Somehow, despite everyone’s best efforts to stay together, the shadowed spirit forest managed to separate the Wayfarers. Eruviel did not look back, nor did her keen gaze linger long on her surroundings. Clearly, this forest was meant to show someone the darkest aspects of one’s inner self. At the very least, it intended to torture witless wanderers with lies and temptations. But so far, nothing had bothered Eruviel. It almost seemed as if the forest couldn’t be bothered to care.
Her eyes almost always fixed ahead of her, the elf took advantage of being left alone by the forest to run towards her goal as quickly and quietly as she could. Memories flashed through her minds-eye. What could this forest counjur? Dead Rainion or Daran? Anyatka taken over by Faethril? Parmanen . . . Alagos . . . Damn it all, run faster. About her she could only see icy snow, and the smell of wet bark, and snow-patched boughs of pine filled her nostrils with every breath.
After a while, a small, silvery doe appeared between the trees. She stepped delicately through the snow, and paused as she saw Eruviel. Large, shivery ears swiveled back and forth as her black nose twitched.
Eruviel’s progression slowed as she caught sight of the doe. Unsure if it was a trick of the forest or a spirit of the realm, she dipped her head to it in a respectful bow to the graceful creature before continuing on.
The doe’s eyes followed Eruviel as she ran. After a moment, the doe began to follow. Like Eruviel, she left no footprints in the snow.
With a glance behind her, Eruviel sped back up to her original pace, aiming herself in the direction of the castle. It is just a doe. You are nearly there. Nothing can hurt you, she told herself. You have nothing to fear. Drawing a deep breath to fortify herself, she ran on, resisting the urge to look at the animal behind her.
The doe picked up the pace to match Eruviel’s gait. She remained close behind, her eyes fixed on the Elf.
Eruviel did not look back. Her pace did not change, but she did cast a cautious look into the woods around her.
“Wait!” someone cried in a soft, feminine voice. “Why are you running? I bring a joyful message for you!”
Eruviel faltered, slowing only slightly as she cast her eyes back towards the doe. “Was that you?”
The doe stared at her, dark eyes wide and sweet.”Yes,” said a voice from somewhere and nowhere.
Smiling slightly, she ran on. “I am running to get to my destination.” Thinking twice, Eruviel asked, against her better judgment, “What is this message you speak of?”
“Do you know the grim woodsman with the hair as red as berries?” asks the doe. “I am his dream guardian. He wished for me to bring you tidings.”The doe flicked her big ears, and gave Eruviel an earnest stare.
The Elf slowed to a jog. Keep on your guard. Belethil was beautiful too before we found out the truth. “I have not heard of the grim woodsman. What are these tidings?”
The doe trotted over to Eruviel, and nosed at her palm.”He says, ‘Eruviel, I am sorry for my anger. I know you were only protecting me and mine. I am tired of denying what I feel. When you return, come to me, and I will embrace you as I should have long ago. If we cannot have forever, then let us have the now.'”
“Wha — W-Who is this woodsman?” She asked, halting and turning to better face the doe. It will lie to you.
The doe nosed Eruviel again, and looked up at her.”Don’t you know? Isn’t it what you’ve wanted?”
Giving the deer a thoughtful smile, Eruviel nodded, suddenly understanding. “I see, and it is, but me wanting it, and him actually saying it are different things. Thank you, but I can wait in the hopes to one day hear such a thing from his own lips.”
“But you don’t have much time!” the doe urged. “He will be dead soon!”
Taken aback by the animal’s tone Eruviel retreated a step, and quickly shook her head. “He is safe in Bree. In comparison to me, perhaps, yes, he will die soon. I promise I will go see him once I return home.” You have been polite enough. Just smile and leave —
The doe advanced on her.”You’re going to lose him,” she urged. “If you don’t tell him, you will lose him to her.”
“I have told hi — Her?” Eruviel felt a twist in her gut. “Who is her?” she asked quietly. “Ninim?” Please, oh please, oh please say ‘Ninim’.
“No,” said the doe. “I can feel what he feels for her. He is going to ask her to marry him. He thinks it will be better, for flesh to wed flesh, to forget you like the memory that you are. His heart wants you, but if you don’t go to him, tell him, he will take her as he should take you!”
Eruviel took another step back, her still somewhat calm expression faltering. A wave of emptiness washed over her. Just like the pool. No one wants me, and those that do . . . no . . . NO. “I will take your words into consideration,” she said in an even tone. “Thank you for speaking with me.” With that she turned to resume her trek towards the castle, resuming her original pace.
This time, the doe did not follow. It just stared at her, its black eyes unblinking and suddenly terrible in their depth.
Moments later, the forest faded away quite abruptly, leaving Eruviel alone in the barren, snowy foothills beyond. Up above, on the highest peak, ghostly Veli-koti loomed. Skidding to a stop, the Elf gasped for breath, a steeled expression taking over her features as she looked back to the forests edge.
– – – – –
For the most part, the group remained quiet and withdrawn after the return to Suri-kyla. An hour has passed since their return. Abiorn’s relatively positive ending to trekking through the shadowed spirit forest gave her a measure of relief. Being back in the physical realm helped as well, but that only gave her enough strength to keep a small half-hearted smile on the surface.
Dear Abiorn. The look in his eyes told her he did not quite believe her when she said she would be all right. She wanted to tell him. She wanted to tell Fey, but how could she with so many others around? Five minutes of venting would have been enough . . . or a minute of tears and a hug. But some things were not so easily obtained, no matter how simple they seemed to be.
Cwen sat crying in Oendir’s lap, Vahan napped happily with his head in Abbi’s lap, and Dorsett and Atanamir had disappeared into some hidden corner of the Lodge. It was too much.
Excusing herself she retreated to her bedding, wrapped herself in a blanket, and disappeared beneath a layer of furs. She read through Anyatka and Eirikr’s letters, but even that did little to settle the storm of emotions within her. Rest. You need . . . Oh, by Orome, make it stop, she thought miserably as a dozen of whispered, tender voices from around the Lodge swarmed into her ears. Eruviel shuddered and retreated further beneath her blanket, but the whispers of love and promises did not stop. There was no escaping them. The Elf squeezed her eyes shut, gathered moisture escaping from their corners as she pressed the letters against her chest.
A minute passed, and Eruviel started and opened her eyes when a warm, wet tongue licked her cheek. Háno sat by her, his head tilted to one side, and soft, little puppy ears flopped in the same direction.
“Hey, there, little one,” she whispered in Sindarin, reaching out from under her covers to pet the wolf cub. “Where is your brother?”
Háno gave a quiet yip and moved to put his front paws on her face.
“Augh, no, I — we can play in the morning,” she muttered, moving him off and wiping tears from her eyes.
His flopping tail slowed. Ears lowering a bit, Háno made a small, concerned rumble under his breath. Glancing over his shoulder to where his brother slept, he then slipped beneath Eruviel’s blankets and curled up against her stomach.
More tears came. Háno licked her hand and she focused on his warmth, blocking everything out. Slowly, as she curled herself around the white cub, the twisted knot in her chest began to unwind. A night of rest and it will fade. You are stronger than this. They were just lies. You’ll be fine . . . . You’ll be fine.
(First part taken from rp-mail. Thank you Oendir for the great GM’ing!)