Innocent Heart: Mouths and Minds to Feed

“There she is!”

Feira looked up as the call rose from the gaggle of children sitting on the rocks rising above the warm shoreline. One… two… three…. And two boys. I’m missing two. Then all of them were running to meet her — well, except for Siyra who had gotten it into her fifteen year old head that running was beneath her.

“We’ve been waiting!” called one boy, sand flying in his wake.

“What took you so long?!” called another.

Jenna, with her hair freshly chopped short, sprinted ahead of the other girl, Akiva, and the three boys. The eight year old tomboy let out a jubilant whoop as she saw the covered basket hanging from Feira’s arm. “What did ya bring us? What did ya bring us?”

Feira laughed and reached out a hand to catch the young girl as she stumbled over her own feet. “Food that you will have to share!”

“But I get a bigger portion, right?” Jenna chirped, putting on a frown as Feira lifted the basket out of reach of the girl’s grabbing hands.

Nine year old Bently skidded to a stop beside them. “Stop being so greedy!” he shot accusingly at the girl.

Jenna hopped back, hands balling into fists. “Take that back!”

Feira stepped easily between them, and rested a delicate hand on Jenna’s head with a commanding weight. “You two can pick a fight some other time,” she resolved as her and Siyra exchanged amused looks. “Akiva? Ren? I see Tom is not here. Ready for your lesson?”

“You bet! Well, I sure am,” said Akiva with a haughty little bobble of her head. “Ren’s just been messin’ around.”

“Tom’s off getting ready to start his Page — And it’s called a job, ya dolt!” Ren shot back with a smirk. He snuck around Siyra to pounce on an unsuspecting Bently.

Feira chuckled, letting the boys tumble about, and turned to lead the small pack towards the smoothed ocean boulders nearby that were crowned by the children’s faded cloaks and jackets. “Danert is not here?”

All of the children frowned, and Ren and Bently ceased their wrestling. “He’s… runnin’ messages today,” Ren replied as he moved to fetch the small pile of borrowed books for Feira.

Akiva sat down by Feira and began helping the young woman unload the picnic she had brought for everyone. “His brother came home,” she spat under her breath.

Feira frowned and looked to the others that were sullenly taking their seats. “The older brother? I suppose it would not help if I talked to him?”

“Nuthin’ helps,” Bently muttered, selecting a worn volume from the stack.

Jenna cozied up beside Feira, and was all too willing to begin passing fat sandwiches to her left. “Best to steer clear of him. He’s mean.”

Siyra frowned darkly, and she held the sandwich she was passed close to her. “He…. Let’s not. What are our lessons for today, Miss. Feira?”

With a knowing look, Feira studied the five children gathered on the beach with her. She drew in a soft breath, and worry vanished from her fair features “Today? We are going over our numbers from yesterday, and Akiva and Ren will be reciting their passages. But first let us enjoy our meal, hmm?”

Ren, having not waited for the others, mumbled with a mouth full of food. “Mmmph! I’s gooo!”

The rest followed suit, eager to consume the meal, and forget the lingering concern that weighed on all of their minds. Breeze catching her golden hair, Feira listened to their chatter and offered over an old tone to Siyra when the girl finished with her food first. It had taken months for them to accept her, and several more for her to earn their trust. She only tutored them for two hours  three times a week, but much of her free time seemed to include at least one of them. Never had Feira felt so fulfilled and so challenged, and as the book was passed for the next youth to read, a dose of pride and concern swelled in her chest for all of her charges, those present and those not.

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Practice

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“… and we took of like cats from a cage! Should ‘a seen us. Damned birds. Gonna be shyin’ from the critters fer weeks!”

Eruviel blinked out of her thoughts, lifting her head from where it rested on her knee to look to the young weapon smith. “Hmm? Oh — yes, yes that would be incredibly frightening. Crows are far smarter than some people care to admit.”

Risala lowered her weighted arms, frowning at the Elf. “You weren’ listening to a word I said, were ya?”

“You were running away from the gravedigger.”

“Yer so full of it,” Risala snorted, lifting the training sword to continue going through her paces. “What’re ya thinkin’ about?”

With a little smirk the Elf rose to her feet and walked along the stone fence to where their training gear sat. “Nothing that need concern you.”

Risala grinned mischievously and pointed her sword accusingly at Eruviel. “You were thinkin’ about him, weren’t ya?!”

“No, I was not,” Eruviel replied, taking up a short sword and the wooden shield from where it leaned against the barrier. “And even so it is hardly any of your business.”

“Bull,” Ris shot back with a snicker. “Can’t fool me, pointy-ears.”

One corner of Eruviel’s mouth slowly curved up. “How is your wounded tail bone feeling?”

“What? What has that gotta do with –” Risala cut off and shrugged, shoving a swath of bright red hair out of her eyes. “It’s fine. Why?”

“Your footwork has gotten sloppy.”

Risala scowled at the change of subject. “It ain’t got sloppy, you jus — Whaaaiiie!”

Quicker than she could respond, Eruvil had dashed in and swept the human’s legs out from under her. With a yelp and a flail of her arms Risala’s legs flew up and she crashed down to the ground.

“Ayyee! Damned bloody elf!” Ris wailed, rolling over and holding her bottom. “What’d ya do that for?!”

Eruviel dropped the shield beside the young woman, and set her hand on her hip. “As payback for last year when you knocked me on my ass.”

“Eh-heh, oh yeah,” Ris responded, grinning as she rose to her feet and took the shield up.

“And also, because the further you go along your road, the greater the chance of you crossing paths with far more dangerous things than an ‘gaunt lord’ and his enchanted flock of carrion.”

Risala sniffed and frowned down at her hammer and shield. “Yeah? Ya really b’lieve in all tha’?”

“I have seen all that, my dear friend.”

“Guess… learnin’ from a two thousand year ol –”

“Fifteen hundred year old –”

Risala smirked and rolled her eyes, though her limbs tingled with an eager anticipation.”Yeah, same thing. Company ain’t gonna be in Bree long. Ya really think you can learn me all that before I go?”

Eruvel’s green eyes narrowed as she grinned, and the Elf whispered under her breath to ignite the oil along the length of her blade. “Shield up. I can do better than that, Miss. Thorne. I can teach you.”

Anecdotes: Everything We Love

It had been a morning packed with deliveries for twitterpated lovers and husbands that had forgotten. Ahiga’s hidden purse was twice as fat as usual. As much as he hated being at the beck and call for people who couldn’t just deliver worthless parcels and drivel themselves, he would not complain about the extra coin he raked in on these silly little holidays.

Sitting on a stone banister, the young man shoved his hair out of his eyes and took a bite of the steaming potato that was his lunch. He watched the Bree-landers below scurry to and fro with more haste than usual, buying overpriced candies, gaudy jewelry, and every passably limp flower in sight. It seemed foolish to him. A waste of resources on a day fabricated to boost the egos of the insignificant and lie about emotions that were good for nothing. 

Scoffing, he hopped down from his perch and shoved a hand into his pocket. Their happy chatter was beginning to piss him off. He’d go… to the garden. Yes, the garden. And even if he wasn’t there, at least Ahiga’d get some damned peace and quiet.

—–

By the time he reached the top of the fourth flight of stairs, Peldirion had a newfound respect for the servants. Careful not to jostle the tea, he bore the tray arrayed with steaming plates of flat cakes, fruit, eggs and Valar knew what else was hidden beneath the silver dome (though it smelled suspiciously of toast and bacon).

Then there was the envelope. His surprise that he’d worked on for two months. That alone tempted him to leave the food and sprint down the private hall to wake her. But the tall, proud man walked calmly and with purpose, dismissing the attending servant before he quietly slipped into the suite.

The grand room was still, the only light coming from the hearth that added to a pale, pre-dawn glow from the windows. Resting the aromatic tray on the bench at the foot of the bed he walked around to her side. 

How soundly she slept. A part of him pulled away, not wishing to disturb his slumbering wife. Lalaith. Everything he loved, good that he did not deserve, yet there she was. Peldirion swallowed hard, the swelling of adoration in his chest not fading as he brushed back a soft curl of black hair and stopped to kiss her cheek. 

“Rise and shine, my love.”

Innocent Heart: Numb

“What are you doing all the way over here?!”

Feira’s golden head snapped up from the thick pages it hovered over. “You’re supposed to speak quietly in a library, Nellie.”

“It’s too quiet… and full of books,” the young woman huffed, pursing her painted lips. “But you’re never on this side of the place! Not as colorful here if you ask me.”

“It’s the law section, Nellie. There are no painted pictures in the pages.” Feira closed the heavy tome before her, and subtly wiped at a damp cheek. She knew what she had set out to do, what she thought had been a good idea. In truth, though, it had been but a fruitless attempt to try and find a way to fix the empty ache in her chest.

“… but oh no! Told them straight up. Really, it can be such a burden, being right all the time.”

Feira blinked her long lashes as she rose from her seat, only just realizing that Nellie had been talking. “Think you’ll go back?”

Nellie tossed her long brown hair over her shoulder. “No way! Got your books? Anyways, I got a date and — Hey, you okay?”

Feira tucked her single book, having nothing to do with ships or sea or sun, beneath one arm. She felt numb, having cried more than she ever thought she would. Her free hand lifted to brush at her slender, unadorned neck, and swallowed the miserable lump she had not felt rise in her throat. “I’m fine, thank you,” she replied, her voice soft and smile weak.

Nellie huffed and led the way out of the building that was probably the least interesting to her in all of the city (aside from maybe the temple). “Know what you need?”

Feira sighed, brushing at her neck again, missing the necklace that had hung there. “No. What do I need, Nellie?” She caught the library door, forging into the daylight after her fellow maid.

“You need to get laid.”

Feira balked at her. Cheeks flushing crimson she lifted her chin and strode quickly ahead. “Nellie –”

Unphased by Feira’s warning tone, Nellie sashayed dramatically down the stone steps. “Really! Gotta do the deed someday. You might like it! And it does wonders f –”

The faint memory of her gold note locket breaking free in the bottom of the Alshier flooded in and a crushing weight of several very different emotions bore down. Spinning on her heel, she stopped abruptly in front of Nellie.

“I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to allude to it. He’s not one of your dozens of trash weekends boyfriends, and never is any form of such a suggestion helpful or appropriate. Do I make myself clear?”

Nellie stared at her in surprise. “I get you…. Sorry. I’ll try and be good about it as long as I can.”

Feira nodded weakly turning to start the walk back to the estate. “… The whole day.”

“A whole day?!” Nellie exclaimed, leaving Feira unsure if she was joking or serious. She looked to her golden-haired friend, studying her tired, red-rimmed eyes. “I’ll behave for two days… Then I’ll make a list of all the single guards for you!”

Feira sighed, shaking her head as the fastidious maid looped an arm with hers. “What am I going to do with you?”
Nellie giggled and very nearly drug Feira along. “Help me spend my pay, of course! I’m not a penny pincher like some people,” she said, giving her a pointed look. “And you need cheering up.”

“Nellie, I don –”

“Nope! No choice! It’s unnatural, you smiling less than me. But that reminds me! So Kelly told El, that Master Hanley to Baelen that the Lady –”

Feira tuned Nellie out as the flood of worthless gossip began. But it did make her smile, and that, for the moment, was probably what she needed most.

Anecdotes: Yule and Regret

“Can I show you anything?” The shop owner looked down at Jade, his patience worn thin by the wave of girls and women who had flowed in and out all day.

Jade did not care. She rested her elbows on the counter and her chin in her hands. “No.”

The man frowned down at the sulking young woman before shrugging and moving off to help someone else who was more likely to spend money.

“Misses Harlowe?”

It took Jade a second, but remembering that that was her, she lifted her head to see who had spoken.

A happy smile lit the Elf’s fair face, and Jade wasn’t sure if it was from having forgotten the lady’s name or the fleeting thought of wanting to look that good in hunting leathers that caused her mind to go blank for a moment. “Oh… Hey. You’re — How are you?”

“Eruviel,” the Elf offered kindly as she set a gloved hand on the counter and looked behind it to the wall covered in gold, silver, and shell necklaces, bracelets and clips. “And I am exceptionally well, thank you. You are here shopping? I should warn you away. I do not think gold is the metal for your husband.”

Jade scoffed, but that brought a little smile to her red lips. “Then maybe a comb for his beard.” She then shook her head. “I’m waiting for the barber to get done”

Eruviel raised her brows. “You are cutting your hair off?”

“Sure am,” she replied, nodding curtly.

“May I ask why?”

Jade glanced side-long at the Elf’s long, intricate braid woven with satin ribbon and pretty winter blossoms. “Feel like being petty,” Jade offered lamely, feeling childish. Lifting her chin, she smirked and tossed her bangs to chase the feeling away. “Don’t tell me you’re cutting yours off. Do Elves lose their powers if they cut their hair?”

The Elf gave an enchanting, silvery laugh. “Not at all! And no, it is one of my most prized possessions. One of the younger members of the guild braided it so nicely and I fear I do not have a clip to keep it from unraveling.”

Jade combed her fingers through her own soft, pale gold hair. “How’s one of your kind end up without anything?” 

Eruviel rolled her shoulders nonchalantly. “I gave it away.” Stopping a saleswoman, she motion to a set of combs and clips stuck to a display. “I don’t know what has you in such a mood at Yule, Miss Jade, but I hope you reconsider.”

Jade studied the display with a thoughtful air. “Oh, it’ll backfire. Reason is silly, but it’s just hair. It’ll grow back.”

“Hmm….” Eruviel picked up a delicate filigree comb. “May I?”

Jade blinked in surprise. “Wh — uhh, sure.”

Eruviel caught a pale swoop of the young woman’s hair with the brass comb, spun it and set it securely in place. “Petty reasons do not justify rash action. Neither are the small regrets worth it.” She hesitated, a warm, distant look in her green eyes. Adjusting the chain of a necklace hidden beneath her collar, Eruviel turned her attention back to Mrs. Harlowe. “And you do have lovely hair.”

The sick feeling that came from her feeling sick at the thought that haunted her lessened, and Jade flashed a charming smile up at the strange Elf. She really would regret it.  “Can’t argue with that.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“You have a minute?”

Frank’s hammer clanked in an awkward strike against the tin. Hand gripping the handle tighter, he finished pounding the sharp bend in the metal. “What do you want?”

Cotton skirts swished, and he could almost feel her at his back though she remained several feet away. “I wanted to see you.”

You little — “You should go home, Maddie.”

“Frank, I –”

Without turning, Frank stepped away from the work bench and moved to the forge before her reaching hand could touch his arm.

“I heard you signed over the farm.”

“I did. I also signed your papers at the Town Hall,” he replied cooly.

Her silenced weighed down around them. “If… I didn’t know, Frank. Who I was, what I wanted –”

“Now we both do,” Frank interrupted sharply, meeting her soft, sad eyes with a cold, even look. “Go home.”

She looked wounded, sorry, but the now former Maddie Burns ducked her head in defeat. Picking up her cloak, she left the warmth of the barn for the frigid, snowy evening.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The little house was warm. Too warm. But she felt cold, and Feira shivered bodily, curled up in a quilt on the lightly worn couch.

Beside her several gifts sat, perfectly wrapped, bound with perfect little bows… except for Lalaith’s which was ready to be mailed in the morning. 

Then there was the tray set on the stool covered with several tea cups and a soup bowl. Torrin had not left her side all day, and his soon to be betrothed had even stopped in to see if you young woman was all right. Feira could feel better in the morning, or it could be a couple days, but she would be fine. 

Still Torrin doted on her as if it were her last day on the earth. They played games, and exchanged gifts, and when she fell asleep he sat and read at the foot of the couch to keep her feet warm. 

She didn’t think she could have had a better brother. 

Staring out the front window, Feira listened to him stumble through the kitchen in an attempt to make supper. The world was not as bright as it had been before. But in a day, or a week, whenever he showed up the two years would be over. She would cry and pretend to be fine, then eventually heal, but while she regretted not telling Torrin more about it, there was nothing, at least in that little moment, that she would have changed. 

Find Him

“Curse you! Get off me! Get –” 

One last attempt to pull loose saw Ildric finally crawl free from beneath his dieing horse. The light dimming in its brown eyes, the fallen animal struggled for one more gasping breath as the man fought his way to his feet. He did not pay the horse that had failed him so close to his destination any mind. Cursing under his breath, the man held his broken arm against his chest and scrambled up  the hill towards the distant pillar of black smoke.

He was not a lithe man. Tall and thickly built, Ildric was made for short furious bursts of speed. But he ignored the burn of his lungs and blood in his mouth. Several hours ahead of the others, he would run himself to death as he had his horse if only to see. 

He had to see. They couldn’t be….

His broken arm and left leg cried for him to slow, but it was in vain.

Three more hills…. Two more hills…. One.

The once sprawling farm now was nothing but scorched earth. Flames still engulfed the black remains of barns, fences and a little farmhouse. The smell of death permeated the grey haze. Half burned bodies of farm animals were scattered about, and what remained of the few farm hands could be seen in the nearest field.

Hate boiled, coursing through his limbs. He would find him. And once he did….

Brushing embers from his shirt, Ildric half ran, half stumbled down the hill and into the yard. The silence roared in his ears, the distant popping of coals and crackle of fire like deafening explosions. He did not notice the burns on his hands as he shoved the smoldering gate out of his way. 

“Hello?” he called, what breath he had catching in his throat.

“Anyone!” he begged, pleaded, even though he knew no one would answer.

Heart pounding furiously, Ildric smashed the charred door of the house open with his shoulder… and he froze. A single body laid in the remains, the small floral print of the dress still faintly distinguishable.

The pain hit him all at once, and his heart made a sick twist in his chest. Dropping to his knees in the ash and coals covering her door, Ildric curled over, clawed at the ground and screamed.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

“You have everything?”

Vrax pulled the last strap over the wagon canvas and tossed the extra length over the top to Eruviel. “Enough. Can’t wait around for the rest.”

“I’ll see that it gets down to you once it arrives.” Eruviel secured the rope in a taunt knot.

There was silence between them. A minute of unspoken apologies and assurances as Vrax waved to the wagon drivers behind him, and Eruviel handed up the reigns as the man stepped into the drivers seat.

“Drive safe. I’ll send word when I learn more.”

Vrax caught the Elf’s wrist and frowned down at her. “As much as I want him dead, you living is more important.”

“I promised to find him. We tried to do things my way and we see how well that worked out.”

“Dammit. Just say it,” he huffed with a low growl.

Eruviel’s stern expression gave way to a faint smile. “I’ll be careful. Take care, old man.”

Vrax managed an uncommonly weak smirk. “See you in the spring, Witch.” Releasing her, he snapped the reigns to start his wagon forward.

In Our Darkness 

breenighttime

He felt somewhat robbed, leaving behind the little Elven home for the faintly glowing paths of Durrow. The satisfying feeling of leaving behind a houses warmth for the cold shadows kept at bay by lamplight was denied him as long, purposeful strides brought him closer to the homestead gate. Did they miss it, too? Did they even know?

Resigned to endure the dull, ethereal way, his thoughts waited with bated breath. Beyond the homestead the night would be colder and darker. Better for brooding and planning for the time when his enemy would once again make the mistake of letting himself be found.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The dull glow of the dieing fire cast  an orange hue on the wooden wall beside the wide, thin straw and feather filled mattresses that lay on the floor. It was calm here. Warm. He liked the warm. The attic room that served as home was clean, empty aside from the bed, a small table decorated by a fat tallow candle and his weapons, a chair that held his few folded clothes, and several old chairs against the far wall that had been stacked for storage and forgotten.

The hour was late. A quiet sigh deflated his chest as he shoved his hair out of his eyes. With care to not wake the slumbering man beside him, he slipped out from beneath the arm draped over his chest and stood, taking a moment to peer out the small attic window. It was time, and only darkness would allow for such an errand.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The salt breeze rushed along the beach, tossing the shawl draped around her shoulders till it billowed out like a sail. A dull light grew around her as the mute grey pushed back the last remnants of a starless night. She would be expected to be back soon, but she lingered as long as she could, sitting alone atop the time-worn boulder where it had begun.

Part of her had begged the darkness to stay. The weight in her gut that made her feel sick whenever she thought of what she should do — what she needed to do — seemed less in the shroud of night. Things were easier when you did not see. Then again, how many times had knowing eyes seen her and pitied or scoffed at her in her ignorance? That was even worse.

Instead of sitting anticipating the array of colors that was sure to follow… that she found herself doubting, she rested her golden head atop her knees. Absorbing the murky glow that swelled into a thick morning fog, she wished the night would linger a while longer.

Innocent Heart: Journal Entries 

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Song

Orange
My wild heart
Sustaining and bursting
With summer’s desire.

~

Over rocks and sand
I roam and run
Searching through sea foam
For what might become
An answer for searching souls
And questions carefully forgotten
If I find you then maybe
Just maybe

~

Delicate parchment of
Facts and fables
Trusting cold fingers to
Find and understand.
Lost in the sea of
Faded leather and ink
Bleed out more questions that
Feed endless searching
Candlelight flickers in
Frigid drafts that warm my cheeks
Whispering reminders of sun

~

Sharp and bright
This steel in midday heat 
Parry and slash 
To be faster 
Better 
Bending but not 
Breaking like waves 
Rippling like sails 
Warm against my skin
Focus
Attack
Parry and slash
Faster
Practice for them
For me
For what may never be
Arm held steady
Spinning in the dance
Plucking fiddle strings
That snap and yield to your
Attack and slash
Parry and thrust
Faster
Faster
Focus

Innocent Heart: Bartering

By care of Lady Eruviel Artistuion,

To Master Dorsett of Bree-town, 

Dear Sir,

Greetings! I hope this letter finds you well and in good health. Before anything I would like to beg your forgiveness on the part of my negligence. I had been in Bree-land for a few short days only a couple of months back and it did not occur to me to pay you a cordial visit till after I had departed back south for home. 

The reason for my writing is that, after all you had said about your own collection of book back when we talked in the library, you stuck out in my mind as someone who might have answers for me. My inquiry is a strange one, but I was wondering if you have any literature on mermaids. I am looking for anything concerning habits, diets, and things that attract them. Holding no assumption that you have read anything on the subject I still dearly hope that you have. While I am searching the books within my grasp here you are far more the scholar than I. 

Emeleth bless you and keep you.

Respectfully,

Feira, servant of House Colagar

gondorshore

“Good afternoon, Miss Feira!”

Feira smiled sweetly as she surrendered her letter to the postmaster. “Good afternoon, Master Cenor!”

The elderly man gave a warm chuckle. “Good to see you back! And sendin’ a letter. I shouldn’t be surprised — Ulmo! Who do you know all the way up there?”

“Oh, lots of people,” she reasoned as she pulled her loose hair over one shoulder.

“That’s what you get for travelin’. Meetin’ people. Reckon this one will write you back?” Cenor asked as he stamped the envelope and filed it away in the proper mail bag.

Feira blushed a little as she offered a curtsy, and swept towards the exit of the street-side office with a flutter of her long indigo skirts. “Let us hope so!”

A sea breeze caught her as she flitted out into the street, and she smiled happily, letting it escort her down the busy way (the two of them were going in the same direction). The young woman breathed deeply, savoring the smells of home. It was hardly a block till the sounds of the city fully enveloped her. The great court was filled with vendors, overflowing with sunlight and a generally merry atmosphere. A bubble of emotion swelled in her chest. How she had missed home.

She had changed up everything that week, even if some sad little part of her wondered if it mattered or not. Feira haunted a different corner of the library each day, took different paths to her destinations, and she could not have been more glad of it. Her basket heavy on her arm carried several new books from a shop she had not noticed before, and a little bag of sample muffins from a lovely woman’s bakery she had somehow failed to notice in all of her years in the city. There was also a noosegay the maid had picked for herself from a last second shortcut through a public garden because she had gotten spooked by a shadow, and (hidden beneath it all) what she assumed to be a discarded love note that had been trampled on and abandoned in a puddle. So much adventure while on her errands and there was still plenty of daylight left.

Weaving through the bustling crowd after placing a few orders, she ground to a halt when a stall stacked with old, worn books caught her eye. Feira licked her lips and brushed a few stray golden locks behind one ear before approaching the table.

“G’day, Miss!” called the haggard man standing behind the piles of tomes. “I can see ye’re already interested. What can I help ye find?”

“Good day, sir!” Feira chimed with a winning smile. “I think I have already found it — but… oh, I don’t know,” she murmured, trailing off as she turned her head and leaned a little to read the faded titles.

The man cleared his throat and lifted a work-worn hand to comb through his greying hair. “Got a few histories, some cookbooks and eh… original works if ye’re inta that sorta thing.”

Feira had spotted exactly what she wanted but hardly gave the tomes sandwiched in the middle of a stack another glance as she looked over the rest. “Do you have anything fanciful? Perhaps folklore or sailor stories?”

Studying her bright, amber eyes the man nodded slowly. “I think I have somethin’… Here, how’s this un?” He pulled out a tome the girl was well acquainted with.

Tales of Ulmo’s Bride? Oh, I have read this one before. Thank you, though. The ending is so sad, don’t you think?”

The merchant blinked before quickly nodding. “Sure is. Tragic, that one.” He had clearly never read it. Clearing his throat a bit more loudly than before, he shifted several stacks aside before pulling out one of the two tomes she had spotted. It was the nicest one in the entire collection. “How ’bout “Sun in the West: Forgotten Tales of Gondorian Folklore.“?” he asked, holding it out for her to see.

“Oh, that is very nice,” she admitted with a noncommittal nod of her head. “How much is that one?”

“For ye, missy? One silver.”

Outrageous. “A whole silver for that…?” Feira gave him a dubious frown. “May I inspect it first?”

He gave her a long, suspicious look, but the innocent young woman seemed to be the type that wouldn’t hurt a fly. Relenting, he surrendered the tome over. “Careful with that un. Ain’t gonna find it many places,” he cautioned.

Handling the book like a precious jewel she inspected it from spine to edge. It was clear that she knew how to handle books, and she went so far as to inspect the note of the scribe and the painting of Ithillien that decorated the centerfold. “Hmm… I could not pay a whole silver for this, no,” she replied with a disappointed sigh.

“What is wrong with it, if ye don’ mind me askin’?”

With an air that would make a librarian proud, Feira turned a little so the man could better see. “There is water damage up the bottom of the spine. The outside may look decent, but the stitching is about to crumble away. That alone degrades it’s value. Then there is the scribe’s signature. I have seen this name before and he always signed his name on the upper corner of the opposite page. And you don’t want me to get started on the poor state of the painting. I think I am just better off borrowing the library’s copy.”

It was another test the man failed to pass as he sniffed and offered a lower price. “Seventy copper.”

It took every bit of Feira’s self-control not to grin. She knew for a fact that the library did not have this book on it’s shelves. “Seventy? For this sad excuse of old parchment? I will give you ten.”

The man’s eyes narrowed at her as he accepted the book back. “Fifty.” He clearly just wanted to be rid of it, and it made her wonder just how long the poor tome had been sitting alone on a shelf.

“Ten.”

“Fifty, and no less.”

“I will do no higher than ten.”

“Fourty-five?”

“Then I will offer five?”

Pit, you will! Sixty!”

“Fifteen.”

“Deal!” The word spouted from the man’s lips before he could stop himself and he stared at the sweet young woman in surprise. “Hey, now, ye can’ –“

Feira smiled sagely, and shook her head. “You already agreed to it. Give me that little copy of the “Mariner’s Daughter” and I will give you twenty.”

Grunting, the man seemed none too pleased about being bested. Studying her in a new light, he yanked out the little faded blue dustcover from the stack. “I s’pose ye want ’em wrapped, too.”

Feira, though not unkindly, afforded herself a little triumphant smile. “I would be grateful if you did.

She waited patiently, the wicker handle of her basket held in both hands as she observed the thin merchant wrap the two books in brown paper. “Don’t got any bows ‘n all that shite t’ tie ’em with.”

“Like this is just fine, thank you.” Counting out her coin, Feira pulled a chocolate muffin out of the bag in her basket, and set it down with the copper.

“… Wha’s this?”

Feira tucked the wrapped books into her basket and smiled brightly at the man. “A thank-you. Do enjoy the rest of your day, sir!” Turning at that, Feira left the man at his stall, staring at her with a bewildered expression as her golden head disappeared into the crowd.

Blame

durrorw-horizon

“Where in Stockard’s grave ‘ve you been?”

Eruviel looked to the front stoop of her little house as she closed the gate to see Ildric occupying most of it, a pipe smoking in one hand. A guarded frown replaced her initial smile as she quickly read the dark look in his eyes, and she instinctively glanced over her shoulder to the narrow road beyond her fence. “Where’d you come from?”

Ildric’s narrowed eyes studied her from where he leaned against her door, purposefully blocking her way to her house. “Been waiting for you to come home for half the day.”

“That seems like a waste of time for such a busy man.”

“Probably was. What were you doing?”

“Hunting,” she lied.

“Bull.” He knew her too well. “You were doing fairy crap.”

Eruviel’s frown deepened. This was not Ildric. This was Vrax, and she could see through the dark that he was both tired and angry.”What is troubling you, Ildric?”

Ildric tossed his pipe aside and rose to his feet with a grunt. “Don’t give me that Elf, sugar-coated garbage.”

“Then don’t give me any of your shit,” she snapped back.

“Oh? My shit?” he scoffed, lumbering down the steps towards her. “You talk crap about caring about your friends and — What the hell is on your face?”

The Elf was caught off guard, and faltered for a moment. “Wha — Oh, this? Lipstick.”

“Why?”

“Because I was alone all day and I thought it might be fun. I decided it was a waste to leave it sitting in my bathroom unused.”

A dim, familiar glint passed through the man’s eyes. “Well that’s all backwards. If people wanna do something for themselves they usually  just f–”

Vrax!”

The two glared at each other, the air in the yard tense. Finally the big man shoved a hand into his vest pocket. Drawing something out he tossed it to her without care. “That’s why I’m here.”

Something small, and cold hit her cheek, and Eruviel caught it between her hair and her braid as it tumbled down. She instantly recognized the object as a ring and, lifting it to get a better look, was greeted by an all too familiar sapphire encased in silver leaves that glittered in the evening light. “What — Why do you have this? This is –”

Was,” Ildric clarified harshly.

Eruviel’s frown deepened as she looked up at the angry man towering a bit too close for comfort. “Was? What happened to Maddie?”

Thick arms crossed over Ildric’s chest as he continued to glare down at her. “I’d think you would be smart enough to figure that out for yourself. She left him.”

Eruviel’s shoulders sank, and an ill feeling twisted in her gut. “What? Why? Ildric, when did she leave him?”

“Before we got in from the raid. Bea was waiting up for us, and Frank found Maggie’s ring on the table in his forge.”

Speechless, Eruviel looked back to the ring for several moments. “And you’re angry at me because….”

“Because if you hadn’t been off doing Valar knows what, all of this could have been avoided!”

Her green gaze paled in a fleeing look of fury and darted up to lock on him. “You will not blame any of that on me! I told Frank why I could not go. He said he understood, and that is that!”

Ildric stepped up close, forcing her to retreat a step. “His wife had been taken! Someone you call friend needed you to be there, and you left to run around in the woods!”

“I left to find someone I call sister,” she shot back, her anger matching his. “He came to ask my help as I was already preparing to leave. Frank was sympathetic, and there was no issue with it. By the time I had returned you and yours had already caught the caravan! It is not my fault that she lost it and left him, and I am not responsible for her decisions.”

“Oh? Who was is that sent Frank south with news about Koss and his band a months back?”

Eruviel’s hands curled into fists at her sides. “You mean news that almost got my throat slit open in the process of getting? I did, but –”

Witch. That was the last straw for them! Did you know she watched him ride off? Cried like he had died, then went off and moved in with some young baker in town. If he’d have stayed they could have worked things out.”

“It doesn’t just happen like that, Ildric, and you know it. I told him to give Tamrin the message and stay home, but he wouldn’t have it. It was his marriage, and she had been treating him worse and worse since their anniversary. He insisted that it would fix things, and would not be persuaded otherwise.”

“And you know what it fixed? Nothing. Want to know what is even better? Koss fed his men to our attack and slipped away. Now we have to hunt the bastard down all over again,” Ildric spat, shouting angrily.

“He got away?”

“I gotta say it again? Finally had him in my sights after ten years and he’s gone.”

Eruviel deflated some, and shook her head. “Ildric, please. I am sorry that he got away. If you’ll let me –”

“You are, huh? Well I don’t want you helping this time. I’ve had enough of it,” he growled, shoving her out of of his way as he stalked past, his glare hazed over with a cloud of unbidden emotions.

“Ildric, wait! Where is Frank?”Eruviel called, her voice almost catching as she turned to attempt to follow after the man.

“At home. Locked himself in his forge,” he shot over his shoulder as he shoved the gate open and slammed it shut. “Leave him be…. Oh, and wipe that filth off your face. You look like a whore.”