaps leaving them treacherous. Today, the sea ebbed calmly against the higher jetty. Eris stepped down the rope and plank ladder with ease and then at the edge of the water, she knelt on one knee and touched her palm to the surface of the water.

Flashes from black powder and lightning. The splintering of hulls and shattering of stone. Eris felt herself wince as she felt the water lap over her fingers filtering it for its secrets and searching for her answer. Concussive battering against stone and metal. Shallows empty except for the broken hulls and skeletal masts of ships.

Deeper, farther than she had expected, rested The Golden Apple, or at least what remained of her. Remnants of blackened sails floated in the underwater current along the snapped and scorched ends of the ropes and pulleys. The fire had burned great holes in the hull. Its ironic crackling still echoed in the sea as the waters remembered the hiss and fizzle as the ship sank.

The urge to yank her hand from the pain of the memories nearly overwhelmed her, but she did not pull back. Eris grit her teeth, closed her eyes, and kept her hand in the water until she felt full of the loss of her friend, her love, her ship. The only thing constant on the ocean blue, the only thing controllable and contained was a ship, her ship, and now it was gone. She had to understand that it left this world without her and there was nothing she could do.

“Oi! Whotchoo doin’ da’n there, lassy?”

The voice shook her from her mediation and she stood quickly. The dockhand regarded her suspiciously.

“Rememb’ring that which I’ve lost,” she told him sincerely. “I’m sorry. I’ll go.”

The man’s stern expression softened with pity. “Yes, civilians ought nah be da’n here. ‘S dangerous ’til the builders c’n fix whot’s broke in the fightin’. Best be gahn.”

Without lifting her head, Eris nodded and climbed the ladder. The dockhand stared at her as she rushed past him. She paid him no mind.

~~~***~~~

Paying no mind to the dockhands loading a merchant ship, Halvel strode down the wharf of Dol Amroth. Her aunt made it clear that she was no longer welcome in Minas Tirith and her presence would only be a burden to her now that her uncle and cousin were gone. It seemed cruel somehow that her life had brought her full circle for Gelluines would only buy passage down the Anduin. “Only to a proper place with your own family,” she had said. Halvel did not have it in her to fight and if truth be told, she was more than ready to leave the walls of the White City.

“Hálchon!” she called when she spotted her brother on the deck of one of their remaining fishing vessels. “Hálchon, come down here!” She waved to catch his attention and tried to suppress her scowl when he glared down at her from the rail.

“What are you doing here?!” her brother exclaimed. He paused to give a few orders and then he waved her toward the gangplank.

Reluctantly, Halvel wove her way to the edge and only boarded when Hálchon beckoned her up the boarding ramp.

“What are you doing here?” Hálchon repeated when she joined his side. “I thought you were needed in the Houses of Healing?”

“I lived out my usefulness there,” Halvel said stiffly. “And Aunt Gelluines did not wish to continue paying my upkeep. I cannot say that I blame her with uncle and cousin Tondaer gone.”

Passing his writing tablet to another man, Hálchon held out his hand for her to walk in front of him. He herded her to the aftdeck. “Tondaer treated you well during your stay? He was a good man.”

Halvel nodded and rested a hand on the rail. “He did. It is a shame that he was lost, but as a first circle guard…it is a miracle that any survived at all.”

The severity, the solemnness that overshadowed her normally fiery spirit caught Hálchon’s attention, but he only studied his sister’s profile.

“You could go back to Bree, you know.”

When Halvel did not respond, Hálchon continued, “He wrote you. I must apologize for reading it on your behalf, but you can understand how surprised I was to receive a letter addressed to you from your husband. You really should have written me before, Halvel. You could have come home, could have avoided all the-”

“I didn’t want to come back here, Hálchon. Surely you know that. And I cannot return. You wouldn’t understand.” Halvel stared ahead. “Part of me wishes I had died, brother. At least I would have had a place to belong.”

Nodding, Hálchon turned to lean on the rail with both forearms. “You will always belong here, Halvel,” he assured her gruffly. “But you were never happy here.”

“Did you report the destruction of The Apple to the dockmaster?” she asked abruptly. A passing gull drew her eye briefly.

“No. But I will. I believe he marked it down as missing in action or stolen. I hadn’t bothered correcting the logs yet.”

“It was not necessarily stolen,” Halvel said elusively, “but it was off course. We left it in Pelargir. I heard the Corsairs attacked the harbor. Surely it is lost.”

Hálchon grunted softly and said, “I will have to write Gaelyn. Perhaps you should do it.”

“No,” Halvel answered quickly. “You. I-I cannot.”

“You should,” Hálchon urged gently. “You have been given a second chance, Halvel. Take it.”

“No. You. I will inform the master of the docks. We cannot have the ship on record as stolen.” She adds in a murmur, “Eshe has enough to worry about.”

“What?” Hálchon turned to lean on his elbow and face her and raised a brow when Halvel waved a hand dismissing his question. “I’ll just take it that the good captain is no longer in our employ?”

“She was arrested,” Halvel explained wearily. “I do not think she did anything wrong, but she disappeared during the evacuations. A guard turned up dead. At best she is at large.”

Hálchon shook his head and looked out across the sea. “She better leave this family alone now. If I find her, I will see to it that she does not meander on anyone ever again.”

~~~***~~~

“What do you mean, he is not here?”

The man wore robes of deep scarlet and midnight black and his long hair was tied in two inch sections down to the middle of his back. Though they were mud-splattered and his face was travel-worn, he had a regal command about him that made even Lichen pause.

The conversation with the head of house at the guild hall of that blasted adventuring crew was short and frank. In a delightfully dramatic twirl of his worn cloak, the man turned from her desk and stormed out of Ravenhold in a huff. Only when he reached the cobbled road that led back down to the market square did he pause and rest a hand on his lower back as he turned to look up at the beautiful hall.

“Blast,” he muttered to himself and he looked out over the little village of Durrow-on-Dunwash with a sigh. No use complaining more, he decided. Straightening his robes with a tug on his lapels, the man set off for the Broken Cask, the tavern and inn that blasted woman mentioned as a place he could look for a room and a meal. He could only hope it had a hot bath and a library, though he doubted it. Such plebeian establishments rarely had such touches of civilization.

What Keeps Us Awake at Night

All I want in the world is to know who I am and where I come from and to find a place without all the lies. I am so tired of lies and half-truths and people thinking that those things can somehow make things better. They can’t.

~~~***~~~

I will be fine. This will all be fine. I am a strong, loved person and everything will turn out perfectly fine and I will not think about it at all.

~~~***~~~

Why do things always get so complicated? Things aren’t that complicated when you live by yourself in your own little world. Sometimes, I wish I would have never left my own little world, but then again, I would have never met him and knowing him makes it worth it, especially after all those people just think that I’m a freak after seeing me change.

~~~***~~~

ScreenShot00473

This city makes me miss Dale. How is that even possible.

~~~***~~~

Day and night, it’s always the same. Wake up, lie down, roll over. When did my life become so boring? Makes me want to go steal a coinpurse just for old time’s sake.

~~~***~~~

I’ve never felt so confident in all my life and all I did was make a little breeze. It is empowering! Yet…he does not know this world of spirits and sorcery and I know I will not need it if I were to become his wife. Why do I feel so empty at the thought of leaving my training now? Is it another link to him, the magic of his presence, the mystery of his life and power? Will he always haunt my thoughts and dreams?

~~~***~~~

When everything you knew about a person is veiled in a lie, how do you go about trusting him again, even if it is your own father? Is it all worth it when it’s just a damn charade to get an old man his kicks? Living here has made me live a normal life and for the first time, I like the thought of waking up with a husband that worked digging fields and not ruins. What if I want my own life and not the life he is forcing upon me?

~~~***~~~

The simplicity of this place is astounding. We get up. We find food. We cook it. We mend our clothes. We sweep our floors. He swims in the pools and waterfalls around the lake. Nothing is more beautiful than he is beneath the falls when the sun sinks behind the purple mountains and the colours of the light catch in his hair. We eat. We make love. He is happy. For him, for him, I will be happy for now.

~~~***~~~

I will shake this from me. His actions are not my actions and I am as good as any man. Hard work and intelligence will lead me to where I wish to go. If only the people saw it the same way, this city would be the better for it. I will continue to hold my head up high and convince Mother that I do not need a man to make my way. I won’t be sold to him for his title.

~~~***~~~

Who’s a girl gotta do to get some revenge up in here? Anyone? Anyone?

Ash and Stone: Food for Thought

Land stretched on as far as the eye could see. Warm lands with rolling fields and dancing forests. Living lands with spring in full bloom. The Enedwaith welcomed life.

A dun goat grazed on the crisp greens of the meadow eager to fatten itself after the harsh winter months. Grass sweet and warm after the full day’s sun filled his belly. His nostrils flared. Clover. Raising his graceful head, he scanned the meadow for the source of the scent.

His eyes caught what his nose had missed: movement in the line of the woods. Stock still, he scanned the copse for the Wild Men he expected to smell there, but he only saw trunks and branches and leaves.

A thunderous crack split his eardrums; the pain was swift and all encompassing, but soon there was nothing but the smell of burning goat hair.

“A bit dramatic, don’t you think?”

The young man who spoke smiled, amused, as the older gentleman stepped out from the veil of shadowy trees.

“As long as it is effective. Chasing that last rabbit halfway back to Rohan soured me on simply setting them on fire.” The man raised his arm in a flourish. “Besides, this way is much less…cruel, don’t you think?”

The words seemed foreign on the man’s lips. His upper lip curled as he tasted the mercy of his thoughts.

The younger man hummed approval as he joined his elder to gaze down at the goat. “Though we could forage still and live well enough. We do not have to kill at all.”

“Ah, but steak, my dear boy,” he said with a chuckle as he knelt to begin skinning the animal. His robes were far too fine to be doing such work, and his delicate, fine hands were uncertain with the blade.

“Gather some wood; we will feast tonight and tomorrow we shall hopefully reach the Windfalls. We are making good progress.” The man wiped his bloodied hand on the grass beside him. “Yes. It is good.”

He watched the young man with a smile as he went about gathering fallen branches for their campfire. He admired the way the sun played in his hair, light breaking in the mists of the afternoon showers still clinging to his luxurious strands. He was captivated by the slope of his back as he stooped to gather fuel.

For him, this new life.

He touched the tent of logs and set them ablaze without flint or tinder. He watched his fellow spit and roast the goat meat as the sun set behind him and he smiled. He drank from a skin of fresh water and once again marveled at how sweet water could taste. He was like a child waking up to the world around him now that he walked in the light.

Pharazanû’s light. Never again would Zabathôr allow that light to fade.

When the meal was eaten and their passions spent beneath the starlit sky, Zabathôr of Mordor stroked the silvery white hair of his young lover. He contemplated the irony of the lands of the ancient capital of Arnor serving as their refuge. Once the great enemy, now fallen into its own shadow as Gondor rotted to the south. It would serve as their cover. And he heard it was beautiful.

He counted the lights in the sky and dedicated each one to the slumbering form in his arms. He considered the distances between their bedrolls and the nearest settlement. He weighed the risks of revealing themselves to the Dunlendings. He thought about Pharazanû’s suggestion they forgo hunting for a life of nuts and berries. He thought about building a home and living without fear. He thought little of the power left behind on the banks of the river in Rohan.

Now was not the time. The witch was dead. Again. The man he coveted was in his arms. There would be time to find answers. But for now, he rested beneath the open sky and was at peace.

Blinded

Eirikr rode in silence. He did not want to look at his companions as he kept Kvígr close to Taja’s steed. He had given Pharazanû back to him after the man mounted up and he rested limply against the Lossoth. The gleam of the young man’s pale hair shone even in the fading light as they rode toward Lothlorien. The White Witch’s Wood. O, he tried not to recall the tales of the place as they drew ever nearer.

He had half a mind to stay with Langafel’s men at its border, but that would be cowardly. His place was with his company. His place was to protect his company, even if it was from themselves.

He had to hand it to Oen; the man had an interesting recruitment philosophy. And he knew that aside from Cwen and Eruviel, he hardly knew the other members. They seemed hot-headed and and quick to draw. And while at first everything seemed black and white, he began to feel that things were not quite what they seemed with the enemy. Still, he watched. He waited. He spoke only when he felt it absolutely necessary. And while everyone’s hatred for the sorcerers clouded their judgement, he tried to remain objective and true to his core beliefs.

After all, it wasn’t personal for him. He had met Atanamir a mere handful of times, and they were in passing. He thought the gentleman could make his own decisions, and he did: he chose the sorcerer.

He just hoped he would never have to kill him for it one day.

Still, there was a long road ahead to Lorien and things could possibly change before they returned. If the eaves of Mirkwood had taught him anything, it was you could rarely see what was around the next bend in the road ahead.

~~~***~~~

Zab's flowersHe did not see.

The nights when Pharazanû came to him burned feverishly in Zabathôr’s mind. Now as he stared at the letter in one hand and held the stem of the flowers carefully with the other, he pictured him lying beneath the coverlet with dozens of the tiny blue blossoms in his hair.

His chest tightened.

Was he getting too old for this?

Age was hardly an excuse. He had spent a mere half-century walking the paths of the Eye, give or take a handful of years. The journey kept his body healthy and fit while his mind stayed sharp. The only thing that had changed was that he no longer walked it alone.

Something blurred his vision as he tried to reread the letter Pharazanû must have left before they had marched to the Flame.

What was this?

He rubbed his eyes to clear his vision and his fingers came away wet. He had not cried since he was a boy of seven and his own foolish machinations had set his own hair on fire. A surge of anger welled in his chest now, and he grit his teeth as the air crackled with heat around him.

Zabathôr took several deep breaths and willed the flush out of his cheeks. He turned from his bedside table and went to the chaise where he pushed several books to the floor before lifting a leg to fall to the cushions.

He laid himself back against the support and thought about how much Pharazanû had changed in the past months. Ambition and drive to complete the Flame had not left much room for Zabathôr to contemplate matters of emotion. Emotion was messy. It was too complicated to deal with and made one weak. It was best left to the other side. The “free peoples.”

He read the last lines of Pharazanû’s letter and again it sounded like a goodbye. He thought of his last words to the boy, and he realized they had not been enough. As that wretched company took him to Lorien, they took him further and further from his grasp. He closed his eyes to block the fading light that bathed his chamber now that the shadow was gone.

He did not want to think about tomorrow when the Four Lords would be three, or even worse, halved. What would happen to them now that they were drawn and quartered? Would the Eye send them to the far corners of his empire as slaves to remind others what would happen if they failed? The gift of life seemed so new and precious to him suddenly. And was it such a gift if it meant living in torture as nothing but a mocking shadow of his former self.

The day will dawn and one way or the other, he thought it would bring freedom to his young lover in life or death. And with its light, Zabathôr realized he did not know the path before his feet and he could only stare out the window at the setting sun.

~~~***~~~

The bear was grumbling to himself. Of course, if anyone happened to pass by, his complaints sounded like growls and snarls and slobbery lip blowing. But he was complaining, though he knew no one would understand.

He just did not understand why Anya had asked him to stay up all night watching for the past week and a half. He missed the sun and the Broken Cask and the way the light sparkled on the lake. He wanted to go look for another beehive and eat the guts out of it.

Anya wouldn’t tell him why he was watching or what he was watching for, but so far it had been a stray dog (which Anya did not let him keep despite the big bear eyes) and several squirrels. Oh, and a rabbit. The rabbit didn’t like him very much and moved on from Anya’s small garden rather quickly when it caught scent of him.

Still, he’d watch. He wouldn’t fall asleep and he hadn’t really fallen asleep the past two nights. It was hard to stay awake with the sounds of the night lulling all around you. She had to understand that, right?

Besides, there was nothing to see.

He could be sleeping right now.

But then again, out here, he couldn’t hear his sister crying at night. Sometimes, he thought she’d make it without tears, but inevitably, he’d hear the sniffling and then the sharp gasp and he’d try not to roll his eyes as her feet hit the floor and she shuffled across her room to the opposite corner of her bed. Sometimes Sally Stitches would let out a plaintive meow or one of the dogs would bark, but after a few minutes, the bed in the other room would creak again and the room fell silent.

The bear huffed and turned his big head to gaze up at the stars. The light was growing at the tops of the trees and he slowly lumbered across the lane into the yard of the little cabin. The floorboards of the wagon creaked as he climbed into the back with the intention of changing back into his lanky self. But instead of a shimmer and a shift, there was a slump and a sigh and Abiorn fell asleep there in the wagon with the cover blocking out the first rays of the morning sun.

And he did not see the stray dog, turned away two days back, sitting up on the cliffs of Pinecrest overlooking the cabin.

Shift

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.Camp

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.

“Aha!”

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.

ScreenShot00462

Zabathôr’s Playlist

Just to have it here, too.

Zabathôr’s Playlist on Grooveshark

A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes by Lily James from Cinderella

So, the big question is wtf is this song doing on Zabathôr’s playlist.

Zabathôr is all about big dreams and big success. Somehow, beneath Mordor’s tutelage he grew to translate force and power into the force and power of one’s belief in the possibility of success. Perhaps because he always felt very spiritual in relation to his magic even though he understood it was manipulation of the physical.

His ability to manipulate his words to convince others to side with his cause comes in part from his true sincerity in his belief of his own words, as well. He creates dreams for others and convinces them that all they need to do to see them through is wake up.

Also, the soothing, lullaby tone of this song reminds me of the tone he sets when he woos those around him. Sweet, charming, motherly.

Come, child, I will make it all right.

Firestarter by Prodigy
Zabathôr loves fire. It’s pretty and hot and is easily too powerful to control.

But he can control it.

Just ask Sage.

I’m the trouble starter, punkin’ instigator
I’m the fear addicted, danger illustrated
I’m a firestarter, twisted firestarter…

Seriously, though, picture Zabathôr walking into frame with flames all around him, his hands out to his sides as his palms and fingers burn, with the intro of this song in the background.

Be Prepared from The Lion King
Oh, the grand, scheming, charismatic, bad guy. Zabathôr needs you for his army (of slaves) and sends you smooches. But he thinks you’re a dumbass.

Skeletons on Parade by Ludo
(Oh, look, it’s Ludo after all…)
Zabathôr always wanted his own little army of undead that would be completely under his control. They would wreck havoc and then drink until the ground beneath them was stained red with wine.

Bleed it Out by Linkin Park
Who doesn’t like to party? And bleed? I mean, every party has to have blood, otherwise it just isn’t a party.
Zab would totally be jammin’ to this as he tortured someone. He’d even stop to headbang to the chorus.

I’ll make you face this…

On a more serious note, however, underlying the fun times, Zabathôr feels like the puts quite a bit into keeping the Four Lords whole. It might not be physical, but at times, he feels drained by their efforts and the lies.

Forest by System of a Down
Zabathôr has never lived for another person in his life. He’s never taken a moment to look past what he thinks he knows is right. Lately, something has changed that and this song has dual meaning for him.

First and foremost, he is beckoning for Pharazanû to join him in the grand success he sees for the Four Lords. He knows it is against Pharazanû’s nature and it is very difficult for the younger man to “walk with [him]…to the forest of denial.” He hopes that eventually, he will be all right.

On the other hand, Zabathôr is looking at himself and his role in creating the forest itself. He’s finding himself split and is having to face himself for the first time through the eyes of a different sort of soul. One that is usually a victim of one like him.

Closer by Nine Inch Nails
“I dedicate this song to a special someone in my life…”

My Eyes by Neil Patrick Harris and Felicia Day from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog soundtrack
Um. Hard to explain without giving away too much. Will update. >.> Nothing to see here now, though. Move on. Move on.

Grapevine Fires by Death Cab for Cutie
This might seem just as odd as A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes. So first, some context.

Forest fires are normally a natural part of nature that cleanse and allow regrowth like prairie fires. But human interference, negligence, and construction have turned them into something unnatural. Their destruction can be devastating.

I hear this song as the confrontation between humans and nature. In this song, a forest fire in California looms. Nature fans the fire and everything seems to go against the humans. Things look bleak. But the juxtaposition of the little girl laughing and dancing “through a field of graves” sort of sums it up for me. The destruction is needed. Natural. And everything would be all right.

This is from Zabathôr’s childhood. I picture little kid Zab standing in a field of destruction, smoke, and ash, and having to process that. Having to get beyond it if when it burns away, it doesn’t regrow. I hear him telling himself that everything will be all right given time just like this song does.

If only the rain would come.

Everything You Ever by Neil Patrick Harris from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog soundtrack
This is a glimpse into the future and the past. Zabathôr has lacked emotions for so very long as a survival mechanism. He’s on the cusp of greatness. What is he willing to sacrifice to get there…?

(By the way, if you’ve never seen Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, I highly recommend it.)

Beelz by Stephen Lynch
While this seems like a troll song, I actually think it captures Zabathôr’s charming, irreverent attitude toward many things. And he has that peppy cheerfulness, as well.

Of course, it doesn’t capture the cruel seductive side of him.

Ash and Stone: Good News for Us

Dol Guldur
Dol Guldur

The main gate was small from the high tower, but he knew that the visitor was no friend of Mordor. No orc nor goblin walked with such an air of high confidence and no Man would come here without a guard. The shouting and commotion (ugh, orcs) had drawn his attention, but what he saw kept it until the man was shackled and hustled inside.

His suspicions were confirmed when he returned to his room that evening and found the note on his bedside table.

It smelled of him. Youth and eagerness and conflict. Zabathôr felt it in his young lord and he read it between the curves of his fine penmanship. He read the words: Azulgar’s slave had returned to him. It was one less thing Zabathôr now had to worry about, had to plot and plan. The gentle admission of enjoying their talks outside of the incessant schedule of meetings and planning sessions and inspections.

The note brought a smile to Zabathôr’s lips, but first things first: the news that Azulgar’s lover willingly returned to his loving embrace.

While his first instinct was to spend his jubilation twirling about his room, Zabathôr knew something about the young man’s sudden appearance right at the gates of Dol Guldur was rather convenient, and if he had learned anything in his half-century of life, it was nothing was ever without a price. Especially if it was convenient. He was not about to look a gift horse in the mouth, at least not in front of the givers. But the cost

His window offered a fine panoramic view of the decaying forest around the fortress. Far below, a row of slaves toiled before the great furnaces that allowed the armies of Dol Guldur to grow at such an exponential pace. Soon they would be travelling south with the armies under his command. His guidance.

It all came at a cost. The fires had to be fed; the faults would widen and spread. All that was green in the world would fall victim to the spread of industry and the power of the Dark Lord. And he, Lord Zabathôr of the Four, would be there at the forefront of the battle with his…

Truly, he did not know what he would have or whether he would ever see such a thing as actual war. Was not such a thing below a great Lord of Mordor? Surely it was so. And yet, he longed for a chance at glory. He long to be feared.

Dark Flight over Dol Guldur
One, two, three four. The Four Lords, not the Three Lords or the Two.

What fear would his name bring if all he was known for was succeeding where so many others had failed with the Flame? How is power and triumph shared among four? It was lessened to be divided so, yet Mordor created them. Made them into one, and without the whole, they could never achieve success. The Four Lords, not the Three Lords or the Two.

Two. One, two.

His thoughts drifted to the the author of the note and he looked down at it still in his hand. A poisonous wind tried to rip it from his grasp and he stepped back from the window brushing his pale hair from his eyes. Rereading the note, he crossed to his bed and pulled the cord to summon a slave or servant, whichever did not matter to him.

“Yes, my lord?” Collared and downcast, the woman stood with her hands clasped in front of her to support the chains that cut into her wrists.

“Summon Lord Pharazanû to me. I don’t care if he’s sleeping or eating or in the middle of plowing a dirty little imp like yourself. Now.”

The woman dipped into an obedient curtsy and hurried out the door.

Zabathôr tucked the note into a box sitting on the top shelf of his armoire. He slid out of his heavily decorated robes and into a more casual one.

He would celebrate the acquisition of Azulgar’s lover. But quietly, privately, and with caution.

He waited for Pharazanû to arrive.