Black Leathers

Dolthafaer was returning from an errand at the forge when he spotted her on the path ahead of him – Yrill, unmistakable even at a distance, dark of hair and moving with all the grace of a mountain cat.  She hailed him with her usual ‘captain!’ once the distance closed between them and he met her with a smile.

“Evening, Yrill.”

She bowed her head respectfully, but Dolthafaer tilted his to the side, taking note of her gear – black leathers, different from the muted greens and browns that she wore on the field.

“And a good evening to you, Lord.  A word with you, if you will?”

“Of course.”

Yrill too glanced down at her black leathers, perhaps catching his look, and then broke into a strange smile. 

“It seems strange… it was about here I first encountered you.”

She gestured around them, and Dolthafaer broke into a fond smile of his own as he took in their surroundings.  It was a fine day, nearly dusk, the dying sun filtering through the fire-colored leaves to dapple the path beneath their feet.  Not so different from the day they had met.

“I remember.  You asked me where you might find the Lord of the Arrow.”

“Yes!” she exclaimed, and chuckled.  “I already had proven my tracking skills, I believe.”

“So you did,” he replied, crossing his arms, and grinned at the memory.  “I needed no further test.”

Yrill sighed – which drew Dolthafaer’s gaze back to her, and catching her expression, his grin faded and a furrow creased his brow.  Something was amiss.  He had seldom seen her troubled.

“I came to help,” she said, dropping her eyes.  “What good could I do alone, save take out some of the enemy’s servants where I found them? And I have found many more orcs and goblins to slay since that day… and… rabbits.”

The old joke stirred a smile out of him, but only a weak one.  Yrill raised her eyes to him with a false brightness that made his heart sink.  Black leathers.  She had worn black leathers the day they had met on this path, a lone huntress seeking purpose.  He guessed her next words before she parted her lips to speak them.

“But I must ask… must tell you something now, Dolthafaer.  I must leave the Valley. I must… leave… Arrow.”

Yrill half-choked on those last words, lowering and shaking her head, as if she hoped to hide her tears from him.  Dolthafaer stood very still as he watched her, arms still folded over his chest, eyes cool and expression calm.  As a Lord, it was important to remain calm – in battle, and without.  People looked up to him, followed his example.  Who would respect a Lord who could not keep his own emotions in check?

And so he asked, simply, quietly:  “Why?”

It had to do with that damned stone – cast by Thendryt in frustration, injuring Yrill by chance, and inflaming the tempers of those who knew nothing of the careful dance between Dolthafaer and the Man of the Warband.  It distressed her, the rumors and the gossip, the fighting, the suspicion, the concern, all from strangers.

Dolthafaer understood that it was not her nature to bear situations such as this.  Her heart was in the wilds, in the hunt, in the bow and the arrow and the silent step, chasing down her prey.  It was not in politics.

He understood.

A part of him wanted to argue, to fight, to sway her course – but he saw the look in her eye, heard the tone in her voice, and he understood that he would need to let her go. 

“I do not want to leave,” she concluded as he stood silent.  “But I ask… I must find my way again.  This is not your leadership.  Far from it.”

Dolthafaer gave her an unhappy look, a crack in his calm façade. 

“I understand.  I am not happy, but… I understand.”

Yrill nodded her thanks.  “I am used to travelling alone… in the wilds.  The animals, trees, and stars… they do not spread rumors.”

“The animals, trees, and stars do not watch your back, Yrill.”

“I know,” she sighed.  “Though some give warning to those who can read the signs…”

“You know what I mean.”

“I have been away from company for too long, I fear.  I need… the peace of the wild, orcs to hunt… berries to feast upon.  I need Eregion.”

Dolthafaer watched, tense and silent and unhappy, as she slid her small backpack off of her shoulder and started to rummage through a side pocket.  After a moment, she took out a small leather pouch and put it in his hand.

“Here, captain!  I wanted you to have this.  It is something of mine that I carried from my home.”

Dolthafaer frowned at the pouch, weighed it in his hand a moment, and finally tipped its contents out onto his open palm – a small pin, fashioned in the shape of an arrow.  A small smile tugged at the corner of his mouth.

“An arrow of… well… silver, I would say… but it is Dwarf crafted. I would have you remember who is the fleetest of foot.”

Dolthafaer raised his eyes to her.

“Thank you, Yrill.  …The Arrow will miss you.”

I will miss you, he should have said, perhaps, but his throat was tight and it made no difference.  He closed his hand over the pin, cool and sharp against his fingers. 

“And I will miss… the Arrow,” she replied, and then shook her head.  “Well then, I will be on my way.  I wish you the safest, and…”

“Yrill,” he interrupted, softly – but hesitated.  “Send word.  If you can.  I might not be your captain anymore, but I hope I stay your friend.”

Yrill nodded firmly.

“I shall do my best, Lord.”

Dolthafaer’s lips twitched.

“Dolthafaer,” he corrected her.  “I wish you well.  If you ever are in need, find me.”

Yrill nodded, but her eyes seemed sad. 

“I will do my best, Dolthafaer,” she replied – and, after a moment, grinned.  “I?  In need?  You know me, cap—… Dolthafaer.  If you are in need, send word.”

She winked, and he smiled, finally, though it did not quite meet his eyes. 

“But may Elbereth light your path, and that of those who follow you.  I shall clear Hollin for the Order.”

And then, after a moment’s hesitation, she turned and started down the sun-dappled path.  Dolthafaer watched her for a while, his shoulders sinking as he let down his guard.  He thought of rabbits and a challenge and a race never won.  He looked down at the pin in his hand and sighed and stood still, letting the huntress go.