7. Chapter 6
- Chapter 6 -
Two years later
"But whyyy?" Aeve whined, pushing her voice into higher tones. Her own ears suffered at the sound, but her heart soared with hope as her mother winced. Maybe she would yield, this time. Whining had gotten Aeve a few victories in the past and, even though she was now older and supposedly beyond such tactics, she still used the annoyance she could cause to get what she wanted. Aeve smiled in anticipation: this year, she would attend the Aston fair.
"I said no." Her mother's brows drew together in a stern frown. Setting down the heavy iron pot, she shot her daughter a sharp glance. "And don't give me that look, child. My word is final."
Aeve gasped at the unfairness of such a decision. "But…" she spluttered, "but Kilian will be going! Why can't I?"
Her mother's face grew serious. "Your brother will go nowhere, just like you, if that is of any consolation to you."
From his spot beside the fireplace, Kilian blanched. "What? Why not?" He sprung to his feet. "Mama! You let me come, last time…"
"And you promised I could come along this year!" Aeve chimed in.
There were few things that she and her brother ever agreed on; usually, she and he fought like cat and dog, contradicting each other only for the pleasure of thwarting the sibling's plans. But now was not the time for petty grievances. A serious battle was being fought, and the enemy of her enemy could become her ally, as the saying went.
"Please, Mommy?" Aeve said sweetly, switching tactics.
She looked into her mother's eyes and smiled. This was an act proven infallible over the years, succeeding where head-on demands and tantrums had failed. And so Aeve frowned when her mother only eyed her shrewdly as she stood in the middle of the kitchen twirling her skirts. She was trying to seem young and innocent and sweet; but all Aeve felt was stupid.
"For the love of all, no!" her mother snapped, turning away from Aeve and back to her cooking.
Aeve could see that her mouth was drawn into a thin line, her features hard and forbidding. From her experience, she could see that her mother's words were, indeed, final – and her heart sank with disappointment. There would be no fair for her this year, no showing her new dress – perhaps Sveyn would have gotten to see her so pretty, and would have liked it? Perhaps he would have even told her so… Of course, Ida would probably have been prettier – and Aeve felt a pang of jealousy at the thought - but there was no way of knowing, now. Not when she was to be locked up in her room during such a marvellous, entertaining event.
"Fine," she grumbled, dropping her act and turning on her heels just as Kilian huffed and plopped himself back down by the fireplace to stir the embers with a vicious energy.
Kicking the door open, Aeve stormed outside and sank onto the porch, demonstrating her outrage to all those who could see it. She did not bother to straighten her skirts before sitting down like she had been taught to, and their creases poked uncomfortably into the back of her thigh – but to pluck the fabric from beneath her would look undignified, and undoubtedly ruin the dramatic image she wanted to convey. She was to personify slighted righteousness and broken hope; for Aeve fancied that someone would see her thus and be moved, and plead – or threaten – with her mother to let her attend.
She watched forlornly as people passed her by without sparing her a glance, their boots squelching on the muddy road. Faces were grim, she noted, shoulders slumped and stances wary. The men seemed either quiet, cautious as they went on about their business, or unusually boisterous. A group in particular attracted her attention – they were lounging against the wall of the tavern, speaking loudly; shards of booming voices reached her with the wind. Then one of them looked in her direction and smiled.
It was not a friendly smile, Aeve decided. It was wrong, wicked – not even because of the man's yellow, rotten teeth or his scarred face. It was not because of his armour – Aeve had only seen someone wear one once, long ago; it was a rare sight in their village - and not because of the long sword he wore at his side. He seemed tall, and she was sure he would tower above her should he come closer… Only Aeve did not want him to. She wanted him to look away, for his look on her made her feel uncomfortable. Her skin crawled and Aeve understood that she was scared of him. Not like that time in the forest, where she had feared for her life – no, it was an undefined, gripping disgust.
"Mama!" she shrieked, jumping to her feet, just as her mother ran outside, calling her back sharply.
Aeve scrambled back into the house, closer to the warmth of the fireplace and to the familiar safety of her mother's arms. And as she looked up, she saw the look in her mother's eyes – it transpired in her tired smile, and her shaky, crushing embrace – she was scared too.
And suddenly Aeve realized that something was wrong all around them. The strange men that hung around the tavern of late, speaking of territories and ancient debts, glimmers of blades under their cloaks; the battalions of armoured soldiers that crossed the settlement from time to time, their numbers increasing day by day… And the whispers, the hushed whispers amongst the villagers – all those were messengers of ill. What she used to find entertaining and interesting appeared in another light – a village she did not recognize anymore, an unwelcome change.
Indeed, times had changed – that much Aeve had understood, even if she could not put her finger on the exact nature of the alteration. A shift in the atmosphere, a stiffness in the people's demeanour were the first signs. Even her parents' faces had betrayed this nervousness, as ordinarily merry and carefree gestures became more measured, and smiles grew tense. Aeve was not allowed to run free anymore, not in the village or into the woods. Her playgrounds had been strictly defined in hushed, strict voices, and she found herself confined to the house or its immediate surroundings, and only in the clear of day. Chores had abounded, some unusual and ridiculously made up to keep her occupied, but Aeve now knew better than to question her orders – questions made her parents angry.
And there was Sveyn. Aeve found herself thinking about him more and more often, wondering where he was and whether he was allowed to roam free while she was locked up in the perimeter around her home. Had he gone into the woods, of late? Had he regaled the other children with new stories? Was Ida amongst them, and did she gape so prettily at his tales? Was Aeve missing out on some precious moments that should have been hers? Her ever-ticking mind weaved the most annoying pictures to her eyes: Ida, smiling and twirling those blond locks of hers around a finger – what a stupid habit! Sveyn and Ida, side by side under the golden branches; Ida, edging towards him as she got scared, and that knowing smile on his lips…
That was a new habit of his. Aeve, who liked to think she knew him well, was annoyed and a strangely worried that she had not managed to figure out its meaning. It was something important, she felt it; but it never seemed to be meant for her. Sveyn had grown distant with her, overly polite and somewhat embarrassed. Aeve knew what it meant. She was yet a little girl to him, his best friend's sister and a necessary accessory to Kilian, especially since the beginning of the troubled times. And the realization pained her more than she cared to admit. She had longed to become something more in his eyes, an individual of her own. Hence the unnumbered fights, the contradictions for the sake of showing some personality – unlike Ida, once again. But he was happy and his usual self around Ida. Not around her.
Even Kilian knew it. He had taken to teasing her about her fondness for Sveyn's stories, suggesting that she sought him out to ask for more – as if Aeve would ever stoop so low! He would laugh at her expression when he compared Ida's prettiness to her own plain looks. Those words hurt – and Aeve, usually so deft at finding a scathing reply, would be left speechless. She would make to hit him and he would deflect her clumsy attempts at retaliation, laughing harder. Then mother would scold him and he would cease, leaving Aeve with crimson cheeks and an open wound in her heart.
Why were boys so cruel?
Sulking, Aeve looked up from her usual place on the steps, where her mother could see her, and noticed Sveyn trudge towards the woods after his father, a bucket and a fishing rod in his hands. Part of her welcomed the sight, toying with the idea to pretend to wander into that direction as well and strike up conversation; but another piece of her feared his newfound aloofness. Surely he would feel disgusted about her attempts at dogging him, and forced to make polite conversation at the same time, if only for the sake of his father's presence and his friendship with Kilian. Aeve swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat at the realization that she had to let him walk away and, burying her hands in her skirts as a protection from the morning cold, lowered her eyes.
She froze, jerking her head up in disbelief. But here he was, jogging towards her, bucket and fishing rod entrusted into his father's hands.
His smile was sincere, for once, and Aeve felt herself responding. The needy part of her basked in his presence, purring like a well-fed cat.
"I got something for you, you know."
"Really." Aeve repressed the pang of anxiety at the mention of a present. She had had her share of such gifts with Kilian, long ago, until her violent reaction to his latest "present" and the memorable correction her father had given Kilian. That time was over now, and they were both older, but Aeve still remembered the instant where she had leaned in, and…
"You will like it," Sveyn assured her, worry crossing his face for an instant. "I picked them myself," he added after a second, puffing his chest out in pride. "It's the prettiest ones I could find."
Aeve felt something stir inside her chest; elation, yes, and pride that he had thought about her at all. He had bothered to find her a present, and with no reason too – surely it meant something! Biting her lip in anticipation she shifted on the step, trying to edge closer to Sveyn, who was searching the pockets of his trousers. I bet he never gave Ida gifts, she triumphed inwardly.
"They might be a little crushed," he mumbled in apology, "But they should be nice all the same. Ready?" he grinned. "Close your eyes."
Again, that pang of fear; but this time it was stifled quickly by her joy, as she nodded readily and reached out for the present. Sveyn's hands, warm and a little rough – Aeve's heart skipped a beat as they wrapped around hers – closed her fingers around a bunch of cool, thin stems. They felt fragile in her hands, and soft, a little worn.
"Smell them," Sveyn whispered, so very close to her face.
So Aeve leaned forward, her nose brushing the delicate petals, breathing in the fragrance… And froze in shock. She knew that smell! Oh, she knew it well, and her stomach twisted in dread. Her eyes flew open, her fingers opening convulsively as the offensive flowers tumbled to the ground, to Sveyn's feet.
"How could you!"
There were no words to express her anguish right then, as she wiped her nose in reflex, smearing the pollen across her face. White buttercups lay in the mud, half-trampled in her hurry to get away from them. Aeve could feel her eyes starting to water, but those were not tears of rage or betrayal. White buttercups… Such a small, innocent flower, rare and precious and pretty, and so deceivingly cruel to her.
"I… I…" Aeve's vision swam as her face began to swell. "I trusted you! And you were just making fun of me!" she shrieked, her voice hoarse as the swelling reached her throat. She lowered her eyes to the finger she had pointed at Sveyn in accusation; it looked fat, gruesome.
Sveyn was staring at her in horror; he seemed to have realized the consequence of his actions, and that his prank had gone way too far; that it had gone bad. "I didn't know, I swear! I had asked…" He stopped suddenly, his face growing pale. He was staring at something behind Aeve, clenching his fists.
"I had asked a friend."
But Aeve did not want to hear anymore of it; and above all, she did not want him to see the monstrous thing she had become: red, puffy, crying uncontrollably. She remembered Kilian's words all too well; she was not pretty, but right then, she had become horrible. "I hate you!" she wailed, turning on her heels and fleeing back into the house. "Mommyyyy!"
From the threshold, Kilian was staring at the scene in bewilderment; Aeve pushed past him and, sobbing, threw herself into her mother's arms. Never again would she trust him. Never again would she desire his attention. He only brought her pain and humiliation and, from this day, she would erase him from her life.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.