Reader’s Ramblings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Prologue and Chapter One

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“Bag End : Shadow of the Past” by Donato Giancola

 

Some Dialogue is Better Than Others, or, Gandalf the Grey Uncloaked

There is a homely vibe to the prologue and subsequent chapters preluding Frodo’s departure from the Shire. The prose and description is reminiscent to Lord Dunsany—obviously an influence on Tolkien. This is evidenced specifically in the prologue where he goes over the history of Hobbits.

One feels as though Tolkien has just put down a copy of The Sword of Welleran. The first thing to notice about these chapters is the sheer amount of information given in parenthesis, not something usually found in many fictional novels.

This brings adds something on top of the Dunsany-esque prose and adds to the homely feel of the Shire, as Tolkien puts such information as people and who they are in parenthesis so that the histories of Middle Earth read like quaint little asides. Since such information is conveyed relatively quickly, you only need to know as much as is presented.

Some scenes, like Sam Gamgee talking about the Huorns in the Old Forest, seem odd. Considering Samwise Gamgee had little to do with the story so far, his appearance feels like what should have deleted scene. The narrative grinds to a halt to show these two characters That said, with the information given about him and his companions, it does set up Sam’s character and foreshadows events to come.

The strongest point in this selection is the argument had by Bilbo and Gandalf’s over Bilbo’s possession of the One Ring. There’s a buildup to Bilbo letting the Ring go, and the reader is kept in the dark as to why Gandalf is so urgent about this business. Bilbo’s uncharacteristic actions are shown, rather than told. One merely has to contrast him before the argument with how he acts when the Ring is brought up. It seems odd, before the reader knows the full extent of the influence of the Ring, that Bilbo would embrace such erratic behavior.

And here we see Gandalf’s true power. Not in magical ability as in presence. It could even be argued that Gandalf power lies not in magic, but in words. Gandalf doesn’t even need to resort to powerful spells to frighten Bilbo. All it takes it “If you say that word again, it will be my turn to get angry.” to instill fear in both Bilbo and the reader.

Dialogue such as this is used to great effect in this section. Such as when Bilbo calls the Ring his precious. Any amateur writer would jump at the chance to have Bilbo refer to the Ring this way early on in their conversation. What Tolkien does brilliantly is have Bilbo use this word later, as the argument grows more intense. Calling the Ring precious any earlier  would take all the surprise and worry the reader feels for this character. Again, there is a buildup. Bilbo is perhaps best characterized—or, arguably, the Ring is best characterized, when there is a reference to Bilbo reaching for Sting when Gandalf gets angry. The thought that a hobbit would think to harm a wizard is downright inconceivable—without some magical interference of some outside source.

Say, the One Ring for example?

It can be argued the Ring has a mind of its own, and wants a powerful wielder. If the Ring could persuade Bilbo to kill Gandalf, Gandalf may have set his hands on the Ring, if only for a moment—but that is all it would take.

 

Gandalf in turn, does not do much to demonstrate his full power, aside from threaten to “See Gandalf the Grey uncloaked” (a line of dialogue that does not hold up with the passage of time.) The most he does is make his shadow encompass the room, but his prior calm contrasted composure conflicts with  Bilbo’s angry protests and serves to make Gandalf’s eventual reaction all the more frightening. This scene  establishes Gandalf’s character for the rest of the book—as an old man who will not use magic unless heavily provoked, and even then he will not use it to his full extent. It is shown he does not wish to harm Bilbo, only to scare him.

Even after the resolve, the Ring is still in his pocket, leading to anticipation of the reader as to whether or not he will actually let it go. That alone foreshadows holding of the denouement in Return of the King with the Scouring of the Shire. Even this one scene parallels the rest of these three books. You think the story is over–the tension goes slack only to tighten again a few moments later.

 And when Bilbo does relinquish the Ring there is all the more relief from the reader. Even the prose seems sighs in and of itself, as Bilbo dons Balin’s cloak that was given to him in The Hobbit and goes on the Road with two other Dwarves and sings his walking song. The tension of the scene is lifted, and the reader is shifted to the next day, and back to the homely side of Hobbiton.

Additionally, the passage of the Ring from Bilbo to Frodo serves an allegorical purpose. Gollum repeatedly referred to the Ring as his “birthday present” and it is established that it is both Bilbo and Frodo’s birthday, as well as the fact that Hobbits give other people presents on their birthdays, making Frodo’s inheritance of the Ring a “birthday present” of its own, foreshadowing his descent into darkness as he holds onto the Ring. It establishes a similarity between him and Gollum that will be seen in later books when the two finally meet. The two both inherited the Ring as a birthday present, though in entirely different circumstances. Gollum strangled his cousin to get it, because he wanted it. Frodo got the Ring from his Uncle, despite not wanting it. In this, the two take on a metafictional Gollum-Sméagol duality to their relationship.

The Problem with Serious Fiction

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Many of Martin’s clones seem to think Tolkien’s world is something to enjoy as a teenager. Something you must grow out of. They claim Tolkien-esque fantasy is unrealistic while making a conceited effort to make all their characters despicable. Because that’s what realism is. The Ned Starks of these novels who are fundamentally good people are seen as rarely as the grey morality of Gollums in the Tolkien Clones.
To that, I would say that black-and-blacker morality is juvenile. Just as the 2003 version of Marvel comics’ Daredevil was juvenile.
People are quick to critique Tolkien because for being unrealistic. They demand so much grit and realism from their works that many seem to forget that they’re reading fantasy.
Of all genres, fantasy has the most potential. Fantasy is the genre in which you can do anything you want. And you’re demanding fantasy novels “evolve” towards realism?
Have they forgotten that realistic fantasy is an oxymoron?
The Martin Clones love to poke fun at Tolkien Clones. The same people who deride them for being unoriginal refuse will unquestioningly accept world after world of fantasy societies in the mold of a High School understanding of Medieval England.
And that’s the problem with a lot of modern, lighter stories being labeled Tolkien Clones for surface elements. How close does Wheel of Time, Lord Foul’s Bane, The Fionnavar Tapestry or any of the other Best Tolkien Clones come to Tolkien?
These claims are ridiculous. It is equivalent of saying watching movies from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and saying, “No, I want more movies like the 2003 Daredevil. Superheroes can’t be fun. They have to be serious.
Fantasy is a genre you can do anything in. Your Elves can be as powerful or weak or tiny or tall or nonexistent as you want. You can base your world off of England or create a nonsense world where the laws of physics go out the window. You can do a mix of both! (Just please, if you’re not writing Alice in Wonderland, stay consistent with the rules you establish.)
Don’t let the demand for grim, gritty and realistic fiction stop you from writing the story you want to tell. Don’t let the urge to go against what’s popular dissuade you, either. Nobody wanted Marvel to embrace the silliness of superhero comics until movies like Iron Man came along. Don’t let someone tell you that fiction has to be serious in order to be taken seriously.

Realistic Fantasy is an Oxymoron

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A few days ago, I was talking with a friend of mine who consumes fantasy novels at a rate I would not have guessed was possible had I not been witnessing it for twenty-one years.
“I want to write a story about Elves,” I said.
She was shocked. “You can’t do that,” she said. When I asked why, she began a lecture on how such concepts are outdated and that fantasy has “evolved” past that. She took it so seriously, that I felt I had to address it.
Anyone who has scoured the internet for even the slightest of genre advice knows that there is a lot of information regarding clichés and what to avoid so a writer can know what to do in order to please readers. Seriously. There are a lot of these..
The subtitle of this article is an inversion of this, which is that prompted me to throw my hat in the ring regarding Grimdark Fantasy—the idea that realism in fantasy is better—an inherently ridiculous statement.
Many disagree.
Grimdark fantasy authors are seen as the evolution of modern fantasy writing. They boast characters of gray morality and ambiguous sides. But what I have read seems little better than something in the vein of The Sword of Shannara or The Iron Tower trilogy. Except now, up-and-coming writers are using George R. R. Martin as their springboard instead of J.R.R Tolkien.
What separates Mark Lawrence from the often-maligned Terry Brooks and his Lord of the Rings ripoff, The Sword of Shannara?
Lawrence used George R. R. Martin as his jumping off point as much as Brooks used Tolkien. Both Lawrence and Brooks took the basic plot of the bestselling fantasy saga of their, both both simplified the core elements of the respective books and both of them used a post-apocalyptic setting to make it sufficiently different.
I am being tongue-in-cheek, here. Brooks infamously copied scenes wholesale for The Sword of Shannara and changed the mildest of details. Lawrence only borrows from Martin in broad swaths. I draw these comparisons only to further a point which will be illuminated below.
Ultimately, them being better at hiding the fact that they are taking as much influence from Martin as they are that does not change the fact that these books are as much Martin Clones as any given book with Elves is a Tolkien Clone.
But the reason Martin Clones are taken so seriously while Tolkien Clones are not is because they write a much more serious form of fantasy. Grimdark is grown-up fiction. Serious fiction. Yet even the concept of grey morality is laughable in many of these ripoffs. There is no black-and-white morality. Only black-and-blacker.
Many people praise Martin Clones because of their how seriously they take themselves. No fun allowed, this is serious fantasy. It’s like in the early 2000s when every superhero film had to be extra dark because people still saw comic books as kids’ stuff.
But Tolkien never attempted to be realistic. Tolkien approached his works with an aim to mythify a history for England. Read The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and come back to me about how seriously it takes its battle tactics.
Does realism make a story inherently better? You can find the answer to that in the follow up: The Problem with Serious Fiction

An Exercise in Genre

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As genre becomes more acknowledged in the wider writing sphere, it also becomes less important.

Let me explain.

Many people before me have stipulated that genre is nothing more than window dressing: that you can tell the same story you’re telling in one genre in any other genre. This is because the elements of genre are all different pieces of furniture and the reader is looking in through the window. So when you rearrange the furniture, the reader sees a different room, but you see all the same stuff that was there before.

To demonstrate this, I’ve taken a story I’m currently working on, a vignette about made-up Merry Men in service to Robin Hood, and made it into two different stories, all while it remains largely unchanged: what follows is its Crusader version, as well as its fantasy version, also called The Lyre.

[Please note, you will probably see this story in its final form next week when we get back to actual stories.]

The Lute and the Lyre

Lord Alaric had a talent for making his slaying into songs.

We had reached his principality of Dera in Outremer after a small skirmish with Frankish knights who had tried to assail us. By the glory of God, we won the day.
Presently, he played his lute for the three of us. His fingers wove about the strings, making them do twirls as they sang out their notes.
He had taken the the serving girls Myla and Dianna to bed with us. He had requested they share our chambers upon reaching our stronghold. He told me he did not wish the nobles of Outremer to discover our secret. With such an arrangement, they would not be like to discover the truth.
Myla and Dianna held each other in a bed across the room from us. Fingers of moonlight filtered through the tent, but they were mostly hidden beneath a wolfskin blanket, and they were half-listening to Alaric music. The rest of their attention was focused on the touch and smell and taste of the other.
I laid my hands behind my head and listened to his playing. Alaric had a talent for making music breathe and talk and tell a tale. For a time I thought that there must be a fifth member of our company.
The last echoes of his music faded, and we sat in silence. It felt as if something were missing from the world when Alaric stopped playing. Even when Dianna spoke, there seemed an emptiness that stayed with us.
“What news from Jerusalem, my Lord?”
Alaric looked away. He poured himself into the simple task of wrapping his lute in white linen and returning it to its red-brown trunk. “There is talk that Lord Raynald of Châtillon  will begin on the morrow,” he said. “He wishes to protest Guy of of Lusignan’s ascension to the throne of Jerusalem.”
“And attacking caravans is the best way to do this?” I asked.
“Forgive me, my Lord if I speak falsely,” Dianna said, “But is this not intended to capture wealth and prevent Saladin from annexing the territory God has given us?”
“That is so. Attacking caravans is but a means to an end.”
“Will I have to come with you?” I asked Alaric.
“Do you want to?”
“No.”
“Then you don’t. You’re my squire, Berinon. If you do not wish to come with me, nobody will dare to question why.”
Myla glared at me from across the room. “What is a squire who doesn’t fight?”
I looked away, all too aware of the heat on my face. I wished to answer, but words have never come easily to me, even when I know what it is I want to say.
“Don’t be too harsh with Berinon,” Alaric said. The look he gave her was there and gone and I wondered if I imagined it when I had blinked. But I turned to Myla and, seeing the fear on her face, realized my lover’s anger to be true.
“Don’t be so hasty to bring your wrath down upon this girl!” I clutched a fistful of his tunic and shoved him back onto our bed, and then swung my leg up and over his hips. “Save that for the savages you’ll meet in the morning.” I spoke the words against his lips and put mine to his neck. The smell of him—the taste of him felt familiar, yet distant. He was detached from me and all else, and so these senses came back muted. “My Lord? Alaric? What’s wrong?”
“He doesn’t want to kill savages,” Dianna observed.
Alaric arched his neck to look at her. A cord there drew taut. “If you are to speak, Dianna, speak plainly.”
“Myla, too, has spoken plainly,” she observed. She kissed her. “And yet after threatening her for this you ask me to do the same?”
“What is it you would say?” Alaric asked.
“Only that your character is made of sterner stuff than killing savages.”
“Lord Raynald called it a strong tactic.” Alaric said.
I sifted his hair through my hands. “You do not have to like it. You aren’t required to take joy in the songs of slaying.”
He sat up and our lips met, and he fell back upon the bed. “I don’t,” he said, “Yet need to prove myself to the gentry. I cannot do this if I refuse to take action in the simplest of battle tactics. It is a battle that is not a battle.”
“A massacre?” I suggested.
He twisted his hips and I fell off him, then he rolled onto his side to embrace me. “Yes,” he said, “But if I cannot prove myself best at even that, I will never achieve greatness. The other nobles will begin to doubt me.”
“They already do,” Dianna said from across the room. She put a hand over Myla’s mouth to put a temporary halt to their activities. “I would not put it past the other nobles to do the same. They rule vast lands and peoples, and you are merely a newly-made Lord of a small principality..”
Alaric opened his mouth to reply, but I steered his head toward me. “Pay her no heed,” I said, “She seeks to irritate you. Nothing more.”
Three heartbeats passed, wordlessly. Alaric’s hold on me grew tighter. And, after a time, he asked, “Why don’t you join me in the raids? Don’t you think I’ll protect you?”
“Would that you could,” I replied, “But my fear is that you will be too swept up in battle to do anything. I shall be left to some chance arrow, and what will become of me then?”
“I would kill whoever it was who hurt you,” he said. He held me by either side of my face. My sight tunneled towards him, and the only feeling in the world was his callused hands. I felt blisters shaped like long small olives rough against my cheeks. He pulled me forward so that his nose touched mine. “I would desecrate them, that not a soul among their kin might recognize their face, and your killer would look so horrid, even the Devil himself would shrink back at his presence, so he would be a pariah in Hell and spend eternity in damnation!”

I felt the moisture of his forehead, and his hands felt like kelp.
“Someone is in love,” Dianna said.
“This is true,” Myla added. I could feel their gaze on us. “Madness has taken hold of him.”
“He’s not mad—” I muttered. The words bobbed and floated amidst my throat, and only their semblance managed to pass my lips. “He’s not mad. Just—just passionate.” I grappled for words, and settled on “Go.”
Both drew a breath in unison.
“There are other rooms, and other beds to share..”
“And if there are no beds to be found?” Myla’s eyebrows went taut as bowstrings.
“I’m sure you can find other ways to warm each other.” She seemed to catch my wink, because she grinned like a crescent moon. The two rose and left the tent.
Alaric’s arms were pincers on my sides when he wrung one hand over his wrist. He traced his fingers along me and nodded to himself. “We should sleep,” he said. “We have a long day ahead of us.”
I’m not sure if he knew the turmoil I would be facing. Despite my leave of battle, he was not wrong.
I awoke to blades of sunlight piercing the tent, and then Alaric’s silhouette granted me a brief shade. The sun splayed out behind him in golden arrows so that for a moment I feared he had invoked the wrath of our God, the Lord of Light.
I threw myself upon him. His welcome was that of sun-warmed steel and a smell of sweat and leather. Alaric bowed his head “I did not mean to wake you,” he murmured. “There are a few final things I need to gather.”
He only had to look at me and I knew what he needed. I scrambled across the tent and snatched his helmet, still cold in the corner. As I retrieved it, he sheathed his longsword. He left his axe behind. He would be riding by horse, and he needed a longer blade.
He sheathed his sword as I came over to place his helmet over his head. He leaned forward for a goodbye kiss, but when I closed my eyes he did not smell like Lord Alaric. This hero was alien to me.
Yet when I heard him whisper, “I will return,” it seemed that all his armor had melted away, and he was Alaric again.
But I had to open my eyes.
I saw him in gleaming armor before he turned, silhouetted against the sun. His red cloak licked the air as a sudden wind came up. I decided to take it as a sign of God’s favor at the least.

With the wind came the cheers. The men of Dera loved their hero. Their Lord Alaric, who was not mine. I did not follow him out of the his chambers nor to the gate. I could not hear him over the roar of the crowd. Soon enough, in a rumble of hooves I knew he was gone.
I fell back onto my bed, and an instant later sleep took me.
I awoke, expecting Alaric, but found that it was only mid-afternoon. Cobwebs cluttered my brain as I climbed out of bed, and I shook them free when I exited the chambers.
The hallway echoed with footsteps of me and what servants were left. I heard noises behind a nearby door and started to approach, but I heard Dianna and Myla inside, and left them to each other.
But as I turned to leave, I heard Myla call, “Berinon!”
I dashed inside the tent. The two were dressing in the soldiers’ tunics that were much too large for them. They looked like children playing dress up. I managed to gather my thoughts enough to say, “You called?”
“You’re concerned about Alaric,” she said, “Why is that?”
“What does it matter to you?”
She shrugged. “Can I not be curious?”
“Alaric will not die,” Dianna added. “Do you not trust in God? That should bring you at least some reprieve.”
“No.” I denied them all further response. I’d let them make of it what they would. I turned to leave the tent, but they followed.
“You can’t just leave us with that alone! Come, there are only the three of us here for the day. Join us in conversation, if nothing else!”
They followed me into Alaric’s tent, where I turned heel and addressed them, “What if Saladin turns up at one of these raids, hm? What if he were to make a mistake in battle? What if a chance arrow pierces his mail? What then? Well? What then?

“You are in love, the both of you,” Myla’s teeth clamped down on her grin.
“No wonder you chose to stay behind,” Dianna observed, “You think too much, such that the raid would be over the moment you bared your steel.”
“Away with you!” Heat flared in my face. I felt a shout rising in my throat and forced it back down. “You seek only to agitate me.”
“Come, Berinon, do not take our jests to heart. We’ve been deprived of entertainment this day, all alone with nothing to do. Let us have our fun.”
“You’ve had it.” So saying, I rushed forward and reached for the door, that its fall would bar them from me, but before I had even a chance to crowd them out of the tent, Dianna spoke.
“Do you know why Alaric took us?”
I froze. “He’s told me it was to hide—to hide us.”
“There’s hardly a need for it. It’s the worst kept secret among your people. They only tolerate it since Lord Alaric’s Crusade cleanses his sins, and picking a new Lord of Dera would be too much trouble than it’s worth.”
“Then why would he bring you?”
“I bear his son.” The words were ice in my stomach. “He will be named Godwin and will be called the Bringer of the Storm. God himself has told me that he will be raised amidst war, for Saladin’s army can only fall when my son takes up sword and shield upon the battlefield.”
Myla, too, seemed shocked by this. We both shrank away from her, while she stood with such straight backed pride that if she were to challenge our Lord, He would doubtlessly bring His wrath toward her.
“You’re lying.”
“There is no comfort in lies.” This was her only response.
“Is this true?” Myla asked.
“Ask Alaric, should you think me false.”
As if her words were prophecy, there came an unmistakable sound of horse hooves. Moments later, Alaric boomed through the door.
Dianna clutched at him and hThe er hand came away bloody. She bid this strange hero to tell me about his son.
His breastplate was painted red and his golden hair was dark with sweat and blood. He had lost his helmet and shield but kept his sword. A flap of something I didn’t want to think about danced on its end. He tossed the blade aside.
For my part, I tried to tell him of Dianna and Myla stirring up trouble, I begged him to return them to to the kitchens. But he did not seem to hear any of us.
Then I realized my mistake. I was caught up in my own fears and perils, and had forgotten his. “You killed them.”
“I did.” He said nothing more, but opened his red-brown chest and took out his lute. The white linen fell off of it like a sinking wave. I scrambled over to him. To be by his side. But he spoke not a word to me.
Instead, he played the most beautiful song I’d ever heard.

And below, the story is further translated to fantasy:
The Lyre
They say the best men can make their slaying into songs. They say that men who can take a massacre and weave it into a mournful ballad are to be admired.

They’re wrong.

I learned this soon after we had set up our camps on the beaches of Eld. Come nightfall, Prince Alaric of Balor was making music for me and the other two.
He played his lyre for the three of us. His fingers wove about the strings, making them do twirls as they sang out their notes.
He had taken the women Myla and the princess Dianna from his time on Keor Island. He had requested they share our tent when we reached the country of Eld. His reasoning had been that he didn’t wish the kings to discover our secret. With the arrangement Alaric had made, the men would not be like to discover the truth.
Myla and Dianna held each other on a bed of wood covered in animal hides. Fingers of moonlight filtered through the tent, but they were hidden beneath a wolfskin blanket.

They reserved only some of their attention to Alaric’s music. The rest was focused on the touch and smell and taste of the other.
I laid my hands behind my head and listened to his playing. Alaric had a talent for making music breathe, talk, and tell a tale. For a time I thought that there must be a fifth member of our company.
The last echoes of his music faded, and we sat in silence. It felt as if something were missing from the world. Even when Dianna spoke, there seemed an emptiness that stayed with us.
“What news from the Council of Kings?”
Alaric looked away. He poured himself into the simple task of wrapping his lyre in white linen and returning it to its red-brown trunk. “The raids begin tomorrow,” he said. “The High King wishes to see which soldiers should prove best. He wants to know who to keep close beside his own guard when he turns his sights to the Eld to retrieve his wife.”
“And attacking farmers is the best way to do this?” I asked.
“Demoralizing Eld is the best way to do it,” Dianna said.
“That is so.”
“Will I have to come with you?” I asked Alaric.
“Do you want to?”
“No.”
“Then you don’t. You’re my right hand, Godwin. None would dare protest if I decided to keep you here.”
Myla narrowed her eyes at me from across the room. “What is a soldier who doesn’t fight?”
I looked away, all too aware of the heat on my face. I wished to answer, but words have never come easily to me, even when I know what it is I want to say.
“Don’t be too harsh with Godwin,” Alaric said. The look he gave her was there and gone and I wondered if I imagined it when I had blinked. But I turned to Myla and, seeing the fear on her face, realized my lover’s anger to be true.
“Don’t be so hasty to bring your wrath down upon this girl!” I clutched a fistful of his tunic and shoved him back onto our bed, and then swung my leg up and over his hips. “Save that for the farmers you’ll meet in the morning.” I spoke the words against his lips and put mine to his neck. The smell of him—the taste of him felt familiar, yet distant. He was detached from me and all else, and so these senses came back muted. “Alaric?” I said, “What’s wrong?”
“He doesn’t want to kill farmers,” Dianna observed.
Alaric arched his neck to look at her. A cord there drew taut. “If you are to speak, Dianna, speak plainly.”
“Myla, too, has spoken plainly,” she observed. She kissed her. “And yet after threatening her for this you ask me to do the same?”
“What is it you would say?” Alaric asked.
“Only that your character is made of sterner stuff than farmer-killing.”
“It’s a strong tactic. A good idea for any siege,” Alaric said.
I sifted his hair through my hands. “You don’t have to like it. You aren’t required to take joy in the songs of slaying.”
He sat up and our lips met, then he fell back upon the bed. “I don’t,” he said, “Yet I am to be the best of the men of Morgad. I cannot do this if I refuse to take action in the simplest of siege maneuvers. It is a battle that is not a battle.”
“A massacre?” I suggested.
He twisted his hips and I fell off him. He rolled onto his side to embrace me. “Yes,” he said, “But if I cannot prove myself best at even that, I will never achieve greatness. The other kings will begin to doubt me.”
“They already do,” Dianna said from across the room. She put a hand over Myla’s mouth to put a temporary halt to their activities. “I would not put it past the other kings to do the same. They are kings after all, and you are merely Prince of Balor.”
Alaric opened his mouth to reply, but I steered his head toward me. “Pay her no heed,” I said, “She seeks to irritate you. Nothing more.”
Three heartbeats passed, wordlessly. Alaric’s hold on me grew tighter. And, after a time, he asked, “Why don’t you join me in the raids? Don’t you think I’ll protect you?”
“Would that you could,” I replied, “But my fear is that you will be too swept up in battle to do anything. I shall be left to some chance arrow, and what will become of me then?”
“I would kill whoever it was who hurt you,” he said. He held me by either side of my face. My sight tunneled towards him, and the only feeling in the world was his callused hands. I felt blisters shaped like long small olives rough against my cheeks. He pulled me forward so that his nose touched mine. “I would desecrate them, that not a soul among their kin might recognize them, and your killer would look so horrid, even the Lord of Bones would shrink back at his presence, so he would never enter the World Below nor walk amidst the Mournful Dead.”
I felt the moisture of his forehead, and his hands felt like kelp. If I were to close my eyes I would have imagined his mother, Mistress of Waves, had taken hold of me.
“The Lord of Love has struck this one,” I heard Dianna from across the tent, but the moonlight no longer touched it, so I could not see her.
“This is true,” Myla added. I could feel their gaze on us. “Madness has taken hold of him.”
“He’s not mad—” I muttered. The words bobbed and floated amidst my throat, and only their semblance managed to pass my lips. “He’s not mad. Just—just passionate.” I grappled for words, and settled on “Go.”
They drew a breath in unison.
“There are other tents, and other beds to share..”
“And if there are no tents to be found?” Myla’s eyebrows went taut as bowstrings.
“I am sure you can find other ways to warm each other.” She grinned like a crescent moon and then left the tent.

Alaric traced a finger along my face and nodded to himself. “We should sleep,” he said. “We have a long day ahead of us.
I’m not sure if he knew the turmoil I would be facing. Despite my leave of battle, he was not wrong.
I awoke to blades of sunlight piercing the tent, and then Alaric’s silhouette granted me a brief shade. The sun splayed out behind him in golden arrows so that for a moment I feared he had invoked the wrath of the Lord of Light.
I threw myself upon him. His welcome was that of sun-warmed iron and a smell of sweat and leather. He bowed his head “I’m sorry to wake you,” he murmured. “There are a few final things I need to gather.”
He only had to look at me and I knew what he needed. I scrambled across the tent and snatched his helmet, bristling with horse hairs.

He sheathed his sword as I came over to place his helmet over his head, its white horse hairs tumbling down to the small of his back. He leaned forward for a goodbye kiss, but when I closed my eyes he did not smell like Alaric. This hero was alien to me.
Yet when I heard him whisper, “I will return,” all his armor melted away, and he was Alaric again.
But I had to open my eyes.
I saw him in gleaming armor before he turned, silhouetted against the sun. His red cloak licked the air as a sudden wind came up. I decided to take it as a sign for the Lord of Wind’s favor at the least. And with the wind came the cheers.
The men loved their hero. Their Alaric, who was not mine. I did not follow him out of the tent. I could not hear him over the roar of the crowd. Soon enough, in a rumble of hooves I knew he was gone.
I fell back onto my bed, and an instant later sleep took me.
I awoke, expecting Alaric but found that it was only mid-afternoon. Cobwebs cluttered my brain as I climbed out of bed, and I shook them free when I exited the tent.
The cookfires were still smouldering outside, though they were more smoke than heat. I collected bits of driftwood for a new fire upon Alaric’s return.
The tent flaps stirred in the wind–all except one, closed as tight as the Gates of Eld. I started to approach, but I heard Dianna and Myla inside, and left them to each other. But as I turned to leave, I heard Myla call, “Godwin!”
I dashed inside the tent. The two were dressing in the soldiers’ tunics that made them look like children playing dress up. I managed to gather my thoughts enough to say, “You called?”
“You’re concerned about Alaric,” she said, “Why is that?”
“What does it matter to you?”
She shrugged. “Can I not be curious?”
“Alaric will not die,” Dianna added. “Do you not trust in the gods’ favor? That should bring you at least some reprieve.”
“No.” I denied them all further response. I’d let them make of it what they would. I turned to leave the tent, but they followed.
“You can’t just leave us with that alone! Come, there are only the three of us here for the day. Join us in conversation, if nothing else!”
They followed me into Alaric’s tent, where I turned heel and addressed them, “What if the Princes of Eld turn up at one of these raids, hm? What if Alric were to make a mistake in battle? What if a chance arrow pierces his mail? What then? Well? What then?
“The Lord of Love has struck you both,” Myla’s teeth clamped down on her grin.
“No wonder you chose to stay behind,” Dianna observed, “You think too much, such that the raid would be over the moment you bared your steel.”
“Away with you! Both of you!” Heat flared in my face. I felt a shout rising in my throat and forced it back down. “You seek only to agitate me.”
“Come, Godwin, do not take our jests to heart. We’ve been deprived of entertainment since we left Keor. Let us have our fun.”
“You’ve had it.” So saying, I rushed forward and reached for the tent flap, that its fall would bar them from me, but before I had even a chance to crowd them out of the tent, Dianna spoke.
“Do you know why Alaric took us?”
I froze. “He’s told me it was to hide—to hide us.”
“There’s hardly a need for it. It’s the worst kept secret among you Morgadians. And I doubt some of your fellow kings would even reproach the idea of joining you in such activities.”
“Then why would he bring you?”
“I bear his son.” The words were ice in my stomach. “He will be named Fortuneave—the Bringer of the Storm. He will be raised amidst war, for the Mistress of Waves has said Eld can only fall when my son takes up sword and shield upon the battlefield.”
Myla, too, seemed shocked by this. We both shrank away from her, while she stood with such straight backed pride that if she were to speak of the gods they would doubtlessly bring their wrath toward her.
“You’re lying.”
“There is no comfort in lies.” This was her only response.
“Is this true?” Myla asked.
“Ask Alaric, should you think me false.”
As if her words were prophecy, there came an unmistakable sound of horse hooves. Moments later, Alaric threw aside the tent flap and entered.
Dianna clutched at him and her hand came away bloody. She bid this strange hero to tell me about his son.
His breastplate was painted red and his golden hair was dark with sweat and blood. He had lost his helmet and shield but kept his sword. A flap of something I didn’t want to think about danced on its end. He tossed his it aside.
For my part, I tried to tell him of Dianna and Myla’s attempts to provoke me, I begged him to return them to Keor. But he did not seem to hear any of us.
Then I realized my mistake. I was caught up in my own fears and perils, and had forgotten his. “You killed them.”
“I did.” He said nothing more, but opened his red-brown chest and took out his lyre. The white linen fell off of it like a sinking wave. I scrambled over to him. To be by his side. But he spoke not a word to me.
Instead, he played the most beautiful song I’d ever heard.