To Dale: Small Progress

Eruviel sat leaning back against the stone pillar, twirling the arrow between her thumb and pointer finger with the fletching whisking against the pant of her left knee. She had already counted the stalactites hanging from the vaulted ceiling as well as the sparks that had floated up from their now smoldering fire. Several merchants and travelers still talked quietly a short ways away and she eavesdropped on their softly spoken conversations, wondering who best to join.

There were several dwarves headed to the Lonely Mountain, but few of them seemed . . . congenial enough for her to risk spending the time to earn their trust for them to open up to her. There was a stern, self-important merchant with a Gondorian accent who would be of no use to her, and then there was the Barding that appeared to be relatively new to the trade. Norlin had just bid the younger man good night and he sat quietly by his fire, staring thoughtfully into the flames. His accent was of Bree-land, and by the bits of conversation she had picked up, he had not been east of the mountains since he was an infant. This meant that all his knowledge would have come from his father.

Yes, he will do perfectly, she mused, sliding the arrow back into her quiver.  Eruviel thought of Threz, and wondered what sort of trouble he might have gotten himself into by now. Orome cover you, my bullheaded friend, she prayed with a smirk as she rose to her feet, pulling her plain woolen blanket around her shoulders. This might be her one chance to find out anything for the man.

Stepping over her bedding and carefully stacked armour she stopped when Eirikr grumbled and rolled over in his sleep. That was the tenth time in the hour alone that he had tossed. With their paced slowed, exhaustion was not so strong as to keep dreams from his sleep. A dark frown twisted the man’s face and his hands gripped at his blanket. She had only to guess at what haunting visage plagued him. Picking up a second blanket Eruviel draped it over him to ward off the cold and damp. Kneeling down beside him she gently placed her cool hand against his forehead. A wave of anger, hatred and fear washed through her mind as she touched him, but his uneven breaths soon steadied and his expression calmed. Pursing her lips as she studied him she wished for a moment that she were her brother. Milloth could have banished the nightmares for the night or reached inside Eirikr’s mind to speak as a reassuring voice of reason. She could only calm the storm for an hour or two. At least it was something.

Rising back to her feet she padded softly across the short distance to where the young merchant still sat, wide awake. Looking over at her as she drew near the man jumped to his feet, nearly tripping over his bedroll.

“I am sorry to startle you,”she said in a soft voice, smiling kindly a she offered a small bow. “My fire is nearly out and I did not wish to wake my traveling companion. Might I warm my hands over your fire?”

“By all means,” beamed the man with an embarrassed smile, rubbing the back of his head with his left hand. “I-I would be glad of the company.”

– – –

“Is it possible for us to move any slower,” Eirikr huffed under his breath.

Eruviel reigned in her goat, renamed in honor of the friend it ever reminded her of. “I will ask Brogur. Hopefully he has a satisfactory answer,” she replied, steering Falros around Eirikr’s mount to walk past Norlin’s wagon.

Eirikr nodded curtly, following. “Anything is better than standing here.”

Trotting past one wagon after another, seeing by the light radiating from the lanterns Eruviel raised a hand in a wave as they rode by the gentleman from the previous night. “Good morning to you, Master Tannith!”

“Good day to you too, Lady ‘Raviel!” he called after her, switching his reigns to one hand to better wave back.

Eruviel caught the look Eirikr shot her. “Do not be so swift to doubt me, my friend,” she said back to him with a small smile. Last nights dream must have been bad indeed for him to look this upset. Pulling Falros back to a slow walk beside the lead wagon she bowed at the waist to the old dwarf. “Master Brogur! What is it that holds us up?”

“Goblin scouts ahead. Or so our escorts tell me.” Hesitating, he looked from Eruviel to Eirikr, than back. “I might’ve asked if ye be willin to aid some, but yer a traveler this time my friend.”

Eirikr gave her an even look and the two nodded in synch to each other. “We will be glad to lend our aid, Master Brogur.”

Falros turned his shaggy black head to give Eruviel a disapproving look as she tied him to the back of the lead wagon. “Do not scowl at me, mellon. I will find you a pint of ale when we get to the Twenty-first Hall.” The goat’s golden eyes narrowed at her for a moment before he turned his head to face forward, walking along with an apathetic air.

Eirikr tied his goat next to hers, removing his bow from the saddle. Walking behind him as they outpaced the wagon train, Eruviel counted to make sure he was not lacking arrows. Pulling her odd one out she stuck it in his quiver and stepped up beside him as they moved into a jog. She preferred this, the running side by side.  Their footfalls were hardly the sound of a breath as they sped off into the dark of the stone gallery. Hearing the rumbling of dwarvish conversation ahead of them Eirikr was the one to pick their pace. Slowing into a cautious walk as the two nocked arrows to their bowstrings.

“So who is the merchant you greeted earlier?” asked Eirikr, looking to the right and her to the left as they passed through an intersection of halls.

“Jase Tannith,” said Eruviel quietly, her eyes piercing through the darkness ahead of them. “He has never been to Dale and is taking his wagon of goods to the Lonely Mountain. Everything he knows he learned from the family trade. His father moved their family west ten years ago.”

Eirikr arched a brow at her.

No,” she said firmly.

Eirikr skewed his mouth as his hand faintly tightened on his bowstring. “What did you tell him?” She could hardly make his face out in the dark, but his tone unsettled her.

Stopping, Eruviel reached out a hand and caught his arm. “I told him my amlisse, Eruraviel, which I have not gone by for seven hundred years, assuming I should take such precautions. I told him I had grown tired of fighting other people’s wars and wanted to see the world before I sailed.” Releasing him she moved to walk ahead. “I also told him that you tagged along because you felt sorry for me.”

Eirikr snickered, taking a small step before stopping. “Not in the slightest,” he muttered, drawing his arm back. Eruviel glanced over to where he aimed and nodded. Two sets of eyes blinked in the dark, one higher than the other. They loosed at the same time. A whispered thwap sounded from where her arrow hit, followed by a garbled growl and a heavy thud from Eirikr’s shot.

“Humph,” Eruviel muttered, blowing a stray strand of hair out of her eyes. “You knew which one was the warg, did you not?”

Eirikr nodded. “Took me a minute, but you talked long enough . . . .”

Eruviel smirked as they drew fresh arrows and continued on towards the light of the dwarf captains lantern. “I’m impressed,” she said simply.

“Now you are just patronizing.”

“Only because you cannot take a simple compliment,” she shrugged. “Either you are improving, or you were exceptionally good before your shoulder was wounded.”

Eirikr raised his right hand, flexing the fingers that not long ago had refused to respond to his bidding. “We will find out soon enough.”

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