“Have a safe trip, dearie!” called the cat lady of Bree.
“I will, Lady Bythia,” called Eruviel, If that is even your real name, she smirked. “May Iluvatar bless you,” Eruviel added with a smile as she shut the door quickly so as to not let the swarms of stray cats out onto the Stair. If the elven huntress ever desired a pet all she needed to do was visit the kind but odd woman’s home to expel the thought from her mind.
Hooking her wicker basket in the crook of her arm she started down the stone corridor. Since Anyatka had departed for Thorin’s Hall the day before, Eruviel had cleaned house and closed the last of her contracts. All that remained was to deliver a cart of hides to the tanner. Her armour had been to the smith, fresh arrows and spare bow strings filled her quiver, and sufficient provisions had been acquired for the long trip she and Eirikr had ahead of them. Sighing with an air of satisfaction she glided down a small series of steps leading into an alley only to have her senses suddenly assaulted.
She could nearly taste the smell of blood in the air and a feeling of anger and pain waft past her, riding on a humid, mid-day draft. Her gut twisted as she proceeded forward with care, her free hand moving instinctively to the dagger hidden in the folds of her skirts. A trail of dark red painting the cobbled ground showed the elf her path through the twists and turns in the alleys until it stopped in the darkness of a dead end. Leaning against the far wall a man sat drenched in blood, moaning quietly from pain.
Unclasping the strap that locked her dagger in place for the sake of safety she hurried towards the man sitting in a pool of blood, only to stop as she reached his feet. “What happened to you?” Eruviel asked quietly, sadness creeping into her voice.
The man did not respond, except for letting out another strained moan as he lifted his head to look at her. His eyes shone from behind the mask, burning with pain.
Eruviel rolled her eyes. You should leave him, she chastised herself. You know you should deliver him to the town watch. Stepping beside her masked man she knelt beside him, touching his arm as his eyes fluttered in a struggle to remain conscious. “You fool,” she said quietly. “What happened?”
The man drew a raspy breath. “I was attacked — by archers. I-I removed the arrows but. . . I passed out.”
She gave him a long, hard look. I should have known I’d see you once more before I left, but . . . . Reaching towards him she looked over his chest for entrance wounds. “Where did they hit you? And why have you not yet been to see a healer?”Eruviel scolded him, shooting the man a disapproving glare.
“My shoulder and . . . m–gah, my thigh.” He flinched as she reached towards him, attempting to brush her off.
Eruviel lightly slapped his hand away. “You did not answer my question,” she said sternly. “Why have you not seen a healer?” Pulling a towel from her basket she proceeded to tear it into strips. I cannot hand him over like this. Of all days to be unable to find Cwendlwyn. . . .
“I am wanted,” the man replied, his deep voice breaking as he drew a breath. “I do not want to get locked in a cell.” He looked up at her and tensed up as she drew close.
“You should not have pulled the arrows out,” said Eruviel, her harsh tone mixed with worry as she broke off a wicker braid from the edge of the basket with a little effort. “Bit down on this. I suppose we cannot have the Watch hearing you.”
The man clamped down on the braid, wincing as she began binding the wound on his leg. “W-Why are you helping me?”
Eruviel frowned as she tied a knot and moved to inspect the man’s shoulder. “Ask the Valar that. By all rights I should turn you in.” Pulling the collar of his jacket back she frowned at the wound. “You are fortunate. They are poor shots, whoever they were. If you give me trouble, I might ask about the amount of the bounty on your head,” she said, attempting a playful glare. She already knew how much he was wanted for. Threz would be disappointed that he missed out on a week’s worth of gold, she thought, smirking.
The masked man studied her as she worked, and catching his look she kept her own eyes lowered on her work. “I-I don’t get you,” he muttered. The fight had drained from him, for the moment at least, and in spite of her curiosity, she did not dare wonder what his gaze meant.
“I will be gone for several months. Seeing you like this puts me somewhat at ease.” A thought sprung into her mind and her eyes widened slightly as she plunged one of her blood-coated hands into her dress pocket. Rummaging, she pulled out a nearly empty vial. “I shall expect you to be grateful,” she grumbles, pulling the stopper out with her teeth. The last of Cwen’s concoction. Our trip better not end in tragedy because of this, she thought grimly. At least I still have Laerlin’s salve left.
“I am grateful,” he replied, his struggle to sound gruff obvious.
Eruviel noticed, as she poured the last few drops of ointment from the vial into the wound on his shoulder, that he held a soiled, crumpled piece of parchment in one hand, his thumb playing almost habitually over a tattered edge. “What is that?” she asked as she quickly bound up his shoulder. These wrappings will not do for long, and his wounds need cleaning, she thought ruefully.
“Wha–” the masked man’s question halted as his eyes flicked over to the parchment. Balling the paper up in his fist he shoved it angrily into his pocket. Even in the shadows she could see the faint glint of moisture that had gathered in his eyes.
Leaning forward to tie the temporary bindings she glanced once more at his hand before looking back, avoiding meeting his gaze. “May I ask you something,” she asked quietly.
The man nodded. “Yes?”
Sitting back on her feet Eruviel bit her lower lip in thought for a moment. “Why . . . why do you do it? Why do you kill them?”
Silence passed between them as the man looked away. “Because I have to . . . .”
“You keep telling me that. It is not reason enough.” Looking down at her blood covered hands she let out a small sigh before proceeding to wipe them off on the skirt of her wash-day dress.
The man’s shoulders trembled. Shocked at his response Eruviel averted her eyes as he raised his good arm to quickly wipe his face. “I made a promise,” he said quietly, his voice surprisingly steady, “a promise to my mother before she passed.”
“Do you need a moment?” she asked simply, her understanding smile genuine. And it all starts to make sense, Eruviel mused.
“I do not need a moment,” he huffed as he moved in a poor attempt to stand. A smile twitched at the corner of his mouth but quickly vanished.
Rising to her feet in one fluid motion, Eruviel hooked her basket in one arm and extended her other hand down to him. Finally meeting his blue, red-rimmed eyes she nodded, ignoring the moisture gathered in their corners. “Then give me your hand and I shall take you to your home. Your wounds need washing and you need rest,” she said matter-of-factly.
The man hesitated before taking her hand, giving her a hard look. “My house?”
“I just cleaned mine, and since I do not even know your name you can bleed on your own floor.” Nodding her head to the exit of the small dead-end she added, “I have a cart you can ride in. If we go now we will just miss the afternoon Watch.”
Setting his jaw as he leaned on her to help him walk he nodded sullenly. “Fine.”