memories

A Healthy Dose of Shock

lotrohorizon

Eruviel remembers….

Twenty years ago.

“You’re off in the morning, then?”

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

“Wargs?”

“Worse.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Le– Leavin’ aaahready?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Fourteen years ago.

“Oy! There’s a sight for sore eyes!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“There is a path.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lotus: Guests

“Aysun!” Inaris marched down the paved street towards the side entrance to the House, and where the other girls waited with robes. Adorned only by the dust that had filled the market square, she scoured the gaggle of courtesans till her unforgiving gaze locked on her competitor. “You spineless wench. I win the wager.”

The fear that had been in Aysun’s eyes minutes before was gone, and the haughty young woman looked down her nose as her followers wrapped a crimson silk robe around her body. “Little liar. Do you dare call me a cheat?”

“I do,” Inaris responded frankly, not missing a beat. “You saw those Easterlings and ran like a whimpering pup.”

Aysun’s face flushed with embarrassment, but she sniffed indignantly as the other girls looked to her. “The insolence at calling me a coward. I walked the whole way. Everyone here saw me walk around that corner.” Though all of their peers nodded in agreement, Inaris noted the doubt many of them failed to conceal.

Finally accepting the silk, sky-blue robe that was offered her, Inaris let the collar hang loose and cinched the sash tight. “You have always been a coward, which is why, in the eyes of the Masters, you will always be second.”

The young woman’s face turned a shade darker, this time in anger, and she gestured an insult at Inaris. “You lose the bet, you take my place serving the Masters tonight.”

Inaris shrugged as if it was nothing to ever be concerned about. “Fine.” Giving her long, platinum blonde hair a toss, she turned her back on Aysun, not giving her the reaction she wanted.

“You… You whore! I hope they bore of you!” A fate none of them wanted. “Disrespect me again and I will have the
Mistress send you to the darkest, filthiest brothel in Middle Earth!”

The spoiled, pompous…. The girls around her tensed as Inaris stopped, and slowly turned to face Aysun. Unfortunately
(though fortunate for her opponent), before the venom on her tongue could spill out, a call sounded from above.

“If you ladies have a moment,” the youngest of the Masters began in a cool tone, “you are all wanted inside. We have guests. Wash your feet, and come to the courtyard.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

All twenty-some of the girls that had been gathered outside filed into the courtyard. Sheer cloth streamers were strung between the pillars, and lush, blossoming flowers lined the walls and filled marble planters.

The line of young courtesans came to a halt in the center of the yard by their Mistress. Turning to face out, it was then that all of their unspoken questions were answered. Several of the Masters stood gathered a short distance away. With them stood several Easterlings and their servants. Inaris noted that they were the same ones that had been in the market.

Inaris retained her indifferent expression, but oh, the self control it took to keep back a wicked smirk. As the guests spoke quietly amongst themselves, she risked a glance at Aysun. The young woman was a shade paler than her usual olive complexion. She cast a glance back at Inaris, but would not meet her eyes.

Gliding forward, their regal, stern-faced Mistress moved to address them. “To put the rumors to rest, the army camped to our south will be moving West against our enemies. From among you will be chosen a select few to accompany them, and serve their officers. It is an honor, and I expect you, as my wards, to behave and perform in a manner suiting the station granted to you by being a part of this House.”

Inaris, along with the whole line of young women, bowed their heads. Remaining silent, they fixed their eyes ahead as two Easterlings and a servant approached the line. Each in turn were considered. One Easterling would tuck back a lock of hair on one girl, then lift the next girl’s chin. The second would stare into one girl’s eyes, or fix the soft collar of yet another. Some flinched, some smiled, but Inaris remained unmoving as she kept her gaze down in some semblance of submission.

Finally, it was over, and the men stepped back once more. Speaking quietly with the Mistress and their Masters, three girls, all who had flinched were selected. The rest were quietly sent away, all except for Inaris and Aysun. Called forward, it was probably the first time the girls had quietly stood side-by-side.

“We noticed you two earlier,” spoke the second Easterling, though he did not sound like one. “Quite a little competition between the two of you.” The man stepped forward and slowly circled them, testing Inaris’s blonde, and then Aysun’s black hair between his fingers. He did not walk like an Easterling. Something in her gut tugged at her, telling her that no good could come of this.

Stopping in front of Aysun, the man leaned down a little to look her in the eyes as his comrade joined him. “Hold a moment,” said the first man. “What is your name, my dear?”

Aysun smiled a bit shyly as the Easterling inspected the brand behind her ear. “Aysun, my lord.”

“Aysun? Lovely. Will you do something for me?”

The girl nodded timidly. “Of course, my lord.”

“Punch my friend here.”

Aysun looked stunned. “M-My lord?”

The first man gave her an even look. “You heard me. Strike him. That is an order.”

Her dark eyes darting to Inaris, Aysun raised her hand, and lightly slapped the man on the cheek. Electricity hung in the air.

The second man blinked, then let out a long, disappointed sigh. Reaching out, he gingerly touched Aysun’s chin. The young woman froze in place, and her eyes widened with pain. “Poor little girl. You should do what you are told.” He released her, then, and the two men turned to Inaris.

There was no hiding the shock in her eyes, but she did not recoil as the first man leaned in towards her. “And what about you? How well do you follow orders?”

Inaris lifted her chin with a prideful air. “Try me, my lord.”

The first man smirked, and the second arched a dark eyebrow. “Punch my friend.”

She turned her bright blue gaze to the second man, and while she knew it may be her undoing, Inaris did not hesitate. Her fist flew forward, smashing into the Easterling’s face. By the gods, it felt good to punch that man. He reeled back, not having expected her response. Aysun, still frozen from whatever he had done to her, stared at Inaris in horror. The Mistress smiled, the Masters nodded in approval, and the Easterlings laughed.

“Yes! Delightful! We shall take her as well.”

“You should know, she comes with certain conditions,” offered the Mistress as she bowed to the two men.

“Hmm?” The second man stopped rubbing his jaw, and reached to look behind Inaris’s ear at her brand. “I see. Well, that should not be a problem. His eyes met hers, and as his fingers lingered behind her ear a gut-wrenching pain tore through her. Cold and prickling, it raked down her limbs. Inaris tensed, but after the first second the pain quickly dissipated, and she was only aware of the power that was being tested against her.

She did not know what it was, and apparently the Easterling did not either, for he stared at her with genuine surprise. Then his lips curled in a small, cruel smile. Pulling his hand away, he lightly patted her on the cheek, and turned back to join the others as they moved to walk away. 

“We would like a copy of the terms so as to not suffer you any trouble,” said the first Easterling, offering his arm to the Mistress. “Business has always been good in the past, and we would like to keep it that way.”

Their voices and footsteps faded as the group retreated. Aysun had yet to move, and Inaris considered her with a dispassionate gaze as she smoothed her hands down the front of her robe. 

“I guess that means the bet is off.” Spinning on her heel, Inaris pinched Aysun’s cheek before moving to stroll away. “Have fun tonight!”

The Sea: In Time

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Eruviel remembers . . .

“Rain? Milloth?” called little Artis as she burst out of a wall of lush ferns and onto the grey beach. They had to be close. They had to be! She’d heard them, and she wouldn’t stand to be left behind as they explored the shoreline without her.

“Rain?” she called again, scampering up an old, fallen tree, gripping at the sea-treated roots. “Millo — aah!” A chunk of rotted bark broke away as she stepped too close to the edge of the log, and the little Elven girl cried out as she fell. A foot of free-falling felt like forever, but instead of landing on the cold rocks and sand below, strong, warm arms caught her.

“Woah, there, little sister!” laughed Rainion as he spun her in a circle. “You should watch where you are stepping. I can’t always catch you.”

“I would have been all right,” chimed Artis even as she cast her arms around the Eldar’s neck for added security.

“You find her?” called a second voice from around the beached log.

“We are over here!” responded Rainion as he knelt down to set Artis on her feet. “You should be more careful, Artis. Ada would have my head if you were hurt.”

Artis leaned back, giving him an obstinate frown. “Then I won’t get hurt! You’d look funny without your head. Besides, nothing bad can happen if you and Mill are around.”

Rainion gave her a strange smile as if she’d said something amusing, and he tugged playfully at her braid as Milloth jogged around to join them.

“Hey, who was it that just accused me for being too soft on her?” the youthful Eldar declared as his grey eyes flicked over Artis for any sign of injury.

Rainion rose to his full height, and pushed his blonde hair back over his shoulder. “Soft? You spoil her!”

Milloth strode over, and mussed a hand through Artis’s hair. “Me? Who is the one who taught her the easiest ways to climb out of her window?”

“She would have done it anyways,” responded Rainion matter-of-factly. “Call it preemptive damage-control.”

Artis frowned up at Milloth as she ducked away from his hand. “You made my hair all frizzy. And I’m not spoiled.”

“No?”

“Nope!”

“How do you figure that?” asked Milloth as he stooped to allow her to clamber onto his back.

“It’s . . . not,” she offered, making a face as she scrambled to find a better excuse. “You just love me!”

Milloth hopped upright, bouncing Artis on his back. “I don’t know. I wonder how much our big brother loves you.”

Rainion lifted his head in a proud manner, his mouth quirking with a smirk. “Enough to keep you from falling on your head.”

“Enough to give me a piggyback next?!”

“If you can catch me, you — hey!”

Milloth leapt forward after Rain, chasing him out over the wet sand with little Artis clinging to his shoulders. “Get him, Milloth! Catch him!”

~~~***~~~

Cold waves rolled up the pale golden sand. She hadn’t bothered to keep track of how long she had been walking. Eruviel’s faint prints faded away with every step she took, and it was not until the warm, Gondorian spring sun reached well past noon that she turned around to venture south again.

A brisk ocean breeze combed through her long hair, and left salt kisses on her lips. The flowing in of the tide wrapped its arms around her like an old friend, and when it ebbed the waters were reluctant to let go, beckoning for her to follow.

You’re not far. The sea is not as wide as it seems.

Eruviel walked a little further, the sun’s rays warming her loose, happily tangled locks of hair. The distant cry of birds blended in with the thunderous crash of the surf. Occasionally a smoothed, shimmering fragment of pearly shell caught her eye and she stooped to collect it, depositing each little gem into a small purse that hung from a thin belt at her waist.

Rounding a bend in the shoreline the sand turned into small, smooth pebbles. The beach receded into the sea and, thanks to the low tide, the Elf navigated through the calm waters, skipping from the top of one submerged boulder to the next. A veil of cloud passed overhead, and Eruviel stopped, calf deep in the blue-green waters to look out over the expanse of glistening sea. Her thin, hiked-up skirts flapped in the air that flowed around her. Had she wings, a gush of wind would have carried her away up the towering sea cliffs.

You’re not far.

Far enough.

You don’t need to be.

I’m going back.

Come to us. You’re so close.

Not now. Not yet.

You could have stayed before.

I wasn’t ready. I’m still not.

Soon?

 . . . In time.