Ildric

Between Friends

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“Hey… you in there somewhere?”

“Hmm?” Eruviel blinked out of her thoughts, and looked up. “Oh, yes. Forgive me. I am here. Are you ready to go?”

Ildric’s concerned look faded as he arched a brow at the Elf. He jutted a thumb at the spear on his back. “As ready as I’ll ever be. Why the blazes are we doing this at night?”

Eruviel smirked, and hopped down from the stone wall she sat upon. “Because I am busy during the day.”

The man snorted, and hooked his thumbs in his belt as he moved to walk with her. “Babysittin’. When I came by to drop off the note you were doing your Elf napping thing in the hammock with the tyke on your chest. So friggin’ cute, it was disgusting. Him all holdin’ your braid in his little fist and nuzzled up under your chin.”

“I am surprised that I didn’t hear you. You could have woken me,” she said, shooting the man an amused smirk.

“No ma’am! First of all, you were out like a light, and if I did then you’d make me hold the crying, pooping bundle of fat and giggles. All the warm feelings would give me a cold or somethin’.”

The Elf threw her head back as she let out a silvery laugh. “It would do you some good. He’s a cute little boy.”

Her laugh brought a smile to his scruffy face, and Ildric elbowed her. “Yer both cute.” He then quickly held up his hands in defense as the Elf gave him a teasing, suspicious smile. “Hey! Nothin’ wrong with sayin’ it. You’re beautiful, and all, but too Elfy and not angsty enough for me.” Ildric then snapped his fingers, and gave her a wink. “And not old enough.”

“Suck-up. I bet you cannot count your ancestors back to when I was half this old.”

“You know I can’t.”

Eruviel hesitated a step as some distant sound reached her pointed ears. She motioned through the trees to a small hill a short ways off. “Well, you should stop by the house again sometime. How much longer will you be in town for?”

Ildric pulled the spear from his back, and proceeded through the woods, though not nearly as quiet as his companion. “A week or two. Sending the first caravan south tomorrow after tonight’s hunt is seen to. Waiting for another merchant to get into town so I don’t buy up all the cloaks in Bree.”

“I doubt you could do that. It will be good to see more of you, though. You were quite busy, and our stay was short when we stopped by the camp.”

“Eh, you had good reason.” A wicked smirk turned up the man’s face, and he shot her a mischevious look. “Think I could now?”

Eruviel frowned. “Could wha — No! Blood and orcs, Ildric, the answer will ALWAYS be no!” she exclaimed, her face turning red in the dark.

“What?! It would be a great conversation starter. “Hey, there, Mister Teborneck –“”

“Tenorbekk.”

“Tenorbekk, same thing. “Hey, there, good evening. Darnedest thing, you see, me smackin’ your Elf’s –“”

Eruviel punched Ildric’s shoulder. “I am not his Elf, and there will be no smacking of any sort.”

Ildric laughed, and rubbed at his bruising shoulder. “Ouch! Hey, fine! Say what you like, but why does Trent get to be the only living guy who has? Can’t we just keep it between us as friends?”

“Keep in mind that Trent and I were on better terms before, and he was missing teeth and a finger when that whole fiasco got over. He was drunk and on the other side of the room! It wasn’t like I was offering anything.”

“That’s why he tried!” Ildric cackled happily as he fished the reaction out of her, and dodged to the left before she could punch him again. “Uh-huh, well I won’t ask again, or you’ll never feed me.”

Eruviel grinned as she pulled an arrow out of her quiver. “The invitation has been rescinded. No homemade biscuits for you.”

“Aww! C’mon! Those are the best! You’re a terrible Elf, Witch,” he huffed as he frowned at the incline before them. “We need a rule about no take-backsies when it comes to food. That little kid’s got the best of both worlds, and he has no idea.”

“You are scaring all the game away,” Eruviel chided, picking up the pace as they headed up the hill. “Keep up, old man.”

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In Spite of the Cold

Forty-two years earlier….

Darkness had settled over the Lone Lands. A lone pine found itself with company when a gangly figure took shelter beneath its low-hanging branches. An evening chill crept along the earth, and Ildric shivered as he pulled his thin cloak around his awkwardly broad shoulders.

The veil of evergreen branches that surrounded him allowed the young man to temporarily relax in what he knew was, at most, an illusion of safety. There was no going back to Bree. By now the Watch would be looking for him, and he would not serve any sentence for a crime he felt no guilt for committing. Where was he going? South was all he knew. He had heard about the men and women who lived in the old forts. Maybe he could beg a look at a map, and find a point on paper to set his feet to.

In spite of the cold, he began to relax. Adrenaline and stress left his limbs feeling weak after two days of running. The only thing now was the problem with closing his eyes.  He could see them; his mother weak from months of illness, and his half-uncle dragging her across the room.

He hadn’t waited for an explanation. He didn’t need one. Even now his blood boiled at the memory. He’d been at odds with the man since he and his mother had moved to the little flat in town. She had never said anything, and never complained, but he knew. Even at the end she smiled, if just for his sake.

Letting out a weary sigh, Ildric leaned his head back against the rough bark. Maybe he shouldn’t have ran. But he had no time to think, just anger and urgency driven by the realization of what he’d done. How quickly it had happened. Never would he had imagined that one swift grasp and yank could end a life. Life was too important a thing to be gone so suddenly. But that was where his bias kicked in. The life of the fragile woman who had bore him was far more precious than the life of the brute who had drained hers. He’d wanted the man to suffer. His uncle’s quick death was not justice enough.

The sound of heavy foot-falls brought Ildric out if his thoughts. They approached from the — well, he had no clue what direction they were coming from, aside that they came from his left. Ildric’s breaths slowed. He had just begun to pray that they would not notice him when the branches parted, and a gaunt face peered in.

“Hey, boss! Lookee ‘ere what I found.”

The dozen or so voices stopped. A few moments passed before several more faces appeared, their scarred faces illuminated by a single lantern.

“Jet, you moron, I told you to find supper, not a stray,” grunted the man in the middle. While no taller than the rest, his eyes bore an intellectual glint that the others lacked. “What you doin’ there, boy?”

“Tryin’ to keep out of the cold,” Ildric responded, his words riding on thin wisps of steam.

The leader’s mouth twitched in a smirk. “Lot ‘o good that’ll do ya. You’ll be useless by mornin’.”

“C’mon, boss. Lemme kill ‘im, an’ we can be on our way. No use wastin’ time on the lad,” said Jet. Ildric’s jaw set firmly as he glared at the man, and his arms shifted beneath his cloak as he reached for his knife.

The leader did not look at Jet, but watched Ildric with dry amusement. “I don’ think he likes that idea.” He then motioned for Ildric to stand, and for his men to step back. They did so, and the boy rose to his full height. “Cor, lad, you’re a big one! I’m bettin’ you’ll still grow a few more inches, too. No use killin’ when we can put ya to work.”

Jet snorted. “We don’ need ‘nother mouth teh feed.”

The boss nodded his head towards Jet. “Fine. Kill ‘im, and ye can ‘ave his place,” he said cooly.

Jet took a step back in surprise, and automatically reached for his knife. Ildric, on the other hand, just shook his head. “Not meanin’ any disrespect, sir, but I’ve had my fill of killin’ for a while.”

“You have, eh?” The leader leaned in a little, and his dark eyes flicked between the boy’s face and clenched fists. “I believe ya. What’s you’re name, boy?”

“Ildric… sir.”

“I like the ‘sir’. It’ll keep ya alive a little longer,” responded the man with an amused sneer. “Fine, Ildric. Pick up our bags, and keep up.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Tonight….

“Reed!”

“What now?!”

Ildric’s sharp eyes locked on the man. “I don’t have time for your lip. You have the reports from the south-east?”

Unphased, Reed nodded. “I do. They are in your saddle bag, on your horse, that’s ready out front. We’ll be fine while you’re away. The repairs on the hall have been completed, and that shipment of grain from the Burns Farm should be here day after tomorrow.”

Nodding curtly, he dismissed the young lad that helped him into stiff leather armour. “Damned things. Where is my old armour?”

Reed tossed Ildric his sword belt, and held the door open for him as the man strode forward. “I disposed of it. It was no good.”

Ildric growled as he fastened the belt around his waist. “Just had a few holes in it,” he muttered bitterly.

Reed just rolled his eyes, and shot his commander a “you’ll get over it” look before following him outside. “Everyone should be — ten, fifteen, twe — thirty-five… looks like your company is assembled, Vrax.”

“Good. We don’t have time to waste.” Throwing a thick cloak over his shoulders, Ildric pulled a piece of parchment out of a pocket, and handed it to a runner. “Any word on Trent’s company?”

“Not yet. He is not due back for a week, though.”

Taking up his horse’s reigns, Ildric swung up into the saddle. “Tell him if he causes any trouble I’ll have the Witch bust out a few more of his teeth. And if any complain about missing us, they can be on kitchen duty for a week.”

Reed smirked, and stepped out of range of Vrax’s impatient steed. “I’ll remember. Ride safe! Kill a few orcs for me.”

“You know I will,” barked Ildric with a grin as he wheeled his horse about. “All right, men, let’s move out!”

Monday Means Good Luck

Thirty-four years ago…

He was going to kill them. Pouring rain blinded his one good eye, and his knuckles bled from each time he’d caught himself from sliding down the rocky slopes of the god-forsaken wasteland. By Bema, as soon as he survived the oncoming night and got back, he would string each and every one of them up over the span of the bridge.

Traitorous bastards. He had seen it coming, of course. Five month before, when he had allowed the six brigands to join his band, he knew. They pulled their weight and abided by the laws, but it was the subtle things that had set them apart and put a target on Ildric’s back. How many of his own men had followed their lead? He did not doubt that no small number of them resented him for one thing or another, and hearing of his supposed death Ildric could assume that many of them would follow the brigands simply because they were stronger.

By now the night had turned black, and only the occasional lightning strike gave him light to see where he was going. There was no shelter, and he knew there were no homesteads or villages within fifty miles. He knew which way was south, though, so he drug himself up to the top of a hill to avoid the inevitable flooding, and moved forward.

Any concept of time was lost as the storm continued to rage on around him. Ildric’s head throbbed with a terrible pain, and it was only the prospect of vengeance that kept him warm. They will hang. They will hang, served as the beating drums that kept his feet moving. More time passed, and he shook his head as the rhythm came to life, growing louder with each heavy step. He stopped… and the beat continued to sound. And it turned into two sets of drums, then three, then seven. A flash of lightening illuminated the hill he stood on, and the seven orcs that had stopped mere yards away.

“Look at this, lads! We go’ ourselves supper!”

Never pray to Bema. Got it. Ildric pulled out his boot knife, and waited.

“‘e’s as big as us!” growled an exceptionally gnarly beast who had began to flank him. “Maybe we can pit ‘im against some of the others fer sport before we divy ‘im up.”

A chorus of snarls and guttural laughs sounded around him in agreement. One of the shorter orcs who appeared to be in charge paced closer to Ildric. “What do you have to say to that, human?”

Lightning flashed, and Ildric spat at the creature. “What are you waiting for? Talk is worthless!” He flipped the knife in his hand and lept forward to strike at the orc who had left himself wide open.

Another light flashed, but came from behind him, and it wasn’t lightening. It was fire. The light blinded the orc he rushed, giving him the second he needed to send the screeching beast’s body rolling down the hill. More explosions of light, and screaming orcs. Holding up a hand to shield his good eye from the wind and rain, Ildric looked back in time to see the flare of a long cloak, and a blazing sword disappear into the last orc.

What the —

“Are you all right?”

A female? “Yeah. I’m all right. Where the hell did you come from?”

A horse appeared by the hooded figure; a trick Ildric decided instantly that he should master. “The North.”

“Where are you going?”

“To Tharbad.”

Ildric grunted. “Bloody coincidence.”

The figure hopped up onto her horse, and Ildric caught sight of pointed ears as she adjusted her hood. “Need a ride?”

Not bothering to answer, Ildric grasped the hand she offered to him, and swung up to sit behind her. He’d have to apologize to Bema after this.

“What’s your name?”

“For now, just Ravi will do.” She wheeled her horse around, and the animal moved into a sure-footed canter. “Yours?”

“For now, Vrax will do.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Yesterday…

“Do you understand me, boy?”

The lad could not summon enough courage to look up at the towering man. He just stared down at the first of six long nooses that hung over the ruined bridge that spanned the Greyflood. He nodded.

Ildric lifted a hand, and his lieutenant waiting on the southern platform began to approach. “You will be taken to be branded, to remind you of your crime and what will happen if you commit another offense. Do you understand me?” he asked again.

The lad swallowed hard, and finally looked up at him. “Yes, sir. I understand.” He then dipped his head to follow after the lieutenant.

“Vrax!”

Ildric sighed, and rolled his eyes. He should never have let the man become his bloody secretary. “What, Reed?”

“The party from the west came in. You got a letter from the witch.”

Ildric’s brows rose, and he pivoted to face the man. “Oh? Well, where is it.”

Reed blinked and looked about as sheepish as a sixty year old man could. “Ehh… I-It’s um… in y-your tent, sir.”

Strong hands clasped behind his back, Ildric gave the man an annoyed look. “Idiot. Ran out here empty handed? You’re getting too old.”

“Don’t need to tell me that,” Reed huffed, scratching at the back of his greying head of hair. A rumble of thunder sounded in the distance. “Damn. Looks like there’ll be rain.”

Ildric’s lips curled in a smirk as he gazed past the ruined tops of buildings. “Nah. You know better than that, Reed. Remember? A storm on Monday means good luck.”

After a Party: Yule Cheer

“Really, Miss, I just –”

“By the Valar, hold still!” Aryl insisted, taking a pin from her mouth to use on the sweatshirt she had fit on the first stranger through the door.

Crazy elf,” Ildric grumbled, holding his arms out as the dark-haired elf maiden circled around him, pinning the pieces of warm cloth together. “I just want my tunic mended! I’m not your dummy. ”

Arylieth scurried to fetch her shears from a cluttered tailoring bench, waving a hand at the man. “You’re a bit broad compared to the boy, but I’m sure he will fill it out soon enough.”

Ildric groaned in protest as she ushered him to a mirror and motioned for him to spin. Arms extended, the man stopped and stared at his reflection, or more specifically at the picture worked into the thread of the sweatshirt. “A bear? Really?”

“It’s a Yule gift!” Arylieth explained with an excited grin. “Now if you would please stop complaining I’ll mend your tunic for free once I’m done.”

_ _ _ _ _

“Best friend EVER!” Feira exclaimed, sliding down the railing of a flight of steps in a far wing of the manor. A letter fluttered in one hand as she used the other to catch herself from falling as she flew off then end into a lower hallway. Spinning a few steps she re-read Lalaith’s letter for the twentieth time. Someone had written her a letter! Her!

Carefully folding the letter back up and slipping it into her pocket, Feira snatched up a broom and dust pail. This might have been the best day she’d ever had. Well, beside the day she first visited Lalaith at the temple, the day the Wayfarers returned from defending the city, and the day she had off in town when a gentleman told her she looked lovely. But this might just out rank them all.

She had to finish her chores. She had to finish them quick!

‘If you are still inclined, I thought we might visit your friend’s cheese shop. The one with the delicious gouda! Might you be free?’

“Yes!” she laughed, skipping nearly too many steps in one leap. She had made sure to get visiting day off. A day in town with a friend? And gourmet cheese! Life just kept getting better.

_ _ _ _ _

You bloody fool. Eruviel didn’t bother closing the door to her dark house all the way as she dumped her Yule basket and Anric’s gift on the long, cushioned lounge chair. Yanking the green ribbon from her hair she drew the letter from her pocket and paced towards the hearth that still cradled half a dozen hot coals.

She stopped, the letter extended before her, and after a long moment drew herself away from the mostly cold fireplace. No, she couldn’t burn the letter; little Eboric’s hand print. Clenching the letter in her fist she turned and slammed her hand down on the map table. What had she expected? She had fretted over the letter since she’d received it, stressing over if she should actually give it to him or not. But it was too late for that.

Letting out an enraged shout she shoved the map table back, threw up her rug, and lifted the hatch to drop down the steps that led to the cellar. Grabbing up a fresh quiver of arrows she selected a short sword from the collection on her wall and hopped the steps back up to the common room. Shedding her dress, discarding it, her circlet and ribbon by the rejected letter on the map table she then disappeared into her room. A minute later she emerged, clad in her hunting garb, buckling on a bracer. Fitting on her sword belt she sifted through the stack of warrants on the corner of the map table and selected one out.

She was mad — no, she was furious. Never had she meant for the letter to remind him of Ninim, and yet the guilt for every little glance and thought towards him, each hope she felt suddenly became like salt on a wound. But it didn’t matter what she had meant. She had been thoughtless; selfish, and that was the worst crime of all. She should have known better, and the look of pain that had twisted his face hurt worse than the beating she’d taken in Angmar months earlier. Eruviel stopped, her hand resting on her toned abdomen for a moment before snatching up the quiver of arrows. She hadn’t told anyone, but she should have told Cwen . . . if anyone could help her with that it would be Cwen. She couldn’t tell Eirikr. Not now. And possibly not ever. Not after tonight.

Grabbing a pad of paper she sketched down a note and left, not bothering to add a log to the fireplace. She had a bad habit of taking off with no one knowing. Maybe the piece of paper was her compensating for how much of an idiot she felt like. But she couldn’t take off without leaving some sort of word for Cwen in the event the woman showed up. She’d find her bounty, and if it ended up being too easy maybe she’d go on a run. A long run. Tacking the note to the outside of her door she turned and disappeared into the dark as flakes of snow began to drift down from the night sky.

Cwen,

Went out on a job. Be back in a day. Make yourself at home.