Our Best

It had been some few days since everyone had returned to the Island of Tol Lochul,  Addiela and her group from the Memorial for Septimal Caine and Xandilif and her group from Breeland and the quest for Catalinna.

Bright and early that morning, returning from a morning swim in the cold water of Belfalas, Xanderian noticed a carefully wrapped package on her bed in the Chamber of Stars. It was a cream and silver cloak of sturdy material, lovingly folded and wrapped in several lengths of tissue paper to protect it. At once the huntress recognized a field cloak of Elendil’s Vanguard, but how it came to be in her chambers was unknown.

Hearing Caladis climbing the stairs behind her, Xanderian turned and kissed the dark eyed elleth as she arrived with tea and a covered tray. “My beloved…did you lay this upon the bed?”

Cal eyed the package then shook her head. “No, I did not, and it was not here when I went down to have breakfast waiting for when you returned….yet now it seems you must deal with this mystery first, if I know you at all.”

Xanderian smiled and kissed the woman again. “As I recall, this must be the cloak that Septimal Caine had left in Sister Addie's care before he fell in Linhir. Somehow it must have been laid here now that all of our baggage has been sorted…I will go return it to her.”

As Xanderian took the package and strode to the stairs to seek out Addiela, Calidis cleared her throat. “Rian…if you seek her out like that, not only will she refuse to look at you, but likely run out to the docks in panic, your questions unanswered.”

Xan laughed softly and slipped a robe on, belting it securely before returning downstairs.

As Xanderian entered into the common rooms of the house, Finchley shut her book and smiled cheerfully at Xan before taking another bite out of her apple, chomping loudly as she sat on the floor in a corner.

Xanderian smiled. "You are hard at your studies, Small Finchley...this is good. There is much to learn about Arnor and Fornost before we depart on the next stage of the adventure.  Have you seen Sister Addie?”

Finchley laughed and rose. "Eh, I dunno about studyin'. Ahmo said she'd rebind my book of poems and songs but well... So I borrowed this one." She tilted her head and then nodded. "Aye, she's in the front room readin' too.

Xan nodded. 'Excellent, Then I must speak with her...' Xanderian took Finchley's hand and whispered softly. "I have missed you, little sister”

Finchley stuck the apple in her mouth and gripped Xan's hand. "Hmmhmm!" she agreed and then led Xan into the other room.

Hearing the house beginning to stir around her, Addiela glanced up from her reading to notice that the ancient elf Aliandith was sitting in the chair next to her; she startled a bit and then blinked a few times. "Oh.. hello. How long have you been sitting there?"

Aliandith had indeed been sitting in silence and nearly completely still. She opened her eyes and looked at Addie, inclining her head slowly. "For a little while." she replied with a soothing tone.

Xan and Finchley strode into the front room, the Hall of Travels, hand in hand looking so much like two schoolgirls Addie almost laughed. Xan bowed to both Addie and Ali.  “Hail Sister Addie....honored one...'

Finchley waved at Ali and then took the apple out of her mouth, chomping down on it again as she did so.

Addiela regarded Ali with great curiosity; she hadn't had much of a chance to speak with her yet and the ancient one definitely gave off the aura of one that had lived through much. "I am curious.. what is a little while to you?" After asking her question, Addie greeted both Xan and Finch.

Xan smiled at the blonde woman, 'Dearest Addie...when the luggage was disembarked, this was placed in my chamber by mistake...humblest apologies if its lack troubled you.' She set the parcel on the bench next to Addie.

Addiela shook her head, "It was not by mistake, Xanderian; I placed it there... You should keep it as memory of your friend."

The huntress tilted her head, 'It was not given to me...it was given to you....it is yours'

Aliandith looked at Xan with a raised eyebrow. "Come now, Xanderian dear. There is no such need for titles. I am Aliandith." She then paused for a moment and looked back at Addie. "I know not how long you had already sat there upon my arrival. But this "little while"... When speaking to your kindred... Some hours, perhaps?" She pondered.

Finchley peered over at Ali and grinned. "So I don't have to m'lady you either?"

Aliandith shook her head and chuckled with an almost amused tone. "Oh by Eärendil, no"

Xanderian frowned softly...a lack of what she considered “courtesy” always troubled her...but of course what she considered “courtesy” tended to confuse and overwhelm  most people.

Addiela looked at the parcel on the bench and shook her head, "I do not believe that it was given to me either, merely loaned to me. I did not have a chance to return it and I did not think it should go to any of those that claimed to be his -family-.. His father may have been worthy of it, but I do not know him well enough to make such a call." Addie then turns and looked to Ali, even more surprised after her answer. "You were here for hours and I did not notice you? I knew that elves usually treaded quietly, but that is some skill."

Aliandith smiled, 'It is easy to go unnoticed to those who are focused on something else. Such as a good book.'

Addiela's head tilts to the side as she considers Ali's words for a moment, "Perhaps, but it could have also been my death if someone sought to sneak up on me. I should be more aware."

Xanderian considered what Addie had said about the cloak. "Given or no, it was in your care and should remain so...it is like a game I witnessed amongst Breeland children once...called Singing Chairs...the music played and the children circled a group of chairs like small predators. When the music stopped each seated themselves, often with brutal efficiency, disposing of any other children who sought to impede them. Any child left standing, with no chairs remaining, was cast out of the group in shame. At the end, the last child took the final chair by brute strength thus proving the victor. You were the last to hold the cloak, it is yours.'

Finchley gigglesnorts. "Hey now, that's a fun game." She looked over to Ali. "Aye, you do walk quiet. Near scared me outta my shoes the first time."

Xanderian looked at Finchley. "No doubt you were often victor, your hands stained red with blood as you sang upon the final chair.

Finchley laughed and shook her head. "Ah, no blood was involved. I mostly played it with the little ones and let them win."

Addiela's head tilts to the side as she considers Ali's words for a moment, "Perhaps, but it could have also been my death if someone sought to sneak up on me. I should be more aware."

Xan looked at Addie, her gaze more serious '...and it would not be seemly for the cloak to come to me. I have no need of nor right to a keepsake of Septimal Caine.'

Addie turns back to Xan and listened to her explanation then sought for a diplomatic way to respond. "You and Sir Caine were…close, were you not? At least his father implied so at the memorial."

Xan smiled and shook her head, 'Nay, sister Addie...on campaign some years ago, we laid with one another several times for comfort, for Randarial was a brutal and interminable battle...but beyond the bedroll in that time and place we were not close. Septimal Caine was an interesting man, a pleasant companion and a virile lover...but there are many I am sure could give better testimony to all three traits than myself.'

Addiela did not know how to respond to that and just kind of stared at Xan, a bit dumbfounded by her yet again.

The elleth picked up the parcel and placed it in Addie’s lap, 'The cloak belongs with you...'

Finchley peered over at Addie and whispered. "I think you better take it, Addie. Besides, I think he liked you more'n the rest of us."

Addiela looked back and forth between them, 'And what of this Lyra that we met? Would she be one that should possess this cloak?'

Xan nodded, 'Ah yes, the Squad Leader. She did seem too distraught for them to have just been friends or comrades, but it would be awkward for a knight of lessor rank and station to keep such a gift...it would lead to....questions, especially should she have other lovers.'

Addiela's mouth fell open and her face went pale at the realization. "And what would keeping this say for ME?.. Would others think such as well? That he and I were…."

'Certainly not....you are not of Minas Tirith...' Xanderian shook her head firmly. “And it would only be an issue for Sir Lyra due to the expectations of her society.”

Addiela looked down to the neatly wrapped cloak and ran her left hand over the top. "These kind of things usually rest with family or one that the deceased was close with; it should go to one worthy, Xanderian... or at least that is how it is in the Mark. Do these ranks and accomplishments not mean as much here?"

Finchley said, 'Eh, but why wouldn't you be worthy, Addie? Sure, you're not his family but... I dunno, I think you're pretty great.'

Addiela looked up at the girl, her eyes filled with regret, 'Because, Finchley, I was the one that freed that fell spirit which killed him. His death is ultimately on my hands.'

Finchley frowned. "... To be honest, Addie, even if you hadn't been the one to free him, Mans probably would have found a way out some other way. At least that's how evil he looked to me."

Xanderian watched Addie, her heart aching for her adopted sister, making a tremendous effort not to take her hand. 'Small Finchley is utterly correct...and if you wish to apply blame, then the earlier fault was mine, in not destroying the blade when it came into my possession. Or Xandilif's for failing to understand Mans' true nature when first they clashed on the road to Annuminas.'

Aliandith tilted her head to the right and pressed her fingertips together as she looks Addie. In her time with the group she had heard many whispers, many views on this event, and still was not sure where the truth of it lay. "Was freeing this fell spirit your own choice? Free of any outside influence?"

A pained look came into Addie's expression, "I... was deceived, but... I still harbored those thoughts and desires that made me an easy target for him to control." She looked toward Finch, "I am not so certain, Finchley.. It was not the first time that a spirit took over.. and I fear it won't be the last."

Aliandith nodded slowly. "But even though you harbored these thoughs and desires you would not have gone through with the act, had you not been deceived by this... Spirit, yes?"

A weary voice near the doorway interrupted, and they looked up to see the man Leon who had been haunting the island since meeting them in Linhir. "You do not understand the nature of the dead, Addiela. If you did, you would see things differently.'

Finchley sighed and droops a bit, looking at Leon. "She’s so hard on herself, Mister Leon," she muttered quietly.

Addiela shook her head to Ali, "Of course I would not.. or at least I hope that I would not, the offer he placed in front of me was too tempting and I gave in." Her eyes turned to Leon. "Then explain if you would."

Leon coughed softly, running his good hand through his salt and pepper curls. 'The dead, those who remain in this realm, are the direct opposite of ourselves...and see the world as such. To them, tempting weaknesses are what to the living are great strengths, and they manipulate those characteristics in our souls for their own ends.'

Addiela scoffed, 'I am not considered to have any great strengths by the living'

Leon simply smiled at her, the deep lines of his face growing deeper. "The dead take advantage of your LOVE, Addiela, or your caring and concern for others...and the fact that you keep it so tightly constrained. Like any great force, the more tightly it is held, the more powerful it becomes.'

Finchley shook her head. "If you're not considered strong, Addie, after all you’ve done and seen, then what sort of chance do I have?" she said quietly to herself.

Aliandith 's expression switched to that of a troubled one, looking at Leon in something close to shock. "He is correct"

Addiela sighed again, "The problem is.. I acted on these impulses, these “strengths” and became something... I should have never been." She then looking over to Finch. "You are very strong, Finchley."

Aliandith nodded, 'Correct. You acted upon them... But only after this spirit had deceived you to act upon them. Not because you truly wished to do so in your own heart and mind.'

Leon continued the elf’s thought. "And you THOUGHT you were doing good, that you were saving those you love...that, Addiela, is the true nature of evil. To take your love and kindness and mercy and use it to do harm.'

Finchley gigglesnorted at Addie! "Nah, I just do my best... But if you wanna take responsibility this badly then fine. It was a mistake. We forgive you. Tada!.. Everyone makes mistakes Addie."

Leon smiled. "The Cenotaph has great wisdom...after all...mistakes are made, often at great price...that makes them no less mistakes." He held up his melted hand somewhat awkwardly as an example.

Addiela listened to those words carefully and her eyes widen as she realized the extent of what he was saying, that evil turned even our love against us. "Then, we are all doomed."

Leon’s face became soft, a gentle smile on his lips. '"Yes....we are, Addiela. We are all surely doomed. All that matters, is what we do before the final blow falls..and that we do the best we can.'

Finchley frowned, 'That's... an awfully depressin' way to put it. I don't see us all as doomed at all. Not even me."'

Aliandith turned her gaze to Leon with some curiosity realizing that this was a man who had walked some dark roads and come out the wiser for it, schooled in arts few mortals could face.

Addiela said, 'As I understand what Leon is saying, if the dead use our strengths against us, Finchley.. the stronger we become, and the stronger our bond... the more powerful THEY are. That is probably why Mans keeps retreating for now'

Finchley frowned. "But the stronger our bond, the more likely we'll be able to fix it best we can, aye?... What if we fail where I'm concerned? What if what's in me woke up?... Would you give up on me?"

Xanderian smiled. "Hush Small Finchley...we will be victorious...and if we are not, we fall together.”

Aliandith nodded, 'Well spoken.'

Finchley smiled softly and looked to her toes. "Well, I ain't intendin' for any of us to fall. Even if we fail, I'll keep tryin' somehow. So, everyone better not give up on me, even if it looks impossible," she said quietly. She sighed and then seated herself on the other bench, turning her attention to Leon.

Aliandith looked at Addie with a sympathetic smile "Bigger have the threats been than a single spirit, yet the world, and it's kindreds persist. Despair is a weapon our enemy makes frequent use. And we must not let it take root. For nothing is truly lost so long as one refuses to succumb to despair's crushing grip.'

Xan had been listening quietly, finally breaking her silence. "Yes, as we grow stronger, our foes do as well...and that is good. We should stand between those who are weaker than ourselves, the common people of these lands, and the darkness that swirls around them. Therefore I say let all powerful foes come to us..we are ready.

Addiela glanced back to Leon. "But if we are all doomed as you say, and I cannot refute it, why are you joining us?"

Leon smiled a bit crookedly. "Is that not obvious, Addiela...I am here to do my best.'

Addiela met his aged eyes, 'And what would that be, Mister Leon?'

Leon looked down. "What is my best, Addiela? I do not know...I knew once, but that knowledge was burned out of me, like dross from silver….but I fancy that you, all of you, may show me again just what my best, what OUR best, truly is.'

Addiela rose. “All of this philosophical talk exhausts me. None of us know what our fates will be, to speak of such matters endlessly does us no good. What will be, will be…we have no control over it, no more than Sir Caine did. There is no reason to get sentimental about it.” Addie bowed to her friends and stalked out to begin preparing some recipes she had thought to try for lunch, her steps determined and forthright as she turned her mind to reassuring, practical matters.

Xanderian sighed, then looked to the bench and smiled. Despite her words, Addiela had taken the package with her.