Still Standing by Alma Heart

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Story Notes:

Written for B2m3m 13.  I currently can't get on the site for wireless reasons, so I'll put up the quote that inspired this later.

            Mablung sat looking to the east, listening to the dim murmur of his comrades and his wife below.  The few rangers not out in Ithilien sat in his kitchen, sharing a drink, chatting animatedly.  They would be tended to in the citadel above, but he much preferred one single night under his own roof.  Or, in this case, on it.

            Alendis came up at last on quiet steps once the others were settled and content.  She looked at her husband seated there.  “You go back out tomorrow.”


            After all these years, he had no need for apologies, not anymore.  She knew the parts of his heart buried irretrievably in the earth beyond their reach, out there in Ithilien where his grandfather’s body lay buried.  Alendis had reconciled herself with that long ago.  Sometimes, though, she wished she had seen that little plot of land once in her life, to better commit it to her heart, that insurmountable other in his life.

            She would lose him to that place someday.  Someday, he would not come back.  That, too, she had accepted years ago.

            Mablung opened his arms to her as she settled herself on creaking joints.  He felt thinner than she remembered, leathery.  Winter must have hit hard this year.  If only she could feed him enough now to last the months he weathered out there.

            “Tell me.”

            She knew he did not want to.  He had been silent and still since coming, holding her, but barely.  Through their years, ever since convincing her to come to the city for safety’s sake, Mablung had sought to keep the house a haven of stillness and peace.  None of the others needed worry here.  There would be enough to eat, and drink, and they would sleep one night safe and warm.

            These young men, with their rough tongues and weary smiles, filled the old hollow of lost ones, and Alendis welcomed them, laughed with them, treasured them.  But they made Mablung lock his tongue more than ever when they were here, and rarely did she ever have him alone.  As if they were his children, all of them, and even here he needed to protect them.

            Mablung sighed.  Even safe in his own house, she knew he could not face west, not even in his sleep.  Too many dangers lurked at his back if he did that.  They’d had to switch sides of the bed years ago.  She rested a hand on the nape of his neck, twining in his frosted hair, knowing her rough fingertips felt good.

            “I killed a dog a week or so ago.”  Mablung rested his head against her, his scraggly silver whiskers pricking her skin.  “He was trying to tear out my throat, to defend his master, dead by my blade a short ways away.”

            She never knew what to say.  He had fought since he was fifteen, a lifetime in the glades of Ithilien with arrow and blade.  He’d spent more years than there were kinks in her braid spilling blood for that far off land she could just see on the horizon, and the kin buried beneath it.  She had not known him when he’d first killed and spent a first horrid night stomaching slaughter.

            Mablung slowly relaxed against her, and let her hold him.  “Allie…why would you ever teach so kind a creature to war?”

            Because he loved to much to be left behind.  But she did not say that.  She ran her fingers through his hair, as if he were a child.

            His voice snapped with bitterness.  “Kinder to leave them home.  I never want to slay another dog or horse for the crime of loyalty.  No hatred can ever be worse than that in such a beast’s eyes.”

            The sunset dimmed and purple bled across the sky.  At length, as the first stars unveiled above them, Mablung withdrew.  Alendis kissed his cheek, and stood stiffly, knees and elbows cracking in protest.  “Do not stay too long.  It is cold.”

            He caught her hand gently, letting her fingers slip free slowly.  She felt each bump on his scarred palms.  “I will come down.  Just give me some time.”

            That was all she could do.

            Down below, three of the youngest Ithilien rangers, warmed by the fire and curled up in a weary heap, thanked her politely for dinner.  She brushed off the gratitude and with motherly efficiency ushered them to bed, liberally distributing every blanket in the house, and smiling at how their eyes lit up.

            Before turning in, young Halrim, barely seventeen, far too young for the shadows looming on the horizon, drew her aside.  “Why does Mablung not come and make merry with us?  He is home.  In his own house!  For one night, can’t he revel in that?”

            Alendis stood grimly, thinking of the line of Ithilien on the eastern horizon, and the scars on her husband’s old hands.  She sadly patted Halrim’s shoulder.  “He would, lad, if he could.”  Before the boy could ask, she handed him off to one of his companions.  With militaristic promptness, all three were asleep within minutes.

It was dark before Mablung descended to their bed.  Alendis lay still until he settled, then took him in her arms for one kiss before she let him drift to sleep, praying for a day when good men would not have to think on hatred and war.

Chapter End Notes:

Sometimes, I just want to hug Mablung.  He is one of my favorite rangers whose spawned from my time in Ithilien.

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