Bittersweet: Beneath an Old Oak Tree

Droplets of moisture clung to her pant legs as Eruviel waded through the tall grass. The sun had begun to set over the not-so-distant mountains, but the light in her eyes did not diminish as she found her way by the path burned into her memory nearly a year earlier.

She intended to remain only one more night, having arrived at the homey cottage the evening before. Garric and her had traded news of the road and woods, and Avina had admonished her at both breakfast and luncheon for “eating like a bird”. The air was clean, and the sky’s clear, and a happy vibe filled the air around the home.

The morning had been spent with Eboric on one hip as she spoke with, and aided her hostess with a few chores. The afternoon, though, was possibly the most delightful one she had had in a long time. Her braid (properly redone, courtesy of her host’s young daughter) was still filled with wildflowers, and grass stains colored her trousers from playing with both the girl and her brother. Eboric had taken a fancy to her pointed ears, and took great joy in tugging them any chance he got. In truth, she almost did not leave for her errand. Having fed the babbling child, the Elf had dozed off as he fell asleep in her arms. Even now she could still feel the warmth of his little head on her shoulder.

Following the edge of the wood, Eruviel slowed as she came upon her destination. A sad smile stole over her features, and she approached the old Oak Tree with soft, reverent steps.

“I was hoping to find you still here.”

Her only response was a soft breeze that wove through the wide branches and played over young, green leaves. Having left all but her satchel back at the cottage, Eruviel looked down on the grave for several minutes.

Ninim, wife of Eirikr In death shall I live, could be seen carved into the wooden headstone Eirikr had labored over. Pulling off her gloves, Eruviel moved to kneel beside the marker. She began cleaning a years worth of dirt out of each carefully carved letter. Leaves and seeds and sprouts of grass were removed from around it’s base with, and piled to the side to be disposed of later. Eruviel cleaned away fallen twigs, wiped off the top and, finding there suddenly nothing left to clean, pulled out the small jar filled wax she used to care for the wood of her bow.

“You would have had your hands full,” she said quietly as she unscrewed the lid. “Eboric is a big boy! He is tottering rather well. Give him a month or two and that child will be unstoppable.”

Eruviel took out a clean cloth and began to slowly work the wax into the wood of the headstone. “That boy has such a wonderful laugh. I’d like to think he has your eyes . . . You may be glad to know that I noticed a reddish gleam in his light brown hair. I think . . . I think, should he ask, Eirik would be glad to know, too.”

A small knot rose in her throat, and she smoothed the wax into the lettering. “He didn’t come. I know you understand. He’s not ready yet. It will take a while, but he will come around. These things take time . . . .” Eruviel took care to get the tight corners in the ‘k’. Consumed by working in the growing dark, she fell silent as she emptied the rest of the jar out to coat the base, and back of the marker.

“Sometimes I envy you,” she said quietly, her hands falling to her lap as her eyes searched the freshly treated, yet lifeless headstone. “You are far away, probably with family you missed and beyond any pain or fears of this realm. You may have even met them; Adrovorn, Daran, and Myrthrost. You’d like Myrthrost. His humor was a lot like Eirikr’s. If you come across an Alasse from Tharbad, tell her Ravi sends her greetings.”

It became difficult to smile. Her lower lip quivered, and her arms slowly grew heavy. Little by little, Eruviel’s expression cracked till silent tears streamed down her fair cheeks. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered. “So . . . so sorry. I wish I could have done better . . . I wish I could have taken your pain. I wish it hadn’t happened at all.” Her voice cracked as a small sob rattled beneath her healing ribs. “He should have never suffered such a loss. If –”

Cutting herself off, she shook her head and looked out into the night. In the tall grasses a few little lights from insects flickered on and off, and ever so slowly the Elf composed herself. “You’d be proud of him . . . not that you were not before, of course. He whittles a lot more now, and his beard has grown thick.” She chuckled, and in a lighter voice added, “It encourages his habit of combing it with his fingers when he’s thinking, or amused, or puzzled. I wonder if his chin may one day go bald.”

Swallowing the knot in her throat, a burden she had carried for nearly a year lifted from her shoulders, and more unbidden tears clouded her vision. “My feelings aside, even if I end up never anything more to him than a friend, you have my word that I will take care of him. And Eboric.”

Pulling a daisy from behind her pointed ear, Eruviel laid it atop the headstone. “Boe annin gwad, Ninim . . . . I am glad that I came to see you.” Fitting the jar and cloth back into her satchel, Eruviel slowly rose to her feet. “I would say for you to be well, but I am sure you are more than just well where you are. I’ll give your baby boy a kiss for you. I can’t make any promises, but if I am able, I will try and visit again next year.”

Scattering the pile of leaves and grasses on the other side of the tree, Eruviel looked one last time upon the grave. Shouldering her satchel, she dipped in a low, graceful curtsy to the marker before turning and striking out into the darkness.

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