middle earth

Bittersweet: Beneath an Old Oak Tree

Droplets of moisture clung to her pant legs as Eruviel waded through the tall grass. The sun had begun to set over the not-so-distant mountains, but the light in her eyes did not diminish as she found her way by the path burned into her memory nearly a year earlier.

She intended to remain only one more night, having arrived at the homey cottage the evening before. Garric and her had traded news of the road and woods, and Avina had admonished her at both breakfast and luncheon for “eating like a bird”. The air was clean, and the sky’s clear, and a happy vibe filled the air around the home.

The morning had been spent with Eboric on one hip as she spoke with, and aided her hostess with a few chores. The afternoon, though, was possibly the most delightful one she had had in a long time. Her braid (properly redone, courtesy of her host’s young daughter) was still filled with wildflowers, and grass stains colored her trousers from playing with both the girl and her brother. Eboric had taken a fancy to her pointed ears, and took great joy in tugging them any chance he got. In truth, she almost did not leave for her errand. Having fed the babbling child, the Elf had dozed off as he fell asleep in her arms. Even now she could still feel the warmth of his little head on her shoulder.

Following the edge of the wood, Eruviel slowed as she came upon her destination. A sad smile stole over her features, and she approached the old Oak Tree with soft, reverent steps.

“I was hoping to find you still here.”

Her only response was a soft breeze that wove through the wide branches and played over young, green leaves. Having left all but her satchel back at the cottage, Eruviel looked down on the grave for several minutes.

Ninim, wife of Eirikr In death shall I live, could be seen carved into the wooden headstone Eirikr had labored over. Pulling off her gloves, Eruviel moved to kneel beside the marker. She began cleaning a years worth of dirt out of each carefully carved letter. Leaves and seeds and sprouts of grass were removed from around it’s base with, and piled to the side to be disposed of later. Eruviel cleaned away fallen twigs, wiped off the top and, finding there suddenly nothing left to clean, pulled out the small jar filled wax she used to care for the wood of her bow.

“You would have had your hands full,” she said quietly as she unscrewed the lid. “Eboric is a big boy! He is tottering rather well. Give him a month or two and that child will be unstoppable.”

Eruviel took out a clean cloth and began to slowly work the wax into the wood of the headstone. “That boy has such a wonderful laugh. I’d like to think he has your eyes . . . You may be glad to know that I noticed a reddish gleam in his light brown hair. I think . . . I think, should he ask, Eirik would be glad to know, too.”

A small knot rose in her throat, and she smoothed the wax into the lettering. “He didn’t come. I know you understand. He’s not ready yet. It will take a while, but he will come around. These things take time . . . .” Eruviel took care to get the tight corners in the ‘k’. Consumed by working in the growing dark, she fell silent as she emptied the rest of the jar out to coat the base, and back of the marker.

“Sometimes I envy you,” she said quietly, her hands falling to her lap as her eyes searched the freshly treated, yet lifeless headstone. “You are far away, probably with family you missed and beyond any pain or fears of this realm. You may have even met them; Adrovorn, Daran, and Myrthrost. You’d like Myrthrost. His humor was a lot like Eirikr’s. If you come across an Alasse from Tharbad, tell her Ravi sends her greetings.”

It became difficult to smile. Her lower lip quivered, and her arms slowly grew heavy. Little by little, Eruviel’s expression cracked till silent tears streamed down her fair cheeks. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered. “So . . . so sorry. I wish I could have done better . . . I wish I could have taken your pain. I wish it hadn’t happened at all.” Her voice cracked as a small sob rattled beneath her healing ribs. “He should have never suffered such a loss. If –”

Cutting herself off, she shook her head and looked out into the night. In the tall grasses a few little lights from insects flickered on and off, and ever so slowly the Elf composed herself. “You’d be proud of him . . . not that you were not before, of course. He whittles a lot more now, and his beard has grown thick.” She chuckled, and in a lighter voice added, “It encourages his habit of combing it with his fingers when he’s thinking, or amused, or puzzled. I wonder if his chin may one day go bald.”

Swallowing the knot in her throat, a burden she had carried for nearly a year lifted from her shoulders, and more unbidden tears clouded her vision. “My feelings aside, even if I end up never anything more to him than a friend, you have my word that I will take care of him. And Eboric.”

Pulling a daisy from behind her pointed ear, Eruviel laid it atop the headstone. “Boe annin gwad, Ninim . . . . I am glad that I came to see you.” Fitting the jar and cloth back into her satchel, Eruviel slowly rose to her feet. “I would say for you to be well, but I am sure you are more than just well where you are. I’ll give your baby boy a kiss for you. I can’t make any promises, but if I am able, I will try and visit again next year.”

Scattering the pile of leaves and grasses on the other side of the tree, Eruviel looked one last time upon the grave. Shouldering her satchel, she dipped in a low, graceful curtsy to the marker before turning and striking out into the darkness.

About Frank

ScreenShot00168

“I don’t know why I have ‘ta go with,” Ris grumbled as she spurred her horse to catch up with the Elf.

Riding a tall, black war steed that seemed to take his mistress’s outing far too seriously, Eruviel looked down at the young woman with an amused smile. “It’s my afternoon to give you lessons,” she responded as if to explain everything.

“Yeah, lessons,” Ris scoffed, “not a country ride. I have work at the forge to get done! There is nothing about this tha — HEEEY!” yelped Ris as Eruviel reached over to shove her. Unable to keep her balance, the young woman slid out of her saddle and tumbled to the grass on the side of the road.

“Hold, Eolir,” Eruviel muttered. The steed stopped on command, nickering in annoyance that his progression had been halted. “I can teach you all the footwork I know and run you through hours of drills, but it won’t do you a lick of good in a fight if you have no core strength.”

Glaring up at her pointy-eared companion, Ris scrambled to her feet. “I got plenty o’ core strength,” she grumbled.

A smirk curved up Eruviel’s face, and she let her mount continue on at a walk. “Then that’s the first lesson of the day: Use it.”

Retrieving her horse and hopping back into the saddle, Ris once again urged the animal into a canter to catch up. “Wait for . . . uugh, never mind,” she grumbled. “So where we goin’?”

“There is a farm down the road. A young friend there had me run an errand for him.” Eruviel sat back in her saddle and stretched her arms up over her head, trusting her mount to know the way.

“You’re running errands for human farm boys now? What kind of an Elf are you?” asked Ris, not bothering to hide her bewildered frown.

Eruviel only chuckled in response. Patting her right pant pocket as if to check for something, she then motioned ahead to where a small farmhouse amidst a grove of trees came into view. “We’re almost there.”

Fence posts rose out of the ground, framing in freshly plowed fields. Ris rode beside Eruviel, only doing a decent job of hiding her curiosity at the sound of children’s voices that reached them, and at seeing her Elven companion raised a hand to wave at the men sowing seed over the tilled earth.

“This is the Burns Farm, isn’t it?”

“It is,” said Eruviel as she guided them off the road and down the short lane. Seeing the visitors, several children ran into the hobbit-style farmhouse. “An unimportant family, by Bree-town standards, but an old and good one nonetheless.”

“I think I’ve been here before. There was a fire here a few –”

“Miss Eruviel!” interrupted a shaky, elderly woman’s voice.

“Yes,” muttered Ris, dismounting as Eru did. “This’ll most definitely improve my uppercut.”

Shooting the young woman a warning look, Eruviel only had to walk a few steps before a wrinkled old woman a foot shorter than her snatched her into a hug.

“By Ulmo, we’ve missed you!” the woman declared. Eruviel’s eyes widened as she was squeezed, and Ris hid a snicker behind a hand. “As skinny as ever — and you’re little friend’s as skinny as you! What’s with girls these days?! Skin and bones. Good thing you’re here! You will stay –”

“Lady Bea, really. We just stopped by to see Frank.” Eruviel quickly interjected, still caught in the elderly woman’s iron grasp.

“Frank?” asked Bea with surprise. “What about Frank? You don’t want Frank; such a silly boy. Come into the house and I’ll make you girls –”

“Bea, Bea, please forgive me, but we cannot stay long. I just need to talk with Frank for a minute.”

Bea huffed, but finally released the Elf. Ris took a cautionary step back as the woman’s sharp eyes turned her way. “What about? Not the cobbler’s daughter?”

“Something like that, yes, Lady Bea. But that’s Frank’s business.”

White brows meeting as she frowned, Bea turned towards the barn. “FRANK! YOU GOT VISITORS!” Ris winced, and Eru cringed as the woman’s sweet voice transformed into a thunderous shout.

Her mouth quivering as she held back a grin, Eruviel patted Bea on the arm. “We can go find him Beatrice. He’s probably busy with work.”

“Oh? All right then, sweetheart. You ‘n your friend run along,” encouraged Bea. Reaching up, she caught the Elf’s cheek with a fond pinch. “Do come back soon, though! And bring this nice young lady. She seems like a calm, quiet lass.” Giving Eruviel’s face a loving pat, Bea then turned to scuttle back towards the main house.

Ris hurried to walk with Eru as they made their way to the barn. “I don’t think anyone’s ever called me ‘calm’ and ‘quiet’ before,” she muttered as she glanced back after the old woman.

“Don’t get used to it.” Eruviel grinned as Ris stuck her tongue out at her.

“Ho! Eruviel!” called a young man who’d stepped out from the barn and into the bright sun.

“Hello, Frank!” Eruviel responded. Approaching him, she then motioned to Ris. “I don’t know if you’ve met before, but Frank, this is my friend Risala Thorne.”

“I’ve seen ya about Bree. Good ta meet ya,” said Frank with a friendly smile as he extended his hand. They shook, and Frank then motioned for them to follow. “Let’s talk in here. Granny’s been nosier than usual.”

Eruviel stepped to follow, but Ris glanced back at the house. Seeing the old woman peering out through the drapes, she smiled and waved before strolling after the others.

Frank led the two past a row of stalls to the back where a workbench had been set up. Turning to Eruviel the young man suddenly seemed incredibly giddy and nervous. “Did you get it?”

Ris blinked, and looked between the two, clearly confused.

“Yes, I did,” Eruviel replied as she pulled a small velvet pouch from her pocket.

Frank eagerly accepted it. “Was the five silver enough?”

A strange smile curved up Eruviel’s face, and she nodded. “More than enough. I hope it fits her.”

Ris’s eyes widened as a ring fell out of the pouch and into Frank’s palm.

Frank appeared just as shocked. “Balls . . . This was only five silver?!”

Eruviel nodded, unfazed. “It was.”

Ris gravitated over to stare at the ring, though Frank’s mouth still gaped. Turning the delicate, silver-toned band set with a sapphire that was framed by two little diamonds that shimmered like stars, realization slowly came over him.

“I can’t take this.”

“Yes you can. You bought it.”

“None of my pennies could have paid for this. Your r — ”

“It’s yours, Frank.”

Stepping back over to stand by Eruviel, Ris and her watched Frank as he stared at the ring, visibly torn. A minute passed before his hand balled up into a fist around the small treasure. “Thanks, Eru. Margret will love this.”

“She shouldn’t say yes to a ring, but I think it being nice will ease your worry.”

Frank chuffed out a laugh. “I think I might worry more, now! But I owe you, really.”

Shaking his extended hand, Eruviel patted Ris on the shoulder and turned to head out of the barn. “You don’t owe me a thing. Good luck, Frank. Let me know if she says ‘yes’, all right?”

“You’ll be the first!” he called after her.

Strolling out into the yard, Ris looked back to the barn before shooting a smirk over to her companion. “You’re a strange Elf.”

Chuckling, Eruviel stepped up into Eolir’s saddle. ‘Yes, yes I am.”