Month: July 2016

A Healthy Dose of Shock

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Eruviel remembers….

Twenty years ago.

“You’re off in the morning, then?”

Eruviel looked up and accepted the mug of mead as Ildric stepped over the bench to sit beside her. “Things are getting bad again north of Aughaire.”

“Wargs?”

“Worse.”

Ildric grunted into his mug as he turned his gaze to the half finished feasting hall filled with merrymaking. “Typical. Leaving me to deal with a camp full of drunk mercs.”

“Ahh, but they are your drunk mercs,” Eruviel responded affectionately, eyes drifting warily to an exceptionally rowdy table.

“Damn straight,” the man snorted. “Sure you don’t wanna stick around a few more days? I could really use the help setting them straight.”

“You will manage,” Eruviel responded with a sniff. Beginning to feel the last five mugs of ale finally take hold, she put a hand on the man’s shoulder, shaking her head as she stood. “I would rather raid an Angmarim camp with Daran and his Hunters.”

“He gets more of your time than we do,” Ildric grumbled, holding out a hand to catch her in the event that she might stumble. “The ass.”

“Takes one to know one,” she shot back, smirking. Loud, drunken whispers began to fill her ears and she nodded to Ildric. Yes, it was time to go. “Good luck, my friend.”

Ildric must have heard it too, for he turned his harsh, withing gaze on the rowdy bunch that had turned their attention. Offering her a wave he watched over the rim of his mug, poised on the edge of his seat.

Eruviel had almost made it to the newly installed double doors, sixth mug of ale in hand, when one of the more handsome and bold young men of the newcomers stumbled into her path.

“Ma’ammm…. Boysss… wanna know weh — why Boss calls yeh ‘Witch’.”

By Orome, she had had too much ale to patiently deal with this tonight. “I am sure you will find out soon enough. Now if you will excuse me –”

“Le– Leavin’ aaahready?”

Then she felt it. There was a slight tug on the long braid that hung down her back, and her head felt lighter somehow. The music and merry voices that filled the room instantly fell into a shocked silence. The Elf reached a hand back and, to her despair, felt the frayed ends of her unraveling hair that now only reached down to the curve of her bottom.

Lookee here!” declared one of the drunken newcomers, waiving the bottom six or seven inches of the Elf’s soft braid above his head. “You lot now owe me fifteen silver –”

In a flash Eruviel spun around. Mug of ale cast aside, her fist found the brigand’s face and the man flew back, flipping over the table and into his friends. His prize still in one hand, the man grasped at his mouth with the other, catching blood and teeth.

While a few of the drunken men moved to right the table, one of the offending man’s friends advanced, attempting to restrain her as his hands landed where they shouldn’t. “Bitch. Don’t think you can go an’ do that to one o –” With a shout from the men around them, and a cry of anger and pain from the second man, Eruviel drew the knife from his belt, tripped the man, and stabbed down, pinning three of his finger to the bench.

Sit,” she growled, voice low as she stood at one end of the table and gently laid the knife down before her . All but the man now missing three fingers, and the other missing several relatively decent teeth sat.

“The bet was twenty silver each?” She glared at them, the alcohol that had begun to make her limbs tingle now burning away in her blood.

Seven sets of eyes refused to look at her as the nearly six dozen others watched on. Ildric had moved, but it was to sit back in his seat, dark eyes taking note of the offenders.

Well?”

“It… it was fifteen, ma’am,” offered one of the younger men, daring a glance up at her.

Eruviel exhaled, the delicate fingertips of one hand resting on the table beside the knife. “Oh? It was thirty? Very well. I will accept the thirty silver each of you owe him.”

Their eyes widened. Thirty silver was what they had been paid for the last weeks of work, and for some of them it was probably all that they had.

“You heard the Lady,” sounded Ildric’s voice, cold as stone from across the room.

Slowly coins were counted, and seven coin purses were passed down to the Elf.

It paled in comparison to the lovely length of hair that had been lost, but Eruviel swallowed her tears as she plucked up the payment. “Thank you, boys,” she said briskly. “Welcome to Tharbad.”

The music struck up again from the far corner of the room. With a wave to Ildric, and a nod to the others she knew as she went, Eruviel glided out of the hall with her payment and what remained of her pride.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Fourteen years ago.

“Oy! There’s a sight for sore eyes!”

Eruviel laughed as the Dwarf took the reigns of her mare, and hopped down from the saddle. “It is good to see you too, Rhuniki!”

Rhuniki let out a belly laugh as he tugged on his long beard. “Thought some strange pointy-ear was comin’ up. Di’n’ figure it fer you! Lookin’ like a whole new elf.”

“I feel like a whole new Elf, Master Dwarf. Is Milloth nearby?”

Rhuniki shook his head as he confiscated the jug of ale from behind Eruviel’s saddle. “Took off this mornin’. Figure he’s gone scouting up north a ways with a few of the men.”

Looking about the encampment tucked away in the woods north of Esteldin, the Elf did her best to not appear too disappointed. “And what of Myrthrost and the others?”

“They’re in the Commander’s tent,” the Dwarf responded after a moment of hesitation and a drink from the jug. “Got some Angmarim trouble on our hands.”

The muscles in Eruviel’s neck tensed, but she nodded and clapped a hand on Rhuniki’s shoulder. “I think I will go see what sort of trouble is afoot, then,” she responded with a smile.

Shaking his head, Rhuniki waved her off as he led her horse away. “Mind yourself today. Commander’s in a foul way.”

Eruviel waved back. She did not doubt it, and it did not help that their first meeting had been a bad one. Nodding politely to the few men who greeted her as she passed, Eruviel found her way to the Pelargirian’s white tent trimmed in blue, black and gold. Stopping at the ten flap, she listened to the conversation for a second before ducking inside.

“How many did you say there were?” came the mellow voice that belonged to Myrthrost.

“Two dozen at least was what the messenger said,” responded a soldier who hesitated as the elleth appeared. “We — ehh…. With how long it takes to get to this side of the mountains, our window is five days.”

Myrthrost offered a small smile and a nod to Eruviel as she stepped up to the table. The Commander, however, did not look at her, his only reaction being the displeased frown that tugged at his already grim expression.

“That should be just enough time. We can intercept them at the point,” said Adrovorn, pointing to a spot on the well used map laid out on the table.

Eruviel peered down at the map and the foot-path over the mountains that had been marked. “Forgive me, but where were the Angmarim said to have started from?”

She felt Adrovorn’s disapproving gaze fix on her, but Myrthrost ignored the Commander and picked up another marker to set on the northern side of the mountain range. “Here is where they were spotted. The Free People’s fighters that spotted them were outnumbered, so made no move to intercept the enemy.”

“Thank you, Myrthrost,” said Adrovorn with a tight smile. “And you need not bother about it, Lady Eruviel. When Mrthrost returns with a report we –”

“They will not come that way,”Eruviel interjected.

All eyes turned to her, and Adrovorn lifted his head with an imperious air. “Excuse me?”

Eruviel frowned back at the tall man. “I will,” she snipped back. “That path is well out of the way from where the Angmarim were spotted. They will not come by that way.”

“My lady, that is the only way there is. Now, if you would be so kind, see if the cook has supper ready, and leave the preparations to us.” Adrovorn stepped back and motioned to the tent flap.

“I will not. If you will just listen to me, there are –”

“You are a fair archer, from what I hear, but I have heard nothing of you being a tactician. If you wish to remain, you will do so silently. Otherwise please take your leave.”

Myrthrost moved to put a calming hand on Eruviel’s shoulder, but she stepped around him to stand by the Commander and the table. “They will either come by this way, or out here,”she said curtly, leaning over to set two markers on two separate unmarked peaks.

Adrovorn stepped over to reluctantly peer over her shoulder. “There is no path there.”

“There is a path.”

“No, clearly there is not,” he insisted, growing agitated. “This map is new as of this spring. I can weigh your opinions with your brother’s knowledge when he returns.”

“Milloth has not spent half as much time there as I have. I am not telling you that you are wrong to cause trouble. If you go here your men –”

“Lady Eruviel,” said Adrovorn, shoulders tense and hands clasped behind his back as he moved between her and the table, forcing her to retreat a step. “I appreciate you attempting to help, but when I want the opinion of an Elf maid who’s been mind-fu–”

Eruviel’s fist connected with the Gondorian’s jaw. Stumbling back, the towering man dropped to the ground, landing hard on his bottom.

“Now, you listen to me,” Eruviel spat, eyes turning dark as her glare met, what she assumed to be, a healthy dose of shock as the man stared up at her, jaw held in one hand. “If you want to go and waste your time or risk your men getting killed that is fine with me,” she declared, leaning over the fallen man. “If there are two dozen Angmarim coming over those mountains, you can be damned sure there will be more not far behind them, and you will either be passed by or pinned against the mountains with nowhere to run but a narrow path.”

Adrovorn stared up at her for a minute, the others gathered around the table silent and tense as they watched. “You know where these paths lead out to, I assume.”

Standing up straight, Eruviel turned her nose up in disdain and pivoted to stride out of the tent. “Yes, I do.”

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Lotus: My Only Friend

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“Can we go again?”

“Again? But we just got back!”

“Not now, but someday. Someday after you beat the bad men in the west.”

“Someday, yes.”

“Promise?”

“I promise.”

“Cross your heart? And we can visit with the man who owns the water?”

“Liked the place? Yes, sweetheart. You can stay with him.”

“… Where are we going?”

“To get you your last present.”

“But you already got me a present in Can….”

“Khand, sweetheart. And it’s better than the trinkets and robes.”

“Really? Thank you, Daddy!”

“Thank me in a few years, little tiger.”

“Is… Is it a tiger?!”

“No, Inaris. It is better than a tiger.”

Oh….”

“Look. See, up there? It’s your mother.”

“I see her!”

“You should wave to her.”

“Is she coming with us?”

“Good girl. No, she will not be.”

“But I want to show her my present.”

“She already knows what it is.”

“Is it something I can share? Then I could share it with her and my friends.”

“Yes and no. Here we are.”

“But… I’m not allowed in this door… Did I say something wrong?”

“No, little tiger. Before we go in, you need to listen to me.”

“Yes, Daddy.”

“Remember what I told you before?”

“You told me a lot of things.”

“About friends.”

“That you’re my only friend?”

“That’s it. People will be nice to you only as long as they need to use you. Never have any other friends. They will always betray you.”

“… O-okay, Daddy.”

“Good, Inaris. Now, let’s get your present.”

“Are… you sure? Do I have to go in there? The Mistress said –”

“You trust me, yes?”

“Yes.”

“Good. Now, go in.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The brand behind her ear was hot and raw to the touch. The ache kept her migraine from subsiding, and each throb of pain felt like iron nails scraping against her skull. Thankfully the haze of the past few hours had finally begun to lift. With a soft grunt in effort, Jade righted herself to lean back against the bookshelf.

“I was beginning to wonder if he’d gone too far and finally beaten you.”

Jade tested opening her eyes ever so carefully, only to find that the world was still tinted red, and warm pools of moisture lazily began coursing down over the sides of her pallid cheeks. Then it all came flooding back. Talagol relaxing in a chair in the little, empty apartment as Eglathor drug her in. Why she was there. Why she hurt everywhere.

“Hold still,” said Talagol as he crouched down beside her and removed the wad of cloth that served as a gag from her mouth. While years had seen his olive skin grow darker and heavy from wind and sun, they had done little to soften the man’s angular jaw and high cheekbones. How long has he been in Bree?

Don’t touch me,” Jade hissed, her mouth unbearably dry, jerking her head away. The sharp motion served only to make her headache worse. After a decade of wishing for just one chance to meet him again so she could see the life drain from his eyes he was here, and by the cords that bound her wrists she wondered if he knew just how much she hated him.

Talagol slapped her across the face, and the room spun. “Hold still,” he repeated, his voice no more severe than before as he pulled out a kerchief. “You will heal soon enough but it won’t do to have people see you with blood in those lovely eyes.”

You watched. Watched and did nothing! You vile bastard, you — “Where is the sorcerer?”

Talagol’s stern expression shifted into a dangerous glare as he carefully wiped the crimson tears from the corners of her eyes. “Eglathor has gone to collect his things from the inn. But I want to know something.”

Jade glared right back at him, not responding, nor drawing back again.

“Why did you betray our people?”

“‘Our people” is a very broad term to you, isn’t it?”

Talagol frowned. He was angry, yes, but it seem to be driven more out of disappointment than anything else. “In an hour you will be putting this pitiful place behind you. You should thank Eglathor for making sure you will not be executed upon our return.”

“Well, isn’t he the sweetest,” she cooed, voice dripping with sarcasm. “Don’t expect to get too far.”

Talagol’s harsh features illuminated by the firelight were accentuated by a wry smirk not all that dissimilar from his daughter’s. “We will see. Do you think this Breeish husband of yours will come? If he cannot be satisfied by being reimbursed, well…. Farmers and peasants are fodder for our friend, dear daughter.”

Jade sneered. You had better hope I get free and deal with you before he catches up. “Eglathor may be yours, but as far as you are concerned, I have no friends, remember?”

Lotus: Caught

Observing the little cottage, a warm bubble of pride swelled in Jade’s chest, and she nodded in satisfaction. The thatching was seamless, patches of gold shining  here and there as sunlight peeked through the canopy of leaves to reflect off of the straw roof. As much as she was growing to love the farm, this corner of Bree held a special place in her heart. It was now in perfect condition for it’s new tenant, and she could not express how much it meant to her that someone liked the place as much as she did.

Leather gloves tucked into her back pocket, Jade stepped up into her saddle and spurred her horse to the gate and home. It was refreshing to get out. For two days she had not left the farm. No trip to the market, no daily rides, and while she knew it put her friends and husband at ease, she could not help but wonder if the sudden change put her in greater danger. Eglathor was no fool, and sooner or later he would catch on.

Poor Drew. After promising to worry him less she had not wanted to tell him. But she had to, didn’t she? His frown and growls and hugs made her feel safe, and whenever he was near she really did believe he could protect her from anything. 

Jade guided her mare through Durrow. She avoided Atanamir’s house lest she take a detour to punch his new house-mate in the face, and left a letter at the post to make tea plans with Dorsett. Jade stopped by the Cask for a glass of wine, picked up a few items from the market for supper, and left a note on Ansithe’s door to ask for help with her menial cooking skills. 

She was proud of herself. Elsewhere she could really care less, but in Durrow she made an effort to flirt as little as possible when without Drew. Such a bother it was, behaving. With a friendly wave to the gatekeeper, Jade urged her horse from a walk to a trot, then into a slow canter. She bemoaned passing by several ponds in the woods dotted with lilies. Would it hurt, stopping long enough to pick two… or three, or four? But she had promised. Straight home. No side trips, nor extra stops. Straight there, straight back —

There was a flash of light in the corner of her vision. A familiar ray of nearing warmth, and before Jade could grab the handle of her thatcher’s needle she was sent flying from her saddle. She landed hard and rolled, convulsing as she struggled to draw breath into her lungs.

“You really are almost more trouble than you are worth.”

Jade drank in desperate gulps of air as her wind returned. Struggling to her feet she could see Eglathor striding across the road. 

“I did not say you could get up.” Another flash, and Jade was knocked down, the leaves and grass around her warping from the heat. “You must make a terrible wife.”

Gritting her teeth, Jade rolled to the side. Hand diving beneath her generously open collar she sent a dagger flying to burry into the man’s thigh. 

Eglathor grunted, and pulled the knife out. “So, you do remember.” He tossed the weapon to the side, advancing on the young woman as she regained her footing. He flexed his fingers. “Talagol will forgive me if you sport a few bruises. You always did put up the best fight.”

He reached for her, and Jade lashed out, her second knife slashing his palm. Not hesitating , she attacked,  flashing forward in quick, savage strokes.

Eglathor toyed with her, dodging each attack just enough to give her hope of one making contact. Then one did. The blade caught him across the chest, leaving a trail of blood in it’s wake.

His back hand connected with her cheek, and the impact twisted Jade around, dropping her to her knees. Knife lost somewhere in the grass, Jade turned as he approached and  punched him on his seeping leg wound. Eglathor stumbled, grasping his leg, and Jade scrambled madly to her feet. She could see her mare a short ways off. If she could make it to the horse —

A hand grabbed her by the hair as she stepped into a run, reeling her back as another hand closed around one of her wrists like a vice. “This was easier when you had longer hair,” Eglathor hissed in her ear.

Bastard. Why couldn’t you have died in the south?” Jade snarled, elbowing and clawing with her free arm. She could feel the blood from his chest wound seeping through the back of her shirt.

“You would have liked that, wouldn’t you? But you’ll always be a slave. Don’t worry, your husband will be compensated. I might have waited till your father arrived to collect, but your little friend –”

With as much strength as she could muster, Jade used her meager weight to swing Eglathor about, slamming him into a tree. “If you touch them, gods help me, I’ll –”

His bloody hand grabbed her throat and Eglathor pulled her in, his strong, free arm trapping her’s. “You’ll what? Remind me of how my brother died?”

Jade grinned wickedly. “You just saw his body. And I’ve always preferred showing over telling.” Pain and heat of fire ripped into her. Three years free of him had not dimmed her memory of it, but Jade found herself praying that she wouldn’t scream as the sorcery dissipated in her muscles.

“You can endure more than before. Good.  I don’t know how many good little whores passed out or bled to death at enduring half of that,” Eglathor purred into her ear. “It’s a long road home. Rest now. After tonight you might have a little Haradic traveling companion.”

Jade’s eyes widened as his grip tightened on her throat. Struggling and kicking in vain she gasped once, then twice before the world faded away.

Bittersweet: Accident

The tunnels were bitterly cold, and it only grew worse the further the company ventured underground. Ice had coated them as they had crossed the snow-covered valley they left behind, and now they stood in a dim, lower cavern, having captured one of the enemy with no small amount of effort.

Eruviel’s expression grew stern as she listened to the Corcur sitting before her. “The black crystals are as we feared, and serve as focuses for necromancy. His people plan to use them to resurrect a mighty dragon of old that was excavated deeper into the tunnels.”

Cedoric let out a soft sigh, shaking his head. Thorgest’s expression hardened at the news, and there was something alarming in the dwarf’s dark eyes.

Godric sighed as he listened to Eruviel’s words. “I was hoping they were merely attempting to warm their pups. How many of his people?”

Eruviel turned her attention back to the man in ragged red and brown robes, nodding slowly before motioning behind her as she translated for Godric.

Feygil eyed Thorgest. “Wha’ is it?”

The Dwarf glanced at Feygil. “We must not allow the dragon to rise at any cost.”

“Wha’ kind o’ consequences we talkin’ abou’ ‘ere?”

Eruviel arched a brow in apparent doubt at the Corcur sitting before her. Glancing to Feygil and Thorgest, she shifted her gaze to their Commander. “He says that there are about two hundred here working on the project, and the chamber is to the south-west,” she translated, nodding to Godric. “He says he does not know how many guard it.”

Meluion folded his arms together. “About as much consequences as you can imagine a dragon can bring,” he said stoically to Feygil before turning his attention to the Elf. “Are these workers soldiers? Labourers? Paid or slaves?”

“The irreparable kind,” Thorgest responded to Feygil.

Godric knit his brows together at the mention of numbers. “Bring him with us. He will serve as a deterrent. Tell him if he tries anything foolish, I will kill him.” He then turned to whistle softly for Cedoric to return.

Feygil sighed and nodded. “Tha’s wha’ I was afraid of.”

Eruviel looked back to the Corcur and spoke again with him. The company had promised not to harm him if he gave them information, but if he betrayed them —

As Eruviel conveyed Godric’s threat, the captive man’s eyes widened. He began to shout, and tries to wrestle his way free of his captivity. They had promised not to hurt him. All he wanted was to go home.

It was loud, and sudden and reacting, Eruviel moved to punch the man in the face. One stray echo could give them away, but against two hundred Corcur, desperate shouts could see them all killed before they could make it to the mouth of the cave.

Feygil leaned forward to stifle the man’s attempted escape, nearly  catching an elbow in the nose as the Elf swung. Meluion as well reached to restrain the man.

Knock him out or stun him. You can apologize later and help him get home, but his shouting will see us all ki— Eruviel’s fist connected with the man’s face with a brutal, beatly crunch. Blood splattered onto all the Wayfarers in the vicinity. The prisoner fell into the dirt, dead.

Cedoric blinked in surprise, seeming unsure of how to react at such an action. After a few moments, his brows furrowed.

Godric stepped back as Eruviel’s fist connected with the man’s face, and blood splashed onto his boots. He eyed the scene in slight shock, then studied Eruviel. “Remind me not to piss you off.”

Meluion looked at Eruviel in dismay. Thorgest’s stoic expression became one of momentary alarm. He gave the Elf a glance of distaste, then moved away from her.

“Fack!” Feygil cursed as she leaned over the man to feel for breathing. “Gods dammit!” Her jaw flexed as the clay child-sized handprint fell from the man’s hand.

Eruviel stared at the dead man, her hand still balled into a fist, warm blood dripping from her leather-covered knuckles. What did I… dammit… dammit! Her expression stern and unreadable, she rose calmly to her feet. “That was unfortunate,” she commented quietly. She might have smirked at Godric’s comment any other time, but now now. “I did not mean to hit him that hard.”

Godric shook his head. “If you hadn’t, I would have done so myself. He was warned. Let’s go.”

Eruviel nodded once, silently thanking him. She could not bring herself to look at the others even as she felt their eyes upon her, or the bit of clay Feygil retrieved. She could not look at the body of the man, nor the broken face as Thorgest drug him off the path. A sick feeling tugged at her gut, but she set her jaw and knocked another arrow against her bowstring. It had been an accident. Again. It would do no good to lament. Not here. Not with two hundred Corcur and the threat of a dragon. There were more pressing matters at hand. Any regret she felt could wait.

Lotus: Flowers

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Jade woke as the mattress shifted. Her eyes did not open to let in the early morning light, but she smiled. Rolling over into the warmth of the sheets where Drew had lain, she curled up with his pillow. Every morning she woke with the briefest of fear that she was on a cot in a camp with petty sorcerers circling like vultures, or in a fat stranger’s bed just because of the generous coin, or back at the House behind locked doors beneath a pile of warm bodies of people who could have cared less if she were dead. Every morning she woke here, and she kissed Drew as he kissed her, and it was perfect. Then the kitten, who had waited for Mister Harlowe to head out for the fields, hopped onto the bed and stretched out along Jade’s stomach.

She woke an hour or two… most likely two later. Malt stretched out his little paws, head resting between her breasts as he considered Jade through sleepy eyes. She petted and scratched him, then shifted the kitten off of her so she could slip out of bed. Jade dressed, no matter how reluctantly (for it would not do for any of Drew’s field hands to see her in such a state), and raced Malt downstairs.

This was the part of the day that keenly reminded her that she was a housewife. Lists were made, plants were watered, and the house was cleaned. But she always kept it clean. Jade had scrubbed the rooms top to bottom after moving in, and now she made small changes. Not that Drew probably cared, but she made them gradually to acclimate him, and asked with the bigger ones… she really did want to have that rug replaced. Something that she picked. Something that helped make it more their place than his parent’s.

Jade had just discarded a cook book in favor of making something simple… like another type of sandwich, when she heard the dogs tumbling about the porch. Sighing, she buttoned up the front of her shirt and adjusted the sash of a belt around her waist before stepping outside.”

“Listen here, you two –” She stopped. Jacomys and Jamettus froze to stare all too innocently at her. Covered in dirt, the flowering vine from her new little garden hung between them, the object of her play. A flicker of panic ran through her. Running from the porch Jade rounded the house.

A hand pressed to her stomach, Jade took in the sight of the ruined garden. The flanking flowering vines had been torn down, and the little gardenia had been ripped up and gnawed to bits. Jacomys and Jamettus had followed her, and now sat, watching curiously as Jade slowly fixed the bit of fence Drew had erected. She cast them a burning look, and both of the hounds whined a little, ducking their heads as they laid down.

Setting the gardenia to the side she searched it’s hole, her bare hands sifting… then clawing the soft earth aside. It had to be there. If they had disturbed it or moved it… gods, if the hounds had drug it out… then she found it, and gasped a sigh of relief. The rock was still there, the stone’s charge remaining undisturbed and hidden beneath it’s weight.

She sat there for a moment, staring at the dirt that had stolen in up under her nails. She felt sick. She wanted to cry. Every day just before noon it struck her. It still ached and hurt a little, but then anger and frustration temporarily burned the memory away like the fire that had consumed the old sheets. It wouldn’t do her, or anyone else any good. There would be no tears. No confessions for something that probably wasn’t even her fault. She would just need to find another plant to fill the space. Smoothing the dirt to fill in the hole and head up as confidently as ever, Jade carefully gathered the shredded remains of flowers and went to go change and wash the dirt from her hands.

Lotus: Seeing Things

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It had been three days since the caravan departed south from Mistrand, and House Dæreabi. Three days south into the plains of Gathod where one of the many Easterling armies had made camp. Inaris surveyed the sea of men and horses and dirty red tents, and the haze from fires that hung in the air to mar the endless blue sky with a look of contempt.

“You do not like it?” asked the sorcerer that rode beside her, his dark brown eyes regarding her with amusement. It had been his idea to not let her ride with the others in the wagons, but on a horse. She wore no bonds, nor had she been searched. He was baiting her. He wanted her to run.

Turning her nose up with an air of indifference at the scene, the girl’s piercing blue eyes betrayed the anger she kept quietly to herself. “I do not see why I should.”

“Do you miss it? The Blue Door and your Mistress?”

“What do you care?” she asked bitingly.

Eglathor gave a cold laugh, turning his head to motion further south as he led the small train of wagons into the heart of the camp. “Your father and his riders are positioned ten miles to the south. Would you like to see him?”

“That depends,” Inaris responded, taking the chance as he looked away to study the tattoo of The Eye that enveloped his forearm.

“On?”

“If he is alive and well, or not….”

Eglathor looked to her, a venomous smile twisting the man’s mouth. “What an ungrateful daughter.”

Frowning, she began to ask what he meant by that, when the sorcerer motioned for a halt, stopping the line before a great white tent trimmed in blue that stood out like a beacon in the dark sea. Heavily guarded, two lines of women and men of various ages and races turned their heads to look at the new arrivals. A servant, his head wrapped and face concealed by a panel of yellow cloth, came forward to take their reigns, and Eglathor dismounted as others clad in various forms of murky orange or blue robes and scale armor emerged from the tent.

“We were wondering when you would arrive,” called one of them, extending a hand to Eglathor. “This is the last of them?”

Eglathor greeted several of the men before looking back to the wagons where several dozen unfortunate souls were unloaded by guards. “It is. But now that they are here I must go.”

The first man’s gaze drifted to Inaris, and she felt her insides crawl. “So soon? It is our loss… and this one?”

Eglathor smirked wickedly as he followed the man’s look and caught her eye. “A special case. She may be useful.”

Inaris was glad that she still sat in her saddle. She did not want to give them the satisfaction of seeing her tremble.

“How is it I get the feeling she will be more trouble than she is worth?” asked the man, turning his gaze back to inspect the others that were led to kneel along with the former group.

“She won’t be,” Eglathor responded as he walked away. Rounding Inaris’ horse, he gave her a dangerous look and offered her his hand which she accepted as she stepped off of her saddle.

“You are not to be staying?”

“Do not look so eager to see me go,” he said with a lifeless chuckle, reading the look she gave him. “But I will be taking this with me…” Pulling up the length of her skirt, his hand slipped up her thigh and nimbly removed the dirk she had strapped to her leg days earlier. “You are a clever girl. See that it does not get you killed before I can give it back.”

Understanding the threat in his tone, Inaris drew away, realizing her fists were clenched, and turned to join the others before the guard approaching her could bark an order for her to move.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“A whole tin of it?”

Jade smirked and tossed her feathery bangs out of her eyes. “Yes, a whole tin. That will give me enough to put two coats on the door.”

The vendor chuckled, shaking his head as he hefted a crate onto the counter. “Whatever yeh say, Missus Harlowe. Though, I aint never seen a farm house with a blue door.”

“Oh, no! No, Avery, it’s for my old cottage. Thought it would add a little charm.”

“Eh? Ah! Bema, thought I’d have to worry about m’ wife seein’ it and wantin’ to paint ours yellow. You know she loves yellow? Thinks it’s a cheerful –”

Jade smiled pleasantly, nodding as the man prattled happily on about the ungodly amount of yellow that filled his house. Turning to lean out of the way of a man hefting a fat stack of hide down the walk, Jade suddenly frowned, looking past the thick mid-day crowd milling up and down the north entrance to the Scholar’s Stair. Across the way, past a parade of bonnets and beards she saw the back of a man’s head. He was not a tall man, but his hair, pulled back into a immaculate tail was black as night. The odds of someone else having hair like that….

Turn around. Turn around.

“Missus Harlowe?”

Jade blinked, looking back to Avery and his tins of paint. “Hmm?”

“Sumthin’ catch yer eye?”

Jade looked back, searching for a frantic moment before catching sight of the man across the way. He turned… and a huff of relief escaped her before she could stop herself. It was the butcher’s oldest boy.

“I thought I’d recognized someone, but I must have been seeing things.”

Avery chuckled. “Bree’s a small place. Bet yeh know just about half of everyone by now, least by face. But here. I got several different tins you can look through.”

Jade chuckled along with him, and shook her head. “I’m sorry, but I think I will pass up the blue paint. Perhaps… hmm, perhaps you have a shade or two in red?”

Bittersweet: Sick

julene-main3

Eruviel remembers…

“Naneth?”

Nostariel looked up from her work, emptying a handful of little paper shavings in the the basket set between her and her daughter. “What is it, dear one?”

Artistuion, now having finally grown, frowned down at the several yards of lacy paper cut-outs displaying uilos. Ada was away on business, and instead of translating the text he had left for her, the young elleth had spent the afternoon carefully ruining a perfectly good blank scroll. Even better, her mother had sat with her and helped. “The humans we saw….”

Nostariel gave her a curious look. “The ones we saw in Ered Luin? Artis, that was months ago.”

“I keep thinking about them,” she admitted quietly, carving out a trail of leaves upon the parchment. “They were sick, weren’t they?”

A minute passed before Nostariel nodded. “They are.”

The elleth’s frown deepened, and she looked up to search her mother’s sliver eyes. “They were in pain, naneth. I could see it. Ada wouldn’t let me help them. I tried to, but… why? Why would he not let me?”

Sighing softly, Nostariel reached over the confettied floor between them to cup her daughter’s cheek. “It is not just the remnants of Cardolan, but most of the human world, dear heart. Heal one, and there is not guarantee that he would not get sick again and die.”

“That does not make it right.”

“Death is a part of their world, my little light, as is sickness, but the latter does not always mean the other. And he was right to stop you. You would feel their pain and the suffering that comes with the fires of fever and draining of life, and you have no need to endure such a thing.”

Artis diverted her gaze, looking down at the delicate visage of a flower she had never actually seen. “Yes, naneth. I understand,” she replied quietly. She did not say how her father had been angry. She had never seen him angry, and never imagined it would aimed at her. Or was it at her? In any case, the elleth was sure that he had never intended his reaction to convict her, making her want to help the mortals that much more.

Nostariel smiled softly, a warm smile that reached into her youngest and lifted away the burden of doubt. “Do not let it weigh on your heart,” she assured her, kissing Artis’ forehead. “They will survive.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It was not the path into the Misty Mountains that kept sleep at bay. Unlike the previous week that had been filled with exceptionally restful nights, Eruviel sat up in the dark, a pang of worry twisting in her chest.

He will survive, she repeated to herself. Every human falls ill. He will be fine. 

What could it be, really? Durrow was one of the cleanest homesteads, and certainly more so than Bree-town. Children often got sick. It made them stronger in resisting such things as they grew older, yes? But a summer cold, she was certain, would not warrant Abiorn writing to Rivendell to call Eirikr home.

Quietly she passed through the camp to where Voronwen stood dozing above a half-eaten tuft of grass. A few whispered words in Sindarin, and the animal’s ears twitched in acknowledgement. Starlight streamed through the trees as she took out a curry comb and body brush from one of her saddle bags, and Eruviel drank in the cool light that pooled around her as she busied herself.

It helped little. She brushed Voronwen’s neck and remembered seeing Eboric sleeping in his crib for the first time. Eruviel brushed the horse’s shoulders, back, haunches and flanks, and all she could think of was late nights when he knew making noise would draw her out to give him attention. Eruviel thought of the first time he splashed in a puddle, of games, and cooking lessons (messes), and lazy afternoon naps. She thought of his screams the first time she had held him, her hands covered in blood.

Wiping her eyes, Eruviel shook her head at Voronwen’s concerned look, and set to brushing the animal down with the body brush. She had always prayed. It came naturally and nearly always unspoken as she went about her day, like talking to a distant friend. Now her lips moved without sound, and some semblance of peace that matched her carefully set expression slowly warmed her core. So many miles between her and home, what else could she do? She pleaded for Irmo to give him peace in spirit and  in dreams, and for Estë to heal him. She entreated Oromë to give strength to the others, and to Elbereth who’s light was already there. For if there was hope of anyone hearing the elf’s prayers it was her.