The glow of a new dawn crept over the wooden beams of the ceiling. It was several minutes of staring up at the warm hues before Jade fully realized that she was awake. For a split second she thought she might have been back in Bree-land, with Drew’s arm draped over her, but then the strong arm reflexively pulled her closer and she remembered.
Turning her head she watched Hazim as he slept, his dark hair tossed over their pillows. For several minutes she listened to him breathing, as well as the occasional stirring of Rafi elsewhere in the room. Thoughts filtered through her mind as she savored the heat that seeped from Hazim’s skin into her own. Regret for the pained look on Drew’s face, for the anger on Sadie’s. She missed Dorsett, and Jo fiercely. And Drew. In truth the wondering had come often in the early hours of the day. Would she regret it someday? Leaving a loving husband, and a quiet, secure home? She thought of the few friends she had, and the small vineyard behind the house. Of the flower bushes that hid her failures.
Careful not to disturb her lover, Jade untangled herself from Hazim and the sheets. The room she and the two brothers shared was simple, and modest, and, most importantly, cheap. Cheap enough for them to live comfortably till they got their footing in the city.
Quick to wash and dress for work, Jade regarded herself in the mirror as the grey light of morning took on a dull, fiery hue that filled the room. Yes, there were things she missed. Selfish decisions that made her question herself. But then a warm sea breeze stole past the curtains to pull at the fabric of her dress, tease through her hair, and blow away her doubts. Jade drew in a deep breath, and a confident, impish smirk curled up the corners of her mouth.
Turning back to the bed as the tall fighter stirred, Jade stooped to press a soft kiss to his neck. His smell and warmth was almost enough to make her stay, but she pulled herself away and fixed the blanked over Rafi before silently stealing out the door. The sounds of Dol Amroth filled her ears before she even reached the street, and beyond the arch of the exit the glimmer of the nearby sea reflected in her blue eyes. Yes, this was where she was supposed to be.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“You did what?!”
Feira winced as Nellie gaped in disapproval. “Please do not give me that look.”
“Oh, I will!” Nellie proclaimed huffily, tossing her brunette locks over her shoulder as the two maids browsed over the selection of fish at the docks. “I can’t believe you!”
Feira rolled her eyes and then gave the merchant a charming smile as she selected a fat salmon for purchase. “What was I supposed to do?”
“Uh, say yes? He’s gorgeous! And owns his own business, and is an actual gentleman,” Nellie griped, spelling it out for her friend with a hand set firmly on her hip. “You know, for as smart at you are, you can be an absolute idiot!”
“What? Because I know how to say ‘no’ to men and you don’t?” Feira retorted smoothly with no small amount of sass.
Nellie gasped in offense, but had no other response because, well, it was the truth. “That is not the point, missy, and you know it. Uugh, and I could have bought a new dress and gotten free treats, too,” she added with a pout as she watched her friend pay for the fish, and exchange knowing smirks with the grizzled but kindly-looking fisherman.
Fiera turned and motioned for Nellie to lead the way down the row of busy merchant stalls. “I am so sorry, Nells, that I am not getting married for your benefit,” she teased.
Nellie jutted out her lower lip in a disgruntled pout at Feira before checking her shopping list. “Why couldn’t you just do it for the money? And you know, since it’s so important, you could have at least tried to love him. You have to get over that silly sailor someday.”
Feira brushed golden strands of hair out of her eyes and cast a glance to the nearby sails at the docks. “Maybe, but Berest deserves someone who does love him, not someone who might.”
Exhaling a long-suffering sigh, Nellie hooked an arm with Feira’s and led her to another stall. “And maybe you’ll be an old maid and give all your pennies away to those little runts you tutor. Or, perhaps I should give that boy — Sully? Sally?”
“Yes!” Nellie snapped her fingers and pranced several steps. “Perhaps I should give him pointers on how to turn your head.”
Feira scowled at Nellie. “My students are not runts, Sellion and I are just friends, and you are impossible.”
Nellie giggled and squeezed Feira’s arm before dragging her another way, distracted by displays of Haradic jewelry. “I know!”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The young recruit dashed in, so sure that his practice sword would find it’s mark. Peldirion had made the young man he sparred with work to get an opening, and waited as he took the bait. Then, without hesitation or mercy, batted away the driving wooden blade, and swung his free arm in to knock the man off of his feet.
“Good! Your form has improved,” he said, expression stern as he offered a hand down to his gasping opponent. “Faster on the draw, and if you get knocked down, roll with it. I may not deal the finishing blow, but your enemy will.”
The training room had filled with young guardsmen eager to serve a new Gondor, and they watched with rapt attention. The Lord Calaer’s morning training sessions were known for being brutal, but every young man at the garrison was up each morning, eager to learn and prove their worth. The fit private stood at attention despite his struggling to regain his breath.
Peldirion looked back to his audience and was about to select two men for the next demonstration when the sight of Halethon in the near hall caught his attention. “Captain Matteson! Run the men through their paces.” One of the officers off to the side strode in and barked to the room as the men began to pair up.
“Woe to the fool who dares attack Pelargir,” said Halethon with a smirk as his friend drew near.
Peldirion’s eyes narrowed to show his amusement and fit on his tunic as he joined him. “Let us hope these lads do not have to see war so close to home again,” he huffed in response as he held out a hand to accept the sealed scroll Halethon offered up to him. His friend turning his wheeled chair, the two began to slowly walk down the hall to the terrace that overlooked the courtyard of the garrison. “Do you know how she is this morning?”
“I did not hear much, but I think your beloved had her breakfast in bed.” There was silence for several seconds, and it prompted Halethon to look up and read Peldirion’s frown. “Pel, she is well,” he assured quietly. “Morning sickness is common.”
Peldirion grunted, and kept his focus on the letter that was suddenly vastly insignificant. “What do you think?”
Halethon’s gaze narrowed as he watched his friend. “I think a lot of things.”
“Do you think it is a boy?”
“… What if it is a girl?”
Halethon blinked, and suddenly leaned his head back as he laughed. “Then you will be hopelessly head over heels for two women! You’re going to be the most ridiculously adorable father. Seriously. I don’t know if your men will fear you less or more after!”
Peldirion’s hardened expression cracked faintly, and only Halethon could see just how soft of a look it really was. “You think so?”
“By Ulmo,” Halethon huffed with a grin. “If you start crying on me I swear I will punch you!”
“I never cry,” Peldirion retorted.
“Horse shit.” Halethon swatted at Peldirion’s arm before turning to wheel himself away. “You’ll do great. Now stop grumping all over the place. We have work to do.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
A log in the fire popped, sending a shower of sparks up into the wide chimney. A thick quilt draped over her, a steaming mug of cider rested on the end table, and Fletch slept, snoring softly on Eruviel’s bare feet. It took her a good while to fully concentrate on her studies. The common room of her little home in Durrow still echoed with the memory of laughter, and smelled of beef stew, buttered rolls, and winterberry pie. Even the feel of his final parting kiss lingered, warming her fair cheeks.
But soon enough Eruviel’s emerald gaze was fixed on the old tome as she studied her brother’s notes by fire and candlelight. There was nothing new for her to find, but still she read, possibly to glean what knowledge she lacked, and also out of hope that she could find something else to help the young girl.
She found it again. The recounting of similar cases. And if she thought about it, even from across Ruby Lake, she could faintly sense it. She had not told Eirikr, but it frightened her at first, the fear in Jaemy’s eyes when their hands first touched. The young girl’s pained, confused cries. At the same time that it broke her heart, a fury like blinding fire burned in her veins towards the people that had harmed the child. But she was with Varidia, and in truth, Eruviel could think of no better place for Jaemy’s sake. Both for herself and for her guardian.
Sighing softly, Eruviel closed the tome. One hand tracing over the intricate designs in the leather cover, her other reached to first take up the letter from Idlric, and then the hot mug to sip from. The warmth seeped through her, and the Elf settled further beneath the massive blanket. As prepared as she worked to be for the worst, Eruviel knew that the poor girl was getting the best medicine and magic she could. The logs in the fireplace popped again, and Eruviel watched the flames dance in the hearth. Very few things… if anything in the world were as powerful as true kindness and love freely given. Perhaps they were meant to rescue the young one. Then again, perhaps Varidia and even Durrow were simply the Hunter’s tools to guide Jaemy to an understanding that she could, indeed, save herself.