Month: March 2014

Fool Me Once . . .

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Eruviel grabbed the ruffian’s arm as he bolted to escape and whirled him around, slamming him into the pole. Pulling the man to his feet she bound his hands behind his back. “You should learn not to run. And you should learn to punch a little harder to make it worth your effort,” she said darkly. Running her tongue along the inside of her cheek she shook her head at the criminal. “It’s for your own good, believe me.”

She needed to get this man to the prison, and fast. Anyatka had made her promise to be careful, and she had, telling her young friend not to worry about her. The scrawny man that was her bounty was the easiest catch she’d had in months. A small twinge of guilt stung her for not telling Anya about her detour, but now she half wished she had gone home to Anya and Eirikr. The door to the Comb and Wattle Inn opened and closed behind her and her stomach sank as the footsteps stopped.

“Put that man down! He is wanted for crimes against Bree-land!”

Eruviel looked over her shoulder. “Of course he is. That’s why I’m arresting him!” Pulling the ruffian with her she turned only to freeze in her steps. “You?”

The masked man growled at her, his voice raspy and deep as his fist tightened around the hilt of his drawn dagger. “Yes me. . . I will give you one chance. Put the man down.”

Eruviel unclasped the strap over her dagger. “I will not,” she replied coldly, narrowing her eyes at the man. “He is going to the prison where the Justice will sentence him and either lock him away or execute him.” So much for attempting to avoid him for once, she thought grimly.

Growling at her, the mysterious man pulled out a tiny knife and threw it in a whipping motion. The blade flew past her, sticking in the pillar behind her. “Next time I will not miss.”

Remaining unflinching as the knife whistled past her head, Eruviel let out a short breath. “Maybe I was wrong about you,” she said with a wry smile, pulling the defeated ruffian behind her and letting him fall to the ground. “I do not want to fight you, but I will if you force my hand. I have already turned in two other criminals to the Justice. The brigands did not seem to . . . appreciate my efforts.”

The masked man sighed, his voice thick. “I do not want to hurt you. If . . . if you are to take this man away, let me at least talk to him first.”

Eruviel pursed her lips, studying the masked man with a grim look. “You may talk to him, either with your weapons from a distance, or up close with your weapons left on the bar.”

“If I wanted him dead, he would already be dead!” snapped the man, glaring furiously at her.

Eruviel raised her chin slightly in defiance, her green eyes blazing. “Like the other men you have killed? You came in here with your dagger already drawn, and have given me no cause to trust you.” I need to get my prisoner out of here, she thought frantically.

The masked man sighed. “Take the man then! I will not hurt you . . . .” His voice trailed off, seeming slightly nervous. “The next one is mine,” he spat.

Arching a brow at the man, Eruviel took a step back towards the ruffian still laying on the floor. “So you do not wish to question him?” she quipped, smirking.

The masked man looked up at her, his mouth twitching. “I was going to drive a knife into his skull.”

Eruviel gave him another wry smile as her eyes gleamed dangerously in the fire light. “I thought as much.”

The mysterious man stared at her for the longest time. “Why do you seem to care for the well being of this . . . dog?” he asked, sneering down at the bound man.

Eruviel meet the man’s stare. “I care that he receives his rightful punishment. He is within the confines of the law of town. I do not kill men not aligned with the Eye unless it is warranted, or for self preservation. This dog will most likely wish he were dead by the time they are done with him.”

The man stared her down before approaching, stopping uncomfortably close to her, speaking in his normal tone of voice. “I do not want you to get hurt. I have said this before, stay away from me.”

It took everything within her to remain calm and keep her muscles relaxed, ready. You are too close. I cannot trust you! she fumed. Outwardly, Eruviel ‘s smile softened slightly as she narrowed her eyes at him. “I believe it was you, this time, that interrupted my . . . form of justice. If you wish to not be hindered by a mere elf maiden perhaps you should kill with greater care . . . or not kill in town at all.”

The masked man peered down at her. “I do not think you are just a mere elf maiden judging by the looks of that man. . . .” While he had her attention he drew a small knife again from his back with his left hand, and threw it square into the man’s abdomen. “If he survives you can keep him in your jail, but by the looks of it I might have nicked something vital.”

Eruviel cried out in shock and dropped to the ground next to the man, frantically attempting to stop the bleeding as his spurting blood soaked her gloves. No, no, no, no! Blood and orcs! she cursed as the ruffian’s breathing slowed to a stop. “You could not leave this one man well enough alone?” Her chest heaved with rage as she looked up at the masked man. “I . . . you . . . .” Words failing her, she jumped to her feet and slapped him hard across the face. “No matter what he’s done, he might have had a family; some trapped woman or child depending on him simply staying alive. Did you ever take that into consideration?” she growled, her elvish accent thickening her voice. “I would demand you leave but I’ve already delivered one body to the coroner today. You make a mess, you clean it up,” she spat. Wrenching off her soiled, blood-soaked gloves she threw them against his chest as she stormed past, her eyes hot with moisture.

She stopped a few steps past him, clenching her fists. Careless! her mind screamed at her. You knew you could not trust him, yet you let him distract you for one critical second! Warm arms wrapped around her and she froze as she realized the horrid, mysterious man was in front of her, holding her softly. For the love of the Valar, let me be! She squirmed, pushing her fists against his broad chest to get away from him. How dare he touch me!  she thought miserably, her core aching.

Letting her go, the man walked back to the dead criminal, and knelt, carefully closing the dead man’s eyes. He muttered something under his breath, Eruviel only hearing, “You were there . . . I know it.” Frowning back at the man, her face darkened with a storm of anger and confusion. Glancing regrettably down at her gloves she turned and walked out the door. Her horse stood waiting for her, looking up at her with concern and unease, it’s mouth full of hay.

Stepping up into her saddle the man exited the Inn behind her, hefting the body from his shoulder onto his own horse. Mounting the steed he rode up beside her. “I do not do this because I want too. I do this because I have too,” he said matter-of-factly before spurring his horse into a trot down the south road.

Eruviel opened her mouth to respond but quickly shut it. Wheeling her steed around she urged the mount into a gallop down the west road leading out of Comb. Her horse turned them towards the homesteads on its own and she did not correct it. You cannot break, she told herself. You have too much to do. Brigands had taken the lives of people she cared about before, and yet she had kept a cool head, not letting even the thought of seeking vengeance take her. Milloth, Cade, and how many others? And now . . . now the thought of this dark man loomed over her like a bad dream. Passing through the gates of the Glaston neighborhood she forced herself to sit upright, her eyes cold and void of the emotions that raged within her. Why . . . why does he kill them? Why does he keep saying he has to?

Finally reaching her house, Eruviel quietly dismounted, and removed the horses tack. Going to the well she scrubbed her hands clean of the blood till her skin stung. Silently slipping inside the front door she drew both of the latches to lock the way behind her. A small smile crept across her lips as she saw Eirikr sleeping on his pallet, snoring softly. Peeking her head into Anyatka’s room a small wave of relief washed over her, seeing Anya’s cocooned body softly rise and fall as the woman slept peacefully.

Tip-toeing across the main room she closed her bedroom door behind her. Leaning against the door for a moment she wearily pulled her clothes off, not caring to put them away, and wrapped herself in the blanket from her bed. Sliding to the floor in the far corner of her room Eruviel finally took a deep breath, and cried.

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“I will see you soon, then.”

Eruviel delighted in the relative quiet that the Scholars Stair offered. Having no commissions that day, she decided to relax in the sun. Letting out a deep sigh she sank further back in her seat, sharpening her dagger as she let her mind wander. She had slept very little the past two nights. Even after speaking with the leader of the Bree-town Watch about her encounter her mind had been restless. As much as her mysterious assailant intrigued her, she worried about others being caught in the cross-fire.

Sleep had almost taken her when she was startled back to the present by a sickening thud. “By the Valar,” she mumbled angrily under her breath. Rising to her feet she slung her bow over her shoulder as she made her way to the stone railing. Fifteen feet down laid the body of a man, lifeless in a pool of blood. You fool! she chastised herself as she slammed her dagger back into its sheath with frustration.

It was then that she noticed the man walking slowly away down the wooden walkway. Of all my unlucky weeks, she mused to herself. She did not like to gamble, but her horse was stabled in the directions he walked. Shifting her dagger amidst the folds of her flowing blue skirts she began to walk casually in the same direction. Without seeing his masked face she knew it to be the man from the other night, though he looked taller than she remembered. As they walked down the way with a mere twenty feet separating them, Eruviel thought over what she should do. There was nothing she could do combat wise. She had just gotten the dress mended a month earlier and did not want it ruined for good. She had wanted to speak with him again . . . though she assumed, under the circumstances, her options would be less than favorable.

Descending the southern steps down to the the street the man rounded the corner to walk down the shrubbery-lined way. Looking around for her horse with a frown she shrugged her shoulders and whistled two clear-toned notes. Her horse’s whinny sounded from a block away. Rolling her eyes she turned down the lane the man had vanished down. There is nothing for it, she mused, he already knows you are trailing him. “You are no good, hunting in town,” she muttered under her breath. “I’d rather hunt a man in the woods any day.”

Proceeding with caution not being an option, Eruviel strolled around the corner of bushes and began to head down the road to the West Gate when she sensed him. He snuck up on her much like he had the night before, but this time she was a little more prepared. As the man’s dagger appeared hardly an inch from her throat, Eruviel grasped his wrist with her left hand, having decided against drawing her own blade. She could hardly fit her nimble hands around his wrist and her stomach twisted as she came to the sudden realization of just how much bigger than she he was.

The man’s voice rolled past her ear in a deep whisper “Why do you insist on following me?”

“Why do you keep killing others close enough for me to see the body fall?”

The man laughed quietly at her. “I need someone to know what I am doing. . . I will not stop until they are all dead.”

Eruviel turned her head to glare over her shoulder at him. “And who are these . . . filth that you are ‘taking care of’?”

“Criminals, associates of. . . ,” his growl faltered for a moment, “Brigands.”

Keeping a firm grip on the wrist of his armed hand, Eruviel carefully turned to face the man. “Associates of who, heruamin?”

“None of your business,” he said, the danger in his voice thickening as he stared coldly at her from behind the black mask.

Eruviel ‘s emerald eyes darkened as she looked up at him. “If you were doing this outside of town, in the hills and along the roads I would be killing them with you. But there is a different law in town, and justice is not ours,” she said in a fierce whisper.

The man smiled slowly. “I will see to it the the children of this town are safe. . . along with their family’s. . . even if it costs me my life.” He moved his arm and Eruviel released her hold on his wrist to watch him sheath his long knife.

His comment surprised her, but she simply nodded curtly. “That was my first concern. I would not want to have to fight you over the life of an innocent,” she said, giving him a wry smile.

The man’s face darkened. “You won’t. . .” He stared into her eyes for several moments before adverting him. “I am here to help not hinder,” he said firmly.

Curiosity clawed within her. Eruviel smiled slightly as she took a small step back. “I cannot promise that I will not keep following you if you kill near me again . . . but I cannot say that I do not . . . admire your cause in some way. Though, if we do . . meet again, I would prefer to not have a knife to my throat.” I will need to be more vigilant, she thought. I would rather have his victims behind bars than painting the streets with their blood.

The man nodded. “I do not make promises I cannot keep.” He cracked a smile but his face went dark again. “If the Watch gets in the way. . . I will have no choice but to . . . .” His voice trailed off.

Eruviel meet his eyes again. “You always have a choice, my dark friend,” she replied, her rich, elvish accent seeping into her low, stern voice.

The man meet her eyes. “I have to do this.” Eruviel’s heart beat sped up, from what she could only attribute to being a moment of fear, as he drew closer to whisper this time in a normal tone of voice. “I do not want you to get caught in the middle of this,” he said before again stepping away.

Eruviel let out a musical laugh. “Oh, but it seems I already am, heruamin. You could have let me pass the other night. You could have killed me, but even now it seems I will not die wearing my second-best.” Giving him a thoughtful look she began to turn to walk away.

The man’s facial expression turned as hard a steel aside from a slight glimmer in his eye. “I will . . . see you soon, then.”

Eruviel threw an indecipherable look over her shoulder as she walked towards her horse that stood patiently a few yards away. “That, I do not doubt.”

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(All dialogue comes from in-game RP)

In The Late Watches of the Night

Respectfully,
Eruviel Aranduin

Stifling a yawn, Eruviel folded her letter, including the solo hunting commissions for her friend. She never remained in town this late into the night and felt ill-at-ease. Slipping her message into the mailbox she noted three shadowed figures, one peering out the southern gate, one pacing inconspicuously down the street, and another crouched behind a bush beyond the stable yard.

Turning to head out of town her heart rate began to increase. Could there be another? Before she could set her forwards foot down she heard a whisper of a breath and a soft thud. Turning around she saw the figure that had been hiding beyond the stable yard laying in a dark pool of what could only have been blood. A faint movement caught her eye and she look up in time to see a mask and a dark cloak disappear around the corner into an alley.

There is another, she thought grimly. She had heard rumors of murders happening in the night. Heaving a small sigh of frustration, she tugged her gloves on and melded into the darkness as she began to carefully pursue the shadowed figure.

Ahead of her the silhouette of what could only have been a man hesitated for a moment before continuing down the corridor. Eruviel steped in time with the man, blending easily into the shadows of the buildings. Rounding the bend in the road she froze. He had disappeared. Impressive, she thought, forcing her pulse to steady. The excitement of a challenge mixed with uncertainty, not knowing if the man had continued on or laid in wait for her amongst the ancient stone ruins. She carefully surveyed the square littered with broken pillars and shattered paving stones. As light as a feather, she carefully made her way through the rubble, stopping just in reach of the light of a street lamp.

She smelled the steel and blood. In a flash, as the shadow drew behind her, putting a knife to her throat, she flicked out her dagger, pressing it’s tip against the man’s side. “Following me?” asked a deep voice.

“Only because you warrant the effort,” she responded coldly, tapping her blade against his side to make sure he was aware of it.

The masked man laughed “And what do you plan on doing?”

Eruviel turned her head slowly so he could see the wry smile on her face. “That all depends on your next move, my shadowy friend.”

The man chuckled. “Tough… I like that…” he put his knife away. “No blood shall be spilt tonight…but do not follow me again.”

“I hope the blood you already spilled was worth it, or next time you will not see me coming.” Eruviel stepped away smootly, clicking her dagger back into its sheath.

The man flashed a smile. “The blood is only starting to spill, love… I am going to be “cleaning” the filth from Bree-land… make it a safer place.”

Eruviel ‘s eyes narrowed as she studied the dark-robed figure. “For whom it shall be safer for, I have yet to determine. Be careful that you mind the lines on which you tread.”

“I do not think this is the first time we have met,” said the man, his deep voice growing cold as he laughed quietly to himself.

Eruviel smirked as she stepped back out of the lamp-light. “Nor shall it be the last, I wager. Till we meet again, dark one,” she said with a smile.

The man gave her one last long look before smiling and walking away. “Till next time.”

InBree

(Dialouge taken from RP and altered only slightly to fit the correct tense and add details.)

The Fem Challenge

Eruviel remembers.

It would be a night she would not soon forget. The sky remained the same, painted black, laced with red-tinted clouds as was usual in southern Angmar. The ground of the valley remained barren, and the sounds of wargs and hill-beasts echoed from the rocks across the valley. No, what made this scene different were the dozens of Trév Gállorg gathered behind her and the dozens of Trév Duvárdain gathered on the valley floor half a mile from Aughaire. A small group gathered half-way between the two groups, Eruviel among them. Both tribe chieftains stood on their respective sides of some invisible line. Both leaders had two representatives to their left, and one warrior to their right.

Looking over to the young man next to the Trév Gállorg’s chieftain, Eruviel mentally checked over his appearance and weapons one last time, keeping hidden the feeling of pride that washed over her. He had sharpened his weapons as Milloth had taught him, and had painted his shoulder and bare chest with red symbols of the honorable hill-men. Today had been meant to be Daran — Tithdaeron’s name-day after the final challenge of his Fem. Her little one would finally be an official member of the great tribe. The chief had told her what Daran’s new name would be if he succeeded. She had laughed, feeling it fitting, but knew Daran would think it to be a mouthful. But he would always be Daran to her.

Plans, though, changed as they always seemed to do. The Trév Duvárdain had grown bolder and as rumors of Black Numenorians joining the Angmarim lines, the fallen men demanded blood. Tithdaeron had interrupted the meeting of the elders in the boldest, yet most inoffensive way he could have, and told them that he would represent the strength of the Trév Gállorg in the Fem challenge. His offer had been unanimously accepted. Later, when Eruviel had teased him about it, Daran quickly retorted that he had learned it from her.

Eruviel felt almost certain that he had the blood of Númenor in his veins, for he had grown be a handsome, strongly built man with broad shoulders since she had found him fifteen years ago. Daran had been disappointed that he had not grown to be as tall as Milloth, though his six-foot-five frame towered over nearly every man in Angmar. His amber eyes gleamed dangerously as the two chiefs cast insults at each other, working out the final demands before the Fem challenge began.

Daran’s opponent stood a foot shorter than him. He looked lean yet impressively toned for his slight build. Eruviel suspected that he was one of the Trev Duvardain’s best fighters, chosen for his agility and quickness. Looking back to Daran she could see the muscles in his back flex as the two men faced off. It took all of her restraint to keep back a smirk. In spite of his height Daran proved to be as lithe as an elf. Milloth and Eruviel did not spare the lad in his training, mostly because he had insisted on learning to be the best. Now he fought to the death against the opposing clan of hill-men to prove his loyalty and worth. Though she did not doubt his skill, Eruviel kept a watchful eye open for foul play. The footing of the other fighter was precise — careful. The match would not be an easy one, and Eruviel muttered a prayer to Oromë that Daran would not perish so close to his goal.

The Trév Duvárdain warrior made the first move, testing Daran’s reaction. The former Angmarim countered the attack fast enough to avoid the crude blade, yet not so fast as to reveal his true speed. Striking back, just a hair faster, Daran returned the gesture, testing his opponent. Eruviel saw his triceps twitch, moving the blade away from the other man’s face, only cutting a few hairs with the quick move. Pivoting, Daran brought his lead foot behind him and leapt forward, the real fight beginning. Every slash he threw, every calculated step he took Eruviel knew, her mind moving in sync with the man’s attacks. She knew how his mind worked, and the habits he leaned on, him having gleaned many of them from her, Cade, and her brother Milloth.

Memories trickled through her subconscious as she watched the fight grow with intensity. She recalled the day she had presented Daran, then called Ge’bar, to the tribe. The nine year old had hid behind her as she presented his case, clinging to her left hand. But, as soon as the Trév Gállorg elders began to accuse him, the boy had released her hand to stand beside her. His eyes blazed in defiance, unafraid of their hate for the Angmarim. Eruviel remembered walking him beyond the edge of the main camp to the home of a Trév Gállorg hunter and his wife who had wanted to adopt the boy, unable to have children of their own. She called to mind the many times in his first few years with the clan when she’d wake in the night to feel him crawling onto her pallet and curling up against her back, trembling from nightmares.

The fight had finally drawn blood. Daran had taken a risk, and it had paid off. Allowing his opponent in close enough, Daran let the other man drive his dagger into his bicep. As the blade cut into his arm Daran flipped his dagger in his hand and punched the Trév Duvárdain man in the face. Eruviel almost felt pity for the man as he flew a yard back from the impact. He landed hard at the base of a makeshift Trév Gállorg flag, blood spurting from his mouth and nose. Daran glanced back to Eruviel, nodding once to her before he approached the man, stopping to tower over him.

“This fight is over,” his voice rumbled as he pulled his opponent’s dagger from his flesh. Looking down to the enemy clan’s leader he dared him to protest. “I will not kill him. The Trév Gállorg are better than that.”

The Trév Gállorg chieftain nodded his head in approval, but before he could address the matter the Trév Duvárdain chief turned and pointed to a trio of fighters standing behind him. “How dare you mock us, traitorous filth! You three, kill both of them!”

Pulling out hidden daggers, the three fighters sprinted up the hill towards Daran. The man’s fallen opponent, still clutching his face, looked up, and the two men’s eyes met in a moment of understanding. Daran ripped the spear-like flag pole out of the ground, and Eruviel noticed that both ends were tipped with blades. Clever. In one swift turn Daran plunged the flag-end of the pole into the first Trév Duvárdain’s heart, pulled it back out as he spun around, and in one sweeping motion dropped the other two attackers, their throats cut open.

“Is this what you want?!” Daran bellowed down the hill, planting the flag pole back into the ground. “If you want more blood, then by all means, I can relieve your men of their lives.”

The Trév Duvárdain’s leader looked wide-eyed up to the bodies of his fallen warriors. “No, you have won, Tithdaeron. I will not forget this night, but my people and I will retreat from Trév Gállorg lands.” His voice trembled, but his eyes disagreed with his words.

Daran stopped his advance, glaring past the chieftain to the anxious gathering of Trév Duvárdain now only a dozen yards away. “I hope you never forget. I will hold you to your words, for I will not allow mercy to any of your warriors who step so much as a foot into our hunting grounds.”

Puffing up his chest, the enemy chieftain looked as though he might protest but a look from Daran deflated the man’s pride just as quickly. Turning away he barked orders down the hill for his people to leave, not caring to gather the bodies of their dead.

As Daran walked back up to his opponent, offering the man a hand, a victorious roar rose from the Trév Gállorg camp. Their chieftain motioned for two others to take the wounded Trév Duvárdain to the healer before beckoning Daran to his side. The young man looked across to Eruviel rolling his eyes as she glanced at his arms. She nodded to him with an encouraging smile as he arched his brows as if to ask if he had done well. She knew the adrenaline had begun to wear off for Daran looked drained from the fight.

“He is now one of us!” said the chieftain in a loud voice for all to hear. “I will not tolerate anyone speaking ill of our brother. The Eldar brought him to us and taught us humility as Tithdaeron grew with our own children, living honestly and fighting loyally by our sides against the orc and Angmarim scourge.” Shouts of approval rose again and were not quickly silenced before the chief could continue. “His Fem is complete!”

Ge’bar and the Lady of Mercy

Small, filthy hands trembled as they grasped the knife. A hundred Angmarim surrounded him, watching. Pulse racing, he looked up at the dark, scarred face of his father.

“Do it, Ge’bar, you worthless boy,” growled the man. Garduun’s red-gloved hands rested on his sword belt, watching the lad with out pity, but with surprising patience. “He’s our enemy. We will not leave until you finish him.”

Ge’bar turned his pallid face back to look at the young Hill-men fighter who had been beaten for a good portion of the previous night. He wanted to ask the man’s name. He wanted to ask his father why he forced him to kill a prisoner every week. But the last time he had asked he had been beaten and physically forced to slit the prisoner’s throat. It had been a woman that time. Most times it had been men, which made the killing a little easier, though he didn’t know why. Ge’bar didn’t like that the killing had gotten easier, but as he met the blood-shot eyes of the man who couldn’t be more than twenty, Ge’bar plunged the dagger into the man’s chest, feeling numb as blood poured out over his hands. The sight and feel of the warm, sticky liquid made him feel sick.

Red — everything was blood red, a murky, poisonous green, or grey with death and decay. His father wore red, as did he, and nearly every other man in Fasach-falroid. Warg’s growled and gnashed their teeth a hundred yards away, the sound making his little nine year-old heart thrash within its cage. Orcs lumbered around in their midst, snarling their dark speech, anger and hate filling every essence of their being. Ge’bar’s greatest fear was that he would be turned into one one day. He could no longer look at his reflection, for lately he could hardly recognize his own face. Looking back up to search his fathers face he wondered if any of them were much different.

“Father,” he asked quietly, calculating his words with the utmost care, “where do the enemy come from? Why do they fight us?”

A cruel smile spread across Garduun’s face. “The enemy are everywhere, my boy. They think the land is theirs, but not for long. Our great lord will consume them and rule as he did in the days of old. When he returns north he will find that the Free-people who opposed him will be no more.” A cry rose from the surrounding Angmarim and orcs, spears and swords thrusting into the air. “Back to your camps, the lot of ya!” Garduun shouted in command. “We have Hill-men and Elves to kill tomorrow!” The soldiers shouted with excitement and turned to ready their own men for the battle.

Yes, they had been winning against the hill-people for as long as Ge’bar could remember, up until several months ago when two elves had arrived with a company of Rangers. He wondered what an elf was. He had seen a Ranger before, but never an elf. Garduun had told him that Elves were a race from across the great Western Sea that despised everyone. Behind their beautiful faces were demons of light, though Ge’bar never understood what was wrong with light, nor did his nine year-old mind grasp the concept of beauty. Elves let the trees grow tall and wasted the land that could have been torn up to build on. They thought they were better than everyone else, and above all, elves wanted the Witch-king dead.

Ge’bar could not help but shudder visibly as he cleaned off his knife. He did not know if he liked that idea or not. For almost a year Garduun brought his son with him into battle. If Ge’bar lived, then he was considered to possibly be worthy of serving the Witch-King. In the event of his death, though, he knew his father would not care, convinced that Ge’bar’s death meant the boy could have never amounted to anything. For months he had wanted to die. If life everywhere was like here, he did not want to live it. The few small things that brought him joy confused him more than encouraged him. He did not understand the emotion aside from the joy in his father’s face after killing.

“Do you think she will be there?” Ge’bar asked as he slid his blade back into its leather sheath, careful to darken his tone so as to hide his curiosity.

Garduun frowned down at the boy for a moment. “I hope so, son. We will be greatly rewarded if she is slain.”

“I — I should like to do it, father, if we can find her,” said Ge’bar. He turned his head down to hide his eyes, afraid that the two dry orbs would betray him.

Humphing, Garduun studied the child before nodding with approval, some faint hint of a smile crossing his twisted features. Ge’bar followed his father back into the circle of tents, leaving the dead man’s body behind for the wargs to devour. He got a double portion of food that night for the execution. Laying down on his pallet, Ge’bar fell asleep to the sound of growls and screeches, thinking that it might not be so bad to die at the hands of an elf.

~ ~ ~

Eruviel remembers.

The weather in south-west Angmar was the fairest Eruviel had ever seen in that land. Streaks of bright blue sky peeked through the tumultuous red clouds as a warm southern wind stirred up dust and ash from the valley floor. Fitting a new string onto her bow, the elf maiden strode down the hill to the northern gate of Aughaire where hundreds of armoured hill-men and Rangers gathered.

“Lle desiel, oselle?” Milloth’s voice floated into her ear as he stopped beside her as he counted the arrows in his quiver.

“I am always ready, dear brother,” Eruviel responded as she smirked up at him. She finished fastening a blade crafted by her brother to the tip and back curve of her bow. With his golden hair pulled taunt into a tail behind his head, one could see they were related by their merry, green eyes, and their bright, sincere smiles. When she had been a child she envied Milloth his Vanyar traits inherited from their mother, one of them being his golden hair. Now she teased him that he made himself a greater target. Relatively short for an Eldar, standing at five-foot-ten Eruviel delighted in her ability to vanish into shadows and meld into the crowd of hooded men.

The Noldor lord towered over Eruviel by more than a foot, and this morning he grinned at her like she were a child. “You look fair today, Eruraviel. You still retain all the grace of your youth,” Milloth said, chuckling affectionately. “I do not know how you manage it in a place like this. For some reason I am reminded of our first hunt,” he said as he brushed her rich brown braid off her shoulder.

Eruviel smiled at him and pulled the braid back to hang past her neck. “You forget, yaaraer, that I brought in the greater catch that day.” Lifting his arm up she cinched a loose buckle on his armour till it grew taunt. “Such sentiment is unlike you, brother. Unfortunately, today we do not hunt among the blossoming trees and evergreens of our home.”

“No,” he said grimly, his deep voice filling with concern. “Are you sure you should come today? You have earned a name for yourself amongst our friends a foes. The Angmarim, I am sure, will be searching for you.”

The Ranger Cade stopped by Eruviel’s other side, wordlessly nodding to her as their eyes met for a moment. He then handed her a small bundle of laced arrows. “Light and fire oil, brother,” she explained, catching Milloth’s curious look. Slipping the projectiles into a smaller, secondary quiver strapped to her back she moved in step with Milloth and the others as they began to march down the hill.

— — — — —

“Cover the left flank!” came the orders amidst the roar of battle.

Not wasting time to respond, Eruviel wrenched her blade out of an Angmarim High Priest and dashed north to answer the command. She moved freely amid the ranks, aiding where ever help was needed. The wind had picked up, swirling clouds of grey dust through the lines of warring soldiers. Her long, dark lashes protected her eyes from the dirt as she dodged thrown implements and shot down wargs in her path. The enemies of the Free-People had grown strong, but thanks to Milloth’s foresight their lines had held and a change in tact kept losses to a minimum. Arriving on the far left side of their lines, Eruviel loosed a volley of laced arrows into the enemy as they ran forward to meet the fierce blades of the hill-men.

As the last Angmarim fell she turned to rejoin Aloeer and Cade at the front when a strange cry carried across the field. The sound brought her heart into her throat. It came again, louder, clearer. “By the Valar,” she spat, cursing under her breath as she shot forward. If her features were not hardened enough from battle, her eyes now gleamed, blazing a cold fire from under her smokey green hood. All sound faded from her ears except for the frightening cry. Weaving across the battlefield she bounded atop the impaled body of an orc and leaped over the front lines. Ignoring the alarmed shouts from behind her, Eruviel sprinted up a slab of rock and vaulted high into the air.

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Drawing her bow in-motion she saw a small boy curled up on the ground at the base of the large stone. Loosing three arrows into the advancing enemy she dropped to the ground, putting herself between the injured child and the dozen Angmarim and orcs. Raising herself up to her full height, she threw off her hood and released her last two arrows, downing two of the dozen before they could react to attack her. Unsheathing her sword she wielded it in one hand, using the bladed end of her bow as an off-hand spear.

Letting out a terrifying cry of pent-up energy and rage, Eruviel spun into the first attackers, hacking down the ten with unnatural ease, and turned to greet more of the enemy. How dare they, she fumed. She ignored the child’s blood-red robes and the long black knife he clutched. The monsters!

Another wave of enemy drew within her reach. Eruviel forgot herself as she danced through the orcs and Angmarim that surrounded her. Slicing through their numbers she turned off her thoughts, not liking the dark analogies her mind made in the heat of battle. Black mud — not dust clung to the bottom of her boots as she whirled from one foe to the next. The only graces she allowed herself were to glance back to the boy, making sure he still lived.

A wicked, garbled voice cried out as the Angmarim leader of Fasach-falroid rushed her from behind. Thrusting her sword into the head of a warg she pivoted around, ripping one of her arrows from a fallen foe, and, whispering a blessing to ignite the light-oil, pierced the corrupt man in the heart. It was only then that Eruviel realized that there were no more foes attacking her. Hill-men and Rangers ran around her and the scattered mounds of her quarry. The Angmarim had finally been routed.

Turning back towards the boy she saw that he still laid on the ground one hand grasping his black blade, the other clutching his leg. The blade wavered as the child turned to point it at Milloth who approached from the side, Cade following close behind.

Eruviel intercepted her brother, putting a hand firmly on his chest to stop his progression. “No, Milloth. Leave him be,” she said quietly.

“He is an Angmarim, oselle. I cannot suffer you this.”

“You will suffer me this, brother,” she replied, her voice alarmingly fierce. Searching her face for a moment, Milloth nodded, relenting. Giving her shoulder a squeeze, he turned to rejoin the main force. Meeting Cade’s gaze that was all shock and admiration, the man gave her a small smile and a curt nod before turning to guard her back.

Eruviel’s eyes flickered over the landscape before they finally settled back on the boy. The child could not have been older than ten, though he looked half that age. Shaggy, dirty brown hair fell over his amber eyes. Eruviel noted that they were not dilated, nor were they blood-shot, though he stared at her openly with a fearful awe. Filthy and half starved, the boy looked to her like any other child would have if trapped in a nightmare. His knife was now aimed at her, though his arms shook more now than before.

“Please, kill me.” His trembling words sounded through parched lips.

Shocked, Eruviel looked down at the boy for a minute. His amber eyes seemed to drink in the sight of her, and Eruviel wondered if he had ever seen an Eldar before. Slowly lowering herself to kneel before him, she inclined her head so that he could see all of her face, the knife’s tip hardly a foot from her throat. “Why would I kill you, little one?”

The boy frowned, his still-wide eyes filling with tears. “I am a servant of the Witch King who rules these lands. This is all the world is . . . e-except for you. P-please, I don’t want to go where you have sent my father.” The child glanced past her to the fallen Angmarim Captain.

Eruviel let out a sharp breath. The moisture that had gathered in the corners of her eyes reflected light from the partially cleared sky. “Little one, I will not kill you,” she said softly, all of the usual warmth of her voice returned. Slowly extending out her arms, she gingerly closed her palms over the knife’s hilt, unnerved by how cold the boy’s hands were. He let her take the blade, and his arms fell limp at his sides.

“B-but, I will be fed to the wargs if I return,” he whimpered fearfully. His eyes stared up at her, tears pouring down his filthy face. “They call you the Lady of Mercy. I beg you. I-I think . . . maybe if I let you kill me . . . maybe your demo- your gods of light will listen to you.” He clawed at the rock behind him, pulling himself up in spite of what Eruviel suspected to be a broken leg. “You don’t think I deserve it?” the child managed as he sobbed, his eyes flashing with a familiar fury. “I can kill just as well as you, b-but I’ve killed your p-people, not m-mine. Lots of them!” The boy choked on his words as he struggled for breath, his angry attempt to clear his eyes of hot tears failing.

Eruviel slowly reached out her hands, tenderly unclasped the pin below his neck, and pulled the filthy red cloak off of him. Her lower lip trembled when he did not pull back from her. “What is your name, little one?”

“Ge’bar,” said the boy, his face twisted with confusion as he watched her clean the blood from her sword off on his cloak.

“Hmm,” she exhaled, sniffing to keep her own tears in check. Sheathing her sword she tossed the soiled cloth over her shoulder. “We shall have to find you a new name,” she said, smiling kindly at Ge’bar.

“I . . . I don’t –“

“I am responsible for you now. Do you understand this?” Eruviel asked seriously.

Ge’bar looked over to Cade who still stood guard several feet away. “Yes. I understand,” he said, the glimmer of hope in his eyes sucking the air from Eruviel’s lungs. He glanced at her sword almost hungrily.

Shaking her head she offered a hand to the child. “Can you walk?”

Bewildered, the boy looked down to his leg and shook his head, his lower lip quivering. “No.”

She stood and moved half of a step closer. “I know a good healer who can take care of that leg, if you will let me carry you.”

Ge’bar hesitated drawing back for a moment before nodding his consent. Careful not to cause undo pain to the boy, she lifted him in her arms, her left forearm bracing his broken limb well enough so that she could run. It took a minute for the boy to relax, as if he had not been carried since before the time of memory. Cade ran before them to ensure her safe passage, occasionally picking off a straggling enemy.

“After . . . after you heal my leg, then will you . . . ?” asked Ge’bar as he began to relax, drawing closer to her as she bore him across the barren field.

“No, little one. Not I, nor anyone in my company shall kill you.” Eruviel chuckled softly. A stream of tears blew back from the corners of her eyes as she ran. “I shall teach you the quality of mercy.”

The “Mercenary’s” Return

In The Pony

“YOU!” A familiar voice shouted at her from across the room.

So, the mercenary returns, Eruviel mused with a smirk. Retrieving her wine glass from the bar she turned, taking a thoughtful sip, and met the glare Threz sent her way with an arch of her brow.

You,” he spat as he hobbled across the room, brushing past the bard and taking a swing at her head with his crutch. “This is all your fault!”

Eruviel frowned slightly as she watched the knob of the crutch sail past, inches from her face. “What am I being blamed for, my friend?” Glancing down, a flicker of concern passed through her eyes as she surveyed the foot that he favored.

Threz growled and jabbed his crutch at her again. “Talking me into doing something stupid and heroic! That’s whats what!” He took a breath and looked around the room, before adding quietly. “Okay, so it’s not really your fault but still . . . I’m ticked.” He ordered a meal and drink and then waved her over as he limped off to a far table.

Eruviel stared after the man, lost for words. Unable to contain herself she burst out a merry laugh and followed after Threz. Shaking her head and smiling, Eruviel sat herself down on a bench across the table from him. Taking a drink of her cider she shot him a curious look. “So you were heroic and blame me? I would think that would be something you would want to take credit for yourself,” she said, grinning.

Threz gingerly propped his bad leg to one side. “My foot is broken,” he said matter-of-factly. “I had to lay in bed for three days in Trestlebridge after they fished me out of the river.” He shook his head and let out a deep sigh. “You didn’t even flinch when I almost knocked you over the head. The nerve . . . took all the rage right outta me.”

Doing her best to keep back a grin she said, “You are fortunate to have only broken a foot, my friend. And three days . . . you do recover rather quickly.” Eruviel swirled the liquid in her glass. “I did not think that you would actually strike me,” she added casually. Her eyes narrowed slightly, giving him a knowing look before continuing. “When did you return to Bree?”

“Got here earlier today,” said Threz quietly. “Nellie found some exceptional herbs to help me out and I made my way back as soon as that stubborn woman would let me climb on my horse.”

Eruviel nodded her head curtly. “She is a very kind woman, and very skilled at healing. Nellie did right to keep you here.” She then chuckled and raised her glass towards Threz. “You would have been more angry with me, and we cannot have that.” She knew all about the herbs . . . about his whole ordeal, actually. The healer in Trestlebridge, Nellie, had sent her a message as to Threz’s condition after overhearing the man quietly complaining about the elf. The medicine was from the Lady Cwendlwyn, originally meant to help dull the pain and aid in the healing of Eruviel’s own broken bones. Her ribs were mending swiftly enough that she sent half of the pouch of herbs north with her response. Threz had done the people of Trestlebridge a great service, so it was the least she could do for him. Watching him dig at his dinner she hoped that Nellie had indeed kept silent about the medicine and the letters.

Threz glared up at her, leaning forward. “So after you left Trestlebridge, I went and checked out the orc camp. Just to take a look and maybe pick off a good nine or ten of them. That was my plan. But I found some rope bridges that lead to a larger camp. Massive.” He lowered his voice. “There must have been at least a hundred. And they had . . . siege towers.” Threz rested his forehead in one hand. “If — if I’d been on a job, thinking business, I never would have been so stupid as to risk my life but . . . I just –I,” the man stammered, obviously frustrated. “I snuck in and set fire to some of the towers. Nearly got killed before I could jump into the river and escape.”

Eruviel ‘s smile vanished. “I had heard rumors of this. It seems as if their numbers increase every time a band of fighters or soldiers clean the camp out. Did you see how many siege towers?” She set her wine glass down and pursed her lips as she mulled over the new information.

Threz looked up at her. “Maybe five. And a ballista. I wasn’t thinking at the time. I panicked and thought they were going to be used against Bree. But that doesn’t make any sense. First off, they’d never get them across the trestlespan, they’re too big, and second, Bree is surrounded by a hedge. It’d be far easier to just burn it to the ground!” Threz shook his head as he leaned back in his seat. “Either they are bound for somewhere else, or there must be another route to Bree that I haven’t thought of. Something farther east perhaps.”

Valar, where do they all come from? Her eyes drawing back to the present she nodded her head in agreement. “I presume those would most likely be used against Esteldin, though I do not doubt that the fighters there already know of the threat.” She looks up with a frown. “If Bree were to be attacked it would most likely come from the south or east. The advantage at this point in time is that Bree-land is swarming with soldiers and fighters wielding thirsty blades.” Looking around the busy common room she took note of those who wore blades, who didn’t, and those who she felt certain had them hidden on their person.

Threz bobbed his head thoughtfully, “I do not yet know Estilden, but you do not seem worried abou-” He breaks off and slams a fist on the table. “But that’s not the point! The point is, that . . . that . . . this isn’t my war. I’m not getting involved unless I’m paid to!” He crosses his arms and looks away. “If I’d been thinking about that I wouldn’t have wound up in that river, and broken my foot going over that waterfall!”

Eruviel quietly assessed the man for a moment. He reminded her of dozens of men, good warriors every one of them, who failed to turn a cold shoulder. So much for being a mercenary, she thought kindly, her face calm and unchanged. He has not been hardened so much by the world to simply take advantage of others misfortune. I do hope it stays that way. “And what were you thinking, Threz?” she asked, reaching to pick her glass back up.

Threz put his head down on the table for a moment. “I’m thinking that until my foot heals I’ll be relegated to jobs like catching turtles for some cook on the other side of town or something like that,” he said with dismay. “How do you do it Eruviel?” he asked. “You’ve been here healing for weeks! How do you pass the time!? Of course . . . you are an elf. I guess you are blessed with greater patience than I.”

Her mouth curved up with a sympathetic smile. “Some times I question the capacity of my patience. What do I do? I have friends to drink and laugh with, I have a roommate that I worked to keep alive in spite of my wounds . . . . I sneak out of town when I know my healer is not present,” she then smirked, “and the last few days I have taken very long naps.” Oh, blessed sleep!

It was Threz’s turn to frown. “Friends would be nice to help pass the time, I guess. Although, suppose they ask me to help them with something for free — ah, well, I reckon for friends only it would be worth it . . . .”

Eruviel ‘s mouth widened and she tossed her head back, letting out an amused laugh. “That is the thing about friends, they should never cost anything. It is a free and equal exchange of camaraderie and respect.” She then wrinkled her nose slightly at the man, her eyes sparking with amusement. “I do hope this conversation is free of charge.”

Threz smiled a little mischievously. “It is. I didn’t think to charge you before passing on the info regarding the towers . . . my loss I suppose.” He looks around. “Guess you are right. I haven’t had a friend since I left the Dale-lands. Before then actually. Those what didn’t die fighting orc raids left to join an army or explore the world. Guess I was the last one out the door.”

Eruviel nodded. “I can understand that.” She smiled encouragingly over the rim of her glass. “Though, you did step out of the door. Many never make it that far.”

‘”And look where it landed me! Limping around Bree with a broken foot!”‘

“That broken foot is simply a welcoming gift!” she chuckled.

Threz’s face turned serious for a second. “From now on I’m only going to participate in this war if it’s a paid job. Or for a friend. But I never said that last part!”

Eruviel nodded, feigning innocence. “You never said what?”

Threz took a deep swig from his mug and set it down hard, “Darn right!”

Eruviel raised her glass only to find it empty. Glancing to it with disapproval she looked to Threz and rose from her seat. “Pardon me for a moment.” Walking to the bar she stopped beside Forthogar who stood enjoying his own mug of cider. For a moment she wished she were not preoccupied. She had missed Forth’s company in the midst of the past weeks turmoil. Waiting for Barliman to refill her wine glass she noted his combed hair, and that he looked a little less world-weary than he had before. Making tentative plans to meet up later she gave him one more warm smile before walking back to the table. The poor, injured Threz still sat on his bench, though he appeared to be falling asleep over his dinner plate.

Glancing around the room as she sat back down she wondered where Anya found herself that night — anticipating another merry eve before the hearth at home, laughing with Eirikr and speaking of a more hopeful tomorrow.

(This conversation was taken from in-game RP and edited for tense and exposition.)

What The Rangers Learned

Eruviel remembers.

Milloth owes me dearly, Eruviel thought grimly. She had been fighting in Angmar three months ago, until Milloth had sent her to join the troop of Rangers in his stead. She did not mind men, but half of those in the company were young and fairly inexperienced. Commander Aloeer, a friend of many years, had kindly received her, keeping a watchful eye out for her as she worked with the few Rangers who lacked skill with a bow as well as a certain level of maturity.

Leaning against a tree, her dark green hood having fallen half way off her head, she waited for the last of the men to finish bathing at the river. She had become painfully aware of the forty rangers that surrounded her, some letting her be, some ignoring her, and some studying her for whatever reason. It had been a hot summer and with the company making their way north the men poked fun at her for continuing to wear her heavier armour and cloak. A few of the older Rangers had met her before and they kept respectful relations, but a good number of the men had begun to throw names at her. They meant no harm, she was sure, in their ignorance of the Eldar as they discussed whether she had a body at all, or what she might be hiding from the world — as if their off-colored and derogatory references were supposed to get a reaction out of her. Unfortunately, her silence only seemed to encourage them.

“Artis,” said a man walking past her. She looked up to see Cade, Aloeer’s second in command whom she had fought beside before. He had more of the look of a Southron to him, and several times Eruvial had heard him quiet the others when their joking had gone too far. “You’re up,” her jerked his head towards the river. “Aloeer made sure no one would lurk.” He offered a kind, yet slightly amused smile. Nodding curtly, she stood, returned the smile and made her way into the woods.

The camp stood only a short distance from the river bank. Whatever enemy that might have been withing a league of the camp had been hunted down and killed. Thus they were granted the rare luxury of bathing in the clean, crystal river that flowed east from the elf havens in Lindon.

“There you are,” said an older Ranger, pushing of off the tree he had been leaning on to approach her.

“You need not wait for me, Aloeer. I do not need to bathe.” She glanced over her shoulder towards the camp.

The man shook his head, giving her his best fatherly look. “I will wait here watching the camp till you have finished.” He walked back the tree, taking a towel from a branch and tossed it to her.

Eruviel narrowed her eyes at him as she caught the rough cloth, a smile sneaking out one side of her mouth. “Thank you, Ada.” She hesitated for a moment before walking past the Ranger Commander into a small clearing, her eyes hungrily fixed on the shimmering river. Shedding her cloak, Eruviel unclasped her armour piece by piece, setting it aside. After a moment’s thought she hung her bow and quiver on the branch nearest the water and laid her belt with its daggers on the edge of the bank. Shifting her thin, white tunic around her she had just dipped one foot into the river when she heard Aloeer cough from his post.

“What are you doing, my friend?” The man asked looking back at her.

“Why are you looking, mellon?” Eruviel arched a brow at him.

The man narrowed his eyes to her as if to say, “Really?” Chuckling, Aloeer looked her over in the manner she had seen him and many others do to their own daughters. “It’s mid-summer, Eruviel. Take that blasted tunic off and enjoy yourself. We won’t have this luxury in a few weeks.”

Eruviel frowned at him then looked down at herself as he turned away and crossed his arms over his chest. Why did she feel embarrassed? She looked back to the camp, then again to the river. A grin spread across her face as she walked back to the river’s bank, the blanket of pine needles cushioning each step. Reaching up she began to unlace her tunic, her bright green eyes surveying the land around her. Confident that there were none elsewhere she timidly let the garment fall to the ground, the only covering over her thin, toned body being strips of cloth wrapped around her chest, and a white loincloth-like undergarment that fastened around her hips.

The river stretched wider at this spot, with round, smooth, multi-colored pebbles carpeting the riverbed. Summer water swirled around her feet, embracing her as she moved further in. Fifteen feet out the river finally rose to her waist, and a few steps further, the lazy current splashed up onto her face. Pushing off she dove under the surface, eyes open, light simmering through the crystal blue water. Evergreen forests blanketed the landscape, and she felt quite at home. She could see quite a ways both up and down stream, and Eruviel forgot her worries and stress, the dirt, sweat and sadness washing away.

It had not been long, possibly twenty minutes of swimming and bathing when Eruviel suddenly felt ill at ease. Finding her footing she stood, chest deep near the far bank, her eyes narrowed — searching. The world seemed too still.

Something flashed in the brush and before she could react a goblin lept out of the bushes at her, screeching at the top of its lungs. Falling atop of her she wrestled with the creature as they both plunged to the bottom of the river. Her hands held it’s wrists, it’s arms short enough that it’s gnashing teeth could not reach her. She dared not let go for a moment in attempt to snap the fiends neck, her eyes taking note of the goblin’s claws and the black dagger at its waist. Her lungs screaming for air, she kicked her feat along the river bottom in a desperate attempt to get to the other side.

Bursting out of the water the goblin commenced its screaming, still thrashing violently. She could see her belt and weapons on the river bank not ten feet from her. The creature wrenched one arm free, and as Eruviel swung it around and over her head towards the shore the goblin’s claws grazed her right shoulder. Not stopping, she sprung forward, sprinting through the water at the same time the goblin caught its footing and began to run back at her, it’s crude weapon drawn. Leaping out of the water, never stopping as she pulled her daggers free from their sheaths, the elf-maiden slashed out as she passed the goblin, skidding to a stop not five feet further. She rose upright to look back, flinging strands of wet hair out of her face. The goblin fell over dead, deep gashes in its neck and side.

Smirking, she shook her head, flicking the black blood from her blades. “Disgusting creature,” she muttered as she checked the scratches on her shoulder. Her pale skin flushed from adrenaline, gleamed in the sunlight. Chuckling softly, glad that her few coverings had survived, she shifted her feet to walk back to the river when she stopped in her tracks. Looking up she saw all forty men stopped at the edge of the small clearing, swords drawn and jaws slack.

How incredibly inconvenient, she thought as she surveyed the shocked, wide-eyed faces. Her mouth slowly turned up in a smile. She could do nothing now to cover herself so there would be no reason for her to scurry and hide like a child. Standing straighter with her arms down at her sides, she lifted her chin with an air of authority. “I presume, now, that all of your questions have been answered.” Her eyes openly assessed the Ranger’s faces. Aloeer leaned against his tree, his arms still crossed over his chest. His faced creased with an amused grin and a look of approval. Cade stood a step behind him, looking down as he sheathed his sword. She noted that he made a point to not look back up. ” I had hoped for privacy,” she said, her tone warm as most of the men suddenly realized that they were staring, looking away, their faces red with embarrassment.

Aloeer turned towards the men. “You heard the lady. Get back to camp and make yourselves useful! She obviously needs none of your lousy protecting.” The men bowed their heads to Eruviel as they turned to leave, the younger ones more awkward, two of them retrieving the dead goblin and carrying it away. The few older Rangers gave her smiles similar to Aloeer’s. She could not resist letting out a quiet chuckle at seeing a handful of them hand Cade their coin pouches.

The last to leave, aside from Aloeer, Cade tossed a fatter purse towards her things. “I never thought I’d ever collect on that bet,” he said with a smirk, finally looking back up at her. “I beg your pardon, Eruviel.”

Shaking her head with a smile as he walked away she glanced to Aloeer, giving him a knowing look. “I will be just a few more minutes.” His laugh echoed through the trees as he turned once more to face away. Throwing her daggers down to stick into the earth, she walked back into the river.