Inaris Jade

Lotus

Lotus: To He Who Trusts

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“None of them will thank you,” Inaris murmured sulkily.

“I don’t do it for thanks, silly. Now lie back,” Narys responded quietly, smiling sweetly as she gathered Inaris’ long, platinum locks to one side.

Making sure her grumbles of protest were heard, Inaris slowly lowered herself down, every muscle in her body screaming with fire and poison and a half dozen other sorcerous tricks as her head was cradled in Narys’ lap. “Then why do it? You’re only delaying the inevitable.”

Humming softly, Narys measured out drops of one of her herbal oils onto her hands and began to rub Inaris’ temples. “Do you want to be kept up by their screams? They deserve a better quality of life than reliving their days in their dreams.”

Mmmh… They will just die in a week… two weeks…. a month.” Inaris drew a deep breath, wincing a little as she exhaled. “They are all cowards and traitors, anyways.”

Narys’ hands slowed, and she frowned down at Inaris. “They are afraid. And you think they trust you any more than you do them? Everyone hates the favorite, my dear.”

“He who trusts first, dies first.” Unable to look back at the lipid brown eyes that peered down at her, Inaris turned her head to look over her friend’s knee. “Do you hate me? Even a little?”

“Of course I don’t. And I know you trust me.”

A wry smirk curled up her painted lips as a soft hand cupped her cheek. “You think I do.”

Narys chuckled, turning Inaris’ head to make her look at her as she massaged the healing oils under the young woman’s jaw and along her neck. “I know you do.” Hesitating for a moment, she then asked, “Will you let me? At least once? Just a little hypnotism… after the feast in a few days, perhaps –”

No,” Inaris interrupted firmly. Then with an apologetic smile she shook her head. “No, but thank you. Remembering is how I know how they move and react, and remembering fuels my hate.”

“Just… just don’t hate too much, hmm?” Narys responded, concern in her soft, ethereal voice. “Hate too much and it will do more damage to you than they ever could.”

For a long minute Inaris stared up past the dark waves of brunette hair. “Don’t let them know,” she whispered quietly. “I think you’re my only sanity in this forsaken place.”

“And you mine,” Narys responded, bending to kiss her cheek. “I know what you do when they summon you for their… lessons. Only you could get away with it.”

Inaris sighed, closing her eyes as her arms coiled around Narys’ waist in a small embrace. “When the war is over I need two years. We just have to make it till then, and they will all pay.”

Narys smiled, combing her scented fingers through Inaris’ hair. “I would like that, seeing you in the great chair before the Masters… Mistress of the Blue Door,” she added with a grin.

A wicked smile rippled across Inaris’ features as her eyes opened, bright and welling with purpose in spite of her weakened, used form. “Mistress… and I will paint it red.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Jade’s eyes snapped open. The fire in the hearth had died down to coals, and instead of a cushioned nest she was on the carpet of the cottage. A pang of disappointment and loss tugged in her chest, but it quickly faded in the warmth of the body snuggled against her. Smiling softly, she took care to not wake Yusraa as she peeled herself away from the sleeping woman. There was no telling what hour of night or morning it was from beneath the canopy of the trees, but she knew a chill would creep up through the floor long before the others would wake.

First she fixed the quilt over Sadie, careful not to startle little Izzy as the pup peeked open a sleepy eye to see what Jade was up to. Retrieving the throw from the back of the couch she paused near the curtained window. Hidden in the darkness she peered through a crack in the drapes, careful to not disturb them. The yard, and road were empty, but she lingered, daring the darkness to reveal to her it’s secrets.

Satisfied, she quietly took a moment to ensure the lock on the door was fixed before returning to the thick carpet. Yusraa stirred a little as Jade lowered herself back down to spread the heavy throw over them. Curling back up with her friend and slipping a protective arm over the woman’s waist, her thoughts drifted to Dorsett, then to Sadie and Soron and the rest of her new wealth in friends. Mind finally settling on Yusraa, then Drew, the waves of sleep slowly tumbled over her.

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.

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?”

Lotus: Soft Spot

“Need me to come by again some evening?”

Jade sat on the middle beam of the fence, arms and chin resting on the top. “No… Thanks, though, Tom. I don’t wanna risk you getting caught and into trouble with the Mistress at this point, but I think things should work out now.”

The young man raked aside a bit of soiled straw, looking a tad disappointed. “‘Course Miss Jade…. Ya know, it was kinda fun sneakin’ in and all, pretendin’ to be the gravedigger. Didn’t know there were so many card games, either!”

“There are more, but you’re too nice for me to teach ’em to you,” she responded with a playful wink.

Tom’s cheeks flushed, and he gave a sheepish shrug. “Well… Ann really liked the flowers. Helped a lot in explainin’ that we weren’t doin’ anything.”

“I’m glad she did. And I don’t solicit cute things like you, Tom, you know that.”

He gave her a curious look. “Why not? I mean, you wouldn’t — well, you probably would believe all the boys who talk big like they are gonna go hire one of you girls. Ann… well, she said if I wanted to try it once… with you it’d be all right.”

Jade scoffed. “Shit, Tom. You believed her?”

By the look on the young man’s face, he had.

“She’s just saying that because she’s nice. You take her up on it and you’ll break the poor girl’s heart.”

“Oh…”Tom replied softly, and Jade could see the light come on. “Oh! Well, why in the  — Why are you females all so damned complicated?”

“Because you wouldn’t like us half as much if we weren’t,” she responded with a grin. “Men can be just as complicated, you know.” Jade gave her feathery bangs a toss and added, “And so we’re clear, I’m not doing this for me. He asked me to.”

Tom forked another pitch-fork full of dirty straw into the wheelbarrow. “Then why you lie to your friend?”

Jade frowned. “Because it was the best way to get it done.”

“Was it a good friend?” The young man stopped working for a moment to study her. “Ain’t never seen that look on your face before. You’re really sorry you told him all that, aren’t ya?”

Jade hesitated for a moment before nodding. “If I’d had a traditional wedding he was one of two people I’d thought about asking to walk me.”

Tom gave a low whistle and shook his head. After a moment he gave her a curious look and stabbed his pitchfork into another clump of old straw. “Why didn’t you have one?”

“Because I wanted to be Mrs. Drewett Harlowe,”she said, her grin somewhat sheepish. It was nice to let that out once in a while, and it was easier than she cared to admit for her feelings on the matter — for the man to slip out.

“Hah!” Tom exclaimed, grinning as he worked. “You’ve got a soft spot!”

Jade smirked and threw a shoot of straw at the young man, sending it sailing out to bounce off of his shoulder. “Shut it. I got several, so don’t rat on me.”

“But he’s the biggest one. Why you still workin’ if you’re married? Thought you quit.”

“Because I got bored and hot ‘n bothered,” she replied with a shrug. “Sure he wouldn’t mind sometimes, but Drew’s got too many important things to do than entertaining me all of the time. Besides, our entertainment comes at –”

“Ah, ah! Nuh-uh! Just — No! I don’ wanna know that!”

“What?! You’re the one with all the questions!”

~ ~ ~

Elgathor glanced over his shoulder to where Talagol rode a dozen yards back. The war-lord had not been pleased about having to leave his armour behind, but neither of them would have survived half a day into The Mark if they had remained in their Easterling attire. Now night was once more upon them, and they had had the fortune of joining up with a caravan making it’s way north up the Greenway.

“Who did you say you were looking for?”

He looked back to the … brigand? Mercenary? Eglathor did not like him, whatever he was, and had not taken care to remember his name. “My daughter,” he responded easily, a perfectly convincing look of concern on his face. “She had become separated from us when the enemy made a push south.”

The mercenary grumbled. “Bloody gits. Comin’ out of every nook and cranny –“

“What part of the north you from?” came the sudden question from the commander leading the column up the ruined road. He looked back at Eglathor with a wary, watchful gaze that said he did not miss much, if anything.

Eglathor reined back a glare at the man the men escorting their caravan called ‘Vrax’. Something about him made the sorcerer want to coil up and strike, but even at the other man’s greying age he dared not risk such a fight. “Trestlebridge.” By the gods, it’s the only other town I know of in this forsaken corner of the world.

His answer seemed to suffice, though, and Vrax nodded curtly. “No one coming south by that description. If the lads had seen her they would have talked about it.”

“Oh? Well, I suppose I cannot blame them, so long as it’s just talk,” said Eglathor with a chuckle and a shrug. “She gets her good looks from her mother.”

“Lucky man! I sure hope ya find ‘er,” said the first man who’s name had been forgotten. “Good to see a concerned father with a soft spot for their daughter.”

Eglathor grinned into the growing dark, and nodded. “Yes, yes I suppose I do.”

What Might Have Been

(If things had gone differently…)

Talagol sat outside the office suite of the grand villa. Minutes had passed since the muffled sounds of raised voices had cut off with what he could only assume to have been a book thrown against the thick mahogany doors, and the man wondered why his time was being wasted.

Having survived the bitter defeat in the west, the Wainrider had been surprised when the summons came for him. The battle-hardened man idly played his thumbs over a worn corner of the letter, quelling the growing anticipation as his eyes ran over the tall sandstone pillars. It had been years since he had been back. Longer still since anyone aside from his superiors had dared demand anything of him.

A dull thud sounded as the heavy lock of the double doors slid back. A man emerged from the office. Talagol could not help but cock an eyebrow as he watched his highest ranking sorcerer hurry away, hair tossed and looking like a cow fleeing from a culling.

Turning his gaze back to the still-open doorway, it took him far too long to recognize the young woman standing in the door. She had dyed her hair, but she had her mother’s eyes and, to his surprise, wore the blood-red robes of Mistress.

Tossing her bangs, a wicked smirk played on Inaris’ crimson lips. Crooking a finger, she beckoned him to follow after her as she turned back into the room. “Hello, daddy.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“About time you made it back.”

Asmus curled his upper lip against the thick smell of opium that wafted in every time someone used the back door of the den. “All o’the ships were destroyed. I had to make other arrangements.”

The fat man behind the desk wriggled his nose against an itch, and tossed a fat coin purse across the space between them. “Good work, anyways. The others are waiting for you across town. Use the west entrance.”

Catching the hefty payment, Asmus rose from his seat. “Right. I’ll be around in a week with the new shipment.”

With quick steps he strode down the hall, doing his best not to breathe in the air thick with smoke, incense, and hot bodies. He might not have minded it all that much, but the man had come to expect better things and find his pleasures elsewhere. It was what happened when one caught a lucky break, and he wasn’t the kind of person to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Rubbing the back of his hand over his crooked nose, Asmus left down a long corridor, and stepped out into the daylight that graced the lower quarter of Dol Amroth. The smell only got worse in the filthy alley, but the presence of the open sky beyond high roofs was a small improvement. Turning to head down the narrow way the toe of his boot suddenly caught on something, and the man cursed, stumbling as a wounded yip sounded from the edge of the filthy path.

“What the bloody –” Asmus caught himself on the alley wall and turned to see what he stepped on, and froze. “You?”

The girl laying on the ground drew her knees in close against her chest, hiding behind the long, dirty blond locks that fell around her face.

Asmus crouched down and frowned when she shrunk away from him. What had it been, twelve years? “Shit, girl. What did they do to you?”

Dull amber eyes avoided his gaze, and she shivered in mid-spring heat.

Grunting, Asmus stood, pulled a coin out of his pocket, and tossed it down to her. “Go get yourself a warm meal. Figure I owe ya that much.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Alagos did not bother looking up from his reading as Zagasht pushed past the guards at the door. “I assume you have news,” said the sorcerer mildly. “It had better be worth the interruption….”

Zagasht growled, and nodded quickly. “The others want to know why you have not sent anyone to fortify the tower. The Elf and his Gondorian friends have cut their way into the main hall.”

“Oh, have they?” he mused. It had taken them long enough to get here, but they had indeed come, just as he knew they would. Glancing over his shoulder, Alagos lifted a finger to summon the shadow standing against the wall behind him. “What do they want?”he asked of the thick, clearly agitated Orc.

Zagasht shifted uncomfortably as the dark, lithe figure stopped to hover beside his master. “They… They demand her return… and your head, my lord.”

A cruel, mirthless laugh rose from Alagos’ throat. “Splendid!” He turned his head and reached over to take his companion’s hand. “I had begun to worry they would never come for you.”

“What is your will?”

How deliciously cold her voice was, and the void in those lovely green eyes sent a thrill through his body. She had been his greatest challenge, and his ultimate masterpiece. The little, rage-filled bits of her that remained were carefully caged within her, left to watch everything that she and he did.

“Go. Greet our guests, my pet,” he said, kissing the back of her hand. “I am sure your brother will be happy to see you, and he has many friends to introduce you to.”

Bowing, the elleth that had been Eruviel took up the sword resting on the corner of the desk. Zagasht led the way out of the room, and Alagos sat back to watch her go, a gleeful smile twisting his features as the lights dimmed with her passing.

Bring May

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The clerk sighed again, giving Inaris an impatient look.

“He’ll be here,” she repeated curtly. By the gods, it was not like the clerk had anything else to do all day. Inaris fidgeted with the red silk of her inner sleeve, looking down at the soft lace and skirt as blue as the sea of Rhun. The longer she waited, the more she wondered. Wondering was dangerous, she knew, and it was worse when she began to doubt what she wanted.

Drewett sprinted into the room, a piece of grass in his hair. “I’m ‘ere! I’m ‘ere!” He coughed a little and upset a few chairs as he staggered toward the stage.

The world exploded around her. The light streaming through the grimy windows grew brighter, and the scent of jasmine lingering on her skin and the little white vanilla flowers in her hair filled the air around her.  What do you really want? Inaris could not hide her grin as he filled her vision, and bit back a laugh. “What kept you?” I bet it was that bloody goat.

Drewett grinned back at her, looking at the somewhat worried clerk with a slightly embarrassed expression. “Goat got outta ‘er paddock. Reckon she’s jealous. I’m ‘ere now though!”

Inaris laughed now, a burst of warmth blooming in her chest. “I should have guessed she’d be the one to throw a fit.” She brushed at the sleeve of his best jacket as she gravitated to him. “Don’t you look sharp!”

Drewett shoved his hair back and smoothed down his mustache. He gave a little chuckle. “Y’ look beautiful, by the way. Ain’ never seen a woman looked as beautiful as you…” He looked at her, utterly lost in thought.

The clerk cleared his throat noisily.

Arching a brow at Drew, Inaris smirked before quickly looking to the clerk. “Seems we’re both here now.”

Drewett didn’t seem to notice the clerk, completely absorbed in looking at Jade.

The clerk shuffled his notes. “I… Ah… do you have any witnesses?”

Inaris’s mouth quirked, and she blinked out of the warm spell Drew’s gaze held her under. “Oh… uh…” She looked to Drew. She knew she forgot something. She had meant to ask Dorsett, but when it came down to it, she didn’t have the heart to. He said he was past grief. She didn’t believe him.

Drewett blinked and then shrugged. “Ted’s lookin’ after the farm…” he muttered, scratching at his beard.

The clerk sighed and, looking between the two of them, bellowed out, “Oy! Gwinnie! Ed! Get in here!” After a few awkward minutes passed a hobbit lass in green skirt and a sallow-skinned man in a high collar make their way in and plopped down in seats at the front.

Inaris looked around Drew to grin gratefully at the halfling.

Drewett grinned as well, looking a little embarrassed by the whole affair. The Hobbit, Gwinnie apparently, clapped her hands together. “Oh weddings are so lovely!” she declared to the man beside her who just nodded a little irritably.

The clerk cleared his throat. “Well! Now that’s sorted. My friends, we are gathered together here in the sight of the gods to join together this Man and this Woman in holy matrimony; which is an honorable estate, instituted of the gods in the west, and into which estate these two persons present come now to be joined.”

Inaris reached over to slip her hand into Drew’s, and lightly brushed her hip against his. How perfectly it fit.

The clerk looked over at the two witnesses gathered from the office and flipped over a few of his notes before continuing, “I require and charge you both, as you would answer in full binding before the gods, that if either of you know any impediment, why you may not be lawfully joined together in Matrimony, that you confess it.”

Drewett squeezed Jade’s hand, he didn’t appear to have looked once at the clerk since the man had begun officiating.

Her slender fingers curled over the edge of his palm, and it surprised her at the amount of effort it took to keep her eyes on the clerk.

The clerk looked over at Drewett. “Will you have this Woman to be your wife, in the estate of Matrimony? Will you love her, comfort her, honor, and keep her, in sickness and in health; and forsaking all others, keep only to her, so long as you both live?”

Drewett coughed, aware suddenly that he’d being addressed. He looked over at the clerk and then at Jade. “Wha’? Oh aye!”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

candles

 “What are you still doing up?”

Feira looked up from where she laid on the floor of her little bedroom. The map of the world from Cirieldis lay flat before her, and beside it a fat candle and several books, each one sprawled open and marked with a bookmark decorated with a flower saved from her first nosegay. “I couldn’t sleep.”

“Again?” Torrin left her door open and his stockinged feet padded softly across the hardwood floor. “What are you looking at?”

“A map of the world,” Feira responded, pulling her loose, golden waves back as she sat up.

Torrin crossed his feet and sat down beside her. By Emeleth, but he looked tired. “Going on a trip?”

Feira snuggled up beside him. “The Lady Ciri offered to send me on a trip. I can go anywhere?”

“Why would she do that?”

Feira rolled her eyes. “Because she is nice? The Lady can do as she pleases.”

Torrin reached over the map to pick up a book that showed a painted drawing of Dale, the Lonely Mountain’s silhouette dwarfing the towers of men. “And you are going to take her up on her offer?”

“Of course I am! How many maids do you know that ever leave this city and it’s bay, let alone Gondor? I may never have a chance like this ever again.”

Torrin grinned, and let her take the book from his hands. “Do you know where you want to go?”

“I want to go everywhere. I have been practicing my Haradic diligently, so somewhere in Haradwaith is definitely on my list. Dale too, it being so dreadfully far away. Also Forochel. Did you know the Lady is from there? I have never seen snow. I bet it’s deliciously cold.”

“How are you going to choose?” asked Torrin with a laugh, suddenly looking uncommonly relieved. “You said you had a list?”

Feira leaned forward to scoop up her stack of books, adjusting the short sleeve of her night dress. “Oh, yes! There were one of the Dwarven kingdoms, but I do not know a lick of KhuzdulI had Edoras on my list, but it is too close, and I do not think there is much to do in Rohan besides drink mead, ride horses, look at horses, and talk about horses.”

“Hey, now! That sounds like a good way to spend every day,” said Torrin, feigning offense.

Feira grinned and waved a hand at him. “I was also thinking of the Grey Havens or Lothlorien, but it is all Elves there, and I hear they are all planning on gradually leaving. I imagine it is all a bit depressing in spite of the scenery. I closed my eyes and put my finger on Dorwinion and Khand, but those probably are not the best of places for a young woman to visit right now.”

Torrin rumbled a chuckle, and kissed the side of her head. “Well, wherever you go, I am sure it will be the best of options. I am glad you’re going, though I’ll miss my little Faerie.”

“Just you wait,” she chimed, beaming a smile a bright as the May sun. “I will be a young woman when I come back. But before I forget!  Will you have time to walk me down to the docks tomorrow?”

Torrin sighed, and rolled his eyes. “Leaving him a letter?”

Feira stuck her tongue out at Torrin as he moved to rise to his feet. “Of course! I can’t just up and disappear on him.”

“Like he does to you?”

Feira scowled, and snagged a pillow from behind her to toss at him. “That’s low.”

Torrin grunted, and caught the pillow, stealing it away with him as he headed for the bedroom door. “That’s the truth! Anyways, get some sleep! You can scold me on our way to the docks tomorrow.”

“You’re the best!” Feira called after him with a roll of her eyes as she laid back down to study her map, propping her chin up on her hands.

“I know. Now get some sleep!” the young man called back as he closed the door behind him. “Love you.”

Bossy. Love you, too.”

(Thank you to Raenarcam for playing Drewett! Jade’s portion was taken from in-game RP and edited for tense and composition.)

Anecdotes: Safe

Feira ducked into the churning crowds in the Court of the Fount. Clutching her basket close, she cast a frightened look over her shoulder.

She had seen them as she was finishing her errands for the estate. What do they want?! She knew what they wanted. They had most likely let her spot them on purpose. Then she would tell Torrin, and their message would have been sent for them. Pay up, or else.

Fastening a kerchief over her golden head of hair as many of the female shopkeepers did, Feira skirted around a cluster of sailors, then around the other way past a gaggle of ladies who had come to indulge in the festivities. She spotted them on the far side of the great court, the young dockworker from the market, and the man with the crooked nose. She let out a breath in relief to see that they had lost her.

Careful not to rush or shove past the festival-goers, Feira wove through the throng, heading straight for the tall gates and hedges where she knew she would be safe.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

An excited thrill coursed through Jade as she began gathering the few things in her room at the Mantle that she owned. Yes, in truth she would miss it, but the pleasant ache that lingered in her muscles told her it would not be much.

The door to her room slammed shut behind her. The smell of potent men’s cologne, cloves, and burnt flesh assaulted her nose. Jade did not trust her initial expression, and so continued folding her silk night robe, back still turned to the dark, wiry man who waited five, six… paces away.

“Running away again?”

His voice turned her stomach. “Taking a holiday,” she responded, tone aloof and cold as she felt her walls easily slip back up into place. Perhaps too easily. “We both know it would be worse if I tried to.”

The man’s chuckle crawled over her skin. A dart of heat brushed past her cheek, and burned a small hole in the wall. “It took me a while to find you. I like the haircut.”

Jade fit the robe into her satchel, and kept her hand concealed as she found the weapon hidden within. “You always did prefer fair-faced little boys.”

A strong hand slipped around her neck, and the trickle of electricity meant to shock her as a warning just flowed in to dissipate in her throat. “They were right,” he said after a minute. “How fascinating. And your pulse is as steady as ever. Whenever Talagol is able to travel and find this little hole in the world we should catch up.” A bony finger brushed at the brand behind her ear as if to remind her, then pulled away. “Don’t go far, dear Inaris. I will see you in a few months.”

The door opened and closed quietly behind her. Drawing a shaky breath, Jade waited, listening to the sound of footsteps fade. There was silence, then her heart leapt into a race within her chest as she slowly peeled her fingers away from the hilt of her dagger.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Warmth drained out of the gash in her side and her neck. Her arm screamed in pain as she fought blindly, attempting to dodge the punches that forced her body to suck in the stagnate water she was trapped beneath. Something tore at her leg. Panic rose as her lungs burned, and screams went unheard as the weight of the orc clawing at her breastplate pressed her further into the muck.

Darkness, just like before. No hands to pull her up. No hands to drag her to safety, or help her find her feet. Only the desperate will to live as, once again, the cruel claws of orcs forced her back into the suffocating black.

Eruviel shot upright in her bedroll, gasping in the fresh air that flowed through her tent, and pressed a palm against the throbbing wound on her thigh. Choking on a silent sob she lay back, weight on her good leg as she faced the unused bed beside hers that was littered with rocks. Lifting silent thanks that there was no one there in the dark to see her, she groped above her head till her hands found her broken bow. She clutched the last remnants of her brother to her chest. The Elf curled up, closed her eyes and pushed back the sudden wave of loneliness.

She willed warmth into her limbs, and passed beyond the ruined walls of Ost Guruth. Back she went in her mind, north and west till strong arms held her safely after infinitely worse days, and the words of Fionwe and Milloth mixed and melded together.

Look around you, look around you, dear little sister. Look around you and find strength. I am here. It is never so dark when you see the faces of those you love. It is never so dark when you create your own light.

Anecdotes: What We’ve Done

lotrobarge

Twenty-three men. A hundred and four had joined him at Minas Tirith, and now twenty-three was all that remained of the 6th, excluding Peldirion. By now they had gone to set up camp, but he remained, an unmoving remnant before the fresh graves that had joined the pillar standing in memory of his brother and friends.

You are in good company.

He had put the halberd back in it’s resting place, and only memory told him that the stained silk ribbon tied at it’s neck had once been emerald green. The elf had been right. He had fought harder with it in his hands, and more than once the long weapon had saved his life. Now he returned it, one of the many burdens he had bore now lifted.

It had begun with Halethon, then with Lalaith, and now the last ten years and past two months came slowly crashing down on him. She had made it so much more difficult to keep it all in. Little by little his Arien had pieced him back together. Every soft touch and tender word was salve to an open wound, and suddenly he could grieve. It hurt far worse than Peldirion had ever anticipated, the ache tearing through his chest as the miles between them grew. Hot tears poured down his face in the dark, and he did not move as Ferris stopped several paces behind him.

“He’ll take care of them.”

Peldirion slowly nodded. Yes, they were in far better hands now.

“S-Sir?”

He did not respond.

“Camp has been set up, Sir.”

Still, the young man got nothing but silence.

“I… W-Would — Should I bring your effects here for you?”

It wasn’t the same. Not without Halethon, but he kept telling himself that the boy would learn, and Halethon would return. “No,” he said, his low voice unwaivering, not bothering to wipe his eyes. “Bring food for you and I to my tent. We have work that needs done.”

Hands clasped firmly behind his back, the Captain pivoted on his heel and marched away, mounds of fresh earth marking the graves watching him as he walked away.

Six more months. Only six more months….

 

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She’d left first, shaking bits of spring grass from her short hair that was in desperate need of a trim. Strolling around the block had proven to be just enough time for Jade’s companion to depart, and she pocketed the little pouch of silver as she slipped back into the dimly-lit garden. Ignoring the patch of disturbed grass in a shadowy corner, Jade strolled over to the side where the stone wall was coated with vines boasting of little white flowers.

It smelled better than she had remembered. Stretching out on the low stone wall, Jade cushioned her hands beneath her head, and let the sweet smell of vanilla roll over her. It was funny, people and what they would do. Had it really been a year? He’d prevented her from falling, propelling her towards a silly supper party where she’d found ghosts, and trouble, and somehow her heart. They had shared a small smile at the funeral, and perhaps that was all that was really needed.

Utterly ridiculous.

Smirking, she pulled the thin gold chain she wore up and over her head. Carefully extracting the ring from it’s hold, she slipped the gold band onto her finger and studied it on her hand in the lamp-light. How difficult the farmer made things. How strange, how much she like it. Work had began to loose it’s luster because of him. Her regular customers became unsatisfying, and instead of indulging in the occasional tryst, she had to tell them one by one (with a foreign sense of relief and girlish anticipation), that things had to end.

Sighing, Jade sat up and carefully uprooted a small sprout of the sweet-smelling vine to take with her. She’d be staying at the Mantle tonight. She didn’t want to be, but told herself to enjoy it while it lasted.

 

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Fletch lounged on the bed, head resting on his paws as he watched Eruviel put away her things. Aside from the travel pack and old quiver full of new arrows she’d bought from a vendor she didn’t know, the room felt strange. Everything was tidied and in it’s proper place. The bed was made, downy pillows neatly piled at the head of the bed, her weapons hung from pegs on the wall aside from her bow that lay unstrung on the bench by the foot-board, and a fistful of flowers and grass (courtesy of Eboric) filled the little vase sitting on her mantle.

Removing the blue agate pendant from where it hung around her neck, she carefully laid it to rest in the crystal box on her nightstand. Raenarcam and Kemendin both insisting anything of sentiment be left behind, she gladly replaced nearly all of her gear, and remembering the memory she had witnessed, Eruviel replaced the rest as well, just to be safe. Bow from Milloth, swords from Rainion, bracers from Raen, daggers from Myrthrost, shirt from Esgaroth….

Her door locked just in case Eboric woke and decided to try and wander into her room, she sat on the rug in her skin, Fletch hopping down to stretch out beside her. Raen had cut her hair. All the lovely silver strands. Eruviel was not willing to make such a sacrifice. With care she wove her long, soft waves up into a tight bun that would be out of sight and out of mind.

“You be good, all right? No running about Durrow causing trouble while I’m away,” she muttered softly, scratching the growing pup behind his ears.

Fletch made a soft grumble in understanding. Licking her hand, he rolled over onto his side to beg for more pets.

 

lotroDAnight

“Good evening… May I help you?” Having only just gotten home after putting in extra hours, Feira looked out into the waning evening light at the man who stood on the stoop.

His face paled for a moment, looking at her as if he was seeing a ghost. A minute passed before the middle-aged man cleared his throat. “You’ve grown up. I didn’t — That is… Is Torrin home?” He fidgeted, trying hard not to look anxious. The edges of his eyes looked blood-shot, and something about him, perhaps the smell of burnt, syrupy smoke that lingered about him or the strangely familiar crook of the bridge of his nose, made her feel uneasy.

Sorry, Faerie. Been a long day. If anyone comes by asking for me, I’m not home.

“I — I’m sorry, sir, but he is not,” she replied, careful not to move to block his view as he peered past her into the small house. “I can tell him you called though, mister….”

The man swallowed, and Feira resisted squirming under his gaze as he eyed her. “Just tell him a friend stopped by, and that we’ll come collecting in two months.”

Feira nodded, the stiffness that gripped her joints aiding her in not closing the door too fast. She waited, clinging to the door handle as she listened to the man’s retreating footsteps. Then she remembered to breathe. Sinking down in the corner behind the door, Feira pressed a trembling hand to her mouth to keep back the rising panic. Amber eyes lifted from the dark floor to the ceiling beneath where her brother slept.

What have you done?