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Old 07-04-2004, 02:28 PM   #241
piosenniel
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Aiwendil

Aiwendil was in a peevish mood. Blast this ill-starred sojourn here! His mind wandered back to the Lady’s gardens . . . sometimes the colors and scents came through clearly from that time. But this time no comfort was to be found. Only the sandy dust of the camp clogging his nostrils and the tiredness of this old body as he leaned on Rôg’s arm. ‘And what Fates have sought to throw Mithadan in my path?’ he thought to himself. The man had almost let the cat out of the bag as to his real identity.

Lost in his grumblings, he almost missed the whispered questions from his companion. He held back the waspish answer that sought to tumble from his tongue – If you hadn’t been thrown in my path, young man, I would never have come here; never made some other promise I didn’t mean to and probably will fail in as well . . . He sighed, instead, a long sound that came from the depths of him. Rôg’s eyes were on him, anxious to be of help. But Aiwendil could think of nothing to say.

Never at a loss for words, Rôg pushed on . . . He is as chattery as some of the birds he turns into! Aiwendil thought. But then his companion’s words penetrated his low mood, startling him that Rôg would ask such questions . . . that he would care to ask about such things. And not only were there questions but the promise of a certain return had now factored in to his thinking. Aiwendil had been aware on a certain level that at one point Rôg’s intent had been to reconnect with his clan, leaving the problems of Aiwendil and of the Eagle clan to resolve themselves .

The image of the skittish meara came back to him and he saw the aloof creature take a step closer in his mind.

I must be careful here. . .

‘Let us return to our tent,’ he offered. ‘My throat is dry and these are large questions that you’ve asked. The answers will be longer, I fear, than you might wish to hear.’

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Old 07-04-2004, 03:39 PM   #242
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Rôg

Foregoing the stuffy interior of the tent, the two sat beneath the shade of a nearby lean-to, some cool tea in a flagon between them. Rôg poured a mug for Aiwendil and one for himself, then settled his haunches on the cushion waiting for the old man to speak. Rog’s escort, now that his charge was in the company of Aiwendil, had withdrawn with his own mug of tea and was drowsing in the shade of his own lean-to.

Rôg was aware that the old man’s eyes were often on him, measuring him, he felt, but what mark he had come up to in his companion’s estimation, Rôg could not tell. Aiwendil’s voice was grave as he began . . .

There was much trouble for the Eagle Clan and for those others, too, he had been told by Ayar, who resisted the demands of the maenwaith leader. One of the Wyrm clan, it was, Wyrma by name. Aiwendil went into detail on what she intended to do to build her little empire; how she wished to impose her will on all other maenwaith; how she would retaliate against those who refused her bidding. ‘It was most likely some dark servant of hers who was hired to poison Ayar.’ Much of this was known in some way by Rôg; he had heard bits and pieces of it from others, and had puzzled out what he could. But now Aiwendil had fit the pieces all together for him in a seamless whole, and it sickened him to hear his suspicions confirmed.

The old man’s next words made him break out in a cold sweat, and he trembled at them despite the heat of the desert day. ‘A war is coming,’ Aiwendil began. ‘The Wyrm clan will seek to destroy the old ways and in doing so will destroy the clans themselves. The Eagles will not allow that to happen to themselves without resistance.’

Rôg was revolted at the inevitable outcome of this. Maenwaith against maenwaith . . . The Eagle clan was small, rich in its traditions and its way of life, but with no resources to fight a larger clan with monies and powerful friends at its disposal. His brow furrowed as his thoughts raced furiously. ‘Where are the Eagle clan Elders, Aiwendil? Why have they not come in to aid their people?’ ‘Where are the Elder Eagles?’ he asked once again, not waiting for an answer. ‘Has no word been brought to them? Do they live so far away they do not know what is happening?’ A sudden thought came to him, making him catch his breath at the dread it brought. ‘Do they no longer care for their people?’

On this point Aiwendil was silent. His voice was soft when he spoke again to Rôg. ‘I do not know the answer to that question. I cannot even say if there are Elders such as those you speak of. Perhaps they are lost to the Clan. I cannot say and Ayar did not dwell on them, at least to me.’ Perhaps, if indeed they do exist, they have grown as forgetful as I have these many years . . ., flickered the thought in the old man’s mind. ‘I can only say again that Ayar’s clan and those others who choose to cling to the old ways will be crushed in the Wyrm’s grip if they are not given what help we . . . no, I will say what meager help I can offer. I made no promises regarding you. You will have to do that yourself.’

‘Promises? Offers of assistance?’ Rôg drew back, hand on knee, looking at Aiwendil closely. ‘What promises have you made?’

He looked thoughtfully at the frail appearing, old man opposite him; his image shifting in Rôg’s mind as if beneath the outer covering something other lurked, hidden away. The wondering thought came, unbidden.

And your offer of meager help . . . what do you think you have to give . . .?

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Old 07-05-2004, 02:24 PM   #243
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Nerindel’s post – Sorona

A rush of memories hit her like a tidal wave. Memories of her relationship and friendship with the young woman Surinen now named leader of the eagle clan came to the forefront of her mind, but the joy of this revelation was short lived as Surinen gave her the awful news that Ayar lay seriously ill, worse still that it was believed that someone had purposefully brought this deadly affliction upon their leader. Genuinely concerned she asked if Ayar would be alright, but when Surinen dropped his gaze, she knew that her old friend was grievously ill.

"Do you know who would do this?" she asked changing her question at the young mans obvious distress. Surinen shook his head slowly but admitted that there were some among their people who might. He went on to describe how there where some among their people who believed the Meldakhar unwise and one in particular to whom Ayar's strength was a trial; although Surinen mentioned no names he did seem to believe that the latter was responsible for Ayar's sudden illness.

"But who is that, and to what purpose would this be done?" She asked, but even before she got the words out she knew the answer. Ráma's warning that her mother thought that Wyrma's real dream was to wield a power so great that she could someday humble even the mighty city of Minas Tirith came back to her. She was no longer the innocent young woman she remembered, she knew the evils the hunger for power bred in people, though she wished she did not. If this Wyrma had been corrupted by the lure of such a power and looked to hold dominance over her people, she would allow no one to stand in her way. Sorona suddenly feared for these people, knowing that this Wyrma was likely the one responsible for Ayar's condition. She silently scolded herself for not listening to the warning she had been given, worrying that perhaps she had come to late and that the things her dream showed her were already coming to pass.

"Perhaps it would be better if you saved that question for Ráma, for I know too little and talk too much." Surinen was saying. "And have only been given dreams that I don't understand," Sorona's head snapped up and she looked at the young outrider startled by his choice of words. She continued to stare as the young man looked away search the dispersing crowd for someone.

"Dreams are sometimes all we have," she sighed ruefully to herself as she followed him towards the tent where he spoke to the two men that stood guard outside the Gondorians tent. after a moment he gestured for her to follow him inside, The two Gondorians stood just to the left of the entrance, immersed in deep conversation, which stopped abruptly as she and the young outrider entered. Surinen did not stop to acknowledge the two men but crossed the tent to speak with the young maenwaith woman who busily attended the table set at the far side of the tent. Sorona however moved to join the two Gondorians nodded her head in way of a polite greeting.

"I do not believe my name was given before but it is Sorona," she smiled pleasantly. "I am kin to these people, but have spend most of my life in your lands and the lands further north, observing and learning the ways of the other races that we share these lands with, but as a result I have become as much a stranger here as you are." there was a touch of regret in her voice as she spoke but she pressed on, gesturing for the Gondorians to sit as she dropped her voice to a whisper.

"I do not know of how much you are aware but It seems that our arrival is badly timed, the leader of this clan is grievously ill and from what I have gleaned and what Rama has told me I believe that this Wyrma is the one responsible, I tell these things to you because you are friends with Aiwendil, one of the wise and therefore must be good and honourable people."

"You know the Istar also?" Airefalas asked slightly taken aback, she nodded slightly amused at the young mans surprise, "Yes, though I knew him by a different name, Thorondil, loosely translated in our ancient tongue it means friend of Eagles, rather apt don't you think considering where we are." The two men nodded and she continued, "I do not know if the old man will even remember me and If he does I fear I will not be remembered fondly. I owe the him a great debt, he saved my life once, though at the time I was less than thankful for his services immersed as I was in the darkest depths of my own despair." her eyes became distant as she remembered the horrors she had learned to forget and the life she had forsaken so she could be rid of its pain.

But feeling the troubled stares of the two men she shook herself forcing a reassuring smile, "I do not fully understand what is going on here or why fate has brought you and the wise one at this time, But I have seen this city that Ráma spoke of, in a dream, that is why I am here,"

"A dream!" Airefalas interjected incredously, Sorona's looked at him sharply, but to her surprise it was Mithadan who spoke, "you should not underestimate the power of dreams my friend," he whispered sternly to his first mate, then turning back he urged her to continue. She stared at him for a moment wondering who he was and were he had gain such wisdom, a new found respect welling inside her as she continued.

"At first I thought the dream no more than a punishment, you see I let curiosity get the better of me, I let myself be enamoured by the stories of the Nimir and the tales of sailors of a land far to the west and land that knew no sorrow or grief, a land of peace and tranquility. I wished only a look, to see the white spires that the Gondorian sailors sang about, dismissing the warnings the tales and songs gave out. I was cast back in on a fierce storm, and left with this dream a reminder I thought, that one should not reach beyond their own mortality. At first the urge to come south was strong, but I feared what my return would mean so ignored the dream, brushing it of as just that, a dream, something I now deeply regret. What this dream show to me fills me with such fear and dread, that I will only share its warning with the wise one and who ever now lead this clan in Ayar's stead, I tell you this much for I believe that Rama is right, if this Wyrm succeeds in gaining dominance over her people, your people will face a new threat and I do not say this lightly, I know first hand how the abilities of our people can be used and manipulated to bring harm to others." She cast her eyes to the ground as she remembered the things she had been force to do in her life in order to survive and in an effort to protect those she had been imprisoned with, slowly she lifted her right taloned foot to show them the mark of her enslavement, a long healed brand in the shape of an eye. The two men gasped audibly drawing the looks of the young outrider and his companion., she quickly replaced her foot to the ground afraid that any of her people should see it.

"There is something I must ask you, they I will answer any questions you have," she whispered hurriedly as Surinen turned to resume his conversation with the young Maenwaith woman.

"On my return to these lands a found myself strangly drawn to a young man who resides within the city of Umbar, I saw you both enter his house. This young man seems to be a merchant, he has distinctive raven coloured hair. I would ask what you know of him?"

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Old 07-06-2004, 08:38 AM   #244
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Ayar makes a final request to Ráma.....

Ayar smiled gently and stroked her daughter's curls to try and reassure her that things would be alright. Miri and Claris had also returned with Yalisha; the three were standing at the entrance to the tent. Beckoning them in with a gesture of her hand, Ayar added, "Good, you have finished your errands. Draw near to hear what I say. For Ráma may need a witness to stand before the Elders and swear her words are true. I fear some will not care to hear such things."

Ayar stared solemnly at the familiar figures who now stood before her. One a child of a dear friend, another a loyal grey-haired servant, along with the two gifted if impetuous young women who were among the most adventurous in the clan. The Eagles would need the talents of all four, and many others as well, if they were to survive the threat that was about to descend on their heads.

Ayar looked directly at Ráma and began, "Much blame lies on my head. I ask your forgiveness. I saw the danger coming, yet I deceived myself into thinking it would go away. It has not gone away, and we can not wait any longer. Wyrma and her kind desire only one thing: to destroy the life our people lead and to chase after a hollow dream of power and wealth, of dominion over others."

It was Ráma who interrupted. "Mother, you've done nothing wrong. You have kept the Eagles safe and even spoken out for other clans who were too afraid to say their mind."

The older woman shook her head. "I did too little. Long ago, I should have stood up and said 'no more'. We should have taken a stand, even if it meant bloodshed, rather than running off by ourselves into the desert. But now I finally understand. Freedom for our own clan means nothing, if all the other maenwaith become enslaved. I only wish I was here to share the burden with you for the path will not be easy."

With a heavy sigh Ayar reflected, "Times were so hard during the war. I thought when the Dark Shadow was defeated that we would all be free. Perhaps, there would be time to go back to the old ways, to remember things that even the Eagles had forgotten. With the coming of peace, it just seemed easier to sit back and rest. But there can be no rest when maenwaith raise hand against maenwaith."

Ayar's next words were directed at her daughter who still knelt beside the bed. "Whatever happens, there must be no split within the Eagles. Thorn and Narika should marry, as promised. They will be named leaders of the clan and will jointly exercise the headship, each offering their special gift: Narika, her knowledge of lore and music; Thorn, his skills as a warrior. Each will help the other find the right path. For Narika has an iron will and loves the traditional ways, while Thorn has the strength to reflect on events and decide when a change is needed. And you must help them too, Ráma."

Ráma looked straight at her mother and replied without hesitation, "I understand what you are asking. I pledge my loyalty. I will help my sister and Thorn any way I can." Yet all the while she wondered what she could possibly do.

"You must speak these things to the Elders, Ráma.....to them and, if I can not, even to your sister. The clan must use its wits and heart to do battle with claw and sword and talon and every resource they can muster. You and the others must ride out to the other clans, all those who will listen to words of reason, and rouse them to fight. Invite them to join as equal partners to put down Wyrma's tyranny."

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Old 07-06-2004, 11:26 AM   #245
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Aiwendil and Rôg

‘Eh . . . promises . . . nothing really . . .’ The old man tried to divert the question to one of his own. ‘You’re going soon, then? And did I hear correctly, you will then return?’ He looked down and wriggled on his cushion; fumbling with the hem of his robe, he pulled the cloth of the skirt out straight, over his knees and tucked it in more loosely about his lower legs.

Rôg snorted at this all too apparent evasion and tapped him on the arm again. ‘Your promises . . .?’

Aiwendil settled back with a long sigh and seeing the young man following his movements expectantly, he began. ‘The problem of promises began long ago,’ he said as if to himself. ‘It’s the Ladies, isn’t it? The men you can reason with – why you can’t do such and such and so forth. But a Lady - they always seem to get that little hook in somehow and can’t be refused . . . and somehow, in the end, the promise must be kept, though it take years to do so . . .’

Oh, my sand and stars . . . this may turn into such a long answer that I will lose the thread of what I originally wanted to know! Rog leaned forward, intending to pay close attention to what ever twists and turns the old man might make in his telling.

Surprisingly enough, the old fellow recalled himself from his ruminations. Looking at Rôg from beneath lidded eyes he wondered if he had spoken too much of that first promise. He cleared his throat and sat up a little straighter, his eyes now on the young man’s face, and spoke of the request from Ayar . . . the one to help her other daughter, Rama. He made light of it, saying that he had said he would make himself available to help her as she asked.

‘I don’t have the years on me that you do, Aiwendil. But, it seems to me that that is a rather large sort of promise you have made. Given the immediacy of danger to the Eagle Clan and the imminent death of its leader, surely this Rama will need more than just a few words from you if she and her sister are to face the coming struggle with the Wyrm clan.’ Rôg scratched his jawbone thoughtfully. ‘The way I see it, you will be here a very long time and pulled deeper and deeper into the conflict.’ His brow furrowed as he looked at Aiwendil. ‘I’ve seen some of your little tricks and I half think of you as some reluctant magician of sorts. But, no disrespect intended, you seem a little . . . wobbly . . . if you will, at times. And these seem times that require more than wobbliness. Are you certain you should stay here? Perhaps you should come with me . . . it might be safer.’

Aiwendil huffed a little at the assessment of himself as ‘wobbly’. Young upstart! he growled to himself. Why I could show . . . He stopped himself before the words left his mouth, and would be drawn out no further on this subject. He had made his promise and he meant to see it through as needed. ‘I’ll not be going with you,’ he said instead. I’ll be perfectly fine here.’ He eyed the young man from beneath his shaggy eyebrows. ‘And besides, you’re coming back” Isn’t that what I heard you just say?’

‘Yes,' answered Rôg. 'I’m uncertain, though, how long I’ll be away. You could still come with me. Then, we could return together.’ He looked at his friend hopefully.

But Aiwendil only shook his head, his blue eyes glinting though the two companions sat well within the shade.

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Old 07-07-2004, 09:38 AM   #246
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Ayar speaks to Ráma alone.....

“And now,” murmured Ayar, “I would speak privately with my daughter.”

Miri and Claris had departed, with only Yalisha remaining behind to tend to Ayar's needs. The young healer quickly countered, “Not now. You are tired and must rest.”

“Tired or not, I will speak with Ráma." Summoning her last bit of strength, Ayar sat upright in bed and reassured Yalisha that their conversation would be short. Yalisha promised to return shortly and then slipped away, leaving mother and daughter alone in the tent.

“Mother, are you sure?" Ráma pressed. "Perhaps we should wait.”

With a glint of a smile, Ayar retorted, “Rama, I am ill, but my wits are not addled. Trust me for there are things I must say.” She leaned over to place a kiss on her daughter’s curls before continuing. “First, tell me of Umbar. Not the part about Wyrma or her grand city, for I have heard more than enough about that. I want to know what happened to you.”

Ráma responded with relish as she began to describe the mysterious Eagle who had followed her across the desert and her strange encounter with the two Men of Gondor. Ayar listened carefully but said little. Her eyes registered faint surprise at the name of ‘Sorona’. When Ráma went on to describe Bird, Ayar stared quizzically at her daughter. “Are you certain? This Mithadan spoke of a maenwaith living in the north whose raven hair was marked with a single silver lock?”

“So he said, although the part about the north sounded peculiar to me.” Ráma observed, having no idea what her mother really meant.

“Very peculiar…..” was all Ayar would say.

“But is it possible?” queried Ráma. “I thought our people all lived near the desert of Harad.”

“Possible? Yes, it’s possible. How soon you forget what I taught you! For many years, our people lived in Beleriand, afterwards migrating eastward and then to the south. Only each clan prized its independence. Some chose to linger in one place longer than others, or to push further down the route in hope of staying out of harm’s way. Even in the Third Age, there were clans that split asunder. So it would be possible for a maenwaith family or two, or even part of a clan, to have turned away from the main line of march that led down to Harad. But whether this would account for the mysterious Bird, I really can not say.”

“As to the other, if you should ever see Sorona, tell her that an old friend often thinks of her with affection. Speak to her respectfully, Ráma, for I believe she has known great hardship. Indeed, I am surprised to hear she is still alive.” When Ráma pressed her mother for more particulars, Ayar would only say that it was not right to divulge anyone’s secrets unless that person wished to share their story freely.

"But that's enough of me!" Rama objected. "You said you had something to share. We must be quick or Yalisha will come back and turn me out of the tent....."

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Old 07-11-2004, 05:53 AM   #247
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Thorn and Narika

As they headed back to the flocks together Thorn looked up to see a bird flying swiftly from out of the north. Straight it flew, and directly for the sprawling herds of the Eagle clan, dripping it wings to circle over the heads of Thorn and Narayad before moving on further south. Thorn could see that it was searching for Narika among the foraging herds she viewed. And when it described another slow circle gently descending to the land, Thorn quickly took leave of Narayad telling him to go and refresh himself after his long ride.

Pulling the horse’s reins sharply, he urged his mount away toward the southeast, springing into a gallop across the land. Thorn, keeping his eyes trained to the spot where he saw the messenger alight, arrived just as Narika was readying a horse, to ride out to him. The young messenger still standing at her side, as well as a herdsman with downcast expression.

“Thorn,” she called to him with a clear voice as he rode up. “Ráma has arrived from Umbar and not a moment too soon. She bids us to make haste and return to the encampment, for my mother feels she is soon to be released from the bonds of this world, and I wish to be at her side. We must not delay.”

“You are right,” he said with sinking heart. “Yet we also should not take to the air together so that any might take note of the unusual sight. But go now Narika and fly swiftly. Give me but a little time, perhaps a quarter hour, and I will follow in your path.”
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Old 07-12-2004, 12:12 AM   #248
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Ráma and Ayar say goodbye....

"There are stories I have not taught you or your sister. Tales that relate to the earliest days of our clan. Many of these mysteries go to the very heart of who we are. Normally, this lore is not passed on until the son or daughter of the clan leader marries, or at least goes beyond their teens. But I can wait no longer."

"Do you remember when you were little, and you asked me how our clan first learned to transform into Eagles? I did not answer you then, but now I will. Thousands of years ago, our people lived in the north of Beleriand in the vale of Dimbar not far from the forests of Doriath and Brethil. Our camp lay south of the Encircling Mountains with its great cloven peak called Crissaegrim. At the top of this sheer cliff were the lofty eyries of Thorondor and his kin, those whom we look to even today. For many years, we lived side-by-side with the great Eagles, but there was little contact between us."

"Their ways were nothing like ours. Their great King Thorondor was said to have a wing span of thirty fathoms. Nor were they tame and docile creatures. No mortal was able to command them. Some say there was a mighty lord who held their allegiance, and that he is their master even today. Yet I can not say if this is true."

"One day, an Eaglet was injured fighting off many Orcs, vile creatures similar to those we saw in the last war. When an Eagle became ill or wounded, mysterious messengers usually arrived for their aid. These helpers--some called them Maiar--always came swiftly. We never actually saw them, since the healers would cover the peak with a curtain of mist and no mortal could penetrate that screen. But this time, no messenger arrived and there was no cover of mist: only a sick and very large Eagle sprawled out on the lowest slope of the Crissaegrim."

"Some of our people rushed to see what had happened and crawled up the slope with great difficulty. They administered herbs and water to the bird. Day after day, week after week, our people faithfully went and tended the creature until he was well enough to fly. All the while, the older Eagles hovered above and looked on closely to make certain that we had honorable intentions. At the end, King Thorondor approached and called us his noble children; he rewarded the clan with three special gifts. First he taught us to transform into the Eagles we know today, small but proud creatures who love the high places. Secondly, he gave us two bands of mithril set with amber stones, pieces so small that they could fit about the neck of one who took on the customary Eagle shape. And with the bands came a promise. If the clan found itself in great peril, we or our descendents could fly back and present the jewelled collars, and they would honor the request and come to help."

For a moment, Ráma sat stock still, barely comprehending what her mother had said. She had never heard a tale like this. "Do you have this jewelled collar, mama?" Ráma gasped.

"Sadly no. But I have some idea where it may be. Ráma, you must help find this collar and have one of our people present it to the Eagles. That is the only way Wyrma will be defeated, for she is powerful and cunning."

"But where do they live, these giant Eagles? And how am I to go there when I can not even take on the form of a flying creature? Surely, Narika should be the one to do this." Yet, for one instant, Ráma saw an enticing picture in her head. She was personally leading a flotilla of great Eagles back from the north and everyone in the clan was cheering.

Ayar sternly shook her head, as if reading the image in her daughter's mind. "Do not think to do this alone. That is not what I meant. You do not have the mastery of forms to go flying off for thousands of miles. You must find others to help. As to Narika, she can not be spared even to hunt down this collar. Narika must stay and help lead the clan. She and Thorn will begin military preparations for the battle that is to come. You have the freedom Narika lacks. That is my true gift to you, a gift very rare among our people. As to where the Eagles can be found, some say they went to the Misty Mountains. But that is a lot of ground to search and very far from here."

"But where do I start? And how? Who will help me?"

"Too many questions! But I do have an idea where to begin. Ride out with those who are visiting the clans to rouse them to action. On the way, pay a side trip to the tallest peak in the mountains that stand to our south, and hunt for an ancient crone who goes by the name of Ayka. Whether she will be in human or Eagle form, I can not say. But I believe she can help you find this collar and perhaps will know something about where the Eagles are. Secondly, if they are willing, get the strangers to help. All of them, this Mithadan and Airefalas and Rôg. They will know things about the wider world that we do not. Especially call on Aiwendil, the healer I mentioned. He has some part to play in all of this."

"I'll try, mama, although I do not really know any of these people. And some of the clan will be suspicious of them."

"Perhaps so, but they will need to get over their fears."

Ayar paused for a moment before she continued. "Ráma, there is one other thing that should be done. Whether or not this will work, I can not say. But you must try to hunt down the Dragon clan and ask for their help."

Ráma abruptly stood up, her eyes reflecting her confusion, "Go to the Dragons? You can not mean this!"

"I do mean it. Wyrma and her followers are not the only maenwaith who have the ability to take on the shape of a wyrm. I have heard strange tales that suggest once there were others. Perhaps some of these live even today. Just as I said before, many clans split asunder....."

"But where and how....?"

Before Ráma could ask anything else, her mother raised her hand for silence, "I am not sure. I know far less about the ways of Dragons than I do about our own people. Ask questions as you go along; see what can be discovered. I do not know if there is anything or anyone to be found, but it does not hurt to ask."

"But why must we have Dragons?" Ráma objected. "I don't even like the look of them."

"Ráma, do not judge all Dragons by Wyrma and her kind. The members of the Dragon clan were always said to be the gentlest of our people. With such great power to command, they knew how important gentleness was. Only in times of war, did they unleash their might. And we will have great need of such might. Even a dragon or two could help turn the tide of battle."

"I will try to do as you ask, but what shall I tell the Elders?" Ráma asked.

"Do not tell them too much at the beginning. Trust only your sister and Thorn and a few others that they pick. Many of the Elders have forgotten the old ways, and may not believe what you are saying. Once you have found the jewelled collars, or have spoken with the dragons who still cling to the old ways, you can bring the full news back to the Elders and invite them to help as well."

"But what will Narika say to all this? About the dragons, and the collar, and even the strangers in our own camp?"

"Don't worry. Leave that task to me. I will explain things to her tomorrow."

With that, Ráma bent down and hugged her mother goodbye, promising to return later that evening. Walking out into the bright sunlight, she signalled to Yalisha to go inside and help her mother get resettled. Only after the young woman had made her way back to check on Miri and her family did she remember that her mother had spoken of three gifts from Thorondor, and yet had only described two: the clan's ability to transform and the precious jewelled collars. Tomorrow, she promised, she would ask her mother about that third gift.....

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Old 07-12-2004, 01:24 PM   #249
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Mithadan looked into the sharp eyes of the eagle as he spoke. "Korpulfr is a trader. A rich one by the look of things. He invited us to dinner on the evening we escaped. He was at all times friendly and seemed eager to forge a bond between us for future trading..." Mithadan paused here for a moment and looked over to Airefalas. Then he blinked rapidly as if facts which had seemed unrelated previously were now linked together like pieces of a puzzle.

"He did, however, ask a number of questions about my friend, Bird. She was... or is a shapechanger who was a good friend of mine in the north. She is one of the reasons I agreed to visit Umbar. Most of the other city-folk laughed if I asked about your people, saying shapechangers were but a legend. But Korpulfr did not laugh and Tinar... Tinar was there! And he is Wyrma's son! It appears that Korpulfr may be more than just a trader."

He looked over at Sorona, who bobbed her beak. But she fell silent and turned and hopped away out of the tent, followed by Surinen. Airefalas could only watch as they left, but he spun and growled to Mithadan, "Secrets and more secrets! Whenever we begin to figure things out the mouths of those who know the most slam shut!"

Mithadan nodded thoughtfully. "Perhaps we will lears more from Rad...Aiwendil. He did invite us to dinner. Wash up and get ready."

But Airefalas scowled. "Now we are going to ask questions of an Istar? They are a closed mouthed lot if what I've heard is true...." But he opened his pack and attempted to select a shirt which was less dirty than the one he wore. This proved to not be an easy task...
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Old 07-13-2004, 02:38 AM   #250
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Aboard The Sandpiper

Red sky at night, sailor’s delight . . .

‘Red sky – bodes well for us Mistress.’ Hamar had come up silently behind Piosenniel, his words echoing the old rhyme that ran in her head. ‘Indeed,’ she said, with a nod. Her gaze was taken by a far off pair of frigate birds. They moved gracefully through the air, effortless in their long glides. ‘I wonder if they ever land,’ she thought to herself. ‘I cannot say I have ever seen it so,’ she murmured to herself.

‘Begging your pardon,’ began Hamar, puzzled at her reference.

‘The birds,’ she said, her finger pointing at the faint blotches that skimmed the air, far off. ‘I have never seen one land. They seem to live on the wind.’ Pio laughed at his perplexed expression. ‘No need to answer, Hamar, just doing a little wool-gathering this fair evening.’

She turned from the railing and sat down in a chair nearby, bidding him to do so also. ‘We should be sailing past the Havens of Umbar late tonight , I think,’ Hamar commented as he settled himself against the chair’s back. Pio poured them each a small cup of wine from the flagon on low crate between them. ‘And meet with Faragaer and The Gull late in the afternoon of the following day,’ continued Pio. ‘With any luck, he will have met with one of his trading groups and found some news for us.’ ‘That and a way for you to get in country,’ nodded Hamar, ‘to where you can pick up the trail for Mithadan and Airefalas.’

The conversation fell to desultory observations on the trip south – how the crew was faring, supplies gone through . . . ordinary, day to day things of a ship’s running. Hamar, his wine finished, took his leave to check on the watch for the night.

Pio poured herself another cup of wine and pulled her chair closer to the rail, parking her long legs comfortably on the middle length of thick rope. The sun was just inching down into the waters at the world’s rim, and she knew if she looked behind her the moon would be fat in the darkening sky. Her thoughts wandered, back to voyages made some time ago along this coastline. A smile crinkled the corners of her eyes as a familiar face loomed up and then adjusted itself, growing younger in the remembrance.

Bird’s face . . . twenty-five years ago . . . the same wry smile lurking on the then stranger’s face as on the one of more recent memory . . .

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Old 07-15-2004, 01:01 PM   #251
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Wasim . . . the return of the failed assassin . . .

The more he considered his options the less he like the idea of having to report to Wyrma. He knew, though, that if he did not the long talons of the maenwaith leader would reach out to crush his family. His family . . . A loud weary gasp was strangled back as he thought of his brother, now dead at the hands of the men of the north.

‘Bird’s got a touch of something,’ he heard one of the sailors below say, pointing up at him. ‘Let’s move away before he lets fly something foul.’ Wasim rocked back and forth nervously on the cross-tree of the mast. The headlands that marked the entrance to the Havens of Umbar were in sight, and the little tern stretched out his wings, then folded them securely against his body, waiting for the right opportunity for flight.

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

The two guards eyed him as he stood fidgeting in the hallway, their lips curled in a smirking manner as they considered what their Mistress might do with him. ‘Where’s your brother, eh?’ one of them asked, prodding him with the end of his lance. ‘Give her the wrong answers and you might have the privilege of joining him,’ snorted the other.

Called in at last to Wyrma’s office, Wasim shuffled in and stood disconsolately before her desk, head down. She did not acknowledge his entrance right away, but sat looking through some pieces of parchment that were spread before her on the desk’s shiny surface. Wasim dared a look up at her and caught the image of her face as it rippled over the wood grain. He shivered and cast his gaze back to the floor. The angles of her face and jaw, the glittering orbs of her eyes as her visage passed over the shining surface reminded him too much of childhood stories and the murderous cunning of dragons.

He jerked up his head when she rasped out in a cold voice her command.

‘Report!’

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

Wasim detailed his and Wahid’s plan, step-by-step, followed by a description of what had actually gone on the night of the attempt. He could see her back stiffen at his use of the word ‘attempt’, and he squirmed under her cold gaze. Wahid had been killed and he had barely escaped. And yes, the King still lived.

He’d shut his eyes tight by this time, expecting the worst, but was met only with an engulfing silence. Hopeful, and relieved that he still breathed, he went on. The King and his men had seen him change from man to bird as he flew away. Wyrma’s eyes narrowed at this revelation. Wasim hurried on to explain that they had arrested someone else the very next morning. Someone they called a ‘skinchanger’.

‘Another maenwaith?’ she asked, her brow furrowed.

‘Not one I’ve ever seen in any of the tribes here. A giant of a man, pale skinned with long dark hair and a full beard. He smelled familiar in an odd way, though – I visited him in his cell when he was sleeping. I’ve never seen another like him.’ Wasim pursed his lips, trying to dredge up the last bit of information he had wanted to remember about the man.

‘Baran,’ he said softly, nodding to himself. ‘They called him Baran.’

His reporting done, he cast his eyes down once again, hoping he would make it out of her office alive and safely home . . .

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Old 07-17-2004, 05:33 AM   #252
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Estelyn Telcontar is battling Black Riders on Weathertop.Estelyn Telcontar is battling Black Riders on Weathertop.
Wyrma (and Wasim)

Wyrma sat silently for a moment, her eyes looking past Wasim as she pondered his fate. Then her lips turned upwards in a thin, cruel smile. Yes, she thought, that will serve very well. It is a shame that I will have to look for new tools, but it will not be difficult to find better ones than these were.

Wasim’s head jerked up to look at her as she spoke in her most commanding tone. “You seem to have been more successful as a bird than in human shape. At least you were able to escape from the enemies that way, since you could not deal them a blow. Therefore you shall have opportunity to keep the shape that suits you best. Transform back to it!”

Puzzled by her command, he shivered slightly, then concentrated to obey her. She picked up the trembling little crow in her hands, almost crushing it with the pressure of her controlled anger. A few energetic steps brought her to the corner of the room, where an empty birdcage stood, forlorn and unused since she had banned the annoyingly cheerful singer from her presence. She thrust Wasim into the gilded metal cage and closed the latch before calling out imperiously, “Guards!”

The two burly men burst into the room, weapons lifted to ward off the presumed danger. Their eyes darted back and forth as they came to a standstill before Wyrma, awaiting her command. “Here is your prisoner!” she said, secretly amused at their obvious confusion. “Take him hence and place him in a small iron cage that cannot be opened by anyone.”

My family! Wasim attempted to call out, but all that the Umbarian guards heard was a raucous “Caw!” Wyrma understood him, and answered indirectly, “Ah yes – the cage with the bird will be sent to his family very soon. I am sure they will be happy to have him back alive.”

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

Later that day, she stood before Falasmir, unmoved outwardly, but very uncomfortable inside, a feeling she did not relish. He had taken out his frustration over the state of his ships and port in a tirade on the incompetence of shape-changers to accomplish tasks, and though she had listened with seeming patience, she was seething with the combined wrath over his impertinence and Wasim’s failure. Finally she could contain herself no longer.

“Not my people alone have failed – you forget the destruction of your ships, Falasmir! Gondor has proven harder to wound than you thought in your pride! You should clean the dung out of your own stables before searching for it in mine.”

Falasmir arose from his throne, his face livid with rage. “A fine ally you have proven to be!” he shouted. “You want my help without giving yours in return. You offer counsel and give criticism instead. You have not fulfilled your part of the contract. Leave my city before I have you kicked out of it like a mongrel dog!”

Wyrma’s voice was icy as she answered. “I will gladly forsake you so that you may see to the repair of your harbour and the building of new ships. What does a weak Umbar have to offer my people?” With those words, she turned and swept out of the room, her head held high.

In her room, she directed Elsta to pack her belongings immediately. The maid moved quickly and silently, and before long Wyrma’s clothing and personal things were stowed away in baskets and chests. In the meantime the Maenwaith leader had gathered the papers that her desk held, wrapping them securely and placing them in a leather bag that she carried herself. They were interrupted by a knock on the door.

Wyrma was nearby and opened it slightly to see who craved entrance. When she saw Galandor, she quickly let him in, glancing down the hallway behind him to be sure that no one was watching. “Was I convincing enough?” she asked, her eyebrows raised questioningly.

“Quite!” he answered with a smile. “News of your leaving will spread throughout the city within the hour, I am sure. No one will suspect that you still have contact with anyone here. I wish I could go with you, but I will have opportunity to further our plans here more than ever now.”

“Send me a messenger to let me know how it goes,” she murmured. “Farewell for a time!” As soon as the side door closed behind him, Elsta opened the other. One of their men had brought a cart for the luggage, and they made their way through the corridors rapidly. No guards impeded their progress, but Wyrma breathed a sigh of relief when they had left the city gates behind them. She was on her way home.

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Old 07-17-2004, 02:34 PM   #253
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Chance meeting in Harondor . . . near the mouth of the River Harnen

Time . . . twenty five years ago . . . a fair night, much like tonight . . . a new acquaintance . . .

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‘Name could have been more apt, don’t you think? Flower of the Winds . . . . Hmmph!’

The comment came in a laughing voice from behind her. A close voice, the footsteps light. Pio half turned to see the approaching stranger, her hand coming to rest lightly on the knife in her belt.

It was a small woman, who now stood stock still as the Elf regarded her. Short in stature; she would barely come to Pio’s shoulder standing tall in her boots. Shoulder length black hair, unevenly cut strayed across her jaw line on the left, where the wind riffled the strands. A shock of pure white hair broke the dark field, startling the Elf into a smile as she followed the line of it. The woman’s hands were on her hips, her gaze on the sign swinging lazily by the one rusted chain left to it.

Half-broken, the sign featured the detailed engraving of a Wind Rose, ‘Flower of the Winds’, an old name for a ship’s compass. The colors of it, seen only in bits and pieces, had once been quite brilliant; the sort of spectrum whereby mariners kept to a true course. But the years had gouged most of them from their grooves leaving only dull hints of former glory and the only course left now ended at a ramshackle building with a mug in one’s hand.

The Inn itself stood a number of paces down a dusty track. Not far from the small harbor, the stench of the mudflats that rose when the tide was low engulfed the battered, grey wood building, making the only patrons brave enough to frequent the place the noisy gulls in search of handouts from the cook and, of course, those familiar with the strong spirits brewed by the Innkeeper and his sons. Dried grapes and figs, a pinch of dried hot peppers, mixed with the clear water from the well, and covered with fine date sugar brewed and simmered in their goatskin bladders until declared ‘Right enough to raze a sailor’s throat!’ as it coursed its fiery way to the brave drinker’s belly. And to be honest, the fumes of the fermenting ‘wine’ competed well against the drying mudflats . . .

‘It is a rather putrid posy, is it not’ answered Pio, grinning as she relaxed her guard. ‘But I was given to understand the nectar makes up for the fetid blossom.’

You’ve heard true, then’ said the woman stepping closer, one hand brushing the stray hairs from her face and tucking them behind her ear. She took a close look at the Elf’s face, furrowing her brow as the half-moon’s light picked out her features. ‘What in blazes is one of you doing here?’

Pio declined to answer the woman’s cheeky question. Her business, Elf or no, was her own that night as always. Instead she took another tack, and nodding toward the ‘Flower’, asked if she might buy her new acquaintance a round or two. ‘My name is Piosenniel. ‘Or Pio,’ she said smiling, ‘once you’ve had a drink or two under your belt and your tongue trips over the longer version.’

‘Bird’s mine,’ the other woman offered in return. ‘Birdland, as my Mother named me. And Birdie to some . . .’ There was a frown, as if some other, more unkind names had come to the fore as she spoke. The woman’s hands fluttered as she talked, and now she seemed to push the bothersome thoughts away, grinning wryly as she did so. With a quick movement she readjusted the strap of her small leather pack, so that it hung comfortably from one shoulder.

‘Bird it is, then!’ Pio declared. And how she does remind me of one . . . her bright black eyes . . . the smallness of her . . . the quick, rhythmic movements of her hands as she speaks – as if they were wings and she about to take flight . . .

Pio waited for the woman to draw alongside her then began walking toward the Inn’s front door. But Bird drew her off the path, motioning her toward one of the side windows. ‘Always best to see who’s tipping a cup in the old Flower, if you know what I mean.’

Unsure, Pio followed along behind Bird, waiting for her to peruse what patrons had found their way to the Inn this night. Whoever they were, Bird found the crowd pleasing. Her dark eyes had a certain anticipatory gleam to them as she turned away from the window, and she rubbed the palms of her hands together, though the night was quite warm. Pio was quiet as she walked beside Bird, wondering what sort of companion she had fallen in with as the woman murmured softly to herself, the words bearing an undercurrent of confident glee.

‘Come to Birdie, my little pigeons . . .’

The Innkeeper nodded at them as they entered, and coming near to Bird, spoke low. Pio stepped away to find a table, but couldn’t help but hear the warning to ‘keep it on the up and up’ from the man. Bird only nodded, smiling, and said, ‘Of course!’ Her eyes slid about the room slyly taking the lot in.

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

It was soon evident what Bird had in mind for the customers in the common room. She sized up those who were ripe for the plucking, and stood them to a glass of spirits. Clearing a spot on the table before her, Bird drew a soft leather pouch from the waistband of her breeches and fished out three walnut shell halves, well polished from all their handling, and a perfectly round, dried pea-bean, bright blue in color. She laid them aside, and with a fumbling hand took off the yellow velvet scarf tied round her slender waist, smoothing it out on the table’s top. And all the time, she kept up a running patter for those whose attention now focused on her, drawing them in with her smiles and assuring words.

‘An easy bet,’ she nodded, putting a small stack of copper coins to one side of the velvet field. ‘Especially for such hawk-eyed men as yourselves,’ she went on, winking as she said it to confirm her high opinion of them. They laughed at her clumsy antics, her fumbling fingers and the snort of disgust she made as she dropped one of the shells on the floor. ‘Easy pickings this one!’ one mumbled to his companion, giving her a knowing leer as she stood back up again. She colored, shrugging her shoulders at his assessment of her. ‘Just give me a small chance, won’t you. A girl’s got to make her money for drinks and eats somehow, now doesn’t she?’

‘And this one’s not the sort can rely on her face to get her by can she mates?’ The leering fellow nudged those near him who in turn laughed at his crude jest.

Pio had drawn her chair a little ways away, and sat watching Bird work the little group. The small woman gave only the appearance of ineptness, or so it seemed to the Elf as she followed her movements. She’d bought another round of drinks for ‘her friends’ by now and had them off their guard with her clumsy movements and apparent newness to the game. Still, Pio noted the men were all armed, stout sticks mostly and the occasional knife in the waistband. She wondered if Bird had taken this into account; smiling as she saw how the woman had positioned herself across the table from the soon to be players. And with a direct path to the door! An admirable tactician, Pio thought, nodding her head, as the woman went up in her estimation. The Elf kept her eyes on the small ensemble, wondering how many times Bird had done this before.

Bird set the three shells in a row on the velvet, open side up to show they were empty and contained nothing tricksy. The blue colored pea sat like a jewel against the yellow background. ‘See! I just put it here under this shell and move the shells about. And all you have to do is pick the shell the pea is under. Right choice – and you’ve won the bet.’



She nodded at a bleary eyed fellow to her left across the table and grinned at him. ‘You’ve an eye for this; I can tell. I see your keen eye following the shell. Show your mates you know which one it is.’ Bird’s movements had been slow and the man picked out the shell easily. Eager to try his hand again, he placed a small wager, one copper, and bade her go again.

He won the next two bets; then another of his companions joined in and won the next. Bird’s little stack of coins slowly dwindled as eager players joined in. Over the next few shufflings of shells, the luck turned a little, bringing the tide of winning back just a bit to Bird’s side of the table.

Luck smiled one way and then the other it seemed over the course of four or five more rounds of drink. Players came and went; some grumbling at their losses, others happy with a copper or two rounding out their ragged purses. Pio sat with the same drink at hand as when she’d first come in. Beyond the bright patter of the game, a certain table had caught her eye. Set in the shadows at one corner of the room, three shifty-eyed men hunched about it, watching the flow of monies changing hands. And Bird by this time was winning, her now unfettered fingers deftly picking up the majority of her winnings and securing them in the small pouch which hung from her belt. The men’s piggish eyes glittered in the darkness at the soft clink of coins piling one atop the other.

Pio’s attention was drawn back to the gaming table by the sound of Bird’s laughter. ‘Let’s call it even, friends,’ she said scooping the shells and pea up with one hand and dropping them into the same pouch as the coins. ‘My poor fingers are nearly worn to a nub moving the shells about.’ She folded the yellow scarf and stuck it in a side pocket of her small pack. ‘The only moving I want to do now is to a comfortable chair with my fingers round a cup of the Flower’s finest.’

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

It was late when the Innkeeper urged the last of the patrons from the Common Room. Pio had spent an enjoyable time talking with her new acquaintance. Unencumbered by any alliances, political or romantic, both had a certain sense of adventure and enjoyed the freedom of traveling where and when and how they wished. Bird was a good story-teller and one with a wicked sense of humor, much to the Pio’s delight. Her understated assessment of certain individuals she had met left the Elf almost senseless with laughter in the telling. She was not one to defend herself by blade or cudgel. And unlike Pio who always had a sharp blade of one sort or another quick at hand, Bird’s best defense was her quick sharp wit and the sly cunning of the put upon . . . or so the Elf had gathered from the stories she told. And best yet, as the night had worn on and the number of cups drunk increased, Bird revealed yet another facet - the large repertoire of song she had acquired in her wanderings. The two had sung a couple of short ones together, the Elf singing harmony to Bird’s well warbled tune. And Bird had surprised her with variations on the verses she had learned in her travels, a wink and a knowing smile leading into the more bawdy of the refrains.

In short, Pio liked her.

And as talk turned to what each would be doing come the following day, Pio found herself asking Bird would she care to accompany her on a trip north. To Edhellond . . . there were some old buildings still standing there from the days when the Sindar had established the haven. There were records Pio wanted to obtain . . .

‘You’re not talking about libraries are you?’ asked Bird, her mouth pursed as if she had just tasted something quite sour and unappealing. ‘I’m not given much to libraries. Too silent and dusty. Makes me sneeze just thinking of them.’ Inns and marketplaces were more to her liking. Pio assured her she only meant to give a quick look to finding the scrolls she intended to borrow. Bird snorted at the Elf’s choice of words. ‘Obtain . . . borrow? You’re going to steal them aren’t you? And what were you planning for me to do – create a small diversion of some sort?’

Pio was quick to defend herself, saying that technically she believed the information she wanted to retrieve was hers by right and need. And as to a diversion, she hadn’t thought that far ahead, but now as she considered Bird’s offer she thought it a good idea. Bird laughed outright at the spurious logic of the Eldar and at the assumption that she had offered her assistance . . . though if truth be told it sounded like a bit of fun and besides she had heard there was a great, sprawling marketplace in the Havens, with many opportunities for a person of her talents to fatten a purse or two.

Arm in arm they wandered down the dark lane toward the harbor, talking of how they might accomplish each of their needs, should they agree to travel together.

‘You hear that?’ Bird whispered, nudging Pio in the ribs. The crunch of heavy footsteps sounded on the graveled path behind them. ‘Of course, I hear them,’ returned the Elf, drawing her arm from Bird’s and stepping away from her. ‘Get behind me!’ she hissed, knowing Bird was half sauced and carried no weapon. Pio turned drawing her sword, and narrowed her eyes at the dark path. Two hulking figures hunched toward the two women, stout sticks raised for an attack.

‘We only wants the money the scrawny wench has in her purse,’ the nearest one called out; his piggish features loomed closer in the pale starlight. It was one of the men from the Inn. He was close enough now she could smell the sour stench of his breath and hear his breathing. Another followed close behind him. But there had been three at the table, she recalled. Where was the other?

Pio leveled her blade at the forward man, telling him to leave them be. He laughed and swung hard at her sword arm with his thick oaken stick. The man behind him lunged forward with his shorter cudgel, and she caught the flash of steel in his left hand. Stepping back, she dropped her arm, letting it slide away from the intended blow, then brought it round in an upward swerving arc to slash the forward man’s face with the tip of her blade. He fell back, his place taken by the second attacker who beat at her with his cudgel, several blows falling sorely on her upper arms before she regained her stance. One lucky blow from him knocked the sword from her hand and he rushed in close to her, thinking to bash her soundly about the head. His plans were brought to a sudden halt as the knife from her belt found its way into her other hand and she slashed his club arm deeply, then drove the blade into his belly.

With barely a moment to catch her breath, Pio heard a great commotion behind her. There were various streams of colorful swears intermingled with frantic shouts of ‘Away you hellbird! Leave me be!’ Turning she saw the third man engaged in a frantic dance with a small black bird who darted in and out of his stick’s reach and tore at his face as it could with tiny talons and the beak of her rapidly darting white striped head. Pio picked up her dropped blade and hit the man broadside across the head. He fell with a great exhalation into a crumpled heap in the dirt. She nudged him with her toe, then did the same for the others. All were well out of it, though the one with the blade to his gut appeared to be tending toward a more permanent state in that direction. Now where was Bird?

‘You say the ship’s close you’ve got a berth on?’ Surprised, Pio looked up thinking to find her new friend standing near. Instead she felt the grip of the black bird’s feet hard on her shoulder and noted the ragged breathing from the bedraggled creature. ‘Bird?’ she said, looking about as she sought to brush the jackdaw from her shoulder.

‘Here, you half-brained Elf!’ came the little voice from the bird clinging frantically to the fingers that had sought to unseat her. ‘Best we get away from here and quickly. What passes for the guard here seems to have been roused and there’s a small mob of angry men coming down the path toward us.’

The Elf raced for the harbor, the small bird holding desperately onto her shoulder. ‘Skinchanger, then, is it?’ Pio panted. ‘I don’t suppose you could change into something larger and fly us out of here.’ ‘Not a chance,’ returned Bird. ‘Jackdaw, neeker-breeker, and the occasional dolphin – that’s the extent of my repertoire.’ ‘Ah!’ was all the Elf could manage as she slipped beneath the pier into the shadowy waters below, making as quietly as she could for the ship.

They hid in the hold til the ship set sail, coming up to Pio’s quarters only after the open sea was made. The captain said nothing about the addition of a bunkmate . . . the Elf had paid quite well he reasoned, and he was not about to question her. He had done so once before . . . and she had turned his curiosity aside, saying only that her business was her own . . .

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Time . . . the present . . . nearing the Havens of Umbar . . .

Peering out over the moon-shot waves, Pio rested her chin on her steepled fingers, a smile lingering on her lips at the pleasant memory of her old friend. ‘I wish you were here with me now, Bird,’ she thought. ‘I could use your bird’s eyes in picking out two stray men of Gondor lost in a sea of sand, Southrons, and the Stars know what else.

Her thoughts were cut short as Hamar came up softly beside her and pointed to the glittering lights of the far off shore. ‘I’ve ordered “lights out” as we pass by Umbar,’ he said quietly. The wind willing we should make Faragaer’s position late morning of the coming day.’ He looked at her expectantly. ‘I’ve set the watches for the night, and we’re running far out to sea. There should be no trouble.’ As he knew she would, she declined his suggestion that she get some rest. He shook his head, wondering at her reserve, then made his way to his own bunk for what little rest he could snatch.

Pio remained on deck, watching the city and the night pass by . . . her thoughts fixed on planning how she might proceed once they had landed.

By the One, Bird! she growled at a long tailed cloud scudding across the face of the moon. I need your help. Where are you?

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Old 07-18-2004, 08:05 AM   #254
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Surinen

Once inside, Surinen realized with disapproval that Latah was alone in the tent with the two foreigners, and made a mental note to speak sternly to his cousin. She should be more mindful of her safety, for these were not only strangers to them, but also born out of a vastly different tradition. Who knew what customs the people of Gondor might practice, or how they might view their womenfolk. It would not do to find these things out, haphazardly. And Surinen did not feel it should be his cousin who discovered the differences.

In his displeasure Surinen quite forgot the bird that had followed him into his uncle’s tent, and striding briskly away from Sorona, he made straight for the young woman. Dusting off various plates and cups with a cloth as she removed them from a chest, Latah looked up smiling to see him standing before her. And Surinen, seeing Dinsûl’s familiar bowl on the table and looking into his cousin’s upturned face, lost all resolve, tempering his words so that he might not risk frightening her. “Latah, you should be more cautious,” he reminded her. “It is not right that you should be alone among these men.”

“But the whole village waits, listening outside the tent,” she said hurriedly resuming her work. “And there are guards at the door, Suri! What trouble should I find here, that they would not know of immediately? And besides, these men apparently have not caused Ráma concern, or she would have taken pains to lose them in the desert.”

“Even so you should be wary. We know nothing of them or their ways,” Surinen declared looking at the Gondorians with unmasked suspicion.

Latah also stole a glance at them once again, but her eyes betrayed no mistrust, showing rather concern for her father’s guests. “At the moment I would be glad to know simply if they would be opposed to having their food served by my hand. I would guess that they are not, though I am not certain.” Then glancing down to her belt, she showed him the knife that it held. “Look, one of them had Ráma’s dagger. How do you suppose it came to be in his possession?”

“I suppose she might have had cause to throw it at him,” Surinen said muttering under his breath. And then louder, “Which one was it that carried this?”

“The younger of the two.” Surinen regarded him more closely through narrowed eyes. “They say he is the first mate,” his cousin continued. “Let’s hope that the first mates of sailing ships don’t make a practice of stealing women’s knives, or you may never eat mutton again!” she laughed. But seeing that Surinen did not join her in her amusement, she sought to calm his misgivings. “Don’t you worry Suri, I can take care of myself.”

“Can you?” Surinen questioned, intending to point out her vulnerabilities, but at that moment a gasp drew his attention, and he saw Sorona with foot raised, showing it to the men of Gondor. Struck with embarrassment, his face burned as he thought how he had sought to restraint the eagle but a few moments before.

“What is the matter Suri?” Latah asked. “And who is it that talks to our guests?”

“Her name is Sorona, that much I know,” he said feeling self-conscious as he turned back to the young woman. “She alighted in our camp just outside this tent soon after we last spoke. She is maenwaith Latah, and speaks our tongue. I feel she might be one of our clan, but she has known great trouble in her time, and now lives out her days in this form.”

“Does anyone know she is here?”

“I suppose the elders have seen her, though no one of them came forward. In truth I think they didn’t realize she wasn’t one of us.”

“You must find my father and bring him here, Suri.”

“Only if you promise to be more prudent!” the outrider insisted.

“Yes, yes! Just hurry!”

But when Surinen started to leave he saw that the eagle had moved outside also, barely visible through the tent opening. Hurrying, he dashed to follow her thinking she might fly away. In the bright light he squinted, noticing that the ground outside was nearly empty, save for the two guards, one of whom was ready to follow Sorona. Signaling the guard that he would keep her in sight. Surinen called after the bird, “Where are you going?” She stopped allowing him to catch up.

“I must talk to Thorondil or prehaps the elders,” she said. “Would you tell me where they are to be found?”

“I don’t know who this Thorondil is, though I am curious to find out, but I am on my way to find one of the elders now if you wish to come with me.”

“Yes, you also would not know him as Thorondil now, but rather Aiwendil," the eagle sighed. "Then again, it seems he has had many names."

“And many friends other than eagles, but I suppose that is as good a sign as any,” Surinen said. “I will show you the place were he stays, though with no guarantee he will be there. He quite often is to be found with the Meldakher.”

After passing though the maze of tents, they came across an empty and blackened patch at the heart of the encampment, and bearing to the right a small tent with two lean-tos poised beside it. Surinen headed for the larger of these. And coming near it they found the old man and Rôg seated on cushions in its shade, a flagon resting between them. The old man’s bushy eyebrows rose expectantly, as they approached. Bowing slightly to him, Surinen addressed him respectfully. “I have brought to you a friend who has lately arrived in camp and wishes to speak with you, if you will.” Donning an expression that seemed as though he looked both inward and outward at once, Aiwendil shifted his glance from the wiry young man down to the bird that stood beside patiently beside him.

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Old 07-24-2004, 04:30 AM   #255
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Rôg

Little rituals learned in childhood are not easily forgotten. Rôg rose from his seat at once at the entrance of the eagle. ‘We are honored, Elder,’ he said, bowing deeply once Surinen had made his brief introduction of her to Aiwendil, ‘to have your presence.’ As he raised himself back up, he noted the perplexed looks on the two men’s faces, and even the eagle had cocked her head at him as if she did not know what to respond. Embarrassed, the color rose from his neck to flood his cheeks, and he stammered out an apology. ‘I’ve misread things again, haven’t I,’ he asked, looking to the old man for some direction. ‘I think I shall leave you to speak among yourselves before my ignorance comes to the fore again.’ Rôg gave a small bow to all three and withdrew, saying to Aiwendil he would see to the preparations for the evening meal.

‘You are such a fool,’ he muttered to himself several times as he trod the distance to the camp’s well. He had picked up a large pot as he passed his and Aiwendil’s tent, intending to get enough water for tea and the making of the flat bread to serve with the stewed desert hen. He was nearly to the well, when he felt a small tug at the hem of his tunic.

‘Did you do something wrong?’ Miri’s worried voice halted him in his tracks, her frowning face looking up expectantly for an answer. He frowned back, about to remind her she was not supposed to visit him, when she stamped her foot, saying, ‘I promised not to let you teach me any more changing tricks . . . I didn’t exactly say I wouldn’t talk to you ever again.’ ‘And besides,’ she went one, looking about at the others who were nearing the well for their evening’s water, ‘there are plenty of nosy eyed grown-ups about to keep me in line, don’t you think.’ Rôg bit his lip to keep from laughing at the fiery spirit of this Eagle child. ‘I suppose you are right, little mistress,’ he concluded with a grin, resuming his walk. ‘Well, then,’ she demanded, ‘what’s wrong?’

Reaching the well, Rôg lowered the bucket with its rope and drew up more than enough for his needs. He passed the rest on to the next in line, and motioned for Miri to walk back with him. ‘What’s wrong?’ he said, shaking his head. ‘Everything I do, apparently. We both come from maenwaith clan, but our customs are so different I seem to stumble all over myself when I try to be helpful or polite.’ He explained his latest misjudgment to her, telling her of the eagle who had come to visit and how he had greeted her in the way he was taught to greet an Elder.

It was now Miri’s turn to be perplexed. ‘You thought the eagle was an Elder of our clan?’ She screwed up her face thinking. ‘Do your Elders come in your clan’s special shape when they come to visit? And if they come to visit, where do they live and where do you live?’ Miri pointed out some of the tents of her clan’s elders as they walked back to his. ‘Ours live right here with us. Don’t yours?’

‘Some do, little one,’ he explained as they reached his firepit. He let her build up the fire as he gathered the foodstuffs and pans needed for the meal preparation. ‘But a number,’ he continued explaining, ‘choose to live a little apart from us, in the big mountain caves on the rim of the northern desert.’ He set the pieces of hen to frying in the big iron pot, along with a handful of pungent herbs, dried onions and peppers from his pack and when the meat was browned, he covered it with the well water and set to cleaning the tubers one of the clanswomen had given him. He cut those into good sized chunks, letting Miri plop them into the pot as he finished.

Miri sat wondering all the while about that other desert and what it was like. She’d not heard tales of a desert up north, and looked askance at him, wondering if he were pulling a little prank on her. ‘And what do they do there in those caves . . . in the north, you said.’

By this time he had measured out a sizeable mound of flour, and making a little well in it, had poured in some oil, a little water, and a sprinkling of salt he’d ground in a mortar. ‘Mostly they talk to each other, I think,’ he went on, mixing the dough together, then dividing it in half so that she could help knead it on the smooth plank laid out for it. ‘They share the old stories, tell jokes, sing the old songs and make up new ones. And often they come in to visit the clan to see how things are going and to help out where they can. And best of all, to share the old tales and songs with us.’ He smiled at her, pinching the kneaded dough into balls to be patted into thin circles and baked on the flat bottom of a large heated pan. ‘Those are special times, exciting to hear the stories of old heroes and villains.’ ‘I like the stories, too,’ she told him. ‘But Narika is the one who tells our stories.’

‘We visit them, too,’ he continued, ‘especially when we are older than you. Fifteen or sixteen summers . . . that’s when the Elders begin to teach us our clan’s shape and the rules that go along with it.’ He smiled again, recalling his time with them. ‘And by the time we are twenty, for the most part, we have learned the change.’

‘You mean if you were Eagles they would teach you to change to an Eagle?’ Miri’s prow was furrowed as she tried to reason this out. ‘Girls and boys?’

‘Yes, both can do this,’ he said firmly. The stew was bubbling by this time; some of the water had boiled off, and the sauce had thickened a bit. Miri sniffed it appreciatively. ‘That smells good!’ she said with grin. ‘But I’ll bet my mami’s still tastes better than yours!’ ‘Probably so!’ laughed Rôg, throwing up his hands in surrender. ‘But,’ he said, winking at her, ‘my mami’s tastes best of all!’ Miri, in answer, simply shook her head at this statement with an impish grin on her face.

The circles of dough were set to cook on the hot surface of the pan. They required little attention save to turn then when they had bubbled up on top. And when they were done, they were stacked in a little basket, covered with a clean cloth, and set near the fire to keep warm. The kettle for tea was then made ready and set near the fire also to steep. Miri was not quite done with her questions and as they relaxed on their cushions she asked him how far away he lived from her.

‘Right now, my clan is south of yours . . . a number of weeks journey . . . at the south end of the mountains here. But soon we will go back to our real home in the north. The Elders have kept it safe for us. And that is very far from here . . . many, many weeks of travel if you were to come for a visit.’ Miri’s little face clouded over with this answer. ‘But you said you were going to visit your clan and see your Elders and you promised you were coming back,’ she grumbled, just on the verge of tears. ‘Now you say you won’t be back for a long, long, long time!’ ‘I won’t be that long,’ he assured her, gathering her close to him. ‘I promised I’d be back and I’ll hold to that. You’ll barely know I’ve been away.’

She looked up at him with one brow raised, a disbelieving look on her face. ‘And just how are you going to do that?’

He was saved from answering by the insistent call of her brother. It was meal time in their tent. Miri hopped up and ran after her sibling, who had already turned and headed for home. She waved to Rôg and called out over her shoulder, ‘I’ll see you tomorrow!’

Rôg waved back at her and turned back to the stewing hens. Spoon in hand he stirred the fragrant medley, awaiting the arrival of Aiwendil and his guests.
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Old 07-25-2004, 01:37 PM   #256
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Conversation before dinner....

Aiwendil watched as Rôg bowed and hurriedly withdrew from the tent, an expression of discomfort evident on his face. The istar turned away from his companion with a sigh, sensing that he could do little to help the young man, and instead concentrated his attention on Sorona. Aiwendil stared once and then twice at the familiar pattern of brown and grey feathers that covered the Eagle’s powerful wings: he had the distinct feeling that this was a figure from his past he should recognize. Sorona cocked her head and gazed up at him with oddly expectant eyes, half hopeful and half fearful, as if she thought the istar could unearth the central clue that would help her solve a riddle of great import. A stray memory tugged insistently from just outside the old man’s mind, but he could not recall when or where he had first met Sorona.

I cannot be this addled. Perhaps, she went by another name. What sort of Maia forgets such things? Yet, however Aiwendil struggled to discern the truth, he found only grey mists of forgetfulness draped over his mind like an intractable curtain.

The old man felt vaguely embarrassed. Trying to mask his disgruntlement, he stood up straight and formally addressed the bird, “I am afraid we have not met before. Is there something I can do to assist you?”

Sorona’s tail feathers drooped perceptibly. She had never forgotten their first meeting. The woman would not have been surprised if the old man had fussed at her. He was often like that, and she had given him genuine reasons to complain about her behavior. The one thing she had not counted on was that her rescuer had totally forgotten her, like a tiny nameless twig set adrift on a fast-flowing river. But perhaps he had really not forgotten her. Perhaps, her rescuer had been so appalled by who she was and what she had done that he wished to pretend he had never met her. She really could not blame him.

The Eagle replied in an equally formal tone but underlined with nervousness, “Thorondil, sir, I have been having dreams and….”

The old man quickly interrupted, “Please do not address me by that name. A simple ‘Aiwendil’ will do.”

Sorona nodded, “Yes, sir…..Aiwendil, sir. I have been having dreams. I believe these dreams may have something to do with the Eagles and their troubles. In any case, I thought I might speak with someone who could explain what these visions mean. Perhaps to you, or the leader of the clan.”

Aiwendil shook his head. “To me? No, I cannot help you. Ayar may want to hear your story. You might try speaking with her, though I fear she will soon be beyond all our voices, or with her daughter Narika.” The Eagle looked down at the brand on her claw and wondered if she dared speak to either of these women. They were likely to turn her away politely just as Aiwendil had done.

The istar averted his eyes and glanced over to Surinen, hastily adding, “I have guests this evening. Mithadan and Airefalas have promised to come for supper. I am sorry if this inconveniences the folk who have offered to put up the Gondorians. Please give my apologies to their host, but Mithadan is an old friend whom I have not seen for some time. You two are most welcome to join us.”

Surinen shook his head, “Thank you, but I am expected elsewhere.” Sorona nodded her head and mumbled similar apologies as she gracefully escaped out the door of the tent.

“In any case,” added Surinen, “I believe your guests are here.” He gestured towards Mithadan and Airefalas who were just arriving and then left.

Aiwendil added his welcome to the Gondorians, “Ah, I see they have allowed you to come. My companion Rôg has graciously prepared us a fine meal. Please come inside where we may eat and talk.” The two men proceeded to the inner chamber, while Aiwendil went over and drew the tent flap tight. A guard was stationed outside to make sure that Mithadan and his companion did not try to escape. But the canvas walls were quite substantial, and it was unlikely that he would overhear what was being said.

‘Radagast’, ‘Thorondil’… What next? But anything is better than Thorondil! Aiwendil shifted uncomfortably. The last time anyone had used that name was when Olorin had met him near Bombadil’s house to tell him that he would not be going back to Valinor on Cirdan’s ship, at least not yet. He pushed down these unpleasant memories and went inside where his guests were already seated on the pillows on the ground and Rôg had begun to bring in the food.

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Old 07-25-2004, 01:38 PM   #257
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Narika and Ráma

By the time Narika had arrived in camp, most of the maenwaith had already gathered in family circles and were sharing their evening meal. The young woman halted just once, when one of the Elders emerged from a tent and hastily apprised her of some of the happenings and arrivals from earlier that afternoon. After thanking him for the news, she urged her horse forward, dismounted at the entrance to her mother’s tent, and rushed inside after briefly speaking with the guard to make certain that there had been no further mishaps.

Narika fell into her sister’s arms, embracing Ráma with a warmth born of both affection and urgency. Her sister sat near Ayar’s bedside; more ominously, her mother had fallen into a deep sleep from which she showed no signs of waking. Seeing the unspoken query in Narika’s eyes, Ráma responded bluntly, “I fear she is dying. Earlier this afternoon, she spoke with me. She seemed weak but alert. Yet for the past hour, neither Yalisha or I can rouse her.”

Narika glanced at her sister. Unlike Ráma, she had nursed her mother for several days and understood that the poison would ultimately take her life. Her twin had only arrived home and had not had time to accept the situation. “I’m sorry,” she responded softly. “From the first we knew there was little hope. I am only glad you came in time. At least you have spoken with her.”

“Yes, and she had much to say. About what should happen to the Eagles and….”

Narika interrupted. “I will hear your own news and mother’s words later. I think we may need to sit up tonight, to stay with mother. Only now you must go and rest. Eat something, and brush the dust of the road from your clothes.”

Too tired to argue, Ráma mutely nodded her head and turned to leave when Narika’s voice suddenly followed after her, “There is one thing though about these strangers: the men who came with you, and the Eagle… Can they be trusted?”

“Yes, Mithadan and Airefalas have already proven to be honorable men. Mithadan has an errand that concerns a maenwaith friend. And mother knows Sorona the Eagle. She spoke out on her behalf.”

“Sorona, you say?”

“Yes, that is the name she goes by.”

Narika’s face remained impassive but a hint of suspicion showed in her eyes. To her sister, she only said, “This is not a good time. I wish you had left them behind.”

“They are good people, sister. I am sure of it. I will plead their case before the Elders, if it comes to that.”

“You may need to. There are tongues wagging all over camp. And even I would not trust strangers so easily. It is enough that we have extended a hand to Aiwendil and Rôg.”

Ráma started to object but then stopped herself. This was not the time or place for such a discussion. “We will speak of it later then.” She turned and quickly left the tent.

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Old 07-26-2004, 10:07 AM   #258
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Surinen

Making way for the Gondorians to pass, Surinen stiffened and putting on a formal air as he returned the first mate’s courteous nod, he saw no malice in the tall man’s glance, and so relaxed a little. But the moment the two had disappeared into the tent, he went up to the armed guards as they approached, grilling them in his good-natured way, on the behavior of the northerners. He was a little surprised as well as relieved to find their conduct described as faultless, the guard even going so far as to say that they took direction well under the circumstances.

“They seek to make a good impression!” Surinen pronounced wagging his finger. But attention swiftly turned from the outrider to the tent opening when to the dismay of all, the thick flap descended and was tightly secured by unseen hands. “Ah, what plans might be hatched in there? Only the unlooked for dinner guest might discover that mystery!” Surinen winked at one guard knowingly "I’ll leave you to your work then, Yemnya,” he said turning to leave and almost running into Sorona who waited behind him.

“No Surinen, they should not be disturbed,” the eagle advised. “Unless much has changed Aiwendil is honorable, and he would neither harm your encampment nor encourage others to do so.”

“This from an eagle I met only today,” Surinen sighed. “But a wise eagle no doubt, and one who seems to share the same trust in Aiwendil as Ayar.” But Sorona was looking around as he spoke, seemingly preoccupied with some other matter. “Perhaps both eagles are right, and we should leave them be,” then addressing Sonora he said, “Come friend, I know where there is ample food for us and a good lady who would be glad to share our company at dinner.”

“Thank you Surinen, but no. I would speak as soon as possible with Narika, if you would take me to her tent,” the bird said looking rather crestfallen.

“I would if I could, but I can not fly, you see…and she is far away just now. She should return soon though, for her mother has sent for her. Meanwhile, humor me by being the guest of my family, for we would welcome you heartily.”

“Then I will wait with your family until she arrives,” Sorona said accepting the invitation.

When they arrived back at Fador’s tent, Latah had finished sweeping the hard ground and had already put down the mats unrollingthe mattresses to preparing beds for her guests. Neither Narayad nor Fador had come back since Surinen had left, and their plates still sat, covered with a brightly embroidered cloth, at the edge of the table in anticipation of their return.

“Surinen it is you! I thought that Narayad had returned.”

“No it is only me, and bringing a guest to share in your feast,” he replied smiling. “That is if we are invited, and you have enough for us.”

Latah grinned and stepping up to the eagle said, “My cousin has told me about you Sorona. Please forgive Surinen for not introducing us properly; he is rude by nature and not design. And I believe him to be quite hungry by now! I am Latah and you both are most welcome to share food in my father’s tent. ”

“As for her introduction, my cousin is too modest. I would present to you Latah, an excellent cook and generous hostess, and more a sister to me than cousin, as you can see. You are now in the tent of the elder that is her father, and the one I have neglected to look for,” he said sheepishly turning back to Latah. “I have not seen him at all today,” he shrugged.

“Thank you Latah, for your kindness. It has been a long time since I have shared food with others." Sorona said.

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Old 07-26-2004, 01:55 PM   #259
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Mithadan and Airefalas arrived at the tent of the elderly istar just as the eagle, Sorona, and one of the tribal outriders, a lean and wiry fellow they had seen around the camp, were departing. Airefalas stepped out of their way as they passed, exchanging a glance with the outrider, who seemed to regard him with suspicion at best. Airefalas met the outrider's eyes with an even gaze and nodded courteously. The outrider responded in kind, but, even so, Airefalas had the distinct impression that this fellow trusted his and Mithadan's motives about as far as he could spit into a strong headwind, which was not far at all.

He supposed such a reaction should be only expected, considering the timing of his and Mithadan's arrival into the Eagle camp. With the tribal leader lying on the brink of death, the victim of an unknown assassin's strike, and the tribe itself poised on the brink of war, Airefalas knew that they were fortunate to have been granted as much hospitality and freedom as they had. The fact that he and Mithadan had been allowed to keep their weapons and wear them openly was tribute to one of two things: either Ráma's good will and considerable influence within the tribe, or the tribe's underlying desire to see Gondor as an ally, even a distant one, until proven otherwise. Either way, as much as being under constant guard chafed at him, Airefalas understood very well that their reception could have been much worse. He only hoped that it would not take too much time to win the trust of the tribespeople, but he knew better than to be overly optimistic. In difficult times, trust could be very hard won.

Accompanying Mithadan into the istar's tent, he noticed both that the guard that had accompanied him and Mithadan over from their own tent had been left outside, and that the heavy tent flap had been secured tightly behind them once they had gone inside. To Airefalas, this was a good sign. Perhaps some of the questions and secrets that had tantalized them since their arrival would finally be addressed. Following Mithadan's example, he took a seat on one of the many cushions that graced the floor of the tent and waited as the istar and his younger companion joined them. As Mithadan and Aiwendil made the required introductions of himself and Rôg, he bowed politely when appropriate and thanked his hosts for their hospitality. Then, he fell into silence, watching and listening as Aiwendil and Mithadan entered into a friendly conversation about the terms of their prior acquaintance, Mithadan's wife, and so on, while Rôg busied himself with the food.

Finally, catching Rôg's eye, Airefalas leaned forward. "I notice, Rôg, that you and your companion, while not being of the Eagle tribe, are not held under guard either," he said in a friendly tone. "Do you share a long acquaintance with the Eagles?"

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Old 07-29-2004, 10:20 PM   #260
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Rôg

‘It is Aiwendil who has no guard, actually,’ returned Rôg, kneeling down near Airefalas, a tray in his hands. With an economy of motion he poured a small cup of fragrant wine for the man and passed it to him, then did the same for Mithadan and the old man. Mithadan nodded at him, then returned to some reminiscence about a certain journal. Aiwendil’s face softened as the captain spoke on, his head nodding thoughtfully.

Taking a cup of wine for himself, Rôg sat down on a cushion near Airefalas. ‘And if you look closely when I’m out and about, I do have a guard. Though a rather lackadaisical one at most. I fear he feels slighted that I have not proven to be more dangerous.’ He picked up a small tray of savories he had brought in earlier and offered them to Airefalas; then placed them on a low table near Aiwendal and Mithadan. ‘In fact, I heard him grumble to one of his friends that he felt like some old Granny herding a grandchild about.’ Rôg laughed and pointed to Airefalas’ blade. ‘Perhaps I should borrow your sword and saunter about a little outside the tent. My guard could then think of himself with the same level of esteem as your guards.’ Rôg sipped at his wine, His eyes sliding every so often to where Aiwendil sat. The old man’s head was inclined near Mithadan’s, his voice pitched low.

Rôg drew his attention back to the younger man sitting near him. ‘It was only by chance that we came to the Eagle camp. We were on our way to the city in Umbar, actually. To get supplies for a birding expedition, actually.’ At the frown on Airefalas’ face he explained they had come south so that he could show the old fellow the different sorts of bird life found here. ‘A set of unfortunate circumstances set the course that ended here . . . with us as “guests” of the Eagles.’ He refilled Airefalas’ cup as well as his. ‘To be honest, I do have some acquaintance with the Eagle Clan, but only in passing, and many years ago when I was only a child. I’ve been away a number of years. Many things have changed . . .’

Rôg colored slightly, realizing he had been the one doing most of the talking.

‘Please, excuse my rudeness,’ he offered as an apology. ‘Here you are, Aiwendil’s guest, and I have let you say little . . . won’t you tell me a little of yourself? How is it that you find yourself in the Eagle camp?’ He raised a brow at Airefalas. ‘It will be interesting to hear the real story.’ He laughed again. ‘You would not believe the tales that I’ve heard at the well early in the mornings . . . colorful rumors - flying thickly among the women . . .’

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Old 07-30-2004, 03:38 PM   #261
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Airefalas chuckled at the mental image of this small, rather scholarly-looking fellow strutting about before the mouth of the tent bristling with weapons for the benefit of his guard, but sobered quickly. If Airefalas had learned anything about the friends of his captain it was that while they may not carry a weapon so obvious as a sword, they were no doubt well-armed in other respects. At the mention of the other man's "birding expedition," however, he frowned slightly. Mithadan was on a "birding expedition" of his own, as it turned out. Knowing now the connection between Mithadan and the elderly istar, he wondered if the two were not actually on a related expedition, both of them searching for the same mysterious, but specific, Bird. It was certainly a possibility, but, Airefalas decided, that was Mithadan's business, not his own. What concerned him more was the rumor of dragons that Mithadan had confirmed, and the related threat to Gondor. Mithadan had already suggested that the two of them throw whatever support they could offer to the Eagles in defeating Wyrma and her followers, and Airefalas had agreed. What he wondered now was how and where Aiwendil and Rôg fit into the picture. His gut instinct told him that they were on the side of the Eagles, but he couldn’t help doubting that their presence was purely a matter of accident or serendipitous timing. He took a sip of wine and let his thoughts return to the ongoing conversation.

“....How is it that you find yourself in the Eagle camp?” asked Rôg, raising one eyebrow. “It will be interesting to hear the real story,” He added with a laugh. “You would not believe the tales that I’ve heard at the well early in the mornings, colorful rumors - flying thickly among the women . . .”

Airefalas grinned. “So, we’ve set the women abuzz, have we?” He laughed. “Actually it is a pretty colorful story.” He went on to relate how he and Mithadan happened to be in Umbar on a trading mission, their imprisonment in Falasmir’s palace and their subsequent escape. When he got to the part about torching the docks, he saw Rôg smile and nod, apparently having heard that part of it already. As he drew to the conclusion of the tale with his and Mithadan’s arrival at the Eagle encampment, he realized that he had omitted two significant details, both involving himself and Ráma. The first was the circumstances of his and Ráma’s first meeting, which was frankly embarrassing, what with him jumping at her like a lunatic when she had come to help them. The second was the incident with the sand viper at the oasis. He had not yet determined whether his actions had had any bearing on her subsequent change of heart regarding sending him and Mithadan north with the caravan, or if she had simply changed her mind for other reasons. As far as he could see, both details were rather incidental to the overall story, so he left them out. He could always fill in the blanks later if it became necessary.

As he concluded, Airefalas cast a glance in the direction of Mithadan and saw that he was still in deep conversation with Aiwendil, both of them speaking softly, their heads held close together. Not wishing to disturb them, he turned his attention back to Rôg.

“And so, my friend,” he said with a smile. “That is how we ended up here. But what I am wondering now is what we are going to do next.”

“Next we eat,” answered Rôg with a smile of his own. He picked up a set of plates and began to serve up the meal of stewed hen and flatbread, first serving Mithadan and Aiwendil, then Airefalas, and finally himself.

Airefalas waited for him to finish and sit down again before continuing the conversation with a slight change of subject. “You mentioned that you have had a past acquaintance with the Eagle clan as a child. Please pardon me if I am prying, but does this mean that you share their ability to change shapes?” He hesitated, then added. “You see, until I met Ráma-” he colored slightly “- I had no idea that shapechangers truly existed. Naturally, I am a bit curious.”
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Old 07-31-2004, 02:50 PM   #262
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Rôg

Rôg hid his reluctance, poorly at best, to discuss ‘shapechangers’, as men termed them, by passing the basket of flatbread to Airefalas. The man looked at his offering in surprise and declined. A few moments of awkward silence ensued, during which Rôg looked to Aiwendil to intervene. But, the old man looked on in some amusement and lifted his chin slightly to Rôg, encouraging him to handle the younger man’s questions as best he might.

‘You’ll excuse me if I lecture a bit,’ he began, putting his plate aside. ‘Shapechangers is a term used by those who don’t have the skill for changing. And often it is heard in an . . . unkind way. Better you use ‘maenwaith’, ‘skilled folk’. An Elvish word. Less offensive. And in some ways it’s been taken over by the clans and made their own now for their collective self.’ He looked at the younger man, wondering if he’d ever traveled in the northwestern regions. ‘You have maenwaith, you know . . . in the upper regions of The Great River. Beornings, they term themselves. An interesting clan . . . they only take the shape of bears. In fact, before we left Minas Tirith, we saw one in The Seventh Star.’ He shook his head at the remembrance of the gigantic man who had been challenged by the Captain’s wife. ‘It was the first time, actually, that I laid eyes on the Captain’s wife, Mistress Piosenniel. She was . . . well, let me say, she had been wary of the stranger and when he addressed her, she did not receive him well.’

‘Pulled her blade on the Beorning is what she did,’ he heard Aiwendil say to Mithadan who had looked over at the mention of her name. ‘Thought he might put the children in danger in some way. Never mind he towered over her and outweighed her by a good ten stone if not more.’ Mithadan’s brows went up in alarm. He was quickly reassured the Beorning had backed down. ‘Invited him for a visit, she did,’ the old man continued. ‘He’d asked about Bird, as I recall . . .’

Mithadan and Aiwendil fell to talking about the incident as Rôg took up his conversation with Airefalas. He gave a very brief description of the maenwaith clans in the south – a brief reference to clan names and what they signified; how the maenwaith were organized for the most part within each clan and the loose organization they shared as a whole, saying that his family had been traveling traders and had interactions with many of them. The picture he drew was colored, he knew, by his own clan’s view of things . . . stressing the fiercely held autonomy and independence valued by each clan. ‘Though,’ he said, ‘since I have returned, there seems to be some shift in the way of thinking of those who are said to lead the confederated clans. The Eagles, and other of the more outlying clans, I have heard, wish to keep the traditional ways while those who live more in concert with the men in Umbar wish to move toward a mannish style of life.’ Rôg’s quiet nature had often allowed him to be overlooked in conversations in the camp, allowing him access to various bits and pieces of what was going on within and without the camp.

He made no mention of his own clan or its whereabouts. Despite the fact that Aiwendil seemed to trust Mithadan, both the Captain and his First Mate were Men. Nor did he go into what details he had gleaned in the past days about the Eagle Clan. Old cautions learned from childhood die hard. He did address the direct question – ‘. . . does this mean that you share their ability to change shapes’. ‘As for me,’ he said lightly, before passing on to questions of his own, ‘My clan is also . . . maenwaith. And I have a little skill in changes.’

‘But tell me, I know little of you or of your Captain, save what has happened here in the South. Are you both from Minas Tirith? Have you sailed with him long?’ He paused for a moment, wondering if he should ask, but natural curiosity stayed his hesitancy. ‘What sort of man is your Captain, I wonder . . . to have such a dauntless wife. And who is this maenwaith they call friend?’ He leaned forward and spoke with a low chuckle. ‘When Aiwendil first found out that Mithadan was here, in camp, he said a very strange thing about him and Piosenniel.’ He gave a quick glance toward where Aiwendil and Mithadan sat, their attention on their own conversation. ‘People of honor, he said, but wherever they go, trouble follows . . .’ He spoke lower. ‘I half expect to see Mistress Piosenniel come bristling into camp at any moment, blade drawn, to effect your rescue! Though I’m sure,’ he added quickly, ‘she will stay at home keeping her own little ones safe until your return.’ He drew back and spoke in a more normal tone. ‘And what of you? Is there a wife and family waiting for your return?’

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Old 08-01-2004, 09:13 PM   #263
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Airefalas noticed Rôg's skillful avoidance of discussing any specifics regarding himself or the Eagles, but let it pass without comment. He had promised Ráma that he would not pry, so, in keeping with that promise, he had adopted a strategy of asking questions to learn what information he could, but to back away when the other party began to get uncomfortable. Since Rôg was clearly not comfortable discussing specifics, Airefalas made himself content with familiarizing himself with the basics of maenwaith history and culture. He listened intently to Rôg's lecture, grateful to have it all explained at last and in such a way that required very few additional questions on his part. The feeling that he was floundering blindly finally began to recede a bit. At the mention of the Beornings to the north, however, he made a short exclamation of surprise. He had not been aware of them either.

"You miss a lot on land when you spend your life at sea..." he murmured under his breath as Rôg concluded his explanations and turned the topic of conversation back toward him and Mithadan.

"But tell me," continued Rôg. "I know little of you or of your Captain, save what has happened here in the South. Are you both from Minas Tirith? Have you sailed with him long?’ He paused for a moment. "What sort of man is your Captain, I wonder . . . to have such a dauntless wife. And who is this maenwaith they call friend?’ Rôg leaned forward and spoke with a low chuckle. "When Aiwendil first found out that Mithadan was here, in camp, he said a very strange thing about him and Piosenniel." Airefalas noticed him send a quick glance toward where Aiwendil and Mithadan sat, their attention on their own conversation. "People of honor, he said, but wherever they go, trouble follows . . ." He spoke lower. "I half expect to see Mistress Piosenniel come bristling into camp at any moment, blade drawn, to effect your rescue! Though I’m sure," he added quickly, "she will stay at home keeping her own little ones safe until your return." He drew back and spoke in a more normal tone. "And what of you? Is there a wife and family waiting for your return?"

Airefalas laughed. "Though I have only met Mistress Piosenniel on a few brief occasions, I would have to say that your first impression is probably the more apt one. I don't think I would be surprised at all to see her come bristling into camp, as you put it." He cast a amused glance at Mithadan. "Now that you mention it, I wonder what's keeping her..."

"But seriously," he continued after a moment. "This is the first time I have sailed with either of them and, as such, I cannot vouch for Mithadan or Piosenniel one way or the other in terms of honor or trouble except to say that they do carry a similar reputation to what you describe in Minas Tirith." He paused, choosing his words carefully. "My personal experience with Mithadan on this journey, however, has earned him my respect as a man of honor, good judgement ...and action. But, as for the maenwaith they call friend, I'm afraid you shall have to save your questions for Mithadan. It was only the evening we left Umbar that I first heard mention of her."

He shrugged helplessly and paused to take a few bites of the meal that had begun to grow cold on the plate in his lap.

"And you?" prompted Rôg, reiterating his earlier question. "Have you a wife and family awaiting your return?"

At that, Airefalas grimaced slightly and put aside his plate. "No," he said finally. "There is a lady that I had hoped would become my wife, but - at this stage - it doesn't look as though that is going to happen." At a questioning glance from Rôg, he added, "Her father has taken a disliking to me and she, being devoted to him, is not likely to defy him. Actually, he has informed me that if I don't break off the engagement upon my return to Minas Tirith, he will break it off for me." He rose and walked in the direction of the closed tent flap. "So there you have it," he finished with a bitter laugh. "The short version of the story, anyway."

As he thought about the situation surrounding his engagement to Isabel, Airefalas' face darkened noticeably. On the morning he had first set sail with the Lonely Star, he remembered he had been furious with Isabel's father for his high-handed pronouncements and ultimatims regarding his daughter. Now, the farther removed Airefalas grew from the situation, the more he began to doubt himself, whether his love for Isabel was genuine or merely a deep infatuation born of the many pressures of Minas Tirith society. Granted, she was a beautiful woman, the sort to turn the heads of men on the street, but she was a silly and fatuous creature as well, prone to constantly batting and poking him with her fan. He remembered with a rueful smile the evening that he had gotten so outdone with her and her fan at a ball that he had taken the fan away from her and pitched it out the window into the back of a passing cart. She had left in a huff and refused to speak to him for a week until he had finally given in and purchased her a new fan. Now, so many miles away in the desert, he found himself wondering, aside from her beauty, what exactly it was that he loved about her and why he was so determined to go back to Minas Tirith and win her. Though his motives were faulty, perhaps Isabel's father wasn't so wrong after all...

"Ego," Airefalas said aloud, frowning to himself. Maybe that was what lay at the root of it all, not love.

"Excuse me?" asked Rôg politely. "I don't think I quite follow you."

"Sorry," answered Airefalas, looking back at the other man with an apologetic smile. "It's a complicated situation - please excuse me for stewing a bit." He came back over and took his seat again on the cushion near Rôg. "And what about you? Have you a wife and children awaiting you at home... wherever it is you come from?"

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Old 08-04-2004, 05:29 AM   #264
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Sorona

Nodding modestly Latah gestured for both her and Surinen to be seated. Taking the place offered her she looked upon a generous supper of cooked meats, cheeses and freshly baked breads. The delicate aroma of the spices filled her senses, and she knew she had truly returned to the place of her birth. Latah proving to be the host her cousin boasted her to be graciously helped her fill her plate and then poured her a bowl of fresh goats milk another taste of the desert that she realised she had missed. Before eating, she bowed her head and gave thanks to the spirits of their ancestors, asking them to bless and watch over Latah and her family, for the kindness they had shown this weary messenger.

As they ate, Surinen and Latah made pleasant conversation about the weather, trade and the general musings of the day’s events. Sorona listened intently, but soon her mind wandered as she struggled to piece together the missing segments of her life. That Ayar was clan leader could only mean that her father had passed on from this life, a fresh pang of regret tugged at her heart and although she knew he would not have passed on alone and unloved she regretted not having been able to tell him how much she loved and admired him. He was a kind and loving father and a wise leader, she missed him dearly!

“Are you feeling alright Sorona?” Latah asked, concern sweeping her delicate features as she caught the forlorn sigh of the eagle.

“What, eh no my apologies, I was thinking of my father,” Sorona smiled apologetically.

“Forgive me for prying but my cousin tells me that he thinks you are of our clan, perhaps your father is here, I could find out for you if you like?” Latah offered.

“I thank you for your kindness, Latah but I do not think you will find him. I have been gone such a long time and he was not a young man when I ….” Sorona paused for a moment as she remembered the circumstances of her departure, “left,” she finished pushing the horror of that day away and forcing a smile in hopes of masking her pain.

“But come there is no need for such talk at dinner, I would hear of what I have missed these past twenty years, tell me do the old tellers still visit to share their wisdom and pass on the tales of the past, so much has changed that I feel a stranger among my own people.” Sorona smiled warmly, recalling her times spend wide-eyed listening raptly to the old teller’s tales.

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Old 08-05-2004, 02:45 AM   #265
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Rôg

‘A wife . . . and children . . .’

Rôg’s features softened; he had not thought along these lines in a number of years. And now the young man’s questions reminded him that his parents would be prompting him in a similar manner, and soon after he arrived back for his visit, he thought. Rôg chuckled as he began to answer the question.

‘What you've asked caught me by surprise,’ he said to Airefalas, ' . . . pleasant surprise.' ‘I’ve no wife, or children yet, either. But, I’m leaving soon to visit my family. My mother and father will be reminding me it is time to lay aside my wandering life and fulfill my obligations to the family.

‘Your roving days are done now,’ he said in a higher pitch, mimicking his mother’s sweet, insistent voice. ‘It’s time that I had grandchildren. Your father and I have consulted the Elders about our choice for you. We’ve only to speak with her parents to make it official.’ Rôg shook his head, saying he could see his father standing at his wife’s side, nodding his head at her words.

‘I have an older sister – but she has left me in the lurch,’ Rôg continued. ‘She won’t rescue her baby brother this time.’ She had declared several years ago, he told Airefalas, that she would not be marrying. Nieces and nephews would be enough for her she had written to him; she intended to study herbal lore and follow in one of their father’s older sister’s footsteps as a healer. The duty of carrying on the family line would fall to him.

‘And to be honest, I don’t begrudge my sister her choice. My parents will choose someone well suited to me. I’ll be a good husband, I think . . . I have my father to model after in that role.’ He smiled at his bemused listener. ‘Love will come, if that is what you are thinking of; it follows a learned respect for your companion I’ve always thought – rounds it out with an abiding easiness in the other’s company, and an assurance of mutual support.’ He grinned as he finished this pronouncement. ‘Of course, as in all things, the theory is much neater than the actual sequence of events.’

Miri’s bright little face intruded suddenly upon this chain of thought. Rôg’s own face brightened at its appearance, and at the remembered enjoyment he had felt teaching her that simple change. He leaned forward, touching Airefalas lightly on the arm. ‘And of course, there will be the children. The Winged One willing! Many of them, I hope . . . wife willing, too, that is . . .’

Aiwendil’s attention had turned to Rôg. It was nice to see his young companion relaxed in someone else’s company. And speaking of personal matters at that!

Rôg nodded at Mithadan, who was also looking his way. ‘I must say you have a very enjoyable trio of children. I met them only briefly, but they speak well for you as a father. And your wife, she seems a very good mother.’ He paused, looking at Mithadan, to gauge whether he had offended. It was hard to tell sometimes around Men what was acceptable and what stepped too close to their sense of privacy. Rôg sat back for a moment, a sudden thought come to him. This was an area he had not thought previously to discuss with Aiwendil. But now curiosity got the better of him, and he asked without thinking . . .

‘And what of you, Aiwendil? You are of an age . . . are there sons and daughters you have kept to yourself . . . and fat little babies who call you grandfather?’ Rôg frowned, trying to recall without success any mention of family by the old fellow. ‘Where are your children scattered?

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Old 08-06-2004, 03:16 PM   #266
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Wyrma

Halfr had to step briskly to keep up with Wyrma’s energetic stride. He managed to do so with the slightly stiff bearing that showed his military training. He did not have to look at Wyrma to know that the muscles of her jaw were tightened; he knew well enough how angry she was after seeing the destruction of the building stones with her own eyes, though she had said very little. He did not venture to speak until she turned to him.

“You have heard nothing from Korpulfr.” It was a statement, not a question. She was certain that he would have informed her immediately had he gotten news from his son.

“No,” he said, shaking his slightly greying head, “but it is said that the absence of news bodes well.”

“Not all that is said is true,” she answered, with a curt laugh, “though I too think that one of us would have heard if something had happened to him or Tinar. Hasrim at least has a level head on his shoulders and enough experience to keep himself out of trouble.”

Halfr refrained from commenting, merely enquiring, “Do you want to send a messenger out to search for them?”

“Not yet,” she replied, somewhat absentmindedly, and he did not press her further.

They reached the imposing building which housed both the official rooms and her living quarters. Though neither of them said so, they both thought how good it was that it had been completed before the hoarded building stones were destroyed. They walked up the few steps that were more decorative than necessary at its front entrance and turned down the hallway to her office room. When Halfr closed the door behind them, she spoke again. “I have an idea where we can get stones to continue building.”

He looked at her expectantly.

“The fire in the haven of Umbar destroyed the buildings there, but the stones of the larger warehouses will have survived,” she said. “I will send word to our people in the city that they should take advantage of the confusion there and gather what they can. Prepare several of your men with wagons to transport the stones here. They should meet the others under cover of night just outside the city walls, far enough from the gate that they will not be observed by the guards.”

Halfr bowed and left the room to give orders to his men. Wyrma sat down at her desk, shuffling the papers on it with unseeing eyes. Before ringing the bell that sat on the corner of the table, she breathed deeply, wishing that she could go herself, could stretch her wings in flight, feeling the wind in her feathers.

But why can’t I? she thought suddenly. I could take a look at Galandor’s ships and then see if I can locate Tinar and the others. The thought was so tempting that she had to push it to the back of her mind forcibly. There it stayed, beckoning to her imagination. Perhaps one day soon…
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Old 08-06-2004, 03:43 PM   #267
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Aiwendil....

Children and a wife? Aiwendil shook his head, making an effort to conceal an impish smile, “No, such fine things are not my portion. Yet I am not without family. In the land I call my home, I am a humble member of a very large household, which is shaped by bonds of affection and the common purpose we share. I am nothing more than a gardener and keeper of beasts, one of the lesser servants but with much good work to do. It has always kept me quite occupied.” His voice was clear and without regret.

The istar halted for a moment, wiped his bushy brow with the back of his hand, and then noted, “In fact, I do miss home, and the kind heart of my good Lady. But it is her kind heart that saw a need for me to leave those shores to attend to other duties.” Although sadly, Aiwendil reflected, I still have not figured out what that task might be, since my own path has run so differently than all my brothers. He wondered if the rest of the guests would be surprised if he told them that Curuno had come from the very same household. Because of the Ring War, Saruman's name was known even in Umbar.

“Where is home then?” Rôg prodded, interrupting Aiwendil's thoughts.

“West, far west from here, on the other side of the furthest Sea. It would do no good to try and explain. And I think I can safely say that none of you or your kin, however far you may have traveled, have visited my home.”

Until this point, Mithadan had been sitting silently near the back of the gathering, listening intently but saying little. Seeing the wry look that now passed over his guest's face, Aiwendil cleared his throat and mumbled, “Or perhaps it might be more true to say that no one in this tent has actually visited my home.”

“But come. That is enough of me. Are we not here to discuss the plight of the Eagles and what we might do to help them?” Aiwendil stared pointedly at Rôg, but then raised his eyes, sweeping them across to his other dinner guests who had settled down to eat.

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Old 08-08-2004, 06:36 PM   #268
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Rôg

As Aiwendil spoke, Rôg filed away the explanation given by him. A servant?! He didn’t seem to fit the type of servant that Rôg had seen in some of the houses he had visited on his journeys. A gardener and a tender of beasts . . . well, yes, that could account for his intimate knowledge of plants he’d shown in little dribbles and drabbles since they’d been traveling together. And his affinity for various sorts of animals . . . that would explain it also.

The mention of the kind Lady from the far, far West set his thoughts rambling down other paths. The old man had once implied he’d been to the Star Isle. But this “far, far West” was beyond that, Rôg thought. A hasty memory of something heard long ago resurfaced . . . the story of the Star Isle had started with a mention of something farther west, a place on the rim of the world. An unnamed place where The Lords of the West lived . . . and their eagles . . . they had sent eagles in that old story . . . Rôg’s woolgathering was brought to a halt by the change in tone of the old man’s voice.

‘But come. That is enough of me,’ he heard Aiwendil say in a firm way. ‘Are we not here to discuss the plight of the Eagles and what we might do to help them?’ Aiwendil stared pointedly at him, then swept his gaze about to include the men from Gondor. Neither of them spoke up as the old fellow’s voice trailed off. Rôg, following his previous line of thought mumbled the re-found name of the old story, turning the words about in his mouth, tasting them with his tongue as they tumbled out.

‘Narîka 'nBâri 'nAdûn . . . The Eagles of the Lords of the West . . . that was it!’ he muttered.

‘Speak up, Rôg!’ said the old man, his words crisp with a feeling of command rather than request. ‘These old ears didn’t hear you clearly.’

‘Eagles, Old One,’ he said, the respectful title slipping easily into the response. He scrambled hurriedly to round out a sensible answer. ‘There are old tales of great eagles who were sent in dire times, are there not? To offer their assistance as they may . . . you don’t suppose that if we dug a little deeper we might find such help for the clan that holds their name? They can’t all have disappeared . . .’
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Old 08-10-2004, 03:38 PM   #269
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Mithadan glanced back at Aiwendil with a ghost of a grin on his face. But when no response was forthcoming and the silence grew heavy, he cleared his throat and spoke. "Eagles?" he said. "Indeed there are many tales in the north of the great eagles of the Misty Mountains and the even greater ones that dwelt in the peaks of Beleriand before them." Here Mithadan paused, for the tent flap was pulled aside and the little girl, Miri, entered followed by Rama. He nodded and smiled at Rama as she paused before stepping forward.

"Am I intruding?" Rama asked.

"Nay!" answered Airefalas as he rose to his feet and bowed slightly. "We were just enjoying some conversation over the remains of dinner." He spread a blanket upon the floor and motioned for the newcomers to sit.

"I was just speaking of eagles," continued Mithadan. "It is said that the Eagles of the north fought on the part of the Elves in Beleriand during the long war against Morgoth the Accursed. And when he was overthrown, it was the eagles, along with Earendil that slew or drove off the dragons that issued from Thangorodrim..."

"The eagles?" asked Miri eagerly. "The eagles defeated the wyrms?"

Mithadan nodded, wondering if more was being read into his words than he knew. "And even more recently, during the War of the Ring, eagles came to the aid of the West several times. Gwaihir the Windlord twice rescued Gandalf the wizard and he and his peole flew against the armies of Mordor during the battle before the Black Gates. And after the fall of Sauron, after the Dark Lord fell, the eagles carried the Ringbearers from the burning feet of Mount Doom."

"There are many such tales in the north," he concluded. "But it seems that in each case that the eagles were summoned by one of power, Gandalf or another. I do not know if any could be summoned here to aid this clan. What do you think Aiwendil?" He looked back to the wizard with a hint of a grin...
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Old 08-11-2004, 10:13 AM   #270
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Surinen

The mention of the old storytellers visiting the camp sparkled Surinen’s interest. Dinsûl had mentioned many times to his son, the long celebrations of the past that had marked such occasions. Sometimes the stories went on for days, the old ones who visited picking up where they left off the evening before, continuing for several nights until at last the end of the tale was reached. Dinsûl always had reminisced fondly of how this was a time of community, all drawing together closely to listen and enjoy the stories of their shared past, hearing the feats of their ancestors who traveled this ground before them, and the advice offered them couched in those chosen tales.

“So you were here when the epics were still told?” Surinen asked the eagle, wiping his hands on his pants. “They have not been recited in their ancient form here since before I was alive.”

“Then they no longer visit, for that what they live for. This is sad news to me. But why is it that they have stopped walking here among you?” Sorona asked.

Latah looked to her cousin to see what he would answer, but he looked puzzled, as if searching for an answer. “We don’t really know,” she explained to Sorona with a shrug. “There have been many rifts as well as hardships among the maenwaith clans, some more painful than others, and there are people among us who would blame this. But others say that the old tellers have gone to the high mountains to watch as a new story unfolds, and that they will return when this epic draws to a close to tell us its meaning.”

“And in the meantime Narika has taken their place by the campfire,” Surinen explained. “She is young, but knows much of our people, though I do not think she has herself heard her lore from the mouths of those tellers of tales.” Sorona nodded her understanding.

“But tell us, why did you leave the eagle clan?” Surinen prodded, curiosity getting the better of him. “You seem to have missed our ways, as well as our food.” He said gesturing to Latah, who heaped another ladleful of meat in front of the stately eagle. Sorona hesitated to answer the question.

“I am sorry, you need not speak of it,” Latah said glaring at Surinen. “Such matters are sometimes best left alone. A long time has passed since then.”

“No, no,” Sorona said. “I do not mind. It is just that it is almost as if I were a different person, so long ago it seems. I left the eagles marrying into another clan. In those days it was in the best interest of the eagles for me to do so, but I did for a time frequently return to visited my people.”

“Of which clan is your husband? If you don’t mind I inquire. For my own husband is also an outsider.” Latah asked interested, for her own marriage was also arranged for the good of the clan, and she sought to find some common ground to speak about.

“I joined a clan that at the time was closely allied with our own, my husband being from among the wolf maenwaith.

Surinen shot Latah a glance in time to see her smile fade as she lapsed into stoney silence. “We have heard of these wolves,” he said, marveling at the birds calm as she spoke of this clan. “But our people are no longer their allies. When was it last you were among them?”

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Old 08-18-2004, 06:07 PM   #271
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Ráma and Aiwendil

Aiwendil stared off into the distance. By all the sands of Tol Eressea, was he to have no rest from all these questions?

Rôg and Mithadan meant no harm. They were merely trying to come up with a way to help the clan in their struggle against the evil Wyrma. But they had unwittingly stumbled onto the one piece of Aiwendil’s past that the istar had no desire to share.

He had so enjoyed his short stay here: to be living among free folk who took pleasure in the shifting of shapes. Yet he devoutly wished they had been Wolves or Leopards rather than Eagles. This subject would likely not have risen if he had been dwelling among shapeshifters who took on a different form.

A sharp voice cut through his reflections, “Speak up, old man. My mother has spoken well of you and says I am to consider your words. If you know anything of the Great Eagles, share it with us that we may all learn." Ráma stared across at Aiwendil, clearly sensing that the man knew more than he was willing to disclose.

“The stories are true," the istar mused. “In days past, the Eagles sometimes aided those in need. And once in Beleriand they helped to defeat the mighty wyrms whom Morgoth had summoned.”

He wiped his brow and continued. “The last time I came to them, they still dwelled in the northern reaches of the Misty Mountains. But where they are now, or who may summon them is another question.”

“But surely….” Mithadan interrupted.

“There is no ‘surely’ about it!” the old man retorted crossly. “These are no tame creatures. They answer only to the Lord of the Winds.”

“Stop a moment, both of you,” pleaded Ráma. “Aiwendil, you have actually visited these Eagles in the place where they live?”

“Yes, but that was years ago. The Misty Mountains are vast. I could not lead you to the Eagles even if they had stayed on the same mountain peak. And it is likely they moved on at the end of the Third Age.”

Ráma pressed again, “Still, you know these great birds. And perhaps you possess some strange power or means of command for them to have listened in the past. They would likely hear you out if you requested their aid.”

“I can not help you. Not now.” There was an edge of sadness in his voice. “Once perhaps, but that was long ago. These Eagles do not suffer fools. My last parting from them was far from amicable. When they hear my name, they are likely to fly off in the other direction.” More than that he was reluctant to say.

Ráma stared pointedly at Aiwendil. “Perhaps you are right, perhaps not. But you are still the best hope we have. And I will not be dissuaded. My mother has commanded me to undertake an errand that touches upon these Eagles. I am to travel south with the party that will go to rouse the other tribes to war. There is someone in the southern mountains who may be able to help us find these birds. Since you already know something of the Eagles and their ways, you will come with me.”

Remembering his promise to Ayar, Aiwendil inclined his head and responded somewhat stiffly, “As you wish, young lady. As long as it is a matter here in Harad, I will be guided by your wishes.”

Miri looked up to Ráma with excitement written on her face. “May I go too? Please. I wish to meet this person who can lead us to the Eagles.”

“I do not think so, Miri. You are brave but very young. We will speak more about it later.”

“I promise to do what you say. But I think I can help. For now I will serve the melons that my mother sent for our guest.”

“Yes, please do. I am sure we will enjoy them. But there is one final question I must raise as we eat.” Here Ráma turned towards Mithadan and Airefalas. “I am in your debt. That snake might have injured or even killed me. I wish to repay you by helping you find your friend. Yet I have little time to go off by myself. I have been thinking long on this and the answer seems quite simple. You must tell me what shapes your friend took on, especially the largest or most deadly one. This Bird of yours is likely to have searched out her clan. It would be an easy thing to send out a messenger to that clan and have her tracked down in that fashion.”

Ráma smiled gently at the Gondorians awaiting their response.

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Old 08-19-2004, 01:29 AM   #272
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Rôg

‘I promise to do what you say,' said Miri with great reluctance. 'But I think I can help.' A considering look slid quickly over her face, replaced by one of apparent acquiescence. 'For now I will serve the melons that my mother sent for our guest.’

Offering his help, Rôg gathered two of the small melons into his hands and motioned for Miri to bring the other one. Withdrawing to the other side of the tent, they set about cutting the sweet melons into thin crescents and arranging them on two small silvered platters. Miri did not want to miss a word of the conversation. Picking up one of the platters carefully, she rose to to cross the room and begin passing the slices to Aiwendil’s guests.

A tug on her breeches turned her round to see Rôg shaking his head at her. ‘Sit down,’ he whispered, ‘until the man, Mithadan, has had a chance to answer your friend, Rama.’ He tilted his chin toward the captain who had furrowed his brow as if considering well how he might describe his maenwaith friend. Miri sat down with a small sigh, mollified only by the fact that if she kept very quiet she would be able to hear everything that the dinner guests said.

Rôg smiled fondly at her, seeing the look of unabashed curiosity on her face. She would bear watching, though, he thought, when the woman, Rama, decided to go on her search for those eagles Aiwendil had spoken of. I should let the old man know that Miri may try to follow. She’s a clever child, and may stow away in one of her new found forms. He inched a little closer to where Miri sat on the floor mat. To be honest, he was curious himself, what sort of maenwaith had made friends with a man of the north.

There was an air of expectant silence as the small group of diners spooned up the last few bites of their meal, waiting for the man from Gondor to speak . . .

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Old 08-20-2004, 03:07 PM   #273
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From the moment that he had heard of the deep division between the Shapechanger tribes and the threat posed by Wyrma and her clan, he had been dreading the question that Rama had just posed. He and Airefalas had forged a friendship, albeit uneasy and suspicous, with Rama and some of her people. The Gondorians were now wholly subject to the power of the Eagle clan; both dependant upon their hospitality as well their good will. They were not now captives, though he suspected that this was not a matter which had been firmly decided. An honest answer to Rama's query could jeopardize both the Eagles' good will as well as the safety of himself and his first mate. Yet the thought of lying to those who had extended their friendship was distasteful.

He realized that all in the tent had fallen silent, waiting for his response. Drawing a deep breath, Mithadan spoke. "I have known Bird for nine years and my wife knew her for several years before that," he began. "She is a person that I would risk my life for, worthy of high praise. She is dark of skin and slight in build. Her hair is raven black but she has a streak of silver down the middle. She is a person of rare humor, yet she is fierce in the defense of her friends. Bird can take a number of shapes..."

"Then she is a maenwaith of great skill and power," interjected Rôg. "Many of us can take but one or two forms. Relatively few are those who can take three and I have known none who can take more than four."

Mithadan started a bit at this, for Bird had never seemed to be a person of great power. To him she was just...Bird, dear and funny with a wonderous gift. Nonetheless, he continued. "She can take the shape of an insect akin to the cricket which she calls a 'neeker-breeker'." Miri laughed and clapped her hands at this. "Her second form is a jackadaw; a black bird with sliver coloration. Bird can also take the form of a dolphin." This drew blank stares from Rôg and Miri; they had never heard of such an animal. Mithadan smiled.

"A dolphin is a sea creature," he explained. "A strong and agile swimmer longer than a man is tall. But it does not breathe underwater. It must surface from time to time for air."

Rôg seemed both surprised and impressed byt his. "An insect, a bird and a fish!" he murmured. "That is rare indeed!"

Mithadan was silent for a moment, tempted to wait and see if the others might assume that those were Bird's only forms. But Rama looked at him intently as if she could discern his thoughts. "She has another form?" Rama asked.

Mithadan nodded. "An Ent," he added. Again, the Shapechangers did not recognize the word. But even Aiwendil seemed surprised at this revelation. "Bird can take the form of an Ent?" he exclaimed. Seeing the confusion of the others, he explained. "An Ent is a Shephard of the Trees. One of the speaking people, but more like a tree than an Elf or a Man. Very tall, sometimes ten feet or more, with a thick hide. It is said that long ago the first Dark Lord made trolls in counterfeit of the Ents."

"But a maenwaith cannot take the form of one of the speaking peoples," cried Rama. "We cannot take the form of a Man, and Elf, a Dwarf or even an Orc. You must be mistaken."

"I have seen her take this form," Mithadan continued, almost reluctantly. "I cannot say how she does it but she can."

Aiwendil considered this for a moment, then spoke. "Long ago when the Ents first arose in the North, they were mute. They could not speak. But then they met the Elves and through long effort the Elder Race taught the Ents the trick of language. Perhaps that is why Bird can assume that form."

"Four shapes!" cried Rôg. "Two that fly, one that swims and another that walks and is tall and strong as well! I would like to meet this Bird. Four shapes!"

Mithadan shifted uncomfortably on his pillow. Rama's sharp eyes did not miss this movement. "Is there another?" she asked. "Can Bird take a fifth shape?"

Mithadan was silent for a moment. Then he sighed. "You must understand that I think very highly of Bird. She is a good friend that I love dearly. She is good-hearted and faithful. But I fear that you may not like what I am about to say. Please know that Bird is no more evil than I am."

Rama's eyes narrowed in confusion. "She can take a fifth shape?" she asked.

"Long ago, she was a member of my crew," he continued. "We found ourselves in a very difficult situation. We were attempting to save some people who were being attacked. We needed to find a way to perhaps carry them away from danger in numbers. I cannot speak more of this, but we too came under attack and Bird took a new form, one that I had once mentioned to her. I don't know that... She told me that the forms found her; that she could not choose her forms. But in this case she took exactly the form that I had mentioned. I had no idea if it was even possible, but she did it. And using that form we eventually saved many people from certain death..."

He looked up and his eyes met those of Rama. He held her gaze as if pleading for understanding. "Her fifth shape is a silver and black winged dragon..."
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Old 08-20-2004, 03:45 PM   #274
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Rôg

‘. . . a silver and black winged dragon . . .’

The man from Gondor’s words seemed to echo riotously in Rôg’s brain. His hands trembled, their grips loosening on the tray of melon slices he had clung to during the man’s description of his friend. The tray clattered to the ground, the slices scattering.

Bird . . . that is what Mithadan had called her. Rôg rolled the name around on his tongue. Try as he might, he could recall no one with that name in the clan lists.

A sharp tug on his sleeve brought his attention back to the tent. Miri hissed at him, pulling him across the room. She left her own tray near Airefalas and had gathered up the spill, piling it helter-skelter on the dropped tray. Nudging Rôg out the back flap of the tent, she urged him toward the midden, telling the guard that they were needing to be rid of an unfortunate melon that had been spilled on the floor.

‘You lied!’ she whispered harshly to him as they scraped the broken slices onto the heap. ‘Why did you act surprised that the man’s friend could take on those shapes? And why did you say you have never known a maenwaith who could take on more than four shapes?’

‘I did lie. I’ll not try to tell you differently. For my part though, I was surprised that she took on such different shapes and that number. It is rare, or so I have learned, for one of the tribes of maenwaith here in the south to take on that number of forms and that range of changes. And the way the man described her telling how she did so shows she is untutored in her skills. For someone so untaught as she must be, she has a rare talent . . . but a dangerous one, since she has no understanding of the process.’

‘Dangerous?’ asked Miri, a perplexed look on her face.

‘Yes, dangerous, because the form can overtake the changer and become permanent if care is not taken. That’s why I made you practice the change-back rhyme as well as teaching you to change.’

Miri nodded her head at this as they walked back toward the tent. ‘But why did you lie, Rôg?’

‘Rama’s sister did not want to believe me when I spoke with her about the ability to do changes. I doubt Rama would care to hear me blather on either about how four changes need not be a limit. I didn’t want to stir things up – I just voiced the common sentiments in your clan, hoping the man would keep on speaking. His friend sounds to be an interesting person. Don’t you think so?’

‘Well, yes, she did,’ agreed the girl as they neared the tent. She stopped, causing him to halt also, and looking up with her eyes narrowed, asked another question. ‘Why did you drop the tray of melon slices, though, there at the end? You know, when the man said his friend could become a dragon?’ Miri fixed him with an unrelenting stare, awaiting his answer.

Rôg, instead, drew back the back tent flap, and ushered her in with his hand to her back. ‘We should offer another round of tea, I think, to the guests. There will be time later for an answer to your last question.’ He picked up the teapot and marched forward, Miri following in his wake. If I’m lucky, she will forget her question he thought to himself. But I am never that lucky he argued, feeling the weight of her considering stare on him as he passed from guest to guest . . .

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Old 08-22-2004, 01:25 AM   #275
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Sorona

Surprised by Surinen’s question and the news that the clans were no longer allied she looked at her two hosts, how long have I been away for such things to occur and what brought about such a parting of friendship? She thought to herself as she studied their stony expressions. She pressed herself to recall how long had past since she was forced from her homelands, she recalled that last day with a mixture of pain and sorrow.

“Twenty years!” she gasped startling herself as she counted the seasons past, “Yes, it has been Twenty years since last I walked these lands with our wolf brothers and sisters,” she smiled weakly attempting to regain her composure.

“Please forgive my ignorance, but you say that the Eagles are no longer allied to the Wolf Maenwaith, this I do not understand for when last I walked these lands the ties between them were strong. The Eagles ,the herders and gatherers who provided food and sustenance, The wolves, the hunters who provided the means for warmth and tools and together they worked to locate and dig new wells, they worked together for the prosperity of both clans and when the tellers came there was much joy and cause for celebration. But how comes it that such friendship has been forsaken.” She asked with genuine concern.

"Twenty years? Then surely, you must have been witness to the great Haradrim raid that sundered this friendship, ravaging the wolf clan, but sparing our own. It has served as the fire of a forge, breaking even the strongest bonds between us. Though the wolf clan has recovered, the alliance has not. We are at odds, even to this day. How is it that you do not know of this?" Surinen asked.

Sorona stared deep into the young mans eyes searching past the fresh doubt and suspicion to see the truth in his eyes, then with a heavy heart and weary sigh she nodded assenting to answer his question. “Yes, I had the unhappy misfortune to witness the raids of the Haradrim,” she began sadly. “But I assure you there was nothing at all great about it!” she added pointedly taking in the gaze of both eagles.

“But of the sundering of friendship I knew not and can not fathom, I was not fortunate to return that day or any after until now!” seeing the blank stares of her audience she continued.

“After dispatching a messenger to the eagle camp warning my father and the clan of the approaching danger, I picked up my child and ran with the others women and children, old and young alike the men of the clan had set out two days previous on a hunting expedition and where not expected back till dark. But I became separated from my people and found myself being chased through the forest by several riders, I knew I could not out run them and that as had become custom in such times I should have taken my sons life to free him from the evil that pursued, but I could not, love stayed my hand. Therefore, I hide him high in a tree, bade him to make no sound and then I drew our pursuers away from him. The last thing I remembered was a sharp pain to my side and then I never saw my son or the lands of my birth again!”

A silence ensued as both Surinen and Latah stared in horror and disbelief; finally, Surinen broke the uneasy silence. “It is said that the men of the wolf clan returned to find their women and children dead or missing and that only a hand full of elders and some children were found cowering in the forest. The wolf clan’s youngest son went mad with grief blaming the eagles accusing us of abandoning their women and children or so my father tells it,” Surinen told her.

Sorona dropped her head in thoughtful contemplating, why would they have blamed the eagles. She sent her cousin Freya back to the eagles to warn them, oh! She suddenly thought remembering, her own words.

“Freya, quickly return to the eagles and warn my father of the approaching danger,”
“Yes cousin your father will send help!”
“No Freya, they will not come in time, I will take the clan into the forest until the danger has past! Tell my father to move the clan and we will join them later!”


What if Halfr and his clan did not know of this message, But why would they not? Why would it have been kept from them? “Oh Halfr, what have you done!” she whispered sadly.

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Old 08-23-2004, 07:28 AM   #276
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Surinen

Latah did not speak, but struggled within herself. Surely this Sorona had been through and seen a great deal more than she herself had, but if she loved her son as she said she did, how could she simply leave him to face his fate and then disappear only to return to the eagle clan without first finding if his name was still recited among the wolves. Her son must be close to Surinen’s age by now, if he were still alive and if the tale she told was true. Perhaps she was now a grandmother, and her wisdom needed by him. But Latah worried that even if Sorona truly was the eagle she presented herself to be, what was to say that she had not now been sent back to her native people for some low purpose. She found she did not trust her, and wished that Surinen would not speak so freely.

But Surinen was now thoughtful and silent, digesting what he had heard as he tilted his mug, washing his hand under the small stream of water. The name of Halfr had given him pause, for Dinsûl was not the only one to describe him in despairing terms, but Narayad also had spoken of him when lamenting the course his people had taken. For Narayad had been of the Wolf clan, though now his true name was not called out as a member of its ranks, and by choice he no longer assumed that shape which came naturally to him. He was as dead to them as Surinen’s own sister Mîrya was dead to the eagle clan, having turned his back, no matter how reluctantly on his kin.

“Yes, what has Halfr done!” Surinen sighed, thinking of his friend’s grievances. “Not only this”, he said looking into Sorona’s eyes to see her response to his words, “but he has taken his clan and made them a jewel in the midst of a dragons’ hoard. For his people long ago joined the maenwaith who huddle under the cold wings of Wyrms like hatchlings in need of protection.” And seeing that sadness overtook the bird he moderated his stance, adding that he could not understand why the clan had allowed themselves to be led this way, for they by all accounts were a clever and skilled people, undaunted by hardship.

At this Latah stood up suddenly, and gathering their plates excused herself, taking them outside to clean. Surinen watched as she closed the tent flap behind her, wishing he could follow so that she might unburden her mind to him. For he knew that this conversation touched on matters that she found troubling, especially in light of Narayad’s current standing in the eagle community, and through him, her own.

“Is she all right?” the bird whispered, following his glance.

“I hope that she will always be so,” Surinen confessed, still looking to the door. “It has been a trying time for all of us here. For you too, if it has been so long since you have been in these parts. You must have traveled a great distance to find again your desert home. But do not worry, we will be here tomorrow also, and the Haradrim will not carry you away again from this place.”

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Old 08-23-2004, 08:24 PM   #277
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Fador

As he made his way through the dark camp back in the direction of his tent, Fador's mind churned. So much had happened over the course of the last several days. There still remained so much to be done, to be seen to, with the passing of Ayar so near at hand. Wyrma’s assassin had done his job well, he thought grimly, coming and going unseen and unheard like a deadly breath of wind. At first Fador, like the others, had believed that the leader of the Eagles had merely taken ill. He had tried to take advantage of her illness with the fire, but now realized that the sabotage of the incense pot had been a mistake. Wyrma’s man had done his job with lethal effectiveness. All he had managed to do, himself, was focus suspicion upon the person of his own daughter, Latah, who was completely innocent. Her husband, Narayad, another innocent, had also fallen under the blanket of suspicion and was being sent away for it. His action had been a grave miscalculation.

“Foolishness,” he muttered. He should have left well enough alone. Not one to dwell upon failures, however, Fador turned his mind ahead to the group awaiting him in his tent. He had offered his hospitality to the two Gondorians, who had arrived in such an untimely fashion, not so much out of generosity as out of the desire to watch them, that he might best ascertain what their intentions were and how he might bend them to his own purposes... if he could bend them. That possibility still remained to be explored. While he had caught a distant glimpse of them earlier in the day and heard many wild rumors, he had yet to meet either of them face to face.

As he neared his tent, Fador saw Latah step through the open flap, carrying an armload of dirty dishes. Catching sight of him, Latah set the dishes down and smiled.

“You return at last!” she exclaimed. “We have kept dinner warm for you.”

Fador smiled back at her, nodding in the direction of their tent. “I hope you have been a good hostess to our guests. I should hate to give our Gondorian friends a bad impression of us.”

“Oh...” Latah glanced nervously over her shoulder. “Unfortunately, they are not here. We only learned at the last moment that they had made their dinner plans elsewhere. I have been a good hostess only to Surinen and one of our long lost kin, Sorona.”

Fador shot a sharp glance through the open flap of the tent. Sorona? He had heard talk among the other elders of the arrival of another supposed stranger, a female, trapped in the form of an eagle. Could it be the same Sorona who had once been one of them and married into the clan of the Wolves? If so, the timing of her return was intriguing. He had thought her dead, killed years ago in the Haradrim raids that had driven the Eagles deep into the south and created the rift between the two clans. Why had she returned? Why now? Catching sight of the stately form of the eagle, he frowned slightly. It was impossible to tell her identity for certain in her current form. The Sorona he had known had not even been capable of taking that form when he last saw her.

He nodded to Latah. “So I see. And where have the Gondorians gone?”

Latah colored slightly and shrugged. “I am afraid I don’t know, but I expect they shall return shortly.”

“Very well, then,” he said patiently, agreeing that he would have to wait to meet the northerners until their return later in the evening. Turning, Fador entered his tent, giving Surinen a courteous nod in passing, but focusing the majority of his attention upon the eagle.

“Greetings, Mistress Eagle,” he said pleasantly. “I am Fador. Welcome to my home. I trust my daughter has taken proper care of you?”

“She has been very kind,” answered the eagle. “I thank you both for your hospitality. I am Sorona.”

“Sorona,” echoed Fador, giving the eagle a long gaze. “I used to know someone by that name a very long time ago,” he said. “She married into another clan and I lost track of her, but that was many years ago.” He smiled. “Allow me to welcome you to our encampment. Do you plan to remain with us long?”

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Old 08-25-2004, 04:58 AM   #278
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Korpúlfr

Kórpulfr sat close to the dying embers of the campfire his blanket pulled tightly about his shoulders to ward off the biting chill of the cold desert night, both his companions were now sleeping soundly their light breathing marked only by the steady rise and fall of their chest against the red glow of the fire light. Korpulfr stared through the flames at Tinar; several days alone in the desert seemed to have matured the young man considerably and calmed his impulsiveness. As he studied the peaceful features of his young friend, he wondered if this change was temporary or if as the elders of his clan believed, Tinar actually possessed the potential to someday take his mother place as head of the clans. Did this boy really possess something that the others of his clan did not?

Wolf blood? The thought came unbidden and in the soft firelight, Tinar’s sharp angular features suddenly bore a frightening resemblance to that of his father, the Raakaharn. Clenching his jaw defiantly, he rose from the fire pulling his blanket tighter as he turned and strode purposefully away from his sleeping companions, angrily he tried to dismiss the cold realisations that filled his mind. However, he could not if Tinar was blood kin to the Rakaaharn then it made sense that the elders would wish to see him as Wyrma’s successor and that their friendship was necessary to form a strong and influential alliance between the two clans.

Shaking his head he realised he was debating the advantages of a lie. Tinar is not wolf blood! He reminded himself. No, he could not believe his father would betray his mother’s memory in such a way, though he could not deny that his father’s behaviour of late was a concern, he took to locking himself in his study for hours on end, and when he did appear he was secretive and evasive. Kor looked back at the sleeping form of Hasrim wondering if his cousin knew any more than he did what was going on in his father mind.

No, he decided thoughtfully, if Hasrim knew anything, he would have told him already. I am being paranoid finding fault in what could only be stress brought on by Wyrma’s demands on my father; he concluded laughing at his own suspicions. “If I’m not careful I’ll begin to sound just like those fools who think that the Wyrm clan have some ulterior motive for uniting the clans!” he whispered shaking his head.

I have to find something to do, to prevent these foolish thought! He thought restlessly, and then looking out over the sandy horizon, he remembered the encampment that they had seen during their earlier scouting of the area. Several hours as the Raven flies! He thought contemplatively. Hasrim seemed to think the Gondorians would be stopping there for the night and although Kor did not doubt his cousin he thought to have a closer look, perhaps he could find something out, like who guided the Gondorians so will through the desert, carefully avoiding until now the other clans!

His mind made up he returned to the camp and gently roused his cousin, “Hmpf! What… What is it, what’s happened?” Hasrim asked sitting up and instinctively reaching for his sword.

“Calm cousin, nothing has happened,” Korpúlfr laughed, laying his hands assuringly on his cousin’s arm.

“Then what do you mean by rousing me before it is my turn for watch,” Hasrim scowled relaxing slightly as he looked up to note the moons position in the clear night sky.

“I am restless cousin, I wake you early that I may go take a closer look at the camp we espied earlier,” he grinned hoping to pacify his older companion.

“Are you sure that is wise?” Hasrim asked his scowl deepening into a concerned frown, “There is any number of clans who would not welcome unwanted guests in the night and we do not know if these are friend or foe!”

“Worry not cousin they won’t even know I am there, I will be back by morning!” he winked, then turning he shifted into his raven form and took to the air, his blanket falling to the ground beside his stunned cousin.

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

Hasrim

Hasrim stared at the fallen blanket for a long moment before rising, his dark, usually complacent eyes narrowing in cold and bitter unrestrained contempt, as he looked out in the direction his cousin had just flown. Angrily he picked up the blanket and violently tossed it aside, if only all things could be so easily cast aside he thought darkly. “Foolish boy!” he hissed through gritted teeth, He would ruin everything if he were captured or killed by a rival clan he chided bitterly, casting a cautionary glance to where Tinar lay, making sure the young Wyrmling was still sleeping.

His initial instinct was to follow Kor and make sure himself that the young wolf cub did not find any trouble, after all this was the task his uncle had assigned him to do. However, staring at Tinar through the orange glow of the fire he knew if something were to happen to him in his absence, his life would not be worth living, Wyrma would see to that! Frustrated he kicked the dry earth beneath his boot, watching it spit and hiss in the warm glow of the fire. He hated not being in control and having to trust that his younger cousin, who was pivotal to all his plans, would stay out of trouble grated him deeply.

He paced contemplating those plan, a play he had so carefully devised and set into motion with the death of his grandfather, he grinned wickedly as he remembered how easy it had been to slip the poison into the old mans drink. He did not die at once off course that would have drawn to much suspicion, especially since the old wolf was having his doubts about Wyrma’s grand plans, but rather he slowly but gradually became ill as if some mysterious sickness plagued him until at last his strength gave out and he finally passed away. Kórpulfr had been so upset he and his grandfather had been close, too close! He conceded bitterly. But he had insured that it was he who had been there to comfort and support his cousin and he who over the years had became his close friend and a trusted family member, Kor trusted him implicitly, even valuing his advise, just as he had planned! A twisted grin framed his dark features as he took satisfaction in his own cunning.

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Old 08-26-2004, 11:31 AM   #279
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Rama & Miri

Ráma did not move her eyes from Mithadan's face even when Rôg dumped the tray on the ground and Miri scurried forward to retrieve the fruit. The Man from Gondor could be lying or confused, but Ráma did not think so. There was a calm assurance and honesty in both his tone and demeanor that convinced her he was speaking the truth. If he said Bird had mastered five shapes and that one was an Ent and another a dragon, then it must be so.

Ráma was less certain how others in her clan would respond to Mithadan's plea. However softly phrased, his description of Bird implicitly challenged some of the Elders' teachings. She was not sure whether the Man from Gondor even recognized this.

She had apparently been taught things that weren't true. Not all dragons were base and dishonorable. And there was at least one talking, sentient creature whose form had been taken on by a maenwaith . Quickly, her mind made another giant leap. It wasn't only the Ents. In the ancient tales, the wyrms could speak to each other and even with Men. Why had she never made this connection before and recognized that the limits about talking creatures had certain exceptions? She had always accepted what the Elders said about who she was and what she might and might not do. It was not that they had lied to her. They were good Men and Women who knew a great deal more than she did. But they did not know everything.

The Elders had constantly drummed a simple dictum into her head: only clan leaders could take on four shapes; all others, including herself, were restricted to three. The message had been clear: do not squander your forms, or you may find you have none left when it comes time to take your place among the adult Eagles of the clan. You will be one of the dispossessed who harbors an Eagle spirit, but with no physical form in which it may find its expression.

Perhaps, the Elders had been mistaken that day on the beach when they had scolded her. And her own mother had been right to urge her to look for help among the wyrms. Maybe the key to her past as well as the fate of her people lay in accepting the same hard lesson: although goodness never changes, ways of thinking and acting do, and we must master those changes with grace and an honorable heart, just as we master changes in our form.

Impulsively lurching to her knees in front of Mithadan, in full view of her astonished dinner guests, Ráma spoke loudly so all could hear: "Man of Gondor, you say more than you realize. But I believe you. I swear that I will not rest until I help you and Airefalas find this Bird. For your search and mine have become one. Perhaps this Bird was sent to us for reasons we cannot altogether know, perhaps even to lead us to her other Dragon kin who have not forsaken the old ways. Tomorrow, we will speak more on this and see where we will begin this search. For now, it is late, and I would ask you to return to your tents. Say nothing more of this to anyone until I have had a chance to speak with my sister." With that she turned and, beckoning Miri to her side, quickly left the tent.

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


Miri looked up hesitently at her older friend as Ráma took her by the hand and briskly whisked them out of the tent, preparing to take her home. The girl was not certain exactly what to say. So much had happened between her and Rôg, and now Ráma was acting in a way she could not understand.

They stopped for a moment by a large barrel that stood nearby to ladle out two small cups of water. After they had drunk, Ráma threw her head back, looked up at the stars, and began humming a song to herself. Miri could see that she was acting very strangely.

"My mother will be pleased!" Ráma confided. "I know she will be excited to hear about Bird." Perhaps, she mused silently to herself, Ayar will feel better after she's rested and I can speak with her in the morning. As they reached the end of the row and stood in front of the tent belonging to Miri's family, Ráma halted for a moment to speak with the girl, "I wanted to see if Rôg would be willing to help us recruit among the tribes to the south. But so much happened at the end that I never had time. I know you are close friends with him. Perhaps you can tell me. Do you think he would be willing to speak with his clan so that they could help us? Do you know what form his clan takes to defend itself?"

Miri hastily shook her head, looking uncomfortable. "You'll have to ask him. I don't know much about this. Anyways, I'm not sure if he can help. He's going to visit his family."

"The ones he mentioned earlier who are camped south of here."

Miri shook her head, "Not exactly. Some other relatives.....very old ones." She was feelng a bit uncomfortable and hoped Ráma would stop questioning her. "I think his whole clan is going for a visit. They live in some caves on the rim of the northern desert. Not too far from the Sea, I think. Anyways, ask him yourself. He'll only be gone a little while."

At that point Ráma's face blanched. "But that's not possible. There is no place like that in Harad."

Miri shrugged her shoulders, "Well, he never said it was Harad. Maybe it's someplace else."

"Miri, look at me!" Ráma commanded. "I want you to repeat exactly what Rôg said....."
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Old 08-26-2004, 11:33 AM   #280
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Miri

‘I don’t remember exactly what he said,’ Miri said, screwing her mouth up in consternation. ‘I thought he said one thing earlier today and before, too. But then he lied tonight. When that man from up north was speaking; he just flat out lied.’ Miri’s little hands were on her hips as she spoke, her speech perplexed and angry at the same time.

‘Perhaps you misunderstood,’ began Rama, wondering if the girl would come round to answering her question.

‘No! I didn’t!’ Miri said shaking her head fiercely. ‘Because I asked him and he said he did . . . but not to me.’ She glanced up sharply at Rama wondering if she should tell her that the reason he lied was to keep Rama from telling him he was crazy and what he said just couldn’t be true, as her sister Narika had already done. Her child’s understanding of friendship clamped her lips tight on revealing anything Rôg had told her previously about changing shapes. Though he hadn’t asked her to do so, she didn’t want her friend made fun of or scolded for saying things that others disapproved of. In her child’s way she understood quite well how sometimes you had to keep things hidden away because the grownups just wouldn’t understand.

Miri narrowed her eyes, sliding them away from Rama. It was obvious that Rama was not going away until she had something from Miri. Well. I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to tell her about his visit to his clan . . . she reasoned, knowing that he had shared the information freely with her and with the old fellow he traveled with.

‘Rôg arranged for his old friend to stay with our Clan,’ she began hesitantly, hoping Rama would not start questioning her on each point. ‘He’s going away for a week’s time, I think. He promised his mami and da that he would visit with them when he came south. And his Clan leader, he is supposed to talk to him about something, too.’ She looked up hopefully, making sure Rama was following along. ‘Anyways . . . his clan is down south at the end of our mountains right now. They make things, you know, and bring them round to the marketplaces . . . he told me his own family made the . . .’

An ahem! from Rama and the raising of one of her friend’s eyebrows reminded Miri to stay on track.

‘Anyways,’ she began again, ‘they don’t really live down at the end of the mountains. They’ve just been staying there for a while . . . until all the bad things were over. Now they’ll be going back to their real home . . . the desert, way up north, by the eastern sea where their Elders are waiting for them.’ Miri clapped her hands together and smiled. ‘Oh, I’ll bet those red mountains are so pretty! He told me they were. They’re right on the edge of the desert . . . and they have caves in them, Rama. That’s where their Elders have been staying . . .’ She saw the confused look on Rama’s face. ‘Well, not all of them. Some of them stay in the desert camp with the rest of the clan . . .’

Rama shook her head in disbelief. ‘Oh, Miri, it sounds as if your friend has woven you a tale of moonbeams on spider webs.’ She smiled down at her little friend. ‘He’s pulling your leg,’ she said gently, reaching out to put her arm round the girl’s shoulders. 'There's no desert up there and even if there were, there's no way Rôg could go and come back so quickly.' She smiled sympathetically at her little friend. 'You must have known he was jesting . . .'

Miri pulled away, indignant at being talked to as if she were a baby! ‘Hmmmph!’ she snorted . . . ‘Since you think it’s all stories, I won’t even bother you with the dropped melons and the dra . . .’

Their attentions were caught at that moment by a an out of breath voice calling out Rama’s name. The young woman and the girl turned to watch as one of the night guards from Ayar’s tent came running toward them. His face was pale, and grim, and his breathing was labored from his exertions. At first, it was difficult to understand him, and Rama laid a hand on his arm, asking him to slow down a bit and speak in a clearer manner. As he did so, her own face paled, and she clutched Miri’s hand so hard that the little girl cried out.

Others of the clan had drawn near; their voices saddened and fearful at the news the guard had brought. One of the women reached out for Miri, saying that she would see her to her parents’ tent. Another put her shawl about about Rama’s shoulders and pushed her in the direction of the messenger. ‘Go,’ she said to the young woman. ‘Your sister has summoned you.’

The small group watched as the guard and Rama hastened to Ayar’s tent. Then, the whispers began; the soft calling out to those still in their tents spread outward in rippling sighs, bringing the awaited but unwelcome news.

The meldakhar is dying . . . Ayar . . . it is Ayar . . . her light is fading . . .
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