It takes a long time for a pyre to burn, longer than a boat. The boat roars with flame, drifting and sinking like a falling star. Here, on dry land, it goes long into the night.
There is so much we can’t say that our conversation feels like a letter with most of the words blacked out. I remember Panja telling me that the tips are only the slightest bit of an iceberg. We’re floating on one now. Ceceil has sobbed herself quiet, and Broddi’s eyes are red from smoke and cold, or so he tells us. They cling like lost children as it begins to snow again. The flakes hiss as they hit the roaring heat before us four, we who bury our dead, and one of us who murdered. Killed. Executed. I feel like I shouldn’t be here, no matter what they all say. Doesn’t anyone care?
Did she know, when she planned this, that it would be my blade? I had help, of course. Perhaps it was Gaelyn who struck the killing blow, or Arvorn’s flame, or any one of us. But it was I whose eyes she sought, pleading. For mercy? For forgiveness? Damn her for this. Damn her. I miss her so badly.
Arion’s arm is around me. I didn’t have to ask. The siloma is a faint warmth against my skin as he lets it do its elf magic, and I hear what he hears. It’s always too much at first, and I have a headache now from the chaos of it all. Broddi sounds so much like I remember Da sounding that I keep having to look to be sure it’s him. And the crackles that wood make; I had forgotten about that. Even the snow makes a soft swish of sound as it falls in hard beads to the ground. My own voice: there it is. It echoes oddly, as if I were standing to my own side. But then, these are not my ears.
“If you have to return to Bree, I understand.” I sound awful, all nose and throat. The bard who used to coach my singing voice would faint in horror.
Arion’s arm tightens and his lips are warm on my forehead. I used to have to remind him to kiss me. Since my last return, his lips often catch me unaware. “Don’t worry, Cynewynne.” He always uses my full name. His voice is deep, deep as I always suspected from the way it shakes the air in a faint buzz. “This is important. I am here.”
I look at him as if I’d never seen him before. It isn’t the first time he’s made the time to help us. Oh, not for fun things. Not for fairs, or picnics, or hockey games. But to take Broddi and Ceceil to Rivendell, or to come home to change my dressings, or to see me at Ost Guruth when that orc arrow almost sent me to my ancestors, or now when we watch our sister, our mother turn to ash; he is here. When I need him, he is here. We both love our family. My eyes water and I hide my tears against his sleeve. I cry so much these days that I’m sure he’ll think I’ve gone soft. I am mortified by it, by how brittle I have been, how dark and brooding. But there’s his hand on my curls and his voice making conversation as Broddi and Ceceil trade stories of better days, when Leofryn was still simple to love.
The wind howls, swelling the blooms of hot orange flame. I know she’s here too. I don’t know how to feel about it.
The weather is mild here on the gulf of Lune, but I keep the children bundled. Mortal children chill easily, even sturdy hobbits. They squeal and hunt for shells in the sparkling sands, and Marri keeps daring the waves with her sandy toes. I’ve already had to fish her out once and wrap her up by the fire.
I only planned on a stay in Celondim, but Tessa wanted to see the ocean. Who am I to deny her the chance? There is much to learn on a shore. One day we study tides, marking high and low and drafting a chart to demonstrate the pull of Isil. Another day, crustaceans occupy us. Geoffrey has a pet crab who will doubtless annoy his mother when he returns with it in tow. I wonder if perhaps we might convince him to let it return to its family in the dunes.
Today, they build castles with sand. I am fairly sure this has no instructional value whatsoever, but Borasvar used to make them with Sidbron. They’d have to drag me to see their creations of spires and walls and tide-pool moats, and I always grumbled, then proceeded to enjoy myself. These children seem every bit as enthralled with the process as those of elvenkind. The hobbit needs fed frequently, so I bring out two baskets with local fare. “Who eats raw fish!” they squealed, but once they had some wrapped in the local rice with seaweed, they were happy enough to indulge. Geoffrey likes to put roe on his tongue and show it to the girls, who squeal and pelt him with stray rice grains. I haven’t the heart to stop them.
These are my last mortal children. Somehow, it makes them easier to love, even when they become overtired and cranky. Tomorrow, we’ll see the shipyards. Then, perhaps, the workshops of the local artisans. Nellina will be wroth with the bounty we already have to bring home. Perhaps she will forgive the indulgence now better than before; now I am family. She said so. She must mean it.
Tessa brings me another shell, and we sit to identify it with the guidebook I brought. Her lips are blue. That’s enough of this for today.
I gather them up, and as we go Tessa asks, “Who is that there?”
I follow her pointing finger and in the mist, for an instant, I think I catch a wink of bright green eyes. “An illusion of the light, little one.”
“But he was there, right on the water! Walking along.”
“Perhaps, my Meteorite. Perhaps. The Havens are full of the fear of elves.” I try to hide my longing glance and shut my ears against the seductive cries of the gulls. Soon. But not today. I heft a mortal child on each hip and let Geoffrey’s nose lead us to the guesthouse and its baking clams.
There are the days when everything goes wrong. There had been too many days going right, so today was, in many ways, inevitable.
“I want outside!” her small son whined with a stamp of his little bare foot.
“It is cold, it is snowing, and Mama must work on her manuscript.”
“I hate manuscripts!” his face was growing red now and the cat had already gone to ground.
“My manuscripts are important to me, and they help to feed and clothe you. I am afraid that they are a fact of life.”
His volume increased as he insisted, “Outside! Play outside with Ada!”
“Shhhh…” she said, kneeling to meet his eyes. “Your Ada is ill, and cannot go outside today. You must play with your blocks.”
“No blocks!” his tears brought on a runny nose, and she automatically reached to wipe. He grabbed the handkerchief and threw it at her, gaining a strangled gasp and a flinch as it touched her. He clung to her skirts as she went to the washstand, his protests incoherent as he grew more overwrought, finally resorting to flailing and crying. It had been happening rather often of late, and all the logic in the world failed to quell his fits of temper. She knew there must be some way of managing them, but for now there was … nose dribble on her. Disgusting.
“I want outside!” He raged, unwilling to listen to reason.
She sank down beside him, out of range of the mess from his nose. “I know. But you will not always get what you want in life.”
He kicked and shouted; he wailed and used one of the words his father sometimes used in his workshop. His mother sat close by and felt like a dismal failure, though with the lowering light, her son began to lose energy, hoarse now and limp. She gathered him close and wiped him down with a hot cloth, murmuring, “There now. There.”
“Still want outside,” he said with a weary sulk.
“I know. But there are cookies inside.”
He snuffled and looked up at her. “Cookies?”
“Cookies. With currants.”
“I like cookies.” He admitted grudgingly.
“So do I. Let’s eat cookies together.”
The manuscript made little progress. How could someone so clever so young be so deuced unreasonable? How could she love someone so deeply, and yet be so furiously exasperated? Ah well. He looked tired. Perhaps she might manage to work while he napped. She had to get something done before Keddric returned from his parents’ house.