“Well, Cecibug, here’s some news.”
The house was dark now, so he lit a lamp. Miss Leo was out again, probably dwarf herding, but she must have been by just before he got in. Ceci’s breathing was easy as she lay curled up in the wicker chair, and a fragrant breeze blew honeysuckle through the casement. He made noise coming and approached from the front before bending to kiss her forehead. She might have smiled. The chair’s creaking betrayed the easing of her posture.
“Want to hear it?” He asked in the easy tone he’d invented for these conversations. Normal, man. Give her some normal. Isn’t about you. She didn’t say anything, not when he pulled up a chair, and not when he took her hand. After a moment, though, she gave him a tiny squeeze. He squeezed back. Such a small thing, but these days he fair lived off every bit of hope. Each little glimmer was hoarded, and he kept them close to prove that she was still there and fighting. Fighting for them, he hoped. She didn’t squeeze back for just anyone.
“No guesses? Well flud. Suppose I’ve got to just tell you.” Squeeze. Squeeze back.
“Someone we know – can’t tell you who because it’s a big damn secret – bought him a house near the South gate. Bree-town, bug! Right there by the Auction Hall where folk pass by every day to see it. And guess who gets to be head carpenter?”
Was that a flicker of eye contact? That was definitely her cheek resting against his shoulder. He scooched his chair so she could lean better and said proudly, “Got it in one! And here’s the best, love. The fellow doesn’t mind if I’m in and out of town, so long as I supervise when I’m here. I figure I’ll do the fiddly furniture when we’re stuck in camp, and mind the building when we’re back.”
She sighed and he slipped an arm around her, welcoming her slide from chair to lap. Squeeze. Squeeze back. She’d heard him, he was pretty sure. “So your man’s going to have him a building in Bree proper that he was head carpenter for, and it’s rebuilt from the framing up. All new wood, and I’m going to make it a showpiece, see if I don’t. And you better take a good look at it, when you’re feeling up to it, because whatever you like, I’ll put on this house too. Anything you want. Maybe I’ll plaster the walls with daffodils, eh? Or decorate everything with furry axes? Or flowery axes?”
Maybe it was the fading evening gloaming, but he thought he saw a smile. He dipped his head to kiss her temple and held her close, talking to her about whatever seemed best. How nice the sunset was here, and how pretty Evendim had been. Who of his buddies was courting whom, and what he caught that morning in the Snowflood mill pond. He told her all about the swanky Gondorian weaponsmith who was making Wynne’s new halberd blade, and what Elric-down-the-pub said his wife said about some new seamstress in Durrow. The sun sank and the room held him, the bony-thin girl in his arms, and the gloom pressing close. The lamp’s circle of light just managed to fend it off, like a man’s quiet words fighting an unwinnable battle against an ocean of pitiless malice.