Sera stepped into the hovel of a room, with its broken windows and holes in the wall so deep that you could see through them to the street, that she and her mother called a home in Beggar's Alley.
"Mother? I'm back."
A middle aged woman with similar features, though they were somewhat worn and drawn, stood from her seat by the tub of murky water that served as a washbasin and her eyes lit up with excitement and love.
"Sera! Come here- Ah, wait let me dry my hands first-"
Sera didn't wait and promptly wrapped her arms carefully about her mother, though she clearly wanted to squeeze her into a hug but was fearful of her mother's often-fragile, sickly state.
"I'm sorry I took so long. There was so much going on up there and getting some of these 'Arses of the North' to give me a straight answer or any answer at all took more much work than I wanted it to. Did Albra help you out and look after you like I asked her to? How have the other washer ladies been treating you? Did anyone harass you while I was gone? If they have, just say the word and I'll go over there and-"
"There's no need for that, dear. I'm perfectly alright. Albra brought me some bread yesterday and all the weeks afore that. I'm just finishing up some work for the merchant ladies the Iron Quarter. They've promised to pay me double if I bring them their laundry by this evening."
"Double? Let me help you. I'll hang these up on the line." Without hesitation, Sera gathered up the pile of damp, washed clothing and bedding and tossed them over the line of thick, braided twine that was tied at opposite corners of the room. The fresh, warm spring air coming in from the open window would have these dried in time before the the evening torches and lamps were lit.
Arissa watched her only child - though not so much a child anymore - go about her chore in silence, save for the sound of moving water as she sat back down to continue her washing. Seraden had really grown up after 20 or so odd years and though the two of them looked so similar she could see bits and pieces of him shine through in the way Sera carried herself and the set of her jaw when she was angry. Even her rashness and the protective nature, reserved for her mother, reminded Arissa of him. Before she could lose herself deeper into memory and risk the tears she knew would come from dwelling on the past, she redirected her train of thoughts to the present and sought to continue the conversation, cautiously avoiding the nature of Sera's journey to the North and the reason for undertaking it in the first place.
"It seems that the world outside the walls of this town is getting more dangerous. This last week more refugees have been pouring in from other places and traders are returning sooner than the normally do-"
"They want me to return," Sera said abruptly as she hung the last sheet on the line. She then turned to face her mother but kept her eyes trained on the floor and her arms crossed. "The Rangers, I mean. One of them said he knows someone in Esteldín that might have a lead for me."
Silence hung in the air between them for a brief moment before Arissa broke it with a quiet inquiry.
"And?... Will you go?"
"I dunno," replied Sera with a shrug. "I ran around in circles and did way too many favors for them, only to come away feeling a little like I've been taken advantage of. I mean, they did pay me a bit and sheltered me when I needed it. And they're all busy with defending Esteldín from these horrible things coming down from Angmar. But I don't want them thinking that they can just fob me off on errands all the time like I'm some charity worker. Or worse, that I want to be one of them. That's the last thing I need, is folk around here looking at me all funny like they do when Rangers come into town."
"... Do you want to go?"
"Why does that matter? It might not even be a good idea."
"I think it's good for you get outside the walls of Bree-town every now and then. You seem a bit lighter now that I look at you and... This isn't exactly the life I wanted for you."
"My life is fine, mother. I have you here. I promised to take care of you and that's all I really need."
"But is that what you want?"
Sera raised her eyes to meet ones so similar to her own and then scowled in that certain way she always did when she was frustrated or cross. Arissa merely smiled calmly at her daughter, though there was a tinge of old sadness in her expression.
"I told them I'd think on it and that's the best answer they're getting from me. Besides, I mean to stay here for awhile and help you out and save up some coin to get us some better provisions. And the beggar kids have probably missed me something awful."
Sera's mother only nodded and continued with her washing. Knowing her daughter, she'd keep following leads and see her search through to the end with the determination she pretended not to have. Arissa could only hope to stay strong enough to be there for her daughter should she get hurt and that, in the end, Sera would come out of it alive and perhaps less angry and more at ease with whatever path she would choose to walk down in life.
"I'll be right back," said Sera as she moved towards the door again. "Madge in Market Square might be interested in helping me make something pretty of these ores I found up North. Might get me a good amount of coin."
"Be careful, Sera," Arissa called after her, to which Sera replied with a smile and a wave of her hand before she disappeared out the door and set off through the Mud Gate.