We Need Never Come Back Here Again, When We Go We Go Forever

For all of Raen's Characters, Alts, and Plots

Monachopsis

Cleaning the rented house was a long, slow process but he did admit he felt better for it. Anyway, he could hardly live with Kennick forever and he needed space to work. The main room of the little house was bigger than in Kennick’s flat and they would need the space for the practicum. Even if he had them work one at a time that would still be three living people and three dead (assuming he could find a third body for practice) to stuff into the room. It would have been ideal to have performed it in the dining room of the townhouse but the deed for the building sat now in a rough pile on his desk with every other bit of paperwork he intended to dump back in Lark’s hands when he had finished with this last, irritating bit of straightening up.

The cleaning was reassuring though, it (of all things) reminded him of being back home, of his apprenticeship. He would sweep and then wait until the hour was late enough that his master was sound asleep, and then he would sneak through the window. And there had been his brothers to visit or old friends or that girl who sold herbs in a marketplace. She married a butcher, he thought, or a blacksmith. It didn’t matter. She existed (like everything in Dale) as a pleasant memory of civilization and happiness. Some vague aspiration for children who would not exist.

He had written a letter to be read to father, though the man was in all likelihood too out of his wits to understand it. Like the money he had sent with it all it could do was assuage Athalbert’s own conscience. He had done what could be done, in the circumstances.

His thoughts returned to the present. Dissecting corpses might be best done on that hideous lacquered table Lark had purchased, and he did have a key… The thought danced helpfully in the back of his mind for a few moments before dissolving. The idea of returning to that house with its hideous yellow door and its pleasant wooden floors was nauseating in the extreme, he felt the same aversion to it as he had long felt toward the scent of cucumber.

Anyway hopefully she had emptied it and, with her name alone on the deed, she would be responsible for the land-tax until she bothered to sell it.

He carried on with his sweeping in silence and watched as the broom caught some little golden thing and sent it scurrying into the center of the floor. An earring, he observed, lifting it up into the light. One of Lark’s, presumably, though it might just as well have belonged to someone Kennick had brought in. He considered it for a moment and with a brief shrug tucked it away into his pocket.

It was, after all, still gold.

 


 

“I’ve just never been to Pelargir,” Sellion said unhappily, following behind his cousin with a basket in his hands. He was like a shadow, still dressed in black, marching behind Alduial’s effervescent blue morning dress. “What if I don’t like it?”

“You might not, at first, but it is a better opportunity,” she said dismissively, gathering up a bundle of herbs from a stall and smelling them. “And anyway you have already tried being home and you hated that.”

Sellion didn’t say anything to that, carrying on dutifully as the woman’s shadow.

“Right now you just do not know where you want to fit into, as I was saying to Hathlafel the other day, you are unmoored.”

“Please tell me you don’t talk about me to your…” he struggled to find the word and then just settled on the faintly disdainful and not entirely conclusive, “Knight.”

“Of course I do, you are my favorite little cousin and I worry about you. I tell all sorts of people about you. But, as I was saying, you need a mooring. You are either following me or sitting in the library or drawing. You need a task. Pelargir has all sorts of tasks to put yourself to. Go there, be free. You can still write and I will make a point to spend a month there visiting, every winter, no matter what. I promise.”

“They do need a lot of bridges…” he said thoughtfully.

“Exactly!” She declared and turned on him, gesturing with fragrant flowers like a baton. “And someday you might even feel it is home.”

“Does Dol Amroth feel like home to you, yet?” He asked curiously, watching her pay for her flowers and herbs and load them up into the overladen basket.

“No. But it will someday,” she said confidently and gave his cheek a little pat. “We should go buy a snack. I could use a bit of chocolate.”

 


 

Grandpa had been a strapping man in his youth, tall and broad shouldered with a shock of red hair like fire. At least, that was what Nan had always said. By the time Sadie knew him though he was merely another heavyset old man with a dropping mustache colored yellow by a pipe and a few whisps of hair clinging to the top of his bald head. His memory had been bad but he knew a lot about history and all sorts of old stories. His favorite topic was kings, the ones who lived in Fornost in the north before it became a ghoulish place of the dead.

“If gold can rust,” he would say of the dead kingdom. “What good’s iron?”

Pa used it as a curse sometimes, he would mutter it underneath his breath while he sat in bed after a coughing spell. “Gold and iron,” he’d mutter and sit back against the pillows.

Sadie muttered it now, looking at the things she had drawn out of that ancient grave. A half-rotting lacquered bracelet, a gold ring, a little knife, and a doll made of red hair; all four brittle and foul to the touch. Her fingers moved over each object. They had belonged to someone, once, they had been important and who buried things so important? Who sent someone again to dig them up? And why should this all be happening to her when she had been so content to be on a path with no ups or downs at all?

Why should she feel out of place in her own home, all those years of it being a secret sanctuary thrown off in a few months. She huffed under her breath and gathered up the little objects, swept them into sackcloth and tied that up with twine to bury at the bottom of a chest full of blankets and heavy clothes.

Sadiebell, sang a song behind her as she buried the objects again, under wool and cotton rather than dirt. The lid cried out when she dropped it and clasped her hands about her ears and screwed her eyes shut.

“Not listening,” she muttered and repeated it again, this time louder, “Not listening. Go away. Go away. Go away.”

The voice was gone and Sadie ignored the unpleasant, pit feeling in her chest; the guilty, lonely feeling that she had sent something away that, perhaps, needed her. She sucked in a breath and went back to her reckoning books.

 


 

Back in this little elven settlement Lunet made a quiet promise to herself never to become as bored of it as Thorold was. He sat on his cushion complaining about the way the light passed through the windows and how it was too bright in here to sleep any decent amount.

“I think you’re being picky,” she said dismissively and he groaned and covered his face with a pillow.

“You didn’t drink as much as I did. I’m never playing that bloody game again. They all cheat,” he groaned, his voice muffled.

“No they don’t, they’re just better at holding liquor than you. You’ve got to practice. You’re such a complainer,” Lunet huffed and threw a blanket at him before she pulled on her boots and marched outside.

She felt bad that she hadn’t had a proper goodbye with her family. She’d just packed up and left to get back on the road again. But that felt better. It wasn’t gone forever, she reassured herself, just gone to work. She might even be back for a few days in a couple months, when they turned to travel south along the old Greenway.

The road was just a home where the view was always changing and no one asked her when she was getting married.

Bitter and Sad

The Lowater farm was not one house but a little collection of them, its own little spot against the darkness that sometimes threatened to swallow the region and seemed to always be on the borders. There were barns, storehouses, a great open-air kitchen, and a few houses. Every new generation seemed to like building onto the property, making their own little spot amid the wheat and animals. The farmhands all stayed nearby and when the girls of the family married a farmhand (or a soldier from the fort down the road) they would settle in sight of the main house. The men often had no names of their own, no surnames anyway, so they picked up the family name.

For a few years, before the plague took the family and apathy took what was left, the Lowaters joked that half the boys in the family had no relation at all.

Of course, it never really mattered anyway, not to the family or to the people who came onto that little farm seeking shelter or food or work. The year before the plague these things weren’t of much interest anyway, that was the year Miss Delia Lowater got pregnant by Petrel the farmhand (who was Petrel Lowater after).

It was the year everyone worked out she could find things that had been lost.

It started in the afternoon of a fine summer’s day, that was the day Missus Lorabet Briarwood (down from Trestlebridge to visit a cousin in Bree) lost her broach on the road. Before a party of farmhands could be brought together for the search Delia had gone and returned, the broach in hand. After that, it was her mother’s nice porcelain cup, and her cousin’s old sweater. Then when Missus Briarwood had been and gone other folks came along and Delia made a business of sniffing out their houses.

Sometimes she brought her little one, bound against her chest in cloth. That baby, little Sedebel was the first person to catch the plague in the family. No one knew how, but there all at once was this little crying thing all covered in red bumps like the hand of death had come to her just so. Delia, who had been a good mother by all accounts, brought her out at night to the little yard where they buried their dead and stayed there all the night through, despite the cold wind of Yule.

And Sedebel, little thing that she was, came out of the other end of it all fine and bright. Though the same couldn’t be said of her parents or most of her family.

 


 

“This’ll have been the main house,” Sadie said to the dog, her hands on her hips and her eyes roving over the ancient farm. Nearby a little trickle in a stream had turned to ice and the unusually flat space before them stood out among the woods and rolling hills. “See, it’s all overgrown but there are still walls there, you’ve just got to get up properly to look.”

The dog gave a quizzical look, aware enough that he was being spoken to but unsure of the complexities of structural damage to farm houses. Her horse (And Something, or Annie for short) cropped grass nearby, having given up on both woman and dog for the time being. Sadie herself, standing in trousers and a heavy cloak and sweater, balanced on the remains of a stone wall that still stood at the old entryway, trying to give the land a full and proper survey.

Half-walls jutted out of overgrowth, marking the shape of old houses in worn teeth. There wasn’t anything here to mark the people who had been here, just cobbled gravestones for the buildings. Most of them were entirely overgrown with dull, wintery weeds and dead ivy. In the distance, the column of an ancient fireplace stood up as a sentinel among the stones and looked out on the cleared space with a few lonesome, winter-dead trees. She sat down on the wall, feet dangling by the dog.

“Got on perfectly well by myself for years, Iz, can travel just as easy by myself,” she declared. “Don’t need Valthier or anyone to come along. Just gotta keep myself up. World’s a pretty enough place just with you,” she said after a moment and rubbed the dog’s neck. “Now let’s look around.”

 


 

The remains of the once substantial family tried to make a living as they always had with little enough luck. That was, until Sedebel started to walk. She had survived the red tokens and grew into a pretty child living with her cousins, and she had inherited her mother’s talent.

The family regaled travelers by showing the little girl who would cock her head and then rush off, finding any hidden thing as soon as she was told to. They never told those travellers about the way her toys moved without her or the way she spoke to the air sometimes. They never told them about the way the redheaded little girl always seemed to know what was happening, even when she wasn’t there. When she turned eight and returned home from a wander with a lock box filled with some dread man’s treasure they never spoke of that either.

But it did help the family get by, which was alright. It was the first bit of luck the family had had in a long while.

She died when she was sixteen, having given birth to a girl with no father she’d name. She was the seventh Lowater to be buried proper in the town cemetery, instead of in their own field.

This fact, everyone acknowledged, was the least interesting fact in the whole story; but it was still a feature and an ending.


Sadie and her dog took refuge in what might have been a larder in a side house. Three walls still stood and shielded it from the wind and, with the addition of a wax cloth as a roof, it made a nearly cozy shelter from the winter weather. The Valerian Esthyr had given her took the edge off the headaches and she drank some as the new one came on and tried to talk herself through it.

“Dreams always start in the house, then I walk out to some graves. I could try digging one up, that’s worked well in the past,” she suggested to Izzy, pressing her forehead to the cool stone.

The dog, helpful as always, tried to climb nearer and let out a little whimper.

“Nothing happened when it was sunny, maybe I’ve got to try again at night. Maybe that’s it. Dunno, wish you could talk Iz, you’d be a lot more helpful.” She took a deep breath and closed her eyes.

The dreams always started in a bed in an upstairs room. A small room and a small bed, the sheets smelled of garlic and calendula and some kind of fragrant wood smoke she couldn’t place. The sheets were clean but the house smelled faintly of sick. There was something wrong going on. But it was sunny and little flakes of snow fell on the morning air and over the sheets, slipping through the solid roof above her. She woke up and went to a window and looked at a low drift of snow and then picked up a bundle and a wreath of flowers and walked to the graves.

They were marked in wood and she recognised the names. There was something broken in the bundle though and it needed fixed, she had to find one of these wooden posts. That would fix it all. Just had to find the right post, but there were so many, and they stretched out all forever.

She opened her eyes, standing in the frosty grass before a space of slightly sunken dirt.

“Well that’s brilliant,” she muttered to the dirt, digging the toe of her shoe into the frosty ground. Searching around in the moonlight she got hold of a dead branch and shoved it into the ground to mark the spot, tearing out a few tufts of grass just to be safe.

She spun back on her heel and marched to the little campsite and her dog, huffing again in frustration.

“Bloody sick of this you know. Sick of it. And I’m not sleepwalking anywhere but here, just so you know,” she snapped at the air and the cloaked woman in the distance.

The cloaked woman had no face, but when Sadie didn’t look at her she thought she was familiar.

Courtney Barnett – Don’t Apply Compression Softly

Chime of a Bell

I have a habit (I don’t know if it’s good or bad, but it works for me) of generally starting characters in totally different times and places than they end up, and building them from there. Sellion and Alduial both draw very heavily on Remarque so I’ve always pictured them as Weimar Republic Germans. I thought it would be a nice idea to write them as I always picture them, in that case. So, here they are, c. 1919.

“How are you so good at this?” He asked, frowning over the chessboard, the little pieces scattered. His cousin had taken black and her side was littered with fallen and captured white pieces, where he had managed to take only a few pawns and a rook.

“What do you think nurses do all day, cousin?” She asked, barely looking up from her little silver compact, a lipstick in one hand. “Amuse the soldiers, keep them in bed, that way they don’t notice the missing leg,” she said in a sing-song voice, batting her eyelashes at her own reflection.

He began moving a knight and she tutted at him as she moved on to adjusting her hair. “What?”

“Are you trying to impress your servant girl by winning or losing?” Allie asked, carefully fixing the lonesome curl that hung over her eyes.

“I… I mean, I’d like to play well, I thought that would be-”

“You aren’t going to play well with a strategy like that,” she tsked at him. “You might as well just throw the board on the ground and kiss her like Bruno Kastner would; women respond to that. You just sweep her up like you’re Hector and she’s Hilde Warren and you-”

“But I’m not Bruno Kastner. My name’s Severin and I’m wearing a coat made out of an old army coat and it’s not one of your films anyway.”

“Oh sure but you can hardly tell that,” she said dismissively over her compact, finally closing it and swinging over to look at him. “And anyway, everyone is doing that. Wearing old coats and living in films. The only other thing to do is hang yourself. Do you think I could do burlesque?” She asked, sitting up with her nose tipped to the air.

“I thought you wanted to get married to the cavalry officer?” he asked, flatly, electing to move his knight a different way.

“Lots of burlesque girls are married, you just wear a wig and use a different name. I could be a blonde named Elsie Darling. Anyway, we’re not even engaged yet, it might be fun. I could have all my drinks bought by a profiteer without even trying, they buy the imported champagne still. Maybe he would even let me in on the business, or a smuggler, buying stockings from England and running them across the border in my purse…”

Severin fixed her with an unimpressed look she didn’t seem to notice and returned a heavy gaze to the board. “Everyone knows the best burlesque dancers are men anyway.”

She sighed and snapped her little mirror shut. “The leggy bastards…” she murmured.

——–

It was dark out in the streets, this part of town was better than others but not by much. Mostly it was the sort of place where people who had not yet lost all their money lived. They walked with arms linked, Severin was happy for the fresh night air and Allie was happy for the dark and the cobbles under her heels. The club wasn’t very far away, all bright electric lights and people, like them, in the finest clothes they could scrape together from dyed army coats and cheap thin dresses fixed with ribbon and beads to turn elegant and fine. Luckily they weren’t from here, this pleasant town, otherwise it might have been difficult getting by.

Severin had found the days at home were worse. They had all returned and gone back to school and training courses and apprenticeships. Severin’s apprenticeship had been ended by mustard gas, which clawed in and the dug itself into the membranes of the lungs and could not be expelled. Instead of moving him around the company let him sit his engineering exam and now he was left unmoored and listless. He would find his friends he had returned with and they would sit sometimes in the quiet beer garden and smile at the girls and talk about nothing and play cards but that wasn’t the same as it had been.

And then his cousin wrote from this city with its little Institute for the Mentally Deficient and its nice gardens and she said he should come with her. Berlin, anyway, was dull, and the mark where it was there was no sense in taking a salary, not until things turned back the way they had been. Now was the only time he could be free. And she was free anyway, or so she said, living with her sister and her sister’s profiteer husband. Like Bruno Kastner his cousin’s husband had never fought in the war, he stayed behind through luck or chance or because he was too old or simply because he was clever enough to have seen that his patriotic duty was to not get shot at by the French and the English and the Americans at the end.

——

The club was warm and smoky and made bright by the electric lights that hung from the plaster ceiling. When her cousin departed with their coats Allie meandered to the bar. In any other age she would have been a spinster by now, putting off her marriages for schooling and going out to be a great war heroine (or so they said when they came to the hospital asking for volunteers); but now everyone was young and full of fire.

She hadn’t any money, there was no money in nursing anyway and especially not nursing the invalids, but that had never stopped her before. The trick was always to be friendly, to smile a lot at nothing in particular. The boys always liked it when a girl had a smile, it reminded them of pictures of home back when home had been warm.

Smugglers did hang about this club, which was probably why she was so fond of it. An officer’s salary might have bought wine before the war but now it barely afforded half a bottle of cheap farmer’s schnapps. There was so much life to live before it was all sucked out planning some elaborate wedding, so much time to live in.

But it had been freer when their paths would cross for those months; when all their love was contained to sordid, stolen nights and letters. Now there was the reality to contend with. Reality meant jobs and money and that the world wasn’t ending around them. Reality changed the character of the fear and made it that much farther away. No longer was it artillery on the wind and missing legs and chlorine gas, now it was family and money and whether the mark would recover and they could keep a house up at all like this. It was children and prams and nappies to be bought and hung on a line.

And it was disheartening, to know the world had carried on while she stitched bullet-wounds on the front; it was even more disheartening to have endless time to wait and be forced to wait at all.

So long as it was all talk and nothing more there was nothing wrong; for a few hours on this Saturday night under the lights she could be a little free.

——

The man who bought them champagne was from nearby and he and Severin talked about a town they had both traveled through during the war while Allie leaned back and examined the crowd and then their benefactor. He wore a real coat, tailored and not repurposed from old wool, and when the conversation died a little he excitedly told them of his scheme, which saw butter disappear from the soldiers’ mess and reappear (redistributed) on the tables of grateful housewives.

“In a way, I’m a socialist, though I’d never really say so,” he explained cheerfully. Severin was drunk and staring dismally at the singer in a red dress, his interest long ago lost, but Allie leaned forward even further.

“Oh, of course darling, of course. How could anyone say differently?” Allie cooed over her champagne, her eyes roving over this clever profiteer. He was leaning forward, too.

His attentions made her feel very lonely.

She caught her eyes moving away to the bottle on the table. In a flash, she had it in her hand and tipped the remains into his glass. “All out! Oh no! And Severin and I must leave early, I swore to his mother I would have him in by midnight.”

Across the table the young man looked slightly puzzled, it wore off quickly enough and he nodded and jumped up. “She’ll be worried you see,” Severin agreed, hustling away for coats while she cut off the profiteer’s insistences that they remain with a hand held up.

“I’m sure he can get home by himself if you-”

“Oh darling, what’s that? I’m so dreadfully sorry, I can hardly hear you over the music. Perhaps we will see you again tomorrow,” she crooned and quick as a flash in a red dress she had her coat on, and it was back into the streets.

——-

They meandered down the cobbled roads, past the girls and boys in the alcoves all dressed up in silk, and Allie lit two cigarettes. She offered one to her little cousin who was much taller than she was now. It was something to do with the rations. They had had a good sport of trying to put poor Severin in his school jacket when he got back.

“I thought you were having fun,” he queried as they left trails of grey smoke in the cool night air.

“So did I,” she replied and squinted up at the stars. “I think I’m unhappy.”

“At least we’re alive,” he offered to the empty street.

“Yes. I suppose that’s alright, isn’t it?” She said and slipped her arm gamely through his. “We’ll make you Bruno Kastner for your servant soon enough, just you wait. You just need a real coat, like the man in the club. We shall get you all dressed up in English wool and she will trip head over heels, chess skills or not.”

“I think I’ll just be happy if we could be friends,” he suggested with a shy smile and let her tousle his hair.

“Of course, my darling. Whatever makes you happy.”

Back Home – Yule

Raenarcam stood in the old ruins and looked, from the top of the hill, over Breeland with its soft fall of white snow. She liked it here, the rolling hills and tilting rooftops, the way smoke rose up to the sky. Last year she had been here because she had to; because there had been magic over her. And now she was just… Here. Maybe there wasn’t anywhere else to be.

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath of cold air. “Happy Yule,” she muttered and picked up her hand to look at the shining ring on her finger, watching how it caught the moonlight. She was young still, she had all sorts of hopes and dreams, the world was an exciting place and worth being in. The elf took a deep breath and turned back to the little campsite she had set up.

She could write a letter, maybe, what better Yule gift was there than words?

Of course, anything of the sort would only be for her, and not for them at all.


The flat was cold and quiet when she got in, dragging bags through in the dark. Izzy bounded straight for the couch and settled into his customary spot, letting out a happy whine when tossed his toy. He’d gotten just a bit bigger since she’d been gone, she thought, and he hung over the edge of the couch comically while she dropped her bags beside the old kitchen table. “Done travelling for a bit, Izzy,” she said as she peeled off her clothes and tossed them into a heap on the floor. “Might as well be done for good, it was fun, you know, but I’m not cut for it. Reason Walters never go farther than Trestlebridge, not meant for it. Not meant to be… I dunno, Iz.”

The frigid air swept over her, she’d need to set a fire or else she was just as liable to die of cold here as anywhere else. Her breath was misty in front of her and, as she stood still in the centre of this tiny room she closed her eyes. This was alright, this was home, there wasn’t anything wrong with it. And anyway, she couldn’t nearly get anyone killed in this flat.

“There’s naught remarkable about it, Iz,” she decided as she set a fire going, blowing on the embers. The light was slow to illuminate the room and, in the corner, a woman in a plain dress and hood, long strands of red hair falling over her chest. Sadie didn’t look up, she kept over the fire with a determined expression, but she could hear the woman at the very edges of her hearing, the woman who said nothing at all and did not breath. “There’s naught remarkable about any of it,” she said, even more firmly and patted the floor beside her to call the dog over.

She rubbed his neck gently as he lay out on the floor. “Going to go see a physician tomorrow, Iz. Got to be done with it.”


“Oh, I don’t know, it’s alright,” she told Thorold, hunched over the table in the pony with a cup of mulled cider in her hands. Steam rose in tendrils between them. Bitter and mad, the man at the counter had said of her when she passed by, bitter about a wedding that hadn’t come about and driven mad. She barely even recognised the man who’d said it, some family she didn’t really know well, but he’d recognised her enough to mutter at her. The ugly bastard. “Suppose Ma’s happy I’m home, Pa’s happy too but he hasn’t really said. Tulsie keeps ignoring me, I suppose that’s normal. Everyone else is alright.”

“Sounds like a normal family, don’t see anything strange about it,” Thorold said with a yawn, settling back to look around at the old tavern.

“I guess. I guess I’m just… I’m not sure where I fit in anymore. If I’m just visiting I feel like I ought to… act like a visitor. But I don’t know how a visitor acts.”

“Sure, alright, but that’s something you’ve got to get used to. You’re out of place now, be out of place.”

Lunet shrugged and sipped her cider, looking around the room. “Well, I always felt out of place but… I don’t know. How was your Yule?”

“Not too bad. Just spent it with the dwarves. You should next year, skip the family, the party’s leagues better.”

“I thought you were going to stop by your friend’s place, that lady?”

“Chickened out, do every year, nearly got to the door this time before I ran off.”

“That’s progress, though, isn’t it?” Lunet asked, turning her mug in her hands.

“It’s sure something.”


“So you just keep these in your office?” Asked the taxidermist while Athalbert went over the receipt in detail. “Does that reassure people or something?”

“Beg pardon, what was that?” He asked, looking up at the man and the jar with its two-headed rabbit. It was a good specimen and he found himself rather fond of the creature with its misshapen lump of a body.

“These things, do you keep them in your office or something?”

“It was intended as a gift, I suppose it will go on a shelf anyway,” he said with a shrug and signed the little receipt, digging in his pocket for coins. “Thank you for doing it, it is admirable work as ever. Have a fine Yule,” he offered as he turned, cradling the jar against his chest as he stepped out into the winter winds.

Yule always delayed paperwork, it was like the icy winds froze the hands of the clerks just as quickly as they froze the streets. He wrapped his coat around him. It was not a mistake to say more men died in winter than summer but it was rare that more men brought it on themselves. The story often went that men would be possessed by the cold winds and it drove them to tragic mistakes, but men could be possessed by the same winds in summer just as well.

He understood where the idea came from, though. As the darkness encroached on the narrow streets and the wind whistled in gusts through the alleys it seemed easy to assume these long, dark hours would continue on forever. And what was there even to go back to? A cramped room and boxes? Planning for the inevitable?

Athalbert Folksvarthrson was not a man possessed of any tendency suicidal, the thought was entirely foreign. He had exams to write, whether in a study or cramped room. He had a letter to write to his brother, his father would die. He had a sewing kit to purchase, Kennick didn’t suit a mask. He felt sorry for himself but, when spring brought sunlight and flowers, he would inevitably feel the same and this was to be expected.

He held the dead rabbit up to the light of a small window and chewed the inside of his lip. He could have a savings again after a few years and then a smaller office somewhere nearer the town square. Maybe Esthyr could have it, she might be suited to the whole thing after all.

Or he would just find someone else, there was little that was especially unique in the world or in any one person.


Lori didn’t like Lichen being in the flat. She didn’t mind Lichen especially, she liked her as much as Lori liked anyone (which was a lot if she was being honest). But Lichen was always sat on the couch, always talking about spinster flats and being miserable and Lori hadn’t even been able to hang up garland like she’d wanted because she couldn’t very well hang up garland while Lichen was sat there unhappy. She’d had a good idea to put up holly on the doorway and the holly had sat on the wardrobe in the bedroom she shared with Attie for a few days before she’d tossed it away.

She wrapped up a nice sweater she had made last month in secret, every afternoon while she was meant to be eating lunch and left it on the dresser for Attie (who went home to spend time with her family) and then sat hunched on the bed with her leg swinging. It had been a good year, she thought, she had her friend and she was in love with her but Attie never said so back really.

And now she’d been to see her parents, who were well, and her brother who was well too and what else could a girl ask for on Yule, except for everyone to be well?

She looked at the door to the main room and heaved a sigh. She’d just wanted to put up holly and see midnight through next to Attie.

Jethro Tull – Fire at Midnight

 

Or Will You?

While Sadie Lowater accounted herself generally happy with her life the number of times she had truly been so could be counted, by anyone so inclined, upon two hands. The memories which often stuck out for her as happy had long had their misery forgotten.

Her mother she accounted a warm and clever woman, but the long illiterate Mrs. Walter had often called her daughter a dunce and, as she grew older, had become cold to the oldest girl. Her education had been desperately clawed at, often received listening under windows and begging peers to share their lessons. Her wedding day had involved no fewer than three fights, two involving her mother-in-law.

Her grandfather had once told her, as she carefully made his tea, that Walters were all short of silver and carved their own spoons out of whatever was to hand.

Since the failing of the farm in the ancient days, this had been very little indeed.

But as Sadie stood beneath the great lighthouse of Tinnudir she was happy, even an outside observer would say so. It was near Yule and the year previous (and, indeed, every year) she had agonised over gifts and decorations and food. There had been days of making biscuits and pies and rushing around after Missus Ashten to get everything sorted and then the miserable party where she stood, off to the side, sometimes holding a baby, most often just carrying things around when told to.

But this year, approaching the grandest part of the year she wandered out in the frigid, misty air. It was almost a tragedy to leave the warm bedroll in its sheltered alcove, the blankets would be ice when she returned but the night air was clear and fair and above her, the great lighthouse loomed.

Boots went on over the trousers she’d worn to bed and she pulled on the extra sweater she had brought and neatly folded beneath her head to sleep on. She had a fur wrap as well, a bequeathel from her Nan, and she bundled herself up.

The lighthouse was by far the largest structure Sadie had ever seen in her life, its height was almost incomprehensible to her, a bizarre structure whose design was utterly perplexing. In the dark it was easier to stare at it, without Valthier to stare at her in that equally perplexing way that suggested he thought she was being silly or strange. No, now in the icy air she could walk around, trying to see it from different angles, wishing she could somehow rise up like a bird on the wind currents and see the entire thing all in one glance.

“Beautiful, is it not?” sounded a voice and Sadie spun on her heel, eyeing the figure behind her. She had seen him before, since the Barandalf he had appeared at the edges of her vision and hung there like a bad spot. He looked like the rangers, though he was cleaner, and his clothing was better, it was cleaner apart from a great marred spot beneath his throat.

“Aye, dunno what it’s meant for, though,” Sadie commented, no longer surprised by the great wounds or the presence of such bizarre creatures. It was almost a given now, and it was almost nice to think that all of these people existed and had any interest in her at all.

“It is a lighthouse,” explained the ghost, comprehending the question as well as Sadie could comprehend the tower.

“Sure, I know, but why? What’s it do?”

“It lit the water before it so that ships knew they approached the shore.”

Sadie fixed the ghost with a confused look, frowning. “Wouldn’t they just see the shore?”

“Not at night.”

“Why were they sailing ’round at night then?”

“Because- Well because… Because that is what ships do.”

“Seems silly, though, doesn’t it? If it’s so dangerous?”

The ghost looked unhappy and Sadie smothered a grin, having succeeded in her victory against the past she took a deep breath and looked up at the magnificent thing.

“Beautiful though, even if it is a bit silly,” she said, but he was already gone and she was alone on the grassy hill, looking up at the ancient, dark thing beneath the stars.

And Sadie Lowater did feel happy, though she couldn’t pinpoint the swelling feeling within her breast. She wanted to tell someone about it but she had told Valthier already and anyway he already knew all about the things they were seeing; he was here and there was nothing to tell him.

She sat in the grass, and she talked to Crisp; he wasn’t there, but that just made him a better listener.

Lumineers – Sleep on the Floor

Settled In

Athalbert threw another flask into the back wall. He would litter this garden with shards of glass like poison in the dirt, glittering in the sunlight that, early in the winter evening, faltered to red. He had made each of these flasks, glass blowing was a necessary art when one could not trust the locals to manufacture a beaker. Each one was a careful work of art and like all art was shockingly easy to destroy. He reached back onto the counter top for another and found it empty and now he was just an empty, dull man in the doorway of a house he hated.

Athalbert had never expected to be happy in life. As he told others happiness was a folly of the weak mind, a panacea for any real thinking. In the deeper recesses of his mind he had simply accepted that happiness wasn’t for him. He didn’t deserve it, there was some broken piece that lay in his chest and could not be mended. Maybe it hadn’t been broken at all. Maybe he had just been born lacking it, like the jars of infantile creatures he kept on his shelf missing limbs and eyes.

But despite all of this he had tried. Like a candle in fog the light had been faint but there had been light. And Lark had found it and fanned it to a small flame against the gloom and the lost man had seen it and followed its light. Only now the wind, inevitable as it was, had put out the light and left the gloom intolerable.

It had been manageable before.

Athalbert thought he was good. His ideas on the subject were simple and easy. He was not evil so he must be good. He had never done anything evil anyway. He was surviving as anyone survived and sometimes perhaps his medicines worked and he saved a life. And that must balance the failures and the rough patches.

And he had asked for very little. Children, perhaps, someday. Someone to love, someone who would not detest him. But he was detestable and he was small and he sat on the back step to breathe the night air.

He should have known better. But the storm clouds were rolling in and the garden had always been a waste anyway.

The soil was too rocky and there was nothing worth growing anyway.

He clambered to his feet, made his way back through the quiet house to his study. He would miss the study the most, he decided, the quiet room of a quiet professional and as he crossed to light the lamp again he looked with concern at the wooden floor. He had built it all up too much, imagined a child or two running through, disrupting his work though he would not have minded as much as he acted. For a few brief months he could have nearly held those visions in his hands and now they fell away, slipped through his hands and the cracks of the floors like water.

Each room of this miserable house had been a place worth holding to a promise, here had been a hallway to fill with toys and here a kitchen where the children would learn to cook and a dining table to go over letters and numbers. He sat at the desk and sighed under his breath, looking over the papers scattered about. Kennick would still have to take his practicum, men would still get sick, men would still die, the world was moving around him and he had wasted an evening getting pitiably drunk and throwing glass at a wall.

And all over a few months of time that might be forgotten in a few years once the pain of them had dimmed.

He looked over the sheaf of paper, eyes flickering over the written test, a frown on his dour features. Kennick wouldn’t want to carry on with it, he was a good tailor, and even Athalbert could see that. He would be a good physician too but he didn’t like it and what was the point of doing something unhappily when each life was so brutish and short? He dug through a drawer on a sudden spur of thought. He wouldn’t have children but he did have Kennick and if Kennick would not be a physician someone had to be.

In the dim lamplight, the physician began copying the examination onto another sheaf of paper. There were other hopes and dreams worth having.

The Plains/Bitter Dancer – Fleet Foxes

Remarkable Once

“One, two, three,” she counted rhythmically and the violin played in the corner. It was the summer of his fifteenth birthday and he had never learned how to dance which had always been fine.

Sellion had never wanted to dance.

Except it had become painfully obvious at the party that he couldn’t dance and now he had his hand against his cousin’s while she counted out measures.

“One, two, three, one, two, th- Ai!” She exclaimed, ungracefully, and her hands rose and batted at his head. From off to the side of the little conservatory Norinen burst into noisy laughter, the violin falling off.

“This is it, this is my favourite day,” he told Bregdur between laughs, sprawling back in his chair.

On the floor Sellion made a half-hearted attempt to defend himself from his cousin’s light smacks, holding his arms up around his face. “I’m sorry! I’m just no good at it!” He pled from a half crouch, desperately holding his arms up.

“Of course you are good at it,” Allie responded between strikes. “You just need practice.”

“It is all in the feet!” Bregdur called from the dais with Norinen, looking up finally from the papers he was idly flipping through. “Pretend she is a goblin, like when we practised with the shield!”

“Pretend I am a goblin!” Allie cried and gratefully stopped hitting him. It just wasn’t fair, she was so strong it was creepy.

“You walk like a goblin… or a troll. It is a wonder you can dance on those heavy feet,” Norinen chuckled.

“I walk loudly as a sign of dominance,” Allie pointed out as she turned to fetch a glass of wine from a tray. Sellion tried to fix his hair. “I am going to buy boots.”

Bregdur looked up from his papers again. “No, you will not,” he said, matter-of-factly. “Prostitutes wear boots.”

“Spoil-sport,” Sellion heard her mutter over her wine, a hand on her hip. Sellion had his own family, he went to see them every week, sometimes his mother stopped over in an afternoon and they had tea in the little solarium. As much as he was the oldest son there he had never really felt like it. He was the baby brother of the mess of siblings in this little conservatory, bickering noisily now over boots. It was certainly a lot less pressure than being the oldest and all of them, even Cefwen who was a little dull, were worth looking up to.

Even when they bickered over boots and songs and all of the minutiae of the world.

The bickering died down after a few more seconds and Allie was pulling at him again to get him into position. “Now, stand up straight, hand up. No, Sellion, other hand. Like I showed you.” She grabbed his arm and held it up straight, pressing her palm to his. “Other hand behind your back, there you go. Now, if Norinen can remember how to play the violin…”


“No, it is step, pivot, and then a turn…” Alduial muttered, flipping the pages of the book. This could not be this difficult, dancing was easy. She had always been good at dancing.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Sellion asked from behind her, scratching at the back of his head. A quiet, brief wave of anger passed over her, like a sudden hot breeze and she grit her teeth over the book.

“About the dance?” Alduial asked coolly. He certainly didn’t mean the letter. She thought it was patently obvious she had no interest in discussing the letter which, of course, was entirely irrelevant to her life.

Sellion sighed and slumped his shoulders. That was a good sign, it meant he had given up. Giving up was the best she could hope for at this point and she swept over at took his hands.

It was sunny in the garden and her sister’s peacock was, gratefully, off in some other corner preening itself. She hated that damned peacock. The damned peacock and the sunshine and whoever had created a dance that involved a skipping jump. Who would create such a hateful thing? Was there not enough darkness in the world already without this horrid, vile dance?

And she wasn’t upset about the letter.

“Because we can talk about it, if you like,” Sellion offered, stumbling around on his two left feet. He was entirely unteachable.

“It does not matter. What do I care if he has died? He clearly had precious little interest in me,” she hissed before she could stop herself. Now the floodgate was open she couldn’t seem to catch herself. “And little interest in anything if they have made Athradin Master now. He was horrid, and unskilled, and… and stupid.”

“Well he can’t have been that stu-”

“He was though! He was and it should have been me anyway!” She wanted to stomp her foot or scream or throw a very undignified temper tantrum. She wanted to be angry except, despite the rising bile and irritation in her throat she wasn’t angry at all. “I used to make his tea and now he has just died and I was not even there.”

She gave up on dancing, abandoning her cousin to go back over to the table and flip through the book of dancing instruction unhappily. Mallios’ letter had come over the morning, Master Nestin was dead. What if he had missed her at the end? Or, worse, what if he hadn’t? What if ten years of her life, years of running when he called and organising his life and keeping things right had meant nothing at all? And now some man she never liked was living the life she was supposed to. The records of Healers would leave him, some dull man with stringy hair as a Master and Alduial, for all of her work and conniving and effort was relegated to the ordinary lists (if she had not been struck from the record entirely).

“Do you want a glass of wine? I’ll go get one.” Sellion ventured and she nodded silently, worried that if she opened her mouth she would curse or weep or something even worse than either of those two.

And now she was learning a dance she hated and next month, as the mourning period ended, she would purge all of the black from her wardrobe and wear… something. And something that didn’t suit her anyway.

Harnel was dead and his gift gave no advice (good or bad) and nothing more than idle promises. She had never been right for having friends, she had never been any good at giving back what she had gotten and so her friendships were dull and superficial and provided no space to figure out anything. She pressed her fingers to her forehead.

She had been remarkable once, she thought, but even that seemed long ago and falsified.

On Time

The night was cool and clear and the stars shone down like diamonds. It was a nice night to be out, it would be a nice night to be in too but something about it felt strange. It felt wrong going back somewhere where it would be warm. Wasn’t the night for it, she supposed. And anyway she felt half-locked in her own head.

So Sadie wove and wandered down the path away until she found a secluded spot by the water. She didn’t know what she expected, if she expected anything, and began to strip the sticks and leaves out of her hair. Queen of the Woods and the Barrows, indeed, She thought. Queen of the Woods doesn’t get her hair all tangled up in sticks.

The world went strangely quiet, cool and still. There was a chill in the crisp air that hadn’t been there, a weedling, wet sort of cold that went into the bones. The whole world seemed to calm and then, a voice behind her let out a strange and unearthly moan.

Doooon’t looooook, it’s meeee, Tooooomliiiiin, Kniiiight of the Woooooooods, it groaned and Sadie ignored its advice, whipping around so hard she cricked her neck.

“What the bloody fuck?” She shouted. It certainly wasn’t Tomlin, Knight of the Woods. Tomlin, Knight of the Woods wouldn’t have a curly puff of brown hair and a skinny face. He absolutely wouldn’t be wearing a common tunic. He definitely wouldn’t have a smattering of freckles over a pointed nose.

And he certainly wouldn’t look like Crispin Ashten.

Cor, don’t sound so happy to see me, offered the former Mister Ashten. Who had formerly made toys in a little shop and formerly been fucking a girl who sold apples down the road.

“What the fuck?” Sadie questioned again. Her tone was offended but she didn’t feel offended. She wasn’t sure how she felt. Confused, maybe, was the nearest feeling she could muster.

Oh, go on. That was a good joke, the spirit said and flopped down onto the grass. Sadie hadn’t thought of Crispin in so long his face looked foreign and she worried this was the spirit from before for a moment. But no, that had been glimpsed from the corner of her eye and here he was full and here and nearly alive looking.

“That was a terrible joke,” Sadie replied with a huff and turned back to digging detritus out of her hair.

You’re a terrible joke.

“What are you even doing here? You’re dead and I would’ve seen you before if you were here.”

Just came for a visit. Things go weird sometimes, this time of year. Didn’t expect you to be able to see me, he pointed out in an infuriating tone, looking at her from where he lay on his back. Never could before.

“Yeah, well, I can now. What do you want anyway? Did you just… just… come here to spook me or something?”

Nah, just wanted to check in. We’re mates, you know, felt like I ought to check in.

“Mates?” Sadie asked, gaping at him. “We were married.”

Yeah, but we were mates first, Crisp reasoned with infuriating casualness. She threw a stick at him and it passed through with no disturbance to his incorporeal form.

“Oh, piss off, you cheating fucking prick,” she hissed and turned slightly away to very pointedly ignore him. The world went quiet again.

How, uh, how long did you know for? The preternatural voice asked, hesitantly. It was entirely like Crisp only from a farther distance than it ought to be and heard through some watery substance.

“Oh, I dunno. Just from the first bloody year you useless bastard,” Sadie spat in the opposite direction. She wasn’t looking at him, she wasn’t going to look at him.

Would’ve stopped if I’d known, he offered quietly.

“Fucking what?”

I would’ve stopped if I knew you knew.

“That’s absolute shit, Crispin Ashten and you know it.”

You should’ve said something.

“Really? That’s it? Not ‘I’m sorry’? Just… Cor, you’re such a fucking bastard.”

Like you were the greatest wife in the world! Crisp declared with sudden ferocity and Sadie finally turned to scowl at him despite herself. The stupid bastard. The stupid bastard.

“I never slept with anyone else!”

Would’ve been nice if you had! At least we’d have had something to talk about!

“What’s that supposed to mean?!”

The second we got married you cared more about what my Ma thought than what I did! Spent all your time bloody cleaning and being miserable! Never were happy!

“Of course I wasn’t happy you were sleeping with the bloody apple girl!”

You were unhappy before I was sleeping with the apple girl!

“That’s a load of shit, Crispin Ashten!” Sadie spat. She would have shouted but she very much didn’t want anyone to see her screaming at thin air… whispering was bad enough. “And it sure as shit doesn’t give you leave to sleep with a seventeen-year-old for bloody four years!”

It was only three and a half you, you cow! I hardly even liked her! You know how bad I am with people!

“Didn’t look that  bad when I saw you!”

I just wanted someone to talk to! Not my fault how it went!

“I would rip your balls off if I didn’t think some rat had already got to them,” Sadie hissed and now found herself glaring at a ghost. Even six months ago this entire situation would have seemed like a bizarre side-note in a storybook much too interesting to ever involve someone like Sadie. By now it nearly constituted normal.

They sat there, glaring, for a long moment before Crispin blinked. He always blinked first and he sat back on the grass with a frown.

I mean, you don’t really reckon a rat got them, do you? He asked, hesitantly.

“Probably just worms to be honest,” Sadie admitted, now also momentarily concerned with the exact manner of the former man’s rotting bits and bobs. Now that all of the angry parts were out the cessation of hostilities was welcome. They’d never really fought, it felt natural and strange.

That’s sort of alright, then. Worms. Sounds more pleasant. More earthy.

“Aye, but it takes longer.”

Yeah… It’s not like I could feel it, though. So that’s alright. Just don’t want the poor bastards to suffer.

Sadie flopped back in the grass with a groan, rubbing the heels of her palms into her eyes. They sat on the edge of the clear pond in silence, even the draughts of autumn wind had stilled and left the world largely untouched.

Did you get in a fight with Ma?

“Huh? Sort of. Not really a fight. Told her I wasn’t going to run around doing her errands and things anymore. Had me cleaning windows on my birthday, you know?”

Crisp’s laugh was pleasant and unearthly. It sounded like him and before she could stop herself she smiled back. Sounds like Ma. You didn’t fall did you? Those roofs are dangerous.

“Nah, didn’t fall. Just… I dunno. I feel like I’m always someone else’s person. Got mad at her for always making me her errand-thing. I’m always someone’s daughter or wife or daughter-in-law or bloody… I dunno. I just want someone to be mine instead. Or… at once, maybe.”

The words hung there in the air, lending it a heaviness betrayed by the light scent of water and leaf-rot. They sat still for a long while in the grass, bats crossed the night sky above them and Crisp passed his hand through a few longer blades of grass.

Do you think I’d have been a good Pa?

“What? I dunno. Maybe. I never really thought about it.”

Of course you did. You think of everything. You’ve always got those clock wheels turning in your head.

“You mean cogs, Crisp?”

Clock wheels, s’what I said.

“Cogs, Crisp. Cogs.”

You’re avoiding the question.

“Sure… Aye, I think you’d have been a good Pa,” She decided after a long moment’s thought. “Real patient, you always were good with kids.”

I was better than you. Remember that time Sissy tried giving you her baby to hold and you almost dropped it?

“Nah, I’d forgot about that, I was thinking of that time Lillie’s boy walked in front of you and you kicked him in the head.”

That wasn’t on purpose!

“Right in the head. Pow! Down he went!”

Lucky he wasn’t slow after that kick, to be fair.

“But other than the kicking I think you’d have been alright.”

Thanks. I think you’d have been a good Ma. Got that thing about you. And you make good scones. Do you still do the ones with frosting?

She snorted. “Aye, still do.”

There, kids’d love those. Mine especially, eat a whole bloody plate of them.

“You’re an idiot, Crisp,” Sadie said fondly.

Takes one to know one.

“I know one when I see one.”

Cow.

“Git.”

Sadie picked at another piece of twig in her hair.

I, uh, I am sorry.

“Are you sorry you got caught or sorry you did it?”

Bit of both I suppose.

“Suppose it’s something. Alright, apology accepted.”

Are you not going to apologize too?

“Apologize for what?”

For going weird. For… I don’t know.

“For not being myself?”

Aye, that’s it. You were always better with words than me.

“That’s true. You’re a bloody idiot, Crisp.”

So that’s a no on an apology?

“I’ll consider it.”

Good as anything, I suppose. Did you really get a dog?

“Aye, Izzy. He’s a good bloke”

Crispin let out another weird, odd-pitched laugh. Izzy’s a girl’s name.

“No it’s not.”

It definitely is. I take back what I said. You’d’ve probably tried to name a little girl Frederick or something. You’d be a rotten Ma.

“Git,” she stated in reply.

The night passed into dawn and Sadie Lowater, Queen of the Woods, fell asleep in the grass at the edge of a pond, covered in a mantle of green leaves.

Lumineers: Cleopatra

But I Am

Sadie Lowater (who had previously been Sadie Ashten and whose maiden name was, as a matter of public record, Walter)  had gotten married the day after turning eighteen and that meant for five years her birthday had been The Day Before The Anniversary Party Missus Ashten threw every year and mostly involved cleaning. And after that the whole week just made Missus Ashten sad, and thus ought to have made everyone else sad too.

Still, every year when she had been alive her own mother, Mirian Walter, had gone out of her way to make a small cake and have a little dinner. After Mirian had died Sadie made herself a cake every year, and her siblings had come over and had dinner. Only now she wasn’t speaking to her siblings, or rather, they weren’t speaking to her.

“What’s that Missus Ashten?” Sadie asked from outside the window of the little flat, perched precariously on a sloping eave as she washed the glass.

“I was just thinking it would have been ten years of Crispin getting married tomorrow… We could have done a big party out in the field,” the old woman answered from her chair just inside.

“Best not, I’d think, looks like a storm’s rolling in over the Barrows,” Sadie observed neutrally and scraped at a bit of gunk with her thumbnail. Bloody birds, she swore the crows out of the Barrows found their way to Bree sometimes to shit on Missus Ashten’s window especially. It was the only explanation for the evil on the leaded glass.

The old woman ignored her, carrying on, “We could do a big tent out and have all the little ones in green. Green and yellow were such pretty wedding colors…” Green and yellow had been Missus Ashten’s wedding colors, a fact Sadie knew because she had been gently encouraged to wear the woman’s dress. A feat which had taken an impressive amount of emergency tailoring by Sadie and her mother to fit the thing (and it had still been three inches short, a fact concealed with a yellow ribbon).

“Aye,” Sadie answered without listening, setting the rag on the edge of a flower box. “Is it just this window you wanted cleaned Missus Ashten?”

“You’re not going to do the other ones?” The old woman asked and Sadie immediately regretted the question.

“Storm’s coming in. And I’ll need to get a ladder to get to the other ones. I’ll stop by tomorrow and do them if the weather’s good.”

“Hmph, well if you can’t be bothered just don’t worry about it,” Missus Ashten said, her voice laden with imagined hurt.

“It’s not that I can’t be bothered,” Sadie tried, patiently, clambering through the window. “It’s just not the day to do it and that’s the only one with a proper-”

“No, no, it’s fine. I’m sure you’ve got a date coming over to our flat,” Missus Ashten snipped and Sadie paused, her hand still on the windowsill.

Our flat, is it now?” She asked, wringing out her rag into the flower-box. “That’s funny considering it’s in my name.”

“It was our Crispin’s flat and I think-”

“No, you know, it’s been ten years I’ve been doing this and I’m bloody sick of it. Why don’t you have one of your own daughters do all this? Or one of their husbands? It’s not that I don’t appreciate everything, Missus Ashten, but it’s been five years and I’m bloody sick of it,” Sadie said hotly, crossing the room to put the rag away and get her cloak off the peg by the door. “I changed the locks on the door. I catch you or any of your friends spying on me again and I’ll… I’ll… I’ll think about how we split the rent on those flats down the road. That’s what I’ll do.” It wasn’t the best conclusion, Sadie would admit to herself two days later when she finally reflected

It wasn’t the best conclusion, Sadie would admit to herself two days later when she finally reflected on what she’d done. But, in fairness, she had only just begun to rebel in any direction in the last six months. These things sometimes take time.

Before Missus Ashten could answer Sadie swept out of the building, collected her dog from where he sat out on the porch, and made her way to the bakery.


It was late afternoon by the time she got back to her house, a little cake balanced precariously on a box she had found at her doorway. A present from Jade, which was strange and interesting and had an apron and a necklace in it and felt, altogether, too extravagant. She put both on right away and, after lighting a thin candle, she sat down in the middle of the floor beside Izzy, the cake in her lap.

“What are we going to wish for, Iz?” She asked the dog, scratching him behind the ear. “Load of money? New flat?” She asked with a laugh, looking between the dog and the cake.

“Come on, give us a little help then? Not more excitement. Reckon I’ve got plenty of that,” she chuckled and gave his back a firm pat. “Nothing, huh? That’s alright. I think I’ve got an idea.”

She blew out the candle and tore a piece away for Izzy and another for herself.

“There we go, now that’s all you get, though, you’ve got proper food out, you can’t eat half a cake. Especially not if I’m going to eat all of it.”

She rubbed his ear anyway, he was a good dog and she had good friends, and really what else could a girl ask for?

They Might Be Giants – Birdhouse In Your Soul

I Don’t Know Why

Nothing can be worse than the river, Sellion had written in the journal. But then they had exchanged at a port on the sea and now travelled by ship along the white cliffs of the shore.

And Sellion had begun to throw up again in earnest.


“Oh it is not so bad,” Allie was saying but he didn’t think she understood and anyway she wasn’t throwing up into a bucket by the side of the bed. Every little thing he ate escaped his stomach and she had chided him for eating the meat one of the southern merchants sold in the little stand on the Second Circle. “You can keep down water now.”

This did not feel like an accomplishment. He groaned and sat back against the pillows, squinting when she opened the little window that looked out onto the lofty courtyard.

“I’m dying,” he protested in the tone of every sixteen-year-old who is dying.

“You are not,” she said and half-looked up from the side table where she measured drops and powders into a bottle. “And anyway if you die I shall never hear the end of it from Bregdur so I expect you to do your best to live.”

Sellion made a few disgruntled noises. He would rather die than go out to the wall and fix another catapult. It was so boring. And miserable. And boring.

“Hush. Sit up and drink this,” she said firmly and handed him a brightly fragrant cup of cool liquid. All at once she was sitting beside him and she had her hand on his forehead. “Poor Sellion. Poor brave Sellion,” she cooed at him.

“Shut up,” he mumbled into the cup, secretly happy she didn’t while he slumped over in bed and tried to choke down the flowery drink.

“Aw, there is my brave little fighter,” she whispered and brushed his sweaty hair with her fingers. “You are gross, we should have someone come in to give you a bath.”

A few thoughts flit through his skull, the first several were mostly the plots of bawdy stories he had heard from people in taverns. After those, he remembered just how old some of them were and also how masculine some others were. The combination of those thoughts was even worse. He circled back to the bawdy stories eventually.

“Please no,” he concluded decisively and slumped against his cousin. “I can wash. I’d be alright.”

“You do not want me to find you a pretty little initiate? Or maybe a volunteer? Some of them are high-born, maybe you can scout out your future wife,” she tapped his nose annoyingly while she sang this idea at him.

“Please no,” he groaned again from somewhere on her shoulder. It was the kind of unpleasantly boney that probably looked nice but hurt like a bastard.

“Are you not excited to get married, baby cousin? You could get married to some pretty girl and have a bunch of children and then a nice little affair or two…”

“I don’t want to have affairs,” he grumbled and sipped from the cup of what he hoped was medicine. “I want to marry someone I really love.”

“Oh my poor darling,” she crooned again, brushing his hair back from his face. “No one ever marries for love. Except maybe poor people but I doubt that because love is… it is like a fairy-story. It is a nice thing people talk about.”

“That’s not true. You love me.”

She laughed in exactly the tone people laughed at small children when they told bad jokes and kept brushing his hair. “That is different. That is familial love. It is romantic love that is not real. It is a happy fantasy to keep up until you forget the other person is even a person and not household furniture. Now shush and drink the rest of your medicine.”


They turned toward Dol Amroth near sundown and the light of the low sun cascaded over the harbor and touched the fair white towers and lit the gilt along their tops. It turned the world into light and fire and for a moment Sellion thought that it was lit with the very Flame of Arnor.

But then he realized that was ridiculous, there was no such thing after all. Not a Flame and not a lord dragging the sun by chariot and not a lord under the waves who protected the ship. The only thing protecting the ship was good manufacture and pleasant weather. If there was a storm they would probably all die which would be unfortunate because Sellion very much didn’t want to die.

Not before he’d gotten to climb a few of those towers and see how the stairs worked within them. Where the rooms were laid out and where the walls hid buttresses to keep them stable. Something must keep them stable, after all.

“Nice isn’t it?” Asked one of the sailors, leaning on the railings. He was taller than Sellion but far narrower, like the mast of the ship. “This your first time?”

“What? Yes, yeah. It’s… beautiful, isn’t it?” He asked and the sailor chuckled and nodded.

“Prettiest city in the world,” he said with a laugh and Sellion watched the sun cascade over the towers and had to agree.


“Sellion! Sellion!” The voice bubbled up over the din of the docks and the ocean as Sellion stumbled onto shore, the great chest full of his things carried by two men behind him. It had his armor in, which was probably why it was so heavy. It was almost certainly not due to the stolen portions of the Eluiel Family library he had carried along.

He grinned despite himself, first at the voice and then at the flurry of black silks that enveloped him all at once. He supposed some of the sailors were probably jealous. He supposed he would be if he didn’t know she was his cousin. “I missed you too, Allie,” he offered from somewhere smashed against her shoulder, still bony as ever.

“How was the trip? Was it alright? How is your arm?” She asked in a customary rush, drawing away enough to look him over in a way that was at once unnerving and reassuring.

“It’s… it was fine. I was sick a bit on the ship and- My arm is alright. It still hurts a little, I don’t think I’ll be able to hold a shield anymore.”

“Oh no!” She drew him into another close hug. “I knew Mallios was over-estimating his abilities! Perhaps we can find you someone here. Are you hungry? We can stop and get food before we go to see Tessriel. Do you remember Tessriel?”

“What? Yes I am and- Who- Oh yes! Yes, sort of.”

“She got fat.”

“I- What?”

Alduial sighed, directing the men with his chest to a nearby cart. “No one will ever appreciate that the way Norinen will,” she lamented and brushed her fingers at his hair. “Oh I am so happy to see you!”

“I’m glad to see you too, Allie.”


(A letter sent in the late spring)
Dear Mallios,

I was going to waste time with pleasantries but I do not really care how you are. I trust you remain alive and have carried on your vow never to drink as you and I maintain all of our vows. You have always been my favorite surgeon.

Sellion says you are treating him for his arm. I expected you would since you like him and he will let you dig around in him. You and I both know you are an admirable, skilled surgeon with abilities not yet known to men (etc. etc.) and I think you stand a good chance of helping Sellion to regain the ability to carry a shield and fight as any man should in these dangerous times. One never knows with a new king what great campaigns await to be waged. Perhaps Sellion might stand at the retaking of Umbar or the grand invasion of Harad.

So I will write this once and expect it to never be spoken of again. If you do anything more than your worst on that boy’s arm, if he ever regains a fraction of the ability to carry weight upon it, I will tell every single person in those Houses about that thing we did when we were seventeen. I will come back there and I will tell them every single detail and it is not as though I do not have proof. 

And anyway everyone always liked me more and they would believe me more than you.

You may write back if you wish. I do not care. Be a lamb and write that Sellion should be sent to the coast, too. Just make something up about fresh air and bad lungs or something. I do not care. You are relatively clever.

Always,
Alduial

Simon and Garfunkel: America