"Tara! You can't possibly go, where would you go that the wraiths don't catch you?"

Tara roughly pulled the swatch of mammoth hide from its lye bath. Daumani grabbed a piece to help her lift the thing—ratty wet fur dripping into the melting snow—to hang it on a wooden scraping beam. "It's warming up," she said, intentionally ignoring the question.

"It'll snow again, Daumani returned. Tara picked up her scraper and Daumani grasped both of her arms firmly. Annoyed, Tara glared, and Daumani demanded, "Where will you go that they don't find Ilzin?"

"I have to leave him," Tara said slowly. "He cut that warrior down with the Black Breath, Daumani."

"So, he's powerful! That's what Ranash wanted! He's your mate and he's strong enough to beat the wraiths, maybe!"

"He's his old master now! You can't know what that means. Not to me. And more pity you. I would rather die, than to live with that. Than to lie with that. I already have and it almost killed me." Tara looked just across the muddy path, dotted white with slushy snow. Brodha sat in the firelight in her opened dar, watching Ilzin with a half-dozen other restless sprogs. Tortured, Tara closed her eyes for peace, but she saw a sudden flash of Osgiliath burning, filled with screams. She saw the walls of the pit of Isengard.

Tara jerked her arms from Daumani's grasp. "It's better this way. At least I'll have a memory of Ushatar, as he was. This creature won't take that from me. He won't take anything more from me."

"He is not a creature!" Daumani insisted, frowning, her eyes warm with empathy. "Build your own dar," Daumani insisted. "You left him once before, live alone again."

"You can't hide from the Power," Tara said. "Don't you see what they've done? They've brought the Power back, Daumani! And they killed Ushatar for it! Stop talking about Ushatar as if he was still alive! He watched himself die, just to save everyone else!"

Furious, Tara abandoned the hide and stalked off. She glanced to Ilzin again in passing, thinking she'd give her baby a little while longer. She had only to pack a few things. Maybe the wraiths won't get us, Tara thought desperately. She broke into a run, ignoring the tears on her cheeks.

Their dar was next to the blind Durub's, a place of honor. Tara glanced once toward Aarth-Anghum's dar, where she found the creature in Ushatar's form. He'd kept away a long while after he'd felled the warrior on the training grounds, but he'd come back, he'd called Baartazgur and the others around him. His training—it was Isengard training, Tara knew it. The Orcesses all said it: he taught a different way, a way where a war party became a single machine. Tara had seen that machine before. She stopped just outside the dar, torturing herself to look at him, his furs bulking his tall beloved form up, the neat crest of braids running off his shaved head, bound tightly tonight like a whip. They'd first made love after Faalca had been killed, after Tara had finally understood that their world, their small peace together, would likely be destroyed by Men. He'd held her tightly in her amazement, her relief… She'd hoped only for closeness, painless closeness, but Faalca had been right about everything. Ushatar had laughed, soft delight, his eyes raw with love as she gasped for breath and astonishment at what their bodies had done together. In that moment, lying together in the aftermath, they'd become a single body, a single heart.

Across the inner circle of the camp, the creature in Ushatar's body extended his hand. Light sparked, and a flame danced to life on his palm. Tara pushed her way into the dar. She pushed her memories away as she pushed clothes into her pack. Yet it was Darian who appeared to her next, smirking. You knew I was right, when I had you in Isengard, he whispered. He was a monster then, he's monster now.

"I killed you," Tara hissed at the shade. Bitter with fury, Tara looked to her box of jewels. Tears flooded her eyes. She snatched the amethyst on its rough cord, the first gift Ushatar had given her, and she shoved it into her pack.

"What are you doing?"

Slowly, Tara looked up. The creature stood in the entrance of the dar, and Tara's courage dissolved. His eyes glowed. The hide became a ragged curtain in his hand. She saw an Isengard sword in his hand, felt its bloody blade pressed against her throat on a rooftop in Osgiliath. The creature tilted its head, the sparkling eyes swept the floor.

"Where will you stay?" he asked, his voice a mockery of Ushatar's.

Tara looked away from his face, she couldn't stand to look at his face. She stared at his waist, where a sword full of black magic hung from his hip. If he would seize her, it would be now. Slowly, Tara rose. She began to walk towards him, her eyes kept on the fading night beyond. The creature raised its arm; his hand covered his face as if in horror. But Tara ducked around him, and went out into the starlight, walking quickly over the sloshy ground, towards Brodha and Aarth-Anghum's dar. She had no choice but to keep going, even though he'd caught her. She'd snatch Ilzin and rush to lose him in the maze of the camp.

"Tara please!" he called, a desperate catch in his voice that froze her legs. She stood, her back to him, the pack dangling in her hand. "Please tell me where you and Ilzin will be staying. I have to know you're safe. Please."

He'd not let her go. Tara closed her eyes. This creature, wielding the Black Breath, thought now to wield her own broken heart as a weapon.

It was too late to run tonight. He'd only run her down, three times as fast, tasting her on the very air. Slowly, she turned back, her grey eyes burning with fury as they touched the creature who'd done so much evil, and dared now to make a mockery of the only few months of love she'd known in her life.

Yet the creature refused to show its evil, even in the face of her rage. It stood, trying to be stoic, yet its eyes bled. Tara turned away; it looked too real, the creature looked too much like Ushatar.

Tara thought, I will turn and keep walking away, and the let him reveal his evil by chasing me. Only then, did she notice the leather cord, filthy and wet, looping out of the mud at her feet. Her eyes followed it, and she saw a dim, dirty white in the darkness.

Slowly, Tara squatted down. She plucked her sunstone from the mud, struck dumb by the sight of it dangling from her fingertips. Slowly, she looked up to the dar.

"Your necklace," the creature said, smiling softly. "Little thief."

Tara shook her head slightly. She remembered when she'd stood in that spot before: spitting at Aarth, for what they'd all done to Ushatar. Had she lost it then?

"I know what you did to that Orc," Tara said, drawing the necklace close. "I know what you are."

"I don't know what I am," the creature said softly.

"Did you take this necklace from me?"

"No?" he asked, confused. "Did you think I did?"

"I lost it…" Tara closed her eyes and shook her head. He could play tricks, couldn't he? Angry again, tears in her eyes, she said, "I thought you took it and threw it away because it'll burn you. It was made to burn you."

The creature nodded. He scowled for a moment, shutting his brilliant eyes tight. Then he opened them and came forward. Tara's heart hammered, but she stood her ground: there was no where to run to, anyway. Not now. Not yet. She felt tears, sliding down her cheeks.

"Let it burn me, then," he whispered fiercely, stopping just before her. He put out his palm, the palm that flame had danced in. His face was all Ushatar: wild and raw emotion, held tightly behind a wall of stony restraint, like the days when he'd wanted her so bad he'd thought he die without her, and she held him at a timid distance.

Looking at that face, she couldn't spit her accusation: this is a trick. She wiped her tears away with furious, shaking fingertips, and dangled the stone above his palm. Slowly, Tara lowered it. It touched his skin, and nothing happened. She sighed softly, her knees going weak. "Ushatar…" she whispered.

Then he sucked his breath through his teeth. Tara looked to his hand, and saw it trembling. Faintly, the air smelled of flesh.

"No," she moaned.

"I don't care," he said, shaking his head tightly. His jaw flexed against the pain. "I don't care," he said again, through grit teeth.

Tara sunk to her knees. He followed, closing his eyes, the sunstone burning into his palm. In the distance, Tara heard a soft song, sung by the Orc males as they surrendered the night to bed and sleep. Over this, his hard, pain-rattled breathing.

He exhaled through parted lips, as his breathing slowed and deepened. His brow flexed, and Tara thought, Ushatar looked that way when he was hurt, but walking through it.

He's still in there, Tara thought, her heart jumping into her throat. The poison of the Power seeping through him, but Ushatar was still within his heart. Watching himself succumb. The veins in his neck were flexed as he watched the sunstone burn into his skin.

"You don't need to do this," Tara whispered. They both knew, Ushatar didn't need to suffer—any more than he was. She touched her hand to his face.

"I do!" he gasped. He met her eyes, then briefly closed his own, and felt her hand on his face. "And I will," he insisted.

He closed his eyes again, drew a great breath, then looked down on the stone in his hands. Slowly, Tara lost her breath.

The stone began to warm, and glow.

Ushatar laughed softly, his eyes flickering to hers. His burned palm was illuminated. The light touched their faces. Ushatar's face became brilliant with joy. Tara realized he was restraining himself still: the relief in his eyes was manic. The light flooded out then, a ball of warmth between them, radiating in the cool starlight.

"What are you doing?" Tara breathed, her thumb brushing his cheekbone.

"I'm not a slave," Ushatar whispered, his eyes, full of love, on the radiant sunstone. "I am not cursed. Nothing will have power over my mind—or my heart."

He looked up at her, and Tara felt her heart flip. "I would have run from you!" she gasped. "I thought you were gone, or almost… Ushatar…"

A soft smile touched his face, as Tara said his name. Eyes glistening, he shook his head. "Shh," he whispered, shaking his head. "I know. I know why you're quick to go, if you feel danger. That's mine to wear."

Tara frowned, to hold back tears. "Is there hope? That you can… beat this? Can you get rid of it?"

"I don't think I can get rid of it," Ushatar said softly. "I think I've got to treat it like another sword. I just don't know how big or how sharp it is yet."

"The Witch King's powers. Wherever they came from. It's bigger and sharper than anything in this world, Ushatar. Anything in this world. You can do what you want to anything or anyone now."

He frowned slightly. "What do your Gods say? About his making?"

Tara shook her head, her eyes basking again in the light, before meeting Ushatar's. Ushatar's eyes—but alight with stars, as if whatever burned in stars, burned in him. "I don't know religion," she said. "I had no tutor. I learned how to pick your pocket."

Ushatar gave a half a grin, and raised his palm a bit, bringing the light of the sunstone up to her face. "We'll have to give the Bear People a gift now, since you stole from them."

"I know one thing," Tara said fiercely as she remembered, her fingertips caressing the sharpness of his face. "I know that nothing was ever made by Eru that had no purpose. An old prostitute told me that once, when I thought I was a pile of nothing. So maybe this…"

"It does," he said, finishing her thought. "It has a purpose. I spent all night thinking of it. No—I spent half the night drowning in misery, then I realized what it all meant. I made you a promise, Tara. On the mountaintop, when you first rode Morulur with me. I said I'd make you safe, and Ilzin safe, I told you I'd never let what happened to Faalca happen again. I wrote that tark king in the South and told him so. What he's done is evil. But if we can beat the wraiths, and claim this land for our own, he'll never bother us. I'll take his heart before that. I will keep my promise to you, and Ilzin, and the new one, will grow safe here."

A tear slid down Tara's cheek. "I'd rather die than see you lost to this evil."

"Fuck that," he whispered fiercely. "I have no master. As much of my life has been spent resisting him, beating him, as serving him. I'm going to do what I want to do. Protect you. Protect everyone."

Gravely, Tara nodded. It should be impossible that he could wield this power; but it was impossible that he held the sunstone, ignited in his burned palm.

Slowly, he curled his fingers around the sunstone, and the light faded. He took the leather cord from Tara's hands, and hung the sunstone around her neck. "I understand if you don't want to stay with me," he said quietly.

"I don't want you to hurt me," Tara confessed, tears welling in her eyes. She cursed softly: she hated vulnerability passionately.

"I won't," he said plainly. "I've never been more sure of anything in my life, and I tortured myself with the thought of it. Then I knew the truth: I want to give you the stars. And I will. But I'll start with clearing Angmar of wraiths."

Tara glanced up to him sharply. Ushatar nodded, a fierceness in his eyes that she'd seen before, when he rode into battle on his warg, against more than a thousand Elves and Men.

"I must rest," he murmured. "We're going to fight them soon. I have to train our warriors. And I have to train myself."

Tara bit her lips, her eyes on their dar behind her. "It did burn you, though. The sunstone."

"A sword's gotta get used to the hand that holds it. It chafes a little at first. Please come home, Tara."

"I would be a madwoman," she whispered, knowing that she was.

Ushatar grinned at her, wild joy in his eyes, because he knew she would come home. He raised his hand again, the palm that had held the sunstone, and he tossed it up in the air. Fine fragments of light flickered around them, and Tara gasped in wonder.

Ushatar stood, and offered her his hand. Tara took it. He grabbed her pack in his other hand. He stepped forward, to walk with her to get their baby girl from Brodha together, and Tara slid her arm around his back.

Whatever it would be, she decided, they'd face it together.