Ildric

In Our Darkness 

breenighttime

He felt somewhat robbed, leaving behind the little Elven home for the faintly glowing paths of Durrow. The satisfying feeling of leaving behind a houses warmth for the cold shadows kept at bay by lamplight was denied him as long, purposeful strides brought him closer to the homestead gate. Did they miss it, too? Did they even know?

Resigned to endure the dull, ethereal way, his thoughts waited with bated breath. Beyond the homestead the night would be colder and darker. Better for brooding and planning for the time when his enemy would once again make the mistake of letting himself be found.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The dull glow of the dieing fire cast  an orange hue on the wooden wall beside the wide, thin straw and feather filled mattresses that lay on the floor. It was calm here. Warm. He liked the warm. The attic room that served as home was clean, empty aside from the bed, a small table decorated by a fat tallow candle and his weapons, a chair that held his few folded clothes, and several old chairs against the far wall that had been stacked for storage and forgotten.

The hour was late. A quiet sigh deflated his chest as he shoved his hair out of his eyes. With care to not wake the slumbering man beside him, he slipped out from beneath the arm draped over his chest and stood, taking a moment to peer out the small attic window. It was time, and only darkness would allow for such an errand.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The salt breeze rushed along the beach, tossing the shawl draped around her shoulders till it billowed out like a sail. A dull light grew around her as the mute grey pushed back the last remnants of a starless night. She would be expected to be back soon, but she lingered as long as she could, sitting alone atop the time-worn boulder where it had begun.

Part of her had begged the darkness to stay. The weight in her gut that made her feel sick whenever she thought of what she should do — what she needed to do — seemed less in the shroud of night. Things were easier when you did not see. Then again, how many times had knowing eyes seen her and pitied or scoffed at her in her ignorance? That was even worse.

Instead of sitting anticipating the array of colors that was sure to follow… that she found herself doubting, she rested her golden head atop her knees. Absorbing the murky glow that swelled into a thick morning fog, she wished the night would linger a while longer.

Blame

durrorw-horizon

“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.”

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.”

Tuesdays Mean Trouble

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Sir!

Ildric shot upright, hand gripping the crossbow that rested ready beside him. “Pit, Reed,” he spat, slumping back as he saw who it was who had burst into his tent. “One of these days you’re gonna accidentally get shot!”

Reed did not appear to care, a frown accentuating the wrinkles around his tired eyes as he tossed a shirt and tunic to his commander. “You’re needed outside.”

Wiping beads of sweat from his brow, Ildric caught the rough clothing and grunted in protest as he rose from the stiff bed covered in furs. “It’s not even sunrise. Why does it sound like half the camp’s awake?”

Brushing his nose with the back of his knuckles, Reed took up Ildric’s sword and moved back to the entrance to the tent. “Byron’s back,” he responded gravely, peering out through the space between the canvas flaps.

“One of these days I’ll be too old for this,” he grumbled.

“Don’t jinx yourself, sir.”

Ildric did not bother responding as he finished dressing. After a moment’s thought he pulled on his thick cloak. The chill of early morning was enough to justify it, and the shroud added to his presence. “I hate Tuesdays,” he muttered bitterly, roughly cinching his belt. “Can’t it be Monday again?”

Reed cast the man a sympathetic smirk. “You got a week to wait for that.”

“I need more lucky days.”

“Or just luck.”

Ildric chuffed a harsh breath.”Is everyone back with him this time?”

Reed held the tent flap open as Ildric strode out, expression grave as his brisk steps defied the early morning. “No,” the shorter man responded quietly. “He is missing three men this time.”

Ildric paced down the roughly cobbled lane towards the gate, the men he passed either offering muttered greetings or ducking their heads as he passed. No one ever dared wake Vrax early in the morning. “Did he bring them back?”

Reed remained silent as he followed close behind.

“Has news come in from Bree?” Ildric asked as he walked.

“Koss should have been released day before yesterday. Frank will ride down as soon as the Elf has something to report.”

Ildric sucked in through his teeth. “Frank should stay home with his wife.”

Reed pursed his lips into a thin line as sharp eyes surveyed the mass of shouting men by the gates to the camp. “Maybe. Let the lad do what he will. He wants to see Koss dead more than you.”

Grunting, Ildric did not slow his pace as he reached the angry gathering. It was an impressive mob for that time of the morning. Even as he approached the gates were pulled shut, the bound logs and ring of men keeping any of the newly arrived scouting party from escaping. “What is the meaning of this?” he asked, his firm voice carrying over the others as the mass of men parted before him.

Several voices answered at once, some in relief at Ildric’s appearance. Others tugged their peers out of the way as their commander made straight for a rough, dirty young man atop a steed that wasn’t the same one he’d left on.

“Byron’s killed Peake and Tom, sir!” exclaimed an angry man to Ildric’s right.

“And Harrick!” shouted another voice, summoning a chorus of others that rose in accusation.

“All of ya better shut your traps!” Byron barked back, stepping down from his horse as he turned his attention to Ildric. “I killed ’em Vrax, sure, but they were disrespecin’ you behind your back. Everything you’ve done for ’em, and all… well, I won’t abide that! ”

“You have no right to cast judgment in my place. They should have been brought back to me.”

“But sir! They were sayin’ –”

“Do I look like I give a shit about what you thought you heard?!”

The shouts of the men around them rose louder, but just as quickly were quieted, each one of them feeling the weight of Ildric’s furious glare. “You cur. Tom was harmless,” he responded, voice quiet and tone cold. “And Peake? He has been nothing but loyal to me for years.” And a better man than you will ever hope to be. Ildric felt his whole body tense with rage. Some of the best men in his entire outfit, gone. He had trusted them implicitly. Men like them could not be replaced. It could take but a few seconds and Byron’s head would be embedded in the road at his feet. A long moment of silence passed before Ildric looked to the nine men still mounted behind Byron. “Off of those horses… NOW!” he bellowed when the men hesitated. Fear showed in their eyes. All except for Byron who frowned at Ildric like a confused dog to it’s master.

Ildric cursed under his breath. “Where are the bodies?”

“We — We dumped the trai — them in a ravine, sir,” replied a younger lad no older than seventeen who gripped the reigns of his horse to keep himself steady.

Ildric’s expression changed to one of disappointment as he fixed a brief look on the boy. Averting his gaze, the lad shrunk back some in shame. “Were all of you a part of this?”

Before any of the men with him could spout excuses, Byron motioned to his other side, indicating a man in his thirties that looked like he’d recently taken a beating. “All ‘cept for Orric, sir. He was agin’ it from the start,” he answered honestly, showing no remorse for his actions aside from having disappointed Vrax.

Holding Orric’s gaze for several seconds, Ildric held his hand out to Reed as he stared down the (mostly) cowed company of men. Reed stepped forward to hand Ildric his sword before stepping back. “Mister Marrick?”

“Yessir?” came a reply from the back of the crowd of onlookers.

“See that the Hall is lit, and heat up the brand.”

“Right away, sir!” came the response before a short, thickly built man in a smithy apron turned to hurry up the road.

“Reed, escort Byron and his men to the Hall. Orric, you can step aside. You few go with them,” he commanded, motioning to a handful of men off to one side before fastening his sword to the belt at his waist.

“Even the lad, sir?” he asked under his breath, stepping in so as not to be heard.

Ildric’s harsh gaze flicked to the lad, then to Byron who watched expectantly and with out protest. “All of them.”

Reed nodded, and with the escort falling in, began leading the way up the long walk to the Hall.

“Orric?”

Orric squared his shoulders, and nodded. “Yes, sir?”

“Choose yourself eleven from those here to serve as witnesses to the judgment. And the rest of you,” he added, turning to look over the gathering,” I suggest you go about your business before another day begins.”

A Healthy Dose of Shock

lotrohorizon

Eruviel remembers….

Twenty years ago.

“You’re off in the morning, then?”

Eruviel looked up and accepted the mug of mead as Ildric stepped over the bench to sit beside her. “Things are getting bad again north of Aughaire.”

“Wargs?”

“Worse.”

Ildric grunted into his mug as he turned his gaze to the half finished feasting hall filled with merrymaking. “Typical. Leaving me to deal with a camp full of drunk mercs.”

“Ahh, but they are your drunk mercs,” Eruviel responded affectionately, eyes drifting warily to an exceptionally rowdy table.

“Damn straight,” the man snorted. “Sure you don’t wanna stick around a few more days? I could really use the help setting them straight.”

“You will manage,” Eruviel responded with a sniff. Beginning to feel the last five mugs of ale finally take hold, she put a hand on the man’s shoulder, shaking her head as she stood. “I would rather raid an Angmarim camp with Daran and his Hunters.”

“He gets more of your time than we do,” Ildric grumbled, holding out a hand to catch her in the event that she might stumble. “The ass.”

“Takes one to know one,” she shot back, smirking. Loud, drunken whispers began to fill her ears and she nodded to Ildric. Yes, it was time to go. “Good luck, my friend.”

Ildric must have heard it too, for he turned his harsh, withing gaze on the rowdy bunch that had turned their attention. Offering her a wave he watched over the rim of his mug, poised on the edge of his seat.

Eruviel had almost made it to the newly installed double doors, sixth mug of ale in hand, when one of the more handsome and bold young men of the newcomers stumbled into her path.

“Ma’ammm…. Boysss… wanna know weh — why Boss calls yeh ‘Witch’.”

By Orome, she had had too much ale to patiently deal with this tonight. “I am sure you will find out soon enough. Now if you will excuse me –”

“Le– Leavin’ aaahready?”

Then she felt it. There was a slight tug on the long braid that hung down her back, and her head felt lighter somehow. The music and merry voices that filled the room instantly fell into a shocked silence. The Elf reached a hand back and, to her despair, felt the frayed ends of her unraveling hair that now only reached down to the curve of her bottom.

Lookee here!” declared one of the drunken newcomers, waiving the bottom six or seven inches of the Elf’s soft braid above his head. “You lot now owe me fifteen silver –”

In a flash Eruviel spun around. Mug of ale cast aside, her fist found the brigand’s face and the man flew back, flipping over the table and into his friends. His prize still in one hand, the man grasped at his mouth with the other, catching blood and teeth.

While a few of the drunken men moved to right the table, one of the offending man’s friends advanced, attempting to restrain her as his hands landed where they shouldn’t. “Bitch. Don’t think you can go an’ do that to one o –” With a shout from the men around them, and a cry of anger and pain from the second man, Eruviel drew the knife from his belt, tripped the man, and stabbed down, pinning three of his finger to the bench.

Sit,” she growled, voice low as she stood at one end of the table and gently laid the knife down before her . All but the man now missing three fingers, and the other missing several relatively decent teeth sat.

“The bet was twenty silver each?” She glared at them, the alcohol that had begun to make her limbs tingle now burning away in her blood.

Seven sets of eyes refused to look at her as the nearly six dozen others watched on. Ildric had moved, but it was to sit back in his seat, dark eyes taking note of the offenders.

Well?”

“It… it was fifteen, ma’am,” offered one of the younger men, daring a glance up at her.

Eruviel exhaled, the delicate fingertips of one hand resting on the table beside the knife. “Oh? It was thirty? Very well. I will accept the thirty silver each of you owe him.”

Their eyes widened. Thirty silver was what they had been paid for the last weeks of work, and for some of them it was probably all that they had.

“You heard the Lady,” sounded Ildric’s voice, cold as stone from across the room.

Slowly coins were counted, and seven coin purses were passed down to the Elf.

It paled in comparison to the lovely length of hair that had been lost, but Eruviel swallowed her tears as she plucked up the payment. “Thank you, boys,” she said briskly. “Welcome to Tharbad.”

The music struck up again from the far corner of the room. With a wave to Ildric, and a nod to the others she knew as she went, Eruviel glided out of the hall with her payment and what remained of her pride.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Fourteen years ago.

“Oy! There’s a sight for sore eyes!”

Eruviel laughed as the Dwarf took the reigns of her mare, and hopped down from the saddle. “It is good to see you too, Rhuniki!”

Rhuniki let out a belly laugh as he tugged on his long beard. “Thought some strange pointy-ear was comin’ up. Di’n’ figure it fer you! Lookin’ like a whole new elf.”

“I feel like a whole new Elf, Master Dwarf. Is Milloth nearby?”

Rhuniki shook his head as he confiscated the jug of ale from behind Eruviel’s saddle. “Took off this mornin’. Figure he’s gone scouting up north a ways with a few of the men.”

Looking about the encampment tucked away in the woods north of Esteldin, the Elf did her best to not appear too disappointed. “And what of Myrthrost and the others?”

“They’re in the Commander’s tent,” the Dwarf responded after a moment of hesitation and a drink from the jug. “Got some Angmarim trouble on our hands.”

The muscles in Eruviel’s neck tensed, but she nodded and clapped a hand on Rhuniki’s shoulder. “I think I will go see what sort of trouble is afoot, then,” she responded with a smile.

Shaking his head, Rhuniki waved her off as he led her horse away. “Mind yourself today. Commander’s in a foul way.”

Eruviel waved back. She did not doubt it, and it did not help that their first meeting had been a bad one. Nodding politely to the few men who greeted her as she passed, Eruviel found her way to the Pelargirian’s white tent trimmed in blue, black and gold. Stopping at the ten flap, she listened to the conversation for a second before ducking inside.

“How many did you say there were?” came the mellow voice that belonged to Myrthrost.

“Two dozen at least was what the messenger said,” responded a soldier who hesitated as the elleth appeared. “We — ehh…. With how long it takes to get to this side of the mountains, our window is five days.”

Myrthrost offered a small smile and a nod to Eruviel as she stepped up to the table. The Commander, however, did not look at her, his only reaction being the displeased frown that tugged at his already grim expression.

“That should be just enough time. We can intercept them at the point,” said Adrovorn, pointing to a spot on the well used map laid out on the table.

Eruviel peered down at the map and the foot-path over the mountains that had been marked. “Forgive me, but where were the Angmarim said to have started from?”

She felt Adrovorn’s disapproving gaze fix on her, but Myrthrost ignored the Commander and picked up another marker to set on the northern side of the mountain range. “Here is where they were spotted. The Free People’s fighters that spotted them were outnumbered, so made no move to intercept the enemy.”

“Thank you, Myrthrost,” said Adrovorn with a tight smile. “And you need not bother about it, Lady Eruviel. When Mrthrost returns with a report we –”

“They will not come that way,”Eruviel interjected.

All eyes turned to her, and Adrovorn lifted his head with an imperious air. “Excuse me?”

Eruviel frowned back at the tall man. “I will,” she snipped back. “That path is well out of the way from where the Angmarim were spotted. They will not come by that way.”

“My lady, that is the only way there is. Now, if you would be so kind, see if the cook has supper ready, and leave the preparations to us.” Adrovorn stepped back and motioned to the tent flap.

“I will not. If you will just listen to me, there are –”

“You are a fair archer, from what I hear, but I have heard nothing of you being a tactician. If you wish to remain, you will do so silently. Otherwise please take your leave.”

Myrthrost moved to put a calming hand on Eruviel’s shoulder, but she stepped around him to stand by the Commander and the table. “They will either come by this way, or out here,”she said curtly, leaning over to set two markers on two separate unmarked peaks.

Adrovorn stepped over to reluctantly peer over her shoulder. “There is no path there.”

“There is a path.”

“No, clearly there is not,” he insisted, growing agitated. “This map is new as of this spring. I can weigh your opinions with your brother’s knowledge when he returns.”

“Milloth has not spent half as much time there as I have. I am not telling you that you are wrong to cause trouble. If you go here your men –”

“Lady Eruviel,” said Adrovorn, shoulders tense and hands clasped behind his back as he moved between her and the table, forcing her to retreat a step. “I appreciate you attempting to help, but when I want the opinion of an Elf maid who’s been mind-fu–”

Eruviel’s fist connected with the Gondorian’s jaw. Stumbling back, the towering man dropped to the ground, landing hard on his bottom.

“Now, you listen to me,” Eruviel spat, eyes turning dark as her glare met, what she assumed to be, a healthy dose of shock as the man stared up at her, jaw held in one hand. “If you want to go and waste your time or risk your men getting killed that is fine with me,” she declared, leaning over the fallen man. “If there are two dozen Angmarim coming over those mountains, you can be damned sure there will be more not far behind them, and you will either be passed by or pinned against the mountains with nowhere to run but a narrow path.”

Adrovorn stared up at her for a minute, the others gathered around the table silent and tense as they watched. “You know where these paths lead out to, I assume.”

Standing up straight, Eruviel turned her nose up in disdain and pivoted to stride out of the tent. “Yes, I do.”

Lotus: Soft Spot

“Need me to come by again some evening?”

Jade sat on the middle beam of the fence, arms and chin resting on the top. “No… Thanks, though, Tom. I don’t wanna risk you getting caught and into trouble with the Mistress at this point, but I think things should work out now.”

The young man raked aside a bit of soiled straw, looking a tad disappointed. “‘Course Miss Jade…. Ya know, it was kinda fun sneakin’ in and all, pretendin’ to be the gravedigger. Didn’t know there were so many card games, either!”

“There are more, but you’re too nice for me to teach ’em to you,” she responded with a playful wink.

Tom’s cheeks flushed, and he gave a sheepish shrug. “Well… Ann really liked the flowers. Helped a lot in explainin’ that we weren’t doin’ anything.”

“I’m glad she did. And I don’t solicit cute things like you, Tom, you know that.”

He gave her a curious look. “Why not? I mean, you wouldn’t — well, you probably would believe all the boys who talk big like they are gonna go hire one of you girls. Ann… well, she said if I wanted to try it once… with you it’d be all right.”

Jade scoffed. “Shit, Tom. You believed her?”

By the look on the young man’s face, he had.

“She’s just saying that because she’s nice. You take her up on it and you’ll break the poor girl’s heart.”

“Oh…”Tom replied softly, and Jade could see the light come on. “Oh! Well, why in the  — Why are you females all so damned complicated?”

“Because you wouldn’t like us half as much if we weren’t,” she responded with a grin. “Men can be just as complicated, you know.” Jade gave her feathery bangs a toss and added, “And so we’re clear, I’m not doing this for me. He asked me to.”

Tom forked another pitch-fork full of dirty straw into the wheelbarrow. “Then why you lie to your friend?”

Jade frowned. “Because it was the best way to get it done.”

“Was it a good friend?” The young man stopped working for a moment to study her. “Ain’t never seen that look on your face before. You’re really sorry you told him all that, aren’t ya?”

Jade hesitated for a moment before nodding. “If I’d had a traditional wedding he was one of two people I’d thought about asking to walk me.”

Tom gave a low whistle and shook his head. After a moment he gave her a curious look and stabbed his pitchfork into another clump of old straw. “Why didn’t you have one?”

“Because I wanted to be Mrs. Drewett Harlowe,”she said, her grin somewhat sheepish. It was nice to let that out once in a while, and it was easier than she cared to admit for her feelings on the matter — for the man to slip out.

“Hah!” Tom exclaimed, grinning as he worked. “You’ve got a soft spot!”

Jade smirked and threw a shoot of straw at the young man, sending it sailing out to bounce off of his shoulder. “Shut it. I got several, so don’t rat on me.”

“But he’s the biggest one. Why you still workin’ if you’re married? Thought you quit.”

“Because I got bored and hot ‘n bothered,” she replied with a shrug. “Sure he wouldn’t mind sometimes, but Drew’s got too many important things to do than entertaining me all of the time. Besides, our entertainment comes at –”

“Ah, ah! Nuh-uh! Just — No! I don’ wanna know that!”

“What?! You’re the one with all the questions!”

~ ~ ~

Elgathor glanced over his shoulder to where Talagol rode a dozen yards back. The war-lord had not been pleased about having to leave his armour behind, but neither of them would have survived half a day into The Mark if they had remained in their Easterling attire. Now night was once more upon them, and they had had the fortune of joining up with a caravan making it’s way north up the Greenway.

“Who did you say you were looking for?”

He looked back to the … brigand? Mercenary? Eglathor did not like him, whatever he was, and had not taken care to remember his name. “My daughter,” he responded easily, a perfectly convincing look of concern on his face. “She had become separated from us when the enemy made a push south.”

The mercenary grumbled. “Bloody gits. Comin’ out of every nook and cranny –“

“What part of the north you from?” came the sudden question from the commander leading the column up the ruined road. He looked back at Eglathor with a wary, watchful gaze that said he did not miss much, if anything.

Eglathor reined back a glare at the man the men escorting their caravan called ‘Vrax’. Something about him made the sorcerer want to coil up and strike, but even at the other man’s greying age he dared not risk such a fight. “Trestlebridge.” By the gods, it’s the only other town I know of in this forsaken corner of the world.

His answer seemed to suffice, though, and Vrax nodded curtly. “No one coming south by that description. If the lads had seen her they would have talked about it.”

“Oh? Well, I suppose I cannot blame them, so long as it’s just talk,” said Eglathor with a chuckle and a shrug. “She gets her good looks from her mother.”

“Lucky man! I sure hope ya find ‘er,” said the first man who’s name had been forgotten. “Good to see a concerned father with a soft spot for their daughter.”

Eglathor grinned into the growing dark, and nodded. “Yes, yes I suppose I do.”

Stealing From The Wrong Men

“What do you mean there are more?” Ildric whispered incredulously.

Frank ducked his head as a sentry passed by their hiding spot. His eyes were lined with worry, and Ildric wondered if the boy had slept at all in the past days. “I mean,” he whispered back after a few seconds had passed, “that another company rode in early this evening.”

“Same group?”

“I don’t think so. Trade off of goods.”

Ildric growled under his breath. “Piss. I don’t see the wagon. The witch go after it?”

Frank shook his head, and glanced back at the woods behind them. “She’d gone back before the first group had even gotten here.”

The man glared angrily at the brigand encampment in the ruins a short distance away. “I’ll kill every last one of ’em if that wagon makes it to Angmar, and then I’ll have words with that bloody Elf. Needs to get her head out of her ass. We’re outnumbered as it is.”

“Your men are all in place. You could make it work with –”

“Fifteen to forty? Yeah, we could, but we have no damned archers worth their salt, and this lot is a lot tougher than the usual crowd. Seriously, Burns, when I get my hands on her –”

The air around them shifted, though Ildric couldn’t put his finger on it. There was no change in the brigand camp as the men settled down for the night, and no unease amongst the animals tied up on the far side of the crumbling stone wall. Lifting his head, he looked to where his own men waited, watching for his signal to attack.

Then he heard it. Softer than a sigh, the sound of a breath passed overhead, and an arrow suck in the center fire. Ildric blinked, taken aback. A second dragged by before he suddenly shoved Frank’s head down and covered both their eyes.

Light exploded around them. As soon as it began to fade Ildric was on his feet running, and a shadow flew past him. The four sentries on their side of the camp dropped, arrows sticking up from their corpses. Ildric drew his sword from his back, and let out a high-pitched whistle. His men rushed out from their hiding places, and looking back to the ruins, the brigands were scrambling for boots, writhing from having been blinded, and the Elf was cutting down the first man running at her. She disarmed the second brigand, kicking him back to be subject to Ildric’s blade, then parrying a third man’s axe to the side and into the dirt, she slammed her elbow into the brigand’s throat.

“What about my head being in my ass?” she called back to him, firelight showing a mischievous smirk.

“Took you long enough!”

Eruviel grinned as she fired another quick succession of arrows into the brigands blindly scrambling for their weapons, then dodged an attacker’s punch.

Motioning to Hill, Ildric plowed into the first man to run at him. He was angry — nay, furious. The illegal goods were nothing if they didn’t stop that wagon. They had to. The ruins were a chaotic mess of half-blind brigands, and several of them exploded into flames as arrows whizzed past Ildric’s head to find their homes in the chests of criminals.

Criminals. Ildric grit his teeth as he fought back a lanky, scrappy man. A few more years and he would be too old for this. Taking hold of an arm that had grabbed him from behind, Ildric swung a man around and into his opponent, sending them both crashing into a tent. Affording himself a second, he looked around to see the fight turning in their favor. Another, lesser flash of light in the corner of his vision before the Elf went tumbling across the compound, and Ildric was back fending off the lanky man’s dual blades.

Just one shot, he thought as he struggled to force his opponent back. Just one… A cry went up, and the thin man faltered just long enough for Ildric to bring his fist smashing into the man’s throat. He dropped to his knees, and kicking his weapons out of his hands, Ildric snatched him up by the neck.

“Where is he?!” he snarled, shaking the dazed brigand.

“Where — Where is who?” rasped the man as he grabbed at his throat.

Ildric glanced around as his men rounded up the surviving brigands. “Koss! Where is he?!” He shook the man harder, making him gasp desperately for breath.

“You should learn to ask nicely,” said a voice from behind him.

Looking over his shoulder, Eruviel, looking a bit roughed up, shoved a man a head taller than her and at least twice her weight forward. Koss grunted and dropped to the ground, and Ildric couldn’t tell if he was pissed because the Elf had his axe, or because a female had beaten him in a fist-fight.

Frank had joined them as soon as the fighting had stopped, and was quietly discussing with the Elf on the best way to break into her house if no one was home. Ildric rolled his eyes and shoved his prisoner into Hall’s waiting hands. “How far ahead is the wagon?” he asked, turning to tower over the large man.

“What’s it to you?”

“You took some things of value from us,” said Ildric with a growl as he leaned down, “and we want them back.”

Koss scoffed and spat at him. “Go to the Pit.”

Ildric let out a long breath, then punched Koss in the head, making the man’s head bounce off the old stones beneath them. “You stole from the wrong men. I’ll ask again. How far ahead is the wagon?”

Koss gritted his teeth. The man looked like he was about to retch. “Ha — Half a day… Half a day at the most.”

Standing upright, he turned to face the half dozen surviving brigands. “Seems we have no time to waste, then. Hill?”

Hill stood a little straighter, and nodded. “Vrax?”

“You and Frank take this skinny one into Bree for his bounty. Hill, you can meet back up with us. Albohr? You take ten and escort these men and their goods to the outpost. Reed will deal with them from there. And if any of you get ideas about causin’ trouble,” Ildric added with a growl, looking to the prisoners in turn, “I’ll let the witch eat you.”

Trouble

He hated loosing. It was more trouble than he cared to tolerate. More than that, he hated that he hadn’t listened to his instinct and waited till it was Monday to attack. Someone had gone before he had given the order, and now only the Hunter knew how many of his men had fallen in the chaos.

Of all the incompetent…

“Tom! Hill! Get dow –” Ildric’s shout was cut short when a volley of arrows passed close over head. Too close.

The young man let out a cry, and when Ildric looked up Hill was slowly lowering the boy’s body to the ground.

“Vrax!”

“I know! I know! Call the others back,” he barked from his hiding place.

Hill wiped blood from his eyes. “I won’ leave ‘im!”

Ildric reloaded his crossbow and sprung up in a run, shooting past a burning tent as he made for the man. “You — you go call back the others. We’ll loose if we chase ’em. I’ll take Tom,” he huffed as he skidded on his knees.

Hill hesitated.

“Go!” growled Ildric, scooping the fallen lad up in his arms.

Nodding, Hill snatched up his fallen sword and sprinted off around the far side of the ruined encampment.

Ildric grunted as he slid down the near embankment to where a handful of his men were rounding up the frightened horses. The front of his dirty grey tunic slowly turned crimson, and Tom’s wheezing breaths grew shorter and shorter.

“Hang in there, boy. We’ll get you home, then run the bastards down.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Ravi,

On our way north. Keep an eye on Harrier’s Rest for a week or so. If we or a band of twenty brigands don’t show by then, assume we’ve caught them. Warn Frank.

Vrax

Folding up the hastily written note, Eruviel tucked it back into her pocket, counting the days from when it had been sent. She did not need to spur Eolir to encourage him to pick up the pace as they left the road to follow a muddy stream around the nearby hill. The sooner she got there to find nothing, the sooner she could return home.

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!)

 

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.”