Memories

Eruviel remembers.

A Tribute: Daughter of Twilight

 

Eruviel remembers.

“Artis? Tindomiel! Hurry, little light, or you are going to miss it.” Istuion stood atop the grand, polished stone steps leading up from the lush summer garden. His tall, regal form stood like a beacon, silhouetted by the golden sunlight descending far beyond the wide balcony.

“I never miss it, Ada,” the little elf child known as Artis huffed indignantly. Scampering down the path, the white sand was hardly disturbed by her flight, though her long, dark mahogany hair flew in disarray behind her. The strings of garden lights twinkled on behind her, urging her little legs to run faster at the prospect of missing her favorite time of day. “Ada, I am — ooph!” she cried as she stumbled up the last step.

The Noldor lord laughed at her, the rare sound echoing off the stone arches as he stooped down, catching her before she fell. “Ah, take care. You are not that late, daughter.” Scooping her up into his arms he walked out onto the balcony. “There we are,” he chuckled, setting her down to sit on the railing. The balcony lined the fifty foot high cliff on the western edge of the haven, and though she knew he did not like her sitting on the edge, he still let her sit there for some reason unknown to her.

“Thank you, Ada!” she chimed, beaming a bright smile up at him as he sat beside her. She liked it when he laughed. It was a warm, rich tone that filled her with a joy her young mind could not quite grasp. But she would, she told herself. She did not know why he hardly ever did so unless around her or Nana, but as soon as she could figure out what she did that caused it, she was determined to do it more. Dangling her feet into the seemingly vast space, she let her legs swing freely in the hopes of feeling the mist rising from the waterfall twenty yards to their left.

Her glistening emerald eyes widened as the sun disappeared over the horizon. The light did not fade, however. The swirling streams of clouds lit up in golds, pinks and purples, the soft rays of warm light dancing against the darkening sapphire sky. Above the northern edge of the horizon the first star emerged, twinkling in greeting.

“There!” Artis pointed, her face illuminated with delight. “Ada, do you — Ada!” she grumbled, jutting out her jaw as if to incriminate Istuion as she caught him watching her instead of the twilight.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he chuckled warmly. “Where is it?” Putting an arm around her as she leaned to far forward for comfort, he looked to where she pointed. “I see it.”

Artis giggled, scooting closer to sit against him, wrapping her little arms around his as they watched the stars emerge, one after the other. “Ada?’

“Yes, daughter?”

“Are you a king?”

The elf lord’s shoulders shook with a laugh. “No, little light, I am only a lord. There are no more Eldar kings, though if my kin and Gondolin had survived you would be wearing a circlet and not a braid around that little head of yours.”

Artis hummed in thought, leaning her head against his side. “Ranion said he would make me one.”

“Oh? Maybe I should help him in this. A crown might keep you in your studies and not out getting your feet muddy in the vineyards.”

Artis’s brow furrowed slightly. “But I like riding horses and climbing trees. Milloth even told me he would teach me how to shoot a bow.”

Istuion grew quiet for a moment, and in the stillness Artis did not have the courage to look up into his stern, ageless face. “We will see about that,” he said quietly, giving her a soft squeeze. “But for now let your mother teach you history and dancing. Young elf princesses have no need to shoot a bow.”

Artis nodded dutifully, thinking it best not to tell him about the sword hidden under her mattress, crafted for her by Ranion. Looking up to study her father’s face she wondered if he already knew.

The dark of night enveloped them as the last glimmer of twilight disappeared into the west. Light from the garden and the veil of stars cast a misty aura around them, Artis caught a sad glint in Istuion’s eyes as he lifted her up and set her on her feet beside him. “Ada? What is it?”

The Noldor lord looked down at her for a long moment, holding her small hand in his. “I was just thinking that I have to leave for several months. I will miss watching the twilight with you.”

Stepping with him as they moved in the direction of the tallest stone home Artis shook her head violently. “You are going to Im-mdris and Lo . . . Lorien?” she asked, struggling with the pronunciations.

“I am, I’m afraid,” he replied, giving her hand a squeeze. “I have friends to visit and buisness to discuss with the other lords.”

“Then I’m going too!” she exclaimed, skipping.

“Oh no, you are not.”

“Yes I am,” she insisted, her innocent tone leaving no room for refusal.

“No, you are not.”

“Mhm!”

“And how is that?”

Artis did not miss a beat. “Because Ranion and Milloth are going, and mother wants to go too, and you promised that you would take me some day. Why not now?”

Istuion looked down at her in surprise, having forgotten his promise and that his sons told her everything. He opened his mouth to respond, but Artis jumped in once more.

“Besides,” she said sweetly, “If I go, then we won’t miss twilight.”

Lifting her up Istuion set her on his hip as he continued on towards the house. Through the second story bay window they could see his wife reading, curled up on a small couch as she always did. “Well, I suppose I could let you come . . . . We cannot miss an evening together, now, can we?”

Artis shook her head, wrapping her arms around his neck as he carried her. “Nope. Not ever.”

 

(In honor of my father’s birthday, Saturday, August 30th. Having passed away this spring, I wanted to write this in his memory. He always encouraged me to pursue my passions, and though fiction was not his forte, he was always proud of me and supported me in my every endeavor.)

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A Little More Time

Eruviel remembers.

It was a quiet day. A lazy day. The soft mattress and blankets puffed up around them in soft waves and the shimmering mountain sunlight filtered through the thick glass window to chase away their late morning slumber. Groaning in protest as the light hit his face, Adrovorn turned his head from where it rested in the small of Eruviel’s back to hide it between her side and the bed.

“So you are finally awake,” smiled Eruviel as she rolled over onto her back and stretched out. She could not help but chuckle at the squinted glare he shot her as she abandoned him to the sunlight.

“No, I’m not,” said Adrovorn in a yawn as he stretched out his thickly muscled arms. Hooking a hand over her side he pulled her close and laid back down, his broad, lightly tanned shoulders draped across her hips. Pecking a kiss on her cool skin he set his head down on her stomach and tucked his hands under her back. “Did you rest well?” he asked, his voice low and thick from sleep.

Eruviel nodded as she fixed the pillow beneath her head. “I always rest well with you,” she said, offering a contented sigh, his head rising and falling with her breath. “I do not think I need to ask if you slept well or not.”

Adrovorn shook his head. “No, you don’t. I slept so hard I don’t even remember dreaming.”

“I am glad,” she responded, combing her fingers through his strawberry blonde hair. In the last months her own dreams were not as distant as they had been in the past. She did not escape to thoughts of distant rivers or white shores. No, she dreamt of the previous day, and the day before that. Of their wedding under the flowering trees of Celondim, and the blissful weeks that followed. They would fight, hunt and drink together with the dwarves during the day, and at night . . . .

“We will not be here much longer, will we?” she asked, interrupting her own thoughts as color trickled into her cheeks.

Adrovorn sighed, crossing his arms over her abdomen and resting his head atop of them to look up at her. “No. I think we have three or so more weeks. Then we head out to find the Tribunal.”

Eruviel raised her eyes to the stone roof of the bedroom, her eyes catching the glints of dust floating through the rays of sunshine. “It’s strange . . . thinking about how much will change.”

“You will miss it, won’t you?” asked Adrovorn as he propped himself up on one arm, tracing his free hand lovingly over the pale scars that wound around her torso.

“I will. Eriador is all I have ever known. I have never been east of Lothlorien nor south of Enedwaith.”

“Gondor is a wide land. When this war is over you may get lost exploring it all,” he said with a smile. Scooting up he pecked a kiss on her cheeks before resting his head on her chest. “And you will already have a head start on seeing the world after I am gone.”

“I will not be seeing much of the world at all after you are gone,” she whispered into his hair. “I meant what I said the other night.”

Adrovorn raised his head, sitting up as his dark blue eyes searched hers. A soft look replaced his natural sternness as he studied her. “I cannot ask something like that of you.”

“That’s why I am giving it to you. Besides, I would think the halls of Iluvatar would be more grand than those of Manwe,” she chuckled softly.

A mischievous smile curved up the corners of his mouth and Adrovorn was about to speak when a knock sounded from the front door. Letting out a frustrated sigh Adrovorn laid back down atop of her, burying his face in the nape of her neck. “If we don’t move they won’t know we’re here,” he muttered.

Chuckling, Eruviel wrapped her arms around his shoulders as the knock sounded again, louder. “Give them a minute and they will go away.”

The knock sounded a third time, accompanied by a muffled call of, “My lord?” The fourth time Eruviel and Adrovorn looked at each other, silently debating whether or not to actually answer the persistent visitor. Then silence. The two waited, their heads lifted and turned towards the door.

“Maybe he left?” Eruviel wondered.

“Good. We rarely get a whole day to lay around,” huffed Adrovorn as he rolled onto the side and pulled her against his chest. The calm returned. Nestling against him she laid there for a time, forgetting everything else. The two had almost fallen back asleep when a new, harder knock sounded against the front door, the thud echoing through the small home.

“Adrovorn?” sounded Myrthrost’s voice from the other side. His tone made Eruviel’s stomach sink. “I’m sorry, but I know you’re in there. It’s urgent.”

Letting out an irritated growl Adrovorn pulled himself away from her and slid out of bed. Quickly stepping into his trousers he leaned over to plant a warm kiss on her mouth. “I’ll be right back love.”

Nodding, Eruviel sat up as she watched him walk out into the common room. She heard the door open, and the low voices exchange words. She could not make out what had been spoken, but it was only a minute before Myrthrost departed and the front door shut. She waited.

“Adrovorn?” she called softly. No reply came. Rising from the bed she wrapped the large white sheet around her and padded softly out of the bedroom. Her tall Gondorian stood still as stone in the entryway, a tattered parchment stretched between his hands. Stopping beside him she rested a deceptively delicate hand on his forearm. “What does it say?” she asked simply, reading the dark storm of emotions that shadowed his face.

“It’s from Pelargir,” he said quietly, rereading the letter again. “The city has fallen into chaos, and a fleet of Corsairs presses hard against the navy. I am being called back.” Sighing heavily Adrovorn sunk down to the floor, leaning back against the wall. “This was sent months ago,” he said gravely. “My men and I are long overdue.”

Looking down at him for a moment Eruviel shifted the sheet around her and gracefully lowered herself to sit beside him. “Well, then we will leave for Gondor sooner than planned.” She tried to sound encouraging, but his unguarded expression of dismay made it difficult to even smile.

“I do not want you to have to fight,” said Adrovorn bitterly as he looked up to study her face, “and I was hoping that the ten years I’ve been away would see the end of this turmoil.” She could see the anger swelling in him towards whoever it was that wrote the letter.

A genuine smile played across her lips. “You know I do not mind fighting. It is what I’m best at.”

A pained look came into his eyes and Adrovorn handed her the letter. “No, Eruviel. I cannot have you come with me.”

“I do not see why not,” she said as she read over the orders. In spite of brevity, the page was filled with haunting details of the south being raided and burned. Osgiliath was overrun and a large part of the army was stuck in the west. And she’d thought things were bad here in the north.

“Eruviel,” Adrovorn cupped a hand on one side of her face to turn her head to look at him, “You cannot come with me yet. I will go and fulfill my oath, and when my lord releases me I will come back for you.”

No, my love. I am going with you. I am fully capable of facing whatever fate awaits us,” she said firmly.

“You really are an anomaly. What part of ‘no’ don’t you understand?”

“I have lived and fought fifteen hundred years before you came along, and I do not intend to wile away the days here when you are down in Gondor risking your life!”

“You don’t get it,” he said in frustration, gripping her arm. “I know you can face anything! But you shouldn’t have to, not any more, not if I can help it. Eruviel, I will be leading hundreds of men into battle and if you were there I would put your safety above theirs. My love, I can’t allow it! Many of them will die anyways, but I can’t leave a hundred families without fathers because my judgement was impaired out of worry for you.”

Eruviel forced down the tears that threatened to appear. She did her best to keep her lower lip from trembling, and merely nodded as he gently pulled her over to sit between his legs. “I understand,” she said quietly, resisting the urge to shrug off his hand.

“I am sorry Eruviel, that this had to happen when we were just beginning,” said Adrovorn, tucking stray strands of hair behind her pointed ears.

Eruviel shook her head, ruining his careful work. Shoving her bangs out of her face she did her best not to show her disappointment, and worry — among a hundred other emotions. “Do you mind if I ride with you and the Tribunal for a part of the journey?”

“Not at all. I would prefer it,” he said with a small chuckle, running a hand up and down her arm.

Nodding, she leaned against his chest with a small sigh, relishing the feel of his skin against hers and listening to the strong beat of his heart. “How long do yo think you will be gone?”

“A year at the most,” he said with certainty. “And if my lord tries to keep me longer I will just leave. He can find another captain to lead his men.”

A few minutes of silence between them passed as his words somewhat calmed her and dried up the moisture that had gathered in the corners of her eyes. “Then we should prepare,” she said reluctantly.

“I don’t think so,” he said with a warm smile. Kissing her shoulder he wrapped his strong arms around her and held her close. “I say when we leave and we still have a little more time.”

Small Victories

Eruviel remembers.

Heat blasted up through the iron grate beneath their feet. The sound of shouts and clashing weapons rang from outside the chamber doors that Daran held shut. Fighting as a single unit, Adrovorn with his sword and shield, and Eruviel with her bow and knives had (with heavy support from Myrthrost and Milloth) held their own against the Black Numenorean. Adrovorn’s great shield had taken such a beating that she could barely make out the white tree emblazoned on it’s face.

Behind them Adrovorn’s soldiers drug fallen comrades behind a shield wall. The surprise attack had been betrayed to the enemy had slain half of their numbers. It was a staggering loss. Milloth and Myrthrost now stood on the opposite side of the room behind the shields, one casting spells to counter the sorcerer’s attacks, and the others to protect those that still survived.

Parrying Alogos’s strike, Eruviel ducked to the side as Adrovorn rushed past her to slam his shield into their opponent. Adrovorn’s eyes were bloodshot, and his shield arm had begun to shake from trauma. As he dropped to a knee to protect her from another strike, Eruviel knew his injury was more than that. Alagos had spoken of darkness and of his master through the duration of the fight, and Eruviel could feel his words seep like poison through her veins. How well she remembered the feeling. Meeting Adrovorn’s look Eruviel knew he could not hold out much longer. Neither could she.

“How convenient that you came back, what ever your reasons are. You have saved me the trouble of hunting you down,” Alagos sneered. His eyes, pale from his craft, flashed with pain as he wrenched a barbed arrow from his side. In spite of the hate and lust for power that hung about him, Eruviel could sense his fear of death. She could see how he struggled for breath, and knew that he was aware that she saw it.

“I will not live with your shadow following us wherever we go,” Eruviel growled, stepping up beside Adrovorn as she shifted her grip on her weapons handle. How many of his spies had she killed in the past eight years? We will not be free till you are dead.

Eruviel trembled as Alagos’s voice, rich with his Adûnaic accent clawed through her mind. You fight in vain. I find pleasure in tormenting the only Eldar to escape me. Know you will have no victory. If I die, someday my brothers will find you.

Adrovorn must have read the fear that twisted across her face, or possibly heard the same voice as well, for they leapt forward to attack at the same moment. Being nearly equal in height and broader than their foe, Adrovorn stepped inside the Black Numenorean’s reach and brought the edge of his shield down on Alagos’s wrist to disarm him. Grabbing him by the throat Adrovorn then threw Alagos over the alter at the chamber’s center. The evil man had barely a second to find his feet before Eruviel flew across the space between them with a shout. Her blade aimed at his chest, Alagos stumbled back as she continued to fight against his hold. His eyes suddenly grew wide with shock and pain as the tips of the iron spikes jutting from the wall blossomed from his chest.

Time froze. Blood trickled down the fuller of her blade from his hand to her cross guard. A fire burning several yards beneath them on the lower level hissed as streams of red coursed over the fallen Numenorean’s armour and through the gaps in the iron floor. Eruviel’s arms trembled as she gripped her hilt, staring up at the mocking eyes of her greatest fear while the color drained from his face, still trying to grasp what had just happened.

“So, you’ve done it,” coughed Alagos, blood filing his mouth. Releasing her sword his arms fell limply to his sides. “You will never be free,” he whispered hoarsely as the last breath of air escaped his body.

Taking the Fort

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Eruviel remembers.

“Dreadward!” boomed Adrovorn, his strong voice rising above the clamor of the fight taking place at an enemy stronghold a short distance away. Twenty well equipped riders fell into formation. Even their horses seemed to respond to the Gondorian Captain, waiting patiently for his next orders. Wheeling his black war steed around he stopped beside Eruviel, the two exchanging curt nods.

Giving him a small smile, Eruviel reached over to unhook the sheath of his sword from where it had gotten caught in his mount’s tack. “The same as usual, my lord?”

“The same as usual, my lady,”Adrovorn responded, extending his arm down to tuck a stray strand of hair behind Eruviel’s pointed ear. His steel blue eyes lingered on her before flicking back to her quiver, counting.

“It is not like you to worry,” Eruviel chuckled as she fit a new string onto her bow.

“I don’t show it when I worry,” he quipped dryly. Sitting upright he patted the neck of his horse as he watched the fort beyond the treeline, waiting for the signal. “Until we reach Lindon I doubt that I shall sleep at all,” he added gruffly.

Myrthrost, one of Adrovorn’s closest friends shot her an amused look over the head of his dwarven companion, Rhuniki, who blabbered on and on about how to best kill an orc. Wrinkling her nose back at him she turned her head just in time to see a torch being waved from the top of the wooden wall. “You will have time enough to sleep after we get to Thorin’s Hall,” said Eruviel, choosing an arrow from her back and knocking it.

“No I won’t,” said Adrovorn quietly, laughing as color crept into Eruviel’s cheeks. “Myrthrost! Rhuniki! Take the gate,” he commanded as he unclasped and pulled out a black spiked flail from behind his saddle. Twenty swords rang as they were unsheathed in unison. The dwarf let out a zealous war cry, and he and the man dashed forward with Eruviel following a few paces behind, sniping archers from the wall. Shoving each other back and forth as they ran, Rhuniki brandished his axe, jesting with the more level-headed Myrthrost. Eruviel smirked as she released another volley upwards, giving the two precious seconds to get to the gate and take out the dozen orcs guarding it. Sometimes she wondered which one of them was the sidekick.

It had been eight years since the Dreadward Tribunal had been formed. Campaigning across the North Downs into Evendim the troop fought with others of like-minds, dealing judgement and driving back the enemy where few dared to go. They had become a cohesive unit with Myrthrost, Adrovorn, Rhuniki, Milloth and Eruviel at its core. It had been a refreshing change from the years of living and fighting in the shadows of Angmar. Daran had been dissatisfied at her departure, but had also understood, even more than she had at the time. Sprinting through the gate Eruviel glanced back to see the column of dust rise from where the rest of the troops sped across the dry earth. What had it been . . . three years? Adrovorn had stopped her after a bloody battle and told her upfront of how he felt and of his intentions. He had been tactful in his own way, and eloquent as always, but the man never beat around the bush. And she had made him wait.

“There they are!” shouted Rhuniki as a sizable number of Tarkrip stampeded down the lane towards them. Eruviel loosed a succession of arrows into the approaching mob as Myrthost fit a second rune between his fingers and cast barrier of protection around them.

The sound of thundering hooves drew near, and as the Tarkrip stumbled over one another to retreat, the trip jumped to the side of the road to watch Adrovorn and his men thunder past. Taking a moment to watch the riders plow through the enemies ranks, their black cloaks billowing like smoke behind them, Eruviel split off from the man and dwarf to scale the lower inner wall of the fort.

Running along the elevated walkway she dropped every enemy archer she laid eyes on. In the center of the fortified camp she could see Milloth battling the Tarkrip Commander. Adrovorn had dismounted and now fought back to back with the Eldar, leveling any foe that came within reach of his blood coated flail. They do not call him the Black Thorn for nothing, Eruviel smiled to herself as she plunged her sword through the skull of an orc clinging to the edge of the platform.

Just as the battle seemed to have be won, a foul tension wound in her gut. Across the large yard Eruviel could see Milloth reach back to find his quiver empty as the Tarkrip Ccommander’s blade cut across his breastplate. A particularly large orc flanked Adrovorn as he was beset by two others, and at the same moment a dozen Tarkrip clamored up onto the wooden walkway on either side of her. In the blink of an eye she took note of the other fighters, and made eye contact with the few that had started to run towards her, their own bows rising. Knocking an arrow to her bowstring she took aim, the white fetching brushing across her cheek. My last one. She exhaled a whispered blessing to ignite the light oil, and released.

The arrow streaked across the distance with a flash of lightening (courtesy of Myrthrost), and struck the enemy commander in the forehead with a sickening thwap. The foul creature had hardly begun to fall back when Milloth wrenched the arrow from it’s face and spun around to peg the orc leaping at Adrovorn in the heart. Drawing her sword and dagger Eruviel dodged the first two of her attackers before cutting them down. Thrusting her sword into another on her left she wrenched the weapon out to smash the pommel into the face of the orc behind her. An arrow from below took out the creature as it swung its dark blade, giving Eruviel the moment she needed to jump down from the wall, avoiding the spread of arrows that mowed down the Tarkrip defenders attacking her.

Rolling as she hit the ground, Eruviel rose to her feet, and took a moment to observe Rhuniki finish off a downed foe before relaxing her grip on the hilts of her weapons. It was finally over. Nodding to the Rangers and Gondorian fighters that had come to her aid she walked across the yard littered with corpses towards the rest of her gathered comrades. The handful of men with her half followed, half guarded her. Adrovorn, she thought, letting out a short huff. Several months back his men had taken it upon themselves to ensure her safety, but this was ridiculous. The look Adrovorn shot her told her that even he thought his men might be taking their self-proclaimed duty too close to heart.

One more stop, she told herself as she stepped between Milloth and Adrovorn, exchanging a smile of understanding with her brother. One more trip north to protect my future from the past.

Her First Love, And The Monster Inside

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Eruviel remembers.

 

Eruviel rode in the midst of the troop of fifty Rangers along the shore of Nenuial. Ignoring the murmur of discussion around her, she fixed her sullen, green eyes ahead of the riders. A new, younger captain named Terhun lead their march, and she and he did not quite see eye-to-eye. The rendezvous with Aloeer could not happen soon enough.

“Wipe that pout off your face, mellon,” Cade chided her as he reigned his horse in to ride beside her, “it does not become you.”

“I do not pout,” she replied flatly. Can I not go one afternoon without you making me smile? It was a rare day indeed when the elf maiden wanted to frown, or at least remain expressionless.

The handsome Dunedain Ranger shot her a sideways grin, his sea-blue eyes gleaming with more meaning than he dared to utter in the midst of their companions. Dark hair hung in waves just past his shoulders, his strong features made his six foot frame seem taller. “Still upset about not being allowed to go with the scouts?”

Eruviel nodded curtly, her eyes piercing deep into the forest around them. “I feel uneasy, as if there is a shadow that hinders my sight. Being upwind of whatever evades my detection does little to help the matter.”

Cade nodded slightly as he followed her gaze. “They should have returned by now, but it is a wide land, and they are some of the best we have.

“A man who’s optimism dwarfs my own,” she muttered, amusement trickling into her voice.

“You worry too much, Eru,” Cade chuckled. “What shall we talk about that will put your mind at ease?”

Unable to keep it back, her face finally cracked a smile. “Tell me again about your cabin, heruamin,” she said. Cade loved to tell her about his cabin up in the mountains, and she loved to listen to his rich-toned voice and the hope it carried. His home had to be the most perfectly quaint, hidden valley a man could have hoped to stumble upon. Late nights he would paint mental pictures for her of the crystal spring that bubbled out of the rock and flowed into a small lake. He told her of the groves of coniferous trees, the rolling green hill the house was built upon, and how the stars seemed to dance around the valley at night. He had mentioned it several years back, and from stories and suggestions there grew to be an understanding that after this last appointment he would take her there. His subtle excitement made her want to spur her horse into a run to get the journey over with.

Listening to him talk about how he found the valley, and how he’d built the house, fashioned with both human and elvish designs made the time pass with ease. After the battle when she had first found Ge’bar was when Cade had left for several years before returning, trusting the secret of his home to her with a serious reverence. They had always been like that. Not even Milloth knew of the affection between the Human and Eldar that had grown over the fifteen years that they’d been friends. They had never spoken of it. Not even had they touched except in the smallest of ways when brushing hands passing a pint or fighting back to back and the like. It was a quiet, mutual tenderness; a feeling of completion.

Riding over the next rise the troop of Rangers suddenly grew silent. They all finally sensed what had been plaguing Eruviel for miles. She noted that the scouts had not yet returned. Two groups of three were motioned to fan out ahead and into the woods on the mountain side of the main force as they continued forward. Eruviel and Cade pulled out their bows and the rest of the men followed suit.

Terhun stopped their advance and pulled out a folded piece of parchment that had been handed down three ranks before being entrusted to his hands. Their marching orders. “Aloeer should be here,” he said quietly. The men parted as Terhun turned his horse to walk back into the ranks, and that was when she saw it. The trap hidden beneath fallen logs and leaves.

“Stop!” she cried, lurching forward with an arm outstretched towards the captain. But it was too late. Terhun’s horse hit the trigger and a spiked branch flung out of the shadows, striking a killing blows to the man’s horse. Terhun fell to the ground and as the wounded horse let out a scream every horse panicked as a barrage of arrows whistled through the trees into the group.

Kaita, Marisily,” Eruviel ordered in a whisper as she ducked down to avoid being shot. In the chaos her horse quickly obeyed, laying down on its side as many of the other mounts fell or fled. Dropping to the ground she loosed volleys of arrows into the trees, hearing her arrows hit their hidden targets nearly every time. Cade knelt behind her, firing in the opposite direction. Nearly thirty of the original fifty Rangers remained alive.

Just as the arrows ceased to fly a shout rose from around them and brigands leapt out from the trees to fall upon the Rangers. Gauredain and criminals tore into their ranks, ten falling to every Ranger. No, even more. Having been in the middle of the troop when the attack began, Eruviel and Cade had the advantage of some cover, loosing their arrows quickly as if in one seamless, continuous motion.

“This must be Sickleaf’s band!” Cade shouted back to her.

“On your right!” she called back mid-shot. He redirected himself and loosed several arrows. “But where is the coward?” she asked. Only ten Rangers remained. Turning to shoot in the other direction her sight landed on the leader of the brigands as she dropped the man next to him. Bran Sickleaf met her gaze, pointing a crossbow back at her, his hand squeezing the trigger. In the distance the approaching thundering of hooves could be heard.

Her next arrow was almost out of her quiver when she was suddenly grabbed and thrown to the side. Hitting the flank of another fallen horse, the arrows that pierced its hide breaking beneath her, she rolled over the ground, scrambling to find her footing. Rising up, her eyes looked back just in time to see Cade deflect one bolt with his sword, and catch one with the arch of his bow as two others struck him, knocking him back.

Unable to draw a breath she ran back over the corpse-covered ground to fall by his side. One bolt jutted out from his shoulder, the other from his lower right chest. There was no doubt that the second had struck his liver, and bile rose in her throat as she pressed down on the wound in attempt to stop the bleeding.

“Cade? Cade,” she begged frantically, using one bloodied, trembling hand to move his long, dark hair out of his eyes.

“E-Eruviel,” he coughed, reaching a hand up to cup her face.

“Shh, shh,” she hushed him as she bent closer, the long, loose hair from her forehead dangling down to brush his face. “Tampa; do not speak, beleger. You must hold on.” Please.

Shaking his head he managed a garbled chuckle. “As long as you are alright, I am content.” His fingers combed through her hair and pulled her down to him, his lips meeting hers for a soft, brief moment. Releasing her he opened his mouth to speak but the air slowly whispered out of his lungs and he closed his eyes in one last, faint smile as his arm dropped limp by her side.

She could feel them watching her, those who were not fighting. She could feel Bran’s cruel eyes observe her from a distance as she crossed Cade’s arm’s over his chest. She could feel the beast that she had met in the Barrow Downs and who had shown itself the day she saved Ge’bar rise up from its slumber and take hold. Her limbs stopped shaking, her breath steadied, and her hand closed over the hilt of Cade’s dagger.

Whirling around her blade sliced across the gut of a Gauredain and came up to pierce under the wild man’s chin, the tip showing just above his wolf-head cowl. Pulling the dagger out she turned to meet the gaze of Sickleaf. Her green eyes darkened, turning nearly black, shining cold and bitter as she stepped gingerly over the bodies. She deflected another bolt from the brigands crossbow, turning just slightly to cut down a criminal that dared to get close with little effort. Half of the remaining brigands ran as she approached them, the other half ran when Aloeer and his men rode on to the scene.

“Eruviel!” Aloeer called out to her, jumping down from his horse as the others searched for survivors.

Stopping under the edge of the treeline she stared out, watching Bran Sickleaf run away, stumbling as he looked back at her. “Do not wait for me,” she said quietly.

“Eruviel, what happened?” the man asked, taking her arm as she stepped away from him.

“We were ambushed,” she said, looking back to Aloeer. “I assume that the orders Terhun received were forged.” Glancing back she whistled once for her horse who rose, careful not to step on any of the dead, and walked forward to stand beside her. “Cade is dead,” she said bitterly. “I am going after Sickleaf.”

A flicker of realization passed over Aloeer’s face as he released her arm. Understanding the rage that boiled up to fill the void in her eyes, he inclined his head to her. “We will meet you back in Tinnudir.”

Swinging herself up onto Marisily’s back the horse jumped forward, reading her mistresses emotions and the sense of urgency. Eruviel could clearly see the path Bran had taken. Bow in one hand she galloped through the dense forest, her sure-footed mount weaving through the maze of trees at Eruviel’s guidance. The black faded from her eyes to be replaced by a green as cold as the ice shelves of Forochel. She wanted to weep, and scream, and hide herself from the world.

A shout of alarm sounded from up ahead. You fools. Your spell has worn off and I can sense you a mile away. Bracing herself with her knees she sat up and knocked an arrow in her bow. She could see them. Passing one, three, then six tree she loosed the arrow, quickly following it with another. The two men running with Sickleaf dropped with a sickening thud. Shouting in horror and surprise, Bran turned to run up a steep rock slab that led up the side of the feet of the mountains.

“You still run from me, Bran?” she called up to his fleeing figure. Leaping from Marisily’s back, Eruviel shouldered her bow and sprinted up the steep slope with little effort and every grace of her race. She felt nothing; not pain nor exhaustion. The steep climb only seemed to invigorate her, and the only thing she did feel was the drive to catch the murderer and make him pay. She had been told of him before, and many had tried to stop him. His heritage came from killers, thieves and rapists. His family served the dark powers of the world with abandon; hunting down those who strove to live good, honest lives. Now she hunted him.

The slope was higher than she thought. The rock ended, extended in a patch of grassy earth before more stone stretched to the sky. Eruviel was ahead of him now. Her hands gripped her dagger in one hand and Cade’s in the other. I will not let him get away with this, she thought darkly. A small, cruel smile curved her lips as she hid just out of sight. I am a part of this world . . . of this war, and though I suffer as they do I will not flee across the sea. Looking up, her now-frosty green eyes saw Bran scramble up over the ledge, glancing behind him in panic. The brigand stood maybe an inch shorter than she. He was not a large man, but his lithe body was built and hardened from the harsh life he led. He will pay.

Stepping out from her hiding place Eruviel stood there, staring coldly back at the man’s terrified eyes as she looked at her. “I have heard of your deeds. You should not have ran, Sickleaf.”

A cocky smirk awoke on his face. “And I have heard of yours. The Lady of Mercy. Come to kill me for murdering your friend?” The words were no sooner out of his mouth before Eruviel shot forward. She could feel his jaw bone flex and crack, and the skin of his face under her knuckles split. Unprepared for the force of her strike, Bran flew backwards to tumble down the smoothed stone slope. Not stopping, Eruviel followed, half running half sliding down the steep incline.

He hit the grassy lower ledge hard, crying out in pain, clutching his left leg as he stopped rolling inches from the edge of the lower slope. “You filthy elf,” he spat at her as she slowed herself and stopped several feat from him, standing with an unnerving air of anger and control about her. Pulling himself up with the help of a spruce sapling he glared at Eruviel. “I was aiming for you, you know,” he chuckled. “Though I might have wounded you more simply by killing him.”

Casting her dagger into Sickleafs good foot she pulled her bow off her back, deaf to his foul curses and screams. “You are disgrace to the great men who share their race with filth such as yourself.” Fixing her last arrow she slowly pulled back on the string, aiming the iron tip at the brigands head. “I believe the right of last words are customary.”

“You’re really going to shoot me from a distance?” he growled as he leaned back on the sapling for support. “The Lady of Mercy can’t get her hands dirty?”

She wanted to beat him to a bloody pulp. He had taken the one man she respected and cared for from her. She wanted to make him watch Cade’s funeral pyre from a noose. A dozen tortures and even more deaths crossed her mind as she stared at him. Her long silence made the man visibly uncomfortable, and it was then she knew. She had to be the master of the beast that tore at her from inside. There was little law out in the wilds. He answered to her justice and she answered to her conscience.

Relaxing her bow arm she set the weapon and projectile down. An emotionless mask covering her face she walked over to Bran Sickleaf. “My hands will not be clean till this war is over,” she said quietly, hiding her amusement at the confused look that came over his face. Reaching out she took his head between her hands and with one swift jerk, snapped his neck. “There is your mercy.”

Rescued from Himbar.

Eruviel remembers.

Tightly bound rope bit into the flesh of her wrists as two Angmarim priests tied the other ends to the pillars she knelt between. A small trickle of red ran down her arms and it surprised her, for she didn’t think she hand any blood left to bleed.

How many weeks had it been since her capture? Or had it been months? She had cursed herself for being careless, but not for the lives that had been spared. A gathering party, deep in relatively safe territory had been ambushed and Eruviel had been struck down as she helped the last Trév Gállorg woman to safety. She had been drug away by the enemy’s horses and thrown into a small, cold cell below the crypts of Imlad Balchorth. After three days without food or water, and only beatings to fill the time between, she had been led out, and had nearly escaped before they brought her to the general of Himbar’s tower. Only the cursed man was not there.

A Black Numenorean man stood unnervingly calm by the throne-like seat at the head of the long banquet table. Her stomach had sunk as every orc and Angmarim left the room. He is going to break me, she thought hopelessly. She sat in the seat he pulled out for her, and drank the water he poured her, but as soon as he spoke it took all the will she could muster to guard her mind from the venomous words that spewed from his mouth. The echo of his sorcery still reverberated through her limbs. Two days and nights they talked, bickered, and finally fought. It was her own fault for physically retaliating, being exhausted to the brink of collapse. The Numenorean Alagos, had touched her, hoping for a reaction. He had gotten it, and Eruviel was sure his healers had had plenty of mending to do. She was able to fight him off for a time, but in the end she laid crumbled on the floor, beaten and bleeding.

Since then sleep had come in short spurts. She had been questioned, tortured, forced to fight, deprived of rest, and the night before she had been the decoration for a feast. A small occasion to congratulate Alagos for finally capturing the elf maiden who had been a thorn under his foot for so long. The thought of death tempted her as she hung in the cage above their cruel laughter.

Twice she had nearly escaped. First from Himbar, and they moved her to Carn Dum, then two agonizing weeks later from there. It haunted her, the darkness and cruel hands dragging her back from the hope of daylight. Eruviel had abandoned trying to keep her strength, putting all her effort to withstanding the sorcery that threatened to engulf her mind. Enraged that she still resisted him, Alagos had ordered her to be flogged, and so now she knelt, slumped over, waiting, the last remnants of her dress that had been returned to her hanging from her like a wights’ shroud. Dirt and blood and bruises served better in covering her and gave color to her skin that had lost all of it’s glow.

He will come, she told herself without a hint of doubt. It was the one hope that she still clung to. It did not matter when. Either he will make it, or every one of them will die by his hand. He will be my wrath.

“Worthless scum,” growled the deep voice of the Numenorean that made her insides twist with fear and rage. Alagos crouched before her, moved her hair out of her eyes and grinned wickedly at the hate-filled glare that she gave him. “Still holding out, hmm? You will cave, Eruviel. You will be torn and then turned to serve our great master. Or . . . maybe I should hand you over to my brothers?”

The starved remnants of her shivered at the thought. Then a slight, fresh wind blew across the ruined courtyard. She felt it glide over her and she knew it would not be long. Finding a lingering wisp of strength she righted herself and pulled tight the ropes that bound her, staring the cruel man in the eyes. “Not before I rip the black heart from your chest,” she growled. How she hated him. She imagined it; her bonds snapping and her hand tearing through his black silk robe and the flesh beneath it. What a terrible, wonderful thought it was to envision her cold hands being warmed as his life drained away. There would be nothing left of him for them to resurrect.

Smirking, Alagos rose gracefully to his feet and motioned to the waiting orcs. “Flog her, but not too much.  When you’re through take her to my chambers. It is about time she is finally broken. And after? I suppose we can hand her over to the men for the night.” A sharp pang of fear twisted in her gut as Alogos stooped and kissed her cheek. Then his brisk, confident footsteps echoed down a side corridor in time with his cruel laugh. Orome, anything but that. All this time she had been spared that, the one failed attempt ending in four broken, throatless orcs rotting in her cell for… two weeks? In retrospect, any one else would have done that at the start. But not Alogos. He liked pain and feeling his victims break beneath him as his final triumph.

A light glinted in the distance . . . how far, she did not know. Raising her chin in defiance, she kept the ropes pulled taunt as two orcs unraveled their long whips and brought their arms back to strike.

One, two. They paused, then three, four, the whips cracked through the air. A pained cry escaped from her lips before she could catch it. Seven, eight . . . . eleven, twelve, she counted, hot tears trickling down from her blood-shot emerald eyes as she clung to consciousness. Where are you?

As if hearing her desperate thoughts two bolts whistled through the air, cutting through her ropes and sticking into the plaster behind her. Her tormentors distracted, Eruviel took the split second advantage to reach back and wrench the iron arrows from the wall. Give me strength . . . just a little more strength. Lunging forward, she plunged them into the eyes of the two orcs and ran forward towards the tall figure that fought his way towards her. Daran!

Dodging an Angmarim who dove to tackle her, Eruviel used her falling weight to drive the man’s head into the stone floor. Rolling away from the body she scrambled forward, stumbling as she struggled to rise in spite of the pain that tore through her.

Killing the last priest, Daran dropped to his knees to catch Eruviel as she tripped over her own feet, her legs finally giving out. Red splatters covered his arms and his voice was filled with a mix of concern and relief. “I have you, dear friend,” he whispered as he set her down, pulled off his shirt and gently fit it over her head. “You’re safe now. I’ll take you home.” Scooping her up in his strong arms Daran set off in a run, leaping back over the broken wall the way he had come.

How ironic, she thought to herself. “A-Aughaire . . . is everyone safe?” she asked as she let him pull her close, clinging to his warm chest. She watched back over his shoulder, praying that she would not see the iron helm of Alagos appear over the rise.

“You have been in this wicked place for two months and you worry for us?” Daran inquired, his voice filled with amusement as he dodged through empty streets towards the lower gate. “The tribe is fine, though the hunters have been in a rage since you were taken. I have not seen them fight back the enemy with such zeal in a long time.”

“G-good,” she managed, weariness overcoming her. Everything hurt, and nothing hurt. Shock numbed  her limbs and she prayed that she would pass out before it wore off.

A commotion arose from the mountain behind them as Daran rounded the last ruined house on the outskirts of Himbar to take a hidden path south. “Sounds like we made it out just in time. I cannot deliver you to Milloth dead, now can I?”

Eruviel managed to raise her head to look up at him. “M-Milloth is back from Dale? When did he arrive?” She wanted to weep from relief. Between Daran and Milloth, she would be safe. Her brother could heal her, mend the fractured pieces of her mind and spirit, and set her to rights

“He was half a day’s ride south when I departed to find you. He has a band of men from Gondor with him, as well as a dwarf.” Daran ducked under an outcropping rock and pulled them into a shadowed corner in time to avoid being detected by warg riders. Tense minutes passed as the enemy ran by one way, then back from where they’d come.”I — I am glad that I did. If  . . . .” his voice caught and trailed off as he looked down at her. The gleam from overwhelming emotion that flooded his amber eyes caused her’s to widen.

“Daran, no-” The words were halted as he suddenly pressed his warm mouth against hers. She couldn’t stop him or even try to pull away. She had no strength to. Years of longing and months of rage-filled grief poured out of him through that kiss. He had told her once how he felt, but then kept it to himself. She loved him fiercely, but as a brother and a friend. He never complained, never protested, being a stern, hardened man, but she knew it tore at him. Bringing a frail, pallid hand up she cupped it gently over his cheek as she kissed him back, letting his lips discover hers. Since he had finally given in, and her being in no capacity to protest, she could at least give him this; only this.

Finally pulling away, Daran hung his head, unable to meet her eyes. “Forgive me,” he whispered, his voice weak. “I . . . .”

Looking up at him sadly, a hint of regret in her eyes she simply nodded, pursing her lips together. “I understand, Tithdaeron. We shall not speak of it. But let us be gone from here.”

A smile creeping up one side of his face, Daran peered out of their hiding place. Nodding that the way was clear he shifted her in his arms and set off on in a run.

The Fem Challenge

Eruviel remembers.

It would be a night she would not soon forget. The sky remained the same, painted black, laced with red-tinted clouds as was usual in southern Angmar. The ground of the valley remained barren, and the sounds of wargs and hill-beasts echoed from the rocks across the valley. No, what made this scene different were the dozens of Trév Gállorg gathered behind her and the dozens of Trév Duvárdain gathered on the valley floor half a mile from Aughaire. A small group gathered half-way between the two groups, Eruviel among them. Both tribe chieftains stood on their respective sides of some invisible line. Both leaders had two representatives to their left, and one warrior to their right.

Looking over to the young man next to the Trév Gállorg’s chieftain, Eruviel mentally checked over his appearance and weapons one last time, keeping hidden the feeling of pride that washed over her. He had sharpened his weapons as Milloth had taught him, and had painted his shoulder and bare chest with red symbols of the honorable hill-men. Today had been meant to be Daran — Tithdaeron’s name-day after the final challenge of his Fem. Her little one would finally be an official member of the great tribe. The chief had told her what Daran’s new name would be if he succeeded. She had laughed, feeling it fitting, but knew Daran would think it to be a mouthful. But he would always be Daran to her.

Plans, though, changed as they always seemed to do. The Trév Duvárdain had grown bolder and as rumors of Black Numenorians joining the Angmarim lines, the fallen men demanded blood. Tithdaeron had interrupted the meeting of the elders in the boldest, yet most inoffensive way he could have, and told them that he would represent the strength of the Trév Gállorg in the Fem challenge. His offer had been unanimously accepted. Later, when Eruviel had teased him about it, Daran quickly retorted that he had learned it from her.

Eruviel felt almost certain that he had the blood of Númenor in his veins, for he had grown be a handsome, strongly built man with broad shoulders since she had found him fifteen years ago. Daran had been disappointed that he had not grown to be as tall as Milloth, though his six-foot-five frame towered over nearly every man in Angmar. His amber eyes gleamed dangerously as the two chiefs cast insults at each other, working out the final demands before the Fem challenge began.

Daran’s opponent stood a foot shorter than him. He looked lean yet impressively toned for his slight build. Eruviel suspected that he was one of the Trev Duvardain’s best fighters, chosen for his agility and quickness. Looking back to Daran she could see the muscles in his back flex as the two men faced off. It took all of her restraint to keep back a smirk. In spite of his height Daran proved to be as lithe as an elf. Milloth and Eruviel did not spare the lad in his training, mostly because he had insisted on learning to be the best. Now he fought to the death against the opposing clan of hill-men to prove his loyalty and worth. Though she did not doubt his skill, Eruviel kept a watchful eye open for foul play. The footing of the other fighter was precise — careful. The match would not be an easy one, and Eruviel muttered a prayer to Oromë that Daran would not perish so close to his goal.

The Trév Duvárdain warrior made the first move, testing Daran’s reaction. The former Angmarim countered the attack fast enough to avoid the crude blade, yet not so fast as to reveal his true speed. Striking back, just a hair faster, Daran returned the gesture, testing his opponent. Eruviel saw his triceps twitch, moving the blade away from the other man’s face, only cutting a few hairs with the quick move. Pivoting, Daran brought his lead foot behind him and leapt forward, the real fight beginning. Every slash he threw, every calculated step he took Eruviel knew, her mind moving in sync with the man’s attacks. She knew how his mind worked, and the habits he leaned on, him having gleaned many of them from her, Cade, and her brother Milloth.

Memories trickled through her subconscious as she watched the fight grow with intensity. She recalled the day she had presented Daran, then called Ge’bar, to the tribe. The nine year old had hid behind her as she presented his case, clinging to her left hand. But, as soon as the Trév Gállorg elders began to accuse him, the boy had released her hand to stand beside her. His eyes blazed in defiance, unafraid of their hate for the Angmarim. Eruviel remembered walking him beyond the edge of the main camp to the home of a Trév Gállorg hunter and his wife who had wanted to adopt the boy, unable to have children of their own. She called to mind the many times in his first few years with the clan when she’d wake in the night to feel him crawling onto her pallet and curling up against her back, trembling from nightmares.

The fight had finally drawn blood. Daran had taken a risk, and it had paid off. Allowing his opponent in close enough, Daran let the other man drive his dagger into his bicep. As the blade cut into his arm Daran flipped his dagger in his hand and punched the Trév Duvárdain man in the face. Eruviel almost felt pity for the man as he flew a yard back from the impact. He landed hard at the base of a makeshift Trév Gállorg flag, blood spurting from his mouth and nose. Daran glanced back to Eruviel, nodding once to her before he approached the man, stopping to tower over him.

“This fight is over,” his voice rumbled as he pulled his opponent’s dagger from his flesh. Looking down to the enemy clan’s leader he dared him to protest. “I will not kill him. The Trév Gállorg are better than that.”

The Trév Gállorg chieftain nodded his head in approval, but before he could address the matter the Trév Duvárdain chief turned and pointed to a trio of fighters standing behind him. “How dare you mock us, traitorous filth! You three, kill both of them!”

Pulling out hidden daggers, the three fighters sprinted up the hill towards Daran. The man’s fallen opponent, still clutching his face, looked up, and the two men’s eyes met in a moment of understanding. Daran ripped the spear-like flag pole out of the ground, and Eruviel noticed that both ends were tipped with blades. Clever. In one swift turn Daran plunged the flag-end of the pole into the first Trév Duvárdain’s heart, pulled it back out as he spun around, and in one sweeping motion dropped the other two attackers, their throats cut open.

“Is this what you want?!” Daran bellowed down the hill, planting the flag pole back into the ground. “If you want more blood, then by all means, I can relieve your men of their lives.”

The Trév Duvárdain’s leader looked wide-eyed up to the bodies of his fallen warriors. “No, you have won, Tithdaeron. I will not forget this night, but my people and I will retreat from Trév Gállorg lands.” His voice trembled, but his eyes disagreed with his words.

Daran stopped his advance, glaring past the chieftain to the anxious gathering of Trév Duvárdain now only a dozen yards away. “I hope you never forget. I will hold you to your words, for I will not allow mercy to any of your warriors who step so much as a foot into our hunting grounds.”

Puffing up his chest, the enemy chieftain looked as though he might protest but a look from Daran deflated the man’s pride just as quickly. Turning away he barked orders down the hill for his people to leave, not caring to gather the bodies of their dead.

As Daran walked back up to his opponent, offering the man a hand, a victorious roar rose from the Trév Gállorg camp. Their chieftain motioned for two others to take the wounded Trév Duvárdain to the healer before beckoning Daran to his side. The young man looked across to Eruviel rolling his eyes as she glanced at his arms. She nodded to him with an encouraging smile as he arched his brows as if to ask if he had done well. She knew the adrenaline had begun to wear off for Daran looked drained from the fight.

“He is now one of us!” said the chieftain in a loud voice for all to hear. “I will not tolerate anyone speaking ill of our brother. The Eldar brought him to us and taught us humility as Tithdaeron grew with our own children, living honestly and fighting loyally by our sides against the orc and Angmarim scourge.” Shouts of approval rose again and were not quickly silenced before the chief could continue. “His Fem is complete!”

Ge’bar and the Lady of Mercy

Small, filthy hands trembled as they grasped the knife. A hundred Angmarim surrounded him, watching. Pulse racing, he looked up at the dark, scarred face of his father.

“Do it, Ge’bar, you worthless boy,” growled the man. Garduun’s red-gloved hands rested on his sword belt, watching the lad with out pity, but with surprising patience. “He’s our enemy. We will not leave until you finish him.”

Ge’bar turned his pallid face back to look at the young Hill-men fighter who had been beaten for a good portion of the previous night. He wanted to ask the man’s name. He wanted to ask his father why he forced him to kill a prisoner every week. But the last time he had asked he had been beaten and physically forced to slit the prisoner’s throat. It had been a woman that time. Most times it had been men, which made the killing a little easier, though he didn’t know why. Ge’bar didn’t like that the killing had gotten easier, but as he met the blood-shot eyes of the man who couldn’t be more than twenty, Ge’bar plunged the dagger into the man’s chest, feeling numb as blood poured out over his hands. The sight and feel of the warm, sticky liquid made him feel sick.

Red — everything was blood red, a murky, poisonous green, or grey with death and decay. His father wore red, as did he, and nearly every other man in Fasach-falroid. Warg’s growled and gnashed their teeth a hundred yards away, the sound making his little nine year-old heart thrash within its cage. Orcs lumbered around in their midst, snarling their dark speech, anger and hate filling every essence of their being. Ge’bar’s greatest fear was that he would be turned into one one day. He could no longer look at his reflection, for lately he could hardly recognize his own face. Looking back up to search his fathers face he wondered if any of them were much different.

“Father,” he asked quietly, calculating his words with the utmost care, “where do the enemy come from? Why do they fight us?”

A cruel smile spread across Garduun’s face. “The enemy are everywhere, my boy. They think the land is theirs, but not for long. Our great lord will consume them and rule as he did in the days of old. When he returns north he will find that the Free-people who opposed him will be no more.” A cry rose from the surrounding Angmarim and orcs, spears and swords thrusting into the air. “Back to your camps, the lot of ya!” Garduun shouted in command. “We have Hill-men and Elves to kill tomorrow!” The soldiers shouted with excitement and turned to ready their own men for the battle.

Yes, they had been winning against the hill-people for as long as Ge’bar could remember, up until several months ago when two elves had arrived with a company of Rangers. He wondered what an elf was. He had seen a Ranger before, but never an elf. Garduun had told him that Elves were a race from across the great Western Sea that despised everyone. Behind their beautiful faces were demons of light, though Ge’bar never understood what was wrong with light, nor did his nine year-old mind grasp the concept of beauty. Elves let the trees grow tall and wasted the land that could have been torn up to build on. They thought they were better than everyone else, and above all, elves wanted the Witch-king dead.

Ge’bar could not help but shudder visibly as he cleaned off his knife. He did not know if he liked that idea or not. For almost a year Garduun brought his son with him into battle. If Ge’bar lived, then he was considered to possibly be worthy of serving the Witch-King. In the event of his death, though, he knew his father would not care, convinced that Ge’bar’s death meant the boy could have never amounted to anything. For months he had wanted to die. If life everywhere was like here, he did not want to live it. The few small things that brought him joy confused him more than encouraged him. He did not understand the emotion aside from the joy in his father’s face after killing.

“Do you think she will be there?” Ge’bar asked as he slid his blade back into its leather sheath, careful to darken his tone so as to hide his curiosity.

Garduun frowned down at the boy for a moment. “I hope so, son. We will be greatly rewarded if she is slain.”

“I — I should like to do it, father, if we can find her,” said Ge’bar. He turned his head down to hide his eyes, afraid that the two dry orbs would betray him.

Humphing, Garduun studied the child before nodding with approval, some faint hint of a smile crossing his twisted features. Ge’bar followed his father back into the circle of tents, leaving the dead man’s body behind for the wargs to devour. He got a double portion of food that night for the execution. Laying down on his pallet, Ge’bar fell asleep to the sound of growls and screeches, thinking that it might not be so bad to die at the hands of an elf.

~ ~ ~

Eruviel remembers.

The weather in south-west Angmar was the fairest Eruviel had ever seen in that land. Streaks of bright blue sky peeked through the tumultuous red clouds as a warm southern wind stirred up dust and ash from the valley floor. Fitting a new string onto her bow, the elf maiden strode down the hill to the northern gate of Aughaire where hundreds of armoured hill-men and Rangers gathered.

“Lle desiel, oselle?” Milloth’s voice floated into her ear as he stopped beside her as he counted the arrows in his quiver.

“I am always ready, dear brother,” Eruviel responded as she smirked up at him. She finished fastening a blade crafted by her brother to the tip and back curve of her bow. With his golden hair pulled taunt into a tail behind his head, one could see they were related by their merry, green eyes, and their bright, sincere smiles. When she had been a child she envied Milloth his Vanyar traits inherited from their mother, one of them being his golden hair. Now she teased him that he made himself a greater target. Relatively short for an Eldar, standing at five-foot-ten Eruviel delighted in her ability to vanish into shadows and meld into the crowd of hooded men.

The Noldor lord towered over Eruviel by more than a foot, and this morning he grinned at her like she were a child. “You look fair today, Eruraviel. You still retain all the grace of your youth,” Milloth said, chuckling affectionately. “I do not know how you manage it in a place like this. For some reason I am reminded of our first hunt,” he said as he brushed her rich brown braid off her shoulder.

Eruviel smiled at him and pulled the braid back to hang past her neck. “You forget, yaaraer, that I brought in the greater catch that day.” Lifting his arm up she cinched a loose buckle on his armour till it grew taunt. “Such sentiment is unlike you, brother. Unfortunately, today we do not hunt among the blossoming trees and evergreens of our home.”

“No,” he said grimly, his deep voice filling with concern. “Are you sure you should come today? You have earned a name for yourself amongst our friends a foes. The Angmarim, I am sure, will be searching for you.”

The Ranger Cade stopped by Eruviel’s other side, wordlessly nodding to her as their eyes met for a moment. He then handed her a small bundle of laced arrows. “Light and fire oil, brother,” she explained, catching Milloth’s curious look. Slipping the projectiles into a smaller, secondary quiver strapped to her back she moved in step with Milloth and the others as they began to march down the hill.

— — — — —

“Cover the left flank!” came the orders amidst the roar of battle.

Not wasting time to respond, Eruviel wrenched her blade out of an Angmarim High Priest and dashed north to answer the command. She moved freely amid the ranks, aiding where ever help was needed. The wind had picked up, swirling clouds of grey dust through the lines of warring soldiers. Her long, dark lashes protected her eyes from the dirt as she dodged thrown implements and shot down wargs in her path. The enemies of the Free-People had grown strong, but thanks to Milloth’s foresight their lines had held and a change in tact kept losses to a minimum. Arriving on the far left side of their lines, Eruviel loosed a volley of laced arrows into the enemy as they ran forward to meet the fierce blades of the hill-men.

As the last Angmarim fell she turned to rejoin Aloeer and Cade at the front when a strange cry carried across the field. The sound brought her heart into her throat. It came again, louder, clearer. “By the Valar,” she spat, cursing under her breath as she shot forward. If her features were not hardened enough from battle, her eyes now gleamed, blazing a cold fire from under her smokey green hood. All sound faded from her ears except for the frightening cry. Weaving across the battlefield she bounded atop the impaled body of an orc and leaped over the front lines. Ignoring the alarmed shouts from behind her, Eruviel sprinted up a slab of rock and vaulted high into the air.

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Drawing her bow in-motion she saw a small boy curled up on the ground at the base of the large stone. Loosing three arrows into the advancing enemy she dropped to the ground, putting herself between the injured child and the dozen Angmarim and orcs. Raising herself up to her full height, she threw off her hood and released her last two arrows, downing two of the dozen before they could react to attack her. Unsheathing her sword she wielded it in one hand, using the bladed end of her bow as an off-hand spear.

Letting out a terrifying cry of pent-up energy and rage, Eruviel spun into the first attackers, hacking down the ten with unnatural ease, and turned to greet more of the enemy. How dare they, she fumed. She ignored the child’s blood-red robes and the long black knife he clutched. The monsters!

Another wave of enemy drew within her reach. Eruviel forgot herself as she danced through the orcs and Angmarim that surrounded her. Slicing through their numbers she turned off her thoughts, not liking the dark analogies her mind made in the heat of battle. Black mud — not dust clung to the bottom of her boots as she whirled from one foe to the next. The only graces she allowed herself were to glance back to the boy, making sure he still lived.

A wicked, garbled voice cried out as the Angmarim leader of Fasach-falroid rushed her from behind. Thrusting her sword into the head of a warg she pivoted around, ripping one of her arrows from a fallen foe, and, whispering a blessing to ignite the light-oil, pierced the corrupt man in the heart. It was only then that Eruviel realized that there were no more foes attacking her. Hill-men and Rangers ran around her and the scattered mounds of her quarry. The Angmarim had finally been routed.

Turning back towards the boy she saw that he still laid on the ground one hand grasping his black blade, the other clutching his leg. The blade wavered as the child turned to point it at Milloth who approached from the side, Cade following close behind.

Eruviel intercepted her brother, putting a hand firmly on his chest to stop his progression. “No, Milloth. Leave him be,” she said quietly.

“He is an Angmarim, oselle. I cannot suffer you this.”

“You will suffer me this, brother,” she replied, her voice alarmingly fierce. Searching her face for a moment, Milloth nodded, relenting. Giving her shoulder a squeeze, he turned to rejoin the main force. Meeting Cade’s gaze that was all shock and admiration, the man gave her a small smile and a curt nod before turning to guard her back.

Eruviel’s eyes flickered over the landscape before they finally settled back on the boy. The child could not have been older than ten, though he looked half that age. Shaggy, dirty brown hair fell over his amber eyes. Eruviel noted that they were not dilated, nor were they blood-shot, though he stared at her openly with a fearful awe. Filthy and half starved, the boy looked to her like any other child would have if trapped in a nightmare. His knife was now aimed at her, though his arms shook more now than before.

“Please, kill me.” His trembling words sounded through parched lips.

Shocked, Eruviel looked down at the boy for a minute. His amber eyes seemed to drink in the sight of her, and Eruviel wondered if he had ever seen an Eldar before. Slowly lowering herself to kneel before him, she inclined her head so that he could see all of her face, the knife’s tip hardly a foot from her throat. “Why would I kill you, little one?”

The boy frowned, his still-wide eyes filling with tears. “I am a servant of the Witch King who rules these lands. This is all the world is . . . e-except for you. P-please, I don’t want to go where you have sent my father.” The child glanced past her to the fallen Angmarim Captain.

Eruviel let out a sharp breath. The moisture that had gathered in the corners of her eyes reflected light from the partially cleared sky. “Little one, I will not kill you,” she said softly, all of the usual warmth of her voice returned. Slowly extending out her arms, she gingerly closed her palms over the knife’s hilt, unnerved by how cold the boy’s hands were. He let her take the blade, and his arms fell limp at his sides.

“B-but, I will be fed to the wargs if I return,” he whimpered fearfully. His eyes stared up at her, tears pouring down his filthy face. “They call you the Lady of Mercy. I beg you. I-I think . . . maybe if I let you kill me . . . maybe your demo- your gods of light will listen to you.” He clawed at the rock behind him, pulling himself up in spite of what Eruviel suspected to be a broken leg. “You don’t think I deserve it?” the child managed as he sobbed, his eyes flashing with a familiar fury. “I can kill just as well as you, b-but I’ve killed your p-people, not m-mine. Lots of them!” The boy choked on his words as he struggled for breath, his angry attempt to clear his eyes of hot tears failing.

Eruviel slowly reached out her hands, tenderly unclasped the pin below his neck, and pulled the filthy red cloak off of him. Her lower lip trembled when he did not pull back from her. “What is your name, little one?”

“Ge’bar,” said the boy, his face twisted with confusion as he watched her clean the blood from her sword off on his cloak.

“Hmm,” she exhaled, sniffing to keep her own tears in check. Sheathing her sword she tossed the soiled cloth over her shoulder. “We shall have to find you a new name,” she said, smiling kindly at Ge’bar.

“I . . . I don’t –“

“I am responsible for you now. Do you understand this?” Eruviel asked seriously.

Ge’bar looked over to Cade who still stood guard several feet away. “Yes. I understand,” he said, the glimmer of hope in his eyes sucking the air from Eruviel’s lungs. He glanced at her sword almost hungrily.

Shaking her head she offered a hand to the child. “Can you walk?”

Bewildered, the boy looked down to his leg and shook his head, his lower lip quivering. “No.”

She stood and moved half of a step closer. “I know a good healer who can take care of that leg, if you will let me carry you.”

Ge’bar hesitated drawing back for a moment before nodding his consent. Careful not to cause undo pain to the boy, she lifted him in her arms, her left forearm bracing his broken limb well enough so that she could run. It took a minute for the boy to relax, as if he had not been carried since before the time of memory. Cade ran before them to ensure her safe passage, occasionally picking off a straggling enemy.

“After . . . after you heal my leg, then will you . . . ?” asked Ge’bar as he began to relax, drawing closer to her as she bore him across the barren field.

“No, little one. Not I, nor anyone in my company shall kill you.” Eruviel chuckled softly. A stream of tears blew back from the corners of her eyes as she ran. “I shall teach you the quality of mercy.”

What The Rangers Learned

Eruviel remembers.

Milloth owes me dearly, Eruviel thought grimly. She had been fighting in Angmar three months ago, until Milloth had sent her to join the troop of Rangers in his stead. She did not mind men, but half of those in the company were young and fairly inexperienced. Commander Aloeer, a friend of many years, had kindly received her, keeping a watchful eye out for her as she worked with the few Rangers who lacked skill with a bow as well as a certain level of maturity.

Leaning against a tree, her dark green hood having fallen half way off her head, she waited for the last of the men to finish bathing at the river. She had become painfully aware of the forty rangers that surrounded her, some letting her be, some ignoring her, and some studying her for whatever reason. It had been a hot summer and with the company making their way north the men poked fun at her for continuing to wear her heavier armour and cloak. A few of the older Rangers had met her before and they kept respectful relations, but a good number of the men had begun to throw names at her. They meant no harm, she was sure, in their ignorance of the Eldar as they discussed whether she had a body at all, or what she might be hiding from the world — as if their off-colored and derogatory references were supposed to get a reaction out of her. Unfortunately, her silence only seemed to encourage them.

“Artis,” said a man walking past her. She looked up to see Cade, Aloeer’s second in command whom she had fought beside before. He had more of the look of a Southron to him, and several times Eruvial had heard him quiet the others when their joking had gone too far. “You’re up,” her jerked his head towards the river. “Aloeer made sure no one would lurk.” He offered a kind, yet slightly amused smile. Nodding curtly, she stood, returned the smile and made her way into the woods.

The camp stood only a short distance from the river bank. Whatever enemy that might have been withing a league of the camp had been hunted down and killed. Thus they were granted the rare luxury of bathing in the clean, crystal river that flowed east from the elf havens in Lindon.

“There you are,” said an older Ranger, pushing of off the tree he had been leaning on to approach her.

“You need not wait for me, Aloeer. I do not need to bathe.” She glanced over her shoulder towards the camp.

The man shook his head, giving her his best fatherly look. “I will wait here watching the camp till you have finished.” He walked back the tree, taking a towel from a branch and tossed it to her.

Eruviel narrowed her eyes at him as she caught the rough cloth, a smile sneaking out one side of her mouth. “Thank you, Ada.” She hesitated for a moment before walking past the Ranger Commander into a small clearing, her eyes hungrily fixed on the shimmering river. Shedding her cloak, Eruviel unclasped her armour piece by piece, setting it aside. After a moment’s thought she hung her bow and quiver on the branch nearest the water and laid her belt with its daggers on the edge of the bank. Shifting her thin, white tunic around her she had just dipped one foot into the river when she heard Aloeer cough from his post.

“What are you doing, my friend?” The man asked looking back at her.

“Why are you looking, mellon?” Eruviel arched a brow at him.

The man narrowed his eyes to her as if to say, “Really?” Chuckling, Aloeer looked her over in the manner she had seen him and many others do to their own daughters. “It’s mid-summer, Eruviel. Take that blasted tunic off and enjoy yourself. We won’t have this luxury in a few weeks.”

Eruviel frowned at him then looked down at herself as he turned away and crossed his arms over his chest. Why did she feel embarrassed? She looked back to the camp, then again to the river. A grin spread across her face as she walked back to the river’s bank, the blanket of pine needles cushioning each step. Reaching up she began to unlace her tunic, her bright green eyes surveying the land around her. Confident that there were none elsewhere she timidly let the garment fall to the ground, the only covering over her thin, toned body being strips of cloth wrapped around her chest, and a white loincloth-like undergarment that fastened around her hips.

The river stretched wider at this spot, with round, smooth, multi-colored pebbles carpeting the riverbed. Summer water swirled around her feet, embracing her as she moved further in. Fifteen feet out the river finally rose to her waist, and a few steps further, the lazy current splashed up onto her face. Pushing off she dove under the surface, eyes open, light simmering through the crystal blue water. Evergreen forests blanketed the landscape, and she felt quite at home. She could see quite a ways both up and down stream, and Eruviel forgot her worries and stress, the dirt, sweat and sadness washing away.

It had not been long, possibly twenty minutes of swimming and bathing when Eruviel suddenly felt ill at ease. Finding her footing she stood, chest deep near the far bank, her eyes narrowed — searching. The world seemed too still.

Something flashed in the brush and before she could react a goblin lept out of the bushes at her, screeching at the top of its lungs. Falling atop of her she wrestled with the creature as they both plunged to the bottom of the river. Her hands held it’s wrists, it’s arms short enough that it’s gnashing teeth could not reach her. She dared not let go for a moment in attempt to snap the fiends neck, her eyes taking note of the goblin’s claws and the black dagger at its waist. Her lungs screaming for air, she kicked her feat along the river bottom in a desperate attempt to get to the other side.

Bursting out of the water the goblin commenced its screaming, still thrashing violently. She could see her belt and weapons on the river bank not ten feet from her. The creature wrenched one arm free, and as Eruviel swung it around and over her head towards the shore the goblin’s claws grazed her right shoulder. Not stopping, she sprung forward, sprinting through the water at the same time the goblin caught its footing and began to run back at her, it’s crude weapon drawn. Leaping out of the water, never stopping as she pulled her daggers free from their sheaths, the elf-maiden slashed out as she passed the goblin, skidding to a stop not five feet further. She rose upright to look back, flinging strands of wet hair out of her face. The goblin fell over dead, deep gashes in its neck and side.

Smirking, she shook her head, flicking the black blood from her blades. “Disgusting creature,” she muttered as she checked the scratches on her shoulder. Her pale skin flushed from adrenaline, gleamed in the sunlight. Chuckling softly, glad that her few coverings had survived, she shifted her feet to walk back to the river when she stopped in her tracks. Looking up she saw all forty men stopped at the edge of the small clearing, swords drawn and jaws slack.

How incredibly inconvenient, she thought as she surveyed the shocked, wide-eyed faces. Her mouth slowly turned up in a smile. She could do nothing now to cover herself so there would be no reason for her to scurry and hide like a child. Standing straighter with her arms down at her sides, she lifted her chin with an air of authority. “I presume, now, that all of your questions have been answered.” Her eyes openly assessed the Ranger’s faces. Aloeer leaned against his tree, his arms still crossed over his chest. His faced creased with an amused grin and a look of approval. Cade stood a step behind him, looking down as he sheathed his sword. She noted that he made a point to not look back up. ” I had hoped for privacy,” she said, her tone warm as most of the men suddenly realized that they were staring, looking away, their faces red with embarrassment.

Aloeer turned towards the men. “You heard the lady. Get back to camp and make yourselves useful! She obviously needs none of your lousy protecting.” The men bowed their heads to Eruviel as they turned to leave, the younger ones more awkward, two of them retrieving the dead goblin and carrying it away. The few older Rangers gave her smiles similar to Aloeer’s. She could not resist letting out a quiet chuckle at seeing a handful of them hand Cade their coin pouches.

The last to leave, aside from Aloeer, Cade tossed a fatter purse towards her things. “I never thought I’d ever collect on that bet,” he said with a smirk, finally looking back up at her. “I beg your pardon, Eruviel.”

Shaking her head with a smile as he walked away she glanced to Aloeer, giving him a knowing look. “I will be just a few more minutes.” His laugh echoed through the trees as he turned once more to face away. Throwing her daggers down to stick into the earth, she walked back into the river.

The Party in Westfarthing

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Eruviel remembers.

It was yet another refreshing morning, just south-west of Michael Delving. Eruviel ducked out of her little home, arms laden with an exceptionally large basket of fresh-baked elven breads, several wheels of cheese, and vegetables from her laughably small garden. Closing the unpainted hobbit door behind her Eruviel took a moment to take a deep breath of the crisp breeze that rode on the beams of the rising sun.

The hole had been dirty, cold and vacant when she had first moved to the Shire seventy years prior.  Now it was warm, clean, and often frequented by her little friends for afternoon tea, dinner and supper. It had taken a while to earn the trust of the small-folk, but her careful watch of the border of the Sire, along with her failed years at growing proper potatoes had warmed up the Hobbits of the Westfarthing to her. It was a quiet, comfortable life for the most part, and it seemed to heal parts of her soul that had grown despondent.

She wore a finer dress today of a cheerful yellow, a red velvet fest laced up her torso, and a soft, green cotton shawl wrapped around her waist. Her rich brown hair tumbled down her back to her hips, reflecting the morning light as it swayed with each step.

Her bay mount grazed inside the short, green lawn, waiting to bear it’s rider.”Quel amrun,”  she greeted the steed. He nickered at her, not bothering to raise his head from the patch of grass that had consumed his attention. Eruviel smiled, shaking her head at him, then pat his neck twice in command for him to follow. “You are going to be fatter than a child’s pony, Eosul. Though, I should begin to skip second breakfast myself.” The horse huffed as he reluctantly followed her out of the picket gate.

Using a stone marker as a stepping stool, the elf-maiden gracefully mounted the bare-backed steed, careful to not drop her basket or parcel’s. No saddle or reigns today. It would be a fine, peaceful day for the ride to Tuckborough. Her horse began the walk on his own accord to the junction with The East Road as Eruviel arranged the food more comfortably across her lap. The calm, bay steed jaunted down the road, swerving every so often to snag a bite of grass as Eruviel bid her smiling neighbors “Good morning” . . . as well as their neighbors and their neighbors. She exchanged “good mornings” with a grocer on his way to Michael Delving, and to a band of hobbit children who traded her two jars of red and purple berries for a large loaf of bread.

Ahead at a bend in the road she saw a wagon full of barrels being driven by a lady of the small-folk. Eruviel had just enough time to tighten her knees to keep her seat before her horse broke into a canter to catch up with the cart and pony.

“Good morning to you, Lady ‘ruviel!” chimed the hobbit woman driving the bouncing wagon.

“Good morning to you as well, Lady Marisily! And well met!” she beamed down to the pink-cheeked woman. “Are you off to Tuckborough this beautiful day?”

“That I am, friend. Gotta take these here barrels of Old Toby to the party! You have quite a bounty there with you too. Master Took invite you as well?”

Eruviel looked to the precarious stack held before her. “He did indeed. It is very kind of him to consider me to join his birthday celebration.”

“And why would he not?” laughed the little hobbit as she lightly bounced the reigns on her pony’s rump. “You’ve been livin ‘ere for a good many years now. A part of the community, now more than ever!”

With Marisily chatting merrily about parties, pipe-weed, and the good growing season, the several hours ride to the Great Smials too no time at all. Cheers arose from the party-goers as the wagon turned down the road, the abundance of Longbottom Leaf just as important as the amount of food and ale. Not long ago had Tobold Hornblower domesticated the plant, and now every hobbit in the Shire smoked as much as a chimney. Though her neighbors and friends twisted her arm, she had yet to try the pipe.

Music flowed over the hills, pairs and circles of the little folk dancing in the square amidst the late afternoon light. The street swirled with laughter, stories, and pipe-smoke. Bright red and yellow banners hung from every lamp post, and streamers adorned the eves of the hobbit holes and branches of the tall green trees.

“Lady Elf is here!” shouted several of the merry Hobbits. In seconds she was surrounded by a cheerful crowd, half of them excited simply at the sight of more food. Clutching a jar of berries to herself, the basket and parcels were whisked off her lap and she laughed at seeing only half of her bounty reach the long tables laden with more food than she could remember seeing at one time. Slipping from Eosul’s back, she landed nimbly on her feet, giving the horse a pat on the flank, sending him out into the fields of grass to graze and relax.

“Lady Eruviel!” Called a robust hobbit voice from behind her. Turning she curtseyed low to the halfling before taking a knee. “Heruamin, Thain Took, you do me an honor. Your party looks to be overflowing with merriment.”

The male hobbit bellowed a laugh, clutching his sides before reaching out and shaking Eruviel’s hand. “You are very kind, but I will have none of your proper nonsense tonight, my elf friend!

Her musical laugh joined the chorus of shouts, laughs, and singing that surrounded them. “I shall do my utmost to be as hobbitish as I can tonight, you have my word.”

The Master Took’s grin turned mischievous at her words and a twinkle glistened in his eyes. “In that case, I have a present for you!” Reaching into the bulging pocket of his green velvet jacket, the middle-aged Thain produced a thin parcel twice as long as Eruviel’s hand, wrapped in purple velvet. “For all that you do for us, tall one,” he said, placing the gift in her up-turned palm and waiting rather impatiently for her to open it.

She glanced up at the bright-eyed hobbit, she began opening the folds of soft cloth to reveal possibly the finest pipe she’d ever seen. Made out of a rich red-colored wood, limbs and leaves swirled down the stem, and a thin silver ring lined the inside rim of the bowl. One side of the base had a carving of a hobbit party, and the other side was adorned by a slender archer shooting an arrow at a wave of claws. “This is the most beautiful gift I have ever been given,” she said, meeting the Thain’s shining gaze. Laughing aloud, she added, “You are indeed scheming, Master Took, for I do not doubt I will be forced to smoke from this one day.”

“Not one day, but today,” he laughed. “Marisily! Bring me a pinch of fresh Longbottom leaf! Our elf friend is finally going to smoke!” he shouted across the square. Cheers erupted around them at the Thain’s proclamation, and everyone laughed as Eruviel’s cheeks flushed.

Taking the pinch that the woman brought him, the Master Took fit in the pipe-weed, lit it, and handed the pipe back to the elf-maiden. Chants of “Smoke!” and “Elf!” rose as dozens upon dozens of hobbits crowded around them. Nodding his head forward, the Thain grinned widely, “There is no escaping this, my friend. You did give your word!”

Laughing along with the crowd Eruviel slowly lifted the end to her pink lips. The crowd grew silent, watching as she puffed a few times as she’d seen others do before. Then, lifting her chin towards the sky, she exhaled, offering a small smoke ring for the gleefully watching party-goers to see. Cheers and laughter arose as she coughed out the last of the smoke, her eyes watering slightly. Master Took clapped her on the back laughing before getting carried away by the happy mob. Countless other hands patted her on the back in congratulations as she rose before they took hold of her and whisked her into the throng of bouncing, dancing hobbits.