Dusk set in on Sunspring. The motley crowd cleared the tables, picked their teeth and chatted around the dinner tables. Amelie made her way through the narrow alley to the waterpump near the pilgrim’s sleeping areas. Sûrewen was drying her hands on a spotless white towel. There was no one else around. Amelie smiled at Sûrewen as she rolled up the sleeves of her dirty grey robe, not sure what to say. Sûrewen and Anárion always made her uncomfortable.
Their angelic white clothes, their serene faces and their caring remarks, it was more than Amelie could handle. Who could possibly care about Amelie? Why would anyone? There was work to be done, much work before there would be time for pleasantries like feelings. Amelie scoffed as she washed the grease and stickiness of dinner off her hands.
“What are you thinking about?” Sûrewen asked with a smile.
Amelie shrugged. “Something Anárion said to me before dinner.”
Sûrewen offered Amelie the towel. “What did he say?”
“That I should learn how to take a compliment…” She tried to dry her hands without making the towel all dirty. As she quickly gave it back to the beautiful elf, Sûrewen beckoned her and walked into the sleeping rooms.
“What do you feel when someone gives you a compliment?”
Amelie followed her sheepishly. “I don’t know. It confuses me. They can’t be serious. People don’t say nice things to me. Why would they?”
Sûrewen put the towel into her bag and retrieved a bottle of perfume from it. As she applied the perfume, she locked her gaze on Amelie. “Because you’re nice?”
Amelie couldn’t turn away. Helplessly, she shrugged, very aware of how blunt and uncouth she was in comparison to this epitome of elegance she was faced with. “No, I’m not.”
Sûrewen motioned her to sit down on the bunk and proceeded to apply the perfume to Amelie’s neck and wrists. “It’s citrus extract, it will keep away insects.”
Amelie stared at the floor. She often mothered others, helping them wash, dress, fix their problems, comforting them when they needed someone. She didn’t like it the other way around.
As Sûrewen put the bottle away again, she asked:
“Weren’t you married once?”
Amelie nodded and absentmindedly stroked the golden ring on her finger. “I was.”
“Didn’t he ever say nice things to you?”
“He…” Amelie paused as her eyes started to burn at the memories. She hadn’t expected this question. She chewed on her lip. “Of course he did. He was such a sweet fool.”
Sûrewen sat down beside Amelie on the bunk, her snowy white dress right next to the dirty, old robe. She tilted her head as she looked at her. “What did you feel when he said nice things to you?”
Amelie averted her eyes to hide the first sign of tears. “It was nice, of course it was nice.” She faked a laugh, that always kept the tears at bay, made it easier to handle pain.
Sûrewen took Amelie’s hand in hers.
“I want you to tell me about your husband.”
The old priestess faked another laugh.
“I should go help wash up, you know?”
“Someone else will do the dishes.” Sûrewen said. “Tell me about your husband. I think you need to get the story off your chest. And there’s no one here to disturb us.”
Amelie took a deep breath.
“I was a priestess in a small village on the border between Raänor and Thuringen. I lived there all my life and so did he. Russel was a skinner, like his father was. He had liked me ever since he was old enough to like girls. And I liked him back. We had a simple life. I took care of the temple, did the services at night and I took care of funerals. He went out to set traps, skinned the animals and sold the fur, sometimes he went to the market in the town a few miles away. We were happy together and we were blessed with a son.”
This was the easy part of the story, and it calmed Amelie as she told it. The tears were almost gone now. Sûrewen smiled as she listened.
“Russel wasn’t much of a romantic. He used to make me laugh a lot. At least once per day. He’d sneak up on me and tickle me to the floor. Or he’d make up silly stories about talking creatures he’d met in the woods. Arnoud loved those stories. He was so much like his father…”
A tremble crept into her voice, but she knew she couldn’t stop telling the story now.
“When the war started, Russel was drafted into the army. All the men in the village were. He said goodbye to us with a smile. Made a joke that he’d be home again soon and that he’d sneak up on me again and scare the life out of me. He didn’t let me say goodbye and told me not to cry. He wouldn’t let me, and told a stupid joke. Arnoud was still laughing when the men marched out of the village. And that was the last time I saw him.”
Amelie felt something break inside her. A dam that had held back a flood of tears. She reached up to rub her eyes. Sûrewen handed her a spotless white handkerchief, but Amelie refused.
“Our village was on the border and it wasn’t long until the undead armies marched towards us. When we saw the zombies on the horizon, we hid in the temple catacombs, all of the village. And the adult women took turns guarding the temple door. It was late at night when it was my turn and I sat by a window, watching the undead march through our village. And then someone touched me on the shoulder and my heart skipped a beat.”
Sûrewen rested a hand on Amelie’s leg, listening breathlessly as she continued: “It was Arnoud. He couldn’t sleep and wanted to help me. So I told him to be very quiet and look out the windows with me. Half an hour passed and the undead were still marching on. Then Arnoud yelled: “I see Daddy!” And he ran to the temple door, yanked it open and disappeared outside. That was the last time I ever saw my son…”
Tears streamed down Amelie’s face now. She shook her head as Sûrewen tried to stroke her hair.
“I stood there. Powerless. I let him run outside, too shocked by the possibility of seeing Russel’s face outside among the undead forces of the enemy. I did nothing to prevent my son’s death. I didn’t move, even when someone else came into the temple. Now that the doors were open, the undead came for the temple. I don’t know what happened after that, they must have fought them off, barricaded the temple door. I don’t know. I was paralysed.”
Sûrewen put her arm around Amelie. The priestess hung her head.
“So that’s my story. I have disregarded my own feelings ever since the last time I saw Russel alive. I could never live without him. Even when he was only away for a few days. Perhaps I’m still waiting for him to return to me…”
Sûrewen rocked Amelie gently in her arms. “So you put off dealing with your feelings, because that would mean you would have to deal with losing him and your son.”
Amelie nodded silently.
“How do you feel now?” Sûrewen then asked.
Amelie frowned. “Bad. Sad. Embarrassed.”
“Why are embarrassed? Is it so strange to be sad about the death of your family? Is it something you shouldn’t feel?”
“No…” Amelies wiped away the tears and took a deaap breath. “But it makes me weak.”
Sûrewen shook her head. “Feelings don’t make us weak.”
“They don’t?” With an angry huff, Amelie rose to her feet. “I stood there in the temple paralysed by fear and sadness. My feelings made me weak and my son died because of it!”
Sûrewen looked up at her and smiled. “What about the anger you feel right now? Doesn’t it give you strength? The strength to stand up to me? Doesn’t your hatred of undead give you the strength to swing that big club of yours until they stop moving? Hasn’t your loss driven you here to fight the undead armies?”
Amelie gaped at the elf, letting her words sink in.
Sûrewen rose from the bunk and put her hands on Amelie’s shoulders. “Your feelings are useful, each and every one of them. Accept them and express them. Don’t feel ashamed. Your feelings are what drives you, and you are one of the bravest people I have ever met. You have nothing to be ashamed of.”
Amelie and Sûrewen stared at each other for a moment in silence. Amelie remembered Anárion’s words about how to take a compliment.
“Thank you, Sûrewen.”
With a smile, the elf let go of Amelie, who started to walk to the door.
“I guess I’ll go help wash up now.”
Sûrewen nodded. “Go on.”
In the kitchen, Amelie dried her face with the cloth before she started on the dishes. As Lunyra handed her a cup, Amelie looked at the other priestess. A great battle approached, Amelie was very aware of her own mortality. With a sigh, she said:
“I admire you very much, you know that, right?”
“What?” Lunyra paused and scowled at Amelie.
“Why would you say a thing like that?”
Amelie shrugged. “Sûrewen and Anárion are teaching me to express my feelings. It’s supposed to be good for me.”
“Nonsense! Feelings are irrelevant.”