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Old 07-16-2006, 02:43 AM   #81
piosenniel
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A slender shadow, long and fleet, rippled across the moon. Or so it might have seemed had one looked up quickly and caught it from the corner of the eye. Then it was gone, dipping down toward the earth, fields of stars winking out and winking on again with its passing . . .

~*~

In the darkness it was difficult to tell how many there were. The slavers were gathered within the bounds of a camp. A score or perhaps a few more. And there on the fringes, like dark ants swarming to a food supply were . . . Orcs. Quiet, efficient Orcs, not attacking, simply plucking out a horse here, donkey there, and slipping into tents . . . foraging . . .

About the grated entrance to what was most likely a pit stood a number of men, arguing. Their eyes and attentions were more on one another than on whatever the pit held.

~*~

Psst!

A small voice quite near the girl’s ear sought her attention.

Azhar, hold on to hope. Help comes . . .

Voices above the pit were louder now. Sharpness mixed with some anger.

Be like a bear in spirit, strong and patient. Help comes . . .

The small voice faded away until naught but the slavers’ voices cut the natural quiet of the night . . .

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Old 07-16-2006, 03:26 AM   #82
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Once the intruders disappeared, Shae had thought the worst would be over. With only two captured and a few slightly injured, she considered themselves lucky. Yet as the night continued, the atmosphere only became increasingly chaotic. Listening to arguments being thrown back and forth, and the blame pointed at the fifteen, particularly Khamir, Shae could feel her headache gradually returning. She was beginning to regret following Khamir's orders. After many years of being part of the gang of ex-slaves, following them had become automatic. Yet, Shae was beginning to wonder if she would've been better off staying behind- even if it meant staying alone.

It took several minutes for the one-armed man to find a response. Finally, he spoke out, saying, “Was anyone behind you with a whip, forcing you onto the same path as myself? One man does not want to decide what we are going to do. You decide what you do.”

As Khamir sat down, Johari opened her mouth, ready to retort at his comment, but without another thought, Shae stepped in.
"There's no point in even trying to argue this, because Khamir is right."
Johari frowned. "Well, of course you have to defend him- you're one of them."
"I'm not defending him," Shae replied, making her voice clear. "I'm merely making a point. None of us were forced to leave the caves. We all chose to follow Khamir, and though he made a mistake in leaving, we are all to blame for choosing to let him drag us along."

Shae turned to Khamir, who looked surprised to hear the normally quiet woman speak out.
"You know, you brought some of this on yourself," she said to him, lowering her voice. "Johari wasn't entirely wrong in her argument- you do treat them like children. If you don't want to be a leader, don't act like one. You have no right to tell the others who may or may not handle weapons. Adnan made a mistake. We all make mistakes- yes, his was more costly- but nevertheless, it was a mistake and it is how we learn. But how will he learn from his error when you take both his weapon and his dignity away? I made many mistakes my first few years, but if I had not been given a second chance, I would not be who I am today. Everyone in this group- old, young, male, or female- deserves a chance to fight. By telling them who can have a weapon or who can have a night watch shift, you are only enforcing their opinion of how you consider them. Just as Johari said- like children." She paused a moment before continuing. "Tonight, I want to put an end to that."

Scanning the crowd, Shae sought out Adnan and handed one of her four daggers to him. "Like anyone else, you deserve another chance," she told him. "But please, just don't mess up again. I won't be around to defend you every time you make an error."

As the woman stepped back into her place, she handed a second dagger to Johari. "I've listened enough to your fiery tongue tonight and know you are completely capable of handling this blade," she said. "Be sure to use it well."
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Old 07-16-2006, 04:33 PM   #83
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The attack, or the kidnapping, had not come as any huge surprise on Reagonn. It sounded cynical, but he was a man who had experienced a lot throughout the years. He knew that a big party of over fifty men, women and children, would not be able to walk and make camp without being seen. This was only the beginning he concluded.

He had listened carefully to the things that had been said, and he realised that Khamir found himself in a very unpleasant situation. He was seen upon as their leader, yet it was clear that he was unwilling to take any responsibility for dragging the group out of the caves.

Sighing, he glanced over to Eirnar. He stood motionless, as if in deep thought. Then Reagonn glanced on to the person standing next to him. It was a man, or rather a young man, he had not seen before. Yet, Reagonn found himself staring at him, suddenly feeling akward and quite uncomfortable where he stood. Had they been slaves at the same plantation, labouring together, side by side, without really having noticed until now? As vague and silly it sounded, Reagonn could not get rid of this feeling that they knew each other, or had once known each other. Who was he?
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Old 07-16-2006, 06:45 PM   #84
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Johari

What, so now I too am deemed one of the ‘worthy ones’? But for once, Johari held her tongue and accepted the blade warily, eyeing first the gift and then the giver. Johari gazed openly into Shae’s face, expecting to see there the same condescending benevolence that had typically characterized the fifteen in the past weeks but not seeing it. Instead, she found a certain straightforwardness that said the blade was not given as to a pet or child but as to an equal, or at least something like. This more than anything allowed Johari to take the blade, her thanks expressed only in the form of a curt nod and a hint of a smile.

After a moment, Shae moved on, and Johari attached the knife’s sheath to her belt and adjusted the unfamiliar weight in the most comfortable way. The weight embodied a certain new feeling of power she felt over her own situation. She could stick up for herself and thereby accomplish things. Though she was bound to this group by necessity, she had the means now to take care of herself within that group; she would not have to rely on the rest of them for personal protection or care. Of course, she still could learn from them - no sensible person would deny that – but she did not have to rely on them. And she had noted the looks on others’ faces, on those of both groups: no longer was she an anonymity, but somebody to be reckoned with. Not a child. Not a pet. A person.

And that would do. She did not want to be a leader or an advisor or everyone’s friend. She did not even care really if they ignored her most of the time, so long as they did not look down on her – or try to bully her, as Hadith had.

Hadith. Johari had nearly forgotten him and now spared a glance in his direction to see how he was bearing up. She wondered why he had not come back after her. Not intimidation? Or – because she was a woman? This thought actually amused her. Yes, from what she knew of Hadith, this probably had been his reasoning. Just as well – she did not really want to fight him, and already her fury was subsiding. She regretted her action not at all; he had earned it, in her perspective. He also needed to know that she was not here to be his friend or teacher, much less his student. She did not think he would make the same mistake twice.

And she was satisfied.
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Old 07-17-2006, 05:55 AM   #85
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Aedhild

Aedhild had no recollections of having moved to this particular spot. Tilting her head, she frowned, trying to extract a memory of the last thing she had done. "The devil knows who has moved me," she muttered under her breath. Closing her eyes, she tried envisioning how she had come to sand here, surrounded by the other slaves. They were talking, "the heavens knows only about what," some more aggressively than others. In the darkness, she couldn't clearly distinguish their features, nor was she able to recognise anyone she knew. She had fallen to the ground. She remembered now. She had heard shouting, "the heavens knows ..." she repeated, slightly irritated. It didn't explain however why she was here, among strangers, not asleep with feet aching as if she had run a hundred miles.

Nearby, the one-armed man had settled in the grass. She eyed him suspiciously. "Do you know what they are quarrelling about? she asked, approaching with light steps.

At first he didn't answer, just raised his eyebrow as if in surprise. Then, after a few moments, he erupted with laughter. Several moments went by, before he was able to control himself, and only then did Aedhild realise what had happened.

"Young man," she said sternly. "you laugh mockingly at an old woman!” she said horrified, still seeing the tendency of a faint smile on his lips.

“Did you mother never teach you ---” voice cracking, her anger grew, “respect?” she continued hotly, trying to resume her lost dignity. Her body shook with anger. The urge to give this youngster a serious beating, to teach him a lesson, seemed overwhelmingly tempting, but she managed to restrain herself. Even in this darkness, anyone could see that the otherwise ghostly white pallor of her face had been replaced by gloriously red; her cheeks seemed to burn under the cool, night sky. Taking a step closer, her mouth trembling, she straightened; her relatively small figure seeming to double in size as she did so.

Though, Aedhild did not possess any significant charismatic skills to intimidate her victims, she did seem to know how to make her fragile figure seem more frightening. Whether she straightened her back in these kinds of situations intentionally or not, no one would know, but it did seem to have an effect on the person she faced; in doing so, it seemed that she possessed an authority that only women her age can have; not even her wild appearance, which bordered to the humorous, could stop her from seizing this authority when she took a completely straight posture. However, knowing about her condition, what many slaves now dared call ‘madness', the others didn't take her seriously, and the authority she supposedly gained by this little trick had at least weakened if not completely been put to ruin.

“Shh! Take your anger elsewhere, woman,” the Southron replied at last, casting a last gaze upon her skinny figure body.

Gasping, Aedhild pointed her finger at him. This… this scoundrel of a man… disrespectful creature… Her body seemed to explode with the anger and tension she had tried suppressing. “You! You child of Mordor!” she screamed, but her words hardly escaped her lips before her all of the muscles in her body seemed to relax – at once. Dropping to the ground, hitting the wet grass, Aedhild lay motionless, her eyes wide open.
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Old 07-17-2006, 05:56 AM   #86
Hilde Bracegirdle
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Carl

As he watched the shadowy figure of Rôg speaking to Aiwendil beyond the firelight, Carl couldn’t quite understand how they, or the king for that matter, could be so taken with a of survey of bats, as to put aside all else. He didn’t particularly care if Rôg had had found a whole nation of bats that rode horses and had their own postal system They would likely still be there, hanging upside down from their trees, like great winged cats, a year from now. And after all, bats had wings whereas slaves did not, and they need not be overly concerned with slavers like these people must be. He shook his head in disbelief. How could he be expected to understand the ways of the educated, when they seemed so often to make no sense what so ever?

The hobbit gradually became aware that his face had pressed itself into a frown, and he made an effort to find a more appropriate expression, for the dwarf had just confessed to them a certain gladness of heart at Athwen’s discovery, which the hobbit indeed shared. And so Carl smiled at Vrór, adding his own thoughts to this sentiment, as the lady slipped away quickly bringing her husband to them. But when the man took that item which his wife handed him, rather than finding cheer in it, he seemed burdened by memories and his words added immeasurable weight to the stone he held. Once again the hobbit felt the urge to ask him how he had managed to escape, but with difficultly held his tongue, judging it improper to make inquiries of such a personal nature. And so though the stone did little to give them direction, it still served to bring the hobbit at least, closer to those people they were to help.

Carl’s attention turned away from the others as he steadily became preoccupied with his own thoughts. A rapid adjustment had taken place in the hobbit’s heart, very unexpectedly, and with it came a pang of sorrow. He felt it sharply. For all the while he and the others in the company had traversed the land, he had never ceased thinking about those poor folk who they were to meet. And when the purpose of the branding iron was revealed, it chilled him to the core, to see evidence of the hardship that they must have endured in their lives. Indeed it was but a happy chance that they were not in fear of the slavers themselves. Or perhaps they should be! For if a man was black hearted enough to treat folk worse than the shoe he steps on with each stride, who’s to know if he’d care for anything at all beside his own good pleasure. Even the power of a just king and the might of arms might not give him pause, for he would be one wolf among many just as ruthless as he.

But still those former slaves, had always been held in his mind as a helpless, hapless group, a single entity to be pitied and to be lifted out of their misery, as if together he and his companions comprised the key to some invisible prison. The stone along with Dorran’s words shattered this notion as effectively as if he had hurled the thing at a flowerpot. Suddenly, it became clear that these people were individuals, like Dorran. And perhaps differed just as much as his own group.

A single hand had drawn that handsome tree, and that person’s presence shone evident in each scratch on it. Who was it that first thought to leave this sign behind, this bit of themself? Was it a group decision, or an individual one? Perhaps the very same hand that wrote the letter to King Elessar sketched it out. Soon the former slaves began to become well populated with intelligent and practical persons in the hobbit’s imagination, but most of all the stone provided a palpable link and fragile bond to at least one of them. And the hobbit felt compelled to find its author.

Turning to Athwen who again possessed the token, in a voice soft with emotion, Carl asked if he might have the honor of carrying the stone with him, to better keep it's source in mind. She agreed, handing it to him, and he quickly slipped it in his vest pocket, before addressing the dwarf. “It seems to me. Mister Vrór, that we will have to travel more quickly now than we have up to this point. And while I don’t mean to cause you any offence, I’d like to let you know that if you’d care to, you are more than welcome to ride with me. Stumps is even tempered beast and while not the fastest thing on four legs, he is sure footed and as strong as they come. That is how he came by his name, after all. No pony better in all Bywater for helping pull out tree stumps. He’s all muscle in there, a real hard worker and I’m sure he’d be just as pleased as I’d be, if you took up the invitation.” The dwarf looked doubtfully at the well-padded little farm horse. “Don’t worry. You just think on it a bit, Mister Vrór,” Carl reassured him, seeing his offer wasn’t immediately accepted. “I wouldn’t want to rush your decision any.” And with that the hobbit walked over to the red pony, and after stroking the side of the animal’s neck, he rested his hand on the stone that lay in his pocket.

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Old 07-17-2006, 01:54 PM   #87
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“One way or another, that is what this stone represents: something that was too important for someone to forget. So now this becomes our job to bring together the dream and the dreamer.” Dorran’s voice was heavy with emotion and Athwen understood why. She looked silently down at the white stone she had picked up. It lay smooth in her hand, warm now from her own touch, and appearing to glow in the swiftly gathering dimness.

“May I take the stone?” asked a voice at her elbow. “For safe keeping, Miss Athwen?” Athwen turned, half startled. She smiled slightly to see Carl standing there, his hand half raised to take it. She nodded and handed it to him.

“Yes. Do keep it.” She handed it to him freely. He slipped it immediately into his vest pocket. She wondered that he would want to keep it himself. It made no difference to her, but she had expected Carl to be the type of person to leave such things in the hands of someone more obviously in charge - like Lindir or Aiwendil.

Athwen turned back towards her husband. Dorran stood where he had turned to speak with Lindir, but neither the him nor the elf were speaking now. She stepped towards them.

“Does this discovery of mine give us no idea of which direction to go?” she asked. “Can’t we be on our way? We were not planning to stay here, were we, really?”

“I don’t know that we can go anywhere until Rôg returns, Athwen,” Dorran replied, looking back at her.

“Rôg? Where’s he gone? I didn’t notice him leaving. Why did he go?”

“Don’t know exactly, but he left some while ago. I don’t know what we’re doing next.”

They were all silent a moment. Athwen looked over the entire company. Her eyes rested on each face and noted every expression. She tucked them quietly away inside. “Well, while we wait, there will be little harm in getting something ready to eat,” she said quietly. “Will you help me, Dorran?”
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Old 07-17-2006, 01:56 PM   #88
piosenniel
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Rôg hurried in to the camp, straightening his tunic, tucking it neatly into his breeches. ‘Aiwendil – where is he?’ he asked as he spied the Elf and ran up to him. Lindir looked askance at him, his grey eyes glimmering with questions left unvoiced as Rôg put an anxious hand on his sleeve. The old man was pointed out and there followed a hasty conference as Rôg huddled with him, his face serious, gestures animated.

~*~

'We have to come to some compromise, beast.' Rôg approached his horse slowly, his eyes fixed on the creature's face. Just as warily, or perhaps more with humor as it's difficult to read a horse's expression, his mount eyed him. 'There is a need for compromise as I must ride you . . . soon and in haste.'

The dun mare flicked her hide seeming to consider his words. She snorted, though in a less unfriendly manner, he decided and nodded her head at him.

He could not tell if it was a dare or a compromise. With a sigh he approached her.


-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


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Athwen bent over the fire and stirred the stew with a wooden spoon. Steam rose up gently from the open pot and she extended her head just a little bit to get a whiff of the tempting scent. Very soon it would be quite ready for eating. She knocked the spoon against the rim of the pot until most of the water and broth from the stew had fallen away from it and then laid it carefully across the top.

She gathered her skirts and stood up. She looked towards Rôg and Aiwendil, who had sat for some little time together talking. Rôg was standing up now, though, and a last word passed between the two of them before he turned and walked away from camp.

Athwen’s eyes followed him. She saw immediately that he was going to where the horses were picketed for the night. She stepped away from the firelight so that she could see out into the darkness after him.

Rôg slowed his walk down to a very slow approach. From where Athwen stood, she could only see his back, but she could picture his face, and his eyes fixed steadily and warily on his horse. His body was as rigid as a pole and Athwen was inclined to laugh.

Walking quickly but quietly, she followed him and before he had touched his horse, she came to his side.

“Look, most of your problem is the either that you know next to nothing about horses or that you’re afraid of her. If you’re afraid of her, then you’re really not going to get anywhere with her because she knows it and will either take complete advantage of you or will become frightened herself. Now, look. Instead of being shy and slow and entirely too stiff, you need to loosen up a bit and get to know her and let her get to know you.”

She stepped towards the mare’s head and put out one hand towards her nose. She stopped a couple inches short and waited. The horse looked at her a moment and then after a pause stuck her nose forward and nuzzled into Athwen’s cupped hands. Finding nothing, she snorted and drew back. Athwen stepped up directly beside her and slipped her other hand underneath her cheek an fondled the head gently. She stroked the fury face and crooned soft words in the horse’s ear. After a few moments of such attention, the mare grew tired of it and shook her head. Athwen let her go and stepped back.

“Now, Rôg, she’s a gentle animal and won’t hurt you. Come up here and pet her and then once she lets you handle her head as I did, run your hands over her.” She gentle stroked the horse’s neck as she spoke, looking at Rôg all the while.


-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


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Look, most of your problem is the either that you know next to nothing about horses or that you’re afraid of her……you need to loosen up a bit and get to know her and let her get to know you.

Well, there she was…Athwen, that is…looking at him…expectantly. And how was he to handle this, he wondered. Of horses, he knew more than he wanted. And she, the dun mare, knew more of him than any in this little group, save Aiwendil.

She simply did not like him. The mare. And who could blame her really. Seeing as how her kind had been hunted by his sort and eaten. No use trying to explain to her that this was no longer so, of course; the mare again, that is. It was something imprinted so deeply in her that no overtures of gentleness or offer of good fellowship, cooperation, camaraderie would win her over.

‘Well, I do thank you for your kind instruction, Mistress Athwen.’ Rôg gave her a somewhat embarrassed smile and put up his hands in a gesture of surrender. ‘But I haven’t your gift for working with horses, it seems. They simply do not care for me. It’s always been so.’ He shook his head in a decidedly resigned way. ‘The best I can hope for is that when it comes time to ride she will allow it without too much of a struggle.’

Rôg lifted his nose and sniffed appreciatively at the savory smell of the stew. He put out his hand in a gesture of invitation. ‘Perhaps I will feel differently once some of that delicious stew is in my empty belly.’ He glanced round at the mare. ‘And you, of course, feel free to have your own supper. We will resume our negotiations later.’

‘Shall we join the others, Mistress Athwen?’

Last edited by piosenniel; 07-19-2006 at 02:37 AM.
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Old 07-17-2006, 02:01 PM   #89
Child of the 7th Age
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The slavers....

The voices at the entrance to the pit had become increasingly loud and contentious. Accusations flew back and forth as Khanun confronted each of the men and accused them of planting a snake inside his water flask. At one point he came perilously close to exchanging blows with another member of the band. The two were spitting and fuming and calling out curses as they circled each other, their hands instinctively dropping down to pull out their knives.

Hastily jumping in between the combatants, Imak put an immediate stop to the ruckus. "Enough! I will have both of you in neck collars before this night is out! Think, Khanun. Even someone as dull witted as you should realize it wasn't the men. You were supposed to give that water to the captives. Why would the men pull a trick on the slaves? No, you sluggard. Your complaint tells me that you failed to follow my orders, and used the water yourself. In fact, if I had to guess, I'd say that you fell asleep and somehow one of the prisoners, probably the boy, stuffed the snake inside."

"But.....but....that's not possible. They're tied up." Knanun pointed weakly towards the bottom of the pit."

"We'll see just how secure your knots are. Ghila, go down with two of the men and bring up the slaves." Imak glanced over at Khanun with a sadistic smile. "This should be fun. If I am right, you've earned yourself ten lashes."

Within a few minutes, Azhar and Kwell had been removed from the pit and forcibly dragged into the presence of the bounty hunters. Imak bent down to examine their bonds, but before he could get a close look, there was an outcry from the other side of the camp, and the man who cooked for them came bounding up to Imak.

"Captain, something's wrong. Two of the donkeys are gone. The grass is matted, stained with blood. It looks as if one great brute, maybe more, came smashing into camp."

What more could go wrong, Imak mused. Things were spinning out of control. He'd best act and act quickly. Imak barked out his orders, "Ghila, you and your two men keep an eye on these slaves. We'll deal with them later. Khanun, don't leave my side. You men look over the camp. Make sure everything's alright. If there are any problems, sound your horn. Meanwhile, I'll check out these missing donkeys."

With that the group split up and went about their duties.
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Old 07-17-2006, 02:19 PM   #90
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Aiwendil speaks with Lindir:

The members of the fellowship sat chatting and laughing in the fading light of the cooking fires, their faces relaxed as they temporarily set aside the worries of the day. Dorran and Athwen had finished preparing the meal. A pot of fish stew simmered over the coals, alongside a smaller kettle of mushrooms, a delicacy they'd discovered growing in one of the tunnels of the cave.

Aiwendil had waited till late in the evening to pull Lindir aside and speak with him. Partially, this was because the wizard did not know how he was going to convey his news in a way that would make sense, yet still respect Rôg's right to keep certain matters private. This was not the only reason for his delay. With the possible exception of Lindir, everyone needed time to rest. It made no sense for the company to push forward without at least stopping for dinner.

Aiwendil and Lindir walked together down the stream bank, confiding to each other in low voices. At one point, the istar knelt down and, using the end of his staff, etched something in the dirt, taking time to explain what the different scratchings meant. The Elf peered skeptically over Aiwendil's shoulder and shook his head in disbelief, "How can you possibly have learned this? Even the brightest birds in Mordor could not have described these landmarks with such precision. I know you are from the West, but I find this difficult to understand."

Aiwendil spoke with quiet confidence, "Lindir, trust me. This information was freely given. I am certain it is true. Indeed, I am prepared to stake my own life on it and the lives of all those in this company. The slaves are here; the slavers there, just a few miles apart. The slavers have captured the two children, imprisoning them against their will. We must leave now, not wait an instant longer. When the sun rises, the bounty hunters may well ride back and attack the slave camp. Although the slaves outnumber their pursuers, they lack the weapons and experience to stand against a trained band. Many of them are too young or old to defend themselves. And who knows if they can agree among themselves, or possess the heart and will to fight? Cruelty and bondage can do strange things to men."

With a sigh, Lindir shook his head, "I believe you, Aiwendil. You have spoken the truth. But, as Elessar has said, I am the one who must make the hard decision whether this group should go forward under these difficult circumstances, a journey that will likely end in combat. I must think on this further. Aiwendil, go back to the others. I will return within the space of an hour once I decide what we must do."

"By the way...." the Elf interjected a hasty afterthought, "Is Rôg back from the bat colony?"

"Yes, over an hour ago. The lad had great success, but I believe he was having a problem with his horse and wanted to attend to it. Now he has rejoined the others at the fire."

Lindir nodded his head, turned away, and continued walking up the stream bank.

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Old 07-17-2006, 03:27 PM   #91
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Kwell’s body ached, but his head was clear. They had been dragged out of their prison by their own captors, and before the brutes could discover the loose bonds, they had been left with only three men as guards. Kwell looked carefully from one swarthy face to the next. Two of them had their eyes following their captain who was bounding away into the darkness at a terrific rate. The last one, Ghila, he thought, looked at them carefully.

Kwell’s eyes settled on this one. He caught his eye and then looked away. He knew very, very well that no other chance like this would likely show up in the future if they stayed with these men. Their ropes were loose and easily removed and not even a handful of men had been left to watch them. But what to do?

His eyes darted about, hoping that anything would help him or at least spark some plan of escape. They lit on the slaver’s dagger and the rock he had found came back to his mind. He looked back up at Ghila. The man’s eyes had wandered in the direction of the donkeys, just as his companions, but only briefly.

Kwell edged closer to Azhar and leaned his mouth towards her ear. “Take the ropes off and run. I’ll keep them back. You just run, understand?” He hoped she did. In fact, he knew she did, but he didn’t know if she would obey. Oh well, if she didn’t, that was her affair, not his. His hands twisted out of the ropes and just as Ghila turned back to him, his hand dodged into his pocket and pulled out the sharp edged rock.

Ghila gave a shout and started forward, his left hand drawing his dagger and his right hand extending forward. Kwell bounded backwards and hurled the stone with as much force as he could muster at the brute’s face. It struck the man above the right eye and brought him up short.

“Run!” he cried. “Go!” He stooped to get another rock. He straightened and threw recklessly. The two others were bearing down on him. He scrambled hastily for more rocks and pelted them mercilessly. But these rocks weren’t as well aimed nor as dangerous as the first. He managed to halt their advance momentarily and he turned to try to escape. He didn’t know where Azhar was or what she had done, but he hoped she had run. He bounded forward into the darkness-

“No you don’t, you little rat.” A hand caught his arm and he was jerked back. He went sprawling onto the ground, one of the men stood above him, his foot on his stomach. “Get up. Get up!” He reached down and grabbed a handful of his hair. Kwell struggled up to his feet as he was pulled upwards. Hardly were his feet underneath him before he was struck down again.

“That’s enough,” a voice growled behind the man. Kwell remained on the ground, one arm wrapped about his head, the other around his middle. “Get him up and bring him here. Where’s the girl?”
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Old 07-17-2006, 05:16 PM   #92
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Grask

Grask had merely watched as many of the older Orcs had ventured into the man camp to steal livestock and food. He did not hunger as many of them probably did at the moment; even while back at the main camp, Grask had always carried around his little pack that carried a fair amount of meat and was restocked whenever he had had the chance. Thus, he had eaten reasonably well earlier and did not feel the need to rush into the camp with the rest of them, potentially getting in their way. Nor did he need to steal an entire donkey; he had no use for such a large animal. His chances would be better to first figure out what was going on, and then get into a supply wagon.

So he had skirted the camp, approaching slowly from a slightly different angle to where they had their own food stocks. He caught sight of a pair of female Orcs doing similarly, but he had no desire to get involved with them either. One of them had a fierce looking club. Studiously staying in the shadows, Grask found a wagon containing food and lifted himself into it, rooting around quietly until he found a barrel of dried meat, which he began stuffing into his pack.

Before he slipped out of the wagon, he glanced around to make sure no one was watching. No one was; they were all near the other side of the camp – and making quite a fuss about something. Now, had Grask been smart, or perhaps just less curious, he would have left them where they were and left. But he wanted to know what was happening. These were not other Orcs – these were Men, and Grask had had little enough contact with the strange race. Merciless killers, he had heard: Orc-haters. These would be even more likely to kill him than the older Orcs. The danger of it made Grask shiver pleasantly. After all, he had survived his first battle now; he would be up to it.

He crept away from the wagon carefully, looking for a spot where he might watch unobserved and easily escape from. He found a different cart nearer to the men and ducked just underneath it, and just in time, since a new outcry was bursting out in the camp. Donkeys missing… blood… They were discovered now. Grask should leave, seek his protection with the others. No. He would be seen now; the men would be looking for them and watching their camp. Besides, the Orcs would have no reason to protect him. He served them no purpose. So he remained hidden in the shadows beneath his wagon, watching the men run off to the other side of the camp and now able to see the source of their original excitement.

Grask was stunned at what he saw and at first he thought he was mistaken. But no, there was no mistake. There were human young ones. Well, of course such things must exist, as they had to come from somewhere, but such had never occurred to Grask. Were they as vicious as the grown ones were said to be? They seemed to be trying to escape; what had they done to earn the wrath of the older ones, Grask wondered, that they had to be tied up? And if they were such an annoyance, why had the older ones simply not killed them? Such confusing creatures, these Men must be. He only knew that he certainly did not want to be found by one, and that his hiding place was becoming thoroughly uncomfortable. He wondered how soon the camp would settle down so he could escape. And he wondered if the other young ones would be able to make their escape as well.
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Old 07-17-2006, 07:09 PM   #93
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Azhar:

Azhar was used to taking orders. Even here in the middle of the Ash Plain, it was hard to shake old habits. When Kwell had commanded her to flee, the girl had not questioned the decision but immediately gathered up her tattered skirts and scrambled away as fast as her bare feet would take her. The terrain was rocky and the footing unsteady. She had ended up falling to her knees, half skidding and rolling to the bottom of the hill. Only after colliding with a young scrub tree did Azhar stop and cautiously peer back, gingerly rubbing the palm of her hand over her knees, which were already oozing blood.

The girl's heart pounded furiously against her chest, as she tried to make out what was happening at the top of the hill. She wanted to be sure that Kwell would follow. In this part of the plain, the bushes grew in tightly packed clusters, providing ample cover if she chose to remain low and slink away into the darkness. The dogs had been diverted to hunt for the culprits who'd stolen the donkeys so it was unlikely the guards would be able to find her.

Flattening her body against the ground to avoid being seen by anyone, Azhar watched as the slavers confronted Kwell and sent him sprawling on the ground. Her immediate response was disbelief. Kwell could do anything. He was bright and knew how to fight. She had really believed that he would outwit the men and get away. But now the unthinkable was happening; Kwell was being dragged back into the pit.

A thousand contrary feelings competed in Azhar's mind. She did not know whether to stay or leave. Freedom was just a few steps away. All she had to do was remain silent, and she could wiggle out of this situation, just as she'd wiggled out of many others. Everyone was too busy hunting for the robbers to pay much attention to her. But a second voice told a very different story inside her head. How could she leave not even knowing whether Kwell lived or died? Maybe he needed her help. She remembered his promise inside the pit: that he would not leave her to perish on her own. Azhar had sensed that Kwell did not often make such promises. How could she turn away now that he was the one in trouble?

This welter of emotions rushed through Azhar's mind in the space of only a few seconds. But in the end it was not Kwell's promise that helped her decide, but the distant voice that had comforted her a few minutes before, a voice offering assurance in the midst of darkness and despair, one that sounded strangely familiar though she had never heard it before. Whether dream or reality, that voice had promised help was on the way, and she believed what had been said. She had not even had time to tell Kwell about it. She could not slip away and leave her companion behind, injured and most likely bereft of hope. If help was coming, it would come for both of them, and this is where she must stay, doing what she could to bring some comfort to Kwell, who would undoubtedly be furious about what had happened to him.

From some dark recess of her mind that Azhar had never visited before, a shadowy figure emerged, taking on shape and laden with meaning: a powerful image of a mother bear refusing to desert her cubs no matter what dangers lay before them. Awkwardly lumbering to her feet, Azhar stood erect, rooted to the ground, patiently waiting for the slavers to come. When they finally reached her, she kicked and squabbled and bit but then went limp as they dragged her over to the pit and threw her inside right behind Kwell.

Last edited by Tevildo; 07-19-2006 at 01:38 AM.
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Old 07-19-2006, 08:28 AM   #94
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Kwell could not believe his senses, and for good reason. They were disoriented, at the least, at this moment. Yet he couldn’t defy the fact that someone (and he knew who) had been added to the pit just minutes after him. He wanted to cry and curse and yell all at the same time, but years of forced silence kept him quiet. For the moment, at least, it was not difficult to say nothing. They hadn’t been gentle, bringing him back and throwing him down, and he thought that saying anything or moving an inch would hurt. So he lay in silence, curled up on his side, both his hands pressed to his pounding head.

A slight movement from behind him caught his ears. Azhar was crawling towards him.

“Kwell?” she said, half whispering. “Kwell, are you alright?”

“You fool,” Kwell hissed in return. His chest heaved with anger. “You idiotic fool! Why didn’t you run? I gave you everything! I gave you all the time in the world - I even was distracting them - and you didn’t run! Given half the chance you were given, I would have taken it, but you came back. What good do you think it does me having you here? You’re just a little whelp I have to look after when I could be spending all my attention on myself and getting me out alive.” He growled in frustration and pain.

“I thought,” Azhar said timidly when Kwell paused a moment, “I thought you’d be able to escape, too, and when you didn’t-”

“I can’t escape when I have three grown men on top of me!” Kwell snapped, twisted about to face her. But that movement sent stars shooting up before his eyes and daggers of pain up into his skull. His hands clapped to his head again. Azhar darted immediately to his side.

“Kwell, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing. Just hit my head, again. They pounded me, ‘s all. I’ll be alright.” Perhaps this was true and he would be alright. His head throbbed as though it would burst, though, and each time he moved himself enough to make the slightest jarring, the pain redoubled. He didn’t doubt, though, that half of the head ache was caused by the fact that Azhar hadn’t taken her chance and had been brought back. He couldn’t understand it, and it angered him to the point of infuriation. He had been willing to suffer for her, so long as she escaped, but now it all seemed useless.

Untwining his arms from his head so he could look up towards her face, he asked her: “Why didn’t you run?”
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Old 07-19-2006, 10:47 AM   #95
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Undómë's post - Zagra and Mazhg


‘Oh! What’s this? From a tall basket, covered over with a clean cloth, came a most enticing smell. Mazhg’s belly growled, remembering a similar odor in the cookhouses near the plantations. It was something for the men from the south who managed the slaves. Mazhg’s brow crinkled as she sought to remember the name. Wheat-bread! Yes, that was it. It was said to be soft and tasty. The Orc women and children, though, were never allowed to have any…only to grow and harvest the grains that went into it; grind them to fine flour while lashed to the wheel that turned the stones; fetch the wood for the ovens… Well, she and Zagra would have it now, wouldn’t they?

Mazhg piled the dried meat, the journey-bread, the tubers, and the basket of man-bread by the slit at the back of the tent. She peeked out her head to see that all was well. Zagra nodded to her, though the nod was followed by a quick twist of her head to the right. Mazhg crawled out of the tent to look where her sister had pointed. There, crouched down by some leafless bushes was one of the other women.

‘Must have followed along behind us,’ Zagra whispered to her sister.

‘You! Girl!’ growled Mazhg in a low voice. ‘Get over here and give us a hand!’ She re-entered the tent and began to quietly shove the food through the slit. She was about to make her exit when some colorful pieces of cloth caught her eye. Bright, swirly patterns shone softly in the light from the single candle lantern that burnt near the door. Soft cloth and finely woven. She remembered seeing the southern men wear them wrapped about their heads or tied about the tops of their breeches as they snapped out orders to the slaves and flicked their whips. Mazhg grabbed up several from the neatly folded pile and stuffed them in the waistband of her breeches.

The three women hurried away from the tent and in the shadow of the trees shoved as much of the stolen food as they could into their traveling bags. The girl, they had not asked her name yet, was given the basket of bread to carry along. The trio made their way back to the rocky encampment.

‘What’s your name, girl?’ Zagra asked as Mazhg divided up the spoils they’d made away with, giving a fair portion to their helper. The two sisters had already given their names. But before the woman could answer, Mazhg hauled out the silky sashes, and let them stream out in the night breeze.

‘Not just things for inside the belly,’ she laughed, her teeth flashing in the moonlight. ‘Look, look! Pretty things, too. Just for us!’ She handed each of the other two women one and wrapped one about her waist, tying it in a clumsy knot.


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Regin Hardhammer's post - Ungolt


Once they’d finished tying on the sashes, the younger orc replied to the two sisters meekly, “My name is Ungolt. I followed you so that I could get some food, because I am very hungry. I have been forced to work in breeding colonies all my life up on the northern plain. After the fall of the Great Eye, I ran away to Nurn. I joined the rebels because I didn’t want to be hurt when the Easterlings made war on the orcs.” Thank you for the pretty scarf. I especially like the rich colors. I have never seen anything like this before.

Ungolt looked up uncertainly, “Perhaps, we could help each other. I don’t know how to forage for food or steal because I never had to do it. But I am good with my hands. I weave baskets, carve wood, and shape clay pots and am even good at making horseshoes on the forge. You see, I used to sneak in when the smith wasn’t looking. Oh, yes, and I can run like the wind. I am faster than most of the men. I’ve had an awful lot of experience running away. Someday, I’m going to learn to fight, just like the men. If you could help me get food, I would run messages for you or make you pots and baskets and other things you’ll need when we get to where we’re going.”


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Undómë's post - Zagra and Mazhg


Zagra whispered hurriedly to her sister. And Mazhg’s eyes flicked often to the young woman as her sister spoke. Nodding her head, Mazhg stepped forward when her sister had finished talking and went slowly around Ungolt, looking her over.

‘So you want to stick close with us? Hmmm, I see you’ve got a nice big club. That’s good. We’ll be needing another strong arm for what we want to do.’ She narrowed her eyes and thought for a moment. If this woman had spent all her life in the breeding colonies as had they, then perhaps she was of a similar mind as them.

‘I heard we were going up north a bit to find a place for ourselves; have our own land to farm and hunt in.’ Mazhg looked at her sister. ‘Now, me and Zagra aren’t of a mind to hitch up with any of the men like some of the other women are thinking of doing or have done. We want our own little place to grow crops on and I have some skill with little traps for smaller game. We don’t mind doing some trading with the others, we just don’t want to be under any man’s fat, hairy thumb. If you worked in the colonies, you must have learned some things about planting and growing and harvesting. We could work our own piece of land once we get it and you’d be welcome to join in.’

Zagra nodded her head, and smiled shyly at Ungolt. ‘I can help you make your baskets. I’m good a gathering sweet grass, and shredding bark into strips. I used to do it while we watched the babies. The older women would weave them into baskets for the babies to sleep in.’ Zagra cast her eyes down, then looked up hopefully. ‘And maybe you could teach me how to make baskets, too.’

‘Anyway, we’ll keep you in food,’ Mazhg went on. ‘And I’m sure if you stick close, you’ll pick up a few tricks on how to keep yourself from going hungry.’ She grinned at Ungolt and Zagra. ‘With three pairs of hands we should be able to get along just fine.’

Last edited by Undómë; 07-26-2006 at 03:03 AM.
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Old 07-19-2006, 06:17 PM   #96
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Khamir

At first, Khamir was surprised that Shae would stand up, and actually defend him. But it quickly turned for the worse, and even more quickly the man’s surprise turned to anger. Foolish woman; she would’ve gotten herself killed by now if he hadn’t been looking after her. And right now he felt that the others weren’t any better. To think he had trusted them for years, guarding his back. He had allowed himself to sleep at nights, even next to a man he knew was armed, because he trusted them. Perhaps he was just lucky to be alive. Maybe trust had nothing to do with it. Maybe it was all a matter of survival.

And that was all his goal had been, for years...until they showed up. Those fifty wanderers. He had let himself go soft, let himself get caught up in dreams while reality was rushing past him, and now he found himself left in the dust. It was back to mere survival. And his chances weren’t great. Shae’s gift to Johari didn’t help increase them much, either. That girl with a knife...Khamir nearly shuddered. If she got fed up with any of them, he would have no doubt she wouldn’t hesitate to slit their throats. And in such a large camp, there was a good chance there would be no way to prove she had anything to do with it. She certainly seemed capable of coming up with a reason for doing it, though.

Khamir stared at Shae as she walked away, his one hand gripped tightly into a fist. For several moments no words would come out. At least even in his rage the Southron had a good head on his shoulders. He knew to think before he spoke. Another thing he had to learn to survive, though it seemed insignificant. But even if words were about to come to him, he did not have time to speak.

“Do you know what they are quarrelling about?” came a voice from somewhere above him. It seemed the mad woman had some kind of wits about her again - at least enough to speak. His eyebrow raised as he looked at her, he lasted but a second before he succumbed to laughter. Completely oblivious, though not ignorant, unfortunately for her. Still, it seemed likely to Khamir that she was the least mad of anyone present.

The woman’s response seemed to betray remnants of a woman who had lived a normal life, had been a mother, had loved her children and scolded them because she did. It made Khamir feel even sorer at heart, which in turn helped his irritability along rather than softening him. He snapped at her. And then came words the echoed in his mind for moments after, imprinted there, and so able to be recalled at any time, even unto the very sound of her shrill voice as she spluttered and shrieked. Her frozen body on the ground was a testament to how the one-armed man felt.

You child of Mordor!

He had been born Haradrim but he had forsaken that country long ago, and he would never say he belonged to any other. He was the man he was because of a need to survive and a desire for revenge. He had allowed this land to shape him in more ways than he had ever realized; he was not a man built by his choices in life, he was one formed by the very things that tried to bring him down. He had not gained his freedom. Would he ever be able to?

Perhaps it was time he tried.

He helped Eirnar pick up Aedhild and move her to where she could be cared for, but Khamir returned to the same spot where he sat, though he stood now.

“Johari,” he called out to the young woman. She hadn’t moved on yet, though he expected she would try and get away from everyone ask quick as she could, if she didn't have anything left to say. “If I were the man I wanted to be, everyone would be the same to me. But I will tell you now that I see uses for people. If you think that is wrong, then so be it. But I am here to survive, just like you, just like everyone else. I am here to help everyone survive that I can. Maybe I would be smarter if I only looked after myself...like you...like everyone else in this forsaken land.”

His voice was even except for his final words, which he spat violently as a curse. He turned away, prepared to escape the turmoil in the camp somehow, though he knew how unlikely it was he would be able to do that. Suddenly he felt a tug at his shirt, and turned to see Adnan. The boy held out his knife to the man, and Khamir looked down at him for several quiet moments between them that dragged on.

“I don’t want it,” the boy finally said. Khamir could tell he was trying very hard not to cry. Adnan looked down at his feet, his eyes glistening.

“Keep it,” the one-armed man said, turning away. The knife fell with a small thud into the grass.

“Pick it up, boy. You’ll need it, and you’ll use it well,” he looked back down at the boy, with a warm twist of his lips. “You’ve got the third watch tonight.” The blade was back in the boy’s hands, and he looked up at Khamir, a smile starting to form in his face. But then he ran off, gripping the blade in its makeshift sheath, wishing to hide even tears dashed with joy. With a sigh, Khamir settled himself back down in the grass. He wouldn’t be able to escape this mess, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to.
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Old 07-19-2006, 08:39 PM   #97
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Lindir:

By the time Lindir reached the camp, a carpet of stars glittered overhead like a panoply of sparkling jewels. The fires burned low on the grassy slope, where the members of the fellowship now sat in silence, awaiting word on whether or not the group would ride through the night and what their destination would be.

Slowly approaching the circle, Lindir squatted beside the fire pit, gently prodding the soft golden embers with a long pointed stick. He watched as a single tongue of flame glowed red and leapt up from a half charred log, illuminating the weary faces about him, and then receded just as quickly. Pausing once to meet Aiwendil’s eyes before he began, the Elf turned to the issue at hand. "We will camp here for a few hours. We can not ride on without some sleep. Since I have less need of rest than some, I will keep watch and awaken the camp before sunrise. Keep your packs and weapons close by. Be prepared to ride hard before the first light of morning."

Aiwendil nodded at Vrór, "I am afraid this means you will need to double up with one of the riders. Athwen, make sure your healer’s satchel is well stocked, for I do not know what we will find at the end of our journey.”

“But how can we ride hard in the night when we do not even know where we are going?” . The Dwarf threw Lindir a puzzled glance.

“Ah, but that is the beauty of it. Thanks to Aiwendil, we now know where both the slaves and their pursuers are camped as well as the fact that the slavers have kidnapped two of the children. I am certain that, with Dorran’s help, we can ride swiftly over the Ash Plain and rescue those who are imprisoned. After that, we will make our way back to the slave camp and see what help we can offer them.”

“Any questions? If not, the rest of you should get some sleep. There's only a few hours until we must ride again." The Elf turned to go to his watch position on the outskirts of camp, while fervently hoping that no one would stop to question the information he had provided.

Last edited by Child of the 7th Age; 07-20-2006 at 10:54 AM.
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Old 07-19-2006, 10:57 PM   #98
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Azhar:

"Why didn't I run?" Azhar repeated the question out loud as if she was considering it for the first time. Then she turned and glared furiously at Kwell, her words edged with bitterness. "I knew you wouldn't understand. I knew it. I thought you were hurt. I thought you needed help. Those monsters had hurt you, and I wanted to help. But I guess you can't take help from anyone. You've got to do everything yourself."

Azhar privately wondered whether all young men were as stubborn as Kwell. She seriously hoped not. "Look, I am sorry," she added. "I know you're angry because I didn't take the chance to get away. But sometimes it's more important to stand by a friend. Anyways, I had to tell you something that couldn't wait."

This time Azhar's voice was considerably more upbeat. "Kwell, everything's going to be fine. We just have to hang on. There's help on the way. Someone is coming to rescue us."

Kwell had remained silent through Azhar's tirade. But at this point, he could no longer hold back. "What are you talking about? What help do you expect to get in this forsaken wilderness? The slaves we were with couldn't have found us. Don't be ridiculous!"

"It's not ridiculous. I heard the voice with my own ears. They sent someone to tell me."

At this disclosure, the boy's eyes widened in disbelief. "Sent someone? Azhar, what are you saying? You must be going mad. No one's been anywhere near us except for the guards."

"All right. Don't believe me then. But when help comes, you'll see."

Azhar closed her mouth abruptly and refused to say anything more. Her own face looked almost as sullen as Kwell's. Vainly she tried to find a comfortable sleeping position, wriggling first to one side and then the other in a futile effort to stop the rope from chaffing against her legs. Her eyes flitted up to the wooden grate as she searched for some sign of the rescuers who were supposed to be coming soon.

Azhar looked once and then twice, scarcely believing what she was seeing: two eyes, dark and intent were staring down at them. "Kwell, look. The grate!" she announced with a flourish. She was sure those dark somber eyes definitely did not belong to the men who guarded the pit. "Kwell, maybe they're here," Azhar whispered triumphantly. "Maybe our help has come."

Already half asleep, Kwell could barely understand what Azhar was saying. From the few words that he heard, it seemed that the girl was still going on about help being on the way. Extremely tired and deeply concerned about getting enough rest to regain his strength, Azhar grumbled out a protest. "Maybe you're dreaming. For goodness' sake, can't you do it quietly?"

Azhar snapped her mouth shut, drew her knees up to her chest, and huddled helplessly against the wall of the pit, wishing that she could disappear. Still, when she inched her head back and peered up towards the grate, the eyes were still there, staring back at her.

Last edited by Tevildo; 07-23-2006 at 11:09 PM.
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Old 07-20-2006, 12:13 PM   #99
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Ishkur

Ishkur dragged a fine fat horse away from the slaver’s camp. At first, the beast resisted vehemently, kicking and snorting angrily, eyes wild with fear. Ishkur wondered if the dumb animal knew the grim fate that awaited him after they’d reached the rest of the orcs. This plump one would make a delicious meal for the whole party. Eyeing the left hindquarters longingly, Ishkur reserved this piece secretly for himself and resolved to kill anyone who tried to take it from him. He was the one who stole the beast, so he deserved the best portion of meat. No orc would take his portion, especially not the Uruk Makdush, who could not be bothered to steal any animals himself.

He heard loud shouting followed by the heavy thud of footsteps heading in his direction. Ishkur forcefully pushed the pony into a thick patch of bushes and ducked behind it. He placed.his left hand securely over the horse’s muzzle to stifle noises. With his right he positioned his scimitar next to the beast’s throat in case the creature started to make any noises. If the beast became a distraction, he would be forced to slaughter it and drag the carcass back to camp. Ishkur could not risk being discovered and taken prisoner or even worse. From behind the bush, he peered out and saw several dogs that apparently belonged to the slavers. They were sniffing around trying to find something.

Hearing the dog’s frantic yips, the Mannish leader grunted, “One of those horses must be around here somewhere. The dogs can smell it. Come on you idiots, step it up. Whoever took it will feel great pain.”

Three of the men wandered perilously close to Ishkur’s hiding place. Ishkur tightened his grip on his scimitar as the group approached. His heart dropped and he remained perfectly still, making sure that neither he nor his companion made any noise. The leader stood almost on top of him and stopped for a second, so close that Ishkur considered thrusting his scimitar into the man’s stomach, but then thought better of it. In addition to these two, others were probably coming. With a final cry of frustration, the leader turned back and wandered over to search the next grove of trees, looking extremely disappointed and puzzled. Ishkur could now hear more footsteps and loud voices echoing from the slaver’s camp. He had escaped detection barely once, and Ishkur did not wish to try his luck again. He rose quickly and, still yanking the horse forward, ran without stopping until he reached camp.

Inside the rocky encampment, a space partially enclosed by large boulders, he finally began to relax a little, but not before he had told everyone what he had seen.

“I have important news,” Ishkur howled, “The slavers have discovered their animals missing. I ran into some men with dogs. They did not see me. From now on we must all be careful and avoid being seen at all cost. Now, let us eat and bury the bones of the horse deep in the dirt to hide them.”

Ishkur slaughtered the horse and took the left hindquarters for himself. Many of the male orcs came over and helped themselves to meat. Then he carved out a generous portion of rump meat for the two female sisters whom he thought were called Mazhg and Zagra. He rarely thought much about the women but they all needed to be able to keep up on the march.

“Here,” he grunted, “Take this. You’ll need it to stay strong on the road.”

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Old 07-20-2006, 01:29 PM   #100
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Carl

Not only was his enjoyment of a delightful supper tainted by the bitterness of worry, so that he hadn’t the heart nor the stomach to volunteer to “clean” the pot, as was his usual habit, but sleep also eluded Carl. And as the others finished readying their gear and settling themselves, the darkness found the hobbit laying beside the embers, staring up at the points of light in the sky, their sparkling net so strangely familiar in this odd land. And yet these same stars wheeled their way over the former slaves and the slavers, the plantations and the Shire. All were to rest now, in the natural order of things, but try as he might to be obedient, Carl just couldn’t seem to manage it.

His evening thoughts did seem to drift always back to those two children whom the slavers had plucked from the others. How utterly frightened they must be, and for good reason. And for the hundredth time, or so it seemed, Carl was filled with a torrent of self-reproach. He should have spoken up. Weary or not, they might have pressed themselves to travel onward, at least until sleep could took them more quickly. Surely the King wouldn’t have delayed so. And the hobbit began to wonder how well Strider actually knew the group, thinking it might have been quite some time since he had last seen some of them. Aiwendil for instance, now there was a puzzle for you! Though Carl had always respected his elders, he knew that there does eventually come a time in the winter of life when even the pillars of wisdom might become a touch unsound, like a great tree that grows a bit hallow on the inside. How could Lindir be so sure of the Aiwendil’s declarations when much of the time the old man seemed more than a little eccentric? Might he not easily take them on a wild goose chase, confusing the sought after bat colony with the sought after slaves?

Shifting under his blanket with the uncomfortable thought, the hobbit’s mind felt like a caged squirrel as he struggled to think of other things. Had he tightly sealed the water skins? Yes, but he must remember to check them again before setting out. And what about Stumps? Would his peg hold? Craning his neck to reassure himself that the pony was still there, Carl saw the dear beast looking quite content among the larger horses. But a slight movement not far away caught the hobbit’s eye, and after a moment’s consideration Carl realized that it was only Lindir, sitting at the far edge of camp, his keen grey eyes keeping watch over them all. And after another moment’s consideration he thought perhaps the elf could calm his misgivings, at least enough to be able to find a bit of sleep. And so wrapping his blanket around his shoulders, the hobbit picked his way across to where Lindir sat, seating himself beside the quiet fellow. He remained silent for a while, trying to think of a good way to broach the subject.

“Nice evening, wouldn’t you say?” he spoke at last. Lindir merely nodded, seeming a bit reluctant to indulge in conversation with the hobbit. But Carl was determined to plumb the level of the elf’s confidence in Aiwendil’s latest ‘discovery’, hoping to find something to ease his own mind. So he proceeded cautiously, not altogether unmindful of the elf’s duty to keep watch, but unusually persistant all the same.

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Old 07-20-2006, 06:43 PM   #101
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Zagra and Mazhg


There are no Orcish words or phrases to convey the concept of ‘thanks’. So in answer to Ishkur’s grunted Here, take this. You’ll need it to stay strong on the road. Mazhg took the offered meat and grunted back at him.

Zagra and Ungolt huddled around her as she sliced off big juicy pieces for each of them. The blood ran down her arms, dripping off her elbows as she chewed off bites of the warm, rich, red meat.

‘Good!’ Zagra grinned a bloody smile at her sister and nodded her head enthusiastically. She paused in her eating and looked toward where Ishkur sat, then back at Mazhg. ‘He gave us meat,’ she said - offered more as a prompt than as a passing comment.

‘Well, then,’ Mazhg mumbled around a mouthful of meat. ‘Go on! But not too much…’

Zagra pulled out a few rounds of journey bread, some sticks of dried meat, and one of the tubers she knew were edible without having to be cooked. She crept as quietly as she could behind him and laid them as close by his hip as she dared. He moved a little as he ate, bringing his forearm up to wipe across his mouth. Zagra gasped, and turning quickly, ran back to where her sister sat. She huddled down next to Mazhg, and fixed her eyes on her piece of meat and her bread, pretending for all intents and purposes that he could not see her.

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Old 07-20-2006, 06:54 PM   #102
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‘Any questions? If not, the rest of you should get some sleep.’ Lindir’s voice carried well in the little camp. And his tone of authority, though subtly voiced, impressed itself upon Rôg’s thoughts. It was a good choice of the King’s that such a one should pull the raggle-taggle fellowship together and look after its welfare.

The Elf, he thought to himself, was one of those take-charge sorts. Which was not unusual for an Elf, at least in his opinion. Those he’d encountered in Imladris were certainly no pretty, shrinking violets.....and even the female of the species was known to be quite forward in their opinions of what should, what must, be done. He chuckled quietly to himself recalling the friend of Aiwendil’s with whom he’d become acquainted during their undertaking in Umbar. She’d been quite an unreticent and candid ally; and her blade as he recalled had been as quick and sharp as her tongue.

Aiwendil was off by himself, thinking most likely about some part of the larger plan he had in mind for this group, something beyond the details of riding fast to rescue two children from slavers, the need to meet up with the larger escaping slave group, or even the incursion of the Orcs-as-thieves in the midst of all. They were all little twists of....well, perhaps fate, of circumstance, which he would somehow see to, weaving them like stray threads into the whole of his, or the, tapestry.

Or perhaps he was simply thinking of breakfast, that too was a possibility…..roust Rôg from his bed to make gruel or accept the offer of fruit and waybread. A puzzle, a conundrum wrapped in the guise of a dotty old man. Rôg smiled and fetched out his old leather sack in which were stored the grains his companion was fond of. There was plenty still for a number of breakfasts.

He put away the sack and looked about. For all Lindir’s prompting, most were still awake. And there was the Hobbit, Carl, up and strolling off toward the edge of the camp. Toward the Elf. ‘Hmmm, I wonder what’s on his mind?’ he murmured, watching Carl sit down near Lindir.

His thoughts along these lines were distracted as he noted the sounds coming from the place where the horses were picketed. Comfortable nickering as the beasts settled in together, shufflings of hooves as they jostled for position. Rôg wondered if in the undercurrent of equine intimations his own dun mare was voicing her opinions of him. Was that a nicker or a snicker he heard between the clip-clop of hooves in the dust?

A movement to his left distracted him once again from his thoughts; someone else was up. A great mass of reddish hair, somewhat silver-shot in the pale moonlight, on a head cocked to one side as if listening to something. It was the Dwarf, Vrór. And his attention seemed captured, too, by the horses.

On an impulse, Rôg drew near to where Vrór stood. ‘Master Redfist!’ he called out as he approached. ‘I see you are perusing the choice of steeds.’ He lifted his chin toward the horses. ‘I had heard you might be needing a ride once we leave for the slavers’ camp. If that’s still so, and if no one has offered you one, you would be more than welcome to ride with me. I travel lightly, so there is plenty of room. And you may sit front or to the rear….as you wish.’

He left the offer hanging lightly in the air. Perhaps the Dwarf would prove a stronger hand for the dun mare; perhaps she would look on Vrór more favorably than she did on him….ignoring him altogether….that would be nice…..quite nice…..

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Old 07-20-2006, 06:54 PM   #103
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Lindir and Carl:

“A nice evening perhaps, but I’ll feel more comfortable once we actually arrive at the slavers’ camp.”

The Elf said nothing further to Carl, but stared pointedly at the northern horizon. Whether he was searching for intruders or mulling over what might happen the next morning was not immediately apparent. Hoping to continue their conversation, Carl began speaking in a stouthearted manner concealing the very real worry that lay underneath his words. “I agree. We need to find those children quickly. But what amazing luck that Aiwendil already knows the location of both camps! I mean…it would make no sense to go galloping out if we didn’t know where we’re going.

The hobbit’s comments met with silence. In the distance, a coyote howled, one of the few animals they’d seen or heard since venturing across the border into Mordor. The howl sent an eerie chill down Carl's spine. When he spoke to the Elf a second time, his voice sounded more uncertain. “Lindir….does Aiwendil really know where those camps are? I suppose the birds could have come and told him. That’s what he said before.”

This time, Lindir promptly answered, “Yes, he really does know. I am convinced of it. But he is not telling me where he got this information. And since he has been in Arda even longer than I have, I am not about to ask.”

Carl’s response was immediate, one word tumbling out after the other, “But how can that be? You’ve told us tales of the First Age and the wars in Beleriand, stories like the ones from Master Bilbo’s book. You mean that Aiwendil is older than that?” ”

Lindir nodded and went on to explain, “It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it? That a dotty old fellow should have been tramping about for who knows how long…. Still, it is true. I've known Aiwendil more than a thousand years, and his tales have convinced me his roots lie much further back than that. ”

Noticing the uncertainty still in Carl's eyes, Lindir searched for words that would give the hobbit the reassurance he needed. “I am sure you know that Gandalf was a great friend of hobbits. He had a very high opinion of them and spent considerable time in the Shire. You've heard stories, or prehaps even met him when you were younger. But you might be surprised to learn that Gandalf and Aiwendil were friends. Gandalf trusted Aiwendil and sometimes called upon him for help in tight situations. Indeed, if you examined the lineage of those two old birds, you’d find they come from similar stock ….almost like brothers. And it's likely they share other gifts as well, though I am not the one to ask about that.”

His eyes bright with amusement, the Elf noted, "Weren't you the one who shared with me that famous hobbit adage? Don’t judge a book by its cover or a ploughshare by its handle. That is what you must do with Aiwendil. There is more to him than meets the eye. But hadn’t you better settle in? Tomorrow will be a long day. Good night for now. Plus, I need to check and make sure everything is quiet.”

Without waiting for an answer, Lindir trotted to the outskirts of camp and stared out across the plain to make sure there were no unwelcome intruders, all the while thinking about everything that had happened during the day. The Elf was not easily impressed by one of the Secondborn. He had lived too long and seen too much folly. But he could not help but be impressed by Carl. Despite long years spent in Arda, the Elf had never even met a hobbit until he’d gone off on this trek. Like most of those living in Rivendell, Lindir had heard tales of Carl's kinsman Samwise who'd accompanied Frodo Baggins during the War of the Ring, but these were only tales, not the same as getting to know a living and breathing person.

Lindir was beginning to understand why Gandalf had been so intrigued with hobbits. Of all the members of their band, it was Carl who’d had the good sense to question the information provided to him. He had also been the one to ferret out the entrance to the slaves' hideaway. Without him, they would likely be riding in circles. Perhaps, just like Aiwendil himself, these curious small folk had more inside than was readily apparent. He promised that one evening he would draw Carl out and get him to share stories about his kin. For now, however, Lindir was content merely to have discovered that there were people in Middle-earth who still had the ability to surprise him.

That still did not solve his other problem. If only he could get Rôg to open up and share more about himself. Aiwendil was obviously not going to reveal anything more about his friend, despite his cryptic comments referring to their joint adventure in Harad. Yet not for one instant did the Elf believe that Rôg had gone off to survey a bat colony this evening. No reasonable man went off on his own after dark crossing the dreaded Ash Plains of Mordor for such a trivial reason. It was simply too dangerous, especially for Rôg who looked and acted nothing like a soldier.

For all his defense of the wizard, Lindir recognized that Aiwendil had one major weaknesses. He was not the best judge of men. What if the old fellow had been taken in by someone posing as a friend though with far darker motives? Lindir glanced back to where Rôg was supposed to be sleeping and saw a suspiciously empty bedroll. Couldn't that fellow ever stay where he was supposed to? Perhaps he was out again with the bats.

Elessar had called their group "The Fellowship of the Fourth Age", but there were parts of that tale Lindir did not want to see repeated. The first fellowship had included one member who, certain that he knew a better way, had secretly tried to sabotage the group's efforts. Giving one last hasty glance at the empty bedroll, Lindir promised to speak with Rôg tomorrow about being careful not to wander so far from camp without at least letting him know first. In the next few days he intended to keep an eye on him.

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Old 07-22-2006, 01:08 PM   #104
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Aedhild

When Aedhild finally gained consciousness, she found herself lying in the soft, damp grass. Sitting up, her legs curled up to support her body, she rested her head in her hands. "Not now. Not for everyone to see," she muttered under her breath. She knew this feeling, this feeling of weakness and vulnerability; it was within every inch of her body and much to Aedhild's distress, she had come to realise that it would never fully go away. Touching her forehead, she felt the warm stream of blood. Disgusted, she ripped a patch of grass and scrubbed her forehead clean. It wasn't much, but she shuddered all the same.

The hurriedly aging woman didn't know how many times she had fallen to the ground, supposedly without reason, and awakened from unconsciousness to find her body aching from the fall, her head penetrated with intense pain and her memory blurry. Countless of times, she had found herself alone in the dark, shivering, afraid that another fit would seize her without warning, this time more ferociously. Having escaped from slavery, she had wandered in a land, unknown to her and alone in he wilderness, a fit could be the end of her. For six weeks, she had hardly slept a full night, and during day, she had not risked walking for many hours, knowing that exhaustion made the fits occur more regularly. For weeks and weeks, she had only looked for a safe shelter that would protect her from the consequences of a potential fit would have. Though much indicated that Aedhild was hardly present, or at least not very attentive to the things surrounding her, she was very well aware of the fits that occasionally took her by surprise, and the danger of the occurring.

It scared her. More than anything. Even the fight of being punished by the plantation guards didn't scare her as much. Over time, she had become used to it. She wasn't familiar with another reality, a reality of freedom and being your own master, and thus she had learnt to accept it. This illness or plague however that seemed to have taken possession of her so long ago didn't seem to seize, and despite the long period of time of which they had defined much of her life, she could never get used to them. Each time, she stirred, rose and shivered like and old hag, anxiety grasping her so intensely she could barely breathe. The thought of being alone again, entirely on her own was unbearable. She would never make it; during the weeks after her escape, she had been lucky, lucky for the first and last time in her life.

She couldn't count on it again. She couldn't count on the abilities she didn't have. In truth, Aedhild's independency was more dangerous to her than being under someone else's command.

“Is something wrong?”

Aedhild didn’t realise that a cry had escaped her lips, and that silent wailing followed. She would never make it. This was a battle for survival, and she would never win. In due time, the others, the young and healthy slave escapees would leave her, leave her to die alone.

“You’re bleeding!”

Casting a glance at Raegonn, she couldn’t help hating him for being the young and vibrant man he was. He was one of them, who were conspiring against her to leave her rotting in this dark land.

Last edited by Novnarwen; 07-23-2006 at 03:32 AM.
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Old 07-22-2006, 04:39 PM   #105
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Reagonn

"You're bleeding," Regonn repeated, now with a slight frown on his face.

Reagonn hesitated; knowing that Aedhild usually was quite ill tempered, and did not appreciate being disturbed or talked to.

"I....I....,"Aedhild muttered, unable to continue. She was obviously disorientated and confused. Her face pale, and her mouth dry. The blood from her forehead continued to flow down her face. Her efforts into stopping the bleeding with the patch of dry grass was all in vain.

Reagonn never usually cared much for others than himself, nor did he ever feel any sympathy for anyone. Yet there was something about Aedhild that tickled his curiosity; by the look of her face, he, as well as the other ex-slaves, could see that Aedhild had endured much suffering throughout the years. She was an old woman now, with a past anyone would wish to forget. Of course all of them had nightmares about their past, the lives they had lived at the plantation, yet Reagonn had difficulties imagining what Aedhild’s dreams contained.

"Don't come near me," Aedhild said. Her voice cold and distant. Bewildered by this, Reagonn studied the expression on her face. This was not a person speaking - it was more like a madman. He let out his hand, in helping gesture he offered to help. She forced a chuckle.

Reagonn confused by this reaction backed away, not daring to attempt to help the woman, he motioned that he would leave. As he turned his back to her, taking his first step he could hear her voice again. This time however, her voice was not cold and distant as it had been before; on the contrary, it was soft - Almost human like.

"T-thank you..." she whispered.
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Old 07-23-2006, 10:11 AM   #106
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Gwerr

Gwerr was munching his share of the pony and trying to set his mind in order. The meat was fresh and juicy, the warm blood streamed down from his mouth and kept dripping to his chest. Even though he had dried meat and waybread enough to make at least a journey of ten days, fresh meat was always a welcome change to the diet. But the meat couldn’t rise his spirits. He bit his chop quite angrily and chewed it aggressively. He was in a bad mood. And for a reason, he thought to himself. One more time he went through his list of things that both irritated him and made him almost mad with anger. Only his experience had made him stay outwardly calm this far, but he was near a breaking point.

We made the plan, myself and Colagar, to get away from the plantation, to get a life of our own. With thirty orcs of both sexes we could have built our own clan or something. Then Colagar’s insistence on a group escape that went totally wrong, then the Uruks... Fifteen of us left of which three are Uruks! And Ishkur! The one I trusted... The silent words Gwerr addressed to himself moved him greatly. He felt more anguished every time he went through the events of the last day. He had almost finished his piece and gnawed the bone frustratingly to pick the last bites of meat left.

So I gave him meat when he had taken on a journey without any provisions at all! And how did he thank me? He starts playing a leader here in accord with those leeches who are brimming over with exhalation! Yes, look at the Uruk faces now: so self-satisfied and so full of their supremacy – even if all was just pure chance, pure luck, I say! ... The slavers! They just happened to be there! And no decent guards so that even an Uruk can sneak unnoticed to their camp! And they think it was their wisdom that saved the day! Gah! Doesn’t Ishkur see that they use him as their puppet all the time, and all the more?I'll have to talk with him as soon as possible, maybe today... Gwerr threw the bones away despite Ishkur’s insistence of hiding them. If they come after us with their dogs, they will find this place anyway. We’ve left too many marks already...

Gwerr stood up and wiped his mouth with the back of his hairy palm. Then he gazed around at the others. “You saw that they had dogs”, he said with a loud enough voice for everyone to hear. “If they want to come after us they will find us. Too many of them for us to fight, I say.” He looked straight at Ishkur and then Colagar, trying to make the point without words. Too many of us will die or get badly injured in that fight to counterbalance the Uruks or to leave enough females around well enough to march fast...

“So we should move out and move quickly. There still is night left for us to gain some distance.”
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Old 07-23-2006, 01:23 PM   #107
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Hadith

Slowly Hadith came back to reality from his inner misery. There were so many things going on around him. Johari had gotten a blade to herself from the woman that was called Shae and people had been running around Khamir who had spoken out his mind. Hadith had had to gather it from loose lines of words spelled out here and there to gather a picture of what had actually happened.

He didn’t know what to do or what to say, but just as he saw Adnan approaching Khamir and turned around, not wishing to see any more of the people getting at each other, he saw Fewerth. Indeed he saw Fewerth with his friends Joshwan and Guilledean. And what were they doing!

They had been in a compassionate discussion together and now they seemed to have reached an agreement. And Hadith saw how Fewerth gave to Guilledean Hadith’s knife – given to him by Khamir – and Joshwan giving him a beautifully decorated easterling blade with it’s sheath. Hadith knew exactly what the knife was. Guilledean hid the knives into his sack and remained motionless, not looking at anyone, while Fewerth and Joshwan took to Khamir who was just resettling himself down, Adnan running away from him.

“Khamir! We also want blades! How do we defend ourselves without them? You people give blades to loud-mouthed women and little boys, why not to capable men that could really protect us?” Fewerth called Khamir from a couple of yards away, making sure that his call was heard around.

He’s building on his chances once again and I won’t be looking at it any more, Hadith sweared to himself and hastily took the few steps needed to reach the three. He knew exactly what Fewerth and his friends were about, he had known them long enough. They would use every opportunity to gain anything of value to trade them later to things that were in short supply. Now they had a chance to claim two knives to trade for food or something else at a later date... At the plantation that had been pretty normal with everyone just trying to hold onto oneself and those closest to one. But we are free! We should stick together, not steal from each other anymore! It’s different to steal from the plantation than from others like you yourself! There are no bad guys making us do the things we wouldn’t want to any more!

Before Khamir had time to answer the two, Hadith was beside them and declared with all the courage he had managed to build up. “Khamir! Do not believe them!” He glanced at both men, giving vent to his anger. “You have blades, you two! You scavengers have my blade and the one the dead easterling bore with him!” he shouted towards their faces.

“You lousy little brat! Leave tha adults to their bussinesses!” Fewerth replied angrily, throwing a look that could kill towards Hadith.

“Yea, you just check us! We have no blades”, continued Joshwan and looked at Khamir self-assertively. “This kid speaks foul words with nothing but his own frustration to back them.”

Before Hadith could answer their claims, Khamir rose up and looked at all the three firmly. “Now what is all this about? What is this thing of you having blades? As far as I know, myself, Beloan or anyone else haven’t given you none...” Khamir looked at the two boldly in the eye, faintly remembering the face of Fewerth from Beloan’s training-sessions. He was one of those who hadn’t passed the tests, now he remembered it. “And how come you claim they have blades, Hadith? You yourself have lost one already...” he looked at Hadith with a piercing gaze.

Hadith felt nervous again, but gathered himself to answer Khamir’s demanding presence. “Their friend Guilledean has the blades in his sack. I saw it! The one you gave to me and the one that the Easterling wore. They are trying to milk you of everything they can just to themselves! To trade them later on...”

“What Easterling are you talking about Hadith?” Khamir asked him seriously, clearly pondering the situation in his mind and trying to get some time and information to make up his mind.

Hadith was confused for a while but then answered: “The one on whose back I threw the blade at as he rode over me, and who then fell...” he managed to say, biting his lip, not daring to look at anyone around him.

“He’s lying! I killed the Easterling with my own hands!” Fewerth put in, his eyes gleaming with a hope that Khamir would take the bite that in a sense was the truth. He was the one to have given the Easterling the final blow and he knew it.

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Old 07-23-2006, 10:35 PM   #108
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Vrór

Knowing what felt as if it was going to be a long night would turn out much shorter than he would have liked in the morning, Vrór did his best to find rest. But there were too many things that did not sit right with him. He could not sleep when he was not sure what he would wake up to. This land did not seem to sleep – really, he could not help but feel that the night was when it was most awake and on the prowl. As if it could just swallow him up. It was a strange place indeed if he was afraid of every rock and pebble.

What would he find himself getting into tomorrow? They would be off, racing to the rescue in the direction that an old man determined from a bird and had perhaps double-checked with a squirrel, a butterfly, and…a horse? Horses…those were strange animals indeed. He had surely seen them on many an occasion, but never exactly…spent time with them. The fact that several of them were picketed close by, near enough so that he could hear the occasional snort and stamp from them.

Tomorrow he would be the only one without a mount. Already the Hobbit had kindly offered some kind of assistance, but the Dwarf was far too much of a gentleman around other gentleman such as Carl. And though a pony such as the Hobbit’s was much less intimidating than those tall horses the others road, Vrór could not imagine himself being caught on such a quaint little animal with an Elf, a couple from Rohan, and even a man from the South around to see him. He could imagine word spreading across Middle-earth about the Dwarf of the second Fellowship – the “Fellowship of the Fourth Age” as the letter had read – who was so ungainly on just a sweet, fat little pony.

So he found himself wondering if perhaps it was not too late to reconcile himself with this horse problem. A good night’s sleep would help if he would be running after a dust cloud at the tail end of the group, but that seemed more impossible to grasp even than the thought of him actually seeing what it felt like to sit on a horse. High in the air…the ground unreachable by his feet. What on earth would that feel like? Nothing on earth, in his opinion.

Making his way over to where the horses were tied, dragging his feet but trying hard not to shuffle them and make so much noise, Vrór stroked his beard, eyeing the night around him. At the moment, he was not sure if he was more afraid of the horses or the chance that someone might see him near the horses. Once close to the great animals, the Dwarf found his eyes glued to the large forms, black and shadowy in the darkness. It took him a moment to realize that there was another person nearby. He started, almost turning his head to examining closer who else found themselves drawn to these creatures, but finding himself too afraid of a horse taking advantage of such a distraction. The result was a tilt to Vrór’s head, leaving him looking more puzzled than anything else, if one could look puzzled in the dark.

Feeling the other presence draw closer to him, the Dwarf silently cursed, and was so on edge that he nearly jumped again when the person spoke. It was Rôg, the strange man from the South, seemingly a friend or even a servant to the even stranger old man from…well, who knew. Perhaps even Aiwendil himself didn’t. But was surprised him even more than everything that kept going bump in the night was the man’s offer. Ride with him? With him?

“Well,” Vrór found himself starting to speak before his mind was really prepared for him to. It was another moment before he spoke again in which the Dwarf swallowed and dragged his eyes away from the horses for a moment. “Thank you, Master…Rôg…” He steadied himself, and though he found his gaze drawn back to the tall animals a small distance before him, he forced himself to think clearly.

It was just like his blueprints. He was positioning himself on the horse where he would be balanced, held up even though he was strong and heavy and thus nearly unbreakable except by time itself… Surely if placed right he would be just a sturdy in structure… And with the right guidance… He glanced back at Rôg. Southern men knew all about horses, surely, even if not as much as those Rohirrim. All those tall folk seemed to spend a good amount of time off their feet, as if those long legs weren’t reliable enough.

“I would be honored to share your…steed,” he finally responded hesitantly. He knew he had heard the animal called such a name, but it just did not feel right on his lips. Nothing seemed right about these creatures, really. “And I would most appreciate your guidance. And so I am merely at your service, whether at the front or to the rear.” Either way it would not be a pleasant view.
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Old 07-23-2006, 10:36 PM   #109
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Khamir

Nearly everything the past nineteen years was about survival, but this was also a matter of trust. This Fewerth was one who felt completely certain of the way things should be done, which included things always going his way. This wasn’t the kind of mindset that made a person very cooperative, nor trustworthy. Fewerth and the two that seemed of a similar nature who followed him around were the type of people who you could only buy the trust of. But Hadith was just a boy who felt bullied.

Khamir felt himself growing frustrated, wondering how he got dragged into a role of mediation among children, making sure they played nicely. Unfortunately they were playing with lives, with freedom, with knives and chains. Was this all freedom was? The freedom to forget just how fortunate they were to be alive, to be away from the whip? Maybe they were just like animals, so accustomed to a way of life that they could know no other unless something made it impossible for them to live that way. And it wouldn’t be impossible for them to bicker, hate, fight, steal from, and backstab each other until they were all dead.

But they weren’t yet.

“Killed him with your own hands?” Khamir inquired, barely glancing at Fewerth.

“Yessir, choked the animal.”

“The horse or the man?”

“Uh…” Fewerth began, bewildered by Khamir’s question. “I strangled the Easterling scum!”

“He did! I saw it with my own two eyes!” one of his friends piped up, “The monster came at him from behind but he was ready for him in the blink of an eye…”

The one-armed man shook his head, deciding to ignore the three fools. Already they had forgotten the bounty hunters had ridden into camp. It seemed they had agreed on some kind of story, but had paid little attention to detail when doing so. Perhaps they had assumed too much weight in their words. It was clear they thought more of themselves than anyone should. Khamir didn’t think enough of any of them to ever expect one of them to bring a slaver off his horse and manage to kill him, even with a weapon.

And so it was still hard to believe that Hadith was perhaps telling the truth. It was not so difficult to believe that Fewerth had taken the boy’s knife – what Khamir had trouble with was that a dead man was involved. Had Beloan really been that right about the boy? A trap for birds, a few deer…that was not the same as throwing a knife in a man’s back. Was this fresh-faced youth really capable of something like that? The Southron had seen many men die, he had watched others suffer countless times, but every drop of blood and lifeless body was different. And it was somehow eerie that the boy he stared at was already a killer.

“I do not think I could believe them, but I cannot yet say I believe you. Tell me more of what happened, and neither elaborate nor humble yourself. The full truth is the most believable, and I will respect you for telling it.”

He was still seated in the grass, and so he had to look up at Hadith. But looking up at the boy was not at all like looking up to him. Khamir stared him in the eye with calm severity, but without any trace of condescendence. His words were not preached, though they formed weighty statements.

“And silence, you three,” he added in regard to Fewerth, Joshwan, and Guilledean, common sense telling him at least one of them was prepared to say something denigrating about the boy. If he treated anyone like children, as Johari suggested he did, it would have to be those three.
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Old 07-24-2006, 01:23 AM   #110
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Hadith

"Well", Hadith started but didn't seem to manage himself. He was torn between the hate he felt against Fewerth and his companions and the revererance he felt towards Khamir. But as Kahmir silenced the bullies with a quick gesture of his hand, he gathered his courage to speak openly.

"Well, when they first came upon us, I was still asleep and the first wave of them just swept over me", he looked at Khamir seriously and intensively, not paying attention to the smirks the others were giving him. "At last I managed to get from under my blanket and had to fight with a dog that ran on me." He passed the part that made him geel so guilty; the girl that had had been under the dog's attack and whom he couldn't save.

"After the dog was dead I listened to the sounds of the villains being too far away, but then they were closing in again. I was dripping blood from my eyebrow and shoulder already. First came the dogs, from darkness, but they went past me. I was prepared then, but the rider came out from nowhere too soon and had a lance. He noticed me just a yard or two away and tried to hit me but I managed to duck the tip of the spear and then..." Hadith fell silent for awhile, the whole situation came back to him in a vivid memory he could describe with a length of details. But he knew, he had no time for that kind of stories now.

"Well, I tumbled to the ground and just somehow, instinctively, threw my blade at him when he had rode over me. The blade hit him at the back and he fell from his horse. Then there were suddenly a lot of people who appeared from nowhere - where they were hiding - and beat him to death. I tried to rise up and claim my knife back, but I was too confused and battered to make any real claim to it before I fell down. Khala and Cuáran helped me then..." He was looking at Khamir from under his eyebrows, looking honest but wild with anger as he gazed towards Fewerth and his friends.

"You just check Guilledean's sack to see that what I say is true. There will be the blade you gave me. I would recognise it anywhere, so dearly had I looked at it when you gave it to me. And there is an Easterling blade too, decorated and a fine art-one. The one the poor guy was carrying..." With that he fell silent. He had spoken too loud to reveal his own private embarrassement of the young Easterling that had gotten killed. mostly because of him. He had semeed like a boy of his age, nothing more, nothing less, and that had taken Hadith aback with the corpse when he was studying it. He just couldn't believe he had been bad through his veins.

Just to bring the things up to the order of the moment he added: "They will also know well enough, where is his lance and the jewelry he carried with him - and his boots as well."

With that Hadith draw his blade and took a few steps needed to make it behind the three, just to make sure they wouldn't ran away without needing to face him...

He waited for Khamir to respond as Joshwan grinned towards him maliciously.

"The kid is lying! We are men and you should believe us more than a brat of his weak stature! I killed the Easterling and this Hadith just happened to be around. He's making fantastical claims right now! He had no part in the killing of the Easterling!" Fewerth moaned loudly. Joshwan and Guilledean nodded in agreement with Fewerth, Guilledean making sure his sack was behind his back as he stood somewhat farther away from Khamir.

"Look at Guilledean's sack, Khamir! I'll prove myself right with it!" Hadith cried to Khamir. He was quite bewildered, still holding his new knife in his hand behind the three. He had no intention of letting them to escape this questioning. Fewerth glanced at him with an evil eye, but Hadith just returned the challenge with his sturdy glance back. He was ready for anything right now. He had been humiliated too much today already, now he meant what he said and would not take back his stance anymore. He would stand for it. He would stand for the truth.
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Old 07-24-2006, 02:42 AM   #111
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