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Old 08-12-2004, 10:10 AM   #281
Hilde Bracegirdle
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Gilly

Running through the list she held in her mind, Gilly sat on the edge of the chair feeling quite contented with her sense of accomplishment. Everything seemed to be working out well. Her dress was fixed, except for the tatting that she had half finished, and which would likely be ready to set in place by the end of the day. Novfuinien had found someone to carry her letter, and she had also received word that Dúlrain was much improved, though Benia still watched over him. Quite genuinely pleased to hear this, Gilly had debated going there herself, but having seen that Benia had a soft corner in her heart for the man, she had chosen not to disturbed them, hoping to grant them some rare sheltered time together now that the crises had past. For as she commented at length to Novfuinien, it was about time her friend found a bit of happiness in life!

Only one piece of unfinished business remained, Dúlrain’s companion sword. Gilly eyed it dully glinting by the door, as if it were winking to remind her of the past few tumultuous weeks. She had dutifully cleaned it as well as she knew how, and it had polished up nicely indeed, but Kaldir had said that he would show her how to put the finishing touches to it, so she could hand it back to Dúlrain in as good a shape as when she had received it. And this she dearly wanted to do now that he had awakened and she found herself ready to make her way back home whenever it suited Kaldir. It had been so good of Dúlrain to part with it in the first place, and as she reflected, it had come very much in handy.

“Ack, there is nothing for it, is there?” she said to herself, sliding down off the chair to pick up the weapon. “Seems the student must track down the master, if she’s ever to learn such things!” But as she went to open the door’s latch, a light but rapid knock was heard on the other side. With blade in hand Gilly opened the door wide to find Benia standing on the threshold, looking not at all like the picture of joy that the hobbit imagined. She showed not even the slightest inkling of it.

“What has happened?” Benia asked stepping into the room and quietly closing the door behind her. “Has some one been troubling you? Why do you answer the door armed?”

“Oh no, Miss Benia, quite the opposite. Actually, I’ve been treated a ways better than I could have wished, and have even managed to made friends with an elf. Imagine that, would you!” But Benia seemed restless, and her glance did not stay long on her friend, but nodding, she crossed over to the window, and then back again. “Here,” Gilly said pulling the chair away from the wall. “Why don’t you sit yourself down? You are making me nervous with all your walking to a fro.”

“No thank you, I could not possibly sit just now. But still, you have not told me why you hold a sword in your hand.”

Gilly chuckled, grinning broadly. “It is only a coincidence. I was just going to set about finding Mr. Kaldir to help me sharpen this before I return it to Mr. Dúlrain. He had promised to show me what to do, but I haven’t seen him since we got here, and my friend Novfuinien tells me he’s about this morning. So I was just off to find him. The man is like a regular ghost coming and going all unseen!

“But tell me about yourself. I thought that I would find my old friend with a smile brightening her face now that Mr. Dúlrain is out of danger, and instead it is right cloudy weather. He is alright, isn’t he?”

“Yes, yes he is,” Benia said with a wistful smile. To her friend’s surprise she suddenly stopped pacing and settled down in the chair. “Gilly,” she said after a moment. “I have no mother now…”

“I know that Miss Benia, but your mother was a marvelous woman!” Gilly declared, for the hobbit had always thought very highly of her.

“And I have never had a sister.”

“No, I don’t reckon I ever heard of your having a sister,” the hobbit shook her head, wondering where all this was leading.

“But I do have a very good friend, and that is you.”

“Benia, what is troubling you so? You seem a restless as a cat in the fish market. Can it be so hard to tell such an old friend?”

“Gilly I would ask you to be more than a friend for a moment, but mother and sister also, leaving your own feelings aside, for I know you have become a friend also to Kaldir. I have a weighty decision make, one that has taken me by surprise, for he has just now asked for my hand.”

“Ah, small wonder then that you are so serious today! But it is an easy choice. How can you give your hand without your heart also? I have seen how strongly you care for Mr. Dúlrain, so in accepting this offer you would be injuring Mr. Kaldir as well as yourself.”

“If it could only be that simple,” Benia breathed, and Gilly listened as the story unfolded of her meeting Kaldir in the halls of healing, and of her own doubts. And the hobbit grew sad listening, for there seemed no clear answer anymore, and she grieved over her friend’s dilemma. For each choice seemed bitter, and it was no longer a question of her friend’s happiness, but only of what would accomplish something good. And in that, the scale tipped in favor of Kaldir. For to choose Dúlrain seemed to mean to loosing him, or to tempt him to turn his back on Kaldir, which in a way would also be to loosing him. And to deny Kaldir would be like cutting down a tree that was slowly returning to life after a fire.

“I confess, I am at a loss,” Gilly said in the end. “But I think that you shouldn’t hurry yourself to answer Kaldir. No doubt he made a good case, though I daresay he was late getting out the gate. But I don’t feel at all good about you taking up with him permanently, not yet. Not as good as I would about Mr. Dúlrain. And I think your mother would have agreed with me…father too, for that matter. It is easy to overlook a scarred face, but if those hidden scars he mentioned disfigure his heart, oh that would be a hard road for you, and one I don’t care to see you travel. Best to find out before deciding just how sound his is, as it’ll only come to the forefront over the years. But then again, I don’t suppose he’d be keen on waiting, for if you will excuse me for saying it, he is sure to know a little of your feelings for his friend. ”

“Well, I think we both already know what sort of things he has been capable of,” she said looking briefly at her hands and then rising again to return to the window. “But his words were honest. And I see that he is trying to find his way out, and that I can help him. But I can’t bring myself to a decision, and I feel I can’t breathe, thinking of it.”

“Oh just wait until I see him again, he will get an earful from me! What was he thinking of, letting you get so attached to Mr. Dúlrain and then springing this on you? Cruel it was!”

“No please, I will handle this Gilly. I don’t think he sees the position he has put me in.”

“Sees or not sees, someone should open his eyes for him! He’s no way blind is he? And he has sense enough to know what it is he’s done. My guess is that he already knows!”

“Well, if anyone is to open his eyes it should be me,” Benia said walking over to the hobbit and resting a hand on her shoulder. “But I need to think all this over. I need quiet and room to walk, fresh air after being indoors for so long!”

“There is a nice garden close by, maybe you could do your thinking there. But do let me know what you decide. I will be worrying over it until you do.”

“I will,” said Benia promised. “For I think in either case, I will need a friend.” And with that she left, and Gilly was alone.

Forgetting the sword and picking up her tatting instead, Gilly headed out the door also. She was quite upset, and needed to cool down, and with that thought in mind she headed toward the Great Hall.


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

Menecin

Downwardly spiraling thoughts assailed the elf as he fell to questioning again each moment of his long life. Had then all that he had done been only self-serving, and all that he loved false? Surely not all love was illusion, for he felt his own love had been truly given. He had cared deeply for Naiore. That would never change, though he now felt confused, and as if his searching for her had always been based in his own need of her, or rather, what she had once represented to him. And that had now become a howling emptiness inside. Something that had never really existed.

“Father, are you alright?” a voice said beside him. And he felt the light touch of a hand on his back as Vanwe knelt down, heedless of the sodden earth beneath her knees. Raising his eyes, he saw concern and relief etched in her expression. “What were you thinking, coming out here alone?” she chided, the tears rising to her eyes. “What if she had found you? Please, I could not bear to loose you too!” Lowering her head she wept, the tears rolling down her cheeks.

And those tears moved her father’s heart. Surely they were not born of deceit or pretense, but of the natural upwelling of emotion. No not all love was an illusion. Naiore was not right in this. Lifting her chin to wipe the tears from her face, Menecin looked again into her eyes. “See, you have found me at last, and would not loose me, and neither I you. For when you did not return to me, I went in search of you.” And then rising to his feet he helped her up also, now that he noticed Léspheria and a ranger stood watching the brush. “But you are right, it is not safe here and we should return.”

“But why have I found you so disconsolate?” She asked earnestly. “Do you not know that there are many who would help you if you would only ask?”

“I thought that I had lost you Vanwe, that your mother had coaxed you from safety.” He looked around at the brush surrounding them. “I thought that I too was lost, but I know now that none of this is true.”

Vanwe looked up at him, puzzled.

“Come let us leave this place,” Menecin said starting off toward Amandur unsteadily. Picking up the rusted sword, Vanwe ran to his side to lend him support, and he leaned heavily on her shoulder, smiling down at her. “I apologize, daughter, for I fear that I have not taken as much care as I ought, and now have become a burden to your slight shoulders!”

Vanwe returned his smile and walked silently by his side, to where Léspheria and Amandur were waiting for them.

Last edited by Hilde Bracegirdle; 08-15-2004 at 04:22 PM.
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Old 08-15-2004, 03:58 AM   #282
Nerindel
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Amandur

On their return, to the last house Amandur took his leave of the others and made his way towards the ranger’s quarters. Briskly he strode down the long corridors turning right towards the room in which Rauthain had been housed. Standing before the door of his brethren Amandur knocked urgently and then entered the ranger’s quarters, as expected the older ranger was already up and dress.

“Amandur,” Rauthain greeted him with a slight incline of his head.

“Rauthain my friend there is to be a change of plans we will be leaving sooner than expected!” he quickly informed him. “Find Avanill and Kaldir and have them prepare to leave as soon as possible!” he finished turning sharply to leave.

“Off course, but if I may ask, to what do we owe this sudden change of plans?” Rauthain quickly asked.

Amandur paused at the door pondering his answer and then turned “a feeling,” he replied simply, gaining a questioning look from his old friend.

“We found Lord Menecin upon the rill that borders Rivendell’s woods this morning. Lady Léspheria thought she sensed something or someone, off course it could easily just have been the bard she sensed, but I am inclined to believe that the emotions she sensed and the presence of the bard were more than mere coincidence!” he explained moving towards the open window.

“You believe Naiore is still here?” Rauthain asked in astonishment, though it did make some sense to him that the elf would linger yet awhile.

“Yes, but not for long, after this mornings activities she will soon be on the move again.” Amandur replied solemnly, staring out over the deceptively peaceful valley. Rauthain nodded his understanding as Amandur strode purposefully back towards the door.

“And what of Dulrain?” Rauthain asked, “I daresay he will be reluctant to be left behind.”

“I go now to speak with our young companion and to learn of his condition from the healers, we will meet at the stables when everyone is ready!” Amandur answered thoughtfully. The two men nodded to each other and then Amandur left to seek out the young ranger and his healers.

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

Dulrain and Amandur

Dúlrain awoke to the morning of the third day to find that he was alone; he sat up blinking against the bright morning light filtering through the room. Looking around he noticed that the jug and pitcher that normally sat on the dresser was missing, he smiled realising that his love must have gone to fill it. Contented and feeling much stronger he rose from his bed, wishing to surprise Benia by being dressed and walking about before her return. A dull ache remained in his side as he pulled on a fresh shirt and pants, but it was nothing that gave him too much trouble. Pleased with himself he walked up to the large windows and opened them out, letting the cool breeze of the summer morning chase away the stagnant air of his curative prison.

As he stood looking out over the valley he thought on the past several days, his feelings for Benia had grown so much that for the short periods they were apart he found himself eagerly anticipating her return, as he did now! A reminiscent smile spread over his face it had been long since he had known such happiness and in the presence of such a fair and wondrous woman, he wanted no more than to keep her happy and safe. She had strength and spirit that he admired and like him, he knew she would never be contented to stay in one place for too long. Giving into his fantasies, he pictured what their life would be like together, several hours passed, until a brisk knock at the door shook him from his reverie.

“Come!” he called gaily, turning from the window to see who had come to visit.

“Well I must say you at least sound better!” Amandur laughed as he entered the room.

“Indeed I am my friend, it is good to see you though I had thought to see you before now!” he laughed in return.

“Aye and you would have if the healers had allowed it and you where not otherwise engaged,” Amandur grinned jovially.

“Aye I have been pleasantly pre…” he began his voice trailing off as his eyes swept across the items Amandur held in his hand. Cold reality swept aside the fantasy of the past two days and he now thought how foolish he had been to think that he and Benia could ever have all that he had dreamed for them. His internal struggle of love and loyalty instantly returned, to have Benia would mean to loss Kaldir, but to deny his heart would mean losing them both for he would certainly have to let them both go, their happiness would bring him pain, a pain he was not sure he could bare.

“The healers tell me that you are well enough to leave their care, I managed to procure these from them though reluctant they were to relinquish them,” Amandur grinned holding out the belt from which hung the two swords that Dúlrain usually carried at his side.

It was with a heavy heart that Dúlrain took the weapons, carefully strapping them to his waist, “Does this mean I will be permitted to continue on with you when you leave?” he asked as he tucked the extra length of leather behind the buckle of his belt. “Indeed,” Amandur nodded, “It may be that we will be in need of your services!”

“And Kaldir?” he asked looking up from his belt.

“He will be joining us,” Amandur answered his grin melting away and his brow furrowing with concern. “He has spoken with me about giving up his old ways and returning to the ways of our brethren.”

With a heavy sigh Dulrain turn again to the open window guessing the reason for his brother’s change of heart. That he was thinking of the future meant that he had not given up on life; he knew that he should be happy that his brother was finding his way, but the pain of losing Benia was unbearable. Closing his eyes against what he knew he must do, he asked Amandur when they would be leaving.

“As soon as everyone is ready,” Amandur told him, slightly confused by the young ranger’s reaction.

“I must first speak with Miss Nightshade, and then I will join you,” Dúlrain said turning again to face his captain, his head held high but his eyes betraying his sorrow.

“You need not do this!” Amandur sighed reading his young friends intent, “You could let the lady decide?”

“No I could not place so heavy a burden upon her,” he sighed.

“Yet you would cause her sorrow by not returning!” Amandur demanded.

“She would soon forget me and Kaldir will make a good husband and she a good wife, they can find peace and happiness together, don’t you see this is what I want for both of them.” Dulrain went on, turning again to look out over the valley.

“Even at the expense of your own happiness?” Amandur pressed, “Do you not then love her?”

“Off course I do!” he snapped angrily, rounding on his captain. “So much that it physically hurts, but who am I to deny my brother this chance of happiness! Benia has some feeling for him I have seen it, she can cure him of his hurts and he is the better to protect her from the evils of this world. She was not meant for me, it was only happy circumstance and chance that we met at all.” He finished dejectedly.

“I will speak no more of the matter, my mind is made up!” he said firmly as he turned too searched for his things.

“Then I will expect to see you at the stables once you are ready,” Amandur sighed turning to leave.

As soon as his captain was gone Dúlrain fell to his knees his head in his hands, his whole world was crumbling before him and he could see no way out! After what seemed like an eternity he rose, steeling himself against what he must do.

Finally finding his pack he made preparations to leave, packing only the essentials and gaining rations from the kitchens of the elves, once satisfied that he had all that was needed he reluctantly threw the pack over his shoulder and went in search of Benia, still unsure of exactly what he was going to say to her!

Last edited by Nerindel; 08-17-2004 at 06:33 PM.
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Old 08-17-2004, 12:03 PM   #283
Ealasaide
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Benia

After leaving Gilly in her room, Benia walked swiftly in the direction of the gardens, feeling as though she could scarcely breathe. She needed time to think. More than once she raised a hand and rubbed her temple where a throbbing pain had begun to set in. While she felt deeply fortunate to have such a wise and caring friend as Gilly, Benia found that Gilly had raised more new questions than she had offered answers. She found herself wondering now if Kaldir really did understand the kind of pressure he had placed upon her. After all, she knew from hard experience that he was a man accustomed to working his will by force, if by no other means. He was a smart man. Was the guilt he had placed at her feet - should she refuse him - merely another weapon he wielded when it suited him, like the sword at his side, in order to gain a certain end? She had seen him in action. He was a master at manipulation and deceit. Could he really have changed so much?

Gilly had been right in that it was easy to overlook a scarred face. The hidden scars were the ones that she should beware. Like jagged rocks under the placid surface of a lake, a disfigured heart would only be revealed with time. Had Kaldir's heart merely been wounded by his experiences in Mordor? Or had it been disfigured in some ugly and dangerous way? Gilly had been right to urge caution. On the other hand, Gilly had not seen Kaldir's eyes when he had spoken to Benia of his need for her and his hopes for the future. They were not the same eyes that she had looked into that afternoon in Bree when he had forced her to hold a knife to his throat and ordered her to kill him, yet the situation seemed remarkably similar: she could either save him or run him through; the choice was hers. Or was it? Both then and now, while she held the knife, he still seemed strangely in control, bending her to his will by the sheer strength of his personality.

Instinctively, Benia reached up and touched the carved wooden whistle that she still wore on the leather thong around her neck. Dúlrain. A sad smile touched her lips as she thought of the too brief hours of happiness she had shared with him the day before. Surely that happiness was not already a thing of the past. With her other hand, she wiped a tear from the corner of one of her amber eyes. If it were merely a choice of the heart, then there would be no contest at all. Her heart would always and completely belong to Dúlrain. All she had to do was picture his face in her mind, his clear gray eyes, his gentle smile, and her heart would flutter in her chest like a butterfly. A song would rise to her lips. But now, with the thought of losing him forever staring her starkly in the face, she found herself unable to breathe. The dull throb that had begun in her temple shifted to the pit of her stomach, where it continued to trouble her with a persistent ache.

"Dúlrain," she whispered, closing the carved whistle in her fist. "Please..." she added softly, unconsciously echoing the single word she had spoken to him when she had lifted her veil in those few fateful seconds on the dusty sidestreet in Bree. Feeling suddenly light-headed, she reached out for support and found herself steadied by the touch of a strong hand. Wishing for Dúlrain, she looked up only to find herself looking into the concerned eyes of an unfamiliar elf.

"Are you all right, miss?" he asked gently. "I was behind you on the path. It seemed you were about to fall."

"I-I'm fine... thank you," stammered Benia. "Thank you." Carefully, she disengaged herself from his grasp.

"You're very pale," he persisted, giving her a stern, though caring, gaze. "Are you sure I can't at least help you to a bench?" He gestured toward a stone bench that stood in a bower only a few paces distant from where the two of them stood on the garden path.

"Thank you," Benia repeated softly. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, then gave him a weak but determined smile. "But no. I'm fine, really." She took a step back.

Finally seeing some color come back into her cheeks, he nodded agreeably and set off again past her down the path. "Be careful," he called over his shoulder to her as he disappeared around a bend. "If you start to feel dizzy again, be sure to sit down."

Benia nodded at his back. "I will," she murmured, but sitting down was the last thing in the world she wanted to do. She needed to walk, to think. She needed space. Turning, she happened to glance up and see the crowns of the tall oaks and pines that lay in the forest beyond the garden walls. That was what she needed, the solitude of the forest, not a busy garden where elves sang incessantly and zipped up and down the paths like so many brightly colored hummingbirds. She needed to be alone. Without thinking of what dangers might still lurk in the forest so soon after a battle, Benia went to the gate and slipped outside. Within moments, she was concealed within the shadows of the trees.
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Old 08-22-2004, 07:56 PM   #284
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Naiore

Naiore’s fingers tightened around the hilt of her drawn dagger as she faded back into the undergrowth. She had sensed Vanwe, Léspheria, and the ranger well before she had heard their actual voices. As Menecin turned his head toward the sound of their approach, she had weighed the option of rushing in to finish him, but decided in the last instant that there was not time. Even a slight struggle on his part would have held her there long enough for Vanwe and the others to reach them. Knowing that if they found her she would be captured, she had then seized the opportunity to escape while Menecin looked the other way. A burning rage raked over her as she slid silently into the trees.

"Another betrayal!" she hissed. First Toby, then Avanill, and now Vanwe had turned against her, one after the other, all of them traitors. Toby and Avanill, well, that could be expected; termites, the both of them. But Vanwe! Naiore had never believed for a moment that Vanwe would fail her. But she had. And, not only that, Vanwe had caused Naiore herself to fail in her only objective in coming to Imladris at all. Because of Vanwe, Menecin still lived. Naiore took in a deep breath, her slender hands still trembling with rage. She was unaccustomed to failure and had no intention of making a habit of it. Still, she could not believe that she had been so wrong about her own daughter. She had been so sure of Vanwe, so sure of her own success when she had set her plan into motion that failure had seemed inconceivable, yet the inconceivable had come to pass. Someone else must have had a hand in it. Nonetheless, Naiore had never been one to dwell on failures. There would be other plans, other chances. Already, her mind raced ahead into the future.

Slowing her pace, Naiore turned and let her gray eyes scan the forest around and behind her, her ears listening for any sound of pursuit. There was none, only the soft chirp of birds and a murmur of distant voices moving away from her, as Vanwe, Menecin, and the others retreated back in the direction of the buildings. Naiore reached out with her mind, touching each of their minds in turn. She sensed strong emotions flowing from all of them, yet each one stood clearly and distinctly separate from each of the others: Menecin, Vanwe, the ranger, Léspheria. Cousin. Interfering meddler. Perhaps she was the real reason that Naiore’s plans had failed, managing somehow to undo a mother’s careful work. The Ravener’s eyes narrowed slightly.

They would pay. All of them. Maybe not today or even tomorrow, but the time would come when she would have another chance at them. She could be patient. For the moment, however, she knew that she must concentrate on her escape. Barrold Ferny awaited her on the ridge above the elven refuge with travel supplies and the bounty hunter’s gray horse. She must retrieve her own pack and her two curved swords from where she had hidden them in the forest, then rejoin Ferny on the ridge. From there, they would make their escape. Once she knew that she was free of pursuers, then she could begin to think about circling back to renew her efforts against Vanwe and Menecin. After all, this time, she had come so close.

As serenity once again began to settle over Naiore’s fair features, a slight frown creased her brow. Ferny, her one loyal and remaining ally, expected nothing less than Vanwe as his reward. She had promised him at least that, but now, with this latest betrayal, it did not appear as though she would be able to deliver. Her frown faded to an expression of cool neutrality as she flicked a stray braid back over her shoulder. It was an inconvenience, that was all. She should have known better than to make such a promise, but the one advantage to a scoundrel like Ferny was that he would not be particular about his reward just so long as he was well paid. She would see to it that he was. For the moment, however, he would still have to make do with the mithril book covers he had taken from the home of the slain ranger, Tallas.

With renewed calm and confidence, Naiore arrived at the place where she had hidden her belongings. She was relieved to find them undisturbed, precisely as she had left them. She smiled to herself and bent down to pick up her pack, but went instantly motionless as the sound of softly rustling leaves arrested her attention. Straightening, she reached out with her mind. Was it Vanwe - Menecin, perhaps - coming to find her, after all? Judging by the sound, it was only one individual, and that person was not taking any particular care to conceal his or her approach. Whoever it was seemed completely unaware of her presence and moved with no attempt at stealth. Touching the stranger’s mind, Naiore realized at once that it was neither her daughter nor her former lover who moved with such careless and heedless energy along the nearby path. She could sense in the stranger great turmoil and unhappiness, but no malice or fear. Naiore relaxed.

Judging herself safe for the moment, she bent once more and finished the task of securing her pack and her swords to her person. Straightening once more, she looked in the direction the stranger had gone, her curiosity piqued by the question of who might be roaming about the woods alone when there very well could still be orcs about. It wasn’t an orc. She could tell that by the quality of the creature’s mind. But who was it? Moving stealthily, she followed a course that would eventually intercept the stranger’s path. The silken garrote twisted between her fingers. Reaching the point of intersection well ahead of the stranger, Naiore concealed herself around a bend and waited. Her starlit eyes watched the path with interest.

When the stranger finally did appear, a chilling smile danced across Naiore’s beautiful face. “Perhaps you can be of use to me,” she murmured as the slender figure of the southern woman she had seen on the stairs came into view. “Aren’t you the bounty hunter’s lady?” Falling into silence once more, she waited until the southern woman had passed, then Naiore moved in swiftly behind her, dropping the silken garrote around the unsuspecting woman’s throat. Pulling it tight, she forced the woman first to her knees, then the ground. As the woman’s fingers scrabbled helplessly at the tightening garrote, Naiore placed her leatherclad knee between the woman’s shoulder blades, pinning her to the earth. She bent down, placing her lips next to her captive’s ear.

“Do you value your life?” she asked coolly. The woman stopped struggling, but Naiore felt a wave of fear wash over her from the consciousness of the downed woman. Naiore tightened the garrote. “Do you?”

The southern woman nodded, struggling for breath.

“Then do not move a muscle.” When the woman nodded again, Naiore transferred both ends of the silken garrote into one hand and pulled a short length of rope from a side pocket on her pack with the other. When she was certain that the southern woman was well under her control, she released the garrote and bound the woman’s wrists tightly behind her back. Leaning forward, Naiore spoke to her again.

“Do you know who I am?” she asked. “Some call me the Lady of the Swan.”

The southern woman nodded. “I know who you are...” she gasped into the moss and dry leaves that carpeted the forest floor.

“Good.” Naiore smiled. “Then you know that I would just as soon kill you as look at you. The only reason you still breathe is that you may be of use to me. Are you not my old friend Kaldir’s ladylove?”

The woman said nothing, but her spine stiffened under Naiore’s weight which gave the Ravener all of the answer she required. “I thought as much,” continued Naiore. “Benia, isn’t it?”

“How - ?”

“You would be surprised at the things I know,” Naiore answered. She unwound the garrote from the southern woman’s throat and put it away, drawing her dagger in its place. Rising, Naiore took a firm grip on Benia’s thick black braid and the back of her neck with her free hand and, with surprising strength, hauled the semi-conscious woman to her feet. Pushing her ahead of her, Naiore forced her to walk. “Move quickly,” she ordered, maintaining her grip on the back of Benia’s neck. “Remember that I hold a dagger to your back. If you attempt to get away or even if you fall, it will find its mark. Walk.”

Benia said nothing, but stumbled forward at Naiore’s bidding. Moving in this way, with Naiore half-guiding and half-pushing Benia along by an iron grip to the back of her neck, they arrived very quickly at the base of Naiore’s hidden pathway out of the valley. There Naiore paused. Reaching around to Benia’s face, the Ravener closed her fingers around the fine silver chain that the southern woman wore across her cheekbone and gave it a firm tug. The chain snapped at either end, falling limply into Naiore’s hand. Smiling confidently, Naiore dropped it in the center of the path.

“We must make sure your lover finds you,” she said. “He and I have some unfinished business.”

“He will bring others with him,” Benia responded, twisting in Naiore‘s grip. Her amber eyes flashed with anger and, Naiore noticed with interest, fear. For herself? Or for the bounty hunter? “And they will kill you.”

Naiore laughed her silvery laugh. “I see that you do not know him as well as I do. Kaldir will come alone, and, when he does, you and I will be waiting.” She pushed the southern woman forward and upward along the steep path.

Behind them, the spangled chain sparkled in the grass at the base of the path, like a trace of dew touched by the morning sunlight.
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Old 08-28-2004, 04:49 PM   #285
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Gilly

Gilly sat on a low bench close by the Great Hall, squinting in the sunshine as she tatted rather furiously. The hobbit was mumbling to herself as she worked to pull out a mistake she had made. It appeared that she was having trouble concentrating on her work, and from time to time she stopped and looked around, absently waving her hand over an untouched plate of food that sat beside her.

She was beginning to worry, Miss Benia still had not returned from her walk. And though she had left messages for her friend to meet her here, both in the Halls of Healing and at her room, Gilly was starting to imagine that Miss Benia might have succumbed to her anxiety and fainted away in some unknown recess of the garden, or worse yet run off. But surely, she would not do that with out saying goodbye. It wasn’t in Miss Benia to hide from such problems. She would sort it out in time, Gilly consoled herself. It was just a rather messy job and no doubt that was what kept her. At least that is what the hobbit fervently hoped.

Looking up once more after pricking her finger, she brought her injured hand to her mouth in time to see Kaldir walking with long strides toward the entrance to the guest wing. "You’ll not find her in there!" she said to herself, quickly going back to her work, and reminding herself with each loop that Benia wanted to handle this situation with Kaldir. "And you’ll keep your peace Gilly Banks. Don’t go about meddling where you’re not entitled, or no good will come of it."

But honestly, someone should tell him, such things; else he’d never learn! She reasoned. A person’s heart is not so much to be given as it is to be won. And if it weren’t for his ill-timed proposal, she wouldn’t be a worried sick over Miss Benia. Her friend would be sitting here right now, smiling, as she ought to be, with a brimming heart and full stomach. Gilly looked mournfully at the food spoiling in the sunshine next to her. But he’s gone and robbed her of all that, just as if he had taken her hard earned gold.

Finally, striking a compromise with herself, Gilly decided not to speak at all to Kaldir about Benia unless he brought it up. Then she could not be blamed for what she said, for she had always prided herself on her honesty, and being honest she would not take pains to hide her opinions, from him either. And so as she tatted, Gilly began to construct in her mind all that she wanted to say to him, until she was surprised by the sudden appearance of a pair of well-worn boots in front of her. “Mrs. Banks,” she heard the familiar voice of Kaldir say. “I have been looking for you.”

“For me, Sir? Why is it you’d be looking for me?” Gilly asked, thinking to herself that the man probably wanted to find out from her where Miss Benia was, or more likely what answer she might be expected to give. For hadn’t she been sitting here in broad daylight all along?

“I had promised to take care of a sword for you,” Kaldir said. “Do you still have it?”

This wasn’t the reason she had expected, and she softened somewhat to see that he had not forgotten his promise. “Dúlrain’s sword you mean? Yes well, I do have it. As a matter of fact, I was about to ask you whether we could get it seen to earlier, but I had entirely forgot!” she babbled, and remembering Benia’s distress at seeing the sword, she looked again to the plate beside her.

“After you have eaten then,” Kaldir said noting her gaze. “I will not be staying in Imladris much longer.”

“Oh no, I have already eaten, this isn’t mine. Quite cold by now anyway I should think, or I’d offer it to you,” she said, realizing that happily Miss Benia would be granted a little more time to consider the offer extended her. “So you’re leaving then?”

“Hmm…” Kaldir affirmed. “I will accompany you to the Shire when I return,” he said sitting on the bench, so the plate was between them. Observing the hobbits edgy demeanor, he spoke again as he stretched out his long legs “Tell me, if this food is not for you, who is it for? Master Longholes?” he pursued, joking good-naturedly with the hobbit.

“Really now, sir, I’m sure he is capable of looking after himself here!” Gilly exclaimed, clearly offended by the implications. “It is for Miss Benia!” But she became all the more flustered wondering if this mention of her friend actually counted.

“Miss Nightshade,” he mused. “And yet the food is cold. Where is Miss Nightshade that you would be so uneasy speaking of her to me? Has she gone again to the Halls of Healing?” he asked carefully studying the hobbit though pale eyes.

Gilly could bear it no longer, “Gone to be at Mr. Dúlrain’s side?! Excuse me for being so bold, sir, but I can’t go on with much more of this, or I shall burst. And as your friend, I mean to set you straight while you still have time to make things right. Your talk this morning with Miss Benia couldn’t have come at a worse time. Yes, I haveheard about it. But what did you mean professing your affection for her after she had gotten her heart all tangled up with Mr. Dúlrain! Don’t you know you should have said something long before this! No she is not with Mr. Dúlrain, though I would not blame her if she were! And neither should you, if you would just think twice about it!” Gilly paused, regretting this unruly outpouring. “And if you were to tell me now that I can find my own way home, I would understand, entirely”, she added with a note of sadness. “But I just can’t abide to see you upset her so, even though she wished me to hold my tongue.”

Gilly saw that Kaldir steady gaze wavered ever so slightly, as if some thought had occurred to him. “Mrs. Banks, if she is not with you and not with Dúlrain, where is she?”

“That is just it, Sir. I don’t know! She found me in my room early this morning and went out for a walk just after that. She said she would come back, but hasn’t yet, and no one has seen her since morning. I’m getting worried Mr. Kaldir, really and truly worried. You don’t think she could have gone to the river to drown herself? I have heard of such things you know!”

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Old 08-29-2004, 08:39 PM   #286
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Kaldir

Kaldir listened to Gilly's outburst with a growing sense of misgiving. Not being particularly well-traveled in matters of the heart, he had been under the impression that his conversation with Benia that morning had gone rather well. True, she had seemed a bit troubled at their parting, but he had chalked it up to the suddenness of his proposal, rather than the circumstances. If she wished to reject his offer of marriage, all she had to do was tell him. He would accept her decision either way, whether it favored him or Dúlrain in the end. However, the knowledge that he had upset her so much that she would seek the counsel of Mrs. Banks so quickly and then vanish into thin air troubled him greatly.

“Drown herself!” he repeated, surprise and concern showing plainly on his usually impassive face. “Surely not. I can’t imagine Benia doing such a foolish thing... even to avoid me. But this notion of a walk does trouble me. The woods are far from safe. Did she say where she planned to go?”

Slowly, Gilly lowered her tatting into her lap, thinking hard. Finally, she shook her head. “No, I don’t think she did. She said she needed to take a little walk and think things over. I suggested a lovely garden they have not too far from the guest quarters...I think she went in that direction when she left, but, not having gone along with her, I really can’t say for certain.” Gilly paused, a haunted look coming into her kind eyes. “Oh, Mr. Kaldir, you don’t think anything awful has happened to her, do you?”

Kaldir shook his head. “I certainly hope not.” He rose to his feet and looked down at the hobbit lady with a gentle look in his eyes. “It is easy to lose oneself in a place like Imladris. Perhaps she has just found herself a quiet corner and lost track of the time.” He paused, his hand landing idly on the hilt of his sword. He gazed thoughtfully past Gilly toward the door that led in the direction of the gardens. “On the other hand, it is always best not to take anyone’s absence for granted. Just this morning I told Benia that I would sooner die than see any harm come to either one of you. To be the cause of it, would be unacceptable.”

When he glanced back down at Gilly and saw the fear in her eyes, Kaldir smiled encouragingly. “I shall be off to find her at once,” he said, kneeling down to look more directly into Gilly’s face. “Rest easy in your heart. After all, I am a tracker and a hunter. I should be able to find her fairly easily. If I have done her any harm with my talk of the future, then I shall do what I can to set things right with her again.” He rose again to his full height and, turning away, added under his breath, “Her happiness does matter more than mine.”

Leaving Gilly behind, Kaldir went to the garden that she had described. As he walked, he turned over the things Gilly had said in his mind: that he should have spoken for Benia sooner; that once Benia’s feelings for Dúlrain had taken shape, he should have stepped aside. If he really loved her, Benia’s happiness should matter more than his. Kaldir frowned darkly. Perhaps Gilly had been correct after all. His interpretation of the situation had been that since Dúlrain had yet to speak for Benia’s hand, he, Kaldir, was still free to do so. If she wished to reject him in favor of Dúlrain or anyone else, all she had to do was tell him. So, what was the problem? Why had she gotten so upset? He sighed. Apparently, he had no understanding whatsoever of women. That was the problem. Admittedly, he had never spent much time around them. He had not even had a mother around growing up, his own mother having died giving birth to him. He had no idea how their minds worked, he was discovering, particularly not in matters of the heart. He had never proposed marriage to anyone before, and, while he knew that his proposal to Benia had not been made under the most ideal of circumstances, it had certainly never occurred to him that she would be upset by it.

Walking through the garden, he thought about all of this as his eyes scanned the well-trodden path for any sign of Benia’s passing. He had noticed that morning in the Hall of Healing that she wore a pair of elven boots in place of her own, which made distinguishing her trail from that of the many elves who trafficked the garden nearly impossible. As a last resort, in the hope of eliminating the possibility that she had strayed outside, Kaldir deserted the path and went to the seldom-used gate that led out of the garden to the woods beyond. To his dismay, a single set of fresh footprints showed that a woman had passed that way. Kaldir slipped through the gate and followed the faint trail of boot prints into the woods.

For a long distance, the woman - Benia, perhaps?- followed a straight path through the trees, turning only with the turns of the trail. Her strides were long and steady, without any pause or hesitation, like a woman in a hurry... or a woman deep in thought. Kaldir paused to examine a low-hanging branch that hung across the way. A grim smile touched his lips as he found what he had both hoped and dreaded to find: a single long, black hair caught in the rough bark. Her head had apparently brushed the branch as she stooped to pass. He drew the hair from its place of rest and pulled it between his fingers. It did look like hers. Tucking it away into his pocket, Kaldir passed under the branch and continued along the way, his eyes studying the ground. Rounding a sharp bend, he stopped abruptly.

A second set of elven boots had joined the first. A second woman.

“No...Benia...” he murmured, his hand reaching up to touch the scarred side of his face. His pale eyes narrowed as he deciphered the tale told by the, now, two sets of prints. Benia had been seized from behind by the owner of the second pair of boots. Whoever it was had forced her to the ground, held her there briefly, no doubt to tie her wrists, thought Kaldir, then dragged her to her feet again. The second woman had then forced Benia onward, deeper into the forest. Kaldir drew his sword. There was only one elf who would do such a thing to such a gentle creature as Benia Nightshade, if the footprints and the strand of hair did indeed belong to her.

For a fleeting instant, he felt a familiar rush of memory and muzzy thinking as the horrors of Mordor sought to free themselves from the dungeon in the bottom of his mind, but he forced them back with a steely determination. If Naiore had Benia, then he must go forward. He must think clearly. With all of his senses alert, Kaldir tightened his grip around the hilt of his sword and followed the trail where it led, northward, through the valley. Finally, at the base of a steep and well-concealed trail that twisted upward out of the valley to the ridge above, he stopped. The two females had stopped there as well, briefly, before continuing onward.

Catching sight of something shiny in the grass, winking at him in the afternoon sunlight, Kaldir bent and closed his fingers around a short length of silver chain. It was decorated with tiny silver spangles. Kaldir recognized it at once. His face grew hard as he tucked it into his pocket alongside the single strand of Benia’s hair. There was no doubt now who had made those tracks. His only hope was that he might get to her before it was too late.
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Old 09-01-2004, 05:41 AM   #287
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Naiore

As Naiore pushed her captive into the camp high on the ridge above Imladris, the southern woman stumbled and fell. Barrold Ferny turned from where he had been tightening the cinch strap on the saddle of the bounty hunter’s gray horse. Naiore watched as his close-set eyes first widened in surprise then narrowed suspiciously.

"That ain’t Vanwe!" he objected harshly. He straightened, eying the southern woman with a mixture of irritation and, Naiore noticed, appraisal.

"How observant of you to notice, Barrold," she replied coldly. "Pick her up. If she pleases you, you may have her when she has fulfilled her usefulness to me. In the meantime, tie her to that tree." With a nod, Naiore indicated a scrubby tree near the fire pit, that stood well-removed from the boundaries of the camp. "We will soon be having company."

"Who?" asked Ferny. He reached out and grabbed the southern woman roughly around the elbow and dragged her to her feet. When Naiore did not answer immediately, he spat at the ground. "With all them elves around, and orcs, it’d be nice to know who’s coming for dinner," he grumbled. "Wouldn’t it, sweet’eart?" he added into the southern woman’s ear, a wide and rather lecherous grin creeping over his features.

The southern woman looked at him sharply and tried to jerk away, but Ferny’s grip was too tight on her arm. He pulled her back toward him, his eyes glittering dangerously.

"That’s enough," quipped Naiore. "Tie her to the tree. Make sure the bonds are secure."

For a brief instant, Ferny glared at Naiore, then dropped his eyes and did as he was told. "Later, sweet’eart," he muttered to the southern woman, pulling the ropes tight around her torso.

Naiore watched with detachment, letting her mind drift, searching, searching, searching... The bounty hunter would come. It was just a matter of time. She took a seat on a large stone, curling her long legs up under her, and waited. As the minutes passed, Barrold Ferny completed the preparations for their departure, his eyes slipping again and again in the direction of the exotic dark-haired woman tied to the tree. While this woman was no elf, Naiore could tell that Barrold Ferny had already decided her an apt substitute for Vanwe as part of his reward. She smiled to herself. Scoundrels like Barrold were so easy to control, to satisfy... so base. He was vastly different from Kaldir, who had been so interestingly difficult. She had enjoyed the challenge that the bounty hunter had presented back in Mordor when he had lived or died at her whim. It would have been enjoyable to joust with him again, but this time, she knew she did not have the time for games. She would use the leverage that she had in the person of the southern woman against him. And she would play no games. Finally, at last, Naiore felt the presence she had been waiting for. She sensed him faintly at first, on the far reaches of her consciousness, but it quickly grew stronger. The bounty hunter was coming.

Naiore turned to Barrold Ferny. "He comes," she said sharply.

"Who?" grunted Ferny yet again.

"An old friend," answered Naiore with a smile. "I believe you would be familiar with him in his professional capacity. A certain bounty hunter? It seems that we have his lady."

"Ah, crikey..."

"Be on your guard, Barrold." Naiore slid down from her perch on the stone and took up a position near the bound woman, her dagger in her hand.


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

Benia

"No..." Benia whispered. She twisted her hands behind her, feeling the coarse rope bite into wrists. An hour or so earlier, she had been upset with him and willing to believe any number of evil things about Kaldir, but now as he approached the trap that Naiore Dannan had set for him using her as the bait, Benia could only see him as the man who had delivered her and Gilly and Dúlrain safely into Imladris, and who had only a short while earlier held her hands in his and asked her to become his wife. She cast a fearful glance over her shoulder in the direction of the Ravenner. He must not be allowed to fall into such evil hands. Knowing that her life would be forfeit if she dared even to attempt to thwart the evil elf’s plans, Benia strained against her bindings. She came to a decision. As far as she could see, her life had already been forfeited.

"KALDIR!" she screamed at the top of her voice. "NO! SHE’S -" A sledgehammer-like blow struck Benia full in the face, cutting off her words, and plunging her into a state of semi-consciousness. Benia slumped against her ropes. Slowly, she struggled back toward consciousness. As her amber eyes fluttered open once more, she saw that the Ravenner had not moved, still standing like a woman of ice off to Benia’s side, her eyes distant and cold. Barrold Ferny grinned down from directly in front of her.

"Now, sweet’eart," he said in an oily tone. "That wasn’t too smart." He pulled a filthy handkerchief out of his pocket and shoved it deep into her mouth, snorting with laughter as she gagged and struggled to breathe. "I’ll hit you again if I have to..."

"Hush," ordered Naiore. Her clear gaze scanned the perimeters of the camp. Slowly, she stepped up behind Benia, raising the naked dagger to the bound woman’s throat.

Ferny stepped back, glancing around nervously.

"Greetings, dúnedan," purred Naiore in the direction of a thick patch of underbrush. "It has been a long time. You haven’t forgotten me, have you?"

When only silence answered her, Naiore laughed softly, a silvery sound that was both chilling and beautiful at once. Benia felt a trill of shivers race down her spine.

"It’s no use pretending that you are not here, my friend," she continued. "You are quite near. I can feel your presence. Show yourself that we might speak civilly."

Benia stared with horror as there was a soft rustling and Kaldir stepped into the clearing, his sword drawn. Still, he said nothing.

"Very good." Naiore raised the tip of her dagger to touch Benia’s face. Behind her, Benia heard Barrold Ferny draw his sword. "Now drop your sword," the elf ordered Kaldir, ignoring the man behind her.

Kaldir shook his head, his pale eyes filled with bitter loathing. "I cannot do that."

"You forget that I have something you value." Naiore’s blade traced gently down Benia’s cheek. "Shall I carve her up slowly? Would that suit you better? Perhaps I shall start with her eyes." The point of the dagger pricked the smooth skin just to the outside of Benia’s right eye. The muscles twitched along Kaldir’s jaw. Scarcely breathing, Benia watched as Barrold Ferny crept along the outside edge of the camp, moving himself into position behind Kaldir. She did not dare move as the tip of dagger pressed deeper into her flesh. She looked again at Kaldir‘s eyes and saw not loathing now, but pain.

"Give up your weapons and she lives," said Naiore. "I give you my word, my friend, but defy me and she shall die a slow and torturous death." Again, the chilling laugh. "I’m sure you know well what things I am capable of."

A long silence passed as the four of them stood motionless, in a temporary stale mate. Unable to speak, Benia prayed within her heart that Kaldir turn and walk away, leaving her to her fate. She had been foolish to wander off when she knew full well the danger that surrounded them. She deserved whatever happened to her. But he did not. Closing her eyes, Benia waited for the cut of the Ravenner’s dagger. Her heart sank as, instead, she heard the soft clink of steel striking gravel. Kaldir had dropped his sword.

"Search him and bind him!" barked Naiore to Ferny, withdrawing her dagger.

Benia opened her eyes in time to see Barrold Ferny kick Kaldir’s sword out of the bounty hunter’s reach. He sheathed his own blade and, fetching a rope, tied Kaldir's arms behind him, once at the wrist and again just above the elbows, pulling his broad shoulders back at an awkward angle. He attached a second rope, for additional control, around Kaldir's throat in the shape of a noose. Then, as Naiore watched, Ferny searched him for weapons, adding a small pile of daggers and small throwing knives to the sword on the ground. At last, Ferny nodded.

"He's clean."

Naiore stepped away from Benia and sheathed her dagger, returning to her place atop the stone. "Bring him to me."

As Ferny reached out to push the bounty hunter in the direction of Naiore, Kaldir, who had been enduring all of this in a smoldering silence, raised his head and gave Ferny threatening glare. Instinctively, Ferny dropped his hand and took a step backward. Scowling, he cinched up on the noose around Kaldir's throat instead. Naiore stilled him with a raised hand.

"What is it?" asked Naiore, her hand falling again toward the hilt of her dagger. "I thought we had a deal - your life for hers."

Benia watched as Kaldir nodded. "We do," he said gravely. "But I would like to speak with her first."

Naiore paused for an instant, then nodded her agreement. "Very well, but make it brief," she said impatiently. "You and I have much to do." Turning her gaze toward Ferny, she continued, "Take the rag out of her mouth. I don't think she will be screaming again."

Barrold Ferny did as he was told and, at a glance from Naiore, retreated a short distance away, still keeping a firm grip on the rope around Kaldir's throat.

"Why didn't you leave me?" Benia whispered as Kaldir stepped within a pace of her. "You should have left me."

Kaldir merely shook his head and bent to rest his scarred cheek against her soft hair. "She doesn't want you. She wants me," he said softly. "This way, I can perhaps gain you some time. Dúlrain will find you. I am sure of it."

"What will she do to you?"

Again, Kaldir shook his head. He started to say something else, but was cut off as Barrold Ferny, at a nod from Naiore, jerked sharply on the rope, causing Kaldir's head to snap violently backward. As he was dragged away, Benia heard his last words to her, uttered so softly that she nearly missed them:

"I'm sorry."

Unaware that she was even doing it, Benia made a soft keening sound in her throat as she watched him be forced down on to his knees in front of the Ravenner. Smiling serenely, Naiore uncoiled her long long legs and slid down from her rock. Her slender fingers stroked the bounty hunter's scarred face.

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Old 09-01-2004, 05:56 AM   #288
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Rauthain

After leaving Amandur, Rauthain went directly to the ranger’s lodging to look for Avanill there. But finding him gone and no one else about in that place, the old ranger hurried to gather those few things that he had brought with him on his journey, heaping them in a small pile within in hand’s reach of the door. When he had finished, he left again quickly to search not only for Avanill but Kaldir also, and it wore heavily on him as he strode over the grounds that he should find them. For he was eager that they make haste now that Amandur had bid them be ready to depart, and would leave this place just as soon as the horses were saddled and their provisions obtained.

Going to look for Kaldir’s room, the old ranger stopped those who passed by him, asking where the guests might be staying. He did not feel comfortable in the beautiful halls and gardens there, but as if he somehow were intruding on the place, disrupting the natural flow of activities, like a branch that water must swirl around in passing by. But at length his heavy boots found the threshold of the room he had been told was used by his friend, and though all was quiet inside, he knocked, the sound echoing lightly down the hall. “Kaldir,” he called, but no one answered. And so, after a few moments decision he opened the door that creaked on its ancient hinges. At first glance he thought he had the wrong chamber, for this one seemed unoccupied. Indeed Rauthain, finding it both empty and reasonably orderly, stepped into the room to check for a sign that anyone had lately been there. Crossing over to the bed, he ran his hand across its fine coverlet, but it appeared smooth and unused. And the fireplace, it was clean with newly stacked wood in the grate. And it was only when he opened the empty wardrobe expecting to find Kaldir’s weather worn bag and rope that he recalled Kaldir had lost his gear when his horse had run off in battle.

So the old ranger moved to close the cabinet door when he heard someone clear her throat behind him, to his relief, a woman by the sound of it. Turning, he saw Mrs. Banks standing in the doorway scowling at him, a fistful of green lacework in her hand. “What are you doing poking around here then, while Mr. Kaldir’s away?” she demanded of the ranger, in a manner that put him in mind of a small but outraged lap dog.

Placing one hand on his chest and stretching out the other, Rauthain bowed deeply to her saying, “My apologies Madam, but I see now that I indeed have the right room. I have been looking for our friend Kaldir, but from the look of it, this room is little used. Do you know where he might be found? I carry a message for him that is quite urgent.”

“I don’t know about any urgent messages, but I do know, he’s off on important business of his own. And also that you ought not be prowling around places you’ve no right to be, Mr. Rauthain!” she scolded “And I have half a mind to tell him that I’ve seen you here poking about his room, when he gets back.”

“Please see that you do,” Rauthain interjected. “For we are to leave as soon as we can ready ourselves. That is the message I carry, and I think he will also deem it an important one, if you would be kind enough to tell him.”

“I see,” the hobbit said, looking around her. “He don’t have much to pack here, as you can see. But he’d be needing a bite to eat on the road, won’t he?” she said thoughtfully. “I don’t expect you’d leave without him?”

“Without him? No, I should think not. Why? Where is it exactly that he has gone?” Rauthain enquired growing a little anxious. “And what is this important business you speak of. Surely he has not gone to seek the Ravennor alone!”

“No sir, it’s nothing like that. It’s Miss Benia…Miss Nightshade. She was in a bit of a quandary and needed to sort herself out,” the hobbit began.

“Ah,” Rauthain said, Quick to suppress a smile of relief, as he remembered his discussion with Kaldir about the lady only the morning before. “But what has that to do with Kaldir?” he asked.

“Well, everything really,” the hobbit continued. “But to the point, she was a bit distraught and Mr. Kaldir has gone to find her and make sure she is alright.”

“Do you know where they have gone? I do not wish to intrude upon them, but as I said it is urgent”

“No, I don’t know where either of them is. And to tell you the truth, I have not seen them for some time,” she sighed. “But if he hadn’t have found her wouldn’t he have returned?”

“I would think so. But there again I am no better off then when I began!” Rauthain said with a hint of exasperation. “But if by chance you see them would you tell Kaldir that we are to leave?”

“Yes, yes. You can count on it.” The hobbit said straightening out her tattling.

“And I will also keep an eye out for them,” the ranger said, cocking his head sideways to view her work. “You do nice lacework Mrs. Banks, if I might say so. My wife also used to be quite good at tatting in her youth.” Then suddenly remembering the shuttle that he had found by the river, he untied the pouch at his side and drew out the little wooden thing, handing it to the hobbit. “I think that you might get more use of this than I would, though it reminded me of her to find it.”

“This looks like the one I used to keep in my pocket, but lost when we crossed the river Bruinen!” she exclaimed.

“It very well might bethe same, for I found it also in the waters of the Bruinen, and I’m glad it has found you again. But if you will excuse me, I must set about my business. Do not forget to pass on the message!”

“Thank you sir, and I won’t.” Mrs. Banks called after Rauthain, as he walked down the hall and outside once again.


It had been quiet some time since Amandur had charged Rauthain with the task of finding his two fellows, and still the old ranger had not been able to alert them. Now after looking again about the house he decided to return to Amandur to tell him of the delay, and strangely enough as he walked toward Amandur’s quarters he met Avanill walking along the path in the opposite direction.

“Hey there, Avanill!” Rauthain hailed him. “I bring from Amandur news that we are to leave immediately, but I have not found Kaldir. Have you seen him today?”

“Earlier on, I saw him entering a garden, but not since then,” Avanill said gestering back up the path.

“Isn’t that the way of it?” Rauthain grumbled. “And now I suppose we might never find him! Was he alone?”

“Yes, quite alone, and looking about there quite intently, though he seemed more interested in the ground than the blossoms. Why do you ask?”

“Evidently, the blossom he was looking for was Miss Nightshade, who had gone off on her own. I imagine I should try to find one or the other of them then, for I don’t think they would be far apart, but wish me good hunting if you will.”

“I do then. Is there something that I could do, meanwhile?” the young man asked.

“I suppose you might get our horses saddled. It shouldn’t take Kaldir long to prepare once we’ve found him,” Rauthain said as he started to leave. “I will let Amandur know were I am going,” he called over his shoulder. “But you might want to let him know when you and the horses are ready.”


By the time Rauthain reached the quarters there were a few rangers about, and Amandur was not to be found among them. The afternoon was already growing late and the old ranger did not want to wait, but still he pulled out a chair from under the small table, and sat for a while, waiting for Amandur to return and collect his things.

Finally, eyeing the cloak that lay over Amandur’s bags, he got up and slipped from his shoulder the satchel containing Avanill’s stores. He held it in his hands, as if weighing something in his mind, but then got up and walked over to the cloak. Placing the sachel under the soft folds, he was careful to conceal it well. He could wait no longer and would not have Avanill jump him in the lonely garden, to take off with these potent powders. At least this way too Amandur might have a little more hold on him, when the boy came back with the horses.

Closing the door behind him, Rauthain left making quickly for the garden were Avanill had last seen Kaldir.

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Old 09-08-2004, 06:24 AM   #289
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Dúlrain

Dúlrain Searched the house for Benia walking as if treading a shadowy path of dreams detached from the reality of true happiness by the weight of what he had now convinced himself was the only solution to the war that waged within his heart and soul. His brother had crawled with every ounce of strength he possessed from the pitched blackness of his tormentors prison and now stood precariously on a precipice, one push and he again could fall into darkness, Rauthain had all but warned him that it was so! But ahead lay life, love, friendship all things forgotten and stripped from his brother by the twisted hands of fate that had so cruelly delivered him into the hands of Naiore Dannan. Who was he to denying his brother theses things, did he not deserve this chance more than he, had he not suffered enough! His loyalty and conscious threw its weight heavily into the pitched battle.

Pausing momentarily he closed his eyes remembering the softness of Benia’s gentle touch as his heart countered his conscious in a heartbreakingly concise strike. He breathed deeply remembering the sweetness of her scent which lingered tantalisingly in the southern woman’s wake, beckoning him to stay with her forever. As he opened his eyes and continued up the winding stairs he was remained of her bravery and the fierce loyalty she had shown her friends, the strength and being of who and what she stood for and his undying love of that strength waged against the tide of his love and loyalty for his brother and so it continued until with clarity he saw that Benia was already bound to Kaldir, a small slither of thread that held him in place, a stabling presence that called his brother from the brink of darkness, without which he might slip and tumble back into the bleakness of his internal prison!

Taking a deep and steadying breath he realised that he again stood before the door of his quandary, his hand reached out to touch the dark wood as he pictured the woman he believed within. Her gentle smile and the loving warmth of her amber eyes filled his mind and for an instance he almost gave in to his hearts desire.

“I’m Sorry!” he whispered letting his hand slip from the door and turning . There was no point in upsetting her any more than he had too, he would leave with the others and not return, Kaldir would return and together they would escort Mrs banks to her home and with time he would be forgotten and she and Kaldir would find happiness together, all that was left for him to too was insure that his brother lived to return. With a resigned determination and a heavy heart he started to leave, but stopped as the door behind him slowly opened, he turned expecting to see the warm smile of Benia but was surprised to see it was the elven attendant.

“Good day Master Dúlrain it is good to see you up and about,” she smiled pleasantly, “If your looking for miss Nightshade she is not here at present, I thought she might still be with you,” she said her warm smile broadening, but seeing Dulrain frown pensively she asked him what was wrong.

“it may be nothing,” he said shaking his head thoughtfully, “but I have just come from looking for the lady downstairs, perhaps I just missed her,” he shrugged.

“No Master Dúlrain, I have been here all morning and have seen no other guest but Mrs Banks, Even Master Kaldir’s room has been untouched, oh no wait Master Rauthain was here sometime ago speaking with Mrs Banks, I remember noting that she looked a little trouble once he departed."

Dúlrain’s frown deepen slightly, "Do you know were the Hobbit lady went?" he asked.

“I’m sorry after the ranger left she went down stair, where she went from there I cannot say,” the lady answered apologetically.

Dúlrain nodded, thanking the elven lady for her help and left to look for Gilly if anyone knew were Benia might be it would be her. As he searched for the hobbit woman he asked those he passed if they had seen either of the two women, while none had seen the southern woman, several remembered seeing the hobbit woman heading out towards the gardens and this is where he found her, her head intently searching left and right.

“Mrs Banks!” he called gently wishing not to startle her, she turned and he saw clearly the worry and concern etched on her face.

“Oh! Master Dúlrain,” She cried as he crouched down before her. “I’m ever so worried, its Miss Benia …” she paused seeing her concern mirrored in his grey eyes, but he gentle prompted her to go on.

“Oh! Dulrain she went for a walk alone this morning and has not been seen back since, Masters Kaldir and Rauthain have both gone to look for her and neither have returned, what could have happened too them!” she sighed. Dúlrain followed her gaze beyond the gardens his own concerns and fear racing in his mind. “why would she have gone alone, it just does not seem like her to such a thing?” he whispered not understanding, but noting Gilly’s silence he turned to look at her.

“Oh Mister Dúlrain, she was so confused, feeling how she does about you and all!” Dúlrain frowned still not fully understanding.

“It was Mister Kaldir, He proposed to her.” the hobbit woman whispered sympathetically.

Dulrain dropped to his knees in shock, feeling as though his heart had just been rent from his chest, a numb constricting feeling caught his breath and his chest tightened.

“Oh Mister Dúlrain I am sorry, but I am so worried what if something has happened to her, perhaps I should have gone with her but she said that she needed some time to think! surely the others should have found her by now?"

Hearing the fear and worry in the hobbit woman’s voice he swallowed his pain and gently turned Gilly to face him. “I promise I will never let anything happen to her, but I must ask you something, it may be important so think hard.” he said levelling his eyes gently with the hobbit woman, Gilly nodded.

“Did you notice if Benia still wore the whistle that I gave to Kaldir in Bree?” Gilly thought hard for a moment then nodded, “Yes, yes she did!” she replied hopefully.

“Good, then there is hope, if anything has happened she at least has a way to call for help.” he nodded encouragingly. “Gilly I need you to find Amandur, let him know what has happened, Tell him to continue on we will catch him up as soon as Benia and the others are found.”

Gilly was about to protest and argue that she was going to go with him , when he sympathetically took her hands, “I promise I will find her and the others, but if something has happened it may be dangerous, I know and understand your loyalty to your friend, but I need for you to stay here and let Amandur and the others know what has happened.” She was silent for a moment then nodded reluctantly.

“Now go, I will find them!” He urged, Gilly nodded and hurried in the direction of the rangers quarters. Rising Dúlraian turned and went in search of the others. Finding the dusty prints of Kaldir and Rauthain he followed them into the forest that edged the elven refuge, he paused in horror as the tracks of the others told their terrible tale. With a sharp whistle he looked backwards towards the stables and after only a moment he heard the heavy hoofs of Dir Galloping towards him, grasping the reigns he lead the horse as he intently followed the tracks further into the forest, He had to find them! She had to be safe!

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Old 09-08-2004, 03:32 PM   #290
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Kaldir

As Kaldir was dragged away from Benia by the rope around his neck, he could hear her make a soft keening sound in her throat. The sound alone would have broken his heart if he had been in any other situation, but under the current circumstances, it ripped at his soul as well. He knew that he would never see her again, at least not with the same eyes. To an outside observer, it might have seemed odd that he had accepted Naiore's deal so quickly, but Kaldir knew that, evil though she was, her word was as good as a bond. Benia would not be harmed... so long as he held up his end of the bargain.

At a sharp blow from Ferny, Kaldir stumbled and fell, landing heavily on his knees before the Ravenner. It was a posture that he had sworn he would never again occupy. The touch of her fingers against his face felt like the touch of death. Out of an ancient habit, Kaldir averted his face.

“Here we are again,” said Naiore crisply. “We have much to do, my friend, so I will remind you but once. Do not defy me. I no longer have the time for games. Remember... if you resist me, I shall have Barrold cut out your lady’s eyes one by one. Do we have an understanding?”

When Kaldir nodded, she smiled. “Good. Then look at me.” Finally, reluctantly, Kaldir did as he was told. His body stiffened in pain as Naiore forced her way into his psyche. All of the demons that he had sought so long to keep at bay came rushing forth, yet he did nothing to push them away from him or to stop Naiore. The mental walls he had once been able to push up against Naiore’s invading consciousness lay dormant. He let her in, let her do her work unopposed. If he wished to save Benia, he had no choice. He merely endured the pain as Naiore’s sharp mind slashed through his memory and conscience like a scythe through dry grass. In the end, nothing remained of him but his fearsome fighting skills and the intense determination to use them for her defense. A thin trickle of blood ran from his nose. Naiore smiled and stepped back. Kaldir was gone.

Only emptiness remained. Emptiness and death. The husk that was once Kaldir, slumped into his bindings. Inside his head, Naiore continued to speak as outside of him she began to untie his bindings with her own hands. “There are others,” she said. “They are coming. It is your job, my friend, to stop them. Kill them. Do not let them pass. I will keep your lady safe for you while you do your work for me. When you have killed as many of them as you can, make your escape. You will find us in Gladden Fields. Your lady and I will wait for you there. Remember. Kill any you encounter.” He said nothing as her silken voice droned on and on. His mind in tatters, he merely stood there and accepted his weapons back from her hands. The only thoughts he was able to grasp were her face, her voice, and the content of her repeating commands. He must kill them. Kill them all.

“Go now,” said Naiore. Wiping the blood from under his nose, Kaldir nodded and walked away to do as he had been instructed. The farther away he got from Naiore as he moved back in the direction of Imladris, the more he became aware of his surroundings, but it was not with the same awareness that he once had. It was the awareness that he had once thought belonged only to the world of nightmares. Even the faintest sounds rang out at him with intense clarity, every detail of the woods shone as though outlined in black. He wiped again at the blood that ran from his nose. Nothing connected.

Reaching the base of the trail that Naiore had used to get in and out of the vale, Kaldir hesitated, listening. Someone was approaching down the path. Drawing his dagger, he concealed it behind his leg and waited. Before long, an old ranger appeared, moving slowly between the trees, his attention focused on the ground. Tracking. Like the silent hunter that he was, Kaldir waited, his dagger at the ready.

Seeing him at last, the old ranger quickened his step. “There you are!” he exclaimed, a look of relief appearing across his weathered face as he approached the waiting hunter. “I was beginning to think we had lost...” His words trailed off in confusion as Kaldir neither moved nor responded, his face expressionless and cold.

Before the old ranger could say anything further, arm himself, or even fall back a pace, Kaldir seized his opportunity. He stepped forward and with a single fluid motion, sank the blade of his dagger into the unprotected torso of the older man, pushing it in to the hilt and upward between the man’s ribcage to his heart. Feeling the ranger’s hot blood gush over his hand, Kaldir merely twisted the blade. As the old ranger began to go limp and fall, dying, Kaldir let him drop to the ground. Puling the dagger free, he wiped it clean on the shoulder of the man’s cloak.

Then, for a flashing instant, Kaldir hesitated. A fragment of memory raced across his detached mind. This man. Laughing... He knew him. Rauthain?. Equally quickly the moment was gone. Someone else was approaching through the trees. He could hear the soft clop of a horse’s hooves. Stepping over the dying man, Kaldir sheathed his dagger and drew his sword.

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

Naiore

Naiore watched from the center of the camp as Kaldir's tall figure disppeared from view. She felt a combination of triumph and disappointment that she had gained such an easy victory over him in the end, but all mortal men had their weaknesses. Conquering Kaldir had simply been a matter of finding his weakness. Naiore glanced over at the black-haired woman tied to the tree. Once she had found that weakness, the rest had been easy. The pity was that she had not had the time to do a proper job of exploring and corrupting his mind. In her haste, she had been forced to make do with a shallow destruction of him, nothing more. Too bad! What a fearsome weapon he would have made had she been able to turn him completely to her will without destroying him as part of the bargain. It was such a waste.

With Kaldir gone to carry out her bidding against what elves and rangers he could find, Naiore turned her attention toward the more immediate business of her own well-being. It was then that she noticed for the first time the low-pitched keening of the southern woman. Turning to Barrold Ferny, she snapped, "Shut her up."

"Gladly," muttered Ferny. He stepped up to the bound woman and raised a hand to strike her a fierce backhand across the face, when she fell abruptly silent. Ferny chuckled and tickled her under the chin instead. "Smart move, sweet'eart," he said pleasantly. "You an' I are going to get along just fine. Don't start up again or I'll rattle your teeth for real."

With that, Ferny dropped her a slow wink, to which the woman responded with silence and a glare of pure hatred. Ferny cawed with hoarse laughter. He cast a glance over his shoulder to see what Naiore's response had been to his moment of fun, his laughter trailing off as he saw that Naiore had slung her pack on to her shoulders and strapped her curved swords into place.

"Wot!" he exclaimed. "Are we leavin', then?" He nodded in the direction the bounty hunter had gone. "Wot about 'im?"

"He will not be coming back." Naiore smiled coolly. "He will be either killed outright or captured and executed for his sins. We needn't worry ourselves with him any further."

Ferny's jaw dropped open, exposing a mouthful of black teeth. "So's we just leave 'im. 'Is knowing where we are and everything? Wot if 'e gets away? They can follow 'im, right? Right to us."

Naiore's beautiful gray eyes narrowed thoughtfully. Perhaps it would be better to be sure of the bounty hunter's demise. If he survived the contact with the elves and rangers at all, she knew well that he would be wounded and vulnerable and, consequently, of very little further use to her. She nodded. "Then you may stay behind," she answered smoothly. "Kill him yourself. I'll leave you the horse. When you know the job is done, you may rejoin us quickly by horseback."

"Wot about 'er?" demanded Ferny, gesturing to Benia with his thumb.

"She pleases you?"

"She ain't bad."

"Then she comes with me," answered Naiore. "For safe-keeping. When you return, you may have her to do with as you please." Naiore turned and drew her dagger. With a quick, fluid movement, she cut the rope that bound the southern woman to the tree. Her wrists still tied, Benia Nightshade fell away from the tree, careful to keep her distance from Naiore. The elven woman laughed. "Yes, it is wise to fear me," she said, sensing the dread and hatred that now rolled off the woman in waves. With her dagger, Naiore pointed toward a path out of the campsite that would eventually lead into the south. "Now go. Remember I will only be a step behind."

"How will I find you?" called Ferny as the two females began to walk swiftly out of camp, Benia first with Naiore tightly on her heels.

"Make for Gladden Fields."

Last edited by Ealasaide; 09-14-2004 at 12:38 PM.
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Old 09-10-2004, 08:39 PM   #291
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“Right, the horses” muttered Avanill after Rauthain. It was the first time he had thought about his own horse which he had left in Bree, and for the first time in his life he wished he had Amathalay there with him, still the elves had offered their services and a horse of the elves would in no doubt work harder, be faster and stronger than his mother’s old horse. His mother… Avanill paused on the path to the stables intent on fulfilling Rauthain’s request. He had completely forgotten that he would have to tell her about this. He swore under his breath and grinned nervously. “Just think” he said “Its self preservation also.”

Being around the ranger’s quarters that day had unnerved Avanill, which anyone who knew him would say that that was near impossible because he wore a frown for quite some time. He now knew what part he had to play in all of this. And anyone would have thought this enough to settle any man uncertain of his fete, but not Avanill. Sure, all he had to do was hit Naiore with a dart, but getting within the vicinity would be hard enough, not to mention shielding himself from her mind games.

Wandering thoughtfully to the stables a thought struck him. He knew a potion which would cloud the mind to an almost waking dream. If he could find some way to dilute it he may be able to inject her himself. “Damn!” he cried out loud, scaring one of the horses. He realised that his satchel was still with the other rangers. “Thankyou for making this easy for me.” He said sarcastically upwards as if talking to the roof. As if in answer a lantern fell from the roof narrowly missing the young man who had jumped out of the way to avoid being hit, he landed lightly upon the hay but it was what rolled out of a pocket that surprised him the most.

Rolling away from him in the hay were two tiny phials, both light blue in colour. Avanill’s face lit up. He looked at a horse who had peered its head over its stall. “I hadn’t even thought of that one” he admitted picking himself up, grinning. “That one will come in handy.”

Once he had all horses saddled he took them in turn to the front of the rangers quarters where he had prepared his own belongings and sat down on the steps and waited.

Last edited by Everdawn; 09-11-2004 at 05:24 AM.
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Old 09-13-2004, 04:55 AM   #292
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Vanwe

In another room in the house two elves packed in solemn silence, all that had needed to be said had been said, concerns aired, fears confronted until father and daughter had come to a solemn understanding. Vanwe emptied the contents of the pouch that Lespheria had returned to her onto the bed, lifting the crumpled notes scrawled in her hand she read over them sombrely, a silent anger spread over her as she saw the depth of her denial in the words she herself had written, so long ago it now seemed but a distant memory, a fleeting fantasy! Screwing up the notes she tossed them defiantly onto the cold black coals of the unlit fire and then turning back her deep blue eyes fell on the dark twisted leather, that served as a reminder of what lay behind. Golden strands of fine elven hair had become caught up in the leather braiding, the hair of her mother that Hanasian had given her, the irony struck her as she picked it up and held it delicately in her hands. It had been Naiore who had abandoned her , the Harad camp a prison of her mothers design were she could be left and forgotten. Closing her hand around the twisted leather she felt her fathers concerned gaze on her, putting the truth of her past back into her pouch, with the little copper she possessed she turned and smiled in his direction, but his gaze had already dropped. Fastening her pack and tying her pouch securely to the elven belt she now wore, she walked up and laid a comforting hand on her fathers shoulder.

“It will be ok,” she whispered softly.

“You can’t possibly know that, You do not know her as I do!” Menecin replied after a moments silence, turning, his eyes studied her gravely, “I do not know if I can protect you?” he admitted regretfully.

Vanwe nodded smiling sympathetically. “I know the danger we face, but you do understand why we must go, don’t you?” She asked looking up at him.

Menecin nodded and took his daughter into his arms “We need this to end!” he whispered, affectionately kissing the top of her head. Vanwe remain in the warmth of her fathers embrace comforted and secure like a small child for several moments before gently pulling away.

“I’m so glad I found you,” she whispered as she turned and reached for her pack, her father smiled down on her but a small glimmer of fear and sadness still shone in his eyes as he too took up his pack and adjusted his weapons. Vanwe slipped the small knife into her belt then they were both ready to leave.

They met Léspheria in the hallway and together the three elves made their way to the stables, where Léspheria was relieved to see her white mare had found her way safely into the care of the elven stable masters, Amandur’s dark charger was also there stabled in the next stall. Léspheria then spoke quietly with one of the elven stablemen who quickly left, returning a short while later with two more horses fully tacked and then handing the reigns to the two stunned elves he turned back to speak with Léspheria. Vanwe with her fathers help fastened her pack to the saddle of the grey mare she had been given, it was a beautiful creature and reminded her of devrion and the horses back at the inn, wondering sadly if she would ever see them again she adjusting the stirrups on the saddle and looked up to see Léspheria approach leading a white mare and a dark and noble looking charger that she recognised as Amandur’s mount.

“We will wait here for the others they should not be long,” Léspheria said as she loosely hitched both horses to a nearby post. Vanwe nodded as she stroked the long face of her mare, while Menecin watched intently the sway of the trees in the forest beyond.
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Old 09-13-2004, 08:29 AM   #293
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Dúlrain

As the trail steadily became clearer Dúlrain realised that at least Rauthain was not far ahead of him, he was just bending to examine the trail again when he heard the familiar voice of the older ranger ahead, abandoning the prints he quickened his pace in the direction of the sound, hoping, no praying that all his fears were miss placed and Benia and Kaldir were safe with the older ranger!

Kaldir sword drawn was the first sight that greeted him as he stepped into the clearing. Instinctively believing danger to be near he let go of Dir’s reigns and drew his own weapon. Giving a cursory glance around the clearing to determine were the perceived danger lay his eyes fell on the still body behind his brothers feet a greying head slowly turned to one side and Rauthain’s grey eyes stared blankly out at him in silent warning that was lost on the unsuspecting ranger. Stepping back apace in horror Dúlrain again let his eyes search the clearing for signs of the rangers attackers.

“What happened, where is ….” he began, stopping in disbelief as his eyes fell on the blood soaked hands and sleeves of his brother, raising his sword defensively he stepped back apace.

“What has happened here?” he asked refusing to believe what his eyes were clearly showing him.

Kaldir did not respond instead he advanced with lightning quick steps, shocked by his brothers sudden attack he barely managed to bring his sword up in time to fend of the decisive blow of Kaldir‘s sword,

“What are you doing! Why are you doing this?” he questioned pushing off the attack and quickly side stepping to avoid the next, but still Kaldir did not respond.

Defending blow after blow he desperately tried to get through to his brother, to understand what was going on. The ringing of their weapons echoed through the forest. Their swords again locked and as they push heavily against each other, their eyes met and Dúlrain gasped in silent horror, his bothers cold empty icy eyes stared back at him devoid of all emotion or recognition.

“She was here!” He strained through gritted teeth, “And she has Benia!” he concluding knowing that she would be the only reason that his brother would give in to this enemy, a great sorrow and sadness swept over him, but still Kaldir said nothing, the battle the only thing driving him and in that instant Dúlrain knew that his brother was lost.

“Noooooooo!” he screamed finally pushing off the press of Kaldir’s attack. He stepped back, but the person that was once his brother would give him no respite and came at him again, this time though Dúlrain did not just parry the blow meant to kill him as he had been doing up until now, he took the offensive and pressed his attacker back. Kaldir was gone but Dúlrain was determined that Naiore Dannan would not have what was left to use as her mindless puppet, even if it meant severing those strings himself! With bitter irony he realised that this was the very thing that Rauthain had been trying to warn and prepare him for before, but he would not hear it and now it was too late for the older ranger.

As the battle ensued Dúlrain came to realise that although Kaldir was gone his fighting prowess had been left intact, his careful feigns time and time again repelled by the one person with the knowledge to do so, again and again he was forced to defend as the empty shell of his brother countered with precise precision. Anyone else would have been finished by now but Dúlrain knew his brother, their fighting style was one in the same only Kaldir’s years as a bounty hunter utilising more unorthodox techniques gave him the upper hand.

As Kaldir again gained the advantage and brought his sword down to bear, Dúlrain quickly raised his sword to defend realising too late the feign, expecting a dagger he turned to avoid the cutting blow, but instead received a boot to his now exposed, already wounded side.

“That’s new!” he gasped in shock as he stumbled backwards, dropping to one knee as the sharp pain shot through his side. Forcefully biting back the pain he raised his sword to met the downward thrust of his attacker. Knocking it wide he quickly rose, stepped back to gain his bearings. He now leaned heavily, his sword raised he knew he would have to end this soon or he would not survive to save his brother from Naiore’s grasp. Kaldir was the better fighter he had always known this, but he could not leave his brother this way! Straining against the pain he surged forward, but unhindered Kaldir easily avoided the desperate strike and their sword clashed again.

“Please, brother fight her, you did it before, you can do it again! You are stronger than this!” He cried in a futilely desperate attempt to reach some part of the man that was his friend and brother. Pulling away again, he caught out of the corner of his eye the flash of Kaldir’s sword raised to deliver a killing blow that he realise he would not be able to counter in time, in that instant knowing that death was upon him he turned and swung with all his strength, if he was to die he would take his brother with him!

“Forgive me!” He screamed through tears as his blade cut deep into Kaldir exposed side, Rib bones crunched under the force and Dúlrain pulled sharply upwards as he drew the sword from his brothers body. Realising instantly that Kaldir had not delivered his blow, he looked up, to his abject horror he saw the flash of recognition in his brothers eyes, he had hesitated!

“Oh Eru!” Dúlrain gasped his sword slipping from his shaken hands, “What have I done?”

As Kaldir slumped forward Dúlrain dropped to his knees to catch him then lowering him to the ground he futilely attempted to staunch the flow of blood pouring from the deadly wound, the wound he had delivered. As the warm life giving blood of his brother soaked his hands he could not help but think that Naiore had in some way won two victories this day, even if she herself did not realise it.

“I am sorry brother it seems that I am destined to fail you always!” he wept in despair, realising that his efforts to stop the flow of blood was useless. He stared in horror and disgust at his own blood soaked hands unable to bring himself to look at his brother for fear of what he might see.

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Old 09-13-2004, 04:59 PM   #294
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Rauthain

Rauthain’s body stiffened with pain at the blow, and he looked questioningly at Kaldir for a moment before his legs gave way and he collapsed heavily where he had stood. Another surge soon claimed his full attention as he lay awkwardly there. The grimace was brief, cut short, for it left in its wake a calm stillness that he had never known. No longer concerned with the Ravennor or Kaldir, or indeed with any of the workings of Middle-earth, but having a vague notion that in being so wronged, his own guilt equaled, it was receding from him. So satisfied, he felt no anger toward Kaldir, but rather a great relief that over shadowed his thready perplexity.

Truly he had lent the gloom dominating his existence a goodly part of their bulk. And as his life now subsided the shadows also fled from him, driven out by thoughts of those brightest moments of his life, of son and wife.

Opening his eyes, the ranger became aware that a haze had descended upon him and heard too a loud drone in his ears. He imagined his son to be before him in the mist, and turning his head, remembered with sudden clarity that some danger was nearby. At last he recognized the dim outline was Dúlrain. But now, growing confused, he lay on sodden ground with overwhelming pain trying to move. And groaning he thought himself struck down by a pool at Raven Falls, his hand trailing in the strangely warm waters, as the mist of the falls thickly gathered round. All that could be heard was the imagined roar of the river as it plunged down over steep rock, and the sound of clashing steel close by. Closing his eyes again, he found that his grasp on life grew weak, and he willed himself to remember his wife receiving him home, as she had may times after long separation. There with his son at her side. He longed to catch them in his arms, but found strangely he could no longer lift them. A thick veil closed in about him and felt as if he were now floating on the surface of the Mitheithel, the rushing water stilled into utter silence, quieted along with the breath of his body.


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

Gilly

Truly, what had she been thinking? This whole mess was her fault, once you got down to it. If only she had gone with Benia she wouldn’t be running down this path to deliver a message and three people wouldn’t have had to gone off to search for her friend. But of course Benia would have strayed from the garden! It had been days since her friend had allowed herself the freedom of the outdoors. If only she had accompanied her, she could have talked a little sense into Benia, kept her from anything rash. But now after many slow hours had passed, she had to let Amandur know what was keeping Dúlrain, before she fell to pieces, as she felt she would. Tears were not far off.

Quickly drawing up to the rangers’ quarters, she saw sitting on the steps that the same tan and dark haired man who had been in their company a few days earlier as they left the battlefield. He nodded to her, and she nodded in return, but approaching the steps, she did not stop to greet him as would have been proper. She felt too pressed for time. Instead, she mounted the first step with determination, and swinging his knee around to make way, he watched her in silence as she passed by, to knock on the door behind him.

“Who you looking for?” came a voice at her back. Gilly turned around to meet the deep blue gaze leveled at her, and thought to herself that it may not be wise to say too much to this stranger. She still hadn’t the presence of mind to sift her words. “If it is Amandur your after, he’s not here, nor Rauthain.” He lifted his chin toward two saddled horses waiting close by. “I am expecting them myself at any time, though I can’t say when they might show up.”

“You are going with them then?” Gilly ventured timidly, looking at the horses.

“Yes, I suppose I am,” he said standing up, to tower over the hobbit. “When ever Kaldir and Rauthain return.”

“Why, where have they gone?” Gilly asked, shrewdly trying to gauge just how much this fellow knew.

“Rauthain had said he was off to find Kaldir. And Kaldir? Well the old man said he was looking for your Miss Nightshade,” Avanill said dusting himself off.

“I see. Then you know as much as I, and they have not returned yet,” the hobbit said, relieved at least to find that Rauthain trusted this man, leastways enough to tell him such things, and an idea began forming in her head. Let these rangers, these men, look for her friend if they will. But she would not stand idly by. She could not. She had come too far, all three of them had for that matter. Hadn’t she found her friend when she disappeared from the Forsaken Inn? She could not longer fret alone doing nothing but tatting in her anxiety, and trusting Benia’s safety to others.

“Sir,” she said her eyes beginning to glisten from the worry that weighed down her heart, spurring her decision. “I’ve been given an important message from Mr. Dúlrain to tell Mr. Amandur. It is urgent, mind you, but truly, I have no time to lose here. Would you be willing to help me and give it to him for me?”

“I don’t see why not,” he replied. “But as I said, I expect him soon.”

“Unfortunately, I hadn’t figured out just what needs doing until just now, and have dawdled too long. It can’t afford a moment’s delay,” Gilly said. “And not knowing you, still you see, I feel forced to trust you. But if you’ve been raised to have any sort of honor of all, you’ll see Mr. Amandur gets this message.”

“I don’t know that honor has anything to do with messages,” Avanill said, sitting down once more. “But let’s have it then.”

“Thank you Sir! I can’t tell you how much it means to me! Tell him that Mr. Dúlrain has gone after Miss Benia and the others. And that he said not to wait for them, but that they will catch up and join him, just as soon as they can.”

“Is that it?” Avanill asked the hobbit, who biting her lower lip, gave him many a rapid, shallow nod. “Then I will tell Amandur as soon as I see him,” the man said. “Easy enough.”

“Many thanks,” Gilly said, her voice wavering as she hurried down the stairs. “You have no idea how much help this is!” And without waiting for his response, she jogged up the path, tears rolling down her face the moment her back was turned. Passing through the garden once more, she was on her way back to the guests’ quarters to fetch her sword, when she felt a tap on her shoulder. Turning around she saw through blurry eyes, that Toby stood holding out a handkerchief to her.

“Mrs. Banks!” he was saying. “What could have happened to you, to make you weep so. I thought it near impossible to be gloomy or depressed in a place like this.”

“So the stories say,” Gilly said sniffing, and gratefully taking the handkerchief, she dabbed her eyes. “But it is not Imladris that has brought me to tears, but my own stupidity and Miss Benia’s continued ill-fortune. It seems even in such a lovely place as this she must still be haunted by trouble. It is just not right that she can’t ever find a moment of real peace.”

“Then have you had an argument?” Toby asked.

“No, no. It is just that she has gone missing, when, had I been a better friend, I should have been with her. And now Mr. Kaldir, Mr. Rauthain and Mr. Dúlrain have all gone off to find her and none have come back yet. I am so worried. It was near noon when Mr. Kaldir left. I don’t know what has happened, though I can think of any number of horrible things. But I do know that something is terribly, terribly wrong! And I am off to find her myself, once I get my sword and hers.”

“Alone? You can’t do that Mrs. Banks. There are foul things around, maybe even close to where we stand. Why don’t we alert the elves? They know this place better then anyone.”

“You are right, Mr. Longholes, I’m sure they do. And it’s not as though they haven’t been extra vigilant these passed few days. But you know that if something’s to be done right, you must do it yourself. And I will not fritter away anymore time, I’ve thrown too much away already.” She paused, seeing that Toby looked unconvinced, “Of course, you are free to tell them if you’d like.”

“You can’t do this, Mrs. Banks! After all you aren’t a ranger, or an elf!”

“I’ll thank you not to tell me what I can or can not do, Mr. Longholes! My feet can be just as quiet as yours, and I can track as well, too. I’ve learned a few things on this journey, and for all his eccentricities Kaldir has been a very good teacher. But don’t hinder me now, I must be off,” Gilly said picking up her skirts to climb the steps back into the building.

But Toby followed behind, trying to reason with her. He knew what might lie in wait. “If these men have gone off and not returned, how can you believe your efforts might go any better?”

“I don’t know that they would, only that I must try!” Gilly said. “But please do go away and stop plaguing me. I won’t change my mind, you know! Shoo!”

“But I can’t let you go alone, like this. And if I cannot talk you out of it, well then, I will just have go with you, though I would rather not. Frankly, you are in no state to be traveling, and your crying alone is bound to get you discovered!”

“Suit yourself Mr. Longholes,” Gilly gave in, hoping that Toby would change his mind. “And I promise to stop crying if you promise to stop lecturing.”

“Agreed.”

"Then we are off," Gilly said, handing Toby Dulrain's companion sword as she swung Benia's weapon over her shoulder once more.

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Old 09-14-2004, 08:32 AM   #295
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Kaldir

As he fell to the ground, Kaldir struggled to breathe. The blow that Dúlrain had struck with his sword had broken two or three of Kaldir’s ribs, ripped through the muscle of his chest wall and pierced his lung. As Kaldir slumped forward, Dúlrain caught him and lowered him the rest of the way to ground, trying desperately to staunch the flow of blood from Kaldir’s side with his hands.

“I am sorry, brother, it seems that I am destined to fail you always!” wept Dúlrain in abject despair.

Scarcely hearing him, Kaldir pushed the other man’s hands away from him and, curling his body around his pain, tried to force himself upward upon his knees. Dúlrain had not failed him. Kaldir had let him strike the killing blow. His own sword raised to finish the younger man, Kaldir had hesitated as a shred of memory caught upon the jagged edge of his mind like a gossamer handkerchief upon a thornbush. Dúlrain. At one time, he had called this man friend, even brother. The one who lay dead behind him was Rauthain, another friend, murdered in the name of that treacherous bitch, Naiore. Kaldir knew that he must be stopped before he could finish even one more heinous act, but unable to free himself completely from Naiore’s thrall, did the one thing that he knew would be effective. He had hesitated and left his side unprotected. Dúlrain had done his part with lethal accuracy.

Unable to rise, Kaldir lurched forward, his scarred face landing in the soft earth of the forest floor. With blood filling his wounded lung, his breath had already begun to gurgle in his chest. He had not much time.

“Murdered,” he growled, falling heavily on to his side. He coughed, spraying the ground with a fine crimson mist.

“Yes, I have murdered you, my brother,” groaned Dúlrain, again trying to do what he could to stop the rush of blood from Kaldir’s side. “Forgive me, I - “

Hearing him this time, Kaldir reached out and closed Dúlrain’s wrist in a still powerful grip.

“No!” he said fiercely. A thin trickle of blood dripped from the corner of his mouth. “I...murdered Rauthain. Would have...murdered you. This - “ he tightened his grip “- this is my peace. No murder. Peace.” For the last time, he fixed his pale blue eyes on Dúlrain’s, searching for a sign that his brother understood. Seeing at last a dawning comprehension enter the other man’s face, Kaldir closed his eyes. Already the pain had begun to recede and blackness begun to creep inward from the corners of his mind. He coughed again, sending another fine mist of crimson blood into the sparkling air. Somewhere in the darkness, he could hear a woman singing like a nightengale, in a Haradrim dialect, a song of warm desert winds and shifting sands. He could see her gentle face before him, her kohl-lined eyes, shining like gems... had he managed to save her? He couldn’t recall. He had tried. Remembering something, Kaldir released Dúlrain’s wrist and dug something out of his pocket. He tried to press it into Dúlrain’s hand, but found that his muscles no longer obeyed him. His fingers refused to open.

“Find her,” he whispered. “Save her. They go.”

Summoning a final deep breath, he murmured, “Gladden Fields.” And with that final breath, the pain that had haunted him for so many years departed Kaldir at last. The peace that he had been denied so completely since that fateful day when he had fallen into the hands of Sauron’s minions at Raven Falls descended over him, not so much like a shroud as like a woman’s silken veil, lowered over him with love. And forgiveness.


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

Barrold Ferny

Three times, Barrold Ferny started down the path toward the hidden entrance to Imladris and three times turned back, each time grumbling to himself and kicking at stones. The first time, he got nearly to the place where the path declined steeply downward into the vale. Then, remembering the value of the mithril book covers he had left in his open pack back in the camp along the ridge, he went back. Shouldering his pack, he started again along the path that the bounty hunter had taken. This time, he only made it a short distance before deciding that the pack was too heavy and cumbersome. If he did end up having to finish Kaldir himself, he didn't want to be burdened with the extra weight. Kaldir had always been dangerous with a sword in his hand, but after what Naiore had done to him, Ferny trusted him even less than before.

Thinking back on the cold, empty eyes of the bounty hunter and the thin trickle of blood that had dripped persistently from his nose when Naiore had finished with him, Barrold felt the hair stand up on the back of his neck.

"Spooky," he muttered. "That's what that was. Right dead spooky..." With a nervous glance around him, he took off the pack again and hid it under a pile of brush. With his sword drawn, Ferny started for the third time back along the trail toward Imladris. Again, he paused where the trail took a steep downward turn.

This time, he was greeted not by silence but by the sound of clashing swords echoing up from the forest below. Then, abruptly, the sound of fighting stopped. By Ferny's guess, someone had just died, but whether it was an elf or Naiore's bounty hunter, he could not say. He hoped it was Kaldir. If so, it would save him a good bit of trouble. Maybe he'd just assume that it was. Of course, if he was wrong and Kaldir turned up again later on, Naiore would have his hide. But by then, Ferny argued against himself, he planned to be long gone and, if Naiore wanted to skin him, she would have to find him first.

"Wot about 'im," spat Ferny in disgust, mocking himself. Why did he have to go and open his big mouth back there in the camp with Naiore? Of course, the Ravenner was right. The bounty hunter was a dead man or as good as one. There was no way he was coming back, so why wait? It would be just another useless delay. Ferny turned his head and spat at a beetle crawling in the dust by his foot. If he had just been smart and kept his mouth shut, he would have been miles away from this place by now. The beautiful southern woman would be his to do with as he pleased, and that evil elf would be on her own. After what he had witnessed Naiore do to the bounty hunter, Ferny's only real ambition was to put as much landscape between himself and the Ravenner as possible. Finally, he decided he would not wait any longer. As far as he was concerned, the bounty hunter was dead. Sheathing his sword, Barrold Ferny turned and jogged back to the campsite where he had left his pack and the bounty hunter's gray horse.

Shouldering his pack for the second time that afternoon, Ferny eyed the gray stallion. He looked fast, that one, and could probably fetch a pretty penny on the black market.

"I'll just take off and head west," he said to the horse. "Go back to Bree and make my gold off o' yer smelly gray hide. Forget 'er and 'er big promises." He spat at the ground, having no desire to hurry himself to rejoin Naiore, yet not wanting to hang about Imladris any longer either. The place would soon be crawling with Elven tracking parties. He had nearly convinced himself to flee back into the west on his own when he thought again of the bounty hunter's frighteningly empty eyes. Naiore would not be a good enemy to have lurking about out there. He might be able to slide by with a little white lie about the bounty hunter's death, but to desert or betray her outright? Thinking hard, he reached up and scratched his head, catching a stray louse, which he pinched absently between his nails. There was also the matter of the southern woman to consider. He pictured the smooth silkiness of her skin and the shine of her long, black braid. She had been promised to him, and, by garn, he wanted his chance to unloose that braid and roll around for awhile in the glossy veil of her hair. While she certainly wasn't no elf, she was definitely good enough for Barrold Ferny.

"Wonder if she can cook..." he mused, his mind made up at last. If she couldn't cook, he figured that a few well-placed kicks would teach her soon enough. She'd learn.

Thinking these happy thoughts, Ferny went to mount the gray horse and get on his way. Unfortunately, he had reckoned without the animal's ill temper. No sooner did Ferny get into range than the horse, with lightning swiftness, shot out a huge, ironclad hoof. It caught Ferny squarely on the hip and sent him sprawling. With a litany of curses flying, Ferny picked himself up and, momentarily forgetting the value of the horse, placed his hand on the hilt of his sword. The horse whinnied and shook his head as though hugely pleased with himself. Barrold Ferny growled deep in his throat, but let loose of the sword. If he killed the horse, he would never catch up to Naiore. Cautiously, he edged his way around to the side of the gray stallion and pulled himself awkwardly into the saddle. The hip where he had been kicked throbbed mercilessly. Angrily, he gave the horse a solid kick in the ribs and flicked the reins. Instead of going, the gray stallion simply turned his head and eyed the man suspiciously, baring his large, square teeth. Ferny bared his teeth right back.

"I don't know what he called you," he snarled. "But I'll call you Dead if you...don't...GO!" He finished by landing a stronger more vicious kick into the animal's ribs. This time, the horse trotted obediantly forward and Barrold Ferny was on his way. Urging the gray stallion into an easy gallop, Ferny made his way southward to rendezvous with Naiore Dannan and to collect his reward.

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Old 09-14-2004, 03:29 PM   #296
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Amandur

Amandur gazed again at the map laid out on the large oak table before him. After leaving Rauthain he quickly packed his things and headed for the library. Already he had determined that the passage south, west of the misty mountains was closed to the Revennor with both Rohan and Gondor watching for her passage and her diversion in the blue mountains would now be foiled and the Soldiers of Annúminas returning via the Shires borders would prevent her heading north.

“So were then would you go?" he whispered contemplatively, tracing his finger over the mountain pass, would she risk going so far east as to enter Eryn Lasgalen? No! he thought with a shake of his head. The Elven king would have heard of the attack on Rivendell and would be watching his borders closely, no that way is also closed to her. He smirked at the irony. “So what will it be north or south?” he pondered aloud, To go north would mean passing between the eyries of the eagles and the Carrock, but no one now knew weather either were still inhabited, but would she take the risk? He considered. We could skirt the mountains and cut her off at the Rushdown, he carefully contrived.

“And south?” he mused aloud, his finger following the course of the Anduin and stopping were the river Ninglor joined its course. “The Gladden!” He mused, their was something…. Stopping mid thought he abandoned the map and rummaged round a number of leather bound tomes that were piled beside his feet, finding an very dusty black leather bound journal, he put it on the table and dust rose into the air making him cough, but as the dust settled he opened the book skimming through the pages until he found what he was looking for.

October 1st SA 3434

We set camp on the banks of the River Nanglor, in the gladden fields.


Something or someone watches our passage, shrouded in an inky darkness. Elrond tells me he senses great anger and malevolence, but as yet all attempts to capture this creature have fail. It seems to know our plans before we even set them in motion. It moves leaving little evidence of its passage, If I did not know better I would think an elf trailed us! But the creature whatever it is must be caught be for it can pass what it has seen to its foul master!

October 2nd

The mornings scouts were attack, several good elves and at least a handful of Elendil’s men were lost. It was our shadow, those who escaped are stricken with some kind of madness and babble incoherently of a dark horror shrouded in beauty and darkness. I quicken our pace, but news of this horror spreads through the ranks and Elendil’s men dishearten. I double our efforts to capture this creature and prove that it is just flesh and blood and can be killed.

October 3rd

Another scouting party is lost as we leave the cursed lands of the Loeg Ningloran (Gladden fields), But the identity of our shadow has been discovered and it is more terrible than I could have realised! Our shadow is indeed an elf and a lady of my own court, one of the scouts a sentry of my house managed to mutter her name in my ear before passing on to death. I have said nothing of this to the others, the alliance is too important and is needed if we are to overthrow Sauron and his armies of Barad-dûr. The name of Naiore Dannan will not be allowed to poison this alliance with fear and doubt, no that secret for now I will keep to myself.

Gil-Galad.


“So it will end were it began!” Amandur mused dryly as he closed the journal, and turned his attention back to the map, strategically plotting how best to move against his fugitive. Totally unaware of the unhappy set of circumstances besieging his rangers.

The hour bell rang for the third time and finally realising the passage of time he cursed, quickly gathering up the map and ran with much haste through the corridors of the last homely house and down the path to the rangers quarters. He stopped short seeing the slight form of Avanill pacing back and forth in silent contemplation, a troubled frown fixed heavily upon his brow.

“Hail there Avanill, did I not say to Rauthain that we were to meet at the stables?” he queried, cocking his head to take measure of the young mans concern.

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Old 09-18-2004, 07:00 AM   #297
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The thought passed in Avanill’s mind to infact load the other rangers bags onto the horses to save time for when the other rangers came back seeing as they were behind already. And he himself was not fanatical at the though of waiting, especially when he knew that each minute they were left waiting, was another minute of preparation Naiore may have to anticipate their coming.

It was only when he had begun to stack Amandur’s things upon his horse that he noticed an article which was very familiar to him, so familiar infact that it came to his realisation that it belonged to him. It was his satchel that the rangers had taken off him when they had first come across him. He sighed deeply before sitting on the ground examining it. He sat for a small while thinking over in his head the correct plan of action. He now had his weapons (as such) back within his reach, would he taken them back or leave them in the hands of the rangers? The question was trust. He knew that the rangers trusted him enough to let him wander alone, and keep his own weapons, but obviously not enough that they would give him back these particular effects. They had been right, Avanill thought, to keep them from him, afterall would he trust him in their position? Surely not.

But what if they did not trust him at all to administer the potion to Naiore? If he didn’t have his things at the right moment they could all be in dire straights. No, in order for him to be able to work successfully the young man needed his potions and powders by his side in case Naiore struck at an awkward moment.

As if a light bulb went on inside his head, Avanill realised a solution. He didn’t have to take back his whole stash, he only needed a little bit, and with what he already had he would now need to take even less. That way the rangers would be able to keep the satchel and not know if anything had gone missing. He flipped it open and began to search for that which he would need, the darts and the base ingredience, he could culture them on the road, he knew that. In not time he had what he wanted and had replaced his satchel among Amandur’s things.

It was not long after that the older ranger came to the young man. “Hail there Avanill, did I not say to Rauthain that we were to meet at the stables?” he said. Avanill’s head snapped around.

“Well, yes, that was the original plan.” Admitted the young man. “But no one came, call me impatient, so I decided id get the horses up here so we don’t have to carry our baggage too far.” He shrugged, handing Amandur the reigns of his horse.

“There was another thing, Mrs Banks…” Avanill stopped to remember exactly what it was that she had said and Amandur waited in anticipation.

“She said that Dúlrain has gone after Benia and the others. She also said that he said for us not to wait, but rather to continue and the others will catch up. Now heres my predicament, do we leave their horses? I suppose that’s the right thing to do after all, so they can infact find us again. I just hope they can…” Avanill began to stare into the distance once more.

“I just hope that we don’t run into her on our own.” He added.

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Old 09-19-2004, 06:19 PM   #298
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Dúlrain

As Kaldir drew his last breath, Dúlrain witnessed a peacefulness settle over his brothers disfigured features. A sad smile mixed with a sense of loss and the warmth of knowledge that his brother was now finally free of his torment settled over the young ranger. “Go now brother and let your spirit be guided to the halls of Ilúvatar, were the peace denied you in this life now awaits. We will met again and in those great halls we will be brothers once more! but till then rest easy I shall honour and protect all that you held dear in this life.” and as he bowed his head his eye caught a small silvery glint from his brothers hand, the hand that he had tried to press unto him during his last breaths. Slowly he uncurl the stiff fingers of his brothers hand and freed the fine silver chain, the tiny medallions sparkled in the afternoon light as he held them up.

“Benia!” he whispered Kaldir’s words coming back to him. “Thank you brother.” he smiled, as he carefully slipped the fine chain into his pocket, turning he instinctively put out his hand to retrieve his own sword but stopped, the dark red of Kaldir’s blood still glistened on it’s blade and although he knew that he had giving his brother the peace that was so long denied him, he could not bring himself to take it up. Instead he stood leaving the sword were it lay and looked down at the ancient weapon that still hung at his side drawing the blade he looked at the Quenya inscription which loosely translated read To Protect and Serve! and so it shall once more he thought believing that it only fitting that those who held Benia would find justice by the sword of Kaldir’s true heritage.

He was just about to slip the sword back into it’s sheath when he heard a rustle in the bushes behind him, quickly he turned the blade before him, to see the stunned look of two hobbits. With a sigh of relief he lowered his blade, “Mrs Banks, Mr Longholes you should never sneak up on a ranger so!” he said as he slipped the blade into it’s sheath. But the hobbits did not register his words and as he again looked up he saw that Gilly now looked past him, her dark brown eyes wide with horror and grief as she looked upon the blood soaked bodies on the ground.

Moved by her grief Dúlrain knelt down before her and as he took both her hands she looked at him her tear filled eyes gazing at him questioningly. “He is at peace now!” he gently assured her “They both are!”

“But how did this… happen?” she quivered shakily, struggling to understand.

“How no longer matters,” he sighed heavily turning his eyes to the still form of his brother, “just know that he died honourably and is now at peace, a peace that we both know has been long denied him in life.” he finished his tear streaked eyes meeting Gilly’s in silent understanding.

They both nodded and he rose again to his feet, “We must hurry Naiore has Benia!” he said turning to retrieve Dir.

“What!” Gilly and Toby gasped in unisons, shaken violently from the silent numbing ness of their shock and grief.

“Before Kaldir died he told me that Naiore had Benia and that they were heading for the Gladden fields on the other side of the Mountains,“ he told them as he unbuckled his pack from Dir‘s saddle. “But we should hurry if Naiore should find out that Kaldir is dead she might just deem that Benia has out lived her usefulness and I can’t let that happen!” he continued as he pulled two spare cloaks from his pack.

“You mean us to come with you?” Toby asked anxiously.

Dúlrain looked up but his gaze fixed on Gilly and the sword strapped to her back, “You mean to follow even if I did not invite you, do you not?” he asked meaningfully. Gilly nodded, “Yes I believe I would, what kind of friend would I be if I did not?” Dúlrain nodded his understanding then turned to Toby, “And what of you Master Longholes do you mean to continue with this new leaf you have turned?” Toby glanced at Gilly then turning back to Dúlrain he nodded, “I owe Mrs banks a debt and I mean to repay it by keeping her safe till we return to the Shire!” he said determinedly

“Very well then we should hurry!” Dúlrain told them as he re-buckling his pack.

“But what about them! we can not just leave them here for the scavengers!” Gilly exclaimed looking back at the bodies of her friends.

“No we can not!” Dúlrain said as he came up behind her his hand resting comfortingly on her shoulder, “Dir will bare them both back to Rivendell were the elves will afford them a proper and fitting burial.” he handed her one of the cloaks, “We have no shrouds so these will have to do, say your goodbyes Quickly Mrs Banks for Benia still needs our help,” he whispered gently as he beckoned Toby to help him with Rauthain, So that the Hobbit woman could have a final moment alone with the bounty hunter she called friend.
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Old 09-20-2004, 10:19 AM   #299
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Gilly

He was at peace.

Gilly stepped forward in her shock, feebly trying to take in the scene before her. Not even the carnage of the battle had prepared her for the sight of the powerful form of Kaldir, laying lifeless, crimsoned on the forest floor beneath ancient trees, Dúlrain’s bloodied sword resting beside him. Recognizing the weapon, she looked up in disbelief, to see the man who had captured Miss Benia’s heart, as he now bent over Rauthain, shrouding him in a clean cloak before carefully hefting the limp body onto the horse Toby held ready. He seemed to hesitate, gritting his teeth as raised the old ranger’s bulk in his arms. Toby letting lose the bridle, hastened to assist him. Dúlrain was in pain... but he said Kaldir had died honorably…Gilly’s brow furrowed. Surely Naiore had done this, or had she? It could not be as it looked to the hobbit, and yet…. And yet Dúlrain had said that Naiore was not aware of Kaldir’s condition. What was he keeping to himself? Was it Naiore, or had Miss Benia inadvertently brought this bloodshed about?

Though she felt she had come along way in putting aside her prejudice against ranger folk, this was far beyond her realm of reference. Afraid to think any further, fearful of what she might conclude, she told herself that Dúlrain was a good man. Indeed, behind his hopeful words of assurance regarding Kaldir, he looked quite somber, and his grief was no doubt real. But the urgency of her friend’s peril that he expressed, struck the hobbit hard now that their captor turned guardian had perished, and Benia was at the mercy of the Ravennor. She could not afford to doubt him, though she felt had lost all her moorings.

“Oh Mr. Kaldir!” Gilly said, kneeing down to look at his face for the last time, in the few minutes she had before they departed. She saw that though the scars of his face were now hidden and his countenance peaceful, his life’s blood shined, speckling the earth and tracking also from mouth and nose. A fresh flood of tears rose spilling over their confinement. “What ever has happened to you?” the hobbit wept, picking up his clenched hand, a thing she never would have done while he lived. And rocking back and forth, she held it to her chest, giving in to her own hurt. She remembered the gentle look he had as he spoke to her, declaring that he would rather die than let anything happen to Miss Benia and herself, and here it had already come to pass, as if he had wished it upon himself. But his life was spent and Benia was still missing.

“I should never have spoken to you so, as if you had no heart yourself! And it looks as though you were meant to break mine one way or another. True you had let Miss Benia live and love, but you have gone and gotten yourself killed along the way. We did not bargain for that. And now, who have you to mourn you but Mr. Dúlrain, Miss Benia and myself?” she said her voice cracking. “And we all must leave you here in Rivendell among the elves!” Reaching in her pocket for the handkerchief Toby had lent her, the tattling shuttle fell as she pulled it out. Picking it up in her hand, she looked at the little wooden thing, and quickly placing Kaldir’s hand back gently on his side, she tucked this symbol of domesticity in his pocket as a token of her friendship. “I could see you did not fear death, and it was a blessing too,” she whispered earnestly. “But you know, I’m afraid now for Miss Benia. We will take good care of her, Sir, Mr. Dúlrain and me. You know that we will! We will find her for you!”

Seeing that Dúlrain and Toby were leading the ranger’s horse over to where Kaldir’s corpse lay, she took the edge of her sleeve and wiped the blood from his face. Her heart sunk as Dúlrain covered him in the dark cloak. And together they all worked to place him beside Rauthain on the horse. Turning away, as Dúlrain secured the bodies, Gilly drew Toby aside. “I hope that you might accept my apologies, Mr. Longholes,” she said. “I had no right to treat you the way I did you earlier. You only had my best interest at heart I can see that. I just am a bit overwrought, you see.”

“You needn’t apologize, Mrs. Banks, you have had ample reason.”

“You are too kind. And you shouldn’t feel that you must see to my safety, for I do not know if I will lead you to your death. I can’t think why you should say you feel so indebted as to brave that. But you are welcome to stay with my family, if we return, until you can find a place to call your own.” She looked at the ground, “And if I do not make it back, please let my husband Carl and the children know what has become of me.”

“I do not doubt that you will return, and I have seen that you know how to use a sword,” Toby smiled. “You have everything to live for Mrs. Banks, do not give up!”

Just then, they heard Dúlrain command his horse in strange words, gently slapping the animal’s flank. Bearing his sad cargo to that fair house, Dir began to steadily walk back the way they had come. Once he made sure the horse had set off, Dúlrain turned quickly to pick up his pack, and he frowned. Toby rushed forward and slung the bag over his shoulder, without a word. And Gilly went to fetch his sword wiping the dark blood off on the moss, “Your sword, Mr. Dúlrain!” Gilly called to him.

“I have another that is of more worth to me, Mrs. Banks,” he said as he began walking. “Come, we must be off.”

Gilly ran to Toby and carefully slid the sword firmly under the flap of the pack, and the two hobbits fell in soberly behind the ranger. Gilly kept silent as she realized that he was following back a set of tracks very well known to her, the tracks of Kaldir.

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Old 09-23-2004, 03:28 AM   #300
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Amandur

Amandur took the reign’s Avanill offered him and noted with mild surprise that his gear had already been brought out and strapped to the mounts saddle. He listened intently as Avanill passed to him the message of Mrs Banks. “gone after Benia and the others?” he frowned, “Just were have they gone and which others?” he silently mused, not hearing Avanill’s query regarding the horses.

“I just hope that we don’t run into her on our own.” Avanill was adding as he looked up again.

“on our own?” he echoed, “just who and how many of our company look for Miss Nightshade?” he asked truly perplexed, “and where have they gone not to warrant a swift return?” he questioned as they lead the horses from the rangers abode.

“She did not say!” Avanill shrugged after a moments thought. “But now I think on it Master Rauthain did say something about Miss Nightshade going off on her own and that he suspected Kaldir would be not far behind her, infact he left sometime ago to tell the bounty hunter of our departure perhaps these are the others the hobbit woman refers too?” Avanill offered.

“And did Rauthain happen to mention were he would begin his search?” Amandur asked, his frown deepening with a mixture of frustration and mounting concern as Avanill described the place where he had last seen Kaldir and directed Rauthain too!

Halting his horse suddenly Amandur looked out towards the silent woods, the place Avanill described was not to far from were they had found Menecin earlier that morning and where Lespheria thought she had sensed Naiore, “This is more than just mere coincidence!” he muttered shaking his head sullenly, then flicking his reigns he with Avanill almost running to keep up beside him hurried towards the stables.

“Have the stable master have horses ready that perchance the rangers do return, they will be no longer delayed and will be able to catch us up swiftly.” he told the young man. “But I fear that Naiore may have had some hand their disappearance and rather that it is we that shall need to catch up to them!”

“If we are not already too late!” Avanill muttered speaking aloud the thought also in his mind as they entered the stable yard where they were greeted by Léspheria and her two elven charges.

Léspheria smiled at his approach but seeing his worried frown and sensing the tribulation that rippled over his mind her delicate smile slipped into a worried frown of her own. “What news passes unheard that you frown so with worry, my love?” she whispered as he drew up beside her.

“Miss Nightshade has gone awry and with her also Master’s Kaldir, Rauthain and Dúlrain!” Amandur answered evenly as he hurriedly strapped his belongings to his own horse who greeted him with a impatient snort.

His eyes then verily fell on a familiar sight a small satchel not his own but one that he had seen before, lifting it he looked across to Avanill who was now speaking with the stable master per his request. “Rauthain must have left it ere he want in search of Kaldir,” he muttered to himself. opening the straps he quickly looked inside, nothing seemed amiss from what he could tell and again he looked thoughtfully in the direction of the young merchant. Perhaps I was to swift to pass judgement he mused, closing the satchel and stowing it with the rest of his gear.

“Young Master Avanill there tells me that he saw Kaldir, searching the ground close to were we found our bard!” he whispered to Léspheria giving her a significant look that told her more than he was willing to speak aloud, she nodded then let her searching gaze sweep across the valley. Amandur knew she searched not with her eyes and after only a moment Léspheria turned back to him and shook her head sadly, he knew now that the others were no longer in the hallowed havens of Rivendell.

“What is it? what is wrong?” Vanwe asked seeing Léspheria’s concerned, both elf and ranger looked at her sympathetically , then her father spoke. “Something has happened and Naiore is the cause!” he said coldly staring out towards the canopy of the forest beyond, his voice distant but contemplative.

Amandur nodded, then as Avanill returned he gave the order to mount up. “It may be that we five alone must stop Naiore! But still it can be done!” he assured them with a distinct air of confidence that he did not wholly share. “We make for The Gladden fields!” he added spurring his horse forward and taking the lead, the three elves followed silently behind with Avanill left taking the rear, not Amandur’s ideal choice but his only choice! He would have to trust that the young man had truly seen the error’s of his ways.

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Old 09-24-2004, 07:46 AM   #301
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Barrold Ferny

Barrold Ferny had never been troubled by such a thing as conscience. Nonetheless, as he rode away from Rivendell, seated in the bounty hunter’s travel-worn saddle, astride the bounty hunter’s gray horse, and on his way southward to claim the bounty hunter’s woman as his reward for services rendered, Ferny found himself casting a nervous glance backward over his shoulder more often than he would ever admit to anyone, half-expecting to see the bounty hunter looming toward him out of the thin mountain air, his pale blue eyes burning like coals from the shadows of his disfigured face, his hand reaching out for the back of Ferny’s neck. Instinctively, Ferny shivered and cast another glance behind him, seeing nothing but the back end of the horse and a steep, narrow mountain trail that lengthened behind him as he put more and more distance between himself and what he believed to be the now dead bounty hunter.

He flinched as a soft breath of cold air touched the back of his neck. “Go away,” he muttered, flicking his collar up with one hand. The horse, or Hay-jaws, as Ferny had taken to calling him, suddenly whinnied and swished his tail, pricking his ears back as though he, too, had felt a cool breath and perhaps heard a word or two in his master’s voice. Ferny reined the horse to a halt and scratched his nose.

Gladden Fields. By garn, that was a long distance away and he’d have to cross the Misty Mountains to get there, unless he managed to catch Naiore up before she reached whatever pass she intended to take. As far as he knew, there were only a few ways to get through the Misty Mountains: one was the High Pass that lay to the north, the other two were far to the south of Gladden fields, being the Redhorn Pass just north of Moria or there was the possibility of going through Moria itself. Now that was a scary thought, but it would be, oh, so like Naiore to choose that route. But surely even she would not risk passing through Moria. Or would she? Ferny shuddered in spite of himself. Rumor still said that Moria was an evil place. If the bounty hunter’s ghost was ever going to grab him, it would be in Moria. He would never make it to Gladden Fields.

“Woulda been nice if she’d said how she planned to get there...” he muttered, dismounting to study the trail. He was not much of a tracker, but even Ferny could see that two females had passed that way recently. If he kept up his pace, he figured he could overtake them by nightfall. The trail that Naiore had taken out of the campsite on the ridge had led south only briefly before taking an abrupt turn to the north. Squinting up at the late afternoon sky, Ferny realized that he had been riding north for over an hour.

“She’s making for the High Pass,” he said with finality. “Eh, Jaws?”

The horse merely snorted and turned his great head to look back down the path toward Rivendell.

“Stop that,” growled Ferny, pulling himself back into the saddle. “He ain’t comin’ after you and we ain’t goin’ back. Yer givin’ me the creeps.” With that, he flapped the reins and chupped to the horse, who started forward again with a slight jump. Ferny again thought he felt the brush of cold fingers against his neck and, with a sharp bark of revulsion, kicked the horse into a trot as the path temporarily leveled ahead of them.

“Ain’t no such thing as ghosts and you’re dead,” he grumbled to the air. “So go away, confound ye.” He had killed plenty of men in his lifetime, Ferny had, and never lost a wink of sleep or a moment’s peace over it. Why the bounty hunter was hanging around, he couldn’t quite figure out unless it had something to do with what Naiore had done to him. Ferny remembered again the blank look that had come into the man’s eyes as he walked away from the Ravenner, sword in hand and blood dripping from his nose. He cast another look behind him.

“Mind games,” he muttered. “Bounty hunter ain’t here. It’s mind games playin’ by that evil elf. That’s what it is. Messin' with me 'ead. Makin’ me think ’e’s ’ere.”

He reined the horse to a stop and looked back over his shoulder. “YOU’RE DEAD!” he shouted. He felt his heart skip a beat as echoes floated back to him from the distant mountains, a soft voice repeating, “You’re dead.” For a moment, he almost thought he heard his name added to the end. With a cold sweat breaking out all over his body, Ferny kicked the horse forward. He had to catch Naiore, get his reward and get back to Bree. Now. Barrold Ferny was not going to spend a night alone in the woods. Wasn’t it true that ghosts could only get you if you were alone? He thought he had heard that somewhere. Well, come flood or lightning, he was not going to spend a night alone.

The trail remained level for some distance, lined by brush and the occasional overhanging tree. Riding fast, Ferny saw the tiny figures of Naiore and the southern woman at last come into view, mounting the higher ground in the distance ahead of him. An oily grin touched his face as the horse, of his own accord, suddenly surged forward. Ferny’s grin vanished quickly as the animal abruptly veered off the path and gained speed, heading directly for the low-hanging branches of a gnarled old oak. Before he could react, the lowest branch caught Ferny across the midsection, scraping him as cleanly from the saddle as bacon from a pan. He landed on the ground in a sputtering heap.

The gray horse stopped several yards away and turned back, baring his large teeth and swishing his tail. Ferny had finally had enough. He struggled to his feet and drew his sword, so angry that he could not even find words. Instead, he uttered a guttural growl and, raising his sword, charged full at the gray horse. The horse whinnied and gracefully side-stepped the man’s wild-eyed attack. Then, with a flick of his long tail, the horse turned and trotted away, back up the path toward Rivendell.

Still holding his sword limply in his hand, Ferny watched as his erstwhile mount disappeared into the distance. Then, finally, he managed to find words... curse words and a lot of them. Belching a litany of profanity, he sheathed his sword and began to jog in the direction of Naiore and Benia Nightshade. If he hurried he could still catch them by nightfall.

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Old 09-30-2004, 03:47 AM   #302
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Vanwe

It was with a heavy heart and a strange sense of foreboding that Vanwe left Rivendell with the others. And even as they reached the eaves of the forest she turned in her saddle and looked back over the valley, silently wondering if she would ere return to walk in the gardens of her kin. But even as her eyes lifted and she looked further unto the west, she thought of her room, as modest as it was at forsaken inn and the friends she had made therein. It comforted her to know that they were safe, unmarred by the shadow of her mother. A smile as sweet and innocent as the morning dew played upon her lips as she turned thinking of the stable master tending his chores with his loose and easy whistle and the innkeeper and her ever welcoming countenance, even of cook the dowdy hobbit woman who often and anon complained that she did not eat enough she also thought on fondly.

Feeling her fathers gaze upon her, she turned and saw the warmth and affection that only a father has for his child when he perceives happiness in their face. “What fond memories doth bring so sweet a smile to my child’s fair features to chase away her bitter sorrows?” he asked as he came up beside her and for the first time since they meant Vanwe perceived that she saw the first hints of a genuine smile, not a weak smile borne out of sorrow or pity, but of affection and interested curiosity. She returned his smile and silently wondered if the warmth she now felt was what it felt like to be part of a family, did families share both happiness as well as sorrow? So eager was she to know her family she decided to open up to him. As they rode she recounted to him her time at the Inn and of the friendships she believed she had established as a member of it’s staff as short as that time was. But ere as she spoke the healer within her strove to draw out her father believing that if he to could remember happier times it may in some small way aid in the healing of his sorrows.


All went well as Menecin shared with her his time under the tutelage of Maglor, the greatest bard the elves have ever known he told her reminiscently. He spoke of names and places in a time long forgotten and not known to her but it mattered not! That he was sharing these things with her made her happy and while she kept on smiling Menecin continued to speak of such times, until eventually their talk came back to Naiore and the pain and hurt embroiled in her memory that neither one was yet ready to share and so a gloomy silence eventually ensued.

Is this the way it will always be? she thought miserably, will she always be a thorny wall between us preventing us to fully embrace each other? NO! she thought defiantly then turning to her father she spoke to him of her life in Harad, wither he would hear it or not! But in none of her recount did she seem bitter to toward her warders, “fear controlled their actions, fear of Naiore and fear of what they could not understand,” she told him seeing the hint of anger burning in his eyes. Then pulling the small piece of twisted leather from her pouch she held it out for him to see, I have carried this as a reminder of what lay behind a reminder to always look forward, but look now my mothers golden strands have become entwined with the reminder of that prison which she construed, a bitter irony don’t you think? But still their was no bitterness in her words only sorrow.

As she returned the leather to her pouch, her father spoke, soft and gentle were his words, “You are a stronger person than myself, to forgive such wrongs and stronger yet in mind than perhaps even your mother perceives, this may yet aid you my child, but yet be cautious for our hearts can sometimes betray us!” then lowering his head he rode on to speak with Amandur.

She sighed deeply shaking her head sadly. “Will he ever find peace?” she whispered as Léspheria’s white mare drew up beside her. “I don’t know?” Léspheria replied sympathetically “but that doesn’t mean you have to give up trying,” she smiled encouragingly. Vanwe nodded as she stare at the weary hunch of her father shoulders, so heavy with burden that she would eagerly lift for him if he would just let her.

Suddenly Léspheria stopped her body suddenly erect, her head turning slowly, listening! Vanwe thought as she too reigned her mount and strained her ears.

“What is it?” Amandur called noting their halt.

“A horse!” Vanwe suddenly cried recognising the clip clop of hoofs upon the soft snap of dried twigs.

“One and riderless,” Léspheria added. Amandur nodded as if a silent conversation had passed between them, then he rode off in the direction Léspheria indicated the sound was coming from leaving Vanwe and the others to anxiously await his return.

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Old 09-30-2004, 10:42 AM   #303
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Naiore

For most of the afternoon, Naiore traveled on a northeasterly course, one that would take her directly to the High Pass through the mountains. She moved quickly, urging her captive, Benia Nightshade, to maintain a grueling pace only a few steps ahead of her. Fortunately for Miss Nightshade, the southern woman was a well-behaved captive and, apparently, well-used to walking. The entire day, she neither slowed nor faltered, which pleased Naiore no end. Nor had she made any attempt to speak. Since Kaldir had walked away and Barrold Ferny had put a stop to that annoying keening, the woman had not made a sound. In fact, she had not even looked at her captor. She had simply lowered her dark head and walked, hour after hour, holding herself in a stoic silence. Naiore smiled to herself, reaching out with her mind to touch the mind of her captive. Interestingly, she found no hint of the fear that had been so strong in the woman earlier. Now she found only deep sorrow and a trace of resignation.

Such a pity to hand her over to that oaf Ferny, thought Naiore. Sooner or later, he’ll only kill her. With a little training, she would have made someone an excellent slave. Not that Naiore would be interested in a slave herself. She was much more comfortable on her own. No, the southern woman would have been an valueable commodity that could be traded away to some less than scrupulous character in exchange for a favor or a horse. She was quite pretty. Naiore imagined that the exchange rate for her would be quite high in the right marketplace. Besides her value as a slave, there was also a cash value attached to the woman. Her tattooed hands gave her away. Unfortunately, though, Naiore had already promised the woman to Ferny and she was not one to go back on her word. Too bad. Such a waste.

Thinking of Ferny, Naiore cast a glance back over her shoulder. She and her captive had been climbing in altitude more or less steadily through the course of the afternoon. Now, as the sun began to dip lower on the horizon, they had reached the peak of a high ridge. Her keen elven eyes scanned the landscape behind them, looking for a sign of pursuit, not just by Ferny but by anyone. INstantly, her gaze fell on a puff of dust in the distance and a small black speck, jumping about and waving his arms after another speck of dust that seemed to moving rapidly back in the direction of Imladris... the horse no doubt. The fool had managed to get himself thrown and lost them their horse. A flash of irritation trilled down Naiore’s spine, then vanished. It was just as well that the horse was gone. They would not be able to take him through the mountains, anyway, at least not by the path she intended to take. As she watched, the black speck that was Ferny stopped fussing with the vanishing horse and turned in her direction. Seeming to catch sight of them, he began to jog toward them.

Naiore turned again toward her captive and gave her a considering stare. It was not good that Ferny had been able to spot them from such a distance. They had been careless. Ordering the southern woman to stop, Naiore slid her pack from her back and pulled two cloaks from main compartment. One, she put on. The other, she tied around the neck of the southern woman, spreading it across her slender shoulders. The cloaks were elven made and would serve to camouflage them against the rocks. Once the cloaks were satisfactorily in place, Naiore urged her captive forward again, but instead of pursuing the northeasterly course they had been following, she made a turn due east. While she had hoped to lead her pursuers into believing that she intended to take the High Pass over the mountains, her real destination was a smuggler’s trail, not often used and said to be frequented by orcs, that lay to the south of the other pass. Ferny would know it well, if he would just let the light into his shuttered brain long enough to remember that it was there. Once he reasoned thngs out that far, she was certain that he would realize that that was where she planned to make her crossing. Having no fear of orcs, she would wait for him at the base of the trail.

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Old 10-03-2004, 07:39 AM   #304
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Avanill had for most of the time continued thinking about his task at hand. He was sure that the others did not know that he had accessed his belongings and in any case, it was not that for which he still worried. He was considerably concerned about the making of the venom which would stun the ravennor until a time which they could apprehend her.

Now however, all anxiousness aside, he was feeling more and more sercure within himself while all the outside had began to come undone. Amandur had wanted to find the others right away even though the message had said otherwise, and rightly so, the native woman had gone missing along with Kaldir, Rauthain and Dúlrain and Avanill while still a very junior member of the team couldn’t help but think that it all want a little ironic. Still, he thought, things could be worse. How much worse however, was only limited by the reaches of the imagination.

He had gone and run his errand to the stable master just as Amandur had instructed, and upon his return the faces in his presence were considerable more different than that had been minutes before. “It may be that we five alone must stop Naiore! But still it can be done!” Amandur said instructing them to mount their steeds. Avanill shook his head in disbelief as his horse took up the rear of the pack.

“Five? Great… Im going to have to ask for that satchel sooner than I had intended” he said quietly to himself.

From the front came commotion, the arrival of a riderless horse. Avanill sighed to himself and thought that ordinarily, a riderless horse just mean that its rider was too intoxicated to ride home to his wife. Now however, was a different story.

Last edited by Everdawn; 10-23-2004 at 06:46 AM.
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Old 10-03-2004, 07:49 AM   #305
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Menecin

As Vanwe told him of her years in Harad, Menecin’s anger waxed within him once again. Gone were the memories of attending to Maglor, playing for the great musician whose burnt hands could no longer feel the strings of his harp. Menecin’s thoughts turned instead to the many laments his master had composed around his bitter experiences. These things Menecin had learned in his youth, and yet before him Vanwe, who should have been allowed to wander freely the hidden places of Middle-earth, had instead endured unpardonable treatment at the hands of the ignorant, and known the scourge the ancient Dark Lord had produced in the harsh desert tribes. But his anger quickly dwindled as she spoke on. How was it that she could find it in her heart to feel pity for those who had treated her with such cruelty? And as she told of the prison her mother had bound her to, Menecin wondered, recognizing a reflection of himself in her words. Riding his dun horse silently at her side, he fingered the notes she had cast in the cold the fireplace in Imladris, and which now rested, hidden beneath his brigandine breast plate. It had been his only clue to the nature of his daughter, as he longed to discover more of her ways. She had curiosity, but the strength and subtle determination of her mother also shone in her, as brightly as the golden tresses she inherited and which graced her fair head. He could see that Vanwe was no captive, but many of the strong had faltered painfully in the presence of Naiore, and he did not wish to see her follow her mother's path nor yet the noble path that had spelled the end of Valaindon.

“You are a stronger person than myself to forgive such wrongs,” he spoke softly to her. “And stronger yet in mind than perhaps even your mother perceives. This may aid you my child, but yet be cautious for our hearts can sometimes betray us!” Indeed his own had only this morning, and that when he knew it could not be trusted. But this he would not speak of. Having warned her, he tugged at the reins, guiding his dark pointed stallion to walk beside Amandur’s charger, his thoughts circling round Naiore once again. He could hear Maglor’s rich voice in his mind, telling of a jewel that had caused much pain. But Menecin knew he had made no such vow to his dark jewel, and the only oath he allowed himself was given his daughter, and that he clung to as to life itself.

“Amandur,” he addressed the ranger. “I stress that which you no doubt are already aware of. We must be more than careful, not only before we find Naiore, but once we have her among us,” he said, so that the others might not hear. “True there are now five of us, and together we might have some hope, but I am concerned for the Ravennor’s kin, capable though they might be. I knew Léspheria’s mother well, before I came to live in Imladris. Her great compassion at first ensnared her, and when she pursued Naiore, having learned the truth of her cousin on my return from Henneth Annun, Naiore destroyed her given the chance.” He paused, grabbing Amandur’s upper arm so that when he turned he might search the ranger’s eyes. “We must take pains not to give Naiore any chance, any opening, for she will see what lies close to our hearts and use it against all of us, and to that tactic I suspect all five of us might prove vulnerable.”

Amandur looked over toward him, concern written in his expression, but Menecin saw that he looked passed him, over his shoulder to where the others rode. “What is it?” Amandur asked suddenly, so that Menecin also turned and saw that both Vanwe and Léspheria had stopped their horses, and were listening intently.

They called back that they heard a rider less horse. And listening too, Menecin made out the uneven pace of an ungoverned animal as it stopped and started, and his heart sank. He placed himself between the women and the direction the sound emanated from, as Amandur swiftly rode to discover the beast. “Prepare yourselves!” Menecin cried out, as the ranger’s horse disappeared behind the undergrowth. “Have you a knife as well as your sword?” he turned to ask the young merchant who had drawn his weapon. With a slight smile Avanill reached down and pulled a long dagger out of his boot. The elf nodded. “You had best keep it at ready, my friend, for though this horse sounds to be without rider, it also is heavy footed, and may bear some danger unlooked for.”

Léspheria too, already held half drawn her bow of mallorn wood, and Vanwe, a small blade. “Daughter,” Menecin called quickly when he saw Vanwe's short knife. “Do you know how to handle a bow?”

“No, father,” she replied, almost apologetically. “I have had no cause to learn.” Riding rapidly to her side and pulling in his mount, Menecin presented her his Noldorin sword, removing his bow from off his shoulder.

“It is just as well, for chances are you would prove over bowed. But I have heard rumor that the lady who rides with you is well versed in battle,” he said with a smile. “Stay close by her in trouble.”

And riding forward once again, he nocked an arrow in place as he went. Feeling it strange to be so arrayed after such a long time, as if he had been given his life to relive once again.

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Old 10-06-2004, 03:05 AM   #306
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Amandur

No words passed between Amandur and Léspheria, from long years of experience they both knew to be cautious and to always keep their guard, but nevertheless he caught the gentle warning in the endless deep pools of her starlit eyes . A ride less horse could mean a number of things and not all coincidental chance, the danger of a feint was heavy on all their thoughts. With a slight nod and Menecins words of warning still fresh in his mind he turned and swiftly rode in the direction she indicated the sound was coming from. Behind him he heard the bard order the others to prepare themselves. He well knew that the Kin of the Revennor where the most at risk it was ever on his mind But three of his rangers were still missing and the possibility that the mount he would find belonged to one of them and the implications that might mean also flitted through his mind.

Now hearing the soft clip clop of hooves with his own ears he silently dismounted, looping the chargers reigns over a low hanging branch. Without a sound he passed on towards the sounds of the approaching horse, crouching behind a bramble thicket as the horse passed through the trees. Peering through the thorny tangle he came to recognise the familiar creamy markings of the dark chestnuts forelegs. “Dir!” he whispered breathlessly slowly standing so as not to startle the beast. But the horse either did not notice him or it didn’t care that he was there, as it walked by with a slow and steady gait, its head bent low with sorrow and despair.

Moving quickly forward Amandur took the geldings reigns, gently resting his hand on the animals forehead in a friendly and calming gesture, but Dir pulled meaning to continue sorrow reflected in his large dark eyes as he stared back at him and then to his cargo. Amandur’s eyes widened as they fell on the two large dark bundles secured to the geldings saddle. Whispering a few elven words in the horses ear he let go of the reigns and with stilled apprehension moved towards the two motionless bundles. He paused for a moment then taking a steadying breath he slowly drew back the hood that covered the face of the first body, to reveal the scarred face of Kaldir, he turned away bringing the back of his hand to his mouth and nose. The smell of death had already begun to lay on the man who only yesterday had recanted his old ways in hopes of a better life. Solemnly he moved to the second bundle, his mind already convinced that he would find the body of the bounty hunters young, loyal, headstrong friend. Fighting back the grief and anger that welled within him he removed the hood covering the second body and was startled to see not the body of Dúlrain as he had expected but that of Rauthain, though now seeing that it was Dir that carried them this made sense and gave him some hope that at least Dúlrain was still alive though it did not make the loss of his kin any easier to bare. Quickly he studied the bodies trying to determine some clue as to what happened to bring about the deaths of two highly skilled rangers and if Naiore’s hand had been in it as he sorely expected.

Kaldir’s wounds were indicative of a fierce battle ending with the mortal wound to his side. However Rauthains wounds or more over the lack of puzzled him, it were as if only one blow had been struck. He looked for Rauthain’s sword and found it still strapped to the dead rangers waist, drawing it out he found it to be clean and sharp edged as if it had not been drawn in battle. Either he knew his attacker and had no cause to expect an attack or he had been completely caught off guard he concluded ruefully. Carefully re-shrouding the bodies of two men he had not only counted brethren but friends, whispering again in the geldings ear letting him continue onto Rivendell with his heavy burden.

He watched for a moment wearily as the gelding passed out of sight, then returning to his own horse he mounted and quickly returned to the others. “Rauthain and Kaldir are dead, but Dúlrain is still alive!” he said solemnly as he approached them but without stopping or offering anything further he indicated for them to move out . For several long minutes his eyes searched the way ahead, his thoughts on Dúlrain and what he would be capable of in his current frame of mind, grief, sorrow, anger, hatred, revenge, all things that could get him killed if he went after Naiore alone. He was now firmly determined that he would not allow that to happen, they had to catch up to Dúlrain before it was too late! But still the warnings of the bard Echoed in his mind.

“Is she near!” he suddenly asked turning to look on Léspheria.

“No she is not near,” Léspheria answered shaking her head sympathetically. Taking a brief glance back at the sullen faces of his companions he quietly related to Léspheria what he had found, his concerns regarding Rauthain’s only wound and his fears for Dulrain, while she nodded her agreement he could see her look turn pensive.

“Something more troubles you!” he pressed looking at her intently. She looked at him a moment longer then nodded slowly, “It has troubled me why Naiore should take Benia as I fear is the case. As far as I am aware the Southern woman has had no quarrel with Naiore and her only misfortune is to have been travelling in the bounty hunters company with whom the revennor is more than familiar, however with Kaldir admission of weakness around the revennor, his feelings for Benia and my own thoughts of Naiore’s presence this morning there may be more reason for Naiore to take Benia than I had first assumed.”

“Kaldir!” he frowned making sure he was understanding her reasoning, “Yes,” she sighed sadly, “Benia may have been the weakness she needed to finish what she had first began with him those many years ago!” he caught the hint of sorrow and pain in her eyes as she turned away to look ahead at the forest that now thinned out before them. Her words with the evidence he witnessed troubled him in his mind scenario after scenario played out in his mind each more troubling than the one before! Did Kaldir kill Rauthain? Was Dulrain force to take action? More urgent now seemed their need to catch up too the young ranger, but still Menecin’s words drew caution, they all had a weakness that could be exploited by this dangerous elf! Glancing back he took measure of each member of his company. There was strength and determination in each, but would it be enough? He thought wearily. It will have to be! He silently told himself as he turned back to the path ahead.

“I need your help…. I need to know how to keep the elf out of my thoughts, we all do!” he whispered to Léspheria. With a weak smile she turned nodded her understanding.

So it was that as they continued Léspheria spent time with each member of the company teaching them how to build up defences against Naiore’s possible intrusions using but only their strongest gifts and a strong strength of will. While Amandur and Menecin with the help of Avanill kept them moving on the path of their evasive prey, stopping only when it became too dark to continue on safely through the treacherous mountains pass Naiore had chosen to lead them into.

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Old 10-21-2004, 08:58 AM   #307
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Barrold Ferny

As darkness fell, Barrold Ferny stumbled up to the hollow at the base of the smuggler’s pass where Naiore Dannan waited with Benia Nightshade. Breathing hard, he bent over and placed his hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath. It had been years since he had had to jog for such a distance and uphill to boot. His lungs weren’t quite up to it. He coughed and, unable to speak just yet, waved a greeting at the elf. She nodded sternly, watching him narrowing gray eyes. He glanced past her at the steep path that lay ahead of them. He had been such a dolt to think - even briefly - that there were only three ways to get through the mountains. Of course, the Misty Mountains were peppered with trails and passes, although many of them were cheats and deceptions that led nowhere or to bad ends. He’d used this particular trail a number of times himself, laden with smuggled goods and dodging the patrols of orcs. The moment Naiore’s tracks had turned into the east, he had known where she was going.

Ferny sighed. It was a difficult climb. Surely, Naiore didn’t expect him to accompany her through the pass. His plan was to collect his little prize and be on his way. He glanced over at the southern woman who sat quietly to one side, her head lowered and eyes closed, resting. She would be his soon...

“Where is the horse?” Naiore’s voice sliced through his thoughts.

“Wot?” asked Ferny.

“The horse. Where is it?”

Ferny turned and looked back over the dark lowlands behind him. “Run off,” he grumbled angrily. “Dern ’is hide. Bounty hunter’s dead, though. I ’eard ’im fall meself.”

Beyond Naiore, the southern woman stirred, then curled herself into a tighter crouch, her eyes pressed tightly shut. Ferny nodded in her direction. “I’ll be takin’ my prize, then,” he said to Naiore. “And, with yer leave, be gettin’ on my way.”

"Be getting on your way?" asked Naiore smoothly. "I believe you owe me a horse."

Ferny blinked stupidly as Naiore's fingers touched the hilt of her Noldorin dagger. “Wot’s that? An ‘orse?” he echoed in disbelief.

Naiore nodded. “You were to bring me the bounty hunter’s horse. Now that the horse is gone, I believe you owe me another one. You may have your prize and be getting on your way only when your debt has been paid and I have a horse.”

Ferny felt a flash of anger. “Where am I supposed to get an ‘orse out 'ere?”

“That is your problem,” answered Naiore. “You lost the horse we had. Now it is up to you to find another one. I suggest you steal one once we reach the other side of the mountains.”

“Thankless serpent...” muttered Ferny furiously under his breath, knowing that there would be no arguing with the Ravenner. If she wanted a horse, then a horse it would have to be. He squinted up at the steep path ahead of them and sighed. “Prob’ly just as well,” he muttered, sitting down. “Prob’ly too hot fer me in Bree anyways. Got me some friends ‘roundabout the Dale.... I’ll go there...” Ferny’s ongoing dialogue to himself trailed off abruptly as he noticed Naiore walk over and pull the southern woman harshly to her feet.

“We goin’ someplace?” he asked.

Naiore rounded on him, her eyes glittering dangerously. Ferny scrambled to his feet.

“Do you think we are safe here?” she answered coldly. “Shall we sit here and wait for the Amandur and his rangers to ride upon us in the night? I think not. We go until we can go no further in the darkness. Only then shall we rest.” She paused. “They do not know these pathways the way I do. The darkness will stop them long before they can catch up to us. Besides” - she smiled almost pleasantly - “There may be orcs about.”

Ferny grinned almost by reflex. Let ’em come. Naiore’s orcs will slow them down... Despite his tiredness, Ferny resettled his pack on his shoulders and followed as Naiore led the way swiftly up toward the smuggler’s pass, the southern woman walking silently between them.
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Old 10-22-2004, 09:05 AM   #308
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Dúlrain

As Dulrain bent once more to examine the rocky trail in the growing darkness that slowly crept in about them , his eyes scanned as ever before and behind them. The mountains were bleak and rocky at this height, filled with dark holes and crevasses in which danger nearly always lurked, Dulrain however knew this barren lands and was careful to keep them clear of orc patrols and the wild cats of the mountain, the pass was narrow and Ideally suited for ambush, so Dulrain had no choice but to take them the long way, up over the pass but still the danger of running into an orc patrol was ever present. Rising again he looked back to his companions they were both weary but neither one complained not even master Longholes, instead they’re heads are hidden in the depths of their hoods as they struggle on against the incessant winds that whistled through the mountains.

“Is their any sight of them yet?” an out of breath voice whispered as she caught up to him. “No” he replied wearily. He had hope by coming higher they would spot their quarry and gain an advantage over Benia’s captors , but it was beginning to seem that the elf demon had had a similar if not the same idea. Looking passed Gilly Dúlrain noticed Toby standing stock still, only the slight movement of his head indicating that there was any movement at all.

“What is it ?” he asked in a hushed voice, Toby did not answer but pointed towards the lip of the ridge they stood upon, dropping to a crouch and indicating that both Gilly and Toby should do like wise he crept quietly to the edge and cautiously peered over.

“Three…maybe more, I don’t rightly know they’re tongue, but it’s sound to me like they’re searching for something or someone if ye get my meaning,” Toby whispered crawling up beside him. Dulrain remained silent as he stared out in to the darkness, he saw the three orcs that had caught Toby’s attention were infact five and were just below them on a lower fleet, to small to be a patrol…a small hunting party perhaps? he mused as he watched the dark figures below scout out their prey, thankful for the moment that he had chosen to take the higher pass. But as he was about to sneak away from his hiding place he noticed a small light further down the orcs trail, squinting he could just make out another two orcs, suddenly realising that it could well be a patrol he looked in the other direction and sure enough he caught sight of another two scouts before their patrol a commonly used hunting strategy that he should have recognised at once! “Nine?” he whispered, “Orc patrols usually consist of twelve, so were are the other…. “ Suddenly realising the likely location of the three missing orcs he quickly grabbed the two hobbits and all bar dragged them to the nearest cave, snapping a gorse bush and using it to hide their trail as they passed, breathing heavy he drew his sword and held it ready.

“What…” Gilly began but her word were quickly muffled by his gloved hand as he quickly moved to silence her, just then they heard the guttural voices off the missing orcs.

“Heresss I tellss you, I saw something!” the first orc hissed and Dulrain held his breath as he heard the sound of the orc sniffing about the night air not far from were they were hiding.

“There’s nothing up here but the chill and the hash windeees you blundering meat head, rangers and elvesees she said!” the second hissed clapping his arms about his arms in an attempt to warm up.

“I saw something heards it too, small likes!” the first said growing angry at his companion.

“Probably just sharp teeth, them likes to hunts frightened orc’s at night!” the second retorted with a sneer. But as the fist orc made to lunge for the second he was stopped with a fist in his face, Dulrain and the two hobbit heard the crunch as the orcs nose broke and he fell screaming to the floor!

“Enough!” snapped the third who up until now had been quiet, he sniffed the air and walked a little ways forward examining closely the ground before him. Dulrain chanced a look and noticed the orcs eyes narrow as he scrutinized the place were they had first spied the patrol below, he pulled back against the stone wall of the cave as the orcs head turned in their direction. Silently he adjusted the grip of his sword ready for the confrontation he was now sure would come, he knew he would have to be quick so as not to alert the others below.

With bated breath he listened as the footsteps of the orc drew closer and closer, but just as the creature drew near the entrance a cry rose up from below. “Grashik! The forward scouts have caught the scent of elves further up the main pass” Cried the voice of the second orc. Grashik took one last look at the cave then with a shake of his scared face he followed after his companions.

“I don’ts dnow dhy dhe didn’t dust dets us daves da demale and da dman!!!” the first orc grumbled as he followed still holding his broken nose.

“Who know and who cares, we get to kill us some nasty elves and have a bit o man flesh for supper tonight, so stop yer whining!” the third orc growled as he caught up with them. Dulrain let out a sigh of relief as the voices drifted further into the distance.

“That was too close for comfort!” Toby sighed as he sheathed the dagger he had instinctively drawn after Dulrain had dragged them into the cave, he stood and wiped himself off before offering his hand to help up Mrs Banks, who was staring at the broad back of the ranger, Dulrain had rose and now stood at the cave entrance staring out at the night sky his features pensive against the moons soft light.

“At least we know she is still alive,” Gilly offered, “that is a relief to know” she pressed when he did not respond, he looked at her with a weak smile he knew what she was trying to do and not only for his sake but for her own as well. But as he looked at her eyes he saw the same concern etched on her face. But he had seen what Naiore had done to Kaldir, turned him into a mindless puppet. He had done what he had to, but would he be able to do the same for Benia if it came to that. As he felt his eyes well he looked away, unwilling to contemplate what Naiore could do with the woman he loved.

“We can’t stay here, we have to move!” He said to the hobbits as he slipped out of the cave, silently he lead them on till the hobbits could walk no more then they took shelter in another dank cheerless cave, he let them light what fire they could to the back of the cave, but he stayed at the entrance vigilantly watching, no rest would he find while Benia was still out there alone, with only her captors for company. As he looked up at the havens he murmured softly of his love for the southern beauty praying to whatever spirit would listen that she remain strong until he could find her, even offering his life to Eru if only hers could be spared.

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Old 10-23-2004, 04:33 PM   #309
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Menecin

Amandur chose a flat shelf of stone that jutted out sharply from the steep mountainside on which to make their hurried camp. A few stunted evergreens bordered the ledge on one side, serving to shield them somewhat from the chill air that descended from the heights above. It was a fortunate discovery, well protected and avoiding the loose stone of the mountain pass. And cutting the lower branches, they kept the horses on the green boughs deadening the sound of their hooves.

As the darkness of the evening deepened, a mist began to gather, lowering from the head of the mountains, until the camp was swathed in the damp blindness. Menecin pulling back his hood sat listening to sounds echoing strangely along the hillsides. All in their company were quiet, speaking in hush voices to one another if they chose to speak at all, so that the elf could hear the dripping of water far off and falling stones, perhaps from the foot of some small creature as it scurried to avoid an owl’s grasp. And he became aware of Vanwe in the darkness, standing before him. “Father,” a soft whisper broke through his thoughts. “You must eat now, ” she urged him, holding out fresh fruit and bread in her graceful hands. Taking them with thanks and setting them aside, he gestured for his daughter to sit awhile beside him.

Obediently, Vanwe settled herself down, and together they sat in silence for a while peering through the gloom, before the bard spoke again. His mind had turned to her. It troubled him that she knew so little of her lineage. How ill prepared was she to withstand a gale without a sure footing in the knowledge of the distant past or a sense of the part which she now played. “My child…” Menecin murmured turning to stare next to him, to where the darkness seemed less deep. “Do you know anything of the race of your kin?” But before she could answer he shook his head lamenting, “Ah, but what would those in the south have to say of the Quendi, the Eldar!”

“Very little, and of what was said I am unsure. It is only that which I have learned lately I trust, for the people of Harad view elves with deep suspicion and spoke of them as if they were a proud and warlike race, but now that I have seen Léspheria and you and have seen those of Imladris, I do not believe any longer that it is true.”

Menecin smiled faintly in the gloom, “Then though you have not heard the Noldorlantë, its effect has still been felt by you! It is true, there have been some among the Quendi who have been proud, but pride is not the sole province of our race. And the true nature of our kin would rather we work toward the repairing Middle-earth than any rending of it. Let us hope that we have learned from our mistakes. But know that your lineage holds many of great wisdom and strength. Never have doubt in yourself, for their blood flows in you as well.” He paused looking off to where the edge of the shelf fell steeply off into the gorge they had been following. “Do you know the name and purpose of these mountains?”

Without hesitation he heard her soft voice reply. “They are the Misty Mountains. They run, a hedge of sheer peaks, north and south for many hundreds of leagues.”

“Yes, they are the Hithaeglir that were raised by the rebellious Morgoth long ago as a barrier, so that Oromë might not easily hunt down the fell creatures under his sway. It seems fitting that we should also be crossing them. I believe you may not have heard the name Hithaeglir before today. Do not let their stern faces dismay you, that was many long years ago, and though they daunted the Teleri with peaks that pierced the sky, they are not now as treacherous as when they once caused elves to turn aside. Indeed, though they are yet lonely and desolate, Morgoth’s handiwork has eroded, and with care they too have become surmountable.”

“I am not afraid,” she whispered.

“Then you have learned Léspheria’s lessons well, and I too will take up this shield she has provided, though I must hope to have the strength to wield it well, when the time comes,” he said pulling up his hood again.

“But do we not share the same blood, the same lineage, that same strength?”

“In part, yes. Long have I been weary, taking no joy in this place, yet not willing to journey westward. But in seeing you Vanwe, and knowing of your perseverance, it returned hope where I thought it had been banished forever.” Noticing that she grew still, he continued, “My child, do not feel burdened by this. You have given me a great gift. Even if we were to fail, I should always treasure it. For I have in my confusion been wasting away, watching my life fade into nothingness, and you have returned it to me.”

“I have done nothing.”

“You have done much more than you realize, my daughter. Much more.”

With that the two lapsed into silence again, and Menecin saw that Vanwe was looking up as though she sought out some star to guide her through the mist surrounding them.
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Old 11-03-2004, 08:06 PM   #310
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Benia

Benia had not spoken a word since Kaldir's tall figure had walked silently out of the camp above Rivendell, his eyes strangely vacant and a trickle of blood dripping from his nose. He had not looked at her then, though she had willed him to do so, hoping desperately to catch a glimpse of the man she knew still lingering within the depths of those pale blue eyes, but he had passed without even a glance. She had known then that he was dead, at least in his soul. Now, Barrold Ferny’s confirmation of the bounty hunter’s physical death at the end of a sword pained her, but she knew that it must be so. She mourned Kaldir bitterly, knowing that she had been the cause of his death. She hoped that the end had come quickly for him and without pain. He had suffered so much in his lifetime, it was the least she could hope for him. Silently, in her heart, she sang a Haradrim death lay, forgiving him any ills he had done her and asking his forgiveness for her part in his demise. When the time came, when she was free to mourn him properly, she promised herself that she would sing out to all of the four directions, to the all of the Guardians of the Winds, that they might see him home to the halls of his forefathers and give him the hero’s welcome that he so truly deserved. In the meantime...

Benia cast a wary glance over her shoulder at Ferny. They had been climbing higher and higher into the mountains for hours. The air had grown bitterly cold. The full moon floated above them, a glowing orb that lit their way like a distant lantern. Naiore, sure-footed and fleet as a tigress, led the way along a pathway that twisted and turned like an insidious argument, sometimes so narrow that it was difficult for even one to walk abreast, bounded on one side by barren stone and on the other by a sheer drop off of hundreds of feet. Other places were so steep that they had to climb, pulling themselves upward from stone shelf to stone shelf with their hands. Benia’s own hands had been unbound that she might have an easier time of it, but Ferny was never far behind, driving her onward and frustrating any hope she might have of escape. In the last hour or so, however, he had begun to lag. Naiore Dannan flew along like a shadow some twenty paces ahead of Benia on the narrow path, while Ferny dragged an equal distance behind her. At one point, Benia found herself alone, the elf having vanished around a bend ahead of her and the man not yet appeared from around another one at her rear. Benia paused and leaned out over the empty darkness.

Thinking of Kaldir, of her father, and of both men’s early deaths, she stared down into the silent abyss. A single step could end it all... a moment of weightlessness perhaps and then the nothingness of death. She would bring no more harm to those who sought to protect her. Her foot inched forward.

Just then, the whistle that Dúlrain had given to Kaldir back in Bree, that she had stolen in the Lonelands and still wore on a thong of soft leather around her neck, slipped free of her bosom and swung loosely in the space between her and the beckoning darkness below. Instinctively, she reached out a tattooed hand and closed the beautifully carved wood in her fist. “Dúlrain,” she whispered. “What of you? Do you know the fate of your brother? How I pray you lie safe in your bed in the hall of healing, that you do not follow me on this desperate trek.” Raising the whistle to her lips, she kissed the smooth wood.

“Be safe, my love,” she sighed and slid the artifact back into the neckline of her dress. “I would sooner die than lead you to an early death, as I have led your brother and nearly led you once before when you sought to come to my aid. Be safe now. Heal thy wounds and forget about Benia Nightshade, though she loved you like life itself...”

“What are you natterin’ on about?” A rough grip closed around her arm and jerked her back from the abyss. Ferny. “Get movin’, lovey, afore I pitch ya over the edge m’self.”

A light shove forward along the treacherously narrow path and Benia began to walk again, grateful that she was used to walking for miles. She had no desire to find out what Ferny and the elf would do to her if she faltered, fearing that it might be something far worse than merely pitching her off the path into the unknown night. Lowering her head, she moved resolutely and silently forward. Naiore waited on a wide rock shelf just on the far side of the jutting bend in the cliff. She had been joined by a scouting party of twelve large orcs, all of them heavily armed with pikes and scimitars. Benia’s heart fluttered with fear.

“Barrold!” exclaimed Naiore, turning toward them with a serene, almost happy smile, her silvery gray eyes shining in the moonlight. “You join us at last. This is Ashnik the Masher. He and his party have been out on patrol for many days now and are looking for a bit of man flesh to fill their empty bellies. Do you know where they might find some?”

All twelve orcs turned toward him, eying him as a band of butchers might eye a fat cow. Barrold Ferny cleared his throat and fell back a step, his fingers tightening nervously around Benia’s upper arm.

Seeing that she had made her point that Ferny should not dawdle if he valued his life, Naiore turned back toward the orcs and addressed them in a harsh tongue that Benia did not recognize. There was a short discussion between Naiore and the one called Ashnik and some muffled quarreling amongst the orcs themselves, then the orcs abruptly moved forward as a group, pushing past Benia and Ferny, to take the path that the three had of them had arrived by. As soon as the orcs had vanished around the sharp bend, Naiore slid her pack from her shoulders.

“We will stop here,” she said calmly. “But only for a few hours. Ashnik and his group have gone in search of our pursuers, but we must not take their success for granted. We move on with the sunrise.”

Ferny nodded and slid his pack from his shoulders as well, taking a moment to bind Benia tightly around the wrists and ankles. Within moments, he lay on his side, snoring loudly, with Benia pinned strategically between himself and the stone face of the cliff.

“Wouldn’t want ya to be thinkin’ ya might try to fly now, would we, little bird?” he had muttered to her as he had pushed her to the ground. Now, as he lay snoring into her ear, one arm thrown heavily across her shoulders, Benia found herself, though exhausted, unable to find the soft refuge of sleep. Instead, she lay on the stony ground and stared upward into the cold face of the moon, grieving for Kaldir, and hoping that Dúlrain had remained in Rivendell where he would be safe and well cared for until his wounds were fully healed. And Gilly...

Benia sighed. “Gilly,” she murmured in a whisper that was barely more than a soft breath against the harsh breeze that lashed the shelf where they rested. “May you be with him in Rivendell and safe...”

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Old 11-09-2004, 04:20 PM   #311
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Gilly

While it was true the hobbit had seen a few hills in her day, she had never come across any such as these. Incomparably high and menacing they were in her opinion, hard and cruel. And she fancied that the mountains must themselves be in league with that wretched elf, to shield such a wicked thing in their rugged arms, keeping Naiore’s pursuers from gaining so much as a glimpse of Miss Benia no matter how fast they had pushed themselves along the hateful pass. As they had worked their way twisting through the heights she had been painfully aware that Dúlrain would likely have been able to travel faster, if not for Mr. Longholes and herself, but imagined that he still was traveling far faster than the elves would have recommended, had they foreseen what was to befall their patient. So fearing that the wound tended to in Rivendell might not be fully healed, she had struggled along admonishing poor Longholes, who watched diligently for orcs that might trail them. Gilly prodded him to hurry, as she tried to keep the ranger in sight. In less urgent times it might have been good for Dúlrain to stop and wait for the hobbits, thereby resting himself, but as it was, it would not do to have him double back to find them. Miss Benia could not afford to have the two hobbits prove a burden to the man, slowing his progress. And without the ranger Gilly saw little hope of finding, let alone recovering Miss Benia from the Ravennor’s keeping. All her hope lay solely in his hands.

Exhausted from their long and steady ascent into the mountains, and the rush to put distance between themselves and the orcs, Gilly reluctantly admitted that she could not go any further without at least a brief rest, for both she and her fellow hobbit had become quite winded in trying to match the ranger’s pace. And now that they had stopped, she could not bring herself to put one foot before the other, let alone attend to making what she had come to call ‘a proper camp’, even though Dúlrain had permitted them a fire against the cold. Her legs had become leaden and her mind just as dull, as she eyed the cave they entered with gloomy suspicion. How could a descent person be expected to rest in the shelter of such a cold conspirator as this mountain! And when Miss Benia was in such straights! Gilly shuttered as she watched Mr. Longholes strike a fire to life, fostering the flame that would defy the cold darkness oppressing Gilly’s already flagging spirits. Where was Miss Benia now that they were sitting idle, and what must she be enduring?

When Toby had finished, shifting back onto to his heels he held out his hands testing the heat of the fire, and saw that Gilly sat considering him in the dim light. In truth she was trying to find the words to ask him what he knew of Naiore Dannan, but could not bring herself to seek an answer. And so she sat mute and staring.

“I can’t think for the life of me what the Ravennor of Mordor would want with her, Mr. Longholes!” Gilly finally managed. “I can’t understand it at all. The world barely knows that she walks these lands, so lightly she passes, harming no one, so far as I know of. What use could taking her be? Any way I look at it, it seems bad for my friend. Either that elf has some plan for her or none at all, and that might be even more dangerous!”

Toby looked up, “I don’t claim to know her mind, you know,” he explained, “but to be sure she has her reasons. She is seems fond of efficiency if naught else. If she has carried her this far over the mountains, she’s some reason for it.”

Gilly shook her head before sadly resting her forehead on the palm of one hand.

“If it’s any consolation, I think she’s got too much on her plate at the moment to trouble your friend much, what with her plans all gone awry.”

“Oh Mr. Longholes, you are a dear for trying to ease my mind, but I suspect that you believe your words even less than I. You must have had a very good reason to risk leaving her, hadn’t you? I won’t ask. I’d be too afraid of what you might have to say, but I think that it must have been a real eye opener, to have you take up with the king’s rangers, given your standing with in Bree.”

Toby looked to where Dúlrain had posted himself at the mouth of the cave. “I know that she looked for their deaths before I left,” he whispered. “And I tell you I’d have none of it!”

Gilly lifted her head following his glance, “Who, the rangers? Gracious, lets have no more of that, please! No more killing of any kind.”

“While I heartily agree, I must make a small exception these orcs," he said smiling as the light reflected in his eyes.

“That does my heart good to hear,” Gilly said. “For I have learned to appreciate what it is the rangers do, first hand. And a better group you’d be hard pressed to find, even in Bywater, never mind Bree.”

After some time the conversation lagged, each lost in their own thoughts. And by the time Gilly felt herself able to think again of a bite to eat, she found that Toby had fallen asleep, his back to the cave wall. But Dúlrain still remained at the cave’s entrance. He turned his head slightly as the hobbit approached offering to take over the watch. Declining the offer, both remained sleepless waiting for dawn to color the sky.

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Old 11-16-2004, 04:49 AM   #312
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Menecin

The night was broken by the noise of the ranger’s heavy footfall as he dashed into the camp, betraying wordlessly the urgency of the news he bore. “Quick, take up your gear,” he directed in a clipped whisper, traveling between his companions to make sure all were awake. “We have company, a band of orcs headed our way. Make haste, we’ve not much time!” Amandur moved quickly collecting the things he found loose about the camp, carrying them to where the sleepy horses raised their heads in greeting.

Menecin arose swiftly. Frowning, he peered through the banks of cloud surrounding them. The Lady Léspheria was not among their number he noticed, though her kit was still lying were she had placed it. Catching the edge of Amandur’s cloak as the he passed, in a hushed voice he queried where the elf maid might be. The ranger turned to meet his gaze, and Menecin saw that no alarm visited Amandur’s eyes. “She has already hidden herself on the hillside, ready to strike in our defense if need be,” he replied. “But we must be quick, for it would be to our advantage if she delayed use of her bow until we are better situated.” Then turning to Avanill Amandur asked to use his dark cloak. In short order the young merchant obliged him, unwrapping himself and handing the deep blue garment the ranger, who throwing it over his shoulder, strode to the pines were Vanwe spoke soothing the horses.

******
All was still as a pale glimmer appeared at the edge the bend. Blending swiftly into the shadow of the mountain it vanished just below the point where Léspheria had stationed herself in sight of the path. In truth it was hard to tell whether it was merely a fleet thickening of mist. But shortly another slipped past the corner and staying close to the hillside crept onto the flat shelf of stone, slowly and silently advancing before stopping abruptly. Standing stock still, squinting eyes swept over the path before the scouts retreated just as silently; back the way they had come.

It was not long before the shadows reappeared slipping around the corner, but this time they were followed by still more. As quiet as death but for their rasping breath, they streamed onto the shelf drawing close to the horses. Weapons drawn in readiness, the orcs awaited noiselessly their commander’s signal to attack. A thin wheezing was heard as the leader of the band drew a deep breath, contemplating the smell of freshly shed elven blood that filled his nostrils. As he approached them, the startled horses rose to their feet, and backing toward the wall they revealed a fair elf of noble bearing, who stepped forward, clothed in darkness, gripping a bloodied sword in her hands.

“My lady Ravenner,” the orc hissed bowing with grudging deference, his gaze never leaving her face as he withdrew a pace. But eyes narrow with suspicion his expression rapidly turned steely, changing from fear to anger. And he brought his sword over his shoulder in a flash, to quickly dispatch this imposter who sought to dupe him in front of his troops. Before he could strike his deadly blow a sharp twang was heard from the hillside behind the pines, and the creature fell lifeless to the ground, a feathered shaft protruding from his eye.

As Menecin reached for a second arrow he heard the gentle call of a southern bird in the night; a sign from Léspheria that all the orcs were now in the camp. Taking quick aim he brought down another who searched to sight him on the hillside and whose arrow, missing Menecin’s newly bandaged arm, glanced off the stone beside him. Just then Avanill managed to drive the horses past Vanwe, pushing the enemy back toward the drop and toward Léspheria and Amandur in great disorder. A few orcs, who guessed what was intended, tried to worm their way forward through the horses, but the frightened animals reared, trampling one, and the weapons of Avanill and Vanwe met the others. Avanill stayed by her, until finding a space open before him Menecin sprang to their side, joining the fray and his daughter, who had, it appeared, embraced a strategy of vigorous defense. Seeing that the bard was there, Avanill broke off to the right working his way toward Léspheria, as had been planned. Vanwe and Menecin closing the circle to the left.

There was great relief when all of the companions met again in the mist, and in tallying the fallen they learned that of the eleven who entered the camp all had perished there. But Amandur remained watchful as they gathered the horses, and left the camp, walking to a cave that he had found a mile or so further along the path. And it seemed he would not relax until on reaching the cave they found the body of a twelfth hidden inside, a deep knife wound in its back.

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Old 12-01-2004, 06:42 PM   #313
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Naiore

Naiore roused Barrold Ferny and Benia Nightshade well before the first light of dawn and urged them forward, bleary-eyed and stumbling, onward into the pre-dawn darkness. The path had leveled off shortly before they made camp the night before and now began a distinct and steady decline in altitude. Naiore smiled to herself. They would soon reach the far side of the Misty Mountains and she would be able to make her turn toward the south and safety. Once she had acquired a horse, she felt that her escape would be assured. She cast a glance back toward Ferny, who rubbed his eyes and spat over the side of the precipice. She would move more quickly, too, when she was again alone. Speed was now of the absolute importance.

Throughout the night as Ferny and his soon-to-be-awarded prize lay sleeping, Naiore had sensed the presence of Léspheria growing ever stronger, ever nearer. While ordinarily Naiore would have welcomed the pursuit of her kinswoman, would have savored the notion of a showdown between the two of them, Naiore felt now that the timing was all wrong. For one thing, Léspheria was no doubt surrounded by Rangers bent on Naiore’s destruction, which left the odds heavily weighted against the Ravenner. For another thing, Naiore had been put on the defensive. She preferred to dictate the time and place for her battles, never allowing others to gain the advantage. She would do so again. For the time being, she decided philosophically, let little Léspheria and her rangers follow her trail. She would lose them at the first opportunity, then circle back and attack them under her own terms. Under her own terms. The soft smile that had spread across Naiore’s fair features vanished as she turned forward again and increased her pace. She would control the terms of their engagement. No one else.

Behind her, Naiore heard Ferny swearing loudly as he momentarily lost his footing and slid several yards down the steep path in a hail of loose stone and gravel. As Naiore looked back, he gave the southern woman a sharp push forward as though she had been somehow to blame. He raised his hand to cuff her as well except that the southern woman lowered her dark head and quickened her pace, evading the blow. Naiore turned away and continued walking, knowing it was unlikely, once she left the woman in Ferny‘s hands, that Benia Nightshade would survive even a year. It would not take long before Ferny went too far and killed her in a drunken rage, but such was Benia Nightshade’s lot in life. It was not of any concern to Naiore. She threw her mind backward, into the darkness that still lingered over the west, searching for the presence of Léspheria. How far away was she? Had she gained any ground upon them in the night? No, it seemed not. The elven lady was still back there, but trailing just as far behind as she had been the night before. Naiore’s serene smile returned to her lips. Léspheria presented no immediate threat. Even so, Naiore knew better than to take the narrow lead she possessed for granted. Instead, she sought to expand it, pushing her companions to maintain a terrible pace.

Hiking steadily throughout the day, the three travelers paused only briefly for food and water. By early evening they had reached a distance far into the foothills on the eastern side of the Misty Mountains. By nightfall, the flat lands lay spread out before them like an open promise, the Old Forest Road just visible to the south, cutting across the open ground toward them from the direction of the great Anduin River. Gladden Fields, Naiore’s destination, lay only a few days’ march to the south... or an even fewer days’ ride.
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Old 12-15-2004, 08:46 AM   #314
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Amandur

By nightfall of the following day, Amandur, Avanill and the three elves were deep within the foothills of the misty mountains. They had rested only briefly after defeating the orcs in the pass, but long enough for Amandur to decided that it was time to trust the young merchant. He had returned the young mans belongings to him instructing him to have his potion ready as soon as was able before pressing them on down the east side of the mountain. They now rode through the night working their way across the rugged foot-hills that fronted the mountains, Amandur continued to press them on until the dawn light began to creep out of the east and spilled out into the green open plains before them. They rested then for a few hours, each taking their turn at watch. But all was quiet, Naiore had done what she had set out to do waylaying them long enough with the orc’s that she could reach the open plains ahead of them.

The previous day Léspheria and Menecin had taken it in turns to scout ahead. Late in the afternoon of that day Menecin had returned informing them that he had discovered fresh tracks of a second group following the ravennor. Taking them to where he had found the trail both Amandur and Lespheria had instantly realised that the prints were that of a well booted man and two hobbits struggling to keep pace with the rangers longer stride. Dulrain, Master Longholes and Mrs Banks Amandur told the others, there had been an distinct sound of relief in his voice as he had spoken, having found no hint of them since before the pass he had begun to fear the worst had befallen them. But this new sign had shown that not only were they alive but they were somewhere just a few hours ahead. However they had not managed to catch them up as he had hoped and now as he sat in the grey dawn taking the last watch Amandur thought about their next course.

His plan had been to follow the foot-hills southward avoiding the unnecessary hindrance of having to cross the river Ninglor, then surrounding and confronting their elusive prey on the fields of the gladden. But now he was unsure, he was not certain how much distance the elf had managed gained from them and if they could reach the fields before her. He was more than certain if they did not then they would all but likely end up walking right into a trap of the ladies devise. But as he looked out at the vast open plains before them he liked that option even less, following the revennor out into the open would leave them vulnerable to ambush and any number of other dangers. But the danger of the revennor getting to one of them and manipulating them to her will before the young merchant had time to deliver his gift played heaviest on his thoughts.

After a cold breakfast of stale bread and dried fruit the small company again mounted and after much thought and debate with the others Amandur decided they would stick to the foot-hills and follow their course southward hoping to overtake the elf and surround her before she could reach the now deserted forests of Lothorien. He hoped that the revennor still travelling on foot with her two less flighty companions in tow would slow her down enough for them to gain the distance they needed to get ahead of her.

Noon came, As they passed the old forest road to the east of them and steadily wound their way along the rocky foot-hills. The air was now warm and only wispy cloud skittered across the noonday skies. Amandur, Léspheria and Menecin continued to take it in turns to ride to the edge of the hills to make sure their quarry did not make any unexpected turns or stops that they had not anticipated. Amandur had already informed the company that they would ride until dark, Anxious to make up the distance on those they pursued, determined that before they stopped they would find some sign that they had finally over taken the elf. No one argued the point. They rode on silently for the remainder of the afternoon, watching as the small wisps of clouds joined together, expanding and growing menacingly darker then with the coming of early evening the clouds finally burst, the rain coming down on them in fat heavy drops forcing them to once more find shelter.

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

Vanwe

They made camp in a grove of sycamores hidden between the hills, there was fresh water and grass for the horses, they quickly gathered what dry wood they could still find and lit a small fire. As soon as they were settled and had eaten, Lespheria and Amandur left to backtrack their trail and determine how much ground they had gained on Naiore. While the others dried off their cloaks and waited their return Vanwe watched the young merchant over the low flames of the fire. She had not forgotten how he had stayed by her during the battle, However she could not forget that he had been one of those who had helped to hold her against her will and that she had already seen him murder another man. But he had not been rough like Barrold infact as she thought on it he had been courteous well at least till she tried to escape. Would he not have done the same if the circumstances were reversed she wondered tilting her head slightly to consider the young man.

As Avanill feeling her eyes upon him looked up she thought to lower her gaze but could not she wanted to understand…understand why Amandur trusted him when Léspheria did not! Though she carefully hid it from the others, Vanwe could somehow feel the distrust her cousin held towards the young man, she also wanted to understand why he choose the life he did, she somehow felt she owed him that. Slowly she rose and moved to sit nearer the young man his eyes watching her move, as she came around the fire she saw that he had several bottles out before him, a small billy boiled on the fire and a small wooden bowl and mortar sat before him.

“Is that ….” she began to asked hesitantly.

“for you mother” Avanill finished coolly, she nodded still staring at the contains of the bowl with a measure of both wonderment and unexplained anxiety.

“yes it is!” the young man finish and Vanwe look up surprised to hear the sympathetic tone in his voice.

“I mean she is still your mother this must be hard for you!” Avanill continued.

Vanwe thought for a moment then shook her head, “what she does is wrong she hurts people even herself she must be stopped, if ever their was a mothers love within her it is all since gone, one thing consumes her…drives her all else I believe is but an empty shell lonely and hollow.” She stared deep into the flames of the fire as if pondering further then whispered “I cannot hate her but only wish to understand and in the end if it comes to that she shall not be alone.” Suddenly realising that she had spoke her thought aloud and to whom she quickly tried to turn the conversation back to the merchant and why he lived his life as he did.

“Why do you do this… I mean selling your goods to people like my mother and aiding them in their misadventures, surely such skills could be put to better use…. Is profit really everything?” As she waited his answer she softly studied his well tanned features trying to find something that perhaps she had not noticed before something that would assure her that they could really trust him.

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Old 12-26-2004, 12:12 PM   #315
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Gilly

It was only when they had reached the rolling land that lay at the base of the mountains that Gilly found her footing again. And before the hills melted into the plains that ran off at their left, her courage was somewhat renewed. She looked out through the trees to the grassy hills searching for any sign of Miss Benia, hoping that the clouds threatening rain, might pass them by, and they might have a little more time before nightfall. This was landscape the hobbit felt she could better understand. But the clouds that had grown low and heavy broke, and a gentle rain began to fall upon them. The greens faded to grey, and the trunks of the thinning trees to black as the light faded and Dúlrain slowed his pace looking for a place for them to wait out the increasing cloudburst.

When at last they stopped Gilly thought it seemed almost a pleasant place that Dúlrain chose for them. A large elm that had once stood proudly near the edge of the woods lay partially uprooted, the great bole resting on the hillside and its eastward roots reaching up in the air at angle, bare except for dirt and long grass that clung to them. Beneath these splayed rafters a dry den was formed, several feet wide. It was into this deep hollow they climbed as the rain pelted down and the night closed in about them. And though looking out and to the east one would have had a broad view overlooking the plains had the sun been shining, this night they saw only the occasional glimmer of raindrops, like silver brightly edging the grass that hung down at the mouth of the den.

Gilly sat down hugging her aching knees as she stared into the darkness beyond their shelter. It had been quite some time since they had eaten anything beyond the fresh herbs and berries they found upon their way, and she felt it keenly. Having left Rivendell in such a great hurry, the hobbits had not thought to provision themselves, and in this pressed march they had long since finished what supply Dúlrain had left in his bags. And though the ranger provided also a little fresh meat that they happened across along their way, all three were aware that time spent looking for food was time that Naiore could make good use of, and so did not stray off their course to hunt. Besides, Gilly had neither pot nor skillet at hand so she thought it was just as well not to think of such things, the others seemed not to be bothered by pangs as she was. So the hobbit sat listening to the rain, trying to ignore her empty stomach and the accompanying weakness. What she would give now for even for what Kaldir had carried. Benia had always proved to have the better provender among her bags. “Oh, if only we had a pot of Miss Benia’s tea!” she found herself saying, remembering the last time she had savored it. She sighed deeply. Kaldir had still been alive then.

“I could do with a bit more than tea,” she heard Toby confess in the darkness beside her. “Something to chew maybe. Something to fill this hollow under my ribs.”

Gilly thought of a nice roast, set out on the table in her brightly lit and dry kitchen at home, the faces of her expectant family gathered around. “Yes, so could I,” she admitted. “And a little more daylight and a little less rain as well", she added softly.

“A nicely basted chicken, maybe,” Toby mused.

A rattle was heard as Dúlrain who had lain down, shifted his weight. “Mrs. Banks, you should be careful of what you say,” he said. So far away his voice seemed to Gilly, and weary. “I have not the same skill in tracking as Kaldir and the rain will help us, though it may disturb some of what the earth may tell us for a little while. But we must sleep now, while we can.”

“I am sorry, of course you are right Mister Dúlrain. You rest now, I will take watch,” Gilly volunteered, though she too felt dreadfully tired.

“No, Mrs. Banks, you rest a bit yourself, and I will watch,” Toby said standing up as far as the roots allowed him. “I will watch for anything that moves, and provided I find something- but nothing fearsome as would harm us, mind you- well then we might just have ourselves something for breakfast in the morning!”

“That would be wonderful indeed, Mister Longholes. I hope that you find something to your taste,” Gilly said.

“In that case it had better be something large,” he joked as he climbed out of the hollow.

“But if anything is amiss or if the rain stops, do not delay in waking us, Master Longholes,” Dúlrain requested the hobbit.

“Not to worry!” Toby said sticking his head back in the den. “This hobbit knows the difference between a cricket and a chunk of cheese. And I wouldn’t waste a minute fretting on whether or not to wake you, you’d know something is up just as soon as me, but I trust no sooner than that!” With that he was gone, and Gilly was left trying to relax enough to sleep, but her mind would not settle.

“Do you really, trust him Mister Dúlrain?” Gilly asked after a while, not knowing if the ranger had fallen asleep.

“Rest easy Mrs. Banks,” his voice said quietly. “I do not think Master Longholes would risk leaving, and I have long ago grown accustomed to sleeping with an ear open for trouble.”

“But you are tired.”

“And you also, I should think.”

It was true and the hobbit lay down on the bare ground, tucking her feet up under her skirts. “Mister Dúlrain?” she began again. “You haven’t found anything new since I last asked, anything I should know about, have you?”

There was a silence and Gilly thought perhaps the ranger had drifted off despite his attention to trouble. “No Mrs. Banks, I have not,” he answered her after a lengthy pause. “I have not seen any sure sign of a struggle. Now sleep and in the morning light we will speak of what I have and have not found, in great detail if you would like.”

“Mister Dulrain?” the hobbit questioned in the damp darkness. “Forgive me, but I’ve one more question now that Mister Longholes is away. I’ve wanted to ask you for some time now, but honestly I was afraid to hear what you might say,” she admitted. “Of course you don’t have to answer, “ she added quickly, “though I truly wish that you might.”

“Let’s have your question then, and I will answer it if I am able,” Dúlrain said.

It seemed to Gilly much easier to put into words now that she was so tired and could no longer see the his expression. Almost as if she were between sleep and waking. “Tell me, how was it really that Mr. Kaldir died?” she finally asked the darkness. And after what seemed an immeasurable pause she spoke again, “Did he and Mr. Rauthain have a falling out? I had worried it might come to that, you know.”

She heard a deep in take of breath just a few feet beside her, and immediately regretted having broached the subject. It was not easy for the ranger.

“No, it was not Rauthain.” Dúlrain’s voice cut clear through the night. “My brother, though still living had all but left us by the time Rauthain met him at the edge of the vale. I have no doubt that he had finally found who he had been seeking since he left Bree,” Dúlrain stopped for a moment. “This was no longer Kaldir the ranger nor even Kaldir the bounty hunter, Mrs. Banks. It was not the man we know, who fell. It was this man who killed Rauthain and who also had set upon me.”

Gilly understood then, what Dúlrain would not say. “But why? He had fought so very long against her. How could she turn him in less than a day’s time?”

“Benia,” came Dúlrain’s reply through the dark. “He did to help Benia.”

The hobbit, troubled by this answer, thought largely on these three of her friends until she passed into a dreamless slumber, not waking or stirring until it was time to move on.

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Old 12-26-2004, 01:51 PM   #316
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Barrold Ferny

The chill rain that had begun to fall with the dusk, grew steadily harder and faster as evening faded into night, but still Naiore Dannan pressed onward. Barrold hunched his shoulders against the cold and sunk deeper into his cloak, too wet and miserable to bother with spitting or swearing or anything else for that matter. Stubbornly, doggedly, he continued walking, placing one foot after the other on the slick, muddy path, taking care not to slip, but paying no mind to the footprints he left behind as each step sunk ankle deep into the gray, sucking mud. Barrold Ferny’s mind was elsewhere.

Watching the slender, straight figure of the southern woman walking ahead of him, Ferny’s mind was already in the Dale. According to his fantasy, he had already taken the finest room at local inn and invited his envious friends over to show off not only his prosperity but his prize, the black-haired beauty who would wait on him hand and foot and see to his every paltry, petty want. He could see it all so clearly: the fire crackling in the grate, the wide oaken table laden with every hot and inviting dish he could think of... mutton, spiced beef, roast venison, a roast goose with golden, crackling skin, and, oh.. the poacher’s pie. Pitchers of the inn’s finest ale would wash it all down, the southern woman dutifully filling his tankard each time it ran low, piling his plate with food until he ate his fill, a soft flush rising in her cheeks each time he looked at her, waiting patiently for his friends to go away that they might be alone. Ferny grinned in spite of himself. He was just reaching out to stroke her satin skin when an icy trickle of rainwater penetrated his hood and ran down the back of his neck like the cold finger of death. The rosy glow of the inn vanished instantly and the lovely southern woman, who only a moment earlier had seemed so warm and inviting, became a cipher, a slim gray silhouette, ever just out of his reach, and barely even visible to him through the gloom and pelting rain. He frowned darkly and began trying at once to re-conjure the vision.

“Ferny!” barked Naiore. She had stopped several paces ahead of him and stood pointing at something on the ground at her feet. Grumbling as the cozy vision of the inn disappeared forever, Barrold Ferny slogged over to where she stood and looked down. There at her feet were fresh hoof prints, just filling with rainwater. Whoever it was, the rider was heading toward the Anduin and had only recently crossed their trail. Ferny pushed back his hood and squinted into the east, half-expecting to see the vague shadow of a mysterious horse and rider.

“Get me that horse,” hissed Naiore. “If the rider has any sense at all, he won’t have gone far in this mud and rain. The footing is far too treacherous.” She paused for a moment and grew silent as though searching the night, then nodded. “The rider remains nearby. Bring me his horse.”

“And then?” ventured Ferny gruffly. The happy fantasy of the inn still hovered near the top of his mind. If the elf kept her word, he might be able to make it a reality sooner than he thought.

For an instant, Naiore’s eyes glittered dangerously in the depths of her hood, but when she spoke her voice seemed cool and without malice. “Bring the horse to me,” she said calmly. “Follow my trail due south from this point until you find us. When the horse is in my possession, you shall have the woman.”

“And you won’t need me no more, neither?”

“You shall be free of your obligation to me and may follow whatever path you like.”

Needing no more instruction or confirmation, Barrold Ferny grunted his acceptance of Naiore’s terms. With a final glance at Benia Nightshade, he turned and jogged into the night, closely following the trail of hoof prints. He had not gone more than a few hundred feet when the one set of prints became two. The rider had dismounted. By then, the rain had begun to come down in sheets. Ferny bent nearly double as he ran, keeping his face close to the ground so as not to lose the trail that he followed, glancing up only occasionally to make sure that he would not accidentally overtake his quarry before he was aware of it. Finally, as he rounded a bend in the trail, Ferny’s sharp eyes caught the faint flicker of a small fire. Seconds later the sharp smell of smoke struck his nostrils. The fool has built himself a campfire. Ferny smiled.

Slowing his pace, Ferny drew his dagger. Holding his body close to the ground, he kept to the shadows as he crept closer and closer toward the fire. As he grew nearer, the horse, a mud-spattered brown mare, began to stamp and whinny nervously. The man who had been riding her stood up from the fallen log he had been using for a seat and squinted into the darkness. Ferny froze, holding his breath as the man’s gaze passed over him, not seeing. Ferny studied his prey.

The stranger was a big fellow, as big as Ferny himself, with a broad good-natured face, a trusting face. A farmer, no doubt thought Ferny. Too bad for him that he should be out on such a night. Ferny also noticed the heavy sword he wore at his side, which was unusual for a farmer, at least under ordinary circumstances. He wondered if the farmer really knew how to use it or if he wore it more for the purpose of intimidating any would-be highwaymen or footpads, such as himself. Not wanting to find out, Ferny decided that stealth would be the best option. The shelter the farmer had chosen was nothing more than the shelter offered by the spreading boughs of an ancient oak tree. He had built his sputtering little fire between the roots, and tied his horse to another raised root nearby. As far as Ferny could see, the man’s position was completely exposed. Ferny grinned, tightening the grip on his dagger.

Seeing nothing but darkness and rain, the man turned and gave his horse a friendly pat on the neck before sitting down to warm himself at the fire. As soon as he was settled, Ferny again crept forward, skirting the trail to his right so that he might come up behind the unsuspecting traveler. It was over in seconds. Ferny leapt upon the stranger before he was even aware of what was happening and, in a single fluid motion of his arm, slit the man’s throat, nearly severing the head from the body. A warm rush of blood poured forth over Ferny’s arm, mingling with the rain. Ferny dropped the man’s lifeless body beside the smoldering remains of the fire. Then, he carefully and deliberately searched the man’s pockets, removing among other things, his purse and an old pocket watch. Ferny held the watch up to his ear. Hearing no answering tick, he flung it into the fire and continued his search, finding nothing else of interest but a fairly serviceable pocketknife and packet of pipeweed, both of which he tucked into his tunic, alongside the man‘s purse. Then, with nothing else left to be done, he untied the horse’s reins from the tree root and flung himself into the saddle.


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

Benia

Feeling more like a salmon than a human being, Benia trudged doggedly onward through the rain. With Barrold Ferny gone on his mission to steal a horse for Naiore, Benia found herself leading the way with the elf walking several silent paces behind her. Still they pressed southward. Having overheard the conversation between the two co-conspirators, she knew that she would soon be leaving the Ravener’s company and felt a spark of hope. While she feared Barrold Ferny and what he could ultimately do to her, she feared Naiore Dannan far more. Knowing that her chances of escape would be better once Naiore had gone her own way, Benia felt almost optimistic. She could handle Barrold Ferny. In fact, she had a feeling she could take care of him for good if she could just lay her hands on a few leaves of oleander.

“Or belladonna,” she murmured under her breath, remembering how she had had the same thoughts regarding Kaldir, as she and Gilly had rode behind him and his gray horse through the streets of Bree. How long ago it seemed, although it had only been a matter of weeks. Now Kaldir was dead, having given his life to protect her, and she would have given anything to bring him back. A single tear welled up in the corner of her eye and trembled there for a moment before breaking free and mingling with the rain on her face. How easy it was to think of murder and killing and how hard was the reality, she thought. Yet, at the same time, she knew that Barrold Ferny was no Kaldir. Even when she had feared for her life at Kaldir’s hand, Kaldir had shown that trace of nobility of spirit, that hint of kindness that belied the man beneath the rough exterior and the scars. Barrold Ferny showed nothing of the sort, only ruthless self-interest and greed. She remembered the way he had struck her in the face when she tried to warn Kaldir away from the camp above Rivendell and the way he had swung at her again for no reason when he had tripped and fallen on the rocky path coming out of the mountains. Unless she managed to escape, he would beat her mercilessly. She must do what she could to preserve herself.

Benia shivered and blew on her cold hands that were bound in front of her. She must do what she could...

She was still thinking along these lines when she heard the distant clop-clop of hoofbeats. The rain had slackened to a light drizzle, and the hoofbeats approached rapidly. Benia stopped walking and glanced back to see that Naiore had stopped walking a few paces earlier and now stood in the center of the path with her hood thrown back and her clear eyes focused on the path they had just come by. A look of cold triumph came into her face as Barrold Ferny reined the horse to a halt in front of her. At that moment, the moon sailed out from behind the blanket of clouds and Benia saw with horror that Ferny’s right arm was red with another man’s blood. She lowered her eyes and murmured a soft Haradrim prayer for the dead. Murder. To think, only seconds earlier, she had been contemplating murder herself. Seeing the blood still fresh on Ferny’s sleeve, the crimson evidence of such a crime, she knew that even if she had the poisons she had been thinking of, she would never use them. She could not coldly and deliberately take a life. She must find another way to save herself.

She watched as Ferny dismounted and exchanged a few sentences with Naiore, looking several times toward Benia as he spoke. Idly, he wiped his bloody hands on his tunic and grinned. A clear expression of disgust flitted across Naiore’s fair features, then vanished as she nodded and smiled serenely, speaking some last parting words to Ferny that Benia was unable to hear. Finally, without another glance toward either of them, the Ravener swung herself gracefully into the saddle and rode away into the darkness toward the south.

As the last rumble of hoofbeats faded into the distance, Benia found herself alone with Barrold Ferny.

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Old 12-31-2004, 03:51 PM   #317
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Menecin

Straight and tall, Menecin silently watched in the rain, listening. Looking up the elf saw that not even the occasional glimpse of clear sky was to be seen among the fast moving clouds. Yet somewhere before them were Naiore… and the others. That smaller party, which also trailed her, and which he hoped still lay between her and his own traveling companions. It seemed a doomed mission that these few had set themselves upon, unless they might be reached and reinforced quickly. Just how well did this young ranger understand the lady Dannan and her perilous ways? Was he truly prepared to assail someone with her skill having only the aid of two Periannath? A twinge of foreboding overtook him and steeling himself against it, he continued his watch.

In the patter of steady rain, he heard a footfall behind him. And Menecin who quickly recognized the timing of Amandur’s stride in the sound, did not let his gaze waver as the ranger approached him, but still surveying the landscape, he continued to hope for some sign that might direct them on their way. “Are there any new tidings?” Amandur asked as he drew alongside the bard, the rain dripping from his hair. “What might elven eyes see in this downpour?”

“My eyes see naught but fair woods and plains, glad of summer rain. They have not alighted on any that could not rightfully call this place home,” Menecin reported.

The ranger nodded, “Truly a beacon such as a campfire would provide, is too much to hope for in this rain and rolling terrain. But given the danger of unfriendly eyes it is even more unlikely. Dúlrain is not foolish.”

Menecin finally allowed himself to meet the ranger’s gaze. “It has troubled me greatly, Amandur,” the rich voice confessed reluctantly. “It has troubled me that Dúlrain should continue on ahead of us. Surely, he knows that you would not let him face this task alone and that we cannot be far behind. Tell me, what manner of man is this we follow, and that would dare seek her out?”

“It is troubling to me as well that we have not yet caught up with him.” Amandur admitted to the bard. “But do not think he would wait for us. He has much grievance with the Lady Dannan, and would not risk letting her trail grow cold. For she has slowly and completely destroyed Kaldir whom Dúlrain called brother, and now holds captive yet another he holds dear.”

“The Southern woman? That is ill tidings, indeed.” Menecin bowed his head, before raising it once again to search the grassy plains and scanty woods shrouded in darkness. “But what of the Periannath?”

“One is a close friend of Miss Nightshade, but the other Halfling’s presence remains a mystery to me. He had accompanied the Lady Dannan willingly from Bree, but apparently left her company and joined Dúlrain and Kaldir before they had reached the borders of Imladris. I do not know why he has continued onward from there.”

“This also bodes evil to my mind,” the elf said. “Then let us hope, that with the morning light we might ride swiftly now that we are no longer upon mountain paths.”

“And let us hope also that Dúlrain does not meet with the Ravennor of Mordor before we are able to find him,” Amandur added, echoing the thoughts that Menecin left had unspoken. But the elf did not respond to him, feeling a strong dissonance to hear Naiore referred to by such a designation. And though he knew well it was true, he withdrew again within himself and his memories until Amandur said that he would stand watch, and Menecin returned the sycamore grove, and sat apart from the rest.
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Old 01-15-2005, 04:37 PM   #318
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Barrold Ferny

As the sound of hoof beats faded into the distance, Barrold Ferny realized two things: the first was that Naiore had really gone, leaving him free to go about his own business again, just as he had been before she turned up. He had been so certain that this venture was going to end badly that the idea sunk in slowly. The other thing was that he was still alive and in full control of his faculties, not to mention full control of a set of very valuable mithril book covers and a enticingly delectable woman. While Naiore Dannan had not delivered on all of the power and riches she had promised, Ferny decided that he really had not done too badly for himself. He hefted the pack that contained the book covers higher on his shoulders and looked over to where Benia Nightshade stood with her cloak clutched tightly around her shoulders like a protective cocoon. Ferny licked his lips as a flurry of prurient thoughts flew through his mind. Finally, he sighed. If it weren't such a miserable night, he might have laid her down right then and there and seen about ripping into that little cocoon of hers, but the freezing rain and mud had gone a long way toward dampening his ardor. Tomorrow, he decided. Tomorrow when the sun is shining, I’ll find a place where there’s a cover of trees and perhaps a spot of warm grass...

Ferny jumped as white branch lightning tore the sky over his head, accompanied by a deafening crash of thunder. Cursing under his breath as the rain redoubled in its intensity, he reached out and gave Benia Nightshade a shove. They needed either to find shelter or keep moving, one of the two. No one could ever say that Barrold Ferny didn’t have enough sense to get out of the rain. But the blow had caught Benia by surprise. She lost her balance and slipped in the mud, landing on her knees.

"Get up!" roared Ferny, suddenly furious at the woman's clumsiness. He landed a sharp kick to her backside, which caused her to pitch forward. She caught herself from falling flat only by throwing her bound hands out in front of her. Still cursing, Ferny grabbed her by the base of her thick braid through her cloak and dragged her to her feet. Placing his face against her hooded cheek, he growled into her ear. "You’ll move if you want to live through the night."

Ferny released her with a push in the direction of east. "We need to reach the Anduin by dawn," he shouted at her over the roar of wind and rain. "We’ll ford the river by daylight."

He watched with satisfaction as her hood nodded submissively and she began to walk in the direction of the river and his ultimate destination of the Dale.

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Old 02-01-2005, 11:46 AM   #319
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Gilly

Gilly woke to the sound of staccato whispers close by her. It was dark and she could hear a rumbling thunder that broke through the rolling waves of rain. The hobbit had no idea how long she had been asleep, but felt damp and miserable, and considerably less tired. She found her eyes were stuck shut from tears shed before drifting off, and raised a hand to clear them as she lay listening to the conversation.

“Now?” an incredulous voice said. “In this dark?”

“I know where we are headed. We do not need much light.”

“But I could dress this nicely in no time at all, I promise you. We could use something to eat. Later maybe, when you feel we could spare a bit of a fire.” Gilly, tucked away in her den, smiled to hear that. Toby must have had some success looking for a meal.”

“No, we have not time,” Dúlrain pressed. “Quickly now, wake Mrs. Banks. We will leave at once.”

Lightening flashed. Gilly saw the ranger’s tall figure cross in front of the tree roots, and it was dark once again. “Mrs. Banks, Mrs. Banks!” Toby said, suddenly close by and shaking her shoulder. “You must wake up straightaway. It is time we set out once more.” She struggled to collect her thoughts, wondering if something had happened. Sitting up, Gilly crossed her arms over her stomach and asked the other hobbit why they were leaving when the storm seemed to have grown more furious, “I don’t know. He hasn’t said,” Toby replied to her questioning. “He only told me to wake you, and as soon as your up we’re off.’’

“Then I best get moving,” Gilly said, but Toby had already gone, leaving her alone in the hollow. The hobbit tried to remember those things she had cast aside as she lay down, her fingers moving to search the dirt for Benia’s sword. Finding it, she stood up stiffly and slung it over her shoulder before climbing out from under the sheltering roots.

Gilly jogged to where Toby stood at the ranger’s side. “What is wrong?” she asked as she drew up to them. “Something has gone wrong hasn’t it?” Dúlrain looked her way as thunder rumbled in the distance.

“It remains to be seen,” he said hurriedly, as he fastened his pack. “I have stumbled on something troubling, as I searched the way ahead.” He looked at Gilly. “Do not worry, there was no sign of Miss Nightshade there. But I fear it may have some bearing on her situation. We should not tarry here.” Gilly nodded.

The ranger led the small group south along the tree line and over a bluff, before turning eastward to more open country. Through wind and heavy rain they shortly came to a lone oak. It was there among the gnarled roots, the hobbits saw the remains of a small fire, where the ground beside the charred earth shone dark red in the flickering lightening. Gilly quickly turned away. But Dúlrain searched the ground around the tree carefully, “This is Barrold Ferny’s cursed work,” he said. “See his tracks clearly leading west again with the slain man’s horse, the same direction as he had come.”

“The murderous horse thief!” Gilly declared hotly.

“I can vouch for your assessment of him, Mrs. Banks. He is as vile as they get,” Toby agreed, before addressing Dúlrain. “Do you think he is really on his own then?” he asked.

“No. If that were the case I do not think he would have gone back by the same route. Naiore is after a horse. It would serve her well to have one, now that she has crossed over the mountains and the way lies open to the south. At this point we can only hope that the mud might serve to slow the poor beast down,” Dúlrain said.

“But only one horse?” Gilly broke in. “Can all three ride one?” Dúlrain did not answer her, but followed his own thoughts.

“Ferny was here not long ago. We have lost a good deal of time and must make haste,” he said walking up the incline. “Back up toward the trees” he directed. Toby and Gilly obeyed. With the thick mud, the hobbits struggled to keep pace with the ranger who guided them, but after a mile or so Dúlrain slowed and the hobbits had an easier time keeping abreast of him. The horse and rider he had been tracking had met with another pair of prints he told them, and the rider trailing the new prints. Gilly was relived to see Dúlrain point out several narrow ones filled high with rainwater. They looked the right size for Miss Benia.

But it was not long before Gilly found herself running once more, to keep up as Dúlrain raced ahead. It was a mile or more before the ranger stopped and she and Toby, skirting a patch of birches nearly passed him by in the darkness. He had stooped low waiting for another flash of light by which to read the signs before him. The paths she learned had diverged, Naiore’s heading south, but Benia and Barrold’s striking a more easterly course, down toward the Anduin. Fear gripped Gilly as the ranger stood up and looked down over the plains, hesitating which direction to take. She simply could not stay with Dúlrain and Toby if they choose to follow Naiore! She would follow Miss Benia alone if it came to that. They both knew that she had not come all this way to chase after rogue elves! She had a more important matter to tend to. But deep inside her bravado, she was frantic with worry. Worry that she would inded have to gone on her own, unaided.
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Old 02-02-2005, 08:05 AM   #320
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Dúlrain

As Dúlrain looked out over the plains he hesitated confronted with this dilemma. His charge had been to aid Amandur in the capture of the elf Naiore Dannon, who’s countless crimes towards the free peoples of middle earth were too numerous and horrific to recount. The burning need to avenge his brother also burned strong within his soul, but he just could not leave Benia in the hands of that unscrupulous villain Barrold…. Where are the others? He wondered, turning to look back in the direction they had just come. He had hoped that Amandur and the others, if there were any others would have caught up to them by now. But there had been no sign of them and concern had been growing in his mind that they had not survived Naiore’s orc ambush in the mountains. Another flash of lightening streaked the sky illumining for a few minutes the darkness surrounding them. It was then he saw it, a dark shadow in the distance…a figure bent studying the ground before it.

“Get out of sight!” he quickly whispered to the others as he pressed himself against one of the smooth barked birches, Lightening again gave him enough light to get a better look at the stranger reading their trail. Tall and slender like a reed the figure moved gracefully towards them, shrouded from head to toe in a dark cloak that seem to change with the shadows and reflections of the pale moonlight making keeping track of their uninvited companion's movements almost impossible. In fact if not for the lightening he may have never have known anyone was there at all until it was too late. He waited his hand resting instinctively on the hilt of the sword by his waist, but just a few feet from were he was hiding the figure suddenly stopped and was looking straight in his direction almost as though the tree blocking it's view was not there at all. His hand tightened about the hilt as he suddenly grew concerned that he had just lead Gilly and Toby into a cleverly orchestrated trap. Quickly sliding the blade free from its scabbard he stepped out from the tree to face the dark figure that stalked them.

The figure remained still and said nothing as the ranger demanded his name and the reason why he followed them. Slowly the stranger rose two pale long fingered hands to show that they held no weapons. However the bow slung across the figures back and the bulge to his left side showed that he was no stranger to weapons so Dúlrain held to caution and kept his weapon raised as the stranger brought his hands up to the dark hood that concealed his face. Watching him throw the hood back Dúlrain was suddenly surprised to see a cascade of long dark hair fall down about the strangers shoulders and the familiar smile of a friend greeted him.

“Miz Léspheria!” He heard Gilly gasped as she suddenly appeared from her hiding place with Toby not too far behind her. The elf’s smile broadened as she nodded in greeting to the surprised hobbit. “And happy I am to see that you are all alive and well, We lost your trail sometime ago and feared that you had confronted Naiore alone,” she admitted turning again to face Dúlrain. The ranger shook his head, “No we too have been unable to catch up to the Revennor and now I am faced with a difficult decision, one which your arrival has now decided for me, though I have to admit that it would have likely have been the same regardless! But first tell me where are the others, surely you are not alone?”

“No, the others are camped someway off behind us,” she indicated pointed back the way she had come. “Amandur, the bard Menecin, Vanwe and Avanill make up our company, I picked up your trail on my patrol,” she paused for a moment lost in her own thoughts, “Naiore has acquired a horse and cut loose both her prisoner and her hired thug,” she mused as she read between the lines and put together the clues she had found. Dúlrain nodded indicating that she was correct in her assumption.

“She makes all speed south, while Barrold with Benia heads east!”He explained pointing out their watery trails.

“I see,” Léspheria nodded sympathetically, sensing and understanding the rangers need to abandon his charge and strike east to rescue the southern woman.

“Tell Amandur that I am sor…” he began but Léspheria cut him short placing an understanding hand on his shoulder.

“Do not worry Amandur will understand, you must do what your heart tells you is right!” she smiled reassuringly,

“Besides you are without the means to keep up with Naiore never mind catch her, We on the other hand are not. I will return at once and inform the others of what we have found and we will ride out at once to give chase, she cannot elude us forever.”

Dúlrain nodded his thanks and understanding, then after pressing a small glass phial into Gilly's hands with a few whispered instructions, Lespheria said her goodbyes, wished them luck and left to return and wake her companions. While Dúlrain and the two hobbits struck east hot on the heels of Barrold Ferny fully intent on freeing Benia from his villainous grasp!
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