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piosenniel 11-06-2006 12:51 PM

Treachery of Men RPG
"Yet neither by Wolf, nor by Balrog, nor by Dragon, would Morgoth have achieved his end, but for the treachery of Men."


For the first year since the Battle of Sudden Flame, it felt as if spring had repelled the pitiless touch of the north, as if the Earthqueen’s power had pervaded Beleriand after a long estrangement. The pair of riders upon iron-grey mounts forded the rivulets off the Gelion, careered through the meadows succoured by the waters beyond its banks, and cut swift, leafy paths through copses.

Only one indication of the danger that this temporary idyll still risked could be discerned – the speed which the riders maintained. It spoke of urgency and intensity. There was something insatiable about the journey of the two Elves, as if even the spans of their lives were limited after all, as if bare months of this vitality remained to be enjoyed, raced through, swigged to their dregs. And so, as it turned out, it came to pass.

But such reflections are suitable only for melancholic lays, for sad dreamers who hope that thinking of the past and lamenting it may bring it back again. Lachrandir, Knight of the Dispossessed, formerly of Thargelion, was no dreamer; and this was not a memory of the past, rather a duty of the present. He galloped on, his eyes on his path, his hands calm and inert at his side, belying the frenetic activity that gripped the messenger and the stallion that bore him. In lieu of a saddle-bag – for his was a high-blooded beast, and he did not presume to sully it with harness and reins, instead riding bareback in the usual Elven fashion – he bore a leather haversack slung across his back; its contents, carefully arranged, did not make a sound or apparently jostle at all on the journey.

The same could not quite be said of the other rider’s burden. There was a strange symmetry about the pair of mounted travellers and their steeds; for they were much of the same stamp in colouring and feature – the Elves dark haired and long-limbed, the horses pale - but one rider and his horse were younger and smaller, with a combination of impetuosity and hesitance that called to mind apprentices before their masters. A jangle of metal now rang out from this younger Elf’s bundle.

“I told you, Tathren, to be careful with the silver,” Lachrandir hectored at him. “We’re riding to a country where nine Men in ten have never seen a coin before; a country still wild and far from tamed with law. The summons we carry is of vital importance, boy; we can’t let it go astray due to some adan thug’s excitement over a glint of...”

“Sorry,” the other said, sounding a little crestfallen.

“Never mind, boy, it’s of little importance. But don’t let it happen again, Tathren.”

Lachrandir gave a short look back at his companion before resuming his watch on the road, spurring his stallion to a slightly higher pace. He has something of his uncle about him, I suppose. He’ll learn yet, he concluded to himself.


“...Forinasmuch as thou, Ulfang, called the Black, hath been accustomed to owe liege-homage, saving thy dignity amidst the tribes, to us, Caranthir, fourth son of Fëanor, rightful lord of Thargelion but for the false disseisin of the Enemy; by this and by the ties of loyalty between thy vassals and mine, thou art bidden to provide fighting men in service, to the number of seven thousand, under thine own command or under such a proxy as it pleases thee to dispatch, to meet with our own powers and those of our youngest brothers, the Lords Amrod and Amras, on the twenty-seventh day of the month of May; this army being dispatched, under the lordship of our eldest brother Maedhros, Lord of Himring, to avenge upon the Enemy the grievous and perfidious hurts that he hath inflicted. For amongst these art listed the slaying traitorly of our sire and grandsire, the ruin of our realms in the north, and the unlawful withholding of the Silmarilli, greatest work upon Arda, that our father Fëanor crafted, and that we hath sworn, on pain of the Everlasting Darkness, to regain. So it is ordained on this, the eleventh day of April. And we hath sworn, once having raised up this great Union of Maedhros, never to abandon it, and charge thee to swear likewise.”

Such was the main part of the missive of Caranthir, which Lachrandir carried.


“Lachrandir!” Tathren cried with gladness. “I see smoke rising not far off among homesteads, surrounding a great hall, hewn of oak and ash...”

“I have seen it too, pup,” Lachrandir answered, smiling. “Do not think that my sight is so greatly shadowed by age and toil. That is the rude dwelling of Ulfang, Chieftain of the Southern Easterlings. What do you think of it, lad?”

“Well...” Tathren started, his brow creasing and lips twisting as he tried to find the words. Lachrandir laughed, and his mirth, coming from such a stern visage, was surpassingly bright and clear.

“Well, exactly. I hope you weren’t expecting much in the way of hospitality...this is no Hithlum, Tathren, and it is no Hador Goldenhead who rules it. Put all you have seen and heard of the Edain from your head! This is Easterling country,” Lachrandir murmured, his smile thin now, “and it is another state of affairs altogether.”

They paused in thought for a few moments. Tathren was the first to speak.

“Stop dawdling, Uncle! Don’t you know the summons we carry is of vital importance?”

“Mind that minstrel’s glib tongue, you,” Lachrandir replied. And I’m not your uncle either; he was a better Elf than I’ll ever be, even if he did charge me with looking after you, young wastrel.

“Very well. Race me, boy,” he added, kicking his horse into a run and charging after the tiny stockade and palisade walls that beckoned in the distance. After a short while the envoy and his page bid their steeds halt in front of the gate into the settlement. As they passed, they had seen the first Ulfings of their journey, who had stared at the towering, fair-featured strangers bearing the star of Fëanor on their tunics in curiosity mixed with no little fright. The guards, too, goggled as they shuffled the gates open. Tathren quickly assumed an air of composure, though he rode tentatively, all too aware that he, an Elf far from mature, towered almost a foot over most of the Ulfings.

In such a manner the envoys reached their journey’s conclusion, passing under the wall where the two banners, Ulfang’s claw and Fëanor’s star on their black field, shifted together in the April breeze.

--- Anguirel

piosenniel 11-06-2006 12:53 PM

Celuien's post

The night before the Envoy's arrival

Stars gleamed brightly in the midnight sky over the Ulfings' settlement. A warm breeze mingled with the new-budding branches, stirring them to a gentle whisper that played behind the song of the night birds. Peace reigned over all, save in one house, where even at the late hour, a light still moved in the windows.

Ulfast knew no rest. For hours he had lain awake in bed, staring ahead as though he could will his sight beyond the wooden beams to gaze beyond the ceiling of his chamber to the still darkness of the night. His spirit was troubled, though he could not say why. Time dragged by and sleep yet failed him until, at last, he lit a lamp and stirred uneasily in the room, changing his nightshirt for a brown tunic and breeches with a black cloak and boots. Perhaps a walk in the open air would settle his spirits.

Concealing a dagger on his belt, Ulfast stole out into the night. He walked in the dark, savoring the odors of loam and cut wood that filled the air, but ever alert and with one hand on the dagger handle. No enemy would catch him unaware.

A turn near the town's gate brought him to the standards of the Claw and Star. Though the symbols could not be seen under the dim moonlight, Ulfast heard the standards flapping in the breeze, and the images were clear as day in his mind. The Star of Fëanor. Not long ago, the Ulfings had been alone, allied only to themselves and a few other tribes in the east. The Dark Lord who held sway from the north was far away, a name to be feared, but not a presence in the daily lives of the people of Ulfang. But now they had thrown their lots in with the Elves. Ulfast had spoken in favor of that choice. The Dark Lord was slipping. The Elves were in open rebellion against him, and were ever seeking new allies for their cause. A new power was rising. Not today, or for a year of tomorrows, or even for long winters after that, but it was rising, and the Ulfings would rise with it to new power beyond their wildest imaginings in the old days.

Ulfast walked on, still lost in his thought, until the sun peered over the horizon. He then turned back to his house to rest before the business of the day began.

piosenniel 11-06-2006 12:53 PM

Mithalwen's post

Exhilaration and apprehension had been the emotions duelling in Tathren's heart the length of their journey, for he was young and high hearted and no danger or duty could dispel the delight of youth freed from maternal supervision to ride far and fast on one of the finest horses his people possessed alongside - well at the heels of - their swiftest rider. Yet this was no essay of skill to fill a time of leisure; though he had spoken in jest to Lachrandir he had wit enough to appreciate the significance of their mission and the honour that had been accorded him.

An honour he hoped that was not entirely to the charge put on Lachrandir some fifteen years ago by his brother in arms. Tathren's mischievous form of address had masked a certain sincerity, for he admired Lachrandir as much as his late uncle and, if truth be told, liked him rather better, never having quite forgiven or forgotten.... but this was not a time for walking the paths of memory. He dispelled the recollection. as his senses were assaulted by the sights sounds and indeed smells of the Ulfing settlement.

Lachrandir had spoken truly; this was unlike anything he had experienced before. Though their own dwellings since the loss of Thargelion were far from the finest of the Noldor, it was in the nature of his people to make things fair even when they made for necessity. He doubted that any straits would lead them to make buildings as crudely as this. The roughly thatched huts seemed to be built of wattle and daub and were arranged haphazardly within the stockade . In such buildings we might house our beasts, thought Tathren, as indeed they seem to… but we would not dwell so close by them. The young elf was hard put not to gawp as much as the guards. He found these people quite as astonishing as they did him. To his eyes they were no more finely constructed than their dwellings - short, squat and crude. Scarce taller than dwarves, he realised having dismounted and somewhat reluctantly entrusted his colt to one of them. His face betrayed none of the wonderment he felt; he used every scrap of self control to assume the dignity he deemed essential to his role as he followed Lachrandir into the great hall. Tathren had tried to ride by his side, now he walked carefully in his shadow, his dark grey eyes watching, waiting …

piosenniel 11-06-2006 12:53 PM

Folwren's post

The day was uncommon fine, and Uldor realized it. The wind felt warm on his face, unlike the usual, brisk, cold breeze that had been coming down the past month. The cape on his back was almost unnecessary. Yet, somehow, he liked the way it blew up in the wind as he paced the foot of the wall. He reached the gate and stepped out of the shadow of the wall. The guards leaped to their feet and to attention. He cast them a sharp look.

“Anything new?” he asked, merely to make one of the guards take that ridiculous grimace off his face.

“No, sir.”

Uldor grunted, cast one more critical glance at the men, and passed on. He wandered back towards the great house. He bound up the stairs onto the broad porch and pushed through the great, heavy, wood doors.

“Where’ve you been all this time?” a voice demanded at once. He turned sharply, to find his brother at his elbow. He sighed.

“My dear Ulwarth,” he said, placing his hand on his poor, half-witted brother’s shoulder. “I’ve just been out walking. Surely you did not miss me? I have not been gone long, and you don’t usually notice my absence,” he added with a sneer.

Ulwarth pushed Uldor’s hand away with surprising speed and impatience for a man supposed to be slow. “Our father has been waiting for you this past half hour. Two elven ambassadors have arrived and father wanted to wait for all of us to be there before receiving the message that they bring.”

“Elven? Elves?” Uldor repeated. His black eyes sharpened significantly and nearly flashed under his lowering brows. “Who are they? Who are they from?”

“No questions, no questions, brother, hurry, hurry. . .” Ulwarth grasped Uldor’s hand and led him forward quickly. He reached closed door and laid his hand on the handle. Uldor pulled his hand back abruptly. He cleared his throat, straightened the cape at his shoulders, ran a quick hand through his hair, laying it nicely, and nodded to Ulwarth.

Ulwarth turned, rolling his eyes as his face turned away from his brother, and opened the door. He led the way in.

The room that they entered was a considerable size. A window on the wall opposite the door allowed broad beams of sunlight to stream in. His third brother and his father sat within, as did two strangers. All of them, save his father, rose as the Uldor and Ulwarth entered. Ulfang made the introduction.

“Uldor, this is Lachrandir, of the house of Feanor, messenger from Caranthir, our overlord.”

piosenniel 11-06-2006 12:53 PM

Durelin's post

Passing in front of a mirror in her temporary bedchamber, which the King Ulfang had so “graciously” presented to her for her services (services he had never received but which his son had, who might as well be seated in the old man’s throne), Thuringwethil, Women of the Secret Shadow, shuddered, she herself a mirror to her soul as a ripple of disgust passed through it. What was this horrible body?

Her bones themselves dripped with a deep hatred for the creatures called ‘Men,’ but even more so for the Children of Ilúvatar: silly children who could not even play nicely with their friends, which had made it all too easy for Morgoth to bring the little Ulfing king to his knees. Thankfully the dark powers which she served would use these beings and then dispose of them. Thuringwethil felt she might just have to hang around long enough to see that disposal, but not if it meant remaining in this body for any longer than was necessary. To think that now she, Woman of the Secret Shadow and faithful servant to Sauron, acting often as his voice itself, was now something Men low and base could admire with hungry eyes that say prey within read. She had not been the one to fail! O, but her poor master…

She had to endure one man in particular, though his simple ways could sometimes amuse her. Uldor really though he had power, that he was manipulating, that he was triumphing and would show everyone, even the Dark Lord himself, what he was made of. But Thuringwethil already knew, which her master knew even better – he was but flesh and bone and warm, thin blood. As soon as that blood went cold, he would pass into the dirt, and men to come would leave their bold footprints in him, forgetting that they too would join him sooner rather than later. For beings like her, these lives were blinked away, if they could be called ‘lives.’

War was coming, and she shook with excitement because of it. She would be the one to secure the victory, and Morgoth would not be able to forget it. When Sauron rose again she would undoubtedly be allowed to join her Lord again, and she would have the strength to be rid of this body forever. Then she could take on forms that were more pleasing to her master as well as to her. Maybe she would be rid of this mocking body that locked her in a fleshy prison before the battle began, and she would finally be able to feel the blood of those Elves – those pitiful fools who mourned the loss of that harlot, Luthien, who would bind herself to a being of an even lower race – on a skin she chose.

But alas, she knew her work would not be done until well into the bloodshed, for the treachery ran deep, and the Woman of the Secret Shadow would not dream of abandoning her work. Once the lies had seeped in, and as long as the boy who played with being puppet master danced to her tune, the Dark One’s victory was secure. Doubtless Uldor would see it her way without too much trouble: planting ideas in a mind so malleable in tainted hands was too simple.

Who Thuringwethil had to step more lightly around, though, were the men not mired in a sickness of the mind like their leaders were, and that was many of the Ulfing people, so clueless and innocent. If they ever did catch some sort of clue, they could be a risk. Such things as war and alliances were beyond those simple folk, left for the hearts of lords and kings, predisposed to disease and corruption. Rumours, even whispers, spreading fear and doubt were pleasing to her as long as they did not involve her. Remaining in the shadows was the way it had to be done, and it was the way in which she was accustomed to working.

She knew how the minds of men worked – deceit was not something done in the light of day: it was done in the dark when the eyes could not see what the hands were doing. That was the beauty of it, and what made it the sweetest perfection of a business for Thuringwethil to use to her liking. There was no way she could fail: the treachery of men was on her side.

piosenniel 11-06-2006 12:53 PM

Noinkling's post

‘Kata! Kata, are you there?’ Dulaan stood blinking in the dimmer light of Kata’s house. She stepped further in, letting thick wool blankets which covered the entry way to fall back into place behind her. The old women thumped her walking stick a few times on the rug covered floor of the dwelling, a muffled sound at best. ‘I let the goats and sheep out into the side pasture. Is there something hot to drink, something to warm an old woman’s bones?’

The room was coming more into view as her rheumy eyes adjusted to the small light of the fire and the shadows which it threw about the homey interior. She tapped her stick lightly against one of the carved wood benches and smiled down at the child who sat there.

‘Slide over, won’t you sweeting? Let Granny rest a bit by the fire.’

piosenniel 11-06-2006 12:54 PM

piosenniel's post

‘Oh fuss and bother!’ Jóra looked quickly up at Granny Dulaan, her cheeks reddening at the old woman’s bemused look. ‘Well not you, Granny,’ she went on in way of explanation as she slid over on the long oaken bench. She fetched a soft cushion from beneath the bench and put it on the seat for Granny, patting it in invitation.

‘It’s just that I’m all thumbs this morning! I’ve managed to tangle this piece all up.’ She held up her knitting needles with as forlorn a look as she could manage on her eleven year old face. There, hanging between them, was what was supposed to be a cap for her father’s birthday. The start of a cap, that is…about twenty rows of bright red yarn; most of which were fairly even at the start, but had given up all hope in the last three or four rows. A number of the stitches were too tight, and a number too loose; the rows uneven.

Snick….snick…. The sharpening stone sang out against the arrowheads. Valr, with his thirteen years of wisdom, offered his brotherly opinion as he sat sharpening the twins’ arrows. ‘Looks like some great, old spider fell into the mead vat!’ He ducked quickly as his sister let go her ball of yarn in a quick aimed throw at his head. ‘Can’t throw either, can ya?!’ he snorted.

Before the skirmish could erupt into a full scale battle, Káta thumped on the hardwood frame of her loom with her shuttle, clearing her throat in a decisive manner. From across the large room, her black eyes sparkled with authority as she turned her face toward Valr and Jóra. ‘I like to keep a peaceful house,’ she said in a quiet voice that nonetheless was heard quite distinctly. ‘Take your little spat outdoors if you think you need to continue it.’ She sent her shuttle sliding between the loom threads. ‘Oh, and while you’re out there, we could use a few more rounds split and stacked on the woodpile.’

A duet of groans was heard as knitting and arrows were put away. Jóra stuck out her tongue at her brother as she passed near him on the way to the door. She pushed on the thick wool blanket which hung in the doorway and started to exit, then paused midstride. Ducking back inside she turned with a big grin on her face. ‘Hey! Papi and the twins are back from hunting!’ She peeked outside once more. Her muffled voice drifted back into the room. ‘Oh! And it looks like he’s brought Erling back with him.’ There were sounds of heavy footsteps as the men approached the doorway.

‘Hurry now!’ Káta said, rising up from her cushion. She smoothed down the skirt of her dress and pushed back a few stray hairs, securing them behind her ears. ‘Get the bread and cheese out from the food chest, Jóra. And you, Valr, get a big pitcher of ale from the new barrel. Just put them on the table, there, children. Granny, won’t you set out the cups, please.’

‘There you are, light of my life!’ Grimr’s voice boomed about the room as he entered. He grinned round at Granny and his two youngest children, his eyes falling at last upon his wife. ‘And haven’t your sons and I brought you a fine brace of geese and young buck to keep our bellies filled for a while. Fálki and Falarr are hanging them outside.’ He ruffled the hair of Jóra and Valr as they drew near to lean up against him. ‘Be a change from mutton, eh?’

He looked behind him, surprised not to see Erling. ‘Let the young fellows take care of our prizes, Erling,’ he called out the door. ‘Come and have a cup of ale with us!’

piosenniel 11-06-2006 12:54 PM

Rune Son of Bjarne's post

Erling’s hair flowed in the wind as he and his hunting companions walked home from their successful hunt.

They were quiet as they walked along. Not an awkward silence at all. It was just that they did not need to talk much; they never did. There them, which enabled them to enjoy socializing in silence as much as if they were merrily drinking and singing together.

For Erling there was nothing as good at these kinds of hunts, they left him with a splendid feeling of happiness. Not even the feeling of accomplishment after a successful harvest could satisfy Erling as much.

The small company approached their destination point, a nice little house, Grimr’s home. Erling knew from previous experiences that it was a friendly house, a bit too noisy and lively, but cozy and friendly. As they drew nearer to the house Erling for some reason started to pick up pace, as if the hunt had made him long for such homely coziness.

As they stood at the front of the house, a fair bit of movement could be heard through the door. “By the sound of it, our arrival has not gone unnoticed,” Erling said with a smile upon his lips. It was impossible to tell whether Grimr had heard him or not. For in two steps Grimr had opened the door and gone in.

“Let the young fellows take care of our prizes, Erling! Come and have a cup of ale with us!” came Grimr’s call to him from within the house. After leaving his share of the hunting “spoils” with the twins, Erling went in. He greeted Granny with a smile and a deep bow and took the large cup of ale offered him.

piosenniel 11-06-2006 12:54 PM

bill_n_sam's post

Dag swept the back of his hand across his brow, pushing the droplets of sweat aside before they fell into his eyes. Despite the spring chill still lingering in the air, the heat of his forge made his skin glow a ruddy copper and he perspired freely under his woolen tunic. Stopping long enough to strip the tunic over his head and hanging it carefully on the wooden peg protruding from the wall of the shed, he considered returning to his home to retrieve the leather head band he usually wore, to keep the stinging beads from obscuring his sight. But the day marched forward and the work flowed from his head to his hands easily, effortlessly. No, he would not leave the metal, not now.

This morning had been still cold enough for him to delay rising from the warm bed he shared with his wife and small daughter. The sun had risen over the eastern hills as he drowsily watched Gunna preparing the morning meal. When it was ready, he had eaten leisurely, enjoying the baby playing at his feet, his sister-in-law, Mem, chatting merrily to the child and Gunna, making them all laugh with one of her outrageous stories. It wasn’t until the sound of heavy boots crunching on the path outside the door and men calling to one another as the village awoke and began to stir, that he recalled to himself the task for the day. Dag had slipped his arms around his wife, squeezing her comfortably familiar body to his, and said succinctly, “Bring me food at the forge, I’ll be there all day”

Without any comment, Gunna had placed her hand to his cheek and held his gaze for a moment. So much of their communications took place with such looks and gestures, that sometimes it almost seemed that they had no need of words. In the almost four years of their marriage, the young couple had developed a deep sense of rhythm, in their thinking, in their feelings. To Dag, it was a great comfort to have a wife who did not always demand that he talk, talk, talk. It seemed to him some men never shut up – and women more so. Some talked so long and so loud they never even heard what they were saying.

Dag much preferred to listen and to then consider, so much so there were those in this new home of his that had at first thought him simple, or stupid, or deaf. But his reluctance to prove his vocal skills was more than made up for by the skill of his hands at the forge. Soon enough, his new acquaintances were praising how well he could craft a plow blade, or a roasting spit, or, more importantly, a sword, and overlooking his reticence. After all, they needed a smith who could work metal, not spin a tale or tell a joke.

The skill to hammer, to shape, to sharpen, this was what was wanted, and today that want was palpable. The night before, as he has rested after his day’s labor, a heavy pounding had shaken the door to his home. Dag had motioned the women to quiet. As Gunna cradled the child to her breast, he had warily opened the door, his eyes narrowing as one of Ulfast’s men pushed arrogantly inside, not bothering to ask for leave to enter another man’s home. With a slight frown on his face, Dag had listened to the demand - not a mere request, but a demand - for a new sword, a fine sword, wrought of the sturdiest iron and with a keen blade, for the son of Ulfang. It was wanted, he had been told, immediately.

Having no desire to run afoul of any of the three brothers whose father was the chieftain of the Ulfings, and therefore Dag’s own liege lord, and knowing that such a commission, if well executed, would almost certainly increase the value of his other work, Dag still hesitated before granting a simple acknowledgement to the demand. Not that he had any real choice in the matter. These men were known for their viciousness and a refusal would certainly mean a violent retribution of one kind or another. Dag’s hesitation was merely the result of that inner voice which spoke to him when he was stepping into dark territory. The potential for either a rise in fortunes or a fall into disaster was equally as probably when dealing with those who lived for power. But being unable to predict which would be his, and his small family’s, fate, Dag had nodded his head solemnly and said only “Three days hence, he shall have it”.

Dag had set aside his other commissions and set to work on the new weapon at once. If fortune smiled on him, the metal would hold true. The ore had been well smelted and was of high quality. Only the best, for a chieftain’s son. He had lain awake for long hours, carefully going over each step of the making in his mind. Morning found the phantom sword complete, down to the honing of the edge and the crafting of the intricate wire work which would decorate the handle. He had spoken no word of his planned work to Gunna, but as she lay awake beside him through the night, he knew that she was keenly aware that all of their futures lay in her husband’s hands. When had they ever not?

And so, it was with a look of hope mixed with an unvoiced warning to caution, that she had sent him on his way to complete his task. As Dag recalled the gentleness with which she had touched his face earlier, he smiled to himself. Don’t worry, he thought. This will truly be a weapon worthy of a great leader of men.

piosenniel 11-06-2006 12:54 PM

Dimturiel's post

The morning dawned clear and cold. it was a typical spring morning as many others had been before it. Tora was walking through the village. She did not have much to do that morning, so she had decided to go for a walk. She loved being out in the cool spring air, alone with her thoughts. There was little time for thinking when she had two younger brothers to take care of, not to mention her elder brother, who required her help with his small child. She usually spent the time working. yet she did not complain. She usually prefered to have something to keep her busy.

Tora found a spot that was warmed by the morning sun, and sat down on the grass. She looked around thoughtfully. Memories linked her to that place, memories of feelings that she had found hard to understand then. Yet they had ended, as abruptly as they had started. But what could she do about it? It had not been her fault, nor his. If anyone was to blame, it was fate. How convenient, she thought, that the notion of a power greater than themselves existed. It was so easy to blame their troubles on it, and to think that things could not be better, simply because that power did not want them to be. It made people feel better, comforted even, in a strangve sort of way.

So her lover had been dead for over two years now, and her father was now planning to give her to someone else, someone she had never spoken to before. What was the use of complaining about that? It would not have changed the situation. It would not have turned back time. And she was sure she was not the only person in the world to whom such things had happened. That had been plenty of others that had lived the same tale that she had. Yet the world had not ciesed moving because of them. Life and time had gone on, ignoring such happenings, that seemed of little concern to those who were not involved in them.

Tora got up abruptly. She had better return home, she thought. Her mother might need her. And so, she turned her back to her past, and retraced her steps to the village.

piosenniel 11-06-2006 12:55 PM

Volo's post

The sun was high and there was barely any wind. A rare phenomenon was happening, the guard of Ulfang's door was getting really irritated. Not that Anydor showed it. His water skin was empty, but he didn't dare leave his post: if Anydor was ordered to stand guard, he would. He thought a himself a bitter smile. It was one of those bad days: in the morning Anydor had accidentally broken one of his best knives, later he overheard from a passing man that the smith wouldn't sell anything to anybody for a reason Anydor didn't hear. And now he was standing under the burning sun longer that he should, just because the other guard, a new, carefree lad Anydor didn't know well, had somehow gotten himself free time by persuading Anydor to stand for a part of his change.

It was really crowdy in the village today, a merchant had brought something everybody wanted to see. Anydor couldn't care less. Then all of a sudden shouts were heared, some were screaming and some were cursing. In appeared that a thief was spotted and now a fight was starting, some men were gathouring around the thief. The thief, dressed in rough leather trousers and a leather jacket, he also wore a hat out of fur. He was broad even by Easterling standards, but a bit shorter than Anydor. The circle around him closened in. Anydor felt amused, this stuff didn't happen that often in a place where he could see. He even dared to stand on his toes and grin broadly. It wasn't his job to interfere with fights not concerning Ulfang or his posessions.

The thief drew a long slightly curved knife and handled it rather skillfully. The men around him backed a bit. The ones perfering violence more than others drew their knives, but before they could act the thief lunged for a gap between two confused men. He did not notice that a guard had come up behind the corner. The guard thrust his scimitar at the thief. Being a skillful fighter, the thief managed to dodge most of the blow, but still receaved a cut in his chest. He staggered few feet backwards and then ran behind the corner. The guard and some of the braver other men followed him.

Any more Anydor didn't see. The incident brightened his mood and he was thinking over the moves of the thief and what he himself would have done. While Anydor was thinking would he have done any better, a ragged dirty man walked slowly towards him. Anydor was mightly suprised when he noticed the beggar so close to him, he tossed the thoughts about the thief, losing consentration like this may be fatal. The beggar walked uncertainly towards Anydor and stopped about five feet from him.

"Please, mighty warrior, spare an old man few coins, bless you and bless the chieftain", said the beggar in a miserable voice and dropped on his knees. Anydor didn't show any response and stood with his armes crossed just like he did before. The beggar hesitated for a while and then desided to say, "My children are dying of hunger and my wife is ill. I beg you, just warrior, give this poor man a coin". Anydor lifted his eyebrow but otherwise stood still, it wasn't often that someone had the nerve to beg from him. He remembered the time when he was just a lad and begging to live aswell, he sure didn't beg from guards, especially guards of the chieftain. Something started bothering Anydor and he wanted to get rid of this fool. "Please..." groaned the beggar. And then Anydor was filled with sudden rage for some unknown reason, he quickly strode to the beggar and grabbed him by his raggs lifting him up easily, "Some nerve you've got. If you wish to have any nerve left in you for later then leave now you scum, your children can rot for all that I care". The beggar was stiff with fear eyes wide open. Anydor tossed him on the ground and laughed intimidatingly. The beggar crawled away. People were gazing at Anydor, but he didn't care. His bad mood had returned. He went back to his post and stood there for the rest of his change without any more strange things thinking only of different curses for the beggar.

piosenniel 11-06-2006 12:55 PM

Garen LiLorian's post

"And that is why!" the crockery rattled from the thump as he be brought his fist down, staring feverishly around the dinner table at his companions. "Don't you see? What have they ever done for us? How have they helped us? By giving us what is already ours?! No! And no again!" His head traversed from side to side in an emphatic shake, but his too bright eyes remained fixed on his audience. On the table, his fist trembled with restrained passions. "This... this slavery, yes, slavery is an affront to our proud house that cannot, nay, will not be borne. Justice will out, friends." He dropped into a prophetic whisper at this last. "Mark my words. And you would be wise to side with the people rather then with the overlords when we rise up and throw off this yoke of elvish imperialism." He punctuated his impassioned talk with a deep swallow from his earthenware cup, revolutionary fervor burning deeply in his breast, his strange eyes darting over his audience.

"Yes, yes, just as you say dear." His mother pushed back in her chair uncomfortably, hands dry washing themselves in her lap as she looked imploringly at her husband. The other person at the table brought the palm of his large, hairy hand down on the table with a thump not unlike his son's, only a moment before. "And I say, that is enough of that nonsense, boy." He growled, foul breath washing over the intervening space, his small black eyes glinting dangerously. "Three times already ye've escaped having yer throat cut and fed to the crows, and each time ye come back more lunatic then the last. I'll na' have it under my roof anymore, d'y'hear?" The revolutionary started to speak strongly, but the hairy limb slammed the table again, a cup leaping off in fright, preferring the cool safety of the packed earth ground to the increasingly abused table. "No! I said no an' I mean no, boy! While ye live under my roof, ye'll do as I say, or it'll be me feedin' ye to the crows." The small part of his face not yet claimed by the ongoing struggle of beard, hair and eyebrows was a dangerous red and the hand not used for so scaring the cookware clutched the wooden handle of a long dirk at his belt unconsciously, the barest gleam of iron reflecting candlelight.

The revolutionary leaned forward in his chair, his passion turned cold. His bright eyes glittered like a snake's and, as though taken with the metaphor, his body appeared coiled and tense, ready to strike. His voice, perhaps feeling left out, came in a hiss. "You cannot suppress the truth, father. You cannot kill it with your cold iron or stamp on it with your boots. You are just like every other fat, self satisfied house carl, living off the work of the people, offering nothing in return. A mangy wolf, living off of the scraps the elves feed you, and the meat you can steal without bringing down the wrath of the people upon you." His head made another slow traverse. "No more, father. Strike me all you wish. I never wanted your protection, and I renounce your soveriegnty over me."

The bearded thundercloud darkened and he reached for a handful of the rough shirt his son was wearing, but the younger man slipped his grasp and moved to the door gracefully. "Farewell mother. Find the truth before it finds you." He intoned, and was gone. "Damn blast that Elf-spawned, goblin loving excuse for a milk blooded son of a pox-ridden -!" His father's bellow cut through the night. "You know it's only a phase, dear..." The peacemaker laid her hand on her husband's arm, her voice soothing. "This is the third time this month, and he always comes back, talking about filial piety and the values of this revolution he seems to want so much." She looked out the door sadly. Her still glowering husband clenched and unclenched his ham-like hands, looking for something to hit. "... I'm for the lord's house." He said after a moment through gritted teeth. "If that blasted goblin lover gets his feet too cold and runs back, he can sleep in the field with the animals, d'y'hear?" His wife nodded obediently, privately resolving to do nothing of the sort. "Well then." The man of the house took another look around, as if daring the furniture to utter revolutionary slogans, then ducked into the night after his son.

piosenniel 11-06-2006 12:55 PM

Child of the 7the Age's post - Khandr

With a weary sigh, Khadr leaned back in his chair and tried without success to sort out the tangled events of the day. He had been home from the great hall for more than two hours, yet his head was still throbbing. He could hear the angry voice of his first wife Briga issuing from down the hall as she criticized second wife Embla for her lack of cooperation and continuing bad spirits. The two women constantly disagreed about household arrangements. Briga would point out when Embla was shirking her share of the work, while the latter would glare out at her, saying nothing but with a nasty scowl on her face.

Not that Khandr would place the major share of blame on Briga! The house had run flawlessly in the old days when she had been the only one on board. He had taken a second wife to extend his own network of alliances and influence and to provide a female friend for his first wife. All his good intentions did not seem to be working. The newcomer Embla had upset the delicate household balance with her sullen face and bitter words. As second wife, Embla should have the good sense to accept that she was not going to be the one on top. Khandr was not an unthinking brute, and a little graciousness and cheerfulness on Embla’s part would have gone far towards earning her many special favors and rewards.

The arguments, however, showed little sign of abating. While Embla did not openly challenge his authority or that of Briga, she sometimes flung out occasional side insults or vague sounding threats which left no doubt that she was bitterly unhappy. Once in a while Khandr glimpsed a real sadness in Embla’s eyes and wondered if he shouldn’t make some effort to sit down and talk to her and try to figure out what was wrong. He did not like confrontations, however, and tended to shy away from Embla rather than run the risk of finding himself in the middle of a very unpleasant conversation.

In any case, Khandr did not have the leisure to deal with the matter now. He had enough on his hands trying to untangle the increasingly confusing web of diplomacy. Any serious attempt to improve the situation with Embla would need to wait till they returned back home to the land of the Borrim. That day could not come too soon as far as Khandr was concerned. This was the fourth week that he and his wives had been in the encampment of the Ulfings. He missed his daughters, and there had been absolutely no progress in trying to forge a marriage alliance between the two kindred peoples. All his effort to negotiate a union between one of Ulfang’s sons and the young niece of Bor had been unsuccessful, despite the assurance that generous gifts would be made as part of the bride price. Some members of the Ulfing entourage even seemed to take offense that the woman would be designated a second wife. That was part of the traditional ways, and Khandr could not understand why this should be a problem.

Khandr felt increasingly baffled over what was happening with the Ulfings. He and his father had always enjoyed good relations with Ulfang. But Ulfang now seemed incapable of making a decision and constantly referred problems and issues over to his sons, especially Uldor. Khandr’s conversations with the sons had been singularly unproductive. They seemed to talk in circles, promising much but never committing themselves to signing an agreement. On top of all that, there were numerous rumors sweeping through the general populace that the delicate balance of peace and war was about to be upset, and they would all find themselves in the middle of a war. Khandr had heard nothing official along those lines, yet he could not help feeling that there was some truth behind these gloomy prognostications.

Khandr bent over his desk and began work on the list of gifts to be sent with the new bride once an agreement was reached. He was still having trouble concentrating. One further regret tugged at the back of Khandr’s mind. If only he had been blessed with a son! The young man could have acted as the arbiter in the disagreements between the two women or, even more likely, Khandr could have avoided the marriage and put forward his son as the bridegroom instead. His son would have been closer to Embla in age and perhaps understood her more. With a weary sigh, Khandr turned his mind away from personal affairs and redirected his attention to the matter of deciding whether twenty or twenty-five goats should be included as part of the bride price.

piosenniel 11-06-2006 12:55 PM

Nogrod's post

It was getting dark as Fastarr came back to his tent. He lit the greaselamp and took off the boots he had worn all day. The stench was bad enough. Slowly he streched out and dropped the boots between the first and second linen walls of the tent. Then he got up and took the lamp into the tent itself. Even though the rugs on the ground were thick they felt a bit cold to the feet. The spring seemed to have taken a few steps back.

Fastarr took a couple of the firewood and lit a small fire. Only after the fire started dancing did he took his belt and scimitar away. It was a bliss to be on one’s own after a busy day. The kettle he had put on the fire started hissing slowly, marking that something was happening but that there was no hurry whatsoever. Lazily he studied his stores to find some tea, honey and wine. Ah, the water is almost used. I should get some more. It’s easier to do it now than as a first thing in the morning... Well, not just now...

The water boiled. He added similar amount of wine into the water and waited for the right sound to emerge from the kettle. Then he put some leaves to his cup and carved a piece of solid honey to join them. As the wine-water was about to boil, he poured it over the leaves and honey and put them aside to steep. The sweet and comfortable fragrance spreaded all over the tent and took him over.

Fastarr laid on his back waiting for the tea. Why is Khandr still waiting? Can’t he see that this is not going to work? Too much power-play, too little love, I say. We should go home the first thing tomorrow. I should tell him that. And all these rumours, and the Ulfings in the first place... What do we do here? We should be with our own kin if something does happen, not here among strangers who wish us no good...

He was feeling so nice and lazy laying down on the rugs that had only started to warm up under his body that he had to really make an effort to sit back up again and take the tea before it would get cold. The air outside really felt chilling right now. But the cup happily was still hot and the scent of the drink filled his head. It was indeed hot enough to burn his mouth so he sipped it carefully, turning the cup around between his fingers as not to burn his hands. He could feel the warmth of the drink going down his throat all the way to his stomach. Life’s little luxuries this is... this surely is...

It surely had been a busy day. From the early morning onwards Fastarr had been on the move. First he had taken Khandr’s and his wifes horses to an outing in the surrounding countryside. They had made a good sport of it and the horses seemed to be happy with it, as usual. After the lunch he had walked around trying to hear what people were talking, making a few discussions with the locals himself too. That was not something he especially liked but he was told to do so and so he had to do it. There was lots of talk, lots of ranting and lots of just mere boasting. There was nothing he could report Khandr about, if not for the overall tension and talk of evil that clearly surpassed his taste in quantity as well as quality, even if it was just joking. Maybe it was just the way these Ulfings were?

In the afternoon Briga had asked him to join her on her way to the market and he had made her company. Even though it had ended him carrying all the stuff she had wished to buy, he liked Briga. She was a Borrim-lady of the house with all the qualities and good to her husband’s retainers. Fastarr had nothing to complain. But shopping with ladies were a lot of work.

The evening had went with a lengthy bargain with a local smith who was trying to take a preposterous payment for the little work of changing one of Hengst’s horseshoe and changing some worn parts of the bridles. He had actually managed to settle the dispute to a reasonable level but was more than angry afterwards. It was near he ran over a couple of kids that called him, the foreigner, names when he was getting down the street with Hengst towards their place.

But still he had had to take a tour on the local inns to hear the latest. There had been nothing new tonight. Just the usual gloating and whispering outside the hearing of the stranger. No one was friendly and Fastarr saw no reason to be friendly either.

The tea run out soon enough. Fastarr took the last draught of it and got slowly up. He went to his bed and draw the quilt over him. Different persons he had met today whirled through his mind. Embla... she was one of the Bairka, one of those who had turned his life into a misery a long time ago and now she was there everyday to remind him of it. And still it was unsettling to him. But it was not just hate he felt.

piosenniel 11-06-2006 12:55 PM

Lalaith's post

Embla stirred the fire and smiled to herself. It was not a very pleasant smile.
Briga, the senior wife - the hag, as she privately called her - had lit this fire in the hearth, and then told her to tend it. She, proud daughter of the Bairka, had obeyed - but she had her revenge. Small, unimportant victory, but sweet nevertheless.

Open conflict was not her method. After all, Khandr, her husband…she clenched her jaw in anger at this last word, now so empty of any meaning it had carried in her girlish dreams. In those days, she imagined she would wed according to the customs of her people. A hand-fasting with a young man of her own choosing, each cleaving solely to the other. Yes, in open conflict, her “husband”, Khandr would take, as always, the hag’s part.

When her worthless father had sold her into what she regarded as little better than concubinage, she was horrified. But she at least imagined her existence would be soft and pampered - that the ageing husband would dote on his new young bride. Inexplicably, her youth seemed to hold little allure for Khandr. Instead, he clung to the familiar, middle-aged comforts offered by the hag. His infrequent visits to Embla’s tent were due to his longing for a son, not for her nubile charms.

So, when ordered to sit by the hearth, Embla made sure her retort had nothing to do with the task at hand, nothing to which Briga could reasonably object. You will not choke on big words and pig fat, sister wife, she said grinning. The older woman was discomfited, Embla could tell, and puzzled. Was this perhaps a curse or insult among the Bairka? Then Embla gazed deep into the fire, rubbed her ear-lobes, touched the skin beneath her eye and muttered dark and obscure words.
Axe-time, sword-time, shields are sundered,
After the wolf do wild men follow.

Embla knew well that her people had a somewhat mysterious and even oracular reputation among the Borrim. And now this gave her great satisfaction – the older woman looked distinctly alarmed, and left the room hastily. Of course, it did not take much to unsettle or intimidate Briga at this time. None of the Borrim were comfortable in their current surroundings. None except Embla herself. She was used to living in an alien, hostile environment – she had, after all, been doing so since her marriage. In fact, she rather enjoyed observing the discomfiture of the rest of the party - her husband, the hag, and those two doltish hunters - watching them feel as unwelcome, as wary, as ill at ease as she herself had always been since she first arrived among the Borrim.

As for her menacing pronouncements….Embla smirked again. Many of the women in her family did indeed have the sight. She remembered well the gestures of the Bairka sybils, and the kind of words they spoke when their visions came upon them, and she knew how sinister they could be. But she also knew enough about the sight to know that her Eye – if she did possess the gift - was too clouded by hate and anger to reveal any real truths.

piosenniel 11-06-2006 12:56 PM

Kath's post

Stalking into his home Bergr threw his catch down onto the low table that sat near the glowing embers of the fire and threw himself down to the floor next to it. Taking out his knives he dealt with the reward of the hunt quickly and efficiently, some going into the pot he would have his evening meal in that night, some he prepared to keep, and some he set aside for those who needed it more than he did. For the widows whose children were barely able to survive on the little their mother could provide them with, the only ones that even half accepted him here.

Since the day he’d arrived he’d received nothing more than suspicious glances and whispered comments behind his back. Few said anything to his face, they were not that stupid, but he knew of it all the same. Still there was no love lost on his part either, Bergr disliked this area. It had too many hidden secrets and too much hostility. However, it served his purposes for the moment, and so he would stay.

With a grunt Bergr pulled himself out of his maudlin thoughts and busied himself with cleaning his knives and the table. This done, he carefully wrapped the meat he was not keeping in cloths and, taking up the small packages, left.

As he neared his first stop the children of the hut ran out to him, used now to his heavy footsteps, and the younger ones threw themselves at his legs. Barely breaking his stride he allowed two to cling on to his lower limbs and pulled a third up to dangle from his arm.

“Yours, ma’am.” He spoke gruffly but gently to the woman standing over the fire, indicating both the children and the package he held in his one free arm. She had smiled and taken his burdens from him, allowing him to make his escape and continue on.

He returned, empty handed but lighter hearted, having garnered a similar reaction from every household. Sitting down to his own meal he stared into the contents of the pot for a few moments, wishing there was someone to share it with as he did every day, and then set to, his hunger outweighing his desire for reflection.

Later he found himself sitting in a corner of the small inn that he went to on occasion. He usually stayed out of places where there were going to be a lot of Ulfings as his presence was bound to cause trouble, especially when the men had imbibed a little more than was good for them. Today though he had decided that he did not want to be alone, even if the alternative meant being surrounded by these people.

So far things had been quiet. He had kept to his corner, only venturing out when the bar was clear to order a drink, and then skulking back into the shadows again. Most of the inhabitants were too busy discussing the happenings of the day to pay any attention to him, and Bregr appreciated that, enjoying being able to find out what he had missed while hunting, and it seemed that todays news was particularly interesting.

piosenniel 11-06-2006 12:56 PM

Fordim Hedgethistle's post:

Laylah ran ahead pulsing with the excitement of the hunt, silent in anticipation of the kill. They had tracked the buck for leagues and now it was close. Hunta could smell its spoor himself and hardly needed his companion’s more sensitive nose now, but after her many hours faithful labour he could not deny her. He swept through the low brush with no more sound than the wind, his rapid footfalls little more than the scurrying of small animals through the brush. They came to the edge of a clearing and pulled themselves close to the ground. The buck was standing now, his great brown head with its tall antlers erect and alert.

Their quarry was cunning. He had come to the field to flush out his hunters, to force them into the open where he could see them better and know what he should do. Hunta smiled and stroked Laylah’s thick neck. She acknowledged his hand with a low whimper and turned her head to lick his hand. Her lips were pulled back revealing long teeth, and her short golden coat stood up in a long ridge down her back. “Good girl,” he told her. “That was a good run and a fine pursuit.” Laylah merely returned her gaze to the buck; she knew there was still work to do. They began slowly to track their way around the edge of the clearing, looking for a place where Hunta could loose his bow.

The buck stirred and stamped his hoof, looking at the woods for the predators that he knew lurked within, but he could neither smell nor hear anything. He knew they were still there with the instinct of the hunted, but he was an old and wise in the ways of the forest and kept his head where a younger animal would have panicked and fled. A noise came to his ears which twitched and swivelled the better to hear. Lifting his head he heard the sound of fast approach, and the calls of musical voices in the air. He turned and fled toward the forest, and there came a sudden shaft from the side. Too late he tried to flinch and it buried itself in his flank, bringing agonising pain with every stride. He crashed into the forest wall and ran on into the trees, but the pain mounted with each step and he could feel something wet and hot running down his legs.

Hunta cursed foully the ill fortune of the hunt – and the riders who had so stupidly thundered past the clearing. His wonderment at their appearance and bearing was overcome by his anger. His shot had merely wounded the buck, meaning many more hours of tracking through the woods looking for his prey. The arrow had struck deep and hard and though the buck did not know it yet, it was already dead. But Hunta felt sick at the thought of the great beast wandering in pain and bewilderment, only to be dispatched at the end of struggle with a knife through the throat. It had deserved a cleaner death.

Calling Laylah to him he followed the blood trail back into the forest.

piosenniel 11-06-2006 12:56 PM

Anguirel's post - Gausen/Drenda

The quietness of the hovel was disturbed only by the recurring circles of Gausen’s distaff. She span the greyish flax, and watched it form, coagulate, like some eerie shadow of a marsh. Once brought out of this dim room, peered at by her narrowed, unadulterated glance, it would become a garment like any other. It would be given, along with the rest of the batch, to the horse-trader’s wife, and the horse-trader would in turn allow Gausen’s son to retain his steed for another month.

Any service that could be done for him was worth any length of gropings upon a darkened loom. She would have worked outside, for the day was bright – she could see that from where she sat – and it would have allowed her eyes more rest. But that would not, in this instance, do at all. Only lesser women worked outside, where the female art, the feminine struggle, for illusion failed them; where tears and stains and lines were mercilessly revealed. Better by far to shroud herself in propriety, Gausen knew.

She had not seen the subject of all her toils, the redoubt of all her hopes, for above a week. Gausen did not consider blaming her son for this; far from it. She had brought him up now; he was a man, in all, she wryly thought, but his extravagance. But that too was Drenda’s affair, not hers. He was by right, she thought in fury, a chieftain’s son; a right confirmed in oath by Ulfang himself! Why should he not live like one? It was reasonable, then, that he dwelt at Ulfang’s hall, burning with the splendour of his youth, and kept his horse, two hounds and a falcon. How her pride blazed for him then. For Drenda was beautiful, not merely to her, but to all others. He towered already among the tallest of the Ulfings. His features, which were her features, shone with grace and power. And if she had to labour in the dirt to maintain that power? Then by the gods, labour she would.

And then she heard the word, its unenthusiastic tone belying its enchanting significance, at the entrance to the hut.

The word was “Mother”.

Like a lapdog Gausen leapt from her seat, throwing back her veil, her eyes gleaming with anticipation. He had come. He never came here now, never usually. But he made an exception now. What filial piety... she ran to the threshold and embraced his tall, thin, figure, like a sapling still, she thought fondly, a handsome sapling, but no tree yet.

“Drenda...” she cried, but he endured her clutches with an ambivalent glance, and stepped uneasily out of them.

“Mother, we should talk.”

“Come in, then, come in!” But still Drenda hesitated upon the wooden doorstep. The look in his eyes moistened his mother’s. He is ashamed, now he is a great man, she thought, to enter the room where he lived as a boy.

“Drenda,” she said, summoning some of the sternness she reserved for all but her child into her voice, “it is not the feeling of a nobleman to quail at his mother’s house.”

Drenda bowed his head, surly but not wishing to argue, and stepped in. At once Gausen reproached herself. Had she been too sharp with him? Would he leave more quickly now? Had she squandered minutes with her son over a point of pride?

“Mother,” Drenda said, “have you got Father’s things? I need them.”

“Your father’s things?” Confusion mingled with relief in Gausen’s mind that Drenda had not taken offence. “The circlet of his lordship and the sword-belt of his authority? Are...are you certain you need them, my dear?”

“I’m not going to pawn or sell them, if that’s what you mean,” Drenda answered sullenly. “Yes, Mother, I need them. Things are happening fast outside your hut. There’s...there are going to be opportunities, Mother. I need all the dignity I can muster.”

But Gausen had shrunk back further into the darkness of her dwelling; partly to find the relics of her husband she had stored for fourteen years, but also to conceal the fear that spread across her face.

“Will there be war, then?” she asked quietly, her back to her son.

“I do not know for sure,” Drenda answered without emotion. “But an envoy has come from the Eldar. Whatever happens...”

“Oh, Drenda, Drenda, my boy, be careful with your life,” Gausen exclaimed, the sobs starting to conquer her soft voice, “which I have preserved with all that remained of mine.”

Drenda coughed, embarrassed. “Have you the circlet and the belt, mother? I should be present at the Hall to watch the Envoy’s reception.”

“Ay, my son, ay, my good lord,” Gausen whispered. “Take the emblems of your right, my boy, and stand tall in the hall. I know you will have no equals there.”

She passed over a bundle of black silk, laid her hand on her son’s shoulder, and stole a swift kiss from him before he left, laughing at the bristles of his fresh beard. He did not give her another look, but she listened, rapt, to the beating of his horse’s hooves as he made his way to the hall.

When they died away, she considered the news he had brought. If war was to come, she had but little time. She must see Uldor, must convince him to accept her, must solemnize their bond, before the men of the Ulfings left for the north. That way lay glory and preferment for her son.

Child of the 7th Age 11-13-2006 01:53 PM

Khandr found it impossible to focus on the stack of papers sitting in front of him. The noise of the street drifted in from outside. There was the usual assortment of sounds: braying donkeys, clucking hens, peddlers advertising their wares, along with the continual rattle of turning wheels as carts slowly made their way amid the piles of tossed dinner leavings and deep mud ruts. But the envoy from Bor soon picked up an undercurrent that went far beyond the expected hubbub of the street.

A number of the Ulfings were huddled in small groups pointing excitedly towards the dwelling of the Chief of the Southern Easterlings. A babble of words came rushing through the window, mostly rumors and speculation. All that was really known was that riders from the Eldar had come storming into town and made their way to Ulfang and his household, carrying a message from their overlord Caranthir.

Khandr growled with displeasure. Why had he not been told of this? Back home, he would have been given an immediate summons to court at the appearance of such important and unexpected guests. Now he was left behind in his apartments and could only scratch his head and wonder what was about to happen. His suspicions, however, had been right. Something was taking place at the very highest level of the court that could definitely affect the Borrim and their relations with the Ulfings. Since Khandr was the envoy, he considered it his responsibility to find out exactly what was going on and why. At least part of this puzzle involved Caranthir and the Elves, something Khandr had not recognized before. But even if Ulfang decided to release an official version of his meeting with the Elves, the Borrim diplomat suspected that there was a lot more to the story than the Chieftain was willing to admit.

Khandr cursed his own lack of activity. His attention had been so fixed on his own household that he had not made an effort to find out what was going on. No wonder the marriage negotiations had stalled! Any envoy who could not disentangle the usual web of court intrigue was utterly worthless. For all Khandr knew, Ulfang was about to embark on a policy that would damage the interests of Bor and the Easterlings of the North. Khandr vowed that this situation must change. The obvious place to start was to gather information from those closest to him. He must set up a banquet and ask all the Borrim in the settlement to attend. Barking out orders to his two wives and to several of the servants, he commanded that a fine meal be laid out tonight and that invitations be delivered immediately to Fastarr, Bergr, and Hunta.

Even Embla and Briga must come, although having wives in attendance at a function where business was discussed did not sit comfortably with Khandr who preferred the traditional ways. Still, women were often good at gathering gossip and that was precisely what he needed. Perhaps they could all agree to make a joint effort to ferret out information and make sense out of what seemed like an increasingly tangled and confusing web.

Noinkling 11-13-2006 03:35 PM

Dulaan took the cup offered her by Jóra. ‘Oh, just what Granny needed, my sweet little sparrow.’ She wrapped her chilly fingers about the cup gratefully, letting the warmth of the mulled wine within seep into them. She waved away the platter of cheese Káta was offering around, taking instead a small chunk of bread from the basket as it was offered. She dunked the bread in her wine and chewed on it thoughtfully.

‘Say,’ she said, at a lull in the happy babble of conversation. ‘I heard something today from one of the other women out in the west pasture. Grinna, it was. Birla’s daughter. The middle one that just got wed this past autumn. She’s big as a house with her first child.’ Dulaan chortled. ‘Stars above, I thought she might deliver right then and there among her goats.’ She shifted on the bench, trying to ease the pressure on her old bones. ‘Twins run in that family, you know. Her mother’s sister had two sets. Of course, she died after that second birthing . . .’

The room had gone silent as she rambled on, waiting patiently for the old woman to come to the point of her story. Dulaan looked up, giving a half smile at their respectful attention. ‘Yes, well,’ she went on after a small sip at her wine. ‘Grinna said her husband had said his father had gone up to the Great Hall. To see about some messenger from those Elvish folks as had come to see Lord Ulfang.’ She nodded her head as she recollected what the woman had told her. ‘Now there’s someone long in the tooth. Even for a manchild. Time he was looking to hand down the rule, don’t you think? Though as I hear it, it’s Uldor as really speaks through his father.’

She looked up again and laughed. ‘Well, anyway, I was wondering what you men had heard about all this Elves and their visiting. Is there anything to be made of it? ’ She took a few more sips of her warm wine and looked expectantly toward Erling and Grimr.

Anguirel 11-14-2006 11:24 AM

The Hall of the Leaden Lord
Lachrandir's eyes shone with a dark fire as he watched the human groom, a thin man in the rough livery of Ulfang's suite, lead away, with the assistance of two other bow-legged, weathered fellows, the pair of white horses, among the finest of the breed of Amon Ereb. He locked the groom's glance with his own, smiling broadly but without mirth.

"Of course, sirrah, it goes without saying that you will attend to these steeds as if they belonged to Caranthir himself. Which, in a manner of speaking, " he added firmly, "they do."

Tathren's mouth was tight shut, Lachrandir observed, and he surmised it was all the lad could do to choke back a mental rebuke. So, his page thought he needed a little more delicacy? Well, he would see it done.

"Aye," the groom replied with a blunt nod, and Lachrandir nodded back as the men and the horses receded into the press of Ulfings.

It had taken no little wrench of his heart to part with the beasts; he would have ridden into the Hall of the Chieftain on the horse's back, had the beggarly height of the gates, he thought with scorn as he stared ahead, not obstructed him. He felt as if he had been forced to surrender some priceless sword, an ancestral blade of his line perhaps, to some jester of a human hall-carl. He frowned slightly and then shrugged his resentment into the part of his mind where grudges slept soundly.

"Come, boy," he said to Tathren in Quenya, a language useful for its impenetrability to the Easterlings about them. "Remember, speak precisely, if you're called on to talk, and not for long. That should serve well enough. Now, to the Hall."

The Envoy looked ahead at the Chieftain's residence. In human terms, it had a certain harshness about it that was probably mistaken for the great mass of Men for stern commandment. He was no fiddler of the Sindar, but his eyes could only mourn the fine, straightly grown ashes and pines, no doubt once forming such grand forests for the hunts of the Seven, that had been hewn and nailed into its gables. He already saw in the chamber of his inmost mind its interior, trivial gloominess lit by fume-reeking torches and dull splashes of vulgar gold.

The two Eldar stepped up the curving logs of elm that formed the stairs to the entrance, and entered the Hall of Ulfang. At their side stood six guards, a trio on either flank of the Elves, spears in their hands, crimson tasseled and raised upwards. More of their number stood in ranks, some at tables, some lining the walls, some thronging about close to the far dais of their Chieftain.

The soldiers of Ulfang's court were not, it had to be said, in the crispest of order. Many looked as if they were newly straightened up, their helmets jauntily angled on their heads, scimitars left at the floor, spear-hafts slipping in their hands. Among them flashes of gold, bars of gold, fetters of gold, revealed the circlets of the nobles and petty chieftains in attendance. They were fewer in number than Ulfang's sentries, and one might almost have thought they were imprisoned by them; knots of the guards surrounded each coroneted brow. No women were apparently in attendance.

But Lachrandir thought of the news he brought, the muster his liege commanded, and each lacklustre guard became a doughty warrior, a noted slayer of Orcs; each chieftain could be imagined with a throng of carls and vassals behind him, calling his bondsmen to battle in a surging horde. Lachrandir had travelled in these lands before and knew that his mental picture was not wholly accurate; that the guards were in place because of their ability to bully their fellow men, that many of the chieflets were poor wastrels who spent all they had, and much more, to keep their noble diadems. But his ardour transmuted them to something more...

"Hail, Ulfang," he cried, striding without pause towards the dais, "Chieftain of Men! I am Lachrandir of Amon Ereb. In momentous times have I been sent, by Caranthir, Prince of the House of Fëanor. Bright are my tidings and great is the haste of my master."

The dais was topped by a throne that, despite the poverty of its material, made the rest of the court shappy enough; a chair of lead, forged by the craftsmen of Caranthir and sent to Ulfang as a surety of goodwill. And good lordship. In the chair of lead sat a grey haired, bearded old man, his eyes glinting in the dimness of the Hall.

"Welcome to my company and my council, friend of Caranthir," came the reply. "We have, I do not doubt, much to talk of."

The two glinting eyes turned one way and then the other, to the two men seated at the dais' next step. Positioned between them, just below Ulfang, stood an empty seat of stone. Three sons, he has, Lachrandir remembered. Ulfast, Ulwarth, and...the name of the other escaped him. Is it the custom of the ancient among the Adani to lean upon their offspring? Let us see...

Fordim Hedgethistle 11-14-2006 01:20 PM

When Hunta finally arrived back at the settlement he was exhausted. Laylah’s steps came slowly and her tail and ears were drooped to the earth, even the sights and smells of their temporary home failing to rouse her. The chase had been long and hard, for the buck had sought to hide himself in the densest parts of the forest. They had spent hours in difficult and trackless terrain following the thread of blood left by their prey. At long last they had found him lying on the ground and heaving out the remnants of his life. Death, when it came at last, had been swift and painless – the least that Hunta could do. Late as it was he had performed all the propitiatory rites owed to the beast, ensuring that its spirit would not remain the forest, angrily driving away future game to spite Hunta. But as soon as the fire had fully consumed the liver and gall, Hunta threw the carcass over his shoulder and staggered back to the settlement.

He had used what paths he could find, but the going was still hard, particularly with the great brown mass of the beast on his shoulders. He had been forced to stop frequently to breathe and rest, but at least he had not gone hungry. The buck’s tongue had been his supper, still warm and soft so soon after life, and Laylah had enjoyed a fetlock.

As they made their way past the guards Hunta barely acknowledged or even noticed the sharp whispers and quick glances of those he passed in the street. His skill as a hunter had made him an unpopular figure among these people, who fancied themselves quite capable in the hunt, but his proficiency was such that he always returned with the greatest prize, and that made many people jealous. Indeed, as he walked along he heard some malicious folk taunting the man Grimr, asking him if he had ever seen a buck of the size and majesty brought in by barrakar. Hunta winced at the name but did not react. He had been dubbed the barrakar – the man-animal – almost upon arrival. It was an insult so cunningly made that he could not challenge those who made it. A wily animal who evaded capture was often accorded the honour of being compared to those who hunted it by being described as barrak. So on the face of it, the application of the word to Hunta was a compliment in praise of his woodcraft and cunning; but when it was uttered to his face and, even more so, behind his back, it was uttered with such a twist in the mouth that the result seemed to imply that Hunta himself was part animal, and that his cunning was merely that of a beast. Part of him longed for the day when one of the Ulfings would overstep the bounds and use the insult too openly…he smiled grimly.

For all that Hunta longed to retire to his own tent, he stopped first at the home of the old woman Gausen to give her the gift-meat. Pausing at her door, he quickly cut three long strips of flesh from the richest part of the buck’s haunch, each one enough to fill her pot twice over. She smiled and thanked him, but what did that veiled look in her eye mean? Hunta no longer had the energy to decipher the attitudes of the Ulfings, and every day he longed to hear from Khandr that he had given up the hopeless plan of marriage and that they were returning to their own lands. Hunta had come on this journey for adventure and escape, but the land of the Ulfings had proven instead to be a prison of mistrust and deception.

Leaving the old woman, Hunta returned to the house that Khandr had been given and went into the yard where he gutted and slaughtered the buck. When the skin and antlers were hanging on the curing rack and the village dogs were fighting over the offal – Laylah, as usual, had sought her sleeping place beneath the tall tree – Hunta wiped his knife and carried the meat into Embla, hoping to find her in a good mood this day…or, at least, not in so terrible a mood as she was usually.

Rune Son of Bjarne 11-16-2006 03:25 PM

Erling smiled as he met her gaze and replied to her question.
“I do not know much about Elves in general, I have only seldom seen them pass through the lands and even less rarely have I spoken with them. Strange folks they are these elves, I am not sure what to think of them.” Erling said, he moved around on his stool as if he was uncomfortable talking about the subject.

With his eyes scouring the room he continued: “I mean, they are fair to look at and all, but something is definitely not right with them! Once I saw some of them walk across my field, being afraid of them damaging my crops I of course hurried to the field, but when I got there they were all gone with out a trace! Would you believe it, non of my crops had been stomped, not a straw had been snapped and I could not find one foot print, even in the soft ground where I know they must have walked. I have never before in my life seen anything like it, if I did not trust my own two eyes I would think I was mistaken. - One could almost be led to believe that they float above the ground rather than walk on it. There is definitely something strange, one might say magical, about them and magic is not something for men to meddle with.”

As he finished his story, Erling noticed that everybody had stopped talking and was sitting in silence with eyes fixed on him. Clearly a bit nervous about the attention Erling continued talking.

“I do not know what these Elves want here and I do not know them, but it could seem that Lord Ulfang thinks highly of them, although I don’t know exactly why. Lets hope they don’t use any of their Elven-magic on him, everyone needs to be alert when around such strange beings; even the Lords.”

Erling took a huge gulp of ale from his mug, as he put the mug back down he leand back and shook his head while mumbling “strange folks indeed”. He then grew quiet for a few seconds, before looking to Grimr hoping for him to give his views and knowledge on the subject.

Durelin 11-16-2006 06:40 PM

The woman, known to those who must know her as “Jord,” was walking in the small courtyard in which she knew the recent visitors to the King had been greeted only a few moments before. She had come down to observe the day’s happenings, and particularly to watch Uldor and his behavior. He had been working carefully on his father for years, and with her help, he now might as well be sitting in that throne...if it could be called that. Even she was perfectly willing to admit that these Men of the East were so far lower than the Elves that she nearly would have preferred the company of the latter. Nearly.

For most, a walk in the courtyard was a stroll, something leisurely and done out of please: but Jord paced restlessly, not paying attention to where she was going. She was not accustomed to paying such great heed to a body before, though she had now grown used to it enough that she often found the body moving without her remembering telling it to. It was unfortunate that the connection between it and her mind was so deeply welded by her master, and it was far too much of a bother trying to keep the skin from betraying her soul. If only it had not been so long since she had to wear a mask. The times had been so prosperous – she had grown too complacent.

Her mind wandered, so to speak, to inside the King’s hall. It was still a strange sensation, almost painful, like running into a wall or being tugged back suddenly by a chain. She was bound in a way she had not been in... Her mind had strayed a little too far into the recesses of her memory, and was pulled back with a snap. She shook with anger and anticipation as her self-awareness fell into place again in the drab reality around her.

Careful to keep her awareness, she let her thoughts creep towards what was going on in that hall, reserving herself simply to possibilities, worries, assumptions, predictions, checking her mind from trying to venture into the absolute: into that room, into the minds of those present.

Things were moving quickly now. The emissary from the Elves had arrived, sent by Caranthir himself, the Child who had determined he was in charge of this bunch of Men. Likely he thought himself a godsend, a light in the darkness for these people. And perhaps he was perfect in his understanding of one thing: that this land was certainly a dark one, these days. Morgoth had been wise to get his hands on Ulfang so quickly.

If the emissary were here, that meant things were already starting to fall in after it, and she had only to make sure that they fell in the right places. The Ulfings would have to go through all the motions of an alliance with the Elves, and things would have to remain as peaceful between them as possible. She was assured that the Ulfing people had no love for the Elves, and so it might be difficult to keep them silent for too long. But those Borrims were much more of a nuisance. Their descendants had not been tempted by Morgoth’s offer, so they were now far beyond his notice. She would have to notice them, though. Jord felt so insulted by this, but she knew she could not let them get in the way, though they would surely try.

But there was nothing that could not be taken care of, quickly and quietly. She needed only to continually insure that Uldor’s mind remained loyal to hers.

At the thought of the man, she smiled.

The body began to slow its pace, both in heart and step, as she settled her mind on her target. She was prepared in every way for this war, but had no need of steel. It would be a good, clean fight, and even in the end, her hands would be spotless.

bill_n_sam 11-17-2006 09:37 AM

Gunna cradled the warm bowl in the crook of her arm as she balanced the bread in one hand, the stone jar of ale in her other. Giving the door a shove with her foot, she called back to her sister over her shoulder. “I’m going now. I’ve banked the fire, so if the baby awakes . . . “

“I know, I know.” Mem interrupted good naturedly, her unseeing eyes staring vacantly from her pinched face, but her mouth drawn up in a mischievous smile. “If the baby wakes I’ll make sure I stir up the embers and feed the fire until the flames are higher than my head and then I’ll turn my back and pay her no mind . . . “

Gunna smiled in response. “Alright, just . . . just, take care, and I’ll be back quickly.” She stepped through the door into the spring sunshine.

“I’ll be here!” Mem chuckled softly, her hands never ceasing their labor as she deftly spun a thread as delicate as gossamer from the spindle she held in her lap.

As Gunna walked the short distance under the town’s eastern wall, from where they had their small home to where her husband had his forge, she frowned slightly. It wasn’t only her uneasiness of what might happen every time she was required to leave Mem by herself which creased her brow. The growing tension amongst the Ulfings had many of her neighbors on edge. Gunna usually tried to mind her own business and not pay too much attention to the gossip of the women. This was growing harder to do however, since the return of Ulfang’s eldest son. The reconciliation between the two had certainly taken many by surprise, including Ulfast, who had apparently nursed great ambitions of succeeding to the leadership of their people. But his brother’s recall from exile had brought those hopes into serious doubt, and now . . . and now Ulfast called upon her husband to craft a fine sword.

Well, there was nothing to be done about it, she thought resignedly. All the inhabitants of the settlement, it would seem, were being called upon in such oblique ways to cast their lots in with one or the other of Ulfang’s contentious offspring. Her husband might try to walk the knife’s edge and remain neutral, but sooner, rather than later, every man would have to declare for either Ulfast or Uldor.

Dag’s back was to her as she slipped unnoticed into the shed. As always, she spared a moment to admire the muscles spread taught over his spare frame. The strength needed to wield a hammer for hours at a time was well evident in the contours of his shoulders and neck. Sweat gleamed on his skin as the warmth of the day grew. Turning around, he caught sight of her but did not immediately hail her or stop his labors. But she could tell, from the slight relaxation of the muscles around his jaw, and the easing of his features, that he was glad of her presence. Gunna set the food and drink down carefully and waited, arms across her chest, for him to speak.

Finally reaching a point where he could safely set aside the blade, Dag carefully replaced each tool in its proper place and then crossed to his wife. His fingers traced the crease in her brow where the frown rested still. “I hope this isn’t for me.” He teased gently, a slow smile spreading over his lips.

The frown flew from her face, as his wife smiled in return. “It is – and it isn’t.”

Dag raised one eyebrow quizzically, as he reached for the bowl of food and took a seat on one of the upturned stumps which he used either as fuel or furniture, as the need arose. Ploughing a piece of bread through the thick pottage and shoveling it into his mouth, he waited patiently for her to continue.

Gunna did not sit but took a wooden cup from a shelf and poured it full of ale, handing it to Dag. “You know why I’m worried. The rumors . . . about Uldor and Ulfast. I hear more every day. I’m afraid. Afraid you’ll be caught up in all of this. Afraid that you’ll be forced to pick a side. And what if you choose the wrong son? I’ve heard . . . “

Dag spoke around a huge mouthful of food. “Have you heard yet of our visitors?”

Gunna’s frown returned. “Visitors? What visitors? No, I haven’t left the house this morning. The baby was fussy and Mem . . . “ The thoughtful look on her husband’s face brought her words to a halt as she waited for him to down half the cup of ale in one long gulp.

“Elves, from the north.” His words meant little to her but the seriousness of his tone was enough.

“Elves? What does that mean? Why are they here? What do they want? They’re here – in town?”

“They take counsel with Ulfang and his sons as we speak.” Dag replied with deliberation. “I do not know why they have come. But it may be that we’ll have larger worries than the squabbling of a chieftain’s sons to deal with soon.”

“Are there many? Have they come in peace?” Gunna asked anxiously, her nimble mind trying to grapple with the unknown factor which had just been introduced into their lives.

Dag set the empty bowl at his feet and pulled his young wife onto his lap. Wrapping his arms around her, he wished in his heart that this was all that was required of a man to protect his family from the vagaries of fate. “No, there are only two, at least, so far. I don’t know why they’re here, but it’s no secret that Ulfast pledged himself long ago to one of their kind. This is why we have been allowed to settle here, to hunt and farm without fear of attack. Perhaps now, they require the debt be honored.”

Gunna laid her head on Dag’s shoulder, feeling the calm, the reassurance she always felt when he held her. “Perhaps they are just paying their respects to our Chieftain. Perhaps they are just wanting further pledges of his continued loyalty.” She said hopefully.

“Perhaps.” Dag repeated, although the skepticism in his voice was clear. “Well,” he said, standing abruptly and setting Gunna firmly on her feet. “It’s back to the forge for me. Are you away home?”

“I thought I would drop by the house given to the Borrim for a moment. I hear they are having some sort of a feasting for their own people and are looking for some extra provisions. I thought perhaps they would welcome that wheel of fine goat cheese Mem got for the thread she sent to Belig, in exchange for some fresh meat. Belig told me the Borrim are good hunters and have fresh game practically every day.”

Dag snorted disdainfully. “What’s wrong with the meat we get from Tokr? Why do we need to trade with the northerners?”

“That last haunch of venison had maggots in it already.” Gunna explained simply. “Tokr keeps the fresher meat for himself and gives us the old. I just thought we should . . . “

Yes, yes, alright.” Dag said smiling once more and waving his hand dismissively. "I have no time for women’s concerns. Trade with who you like, but don’t be wandering all over the settlement. This visit of these elves makes me uneasy, and I don’t want you to leave Mem and the baby alone for very long.” He pulled Gunna to him quickly and kissed her forehead affectionately. “Now leave a man in peace to do his work.”

Dimturiel 11-17-2006 01:51 PM

Tora was standing outside her house, her eyes fixed on some unseen point somewhere in the distance. Her expresion was thoughtful, sad even. She wished she had something to do, something to take her mind off her thoughts. There were days when she would do nothing but work from morning until night, when she would sink into the blessed oblivion of sleep. And then there would be no time to think or to remember who she was and where she was living and in what times.

She would often hear the people talking about the troubles that they had, about the things that happened in the world outside their settlement, and she could very well realise that things were not quite right, that the world was unsafe and that something perilous was stiring. And then there were the two Elves that had arived that morning. Why were they there? No one knew clearly, or else they would not tell, not even to themselves. Some foretold great changes, yet what kind of changes? It was too much to hope that they were to be for the better. In a world like this? How could they be?

Yet it was not only the sudden intrest of the Elves in their small settlement that bothered Tora. Nor was she only troubled by the fact that things were going bad in the world. There were other things too, that clouded her mind, things that were threatening to break the composure that she had had for so long.

Tora was well known for the way she handled things. Whatever had happened to her, she had always been calm and resigned, an attitude that made many admire her. She never complained. She never wept or cursed fate shaking her fist at the merciless sky. Her way of behaving seemed grand to some, the way she seemed to be defying fate's decissions.

Yet was it really bravery and defiance what she was doing? To her it sometimes seemed that she was merely protecting herself from life's sorrows. It was easier to grind your teeth and accept destiny's ways, if only openly. It was always easier to pretend that if the world did not care much of your story then neither do you. There was nothing to admire in such attitude. It was nothing more than an act of defence against sorrow and madness.

CaptainofDespair 11-18-2006 01:13 PM

Never one to enjoy courtly procedure, Ulfang only tolerated the petty vassal-chiefs that laid about his hall. In his younger years, back in the East, it had been a necessary tool to keeping them in line, to protect his own power. But he was old now, and under the watch of the Elves. These minor ‘lords’ no longer mattered to him. His rule was law, and none would dare challenge him in his own kingdom.

Having wasted most of his day among the rabble of his court, the Ulfing chief was not pleased when he heard of the coming of the Elves. He had hoped to retire away to spend some time hunting before the darkness of night prevented him from doing so. Being so old had limited those few pleasures he did gain from the world, and to have even those taken from him by usually trivial assemblies left him prone to a good deal of anger and resentment. Though many still cowered away from him when angered, a good number of his own people recognized he was not as fearsome as he had been even a few years earlier.

When the Elves announced their presence before him, Ulfang greeted them in the most civil way he could. Even for him it would not be wise to belittle those who came on Caranthir’s behalf. Ulfang’s own minions were yet another matter. But the land he now stood on, after all, had been practically gifted to him. Despite a failing memory, the chieftain reckoned that he knew why the Elves had come. He had, after all, entered into a military pact with a Son of Fëanor. Perhaps it was that time now, for his able-bodied warriors to be called into action against the Darkness of Angband.

Stroking his grey beard, with the envoy standing before him, Ulfang posed a question. He desired to see if exactly what he thought was true. “Tell me…Lachrandir,” he said gruffly, having almost forgotten the envoy’s name. “Do you come to speak on the alliance I entered into with your lord, Caranthir?”

Before the Elves could answer, Ulfang became extremely animated without even the moment elapsing. A haggard warrior, standing guard near the entrance of the Hall, had left the door open. In his old age, it was minor infractions such as these that could set off Ulfang. His face turned red in mere seconds, and his breathing became heavy and labored. Pointing and shouting, with bits of white spittle flying from his mouth, stray droplets clinging to his beard, the chieftain ordered him removed. The court remained silent, and the chief’s sons did not even flinch in their stone-carved seats. Such outbursts had become normal. Settling back into his throne, Ulfang spoke once more to the Elves. “I apologize,” he stated, “for the lack of decorum by my people. They need a firm hand to guide them.”

bill_n_sam 11-20-2006 02:14 PM

Leaving the stone jar of ale for her husband’s thirst, Gunna gathered up the empty bowl and hurried out into the afternoon sun. Her thoughts whirled as her feet carried her through the twisted lanes that crisscrossed the Ulfing settlement. Unconsciously sidestepping the scattered piles of refuse which threatened her fine leather slippers, Gunna mulled over all that the arrival of these elves might imply for their family. The arrival of the hunters from the north had been unsettling enough, at least at first. Although distantly related, these men and women had quite definitely been regarded as strangers by most of the Ulfings. Even after a month, they were treated with at least skepticism, if not downright suspicion, by the inhabitants of the town. If it hadn’t been for Belig’s assertions that the Borrim were not so very different after all from their southern cousins, Gunna would not have dared approach the house which now lay just around this last corner.

Even holding tight in her mind to Belig’s assurances, Gunna found her stomach muscles contracting as she regarded the facade of the house which had been given over to the Borrim dignitary, his family and retainers. Belig had opined that she had seen this man, Khandr by name, and that he did not seem at all that imposing a personage to her (which she had emphasized with a sharp sniff). Gunna thought, however, that one who came seeking to bind one of Ulfang’s sons in marriage must wield some power in his own land, and in his own home, certainly. As she steeled herself to approach the residence, Gunna wondered how the women of such a house would conduct themselves, and whether she would seem coarse and common to such as these.

It was with great relief that Gunna saw the house was extended in the back by a walled in yard. Perhaps, she thought hopefully, she could enter that way and attract the attention of one of the servants, and not even be required to deal with a wife or daughter of the house. Pulling nervously to straighten out invisible wrinkles in her wool tunic, she steeled herself and stepped nervously through the open postern door in the gate.

Immediately, Gunna spied a woman pulling water from a cistern at the far side of the yard. From the woman’s garb, it was difficult for Gunna to decide whether she was servant or family, for her clothes were plain, but the cloth was of good quality. Unsure of how to address her, Gunna opted for a simple and direct, “Good day to you, mistress. I’ve come to see about bartering some cheese for fresh meat.”

The woman turned and regarded Gunna with a sharp eye. For a moment she did not speak and Gunna wondered if she had heard her. Gunna had just opened her mouth to repeat her offer, when the other said abruptly, “Goat or cow?”

Somewhat nonplussed, Gunna hesitated before realizing what the woman was asking. “Oh, oh, goat! Of a very good quality. About this size.” Gunna tucked the bowl under her arm and held her hands apart to indicate the size of the wheel. “Well ripened.” She added, the woman’s dour countenance for some odd reason compelling her to find convincing reasons for the trade. “My sister received it from one of our chieftain’s wives, in exchange for the fine thread she spins. It was she that told me that you have fine fresh meat to trade, for your feasting.” Realizing that she was virtually babbling, a rare occurrence for the usually taciturn Gunna, she abruptly shut her mouth and gazed at the ground, feeling the woman’s eyes still upon her.

“Who is this, Embla?” A second female voice, softer than the first, caused Gunna to raise her head. This other woman, who was standing in the threshold of a door leading into the house, smiled encouragingly at her, saying, “Can I be of service?”

Being so politely addressed made Gunna stammer a bit. “Y-yes, mistress. I . . . I’ve come to see . . . to see if you’d like to trade. Some cheese for some fresh game.” Gunna’s eyes darted nervously to the first woman, still not sure if she was servant or family. That one’s face had darkened as she glared at the one in the doorway. Not wishing to give offense, yet not knowing what to say, or to whom to say, Gunna once more stared down at her shoes, miserably wishing she had not been such a fool as to come here in the first place.

Anguirel 11-20-2006 04:02 PM

Caranthir's ambassador watched the Easterling leader with an impassive face, but in his mind he could not help feeling contemptuous towards the human ruler. Perhaps, as he had suspected moments before, the old Adan was in his dotage; but even so, it did not do to reveal such an indignified rage with a subordinate to an envoy of one's overlord. Lachrandir kept his features immobile as Ulfang raved at the hapless guard, the Elf's eyes fixed, staring without deviation at the empty stone chair. He saw, with a hint of amusement, that young Tathren had adopted the same tactic.

When the choleric old barbarian appeared to have settled down, muttering his apologies, Lachrandir inclined his head slightly.

"Very well, friend. May we proceed to business? You were right to remember the accord you signed as a vassal of the Lord Caranthir. The time has come to fulfil your vows."

Ulfang's greying brows brindled slightly. It was unlikely, perhaps, Lachrandir reflected, that he enjoyed being referred to as a vassal in front of his nobles. He decided to make a more deliberate effort towards courtesy.

"You must be aware that our armies have been strained for some time by the onslaught of the Enemy," he continued. "My master has determined that the security of all our lands, the lands of Men and Elves, must be defended, likewise, by Men and Elves. I come with a summons, my lord Ulfang, a summons to muster your forces directly you can prepare suitable numbers."

Lachrandir produced Caranthir's missive, a roll of silvery vellum bound with a loop of grey Elven-twine; he had previously transferred it from his other possessions and slipped it inside his cloak. The eyes of Ulfang as he saw the letter seemed to encapsulate contradictory emotions; a little excitement, even lust in its sharpest form; but weariness also, the Elf thought. If mortals curdle in age, then this one is surely nigh on rotten and beyond use.

A pause hung for half a minute or so, before Lachrandir pressed a little further. "Shall I read it to your lordship?"

"I can read it for myself," the old man answered, half muttering, half growling.

"Of course," Lachrandir said carefully, "but it is the custom for the herald of a lord to read it to the lord's vassal first." Vassal. Again he had dropped a dangerous word, but in his irritation he had felt the Man could profit from such a reminder.

"I know the custom," Ulfang said quietly, "but in any case, we ought to wait."

Lachrandir was puzzled now, and nigh on exasperation. Was this some absurd superstition among the Easterlings, that a letter could not be read before twilight, or something similar? Tathren glanced at him, and to his annoyance it seemed to him that the younger Elf was attempting to calm him.

"You see, this empty chair," Ulfang explained, faltering somewhat, "and these two full ones. You can see that my third son, that my son, my third son, is not yet here."

Silence settled again, before the chieftain continued to elucidate.

"Uldor. My son Uldor. I will not have Lord Caranthir's letter read until he is here,"

"I see," Lachrandir replied. "Well, could it not be arranged that..."

But the chieftain was unexpectedly rearing himself up off his leaden throne. His head was still scarcely on a level with Lachrandir's, but in his moment of uncharacteristic decision he seemed altogether taller and firmer.

"Ulwarth!" he barked, and the corpulent occupant of the left-hand throne got up. Ulfang nodded with a grim smile.

"That's more like it. Go and find Uldor, lad. We can't keep Master...Lachrandir here waiting, can we?"

"Ay," Ulwarth muttered, and retired, his mail clanging, from the hall, swiftly loping out with bitterness on his unsightly face. The Elves refrained from watching him go.

"You have been standing for too long," the chieftain remarked, his tone now measured, even merry. "Guards! Stop idling and bring Caranthir's messengers some seats, now!"

Celuien 11-20-2006 07:31 PM

The guards, not wishing to fall under Ulfang's capricious wrath, hurried to obey their lord's command. Two chairs, shabbily cushioned in fading red velvet, were brought forward from behind a screen and gently placed behind the Elves. Very carefully, for the aged chieftain was watching for carelessness as a cat stalks its prey, and the jarring sound of too quickly dropped chairs against the elm covered floor would surely disturb Ulfang's thin veneer of good humor again.

Such concerns mattered little to Ulfast. His eyes followed Ulwarth in his passage from the hall, and he glowered from his stone chair. The court waited yet again upon Uldor's ease. The lazing fool. Ulfast held him in contempt, and that distaste now spread to his father for his dependence on his eldest son. Why must we wait? Does Uldor rule here, or do you? Ulfast longed to give voice to the thought.

"Aye. You have been kept waiting on your feet too long. Please, be seated. I am sure my brother will join us shortly, if he does not sleep the morning away." Ulfast laughed, and the sound echoed merrily in the timbers as though the jest had been genuine, but there was no mirth in his eyes. Ulfang glared, and the threat of another outburst brought a palpable tension to the room. Cursing himself for his weakness, Ulfast turned from his father's gaze, and calm returned.

"Well. Since we cannot yet speak of serious matters, perhaps we can talk of other things. Tell me, Master Lachrandir, how did you find your journey?"

Anguirel 11-22-2006 09:57 AM

Though the discourse between the Elvish delegation and Ulfang was one thwart with awkward silences, the restive Ulfing court was not over concerned with precedence, and a gradual hum of talking, drinking, and quarrelling reasserted itself throughout the hall. Guards and petty nobles alike came and went, both through the main gates and through entries at the side, without any fuss. None of the lordlings bothered bringing weapons, and by the same token none of the guards bothered searching them, though occasionally one of the hopeful circleted incomers, out of favour, would be roughly turned away without an explanation.

Among the new arrivals was a group of young bloods, seventeen years old at most. Their regalia was bright with polish, their voices were loud, brash, and confident, and their developing beards waxed into as coherent a form as possible. The young men were the very acme and exaggeration of the insecurity that characterised the cowed nobility as a whole.

Among this band was Drenda, son of Drenduld, and last hope, all-absorbing love, of his mother Gausen. Of the gang he stood tallest - indeed he was among the tallest men in the hall - but his features betrayed definite unease, and he seemed made self-conscious by his height. He spoke but rarely, leaving it to more comfortable, more powerful, companions to prattle and waste words.

The truth was, Drenda was a nobody, and standing in this assembly of ragged chiefs was a potentially vast risk. He possessed no land. He ruled no tribe. He was a chieftain's son, but not a full chieftain, by order of Ulfang's decree; but so were all manner of base-born men, if they could buy the title.

Yet he was his father's heir by right! A right robbed, he thought with hatred, by Ulfast, son of Ulfang, who sat yonder; the slayer of his father...

That was why he was here. That was why he paid not a whit of attention to his companions, and kept his gaze fixed on the lofty Elves, the scowling Chieftain, the tentative politics. Drenda was mortal, he well knew; but he meant to build his fortunes if war came; to win distinction, reclaim his lands and settle a long over-due score, on behalf of a father he had never known.

Ulfang was a dotard, Ulwarth a frowning fool. Ulfast was his foe. That left Uldor only, even if Drenda distrusted him, and disapproved of the attentions Ulfang's heir occasionally paid to his mother. He would enter Uldor's service, and set himself upon a path that would make the name of Drenda great.

Folwren 11-23-2006 04:39 PM

The company in the throne room did not have to wait long. Five minutes passed perhaps, but to those that endured it, it well might have seemed like twenty. All the same, in little time, the door opened again and Ulwarth entered, stooped slightly and frowning. A taller man came behind him – Uldor. He stopped a few paces in the room as the two elves and his third brother rose to their feet. Ulfang told him the elven ambassador’s name and Uldor bowed, as was due.

“I apologize to have kept you waiting,” Uldor said as he straightened again. “But I’m sure my father and brother made ample company and amusement for you.” He cast a sharp eye on Ulfast. Their eyes met momentarily before both looked away. Something was rankling Ulfast, that much was certain. Uldor thought that he really shouldn’t care. Something was always rankling Ulfast. “Please, don’t stand any longer. Sit down, and let us hear what has brought you so far and across so many hard lands.”

He turned as he finished and walked to his place by his father’s chair and sat down. Ulwarth returned to his chair and slumped into the wooden depth of it. A look of complete boredom filled his face and his eyes half closed in lethargy. But beneath the pale eyelids, his dark eyes glinted as they turned towards the elf.

Lachrandir did not sit again as Uldor had bidden him. He took a step forward and in his hand he held a scroll.

“Wait a moment,” Uldor interrupted before the elf had even begun. “You will excuse my asking, but I know nothing about what is going on and would like to have an explanation before we plunge into things like this.” He looked first at his father, then at Ulfast, and lastly upon Lachrandir.

piosenniel 11-25-2006 01:48 PM

Grimr looked quickly at Káta and then away as Erling spoke. He tapped the fingers of his right hand in an uneasy rhythm against the side of his mug. There had been any number of hushed conversations in the long winter nights as he and Káta lay in their bed. Most about their Elvish hosts; some about Lord Ulfang himself.

It was Káta who had first brought up her fears concerning those strange folk from west of west as she termed the Elves. They made her uneasy with their looks, their manners. Their words were fair spoken she would say to him, but behind the fair planes of their countenances seemed a coldness that cared not for the concerns of men. ‘Ours is a piddling welfare in their wintry grey eyes,’ she had told him once. ‘Of little concern to them save for the fact that the bodies of our men and sons will be offered as fodder for the battles they plan against their foe.’

She had raised herself up on her elbow, pinning him with her dark eyes. ‘And what is that foe to us, heart of mine? That one has not done any wrongs to us.’ She put her finger to his lips as he started to speak. ‘I thought we were to be given good sized parcels of land to be our own. Places to run our stock, grow food, raise many children and them to raise many of their own. We are crowded in this land as much as in our homeland.’ She’d narrowed her eyes as she shook her head. ‘And what do we hear but promises of how we will be rewarded when their foe is defeated.’

‘I don’t want to go back,’ she went on, ‘but we must do something for ourselves somehow, even if the old Lord thinks otherwise. Not just sit about waiting for give us a handout.....’


‘Strange folk indeed.....’ Grimr said in only a slightly louder voice than that which Erling had used. He motioned for Fálki to make fast the thick woolen door of their dwelling as he and his twin entered. ‘We should be careful how we speak about our.....hosts. It is said they are keen-eared. And I’ve heard it also that these magics you speak of may be all too true.’ He frowned as he looked about at his family and then back to Erling. ‘I have heard they can look into a person’s thoughts.’

He hunched closer to Erling, lowering his voice so that it could barely be heard above the crackle of the little cookfire. ‘Some of us men have been talking about the Elves and such.....’bout the old Lord, too. Talking bout what might be best for us plain folk.’ He motioned for Káta to pass round with the ale jug, and took a deep draught of it when she’d passed beyond him to Erling, then on to Granny.

‘If you wish,’ he went on. ‘If you’re of a like mind I’ll bring you to our next meeting.’ He took another long swig and wiped his mouth on the back of his sleeve.

Noinkling 11-26-2006 02:49 AM

‘Long-eared!’ Dulaan cackled thinking about those few Elves she’d seen from a distance. ‘Well that they are from what these poor old eyes have seen.’ She dipped a small chunk of bread in her cup of warmed wine, softening it enough for her nearly toothless gums to handle. A small dribble of the dark red liquid dripped down her chin as she chewed the soggy morsel. She wiped it away with the hem of her sleeve.

Granny’s eyes followed the small stream of smoke as it trailed up to the smokehole at the top of the room. ‘We could use more pasture land,’ she continued. ‘Add a few more rams among the nannies and we could enlarge our flock. Be more meat and milk to trade . . . and goats’ wool for your weaving,’ she said nodding thoughtfully to Káta. Dulaan took a bit of cheese on a stick one of the children had toasted for her over the coals to soften it. As she blew on it to cool it just a bit she began to speak about Ulfang.

‘The old wolf’s near as toothless as m’self, you know. Thinking’s none too sharp either, so I hear tell from some of the women as go up to the lord’s house to help with cleaning and such. Seems his sons are circling round about him, waiting for him to draw his last breath.’ She snorted. ‘Shameful thought, but I wouldn’t put it past one o’them to hurry him along to his Last Ride.’ Granny wriggled about on her cushion trying to find a more comfortable position. ‘Well, maybe not that youngest boy – though from what I’ve seen of him, he could be pushed to do it by one of his brothers. And the middle one, now there’s a sly fox. But he’d find some way to do in his older brother, too. He’d have to, don’t you think? Otherwise the power’d be slipping through his fingers for good when the old man dies and Uldor takes the lordship. Land’s sake! Now that one’d do in his two younger brothers just to make sure they’d never make a try for him.’

Granny popped the soft cheese in her mouth and mashed it about with her tongue, savoring the sweet taste and creamy texture of it. ‘Old Rinna’s milk does make the best cheese just doesn’t it now,’ she commented once the morsel was swallowed. She took the stick and poked at the coals along the perimeter of the little fire. ‘If I was a fellow looking to put myself in a good position,’ she went on, shoving the coals against the hotter embers. ‘And of course I’m not. Just a toothless old woman who spends too much time with her goats. I wouldn’t waste time currying favor with those outlandish Elves. Be of no use to us in the long run, so I’m thinking.’ She raised up the stick and blew out the small blaze that had blossomed at the end of it.

'Anyways, I think I might be sending a gift along to the Lord’s family.....making sure, of course, that it was Uldor as got the best of the lot. Be making sure he understood my family’s bows and blade were backing him. He’s the one as will be, as is already, really, the power among men in this place. And who knows.....he might be inclined then to see to us once the dust settles.’

Child of the 7th Age 11-27-2006 03:12 AM

Khandr could vaguely hear the women squabbling down the hall just outside the back door. He had told them both to prepare for this evening. Embla was probably finding ways to step on Briga's toes and to avoid doing the work that his first wife had set for her. He could also make out the voice of one of the locals who had come over to hawk foodstuffs in preparation for the feast. For one moment, Khandr considered rising to his feet and marching over to tell the three of them to lower their voices so he could have a moment of peace and quiet. But he did not want to embarrass Briga by intruding on her sphere, making it look as if he had no confidence in her.

Khandr plugged his ears and turned his attention back to the letter he was composing. After a few moments of earnest writing, he set the pen down on the table and picked up the parchment to read it:

To the liegemen of good King Bor,

As I am sure you have heard, Elvish messengers have arrived in the city and are negotiating with the Ulfing leaders even as I write this. I regret that neither King Ulfang or any of his sons had the courtesy to send me a message to join them in these discussions. As usual in recent weeks, the Borrim have been set aside and all my attempts at honest negotiations on the matter of the wedding have come to naught.

I am no longer content to sit at the side and do nothing to defend our interests. Increasingly, I feel that there are strange doings at the court and that it is our responsibility as liegemen of King Bor to try and find out what is going on. As much as I would like to pack my bags and leave this miserable place, I can not do that in good faith. I owe a responsibility to my King. Indeed, I would remind you that this is true for all of us.

I therefore request your presence at my household this evening. I will provide a great feast and tankards of good ale that we may come together and talk. Perhaps, with all your good wits and renewed efforts, we will be able to learn a bit more about what is going on and how all these developments reflect on the honor of our liege lord.

Please convey a message back to me either in writing or a few words spoken to my servant Hugo as to whether you will be able to attend.

I am, as always, your faithful envoy Khandr.

It had taken Khandr some time to make three copies of this missive. He had not wanted to leave something so important to one of the servants, and most of them were not able to write. Fortunately, all his guests were of good station and would be able to read his message to them. He flagged down Hugo out in the stables and instructed him to deliver each of the small scrolls to the other Borrim presently in the city.

piosenniel 11-27-2006 02:20 PM

Káta, Dulaan, and Jóra go visiting.....
As Granny finished talking, Káta slipped up behind her. ‘Let’s leave the men to talk,’ she said, smiling at Grimr as he picked up the pitcher of ale she’d left near him and topped off his mug. Erling had not spoken yet, and Káta felt it might be easier to talk about such things if the women were to leave.

‘You, too, Jóra,’ she said in a firm voice, ignoring her daughter’s hmmph! of disgust. ‘And no arguing, please,’ she went on, effectively cutting off the about-to-be loud protest of how unfair it all was. ‘We’re going to Gunna’s house. I want to pick up some skeins of yarn Mem was spinning for me. And Granny has a sack of our goats’ hair to bring to her.’ Jóra’s face brightened at the mention of Gunna and Mem. She loved playing with the baby and Mem always told the best stories.

Valr ducked his head when his mother looked over at him, pretending he had not seen her beckoning gesture. He could not avoid her spoken request, and with some reluctance got up from his seat by his older brothers. A few soft words from Káta and Valr’s head was nodding; his frown changed to a grin. He wouldn’t have to go with them, she’d told him – only fetch one of the geese father and the others had brought back from hunting. They’d bring it in trade for the fine yarns that Mem spun.

Granny and Jóra loaded up the family’s little two-wheeled cart once Káta and Valr had hitched the donkey to it. Two fair-sized leather bags of the fine, soft hair were stacked in the back. And the goose, wrapped securely in a piece of heavy plain cloth, was stowed securely beneath the seat. Káta drove, with Granny on the seat beside her. Jóra settled in the back, resting comfortably against the wool sacks.


‘Gunna, are you there?’ Káta knocked softly on the door of the little house.

‘I see the little fire’s going,’ Jóra cried, pointing to where the smoke curled upwards from the chimney. ‘I’m sure someone’s home,’ she said pushing past her mother and trying the door’s handle. It opened easily and the young girl rushed in. ‘Oh, there’s my little giggle-bunny!’ she said, clapping her hands as she spied the sleeping baby. ‘Hey, Mem! It’s me Jóra. Sorry! Din't mean to wake her up. She's so sweet! Can I hold her?’ She knelt down near Mem and put her hand lightly on the woman’s arm.

‘We’re here, too!’ Káta’s voice came lightly into the room as she and Granny entered. ‘Káta and Granny Dulaan. Is Gunna here?’ Káta’s eyes took in the little tableau. She must be.... she thought to herself, noting the baby.

‘Gunna?’ she said a little louder.....

Nogrod 11-30-2006 02:37 PM

Fastarr had gotten his nickname the ”Horse-Man” pretty soon after they had settled in to the town. Most of the townsfolk seemed to at least have heard of this big man who strode through the streets with four horses practically every day. Exercising the horses on the surrounding, sparsely forrested hills, was a daily duty but it also gave him a welcome chance to escape the town he had learned to hate during the months of their stay. The streets were narrow and stinking. The houses were small and their walls were blackened by the smoke of the coal they used to warm them. And no one seemed to care. And there were almost no open spaces in the village. It felt there was no space whatsoever, not even to breath.

And the inhabitants then? There weren’t too many locals whose company Fastarr had enjoyed. A few, to be sure, but at most a handful. The mood these people were able to generate was just depressing. The lack of laughter was the most obvious thing that Fastarr had noticed when they settled in. Oh no, they laugh, yes they do. With malicious pleasure, cunning, sneer... Wonder if all people around here are born from rape as there seems to be no love and care around... Fastarr frowned but then he had to smile. That had been a bit too much, even coming from himself. He shook his head and patted his horse to the neck: “Now, a bright friend you have my lad, one sunshine he seems to be today”.

Fastarr passed the gate to the yard of the house Khandr had been given and headed for the stables to return the exercised horses of his master and his wifes. Maybe I’m a bit harsh towards the locals... Or have they just infected me with the ways they think about other people? Gah, we should get out of here. Or I must at least get something else to do than hanging around in those smoky and unwelcoming inns... And what information is there anymore that could be of any use? We know these people already. From pure frustration Fastarr kicked a pebble that laid on the stony pathway. It rolled over the lawn and hit the wall of the stables. He opened the doors to the stables and took the horses in.

He was closing the doors as he heard his name called from the direction of the house. It was Khandr’s servant Hugo who was coming towards him, half running. “Master Fastarr, there you are! I’ve been looking for you. A letter from lord Khandr!” Fastarr nodded and took the letter. He read it immediately, smiling thinly at times, shaking his head slightly at others.

“Tell our lord that I will be attending.” he said. Hugo nodded and was about to turn away when Fastarr added: “After you have brushed the horses you could pay a visit to my tent and give me a good brushing too.” He winked an eye to Hugo and smiled. Hugo gave it a laugh and answered: “Are you in need of new shoes as well, I could bring some nails with me?” They both laughed. “You’re a good man, Hugo. It’s good to have you around in the thick of all these grimfaced brutes”, Fastarr said now more solemnly.

Fastarr walked back to his tent, still feeling dirty allover but definitively in a better mood.

bill_n_sam 12-01-2006 02:48 PM

Mem’s sharp hearing had picked up the sound of Kata’s donkey cart well before Jóra had scampered in through the unbarred door. In the few years since moving into the west with Gunna and her husband, Mem had formed close relationships with many of the women of Ulfang’s town, despite spending almost all of her time within the four walls of the little house. It hadn’t taken long for word to spread of the queer, sightless woman’s fine spinning ability, and the quality of her work often prompted busier wives, sisters and daughters to come calling. The relentless grind of daily chores frequently prevented these women from being able to take the time needed to spin the wool or flax into the gossamer weight threads that Mem’s deft hands were able to produce. The garments then woven or knit from such yarn were soft and light and slid luxuriously over the skin. In exchange, the women were happy to trade whatever products of their own hard labor, or their families, that could be spared. Thus many a fine piece of cloth, woven mats, cloaks and bedding of warm skins, and, most commonly, food stuffs were received by Mem and her sister. When the little family of three, now four, had first arrived in the settlement, there had been a few shaken heads and rolled eyes. But pity and wonderment at Dag’s extra burden of providing for his blind sister-in-law had since turned to acknowledgement that he was a lucky man to have one so skilled in his household.

Still, Mem was reluctant to call out a welcome to Kata and old Granny Dulaan, for she had soon recognized the shuffling gait of the old one amongst the springing steps of young Jóra. Gunna was taking longer than Mem had anticipated, and she was shy of speaking to the other women on her own. Usually, it was Gunna who led the way, greeting and offering refreshments, conducting the bargaining and trading bits of gossip once the deal had been concluded. Mem preferred to sit quietly and listen intently, occasionally throwing in a joke or a funny story, often being asked to sing one of her comic songs, which frequently centered around poking fun at the men in their lives. One old crone had asked Mem how she could have such an astute perception of men, when she had no man of her own. “Oh, but I feel that I have many” Mem quipped. “All those in the town in fact, after hearing all I have from their wives and daughters. I have the benefit of knowing how men are, without the labor of having had to find out.”

“Well, that may be so, girl.” The old one had jibed back. “But your stories and songs are little enough to warm you on a cold winter night.”

Thus, Mem hesitated as Kata called out, “Gunna, are you there?” “I see the little fire’s going!” she heard Jóra’s high pitched voice saying as the door opened and the girl rushed in. As usual, the girl went straight to the baby, exclaiming over her, and then Mem felt Jóra’s light touch on her frail arm. “Can I hold her?”

Before Mem could answer, Kata gently announced her entrance into the little house, and Granny Dulaan’s too. Mem first turned her unseeing eyes in the direction of Jóra’s voice. “Yes, of course, sweet one. She would be waking soon in any case. She’ll be thrilled to see you.” Jóra clapped happily and went to tenderly lift the child from its wooden cradle.

“Is Gunna here?” Mem heard the doubt and then the concern in Kata’s voice, as the woman called again, “Gunna?”

“Welcome Kata! How are you Granny Dulaan?” Mem said politely. “Gunna is not here at the moment, Kata. But please, sit. Be comfortable. I’m sorry, the fire is low, the day being so warm. But I can have it stirred up in a moment, and will put the water pot on to boil and we can have tea. I’m sure Gunna will be back any moment.”

Unthinkingly, Mem turned her face to the doorway, wondering what was taking Gunna so long. Meanwhile, her hands found their way unerringly to the small pile of faggots which lay by the fire pit. Carefully, she laid them in a pattern on top of the embers and bent to blow on the banked fire gently. Having been confined to sitting by the fire for so much of her life, she was readily able to tell from the feel of the heat on her body where it was safe to place her hands and where it was not. But she could hear a sharp gasp from Kata as she blew the embers to life. Even for those who knew her, Mem realized it was hard for them to imagine how much she could do, for herself, and for her family. She prided herself on trying to be as much of a help, and as little of a burden, as possible to Gunna.

Hoping to reassure and distract the women, Mem said merrily, “And what is this I hear Dulaan, how one of those handsome young Borrim hunters has fallen in love with you and has sworn to carry you off to the far north when they leave, and that he will die of a broken heart if you will not have him?”

Noinkling 12-01-2006 04:19 PM

‘Is that what they told you, Mem?!’ Dulaan cackled as the woman turned toward the sound of her voice. ‘Well, handsome is as handsome does, I suppose. And young, is it? Have mercy!’ Granny groaned just a bit as she lowered herself down to sit near Mem. ‘Well, he has got all his teeth, I’ll grant him that. Leg’s a little gimpy on the left side. One of his mares kicked him hard, caught the knee. Guess she didn’t like how he was helping with her foaling.’ She picked up a piece of kindling and poked at the fire Mem had stirred up. ‘Name’s Raudi,’ she whispered, leaning in and touching Mem lightly on the knee. ‘There! Now you have a bit of gossip to pass about.’

‘Jóra,’ Dulaan called out to the young girl. ‘Bring that baby over here for Granny to see for a bit.’ She held the baby out at arms’ length, cooing at her. ‘Pretty little thing. Sweet little bunny-girl,’ she cooed at the dangling infant. Granny handed her back to the eager Jóra.

‘Know what some little bird told me?’ she said in a soft voice. ‘Someone’s kinda sweet on you, too. And this’s no gossip either. I had it straight from the bird’s beak, so to speak.’ She glanced up to where Kata stood waiting for the arrival of Gunna. ‘Fá know, one of Kata’s twins. He’s the one as always volunteered to drive us womenfolk to your house with the wool. He’d have come with us for this trip, I’m sure. But there was men’s business going on he had to see to.’

‘He’s quite the shy boots, f’you know what I mean. Most likely never get up the courage to let you know his feelings. Thought I might ease the way for him, letting you know, and all.’

She glanced at Mem, trying to read the young woman’s face.

‘Anyways, probably said too much, always do.....’

Celuien 12-02-2006 04:21 PM

Ulfast allowed a smile, harsh though it was, to creep over his features. "Surely, brother," he said to Uldor, "Lord Caranthir's letter would tell you all that you need know of his messenger's purpose. Why delay its reading again?"

Uldor scowled, displeased with Ulfast's ill-temper. The smile did not conceal the anger behind Ulfast's words. If anything, it turned the words from a simple question to a mocking sneer. "I wish to know. Is that not enough?"

For a half of a breath, Ulfast thought of revealing his mind. It was not enough for Uldor, a foul swine who did not belong among the company of the Ulfing hall, to wish to know. Uldor ought to have remained in exile forever rather than returning to usurp power which he could little wield in his sloth. Uldor was a fool, thought Ulfast, but one who feared nothing.

And in the other half, Ulfast quailed under his brother's glance. He answered flatly, "Lachrandir comes with a message for us to gather our forces for the defense of Lord Caranthir's realm. Are you satisfied?"

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