fiction

Anecdotes: Yule and Regret

“Can I show you anything?” The shop owner looked down at Jade, his patience worn thin by the wave of girls and women who had flowed in and out all day.

Jade did not care. She rested her elbows on the counter and her chin in her hands. “No.”

The man frowned down at the sulking young woman before shrugging and moving off to help someone else who was more likely to spend money.

“Misses Harlowe?”

It took Jade a second, but remembering that that was her, she lifted her head to see who had spoken.

A happy smile lit the Elf’s fair face, and Jade wasn’t sure if it was from having forgotten the lady’s name or the fleeting thought of wanting to look that good in hunting leathers that caused her mind to go blank for a moment. “Oh… Hey. You’re — How are you?”

“Eruviel,” the Elf offered kindly as she set a gloved hand on the counter and looked behind it to the wall covered in gold, silver, and shell necklaces, bracelets and clips. “And I am exceptionally well, thank you. You are here shopping? I should warn you away. I do not think gold is the metal for your husband.”

Jade scoffed, but that brought a little smile to her red lips. “Then maybe a comb for his beard.” She then shook her head. “I’m waiting for the barber to get done”

Eruviel raised her brows. “You are cutting your hair off?”

“Sure am,” she replied, nodding curtly.

“May I ask why?”

Jade glanced side-long at the Elf’s long, intricate braid woven with satin ribbon and pretty winter blossoms. “Feel like being petty,” Jade offered lamely, feeling childish. Lifting her chin, she smirked and tossed her bangs to chase the feeling away. “Don’t tell me you’re cutting yours off. Do Elves lose their powers if they cut their hair?”

The Elf gave an enchanting, silvery laugh. “Not at all! And no, it is one of my most prized possessions. One of the younger members of the guild braided it so nicely and I fear I do not have a clip to keep it from unraveling.”

Jade combed her fingers through her own soft, pale gold hair. “How’s one of your kind end up without anything?” 

Eruviel rolled her shoulders nonchalantly. “I gave it away.” Stopping a saleswoman, she motion to a set of combs and clips stuck to a display. “I don’t know what has you in such a mood at Yule, Miss Jade, but I hope you reconsider.”

Jade studied the display with a thoughtful air. “Oh, it’ll backfire. Reason is silly, but it’s just hair. It’ll grow back.”

“Hmm….” Eruviel picked up a delicate filigree comb. “May I?”

Jade blinked in surprise. “Wh — uhh, sure.”

Eruviel caught a pale swoop of the young woman’s hair with the brass comb, spun it and set it securely in place. “Petty reasons do not justify rash action. Neither are the small regrets worth it.” She hesitated, a warm, distant look in her green eyes. Adjusting the chain of a necklace hidden beneath her collar, Eruviel turned her attention back to Mrs. Harlowe. “And you do have lovely hair.”

The sick feeling that came from her feeling sick at the thought that haunted her lessened, and Jade flashed a charming smile up at the strange Elf. She really would regret it.  “Can’t argue with that.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“You have a minute?”

Frank’s hammer clanked in an awkward strike against the tin. Hand gripping the handle tighter, he finished pounding the sharp bend in the metal. “What do you want?”

Cotton skirts swished, and he could almost feel her at his back though she remained several feet away. “I wanted to see you.”

You little — “You should go home, Maddie.”

“Frank, I –”

Without turning, Frank stepped away from the work bench and moved to the forge before her reaching hand could touch his arm.

“I heard you signed over the farm.”

“I did. I also signed your papers at the Town Hall,” he replied cooly.

Her silenced weighed down around them. “If… I didn’t know, Frank. Who I was, what I wanted –”

“Now we both do,” Frank interrupted sharply, meeting her soft, sad eyes with a cold, even look. “Go home.”

She looked wounded, sorry, but the now former Maddie Burns ducked her head in defeat. Picking up her cloak, she left the warmth of the barn for the frigid, snowy evening.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The little house was warm. Too warm. But she felt cold, and Feira shivered bodily, curled up in a quilt on the lightly worn couch.

Beside her several gifts sat, perfectly wrapped, bound with perfect little bows… except for Lalaith’s which was ready to be mailed in the morning. 

Then there was the tray set on the stool covered with several tea cups and a soup bowl. Torrin had not left her side all day, and his soon to be betrothed had even stopped in to see if you young woman was all right. Feira could feel better in the morning, or it could be a couple days, but she would be fine. 

Still Torrin doted on her as if it were her last day on the earth. They played games, and exchanged gifts, and when she fell asleep he sat and read at the foot of the couch to keep her feet warm. 

She didn’t think she could have had a better brother. 

Staring out the front window, Feira listened to him stumble through the kitchen in an attempt to make supper. The world was not as bright as it had been before. But in a day, or a week, whenever he showed up the two years would be over. She would cry and pretend to be fine, then eventually heal, but while she regretted not telling Torrin more about it, there was nothing, at least in that little moment, that she would have changed. 

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Anecdotes: Return

“You sure they’re there?”

Frank grumbled in frustration and pointed again to the distant copse of trees lit by the low orange glow of campfires. “I don’t give shit reports. They are there.”

“Watch your mouth.”

“We should move in now, while we have the chance,” Frank growled, glaring at Ildric through the dark.

Ildric crawled back till it was safe enough to stand, and adjusted the sword at his hip. “I’ll take it from here. You ride on back.”

Frank wheeled around to face the towering man. “I brought the report from the Elf herself. I have seen their numbers and I am staying. I want them dead just as much as –”

Ildric snatched Frank up by the front of his tunic and tossed the young man back. “Go to your wife, Frank. I know you got a score to settle, but you’re no good to me.”

“You bastard,” Frank snarled, scrambling to his feet.

Moving to shove the younger man away, the sound of horses reached Ildric’s ears. Grabbing Frank by the shoulder he drug him in to clap a hand over his mouth. The sound grew louder then faded off to their right, and Ildric did not release his friend till the echo of hooves had faded.

“What you do that for?”

“You’re a mouth breather.”

Frank punched Ildric hard in the shoulder. “I am not. You’re an ass.”

“True.”

“When do we go?”

Ildric frowned down at him. “You’re goin’ nowhere but home.”

Frank set his feet and glared up at the man.

What felt like several minutes passed before Ildric nodded his head curtly. “You’re a pain, Frank.”

Frank sniffed, dusting off his left sleeve as he marched past the older man. “I learn from the best.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Feira leaned over the railing, hands cleaning to the rigging as fresh ocean mist sprayed up to shower her face and cling to her hair. Home! It was just beyond the horizon… and a little ways beyond that, but still! The air slowly turned increasingly warmer, as did the salty sea, and Feira wondered for a moment what would happen if she lept from the side do dive into the frothing hills of blue water.

“Ho! Miss!” called a deck hand from behind her. “Ya wanna be careful. Hit a swell ‘n ya be swimmin’ yer way back teh Gondor!”

Feira shoved her golden hair out of her eyes as she beamed back at the man worn by sun and years at sea. “If I did, maybe I’d beat you all there!”

The man stared at her for a moment, a little bewildered by her response before chuckling and shaking his head. “Well can’ say I didn’ warn ya! S’long as yeh enjoy it and ain’t leanin’ too far I s’pose it don’t hurt any, though.”

Nodding readily, Feira smiled a charming smile at the man, not minding the pitch of the ship since she had got her sea legs a few days before. “I’ll be careful! Thank you!”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Eruviel leaned back against her front door, listening as Eirikr’s footsteps retreated down the hill towards the cabin. The fearful ache started to crawl it’s way back into her chest.

How can you ask me to stay behind?

And she had caved. Of course she had. He thought she sounded crazy. He was angry with her… and she supposed if things were reversed she would have been, too. As much as she wanted to beg and plead for him to change his mind, a fresh confidence also settled over her, knowing that he would be there.

Damn it. Damn it. Damn it.

How could she communicate the danger? How could she tell him — all of them why any of this was happening? Sliding down the smooth door, she stared at the floor between her knees. How could she turn the tides in their favor. He’s arrogant, prideful, dramatic… and scared.

“Going to face him head-on, tracking him down. That is predictable. Draw him out!”

Her gaze turned to the delicate silver chain around her neck. Lifting a hand she pulled the small blue agate out from beneath her shirt, gazing at it for a moment before grasping it in her fist. “Draw him out, hmm? Damn it, Eirikr,” she whispered softly. Leaning her head back she closed her eyes, pulling herself out of each thought and emotion, allowing the white light that filled her mind to become everything that was.

Eruviel opened her eyes. There were no shadows as bare feet carried her up the low, grassy hill speckled with blue and white flowers swaying on silver stems. Carefully she withdrew the light from the boundaries of her mind, and while not blinding and filled with her will, the light remained, like the soft haze of sunlight that blurs one’s surroundings.

It was not long till he came. She sensed him first, cautious and corrupting, his shadows coiling out in attempt to drown out her light.

“I admit that I am surprised. Are your defenses so weak, or are you too tired to care.”

Her skin crawled as he drew close, but the dark form did not attempt to step foot on the low hill, and she did not so much as move to acknowledge him.

He prowled for a moment, circling her small rise with an air that said he was merely humoring her. “How disappointing that you burned the banners, though. I had been saving them just for you. I was hoping you might keep them with you as you steal into my tower to finish what you had started.”

Again she did not respond, gazing off to some distant corner of her mind, her own features obscured by the surrounding glow.

Mornenion stopped, fixing her with a dangerous look. “Why did you let me back in?”

Finally she she turned to face him and lifted her gaze to meet his. “I have been waiting for you.”

Bittersweet: The Falls of Imladris

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Waiting till the sound of retreating footsteps were drowned out by the thundering of the falls, Eruviel reached a hand out to the white stone pillar to steady herself. For what felt like a minute (but could easily have been more) she stared at the empty space before her, replaying everything back in her mind, if only to make sure it had been real.

Then she remembered to breathe. Sweet mountain air rushed into her lungs as Eruviel slumped against the stone. She looked back to the empty path behind her, eyes soft and bright with disbelief. Realizing then the warmth that radiated from her cheeks, Eruviel scooped up the bundle of her cloak and fur wrap. Hugging them tightly to her chest, she drifted swiftly down the path to where the trees grew near the base of the falls.

Nothing and everything had changed since she had last been to that corner of Imladris. The trees were the same, but taller, the river just as crystal clear and cool, but wider here and there where the earth and stone had eroded away. Dropping her effects at the edge of the clearing, Eruviel sank down into the thick grass to stare out at the rainbows of water that crashed down over each other, sending diamond mist up to coat the pines, and summer grass.

… I would want you to remember…

Letting her long hair out of it’s braid, she laid back to stare up at the high branches. So tall, and warm, and strong. Always there, fearfully just out of reach, then…. Eruviel lifted her hand, but stopped, fingers hovering over her lips, not touching lest the memory that lingered on them be lost. 

It had only lasted for a heartbeat. And as she looked back, time most surely had stopped. Hadn’t it? How pure, and perfect. It had been fleeting, but in it a flawless communication that what she had said to him, as well as the meaning and feelings within her words had been understood. That she had been understood.

Adjusting the little blue agate on her necklace, Eruviel blinked her long lashes against the gathering mist in her eyes. Her chest swelled as she drew in a breath, and a sweet, euphoric laugh suddenly bubbled out of her. Startling herself, she clamped a hand over her mouth, then, quite hesitantly, licked her petal-soft lips. She laughed again, more quietly this time, but there was no need, for beside the falls of Imladris no one would hear her.

Bittersweet: Story Time

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It had been one of the best days so far that Spring. There were no Orcs, no wights, no landslides. Instead of taking Eboric to the nursery like she was supposed to, Eruviel and the little boy made a day of it. Having made a game out of chores, then played Hunter and Dragons amongst the hanging sheets, the Elf and child had tired themselves out and retired to lie down on the couch after an exceptionally large lunch. Dragon hats on their heads and a sweet, warm breeze wafting through the open windows, Eboric snuggled against Eruviel, his head pillowed on her right arm.

“Roo! Turn!”

“All right, all right,” said Eruviel with a chuckle, turning the next page in the book full of painted illustrations to one of an Elf dancing in the woods. “Now, the mighty Sun peered down at the Mouse King and said, “No, good king, I am not the greatest. You should talk to the Cloud for he can hide me from the world,”” she rumbled, drawing giggles from the little boy.

“Roo!” Eboric exclaimed, pointing excitedly to the picture of the Elf.

“No, silly, that is not me.”

“Yes, Roo,” he insisted, stabbing at the picture with his finger.

Eruviel smiled, and moved one of the dragon wings from his hat away from her mouth. “Very well. Yes, that is Roo.”

Pleased, Eboric reached both of his hands up to the book to search for the next picture. “More!”

“Bossy. So, the Mouse King turned to the mighty Cloud and said, “Great Cloud, none are mightier than you. Will you marry my daughter?”

“Cloud?” Eboric paused on a picture and drew his fingers across a the clouds that adorned the top of the page.

“Yes, very good! But the Cloud smiled sadly down at the Mouse King. “No, oh king. There is one mightier than I. The Wind will huff, and puff, and blow me where he wills.””

Eboric squealed a happy laugh as Eruviel puffed several breaths against his cheek.

“Here. This page,” she said, turning to a picture of an elaborate courtroom. “That is a king.”

“Mouse,” the little boy said with a grin, waving his hand at the colorful likeness of an old Numenorean king.

“You know that is not a mouse, silly. The Mouse King went to speak to the Wind, but it swirled about, ruffling his grey fur. “Good king, I am honored, but there is yet one greater than I. No matter how I blow the mighty Mountain will not be moved. Perhaps he will marry your daughter.”

Eboric had settled down again, resting his head back on her shoulder as he slowly turned the pages of the old book she held aloft. Fletch rolled over where he lounged between Eruviel’s feet, resting his head on her ankle, and Pin made a happy little chirp in his sleep as he napped in the basket-nest set up by the front window.

“Now,” said Eruviel, her voice softening to a low, flowing murmur as Eboric fought back against increasingly heavy eyelids. “The Mouse King looked down to the sturdy mountain he stood upon. “Oh, great Mountain, I only want what is best for my daughter. Will you not marry her? For you are the mightiest of all beings.” Mountain rumbled with a gentle laugh, glancing beyond to the Sun, Cloud, and Wind that watched and waited. “Good Mouse King, you flatter me, but go back to your home. Allow your daughter to marry a mouse, for as strong as I am, the smallest mouse can riddle me with holes.” Moved by the words of –”

“Daa.”

Eruviel looked to Eboric, and let him flip back to the previous page. The little boy shoved back the dragon hat from his eyes and grabbed at a painted picture of Fingolfin facing down Morgoth. “That? That, little Ric, is –”

“Daa,” Eboric said again. Craning his head back, he turned big, questioning eyes upon her.

She could not say no to that look. “That is right, dear one,” she said, kissing Eboric’s brow. “That is your Ada.”

Beaming a sleepy smile, Eboric pulled the book to him as he nestled closer against her side. “More?”

Smiling softly, Eruviel removed Eirikr’s dragon hat from her head, and tilted the book so that the boy could better look at the picture and warrior whom she would now forever see with auburn hair.

“Once upon a time, not so long ago, there was a hunter….”

Anecdotes: Safe

Feira ducked into the churning crowds in the Court of the Fount. Clutching her basket close, she cast a frightened look over her shoulder.

She had seen them as she was finishing her errands for the estate. What do they want?! She knew what they wanted. They had most likely let her spot them on purpose. Then she would tell Torrin, and their message would have been sent for them. Pay up, or else.

Fastening a kerchief over her golden head of hair as many of the female shopkeepers did, Feira skirted around a cluster of sailors, then around the other way past a gaggle of ladies who had come to indulge in the festivities. She spotted them on the far side of the great court, the young dockworker from the market, and the man with the crooked nose. She let out a breath in relief to see that they had lost her.

Careful not to rush or shove past the festival-goers, Feira wove through the throng, heading straight for the tall gates and hedges where she knew she would be safe.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

An excited thrill coursed through Jade as she began gathering the few things in her room at the Mantle that she owned. Yes, in truth she would miss it, but the pleasant ache that lingered in her muscles told her it would not be much.

The door to her room slammed shut behind her. The smell of potent men’s cologne, cloves, and burnt flesh assaulted her nose. Jade did not trust her initial expression, and so continued folding her silk night robe, back still turned to the dark, wiry man who waited five, six… paces away.

“Running away again?”

His voice turned her stomach. “Taking a holiday,” she responded, tone aloof and cold as she felt her walls easily slip back up into place. Perhaps too easily. “We both know it would be worse if I tried to.”

The man’s chuckle crawled over her skin. A dart of heat brushed past her cheek, and burned a small hole in the wall. “It took me a while to find you. I like the haircut.”

Jade fit the robe into her satchel, and kept her hand concealed as she found the weapon hidden within. “You always did prefer fair-faced little boys.”

A strong hand slipped around her neck, and the trickle of electricity meant to shock her as a warning just flowed in to dissipate in her throat. “They were right,” he said after a minute. “How fascinating. And your pulse is as steady as ever. Whenever Talagol is able to travel and find this little hole in the world we should catch up.” A bony finger brushed at the brand behind her ear as if to remind her, then pulled away. “Don’t go far, dear Inaris. I will see you in a few months.”

The door opened and closed quietly behind her. Drawing a shaky breath, Jade waited, listening to the sound of footsteps fade. There was silence, then her heart leapt into a race within her chest as she slowly peeled her fingers away from the hilt of her dagger.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Warmth drained out of the gash in her side and her neck. Her arm screamed in pain as she fought blindly, attempting to dodge the punches that forced her body to suck in the stagnate water she was trapped beneath. Something tore at her leg. Panic rose as her lungs burned, and screams went unheard as the weight of the orc clawing at her breastplate pressed her further into the muck.

Darkness, just like before. No hands to pull her up. No hands to drag her to safety, or help her find her feet. Only the desperate will to live as, once again, the cruel claws of orcs forced her back into the suffocating black.

Eruviel shot upright in her bedroll, gasping in the fresh air that flowed through her tent, and pressed a palm against the throbbing wound on her thigh. Choking on a silent sob she lay back, weight on her good leg as she faced the unused bed beside hers that was littered with rocks. Lifting silent thanks that there was no one there in the dark to see her, she groped above her head till her hands found her broken bow. She clutched the last remnants of her brother to her chest. The Elf curled up, closed her eyes and pushed back the sudden wave of loneliness.

She willed warmth into her limbs, and passed beyond the ruined walls of Ost Guruth. Back she went in her mind, north and west till strong arms held her safely after infinitely worse days, and the words of Fionwe and Milloth mixed and melded together.

Look around you, look around you, dear little sister. Look around you and find strength. I am here. It is never so dark when you see the faces of those you love. It is never so dark when you create your own light.