Lhainan

Innocent Heart: Broken

dasky

“I did what you suggested… with letting the air and cold clear my head…. I was wondering if you might tell me what you know about… well, about him. The short boat ride seems like a proper place to sort it all out in my head….” Feira did not want to speculate. Speculating made her feel like she would lose her late lunch, and yet, if the Lady knew something, what was to come might even be worse.

Cirieldis threaded her fingers together, and let out a light breath. “I am afraid it is not a simple conversation. How long do you have?”

Feira licked her pink lips and resisted the urge to glance back to the door that blocked their view of the waiting Elf. She had spent the entire trip in Forochel trying to keep the young man from her mind by day, even as he always seemed to find his way back in at night to crowd all else out. She felt nervous and sick, and she needed to know. “I have time enough,” she replied softly with a small bob of her head.

Cirieldis nodded. “Very well. Come with me.”

Feira followed, careful to not step on any swan feet. Ciri’s balcony was secluded– set high and facing the ocean, making it impossible for anyone to eavesdrop from it’s location. The Lady invited Feira to take a seat at one of two delicate white chairs, at a table set for tea.

Looking a bit more nervous than before, though no less determined, Feira quietly lowered herself into the offered seat. Silivren hopped into Feira’s lap as she settled, and the girl was comforted by the snuggly bird.

“Tea?” Ciri asked, offering the teapot. “You are welcome to help yourself to sweets.” She indicated the tiered plate stacked with cakes, truffles, and pastries.

Feira smiled softly and nodded gratefully, pausing her petting of the swan to carefully reach over to accept the tea with out disturbing the bird. “Thank you.” While she had little appetite, it would have been rude to refuse even the tea.

Cirieldis settled in her chair. “Before we begin, I would like to hear everything you know about Lhainan. It will help me decide where to begin.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

There was nothing as Feira made her way to the ship to Pelargir. She felt no ocean breeze on her colorless cheeks, nor saw any faces through the haze of tears that rimmed her ever-bright eyes. What little she had eaten that day had been lost in an alley on the way to the port, and still the sick pain in her stomach remained. The commotion and busyness of the docks was distant to her ears, and she counted out her carefully saved coin for a small cabin below deck only because some distant knowledge moved her hands and feet for her.

The sapphire blue sky was grey, and the open space closed in around her as she shuffled down the wooden steps without a word. Fumbling numbly with the lock, Feira managed to finally get the narrow door open, and slipped inside to lock it behind her. The pungent smell burned into her memory flooded over her as she sank to the well-scrubbed wooden floor. Her mother’s muffled cries and screams filled her ears, and the young woman curled into a ball on a ship to a place she forgot as wracking sobs seized her chest.

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Anecdotes: Where We Go

“I can carry that stack in too, if you’d like.”

Feira looked over to the petite maid from where she hung a sheet on a line. “I would. Thank you, Mariah! These go with the first load to be pressed. The ones on the bottom are to be put in the first three guest rooms.”

The brunette nodded and accepted the stack atop the basket of clean laundry she already carried. “Sure thing. You headed out after this?”

“For a few hours. The rest of the morning chores are done.”

“Don’t read too hard!”

Feira waved after her and hefted a large sheet heavy with water up onto the next line. Laundry was always best on days like these. Warm sun and cool breeze amplified the scent of flowers from the garden and the billowing white sheets that surrounded her. Two more sheets to hang and she would trade it for a couch tucked away in a quiet corner of the library.

A gust of wind caught the next sheet she hung, and Feira grinned, her bare feet curling in the grass. The sheets turned into sails and her mind began to wander. The grass turned into wooden planks of a deck, the billowing linens turned into an armada, and a whistled tune was taken up….

Her eyes snapped open. She knew that tune. Warmth rose to her cheeks and, taking up the last sheet, she back up to an open spot on the line behind her, whistling harmony as the first whistler drew closer. She hung the wide, white cloth and the voice fell silent. Feira followed suit. Footsteps drew near and she skipped into the shadow of a sheet partially to play and hide, and partially because it was all she could think to do as her heart began to race from anticipation.

The heavy footfalls stopped opposite of her sheet and a head appeared to peer at her. His sun-bleached hair longer than she remembered, Lhainan’s sea green eyes caught her and he grinned.

“Hiya, Blondie.”

  ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

She was warm. Deliciously warm. Inaris drew in a deep breath, not bothering to open her eyes, and smiled as she remembered.

How long had she lain there? Ten minutes? Thirty? Maybe an eternity… Yes, she could spend eternity like this. Life was not supposed to be like this. She wasn’t supposed to be okay with it, but she couldn’t help herself.

It hadn’t been like this before. It hadn’t been so easy. Was it supposed to be easy? Something ingrained deep inside of her told her she should slip out from under the covers and leave. That she should open her eyes and see it all as lies.

Hate was as simple as breathing. She enjoyed it, the hate and anger and control that fueled half of her work days. It had gotten her safely this far from the inland sea, and suddenly she had no need for that hate nor the indifference that came with it. Her walls were tall and cold and hard as iron… and he walked right through them.

Maybe she hated that most. That she suddenly did not have to. That everything beyond this point was an entirely different world than she’d ever thought for herself. That here in this moment she was more safe than she’d ever felt in her life. To the Pit with it all. Let them come for her now. Let them waste their time. And if they found her? Well, she wouldn’t want to be them.

Adjusting the ring on her finger she nestled close against his chest and beckoned sleep back to her. She was warm, and she was safe, and for the first time she believed it.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“I thought you were going to the Blue Theater.”

Peldirion looked over his shoulder to Halethon. “I mean to to. I walked by.”

The young soldier crossed his arms over his chest as he watched his superior rise to find a towel to wipe the sweat from his face and chest. “You spend too much time here.” He motioned to the empty training hall.

“I like the exercise,” said Peldirion gruffly. “Just because my off hand is out of commission does not mean I should sit idle.”

“Yes, but you should actually relax once in a while. Ask one of those ladies to the theater or supper or… I don’t know, go for a walk in the gardens.”

“I don’t need to walk in the gardens.”

Halethon chuffed a breath and went to retrieve Peldirion’s effects. “Because you smell like one?”

Peldirion cast him a glare.”It is lavender. Supposed to help the pain. I think the healer is just screwing with me.”

Tunic and light armour in hand, Halethon did not move as he leveled a look at the Captain.

What?”

“You’re not sleeping again, are you?”

Peldirion’s dark eyes did not meet Halethon’s.

“My lord?”

“It is not a problem. Same as before.”

The young man pursed his lips and offered Peldirion the tunic. “Have you tried –“

“You know nothing helps,” interrupted Peldirion, snatching the tunic from Halethon’s hand.

“I could find you company….”

Peldirion paused before pulling the cloth over his head. “No. It did not make enough of a difference last time.”

“I don’t like it, Peldirion.”

“You don’t have to. I will try and sleep when this is all over.” Peldirion frowned and took his armour. “Get my weapons.”

Halethon’s brows drew together and he inclined his head, deciding it best not to challenge the man’s dark look. “Yes, sir.”

Innocent Heart: Haunting Hours

 

Emerging from a cloud of mist, Feira meandered down the flowering street lined with vendors. It was spring… or possibly summer? That hardly mattered, though. The warm day was accompanied by a cool sea breeze and soft tufts of clouds floated by overhead. Her freshly washed locks glowed in the sunlight, and her light, prancing steps encouraged the thin, flowy layers of her new pale, seafoam green dress to swim about her. Come to think of it, she couldn’t recall exactly how she had gotten the dress that had adorned a mannequin in a shop window for months, but that was just another detail that flittered away as quickly as it came.

Shop owners waved to her as she passed through the crowd. Small talk was made with other maids who had the day off, and all commented on how fetching she looked without her grey apron and what a lovely day it was to see the war finally end. A brand new book with gilded lettering on the cover gave an accomplished weight to the basket hanging from her arm. Cheeses for Lalaith made their way into her basket, followed by the Lady Mredothyn’s favorite fruits and the best flowers in the city for Lady Ciri’s room. Torrin could tease her for spending so frivolously all he wanted, but some days were happy enough that there was nothing wrong with sparing no expense.

Lalaith had written that she’d be back on the morrow. It was all Feira could do to keep from asking for another day off so she could rent a horse to go and meet the young woman on the way. The war was over, and everyone was coming home. Everything was going to be right again. The Lord would be home soon, and the young woman was sure that it would not be long before the estate was overflowing with babies and dinner parties.

Weaving a path through the happy throngs, Feira made her way towards the docks. It surprised her how quickly she got there, for she turned the first corner and the buildings opened up to present a breathtaking, awe inspiring view of the massive harbor. Blue and white sails filled the air. The shouts of sailors and soldiers mingled with hundred of gulls gliding overhead, and the laughter of the citizens who filled every nook and cranny of the walkways.

“’bout time ya got here!” called a familiar voice from behind. Her heart leaping in her chest, Feira spun around.

Her heart stopped.

Taller and fitter than ever from months at sea, Lhainan stood just out of arm’s reach, his captivating gaze fixed over her shoulder.

“A little waiting never hurt you,” responded a young woman’s voice, and Lalaith, dressed in one of her old silk gowns brushed past Feira to take the sailor’s offered arm. No habit in sight, her friend’s glistening blue-black hair tumbled down her back.”You get me anything?” she purred.

“Course I did,” Lhain replied, a coy smile curling his lips as he bend down to whisper into Lalaith’s ear.

What was this? Shocked, words caught in Feira’s throat when a second woman approached. “And what about me?” asked the lithe, olive skinned beauty that stole up to coil around the sailor’s other side.

Eyes gleaming, Lhainan laughed. “I’d never forget about you, beautiful.” Unable to move, Feira watched in horror as he reached out and, with little effort, ripped the gold locket from where it hung around her neck. Draping the arm around the young southern woman he let the delicate heart and chain tumble over the woman’s shoulder to disappear beneath her low neckline. The trio laughed and turned to vanish down the docks, suggestions about a long boat ride getting lost in the haze that filled Feira’s head.

The brilliant sun above her dimmed, though no one seemed to notice. A grey form rose up from where the southern woman, Lhain and Lalaith had disappeared, and as the world closed in around her Aunt Raewiel glared down at Feira with a wicked, triumphant sneer.

This wasn’t real. It wasn’t! Valar… Emeleth… But no, no one could hear her. Nobody would. Trapped and with nowhere to run, the flowers in her basket withered, the fruits shrunk and turned sour, and the pages of her book crumpled into ash. She couldn’t breathe, she couldn’t speak, and the only movement Feira could manage was the trembling that slowly took over her limbs.

Wake up….

Wake up….

Innocent Heart: Get Free

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The street leading down to the Warf nearly overflowed with a river of people. Before Torrin could find out where she was going and stop her, Feira, with no work left for the day, slipped out of the estate. Coppers in her pocket, she had purchased the small basket, and filled it with five of the nicest oranges she could find. Who knows but if he’d have to share? Purchasing a small bag of cherries for herself, she added one of the plump, red fruits atop the already filled basket, hoping he’d get the joke, before hurrying on her way.

She had to tell him! It wasn’t really actual news, but oh, the opportunity! While part of her did enjoy cleaning, the thought of actually working with people filled her with excitement. And the prospect of a promotion was good enough reason for her to drop by the docks and say ‘hello’, right?

Weaving easily through the crowds, Feira felt like a silly little girl. Only a short distance from the docks, and she felt rediculously giddy. The last turn was hardly two merchant stalls away when a hand suddenly grabbed her by the arm and, before she could cry out, drug her off to the side. Able to keep her basket of fruit from upsetting, she froze when she found herself with her back to a dead-end alley, and her path of escape blocked by Aunt Raewiel.

“There you are, you ungrateful whelp,” growled the woman, as towering and fat as ever. Raewiel set her balled-up hands on her hips, a stance the girl knew all too well. “I was wondering when I would run into you.”

Swallowing hard, it took everything in Feira to not cower back as her angry Aunt took a step closer. “I apologize, Miss Raewiel, if I got in your path. Please, do not let me not keep you from your day.” With that she ducked to the right in attempt to step past her, but Raewiel caught her, and shoved her hard against the stone wall.

“Oh, no, you don’t,” Raewiel sneered, glaring down at her. “Do you realize just how much trouble you have cost your father and I? And after everything we have done for you over the years!”

“I-I’ve been needing t-to find you, a-and discuss that with you, as a-a matter of fact.”

“Oh, you have, have you? Little whore, hiding behind your big brother. Ever since he moved you out, and made me quit the estate, it’s been hell finding good work!”

Suddenly grateful for the support of the wall behind her, Feira caught the breath that had been knocked out of her. Forcing her knees to hold steady, the girl lifted her chin in defiance. “I assure you, madam,” she responded coolly, “that any misfortune that has found you has been entirely of your own doing.”

Raewiel sucked in a hissing breath, drawing up like a snake preparing to strike. “Just as smart-mouthed as your mother. She got what she deserved, and I hope you meet the same end!”

Time suddenly seemed to slow, and Raewiel’s hand that swung towards Feira’s face froze in place. Raewiel had always blamed her for her mother’s death, but this time, it struck a new chord. No one deserved an end like her mother’s. It was a terrible thing to say. But, to be compared to her . . . . A hint of pride sparked inside of Feira, and something clicked.  You can do the same thing, sweet. Get free of her. . . . Time lurched back into motion. Slapping Raewiel’s hand away with surprising force, Feira seemed to grow a few inches as she stepped up to stand toe-to-toe with her much taller relative.

“Again, Miss Raewiel, I apologize for taking up so much of your time. I hope you have a pleasant day, and do send my regards to your brother.”

Raewiel blinked down at her, shocked by the daring look in the girl’s eyes. “What?  . . . are you challenging me?”

“No,” responded Feira with a firm, almost authoritative air. “I have no reason to. I am not like you, madam. You cannot do anything to me, nor can you make me care about anything you have to say.”

The older woman completely flabbergasted, Feira did not give her a chance to speak. She didn’t know where it was all coming from, but she couldn’t stop now.

“Seeing now that that is how things are, you have no further business with me. I would appreciate it if you never spoke to me again. I suggest that you take your leave now before you waste any more of your precious time.”

Huffing out a breath, Raewiel deflated as she stared down at Feira. A long silence passed between them, but the woman finally stepped back, and spun around to march away with whatever dignity she had left.

Turning her amber gaze down to the untouched basket, Feira took a second to process what had just happened. She wasn’t sure if she felt sick, or relieved . . . maybe it was a bit of both.

Quickly wiping away the moisture that sprang into her eyes, she moved back out to the street. Seemingly lost for a moment, a though came to her, and she headed off with new purpose. Finding an errand boy, she paid him the last coin in her pocket (which, to the young boy’s delight, was a silver), jotted down a note, and handed it to him, along with the basket.

“Take this to the docks; to the H.M.S. Turanwar.”

“Yes, miss! Who for?”

“Ask for ‘Gig’. When you find him, make sure he answers to ‘Lhainan’.”

Nodding fervently, the lad hurried off down to the docks, and Feira turned to go. She wasn’t sure where, but it would probably be somewhere she didn’t have to stand, as she still feared she might topple over. Somewhere with a good view, a good book, and a snack as a reward for her gumption.

Anecdotes: Evening

The darkest hours of night had passed and Jade jolted awake. Short hair wild from tossing and turning, the young woman jumped out of her bed and paced across the room.

It had been her first night in a week to be alone, and she’d taken full advantage of it. She’d had just enough straw to replace the thatching over her bed, she’d dug out a small hole to one side of the yard for a little experiment, and she’d lounged about in the quiet, finishing the last chapter of her book. Then the letter had come.

A cold draft flowed over her bare skin as she walked into the front room. It took a minute of rummaging around in the dark before she found it.

Hope you are well . . . The girls miss you . . .  You should write him . . . .

Reading the letter through, Inaris hesitated before crumpling it up and throwing it into to coals in the fire.

The men you mentioned came through. You and Inaris should know they seemed rather set on finding her. Take care of yourself, Jade.”

Checking the lock on the front door, her mouth curved in a defiant smile as she made her way back to bed. It had been thirteen years since Inaris had seen the old man. She almost hoped he’d someday show up.

~~~***~~~

Dear Lhain,

Thank you for the letter. Things have been busy this spring. The Lord and Lady were wed. It might have been the most magnificent event Dol Amroth has seen. I’ve never seen the city so alive. 

Nothing is new with me. My friend Lalaith joined the Temple. Torrin is teaching me a few new dance steps, and I might be getting help with my studies. I suppose that is new, but that is about it. 

I look forward to hearing about all the places you’ve seen. I keep hearing that the war is getting worse. Please be saf do take care of yourself. I look up at our star every night. I don’t know if it actually works, but I always feel better when I do. 

I miss Safe travels, sailor. Come back soon.

Always, Feira

~~~***~~~

Letting Henry inside, Eruviel locked her front door. She then locked the windows and drew the drapes. As much as she almost wanted them to try, she had no desire to deal with intruders. Not tonight.

Frowning, she pulled off her gown and threw it over a chair. Retrieving the dessert apple from her pack she made her way into the kitchen where her large tub full of water steamed. Wine, book, pipe, apple —

“Squawk!”

“Henry, shush.”

A rustling sounded near the front door. “Honk!”

Wrapping herself in a towel, Eruviel sighed and walked into the common room. “What is it — Henry! Put that down. I told you no before!”

The swan stood by the front door, her blue dress from Gondor in his beak.

“No, silly bird. Give me that.”

Henry waddled over, dragging the gown over to her. Releasing it, he pattered back over to the door, flapped his wings, and poked at the doorknob expectantly.

Picking up the dress, Eruviel shook it out and gathered up the first as well. “The party’s over, Henry. No more dresses.”

The swan followed her as she shoved them both in her closet, then strode back into the kitchen.

“Don’t give me that look. It’s not a big deal. He just . . . forgot.”

Henry honked at her as she slipped into the hot water.

Settling down, she reached over to pet his neck. “Really! It’s nothing. I just want to be alone for a bit.”

Taking a drink of her wine she picked up her book, but Henry had not left. As a matter of fact he had made himself comfortable in the tub on the counter. Eruviel opened her mouth to shoo him, but stopped. Smiling, she turned to her book as the swan, pretending to ignore her, began to clean his feathers.

Anecdotes: Late One Night

 

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The sound of Eirikr’s footsteps had long since faded away down the lane. Closing the hatch to the cellar, Eruviel straightened out the rug. It was so good to be home, and even better that the house was not cold and empty when she’d gotten there.

Books littered one end of the map table. A stack of mail and a finely wrapped parcel sat to another side, and her pack took up the rest of the space. Pulling out several trinkets along with the little stack of drake scales she had collected, Eruviel suddenly stopped her unpacking.

I can do this tomorrow . . . or the next day, she thought. Even her inner voice sounded as lethargic as she felt. Abandoning her things, the Elf drew the iron screen over the front of the fireplace. Shedding her clothing as she went, Eruviel made her way into the bedroom and collapsed on her bed.

Oh, what an excellent bed.

The house smelled warm from the fire. It smelled like old tomes, and like evergreens, and of him. A hint of pipe smoke lingered, but that could have just been from the neighbor down the hill who smoked more than his chimney.

Cocooning herself beneath her soft covers, Eruviel hummed softly in her blissful comfort. A few breaths later she was deep in her rest, dreaming of forests and glittering drifts of snow, and the spray of white powder that flew up from her paws.

 

~~~***~~~

 

Climbing the short incline of the road, Inaris forced herself not to hurry as she made her way back home. Thinking about it, she should have gone back to the Inn to relieve the girl watching Jo for the day, but she wasn’t expected till morning. Inaris had only acquired the little cottage after her things from Rohan had caught up with her, but it was the closest she had to a home, and the only place that felt safe.

Still clutching her right hand to her chest she let out a breath in relief as the little building came into view. She hated that panic kept trying to edge it’s way in. She hated that she couldn’t forget the seconds of burning pain on her palm, the relaxing cool that had flowed through her hand, or the tickle at her wrist. She hated it, she hated it. Most of all, she hated that it made her remember.

Why had I trusted him? And why did he show me?

“Don’t forget, you know what I can do,” he had said. Was that supposed to be a threat?

Practically running up the path to the cottage, Inaris nearly jumped out of her skin as a dog a few houses down barked. Lurching, her foot hit a patch of gravel and the young woman twisted as she fell. Hitting the ground hard, the back of her head smacked against the bottom step of the front stoop.

A brief cry of pain escaped her before she clenched her teeth. Hot tears filled her eyes, but as she slowly sat up Inaris felt a thin, warm stream trickle down her neck. Reaching a hand back, her scalp screamed at the touch. She was bleeding. Not badly, but enough.

“Blood?” she muttered, staring at her hand in confusion. Then it hit her. The panic, as was the lingering memory of pain and numbness in her hand, was gone. No pain that left no marks, or fear of the next night and the one after that. Just the real, burning pain that tore through her as warm blood stained her pale blonde hair.

A laugh bubbled out of her lips. The sound surprised her. Another followed, and another, and before Inaris knew it she was rolling on the ground, seizing with a manic laughter she couldn’t stop. Minutes passed. Still choking on crazed giggles, she wiped the blood from her hand onto the grass and crawled up the steps to her home. Her home. Free, and alone, and without a care in the world.

 

~~~***~~~

 

The late hour was called out by a distant town crier. A cool night breeze that smelled like the sea wafted through the stables as Torrin cleaned up a work station. Hanging up his pitchfork he affectingly patted one of the Ladies mares on the neck as he passed.

“Feira?” he called softly as he closed the large doors behind him. She had promised to stop by hours ago. His little sister often was distracted by her books, but rarely did she fail to show.

Shaking out his sleeves, the stable hand nodded to the guards as he made his way to the gardens. Taking a moment to stop and exchange a few words with two or three that he knew, Torrin began searching all the hidden corners.

About to give up, the young man, on a hunch, ventured into a hidden alcove guarded by a trellis and flowering trees showing the first signs of spring. There, on a curving bench a short ways in, Feira lay sleeping. A thick book served as her pillow and her apron had been folded up to cover her bare arms.

“What are you doing back here, Faerie,” muttered Torrin as he ducked under the trellis. Feira breathed softly, and rolled to lay on her side as he approaoched, but she did not wake.

Quietly chuckling, Torrin reached down. Brushing her tangled waves of curls out of her face, he then retrieved the letter that had fallen to the ground.

“What have we here, little sister?” he asked under his breath. Angling the letter to read by moonlight Torrin read it once, blinked, then read it again. Letting out a gruff breath he looked up to the sky. “Fell asleep star-gazing, I see.”

Folding up the letter, he tucked it safely into a pocket of her apron. “I suppose I’ll kill him a little less. For your sake,” Torrin muttered as he knelt down. With as much care as he could, the young man bore her up in his arms, remembering to take her book as well. She mumbled incoherently something that sounded like an apology.

“C’mere, little Faerie. Let’s get you to bed.” Feira sighed and settled close against his chest as he bore her to the servants quarters, muttering another apology.

“I know, I know. You’re forgiven,” he hummed softly. “You’re all right. Better that I tuck you in, instead of the other girls seeing you wander in in the early morning lookin’ like this.”

 

Innocent Heart: Making Friends

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Strolling around a corner at the Warf, Feira buried her nose and a storm of thoughts into her book. Kicking out the hem of her skirt so as to not trip on it, a sailor down the path let out a shout. Startled, Feira inadvertently stumbled and stubbed her toe against a crack in the paving. Mumbling pitifully, she muttered an apology to the stone she had struck, and continued on, a little slower than before.

“Watch your step, miss!”

“Oh, thank you, sir.” Feira stopped and looked back to find the owner of the voice. A young man about her age grinned over at her from his perch atop a stack of crates.

“Hey, I think I know you.”

Blushing in embarrassment at her stumble having caught notice, Fiera lowered her book. “You — you do?”

The boy nodded cheerfully, rolling up a bit of twine in his hands. “Aye, you’re Lhain’s friend.”

Feira blushed a bit more. “Aye, I am,” she said as she gingerly stepped out of the way of a passing cart. “I’m Feira. It’s a pleasure, sir,” she added, bobbing a polite curtsey.

“I sailed with him for a bit. Foretopman. Do you want to see my drawings?”

Blinking at the sudden invitation, Feira nodded slowly. “Ahh, yes, of course. What do you like to draw?” she asked as she approached the stack of crates.

“Stars. And fish. I love stars,” he explained. His expression was pleasant and friendly, and Feira relaxed a bit. “I think I’d like to navigate,” he continued, hopping down from his spot to show her a small, leather-bound booklet that he drew from his pocket.

“Oh, these are lovely! Stars are rather wonderful, aren’t they,” she said, leaning in to inspect the boy’s drawings. “Isn’t a foretopman . . . . You’re in charge of the mast near the bow, correct?”

“That’s correct,” said the young man, flipping to a page where he seemed to have marked constellations. “What do you think this one looks like?” he asked her, pointing to a collection of dots.

Humming softly, Feira inspected the grouping. “Is it Wilwarin?”

The young man chuckled. “Actually, I just thought it looked like a bunny. I’m sure you’re right. I don’t memorize their names.”

Feira chuckled quietly. “As long as you know were you’re going. I suppose that is the important part.”

He smiled peacefully and looked up at the night sky. “I think you’re absolutely right. Where you’re going, and how you get there.”

Feira considered him with an amused, yet curious look. “So what has you on dry land instead of followin’ stars, Mr.  . . .”

“Gilben. You can call me Gil, or Ben . . . or anything.” He then extended out an intricately woven twine bracelet to her. “Please accept this as a token of our newfound friendship.”

“Oh, you don’t have to give me anything,” she said, taken aback. “It’s lovely, but making your acquaintance is token enough.”

Gilben deflated sadly. “Please?”

Feira’s eyes widened at seeing his fallen expression, and she quickly accepted the bracelet with a grateful smile. “Thank you. It really is lovely,” she said as she fit the twine bracelet around her wrist. “No one’s given me a bracelet before.”

“Oh, it’s my pleasure,” said Gilben, dipping his head politely. “I give them to all of my friends. I make them when I’m sitting up in the crow’s nest. It’s very peaceful.”

Feira nodded, her golden curls bobbing. “So I hear! What has you making them on crates instead of the crow’s nest?”

“The ship is docked for repairs. What are you doing here?”

“Nothing serious, I hope,” she said, arching a brow. A moment passed before Feira sputtered and quickly added, “And I’m just running errands.” She also had suddenly remembered Lhain’s caution about her going through the Warehouse District at night. It wasn’t quite night yet . . . least not late night.

“Oh, no, no,” said Gilben, shaking his head. “Fraying ropes, some interior water damage… are you very well, miss?”

“Ahh, just routine.” She then chuckled and smiled sweetly. “I am quite well, thank you. Forgive me, I had just completely forgotten to answer your question; being so focused on asking my own.”

“It’s all right. I think it’s important that people focus on themselves.”

Feira shook her head. “I’d have to disagree. If everyone focused on themselves then no one would appreciate anyone.”

“You’re right, of course. But sometimes you just need to take care of yourself first,” said Gilben, compromising.

“I can see that, yes,” Feira said with a chuckle. “I fear I am no master of that though. Being a servant inflicted me with the terrible disposition of putting my needs last.”

Smirking, Gilben then gave her a thoughtful look. “You should come look at the comets with me some night.”

“There are comets?” asked Feira, eyes wide. “When?”

Gilben shot her a cheeky grin. “Half past two in the morning, most nights. I’m something of a night owl. Woke up not long ago.”

Feira blinked and looked up at the sky. “You and Lhain both,” she muttered. “I was up at the crack of dawn. Rarely do I stay up later than eleven bells.”

“By then I’m rolling in my dreams.”

A thought struck her. Lalaith had kindly insisted that a chaperone was needed for times like these . . . but he was just a boy, and a harmless one at that! “Well, I suppose I can manage a late night . . . or early morning. Whichever it is. Where is the best spot to watch them?”

“Oh, anywhere clear and not ruined by the light,” said Gilben.

Feira nodded and turned in a slow circle. “The view from the garden near the armoury? That might have the least obtrusive light. How about there?” And now the unopened letter from Lhain might as well have been burning a hole in her pocket.

“If you wish. I do love the flowers there.”

“You are an interesting lad, Master Gilben,” said Feira with a chuckle.

“Everyone is interesting,” said Gilben, smiling. “I will make you a crown of flowers, so you might feel more noble.”

Feira laughed. “Now I’ll be expecting one! What night should I see these comets, then?”

“Mmm. How does Sunday evening sound?”

Feira twisted her mouth to the side and hummed in thought. “Sunday . . . Sunday, Sunday sounds perfect!”

“Beautiful!” said Gilben with a bright grin. “I will see you then, Miss Feira. Enjoy what is left of your night.”

“Till then! Have a good evening, Master Gilben,” she chimed, nodding politely before turning to hurry and finish her errands. Lalaith would frown on this, to be sure, she told herself as her now decorated hand slipped into her pocket to withdraw the sealed letter. But he makes bracelets, and likes stars and flowers. There is no harm in making friends. No harm at all.

Moments: 100th post

“Everything’s put away. I’ll start on the molds in the morning,” called Ris as she hung up her thick leather apron and shook out her short, strawberry blonde hair.

“That’s fine! Thanks for the good work,” responded the forge master, glancing up from his bench.

Raising one hand in a small wave the young woman unbuttoned the collar of her coveralls with the other. “Good night, then!”

Slipping out the shop door she took a deep breath of the frigid air, the smell of Bree only partially ruining the moment. Swinging her satchel of tools over her shoulder, Risala strolled past the guards at the South Gate and set off for home.

The thought brought a euphoric smile tingling up from her toes and stretching up the pink corners of her mouth. Home. She not only had one, but a reason to be there.

– – – *** – – –

A month and a half. Mira kept telling herself that it wasn’t that long, but the first night with Rath gone felt like an eternity. She could wait that long. Not much else could be done.

Leaning against the door frame she watched Thamon’s small body rise and fall with steady breaths. For not having a drop of his parent’s blood in his veins Mira was amazed at how similar to the Ranger he was. He was beautiful, the little boy, in all his vitality and willfulness. Even after  being brought to the relative safety of Bree-land, the spark of a new fight lit in his eyes every morning.

The dark Eryn Vorn wolf that curled up next to her son blinked his yellow eyes open to look to her. The small knot of trepidation that had begun to wind in her gut loosened. A moment passed between them. Then the animal closed his eyes and Mira closed the door. Yes, she could wait a month and a half. She’d wait as long as it would take.

– – – *** – – –

The last rays of the Gondorian sunset shimmered and reached across the horizon where the sky embraced the sea. Tossing her soft, blonde waves of hair over her shoulder, Feira’s face inched closer to the ivory pages of her book, squeezing as many words as she could into the last few moments of light. A final burst of pale gold shot across the sky before the sun winked away, and the girl snapped the volume shut with a triumphant flourish. Chapter complete.

The winter had been a mild one. In spite if the brisk wind that washed up the sea cliffs Feira pranced ahead, barefoot and balanced atop a low stone fence that ran along one side of the road. Novel secured in one hand and slippers swinging in the other, the young woman danced ahead to a song only she could hear.

Lalaith’s most recent letter had been sent. There was nothing new to report, but Feira’d thought it would be nice to send one anyways. Two more weeks till visiting day.  In spite of occasionally seeing Lalaith, and her brother suddenly being more interested in her life, an ounce of loneliness trickled through Feira like an sip of bitterly cold water.

Tugging at the empty locket that hung around her neck Feira looked out to the sea. He had disappeared. Stood her up. The few, wonderful days of Lhainan’s company only made the ache of being left worse. He would have shipped out by now. Maybe she’d never know why he hadn’t shown.

Frowning, she shook her golden mane and pranced forward atop her perch with determination. There was no good in wondering. Hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Humming the secret, celestial tune, Feira turned her eyes to the heavens as she made her way home. Careful to not miss one, she looked to each star in turn, just in case.

– – – *** – – –

The wind did not drive as fiercely up here. Finding a handhold in the ice Eruviel pulled herself up over the cliff’s edge. The thrill of the climb faded as she fixed the thick of her cloak beneath her and turned her emerald gaze out. The night was darker, being so far north, but the frozen realm glittered as a swath of color danced across the obsidian sky.

The freezing air pricked at her lungs as the Eldar took in a deep breath. The sensation was fleeting and she did not mind. The silvery chime of a delighted chuckled spilled out of her. Hugging her arms across her chest Eruviel plopped back to lay in the tuffs of snow blanketing her perilous perch.

Oh, but it was good to be back in her own body! She meant no disrespect to Abiorn, or males in general, but she very much liked her body without the hint of scruff and extra parts between the legs.

The green and violet hues shifted and changed above her. It was mesmerizing. She reached for the notebook in her pocket to make out a sketch for Anya, but stopped. She reached a second time for it but stopped again, even though she’d gotten so far as to have the notebook in her hands.

Eirikr’s letter could wait. Every word she wrote him felt burdened; the beauty lost in the black and white of her parchment. If only he were here to watch with her. She didn’t need any words spoken, nor small touches, though she would not protest the latter. No, she only wanted his company, and the quiet understanding that might have been shared between them, looking out over the crystal wonderland that was Forochel.

Fitting the book back into her pocket Eruviel stood on the precipice and let down her hair. She allowed the bitter, rising wind to wash over her as the silken swirls of lights swam and danced to a distant tune she could just make out. This land was beautiful. While missing an audience of two, the moment seemed perfect. And it stretched on and up, as infinite as the vastness above her.

Innocent Heart: An Abundance of Letters

Dear Lalaith,

This is so exciting, writing letters! One of the girls is letting me use her stationary till I can get my own. The kissing swans impression isn’t my thing. Maybe dueling brooms would be more appropriate . . . .

Anyhow, things are good here. That boy hasn’t shown up, though it’s probly for the better. I can only imagine the fuss all the girls would throw at a boy showing up for me. Which is entirely ridiculous since most of them have boys, (except for Nellie who I’m pretty sure is juggling three).

Speaking of juggling, Auntie lit into me the other night again (which, now that I mention it, I can’t remember if I’ve told you anything about my aunt), about something that was really nothing. But as a result I have decided to lash out and learn more things. I know, I know, I’m a rebel . . . . The house library has a few books on Haradic, and I’ve decided to take it up. I’d considered Sindarin but that just seems impractical at the current time. I’ve also borrowed books from the city library on sewing and the third volume of the ‘Compendium of Gondor: The Second Age.’ (Volume two is SUPER dry.) I’m still working on fencing, but it’s hard with no one to practice with, and I can only kill so many imaginary Black Roses.

But enough about me! How are you? What have you been busy with? That weird, rich guy show up again? I hate not being able to see and chat with you whenever we want. Letters are exciting, but talking face to face is so much better. Take care of yourself and I’ll see you soon!

Always, Feira

~~~

Dear Lalaith,

He showed up yesterday! The boy from the street dance; he appeared in the middle of me hanging laundry and I almost hit him with a dish towel. Some times I just can’t believe myself. I’m so giddy and I can’t tell anyone! Well I guess I could tell Torrin — noooo . . .  I should probably wait to tell brother. He most likely doesn’t care. Have I told you I have a big brother? Well, you probably already know that. You know everything. He’s been helping me with my fencing lessons . . . Though, to be honest I suspect he’s only humoring me — and speak of the devil. I have to run! I’ll finish this later!

(Hastily added) And I meant ‘you know everything’ as in you’re really smart!

~~~

Dear Lalaith,

I know I just saw you at noon today, but I could not wait to write. Lhainan showed up at the library after I returned from our walk. I admit that a part of me wondered if he actually would. Last night seemed too good to be anything but a dream. But tonight was equally as wonderful . . . and without the horrible horseradish. I don’t want these last few days to end. I suddenly feel so rediculous. Is it alright? It’s so overwhelming I’ve been wondering how i am able to sleep at night with my mind going a million miles an hour.

Speaking of sleep! I completely forgot to tell you. After his visit while I was doing the washing I hardly slept a wink that night and I accidentally dozed off while cleaning the lord and lady’s hearth. Lady Mredothyn caught me and I thought it would be the end of me, but she was so kind! Not that I should have expected her to be anything but. The house seems so much brighter with her around. (Thank Emeleth she’s not like Lad like some of the other Ladies in Dol Amroth.) And she’s so fat! A good fat! A good fat! It’s not all the time you see pregnant Ladies glowing and walking about like she does. I remember you asking, and the wedding is supposed to be some time in the spring.

I’m sorry I hadn’t finished and sent your other letters sooner. It is selfish of me, I know, but having to wait a whole month to see you really — well — is no fun. Whatever you did to get errands to come into town, you should do more of it!

I will let you know how tomorrow goes. Lhain’s taking me out on a boat! A little one. I have no idea where we are going. The prospect of adventure is thrilling! Is it possible to lose your mind from being too excited? Not that I’ll loose my mind (promise), but . . . well I’ll stop before I really begin to ramble.

Take care of yourself. Let me know how the expansions to the dining hall go? I hope you are well and have everything you need. There is no need to worry, I know, but I’m gonna anyways, so too bad.

Till later!

Always, Feira

Innocent Heart: Stepping Out

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Ten minutes before eighteen bells, as the weak winter sun dipped toward the west, Lhainan loitered outside the servants’ quarters of House Colagar, doing his absolute best nonchalant act as he leaned against a fence post, hiding a nosegay of flowers behind his back. He wore his uniform, and reached up to tip his cap to a jauntier angle as he waited, frequently glancing at the door.

A faint ruckus echoed out and Feira burst out the door only to be caught and drug back inside, with a shout of protest.

“For the last time, I am not wearing that!”

“Oh please! We know your meeting a boy. Thal told us everything,” giggled a younger girls voice.

“Oh? And what is that? Lies you bullied out of her?” A soft thwap sounded and Feira emerged to stand in the doorway, a hand on her hip as she faced the two other servant girls.

“Aww, c’mon, Feira. Wearing this always works for me.”

“That’s cause you need it, Nellie. And how many boys are you juggling?” Feira retorted. The second serving girl grumbled, and Feira pulled her plain grey cloak over her shoulders. “Now, everything better be done when I get back. And remember to tuck the corners in tight Lil. You tend to forget that.”

“I will — remember,” the younger Lil piped, giving Feira’s hand a squeeze and shooing her away. “Now go! Have fun, and tell us everything!”

“I’ll be sure not to,” Feira chuckled, waving back to them before meandering down the path. As soon as the door closed she picked up her plain, dark blue skirts and, slipping into the shadows, began to wipe the blush and lip color from her face with a small handkerchief.

Lhainan quickly straightened, listening with a growing grin. Seeing Feira disappear into the shadows, he walked up behind her.

“What’s wrong? Wouldn’t they let ya scrub your face in peace?” he asked.

Having wiped the last of what she could from her lips, Feira spun around at the sound of his voice, hiding the handkerchief into a hidden pocket. “Hi! And no, they don’t let anything lie,” she chuckled, smoothing out her skirts as she looked up at him.

Lhainan straightened to attention, taking in the sight of her with an eager smile. He whistled, impressed. “Look at you,” he said softly, forgetting himself for a moment.

“Uh. Oh!” He pulled the nosegay from behind him and offered it to her. “Saw these hollerin’ at me and I thought they’d look an awful lot better with you.”

Feira scrunched up her nose at him but faltered as he offered her the flowers. “They are lovely,” she said with a soft smile. Clearing her throat she hid most of the bouquet beneath a freshly watered bush and handed him back the remaining half-dozen flowers. “So where we goin?” she asked as she whipped her hair into a quick braid and took a step towards the gate.

Lhainan blinked as she returned him half the flowers. He was still puzzling it over when she left him in the dust for the gate. Belatedly, he followed, his brow knitting as she pulled back her hair. “You like dancin’, right?” he asked from a pace behind, still carrying the flowers.

Feira slowed to walk beside him, taking one flower then another to weave into her hair. “I do. Quite a lot,” she said, arching a brow curiously at him.

“Good!” he said, smiling again. It was difficult to keep the smile from his face most times, it seemed. He hung onto the last flower. “There’s an empty warehouse down by the docks that’s a dance hall now. Always got a good band. And some nights the food carts hang around. Best oysters in the city, just feet from the ocean. You game?” He flicked the flower away from her reaching hand.

A bright grin beat a frown to her face as she turned to watch the flower. “Oh? ‘Course I’m game!” she exclaimed excitedly. She looked up at him, but clamped her mouth shut and skipped a step, clasping her hands behind her back.

“Hey, hang on. There’s somethin’…” He gestured vaguely to his own face, then beckoned her.

Feira stopped and turned, tugging at her flowered braid. “What is it? Something wrong?”

“Somethin’ missing,” Lhainan corrected with a grin. He stepped in front of her and tucked the last flower behind her ear, his calloused fingers brushing lightly over the shell of her ear. “There. Perfect.” He stepped back and offered her his arm. “S’a bit of a walk. That alright?”

Feira swallowed, color rising to her cheeks as he drew close, trying to convince herself that she wasn’t nervous at all. Glancing to where he had secured the flower she beamed a smile and nodded. “Yes, much better.” With a swish of her skirts she took his arm, her hand resting lightly above his wrist. “Of course it’s alright. I rather fancy walks.”

“Good,” he said again, his smile warming at her expression. He led her at a brisk but not unpleasant pace toward the city. “So, Miss Feira. You asked about my family, but I didn’t get to ask about yours. Any of those girls sister to ya?”

“Oh no, I just have an Aunt, my Father, and older brother. They all work work at the estate too,” she replied, easily matching his pace. “No siblings of your own?”

“No,” he answered blithely. “Just me an’ Granny. …an older brother, huh? He the over-protective sort? Should I be lookin’ out for an ambush, here?” Lhainan made a show of peering around, into the trees which lined the gravel drive beside which they walked.

“I’m not sure if he is or not,” she answered honestly, snickering as he looked about. “Why, should he have reason to be concerned?” Feira then asked with a wry smile.

“With a sister as beautiful as you? Bells, yes he’s got reason t’ be concerned!” Lhainan said with mock-frankness. “Don’t you know there’s scoundrels around every corner, little lady, just ready t’ assault your virtue! But you’re in luck tonight.” He puffed up his chest. “I happen t’ be a world class scoundrel spotter,” he asserted with a wink. “I’ll make sure none of ’em get within spittin’ distance of ya.”

“Those ruffians,” Feia gasped, clinging more tightly to his arm as she looked about fearfully. “How lucky am I to have a professional Spotter?!” Her act slipping Feira could not help as a light chuckle escaped her. “Well, as long as you protect me from the scoundrels I’ll protect you from my brother.”

Lhainan laughed, a jocular, boyish, and infectious sort of sound, pleased as punch with her reaction. “I’d call that a fair deal, Blondie,” he said and beamed down at her. His arm flexed under her hand. He was quite fit under that uniform.

It took all her willpower not to loosen her hold on his arm; not that she wanted to, but she was sure the boy merely fished for a reaction. Everything about tonight was new, but she did her best to contain the dozens of emotions that twisted in her chest and unwittingly escaped out of the gleam in her eyes. “What of your Grandmother? What is she like?”

Grinning in a knowing sort of way, Lhainan released her from his keen gaze and looked on down the road as the southeastern gate of the city came into view. “Oh, Gran’s a granite bluff,” he said easily. “Raised me, after all. I reckon she’ll be here, weatherin’ the hurricanes long after the rest of us are long gone.” His tone was light, but although what he said almost sounded flippant, it seemed meant as complimentary. Perhaps as close to respectful as he ever got.

“The strongest women last forever,” she said with a sure nod. “Age just refines them.” Smirking up at him she then tisked and sighed, skipping over a break in the path.

Lhainan chuffed a somewhat more tempered laugh. “Well then, I’d hate to have seen her when she was unrefined!” he exclaimed. “She’s… somethin’ else, to be sure. Now listen, how’d we get back on me? I’m supposed t’ be findin’ out about you. What’s your favorite color?”

Feira scrunched up her nose at him. “I like lots of colors . . . but blue. Blue is my favorite color. Light blue, dusty blue, cobalt or marine blue. I think marine blue is my favorite,” she said with a sure nod. “What about you? What is your favorite color?”

“Well,” he said slowly, his eyes roving over her blue dress, “I am suddenly come to appreciate blue an awful lot.” He grinned at her.

“But… the color I like best?” He blew out a breath, considering. “I think… that pearly grey lit with orange and pink you see out beyond sight of land just at the moment of dawn. …best view is from the crow’s nest of course.”

“Oh, that is a good color,” Feira hummed appreciatively. “Is that your favorite spot on the ship? The crow’s nest?”

“Aye, I’d have to say it is. What’s your favorite spot?” he asked, glancing at her as they passed into the gate under the watchful eyes of the Swan Knights on guard.

Twisting her mouth to one side she hummed, giving her braid a tug with her free hand. “The back corner of the library,” she giggled softly. “That and a ledge on the sea cliffs that juts out just beyond the mouth of the harbor. A little pine tree grows on it and it’s the prefect spot . . . well for anything, I suppose,” she added with a shrug. “I don’t get out there much with work and all, but before the attack on the city I would take a book out there some summer afternoons.”

“Perfect spot for anything,” he echoed with interest. “You’ll have t’ show me some time.”

As they made their way down to the warehouse district, a few other young men could be seen in the same uniform; other young sailors were making the most of their leave too. Some had girls on their arms, others were alone as they congregated in roughly the same direction.

A sharp whistle sounded from ahead of them. “Ahoy, Gig!” called another young man.

Lhainan grinned and jerked up his chin in greeting. “Ditty! Leave aweigh, mate, I got a first.”

“I see you do!” ‘Ditty’ crowed with a laugh. “‘f you’re goin’ to the hall, you’ll get left off alright! But she won’t!” Two other sailors walking with Ditty guffawed.

“Aw, shove off!” Lhainan called back in good humor.

Feira remained silent, but an amused smile curved up her mouth as she watched the exchange and quickly took in her surroundings. “I’ve never been to this part of town,” she muttered to Lhainan quietly, her voice filled with carefully measured interest.

His attention returning to the girl on his arm, Lhainan smiled. “Well, I wouldn’t come wanderin’ around here in the late watches if I were you. Not by yourself. Ever been inside a building nearly as big as the outdoors?” he asked.

“I never have before,” she chuckled, “so I won’t start now.” Glancing up to him she shook her head. “I have been in the great hall of the palace. That’s about the biggest room I’ve been in, but it was full of furniture and pillars and people.”

Lhainan blinked down at her. “You have, have ya? Boy, the help in House Colagar sure gets around. You’ll have to tell me if it’s bigger than the inside of a warehouse.”

Around them, most of the warehouses were dark; business went on during the day for these great stores of imports and exports.

But ahead, the entrance to one warehouse was brightly lit with torches. Light from withing spilled out at regular intervals as people went in. Bright fiddle music could be heard wafting through the nippy air. Above the door, ‘The Swan Belly‘ was painted in festive script.

“Swan Belly,” she muttered with a chuckle under her breath. “Tactfully put.” Her arms tensed with excitement as they drew nearer, but her expression remained the same. “Have you been here many times?”

“A few,” Lhainan said with an evasive grin. He reached out to hold the door for her.

Feira nodded to him with a smile and stepped inside. Moving out of the path of the door she stopped and drank it all in, suddenly feeling quite out of place than.

Warm air, scented with dancing bodies, cedar, pine, and ale, wafted out the door. On the floor beneath their feet were wood chips and sawdust. That must be where the smell of wood was coming from. The warehouse was massive, taller even than the foyer of House Colagar, and lit with simple but huge iron chandeliers, which hung from the ceiling on heavy chains.

In the center of the warehouse was a raised platform, a good six feet in the air, on which stood or sat the band members as they thumped out a lively dance tune. All around them, dancers swirled in formations, clapping, shouting in time, or laughing. Life pulsed through the place, hot and heady. No ‘noble restraint’ to be found.

Taking in a deep breath she squared her shoulders and turned back to him with a smile illuminating her face. “I never new Dol Amroth had a place like this!”

On the east and west walls of the place were broad interior balconies, where people could climb up to watch the dancing from above… or do other things. The north wall, opposite them, appeared to hold a bar (nothing more than boards held up by sawhorses) with shipping barrels to sit on. Behind the bar were kegs of ale.

“Ya don’t see many folk from the ‘nicer estates’ down here very often,” Lhainan said, having to raise his voice over the ruckus of music and thumping feet. “Take your cloak?” he asked, offering an empty hand and flicking a thumb at the rows and rows of pegs on which all manner of coat and cloak were hung.

Quickly removing her cloak she handed it to him, watching him for a moment before turning a bit to continue surveying the room. “And I am one of those ‘folk’s’?” she responded, raising her voice.

Lhainan hooked Feira’s cloak and popped off his hat to settle over it on the same peg. He tugged his fingers through his hair, which was mussed in a debonair fashion, and turned back to her with a grin. “Well, I guess,” he said. “Didn’t say there was anything wrong with those folk. They just miss out on a good time, is all!” He came toward her, offering his hand again and a wide smile. “Wanna dance?”

“Only some times,” she laughed, putting her hand in his. “And I always want to dance,” she said looking up to the platform as the music changed. Giving his hand a tug she stepped towards the dance floor.

Lhainan beamed as she pulled him onto the dance floor. Quickly, he swept her into a reel, pulling her close so as to accomplish neater spins. Yeah, that was the only reason.

Feira grinned as he led her about the floor in the midst of other dancing couples, not caring that her smile gave away just how thoroughly she was enjoying herself.

Lhainan was an able and athletic dancer, leading her through spins and twists with strong arms. He laughed gaily and often ‘sang’ rhythmically along with the music as they crossed the floor.

After three dances in a row, he finally pulled her aside so they might catch their breath. They’d managed to get all the way across the great dance floor and were near the bar, where sailors and dock workers and day laborers of all kinds mingled.

“Hoo! Well done, Blondie!” Lhainan exclaimed. “You thirsty?”

“Well done yourself!” she chimed as caught her breath. “A drink sounds lovely! I’m parched.” Looking towards the bar she considered the crowd of men for only a second before looking back to him. “I’m sure you know all the best ones.”

Lhainan smirked. “I’ve tried a few. You, uh, want something strong or you wanna keep it light?” he asked.

Feira bit her lower lip as she pretended to struggle with the decision. “I can hold my own all right, but it’s probably best to keep it light. Wait! What are you having?”

Lhainan shrugged. “Ahh, prob’ly a cider.” He grinned at her. “Just a little kick t’ make things fun. But I get the feelin’ I better keep my wits about me, around you.”

Feira gave him her best innocent smile. “What would ever make you think that?” Looking back to the crowd by the bar she drew closer to him, doing her best to not suddenly appear timid. “After you.”

Grinning warmly, Lhainan put an arm around her, guiding her with a hand on the small of her back as he edged through the crowd. “Beg pardon! ‘scuse me, comin’ through.”

As they finally made the bar, Lhainan rapped on it with his knuckles. “Cider fer me, and for the little lady…?” He looked to her.

Leaning against the edge, Feira glanced up at him then back over the counter. “I’ll have a cider as well, please.”

Lhainan held up two fingers to the barkeep. “Two ciders!” He gestured back to himself, making clear (at least to the barkeep) that the tab would be his.

He reclined on the bar, propping his elbows upon it and leaning toward Feira. He grinned. “‘avin’ a good time?” he asked under the thrum of activity.

Feira stood close to him, definitely because she didn’t want to shout, smirking back at his grin. “I am having an amazing time! Where did you learn to dance so well?”

Lhainan laughed. “Well some nights out at sea get kinda boring, ya know? Some of the boys play… the rest of us dance.” He winked. “I know the girl’s parts too.”

Feira chuckled, looking back to the dance floor for a moment. “I can lead the next dance if you’d like,” she says, arching an amused brow at him.

Lhainan’s brows rose. Still grinning, he straightened, took her hand, and turned himself under it. “I still got some work to do on my turn-outs, but I’ll do my best!”

Feira’s head tilted back as she burst a merry laugh. “Well it’s my job to make you look good. As long as you jump at the right times we won’t have a problem,” she snickered.

Lhainan released her hand, thumping his hand to his chest and belly laughing, a spritely sparkle in his eye. “Witty girl! I like that!”

Two ciders slid their way down the bar. Lhainan turned quickly to collect them before someone else helped themselves. He handed Feira one and toasted her with his. “Cheers, little lady,” he said with a grin.

Beaming a smile she toasted him in return. “Cheers, Sailor.” Taking a hearty drink she sighed with contentment, licked her lips, and took another sip. “Cider never tasted so good,” she commented with an approving nod.

Lhainan looked pleased. “Good! Hey, there’s a seat.” He pointed at a vacant barrel. “You wanna sit?”

“Oh, yes, let’s!” she chimed, careful not to spill as she jumped and looked to where he pointed. Weaving past a few patrons she took the seat before it could be stolen with a triumphant grin. Folding her skirts beneath her she scooted to make ample room for him.

Lhainan’s expression shifted for the briefest of moments. He looked… touched as she made room for him, not having expected her to share. But quick as a flash, his self-sure smile returned and he cocked his hip to half-sit, half-lean on the barrel. Darned if it wasn’t that big a seat and he was pressed up against her side when he sat with her.

“I can scoot over a bit more if you’d like,” she said between sips.

Lhainan looked over his shoulder at her and grinned. “I’m alright. I like you right where you’re at. Where’d you learn to dance so good?”

Her mouth quivering with a pleased smile she cupped her mug in both hands. “My mother started teaching, but my brother took over after her. And at all the parties the girls dance in the side halls.”

Lhainan squinted at her. “You really like workin’ for those stuffy lords and ladies?” he asked.

“Master Colagar isn’t like the others. And the Lady Mredothyn’s not stuffy or petty. She’s actually really sweet. And the last guests were actually travelers from Eriador.” Taking another drink she gave him a small smile. “I’m really good at my job. There are only two things right now that I’d leave for . . . barring any surprises, of course.”

Lhainan took a swig himself. “Uh-huh? What’s that?” he asked, urging her to go on.

Feira slowly kicked out her dangling foot. “Working at the palace or for Lalaith . . . If she ever left the Temple, that is, and if for some reason I was hired on at the palace. But the surprises, well, I suppose that could be anything,” she hummed, nursing a sip of cider.

“Who’s Lalaith?” he asked, his gaze turning to watch her feet play.

“The Priestess I was with the other day. She used to be a Lady. Well, I still think she is, but I won’t tell her that.”

“She was a lady?” Lhainan asked, incredulous. “Why’d she become a Priestess?” He turned slightly to see Feira’s face better.

Feira frowned for the fits time that night. “She was hurt real bad. L — Lost someone dear to her. She’s not taken her oaths yet, I don’t think.”

Lhainan puzzled that out. “With all due respect t’ the lady, it sounds like she ran away from her troubles,” he observed frankly, but not without a measure of sympathy. He watched Feira’s lips turn down. “You’re awful close with her?” he asked, gently and curious.

Kicking out her feet again she looked to him with a thoughtful expression. “I’d like to think so. She was your usual Lady, but she’s actually really nice beneath her shell. She pushed me to be better, though I don’t think she meant to. Lalaith’s my first real friend. ”

Lhainan smiled. “You known her a long time, then? She didn’t look much older’n you. Must’a grown up together, huh?”

Her mouth turning up in a smile Feira shook her head. “I didn’t meet her till this past summer. The first time we met she caught me reading one of Lord Colagar’s books when I was supposed to be cleaning.”

Lhainan grinned. “Now hang on… how’s that happen? Pretty, sweet thing like you goes /all/ this time without a single friend?” His tone was lightly skeptical.

“Well, the maids like me and some if them could be friends, but I don’t trust them with my secret stuff like real friends should,” she says with a shrug. “My brothers bout the closest friend I had, but he’s my brother, he’s supposed to tell me I’m pretty; to help me and tease me and all that stuff. I never really got noticed before the Wayfarers showed up. I am — or was pretty good at going unnoticed.” She then giggled and took another drink. “Meant more books to read.”

Lhainan leaned toward her, his eyes narrowing in a sly grin. “I don’t believe it,” he said quietly, close to her ear.

Feira chuckled, rubbing her arms as his whisper brought goosebumps up her skin. “Well it’s the truth,” she muttered with a sure nod, narrowing her eyes back at him as she struggled against a smile.

“Nooo, no, no,” Lhainan murmured, the tip of his nose nearly touching hers as his grin broadened. He stared into her amber eyes, his own sea green ones holding a confusing mix of mirth and sincerity. “Nobody with eyes could fail t’ notice you, Blondie. I think… you just didn’t notice their noticin’.”

“T-That is the most likely conclusion,” she managed as she gazed back at him, tucking her pink lips in, her free hand clinging to her flowered braid. She leaned an inch back from him; well, at least she thought she had, and took in his features before his eyes reeled her back in. “And what makes you think you’re the first I’ve noticed?”

Lhainan’s gaze flicked down to those pink lips, then traveled slowly back up to her eyes, his smile never faltering. “Never thought I was the first,” he said, still in that soft mysterious tone. “I’m just makin’ sure you’re noticin’ me noticin’. …are ya?” He never budged, though he allowed her the room to draw back if she chose.

One corner of her mouth curved up and as she nodded the tip of her nose lightly brushed against his. “I’m noticing,” she whispered, finally moving back, though not too far, given the space allowed on their shared barrel. A warm smile that unwillingly hinted to innocent confusion sparked in her eyes and she tore them away from him and over to watch the dancers, hiding behind her mug as she took a drink.

Lhainan’s smile turned satisfied. “Good,” he said, and straightened, giving her more space. He nursed his cider a bit longer, surreptitiously watching her watch the dancers. He seemed comfortable in this silence that followed.

Feira shifted in her seat and, releasing her braid, set her hand back behind her on the edge of the barrel. Her slippered toe faintly played against the hem of her skirt as she watched the couples swirl as a unified body of laughter and clapping. Content with merely sitting beside him her expression remained ever present as she drank in their merry surroundings, sparing a glance his way when she thought he might not be looking.

Lhainan seemed not to notice at first, but the glimmer of his eye in her direction and the somewhat outlandish pose he struck, crossing his ankle on his knee and propping his elbow on his leg with his chin on his fist and the faintest of smirks on his lips in a ‘thinking man’s’ pose might be clues that her glances didn’t go unnoticed.

As the music changed Feira frowned down at her empty mug in disapproval, and as she turned to set the empty vessel down a grin curved up her face. Leaning almost too far back in her seat she observed him for a moment before dipping her head and laughing. “Well don’t you look incredibly pensive for a sailor! What’s that look on your face about?”

Lhainan made a show of smoothing his face into a neutrally inquisitive expression. “Oh! I thought you were lookin’ for something interesting to look at!” he said with mock-sincerity. “I just thought I’d give ya somethin’ to… take in.” He grinned cheekily

Feira sputtered a chuckle. Sitting up she let her head fall to the side as she feigned her most grateful smile. “You are far too thoughtful. Not that there is –” Suddenly realizing what she was about to say might not be taken as she intended she pursed her lips and quickly away, blushing.

His ear, then his eye turned as the music slowed and deepened. “Feel like more dancin’?” he asked.

“Oh I do! I love this one,” she said with a delighted smile, brushing her palms over her knees.

With a roguish laugh, Lhainan hopped off the barrel and offered his hand to her with a trust-me smile.

Grabbing the excess of her skirts with one hand she took his with her other and hopped down beside him with a sure smile.

Lhainan led Feira to the floor, where other couples slowly circled. He put one hand to her waist and cupped her opposite hand in his other. His hands were so hard, rough and chafed and calloused from sailing. But they were gentle. His smile softened as he guided her into a slow waltz.

Feira followed and stepped in close as they reached the floor. One hand alighted on his arm as her other fit into his, both worn from housework, but delicate and soft where the broom and duster couldn’t reach. She never hesitated as he led her, giving weight on the turns when needed, and never bothered to look at the couples around them.

All of Lhainan’s attention was upon her as he curled his hand around hers and slowly tucked it against his chest. Their waltz steps simplified into a slow swaying, like a few others around them. He studied every detail of her face, seeming to search for something.

Feira’s chin turned up as she looked back at him, a soft expression warming her already glowing features. Continuing to slowly move in time with him, curiosity faintly twitched at the corners of her mouth as she observed him studying her, her free hand moving a little further up his arm.

He grinned and shook his head. “Can’t fathom it,” he said.

“Can’t fathom what?” she asked with an inquisitive arch of her brow and tilt of her head.

“What it is about you that’s got me caught like a fish on a line,” he said, smiling. “Every girl’s got hair. But not like yours.” His hand at her back rose to tug lightly on the end of her braid. “Every girl’s got eyes, a nose, lips, chin…” He laughed quietly. “Arms, legs, hands and feet! …but not like yours. Somethin’ special about you, Blondie. I just can’t figure what exactly it is.”

There was no hiding that Feira was at a complete loss for words. Tucking her chin down she cast her eyes away for a minute as color filled her cheeks. Her torso shaking with a silent huff of a laugh she looked back up at him with a soft yet somewhat bewildered smile. “Well, Sailor, you’ve proven to be good at finding things out,” she responded with a shy chuckle. “Once you figure what it is, let me know?”

Lhainan smiled, pleased about something. “There ya go. Good girl. I was afraid you wouldn’t take a compliment very well. But you surprised me.”

Feira’s smile grew. “Good. I have a reputation to uphold,” she chuckled, “and it’s not every day a dashing sailor swoops in and showers me with compliments.”

He grinned, lifting her hand from his chest, still twined with his, to run his finger under her chin. “I can make it every day. …for four more days,” he offered.

Quickly licking her lips she nodded softly, swallowing as his fingers brushed against her skin. “I work . . . but I’m sure I can pencil you in.”

Lhainan’s eyes glittered as he watched her physical response. But he murmured with a calm smile, “Eeeeeasy there, Blondie.” He settled her hand over his heart again. It beat strong and quick under her fingers. “We got time.”

The slow ballad was drawing to a close, though all around them couples clung to each other still.

“Four days is plenty of time,” she said quietly, smiling softly up at him, “and I’m not going anywhere.” She smoothed her thumb out over where her hand rested, to brush out a fold in his shirt, of course. Unsure of what to say or do Feira’s thin shoulders relaxed. Lingering in the moment, her amber eyes fixed on where his heart beat against her hand.

Smiling, Lhainan tucked his chin, his nose brushing against her hair as she looked down at his chest. He was quiet as the last chords of the song echoed tremulously in the air, his arm shifting just a tad more securely around her narrow waist.

But all too soon the moment passed and the band struck up another hornpipe and those standing aside crowded the dance floor again with raucous shouts and laughter.

“Gig! Oi, Gig!” called a voice.

Reluctantly, Lhainan looked up.

Feira blinked rapidly as she looked up, almost as if she’d been roused from a dream. Not pulling away, she looked to where the voice sounded from.

“Why are you called ‘Gig’?” she asked with an amused smile.

As he caught sight of the speaker, Lhainan’s smile thinned. It wasn’t a happy one, but his lips stayed upturned. Under her hand, his muscles tensed and he turned, shifting between her and the hard-faced man approaching, who bore an unattractive expression of self-interest as he leered at the women on the dance floor.

“It’s a nickname,” he said quietly to Feira. “A gig’s the captain’s personal boat.” Raising his voice, he addressed the man, who appeared to be in his mid-thirties. “‘hoy, Derrin,” he said calmly, though his tone carried a faint irritation. “How’s Cignet City treatin’ ya?”

Derrin smiled, and it was nothing like Lhainan’s. It was cold. “Fair ‘nough.” His eyes raked over Feira. “Looks like you’re havin’ a fine time tonight!” he said to Lhainan.

Her hand that still rested on his arm tightened and Feira stood a little straighter, but her expression remained sweet and pleasant as she nodded politely to the man called ‘Derrin.’ As the man’s cold eyes took her in a keen alertness filled her own and they darted quickly up to Lhainan and back.

“How long you in town?” Derrin asked, squinting at Lhainan.

“Not much longer,” Lhainan said smoothly. “Shove off tomorrow. Just makin’ the most of my last night in civs.”

Derrin nodded slowly. “Huh. That’s too bad. Tsk. Too bad. I thought maybe we could… hearken the old days, ye know?” He jerked his head to the side, indicating a group of sailors at the bar. One of them looked like the kid Ditty who’d greeted Lhainan on their way in. “Your shipmates said four days to heave anchor.”

“Well sure, fer them,” Lhainan replied, never missing a beat. “Cap’s got extra duty for me.”

“Ohh,” Derrin drawled slowly, tucking his thumbs into his trouser waist. “Welp. Damn the luck, sucker-fishin’ off that old shark, eh?”

Lhainan’s profile hardened, his own smile flickering cold for the briefest of moments. “Aye. Damn the luck.”

Derrin glanced over at Feira. “Well, you have a fine night, missy! Enjoy a rub o’ the Swan’s Belly!” He offered her a half-bow and chuckled.

Feira watched the man as he spoke, and her eyes lingered on the group of sailors when they were pointed out. When it was mentioned that it was Lhainan’s last night she made a point to appear disappointed and looked away till the end of the conversation.

“You as well, sir,” she responded to the man as Derrin directed his attention to her, inclining her head in response to the bow.

Lhainan watched until Derrin was out of sight, and Feira shuddered as her gaze followed his.

He turned to Feira, looking apologetic. “…I’m real sorry about that,” he said. “Some people just really know how t’ ruin a good time.” He smiled again, hopeful.

“You don’t need to apologize,” she said, turning her attention back to Lhainan, and offering an encouraging smile. “And I thought I had a lot of questions to ask you before! But if you’d like, let’s forget him for now. Wanna go for another spin or do something else?”

His smile brightened. “You hungry?” he asked. “Baldy’s cart’s just outside! …or it was when we got here.”

“Very! I haven’t eaten since early afternoon,” she admitted with a guilty chuckle, giving his hand a squeeze. “Why don’t we go find out?”

Lhainan’s brows rose. “Well c’mon then! We gotta get you chummed!” He offered his arm and led her back toward the door through the crush of people. Taking his arm she followed, squeezing through the thick crowd.

By this time, the pegs of coats and cloaks were so full they had to search for a moment for his hat and Feira’s cloak. Reaching up, Feira hung the few cloaks that had fallen back and dodged a jolt in the crowd around them as she moved close to him.

“Thank you!” she chimed as she reached for her cloak in his hands.

Lhainan smiled and dodged her hand. He settled the cloak on her shoulders and cinched it at her throat, his hat tucked under his arm. “There ya go,” he said, and chucked her gently on the chin.

Feira laughed and stood patiently as he fixed her cloak around her. Smirking, she snagged his hat out from under his arm and set it atop his head before he could protest, giving the rim a satisfied tap she she got it at just the right angle. “Much better,” she murmured, giving the hat a nod of approval. “Ready?”

Lhainan’s smile grew and he tucked her arm in his. He led her through the door, where the night had descended fully and the air had chilled. A few yards from the Swan’s Belly door stood a stooped old man in several layers behind a wheeled cart. He had set up a small wood fire stove and was frying freshly shucked oysters in a deep iron pot. The smell was heavenly. There were pots of coffee and hot mulled wine as well, and a display of different sauces for dipping the oysters.

“Baldy!” Lhainan called, and the old man turned.

“Wall halloo sailor!” said the old man with a broad smile that was missing several teeth. He did appear to have a clean, shiny pate under his saggy cap, but his red face was kind. “Worked yerself up an appetite, have ye? Halloo, miss! Ooh, pretty wee thing. Need some meat on yer bones, though, don’t ye!”

Lhainan dug in a pocket and dropped a few coins in a rattly tin. “Couple’a orders, ‘f ya don’t mind?”

“Surely, surely, son! Have ye somethin’ hot t’ drink while I batter ’em up, eh?”

Lhainan looked to Feira with a questioning grin.

“Coffee for me, please,” she answered with a sweet smile, glancing to the oysters. Putting a hand over stomach in attempt to muffle a dull grumble she chuckled. “Too many people seem to think I need to put meat on my bones.”

Lhainan poured cups of steaming coffee for Feira and himself, standing close to her to block the wind coming off the water.

“Ever been out on the open water?” he asked with a grin.

“No, I haven’t,” she said with a shake of her head, standing close so her shoulder lightly pressed against his chest. “What’s it like?” she asked looking up curiously as she sipped the hot brew.

Lhainan exhaled. “Ohh. Hard t’ describe,” he said. “It’s… freedom. Ya hear that from a lot of sailors. At first, it weighs on ya. Like… you’re free-fallin’. Nothin’ to hang on to. Then after a while, some ports feel like prisons. Like ya won’t breathe deep ’til you’re out away from land again.”

Feira heaved a silent sigh, gazing down the street. “That sounds . . . really nice, aside from feeling imprisoned. I bet the Crows Nest feels like flying,” she commented, grinning. “Do any ports feel like prisons to you?”

Lhainan took a sip of coffee, warming one hand around the mug as he nonchalantly encircled Feira with his other arm. Just to keep her warm, of course. He seemed comfortable in just his uniform.

He hummed and shook his head. Finally swallowing his coffee, he said, “Nah, not yet. Too much t’ explore still. I just see it on some old sailors’ faces. Like they’re pent up on land.”

Feira tilted her face down as his arm wrapped around her, embarrassed that she had been blushing so much and thinking that it might be improper to stand so close to him, but he was just being a gentleman , and it was rather cold out . . . .

“Good,” she responded with a pleased smile. “Being on a ship sounds exciting,” she said wistfully. “I hope you never grow discontent with the sea or land. There is too much to see of both. Where do you wanna explore?”

Lhainan beamed down at her. “I’ll take ya out some time! …if you really want to.”

Feira’s face lit with a smile as she started to respond when Baldy called unobtrusively, “Order up!” He scooped the steaming oysters into a paper funnel.

Lhainan turned to collect the oysters form Baldy, handing the old man his coffee cup back. The wind blustered up to stir Feira’s cloak.

Lhainan beckoned her to the sauce barrel. “These’ll be the best oysters you ever eat, I guarantee ya.”

Pulling her cloak tightly around her as the wind sent a shiver up her spine she followed him over. “By Emeleth that smells so good! What dip is best?”

Lhainan’s smile turned sly. “Well first ya gotta have a naked one. I like the tabasco myself. Horseradish is good too.” He pointed them out, then plucked a fat little oyster from the top of the heap. “Here.”

Pursing her lips in a thin, excited line she took the oyster from him and, staring at it for a second as if wondering how to eat it, bit it in half. Covering her mouth with a hand Feira’s eyes widened, staring at him. She started to speak, but finding no words simply ate the rest of the oyster.

Lhainan’s smile broadened. “Good?” he asked, and popped one into his mouth.

Feira nodded and took another, trying it with the hot sauce. “I’ve never had anything like it!”

Lhainan blinked. “…you never had fried oysters before?!” he exclaimed. “Baldy, are you hearin’ this?”

Baldy tsked and shook his head woefully.

Remembering to swallow, Feira then laughed as she selected another. “No! Well I had a bite of raw oyster a few years back but it was terrible. These — these are one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.”

Baldy chuckled happily and turned back to his work, rinsing out the coffee cup in a tub of water.

Lhainan beamed. ” I won’t say I toldja so,” he laughed.

“Only cause it’s written all over your face,” she chuckled, making a face at him.

“Here…” He plopped a small blob of white stuff on an oyster and held it up to Feira’s mouth.

Leaning her head back then scrutinized the white stuff. “What is it?”

Lhainan paused, as if unwilling to say, but finally admitted with a grin, “…horseradish. It’s good!”

“Horseradish?” she asked, still eyeing the piece. Huffing a chuckle she lifted her hand to his and ate the oyster he offered. A bit of the horseradish got on her upper lip and she shrank back with a smile as she covered her mouth again as she licked her lips clean.

Lhainan watched keenly, evidently expecting something to happen.

Feira chewed several times before she paused, and the smallest squeak emanated from her throat. Pivoting she took a step away, one hand set on her hip and the other at her throat. Finally managing to swallow she whirled back and began to chug her hot coffee.

Both Lhainan and Baldy began to laugh, not unkindly, at Feira’s reaction. Lhainan bent over, clutching his belly as he guffawed.

The coffee gone, Feira caught her breath and, with a grin, shoved a hand against Lhainan’s shoulder before eating a fried oyster plain and getting a second helping of coffee. “By the Valar my . . . everything!” she exclaimed as she wiped at her watering eyes.

Lhainan giggled, falling back under her ‘shove.’ “Dontcha like it?” he asked, teasing. “Really opens ya up!”

Baldy chuckled and shook his head in exasperation at the boy.

“Not in the slightest!” she laughed, holding her cup to the side as she prodded his side with a finger. “I never thought I’d be attacked by food before! I’d take hot sauce every time over that!”

Lhainan half-heartedly dodged Feira’s hand, still laughing. “Alright, alright! Ya tried it at least, aye? Experience earned!” He swiped at her finger, trying to catch it.

Still laughing, she batted her hand out to parry his then attempted to dodge back. “I’m adding it to the list! I’ll have to be more careful when I choose to trust you from now on,” she teased back.

“Agh!” Lhainan clutched at his heart. “Lance to the heart!” he exclaimed, his brow puckering in fake pain. He staggered back, then seemed to register what she’d said. He straightened, all thoughts of play-acting set aside. “List, what list?”

Feira shook with laughter at his antics, one hand pressed against her abdomen. But, as soon as he stopped and asked about the ‘list’ she took a deep breath, working to contain herself. “List? Oh nothing, really. It’s just –” She cut herself off and narrowed her eyes mischievously. “You know what? Just for that I’m not telling,” she said primly as she took a sip of her coffee and turned back to the barrel.

“Aww,” Lhainan pouted, much as he had days before when she wouldn’t tell him where she worked. He stepped up behind her and proffered the parchment cone of oysters around her. “Here, you can have all the rest! …then will ya tell me?”

Pretending to struggle with his offer her hand hesitated a hairs-breadth from his before plucking an oyster out of the cone and looking over her shoulder to give him a playful smirk. “Nope! Your powers of humor and fried food cannot sway me,” she declared before popping the oyster into her mouth.

Lhainan sighed, distraught, and rested his chin on her shoulder. “Well in that case…” He reached around her and popped another oyster in his mouth.

“Alright, alright. What’ll I have t’ do to earn this one?” he asked. “I ain’t afraid of a little hard work.”

Feira glanced over to his face resting so near to hers, still smirking. “Oh goodness, I’m not sure,” she mused, licking her lips and choosing out another oyster. “I think it’s more of earned as well as a proper timing thing. Maybe I’ll tell you tonight . . . or right before you ship out . . . or when you get back again and decide you don’t like me cause I’m suddenly a foot taller and have a pointed nose,” she said, throwing out the first obscure thing that came to mind.

Lhainan narrowed his eyes and grinned. “Now yer makin’ stuff up,” he said, settling his hand on her hip as his other hand held the cone for her.

I know what’ll happen while I’m shipped out,” he said, his tone a bit more serious than it had been, although he was far from solemn. He sighed. “Now that you’ve noticed all the noticin’ that goes on around you, some rascal will come along an’ you’ll forget all about me, pinin’ away on a ship full of men.”

Looking into the cone Feira silently counted the rest of the oysters, took one more, then clasped her hands comfortably in front if her.

“Sailor, you wound me,” she chided with a smile. “Noticing all the noticing will surely only make it so that i have wild tales of me breaking all the unworthy lad’s hearts to tell upon your return. Besides,” she said, feigning a despondent sigh, “you may find some olive skinned, dark-haired gem at some far, exotic port that makes you forget me.”

Lhainan smirked, his chin moving on her shoulder as he swiveled to eye her profile. “Lucky fer you, I prefer fair skin. But I like a witty girl even better.” His thumb brushed her rib.

Her side trembled ever so faintly beneath his hand as if she’d never been touched but she shot him her best down-to-business look. “Well, then by Emeleth we’ll have to find you one of those. I’m sure there is a bunker of ’em around here somewhere,” she muttered, popping her carefully chosen oyster into her mouth and chewing thoughtfully.

Lhainan laughed softly, his warm breath puffing against her cheek. “Think I already found one,” he said. His fingers dragged against her waist as he withdrew his hand and straightened.

A tower bell slowly rang twenty-two bells, and after he’d counted, Lhainan asked reluctantly, “You got a curfew? Don’t wanna get you in trouble.”

Taking one more drink of coffee Feira turned to look in the direction of the bell, brushing an invisible crumb from the corner of her mouth. “No curfew for me, but I work in the morning. I thought it might be a good idea to only work the early shifts through this week,” she said with a shrug and a small smile.

Lhainan’s lips tugged upward, pleased by the unsaid implication.

“So,” he said, twisting the paper cone closed and pocketing it. “What d’ya wanna do now? …my ship’s not far. She’s a beaut. …or I could walk ya home.”

Doing her best to not appear too eager, Feira pulled her cloak more tightly around her shoulders and began to pick the droopy nosegay from her loose braid. “Hmmm, how about you take me the long way and show me your ship?”

He tried not to let the proud grin leap onto his face as he offered her his arm yet again. “Sure.” He led her deeper into the harbor, where lit torches were fewer and farther between. The breeze was low but cutting on this late winter’s night.

“You know much about ships?” Lhainan asked easily.

“They float,” she responded with a smirk. Feira walked close, her arm pressed against his as her hand rested on his forearm. For warmth, of course.

“I know cogs are single masted ships. The hull is the shell, the bow is the front and the stern is the back. The helm is attached to a rudder that steers the vessel, annnnnd . . . the left and right sides are starboard and . . . Well blast, I can’t remember the other,” she muttered with a frown, her brows knitting as she scoured her memory. ” There are masts and sails and tack and bigger ships have more than one anchor.” She hesitated a moment before skipping and adding, “Oh! And of course the crows nest.”

Lhainan nodded. “Not bad, Blondie!” he said, holding her arm close. For warmth, of course.

“Port. Left is port. Turanwar’s a corvette, fast an’ dodgy. She scouts… escorts freighters through disputed waters… sails support for two- an’ three-deckers… um, bigger warships, I mean. She’s sly and clever,” he said, narrowing his eyes and grinning at Feira. “And the sleekest, trimmest ship in the fleet.” Oh but he was proud of his ship.

“Port,” she repeated in a whisper. Her head suddenly tilted as she gave a rich, amused laugh. “So you like your ships fair and witty,” she commented with a grin. Holding his arm a little tighter she nodded up to him, genuinely interested. “Tell me more about her! Who has Turanwar out ran? Does she have a reputation among the fleet?”

He straightened further, standing tall as he could without taking off from the ground. “Oh, /’course/ she does!” he exclaimed. “She’s faster than anythin’ on the water. And her crew’s the bravest lads in all o’ Gondor.” Of this he was certain.

“She’s beat all the record times for the Cignets Regatta, but o’ course a navy ship can’t compete against the civs.” He shrugs. “Gotta let the nobles feel good about themselves, y’know.”

“It’s a shame,” she tsked. “The Regatta is so much fun and it would be nice to see the younger lords put in their place,” she chuckled. “Did you choose to serve on the Turanwar, or were you chosen?”

He settled a bit as he drew in a breath, ordering his thoughts. “I met the Captain when I was a kid. He set me a challenge; he needed oranges for his men. They’d been aweigh for an awful long stretch, were startin’ in on scurvy. But it was the dead o’ winter, see. Oranges hadn’t been in season for months. Well, I found ’em.” Lhainan grinned. “An’ Captain asked if I’d be cabin boy for him.”

Feira smiled softly as she gazed ahead. Shivering as the breeze tugged at her cloak she studied the ships as they strolled past. “The Captain sounds like a good man. You said his name was Belarad?”

“Aye, that’s him,” Lhainan said with a nod. “He wasn’t a captain yet when he took me on. But I’ve been with him every step of the way since. He’s a good man, that’s sure.”

He steered her down onto a pier, out away from the protection of the harbor walls. Torches burned at the end of the dock and revealed in flickering light the slender profile of a tall double-masted ship. Her sails were furled up tight and she bobbed high in the water, tugging at her docking lines like an eager filly.

“There she is.” Lhainan’s voice took on a reverent tone.

Her shoulders shaking from the chill of the wind, Feira took a step back as she considered the ship. Her eyes bright with the delight they traced over the deck, and up the rigging. She had seen many boats before, but his pride and seeing the vessel so close made the ship seem perfect.

“She’s beautiful,” she said with an admiring smile. “No wonder you like her. She is sleek and seems cunning. How many are in the crew?”

“Forty of the Prince’s best!” Lhainan said, shifting so he might better block the wind for her. He held her cloak in place at her waist so it wouldn’t billow and so she might collect some warmth under it.

Lhainan gestured to an opening of the hull on the top deck, where a gangplank would have been. “Plank’s been pulled for the night, else I’d give ya a tour.”

Her shivering lessened and she turned her head to brush her cold nose against her shoulder, a blush warming the rest of her face. “That’s alright,” she said with a smile, still looking to the ship. “There has been so much new for me tonight, best we save the tour of your ship for another afternoon or evening.”

“New, like what?” Lhainan asked, tone softer. He dipped his head closer.

“New, like everything,” Feira responded with a quiet sigh. Chuckling under her breath she then glanced at him with a slight smirk. “That’s my ‘list’. A whole night of being led into uncharted waters. The dancing, at least, I knew.”

Lhainan smirked with amusement. “Uncharted waters, eh? …well, didja like what you found?”

Her mouth curved in a small smile, Feira studied him for a moment before offering a slight yet confident nod and looking down to where his hand still held her cloak shut. “I did.”

“Well, there’s one last thing I could show ya,” said Lhainan in a hushed voice, his eyes flickering over her face. “If yer up for more explorin’.”

“I’m always up for exploring,” she whispered in response, excitement edging in her voice. “Where to, Sailor?”

Lhainan’s grin warmed with her enthusiasm. “C’mon.” He led her back up the pier and up, back toward the entry to the port and warehouse district.

Following, Feira’s gait had the smallest spring in her step and she looked around with a keen gaze, memorizing their path and the buildings they passed. Her eyes darting up at him she then focused ahead, curious as to their destination.

She began to notice that Lhainan was returning on the same route they had come from House Colagar well before they’d left the city gates.

The night was clear and chill, though it was warmer up in the hill country surrounding the city than it was down at the water’s edge. Stars seemed sharper, and surely there were more of them peppering the sky than there usually were.

Unlike the biting breeze from before, the chill here was one she’d become more accustomed to. Looking up, her amber eyes took in the sky scape and a warm expression filled her features.

“Caaaan I have a hint?” she asked, her eyes narrowing suspiciously at him before offering her most charming smile.

Lhainan chuckled. “Suuure,” he drawled. But said nothing more. They were climbing slowly up the road to the Colagar gate by now.

Confused, Feira shot him a smirk, but continued on beside the young man, deciding to be content in the company as she puzzled over the proposal of more ‘explorin.’

Lhainan regards the stars with a conspiratorial smile. “Ahh, lessee. Your clue is… it’s always where yer at.” He grinned cheekily at her.

Feira twisted her mouth to the side. “Myeeee . . . good looks and wit?” she asked with a giggle.

Lhainan laughed. “Nope. Although those’re both very fine qualities of yours.” Up to the servants’ gate they came. He slowed, waiting to see how far she wished him to take her.

Her mind preoccupied, Feira slowed with him, though she continued on, reaching out to open the gate. “Umm . . . Oh blast, I haven’t the slightest.” A quiet laugh then escaped her. “No . . . no that couldn’t be it either.”

Lhainan followed her through the gate. “You’ll see soon enough,” he assured her with a chuckle. He fell behind her a step.

Feira led him across a dark lawn to one end of the servant’s quarters, a small sigh of relief escaping her as she saw all the lights were out. Turning around she walked backwards the last few paces so as to study him. “This isn’t like the horseradish, is it?” she asked with a bright, amused smirk.

Lhainan grinned, following her. “I sure hope not.” Despite his smile, the sentiment sounded genuine. “…ya ready?”

Feira stopped in the shadowed stoop, arching her brows quizzically. “Ready . . .?”

“Fer me to show ya.” He stood a pace away and offered her his open hand.

Looking from him to his hand and back Feira slowly reached out to put her hand lightly in Lhain’s. “Alright . . . ”

Lhainan smiled, that impish twinkle in his eye as he slowly drew her closer. He settled a hand on her waist as his other hand touched her chin, angling her face toward his. He stopped, his face a hair’s breadth from hers. “I had an awful nice time. I hope you did. Think I’ll get t’ see you tomorrow?”

Feira moved easily, her breath catching as he angled her chin upwards. “I did. I had . . . I had a wonderful night. Thank you,” she said softly, placing a hand lightly on one of his arms as her other hesitantly alighted on his chest. “As for tomorrow . . . Maybe, if you ask me real nicely,” she chuckled with a wry smile.

Lhainan beamed, his eyes laughing. Slowly, he kissed her, drawing his sea-roughened fingers along her jaw. His lips were gentle, but cool and a bit chapped. He smelled of salt air even now, and coffee and hot sauce and pine sawdust. He slipped his arm around her waist.

Feira’s eyes grew wide as his lips pressed against hers, but she inched a bit closer, kissing him back. Though hesitant and unsure, her lips were soft and warm. She smelled clean, like linens left to dry in a flower garden. Some of the hints of coffee and hot sauce were from her but the sweet scent of the nosegay lingered in her hair. As his arm drew around her the cool hand that rested on his chest slipped up to rest at the nape of his neck.

Though his face was cold, Lhainan’s neck under his collar was quite warm. He lingered close. “…how was that for somethin’ new?” he murmured, eyes bright as he stared into hers.

Licking her lips and pressing them into a thin line Feira gazed back, her eyes soft and filled with an indiscernible swirl of emotions. “T-That was . . . was new,” she whispered, at a loss for words.

He half-grinned, his expression enchanted as his pulse raced under her hand. His eyes flicked down to her lips, the only warning before he kissed her again, moving his lips over hers, his nose brushing her cheek.

Feira got in half a breath before he was there once more and, even more unsure than ever, she mirrored his movements, her lips slowly dancing over his. Her hand slid a bit further up his neck and the soft side of Feira’s thumb brushed up over his skin as her heart seemed about to leap from her chest.

Lhainan’s eyes were still closed for a moment after he withdrew, a sated smile upon his lips. He looked down at her. “…how about tomorrow then?” he murmured in a husky tone.

“T-Tomorrow,” she breathed, reluctant to take her mind off his closeness and warmth. Her hands retreating down the sleeves of his jacket she leaned back against the arm that held her. “I’m at the library as soon as I finish the noon chores.” Her weak knees suddenly steadied as a sobering thought dimmed the gleam in her eyes. “What are we going to do about you ‘shipping out’?”

Lhainan grinned, trying not to smirk at her stutter. “Guess I’ll be at the library too, then,” he said. He was warm, so very warm! “I c’n write to ya?” he asked, as answer to her question.

He was warm indeed! And that was all the excuse she needed to tuck her arms in and lean towards his chest. A confused expression flickered across her features but was shoved aside by an unabashedly touched smile. “You would wri — I mean, yes! You may write,” she responded sweetly.

Lhainan grinned and held her close. “…ya’d be warmer inside…” he suggested softly. “‘sides, I oughta let ya get some rest so you can finish up all yer work tomorrow.”

“I always get my work done,” she chuckled softly, her heart still racing as he held her. “But I should go. I’m rarely ever out this late.” Reluctantly she started to pull away and a warm smile curved up her lips as she looked back to him. “The library, then? I’ll be in one of the upper lofts.”

“I’ll find ya,” he whispered, and bent his head for a final good night kiss. This one was warmer, and he pulled her waist against him, his other hand pressing in at her back as he did his best to fill all her senses with him alone.

She didn’t tremble, no, it was . . . it was merely a shiver that ran up her spine as she leaned into his kiss. A delicate hand found it’s way up to trail along the ridge of his jaw, and after what felt like an eternity she pulled away giving him one last, tender peck of a kiss as an offering. “Good night, Sailor,” she whispered, her nose brushing against his.

Lhainan grinned in the darkness, a tad breathless. “…g’night, Blondie,” he murmured and slowly withdrew from her embrace, his fingers trailing down her arms. He backed away, watching her with stars in his eyes.

Her hands falling from his, Feira quietly opened the door and slipped inside. Lingering in the doorway she looked back at him with bright, shimmering eyes and a beguiled smile before disappearing, the door silently closing behind her.

(Everything has been taken from rp-mail and edited for tense and composition. Thank you Fey for rping as Lhain! ^_^)

(Disclaimer: All facts about the ship and her crew are subject to change in light of future rp’s.)