It has been long I am returned to Bree, it seems, and yet never had I the slightest intimation that the training hall, found athwart the market square cattycorner from the mess hall, had within it a pub! Though it must be admitted their beer is no match for Barliman's, still, it makes a convenient place for a respite from the rigors of training with the sword. Even my walnut-wood practice sword, lighter as it may be than true steel (though balanced the same), is wearisome when used at length. (I shall have to make a new wooden sword to match, when Liffey has had time to help me purchase a better-suited blade.)
Not so long returned to Bree from the journey to Ost Guruth, that is. I am but two days back, and this my first occasion to come to the city proper. Liffey and I arrived in Newharrow late in the afternoon, I called upon my sister at the Peach and took opportunity to change clothes and have a more proper meal, then straightaway back to Liffey's house for the evening. Piper has a new fancy, a fellow (I had not known her interests might incorporate such options) called Taraborn who I met but briefly, and now I have a new reason to scarcely see her. I spent the next day fastening the strongbox into place in my room, and getting a start on the work-shed, as I have a new commission. And thus far spent today practicing at the techniques of fencing Liffey showed me; I promised I would not make light of her teaching, and I do not mean to. I must remember to seek a seller of salves, for the scratchings of the prickles on the gorse-bush from which I collected purple flowers for Liffey while in the Lone-lands, to go with the orange day-lilies I found in the Trollshaws, still ache at me as I work the saw or the sword, but I cannot rest my hands to let them heal. There is too much to be done.
Keeping up my promised practice with the sword may yet please Liffey, but beyond that, I cannot glimpse what hopes might lie before me with her. More than anyone I have met, she is a mystery. At times she is friendly, even affectionate, and then of a sudden, she is distant, keeping secret within her whatever hurtful memories haunt her every step. I wish I could be the person who might draw them out, and thus, help her heal from them, if such succor can be hoped for. But I lack such talent, and even when she is most open to me, eager for my presence, she still keeps her feelings hidden. At the camp with the pool near Weathertop, I felt time and again that her eyes were fixed on someone else who was not present, looking past, or even through, me. She showed me a hidden cave behind a waterfall, and I, thrice-foolish, made some untowardly suggestive quip about what lovers might use such a harborage for, earning a look from her far more chill than the icy waters. Had she once shared it thus with a lover? And the memory of this lover lost stuck like a thorn in her heart, turned to renewed agony by my careless, ignorant words? And yet a scant hour later she spoke warmly and with affection, even interest. She took time to show me the sword and promised more training. To make the journey the swifter, she let me ride behind her on her horse, and made light of any concern I raised of my rights to such proximity. But then at her home, even as she asked me to return, there was something sad in her, and I fear it is beyond me to make good such unseen anguishes of the heart.
Indeed, any certainty I have had of my own talents (save in the making of furnishings -- tomorrow I must start on my next commission, a bed for a couple expecting a child soon) wanes all the more. Piper tells me of the picnic she shared with her new paramour, and her telling brings my thoughts back to the time when Mr. Hazelwood went so far beyond the pale in his boorishness that I was forced to leave, and have ever since avoided him, and yet Odelynne chose to remain with him, giving comfort to the scoundrel while Piper and I slinked off in humiliation and hurt untended. It seems at this picnic, the same lass I once hoped to earn the courtesy of a second dance from has continued this choice, giving affections most undeserved to the cad. Piper tells me that there is some hope that he has reformed (this presumably why she chose to invite him on a picnic), that he even makes overtures of some wish to make amends with me, but I have seen where that road leads. Twice before he set out to 'make amends', and both ended with the threat of murder upon me, without the slightest true cause. I have no need of such 'amends'. Odelynne chooses as she will, and none may gainsay her, and I hope for her sake that she does not choose her own hurt. But I think I shall not, after all, seek her out for advice about my sketch, and shall give it to Liffey forthwith when next I see her. And further, perhaps it would be best if I return to Odelynne the sketch of Bree she gave me, for the sight of it brings me no joy now. If she continues to consort with Hazelwood, who cannot but think of me without fabricating some pretext or other to accuse me of slights worthy of bloodshed, she cannot but be affected thereby, and I do not think she will be friendly to me much longer under such influence.
Pah! Enough of him, and of them. All this sordid tale truly tells me is that I am no charmer of women nor of men, and have no wisdom to see into the heart. Let me turn my attention instead to heartwood. I have a few small pieces of rust-red wood from the Trollshaws, which is called lebethron by the Elves. Perhaps if I used them to make a pocket-knife like the plumwood one I myself bear, and gift it to Liffey, she would be glad of it. I surely could not use this wood for furnishings, save perhaps for a knob or similar accent; but it will well suit a knife-handle.
But now, my beer is done and the training-manikin beckons. On the morrow I shall be busy finishing my work-shed and beginning the building of a bed-frame, with no time for swordsmanship. I cannot skimp on what training can be had this day.
((on page opposite:))