Neighbors

Tales of npcs and other characters in and around Bree-town.

Bravery: Nelson Leafcutter

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“Nelson.”

Wha–!” Nelson Leafcutter nearly lept out of his skin, and the stack of letters bound for Ravenhold flew out of his hands like birds from a cage.

Willoric lifted a hand to shield himself from the cascade of paper. “Why’d you shout?”

“By the –” Nelson scampered about the street, snatching up letters before the breeze could. “Don’t do that, Will! You nearly scared me to death.”

The Hobbit blinked. “Wha’d ya mean? I’ve been walkin’ by ya the whole time.”

Nelson frowned. “Since when?”

“Since the Post? Think all that readin’s dried your brain,”said Willoric, taking off after an escaped envelope.

Nelson made a face and took a moment to straighten his robes. “Sorry,” he muttered, counting the letters to make sure they were all there. He then glanced to the Hobbit, wondering if he hadn’t meant to frighten him from the start. “Where are you headed?”

“Same place you are,” Will replied with a shrug, licking his lips.

Most likely going to lift food from the kitchens.

“This should be the last of ’em.”

Nelson accepted the letter with a grateful nod. Turning to walk back up the road he set the letter on top of the stack… then beneath it… then began to alphabetize the pile by the name of the receiver. “Will you be heading out with the others in a few days?”

“S’pose so.” The hobbit prattled on, but the sound grew muddled and distant to Nelson’s ears.

Feygil, Gaelyn, Hallem, Lichen, Lichen, Lichen….

“You organizin’ them by first or last names?”

Nelson blinked, then sighed, and started all over. “Well, be safe when you go.”

Willoric glanced up at him. “You’re not goin’?”

Nelson stood a little straighter, as if better posture aided by his true height might somehow aid him in his excuses. “No, not this time. Ms. Lichen has a lot on her plate, and I’m needed here.” How he loathed field work. Rain ruined books, and dust could harm the condition of the tomes he might decide to take, because of course he couldn’t NOT take books, and then what would Nallo think of him if he couldn’t even protect literature? It was bad enough that he dropped the letters all over the place, but he’d be disgraced if he went to the Lone Lands and wound up with all his books ruined. Not to mention the risk of Orcs burning them, or Goblins stealing and — Oh, Cor, they might tear the pages out!

“Nelson?”

What?” he squeaked, then gasped as he realized he had been holding his breath as his thoughts had begun to spiral out of control.

Will smiled. “There ya go.”

“Oy! To your right!”

The man and hobbit moved off to the side of the road as a wagon clattered up the cobbles behind them, driven by Brock Thornley.

“Good day, Mister Thornley!” called the Hobbit.

Nelson nodded politely, hardly glancing up from the letters.

“‘allo. Hey, Nels. One of the horses got out again.”

“Why tell me? Why didn’t you go get her?” Nelson felt his stomach twist as he caught sight of one escaped letter right as a wagon wheel ran it over.

Brock shrugged, and pulled the length of straw from the corner of his mouth to point at the horses. “Workin’.” He then lifted a hand in farewell and tapped the reigns on the horses’ rumps.

Nelson shook himself as he watched Brock drive off, then went to retrieve the poor, trampled envelope from the middle of the road. “Will, would you mind –” He stopped when he turned and found Willoric gone. “Oh… blast.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Letters safely stowed in one of his cavernous pockets, Nelson trudged out of the gates of Durrow. He heard the horse before he saw it, and chastised himself for not thinking to grab a lead rope… or an apple, or something.

Just over the first southerly hillock, the young man saw Peppermint grazing at the edge of a field. The spotted pony appeared all too pleased with herself, and Nelson filed through his memory on the best way to reclaim a runaway horse.

Snagging up a fistful of long, green grass, he slowly approached the pony, thanking his luck when he saw she still wore a halter.

“Here, Peppermint! Come, girl.”

The pony nickered and pranced around him.

Nelson sighed. Big animals always made him nervous, and this one wanted to play. Perfect. “Come on, pretty pony. Here’s some grass. Yum, yum!” Valar, please don’t let anyone see this.Here, Peppermint…”

Peppermint tossed her mane, and trotted over to indulge in the offering of pre-picked grass.

Taking hold of her halter, Nelson led her away from the farm and back towards the road. “That’s a good girl. Why are you causing trouble?” he said quietly, petting the pony’s cheek as she munched on the last bite of grass.

This really wasn’t all so terrible. If all field work was like this he thought he could manage. It was rediculous, how proud he was that he’d gone and fetched the stray animal. Maybe Amelia would be at the stables. He’d walk in with Peppermint, and she’d smile… maybe even hug him for — oh, but who was he kidding? There was nothing brave whatsoever about going to fetch a horse that probably would have come home on it’s own.

The answer was there. Field work. He’d have to get his hands dirty if he was to show how brave he was… And that would put him in good standing with Nallo, wouldn’t it? The scholar had gone to Moria of all places, hadn’t he? Nelson gazed wistfully down the path towards the gate, Peppermint plodding along beside him. Moria sounded horrid and dank. No place at all for books… but then again, there might be Dwarven tomes. Who knows what old writings might be rediscovered in the far places if someone would just look? Then he’d get to see Amelia shoot her bow all the time, and Nallo would ask him to help at Stonebluff! Yes… yes, field work just might be it. The next trip… or the one after, depending on the destination, of course.

Peppermint pulled against Nelson’s arm as a thick patch of spring grass caught her eye. “No, no, Peppermint. I have to get you back. Ms. Lichen needs these letters, and I need to feed Amelia. No! I mean, my Amelia — I mean! My… not yours — ours… Oh, come on, Peppermint!”

Waiting Up

“You’re back! You’re back!”

Cal Applewood gave his best attempt at a frown as he walked inside his home to find his daughter bouncing on the big sitting chair, her eyes brighter than he preferred them to be at this hour of the night. “Aren’t you supposed to be in bed?”

Brooke batted her long lashes and leaned against the back of the chair. “… Maybe… But I wanted to wait up for you!”

Hanging his cloak up Cal chuckled, and hefted the girl up out of the chair. “Oooph! That was sweet of you, but aren’t you tired?”

The little girl of eight shook her head in defiance of the notion. “No, sir!” she said with a chirp. “I could stay up all night!”

“Cor, help us all if you do,” muttered Cal with a grin. “Come on, little lady. Let’s at least get you under covers. Gonna be a cold night.”

The girl looked like she was about to protest but stopped, and pressed her nose into Cal’s beard. “Have you been drinking?”

The man grunted, and tickled her with his beard. “What else is a respectable gathering of men supposed to do? I didn’t have too much, though if that’s what you’re wondering.”

Brook grinned happily and wrapped her arms around her father’s neck as he carried her into her little bedroom. “Who was all there, Daddy?”

Cal grunted as he shifted her weight from one arm to the other. “Lemme see… There was Mister Gaelyn, of course. Then Godric, and Drewett, and Mister Eirikr….”

Brook wiggled in excitement. “Mister Eirikr was? I’m so jealous! Can I come next time? Can I? Can I?!”

“Oh, no! It’s a men only gathering. Don’t tell me you still have a crush on the man,” he chided with a teasing grin.

Brooke ducked her head and hid her face against his shoulder. “Nooo… well, maybe a little. He’s so nice! But so is Mister Godric and Mister Gaelyn, I guess….”

Cal chuckled and shook his head as he set her down on her bed. “Yes, he is. They are all very nice. Shouldn’t you like boys your own age, though?”

The girl crawled under a layer of blankets as she made a face. “Boys my age are dumb. Besides, one of them pulled my pig-tail today.”

Cal blinked. “Can’t argue with that,” he mumbled. “You keep thinking boys are dumb, sweetheart, and I’ll live a long time.” He then patted her head. “No damage done?”

Brook shook her head. “Nope! I told teacher, and then told him my Daddy and his friends would leave him in the woods if he did it again.”

“You did?” Cal asked, arching a brow as he tucked her in.

“Well… Almost…. I sure thought it! I — I did ask him to stop.”

Cal chuckled and kissed Brooke on the forehead. “You’re a good girl. It’s okay to stick up for yourself. Are you warm enou –”

Before he could finish, Brooke shot upright, clearly making an effort to stay awake. “Oh! Did you get a dragon hat?”

The man leaned back at her exclamation, then grinned and shook his his head. “No, I did not. I wonder, though if that’s why you insisted on me going to the meetin’ in the first place….”

Brooke blushed. “I just thought you would look really handsome wearing it…. That and… well….”

Cal gave her a sad smile as he tucked her back in. “Don’t worry about me, sweetie,” he said quietly as he gave her hand a squeeze. “When I get the hat you can wear it around the house all you like. But enough of that. A bedtime story, then sleep for you, little lady.”

“Two?”

The man smiled and rolled his eyes. “Oh, all right. Two bedtime stories, but no more.”

January 18th: The Kissing Willow

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Little nose prints decorated the bottom of the frosted window pane. Brooke had grown just enough that she could rest her chin on the wooden sill facing the Dunwash River. If she leaned juuuust right, she could see The Kissing Willow.

Oh, The Kissing Willow. Brooke had seen the shadows of some of the young couples beneath it now and then. The notion was so romantic. Papa had huffed whenever The Warbler had gossip about people kissing, and ever since Miss Esthyr had taught her her letters, six year-old Brooke would sneak peeks at the daily newsletter. Fits of giggles seized her at the silly couplings. Maggie would never kiss Mr. Atan! He was too scary to kiss . . . and looked like a pretty girl too.

Huffing a despairing breath that fogged up the corner of the cold glass she leaned against the wall, chin on the window sill, arms dangling at her sides. The other girls had prattled on about kisses. At first it sounded gross. Boys were gross. Papa had said so. But then again, Papa was a boy too, wasn’t he? And he called her pretty and kissed her . . . well, not like Mr. Rheb had kissed Miss. Cisse. That had been a while ago though and . . . Why had the lady Cwen been visiting Mr. Rheb? Wriggling her nose she pushed the questioning aside. Papa’s voiced echoed in her head from when he’d grumbled about the gossipers of town. Besides, that didn’t solve her problem. She wanted a kiss under the tree!

No one had been under the tree in several days in spite of The Warbler’s tale-telling. Then her eyes widened, filling with an idea. Oh, and it was a good one.

“Where ya goin’, sweet-pea?” Papa called after her as she bolted from her room.

“Out!” she chimed sweetly, her little arms overflowing with her cloak, scarf and mittens. Before he could protest she was out the door and flying down the path to the road. Wrapping her scarf around her face as she dashed over the empty, snow-powdered street, Brooke nearly missed the corner that would take her onto the bridge.

Stopping in the middle of the cobbled way, the small girl shoved her hands through the arm holes of her warm cloak. Distant voices echoed from the far gatehouse. Someone was coming! Her little legs carried her as fast as they could go and suddenly she was there.

Droplets of frozen ice coated the dangling willow branches, reflecting the winter sun. Brooke had never been under the tree before, but it was magical! No wonder people kissed here! It took walking around the silver-barked trunk three times till she found it. Her way up. She’d never climbed on her own, but all the boys did it, so how hard could it be, really? Mittens clenched tightly in her teeth, Brooke jumped up to catch hold of the first branch and her legs scrambled till they caught a foothold, and she pulled herself up. The bark was slick with frost and ice, but she grasped the branches around her and pulled herself up to stand on the thick limb, ready to continue her ascent.

“Take that, branch,” she huffed with a triumphant grin. All she had to do was climb a little further up, hook her mittens on a limb, then wait for someone to come and rescue them for her. It was a good plan. A solid plan.

Higher and higher she climbed till she had made it, looping her red, knit mittens to dangle from a freshly sprouted branch. It was perfect! Looking around, she took hold of another branch and turned to clamber back down . . . and then she froze.

The ground was so far away! It didn’t look that high from the ground, but the more she stared at the roots protruding from the frozen earth below, the further away it felt. Brooke quickly flung her arms around the silver branch, her little heart leaping into a panicked gallop.

“You’re ok, you’re ok,” she muttered fearfully to herself, eyes still staring wide at the way below her. Sucking in a breath of frigid air, she summoned her courage and stretched a thin leg down towards then next branch. It was so close! For a second her chest swelled with hope as her toe brushed against the next step down . . . but then her other foot slipped, and with a frightened yelp Brooke pulled herself back up, legs wrapping around the same thick branch that her arms strangled.

Hot tears welled in her eyes. There was no way down! She couldn’t do it. She couldn’t! She could try to jump, but that might kill her! People died when falling from high places. Oh no . . . she might die! Papa didn’t know where she’d ran off to, and there was no guarantee anyone would hear her. She was so high up, no one would see her! Her lower lip quivered as the cold of the bark seeped through her warm layers. She was going to die in The Kissing Tree! After they found her cold, lifeless body then no one would kiss in the tree again and the tree would die without all the kissing going on and then the kids would make up a mean song to sing during play time and no one would have a happy ending and it would be all her fault! It was the end. She knew it.

“You stuck up there?” rumbled a deep voice from behind her.

Turning her head, vision blurred, Brooke saw a man . . . a tall man standing not a foot from the tree and just out of arms reach. She was saved!

“N-no,” she lied in a wimper, her lower lip jutting out as she attempted to put on a brave face.

The man grunted, then a soft, low chuckle followed, filling the mystical air within the willow’s branches. “Course you’re not. But I wouldn’t be much of a gentleman if I didn’t offer you a hand. Would you . . . care for a hand down?”

Brooke’s heart melted as she peered down at her rescuer. “Mmh-hmm,” she managed to respond, sniffing her cold nose. Big, strong hands hooked under her arms and for a moment she still clung to the tree.

“It’s alright. I gotcha,” said the man kindly. Swallowing, Brooke nodded and as soon as her grip loosened he bore her up and away to set her firmly on her feet. The man held her there for a moment as her legs wobbled, not letting go till he was sure she wouldn’t topple over.

She wiped furiously at her eyes and tear-stained cheeks as the man turned away. Her vision cleared she looked up at him as he returned to The Kissing Willow to retrieve her little red mittens. He was so tall! Taller than Papa. A bow hung behind broad shoulders, and a quiver of arrows sat at his side. It was Mr. Tebbernekk. She guessed it by his summer-colored hair, and she knew it was when he turned around by the scar along one side of his face and the clear, grey eyes that looked down at her.

A smile quirked at the corners of the man’s stern mouth. “What were you doing up there?” Eirikr asked as he walked back to the road, Brooke following like a lost duckling, unwittingly gawking up at him with big doe eyes.

The little girls face flushed crimson and she looked down, embarrassed. “Ijuswangekissed,” she admitted under her breath.

Eirikr’s head tilted curiously, but he crouched down, balancing on his toes. “Hey. You going to be alright?” he asked, offering her her mittens.

Her lower lip quivering, Brooke cast her arms around the man’s neck. “Th-hank you!” she exclaimed with a sob, hugging him tightly.

“Uhh — erm, you’re welcome,” he responded, reaching a strong hand around to hesitantly pat her back.

Sniffing in attempt to stop crying, Brooke’s face suddenly split into a beaming smile. Realization that she would indeed live suddenly surging through her, and with the knowledge that the tall, rugged Dalish hunter had been the one to sweep in like a knight in shining armour, the little girl planted a big, teary kiss on his bearded cheek. Skipping back, giggling at his shocked expression, Brooke turned and fled for home and Papa, leaving her hero behind.