Her First Love, And The Monster Inside


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.”


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.


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.