Uvatha dismounted slowly, almost falling, holding on stirrup, before decided to walk in direction of barn, with head low. He was back from the town and it was very late, in fact it was very middle of night.
He lead horse inside the barn and unsaddled it with much difficulty, too bothered with dizziness to clean it, just leaving and climbing on the ladder, crawling then on four to his bedding and falling with face down, before turned on back and fell asleep in instant.
He was still snoring slightly, when someone climbed at the ladder. It was late morning and Rowan only sighed, seeing his state, intending to go back, but man sudden opened eyes - weirdly alert, even in such condition.
- Morning. - Rowan turned head in disapproval - You're smelling like destillery...
- I may... exaggerate a bit... yesterday.
- And what happend to your face? - he noticed, young man had dark, bluish bruise, as was hit in the eye.
- I had a little.. misunderstanding... with one guy. - in fact, he was hit in face and thrown out of the inn literally, when drunk started to be too rough for a whore, what one guard didn't approve.
Uvatha started to get up, but was hold by man's gesture.
- No. Go sleep, you'll help me tomorrow.
- I can work...
- I said, stay. I don't want Lora nor my daughter to see you in such state.
- Ah.. ok.
- We don't approve drunkness here.
- Mhm, sorry... Won't happen again.
Rowan disappeared in opening, climbing down in few steps. He left the barn, backing alone for late breakfast.
- He won't come?
- He's... Unwell.
Lora put on table in front of him scrambled eggs and added fresh chives, doing it too rough.
- Oh. I though that state has different name.
- Don't start. Not in front of Brun.
Brunhild climbed on free chair, grabbing the fork and starting to each with appetite when mother put small hill of fried eggs on her plate. She looked at both as asking.
- Uvatha is sick?
- Not honey. - Rowan also started to eat, giving his wife a warning stare - He'll be alright tomorrow, is just a small indisposition. But do not bother him today, alright? You can play in garden.
- She supposed to help me with laundry.
- Yes, help your mother and then you can go.
- Yes, daddy.
Brunhild took more bread, waiting when Lorain took it on own plate to put thick layer of butter over.
- Mom, I can do it myself, I'm not five.
- Stop being mouthy, young lady. Eat.
Doing laundry was the most boring thing, Brunhild could imagine. She preffered any kind of job, finding that one worst. Rubbing clothes on big, wooden tare with gray soap was tiring and when she finally finished, had whole palms cold and reddish. She sighed, putting last shirt inside the basket, sitting back on grass, looking like her mother wrig and rub bigger pieces of clothes, complaining under her breath.
- Why every man has to be such a filthy sloven... Look at those trousers... Could stay by self!
- Mom, can I go? I finished.
- No, wait for me. You'll help me carry that basket. Your mother isn't young anymore, you must help me in house.
They finally finished and took huge basket in two hands, carrying it back to house, which was much heavier now, when all clothes were wet.
They spread all clothing pieces over the sun to dry and back inside to eat something. Brunhil drank a glass of milk and took her sandwich wrapped in linen cloth, waiting until Loraine lay on bed ans started to breath slower. She used to take short nap in afternoon, so Brunhild could make stealthy another sandwicz and slip out of house, without any questions.
She looked around, but her father wasn't visible around the household, probably working in field or garden.
Brunhild run to the barn, entering in familiar dusk smelling strongly with fresh hay, lookin up undecided. She noticed, man's horse was still inside, with bridle still over it's head.
She hesitated for a moment, finally taking thick pack under arm and climbing on ladder steps, seeing the man still asleep, who snored more than usually, having mouth slightly opened. He was shirtless, seeming sweated in hot air in attic, having hair messed and bluish, bruised eye, making her worried.
There was also strange, sour smell in the air, beside sweat, what finally made her understand.
She climed wholly up and sat over the raw planks, in same moment, he opened eyes.
- Good morning.
Uvatha sighed, rubbing eyes, seeming still sleepy and very tired.
- What.. are ye doin' here..?
- Are you sick?
- Yeah... A bit. - he stretched arms, yawning - Know what... Go play, ok? I must... take a bath.
- I brought you some food.
He grimaced a bit, as rather had nausea, thinking won't swallow anything untill next day.
- I said... I'm not very hungry...
Girl was staring curiously at his bluish eye and one-day overgrowth seeming soft, blonde fuzz.
- What happened to you?
- I had a little argue with one guy. - Uvatha was more conscious now, but felt growing will tp puke, looking around for a bucket, groaning silently when remembered, left in downstairs - Listen...
- You were drinking alcohol?
- Yes, damn. Ye never saw man drinking? Why is such a news in this house?! - he noticed, girl bit her lips, seeming worried with his burst, making effort to soften voice - Hey.. Don't worry, ok? I drunk a bit too much, happens sometimes. I'll be ok, but it's not a nice view for little girl, right? So maybe ye leave me to recover and we meet on supper, can be?
- I saw...
She said so silently, Uvatha had to listen carefully.
- I saw few times, but was long ago... Daddy was back like you, but was worse... Mommy was crying and they were yelling on each other.
- Ah.. I see. That's why she don't let him drink? He gets mad?
- I don't know... Last time was four years ago, and he was in bed and said was ill... And mom started to yell, it was his fault Jen died and then he got mad and started to throw things arund... And hit the wall. And then he sat at table and started to cry..
Uvatha listened surprised, not even suspecting one day, Rowan had such problem.
- I see... Ye must have been scared.
- I was... I cried under blanket and no one came to hive me hug.. And then I run to the stable and mom didn't come for me... - she looked at him as willing to cry - I slept there and at dawn daddy came and took me in arms to home... I got cold and was sick for two weeks and then he said was all his fault and was sorry... Since that he never drink again.
- I get it. Who's Jen?
- My older sister... But she's dead, she would be now a married woman. Mom told me it was long ago and she gave birth to Jen soon after married my father, but she died when was fifteen.
- Was some illness?
- No.. Mom said, was a bad man who hurt her and left dying. My father found her and she died on his arms. But he never speak about it. I tried to ask and he left and was back drunk... And they argued hard. I'm afraid, so I never ask anymore.
- Fuck.. That's a horrible story. - Uvatha turned head. He heard and saw similar things, also far worse, but from perspective of little girl it occured to him, was something weighty for her whole life - Come here. - he patted place close to self and when she sat, he patted her head in inexperienced way - Hey, don't cry. It makes bad for beauty, you know?
Brunhild smiled through tears.
- If you stop crying now, I'll show ye somethinng cool.
She wiped eyes, interested, when man sat and started to mess in old leather sack, taking away some paper, folden in many pieces and yellowish from constant use.
- What's that?
- Look. - he spread the map on planks, showing wide lands marked in black ink, with just one red marking over the hill.
- What is this?
- Here's says "Lonely mountain, the dwarf kingdom". - he moved finger up - Here's North. The Gray Mountians. And Mithrin. And here we are.
She was looking at map fascinated, as never saw one.
- And what's all around? All that is our village?
- No, that is whole land of Mithrin. Here, you have village. Here's the town. And all around... The world.
- How big is Mithrin?
- Look here. Map is made more or less in a scale. That means, distances are measured. If ye think that way, from village to the town is 2 hours on horse... So, that distance... - he showed with fingers - Is 2 hours of road. We have, let's see... fifteen distances from one side of Mithrin to western Lake. Thirty hours, so almost three days of road, if ye travel on horse back.
Brunhild was amazed, not understanding how he measured as already got lost, not being literate or taught even basic numbers. She involuntary compared with what her father said about land, seeing clearly he had no clue.
- You're so smart. - she looked at him with admiration, making him laugh.
- Nothing impressive, I guess. My father taught me how to read maps and all that stuff.
- He lives in Rohan?
- No. - Uvatha sudden got serious, as a shadow fall on his face - He's dead.
- Oh... I'm sorry.
They were for a moment in silence, as girl tried to imagine how would it be, to be left alone and travel such wide world by self, sudden asking shyly.
- So.. You have no family?
- And... Do you have wife?
Uvatha smiled finally in rather mocking way, messing her hair.
- Curiosity killed the cat, know? Why do you ask?
- Just.. curious... - girl blushed instantly very hard, looking down, making him amused.
- No, I have no wife. But enough with that, ok? I don't like to speak about past.
She seemed very glad for some reason, regaining good mood totally, forgetting about bad things.
- And how far is Rohan from here?
- Damn, girl ye will kill me today. - he was still smiling though, making her sure, wasn't angry - I don't know exactly, but is hundreds of miles... I travelled for a year, more or less, though with some stops.
- Will you tell me about Rohan?
She already bothered him many times to hear some stories about green, fertile lands, warriors in shiny armors mounting the most beautiful horses, carrying swords and flags with emblem of galloping, white stallion, but never had enough. Man had hundreds interesting stories to share, if only was in mood, mostly easy to convince while was working or eating on fresh air during the day. He narrated in interesting way, making her imagine everything full of colors and details, almost as she was there, liking to listen everything he would say about weapons, horses, people or cities that visited. Only subject he avoided, was his own past.
Uvatha sighed exaggeratted.
- You know all that stuff already and I'm dying here... I have a serious headache. - he was feeling also terrible urge to piss and at same time feeling thirsty beyond measure - I'll tell you something tomorrow, can be? Now, if I can excuse the lady...
He made joking reverence, while girl sighed slightly disappointed, turning to leave finally.
- But you'll tell me one story tomorrow.
- Promised. Now, bounce.
She climbed down and he waited until she left, getting up as well and going fast to piss behind the barn, sighing of relief. Will to puke passed already, so he just went to wash and shave face, taking fast bath, thinking smelled terribly indeed.
He joined family at supper, eating as was starving, speaking no much as Loraine tried to provoke him many times, mentioning his travel to town and recent indisposition.
- Maybe I should make you some coffee. - she said, seeming courteous but her voice was flowing with venom - You look bad, young man.
- There's no need...
- If you would come for breakfast, I would make you some. And eggs. I heard, they help for hangover...
- Lora, enough. - Rowan spoke as tired, avoiding her wife's sight, trying to be polite - Lorain is just tired, she had much work around house, she need to rest...
Uvatha gave woman sideways glance, thinking only thing she needed right now was hard cock straight in ass, but leaving that precious remark for self.
They finished eating and he went gladly outside, taking all animals out of the farmland, leading them to the stable for night.
Then, he went for short walk, following through fields and meadow to the stream that was at borders of paltry woods, with young and twisted trees growing in big clumps, seeming more a thick bushes.
He sat there for some time, staring the water and listening night animals noises, seeing an owl and a fox passing by almost soundlessly, enjoying peaceful nature that always made him feel good.
He got up finally, when moon already was high, going back without haste, seeing house's windows were dark already, what meant everyone went to sleep. He wondered for a moment involuntary, if Rowan fucks his wife sometimes, smiling lazily when imagined that, though never found her attractive for own taste, not ----feeling guilty though for imagine perversions.
Next day was a regular day of work and no one mentioned anymore his last action, making him more relaxed. They worked in field, as harvest already started, sweating hard in midday sun, though days and specially nights got noticeably colder.
It was August and summer slowly ended.
Hard work made both men tired and hungry, so they ate fast and much, going back for bring what collected in huge, wicker baskets and linen bags, carrying then all beetroots and potatoes to underground cell, where Rowan used to keep vegetables and apples for winters, as place keep cool in warm days and never got too cold in winter, unless it happened to be exceptionally freezing.
Brunhild was sitting with her father, helping him care of the dog. It was already healed, just having problems with stepping on broken leg that grow not exactly in proper way, yet dog was happy and run around just a bit slower than before. This time it was nothing serious but few ticks, which Rowan was removing using fingers.
It was early evening and both were outside the house, sitting alone on low steps at door.
- Done... - Rowan removed the last insect, throwing it on ground and stepping over, wiping hands.
Dog moved inpatient, using opportunity and running away happily when man only let him go, jumping in high grass among first evening dew.
Brunhild folded blanket more tightly over arms, as nights were getting cold fast, feeling chill despite summer still lasted, though September approached fast. Her father got up, flicking pants.
- Come, Brun. Let's give him some water and go inside. - girl was watching him pouring water from the well, staring inside as always, as dark, moist pit in ground made her interested by it's mysterious treat - I told you, be careful! Do not lean too much over planks.
- Sorry... - she was still staring inside, balancing over feet.
Rowan messed her hair.
- What you want to see there, honey?
- Mom said once, in the well you can see as in mirror some things.
- What kind of things?
- Things that were, or sometimes, something that doesn't yet happen.
- Oh... - man smiled politely - Your mother likes myths, you know that? But that's not true, it's just a water. And it's not safe to lean like that over the cribwork.
- But she said, saw once a demon's face!
- That's superstitions. There's no demons here...
- But people say... - she looked up finally - Don't you believe in demons, daddy?
- I believe in Valars and Eru. There was also A Dark One, they say... - he hesitated as afraid to speak about, making fast a sign of evil eye to chase away the charm - But it's all an old, very old story. There's no demons in world of our times. There's nothing to be afraid to.
- Uvatha says, we don't need demons, cause people are worse.
- That's a strange belief... Don't listen to that. People are good in general, just some... Some are bad, yes, but those you must avoid. - he seemed uneasy with talking about such thing, sudden looking anxious and older than was, having face shrink - It's cold already, let's go inside.
- Just a moment... - she seemed staring attentively, shouting cheerfully when saw first star reflecting in dark water - Mom said, it brings luck. Or you can see face of future husband, if look in first or last day if harvest.
- If she says so...
They went inside finally and Rowan took his daughter to bed, covering tightly with additional woolen blanket, bringing then hot milk and cookie for her to eat before sleep; custom that Lorain was trying to root out, but now she was asleep already.
Brunhild ate fast, drinking than her milk while Rowan was sitting on bed's edge.
Girl supported back over the pillow, holding mug with both hands.
- Is Uvatha handsome?
- What? - Rowan surprised, shrugging - I don't know... Perhaps, yes. He's tall and young still... Why do you ask?
Girl shrugged too, careful to not drop her milk.
- I was just thinking... I heard Ayleth and Isolde talking while doing laundry on riverbank and the were talking about men...
Rowan raised eyebrows, noting for self to mention later to his wife for her rebuke young neighbors for talking in presence of child.
- And what they were saying?
- Just giggling alot and talked about mister Baldur's son. But I don't like him, he's huge and stinking with sweat and onion always...
- Brun! - Rowan tried to make severe face, but failed amused - Such remark doesn't fit well behaved lady.
- But is true! And he's too huge with that big jaw and beard... And unpleasant.
Rowan sudden got serious.
- He was unpleasant to you?
- Few times.. I was playing close to road but didn't bother anyone and he said, I should look for myself in house.. Or when I went to Ayleth for eggs, he was there and was laughing at me carrying basket... I don't like him.
- Bastard... - Rowan murmured, censoring self fast - I mean.. Don't talk to him, I will.
- I never talk to him.
- But I was thinking, woman say he's so handsome and for me he's disgusting. Uvatha is handsome. And nice.
- I guess, depends. Why... Why you think he is?
- I don't know... - girl shrugged, giving him back empty mug, sudden blushing - I like when he's shirtless, looks nice...
- You're too young for such things! - Brunhild looked up, not sure what he meant, while Rowan narrowed eyes, rubbing chin as embarrassed - Just... Don't tell that to your mother, ever. Alright?
- Alright. She would be mad?
- Mad as hell. - Rowan got up, kissing her head for goodnight - Good night, sleep tight, don't let the bedbugs bite.
Brunhild chuckled, pulling blanket high, always amused when her father said that, who seem treating her still like small kid sometimes, but that never bothered her.
- Goodnight daddy.
Uvatha was working in the field, alone as Rowan rode to the town. He was collecting potatoes, leaned over the ground, with shirt opened and bandana over forehead for sweat won't flow on his eyes.
He stopped working, seeing Brunhild walking slowly in his direction, covering eyes from sun to see better, as something hit him in girl's movement. She walked with head low, seeming a broken doll, making him anxious, wiping hands from soil and walking to meet her.
- Hey... What's up, honey? - he crouched to look better, lifting her chin up - Something's wrong?
Girl looked at him as was almost crying, with eyes reddish as did before.
- No... It's ok... - she paused, looking down, seeming very tensed.
- Hey. - he lifted her chin up again - You can tell me. Someone hurt ye?
- Mhm... - Uvatha narrowed eyes, thoughtful - Then what..? Argue with your mother?
- No. I just... - she had mouth trembling, trying very hard to hold cry, stammering - I'm.. sick...
- I'm bleeding...
Uvatha looked at her attentively, very serious.
- What?! Where?
- I.. I can't tell... I'm so ashamed...
He exhaled lowly, sudden catching what she tried to tell, holding amusement.
- Ok.. Listen, don't need to be scared, ok? That's normal... - he smiled, nodding when she looked up at him, with reddish face, as asking - Yeah... I mean that. A bit early, but is all normal.
- W-what are you talking about..?
- No one told you? Your mother..? - Girl turned head as negative, explicit still not having idea what he was talking about, making him sigh, cursing Loraine from worst in mind - Listen... Maybe would be best if ye go to her with that.
- I'm shy... Wait, you mean... She also has that?
- Yeah. Or had, all woman have unless get... - he wanted to say "to old", but censored self - ... To some age.
Brunhild seemed very tensed still, asking silently with what seem a despair.
- But.. I never saw her bleeding... I thought I was sick...
Uvatha sudden pulled her closer, embracing.
- It's normal, ok? A woman thing, so no one speak about... I mean, growing girl should hear from own mother, I guess. Don't worry.
- It's all the time..?
- No, of course not. Once a month it comes, like a moon.
- I don't want it...
- No wonder. - he messed her hair in usual way, feeling sorry but not sure how and if should talk with her about such things, having in mind, her parents may not like that - But look, men must shave faces. Now, wipe that pretty face and go.
He was back to work, for some reason feeling worried and kinda guilty for expelling girl like that.
He finished earlier than usually, going to pump to wash self, not surprised, when saw girl awaiting him inside the barn. She looked very sad and grumpy, with paler face, sitting over the straw.
- Talked to your mother?
- Yes... - Brunhild seemed apathetic as again cried alot - She was angry, I think...
- What? - Uvatha narrowed eyes, climbing on ladder in two steps and sitting beside, pushing her back slightly - I told ya to not sit with legs hanging... What's up?
- She... Showed me how to deal with... And I don't like at all.... And she told, now I'm a woman and must be very careful with men... I feel as I did something bad and I don't know what...
- Don't listen... - he patted her head - It's just stupid talking, ok?
- But why should I... be cautious with men..?
- I guess, your mother meant, it has much to do with fertility.
He turned eyes.
- I mean, when woman start bleeding, she can get pregnant. - he clarified, deciding to speak in simple way, thinking was better than her mother's idiotic remarks - But of course, no man will sense with his smell, you just behave normally and when get older... Just don't lay with someone, you're not sure.
Brunhild looked at him as scared a bit, not understanding much.
- Eh... Leave that for now, ok? When you get older...
Girl nodded and sudden moved closer to him, looking for safety.
- My belly hurts...
Uvatha hugged her strongly, smiling as it was actually something he could fix without problems.
- I'll make you some herbs, can be?
They walked to kitchen and Uvatha looked around, picking what needed and pouring all herbs with boiling water, leaving for some time to cool down.
Brunhild drank whole mug, despite tea was disgusting and bitter, though indeed after half of hour she felt much better, forgetting totally about painful cramps that had since morning. Soon, she improved mood, though still was disgusted and anxious with own body, not sure also what her mother was thinking, who seemed weirdly cold and distant, as concerned with whole situation. Ironically, it was a man who seemed normal with that, making her feel less lost and embarrassed with self.
Rowan was back at sunset, carrying much things he bought in the town, such as eggs, spices, vegetables they didn't plant and dry meat straps, as well whole alive pig. Brunhild run to play with it, though pig was scared and tried to run away all the time, finally making her give up and leave it in peace. She saw a wobbly light inside the house what meant, their parents were sitting at the table with candle, making her move silently to listen what they were talking about. She heard mother saying about her condition, making her blush sudden and get angry inside as after chilled a bit, preferred to leave it in a secret, vaguely having in mind bother her mother's awkward reaction and what Uvatha told her about fertility.
She entered inside stealthy, sliding to bed, though sudden remembering, should go outside to privy for change bandage, very reluctant to do that was already dark and cold. She fall asleep fast, waking up at dawn and discovering bloodied sheets, grimacing with disgust and running on back of house, chattering teeth while cleaned self and changed, before was back to wash the sheets in cold river water.
The day started awfully, though when she was back to house with head low and reddish, cold hands from washing, she saw mother behaved more normally what made her better. Her father didn't say a word about the issue, what she was secretly afraid of, and all ate a breakfast in normal atmosphere, when Uvatha joined.
It was end of September and days got cold, as autumn in mountains of the North was always rough and lasted long.
Uvatha woke up sudden in middle of night, having a bad feeling. He was sleeping in the barn attic, in darkness as candle extinguished already. It was cold and dark and he didn't know for a moment what exactly made him awake, as it had to be few hours still before a dawn.
He was alert as animal - an old habit from wandered life, listening carefully.
There was a crack of plank under someone's foot and heavy steps followed to the ladder, making him alarmed, looking for a dagger which always was hidden under the bedding. He grabbed it tightly, keeping covered with blanket, folding self to sitting position in same moment, someone's head appeared in attic hole.
- Rowan... - he exhaled with relief - Fuck, man, ye scared me... What's going on? Something happened?
Man didn't answer, only climbed fast, staying straight on slightly bent legs, making him alert again.
- You scoundrel... - he spoke finally, seeming totally out of self.
He sudden uncovered an oil lamp, blinding other for a moment. Only now, Uvatha saw, he was holding an axe in his hand.
- Hey, what the fuck?! - he tried to get up, but was threatened to stay on place, showing calming gesture as tried to make the man chill. He felt own palm holding a dagger was slippery from sweat, knowing good it wasn't much against the axe. Man also had advantage as stood straight, while himself lay in corner where ceiling was low and place was very narrow to move - Rowan, what the hell's going on?!
- Stay in place, don't move! - man made a step froward, all time waving with axe - I know what you are... If you did something to my little daughter... anything... I'll fuckin kill you!!!
- What..? - Uvatha was already fully awaken, not having idea what came into that man, who used to be so calm and stable normally. He couldn't smell alcohol, so it has to be something different - Listen... I have no idea what are ye talking about... Let's talk...
- TALK?! I LET YOU INTO MY HOUSE!!! I let you eat and drink with my family! I let you touch my daughter! You piece of shit!
- I have no idea what you're talking about!!!
- I bet you have! - Rowan made another step forward and Uvatha started to think about try to kick his shin and make him fall, not moving yet from his place - My wife was ALL that time right... I ignored her, I was telling her to leave me in peace, but she knew! Woman have that sixth sense... She knew, we can't trust you!
- I fuckin swear...
- YOU HAVE NO IDEA?! Lora knew! She didn't know everything, but she sensed that, you're not a good man but a bandit and scoundrel!
Uvatha was still motionless, holding dagger more tightly and waiting. He didn't want to kill Rowan at all, but in was needed, he would do it.
- Can you explain to me? What have I done?!
Rowan exhaled loudly, seeming to hold will to murder, speaking with slightly shaking voice.
- I do not owe you any explanations... But I want to hear YOU sayin that... - his hand with axe lowered, though seemed still ready to strike - You think, can fool everyone just coming here... And you did, no wonder they say Mithrin is last place, when all outlaws come when they have no other place to hide from justice! Rohan, huh? You was lying in my own eyes, all that time... See, it was a coincidence, but I have a distant family... A cousin, who traveled to Lake City for settle... He send me an urgent message exactly four months ago and it came today just because it was given by the rider and lay almost two moths in the inn!!! Among other things, he told me a very interesting story...
Uvatha was frozen, with wide eyes. He already knew, what man wanted to tell him...
- ... About a young man, an outlaw, who got famous by escaping Esgaroth's prison! He thought, was as tittle-tattle, nothing more than a story heard from drunkards in the local inn... But what made him stirred, was how locals described his look. Young, tall, with uncommon fair hair and eyes, seeming a rohirrim. Sounds familiar?! - Rowan took a deep breath, again seeming to fall in fury - And coincidentally... My cousin saw such a man on his road! He rememebred him well, because of those unusual traits and wrote to me to warn, cause he knows well to what meanness are capable some people and that particular man was going to be hanged by murder and RAPE!!! - Last words he shouted straight in other's face, almost spitting on him - ARE YOU a murderer and rapist?!
- I... - Uvatha was very pale, looking though in his eyes, answering after long moment - Listen... I am, I did some things... But it was terrible mistake...
- It was, indeed! You liar!
- Nothing I said to you was a lie! Listen to me! - that made man's hand stop, who already took a better grip on axe handle - People change... Do you think, no man deserve a second chance?!
- Cheeky you... You're a filthy rapist and I let you alone with my wife and daughter, so many times!
- And did I ever hurt them?
Rowan sudden rushed, stopping with axe raised in air, few inches from his face.
- You tell me... - he spoke very lowly, almost hissing - You tell me the truth... Lora thinks, you touched my little girl... If that's true... I'll kill you myself, I swear for Valars!!!
A real surprise sounding in other's voice, somehow made Rowan convinced more than anything else, he would say. He made effort to calm down, speaking in same intonation, though instead of threatening, sounding pitiful, as wanted him to deny more than anything else.
- My daughter... Brunhild... Isn't anymore a little girl... She's young woman now...
- I know.
Uvatha almost bit his tongue, explaining fast.
- She told me, ok? No one in that stupid house made her conscious what's going to happen and she run to me, thinking is bleeding to death! She was scared and I'm a healer! Woman were coming to my father with pregnancy issues and menstrual pain, what a big deal?
- But I saw, how she looks at you... She even asked me, if could marry you...
- I think you also like her...
- Of course I do! But not in the way ye think!
- Lora thinks... And saw you lifting her from ground...
- For sake! I was playing with her, she's just a child for me! - Uvatha was startled and sudden very angry, forgetting could die - I'm not a fucking pedophile, for sake! Your wife is perverted if she thinks so!!! - he sat straight, yelling - She could be my daughter! I would never, ever think about fucking a child, heard me?!
Rowan seemed stricken as sudden received a slap, though also relieved, not minding other's burst as it made him almost convinced, he was speaking truly.
- I thought... For some moment... When I got to know, you was a rapist, and added to that...
- Damn... I raped an adult woman, Rowan. I regret, I shouldn't do that... But how can I fix that? Ye cannot fix the past, just run away and keep living... - he was silent for a long moment, as well other man was - I may have done many bad things... But I would never abuse a child like this, understood? I swear. If Brunhild was left without care, I would care for her, as for my own. And I haven't lied to ye... I have a rohirrim blood and I was a horse master... My father was a healer... And my house burned to ashes. I had a harsh time after that... I made bad things and bad things were done to me. Now, ye want to kill me?! Cause won't take me alive... I won't end hanging to the cheer of mob.
Rowan hesitated for a moment that seemed eternity, finally making a step back.
- Alright, I believe you. I hope, I'm not making a huge mistake. - he lowered the axe, making it hang in his hand - I saw, you have a dagger, but didn't try to use it. I won't kill you... It's not my right to judge, if you deserve the second chance... Valars will do that.
Uvatha observed him very closely, not sure if he was speaking truly, though slowly getting relaxed, while man keep talking.
- ... It's because all good you made here and because Brunhild likes you so much... I don't have a heart to kill you, not here, not now.
- That's... good. - he was serious, sitting more properly, adding after some moment - Thank you.
Rowan sat heavily sudden, making other startle, though he seemed just very tired and kinda resigned.
- You know, you can't stay here?
- Yes. - Uvatha gave him fast glance - But I won't move away from Mithrin, if that's what ye want... I have no where to go.
- I got it. But you'll move from that village. You can live in town or other side of country.
- That's fair, I guess... - Uvatha was staring down, at the planks for some moment - Listen... It's cold outside. It's just a few hours to dawn, let me stay for night.
- But you move at dawn.
- Without seeing my daughter.
- Come on... I wanted just say goodbye.
- I said, no.
- I had a gift for her... For late birthday.
- I don't want any gift from you... Better, you keep it, whatever it is.
Uvatha looked down, silent for a long moment.
- What will ye tell her?
- That's not of your concern. - Rowan seemed uneasy, rubbing his hands as was cold, adding after some moment - I'll tell her, you had to leave in a hurry. Nothing more. I'm not doing that for you, but for her. She saw and heard enough bad about people in her short life...
Uvatha instantly remembered about Rowan's first born daughter, being sure his burst was more about that than anything else, yet he didn't dare to ask, as it may cause another fury attack. So he reminded silent, waiting till man disappeared in floor opening.
- At dawn. I don't want to see you here tomorrow.
Uvatha nodded, only now relaxing and letting the dagger fall on bedding.
He was worried, though not that much; he was thinking before about finding some new place as nights got really cold, and it wasn't even yet close to winter. Barn was good in summer, but for next months, he needed solid roof under his head. The only thing that made him upset was the girl, who was only person which treated him like human being and seemed to trust him fully. It was nice and he felt bad for leaving without chance to explain self or even bid farewell, thinking about leaving some letter for her, before remembering she wasn't taught how to read.
He was tired, feeling adrenaline rush to turn into weariness, so he just lay back on his bedding, closing eyes.
He was wondering if Rowan won't be back here to kill him in sleep, or call the guards, but felt instinctively, man will keep his word and leave him in peace until dawn.
He was almost asleep again, when heard sudden soft steps inside the barn, opening eyes instantly and grabbing the dagger, this time not letting self be caught by surprise.
He was waiting for man's head appear in the hole, inhaling though teeth, prepared to strike, when sudden heard totally unexpected noise.
Scared, girlish voice whispered his name in the darkness, repeating again as desperate, making him hide the dagger and kneel to look downstairs.
- Hey... What are ye doin here?
Brunhild looked up, seeming to exhale with relief, climbing fast on ladder.
- I came to see you... I saw my father and... I don't know how to read but I saw the letter and that he was furious... I followed him cause was scared... I was too far, but then I came closer... And heard some part...
Uvatha pulled her up, helping her climb and sit beside, on his bedding.
- What have ye heard?
- Just... That you were yelling at each other.. And then, daddy told you to go away... - she looked at him miserable, not able to hold cry anymore, bursting sudden - I don't want you to go! Don't go, please!
Uvatha exhaled with relief. For some moment he was afraid, she may hear something more.
- I can't. It's your father's house... If he says so, I must go. He has... His reasons.
- But I don't want you to leave!
- Hey, honey... - he was surprised, when girl sudden jumped in his arms, almost making him fall back, crying on his chest - Shh... It's ok.
- Nothing's ok... You'll go and I won't have a friend anymore... - Brunhild was crying so hard now, he barely understood what she was saying, trying to calm her down without success, in spite of self feeling also was close to tears for just a one, short moment - ... and who'll defend me now..? I have no one else...
He was stroking her head, in close embrace.
- Your father cares about you... More than anything. He would look for ye even in hell.
- But it's not you... I cant... Talk to him like to you... It's not the same...
- I know.
- Please, don't leave...
Uvatha made her look up finally.
- I would stay, if I could, I swear. But it's not up to me.
- Why.. Why you must go..?
- There're some things... I can't explain, cause it's just between me and your father.
- But why... Why he did that?! He can't just...
- Listen... He has a good reason. Do you trust me?
- Yes... You know.
- Then trust me now, too.
- I don't understand...
- I know. Just... Trust me... That it must be like that.
He was sitting with her for long time, holding in arms, before she started to be tired with cry, trying to lay down on his lap. He moved her over own bedding and lay beside, though girl insisted him to be close, so he just took her head over own chest, covering both with blanket as it was so cold, breath turned into white clouds of steam.
He thought lazily what Rowan would do if only noticed her daughter was absent and came to the barn to see her laying like this, though weirdly didn't care much. It was last time could see the girl and didn't want to expel her just for sake of decency.
- Could you tell me some story..? - Brunhild spoke as sleepy, curled at his side with head still over his chest, cuddling as wanted to remember him forever and somehow prevent the loss.
Uvatha was also tired, resting with half-closed eyes and stroking her head with one hand.
- What story?
He was thinking for a moment, having empty head as already almost fall asleep, sudden remembering one, which very long ago read in one of father's books.
- Want to hear about mortal who loved she-elf?
- Is that a sad story?
- Sure, a pure drama... I never liked romances. - he smiled with corner of lips - But I guess, that may fit to young lady's taste.
- Tell me, please.
So he told as much as remembered, changing some things as confused and adding few bloody details, but Brunhild listened attentively, liking it as every time, being all time silent and motionless, making the man think, she fall asleep. Yet, when he got silent, she urged for telling the end, making him finish the story amused.
- It's the end..?
- Yeah. The more, my throat already grew hoarse.
- I love that story.
- It's old elvish legend... I should have learn you how to read, huh? You could read yourself one day and check, how much I messed up with this crap.
Girl smiled very weakly, fading fast.
- Now, you'll never teach me.
- Your father can, I guess.
- He hardly reads.. Can't write.
- Well... Always that better than nothing, right?
- He used to say, woman don't need to read...
They were for some time in silence, before again girl's voice made him open eyes and rely from a short nap.
- Will I see you again..?
- I don't know, honey, really.
- I though... Wouldn't you wait for me..?
He narrowed eyes, not understanding.
- I mean... Couldn't you wait and marry me..?
- No, honey. I'm too old for ye, right?
- But some woman married much older men... Like fifty years or more... Even twenty...
- Listen, let's say... I'm not a good material for a husband.
She fell silent, not insisting anymore, until fall asleep finally.
Uvatha took her on arms, carrying carefully from the attic to level down and then, all way to her house, waking her up right in front.
- Hey, sweety.. Go back to your bed. If someone wake up... Tell'em, you went to pee, ok?
- Ok... - girl was very sleepy, with eyes swollen and messed hair, making him pity - I'll never forget you.
- Me neither. Farewell.
She turned, going home as beaten dog, making his heart ache, while was going back to own place, thinking won't sleep any longer and decided to just pack few things that owned, saddle the horse and leave as promised.
Though before the was one more thing.
Uvatha was back from the old, unused shed at barn's back, leaving his gift downstairs, while himself climbed in the attic, taking few belongings that owned, leaving all blankets on place.
He took horse's bridle and lead animal outside, which was snorting in cool, early morning's air, breathing out white steam.
He was going to leave his gift for girl to discover when she wakes up, though when was passing the house, door sudden opened.
Girl run to him in her night clothes, without fur cover. She jumped at him when he stopped, hugging strongly, while Uvatha took her up from ground.
- You supposed to be in bed.
- I couldn't sleep at all... I just wanted to see you one last time.. Before you leave...
Uvatha smiled softly, wiping her cheeks with back of hand.
- Don't cry... Bad for beauty, remember? I have something for ye... Late birthday gift. - he widened smile, when she looked interested - I was going to leave it here, but as you woke up... - he showed a big basket, putting the girl down and opening it, taking out a big, gray puppy.
- What... That's for me..?
- Yeah. It's a wolfdog... Took me some time to find a good nest and steal one. Happy birthday. - he handed little wolf to the girl, who was yelping silently, wagging his tail when was taken on arms - It has few weeks only... But raised since so young, he'll be as a dog. Will protect you and your small dog, when I'm not around anymore. Don't let him escape.
Brunhild was hugging the puppy, looking up at him.
- Thank you... I love him. - she was looking for some time at little wolf dog's face, fading smile when looked up at the man again - But he won't replace you.
Rowan was observing the whole scene staying in house door, having heart aching.
He saw his daughter for last time embracing fairhaired man, not making any effort to wipe tears anymore when he mounted and left in step, staying for a very long time while holding new puppy in arms, until horseman silhouette disappeared far, on horizon.
Only then, Rowan dared to approach her and encircle her arms with own hand, convincing to back home.
App. II - Story of one nazgul from the times before he received the ring.
So Uvantha has a softer heart than he would have us believe! I liked this peek into his character! Great job!
Thank you so much, glad you liked also that unusual view on his char and yeah, I suppose that was quite unexpected turn, though since I started to think about that particular story from his past, I liked to show he has a soften side too though honestly, whole story was a sudden idea that came from out of blue thanks again for reading!