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Akallabeth in August
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And they sailed now with power and armoury to Middle-earth, and they came no longer as bringers of gifts, nor even as rulers, but as fierce men of war. And they hunted the men of Middle-earth and took their goods and enslaved them, and many they slew cruelly upon their altars.

War Children by Fireworks

He knew that Alsbeth had entered the store when all other noises hushed, and immediately looked up from his records to look at her.

She stood so erect that she almost seemed unnatural, but her shoulders drooped, and those entrancing gray eyes looked sad and distant. And red-rimmed, he noticed, when he looked more closely. Fascinated as he had always been by her, he knew for a fact that this store was the only place in the village where she ever seemed doubtful and self-conscious. He kept staring at her, knew that she had felt it by the falter in her step and had chosen to ignore him and wondered, for the first time, whether she became self-conscious at this store because he worked here. The thought gave rise to hope and he closed his accounts, moved closer, but Armion forestalled him.

"Not today," he said, when she placed her money on the counter.

"You have never denied me before," she said, gravely, but he heard the spark beneath it, and the fear underneath it all.

"Have a mind to do it now. Go elsewhere."

"I am already here." Her chin lifted, a subtle gesture that the others may not have noticed because they did not know her like he did. "I do not expect your charity; I have money."

Armion spat on the counter. "We do not want Númenórean trash."

"It is the same money everybody else uses to trade!" Her chin lifted all the way now, and she took a step closer to the counter, but Armion bared his teeth, making her flinch. She took a deep breath and, briefly, her eyes flicked to him. At first she could not find him--he had moved closer in the wake of the argument and she had lost his position in the room. When she saw him again, as if suddenly conscious of what she had done, gave a small gasp and looked, hastily, away, back to where her few coins sat, untouched, on the store counter. "Let me do my business, and I will be on my way."

"I said I do not want your business, witch!" Armion said, leaning in, hovering a dirty fist close to her face--enough to drive him mad with a fury that he had to leash if he wanted to keep Alsbeth safe here.

"That will be enough," he cried, so close by now that he only had to take a couple of steps to be at Alsbeth's side. Reaching for Armion's fist--and stifling the urge to strike him with the thought that she was near and could be hurt--he had to struggle but finally lowered it to the counter, on top of his own spit.

"You may have been charmed by her evil eyes, Brand," Armion said, almost a growl, "but I know better."

"Master Ergamir never gives her any trouble."


Brand placed his palms on the counter, leaned forward, so that Armion had to look up at him. "If you do not feel up to dealing with this customer now, I will do it. Now, my lady," turning to Alsbeth, "if you would tell me what you need."

But Alsbeth would not speak. Her eyes had turned bright and he could see the subtle quiver in her jaw. Nothing affected him more than the sight of Alsbeth's tears, and he had to be strong for her now. The people's gossip had resumed, hurtful lies aimed to discomfit her. Brand reached and squeezed her hand.

"All right," he said. "Let us begin with the flour. How much would you be needing today?"

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Even though the joy of his life were those moments that he could spend with her--whether he stole them or she allowed them--he hurried as much as he could so that he could get her away from those narrow-minded hypocrites...

Without asking if she needed help, for he knew that she would say no, he carried her two parcels and escorted her out of the store.

The afternoon had turned into that world of twilight just after dusk, but, even with the nightly noises it did not seem as forbidding as the air inside the store. They walked together a few steps, when she suddenly turned to him, hands upon the parcels, and that glorious smile that she showed him alone. It was a brave effort--she was fast fighting tears now and he could feel her hands tremble over the parcels. He could not stop himself.

"Please, not here, Brandheld," she whispered, yet she still leaned into the caress of his palm on her cheek, closed her eyes. For that one moment, at least, she seemed content, and he tried to memorize the way the curve of her jaw fit so well against his palm, how her lips curled upwards in pleasure, how her sigh made vibrations that he could see as her chest rose and fell.

Much too quickly, she withdrew and, taking advantage of his momentary dazedness, took the parcels from him and began to walk away.

"I thank you for the dry figs," she turned to say, "though I will pay you as soon as I can. The children will like them very much."

"The figs were a gift. Your brother will be a man by next fall, and your sisters are old enough to even find work. Alder could marry and it would not seem amiss. They are not children anymore."

Alsbeth smiled, a shy, sweet, wistful smile that tugged at his heart. "They will ever be children to me. Soon, they will grow to resent me and leave; I will enjoy them while I can."

"Not after all you have sacrificed to be like a mother to them, young though you are!" He took a step forward, but so she took a step back. "They could never resent you, Alsbeth."

"My name..." she whispered, closing her eyes. "You say my name so..." And then her eyes opened fast, she was back in the world where so many things were so hard and so cruel. "Brand, that is the way of things. I have never held hope that they would stay with me, and so much the better for them."

"I would bring Mard to task if he ever deserted you."

"You will do no such thing! It would get you both into trouble."

"I never want to see you cry," he said, trying to reach her, only to watch her move away. "How do you think I can bear it? Sometimes, I can barely contain myself from doing something rash, but I do, for

"Promise me you never will!"

"I cannot! Alsbeth, let me make it right. Let me care for you, make you happy like you deserve to be--"

"You already do, Brand, much more than you know--"

"Not enough, Alse... Let me be there for you. Marry me. Now. Today!"

"We have had this conversation before. You know the reasons, the reasons why we cannot--"

"I know why you will not. It is not a reason. It makes no difference to me, neither should it to you."

"Brand, if you care for me, do not make it hard--"

"I love you, Alsbeth."

"Look at me!" she cried, and one of the parcels fell open to the ground, scattering figs all over the dirt floor. She bent at once to retrieve them, and he with her, gathering as many as he could back into the cloth that was now smeared with mud. Alsbeth began to cry, sobs that racked her body, while clutching the small cloth tightly against her.

"My darling," he whispered, "I will get you more--"

But she shook her head, gathered her things as fast as she could and, staggering up laden as she was, she began to walk away. All of a sudden, she turned around, searched for his eyes and, attempting a smile, said, "I am the bastard of a Númenórean, Brand, what happiness could you find with me?" and, with a last bitter look, disappeared into the trees.

Brand had done it many times before--watch her leave him behind; but, every time, he had to struggle with the overwhelming urge to rush after her, to scoop her up into his arms and carry her home, burdens and troubles along, if she would not leave them.

He hated those people who made her cry, but giving them what they deserved would only make more trouble for her; hated the Númenóreans for making it so hard for her, so hard for people to see past her looks, past her father... until he remembered that she would not even exist were it not for them, and cursed himself. What was there left for him to do? Sometimes, he felt so angry and powerless, so desperate, that he had to fight hard to regain control of himself. He would be no help to her if he made her more enemies, but the thought was poor consolation for having so little opportunity to care for her, for having to content himself with hoping, and fearing, and helping from afar.

Rising from the ground, he noticed he had been kneeling on two of the dried figs; he pocketed them, and peered ahead, trying to see if he could descry her shape in the shadows. All he could do was to be patient, to give her the room she needed to grow, to watch and keep her as best he could, from as close as she would let him be. He would show her that her love was precious to him, and worth the wait.

~the end

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