Month: April 2015

About Frank

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“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.”

Anecdotes: Evening

The darkest hours of night had passed and Jade jolted awake. Short hair wild from tossing and turning, the young woman jumped out of her bed and paced across the room.

It had been her first night in a week to be alone, and she’d taken full advantage of it. She’d had just enough straw to replace the thatching over her bed, she’d dug out a small hole to one side of the yard for a little experiment, and she’d lounged about in the quiet, finishing the last chapter of her book. Then the letter had come.

A cold draft flowed over her bare skin as she walked into the front room. It took a minute of rummaging around in the dark before she found it.

Hope you are well . . . The girls miss you . . .  You should write him . . . .

Reading the letter through, Inaris hesitated before crumpling it up and throwing it into to coals in the fire.

The men you mentioned came through. You and Inaris should know they seemed rather set on finding her. Take care of yourself, Jade.”

Checking the lock on the front door, her mouth curved in a defiant smile as she made her way back to bed. It had been thirteen years since Inaris had seen the old man. She almost hoped he’d someday show up.

~~~***~~~

Dear Lhain,

Thank you for the letter. Things have been busy this spring. The Lord and Lady were wed. It might have been the most magnificent event Dol Amroth has seen. I’ve never seen the city so alive. 

Nothing is new with me. My friend Lalaith joined the Temple. Torrin is teaching me a few new dance steps, and I might be getting help with my studies. I suppose that is new, but that is about it. 

I look forward to hearing about all the places you’ve seen. I keep hearing that the war is getting worse. Please be saf do take care of yourself. I look up at our star every night. I don’t know if it actually works, but I always feel better when I do. 

I miss Safe travels, sailor. Come back soon.

Always, Feira

~~~***~~~

Letting Henry inside, Eruviel locked her front door. She then locked the windows and drew the drapes. As much as she almost wanted them to try, she had no desire to deal with intruders. Not tonight.

Frowning, she pulled off her gown and threw it over a chair. Retrieving the dessert apple from her pack she made her way into the kitchen where her large tub full of water steamed. Wine, book, pipe, apple —

“Squawk!”

“Henry, shush.”

A rustling sounded near the front door. “Honk!”

Wrapping herself in a towel, Eruviel sighed and walked into the common room. “What is it — Henry! Put that down. I told you no before!”

The swan stood by the front door, her blue dress from Gondor in his beak.

“No, silly bird. Give me that.”

Henry waddled over, dragging the gown over to her. Releasing it, he pattered back over to the door, flapped his wings, and poked at the doorknob expectantly.

Picking up the dress, Eruviel shook it out and gathered up the first as well. “The party’s over, Henry. No more dresses.”

The swan followed her as she shoved them both in her closet, then strode back into the kitchen.

“Don’t give me that look. It’s not a big deal. He just . . . forgot.”

Henry honked at her as she slipped into the hot water.

Settling down, she reached over to pet his neck. “Really! It’s nothing. I just want to be alone for a bit.”

Taking a drink of her wine she picked up her book, but Henry had not left. As a matter of fact he had made himself comfortable in the tub on the counter. Eruviel opened her mouth to shoo him, but stopped. Smiling, she turned to her book as the swan, pretending to ignore her, began to clean his feathers.

Bittersweet: Waiting

The energy in the hills around them had shifted. The breeze smelled sweeter, the birds had returned, and the woods had emptied of their unwelcome guests. It was quiet. Almost too quiet.

Having climbed up one side of the manor of Ravenhold, Eruviel sat on the roof, perched atop the the high peak over the front gable. She felt like a gargoyle, quietly considering the darkness that proved a better shroud than the black cloak on her back. Where had they gone? What had they wanted? Most of all, had they gotten that looming, mysterious ‘it‘?” Of all the other thoughts that filled her mind, those were the most prominent.

She’d never seen Orcs that well outfitted. They had been exceptionally organized, and well fed. She didn’t care about her already healing scrapes, but if one of the villagers or people she loved had been harmed . . . But they hadn’t. None of them had.

Futility. The first word that came to mind when she thought over the whole situation. Knowing all that she did, Eruviel was still not satisfied. It all seemed pointless. The smallest thought that it had all been a joke made her blood boil. There were too many unanswered questions; too many holes that made her wonder what was beneath it all. What was it they wanted?

The sound of a soft thud reached her ears. Turning her head, she looked behind her to the far side of the building. Kids. The estate was overflowing with towns people, and she imagined there were more than a few who wished to sneak off. Letting out a sigh she turned back to her watch, and the view. If another on patrol found the escapee, so be it, but she knew the level of danger in Durrow had, for the moment, returned to normal.

Just a few more days, and the gates would be opened. A few more days and she would have the freedom to leave. A few days would not wash away all the tracks of such a large force of Orcs. She hated being in a cage, but a gilded one with room to stretch her legs made her wonder how easily it might have been to break down the bars. But there was nothing to do now but get by till the Freemasons dug them out. It would do little good, sitting and stewing, if further action required a clear head.

Swinging her legs over the side, Eruviel leaned back to recline on the tiled slope to watch the stars disappear and wait for the sun to rise. The spring festival was likely to be used to encourage life to return to normal. It would be nice to have a few days of not constantly being on high alert. Yes, she could wait a few more days . . . .

Fallowmath: Sneaking Out

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Eruviel paused in a shadow near The Pony. “Hal.”

“What?” he asked, stopping on the steps.

“I can’t walk in the main room looking like this,” she said, motioning to her dirt and black-bloodied self. “I’m going through the back.”

Hallem gave her a guilty look. “Are you all right? For sure?”

Her mouth set in a firm line, she nodded. “I will be. I’ll see you inside.”

Giving her another look, Hallem continued up into the Inn. Turning, Eruviel slipped through the shadows along the side of the building, making her way around to the back door. By the Void, she felt terrible.

Stepping in the back door, a small breath or relief escaped her at seeing the hall vacant. Moving in she hesitated at seeing her reflection in a mirror along the wall. The cut over her jaw from the arrow didn’t look as bad as she’d thought, but she was indeed a sight with dirt and pineneedles in her braid. Orc blood stained her dark shirt and streaked over one side of her face, but the worst was the light bruise that had begun to form on her neck where the Orc had grabbed her.

“I’m going to be in so much trouble,” she murmured with a weary sigh. Poor Hallem. She had been furious when he’d dove for cover under a dead Orc. She supposed it was her own fault. Instead of calling for help, she’d called his name, and it had been dark . . . .

Shuddering, she moved to lean against a wall and wait. The pack she had filled with items from the camp they had passed slipped off her shoulder to the floor, and she pulled out the small note Hallem had found. Keep it up. We’ll starve them out, was scrawled across the small page in Black Speech. Her thumb traced over the name for the Orcs to contact. Ievi.

Fitting the note safely away, Eruviel shoved her hands into her pockets and fixed a hard look down at the black Orc arrows in her quiver. Leave messages for the guilds, inform the authorities, get food, find Rhe — Footsteps down the hall interrupted her list. “Ah, there you are, Hal,” she said, turning her stern gaze up from the floor. She then nods politely to Morty as he followed close behind the young man. “Master Mossfoot.”

“Eruviel? What’s going on?”

Eruviel pushed off from where she leaned. She’d never seen the gravedigger look so serious or strained with worry. “Orcs have us trapped in Durrow. They mean to starve us out. They are part of a group the Wayfarers encountered before . . . led by an Orc . . . His name starts with an ‘S’. Forgive me for not remembering off the top of my head. We are all right, for now.”

Morducai rubs at his face. “Stockard’s bones. What do Orcs want with Durrow?”

Hallem looked between them and responded, “That part-orc, Rheb, ran off. He was mad at Cwen. It could’ve been him.”

“I don’t know who either of those people are,” said the gravedigger, “but all right.”

Eruviel frowned. “What they really want? I’m not sure,” she admitted with a sigh. “I hope to find out more on our way back. My theory is that Rheb is being used by the Orc leader to hurt the people there for revenge . . . or power. Maybe both.” She then nodded to Morty. “Does the name ‘Ievi’ ring a bell?”

Morducai shook his head. “No, sorry. I don’t socialize with a lot of Orcs, either.”

Eruviel managed a small smile. “Probably for the best.”

“But Esthr and Hawk are both fine?” the man quickly asked.

“They’re fine, Morty,” said Hal with a nod. “But we n-need to get food.'”

Eruviel nodded in agreement. “We should get going . . . Can we take anything back for you? Any word or notes?”

Morducai looked to her. “Yes. Please let Esthyr know I know, and I’m doing everything I can to get the Freemason’s Guild down to you.” He then turned his gaze to Hal. “Go talk to the Mayor.”

“What about Kennick? Is he here?”

“Haven’t seen him in a few days, but he was with me when I found the avalanche, so he knows.”

“Anya found the raven, by the way,” said Eruviel as she picked up the pack.

Morty smiled. “Good. I thought she would. I’d say give her a kiss for me, but, well.”

Eruviel chuckled. “I think a sisterly one will have to suffice. I’ll give Hawk a kiss as well.”

“Thank you. I’ll do everything I can from here,” he said before looking back to Hallem. “It’s really good to see you, lad.”

Hallem nodded. “Yeah. You too.” The young man turned a bit towards Eru. “I guess we should go.”

Eruviel took a step towards the door. “We should. Be well, Master Mossfoot, and thank you.”

Morducai nodded. The man was so stressed that he forgot to tip his cap. Giving them one last look he turned and headed down the hall.

Eruviel took a deep breath, and gave Hal the other half of her smile. “Do you want to go see about the Mayor while I get the food?”

“Yeah,” he sighed. “I’ll do it.”

Eruviel nodded. “See you at the West Gate in . . . half an hour?”

Hallem followed behind her as she walked to the door. “Half an hour.”

_____________

(Thank you to Oendir and Hallem for the rp! Dialogue taken from 4/16 in-game role-play and edited for tense and exposition.)

Bittersweet: Fallowmath

Eruviel could feel the heat from the flames as the golden-orange light bathed her features. She watched as Anyatka walked forward, Abiorn’s bear carving in hand. Maludir had thrown in blades of grass into the bonfire, Hallem tossed in a small token made by his wife Lichen, and now her human sister added a thorny branch to the blaze. She had nothing.

She could throw in the tuft of pine tucked behind her ear, but she liked it where it was. She could toss the handkerchief in her pocket that had been a gift from Annuwen, or even strands of her own hair, but none of it felt right. Nothing felt like it should be fed to the flames. Then, as Anya’s offering caught fire, it dawned on her.

Looking down and shifting the belt at her hips, she began to untie the black cords that had for so long been bound to the handle of her sword. The knots had hardened from time and use, especially the oldest of the two, but they had to go. The first had been tied . . . almost seven years ago? While the second had only joined it as of last summer. So short a time . . . . So much time.

Unwinding the first cord, her motions suddenly grew more purposeful when she felt Eirikr’s eyes on her. How appropriate that she burn the tokens of what had propelled her forward to where she was now. How oddly grateful she suddenly felt for those bitter years, for they were behind her.

The last one came free, and Eruviel wrapped the two cords, as black as the days she’d gotten them, into a small ball. Alagos, who still somehow found his way into her nightmares. Mornenion, the novice who had extinguished a small spark of her future, and had kidnaped the man she had been with. What if it hadn’t been Arathier? What if it had been Anya, or . . . Not wanting the thought to ruin her evening, she banished it from her mind and strode forward to toss the cords into the fire.

Keep us safe, dear brothers; my new family and those dear to them. Sparks shot up from the knot and into the night sky.

Grant us your strength. Small tongues of blue and green flames danced along the stretch of cords as the heat unwound them.

Eruviel could still feel the pair of storm-grey eyes on her.  A long forgotten feeling twisted in her chest. She should wish for more . . . shouldn’t she? The couples had already begun exchanging meaningful looks, and whispering. It was misery, but the most she dared hope for was a shared look and maybe . . . maybe a small, light touch. The stern man had been smiling more lately, and everything felt better when he did.

Turning back, she stood by Anyatka as Eirikr moved towards the fire. She wondered what he’d wish for. Anyatka and Abiorn? Eboric? Since the dream before Yule there had been small moments of peace, where no worry or fears could be seen in the eyes of those gathered. Moments filled with laughter or quiet contentment. Moments that should not have been as fleeting, but found their way nonetheless. A soft smile stole over her face as she watched the fire consume the black feather that Eirikr offered to it. Their wishes. Let their wishes come true.

Lotus: Little Favors

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As agreed upon, Inaris strolled through the Ironmonger’s Gate an hour past noon. Slipping her hands into her pockets she glanced behind her towards the little concealed entrance to the hidden garden. An amused smirk curved up her lips at a thought, and she looked back to the lane ahead of her.

“You’ve got to! C’mon, there is a nice one outside ‘o town,” said a man’s voice from down a side street. Several other male voices echoed in agreement with the first.

“Forget it,” said another, more familiar voice. “I told you, it’s not gonna happ–”

“Oh! Hey, look, she’s one of ’em,” interrupted the first man as Inaris came into view. “Don’t disappoint us, man. Go get ‘er. See if Jeb was tellin’ the truth.”

Inaris walked on as the conversation to her left lowered into a jumble of grumbled protests and peer-pressure. Hardly a handful of seconds passed before a single set of heavy footfalls sounded behind her.

“Excuse me, miss?”

Aware of the dozen or so eyes that watched from behind the far hedge, Inaris turned her head, casting her keen, cerulian gaze back at the man. “Wha — oh, hello, sir.”

The sell-sword rubbed at the back of his neck, glanced over at his friends, then offered Inaris an uncertain smile. “You, uhh — work at The Lady’s Mantle, don’t ya?”

“I do,” she replied, her posture shifting as she spoke. Looking him up and down she set a hand on her hip. “How can I help you?”

Clearing his throat, the man struggled to keep his eyes on her face. “Mind if, ehh . . . we go for a walk?”

Tossing her head in a futile attempt to shift her ice-blond hair out of her eyes, Inaris pivoted smoothly to head down the lane and away from the gaggle of men. “I don’t mind at all.”

Swallowing, the man took in a breath and walked a little taller as he easily matched her pace. At the base of the bronze statue he reached out to touch her arm, slowing to a stop. “We should be out of earshot now,” he said, a smirk painted over his face for the enjoyment of the onlookers. “I appreciate you doing this.”

“Think nothing of it. Consider it a little favor.” She extended a hand out to him and they shook, both of their holds lingering. Turning her head up to him she smiled coyly.

The man chuckled and took a step back as if to observe her. “A favor? Even when I’m paying you for this?”

Inaris angled her head down, peering at him through a veil of bangs. “I’m a business woman, dear Tharnon. You’re just paying me generously for my time.”

Tharnon looked at her for a long moment before approaching half a step. “Shall we go for a long walk, then?”

“You still want them to think you slept with another woman, eh?”

“They have been hounding me for the past two months of travel. I’ve had about as much as I can take,” Tharnon responded, raising a hand to brush up her forearm.

“And what would your lady back home say if she found out?” She stepped closer at his touch and lifted her hands to fix his collar.

Tharnon frowned as he searched her face. “I suppose I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.”

A distant ripple of conversation from their audience drifted over on a slight breeze. Rising on her toes, Inaris hid her face behind his as she whispered, “I’d bed any of your friends, but the only good men I sleep with are single ones. You approach me again and I will assume you don’t mind having me on your conscience.”

Tharnon nodded, and a smile slowly returned to his face. “You know, you’re pretty decent.”

Letting out an indignant huff, Inaris rolled her eyes. “Something new I’m trying. Don’t spread it around.” Placing a lingering kiss on his cheek she let him step back first. “If you’re any good at Fox and Geese, or Tarok stop by the inn and buy me for an hour.”

“After all you just said, you tempt me?” Tharnon responded with a tsk as he bowed politely. “I’m disappointed. Besides, Miss Jade, I could beat you at those games in a fraction of that time.”

Her eyes sparking with amusement as the sell-swords emerged from their hiding spot, Inaris flashed a grin and turned to saunter away. “We will see.”

The Sea: In Time

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Eruviel remembers . . .

“Rain? Milloth?” called little Artis as she burst out of a wall of lush ferns and onto the grey beach. They had to be close. They had to be! She’d heard them, and she wouldn’t stand to be left behind as they explored the shoreline without her.

“Rain?” she called again, scampering up an old, fallen tree, gripping at the sea-treated roots. “Millo — aah!” A chunk of rotted bark broke away as she stepped too close to the edge of the log, and the little Elven girl cried out as she fell. A foot of free-falling felt like forever, but instead of landing on the cold rocks and sand below, strong, warm arms caught her.

“Woah, there, little sister!” laughed Rainion as he spun her in a circle. “You should watch where you are stepping. I can’t always catch you.”

“I would have been all right,” chimed Artis even as she cast her arms around the Eldar’s neck for added security.

“You find her?” called a second voice from around the beached log.

“We are over here!” responded Rainion as he knelt down to set Artis on her feet. “You should be more careful, Artis. Ada would have my head if you were hurt.”

Artis leaned back, giving him an obstinate frown. “Then I won’t get hurt! You’d look funny without your head. Besides, nothing bad can happen if you and Mill are around.”

Rainion gave her a strange smile as if she’d said something amusing, and he tugged playfully at her braid as Milloth jogged around to join them.

“Hey, who was it that just accused me for being too soft on her?” the youthful Eldar declared as his grey eyes flicked over Artis for any sign of injury.

Rainion rose to his full height, and pushed his blonde hair back over his shoulder. “Soft? You spoil her!”

Milloth strode over, and mussed a hand through Artis’s hair. “Me? Who is the one who taught her the easiest ways to climb out of her window?”

“She would have done it anyways,” responded Rainion matter-of-factly. “Call it preemptive damage-control.”

Artis frowned up at Milloth as she ducked away from his hand. “You made my hair all frizzy. And I’m not spoiled.”

“No?”

“Nope!”

“How do you figure that?” asked Milloth as he stooped to allow her to clamber onto his back.

“It’s . . . not,” she offered, making a face as she scrambled to find a better excuse. “You just love me!”

Milloth hopped upright, bouncing Artis on his back. “I don’t know. I wonder how much our big brother loves you.”

Rainion lifted his head in a proud manner, his mouth quirking with a smirk. “Enough to keep you from falling on your head.”

“Enough to give me a piggyback next?!”

“If you can catch me, you — hey!”

Milloth leapt forward after Rain, chasing him out over the wet sand with little Artis clinging to his shoulders. “Get him, Milloth! Catch him!”

~~~***~~~

Cold waves rolled up the pale golden sand. She hadn’t bothered to keep track of how long she had been walking. Eruviel’s faint prints faded away with every step she took, and it was not until the warm, Gondorian spring sun reached well past noon that she turned around to venture south again.

A brisk ocean breeze combed through her long hair, and left salt kisses on her lips. The flowing in of the tide wrapped its arms around her like an old friend, and when it ebbed the waters were reluctant to let go, beckoning for her to follow.

You’re not far. The sea is not as wide as it seems.

Eruviel walked a little further, the sun’s rays warming her loose, happily tangled locks of hair. The distant cry of birds blended in with the thunderous crash of the surf. Occasionally a smoothed, shimmering fragment of pearly shell caught her eye and she stooped to collect it, depositing each little gem into a small purse that hung from a thin belt at her waist.

Rounding a bend in the shoreline the sand turned into small, smooth pebbles. The beach receded into the sea and, thanks to the low tide, the Elf navigated through the calm waters, skipping from the top of one submerged boulder to the next. A veil of cloud passed overhead, and Eruviel stopped, calf deep in the blue-green waters to look out over the expanse of glistening sea. Her thin, hiked-up skirts flapped in the air that flowed around her. Had she wings, a gush of wind would have carried her away up the towering sea cliffs.

You’re not far.

Far enough.

You don’t need to be.

I’m going back.

Come to us. You’re so close.

Not now. Not yet.

You could have stayed before.

I wasn’t ready. I’m still not.

Soon?

 . . . In time.