Daran

A Little Sand

Eruviel remembers.

Nine years ago…

“By the gods I hate this place,” Ildric muttered as he spurred his horse up the narrow path to catch up with the others.

“Only because you do not understand it,” Daran retorted, shooting the mercenary a disdainful glance as he tossed a water skin back.

“I am sure Orome subjects you to it just to hear you complain,” added Eruviel as she caught the skin and pulled the cork.

Ildric’s scoff cut out when he caught sight of the water. “Hey! Where was that two hours ago?!”

Daran looked back to the path ahead of them. “With me and out of your greedy hands.”

“If you ladies are done squabbling I suggest we catch up with the others,” called a voice from up ahead. “We are still two hours from the village.”

“Yeah, yeah, Shiny Shirt,” grumbled Ildric as he moved up to ride beside Eruviel. “You had to bring him along?”

The Elf looked ahead and smirked as she caught the brief glare Adrovorn spared Ildric. “I didn’t have to do anything. He wanted to come.”

“Better aid from the Dreadward than being overrun by greedy men playing at thievery,” Daran chimed in, sparing an amused glance to Eruviel.

“I resent that, caveman,” Ildric retorted, aiming a snatch for the water skin. “We merely —

“Vrax, quit pretending to make excuses for your pride,” called Adrovorn, sounding bored. “We all know you have none.”

Looking to the tall soldier ahead, Ildric’s attempt to claim the water skin for his own failed, and instead hit the end of Eruviel’s bow, sending it tumbling down the hillside.

“Bloody — Vrax!” shouted Eruviel in alarm. Jumping down off her horse she left the water skin hanging from her saddle and set off down the steep rocky slope.

“Wit — Eruviel! Come back! I hit it I’ll get it,” Ildric insisted as he too dismounted and stood on the path’s edge to look down after her.

“Good job,” Daran scolded. Patting his horse on the neck he turned the beast to bring him back to where Ildric stood.

“Oh, shut up –”

“Don’t let her go down there alone,” insisted Adrovorn as he rode to rejoin them.

“Ahh, she’s fine, pretty boy,” huffed Ildric as he pointed to where Eruviel stepped off the rocks and onto sand to retrieve her bow.

Adrovorn glanced to Daran and squared his firm jaw as he saw the hill-man’s sudden frown. “What is it?”

Eruviel had frozen in her tracks three or so steps from where her bow lay. “Adrovorn…” The bow had begun to slowly sink into the ground.

“Don’t move,” the Gondorian ordered firmly as he stepped down from his war steed. Pointing to the horse as if to order it to ‘stay’, Adrovorn took his halberd with one hand and started down the slope.

“No shit,” Eruviel grumbled, eyes still fixed on her bow. Swallowing, she nimbly danced forward a few steps across the surface of the quicksand. Successful in snatching up her bow the elf turned, but not before a particularly loose spot caught her foot. Before she could react she was sucked down past her knees.

“Aw, hell,” grumbled Ildric. Smacking Daran on the leg he started forward. “C’mon.”

Sighing, Daran dismounted more slowly. Taking a moment to grab his spear he began following the other two down.

“I told you not to move!”

“I heard you the first time, Captain,” Eruviel responded. “I am sinking too fast.  There must be something beneath me. Here.” She threw her reclaimed bow to Adrovorn, then began unbuckling her sword belt.

Having reached the bottom of the hill, Adrovorn caught her bow, set it aside, then caught her sword belt. The loss of it’s weight slowed her progression, but not enough. “Where is the edge of it?”

Glancing around her, Eruviel shook her head. “Beyond arm’s rea — ” Her words cut off with a gasp as she dropped down another foot. “Halberd!”

Daran and Ildric scrambled to a stop beside Adrovorn as he tossed the long weapon to the Elf. Catching it, Eruviel began fishing for the edge of the pit while moving as little as possible.

“Is there nothing else we can do?” asked Ildric, looking around the barren terrain for anything that might be of use.

“She’s got this,” said Daran as he let Ildric take his spear.

Standing rigid on the edge of the rocks, Adrovorn completely ignored them as he watched and waited.

“Shiny Shirt,”said Ildric, his voice suddenly nearly as authoritative as Adrovorn’s had been earlier. “Use your sword and help me find the edge of the pit.”

“No –” Eruviel, chest deep in sand, leaned back slowly against the flow. “No need.” Having reached behind her with the halberd, she had found the edges and, bracing the ends of the long weapon on either side, had begun hefting herself up. Taking a moment to catch her breath she began slowly working her feet out.

“You got it?” asked Adrovorn, his expression more stern and his features more pale than before.

“Just about…” She froze for a moment, gave a sad look, and resumed pulling her legs from the trap.

“Eruviel? What is it?” asked Daran as the men ventured forward.

Laying on her back and liberated, Eruviel quickly rolled to the side and off the surface of the quicksand. Taking up the halberd she accepted Ildric’s hand and rose to her bare feet.”

“I lost my boots,” she muttered with a particularly dignified air of remorse.

Daran looked to the pit, Adrovorn seemed too busy looking her over for injury, and Ildric laughed. “You females and your shoes!”

“They were new! And… they had my good daggers in them,” she added with a pathetic, Elven pout.

“You still have what? Twenty blades on you? And what’s with that pout?” Ildric chided.

“I can be disappointed if I want,” said Eruviel with a sniff. “And I don’t have to care what you think.”

Ildric shot a glare back at hearing Daran choke back a snicker. “Well, let’s check to see if you’re injured.” He reached forward towards her chest when a big hand grasped his shoulder and sent him sailing into the quicksand.

It was Eruviel and Daran’s turn to chuckle, and Adrovorn just glared, satisfied that the mercenary had landed right where he wanted him. “Are you hurt?”

“I’ll live!” came Ildric’s shout as he fought against the sand.

Smirking, Eruviel shook her head. “I am fine… Really!” she insisted as he frowned down at her.

“Close your eyes,” Adrovorn insisted as he pulled out a kerchief.

“What?”

“Close your eyes. You have sand all over your face.”

“Not much. Honestly, a little sand never hurt anybody –”

“Put your hands down, and close your eyes,” Adrovorn grumbled as he took up the end of her braid to toss over her shoulder.

Daran frowned at the two of them. Taking the Gondorian’s halberd the hill-man rolled his eyes and turned away. “Nobody panic. I’ll fish the thief out.”

 

(Thank you, Laerlin for the writing prompt!)

 

Remembering: Refuge

Red Sky

Nearly every light in Durrow had been blown out for the night as Eruviel made her way down the cobbled path. A crisp wind moved through the bare branches above her, foretelling the coming of snow. She stopped at the gate to the Tenorbekk cottage, second thoughts flying through her mind. You should go home. You were fine before; you can be fine now. The house was dark; a small refuge on the side of Ruby Lake, and her eyes drifted for a moment to the wagon. No. What would they think if any of them walked out in the morning to find her sleeping in the bed of the wagon?

She had been having a lovely week. Several commissions sat in her pocket, Arylieth had insisted on stealing all her dresses to mend and touch up, and no one had died. A far better week than that of the ones prior to Evendim. And then as she had just ordered her first cider in weeks, Arathier had appeared beside her.

Eruviel forced her feet to work as she walked slowly into the yard, pulling her bow and sword belt off before she reached the front steps. She waited there on the stoop, her hand resting on the door handle, staring at the wooden door in the dark. The last time she had shown up like this Anya had been awake, and the elf had slipped in through the young woman’s window. Eirikr had reprimanded her for that later, telling her to used the front door next time. Eirikr.

Turning the door nob she slipped inside the house, the only sounds within being the sleeping breaths of the three Tenorbekks. Eruviel quietly closed the door behind her, careful to have not let in too much of a draft, and she silently set her things down on the rug. The small front room was warm. She had not realized how cold she had gotten on the walk from town. Glancing over to the slumbering forms of Abbi and Eirikr, Eruviel tip-toed the few steps over to the couch, snagged a folded blanket and laid down across the cushions, hiding her face in her arms.

We found him, Eru. We know who killed Daran . . . He wants to meet you. Could you, please . . . .

The news had shot through her like a bolt of electricity. She had tried to move past it. Why did he have to tell her? Why could he have not just let her be? Evendim had come at the perfect time. It had forced Daran’s death, and the murders she and her neighbor had stumbled upon out of her mind. No mourning or worry about the troubles in Bree-land; it was just Anya, just Abbi, just Eirikr. But Arathier had found her tonight.

He had told her that one of the strongest men she’d known had been killed by a child. While she felt like laughing, hot tears rimmed her eyes. Daran had been right in his letter. It really was strangely poetic. But now Arathier and Mira had the kid . . . and the kid wanted her to take his life for what he’d done. Just a child; no older than ten. It reminded her of the broken bits inside of her. It reminded her of the brokenness of Angmar. What would she do when she met the boy who had grown up in so much anger and hate, and now desired his judgement to come from her hand? Maybe, she thought, that what she feared most was that she would see Daran in the boy, as he had been all those year ago.

A pain twisted in her chest as she pulled out her hair ribbon and wrapped the blanket around her. She had promised to see him. To talk to the boy they called ‘Thamon.’ But what could she say? She knew what Daran would say . . . and that was probably the best place to start.

One of the boys rolled over in their beds, and Eruviel froze, not wanting to make any more noise than she already had. After a moment passed she found a small pillow and hugged it beneath her head. A tear escaped out of the corner of her eye. She should have gone home. Home was safe, and most of the time she enjoyed the quiet, but not tonight. She feared if she went home tonight she wouldn’t come out for days. She couldn’t count on Exio noticing her absence and breaking into her home again to force her into the sunlight.

No. She had work in the morning. Just tonight she would rest on the couch till twilight, then she would sneak out again. She could be strong tomorrow. She would give Ris swordsmanship lessons, and hunt and be back in time to make lunch. She had tomorrow to smile and be all right, and to work and return to some resemblance of a routine. But she didn’t want to be all right; not tonight. She didn’t want to fall prey to loneliness, and the despairing memories that came with it. So Eruviel curled up on the Tenorbekk couch and drifted off to sleep on the tear-stained pillow, dreaming of not so distant people and and very distant places.

A Long-awaited Rest

“Everyone has gathered, sir,” said the Trév Gállorg hunter as he stepped through the flaps of hide into the hut. “We are ready.”

Daran’s stern amber gaze darted up to the man for only a moment as he rolled up the letter and bound it with a cord. Scratching the address down over one curve of the parchment he then tossed it to the man. “Good. I’ll be right there. Have a courier send that out, will you?” Walking around the cluttered table he took up one knife after another to fix their frogs to his sword belt.

“Of course, sir,” said the hill-man as he caught the scroll and turned to leave. Stepping back he suddenly stopped. “I mean no disrespect, but are you sure you should come with us?”

“Why would I not,” grunted Daran dangerously, his sharp gaze glancing around the room for his bow.

“Well . . . you’re still recovering . . . sir. We can’t –”

“It is a scouting mission, Finnan,” said Daran coldly, cutting the man off. “We’re not raiding Carn Dum. Now go and send that letter.”

“To Bree, sir?”

Daran huffed. “Where else?”

Nodding a curt bow the hill man turned and obediently left.

“Blood and orcs,” Daran cursed under his breath as he rubbed a strong hand over his forehead and up through his shaggy hair. Did they really doubt him? No, his men would follow him anywhere, he knew that. He’d trained nearly all of them, and their skills rivaled the occasional Ranger that rode north to be stationed at the village. But ever since he had been rescued from the keep in Fasach-Falroid only a few short months earlier he had not been the man he once was. Even at a hundred and thirty . . . was it? . . . he had looked like a man in his late thirties, as strong and fit and sharp-witted as any man could be in their prime. But now the years had caught up with him and he had aged significantly, both inside and out. Though still strong and capable, he fought to hide the limp, grey had begun to show at his temples, and he tired easier than he cared to admit. By the gods, he hated it.

Sniffing, Daran stacked the letters spread out over the table, fitting them back into a crude box. She’d been writing more often in the past month than she had since she’d moved to Bree. He needed to know why. Not that he minded, but he had seen the look in her eye when he’d last seen her; helped her battered body into her armour. One of them would would eventually be the death of the other, he was sure of it.

A dry wind raked across his tanned face as he stepped out into the evening. Stretching out his muscled arms he strode out over the plank bridge to where his horse waited with twenty other Trév Gállorg fighters, armed to the teeth and eyes lit with fire.

“You all have your orders,” said Daran, addressing the group as he swung himself into his saddle. “I don’t want any heroics.” A head taller than the tallest hill-man, Daran wheeled his mount around and led the group to the gates heading north, the three scout leaders beside and behind him.

“What of the Angmarim camp down the valley?” asked one man.

“My group is scouting to the south of them, Finnan’s will take the north.” Amber eyes glistened in warning as he looked back to the speaker. “Save the fight for tomorrow, Helgrin. I expect you to keep your men in line.”

Helgrin nodded reluctantly, obviously displeased. Motioning to his group of five, the younger man led them away from the others, heading west. Exchanging a look with the other leaders, Daran motioned with a quick flick of his wrist and he and his five hunters split off, riding east.

The ride to the hill-man outpost was strangely uneventful. The horses hooves echoed like shallow heartbeats against the dead earth and as he and his men left their horses at the small camp a feeling of foreboding set in. There were no scouts to run down as they continued on foot, nor were there ravens to shoot out of the night sky. The only feral eyes gleaming in the dark were his own.

A hand batted his right shoulder, and Daran followed the direction of the hunter’s arm to the hill past the first. The Angmarim camp was still there, and the number of campfires appeared to have almost doubled from the past week. Creeping forward in the shadows, Daran and his men climbed the first hill, just out of range of the firelight, and watched.

There were five . . . no, possibly six hundred Angmarim and orcs camped in the bowl of the valley. There were no siege weapons, but Daran was sure they were on their way. Weapons, placement of shrines, number of visible priests were all taken into account. An argument could be seen at the head tent and the Angmarim captain threw a little boy to the ground, pointing east. Scrambling to his feet, the little boy took up the bow that had fallen from his hands and scurried out into the night, the laughter of Angmarim filth lending speed to his legs.

Daran squared his jaw and for a moment, closed his eyes. It disgusted him. He still remembered what it had been like to live under the terrifying hand of Angmar, but he turned away with his men, knowing there was nothing he could do. Hopefully the child would return after the next day’s battle, alive and free once the Trév Gállorg forces burned the enemy camp to the ground. Motioning to his men they slinked back down the hill and began the jog back to the outpost.

The outpost not a hundred yards away, a pain shot through his leg, the wound having never quite healed. Masking his stumble, Daran ducked down, and to his surprise an arrow whizzed past where his head had been. The hunters reacted instantly. Three gathered around Daran and two vanished, the sound of a not-so-distant scuffle the only giveaway to their location.

Grabbing the arm of the youngest of the three, Daran shoved him forward towards the outpost. “Get — ” The rest of the words never left his mouth as time seemed to slow around him. He could see him, the boy. Daran’s hardened amber eyes met the fearful blue orbs that fixed on him, the child’s arm trembling as the arrow shot out of the bow. It was poetic, really. The flight of the iron-tipped arrow sounded more like the exhale of a sigh as it sailed past the young hunter’s head, nicking his ear. Daran had just enough time for an enigmatic smile to carve up his mouth before the projectile pierced into his chest with a sickening thud.

Then time caught up with them. His eyes still locked on the child hidden behind the far patch of rocks, Daran gasped and dropped to his knees. The young hunter cried out in surprise, his hand flying to his split ear. Turning as Daran fell he darted to catch the man by his shoulders lest he fall on the arrow protruding from just above the heart.

“No, NO!” shouted the young man as the others ran to Daran’s side. “Get it out of him!”

“Don’t,” growled Daran, the taste of blood in his mouth as he grabbed one of the hunter’s wrists. “I-I’ll just die faster. Take me,” he managed, struggling for a breath. He motioned to the outpost and blinked. Opening his eyes he saw the boy was gone.

His vision began to blur as the hunters carried him down the rocky path. The youngest hunter sprinted ahead of them and Daran coughed a chuckle at hearing the boy’s panicked voice. More blood. He felt himself being lowered onto a pallet, and it seemed strange that the shouts and worried conversations were muffled to his ears. He knew he was going to die as the strength ever so slowly drained from his limbs, but did they have to rush about as if their efforts would change the inevitable? He coughed a few jokes, but all he got in return were distressed looks and grumbled responses. Could they not even give him a fake chuckle or two?

“A — a quill.” The thick, garbled words clawed their way up his throat.

The crowd around him fell silent, frozen and unsure until a shadowed figured pushed it’s way though. Daran felt the quill in his hand and a parchment tacked to a board appeared, propped under his chin, just within his vision.

My Lady,

I wanted to write this myself before the grim task was handed to the healer. You always teased that one day my luck would run out. I seems that is today. It appears you were also correct about my pride, for I am enraged that I must die such an inglorious death. You should have taught marksmanship to the enemy so that my death would have come more swiftly. The healers do not seem to appreciate the morbid jokes I am making. I suppose you would not either, though I know that if you were here I would at least be humored by your smile. Thank you for my life. For the meaning you gave it, and for the meaning you made me find on my own.

Always yours, Ge’bar

Swallowing, he let the quill fall from his hand.  With that done a small weight lifted from his mind, as if there was nothing left he had to do. The murmur of voices began again, strained and worried. He just wanted silence. Why did they stress so? But it would be over soon, he told himself, and maybe finally . . . finally he could rest. There was only one he would miss, but where he was going, he knew he’d care not. Yes, no more swords and enemies or sleepless nights fretting over the ones he loved. Just a long-awaited, blissful rest.

A Belated Return: Angmar Part One

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A messenger ran ahead of them as Eruviel strode over the greying boardwalk in Aughaire. Arathier followed close behind, a stern expression replacing his attempt at a smile. She felt she same dread that flickered in his eyes. She had not been back in the five years since slaying Alagos. Her thumb played over the black leather string bound around her hilt. It was the only memento she had kept of that battle. That and the memories that still haunted her. Glancing over her shoulder to her tall companion she convinced herself that it was for the best Arathier not know. Not yet . . . maybe not ever.

Approaching the hut set aside for the hunters, Eruviel ducked inside to face the small gathering of elders and aged fighters. The half-dozen men look up at her, their angered looks melting into ones of surprise and relief.

“Orome be praised,” sighed one of the elders, exchanging bows with her. “We are glad that you were able to come.” Glancing behind her the grey-haired hill-man gestured towards Arathier. “And who have you brought with you?”

Stunned, several seconds passed before he could manage,”I — I am Arathier. A Ranger of the North.” Bowing politely, Arathier shot Eruviel a bewildered look.

The elder’s hard look softened slightly and he nodded curtly. “The Rangers are always welcome here, and any friend of Eruviel’s is ours.” Looking back to the elf a shadow passed over his face. “We think we found Daran.”

She could feel Arathier’s questioning look on her back. Eruviel took a small step forward, clenching her fists. “Where is he?”

The hill-man crossed his arms over his chest as the others looked away. “Dun Covad.” He then chuckles sadly, “When the others found out you were on your way they knew they had better find out some information or you would raise the Abyss.”

Eruviel laughed dryly, “It is good that they remember. Daran is worth more than twenty of them combined. ” Moving back to the opening she paused. “My old hut, still?”

The elder nodded. “I will post hunters along the lower ridge near Fail-a-khro in case you need them.”

Bowing to the room Eruviel glanced up at Arathier and she stepped out of the tent. The small hut on the edge of the village had not changed at all. Well, there were more weapons and tools scattered about than when it was her quarters, but Daran had always been messier than she. Stepping inside the empty hut she moved past the low bed, and a chair with folded men’s clothes on the seat, walking to a long, narrow table covered with weapons. “Take whatever you might need,” she said as she picked up a crossbow and a large pouch overflowing with iron bolts.

Arathier re-filled his quiver with arrows, taking two sharp knives from the table, discarding his old dull ones. “Eruviel . . . who is Daran?”

I need to start remembering to tell him these things, she thought sullenly. Arathier had not hesitated to say he was going with her when the news about Daran had reached her in Bree. Strapping the crossbow to her back she shot him a half-smile. “A very old friend. He’s a half Dunedain, half Angmarim. I rescued him from a battle in Fasach Larran when he was a child,” she says quietly, her tone neutral. Twanging her bow string she frowned and replaced it. “He must be nearly a hundred and thirty,” she said thoughtfully. Guilt stabbed at her. She should have returned to visit. He was the only family she had left from before.

Arathier offered her a slight smile. “As long as this man is good by you, I am fine. Being half Angmarim must have been difficult. I can respect that.” He examined the daggers he took from the table with approval. “These are very nice.”

Eruviel smiled with a hint of pride. “He got his taste in weapons mostly from me.” Shifting her sword belt she nodded. “Ready?”

Arathier nodded, though obviously unsure. “Where are we headed?”

Eruviel ducked out of the hut, her nuckles turned white as she gripped her bow. “To Fail-a-khro first, to see if they have and more information. From there we’ll take the back paths through Fasach Larran.”

Following her as she moved into a run down the hill a frown creased Arathier’s brow. “Lead the way.”

The grey land flew past them as they ran. Sprinting through the dark, her dropping a distant warg and Arathier cutting down an orc scout that tried to evade them, the emptiness that had overwhelmed her began to fade. Running in step brought back the same comroderie she had felt with Eirikr on their way to . . . . NO, she told herself as they charged up the path towards the outpost. There has been too much loss. I will NOT loose Daran too.

Eruviel slowed to a stop as they reached the first tent atop the hill. Her breathing normal, the only proof of their mad dash being the flush of adrenaline in her cheeks. “Bram!” she called out in a commanding tone to the Ranger standing guard with a few hill-men. “What news?”

Arathier came to a stop beside her, cleaning the blood off of his newly acquired daggers.

The scruffy man turned towards Eruviel, his face covered with a storm of emotions. “I was wondering when you’d arrive.”

Eruviel stopped in her tracks, giving the him a hard look. “What is it, Bram?” she asked, her voice faltering.

“They have him tied up on the wall,” the Ranger replied, not meeting her eyes as he glared to the north. “There is nothing we can do.”

Eruviel’s emerald eyes faded to black as she walked towards the Ranger, thoughtlessly brushing aside Arathier’s hand as he moved to comfort her. “And no one has gone up there?” she growled, her hand moving to her sword hilt. She could feel it; the rage boiling up like a beast inside of her.

“We have!” Bram replied solemnly, standing his ground. “Seven hunters died, Eru, trying to get him down.”

Halting, Eruviel clenched her fists. “What did they do, throw rocks?” she spat under her breath. “I’ll get him down,” she said quietly, gracefully pivoting to head out of the camp.

“You can’t!” the man shouted, giving Arathier a pleading look. “Eru, they are going to burn him!”

Arathier growled at the Ranger as he ran after her. “We are not going to let him die.”

His voice snapped her out of the rage that tinted her vision. Leaping forward into a sprint she dove off of the path into the shadows, Bram’s distant voice echoing behind her, “What are you — you five! Get the others and follow them!”

They raced over the dead earth, paving a path towards the dark towering citadel on the western slope of the mountain. In the darkness to her left she saw the line of hunters silently following, giving them cover. Motioning out to the closest man she cast her bow aside and pulled the crossbow from her back to load it. Arathier followed with a bit of effort as she led them down a narrow ravine to where a break in the wall stressed against the mountain side, a gap showing at the base.

Eruviel slowed as she squeezed through the hole in the wall. Glancing to Arathier she nodded upward as she slung the crossbow onto her back. Jumping up to grab a hand-hold on the crudely patched stone wall, she began to climb. Arathier shouldered his bow, quickly following Eruviels handholds and steps. She could sense the anxiety that surrounded him.

“You can still turn back, my friend,” she whispered down to him as they neared the top.

“Never,” he replied in a fierce whisper.

A wry smile curved up the corner of her mouth. About to reach for the  upper ledge the sound of heavy footsteps warned her in time and the two of them hugged the cold stone as a pair of orcs lumbered past. Counting steps she then reached up and pulled herself onto the top of the wall. Rolling, she pushed up from the floor and dashed up behind the second orc, slitting it’s throat. Arathier followed, killing the other before it could turn.

Running in a crouch to remain as hidden as possible by the shadow cast by the railing, Eruviel took the crossbow from her back and afforded herself a brief look into the darkness below the citadel. Having spent so many years with the hunters she knew where to find them as they fell into position. It seemed the older fighters still remembered how she worked. Speeding forward, they could see a wide balcony filled with Angmarim and orcs who half-encircled a tall pile of kindling, crowned by Daran bound to a stake. Fire sparked along the bottom edge of the dry wood, illuminating the man above.

Sprinting forward Eruviel shouldered the crossbow, a greater focus taking hold as the anger within her swelled.

Arathier followed her more slowly as he held his bow at the ready, nocking an arrow.

A small glint shone out from the dark beyond the wall. Good, they are ready. Letting loose her bolts into the fringe of the crowded enemy she shouted back, “Get down!” as she continued forward, cutting down one Angmarim, than another. A faint whistling carried through the air.

Either Arathier did not hear her or did not care for he continued on, charging into the enemy lines. He hit an orc between the eyes and then unsheathed his sword as he helped her carve a path towards the fire and the hill-man bound above it.

Eruviel dashed through the surprised and enraged mob, killing some and dodging around others, her eyes fixed on an Angmarim carrying a shield. Reaching her target she ducked under his attempt to shield-bash her and cut him down. Taking the shield she threw it back to Arathier as he neared her before running and jumping up the burning mound. Arathier snagged the shield and smacks an incoming orc with the front of it, stabbing it in the throat. He then raised it as he stood between Eruviel and the small wave of Angmarim that rushed him.

Eruviel could hear the whispered breath of arrows as she frantically tore at the ropes that bound the tall, thickly built man. His wide, pain filled eyes, grew bigger at seeing her. Cutting the ropes that bound him she grit her teeth to steel herself against the rising flames. An arrow fell from the sky and tinked off Eruviel’s shoulder guard.

“I will buy you time!” Arathier shouted up at her, stepping forward to parry an attack from the first Angmarim.

Nonono! she screamed at him as she finally pulled Daran free. “Shield up!” she yelled frantically after him as she grabbed Daran around the waist and hauled him out of the fire. Tumbling to the ground she landed on top and braced herself above her bloodied and battered friend, biting back the pain of the burns on her hands as the arrows shot from below rained down around them, bouncing off her armour and cutting down the enemy. She couldn’t see Arathier, but not getting shot by their own allies and keeping Daran alive overshadowed her worry.

“Well this is one way to be saved,” the man coughed with an attempt at a mischievous smile.

“No off-colored jokes,” she replied with a playful glare. “I brought a friend home, brother.

Daran arched a brow at her as he moved her like a shield to block an incoming arrow. “If we survive this I’ll–” He left his sentence unfinished as a coughing fit seized him and she could see blood on his hand.

A arrow grazed her cheek. “Augh!” she gasped, gritting her teeth and shooting Daran a look that ordered him to keep his concerned look to himself. From below she could hear the gate creak as the hunters broke through. “Can you walk?” Looking up she bit back a cry at seeing Arathier run towards them, blood soaking his pant leg at the thigh.

Daran’s amber eyes darted over to Arathier and narrowed as he nodded. “I want to live,” he said sternly, letting Eruviel help him to his feet. “I’ll crawl if I have to.”

((edited from chat logs for tense and exposition))

Rescued from Himbar.

Eruviel remembers.

Tightly bound rope bit into the flesh of her wrists as two Angmarim priests tied the other ends to the pillars she knelt between. A small trickle of red ran down her arms and it surprised her, for she didn’t think she hand any blood left to bleed.

How many weeks had it been since her capture? Or had it been months? She had cursed herself for being careless, but not for the lives that had been spared. A gathering party, deep in relatively safe territory had been ambushed and Eruviel had been struck down as she helped the last Trév Gállorg woman to safety. She had been drug away by the enemy’s horses and thrown into a small, cold cell below the crypts of Imlad Balchorth. After three days without food or water, and only beatings to fill the time between, she had been led out, and had nearly escaped before they brought her to the general of Himbar’s tower. Only the cursed man was not there.

A Black Numenorean man stood unnervingly calm by the throne-like seat at the head of the long banquet table. Her stomach had sunk as every orc and Angmarim left the room. He is going to break me, she thought hopelessly. She sat in the seat he pulled out for her, and drank the water he poured her, but as soon as he spoke it took all the will she could muster to guard her mind from the venomous words that spewed from his mouth. The echo of his sorcery still reverberated through her limbs. Two days and nights they talked, bickered, and finally fought. It was her own fault for physically retaliating, being exhausted to the brink of collapse. The Numenorean Alagos, had touched her, hoping for a reaction. He had gotten it, and Eruviel was sure his healers had had plenty of mending to do. She was able to fight him off for a time, but in the end she laid crumbled on the floor, beaten and bleeding.

Since then sleep had come in short spurts. She had been questioned, tortured, forced to fight, deprived of rest, and the night before she had been the decoration for a feast. A small occasion to congratulate Alagos for finally capturing the elf maiden who had been a thorn under his foot for so long. The thought of death tempted her as she hung in the cage above their cruel laughter.

Twice she had nearly escaped. First from Himbar, and they moved her to Carn Dum, then two agonizing weeks later from there. It haunted her, the darkness and cruel hands dragging her back from the hope of daylight. Eruviel had abandoned trying to keep her strength, putting all her effort to withstanding the sorcery that threatened to engulf her mind. Enraged that she still resisted him, Alagos had ordered her to be flogged, and so now she knelt, slumped over, waiting, the last remnants of her dress that had been returned to her hanging from her like a wights’ shroud. Dirt and blood and bruises served better in covering her and gave color to her skin that had lost all of it’s glow.

He will come, she told herself without a hint of doubt. It was the one hope that she still clung to. It did not matter when. Either he will make it, or every one of them will die by his hand. He will be my wrath.

“Worthless scum,” growled the deep voice of the Numenorean that made her insides twist with fear and rage. Alagos crouched before her, moved her hair out of her eyes and grinned wickedly at the hate-filled glare that she gave him. “Still holding out, hmm? You will cave, Eruviel. You will be torn and then turned to serve our great master. Or . . . maybe I should hand you over to my brothers?”

The starved remnants of her shivered at the thought. Then a slight, fresh wind blew across the ruined courtyard. She felt it glide over her and she knew it would not be long. Finding a lingering wisp of strength she righted herself and pulled tight the ropes that bound her, staring the cruel man in the eyes. “Not before I rip the black heart from your chest,” she growled. How she hated him. She imagined it; her bonds snapping and her hand tearing through his black silk robe and the flesh beneath it. What a terrible, wonderful thought it was to envision her cold hands being warmed as his life drained away. There would be nothing left of him for them to resurrect.

Smirking, Alagos rose gracefully to his feet and motioned to the waiting orcs. “Flog her, but not too much.  When you’re through take her to my chambers. It is about time she is finally broken. And after? I suppose we can hand her over to the men for the night.” A sharp pang of fear twisted in her gut as Alogos stooped and kissed her cheek. Then his brisk, confident footsteps echoed down a side corridor in time with his cruel laugh. Orome, anything but that. All this time she had been spared that, the one failed attempt ending in four broken, throatless orcs rotting in her cell for… two weeks? In retrospect, any one else would have done that at the start. But not Alogos. He liked pain and feeling his victims break beneath him as his final triumph.

A light glinted in the distance . . . how far, she did not know. Raising her chin in defiance, she kept the ropes pulled taunt as two orcs unraveled their long whips and brought their arms back to strike.

One, two. They paused, then three, four, the whips cracked through the air. A pained cry escaped from her lips before she could catch it. Seven, eight . . . . eleven, twelve, she counted, hot tears trickling down from her blood-shot emerald eyes as she clung to consciousness. Where are you?

As if hearing her desperate thoughts two bolts whistled through the air, cutting through her ropes and sticking into the plaster behind her. Her tormentors distracted, Eruviel took the split second advantage to reach back and wrench the iron arrows from the wall. Give me strength . . . just a little more strength. Lunging forward, she plunged them into the eyes of the two orcs and ran forward towards the tall figure that fought his way towards her. Daran!

Dodging an Angmarim who dove to tackle her, Eruviel used her falling weight to drive the man’s head into the stone floor. Rolling away from the body she scrambled forward, stumbling as she struggled to rise in spite of the pain that tore through her.

Killing the last priest, Daran dropped to his knees to catch Eruviel as she tripped over her own feet, her legs finally giving out. Red splatters covered his arms and his voice was filled with a mix of concern and relief. “I have you, dear friend,” he whispered as he set her down, pulled off his shirt and gently fit it over her head. “You’re safe now. I’ll take you home.” Scooping her up in his strong arms Daran set off in a run, leaping back over the broken wall the way he had come.

How ironic, she thought to herself. “A-Aughaire . . . is everyone safe?” she asked as she let him pull her close, clinging to his warm chest. She watched back over his shoulder, praying that she would not see the iron helm of Alagos appear over the rise.

“You have been in this wicked place for two months and you worry for us?” Daran inquired, his voice filled with amusement as he dodged through empty streets towards the lower gate. “The tribe is fine, though the hunters have been in a rage since you were taken. I have not seen them fight back the enemy with such zeal in a long time.”

“G-good,” she managed, weariness overcoming her. Everything hurt, and nothing hurt. Shock numbed  her limbs and she prayed that she would pass out before it wore off.

A commotion arose from the mountain behind them as Daran rounded the last ruined house on the outskirts of Himbar to take a hidden path south. “Sounds like we made it out just in time. I cannot deliver you to Milloth dead, now can I?”

Eruviel managed to raise her head to look up at him. “M-Milloth is back from Dale? When did he arrive?” She wanted to weep from relief. Between Daran and Milloth, she would be safe. Her brother could heal her, mend the fractured pieces of her mind and spirit, and set her to rights

“He was half a day’s ride south when I departed to find you. He has a band of men from Gondor with him, as well as a dwarf.” Daran ducked under an outcropping rock and pulled them into a shadowed corner in time to avoid being detected by warg riders. Tense minutes passed as the enemy ran by one way, then back from where they’d come.”I — I am glad that I did. If  . . . .” his voice caught and trailed off as he looked down at her. The gleam from overwhelming emotion that flooded his amber eyes caused her’s to widen.

“Daran, no-” The words were halted as he suddenly pressed his warm mouth against hers. She couldn’t stop him or even try to pull away. She had no strength to. Years of longing and months of rage-filled grief poured out of him through that kiss. He had told her once how he felt, but then kept it to himself. She loved him fiercely, but as a brother and a friend. He never complained, never protested, being a stern, hardened man, but she knew it tore at him. Bringing a frail, pallid hand up she cupped it gently over his cheek as she kissed him back, letting his lips discover hers. Since he had finally given in, and her being in no capacity to protest, she could at least give him this; only this.

Finally pulling away, Daran hung his head, unable to meet her eyes. “Forgive me,” he whispered, his voice weak. “I . . . .”

Looking up at him sadly, a hint of regret in her eyes she simply nodded, pursing her lips together. “I understand, Tithdaeron. We shall not speak of it. But let us be gone from here.”

A smile creeping up one side of his face, Daran peered out of their hiding place. Nodding that the way was clear he shifted her in his arms and set off on in a run.

The Fem Challenge

Eruviel remembers.

It would be a night she would not soon forget. The sky remained the same, painted black, laced with red-tinted clouds as was usual in southern Angmar. The ground of the valley remained barren, and the sounds of wargs and hill-beasts echoed from the rocks across the valley. No, what made this scene different were the dozens of Trév Gállorg gathered behind her and the dozens of Trév Duvárdain gathered on the valley floor half a mile from Aughaire. A small group gathered half-way between the two groups, Eruviel among them. Both tribe chieftains stood on their respective sides of some invisible line. Both leaders had two representatives to their left, and one warrior to their right.

Looking over to the young man next to the Trév Gállorg’s chieftain, Eruviel mentally checked over his appearance and weapons one last time, keeping hidden the feeling of pride that washed over her. He had sharpened his weapons as Milloth had taught him, and had painted his shoulder and bare chest with red symbols of the honorable hill-men. Today had been meant to be Daran — Tithdaeron’s name-day after the final challenge of his Fem. Her little one would finally be an official member of the great tribe. The chief had told her what Daran’s new name would be if he succeeded. She had laughed, feeling it fitting, but knew Daran would think it to be a mouthful. But he would always be Daran to her.

Plans, though, changed as they always seemed to do. The Trév Duvárdain had grown bolder and as rumors of Black Numenorians joining the Angmarim lines, the fallen men demanded blood. Tithdaeron had interrupted the meeting of the elders in the boldest, yet most inoffensive way he could have, and told them that he would represent the strength of the Trév Gállorg in the Fem challenge. His offer had been unanimously accepted. Later, when Eruviel had teased him about it, Daran quickly retorted that he had learned it from her.

Eruviel felt almost certain that he had the blood of Númenor in his veins, for he had grown be a handsome, strongly built man with broad shoulders since she had found him fifteen years ago. Daran had been disappointed that he had not grown to be as tall as Milloth, though his six-foot-five frame towered over nearly every man in Angmar. His amber eyes gleamed dangerously as the two chiefs cast insults at each other, working out the final demands before the Fem challenge began.

Daran’s opponent stood a foot shorter than him. He looked lean yet impressively toned for his slight build. Eruviel suspected that he was one of the Trev Duvardain’s best fighters, chosen for his agility and quickness. Looking back to Daran she could see the muscles in his back flex as the two men faced off. It took all of her restraint to keep back a smirk. In spite of his height Daran proved to be as lithe as an elf. Milloth and Eruviel did not spare the lad in his training, mostly because he had insisted on learning to be the best. Now he fought to the death against the opposing clan of hill-men to prove his loyalty and worth. Though she did not doubt his skill, Eruviel kept a watchful eye open for foul play. The footing of the other fighter was precise — careful. The match would not be an easy one, and Eruviel muttered a prayer to Oromë that Daran would not perish so close to his goal.

The Trév Duvárdain warrior made the first move, testing Daran’s reaction. The former Angmarim countered the attack fast enough to avoid the crude blade, yet not so fast as to reveal his true speed. Striking back, just a hair faster, Daran returned the gesture, testing his opponent. Eruviel saw his triceps twitch, moving the blade away from the other man’s face, only cutting a few hairs with the quick move. Pivoting, Daran brought his lead foot behind him and leapt forward, the real fight beginning. Every slash he threw, every calculated step he took Eruviel knew, her mind moving in sync with the man’s attacks. She knew how his mind worked, and the habits he leaned on, him having gleaned many of them from her, Cade, and her brother Milloth.

Memories trickled through her subconscious as she watched the fight grow with intensity. She recalled the day she had presented Daran, then called Ge’bar, to the tribe. The nine year old had hid behind her as she presented his case, clinging to her left hand. But, as soon as the Trév Gállorg elders began to accuse him, the boy had released her hand to stand beside her. His eyes blazed in defiance, unafraid of their hate for the Angmarim. Eruviel remembered walking him beyond the edge of the main camp to the home of a Trév Gállorg hunter and his wife who had wanted to adopt the boy, unable to have children of their own. She called to mind the many times in his first few years with the clan when she’d wake in the night to feel him crawling onto her pallet and curling up against her back, trembling from nightmares.

The fight had finally drawn blood. Daran had taken a risk, and it had paid off. Allowing his opponent in close enough, Daran let the other man drive his dagger into his bicep. As the blade cut into his arm Daran flipped his dagger in his hand and punched the Trév Duvárdain man in the face. Eruviel almost felt pity for the man as he flew a yard back from the impact. He landed hard at the base of a makeshift Trév Gállorg flag, blood spurting from his mouth and nose. Daran glanced back to Eruviel, nodding once to her before he approached the man, stopping to tower over him.

“This fight is over,” his voice rumbled as he pulled his opponent’s dagger from his flesh. Looking down to the enemy clan’s leader he dared him to protest. “I will not kill him. The Trév Gállorg are better than that.”

The Trév Gállorg chieftain nodded his head in approval, but before he could address the matter the Trév Duvárdain chief turned and pointed to a trio of fighters standing behind him. “How dare you mock us, traitorous filth! You three, kill both of them!”

Pulling out hidden daggers, the three fighters sprinted up the hill towards Daran. The man’s fallen opponent, still clutching his face, looked up, and the two men’s eyes met in a moment of understanding. Daran ripped the spear-like flag pole out of the ground, and Eruviel noticed that both ends were tipped with blades. Clever. In one swift turn Daran plunged the flag-end of the pole into the first Trév Duvárdain’s heart, pulled it back out as he spun around, and in one sweeping motion dropped the other two attackers, their throats cut open.

“Is this what you want?!” Daran bellowed down the hill, planting the flag pole back into the ground. “If you want more blood, then by all means, I can relieve your men of their lives.”

The Trév Duvárdain’s leader looked wide-eyed up to the bodies of his fallen warriors. “No, you have won, Tithdaeron. I will not forget this night, but my people and I will retreat from Trév Gállorg lands.” His voice trembled, but his eyes disagreed with his words.

Daran stopped his advance, glaring past the chieftain to the anxious gathering of Trév Duvárdain now only a dozen yards away. “I hope you never forget. I will hold you to your words, for I will not allow mercy to any of your warriors who step so much as a foot into our hunting grounds.”

Puffing up his chest, the enemy chieftain looked as though he might protest but a look from Daran deflated the man’s pride just as quickly. Turning away he barked orders down the hill for his people to leave, not caring to gather the bodies of their dead.

As Daran walked back up to his opponent, offering the man a hand, a victorious roar rose from the Trév Gállorg camp. Their chieftain motioned for two others to take the wounded Trév Duvárdain to the healer before beckoning Daran to his side. The young man looked across to Eruviel rolling his eyes as she glanced at his arms. She nodded to him with an encouraging smile as he arched his brows as if to ask if he had done well. She knew the adrenaline had begun to wear off for Daran looked drained from the fight.

“He is now one of us!” said the chieftain in a loud voice for all to hear. “I will not tolerate anyone speaking ill of our brother. The Eldar brought him to us and taught us humility as Tithdaeron grew with our own children, living honestly and fighting loyally by our sides against the orc and Angmarim scourge.” Shouts of approval rose again and were not quickly silenced before the chief could continue. “His Fem is complete!”

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.

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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.”