In the valleys of our hills there are flowers fair and bright, and maidens fairer still; but neither flower nor lady have I seen till now in Gondor so lovely, and so sorrowful.
-What do you fear, my lady?
-A cage. To stay behind bars until use and old age accept them and all chance of valor has gone beyond recall or desire.
Ceri drew herself away from the long, gray strip of narrow road, which wove through the forest, a small hiss escaped her lips. Above, great towering spires rose the city of Anvard. Ceri peered warily around. She had not remembered civilization in a place like Archenland. But now she stood, a ugly road slashed through her path, and she wondered whether to pass it or stay on her side of the road. The more she looked on it, the more she loathed it. Indeed, she wished on it only destruction.
Perhaps. She thought gleefully to herself. Perhaps I am able to destroy it! She knelt where she stood, unsheathing her dagger and stabbed it swiftly into the gravel.
“I will destroy you,” Her voice was venomous and low, and she tore at the dirt and stone with her fingers until they bled. She saw the road not inanimate, but a beast, rearing and falling upon her. At last, the misty vision passed, and she controlled her swift anger, and crouched back on her heels, wrapping her cloak tightly around her chest, tears of confusion and pain in her deep, blue eyes.
She knew suddenly she did not fear the road, nor loath it. It was a passing insanity, which she had bore her whole life. For a moment, she almost loved to great gray path, as she watched it wind forever on. She placed a bloody hand upon it, smiling gently.
But when she looked up again, she saw a figure, a approaching figure in the distance, and quickly took back her knife, holding it almost fondly in her hands, ignoring the blade. The figure grew closer, and she knew it would only worsen her situation if she ran. She bent her head, saying nothing, not daring to look up.
He was gentle in bearing, and a lover of lore and of music, and therefore by many in those days his courage was judged less than his brother’s. But it was not so, except that he did not seek glory in danger without a purpose.
“I like working intensely, then going away and thinking about it, working out why it didn’t work and then coming back to it. It makes the work richer, I think.”
The man was broken—so terribly broken, that Ceri’s eyes began to fill with tears. He staggered from her, and she started forward to help him as he stumbled.
“I have started, and I shall finished,” she murmured, answering him, “It is my duty to help those in need,”
The cold around them was sharp enough to sting. The wind and icy snow was whipped into their faces and Ceri’s eyes watered and smarted, dry and rimmed in red. Quickly, grateful for the shelter of the tall pines, the woman helped the man under their sweet-smelling leaves.
“I-I cannot be helped. Lu-Lune what have you…done.”
Those words dug into Ceri’s heart, and she shuddered. Lune? What did he have to do with it? No, she knew. She had seen his past. She had seen what the king had done. It wasn’t very different from her past.
“There is hope for every soul,” she chided him, though she knew her words were empty to the desperate man.
“How foolish of me,” she mocked herself, “To grant aid to a man, when I cannot help myself!”
Beside her, still struggling, the man was whispering, and she concentrated on his words. A hut? Will it be empty? She nodded,
“We will go then, milord—but you must help me; you must help my find my way…Keep up your strength.”
With that, she changed their course—a sharp one hundred and eighty degrees, and headed North.
He helped her. As was left of his strength he guided them both through the forests of Archenland, past towering pines similarly clothed in alabaster splendor, to stark deciduous bows appearing like great bone towers rising from the cold, sloping earth. The wind relented not, howling its displeasure at the disturbance of its kingdom, biting with dry, icy fangs at their skin and eyes until tears, moist, soft, and warm slipped down to freeze upon flushed cheeks. His fair head dangled from weakness, but he lifted it when her gentle voice inquired of the way. He would point, or whisper in her ear directions to decide their path, breathing though his chest grew increasingly tighter. These woodland reaches were his home. His companions had been the emerald, clattering leaves touched with life by the warmth of spring, yet these bleak figures resembled ghosts. Was it that they truly did grope like shadows, horrible and impeding? Or was it the blurriness that obscured his vision?
The overcast sky above them grew darker, as if a great sleeping giant had thrown further cloaks across his firmament bed. The night would be bitter. But they continued, plodding where he led and she followed, until before them rose a rude hewn structure, gnarled and brown, but seemingly homely to the shivering beings. Andrew gestured, far too exhausted to manage words, as Ceri and he shuffled forward. Flecks swept across the roof of the cabin, cascading with fury into drifts beneath the eave, while the gale carved them, shaping the hills into images that paid homage to its splendor.
Andrew stumbled forward, with assistance, until they came close enough to thrust open the portal and enter. Gaping shadow yawned before their joint vision, consuming them as they shifted within, the bang of door echoing in the prince’s ears. Darkness. A thrill of fright seized his heart and sent it pounding in his ears, for he was sure he could imagine Lune creeping in the corner, awaiting him to nod off so he might finish his vengeful task. “I-” His legs failed him and he slipped from Ceri’s arms to the dusty floor, colliding with the floor boards with a thud, panting despite the plummeting temperatures without. Her bandages had sufficed for the journey, but something warm was trailing down his ribs and he knew it was blood. “M’lady…” He shivered, “I-I’m sorry.” His breath seized and allowed no air to escape pale, parted lips. Azure eyes, so clear, so desperate, met her gaze in the mellow light of the cabin. They were sorrowful and agonizing, piercing, but they fluttered closed, a prelude to death as, with no more words, he crumpled.
Ceri let him fall to the worn, wooden floor, hopeless and breathless, “Milord,” she knelt by him, laying her hands on his bleeding side, “Milord, you must not be sorry,” she begged, but she knew he could not hear her.
She worked frantically then, finding bindings for his rotting wounds. She could not touch him long, lest she begin to see his remorseful past. She wondered if any light was left in him, any memory of warmth and hope. A silent sob escaped her lips, and she felt weariness creep through her.
“What can I do for you, milord?” she wondered, desperately, warm tears beginning to stream down her face. They fell on the prince’s leather jerkin, mixing with the blood and running down the creases of his robe. She breathed in the biting air, and rose to her feet again, kindling a fire in the tiny fireplace, warming her stiff fingers gingerly. She glanced back at Andrew, wondering what could be done.
She stood again, looking around her. In the far corner was a shelf full of bottles and spices, and she quickly gathered as many useful ones as she could. A shallow dish was resting on the floor at her feet, and scooping it up, she rested by the prince again.
“Andrew, milord,” she whispered hopefully, watching his eyes flutter, “Andrew, you must drink.”