Durrow

Blame

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“Where in Stockard’s grave ‘ve you been?”

Eruviel looked to the front stoop of her little house as she closed the gate to see Ildric occupying most of it, a pipe smoking in one hand. A guarded frown replaced her initial smile as she quickly read the dark look in his eyes, and she instinctively glanced over her shoulder to the narrow road beyond her fence. “Where’d you come from?”

Ildric’s narrowed eyes studied her from where he leaned against her door, purposefully blocking her way to her house. “Been waiting for you to come home for half the day.”

“That seems like a waste of time for such a busy man.”

“Probably was. What were you doing?”

“Hunting,” she lied.

“Bull.” He knew her too well. “You were doing fairy crap.”

Eruviel’s frown deepened. This was not Ildric. This was Vrax, and she could see through the dark that he was both tired and angry.”What is troubling you, Ildric?”

Ildric tossed his pipe aside and rose to his feet with a grunt. “Don’t give me that Elf, sugar-coated garbage.”

“Then don’t give me any of your shit,” she snapped back.

“Oh? My shit?” he scoffed, lumbering down the steps towards her. “You talk crap about caring about your friends and — What the hell is on your face?”

The Elf was caught off guard, and faltered for a moment. “Wha — Oh, this? Lipstick.”

“Why?”

“Because I was alone all day and I thought it might be fun. I decided it was a waste to leave it sitting in my bathroom unused.”

A dim, familiar glint passed through the man’s eyes. “Well that’s all backwards. If people wanna do something for themselves they usually  just f–”

Vrax!”

The two glared at each other, the air in the yard tense. Finally the big man shoved a hand into his vest pocket. Drawing something out he tossed it to her without care. “That’s why I’m here.”

Something small, and cold hit her cheek, and Eruviel caught it between her hair and her braid as it tumbled down. She instantly recognized the object as a ring and, lifting it to get a better look, was greeted by an all too familiar sapphire encased in silver leaves that glittered in the evening light. “What — Why do you have this? This is –”

Was,” Ildric clarified harshly.

Eruviel’s frown deepened as she looked up at the angry man towering a bit too close for comfort. “Was? What happened to Maddie?”

Thick arms crossed over Ildric’s chest as he continued to glare down at her. “I’d think you would be smart enough to figure that out for yourself. She left him.”

Eruviel’s shoulders sank, and an ill feeling twisted in her gut. “What? Why? Ildric, when did she leave him?”

“Before we got in from the raid. Bea was waiting up for us, and Frank found Maggie’s ring on the table in his forge.”

Speechless, Eruviel looked back to the ring for several moments. “And you’re angry at me because….”

“Because if you hadn’t been off doing Valar knows what, all of this could have been avoided!”

Her green gaze paled in a fleeing look of fury and darted up to lock on him. “You will not blame any of that on me! I told Frank why I could not go. He said he understood, and that is that!”

Ildric stepped up close, forcing her to retreat a step. “His wife had been taken! Someone you call friend needed you to be there, and you left to run around in the woods!”

“I left to find someone I call sister,” she shot back, her anger matching his. “He came to ask my help as I was already preparing to leave. Frank was sympathetic, and there was no issue with it. By the time I had returned you and yours had already caught the caravan! It is not my fault that she lost it and left him, and I am not responsible for her decisions.”

“Oh? Who was is that sent Frank south with news about Koss and his band a months back?”

Eruviel’s hands curled into fists at her sides. “You mean news that almost got my throat slit open in the process of getting? I did, but –”

Witch. That was the last straw for them! Did you know she watched him ride off? Cried like he had died, then went off and moved in with some young baker in town. If he’d have stayed they could have worked things out.”

“It doesn’t just happen like that, Ildric, and you know it. I told him to give Tamrin the message and stay home, but he wouldn’t have it. It was his marriage, and she had been treating him worse and worse since their anniversary. He insisted that it would fix things, and would not be persuaded otherwise.”

“And you know what it fixed? Nothing. Want to know what is even better? Koss fed his men to our attack and slipped away. Now we have to hunt the bastard down all over again,” Ildric spat, shouting angrily.

“He got away?”

“I gotta say it again? Finally had him in my sights after ten years and he’s gone.”

Eruviel deflated some, and shook her head. “Ildric, please. I am sorry that he got away. If you’ll let me –”

“You are, huh? Well I don’t want you helping this time. I’ve had enough of it,” he growled, shoving her out of of his way as he stalked past, his glare hazed over with a cloud of unbidden emotions.

“Ildric, wait! Where is Frank?”Eruviel called, her voice almost catching as she turned to attempt to follow after the man.

“At home. Locked himself in his forge,” he shot over his shoulder as he shoved the gate open and slammed it shut. “Leave him be…. Oh, and wipe that filth off your face. You look like a whore.”

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Bittersweet: Get Out

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In a cloud of steam and laughter, the women poured out of Stonebluff. Hair damp and eyes bright with merriment, the soak and good company had brought each soul to overflowing.

“– then he cut his apron strings and ran out of there as fast as he could!” cried Beth, laughing lasciviously at her own joke.

“Umm… Yes, I… I think I get it,” muttered Anyatka, cheeks flushed with embarrassment as she looked to Eruviel for help.

Eruviel fought back a playful smirk as both women looked to her. She paused, handing off her basket of food to Feygil who shouted a war cry about beating the men to the feast as male voices drifted out of the Broken Cask. “I think in this rare case your joke would flow better if the baker ‘pounded’ instead of ‘kneaded’.”

Anyatka look utterly mortified, and Beth laughed even louder than before as she skipped ahead to share her joke with Ansithe and Varidia. “Do not look so shocked, oselle,” said Eruviel as she linked arms with Anya, her fair cheeks flushed with one too many glasses of wine. The merry band crossed over the Dunwash on their way to Ravenhold, and behind them Rosie could be heard preemptively scolding the menfolk for drinking all of her good ale.

“I just was not expecting that from you,” Anya muttered, a sheepish smile stealing over her features.

“You will find out soon enough. Just spare me the details when you and Ander–”

Eruviel!” Anyatka cried.

Eruviel threw her head back with a merry laugh, and that was when she saw the lone figure standing on the bridge. Was it Eirikr? Or perhaps Cedoric wandering off?

“What is it?” asked Anya, peering around the Elf in attempt to see what had caught her friend’s attention.

Giving the young woman’s arm a squeeze, Eruviel stepped away from the flow of friends heading up the hill. “Nothing. I will be right behind you.”

Arching a brow, Anya shrugged and waved after her. “Don’t take too long!”

Eruviel grinned and, pulling her ribbon-bound braid over her shoulder, headed for the bridge.

“Hey, where are you going?” called another voice from behind. Glancing back she saw Abbi waving at her even as he snagged a bottle from Hallem’s hands. Behind him was… Eirikr? who’s wave to her faltered as he reached to try and snag Abbi, the younger Tenorbekk scampering around Taja. Chuckling, she waved and continued on.

The figure on the bridge shifted, and she could see it better now, the long beard and stern profile.

“Commander?”

Godric turned again in the dark to face her.

“You should come and join us, Sir. We –”

Eruviel’s words were cut short when the towering man slumped forward in the darkness. She rushed up the bridge, and skidded to a halt when the shadows receded enough to reveal the Commander leaning forward, impaled on a long black sword. Breath caught in her lungs as happy laughter echoed down from Ravenhold.

“I should thank them,” came the cool, all too familiar voice. Eruviel’s fists clenched as she slowly remembered, her dream continuing on without her. “That is one less pest to have to account for.”

“You will leave them alone.”

The shadow leaning up against the railing of the bridge watched her, violet-brown eyes unblinking from beneath the dark hood. “Did I ever tell you what it sounded like? The last ragged breath escaping Milloth from the hole in his chest?”

“Get out of my head.”

“Who should I kill first? Or should I curse the lot of them and save myself the effort?” The robed figure stood and began to approach. Bodies began to bob up in the water below them, Ruby Lake turning crimson in the moon light.

A terrible ache tore through her chest. She had promised. She had promised. The Elf looked down again, and to her surprise the horrifying scene changed. As soon as the bodies appeared they suddenly vanished, one by one in soft puffs of smoke.

“It is no use. Why do you fight? Are you not tired of it all? I might steal whatever magic is in the red eye of your friend. I also have more spirits. You remember, don’t you? I could turn them all against you….”

Shadows snaked around Eruviel to trap her, suffocate her… but they collapsed at her feet in piles of flowers. It wasn’t her….

“Did you forget what he told you? You will never be free, not of him, or me, or the curse that follows you.”

“Get out,” she growled through gritted teeth.

Cold laughter wafted around like a chilling breeze, drawing nearer. “No? Maybe I will make myself a bear fur coat. There is something so sensual about fur against the skin…. And maybe I’ll take that little boy and his father, and –”

Godric’s greying body fell away in a glittering shower of limrafn dust, and Eruviel reached out to catch the sword before it could fall. “Get out!”

Whirling around, she sliced off the hand reaching for her and with a shout, before plunged the blade into the bridge. The figure reeled back as the reality of the Eruviel’s dream shifted violently and heaved up to shatter about them. Starlight flickering like fire erupted with a concussive roar from the Elf and sword, and flooded out, filling every crevice of her mind till his laughter and shadows had nothing to hold onto.

– – – – –

With a cry Eruviel shot upright, the steaming water in her tub sloshing about her. Gasping she sagged back in the fragrant bath, hiding her face in her hands.

He was gone. A small, relieved sob escaped her as she curled up into a ball at one end of the basin. One night of rest was all she wanted at that moment. And somehow she knew he was gone. Finally gone. Whatever, or whoever had helped her —

Fletch’s frantic barks sounded from beyond the closed door. The  growing pup whined, scratched,  and barked again as he tried to dig his way past the door and into her. Grabbing her robe, Eruviel stumbled out of the bath, water pooling in her wake. Yanking open the bathroom door, she was nearly knocked over as Fletched barreled into her.

“Hey, hey, calm down boy. It’s all right. I’m all right.”

Whining worriedly, Fletch nuzzled and licked her face as Eruviel knelt down on the floor.

Wrapping her trembling arms around his neck, Eruviel closed her eyes, offering a prayer of thanks when she saw nothing behind her closed lids. “Shhh, boy. It is all right. Everyone will be all right. I promised.”

– – – – –

Yarig! Benrith!

The Uruk and Angmarim guard exchanged unreadable, yet somehow knowing looks as they turned to step into the bedchamber. They did not so much as flinch as a bench flew to shatter against the stone wall beside them, nor blink as a wave of shadow tore what was left of the bed to pieces. Light bent and twisted, and the Lord marched, sword in hand to stand between the guards.

“My lord,” said Benrith, standing at attention.

Long black hair tossed in a crazed twist over his shoulders, piercing eyes drifted from one guard to the other. “Yarig?”

The Uruk stood a bit taller. “My lord.”

The sorcerer was not the tallest of his peers, and his muscled shoulders not the broadest, but the shadows loomed up about him, making him in his anger appear larger than life.  “Bring me your pick of five of the best you can find in the ranks. I mean to double my guard.”

Yarig did not move till his lord motioned for him to. His long strides only carried him to the doorway before a word from the sorcerer halted him.

“My lord?”

The sorcerer put a hand on Benrith’s shoulder, and with one clean swipe, sliced the man’s head off. It hit the stone floor with a sickening thunk and rolled towards the Uruk even as it’s former body decayed and turned to dust. “Take that with you. Have it sent to Aughaire. It would not do for him to be late in reporting back.”

Bittersweet: Haunting Hours

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The bonfire in the yard of Ravenhold crackled and sparked, embers dancing up towards the stary sky to beat of the music. It was midnight, but the only magic there came from contagious smiles and contented laughter as the happy din drifted out over the homestead.  There was no special occasion, but in truth did they really need one?

Near the totem Oendir played his fiddle, laughing at Nelia and Solstan. Cwendlwyn sat at his feet, smiling as she accompanied him on her lute. The woman exchanged a meaningful look with her husband as the melody danced and mixed just as well as the half-dozen couples that swung together in the firelight. Everyone was there. Taja danced with a woman in blue, Ansithe, Feygil and Beth huddled close as the latter coerced Fey into a prank, and Abbi sat leaning against Atanamir as he embellished a tale of grand adventure for Dorsett and Sage.

Then there was Anders with his arms around Anya, the two whispering happily. Pheadra and Varidia stood with Cedoric, teasing the young man about something as Cedoric’s friend beside him watched on in amusement. There was Gaelyn and Halvel, Hallem and Lichen, and Mor standing in the midst of the romping Torsten, Eboric, and Atrian. Pharazanu and Zabathôr sat to one side, soaking up the firelight and merriment. Near them stood Kemendin who was shaking his head at some absurd comment that had sprung from a happily drunken Raenarcam, and on the far side Godric sat, Wraith’s head resting on his lap as he oversaw the festivities with what might have been a smile beneath his mighty beard.

Applauding with the rest as the song ended, Eruviel excused herself from a conversation with Rosie as she noticed a form lingering in the shadows beyond the reach of the firelight. She had thought everyone to be there, and on such a merry evening no one should be left out. Eruviel glanced over her shoulder to the happy gathering to mentally check off who might not be in attendance, but stopped in her tracks as she looked back to the shadows and found them empty. How strange.

Shrugging, she turned back to return to the party when cold fingers curled over her shoulder. The shadow loomed up behind her, causing her heart to leap up and catch in her throat.

“Looks like fun,” breathed the voice as a hooded face dipped low to hover by her ear. “There are more of them than I had anticipated.”

Every muscle in her body tensed. Unable to bring herself to turn, she fixed a horrified gaze down on the festive gathering. “You’re dead.”

A chuckle sent dreadful shivers up her spine, the breath in her ear cold. “Am I? Yes… yes, I was? I was! You had to choose to stay, didn’t you? Oh, you could have stayed beyond the sea or gone with him, but you never learn. You had to find new people to fill the void of what you lost.”

“How dare you think they are merely –”

“Merely what?” the voice calmly interrupted, the grip on her shoulder tightening. “Don’t get snippy with me. It won’t be as easy as last time. You sssee, I learn my lessons.”

A light rain began to fall. The fire hissed in protest, and the droplets soaked into her skin, but no one else appeared to notice. Eirikr emerged from Ravenhold, Drewett on his heels and laughing. Clapping the farmer on the back the Dalish man wove around the crowd, lifting one of the goblets in his hands as he made his way over to the Elf.

“What are you doing over there?” Eirikr called with a smile. “Come on! Everyone’s waiting.”

Did he not see him? Eruviel forced a smile and accepted the glass with a grateful nod. “I apologize. It’s — It’s a nice vantage from here.”

Giving her a curious look, the man then chuckled and took her hand to rest it on his forearm. “It is, I suppose, but no sneaking off. Come on back.”

The cold hand slowly released her, and the hooded face retreated back into the shadows beyond the yard as she stepped forward to return with Eirikr. “It is you or them…. Enjoy it while it lasts.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Eruviel’s eyes fluttered open. A noon breeze gently rocked her as she lay in her hammock, and Fletch sat on the grass beneath her, whining loudly with concern as he stared up at his Elf.

Heaving a heavy sigh, Eruviel lifted a hand to wipe at her face and was startled to find it wet with rain. Indeed, her dress and hair were soaked with rain water. Sitting up she shivered bodily, glancing about the yard with a frown as her dream quickly faded to a dull memory.

The stress knotted in her gut, making her feel ill. It had been such a good dream, too. Hopping down from the hammock she took a moment to comfort Fletch, assuring him that she was all right before turning to rescue the dripping linens from the line.

Bravery: Nelson Leafcutter

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“Nelson.”

Wha–!” Nelson Leafcutter nearly lept out of his skin, and the stack of letters bound for Ravenhold flew out of his hands like birds from a cage.

Willoric lifted a hand to shield himself from the cascade of paper. “Why’d you shout?”

“By the –” Nelson scampered about the street, snatching up letters before the breeze could. “Don’t do that, Will! You nearly scared me to death.”

The Hobbit blinked. “Wha’d ya mean? I’ve been walkin’ by ya the whole time.”

Nelson frowned. “Since when?”

“Since the Post? Think all that readin’s dried your brain,”said Willoric, taking off after an escaped envelope.

Nelson made a face and took a moment to straighten his robes. “Sorry,” he muttered, counting the letters to make sure they were all there. He then glanced to the Hobbit, wondering if he hadn’t meant to frighten him from the start. “Where are you headed?”

“Same place you are,” Will replied with a shrug, licking his lips.

Most likely going to lift food from the kitchens.

“This should be the last of ’em.”

Nelson accepted the letter with a grateful nod. Turning to walk back up the road he set the letter on top of the stack… then beneath it… then began to alphabetize the pile by the name of the receiver. “Will you be heading out with the others in a few days?”

“S’pose so.” The hobbit prattled on, but the sound grew muddled and distant to Nelson’s ears.

Feygil, Gaelyn, Hallem, Lichen, Lichen, Lichen….

“You organizin’ them by first or last names?”

Nelson blinked, then sighed, and started all over. “Well, be safe when you go.”

Willoric glanced up at him. “You’re not goin’?”

Nelson stood a little straighter, as if better posture aided by his true height might somehow aid him in his excuses. “No, not this time. Ms. Lichen has a lot on her plate, and I’m needed here.” How he loathed field work. Rain ruined books, and dust could harm the condition of the tomes he might decide to take, because of course he couldn’t NOT take books, and then what would Nallo think of him if he couldn’t even protect literature? It was bad enough that he dropped the letters all over the place, but he’d be disgraced if he went to the Lone Lands and wound up with all his books ruined. Not to mention the risk of Orcs burning them, or Goblins stealing and — Oh, Cor, they might tear the pages out!

“Nelson?”

What?” he squeaked, then gasped as he realized he had been holding his breath as his thoughts had begun to spiral out of control.

Will smiled. “There ya go.”

“Oy! To your right!”

The man and hobbit moved off to the side of the road as a wagon clattered up the cobbles behind them, driven by Brock Thornley.

“Good day, Mister Thornley!” called the Hobbit.

Nelson nodded politely, hardly glancing up from the letters.

“‘allo. Hey, Nels. One of the horses got out again.”

“Why tell me? Why didn’t you go get her?” Nelson felt his stomach twist as he caught sight of one escaped letter right as a wagon wheel ran it over.

Brock shrugged, and pulled the length of straw from the corner of his mouth to point at the horses. “Workin’.” He then lifted a hand in farewell and tapped the reigns on the horses’ rumps.

Nelson shook himself as he watched Brock drive off, then went to retrieve the poor, trampled envelope from the middle of the road. “Will, would you mind –” He stopped when he turned and found Willoric gone. “Oh… blast.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Letters safely stowed in one of his cavernous pockets, Nelson trudged out of the gates of Durrow. He heard the horse before he saw it, and chastised himself for not thinking to grab a lead rope… or an apple, or something.

Just over the first southerly hillock, the young man saw Peppermint grazing at the edge of a field. The spotted pony appeared all too pleased with herself, and Nelson filed through his memory on the best way to reclaim a runaway horse.

Snagging up a fistful of long, green grass, he slowly approached the pony, thanking his luck when he saw she still wore a halter.

“Here, Peppermint! Come, girl.”

The pony nickered and pranced around him.

Nelson sighed. Big animals always made him nervous, and this one wanted to play. Perfect. “Come on, pretty pony. Here’s some grass. Yum, yum!” Valar, please don’t let anyone see this.Here, Peppermint…”

Peppermint tossed her mane, and trotted over to indulge in the offering of pre-picked grass.

Taking hold of her halter, Nelson led her away from the farm and back towards the road. “That’s a good girl. Why are you causing trouble?” he said quietly, petting the pony’s cheek as she munched on the last bite of grass.

This really wasn’t all so terrible. If all field work was like this he thought he could manage. It was rediculous, how proud he was that he’d gone and fetched the stray animal. Maybe Amelia would be at the stables. He’d walk in with Peppermint, and she’d smile… maybe even hug him for — oh, but who was he kidding? There was nothing brave whatsoever about going to fetch a horse that probably would have come home on it’s own.

The answer was there. Field work. He’d have to get his hands dirty if he was to show how brave he was… And that would put him in good standing with Nallo, wouldn’t it? The scholar had gone to Moria of all places, hadn’t he? Nelson gazed wistfully down the path towards the gate, Peppermint plodding along beside him. Moria sounded horrid and dank. No place at all for books… but then again, there might be Dwarven tomes. Who knows what old writings might be rediscovered in the far places if someone would just look? Then he’d get to see Amelia shoot her bow all the time, and Nallo would ask him to help at Stonebluff! Yes… yes, field work just might be it. The next trip… or the one after, depending on the destination, of course.

Peppermint pulled against Nelson’s arm as a thick patch of spring grass caught her eye. “No, no, Peppermint. I have to get you back. Ms. Lichen needs these letters, and I need to feed Amelia. No! I mean, my Amelia — I mean! My… not yours — ours… Oh, come on, Peppermint!”

Two In The Morning

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Tap, tap.

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

Tap, tap, tap….

Eruviel!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I? I am not mean.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh? You met Anya?”

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

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

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

No.”

Bittersweet: Homesick

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A sweet, sea breeze at her back, Eruviel ascended the long stair leading up from the docks. Each step as light as the last, she did not go so fast as to put those she passed to shame, nor did she go so slow as to make people wonder if she was being patronizing.

By the Valar, she loved the smell of the sea. Before her trip back to Annúngilon two years prior, she could not remember the length of time that has passed without feeling the sand beneath her feet, or wind combing through her hair. With no offence to Gondor, Forlindon’s beaches were her favorite.

But, no matter how refreshing the sea was and how beautiful the city looked, she could not wait to leave. The cool wind was tainted by the oppressive discontent and disunity the city. How people could live in such wealth, untouched by war just miles away, yet be so greedy and ungrateful she could hardly fathom. As much as she wanted to help the people here and help the goodness she saw find strong footholds, by Orome she could not wait to leave.

Stopping at the same fruit vendor she visited every day, Eruviel made small talk with the portly man. He complimented her on her dress, and she complimented him for being observant. A good heartened laugh was shared with the customers lined up behind her, and she felt dozens of pairs of eyes watch her as she glided off.

A ripe mango in her free hand, she slowed to observe the evening crowd ebb and flow up through the market. It made her think of the sea, and the cliff she hadn’t visited for several days. But the days passed more swiftly now, with little time for leisure. There was so much to do, so many people to speak with, and so many mysteries to solve. To be honest, parts of her did enjoy the intrigue, but it wasn’t worth it.

She wanted to get her hands dirty doing honest work. She wanted to hunt, and run as fast and as far a she could through the woods without the fear that one of her company could be trapped by the coils of a corrupt city. She wanted to get covered with mud, and bathe in hidden pools. And how much was it to ask to wear something or not wear something, not because everyone she didn’t know expected it, but because it pleased her to do so? She wanted to fight and kill and protect because it was the right thing to do. No uncountable layers of lies and bribes at every turn. All she wanted to worry about was whether she would meet her quota of deer and boar for the butcher, what silly little fibs the Warbler would print that day, and about the happiness of those she loved.

A soft, weary sigh escaped her, and she looked down to the wooden box under her left arm as her thoughts finally settled. It was worn. The wood needed refinished, and a new handled needed to be made for it. There were obvious signs of neglect upon the case, and inside all of the lining needed to be stripped out and replaced. But it was sturdy, and made to last. Burn it all. Taking a bite of her fruit, she suddenly turned the corner to take the longer route back. The Illumin were on the top of her list at the moment, and there was no better time to start working than the present.

Bittersweet: A Little Light

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bittersweet: Waiting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bittersweet: Fallowmath

Eruviel could feel the heat from the flames as the golden-orange light bathed her features. She watched as Anyatka walked forward, Abiorn’s bear carving in hand. Maludir had thrown in blades of grass into the bonfire, Hallem tossed in a small token made by his wife Lichen, and now her human sister added a thorny branch to the blaze. She had nothing.

She could throw in the tuft of pine tucked behind her ear, but she liked it where it was. She could toss the handkerchief in her pocket that had been a gift from Annuwen, or even strands of her own hair, but none of it felt right. Nothing felt like it should be fed to the flames. Then, as Anya’s offering caught fire, it dawned on her.

Looking down and shifting the belt at her hips, she began to untie the black cords that had for so long been bound to the handle of her sword. The knots had hardened from time and use, especially the oldest of the two, but they had to go. The first had been tied . . . almost seven years ago? While the second had only joined it as of last summer. So short a time . . . . So much time.

Unwinding the first cord, her motions suddenly grew more purposeful when she felt Eirikr’s eyes on her. How appropriate that she burn the tokens of what had propelled her forward to where she was now. How oddly grateful she suddenly felt for those bitter years, for they were behind her.

The last one came free, and Eruviel wrapped the two cords, as black as the days she’d gotten them, into a small ball. Alagos, who still somehow found his way into her nightmares. Mornenion, the novice who had extinguished a small spark of her future, and had kidnaped the man she had been with. What if it hadn’t been Arathier? What if it had been Anya, or . . . Not wanting the thought to ruin her evening, she banished it from her mind and strode forward to toss the cords into the fire.

Keep us safe, dear brothers; my new family and those dear to them. Sparks shot up from the knot and into the night sky.

Grant us your strength. Small tongues of blue and green flames danced along the stretch of cords as the heat unwound them.

Eruviel could still feel the pair of storm-grey eyes on her.  A long forgotten feeling twisted in her chest. She should wish for more . . . shouldn’t she? The couples had already begun exchanging meaningful looks, and whispering. It was misery, but the most she dared hope for was a shared look and maybe . . . maybe a small, light touch. The stern man had been smiling more lately, and everything felt better when he did.

Turning back, she stood by Anyatka as Eirikr moved towards the fire. She wondered what he’d wish for. Anyatka and Abiorn? Eboric? Since the dream before Yule there had been small moments of peace, where no worry or fears could be seen in the eyes of those gathered. Moments filled with laughter or quiet contentment. Moments that should not have been as fleeting, but found their way nonetheless. A soft smile stole over her face as she watched the fire consume the black feather that Eirikr offered to it. Their wishes. Let their wishes come true.

January 18th: The Kissing Willow

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Little nose prints decorated the bottom of the frosted window pane. Brooke had grown just enough that she could rest her chin on the wooden sill facing the Dunwash River. If she leaned juuuust right, she could see The Kissing Willow.

Oh, The Kissing Willow. Brooke had seen the shadows of some of the young couples beneath it now and then. The notion was so romantic. Papa had huffed whenever The Warbler had gossip about people kissing, and ever since Miss Esthyr had taught her her letters, six year-old Brooke would sneak peeks at the daily newsletter. Fits of giggles seized her at the silly couplings. Maggie would never kiss Mr. Atan! He was too scary to kiss . . . and looked like a pretty girl too.

Huffing a despairing breath that fogged up the corner of the cold glass she leaned against the wall, chin on the window sill, arms dangling at her sides. The other girls had prattled on about kisses. At first it sounded gross. Boys were gross. Papa had said so. But then again, Papa was a boy too, wasn’t he? And he called her pretty and kissed her . . . well, not like Mr. Rheb had kissed Miss. Cisse. That had been a while ago though and . . . Why had the lady Cwen been visiting Mr. Rheb? Wriggling her nose she pushed the questioning aside. Papa’s voiced echoed in her head from when he’d grumbled about the gossipers of town. Besides, that didn’t solve her problem. She wanted a kiss under the tree!

No one had been under the tree in several days in spite of The Warbler’s tale-telling. Then her eyes widened, filling with an idea. Oh, and it was a good one.

“Where ya goin’, sweet-pea?” Papa called after her as she bolted from her room.

“Out!” she chimed sweetly, her little arms overflowing with her cloak, scarf and mittens. Before he could protest she was out the door and flying down the path to the road. Wrapping her scarf around her face as she dashed over the empty, snow-powdered street, Brooke nearly missed the corner that would take her onto the bridge.

Stopping in the middle of the cobbled way, the small girl shoved her hands through the arm holes of her warm cloak. Distant voices echoed from the far gatehouse. Someone was coming! Her little legs carried her as fast as they could go and suddenly she was there.

Droplets of frozen ice coated the dangling willow branches, reflecting the winter sun. Brooke had never been under the tree before, but it was magical! No wonder people kissed here! It took walking around the silver-barked trunk three times till she found it. Her way up. She’d never climbed on her own, but all the boys did it, so how hard could it be, really? Mittens clenched tightly in her teeth, Brooke jumped up to catch hold of the first branch and her legs scrambled till they caught a foothold, and she pulled herself up. The bark was slick with frost and ice, but she grasped the branches around her and pulled herself up to stand on the thick limb, ready to continue her ascent.

“Take that, branch,” she huffed with a triumphant grin. All she had to do was climb a little further up, hook her mittens on a limb, then wait for someone to come and rescue them for her. It was a good plan. A solid plan.

Higher and higher she climbed till she had made it, looping her red, knit mittens to dangle from a freshly sprouted branch. It was perfect! Looking around, she took hold of another branch and turned to clamber back down . . . and then she froze.

The ground was so far away! It didn’t look that high from the ground, but the more she stared at the roots protruding from the frozen earth below, the further away it felt. Brooke quickly flung her arms around the silver branch, her little heart leaping into a panicked gallop.

“You’re ok, you’re ok,” she muttered fearfully to herself, eyes still staring wide at the way below her. Sucking in a breath of frigid air, she summoned her courage and stretched a thin leg down towards then next branch. It was so close! For a second her chest swelled with hope as her toe brushed against the next step down . . . but then her other foot slipped, and with a frightened yelp Brooke pulled herself back up, legs wrapping around the same thick branch that her arms strangled.

Hot tears welled in her eyes. There was no way down! She couldn’t do it. She couldn’t! She could try to jump, but that might kill her! People died when falling from high places. Oh no . . . she might die! Papa didn’t know where she’d ran off to, and there was no guarantee anyone would hear her. She was so high up, no one would see her! Her lower lip quivered as the cold of the bark seeped through her warm layers. She was going to die in The Kissing Tree! After they found her cold, lifeless body then no one would kiss in the tree again and the tree would die without all the kissing going on and then the kids would make up a mean song to sing during play time and no one would have a happy ending and it would be all her fault! It was the end. She knew it.

“You stuck up there?” rumbled a deep voice from behind her.

Turning her head, vision blurred, Brooke saw a man . . . a tall man standing not a foot from the tree and just out of arms reach. She was saved!

“N-no,” she lied in a wimper, her lower lip jutting out as she attempted to put on a brave face.

The man grunted, then a soft, low chuckle followed, filling the mystical air within the willow’s branches. “Course you’re not. But I wouldn’t be much of a gentleman if I didn’t offer you a hand. Would you . . . care for a hand down?”

Brooke’s heart melted as she peered down at her rescuer. “Mmh-hmm,” she managed to respond, sniffing her cold nose. Big, strong hands hooked under her arms and for a moment she still clung to the tree.

“It’s alright. I gotcha,” said the man kindly. Swallowing, Brooke nodded and as soon as her grip loosened he bore her up and away to set her firmly on her feet. The man held her there for a moment as her legs wobbled, not letting go till he was sure she wouldn’t topple over.

She wiped furiously at her eyes and tear-stained cheeks as the man turned away. Her vision cleared she looked up at him as he returned to The Kissing Willow to retrieve her little red mittens. He was so tall! Taller than Papa. A bow hung behind broad shoulders, and a quiver of arrows sat at his side. It was Mr. Tebbernekk. She guessed it by his summer-colored hair, and she knew it was when he turned around by the scar along one side of his face and the clear, grey eyes that looked down at her.

A smile quirked at the corners of the man’s stern mouth. “What were you doing up there?” Eirikr asked as he walked back to the road, Brooke following like a lost duckling, unwittingly gawking up at him with big doe eyes.

The little girls face flushed crimson and she looked down, embarrassed. “Ijuswangekissed,” she admitted under her breath.

Eirikr’s head tilted curiously, but he crouched down, balancing on his toes. “Hey. You going to be alright?” he asked, offering her her mittens.

Her lower lip quivering, Brooke cast her arms around the man’s neck. “Th-hank you!” she exclaimed with a sob, hugging him tightly.

“Uhh — erm, you’re welcome,” he responded, reaching a strong hand around to hesitantly pat her back.

Sniffing in attempt to stop crying, Brooke’s face suddenly split into a beaming smile. Realization that she would indeed live suddenly surging through her, and with the knowledge that the tall, rugged Dalish hunter had been the one to sweep in like a knight in shining armour, the little girl planted a big, teary kiss on his bearded cheek. Skipping back, giggling at his shocked expression, Brooke turned and fled for home and Papa, leaving her hero behind.