Bree-land

Practice

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“… and we took of like cats from a cage! Should ‘a seen us. Damned birds. Gonna be shyin’ from the critters fer weeks!”

Eruviel blinked out of her thoughts, lifting her head from where it rested on her knee to look to the young weapon smith. “Hmm? Oh — yes, yes that would be incredibly frightening. Crows are far smarter than some people care to admit.”

Risala lowered her weighted arms, frowning at the Elf. “You weren’ listening to a word I said, were ya?”

“You were running away from the gravedigger.”

“Yer so full of it,” Risala snorted, lifting the training sword to continue going through her paces. “What’re ya thinkin’ about?”

With a little smirk the Elf rose to her feet and walked along the stone fence to where their training gear sat. “Nothing that need concern you.”

Risala grinned mischievously and pointed her sword accusingly at Eruviel. “You were thinkin’ about him, weren’t ya?!”

“No, I was not,” Eruviel replied, taking up a short sword and the wooden shield from where it leaned against the barrier. “And even so it is hardly any of your business.”

“Bull,” Ris shot back with a snicker. “Can’t fool me, pointy-ears.”

One corner of Eruviel’s mouth slowly curved up. “How is your wounded tail bone feeling?”

“What? What has that gotta do with –” Risala cut off and shrugged, shoving a swath of bright red hair out of her eyes. “It’s fine. Why?”

“Your footwork has gotten sloppy.”

Risala scowled at the change of subject. “It ain’t got sloppy, you jus — Whaaaiiie!”

Quicker than she could respond, Eruvil had dashed in and swept the human’s legs out from under her. With a yelp and a flail of her arms Risala’s legs flew up and she crashed down to the ground.

“Ayyee! Damned bloody elf!” Ris wailed, rolling over and holding her bottom. “What’d ya do that for?!”

Eruviel dropped the shield beside the young woman, and set her hand on her hip. “As payback for last year when you knocked me on my ass.”

“Eh-heh, oh yeah,” Ris responded, grinning as she rose to her feet and took the shield up.

“And also, because the further you go along your road, the greater the chance of you crossing paths with far more dangerous things than an ‘gaunt lord’ and his enchanted flock of carrion.”

Risala sniffed and frowned down at her hammer and shield. “Yeah? Ya really b’lieve in all tha’?”

“I have seen all that, my dear friend.”

“Guess… learnin’ from a two thousand year ol –”

“Fifteen hundred year old –”

Risala smirked and rolled her eyes, though her limbs tingled with an eager anticipation.”Yeah, same thing. Company ain’t gonna be in Bree long. Ya really think you can learn me all that before I go?”

Eruvel’s green eyes narrowed as she grinned, and the Elf whispered under her breath to ignite the oil along the length of her blade. “Shield up. I can do better than that, Miss. Thorne. I can teach you.”

Two In The Morning

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Tap, tap.

Witch!” sounded Ildric’s lazy attempt at a whisper.

Tap, tap, tap….

Eruviel!”

The Elf’s eyes flew open and she shushed the window, feeling a bit of relief at seeing the door to her room closed and latched as she went to open the window. “Keep it down, old man” she whispered, far more carefully than he had. “What do you want?”

Ildric poked his head inside and looked around. “Why’ve you not invited me in before? This is a nice place — Is that really what you wear to bed?”

Eruviel rolled her eyes and cinched the satin belt of her robe tighter around her waist, just to be safe. “That’s none of your business. Why are you here in the middle of the night?”

“The boys have everything packed up. We’re ’bout to head out.”

“It’s freezing, and two in the morning!” she chided in a hushed tone.

“So? You said you wanted to see us off whenever we left.”

Eruviel leveled him with an even look. “I was having a good dream.”

Ildric’s lips curled in an impish smirk as he leaned against the ledge. “I didn’t think Elves dream. Was it a good memory… or perhaps a daydream?”

Failing at fixing him with a withering glare, Eruviel pushed him out of her window. “Get out you old thief. I’ll be right there.”

“Aww, not gonna climb out your window for –” His teasing whisper was cut off as she quickly and quietly closed the window on him.

The puppy had remained asleep, and Eruviel doubted anything aside from Eboric trying to pick him up would wake the canine after the romp he’d had earlier in the evening. Putting a fresh log in her small fireplace and tucking her new quilt under her arm, Eruviel tip-toed silently out of her room, careful to let as little light and cold into the front room as possible before she could close the bedroom door. Careful to not kick a stranded toy behind the couch, Eruviel slipped by the slumbering Eirikr and Eboric. It took all her willpower to not fix the blanket over the sleeping man’s shoulder, but she decided against it, not wanting to wake him on her way out. She would fix it when she got back, she told herself. Plucking up her boots Eruviel swiftly unlocked the front door and silently slipped out into the night.

The change in temperature nearly took her breath away. Ildric stood by the front gate, arms crossed over his chest and leaning against a post, and she waited till she reached him to fit her feet into her boots.

Cor, Witch, if you were human you’d catch your death o’ cold,” he muttered, snatching the blanket out from under her arm and throwing it around her shoulders.

“I think death from cold would be the least of my worries,” she retorted as she let the long skirt of her robe conceal her tall boots. “And I wonder who’s fault it is for me being out at such an hour.”

Ildric adjusted his own wraps as they exited the yard and started down the street. “Late nights never bothered you before.”

Eruviel chuffed, sending out a breath of white clouds from her lips. “I suppose I am getting soft.”

“Bull,” Ildric grunted. “You’re just saving up all your meanness.”

“I? I am not mean.”

The man grinned wickedly in the dark. “And what if I punched your pretty, red-headed sister or stabbed your human?”

“It’s not in your nature to do such a thing,” she responded sternly.

“Not without cause, no,” said Ildric, grinning as the source of the chill in the air changed. The two exchanged looks as they passed a street lamp, and Ildric suddenly chuckled and tossed an arm over her shoulder. “I missed that.”

His gesture broke the unexpected tension his question had caused, and Eruviel smirked as she shrugged off his arm. “Missed what?”

“That look of death in your eyes. I’m glad you got it back.”

Eruviel chuckled, and pulled the blanket more snugly around her. “I didn’t know I had lost it.”

“Aye. When I saw you three years ago, though….”

One corner of her mouth curling up in a smile, Eruviel nudged him with her elbow. “Is the mighty Vrax getting sentimental?”

“Damned old age,” he muttered bitterly. “Does terrible things to a man.” He nodded down the road. “It’s been nice to relax, but I need to get back into my usual frame of mind. Things are well with the camp, but matters on the outside are getting rougher, specially on the outskirts of the Riddermark.”

“You’ll have no trouble with that,” said Eruviel with an encouraging nod.

Ildric nodded curtly, the mask of command slowly finding it’s place over his features. “Good thing about going back is the weather will get better as we go south. None of this blasted damp and cold.”

“You will raid along the way, I presume?”

“You bet your ass we will. The boys are itching for action, and so am I. Plenty of orc camps and brigand lairs along the way. We have an empty wagon for loot, too. Plenty of goodies for the lads and others.”

Humming thoughtfully, Eruviel looked up as they continued along the way. “The group made it safely back then, I take it?”

“Only lost three, and just two had injuries still healing when they got in a few nights back.”

“Not like that would keep them from killing orcs,” Eruviel replied, chuckling.

Ildric echoed her chuckle as he nodded in agreement. “Not at all… Has anyone in the tribe written you lately?” he then hesitantly asked.

Eruviel’s brows rose and she looked to him. “From Aughaire? No, not lately. Why?”

“They were wondering… with the war in the south heating up and all, if you were thinking of coming back to fight.”

The Elf fell silent for a moment, green eyes fixed on the road before she shook her head. “I have thought of it, but I have no intention of going back to Angmar. Not unless the Wayfarers are called north. After…” She shook her head again, and frowned at the night. “No. I have people I need to be here for, and my responsibility to them comes first.”

Seemingly satisfied with her answer, Ildric nodded and swiped a hand across his cold nose. “Good… But enough of that. Met your sister earlier.”

“Oh? You met Anya?”

“Sure did. Nice as you said she was, but you never told me she was a looker.”

Laughing, Eruviel shot the man a glare. “She’s beautiful, but that is hardly something you should care about. Hands off you brigand. She’s already being courted.”

“Lucky kid… What if he stops courting her?” he prodded, leaning in, clearly fishing for a reaction.

No.”

Bittersweet: A Little Light

Evening had come and gone, and darkness welled up in the low yard of the Tenorbekk property. The black pool of a moonless night swirled about her and, aside from her fair features that caught bits of starlight, she blended in seamlessly.

Several hours has passed since Eruviel had decided to set herself down upon the porch, and she had yet to move from where she leaned against the door. No one had come home. No Abiorn, no Anyatka, no Eirikr. The more the minutes ticked by, the more she worried. She knew she shouldn’t. If Abbi was gone too, then he was probably somewhere with Anya. That alone both reassured her and caused her to fret. As for Eirikr’s heading off to who knows where . . . . She never worried much before. He was strong, and more than capable, but the nagging tug of concern had grown little by little as the days passed till it ate at her. Huffing out a breath, she drew up one knee.

Twirling a dagger through the fingers of one hand, the Elf let her head fall back against the wooden door with a soft thud. “This must be what aging feels like,” she grumbled.

It was strange, having the house cold and empty behind her. Eruviel could almost feel the shadows leaning away from the cabin’s outer walls. Her keen eyes darting about, she searched the tree line for the thirtieth time and, with a thoughtful air, observed for the fifth time how the light of the closest street lamp did not quite reach the edge of the fence. Someone needed to clean that.

She had walked through town earlier in the afternoon. She had been out and about the hills north of Bree, and she’d eaten supper at the Cask. As her luck would have it she did not catch sight or sound of the younger Tenorbekks. How her fortunes turned out to be so poor she did not know, but she did not want to leave now out of the chance of missing them on her way to search.

Rising to her feet, it took her only a minute to get the door unlocked. Sally’s eyes flickered in the dark portal that led to Anya’s room. Observing the intruder for a moment, the cat turned and disappeared. Picking up the few things that lay strewn about, Eruviel put food out for the fickle animal, and after a moment’s hesitation, borrowed a blanket from Eirikr’s bed before slipping back outside.

The door once more locked, she shrouded herself in the blanket to ward off the night’s chill, and the impending dew that would come in only a few more hours. It smelled like him. And while it was just fabric wrapped around her shoulders, she felt warm and safe, and it somehow made the waiting more bearable. Sitting back down on the stoop, she turned her face up. Her eyes glinted in the little light offered by the pale gems that betrayed where the earth ended and the sky began.

They were all right, she assured herself. They were all right.

Lotus: Late Spring Evenings

Nursing her mug of cider, Inaris studied the young woman with the odd color in her hair. With long hair, the red and black streaks struck Inaris as rather fantastic. An interesting choice in fashion, but Inaris wondered how Anya managed it, and could not help but toy with the idea of it would look like with blonde instead of the red . . . . “What picture did you hide in the first one?”

Anya smiled. “A fish and a rabbit’s head and a snail and snake . . . a whole bunch of animals.”

Inaris sat up a little straighter as the young woman listed off the animals. “My, how do you think it all up?”

“I do not do much else,” Anya admitted. “I cook and clean for my brothers, but one is away right now. But I do drawings and painting most of all.”

Inaris licked a droplet of cider from the rim of her mug. “There is nothing wrong with that. Best to dive head first into a gift if you have one, and you definetly do, Miss Anya. Do you have a market for your work?”

Anyatka shrugged and then shook her head. “Not really. Not here. I do a portrait every now and then and sometimes I can sell a landscape. But most folk here do not have the means to spend frivolously on pictures.”

How silly to be excited for a painting . . . But a piece of art would definitely liven up the plain space that was her bedroom walls. And now that no rain could leak in to ruin her things — “I’m not well off by any means, but I would love to buy something of yours. If you can sketch like that, I can only imagine what your paintings must look like.”

“Really?” Anya asked, looking up with a surprised smile. “I can do a custom work just for you. What sort of things do you like?”

Inaris made a face and shrugged. “All sorts of things. I like warm places where I’m not up to my knees in mud. I like flowers . . . especially lotus flowers. Oooh! What does the sea look like?”

 – – – * * * – – –

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Two years prior . . . .

Tying down the last bundle of straw, Inaris sat on the peak of the thatched roof, frowning at her poor, scratched up hands. The red hood kept the sun out of her eyes, and hid the gaudy clip that secured her bangs back over the top of her head. She’d been working on the roof since sun-up, and she had quietly grumbled to herself the whole time, but now, seeing the fresh straw gleaming like gold in the late spring sun, a bit of pride swelled in her chest. She had done this, and all by herself.

“Jade?” called a woman’s voice from somewhere below. “You still up there?”

“Yeah, I am!”

“Well, hop down, dear. Supper is about ready, and you have a visitor!”

“Sure thing, Miss Wynthryth!” Tossing the last of the rope ahead of her, Inaris carefully made her way down the slope of the roof. Nearing the bottom the young woman glanced around and slid the last six feet like she’d seen so many of the young men do before. Flying off the edge she landed on her feet, but as soon as her weight came down she tumbled several times before skidding to a stop on her rear end.

Letting out a small yelp, she grimaced, and slowly rose to her feet to dust herself off.

“First time trying that, eh?”

Shit. “Yeah, but I’ll get it next time,” she said, casting a tight smile over to her audience of one. “What are you doing here, Othorion?”

The tall captain leaned against the side of the house, arms crossed over his broad chest, not bothering to hide his amused smirk. “I came by to see you, of course.”

Reaching beneath her hood, Inaris removed the clip and hid it in her pocket, her bangs falling down to veil her face. “I am honored, of course, good sir,” she said with a dramatic inflection, “but I’m smart enough to know you want something.”

Chuffing out a laugh, the Rohir pushed himself away from where he leaned to approach her. “Miss Jade, you wound me.”

“You can take it.”

Othorion leaned back against the side of the house to face her as she washed her cut-up hands in a basin. “And what if I just want the pleasure of your company?”

Her bright eyes darted up to meet his. “You never visit for my company.”

The imposing man’s eyes narrowed, and his smile grew. “You don’t know that.”

This man was unbelievable. Rolling her eyes, Inaris winced, and attempted to remove a splinter from her left pointer finger. “What can I do for you, Commander Othorion.”

“I have a favor to ask,” he replied after a moment of watching her.

Inaris chuffed out a breath and smirked. “Of course. Are we mapping out possible scouting positions, or do you want to grill me for the location of more enemy camps that I don’t know of?”

“Aren’t they your people?”

“Never. They are the enemy. But you were saying?”

“This time it is something a little more exciting,” Othorion answered with a wry smile. Moving, he suddenly stood next to her, as tall, and overwhelming as ever. It irritated her that it made her heart leap in her chest. Taking her delicate hand in his massive grasp before she could protest, Othorion, with surprising care, removed the splinter on the first try.

She did not shirk back, nor did she pull away. “The sound of that makes me curious . . . and want to answer ‘no’ before you tell me what it is.”

Releasing her, he pulled a large pair of worn leather gloves from behind him, and draped them over her hand. “I left armour inside. The set we spoke of before,” he said in that low, rumbling voice that made the air nearly too thick to breathe. He hovered there for what seemed forever, his piercing eyes cast down to meet her unyielding gaze.

“What in Arda would I do with that armour?”

Othorion stepped back. “A great many things, I imagine, but see if it fits. I will be back to discuss business tomorrow.”

Tucking his gloves into her belt, Inaris offered a curt nod. “Very well. Till tomorrow, Commander.”

Othorion inclined his head to her. “Good evening, Miss Jade.” Brushing past each other, neither looked back as they went their separate ways.

Lotus: Garden Therapy

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The small trowel made a terrible scraping sound as it dug into the hard earth. Unlike the grassy lawn around her, Inaris plunged the tool into the impossibly rocky patch, carving out a hole more by sheer will than anything else.

Ultimately, I suppose it’s your choice. Inaris winced as her nuckles scraped against the stones, but that only spurred her on.

I’m not doing it for her sake, Jade. I’m doing it for yours. I can’t in good conscience contribute to pain between the two of you . . . she’s also got power over you. Jade dug out one last lump of earth. Tossing it into the borrowed wheelbarrow, she stood to observe her work. What a joke. There had never been anything between the two women. Two — no, three short conversations in the past four months. Power over you. It reminded her of everything she had left; reminded her of everything she had fought for. Had she just wandered in a pitifully small circle?

Cadi,” she spat under her breath to the darkness that shrouded her lawn. Not slowing her pace, Inaris lined the hole, and fit a massive bowl she had purchased into the bottom. Then came rocks, and gravel. Her efforts only illuminated by starlight trickling down through the branches that hid her little cottage from the rest of the homestead, Jade took great care to make as little a mess as possible.

She looked out of place, kneeling in the dirt and pouring bucket after bucket water into the small pond. Her hands would be scraped and sore at work the next day, but she didn’t care. It was just trading one pain for another.

Looking the pond over for a minute, Inaris frowned. Not at the pond; that looked rather lovely. No, she frowned because she couldn’t shake it. She hated her. She hated her heartless gaze. She hated that she didn’t have the balls to confront Inaris herself, and instead sent him like a little messenger to threaten her job and have him say it was for her own good.

Inaris scoffed, and stooped to pick up the second to last bucket. Bitch, please.

Back home it would have been a snake in a coin purse, or poison in a kiss. If she had approached her, Inaris knew it would have been fine. But not this way. She hadn’t expected it. Not from him. This way nearly hurt as bad as last time. And she’d still given him the paper. Three people now knew her hideaway. Now, more than ever the thought of him, and the way he looked at her set her skin on fire. She didn’t care about his others, but she was at a loss to why she felt the foreign bitterness of jealousy. She didn’t mind sharing. She minded being discarded again.

Inaris sighed, and wiped at her brow with the back of her hand. Several fireflies had already begun to gather around the reeds she set into one side of the pond. No, it was what it was, and Jade was sure that after a few days she’d come out of her fog and understand that he only meant to do right by the situation. The gravedigger would do what he thought best, the Mistress would steal what little happiness she could from others, and Inaris would continue grabbing hold of her new life. If tomorrow morning the boss wanted a reaction, she’d get nothing but the same old Jade. She chuckled, hoping that the Mistress did expect something, just to spite her.

A new thought tugged a wry smile up her mouth. She had said — well he had said she had said that he, ‘can’t go to bed with you anymore‘. Inaris suddenly barked a laugh. “The old hag has no imagination.”

Her anger slowly subsided as plant by plant, she fitted water lilies and several small pads into the minuscule pond. She almost wished she liked roses better. Roses were easier to plant, and easier to acquire . . . . The poor water lilies deserved to be liked more, too, but Inaris couldn’t bring herself to. Though sufficient, they weren’t lotus flowers. Their petals weren’t as soft, nor stems as strong, nor scent as rich and intoxicating, but for now they would do.

About Frank

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“I don’t know why I have ‘ta go with,” Ris grumbled as she spurred her horse to catch up with the Elf.

Riding a tall, black war steed that seemed to take his mistress’s outing far too seriously, Eruviel looked down at the young woman with an amused smile. “It’s my afternoon to give you lessons,” she responded as if to explain everything.

“Yeah, lessons,” Ris scoffed, “not a country ride. I have work at the forge to get done! There is nothing about this tha — HEEEY!” yelped Ris as Eruviel reached over to shove her. Unable to keep her balance, the young woman slid out of her saddle and tumbled to the grass on the side of the road.

“Hold, Eolir,” Eruviel muttered. The steed stopped on command, nickering in annoyance that his progression had been halted. “I can teach you all the footwork I know and run you through hours of drills, but it won’t do you a lick of good in a fight if you have no core strength.”

Glaring up at her pointy-eared companion, Ris scrambled to her feet. “I got plenty o’ core strength,” she grumbled.

A smirk curved up Eruviel’s face, and she let her mount continue on at a walk. “Then that’s the first lesson of the day: Use it.”

Retrieving her horse and hopping back into the saddle, Ris once again urged the animal into a canter to catch up. “Wait for . . . uugh, never mind,” she grumbled. “So where we goin’?”

“There is a farm down the road. A young friend there had me run an errand for him.” Eruviel sat back in her saddle and stretched her arms up over her head, trusting her mount to know the way.

“You’re running errands for human farm boys now? What kind of an Elf are you?” asked Ris, not bothering to hide her bewildered frown.

Eruviel only chuckled in response. Patting her right pant pocket as if to check for something, she then motioned ahead to where a small farmhouse amidst a grove of trees came into view. “We’re almost there.”

Fence posts rose out of the ground, framing in freshly plowed fields. Ris rode beside Eruviel, only doing a decent job of hiding her curiosity at the sound of children’s voices that reached them, and at seeing her Elven companion raised a hand to wave at the men sowing seed over the tilled earth.

“This is the Burns Farm, isn’t it?”

“It is,” said Eruviel as she guided them off the road and down the short lane. Seeing the visitors, several children ran into the hobbit-style farmhouse. “An unimportant family, by Bree-town standards, but an old and good one nonetheless.”

“I think I’ve been here before. There was a fire here a few –”

“Miss Eruviel!” interrupted a shaky, elderly woman’s voice.

“Yes,” muttered Ris, dismounting as Eru did. “This’ll most definitely improve my uppercut.”

Shooting the young woman a warning look, Eruviel only had to walk a few steps before a wrinkled old woman a foot shorter than her snatched her into a hug.

“By Ulmo, we’ve missed you!” the woman declared. Eruviel’s eyes widened as she was squeezed, and Ris hid a snicker behind a hand. “As skinny as ever — and you’re little friend’s as skinny as you! What’s with girls these days?! Skin and bones. Good thing you’re here! You will stay –”

“Lady Bea, really. We just stopped by to see Frank.” Eruviel quickly interjected, still caught in the elderly woman’s iron grasp.

“Frank?” asked Bea with surprise. “What about Frank? You don’t want Frank; such a silly boy. Come into the house and I’ll make you girls –”

“Bea, Bea, please forgive me, but we cannot stay long. I just need to talk with Frank for a minute.”

Bea huffed, but finally released the Elf. Ris took a cautionary step back as the woman’s sharp eyes turned her way. “What about? Not the cobbler’s daughter?”

“Something like that, yes, Lady Bea. But that’s Frank’s business.”

White brows meeting as she frowned, Bea turned towards the barn. “FRANK! YOU GOT VISITORS!” Ris winced, and Eru cringed as the woman’s sweet voice transformed into a thunderous shout.

Her mouth quivering as she held back a grin, Eruviel patted Bea on the arm. “We can go find him Beatrice. He’s probably busy with work.”

“Oh? All right then, sweetheart. You ‘n your friend run along,” encouraged Bea. Reaching up, she caught the Elf’s cheek with a fond pinch. “Do come back soon, though! And bring this nice young lady. She seems like a calm, quiet lass.” Giving Eruviel’s face a loving pat, Bea then turned to scuttle back towards the main house.

Ris hurried to walk with Eru as they made their way to the barn. “I don’t think anyone’s ever called me ‘calm’ and ‘quiet’ before,” she muttered as she glanced back after the old woman.

“Don’t get used to it.” Eruviel grinned as Ris stuck her tongue out at her.

“Ho! Eruviel!” called a young man who’d stepped out from the barn and into the bright sun.

“Hello, Frank!” Eruviel responded. Approaching him, she then motioned to Ris. “I don’t know if you’ve met before, but Frank, this is my friend Risala Thorne.”

“I’ve seen ya about Bree. Good ta meet ya,” said Frank with a friendly smile as he extended his hand. They shook, and Frank then motioned for them to follow. “Let’s talk in here. Granny’s been nosier than usual.”

Eruviel stepped to follow, but Ris glanced back at the house. Seeing the old woman peering out through the drapes, she smiled and waved before strolling after the others.

Frank led the two past a row of stalls to the back where a workbench had been set up. Turning to Eruviel the young man suddenly seemed incredibly giddy and nervous. “Did you get it?”

Ris blinked, and looked between the two, clearly confused.

“Yes, I did,” Eruviel replied as she pulled a small velvet pouch from her pocket.

Frank eagerly accepted it. “Was the five silver enough?”

A strange smile curved up Eruviel’s face, and she nodded. “More than enough. I hope it fits her.”

Ris’s eyes widened as a ring fell out of the pouch and into Frank’s palm.

Frank appeared just as shocked. “Balls . . . This was only five silver?!”

Eruviel nodded, unfazed. “It was.”

Ris gravitated over to stare at the ring, though Frank’s mouth still gaped. Turning the delicate, silver-toned band set with a sapphire that was framed by two little diamonds that shimmered like stars, realization slowly came over him.

“I can’t take this.”

“Yes you can. You bought it.”

“None of my pennies could have paid for this. Your r — ”

“It’s yours, Frank.”

Stepping back over to stand by Eruviel, Ris and her watched Frank as he stared at the ring, visibly torn. A minute passed before his hand balled up into a fist around the small treasure. “Thanks, Eru. Margret will love this.”

“She shouldn’t say yes to a ring, but I think it being nice will ease your worry.”

Frank chuffed out a laugh. “I think I might worry more, now! But I owe you, really.”

Shaking his extended hand, Eruviel patted Ris on the shoulder and turned to head out of the barn. “You don’t owe me a thing. Good luck, Frank. Let me know if she says ‘yes’, all right?”

“You’ll be the first!” he called after her.

Strolling out into the yard, Ris looked back to the barn before shooting a smirk over to her companion. “You’re a strange Elf.”

Chuckling, Eruviel stepped up into Eolir’s saddle. ‘Yes, yes I am.”

Bittersweet: Waiting

The energy in the hills around them had shifted. The breeze smelled sweeter, the birds had returned, and the woods had emptied of their unwelcome guests. It was quiet. Almost too quiet.

Having climbed up one side of the manor of Ravenhold, Eruviel sat on the roof, perched atop the the high peak over the front gable. She felt like a gargoyle, quietly considering the darkness that proved a better shroud than the black cloak on her back. Where had they gone? What had they wanted? Most of all, had they gotten that looming, mysterious ‘it‘?” Of all the other thoughts that filled her mind, those were the most prominent.

She’d never seen Orcs that well outfitted. They had been exceptionally organized, and well fed. She didn’t care about her already healing scrapes, but if one of the villagers or people she loved had been harmed . . . But they hadn’t. None of them had.

Futility. The first word that came to mind when she thought over the whole situation. Knowing all that she did, Eruviel was still not satisfied. It all seemed pointless. The smallest thought that it had all been a joke made her blood boil. There were too many unanswered questions; too many holes that made her wonder what was beneath it all. What was it they wanted?

The sound of a soft thud reached her ears. Turning her head, she looked behind her to the far side of the building. Kids. The estate was overflowing with towns people, and she imagined there were more than a few who wished to sneak off. Letting out a sigh she turned back to her watch, and the view. If another on patrol found the escapee, so be it, but she knew the level of danger in Durrow had, for the moment, returned to normal.

Just a few more days, and the gates would be opened. A few more days and she would have the freedom to leave. A few days would not wash away all the tracks of such a large force of Orcs. She hated being in a cage, but a gilded one with room to stretch her legs made her wonder how easily it might have been to break down the bars. But there was nothing to do now but get by till the Freemasons dug them out. It would do little good, sitting and stewing, if further action required a clear head.

Swinging her legs over the side, Eruviel leaned back to recline on the tiled slope to watch the stars disappear and wait for the sun to rise. The spring festival was likely to be used to encourage life to return to normal. It would be nice to have a few days of not constantly being on high alert. Yes, she could wait a few more days . . . .

A Year Apart

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Around one year ago . . .

“Master Whitethorn?”

“Wha — Oh! Good day, Lady ‘ruviel,” called the taxidermist from the back. “I’ll be right out!”

The Elf walked up a step and into the show room filled with a fair number of finely preserved beasts. A few of them she recognized as her own catches. Glancing out the window she could not help but feel relieved at seeing her red-haired friend still outside, waiting with that dour expression on his face.

“What can I do for you my friend?” asked the taxidermist as he emerged from the back room. Covered with a fine dusting of animal hair and his sleeves rolled up, Stev Whitethorn extended out a hand.

Giving the shop one more look-over Eruviel clasped his hand and they shook. “No business today, Stev. I actually have a favor to ask.”

“Oh?” asked the man as he made his way to the fireplace.

“Do you remember the Ranger you housed a few months back.”

“Aye,” Stev said, nodding as he retrieved his pipe from the mantle. “The one with the bum arm?”

“That’s the one. Do you think you could make one of those little leather balls like the one you made for him? I have a friend with an injured shoulder and he needs to get strength back in his hand.”

The taxadermist’s eyebrows rose. “Sure thing, ‘ruviel,” he responded, puffing on his pipe as he lit it. “It’ll just take me a minute.” Walking around the counter to a small work bench he sat down to work. “So what happened to the lad’s arm?”

Eruviel wandered over to lean against the counter. “My friend’s? Hurt it fighting Orcs,” she said with a shrug of her shoulders.

“Fighing orcs?” Stev tossed away the ball he was making and pulled out better materials. “Where do you find these people, Elf?”

“They find me,” responded Eruviel, chuckling as she watched him work. “He is the brother of a dear friend. I feel bad for him. He’s a good archer. I think I’d go out of my skull if I lost the use of my hand.”

The taxidermist let out a rolling laugh. “Good thing you’re an elf. I wager you’d be as bad as a man if you ever fell ill.” Tieing off a thick string, Stev tested the little ball and tossed it to her.

“You’d probably win that wager,” she said with a grin as she caught the ball. “Thank you, Master Whitethorn. I appreciate it.”

The man waved a hand at her as he rose to walk with her to the door, still puffing on his pipe. “Think nothing of it! Anything you need, ‘ruviel. Let me know how your friend turns out, all right?”

“I will,” she said, stepping out the door and shaking his hand once more. “Have a good day, Stev. I’ll see you later.”

~~~***~~~

In spite of the frost lacing the edges of the glass panes a black capped chickadee chirped outside of her small bay window. By the light that streamed through the house Eruviel knew it to be early morning, and it took a small amount of persuasion to convince herself to roll out of bed.

Dressing quickly, she washed her face in the silver basin on her small vanity, and tied her brunette waves of hair back in a low pony. It was a perfect day outside. She’d meant to be up and gone hours ago, but then again, why hurry? Tucking an old tome into her rucksack, she slung it over a shoulder as she snatched an apple from the table and stepped into her boots. Out the door, she left a hasty note in the wooden frame should anyone come over, than skipped down the steps.

A crisp wind blew up the bluff to wash over her, and she stopped for a moment take a deep breath. Spring was so close, she could nearly taste it. Down at the stables Voronwen pranced about impatiently, but it was Marisily she led out of the corral (much to Vorowen’s distress). Fitting a blanket and light saddle on the mare, Eruviel hopped up and let the sweet-tempered animal set the pace.

Only her daggers at her hips, Eruviel leaned back in the saddle, soaking in the sunlight as the road and countryside passed by. After a while the Elf and horse left the path to mosey through the woods. She didn’t care to pay attention to time or weather. Her eyes only saw the reawakening of the forest around her, fresh sprouts of undergrowth, and new life in the fox cubs that tumbled and played a short distance away.

“Ah, here we are,” Eruviel muttered as Marisily slowed to a stop. The hills rose up around them, creating a barrier for the little forest valley. Water bubbled over stones in a wide brook that wove through the trees, and the trees themselves were alive with birds, and squirrels. Though mostly evergreens on this end of the woods, Eruviel unsaddled her horse beneath a lonely, thick, old oak tree.

Marisily wandered away to graze as the Elf took off her shoes, stockings and gloves. She turned, slowly inspecting the little bit of paradise. It was not her usual spring get-away, but she’d been gone long enough. Rucksack on her back, Eruviel began to climb.

It was a tall tree, and strong. Leaves had already begun to peek out of the bark and branches, and the smell of pine, fresh water, and cool earth wafted up with the afternoon breeze. Finding the thick oak arm some forty feet up just as she’d left it, Eruviel hung her rucksack from a branch.

Streching her arms up over her head, and giving a delighted sigh, she laid down. One leg dangled off of the perch, her foot hooked on a smaller branch near the main trunk of the tree. She retrieved her silver ear cuff from one pocket and fit it on before pulling out a small writing kit from the center compartment of her bag. Setting up a small bottle of ink, Eruviel fit the special made tip onto her quill and pulled out a piece of stationary. Taking a moment to think, she brushed the vane of the feather over her lips before dipping the quill tip into the ink.

Master Garrick and Lady Avina,

Dear friends,

I hope this letter reaches you well before the anniversary of our bittersweet meeting. While you have been a gift sent by the Valar, I wish we could have met on far less tragic a night . . . .

Because of You

The moonless sky seemed closer tonight, and Eruviel entertained the thought of reaching out and taking hold of the heavens that shone down upon her perch. Having enjoyed a much needed rest after having returned from Dale, the summer night called to her, and Eruviel gladly answered. She had missed her late night jaunts, though the evenings at home seemed strange after spending months on the road with Eirikr. I need to call on him, she thought grimly, praying that he had found some sort of rest. The night after their return from Dale Arathier had found her. She would have rather gone and found Cwendlwyn or Nillariel, but he would not leave her be till she allowed him to see to her injuries. However rudimentary it was, his care had helped, and strangely, so had his company.

The summer air greeted her as an old friend, combing through her dark, loose hair as she padded barefoot atop the cool, narrow stones of a long forgotten wall. The weight of the past months had begun to lift from her shoulders in spite of the visions that still interrupted her sleep. Tossing the last pebble that she had gathered from the lake up to catch it, her mind wandered from Anyatka and Anric, to Forthogar, then to Threz. She still needed to find the latter. His letter sat folded in her pocket and she worried if the turmoil that had stirred up the populace had forced him into hiding. Keep your coin purse close, she thought with a chuckle as she cast the small stone over into the shadows in the valley on her right.

“Ow!” sounded a voice from below.

Startled, Eruviel peered over the side as she leaned over to better see the form of a man. “Oh! Forgive me! I did not see you there.” Where in Arda did he come from?

Emerging from under the canopy of the trees Arathier stood, the glare on his face replaced with by a bright smile. “What are the odds, Eruviel!” he laughed as he rubbed a hand on the side of his head.

“Fair evening to you, Arathier!” said Eruviel as she leaned over the edge of the wall, her toes curling in the empty space. “Are you out hunting or woodcutting?”

“Woodcutting!” the man replied with a smile. “Come down!”

“Be right there,” she called over her shoulder as she hurried down the final length of the wall. What is he doing here? she wondered as she jumped onto a stone platform. Jogging across it to where the grassy embankment replaced the wall, Eruviel slid down the fifteen feet to the valley belonging to the town of Archet. Walking over to meet him she noted that he was dressed in all black.

“Hello m — er– Eruviel,” stuttered Arathier, his face going blank.

Making sure to appear as if she had not noticed, Eruviel clasped her hands behind her as she smiled up at him. “Hello, my friend! How are you faring tonight?”

“Good,” Arathier replied. “I just have a call to make in Archet.”

“Buisness or pleasure?” she asked, doing her best to keep her voice even. Her eyes darted around in search for the piles of cut lumber she already knew would not be there.

Hesitating, Arathier reluctantly pulled his mask from a back pocket. “Buisness.”

“I thought that was done with,” she said quietly, her hands dropping to hang loosely at her sides.

“This is the last one,” said Arathier, his eyes falling to look at the ground.

Eruviel took a small step back, glancing over her shoulder to the valley beyond. “You know I wish you’d handle this differently,” she said, her accent surfacing from frustration. “But I will not try to stop you this time.”

Arathier looked at her and nodded slowly “I am sorry. It has to be this way.”

“No, it doesn’t,” she said firmly as she turned back to face him.

He remained silent for a long time, diverting his eyes from her to look towards the lights of Archet glowing in the distance. Letting out a heavy sigh he stepped away, lifting his mask to his face. “Wait here. I’ll be back shortly.”

Standing on the top of the small rise Eruviel gazed into the West, her arms crossed over her chest. I should not wait, she thought. She could not be party to murder, no matter how justified it might seem. The bitter fool, she mused, searching the shimmering heavens over Bree-land. He did say this was the last one, she thought, as if trying to convince herself. Oh how she wanted to believe him.

“Eru!” Arathier called out from behind her as she took her first step to leave. Halting, Eruviel turned to see Arathier stop several yards away and drop a hogtied body to the ground. “Maybe it doesn’t,” he grumbled.

Turning around, Eruviel blessed the darkness that hid the storm of emotions crossing over her face. “You . . . Arathier?”

“He’s still alive,”he said, obviously displeased as he shoved his hands into his pockets

She did her best to hide a smile as she approached them. “Who is he?”

Arathier looked to the man, giving him a weak kick in the side. “A dirt bag. He is going to be brought to the jailhouse.”

Eruviel bobbed her head in understanding. “I am sure a watcher in Comb or Staddle will take him.”

“I did it because of you.”

Eruviel’s eyes narrowed as she studied him. “Possibly . . . or you did it because of you.”

Arathier shook his head. “I was about to kill him. I-I thought of you and what you said, and I thought . . .  well, nevermind what I thought.”

Eruviel let a small smile show. “You can tell me what you thought — or think after we deliver him to the authorities.”

Arathier shook his head again. “I can’t. They know my mask. And I cant risk them seeing you with me.”

Then remove it, she thought, wishing the words had tumbled from her mouth instead of what followed. “I will take him into Comb while you wait outside of town.” Chuckling, she added, “You’ll owe me a drink, though.”

“Deal,” said Arathier as a smile flashed across his face. “I’ll meet you in the Combe and Wattle Inn.”

How badly did he beat you for you to look so defeated? she wondered as the brigand reluctantly stood, his shoulders hunched over. Eruviel shook her head at him as she cut the rope from around the criminal’s feet, using the long end as a leash as she casually motioned for the man to walk.  “Then you owe me two drinks; the second some other time in town. . . without the mask,” she said with a grin as she walked away, swinging her end of the rope ever so slightly.

(All dialogue taken from in-game RP and edited for tense and exposition.)

Fool Me Once . . .

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Eruviel grabbed the ruffian’s arm as he bolted to escape and whirled him around, slamming him into the pole. Pulling the man to his feet she bound his hands behind his back. “You should learn not to run. And you should learn to punch a little harder to make it worth your effort,” she said darkly. Running her tongue along the inside of her cheek she shook her head at the criminal. “It’s for your own good, believe me.”

She needed to get this man to the prison, and fast. Anyatka had made her promise to be careful, and she had, telling her young friend not to worry about her. The scrawny man that was her bounty was the easiest catch she’d had in months. A small twinge of guilt stung her for not telling Anya about her detour, but now she half wished she had gone home to Anya and Eirikr. The door to the Comb and Wattle Inn opened and closed behind her and her stomach sank as the footsteps stopped.

“Put that man down! He is wanted for crimes against Bree-land!”

Eruviel looked over her shoulder. “Of course he is. That’s why I’m arresting him!” Pulling the ruffian with her she turned only to freeze in her steps. “You?”

The masked man growled at her, his voice raspy and deep as his fist tightened around the hilt of his drawn dagger. “Yes me. . . I will give you one chance. Put the man down.”

Eruviel unclasped the strap over her dagger. “I will not,” she replied coldly, narrowing her eyes at the man. “He is going to the prison where the Justice will sentence him and either lock him away or execute him.” So much for attempting to avoid him for once, she thought grimly.

Growling at her, the mysterious man pulled out a tiny knife and threw it in a whipping motion. The blade flew past her, sticking in the pillar behind her. “Next time I will not miss.”

Remaining unflinching as the knife whistled past her head, Eruviel let out a short breath. “Maybe I was wrong about you,” she said with a wry smile, pulling the defeated ruffian behind her and letting him fall to the ground. “I do not want to fight you, but I will if you force my hand. I have already turned in two other criminals to the Justice. The brigands did not seem to . . . appreciate my efforts.”

The masked man sighed, his voice thick. “I do not want to hurt you. If . . . if you are to take this man away, let me at least talk to him first.”

Eruviel pursed her lips, studying the masked man with a grim look. “You may talk to him, either with your weapons from a distance, or up close with your weapons left on the bar.”

“If I wanted him dead, he would already be dead!” snapped the man, glaring furiously at her.

Eruviel raised her chin slightly in defiance, her green eyes blazing. “Like the other men you have killed? You came in here with your dagger already drawn, and have given me no cause to trust you.” I need to get my prisoner out of here, she thought frantically.

The masked man sighed. “Take the man then! I will not hurt you . . . .” His voice trailed off, seeming slightly nervous. “The next one is mine,” he spat.

Arching a brow at the man, Eruviel took a step back towards the ruffian still laying on the floor. “So you do not wish to question him?” she quipped, smirking.

The masked man looked up at her, his mouth twitching. “I was going to drive a knife into his skull.”

Eruviel gave him another wry smile as her eyes gleamed dangerously in the fire light. “I thought as much.”

The mysterious man stared at her for the longest time. “Why do you seem to care for the well being of this . . . dog?” he asked, sneering down at the bound man.

Eruviel meet the man’s stare. “I care that he receives his rightful punishment. He is within the confines of the law of town. I do not kill men not aligned with the Eye unless it is warranted, or for self preservation. This dog will most likely wish he were dead by the time they are done with him.”

The man stared her down before approaching, stopping uncomfortably close to her, speaking in his normal tone of voice. “I do not want you to get hurt. I have said this before, stay away from me.”

It took everything within her to remain calm and keep her muscles relaxed, ready. You are too close. I cannot trust you! she fumed. Outwardly, Eruviel ‘s smile softened slightly as she narrowed her eyes at him. “I believe it was you, this time, that interrupted my . . . form of justice. If you wish to not be hindered by a mere elf maiden perhaps you should kill with greater care . . . or not kill in town at all.”

The masked man peered down at her. “I do not think you are just a mere elf maiden judging by the looks of that man. . . .” While he had her attention he drew a small knife again from his back with his left hand, and threw it square into the man’s abdomen. “If he survives you can keep him in your jail, but by the looks of it I might have nicked something vital.”

Eruviel cried out in shock and dropped to the ground next to the man, frantically attempting to stop the bleeding as his spurting blood soaked her gloves. No, no, no, no! Blood and orcs! she cursed as the ruffian’s breathing slowed to a stop. “You could not leave this one man well enough alone?” Her chest heaved with rage as she looked up at the masked man. “I . . . you . . . .” Words failing her, she jumped to her feet and slapped him hard across the face. “No matter what he’s done, he might have had a family; some trapped woman or child depending on him simply staying alive. Did you ever take that into consideration?” she growled, her elvish accent thickening her voice. “I would demand you leave but I’ve already delivered one body to the coroner today. You make a mess, you clean it up,” she spat. Wrenching off her soiled, blood-soaked gloves she threw them against his chest as she stormed past, her eyes hot with moisture.

She stopped a few steps past him, clenching her fists. Careless! her mind screamed at her. You knew you could not trust him, yet you let him distract you for one critical second! Warm arms wrapped around her and she froze as she realized the horrid, mysterious man was in front of her, holding her softly. For the love of the Valar, let me be! She squirmed, pushing her fists against his broad chest to get away from him. How dare he touch me!  she thought miserably, her core aching.

Letting her go, the man walked back to the dead criminal, and knelt, carefully closing the dead man’s eyes. He muttered something under his breath, Eruviel only hearing, “You were there . . . I know it.” Frowning back at the man, her face darkened with a storm of anger and confusion. Glancing regrettably down at her gloves she turned and walked out the door. Her horse stood waiting for her, looking up at her with concern and unease, it’s mouth full of hay.

Stepping up into her saddle the man exited the Inn behind her, hefting the body from his shoulder onto his own horse. Mounting the steed he rode up beside her. “I do not do this because I want too. I do this because I have too,” he said matter-of-factly before spurring his horse into a trot down the south road.

Eruviel opened her mouth to respond but quickly shut it. Wheeling her steed around she urged the mount into a gallop down the west road leading out of Comb. Her horse turned them towards the homesteads on its own and she did not correct it. You cannot break, she told herself. You have too much to do. Brigands had taken the lives of people she cared about before, and yet she had kept a cool head, not letting even the thought of seeking vengeance take her. Milloth, Cade, and how many others? And now . . . now the thought of this dark man loomed over her like a bad dream. Passing through the gates of the Glaston neighborhood she forced herself to sit upright, her eyes cold and void of the emotions that raged within her. Why . . . why does he kill them? Why does he keep saying he has to?

Finally reaching her house, Eruviel quietly dismounted, and removed the horses tack. Going to the well she scrubbed her hands clean of the blood till her skin stung. Silently slipping inside the front door she drew both of the latches to lock the way behind her. A small smile crept across her lips as she saw Eirikr sleeping on his pallet, snoring softly. Peeking her head into Anyatka’s room a small wave of relief washed over her, seeing Anya’s cocooned body softly rise and fall as the woman slept peacefully.

Tip-toeing across the main room she closed her bedroom door behind her. Leaning against the door for a moment she wearily pulled her clothes off, not caring to put them away, and wrapped herself in the blanket from her bed. Sliding to the floor in the far corner of her room Eruviel finally took a deep breath, and cried.