After a Party: Yule Cheer

“Really, Miss, I just –”

“By the Valar, hold still!” Aryl insisted, taking a pin from her mouth to use on the sweatshirt she had fit on the first stranger through the door.

Crazy elf,” Ildric grumbled, holding his arms out as the dark-haired elf maiden circled around him, pinning the pieces of warm cloth together. “I just want my tunic mended! I’m not your dummy. ”

Arylieth scurried to fetch her shears from a cluttered tailoring bench, waving a hand at the man. “You’re a bit broad compared to the boy, but I’m sure he will fill it out soon enough.”

Ildric groaned in protest as she ushered him to a mirror and motioned for him to spin. Arms extended, the man stopped and stared at his reflection, or more specifically at the picture worked into the thread of the sweatshirt. “A bear? Really?”

“It’s a Yule gift!” Arylieth explained with an excited grin. “Now if you would please stop complaining I’ll mend your tunic for free once I’m done.”

_ _ _ _ _

“Best friend EVER!” Feira exclaimed, sliding down the railing of a flight of steps in a far wing of the manor. A letter fluttered in one hand as she used the other to catch herself from falling as she flew off then end into a lower hallway. Spinning a few steps she re-read Lalaith’s letter for the twentieth time. Someone had written her a letter! Her!

Carefully folding the letter back up and slipping it into her pocket, Feira snatched up a broom and dust pail. This might have been the best day she’d ever had. Well, beside the day she first visited Lalaith at the temple, the day the Wayfarers returned from defending the city, and the day she had off in town when a gentleman told her she looked lovely. But this might just out rank them all.

She had to finish her chores. She had to finish them quick!

‘If you are still inclined, I thought we might visit your friend’s cheese shop. The one with the delicious gouda! Might you be free?’

“Yes!” she laughed, skipping nearly too many steps in one leap. She had made sure to get visiting day off. A day in town with a friend? And gourmet cheese! Life just kept getting better.

_ _ _ _ _

You bloody fool. Eruviel didn’t bother closing the door to her dark house all the way as she dumped her Yule basket and Anric’s gift on the long, cushioned lounge chair. Yanking the green ribbon from her hair she drew the letter from her pocket and paced towards the hearth that still cradled half a dozen hot coals.

She stopped, the letter extended before her, and after a long moment drew herself away from the mostly cold fireplace. No, she couldn’t burn the letter; little Eboric’s hand print. Clenching the letter in her fist she turned and slammed her hand down on the map table. What had she expected? She had fretted over the letter since she’d received it, stressing over if she should actually give it to him or not. But it was too late for that.

Letting out an enraged shout she shoved the map table back, threw up her rug, and lifted the hatch to drop down the steps that led to the cellar. Grabbing up a fresh quiver of arrows she selected a short sword from the collection on her wall and hopped the steps back up to the common room. Shedding her dress, discarding it, her circlet and ribbon by the rejected letter on the map table she then disappeared into her room. A minute later she emerged, clad in her hunting garb, buckling on a bracer. Fitting on her sword belt she sifted through the stack of warrants on the corner of the map table and selected one out.

She was mad — no, she was furious. Never had she meant for the letter to remind him of Ninim, and yet the guilt for every little glance and thought towards him, each hope she felt suddenly became like salt on a wound. But it didn’t matter what she had meant. She had been thoughtless; selfish, and that was the worst crime of all. She should have known better, and the look of pain that had twisted his face hurt worse than the beating she’d taken in Angmar months earlier. Eruviel stopped, her hand resting on her toned abdomen for a moment before snatching up the quiver of arrows. She hadn’t told anyone, but she should have told Cwen . . . if anyone could help her with that it would be Cwen. She couldn’t tell Eirikr. Not now. And possibly not ever. Not after tonight.

Grabbing a pad of paper she sketched down a note and left, not bothering to add a log to the fireplace. She had a bad habit of taking off with no one knowing. Maybe the piece of paper was her compensating for how much of an idiot she felt like. But she couldn’t take off without leaving some sort of word for Cwen in the event the woman showed up. She’d find her bounty, and if it ended up being too easy maybe she’d go on a run. A long run. Tacking the note to the outside of her door she turned and disappeared into the dark as flakes of snow began to drift down from the night sky.


Went out on a job. Be back in a day. Make yourself at home.

Interlude: Another Afternoon

“No . . . no, no NO!” huffed Arylieth, crumpling up her page and casting it into the fire. It landed square on top a pile of fragile black husks of parchment, edged with embers that mushroomed up in a puff as the new reject joined the smoldering remains. Pushing her seat back in what might possibly have been the most docile display of frustration, the young elf snatched up a hair tie and twisted her raven waves up into a soft bun.

“It’s not right,” she muttered with a sigh as she scooped up her manuscript and began rifling through the stack of pages. “Nothing fits.” The first half had been the simplest. Plot flowed, intrigue and the weave of characters had fit so perfectly. The following chapters, though, had grown more difficult with each passing page. Now, when the most important and seemingly honorable of characters were about to win . . . she could not think of a way to kill them. She had intended for everything to be turned inside out and for the truth of the favored heroes to be revealed, but nothing she wrote fit. Nothing was dark enough. Nothing molded the amount of tragedy she hoped to convey. She had read nearly every book in the Bree-town Archives (which, admittedly was not that great of a feat), and none of it sufficed.

Dropping the stack onto the desk she tied up the pages with twine and packed her few things into her satchel. Eruviel’s books had only helped so much, and though the maps were nice, they did not help at this point in her writing. Aryl felt proud of herself for not reading the box of letters hidden in the guise of a thick, dully titled volume, and the most thrilling part of the whole day had been when a particularly petulant swan had chased her up the path to the house.

She needed experience. She needed inspiration that would give life to the last remaining chapters. Fitting on her thick cape, Arylieth closed the decorative iron grate over the font of the fireplace, and swung her satchel over her shoulders. “Maybe I should go for a ride and get captured,” she thought aloud. Eruviel had told her most of her own experiences, but it just seemed disrespectful to pry further than she already had. She wouldn’t really let herself get captured . . . that would be foolish! But if she could find someone with a more devious history . . . or better yet a book full of dark deeds who’s writer was already dead . . . .

“Yes! That would work splendidly,” she sang. Slipping out the front door into the crisp autumn afternoon, Arylieth locked up the house, hid the spare key, and scurried down the lane before the disgruntled bird could reappear.


 _ _ _ _ _

Thamon stared at the target, weighing the throwing knife in his hand. “M-May I see you do it one more time?” he asked quietly.

The little brat, thought Ris, glancing down at her brother’s adopted kid. His first several throws had missed horribly, and by their accuracy she knew the boy to be a terrible liar. “Sure. Here.” Drawing out another dagger she took a step back and with a swift flick of her arm cast the dagger into the bullseye. “Like that, see?”

He looked up at her and his hand shook slightly in a feigned moment of nervousness as he nodded. “Okay, Miss Thorne.” Thamon threw a dagger and the hilt bounced off the tree nearly a foot below the target. “S-See? I am terrible.”

Risalra put a hand on her hip and considered him with a wry smile. “You do a very good job at missing,” she commented casually. Stepping forward she walks towards the target. “Care to go one more round?”

“Yes, Miss Thorne,” Thamon grumbled, watching her as he followed to retrieve his scattered knives. Walking back he glanced forlornly back at the target. “I just don’t get it! I-I am bad at this. Why do you insist I do it?” Flinging a hand out in frustration, a knife escaped the boy’s grasp and landed with a thud in the bullseye. “I-I . . . didn’t mean . . . .” His eyes widened and turned away.

Risalra chuckled, not bothering to look at him as she eyed the target. “Cause you were so excited for this when we left your house . . . and I enjoy a little competition.” She shot Thamon wink and threw her own dagger, sticking it in the end of his.

A smile flashed across the young boy’s face and for the first time that night Risalra could see him lower his guard. “Thank you, Miss Thorne.” Walking over to her, Thamon chose a blade, inspected it, and pointed out his target. He hit the corner of the branch with ease. “Guess you won’t be able to keep up,” he chimed.

Yup. You’re a brat. Risalra sighed. “I suppose not –” she said as she started to turn, casting her knife away. The blade sailed across the yard, skinned along the side of the boy’s blade, and sunk into the soft wood. Glancing back to him she twirled another dagger in her hand. “Your turn.”

Thamon blinked at the target but quickly put on a smirk. He picked up another knife but in his haste completely missed, and this time not on purpose. “Ugh,” he groaned, scrunching up his face. “Put me out of my misery while you have the chance.”

Risalra snickered and pointed to the corner of the box garden. “I figured you’d be good –” She threw the dagger, hit her mark, and offered another knife to the boy ” — but didn’t think I’d have to work at beating Rath’s kid. I think you might be able to match him in throwing.”

Thamon looked up at her, a new spark lighting in his eyes. “You . . . you really think so?”

_ _ _ _ _


Clear . . . clear. Feira glanced out the door, down to one end of the hall, then the other.

Okaaaay . . . gogogogoGo! she thought with an excited panic as she sprinted down the hall with only the faintest pattering of her feet sounding in the corridor. Slipping into the library, the servant girl narrowly avoided closing her blonde curls in the gilded door and stood for a moment with her back against the wall, her chest heaving as she caught her breath.

A heavy sigh of relief deflated her chest as she saw that the house library was indeed empty, and after waiting a minute, listening for the sound of approaching feet that never came, she stepped away from the entrance. Using a chair for a boost, she stepped up onto a sturdy shelf of a bookcase and reached over the top to grope blindly through the dust. Oh please no spiders, oh please no spiders. Ah-hah! Her hand found the three-foot dowel she had procured from the gardener and, glancing around the empty isles, jumped down the four feet to the floor. Her skirts swirled around her as she stuck the landing, and she curtsied with a flourish of the dowel to her imaginary audience.

Returning the chair and fixing the few books she had displaced, Feira sauntered down one row of books then another, her eyes grazing over the titles as a lady might have a closet of shoes or a lover a street filled with flowers. Finally she found the one. Plucking the leather-bound petals from the shelf she peeked back around a towering shelf to the library entrance, and quickly retreated to the back corner of the room.

“Page . . . ah, here we are,” she whispered as she flipped through the soft leaves, stopping on a chapter titled by a picture  of two knights locked in combat. “Draw your sword before you engage,” she murmured, reading aloud as she extended the dowel before her. “It takes longer to draw a sword than it does to get hit.”

Continuing on, she relaxed her shoulders and set her feet, taking a moment to figure out just what angle to point her front foot. “There is no middle-ground nor compromise . . . .” Careful not to strike a marble likeness of a swan set up on the end of a bookshelf, Feira attacked forward at an imaginary Black Rose, the prized book on swordsmanship a shield in her off-hand.

Introductions: The Road

“Pack . . . dagger . . . noteboooo –” Arylieth’s voice trailed off from her checklist as she turned in a circle. Scuttling over to her small desk in the corner she dropped a pile of papers on the chair and rifled through a stack of books. Her stomach sank. Where on earth was it?

The notebook wasn’t anywhere in the house. Picking up her skirts she ran outside, her long black hair billowing behind her as she padded down the front steps into the yard. She found a pencil by the gate but not her notebook.

“By the Valar,” she groaned, slapping a hand to her forehead. Glancing up at the sun she yipped and hurried back inside. “Curse it all, I’m gonna be late!”

Throwing her pack over her shoulders she snatched up her saddlebags packed with food and blankets from the common room. It had to still be at the Archives, she assured herself as she locked the door behind her. Gliding down the road towards the stables she suddenly scooped up her skirts and leapt into a sprint.

“A map! I cannot forget a map!”

__ __ __ __ __

“Are you sure you won’t stay?”

The young, rugged woodsman looked up at her as he stuffed his last shirt into his bag. “The whole family is going. You know father’s talked about going south for years.”

Huffing a stray hair out of her eyes Amiraen pushed off from where she leaned against the wall of the cabin. “Forgive me if I prefer forests of trees to those of stone.”

The man narrowed his eyes at her as he righted himself, fitting the strap of his bag over his shoulder and across his chest. “Gondor isn’t all that bad, sister. It would be a new adventure and you might even find someone.”

Amiraen scoffed, waving an idle hand at him. “I will find my own road, thank you. And I will not let father tie me down to some stuffy merchant’s son. If I end up in Gondor some day it will be my own choice.”

Her brother picked up his bow and walked over to her, tousling her hair like she was a child. “What am I going to do with you,” he sighed. She hated when he did that, but she knew she would miss it every day after he left. “Here, take this then,” he said, handing her the weapon.

“But — but you will need this!” she stammered, carefully holding the bow in both hands.

“You goose. If the war reaches us then I have my swords, and Gondor is full of fighting men. You are the best archer in the family. It’s only fair that you take it.”

Nodding, she clutched the weapon to her chest as she walked with him to the door. “Safe travels then. I will write when I figure out where I end up.”

“Love you,” he chuckled, planting a kiss on her forehead. “Take care of yourself Ami.”

Mira, you oaf,” she corrected with a smirk, giving her brother a playful shove as he turned to walk away. “Love you too.” She would see them again, she reassured herself. Life was funny like that. Securing the cabin she fixed the prized bow on her back, watching him confidently stride away.

He waved back at the turn in the road, and then he was gone. In the silence the Black Woods came alive as raindrops began to patter down through the evergreen canopy.  Binding her soft curls in a low pony-tail a smile curved up Amiraen’s face as it was kissed with each cool drop of water. A crisp wind whispered down through the branches of cedar and pine and, turning north, she let it sweep her away.

__ __ __ __ __

Risalra strolled down the path, a staff crossing over her shoulders and she rested both hands up on either end. Her first day away from the forge in two weeks, she nearly skipped down the path with joy. Nodding in greeting to the constable she turned down the left fork in the road, heading for Chetwood.

“Today could not get more perfect,” she hummed, stretching both hands up into the air, still holding on to the staff.

“Why can I not hit it!” sounded a man’s voice from up the hill, a quieter stream of curses following.

Looking up, Ris stopped as she saw a man facing down a tree, dagger in one hand as the other rubbed his shoulder. Smirking, she raised a hand to cup around her mouth and shouted up, “I think it’s already dead!”

The man jumped and quickly looked at her, startled. He smirked slightly to hide his embarrassment. “I um. . . yeah. . . my arm is not fully healed,” he sighed. “Just practicing.”

Glancing down the road to the woods Risalra turned to look back up at the man. “Maybe you should let it heal a little longer before getting mad at it for not doing your bidding.”

“I guess I am just eager to get better. I can’t help anyone if I’m injured.”

“You won’t do anyone much good if you’re a dead hero,” she replied frankly, watching him pick up up his daggers. He was tall and built. And with ideals like that he was the kind of man she might have pick-pocketed just to get close to without fearing repercussions. But she’d given up being a petty thief so she promptly put the thought from her mind. Shrugging, she offered a slight wave as she turned to be on her way.

“I am no hero miss,” he said as he walked down the hill to the road. “I never want to be. I just believe every child should grow up innocent.”

Risalra stopped and looked back at him, dumbfounded, unable to decide if she should stay or continue on. “That is a noble sentiment. Too bad there are more children in the slums than you can handle.” What a fool.

The man shrugged his broad shoulders and Ris locked her gaze on his face. “Why is that a reason to give up?” he asked softly. Looking to her with a small smile he added, “My name is Ranthier, by the way.”

Arching a brow she studied him, but did not respond to the question. “I’m Ris. A pleasure to meet you, I suppose.”

“Well Ris, if you would excuse me I have work to do. Will . . . will I see you around?”

Bema save me, Risalra smirked. Rolling her shoulders she turned and walked away. “It’s a small world, so I suppose you will. See you around, Knight Ranthier,” she called over her shoulder, her eyes twinkling as she felt rather proud of her quip. He did not respond, but as they walked in opposite directions she could have sworn he’d called her a smart ass.

Arylieth, Eruviel, Amiraen, Risalra

Arylieth, Eruviel, Amiraen, Risalra