“I don’t know why I have ‘ta go with,” Ris grumbled as she spurred her horse to catch up with the Elf.
Riding a tall, black war steed that seemed to take his mistress’s outing far too seriously, Eruviel looked down at the young woman with an amused smile. “It’s my afternoon to give you lessons,” she responded as if to explain everything.
“Yeah, lessons,” Ris scoffed, “not a country ride. I have work at the forge to get done! There is nothing about this tha — HEEEY!” yelped Ris as Eruviel reached over to shove her. Unable to keep her balance, the young woman slid out of her saddle and tumbled to the grass on the side of the road.
“Hold, Eolir,” Eruviel muttered. The steed stopped on command, nickering in annoyance that his progression had been halted. “I can teach you all the footwork I know and run you through hours of drills, but it won’t do you a lick of good in a fight if you have no core strength.”
Glaring up at her pointy-eared companion, Ris scrambled to her feet. “I got plenty o’ core strength,” she grumbled.
A smirk curved up Eruviel’s face, and she let her mount continue on at a walk. “Then that’s the first lesson of the day: Use it.”
Retrieving her horse and hopping back into the saddle, Ris once again urged the animal into a canter to catch up. “Wait for . . . uugh, never mind,” she grumbled. “So where we goin’?”
“There is a farm down the road. A young friend there had me run an errand for him.” Eruviel sat back in her saddle and stretched her arms up over her head, trusting her mount to know the way.
“You’re running errands for human farm boys now? What kind of an Elf are you?” asked Ris, not bothering to hide her bewildered frown.
Eruviel only chuckled in response. Patting her right pant pocket as if to check for something, she then motioned ahead to where a small farmhouse amidst a grove of trees came into view. “We’re almost there.”
Fence posts rose out of the ground, framing in freshly plowed fields. Ris rode beside Eruviel, only doing a decent job of hiding her curiosity at the sound of children’s voices that reached them, and at seeing her Elven companion raised a hand to wave at the men sowing seed over the tilled earth.
“This is the Burns Farm, isn’t it?”
“It is,” said Eruviel as she guided them off the road and down the short lane. Seeing the visitors, several children ran into the hobbit-style farmhouse. “An unimportant family, by Bree-town standards, but an old and good one nonetheless.”
“I think I’ve been here before. There was a fire here a few –”
“Miss Eruviel!” interrupted a shaky, elderly woman’s voice.
“Yes,” muttered Ris, dismounting as Eru did. “This’ll most definitely improve my uppercut.”
Shooting the young woman a warning look, Eruviel only had to walk a few steps before a wrinkled old woman a foot shorter than her snatched her into a hug.
“By Ulmo, we’ve missed you!” the woman declared. Eruviel’s eyes widened as she was squeezed, and Ris hid a snicker behind a hand. “As skinny as ever — and you’re little friend’s as skinny as you! What’s with girls these days?! Skin and bones. Good thing you’re here! You will stay –”
“Lady Bea, really. We just stopped by to see Frank.” Eruviel quickly interjected, still caught in the elderly woman’s iron grasp.
“Frank?” asked Bea with surprise. “What about Frank? You don’t want Frank; such a silly boy. Come into the house and I’ll make you girls –”
“Bea, Bea, please forgive me, but we cannot stay long. I just need to talk with Frank for a minute.”
Bea huffed, but finally released the Elf. Ris took a cautionary step back as the woman’s sharp eyes turned her way. “What about? Not the cobbler’s daughter?”
“Something like that, yes, Lady Bea. But that’s Frank’s business.”
White brows meeting as she frowned, Bea turned towards the barn. “FRANK! YOU GOT VISITORS!” Ris winced, and Eru cringed as the woman’s sweet voice transformed into a thunderous shout.
Her mouth quivering as she held back a grin, Eruviel patted Bea on the arm. “We can go find him Beatrice. He’s probably busy with work.”
“Oh? All right then, sweetheart. You ‘n your friend run along,” encouraged Bea. Reaching up, she caught the Elf’s cheek with a fond pinch. “Do come back soon, though! And bring this nice young lady. She seems like a calm, quiet lass.” Giving Eruviel’s face a loving pat, Bea then turned to scuttle back towards the main house.
Ris hurried to walk with Eru as they made their way to the barn. “I don’t think anyone’s ever called me ‘calm’ and ‘quiet’ before,” she muttered as she glanced back after the old woman.
“Don’t get used to it.” Eruviel grinned as Ris stuck her tongue out at her.
“Ho! Eruviel!” called a young man who’d stepped out from the barn and into the bright sun.
“Hello, Frank!” Eruviel responded. Approaching him, she then motioned to Ris. “I don’t know if you’ve met before, but Frank, this is my friend Risala Thorne.”
“I’ve seen ya about Bree. Good ta meet ya,” said Frank with a friendly smile as he extended his hand. They shook, and Frank then motioned for them to follow. “Let’s talk in here. Granny’s been nosier than usual.”
Eruviel stepped to follow, but Ris glanced back at the house. Seeing the old woman peering out through the drapes, she smiled and waved before strolling after the others.
Frank led the two past a row of stalls to the back where a workbench had been set up. Turning to Eruviel the young man suddenly seemed incredibly giddy and nervous. “Did you get it?”
Ris blinked, and looked between the two, clearly confused.
“Yes, I did,” Eruviel replied as she pulled a small velvet pouch from her pocket.
Frank eagerly accepted it. “Was the five silver enough?”
A strange smile curved up Eruviel’s face, and she nodded. “More than enough. I hope it fits her.”
Ris’s eyes widened as a ring fell out of the pouch and into Frank’s palm.
Frank appeared just as shocked. “Balls . . . This was only five silver?!”
Eruviel nodded, unfazed. “It was.”
Ris gravitated over to stare at the ring, though Frank’s mouth still gaped. Turning the delicate, silver-toned band set with a sapphire that was framed by two little diamonds that shimmered like stars, realization slowly came over him.
“I can’t take this.”
“Yes you can. You bought it.”
“None of my pennies could have paid for this. Your r — ”
“It’s yours, Frank.”
Stepping back over to stand by Eruviel, Ris and her watched Frank as he stared at the ring, visibly torn. A minute passed before his hand balled up into a fist around the small treasure. “Thanks, Eru. Margret will love this.”
“She shouldn’t say yes to a ring, but I think it being nice will ease your worry.”
Frank chuffed out a laugh. “I think I might worry more, now! But I owe you, really.”
Shaking his extended hand, Eruviel patted Ris on the shoulder and turned to head out of the barn. “You don’t owe me a thing. Good luck, Frank. Let me know if she says ‘yes’, all right?”
“You’ll be the first!” he called after her.
Strolling out into the yard, Ris looked back to the barn before shooting a smirk over to her companion. “You’re a strange Elf.”
Chuckling, Eruviel stepped up into Eolir’s saddle. ‘Yes, yes I am.”