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Old 02-26-2004, 06:03 AM   #121
Nerindel
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After watching Tinar leave, Korpulfr turned full about and made his way back to his study, where in he stood looking upon the finely crafted Tulwar that hung on the wall behind his desk, contemplating if it would be needed, he did not want to appear hostile, nor that he though his new customers untrustworthy, but neither did he like the idea of being close to so many Corsair's without some form of protection. His hand went to the hatchet in his belt, every male of the wolf clan wore one, he remembered his grandfather telling him that it was an important tool for their people, who were once primarily hunters.

As always when he thought of their old way of life the images would shifted to that of their hunters the hard faced Umbarian soldiers and the painted Haradwaith warriors, laughing coldly as they torched tent after tent, he could still remember the terrified screams of women and children as the warriors dragged them away, he tried not to think about what happened to those taken away! With controlled effort he push the painful memories aside and decisively reached out and carefully lifted the sword from its mount. Taking hold of the ivory hilt he pulled it a few inches out of it's leather scabbard, the sharp blade glinted in the morning light that streamed through the rooms arched windows, satisfied that the blade was sharp he slid it back and strapped it about his waist, moving his hatchet to the back of his belt, he then lifted a finely cut cinnamon coat from the back of his chair and as he pulled it on he gathered up his papers and made his way to the stables.

His cousins Asrim and Hasrim awaited him and their solemn expressions told him that they were not happy with his decision to take the shipment himself, he did not fault them their concerns, he knew they thought of the future and that someday he would be required to take his fathers place as leader of their clan and that he should leave the risk taking to others, but this was not Korpulfr's way, he would not trust anyone else. A wry grin pressed his lips as he approached the older men, "morning cousins, fine day for visiting the harbour, wouldn't you say!"

"I'm glad you think it amusing, Asrim told me about the carver!" Hasrim answered sternly. causing him to shot his other cousin an angry glare.

"He only thinks of your safety!" Hasrim continued,

"I can look after myself, I'm not a young cub that requires the protection of the rest of the pack, I need your loyalty and trust not your concerns!" he retorted, making the effort to control his anger.

"You have our loyalty, but you do not know these foreigners intentions! should they discover us or you what then?" Asrim replied slightly wounded by his cousins rash words.

"At least take an escort!" Hasrim pressed.

"Very well!" he relented, seeing that he would not shift their position on the matter, "Hasrim you will come with me, find me three men to help unload at the docks." The wolf clan warrior nodded and went at once to gather a wagon crew.

"Asrim you will see to the rest of the day's trade and keep an ear, let me know if you hear anything concerning the foreigners and their recent purchases." he said turning to his other cousin, who nodded his understanding then hurried to set about his days work.

As he waited Hasrim's return he rounded to the back of the cart and inspected the shipment, insuring that it had been loaded as per his specific instructions, the spice barrels were at the head with the silk rolls in chests to the rear and all barrels and chests had been branded with the seal of his house, he ran his fingers across the charred wood tracing the wolf's head, assuming that Falasmir's thugs did not too closely inspect the containers he would be able to learn if they fell into his hands and then be able to take measures to have them retrieved. With a satisfied grin he re-rolled the vellum scroll tying it closed with iridescent ribbon and tucking it into the inside pocket of his coat

Just then Hasrim returned with three eager looking young men, who all stood before the cart awaiting his instruction. "We're going to the dock's were you will help to unload our cargo," he told them.

"To the Gondorian ship!" the youngest of the three men asked excitedly.

"Yes!" Korpulfr answered with a grin, "but be mindful , there is also two Corsairs ship berthed" he warned, knowing full well the young men knew the reputation of the Umbarian fleets motley crew.

"Now on you get!" he laughed. The three young men climbed into the back, while he and Hasrim sat up front. Taking the reigns in both hands he started the horses forwards, out of the stable across the courtyard and out into the city streets. As they past through the market many of the trader stopped and bade them good day and one or two lords even enquired as to where he was off to so heavily laden.

"To the docks" he would answer with a well practised smile and a courteous nod of his head. "As if they don't know!" He would hear Hasrim mutter through his forced smile.

As they approached the commercial quay, rounding a row of dark warehouses, he, like his three young companions could only stare, the two three masted dromonds, with their large, square, ominous looking black sails over shadowed the two masted merchant vessel. In that moment the young merchant found himself pitying the Gondorian captain and his crew, their situation seemed worse than he had first imagined, it hadn't looked so bad from his aerial position of the previous day.

The quay was a bustle with merchants from the previous night bringing their shipments, dispersed among the merchants and their help he saw Falasmir's guards and looking up at the nearest Corsair ship, he noted that many of it's crew watched with interest the proceedings below. 'With to much interest!' Korpulfr thought bitterly. "Their searching the wagons!" Hasrim whispered beside him.

"What!" he exclaimed incredulously, thinking his cousin had meant the Gondorians, but that was not the case, as he looked round he saw that it was Falasmir's guards who were inspecting the cargo, for what! he thought bitterly.

Pulling the team short of the Gondorian ships gangplank he jumped down, telling the others to wait till he found the captain or his first mate, "Look after them, make sure there's no trouble!" he whispered to Hasrim, with a concerned look between his young helpers and the Umbarian guards. He hadn't got a few feet from the wagon when he was stopped by one of Falasmir's men.

"Well, well, well, if it isn't the desert rat that likes to play Merchant!" Korulfr's eyes narrowed as he turned to come face to face with one of Falasmir's captains. "So you managed to off load some of your tat, eh lad!" the man mocked turning to several guards that stood nearby, who had joined in their captains laughter. He felt his jaw clench as he suppressed the urge to wipe the smile right of his face!

"I'm here to do business with the Northern Captain, not to partake in name calling with one of Falasmir's hired thugs" he answered darkly.

"Check his cart!" the captain snapped to the two guards behind him. Then his face still red with anger he took a step closer and leaned in and hissed in his ear, "The Nobility of this city may think you one of the Gentry, but I know desert scum when I see it, mark my words! you put so much as a toe out of line and I will have you!" he warned, then he stalked away to harass the next merchant. Korpulfr's hand had moved to the hilt of his sword during the encounter and there it stayed till the captain was out of sight, relaxing his hand, he returned to the cart eyeing the two Haradwaith men inspecting his goods with contempt and suspicion, he wasn't the only one, Hasrim and his three helpers veiwed the two men distainfully.

"So what did he have to say?' Hasrim whispered coming up beside him.

"Doesn't like desert people!" he shrugged darkly.

"I will try finding the captain again once our friends here are satisfied!"

Last edited by Nerindel; 02-28-2004 at 08:56 PM.
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Old 02-26-2004, 09:43 AM   #122
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Mithadan

Mithadan considered Airefalas' words for a moment. Then he walked to the window and looked out over the city. Then he turned away from the window with clenched fists. "I do not doubt that you are correct," he answered. "We have paid for the goods which we purchased, so the traders cannot be angry if Falasmir seizes our ship. Our cargo, no doubt, will go towards filling Umbar's coffers... as will the profits from selling the crew of the Star."

"Then we must deny Falasmir his profits," replied Airefalas with a thin smile.

"That may be difficult," said Mithadan. "Let's go to the docks." The two dressed rapidly and exited their rooms, waiting impatiently as their guards roused themselves to escort their 'guests' from the palace. They walked quickly, ignoring the heat, though both were sweating heavily by the time they reached the quays. Falasmir's guards stopped them briefly near the gangway. Mithadan noted that the carts bearing the Star's cargo were being searched before being allowed to come up next to the ship. "For our safety, no doubt..." growled Mithadan as they were allowed to pass and climbed aboard their vessel.

Saelon greeted them on the deck with a broad smile. "We load at last, Captain," he said. "Do we depart soon?" Mithadan motioned him to follow and went below decks to his cabin. After Saelon and Airefalas entered, he tossed a pile of bills of lading upon his desk. Then he picked up several that were lying there and pulled out three which he examined with a nod. Then he turned back to his second mate.

"Saelon," he said quietly. "The soldiers of Umbar will be seizing this vessel and our crew tomorrow."

"What!" cried Saelon. "What of our safe passage? What of Falasmir's guarantees?"

He recounted briefly what he and Airefalas had been told as well as what they guessed. "Well," said Saelon, with a grim face. "You are here now. We will depart immediately." He turned towards the door but was stopped by Airefalas, who shook his head. "How far would we get with corsairs moored on either side of us?" he asked simply.

"We'll fight then," answered Saelon. "We are well-armed."

"We are well-armed, but we are in the middle of our enemy's domain," growled Mithadan. "We will fight, but we will choose the time and place." The three of them sat at a table and Mithadan laid out his plan in detail, stopping at times to draw out some simple diagrams on sheets of vellum.

"It is risky," muttered Saelon. "But it may work. If Ulmo favors us upon the seas and Manwë sends us fair winds."

"It is better than fighting on the docks," agreed Airefalas.

"Airefalas and I will return to the palace," said Mithadan. "You must make all ready. It must appear as if we are not preparing to depart, but all cargo must be stowed and the sails furled without tangles. Then, this evening, you will begin just as we spoke... with the gift for the crews of the corsairs. Give them time to enjoy themselves..." A feral grin passed over Mithadan's face. "Then, just before midnight, set matters in motion."

"When will you return?" asked Saelon suspiciously.

"By midnight or not at all," answered Airefalas.

"We will wait for you," proclaimed Saelon.

Mithadan's fist struck the table. "You will not!" he cried. "You will not wait! Not for a moment! If we do not return by midnight, you must take your chance. We have... other options. If we do not return in time, tell Piosenniel that I have found a relative of Bird's. Say just that. I have found a relative of Bird's named Rama."

At that moment, a knock came upon the door. Ardil, the helmsman opened the door. "Captain," he said. "There is someone here to see you..."
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Old 02-27-2004, 10:39 AM   #123
Child of the 7th Age
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Narika and Ayar:

Narika stood at the entrance to the tent, blankly staring off across the encampment. She was barely aware of the children darting back and forth, or the fact that their parents had already begun packing up their belongings and gathering the herds in preparation for the move of the camp that was supposed to take place later that day. Outwardly, everything looked normal. Surinen and Narayad had made it back to the clan the evening before. Although Narika hadn't had a chance to speak with either of them, she'd already heard the good news that their search for a well had met with success.

Her own deep concerns stemmed from something totally different. Ayar, her beloved mother and leader of the clan, a woman whose wisdom and mastery of shapes was undisputed, lay unexpectedly ill in her bed. Ayar had been restless throughout the evening, eating none of the food set before her, and had excused herself early to retire to bed. At first Narika had thought little of her mother's behavior or complaints: a good night's sleep would surely cure everything. But, in the middle of the night, her mother had awoken with a high fever and symptoms of pain in her neck, chest, and stomach. Narika had bathed Ayar's head and body with cool cloths and applied a compress soaked in a tincture of herbs directly to the back of her neck where she could see a small, inflamed puncture wound, apparently made by an insect.

Despite everything, her mother's fever had continued to rise. The poison that had come from the small sting seemed to be coursing slowly and inexorably through her body. Narika was an accomplished healer, yet her mother's illness did not look or act like others she had known. She could not think of anything that would cause these particular symptoms. After hours of tireless effort and trying different herbal remedies, Narika had finally seen her mother fall into a fitful sleep punctuated by moans and restless movement.

There could be no real rest for Narika until Ayar recovered. She loved her mother deeply. Even more than that, each clan member depended on Ayar in a direct and personal way that the citizens of Umbar, or even of Minas Tirth, would not have understood; the other maenwaith would find her mother's illness just as deeply troubling.

The young woman forced herself to concentrate on the situation at hand, despite the weariness of her body and the grey fog assaulting her mind. After many minutes of reflection, she finally made her decision. The camp would not move today, not even if Surinen and Narayad reported finding an ocean of water. They could not risk such a thing when Ayar was feeling so poorly. The goats and camels would simply have to make do with the few scrub plants that remained near their old watering spot. A move now might not only be risky for Ayar's personal health, but for the general safety of the clan, since this was the time when they were most vulnerable to attack by marauding outlaws and brigands.

Narika's mind spun in circles as she wished for the hundredth time that Ráma or Thorn had made it back to camp. Thorn would have the wisdom and the insight to know just what to do. And, while she herself usually agonized over decisions, making and remaking them a dozen times, her twin was exactly the opposite: forging ahead, without looking back or second guessing. Narika wearily wondered if that approach wouldn't be better in a situation like this.

Walking over to a cluster of maenwaith who were still lingering over breakfast, Narika gently explained that her mother was not feeling well, although she declined to elaborate further. She then approached one of the more trustworthy young lads and asked him to have the elders gather inside her tent, along with Surinen and Naravad, to discuss what must be done.

Narika could not fully explain or justify the sense of alarm and helplessness that was spreading through her mind. Although Ayar had been sick only a short time, Narika was acutely aware that this was an illness unfamiliar to her and, because of that, she could not predict what would happen. With difficulty, she came to a second decision. When the young man returned from his errand, she would ask him to fly across the desert to search out her sister and Thorn, urging them to come home as quickly as they could. Whatever business or problems might exist within Umbar, these now seemed small in comparison with the troubles that had come to perch within their own clan.

Last edited by Child of the 7th Age; 03-01-2004 at 08:36 AM.
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Old 02-27-2004, 04:54 PM   #124
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Gondor

‘Wake up, ammë!’ Three small missiles launched themselves onto their parents’ bed and began tormenting Pio. Despite her efforts to remain under the warm quilts, they were mercilessly ripped from her hands by Isilmir and Gilwen. Cami, her curly hair flying, bounced up and down on the bed chanting, ‘Get up! Getup!’ in a relentless sing-song. Pio sat up quickly and with a grin threw her pillows at the little imps. ‘I surrender!’ she cried, getting up with a yawn. ‘I suppose we should get into the kitchen and forage for breakfast, eh?’

‘Well, you’ld better hurry,’ said Gilwen. ‘Baran is already up and looking through the pantry.’ ‘Hungry as a bear’, piped in Cami, giggling. ‘That’s what he growled at me!’

Pio shooed the three from the room and dressed for the day. Comfortable breeches, a soft, long-sleeved tunic, belt wound twice about her waist. Hair brushed quickly and braided in a long plait down her back, she pulled on her worn boots and headed for the kitchen.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Most of the early morning was spent at the library. As Pio promised, she introduced Baran to the docents and librarians she knew, letting them know that he wished to make use of the library and could they allow him into the special collections if she were not there. One of the librarians agreed to show the Beorning about the library while Pio and the children took advantage of library’s atrium to wait for him.

A short time later, and the five of them were on their way to the seventh level. Pio introduced Baran to the guards as she showed him about the grounds and ushered him into the great hall. When she saw his interest was waning and the patience of the children fading, a trip to the inn was suggested.

Late afternoon brought partings for the little band. Baran had thanked her for her invitation to stay with them, but he preferred to be in the city for now – quicker access to the library given as one of his reasons for staying at the Inn, though Pio wondered if there were other reasons behind the man’s desire to be within the town’s walls. They parted with promises by Pio to see Baran the next time she came to the city. Then, Pio gathered her children and headed back toward home.

Last edited by piosenniel; 04-08-2004 at 02:34 AM.
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Old 03-01-2004, 05:47 AM   #125
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Surinen & Narika

Surinen was struggling to remove the last of the tent pegs when Narayad came striding up. Unfortunately, out of all of them, this last one had proved the most stubborn, and Surinen avoided looking up at the well-known face that went with those gnarled, leathery feet, continuing to wrench away at the resolute spike until his knuckles ached and he could no longer grasp it. With a short sigh, he decided he had better go unpack the mallet, which Dinsûl had managed to stow earlier.

“Surinen, you must see to this later,” Narayad finally said after waiting, impatient for some sort of acknowledgment. Following his friend across to where Dinsûl sat among the sacks of grain and few bundles that held all their goods, he continued speaking while Dinsûl listened, cleaning wheat absently as he drank his sage tea. “We have been asked to join in a gathering of the elders.” Dinsûl raised his eyebrows at this, and looked at his son to see his response. But Surinen continued to root around in a small sack looking for the mallet.

“Give me a just a moment,” he said producing the thing at last. “If I don’t do this now someone else will, and it would not be right to trouble him with such things.” Returning to the peg he rapped on its sides lightly, then withdrew it with ease, and turned to Narayad. “Was it mentioned, why we have not been allowed to see the Meldakher Ayar yet? I imagine we will be able to now tell her and the elders both, about the stranger we found in the well.”

“I have only been told to collect you and that we are to return to Narika tent, beyond that I know nothing of what this is about.”

“Narika?” Surinen wondered. “Ah well, never mind. I’ll just put this away and we can go directly. There is another topic that I’m eager to broach as well, given the chance. One that I had brought to the same elder, but I think it also has traveled no further than that.” Throwing the spike into a pile that lay beside the collapsed tent, Surinen turned to run after Narayad who had already begun walking toward the center of the encampment.

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

When the two outriders arrived, several of the elders were already seated on the patterned grass mats that lined the floor of Narika’s tent, deep in conversation with her. Narayad’s wife was there also, pouring coffee for the gathering out of a large hammered brass vessel, while another woman hurried to place pans of seasoned cassava wafers at different stations about the growing circle. Looking tired and wan Narika gestured for the outriders to join the group, who chose the spot of the circle at the furthest point out of deference for her and the elders of the clan, they settled themselves down, wondering why they had been called to attend, and when Ayar would arrive. She had always been there first, greeting all who came and taking them each aside to hear their views before a meeting began in earnest.

When all the gaps in the circle were closed save the one at the head, Narika signaled that the tent flap should be closed, and all the assembly began looking about and murmuring.

“I can see that you all are wondering were my mother could be. Indeed, that is why I have called you all here,” the young woman began. “We are to begin the next leg of journey south today, I am well aware, but I hope after this meeting that you also might see that we must stay in this camp for a little longer, if at all possible.”

At this another murmur rippled though the small group and a voice called out, “What has Ayar to say about this?” And another rejoined, “Yes, where is she?”

With a pained expression Narika looked into the familiar faces questioning her, faces that had surrounded her since childhood. “My mother has taken ill with a strange fever I have no knowledge of. This is why I ask you to inform the clan of a delay, I greatly fear moving her at this time, and she is in great pain.”

“No, no! We will not move her if you think it is best,” a large bald man said comfortingly above the others who spoke reassuringly her. “You there, outriders! How far were the flocks ranging yesterday? How many more days could we afford?”

“They were quite far sir,” Narayad spoke up. “We could go two maybe three more days before it became obvious something is wrong.”

“And how is the water holding out?” another asked as they began to assess the situation

“Good, we are fortunate for that! This is a good place for water,” he replied again.

“If Ayar still is ill after three days time perhaps we could sent the flocks and a large portion of the clan with them to the next camp. We can join them once she is better.”

At this Surinen spoke up suddenly, “With all respect, I do not think it best to split our numbers at this time.”

“Why is that Surinen? Not even to aid the Meldakher?”

“There must be another way, sir.” Then casting a sideways glance at his distant uncle who in turn was giving him his darkest glare, Surinen blurted out, “We met a strange maenwaith while out digging the well. He said his name was Rôg, but would neither give us his clan or his business, and disappeared quite suddenly.”

“It is not uncommon, unfortunately to meet one of our kind so disposed these days.”

“That is not all,” Surinen said growing animated. “When we were within range, I left Narayad with the animals and as a dog ran the remaining distance to our encampment. To the west, not far from here, I saw the prints of horse heavier than our own, and along with that caught a strange scent I did not recognize and which quite ruined my sense of smell for a time. But once within our confines it returned slowly, though I could still faintly smell the odor along with what seemed like akin to Rôg’s scent! I think that he might have some interest in us, and do not know to what purpose.”

“When was it that you first saw this stranger Surinen?” Narika asked concerned.

“The evening before last. I had tried to tell the Meldakher, but my message did not reach her it seems.”

“That throws quite a different light on our situation,” the bald elder stated. “Unfortunately we will still have to risk having the flocks far a field.”

“The man, Rôg, did not seem threatening, quite the opposite actually, but why should he be skulking about so? That is what concerns me.”

“We will need to redouble the guard immediately,” Narika said “And fly the pennants of danger so that none may miss the warning. Yemneya, see to it that only those of us able to change to fleet or small shapes are with the flocks… and in groups not alone.”

“We had better go then,” the chief eldar said. “There is much work to be done rebuilding the camp. And don’t worry Narika, we will see to the people, and you give all your attention to your mother for us.”

After all had left her tent, Narika felt over come by a wave of isolation. Folding her arms tightly around her, as though the chill she felt was in the air rather than her heart, She left to return Ayar’s bedside hoping to find the fever broken, and fearing to find it worse.
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Old 03-03-2004, 03:49 PM   #126
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Ráma

Still piqued over the rebuff she'd suffered at the hands of the Gondorians, Ráma discarded her rags at the Inn, explaining to Lena that things had not worked out, and then headed towards the marketplace to assuage her hurt feelings by the well known remedy of shopping. She purchased a few trinkets of jewelry for herself and a bolt of fine linen for her sister's betrothal gift, afterwards stopping to chat with another desert woman who'd come to the city to market her wares.

Holding the bundles within her arms, she slowly made her way to the Cat's Paw, still filled with resentment that she'd promised to wait for the Men. So far, she'd heard nothing about trouble in the harbor; perhaps Falasmir had altered his plans. Most likely, Mithadan and Airefalas would find their way aboard the Star and sail homeward, while she fruitlessly waited.

Approaching the Inn, Ráma was surprised to find the door latched tight: this was not Lena's normal routine. Ráma tugged down on the rope to ring the bell, expecting her friend to respond. For a long time, no one answered. Then, from inside, came muffled sounds of shuffling and dragging as if someone was preparing to barricade the door by propping up a piece of furniture in the hallway.

"Lena, where are you?" Ráma spoke in a low voice, knocking softly on the door.

"Ráma, is that you? Thank goodness! I was afraid he'd found you in the marketplace." A key turned in the lock and the door swung slightly open, affording Ráma just enough room to slip inside and fall into her friend's outstretched arms.

"What are you talking about?" the young girl countered. "No one followed me to the market. What's wrong?" Ráma cursed herself for letting down her guard and staying behind when Thorn had explicitly instructed her to leave. If anything happened to her family or her clan, she would never forgive herself for this delay.

Tugging her friend into a side chamber, Lena hurriedly explained, "After you left, there was a visitor inquiring about you."

"A trader, perhaps?" Ráma queried.

"He was no trader! The Man was fully armed and wore a hood pulled over his face. I couldn't tell who he was or where he'd come from. Because of his enormous cloak, I couldn't even see if he wore Falasmir's livery. But he asked me some very peculiar questions. He even asked whether I'd seen you cast a magic spell..."

"A 'magic spell'? That's ridiculous," the girl objected, with a shake of her head.

"Begging your pardon, Mistress Ráma, but I think he was deadly serious. He kept talking around the subject, but what he really wanted was to learn whether you could change into another form. And he insisted on knowing where you'd gone to. He even pressed me on where Thorn was, since he hadn't found him at the palace...."

As Lena revealed this last piece of information, Ráma's face blanched. Except for Lena and a few trusted members of her own clan, no one in the city or at home knew that Thorn was employed at the palace to spy. The other maenwaith had been told he was merely off working with one of the trading caravans that plied their wares along the coast and on the city's outskirts. Nor did those he worked for in Umbar have any idea that he was a maenwaith ......at least, no one until now.

Perhaps someone had seen through her guise at the palace and suspicions had been aroused. That might explain why a mysterious Man had followed her to the Cat's Paw, but it still wasn't clear how he had recognized her as a shapechanger or knew enough to ask questions about Thorn. Ráma suddenly sensed that she was standing on the edge of a large pool of quicksand, watching as her toes began sinking into the ooze. She turned around and scowled, "I should have followed my instincts and left this morning. I must go now. Thorn knew there was trouble and wanted me back home. I only hope my being here hasn't caused you harm."

Lena grabbed the satchel with her belongings, stuffing the linen cloth inside, and ran over to the stables to retrieve her horse. She mounted up and was about to gallop out the gate when something drew her back. Turning to face Lena, she stopped to add. "Two men, Gondorians, may come to the Inn tomorrow at dawn. They're not dangerous. Offer them the camels I still have in your paddock. Urge them to depart on their own, but if they insist on speaking with me, tell them that I await at the Caves of Herumor, a mile north of the main city gates. I'll wait there till just past sunrise but no longer than that!" With those final instructions, Ráma urged her mare forward and disappeared down the maze of alleys.

Last edited by Child of the 7th Age; 03-04-2004 at 07:01 PM.
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Old 03-04-2004, 03:47 PM   #127
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Aiwendil:

Rôg's negotiations seemed to go round in circles. The trading caravan was in no hurry to leave the shelter of the oasis. After much arguing back and forth, they finally reached an agreement. A Man walked over to the herds and picked out a particularly surly looking beast. Aiwendil came over to have a closer look. It was a tall camel, even taller than the istar. The hump-backed creature turned his head to stare balefully at the two of them, pulling back his lips to reveal a mouth full of dog-like fangs, and then lashed out with a hind leg, offering a glancing blow to Rôg's side.

With a few whispered words of calm from Aiwendil, the creature docily knelt down and let its new owners clamber aboard. As the trio halted for a moment by the water hole to let the animal drink his fill, one of the traders came over to whisper a final word of warning. "Go warily, my friends. It is springtime, the time of the winds. On the coast, such things mean only inconvenience, but where you go, it can mean much more."

Aiwendil nodded his head in acknowledgement without really understanding what the Man was saying, and, speaking once again to the camel, turned the animal around. The great beast glided swiftly out of camp, leaving the coastal shore behind them and heading towards the sandy horizon that lay to their east. Once they were clearly out of range, Aiwendil had the animal kneel, so that his friend could get down and change into whatever shape he might prefer.
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Old 03-04-2004, 05:37 PM   #128
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The growing midmorning heat did nothing to improve Korpulfr's mood as he leaned against the side of his cart, darkly observing the two Haradrim who indiscriminately searched through his wares. Trying to distract from his annoyance he contemplated how he could breach the subject of the captains interest in his people without giving himself away, He played several scenarios in his head but they all lead to revealing his true nature, if it were only him he would just have it out with the captain and demand to know what he wanted with his people, but it was not he had others to think about and their safety meant more to him than his own. frustrated he kicked the wheel of the cart and turned his frustration on the two guards.

"Are you not finished yet!" he bellowed, "I am a busy man and have other delivers to make, I can't afford to stand about here all day waiting for you to find what ever it is you think you are expecting to find!"

"It is Fal...." one of the guards began, but Korpulfr sharply cut him off, "I do not care who's orders they are, I'm unloading this cart now! regardless of if you are finished or not!" he nodded to the three young men who sat upon the cart, who moved immediately and began untying the ropes that secured the cargo. the two guards look at each other unsure what they should do, "You are welcome to stay and observe, then you will see that we have nothing to hide!" Korpulfr suggested, exasperatedly rolling his eyes. A tap on his shoulder spun him about and there stood Hasrim nodding in the direction of the Gondorian ship, He turned to see the Captain and his first mate step onto the ships deck.

"I still think I should come with you!" Hasrim counselled, stroking his dark beard as he regarded the Gondorian ship and it's crew with distrust and suspicion. Korpulfr contemplated the mans offer for a moment, then hearing a commotion behind him he turned once more. One of his helpers had gotten into a disagreement with one of the guards over opening one of the chests, he knew now were the warrior would be needed. "I think my friend that it would be best if you remain here, with so many of Falasmir's men about and the growing heat, I dare say this will not be the first disagreement that will need defusing." Watching the ensuing argument between the young meanwaith and the haradrim soldier, heavily Hasrim nodded his understanding and moved off to defuse the dangerous situation.

Pulling at the neck of his tunic he walked confidently towards the gangplank, giving a dark look to the Umbarian guards standing either side, as he passed. "Hello, there!" He called as the reached the top of the plank. A tall dark haired man standing on the raised bridge turned and walked towards him, "Can I help you?" he asked pleasantly.

"Yes, thank you, My name is Korpulfr, I did a little business with your first mate last night and I bring the agreed order," he replied gesturing to the unloading of the cargo below. "I require to see your Captain so that he may sign for his delivery, that is if he is presently available!" he continued watching as the mariner looked down on the four men unloading his cart. With a nod the sea man gestured for him to come aboard.
"My name is Ardil and I am the Helmsman of the Lonely Star." The man grinned proudly in way of greeting, gesturing the ship and its crew, "If you will follow me I will see if the captain is presently disposed!" Kor returned the mans smile with own of his own and nodded his thanks and assent. As he followed the helmsman across the deck he became uncomfortably aware that several eyes followed his course, and as he looked around he noted that nearly all the crew like their captain and first mate were decidedly tall, making him feel quite small in comparisment for a moment he even regretted his decision to leave Hasrim on the dock. But as they stopped before an intricately carved wooden door directly below the main bridge, the confidence with which he was noted returned and he pulled himself straight.

"If you will wait here I will see if the captain is available." the man named Ardil said, then with a courteous nod he opened the door and slipped inside. Kor relaxed slightly and had a look around his immediate surroundings. The door that he stood before was flanked either side by small flights of wooden stairs that lead up to the main bridge, he stared in awe at the intricate carving of stairs banister, as he stepped back he saw that the banister went up one side across the front of the bridge and down the other side. The bridge itself was almost as impressive, a few feet behind the banister sat the helm, a large wooden wheel with gold inlay, then behind that to the aft was the ships main mast, which towered into the blue sky, squinting he could just make out the crows nest above the three sail arms from which hung the large, white, square sails, he could almost imagine them billowing in the sea breezes.

Turning about he now looked on the main deck, several young men had mops in hand and were... how would they put it?.... ah yes! swabbing the deck, while others helped to load and store the on coming cargo, to the fore was another mast not quite as high as the other, but impressive none the least, but instead of it's sails being square like the ones to the aft, they were triangular in shape and Kor found himself wondering if the difference in shape served to afforded the vessel with a little more speed, he was just about to stop one of the crew and ask that very question, when he was remained of Tinar and how disappointed the lad had looked at not being able to accompany him to the ship, then the eagerness of the three young men he had brought along, they would have plenty to ask the sea captain if they got the chance and perhaps at ease the captain himself would pose a few questions of his own.

"Let them come to you!" he laughed quietly to himself as an idea formed in his mind.

Hearing a small click behind him he turned back towards the door, and from behind came the captain, the first mate Airefalas, the helmsman Adril and one other he had not yet made aquantiance with. The helmsman nodded courteously and resumed his position on the bridge.

"Good day to you sir, I do not believe we where introduced, my name is Mithdan Captain of The Lonely Star, I believe you have meet my first mate, Airefalas." the captain said indicating the man to his left, "Indeed I have had that pleasure," he smiled in reply affording the first mate a courteous incline of his head. "And this fine gentleman to my right is my second, Saelon." The captain continued, introducing the second man. "It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance," He smiled extending his hand, which the man took in a firm but friendly grip, but he did not miss the hint of suspicion in the man's eyes.

"As I am sure that your helmsman and first mate have already informed you, my name is Korpulfr a Spice and Silk Merchant of the city, I have brought the delivery agreed upon by Airefalas here, no doubt at your request, and now I look for your signature upon a receipt of delivery," he said pulling the vellum scroll from his coat pocket and handing it to the captain.

Mithdan scanned the receipt, then handed it to Airfalas who looked over it and nodded that all was as agreed, he then handed it back to his captain, "You understand that we will have to check this with the cargo that comes aboard, before I can sign it?" the captain stated. "Of course! of course! I would expect no less," Korpulfr exclaimed with a smile. "My men are loading as we speak, see!" he continued gesturing to the four olive skinned men who with the help of some of the star's crew where carrying several heavy chests aboard.

With little prompting the three Northerners followed him to the shipment, "In the chests are the silk rolls," he told them, then in his own Clans dialect he asked one of his men to open the nearest chest so that the captain and his men could see the fine fabrics carefully stored within. "These chests once sealed are air tight to protect against damage from the salt of the sea air, the spices as you will see have been stored in barrels sealed in a similar manner." he explained. As he bent down to close the chest the wooden figure that hung about his neck slipped out from his shirt, quickly trying not to look too concerned he slipped it back and rose, stepping back to allow Mithdan and his two mates to examine the shipment for themselves.

After several minutes and quiet discussion with his companions the captain turned to him smiling and nodding satisfied. "Well all seems to be in order, It seems my first mate has a keen eye, I have never seen such exquisite fabrics, the lady's of Gondor will be clambering over each other to get their hands on such finery."

Korpulfr smiled proudly at the captains praise of his wares and saw the opening he had been waiting for. "If you would like we could discuss arranging a regular shipment, in fact if you are not setting sail today I would be honoured if you and your two friends here would join me tonight for evening meal?" even as he issued the invitation he could sense Hasrim looking up utterly shocked, but he knew the maenwaith would quickly cover. Saelon and Airefalas looked at each other then to their Captain who stood thoughtfully considering his offer.

"It will not be anything as elaborate Falasmir's table I'm sure, we are a desert people by birth and still hold to some of our traditional way's, but you are most welcome, though..." he paused for a second trying to find the right words, "Your escort may be a problem, there are old ills that are not yet forgotten between the soldiers of Umbar and the desert people of my household" he finally said, nodding his head indicating a heated disagreement ensuing between one of his men and one of the captains assigned guards, with a quick look to his cousin he sent him to defuse the situation, while he turned his attention back to the captain.

"I am sorry, but if you do choose to take up my invitation they would only be permitted to escort you as far as the courtyard, I hope you understand, It is my responsibility to look after the welfare of my household. he sighed regretfully.

"No I understand completely, I have similar obligations." Mithdan answered, "If you just let me find some ink with which to sign your paper's then I will return with them and my answer, feel free to let your young friends look about, I'm sure the crew will answer any questions they may have!" The captain laughed noting the awed look in his young loaders eyes as they gazed about the ship.

"Thank you." Kor nodded as the three men took their leave.

The three young maenwaith men took full advantage of the Captains offer and posed numerous questions to the crew, what things were and how they worked, none of them had ever been on a ship before, but it did not deter their enthusiasm or curiosity. Korpulfr grinned as he watched their youthful exuberance, momentarily forgetting his distrust, until Harsim pulled him violently back to reality.

"What are you thinking inviting these people to eat with us, are you forgetting that one of them has openly asked about our people," Harsim asked in their own tongue.

"No! I have not forgotten cousin, but look! our enemies are all about us, If I am to find out why they are interested in our people, I would much rather it be on my own ground and under more relaxed circumstances. do you see!" he answered calmly, trying to make it seem to any that may be watching that they were engaged in casual conversation.

"Yes, cousin, please accept my apologies." Korpulfr shook his dark head, "Your apology is not needed my friend, your concern for your people is nothing to be sorry for, collect the others and ready the cart, we will be leaving shortly." he grinned indicating the return of Mithdan and his mates. Hasrim nodded and went to carry out his cousins request, while he waited to see if the sea captain would take the bait and accept his offer.
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Old 03-04-2004, 06:19 PM   #129
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Far Harad – Rôg’s family

They had reached the low, southern tip of the coastal mountain range and now turned west toward the small forested area that lay nestled between the lowlands and the sea. Trading had been good for the small clan this season with those of other clans along the foothills and now after three months of stopping to show their wares they were finally nearing home. There had been no word come south to them from their son, though they had checked in the larger trading places with all those merchants who had come down from the north, from Umbar.

Abâr flicked the reins lightly against the goats’ backs as they pulled the family’s small, canvas covered wagon. ‘Perhaps he could not get a message to us,’ he said aloud, following up a train of thought that had been running through his mind while he watched the haunches of the goats work up and down as they moved along. Ûriyat, sitting next to him on the padded seat, pushed her greying hair back from her face and ran the back of her arm across her sweaty brow. She turned toward him, her brow furrowed. ‘He?’ she asked, pulling her woven hat up from beneath the seat and fixing it firmly on her head.

‘Rôg, mother,’ came the tired voice from the back of the seat. ‘He’s talking about him.’ The sound of someone scuffling forward was followed by a tanned, smooth face poking itself out between the shoulders of the other two. Wriggling her way a little further into the space, Dairaphel leaned on the wooden seat back, her brown eyes squinting against the brightness of the sun. In a gesture much like her mother’s, she, too, swept her hair back from her face, inviting whatever little breeze there was to cool her skin in passing.

Her face, in profile, resembled her brother’s. And save for the fact she was two years older than he, one would think them twins. In temperament, too, they were much alike. Pleasant to be around, intelligent, quick witted. Unlike him, though, she had no desire to wander beyond the boundaries of the areas through which her clan journeyed on their seasonal migrations. She did not envy him his knowledge of the greater world, being satisfied to read his letters as she sat with her family in the clan encampments. ‘This is enough,’ she would say, looking about on those nights when the people drew near their leader’s fire to hear the old stories. It was an unvoiced sentiment echoed by all those in their small clan, this feeling of isolation from the pull of the outer world. She was safe within the fastness of the clan; secure in its ways.

Daira, as her family called her, clambered over the back of the seat and scrunched in between her parents. She patted her father on his thick forearm and smiled at him, taking his mind away for a moment from his worried line of thought. ‘His last letter said he was setting out toward the south, attû,' she reminded him. 'Spring has just come; perhaps in his haste to get here he has not had time to send a letter.’ She wrinkled her forehead recalling where Rôg’s last letter had said he was. ‘It is a long, long way from those other mountains to ours. We will see him in time.’

Her father leaned into her, giving her shoulder an affectionate nudge with his own. He flicked the reins once more against the back of the goats, urging them on at a quicker pace. Daira’s gaze took in the familiar landmarks that marked the way to their little forest, watching as the others of the clan turned their feet and their own carts in the direction of home. With a satisfied smile she hummed an old tune, her mother soon picking up the harmony. ‘This is enough,’ she thought as they wagon rocked gently over the hard-packed track. ‘Yes, this is enough.’

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Old 03-05-2004, 11:59 AM   #130
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Thorn

As Thorn steered for the course that his people were to follow this season, he wondered what he might find when he eventually reached them, hoping that they would be in a position to react quickly to his news. And after the grievous hindrance in Umbar he was not sure that the trouble he had learned of was not already close upon his heels. So he continued steadily through the heat, climbing higher to seek the cooler levels of the sky on his long journey.

It might have been a daunting task for another to locate his people in the vast desert, but Thorn had a thorough knowledge of the trackless landscape and the path Ayar was following. Though where his kinsmen might be stationed on that path he was unsure. Even the remotest areas, where his foot had never touched were not unknown to him. For as a child he and a handful of others had been painstakenly trained, and as a young man he could navigate through the waste, using water sources as another might use stars, to direct his way. The hundreds of timeworn routes of his ancestors he held in his memory like the constellations joining those stars, each having their own names in his mother tongue. Though many he had never traveled himself, he could easily trace their path by rote in his mind, despite the ever-changing face of the desert.

In the earlier days maps had been made of these things, depicting where life might be supportable. But at the end of the third age, as times grew more difficult , such meaningful information was closely guarded, with only a few of each generation becoming a living repository for the whole clan. And the maps fell into disuse, becoming dated they were eventually discarded.

As it glided, the eagle noticed a persistent wind had risen out of the north. It was an ill omen, for it signified death in many a tale, and with good reason. Certainly it was hot enough for a storm to form, but hopefully he could reach the shelter of the camp before it overtook him. He wondered how far Ráma had gotten in her trek, grateful that she had not yet obtained a form. Perhaps she could find a refuge from a storm yet, in the villages surrounding Umbar.

Suddenly a downdraft pulled Thorn back among rough, warmer levels, and he struggled to override his natural impulse to find some haven, as well the pull of the current itself. The bump and jostle of the wind becoming increasingly pronounced overtime beneath his great wings, and he beat strongly against its tug, trying to regain a loftier elevation. Again and again he was pushed earthward all the while being diverted with each stroke of his wings, the heavy crosswind that was begining to tell of sand, keeping his goal out of reach.

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Old 03-05-2004, 04:18 PM   #131
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Rôg . . . on the road south . . .

Chirr . . . chirr . . . chirr – chirr . . . chirr . . . chirr . . . chirr . . .

‘Just practicing a bit,’ said Rôg, cocking his little chestnut capped head to eye the old man. Aiwendil, hearing the series of soft chirrs had turned his head toward the small brown bird that perched on the shoulder of his robe. ‘Have no idea, really, what it all means - just learned it to fit in with the rest of the flock should I need to,’ continued Rôg. Aiwendil’s bushy grey eyebrows raised, his blue eyes twinkling at the little feathered fellow as a soft chuckle escaped him. ‘Oh dear,’ twittered Rôg. He could feel the heat rising to his little cheeks. Thank goodness they were covered with down. He fluffed out his feathers and shook them to slough away his embarrassment. ‘I should have known better than to copy the calls I heard during mating season,’ he spluttered.

‘Are you certain we’re heading in the right direction?’ Aiwendil’s question brought a welcome change of subject. Rôg assured them that they were indeed heading toward the encampment that he’d seen last night. He’d fixed its position from the forms of the mountains he’d seen as he flew near them, the shapes of the higher peaks as they flowed downward into their foothills. The sands are always changing he told his companion, but the earth’s spine stands steady. And in his thoughts were the times he had come up along these mountains with his family and clan, heading for the seasonal trading bazaars further north, stopping along the way to trade at various encampments. ‘They should be heading home this time of year,’ he said quietly, thinking fondly of the little forest that lay near the sea.

~*~

The day was growing warmer as they plodded along. Rôg had argued, unsuccessfully, for staying at the little oasis where the caravan had stopped. ‘Better we travel at night,’ he had counseled his companion. But Aiwendil had a growing sense of urgency and would not be deterred.

The rising heat worried the younger man, as did the wind from the north which was beginning to pick up speed. ‘Speed and sand,’ he muttered, spitting a few grains from his beak. Aiwendil had pulled up his hood and the little bird now nestled close to his ear, within the cloak’s protective folds.

‘We are going too slowly,’ he told the older man. ‘The wind is rising with the heat. It picks up the loose debris as it goes. It will chase us with a wall of blinding sand and dirt soon.’ Rôg flew down to the area in front of the camel, the beast’s body blocking the wind somewhat. Assuming his human form he plucked two bandanas from his pack, and placing one atop the other, folded them in two, forming a large triangle of cloth. He bade Aiwendil dismount and pulling back his hood, tied the cloths over the bridge of the old man’s nose, tucking the tail well into the neck of Aiwendil’s robe. ‘It will keep the sand from clogging your nose and mouth,’ he explained, hurrying his companion to remount once again.

‘Hold on tightly, now,’ he ordered, ‘and follow my lead.’ Aiwendil looked down, a frown on his face. Rôg could see his lips moving behind the mask, but he waved him to silence as he handed up the camel’s reins. In the blink of a sandy eye, he changed to another form. This time a camel, twin to the one the old man rode.

The wind was beginning to sing; the grains of sand slashing through the air. Rôg looked to the north. In the distance, it had grown dark, and he knew the wall of sand would reach them soon. There only hope was to outrun it until they had reached some place of shelter, and then to wait it out. His mind cast quickly through the places he remembered from his youth. ‘No use,’ he said, knowing that the shifting sands would have covered and uncovered their little plots of grasses and scrubby bush many times over. His large lips curled back in a ghastly looking smile. ‘Of course!’ Like the bones of the earth, the ‘bones’ of what those Men left behind would not have moved.

‘Hold on!’ he shouted once more. Then opening his mouth wide he sank his long, broad yellowed teeth with a satisfying snap into the hindquarters of Aiwendil’s mount. Startled, the beast leapt forward and Rôg, taking care to stay very close, ran before them, leading the way. ‘Run! You great impish spawn of the desert!’ he hurled back at the wild-eyed camel, his own backside an enticing moving target for Aiwendil’s mount.

~*~

The sand stung at his heels as they neared the ancient fortress; the wind keened loudly, a deafening sound about to envelop them. Sunk in the years of drifting sands the fortress wall stood only shoulder high to him. As they cleared the opening, he turned sharply to the left, slowing his speed and then stopping where some old, broad towered structure thrust itself up, a tall broken sentinel in the sand. Changing once again back to his human form, he ordered Aiwendil’s mount down to his knees, pushing the camel's flank close beside the ancient stonework wall. Freeing the roll tied to the near side of the pack saddle, Rôg quickly pulled out two blankets. One he handed to Aiwendil, gesturing that he should pull it up over his head, like an extra cloak. The other he used to shelter himself.

Stinging sand filled the air, locking them now into its obscuring embrace. The camel lay with his head down, eyes closed, his left flank secure against the protective wall. The two men sat huddled together, their backs flat against the stone. Rôg had shouted above the sound of the wind for the old man to shut his eyes. But Aiwendil glanced quickly about at what he could see of the structure they were in. ‘Who built this?’ he asked, leaning in close to speak in Rôg’s ear. ‘The tall, fair Men,’ came the muffled reply. ‘From the West it is told. Long, long ago.’ He put his hand on his companion’s arm.

‘Now hush. Keep your head down. Breathe slowly. The Winged One willing, it will pass soon . . .’

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Old 03-08-2004, 05:06 PM   #132
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Narika and the Eagle Encampment:

Since the heart of the storm lay to the north, the winds did not attack the Eagle encampment with the same ferocity that had been directed against the travelers who were venturing south and east across the desert. Yet, by mid-day, most of the maenwaith had tugged scarves and hoods over their faces to ward off the constantly blowing sand. Few ventured outside the circle of tents. Only a handful of young men ran about with ropes and staves, rounding up the horses and other beasts. They herded the animals towards a small scrub grove on the far side of the water hole where low-lying bushes and a few scraggly trees acted as a partial break against the wind.

Narika remained inside her tent, the howling of the winds matching her own bleak mood. Her mother lay sick in bed. Ayar was in pain, and her fever continued unabated, although for the moment the poison had at least stepped spreading. Perhaps, if they were lucky, the herbal poultices and other remedies would buy Ayar enough time so that her body could fight its way back to health.

Sometimes in the past, Narika was able to read the hints in the sky to predict when a sandstorm was about to occur. But this time, like the poison in Ayar's body, there had been no warning. The winds were muted enough that none of the maenwaith or herd beasts should meet with serious injury. Yet Narika still worried about the messenger she had just sent to Umbar to tell Ráma and Thorn that they should return as soon as possible. The lad was out in the open and would have to find some shelter from the storm. Hopefully, he would alight and sit out the worst of the winds. But, even if he somehow managed to reach the city, neither Ráma nor Thorn would be able to come at once because of the drifting sands.

Their absence still troubled Narika. She was used to relying on them during her most difficult times. Yet now, when she needed them the most, they were missing. Whom else could she turn to for advice and aid? Narika stirred uneasily as her mind took an unexpected turn and the hazy image of a familiar young maenwaith emerged from inside her head. She could try to speak with Thorne’s sister Yalisha yet the mere mention of that name left her feeling uncomfortable. The brother and sister were totally different. Yalisha’s reputation for gentleness and beauty was exceeded only by her known penchant for behaving unpredictably and ignoring traditional ways. A strange combination in a talented young woman! But then who could trust any maenwaith who had frequent contact with outsiders?

Still, Narika could not afford to stand on pride. Yalisha knew more about herbs and poisons than any other in the clan, even Narika herself. Thorne's sister regularly marketed desert plants to Mannish healers and other agents of the great households, sometimes traveling as far away as Umbar. In her journies, she'd learned a great deal about the medicines of the old ones, the Black Numenoreans who’d ruled these lands in ancient days. If Yalisha had gleaned any knowledge of this poison from her travels, this might provide the clue they needed to untangle the mystery and help hasten Ayar’s recovery. Narika would have preferred that Ráma speak with Yalisha, since the two women were close friends. But, with her sister gone, she had no real choice. She beckoned to the guard standing near the entrance of the tent telling him to pay Yalisha a visit and have her come back to speak with Narika as soon as the winds abated.

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Old 03-09-2004, 06:42 PM   #133
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Aiwendil:

Aiwendil shuddered and slumped forward as the full force of the wind slammed into the makeshift shelter, the only tiny speck of life amid a vast ocean of twisted sand. The half-tumbled wall of the ancient fortress afforded them some measure of physical protection against the worst of the storm. For long hours, the two men huddled under the dark stones, their faces and bodies encased in blankets looking almost like shrouds.

As the howling lessened, Aiwendil brushed a few grains of sand from his face and peered through a hole in the wrapping, tentatively lifting up one corner of the blanket and raising a hand to shield his eyes fom the stinging particles that still assaulted them. Although the sky was murky, the istar could vaguely make out a wide expanse of sand endlessly churning up and down, an unreal landscape continually changing shape and form. The scene reminded him of something long ago when he'd sailed with a convoy of swan ships to visit the Land of the Star. In the middle of that journey, as they approached the coast of Numenor, an unexpected turbulence had overtaken them, scattering their fleet and hurling sheets of water onto the decks; the tiny vessels had bobbed helplessly up and down. But the violence of the storm was not the only disturbing likeness that was now embedded in his mind. Just as in the past, dark memories reached out from the ancient stones and threw webs of grey shadow over their heads.

As the howling of the winds gradually subsided, Aiwendil stood up and led his camel forward, eager to resume their journey. The younger man reached across to tug at his sleeve and responded with more caution, "Let's wait. We must be sure the storm has really ended. We wouldn't want to be caught in the open again."

Aiwendil scowled but then sat down, displeased with Rôg's decision while still acknowledging that the young man was probably right. Seeing the look of disappointment spread over the old man's face, Rôg leaned over and affectionately placed a hand on his companion's knee, reminding him, "Whoever threatens the camp is as trapped as we are. No one can push ahead in this weather."

"It's not that...., " the istar objected. "Or, at least, that's not the only thing. It is this place. I would see us leave here as soon as we can."

In a tone laced with sadness, the older man attempted to explain, "The fair ones who built this tower were replaced by others. I saw this same thing happen with my own eyes in a distant land across the sea. At first, the evil ones were few. But there were others, many others, who turned their heads away and pretended to see nothing. This fortress was filled with such Men, those who failed to speak or act when darkness threatened their neighbor. Aiwendil rubbed his knuckles into his eyes and stared downward, remembering his own time in Mirkwood. "But these are the ramblings of an old dreamer. I only wish this storm would stop so we could be on our way. We will accomplish nothing sitting here."

Last edited by Child of the 7th Age; 03-13-2004 at 10:42 AM.
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Old 03-09-2004, 07:20 PM   #134
Mithadan
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Airefalas immediately began to decline Korpulfr's offer, but Mithadan stopped him in mid-sentence. "Thank you for your generous offer," he said. "We had planned on visiting the market this evening, but perhaps we can change our minds. Let me speak with my mates for a moment." Korpulfr bowed slightly as the three men turned away and went below decks.

"It's a trap," blurted Saelon as they entered the captain's cabin. "They will take you so that you cannot rejoin your crew."

"I do not think so," replied Mithadan thoughtfully. "You saw how Falasmir's guards treated him and his men. Korpulfr is no ally of Falasmir."

"Then why invite us to dinner?" asked Airefalas.

"Maybe he likes you," answered Mithadan with a smile. "He is a trader. He speaks the language of money. Perhaps he wishes to show us more goods, or more likely he seeks our friendship so that we will buy from him again when we return."

"When we return?" scoffed Saelon. "Perhaps when Rana rises in the west..."

"And," continued Mithadan. "Dinner with Korpulfr will separate us from our guards. Even if we cannot sneak away, it will place us where we want to be. Outside of the palace this evening with few guards about us."

"If he does seek our friendship," interjected Airefalas. "To escape while at his home would place him in jeopardy."

"True enough," mused Mithadan. "Yet this presents us with an opportunity. We shall accept the invitation and evade the guards after dinner, then."

"Or slay them," growled Airefalas. Mithadan did not respond, and instead led his men back to the deck where Korpulfr was waiting. Mithadan smiled broadly. "Airefalas and I shall join you," he said. "An hour after sunset?" Korpulfr nodded and took his leave after saying his farewells.

For the remainder of the morning, Mithadan and Airefalas oversaw the stowing of the cargo. When a crate arrived containing three large nets, he had them opened on the docks, then rolled carefully. One was placed at the stern of the Lonely Star. The others were placed on the deck at either side of the vessel. Then he gave his crew instructions concerning the hooks before the two left the docks and returned to the palace.

"May the favor and luck of Ossë be upon you," whispered Saelon as they stepped onto the gangway. "And you," intoned Mithadan. "And remember my orders. This is our one chance. Do not wait if we cannot reach the ship." Saelon frowned, but nodded reluctantly as his captain and first mate walked away.
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Old 03-10-2004, 06:21 PM   #135
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A silent watcher

Circling high above the three tall mast’d ships berthed in Umbar’s Commercial quay, two sharp eyes watched silently the proceedings below, though they knew not why! Something inside this silent watcher, something long buried and forgotten was stirring, compelling her to these lands and to a young mortal man, who she had been observing since she came upon him in the desert, now three days past. There was something familiar about the young man and whenever she got close she had a strong compulsion to protect and nurture him as she would an eaglet, it was all very confusing. Even the young man’s presence in this city seemed wrong… out of place somehow.

Turning another graceful arc, she shook her feathers trying to shake off the uneasiness of her feelings. Just then she spied a silvery glimmer just below the calm blue waters surface and her confusion gave way to hunger, she had not eaten in some time now and she clacked her beak at the thought of fresh fish. Her sharp eyes now watched the glimmering shadow tracing the shoals movements under the water, and as soon as she had memorized the pattern of their movements she pulled in her great wings and dived, hurtling towards the sea, her heart racing with anticapation, opening her wings at the last minute, her sharp talons breaking the waters surface and finding her prey, flapping hard she climbed back to the safety of the blue sky, her pray desparately trying to wriggle free. Gripping tighter to her meal she looked for somewhere to land.

Flying back in the direction of the ships and coming close to the larger of the two dark sailed ships, something inside her screamed danger! And she gave the ship a wide berth settling instead to land on the upper most sail arm of the middle ship. Ah! The men of the stone city, she mused silently seeing the white tree on the ships flag, and looking down on the tall fair men below. Satisfied that she would be safe on her current perch she ripped at her meal with her sharp beak, but as she ate the golden eagle again found herself watching the young raven haired man, who had now come aboard the ship and was speaking with one of the men from the stone city.

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Old 03-11-2004, 01:57 PM   #136
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Rôg

The wind picked up a little, the last gasp of a dying storm. Rôg and Aiwendil pulled the blankets up about their heads again and lapsed into a waiting silence. The younger man’s eyes were narrowed and he chewed on the inside of his lower lip as he turned his companion’s words over in his mind.

‘It is this place,’ the old man had said. ‘I would see us leave here as soon as we can.’

Now what had prompted this? As far as Rôg knew, this was the first time his companion had been to the south, to the desert . . . to this place where those men from years long, long gone had built this stonework fortress as proof against what must have seemed a hostile land. How did the old man know of them?

These men - they had come from across the Great Sea, or so he had heard in old tales. How different must that have been for them; how treacherous this sea of sand must have seemed. He cast his mind back to his younger years, before his clan had traveled south. There were only a very few tales of the tall, fair men that he could recall the story-tellers weaving round the nightly fires. Other tales he did remember vaguely, tales of a far gone time when other men pushed east toward the Red Mountains . . . evil men . . . from whom his little clan had hidden. And before them, long before, were the Shining Ones, the Beautiful . . . The Nimir . . . yes, that was how they were named . . . all gone now.

Sadness tinged the voice of his companion . . . not simple sorrow, but a deeper melancholy edged with regret as he spoke of those men who had done evil by doing nothing. ‘This fortress was filled with such Men,’ Aiwendil had continued, his voice a little hoarse from the sandy debris, his eyes cast downward. ‘. . . those who failed to speak or act when darkness threatened their neighbor.’ What memories of things undone haunted the waking mind of this ‘old dreamer’? What did the old fellow think he could accomplish?

No, not what “he” could accomplish . . . Aiwendil had used the word “we”, again.

Rôg rubbed his parched and roughened lower lip with the pad of his right thumb, a nervous gesture. He was beginning to feel trapped, hemmed in by the constraints of his upbringing and the needs of his companion. He had grown very fond of the old man, but the need to keep safe his family and his clan overshadowed the ties that had formed between the two travelers. Sighing, he shook his head slightly, wanting to shake all the pieces of his thought into some comfortable pattern. His right arm had fallen back into his lap, and in an unconscious gesture his left hand had come up to finger the small stud in his ear.

The wind dropped away at last; the sand settled back to the desert floor. Rôg shrugged the blanket from his shoulders and stood up, offering a hand to Aiwendil as he sat blinking in the quiet calm, his own blanket lying now in a dusty heap round him. With a firm grip he pulled the other man to his feet, steadying him with one hand on his elbow as he rose. ‘Come,’ he said, urging the camel now onto its knees. ‘Mount up, Aiwendil, and we will hasten to that encampment that I saw.’ Once the old fellow had settled in securely on the saddle, Rôg pressed the beast to stand up, and assuming his small bee-eater form, flew up to perch on Aiwendil’s shoulder.

He shook out his feathers and took his time preening them as they clopped along. The old man seemed distracted and kept his thoughts to himself as the camel plodded through the sand covering the hard baked clay. For his part, Rôg, too, was quiet as he turned his thoughts over and over again.

‘No easy solutions to this, is there?’ he murmured, half out loud. His beak clacked a little in irritation at his continued quandary. ‘Still . . . I suppose I can help out to a certain point . . . like I thought before.’ He flapped his wings a bit, then settled them in smoothly against his sides. ‘I can get him to where he needs to be. Can’t be any harm in that, can there? Don’t know what he thinks he can do once we get there, though.’ Rôg picked a sand-flea from the tuft of hair that bristled from the old man’s ear and dispatched it in a single gulp. ‘Right, then,’ he said nodding his little feathered head decisively. ‘I’ll just see him safely there . . . and mind my own business while he goes about his . . .’ Satisfied with this last bit of reasoning, he turned his attention to a question that had been brewing in the back of his mind . . . something again from what Aiwendil had said during the sandstorm.

‘I’m curious,’ he began, tapping his beak lightly against the old man’s ear lobe to gain his full attention. ‘That land you spoke of, the one a far distance across the sea – do you recall its name, by chance? What was it like? And what sorts of birds did you see there?’ The little bird cocked his head, his bright black eyes looking up at the man’s face. ‘Would it be a place we might travel to?’

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Old 03-12-2004, 09:09 PM   #137
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Surinen

As the wind had risen out of the north, Surinen had found shelter from the wind on the leeward side of a camel lying quietly among the gorse bushes. Covering his nose with his curling tail, the maenwaith had formed a circle, his ears alert, shifting with each crack or bleat as he waited out the storm. Whipping through the camp, the wind severed by the tent strings had sounded hauntingly like the weird call of a jackal loose in the camp, and the wool panels joined in with their erratic thunk. It was not a bad storm, he had reassured himself, but still he had found that he wished for the peace that would come once the blast had lessened into a breeze again, and the sun had climbed down from the sky, relieving the heat that fed it.

But even that would not end the unrest that he bore in his heart. Too many strange occurrences were pressing on it. Ayar, who was in this troubling state, lay in bed so indisposed that the flocks could not be moved to fresher grounds – a thing he could not recall having happened before. And of course Rôg’s appearance as well, but more deeply distressing to him was learning that his uncle had not alerted the other elders to his report of a stranger in their proximity, as he had thought him sure to do. In fact, he had seemed quite reluctant to even hear his nephew’s account, when the young man had transformed panting and bewildered in his tent. At the time the outrider thought it mere distain that governed his uncle Fador’s quick dismissal, but that he should discount the message as well as the messenger was not fitting. And Surinen felt not only slighted, but also disturbed by it. Was he no longer to be trusted? Were his accounts taken so lightly? No, the gathering of elders had paid heed to his voice. He was not out of favor with them.

The outrider decided that it must be on account of his sister that his uncle mistrusted him. Perhaps he had heard some unfavorable news of her that had not been told Dinsûl. But he was not as Mîrya, though the same blood flowed through their veins. She, though maenwaith , had seemingly little real love for what she was, or else she would surely have returned to the clan long ago. Perhaps when Thorn returned he could be persuaded to speak on his behalf, and knowing Surinen’s character well, he could vouch for his loyalty, calming any doubts the uncle might have. But then who could say when Thorn might return!

More so today Surinen wished that Thorn might see that he should stay where he was needed and not go out among the others, who were bound to bring him only sadness and disappointment. The clan need not so much trade in horses or goods, for their needs were few and simple ones. They needed more Thorn’s presence and common sense than his dealings with the caravans.

But now as the storm was subsiding Surinen lifted his muzzle eyeing the goats and sheep that grew restless around him. As the weather further improved the flocks became more adventurous, straying outside the confines of the brush, and the mottled dog slowly got to its feet. After shaking the sand from his coat, Surinen leaned back with a yawn, stretching his front legs. And loping easily around the errant ones, he silently and gently brought them back into the group.
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Old 03-14-2004, 06:43 PM   #138
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After having seen to the loading of the cargo and the careful placement of Mithadan's nets, Airefalas once more followed his captain down the gangplank into the company of the waiting guards. He was feeling somewhat more encouraged than he had when making the same walk down the gangplank the day before, but he knew that a lot of obstacles still separated him and Mithadan from the freedom and relative safety of the open ocean. While the moment of action lay only a few short hours in the offing, it would not arrive soon enough for him. He had had enough of Umbar a long time ago and longed to see the dusty spires of the city’s great houses sink into the horizon behind him as the Lonely Star rode away at full sail toward Gondor. Airefalas sighed and turned his eyes in the direction of Lord Falasmir’s palace. In only a few short hours, he would be free of that place, anyway. Whether he found himself at sea or for sale in the Umbarian slave market, though, only time would tell.

As they began the long trek back to the palace, Airefalas gave Raal, the guard on his right, a long look. At about the same time the day before, he and Raal had been drinking together and discussing the fate of the Amarantha. Now, for all he knew, either one of them could be dead in a matter of hours. While it would give him no outright pleasure to slay the man in cold blood, Airefalas was a realist. Given the choice, he would rather the dead man be Raal than himself, even though he had the impression that Raal was quite young, probably a good deal younger than his own twenty-nine years. Even so, when the time came, he knew that there must be no hesitation if it came to a fight.

Sensing Airefalas' eyes on him, the guard gave him a questioning look. Airefalas simply looked away. He listened idly as Mithadan engaged Mahat, another of the guards, in a brief conversation about the weather and the prevailing winds, as though he were truly intending to set sail for Gondor the following day as planned. Mahat seemed relaxed but only marginally interested. Airefalas let his mind jump ahead to the evening’s dinner at the home of the merchant, Korpulfr.

Initially, he had been against accepting the merchant’s invitation, preferring to take his chances with the weapons and makeshift ropes that had been left behind in their rooms by the girl, Ráma. While Mithadan had made an excellent point about the dinner providing them with the opportunity to be away from the palace at the crucial time of escape, Airefalas found a series of other questions gnawing at the back of his mind. For one thing, there was the matter of weapons. They had carried their own swords and daggers into the palace, but the guards had been less then cooperative about allowing them to wear them openly. And then there were the weapons that Ráma had brought them. If they suddenly appeared with them, how did Mithadan propose they explain to the guards about that? Obviously, it could not be done without endangering the girl. Therefore, the best they could do would be to conceal the daggers on their persons as best they could, leaving the swords behind. And if the merchant insisted on searching them? What then? It would take more than just a little clever talk to explain their concealed weapons to the merchant, who had invited them into his home as guests.

Come to think of it, thought Airefalas, as the palace gates loomed ahead of them, what of the merchant himself? While he liked Korpulfr personally and had enjoyed his conversations with him the evening before, what did they really know of him? Nothing. What did he have to gain by defying Falasmir’s guards and having them, de facto prisoners of the city’s reigning lord, over for a little dinner party? Airefalas turned the question over in his mind. It could be a trap, yet another bit of treachery on the part of Lord Falasmir. On the other hand, Korpulfr could genuinely be trying to extend his advantage as a merchant in hopes of expanding his trade options with Gondor. In that case, by using the unsuspecting man’s dinner as an avenue to escape, he and Mithadan would in all likelihood ensure an innocent man’s death. Airefalas frowned. He had already pointed out that possibility to Mithadan before the dinner invitation had even been accepted and, what was it Mithadan had said? That they would accept the invitation and elude the guards after dinner. Airefalas had a feeling that whether they escaped before, during, or after dinner would make very little difference to Lord Falasmir. The merchant would likely pay with his life.

Even so, Mithadan was correct in that the dinner invitation did provide them with an opportunity to be away from the palace and, as such, would put them that much closer to the deck of the Lonely Star. Airefalas knew as well as anyone that that one small advantage, in and of itself, could spell the difference between life and death for him and Mithadan. In that light, the fate of the merchant would have to be left to the merchant. It was unfortunate but perhaps the merchant was in a better position to defend himself than they knew. Either way, under the circumstances, there was nothing else that could be done.

By the time Airefalas had reached this conclusion, the group had arrived back at the rooms in the palace that had been assigned to the two Gondorians. As soon as the door closed behind them, leaving him and Mithadan once more to their own devices, Airefalas went to the armoire where they had stashed the small cache of weapons brought to them by Ráma that morning. To his relief, they were still there as were his and Mithadan's own swords. Closing the cabinet, Airefalas turned toward his captain.

“What do we do about the weapons this evening?” he asked. “If we can elude our guards without fighting, that’s all very well, but I can’t see the guards around the dock just letting us walk back aboard the Star unmolested. We’ll need swords.”

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Old 03-15-2004, 07:26 PM   #139
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Mithadan nodded. "Then we will wear our swords to dinner, whether it be a breach of etiquette or no," he answered. "Our guards have allowed us to wear our swords in the market, probably wise considering the nature of the place. We shall do so again tonight and if our host requires us to leave them at the door, so be it! The knives which Rama brought us we shall wear in our belts or stow in packs which we shall also bring... to carry money, papers and trade goods of course."

"Very good," replied Airefalas. "But what trade goods would we carry?"

Mithadan pulled his pack from a dresser and rummaged through it briefly. He withdrew a small lether case and opened it. Inside, nestled in folds of leather were several bright gemstones. He pulled out a second case and tossed it to Airefalas. "I bought these in the market a week ago," he said. "If questioned, we can claim that Korpulfr expressed an interest in them."

Airefalas nodded and stowed the packet in his own bag. The two packed light changes of clothes and sheafs of papers, together with pens and ink. Rama's knives were hidden in the bottom of the packs. Into pockets in their capes went more knives. Finally, when all was ready, they sat with their swords and sharpened and oiled the blades. The steel flashed and glowed in the sunlight which filtered through the windows.

When no more could be done, Mithadan arranged the rooms. "It must look as if we mean to return," he explained. Then both men attempted to rest, for it would be a long night, though sleep evaded them. At last, they rose and prepared for the dinner, choosing well-made but simpler clothes than they had worn at Falasmir's reception. Finally, as the sun began to set, they prepared their head cloths and went to the door. Behind them, the light of the setting sun which entered the windows was oddly red and the curtains were rustled by a rising wind.
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Old 03-16-2004, 04:11 AM   #140
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Kórpulfr

Kórpulfr wore a satisfied grin as he and his companions left the docks. He listened idly as his young kinsmen discussed their preparations for this evening’s meal. Only Hasrim remained silent, brooding over his young master’s decision, as he directed the cart through the busy streets towards the market place. Hasrim had filled the role of bodyguard for as long as he could remember and they almost never agreed when it came to his personal safety, but when it came to it he would trust no other. Korpulfr was no stranger to threats and the occasional failed assassination; it came hand in hand with his position. Disgruntled traders, opportunistic Corsairs, greedy fat cat Lords even Lord Falasmir’s astute trade minister, they all had their reasons to see him disposed of, but Hasrim always saw to it that they never got the opportunity. For this, he was truly grateful; he knew that he constantly made his cousin’s job more difficult than it need be.

As they pulled up to The Raven’s Nest, he jumped down from the cart followed closely by Hasrim and his three helpers, who immediately began unloading the rest of the cargo and taking it in to the Maenwaith trade store. “You do realise that if the Northerner’s know of Falasmir’s plans they may use tonight to make a run for it!” Hasrim whispered beside him as they looked over the delivery manifest. “Yes, that thought had crossed my mind,” he answered without looking up from the parchment. “Then we will have to pray to the great hunter that they are still oblivious to Lord Falasmir’s plans.” Hasrim answered, but Korpulfr could not miss the hint of doubt in the astute mans voice. He was well aware of the consequences should the Northerners escape while in his company, he could only hope that Wyrma held some influence over the quick tempered Lord, should things go awry. “She will not protect you if it does not benefit her!” Hasrim answered dryly guessing the young mans thoughts, “let me take secondary precautions, should the worst happen, let us make it seem that the fault was with Falasmir’s guards and not with our household! “ Korpulfr thought over his words then nodded, “But I do not wish to appear hostile in front of our guests, I need them to think we are friends if I am to find out why they enquire about our kin.” Hasrim nodded his understanding then left to do some enquiring of his own.

Korpulfr was pleased to see that Asrim was already in the store, he needed to have words with his cousin before heading up to the palace to let Tinar know of the recent developments. The middle-aged Maenwaith businessman, stood pouring over a ledger in his left hand and adding to it with the quill in his right, but at his cousin’s entry, he looked up and beckoned him to join him. Asrim unlike Hasrim was a little more flexible and open minded, but never slow to offer his help or advice if he thought it needed, and even on occasion when it was not. In this way the older man acted as his advisor and it was Asrim he would go to if he had any indecisions, or if something troubled him. “So did it go well?” Asrim asked, continuing to make his adjustments to the accounts, as Korpulfr leaned on the counter across from him. “it went as well as could be expected, though there was a little trouble at the docks with some of Falasmir’s men, but no more than heated words, which Hasrim quickly defused.” he answered unconcerned. “Hmm, yes, I did hear that our esteemed Lord was having the shipments examined, in fact I have had irate traders bending my ear all morning. As if I could do anything about it!” he groaned. “But I did managed to find out the majority of the Gondorians cargo… now were did I put that list?” he said searching through the parchment that lay on the counter, “Here we are!” he exclaimed handing him the carefully written list.

Korpulfr could feel Asrim watching him as he looked over the list of wares purchased by the captain and his crew. “Rather light wouldn’t you say?” Asrim ventured. “Hmm, Hasrim is not going to like this news,” he frowned shaking his head. “Hasrim” Asrim exclaimed puzzled by this reply. Looking up from his musings, he studied the older man trying to guess if his reaction would match that of Hasrim’s, or if the astute businessman would see the potential to make a profitable gain. “I invited the Captain and his first mate to join us for dinner tonight.” He was pleased to see that Asrim did not immediately object, as Hasrim had done, though he did not fault his guard his misgivings, he thought only for his safety and the safety of their household. Were as Asrim thought also of their pockets and of how deeply he could fill them. “This presents a wonderful opportunity to set up a more substantial trade agreement between our two peoples, which could prove advantageous once Wyrma’s city is established.” Asrim answered lowering his voice to a conspiratorial whisper, but seeing his cousin’s amused grin, his features became sterner, “But I do see Hasrim’s concern, should anything go wrong tonight, Falasmir will hold you accountable.” Rubbing his temples Korpulfr had to agree. “Hasrim is already making plans to see that that does not happen, but I too have some ideas of my own,” he told Asrim contemplatively.

“Is there any deliveries for the palace?” he asked after a moments thought. “Yes” his cousin replied, “The palace kitchens sent a messenger with an order this morning.”

“And is this order ready?” Korpulfr asked.

“Yes, it’s on a cart out the back, I was planning to deliver it once I was finished here, “Asrim answered, frowning at his cousin’s seemingly sudden change in conversation.

“I’ll take it, I was planning to drop in on Tinar anyway, perhaps I will even invite the young man to join us for dinner, he did seem thoroughly disappointed that he could not come to the ship with me this morning, perhaps this will make up for that loss, what do you think?” he finished with an impish grin. Asrim only shook his head and laughed. With Tinar among their company if anything should go wrong, then Wyrma would be forced to intervene, well that was their hope, but if not they always had Hasrim’s plan, what ever that turned out to be.

After instructing Asrim to send his young helpers home to inform the kitchen of their additional guests and to spread the news of their guests among the Maenwaith traders, he hitched up Asrim’s cart and headed towards the palace. Once there he let the palace staff unload his cart and went to find his young friend.

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Old 03-22-2004, 04:57 AM   #141
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Wyrma paced the floor of her room restlessly, feeling like a caged lioness. She had been sitting for too many hours, busy with parchments and messages, when Tinar came to tell her that the Gondorians had not only heard rumours of Shapechangers, but were searching for them.

Were these sailors spies, disguised as merchants? And what did the Great Kingdom of the North intend to do with Maenwaith if they found them? Uncertainty always made her feel uneasy; she hated waiting for others to act and much preferred taking the first step herself.

But we are planning a step against them, she reminded herself. They shall be thrown into confusion when… Her thoughts wandered to the results of her planning, and a corner of her mouth lifted in a tiny, triumphant smile.

Now, if she could only leave the palace complex for a brisk walk, she would feel better. However, in a city of cutthroats and robbers such as this, that was only possible with guards to protect her. And a walk with guards would not make her feel less caged. If only she could spread her wings and fly, away from this squalid city with its dark passageways. Yet that too was not possible – she had instructed those of her people who stayed here that they should not transform unless necessary. They could not risk discovery, which would almost inevitably be followed by persecution. They had experienced that many times throughout the decades. That was why they needed a city of their own, where no one would attempt to harass them because they were different, where no one would fear them and they needed to fear no one.

° ° ° ° ° ° ° ° ° ° ° ° ° ° ° ° ° ° ° °

“Enter!” Tinar called in reply to the knock on his door. Korpúlfr strode into the room – the very person he wanted to see! He could not wait to hear what had happened at the northern ship.

“You missed some interesting hours!” Korpúlfr grinned, continuing with an account of the events. “Now, I know you would have liked to be there,” he finished, “but I can offer you a compensation. I have invited the captain and his mate to dinner this evening, and they accepted. Would you like to come?”

Tinar accepted eagerly, knowing that his mother would have no objection to a possibility for finding out more about these men.

“But tell me, what did your mother say about the news I told you?” Kor asked.

His companion shrugged. “Not much – you know that she thinks before she speaks. But I think it startled her. I do not know what she plans to do, but I am sure she will take care to prevent our people’s discovery. We must be cautious this evening, and not give ourselves away.”

“I must go now,” Kor said, turning to the door, “there is much to prepare.”

“I shall be there punctually,” Tinar promised.
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Old 03-26-2004, 08:01 AM   #142
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Korpulfr walked confidently through the long corridors of the palace contemplating the little Tinar had revealed to him and turning over the many preparations that still needed attending before his guests arrived. He had full confidence that his household would already have many of the preparations well under way, but he always found that it never hurt to be overly cautious when entertaining strangers. As he walked, he watched the palace staff dutifully going about their business and could not help but wonder if Lord Falasmir had such confidences in all his own staff. The thought brought a wry grin to his face as he thought of the Lords newest advisor. Wyrma was certainly not one to be trifled with, she too hungered for the freedom of their people, but it did not occur to him to what lengths she would go to secure that freedom. His faith in his kin and the injustices he had witnessed during his child hood years blinded him to any such indiscretions the current Wyrm might commit.

Striding through the courtyard he nodded accordingly to the lords and ladies of the gentry that walked the grounds oblivious to advisor Wyrma’s true nature, concerned only with the ship and crew currently berthed in their port, he had to marvel at the irony of it all! While Falasmir plotted and schemed and the people of Umbar overly concerned themselves with their guests, they failed to see the dragon in their midst’s and the wolves closing tight around them ready for the kill, or so he was lead to believe. Each day the council of eldars assured him and his father that plans where going well, but of what those plans entailed he was never told, if his father knew he never spoke of it and he never asked. Having full confidence in the leaders of his people and never having any cause to doubt their words or sincerity.

Reaching the merchants entrance of the palace kitchens he procured the signature of the store master and went to retrieve his cart, leaving the palace for once in decidedly high spirits, despite the cold looks he received from the guards as he passed through the iron gates. On reaching the house, he left the cart and horses in the care of the stable hands and set about ensuring that all preparations for this evening’s meal were well in hand. Once satisfied that all was indeed ready and having seen to many preparations himself, he retired to his room to wash and change, stopping briefly to drop off paper work, look over, and sign some documents Asrim had left for him in the study.

Standing on the balcony to his room he watched as the sun dipped its head into the cool blue waters of the sea. A cooling breeze ruffled the light fabric of his shirt as his gaze fell on the three ships berthed below in Umbar’s port, dark ominous shadows against the orangey red glow of the setting sun. “It is time!” a familiar voice behind him announced drawing his attention. With a grin he turned to see Asrim standing in the doorway waiting for him, carefully fixing the cuffs of his shirt so they showed beneath his finely cut russet jacket, his advisor looking the very image of a fine Haradwaith gentleman merchant. Next to him stood Hasrim, but unlike Asrim the desert warrior did not stand on formality or pomp, choosing instead to wear the simple yet practical attire of the desert people that they once were, his weapons hanging openly at his waist. Lifting a plain but finely cut red waistcoat he slipped it over his loose cream shirt and followed his cousins to the entrance hall to greet their guests as they arrived.

Already many of the Maenwaith merchant's and their families had arrived and were milling about in small groups discussing the day’s trade. The squeal of children’s laughter brought a smile to his face as he stepped to one side to narrowly avoid a collision, as a number of small children chased each other around the hall. Tinar too had already arrived and sought him out with an excited wave of his hand. A small bell rang and the children and his kin all stopped what they were doing and made their way into the dinning hall as they did every evening, all except Tinar who at his askance joined them to greet his guests when they arrived.
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Old 03-28-2004, 11:13 PM   #143
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Silmaril Aiwendil:

The old man was locked in feverish speculation, scarcely aware of the small bird’s questioning or the insistent tapping on his ear. Aiwendil could not understand what was happening. For endless years, he had remembered only scraps of what he had known before. The knowledge, the skills, even the stories from across the Sea, had gradually dimmed, fading from his mind.

Wandering through the vales of Mirkwood along silent, empty paths, he had consorted only with wild creatures, sometimes purposely avoiding Men and Elves. Refusing to be drawn into a world in which there was too much pain and grief, he had held onto only a small piece of what Manwe had entrusted to him. His memory of the lost road had receded; even his yearning to return West had grown less urgent, leaving behind an unsettling emptiness. Now, the memories were slowly coming back, yet Aiwendil had no idea why or to what purpose he should put this new understanding.

Aiwendil hastily put a hand up to his ear to ward off the offending bird. But, before he could react, the small dark eyes stared back at the istar , demanding an immediate answer to a lengthy string of questions. Something inside Aiwendil whispered that this chance should not be ignored. Somehow, some way, he must plant a seed of hope and resistance in this gentle hearted maenwaith .

Aiwendil reflected on the old times as he searched for words and images that would have meaning for his companion. He glanced over at the small winged creature and deliberately spoke, “The birds…. the birds. They were marvelous to see. The old tales do not speak of it, but the great Sea birds that made their home in the Far West often ventured eastward, bringing bits of the magic with them. These creatures had plumage so startlingly rich that all who saw it were amazed,not like the simple white and grey cranes and gulls that you have seen. With scarlet and gold and silver wings, they glided above the waters and the people of the Star Isle would look up and marvel, glimpsing a tiny hint of what lay beyond.”

“But, alas! All that is gone. The wondrous birds, the Elves and their graceful ships, even the tall palaces and monuments that the Men once built…. and in its place only empty waves. The storm was so great that the wall of water reached up and sucked everything into its path, even the poor flying visitors who had ventured too far to the east. Later I returned; I wept to see only a few feathers scattered in the whirling surf, and all the other animals gone. For the people brought destruction not only on their own heads, but on all the innocent creatures who dwelled in that place.” Aiwendil sighed and looked out across the sands.

“There were so many evil ones then? To bring about such carnage?” the small bird interrupted, uneasily cocking his head.

“Not so many, not at first,” Aiwendil responded. “Only a few turned their back on the old ways and sought to impose their will on others. It could have been stopped if the rest had acted and stood up to oppose the lengthening shadow. But folk went about their business and paid little attention to the cries of those who were hurt. And, by the time they realized the peril had spread, it was too late to do anything. It is so easy not to act, to come up with an excuse and let others tend to the problems…..”

Aiwendil fell silent out of shame and humiliation. Was he saying these words for himself or Rôg? Perhaps both. Memories of Mirkwood and what lay before came flooding back as the camel’s rhythmic stride continued to eat up the sandy track. The wild dunes flew by and their trek inexorably continued towards the interior of the desert.
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Old 03-29-2004, 10:03 AM   #144
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The guards did not question the packs which Mithadan and Airefalas were carrying, but instead escorted them quickly from the palace and turned south towards the great market. As darkness fell around them, the guards moved closer to their charges, peering into the shadows as they walked with hands on the hilts of their swords. The Gondorians trudged along in silence for several minutes, wrapped up in their thoughts. Then Mithadan spoke rapidly to Airefalas in Quenya. "You are schooled in the high Elf tongue, are you not?" he asked.

"Of course," answered Airefalas with a sidelong glance at Mahat who walked next to them.

Mithadan turned to Seft and the other guards as they strode along the stone-paved street. "And you," he asked in the same tongue. "Do you speak the language of the High Elves?" The guards looked at one another in confusion for a moment before Seft responded in Westron. "Uh, what did you say?"

Mithadan laughed and raised a hand in apology. "I am sorry," he said, switching to the common tongue. "I asked if Korpulfr's house is much farther." Seft nodded. "Just a few more minutes," he replied. "The desert-dweller lives on the outskirts of the market, just uphill from where the stalls begin." The guard looked about again as if he did not approve of the location of Korpulfr's dwelling.

Switching back to Quenya, Mithadan spoke again to Airefalas. "If no earlier opportunity presents itself, after dinner we will demand to wander the shops. If we cannot loose them, well, their...disappearance will not be mourned there." Airefalas nodded with a grim smile.

A few blocks from the market's main thoroughfare, the guards directed them towards the east onto a narrow street where several large houses stood. They approached a gate at which two young men stood with spears in their hands. "Tell Korpulfr that his guests from Gondor have arrived," growled Mahat to one of the men. He nodded and escorted the party into a courtyard where they were met by four other armed men. "Welcome!" said one, who Mithadan recognized as a companion of Korpulfr's from the morning. "I am Hasrim. You are expected. Dinner will be ready soon." He bowed before the Gondorians before turning to the guards. "You may wait here," he continued as he gestured towards a bench before the door of the house. "We will send you food and drink shortly."

"We will accompany the northerners," said Mahat angrily. "We are charged with their safety!"

"They will be safe here," replied Hasrim curtly. "This is not the house of Falasmir and you may not enter. You know our rules. No men at arms are allowed within. This would be the case even if Falasmir himself were our guest."

"We go with the Gondorians or we leave with them," cried Seft with a hand on the hilts of his sword.

"Peace," laughed Mithadan. He unbuckled his sword from his belt and leaned the scabbard against the wall. Airefalas followed suit. "We will come to no harm here," he continued. "We have not paid the trader for his goods yet. If he slays us he will never get his money."

Hasrim blinked at this, doubting Mithadan's words, but remained silent. "Come now," said Airefalas with a smile. "Korpulfr would not dare to allow harm to come to us in the midst of Falasmir's city. We are friends here. Let us dine in peace and we will send out the finest wine to you even if we pay for it ourselves. In fact, Hasrim, have two bottles brought out now in a gesture of peace!" Hasrim paused, then nodded grudgingly. A quick word to one of the men was passed and in a moment two bottles were brought forth with cups for the guards. "We'll have more sent out," said Mithadan with a smile. "We promise."

Mahat sniffed dubiously at his cup, then sipped at it. After a moment he nodded. "Very well," he said gruffly. "But if our guests are harmed you and your master will be held accountable!"

"Of course," answered Hasrim with a mock bow. Then he escorted Mithadan and Airefalas inside. The house was large and well-appointed. Ornate rugs and tapestries hung on the walls and the sorridors were broad and airy. The Gondorians were brought to a wide hall in which a large table was set. The scent of spices and cooked meats filled the room. At the head of the table sat Korpulfr, who rose as his guests entered...
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Old 04-02-2004, 01:12 PM   #145
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Kórpulfr

“Welcome, come, come, and sit!” Kórpulfr called warmly extending his hospitality and indicating the two empty chairs next to him. As the two men sat and wine was poured for them, Hasrim whispered in the Maenwaith tongue what had just passed outside. Giving no indication as to what was discussed he held his smile and nodded his understanding. He then turned back to his guests, “my house is yours for this evening, anything you wish shall be yours, now for some introductions,” he said airily.

“My cousin Hasrim you have already met and this is my advisor Asrim.” He said indicating the man sitting to his right who accordingly raised his goblet and nodded politely to the northern’s.

“And immediately to your left is another guest of our house this evening, my very good friend Tinar.” he continued gesturing to the young man who now stood beside Airefalas.

“So we met again!” Tinar laughed shaking Airefalas’ hand. Suddenly another bell rang interrupting the introductions, everyone rose and as Korpulfr excused himself and turned to address his kin, Tinar explained to their guests that they were about to give thanks to the spirits of their people for the bountiful meal prepared before them and the good fortunes of the day.

In the southern dialect of the desert clans, he delivered thanks and praise to the great hunter of the wolf clan. Several others also spoke giving thanks and praise to their respective clan spirits, all the while, he could hear Tinar translate for their guests, leaving out anything that would overly give hint to their true nature. After prayer, he again spoke in the common tongue formally introducing his guests to his gathered house, the Captain and his first mate nodded accordingly, and then Kórpulfr gestured for everyone to be seated and the meal began. The chatter began almost at once, Business, family and what ever else came to mind, this part of the evening always brought a smile to Korpulfr’s lip’s, watching his people come together and be at ease with one another was most gratifying , but he was forgetting his guests!

“How are you enjoying your stay in the city of the Corsairs?” he asked turning to Mithadan who was seated to his left.

“The food and the trade are good” the captain smiled evasively, indicating the varied selection of food before him, Korpulfr let the evasion pass he knew it would not be prudent for the Captain to speak ill of Lord Falasmir’s hospitality while still in the city.
While Tinar and a few other younger men of his clan asked about the lands to the north, Asrim and the Maenwaith traders quizzed the captain about Gondorian trade laws and customs. A few even enquired as to what types of merchandise they could procure trading with the north men. In return, they too spoke of the trade customs of the desert people. Moreover, how their ways differed from those of the Umbarian traders of the city.

“The Desert people are an honest and simple people, some travel to the city on occasion to ply their wares then disappear into the desert sands, like a mirage. It is said that if a desert man does not wish to be found he will not!” Korpulfr laughed heartily.

“But they are also easily offended!” Asrim warned, “It is yes or no, black or white, the Desert folk know no middle ground.”

“Except when it comes to a price!” another man cried, gaining the agreeing laughter of the other traders in the room.

“But are you not men of the desert?” Airefalas puzzled.

“Ah, yes that we are my friend, but like most who come to live in the city we have learned to adapt, although not all of us still walk the paths of our fathers we still hold to many of their values and beliefs.” Korpulfr answered honestly.

However, before he could continue another bell rang. “Ah it is the time for song and tales of old, will you join us?” However, before Mithadan and Airefalas could answer they where assailed by the youngest of his household. “How big is your ship? Is it bigger than the corsairs are? Is it fast? How fast can it go? Have you had many adventures, please tell us one?”

“Now, now little cubs let our guests first decide if they have the time to join us, “Korpulfr grinned to the expectant faces of the Maenwaith children.

“Awww! Please stay!” they begged.

“How can I refuse,” Mithadan laughed, the children then grabbed the two men and led them though the archway at the end of the hall, inside the room was light with many lamps and candles and the floor was littered with soft silk and velvet cushions, the children let go of their guests and ran to find their favourite cushions. As Korpulfr directed Mithadan and Airefalas to come and sit with him at the front of the room, the other diners began to filter into the room.

Once everyone was seated, a young woman stood up and began to sing, as she sang several dancers entered the room their movements echoing the emotions within the song. Korpulfr informed his guests that the song told the story of a tribe that refused to bow to the dark lord, even when the Lords of Umbar allied themselves to his lies. He also told them of the underlying forbidden love story between the simple warrior and the tribe leader’s daughter. As the song finished everyone clapped, the young woman curtsied then took her seat, as did the dancers.

“Now time for a story what would you like to hear tonight?” he grinned turning to the children eagerly huddled together.

“We want to hear about Captain Mithadan’s ship!” the children cried together. Korpulfr looked to the captain rather apologetically, “would you mind, even a short one would abate their curiosity?”

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Old 04-04-2004, 02:06 AM   #146
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Silmaril Yakira and Narika

For the duration of the storm, Narika watched and waited at Ayar's bedside as her mother tossed restlessly in the tangled sheets, drifting in and out of consciousness. Grimly reflecting that her mother's condition was no different, Narika found her spirits dropping as she listened to the howl of the swirling sands as they battered remoselessly against the heavy canvas of the tent. Over the next few hours, the blistering winds subsided. Trying to concentrate on some simple housecleaning chores, she shook out the ornate woven rugs that decorated the floor, now covered with a layer of fine sand that had managed to slip in through the cracks. She finally set down her broom and asked the servant girl Riá to watch over Ayar so that she could check on things and make sure everyone had safely weathered the storm.


Outside, the camp was returning to life as men and women ventured from their tents to straighten out the wreckage and round up the herds. Several of the young lads were already digging out the firepit and piling up the precious twigs and limbs in preparation for the evening meal that had been pushed back by the unexpected windstorm. With help from the others, Narika pried the lids off two large communal water barrels that stood near the firepit for anyone to use. She leaned over to retrieve a ladle of water pouring it into her bucket, making a face when she glimpsed the thin sediment of sand that had settled near the bottom of the barrel. Water was too precious to waste. They would have to make do until her mother was well enough to survive the move to the next encampment where there would be a fresh supply.

Even with the storm, the news of Ayar's illness had spread quickly through the camp. A number of the maenwaith eagerly surrounded Narika, pressing her to tell them how her mother was doing and when they could expect to see her again. Unable to give them any sure response, Narika wanly smiled, brushing aside the questions with only the slightest hint of an answer, and quickly retreated inside her tent. She set down the bucket and was about to resume her nursing duties when a quiet voice sounded at the door and the tent flap again drew back. Narika looked over to see Yalisha step inside carrying a pouch of herbs slung over her shoulder.

"You wanted to see me?"

"Yes. Thank you for coming." There was a stiff formality in the air between the two women that Narika did nothing to combat. "You have heard of my mother's illness?"

Yalisha nodded and, without further conversation, came over to kneel at Ayar's side, carefully examining the older woman and asking questions as she worked. Rolling Ayar onto her stomach, she paused for a moment as she glimpsed the tiny puncture wound at the base of the neck, which was still inflamed from the day before. Yalisha's eyes widened in surprise. Her voice trembling, she pointed towards the inflammation, "This small wound? How did it happen?"

"I have no idea.," Narika countered. " It has been like that since she first fell ill."

"Think.... This is important. When did she complain of receving such an injury?"

Narika was about to shake her head again, when she suddenly recalled an incident that had happened earlier. "I do remember one thing. Yesterday, towards dusk, when all had gathered to hear music and stories, Ayar came out to join the circle. One of the attendants saw her stop and blanche and rub the back of her neck. When he asked if he could do anything to help, she merely waved him off and said it was nothing....only the sting of an insect. None of us thought it important at the time."

Yalisha looked up with bright, glittering eyes and then down at Ayar, shaking her head in dismay. When she spoke again, it was in a voice tinged with regret. "I can not be certain. But I do not believe this to be a natural sickness. I have little knowledge of such things, but I have heard others speak of it There are herbs, deadly herbs, whose oils can be extracted and placed on the tip of a missile or dart. For some there are remedies; for others, not. I do not know what this poison is, or if there is any cure, but I fear that your mother has fallen victim to an evil hand."

Narika stared at Yalisha and listened uncomprehending. "You are telling me Ayar was poisoned? Here, in this camp! That is impossible. No one within the clan would do such a thing. And outsiders do not even know where we are, not even the great Wyrma herself. Are you telling me that someone inside the clan has done this terrible thing or that outsiders have come here without our even knowing?"

"I cannot say. Only that whatever struck down your mother looks and acts like certain poisons that exist within the city of Umbar. How such a thing has come here, I have no idea."

With eyes hard as flint, Narika cried out, "Umbar! I should have expected this. It is not one of us but the outsiders. Every time we touch that city, we come away with grief. I swear if anything happens to my mother, I will slay any outsider who dares approach the clan even in so-called friendship." Narika's thoughts strayed to her sister Ráma hoping that she had already headed home.

"Please," she pleaded. "Is there nothing you can do to help her? Some compound or tincture?"

Yalisha pulled open her pouch of herbs, examining the contents. " I know little of such poisons, but I will try. Perhaps Ráma or my brother will soon return with news that will tell us who lies behind this deed and how we may best combat it."

"Let us hope so," Nakira grimly nodded.

Last edited by Child of the 7th Age; 04-04-2004 at 08:47 AM.
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Old 04-05-2004, 03:15 AM   #147
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Rôg

The camel bumped along in the gathering darkness; his great, flat hooves thumping against the packed sand. Aiwendil had pulled his hood up, retreating into silence, lost in his own thoughts. Rôg, his feet hooked firmly in the folds of Aiwendil’s robe, had retreated in like manner, tucking his head beneath one wing. The outer appearances of repose aside, the little bird’s thoughts were whirling.

The Star Isle. It cannot be! I must have misheard . . . He flapped his wings and shook his tail then settled his head once again under cover of his wing. The old man speaks as if he had been there . . . how can that be . . .

A leathery voice niggled at the edges of his thoughts saying Step up, little one, when there is need . . ., receding as a scene from his childhood played in his mind.

~*~

The old, old woman had come in from the steppe one winter . . . down from the craggy cliffs to the east, her thin frame bent over in the chilly winds that swept down from the north. One gnarled hand grasped a walking stick; crooked yew wood it was . . . And from the small boy’s point of view the bent and twisted and gnarled frame of the woman who bore it prompted the wild thought that her stick was simply another appendage that grew from her. Or perhaps she from it . . . he could not tell.

He thought, too, the wind might blow her over, so frail she looked to him. But she turned her dark eyes on his staring face and he could see the strength rooted in their depths. No winds would move her, he sensed. Then, wondering if this were just some ghosty thing come down to haunt the camp, he reached out with his slim, small hand to touch her robe.

Real enough, he now remembered, feeling the rough, scaly material slide again between his fingers.

The clan leader had welcomed her to his tent with great affection and later that day, around the evening fire, had invited her to be the story-teller. The older folk had warmed to her recitation of the clans’ family names and their descendents, nodding one to another when their ancestor was named and their branch recited. Rôg and his sister had grown fidgety at the long lists that rolled off the old woman’s tongue, but their father had fixed them with a frown and slight shake of his head at their restless antics; their mother had simply gathered them nearer, hushing them as she nuzzled her lips against their hair. ‘These names are written in your bones,’ she had whispered to them. ‘Listen! She speaks them for you.’

Names, and sons and daughters of names, had woven round in the soft light cast on the tents gathered near the communal fire. Sparks flew up into the deepening darkness as the pitchy wood crackled and hissed. Daira had pinched him as her name was chanted out near the end, and he in turn had given her a smug smile as his name joined hers and led the way, then, for the few of those younger than they. Murmurs of appreciation and nods at the old woman followed as her voice dropped off, the namings done.

‘An old story, now, Mother!’ a voice had chimed in. ‘The one with the Eagles!’ called another. ‘Narîka 'nBâri 'nAdûn!’

‘What eagles are they asking about?’ Rôg turned his small face up with a frown to his mother. He knew there were great birds that nested in the cliffs, but they were ordinary, everyday birds, and these seemed to be of some other sort. 'nBâri 'nAdûn. He rolled the old words about in his mouth, savoring the feel of them. Lords of the West . . . their eagles . . . His attention snapped back to the old woman as she spoke the familiar words that began every story.

‘Now this is how it was told to me,’ she said, placing her gnarled hands on her knees as she bent forward slightly and looked round the thick circle of faces. ‘Back then, in the time long flown, a great, great gift was given . . .’

This was a story he had not heard before. A wondrous island had been raised from the waters by the great Lords on the rim of the world. Far to the west it was from here. Shaped like a great, five-pointed star, it floated above the waves – bearing many delights for those who dwelt there.

Birds he remembered her saying; the old woman had spoken at length about the winged creatures, large and small, that lived there. Her words painted the picture of mariners drawing near to the isle, guided in by the clamor of the great flocks of wheeling sea-birds. In a piping voice she drew the scattered flocks of tiny scarlet birds as they winged low over the white sandy shores, calling out their name as they passed . . . kirinki . . .

And the Nimîr, the Beautiful Ones, who had flown in their white swan ships, over the waters, from the edges of the sea, flocking gracefully to the western harbors, bringing gifts. And there in the center of the isle there rose a great mountain . . .

‘The eagles,’ someone had said in a knowing voice.

‘Yes, yes, from the west they flew,’ she nodded and went on. ‘The Great Lord sent them. From the very rim of the world, beyond the edges of the sea. It is said that the people of the island held them as sacred, and blessed the Great Lord of the West and his people who had sent them.’ She leaned forward again, her voice dropping to a hush, her listeners straining to catch her words. ‘This I was told also . . . that the eagles and this Lord of the West and all his people could put on forms at their need and at their pleasure.’

‘Ah!’ A collective affirmation rose round the fire in waves.

‘So I have heard,’ she repeated, ‘and believe it to be a true telling, passed down from my mother’s mothers to me.’

The story wove on through the abundant years of the gifted isle, bright years. Then, down into the shadowed time the telling went; the betrayals and the turnings away; the evil deeds piling one upon the other; the Shadow that passed in glamoured form promising his own dark gifts. Some there were who had remained true to their promises. But they were set upon and threatened and many kept silent rather than voice what they held true.

Rôg had shivered at her words, drawing in tight against the safety of his mother. He clutched her cloak tightly, bringing it up to cover his face, his dark eyes peeking out as the story drew to its ending.

The King of that Isle, she went on, beguiled by the promises and lies of the Shadow, had ordered his great fleet of ships to sail to the forbidden lands at the rim of the world. ‘Their gift was not enough,’ the old woman admonished her listeners. ‘They reached out to grasp more.’ Her audience was hushed as she shook her head at the foolishness of the islanders.

With a great THWACK! she brought her walking stick down hard on one of the rocks that circled the fire.

‘They smote them down as their feet touched the forbidden soil . . .’ she said, her voice rumbling out into the waiting silence. ‘ . . . The Lords of the West did . . . and they sunk that island far, far beneath the waters of the sea . . . the edges of the world were bent . . . and never again did the Eagles fly the straight path to the east.’

She looked into the fire and spoke the ending words. ‘So I was told, and so now you have heard.’

Amid the murmurings of approval for the well told story, Rôg had slipped away from his mother and come to crouch down near the old woman. At a lull in her conversations with others of his clan he had gathered his courage and reached out to touch her on the arm. ‘Old Mother,’ he had whispered, tugging lightly on her tunic. ‘Old Mother,’ he had prompted in a louder voice as he crept nearer.

‘What is it, child?’

‘What happened to the ones who kept their promises?’

‘They were spared and came east over the seas. Good people. But so few . . . so few, at the end.’

His question answered, he had thought to creep away. But she had reached out with her fingers and grasped him lightly and securely about the wrist, her gnarled talons surprisingly strong. She fixed him in her gaze, and drawing him near, leaned forward to whisper in his ear. Step up, little one, when there is need . . . will you promise this? In his own childish way, a little afraid of her and wanting to please or appease her, he had nodded his head ‘yes’. ‘Good, good,’ she had uttered in a soft voice almost to herself as she released his wrist. He had turned to scurry back to the safety of his family, when he heard her call out after him. ‘Remember to keep your promise, little one.’ Rôg turned back once to look at her but she was already swallowed up in the press of people that surrounded her.

~*~

The camel came to an abrupt stop. Aiwendil lurched forward, nearly dislodging the little bird from his shoulder. ‘Water, I think,’ he heard the old man say as the camel turned of its own accord toward an old covered cistern in a clump of scraggly palms. Dismounting, they both lugged the heavy cover from the shallow tank, and were rewarded by a few inches of standing water. It was brackish, tinged with silt and sand that stirred at the slightest touch. Still it was water, and they refreshed themselves as best they could.

Rôg let the camel drink his fill, then bade him kneel down to let Aiwendil mount once more. Once the old man had arranged himself in as comfortable a position as he could, Rôg flew up to his shoulder and settled in again for the remainder of the journey. The camel moved along at a slow, steady pace. Rôg plucked up his courage and moved close to the old fellow’s ear.

‘About that Star Isle . . . I was just wondering . . . what had you heard about those who kept their promises? Were they all drowned? And what had you heard about the eagles . . .?’

Rôg cocked a feathered eye toward Aiwendil. He was determined, in some manner, to sort out his quandary. Had the old fellow misspoke when he said he had been to the isle? Had he confused hearing the story for being there? Or were his memories true? And if they were true . . . what sort of creature was he?

The little bird narrowed his eyes as he considered his companion. A barely perceptible mutter escaped him as he turned his own questions over in his mind and awaited the answers to his others.

‘. . . and just how old does he think he is, I wonder . . .

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Old 04-06-2004, 08:07 AM   #148
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tap, tap, tap...tap, tap

Wyrma looked up from her paperwork with a start. The knocking on her window shutter was no chance movement of the wind; in fact, she knew this particular signal well and hastened to open the window. A desert owl sat on the ledge; its sandy colour made it almost invisible in the dusk. It flew into the room and transformed into a dark-haired young man, taller and somewhat broader than Tinar, but with an unmistakable similarity.

“Kumat!” she exclaimed, “Is something wrong? Do you have a message for me?”

“Thank you for your warm welcome,” her third son replied with only the faintest touch of sarcasm. His mother did not intimidate him, at least not much, but he had a healthy respect for her wrath and treated her with deference. “If I were to tell you that I came for the pleasure of your company, you would not believe me. Yes, something is wrong. No, I do not have a written message; Hálfr thought it would not be wise to send something that could be intercepted or lost, so I bear the message myself.”

He motioned her to the elaborately carved chair at her desk and took another for himself when she was seated.

With an impatient gesture, she waved aside the decanter of wine that he proffered her before pouring himself a goblet. “Is all well with Markal? Have Hálfr and his troops been attacked?”

“Markal is as always,” he answered, with barely concealed disdain for his staid oldest brother. “Hálfr and my brother Walat have their troops well under control, and there has been no open hostility within or without the city.”

“Then what?” she snapped.

“The stones and bricks that were stored for building your main headquarters have been destroyed,” he said, leaning forward to emphasize his words.

Wyrma’s thoughts raced. Building in the desert was a costly and difficult undertaking, since building materials were few. It had taken much effort and no little money to import enough to build not only houses, but to provide a solid foundation as well. They had had to proceed carefully and with some stealth so that Falasmir’s spies did not realize how monumental their plans were.

“But how? And by whom?” she asked the obvious questions. Stones could not be destroyed that easily!

“That is the problem,” he answered, his brows furrowed. “To all appearances, an oliphaunt rampaged among them – there are tracks everywhere amidst the broken stones. But there are no tracks leading away from the storage place. No one heard anything, since it happened during a storm.”

Her mind leapt to several conclusions simultaneously. “If there are no footprints coming or going, it cannot have been a normal beast. Should there be a rebel Maenwaith somewhere who can take the form of an oliphaunt? This would be new in the history of our people and indeed a danger to our plans!”
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Old 04-06-2004, 08:50 AM   #149
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A tale? Mithadan thought quickly about the many voyages of the Lonely Star and decided to tell an amended version of its greatest voyage. But first... "I will gladly tell a tale," he said in Quenya. His words were greeted with blank stares or looks of confusion. He laughed and shook his head in mock apology. "I'm sorry," he said. "Sometimes I forget what land I am in when I speak." He turned to Airefalas and spoke quickly in the High Elven tongue again, with a laugh and a smile. "Watch your words with the young one. He entered the dinner yesterday with the Lord's entourage." Airefalas laughed in turn and nodded.

"Yes," continued Mithadan in the common tongue. "I will tell a tale of my ship. The Lonely Star is a fine vessel, quick and agile. I do not know if she can outrun a corsair for she has never been in such a race, and hopefully never will now that our peoples are friends. But she is a worthy vessel.

"Several years ago, the Star was hired for a journey. Not a trading voyage, but rather a mission of mercy. We were asked to search for the relatives of a young woman that had been lost at sea. We sailed far and long, and, at length, found a great island where we thought the lost ones might be. But we could not find them easily. Fortunately, we had one on board who could help. She was a good friend, a friend of my wife and I, and she had some special talents. Have you heard of the Beornings?"

Members of his audience shook their heads, though one or two seemed to recognize the name. "The Beornings are a race of men who dwell in the Vale of the Anduin," he continued. "They dwell far from Gondor, though we sometimes hear news of them. They are shapeshifters!" Korpulfr seemed startled by this, but Mithadan spoke on. "They can take the shape of bears. I tell the truth! Our friend Bird was a fosterling of the Beornings, raised from her infancy by them. But she was not of their race. She could not take the form of a bear, but she was nonetheless a shapechanger. She and my wife Piosenniel were goog friends and had journeyed together for many years. And on this voyage, she was part of our crew. When we encountered the island, she took the form of a jackdaw, a black bird, and she flew out over the island searching for the lost ones. After several days, she returned to the Star and told us that she had found them. But they had not been shipwrecked. Rather, they had been seized by evil men and were being held against their will. So we sailed to a nearby river and anchored there. Then we took up arms and went up the river in boats. Under the cover of night, we crept into the place where they were being held captive and freed them. There was great fight, but we rescued our friend's relatives and made our way back to the Star. We sailed quickly east and evaded any pursuit. The captives were saved thanks to the help of Bird, the shapechanger."

"What happened to Bird then?" asked one of the children. "Is she still part of your crew?"

"No," replied Mithadan sadly. "She went off in search of her kin. She journeyed here, to the southlands, looking for them. We have not heard of her in some time. She is one of the reasons that I traveled here. I hoped to find her, or some news of her. Have you by any chance heard of Bird or her kin?"
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Old 04-07-2004, 08:43 AM   #150
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Kórpulfr

Korpulfr was not the only one to become uncomfortable with the captains chosen tale, several eyes glanced uneasily in his direction at the northern mans mention of shape changers, but all he could do was smile reassuringly and listen as the captain continued his tale. Mithadan’s recount of the Beornings tugged at his curiosity, he had heard tales in his youth concerning distant kin that could take the form of great bears, but until now he had believed them to be only myth, for there was none among their race who could successfully take the bear form. The captains telling of his friend... this bird also intrigued him, she had to be Maenwaith, but how she found herself so far north was a puzzle to him. The storytellers told nothing that he could recall of any of their kind leaving these lands. He then began to wondered if perhaps this bird might not be one of the young taken when the darkness cast it’s long shadow southward, but he soon dismissed this thought when the captain told of the long friendship the Maenwaith had with his wife, which denoted that she was older in years than those dark times.

“What happened to bird then, is she still part of your crew?”

The child’s innocent question pulled him abruptly from his thoughts, he had seen no women on the ship that morning, but he had not been looking for one, let alone one that might have been Maenwaith. The captain shook his head, telling them that she had gone in search of her kin and that he had not heard from her in some time. The man’s sadness seemed genuine enough and Korpulfr found himself wishing he could give him some hope by telling him that he had found her kin. But the memory of man’s foreign tongue, renewed his guarded and suspicious nature, many was the time that he himself had used the tongue of his people to relay thing’s he didn’t want others to hear and he now wondered if the tale was not a trap set to trip them up.

“No I am afraid we have not heard of this extraordinary woman or any of her kin!” He answered shaking his head in feigned sympathy and looking regretfully to the expectant faces of the youngsters.

“But I have to admit it has been a long time since I have heard a tale that has so piqued my curiosity, come I should like to her more of these shape changers and why this friend of yours would think to find her kin in the barren deserts of the southlands. Then perhaps in return I could enquire among the various clans as to weather they have heard of your friend or the kin that she seeks, when next I travel the desert trade routes .” he continued warmly, adding the offer of help in order to gain the mans trust.

Several women then rose and began ushering the children out of the room. “aww we want to hear more about bird!” they chorused, but the women quickly tried to settled them with promises that Korpulfr would retell any new tales another time, the children then looked in his direction for confirmation.

“I promise to tell you all of what I learn,” he laughed. This seemed to satisfy them, for they turned and followed the women from the room. Chattering excitedly to one another about the shape changer who was friends with strangers, something uncommon among their people. Kor was only glad that the children now spoke in their own tongue, so the innocence of their words would not give them away.

“It must have been a great asset to have had someone with such great talents among your crew?” he heard Hasrim ask dryly, his dark eyes studying the captains face with suspicion, but if the captain took note he did not show it. Instead answering simply that his friend had seen them out of many a tight spot and for that, he was truly grateful. Korpulfr raised his hand and a young man approached, Korpulfr lifted his goblet for him to fill then gestured that he should refill those of his guests.

“Now tell me more of this fascinating woman and her kin and I will see what I can do to help.” He smiled warmly, gesturing for Mithadan to continue.
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Old 04-08-2004, 01:42 PM   #151
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Mithadan nodded appreciatively (and took note) at his host's interest in Bird. "She is a bit older than you. Slight of build and a few inches shorter than you. Her skin is dark, olive not swarthy, and her hair is black save for a white streak nearly in the middle. If you come across her or hear of her whereabouts, please get word to me, for we miss her."

Korpulfr nodded thoughtfully, but replied, "She is not familiar to me but I shall ask about. If I hear any news I shall find a way to notify you even if you are in Gondor."

Tinar had listened with interest to Mithadan's story and his description of Bird. Now he leaned forward and asked, "What shapes does she take?"

Mithadan's face remained impassive, but he was surprised at the interest in his long lost friend. All others that he had spoken to, save Rama, had scoffed at the notion that shapechangers even existed. Yet Korpulfr evinced no hint of skepticism and now Tinar, who had entered Falasmir's reception in the company of Umbar's lord and the one named Wyrma, was asking for more detail about her in a serious fashion as if the shapeshifters were a quite typical subject of discussion! Mithadan's natural sense of caution came to the fore and, despite his desire to find Bird, he chose to say less than he might.

"The bird form, the jackdaw that I mentioned, is the only form of hers that I know. Can a shapeshifter take more than one form?"

Tinar opened his mouth to respond, but Korpulfr spoke before the younger one could reply. "We have heard of the shapeshifters," he said with a sharp look at Tinar. "They are but a legend to us. Indeed most do not believe they exist. But we will look out for your friend, legend or no."

Mithadan nodded and changed the subject to the strange color of the sunset that evening. But even as he spoke, he filed away the conversation for later consideration. Clearly, his host knew more than he admitted. His last interjection had been too hurried and fit poorly with the attention these Southrons had paid to his tale. Shapechangers were no strangers to Korpulfr and the people of his house. But now he must take care, for he and Airefalas already had enemies in Umbar and did not need to make more.

The conversation now wandered from subject to subject as after dinner drinks were served. Mithadan excused himself to take a bottle of strong liquor to the guards in the courtyard (who continued to grumble at the poor reception they had received) before returning to the common room. He continued to speak amiably with his hosts about trade prospects and goods, but his mind began to wander a bit as he became concerned about the time. They had been at Korpulfr's home for more than three hours if he was any judge, and his thoughts turned to the Lonely Star which, by now, was quietly preparing to get underway.
As politely as possible, he stood with a wide yawn and said, "Loath am I to depart from such fine hospitality, but this is our second late night in a row and I grow weary. I am sure the drink has a bit to do with it as well." His hosts laughed politely and rose as well. From the corner of his eye, Mithadan saw Airefalas pick up his bag and reach inside to check upon the knives secreted therein.

Korpulfr rose and bowed slightly to his guests before taking Mithadan by the arm. "Come," he said. "We will show you to the door."
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Old 04-08-2004, 05:47 PM   #152
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Aiwendil: Arrival on the Outskirts of the Eagle Clan

Those who kept their promise?

Aiwendil peered quizzically over at Rôg and wondered if he had revealed too much about himself through his story. He chose his next words with considerable caution. "The old tales relate that a few of the faithful, those Men whom you call the Dúnedain, heeded the warning signs and fled eastward on tall, strong ships. But even they could not wholly escape the mountain of water. The storms battered their vessels and tossed them here and there, with some folk landing in Lindon and venturing overland to Eriador, while others were blown southward into the Bay of Belfalas and from there sailed north up the Great River towards what became known as the kingdom of Gondor."

The istar glared disdainfully at Rôg and scowled, "Surely you know this! Do they teach children nothing today? For these are common tales, not only preserved in books or in the courts of the great, but recited from memory around campfires or even set to music with timbrels and harps. Or so it was when the world was younger."

Aiwendil wondered how much of the past had slipped away, faded and forgotten, like his own missing knowledge and skills, especially now that so many of the Elves had journeyed towards the West. He suddenly felt a dawning compassion for Rôg and all those left behind with only a few tattered fragments of the story of what had gone before. No wonder Men had such difficulty when they could not even hold on to their memories! Perhaps he was here to remind them of such things. He shuddered uncomfortably at the thought of taking on such a task.....he who had not even be willing to poke his nose out of the woods and who had avoided Men as much as possible.

Uncomfortable with the responsibility that such a burden would carry, and not used to sharing his feelings, Aiwendil snapped out a rebuke in gruff, chiding terms, "How can you know right from wrong when you have forgotten all the tales and the wisdom they contain?"

Perched on Aiwendil's shoulder, Rôg tartly responded, "Perhaps these stories are not so well known as before. But I did hear tales of the star isle, and the Great Eagles, and the bright shining ones, and the other followers of the Lord of the West who could even take on shapes. Yet only a few tales, and these were passed on like precious drops.... " the small bird wistfully added.

"It will have to be enough then," Aiwendil spoke more to himself than to Rôg. "What you took from your youth.... For I have forgotten so much and it seems as though Men have forgotten even more. Still, I have hopes that some knowlege can be relearned." The camel plodded on for several paces before the istar spoke again. " Truthfully, that is the main reason I came on this journey. Umbar and its deserts are ancient places, older even than the haven of Pelargir, and I wondered what goodness and knowledge might still be tucked away in secret spots."

"This place? Goodness?" countered Rôg dryly. "It is said that the only tales preserved in the scrolls of Umbar are penned by those Men who were not overly fond of goodness."

Thoroughly exasperated, the old man wagged a finger just inches from Rôg's beak, "I am not talking about the Black Numenoreans! Have the maenwaith forgotten everything then? Pashh! Your people came here long before the travelers from the star isle, back when the Eagles of the Encircling Mountains mingled with the free folk in their battles against Morgoth. Your fathers and mothers fled to this land hoping to preserve a good and decent way of life. Some of your own people can take on forms of the giant wyrms and eagles. How could they possibly do such a thing unless their kin had once seen the great beasts themselves? Or perhaps, all those skills have been lost too?" Aiwendil abruptly clamped his mouth and refused to say anything more. He recalled certain misty tales of happenings from long ago that were said to have transpired between the maenwaith and the Eagles, stories that Rôg might or might not know, but this was not the time to get into such things.

Silence fell between them, as the camel ploughed patiently onward through the hills of sand. Even after the sun had set, the silver moonlight provided enough illumination that it was possible to keep to the trail, with the stars providing sure guideposts so that they would not lose their way. The pair agreed to continue on for another hour or so until an inviting grove of trees suddenly loomed before them. These sat next to an old watering hole that was half-dried up. Aiwendil started to set up camp, while Rôg flew out to have a look at things to make sure the surrounding area was safe. In a few moments, he returned and quietly announced that he could make out the distant outline of the maenwaith camp just over the next hill, the same one he had visited earlier that week. Aiwendil kept strictly to himself and, spreading out a blanket on the ground, was soon snoring loudly. Relieved to have fulfilled his earlier promise to make sure the old man arrived at this spot, Rôg flew out to have a closer look.

Last edited by Child of the 7th Age; 04-10-2004 at 07:14 PM.
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Old 04-09-2004, 02:02 AM   #153
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Gondor - 2 weeks prior to the dinner at Korpulfr's

A number of days after the trip to the library with Baran, the invitation had arrived. There was a knock at the door in the late afternoon, and a polite exchange between Cook’s country bred voice and some soft, undistinguishable male voice, followed by an excited ‘Oh my!’ on the part of Cook. A coda followed the closing of the door, in more restrained tones. ‘I’ll wait right here if you don’t mind, goodmistress.’

Pio, and the children were in the kitchen and had heard the knock through the opened doorway to the short hall that led to the entryway. The words of the man’s last sentence had but left his lips as Pio rose to see whom Cook had let into the house. The children of course bustled after her, not wanting to miss out on the unexpected visitor. Before they had passed through the kitchen’s door Cook had come puffing in at top speed, one hand holding up her skirts as she sped along, the other brandishing a large, square white envelope, black and silver ribbons fluttering from the wax seal on the flap.

‘Mistress Piosenniel!’ Cook wheezed out, nearly colliding with the little group. ‘From the city . . . the King . . . and an answer is expected . . .’

Cook and the children crowding about her, Pio slipped her finger beneath the seal and prised out the folded, black vellum card from the envelope. ‘Ooh! Pretty!’ came the excited cry from Cami, as she spied the front of the invitation. The silver tracing of the White Tree and Stars against the dark background twinkled in the lamplight.

Pio scanned the invitation quickly, a mildly exasperated look passing over her features as she read it through. Tossing it on the table, she hurried out to speak to the messenger. Isilmir followed after her, leaving the remaining three to discuss in excited whispers, the invitation from the King.

The messenger said he would return in three days for her answer. This was to be a reception honoring several new trading groups that had been brought into the fold since the spread of the King’s Peace. A number of the prominent merchants and their wives had been invited to meet the representatives from Rhûn, Khand, and Near Harad in two weeks time from today. It was the sort of gathering in which personal connections could be made, the way eased toward forging links in Gondor’s widening network of trade.

It was also the sort of gathering that Pio did not relish attending. And even as she closed the door behind the King’s messenger, she was already composing her reply as to why she would be unable to make an appearance.

~*~

Isilmir had read her intention in the posture of relief as she leaned her back against the now closed door. His quiet voice startled her as he admonished her on her reluctance to go. ‘Father’s gone away. You’ll have to be the one to show up for our family. He’d want you to go and greet the King and the new traders.’ He stepped closer for a critical look at her saying, ‘And you’ll need to have a suitable dress, I think.

Gilwen had come up to by then to add her opinion. ‘It’s the King’s party, ammë! You have to have a pretty new dress.’ Little Cami nodded her head solemnly, wondering all the while if there would be cakes and other sweets. Eyes sparkling in anticipation, she piped up with a suggestion for a new bag to go with the outfit. ‘A pretty one . . . and big, too,’ she murmured at the end, thinking of the treats that might be brought home in it.

The Elf had opened her mouth to protest, when Cook shook her head, saying it was no use to try to get out of this. ‘Mistress Rilwen is coming tomorrow, early. You know she will hound you about the propriety of making sure the family is represented. You might as well give in now, don’t you think?’

Pio had shaken her head and burst out in laughter at their concerted effort. ‘Alright, then,’ she had said. ‘Promise me there will be no more talk of pretty this and pretty that, and no word of my reticence to Auntie Rilwen. Tomorrow we will all go into the city to see about making me suitably acceptable!’

~*~

It had been a long, hot, disgruntling day spent at the dressmaker’s shop. Were it up to Piosenniel alone she would simply have pointed to a bolt of some acceptable material of an unobtrusive hue; given some vague instructions to the seamstress about not making it too tight or too long. And no, she would not be needing a cloak, slippers dyed, scarves, or any fussy items for the hair. Her patience had grown thin as the measurings and discussions had gone on.

She was almost at the point where she would rather have pulled some gown from her wooden chest, shaken it out, and called it ‘good’. Raised eyebrows from Rilwen and a restraining hand on her arm had caused her to bite back her words as her well meaning sister-in-law took over the orchestration of ‘the outfit’.

~*~

Now the group found themselves at the Seventh Star Inn. The discussions about material, the cajolings about ‘fashion’ and the innumerable measurings were done for the day. The seamstress had promised to have it ready for a fitting in two day’s time, further promising that it would be the final fitting. The Elf had an exasperated look in her eye by the end of this tedious process. The dressmaker wisely chose not to discuss accessories, simply tucking away in the back of her mind what would be appropriate. She would present the entire outfit when Pio returned.

‘Look, ammë!’ Gilwen’s voice broke in on her thoughts as she sipped her cup of wine. Pio turned to see her daughter standing beside her chair and pointing at the figure coming down the stairs into the Common Room. ‘It’s Baran!’
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Old 04-09-2004, 02:46 PM   #154
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Rôg

The silence that fell between the two companions hid the little bird’s anger. It had been with great restraint that he held back from taking a large chomp from the old man’s finger as it wagged within inches of his beak.

What right had this creature to judge him and his people . . .

‘How can you know right from wrong when you have forgotten all the tales and the wisdom they contain? Aiwendil had snapped out in a gruff, rebuking manner. Rog snorted at this accusation.

We have forgotten nothing!

Especially the ways that outsiders have dealt with us. Right and wrong! Pah!

Thoughts such as these had stewed in his mind until the two had cleared the sandy rise that led them to the little oasis. Changing back to mannish form, Rôg had unloaded their packs from the camel and spread a thickly woven rug on the sand for Aiwendil to rest. The old man seemed distracted, lost in his own thoughts. And tired, too. Once he had heard they were quite near the encampment he had lain down on his rug and gone quickly to sleep.

Rôg hunkered down beneath one of the palms, his back resting lightly against the fibrous trunk. He had gotten them this far, as Aiwendil had requested. When day came he would take the old man to the encampment and see him into their safekeeping. He looked west to where the mountains hid under the cover of night. He had information for his clan leader, and here in familiar surroundings he missed his family dearly.

The old man was snoring when Rôg flew off toward the encampment. The little bird planned to take a look-see about and bring his findings back to the old man - the sooner done, the sooner he would be free to leave on his own errand.

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Old 04-09-2004, 03:48 PM   #155
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Thorn

It was night by the time Thorn reached the slumbering camp of the eagle clan. In his weariness he noted the familiar gray barred pennants affixed to many a tent, blowing in the light breeze that drifted through the encampment. Stopping only to whisper hasty greetings to the guards that approached him in the gloom, he quickly made his way to the center of camp where Ayar's tent might be found.

Heartened to see the pale thread of lamplight bordering the tent flap as he approached, Thorn advanced briskly. But when his arm reach out to grasp the canvas edge of it, a low growl was heard beside the opening, and a brown mottled dog stepped out of the shadows baring white teeth.

"Surinen!" Thorn declared, recognizing the dog's markings at once in the dim light. The animal immediately bowed its head and with wagging tail met him. "Shouldn't you be off guarding Dinsûl's stores against mischief?" Thorn queried, placing his hand on the dog's brow. But the dog only whined hearing the familiar voice, and sliding away from Thorn's indulgence, took up his position again, sitting tall by the entrance as he watched his friend slip noiselessly inside.

By the feeble light of the oil lamps, Thorn could see the silhouette of a young woman who sat softly singing an ode Thorn knew had been written by Ayar's father. The sight of Narika brought with it a measure of peace to him, but it was too brief, for at her side lay the leader of the eagle clan, feverish upon her thin mattress, the dark hair that framed the beloved face now clinging to her damp skin as she struggled against some illness. At the flames' flicker, Narika turned to see who had entered, and as the light held her face Thorn could see grave concern in her expression. Silently she gestured for him to wait, and after finishing the last verse she quietly got up. With a warm smile tempered with care she hurried over to Thorn and took up his hands in hers. "It is good to see you Thorn! Many times I have wished for your presence and now not the least of them. Even this afternoon I have sent out a messenger asking for your return and Rama's also. Perhaps you met him along your way?"

"No, I did not see him or your sister, but found that Ráma had wisely had left Umbar even before I myself managed to. Hopefully the boy will have the sense to return quickly back, for that city grows restive and is no place for him. But tell me fully what has happened here, Narika, and why have you sent for us?" he asked with foreboding. "For I have seen the signs of warning, and now find Ayar is unwell."

"I wish I could say with confidence that it was nothing," Narika said in low tones. "But my mother is seriously ill, as you see, and we will not be moving camp until she is able to travel. I do not think she could now bear the stain of it and do not wish to test her so." Rising unbidden to her eyes, tears gathered eyes as she spoke so that she lowered her glance to the floor, no longer able to continue.

"There is more to this, I see it in your demeanor," Thorn said gently lifting Narika's chin. "What manner of illness could it be to have you so troubled? Fever?"

"One that has followed a course that I confess is strange to me, and my skill has not relieved her of it.” Narika confided, her voice betraying her emotion. “I have consulted your sister Yalisha, and she suspects it may be some poison. She has heard of such things in Umbar, things delivered through the skin by dart. And though she has given many herbs to use, still my mother suffers great discomfort. Oh that this illness could be overcome and we both could give you welcome!"

"Being with you truly is welcome enough.” Thorn said trying to take in what he had heard. “Come, you are weary. Let us keep watch together…when did this sickness begin?" Thorn asked dreading her answer.

"The evening before last."

Closing his eyes, Thorn felt helpless, for he too had heard of these barbarous poisons and their reliable outcome.

"Yes please Thorn, and speak with me of what we should do, for Surinen had reported a strange maenwaith that he and Narayad had met earlier at the next well on our path. He spoke that he thought this same one might have visited our camp without our detecting him. And I find I do not know what tomorrow might bring, or the day after. But if this is some act against us, I can not let it pass."

Thorn raised his dark eyes at this, "A maenwaith, you say?"

"Surinen and Narayad seemed quite sure of it," Narika replied, leading the traveler to sit at her mother's side. "They said they saw him fly away toward the sea."

"Did they say if they saw him in a mannish aspect also?" Thorn pursued, troubled by this news. It had not occurred to him that the figure he had seen in Umbar could be anything but of Haradrim descent, but it now appeared he must be, for how else could his clan be found so rapidly.

"Why do you ask? Have you seen him as well?"

"I may have, though I hope not, for the one I saw had an evil intent and surely one of our kind would not be so low as to accept payment to …." He trailed off looking at Ayar and lowered his head to his hands. After a short time he spoke, his voice and words chosen carefully. "Narika, this one I saw, Wyrma had engaged for some malevolent course against us, against your mother. This is why I have come; this is the news a carry, a warning of a threat. And now I find that it may have already come to pass! Ordered and carried out by a maenwaith's hand? I cannot believe it! I do not believe it!"

Just then Narayad's wife, Latah, entered carrying a steaming wooden bowl. She hesitated seeing that she had come at an awkward time. "I've prepared the infusion," she said waiting by the door.

"Come, come Latah," Narika said.

Her mother groaned, wincing as together she and Latah gently rolled Ayar on to her side so that they could bath her neck, Ayar eyes flickering at the touch of the warm water. Feeling the gravity of the situation, and reeling with the rapidly shifting in the position of the eagle clan, Thorn watched absently as the women finished their duty and he pondered what he had learned.

“Latah!” he called as the Narayad’s wife drew open the canvas to leave. “ Please ask Surinen to come here as you go. I need to speak with him, and fetch Narayad as well.” The woman nodded and closed the flap behind her. Then turning to Narika he said, “I wish to hear all he knows about this strange maenwaith”
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Old 04-09-2004, 04:10 PM   #156
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Surinen

Sitting cross-legged in the darkness outside the tent, Surinen stood up as Latah emerged into the clear night air. “How is the Meldakhar?” he asked as she stopped to address him.

“She is no better, Suri,” she said looking worried. “And the flush has now crept further down her back. But I will speak to you of it later, cousin. Thorn has asked for you, and I go now to find Narayad and tell him to come here also. I will bring coffee when I return for it will be a long night tonight.”

Surinen entered the tent with his right foot first, as was proper, and carefully smoothed out the flap behind him so that no draft might enter to disturb the leader of his kin. Walking over to where Narika and Thorn sat by the bedside, he prepared to wait patiently until they were ready for him, but Thorn, seeing him arrive was eager to speak immediately.

“Sit here with us Surinen," he said. "Narika has told me that you and Narayad have met a stranger lately on your path, and that you felt he might have been at our camp as well. This is unfortunate given the health of Ayar, and I should like to have you tell me all that you noticed about this maenwaith.”

“Yes, yes, of course. All that I know!” he replied settling down cross-legged beside them and pulling his legs close. He was glad that Thorn was back; he would know what was to be done with such news.

“When did you see this stranger, Surinen?” Thorn prompted him.

“Narayad and I had just finished repairing a well, the day before yesterday. We were waiting at night for the water to fill it when a voice called for help from outside our shelter.”

“Asking for help?”

“Yes,” Surinen said. “This man, he had somehow gotten stuck in the well and could not get out.”

“This is no time to jest, Surinen…”

“No Thorn, I would not with the Meldakhar sick. No, he was stuck, and Narayad and I got him out and gave him coffee to warm him, for it was night and he was drenched.”

“What was he like? Did he threaten at all?”

“He was a pleasant guest,” Surinen shrugged, “not threatening. He said his name was Rôg, but would not tell us more, though he did not grow angry with my questions either.”

“Ah but what did he say? What did he look like?” Thorn pressed.

“He did ask what we were doing here, but I don’t think the answer interested him much…. I think he was elder to me and maybe a bit shorter, lean and with a round shoulder. I thought him a tattoist at first for his hands looked like a young woman’s with well-kept nails and he had a stain on one finger. Ah yes and he wore a golden stud in his ear here,” he said pinching the top of his own. “But he was pleasant Thorn, I don’t think a threat, but a bit nervous. Maybe a spy? If so, then certainly a clumsy one.”

“Well,” Thorn said turning to Narika. “This does not sound like the one I saw so briefly in Umbar, even were he to disguise his true intent. But I am sure that spies and cutthroats know how to be innocent too. You of all people Surinen should know that the same teeth that smile at you are the ones to bite you!”

“Yes, I do know,” he said with a broad smile. “The troubling thing is that I thought I had picked up his scent again by the fire circle on our return, but there was also some other odd smell and the prints of a heavy horse, outside camp.”

“Yes that is worrisome…” Thorn said, looking at Ayar as he was thinking. But suddenly he spoke again “He fell in the well you say?”

“Yes,” Surinen acknowledged, smiling. “And he grew nervous when we found him a great buzzard outside. So nervous, he gave us back our coffee before flying away.”

“That was not pleasant of him.”

“No, you are right it was not kind.”

“Friend, Narayad should be on his way here. I would like you to meet him and go back to the place where the odd smell came from. I know that the storm must have destroyed all trace now, but I would like you both to keep watch on our boundaries starting from there tonight. See if you can find any new scents, while you are out or more of the same. There is undoubtedly something happening, and I would like you both to join in the guard.”

Surinen glanced at Ayar, than back at Thorn. “Don’t worry Suri,” Thorn said comfortingly. “I will stay with Ayar while you are away. You go and help protect our kin.”

Surinen, bowed slightly to Narika and walked toward the door. He did not wish to leave, but slowly and obediently went in search of Narayad.
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Old 04-10-2004, 11:34 PM   #157
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Ráma:

Peering out from under the overhanging cliff that marked the beginning of the complex of caves, Ráma impatiently watched the late afternoon sun inch lower in the sky until it finally sank beneath the horizon. She was still bitter at Mithadan and Airefalas for placing her in this predicament. The small voice echoing inside her head that had earlier urged her to leave Umbar and return to her family was becoming more insistent. For over an hour, she debated back and forth whether her promise to the Men was binding, when they had so casually dismissed her aid. Despite her desire to believe otherwise, she could not help but feel that a pledge given in good faith should be honored, even if those who were its beneficiaries had shown less than full trust and gratitude.

Still, this did nothing to assuage her thirst or discomfort. In her desire to shield her friend Lena from the unwanted inquiries of the stranger, she had ridden out of the Inn only half prepared to travel, the most important omission being that she had neglected to fill her water skin. This large leather pouch with the clan’s eagle crest, the one she normally used to store water for treks across the desert, hung flat and limp at Kyelek's side.

Since crossing the desert without sufficient water would be reckless and irresponsible, Ráma felt compelled to pay a visit to one of the nearby neighborhood wells once it was fully dark. She planned to wait several hours until traffic on the streets had thinned out a bit, but before the brigands and thieves had come out to ply their trade. Traveling on foot seemed like the most unobtrusive way to reach the well, which was no more than a few streets away, but there was still the possibility that her unknown pursuer would surface and require her to adopt a faster means of travel. Reluctantly, she concluded that she needed to saddle up Kyelek and ride over to the public square, filling her leather pouch and returning as quickly as possible.

By the time Ráma set out, the citizens of Umber were shuttering the windows of their homes and latching their doors for the night. Songs and snippets of conversation still floated out onto the street from those public houses whose doors were flung open to welcome travelers seeking shelter. Ráma listened as intently as she could, but could hear no references to troubles in the harbor or other news of the visitors from Gondor. Mithadan and Airefalas had seemingly vanished with the Star and would likely never return.

Ráma dismounted and approached the well on foot, leading her horse behind her. Only a few latecomers lingered in the public square chatting with each other or heading back towards their homes carrying containers of water. Ráma stood beside the well and let the bucket down, and then cranked it back up again, repeating this process several times until the bag was full. With some difficulty, she shifted the heavy skin onto Kyelek’s back and secured it tightly with a rope before turning and preparing to leave the square.

At that instant, her departure was unexpectedly delayed by a long line of servants striding in from a side alley and trooping purposefully through the square, their livery identifying them as retainers of Falasmir. Ráma instinctively backed off into a nearby cubbyhole to avoid being seen, as she peeked out at the parade that was now making its noisy way back towards the palace. There were large cages set atop flatbed wagons bound all around with chains. Inside each of these square metal boxes were imprisoned one or more large predators---leopards, hyenas, jackals, and wolves---discontentedly pacing in circles or staring out with sullen eyes. Most of these unfortunate beasts were desert dwellers taken from the wild and now bound for Falasmir’s palace menagerie.

Ráma looked at the scene with disdain. She would not hesitate to hunt down these beasts for food or to protect her kin from attack should that be needed. Yet to collect them in some haphazard fashion and force them to fight against each other, as was commonly done in the palace menagerie, seemed to go against everything she had been taught about respecting these beasts and the elements of swiftness, strength and grace they embodied. These were creatures who deserved to live free in the desert, not here in the miserable cages that the Lord of Umbar deigned to provide for them. She glanced at one wagon near the end of the procession where a single spotted leopard glared out through the bars, snarling in protest and exposing a line of razor-sharp teeth.

When the creatures and their keepers had finally passed by, Ráma slipped into the alleyway, forcing the distasteful image from her head as she prepared to lead Kyelek back to the caves. Suddenly, and with no prior warning, a wave of nausea and lightheadedness overcame her. Unable to keep her feet, she lurched awkwardly to one side and staggered a few paces over to where her horse was standing. She leaned against Kyelek's withers in an effort to steady herself until the dizziness let up. Several citizens of Umber scattered around the square stared curiously at the stranger who was apparently drunk or ill. But to Ráma's dismay, there was no letting up. Her physical form began to waiver and merge into another shape. This time it was not a housecat, but a larger beast, the one she had been contemplating just a few moments before. There were screams of dismay from the onlookers as a spotted leopard paced in a circle beside the well, glared back towards them showing a row of razor-sharp teeth, and then turned to pad away.

Ráma tried to push down her feeling of panic and the rapid thumping of her heart. This should not be happening. To be late in taking on forms was one thing; to be unable to control those forms once they came on was something far more serious. There was nothing in her culture or upbringing to prepare her for this. She veered out of the square, with Kyelek trotting alongside her. Far behind, she could glimpse several of Falasmir’s liveried servants who had run back from the long procession with chains and sharpened spears in their hands, apparently intending to recapture the wild beast whom they assumed had escaped from one of the cages.

Aware of her danger, Ráma took off like a bolt of lightning slipping through alleyways and squeezing under gates to shake off her pursuers. She raced on silent paws through Umbar's maze of streets and courtyards, which were thankfully free of too many onlookers, by springing from shadow-to-shadow and charting a random path. She finally managed to shake off the Men with their hated chains and spears. Even with her convoluted path, she had been careful to stray not more than a few streets away from the city gate and the safety of the caves. Under cover of darkness, she managed to slink outside the walls without attracting more attention.

Once back, the first thing Ráma noted was that Kyelek had also managed to return to the caves with the waterskin tied to his side. She threw herself down at the rear of the first cavern, too frightened to venture out again and not really understanding what had happened to her. Again and again, she tried to shift into her human form, but with absolutely no success. Ráma finally fell asleep on the sandy floor, still in leopard form but too exhausted and confused to think about the men from Gondor or to wonder what would happen in the morning.

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Old 04-11-2004, 03:49 AM   #158
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Rog

The little bird flew to the rocky outcropping that stood on the edge of the camp. Hidden in the recesses of a scraggly desert bush he poked his head out to see if the way were clear. A young man, patrolling the edges of the camp, drew near his hiding place, and Rôg just had time to withdraw his head from sight. He wondered, as the fellow paused for a moment to bend over and retie a loose sandal strap, that the man’s ears could not pick up the loud, wild thumping of his heart. An eternity passed, or so it seemed to the little bird as he stood frozen in place, before the brawny legs went on and out of sight.

Rôg hopped out to the edge of the twiggy bush and flew quickly to the top of one of the outlying tents. There was a light breeze that riffled his feathers as he clung to the pole that held a pennant. A grey barred pennant, he noted. This was indeed the camp he had spied out that previous night, he nodded in a pleased manner to himself, remembering the glint of the firelight off the small streaming banners that fluttered round the story-teller’s campfire. He cocked his head, looking for the tent on which he’d perched to hear her tell her stories. And there it stood, further in at the hub of the encampment.

The tent flap was closed, but he could see a small streamer of light come out from beneath it, and there at the top, a small stream of smoke bent in the wind and flew east. He was about to fly closer to this central point for a good view of the camp, when the flap of the tent was thrown back quickly and a familiar looking figure stepped out into the moonlight.

Surinen!

So this was the camp for which he’d been an outrider. Worry warred with duty on the man’s face, and duty won as he shrugged his shoulders back and hurried off on some errand. A sense of sadness had passed over his features as he turned from the tent. ‘What’s this?’ wondered the little bird, gliding quickly to one of the tent’s poles, and peering down the hole from which the smoke was escaping. He could hear the quiet, worried murmuring of voices from below . . .

~*~

A small, unremarkable brown moth clung to the fabric of the tent and inched its way into the shadowed valley between the folds. Below him on a low bed lay an older woman, face turned up toward him, eyes closed; her dark hair lank as it splayed out on her pillow. Her skin was flushed and damp, her breathing shallow and a little rapid. The light covers that were drawn over her chest fluttered up and down but barely. She was quite ill, he could see, and the two who sat near her bed spoke softly so as not to disturb her, though often their hands lay lightly on her arms or forehead when some tremor came on her.

Her face looked familiar, and for a brief moment he thought he was looking again at the one whose stories he had heard round that earlier fire. But then the woman who sat on the mat closest to her bed sighed and arched her head backwards, easing the strain of worry from her shoulders for a bit. This was the story-teller! The lovely features of her aquiline face were now pinched with concern for the woman beside her. Her daughter, thought Rog to himself noting the similarity in their features. Rôg strained his tiny moth ears to pick up the muted conversation of the pair below.

‘. . . poisoned,’ he heard. Something unknown to them; they could not stay its course as it crept through the older woman’s system. Talk of someone or someones unknown who had been in the camp . . . Rôg’s antennae twitched uncomfortably at this, thinking that one of those scents was probably his. He caught the name, ‘Ayar’, and with it the man had spoken of her as ‘the Meldakhar.’ His breath already suffering from the smoke’s egress, caught in his throat.

Some one had tried to kill the clan’s leader, and it looked as if the attempt would prove to be successful . . .

~*~

The little moth stayed a little longer, wanting to hear the man speak. He could tell from the way he sat close at the clan leader’s side he was fond of her, and fonder still of her daughter, his eyes straying often to assess her worried face. Thorn’s words, he had heard the woman use that name, brought a chill to Rog’s heart. He was speaking of some news he had hurried to bring from Umbar. News of one of the other clans moving against this one. Wyrma, it was, the leader of the Wyrm clan and the supposed leader for all the maenwaith clans had contracted with an assassin.

An assassin! Maenwaith killing maenwaith . . . the idea so appalled the little moth that he lost his grip on the tent fold and went spiraling down toward the floor, tail end over antennae. His six feathery little legs scrabbled frantically in the warm air current from the fire until he had righted himself, and was able to open his wings to catch the rising thermal. His faceted eyes caught the movement of the man as he turned his face upward to see the falling moth. A few flaps of his wings and Rôg was out the smoke-hole and heading toward the meager camp where Aiwendil had bedded down.

~*~

Flying as a moth was tricky business - progress subject to the whims of any breeze. As soon as he was beyond the perimeter of the camp, Rôg quickly changed back to his Bee-eater form and flapped furiously until he had reached the old man’s snoring figure. With an unceremonious landing by the sleeper’s face, he kicked up a cloud of dust with his feet trying to halt his forward motion and careened into the man’s nose.

‘Wake up!’ he squawked, backpedaling with his wings to avoid the hand that had come up to push away the disturbing ball of fluff and feathers. Rôg grabbed hold of a long tangle of grey streaked hair and gave it a decided yank.

‘Wake up! You were right about there being some trouble. If you have any talents as a healer you’re needed.’ Rôg bent down and cocked his head to look at the blurry eyes just coming to wakefulness.

‘You’re needed . . . did you hear me?’ he asked again. ‘Some awful creature has poisoned the clan leader . . .

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Old 04-12-2004, 06:36 AM   #159
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As the evening progressed at the home of Korpulfr, Airefalas found himself remaining silent, for the most part merely listening to and observing the company around him. Although the food was quite good, he ate and drank lightly, only enough to be polite, not wishing to be sodden with heavy food and drink when he and Mithadan later made their move toward freedom. Surprisingly, the portion of conversation he found most interesting was the bit in which Mithadan told about his friend Bird, who had once sailed with him on the Star. Remembering his earlier impression that Mithadan had been concealing a secondary purpose in coming to Umbar in the first place and remembering his captain's lack of surprise at the shapechanging abilities of their friend Ráma, he felt certain that he had not only been correct in his impression, but also that he now knew what that secondary purpose was. Mithadan was using their little trading mission to search for his friend.

While the idea barely caused Airefalas to raise an eyebrow in reaction - had it been himself in a similar situation, he might have done the same thing - he found himself wondering why Mithadan had chosen to confide this information to this particular group of individuals. Their hosts seemed to tense noticeably as long as the subject of shapeshifting dominated the conversation, only to relax once the topic moved on to that of trade or the availability of certain goods needed in Umbar that might be obtained in the future from Gondor. That did cause him to raise an eyebrow. He noticed, too, the way that Mithadan carefully omitted any mention of Ráma. Obviously, Airefalas decided, there was more happening here than he fully understood. With that in mind, he also decided that he could best serve himself, his captain, and the situation by keeping his mouth shut. He would find out what he could from Mithadan later, provided they found the opportunity to talk.

Finally, as Mithadan rose and with a wide yawn began to take their leave of their hosts, Airefalas rose as well. As casually as possible, he picked up his bag and, reaching inside, checked by touch that the knives they had secreted inside were still there. Satisfied that they were, he gave an almost imperceptible nod to Mithadan as Korpulfr escorted them to the door.

Airefalas listened quietly as Mithadan and Korpulfr continued to chat amiably, even as he and Mithadan retrieved their swords from where they had left them at the door and buckled them into place. Then, as they were leaving, Airefalas bowed politely to their host, thanking him for his hospitality.

On an afterthought, he added, “Good fortune be yours in the days to come.” It still troubled him that the merchant could be endangered by the timing of his and Mithadan’s planned escape. Korpulfr had thus far shown the two of them nothing but kindness and courtesy. Airefalas wished no ill to befall him or his house as a result.

The Umbarian merchant merely nodded in polite response. “And be yours,” he answered, but any further remark he might have made was cut short by the intrusion of Seft, Mahat, and the other guards from the palace.

“Yes, and be all of ours as well,” grumbled Seft. “It’s about time we were heading back to the palace. The hour grows late.”

Airefalas glanced up at the cloudless night sky, his gray-green eyes idly cataloguing the many constellations of stars that littered the heavens above them. “Oh, it’s early yet,” he said amiably, remembering the instructions Mithadan had communicated to him earlier. “Seeing as we’re so close, I thought we might take a turn around the markets before going back.”

“It’s out of the question,” answered the guard. “The markets are far too dangerous at night for foreigners such as yourselves.”

“But that’s why you’re here, isn’t it?” asked Airefalas. “I should think that four of you would be quite ample to protect us from anyone who might wish us ill. Besides, we‘re armed ourselves, you know, which makes six of us altogether. That should be more than enough swords between us to fend off anything short of a small mob.”

“What’s too dangerous?” asked Mithadan, joining the conversation late after bidding Korpulfr a final good evening and seeing the doors to his house closed behind him.

“Your friend here wishes to go to the markets,” explained the guard. “I’ve tried to explain to him that while the markets are not safe during the day, at night they are treacherous. It would not be wise to venture in at this time of night.”

Mithadan laughed. “Oh, poppycock! I think it’s a capital idea. I’d very much like to walk off some of this dinner before retiring for the night. Besides, Airefalas is right. We have more than enough swords between the lot of us to keep any troublemakers at bay.”

The guards exchanged disgruntled glances between the four of them, clearly trying to decide if they had the authority to veto the plan outright. In watching them, Airefalas noticed that two of them, his old friend Raal for one and another whose name he did not know, seemed to have taken generous advantage of the spirits Mithadan had had sent out to them. Though they tried to mask it, both seemed at least three sheets to the wind. The other two seemed a little flushed but otherwise well in control. Airefalas grinned at them pleasantly, then shrugged and fell into step behind him as Mithadan began to walk purposefully in the direction of the markets. The discussion ended by Mithadan’s abrupt departure, the guards followed, grumbling, at their heels.

Jogging a few paces to catch up, Airefalas fell into step beside Mithadan. “Two of them are quite drunk,” he said softly in Quenyan. “They can be dealt with fairly easily. The other two may present a problem.”

Mithadan nodded. “I noticed that as well,” he answered, also in Quenyan. “We must watch for an opportunity and seize it.”

Airefalas nodded.

Upon arrival in the marketplace, the Gondorians found the atmosphere in the night market much changed from the daytime. Most of the day’s vendors of dry goods and wares had closed their booths and gone only to be replaced by all manner of food and wine vendors. Open fires burned at intervals up and down the rows as street performers took charge of nearly every street corner, wowing the mostly male and mostly drunken crowds with amazing feats of acrobatics, fire-eating, and sword-swallowing. The smell of spice and roasting meat filled the air. Looking around, Airefalas smiled to himself. The potential for chaos was boundless. No wonder the guards had been leery of coming here.

Falling back slightly from Mithadan’s side, Airefalas soon found himself walking beside Raal, his drinking companion of the day before. He noticed with amusement that Raal now walked with a slight weave. They had not gone far when Airefalas paused before a booth where a young woman danced to the accompaniment of a pipe and a dumbek, his curiosity piqued not merely by the beauty and grace of the dancer but more by the image of the cobra she bore tattooed on her bare stomach. In the flickering firelight, the snake seemed to twist and slide with a sinuous movement of its own. Raal stopped beside him, also staring at the figure of the girl. Seeing them, the dancer beckoned to them to come closer with shapely arms that were bare but for dozens of jangling silver bracelets and a single upper arm band in the shape of a coiled snake. The ruby-colored eyes of the snake flashed in the firelight. When neither Airefalas nor Raal made any move to enter the booth, she danced toward them, her slender hips twitching gracefully to the beat of the drum.

She stopped before Airefalas, her delicate hands reaching out and closing around the hilt of his sword. Fighting the sudden urge just to let her have it, Airefalas smiled and shook his head. He removed her hands from his sword and pressed a gold coin into her palm instead. The dancer fluttered her long eyelashes at him in thanks and slid the coin into her spangled belt. Then, with a swirl of skirts and brown skin, she moved on to Raal. Before the inebriated guard could react, she reached out and pulled his sword from its scabbard. The blade flashed red and gold in the firelight. All Raal could manage was a surprised, “Hey!” as she spun away from him, the sword held high above her head.

As the guard took a step toward her, two men appeared out of the shadows to bar his way, daggers drawn. Airefalas watched as they positioned themselves between Raal and the dancer, who swayed enticingly just beyond his reach, his sword balanced on its edge across the top of her beautiful head. As much as Airefalas would have liked to see how this little tableau played itself out, he knew enough to recognize an opportunity when he saw one. Mithadan and the remaining three guards had already moved on into the market. If he could lose Raal here, that would leave only three guards rather than four for him and Mithadan to contend with later. He turned and slipped away into the crowd.

Catching up again with the others, it was a few minutes before Seft turned on him angrily. “Where’s Raal?” he demanded.

Feigning surprise, Airefalas turned and looked back in the direction from whence he had come. “He’s not here?” He paused, then shook his head in bewilderment. “I was watching one of the dancers. I thought he was behind me when I left.”

“Well, he’s not,” answered the guard.

“What dancer?” asked Mahat, rounding on him as well. “Where did you leave him?”

Airefalas shrugged. “I don’t know. It was the snake lady. She had a snake tattooed on her stomach.”

The two guards exchanged a look.

“Jazeera Badu,” said Mahat grimly.

Seft added for the benefit of the Gondorians, “It is said that she bewitches the unwary then leaves their bones to bleach in the desert.”

“The wary, too,” murmured Airefalas under his breath, remembering the fleeting temptation he had felt to give her whatever she wanted.

“Perhaps you should send someone back for Raal,” suggested Mithadan helpfully.

Seft nodded and with a gesture dispatched Mahat back into the crowd. “We wait here,” he said to Mithadan and Airefalas. Mithadan nodded agreeably, but as soon as Mahat had vanished from view, he wandered across the street into the tent of a food vendor. Airefalas followed. The vendor grinned at them broadly and gestured to a deep cooking pot suspended on a tripod over a low fire.

“A true delicacy,” he exclaimed, pointing down into the pot. “Steamed in nothing but water and cayenne.”

Curious, Airefalas leaned forward and looked down into the pot. His stomach lurched as he realized that it contained nothing but hundreds of steamed black scorpions. Perhaps if I were starving... he thought to himself. He smiled at the vendor and shook his head. Just then he felt a light touch on his sleeve.

“Now!” said Mithadan sharply into his ear.

Turning, Airefalas saw that the fourth guard, the one whose name they didn’t know and who along with Raal had had a bit too much to drink, had chosen that moment to be violently sick in the street. Seft looked on with an expression of profound disgust. When Airefalas turned back toward Mithadan, it was just in time to see him disappear through a slit in the side curtain of the vendor’s tent. Moving quickly, Airefalas followed. By the time the two of them had rounded the back of the vendor’s tent and could spare a glance back into the street, they saw that Seft had already noticed them missing. He cuffed the other guard angrily upside the head and strode swiftly across to the scorpion man’s tent. They didn’t have much time.

Last edited by Ealasaide; 04-13-2004 at 11:08 AM.
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Old 04-12-2004, 10:59 AM   #160
Child of the 7th Age
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Aiwendil:

Still half-asleep, Aiwendil groggily shook his head, unsuccessfully trying to claw his way up to consciousness and untangle what Rôg had said. At first the message sounded like gibberish until the single word ‘poison’ etched itself all too clearly on his mind. Acutely aware of the degree of agitation that underlay his friend’s quiet plea, Aiwendil rubbed his eyes with knobby knuckles to clear away the sleep and struggled to his feet. He turned back to the camel’s saddlebag and pulled out a small leather pouch filled with herbs and tiny bottles of potions already mixed and prepared. Hanging down from the camel’s side was a wooden staff that Rôg had rarely seen Aiwendil use. The istar hesitated and then, with a sigh of resignation, solemnly untied it and clutched it in his hand. He balanced the staff lengthwise in his palm as if it was a fine sword, sliding his fingertips over its well-worn facade, still unable to remember the last time he had actually used it.

His bright eyes darted nervously back at Rôg, “You know, I can’t just walk into the center of camp in the middle of night as if I belong there. I am scarcely an expert on the maenwaith , but I imagine they are skittish of strangers even in good times. No matter what I say, they’ll never let me within arm’s length of a leader who has been poisoned....”

Seeing the glint of alarm in his companion’s face, Aiwendil hastily reassured him, “I’m not saying we should sit here and do nothing. Give me a minute to think.” Toting his leather pouch and staff, the old man retreated over the top of a nearby hill, which neatly obscured him from Rôg’s view. He stared out at the distant encampment, hoping to find out how many of the desert dwellers were still awake. Rôg might have flown out to retrieve that information, but, with his new found resolve, Aiwendil felt an old streak of stubbornness surface. He was determined to do some things himself. Sitting cross legged with closed eyes, he let his mind wander out in the familiar manner and, to his surprise, met no resistence either within himself or among the folk of the settlement. A hasty perusal of the fea inside the camp showed him that most of the maenwaith were asleep, even those in the clan leader’s tent. There did not seem to be a guard on duty, and those few Men still awake had gathered in one or two tents on the far side of the compound, seemingly engrossed in conversation.

Aiwendil gathered his belongings on his lap and pulled back within himself, whispering a silent plea to Yavanna. He hunched over and imagined the form he wished to assume as well as the poor woman lying sick in her bed who needed his aid. There was no resistence or hesitation. This time, the transformation came instantaneously with a single flash of light. A small moth, almost a twin to Rôg’s, fluttered on tiny brown wings towards the desert camp, calling back to the small bee eater to follow as he flitted toward the tent where Ayar lay.

Last edited by Child of the 7th Age; 04-13-2004 at 02:15 PM.
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