View Full Version : In-character posts thread
Somewhere in wide plains there is a hill with lone tuff of woods atop. The grove of woods is of gnarled trees, which have seemed to defy time and still grow green leaves of early spring. Two figures sit crosslegged under peculiarly shaped oak, with limbs issuing in allmost guarding shape.
"So, has come time of us to talk with Meaning and Purpose, daughter and Finder of Ways", speaks a man with head like smooth ebony and coppery hair tied in tight whip. His face that shows wrinkles of joy and worry carry scars of Honour, Guardianship and One-who-protects.
The one spoken to, remains still. She is of same breed than him, young, lithe and serious.
"What remains of Purpose, if ashes of kin are strewn on plains. What of Meaning, when all honour is just whispering wind, father-Protector?"
The man makes motions in front of his face in ritual, but she is reminded of tears. He pours some more mares milk to roots of ancient tree.
"It is true that honour is trambled underfoot by High Khans and their Masters. It is true that Orda, the Togetrherness is stricken apart. It is true that Sarai is no more, kin and High Ones are nowhere but in our soul-and-heart"
He offers her a cup of wine and blood, his, hers.
"Aihim!. We are the last of us, daughter. Where will your mothers of old, my fathers of old find solace now. Fire of our kin is doused and crow and wolf sneer at our bones"
She drinks, turns the cup around with precise, foreordained motions and with bow gives it back to him.
"Father, two of same fire can no build new nation, we are kin. There is no one in here west who could see the Purpose and Meaning. I do not believe we can build anew that which is gone"
He drinks his share of lifeblood of their togetherness.
"What is to be done, daughter? To live without purpose is to live and not live. I ask this formally from our sole Spirit Woman"
She sits hands in her lap, in formal pose but relaxed.
"The High Khans and their Masters still draw breath, the crows and wolves who speak with tongues of men still sneer on our bones. We still have life in us, Father-Khan. You still have Spirits of High Mothers to turn to. What else is there to be said?"
He sits on his legs and bows
"To hear is to obey, She-who-finds-the-way. We will go against The Dark, and most likely drown when it washes over us. This land of west is now ours to Protect and Guard, Purpose is anew and clan of Black Fox goes to war"
They both are silent a moment, then he smiles, as if the sheer magnitude of their promise is joke. She joins in with a wry smile
"Father, they made the mistake in letting us live"
Note: I've already posted part 1 on The Road Goes Ever On thread, but this thread is specifically for this character's story, and any feedback would be appreciated... ;)
Rain clattered down through the leaves in great, heavy drops and spattered onto the tired shingle roof, already sodden with years of weather and moss. Merren squinted up at it in consternation as he hobbled up the path, which was quickly becoming a muddy torrent. The bundle of haphazard sticks and split logs jangled dully and thumped against the heavy plank door as he stepped inside and kicked his feet against the rushes laid down by the doorway.
The sweet, earthy smell of vegetable broth hung heavily in the warm, muggy air and he smacked his lips appreciatively together, dropping his bundle next to the fire-pit in a jumble, and wiping his nose on the sleeve of his tunic.
The fading leaden twilight from outside was shunted away as the door closed, and with a clucking noise like an irritated hen, Mara set about sorting the mess of firewood into neat piles.
"I've told you more'n once, husband. It's not safe to be out at even'; shadows aren't as empty as they ought these days. You dry off that axe afore it goes rusted, and yourself afore you catch your death o' cold,” she said, finishing with a severe look.
Merren grinned at her toothily and scratched the greying hairs on his chin, then reached down and picked up the muddy-handled axe from the rushes.
"What's for supping, love? Broth? Ar, I could do with some and all...."
He took off his sodden tunic and used it to wipe the mud from the axe blade, steam rising gently from his wiry back. The pot clanked as Mara's ladle briskly stirred the contents, and the orange embers of the fire hushed and whispered softly, casting a soft red glow about the old woman's set features.
Merren chewed his lip ponderously and examined her face with the eyes of memory. She had never been beautiful in the way of elves or the lasses of the plains, but there was still a care and determination about her, a solid decency and a good head on her shoulders, and out here that was worth so much more...
A pity now, to see how fragile she seemed - it was death for a mother to lose her children, and only testament to her strength that she was still going. Gods knew it had been hard, so very hard. But they were still here and they were still alive and warm together, and by Merren's reckoning, that was something to be proud of.
Mara's sharp eyes caught his, and something of his thoughts must have been showing on his face, for she paused, and then gave him a brief, stolid smile before handing him a steaming bowl of broth and some bread, crumbling a few lumps of goat's cheese on top.
They ate in silence and then simply sat, watching one another as the firelight faded to the faintest trace of a muddy brown glow; the drumming of the rain outside became a faint patter, and then stopped.
Finally, with a heavy sigh, they moved over to the bed and clambered inside, and within five hundred heartbeats, Mara's breath had become a rumbling snore.
Visions drifted across Merren's eyes bizarrely; glimpses of sunlight from a past age, shreds of forgotten laughter echoed brightly up from the depths of his memory - the raised voices of two boys, tussling in the trees at the edge of the clearing, laughing and shouting, their feet thudding on the ground and the old forest creaking in the breeze -
With a wash of cold panic across his chest and a little jerk, Merren was awake, blinking his eyes furiously to clear the gum of sleep from them. The creak had been real. A thread of impossibly bright silver moonlight cut the darkness by his bedside, and there was the faintest of splashes by the door.
His heart hammering dangerously, Merren lay stiff as a rod, waiting for another sound to tell him where the intruder was.
There - the slide of one wooden bowl against another, in the far corner.
As quickly as he could, Merren leapt from the bed, aiming for where he had left the axe by his bundled tunic, but the bedskins came off with him and his feet tangled, throwing him to the ground. There was a clatter and a shriek from behind him as Mara sat bolt upright in bed, clutching her chest.
His veins burning with urgency, Merren writhed and struggled to loose himself from the skins, and was free. Ignoring the ominous crack from his protesting hip, he darted for the axe and after a moment's fumbling it was in his hand, trailing a tunic over its head. He turned into the blind darkness and yanked the tunic away, bearing the blunted old blade, and staring about into the shadows to find the intruder's shape.
There was a crash as a basket was kicked over and a sack dropped to the ground. Its contents tumbled out, and there it was, a black, gangly shape; a darker blur in the sharp shadows cast by the moon. With a yell, Merren swung his axe directly at it, but it jerked sharply aside and the blade turned, striking with a hollow 'thump' and glancing out of his hand. There was a grunt of expelled breath and the thing rammed into him and knocked him over backwards, but with less force than he had been expecting.
Mara gave another shriek and a candle-stand flew through the air and bounced off the doorstep where moments later, the swarthy figure stood silhouetted against the moonlight, slumping slightly against the doorframe and panting.
Scrabbling around behind his back, Merren found a thick stick of firewood and closed his hand about it. With a jerk and an inarticulate yell he leapt toward the figure and swung the wood. It lunged away from him out towards the clearing, but the branch connected with its shoulder and the thing sprawled forwards into the mud of the path, tried feebly to pull itself up and collapsed again. Its long, straggly black hair trailed in the dirt.
His eyes wide and jowls shaking, Merren raised his arm to strike again, but a hand caught his wrist and Mara's voice hissed "Merren, no!"
He glanced from her to the figure on the ground, his mouth flapping in bewilderment whilst his stunned mind raced to catch up.
And then it came to him; a slow wave of realisation. The weakly struggling form was not a goblin; it was human. As the moonlight caught her, he would make out a tallish, dark-haired girl, her body thin with hunger and her limbs shaking weakly as she tried again to get up. He dumbly lowered the stick and let it fall.
Mara had rushed forwards, her night-dress trailing in the mud as she stooped to turn the girl over and look at her face. Merren padded forward in a daze, stopping on the other side of her.
The moonlight caught the girl's pale, muddied face and he could see her madly rolling, unfocused eyes and sweat-beaded forehead. She blinked fiercely and tried to get up, her head lolling slightly, but she slipped again and fell back to earth.
"Adhnizish adhûn! Azlat! Azlat! Get - get off me!”
Mara recoiled as if she had been burnt, and a shadow passed over her face. Something about the ugly syllables the girl had just uttered seemed to chill the air and make the shadows deeper. She backed away, and the girl struggled feebly to stand, though her limbs were shaking and there was blood on her lip. Quivering, she staggered backwards a step, blinking at the old couple as if trying to find clear sight and failing. A drunken hand fumbled at her belt and drew a knife. Its blade bobbed and weaved like a silvery fish in the darkness as she struggled to hold it steady, and then...
She collapsed. Her limbs gave way and she fell in a crumpled heap upon the path before slumping onto her side, unconscious.
"Gods...," breathed Mara.
There was a long moment of tentative indecision as their breath slowed and the chill in the air subsided. Finally, Mara's features set.
"Come, there's some sickness upon her, or some blight o' hunger. Help get the poor wretch inside."
They shared a glance, each thinking with the other, but neither speaking their mind.
Between them they picked up the limp form and carried her inside onto the table, scattering wrapped cheeses and oatbreads onto the floor. Her skin under Merren's fingers burned to the touch. As Mara set about lighting candles from the fire's embers and wiping the mud from the girl's brow, it became obvious that a terrible fever had gripped her, and it did not take long to find the source of it.
A soiled bandage was wrapped about her left forearm, and underneath was a dreadful wound; a palm's breadth of skin had been crudely cut away, and what was underneath was inflamed and jagged, and sent a foul smell into the air.
"Ye Gods," Merren muttered under his breath. "How w's she still standing wi' a wound like to that? Must be a poison an' fury in her blood by the look of things. She's needing a healer, or a rite-sayer if uncommon luck isn't wi' her."
Mara was frowning at the wound, and holding the girl's wrist with an unconscious tenderness that Merren had not seen from her in many years.
"Can't find a healer, 'less we were to wander north and yell for an elf, but there's no likeness they'd come for us, even if'n we find them, much less for one who speaks her tongue," she finished darkly.
They both stared at the girl's face. The shadow of death lay over her and hollowed her eyes, yet there was still a cold, high beauty about her - pale, shapely features turned in troubled sleep and shaded by the want of nourishment and care. Her breath was heavy and there was blood upon her lip; Merren supposed that his axe must have hit her chest and gave silent thanks to whichever spirits were listening that his neglect of the blade and his panic had let the blow fall so lightly. Nevertheless, a wash of hot guilt crept up his back and spread to his brow.
Whichever way he turned it, and whichever black tongue she spoke, here was a child, or little more, hurt and hungry. As such there was only one choice.
"Aye, no elves. Journeying that path these days i'nt a good notion if you're wanting to come back upon it, elves or no." He chewed his lip for a moment. "We'll see what we kin do for her 'ere. If'n she dies, so be the will o' the gods, if not, then we kin see if her heart's as black as her tongue."
Mara's knuckles were white. There was a yawning finality in the air, and Merren knew that their chances of living beyond this were slim. To see another child fade from sickness would cast a pall over both of them that would not be easy to survive, and if she were nursed back to health? Well, they were both old, and even in the grip of fever, the girl had moved like a snake. What were the chances that anyone who spoke a tongue so foul would have a good heart?
No matter. Fate was not to be played with or ignored, and better to be murdered in their beds and know her heart was black than to let her die and never be sure.
The visions washing across her mind became calmer; throat-rending screams, crushing futility and the terror of pursuit gave way to the quiet moments; when she had simply sat and listened to the boom and wash of the tide, watched lizards skitter over the dunes, bathed her feet in that sparkling woodland stream, or lay back and watched the clouds. The hiss of a sick mind grew less in her ears.
Coolness washed over her face and there was a great weight lifted from her, and for the first time in what seemed like an eternity, she felt she was close to surfacing and coming fully awake. But her body was still weak.
Her eyelids fluttered as she tried to push them apart, and she gave a deep sigh. Faceless, timeless dreams faded, and lucidity returned in little washes of sensation - the smell of leafmould and wet wood, birds twittered, her left arm tingled and stung fiercely but it no longer held that ache that made the back of her throat tight and her stomach churn. There was a red glow of sunlight pressing through her eyelids, and she tried again to open them.
It was difficult. The flare of sun seemed to needle into her painfully and she could not focus. She gave up and closed her eyes. It was still too bright, so she turned her head to the right into the shade and became aware of another acute pain. The memory of a heavy stick catching the crook between her neck and her shoulder set her wondering.... what had happened?
Someone had hit her.... a man, and it had been dark, everything blurred. Then what?
Nearby there was the flap of canvas in the wind and something creaked overhead.
A mast! A ship! No! They'd caught her!
A surge of deepest terror and panic jetted through her veins and she jerked wildly, trying to regain control of her body all at once. She tumbled from a high table and it turned over, her left arm flailed to break her fall and knocked a stack of wooden plates and bowls tumbling to the floor so they came clattering down on top of her along with a tangled mess of skins and padding from the table. She struggled to get up, finding new and agonising pains in every part of her body, but particularly in her arm, and her chest felt as though a hammer had struck it. The world swayed and she tried to hold her balance, grabbing out for a wall or a table until she became used to the roll of the waves....
It took a moment for her to realise that there were no waves, and that the sway and swell were of her own imbalance. There was no salt-water smell and the birds she could hear were not gulls. So where was she?
She hung onto the upright beam of a corner and willed her eyes to focus, blinking fiercely and listening to the blood rush past her ears. She stood there for a long moment until the thumping of her heart in her bruised chest subsided a little, and the nausea stopped pressing at her throat, then raised an arm to wipe her eyes and take better stock of her surroundings.
She was in a largish room; a peasant’s hovel made from logs cut and stacked atop one another to make rude but effective walls. Herbs hung drying from the rafters above and an ashen fire pit smoked idly a spear’s length from the plank door. The door was open.
She gathered herself and pushed away from the pillar she had been leaning on, staggering toward the light with single-minded determination, willing herself to remain upright and gathering a little strength with each hesitant step. A searing light of bright gold blossomed at her from all directions as she stepped outside, making her stop and blink. She was in a clearing amongst a ring of tall and ancient beech trees, resplendent in the fiery reds and golds of early autumn. Frost lingered under the shadows and the long grass in the open took the sunlight and gathered it in a thousand crystalline drops, hanging pendant from the fading green blades where the day’s warmth had made the hoarfrost liquid.
The girl blinked and looked around blearily, searching for signs of life. The clearing was empty but for a few strutting hens and wood piled in rings, though from maybe two spear-casts deeper into the wood across the clearing came the ‘tock’ and clatter of wood being split on a block. Hearing this, she turned and hobbled away in the opposite direction, making for the nearest cluster of trees. As soon as their shadow enclosed her she felt the cold bite, making her bare legs sting and the sweat-sodden back of her tunic cling to her and sap the heat from her body. Frozen beech-mast stuck into the soles of her feet until they steadily grew numb, and thorny brambles dragged at her shins and caught in her tunic.
Hours passed, and as the shadows grew deeper about her she became more and more afraid. She had set out by instinct; she had stayed alive for the past three years by not allowing herself to doubt or question – she was only safe when she was alone, she had to keep moving, to lay traps down and double back, take the harder path over the obvious one, find food as it came, for ever marked and owned.
That accursed mark on her forearm, staring up at her! A simple form; a running horse set upon the waves of the sea, encircled by a double line. In the long dark nights it had grown in her mind, made her skin itch with disgust. In her dreams it had screamed out in his voice, shone like a beacon in the darkness, willing her to be found. Then, her hunters would all turn and see her in the dark, and their faces became the faces of the others; grim, accusing, mournful and full of malice. Boys and girls who had all died upon the burning cross because of what she had done, because she had wanted so sorely to be free. Those dreams always ended in such panicked horror that with no-one to talk to and no friendly face to reassure her, their nightmarish promise would spill over into the waking world, until she could feel the brand staring at her even by the light of day, hear her dead master’s voice laughing at her, just beyond the edge of surety. It had become too much, and so she had resigned herself to death, but on her own terms. She had bitten down upon a stick of wood and cut the brand from her arm, then thrown the bloodied, limp scrap of her that belonged to the past deep into a hole in the rocks. And then she ran, and ran and ran until she collapsed, then got up and wandered on in a fevered twilight world until death would catch up with her.
But now that the brand and the fever had gone it was harder to keep her mind free of doubt. For the first time that she could remember, there was hope, and the possibility that she might live to be free and unhunted, and for the first time she realised just how sorely she desired that. The further she trudged on, the more it seemed to her that she was going in the wrong direction. Someone had found her weak and dying, and yet they had not killed her and had not chained her. They had left the door open and tied new bandages on her arm. It made no sense, but she could not find alternative for it; they had wanted her to live, and had saved her from the fever.
With a jolt she stopped, stubbing a numb toe on a gnarled root, and stood hanging with a moment’s tentative indecision. Her certainty that to turn back would be to walk into a trap waned, to be replaced by a pressing need to get away from these oppressive, dark trees. A new threat seemed to loom before her, dark and tangible as a cloying mist, and she turned sharply around and began skittering briskly through the leaves in the direction from which she had come.
The deep quiet of the wood was unnerving, and every rustle and crack made her jump. Her tracks became harder and harder to follow as the darkness closed about her, and the sense of threat behind her mounted more and more until she could almost feel the tingle of breath on the back of her neck.
She felt a panic creeping up on her, a boiling mess of emotion so humbling that she knew she would not be able to repress it and it would make a child of her. A whimper clutched at her throat and she jerkily lengthened her stride, glancing back over her shoulder as her breath quickened uncontrollably and tears began to pri ckle at her eyes, blurring the fading twilight. She stopped with a jolt then, her heart hammering. She had lost her way. A seething wave of panicked rage and shame at her own idiocy crawled over her skin and took hold of her. She cast about wildly around, looking for traces of where she had been, but all was a faded grey blur.
There was a rustle and a sigh close behind, and all sense left her. With a judder of utmost guttural panic she pelted away from the sound, screaming and wailing as if death itself were hounding her heels.
//To be continued...
“Merren! Oh Merren, come quick! She’s gone!”
There was no need to ask who had gone. There was only one ‘she’, indeed only one person of either sex who could evoke such worry in Mara’s voice these days; the ragged, dark-haired nameless girl they had found trying to steal food from them two turns of the moon ago.
Gawping for a moment, Merren shouldered his axe and loped after his wife towards their house, his joints creaking like trees in a high wind.
She had not woken in all the time she had lain upon her makeshift bed in their house, only tossed and turned and sweated and lost weight, only sometimes managing to keep down the porridge Mara fed her through her delirium. She had muttered and moaned, sometimes screamed, but never was she in a state of true wakefulness.
It had been bizarre and disturbing to sleep in the room with her there and yet not there. Her voice sometimes sounded in the depths of the night when there was no light at all to stay the horror of it; a harsh, breathy rasp uttering cursed syllables that made Merren’s bones freeze as he heard them:
“Ashi – ashi athad… ned gutlurz…. ned… ned… batuluk”
On those occasions he would look across to Mara and make out only the glint of her eyes, staring straight ahead to the ceiling, clearly, like Merren, wishing that the girl would stop, but fearing what would happen when she did.
It was not always so, though. Sometimes she would simply sound like any other, uttering no noises that made coherent words, but the simple moans of one in the throes of fever, and sometimes… Just for a fleeting moment, her rambling would rise and she would sound like a child, sweet-voiced, uttering tongues Merren did not know, but whose syllables were as light and pleasant as the sway of leaves and the bubble of water over stones in a stream; lyrical and beautiful, and completely at odds with the demonic rasping of the darkest nights. And when this mood took her, her whole body would change, seeming more alive, her furrowed brow would slacken and she would seem to grow younger before his eyes.
Merren had felt this he knew this person, even though he had never looked her in the eyes, but now something of the fear and panic in Mara’s voice found him. It was all well when she was asleep and feverish, but if she was gone, awake, which voice would be hiding behind her eyes? He panted and frowned around at the shadows, half expecting to see the glint of a knife and hear the rasp of that foul tongue.
Mara was standing just inside the doorway to their home, clutching her apron to her mouth and staring across to where the table lay, knocked aside and in disarray. The skins and furs that the girl had slept on for so long lay piled and reeking upon the ground, and she was gone. Merren panted and stared for a long moment, his mind feeling sluggish and with no notion of what, if anything, should be done.
“She’s up,” he said, dumbly.
“Aye, she’s up Merren, and gone, out alone into woods, no one to help her…”
Merren paused for a long moment and swallowed. He rubbed his brow with the back of his arm.
“May be that it’s for the best. We don’t know her nature, nor what she’d do if’n she seen us. She’ll be right, one way or the other….”
“Be right? Be right, you old fool?” Mara fumed, “Isn’t you using your eyes at all? She’s taken no skins and no clothes and no food – it’s all still here. So she’s not thinkin’ straight an’ she’s not prepared, not taken no knife nor no kindling neither, I’ll wager. You know as well as I what lurks out in them trees, so don’t you go giving me ‘She’ll be right’. I’ve not been keeping, feeding and changing her all this time like a baby for her to go out and freeze to death or get herself et, no matter what colour her tongue may be!”
Merren frowned, unhappy at being berated so, but feeling that his wife was speaking aright.
“Aye… aye. Yer words are true, love. Gather me some foods and fetch my cloak, I’ll see what the land can tell me.”
Mara shook her head in exasperation before hurriedly gathering together what he would need, and Merren hobbled outside, his knees still feeling the effort of his earlier run. He squinted down at the grass, and panned about for signs and tracks in it. His vision was not as good as it once had been, but it took him moments to find the bare footprints in the mud by the door, and a darker trail where the grass had been bent over and the dew knocked off by shuffling feet. The path led away to the east, into the deepest of the woods. Merren frowned darkly.
Mara bustled out and gave him a hamper to tie to his back containing all that he would need for the search, his axe and his cloak. They shared a brief glance, which carried a dozen unsaid messages, before Mara patted him firmly on the chest and said, “You find her, you hear me?”.
Merren gave her a short nod and turned his back on her, following the darkened stripe of grass into the woods, then picking up the trail in the dragged-aside brambles with broken thorns.
As he walked, Merren could not help but let his mind wander, to dream about where this errand might lead, for better and for worse. He pictured himself as saviour, and as victim; the girl as daughter and as killer. Pictures formed in his head, telling the tales of each future: one where he would find the girl and take her by the hand, leading her back to safety and she would learn his tongue and call him father; and another where the last thing he would feel in this world would be the clammy grip of a hand on his chin and scrape of a blunt knife across his throat as an unseen murderess sprung from the shadows and took him unawares, dedicating his blood to some foul god.
He shivered and chided himself for allowing his mind to fantasise about such things when to do so made it all the less likely he would find her at all.
The trail was becoming harder and harder to follow; The trees began to loom overhead, becoming taller and darker, and more devoid of life. It had been a thousand paces since anything moved – the jewel-blue flash as a jay took off by the path – and on this bare, dry forest floor the marks left by wandering feet were becoming harder and harder to find.
Sometimes, when he was a younger man, Merren would walk into the deep woods by himself, simply to enjoy the feeling of awe that such immensity of life would bring to him. But he had not been this deep in many years; not since he had been narrowly missed by a party of orcs ten years past.
The woods here were so quiet that it felt irreverent to make the slightest noise. It was like standing in the presence of a patient, watching giant who would wait in perfect stillness for a thousand years before shifting his weight or sighing, and only then would you realise that he was there at all. But the silence was ever expectant, and the woods were certainly not dead; better to say that they were alive, but on such a grander scale than the life of a man or a bird or a blade of grass that it was impossible to see from so close. The air seemed thick; the closing darkness seemed to make a grainy smoke in the air that could not be stirred. The occasional chirrup or tweet of a bird settling down to roost seemed far away, way up in the canopy, two dozen heights of men above him, and muffled.
A distance away something scuffled in the centuries-dried leaves and was silent.
‘It’s a matter of taming your mind,’ thought Merren as he squinted ahead at the faint traces of footprints ahead of him. ‘Either you can let your mind fall to fear, and every hair on your neck will tingle and the very air will seem tight in your lungs, or you can take the woods for your own, and feel like the trees are your fathers.’
It worked - as such girding words of wisdom are wont to - in his mind, yet even the moment he had finished the thought, a shudder ran down his back and it was achingly difficult not to let his head jerk sharply around and look over his shoulder for chasing shadows. He rubbed his arms for warmth and frowned. A slightly sick feeling was mounting in his throat. It was getting too dark to see, and he knew if he did not turn back right now, then he would become lost and have to wait for the light of day, lest he lose the path.
The silence was so thick now, it felt like he was being stared at intensely by someone just a little too far away to see in the falling darkness.
A yawn of inadequacy struck at his stomach as he imagined telling Mara that the girl had been lost in the woods and would never be found again; imagined her bones lying in a sad little pile at the base of a tree, picked clean by the scuttling things of the wood. He saw her empty eye sockets staring off into the untrodden depths of time, and slowly being covered over by millennia of softly falling leaves until there was nothing left, no trace of her but in the mind of a pair of long-forgotten woodsfolk. He shuddered, and tried hard to keep the *****ling from his eyes.
At that precise moment, he heard a sound that made him jump out of his skin; a scream - so long, drawn out and terrible that it shook him to the core of his being. It came from two thousand paces or so further into the woods, further than he could see, and it echoed long between the trees, making birds burst clattering from their roosts above and furry things scurry away or pelt up the trunks of their trees.
There was such depth of anguish, such sorrow, fear and frustration, and such terrible, crushing, mind-destroying sadness in that cry that Merren choked in fear and sympathy and could not breathe. It was the single most chilling and pitiful sound that he had ever heard.
He gasped and tried to gather his wits as the scream sounded again, shorter and lower, and it began to resolve itself into long, weary sobs that grabbed Merren by the heart and drew him hastily on towards the source of the sound. He stopped twenty paces away, where he could just make out the huddled shape of a girl, curled up on her knees and crying. Her long black hair trailed in the slowly rotting leaves and she shook with cold and grief.
After standing dumbfounded for a long, helpless moment, Merren let out a quiet cough, meaning to announce his presence. The girl’s head jerked up with frightening quickness and for a moment her face took on features of such startled ferocity that Merren jumped back. Her hands scrabbled at her belt, at where her knife would have been had she thought to retrieve it, but when they found nothing, after a momentary look of disbelief, her face folded again into a look of shaky, resigned sadness, and she covered it with a hand, returning to her now silent reverie.
Merren’s jaw flapped as he tried to think what to do. Heat crept up his face as the moments passed and he still could not bring himself to move, and a mounting sense of impotence crept over him. He wanted so badly to help, but he had no idea how. Eventually, after perhaps a hundred heartbeats – it was hard to measure, since his was hammering away so fast – he slowly paced forwards making the sort of soft, cooing noises one might to a nervous horse that could still kick out. To his immense surprise she did not react at all, just sat hunched over, silently shaking and covering her face with both hands, breathing heavily and sniffing.
He tentatively reached out and carefully took her shoulders in his hands, expecting her at any moment to explode upwards and thrash him to death. To his surprise she did not; she simply shuddered a little when he touched her. It was surprising just how small she seemed close to, when on the night she had first raided the house she had seemed taller than he in his advanced age. Her shoulders were soft and warm to the touch, made of the same stuff as any youth’s. He inwardly laughed in relief and self-mockery, realising that he had been half-expecting them to be made of marble, or some hard, demonic scale.
Continuing his run of meaningless soothing syllables he gently lifted her to her feet and began to lead her back towards the point where he had left her tracks
to come and find her. She was not crying now, but staring down at her feet mutely, her eyes glassy, apparently all too happy to be led and comforted by another. Merren guessed that this had not happened to her in a very, very long time.
The darkness closed about them and Merren began to settle down into the pace of walking, ever aware of this delicate new charge he was bringing with him. It was astounding how different she seemed now that she was awake, and Merren startled himself by realising that though he had seen and felt he had known her for two turnings of the moon, he must seem a stranger to her.
After a few thousand paces the girl stopped, taking him somewhat by surprise and bringing him up short in his musings. She hugged her arms and shrugged off his hands, then simply stood watching him expectantly. Merren was quite nonplussed by this sudden change of mood, and felt again like a fish out of water, unsure of what to do. He moved a little forward along the path and made encouraging gestures to her, but she did not react. She only rubbed her arms and shivered a little. Merren stopped and pulled his well-made but well-worn black cloak off over his head and held it out to her. She made no move to take it.
“Are you cold?” he offered, longing to go back to the simplicity of just leading her along. “Come, take it… no? You looks cold to me.”
Merren frowned, unsure whether she understood a word he was saying.
The girl looked at him with the air of a sulky toddler, though it was clear that this demeanour was simply a temporary indulgence and she would regain a more wary stance soon. She pursed her lips for a moment, as if trying to remember the shape of a word.
“Where – where you take?” she asked slowly. Her accent was not one Merren had heard before, and was utterly unplaceable. Any folk who spoke Westron might have had a dialect like it, and perhaps it was only her clumsy use of the words that made it sound odd at all.
Merren hesitated, realising how nervous he was. He briefly scolded himself, feeling he should be showing a little more resilience and resolve. Some small part of him also longed to appear strong and sure in order to impress, though he did not admit it to himself.
“I – back to the house. Where you run off from ‘s mornin’,” He said, beginning already to sound more gruff and manly. “Come on now,” he added shortly, tossing the cloak meaningfully towards her before turning and striding back along his way.
The girl scowled at his back. It was an odd sensation she was feeling, and she couldn’t immediately identify it. She shivered, then reluctantly bent to pick up the cloak, and followed.
And as the crunch and skitter of their feet faded into the falling darkness, not every shadow remained still.
Long time had passed since this blue hooded figure had been aboard an elven sea vessel. Foam-covered waves kept splashing to the hull in a familiar manner and birds shrieked in the distance. All those sounds with deck's creaking and swaying, with occasional crack from the sails formed soothing, almost dream-like tranquility.
He leaned to the railing, looking at the surrounding mist and somehow all that movement didn't seem to bother him at all. Hooded figure remembered vaguely that he didn't like vast oceans much. Thinking felt hard. The unanticipated power of ocean was overlooked by some, but he knew how those regular pounding waves and that steady breeze could be turned into terrible storm in a matter of seconds. Yet he didn't pay much attention to that now, since his attention was captured by dark, low-flowing currents that began to form rapidly spinning vortex to the ship's deck. Something concrete was taking form between ship's masts.
As the mist started to thicken into terrifying shape, he gathered his willpower and started to chant ancient elven words:
"Entulesse an móre! Auta i ungor!" (q. Return to darkness! Away shadows!)
His vision blurred and he was slammed against the railing, almost like bashed brutally with enormous, invisible field of force. That demonic shadow loomed in mid air before him and laughed mockingly. Hooded figure tried to regain control of his limbs, but it was futile. He hadn't ever experienced such feebleness, total lack of control. Despair. He felt dozens small needles piercing his skull as terrible surge ripped his consciousness away from his body to some darkness. It showed him images of past or present or even future, it was all obscured to him. Only images that kept repeating were elven ship sometimes white and fair sometimes dark as a night; and round stony orb, shattered to pieces.
Elcamring woke up at the slopes of White Mountain's foothills, near Edoras, at the place where he had set his camp the night before. Apart those images and pain inside his skull, only one word rang in his aching head – Palantiri!
After these long weeks it all started to seem more and more important. That hobbit, Bingo, had told him about some similar experience at Edoras. And this time it could not be just some hobbit tales. Perian had vile scar to remind him about that.
Elcamring sighed and returned to study some of old tome, somewhere in the not so frequently visited chambers of Imladris' library.
She smiled at him, apparently bewildered, but sure that she had enchanted him with her smile. Soon it would happen.
It was dark. Too dark for her to see what he was doing. People only saw what they thought they were supposed to see.
While she still smiled at him and before she began to doubt his intention, he moved a hand to her neck. She thought that he wanted a better grip while she performed her services.
She leaned her head to the side. Perfect.
With his thumb and with a groan of exertion, he crushed her throat.
A smile spread over his face. Her half moan would not wake suspicion right away. People heard what they were supposed to hear, exactly what they wanted to se and expected to see. He bent down over her to make it look like it was intended while he squeezed the life from her.
“A little surprise” he whispered and met the gaze from her eyes, that was on the brink on popping out from her head.
He guzzled in her startled look and smothered expression. He let her arms fall as they went limb, grabbed her hair and kept her up. He bent her head over his thigh for her to sit straight while he waited.
It only took a few minutes before he heard the sneaking footsteps from behind. More then one, just as he knew it would be. He knew what this was all about, robbery.
A few seconds later they were close enough. For him it was a time of expectation, of all the details he heard and saw, could smell. He was a remarkable man; he was the ruler of time. He ruled over death. And now it was time for the rest of the enjoyment.
He pressed his knee hard to her back and with a fast twitch he snapped her neck, he turned around and ripped the man open from his groin to the chest. He ran past the man while guts welled out in the alley.
He turned around, another man. There were two. A woman like this usually had two men robbing her customer. He had never seen three before and it made him dizzy with delight.
The second man raised his arm. He saw the knife in his hand, sidestepped and avoided a sweeping cut. When the third man closed in he drew him back with the boot into his chest. The man fell heavily into the wall behind him and down to his knees moaning in pain incapable to draw his breath.
The man to the right stiffened. In that moment they stood man against man. It was the face of a boy not yet man. With boy’s courage he turned around to flee.
He smiled. There was no more perfect target than a running head. The head was almost always still while the arms and legs moved in raging pace. The head was the stable point in his view.
He threw the knife. The boy ran as fast as his legs could bare him. The knife was faster and hit him with a loud thump. The young man fell immediately.
The third man got to his feet. He was older, muscular, strong and angry. Good.
A sidekick broke the nose of the man. Howling in pain and rage the man threw himself forward. He saw the glistering blade and dodged to the side as he swept the legs out from under the man. Everything happened in one instant motion. It was a glorious moment, with this furious and dangerous bull that tried a foolish attack.
He took in the details, the mans clothes, the little scratch on the back of the coat, the little hairless spot on top of the head reflecting the damp light, his curly greasy hair, how the man fell prone when the kick hit him between the shoulder blades.
It was when he bent the arm of the man up behind him he saw the blood. Blood was something he always carefully noticed. The blood surprised him. He had not stabbed the man – yet. The blood did not come from the broken nose.
He seldom experienced such a tickling surprise like this unexpected blood.
He realized that the man was screaming in pain. He screamed even louder when he pulled the shoulder from its joint. He threw the man on his back and punched him hard in the face, crushed his teeth on a stone in the alley and got the man somewhat silenced.
He jerked the head up using his greasy hair and listened to the moans.
“Robbery is a dangerous business, it is time to pay the price.”
“We wouldn’t had hurt you” the man gurgles out “only robbed you, you.. you.. animal”
Carefully and slowly he cut the throat on the violently gesticulating man, enjoying every inch.
What an unexpected enjoyment this night had brought. He raised his hands and breathed in the essence of death from the air, gathering the sweet sensation when it rose in the darkness.
He was there life’s accomplishment. He was the balance. He was death.
He stood up inhaling the sweet smell of blood and swayed of the glory. He was sorry that it had not lasted longer.
Then he noticed the cut on his arm, a smile flickered on his pale lips. This was something that rarely happened and what a wonderful sensation it was, he licked it of quickly.
The voices had been right when they told him to leave for Tharbad. But he had not yet found what he was to be given. Soon he would cut the elf and the hobbit; soon he would enjoy the blood from their veins, see their surprised expression when the life slowly descended from their bodies. He shivered in delight and continued down the ally.
The milky white sky turned steadily grey, then sunk through a murky blue to black, and not once did the rain slow its hammering pace. The rivers ran brown and burst their banks; the mossy rocks seemed to swell with this unexpected glut of precipitation, and the trees dripped great spattering drops down onto the dark, hunched figure who had been sitting below them since mid-day.
Fear - it was always there, boiling just below the surface of her skin and threatening to burst out, but tonight she was having such trouble controlling it that she could barely think. There were a dozen choices open to her, so it was as much to her own surprise as it might have been to anyone else’s that she chose to take the most reckless path. She felt exposed as she stood and began walking down the middle of this mud-sink of a road, and the fear it stirred in her churned over and over in her stomach, and bringing a sting of nausea to the back of her throat.
Every bone in her body screamed at her to turn around and hide as she approached the gate, splashing through the deep, cold, muddy puddles that wallowed in the wheel-ruts of a hundred carts. She was quivering by the time she reached the great oaken thing, her hands making involuntary jerks at her sides, but it was as though she were being led by a puppeteer, for she did not hesitate to raise her fist and hammer upon the gate for attention. This was the first time she had actively sought to be seen in nearly a year, and it took a great effort of will not to leap back as the eye-door swung open and a stubbly, disinterested face appeared at the grate and peered through at her.
“Oh aye, what might you be wanting, miss? ‘re you lost?”
She had to think for a moment to translate his words in her mind, and then for another to find her response. What did she want? This was stupid.
“Let me in.”
The guard frowned at her. She shivered and shook with such a mess of frantic urges that she did not know what to do with herself, and it was all she could do to remain standing on the spot.
The guard watched as she glanced over her shoulder fretfully.
“It’s my job to ask yer business, Miss. If you can’t furnish me with an answer I can’t let you in.”
Her agitation mounted, and she hit the gate with her hand, without any real reason. Reason.
“Let me in! I want – wanting – stay in inn. Let me in!”
“Easy now, young ’un! All right, all right, I’ll let you in. Hold a moment…”
The guard reached for the bolt. He was utterly nonplussed and had no idea what to make of the strange young woman outside his gate. She was tallish and dark-haired, dressed all in tattered black cloth and an ill-fitting leather jerkin; pretty, but with the look of one of the rangers who stalked the hills about. That would explain her strangeness, if not her odd use of the tongue, but perhaps some of the Rangers came from further south. It was not worth his while to interfere with their affairs and he supposed it would be easier to let this stranger in than to try to keep her out. After all, what harm could she do? Clearly soaked through and shivering with cold, and something else. He slid back the bolt and opened the gate, and no sooner had he done so than the girl darted through under his arm and strode quickly down the street away from him, not even glancing back.
The feeling of sickness rose in her throat, and she swallowed hard. Feather-like quivers ran up and down her spine and her head pounded. There was such a strong feeling inside her that she was about to die that she was delirious with fear. And yet this feeling had been with her for days, ever since she had seen them watching her in the wilds.
She could not suppress a whimper of panic as she thought of it; there was no way, surely no way in the world that they could have followed her here, so far away. It was nearly three years - three years since she had seen the last of them, around a hidden campfire in that green land in the shadow of the cursed mountains. But as surely as the sun rose each morning, she had seen them in the hills near this rainy little village, so far from anywhere she knew that it might be on the edge of the world.
Three times - hooded and cloaked figures, watching her. Close enough to see the grey of their eyes and their pale skin. Each time a different one, and each time she had not seen them until it was nearly too late to run. But they never chased. They were playing with her… the wilds were not safe.
There were people everywhere here, between the mud-splattered white-daub and timber houses, riding carts through, their horses steaming and snorting in the wet, cold night. It felt so unnatural to walk between them, in plain sight; so wrong that the sickness of it nearly caught her. But that would only draw attention, and she needed to fit in. Travellers – they stayed in inns. She knew that. She had some gold and there must be an inn here somewhere, for all these merchants to stop in. Somewhere obvious or it would have no trade - there!
It had a board hanging from above the door with a white shape painted upon it, but it was too dark to make out its form. There was no carved stone here, no whores plying their trade and no black-skinned warriors guarding the door, but it had the feel of an inn all the same. She splashed up to the entranceway and tried to ignore the hissing in her mind as she stopped at the door to control her breathing.
Something touched her arm and she sprang sideways, her face aghast and her heart leaping out of her chest in shock, spinning in midair to face whatever it was.
“Beg pardon miss, I only meant to get past,”
A shocked-looking peasant stared at her for a moment, then tugged his forelock to her and pushed open the door to the inn, muttering “Evenin’”.
Her breath returned, in great, punctuated gasps as she sought frantically to calm herself. She would have to go inside. Against all her instincts, it would be safer to sleep somewhere there were other people. She steeled herself and pushed open the door.
A warm mug of air caught her as she walked in, kicking her feet on the rushes and trying to look inconspicuous. The soft, yellow light of two-dozen oil lanterns lit the place, and there was a fire burning merrily in the hearth. The air was alive with loud chatter and laughter, and the strains of a pair of fiddlers playing a lively tune. Glancing in the fiddlers’ direction, her mouth dropped open in wonder and horror. There were four of the shortest men she had ever seen; two playing whilst the others clanked their tankards and sang along. They did not look like cripples though – all of their arms and legs were straight, just hideously short, like pudgy children. Their deformities did not seem to be drawing attention, though. Perhaps they were well known in the village and - more surprisingly - tolerated; even allowed to buy ale.
She shook her head to clear it. This did not concern her. She needed the Inn-Master so she could take a room for herself. She made for the bar, where the portly Master was gabbing with some customers, but then she stopped dead in her tracks. By the bar were sitting two of the men she had seen in the wilds, leaning in close to one another with their hoods raised.
Panic gripped the girl’s veins like iron bracers and the sound in her ears was squeezed tight and muted. She could not make herself move, think, or breathe. The men were turned away from her, examining something, and they had not seen her. With a barely controlled gasp she managed to unfreeze herself and began to urgently push her way toward the door, shaking in purest terror. But then she stopped and the hold of her fear tightened again, though a moment ago she would not have thought that possible; two more men had just come in by that entrance – hooded, cloaked and dressed exactly alike to the two behind her. She was trapped and it would only be the blink of an eye before they saw her, and then it would be over.
Without the beginning of a thought, she darted aside to a small table lit by a single candle and yanked up her hood in one short, fluid movement. She put out the candle without wetting her fingers, and received a sting that she barely felt in return.
She dug herself back into the corner, half-turned away from the bar, her ears tingling. She could not see them now – there were too many people milling about and standing in the way – but every time someone moved, she flinched, expecting the four grim-faced men to shoulder through and trap her at any moment. It was like being beaten with a rod, but when none of the blows actually landed. She nearly swallowed her tongue trying to stifle the sobs of maddening panic that were threatening to give her away.
One hundred…. two hundred… five hundred…. a thousand heartbeats, and nothing had changed. Her fast breathing was making her dizzy and her scalp was tingling, but she could do little to tame it.
Still no sight – no voices other than the somnambulent, vowelly rumblings and laughter of the locals. No black tongue and no kingly tongue, but then –
It crept up on her like the sun spreading through the leaves of a wood, waking her from a deep, nightmarish sleep – a light, gentle sound, languidly lapping at the edge of her oldest, deepest memories. Gods, what was it? Her heart skipped and jittered, her fear now tinged with some longing so strong that it seemed to physically pull at her stomach, aching with the sadness and comfort of it; a beautiful melancholy.
She panned around, entranced and confused, but still mortally afraid. She focused hard, and the sound resolved itself into several voices: none clear, but unmistakably fair….
There! She caught the mouth that was forming the words, in a gap left where one of the patrons had left his stool and moved to the bar. There sat a man – slender but powerfully built, whose features might have been chiselled out of marble by the finest sculptor in all the lands. He was simply garbed and hooded, but the lamp on the table lit his face, and his golden hair shone out over his shoulders. He bore a sheathed long sword of fine proportion and a slender, simple bow of yew was propped unstrung behind him against the tavern wall.
As if feeling the girl’s eyes upon him, he looked up in surprise and interest, and as surely as she knew that water was wet and the sun bright, she knew that she must ask for his help or die, if from nothing else than from the too-fast beating of her terrified heart. She formed her face into a desperate, silent plea and willed him wholeheartedly to hear it.
The man frowned, and a moment later he was lost behind a passing farmer’s son, and then he was gone – only a blank patch of wall, flickering softly in the lamplight.
The lump in her throat might have choked her, had the man not emerged a moment later right by her table, tilting his head to show that she should follow. Her strained heart gave another skip and she rose as quickly and silently as she could, not daring to look around for her hunters, though with every pace towards the door after her mysterious guide, the skin of her back tried to creep around to the front of her to hide. She burst silently out of the door into the dark street and darted across it, following the grey shadow ahead. She was a thousand paces away before she stopped, realising that she had lost the shadow and was following nothing.
“Who are you?”
The voice sounded away to her left, and she spun around to face it. The fair-faced man was standing beneath a birch tree on the edge of the green, watching her interestedly, with a hint of suspicion in his gaze.
“I.. I am – “
Her mouth began to form the first “V” but at once she knew it was a lie. He had called her that. It wasn’t her name.
“I am - need help. You help me! Please!”
“You have not answered my question,” said the man, frowning.
It was hard to think in any tongue but the Black she had learnt and was easiest with, but she knew somehow that she would feel horribly ashamed to speak it here, before this man. She stuttered for a moment, forming words in tongues that did not fit together.
“I – please! You not know what they do to me! They find me! They follow me! Four year and still they follow me!”
She was breathing fast now, clutching at his robes, with tears running down her face.
The man was clearly moved by her distress. He held both of her hands as they tightened on the front of his tunic and spoke slowly and calmly to her:
“Be calm. Tell me – who hunts you? Who has found you?”
This was too much – she didn’t even know words to express whom her pursuers were any more than she knew her true name.
“Men! Narû dubdam! Orch had Andûninae hed manôi nûlu! Izil orch Kor Kharabazra, y Tarik, y Isenna; orch enni hadh an Umbar!”
She could not stop it; a torrent of the King’s tongue sprang from her. It was the only language whose words expressed properly the malignant threat of the men who hunted her. The man was staring at her in shock and disbelief.
“Yes! Yes! Umbar! Men from Umbar!”
The man frowned deeply, and stared starkly at the girl for a long, unnerving moment. And then, with a tone of reluctance and suspicion, he spoke.
“Very well, I will help you. Are you armed?”
She swallowed and shook, nodding furiously and gabbing at the handle of the knife at her belt.
“Give me your weapon,” he said coolly, holding out his hand.
She girl stared at him in disbelief.
“I – what? No!” she called, backing away uncertainly.
“Come, I have no reason to trust you. If I know you are not armed, then I will be content. Only then will I help you.”
A sweep of cold washed over her chest as she hesitated, her gaze not wavering from the man’s; cool, calm and solid. Giving up her knife would be like agreeing to have her feet tied, and her heart thumped suspicion against her ribs, but this man held so different a feel to those men that she knew that she could not judge him. There was something in his poise and manner that made him seem odd; ancient and wise. His face was young, though, except…
She looked away. There was something in his eyes that made her feel small and foolish; a poor, silly girl playing games, having nightmares where none were necessary. No man had made her feel that before. There had been frightening gazes, wicked, hateful ones, mad stares, lustful, arrogant or deadly. But they had not made her feel small - simply afraid, or full of furious hate, or both. But these eyes - they were not human. That was good. She knew that the races of man were wicked and cruel. Perhaps this one, whatever he was… perhaps he was not.
She drew her knife and shakingly held it out to him, promising herself that she would break her own neck if he turned on her. He took it with a slight, approving nod and tucked it away inside his cloak quickly.
“Good. You are in no danger from me, unless you choose to betray me, but I have seen enough of the world to know the fear in your eyes is real. Come, we will leave at once.”
He turned and strode away into the shadows, and the girl was left wringing her cloak, a look of desperate indecision on her face.
Ahead might be a short future, but it held a sorely beautiful hint - of a past so far buried she could find the shape of it in her fraught mind. A delicate chance. But behind was certainty, worse by far. There was only one choice to make.
She made it.
How he hoped that he could have been aboard one of those fair ships again. No more worries, no more quarrels, no more agony. No friends alienating. To smile again!
It all seemed so distant now. Perhaps the gardens of Lórien of could heal the unseen wounds that he had, perhaps the sheer presence of purity. Aman. He breathed deep and looked at Arien, finishing her journey once more as she disappeared beneath the rolling hills as he rode trough Rohan. He had never felt such strong urge to give up and travel to the havens. Only one thing kept him here. Doubt.
What would happen to if he gave up now? That ignorant hobbit would surely perish and if lucky, only die. What about others? They would seek revenge; tears on their eyes, fighting to the end. He could visualise it all too clearly. But fighting that... Thing. A toad, as the hobbit described it. Even the thought was absurd. A toad? Hobbits! But now he could only sigh....
Fighting that thing was useless. Useless. He had seen it few days ago once more. His friends falling around him, trying to help. Not listening! It had merely glanced at his companions and they were all but destroyed. Carnage all around him. Perhaps this was the way. Travelling alone. Not risking anyone else. He could keep them safe like this. Except that hobbit. He had to find him.
He had felt so helpless in that cold cave. Knowing that even small gesture towards it, an attempt to help them, could have meant the last decision for him, and for his friends. Happenings in that cave had not been without cost. He was glad that they were alive, but he might have lost a friend. A dear friend. But if that was the price that had to be paid to save her, he was willing. Perhaps time could renew that friendship, perhaps not. It seemed unimportant now. She was alive and so where others.
Now he had to find that hobbit. And visit one place before that.
The last golden rays of sun, as men called it, glimmered at the horizon and revealed crude spears on a hilltop. His journey wouldn't be without a fight this time. Whispering to his horse Elcamring drew his icy sword and charged. Frost and hail that swirled from his blade shattered the orcs like unforgiving winter storm and he cleaved the last one of them as the white steed galloped over the brittle remains of the ambush.
Soaking wet Mirwen walked down the wooden jetty towards Aerendur, Noletaro and Random. A practical joke by some fishermen had resulted in her going for an unexpected swim.
“Just boys having fun” she said as she approached but Aerendur frowned angrily seeing the men’s smirking faces. She placed her hand on his arm and shook her head gently, “No harm was done Aerendur, let it go”. He relaxed and turned back towards her, noticing from the touch of her slender fingers that she was she was shivering.
After lifting her long wet locks out of the way of the heavy collar Aerendur wrapped his great cloak around her shoulders. He sighed before he could stop himself and in response she murmured “Oh dear, is my hair that bad?”
Instinctively his hands wandered up to her white mane feeling for knots and removing leaves. He allowed them to slip through her tresses for longer than was strictly necessary and eventually her fingers found his. She turned back to face him shyly. “All done?” she said through a dimpled grin.
"It... suits you," he replied hoarsely. He meant it, but now that the water had drawn it away from her face he could see her cheekbones, her eyes... her ears, so much more clearly. His throat went dry, and he tried to swallow. She'd turned a moderate shade of pink at his words, but she was still smiling at him. “You should be more careful Mirwen Nimros” he said softly. "I will be” she whispered, “and anyway, Noletaro and Random are here now… and you".
Later that day he would have died had it not been for her and Noletaro.
Again--it happened again, curse it! There he was, standing on the dock, idly watching the fat gulls out in the harbor pecking at the carcasses that the tide never seemed to take back out of the Havens. He'd been about to board the Pindar to return to Tharbad, maybe scare up some brutes to help win that Challenge fellow's reward, when the irony of those common gulls struck him. Common, but free, and feasting on whatever floated by, their betters presumably, yet survived by the scavengers with their bloody beaks.
Then it happened. "You're blocking my path," she said. The voice, rich and commanding, interrupted his thoughts, but the looks of her nearly pushed him to his knees. He practically jumped out of the way, narrowly avoiding slipping off the dock, but it did conveniently close his jaw at the same time, and he managed a low bow and presented himself.
What was it about these women, these beautiful women who radiated power? He flirted, of course, just as he had tried to do with those others back in Dol Guldur--Mareke and Isolde, their names had been--and again it came out flat and inept. Why did they leave him tongue-tied and nervous, him of all people?
There was something more about ths one, though. Something very dangerous. For without even seeming to try she managed to pull secrets from him. Almost the whole story.
It was the dreams, he thought. Must be. Surprised the hell out of him--not literally, of course--when he first got them, and then the mysterious power they gave him: to open or close injuries with a touch, to curse or to strengthen. It was a power that he relished, but did not understand, despite what he'd told all those others, back in that dreary forest cave, when he was so desperate to win out from under that horrible thralldom.
It must have been that--the not knowing. Because he just blurted out the whole thing to her, standing there at the Pindar's gangplank. The power the dreams gave him--hells, it was like the taste of the finest mead, but coursing throughout the body and not just lying there briefly on the tongue, sweet and bitter at once. But without knowing where that power came from--just like knowing the power of the tip of a sword, and the power of the arm behind it--what damn use was it?
But did she help? Of course not. If anything, she seemed more worried about the dreams than he was. "Come see me in the Temple, if anything changes with those dreams," she said. The Temple! Hell, he knew where it was, but services--well, that kind of services--were the last thing on his mind when his ship had come to port here, back in his days as a corsair. And then came the really marvelous part, for just before striding off that way, she gave her name: "Kora Rhavaniel Morothar," she said.
The bleeding High Priestess! As if he didn't have enough to worry about already. If not for the rats and the rampant disease, he was tempted to hole up for the rest of his life in the sewers, far from these terrifying, powerful women. Lord of the Rats, he could be. Dangerous, yes, but, oh, they were so, so lovely...
The anger boiled inside her. The night was uncommonly cool, but her rage at what she'd seen in Edoras left the padding on the inside of her armor damp and steaming. The place had changed since she'd last been there as a girl, years before, with Father. A stranger probably wouldn't notice it, perhaps not even the residents did, if the changes had been gradual.
The foppish dress of the citizens was the first thing she'd seen, and the regalia donned by Theoden King's household troops, his bodyguard. The few no-frills professionals, like her father Eolarow, were gone, apparently, replaced with extravagantly plumed toy soldiers. No--calling them "soldiers" would be a slight to her father's memory. Thugs...and sycophants...and, Eolun thought disgustedly, courtiers.
And the absurd, twisting low-walled path that led up to the Golden Hall...whose bloody idea was that? A cattle chute, she'd called it, and that elven priest had seemed to think the term disloyal. She guessed that the workmen who'd been hired to build the damned thing had even less kind things to say about it when they knocked off work for an ale at the end of the day, but the point was really this. Maybe elven priests were by nature elitist, but her people were free to ride the plains, and served in the eoreds when called. They deserved to be led by more than a name--they needed a king who would ride with them, one who would listen to their needs in times of relative peace.
When was the last time Theoden King had done either? "Imagine the chaos," the damned priest had said, "The leader of a nation swamped with the petty complaints of every whining peasant." Well, Eolun thought, imagine the damned chaos in Rohan if the people's needs aren't even known. Disputes over water rights and grazing rights alone would keep a government busy full time. If the leaders wouldn't even hear the disputes? Well, her people were free spirits, and would take the law into their own hands. She cringed as she imagined the feuds and vigilantism, the empire-building and dream-squashing that might result, might already have resulted. The Golden Hall, she thought, how apt, with the implication of careless and conspicuous expense--she'd not call it by its proper name, Meduseld, until that damned chute was gone.
She took a deep breath and willed herself to relax. It was an exercise in discipline that her father had drummed into her: "You're meant to have feelings--anger, fear, love, hate--but it's your mind that will determine whether you make constructive use of them." She smiled at the memory--he'd never said so, but she was fairly certain her father felt that women too often let their feelings rule them, and that men too often denied them. For him, the only criteria--for evaluating anything--was exactly that: "constructive use." Utility, effectiveness, whether it got the job done efficiently.
It was a generalization, Eolun thought, reconsidering, and a mistake to deride all of the troops in Edoras. The Riders at the north gate seemed ready, albeit bored at the duty that kept their mounts standing there cropping at the grass all through each watch. She'd asked them about it, of course--they did exercise the animals when not standing guard. Little wonder they found Edoras a boring assignment, just sleep, exercise and care for the animals, and sit there, just inside the closed gate, every day. They hadn't admitted it, of course, but she'd gotten the feeling it was a penalty assignment--the kind of thing you drew for minor infringements within the eored, like cheating at dice.
And at least that spearman at the south pass knew his business. His technique on the giant that chased her back to Edoras out of the mountains was exemplary. She'd asked him about it, as well--turned out he was one of the many who'd benefitted from her father's training. She didn't remember him, of course--it had been when they'd been stationed in Aldburg, and when they were in the settlements her father would try to provide her with the normal education offered for Rohirrim girls. How she'd hated that! But she stomached it, for she was certain any lack of discipline on her part would meet with Father's disapproval. But every second of their tours in the settlements was torture to her--she missed the easy camaraderie of the eoreds, and the companionship of the campfire, just as much as she loathed the way the "proper" girls treated her.
Rohirrim girls--Eolun smiled bitterly at her own use of the foreign word, and even more bitterly at the stereotype. "Eorlingas" was how her own people referred to themselves--the sons of Eorl. She was a daughter of Eorl, damn it, with all the fight and loyalty in her that the name conveyed, despite being a woman, and despite the fact that her family had only been in Rohan for six generations. You didn't have to be a man to ride with the wind in your face and the rain in your hair, or to carry a spear, or to love this land and its people, and you didn't have to live through the Long Winter, either. Every generation of her family had served, one way or another, the military might of Rohan. The first to come adopted the name Lowyrtha--and his skill enabled him to become a farrier to the King's troops in Aldburg. Hell, her father had never even told her where Lowyrtha had come from--sometimes she wondered about that, but what else could that mean except that she was a daughter of Eorl?
Again, she willed herself to relax, but it didn't last long. Well, if she were to break the mold that her people cast for her, she'd have to do better than running back to Edoras with a giant on her tail. Of course, she'd reported to that bloody bodyguard Erkenbrand that the "orcs" in the White Mountains had some significantly stronger companions, and after that first solo reconnaissance, she'd assembled a group of comrades--foreigners all--that eradicated the bloody great threat that Erkenbrand hadn't even bothered to verify. And what did the pompous twit do? Tossed her a pass to see her own bloody King, like it was a privilege that had to be earned.
She'd hesitated then--her father would have hated to see that, for he was ever saying that indecision was the worst of military sins. But at that instant, her emotions had been out of control, so perhaps Eolarow wouldn't have minded the moment she took just then. For she was of three minds. The first course of action that she considered involved punching her mailed fist into the nose down which Erkenbrand looked at her. The second was to walk into the Golden Hall, toss the bloody pass to Theoden--oh, that following "King" was hard to even think, now, let alone say aloud--and tell him he could have an audience with his loyal subject Eolun Firennes at any time. And the third, which she'd ultimately chosen, was to walk off, silently fuming, the doors of the Golden Hall unopened and Erkenbrand unharmed, to thank the foreign friends who had helped her to help the Mark. And then chat with whatever soldier sons of Eorl she could find.
It had been a mistake to come back, she thought. A mistake...or, perhaps, a useful reconnaissance in and of itself.
Aisling watched the rider from the top of the hill. A grin flashes briefly when he saw the posture, a broken elf. His delight in the sight made him shiver of joy. How fun this game was to play and the pieces just moved around on the board.
He looked down at the dead man that lay on the ground beside him. The limbs in unnatural angles and the fingers cut and places in a perfect row to the side. A flicker of sadness showed in his face, the man had only been a hunter and not any really challenge for him.
He found him in the woods while he was waiting for the elf to pass.
A simple moment of relaxation.
A kick in the head tossing the man on the ground. Working with the mans extremityies, bending them against there joints only the hear the cracking sound as they broke, cutting of the fingers only to meet the screams, sobs and pleading with a laugher and satisfaction.
How wonderful it had been, just too short.
The shade spat at the corpse that now lay still at his feet and gazed after the elven rider as he descended into the woods. He knew where to find him, so he was in no hurry.
And so she returned to the company of her new foreign friends, abroad. For them, at least, it didn't seem to matter if she didn't fit the mold that Rohan held ready for her. Their only test was loyalty and, to a lesser degree, that utility that Father had cherished. In some ways, at least, being with them was even easier than riding in the field with the eoreds. Of course, she had to put up with some things one didn't see much in the Mark, like that elitist, know-it-all priest, but even he gave her no cause for complaint once the drums started to beat and the arrows to sing. Of course, afterwards he was prone to utter some idiotic remark--probably learned from some book--that would make her eye picture Erkenbrand's nose on his face, and her hand twitch into a fist. But the discipline Father had trained into her always held. So far, at least.
One of the oddest examples of that had happened just after her return from the Mark, and it had a very unsettling outcome. She'd been headed east through the High Pass toward Esgaroth, looking for work, when she'd suddenly met the priest--Noletaro, his name was, though she'd also heard him give others a different one--coming the other way. He decided to turn around and join her, which was alright with her--the forest ahead could be dangerous. At the fords before the wood they met another elf, being chased by orcs, which they dispatched with little trouble. He seemed to be a wizard of some sort, a bit nervous but friendly enough, and apparently well known to the priest. Lorinol, she thought he said his name was.
Then the two started gabbing quite rudely in their own tongue. She took offense at first, but said nothing. She decided then that she trusted the priest well enough, having fought beside him, and that it might actually be preferable not to understand what he was saying. So she just kept a lookout for more orcs. Well, the new one rode off to the south, leaving her and the priest to make small talk--not really her strongest skill. "What do you think of him?" asked Noletaro.
Well, how the hell was she supposed to answer that? She'd only just met him, and half the time he'd been speaking one of those elven languages--the one that seemed to keep the tips of their tongues fluttering up and down just behind their teeth like some demented hummingbird. She tried to be polite though, and said the newcomer seemed to sit a horse pretty well.
That seemed to end the conversation, which was a pleasant enough result. Until the wizard rode back, a few minutes later, presumably having done whatever it was they'd been talking about. Then the two elves decided they should rest, and the damned priest went halfway back up the slope of the mountains, saying that would make a good campsite so they could spot any danger approaching. Then he lit a fire, of all things. Hell, the smoke must have been visible for miles, on either side of the Pass, and the camp was too far up the slope to escape anyone coming down at speed. Oh, how she was coming to hate book-learning! And they seemed perturbed when she suggested killing a passing boar for dinner! But again, she held her tongue, and slipped off into the shadow of a tree a good distance apart, where the fire wouldn't spoil her vision or make her a target. And kept watch, gnawing on some hardtack.
And then, of course, someone came down from the Pass at speed, almost strolling into the camp before she could nock an arrow and spit out a biscuit-laden challenge. Thankfully, it wasn't an enemy, just that strange girl from Dunland that she'd met back in Tharbad. Braint was her name, but since Braint had gotten miffed back in Tharbad about the way foreigners lumped all the different Dunland clans and tribes together, she wasn't really sure how to describe her much better than that. Braint did hate orcs, though, which was a start, and joined their odd little group.
They lasted without further incident until morning, and they entered the wood, the imagined smell of the bacon-that-might-have-been haunting her. And there they met trouble, for from patches of deep darkness in the forest, there emerged a steady stream of vicious spiders and the winged, fanged undead that the others named vampires. No sooner would they dispatch one group, and advance a few paces, before they were beset by another, the vampires seeming to change into mist somehow when defeated, drift off into the darkness, recover, and renew the pursuit. Battered and bleeding, they at last emerged from the wood at the far side, and were attacked one last time before they neared the causeway to Laketown, an attack they barely survived.
And, there, at the end of the causeway, the priest started disclaiming how they could not lead the vampire horde out over the causeway into the innocent population of Esgaroth. She tried to point out that the creatures could damned well fly, and that there was precious little the four of them could do to stop them getting into Laketown if the vampires really wanted to. That seemed to make sense to Braint, who without another word turned over the causeway and disappeared into the town. But the two elves wouldn't be convinced, despite the guardpost that Esgaroth maintained and manned on the shore end of the causeway, and the elves set up a small tent as some sort of defensive post at a stream nearby.
So she turned away, shaking her head at the learning one gets from books, and wondering at the contrast with the mettle they'd shown fighting through Mirkwood. Then she entered the town, warning the guard captain, offering to help if needed, and pointing out to some nearby elves that they had some demented kin out at the end of the bridge who might need some aid.
Which was the last she'd heard of the vampire onslaught until a few days later, when her Gondorian chum Aerendur told her that he and their lovely friend Mirwen somehow had gotten caught up in it some time after she herself had crossed into Esgaroth. And that somehow, Mirwen had been infected by the most powerful of the cursed things, and was fated to become one herself if something were not done--the most obvious something being the defeat of that powerful vampire. Mirwen--not the strongest of them, and certainly not the nimblest, but her heart was pure, almost supernaturally so. That was the unsettling part. Pushing aside the unreasonable guilt she felt--that she had not been there to help her friends--she nonetheless resolved to commit her arms to Mirwen's recovery, or purification, or whatever the hell one would call it.
Aerender the Gondorian sought a ring for his beloved Mirwen to give to her as a sign of his love.
Before he could have one crafted fitting the depth of feelings, the rising vampires of the Mirkwood had inflicted a terrible curse on Mirwen. Yet the part of Mirwen in the tapestry of Vaire was not to end as a victim of darkness. She was fortunate to have found herself in the abode of Elrond Peredhil for he who was gifted in the healing of the Eldar was able to minister and advise her.
Concluding that only the fall of the Vampire Chieftain would release her from an eventual fate of becoming corrupted or falling under its will his lore-masters set about seeking a way to protect the lady other than keeping her in the Valley indefinitely.
So the wise among them devised a ring with protective enchantments, which, though not able to reverse that which had already come to pass, countered any further effect of the vampire touch for so long as it was worn.
Knowing the bond between the two, they crafted the ring as a thing of beauty and called it Uivelin le.
[ooc: Many thanks for creating the ring and coming up with this item description Araw]
It had been weeks now, and no sign of that Perrian Bingo Sandybanks.
Even thourough interrogation of her eyes and ears in Bree and Tharbad had not brought any new light on his whereabouts, and Alvae started to grow tired of seeking his shadows.
She might have to look into shire once more, ... like grain in the straw, so it seemed to her at this point.
As she wandered through Eregion to meet that former brigant again, she watched a bird of prey pass by. The hawk was persuing a dove, though it seemed that he was taking his time with it, waiting for the perfect moment to strike.
Maybe the way to Bingo was much easier then she had yet thought of, maybe ... After meeting that informant, she would head back to Imladris, and follow the traces of Elcamring. She now was sure that he would find the perrian sooner then she ever could. So all she really had to do is to follow him to their joint goal.
Not yet had the entire scheme of that creature unfolded to her, and in a ugly way she felt like one of its pawns moving on a gameboard. But she didn't intend to play that game to its planned end. At the right moment she would strike, hard and precise, though she knew the consequences of failure would be harsh.
Most definitely that creature was still far from the power it had displayed so directly when they had encountered it. Whatever strength it possesed, it only did so through her dear friend, Elcamring. Most unfortunate, he hadn't realized that so far. But his mind seemed utterly clouded, his high spirit confused by the emotional stress put upon him. She didn't dare to think of the cruelties and torment that were inflicted upon his fair soul, but she knew, that geting enthralled into the fears that this being seemed to place into its victims hearts, would mean certain downfall, for all involved.
By all means, that shards of the Palantir must not be united under the planned circumstances. It would only realease that evil spirit, and then it would be able to unleash its power, and her friend Elcamring would be lost. She had to make sure to have a very unpleasant surprise for that creature, should they meet again.
Quite absent minded she stared onto the shattered ruins of Eregion, another monument for the enemies treacherous and cunning will. It was about time, not to fall victim to the enemies schemes again, whatever form it might have taken this time.
Her look turned stern as the human approched the tower, and she took her time to reveal herself, watching him cautiously pace around the building for quite some time. There was likely someone else involved in that story, someone she had not yet had time to think about. She would have to turn her eyes into the darkness as soon as she finds Elcamring.
Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn. What were they doing up there in the Golden Hall anyway? She'd come back to Edoras, against her better judgment, following a rumor of Aerendur, hoping she might be able to help with Mirwen's recovery. But the Gondorian was nowhere to be seen, so she'd reminisced with Miss Emryn for a spell and headed back to the gate. Where she met Khalad, the only dwarf she really knew, the staunchest comrade one could ever have, with whom she'd stumbled out of Angmar's darkness into the glittering snows of Forochel, leaving behind a little bit of her soul to keep him in the light.
Khalad. Brought to Rohan by rumors of orc troubles. "Orcs in the Wold," he'd said, chuffing like a bellows as he came jogging down the chute from the Hall. Well, that was a lot more serious than the recurring orc menace in the mountains, so of course she'd agreed to help. And she'd be damned if she'd let Khalad wander alone into more of the Golden Hall's bad intelligence. He'd gathered some other foreigners to help as well--that Dunland girl Braint and an elf whose name she didn't catch. So that had clinched it--she'd have to do her part for the Mark, and to try to keep the foreigners' respect for Rohan.
For there was no reason at all, if it really was simply orcs out there in the Wold, that a detachment of Riders couldn't deal with it. So what in Bema's name were they doing up there in the Hall? What would the foreigners think of Eorl's folk--of the value of his oath--if they couldn't handle some orcs without asking for help? And what would they think of the Mark's vaunted scouting if they were continually fed bad information?
She was brought out of her sour thoughts at the gate by the welcome sight of Aerendur, beside whom she'd also fought many times. She smiled to see him discreetly massaging his buttocks as a stable boy led his horse away--it seemed he might never learn to dismount properly. Aerendur joined them without a second thought, of course--if there were evil afoot, he could be counted on to battle it.
The group arrived at the Wold after a fast hike, and immediately encountered a band of Uruk-hai, some of whom had scaled the nearby cliffs to get good firing positions. An ambush--she grimaced again at what the foreigners might be thinking, then charged into the fray. The elf managed to scale the cliffs and take on the orc archers, while the rest of the group pummeled away at the strong Uruk-hai brutes below. As the last fell, they all looked around--and saw a tree walking toward them, its bark scored with blade and flame. And it spoke.
An ent! She'd heard of the tree-folk, of course, but it was entirely different to see one. And to hear it. It asked if they were orcs, in a low rumbling voice, and she looked at their group and realized they were almost all armored head to toe, so as Khalad tried to hide his axe, she took off her helm and smiled at it, which seemed to count as much to the ent as Aerendur's halting speech or the hummingbird-words that flowed out of the elf as he clambered back down from atop the cliff.
For the ent it was enough that they were not orcs, and it trundled off as the sight and smell of wood-smoke reached them. They all charged after it into a nearby canyon, filled with Uruk-hai cutting and burning the forest, and more of the Uruk-hai crossbowmen atop the enclosing ridges. The elf again scaled the cliffs on one side, and as the others disappeared into the smoke and the clash of weapons, she fell back, engaging the orcs on the opposite ridge with her bow, until the twanging of their crossbows ceased. Then she charged further into the canyon, joining the melee in the drifting smoke.
Tough orcs these, Eolun thought, wincing as a wickedly sharp handaxe found its way between the plates covering her left shoulder. As her shield arm went slack, she laid about blindly with her morningstar, sailing it right over Khalad's head and into the orc he was yanking his axe out of, the force of the lucky, telling blow carrying through into another that had moved around behind her.
Oddly, in the chaos of the skirmish, she felt calm, and as the images of her comrades and their enemies flashed into her head, a part of her wondered about what if anything it might mean. An elf, a dwarf, a Gondorian, a Dunlander, and a Rohirrim, all battling a common foe, alongside an ent, with the power of nature itself. It boded well, she thought. And as the head of the morningstar punched through an orc's helm and stuck there, her thoughts focussed on Braint, the Dunlander who had made the weapon and given it to her. No, not given, Eolun reflected, but entrusted. Once the Dunland girl was sure it would be used, and used well, to kill orcs.
And when the last Uruk-hai perished, and the fires were put out, the smoke began to clear. The injured ent rumbled over to what Eolun had thought was a felled tree, but was in fact a fallen member of the ent's own race. The ent carried it somberly off the field and into the woods, but of course the rest of them had not the power to help. Still, she thought, this is where our hope rests. Responding to shared dangers, together. If the individuals can trust each other, and aid each other, differences aside, then alliances between nations and peoples--and even trees--might be forged as well. And that, she thought, as they gathered to look at an odd, glowing circle on the ground, was what the Mark needed.
"Eolun!" Then, louder, probably loud enough to be heard on the Lonely Mountain, "Eolun!" That was the drillmaster's voice, the one that carried across a parade ground or a battlefield. She reined in the mare and stood in the stirrups to look up at the Hornburg's battlements. She spotted her father standing next to one of a handful of sentries, and he waved her in. The shadows were lengthening already in the valley, and she'd been so thrilled with racing up and down the unflooded ditch that she hadn't noticed. She dismounted, then swatted the mare lightly on the haunch, letting her pick her way up the steep slope and hanging onto the leathers so the roan would help her up as well. She remounted and crossed Helm's Dike where the new road did, then traversed along the wall back to the fort's gate.
That was one of her father's little improvements, since they'd been there: moving the road so that it did not approach the gate directly, and thus exposing an approaching enemy to more fire from the walls. She recalled how the guards had grumbled at the duty--digging out the old crossing and carting the earth and stones down to rebuild it, culvert and all, at the far end of the ditch. The backbreaking toil had won her father no friends among the small, sedentary garrison that manned the refuge when unoccupied, despite the obvious wisdom of the change.
But friends were never Father's biggest concern--that was the defense of the Mark. "Eolun," he'd explained at the time, "our strength lies in our horse--our ability to move fast and strike when the opportunity and the advantage arise. But there will come a time when there is no advantage, or when we face a foe who can repel our mounted attacks--disciplined pikemen, perhaps. That's why we have refuges like the Hornburg--so our people can shelter from strong forces while the eoreds ride free, to buy time to organize relief attacks, gather allies, whittle down the invaders. So the refuges have to be as strong as we can make them. If I had a handful of dwarven stonemasons I'd fix that gate as well--give it a twist or two, with multiple gates, murder holes...."
He'd trailed off in thought, so she'd interjected. "Why won't the dwarves help you, Father?" And he'd smiled, pleased with her curiosity about the things that consumed him. The smile was an uncommon thing for him--she sensed that he was frustrated by many things in his life, though he never mentioned anything unless it was some concern over her own conduct--rare enough that it seemed to make more savory the meal they shared alone as usual in their quarters, honest and encouraging enough that it made her, also as usual, want to please him even more. "Oh, they'd help, if I could pay them, but we haven't been given any funds from Edoras for improvements. They just sent me here to keep me...to see what we could do on our own to tighten the place up. Now, if I had those funds and those dwarves for a month or two, I'd...", and he'd proceeded to describe ways to make the already impressive Hornburg defenses even more lethal.
She grinned at the memory as she dismounted just outside the gate and walked the mare inside. She was fairly certain she might prise another smile from him tonight. He met her just where she expected him to, by the door to the small keep next to the gate. And he watched, as usual, as she stabled the roan, wiped her down, and fed her some hay. Then she cleaned and stored the tackle. He made no comment, but she was sure he was ready if she didn't do it properly. One of his typical ones, like, "It's the little things--do them well and the big things come easier, do them poorly and you'll never get to the big things at all."
Back in their quarters, he helped her remove the heavy armor she wore, then watched as she cared for it, inspecting it for wear, oiling and buffing it, storing it in readiness. Back on her sixteenth birthday, when they'd been stationed in Dunharrow, she'd refused the gown he'd bought for her and had insisted on plate armor as her gift instead. Her demand had surprised Father, but he'd agreed readily enough, immediately going to the armory with her and picking one close to her size, if not to her changing shape. And thereafter she had worn plate, as often as possible, to develop her strength and to stay used to the weight and the constriction of it. He'd later paid the smith who visited the village every few weeks to craft a better fitted suit, but that night her father had shown her how and in what order to fasten the various pieces, and had taught her the rudiments of moving in rigid metal. And as she'd stood right there in the armory, awkward, mailed, and sweating profusely, he'd given her a very odd, rueful grin. "Eolun, I..."
"Yes, Father?" Concerned by his unwonted hesitation, she had stepped toward him, due to her inexperience rather more heavily than necessary, which had resulted in the helmet's visor crashing closed. She'd bobbed her head in frustration, trying to flick it back open since she could barely lift her arms, and he'd laughed and propped it back open for her.
"I never meant to raise ye for this," he'd said, nodding at the armor, and at the racks of weapons surrounding them. "But when you were born, and your mother passed..."
After a few moments of silence, she'd started, "Father, I know. Tell me...about her...please..."
Her words had brought him out of his thoughts, and he'd spoken, again, decisively, as usual. "Well your mother, she'd be as proud of you as I am, but," and then he'd pulled the gown off his shoulder where he'd unthinkingly tossed it, "she'd also want you to have this, and to wear it when we're in town. Can't spend all your life on a battlefield, you know."
She smiled secretly at the memory as they cooked their lonely meal in their quarters in the Hornburg, he asked her, as usual, about her day. "Well, Father, I think I'm about to lose that lovely track I've been riding on."
Immediately, he was very concerned. "What--are the walls of the Dike falling in? What do you mean?"
She smiled. "No, not at all, and the culvert's clear, and the depth is good all along it. But what I mean is that we should go cut some stakes--a lot of really sharp stakes--and put them in the bottom."
"Ha! Bloody hell, girl, I should have thought of that! Well done--here," and he smiled as broadly as she'd ever seen him, and passed her an earthen jar of ale. "We'll start tomorrow."
Elcamring could almost forget the troubles that haunted him trough day and night. Pressing feeling that someone was watching. Only hint of it remained, like a ongoing headache that numbed senses when the pain lingered for days and days.
At first this all had seemed wonderful, but now even the peaceful glades seemed too crowded sometimes. Tall mellyrn looming massively over him. Heaven of tranquility, between shadow of Moria and rising darkness of Greenwood was crushing him on its gentle embrace. How could he not be happy?
Only few days ago he had seen Alvae Helcariel. Their talks were rigid nowdays. Joy was gone, doubt and mistrust had replaced it, but perhaps they understood each other better after this. The creature's touch was starting to get firmer hold of him; regardless of the healing powers of Laurelindórenan. Sometimes he found himself surprised what he was about to say to one of his most reliable friends. He still tought that way of her while reality was far from it now. She had been that. Trusted friend. Perhaps her ultimate goal was same, but he could not trust her judgement anymore. A choise that he might regret, but he had made it. Sinda would only find herself destroyed on that path.
He remembered the worry on her eyes, but could not tell what it was anymore. Did she really belive that he would turn against his own kin or against some helpless hobbit? The idea was unreal.
He had to see Lady of the Glade soon. Her insight would have to shed some light to the days become. He had postponed the encounter too many times now. Toughts of the future was begining to trouble him more and more. The feeling was like an avalanche, gathering mass and strenght as it rolled onwards. He had not seen end to that steep mountain side yet. This had to end. Somehow. Soon.
Eregion was gone, most of his kin had sailed to West or perished in numerous wars against Shadow. How did he missed the northern mountains now; hot mineral fountains of Hithaelin; long walks in solitude, only surrounded by the vast snow tundra and the peaks of Eren Rhívamar. The only place he ever could have called home. Uichith.
He had dared to leave Lothlorien once after his arrival there. And how did he regret it now. Noldo remembered how he had felt an urge to end it all there and then. Had he been alone, things might have ended in another way, but lifes of his companions could not have been risked like that. Uneasy shape of a man, talking with foul voice. Asking about the hobbit. At least he hadn't found him yet, if he asked those questions.
Hope. That still remained. Like a faint glimmer of Valacirca during northern summer night.
He took another deep breath and continued one of his walks by the river Celebrant. Many light vessels of Galadhrim had set sails and left the peace of Golden Wood behind them during his stay there. Every time one left, his longing towards the sea grew. He could not leave these shores yet. That day was charging towards him like rising wind, but it was not yet here.
Spiders. Of course. As if rats weren't bad enough. He looked around at the long-dead, embattled corpses of orcs and Northmen, newly spattered with the foul innards and twitching legs of the spiders he had just killed.
How, he asked himself, did he get himself into these situations? He flicked some of the spatter off his threadbare cloak, and as he watched it fly off, at least one answer hove into view. Mai, the spirit-woman, her dark skin all too visible, laced with mysterious red and black tattoos, her black hair wild and crying out to be tamed. Earthy and otherworldly at once, hard edges and soft curves.
He shook himself into action, following as she turned up the next corridor, the wonderful view from astern reminding him of the rest of the story. How he'd sauntered into Laketown's marketplace looking for work and found her there at the notice board ahead of him. They'd met before, when their two different groups, both sent by Tharbad's greedy mayor to recover artifacts, had joined forces on Himling Isle.
And that woman Mareke had been there, as well, and shortly thereafter another woman he'd met, Nuluphel. In no time, he'd been overcome, again, by that feeling: the one that was equal parts in-over-your-head and out-of-your-depth. It wasn't just his inept flattery, or the Nulu woman's rather unsettling interest in both his lost eye and his remaining one. That feeling--definitely something he'd have to work on.
Mareke and Nulu had other commitments, so he and Mai had sought work together. It was simpler, somehow, with Mai. His tongue didn't betray him, and he was relatively at ease. So they'd agreed to help the rather disheveled merchant whose wagon and daughter had been lost in the Mirkwood. Not really his style, rescuing little girls, but it was work and of course there was Mai to look at. And then, the girl's name was Claret, and what oenophile could pass that up?
Unfortunately, it turned out the girl had been taken by spiders, with some hope, apparently, that they might just cocoon her to soften up her flesh, and she might yet live. He didn't like spiders--in fact, he was pretty much repelled by all things creepy, crawly and dirty, let alone diseased or poisonous--but he and Mai had followed the trail down into this old ruin, site of some unrecorded skirmish long past.
And now, once again, huge spiders came scuttling out of the dark toward Mai, offended, quite probably, that the two of them were slicing open all the cocoons in the place. He loosed off some crossbow bolts and then started flailing about with a mace he'd found someplace as the spiders turned their attention to him. When the spiders again lay twitching, he noticed a nasty puncture wound on Mai's thigh and hastened to bandage it, enjoying immensely the play of taut muscles under her soft skin.
"Thank you, but spirits will heal me. I was witch-woman of my tribe." Well, that explained why he felt comfortable with Mai. He'd once known another witch-woman, Majabrah. Known her...well. Though he still didn't understand why Majabrah'd saved him, back then, healed and nursed him after losing the eye. He'd repaid her, in a sense, with the only thing he had to offer, but it was still most extraordinary.
It was those memories, then, that distracted him as the two of them proceeded to kill spiders, and open cocoons, at last finding Claret after defeating the queen spider of the lair. He barely even paid any attention to the damned girl as they fought their way back to Laketown. Of course, he thought, as he watched Mai's swaying hips propel her along the causeway into town, if Majabrah'd looked like Mai he might have stayed with her once he'd finished recuperating.
It was afterwards, after sharing out the reward and the spoils they'd recovered, that the topper came. For after a day wading through spider guts and mandibles and legs, with only the vision of Mai and the memory of Majabrah to sustain him, Mai then asked him why he was embarassed to admit he was Mareke's man.
At some point, he thought, these things had to get easier.
Aerendur looks up at the youthful, nervous face of the messenger who has reported to his tent. Oh, to be so young again. The world seemed so much simpler back then. And filled with so much less sadness too.
He reads the his letter again and curses the orders, the weather and the foes that are keeping him on patrol and away from those he cares for.
Drops of rain water leaking through the tent roof have smudged some of the writing where he enquires about Noletaro and Eolun but the last paragraph is clear:
.... so my dearest Mirwen, even though I am far away I shall always be near you; in the freezing cold of the Misty Mountains and in the darkest corner of the Black Pit, amidst your greatest triumph and during your greatest trials - always, *always* (he has underlined the second word) - and if there seems to be another hand guiding your sword, it is because mine is ever wrapped around yours.
"Leave at dawn. Ride swiftly. Do not leave the roads."
The messenger takes the sealed envelope and turns to go.
"I am sure the lady will make you comfortable when you arrive (he smiles fondly to himself) ... you may stay for three nights; feel the sun on your back, listen to the music, dance with a girl."
"You report to the front lines when you return."
Aisling watched the hobbit sleep, twisting his blade between his fingers. A cold chuckle erupted in his throat as he watched the half eaten meal at the side of the small statue. So easy it had been to convince the creature to join him in his meal and fireplace. The food had been well prepared, in Aislings special way; the hobbit would probably sleep at least one day.
Aisling would not kill him, no, he would have the hobbit wonder what trick his stomach had put him in this time. Aisling knew that would tear more at him then a painful death and besides hobbits was not in Aislings taste.
He started to go through the belongings, emptying bags with his blade cutting them open and spreading them out on the ground. He shrugged and turned to the hobbit. Of course he would not put an important belonging like that in a bag. He let his pale slender hands walk their way on the outside of the hobbits clothes until he found the object in a hidden pocket. He cut it out and held the dark glistering stone in his hand for a moment.
Aisling turned his head to the sky and started to laugh.
My Dearest Mirwen
My patrols have been uneventful as of late. It is true that there are menacing bands of goblin and the occasional confrontation with the Haradrim to deal with, but these are becoming routine and they are, at least for now, easily repelled. It is strange but it is as though the citizens of this land have lessened in number and the heroes, those swells of ambitious youth and seasoned warriors, no longer feel the same need to defend them. It has been several moons since we have gathered in force to seek out and destroy some mighty evil.
I however, remain loyal to this task for if not for a few like ourselves, who would the free peoples have to stand against our foes when their hatred boils over.
I hold you in my heart and hope that we may be reunited soon. Until then I must tarry here on the borders of our lands, vigilant and ever watchful.
//ooc: Trip just been reinstated, away for a week or two. Au revoir.
As the Pindar tacked into the Havens, he looked out over the rail and grimaced. The towers of the Vizier's palace soared over the walls, but the rest of the city was really quite horrid. That was Umbar--sordidly, hideously, irrepressibly, gloriously seedy.
Once ashore, he strode purposefully toward the Palace, and in the plaza, quite suddenly, surprising himself, he stopped. The scene itself was typical: the men bringing gifts to their mistresses, the barely noble women flaunting themselves to procure a "good" marriage, the umpteenth sons trolling for whatever scraps they could find--the pretenders and the climbers and the graspers.
It was his milieu, and normally he would at least circle these waters and scent what else was swimming here. But not just then. For just then the plaza's revealingly clad materialism struck him as...immaterial.
It was this thought that made him stop so abruptly, the recognition of the extent of the change within him. Change that continued, change that had brought him back--to see her.
He exhaled, curiously, in stages, then took a deep breath and resumed his determined stride--into the Palace, past the courtiers and the courtesans, and down the hall. His pace slackened gradually, almost imperceptibly, until he reached the door--the door to the Shrine, or the Temple, or whatever the hell they called it.
He scuffed his feet, then looked around to see if anyone was watching, or had noticed his hesitation. Of course not, they were all too wrapped up in themselves. He reached out and gave the door a halfhearted try. It didn't open, but whether that was the result of a lock or his lack of effort he didn't investigate. Instead, he spun on his heel and headed back toward the docks.
"Garin, is that you?" The voice called as he was about to leave the plaza. The words froze him, but the voice, lyrical and enticing, was not hers.
"Of course it is, Nuriana," he said, even before turning, the voice bringing back the name and a handful of vaguely pleasant memories of an attractive girl, fascinated with men with mysterious dark pasts, from a minor family that had fallen on very hard times. "Who else wears an eye-patch even half as jauntily as I? Come," he said, gallantly taking her arm, "it's been far too long. Let's take a stroll by the wharf in this beautiful sunset and share our innermost secrets. And after, perhaps some wine?"
Miss Trista helped herself to a second midgeberry muffin and nodded a grateful “don’t mind if I do” to her most generous Hobbiton host.
“Ever considered traveling, Mister Hairylobes, sir? No shortage of remarkable things beyond the Shire, you know. Venture no further than Bree, and for the price of a pint the dwarves will tell heroic stories of former glories, and of lofty lords reclaiming dragon hordes.”
Grandpa Hairylobes leaned back in his chair behind the kitchen table, smiled, and arched an eyebrow skeptically.
“Or… or… with a stout walking stick and a full-stuffed pack,” Trista continued, “one can trek to the great elven valley still further to the East — where the trees and the waters seem as if they remember the world’s first day, and yet seem altogether brand new — having aged not a minute. You’ll sleep in no softer beds, sir, and hear no sweeter songs — of this I assure you!”
The senior Hairylobes scrunched his face and slowly shook his head.
“Of the merits of these things I’m certain you’re quite right, Miss Trista, dear. But I suspect this old hobbit is altogether content just here, in the West Farthing, with his hearth and home. After all, were I to leave, who would be left to remind the youngsters of their ‘pleases’ and ‘thankyous’ as they help themselves to my berry bushes? And who would sweep the stoop, and train the tanglevines up the terrace, and shoo the pigs from the melon patch?”
He chuckled softly.
“And I needn’t tell you, Miss Trista, of all young hobbits, that there are no shortage of equally remarkable things just here in Hobbiton. The sparrows in the willows just up the lane, and the chirpings of their new-hatched young. The smells of the cinnamon scones wafting over from the Ivy Bush as I throw open my shutters each morning at daybreak. The butterflies fluttering just there betwixt the mint and the marjoram in the windowbox. How would I surrender even a minute spent with these things? And I have that good lad Frain as well, who boils up his whole-tater mutton stew on midsummer’s and yuletide, and often other times in-between.”
Miss Trista nodded, and caught herself thinking of Granny and Grumpy Tanglefoot, cozy in their Trundle Hill hobbithole — and how she often longed to spend more of her own time with them… Indeed, she thought now how she could so easily finish the rest of her own days in the gardens on that handsome hillside, tending to life’s simpler wonders and life’s smaller surprises.
She lifted her teacup saluting Grandpa Hairylobes, paused as her slightly-mistied eyes met his, and marveled that her times were blessed with friends so dear and so wise.
// Thank you, Araw.
Funny, she thought, as Khalad boldly stepped into the glowing circle...and vanished. And as she and the others rushed after him, suddenly appearing in some sorcerous workshop, the thought developed more. Battering away at the monstrous metal creations they found there, she wondered what had prompted that particular memory from the Hornburg. Until the din of clashing arms ended, and they all stood panting around the fallen metal shells and the sad, dying ent that the orcs had somehow brought there.
"Take...my heart...home." The tree-thing's final words made it perfectly clear why she'd recalled that memory. For the seemingly simple job of staking the Dike, like this one of removing orcs from the Wold, had taken on a life of its own.
Her meticulous father, of course,had spent the better part of a day pacing the Dike, fiddling with a bundle of javelins to determine the best angles and spacing and density, and then calculating what they would need. He'd shaken his head after he'd checked the sum for the third time.
"Bema's boots, but that's a lot of wood," he'd said. "And..." He'd trailed off, then, and a moment or two later he'd nodded, just once, and continued. "But it's still an excellent idea. Tomorrow I'll get the lads started, and I'll need you to carry a message to Edoras for me. You remember Miss Emryn? Find her, if she hasn't keeled over yet, or Damas. They'll help you find a man named Hartsson. Tell him I need him for a week or so when he has the time. Then ride back here--with him, if he's free to come now."
"But, Father, a week? How long will it take?"
"Oh, we'll be done before the first snow," he'd said, smiling at the disappointment clear on her face. "Don't be discouraged, girl...not yet, anyway. Think how much more you'll appreciate it, after all the work we'll have to put in. Ah. Speaking of work...I, uh, told the lads already it was your idea. Couldn't help it--I'm proud of you, see? But those lazy garrison duffers are doubtless dreading the labors ahead of us, so I'll be looking to you for some ideas to keep their morale up."
So, she'd thought about that, all through the journey to Edoras. And back, the quiet, grey-cloaked Hartsson--who'd readily agreed to accompany her--leaving her largely to her own, fruitless thoughts.
It was only over the next few days, after Father and Hartsson had ridden off on some mysterious errand, that she'd begun to get some ideas for boosting morale. She'd been inspired, perhaps, by the garrison's lackadaisical and seemingly nonsensical efforts to build a handful of firepits out around the dike, each pit surrounding a trough-like iron rainwater basin hauled bodily by the men from the storage rooms in the fortress' depths.
When Father had returned alone a few days later, he'd peeked on the way in under the canvas covering the basins and nodded at the men, but her confusion about the project had only deepened when he rode through the gate, dismounting with a scowl and uttering, like a curse, the single word, "Scabs."
She'd decided, right then, to wait until he was in a better mood before broaching her ideas for heartening the men, ideas that she'd feared might be as incoherent as her understanding of the staking project itself.
The war had ended in defeat for the east, and this was no bad thing for the villages and towns whose men had been pressed in to the dark armies. While the spirit of the dark lord still was scattered to the winds there came a brief mellowing of some hearts even as other tyrants vied for power. Though the truth of it may be lost to time, it is said by those who make such matters their concern that the darkness diminished greatest in the eastern most lands. For in the villages therein began to travel a handful of strangers counselling kindness where there once was cruelty, co-operation where there once was coercion, faith where there once was fear and steadfastness where there once was disappear. Yet a peoples under the yolk of tyranny for so many years and now suspicious by nature are not born anew overnight by the speaking of words from transient strangers. Such seeds of better ways as were planted in minds would need time to take root and even more the rise of a leader to bring them in to unison bloom so that they may stand against those who would become oppressors themselves. The years passed, tyrants rose only to be defeated by others like minded and the labours of the strangers never resulted in the fields full of flowers they hoped for. Still here and there from every generation were the few who would themselves set out from village to village to recount the tales of that brief time when there was respite from the dark in a few oases; and they too would speak of a better more fruitful path.
The seasons came and went many times over and the old shadow was once more cast far and wide. The lesser despots became as one with it and all that was once under its dominion again came to be so. To the furthest east though, there still remained the folklore of the fakir travelling from village to village, giving counsel to those who would listen; though now even children were taught to shun the old travellers lest someone be watching and retribution come upon them. Through such a village passed an elderly man, children gathering about him; though slowly each whose mother or father stood near was ushered away until but a few remained. A small flock being better than none, the fakir sat under the shade of a great tree and began his teachings. As he spoke, one by one the parents of the remaining children appeared and whisked them away until but one remained. The fakir finished his tale and looked intently at the one who remained, awaiting a reaction.
“Thy words fall on deaf ears old one”, the boy gestured towards some of the houses in which the other children had been taken.
“Perhaps it is so, yet thou art here still, and I would know thy thoughts on matters spoken.”
“Thy words mean well old one but art discordant from the life that is.”
The fakir nodded a little and gestured the boy come closer and sit by his side.
“What is thy name?”
“I am Mahboob-Ali”, the boy touched his forehead, followed by his lips and then his chest followed by a slight sitting bow.
“Explain thy words Mahboob-Ali.”
“None would do things as would draw attention to them, even among those who might think thy words worthy. What thou speaks, if such is practiced then attention would surely follow. Thy words hold no contention against the power to the west.”
“And what of thee? Is thy heart not filled with fear of attention? Why doth thee remain?”
“My father is dead, my mother is dead; I am but an urchin of the street. What interest in me other than the passing kick, and I remain because even though thy words ill fit what is, still there is an appeal to them; and unlike the others who would listen to thee, there is none to drag me away.”
“The manner of thy talk is not that of one who sits in the streets, thy words are falsehood or thee tells me only that which thou wish me to hear.”
“I speak no falsehood, truly my father is dead and my mother is dead. Of the manner of my talk, I have lost my parents not my wits. The lady of the tavern tolerates my presence in return for chores and errands, and is not such a place where one with wits even though of the streets might learn much.”
“And what hast thy time in thy place of learning revealed to thee.”
“This and that, but most recently all words of armies swelling in numbers, villages called to make payment of all manner of things and that soon such calls will come this way, and that there will be no place to hide when the call cometh.”
“And what of thee, what doest thou think of all that thou sees and hears?”
“I am but a street urchin whose mother is dead and whose father is dead, what thoughts am I to have other than where my next meal comes.”
The old man laughed. “Now thou doth indeed speak falsehood and try to make me the fool. I think not thou hast troubles of finding a meal for did thee not inform me thy wits is about thee, and then too thy talk is that of one far beyond thy seeming years. I would have knowledge of thy thoughts if thou see it fit.”
“As thou wish, so will it be then old one. All that I hear doth make me wonder what a miserable life we hath on this earth. What worth to a life lived in fear and under the command of that who thinks thee worth not more but an extension of sword, shield, field or beast. Better the guise of an urchin than that I say to thee; to roam the land as one desires and walk a direction of ones choosing with a care but to sharp eyes that might see beyond thy humble rags.”
“Yet thou risks such eyes the longer thee sits at mine side, thy desire reaches not just for the free roaming of lands. Thou doth seek to fill they mind, for such also is thy hunger.”
“I think I risk not much yet, for I see none who would give me concern, and this sharing of words has appeal worthy of a little risk for thee and me.”
“Then thee finds pleasure in the speaking with others?”
“Pleasure, if the words are interesting as they be now. To talk of thoughts strange and not yet known such doth stir something in the belly that be not unwelcome, and more so for the danger of it.”
“Thou is but a child but with thoughts and ways of one not so. Wouldst thou consider travel with me if thee has none?”
“Why would thee wish it? And what gain to Mahboob-Ali?”
The old man smiled. “Thy second question I tend first. I would converse with thee and present thee with thoughts new and strange such as thy would never imagine. I would teach thee the words written and I would teach thee the writing of words. I would recount to thee tales of old both long and short such best as I recall, and of distant lands I would speak to thee too. In turn from thee I would wish that thy hunger in such matters remain strong and ever more thee hearken to such words and ways of which I first spoke.”
Mahboob-Ali nodded. “Thy words and ways are dangerous old one, and the danger grows by the day if all that be carried on the wind be true, but Mahboob-Ali cannot forsake all that thou promises even if all the comforts of the land be presented to him. I will gladly be thy chela”.
Faint glimmer of light caught the eye of lone deer in the depths of Greenwood. Like a distant lighthouse on horizon its flash lasted a moment and disappeared, only to appear again. That deer had wandered too far from its pack and made hasty sprint to to rejoin them. It did not know that the elf would not have harmed its kin, even if he had seen it. And that elf's toughts were elswhere.
Elcamring lead white gelding through the woods, far south from Men-i-Naugrim or the Old Forest Road as people called that part of it nowdays. He was returning from the stronghold of East Blight and could not afford the time to follow ancient dwarven highway.
Rumors had told that she was in Imladris.
Elf was swamped on his toughts and kept readjusting glimmering, pale grey ring. He had not wore that long enough for it to feel natural on his finger, a thing he had tought on this journey more than once. His mind was much clearer than it had been during past months, but while the strain had grew lighter, Elcamring did not want that old piece of jewelry to become part of his normal set of adornments. His torment had to end before the treatment became as familiar as the symptom.
He had seen her briefly after their heated discussion in Lothlorien. There had not been much time for discussion since Aerendur, a man from Gondor had arrived there, seeking help to vanquish a spawn of ancient Urulóki. The drake was a threat to all ships that sailed down the river Anduin, towards Great Sea and hence a reason strong enough for Elcamring to take a risk and leave the banks of Celebrant.
A trick of faith or blessing from Valar, he could not decide. Something had lead that man to those woods and thus him to Tol Falas. From there he had found that very same ring which had scared a deer away from danger just a moments ago. Elcamrings horse neighed abruptly as it became obvious that huge forest spiders were upon them. Elf managed barely to unsheath his glimmering blade before first of them lunged at him. Crying the name of Elbereth he was compelled into another meaningless battle under the darkened trees of Greenwood. Study of that ring had to wait, untill he reached the other side of Hithaeglir. Design, sensation of calmness and tranquil suggested that it might even be one of the earlier works of gwaith-i-mirdain.
Elcamring's mind rushed with images and he could almost see him working at the forge.
Spider nearly impaled his foot.
His horse had galloped away from this danger already. Hopefully he would find it before spiders did. Elf braced himself, he had to hack his way through these abominations. Amon Lanc was far, but yet too close for him to risk anything else.
Answers! He needed those. More than ever before.
A young man in his late teens or perhaps early twenties sits engrossed in lovingly messaging the feet of a sleeping frail old man. The old man stirs and with a few wheezy coughs comes to.
“A welcome return to thee, I hope thy rest was well Huzoor.”
The old man began struggling to sit up from the rope bed and the younger quickly moved forward to help him up and support his back.
“With thy tendings and fussings like that of a mother to a child how can my rest be otherwise Mahboob-Ali, though thy persistence in calling me huzoor still does not sit well with me.”
Mahboob-Ali handed the old man a warm drink, “I could not call thee otherwise for that is what thou art to me”.
The fakir sipped at his drink, “Be that so but I do not like it still”. He shakily put the drink on to the simple table by his equally humble bed and turned his attention back to Mahboob-Ali.
“But that is not what I wish to talk to thee of today. It is now well gone 7 years since thee and I first began our journey together. Now the dust beckons to me and its call is soon to be answered. I have taught thee all that which I know and my one regret be that more like thee were not found by my order in the days when the great evil was newly vanquished. But, to despair of the opportunities not come earlier is against our teachings, and this thee must remember always too.”
A fit of coughing came to the old man as even the quite talk taxed him and he reached for the drink, Mahboob Ali quickly passing it to him.
“Thee must not talk Huzoor, thy strength is not for it; thee must rest.”
The old man shook his head, and laughed; not at all in bitterness or melancholy.
“Rest enough I will have soon and talk I must. Truly thy mother and thy father named thee well in Mahboob, for thee has become a beloved friend to me but now is thy last chance of any questions that thou might still harbour, before we be parted and thee and I begin our next journey alone. I ask thee not to restrain any thoughts that thee may have.”
“Thou does me great honour with thy words Huzoor and I have but two questions. First, thy order's tradition be that of the spoken word even though thee be well versed in the ways of the scribe. The reason for this I have come to understand well, but the spoken word can change from the time of the father to the time of his child’s grandchild. Your order doth stretch back many generations and thy kind often travel alone and even though I have had the privilege of meeting others like thee and so heard confirmed many of thy words; And though I doubt thee not, still the changing nature of tales across the sands of time I cannot ignore. So I ask thee what weight should I give to the actuality of histories and practices thou hath taught? And this I ask thee also, that thou hath spoken much of thy order and thy philosophies, but though hast never mentioned the beginnings of it.”
“Of the beginning of my order, there are many tales and I cannot tell thee that, such and such is truth and such and such is not. I can tell thee only this much with certainty, that even long before the great evil was scattered to the winds are the beginnings of our order and its wisdom comes not from the men of the east but from those of elsewhere. After the great conflict, to give succour to light and make quick the spread of all that is good was our task; though in time it became apparent that such was not to be. Now our hopes for the East sit for the most in the hands of the West; in those few such as thee we have nurtured, it is hoped will come to be a distraction for the growing strength of evil such that it may lend time and lessen the burden of the West. More than this I know not to tell thee.”
“Of thy first question, what weight must thou give to the truth of all that I have spoken to thee over the years? Matters of the East my order knows well and all this thou can trust; thy own heart knoweth thy peoples well and of their fall in to bondage and the manner of its happening thou should also by now understand. Of the West our knowledge is old and sparsely renewed and in these matters thou must tread in care if thee has ever need of what thee hast been told. This much I have some certain faith though; that still there is a Kingdom of elves in a great wood whence even to us word reached that the dark one had been driven out perhaps not long ago. It is also known that the half elven still has a hidden seat and that the dwarves have reclaimed a Kingdom of old. This also thee can trust, that among the high men only Gondor now stands as a force of reckoning for the North Kingdom and the strong among it are no more. But such distant lands it is unlikely thou will have concern of, for thy labours should have no direct approach to such.”
The old man gestured to Mahboob-Ali to let him lie once more, “Now, thy tending’s to me come to an end as does my worth to thee. Thou hast clarity of thy tasks and the conduct of them, the hour of thy actions and the testing of thy mental is come and I will not have thee remain here a moment more. Thee and thy kind, is to seek out the first of the nuisances thou art to bring upon the schemes of the dark and thou art not to cease until the light is spread to the East or thy breath leaves thee.”
Mahboob-Ali stood slowly and silently, touched the tips of his right hand fingers to his forehead, lips and then chest, following through smoothly in to a bow; then, gathered a blue robe, a shortbow and a sword and left the old man; at last to rest in eternal piece forever.
Beregôr is sitting in the Grey Flood Inn and is taking nips from his dwarven ale. It is indeed not the best he have drunken, but at least better than nothing. He spend the last days (which were very rainy by the way) on the road between Bree and Tharbad. But while listing to the general gossip, it is becoming clear that he will not be able to enjoy warm food and dry clothes for that long, since there are rumours that the Lossoth in Forochel tribe has some serious problems to deal with. Beregôr shrugs thinking "Well, at least I will see my home again on the way." He takes a huge sip, empties the mug and left by leaving some gold coins on the table.
Alignment: Good only!
Meet at Forochel!
Today, 22.00 GMT
All of you are welcome, but I am afraid that some will not be able to join, if there are too many players, but that we will figure out in-game.
For many years, the band of about 200 individuals in cabal’s of 4 or 5 had spread and struck where ever possible and in whatever way they could to hinder the growing strength of the dark forces. Like flees upon a ferocious beast they distracted and annoyed, making the great lumbering hulk pause now and then to tend to the irritation. When the call for all to gather had come, at first it was thought by many to be too dangerous a thing, yet for one of them to have had the means and knowledge of all; that alone was compelling enough in the end for the call to be answered.
Mahboob –Ali entered the caverns with his wife and companions, the place teaming with tired looking faces but with an air of contentment about them that comes from those sure of the path they follow.
Shortly after their arrival, a man stood upon a chair and called for order.
“Welcome my brothers and sisters, I thank thee for the answering of my call; I am heartened that so many of thee still live and continue the long struggle. Many questions thou must have few of which it is likely I will answer, but for now I ask thy heads of each cabal come and gather about me so that we may discuss that which thee hath been summoned for”
Magboob-Ali turned to his own group, “Well, seems we know the face of our caller if not the name and he gets straight to the issue. Not that thee all need reminding, but share not any of thy activities, names and such; I will return shortly”
Already others were gathered around the man who was busy unfurling a large map. Once the map was spread on the table before him he looked at the cabal leaders.
“First, no doubt thee all have a wish to know who I am and how it is that I knew of all of thee. A name I could give thee but the question of who I am, will still remain unanswered. To thy satisfaction perhaps I could give thee information but all I will say is that always there was the prospect that a need may arise for all of thee to be gathered and for such a time a means was put in place; I am thy means. Doubts and concerns thou may have but I ask thee put them aside and observe what I present to thee; thou will be swayed and thy doubts cast aside by the end of it. Is this agreeable to thee?”
A murmuring of agreement followed and the man continued, turning his attention to the map before him.
“ Here", he pointed at a location on the map, "3 days journey from Khalishan, a great and permanent camp has been set up with tall and thick wooden boundaries. My own cabal watched the structure grow for 6 months with not a hint of its purpose; for this land is many miles from any conflict and the size of this place suggests thousands of warriors if it be a barracks. But recently, there have been arrivals which suggest even higher ambition by the builders of this place and an opportunity requiring all our numbers.”
“ All of my cabal have made themselves one in the activity of the building of this camp, it is learnt that on its completion it will be a fortified breeding come training ground for Mumakil.“
He unfurled another nearby parchment to reveal sketches of the camp and continued; referring to the parchment and pointing out various points of interest as he did so.
“Not just the usual camp where there is perhaps a bull and 5 or 6 cows; this will hold no less than a hundred cows and still leave room for the training of new born and the garrisoning of near 800 defenders and 200 of the best trainers of Mumakil, not to mention the training of the mahouts and the builders of howdah. As thou see if this comes to full fruit then in not too many years it will produce a dread force to wreak terror among the ranks of any who stand before it. The defences are already in place and the Mumakil, their trainers and such others have begun to arrive; it is expected that all will be in place by another week or so. That is when we shall strike, our aim to destroy as many Mumakil and all the training supports so that not only is this place left useless but the possibility of establishing such again is set back by many years.”
“When the time comes, my own men already in the camp will light fires in four equidistant locations; as the fires take hold and the enemy is distracted, the gates will be opened for us. Our aim is total slaughter of that which lies within, especially those with the skills to recreate and make practical such a camp again. Few of us will survive for the ways of combat are not ours, but such an opportunity to strike a blow from which the enemy will be long in recovering is unlikely to be had again; so I ask that thee consider it well and hope that thy support is given.”
It did not take long for the cabal leaders to arrive at a decision and offer agreement to that which was proposed; all that remained was for them to return to their cabals and make preparations.
The day of the planned attack arrived, and the leader of all stood before them for final words both bold and encouraging.
“My brothers and sisters! The Dark Foe has a mind to build a Mumakil army the size of which has never before been reckoned with and that which none would stand before! Our task this day is to ensure that such a force does not come to be! Few of us if any will return from this foray but succeed we will! For our lands shall taste the fruits of freedom and our success this day will ensure that our hope stays alive even if fate deems it that we ourselves do not see such a day!"
"For the tomorrow that which is yet to come! Is still but a dream! but one which we have pursued for many a year as did those few of our forebears with wisdom! Long has been the draught in our lands and few of us will live to see the storm that is to come and from the cleansing of which our dreams may yet be made true! The hour draws near and our moment is nigh! This day we few of the east ensure that when the greater battles are fought, and even though our deeds may never be known!, yet still in that blessed future it will be as if we stand and battle by the very sides of the free! Stay true to thy teachings men of the east, stand firm in the face of thy foe and forget not thy dream! The coming of which is now not afar!"
A tremendous cheer went up among the cabals and, masked by the moonless night, they began the track to the fortified Mumakil training ground.
A costly victory had come that day, for no less than a handful of Mahboob-Ali’s comrades had survived; his own beloved Haseena amongst those who fell. A victory never the less it was and a complete one at that, for the camp was raised to the ground and none of the enemy escaped to tell of the what and the how. There was time enough now for mourning, which the three of them did, and then as the ache of loves lost dwindled, so the desire to continue the struggle against the enemy returned. Each was soon to take to his own path and so continued the labors.
This was the second year of Mahboob-Ali’s cover in the scribing service of Lurgan the lore master. It served his purposes to be in the employ of such a person, news came this way often and so the occasional opportunity. The scribing itself was tedious, often hours of laborious copying of texts, some of which Mahboob-Ali did not even understand. But it did afford him opportunity to build a few contacts and even help escape persecution the occasional person seeking refuge. It was not much in the way of what he had hoped he would be able to do, but during the ten long years since the Battle Of The Mumakil, it had increasingly became difficult to do much more. For fear now reigned supreme and none risked the wrath of those who loyally followed the Dark One.
It was on such an occasion when such musings were upon Mahboo-Ali’s mind, that Lurgan came to him and handed him a number of parchments.
“Mahboob-Ali, I have a task for thee. Thou art to copy the text of these parchments many fold but these sections here, here and here thou are to replace with this text”, and he handed him another three parchments, a look of distaste clearly visible on his face.
“Thou art displeased with something Lurgan?”
“It is always displeasing to change the words of ancient texts and then for the original to be hidden away or destroyed. One now wonders how much of what one has been told and even read is but fabrication.”
Mahboob-Ali looked at one of the parchments, “I have never seen such writing, what language is it and of what does it speak?”
“They are the words of the elves this much I know, but words which even I do not understand enough, for I am not high born to have been offered such learning. But little good will these do to even the highest born if the words be changed from that of the original.”
“From whence did this come? And why trust thee for the scribing?”
Lurgan pulled Mahboob-Ali to the doorway, from which he saw four men blocking the distant exit.
“Trust hath naught to do with this, the house is to be watched and all those who come and go. As to where the scrolls came from, thou hast no doubt heard of the great trading city of Tharbad, where all can be bought or sold. It is said that the ruler of that place holds a great land in his possession which was once the abode of elves and from there he recovers much to sell and make his own wealth grow. I have heard that, much of value and power has already been purchased and much more there may still be that could be used against our enemies in the west. I am certain these parchments are from such a place.”
In the days that followed, Mahboob-Ali carried out his tasks diligently, for they were watched all the time. He soon concluded that if they were watched so close, then it would be unlikely that they would be left alive once the task was done. Lurgan, he could not be trusted to aid in any escape for his fear was stronger than his wits at such times, and so Mahboob-Ali took the first opportunity which came his way to add zehr to the food of those who watched them. That night he gathered his possessions and set himself a new task, to seek out the distant city of Tharbad from whence he may perhaps be better placed to continue the struggle against the darkness in the hope of light for the East.
//So endeth the back-story.
Bloody waste of time, he thought. Should have stayed in Umbar with Nuriana the Nubile. But no, leaving her there had turned out to be the most satisfying part of the encounter. He'd rather taken out on her his frustration with his own earlier hesitancy at the Shrine, and the exhausted, tousled-haired look she'd given him as he paused in the doorway had been priceless. The unfocussed eyes, rounded ever so slightly with a spark of interest in the mysterious errand that pulled him away from her soft sheets--"duty calls, love"--and the tantalizing, womanly smile that had told him she thought she knew him in some profound way. Poor, lovely, misguided, self-deluded Nuriana--still on the hook. Beautiful.
He shifted slightly, hiding his discomfort by reaching back into the sack behind him and pulling out yet another bottle of spirits. He pretended to take a swig of the foul stuff and again passed it off to the old man on his right. How did the Dunlendings sit like this with their legs crossed for hours on end? Barbaric, really, not even a stone or log to sit on. "This the way we do," they'd said, nodding emphatically.
Well, that brilliant sentiment is what had brought him here, to this impoverished Dunland village southeast of Tharbad. Bearing gifts of rotgut and some suitably wild-looking daggers he'd cobbled together out of steel and animal teeth. To talk to the elders--about their Dreamers, and the way they dream.
So, he'd simply returned their nods and squatted down with them into the damp earth, wondering how much old Math at the Greyflood would charge him when he returned to polish his black boots and to brush the mud off his gorgeous blue silk pantaloons. And eventually he'd turned the conversation away from the elders' bizarre curiosity about what specific animals had provided each dagger's tooth and back to his questions.
"Dreamers all gone now," they'd said, motioning about them as if that alone explained their current marginal existence in the swamp. But how they dreamed, or what, the elders really couldn't say. He'd asked in many ways, over the past hours, and he'd gotten a few tales of Dunlending folk history, but nothing particularly helpful. He didn't sense they were hiding anything from him, just that they didn't know, and that they were saddened by their people's lack of dreams.
"But surely, among you are those who can still dream? Who picture better for your people? And strive to get it?"
The old woman across the fire from him looked at him for a long moment, and then stared into the bottle of spirits. After a silent minute or two, she looked back up to him, motioning with the bottle off into the distance. "Over there, traders," and she spat. "There, riders," and she spat. "There, beasts," and she spat. "And there, white lord," and she shuddered and spat. "We no room for dreams."
He wasn't exactly sure why, but the Dunlending woman's words made him stand abruptly. He focussed his mind on one of the dreams he'd had recently, and a wolf came bounding out of the nearby woods to his side. The Dunlendings, oddly, didn't react, not even when the wolf curled up at his feet.
"Was it like that? Was that the sort of thing your Dreamers did? Is that how it worked?" He looked around at the white-haired faces plaintively, frustrated, and his confusion hung in the moist air long after his words had melted away.
The old woman slowly got to her feet, and walked around the fire to him, stepping past the wolf and leaning down to pluck his last two bottles of rotgut from the sack. One she took for herself, and the other she handed to him. She shrugged, and patted his shoulder. "Maybe," she said, seemingly with sympathy. "Maybe too," she added, tilting the neck of the bottle to point at his eye-patch, "maybe you see dreams different." And with that the old, hopeless Dunlendings rose as one and vanished into their huts for the night.
Lost in thought, he started the journey back to Tharbad, unthinkingly moving quietly and unseen through the unfamilar woods. Just no damned help at all, he thought, and muddy boots and trousers for my trouble. He looked down and noted with dismay that he still held the bottle of spirits the old woman had handed him. He cocked his arm back to throw the foul stuff far away from him, but then thought better of it as he saw a body off in the shadows about where the bottle would have landed. He looked around, and all seemed quiet, so he went over to investigate.
Wolf attack, he thought, as he looked down at the pathetic remains, noting the ravaged throat and the long-dried pool of blood that had spread from it. Dunlending, by the look of his shredded clothes. And those two observations suddenly made him drop the bottle of spirits, which fell unbroken to the leafy forest floor. He stepped over to a nearby log, swiping ruefully and halfheartedly at the moss covering it, before sitting. He pulled a wineskin from his pack and took a long swallow.
It was astounding, really. Remarkable. How much he'd learned since leaving Jonil. Wolves? Dunlendings? What had he known of them before? His mind raced to follow the thought, an idea that lurked just beyond that recognition of how much he had grown. What else? Mai had told him once that even spiders wouldn't bother with a wolf-eaten corpse--something about the juice being all drained out. Mai--spirits. She said the spirits were strong with him, and her spirits seemed strongest in woodland areas like this.
He looked around, but just saw woods, and the corpse. He took another long pull of wine, trying to prepare himself for what he knew he was about to do. Prepare himself--either to discover something earth-shatteringly important or to look an utter fool.
"Are you here, spirits?" Nothing. "Come now, spirits, you talk to Mai all the time, and she says you like me, too. Come on, now." He listened intently, but there was still nothing beyond the ordinary noises of the wood. "Want something first, do you? An offering? This wine's really quite good, and begging to be shared. Come on, now, give me some sign...."
He went on in a similar vein for several minutes, with similar results. Talking to yourself sure makes you thirsty, he thought, and pulled yet again on the wineksin. Then he laughed, a single explosive guffaw. You're ridiculous, he thought to himself. Mai's spirits were strong, and they might well like him, but they were Mai's. And she was...well...tribal, wasn't she? He guessed they'd never quite be his spirits, and she never really spoke of dreams, did she?
He glanced over at the corpse, and raised the wineskin in a toast. "Just you and me, mate. Here's to us. Sorry, this red is too good to waste on you--I mean, look at your damn tongue! Have some of that rotgut there." And the instant he drank the toast, he spewed the wine out with another bark of laughter. "Rotgut! Sorry, that was unintentional, mate." And he pointed at the corpse's missing midsection.
And as he looked where he was pointing, his face clouded. There was something...familiar...like....
Like a dream you can't quite remember when you wake, he thought. And he sat up straight, serious, and frowned in concentration, staring at the corpse and still pointing. Staring until his eye became dry and painful, and then he stood up, still pointing. And the corpse stood as well.
"Gaaahh! Hells!" He blinked and fell back on to the log. But the rotting corpse just stood there, tendrils of flesh and scraps of clothing hanging from it, with a horrific smell now emanating from it. He looked around--still alone, this was something he alone had wrought.
He thought about that for several minutes, the corpse just standing there, reeking. And then he nodded to himself, and hoisted his wineskin again. "Cheers, mate. We are most definitely not in Jonil anymore."
And as the wine squirted into his mouth, the corpse bent, picked up the bottle of rotgut, broke it at the neck, and poured it into its mouth. But what caused him again to spew the wine from his mouth, in a near-hysterical mixture of laughter and horror, was the subsequent flow of rotgut down and out from behind the ribs into that chewed away gut-space.
6 Foreyule, Michel Delving, West Farthing
“If there was ever any doubt, we’ve certainly seen proof today that big taste can come from a little lad’s stew pot.”
It was with those words that Brumwick Bolger, renown chef of Michel Delving’s Chalk Horse Supper Club awarded 7-year-old Pettiman Proudfoot first prize in the West Farthing’s “Young Hobbit’s Yuletide Stew-Doings.” The annual event pits hobbit lads and lasses from Gamwich to Tookbank against one another in a day-long test of savory stew-making.
“It’s an extraordinarily proud day for Master Proudfoot,” Chef Bolger proclaimed. “Few lads his age own such sophisticated palettes to season their stews so precisely.”
Parents of other contestants went even further in their expressions of incredulity after Perriman Proudfoot, the victor’s father, was found to have pocketsful of pepper and paprika — and not a few opportunities to flavour his son’s concoction out of sight of the judges and other onlookers.
“Let’s just say that some parents carry encouragement of their hobbit-children’s endeavors a wee bit further than others,” protested Whimsy Whitfoot, mother of a disappointed third-place finisher. “I found Mister Proudfoot’s defense more than a little lacking, after he decried the blandness of the Ivy Bush’s shepherd’s pie where he’d supposedly eaten earlier in the day. I, for one, will be looking to confirm so unlikely a claim!”
In other news, travelers making their ways east so far as Budgeford are urged to view with amazement the six very handsome, miniature models of historical hobbit sitting-rooms — all constructed of gingerbread — on display in shops on the northernmost side of town, now through the end of the holidays.
Reported by Trista Tanglefoot, of the Daily Bugle
7 Foreyule, Bywater, West Farthing
A crowd of nearly three dozen was on hand earlier today for Dando Sandheaver’s winter waistcoat fashion debut, the event known to set the style trends for jackets, breeches, and hats crafted in the coming year. And, as usual, the new line-up was met with a decidedly mixed reaction: enthusiastic cheers from the younger hobbits in attendance, and unmistakable grunts of disappointment from the older folk.
“We’re very, very excited,” Sandheaver reported after the unveiling. “Clients this season will enjoy the exact same quality cloth and cut as they’ve come to expect from Rushlight, Gambin and Sandheaver. But, as one can plainly see — this year… a SIXTH button!”
That extra button was enough to sharply divide the generations.
“I was only just asking a mate the other day — why limit ourselves to just five buttons on a waistcoat?” confessed Barto Brockhouse, the 32-year-old son of Tighfield farmer, Balmo Brockhouse. “It’s as if Mister Dandy’s tailors have read my mind! I think this is a very promising development, and I will most certainly look with similar excitement for extra buttons on overcoats, as well.”
Codger Burrows, the 85-year-old Ivy Bush regular who’d traveled from Hobbiton with the express intent to purchase two new waistcoats for his wardrobe, made it very clear to this reporter that he’d be returning empty-handed. “My granddad used five buttons, my pappy used five buttons, and I’m not about to confine this hearty hobbit’s torso with six. It makes no sense at all to me, really. One reaches to loosen one’s waistcoat after an especially satisfying supper, and there’s this extra button with which to contend! It’s an outrage — that’s what it is. An outrage.”
In other news, patrons of the Floating Log, Frogmorton, were greatly relieved when Verbina Hubbs — mother of Miss Nan Hubbs of Whitfurrows — reported to management the mysterious loss of a very fine turquoise-studded ring from her right hand, only to find it a moment or two later on her left hand. “Since the passing of Mister Hubbs several months ago, I suppose I’ve come to miss wearing my wedding band, and I must have rather absent-mindedly slipped this ring in its place to fill the void,” she confessed. “Next time, I’ll know better than to create such a stir before looking from one hand to the other.”
Reported by Trista Tanglefoot, of the Daily Bugle
10 Foreyule, Oatbarton, North Farthing
Instruction methods employed at the North Farthing Regular School came under fire yesterday, as a public oversight group protested the use of certain “bawdy” Stoorish poetry taught by Miss Mertsy Marblemallow, a twelve-year veteran of the Oatbarton educational system.
Cheevers Chubb, chairman of the Oatbarton Citizens Education Advisory Network (OCEAN), delivered a petition signed by eighteen area residents to headmaster Bidwell Burrows, calling for the immediate cessation of the controversial lessons. “It’s just not right,” Chubb explained, “to have impressionable young hobbits hearing the J-word, the K-word, and any reference at all to ‘frunicious frolicking.’ The teaching of basic letters and numbers is worrisome enough — but no good at all can come from children being exposed to these sorts of obscenities.”
Speaking in her own defense, Miss Marblemallow charged that the members of the oversight group were out of touch with modern teaching standards, that an anti-Stoorish bias had no place in her classroom, and that “one hears the K-word on a routine basis these days, even in the politest company.”
The matter seems to have reached something of an impasse, as the advisory group has held to its position. According to Mister Chubb, “Miss Marblemallow would do well to keep her interests in Stoorish poetry to herself. We just want cooler heads to prevail in this fretful situation, and Miss Marblemallow just wants to turn up the heat on our well-meaning citizens’ group. But, I assure you, she'll have no success in her attempts to boil the OCEAN.”
In other news, preparations are well underway for the celebration of the fiftieth wedding anniversary of Anise and Aldagrim Bracegirdle, longtime residents of Rushey. “We hope to mark the occasion with great fanfare,” reported the couple’s grown daughter Adamanta, who is coordinating the event. “Everyone from Stock to Willowbottom has been invited. We’ve baked a cake with so many layers it nearly touches the ceiling, and expect as many as 200 guests.” But this reporter couldn’t help but pose the most pressing question of all — will there be party hats? “Well, of course,” Miss Bracegirdle wanted to assure everyone, “it’s not a party without party hats, now, is it?”
Reported by Trista Tanglefoot, of the Daily Bugle
Tharbad; he found the place to be a spectacle of contradictions; on the one hand those who seemed to be in power claimed to rule it by the will of the people and for the people, yet on the other hand there were many of its citizens who seemed to live in extreme poverty whilst their leaders spent time and wealth excavating ancient artefacts in distant lands. It was chaotic and yet among the chaos were many islands of calm and structured effort towards numerous goals. One could look upon the city and despair and yet still it presented opportunity for those many willing to step through its gates. It conferred freedom upon those who dwelt within it more than any place else he had travelled to and yet within it he had glimpsed assemblies which vied against each other and which demanded the strictest adherence to set codes. It was the wider world in lesser form but much hastened; for here a moments respite could give another an advantage which would be long to redress. Here perhaps the greater battles to be fought were being addressed to a lesser scale; here perhaps the strategies to be employed were being tested; here perhaps was to be glimpsed the part the ancient ones may choose to play and the manner of it; here perhaps there would be signs of outcomes to come and how they may be swayed for the better; Here would likely be the last of his continued efforts to make a difference, a difference to the ultimate betterment of his homeland, and most certainly his time that was left would be interesting indeed.
The sleek, finely crafted weapon appears to be of Elven origin. With carefully controlled movements, as though performing a ritual, Dirimsiel removes it from its scabbard and examines it. The blade shimmers in the starlight and, she gasps and pulls her fingers away quickly, it feels bitingly cold to her touch.
She walks across the narrow stone bridge spanning the mountain stream and follows the path down to the water’s edge. There she holds the long, slightly curved sword so that the tip of the blade penetrates the surface of the water. A dead leaf is swept against the iridescent edge and effortlessly cut in two.
Respectfully and very, very carefully she pulls the blade from the stream and dries it. As she returns the sword to its scabbard she notices an inscription on the hilt:
Órenya lóra ringa nomessë
She leaves the weapon and a brief note in Hir Inglor’s chambers; he will know what to do.
23 Foreyule, Long Cleve, North Farthing
A double dose of good news was visited on the Harley Harfoot hobbit hole earlier this week when Harrietta, Harley’s wife of just more than a year, gave birth to twins — a boy, Harlo, and a girl, Henna. The mother and hobbit children are all reported in good health and high spirits, and a pantry-full of baked goods from dozens of Long Cleve neighbours has arrived to make the work of the very busy weeks ahead a bit lighter for the new parents.
“It wasn’t an altogether unexpected blessing, the two little ones at once,” the North Farthing farmer reported. “Given the size to which the missus had grown, one could have easily surmised twins, if not triplets. Must be something in the Long Cleve water, I’d wager — my milk cow, Bitty, mothered a pair of calves both at once last fall, and egg production in the chicken coop is way way up, year over year.”
The region’s recent wave of fertility hasn’t gone unnoticed. Tuffy Trumpkin of nearby Dwaling-on-the-North-Moors announced just this morning that he and his wife would be relocating to Long Cleve, at Missus Trumpkin’s rather firm insistence. “It was nine full years after their marriage that my parents had me,” Trumpkin confessed. “That’s a timetable apparently not at all suitable for repeating, at least so far as my dearest Tess is concerned.”
In other news, the Digby All-Brass Band and Whistle Corps will be performing a benefit concert next Thursday evening at the Hillside Lodge, just south of Digby. Proceeds from the event will go toward repairing the rear axel of Buddy Burrows’s large wagon, which collapsed under the weight of the combined Band and Whistle Corps as they played in the Cottonbottom Torchlight Parade three weeks ago Saturday. Rather than set responsibility for the mishap on any particular performer from the group of distinguished, albeit portly, hobbits, the benefit concert was scheduled. Admission is ten gold coins for the general public, seven for members of the Four Farthings Social Club.
Reported by Trista Tanglefoot, of the Daily Bugle
Carry the Traitor's Stone, you who walk in blood from your kin.
In your chest, a coiled snake.
Cold is the water that soaks the stone
that flows through streams and steeps the mists.
Icy the river, but the Rock is aflame.
A mist arises... a wrath in your core, Kinslayer.
A burning flame, a burning frost
The Traitor’s stone is your heart. A coiled snake
Somewhere in west.
Petturin kiveä kantaa, joka omansa hylkää,
Rinnassa, käärmeenä kiertyy.
Vesi kylmänä sitä kiuasta kastaa
Virtana kääntyy ja usvaan uittaa.
Kylmä on koski, kuumempi kallio.
On henki. on raivo,
Juurena sen ken sukuaan surmaa, lieskaa, routaa.
Ja silti, kivi petturin kantaa, käärmeenä kiertyy, rinnassa.
Segh-na kahvar, sa mho thû ka mo-negh
Khovar-te, lo ranakhe
Hala, thâna, tha-senge ka ranthâ mwa.
Short chant for banners, Lûgamur
Serve the chieftains, serve the Lord of the Men.
Serve the nation, serve the kin,
Before, now and coming.
He gathers the herds together, he shakes the earth,
Horses dance in joy of his coming,
Brave see their hearts in clarity.
He burns away the mist of lies from west.
Serve the nation, serve the kin,
Serve the chieftains, serve the Lord of the Men.
Chant before a battle, Khâinamur
Twice now he had been rebuffed, nay, accused of being a spy and threatened with imprisonment or death by a man of Gondor. He did not hold this against them; had he not with his own eyes seen the butchery some of his people treated even to their own, and those of Gondor could be expected to know no more of the common folk of the East than he had known of the West not so long ago.
Still, the effort of it had to be made to be certain of their minds and such it was at a place of his choosing, for madness was not upon him though it must have seemed it to be so bold. As ever, hope he had not forsaken and even in the threats made much could be gleaned from the words that flanked the intimidation. Despite their hatred they did not become blind to the need of the moment and though one of them thought his very words possibly bewitching, still he had managed enough discourse to perhaps give them pause for thought.
There were hallowed grounds upon which he knew he would never be allowed to set foot, The City of Light was not the least of such places which his soul yearned to enter yet which would likely ever be out of his reach; but he would do all in his power to aid them, even if it was from the shadows and without their acquiescence. For, through the triumph of such would come free will and quiescence to his own home, and along that path the small risk and pleasure of conversation was one he could not resist. Where there is discourse there is always the chance of new learning and the hope of swaying the heart and the mind, and if such comes to be, is that not reward enough?
Wind howled between ruins of an outpost and formed small dunes of snow, like frozen waves of an ocean, those rolled over the small valley that had seen too much death devastation. The grim sight of bare bones and mangled pieces of armour was almost covered with that cold, white embrace. Sudden high pitched shriek broke the silence. Elcamring could feel something moving high over him, but as blizzard blocked his view he decided to continue the journey.
He had travelled through the snow for days now. Mountain of Kibil-Dûm had grown bigger and bigger, and now it loomed over him with might that could only be expected from a peak that was part of Ered Mithrin. Dwarves had told of great peril which dwelled in the former silver mine these days; a dark drake, Mori Loki, as they called it. Elf was chasing, not that malicious beast, but a member of a lost dwarven expedition that was sent to investigate those mines nearly a month ago. Bogmar, one of Ren's apprentices, had made an unexpected breakthrough with the lost tome that was found from Himling during last year. Unfortunately that dwarf had not managed to document his progress as prudently as he should have and hence all the progress might be already lost.
Dwarven statue marked path to the entrance. Not far from it revolting sight stopped him. Blood splatters on the cliffs, the only remains of the expedition were not yet covered by snow. Only few mangled weapons and torn pieces of tent cloth were left. One set of heavy footprints were visible on the bloody snow.
Drawing his sword the elf stepped into the darkness of Kibil-Dûm. Ring on his finger glowed with pale light that cast long shadows along the ruined dwelling. Path that dwarves had used was visible even for untrained eye as heavy layer of dust covered the floor elsewhere. Elcamring followed that obvious trail; hall after hall fell behind him. Narrow passage was leading him deeper below the mountain, only echoes of his footsteps greeted him behind the corners. Air begun to grow thick and the smell of decay became overwhelming. Something crunched under his foot, a part of pottery or shrivelled piece of wood; he had no time to look at it as something tumbled into him.
Fumbling for his shield Elcamring made defensive swing with his sword and rose from the dust covered floor. Ring shone brighter now and the light was reflected from numerous eyes around him. With soft rustle pale man sized spiders leaped forward. Elf fought fiercely and after while he was able to make his way to a narrow doorway; one of them challenged him and others fled. The trail and sense of direction were lost during that confrontation. He leaned to the wall, but was quickly alarmed by rasping sound; almost like breath beyond grave.
Shiver ran down his spine as he raised his blade again and peered forward. A tall lean shape, darker than all the shadows around it, was standing before him. He had seen former minions of Witchking at the barrows of old Northern Kingdom, but this was something much worse. Light shun away from it as it mouthed foul words of horrid language. In a blink of an eye Elcamring was thrown to the opposite wall by an invisible gale of evil; the hall begun to grow darker around him. He felt that he was drowning. The Elf struggled for a breath and riffled through all his memories regarding such creatures. Only few of those servants could command dark chants and manifest them in that way. He did not dare to say it aloud.
Gathering all his might the elf forced himself up and threw his cape aside; chanting ancient words of Quenya, Noldo's voice became louder by a word and faint glimmer surrounded him as he prepared to face that abomination with the unflinching valour of Eldar. The shadow rushed forward like a striking viper and swung it's blade against elven steel. The air split with a sound of muffled thunder and arc of white energy whipped against the black figure. So they started their deadly dance in the ruins of dwarven hold of Silverdelve. Duel lasted for hours and Elcamring's strength was waning. He rammed his shield against the unremitting opponent, pushing him backwards and fell to a knee himself. For a second that lingered for ages the two looked at each other. Elf slammed his gauntlet to the floor tiles and uttered words of power; the corridor shook and part of it begun to cave in. With the last burst of his strength Elcamring plunged his blade forward at the staggering, baleful enemy.
"A Varda Elentári! Heca úlairë!"
A bright flash of light engulfed him and the blade was pried from his hand as it struck the figure to the chest; empty black robes landed to a crumpled heap along with his elven sword; force of the blow had twisted the blade useless. Shrilling wail echoed through the corridors and then there was silence. Elcamring felt a tidal wave of sorrow flooding past him. He was alive and in a way more than he had ever been before.
The boom and crash of the tide against stony cliffs rolled in like a sea mist; the harsh-edged sounds became smooth and sibilant with distance, softening on the sunned grass and hushing through the gnarled branches of golden elder trees.
A flash of white skimmed along the wavetops down by the rocky shore. Fork-tailed and delicate, it flicked its wings, catching the sunlight and seeming to sparkle amongst the rolling blue waves. A pair of soft, stormy grey eyes watched the little Tern as it fluttered up to its nest upon the stack, and then was lost as the carriage rolled on.
The eyes turned down instead, to watch the rutted, stony road gently rumble by. A line of pale standing stones set upright by hands long forgotten stood mantled in a thousand years of lichen and moss, keeping silent vigil over the sea.
The face in which the eyes were set was young, pale and exquisitely delicate; a white marble carving given life. A smooth arc of feathery black hair as dark as a raven’s thoughts fluttered and blew across the child’s face as she rested her chin on her folded arms and watched the landscape pass sleepily by. She was clothed in a simple black dress of fine material, and around her neck hung a silver pendant of elegant design. It depicted the form of a leafless tree with seven bright stars set in an arc above, and it dangled and clacked against the sill of the carriage door as it swayed.
The child chewed her lip for a moment with a sleepy frown, and then sat back in her seat with a heavy sigh.
“Ada, idhenna im! Garo ammen haeron i heltha lend?”
“Not far now, Aewen.” Replied the man sitting opposite her, after glancing out of the window. “Practice your Common, they do not speak Sindarin in the provinces.”
“I bored,” the girl uttered rebelliously.
“I am bored, you mean,” replied the man, looking up from the roll of parchment he had been reading and grinning at his daughter. “Repeat – I am bored”
“I – am – bored,” she echoed. “And hungry”
“Well, moaning will do you no good, and hungry will be remedied soon,” interjected an equally fair-faced woman sharply, who could only have been the girl’s mother. “As for bored, you can read these tales of lore with me,” she offered, with a brief smile. Without waiting for a reply, she shifted closer to her daughter and wrapped an arm about her, unbinding a thin, leather-bound book from its case and opening it primly.
Although she did not smile, the child’s face became relaxed and content. A warm fluttering sensation slowly filled her stomach and her scalp tingled as her mother’s voice turned like magic the loops, dots and curls of the tengwar on the page into images of great heroes riding white horses, fighting unspeakable evils, reigning victorious or going beyond, far away over the sea, to where the sun sleeps and the dead sit in peace.
Her finger traced the lines on the page and she made the sounds they spoke, too slowly to keep up with her mother, unless she slowed her pace to let Aewen read along. A giddiness seemed to hold her still in her seat; a comforting sway of balance, as though the world around her were rocking like a cradle, slowly and gently, with her head tingling and still in the centre. It did not make her feel sick, but loved and warm, and she felt safer still when her father came and sat upon her other side, closing them both in his arm and making with his body a nest with her in the middle. He began to read the parts of the heroes and villains in the tales, raising his voice to clear nobility or lowering it to a cruel hiss as each character spoke his piece, whilst her mother carried the tale between.
The enclosing warmth and comforting, familiar smell of her parents lulled her into the sense of a waking dream, and her hunger and all thoughts of complaint were forgotten. It seemed all too soon that the grass and stone outside became the timber-and-daub houses of a town upon the coast, and a grey sea mist began to roll in. Aewen felt a pang of regret as her parents’ manners changed and they broke apart, closing the book and setting it away. As they moved away and began to bustle about the carriage and correct their appearance, ready to meet the town’s dignitaries, the cold crept in at her sides, seeming the more bitter in those places where their bodies had warmed her.
Aewen shuffled across in her seat to look out of the carriage window and see the town. The mist had closed in; a bright grey shroud that wrapped a cool salve around the sunned wood and stone. Looming out of the fog came the old walls and sea-defences, solemn and dignified spectres of a past age, whose proud bearing outstripped the newer dwellings and storehouses, but did not belittle them.
The carriage rumbled to a stop before a handsome stone hall, with a slim tower keeping watch out to sea set in its midst, casting a silhouette before the muted flare of the sun. Aewen hopped out of the carriage as soon as the door was opened, putting a hand down on the step to help her balance, and ran in a quick circle about it, enjoying the cool breeze and the shrouded sky.
“Aewen, stay close. We are going to meet the Captain of the garrison here, so you must be good and stay quiet.”
The girl frowned and tugged on her mother’s hand to make her look down.
“Nana, can’t I look at the town? The last Captain was boring.”
“No, Aewen. You’re coming with us. You’d get lost.”
Pouting, the girl dropped her mother’s hand and looked to her father hopefully.
“It would be better if we didn’t take her, Nimwen. There is one matter at least I need to discuss with the Captain that she should not hear of. Come, Tildur can watch her until we are done, and then we can eat together later.”
The girl’s mother frowned briefly, and looked at her daughter sternly, a slight glint of her eye observing the practiced look of hopeful innocence that had hastily replaced Aewen’s pout.
“Well, alright… Tildur, would you?” she asked of one of the guards who had been riding closest the carriage. “Don’t let her get out of your sight. And don’t let her order you,” she added with a brief smile.
The guard nodded, and began to dismount. Without waiting another second, Aewen turned and ran down the cobbled street towards the sea, her arms spread wide, and her tongue sticking out of her mouth to catch the cool mist. A muffled curse; a sigh; a brief laugh and the pounding of heavy feet followed her, but she paid them no heed. She did not stop running until she came to the toothed wall that looked out over the docks below, ranked with a dozen heavy crossbows which were tarred against the weather, hanging silent and still from their pedestals.
She paused for a moment, listening to the keening and twittering of invisible gulls and the soft tinkle of the boats as they ducked and bobbed in the little swell of the waves. Running her hand along the smooth stones of the wall, she skipped along it for more than a hundred paces until it met with the grass and pebble of a promontory that jutted out over a shingle beach like the prow of a ship.
Aewen was not sure when it happened, but from one moment to the next, something felt wrong; alert. The mist ceased to be cool and balmy, and became chilling and wet. She frowned and stood on her tip-toes, feeling that something was amiss, and looked out over the waves, though she could barely see half a dozen horse-lengths ahead. The mist swirled and danced, making shadows on her mind; spiralling dragons and flocks of birds, running horses through the fog, and so quiet. Somewhere the gentle tolling of a bell cut harmony with the gulls, and a dockhand called out. Aewen stared again into the sea mist, willing it into different forms; an ox, charging; a great eagle; a great black-sailed ship…
Her mouth dropped open, aghast. The ship was real! A great moving shadow skimmed silently through the waves, then landed with a crunch against the shingle beach. Its trimmed, fan-like sails were black as the night, and two ranks of oars like the legs of a centipede were raised high and withdrawn into the hatches without a sound. As she watched, the blurred forms of five dozen men shimmed down ropes into the surf and began to run up the beach.
“AEWEN! TOL! TOL!”
Her heart nearly stopped in shock as Tildur’s voice bellowed her name. His broad form came rushing at her out of the mist and grabbed her up by the waist as if she were a doll, then ran for the town, screaming at the top of his lungs.
“CORSAIRS! CORSAIRS ON THE BEACH! ARM YOURSELVES! THE CORSAIRS OF UMBAR ARE HERE!”
Moments later, a hail of blind arrows came hissing out of the mist, clattering on the stones or thudding into the grass around him, as though the sky were raining barbs.
The shock that ran through Aewen had held her paralysed until now. The serene calm had been ripped away so unexpectedly that she could barely breathe, but when she found her voice she began to bawl and scream like an infant, her face a pale mask of tragedy as she clung her arms around her guardian’s neck.
His pounding feet carried her into the town proper, where hers was not the only voice screaming. A dozen guards had rallied, and looked urgent askance at Tildur, whilst the townspeople screamed and pelted back and forth around them.
“From the east beach! Two ships and more a hundred men! Where is my Lord; where is Brandir?”
“In the town hall, sir! Guards! Man the gates!” bellowed the Sergeant of the group, rushing to a bell and ringing it with all his vigour.
Tildur ran on, grunting his effort, and holding Aewen so tightly it was a struggle for her to find breath. Before her mind had caught up, though, she was being set down, and her father was there, and her mother, looking deathly pale, tensed and shivering like a racing hound.
“Nimwen, take her to the stables and go! Ride! Don’t turn back; just ride! Tildur, Captain…”
The rest of Brandir’s orders were lost as a new pair of hands grabbed her up, and she was pressed with a furious fear against her mother’s breast as she began to run, as her father had said, toward the stables. Before they had left the cobbled square, the hail of arrows began again, and there were yells of agony and gasps of shock as men, women and children fell dead or wounded, black-fletched arrows projecting from their bodies.
Aewen’s voice made a gut-wrenching wail as she saw her father fall, an arrow striking the place between his shoulder and his chest. She clawed at her mother’s shoulder, trying to climb over and run back to the square, but her grip was like iron, holding their bodies pressed painfully tight together, and Aewen could not move.
She barely noticed the warm fug of horses and hay, as startled whinnies filled the air, and it was not until she was thrown across the saddle of a tall, strong black horse that she knew where she was. Before the thought had completed itself, they were away. Her mother’s sobs and the rasping of the great beast’s breath became one as they galloped out of the stables and through the narrow streets, the sounds of battle fading behind. The saddle beneath Aewen’s dress seemed to slip and slide away from her, and it took her a moment to gain her balance.
Everything came to her with difficulty, for control of her body was not hers; her mind was stunned, her eyes streaming, her breath fast and deep, gulping in too much air so that she was made dizzy, and a hand held her clamped tightly in place. She had never known such panic.
In a half-daze she made out the shapes of a hundred women and children as their horse passed them by, running towards the hills, and the acres of wilderness beyond. If they were making any noise, she could not hear it, for her heart was thumping too loudly in her ears.
Her fingers wound their way into the coarse black mane and she felt the immense power of the horse beneath her with something close to exhilaration, hurtling tirelessly forwards away from a danger that seemed to be pressing on her back.
But then, just as her head began to clear, something sharp jabbed into her from behind and scraped on the bone of her shoulder blade, making her squeal out in pain. Her mother’s grip loosened, and was gone, leaving a vast cold gulf at Aewen’s back that nothing in the world could now fill.
Struck dumb, she slipped sideways from the horse’s sweaty neck and fell, gripping onto the flailing reins and mane. Her heels bashed against the grass below, and she fell onto her back beside the horse as it snorted to a stop, its head low, trying to tug the reins out of her hand.
No bodily pain could match the panic inside her now, as she tugged herself to her feet and ran back to the broken bundle of black silk and white skin that lay sadly on the hillside. If only she could shake her hard enough, she would wake up and none of this would have happened. She had to scream and scream and shake her, harder and harder until she woke up, and everything would be all right. Nana always came when she was upset, always….
Aewen was blind to all of her own pain, blind to the screams and clashes from away down by the shore, blind to the dozen swarthy figures jogging up the hillside, bearing bows. She was blind to everything except the two gently-lidded eyes before her that refused to open, set in a pale face like a white marble carving given life, and then left without it.
She did not break away or look around, not even when rough, unsympathetic hands dragged her from her feet and tugged her away. If only she could keep shaking her… but she could not reach. Her mother’s body was left further and further behind, until it was simply another black dot among many upon the lonely hillside.
//I find I can finally release a little more back-story; this was written about 8 months ago ;)
All comments, criticisms and death threats are welcome
Rich, golden sunlight streamed in through the high arched window onto the floorboards of the tiny room, filling it with warmth and lighting four sleeping figures in a heavenly glow. Their bunks were set one above the other in two little alcoves cut into a stone wall that was coated in chipped plaster.
One of the figures scrunched up her face against the light and rolled over with a sleepy groan, then stopped and rolled back the sheets, swinging her legs over to settle her feet on the golden-glowing boards of the floor.
She sat, eyes mostly closed and blinking, for a few long moments, a frown upon her face. Aside from her dishevelled look, she was a handsome girl, on the verge of becoming a woman but not yet there. She was tallish and a little gangly, having reached a height, but not yet filled out. Her face was pale and shapely, and as she wiped her eyes and opened them fully, they showed themselves to hold all the colours of a stormy sky, from the deepest bruise-black, to a misty dove’s-feather grey, twinkling in the golden glow of morning.
She breathed deeply a few times and then stood. She was clad in a baggy white nightshirt, which showed her pale, bare limbs. At her left forearm, a dark stain sat upon her marble skin; a mark in the shape of a running horse upon waves, encircled by a doubled line. It was set in black ink, with a red shadow, and had been done neatly with a chisel, so that the lines were indented and permanent. The girl absent-mindedly scratched at it with a look of irksome distaste upon her face.
She stood quietly for a moment, looking at her fellows. She liked it when they were asleep – she could almost imagine that they liked her. Each of them was roughly the same age as her, but none of them as fine-featured. Two were brown-haired and freckled, the third a pale blonde, of shorter stature and with a round, friendly face that was twisted into a look of sad discomfort.
She padded quietly over to the washbasin, and began to wash and dress herself in the plain black and red she was expected to wear.
Behind her, the other girls began to stir, and each of them in turn rose, except for the blonde girl, who continued to toss and turn, as she had every morning for the last fortnight. Each of the others gave her a wordless glance of worry, before washing and dressing herself.
“She’s getting thinner; she needs more food,”
“She needs a physician.”
“Useful, Ashara,” sneered one of the brown-haired girls. “You know Kor won’t spend anything on her. She’s not as important as you.”
“Choke on your tongue, Inzil. You know I can not make him do anything,” replied the black-haired girl tiredly, wearing an irate frown.
“No? I’ve seen what he feeds you though; cheese and olives, watered wine, bread and meat. Fruit, even. Just what she needs, in short.”
“What more do you think I should do? I can’t take food from there; it would be right under his nose. He is not blind.”
“Why not? I’ll bet you’re just too scared. I would.”
“No you wouldn’t. Maybe I should though. It’d be you he’d have flogged,”
Inzil narrowed her eyes, and the girl whom she had named Ashara looked away. She could feel in her chest that she had gone too far, speaking the truth that was the cause of all of her loneliness, but she could not withdraw it. After several long, silent moments, a bell rang, and she felt a flush of irate foreboding and frustration.
Stupid Inzil. Why did she have to ruin the morning? It was the only time of the day that she had any quiet at all. Now she had to face her daily humiliation and those precious moments were spoiled. She knew why in truth; it was Eorhanna’s worsening fever – it had them all worried, because Inzil had been right; Kor would not spend good money on a physician for her, and she was losing weight rapidly.
She stepped out of the warm sunlight and into the cold shadow of the corridor, then paced quickly down it into the kitchen. Weaving between the dozen servants who were slicing and boiling breakfast for the household, she wrapped a rag around her hand and unhooked the little steaming brass pot from over the brazier, then carried it with her from the kitchen, down through the great stone-carved hallway and up the stairs to Kor’s morning room, swapping the water pot from hand to hand each time it began to burn her.
She stood demurely outside the carved doors and knocked, dragging her face into an expression of flat subservience. The door opened sharply and a pale, pointed face looked down at her with a look of practiced disgust.
“Oh, furies,” said the woman in a tone of brisk disapproval. “I don’t know why you let this one near you; it’s such a snide little rat”
The girl curtsied, feeling her hand begin to blister under the rag, but controlling her expression and fighting a momentary urge to throw the pot into her mistress’ face.
“Stop dithering, woman, and let her in.”
Vesp curtsied again and stepped past Kora Isenna into the dark, grand room. Despite the morning sunlight, this room always seemed dark and cold; a place of black wood and white light, hot water and cold air. She hated it vehemently, but not nearly as much as she hated the man who summoned her to it each morning. He stood before her now; lounging against the back of a wooden chaise lounge, which was sumptuously draped in silks and cushions. He wore his usual self-satisfied, predatory smirk as he eyed her up and down, his gaze lingering on her developing chest unashamedly.
No one else could evoke such a turbid mess of emotions in her. At the same moment she was repulsed and disgusted by the man and horribly afraid of him, yet he was the only source of power for her – it was his fancy that she be set apart. That was both the curse of her life, and the reason she was rarely beaten or punished for her wrongdoings. She was even allowed sometimes to tend his horses, a task that offered her the only real escape and relief she could expect.
“Good morning, Vesp,” he said, his leer widening.
Vesp curtsied once more and bowed her head demurely.
“Good morning, Kor Karabazra.”
“Well, what are you waiting for? Go away! I’ll send for you if I want you here!”
Vesp flinched and looked up sharply, before realising that he was not speaking to her. She did not dare turn her head to look at Isenna; she was a vindictive, vicious woman, and needed very little provocation to seek revenge.
There was a brief in-drawing of breath, a pause, and then footsteps leaving the room as the door closed, hard.
Vesp’s hand was truly burning now, and she tried to stop her arm from quivering. Something of her pain must have been showing on her face, for Karabazra raised an eyebrow.
“Something the matter, Vesp?”
“The pot, Kor, it’s burning my hand,” she replied, trying to keep her voice level.
“Really?” he asked, apparently amused. “Well then. You should set it down, shouldn’t you?”
Vesp stepped quickly to the small shaving table and set down the pot upon its mat, dropping the rag and trying to subtly flex her fingers.
“Come here. Let me see,” Karabazra ordered paternally, his face affecting a businesslike concern, and Vesp felt her heart sink, but she obediently stepped towards him and held out her hand. He took it in both of his own, gently caressing the reddened skin of her palm and fingers, whilst she fought the urge to jerk away from him and step back.
“Silly little swan – why didn’t you put it down?”
“Kor… Kor said that I may do nothing without his bidding. I thought he would be angry.”
Karabazra laughed jovially, still holding Vesp’s hand whilst she looked past him to the floor.
“Do nothing without my bidding? Did I say that? Well, yes, I suppose I did. Good girl for remembering, this time.”
Vesp felt his grip tighten on her wrist a little, and the sense of foreboding mounted inside her chest.
“If only you could remember that all the time, life would be so much easier,” he said, in something like a throwaway tone.
“You’ve been stealing from the supplies again, haven’t you?”
Vesp made the mistake of glancing at his face, so taken aback was she.
“No, Kor, I – “
Her voice was cut off as his hand whipped up and slapped her sharply across the face, making her gasp and flinch. It was not hard enough to bruise, but reflex tears had sprung to her eyes, and she tried furiously to blink them away, before he noticed.
It was too late for that, though; the smirk he quickly hid beneath a guise of paternal disappointment was evidence enough. Her cheek throbbed hotly, and her face felt misshapen, as though it were too big for her head.
“Ah, my little cygnet, I had hoped you knew better than to lie to me.”
Karabazra sighed dramatically and set the palm of his free hand against her cheek, squeezing painfully on her wrist with the other. Vesp could not contain a shudder of disgust as the rough, damp skin of his hand enclosed her jaw and his thumb set just a little too much pressure beneath her eye. Her stomach burned with fear and utmost loathing, and his dull grey eyes told her that he knew it, and was enjoying his sport.
After a long, dreadful moment, he drew back and handed her the folded razor, his grin hinting a subtle threat.
“Anyway, to the task at hand, before the water goes cold. Make a closer cut this time – I had to finish it myself yesterday.”
Her heart began to race, and the lump in her throat built again - as it did every morning - whilst she whetted the razor on the oilstone and prepared for the humiliation of powerlessness.
His face lathered, Kharabazra laid back on the chaise lounge and waited, grinning. Vesp leaned in, ready to begin. A little drop of water sparkled on her master’s neck in the morning light, quivering over the pulse of his vein. She slowly lowered the shining blade towards it, her lips tight.
“Oh, and Vesp…. Do try not to cut me, there’s a good girl.”
He grinned and winked up at her as she swallowed and tried to steady her hand.
The threat was double; she had cut him before, several times, just thin little nicks where he moved or the razor was too blunt, and each time, one of the other children had been given a thrashing that had left him or her bedridden for days. The cruelty of the punishment was as real to Vesp as it had been to the others, for it made them both hate her and fear the power she had over them, and though she longed for their company, they knew that those closest to her were those punished first.
But that was not all. It had been a year past since she and all the slaves of the household were taken to the square, to see what happened to those who were left when a slave killed his master. The girls had returned to their dormitory that night and clung to one another, sobbing and shaking until the early hours, united by their terror and sickness of heart. Each had sworn an oath never to risk such a fate for their fellows, and then they had sealed it in blood. The memory of it caught at Vesp’s chest and she had to move the blade away quickly whilst she suppressed the flutter of panic the memory caused.
Determinedly, she tried not to think, but only to concentrate on the task at hand, as the methodical scrape of the razor made a harsh counterpoint to the fruity twittering of the birds outside.
She was determined not to slip this time, even though his command to shave closely had been a challenge. Eorhanna was the only slave brave enough to show kindness to Vesp; nothing overt, but she would recount tales from time to time, simple jewels of memory – of freedom, of the best way to care for horses, of what feelings had been made in her by having a mother and a father. It was a simple kindness that none of the others dared show to her, and as a result, it was she who would take the beating for every mistake and misdemeanour that Vesp was accused of. She was truly brave, though, defiant too – she had told the girls her real name, and in private, she would not answer to the tag Karabazra had given her. He knew, of course. There was very little that happened in his house that he did not know of, but it was too good a threat to squander, and so he did nothing.
“I understand, of course – ouch…”
Vesp pinched her eyes tight to stem the thrill of fury that surged through her, as her master deliberately spoke as she was finishing his jaw, making a thread of blood run down onto his neck, and tutting his disapproval. She hastily picked up a cloth to dab at the wound, trying to steady herself enough to speak without showing the intensity of her anger.
“I am s-sorry Kor, it was an accident…. Please forgive me.”
“That’s quite alright. I was saying; I understand… why you stole the food.”
Vesp bit her lip hard. She could say nothing. He was about to deal a cruel blow, though she did not yet know what it was, and the futility and injustice of the knowledge made a tight lump grow under her chest.
“Times are hard, and you have been looking thin. Three guild ships have been sunk this last moon, all hands and livestock lost to the sea. So I am afraid I cannot share with you my dainties as I would like to…. I am sorry.”
The silence seemed to ring. It was apparently her turn to speak.
“That is alright, Kor. I will be well enough without.”
He grinned at her, dabbing at his own chin now, a nasty hint of malicious excitement in his face.
“Brave girl! Noble girl! No, it won’t do. You are the prize of my crop, and so I shall see you well fed. I’ll brook no complaint; I forbid you to refuse it. Do you understand?”
Vesp flushed red, feeling herself cornered, and dreading what was to come next. But there was no choice, of course – there never was.
“Yes, Kor. Thank you, Kor.”
Kharabazra smirked triumphantly, mopping the remnants of the blood and soap from his face. He folded up the razor.
“Of course, there is only so much food…. Yes, I am sure little Karbi can do without for a moon or so.”
“Ah!” Vesp let out a gasp of dread as though she had been hit in the chest, and her eyes began to flood. She dropped to her knees and put her hands together, begging.
“Please, Kor, no! Eorh – I... Karbi! She... she will die, the fever – “
“Get up, you filthy little rat!”
Kharabazra’s manner had changed entirely; the façade of gentility dropped, and a cold, cruel anger filled his face as he grabbed her around the neck and lifted her to her feet until only her toes touched the floor, then loomed over her and shouted. Spittle punctuated each syllable of the tirade he flung at her, as she shrunk, cowed away from him, sobbing and terrified.
“Grovelling on the floor like a beggar’s brat! Don’t you know what blood is in you? You are not worthy of it! I have tried to teach you, tried to make you worthy of your blood, but the spawn of the feeble remains so! You think to defy me? I am your master! I am your god! I know everything that happens under my roof! You steal out of pity for the lesser-blooded? So she can tell you what it is like to roll in the muck of her homeland? So she will tell you the name the flax-haired whore that spawned her gave, and laugh as she defies me? You disgust me! Thieving from the worthy to give to the worthless – have you no respect for what you are? You are Anadûnê! Do not forget it! Now get out of my sight!”
Vesp gaped at him, her vision blurred, but it took only a moment before she ducked away and ran, wrenching open the door and choking on her grief. She ran near blindly back down the stairs, knocking the tray from a startled boy-slave’s hands, then pelting around a corner and through the long, dark corridor back to the dormitory.
It was less than ten days later that Eorhanna’s sad, frail body was loaded onto a cart to be dumped in the river, and there was no bitter reprisal that the girl-slaves could give her that stung Vesp more than she could herself. The words she had cried out ten days before repeated incessantly inside her head as she sat in the window, untouched by the sun’s warmth.
“I am so sorry! I have killed you.”
i know all the rules, but the rules do not know me... (fate)
"No one leaves the slave pits of Nurn alive or with their mind intact", the last words of the chief slaver are still ringing in the mind of Mîrwen Nimrôs, foreboding into the ominous silence, that followed the report of Jack, the hobbit.
The burning pain of numerous cuts dissolves into the distance; she feels the grasp of Galethond's hand at her arm and sees in his eyes recent woken hopes and utter desparation kindling. Once a captain of the knights of Gondor, only a shadow is left to remember of his pride and fortitude. Nurn has broken him and now Nurn is about to take back what it has claimed.
The moment is short and everyone knows what is going to happen now. There is no place to hide from the approaching Olog Hais, Jack has spotted outside.
Everyone freezes and her eyes meet Aerendur's gaze who stands at the front gates, lines of fatigue sunken in his face. She feels an outburst of love and smiles at him - dreamily, lost in reverie of days of yore.
The moment passes.
"Uivelin le!" Aerendur turns dodging the first strike of the foremost troll and swipes at its side, leaving a deep but harmless cut in the black armor skin.
Ceorlas Treefaller bawls out a battle song and sends arrow for arrow at the trolls.
Jack jumps between the pillar like legs and cuts a toe off the second troll's foot, who fights a moment for his balance and drops the leash, he was pulling at full force.
Mîrwen places her hands on Galethond's cheeks. "Hold on to your freedom! Fight for Gondor and the white tree!" Galethond shivers, but he wins the battle with his panic and loosens his grasp of her arm.
Not a second too late. Infuriatedly hissing words of the black speech the champion of the eye now charges, bluntly battering at Aerendur's shield while passing.
Meanwhile the winged lizard monster narrows his eyes at the now free hanging leash, then jerks to the inaudible sound of a ghostly whisper.
Mirwen stumbles from a casual strike of the champion, but he ignores her and pummels his knee in Galethond's guts. Her mercurial sword sings as she takes the chance and smites his leg. Bellowing in raging anger the champion swoops down at her as the great lizard, with an angry roar, jumps right between them all, covering the distance with a single flap of his wings and breaking right through the ceiling.
It is one of the beasts that is trained to become the mount of doom, its wings and tail shatter walls, wood and stone - enshrouding everything with rocks and dust while whirling them all around.
Mîrwen struggles to her feet. She can again hear some battle sound in the distance, but she must have fallen down the pit when part of the floor was giving in to the beast's weight. Her helmet is lost and the shield hangs useless at her distorted left arm, leaving her crying in pain, but her floundering stops like running into a wall.
Right before her a wraith in black robes focuses his piercing gaze curiously at her.
Her mind is dashed into pieces and cleaved open.
Memories flicker past her.
She visions scraps of her past, an infant crying in the snow held by lifeless arms with the sound of a sepulchral voice right in her head.
Something snaps in her mind.
With blind eyes she drops to the ground.
With a quiet hiss the wraith leaves her shaking body and mounts the approaching lizard.
While circling higher he measures the helmet in his gauntlet. 'Arthedain passed into history and Angmar is lost. And so will be that creature's memories', he hisses and drops the helmet, his mount wailing like a banshee...
i know all the rules, but the rules do not know me... (witchking of Angmar)
As Cora-El turned the corner seeking a sheltered enclave from the merciless heat, she was surprised to behold a woman, tall and slender with hair as white as snow. Her garb and speech soon betrayed her as one alien to this land and it was equally clear that she was not of sound mind; though very likely of a gentle heart, for she spoke softly with a welcoming smile. Cor’s concern for the health of the lady became increased when after giving her own name and asking the lady hers, she got the answer of Cora-El, with that distant uncertainty to the voice of one not aware of all that she was and once knew.
How this lady had come to be here or who she was, Cor could not fathom, yet nor could she leave her in the unforgiving heat beyond the Crossing of Poros. With care and gentle words she got the lady’s belongings packed and helped her on the steed and so began the careful track with as much haste as possible to the safe haven of Minas Tirith. There, the lady recalled Minas Tirith as her home, spoke of being born amidst battle and passing amongst dead men of the dike; and no more than this returned to her. Still there was now at least hope that in the care of the healers, one Cora-El might recall her true name and person even as the other departed leaving her prayers.
The place in front of he house of healing bears an uncommon presence these days.
A tall woman, waves of snow-white hair running down her spine, spending a friendly word to every passers-by sits there and searches for her own memory.
And from time to time she seems forlorn in the abyss of an empty mind, combs her hair and then she sings quietly: An old song known to the Dunedain of the north and few else...
They were full of curiosity, they were full of life,
the children, and they were counting fourtyfour.
They were exactly like you, just like all children are
In the house of Anarion, high above the Fornost plains,
seeking refugee, herd together by patrols of Angmar,
and every name stands for severe woe,
being left alone in the days of yore,
leaning on each other in those times of grief,
in the year 1974, the dark fall of Arnor.
Here, no one ought to look for them, high in the north downs
the children of Anarion, here in the back of beyond.
Juneseph, he can draw: Landscapes with horses,
Theodrien, who feeds the chicken and cows,
Learne, with the gift of writing, supposed to become a poet,
the small Rualdin, who sings all over a day,
And Elearn, Samildin, Mikhaleph and Sarenin,
Everyone apt with an own talent.
Everyone a bestowment, not to wrest off those,
who tend and love them, each their own way
But foreboding looms into every innocent game,
The fear of discovery drowning the days,
And a dark admonition resounds in every laugh
That every step coming, may bear the doom,
the end of their days.
It was a morning of spring feast, when they came.
Soldiers of Angmar in long black coats and Orcs in countless numbers.
A sunny day, and they picked up everyone,
shoved them on backs of black horn without giving a destination.
Some tried to sing in desparation,
some were praying, others staying silent,
many a child crying and all and everyone went
the same way to Martyrdom.
The chronicles list every name,
every day of their final journey
the camps with remorseless fires
the chronicles know, that no one escaped the murderers.
Here i am telling and singing, yelling if needed to,
to let our children know, who those were:
The oldest of seventeen, the youngest a mere four years,
fed to hungry Angmarian abominableness.
I will see them all life long and hold them in remembrance.
The names burned into my mind.
They were full of inquisitiveness, full of life,
the children, and they were numbered fourtyfour
They were exactly like you, a child like everyone
In the house of Anarion, high above the deadman's dike
Deruvir allowed himself a slight smile as he watched the laughter summoned by an old war story crease the weathered face of his ageing friend Argon Balros. He weighed his next words carefully for Deruvir had not travelled through the dying winter's gales to Minas Tirith simply to amuse the former Captain of the Knights of Gondor in his retirement with old soldiers' tales.
Argon's chuckling faded slowly at Deruvir's grave expression, "Is something wrong my Lord?"
The fingers of an east wind seemed to scratch for a hold between the panes of the window looking onto Rath Lagorlango as Deruvir cleared his throat and said "Old friend, may I ask you a great favour?"
Balros gestured for him to continue. "You may remember the corsairs' raid on Linhir in spring of 2985…"
"Most of them are in a terrible way, the poor souls" Athela sighed as she closed the door behind her and turned to where her husband sat brooding out of a window overlooking the little port town of Linhir.
"A swift death would have been kinder than three years as captives to such masters" Deruvir growled.
"Perhaps so, yet we must help those we can and mourn those we cannot." Athela waited for him to nod slightly before adding "The girl is with child. She says their captain took her as his own."
Deruvir grimaced "From what we found on Tolfalas, that probably saved her life. She is Ciryadûr's daughter is she not?"
"She is and I fear for them both, and the child, should they stay here."
Deruvir nodded, the vestiges of the destruction wrought on the town by the corsair's raid three years previously was still visible from his seat by the window and the scars the townsfolk bore would take far longer to heal.
Ciryadûr, was sitting on Tarmenost's curtain wall letting the noon sun of his sixty-fifth summer ease the aches of a lifetime spent at the forge when he noticed his grandson crossing the Outer Ward below. He smiled to himself as the boy's path was punctuated by exchanged greetings with many of the castlefolk passing through the great yard. Their kindness over the past seven years had done much to temper his grief at Thâreth's death in childbirth and to help Coristan's naturally sunny disposition assert itself and earn the affection of most of the Outer Ward's inhabitants.
As Coristan trotted towards the stables where he spent so much of his free time, Ciryadûr reflected that it was time to engage the boy's interest in smithing before he became too old to pass on his family's craft secrets or Coristan set his heart entirely on becoming a stable groom. Pondering the boy's likely future, his thoughts turned to Lady Athela's recent words on the subject. Although Lord Deruvir regularly inspected the forge and asked after Ciryadûr, this was not the habit of his wife. Therefore, when she had visited in the late afternoon two days previously to inquire about a tale involving Coristan which had set tongues wagging around the castle, the Master Smith, a quiet man in most circumstances, was at a loss for words.
As Ciryadûr eventually explained to Athela, the tale he heard from Stable Master began when one of the grooms had been thrown by an unbroken colt and fallen hard. The groom had been lying unconscious for over an hour and appeared to be at death's door when Coristan first saw him. Approaching the man, without the distress one might expect from a young child seeing a friend so badly hurt, he placed his hands gently over the groom's temples and closed his eyes for a long moment. Within minutes, the colour was returning to the groom's features. Shortly afterwards he had regained consciousness and, although his injuries would be disfiguring, the man's mental faculties seemed undamaged by the experience and he was recovering steadily.
Athela was silent for a long time after Ciryadûr's tale and it seemed to him as if her penetrating gaze had turned inward to consider matters beyond his understanding before it snapped back to him "Master Smith, I would ask you to submit the child to my weekly instruction, for his own protection …and" she added "for that of those around him."
Cold Blood, part 1
The second night, that’s how long it took. The terrible beating he received, the humiliation, regret and a very real death threat that awaited him. He felt great blinding anger, the guards felt it too; he was like a savage beast captured and locked in a cage, sleepless, pulsing with hate, with just one thing on its mind – revenge. On the second night he exploded, his fury unleashed in a torrent of chaotic energies, a burstout of evil will, quick and intense. Right after it began, when the earsplitting wail started and the air turned thick all the guards fled in panic, some crawling up the stairs with their joints numb, paralyzed in fear, fleeing the cold grip of the Darkness.
When the morning shift of guards had arrived at the Hall, they’ve encountered just one guard remaining, sitting on the ground and leaning on the closed heavy metal door to the cells downstairs. He held his head between his arms, staring at the floor. What on the... What’s gotten into ye, Bern ? Get yerself on thy feet ! Vince prodded his mate and he reacted, looking up at him. By the gods... What happened to you ? he stepped back involuntarily and looked away in aversion. We should never... have bothered ...the devil. said Bern consciously in a shaking voice, white as chalk with clotted tears on his cheeks. He said little more of what have happened here last night, not that it was hard to guess who might have caused it, only that the other guards have fled in fear.
A dozen of watchmen all with a torch in their left hand, sword in the other, led by the head jailor slowly entered the prison and walked down the steps. It was dark and dead silent inside, the air was still and had a foul scent about it. But it was long over, the threat had passed. They’ve found Hector lying dead under the wall; however he managed to get himself free remains a mystery. Behind the twisted and smoked bars they’ve found the man, lying on the floor unconcious, clutching the sewer grate with both his hands.
He lost the track of time, for he had no clue how long he was in coma-like state, lying on the mat like a dead fish. It was all the harder to reason what was going on, as there was noone else down in the cells. The torch on the wall was lit and a bowl of cold stew was lying outside the twisted bars. He watched them for a moment, stood up and grabbed them with both hands, then he let loose and sat down on the floor, reaching for the food. Eighty years and still you can’t control it, old fool. he said and sighed with resignation. I could have been free already, now there’s no hope.. i can’t afford another... won’t survive... he shook his head and ceased the thoughts. After eating what the rats have left for him in the bowl, he lied back down on the bed, slowly falling asleep. Recover. Gather strength. This won’t be easy.
//That's it, my first IC story, the first part; hopefully a begininng to a good tale i'd wish to unfold.
"Apple cider!" The explosive guffaw that followed Father's exclamation led Eolun to think that at least she had caught him in a better mood with her suggestions for the men's morale. But it also left her a little uncertain, for she had the unmistakable impression that he was laughing at her, and she did not understand why.
"Well, those tubs are there, and the wood hasn't arrived yet. Oh! Do you think they'd like something stronger? We could ferment it, I guess, but then we'd probably want to serve it after the work was done..."
Still chuckling, he held up his hand to stop her. "No, no. I'm sure they would like something stronger, but let's just forget about cider for now. What else did you come up with?"
She nodded once, his confidence that she had other ideas bolstering her own. "Well, it will be an awfully big job, and again we have those tubs out there, so I thought a really nice breakfast to start each day, griddlecakes and that sweet..."
He interrupted again, his voice oddly quivering a bit, a tone she couldn't recall ever hearing before from him. "Maple...syrup?" he asked. "You want us to make...maple syrup in those vats?"
She nodded, a little wide-eyed, and he burst into laughter. It was a laughter tinged with something wrong: not quite cynical, but with a touch of that same snarl he'd uttered when he returned to the fort the day before. But this time--in this rare moment when he laughed so hard that tears came to his eyes--that something wrong seemed to be directed at her.
The dismay must have registered in her face, for once he calmed himself, Father tried to reassure her. "I'm sorry, girl. They're good ideas, actually. Food and drink. Top priorities for any soldier, even these garrison lads. But...Bema's boots! Cider? And syrup?" Laughter threatened to overcome him again, but he controlled it. "Just not those. Not for this job." His smile softened. "Knowing you, you've worked out a few more. Go ahead. I'll try to...behave."
She swallowed a little, still uncertain, but steeling herself for whatever reaction her next proposal might bring. "Well those tubs, they did get me thinking. They're for collecting drinking water to help last out a siege, right? So we'll clean them when we're done, and bring them back into the fort, I assume. Well, it will have been a lot of work, and I sort of thought the men, before we take them back in, they might, err..."
She nodded once, resolved to finish. "They might want, or even need, a real, nice, hot bath. And if we're cleaning the vats anyway..." She held her tongue and clamped her lips down tight. It was the idea she was most certain he would dismiss.
"Baths..." He said, and tilted his head to look at her in a wholly unexpected way. "I'd not have thought of that. It's a luxury for townfolk, mostly. I like it!" He smiled proudly at her, then wagged his finger. "There are details to work out, of course. Logistics. Leave just one tub out for it--no, two, one at each end of the Dike--let the men's womenfolk and nippers have a go, too. I think you and I and the Sergeant can haul those two back in--let the boys see us sweat at the end of it. Good! And you'll want to set up some canvas screens for privacy and such, determine the rotations. I'll leave that all to you to work out. I...uhm...doubt any of the lads will give you any guff about the preparations, but direct them to me if they do. Brilliant!" Then he grinned and took a large bite of the dark bread they were sharing for breakfast.
Surprised and encouraged, she continued. "And after they've bathed, Father, do you think they might like a feast? With dancing and music? I know the women, at least, get so few occasions out here, to..." She hurried on as she saw that odd look on his face again. "No, not cider. Or syrup, even. I was thinking about those firepits...and roast boar and venison, perhaps. The men's gloves...they're already a mess, and their boots aren't much better. We could use the skins to make more. I think we'll want them this winter..."
"Venison...and deerskin, too." He furrowed his brow a little, then nodded. "The herds have been healthy this year, all the wolves we've killed on patrol most likely. I think that would be alright." He smiled. "That's a good idea, and I'll go you one better. We'll have a feast the night before the real work starts, and one after. The...err...dancing and such just for the one after, when they're all cleaned up. Give us a few more skins to work with, that way, and it'll give the men strength for the work to come. And p'r'aps the lingering scent of deer fat coming from the firepits will help remind them while they're toiling of the celebration at the end."
"Am I to manage that as well, then, Father?" she asked eagerly.
"Aye," he smiled, "Eolun, deputy commander of baths and feasting. You know, you've a knack for this sort of thing. Morale, I mean." Her puzzled look surprised him, and then he smiled again. "Really! I mean that...all kidding aside...it's just...well...syrup!" He quickly smothered the laugh that threatened to emerge, and continued, in a slightly forced, professional tone. "Sergeant Tierney will get you what you need. And he'll tell you who to give the antlers and bone to for fashioning hilts, the intestines for sausage casing...you know how we try to use it all."
"Yes, Father, I know..."
"Was there something else? Another idea?" He looked half hopeful and half concerned that he might laugh uncontrollably again.
"It's just...the tubs...what are they for, actually?"
He smiled, a little bit in relief but a warm smile this time, then wiped the crumbs of bread from his lips with his sleeve and rose, straightening his tunic: the little rituals before starting work. "Why, for holding fresh water! And for baths! Logistics! And," he said, stooping to kiss the top of her head,"for scabs!"
Bewildered, she watched his purposeful, bowlegged, horseman's strides carry him to the door and out of their quarters. She wondered briefly when shed' last washed the hair he'd just kissed, and wished that she understood what she'd said to cheer him, but then turned excitedly to her new duties.
And suddenly stopped, releasing an explosive guffaw of her own. If only those "proper" girls from the settlements could see her now, she thought. Planning baths and parties, just their sort of thing. Eolun cleared and washed the breakfast dishes and then strapped on the last pieces of her armor, still building the strength to wear it for long periods of time. She looked over their quarters, making sure everything was tidy, before stepping into the dank passage leading to the Hornburg's gate.
The young Calaid sits in a corner of the Prancing Pony, his cloak hung near the fire to dry itself from the recent rain. His pack is leaned against a leg of the table, along with a simple axe, resembling more a woodcutter's axe than a weapon of war, as well as a plain wooden shield. His leather journal is unfurled on the table before him as he leans over with his quill in hand.
I do not know what you intended of me, grandfather, but your final words continually echo in my mind, "The world is wide. I am sorry I was never able to show it to you. That is my last wish. The last wish of a dying man. Go on, get out. Live, Calaid." I am far away from our home in Dale, I feel sick at the thought of it. My journey has brought me to this village of Bree, and it is here I may stay for a while. I am sick of travelling. Of shelter made under tree tops, of bandits and the haunting sounds of night.
The people here remind me a lot of those back home. Though here, they seem more suspicious of strangers that come through their gates. I have heard all manner of stories of who or what has passed through here recently. I only hope nothing has followed me on my heels.
I have found work with the local smith, Agelard. He is a dwarf, though not as sour as a lot of his kin. Luckily, I am use to hard work and long days and he pays me fairly. I have even earned enough to replace the items that were stolen from me along the road. Thankfully, I still have your axe grandfather. Is it true it was made in Gondor? Hopefully one day I will be able to see that city. I wish we could have gone there together.
Edgar, from the local watchmen, has asked me to join their militia if I am to stay in the village. I will have to decline his offer, I think. I have no place fighting goblins and orcs.
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