A Nest of Snakes

“You’re sure you want to buy it? You’re mad, you know, but I’ll take your gold if you really want me to.”

The Bree-lander was answered by the sudden heavy thud of sacks of coins hitting the table in front of him. His face alighted with a sort of sorrowful glee at the sight of his payment and immediately placed his fingers upon the bags, checking their contents.

“I am sure,” the darkly clad man answered in a voice of firm certainty as he looked down upon the other, watching him count the coins. “Are you certain you wish to sell it, Arden? It was in your family for a long time, I hear.”

“Aye, I am…” Arden answered with thinly veiled pain. “Brigands murdered them all. It’s been a few years since, and I hardly go up to the house at all anymore. This place… it’s just too painful to be here anymore. This is enough to get me anywhere I want to go. I hear the beaches near Dol Amroth are beautiful year-round. Think I’ll buy me a nice spot there and take up fishing. Who knows.”

Several minutes passed between the two men as Arden counted the payment. Eventually he nodded his head in satisfaction and collected all of the coin back into their sacks. “That’s it then,” he spoke as he lifted his eyes to meet the gaze of his buyer. “The house is all yours, Valthier. Let’s go down to get the deed finalized and sort the taxes, then I’m on the next boat South. You’re sure you don’t want to go up and see it first?”

Valthier glared down at him with certainty in his gaze. “I am.”

————————————————————————

The journey into the hills surrounding Starmere Lake was longer and more arduous than the simple walk into the woods to his cabin. It was better this way, however, and the location kept him far more secluded from others than before. Valthier commanded his horse to come to a stop as the hill-top manor came into view. As he stared at the frame of the large house he began to take in deeper and deeper breaths, uncertain of how he should react to the swelling feeling in his gut.

He eventually slid from the saddle and left his horse, Nightmare, behind. A short walk around the expansive yard lead him to an old stone fence that separated the property from the perilous cliff it rested on. He gripped the barrier, glove against stone, and peered out over the northern Bree-fields below. It came to a surprise to him that he could see the abandoned Lowater farm from here, or at least part of it that was tucked away in the distance.

This manor, this perch, was perfect he thought. A nest for the snake.

The key to the front door of the manor inserted easily enough into the lock, and the door opened with similar ease. The craftmanship and shape of this new home was far superior to that of the worn, shabby cabin he had been staying in. The halls were dark and dusty; the windows were covered in a thick layer of dirt that kept out most of the light, though a few rays struggled to shine through and provide a small amount of lighting to the otherwise uninhabited structure.

There was plenty of furniture, furniture that had been there for years and held the dust to show for it. As Valthier’s eyes glazed over the setting he was struck with a sense of nostalgia like an arrow to the heart. He remembered it all. He remembered the family that lived here, and how he and his brigand allies took their lives several years prior. He remembered how they pleaded for their lives, but in the end it proved fruitless.

He heaved a heavy sigh that was sourced from the furthest depths of his gut and turned his back on the manor for now, for it was empty and needed filling. One snake was hardly a nest, after all.

Posted in Valthier | 3 Comments

Grave Encounters 2

No matter how many times a snake sheds its skin, it is still a snake.

The cabin in the woods was a familiar sight once again. It was empty, quiet, and a little colder. Occasionally a sudden chill would race along Valthier’s spine and he wondered to himself if that was his father, or if it was merely nothing and his father had gone just like the rest of them.

It is better this way.

That was what he kept telling himself at least. It wasn’t truly better for anyone, not really. The cycle had continued, which meant he knew what to expect in the coming season. Blood and death. His or another’s, it did not matter to him.

He was lonely again, but perhaps he had never stopped being so, even surrounded by people he thought of as friends. It had been a long time since he had gone to see Callumn, and so he decided after sundown that he would go.

—————————————–

Valthier made his way into the Bree graveyard under the veil of night, the only announcement of his arrival being that of the snow crunching beneath his boots with every step. From a distance one would not even know it was him. He was shrouded by a thick, dark cloak and hood that he held close to conceal himself in the darkness. Of course he always wore a black cloak, but he never truly attempted to hide himself in it.

He came to the only grave he ever visisted and reached out with a gloved hand, dusting the gathered frost from the gravestone until Callumn Mossfoot’s name became clear to read again. Valthier kneeled, and with only a small amount of hesitance he began to speak to him.

“I’ve done it again, Callumn. I pushed everyone away, just as Lihn said I would. Najwa… my sister, Rose, you… Lihn. Lihn… she claimed to have fallen in love with me, and that it brought her pain to know I would never feel the same.  I never even acknowledged that she had admitted to it. What is wrong with me?” he asked in even tones with only a slight hint of well-guarded pain within the words.

“I bet my father is laughing at me as I speak. I do not want to be like him, Callumn, but I already know that I am not. I am worse than he ever was. My life is full of regret,” he continued without pause. “And yet I continue to do things that cause me to feel the same sting. Why do I do that? I used to blame him, my father. I used to blame anyone I could, but I know I am the only one responsible for it.”

The grave was, of course, silent. However, this did not matter to Valthier, and having someone to speak his mind to, even if they were dead, came to him as a comfort. He couldn’t speak to anyone else about this, he had tried and failed.

“I believe it is time that I finally move on from this place. I must find a way to kill my father for good, and there are people here I do not want to see harmed. They all get hurt around me, they always have. I seem to invite a danger that I cannot get rid of. The… frightening thing is, Callumn, that I do not think I want to be rid of it. Is that strange?”

Suddenly the flow of words ceased, and he merely remained kneeled in front of Callumn’s grave, staring blankly at the epitaph for what could have been hours it seemed like. Valthier bothered nothing and no one during his rare nightly visits, and he was still uncertain if the grave digger ever even noticed him. Surely he did.

Eventually, he spoke again. “I wish I could change places with you. If nothing else, I wish it was your brother and not you that had died. We did not have to go back for him. He abandoned the family, not you. It is not fair, Callumn.”

Posted in Valthier | Leave a comment

I Hate You

The cabin was silent again now that his sister and Sadie had left earlier, leaving Valthier alone with his thoughts. Was it really his father? It must have been, he thought, since the details were all correct. She was even able to describe to him exactly how he killed his father, a haunting thought, even more than the idea that his spirit, ghost, could still be watching over Valthier. His father tried to kill him, and in the process endangered Sadie as well. This could not be left to stand.

The floorboards creaked and moaned beneath his boots, breaking the silence as Valthier stood from the bed. He glanced down at his hands, which were bare and worn, tired even, then clenched them into tight fists. Every small feature of his face began to tighten as well as an unsettling amount of anger started to surface. He nearly snarled before suddenly searching the empty spaces of the cabin with his gaze, then called to it.

“How could you?” His once idle hands firmly gripped the back of the small wooden chair that was kept near the bed, then hurled it across the room, strong enough to shatter the simple woodcraft against the wall.

“I hate you!” He barked in his rage as though its intended recipient was listening. His words easily drowned out the sound of the shattered wood hitting the floor, carrying beyond the cabin and into the surrounding frost-covered forest. “How could you do this to your family?!” he cried, but no one answered.

The cabin fell to a sudden and short-lived silence again, even the forest around him listened quietly. It was not enough, he thought. He needed to be heard, his anger needed to be felt. Without looking he began to attack his very home, hands lashing out to grab things to throw. The sharp sounds of clay pots and plates breaking against the walls mixed with the heavy thuds of wooden furniture being turned and tossed, creating Valthier’s very own orchestra of fury. Perhaps his only regret was that none were there to hear it.

He thoughtlessly made his way into the living room, where he struck the table and chairs there with his boot, sending them each to the floor, then he found the bookshelf to his left. There were not many books there, and those that were he had found already present when he discovered the cabin, having been left behind by the previous occupant. A swift motion of his arm saw most of them to the floor, all but one, which he reached out to take in his hands. His fingers flexed, digging into the cover briefly before sending it soaring aimlessly. The sound of glass in the window shattering caused him to pause, briefly, as though something clicked in his mind.

He could feel the well of frustration inside him begin to drain, but before it was gone he searched out for one final release. What he found was the small, weak bed that he had given to Najwa, but at the time it was not something that belonged to Najwa; it was only another victim in his path. One hand found the headrest, the other placed underneath, and with a thunderous roar he lifted it from the floor. Upon striking the wall the wooden frame splintered, leaving the bed no longer useable. The cabin was a mess, broken, beaten, and now it reminded Valthier of himself.

While malicious thoughts remained, his body grew tired and returned to its weakened state in the absence of rage. It was then that Valthier felt the pain at his side, and when he glanced down at his side he noticed the bandages wrapped around the injury to his abdomen stained red with fresh blood. He dropped to his knees, then collapsed with his back to the wall as he clutched his side. Heavy breaths and grunts of pain were now the music he created for the cabin, and his song continued for some time before he called out once more in a weary voice.

“I hate you.”

Tears escaped his eyes before he could close them. He sat there quietly amidst his destruction.

Posted in Valthier | 1 Comment

Hello, brother.

He was alone inside his secluded little cabin, sitting on his bed in nothing but a pair of trousers, save for the bandages wrapped around his abdomen. Najwa was working, and Lihn must have been looking after some poor children or stray cats trying to keep warm in the winter. The only light in the home came from the small fire he had brought to life in the hearth, and apart from the crackling embers there was no noise throughout the home, to surrounding woods silent. It was peaceful, until someone knocked on the door.

With mild discomfort from the wounds in his side, Valthier stood from his bed and began to approach the door, but not without first grabbing his sword just in case. After swinging open the door, and allowing a burst of cold winter air to enter, he parted his lips in quiet awe at what he saw.

“Hello, brother.”

Staring him in the face was his sister Aerelin,  the one who kept him alive after Sadie’s mishap in the mountains to the north, and the one who had only come north to hunt and kill him.

“What are you doing here?” asked Valthier.

“You know why I am here,” she replied, an air of unmistakeable confidence in her voice.

After some slight hesitance Valthier opened the door further, stepping aside to allow her entry. As she wandered into the small home, Valthier set aside his weapon and closed the door behind them.

“This is it?” she asked condescendingly. “It looks worse on the inside.”

“It is all I need.”

“And it is so small,” she said, looking to the single bed nearby, Najwa’s bed. “I am surprised those two women still live here with you. They must truly like you.”

Valthier looked on with confusion. “How did you–”

“I’ve been watching you,” she said suddenly, cutting him off before he could finish. “It does not look as though there is any room for me.”

Still confused, but now surprised as well. “You are staying then,” he surmised, sounding yet uncertain.

Aerelin traced her finger along the simple wooden dresser nearby, then turned to face him. “I am. I finally decided against killing you, brother, at least for now. I’ve come to keep an eye on you.”

Aerelin was answered in silence. There was nothing more that was needed to be said, as the two understood one another perfectly. There was no warm embrace and very little eye contact. To any other they might have appeared to hate each other, and perhaps in some ways that was true, but this was an important moment to each of them.

“I will get us some wine,” he said, then disappeared into the back of the cabin.

Posted in Valthier | Leave a comment

The Diary of Varidia Clarke -Humble Beginnings

*The book before you is simple, brown-leather bound and tied with thin leather strips. Stamped into the cover are the letters V.C.*

My name is Varidia Clarke, daughter of Willa and Arden Clarke of Bree-land, owner and author of this diary. What is written here will tell my story, the story of a small town girl taking on the world, including all of the places I’ve seen, many of the people I’ve met, some of the deeds I have done, all in hope that I may read this to my children some day, just as my father did for me. Before I begin, I would like to thank my friend Eruviel for suggesting I write this, and my father for inspiring me to be more than what was expected of me, and to follow my heart.

Where to begin? I was born the youngest sibling of four with all older brothers, in a small merchant family. You could say I was babied since I was the youngest and only girl, but I would say that painted me as a big target for my brothers. I learned quickly how to fight with them and beat them at their own games. I am grateful to my parents for all they have taught me, which was how to survive in this world but also how to enjoy it as well.

My mother held no true profession of her own, but she knew very well how to mend and make her own clothes, how to skin animals and cook them too, and how to provide for a family of six as well as the neighbors from time to time. She knew how to raise a family, and I am very proud to call her my mother. My father was not a true Bree-lander like my mother and came from the lands north of Bree known as the North Downs. Before he met my mother he was a farm hand, and after deciding that life was not for him he took up traveling across the land and even seas to find what he wished to be. Along the way he helped many people in many ways and made allies with them. He learned new things wherever he went and picked up some valuable trinkets and toys along the way. After falling in love with my mother he settled down in her home of Bree-town and began a shop of sorts and sold some of the items he gathered in his travels. He used the connections he made in other lands to set up trade lines that would see his family live a comfortable but humble life, and make a small name for the Clarke family in this part of Eriador.

When I was young he would tell me and my brothers stories about his travels, reading directly from a journal he wrote, just like the one you will be reading soon. This was the kindling of a small flame inside of me that would grow and grow until it was so large that I would finally set off on my own to find my own place in the world, just as my father did. When he found out that his daughter wanted to follow in his footsteps he began to teach her the things she would need to know to survive: how to hunt, how to survive in the wilderness, how to earn money when needed, and how to make allies to name a few. While this is the path I set on, my brothers each set out on their own paths. When my father passed when I was still young, my brother Aston took over his shop and kept the family fed. I will always respect Aston for what he did, even if he ended up being a real jerk. I’ll get to that later.

Skipping ahead several years, I am a young woman in her early twenties with no true profession of her own, just like mother, but with many skills. I still had not gone anywhere I dreamed of because I had to be there for the family. I was a natural with the bow and the game I brought home helped keep food on the table when the shop was not doing too great. I took a few jobs here and there to help keep a flow of coin in the family purse as well, as did my brothers. At this point in my story I am working as a courier for the Watch part-time. Not a lot of messages really need to be delivered in a somewhat peaceful place like Bree after all. It was mostly shift changes or summons. Yes, sometimes I peeked when the letters weren’t sealed. I’m nosy.

It’s around this time that I meet a new member of our family, a young boy by the name of Brannt Greenroot, son of the late Mary Greenroot, previous lover of my brother Aston Clarke. He’s a cute kid, age twelve, and  you can really tell he’s my brother’s son just by looking at him. Unfortunately, as responsible as my brother can be, at times he can also be just as irresponsible. This poor kid comes to us with nothing, saying how his mother mentioned Aston before she died and to seek him out, only to have his father laugh in his face and tell him he is on his own. Don’t worry, I kicked Aston’s ass.

Brannt is smart, despite the poverty he was raised in, and I am proud of him as well. Since Aston wouldn’t help him I decide to take him to see my mother Willa. She always wanted a grandchild and took an immediate liking to him. They would grow to love each other and support one another. Family should be there for each other when they are needed after all.

Posted in Varidia | Leave a comment

Welcome to the Wayfarers

The woman could barely contain her excitement, even as she was being questioned in a very serious manner. She wanted to stand up from her chair and bounce with joy, though she fought herself as hard as she could to stay still and serious.

“A healer, a minstrel, an archer, not a bad cook. You also said you were a scout. You are certainly versatile, which is good, and we are indeed in need of a healer. So tell me, why do you want to join the Wayfarers?” The golden-bearded man sitting across from her watched closely, reading her expressions just as well as hearing her words.

Her chest swelled with a heavy breath before her lips parted.

“Because of my father,” she revealed in a way that sounded almost practiced. “He travelled just like I’ve heard this guild does, but he was often alone when he did. Wherever he went he tried to help people, and he wrote about his adventures in this journal that he gave to me before he died. I spent years reading what he wrote, and I want to see all the places in it and more, I also want to help people, and I can do more good in a group like this than on my own.”

Her hopeful eyes watched for what seemed like an eternity to her as the Commander thought over what she had told him. Her fingers dug into the wood around the edge of her chair, which she gripped steadily in anticipation.

“I see,” the bearded man spoke in what she had considered initially to be an uninterested response. “Now more than ever I need people who are willing to commit. We need to come closer as a group, and it will do no good to introduce new allies that might be prone to leaving whenever something new comes along. Are you willing to commit, Varidia?”

No later than the second his question ended did Varidia begin eagerly nodding her head. “I can! I want to. I- I’ve been watching you all for a while now. I made my decision long before now.”

He was staring at her. It made her feel nervous. What he did next, however, came to her as a sweet surprise. The man stood from his seat, becoming a towering, broad-shouldered, commanding figure suitable for his position.

“Varidia Clarke,” he spoke down to her in a powerful voice fit for leadership. “I, Godric, Commander of the Wayfarers, would like to extend to you an invitation to join the guild’s ranks.” His hand reached out to her in open welcoming.

She snickered. Why did she snicker now of all times? Her nervous state had gotten the best of her. “A bit formal, don’t ya’ think?” The immediate regret in her face from what she had said was far too easy to see, but just as she had sworn to commit to the guild she committed to her actions now and stood up, reaching out to clasp her hand with his. The strength of her grip surprised even Godric as he watched her with raised, bushy brows.

“It is settled then. Welcome to the Wayfarers, Miss Clarke.”

Posted in Godric, Varidia | 1 Comment

The Greatest Archer Ever

“I can’t pull it back far enough!” shouted the young girl as she loosened her hold on the shortbow in hand. Her fingers began to relax just as the string returned to its resting state. Before she could lower the arrow, however, a pair of larger, stronger hands covered her own. Together they had the strength to pull back on the bow, and once it was ready to release an older, male voice whispered to the girl from over her shoulder.

“Now aim, and when you’re ready to fire just let your fingers slip away quickly.”

She did just that. The string snapped forward with a sudden and satisfying twang, followed by the sound of an arrow’s thud as it hit the outer ring of the archery target across the yard.

“I did it!” the girl squealed excitedly.

“You did!” the older voice answered. “I think you have what it takes to become a fine archer, Varidia.”

Large brown eyes framed by brown locks beamed up at the man at her side. “Just fine?” she asked teasingly. “I’ll be the greatest!”

The man chuckled and took a step back before moving toward the target across the yard. “You are confident, as always. Before you can be the greatest though, you’ll have to be able to pull your own string,” he called back teasingly himself. “I am proud that at least one of my children are interested in it. My bow has saved my life on multiple occasions, you know!”

Varidia scoffed. “Aye, Da. I’ll get stronger. Just you wait and see!”

Varidia’s father, Arden, plucked the arrow from the target and returned to Varidia’s side. His hand extended down toward the girl and in its open palm he offered the arrow they had fired together. “I know. Keep fighting with your brothers and you’ll get there quicker than you think, too.”

Another scoff. “Well, if Aston wasn’t so punchable I wouldn’t punch him!” she barked somewhat defiantly, which was met only by another round of laughter from the girl’s father.

“You get your spirit from your mother, you know. I hope  you keep that attitude, Varidia. If you do, well, I’d say there is no limit as to what you could accomplish.”

The praises were met by a large, toothy grin from the young and impressionable Varidia. Small hands reached out and gripped the shaft of the arrow, retrieved from her father’s clutches. “I’ll be a great archer, like you, and I’ll go visit all the places you tell us about, and even more! You can go with me and show me all the things you wrote about in your book.”

Hopeful stares were met by eyes that slowly grew more solemn by the second. Arden hummed appreciately and carefully nodded his head. “I’d like that. Perhaps one day, when you’re older,” he replied proudly.

Varidia’s grin grew wider with anticipation, then fell out of view as the girl turned to aim her bow at the target once more. “I can’t wait!” she called to her father as she nocked her arrow and began to draw.

Posted in Varidia | 1 Comment