To Have Known Better (part 2)

As the healers carried the unconscious Arathier into a hut Eruviel found a secluded corner of the camp not too far from him and sank wearily to the ground. Downing the last of her water she leaned her head back against the cliff wall with a heavy sigh and closed her eyes.

Minutes passed, and she did not move till the pain in her torn shoulder forced her eyes open. Reaching for her satchel she rifled though its contents until she found what she had been looking for. Pulling out the small jars of healing ointments she made a mental note to pay Cwendlwyn extra the next time. Eruviel struggled with the lid of one jar for a moment before setting it back down with a sigh. Her hands shook. Taking a deep breath she focused on calming herself. Calm, Eru. You will not do anyone any good if you cannot hold it together. But she was unsure if she could. It was not the memory of the citadel, nor even her battle with Mornenion that shook her. It was the horror she felt when Arathier first turned around to smile wickedly at her; it was when he had killed the hill-man and nearly crushed her arm. It wasn’t him. Not really, she kept telling herself.

The sound of footsteps brought her out of her thoughts and she looked up to see a young boy of the tribe, maybe thirteen years of age standing a few steps away. “I-I’m sorry, but I was looking for my brother,” they boy said, hope in is eyes. “He went with you. Do you know where he is?”

Eruviel blinked, then quickly took control of he expression. Of all my fortunes, she thought miserably. “What man is your brother, young one?”

“The one with really dark hair, Rainoth,” answered the boy.

Eruviel pulled herself to her feet, shaking her head. “I am sorry,” she said mournfully as she bowed at the waist. The vision of Arathier slitting the hill-man’s throat played over in her mind, and she shivered. “Your brother did not make it. Forgive me, I could not save him from the Numenorean.”

The boy’s eyes filled with tears as he shook his head. “No . . . NO!” he shouted, balling his fists. “This is your fault!”

Eruviel kept her head bowed. “I had him scouting a distance from the tower in an attempt to ensure his safety. He died honorably.”

“You left him behind?!” he shrieked. “That close to Carn Dum?!” Turning on her before she could speak he shoved at her wounded shoulder, his clenched fists shaking. “I hope he dies,” the boy spat bitterly, tears streaming down his cheeks. “I hope he rots in front of your eyes.”

“What is going on?” growled Daran, approaching the two of them.

About to crack, Eruviel swallowed a sob and stood straighter at Daran’s stern voice. “Nothing, my friend. The boy was just leaving.”

Giving her a hateful glare the boy ran away before Daran could stop him.

Watching the boy, Daran narrowed his eyes before turning back to her. “I’ll have to be harder on him in training,” he said firmly, motioning to her to sit. “No one speaks to you like that.”

Eruviel lowered herself back down to the ground, shaking her head. “Leave him be. He has good reason to be upset.”

“So does everyone else,” Daran replied as he knelt and looked from her shoulder to the jars. “Which one?”

Eruviel pointed out the proper jar before attempting to remove the broken pauldron. Daran batted her hand away and started in on the buckles. “Have the healers said anything?”

“He will live,” he said quietly, setting the piece of armour aside. “But the . . . thing inside of him has them worried.”

Eruviel winced as he pulled her shirt from the tender flesh and poured the ointment over it. “I do not know anyone alive who could get the spirit out of him,” she said sadly. “What do I do, Daran?” she asked quietly, not meeting his gaze. “I don’t want to loose him.”

Daran paused in the middle of wrapping her wound. “So you went through with it,” he said in a careful, neutral tone.

“Yes,” she nodded. “If he continues to sleep I need to leave him in your care. I need to head out for a few days. There is a party I mean to meet up with.”

“By the Valar, Eru,” Daran sighed. Keeping his stern gaze locked on her he nodded curtly. “You do what you think is best.”

Meeting his look she nodded and extended up her mostly good arm for him to help her up. “I will. Thank you, Daran. I shall find you later, but for now I need to be with him.”

– – – – – – – –

Arathier had woken. He was more quick to anger than usual, but he had still been himself. She could see the shadow in his eyes, waiting, watching. He had fumed about Daran and a dozen other little things, but when he realized she had been wounded most of the fight had drained from him. Keeping her reluctance to herself she fell asleep beside him, knowing her presence calmed him.

Night lingered on and she stirred from her healing, meditative dream. Rolling onto her stomach she stretched her hand out to Arathier’s side of the bed. He was not there. Maintaining her slow, steady breaths she did not move; did not open her eyes as the rest of her emerged from slumber. She felt his eyes on her. No, not Arathier’s eyes . . . his eyes; the demon inside of him.

Sighing softly she finally drew her outstretched arm back and tucked her hands comfortably under her pillow to where she had hidden a knife. The fact that she felt compelled to conceal it brought her guilt, but what else could she do? Closing her eyes she pretended to sleep. For, though he stood over her, watching her for the better part of an hour, he did not move towards her. When he finally turned and walked away her relief was short lived. She heard him draw his dagger as he walked out into the night. She knew where he was going.

Sliding out of bed she slipped her feet into her boots and took up her bow and an arrow before following.  Her steps silent, she shadowed him to Daran’s tent and as he put his blade to her old friend’s neck she swiftly drew her bow, setting the tip of her barbed arrow against his cheek. I have to snap him out of it before Daran kills him, she thought grimly.

“Drop it,” she growled, kicking her foot against the bed to wake the sleeping hill-man. “Arathier, I know you are in there. You must take back control.”

Arathier it hissed and spun around. “You won’t do it –” he began, his voice sounding demonic. But before he could finish Eruviel relaxed her pull on her string and punched him across the face, her wounded right arm screaming from the pain. The demon shouted and reached for her as he fell back but, having shot upright, Daran took hold of Arathier’s wrists and forced him to his knees before he could recover.

Even as Eruviel lit the lantern the black faded from Arathier’s eyes. His hands trembling, he wrenched himself away from Daran and scrambled to his feet. “Stay away from me!” he demanded, trembling as he retreated to the far corner of the hut.

Exchanging looks with Daran she looked up to meet Rath’s desperate gaze. “You are alright now. Did I hurt you?”

Arathier’s eyes grew wide as he started at her, bewildered. “Did you hurt me?! Eru, I don’t care if you did!” He retreated a step as she advanced one. “I said stay away from me,” he growled in a more natural tone. “I refuse to hurt you too.” His eyes then flicked over to Daran.

The hill-man’s eyes narrowed for a moment, but catching a glare from Eruviel he shook his head and gave Arathier a sad smile. “You came close,” he said, forcing a chuckle as he put a hand to his throat.

Arathier shook his head, his shoulders drooping.”I am leaving. Just . . . just for a while, Eruviel. I cannot risk hurting you. I need to learn about what is going on, and how I can stop it.”

“Rath, you leaving will solve nothing!” she insisted, making an effort to keep her voice steady. You can’t leave me too! “You cannot beat this thing alone. Please . . . please let me help you.”

Arathier nodded, the corners of his eyes welling. “I cannot hurt you Eruviel. What if this happens when you are sleeping like tonight? I could not live with myself if something were to happen. Especially if I was the one who caused it.” He finally walked over to her, his eyes searching hers for hope as he cupped a hand over her cheek. She wanted to pull back. She wanted to slap his hand away. But as much as she wanted to, she didn’t.

Searching his eyes she nodded and brushed a kiss on his cheek. “I do not . . . no. I understand,” she said numbly as she stepped back, diverting her eyes when she could no longer bear to lie through them. “Be careful, Arathier.”

 – – – – – – – – –

Eruviel bit back a wince as Daran fit her left pauldron back on. “I am so terribly late,” she muttered, all emotion drained from her voice. She had blocked every thing out. No . . . just Arathier. The pain was too much. His final words had fallen upon deaf ears. He had hugged her one last time, and she had not returned it. Then he was gone.

Daran purposefully tugged sharply on the strap as he tightened it under her arm, meeting her glare as he checked to make sure he had not missed a piece of armour. “You should not go, Eru. I am sure your friends have things handled without you. Dragons were never your specialty.”

Smirking she glanced to the road where Arathier had disappeared down an hour before lowering her eyes. “I told them I would be there . . . then all of this.”

He handed her her bow and reached over her shoulder to count the arrows in her quiver. “I don’t like it when you get like this,” said Daran darkly. “I cannot pull you out of it like I did when Cade –“

“I’ll be fine,” she interjected sharply. Sighing she looked up at her tall, old friend. “I won’t let myself fall that far. Not this time.”

Searching her eyes, Daran nodded curtly. “Are you sure you do not need to rest a bit? Meditate on something else to calm yourself?” he attempted.

That is almost funny, coming from you. Cinching her sword belt tightly around her waist she turned and began to walk north. “No. I need to kill something.”

(Nearly all dialogue taken from in-game RP and edited for tense and exposition.)

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