“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.”
“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–”
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.”