Month: October 2015

Lotus: Guests

“Aysun!” Inaris marched down the paved street towards the side entrance to the House, and where the other girls waited with robes. Adorned only by the dust that had filled the market square, she scoured the gaggle of courtesans till her unforgiving gaze locked on her competitor. “You spineless wench. I win the wager.”

The fear that had been in Aysun’s eyes minutes before was gone, and the haughty young woman looked down her nose as her followers wrapped a crimson silk robe around her body. “Little liar. Do you dare call me a cheat?”

“I do,” Inaris responded frankly, not missing a beat. “You saw those Easterlings and ran like a whimpering pup.”

Aysun’s face flushed with embarrassment, but she sniffed indignantly as the other girls looked to her. “The insolence at calling me a coward. I walked the whole way. Everyone here saw me walk around that corner.” Though all of their peers nodded in agreement, Inaris noted the doubt many of them failed to conceal.

Finally accepting the silk, sky-blue robe that was offered her, Inaris let the collar hang loose and cinched the sash tight. “You have always been a coward, which is why, in the eyes of the Masters, you will always be second.”

The young woman’s face turned a shade darker, this time in anger, and she gestured an insult at Inaris. “You lose the bet, you take my place serving the Masters tonight.”

Inaris shrugged as if it was nothing to ever be concerned about. “Fine.” Giving her long, platinum blonde hair a toss, she turned her back on Aysun, not giving her the reaction she wanted.

“You… You whore! I hope they bore of you!” A fate none of them wanted. “Disrespect me again and I will have the
Mistress send you to the darkest, filthiest brothel in Middle Earth!”

The spoiled, pompous…. The girls around her tensed as Inaris stopped, and slowly turned to face Aysun. Unfortunately
(though fortunate for her opponent), before the venom on her tongue could spill out, a call sounded from above.

“If you ladies have a moment,” the youngest of the Masters began in a cool tone, “you are all wanted inside. We have guests. Wash your feet, and come to the courtyard.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

All twenty-some of the girls that had been gathered outside filed into the courtyard. Sheer cloth streamers were strung between the pillars, and lush, blossoming flowers lined the walls and filled marble planters.

The line of young courtesans came to a halt in the center of the yard by their Mistress. Turning to face out, it was then that all of their unspoken questions were answered. Several of the Masters stood gathered a short distance away. With them stood several Easterlings and their servants. Inaris noted that they were the same ones that had been in the market.

Inaris retained her indifferent expression, but oh, the self control it took to keep back a wicked smirk. As the guests spoke quietly amongst themselves, she risked a glance at Aysun. The young woman was a shade paler than her usual olive complexion. She cast a glance back at Inaris, but would not meet her eyes.

Gliding forward, their regal, stern-faced Mistress moved to address them. “To put the rumors to rest, the army camped to our south will be moving West against our enemies. From among you will be chosen a select few to accompany them, and serve their officers. It is an honor, and I expect you, as my wards, to behave and perform in a manner suiting the station granted to you by being a part of this House.”

Inaris, along with the whole line of young women, bowed their heads. Remaining silent, they fixed their eyes ahead as two Easterlings and a servant approached the line. Each in turn were considered. One Easterling would tuck back a lock of hair on one girl, then lift the next girl’s chin. The second would stare into one girl’s eyes, or fix the soft collar of yet another. Some flinched, some smiled, but Inaris remained unmoving as she kept her gaze down in some semblance of submission.

Finally, it was over, and the men stepped back once more. Speaking quietly with the Mistress and their Masters, three girls, all who had flinched were selected. The rest were quietly sent away, all except for Inaris and Aysun. Called forward, it was probably the first time the girls had quietly stood side-by-side.

“We noticed you two earlier,” spoke the second Easterling, though he did not sound like one. “Quite a little competition between the two of you.” The man stepped forward and slowly circled them, testing Inaris’s blonde, and then Aysun’s black hair between his fingers. He did not walk like an Easterling. Something in her gut tugged at her, telling her that no good could come of this.

Stopping in front of Aysun, the man leaned down a little to look her in the eyes as his comrade joined him. “Hold a moment,” said the first man. “What is your name, my dear?”

Aysun smiled a bit shyly as the Easterling inspected the brand behind her ear. “Aysun, my lord.”

“Aysun? Lovely. Will you do something for me?”

The girl nodded timidly. “Of course, my lord.”

“Punch my friend here.”

Aysun looked stunned. “M-My lord?”

The first man gave her an even look. “You heard me. Strike him. That is an order.”

Her dark eyes darting to Inaris, Aysun raised her hand, and lightly slapped the man on the cheek. Electricity hung in the air.

The second man blinked, then let out a long, disappointed sigh. Reaching out, he gingerly touched Aysun’s chin. The young woman froze in place, and her eyes widened with pain. “Poor little girl. You should do what you are told.” He released her, then, and the two men turned to Inaris.

There was no hiding the shock in her eyes, but she did not recoil as the first man leaned in towards her. “And what about you? How well do you follow orders?”

Inaris lifted her chin with a prideful air. “Try me, my lord.”

The first man smirked, and the second arched a dark eyebrow. “Punch my friend.”

She turned her bright blue gaze to the second man, and while she knew it may be her undoing, Inaris did not hesitate. Her fist flew forward, smashing into the Easterling’s face. By the gods, it felt good to punch that man. He reeled back, not having expected her response. Aysun, still frozen from whatever he had done to her, stared at Inaris in horror. The Mistress smiled, the Masters nodded in approval, and the Easterlings laughed.

“Yes! Delightful! We shall take her as well.”

“You should know, she comes with certain conditions,” offered the Mistress as she bowed to the two men.

“Hmm?” The second man stopped rubbing his jaw, and reached to look behind Inaris’s ear at her brand. “I see. Well, that should not be a problem. His eyes met hers, and as his fingers lingered behind her ear a gut-wrenching pain tore through her. Cold and prickling, it raked down her limbs. Inaris tensed, but after the first second the pain quickly dissipated, and she was only aware of the power that was being tested against her.

She did not know what it was, and apparently the Easterling did not either, for he stared at her with genuine surprise. Then his lips curled in a small, cruel smile. Pulling his hand away, he lightly patted her on the cheek, and turned back to join the others as they moved to walk away. 

“We would like a copy of the terms so as to not suffer you any trouble,” said the first Easterling, offering his arm to the Mistress. “Business has always been good in the past, and we would like to keep it that way.”

Their voices and footsteps faded as the group retreated. Aysun had yet to move, and Inaris considered her with a dispassionate gaze as she smoothed her hands down the front of her robe. 

“I guess that means the bet is off.” Spinning on her heel, Inaris pinched Aysun’s cheek before moving to stroll away. “Have fun tonight!”

In Spite of the Cold

Forty-two years earlier….

Darkness had settled over the Lone Lands. A lone pine found itself with company when a gangly figure took shelter beneath its low-hanging branches. An evening chill crept along the earth, and Ildric shivered as he pulled his thin cloak around his awkwardly broad shoulders.

The veil of evergreen branches that surrounded him allowed the young man to temporarily relax in what he knew was, at most, an illusion of safety. There was no going back to Bree. By now the Watch would be looking for him, and he would not serve any sentence for a crime he felt no guilt for committing. Where was he going? South was all he knew. He had heard about the men and women who lived in the old forts. Maybe he could beg a look at a map, and find a point on paper to set his feet to.

In spite of the cold, he began to relax. Adrenaline and stress left his limbs feeling weak after two days of running. The only thing now was the problem with closing his eyes.  He could see them; his mother weak from months of illness, and his half-uncle dragging her across the room.

He hadn’t waited for an explanation. He didn’t need one. Even now his blood boiled at the memory. He’d been at odds with the man since he and his mother had moved to the little flat in town. She had never said anything, and never complained, but he knew. Even at the end she smiled, if just for his sake.

Letting out a weary sigh, Ildric leaned his head back against the rough bark. Maybe he shouldn’t have ran. But he had no time to think, just anger and urgency driven by the realization of what he’d done. How quickly it had happened. Never would he had imagined that one swift grasp and yank could end a life. Life was too important a thing to be gone so suddenly. But that was where his bias kicked in. The life of the fragile woman who had bore him was far more precious than the life of the brute who had drained hers. He’d wanted the man to suffer. His uncle’s quick death was not justice enough.

The sound of heavy foot-falls brought Ildric out if his thoughts. They approached from the — well, he had no clue what direction they were coming from, aside that they came from his left. Ildric’s breaths slowed. He had just begun to pray that they would not notice him when the branches parted, and a gaunt face peered in.

“Hey, boss! Lookee ‘ere what I found.”

The dozen or so voices stopped. A few moments passed before several more faces appeared, their scarred faces illuminated by a single lantern.

“Jet, you moron, I told you to find supper, not a stray,” grunted the man in the middle. While no taller than the rest, his eyes bore an intellectual glint that the others lacked. “What you doin’ there, boy?”

“Tryin’ to keep out of the cold,” Ildric responded, his words riding on thin wisps of steam.

The leader’s mouth twitched in a smirk. “Lot ‘o good that’ll do ya. You’ll be useless by mornin’.”

“C’mon, boss. Lemme kill ‘im, an’ we can be on our way. No use wastin’ time on the lad,” said Jet. Ildric’s jaw set firmly as he glared at the man, and his arms shifted beneath his cloak as he reached for his knife.

The leader did not look at Jet, but watched Ildric with dry amusement. “I don’ think he likes that idea.” He then motioned for Ildric to stand, and for his men to step back. They did so, and the boy rose to his full height. “Cor, lad, you’re a big one! I’m bettin’ you’ll still grow a few more inches, too. No use killin’ when we can put ya to work.”

Jet snorted. “We don’ need ‘nother mouth teh feed.”

The boss nodded his head towards Jet. “Fine. Kill ‘im, and ye can ‘ave his place,” he said cooly.

Jet took a step back in surprise, and automatically reached for his knife. Ildric, on the other hand, just shook his head. “Not meanin’ any disrespect, sir, but I’ve had my fill of killin’ for a while.”

“You have, eh?” The leader leaned in a little, and his dark eyes flicked between the boy’s face and clenched fists. “I believe ya. What’s you’re name, boy?”

“Ildric… sir.”

“I like the ‘sir’. It’ll keep ya alive a little longer,” responded the man with an amused sneer. “Fine, Ildric. Pick up our bags, and keep up.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Tonight….

“Reed!”

“What now?!”

Ildric’s sharp eyes locked on the man. “I don’t have time for your lip. You have the reports from the south-east?”

Unphased, Reed nodded. “I do. They are in your saddle bag, on your horse, that’s ready out front. We’ll be fine while you’re away. The repairs on the hall have been completed, and that shipment of grain from the Burns Farm should be here day after tomorrow.”

Nodding curtly, he dismissed the young lad that helped him into stiff leather armour. “Damned things. Where is my old armour?”

Reed tossed Ildric his sword belt, and held the door open for him as the man strode forward. “I disposed of it. It was no good.”

Ildric growled as he fastened the belt around his waist. “Just had a few holes in it,” he muttered bitterly.

Reed just rolled his eyes, and shot his commander a “you’ll get over it” look before following him outside. “Everyone should be — ten, fifteen, twe — thirty-five… looks like your company is assembled, Vrax.”

“Good. We don’t have time to waste.” Throwing a thick cloak over his shoulders, Ildric pulled a piece of parchment out of a pocket, and handed it to a runner. “Any word on Trent’s company?”

“Not yet. He is not due back for a week, though.”

Taking up his horse’s reigns, Ildric swung up into the saddle. “Tell him if he causes any trouble I’ll have the Witch bust out a few more of his teeth. And if any complain about missing us, they can be on kitchen duty for a week.”

Reed smirked, and stepped out of range of Vrax’s impatient steed. “I’ll remember. Ride safe! Kill a few orcs for me.”

“You know I will,” barked Ildric with a grin as he wheeled his horse about. “All right, men, let’s move out!”

The Days Grow Shorter

The house was quiet for the afternoon; the children were both attending market with their mother in an attempt to give Eirikr and Eruviel some quiet time with the baby. Garric was tending the beehives, but was due back shortly. Eirikr sat on a chair watching the boy play with some smooth wooden blocks on a thick quilt spread upon the floor. He smiled as Eboric gnawed on one.

Standing by the door, Eruviel removed the string from her bow. Glancing between the child and the man with a small smile, she made her way around the quilt to find a seat. “He plays so nicely.”

Eirikr leaned back in the chair and stretched out a foot. Eboric greeted Eruviel with a bright smile and threw a block at her shin, but it didn’t go far. “Yes, he does. He is sitting up well.”

Eruviel grinned at the boy. Leaving her chair for a moment, she retrieved the block, and rolled it back to him. “Give it a little bit and we will see if he inherited your aim.” Sitting down again, she hooked one end of her bowstring on her boot to anchor it.

Eirikr nodded and started to say something when the door opened and Garric lumbered inside. He nodded to his guests and move to the table with a heavy bucket. “Garric, how are the bees?” Eirikr asked instead. Eruviel pulled a waxed cloth from her pocket as she looked up and nodded to the towering man.

Garric set the bucket down on the table. “They are buzzing,” he replied, “and producing still. Soon we will not be able to harvest.”

“Ah. I know nothing of bee-keeping. It is fascinating.”

Eruviel nodded in agreement as she pulled her bowstring taunt, and began to wax it. “When do you think the weather will shift? The nights have been getting a bit brisk.”

Garric sighed. “Sooner rather than later. It is going to be difficult this year. For many reasons.” He looked over at them. “You would be wise to reach home before the cold nights set in.”

Eruviel glanced to Eirikr. “Do you know of the condition of the pass over to Rivendell?”

“Aye,” Garric said as he rubbed his thick sideburns. “We have fought to keep it clear all summer; it is becoming more treacherous as the goblins grow bolder and the days grow shorter.”

Eruviel frowned as she turned her string around to wax from the other direction. “More dangerous than traveling with a caravan back through Moria?”

Garric eyed them both. “With a babe in the night… the cold. Aye, perhaps.”

Eruviel turned her gaze to Eboric, then to Eirikr. “When should we plan to head back?”

Eirikr took a deep breath and looked down at the child.

“I do not wish to sound as though your company is not welcome,” said Garric. “But soon. The first snows come earlier in the mountains. And while the paths are clear now…” His stern, yet gentle gaze was troubled.

Eruviel looked back to the man, and gave him a grateful smile. “I hear they are nigh impassable for more than half the year. Our departure will be soon, then. Eirikr and I will sort out the details and let you know.”

Garric nodded and looked between the two. “If there is anything I can further assist you with, please, do not hesitate. It is our desire to see the boy safe and well taken care of. He have grown quite attached to him.”

“We will. You and your family have been more than kind to us, and especially to Eboric. We are in your debt. I do not doubt he will miss all of you as well.”

Garric’s expression clouded as he nodded. “If I may speak frankly, I do not advocate your leaving at all, my lady. But he is not my son.” He stared at Eirikr for a moment before turning toward the bedroom. “I have friends that can take you across the river. They can lead you to the pass, but they will not go so far south as Moria.”

Eruviel looked to Eirikr. “My contacts in Lorien can see us safely south if we do not take the pass. Which ever way you think would be best to take him…”

Eirikr hesitated and looked back and forth between Elf and Beorning.

Garric grunted quietly and disappeared into his bedroom, leaving them with Eboric plopping over onto his side with a baby giggle.

Eirikr rubbed his forehead and looked over at Eruviel.

Eruviel glanced after Garric, and could not help but smile a little as Eboric giggled. “The pass is probably a little more dangerous, but it would save us several weeks of travel. I have had no news of Moria since we departed it’s halls. I would like to think no news is good news, but….”

Eirikr frowned. “Do you think we will be able to keep him warm? What if he falls ill?”

Eruviel motioned to the little boy. “If we can make a thick cocoon-like wrap of furs like they use in Forochel, then he should be plenty warm, especially if he sleeps with whoever is not on watch. If he falls ill then we would already be near Rivendell where he could get the best treatment.”

At her words Eirikr seem to be a bit satisfied, but did not look fully convinced. The expression was not new, however, having bore it most of the journey. “All right, then. The pass it is. When shall we leave?”

Eruviel swiped the cloth up the length of her bowstring before pocketing it. “Give me one day to get everything together, and we can head out at first light… master Garric?” she called, turning her attention to the bedroom door.

Shuffling came from the inside of the bedroom. The door had not closed; Garric’s large form filled the frame. “Yes?”

Eruviel nodded to him. “If in a day we wish to depart to take the pass, when would be the best time to leave here so we have daylight in our favor as we start up and over?”

Garric took a deep breath. “Dawn would of course allow you the most time for travel. I will give you a token that will allow you passage without having to pay our tolls.”

Eruviel gave him a grateful smile. They really did owe him and his family everything. “I would gladly pay them, but thank you. Is our departure in a day enough time for you and your family to make your farewells to the boy?”

Garric nodded. “Of course. We have been prepared for a long time.”

“I just wanted to be sure,” she said, inclining her head to the man. Looking to Eirikr she gave him small smile. “I will start to make preparations tomorrow morning.”

Bowing to her respectfully, Garric retreated once more.

Eirikr rubbed his beard. “I will begin preparing today. That way, I can assist with watching the boy or… or whatever you’ll need tomorrow.”

Eruviel nodded. The poor man. While the only name she could put to it was ‘weariness’ she could see the weight in his eyes. And she felt quite certain that burden ran deeper. She could help relieve it to an extent but, if they pressed hard, they could spend a day of in Imladris so he could rest better before the final stretch home. “I am here to make things easier for you, remember? The market will be open for a while. Unless you wish to go, I can go and pick up a few things we need.”

Eirikr shook his head. “No, I will go. You enjoy some time with the boy.” He stood and rubbed his hands on his pants. “Is there anything specifically needed?”

Eruviel smiled, and started to speak. Being a guard and guide came so naturally it seemed like nothing. And while she knew she could do no more, the Elf hated that she felt her smiles to be useless. Stopping herself, she pulled out the little notebook from her pocket, and jotted down a few items. Tack, soft deer hide, thick cotton cloth, a thick fur pelt, dried fruit — “Here. Mostly hides, and a few food things that will be good for Eboric as we travel.”

Eirikr accepted the list and looked down at it with a frown. “All right. I will be back as soon as I can.”

“We will be here.”

Eirikr nodded once, and then slipped out of the door.

Eruviel watched him go, and told herself the time and space would be good for him. After a moment she sighed, and moved down to sit on the floor with Eboric. Eboric smiled happily as Eruviel joined him. He waved his hands at her.

Such a beautiful little boy. Eruviel waved back at him, and weaved a hand forward to attack tickle his belly.

Eboric squeed with laughter and latched onto her hand and wrist with both of his hands. His feet pulled up to lock around her forearm as he grinned.

Eruviel laugh brightly with him, completely forgetting the Beoring that was in the other room. Yes, the laughter of an infant was magic. Her free hand ready to catch him, she lifted Eboric up and down. “You’ve got me! Ahhh, you strong little man!”

Clinging to her with surprising strength, Eboric let out a giggle and grasped at Eruviel’s hand.

Bittersweet: As The Leaves Turn

It was a perfect autumn day, and Eruviel once more waded through the tall grass towards the old oak tree. It had grown a little since she had visited four months earlier. Beneath the thick coat of gold and orange leaves she could just make out small sprouts growing from branches that had yet to surrender to the inevitable change of seasons.

“Right where I left you,” she noted as she set her boots down by an exposed root. Turning, she took a small jar of wax and a cloth from her pocket, and kelt down by the carved branch that stood guard over the grave blanketed with grass. “I assume you know what this early return means.”

The marker remained as silent as ever, and a light breeze whispered through the leaves above her.

Twigs were cast aside, leaves were thrown to be carried away by the wind, and an invasive weed was uprooted as the Elf cleaned off the small mound. Taking a circlet of late wildflowers and grasses from her head, Eruviel set it around the marker. “From Eboric. He piled them on my lap when we were out earlier.”

The wind picked up, and the Elf fell silent as she removed the cork from the jar. The summer had been kind to the grave, and another coat of wax would see the marker safely through the winter. With care she worked the thick substance into each if the letters, and a small crack that had sprung up at it’s base.

“He’s grown so much since I was last here. Such an adorable little boy.” Managing a chuckle, Eruviel fit the cork back onto the jar. “You should have seen the look on both of their faces when Eirikr first held him. He will be a wonderful father. I’ve known it for a while… well, you have known it much longer than I, haven’t you?”

Against her will, the Eruviel’s throat tightened. Setting the jar aside, she fell back to lay on the grass beside the soft mound of earth. She stared up at the canopy that swayed above her and the buried memories beside her.

“How do I help him raise a child? I’ve never raised a child. Daran, and the years of babysitting do not count. I can tell you this, of course… What do I do? He will never want for anything, I have seen to that, but… but he is so little! What if he is harmed? Orome, what if I accidentally hurt him?! What if Eirikr dies too soon… What if Eboric calls –” Her voice cracked, and she draped an arm over her eyes.

It was overwhelming. She felt rediculous, but he couldn’t see her doubt, or worry, or fear. How in Arda was it that a child made her feel so vulnerable? Several minutes passed. Eruviel sniffed, and chuffed a weak laugh. “I am sorry. Forgive me. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I did this last time, didn’t I? Of all the things to be afraid of.” 

Letting out a ragged sigh, she sat up and wiped at her moist eyes and pink cheeks. “I should head back. I need to consult our gracious host on how to get our boys home safely.”

Rising to her feet, Eruviel took a cleansing breath, and gathered her few things. “I don’t know if he will visit….” Looking a great deal less burdened than she did before, Eruviel smiled at the grave, and offered the remains a graceful curtsey. “They will be taken care of. I hope your afterlife is as peaceful as I imagine it to be.”