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.”
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.
“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.”