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Old 08-30-2012, 05:30 PM   #1361
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As Rowenna began unfolding her story, Scyld felt a flash of triumph – that nearly forgotten rush of uncovering a long sought after secret. The people of Scarburg led mostly mundane lives; their squabbles, petty, compared to the life he had known before. Compared to Rowenna’s story now. Led the brigands? He did not doubt it, but he had not expected it. All the stories he had heard of her till now had painted her as the victim, and in the beginning he supposed that had been true. But she was strong and clever, and her time with the brigands had made her hard – gone now was the casual flirtation, but Scyld was at least as attracted to her strength as he was to her wit.

She finished her story, and before Scyld had time to ponder what designs she might have on Eodwine now, she turned the discussion to him: "It is your turn to pay the debt of so much news of me. Tell me about you and Sorn."

He studied her, maintaining a cool composure, but his blood was rushing. He had missed this game.

“I have already told you about myself and Sorn,” he said, but he could tell from her glare that she did not believe his story complete.

He looked out across the plain again, but his eyes were drawn not to the mountains, as Rowenna’s had been, but much nearer. Where Scarburg Hall now stood, his mind’s eye could see clearly Sorn’s holdings. He imagined himself, a lonely and confused twelve-year-old, abandoned by everyone in the world he trusted. Traitors, all: he could not even trust his own blood. He examined the memory at a distance of thirteen years, carefully blocking out the emotions as he long since had learned to do.

Perhaps that part of his story was not so dangerous.

“I grew up on a farmstead, just there.” He gestured vaguely off to the southwest. He turned back to Rowenna and spoke matter-of-factly. “Our farm was hardly thriving – an even more rocky and unforgiving patch of ground than where Scarburg sits. My father built up a debt to Sorn, a debt he had no hope of paying off with six children to feed. So he fixed two of his problems with one move: I went to live with Sorn, and would owe him my services for ten years. I was twelve.”
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Old 09-01-2012, 08:30 AM   #1362
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Rowenna's brow rose at Nydfara's secret, now no longer hidden: he had been slave for ten years, as she had been for two. And to unlawful ruffians. No wonder she was drawn to him! Except for her brow, she kept her face clear without change of expression, though she could not dim the smoldering of interest in her eyes; nor was she aware of how intense they showed her interest to be. The overall result was a look of hunger mixed with a powerful effort to keep it under control. Most folk missed this and saw only intensity. Those of more keen perception saw it for what it was.

"So you were Sorn's slave until you were twenty-two. How many years is it that you have been free?"
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Old 09-02-2012, 12:43 PM   #1363
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Scyld laughed, a short harsh sound, both at the question itself and at the barely concealed intrigue in Rowenna’s face. He had never questioned that her motives for learning his story were the same as his to learn hers: that knowledge was power, and that the more one knew, the safer one was. But she would have to work a little harder than that to get a longer story out of him.

“I am twenty-six, if that is what you want to know. But freedom seems a hollow thing if you have nowhere and no one to go to, don’t you think?” Why else would I still be working away on this forsaken corner of land under a name that is not my own?
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Old 09-03-2012, 02:22 PM   #1364
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Nowhere and no-one to go to. Nydfara said more than he meant to, Rowenna hunched, or did he? Did he mean to have her know how lonely he felt? Why else bring her out here?

"Yes, I think you speak the truth. But when I had lost my father, and my lands, the brigands all my life, I did not think of anything but hanging onto life. It is different now. I have a home here, in Scarburg."

It was, perhaps, not much of a place in itself, but the folk that lived here were what kept her - not in bondage, but in the bonds of friendship and kindliness. It was something she was still getting used to.

"Where did you spend the last four years?"
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Old 09-06-2012, 07:42 PM   #1365
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How could she believe that? How could she feel any kind of belonging here, where no one could possibly understand? Four months here, and perhaps he understood the allure, but not the trust.

Maybe you should not have started with an assumed name.

Maybe you should have left Sorn long before you did, and not gotten caught up in his unlawful plots.


“Where did you spend the last four years?” she asked, maddeningly turning the conversation back to his past.

Scyld shrugged, as if the question did not bother him. “Here. There. No place I would call home.” The word was laced with cynicism - the sort of cynicism he had largely kept bottled up since making himself known at Scarburg. He found that now he took no comfort in it, as he once had, thinking himself cleverer and stronger than those he had dealings with.

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Old 09-09-2012, 02:35 PM   #1366
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"Home," he said mockingly, as if she were a fool to believe that she could believe Scarburg to be home. She could take offense, or be defensive. Or she could try to be clever. It would be the most enjoyable, as she thought up the play on words.

"So, then, you are most at home having no home?" She gave him a half grin and a tilt of her head, curious how he would react to the tease.
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Old 09-09-2012, 05:51 PM   #1367
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It took Rowenna a moment to reply, and for a second, before she spoke, he sort of expected her to answer with some sort of vague platitude. It was what Linduial would have done, and being in this place brought her close to mind.

"So, then, you are most at home having no home?” she asked playfully.

He stared at her briefly, unarmed. Then he laughed. None of his usual stratagems worked on her! She returned his provocations with jests, and for once his honesty seemed to be getting him farther than his lies.

“Without a home, perhaps – but not without a house. Outdoor living does not suit me,” he answered, feigning an air of snobbery.

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Old 09-13-2012, 10:55 AM   #1368
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"You have such high standards," Rowenna returned with a grin.

But she felt a strange sensation, something she vaguely remembered from some long ago time wrapped in mists of memory. It was associated with taking care of a very small animal that had lost its mother to a predator; she had cared for it until it died. She did not like the feeling: it was not her place to take care of a little lost one. And Nydfara was not that.

Nevertheless, her grin had slipped to a momentarily creased brow and a frown on her lips before she recovered.

Forcing a smile she asked, "What sort of living does suit you?"
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Old 09-14-2012, 04:38 PM   #1369
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Yet now he tried to jest and it fell flat. He’d seen her smile slip, just for a moment, and he had seen sincerity in her face enough times to see now that this was not it. He did not understand her: nearly all of his experience in life would suggest that she was merely manipulating him, feigning an attraction she did not really feel. He believed in his own ability to read people well; he would not have lasted so long with Sorn were it not so. And from Rowenna, he was receiving wholly mixed signals.

What do you think she would want with you anyway? You see how she is drawn to this new home she has made for herself here. She wants your secrets – nothing more.

He turned and faced the horizon again. “A place with a warm hearth,” he answered, rubbing his arms. “It grows chilly just standing here. Perhaps you are ready to return?”
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Old 09-18-2012, 03:59 PM   #1370
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"Yes, I'm ready."

They turned and she followed him back through the scar to the yards of Scarburg. As they came to the crest of the final hill before descending back into the yard, she noted smoke coming cheerily out of the smoke house, and recalled a most uncheery sight that had been discovered there.

"There was a dead body in the smoke house when we came here. Did you hear about that?"
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Old 09-22-2012, 11:53 AM   #1371
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“I did,” he replied, wondering at the topic and what might be behind it. “It was found, I believe, not long before I arrived. Did anyone ever find out who he was?”

Scyld wondered, not for the first time, who it might have been, and whether he had known him – though when he had first arrived, he had had more pressing issues on his mind than the identity of an unrecognizable body. He supposed that he probably had, but it mattered little to him. It was not as though he might have been a friend.
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Old 09-23-2012, 04:53 PM   #1372
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"The matter seems to have been dropped. There have been more pressing ones, I suppose, but maybe you and I could take it up. I suppoes it is a silly thought."

Nydfara stopped and turned to look at her, regarding her with a strange look that seemed to wonder what she was about.

"Nobody's death should remain a mystery. Maybe you knew the man, if he was one of those with Sorn."

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Old 09-24-2012, 08:25 PM   #1373
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“Maybe I did,” he acknowledged. He started ticking through Sorn’s people: Sorn, dead. Gurth, dead. Osfrid and Muriel, captured by the king’s men – but what had happened to them then? The cook… surely the dead body could not have been the cook. Selda, that was her name. She had been a decent woman, in her way, though initially he had been bitter when she came to replace the old cook. The old cook had been the only one who was kind to Scyld, when first he came to live with Sorn. She’d also been the only servant Scyld had ever seen Sorn show a lick of respect to. She’d taken ill after a few years though, and died, and then Selda had come. What had happened to her on the day of Linduial’s escape and rescue? It troubled him that he did not know, that he had only now just thought of it.

Not that he felt personally about it, so much as he wished for closure. He also found that he wished to know what had happened that day, from the others’ perspective. Here, perhaps, was a way to reopen those memories.

To find out if his offense was pardonable.

“And perhaps you are right. It is something worth looking into.”
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Old 09-29-2012, 05:44 AM   #1374
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"I can look over the smoke house any time since mine is the chore of getting meat for each meal, though I doubt there is much other than jostled memory that can be found there now.

"And I can ask Eodwine what has been done about it, too. He may not know, but he could learn with a few well placed questions."

They walked now in the meagre protection of the flat of Scarburg, the cold wind picking up suddenly out of the north beyond the Scar. Rowenna wrapped the cloak around her throat and folded her arms and stepped briskly to catch up to Nydfara and walk at his side.

"Is it a bitter wind blowing on us from the Misty Mountains. I have said what I will do. What will you?"

She looked up at the profile of his face, liking what she saw. He was thinking before he spoke, which was his way. But she noted the constant downturn of the corners of his mouth, the straight plain of his cheeks; not hollow, but not lively either. This man held many secrets, of which she now knew a small few. He also seemed to hold much underneath of darkness.

"What angers you most about your ten years in bondage here?" The question had risen out of her unintended, and the words were out of her mouth before she knew it. "Y-you need not answer that. It was not my place to ask."
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Old 10-01-2012, 05:31 PM   #1375
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“You need not answer that. It was not my place to ask.”

Scyld regarded Rowenna with a lifted eyebrow, amused slightly that she chose now to question the propriety of her questions. It was more personal perhaps, though the answer would lead her no closer to the secrets he most wished to hide.

His flare of suspicion on the cliff top had not wholly died down yet, however, and he was no longer in the mood to share. So after a short while of silence in which they drew near to the hall, he said, “I will ask of the people in the surrounding homesteads what they might know. I do not know if they will tell me much, but they are sure to know something.”
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Old 10-02-2012, 10:12 AM   #1376
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Rowenna nodded and bid Nydfara farewell for the time being. She passed through the door and brought the cloak back to its wardrobe. Halfway there she realized that they had not made plans to meet again to learn what each other discovered.

What has come over me that I would not think of such a thing that is right before us?

She knew the answer. It was him. Being near him sent all thought of all else clear out of her head. This would not do. She banged her hand on the doorway, harder than she meant, and rubbed it absently as she made her way to the kitchens.
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Old 10-05-2012, 10:22 AM   #1377
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The cold deepend out of doors. The sun hid himself longer each night. But the Hall at Scarburg was lit with a bright fire night after night and there was cheer out of the cold.

The Elf had chosen to stay with them for the yuletide. Logs were cut and brought near to feed the hearth. Game was hunted and killed to be cured and prepared for the feast of yuletide.

"Now this feels more like home," said Falco Boffin over a pint one night not far off from the shortest day.

"I'm sure it does," said Eodwine, pausing from practicing his art on the lyre. He had been taking lessons from the Elf. "It is good to see the halls decked again," he said as he strummed.

"You Eorlingas have an odd idea what to put on the walls!" Falco said, and lit his pipe.

"Can you not keep that thing lit?" Eodwine grinned.

"When I have a mind to," Falco returned. "Let's see if I can't pass a few smoke rings between those strings of yours."

Eodwine laughed.

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Old 05-23-2015, 04:11 PM   #1378
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Scyld had thought it over several times and still could not figure out why he had volunteered to go ask questions of the nearby homesteaders. They knew him, of course, for Sorn had been their lord – a greedy and, as the years went on, increasingly mercurial lord. By association, Scyld was also rather poorly liked by most and had no desire to renew his acquaintance with them. Furthermore, he had hitherto been pointedly avoiding those who knew his real name and history. Now he had willingly offered to do just the opposite and seek them out. Why?

But of course he knew why. It was her, and now that he had given her his word, he felt that he must follow through somehow. He could, he supposed, lie, and say he had found nothing out, but she would ask questions, and the first lie would beget more, and part of him was tired of lying. No, that was only justification: he did not want to let her down. Dangerous emotion, that: putting her thoughts of him above his own self-interest.

He sighed. There was one man he would not mind going to talk to; he would start there. Cynered: he lived perhaps five miles up the road. They had known each other as children, and though Scyld’s position had naturally put distance between them, Scyld thought Cynered’s emotion toward him ran closer to wary pity than to outright mislike.

So he borrowed a horse one afternoon to ride out and pay Cynered a visit. So preoccupied was he that he forgot even to heckle Léof, as was his habit.

As he came up the road he found Cynered mending a fence out in front of his cottage. He put on the most pleasant expression he could conjure and greeted Cynered as he rode up.

“Scyld!” he exclaimed, looking surprised. “I thought you’d left these parts.”

He had gone as Nydfara for so long now that hearing his right name startled him, but he kept his features carefully schooled. Dismounting from his horse, he answered, “I did, for a time.”

“I’m surprised to see you back, truthfully,” said Cynered. Scyld could not read his expression.

“I heard about the new Eorl,” said Scyld, “and wanted to see what he had done with the place.”

“Well, there’s a change for the better if ever I saw one.”

“Indeed,” said Scyld. “Though I heard it’s been a bit of work for them, getting the new hall set up.”

Cynered grunted. “You might say that. Didn’t take long after word got out that Sorn was dead, some fool went and burned the whole place to the ground. Wasteful, I say. Not that I was sorry to see him go, but we might have dismantled the place rather than destroyed it. Put the furnishings and tools to good use, given them to those as needed them.” He shrugged. “But perhaps you know more about it than I do – you were with Sorn, and it sounds as though you’ve been at the new hall as well.”

“I left his employ shortly before he died,” said Scyld. This was true enough, after a fashion.

“Then I guess you don’t know much about the kidnapping rumors that were flying around Sorn’s death, either?” asked Cynered. Scyld could not tell whether he was looking for gossip or trying to imply something further, but either way this conversation was rapidly turning a direction he did not want it to go. What had he expected? His departure from the area was timed too suspiciously for him to be free of obvious guesses by those who lived nearby.

“No,” said Scyld, with a feigned apologetic note. “Sorn had gone rather mad and desperate. He had several plans, all of which seemed likely to end badly for me, hence why I left.”

“Ah, well. I was at Edoras at the time for a horse fair and missed the whole ordeal. That reminds me though – I have something for you, up at the house.”

Scyld followed him curiously, despite his misgivings, having no idea what he would find. Inside the cottage, Cynered reached up to a shelf and pulled down a letter. “I’m not rightly sure why I’ve kept it; it’s sat here for months now, and I had no reason to think you’d be back for me to give it to you. I guess it seemed wrong to throw it out.” He handed it to Scyld. The missive was blank on the outside, sealed with an unmarked blob of wax.

Cynered seemed a little uncertain how to proceed, but plunged on, as if sensing Scyld’s next question. “It’s from your brother, Bedric. I ran into him by chance at that horse fair. It was, ah, a bit of a shock for him to hear news of you. Just as it seems a bit of a shock for you to hear from him,” he added. Scyld’s normally guarded expression had come undone. What could his brother, whom he had not heard from in years – ten? Twelve? – want from him now?

“I’m sure he explains it in the letter,” finished Cynered.

“I’m sure,” muttered Scyld, finding his voice again.

“I stayed in Edoras for a couple weeks, visiting family. I meant to bring you the letter as soon as I got back, but when I did Sorn was dead and you were gone.” Back to that topic. This entire visit had been a mistake, doing nothing but stirring up things best left in the past.

He forced a smile. “Yes, well, thank you for keeping this for me. I’ll be on my way now, I think.”

“Of course. Good luck,” said Cynered.

~*~*~*~

When Scyld had first been sold into Sorn’s service, his family had not lived far away – a few miles: close enough for him to see them occasionally, and though Sorn had not liked it much, he allowed it. After a couple of years, though, Scyld’s father had died, and with the family fortune in shambles, the land was sold and his mother and siblings had gone to live with his mother’s kinfolk. For a while there were letters, and then these too had stopped. He had spent much of his fifteenth and sixteenth years of life waiting for the letters that never came, until finally, slowly, without really realizing it had happened, he gave up. He did not even know for certain where they had gone; perhaps he could have figured it out, had he tried, but anger toward the family that had abandoned him had kept him from ever trying to seek them out.

Scyld rode about a mile up the road and then stopped. He dismounted shakily and pulled the letter out of his pocket with trembling hands. Did he even want to read it? After all this time, did his brother deserve a chance to explain and excuse himself? Bedric had once been his favorite sibling, less than two years his elder. Curiosity along with this consideration eventually won out, and he broke the wax seal and read:

Brother,

I cannot think how you must be feeling to read this letter, after so many years of not hearing from any of us. To you, I can understand if there is no excuse that will lead you to forgive us, but I beg you to think on what I have to say.

We thought you were dead. Sorn wrote to us, shortly after we moved away, that you had died of an illness, and urged us not to come as there were others in the household who had also taken ill. We mourned you, as we had mourned father – but forgive us, if we were too quick to trust Sorn because we so much wanted to move on. Sorn wished no other payment towards father’s debt to him. Knowing him to be a man of unstable mood, we did not wish him to change his mind. I see now that your death must have been a ploy of Sorn’s, to cut the ties between us and you. I am so sorry.

I will not push you, but please know you are welcome here. An easy day’s journey along the road west from Edoras will bring you close. Ask for me; I am the blacksmith in these parts. I am overjoyed to have heard news of you and hope you will come. I am sure Aelfred, Adney, and Gytha would share my eagerness to see you and have you meet their families. Mother would be glad of it as well, were she still alive. It is right that you should know, even if I do not hear back from you: she died three years ago. I hope you will come, though: please think on it.

Your brother,

Bedric


Scyld stood there numbly for what seemed a long time, thoughts and emotions churning furiously and unproductively. Rage – at Sorn and at his family. Grief – for years lost, for a family he no longer knew. Wariness, disbelief – could his brother be telling the truth? Confusion – did he want to meet his family again?

Gradually, however, his rational mind began to reassert itself. His fingers were growing stiff with cold. He remounted his horse and began to ride slowly back to Scarburg. He purposefully did not rush, giving himself time to master himself. As he had long since learned to do, he set aside his emotions, and as he did so another worrying problem rose to the forefront of his mind. Cynered had come far too close to the truth of Scyld’s involvement with the kidnapping with his seemingly casual questions. As long as his identity stayed hidden, he was safe. He supposed it was a small wonder in itself that word had not gotten round to the nearby farmers that he was here; some had come, now and then, to the hall for assorted reasons. Now that he had made himself known, though, there could be talk. What if one of them came to the hall looking for him? I’m looking for Scyld, one might say. There is no Scyld here, he would be told. But eventually the whole story would come out, and he would look all the worse for having hidden it.

As the Meadhall came into view, Scyld knew he could not stay. He would leave, and soon. It was not to his brother that he would go – not yet, anyway. The letter, he would have to consider, and he would have plenty of time for it on his trip. Truthfully, he did not know where Dol Amroth was, or how best to get there, but there, he knew, was the one person who might clear his name. Then, perhaps, Sorn’s looming shadow over his life might recede, and he might move forward.

Then, perhaps, he might come back without fear to this place that, despite everything, was the only home he’d ever had.

~*~*~*~

Scyld and Rowenna

Rowenna was kneeling on the mead hall floor, scrubbing at a difficult stain of grease from one of the Eorlingas' dropped legs of hind. That Scyrr, like as not, the hog.

A shadow came and placed itself over her work. She scowled. Who has the nerve? She looked up. Her heart fluttered. Nydfara, with that typical sardonic expression on his face.

He had avoided her as long as he could. Having made up his mind to leave, he was now dragging his feet to do so. He was unwilling to simply disappear, but he also did not know how to say farewell. So hid his discomfort with a jest, as was his wont: "Have you been kept too busy scrubbing floors to look into our dead body?"

She let the scrub brush lay, shook out her hands, and rubbed the aches out of them, kneeling still. "I have been to the smoke house. As I foretold, there is little to be seen after we scoured it so. I have not had a chance to ask Eodwine anything. I do not think there is much to be learned from him. What of you?"

"I fear that I have fared little better," said Scyld. "I learned a few things from a man I once knew, but none of them helpful to our search. He could only tell me that the old hall was burnt shortly after Sorn's death. I think he knew nothing of a body - though truthfully, I am not sure he would have told me even if he did."

The floor was hard and Rowenna's knees felt its unevenness. She rose to her feet, thinking on Nydfara's words. "So we have a dead end." She sighed. "I do not like dead ends." But she did like a good mystery, and there was yet one unsolved, that of Nydfara himself; his face gave away nothing. Almost nothing. There was a difference in his countenance, some kind of brightness in the eyes. Then she remembered his words. "Other news?"

Scyld nodded slowly. When Rowenna had stood up, a wisp of hair had fallen across her face, and Scyld felt the sudden urge to reach out and brush it to the side. Would she slap him for such a gesture? Laugh at him? You are leaving, remember? he told himself sternly, and his hand remained at his side. "Yes - news that calls for my attention elsewhere. I must take my leave of Scarburg for a time."

A sick feeling like dread clutched at her. Gone for a time? How long? Weeks? Months? Surely not years? Why did he have this kind of hold on her? It was unnerving. These thoughts rushed by in a moment. She allowed only a lowering of the brow, quickly replaced by placid expression.

"Oh? Where to?" She sat back against the nearest table, crossed her arms over her midriff, and gave him a look of relaxed curiosity.

"The where is not so important as the people I hope to find there," he said, sidestepping the question. "First, there is someone I must see to make the rest of my secrets safe to tell." He smirked. "This one among them. After that - I have not yet made up my mind. I was given a letter from one of my brothers. He wishes me to come and meet his family - as if after over ten years of hearing nothing from him, there is any tie left between us to save." He had let more bitterness creep into his voice than he intended, and regretted mentioning his brother's letter. It was too fresh a wound, it seemed, to hide behind a veneer of disinterest.

How unlike him to show raw feeling. She had trained herself to use such things to her gain. Instead, she felt his wound inside herself, as if it were her own; they two were, surely, much alike. To her chagrin, her voice came out soft through a constricted throat.

"I hope you find it worth saving." She cleared her throat. Let me come with you. Leave me at once. I do not wish to be so moved. Let me see more. "When will you be leaving?"

The compassion in her voice startled him, and in that instant he nearly abandoned his plan. Stay. Tell her everything. Then he thought of all the people who might bear witness against him if his lies started crumbling apart, and he steeled himself. It was for the best.

"Tomorrow, or the day after. As soon as I can gather the things I need." I will miss you. But the words lodged in his throat.

I will miss you. The thought lodged itself in her mind, and she knew it was so; but there was no way she could bring herself to say it. Will you miss me? Maybe not: sometimes, after having been away, and he found her before him of a sudden, he looked surprised, as if she had never figured into this thoughts while away; but it seemed that neither could keep the other out of their thought when nearby. It was almost like the Elves, or so she had heared, as if their minds were more spacious than their heads, and their thought mingled like two breezes of wind converging from different places. It was a silly thought, doubtless. I need as much of you as can be granted until you leave. I need you gone as soon as may be so I can have peace of mind.

"Can I help you get ready?"

"I have few belongings, so packing will be no great trouble - but if you would help me to gather food for my travels, I would thank you. Enough for many days: as much as I can carry and as can be spared," he said. It was no use trying to hide that he intended to travel quite far: the alternative would mean having to spend much more time foraging for food, and he was no great woodsman.

She nodded. It would be a long journey, then. "I will do what I can."

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Old 05-26-2015, 05:43 PM   #1379
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A summer two years hence

The end of a meal was always marked by a furious final effort on the part of the kitchen workers to clean, collect, wash, dry, and clean. The women were gliding in and out of the kitchen, matching their movements like partners in a well-learned dance. Today there was more work than usual; the arrival of two more groups of travelers meant that some of the men had to take turns eating at the tables, or else find other places to sit. But these visits boded well for the Hall – the wayfarers brought with them wagons of cloth and fine armor and fruit that do not grow in the Mark and other wares besides. Trade must be going well, Ledwyn remarked to herself.

Even she got a treat out of it – one of the companies passing through the Mark on their way north stopped at Scarburg for three days’ time to rest and barter. Among them was a family - a lively couple with two children. She befriended the woman, who was a wonderful weaver. The woman taught Ledwyn how to make simple but beautiful patterns from knotting ropes or strings together. She promised her that if they ever come to Scarburg again, she will teach her how to make more complicated patterns, and maybe to weave on the loom.

“Ledwyn! Will you come with me to get the flowers?” Kara called to her as Ledwyn finished scrubbing the pots and began drifting outside. Kara was asked to gather flowers and other decorations to adorn the Hall for the coming of the guests. Ledwyn paused as the young woman finished drying her last piece of cutlery before joining her. “It’s a beautiful day,” Kara continued with a laugh, “we could both do well with a walk in the meadows.”

Ledwyn hesitated. She promised Theolain she would meet him by the well after the meal; he said he wanted to show her something. But he is probably playing with the other boys by now, and would not miss me for a quarter hour, she thought, and when Kara insisted, she obliged.

They laughed as they ran into the fields. Spotting a sprinkle of bright petals in the grass, they shouted and grabbed fistfuls of colour. When Kara’s flower basket was filled, they both lay down on the grass, breathless and giddy from laughter.

“Remember last time?” asked Kara. Ledwyn giggled. Last time they came here together was in the spring of last year. Ledwyn knew most of the men, but she still felt a stranger in the Mead Hall. Frodides told her to collect trenchers from the far table, where a few men were still sitting, absorbed in an argument. As she took a half-filled trencher from one of the men – she did not know his name yet – he turned around in mid-sentence and looked at her. “Are you blind, wench, or is it the new custom to take food away half-eaten?” Ledwyn stammered an apology and pushed the trencher back towards him. “What am I supposed to do with only half a man’s plate?” the man demanded. Some of the men chuckled. She knew he was mocking her, but she did not know what to say or do to stop him. She made to take the trencher again and return to the kitchen, but the man asked with such indignation why he is being punished so with hunger. In the end, Kara, who came to clean the other table, told the men off, took Ledwyn’s hand, and they came to this very meadow.

That was also the time she came back to find Theolain playing catch-me-in-the-house with the other children. It was the first time she saw him play with them. He had a grin on his face as he ran in and out of the oddly-shaped house drawn on the ground. Before this day, he would wander around Scarburg by himself, sometimes coming into the kitchen to get more food, or visiting Léof in the stables, or – which Ledwyn noticed happened most often – following Harreld around wherever he went, an occupation that often delayed the progress at the smithy while Theolain was coaxed to play elsewhere. Finally, Harreld solved the problem by fashioning the boy a toy bird to play with outside when Harreld worked.

When Ledwyn came back to the Hall this time, carrying a large handful of wildflowers, she did not find Theolain waiting for her at the well, or by the kitchens. She decided that this is well, that he is too busy running around with the boys or tailing Harreld to remember. She was glad for him that he found his place in Scarburg. Though when she saw Cnebba walk by an hour later, he claimed he never saw Theolain after the meal.
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Old 06-01-2015, 11:56 AM   #1380
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Four years from now, at the coming of winter

“Hello, Theolain!”

Fiddlesticks! Caught.

“Good morning, Mother,” Theolain nodded politely.

“Why out of bed so early?” Ledwyn asked cheerily. He did not know what to say that would not be a lie, and he would not ever lie, especially to his mother. He shrugged.

“Well, off you go, then,” Ledwyn said with a smile as she ruffled Theolain’s hair. I will need to cut it again soon, she thought. Theolain pulled away gently. “Good morning, Mother,” he added again with a brief smile, and walked away.

He was going to sneak a small loaf of bread from the kitchen, but now he dared not risk meeting his mother again. And if she was awake, so was Frodides, and he did not want to face her either. He could wait an hour and break his fast with everyone else. But that was precisely why he woke up early – he did not want to break his fast with everyone else. Or with anyone else, for the matter. He preferred rocks to most people. And to his rocks he went.

Looking around to make sure no one was watching him closely, he strode out of the Hall. He walked straight through the fields, the grass long dead and lying flat. There was a trace of frost on the stems. The cold was coming in early, bringing with it a rough wind.

Then the rocks began. First small rocks on smooth hills. Then larger rocks and sharper crevices. Many of the rocks are too big for him, but he finds ways to go around them. These rocks, that are closest to the Hall, he knows well. One day, he might climb the rocks until the end of the world. But not for a long time. He will return today, before lunch. No one would know where he was.

Twenty minutes down the Scar, Theolain climbed on top of a large slab of rock and walked to the edge. He turned around and lay flat on his stomach. This was the tricky part. He slid down slowly, until he was hanging by his hands. With his foot, he felt for the hidden step in the steep stone. Finally finding it, he lowered himself down to the next handhold. Repeating this operation twice, he jumped the rest of the way. Jumping was quicker, but falling was not. He knew that better than anyone.

He stood on a ledge in the side of the stone wall. On one side, the rock dropped off steeply again. On the other, there was nook in the surface with an overhanging roof – a hole, Theolain decided once, that was carved out by a giant spoon. It was not big enough for a grown man to sit in, but for him it was a cave. A cave full of treasure.

Out of its hiding place, he brought out a small bundle – a collection of gems tightly wrapped in cloth. Theolain untied the knot holding it together, and out rolled the gems: a wooden knife, several sticks and tree knots of unlikely shapes, a blue feather, a few special stones, and a toy bird.





“Theolain!”

Fiddlesticks! Twice in one day! Now there are definitely going to be questions.

“Theolain, you get back here right now!” Ledwyn shouted from the doorstep. Theolain obliged dutifully.

“The wind has gotten colder, and you are traipsing about without a care about falling ill. Now go inside and get dressed properly. Where have you been wandering in this state?”

And here come the questions.

“Mother, I won’t be ill. You shouldn’t worry about me so much. Why are you here? I thought you were making lunch still.”

Ledwyn came down the stairs towards Theolain. She was about to reply when a gust of wind, unfelt before in the shelter of the Hall, threw her off her balance. As she struck out her hands to regain her step, the wind whipped her shawl off her shoulders. Up and away it flew, until it caught on the thatch almost at the top of the roof. Theolain watched Ledwyn wring her hands. He knew what she was thinking – she did not want to lose the shawl, but she could not retrieve it and would not ask for help. That is how she was all the time, Thaolain thought; she would always be silently upset and do nothing, not for herself and not for others. We can always manage, she always taught him. Well, so could he.

Ledwyn was surprised by the sudden wind. She shivered from the cold, without her woolen shawl. It was a good shawl, and she would be loathe to part with it. But there was no way to get it back: what has happened, has happened. What the wind carries off, only the wind can bring back. Even if she were to call a man from the Hall – and it would be extremely foolish to distract them from their duties for some shawl that she lost so embarrassingly – it would likely be gone by the time he arrived, with the wind tearing at it so. She resigned herself to making a new one and was about to reach for Theolain when she noticed he was not there. She looked around. He was pulling himself up atop the wood stack by the guardroom. Once there, he could reach the edge of the roof over the kitchen.

“Theolain, get down here now! You’re going to fall!” he heard Ledwyn cry as he pulled himself up over the edge of the roof. No, I won’t, he thought. He knew what it feels like to fear to fall. But he did not fear to fall this time. He was not going to fall.

He crawled carefully to the top on a wooden support beam, to avoid damaging the thatch. Reaching over, he grabbed his mother’s shawl and jerked it free. He struggled for a minute to tie it tightly around his waist as it flapped in the wind. Then he climbed down.

“Over here, lad! I’ll give you a hand!” a man’s voice called. Theolain turned to look. It was Baldwic. He caught Theolain as he swung down from the roof and placed him firmly on the ground. “You shouldn’t be doing that, you know,” he said, though not unkindly. Theolain knew it was well-meant, but he did not appreciate it. He did not respond.

Ledwyn ran over. She busied herself over Theolain’s clothing, brushing off the straw that stuck to his breeches. She took her shawl with words of both thanks and reproach. Then she turned away to thank Baldwic. When she turned back, Theolain was gone again.
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Old 06-12-2015, 05:11 PM   #1381
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A day in autumn, Year 18 of the Fourth Age

On that unusually cold October morning Hilderinc had overslept for the first time in what must have been months. And that despite his usual trouble with sleeping. But last night, he had somehow managed to fall into deep slumber the very moment he lay down, without the need to take his usual evening stroll around the Mead Hall. Maybe it was the hard work they'd done that day, even though Hilderinc had been proven time and again that his sleeplessness could not be cured merely by making his body feel tired. Maybe it was the cold that seemed to creep through the evenings and mornings on that autumn, and made many of the men feel like bears ready to winter. Whatever the reason though, Hilderinc had slept long and dreamlessly also for the first time since they had returned from the war in the East.

When he opened his eyes, he saw the sunrays coming in through the window, cold shafts of waning autumn light. It was not too late, but it was certainly very late by Hilderinc's standards. Only a few of the soldiers were still in the barracks. The room had been rebuilt and rearranged in the past years, its state now being much better and far more comfortable than when they first arrived. Even Scyrr had stopped complaining about its state, even though now he was about to change posts once again. Hilderinc hoped for the man's sake that this change was going to go more smoothly than the last one.

He quickly got himself up, trying not to lean against his right arm. A memory from the last war, a farewell gift from two Easterling warriors and their wain. It didn't hurt as often anymore, but there were times when it betrayed him. He still felt he got off lightly, however, and he tried not to think much about it.

Hilderinc marched out of the barracks. Most of the men were already done with breaking their fast and buzzing around Coenred and Thornden, who were to divide the tasks among them. Everything was getting ready for lord Athanar's departure, which was due soon. Hilderinc found himself strangely glum as he sat down to eat his porridge. He had grown, in his own way, fond of Athanar's men, it was his longest standing post since the end of the Great War. But the same could be told about Scarburg and its people. He still was not sure why chose to remain behind instead of following Athanar to a new place, but when the lord had asked, Hilderinc's response had come unhesitatingly. Only later he had begun to wonder, a rational men he counted himself to be, to think about the reason he was sure had to be hidden somewhere. But it seemed to elude him, and maybe not actually wishing to know, he had pushed it aside.

"Alone as usual," roared Scyrr who was just carrying his own bowl away from the table. "Some things never change, do they?"

Hilderinc looked up at him, raising his eyebrows. "Happy to be leaving?"

Scyrr paused, dropped his empty bowl on the table and waved his hand around. "Happy to leave these behind. You're happy to stay, huh?"

Hilderinc shrugged.

Scyrr leaned closer to him. "You know what, maybe you are getting old. Old men can get, you know, weepy about things." He narrowed his eyes, staring at something on Hilderinc's head. "Is that grey hair?"

"Might be," Hilderinc took another spoonful of porridge. "Maybe you should leave old man to his breakfast, so I can help you packing."

"How kind of him," Scyrr poked another soldier who was passing by and pointed at Hilderinc. "He wants to help us pack."

"How about you help with packing," said the soldier, Fearghall.

"I have packed my share already yesterday! Can't some of the lazies from the Hall do something for a change? Why should I rush!"

"Because the lazies lit the fires and cooked up breakfast for you?" Hilderinc suggested, chewing. "And maybe also because it's the Captain's order?"

"I'm sure you will be happy to become the Captain once we leave," Scyrr growled. "I can already see you enjoying bossing the folk around. Too bad I won't be here."

"I doubt I will become a Captain," Hilderinc replied. "I do not think anybody has even thought of that. And what would be the purpose of it, anyway?"

"I wouldn't put it past this Thornden or Eodwine siss-"

"Scyrr," Fearghall put his arm on the soldier's shoulder.

Hilderinc swallowed the last spoonful and rose up.

"You will be gone soon enough," he said. "Then you can complain about the new place and new folk all anew. But if you want a friendly advice, you are going very far, and different land usually means different manners. Take it slow. And you can tell the same to Áforglaed, too."

Now it was Scyrr's turn to raise his eyebrows. "Didn't you hear, man? Áforglaed is staying with you lazies here."

Hilderinc stared at him for a moment. "Really? That's news to me. How comes?"

"He decided yesterday, unless I am mistaken," said Fearghall. "I overhead him talking to the Captain."

Scyrr grinned. "I bet it has to do with one of the lovely ladies from nearby..."

"That is just gossip," Fearghall dismissed him.

"Indeed," Hilderinc said. "Haven't you and Baldwic especially been trying to court some of the farmers' daughters before, and yet it does not make you stay..."

"Not me, I was just watching over the boys," Scyrr objected. "Making sure they don't get into trouble with the local muck-rakers. As for Baldwic, that girl of his got married off, as it were. Her daddy probably knew what he was doing..."

"Hey, Scyrr," Fearghall once again cut the flippant soldier's speech. "That is not a nice way to talk about Baldwic. Besides, the way I heard – though I do not lend much ear to rumours – it was Baldwic who ended it with her."

Hilderinc shrugged. Rumours did not interest him, either. But Áforglaed was staying... he did not know what to think about it, but in some way, it was good. Athanar's men had really changed during the years of their stay in Scarburg – most of them, anyway, he thought, looking at Scyrr. Most of those who previously resented the place had grown fond of it, and it became their home, and there was no longer a distinction between men of Scarburg and men of Athanar.

Just what I have been saying from the beginning, Hilderinc thought to himself, picked up his bowl and carried it away to the kitchens, looking forward to another cold, but pleasantly busy autumn day.
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Old 06-20-2015, 11:36 AM   #1382
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During the Hard Winter

Ledwyn has not left Theolain’s side since he stopped breathing. She has barely left him when he was still alive. She sat by his bedside for days while he first became hot and then slowly, day by day, became frighteningly cold. First he shivered. Then he became completely limp. And then he stopped breathing. As if his life left him bit by bit, seeping out slowly, that one could barely tell when it was finally gone.

She had vague recollections of people talking to her. Someone brought her food, but she did not eat. Later, Saeryn draped a cloth over her shoulders. She did not realize until later that it was Saeryn’s own shawl. For the first time in weeks she did not even feel cold.

The men wanted to take him away. He must be buried properly, they told her. His body should be laid in the ground. But she would not let them. Do not take him away from me yet, she said – or maybe she just thought; she was not certain anymore. It is so cold out there. The ground is frozen stiff. On the morrow, they will warm it with a fire to dig a grave, like they have done for the others. And then the ground will freeze again, and he will freeze with it. Let him be warm for one last night! Just one more night! But, in spite of the blankets and fires, Theolain remained cold and remote in his stillness, as if to show that no warmth in the world can stop that which is inevitable.

Ledwyn did not know how much time passed. She simply suddenly became aware of herself. Maybe she awoke from a doze, but she did not recall sleeping. The Hall was quiet around her, and it was dark. When did everyone go to bed? How late was it?

She slowly stood up, her legs clumsy and stiff from sitting all day. She wandered through the Hall like a wraith, Saeryn’s shawl dropping slightly on one side on top of her own. She walked around the Great Hall, occasionally putting out a hand to brush the long tables. After a while, she found herself at the door to the kitchen.

The last coals in the hearth were still smoldering slightly. There were not too many now, since dry wood was scarce in Scarburg and had to be burned sparingly. Ledwyn lit a candle from one of the remaining spots of glowing red. Theolain would have liked them once, she thought. Securing the candle on a table, she turned away from it and began rummaging in the store of eating utensils.

***

Hilderinc's sleeplessness had returned with the winter. It did not add to his mood that had already been affected by the sour prospects of the Hall, just like everyone else's. However, Hilderinc did not become gloomy as Scarburg's hopes dimmed. Instead, he became very stern, observant, marching around the Hall and wading in the snow around it day and night, or so it would seem to its inhabitants. He really did not sleep much, and on very cold nights of midwinter, he was even secretly happy about it. For, as death began creeping into the Mead Hall, Hilderinc began reflecting on it, and came to the conclusion that he did not want to pass away in his sleep. Not ever.

That particular night, he again could not sleep. Instead, he paced around, wrapped in his blanket on top of his clothes and a spare cloak. He had spent a long time outside, as if hoping he could find any dry firewood or spot a rabbit, or at least a squirrel. Not a chance. As he headed back to the Hall, it was already deep night. Everyone was asleep, or so it seemed, until Hilderinc noticed bright gleam of candlelight coming from inside the kitchens. Wondering who might be up at this time, he walked to the door, removed his glove and cursed silently under his breath as the cold air hit him violently. He put the glove back on, clumsily opened the door and quickly jumped in, leaving the winter outside.

It was warm inside the kitchen, and a lone shape sat by one of the tables. Ledwyn. Hilderinc recognized her light brown hair and her countenance; now, after several months of winter, she looked even more thin and fragile than usual, like a frozen reed. She did not seem to have noticed him entering, nor heard him opening and closing the door. In one heart-stopping moment Hilderinc thought she had frozen to death, but then he noticed a small movement as she clutched one of the kitchen knives, staring at the blade, as if she were studying the reflection of the candlelight on it. She turned it slowly this way and that. If not for her face, she might have been playing. Then, still turning the knife, she lifted it higher. Her hands froze, with the knife pointing straight at her.

Startled, Hilderinc took a few quick steps to her side, but her hands again rested on the table, still holding the blade.

"Ledwyn?" he spoke. She did not answer, just stared at the knife in her hand.

“Shouldn’t you be sleeping?” Hilderinc continued. Ledwyn stirred. She nodded very slightly, but she looked past him, like she did not understand where his voice was coming from.

"What were you doing here?" Gently but firmly, he took the knife from her hands. He looked down at the blade and frowned. Did she just... He examined her face. She seemed not to notice her surroundings, but just stared into the distance with her far-away look, as though she was seeing something beyond the wooden walls of the kitchen. She was definitely not asleep, but Hilderinc was not certain that she was awake.

She has gone through a lot in the last few days, Hilderinc thought, on top of this terrible winter. Poor Theolain.

"Listen," he said aloud. "Everyone is asleep. You should go to sleep, too. Sitting here at night is not what you should be doing..." He felt clumsy, he was never particularly good in talking to women. In fact, he never had to, not like that.

"I understand," he added, while he was not sure it was true, "I understand it must be hard, Theolain..." He vaguely tried to remember anything about the lad; realizing he had barely known him. "Your son was a good boy," he finished. "But you already said farewell to him, we all did. And while he is gone, you are still here." Almost as an afterthought, he added, "If you are just listening to your thoughts, you will start thinking about weird things."

"He's not my son," Ledwyn said in a quiet, dead kind of voice. She was not looking at Hilderinc.

He inclined his head, slightly confused. "Do not say that. He has passed away, but he still..." He stopped, as if his train of thought was interrupted by a sudden idea. His eyes once again shifted to Ledwyn's face, pale in the candlelight.

"He is not my son," she repeated firmly, despite her lost look. Did her mind wander astray in a memory? Who was she seeing? Who was she talking to?

She stood up and turned to look at the fireplace. The last of the heat was fading away, leaving the coals dead and ashen. The small specs of redness were fading away. Only a few were still dancing and breathing in the night air. By sunrise, none would be left.

Very slowly, her eyes became alive. She looked around her and only now noticed Hilderinc standing behind her. She did not give a start, but she seemed slightly confused. Seeing the knife in his hand, she said, "I simply wanted to cut a slice of bread from the stores. I have not eaten today." However, instead of breaking her fast, she disappeared quickly behind the kitchen door, her shawls trailing slightly behind her.
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