Where The Heart Is

Cedoric had been dreading sleep, doing everything he could to avoid it. For a while, his efforts had been going well. It had been approximately three days since he had caught some shut-eye, and was to the point where he didn’t really feel like he needed the sleep anymore. When the group had set up camp to rest, he kept in his tent and managed to make himself appear to sleep, only to sit wide-eyed with his back to Wraith. He knew he couldn’t keep it up the whole way, but he was sure going to try; he’d do anything to avoid the nightmares of losing his family all over again.

Night had begun it’s approach, and the Wayfarers were rather close to returning to Durrow. It would likely be the last time they needed to set up camp. Wordlessly, Cedoric helped the others until they had all been prepared for rest. He and Wraith curled up within their tent, and Cedoric readied himself for another long night with his thoughts.

Much to his surprise, he slowly found himself struggling to keep his eyes open. Wraith’s steady breathing, coupled with the comfortable night air, seemed to almost hypnotize the young man. He was fearful of drifting off into the unknown, threatening dreams, but as the minutes passed by and the insects of the night began their symphony, he let himself close his eyes, finding a peaceful state. There was a dream, of course. But much to his relief, it was no nightmare. This time, it was not just a dream, but a memory from Forochel that he would cherish for the rest of his days.

He found himself again at the Fjords of Remembrance, his mother at his side holding gently at his arm. The memory was as clear as day, and he could even feel his heart pounding at the prospect of what he and his mother would find there. He thought back to when he had interacted with Deep-Gaze, remembering that single desire that sang in his heart as he looked within the mirror: to see his family reunited.

Cedoric’s eyes swept over the crystalline waters, searching nervously for, well, he didn’t know. His mother gently caressed his arm in support, keeping silent as they waited. At first, a simple fog began to roll in, though it seemed more concentrated than any normal sort of fog. Once it reached the land on which Cedoric and his mother stood, a figure began to form until the image of Ulfric was in plain sight.

Unlike in the nightmares, this time Ulfric looked at peace. He wore a soft, serene expression, his translucent form floating forward until he was right in front of the pair. Cedoric’s mother’s face softened as well, and she released Cedoric’s arm to reach out to Ulfric, letting him envelope her in a loving embrace. Cedoric choked up, both in happiness and relief to see his brother one last time.

After a few moments between Ulfric and their mother, he turned, placing his hand upon Cedoric’s shoulder.

“I…I am sorry I left you, my brother. I am so, so sorry,” Cedoric blurted out, tears streaming down his face.

Ulfric said nothing, watching his younger brother begin to break down. Before Cedoric could say more, however, the mist began to twist and contort, giving way to another shape.

The sight of his father took a much harder toll than Cedoric thought it would. Perhaps he had hoped that somehow, some way, his father had still been alive. Maybe there had been a way to bring him back, or that everything had just been a nightmare. But the confirmation of his father’s death stood before him, and he broke down into sobs.

Nothing Cedoric tried to say was coherent, just a mix of sobs and broken sentences. Godric, just as serene as Ulfric appeared to be, stepped forward and very slowly, very gently, wrapped his arms around the three. At that moment, Cedoric realized that this was the reunion that he had wished for with all his heart.

The overwhelming emotions he felt brought him to his knees, and so too did the rest of the family follow. The father, mother, and two sons held each other wordlessly, Cedoric’s sobs the only sound being heard. Fog swirled gently around the family, and as the memory began to fade away, the sound of his father’s voice rumbled across his mind.

“Rest.”

And so he did.

The rest of the journey back to Durrow had been thankfully uneventful. Their horses were stabled, and the group began to go back to their homes. Cedoric had refused help with carrying both he and his father’s belongings, moving at a slow pace with Wraith towards Godric’s home. When they arrived, they both stopped in unison before the steps. After a long, uncomfortable silence, Cedoric moved forward and set down a pack to open the door for her. With her head low, she trotted inside, making her way directly to Godric’s bed.

Cedoric entered in after her, and once he had brought in all the items, he shut the door. The sound of it was so hollow, so empty. It was like a resonating reminder of finality. The Rohir turned, facing the entry room with a pained expression as his mind began to wander. Slowly, he moved to rest his palms on the top of the table, closing his eyes while leaning over it.

Here and now in a better outcome, he had planned on giving his father the good news of deciding to join the Wayfarers. He and Godric likely would have embraced, then talked of their plans on when to go back to Rohan to visit. They would have discussed the routes to take, when to leave, when they would return. Planning Ulfric’s memorial would have likely been brought up. Cedoric would have been more open with his father about what was on his mind.

But now, the only thing certain, was an incomplete home.

His grip tightened on the table as anguish washed over him, and he lashed out, lifting it by the edge and flipping it in it’s entirety. Maps and parchment went fluttering about the room as Cedoric continued on in his rage, taking up one of the chairs. The moment the noise of the table crashing down was sounded, Wraith immediately flew into the room, looking ready to destroy whatever it was that was potentially a threat. She was shocked, however, to find that it was an inconsolable Cedoric.

With all of his strength, he struck the chair against the wall, wood splintering in various directions as the seat basically shattered from the collision.

“DAMN IT ALL!”

Wraith kept to the side until she knew for sure he was finished. When the telltale signs of his anger subsiding surfaced, she pattered across the floor and sat at his feet, staring up at him. Cedoric had no patience for the stern look in her eyes, and he turned, making his way to his bed. “I’ll clean it up tomorrow,” he muttered, sinking down onto the mattress. and lifting his eyes to stare at the ceiling. She kept staring at him for a while, but soon ceased and left him alone, returning to Godric’s bed where she would sleep.

Cedoric slowly turned on his side, letting out a deep sigh. He couldn’t begin to imagine how things were going to pan out now. Would he still join the Wayfarers? Would he go back to Rohan? Would Opechancanough and the Uruk be sought out? For some hours, he laid on his bed with so many questions and frustrations. As sleep finally took him, the soft rumble of a storm began far off in the distance.

A crack of thunder rippled across the sky over Durrow, clouds opening up to let loose a steady flow of rain. Cedoric’s eyes snapped open, his body going rigid. The longer the sound of the rain pattered on the roof, the more distant his eyes went. In a sudden burst of movement, the Rohir jumped to his feet and grasped at the spear his father had given him and small shield Cedoric had once carried into battle.

“Theoden King has fallen!” He cried out, flinging the door to the home wide open and surging forth into the rain and mud. From within the other room, Wraith’s ears perked up and she listened in confusion. Knowing that something was quite clearly wrong, she flew from the bed and out after Cedoric, barking madly.

“Death! Death!”

The man jabbed his spear violently into the air at the non-existent enemies, his eyes wild with battle fever. Wraith kept her distance, continuing to bark and snarl. He began shouting incoherent words into the air, speaking to either himself, or perhaps unseen brothers in arms. The moment his back was turned, Wraith took her chance and used all of her weight to jump onto him, pushing him to the ground.

When he dropped, he struggled somewhat until he was onto his back. Exhaustion began to overwhelm him, and in between his panting, he simply stared ahead as if watching something within his mind. His lips moved, but no sound came out.

Wraith laid on his chest and licked furiously at his face, yipping and even biting lightly at what skin she could get a hold of. He was slow to come out of what had happened, but when he did, he continued to stare up at the sky, rain soaking both he and Wraith entirely. With his shield strapped to his arm and spear in a death grasp at his hand, Cedoric lay in the mud, dazed and confused. He lifted his head slightly to look at Wraith, his brows furrowed.

“Why am I outside?”

Don’t Go

((The following RP before the break takes place almost a month ago. Special thanks to Godric for his awesome roleplay, as always.))

Every so often while up in Forochel, the father and son would find themselves at the edge of the ice bay, taking the brief moments they had available to update, plan and discuss matters at hand. This day was no different, and Cedoric had found his father in the expected spot.

The two conversed for a short time, going over Cedoric’s latest concern. Once a determination of what to do was reached, the discussion then took a strange turn.

Godric turned his gaze back out to the bay. “I feel nervous,” he spoke gently.

Cedoric blinked a few times, then looked over at Godric in surprise. “What is it that has you feeling such a way?”

His father returned both hands behind his back, grunting lowly before answering. “This place. It is beautiful, yet at the same time, unsettling.”

“Because of the close connection to the spirit world?” the son replied, glancing back to the water and scratching at his beard.

Godric was silent for a moment before he finally replied. “Perhaps. I am unsure.” He paused, then glanced over at his son. “I love you, Cedoric. Do not do anything reckless.”

Cedoric went silent briefly as well, then let out a chuckle. “And I love you, father. Please, you act as if something terrible may happen. This is a good group. I should have no need of getting reckless.” He paused and smiled to Godric. “Especially when fighting alongside my father.”

The older man hummed deeply. “Yes, but we are dealing with powers far beyond our own. There is no knowing what may happen.”

At the time, Cedoric was confident that his father was simply feeling cautious. After all, in such a place with unknowns, one had to be on their guard. But he never knew just how right his father was, until it was too late.

“I love you, Cedoric.”

The words from his father echoed continuously in his ears. Though they should have been words of comfort, they were agony to the Rohir. They were but a memory, and forever would be. Each laugh, each conversation, and each loving embrace he had shared with his father was now reachable only in the depths of his mind.

He was still in shock, but slowly, the anguish was seeping in.So hard he had wanted to get back to his father and Wraith. After the death of Ulfric, the house felt so empty. So cold. It was not a home. Cedoric thought back to how often he had asked his father to come home, and to his happiness, Godric had agreed to go.

But Cedoric knew in his heart that home, at least to him, was where his family was. Despite the traveling since he had found his father and Wraith, he had felt more at home with them than he had since his brother was killed in battle.

Now, home had a another piece of it missing, leaving a painful void in it’s place that would never be filled.

His thoughts broke for a brief moment as Wraith entered the hut. Since Godric’s death, she had rarely left Cedoric’s side, save for going to get something to eat for them. Even then, she passed no one a moment of greeting or attentions. In her mouth was a large salmon, which she moved forward to place at Cedoric’s side.

For a few moments, he stared at the fish as if it were some foreign object. It was not until Wraith began to nudge at him that he realized that she meant for him to eat. He looked up at her, meeting her concerned eyes with his own blank ones. Slowly, she inched her way close until she was pressed gently against his chest, head resting on his shoulder.

No words needed to be shared. His arms wrapped around the wolf in comfort, and they sat in silence for some time. As he parted from the hug, Wraith locked eyes with him again, concern still reflecting in her gaze; the young man hadn’t cried since Godric had passed.

Cedoric moved his attention back on the fish, pulling out his knife to dress it. He had no appetite, but he knew he had to eat. Just like most of his actions the past few days, it was simply out of necessity. Wraith watched him silently, easing back onto her haunches. Cedoric soon found his mind wandering to the moment life left his father’s body.

It was like a memory, but it felt all too real. In front of his eyes was his father on the ledge again, and the hulking Uruk was right behind him. He could still see Opechancanough, the sheer sight of the man causing his blood to boil.

“No more of this. We are done,” Opechancanough called.

All over again, he watched the blade pierce through his father’s heart, and all over again, he looked on in horror as Godric’s body plummeted down until it landed, broken and lifeless in the snow. He could feel his heart pounding, feel how his breath was non-existent in that moment. And then he felt a stabbing pain within his hand, gripping the spear in his grasp so hard it was drawing blood.

Wraith brought him out of his flashback, growling and tugging at Cedoric’s arm with urgency. It was then that he realized that he was back in the hut, and instead of grasping his spear, he was grasping the fishing knife. Blood dripped freely down his fingertips and onto the cold ground.

His hand loosened it’s grip, letting the knife drop to the ground as well with an almost soundless plop. Wraith began to immediately lick at Cedoric’s face, whimpering softly. It was as though she were crying, but of course no tears fell. After licking at his face long enough to completely snap him out of his daze, she quickly began to pace in the hut, nose burying into bags here and there.

Her search began to grow more aggressive, and soon she was outright dragging things from inside their containers, causing a small mess within the hut. Without finding what it was she was looking for, she ceased her efforts and simply exited the hut, apparently going to find what she needed elsewhere.

Cedoric kept his attention on his hand, finally having enough sense to place pressure on the wound. He realized rather quickly that Wraith was looking for bandages, but he knew she wouldn’t find them; he had given them to the Lossoth for their wounded. His head lowered, knowing that she would likely find something to use before he tried to, anyway, and so he waited.

“I love you, Cedoric.”

At the memory of his father’s voice again, his eyes closed and tightened, his lips moving to mutter. “Father…please…don’t go.”

Drastic Measures

Three days had gone by, and Yusraa had felt no less broken from discovering Amro’s treachery. Even Yazan had noticed her change in mood, and he was acting more cuddly than usual. While it did illicit a smile from the woman, it did little to heal her shattered heart. On top of it all, she knew that at any moment, the time would come when she would have to act.

Sure enough, that night, Na’man prepared Yusraa and Yazan for a trip to Haashim’s again; there was to be a feast in celebration of good business. It did not take long for the trio to be on their way to Haashim’s abode, and soon they were welcomed inside with open arms, escorted to their guest chambers for the night.

Yusraa knew the plan Amro had told her. Dinner would be served, and Amro and Yusraa would do their usual taste testing of their Master’s food and drink. With the scorpion venom held in her mouth, a dangerous and potentially deadly endeavour, Yusraa would release it into Na’man’s drink when she took a sip. As instructed, she had been taking larger and larger doses of the venom to build a resistance. She still felt rather ill from the effects, but luckily had done things just right to where she would not die.

Amro said he would do the same, of course. Haashim would die as well. She had been told that she and Amro would leave Haashim and Na’man in the dining hall to die amongst themselves, and the two slaves would escape after grabbing Yazan. Amro had also already told Yusraa Rafik’s last known location; they would go to find him together. A happy ending for everyone. But Yusraa knew the truth of the matter.

Knowing what the real outcome would be, Yusraa had plans of her own. Luckily, Amro had already provided the main dose, trusting that he had the woman wrapped around his finger. Within the guest chambers, Yusraa placed Yazan down to rest, carefully tucking him in to the bed. The sleep powder had taken effect, and would keep him asleep for a few hours. She watched him for a few more moments with sadness, knowing that these would be some of her last moments with him until she took him to his new home.

Na’man shut the doors to the guest chambers, letting out a sigh of annoyance. “This ceremony of making me wait is an annoyance I do not plan on tolerating much longer.” His heavy steps echoed across the stone floor as he made his way to sit at a writing table. “Matraba. Wine.” It was a demand of course, and Yusraa swiftly stood to make her way to the small cabinet with various bottles.

Though her mind screamed with fear of making the wrong move, she outwardly seemed as calm as could be. Retrieving a goblet to the side, she uncorked a bottle of one she knew to be bitter, and poured the contents within. She did not know what Na’man was barking about as she did so, having grown used to his constant complaints and boasting. Carefully, her hand ever so slightly edged into a makeshift pocket that had been sewn into the lining of the collar of her dress.

As her fingers pulled back in the most subtle of gestures, a gleaming glass vial shined with a pale, thick substance within. It was a familiar sight, and one that would have been a soothing reminder of her mother. However, considering the circumstances and where it came from, she couldn’t help but look at it with pain and sadness. From a different makeshift pocket she had made within her sleeve, she pulled a small metal shard.

For many nights, she had sharpened the piece until it was almost enough to slice clean through her dress. That metal shard, the piece she had wiggled loose from the cage of the aviary, would become her only chance of defense should things go wrong. It was small, but used as a barb as she had done so many years ago, it was deadly.

She began to move with quickness now, knowing Na’man would soon get even more impatient. A small amount of the venom was rubbed onto the metal shard, and soon it was slipped back into her sleeve. She knew she would need to be extremely careful. While she had grown used to ingesting the venom, she was sure that taking it directly into her bloodstream would have terrible effects. After the shard was hidden, she poured the rest of the contents of the vial into the goblet of wine.

“- is the end of it. Would you not agree, Matraba?” Na’man’s voice came back into focus and Yusraa immediately nodded, setting the empty vial back within her dress. She turned, slowly striding over to him with the goblet outstretched. The woman knew better than to speak unless he outright told her to, and so she was silent. She also knew better than to drink from his goblet to test until he ordered her to. He smirked at her nod, then gestured his hand towards the goblet. “Drink.”

And so she did. She took a small sip of the doctored wine, then waited for the minute that Na’man always let pass before he would trust it was safe. The minute felt like an eternity to her, and she could feel the effects of the poison swelling up within her chest. Shortness of breath. Flushing of the skin. Light-headedness. Nausea. Chest pains. Despite all of this, she kept her face calm and collected, having been preparing for this for a long time.

Na’man finally reached out to snatch the wine and gulp from it himself like the disgusting pig that he was, completely unaware. She stepped back and lowered her head, heart pounding rapidly from the effects of the venom coupled with her fear of what would happen. “Gah, this wine is so bitter. He knows I hate bitter wine. Sometimes I think he does this on purpose. Really, as much as he plays these games, I ought to teach him a lesson for real one of th-”

The massive slave lord took in a sharp breath, his eyes widening. “Th-…” A small gurgle croaked up in the back of his throat, and the goblet fell to the floor. Yusraa knew it would happen fast, but she also knew that it would be extremely painful. His hands clenched at his chest, and foam began fall from his lips down his chin.

“It feels as if your heart may burst, does it not?” She said softly, eyeing him with an intense hatred. “I felt that when you snapped my mother’s neck. You remember that, yes?” Na’man began to look angry, then attempted to stand and draw his massive scimitar. As expected, his form fell straight to the ground and he began to seize.

“All of these years you made me suffer. All of these years, you have toyed with me. You should have expected something like this to happen. You may have broken my body, but you did not break my spirit. You never will. No one will.” Yusraa kept her distance from the man for now, glancing over to where Yazan slept. Luckily, he kept still in a deep sleep despite the noise.

Na’man continued to seize and gurgle, flailing on the ground like a fish out of water. The look on his face mirrored the one of the man she had killed so long ago on the night that changed her family’s life. Pain. Fear. Regret. Anger. But none of these expressions mattered to Yusraa. She felt no pity. If anything, she wanted him to suffer through those feelings longer. However, she knew that it would not be long until it was over.

After a few more jerks of his body, he began to slow in his movements until he finally grew still. Yusraa stared at the man whom had tortured her mind, body and soul. Even though she knew he was dead, her hatred of him did not diminish. Slowly, she moved to push him, then kicked at him to be sure he was gone. Of course, he was. There was no way he could have survived such a massive dose.

Using the sleeve of the back of her arm, she wiped away the cold sweat that had formed at her forehead, then took a deep breath. Before she had a chance to compose herself completely, there was a knock at the door to the guest chambers. “My Master will see you now,” came Amro’s voice from behind it. Yusraa swallowed hard, unknowing of just what to say.

In suspicion of the silence, the door was opened and Amro stepped inside. He looked first to Yusraa, then passed his gaze across the corpse on the ground before her. His face twisted with confusion and anger as he quickly shut the door behind him. “What have you done?!” He hissed, striding over towards her.

“I know what you and Haashim planned. I heard what you said. Tell me you were only saying those things to please him, Amro. We can escape together. Do not let him twist you so,” she cried out, tears welling up in her eyes. “Please tell me you w-”

Before she had the chance to complete her plea, Amro swept across the room and took Yusraa up by the throat, pressing her to the wall. “You are a fool. You stupid, stupid girl. Do you really think I would take you with me? So many years under Na’man’s thumb, and you did nothing. You sat back and let it happen. You are pathetic. No one will ever love someone like you.”

Gasping out for air, her fingers reached up to try to pry his hand away. It was no use, his strength being much more than she could ever hope to overcome. “P-please…Amro. I love you. Do not…s-say these things. You d-do not have to pretend any l-”

His grip only tightened, stopping her completely from being able to speak. “I will take you to Haashim myself.” His eyes darted around towards his son. “Yazan. Wake up.” There was silence, and his eyes widened. “Yazan!” He called out, trying to stir the boy with noise. Again, there was silence. Amro’s head snapped back to Yusraa, a rage she had never seen before boiling up within his face.

“What did you do to my son?”

With his hand so tight around her throat, she was unable to speak- unable to tell him that Yazan was more than alright, and simply out from the sleep powder. If he had awoken when Na’man was passing, there could have been serious problems. Yusraa’s world began to spin a bit.

“WHAT DID YOU DO TO MY SON?” He roared into her face, cutting off all breathing and now strangling her with an intent to kill.

As the edges of her vision began to darken, her hands lowered and she fished out the metal shard, using what little strength she had to slash at his face. Her weapon hit it’s mark, a small, clean cut now seeping blood from his brow, across his nose, and down his cheek. At first, he had no reaction; such a superficial cut was laughable, at best.

Unfortunately for him, it was too late when he realized just what had happened. His grip released, dropping her to the floor to gasp out for as much air as she could take in, and he stumbled back, eyes filled with fear. “No,” he choked out, then dropped to his knees as foam began to form at the corners of his lips.

When Yusraa looked at him, regret filled her face and she cried out a stifled sob. As soon as she could stand with stability, she swept over to where Yazan lay, scooping him up into her arms. As she made for the window, the last look she had at Amro was him writhing on the floor in pain as the venom swam through his veins.

Despite her best efforts, she could not truly hide who she was in the streets. So many times, Na’man had paraded her around. Stares of confusion and surprise bore into Yusraa as she carried Yazan, and she knew she did not have long before a guard was alerted to something amiss. Luckily, she had a plan.

She knew she could not take the young boy with her, as the chance of him being harmed was too much. Never would she want to put him in harm’s way, and going as far as she was, she knew that the chances of him surviving was slim. It was by chance that she heard word from one of Haashim’s other slaves, of a place that was rumoured to be a secret orphanage. It was a place that children could be dropped off to escape the future of slavery. To many, such a place was just a dream- a story to give mothers hope. To Yusraa, however, she believed.

Following the routes along the alleyways to the rumoured location, she found herself before a battered and rather ordinary door. What her attention was drawn to, however, was the small circle with a cross in the center carved at the very corner of the door at the ground. Her small knuckles knocked quickly against the door, and soon an old women opened it, peeking out.

“…who are you?”

Yusraa looked pleadingly towards the old woman, frantic to get out of public eye. “Please let me in. I need to talk to you. I need to see if it’s true.”

The old woman looked to the child in Yusraa’s arms, then back up at her. “I can help you. Come in.” The door was opened, and Yusraa was swiftly ushered inside.

“How is he?”

“He will live. A week’s time and he will be back to himself again.”

“How long until he is able to get up and walk around coherently?”

“I…suppose he could do that in a few hour’s time, though I would not recom-“

Haashim sat with his fingers steepled, at his dining table, frowning lightly as he cut in to interrupt. “And Na’man?”

“Dead.”

“Well, at least something good came out of this,” the slave lord muttered bitterly, letting out a sigh. “What of Matraba and the boy?”

“Our people say she and the boy went to the streets towards the West side of town. She went to the docks where she was lost, but the boy was not seen.”

A small smirk rose on Haashim’s face as he looked to the young man giving him such splendid information. “I know where she took him. These slaves are all the same, you know. They think we are stupid. Take this,” he said as he reached into his robe and pulled out a vial. “There is a small building you will find on the West side of town under the archway beside the Mumak’s Mug. You know the place, yes?”

The man nodded, taking up the vial, awaiting the next orders.

“Good. You will know you have found the place when you see the symbol drawn at the right corner of the door. A cross inside a circle. Go there and take in the boy. The old woman should give you no troubles if you tell her who has led you there. Do you understand so far?”

“I do,” he nodded, eyeing the vial.

“Once you get the boy, take him back to the guest chambers and kill him. Use that,” Haashim said, gesturing to the vial.

“…but he’s just a-“

“I think I know what he is, boy. Is there going to be a problem?” The slave lord turned his head slowly to stare at his slave.

“N-no. There will not.”

“Good. Leave the vial there by his body. I think that will do well. Once you are finished, fetch Amro and show him what Matraba did.”

“…master?”

Haashim stood, moving to tower over the knelt boy. “After you have done so, bring him to me.”

“Of course,” the boy said softly, his eyes low to the ground.

“Think of this as a test. I realize it may be hard, but this is how things must go. This is life. The sooner you accept that, the sooner you will move forward.”

“I understand, master.”

“Do you? Good. Then we will have no problems. Get this done immediately. Before you leave, send in the guard. I have a bounty to issue.”

“At once,” the young boy exclaimed, then stood and made his way quickly out of the home.

Haashim sat back in his chair, steepling his fingers once more as he muttered to himself. “Either I always get the best, Matraba, or no one does.”

Sons of War

The battle had raged on, and Cedoric could feel his body slowly failing him. Each time his spear struck the body of the enemy, it felt as if a part of him was left behind, both mind and body. He was so tired, but he felt the fires of rage and sadness overwhelm his need to rest. The pain that shot across his body from his wounds were but whispers to the screams of revenge in his mind.

Bodies collapsed one by one as the Rohir made his way through the battlefield. Step after step, swing after swing, he buried himself deep within the swell of combatants. It was not until he was completely surrounded did he realize the error of his actions. It was strangely familiar to him, and yet he could not place just how. Standing in the center of the fighting, Cedoric held tight to his spear and planted his feet, ready to take on any who would make the mistake of facing him.

It was then that each and every person turned to face him. Slowly, he realized when looking upon their faces that none of them were the enemy he thought they were. There before him were the Lossoth that had gathered to take down the Angmarim. Each face was set with an expression of courage, determination, and an intensity that only a warrior truly prepared for battle could have. Cedoric’s spear lowered slowly, and before he had the chance to speak, the myriad of Lossoth began to part ways.

There, striding towards the young man, was a skeletal horse with a matching skeletal Rider on it’s back. The armour of both the soldier and horse was still worn, though it clanged mercilessly against the hard, unpadded bones. When the pair finally came to rest, it was then that Cedoric noticed a necklace strung around the Rider’s neck. His heart sank and stomach dropped, recognizing it as his brother’s. He dropped to his knees, letting his spear fall to the side. As his hands raised to cover his face, he choked out what words he could.

“Ulfric…please…”

What should have been perhaps a terrifying thing to hear for most, was a harsh stab to Cedoric’s heart. It was clearly his brother’s voice, but instead of answering, it simply laughed. The young man shrank against the sound, squeezing shut his eyes while trying to force himself out of the nightmare.

The sound of laughing was soon replaced by a familiar whistling of arrows flying through the air. An explosion jolted the ground beneath their feet, and screams of terror soon rippled across the surroundings. Cedoric looked up in panic only to see the explosions of black powder sending the Lossoth to their demise. Fire clawed at the skin and clothing of the warriors, and the faces that were once set with such courage, were now painted with terror and pain.

Mere seconds went by before the fire had completely engulfed the entirely of the warriors, surrounding Cedoric in a ring of flames and death. Still, he sat there on his knees, knowing that there was nothing he could do to stop their deaths; this was just a horrible dream. With arrows now piercing the armour he had worn, and through the skull of his loyal steed, Ulfric looked down at Cedoric, finally speaking.

“You left them there,” he said accusingly. “Just like you left me.”

“Ulfric, you had passed. You…you were gone…”

“Was I?”

The question wormed it’s way into Cedoric’s mind, and his eyes widened. Had Ulfric truly been dead? If he wasn’t, had Cedoric left him on the field to die alone? He sat there, speechless, the small doubt now eating away at him.

“They weren’t,” Ulfric again accused, his bony hand reaching out to sweep in a gesture towards the burning bodies. “What about the Pelennor Fields? How many did you leave to die?”

Cedoric looked to the Lossoth, the smell of burning flesh now assaulting his senses. Slowly, they began to rise, skin falling away as the flames consumed them. As much as he wanted to look away, he could not, for the shock of what he saw was too much. Now, the faces were not just the Lossoth that had fallen, but they were the faces of other Riders that had been defeated. The collection of his brothers in arms, coupled with the people of Forochel, were now beginning to close in on him.

“You left us,” their voices echoed in sync.

Ulfric’s voice then rose above the others’, deep and full of anger. “You are just like father.”

The moment the words were spoken, Cedoric stood and tried to search for an exit. The people that had surrounded him reached out and clawed mercilessly at him. Flames that had engulfed the bodies had now began to close in as well. Each hand seemed to rip and tear at the young man, and soon the fire was now beginning it’s assault on his body. He screamed, but not from pain or fear. His scream was one of anger and defeat. Little by little, pieces of his flesh were stripped away by flame and hands, and as the world of this nightmare began to fall away, he heard but one last statement from his brother.

“You promised.”

The moment he awoke, Cedoric’s hands found his spear at his lap and he raised it threateningly before him. It took a few moments to realize just where he was, but he soon recognized the lake at Sûri-kylä. His spear lowered when he noted there was no one around him, and a frown crossed his face.

A chill in the air had been eating at his skin, likely the cause for the pain he had felt both now, and in the nightmare. His sleep had been suffering more and more as of late, and he was certainly not surprised to find that he had dozed off while watching the northern lights. Slowly, he stood with the help of his spear, then made his way to a fire.

Cedoric sat down and moved his hands close to the flame for warmth, brows furrowed with the memory of his nightmare still fresh. How many had they left behind to die to those flames? He could not, and did not want to think of it. But there it was, picking at the depths of his mind.

So too did he think of Ulfric. He knew the look on Ulfric’s face before he had left him; the blank expression and lack of breathing was surely a sign that he had passed. Cedoric was sure that Ulfric had been gone. But if he hadn’t? What kind of brother was he to leave him to die alone? The man took a deep breath, doing what he could to relax.

The past days had been harsh, being lost in the snowstorm, and he had much time to think. But now, all there were, were more questions and frustrations. He knew he should be happy to be alive, to have been found. But he could hardly feel anything but anger as of late.

“Is it your intention to kill me, son? If I had lost you too, I…”

His fathers words rang in his mind and his jaw clenched. How many times had Cedoric kept his true thoughts from his father? How many times had he simply nodded his head or said what was wanted to be heard? It was true that he wanted nothing more than to make his father proud. But he could not help but wish he had the courage to speak his mind as well.

In the back of his mind, he knew his father cared deeply. He knew that it would crush him to lose his remaining son. But what he also knew, deep down, was that if such a thing were to happen, his father had the others there to help him. They were like a family. Cedoric had said it countless times, and he meant it.

The emotions that ran over him were brutal, a mixture of shame and anger at himself. He was jealous, and he knew it. His father had left and taken Wraith for the mission of helping people. It was as honorable and selfless as would be expected. However, Cedoric had secretly hated that it happened. The Wayfarers were good people, and he meant it when he said such a thing. He also meant it when he said he was going to join. Though, much to his shame, the jealousy he felt would not go away.

The relationship he had with his father felt different somehow. They had always been close, and when Cedoric came to find his father, he felt the bond rekindled. But there was something there in the way. Perhaps it was his fear of disappointing Godric, or perhaps his jealousy was giving way to an anger he felt towards him. Regardless of what it was, it only confused Cedoric even more. Should he not be fully honest with his father?

There was a crash that snapped Cedoric out of his thoughts, his eyes bursting open and spear once again finding it’s way into his readied hands. As he hopped to his feet, he scanned the area quickly, only to find that a barrel had simply taken a tumble from the harsh winds. After another deep breath, he grit his teeth and muttered softly to himself.

“If I am to be awake, I might as well do something productive.”

After propping the barrel back up, he made his way to a training area, letting his practice cover the building frustrations he had.

Poor Judgement

Cedoric walked along the snow-packed pathways towards the hut, his brows knit. There were a number of things going through his head, but first and foremost was the scroll that had been sent to the Chief. He tried to piece things together, going over all the information he had learned with the others.

More and more, the Rohir felt as if something was missing, and it was a feeling that did not sit well with him. The less the group knew, the more possible it was for dangerous situations to arise. When he arrived at the hut, he pushed the flap to the side and peeked within. Though his father was not there, Wraith was, and she looked to be rather snug upon the fur blankets.

Cedoric stepped inside and began to gather his pack and weapons. With confusion, Wraith sat up and watched him, perhaps a look of question in her eyes. “I need your help,” he explained as he checked over his spear. “There is a courier that left here I assume not long ago. I think they may have information that we could find useful.”

Looking back up at the large wolf, he smiled when he saw her making no move to leave just yet. “You are not going to make me go find him by myself, are you? I trust in your abilities of tracking far more than my own.”

Wraith seemed to think this over, and soon her eyes passed to the entrance to the hut, almost as if posing her own question. Cedoric scratched at his beard as he looked as well, then shrugged lightly. “Father has enough to worry about. We will be back in no time. I really do not think this courier could have gone far.” He paused, then looked back to her. “We really need the information. Any we can gain could be a difference in lives lost.”

He thought back to the bodies of those that had fallen to the black powder, and then to the look on Chief Panja’s face. The Lossoth deserved so much better than the troubles they were facing, and Cedoric was determined to try to help in any way he could. “These people need a chance,” he said softly to Wraith.

A few more moments went by, and finally she moved towards the flap of the hut. Cedoric smiled to her, placing the butt of the spear onto the ground. “Thank you. We will be back in time for the meeting, with or without this courier.”

Their brisk, yet concentrated pace, was hindered by the snowstorm that bit and gnawed at their bodies. Second thoughts of his decision began to nip at the back of Cedoric’s mind the more the snow kicked up and obscured his vision. Even Wraith appeared to be struggling, her body tensely pushing against the winds with her nose low to the ground to sniff for their hunt.

Despite the second thoughts, they continued on, Cedoric’s determination rapidly devolving into stubbornness that would do them no favours. He did what he could to watch around them, spear in hand and used to aid in walking. As he tugged his snowmask up closer to his face, he could not help but think back to his small conversation with Eruviel. Perhaps he should have asked her to come along as well. In fact, he had thought for sure that she had the same idea he did. However, the last thing he wanted to do was trouble her, when it seemed she already had something on her mind.

He was quickly snapped out of his thoughts when Wraith let out a low growl and went bounding ahead. Cedoric grasped his spear tighter and ran after her, finally arriving to find she had the courier by the clothing at his legs. “Do not hurt him,” he called out to her, raising his spear towards the man. “And do not make any sudden movements,” he directed to the courier.

Wraith let go, keeping her body low to the ground as if she would pounce if he so much as blinked the wrong way. “We need to head back quickly,” Cedoric said to Wraith above the roar of the snowstorm. “It is getting worse.”

And indeed it was.

Wraith did what she could to lead them back to the settlement, but it was getting harder and harder to press against the winds and snow. Cedoric frowned to himself, glancing around to see that he could barely see the man ahead of him, and could not see Wraith at all. Nevertheless, they pressed on as much as they could.

So focused was he on their surroundings, that he did not notice the dip in the snow ahead of him that his spear had driven into. It was the briefest of moments in his lapse of attention, but in a land as harsh as this, such a moment was the difference between safety and danger. He tumbled, his feet failing to hold him upright within the deep snow, and soon he found himself on his side.

To him, it was a silly thing, and he laughed it off, standing again. However, his laugh soon turned to silence as he realized that neither Wraith nor the courier were anywhere to be found. What made it worse was the white-out conditions that proved to obscure any sort of tracks they had left behind. His heart sank at this realization, his mind now quickly trying to come up with just what to do.

Should he wander? Where would he go? Should he make noise? Should he stay in one place? His sense of direction had never been too terrible, but with the worsening snow storm, he was helpless to know exactly which way he was going. It was then that he decided to try to head in the direction he thought they had been going.

For what felt like hours, he wandered, moving at a slower and slower pace the colder he got. His anger at himself at his poor decision seemed to warm him and at least give him fuel to keep moving. In what he determined to be dumb luck, he walked right upon what appeared to be a teepee of some sort. From what he could tell, it appeared uninhabited.

Immediately, he used his gloved hands to push snow aside and try to wiggle his way within. It took some effort, but finally he found himself inside and in a place of shelter. His brow raised when he noted just how lucky he was to find what he did within. Not only was there a small fire pit, but there was what appeared to be rations- enough that he could certainly survive in the harsh conditions for quite some time- if he was smart about it.

With his pack and weapons set down, he moved to do what he could to make a fire. His body was frigid and protested against any sort of fine movements, shivers causing him to tremble and drop the flint repeatedly. Finally, the small sign of life of a fire was seen, and Cedoric carefully fed it, huddling close for warmth.

His thoughts first drifted to if Wraith was okay. Was she able to make it back? Did she manage to get the courier there as well? His worry began to eat away at him, and guilt began to set in as he thought of the danger he put her in.

As it began to get darker outside and the temperature began to plummet further, Cedoric had one final thought, murmured quietly under his breath.

“My father is going to kill me.”

Quiet Contemplation: Present Day

Smoke rose within the air, and a familiar sound danced it’s way into Cedoric’s mind. His sapphire eyes opened, looking around the open battlefield. Screams of pain and the last gasps of death seemed to echo all around. Blood had soaked into the ground, the rain causing it to seep into the land’s soil. Though it should have washed away, the crimson liquid only seemed to stain the mud until the entirety of the battlefield was consumed.

All around, the fallen were strewn about. Cedoric gazed upon the casualties, frozen in place. Be it Rohirrim, Haradrim, Easterlings, Variags, Uruks, or Orcs, the sheer number of bodies upon the field was endless. As his eyes swept across to the horizon, he only saw more corpses. No matter where he looked, he saw death and pain.

“Go!”

The familiar voice caused the young Rohir to break out of his stance and turn until he was facing Ulric again. His dear brother stood there, blood gently seeping from each wound he had sustained. His skin was a deathly grey, and eyes were sunken with the appearance of death. Cedoric shuddered in both heartache and discomfort. “Ulfric…”

GO!” Ulfric’s voice boomed out, taking on a darker quality.

Cedoric moved forward to stand eye-level with Ulfric. He looked to his own hand, finding that torn piece of tunic within it. As tears began to roll down his cheeks, he raised it and tried pressing it to Ulfric’s deadly wound at his stomach. “I promised you,” came Cedoric’s voice, soft and breaking.

At Ulfric’s feet, darkened, shadowed hands rose from the soil and began to tug at him. Cedoric looked down and his eyes widened. He went to pull at his blade, only to find that he had no weapon. The more the rain fell, the more the mud began to liquify and sink around them.

As the cries of pain grew louder, the hands tugged harder at Cedoric’s dear brother, slowly beginning to pull him into the blood-soaked earth. “Cedoric!” Ulfric cried out, reaching for him. “Do not leave me here! Do not let them take me!”

With all of his strength, Cedoric grasped at his brother’s arms, but it was no use. The hands clawed and ripped at Ulfric’s legs, tugging him further and deeper down. “I will not leave you! Hold on!” Cedoric’s desperate attempts at freeing his brother grew more and more futile. It was when Ulfric was up to his neck in the murky depths, that Cedoric knew he could not save him.

“But you did,” Ulfric whispered, no longer struggling against the darkened hands. “You did.”

Cedoric faltered in his grasp, his breath ceasing as the words were spoken. Ulfric’s head dipped down fully into the mud, and though Cedoric tried to renew his hold of his brother’s arms, he could not. His hands drew back, thick with blood that had coated them through and through. He looked upon his arms, and then the pit which had consumed Ulric. With his hands rising to cover his face, he dropped to his knees, the sounds of screams now overwhelming him.

“Brother…”

His eyes opened again, this time to the world of reality. Gasping out in short breaths, Cedoric raised from his bedroll and glanced around. His father was still to the side, and Wraith had been curled up beside the man, both seeming to be sleeping soundly. His breathing slowed, the comfort of seeing the two placing him at more of an ease from his nightmare. As quietly as he could, he rose from his place of sleep and placed on his cloak and gloves to step outside briefly.

The rush of cold air was refreshing, despite him not being used to it. It was that same cold air, however, that caused him to realize that the tears within his dream had been real now. With frustration, he used his gloved hands to wipe them away, shaking his head. His steps led him until he found himself at the edge of the waters. He took a slow seat, turning his attention up to the sky.

Each night, he never ceased to be amazed at just how beautiful the auroras of Forochel were. He had heard such stories of them, but the experience of viewing them for himself was that much more rewarding. Though it was subtle, he could even hear the soft hum they were giving off. Taking a deep breath, he adjusted his hood more around his face, then rest his forearms at his knees.

He almost had not heard her, his attentions set elsewhere. But just as she was arriving near him, Cedoric turned his head at the sound of Wraith’s paws padding across the snow-packed ground. Her eyes that were so similar to Cedoric’s seemed to reflect an expression of question and worry. Cedoric smiled a bit, knowing he should not be surprised; she had always been incredibly intelligent, and there were times he wondered if she was even truly just a large wolf his father had found.

“It was just a nightmare, that’s all,” he said softly, opening his arm towards her. Wraith got as close as she could to him, nuzzling her head against his and softly licking at his cheeks. He chuckled, wrapping his arm around the large wolf, hugging her. “I will tell you about it, if you like? Perhaps it will feel better to get off of my chest,” he suggested.

Wraith licked at his face again, then moved her head back to stare at him, almost as if she was waiting. Cedoric smiled, then nodded his head. “Very well.”

It did not take him long to tell her of what he had dreamt. By the time he was finished, she had pressed hard against his body to lean, and renewed her position of nuzzling against his head. Cedoric leaned against her as well, then moved to look out across the water. The sight of the auroras reflecting against the darkened water was an extraordinary sight, and he couldn’t help but smile.

“Ulric would have loved this, you know? And everyone would have loved him. He would have fallen for that woman, Feira, right off the start, too.” He paused, furrowing his brows. “I think it should have been me, Wraith. Ulfric was ready to start a family. He was so much more experienced. It should be him sitting here. Not me.”

Wraith gave him a hard headbutt, which took him by surprise. He glanced to her, using his free hand to rub at where she had hit. The look in her eyes was strangely human, and he could have sworn he saw a flicker of his own mother’s stern look behind them. As quickly as it was there, it was gone, and he looked away.

“It is true. I think of how I should be preparing for a family, and it does not feel right. He had things together. I do not.” Wraith adjusted herself to rest her head in his lap, and he lowered his hand to scratch behind her ears.

“Regardless, I have enjoyed meeting the ones that travel with father. They are an interesting bunch, aren’t they.” He chuckled, tilting his head back to look upon the sky once more. “And the people of Durrow are great as well. I can see why he has stayed so long, duty or not.”

After some minutes went by, he spoke up again. “I believe I have made my decision. After this trip, I will notify father that I will seek to join the Wayfarers with him. I could think of no better man I would want to follow. I do not believe the Captain in the Stonedeans will mind it, considering all that has happened. If all else fails, I can always be called back for an emergency.”

Wraith looked up from Cedoric’s lap, then stood and pressed into him again for what he knew was a desire for a hug. He complied, of course, wrapping both his arms around her. “I think he will be happy to hear it. We can make it a surprise for him. When we step back into the house in Durrow, I will reveal it to him then, away from the others. What do you think?”

Judging by Wraith continuing to press against his hug, she agreed. He smiled and squeezed her. “I will take that as a yes. Come, we should get back to rest, lest he wake and find us gone.”

Cedoric and Wraith made their way back to the hut, and it was not long before Cedoric was back within his bedroll with Wraith curling up at his side. He rest his hands behind his head and closed his eyes. The cold had sent a shiver across him, but it soon passed as his thoughts drifted to happier and much warmer memories.

When he fell back asleep, it was with a smile on his face and a mind set on a decision that he knew would make his father happy.

Betrayal

Yusraa looked down upon the boy sleeping in the pile of blankets, a soft smile crossing her face. She had no sense of time anymore, but she knew it had been quite a while since the child was placed in her care. Her love for him was much like the love she held for her young brother, Rafik. However, Yusraa couldn’t help but feel as if this love was somewhat different. Yazan was not hers, but at times she felt as if he could be.

Each laugh she heard, each tear he cried, every part of him was perfect to her. She had told herself in the past many times not to get close to the children she was ordered to care for, but her heart felt as if it could burst each time she looked upon Yazan’s face. Perhaps it was the love she had felt for Amro that helped strengthen this. Yazan was his child, after all, and Yusraa felt a sense of happiness in the idea that there was some sort of family that she had despite being Na’man’s slave.

Her romance with Amro and her care of his son was like an escape. Each day she grew closer to the little boy, and each time she was able to see Amro, her heart sang louder. When she slept, she was beginning to dream again, her mind filled with visions of finding Rafik, Amro and Yazan at her side. True it was that some of Yusraa’s happiest memories were these times.

Snapping out of her thoughts, she carefully tucked the little boy in, then exited the room, shutting the door quietly behind her. It was still strange to her, these meetings between Haashim and Na’man. However, she was not about to question it, as these were the only times she could be with Amro.

Yusraa quietly made her way down the hall towards the room she and her lover always met. She still could not believe neither Haashim nor Na’man caught on to their meetings, but then again, they seemed too interested in trying to outplay each other. As she passed one doorway in particular, she paused upon hearing her slave name. Cautiously, she pressed to the wall by the door and listened to the voices she was beginning to recognize as Amro and Haashim’s.

“Can Matraba do it?”

“She can. She has been taking that poison like I told her. Where is Na’man?” Came Amro’s voice.

“He demanded a moment with my new slave. Keep it from your mind. I want this done within the week. You are sure she trusts you?” His master asked suspiciously.

“Yes. I could have her do anything. You are going to take good care of her?”

“Oh do not tell me you are actually getting feelings for the woman.”

The sound of Amro scoffing was heard. “Of course not. She is just a body, used and battered. I ask because it would be a waste for all of this only to break her further or sell her off.”

“You are quite ruthless, you know that? No, she will be taken care of. That used and battered body you refer to is a fine one, at that. I look forward to using it myself,” Haashim replied. Yusraa heard the sound of a chair moving to the side. “I must get to the meeting room. I do not think my new slave will last long with Na’man. He will get bored rather quickly. Get things ready to happen. Here’s the main dose for Matraba to use on him. I have already notified the captain you and your son are expected soon. He will get you both from the city with no issue. Just do not screw this up.”

“I will see to it things go smoothly.”

Yusraa stood in shock at the side of the wall, then finally moved as quick as she could around a corner to hide as the men exited to head their opposite directions. She began to tremble, her hand resting to where her heart would be. It felt as if it had shattered into a million tiny pieces. In fact, it was both an emotional and physical pain, one she did not understand.

Everything began to make sense: Amro’s access to poisons was not coincidental, the meetings he and Yusraa had were most certainly set up purposefully, and Amro’s random attention to her in the past, were all the signs of this being a set up. How could she not see it before? Her hand clapped to her mouth as she stifled a light sob, tears flowing freely. Never once had she felt the pangs of heartbreak. On top of it all, the feeling of betrayal was all too familiar and a reminder of how all of this had begun. She could hardly hold herself back from simply collapsing from the overwhelming emotions.

She knew she had to play things right, or she would simply end up right back where she had been for so long. Her hopes of finding Rafik were still there, and nothing, not even heartbreak, would change that. Her mother’s dying wish had been for Yusraa to find Rafik. If she confronted Amro too soon, she would risk never finding out just where it was her dear brother was sent.

Slowly, she regained her composure and put on as normal and passive of an expression she could muster. It was a trick she had learned long ago, thanks to Amro. As she made her way to the room to meet the man she once cherished as her love, she began to plan her next move.

Yusraa learned the hard way that day of just what could happen when giving your heart away.