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Old 07-07-2006, 11:23 AM   #41
Durelin
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Durelin is battling Black Riders on Weathertop.Durelin is battling Black Riders on Weathertop.
Vrór

Hearing the Elf question some of the group about footprints, Vrór crawled up from out of the cave, huffing and puffing. He rather regretted climbing in there, but he just had to see such a thing with his own two eyes. A good bit of wasted energy was all he felt he had managed. The others didn’t seem much interested in what he had to say about the cavern. They should know that they should only trust a Dwarf when it come to rock and stone. They should, though Vrór wouldn’t be surprised if he was the first Dwarf some of these people had ever come across. His people weren’t always the most social type, and considering the young couple was from Rohan, and the Hobbit was…well, just a Hobbit, it was likely that they at least had never spent much time with a Dwarf.

Brushing spare brown, crusty leaves and a few tiny thorns from him, he looked around for the Elf. He wasn’t going to be left out of a discovery. His hopes rose a bit as he thought of what this talk of footprints might mean. Perhaps there were more signs. What he wanted very badly was some kind of sign that the slaves left the caves of their own free will, and were headed in a direction that was not back to the plantations they had escaped from.

A few voices from over a small hill could still be heard over the babbling of the nearby creek, but Vrór could not make out any words. Carl still stood near the cave entrance, having managed to clean himself up a bit after his own venture down into the cavern. The Dwarf glanced at him.

“Have any idea what the Elf’s found, Master Carl?” he asked the Hobbit with an air of polite curiosity. If there was one thing from his childhood that Vrór rarely forgot, it was the manners that had been ‘beaten into him.’ The only times he didn’t remember them was when it was convenient.

Vrór found it a bit difficult to stand still, and he began to rock back and forth slightly on his heels. Maybe the slaves had even left a sign for them, to let the Fellowship know where they went? Or perhaps these were tracks that showed they had already begun the journey north? Or…what if these were not even tracks from the slaves at all? What if this was the wrong place? The Dwarf felt that was pretty near impossible, but then, he did not know the topography of Mordor very well, nor did he think anyone else in the party did.

But that was nowhere near the worst possibility. Vrór doubted that he would ever be able to forgive himself him if the slaves had been recaptured, or killed. If they were indeed dead or back in the hands of their former masters, then this Fellowship had already failed. His mind could not give up on the idea that all sixty-five of them were dead. It was Mordor. To him, such a slaughter was just the sort of thing that would happen in such a land. An evil had dwelt in this place far too long.

“Perhaps we should see for ourselves,” Carl responded, and the two made their way over the hill. When Vrór saw the couple, Dorran and Athwen, off away from Lindir, the Dwarf glanced at the Hobbit, and made his way over to the Elf. Looking up at the tall, pointy-eared fellow, he hesitated for a moment, seemingly clearing his throat.

“What have we found?” Vrór asked simply, keeping his voice low, not wishing to bother Dorran and his wife. He nervously stroked his beard, and eyed the stream, avoiding the Elf’s gaze.
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Old 07-07-2006, 05:46 PM   #42
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Hadith

They halted for a meal in the middle of the plains. Hadith took his part of yesterday’s leftovers distributed to everyone - roasted deer accompanied with water - and chewed them hastily. He had to find this Johari again. He was already gnawing the bones of his share when he realised feeling still hungry. He was alarmed by a sudden thought. Where will we find food for all of us tomorrow, the day after that, or the day after that? There were birds around today, no other animals or eatable plants on our path. He paused chewing, taken by his thoughts. Well, the old stagers will know the answers... I’ll just have to find that Johari now.

His mind had been bursting with questions ever since they had talked earlier on the day and he was eager for some answers. If someone can answer these, she can... Hadith thought to himself optimistically. He would ask her.

He found her soon enough. Johari hadn’t yet finished her meal and was chewing her share of the day’s ratios at a tranquil pace. He approached her carefully, coughing gently to gain her attention. “The ‘worthy’ one? What do you want?” she asked sarcastically, swallowing the bite she had been chewing.

“Well... erm... I mean...”, Hadith was not quite sure how to address the woman. After all, what he wanted to ask was a bit embarrassing.

“C’mon, speak up lad or get lost” Johari broke in, taking a long draught of water and settling herself to a more comfortable position.

“We discussed today. And after it I have spent lot of time wondering some things I think you could answer me” he managed to say, not knowing where to look or where to put his hands. There was something in that woman that made him interested in her but also very nervous. She seemed not to be like most others he knew.

Johari took another bite of the meat and chewed it slowly, taking her time. Hadith was almost ready to turn away as she suddenly answered, still masticating the last bits: “Fine. Talk.”

Hadith closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He tried to shun her gaze as he went on. “Well, I don’t know if I even know myself what I’m asking, but I thought that you could help me with it.” He kicked a stone from the ground and fumbled nervously with his fingers. Johari didn’t answer but gave him a look that he could interpret easily enough. Speak or go, it said to him. Hadith gathered all his mental strength and got on with it.

“I mean, if something is broken you just fix it. And if it fixes, that’s right then. Or if you have a problem, like getting bricks to a 15 feet high platform in a construction site, you just make a winch and pull them up with a rope. And that’s right.” He draw breath and tried to concentrate, fiddling the cords of his newly gotten blade’s sheath with his fingers. “So if you solve a problem, then it’s right.” He managed to utter after a short pause. Johari was looking at him more intently now, with a quizzical expression.

“But after we talked today, I started thinking that maybe all solutions are not right even though they work or make sense.” He paused again for a while, just trying to word his confusion. “But that doesn’t make any sense either!” He was clearly baffled by his own reasoning and indeed started feeling ashamed bringing up the whole matter. He looked down towards his own boots and tried to have a glance for Johari’s expression.

Last edited by Nogrod; 07-07-2006 at 05:50 PM.
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Old 07-07-2006, 07:32 PM   #43
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Carl

“What have we found?” Vrór asked Lindir in low tones. Carl watched as the elf extended his hand to give the weighty object over to the dwarf, who in turn stopped smoothing his beard only just long enough to accept it. To be honest, the hobbit felt that he appeared to be avoiding the elf’s glance. “I bit of iron work, I see. And a rough one at that!” Vrór said, looking it over with a critical eye. “It has been well kept though, and oiled frequently. Rust has found no foothold, so it couldn’t have lain long.”

“May I see it?” Carl asked as he strained, peering along his nose to snatch a glimpse at it. Vrór obliged him, and Carl saw that it appeared to be a branding iron of sorts, seemly out of place on these mountain slopes. The lack of both shepherds and flocks hadn’t escaped the hobbit’s notice since arriving in Mordor. He had simply put the absence down to the likely presence of orcs in the mountains, and so had slept a little less soundly than usual --the puzzle manifesting itself in the form of the goats that featured often in his dreams. Not actually appearing, for it was only their bleating he heard in the distance. He had thought no more of it, until now.

“A branding iron?” Carl said. “How strange to find one, miles from flock or fold!”

“It is not for animals, but for slaves,” the elf spoke gravely.

“You don’t suppose the slaves would have taken such a thing with them when they left?” Carl asked hopefully, but seeing Rôg shake his head almost imperceptibly, the hobbit's thoughts grew somber. He remembered the words of the Gondorian farmer so many weeks ago. “Those slaves could have been anyone of us,” he said with a shudder, giving voice to the memory. “You don’t suppose that they have been found, now do you? It’s far too clean here for there to have been much of a fight,” he said thinking aloud, as he handed the brand back to Lindir. “But maybe they are they being followed, eh? And if that is the case, we had better move more quick like, don’t you think? Keep those dirty wolves from attacking them!"

“Yes, but how many wolves, and which direction did they go?” Lindir said.

“My guess is that they didn’t go deeper into the mountains, there’d be no point to that, no good land that way and there’s too many orcs in the mountains,” Carl said as he wandered off. He was desperate to make himself useful, searching the brush for any token that would tell of the folk who had sent the letter. Walking carefully in amongst the thorn bushes and grasses, he combed through them searching for cloth or perhaps a wisp of hair among the grasping barbs. It was all he could think to do. True, Lindir had discovered this something that spoke of the slaves, but it certainly wasn’t the sort of find that they had been hoping for.

Last edited by Hilde Bracegirdle; 07-09-2006 at 05:39 PM.
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Old 07-08-2006, 10:56 AM   #44
Firefoot
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Johari

“You always think this much?” asked Johari as she tried to sort through Hadith’s comments. She thought she understood and agreed, although she had never put it into so many words. He fumbled about for an answer to that, but she cut him off. “Never mind. Look at it this way. There’s always more than one way of doing something. Using your brick example, you could make a winch, and that would be the best way to do it. But you could also just throw the bricks up one at a time and hope the person at the top could catch them.”

She almost laughed at the incredulity on his face. “But that would be foolish!” he said. “People would get hurt that way.”

“But it would work,” Johari countered. “Just because it works doesn’t make it the right or only way to do something.”

This was beginning to feel like entirely too much thinking for Johari. It had been a long time since she concerned herself with why’s and how’s rather than what’s, and now didn’t seem like any time to start. “Anything else?” she asked dryly. “Your whole life story, perhaps?”
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Old 07-08-2006, 11:11 AM   #45
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Grask

50 more miles! And in broad daylight, no less. Grask thought he might keel over if required to run so much farther without a rest. He silently thanked those other Orcs, Gwerr and Ishkur their names were. He had thought it would end there; Gwerr seemed to be the leader and he said time to rest. Grask had already picked out a little indentation for himself, facing northward so no light of sun would disturb him.

But now they were drawing weapons – why were those Uruks so keen to be away? Look how far they had already come! At least, it seemed like a great long way to Grask: all night they had run. He hoped it would not come to fighting; the Uruks were quite outnumbered anyway, even if they were bigger and stronger.

Then Grask realized he was a bit closer to them than might be wise, and backed off into his little ‘cave’. They wouldn’t bother him here, hopefully, and he could watch without drawing their attention.
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Old 07-08-2006, 05:41 PM   #46
Durelin
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Novnarwen's post - Eirnar

After days of marching, Eirnar was starting to recognise a feeling he was all too familiar with; exhaustion. Having escaped from the plantations more than three years ago, he had thought and hoped that the years of slavery had vanished from his mind and that he would never have to be reminded of those years he had spent in turmoil. For a great period of time, he had indeed forgotten, or rather ignored, the marks these years had imprinted on him, but as he struggled to keep up the pace, despite his relatively young age, it was all coming back; working long days on the fields and the punishment as soon as he’d shown weakness; this heavy, dark cloud that hung over him them, also seemed to overwhelm him now. Those years could never be fully ignored, Eirnar realised bitterly, having defined who he was today. Eventually, he would be forced to accept it however, no matter how long he had tried ignoring and postponing it.

Looking around, he spotted Aedhild. She had arrived a few weeks before their departure from the caves. She had been in a terrifying state; her eyes bleary and wild with exhaustion. He had also discovered something else, which he believed had become obvious to most of the ex-slaves in due time; a fragility and a sadness he couldn’t recognise in any of the others... and madness… Oh! he still wasn’t sure. Somtimes she was like thunder itself on a sour, dreary autumn day, and other times she was completely calm. No one had been able to learn where she came from, and he doubted Aedhild knew it herself. For the last couple of days, ever since she recovered from unconsciousness, she had been silent, hardly muttering a single word to anyone. Her only question to Eirnar when she awoke had been whether it had been a fit again, “…this time it felt so different,” she had added weakly. “Yes, it was a fit… Don’t worry. You will be all right,” he had lied, biting his lip. He didn’t regret having lied to her; he feared the consequences the truth would have; would she then have a fit? Would she attack him once more? Would he be forced to strike her unconscious again? Shortly after, a man named Raegonn had asked why he had lied, obviously having overheard his reply. At first, Eirnar had been unable to answer, ashamed... but yet, not ashamed, he’d been… terrified, yes, that was it. He had indeed been terrified about this... life, what this life had done to him. “Had I really any other choice?” he’d finally asked, in truth referring to both the fact that he had struck her and then lied about it. At this, Raegonn had shrugged, waited and tapped his shoulder soft with his hand, as if in approval. No one of the others had spoken a word of the incident, and of that Eirnar was glad. Aedhild would never know the truth, and though he would and could never be proud of his actions, as hot-headed as he had been, it would be best if it remained this way.

As they approached the camp and made ready to settle in for the night, Eirnar couldn't help noticing how some of the children and the elderly were struggling. They were beyond doubt the most vulnerable. Naturally, this was to be expected. In an unknown country, where there were no obvious places they could quickly hide or take shelter, they were all easy targets for the enemy; in truth, in this landscape, they were complely lain bare for the enemy to see. It surely was insanity, and whose idea it had been in the first place, he did not know. Personally, he hadn’t been delighted by the suggestion of leaving the caves behind, he had been horrified. They had been waiting for the promised aid from Gondor, and although it had not arrived in due time, Eirnar had no doubts in his mind that King Elessar wouldn’t fail them. He had heard stories of this man, few of course, but they were enough to stun the most sceptic of men; he was a real King, who lived and breathed for his people. Both a Gondorian in flesh and heart, he had no right and would in truth be ashamed to think otherwise.

“Raegonn!” he called, breathing heavily. The dark haired man turned to face Eirnar.

“Are you all right?” he asked, slowly. “You look rather dreadful if I may be so bold to say so..” Raegonn hesitated, as if wanted to say something more.

“Heh. I’m good. No worries, though the marching does seem to bring back a lot I hoped I had forgotten…” Eirnar fell silent, not knowing how to proceed; how he hated these embarrassing moments, where he couldn’t quite find the right words or the right tone to say them in. Raegonn seemed to think the same, and being a polite, young man, he nodded in understanding.

“Makes you wonder,” Eirnar suddenly said, “who suggested this in the first place,” he continued with something that was supposed to be a laugh. Noticing himself the lack of sincerity and seeing Raegonn narrowing his eyes (whether intentionally or not, Eirnar didn’t know), he added quickly, “Oh, don’t worry. I won’t… ehm.. strike anyone...” This seemed to break the ice somehow, and Raegonn smiled faintly.

“Mhm. I first heard it from Khamir. A good man, with great dreams. A born leader.” Raegonn's pale cheeks seemed to glow for a moment, although Eirnar could might as well have imagined it.

“True. Surely, we all have dreams… I was just curious about where we were heading, where our dreams and hopes are to be fulfilled…” Eirnar said grinning.

Raegonn chuckled and turned away to prepare for the night.

***

Though the night had enclosed on them, Eirnar lay half awake. The pain of his aching limbs didn’t seem to bother him as much anymore; something quite else was on his mind.

Eirnar was not a particularly bright man, nor was he stupid either. He had observed Khamir and the others from the very beginning, but he had to admit that Khamir, especially, had caught his attention. Although he had failed to see the extraordinary leadership skills he supposedly possessed, Eirnar had observed him with interest; it seemed that the young Southron in some way had managed not only to gain trust, but the others also seemed to respect him for reasons yet unknown to Eirnar. In which situation had Khamir so clearly stood forth and thus earned this respect? How had he come to be the one deciding to leave the caves? How had he managed to convince them all to leave? The caves had been their shelter, the only safe place they had known for months and months, and now, this man, had taken them away from it. Eirnar couldn’t quite understand any of it; why the men, women and children’s eyes, when gazing upon him, were filled with such warmth; it reminded him of an admiration close to idolization. Undeserved, Eirnar concluded, he must surely have manipulated his way to their trust and respect. Painfully was also the fact that he was a Southron. Was there any of the other escapees who recognised him from the life at the plantations… as a slave…

Although, Eirnar didn’t know at this point, there was something, something which he couldn’t quite define with words yet, and so all of it would remain thoughts. For now.

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

Durelin's Post: Night

It had been a long day of marching for the former slaves, and though their bodies were tough and their minds determined, the weariness was clear on practically all of their faces. When the sun was a fireball above the distant mountains to the West, Khamir began looking for a place to rest for the night. When he could, he tried to find a place that was somehow indiscriminate. He knew the night was not safe; the day was not really either, but the night was different. It was in darkness that most Orcs felt comfortable, and it was in darkness that every type of being tended to do evil.

There was little to choose from for a place to rest, and Khamir was forced to settle with an area in between to small hills. The gap between the hills was large, plenty large for sixty-five people to settle down around a few different fires. Beloan had pointed out more of the men and boys that he determined could be among the defenders, and each was now equipped with some kind of knife, spiked club, or rough axe that was meant for chopping wood, and used for that too. It took a great deal, but Khamir was persuaded to let at least one or two of the boys take one of the watches that night. The one-armed man had divided up the night into five rough sections, five watches, and he determined that by the start of the third watch, and at the latest before the start of the fourth, all fires must be out. There was no sense in leaving a beacon. They didn’t need any kind of rescue you find in Mordor.

Adnan, fifteen years old, was on the third watch. He had spoken so boldly about how he wanted to take one of the watches, and how he would protect the camp, how nothing would get past him, how he would lead the defenders to drive back any forsaken creatures that attacked… Beloan had told him not to get his hopes up. Now, Adnan dearly wished that man was beside him again. He curled himself up, drawing his knees up to his chest, wrapping his arms around his legs. One hand gripped the knife he had been given as if his life depended on it. If there was one thing to be sure of, it was that the blade wasn’t leaving his hand. Whether or not he would be able to use it, though, was an entirely different question.

The kind of quiet that settled on Mordor in the night was not the most peaceful one. And with the moon in its second week of waxing, there was enough light to play tricks on anyone’s eyes. Adnan jumped at any noise, any sign of movement, for what felt like hours. His body was tense, every muscle overly prepared to move. Over and over, the boy wondered what would happen if he was unable to warn the camp of an attack. His throat was dry, it felt swollen shut, and he had to force his swallows down. He was certain his voice would fail him when he had to call out. He wouldn’t even be able to scream before his throat was slit and the Orc marauders, the Easterling bandits entered the camp and slaughtered the rest. And all because of him.

All the fires were out, as Khamir had ordered. Adnan really was alone. His only comfort was found in the soft rhythm of breathing, the sound nearest him. Focusing his ears on the beat helped his own breathing slow, his heart rate drop to something a little more normal, and his sight begin to blur. His head felt heavier and heavier until he felt no more at all. His breathing matched the rhythm of the night around him, and the moonlight disintegrated into pitch…

Last edited by piosenniel; 07-12-2006 at 11:32 AM.
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Old 07-08-2006, 08:59 PM   #47
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Athwen

“Yes, but how many wolves, and which direction did they go?” Lindir asked no one in particular.

Athwen and Dorran had heard the last several exchanges. Carl began to talk, half to himself, and half to his companions, as he wandered off in search of some way to follow them. Athwen couldn’t help smile after him momentarily. Regardless of how astonished he would be if she ever voiced her opinion, Athwen couldn’t get it out of her mind that hobbits were absolutely adorable and it was a very difficult thing to take him seriously. She stifled a chuckle at his eager attempt to be useful, and turned to the others.

“Dorran just told me that the slavers don’t move in large groups,” she said. “And if there are a lot of slaves, perhaps they won’t attack them immediately. If that’s the case, we may have a chance to catch up. Carl’s right, though, we do need to hurry. And he is also probably right and they wouldn’t go into the mountains.”

She stopped a moment to think. In her opinion, as they had already searched for tracks and found none except for those that Lindir had found, they should waste no more time looking, but continue riding in the most likely direction. However, she knew next to nothing of these matters and so she kept her mouth shut. They didn’t need a woman telling them what she thought would be best and what wouldn’t – much less a woman know didn’t know what she was talking about.

So, instead of continuing to talk, she left the planning to those who knew more about it, and followed Carl. She caught up to him as he peered and poked through the dry plants.

“Tell me what you think you might find and I’ll help you look,” she said.
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Old 07-08-2006, 11:02 PM   #48
Tevildo
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Azhar:

Azhar had staked out a small plot to call her own, a good distance from her nearest neighbor. The young girl could not stand being hedged in between so many tightly packed bodies. Tired of hearing her neighbors snore, she had gotten up and walked to the edge of camp where very few were sleeping. Finding what looked like a comfortable place, she had lain down again and curled her body into a tiny ball. Yet even here, she could feel the sharp edge of every twig and pebble that lay beneath the grass. Even removed from the snores and grunts of the others, Azhar found it impossible to sleep. She tossed restlessly from one side to the other.

Today had not been easy. Her own life on the plantation had been comparatively soft. Azhar had hauled buckets of water and delivered messages, but she had not been forced to do any backbreaking tasks. Moreover, unlike the mass of field slaves who had only the crudest of shelters, she was allowed to bed down in a pile of soft hay within a sturdy building where the horses were stabled. That way, she was close by when the overseers wanted an errand run. The young slave had managed to beg or steal enough food to keep her belly full and had a decent pair of shoes to wear. A few of the Easterling guards had been fond of her. They had liked her pretty face and been taken with her cheerful chatter. One of them had even gifted her with an agate on a leather thong to string about her neck, making her promise that in a year or two she would come back to visit him in the barracks. Still young and innocent, she had laughed and given her promise.

Out on the trail, things were a lot different. There was no privileged status here. She ate and drank and slept exactly like everyone else. Azhar wasn't used to that. Her body ached from too many miles walked, and her stomach growled incessently with hunger. Once today, during the long and miserable trek, she had even wondered if it might not have been better to stay back on the plantation rather than running off after a wild dream that was unlikely to come true.

But it was too late for second thoughts. Like it or not, she was stuck here. Maybe, if she was lucky, things would get better. She glanced over at her nearest neighbor who lay several feet away. His outline was shadowy and barely visible in the dark. It looked to be Kwell, a boy about her own age, but one who seemed as hard and silent as any rock. Perhaps she just didn't belong here. Sighing and feeling very alone, Azhar gathered the few scraps of her blanket tightly about her body and willed herself to sleep.

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Old 07-09-2006, 12:44 AM   #49
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A little raid.....

Two men sat on the hillside, eagerly peering down on the encampment of slaves. They were dressed in the garb of Easterlings. It was clear from their clothes and weapons that they were neither poor slaves, nor rich landowners. Rather, they were traders--traders in human flesh--who captured slaves and other lost remnents of humanity, dragging these unfortunates back to the planations for which they earned a rich reward.

The younger one spoke first. "Look at them. So many! I wish we'd brought along another twenty men. There's money here for the taking.'" The slaver Nimag squatted behind one of the larger boulders on the hillside, greedily rubbing his hands in anticipation of the gold and silver coins that would fall into his pocket, if only the men could bag a rich prize like this.

"Hold on," growled Imak, leaning over and smacking the younger man on the back of the head. "I'm in charge here. Keep your stinking mouth shut. I say when and where we go. You're a fool if you think seven men can go against a pack of over sixty. We'll end up with our throats slit, and little good to show for it."

Imak sat back on his heels, thought a minute, and then barked out orders to one of the riders who'd just approached them from over the hill. "Take the dog pack with you. Have four of the men attack the far side of camp." Imak indicated the direction with a hasty jerk of his thumb. " Just go and create a ruckus. Maybe slit a throat or two, or make off with some belongings. Make sure to take that idiot Nimag with you. Just get him out of my sight. Anyways," he added somewhat apologetically, "you'll have no trouble getting away on horseback."

"While that uproar is going on, I'll take the other men and nab two or three slaves. There's easy pickings down there. These fools have hardly any weapons and don't even know how to guard a camp. We'll take the captives back with us. Once we show the others, they'll come and clean out the rest of this vermin. We'll need the whole gang of thirty men to do that right. After all, we don't want to have to kill too many."

The rider looked up warily. "But, sir, why let them know we're here? Just go back now and get the others, and then take them all at once by surprise."

"Wait and do nothing? Nah." Imak grimaced and shook his head. "You don't know these thugs like I do. No good bounty hunter will go for the kill unless you show him some of the loot. If I come back with some cock and bull story, and not a slave to show for my efforts, they won't believe me. The men will only come if they see fresh meat up for sale, and they know I'm not just giving them a tale."

"But the guards? Aren't there guards on duty?"

"Nay," Imak laughed. "Just look over there where our men would come out. They've got a stupid young fool who's asleep." The Easterling's voice was full of disdain. He could not stand incompetence, whether in his own men or others.

*****************

It did not take long to carry out the plan. The dogs went howling into camp from the north side where the young guard had fallen asleep. The men were mounted on horses immediately behind them. Within seconds, the slaves in the camp had been jerked out of their sleep. Some raced over with clubs and makeshift swords to try and combat the threat; a large number, terrified and weaponless, merely attempted to run away. Everywhere there was noise and chaos.

At the same time, Imak and his chosen friends had quietly slipped in on the opposite side of camp. These men didn't have to ride very far to find what they were looking for. A young girl, about twelve, a pretty face, seemingly of eastern origin; plus a boy about the same age, hard and scarred, obviously used to working in the fields; both stood directly in their path. Imak reached over and scooped up the girl, hoisting her up onto his saddle. She was too frightened to resist. With the boy it was different. The slave hit and clawed and kicked, but in the end Imak gave a swift club to the side of his head and got him to quiet down that way. Within a space of a few minutes, the entire gang had finished their job and turned their horses around, intending to head back towards the Ash Plains where the larger band of thugs awaited.

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Old 07-09-2006, 01:28 AM   #50
Undómë
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Brenna


If you see the Moon at the end of the day
A bright Full Moon is on its way
If you see the Moon in the early dawn
Look quick, look quick...t’will soon be gone.

The night was warm, no fires were needed. Not for the warmth, that is. Though, the light would have been more than welcome here in this unknown land. Brenna folded her tattered shawl into a little cushion and lowered herself onto it. The small thickness of it cushioned her thin hips against the hardness of the rock she sat on. She took off her right sandal and rubbed at the ball of her foot. A stray rock had lodged there in the last mile or so of their trek that day; a tenacious and unwelcome hitchhiker despite her attempts to shake it from her sandal as they walked along.

‘Going to have a blister, old woman,’ she admonished herself. She moistened the hem of her skirt with a little spit and cleaned the area as best she could. Tomorrow before they started off again, she would wrap a strip of cloth about her foot to cushion it against the assault of the new day.

She put her hands behind her and leaned back on her arms, looking toward the waxing moon. She fingered the small hand scythe she’d laid on the ground by her side. The swollen crescent of metal echoed the shape of the bright moon. May you mow down those who would hinder our way she whispered into the night air.

Her bones, her muscles were tired, aching from the long day of walking. The older she got, though, the less easy it was just to lie down and rest her body, to sleep. Her mind was wide awake, and would be she knew until the wee hours of the night. It was then that sleep would find her for the few short hours she needed.

She lay down on her back after while and traced the stars in the dark bowl of sky above her. Somewhere, she knew, her brothers were sleeping beneath the very same moon and stars…or perhaps, as she liked best to think, they were awake, thinking about her as well.

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

The sharp, insistent sound of the dogs drew her attention. She leveraged herself up from her resting place and saw the invaders as they entered the sleeping camp from the north. Panic and confusion blossomed about them as the sleeping men roused up to fight in their meager fashion while others of the group simply ran from the invaders as fast as their feet would carry them.

Brenna grabbed up her scythe, thinking to wake those on this side of the camp, to get them out of harm’s way before the invaders made their way to them. Before she could utter a word, a number of men on horses entered quietly in from her side of the camp; ten fell riders. A young boy was taken, clubbed senseless so that he lay limp across the horse in front of his abductor as if he were a sack of flour. And a thin girl, very young was hoisted up in like manner, though she was weaker and needed no persuasive beating to make her be still.

Oblivious to the pain in her foot, Brenna rose up and ran at the riders before they turned and headed out of camp. If only she could pull one or the other or better yet, both, of those children away from the abductors. The riders were too strong for her; their horses too quick as they turned away from her.

She took a quick, hard swipe at one of them, slicing along the back of his exposed leg as his horse leapt forward, toward the north. Another of those with the man hit out at her with his club, knocking her hard on the shoulder. Brenna fell, a cry of anger and frustration flung after the riders.

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Old 07-09-2006, 02:47 AM   #51
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As night began to close in, the slave halted and made camp for the night. Shae quickly found her own space on the ground. She drew a large circle around herself in the dirt and scowled at anyone who dared to cross the line.

Shae was in a foul mood. She was still angry at Khamir's comment from earlier and as the day passed, the uneasiness she felt only weighed down on her more. Not to mention, by late afternoon a pesky migraine burdened Shae further and even hours later, it refused to leave. The pain had become such a nuisance, the young woman was tempted to throw rocks at any slave who made too much noise.

Bending her head between her knees, Shae closed her eyes and took deep breaths. She received headaches frequently, and through the years had learned the best cure was relaxation, a technique that had always been difficult for her. As the pain began to subside, Shae opened her eyes and spotted a large beetle crawling near her feet. Using two fingers, the woman plucked the insect from the dirt and examined its hard, shiny green and black shell. This species of beetle was rare and considered a delicacy. Back on the plantations, slaves would give up their most prized possessions for a taste. Shae placed the beetle in her mouth and let it crawl on her tongue before biting down on the shell with a loud crunch. The juices from the insect dissolved on her tongue as she took pleasure in the unusually sweet flavor.

By the time Shae's headache had completely disappeared, most of the ex-slaves were asleep and the first watch was nearly over. Shae had volunteered for the fourth watch, and though it was hours away, it would come before she knew it. And when that time came, she would need to be alert. Nestling her body into the hard ground, Shae closed her eyes and reluctantly let sleep consume her.

*********************

Shae awoke suddenly, bolting upright from her spot on the ground. Her senses were clear, yet her thoughts fogged. She could not recall any nightmare, so why had she awoken so sudden? And then she heard it- the sound of horses approaching. This time it was not a dream that had awoken her. A shout rang out, and unsheathing her long knife, Shae ran towards the unwelcome sounds.

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Old 07-09-2006, 12:58 PM   #52
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Kwell

Kwell had not been knocked senseless when Imak had clubbed him, but he did lay still. His hand pressed against his head and he felt the blood trickle slowly between his fingers and course down his arm before it was soaked up into the dirty fabric of his sleeve. Through clenched teeth, he uttered horrible imprecations against both his back luck and the rider of the horse.

More than anything, he wanted to continue to fight. He dwelt on those scarce seconds of struggle, but found it impossible now to continue. His head buzzed and rang and the world spun around him every time he tried to move. The bouncing jolt of the horse made everything worse. The splitting head ache was getting worse every step and at the same time, his confusion and questions were rising.

Kwell thought he knew who these men were, but he wondered how they had ever found them. After weeks of hiding in the caves and not finding any sign of being tracked, followed, or discovered, it had seem reasonable to hope that they would never have been found. Of course, though, this would be just their luck. He ground his teeth in vexation and pain. Oh, great - now there were tears.

Angry with himself and his weakness, Kwell moved his hand away from his bleeding head. He braced it against the moving shoulder of the running horse and tried to push himself up. He would do his best to cause as much grievance as possible.

A hand grabbed the back of his neck and pushed him back down. The grip was strong as iron and hurt. Kwell winced and his hand flew to the man’s hand to try to push it away.

“Stay where you’re put, boy, and it’ll be better for you,” his captor growled. “No reason to make it worse for yourself.” It entered Kwell’s mind to obey and remain still – even to tell the man he would, so long as he let him go. The next moment he shut such thoughts out of his mind completely, once more clenching his jaw and causing his teeth to grind against each other. He would make no agreement, he would admit no defeat, and he would certainly not obey. But he found to disobey was impossible now. The hand did not move, and his head pounded as though all of his blood were trying to get there all at once. He grew dizzier at every passing moment and the rushing images in the dim world of night confused him even farther.

How long would this last, he wondered? And what would happen when it was over?

Last edited by Folwren; 07-09-2006 at 08:00 PM.
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Old 07-09-2006, 06:09 PM   #53
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Hadith

Hadith was walking as an advanced guard as the plains transformed suddenly to a sparse thicket and then a forest appeared from nowhere. He took his long-knife and continued, hacking the vegetation down as he proceeded, even as others were calling him to come back in fear. Someone would have to do this and I will surely show them that I can brave it! The wood thickened with every step and the air grew damper. He was sweating. It was getting darker too, even though it was still daylight hours. But then in a flash, he was in the middle of the night, armed with just his self-made knife that was no good at all. He heard his heart bumbing ever faster. There was a howl of the wolves, loud and clear! They were coming towards him from a wide sector from before him. He didn’t know where to focus his attention as they seemed to come from both left and right and from straight ahead...

“Beloan!” he called the older man to his help in his sleep with all his might, just to realise that a great hound leapt over him and that he had become entangled with his blanket. He was more than awake now. The dogs were rushing over them, one was gripping a young girl from her side with its teeth just a few yards away from him. The girl yelled in pain. He managed to free himself from the sweaty blanket and tried to disentangle the cords of his long-knife, but as it was dark and he was nervous, it took its time. Meanwhile he heard the girl’s initial yell dying into a merely quiet moaning with occasional shrieks. How frustrated can you get!? Everything seemed to be on the move around him: shouts, cries, rushing footsteps...

And then came the riders. He could hear the earth responding to the hooves of the horses, shaking it under his butt. Blasted cords!

In the end he managed to release his blade and to stand up. A rider was just coming towards him with his sword ready for any target of opportunity. Without thinking, by pure instinct, Hadith docked down and evaded the rider unharmed. A long-knife against a swordsman on a horse. He had done well to yield. Now where is the girl who yelled? he thought to himself as he crawled up. He immediately noticed where. Her body lied motionless just three feet from him and the great easterling hound was looking at him, it’s muzzle smeared in blood. It gazed him with its ears and tail put back. In a fraction of a second it was on him.

Hadith had had time to just lift the blade towards it to defend himself as the dog came over him with all it’s mass. Hadith felt a strike of claws on his left shoulder and right forehead but managed to control the pain. The dog’s fangs missed him. It howled in anguish. Something warm spluttered over him as the dog’s weight overpowered him and sent him falling to his back. He got some bruises to his thighs from the claws of the dying dog that tackled him and his back ached from the fall. Hadith fastly pushed the still trembling body of the hound away and ran over to see the girl. She was dead. Or so it seemed.

Dratted cords! He was breathing heavily and full of excitement, smeared in the dog’s blood, dripping his own to mix with it from his forehead and shoulder. But he was quite ready to go on, his wounds were not bad enough. It was just that there were no targets for him to reach at sight. The riders were creating havoc too far away and even the dogs had disappeared to the darkness of the night – even though their sudden barks made an indication where they were. They were too far away from Hadith. All was chaos, and blood kept dripping from his forehead into his eye. He tried to sweep it away but it always came back.

Then he heard the riders thundering back, the dogs coming in front of them with their heavy panting. The rumble of the hooves were as scary this time, but now Hadith had time to prepare himself for it. The dogs emerged first from the darkness to his field of vision. Not one coming straight to him but passing him by a couple of yards. But then he saw the rider. Fully clad in armour, a real soldier to Hadith’s eyes, and he was just coming towards him, noticing him. He's got a lance! A drop of blood blinded his right eye. Happily the easterling also noticed Hadith at the last possible moment.

Hadith just dived again, escaping just narrowly the tip of the lance. After he had rolled around on the ground to evade the spear, he got a whim he didn’t exactly know where it came. Hadith threw his blade to the easterling’s back as he passed him and the Easterling fell to the ground. Before he could come to his feet he saw other slaves coming from all around, from nowhere where they had been hiding, hacking the fallen Easterling with anything they got: clubs, pans, sticks...

One of them, Fewerth, claimed Hadith’s blade to himself as the Easterling was killed, but Hadith had been strong enough to rise up and meet the ring of slaves around the mutilated body of the Easterling. His shoulder and forehead were still running with blood, even more than before. Seeing his wounds, most of the other slaves withdrew, leaving Hadith and Fewerth looking each other in the eye over the body of the Easterling that had been clubbed into a cruel death. Hadith knew Fewerth well enough. He was a thirty something, some fifteen years older than he was; one of those who never took risks but were always ready to take advantages from the risks others had taken.

“Hadith, you little brat! What are you doing here? This is my blade! Get off here! I gave this foul mongrel the initial blow!” Fewerth called with a loud voice, trying to assure the others of his claim. Hadith tried to argue back but was losing blood too rapidly to counter his argument with any strengtht.

“No! That blade is mine, given to me by Khamir himself!” Hadith managed to answer before he fell down to his knees. Fewerth grasped the long-knife from the body and took it with him. Many of the other slaves rushed to help Hadith who was tumbling down, while a few others stood by trying not to involve themselves with the case at hand.

“You see! Who would give a weapon to a kid like that who can’t even stand blood? I killed this guy!” Fewerth bellowed before disappearing to the shadows of the overall disarray.

“That’s mine! He failed the tests! He’s lying!” Hadith managed to call before he almost passed out. Happily Khala and Cuáran were near enough. They helped the couple of other slaves to bind his wounds and managed to put Hadith in to an upright position, waking him up with some water to come conscious of the familiar voices. “Khala? Cuáran?” he came to his senses gradually again. “Fewerth took the blade that was given to me! I tried my best!”

“Cool down child, everything’s going to be put right” Khala said, not herself believing a part of what she said in the middle of the havoc they were into, trying to soothe the young boy. But the voices of the horses and the cries were getting more distant with every minute.

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Old 07-09-2006, 06:49 PM   #54
Child of the 7th Age
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Aiwendil

Aiwendil walked over to the edge of the brook and, with great purposeful strides, splashed through the water to the other side where a large stretch of grass was slightly matted. Only a few days ago, sixty-five hungry and desperate people had crossed over at this exact point probably heading north. This is what the slaves had told Elessar in the letter, and from the look of the land, they had honored that promise.

Aiwendil partially blamed himself for the dillema they were in now. Too many times on the trek, he had asked Lindir to slow down and give him a chance to rest. Too many mornings he had been chasing after strange migratory birds only to delay the entire group from leaving for the day. If only he had not had his wooly head in the clouds, if only he'd done what he was supposed to do......

But "if onlys" did not correct their present situation. What made it even worse was what the slaves must now think of Ellessar and the free men of the West. Most of the slaves were from the south and east, but they had freely extended a hand, requesting help and seeking friendship. Only neither of those things had arrived on time.

What must the slaves have thought when the fellowship did not materialize? That the group from Gondor was late because it had encountered some troubles on the trail? Not likely, the wizard conceded with a sigh. With a trail of failed promises behind them, the slaves must have believed that they had been purposely deserted, like so many times before.

Aiwendil gave a shudder and groaned. This was just the kind of thing he had been hoping to avoid. Ever since his trip to Harad and the strange events he'd battled through with Rôg, the istar had sworn to pay closer attention to creatures in need, human as well as animal. He had promised to pay careful heed to what he was doing and not merely to count the days until Yavanna allowed him to return home. Most of all, he had sworn to try and remember the task that Manwe had laid on his head just before he'd left for Middle-earth. Aiwendil still couldn't remember exactly what that task was, but he was sure it had something to do with Mordor. And failing these slaves was not a good way to begin.

Aiwendil shuddered again as he remember the cold, cruel brand that he had held only a few moments before. He'd said nothing to the others, but the metal itself had practically burned his hand and almost caused him to wretch. He hated when such things were used on beasts. How much worse was it then to use a brand on a man? If the slaves were recaptured, that and even worse would shortly await them.

And it wasn't only the slaves who were calling out to him. It was the very earth itself: sterile and abused, even in the great agricultural plantations that ringed about the Sea. And how much worse the abuse of the land had been on the Ash Plains and the distant Plateau of Gorgoroth!

It was amazing that the slaves of Nurn could grow anything at all, given their miserable, destructive methods of farming. Land like this should be able to yield a bountiful supply of crops without requiring the labor of massive slave gangs. But the slaves continue to do as their masters ordered, and the land continued to fade. It was a horrible cycle that needed to be broken. What we really need, mused the wizard, is a whole army of hobbits to help restore life to the land.

Aiwendil's reflections were suddenly broken by the trill of a small bird who bobbed down on his shoulder and then came and perched on his fingertips. It was a warbler , the rare brave bird who thrives on scrub and in the vicinity of volcanos, a perfect resident for the land of Mordor. The bird tilted his head and began to speak with Aiwendil. The speaking came not in words but a series of images flitting across the wizard's mind. What he saw was appalling, much worse than the smallish slave band that Dorran had described. The istar spluttered out his thanks to the bird before releasing him back into the air.

Turning and sprinting back up the slope much faster than he'd come down before, Aiwendil halted abruptly in front of Lindir. Athwen and Carl were off looking for more signs of the slaves, but a number of the party were standing and talking with each other. Without waiting for an opening in the conversation, Aiwendil blurted out his news, "I've seen them, or rather the warbler has."

"Seen who? the slaves?," one voice demanded.

"No, no. Not the slaves," Aiwendil curtly replied. "The bounty hunters. There's twenty-five or thirty men armed to the hilt, excellent fighters all, gathered about thirty miles north of here. I don't know if they've found the slaves, but I do know they are out hunting for bodies that they intend to take back and peddle for gold. If they haven't found the slaves already, they'll surely be hunting for them tomorrow."

Aiwendil grabbed Lindir's soldier and shook it gently, stamping his staff on the ground for emphasis. "We can't make camp. We can't wait. As soon as Athwen and Carl finish going over the grounds to see if there are any more clues, we've got to mount up and ride through the night. We have to reach the slaves before that gang of thugs and miscreants do, or I fear there'll be no one left."

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Old 07-10-2006, 03:26 PM   #55
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Khamir

One slash to the man’s arm, just one – that was all Khamir had been able to manage before all of the attackers were gone, and he did not think slitting open a dog counted for much. Easterlings: almost as bad as Gondorians, and perhaps worse even than Orcs, in the Southron’s mind. He wished he had been able to do a lot more damage. Wiping droplets of blood off his blade into the grass, the man was reluctant to investigate the scene further. He didn’t want to know how many were injured or killed or…

“Gone! Gone!” a woman wailed, and Khamir’s heart sank even lower in his chest. It was far too heavy to hold up, now, so he gave in. It seemed only sensible that first priority be taking care of the wounded, and so he called out for those who he knew were at least adequate healers, even if their work was rough, having had to learn the hard way. He gave quick instructions that everyone was to search the camp for the injured or dead. Then he found the woman who had cried out. She knelt on the ground, and was unable to speak for several minutes, but Khamir waited patiently.

“The two children…the two beautiful children… Oh, they were so little! And they’re gone…”

“Dead?” Khamir asked, though he regretted it almost before the word fully escaped his lips. The women sobbed harder than before, and again he was forced to wait until she managed an “I don’t know,” clearly disturbed by the fact that she did not know where these children she had at least kept an eye on for the past couple months, if not more. It was unlikely that either was actually her child, but she cried and tore at herself as if they were the last things left that she loved, and most likely they were.

If two children were missing, that had been the attackers’ purpose. The Easterlings were after their bodies. They could make a fortune if they managed to recapture a good number of the fifty that so recently escaped, no to mention if they recaptured the entire group. The bounty for escaped slaves was normally as large as the master of the plantation could manage, which, from what Khamir had heard of this one, was probably quite a bit. There was no doubt in his mind that they would be back.

He rubbed his hand over his face, feeling at a complete loss. Luckily, the group was good at taking care of each other, and any divisions among it were lost in such an event. They all had been forced to live hard lives with strangers, and had to learn to keep each other alive somehow. Perhaps there was even a reason for slavery, if it was enough to break all such borders. Khamir gritted his teeth. He had to keep a calm head.

“Khamir!” came a sudden shout, and the one-armed man literally growled, not even bothering to turn to the sound. He heard heavy footsteps from someone running coming closer, and he doubted he would have to ask the person to say what he or she wanted to.

“Khamir! The blade you gave me has been taken! Fewerth took it!” Out of the corner of his eye, Khamir caught dark hair and brown skin, and easily connected to voice to a face: Hadith, the boy that Beloan had so much faith in. So the kid wasn’t even able to hold on to his knife? Fewerth…it took a minute for the Southron to recognize the name. Fewerth was closer to his own age, though the two had nothing else in common. He seemed mostly rotten, and apparently had not grown out of some childhood tendencies.

“I don’t have time for this, Hadith,” he said, turning to the boy and looking him in the eye for but one moment, just to make sure he understood that he was serious. The boy had been wounded, apparently, bandages wrapped around his head. But were they injuries out of bravery or foolishness?

Turning away from Hadith, Khamir went to locate his gang. All fourteen seemed pretty much unscathed, except for the occasional dog bite. He was not as concerned about them, though, as he wanted to make sure they were all prepared for long days and long nights ahead of them. They could not allow another attack like this. If the goal had been only to take a few, then the attack itself was merely a diversion, and it was likely that next time, the attack would be much larger and would hold more of a purpose. When the bounty hunters did come back, they would be prepared for the big catch, so the slaves would have to be prepared to. But even before that, there was an important matter that needed attending to.

“Who had the third watch?” Khamir asked, looking over those from his gang who were nearest him. It was only a matter of minutes before the young man of the third watch was brought in front of the one-armed Haradrim. Adnan still gripped his knife in his hand. His eyes were dry, but opened wide. He hardly blinked, and he stared at the ground with a look on his face that could only be described as horror. Khamir tore the knife from the boy’s hand.

“What did you do?” he asked Adnan simply.

Adnan did not reply.

“Answer me.”

“It’s more what he didn’t do,” one of Khamir’s men spoke up, an edge of bitterness to his voice.

“You did not hurt anyone yourself, boy, but you did nothing to keep anyone from being hurt. And we can’t risk that ever happening again.” He held up the knife. “And if I cannot trust your eyes, I will surely not trust your hands.”

Khamir avoided Adnan’s eyes for a reason, and that reason pained him. But he had a purpose.

“Hadith, come here,” he called the boy to him, and gave him he knife he had taken from Adnan. “If you lose your knife again, to anyone, I cannot say you’ll get another.”

Turning back to the members of his gang, he was slightly taken aback by the absence of Adnan. The boy had disappeared in a flash, and without the one-armed man taking notice. Perhaps he had made a mistake….

Khamir shook his head, gladly scrambling some of his thoughts. “How long do you think before we can get all of them moving again?” he asked no one in particular, though with a glance he caught the eyes of Shae and Beloan, among those standing nearest him. He ignored any stares he received for asking the question at such a time, only minutes after an attack. He would not feel even the least bit at ease until they were on the move again.

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Old 07-10-2006, 04:50 PM   #56
Regin Hardhammer
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Ishkur:

The group had not stopped for very long before Ishkur’s stomach stated to rumble loudly. Amid the confusion of leaving the encampment at Nurn, Ishkur had not stopped to eat. While they moved, he tried to ignore the pangs of hunger as much as he could, but now that they had stopped, he had time to dwell on his empty stomach. Oh what he would give for a large juicy leg of meat! He had a particular weakness for horse and donkey, but would settle for some game. In his mind he could see a delicious pony rump turning on the spit, sizzling in its fat and juices. Ishkur looked around to see if someone else had food he could swipe, but no one seemed to have brought very much. Two of the women had gone off to weave a net for catching lizards or birds, but even if they shared their catch, which was highly doubtful, such a pittance would not satisfy him at all. It seemed, to Ishkur, that the only thing left for him was to go hunting.

Although morning was approaching, it was still dark outside when Ishkur left, the perfect time to hunt game. Ishkur walked some distance away from camp and began searching the field for something to kill and eat. Before, he had always been able to go to the mountain footholds and find at least some creature that he could kill. Out here it was different. There was no game to be found. The land seemed desolate, as if nothing had lived there for a long time, and smelled of dust and ash. Even the grass itself grew thin and short, clinging to life on the desolate plain. Nothing flourished here, no animals, except for a few starved rats. To his right, Ishkur spotted a patch of berry bushes, but he did not pay attention to them. He would rather starve than be forced to eat those vile, disgusting things; tubers were one thing, but berries were women’s food. Ishkur had not sunk low enough yet in his hunger to eat berries. No, he truly wanted meat; either roasted or raw would be fine.

Ishkur returned to camp and began to think of ways that the group could get food. They could not survive long without something to eat, and Ishkur had doubts as to whether any beasts would come walking their way. Why was the Ash Plain so devoid of wild creatures? Ishkur had no idea; he only knew he was hungry. If they could not hunt for any meat, they would have to get it other ways. He knew there were gangs of orcs and groups of mannish bandits that sometimes traversed the great plain. Perhaps, if they could find another traveling party out here, the orcs could relieve them of a few pack animals, or even one of the members of their party. The Uruk-hai tended to be the ones to prefer manflesh, but when Ishkur felt so terribly hungry he was not particular about what he ate.

Before the orcs slept, Ishkur spoke to a group of them about this problem. “We are all hungry and have no meat to eat. I have searched, yet there are no animals to hunt. If we do not eat soon, we will become weak and unable to travel. Tomorrow, let us seek out another group of men or elves that we may feast upon their flesh. Or perhaps, we can swipe their horses instead. Whatever the case, we must find meat. Otherwise all our work will be for nothing because we will all be dead.”

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Old 07-10-2006, 06:41 PM   #57
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Azhar and Kwell:

At some point during the wild dash over the plains, Azhar blacked out and did not awaken until after the slavers' band had arrived back in camp. When she finally came to, she was no longer straddled over Imak's saddle but confined inside some kind of makeshift holding pen, sitting by herself in total darkness. Her hands had been restrained with thick ropes that were secured behind her back. There was a shackle around her left ankle attached to a short metal chain that had been embedded in the prison wall. Her skin was chaffed and raw where the cruel metal anklet had rubbed against her leg.

Azhar's heart thumped wildly against her chest. At first, she could see nothing and when she frantically whispered in the darkness to find out if Kwell was nearby, she was met with ominous silence. Minutes passed, and then an hour, and still no one came. Lying down to sleep that evening, she had almost been ready to give up, complaining about the miserable conditions and wondering if it wouldn't have been easier to stay behind and simply beg the guards for the scraps that fell from their plates. Yet, strangely enough, here in the most dire circumstances she had faced, Azhar refused to despair. There was something inside that could not believe her dream would die inside this bleak fortress without a shred of hope or the gentle touch of a human hand.

How many times had she sat around the firepit and heard stories about the men and women of the West who had risen up to overthrow the might of Mordor? She'd memorized all those names: Aragorn, Gandalf, Faramir, and especially the Lady Eowyn. Those stories were shared in hushed voices in the middle of the night, passed along at great risk since there was always the chance that a guard might overhear.

Now, all alone in the blackness, with every rational hope extinguished, Azhar was beginning to wonder if she could possibly be a small part of that same story. All she wanted was a chance to live without the guards always telling her what to do. The young slave swore to herself that she would no longer agree to carry water. She would adamently refuse to roll over and die like some old dog that been kicked in the ribs and left along the roadside.

For the first time ever, Azhar was angry and aware that the slaves had suffered a great and preventable injustice, although she could not have put that feeling into words. At least she wanted to be able to defend herself. It was wrong that only the male escapees had been allowed to practice with weapons. She was as smart and nimble as any of them, and what she lacked in strength, she made up for in speed. Azhar swore that, if she ever got out of this pigsty, she would persuade Khamir or one of the other slave leaders to teach her how to use a bow or sword.

In the midst of all this thinking, a grating noise sounded above her head, like a latch being drawn back and a wooden door being removed. Craning her neck upward, she could just see the shadowy outline of a few stars twinkling in the night. They seemed to be beckoning her onward, offering her a tempting promise of life beyond this miserable cell. Her gentle dream was abruptly terminated when Imak's glaring face stared down from above. Suddenly, a body was hurled down into the pit, the hands and ankles bound with rope. As the shapeless form hit the ground, there was a mighty thud and then it rolled helplessly over to the side wall. To her great relief, Azhar heard someone cursing.

She waited a minute and then spoke, "Kwell, is that you?"

The answer came back sharp and acerbic, "Well, who else did you think would be visiting you in a place like this?"

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Old 07-10-2006, 06:59 PM   #58
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Durelin’s post


A man who can converse with the birds?

Vrór, growing up under what was once the Lonely Mountain, had heard the tale of Bard on many occasions, and how the man could actually speak to and understand the thrush, though it was said that those birds could understand most speech. Now there was something the Dwarf had always wondered when told those stories – was it only the Common Tongue it could understand? But Vrór could only stare at the old man, and did not really hear a question asked. Were not men such as Bard long deceased?

“We have to reach the slaves before that gang of thugs and miscreants do, or I fear there’ll be no one left.” Vrór’s conscious return to the conversation was not a pleasant one.

He opened his mouth, but found it impossible to form words, or any sound at all. No one left? All…captured or dead? He truly felt that he would prefer death to being recaptured and forced back into chains, and that thought disturbed him to the bone. It was not natural for one to wish death on oneself. It was a horrible thing indeed that anyone would be left with two options, one worse even than being forced to leave this world in brutality and pain. Vrór certainly didn’t want to have to make that kind of choice, and right now, he did not even want to be faced with the decision of what to do next. It seemed Aiwendil had decided for them, though, and that didn’t sit too well with the Dwarf. He was sure that the old man was quite wise, but Vrór couldn’t help but thinking he was a little far off his rocker. Age could do that to you, among other things.

He waited respectfully, if a bit anxiously, for the old man to return from speaking with Rôg, who had pulled him aside. Vrór also couldn’t help but strain his ears, though he felt as guilty as a little boy peeking at his present. As soon as the two were finished, and the Haradrim ventured off on his own – something which Vrór spared a second to wonder about – immediately piped up. “But surely we can’t leave…now? We have naught but a general direction, and I…I’d be a warbler if any of you think you can track this group across Mordor, particularly when we’ve presumably got at least two different tracks on our hands. We’re no help to those slaves if we get ourselves into as deep a trouble as they, according to you, seem to be. With no offense meant to you, Master Aiwendil.”

Vrór couldn’t help but be gruff with his words. He was disturbed by this suggestion. Simply running off across Mordor was not what he had signed up for, nor did it seem rational enough to him. A headlong charge of a rescue mission wasn’t going to get them, or the slaves, anywhere, as far as he was concerned. Still, he regretted the harshness that might have been behind his words, and was glad that he had not added in any mention of a threat to give up on this Fellowship. It would have been an outright lie, anyway.

The Elf’s rather candid explanation of what the device they had found was had opened Vrór’s eyes, and though the understanding he came to of how much pain that single chunk of iron represented was a great one, he wished he had never laid his eyes on it, and for a good long moment, that he had never stepped foot in Mordor. But how could he, or anyone, abandon a being to such a fate as…that. Being branded like an animal, and treated like a disease. There was already so much sickness in this land that Vrór doubted could be healed. If they let just one more thing end as it would without intervention, they would perhaps be worse than the slavers themselves.

He felt strongly about doing good in this world, and though he rarely thought about other worlds, he was an idealist at heart. But he also felt strongly attached to the earth, particularly to rock and stone, and never let idealism whisk away his sensibilities. He desired direction, a plan, a map, a blueprint…something other than an ideal. But with an Elf and a man who could talk to birds, he doubted he would get so much as a push onto the determined path.


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


piosenniel’s post

Aiwendil was in one of his agitated moods. They didn’t happen often, but when they did, Rôg tried to keep a close eye on the old fellow. There was a vein near his left temple that throbbed when a situation was critical. And as Rôg craned his neck for a better view of the happenings, he could clearly see the thump-thump of the vessel beneath the skin.

He stood as quietly as he could, waiting for Aiwendil to finish speaking to Lindir. As was usual, he could not read the Elf’s response to Aiwendil’s urgent pleas. Elves . . . very odd creatures he thought. And this opinion despite the number of those he’d met in the old man’s company. Study them as one might, it was impossible to get a clear read on what was going on behind those finely chiseled features.

At a small pause in the mostly one-sided conversation, Rôg plucked lightly at the sleeve of Aiwendil’s robe. ‘I could,’ he said lowering his voice to an imperceptible level, ‘well . . . take a look-see around, you know. If you want, that is.’ He raised his brow to Aiwendil. ‘I’d leave it to you, of course, to explain where I’d gone off to.’ He paused and pursed his lips, thinking. ‘They most likely think I’m odd enough as it is. I suppose you could tell them, I’ve recently taken up the study of some, oh, say . . . bat, perhaps . . . hmmm, yes, one that’s indigenous to Mordor . . . that should do, don’t you think? Up to you, though.’

Rôg stepped back a half pace, giving Aiwendil room to consider the offer.

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Old 07-11-2006, 02:10 AM   #59
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Aiwendil

Aiwendil peered evenly at Rôg and then beckoned him over to the side. Despite the potentially dire situation, the old man was clearly struggling to keep from smiling. For more than a minute, Aiwendil said nothing, apparently weighing a number of options. When he finally responded, his voice sounded mildly approving.

"Ahem.... Really not a bad idea at all. I had not quite thought along those lines. Of course, I might go study those bats too." The thought of the bats seemed strangely enticing to the old man. "But that might not be wise. Both of us can't simply disappear. I suppose it wouldn't take you very long?"

Rôg nodded mutely in agreement.

"Well then, it's settled. Plus, Elessar concurred it was important that we make a thorough listing of the birds and beasts who managed to survive all this ruin and ruckus over here. Who knows what you might find?" The istar gave a conspiratorial wink and then added one additional note of assurance, "Carl and Athwen haven't finished their work. The group can't leave till they are done, even if we should decide to ride out tonight. So just make sure to return in a little while or you may find yourself.... ah....shall we say....running to catch up."

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Old 07-11-2006, 03:19 AM   #60
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Aedhild

Screams of terror stirred Aedhild from her slumber. Her first impulse was to run, run as far as she could, convinced that her fears were about to become reality; the terrible creatures from the plantation had found them, and the chase had started. Her first attempt to run failed however; the days of marching had unfortunately been too harsh on her, and her legs could not carry her. "The devils," she shouted, before falling to the ground with a thud. She cried in despair. "Let them take me! Let them take me! They'll see what an old hag can do in those fields!" Her voice both bitter and desperate, it seemed to pierce through the air. She couldn't tell where the other slaves were positioned; when camping for the night, she usually withdrew to a quieter place, to be by herself, preferably as far away from the others. Now, she could only hear them running and shouting.

"We have to go after them!" A man called out. With further thought Aedhild recognized the voice of the man named Eirnar; he had been one of the slaves who had experienced freedom longer than she had, having run from the plantation and slavery years before and lived in the caves and waited for the right opportunity to seek out his dreams ever since. She liked him; his sincerity witnessed of a kindness that she had not known in anyone else. When she woke from consciousness after her fit, he had been there. She smiled at this memory.

"Go after them?" she muttered. Who in their right minds would go after those foul creatures! ... if I know them correctly, they will come back.. with a whole band.. they will force us back to slavery and to death. Heh.. I say, run! She wailed in horror.

Suddenly, a feeling that she knew all to well, but was not quite able to define pierced through her and took complete control. It was as if she was standing before her body, watching how something alien and not herself was taking possession of her. She could not resist it, and without realising it herself, the calm and quiet Aedhild vanished as if she had never existed.

By the devils she would go back to that place. No! It was as if she had been given new energy, as if she wasn't able to feel weakness anymore. Rising steadily, she rushed forwards; her eyesight not as keen in the dark, she ran forwards without aim or purpose, hoping to... in truth, not hoping for anything in particular. She simply just ran, like she had dreamed of so many times. She let her legs carry her, although they were far from fit to do it. Again she heard Eirnar's voice, eager and anxious at the same time. It seemed that he was trying to convince someone else to run after them. "Quickly! We must follow their trail! Khamir, we cannot just stand here! We must do something!" There was bitterness in his voice, even a trace of reproach.

Narrowing her eyes, Aedhild ran for the voice. What was this man thinking? She didn't care if it was Eirnar. Who was he, other than the man who had been there when recovering from her fit? "A t-t-traitor!" she called.

The sight of her was a horrid one. Again, the woman seemed to leave all her sensibility behind, only to rush into a situation she would be better without. This was something that the others couldn't understand, even if they wanted to, they couldn't. Aedhild didn't understand it either, nor was she able to comprehend it; she wasn't aware of how she seemed to change, all depending on the nature of the given situation; she could not, because in truth, it was suspected that there was no real Aedhild. Whether this had been caused by the hardships of slavery, or her background, which she herself could not recall, no one knew.

"Who? Who is a traitor?" A strong, firm hand grasped her by the arm. For a moment, she resisted, trying to hit back, muttering curses. The one-armed man's penetrating eyes didn't scare her, but they were enough to make her feel weak again and her legs were aching as badly as before.

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Old 07-11-2006, 10:40 AM   #61
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Carl

It was not long before Carl, gazing intently at the ground, noticed a long shadow slip over the stony soil beside him. Looking over his shoulder he saw that Athwen had joined him, an earnest expression on her face. “Tell me what you think you might find and I’ll help you look,” she offered.

The hobbit sighed deeply. “If only I knew, Miss,” he said, shaking his head. “Not a trail of cherry stones or cake crumbs, of that much I feel reasonably certain. But hopefully something will turn up if we look carefully.”

Reaching for a branch of yet another spiny and unfamiliar plant, Carl twisted off a leafy sprig. He looked at it absently, and out of habit crumbled a leaf to smell its fragrance. “These prickers ought to be good for something other than catching hobbits.” And seeing Athwen’s questioning look, he lifted his torn sleeve as evidence, for her to see. “I figured if I got caught on one, chances are someone else would too. They might have left us a flag, so to speak. And then maybe we will find something to cheer us, eh? Footprints or some such thing.”

Athwen nodded her understanding, and the two decided to divide the area north of the cave. Tucking her golden hair behind her ears, Athwen searched to Carl’s left while the hobbit continued in the direction he had been going. He was glad for her help, and together they quickly made their way toward a ridge that extended from the mountains like a giant rocky root. The stream turned to follow the ridge running along the rough shingle at its base. They were about to give up when Athwen gave a happy cry, and Carl ran to her, his bare feet scattering stones as he went.

There at Athwen’s feet lay a smooth stone, no bigger than the hobbit’s palm. And on the stone a rough symbol was lightly scratched, a tree with the moon to one side of it. Four small marks also were carefully drawn within the moon’s crescent.

“It’s the white tree of Gondor,” Athwen said smiling. “Someone has left us a sign!”

“A treasure you are, and your eyes too! How is it that you managed to see that small stone out of so many!” Carl said, picking up it up. “but I wonder what the moon means and the marks that are in it? It looks for all the world like a little chicken’s foot!”

“The moon might stand for Ithilien,” she answered, “but I’m afraid that the bird foot is a mystery to me.”

Carl looked at the drawing closely. “You know,” he said, “This reminds of a game I saw the children of the Pelennor play. They hide; leaving such tokens to help the others find them.”

“Yes, I have heard of it. But hadn't we better let the others know what we’ve found,” Athwen said.

“Of course, you are right!” And Carl bounded heavily over the terrain, like a awkward puppy running before Athwen, waving the stone over his head and shouting excitedly to the others, “Hey, hello! Miss Athwen has found us something.”
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Old 07-11-2006, 02:06 PM   #62
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Hadith

I’ve lost my knife! I’ve lost it! After they had lightly bandaged his head and shoulder, Khala and Cuáran had left him alone to help with the other wounded. This is so humiliating! How I hate Fewerth!

The Easterling’s mutilated body lay face down a couple of feet from him. He had had a beautiful dark reddish brown coat that was now ripped and smeared all over with his own blood. He had had boots too but they had been taken away from him by someone. Hadith couldn’t see his spear either. I tiny shimmer of hope entered Hadith’s conciousness. If they haven’t turned him around, he might still have his knife! It might be even better than the one Khamir gave me! With that he rose quickly, feeling a bit dizzy at first from the effort but then went to the body to take a closer look at it.

He turned the body around. The fear that had frozen in his eyes was something Hadith couldn’t quite face. The man was young, not much older than Hadith was. Hadith could see it even though his face was bruised pretty badly. For a short while he was just embarrassed. The Easterling didn’t look like a mighty warrior or brutal villain, but like an ordinary young lad. He studied the corpse in haste. There was nothing left. Everything of any value had been ripped off him already.

Hadith turned the corpse back face on the ground and stood up. They trusted me with a knife and what did I do? I lost it! I’ve betrayed their confidence in me, I’ve totally bungled it! He felt desperate. There was no way that he could save himself from the humiliation now. They would find out sooner or later that he had lost his knife. So he should confess his shortcomings preferably know than later. On the plantation one always got over with easier punishment if one confessed early. Hadith had learned this just too well. Fewerth was always good at that! He suddenly remembered and his anger towards Fewerth rose again. Maybe I should just go to him and demand my knife back? Khamir could testify that it is the one given to me. Hadith was still standing by the side of the dead Easterling. He bit his lip, not knowing what to do. A single teardrop ran slowly down his dirty cheek.

But one didn’t peach against others. Not if they were true men. Hadith’s mother had been firm with this lesson and Hadith had taken it to his heart. Even as Fewerth had had been the one who had acted foully, he would not let on him. He would settle the matter with him, though. But as he was not sure when or how he could make it, he realised to his horror that he still would have to go and make the humiliating confession to Khamir.

With a heavy heart he started looking for Khamir. Will they ever trust me with a blade again? They will think of me not worthy any more...

“I don’t have time for this, Hadith” Khamir had answered him as he had addressed him with his troubles. That had been even more humiliating. And to top his anguish, he had gone and slipped Fewerth’s name to make his claim. He had been so nervous! He had planned all he would say when he would meet Khamir, but what happened? Just nervous mumbling and betrayal.

But it was Khamir’s words that made him actually to realise the situation. Many people were wounded, some might even be dead. How about that young girl who was attacked by the dog? He hadn’t checked or even asked about the girl after the skirmish was over. He had been so full of his loss of a knife he had forgotten about other people. Now he was not only humiliated but also ashamed of himself. His first test at being a worthy man and a defender of others had proven a disaster.

Suddenly he heard Khamir addressing him: “Hadith, come here,” he called him and gave him the knife he had taken from Adnan. “If you lose your knife again, to anyone, I cannot say you’ll get another.” Hadith was quite baffled of this new twist of fate. He took the knife and bowed to Khamir, but as he was trying to open his mouth to thank for the confidence or to promise to keep this one more carefully, Khamir had already turned away to address the others.

Hadith took his leave without asking as Khamir clearly seemed busy. I should do at least something right today, he thought to himself and took to looking for the older ladies. He found Khala and Cuáran soon enough and helped them with an older man who had a nasty cut in his side. But his mind was mainly preoccupied with solitary reproaches.
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Old 07-11-2006, 05:03 PM   #63
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Gwerr

“You are right Ishkur. And the less we have food, the more eager those Wizard’s Wonderboys are getting rid of us.” Gwerr answered Ishkur while Colagar was nodding to both of them. The sun had already risen and the cold morning light painted the plains farther away. The line between light and shadow was moving towards them with a pace one could almost see.

“But coming across a group of others in here? We would be lucky indeed!” Gwerr continued after a short pause. “Who would be travelling here? The trade caravans yes, but you all know how heavily guarded they are.” Gwerr’s words didn’t sound encouraging and they weren’t meant to. They had very little meat indeed and he didn’t see any easy way to get more any time soon.

Gwerr took his piece of dried meat and carved a bite from it with his knife. He was slowly chewing it as he noted Ishkur following his eating with a gaze that could not be misinterpreted.

“Haven’t you eaten anything tonight?” Gwerr asked him a bit concernedly. Ishkur was important to them as he had brains and experience, and against the Uruks they would need all the able orcs when it would come to a confrontation. And they had been around so long that it felt somewhat wrong to see him starve. “And you have none with you?” Gwerr continued, quite not believing what he saw. I’ll have to rework my ideas about him and the brains...

Frowning he cut another bite of the meat and handed it towards Ishkur. “Eat, we don’t need you dead.”
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Old 07-11-2006, 05:56 PM   #64
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Makdush:

"Wizard's Wonderboy, is it? That's enough Gwerr, if you want to live." Makdush's hand slipped to the hilt of his sword but then pulled back. "At least I'm not a lice ridden maggot the way you are. And keep your mouth closed about Saruman. He had a brain, which is something you lack."

"Anyways, you should listen to Ishkur. I hate to say this, but the orc spawn has a point. There's no game here, and we don't have enough food. I also went hunting, and all I bagged were two starving rats." Makdush held up the rats by the tail and then threw them on one of the women's laps. "Add these to the stew pot, girls. Share and share alike. But we're going to be mighty hungry in a few days unless we bag some real meat."

"I know these parts well. Number One used to have me lead orc gangs north from the plantations. Ishkur's right. Some people do make their way across the Ash Plain. Yes, the caravans are guarded. But a smart orc can outwit a guard and cut a throat or steal a horse while everyone's asleep. It's hard but possible. Plus, you've forgotten something.....runaway slaves who stupidly flee north instead of south....not that they last for very long. They're a bit stringy but easy prey. Three or four slaves without weapons. It's almost like child's play." Makdush licked his lips and rubbed his hands in anticipation.

"So what do you suggest?" Ishkur's voice was cold, but he did not turn away from the Uruk.

"Suggest? I suggest we get up tomorrow and head north, looking for tracks. We can't go back. None of us, unless we want our throats slit. Don't expect to find a large group of travellers these days but we'll find something. And, right now, a single man or pony is looking awfully good."

The camp was absolutely still. No one said a word. Of all the strange events of the day, this one was the strangest. Ishkur and Makdush....bitter enemies....were actually agreeing on what the group should do.

Ishkur quickly stood up and barked out an order, trying to cover up the fact that, for the first time, an orc and a Uruk had actually agreed on something. "Finish up and bed down. Women, clean up this mess near the firepit. Tomorrow we head north to hunt whatever happens to cross our path. And once we cross the plain, we go west, to the foothills of the mountains where there's plenty of game."

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Old 07-11-2006, 06:29 PM   #65
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Aiwendil and Lindir:

Aiwendil's response to the Dwarf was immediate, "Vrór, you are right. It would not be wise to venture north if we had no idea where the slaves went. Yet, we already know a good deal more than just a little while ago. And I believe it is enough to get us started."

Aiwendil pointed towards the sloping riverbank. "That place where the grass is matted..... Surely this is where the slaves crossed and headed north. Whether the slavers followed behind them, or were even driving them forward, we can't know for sure. But I am convinced if we follow those tracks we will eventually find the slaves. We also know they are going to the southern reaches of the Plateau of Gorgoroth for this is what was written in the letter to Elessar. Surely, they would not go too widely off track. We are fortunate to have in our company two of the best scouts in all the west." Here the wizard's eyes rested on Dorran and Lindir.

"Plus, there is another thing." Aiwendil stopped a moment uncertain how much more he should say. "My servant Rôg is amazingly talented. At my request, he is going off to have a look at some wildlife while we are collecting ourselves here, a special survey that Elessar asked us to undertake regarding the birds and beasts in Mordor. But Rôg is amazingly observent, and I don't doubt that if there is anything special to see or be discovered that will help us, he will handle himself quite well. Indeed, we may know more when he returns, though I cannot say for sure."

At the exact moment when Aiwendil finished his cryptic speech, Athwen and Carl burst into the group. In Carl's hand was a small stone that he immediately gave to Lindir. The Elf examined it closely and then turned to Athwen with a smile, "You have done well. No slaver would have owned such a thing. Surely this belonged to one of the slaves." Lindir held it up in the fading light and peered at the shapes more closely, "The White Tree of Gondor, and is this a moon of Ithilien? Amazing, just amazing. Perhaps our tales of the great war are known even here. But what is this?" Lindir's brow furled down but he continued talking, more to himself than to anyone in the group. "I really have no idea. How strange. A bird's foot? Perhaps a representation of an Eagle? But no, the claws are not sharp enough."

Lindir handed the stone back to Carl, shaking his head. "I do not know what this means. But surely it is an omen of goodness left behind, whether intentionally or not. Let us do this. We can not leave at this minute. Make a fire and we will have some supper and wait for Rôg's return. We have had nothing all day and can not keep pushing on without a moment's rest. Then we can talk and decide whether we will leave now, or wait till the morning. But I do believe we have no choice except to head north."

Without waiting for an answer, Lindir pushed Aiwendil over to the side, "What is this about Rôg? Just where is he going?"

"I am not sure," Aiwendil honestly answered. "But he is very observent and if there's something to be seen, he will see it."

"Aiwendil, is there something you're not telling me?"

"Aye, Lindir, you know something of my past, more than most of the others here, and you know there is much that I do not speak about."

"No, no. That's not what I mean. I was referring to your manservant. I need to know the strengths of every member of this group, and yet I know very little about this Rôg."

Aiwendil shook his head, "As to that, I can not say. If you have any questions, I would suggest that you speak with him. I can only say that he is one of the most competent men and most loyal friends I have known. If I were in a spot of great danger, I truly cannot think of another person that I would rather have at my side." The last phrase was spoken with a hint of dry humor that left Lindir scratching his head.

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Old 07-11-2006, 11:11 PM   #66
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Johari

Johari scowled and rolled her eyes in frustration with the whole group of them. Did none of them see the obvious problems that this incident had brought to light? Or did they simply choose to ignore them? Either way, Johari decided, they were fools. This situation could not be allowed to continue as it was.

“I do not care,” she began loudly to draw attention, “whether we go after the children or not. But I do care about what happens when those beasts of slavers come back after us. It ultimately will not matter how far away we have gotten or how fast we get there; a group this size will certainly leave tracks, and they are on horseback. And they will come after us, probably with even more people; look at us! We are a huge group – to them we must look a feast,” she said, spitting the words out. “And what will happen then? They will take even more of us captive, and it won’t even matter how well our guards watch because they will still be able to take us by force. How many of us are there? Sixty-something? And how many of us have weapons? Twenty? Twenty-five? Maybe thirty? Less than half! Closer to a third. And once they come back with more people, not to mention their dogs, we don’t stand a chance! Too many of us have no way of defending ourselves besides with our fists and fingernails – small compensation against mounted warriors and blood-thirsty dogs.

“The problem is not that we have lost two children tonight. The problem is that we are not changing anything. I have put up with the organization of this camp until now, but obviously it will not work. You cannot continue to treat all of us as children to be looked after. And I want to know what you propose to do about it.”

There! See how he and the rest of his high-and-mighties handle that.

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Old 07-12-2006, 11:42 AM   #67
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The camp was in chaos, in utter confusion. It was a rather strange scene, Eirnar admitted; all around, people were running like ants, either withdrawing to a 'safe' place or gathering in the centre of the camp. At first, the Gondorian had refused to believe what had happened; Two children, kidnapped? How? It didn't take long before last night's thoughts came to him again, and a rage he was unfamiliar with took him. "Quickly! We must follow their trail! Khamir, we cannot just stand here! We must do something!" he had cried out, only to find Khamir standing close by. Soon after, the mad-woman Aedhild had come, springing forwards, her eyes wild with excitement, screaming 'traitor;' though the minute Khamir had grabbed her by the arm, she had fallen silent and her eyes went glossy once more. Eirnar didn't know whether the woman was referring to Khamir or anyone else, but perhaps she was not the mad-woman they suspected her of being after all. If she spoke the truth or not, he probably would never know, but after tonight, he would certainly watch her moves more closely.

Strange and unexpected events seemed to have become normal. A woman named Johari had suddenly made her voice heard, speaking very freely of what she thought of tonight's events and a possible reaction. Eirnar’s first response to what she had to say was of reproach; he didn't approve of her words in the slightest. So, she didn't care whether they went after their children or not? She seemed to take much for granted that woman. This decision could determine the fate of all of them; if they went to rescue the children, they could risk bumping into a much larger band of bandits, and they would surely be killed. A gang of hungry and thirsty slaves, not to mention exhausted slaves, could not fight and win. It would be impossible. If they chose to sacrifice the youngsters, and leave the camp now, they could make it. However, this too, could fail. If the bandits chose to follow them, the slaves would be forced to pick up the pace, and ultimately, the bandits would tire them out and strike, vulnerable as they would be. Their ruin would be a fact; they could forget about their freedom, their hopes and dreams. No, this decision was too important for anyone not to care.

He wanted to interrupt, to make her stop; a fierce tongue was all she appeared to have, but then she did seem to have a strong opinion after all. Whether she really cared or not, Eirnar couldn't possibly tell for sure, but her words seemed to bend into a direction he hadn't expected from her opening lines. Letting his gaze wander, he watched some of the others, their eyes fixed at the woman. Sure, she had charisma and she governed her facial expressions so that they seemed pleasant, passionate and sincere.

"You cannot continue to treat all of us as children to be looked after. And I want to know what you propose to do about it.”


Immediately, he shot a glance at Khamir. Although, his face didn't reveal what he was thinking, he stood glued to the ground, his mouth half open as if about to reply.

"No! Let him not propose a single thing more. Here we are, in the middle of this dark land, as unsafe as ever... and who led us here?" Eirnar breathed heavily, not knowing what to say next. He paused for a minute, biting his lip before continuing.

"No, two children are missing and we will have to do something. Our decision on what we choose to do will without a doubt have great impact on what becomes of us.. so... in other words, one man is not going to decide what we are going to do! And if we are children to him... well, he will see that we are not..."

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Old 07-13-2006, 01:56 AM   #68
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Kwell and Azhar imprisoned....

"Are you alright?" called Azhar to Kwell.

"Alright? What do you think? They tried to get information out of me. Information about the slaves....where they were going and how they got here. I guess they think they'll get extra money if they return us all to the plantation we're from. That malt-worm Imak threatened to have his dogs tear me in pieces if I didn't speak up. I spat in his face and wouldn't tell him anything. He said I'd better talk tomorrow."

"So what are you going to do?" interjected the girl.

"I'll talk. I want to get out of here alive. But I'll tell them a pack of lies with a straight face. They'll never know the difference."

"It's dangerous Kwell. What if they find out?"

"They won't find out. I'm too smart for that. And what if they do?" Kwell shrugged his shoulders. "Anyways I expect tomorrow they'll start on you." Then he added bitterly, "I don't expect you'll last too long."

Azhar's face blanched white as she considered the possibility of having to stand up to a brute like Imak. For all her new found resolve and desire to start over, she felt Kwell had a point. She had no idea if she could hold out.

There was silence in the pit for some time. Azhar could feel her stomach growling, and she was pitifully thirsty. The maddening thing was that just to her left, in what was apparently a side tunnel, she could hear the sound of water gurgling. Azhar thought it might be possible to use the rocky footholds to climb up to the top of the cave, but the slavers had sealed off the entrance with a grating and stationed a guard immediately outside.

Suddenly, there was a small insistent noise, almost like a sawing, coming from the far side where Kwell was hunched over near the wall.

"What are you doing" she demanded.

"Trying to get these cursed ropes off. I've found a sharp rock, and I think I can do it." For the next half hour, there was more sawing and then a muffled cry of triumph as Kwell burst free of his restraints. He slipped the ropes off his legs and ran over to where Azhar was bound, using the same sharp edge to cut through her cords. Then Kwell put the rock inside his pocket, thinking it might come in hand for any number of interesting purposes. Freed from their restraints, the two children crept noiselessly over to the brook and drank their fill.

"Ugh look!" As Azhar finished drinking, she pointed to a slithering snake that was making its way down into the water. It was less than a foot in length.

Kwell looked at her and grinned, "I have an idea." Azhar shrank back in horror as Kwell took the snake by the tail and, still holding it, began to clamber up the side of the cave, using the rocky ledges and footholds to make his way to the top. She could see Kwell peer into the darkness; it was quiet in the encampment and the guard had fallen asleep. The boy tried unsuccessfully to move the grating. Although it was securely fastened, he was still able to put his hand between the wooden grates and feel about with his fingers. Azhar waited below, not sure what he was doing. At one point, she actually thought he heard him squeal in delight. When he came back down, he had a wider grin on his face, and the snake was gone.

"What's going on? What happened?"

"Never mind, you'll find out tomorrow. Now tie the ropes back on but loosely. Just make it look good so they think we were tied up all night."

Just before falling asleep, Azhar whispered to Kwell, "When do you think they'll come for us? The other slaves?"

"You must be joking. They won't come. They'll only care about their own necks. In this world, it's everybody for himself." For the next few minutes, Kwell could hear the soft sounds of sobbing from across the cave. He looked up and said something that was out of character, "Hey, Azhar, don't worry. We'll make it alright. Stick with me, and I'll take care of you." The sobbing stopped and there was silence as both children fell asleep.

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Old 07-13-2006, 02:46 AM   #69
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Brenna


Old habits die hard, and especially for one who has been under the thumb…the eye..the lash of others for so long. The old feelings came up, shouting Danger! Be quiet; be small! Invisible…

Brenna was rooted to the spot she stood on..and that standing a precarious one from the blow she’d received from the slavers. Her eyes were cast down, shoulders hunched, arms hugging herself, as if to make her already small frame smaller still. There were angry words flying about and strong gestures and posturings. She shrank away from the hot words, the fiery waves that flashed from person to person.

Brenna withdrew to a small rise apart from those who were talking. And while it brought her some feeling of safety, it brought only a cold comfort. Two children were gone, snatched back by foul hands to that hateful life they had hoped was left behind.

‘Kwell…Azhar…’ she spoke aloud. Naught but the night and a small bird, a nightjar she thought, perched on the twisted limb of a stunted tree nearby could hear her. ‘I remember now.’ Their faces emerged from the crowd of those on the dusty trail of their escape route. ‘Those were their names; the ones those fiends took away,’ she said aloud again, making them more real to herself. ‘Kwell and Azhar. They were just at that twist in the road leading on to being a man, being a woman.’ She rubbed at her eyes. ‘Those demons should have taken me. I’ve spent all my life under the lash. What would a few more years matter.’ She rolled up her ragged sleeve, baring her left arm. The skin of her forearm bore an old scar, nearly lost amid the old bruises and scars left from hard work and punishments. It marked her as a slave, as someone who belonged to someone, somewhere.

She held her arms up in the moonlight. ‘But not forever…not forever…’

Brenna sat back down, her hand straying to a small flat rock lying near. ‘Bran, Nevan,’ she sighed, bringing her brothers’ still young faces into her mind. She picked up the stone, turning it over and over in her hand. ‘If only you would find me. You would stand up for the two taken, I’m sure of it. You would shout we should go north and take them back.’ She took out her small scythe and began to scratch a design into the stone’s surface. A few tears fell on the marks and she hastily wiped them away with her sleeve. ‘But I can’t…I can’t…’ She balanced the rock carefully on a pile of twigs near her little camping space.

Pulling her ragged shawl about her thin shoulders, she looked up toward the moon, wishing it were the sun instead and they were up and on their way to somewhere. Running or rescue…either, as long as they were moving along, no time for thinking. The small, plain bird hopped along the branch, craning his head at her, one bright black eye giving her a considering look.

‘Little Bird,’ she murmured, rocking back and forth a little on her haunches. ‘That’s what they called me…my brothers…when we played our games of hide and seek…’

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Old 07-13-2006, 12:40 PM   #70
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Hadith & Johari

Rebellion! This is rebellion! Hadith was shocked for what he heard. Johari had started it and then Eirnar had followed. Now many others were murmuring and exchanging angry glances around, searching for a culprit. Why are they rising against those who try to help us and without whom we would be lost? Hadith just couldn’t understand. We wouldn’t have any weapons, we wouldn’t know what to do... During his two months of freedom he had learned that there were lots of things he knew nothing about or didn’t understand at all, but still the reality managed to surprise him time after time, especially this day.

And he was even more puzzled of Eirnar’s calls. If one or two of the wisest old stagers shouldn’t decide, then who should? Surely I couldn’t decide, neither could Eirnar, or the children for that matter... Too important for just one man to decide? But how could we decide it together as we all are with so different minds about what to do?

Hadith rose up leaving Khala and Cuáran to take care of the older man. The older women exchanged looks shaking their heads. “He’s too young and naive to meddle with this kind of things”, Khala said to Cuáran quietly. “Should I call him back? His mother would have.”

“Maybe you should, but he might learn something from this.” Cuáran answered thoughtfully, handing the last clean linens to Khala. “If there is time for anyone of us to make use of what we have learned in life...” she muttered, watching emptily to the horizon. Khala nodded and secured the last knot on the bandages of the older man.

Hadith spotted Johari some twenty yards away from him. She was standing straight, looking around her defiantly, seemingly pleased of the reaction she had roused. “Johari!” he shouted and ran towards the woman, not giving a second thought of what he was doing.

“What are you doing?” he called to her in anguish, panting from the run as he approached. “You are not helping us, you are making things worse!” he yelled at her as he finally reached her. He was more than agitated but tried to remain as calm as possible. He saw many heads turning to hear this exchange of words. To his horror he noticed that also Khamir was near enough to probably hear what he was saying.

“Why, Johari? Why?”

"Making things worse?" Johari raised her eyebrows skeptically. "They are already bad, and need to be fixed. How others choose to react is not my responsibility - all the better if they listen."

Hadith was again totally baffled by her answer. He just couldn’t see the link between fixing things and arousing unrest in a time of trouble. "If we just quarrel here and rise against one another, we'll surely be lost!" he exclaimed fervently. "How do you fix it without those who know better than we do?"

Exasperation was clear in Johari's face. "Without them? I never said that. I told them to fix it."

Hadith was speechless for a moment. In his passion he probably had mixed the calls of Johari and Eirnar together to a one dangerous idea that could turn all in chaos and against which he would have to fight. But it was also true, that he seemed to be a bit confused when he talked with Johari anyway. Her answers were not the ones that could be anticipated and thence it was really hard to discuss with her as easily as with others. Still, that didn't change his basic frustration.

"Don't you think they are thinking about what's best to us already?" he asked her in the end. "Do you think that rousing all the people helps them with their thinking?"

"What are you now, their spokesperson?" asked Johari, rapidly becoming annoyed. "Whether they're thinking of our welfare or not, what they're doing is not working, and I do not intend to be unprepared when the slavers come back for us. You may have been 'rewarded' with a knife, but look at the rest of us, why don't you? I'm looking out for myself, Hadith, and I don't care too much about what the rest of the people here make of it." Her dark eyes glittered dangerously, daring him to challenge her further.

Hadith saw the fire in her eyes and took a step back just to be on the safe side. This woman really has temper. How are you supposed to get on with this kind of people? Hadith was quite at loss.

But something she had said had hit him and hit him hard. The way she uttered the word 'rewarded' brought all his self-accusations and his own insecurity to the fore. Against his better judgement he answered, seeking so calm tone of voice he could amidst the maelstrom of his feelings.

"There is only certain number of arms around. They have given them to those they have deemed able to yield them to secure us all. Is there a more reasonable way you would have distributed them?" A certain defiance had crept into his voice as he uttered the last words. He looked at Johari firmly but was totally panicked inside.

Hadith had pushed Johari beyond reason. Who was he, barely more than a boy, to deign to tell her what to do? Annoyance giving way to fury, in a single movement she stepped forward to close the gap once more and drew back her fist, punched him squarely beneath his eye, and watched in satisfaction as he staggered backwards. "And how are my actions any business of yours, oh worthy one?" she spat, turning away from him coldly.

All seemed to black out for a second for Hadith but he regained his balance. Had Johari been any of the men in the camp, he would have jumped after him and given the punch back, preferably a couple more. But being raised by one’s mother and other older women that possibility never actually passed his mind. He had been taught that women should never be hit or mistreated physically and he had learned it well.

Hadith just bit his lip and swallowed his tears. He felt so powerless in front of all this. Why didn’t anyone just tell everyone else what to do and get them to safety? He would gladly do his part if someone would just tell him, what that part was. Even though it had been hard to think, he had been enthusiastic about the possibility of there being no one right answer to all things earlier in the day. But now as the insecurity and uncertainty was so real and imminent, he felt just frightened and alone.

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Old 07-13-2006, 07:05 PM   #71
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Gwerr

Gwerr couldn’t raise his eybrow because of the metal plate that had been stiched over his eye. But had he been able, he surely would have done it. So Ishkur, you’re hungry and you get a piece of meat – from me! - and immediately you are ready to make brothers with these travesties of an orc who promise you more! Gwerr couldn’t believe his one eye or his ears. Just like a puppet echoing the words of his master! Just what they want from you!

It was bad enough that Makdush had overheard their discussion, but he had actually come forwards with his brutes to show a muscle. Gwerr was boiling over with anger. He groped for a curse strong enough but failed in it. In his frustration he only managed to whisper to himself: “Oh darn you dratted rise-and-shines!”

And hey! This getaway was my idea! Well, mine and Colagar’s, but whatever... These Uruks are just hang-arounds, vermins on board! And what is Ishkur thinking? He joined the already made plan himself and now he tries to act as a leader with an established peace-treaty with these over-muscled baby-boomers!

It took a few thousand years of experience from Gwerr to stay silent and just to grit his teeth to Makdush and his fellow Uruks as they walked away. As the Uruks had gone, he looked at Ishkur in the eye, his eye flaming. “You just beware. For your own good... and ours. Those are no mister nice-guys and they mean us no good!” by that he went off, searching for a pit or hole to protect himself from the sun that had already reached them over the plains.

But Gwerr couldn’t sleep. He was too agitated for it. He feared the Uruks coming to slit their throats if they would fall asleep. And they had made no arrangements to have guards in the first place! So he remained in the shelter of a depression on the ground he had found, but kept being awake. Tomorrow we will have to talk this over with Colagar and Ishkur – and I won’t be sleeping if there is an Uruk left guarding our sleep! But the longer he laid there awake, the more he started pondering the words of Makdush. He actually seemed to know something about the traffic on these lands and surely they could do with some additional meat. He himself had provided himself for a long journey but clearly all hadn’t. And as the initial plan had bankrupted, the situation was different now. With this small group, all the few females were important too, even if they would have not taken care of their preparations.

So maybe we should follow Makdush’s idea tomorrow? Oh, darkness under! What foolery! Gwerr was getting irate again. But if he knows, he knows. And if he’s hungry, he might lead us to some food. Maybe Ishkur is not so dum at all, maybe he’s just faster than me? The thought was at the same time worrysome and relieving. An orc with nothing to eat for a long journey... Gah! But maybe he still had his brains left? We must discuss this as the evening comes along. Even though he tried to avoid it, he fell asleep in the end.
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Old 07-14-2006, 03:39 AM   #72
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It was quite easy to find his way back to the where his companions had made their camp. Two fires had been lit, more to drive back the darkness that was coming than for warmth he thought. He smiled in the darkness, enjoying the warmth of the night. The heat the breezes bore reminded him of the southern lands where he had spent much of his young life.

Rôg stood in the shadows looking for Aiwendil. He moved into the flickering light of the fire, just at the faded edges of it and motioned to the old man the moment he caught his eye.

He hastened toward Aiwendil, the excitement of his find evident in his bearing. Noting the faces of the some of the others that had turned toward him as he hurried toward Awendil, he paused, composing himself to give his report.

‘Those bats! I believe I’ve found the colony,’ he exclaimed loudly taking the old man aside. He pitched his voice lower, noting most of the others had turned back to their own discussions. ‘Step over here,’ Rôg said, taking Aiwendil’s elbow as he maneuvered them both away from the fire. He took out his knife and squatted down, motioning for his friend to do the same. He smoothed out the dirt in front of him and drew a crude map. Using the point of his blade he pointed to various areas as he spoke to Aiwendil, pausing often to answer questions.

At one point his face grew angry, disgusted, as he spoke. And the two fingers he held up to emphasize a point were accompanied by a shaking of his head and a narrowing of his eyes as if he were considering an abhorrent subject.

Rôg turned a questioning face to Aiwendil when he’d finished speaking. ‘So, shall I?’ he asked as he stood up. He scuffed away the scratchings in the dirt with his bare foot and looked away, to the north, awaiting an answer.

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Old 07-14-2006, 04:30 PM   #73
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Ishkur and the Orcs head north:

Ishkur woke just before the sun set over the horizon. If they expected to travel very far tonight, the group needed to start running now. With any luck they would find something to eat before the sun rose again. Ishkur could not believe that Makdush had agreed with his plan to head north and look for travelers to steal from. He wondered if the sneaky Uruk had some special reason for going that way or another secret plan, but Ishkur felt much too hungry for his suspicion to stop him from going. Ishkur was upset that Gwerr, whom he had thought of as a friend, would not embrace his plan as much as a true enemy like Makdush had done. Even though Gwerr had given Ishkur a small strip of meat to eat, his stomach still grumbled. But they would not find food at all if they did not leave this desolate, empty plain and head north immediately.

Most of the others were still asleep. Shouting and stomping, Ishkur managed to wake everyone and get them ready to go, even the troublesome women. Some of the orcs flashed him menacing glares as he passed, angry at being roused so early. Ishkur completely ignored them, since he was not much concerned with how the others saw him but very determined to get food soon. He merely grunted back at them, screaming at everyone to get on their feet and start moving. After a few minutes the camp was taken down and the orcs began their march north.

The march north was long and boring. The ground stretched out in a flat plain for miles on end. To make matters worse, Ishkur’s stomach only increased its growling every mile that he covered. Their pace was fast, spurred by the stark necessity of finding food. Once, Ishkur even stopped and shoved some berries in his mouth that grew on a bush they passed. They tasted bitter and did not look appetizing, but he forced himself to swallow them in one great gulp. To have been reduced to eating berries made Ishkur feel ashamed, but no one else seemed to be looking at him as he swallowed. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw several others do the same.

Suddenly Ishkur and the others heard the braying of donkeys and the neigh of horses just ahead. In one of the rare hills that dotted the plain there was a small wooded copse where it appeared someone had set up camp. Eagerly the orcs raced forward to see if, in fact, their guess was right. To their delight they saw that they had stumbled upon a camp of twenty to thirty men. The metal traps with jagged teeth and heavy rusted iron collars lying around the camp declared that these men were slavers. They captured humans and then sold them off to large plantations for forced labor. Ishkur had once acted as an overseer for slaves on one of the plantation on Nurn. It seemed that although he had escaped from Nurn, his experiences at Nurn continued to follow him. He never really liked the slavers; they often insulted the orc overseers when they came to sell. Very often they cheated the orcs by concealing blemishes on the humans they sold and charging the same amount as for healthy workers. The Uruks, who usually were the ones directly involved in these transactions rarely caught on, but Ishkur could see when they had been duped into purchasing damaged merchandise.

Ishkur forgot all about his past however, when he saw that the slavers had brought some donkeys and horses with them. Ishkur drooled slightly as he gazed longingly at the plump donkeys that were tied up in the corner of the camp closest to the orcs. He could not have imagined a more perfect scene. The slavers, tucked away in their tents and fast asleep, would not even hear if the orcs stole a few of their pack animals and ate their tasty meat. The slavers had stationed a guard outside of the camp, but he stood on the far side and did not see the group approach. The group now stood so close to the unsuspecting beasts that Ishkur almost could almost taste that donkey rump in his mouth.

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Old 07-14-2006, 04:33 PM   #74
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Prison guard:

A distant coyote sounded and, with a start, the prison guard awoke, stretching and yawning. Khanun cursed his bad luck for having fallen asleep. Half panicked, he peered down through the open grating into the murky darkness of the pit, and was relieved to see that the slave children were still bound in ropes and sleeping. Lucky for that, he grimly reflected. since Imak had little tolerence for mistakes.

Khanun scooped up his water flask, which had apparently slipped from his hand while he was asleep and rolled over to just outside the entrance of the pit. He had forgotten to give the prisoners water as Imak had ordered. Though not adverse to laying on the whip or threatening the captives within an inch of their lives, Imak repeatedly warned his men that the merchandise must arrive in usable condition. For a moment, the guard considered climbing down into the pit and helping the pair drink from the flask as he'd been told. But a moment's reflection dispelled that idea. It was too much effort to put forth, and one night without water surely wouldn't kill two captives, especially one as young and sassy as that confounded boy who'd put up such a fight. Khanun rubbed the spot on his arm where the imprint of the boy's teeth were still clearly impressed and decided that the two could go without water for a little while longer.

Still, it would be better to empty the flask so that Imak would think he had followed instructions. He wasn't particularly thirsty and at first considered pouring the contents onto the ground or perhaps into the pit itself to give the children a drenching. But water in these parts of Mordor was precious and, even to a cut-throat brigand, this seemed like an unnecessary waste. Khanun stretched and yawned for a second time and decided that the water could be put to much better use. It wouldn't do to fall asleep again. Undoing the stopper and rasing the flask upward, the guard began pouring the contents over his head.

Last edited by Child of the 7th Age; 07-17-2006 at 07:20 PM.
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Old 07-15-2006, 10:55 AM   #75
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The prison guard - Khanun

The water splashed refreshingly over his face and neck but he only emptied half of its contents before something solid fell with the water. Khanun jumped with the first initial surprise and then started back with half a cry of fear as he realized what it was. A small, thin, cold and wet snake twined its tail about his ear and his body about his nose. Khnaun jerked back, dropping the flask of water, and yelled again. He tilted his head back forward in a wild attempt to knock the snake off as his hands struck at it, but instead of falling to the ground, the small reptile half slithered, half fell into the loose and open neck of Khanun’s shirt.

The guard leaped to his feet in a panic. Poisonous snakes were not uncommon in Mordor and an uncontrollable fear of being bitten by this thing filled all his sane mind. He jumped about frantically while his hands struggled to untuck the shirt from his breaches. Unmindful of the sleeping men nearby and the children beneath him, often random yells burst from his mouth, though he didn’t actually say anything. Finally, with shaking and trembling hands and a face blanched white beneath the unshaven beard and layers of dirt, he got the shirt free of his belt and the snake dropped to the ground. In a moment it had slithered off to safety among the rocks and bristling plant life.

Only at that moment did Khanun realize that he had awoken everyone in the camp. He looked up with wide eyes at the other men. To his great surprise and furry he saw that they were laughing. Laughing! There was absolutely nothing funny about the thing. He might have been killed! Worse than that, he now saw, was that he had made himself out to be an idiot.

“Who did it?” he bellowed with a passion. “Who dared to put that thing into my water?”

One of the men guffawed loudly. “Gar, I wish it were me who’d thought o’ it,” he laughed. “What a spectacle you made!” He stood up and began to jump and flap about like some great rooster courting a hen. The others howled with laughter. All of them, that is, save Imak. He stood up and caught the dancing mocker by the collar and brought him to a stand still.

“In all seriousness – who did do it?” he asked. “There’s no time for pranks like that. If the thing was poisonous, someone could have been hurt. Who was it?”

Everyone was silent. Khanun stood glaring at them all furiously and Imak looked coolly from one face to the next.

“Nem – you?” he asked sharply. The man mutely shook his head. He looked to the next man. “You?” In turn, each of them denied the charge.

Last edited by Child of the 7th Age; 07-15-2006 at 08:27 PM.
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Old 07-15-2006, 09:04 PM   #76
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Khamir

A growl formed in Khamir’s throat as he did his best to ignore the many voices around him. This was why the one-armed man had never asked for any kind of leadership. As soon as anything happened, he was the one everyone was going to complain to. It was as if he had invited the hunters into camp. He had heard a woman’s voice cry out something about a ‘traitor,’ but Khamir knew that was insanity, in more ways than one. The bounty hunters needed no help from the inside, and probably would never take help. It would be too shameful for the Easterlings to be helped by the trash that slaves were. Plus, the woman who was so certain of treachery was always certain of such. Unfortunately, Khamir’s sympathy for the woman was running out. She was mad, and quite more than the group needed to deal with.

He caught sight of her, and broke towards her at an immediate sprint. The madwoman was tearing after Eirnar. Apparently she had not liked his idea of going after the bounty hunters, either. This came as a sarcastic thought to him. It was always him. And to think the man was the one who cared for her, the only real reason she was not yet dead, having killed herself or been killed in defense of an attack from her. Catching up with her enough to reach out and grab her tightly by the arm, he tugged and brought her to a halt. Looking into her eyes, mostly clouded, he was always surprised at how human they looked, even though her mind was in many ways monstrous.

“Who? Who is a traitor?” he asked, playing along with her nightmare. Perhaps it was wrong of him, but he did not know what else to do. Her only response was to stare with those distorted eyes. It seemed a few words were enough to calm her down, this time.

He heard another female voice rise above the rest, coming from behind him somewhere. This one was a younger voice. Turning, he recognized the girl as Johari. He had seen her and Hadith speaking before. She was just a little girl with a big mouth, complaining that ‘they’ were being treated like children, whoever ‘they’ were.

And Aedhild may have actually been quiet for several moments, but Eirnar had something to say. Just like everyone else.

Hadith burst in to speak to Johari, his words passionate. Listening to the two have their little spat was interesting to the Southron, and he filed some things he heard away in his mind. He would remember to watch out for Johari even more, and find out more about what had happened to Hadith this night. Perhaps Beloan had been right about everything. He shot the man a glance, but found him looking in another direction.

Waiting for a chance to break in, Khamir did not waste any effort in hiding the bitterness in his voice.

“I do not know who you speak for, Johari, but I do know that everyone will be treated like children as long as they continue to do nothing for themselves.” He turned to Eirnar. “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,” he said, then, turning back to Johari, he said to her, “and you decide what you do.” He looked to others standing nearby, and whether they were listening or not, he continued “and you, what you do; and you, what you do …”

Letting go of Aedhild, Khamir found a rock to lean against, sitting down in the dry grass in front of it. “But you will not,” he said with finality.

He was preparing himself for a long wait. A long wait…it already felt like he had his head on the block and he was waiting for the axe to fall. Perhaps he had made the wrong decision; these people might be the death of him.

Last edited by Durelin; 07-15-2006 at 09:22 PM.
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Old 07-15-2006, 09:06 PM   #77
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Vrór

The Dwarf had been anticipating a ‘but’ as soon as he heard the word ‘right’ escape the man’s lips. This time it came in the form of a longer list of what they knew than Vrór had been able to form in his own head. So by the time Aiwendil was finished talking to him, the Dwarf was silently and bitterly accepting that this old man had a sharper mind than him, and beginning to accept that they were heading north. Going north, chasing after one or the other of two rather ambiguous groups. Chasing! That meant a fast pace, which Vrór was certain he was not up for. If only he had accepted a pony for the trip. But he just could not bring himself to sit on a plump little pony with the Hobbit while the others had their strong, large, beautiful – quite large, and very tall, which was of course a problem for the Dwarf – horses.

Suddenly he could hear Carl’s voice, shouting that ‘Miss Athwen’ had found something. The two had gone to scour the place for any last clues. Vrór felt excitement rise in his chest thick enough to choke him. Perhaps this would be a clue that would allow him to put his full heart into this seeming wild goose chase. The Dwarf would believe in the best scouts in all the West when he saw them. Until then, he needed something he could see prior to the need to follow the trail of sixty-five men, women, and children across the wasteland that was Mordor. Something other than the disturbing imagery of a brand, an object that might lead them down a terrible and unexpected path.

Vrór could make out a small stone in Carl’s hand, and then in Lindir’s as it was passed to him. The Elf pointed out some interesting facts about its appearance. Gondor? The Dwarf had thought most of these slaves were from the South and East. And even those in Mordor itself had heard about the great war? It was hard to imagine this land as anything but cut off from the rest of the world. In all truth, it was really a world of its own in Vrór’s mind, and he was sure others held the same mentality as himself. It was another smack in the face for him, and he stood watching the stars around him for a moment or two, full of awe, terror, sadness, even guilt. Had he really thought of abandoning these people to whatever fate awaited them? He recalled what the brand looked like, and imagined how often and in what violent ways it had been used, in what violent was it was meant to be used, it had to be used…

Mordor was not a world separate of his own. Middle-earth did not end before the Ephel Duáth began and start again where they ended. These people were among the Free Peoples of Middle-earth; they all were now that they were free of the terror that was Sauron. And yet they were not free, not free of the bonds of slavery or of the violence. It was a terrifying thought, venturing across Mordor after these slaves. But how much more terrifying was it for them? How much more terror had their lives been filled with? Vrór gripped the head of the work hammer at his side on his belt. It was more natural for him to reach for that than to reach for his axe. And he hoped to use the former much more than the latter.

Stepping over toward Athwen and Carl now that Lindir and the old men had stepped aside to talk in low voices, the Dwarf peered at the stone himself. There was no doubt that was the White Tree – and Vrór had seen it enough since he had arrived at Minas Tirith a good number of years ago. The other symbols he was not familiar with, though he recognized what the Elf had referred to. An odd token to find in this land, even now, long after the defeat of the Dark Lord. Vrór shook his head, thinking of all the children that would never have to know what living under that horror was like. It brought more warmth to his heart than he had felt in days.

“This gladdens my heart,” he said, sharing his feelings as he looked Carl at Athwen both, “to find this here…perhaps there is hope for this land, yet.”
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Old 07-15-2006, 11:34 PM   #78
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Dorran

It was Athwen who pulled her husband into the group and, taking the stone from Vrór, entrusted it to Dorran. The young man cradled it in his hand and carefully ran his fingers along its etched surface. He stared at the stone intently as if mezmerized, seemingly unable to turn away. Dorran's eyes held a faraway look, as if the man of Rohan was remembering something hidden and secret from his own boyhood past, some tiny spark of life that had persisted even in the bleakness of the Black Lands.

After what seemed like an endless silence, Dorran glanced at his wife and spoke, "I had never thought to see one of these again. I knew men and women who carried such stones with them in their pockets or secured by a leather thong. They carved them at night in the few moments they had for rest. They would take a rock with a sharp edge or sometimes the blade of a scythe to etch and remember what was dearest to them. They made symbols of home or family, usually someone who had been wrenched from them, or sometimes they recorded images from the stories that were told around the campfires.

Dorran shrugged his shoulders, "As to why this was left in the vicinity of the caves, whether by accident or intentionally, I can not say. But I do know that a rock of this type is a token of remembrance. Slaves kept such stones as personal reminders of who they were. But I have also seen slaves leave behind an etched rock as if passing on a dream or tiny seed of hope to someone who might come later. I remember once...." Here Dorran stopped, his words slow and broken. "It was so long ago. A young woman was forcibly taken to another plantation. The last things she did was toss a small rock like this onto the ground. She hoped her son would see it and understand that she had left him the only piece of herself that she could."

"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 turned to Lindir, speaking almost like the child he had once been, "Please, let's take this stone with us. Perhaps we will be able to put it back into the hands of the man or woman who crafted it and even to help that dream come true. That at least would be worth doing."

Last edited by Tevildo; 07-15-2006 at 11:59 PM.
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Old 07-16-2006, 02:13 AM   #79
Child of the 7th Age
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Aiwendil:

In the background, Aiwendil could hear the earnest voice of Dorran who was speaking to several of the others, explaining the meaning of the stone that Athwen and Carl had found. His own attention, however, was focused tightly on Rôg. He was careful to memorize the chief points on the map that his friend had sketched in the earth and to embed in his mind each of the landmarks that would mark the way.

When Rôg raised his final question, Aiwendil's answer was sharp and immediate. "Shall you? Of course. Neither of us could live with ourselves if something were to happen. At the very least, you will find out where that....that second colony of bats lives. Who knows how important that information may prove? But you must hurry. Leave now and try to get back before we break camp, although I can't even tell you when that will be. But if you can't get back in time, just meet up with us on the road. You know the route better than I do."

Seeing the worried look on Rôg's face and how the young man still lingered, the istar brusquely reassured him, "Off with you now. Leave the rest to me. I've been around a few years longer than you have. I'll figure out a way to break the news to the others and cover for your absence." Inside Aiwendil was not quite so confident of his ability to do either of these things, but it was clearly imperative that Rôg leave camp as soon as possible. The old man had at least decided that he should probably approach Lindir first, the only other member of the party who understood something of his personal origins. Aiwendil was hopeful that the Elf might possibly accept a vague explanation without a slew of embarrassing questions and simply accept the fact that the istar instinctively knew where they should go. He waved a hand towards Rôg, like a man who shoes off an irritating fly, and indicated to him that he should go.

Last edited by Child of the 7th Age; 07-16-2006 at 02:33 AM.
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Old 07-16-2006, 02:41 AM   #80
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Zagra and Mazhg


Zagra stifled a giggle at the sight of the men wolfing down handfuls of the berries. ‘Look, Mazhg! They’re eating sour-berries! Stupid, stupid!’ she whispered. ‘Why would they do that?’

Mazhg snorted as she looked to where her her sister pointed. ‘Well, they’ll learn soon enough, won’t they? When their bellies begin to grumble bad.’ She reached into her bag and pulled out a little dried meat and a leathery concoction of mashed fruits and honey. ‘It’s no wonder they don’t know anything…they never bent their backs in the fields, did they?’ she handed her sister a piece each of meat and berry-leather. ‘Serves ‘em right, the ugly slugs!’

‘Don’t talk about slugs that way!’ Zagra whispered. ‘I like slugs!’ She laughed, seeing her sister’s look. ‘On a stick, roasted!!!’ She laughed aloud, stifling it as some of the others looked at her. ‘Zagra made a joke!’ she whispered, drawing near to her sister.

‘Good one!’ Mazhg clapped her sister on the back and the two hurried on.

«--»

‘Come with me,’ Mazhg said, pulling Zagra to the back of the group. ‘The men are going after the donkeys and maybe a pony.’ She drew her sisters close, whispering. ‘I saw the cook tent, just around to the west. I want something more than meat.’

The two sisters slipped away in the darkness.

Zagra stood watch, her club held ready to thump any who nosed around at the back of the tent. But the slavers, for the most part, were gathered in another part of the camp, yelling and shouting about something. There was no guard at the cook tent, and why should there be? Who would think of intruders there? Mazhg quietly cut the back of the tent, just enough for her to wriggle in and begin to pass out packets of journey bread, a large bag of dried meat, and a basket of small tubers.

Last edited by Undómë; 07-20-2006 at 05:34 PM.
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