I See You

Final RP with Godric, edited for narrative and tense.

The Wayfarers returned to Suri-Kyla, but Godric lingered toward the back of the company with his eyes set upon Hallem. The commander quietly pondered and then bent down to scoop up a clump of loose snow. He packed it into a snowball and threw it to hit Hallem in the back of the head with a thwap. The boy staggered and immediately crouched down to make a snowball of his own in retaliation, but he paused when he saw Godric standing there.

“Was that you?”

Godric had already formed another snowball by the time Hallem turned around. The remaining Wayfarers passed forward into the city, leaving the two alone on its outskirts. “No,” he called back, launching his second attack. Hal ducked to avoid it, whipping his own snowball at Godric’s chest.

“Was too! You t-trying to p-pick a fight, sir?” he taunted him.

The big Rohir bent down to pick up a third, failing to dodge in time and taking the hit to his shoulder. “I just might!” With a grunt, he slung the next one, aiming low to strike at the knee. Hal feigned injury, limping. In a last-ditch-effort, he picked up a pile of snow and heaved it at Godric who took the snow-pile’s full assault. Beneath it came the sound of low chuckling. Suddenly, he lunged forward with his body and pinned Hallem to the ground.

“Ugh, you’re so heavy,” Hal whined, wriggling to escape. Godric kept Hallem in place with one hand to his chest while the other shoveled up as much snow from the field and onto Hallem as he could. Despite the chaos, there was a bright grin shining beyond Godric’s golden beard. “Wh-why!?” laughed Hal, pushing up on Godric’s shoulders. The man ceased his assault of snow, though he did not let Hallem free just yet. A moment of quiet passed before Godric lifted a hand to poke Hallem’s forehead, right above and between the eyes.

“Because I see you, Hallem Kemp, and I will always make time to notice you.”

Hal raised his eyebrows, at first in confusion for the affectionate gesture, and then for the following words. He opened his mouth, unsure of what to say. He decided, finally, on:

“Thanks. You were in me? I mean, switched.” Hal stared at him expectantly. Godric sat back, and Hal climbed out from beneath him, brushing snow from his lap.

“I was,” Godric answered in a calm tone. “And I know what it is like to be you, to not be heard. I know of Angmar and what you had to do there. I know far more about you than I ever thought I would.”

“Sorry. It’s my own fault,” he said with a grimace. The commander shook his head.

“I will tell you as I have told others, and myself. Do not let guilt settle in your heart, Hallem Kemp. You do what you do, because you care for others. I do what I do because of the same.”

“I guess that’s true, sir. You won’t tell anyone, will you?”

“I will not,” he answered. He went to stand, then offered the boy his hand. Hal took it without question and got to his feet.

“I knew I’d get you to have a sn-snowball fight, eventually,” said Hal with a playful grin. Godric smiled and brushed snow from Hallem’s shoulders before clasping both of them with his hands.

“And now we have. Let’s go warm up. I’m starving.”

“Yeah. I b-bet I’m m-more starving,” said Hal. He took off ahead of Godric and didn’t look back.

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Soft as Sea Foam

Rafi turned over a piece of green sea glass in his fingers as he lay alone one night in his bed, staring at the ceiling above him. There was a pressure in his chest, like someone was reaching into him and squeezing his heart.

He thought about the sharp words that his new friend, Valthier, had spoken to Mr. Mossfoot. He said them so effortlessly and with such maliciousness. But what Rafi remembered more was the expression on the hard man’s face afterward, and it reminded him of his own sadness. He wished, perhaps, that he could take some of that pain away from Valthier, so that he would not blame himself.

He thought next about Mr. Mossfoot, his comforting hand and his kind words. Rafi knew that he could not show the grave-digger how upset he still felt at every mention of Cal’s name. Clearly, he was still suffering, and it would be cruel to cry on his shoulder when his shoulders still carried the weight of guilt.

As these thoughts began to cascade, they swirled into images of Cal’s face, and his smile, and the curve of his jaw. Rafi could feel his cheeks burn hot and tears begin to pool in his eyes. He tried to blink them away, but they streamed down the sides of his face and gathered in the hollows of his ears. He could remember the warmth of Cal’s body, and the quality of his laugh, soft and bubbly like sea foam. But he was beginning to forget the sound of his voice, and that was scary.

It became hard to breathe, so Rafi rolled onto his side. He curled around his pillow, pressing his face into the silky fabric to muffle the sound of his sobbing. He would cry until his chest stopped hurting. He knew it would stop eventually, it always did, until all that remained was a dull ache. But the ache never went away.

A Scandalous Letter

Dear Lichen,

I shouldn’t be writing to you, with all the things that are going through my head. The elf, Raenarcam, would not approve.  She has not been happy with most of my decisions lately, and neither would you. I imagine you are not surprised, and I like to think that as you read this, you have that cute furrow in your brow that you get when you are concerned. You’re just really pretty, and I should tell you more often. I want to kiss you so bad right now, it hurts, not only in my chest but also in my balls. That sounds a little rude, so let me just explain:

One of the new Wayfarers’, her name is Helbedhil, got a wineskin full of a funny liquid when we went to visit a hedge-witch who lived in a swamp. She wouldn’t tell me what it was, so went into her tent when she was away and drank some. It was bitter, and it only seemed to make me randy and restless. It’s just so persistent, Lichen, I feel like I’m fifteen and I just want to stick my penis into everything. And weirder, bats just seem to flock to me. I don’t mind, they’re pretty adorable. Maybe I will bring one home.

Anyway, I really want to sleep with you, so I thought I’d maybe write something to try and make you feel how I’m feeling now. All I can think of is kissing you, your lips, and your face, and your breasts, and lower. I imagine we’re in our bedroom and the firelight is low, and we’ve locked the dogs out so they can’t stare at us like they do sometimes. You’re beautiful without your clothes on, and your skin just seems glow in the light, the both of us are just heating up as we kiss, and you start to touch me, and I’m considerate so I return the favor and you definitely like that, then I start kissing your neck and you put your legs around me

Sorry, I got distracted part way through. How about I tell you the rest when I get home? You should also get a tin of tea with this letter. It’s from the Mark, and I think you’ll like it – I definitely did.

With extra love and kisses, Hal

 

In an Instant

March 14th, 3019: The Siege

“Ready?” It was a rhetorical question. The swan-knight heaved his broadsword high. He could feel his shoulders twitching with fatigue. Before the fire his armor and weapons felt so much lighter. Now smoke coated his throat and even the muscles around his ribs strained with each breath.

“No!” cried the other knight, whose mangled leg was trapped beneath flaming rubble. But the fire was fast, and it was clear the knight would burn if no one cut him loose. “There must be another way! Please, Ruthron, spare it – ” His agonized scream mixed in with the rest at the first hack of the blade, and the second time his body went limp. Ruthron knelt down to tighten the belt around the man’s upper thigh, and then he hauled him over his shoulder. He staggered towards the collection point beyond Second Gate, but two men met him before he got there.

“He’s Aralph, a Swan-knight,” said Ruthron quickly, as he handed his friend over. At some point they might have been able to guess Aralph’s title by his starsilver armor, but his breastplate was marred by fire and dented badly, like a large giant had picked him up and crushed him into scrap metal. Ruthron stared after him for a few moments, but he was not thinking of anything profound. In fact, he was not thinking anything at all, until his comrades’ cries for more water prompted him to pick up their empty buckets and run for a well.

Suddenly, fire exploded behind him and Ruthron crashed to the ground in a heap of searing metal. His skin sizzled like an egg in a frying pan, and he tore off his helmet before it singed all of his hair. He clawed at the straps that attached his backplate to his body and when he tried to tug away his burning tunic, his skin peeled away too.

 

Turning

When Hallem arrived at the graveyard, it was still dark. He went to the shed to retrieve a shovel for Lori, and chalk to mark a new gravesite. He found the old lantern that Morty used to carry, and fiddled with a match for a few minutes before he finally got it to light. Part of him felt proud as he carried it, and another part felt stinging sadness. The bittersweet emotions made his chest feel tight, but he focused on how cold the air felt on his face.

He shuffled up the steps to the cottage, and knocked quietly, in case Esthyr was still awake. When no answer came, he unlocked the door and went over to the desk where she usually left him death records and other paperwork to carry to the Town Hall. He thumbed through them, double checking to make sure he recognized every name. He paused when instead of a report, he found a letter.

He assumed, at first, that it was a letter from a family or a letter of condolence. But when he saw it beneath the light of the lantern, his heart skipped. Kennick. It was a copy made from the record paper, but he didn’t see the original. He read the message eagerly, like he read through a turning point in a good book. He glanced occasionally to Esthyr’s door, with mixed expressions of  surprise and fear that she would catch him with this vital information.

He would never let her live this one down.

Hallem left left the cabin in a hurry. If nothing else, his thumping around would be enough to wake Esthyr. He didn’t care, as long as she didn’t catch him. He left the records behind and his tools by the steps. He had to show this to Kennick, immediately.

• • • • •

Armed with her pruning shears, Atilda wandered along the banks of the Midgwater Marshes, searching for winterberry. Usually, she found it where the Chetwood merged with the swamps, but it seemed that the Staddle hobbits beat her to it. Either them, or the birds.

It was a rare occasion that Atilda allowed her thoughts to distract her, but lately she had trouble finding sleep. Uncertainty, above anything else, frightened her. She hated to think that she could not predict an outcome. She hated it more that certain things were out of her control.

Weylon was dying. Papa said he would be all right, but Atilda could see the treatment was not working. Every day he looked paler and weaker, so she tried to prepare herself for the most likely outcome. She thought about what it would be like if, one morning, her brother did not wake up. But usually, that was when she decided to stop thinking about him and think about something else.

The other day, her hand brushed over Lori Cropper’s while they were in the greenhouse. For some reason her heart still raced every time she thought about that fleeting moment. She remembered the blush in Lori’s cheeks, which she thought was strange. But it was nothing – just another awkward interaction. Wasn’t it?

The wind picked up. It blew Atilda’s hair into her eyes. The weather was turning, finally. She used to despise the winter for freezing the ground, but she was beginning to see that everything had a season, and beautiful things could grow even in the harshest cold.

Bad Dreams

Hallem awoke in the Colagar Estate to the early morning sun shining on his face. Blinking, he looked to the window where a few of Atanamir’s colorful birds stood on the ledge. He quickly rolled out of bed and went to the door to check if it was locked, but instead it opened easily into the corridor. Outside, he found his elven guard lying unconscious on the floor. He knelt down to shake Eruviel, but she did not respond. When he rolled her onto her back, he saw that her shirt was soaked in blood, and it was leaking slowly from a large gash on her side. Hallem staggered away from the scene and sprinted down the hallway to find Cwen.

“Help!” he shouted, barging into her room, but she and Oendir were in their bed, unmoving and pale. He ran into the main hall, looking for anyone who might help, but he found the rest of his comrades strewn across the floor, all of them stained with blood and bearing obvious injuries. Then, he heard Gwenithel’s ringing voice echo down the stairwell behind him

“Thank you, for all of your help,” she told him. Hallem spun around, but it was not Gwenithel who stood on the steps. It was Ciri, carrying a bloodied swan in her arms. Hathlafel trailed behind her, but his expression was dull and unseeing.

“This wasn’t part of the p-plan, this wasn’t supposed to happen!” cried Hallem, moving away from her.

“Scarlet sends her regards. Your Black Rose is serving her well.”

“No! You p-promised! You – ”

“This is your doing,” raged a new voice. From another corridor, Kemendin emerged. His eyes flashed viciously, targeting Hallem like prey. Hallem didn’t stay any longer. He turned and sprinted for the door. He escaped into Dol Amroth and raced through the streets. Swan Knights shouted as he passed them and joined the pursuit, until it seemed like dozens were on his heels.

Eventually, Hallem found himself running in a damp, dark part of the sewers. The angry voices of the Swan Knights ricocheted off the walls and eventually faded until all he could hear was his own splashing footsteps and dripping water echo down the tunnel. It was too dark to see, so Hallem kept his hand on the slimy wall to guide him. He went very still when he heard a quiet rasping, and the popping of joints.

“Hello?” he asked the darkness, but all was eerily silent. Then he heard it again, like the creaking of a door hinge. Suddenly a bony hand grasped his neck and squeezed so tightly that he couldn’t breath. Hallem struggled and tried to push his attacker away, but instead of touching armor or leather, he felt a bony ribcage and a bare skull and flesh that tore away easily.

More wights surrounded him, tearing at his clothing and limbs until he was totally overcome.

• • • • •

Hallem jolted awake. His bedroom was dark aside from a few dying embers in the fireplace, so it took him a few seconds to orient himself. The back of his neck felt slick with sweat. He saw a white cat sleeping on the chair to his left and Lichen in bed to his right. She was not asleep. She was watching him, and he knew he must have woken her.

“S-Sorry,” he stammered. “Sorry. I’ll be right outside.” He leaned over to give her a kiss on the cheek, as if to say that everything was fine – he was completely fine. She gave his hand a squeeze and then he got out of bed and stumbled through the front door to stand in the cold midnight air. He scrubbed his face with his palms and tried to tried to take slower breaths, but his chest stayed tight and he couldn’t keep his hands from shaking. He felt like crying again.

“Let yourself be sad,” Morty told him. It was one of the last things he ever said to Hal, so when he died Hal tried very hard to take his advice. He let all of the sadness overwhelm him until it hurt so much that he couldn’t bear it any longer. Before now, he never had the patience to sit down and read a book, but he was desperate to forget. He dug graves from early in the morning to late at night, in order to clear his mind. He drank ale with Raenarcam to dull his senses. These things distracted him for a time, but every so often he would find himself reading the same line over and over or shoveling in the same spot because he was thinking of how much he missed Morty. He was gone, forever, and there was nothing he could have done to help. Hallem wanted to be mad at the grave-digger for leaving him alone with the yard, for leaving his children, and his lovers, and his friends. Hallem wanted to feel like he was abandoned, or betrayed, anything that might make it easier to distance himself from the man he’d come to look up to, but he was just so sad. Nothing else.

Hallem sat down on the steps in front of his house and put his face into his hands. Nearly two weeks had gone by, and he was sick of crying and he was sick of feeling exhausted at the end of every day. He felt empty, missing pieces like a wight but it was too late to cram his sadness back into his chest. It was like his ribs were broken and everything, his heart too, would just come spilling out if he tried to put it back in place.

Just as the cold started to make him shiver, Lichen slipped outside to sit beside him. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders and he leaned against her heavily. He wanted to feel better, if only so Lichen did not have to see him like this on most days. But Esthyr was right, he was lucky to have her, and he knew that she would be patient.

“Sorry,” he whispered again. “I can’t go back to s-sleep. I’m going to the yard before the sun comes up.” Because he still hoped that Morty would still be there working, and all of this was just another bad dream.

An Angry Letter

Dorsett,

Atanamir is alive, but he refused to come home. I’m sorry. I can’t even begin to explain to you my frustration and my sadness and my anger, like I’ve lost something close to me. There is no use trying to convince him and I’m so mad that I can’t even look at him. He doesn’t act like he cares about us, or me. Just Azulgar. When did we stop mattering? Does he still think of me as his friend?

I don’t know. I think he is selfish.

He doesn’t deserve you, anyway. You deserve someone better and more consistent and who loves only you. Just forget about him. It’s not worth it because Azulgar says he is here by “choice”. Everyone says he has the right to choose where to be. Fine. But I know he will not choose us and so I feel betrayed. It’s obvious by the way they cling together and touch and embrace like lovers and I don’t know if I should keep fighting for him, or give up.

I’m sorry that I can’t bring him back, Dorsett. I tried. Enclosed is his earring. I thought you should have it, because I don’t want it anymore.

Hal