Dale trip

To Dale: Epilogue

The miles that passed underfoot were but numb echoes in Eruviel’s limbs. She could still feel Ninim’s blood on her hands with every arrow she loosed, and see the life fade from the young woman’s eyes whenever her own closed.

It had gone all wrong. Try as they had, Ninim had perished as Eruviel cradled the screaming newborn against her chest. In the moments before Abiorn had taken his little nephew from her she had stared down in horror at the beautiful child, fearful that he might die as well.
Never, she had thought, never will I have children. She would not . . . could not. Not now.

Every night when they made camp her eyes would follow Eirikr as he’d take his leave to stand watch. The memory of his harrowing cry kept her from sleeping when he was gone, and she stood more alert when he would finally rest on a pallet beside his brother. When his dreams got worse she’d creep over and press her hand to his forehead, sometimes merely suppressing the terrors that plagued him, and other times exchanging his dreams for her calm.

The tranquility of Lothlorien had done little to lessen her guilt. And though it had raised her spirits, it was the look on Abiorn’s face as they entered Caras Galadhon that finally caused her to smile. No light shone in Eirikr’s eyes however; a look Eruviel knew all to well. He should never have had to suffer such a loss. She had promised herself she would prevent it, and her failure turned the evening meals to ash in her mouth. As their short respite ended she wished she knew what to say to him, but her words would most likely fall on deaf ears. So she walked and fought beside him in silence, and took greater care in seeing to Abi’s comfort.

Eruviel could not remember ever wanting to see Bree again so badly. As the road west once again became familiar she thought of Anya, whose gift hid awkwardly in her satchel, and of Threz, who’s letters nested in her pocket. But most of all she thought of the little boy they had left behind. Sighing, she fixed her gaze on the horizon. She would go back in a year or two. If Abiorn was up to it, perhaps they would go together. Deep within her she hoped that the boy grew to look like a little Eirikr. But, in truth it did not matter who had fathered the child. What mattered was that the infant born in the dark of Mirkwood would have Ninim’s eyes.

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To Dale: Confrontation, Part 2

The end is in sight! But who knows what will come next?

in a world there lived a Woman

((A combination of exposition and chat logs edited for tense))

“Abiorn!”

Eirikr did not even try for subtlety as he led Eruviel up the stone staircase to the second floor. His low voice boomed throughout the hall as he called for his brother.

“Abiorn!”

A strained, thin voice came from the west wing. Eirikr took the stairs two at a time as his brother called back, “Eirikr? Eirikr, it is okay. Go away! I-I do not want to go with you, all right, brother?”

Eririkr paused on the landing and listened carefully. He held up a hand to Eruviel as she opened her mouth to speak. In the unsettling quiet that fell, Eirikr heard the faint melody of a bell. The sound was not heavy and threatening like the bell his father used to summon his guard. A haunting plea sounded in the gentle rustling of the metal.

Tinkle tink…

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To Dale: Confrontation, Part 1

in a world there lived a Woman

((edited from chat logs for tense and exposition. all fight action based on a d20 roll with an AC of 10))

Eirikr stood staring at the house. The rain fell around him and dampened his light auburn hair to a deep rust. The yard was quiet; no one was out in the rain. He walked up the worn path slowly as if willing the moment he has to enter the house to pass him by. Behind him and unbeknown to him, Eruviel walked up the path, remaining hidden as she observed her surroundings before setting her sights on the large home ahead.

As he approached the stone entryway, a man emergesd from a side entrance. From beneath his heavy hood, he gaped at Eirikr before rushing forward. “Master Tenorbekk! You have returned. Your father will be…forgive me, sir, but where is Miss Tenorbekk?”

Eirikr raised his hands to hush the…

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To Dale: Respite

A cool draft wafted through the dark room. No, it is not so dark. A trickle of light seeped in from the lantern hanging one door down the hall. A soft white beam from the moon rimmed the window and a faint orange glow from the fire on the edge of town danced along the ceiling.

Eruviel sat in one of the two chairs in her smaller room, her feet propped up  on the second as she sat watching the hall. She had left the door to her room cracked open to keep an eye on the hall. Eirikr had finally returned, having been let in from the back by the barmaid Eruviel had befriended. She could only hope that after all this time, and after everything both of them had been through — especially Ninim — that they were able to reconcile.

Setting her now sharpened and cleaned dagger on the table next to her sword, Eruviel brushed a hand over the bruise that had blossomed on her cheek. That was too close, she thought sullenly. She would have preferred wounds like Eirikrs. A shudder ran up her spine at the memory of the massive club rushing by her face. There would have been no coming back if she had been struck. Poor Eirikr would have been left to pick up the pieces of her skull.

Eruviel surveyed the small arsenal that decorated the table next to her. As Ninim and Eirikr talked in the room down the hall Eruviel had encouraged three drunkards to return to the common room, exchanged polite nods with a gentleman who she presumed to be of the town watch, and had delivered a meal for two to her friends door. Her blades were sharpened and oiled, her damaged arrows repaired, her bow cleaned, and bowstring waxed.

She almost felt silly, having busied herself after seeing to Ninim’s comfort. Maybe it was because of the long journey, the fight that had taken place, or the burning house that had woken that quarter of town. Maybe it was because that for a brief moment she remembered she was alone.

Letting out a sigh she laced her fingers together and draped them across her flat, toned abdomen. A small smile played over her mouth, thinking of Ninim’s swollen belly. How amazing, the blessing that can come from so much pain. Leaning her head back she watched the mixture of lights dance across the plaster. She hoped their night was healing, full of one another and the child growing inside of Eirikr’s beloved. They deserved the respite. Eruviel would make sure they were not interrupted. Not for a few more hours. Morning would come soon enough.

To Dale: An Early Morning at the Silver Reel

The tension in the air lingered as Eirikr left the inn. She watched him as he strode away, a considering, neutral expression carefully fixed on her face. For a brief moment she thought she saw a shadow follow after her friend, and she thought about making pursuit but not all the tension left with him. There were still a number of patrons in the inn and if any of them had been watching every move she made would be scrutinized.

Sitting back in her chair Eruviel twisted her mouth as she watched the door of the inn for another minute, drinking slowly from her ale. Licking the moisture from her lips she glanced around with a casual air. No one looked her way at the moment. Downing the last of her drink she rose to make her way towards the innkeeper. Carefully winding around the filled tables she silently thanked Eirikr for choosing this inn. The few looks she got were just that; no off-colored comments or drunken hands were directed her way.

Leaning against the bar she made small talk with the owner as she ordered a meal to take up to her room. She rented two rooms, in fact, and paid handsomely that he keep her presence there a secret. An elf maiden on her own simply cannot be too careful in such troubled times.

Taking her things with her she made her way up the stairwell, finding the first room. She would check the second in mid-morning, when any drunks or cut-throats would be sleeping. A narrow bed stood against one wall of the small chamber. Two chairs and a small table filled the middle of the floor between the bed and a small fireplace and in the empty corner stood a wash basin filled with steaming water. Nodding once in approval she glanced down the hall one last time before closing the door behind her.

– – – – – – –

The hour was late . . . or was it early? Eruviel wasn’t sure, but the horizon gleamed pink and gold in the growing morning light when a nearly inaudible scratching sound pulled her from her dream. It was a particularly peaceful vision and she was loath to leave it, but the lock on the inside of her door turned slowly with the faintest click. 

Her undone hair swayed behind her as she silently rose from the bed, her pointed ears somehow more obvious as they jutted out through her wavy brunette locks. Wrapping a sheet around her she secured the corner of the cloth under her arm and drew her sword from where it rested on the table. There was no time to get dressed, but the element of surprise was indeed hers. Gliding over to the door as it slowly pushed open she stopped it’s progression with her bare heel and stuck the tip of her steel blade into the darkness of the corridor. An inch beyond a man’s throat swallowed.

“You have the wrong room,” she said cooly.

“I don’t think I do,” replied the stranger. He shoved against the door and, deciding she preferred not to have her foot pinched, she pivoted back as he stepped in, only to have her blade once again at his throat.

“You will leave my quarters, sir. How dare you intrude upon a lady, especially at such an hour,” she hissed in offense, forcing the hooded man to take a step back.

The man’s body tensed, and she could make out the outline of his gawking eyes beneath his hood. After a moment he seemed to regain his composure some and clenched his fists. “Who was the man you spoke with tonight?”

“I spoke with many men tonight,” she said flatly, painting a frown of confusion over her brow.

“The one who sat with you earlier in the common room,” the intruder grunted in frustration, advancing a step.

Eruviel relaxed her shoulders slightly, her brow furrowing. “I don’t know who he was,” she responded with a faint scoff.

“You bought him a drink and touched his shoulder,” he grumbled as he batted her blade away with a gloved hand.

“I merely have an empathetic nature,” she spat, ducking under his hand as he lunged to grab her. Stepping inside his reach in the blink of an eye she drove the pommel of her sword into his gut, forcing him back out into the hall. “I should beat the life out of you for intruding on my privacy. I cannot believe an elf maiden would be treated with such disrespect,” she huffed with the tone of injured pride.

The man clutched at his stomach for a moment, not having had time to brace for the blow. “What did he talk ta you about?”

“Why is it any of your business?” she demanded with a haughty sniff. “And who are you to barge into my room and ask me about a man I don’t know?”

A cruel smile played over his mouth and he drew back his hood to reveal an angular, lightly tanned, scarred face. “That’s my business, elf,” he spat as he moved for her again, his main hand moving to his side to draw a knife as he missed grabbing the sheet around her by inches. “I’ll get my information one way or another!”

“He wanted to hire me as a sell-sword,” she responded in an irritated tone as she moved. Switching her sword to her left hand she parried his attack and dove for him, slamming her fist across his face. The man staggered back, falling against the wooden wall of the hallway. She raised a hand to clutch his jaw as he stared at her in shock. “When I refused he quickly left, as you obviously saw,” she said accusingly.

She saw the fight drain out of him as she stood in the doorway with the most noble air she could muster, her free hand catching the sheet before it could fall. “Now if you will just wait a moment –” she did not finish her words, letting her slamming of the door speak for itself. Throwing on her clothes she snagged up her sword belt, returning the blade to it’s sheath. Opening the door once again the man had just folded his hands over his chest, obviously brooding as she stepped into the hall and locked he door.

“What a bunch of worthless –”

“It is your own fault,” she huffed, interrupting him as she made a show of buckling her belt around her waist.

“You gotta know something,” he muttered as he watched her, his eyes traveling up and down her form several times. Eruviel could see he was at odds with what to do with her. She’d better make up his mind for him.

“I do,” she said airily as she walked down the hall, him close at her heels. “He looked like all the rest of you humans but had much better manners.”

The rugged man stopped on the steps, squinting down at her in frustration. “You’ve caused me a lot of trouble, and that’s all I get,” he said quietly, a threat darkening his tone.

Turning she looked up at him with an amused smirk. “You, heruamin, did that yourself. You could have asked me for my apparent wealth of information in a hundred better ways than what you choose.” He opened his mouth to protest and she quickly cut him off. “But, since you have broken into my room, attacked me, threatened me, and seen me in the most, on my part, undesirably vulnerable state, I do believe you owe me.”

The man arched a scarred brow at her before shrugging in defeat. “What ya want?”

Resting her left hand comfortably on the handle of her sword she smiled back up at him. “You will buy me breakfast and show me around town,” she said pleasantly.

“Now listen here, lady!” The man barked, reaching out to grab her shoulder.

Whirling around she smacked his hand away and glared up at him. “I will not listen! You have offended me in one the greatest ways possible and wasted my precious time. So unless you have something better to do at such an ungodly hour of the morning you will happily oblige me.” It was times like these she was glad for the edge being an elf gave her.

His jaw ticking, the man nodded curtly, finally slipping his knife back under the folds of his jacket. Brushing past her he trudged begrudgingly down the rest of the steps to the common room. “C’mon, then, lady. Let’s get ya somethin to eat.”

To Dale: Discovery and Darkness

in a world there lived a Woman

A light from the window illuminated the sparse lawn in front of the Tenorbekk cottage. It stood at the end of a dirt lane on the edge of the town where houses sprung up on the banks near the forest. Eirikr stood in the shadow of a large oak tree across the road and watched the front door for an hour before a man emerged and shouted something back inside before slamming the door shut. As he walked down the path to the road leading to the town, he whistled out of tune.

Eirikr ducked back behind the tree; he did not have to look to see the man would have been handsome except that his features were sharp and cruel. He knew them well; any time his father needed something “taken care of,” Sten showed up in the parlour in his dirty shoes and cap. The first time he…

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To Dale: Selling Something

The people she past cast her curious looks, some of them even suspicious. Walking lightly, the creaking boardwalk hardly felt her weight as Eruviel navigated the maze of streets through Esgaroth. The beams of warm light shining through low windows were broken here and there by other pedestrians and the occasional stray cat. Ahead of her the murmur of multiple voices rose and she stopped at the end of the street that met the city square. A handful of vendors still had their stalls set up, a variety of colorful wares of human, elf and dwarvish make on display. More vendors were closing down and a chorus of shouts, laughs and threats wafted out of the taverns and inns along with the smell of food.

A weapons vendor started to call out to her until he got a better look at the bow on her back and the hilt of the sword at her waist. A jeweler beckoned to her with a hand full of necklaces, ignoring the woman he had previously been bartering with. A dozen other eyes turned her way, some drawing whispers or thrown elbows. Eruviel ignored the looks, walking with a relaxed gait and thoughtful air as she searched through the thin crowd. The women seemed to inspect her with curiosity and distrust, and the men inspected her with curiosity and, well, curiosity. She was glad for the months of dirt that darkened her cloak and diminished the usual spotless gleam of her armour to a worn tint of hard use. Her sharp green eyes caught the few shadows that studied her, assessing her monetary value above all else.

Avoiding tripping over a pack of filthy children sprinting between the legs of loitering adults, she could not help but smile in relief at the sight of a clothing vendor who had more shirts and pants versus dresses. Stepping up beside a woman who browsed the table Eruviel began thumbing through the piles of folded shirts.

“Good ‘evenin to ya!” beamed the man behind the table. “What can I help ya find?”

Eruviel returned the smile, shaking her head. “I need a moment more to look. Besides the young woman next to me was here first, I believe.”

The man turned to the lady but she stepped back, her eyes lingering on Eruviel’s bow, her quiet disposition shaken at not having realized the armoured elf had been standing beside her. “Oh n-no, I was merely browsing.” Setting down the folded cloth that had been in her hands she quickly picked up her small basket of produce and bobbed a precarious curtsy. “G’night,” she mumbled hurriedly before pattering away and down a street.

“Don’t mind ‘er. She’s always skittish,” rumbled the vendor before looking back to Eruviel. “Yer needin something other than you’re armour, I take it.”

Nodding her head Eruviel selected out a burgundy shirt with soft brown leather lining the V’d neckline and collar, two straps crossing the back at the shoulder blades for the aesthetic appeal of armour. “I have been on the road so long I am aching for something more suited to a slower pace,” she said with a half smile.

“Naw, m’lady, ya won’t be wanting that,” insisted the vendor with a charming smile. “Elvish lasses should be in something finer than a tailors leftovers.”

Eruviel humored the man as he began to rifle through a crate of dresses, muttering about what styles might best compliment her. He stood and turned, unfurling something grey and something green when Eruviel was hit from behind, nearly falling upon the table.

What in the bloody –” shouted the rough young man who had run into her, his hand clutching his shoulder as he turned. Seeing her in the lamplight he froze. She could tell she was not what he’d expected.

“Forgive me, mellon,” she apologized hurriedly, re-stacking the pile of shirts that had fallen over. “I did not realize I was in your way.”

The man gave her a lopsided grin, rolling his shoulder once as his equally rough looking friends stood like a gaggle of young girls . . .or vultures, watching from several yards away. Eruviel noted they all appeared to be mildly inebriated and wore daggers in one place or another. “Naw, miss. Yer just fine,” he said as he stood a little straighter, “I’m not in that big of a hurry.” This little fool knows nothing of elves, does he?

Eruviel followed his diverted gaze to the green dress the vendor still held up. By the Valar . . . . Thinking quickly she offered a soft, merry laugh, shaking her head. “Now sir, if I wore that these fine gentlemen would think I might be selling something.” The vendor’s cheeks flushed with embarrassment as he took a second look at the thin dress’s plunging neckline and the cocky grin that had yet to fade from the younger man’s face. She was indeed selling something, but that was her walk, her smile, and her carefully chosen words for the payment of the information to be gleaned by reactions of those around her. Information given freely without the risk of revealing her true intent. Looking back to the man who had collided with her, she made her seemingly innocent glance at her small coin purse in his hand obvious. The wry gleam in her eyes matched her soft smile perfectly as she offered a slight curtsey. “Forgive me for holding you up,” she said, her tone lowering and growing richer. “I will do my best to watch where I stand from now on.”

Chuckling, the young man stooped at the waist, bowing with a bit of a wobble. “It’s not every day a man get’s ta see a lovely maiden in armour. The fault’s mine.” He turned to rejoin his friends but stopped. Pivoting slowly he walked back up to Eruviel with a twinge of guild in his eyes. Standing uncomfortably close he took her hand and set the coin purse in her palm. She could smell the ale on his breath and pipe smoke on his leather jerkin. “I — er — ya dropped this. G’night.” And with that he retreated to his friends, one of them hitting him over the head and another clapping him on the back.

The vendor’s eyes followed after the group with a bewildered look as they entered a tavern. “One of them boys nearly stabbed a lady last night. I can’t believe he gave ya yer purse back.”

Eruviel glanced over her shoulder nonchalantly before turning back to face the man. “Do you have a grey cloak?” she asked before adding, “Those young men should be helping their families. The one here could not have been younger than sixteen.”

“He’s eighteen, actually,” huffed the merchant as he dug out a cloak and handed it over. “Them boy’s ‘er trouble, but there are much worse wandrin the streets ‘o Lake Town these days.” Studying her with a serious look the merchant reluctantly put the dresses down and picked out a black and brown pair of well made trousers. “I don think I can convince ya to buy a dress, but these are my best and should fit ye fine.”

Eruviel unfolded them and held them up, smiling with approval. “These will do splendidly.” Handing him what she owed him, the price being fair enough that she did not bother bartering, she surveyed the buildings that lined the square till she found the inn Eirikr had told her of. “If I could trouble you, mellon, what inn would you suggest?” she asked with a faintly torn look painted over her face.

Giving her a kind smile, the vendor pointed out the one she hoped housed her waiting friend. “That’s the best one, and they’re pretty reasonable.”

“Thank you, sir, for you services and for your help,” she smiled sweetly as she stepped away.

“Any time, m’lady!” he replied, obviously pleased with himself. “Visit again some time!”

Waving back to him she wove through the occupied square to the inn, her new clothes clutched to her chest. Taking the few steps up to the open door of the inn she ducked past several patrons exiting the building and quietly asked the first barmaid for a room to change in. Her smile, aided by the offer of a few coins procured her a lit storage room with the maid standing guard. Changing quickly, wrapping her armour snugly in her dirty cloak Eruviel stepped back out, sighing with relief to the amusement of the barmaid. The clothes fit perfectly, and Eruviel’s spirits rose with the comfort afforded by the loss of thirty pounds of steel. Ordering a drink she sat at an empty table to the side of the room, careful to slouch slightly in her seat. Following half a dozen conversations, she surveyed the darker corners of the common room, hoping to find the one familiar face, and praying that he had good news.

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To Dale: Path to the Golden City

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“I am ready.”

Eruviel nodded curtly as she nocked an arrow. Looking ahead to the rise she stepped forward, Eirikr moving with her. “Retrieve as many of your own arrows as you can,” she said quietly as they took advantage of the cover afforded them by the boulders and darkness of night. “It will not do to return the sentinels their arrows and leave our own behind.” She did not want to admit she felt a little bitter at them being initially denied access to Lothlorien. They have their reasons, and we would have had to fight the orcs anyways, she told herself. A dry smile curved up her mouth as her eyes pierced into the shadowed distance. Only ten arrows.

Ducking behind a small growth of trees Eirikr peered around the trunk at the nearest lumbering orc. Exchanging looks with her he slid out into the open, loosing his arrow to drop the dumb monster as he ran forward. Eruviel followed close behind him, sinking an arrow into the second guard to give Eirikr the second he needed to draw on the third. Running by their fallen quarry both human and elf retrieved their now black, blood-stained arrows. They are going down too easily, she mused.

The fourth orc caught Eirikr’s arrow in the mouth as it opened it’s filthy maw to raise the alarm, and Eruviel raced up behind the fifth, throwing it off its feet and using its own crude weapon to sever it’s head. She stepped to follow after Eirikr when a quick movement caught the corner of her eye. Eruviel had only a second to draw her dagger when a taller, more slender orc rushed her. Caught in the foul beast’s grapple Eruviel and the orc tumbled across the rocky path. The orc landed on top and a filthy, gnarled hand wrapped around her neck when a golden-fletched arrow pierced through it’s throat. Flipping them over Eruviel ripped out the projectile and stabbed her knife onetwothreefour times into the enraged orcs face. Not bothering to waste time on catching her breath she leapt up to run after Eirikr.

“You forgot this,” Eruviel whispered as they slowed to survey the road ahead of them, handing the elven arrow back to the man. She could hear the caravan begin to advance slowly a ways behind them.

“So that’s where it went,” he muttered with a hint of sarcasm. “But where are we going to find ten of these?”

“Over there,” she said quietly, pointing to the base of the hill from where the black plume of smoke rose.

“Yeah . . . I just see more orc guards.”

Eruviel rolled her eyes. Palming the top of his head she turned him to look ten degrees to the left. “Right where I am pointing, gwador.” Beyond the enemy sentries a festering pile of dead orcs could be made out, arrows jutting from their corpses. She could feel his glare hitting her though the darkness.

“Well, we won’t get there any faster by sitting here,” he grumbled with a smile as they moved out from their hiding place.

*     *     *

The vast canopy of mallorn trees took on a shimmering glow as the sun crested the tree line. A tall, elven guardian of the woods stood waiting for them on the road as Eruviel and Eirikr walked under the first of the golden trees of Nimrodel, the caravan close behind them. Two masked sentries flanked the ancient Eldar and Eruviel amused herself with the pride she felt at successfully keeping back a sarcastic smirk. The humans really were wearing off on her. Before the caravan could pull to a stop the Eldar trio turned with an expectant air.

Eirikr shot Eruviel an irritated look as they and the wagon train followed the elves and she put her hand lightly on his arm, shaking her head with a warning. “If we want to continue on in haste it would be best not to offend our hosts.”

Her companion shifted his jaw around before nodding curtly, calming his facial expression just as they rounded the path to a camp set up between the western arm of the Celebrant and headwaters of the Nimrodel.

The elf lord who had led the group glanced over at Eirikr before looking to Eruviel. Bowing slightly he gestured to a maiden standing at the back of the camp. “Celeguien is expecting you,” he said with a self-important air. Returning the bow Eruviel led the way. Eirikr carried the bundle of retrieved arrows and she sensed him stiffen when the tall elf lord and the two sentries followed.

“Suilad, mellyn,” chimed Celeguien merely giving the elves behind the duo a curt nod before offering her hand out in greeting. “I hear you have retrieved some of our arrows for us?”

Eruviel clasped her hand, speaking before Eirikr could. “We have. I did not realize the threat that lingered at the doors of the Golden Wood.”

“The danger has indeed grown more pressing in the past years,” Celeguien replied, the gleam in her eye betrayed her calm, soothing demeanor. She might hate orcs more than I do, Eruviel mused. Looking from Eruviel to Eirikr the elf maiden arched a brow. “But that is not why you are here. I presume you gathered your collective twenty arrows to earn passage through our land?”

A smug smirk curling across his face, Eirikr set the bundle down  and untied the leather wrapping, revealing nearly three dozen arrows. “We each got our ten, but it felt so wasteful, passing the dead orcs littering the last mile or so,” he said with a feigned thoughtfulness.

Celeguien’s mouth twitched as she kept back a smile. Peering over Eirikr’s shoulder the elf lord did not seem to share the maiden’s amusement. “You do yourselves credit,” he said mildly. “This is indeed a boon to our efforts.”

“Oh, you don’t get all of them,” said Eirikr. Stooping over he picked out three elvish arrows, sticking one in his quiver and two in Eruviel’s. “These are to replace the ones we lost.”

Celeguien quickly jumped in as both Eruviel and the elf lord opened their mouths to speak.  “That is of course, expected. By the black blood on both of you I can see the replacements are well earned. You are free, then, to travel through. The arrows will serve as witness that you have the right to be among us.” Shooting the elf lord a neutral glance of warning she bowed first to Eirikr then to Eruviel. Loborwen will have horses for you. May your paths be green and golden.”

Bidding Norlin a fond farewell and Eruviel making sure to wave back to the merchant Tannith, she and Eirikr quickly gathered their few things and headed off on the horses that had been saddled and waiting for them. Walking the horses till they crossed back over the Celebrant, they then took off at a modest canter down the road through the Lady’s Rest. Simply being in the Golden Wood itself revived Eruviel after the long road through Moria. The crisp air washed the dank from her lungs and her face soaked in the golden glow of morning sunlight.

They rode on, silent. There was nothing to say. Both Eirikr and Eruviel rode tall, relishing the lush scenery that they had been immersed into. The occasional elf they’d pass would regard them then go about their own business, very few visibly showing their distrust of the visitors. After a time the companions reigned in their horses at one end of a bridge that led across the little river towards Caras Galadhon.

“I remember walking though those gates once before,” she said in a hushed, reverent tone. Even if it was so long ago, she could still remember touching the gleaming arches and tasting the sweet waters that coursed through the city. From long forgotten memories she could recall the thrill of the first time she climbed one of the many soaring ladders, and the harmonious sound of a hundred elvish voices.

Eirikr stared openly at the golden city set in the ancient trees. Flowing bridges spanned one high platform to another and the faint gleam of blue, crystal lights lingered behind curving trellises and on the delicate cords of lights that blended in with the natural curve the grand haven. “We will see it on the way back,” he said with a slow nod, as if to talk himself out of staying longer.

“Yes, we will,” said Eruviel, forcing herself out of the cusp between waking and sleeping.

“It might be wisest to make the crossing under the cover of night,” said Eirikr as he turned his horse to the east, giving the city of trees one last longing glance.

Eruviel nodded, humming in agreement as she spurred her horse after him. “We can eat and rest at the Vineyards for the day.” Giving him a thoughtful look she then gazed ahead down the road, her thoughts still lingering on the golden city they’d left behind and not the long way they still had to go. “Are you glad to be taking the lead once we cross the Anduin?”

A moment passed before Eirikr rolled his shoulders. “I will be glad to be one step closer to Esgaroth.”

 

To Dale: Small Progress

Eruviel sat leaning back against the stone pillar, twirling the arrow between her thumb and pointer finger with the fletching whisking against the pant of her left knee. She had already counted the stalactites hanging from the vaulted ceiling as well as the sparks that had floated up from their now smoldering fire. Several merchants and travelers still talked quietly a short ways away and she eavesdropped on their softly spoken conversations, wondering who best to join.

There were several dwarves headed to the Lonely Mountain, but few of them seemed . . . congenial enough for her to risk spending the time to earn their trust for them to open up to her. There was a stern, self-important merchant with a Gondorian accent who would be of no use to her, and then there was the Barding that appeared to be relatively new to the trade. Norlin had just bid the younger man good night and he sat quietly by his fire, staring thoughtfully into the flames. His accent was of Bree-land, and by the bits of conversation she had picked up, he had not been east of the mountains since he was an infant. This meant that all his knowledge would have come from his father.

Yes, he will do perfectly, she mused, sliding the arrow back into her quiver.  Eruviel thought of Threz, and wondered what sort of trouble he might have gotten himself into by now. Orome cover you, my bullheaded friend, she prayed with a smirk as she rose to her feet, pulling her plain woolen blanket around her shoulders. This might be her one chance to find out anything for the man.

Stepping over her bedding and carefully stacked armour she stopped when Eirikr grumbled and rolled over in his sleep. That was the tenth time in the hour alone that he had tossed. With their paced slowed, exhaustion was not so strong as to keep dreams from his sleep. A dark frown twisted the man’s face and his hands gripped at his blanket. She had only to guess at what haunting visage plagued him. Picking up a second blanket Eruviel draped it over him to ward off the cold and damp. Kneeling down beside him she gently placed her cool hand against his forehead. A wave of anger, hatred and fear washed through her mind as she touched him, but his uneven breaths soon steadied and his expression calmed. Pursing her lips as she studied him she wished for a moment that she were her brother. Milloth could have banished the nightmares for the night or reached inside Eirikr’s mind to speak as a reassuring voice of reason. She could only calm the storm for an hour or two. At least it was something.

Rising back to her feet she padded softly across the short distance to where the young merchant still sat, wide awake. Looking over at her as she drew near the man jumped to his feet, nearly tripping over his bedroll.

“I am sorry to startle you,”she said in a soft voice, smiling kindly a she offered a small bow. “My fire is nearly out and I did not wish to wake my traveling companion. Might I warm my hands over your fire?”

“By all means,” beamed the man with an embarrassed smile, rubbing the back of his head with his left hand. “I-I would be glad of the company.”

– – –

“Is it possible for us to move any slower,” Eirikr huffed under his breath.

Eruviel reigned in her goat, renamed in honor of the friend it ever reminded her of. “I will ask Brogur. Hopefully he has a satisfactory answer,” she replied, steering Falros around Eirikr’s mount to walk past Norlin’s wagon.

Eirikr nodded curtly, following. “Anything is better than standing here.”

Trotting past one wagon after another, seeing by the light radiating from the lanterns Eruviel raised a hand in a wave as they rode by the gentleman from the previous night. “Good morning to you, Master Tannith!”

“Good day to you too, Lady ‘Raviel!” he called after her, switching his reigns to one hand to better wave back.

Eruviel caught the look Eirikr shot her. “Do not be so swift to doubt me, my friend,” she said back to him with a small smile. Last nights dream must have been bad indeed for him to look this upset. Pulling Falros back to a slow walk beside the lead wagon she bowed at the waist to the old dwarf. “Master Brogur! What is it that holds us up?”

“Goblin scouts ahead. Or so our escorts tell me.” Hesitating, he looked from Eruviel to Eirikr, than back. “I might’ve asked if ye be willin to aid some, but yer a traveler this time my friend.”

Eirikr gave her an even look and the two nodded in synch to each other. “We will be glad to lend our aid, Master Brogur.”

Falros turned his shaggy black head to give Eruviel a disapproving look as she tied him to the back of the lead wagon. “Do not scowl at me, mellon. I will find you a pint of ale when we get to the Twenty-first Hall.” The goat’s golden eyes narrowed at her for a moment before he turned his head to face forward, walking along with an apathetic air.

Eirikr tied his goat next to hers, removing his bow from the saddle. Walking behind him as they outpaced the wagon train, Eruviel counted to make sure he was not lacking arrows. Pulling her odd one out she stuck it in his quiver and stepped up beside him as they moved into a jog. She preferred this, the running side by side.  Their footfalls were hardly the sound of a breath as they sped off into the dark of the stone gallery. Hearing the rumbling of dwarvish conversation ahead of them Eirikr was the one to pick their pace. Slowing into a cautious walk as the two nocked arrows to their bowstrings.

“So who is the merchant you greeted earlier?” asked Eirikr, looking to the right and her to the left as they passed through an intersection of halls.

“Jase Tannith,” said Eruviel quietly, her eyes piercing through the darkness ahead of them. “He has never been to Dale and is taking his wagon of goods to the Lonely Mountain. Everything he knows he learned from the family trade. His father moved their family west ten years ago.”

Eirikr arched a brow at her.

No,” she said firmly.

Eirikr skewed his mouth as his hand faintly tightened on his bowstring. “What did you tell him?” She could hardly make his face out in the dark, but his tone unsettled her.

Stopping, Eruviel reached out a hand and caught his arm. “I told him my amlisse, Eruraviel, which I have not gone by for seven hundred years, assuming I should take such precautions. I told him I had grown tired of fighting other people’s wars and wanted to see the world before I sailed.” Releasing him she moved to walk ahead. “I also told him that you tagged along because you felt sorry for me.”

Eirikr snickered, taking a small step before stopping. “Not in the slightest,” he muttered, drawing his arm back. Eruviel glanced over to where he aimed and nodded. Two sets of eyes blinked in the dark, one higher than the other. They loosed at the same time. A whispered thwap sounded from where her arrow hit, followed by a garbled growl and a heavy thud from Eirikr’s shot.

“Humph,” Eruviel muttered, blowing a stray strand of hair out of her eyes. “You knew which one was the warg, did you not?”

Eirikr nodded. “Took me a minute, but you talked long enough . . . .”

Eruviel smirked as they drew fresh arrows and continued on towards the light of the dwarf captains lantern. “I’m impressed,” she said simply.

“Now you are just patronizing.”

“Only because you cannot take a simple compliment,” she shrugged. “Either you are improving, or you were exceptionally good before your shoulder was wounded.”

Eirikr raised his right hand, flexing the fingers that not long ago had refused to respond to his bidding. “We will find out soon enough.”

To Dale: Durin’s Threshold

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The Hollin Gates closed behind them, the air reverberating from the thud echoing through the vaulted chamber. Eruviel had no intention of turning back, and though she knew it to be irrational she felt trapped in the dim light of Moria. The caravan moved further into Durin’s Threshold, and Eruviel pushed the ridiculous notion of claustrophobia out of her mind as she looked around the great space with a small, familiar smile. She had a number of positive memories of this place, and she chided herself for already failing to take her own advice.

“Are we going to walk the whole way, or are we able to procure goats to carry us through?” said Eirikr, smirking as his question snapped her out of her thoughts.

“Of course, my friend,” she nodded, being careful to conceal her lingering discomfort for the cave. “The week here would be more uncomfortable, and seem far longer if it were not without the favored beasts.”

And amused grunt was all she received in reply as Eirikr nodded, taking a moment to give the room a thoughtful look-over. Norlin had already unhitched his goat from the wagon laden with boxed goods and he waved back to them as he haggled with the Stable-master known as Fith for a replacement.

“Do not let Fith rob you. He does not adhere to the set prices other stable-masters do,” Eruviel chuckled as the two of them walked over to the happily squabbling dwarves.

“I know how to haggle,”Eirikr replied, snickering at her.

“That is why I will have you get a goat for me as well,” she replied in Sindarin, slipping Eirikr a small coin pouch as they stopped behind Norlin. Rolling her eyes slightly with a smile for the pleasure of the dwarves in front of them she added, “Fith doesn’t much care for the Eldar, but he thinks men are hilariously fascinating.”

Eirikr arched a brow curiously at her but as soon as she clasped her hands harmlessly in front of her and backed away several paces Fith’s face lit up. Diverting her eyes, Eruviel listened as Eirikr battled with the dwarven Stable-master for two large goats. Her restlessness finally settled when a laugh emerged from her human companion as Fith made a quip about her that she could not quite make out. Laughter was good.  A long road laid ahead of them; one that grew darker the further on they pressed. She sensed the weight that grew in Eirikr, and he needed to keep his spirits up. They both did.

“Do I even want to know what he said about me?” she asked with a smile as Eirikr led over two tall, thick Moria goats. She noted that he had gotten the best pair Fith had.

“No, not really,” he chuckled, rolling his shoulders as he handed her a set of reigns.

The sable-haired goat with brown horns stared at her with an amused glint in it’s pale gold eyes. Slowly chewing a mouthful of hay it followed her lazily back to the wagon train. The beast was strong, but looked as if it could care less as it glanced around at the duo and other goats. Eruviel almost swore that she smelled a hint of ale on the creature and as she stepped into the saddle a sharp laugh escaped from her. If Falros had been a goat . . . .

Eirikr shot her an amused look as if she were crazy, but then smiled and shook his head as he stepped into the saddle of his own hairy, walnut-brown mount. “Norlin, where is the first stop?”

“The Dolven-view, master Eirikr,” the portly dwarf rumbled as he hefted himself into the seat of the wagon, the springs beneath him faintly creaking. “Ya two better keep your eyes open. There ‘ll be goblins to be avoidin on the way.”