Off into the Sunrise

Men call things “beast” when they want to call something cruel and violent. Men are the ones who invented cages.

I remember Gregor caught eating my nut-puffs in the King’s cellar he was meant to be guarding. All covered in honey and crumbs he was, and there was cream stuck to that mustache of his. Normally, I would have scared the piss out him before calling his commander in, but that day, I made the handsome new guard with the freckles clean all my pans shirtless. He never stole again, but he kept coming around to play wash-boy on his leave days.

Then there’s Gregor in his fur, back before I felt like letting on I knew what he was. Young Brand – newly king and I’d known him since I’d worn my hair down – took me aside and told me, “He’s a skinchanger. He may seem charming and sweet, but when he wears the bear, he can rip the head off a troll fast as blinking. He may not be safe with children.” Near as I ever came to striking my liege, that. In the moonlight, I followed in my brother’s boat as he made for the White Fjord where the salmon were running, then watched my sweetheart twist and grow into the biggest damn bear I’d ever seen. He let half the fish go, making sure he only nabbed the smaller ones. He didn’t eat them live or let them suffer a moment’s pain. There’s your ruddy great beast, Brand, picking grass out of his mustache before waxing it up again.

He held his babies so gently, though they were big enough for him to heft in the palms of his massive hands. He was holding little Fritz that way when he died, and wouldn’t let him go for hours after, hoping against hope that the Beorning blood would work a wonder.  Then, those hands held me while I got the crying out in private. Neither of us were much for letting other folk see us hurting.

When Dafydd first woke up furry and nearly ate his baby sister, Gregor was off shipboard again. They needed him so often now to go out and scare the pants off this or that pirate. I knew my son’s battle-rage was from my blood, but Gregor would blame the bear, because everyone around him but me blamed the bear.  I made damn sure Dafydd learned to check himself, no matter what his nose was telling him, and by the time his father got home, we only had to worry about the King finding out. “Don’t let him join up,” I said. Gregor was afraid what would happen if he didn’t, and the King found out. Then, Dafydd learned how cages work from his Da, and the two of them let their man-side lock the beast away. The beast and man both suffered.

Another year, and Dafydd was dead, the last to drop from the summer’s fever. He was on leave when his brothers got it, then his little sister. My three sons died youngest to oldest, leaving the world as if time had turned its tide. There were three funeral boats to burn before their father could get back from some Rhun-side mission. I remember how his face fell when he caught the smell of our house from the docks, and how he didn’t crack into tears until he called for his little princess, and she didn’t look up.  That was the second time I nearly struck my liege, when I had to beg for his precious pet bear to be closer to home for a time. It was Gregor who stayed steady in those grey-lit days while I went from dark to darker, impatient with my only living child, then despairing as I birthed my last. Poor little cub, Broddi was, going to his sister first before crying to me. That’s when Wynne learned to be like her Da. She’s that way because her Ma wasn’t anyone to want to be. Not for a while. Not for a long while.

Gregor carried the weight of worlds until his muzzle went grey. The duty and oaths of his youth were unbreakable chains, and the bars pressed close. Again and again he took life with tooth and claw or blades, always under orders, and sometimes unsure if what he did was really best. It was I who reminded him of duty and service. I kept doing it right up until they brought back Cynewynne on her shield, barely breathing, skewered through because some pissant idiot had hoped to scare her into turning into a bear. “Looks like she isn’t a skinchanger after all,” someone said before they saw me. “Here’s your bear,” I said, and kicked them off my dock.  Gregor was so heartsick he could barely talk, even when Broddi told us he’d never go to war. No, not even to avenge his sister. Not if we paid him. Not if the King demanded it. Not if we kicked him from the house.

When I got back from the Greenwood, Gregor didn’t ask. He knew, and knew he couldn’t know that I’d arranged matters with his wood-elf friend on the River Running.  He sagged in relief when Broddi got away, then pretended some mighty convincing rage. Our Wynne, still green-faced and clinging to life out of pure cussedness, had to argue but good to go after him. We knew the harder we made it for her, the farther she’d let herself be herded. We weren’t to know where.  We only knew our children were out of the cage. “When it’s better here, we’ll call them back,” I said.  Gregor looked only at his supper.

The last I saw of Gregor was a plume of sudden flame, bright against the water between our frantic rowing and the mayhem of burning Esgaroth. Only later did I hear that he had evacuated the flagship, then lit a fuse while the captain turned the sinking drakkar to ram the Easterling line. The two of them let a town full of women and children slip behind the Dalish lines to safety, and they’re now names in a saga. They gave me Gregor’s banner, and sung about what a fearsome menace he was.

The cage was open. There wasn’t time for tears or thought about my home at the bottom of the lake, or the empty place at my side. The elves knew where to send me, and the road full of danger brought back the old lessons from a time when my Da had made sure I, too, could wield the halberd made from the axe of Broddi Bloodsworn, my ancestor, my blood. I’m no shieldmaiden like my daughter, but I didn’t suffer for folk willing to travel with me either. I didn’t have to earn my way West on my back. There’s that mercy.  The second mercy, that I still had children left to mother.

But they’ve got on fine without me. They don’t need a damn thing I’ve got, that’s how well Gregor raised them. Gregor and I.  I, and my bear. My gentle giant who wondered, in the night, if pirates too had kin. My youth’s love.  My…

There’s a horse-rancher who comes around now. He’s got kind eyes, and he makes me forget, a little. And remember, a little. Gregor wouldn’t want me to pine, and I don’t want me to pine. But it’s not fair to him, with his calm life and his fine herd and years without a woman. He’s here for sweet pastry, and not for a lass clinging to civilization by her bootstraps. He thinks I’m a well-padded widow woman with two grown children, thoroughly domesticated to bit and bridle. I don’t know if I can be gentle enough with him. He’s so gentle, this man who soothes innocent young fillies into accepting the rope.

I don’t know whether to bite his head off or let him rope me. Perhaps for the best I’ll lose him in a week, when he rides off into the sunset.

((Cynewynne and Broddi’s mom Frithvail would like to dedicate this one to Evorric’s player!))

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Goodnight Moon

A week ago, I had a little scrap of sight left high in my right eye.  One window left for lenses to correct.  One spot for the letters to pop in to say their farewells.  I used it to drink in my last flowers.  Last raindrops.  Last stars.

I came here to support him, and I failed.  I failed utterly.  I barely knew what happened in his life for all the doubt choking me.  I couldn’t.  I didn’t.  I knew it was selfish.  I’m only losing my eyes when he’s losing his whole life’s story, made over into a lord with fortune and lands, no longer hiding from his fallen enemy.  He needs me.  I’m not here.

The window is gone, and I found a friendly lord knight to take me one last time to the harbor.  My father left from here up the Anduin, then by road to RoyEl in Dale.  I’m afraid of the stairs with their steep edges.  I’m afraid of the landings and turns.  I’m afraid of this stranger whose arm I’m grasping.  I’m afraid of the dark.  I’m afraid they’ll notice.

It was easy to believe in the will of Creation’s Force when it made me strong and smart.  I faced challenges, but they all came from the Unenlightened.  I pitied them from my own throne of pride.  I knew better.  was certain.  was blessed.

I thought I was ready for this.  I thought my reason and faith – yes, faith, for all I congratulated myself on choosing it by rational means – but my faith would be unshaken. The Creation, in its wisdom, made me with eyes that I will outlive by many years.  I have never been so furious.  I have never been so guilty.

The water at my toes shifts.  It pauses, swirls warmth at my bared ankles, then sucks back to sea.  “The moon is full, isn’t it?” I ask the stranger whose arm will allow me to survive the trip back up the stairs.

“It is, Master Tinuvist,” he said, startled.

“It’s in the tide. It only reaches so high at the fullness of the moon.”  It drained fast too.  Even the moon was leaving me now.  Moon, light, and soon… soon.

I have no pull on him, however many times I’ve been pulled close by his waxing apogee.  There’s no good reason to be angry that my pull isn’t so strong on him.  What, when the Creation made him … as he was.  Not that I want him to give up his Breeland name for me.  Not that I have any right to wish that he would wake up knowing how to hold me close and tell me that he won’t ever leave because, even blind, to him I am still… still…

After the tide pulled away, my feet cool in the dry Southern air.  Time to stand and reach to where the Swan Knight forms a windbreak.  The moon is setting somewhere over the lovely curve of Arda.  Some day, I will tame this heart-sickness to the leash of prose.  Tonight, I bid farewell to the moon and leave Water for steadfast Earth.  The knight’s armour numbs my fingertips with cold.

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When I was young, I could read without them.  Then I turned ten and I was caught borrowing Old Master Fowler’s glass once too often.  No worries, of course.  Young folk often had a little trouble in their teens and needed lenses to read.  At RoyEl, they came fairly cheaply, and I thought I looked like a proper scholar.  I got the ones with pink stones in the armature.  Life went on.

New lenses became a way to mark years.  I knew that there would always be replacement, and it was no real trouble.  I had more important things to do, like earning my certificate and applying for masters.  I invested in mirrored dwarf-craft lamps.  I went on with living.  I climbed outdoors and hung from rock-faces with glass tied firmly to my face.

I had dreams and goals, and I accomplished every last one.  Even the hardest!  Regular faculty… full time affiliation… dwarf-run, even!  I had start-up funds and my own rooms to own.  I dreamed of openings for my Nallo in geology and celebrated by going for my next set of lenses.

There was no next set.  

It sounds now like I hadn’t been told.  I had been, and years ago now.  “May” and “might” were in the explanation, so I assumed that I’d be in whatever percentage didn’t end in blindness.  I was, in a word, unscientific about it.  There’s a study somewhere in that.  I wrote up an abstract before this opportunity came to me.  I took it, and I didn’t let myself think that it was partly to see Dol Amroth before I can’t ever see Dol Amroth.  It was mostly to keep an eye on Nallo.  

Interesting phrase, “to keep an eye on.”  I wonder if it sounds as odd to other blind people.

Did I just refer to myself as blind?  Not yet I’m not.  I can see more than I can’t see, and after dark, Nallo’s there.  I hope there aren’t any other red-wearing men around.  I worry that one day, I’ll grab the wrong one.  

I can’t read the book I just took off the shelf, but I can still see that it’s bound with leather and gold.  It’s illustrated.  That’s probably a dragon.  Or perhaps a griffin.  Or…

The hinge resists a little when I close the volume.  My fingers find the gap where it goes, and I realize that I’ve been doing it this way for a while now.  My feet don’t lift like they used to, and my staff… I carry it now like I’m an old woman who needs it.  The day I step out into is muted into moonlight, but I hear the crier calling mid-day.  My gut is twisting and…. pah!  I’m scanning the crowd for red like a clinging ladyfriend.

Nallo is my last set of lenses, and soon, he’ll be gone too.  

I’d best interview a few more locals before supper.

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To Moria

Another package, this time with Kapheim abstracts enclosed and a book or two.  Hastily added, a letter addressed to the supervisor of the Iron Garrison waterworks supervisor from Kapheim, and this letter.

My Dearest Nallo,

What splendid news for you!  I know you’ll make the best of this opportunity, though I will miss you sorely when I return to my intermediate courses and general lectures in the Natural Sciences.  I’m told that the Moria waterworks are even more splendidly engineered than those at Thorin’s Hall, and I can but envy you seeing them.

My return has been delayed by a day to make a few arrangements here at Kapheim, which involve news both good and ill.  I will be leaving the archives come the end of my contract, and for the best of reasons.  Kapheim has offered me a junior position in the Philosophy department.

That is Philosophy and not Geology, yes. While their geology faculty are, as you know, fully staffed and without much in the way of vacancy, their philosophy program is smaller and newer.  Do you remember the piece I wrote on a lark back in the Fall about the moral implications of competing geological theories?  The one the Tower society thought was a hoax?  It seems to have drawn more positive attention among dwarven scholars, who are more appreciative of ethical discussions based on, shall we say, solid matter.  Neocennanism, while less popular among Elves and Men, has a growing following among Aule’s folk.  I attribute it to the fact that it is not based on Elven traditions, yet does not contradict too many non-negotiable beliefs head-on.  I also think my approach, eccentric as it is elsewhere, is more in fitting with the materialistic bent of Kapheim’s traditions.  Oh this is a very poorly constructed paragraph!  A new one, then.

I have already accepted.  You know I cannot do otherwise.  As you know, Kapheim operates on a four-quarter system, and my residency requirements in the first year call for my presence three out of four quarters with no travel funding as such.  However, I will make my case to Uncle Nallo that I might have a few weeks with you at least before I move into my chambers.  It comes with a full apartment!  And my own office too.  I have a book allowance and a student scribe.  No more transcribing my own texts!  We have loaning reciprocity with five major libraries, did you know?

But before I go thither, I want to see you again and see all you’ve found in Khazad Dum.  I may even burn a bridge with the Archives and leave early.  I have not quite decided.  This turn of events seems unreal as a dream, ephemeral as a bubble and just as liable to burst on contact with a rough forefinger’s tip.  But it seems we will be apart more than I first thought, and much more for this first year.  Lucky that the post travels direct from Thorin’s to Moria, hmm?

Now, the outlook as far as we are concerned becomes brighter after that first year.   I have leave every fourth quarter, and am expected to travel on university business to conferences and so on.  Alas, Khazad Dum does not quite fall into such categories, but I made sure fieldwork was part of my contract, though it needs must change if I’m to make tenure as a philosopher.  Strange title.  Strange word.  Is not everyone who thinks deeply about the universe a philosopher?  Does not every theory of origin and function impact our relationship to the created (or happenstance) universe?

See?  I already talk more.  I admit to some sadness over labels and titles.  I did so want to be a Geologist, to be taken seriously as such, and not relegated to the ‘softer’ arts where women can be safely allowed, so long as they please.  But this is a proper post with a chair in it at the end, and within the dwarven system where I have a chance of sitting in such furniture.  A woman may want a man’s path, but her roads are fewer and cramped by rules unwritten and ironclad.  She must bend before them.  She must become what is asked, one way or another.  This change, at least, is one I can make, even as it breaks my heart to amputate part of my intellectual self so the rest may thrive.  Does not nature itself tell it?  All is motion, and motion removes and reshapes, sure as ice slices ridges to spurs.

There will be no more strata for me, save to assuage my own enthusiasm.  But I will come to see your delvings and granites, and to see what your colleagues now do, and I will think about what it means for the rest of us.  I will be heard, at least.  My clipped horn, girded in cirques and aretes, will stand more stark against the immortal stars.

My prose grows purple and my test maudlin.  Farewell for now, my dearest love.  And very well done to you!  Continue as you are, and we shall age gracefully on the ridge of the Learned and Wise.

Warmly and ever yours,


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Directed to Echad Dunann, Eregion, with a waterproofed bundle.

Dear Nallo-the-Sweeter,

I’m so sorry to have missed you, but I’m glad you’ve an opportunity for proper fieldwork. I’ll be thinking of you at Kapheim III and be sure Helvia hears the comments so she can recite them for you later.  She’s coming too, did you know?  Well now you do.

Dearest, you forgot your portable core sampler.  Here it is.  Oh, your compass was left out in the mushroom incubator.  And your field glass too, and I believe this is your pocket atlas?  Or is it mine?  Well, better you have two than none.  The hardness picks were for your next birthday, but – oh dear!  I’ve gone and spoiled the surprise, haven’t I?  You’ll forgive the slip when you see them, I’m sure.  Big Nallo went in half on them, so do remember to thank him when you get back.  I put in a few notebooks.  You never bring enough notebooks.  Pay me back later.

I think you’ll find the Eregion strata support my glaciation hypothesis.  Try not to be too chagrinned when the data support me.  Boronbereth was quite mistaken about the rifting, and I believe the walls of the Hollin valleys will vindicate me.  When you find a truncated spur near Gwingris and feel horizontal grooves under your fingertips, follow the undulating curves of the drumlins and eskers to the sweet satisfaction of the terminal moraine.  We will discuss it over gingersnaps, and you will tell me at length of Khazad Dum’s deep delvings.  

Please, please sample where you may.  I simply must know why mithril gathers only in this one spot.  Is it the upthrust of the central ridge bringing the hidden treasure of the depths nearer to the crust’s surface, or does the constant heated pressure naturally refine simple silver into something more pure and light, as fire renders wood to charcoal?  Or is mithril some alchemical marriage of mineral substances, perfectly suited to each other, but meeting only in the heart of Arda to form a perfection from two broken parts?  Or – don’t laugh, I dare you! – perhaps it is the excrement of balrogs.

Stay warm and stay safe.  When Telimektar reaches zenith, blow him a kiss.  I will send him one to pass back to you.  How strange to find you orbiting me.  You don’t look like a moon.  I’ll see you on the retrograde cycle.

Your own Tinuvist.

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Justice II

Continuation of this post.

Borasvar closed the pamphlet and sat back.  Just that, then fell into silence.

“Adar?” Sidbron prodded.

“These new presses can be sabotaged.”

Sidbron’s brows climbed his forehead.  “I’m sorry.  I was talking to Adar, not Naneth.”

“Perhaps not all of your Naneth’s ideas are completely without meri…”

Sidbron interrupted firmly, “You’re angry and you can’t hit anyone.”

The older elf lifted his eyes finally from the lackluster etching that graced the pamphlet’s cover. “This will become ugly quickly if someone doesn’t stop it.  I will speak to the printer. Perhaps a committee can be raised and…” he trailed off and picked it up again.  It was short and hastily pressed, but the author had kindly numbered the pages.  Celeveren was on the sixth.  His fea flared again, too hot and too quickly for him to manage.  “You read it. She’ll come home to a mob crying ‘kinslayer!'”

Sidbron took the leaflet away, muttering, “My other parents aren’t nearly as difficult.”

Borasvar just sat back and fumed.  Sidbron could see the rage coming off him in smoking plumes.  Not see, but perceive.  Quietly, he said, “Welcome back, Adar.”

Borasvar rose and turned to the door.  Already the Vingliot had cast off into the velvety sky and the moon was showing its pale crescent through clouds.  “I have always been here,” he said, distracted.

“There is a difference between existing and engaging.”

Quietly, Borasvar replied, “All they say about her is true.  That is what we face.  Truth, in its most brutal phrasing.  She already sees herself like this, you know.”

Sidbron nodded and didn’t question the use of tense or the source of his foster-father’s knowledge. “It is some truth.”

“I must walk a while.  I must… think.” He strode off, barefoot and clad only in light trousers.  Wind and surf-salt pulled at his hair and he went to wait with his feet washed by the sundering sea.

She never came predictably, and that was when she came at all.  But of late, he had learned to find the thin moonlit strand that led to her stretching ahead into the purple blank darkness.  Sometimes he felt its brief presence during the day as a cobweb’s brush of cool presence, gone as soon as he looked for it.  At night, it held firmer.  Stronger.  Tonight, he didn’t wait for her attention to drift near.  Tonight he turned to the moon and said low, “Meren-nin?”

For a time there was no tangible response.  A few night gulls glided past and the tide inched in.  It was up to his knees when he felt her cool glow, heard her words spoken faintly from the sandy shore behind him.  Dreamily, slowly, with the habit of familiarity returning now as if they’d only just parted in friendship she said, “What does a Nando do half buried in sea? Come out of there. I think a rip tide forms.”

He didn’t turn immediately.  It was best to keep slow, keep dream-like, or she could flit away as easily as she came.  The anger still glowed bright in him, and bitter now when he thought how the words he had read would sound to her.  She would shatter.  She would break so badly, even Mandos would have trouble repairing her shards.  So he said, “Should such a tide form, it would do it further North where the sand bar has accumulated.”

“So you may think,” she said, “But why risk it? Unless you study tides now.”

He turned then, and saw her, half real, half shade, more solid where his attention fell and blurring at the edges.  She wore her hair loose, and a light linen shift of strange make drifted in a breeze that didn’t quite conform to the shore gusts that blew his hair into disarray. It was at odds with her severe features and upright stance; dignity and vulnerability and danger.  And a smile tilted her features into something rather whimsical before she said, “I am not a statue. Will you stop analyzing my stance and come out of the tide?”

It caught him into a smile, despite the weight on him.  She let him catch her eyes as he waded from the salt, and came easily to his offered hand.  He had to believe it was a hand, or it would slide through his grip.  He believed.  He held the memory of her slender fingers in his own and let her see through his eyes and into his fea‘s heart.

Her expression stilled, and there was a new tenderness in the way she said, “You burn so brightly. So hot, so…” she hesitated, and he felt her dismay.

Quickly, he said, “Not at you, Meren.”

“But it has to do with me.”  He let her look.  Before, he would evade this part of her, this invasion of his shadows and privacy.  Now, he had age to anchor him against her alarming talents.  Now, he was strong enough to accept the whole of her.  When she looked away before he did, he felt it as a loss.  She began to walk, as was their way, under a moon that shone oddly, as if seen from two places, and a shore that was not the shore outside his hut, but a shadow of it.  At last she said, “So. You are enraged on my behalf.  And you don’t wish me to see over what, so it is likely something I did.”

It was easier to say than he’d thought. “Some bored youngster wrote the sort of self-righteous things the young write when the mood takes them.”

“Ah yes. Sidbron was fond of that kind of thing.” She smiled, and he felt his rage loosen a little.

“Only this youngster has a friend with… it’s a new thing here.  You take little tiles with letters, then ink them…”

“Oh!  Yes, the dwarves have come up with something like that in Dale.  It’s remarkable.”

He blinked, paused, and stared at her.  Her smile turned up a little at the corner. “Dwarf. Dwarf, dwarf, dwarf. Dwarves with inventions! Dwarves with ink!” And they both laughed, in mutual surprise.  She said then, “So. Where is your press, Borasvar?”

“My… what?”

“Your press.  Surely you’ve found ways to improve the design?”

He let his jaw drift back from where it had dropped.  Why hadn’t he thought to study the thing?

“Make a better one, then use it to represent your own case. I somehow think you can be more convincing than a third-ager.”  Her head tilted a little and she mused, “This is a very strange dream.”

His heart sank a little as she turned insubstantial under his hands. But she would see what she wished to, and perhaps it was better if she didn’t have to believe this was reality. Yet. He traced his fingers along her sharply formed jaw and brought her close, whispering into the peak of her ear, “But it is a good dream.”

Her image rippled and firmed, warming now under his fingers. Her eyes were alight, bright and piercing and hers.  She said, almost sweetly, “It is. Perhaps this is what absolution feels like. Or healing. Or wholeness.  Or…”

He bent to press his lips to hers, relieved and longing and alive again. Engaged. Joined… yes, all of that. Her hands tugged at his hair and he tasted apples on her breath. Real. So Real. It was no memory that felt along his back, and no imagination that produced the myriad changes in her since their last embrace on Arda. She had grown light as feathers, and there was a new yielding in the way she moved in counterpoint to his touch. It was real. He was sure it was real but…

Sidbron watched from the hut through the long night.  His father stood a long while in the misting dark of the surf.  The moon set and stars wheeled, and darkness made it hard to see the slender figure standing alone.  Sometimes, he seemed gone entirely.  Then, in the graying foredawn light, he saw a whispy figure made of foam and starlight at his father’s side. She was there, and not, and Sidbron’s eyes misted at the familiarity of the way she tilted her head. He’d forgotten she did that.  He’d forgotten how bright she was and how…

Dawn broke, and his father stood alone. Sidbron couldn’t help but stare some as he returned, resolved now rather than irate. “Adar, what… how?”

Borasvar’s brows lifted. “You could see her?”

“That was her?  I… only a glimpse.  A shadow of memories. A trick of the light.”

His father shook his head a little. “What is real? Perhaps the dream is real, and these so-called realities of time and space are but illusions.”

“But you are not… Adar, did you wed without telling me?”

His smile saddened and he replied, “No.”  He then said, more seriously, “Come.  Today, we go to have a look at this press. I have a plan.”

Sidbron nodded slowly, his gaze lingering on his father’s eyes. Dimly, but… there. Deep, subtle, and mithril-strong. Naneth. They went to see about the press.

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OOC: As seen on the internet

This one’s for Helvia.  This one’s for Helvia.  This one’s for Helvia.

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