First, Nethali left to fight in the Moors. Something wasn’t right in her head, but she was my friend all the same. Then Dinefled died in the last battle. Alainn stayed behind in Dunland. Coroline returned from Dale bearing a child. Feygil turned to the South. Kait is trying again with Barry. I think it’s for the best, but it’s strange to imagine such an uncertain future. More recently, Orchil decided that we couldn’t be friends.
Who does that leave me with?
Ma. At least I have ma to run back to. She bakes me cookies and give me hugs. That’s what ma’s are for. But you know, she’s getting older. She won’t last. And Nora’s got Peter to worry about. A family of her own coming along.
It’s funny that the women always seem to go. Men die in combat every day, but it hurts more when the women go. Some of it’s my fault, I know that, but some of it isn’t. And all of it is probably a silly coincidence. Still, it’s been nipping at the back of my neck for a long while now.
I’d usually talk to Morty, or Gaelyn, but it doesn’t seem like an important matter. I see Gaelyn and Nidhil together, and it makes me happy. I thought I would be jealous, but I’m glad.
And Morty looks at Ellodie the way I want to look at a girl. When Orchil looked at me that way, I wished I could look at her right back, but I couldn’t. Towards the end, I couldn’t even look at Kait that way either.
Esthyr’s new. I think I might sneak her into Morty’s old house and show her that clean portrait of him. I know he’s worried, and that makes me worried, but I know he’ll make a good pa. I know it because he’s sort of like mine. That whole mess is so sad and lovely all at once, like a painting or a fairytale.
Even among all of this, I don’t think I’m unhappy. There are graves to dig and people to meet, if only to balance out the people we bury. It makes me want to climb a mountain so tall that I never reach the top. I don’t know what sort of feeling that is. I only wish people wouldn’t go.
Plenty stay. I’ve got a whole slew of friends left who have my back. They care, they’re proud of me. But I think that I finally know what it’s like to feel lonely in a crowd.
One rare afternoon when the sun is shining, a few Lossoth emerge from their huts to stretch their legs before returning to sleep. The city is almost unrecognizable, buried as it is under feet of snow. The frozen edges of the bay are so thick with white that it is difficult to tell where the shore stops and the sea begins.
As Hallem is wandering through this frozen wonderland, he may come across a small Lossoth girl crouched outside her family’s hut. Her thick braids hang, the edges touching the snow, as she cups her face in her palms. Quiet sobs wrack her shoulders. In front of her, a young dog, no older than a year or so, lies dead in the snow. Snow edges its fur and its curly white tail that will never wag again.
Most of the Lossoth seem to ignore the scene, busied by other tasks. And so the girl weeps alone, her sobs unheard by anyone.
Hal likes sleeping almost as much as he likes climbing or eating, which is to say that he likes it a lot. But he does need to stretch his legs occasionally, so that is what he decides to do. As he wanders, enjoying the meager sunlight, he munches on a hunk of bread. Secretly Hal wants to build snowmen and go sledding, but he doesn’t try to do either. The Lossoth would think he was strange.
The girl catches his eye, perhaps because her sadness seems out-of-place considering their sleepy environment. For a while Hallem stares at the girl, wondering what to do (if anything at all). First he looks around to see if any others show interest in the girl’s woes, but they do not. For a moment he considers moving on, but pity and familiar pangs of sadness hold him in place.
With a great sigh, Hallem plods through the heavy snow and drops down on his knees beside the little girl. “What happened?” he asks her, even though she might not understand what he says.
The little girl whips her head up to stare wide-eyed at Hal.
“Minin koira kuollut!” she wails, pointing at the dead young dog. Tears stream down her round cheeks.
“Um,” says Hallem in response. Despite the language barrier he rambles. “I can’t bring it back to life, or I w-would. And it’s too cold to b-bury anything.” Tentatively he reaches out to touch the dog to see if she protests.
The girl’s tears die. She sniffles a bit as she watches Hallem touch the dead dog. She fiddled with the shell band tying one of her thick braids.
“Minä haluta hän haudata,” says the girl, her voice small and fragile against the howl of the wind high on the ridge. She touches the dog’s belly, and swallows more tears. “Kurja Nopea,” she whimpers.
“Alright,” says Hal. “We’ll figure something out. Come on.”
Gently he picks the dog up and puts it over his shoulder, not in a crude way, only to make it easier to carry. Hal reaches for the girl’s hand. “How do you bury your dead?” he asks, assuming she won’t understand his words but hoping she might get the gist of them, given his actions.
A spark of hope enters the girl’s eyes as she sees Hallem gently lift the dog. Though she doesn’t know the words he speaks, she seems to understand the question. She points up to one of the high hills surrounding Suri-kyla. On the ridge, icy mounds are decorated with bone poles. Colourful flags attached to the poles dance this way and that as they are whipped by the cold December wind.
Hal peers up the slope and nods a moment later. Idly he wonders if a pickaxe would be more useful for digging than a shovel, especially in this climate. If he’s lucky, the tools may already be stored somewhere up there – otherwise he’d hike back down and find them.
For now, Hal walks with the little girl until they reach the top of the hill where he looks around the Lossoth graveyard. “We should do this how you want,” he tells the girl. “I don’t know your c-customs. But let’s first find a sp-spot.” He stomps through the snow but is careful to avoid the decorated graves. Towards the edge he finds a clear patch of ground and points to it, looking to the girl for her approval.
The girl takes a long time to decide about this spot. She plays with the shells woven in with her braids as she inspects the snow. Eventually, she turns her limpid eyes up to Hallem, and nods.
“Hyvä henki huone,” she says solemnly.
Hal puts the dog down, next to the designated spot. Eventually he gathers all the necessary equipment and begins to dig a dog-sized, rectangular hole in the snow. In order to act more like his mentor would, he hums the tune to a song he once heard Morty sing, because he couldn’t remember the words.
Unless he hits hard ice, or unless the girl stops him, he digs down six feet because he’s unsure if a shallower grave would cause problems when the snow melts some. Hal does this quickly, as he doesn’t have to deal with cutting any roots or removing big rocks.
Once he finishes his task, he crouches beside the girl and her dog. “What happens next? Do you want to say something about him? I could say something.”
The girl watches in fascination as Hallem sings. Her anxiety seems to fade as she listens to his strange voice and mysterious words. Her tears dry on her cheeks as the cold wind buffets her round face.
She seems confused when Hallem speaks, and chews her lip. Her lips form into several shapes before she looks suddenly shy. She points to the snowy mound, and then draws close to Hallem.
Hal sighs and flops back into the snow to sit. “Alright, c’mere. We’ll have a pr-proper funeral.” Whatever a proper funeral was supposed to be, Hal was making it up now. If the little girl lets him, he settles her in his lap.
“Here lies a white dog who b-belonged to this little girl. She loved him (or her) very, very much. Even though he didn’t live a very long life, he p-probably lived a very good one. I imagine he liked hunting for rabbits and catching sn-snowballs in the air.” Hal pauses and chews on his lip. “She will remember her white dog always, and may he rest in peace.”
That sounded very proper and respectful, yes. Hal nods in approval of himself, and then looks down at the girl for hers. “Was that good?”
The girl settles willingly in Hallem’s lap as he speaks. She listens to the sound of his voice as the wind begins to grow on the hilltop.
When Hallem finishes, the girl beams up at him. She slings her padded arms around his neck, and touches the tip of her nose to his.
“Kiitos, herra-vieras,” she says shyly.
“You’re welcome, I think,” he tells her, also smiling. “I’m glad you’re happy. But I b-bet your ma and pa are wondering where you are.” Hal climbs to his feet, lifting her in his arms as he does. He waves goodbye to the new grave and begins his trek down the hill.
The young girl sets her arms around Hallem’s neck. As he makes his way down the hill, she rests her cheek on his chest. Her quiet voice can just be heard over Hallem’s crunching steps as she hummed a Lossoth lullaby.
I totally forgot I had this in my drafts, so I’m posting it now. From Laenlis’s “Farewells” writing prompt. This didn’t actually happen (yet), it’s more of a “what if” scenario. It’s just an idea that I got, and I thought it would be fun to explore. Also I like to torture Hal. When Barry proposed to Kaithin she didn’t hesitate. Instead she said yes.
When he heard this news, Hal smiled a big smile, so wide that it looked like it hurt a little – or maybe that was something else? Because despite the grin Hal also looked upset; his eyes were glistening and bloodshot. It was as if he’d heard such happy news that he’d been moved to tears.
And Hal was happy, but he was also really sad.
“I’m so glad for you, Kait,” he told her, because he was glad in some ways. He was glad about the person she’d turned into, and he was glad she’d found someone who cared about her properly. She deserved at least that much, and Hal still loved her enough that he wouldn’t dare ruin this. Actually, he loved her a lot.
She didn’t need to know he was leaving for Forochel soon. He entirely forgot that he meant to tell her at all.
There was still a secret, desperate part of him that wanted to punch Barry in the nose. The same part wanted to plead with Kaithin to take him back. He was suddenly reminded to feel remorseful and wretched. Those feelings lingered, but Hal worked hard to forget them. For now he ignored his secret thoughts. Perhaps if he spent time ignoring them for a little while longer they would go away. Fake it till you make it, that’s what Luned would say.
“I’m glad. I really am.” But I’m sad too, thought Hal. And if I could, I’d ask you to marry me in an instant.
Don’t let her know. Don’t let her see. Keep smiling. Think of something great, like pie. Not apple pie. Shit.
Hallem’s expression faltered. She paused in speaking to ask him if he was alright.
“I’m g-good! I just thought of something I forgot ab-about.” You forgot that you can’t lie for shit, idiot. Hurry. Get out of there before she sees you fall apart. And don’t cry till you get to a place where no one can’t find you. You shouldn’t even need to cry over something stupid like this. No one hurt you. She hasn’t done anything wrong to you.
“Hal, you crying?” someone asked. Hal didn’t know who, and he didn’t care.
“No, piss off!” he snarled. Angrily he scrubbed his eyes and they stung more in retaliation. With a clenched jaw and balled fists he walked out of town. His feet brought him to the graveyard. If Morty was there, he didn’t speak up. Hal took up a shovel, probably left to be used at a later time. Without bothering to take measurements, Hal began to dig a random, lopsided grave.
Hal was persistent and angry, but this time only the ground felt his wrath. The ground didn’t mind. Hal drove the shovel into the near-frozen dirt until he’d dug himself into a hole that was a bit too deep to climb out of. Hal would have found this ironic, but his arms ached and his head pounded. This wasn’t even a hole – it was a grave. The joke finally caught, and he laughed a tired, bitter laugh.
“I don’t even want to get out anyway!” he called out to no one in particular. When the earth didn’t swallow him up, his shoulders sagged and he dropped down to sit. His legs also ached as they were relieved of his weight. Hal didn’t feel like weeping anymore, even though he was alone. He just stared at the wall of dirt across from him and focused on feeling nothing at all.
I’m not really sure what to say, so I’m going to try and be honest through most of this instead. I thought of lying, but then I thought that would probably be a bad idea. So here it goes.
I don’t think you should marry Barry, only because I don’t want you to marry anyone else but me. And when I think about that, it sounds really selfish and hopeless, because we lost that chance a while ago. After all, you deserve a bloke like Barry Turner who will treat you well. Like you said, he’s steady. He’s like a rock. I’m more like a tree, right? And when it gets windy trees wobble and sometimes they fall over. But trees can be steady, once they get big enough.
And I’m gone a lot because of the Wayfarers’. Barry will probably stick around because of whatever work he does in town. But you know, I’ve got another job too. Someday it’ll be a steady job. As long as folks keep dying, the town will always need a grave-digger.
Morty’s been trying to teach me, you know? And it’s easy to run after other girls, but it doesn’t make me feel any happier. I figured it should have, but it didn’t, and it doesn’t. I’m sure that I still love you, but it doesn’t matter anyway because all of that is done and over.
I guess you ought to think about what you want. You could marry Barry Turner and you could be happy and have a family. I bet you’d live in a good house, and you’d be so busy thinking about that life of yours that you’d forget it could’ve ever been any different. If you do say yes to that, I promise not punch Barry in the nose on your wedding day. But I can’t promise to give you what he can, if you say no.
P.S. If it helps any, I’m being extra safe this time around in Forochel. I get to sleep, eat, listen to stories, and play games while a bunch of the others go out and do dangerous stuff.
• • •
I hope you’re alright. I didn’t really get to say bye, but I’ll be back in a month or two? If any girl breaks your poor old heart, let me know so I can go out and break hers. Save some graves for me to dig. Or is the ground too cold now? Everything is cold here.
Anyway, have a happy Yule. I might have a present for you when I get back, but I need to think about it more.
It’s too late now, but I wish I could ask you for some advice. Instead I’ll tell you how things turn out when I get back. Thanks anyway and good luck.
On the other side of the bridge the wilderness looked menacing and vast. A lonely path stretched far in one direction, bordered by tall grass. Sometimes plumes of dark smoke rose in the woodlands, and the tower watchmen said that it came from orc encampments. Townsfolk whispered amongst themselves, convinced that the orcs moved closer with each passing year, but few believed in such rumors.
Even so, Hallem was not allowed to play on the other side of the bridge. His mother told him that it was dangerous, and that he could be hurt. She said the same thing about climbing trees and fighting with the other boys, but he did those things all of the time anyway. In order to occupy him, Hal’s mother picked up one of the new kittens that Mrs. Baker was giving away across the street and surprised him on his eleventh birthday.
Now it was late winter, and a scrawny, gray kitten, clung to his shoulder. Fuzz mewed pitifully as Hal stomped through the snow-covered streets. Even though the sun was out, the air was brisk and made his cheeks flush red. It would’ve been the best day for brawling or for sledding, but all his mates were ill with the cold that was going around, and they weren’t allowed out to play. Whenever something like this happened, Hal always felt extremely bored. To keep himself busy he followed footprints in the snow, hopping from one to the next. For a while he played this game, following the same set of tracks until they led him to the Trestlespan where he paused to stare down its length. Those footprints must have belonged to one of the watchers on duty.
With a quick look over his shoulder, the boy started across the bridge at a quick pace, before anyone could call him out. Upon reaching the other side, Hal crouched among some snow-covered bushes and waited a while for the patrolling watcher to pass. Heavy boots crunched in the snow and clanked across the wooden bridge. Once the coast was clear, Hal darted into the forest and disappeared (cat and all).
The boy walked a long while, avoiding frozen streams and navigating the dense brush. This isn’t so scary, he thought as he came upon a slight clearing. One of the pine trees looked good enough to climb, and several minutes later he had scaled it, careful not to lose his pet along the way. The kitten was by now shivering on his shoulder, so Hal removed his hat, put the kitten on his head, and replaced his hat. Fuzz liked it there because it was warm, so it didn’t take very long before he was curled up in Hal’s hair and purring.
Hal smiled to himself. From here he could see just above the treeline, and even farther into the distance he could see smoke rising out of certain chimneys in town. But the wind was beginning to pick up and the sky steadily grew darker. How late was it now?
“Hallem Kemp!” a deep voice boomed. Oh no, that was pa. In truth, the big man looked terrified, but to young Hallem he looked as angry as he’d ever been. Before his father could shout again, Hallem was on the ground.
“I’m sorry! I’m so, so, so, so sorry! Please don’t be m-mad pa, I was just playing!” But his father didn’t say anything else. He tugged Hallem along by his collar, and when the boy’s hat fell off in their haste the man didn’t stop to let his son retrieve it. “Pa! Wait! Pa, I n-need my hat! Please, pa?” whined Hal. He glanced over his shoulder, desperately looking to the spot where his hat, and more importantly his new kitten, remained behind.
At home his father lectured him harshly and his mother gave him a disappointed look that he tried very hard to ignore. A few words stuck in his head, but most of the time he didn’t listen. All he could think about was poor Fuzz and how cold he must be. Hal glared stubbornly at the ground until his parents released him to his bedroom where he curled up around his pillow and wept until the sky turned pitch black.
Everything was quiet aside from the howling wind, and everyone was asleep. Hal felt angry now, at himself for being so careless and at his father for tearing him away from his kitten. But Hal was determined to get Fuzz back, no matter the consequences.
The boy crawled out of bed, careful not to step on creaky floorboards. He dressed himself for the frigid cold, wearing gloves and a heavy coat, but no hat. He tiptoed down the stairs, borrowing the pointiest fire iron from the fireplace and the oil lantern from the closet. With a look over his shoulder he slipped out the door and into the street. Outside the snow flurried and the wind stung his face, but the town was luckily quiet. Storing the fire-iron in his belt like a weapon, he hurried through the fresh snowfall.
Before long he came to the same clearing where he found his hat, buried but empty. “Fuzz?” he called into the darkness, lifting his lantern. “Fuzz! C’mere, kitty!” When Hal heard pathetic mewling somewhere nearby, he let out a relieved breath. “Fuzz, where are you? Get down from there,” he said, noticing that his kitten had climbed its way to a low tree branch. Hal set down his lantern at the base of the tree and was just about to rescue Fuzz when he heard twigs snap. The boy flinched and spun around to face the darkness where he saw a shining pair of eyes. The large creature stepped forward, snarling. Prompted by fear, Hallem took off and dove behind a large boulder. After fumbling with the iron at his hip, Hal peered around the rock to look into the clearing, which was still lit by his flickering lantern.
What looked like a wolf crept towards his howling kitten. It had slick, dark fur and giant paws. Hallem watched with wide eyes, but he couldn’t move, not even to save his own pet. The creature paced around the tree, its nose high and sniffing at the air. It stood up on its hind legs and put a paw on the tree trunk. Fuzz clung to the tree and hissed as the wolf got close, but the creature was undeterred. It dropped back to the ground and circled below once, twice, and then it pounced, snapping its jaws and bumping the branch enough that it shook. When Fuzz dropped with a yelp, the big wolf devoured it before Hallem could do so much as cry out in terror.
Try as he might, Hallem couldn’t tear his eyes away from the scene. It wasn’t until the creature was finished with its meager meal that it turned. It’s gaze bore into him, and Hallem gasped, ducking behind the rock again. It had seen him, and now it would eat him too. The boy drew his legs up to his chest and whimpered just as pitifully as Fuzz. His eyes stung and soon his cheeks were wet, but quickly his anger grew hot and it made him reckless.
Taking a deep breath, Hallem stood and stepped out of his hiding place. The wolf was still there, waiting. It dropped its head low to the ground and glared at him, but Hallem glared fiercely back. “I’ll kill you,” he said, pointing his fire iron in a threatening manner. “I’ll kill you!” The animal made no move. It simply stared, as if it expected more. Hallem stared back, so terrified that his chest felt tight and his knees wobbled. After some time the wolf took one careful step, and when Hal did nothing it trotted away and didn’t look back.
For a long time Hallem stood there as tears slid down his cheeks. He didn’t know what to do or what he felt, so he shouted until his throat hurt. “Hey! Get back here. Get back here!” In his fit of anger he swung the fire iron and smashed the lantern. Now it was completely dark and he couldn’t see very far.
“I’ll kill you,” he mumbled one last time, but it was no use. Trembling, Hal climbed into the same tree where his kitten had once been and slumped against the trunk. There he waited for his father to come and find him again.
So I was watching Ze Frank on Youtube and he talked about a exercise he often uses when struggling to discuss a difficult topic for one of his videos. It sounded like a good writing prompt to me: “Write five simple statements of fear, and then five statements of hope. Go back to those sentences and in each one identify something vague, and then you try to write another sentence that can unlock it a little further.” (I only did four because I’m lazy.)
I’m afraid that I will never be anything more than a foolish boy. Even the Blue Lady called me foolish. If foolish is all I ever am, then I have no purpose other than to cause trouble and make people angry with me. Sometimes I cause harmless trouble, but sometimes I create bigger problems. One time, giant bugs attacked us in Moria because I forgot to follow orders. One time Rennec almost gutted me because I refused to cooperate.
I hope that one day I can be respected. If people respect me, they might listen to what I have to say. Sometimes what I have to say is stupid, but sometimes it’s smart. Whenever I say something smart I think about the riddles that Dinefled gave me, and how clever I felt when I got one right.
I’m afraid to let people know what I’m feeling. If people knew what I felt like, they might see that I’m a coward. If they know that I’m a coward then they might think I am weak. I would feel more ashamed of myself if my friends thought me weak.
I hope that no one ever asks me what I’m feeling. If they did, I would feel guilty about lying to them. I’m not a good liar anyway, because my stammer gets worse and my eyes dart around. I remember my ma telling me this as a kid when I broke a flower vase while playing.
I’m afraid to fall in love with someone. If I fall in love with someone then I might have to tell that person about how I messed up before, and then that person will no longer trust me. Trust is extremely important because people need to count on each other. Most people don’t count on me because I tend to break promises. If I fall in love, then I could mess up again. One way I could mess up is by being unfaithful. Another way I could mess up is by putting that person in danger.
I hope that I fall in love anyway. I don’t know how to explain love like Will or Oendir can. They tried to tell me in Evendim, but I didn’t feel like listening. When I think of love I think of baking apple pies with Kaithin. I think of what it feels like to care about someone, and I wonder what it feels like to have a family. If I had a family I would make sure nothing ever happened to them. I worry that I wouldn’t be able to take care of them properly, or be a good father.
I’m afraid of being alone. But I’d rather be alone than hurt the people I care about. Some of the people I care about have left, like Nethali, Alainn, now Mathdor and Coroline. Some others died, like Dinefled or my big brother. I don’t know why I ruin things, and push other people away. I think it’s like kicking down a sandcastle before the waves wash over it first.
I hope that no one else leaves. Things will change and some will follow different paths, but I still don’t like that. If more go, then the people I can count on will be less and less until there is no one left. I don’t like the sound of loneliness, which is silence. Silence makes that annoying voice in the back of my head louder. It tells me that I am wrong, and that there is no point in me. That may be true, but I need my friends to tell me it’s not.
Sent before the Wayfarers entered Moria, via Atan’s raven.
This is a secret letter! And if you’re reading it, then I imagine it got to you safely. And secretly. I hope Nidhil’s not too angry I’m sending you letters through her address. Just don’t let anyone know. Especially Rosie and Wynne, because they’ll skin me alive.
Everyone’s alright. I’ll try not to die. We’re going into Moria – that’s where the slavers took Beacher. Arvorn says Moria is full of orcs, but it seems like everywhere is full of orcs these days, so there’s no point in fretting. Wynne’s told me all the awful things slavers do to their captives, so I’m more worried about Beacher. I don’t know how Will stands this. Sometimes he even manages to smile.
I’ll see if I can write you again once we get to the other side of this place. Unless I fall into a never ending pit. Then I won’t be doing any writing, probably.
Ha, only joking!
• • •
I’m sure Math has written you, so I’ll keep this short. We’re going into Moria after Beacher, and I’m wishing we won’t have to go much farther. Hope you’re faring well. I’m sorry.
Say hello to Ben for me? And tell him he has troll-breath – I can smell it from here. Tell Amy hello also. Be nice to each other! No fighting. [At this point in the letter Hallem has drawn an angry face to emphasize his seriousness.]
Otherwise I haven’t got much to say. No one’s dead! See you soon, maybe.
• • •
Sent from Caras Galadhon in Lorien.
Thank you for trafficking my secret letters. I know you disapprove. Don’t make that face! I mean it though. Thanks for looking after her.
You should know that during our stay in Moria we met a drake, and Gaelyn didn’t ride on it’s back. He’s showing so much self-restraint and as his shield-brother I couldn’t be prouder. Otherwise he’s being a dumbass, as usual.
• • •
Moria sucked. There was a fire-monster and bat-women and giant bugs and giant turtles and orcs and black death-pits and I wanted to turn around and leave but we had to keep walking to get to the other side of the mountain. It was an amazing place, though. Took my breath away, sometimes. Even so, I never want to go back.
Now we’re in Lorien, which is where elves live. Kait, you should see the trees. The rest of it is more beautiful than any place I’ve seen. But the trees. They’re huge. So huge that they’ve built their whole city in them. I want to live here. I would, but I don’t think the elves would allow that. And I’ve got people back home.
The elf-queen, Galadriel, gave all of us gifts. She gave me this neat shield. I really like it. Also she could talk to me in my head – it was kind of scary. Maybe I’ll tell you what she said, sometime.
The slavers took Beach into Mirkwood because they were able to get past the defenses of the elves. That’s where we’re going and I hear it’s bleak, but I’ll be careful. Not making any promises, though. You know me.