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Old 11-21-2003, 08:36 PM   #161
Hilde Bracegirdle
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Sting

Rauthain

After his turn at watch, Rauthain readied his horse in the darkness. As he had confided to Maethor and Dúlrain in the hours after dusk, he wished to start out before daybreak gaining a few leagues before the sun rose and he could be seen more readily. The trail had grown difficult the further they traveled from Bree and they had been forced to trust heavily on instinct, which thus far had not been proven wrong. But Rauthain had urged that they spread out, planning to meet from time to time and share what they had found on their paths, joining company again if they could in the evening, and as they drew nigh their prize. And so he prepared himself to go.


"Perhaps I will regain my whetstone today!" Rauthain called in jest to his two companions as he mounted his horse.


"If you do, give Master Longholes our regards." Maethor returned with a grin.


"That I shall," he said turning Juta's head away from camp and setting off. They had come across a long set of the hobbit's prints heading back toward the west only this last morning. Curiously the footprints had doubled back again near the ranger's stopping point. Their Toby had become spy, and Naiore must be close now to direct such incursions. Rauthain guided the horse in the direction that he had seen the prints leading before the evening had over taken the rangers.


He felt strangely free and unencumbered under the stars in the early hours this morning, as if he were further north again, deep in the Ettenmoors. Marking the stars he gauged his time and direction. And after roughly two leagues and the sun showed promise of its return in the east, he heard the sound of soft conversation among the breezes blown about the mountain's feet. A woman's voice, a few words and no more.


Sliding noiselessly down from Juta, Rauthain crested a misty hill and keeping close to the trees he crept slowly down the other side stopping midway at the sight before him. Dressed in a southern manner, a woman stood folding a blanket at the foot of the hill; speaking gently to the horse she fastened it on. Beyond the woman a hobbit milled about picking up pots and spoons in the gloom and trundled off into the mist toward the rivulet that Rauthain could hear in the near distance. He recognized the three animals strung together, but could not move from his place compelled to observe in silence as the familiar form of Kaldir appeared carrying full water skins over to were the horses were tethered. Gently resting one hand on the woman's back to draw her attention, he passed her the skin that she then tied upon her horse. “Thank you,” she said quietly and Kaldir turned his attention to the dappled stallion beside her.


Rauthain stood transfixed under the boughs of an alder tree, still and unblinking in the grey dawn. The woman, having finished attending to the horse, looked up and into the face of the timeworn ranger. He saw the surprise register swiftly on her fair features as she reached back to touch Kaldir’s sleeve.


Emerging in an instant from among the horses, Kaldir advanced menacingly toward the ranger, unsheathing his heavy sword with one fluid gesture. Rauthain felt an unbidden surge of pride and approval at the quick response. Kaldir had not lost his keen reflexes, nor it appeared his memory of Rauthain, for his face was dark and brooding in recognition as he drew closer.


Suddenly gone was the strong brow and high cheekbones of the proud well-formed ranger of Rauthain’s memory, and before him the visage of a man ill-used, his appearance as if made of mottled wax that had been let drip down his side of face unhindered by bone or beard. It was as if a well-crafted instrument had been crushed under foot, still bearing the prominent marks of perfection long spoiled. Rauthain’s hand moved instinctively to rest on the hilt of his sword. “Kaldir…” he uttered half to himself and half to the long years that separated them. “Long have I beheld your countenance in my mind’s eye and long have I thought you dead, your frame resting hidden in the dark passages under the Misty Mountains.”


“Many of late have wished me dead to be sure, and many a dark day I too have longed for such relief. But there are some few who would have helped me when life was yet precious and yet did not. Some few in whom I placed my trust and who failed me in great need. And one who knew of my peril and yet turned away.”


“I am that one, and own it utterly and more beside, but it was folly, a madness that overtook you that fateful day, and I misjudged sorely your circumstances.”


“Madness to catch Cidreth’s assassin?” Kaldir questioned, a fierce light flickering in his eyes. “For I slew the orc that dared bring him down and many more beside, before I thought my time had come, all the while expecting you to round the corner to help tip the scale in my favor. I would that you were mad enough to find me that day or even the next week or year. But I had been cut off, forgotten. I was dead, buried alive beyond remembrance in the pits of Mordor.”


Rauthain struggled to quell his raging mind. “But we had detailed reports of your demise…” he said as if to himself, and remembering Hanasian and Dúlrain he leveled his gaze at Kaldir and spoke firmly and distinctly so that Kaldir might not mistake his words. “I must bear all blame and no other, for I had great confidence in your abilities and counseled Elendir to move on, unaware of your ordeal. For this I am grievously troubled, though I can not presume to make amends.” Then lowering himself down on one knee, Rauthain touched Kaldir’s boot bringing his fingertips to his lips in a sign of respect and submission, while ever conscious Kaldir’s gleaming sword close by his shoulder.


This man does not speak as one held subject to the will of another, he thought as he rose again, but as one fully wronged. Still Rauthain would not allow that he be fooled through the weakness of his own conscience, and looked with a critical eye for some sure token of the man’s relationship to his tormentor.


“I too am seeking Naiore,” he said softly, “in the memory of the one I failed.”

[ November 24, 2003: Message edited by: Hilde Bracegirdle ]
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Old 11-24-2003, 08:03 AM   #162
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Sting

Kaldir

Lowering himself down on one knee, Rauthain touched Kaldir’s boot bringing his fingertips to his lips in a sign of respect and submission, his gaze slipping only once in the direction of Kaldir’s gleaming sword close by his shoulder. "I too am seeking Naiore," he said softly, "in the memory of the one I failed."

Looking down at the old Ranger's bent head, Kaldir felt a surge of emotion, part anger and part pain, rise up inside of him. A raw confusion of memories stirred up by the man's face battled to gain a foothold in the dark underside of Kaldir's mind, but he pushed them all down and away from him. All but one. Raven Falls. This was the man who could have tipped the battle in his favor. This was the man who might have prevented all the torture, the years of mind-bending pain. This was the man who had turned his back on a comrade in need. Kaldir had the fleeting temptation to lop the fool's head off where he knelt. Instead, he slapped the old ranger's shoulder harshly with the flat of his sword.

"Get up," he snarled. "You'll find no forgiveness here."

Rauthain fell slightly off balance with the force of the blow, but regained himself quickly and rose to his feet, his open hands raised in front of him. "I cannot presume to make amends --" he began again, but left the sentence unfinished as Kaldir raised the point of his sword level with Rauthain's throat.

"No. You can’t." Kaldir’s pale eyes glittered dangerously as he studied the lines of the other man’s face, looking for signs of the weakness that had made this man retreat when valor had been so critical. He could feel the long-mutilated muscles in the scarred side of his own face twitch with restrained fury. "You can’t begin to make amends. You mention seeking Naiore in the memory of one you failed. Well, unless you have failed others besides me, I release you from that task. I don’t need your acts of contrition. May you wear your guilt like a shroud."

Kaldir paused for only a second, then his blade flashed out, flaying open the side of the older man’s face. "Wear that in my memory," he said coldly, watching as the dark red blood spilled from the fresh wound down the side of Rauthain’s face and on to the shoulder of his cloak. Kaldir turned the scarred side of his own face toward him. "As I wear this in yours."

Lowering his sword, Kaldir turned to go. Over by the horses, he could see Benia Nightshade and Mrs. Banks where he had left them, watching the exchange with wide, nervous eyes. Completely motionless, the two of them looked like a pair of statues.

"Kaldir!" Rauthain called behind him.

Kaldir swung around again, his sword at the ready, half-expecting to clash swords with Rauthain, but found that Rauthain had made no move toward him. He had not even tried to staunch the flow of blood from the slash to his face.

"What of Naiore?" the ranger asked softly.

"Naiore and I have unfinished business," answered Kaldir. "It does not concern you or the king or anyone else."

"It is folly to take her on alone. She has others with her, helping her."

"Two men, a hobbit, and another elf, to be precise. Your point?"

The old ranger nodded in the direction of Kaldir's companions. "You are one man, traveling with two females, who, if I may say so, do not look to be warriors. You would be sorely overmatched." He lowered his voice. "I have in my company two good men: Dulrain, whom you know well, and a young ranger by the name of Maethor. We, too, seek Naiore. If we were to ride together -- "

Kaldir shook his head. "No." He sheathed his sword with a decisive motion. "You go your way and I shall go mine. Whoever bags the viper first --" He stopped abruptly, his attention captured by a black plume of smoke rising over the trees to the northwest. "Be blessed," he finished distantly.

The smoke lay in the direction that Naiore’s tracks had been leading them. What was she burning? The bodies of her companions? He let a grim smile play on the corner of his lips. Whatever it was, it meant that she was moving. They had tarried too long. If they hoped to gain any ground on her, they would have to depart quickly and at once. Turning, Kaldir gave Rauthain a terse nod in good-bye.

"Good hunting," he added on an impulse. Then, moving with new resolve, he went quickly in the direction of his companions and the horses. When he glanced back, he could see Rauthain still standing there, watching thoughtfully.

"Let’s move!" he growled sharply at Gilly and Benia, putting Rauthain out of his mind. "If there’s anything you haven’t packed from the night leave it." He swung himself into his saddle. "We’ll have to make do without it." He watched as the two women scurried to mount their horses, then, digging his heels into the flanks of the gray stallion, took off from the campsite at a gallop, his companions close behind.

He followed the smoke plume, not minding the tracks on the ground. He already knew where they would lead. In just over an hour of hard riding, the three arrived at the source of the smoke plume. Kaldir dismounted and examined the fire pit. Charred scraps of vellum still smoked in the ash, their surfaces covered in elegant Quenyan script. The tracks beside the smoldering circle, he noticed, were made by the delicate boots of an elven female. He had guessed correctly. Studying the other prints filling the site, he determined that his earlier accounting of Naiore’s companions was still correct. He was also pleased to note that they still traveled on foot. He could still overtake them before they reached the Shire. If he guessed correctly, they were only an hour or two behind Naiore.

But Naiore and her companions were no longer moving west. Kaldir studied the tracks leaving the campsite, then cast a thoughtful glance at the remains of the bonfire. They were now moving eastward. His first thought was that something in those writings must have changed Naiore’s mind. What it was, he had no clue, but if she was going east, then he would go east as well. Calling to Gilly and Benia to follow, he remounted his horse and embarked eastward into the rising sun, the tracks of five individuals mapping his course out before him.

As they traveled, Kaldir kept his horse to a walk, dismounting frequently to check the tracks, to make sure that none of Naiore’s companions had left the course or doubled back. Nonetheless, they made good time. Riding across country, they skirted the Midgewater marshes to the north, then passed between the Weather Hills on the north and Amon Sul on the south. By the afternoon of the fifth day, still following Naiore’s lead, they crossed the Great East Road and entered the Lone-lands. By then, he knew, they were on a direct path toward Imladris.
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Old 11-25-2003, 07:13 AM   #163
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Sting

Amandur

The remainder of the night worn on slowly, Léspheria remained silent and slightly withdrawn, as Amandur lead the way, stopping only to pick out the weak trail as they moved steadily onward. The light of his elf companions torch not giving enough light to distinguish the many fading prints, Forced him to light another, after this they made good time and with the growing light of dawn he felt confident they would catch up to the others soon.

Dismounting to check the trail, and stretch his weary muscles, he crouched down to again study the clues in the blanket of green, each bent and crushed blade showed that others had passed before them, two light footed elves, two men, one hobbit and six riders, as before. "Kaldir still travels with his guests in toe! With my kinsmen not too far behind," he said as he heard the soft clip of Léspheria's mare draw near, he turned to see that she had Kalloruvi's reigns in her hand and was looking at something above the trees, he lifted his head to follow her gaze, and then he too saw the tower of dark smoke.

"Naiore?" he asked, "Perhaps" she answered absently still looking in the direction of the smoke plume, "Then let us go see!" he said taking his reigns and swinging easily atop the black charger. Giving a sharp dig to the stallions muscular flank, he galloped off in the direction of the smoke, Léspheria slightly behind.

Several hours had passed since their first sighting of the spiralling tower of thick dark smoke and now it was all but pale wisps in the morning sky, he slowed the dark charger, stopping a short while later. He dismounted and studied three sets of hoof prints, they were fresh only hours old, cautiously he silently drew his sword, holding it ready, he heard Léspheria pull an arrow from her quiver, the bow made no sound, but he knew she would have it pulled back and knocked in readiness. Leaving the horses, they quietly drew near the camp circling to make sure no trap lay in wait, finding tracks at the other side of the camp; he conceded that it had been abandoned for some time.

Sheathing his sword he walked to the centre of the camp. Léspheria passed him and he saw that her bow remained taunt. He quickened his pace to keep up as she hurried towards the fire pit. The fire was out but the pit was still warm. He watched as she stooped and picked up a scorched piece of Vellum. She looked at it for only a second then thrust it into his hands, causing the chard edges to crumble, and then she stalked off. He watched as she crouched to the ground and ran her gloved hand gently across a faint print.

He then turned back to the Vellum she had pressed into his hands. Most of the fine Quenyan script was indistinguishable; he lightly blew on it, in a vain attempt to remove some of the ash. Still only, a few words remained recognisable... Menecin...Rivendell and near the bottom of the scorch page was Léspheria's name. His eyes widened and he looked up to regard the elf , she was now crouched beneath a spreading alder and as he walked toward her, he saw her now ungloved hand delicately stroking the knarled bark, her face a wash with sorrow and pain.

He placed a comforting hand on her shoulder, but she stiffened and rose quickly turning away from him, since waking from her nightmare, she had hardly spoken two words to him and now this, "If I have some how offend, please tell me, but for pities sake do not torture me with your silence!" He saw her freeze, and then slowly she turned, raising her still bare hand to his face, his stomach knotting at her gentle touch. "You could never do wrong by me, my friend. But I will not give her a weapon which she could use against me and neither should you ... do you understand?" she whispered softly, her eyes showing the sorrow in her words. He stared for a moment then resignedly nodded his understanding.

"She heads for Imladris, My priorities have now changed!" she told him, lowering her hand, pulling on the green leather glove and retrieving her bow. "I must leave at once!"

"But what of the others?" he exclaimed calmly. However, by the set on her fair face he could see that she meant to go on alone, "No!" he said shaking his head. “Naiore is out there and she is not alone, if I have guessed right she now knows who you are and that you are here, she will be expecting you to warn your kin, you will be sorely out numbered, even I would not take those odds!” his voice remaining soft, but stern as he aired his concerns.

"Then what would you have me do! Stand by and wait for her to break the sanctity of the last safe refuge of my kin!?" she retorted, "No...", but before he could answer further a soft crunch drew their full attention, in one quick fluid motion, he turned, his sword drawn and his eyes scanning the camps perimeter, searching for the source of the sound. Beside him, he could feel Léspheria do the same, holding his sword in readiness he called out in a strong commanding voice "Show yourself!"

*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*

Léspheria

.As they rode Léspheria's thoughts were ever bent on Naiore and Vanwe, every now and then she looked down to the gloved hands that gripped her mare's reigns, staring through the soft green leather and the pale skin to the warm blood within and each time a shiver ran down her spine. She knew they were of the same kin, Vanwe had said as much without knowing, back at the forsaken inn and in her dream her mother had called Naiore cousin, but was the bond that strong.

She had felt Vanwe's fear and pain as strongly as she had her own mothers, and it was taking all her will and strength to block out the continuing torrent of emotions, but she had felt Vanwe's resistance unrefined and raw yet powerful. At the same time, she struggled with her own emotions, the fear that groped at her soul always threatening to drag her into despair, the hate and anger she felt towards Naiore that could lead to her doom, her love for Amandur and her kin, which although it strengthened her heart, could be used against her...

Naiore is so strong how can I hope to stop her with only a handful of rangers at my side. If the lady Galadriel was still here then perhaps... her thoughts trailing as a familiar screech pulled her back to her present surroundings. They had come far in such a short time and Amandur had stopped again and was crouched a short distance away examining their trail. As she looked around to discern her position, she heard the screech again, it was a comforting sound that she heard often when her path in life lead to an unmarked juncture, but as usual when she looked up their was no sign of the bird that acted as her guide. But this time as her eyes rose skyward she did see something, not a bird but a thick black spiralling tower of smoke several hours ride north-west she reckoned.

A sign, she mused as she urged Losseserme forwards, picking up the reigns of Amandur's dark charger as she moved towards the diligent ranger, but she could not keep her eyes from drifting to the spiralling tower, was Naiore toying with her or had one of Naiores companions left the sign? She found herself pitying the fool who would make such a mistake while in Naiores Company.

"Naiore?" she heard Amandur ask, "Perhaps?" she answered absently, there was still the possibility that the Rangers had lit the fire, though she thought none of them fool hardy enough to let it smoke so, unless in need of help. "Then let us go see!" Amandur said as he took his reigns from her hands and mounted the stallion, she nodded to his back, then dug her heel into the mare's flank and galloped slightly behind the dark charger toward the dark sign in the dawns growing light.

After several hours hard riding, Léspheria following Amandurs lead slowing her mount to a gentle walking pace. The smoke had died and they again had to rely on the faint trail. After studying a fresh set of prints Amandur cautiously drew his sword, slipping silently from Losseserme, she readied her bow and followed him until they could see the hasty remains of a camp. using hand gestures Amandur gestured that they should circle the camp before entering, without word or sign that she understood she turned and silently slipped away to scout the left side of the camps perimeter.

The Tracks on the other side veered east instead of continuing west as expected, looking eastward, Lespheria became more anxious to examine the camp, as soon as Amandur appeared and concluded that the camp was empty, he sheath his sword and walked forwards. With her bow lowered but the arrow still knocked, she stalked past him straight to the smouldering fire pit. Moving the ashes with the toe of her boot, she found what she had expected; deftly she stooped and picked up one of the scorched pieces of vellum. She needed only one glance at the fine Quenyan writing to confirm her fears; she goes to Imaldris to finish what she began.

Thrusting the page into Amandur's hands, she turned and searched the ground for Naiores fine boot print, finding it she crouched to the ground and studied it for a second, had not Vanwe wore the heavy male boots of Gondorian make, their prints would be indistinguishable, but as it was the light print fainter than the rest was undoubtedly Naiore's. She back traced the prints to a spreading alder, but as she knelt to examine the spot her heart sank, blood stained the grey bark and strands of golden hair clung to its coarse surface where Vanwe had obviously struggled to escape her mothers grasp. Removing one of her gloves she delicately stroked the surface...There must be some way that I can stop this! She thought sadly. However, if Naiore were heading to Imladris, she would have to leave Vanwe in the clutches of her mother, to get to her kin before them, but if the opportunity arose, she would help Vanwe if she could.

She stiffened as she felt Amandur's comforting hand on her shoulder, standing she turned away from him, she had to remain focused and what ever feeling she had for the ranger had to remain hidden, for his safety if not for her own. "If I have some how offended, please tell me, but for pities sake do not torture me with your silence!" She froze where she stood his word tugging at her heart and crumbling her resolve, sighing and focusing what resolved was left she slowly turned and raised her still bared hand to his face.

"You could never do wrong by me, my friend. But I will not give her a weapon to use against me and neither should you, do you understand?" She whispered softly, seeing her own pain mirrored in his dark hazel eyes. He studied her for a few moments that burned in her very soul then he resignedly nodded his understanding. Pulling away and slipping on her glove, she told him of her need to head straight for Imladris, to warn her kin.

He objected to her going on alone, "Then what would you have me do! Stand by and wait for her to break the sanctity of the last refuge of my kin!" she retorted hotly, but before he could answer, they both heard a soft crunch. Lifting her bow and pulling back the string, she turned and scanned the perimeter of the camp. She held her bow ready as Amandur ordered who ever was present to show them self.

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Old 11-26-2003, 12:15 AM   #164
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Maethor

Maethor whistled softly to himself as his dark eyes darted across the path, seeking for even the slightest sign of their cunning prey. A wind breathed gently past him, leaving the homely smell of smoke in its wake. Maethor sniffed deeply, his senses tingling with pleasure. Raising his eyes to the horizon, he frowned as he saw a tower of smoke swell on the horizon, black waves undulated in the midst of the tower, rippling upwards, clouding the blue sky. Little plumes of grey wisped away and fluttered lightly away, before dissipating before the breath of the wind.

That was far too much smoke from an ordinary camp fire. Maethor frowned worriedly as he furtively cast his eyes about him. A trick of Naiore? A stray spark from a latent fire? A burning homestead? He shrugged: either way, he would have to go and see if any were in danger.

With a soft hiss, he withdrew the knife from his right and boot and, crouching near the ground, he crept slowly towards a small thicket. Stopping, he saw that the smoke floated from behind a clump of bushes. Leaves, long deceased from autumns passed, created a crackling carpet littered with several twigs. Maethor glared at the troublesome, noise making agents and wished that he had been better able to learn the legendary light footedness of the elves. He smiled wanly as they had finely given up teaching him.

Urgent voices came to his ears and, frowning, Maethor continued his creeping while trying to distinguish the words. A crunch. Of course. He had been going so splendidly and then he made a noise. Holding his breath, he waited to see if the people had heard. “Show yourself!” a low, powerful voice commanded.

Snorting, Maethor flopped to his stomach and, craning his neck, saw the elven boots of a woman. Beside her was a man. He sighed. “Show yourself!” the voice repeated.

Maethor stopped -- the voice was vaguely familiar, but did not have the stink of Ferney nor the careless tone of Avanill. It actually sounded vaguely like Amandur’s actually. Rising to his feet he said, grinning, “Mae govannen, Amandure and Lespheria!”

Maethor listened in silence as Lespheria and Amandur showed him the burnt mithril books that mentioned a man named Menecin and Lespheria herself. “What has she to do with Menecin?” he asked.

Lespheria briefly explained their relationship, ending with: “She tried to kill him long ago and failed. Now she has learned that he is alive and is going back to finish a job she started long ago. I must leave now! I cannot risk the sanctuary of Imladris being broken.”

Maethor’s face was pale as he digested what he had heard. He shuddered as he thought of what Naiore had tried to do to a lover, how she had tortured him, tried him. “It is too dangerous,” he said. “We should wait for the others and regroup with them.”

“That could take too long!” she protested.

“It would be a betrayal to the others,” Amandure said, “as well as dangerous for you. What would stop Naiore from harming you? The fact that you claim kinship to her?” he snorted disdainfully.

Maethor nodded. After some more arguments and logic thrown from both sides, Lespheria finally conceded to join them and they journeyed to the prearranged meeting place together.
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Old 11-28-2003, 10:06 AM   #165
Hilde Bracegirdle
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Sting

Rauthain

“The fool!” Rauthain said has he watched Kaldir spur his horse, disappearing from view. “Even the Great Worm of Morgoth had his weak spot and so do you, as well as the Ravennor. I’ll be bound she knows yours like the back of her very hand, my friend. But this you must have learned well in your captivity.”

Frustrated, Rauthain drew his sword and vent his anger upon the undergrowth. He had been hard pressed to stem the tide of temper and reflex that had risen within him. This for Naldir’s sake, as well as for his son Kaldir’s, for he would not willingly fight Kaldir unless circumstances demanded it of him. Of course , he thought, grinning gravely as he clutched his shoulder, it might be good to keep out of sight for the time being . The bounty hunter knew now of his presence and having dismissed him with no more serious hurt gave Rauthain a small hope, though it was true he seemed less than happy to greet him, but this was only to be expected he told himself. Kaldir had made clear what thoughts had dogged him.

The bloodied ranger shook his grey head as he turned to look for Juta. Perhaps this unfinished business Kaldir had spoken of was not what it seemed. He had not given the token Rauthain had been looking for but left him wondering still if Kaldir might be able to carry out his own justice. Whatever the case, he would not be alone for long, though he may think it.

Finding Juta wandering at the back of the hill, Rauthain led the horse to the stream, letting him drink deeply in the cold rivulet as the ranger poured water over his own face, grimacing. The flow from the wound beginning to lessen somewhat still dripped red, streaking the left side of his face. And after rummaging through his saddlebag the ranger withdrew a cloth and small dirty piece of folded parchment containing a powdered root. Juta watched as Rauthain pressed the powder into the laceration pushing it well under the flap of skin to prevent fever from setting in.

The horse sniffed his cheek and snorted at the acrid dust, turning his head away to gaze across the stream. Rauthain patted the strong neck with stained fingers. “Perhaps, this bitterness also holds healing, eh Juta? Though I should be loath to meet Kaldir again and receive such a harsh treatment regardless of the curative effect. Ah no matter, I see clearly it must be done until the pain of it has diminished. But I have dallied over long.” Mounting once again, the ranger spurred his own horse, keeping well clear of Kaldir’s group for the time being.

By early afternoon he found signs that Amandur and Léspheria had also passed this way and began to follow them. He was pleased to see later that Maethor had joined the group as well, and made haste so that he might catch up with them before darkness fell. Steadily toward the east he traveled, coming across them late in the day. And hailing them warmly he approached, glad for their company in his troubled state of mind.

“Ah friends! How is your hunting?” He said smiling as he walked up to them. Then seeing their serious expressions his voice softened. “What tidings have befallen you that you have become so grave? Is the lass still well?”

“There have been signs of fierce struggle,” Amandur began.

“And Lady Léspheria has determined that they heading for Imladris and Menecin, so that Naiore might finish what she had begun in him.” Maethor explained.

“I have concerns also for those few heirs of Fingolfin that remain on these shores. My kin....” the elf added. "We by good fortune found an abandoned campsite that had brought these many things to light."

“This is truly bad news. If only this shadow would pass over these lands like the darkness of night, leaving all untouched,” he sighed.

“But what has happened to you Rauthain?” Léspheria questioned. “You have been hurt.”

“Yes hurt,” echoed the ranger, bringing his hand up to touch his cheek. “It seems that though the tree was kind enough it’s branch held a grudge against me! Rightfully it injured me, for I have damaged it as well,” He said forcing a weak smile to his lips.

“Come, let me tend to it,” the lady offered walking over to retrieve her satchel.

“Thank you, my lady,” Rauthain said following her, “I have applied my own crude medicine such as I carry, but would be much indebted to you for your skill.”

Taking ointment in hand Léspheria began ministering to the ranger, and noticing the wound’s cleanly cut edges she paused searching Rauthain’s grey eyes. Seeing that she had guessed the nature of it, the ranger raised his index finger to his lips and then opening his palm signaled her to wait. It was not something he could speak of now. And he could see in her sad and piecing gaze that Léspheria’s heart had pressing burdens of it’s own.

[ 11:14 AM November 28, 2003: Message edited by: Hilde Bracegirdle ]
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Old 11-29-2003, 06:33 PM   #166
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Sting

Dúlrain

Dúlrain followed the fresh tracks of his companions leading Dir by his reigns, the hem of his cloak was torn and stray nettle leaves clung to his leggings. His sweep west then north had revealed nothing but vicious thorny bracken and knee high biting nettles. He had returned east to see if his fellows had had better luck than he, and it seemed they had, he found sign that Amandur and the elf woman, Léspheria, had joined them. He remounted his stallion and hurried to find what news they had.

A heavy air greeted him as he entered the camp of his companions. They where deep in conversation, but as he approached they all looked up. "Dulrain, it is good to see that you are well my friend." Amandur said gesturing for him to join them. Friend! He though harshly as he sat, remembering his old captains betrayal of faith. Quickly Amandur filled him in on what had already passed since their last meeting. The death of Tallas, the missing elven tomes, the signs of struggle at Naiore's camp, the burnt tomes and the Lady Léspheria's fears regarding Rivendell.

"And now we must decide which course to take, to ride straight to Rivendell to warn the elves or to stay on her trail and try to take her into custody before she can get near the last house?" The older ranger finished.

Although the news of Tallas's death had saddened him, he could not quench the resentment he felt towards Amandur, "And what of Kaldir? Not once has anyone mention him, he too seeks Naiore!" At his sharp words, the company all turned to face him, but his eyes locked on Amandur.

"Yes I know that he lives, no thanks to the man who found him in the very bowels of hell itself, but by chance in the streets of Bree." Dulrain spat dryly, still looking at his old captain.

Amandur's eyes softened and he nodded resignedly. “Of that I am truly sorry, but until recently I was not aware that the ranger we found in Mordor and the Bounty hunter was one in the same. You must understand that the man we found in the pits of Barad-dur was badly injured and unrecognisable under his own blood and the filth of Mordor. We only found that he was one of our own when he managed to mutter a few words in the old tongue of our ancestors. However, when we asked his name he could not speak. We took him to the halls of healing in Minas Tirith, but the task of bringing the last remnants of the dark one to justice kept me away. When my duties finally allowed me to return the ranger had left and the healers told me he had lost most of his memory, but had insisted on leaving as soon as he was able. With no name I thought no more of it, until we met again in the Forsaken inn but even then I was uncertain."

Dúlrain listened as Amandur spoke and lowered his head in shame as he realised the ranger had not deliberately kept the knowledge from him as he had thought. "Surely you do not blame yourself for Kaldirs capture?" Amandur asked concerned. "You did all you could, I was there remember. When the news came that Elendir's Company had not reported in, myself and our company were hard pressed to keep up with your flight. We could have got there no sooner, my friend." Amandur said trying to comfort him, he nodded but still he felt he had failed his old friend. Had he gone on the mission that took them to Raven fall, and not gone with Amandur's company north into the Ettenmoors selfishly seeking vengeance for his fathers murder, Kaldir may have never fallen into her hands.

"We can do no more for Kaldir unless he asks for help; our concern is Naiore and what course we should now take?" Amandur said taking them all into his steady gaze. Dúlrain nodded at Amandur's logic reasoning and listened as the others continued to debate their course.

*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*

Léspheria

Léspheria rose to stretch her legs, the debate was long and she had listened carefully to everyone's arguments and counsels, offering some of her own. Both Rauthain and Dúlrain where set on staying on Naiores trail, they both seemed to share a deep sense of guilt and failure, this troubled her, but they offered sound arguments for their case, Amandur also thought it wise that some of them stay on the revennor's Trail and agreed with their counsels.

Just then Amandur voiced his own decision," I also will ride to Imladris, it may be that if we can get far enough ahead we can block her path." Léspheria was on the verge of protesting when Maethor also rose "then I too shall go, I have spent many years in the company of the elves and feel obliged to warn them of the danger that approaches and prevent Naiore's passage if I can."

"Then it is settled, we three shall ride with all haste to Imladris, to warn the Lords of Imladris of Naiores approach, While Rauthain and Dúlrain continue to follow the Revennor and her companions." Amandur concluded, the rangers all nodded their agreement, "we shall sup then be on our way!" The Rangers then broke and set about preparing a hasty supper, from their supplies.

Léspheria regarded the rangers thoughtfully as she sipped on the strong herbal tea that Maethor had brewed, he now sat with Amandur discussing the quickest route to Imladris, while Rauthain and Dúlrain sat across from each other, the flames of the small fire holding their steady gaze, as each was lost in his own thoughts. "Do they hold any answers?" she whispered, taking another sip of the hot tea she cradled in her hands. At her words the two rangers looked up with puzzled expressions, "The flames do they hold answers?" she repeated nodding to indicate the fire they had both been intently studying.

Dúlrain was the first to catch her meaning and laughed, "Nay, Lady, But some of my questions perhaps you can answer?"

"If I can I will," she smiled.

“Maethor mentioned that Kaldir was now a Bounty hunter, something which I am having a hard time to believe. As the man I remember was a loyal and righteous member of our brethren, but he also mentioned that, he was at the forsaken inn pursuing a quarry of his own. At first I assumed this was Naiore, But as I think on our encounter in Bree, the nature of his travelling companions worries me! A Southern woman and a hobbit woman do not seem the most likely of companions to take on this most dangerous hunt?" he sighed shaking his head.

Léspheria smiled sympathetically, " I met your friend, during my stay at the forsaken inn, Were he showed a keen interest in two young women that I had befriended, Miss Benia Nightshade a woman from the south and the elf maiden Vanwe, we even exchanged words regarding his interest in Vanwe!"

"Vanwe I can understand, she is easily mistaken for her mother!" Léspheria nodded agreeing with his assessment, "But this Miss Nightshade... why would a bounty be on her head? And who is the hobbit woman Kaldir called Mrs Tunnelly and what is her part?" Dúlrain asked his brow creased as he tried to reach for answers on his own.


"The first part of your question I can answer!" Amandur said as he and Maethor rejoined them. "After the fall of the Dark one emissaries were send south with the offer of peace. Some of them returned with news that there were tribes in the dessert of Far Harad who had refused to ally themselves with Sauron. They paid dearly for their choice, it is even said that the dark lord sent their own people against them! Now they are few and scattered but even with peace now in those lands some still hunt out these few tribes people as traitors and bounty's are set on them, it may well be that the woman of whom you speak is from one of these tribes, were her hands painted?" She nodded with Dúlrain remembering the intricate floral pattern that adored the woman's hands and wrists,

"Then this woman I am afraid is but another of his bounty's." Amandur finished regretfully.

Léspheria nodded in agreement and answered the rest of Dúlrain's question, "Mrs Tunnelly, I expect is Benia's friend Mrs Gilly Banks and it is her strong friendship and fierce loyalty that has lead to her becoming caught up in this misadventure. But do not ask me how it is that such an unusual friendship has come about, for that I do not know."

Dúlrain shook his head sullenly, she could see that this news was hard for him and that something else still troubled him, but the night was pressing on and she wished to be out of the woods before the end of the night.

"Well my friend’s darkness draws around us and if we wish to get a head of our quarry we should not delay." As she stood so too did those who were to be her travelling companion's, Amandur and Maethor.

"Namaarie ar quel fara, melloneamin!" (Farewell and good hunting, my friends) she bade Rauthain and Dúlrain as she and her two companions mounted their horses. Amandur and Maethor also bid the rangers farewell, “It may yet be that some of what has been done can be undone, if our faith in our friends is strong enough.” she smiled taking both Dúlrain and Maethor into her steady gaze. Then they turned and hurried eastward.

Léspheria had hoped to ride all night, but it was not to be, late into the night she found herself beset with Naiore’s attack on her daughters mind and was force to stop. They made camp at the edge of the woods and the rangers took it in turns to keep watch, as she fought to block out the pain and torment. Her parting counsel to the two rangers struck her, as they had to put faith in Kaldir, she too would have to put faith in Vanwe, if she was to reach Imaldris before them.

Once the attack had stopped and she had gotten a few hours rest they set off again, they headed eastward at a fair pace, stopping each night as Léspheria trained her emotions and strengthened the wall that blocked out Naiore's assaults on her daughter. Naiore was also somewhere ahead so they were careful not to get to close. Skirting the north edges of the midgewater marshes then turning south east to pass between Weather hills and Amon Sûl, They reached the East rode by the afternoon of the fifth day. Once on the rode they picked up their pace and made good time following it to reach the last bridge by the end of the second week.

"We are being followed!" Lespheria thought aloud, as they drew near the bridge. "Where?" Amandur asked not looking round, as to alert their shadow. "To our right, but who ever it was has only stayed long enough to get our position!" Both Amandur and Maethor swung their mounts and went to investigate.

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Old 12-01-2003, 10:14 AM   #167
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Benia

Over the course of the five days that carried Benia, Gilly, and the bounty hunter east and into the Lone-lands, Benia found herself with a lot of time to think. The bounty hunter had relaxed considerably the farther they got from any towns, his manner growing decidedly more civil. He gave her back her father's sword and, more importantly, no longer threatened her or Gilly with imminent dismemberment or disembowelment. He even went so far on occasion as to engage one or the other of them in conversation. Usually the topic was either the local flora and fauna or a brief lecture on the finer points of tracking, but every once in a while he embarked on a tale of the olden days of Middle Earth, long before the War of the Ring. As fond of a good tale as the average hobbit, Benia enjoyed those very much. When he chose to speak in something other than threats and monosyllables, she found he had an excellent way with words.

Once, too, as she had ridden alongside of him as he walked, leading his horse, he bent down and casually plucked a strand of wild morning glories from the side of the trail. Without a word of explanation, almost absently, he handed them to her. She braided them into the mane of her horse, and they stayed fresh for most of the day.

As the journey progressed, she also found herself thinking of him less and less as The Bounty Hunter and more and more as simply Kaldir, almost forgetting that this was the same man who had abducted her out of her bed at the inn in the middle of the night and forced her to abandon her own plans in order to accompany him on what she was beginning to think would be his final journey. As the old ranger had said back in that odd encounter just before they left Chetwood, taking on Naiore alone would be folly. All she could hope was that Kaldir would come to his senses before they actually caught up to Naiore Dannan. Otherwise, she was sure they would all die horrible deaths.

As she rode near Kaldir, she noticed her eyes straying more and more often in the direction of the carved wooden whistle hanging on the leather cord around his neck. The old ranger in Chetwood had said that he traveled with Dulrain and one other. If only Kaldir had accepted the ranger's offer to ride together. Not only would she feel better about her and Gilly's chances of survival, but to see Dulrain again! She felt her pulse quicken ever so slightly at the thought of his kind face and clear gray eyes. Even so, he couldn't be far behind. If she could just get her hands on the whistle...

As luck would have it, on the fifth day out of Chetwood as they crossed the Great East Road, the pack pony that carried Gilly developed a limp. They stopped on the edge of the Lone-lands for Kaldir to examine the hoof. As he bent to pick up the pony's foot, the whistle swung forward on its cord, getting in his way. He tucked it into his tunic out of sight, but when it swung forward a second time a few minutes later, he pulled it off his neck and tossed it to the ground several feet away. Seizing the opportunity, Benia, who had already dismounted from her horse, edged over and surreptitiously picked it up.

Seeing her, Gilly raised her eyebrows and nodded subtly in the direction of Kaldir. Benia pursed her lips and gave an almost imperceptible shake of her head no. Palming the whistle, she concealed it in the cleavage of her dress. Now all she had to do was hope that he would not remember he had discarded it.

She watched nervously as Kaldir extracted a small, sharp stone that had wedged itself between the pony's hoof and horseshoe. Having re-secured the shoe with a new nail and a small blacksmith's hammer from his pack, Kaldir had Gilly lead the pony in a small circle so that he could check the pony's gait. When he was satisfied that the limp was indeed gone, they all remounted and continued riding. Benia relaxed as Kaldir never looked for or asked about the whistle. For the next several hours, they rode quickly across the open ground, making rapid progress. When Kaldir abruptly slowed, it was only mid-afternoon, hours before the time they usually stopped to make camp. He seemed preoccupied by some tracks that had crossed their way a short while earlier.

Since seeing them, Benia noticed his expression had grown progressively more and more dark and threatening. His pale blue eyes scanned the horizons fore and aft as though he was looking for something or someone specific. Finally, he reined his gray horse to halt.

"We'll camp here," he said abruptly. The site he had selected for their camp lay halfway up a shallow hillside. Shielded on three sides by some vicious-looking black briars, it offered the best protection of anything Benia had seen since entering the desolate territory of the Lone-lands. She dismounted and began to remove her pack from the back of her horse, but stopped when she realized that Kaldir had not dismounted. Nor had he entered the campsite. He was still looking fixedly back to the west in the direction from whence they had just come. She looked at Gilly who shrugged in bewilderment.

Noticing them watching him, Kaldir walked his horse over to where they stood. "Don't make a fire," he instructed them. "There may be orcs about."

Benia and Gilly exchanged a frightened glance.

"The tracks?" asked Benia.

Kaldir nodded. "It was a small band of them, only four or five at the most. They were moving Northeast toward the Ettenmoors, though I can't imagine what business they would have there. My fear is that they were either messengers or scouts for a larger group. I’m going to ride back and see what I can learn from their tracks.”

Unconsciously, Benia’s hand reached for the whistle.

“Keep your wits about you,” he added. “I shan’t be long.” With that, he wheeled his horse and galloped off.

“Well, that’s wonderful,” sighed Gilly as they watched the trail of dust rise under the departing hooves of the gray horse. “There may be orcs about, so he leaves. And here I was looking so forward to a nice cup of tea.”

The hobbit looked so desolate and depressed that Benia actually smiled. “I’m sure he’ll be back. They are probably old tracks and the horrible creatures are miles away.” She walked over to her horse and took her sword and scabbard down from the saddle. Buckling them into place around her slender waist, she shrugged. “But we might as well be prepared.”

Pressing the hilt of her own dagger into her friend’s hand, she saw that it was almost a short sword for Gilly, and would constitute a much more effective weapon than Gilly’s own knife should events come to a fight, which she sincerely hoped they wouldn’t.

Gilly smiled ruefully. “While I appreciate the gesture, Miss Benia,” she said, tucking the dagger into her pinafore. “Wouldn’t it be smarter just to hide?”

Benia laughed nervously. “That’s Plan A. The weapons are in case it doesn’t work.”

“Oh, well,” Gilly nodded. “I guess we should have a second plan at that.” Then looking around the stark campsite, she sighed. “I guess it’s another cold supper.”
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Old 12-01-2003, 04:44 PM   #168
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Vanwe


Vanwe sat in the darkening hollow that was their camp in numb silence, reeling inwardly. The days since they had left Bree, and nights, had been darker than anything she had known in her life before now. Dark, cold, dry, chill, deadly... And now she found the brilliance of hope at the news that her father was alive almost glaring in it's intensity. Her mother, it seemed, wished him freed from captivity. Yet, Naiore held her captive in a fashion, did she not? Perhaps not... Vanwe only knew that her mind was a malestrom that she could not navigate safely with her mother so close by.

Distantly, she heard her mother order the Hobbit Toby to report on his scout's findings. Vanwe tucked her innermost thoughts away, including the wail of despair that seemed to well up from within the deep cracks of her soul. She knew enough to know that her mother may use such things to hurt her... but not why.

"There's some Rangers," Toby said uncertainly, knowing well by now Naiore's intense hatred of such men.

"How many and where," Naiore impatiently pressed, knowing the Hobbit dissembled out of fear and lacking the wherewithal for a more civilised or gentle approach. Barrold and Avanill sat in a brooding silence nearby. Naiore had little time for them also. As her mother questioned Toby on the exact nature of the party he had observed, Vanwe sank inwards in the small opportunity she had.

The ruin of her mother lay throughout her. Vanwe could feel and sense the damage that had been done. Again, the question of why flailed at her painfully. She tucked it away. She had no time for it, and questions like that seemed to make it go harder when her mother came to her as she did, morning and night. Vanwe cast a surrepticious glance at her mother and felt about cautiously. If she was careful, she could do little things to ease the pain within without her mother knowing.

After learning that there were three Rangers and an Elf nearby, her mother snapped upright with a look of thunder upon her face. Vanwe froze, fearing that Naiore had sensed her. Then the rage was replaced by something more terrifying. It was the serene mask that Vanwe knew only too well.

"Remain at camp and light no fire," Naiore ordered as she strode into the trees. Vanwe closed her eyes in relief and resumed her work. The confusion, pain, betrayal that warred within her lent nightmarish memories a new and twisted life. There was little harbour against that, save the few precious memories that had no darkness threading through them. Vanwe's mind moved from Lespheria's gentle smile of friendship to Hanasian's soothing voice as they had spoken through the night under the stars.

There she lingered, drawing strength a little, ignoring the other three that remained at camp with her. Then, her memories betrayed her and shifted to the fuzzed recollections of her mother's voice, soft, a horse's rolling gait beneath her. Hanasian's warning echoed through her. Why? Vanwe had no answer.

Restless, knowing that to linger on that question would only hurt her more, Vanwe seized upon her new knowledge. Her father was alive and captive. That was why she would do as her mother had asked. Vanwe knew captivity in its many forms. In the few moments that Naiore was absent from the camp, Vanwe found a measure of lucidity.

It ended with her mother's sudden return and the din of a crow cawing raucously. The sound was eerie, and Vanwe was not the only one who felt her hair rise. She dropped her tentative healing, knowing she had barely managed to scratch the surface of the pain her mother had wakened within her, with a flush of guilt that was almost as bad as the refuge of her mother's softer words.

Barrold cheated Naiore of making any mention of her daughter's flushed cheeks with his sudden, uneasy outburst.

"What's goin' on 'ere? Why're we sittin' in the dark in this..... place." The man cast a suspicious glare at the surrounding trees. Naiore's reply was brusque, for all the horror it held.

"I'm seeing to the necessary additions to ensure sucess. Do you honestly think you, Avanill and Toby are up the the challenge of breaking Imladris' defences and subduing those within."

The laughter that shimmered in Naiore's voice made it clear what she thought.

"What makes you think we're going to attack Imladris for you," Barrold countered belligerently.

"Nothing," Naiore replied smoothly with a hint of dire threat, "Precisely why I am arranging assistance I can trust, in a fashion, to do my bidding."

"Who are you sending for," Avanill asked, clearly unhappy with the danger of being dispensible.

"You shall come to know them well enough when they arrive," Naiore said. "Time has come for us to discuss what is to be done.

"Imladris shall come to know of our presence, but not too soon if I have my way. Whilst we strike with the main thrust of my forces, Vanwe shall retrieve that which I have come for.

"Is that not so, daughter?"

Vanwe nodded, lifting her downcast gaze to her mother's and then to the rest of the group.

"I shall," she simply replied.

"An what might that be," Barrold interjected.

"My father," Vanwe replied, shaping the word with a some disbelief. She looked at her mother who was as still as a statue.

"Father," Barrold exclaimed.

"There is nothing further to discuss," Naiore said firmly. "For now, we wait and maintain our cover. I will deal with the nearby Rangers, and the Elf, in my own way. We move once the forces arrive.

"Until then, remain on your guard and be ready. I will watch through the night."

With that, Naiore stood and once again disappeared in the spreading night. Toby huddled where he was, plainly unhappy. Barrold stewed nearby, Avanill clearly displeased. Vanwe ignored the repeated glances that Barrold directed to her now and again, and turned her attention once more inwards.

She found herself enveloped in the fury of the past days, struggling to remain beyond its reach. If she was to survive, she had to master this pain so that her mother could not use it. Perhaps Naiore could come to respect her in time, if she showed strength. She was to meet her father, who until earlier this night had been dead to her. Another with a link to her mother that went deeper than associates and foes.

Thowing herself away from the howling pain of the constant Ravening, Vanwe forced herself to think instead of the Rangers. There was more pain, as she thought of the one who had died at Bree in defence of her, and of Tallas also, and anger. Confusion lapped at Vanwe. Rangers had always represented a danger to her. Yet Hanasian had been a friend and now she found herself hoping that they would not come to harm. What of the Elf that travelled with them?

Questions swirled around her futilely as she sat in the darkening forest waiting.
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Old 12-01-2003, 09:51 PM   #169
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Maethor

The journey to Imladris had been delayed by a tortured attack upon Vanwe’s brain that had caused Lespheria to stop. Maethor shuddered as he saw Lespheria’s face drawn with pain and sorrow as she shared the mental assault. How could a mother torment her daughter so? Maethor thought with a shudder. Her own flesh and blood?

As they journeyed, the attacks became less seldom or else Lespheria was growing stronger against them: Maethor was not sure which. With downcast eyes, he remembered the fleeing, terror stricken elf he had rescued in the forest and wondered how any could harm such a fair, exquisite creature. Pain, wickedness -- it was inescapable. Though the dark lord had been destroyed and many of his minions had been hunted and their spirits departed from Justice’s blade, Maethor knew that even when those affiliated with the Shadow had long ago ceased to live, evil would continue. It was the fate of the world, it seemed. Sickness would haunt it always, the plague of selfishness would manifest itself in various forms, even in a creature so unlikely as a hobbit. Who knew what scum buried itself beneath the mountain’s roots to creep out under the cover of night to spread their poison across the land? Who knew the dark, hidden thoughts of those who walked the land?

Maethor swallowed and realized that a sore throat had managed to find him. He shrugged. It was mere cold, nothing more. Sickness…disease. Even Rangers had their faults, he realized, guiltily thinking of his own failings. Turning his brown eyes upon Lespheria, who sat in the flickering fire light, battling the emotions that violently assailed her, he realized that elves were a pure race. He remembered his lore and history and saw that elves were like pillars of strength seldom falling.

As they journeyed, Maethor gazed upon the distant Weathertop with wonder. Once he had climbed the rugged sides of Amon Sûl and had see the green land, decked with the garland of Spring, spread below him. The pleasant memory was interrupted with the neek breek of the midewater pests. “Drat you insects,” he muttered good naturedly to them as he slapped then absently.

After two weeks of traveling, they reached the last bridge upon the East Road. “We are being followed,” Lespheria said, gesturing to the side. “To our right, but who ever it was has only stayed long enough to get our position!"

Glancing at Amandur, Maethor wheeled Nair and clipped to the bushes. After a bit of searching, Amandur waved Maethor over and pointed to a pair of prints. “They look like a pair of hobbit feet,” Amandur said.

“I believe the tracks belong to our friend Toby,” Maethor added with a grim smile.
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Old 12-02-2003, 04:43 PM   #170
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Gilly

Looking around for a suitable hiding place for “Plan A”, Gilly felt it rather hard luck that they should run the risk of meeting orcs in such an inconvenient landscape. It was like trying to play “hide and seek” at Lilly Smallburrow’s house when she was young. There was simply nothing good for them to hide behind. And then there were the horses. Kaldir had obviously picked the best spot to conceal all of them, but she would feel better if the beasts were to lay down so that there heads might not be seen above the briars.

Taking the reins of her pony, the hobbit gently pulled down on them. “Come on, you poor silly thing,” she pleaded. And then pulling again with all her weight, the pony merely bowed its head and caught the tatting on Gilly’s collar between its teeth. “Oh no you don’t!” she admonished, rapping it lightly across the nose, releasing herself.

Walking over to Benia she looked forlornly at the ornate handle of the dagger at her waist. She had never had to trust to a weapon in her life thus far, and wondered how at her age she would manage it if the orcs were to attack them. For that matter she had never even seen an orc, but felt she could certainly identify one if she saw it. She hoped so anyway. And had hoped also that she would not freeze or faint in a pinch. A large knot began forming in her stomach, as she sat down. “A cold supper….” She repeated again.

Actually, she didn’t feel much like eating, but wondered how she could make their provisions a bit more palatable for Kaldir and Benia. Perhaps as a treat they could finish off the last of the cheese before it got too moldy. That might brighten their spirits. Getting up again to check the its state, she walked over to the horses and once there forgot why she had gotten up. She tried pulling down on the reins of Benia’s horse, with no result.

“Miss Benia,” she cried. “Is there no way to get these horses to lay down? I thought that orcs may know that briars don’t bloom horse heads for blossoms in the summer, as handsome as those horse heads might be. And I certainly don’t want them to come over here abouts to pick them for a sweetheart.”

Benia laughed grimly and quickly coaxed the animals down, to calm her friend. “If orcs do wander close by, these horses will be up again in a moment. Most likely that is how we will know they have arrived,” she sighed. The hobbit then ceased pacing and taking the reins from Benia plunked herself down between the animals.

“Then I will stay here to keep them put,” she said with determination.

“Oh Gilly really, there’s no need! The brush is high and thick enough I don’t even think an orc as tall as a ranger would see them, should there be such a one! Besides I don’t see as that is the safest hiding place for you should the horses become frightened.”

“All the same I’ll be staying here, least ways till Mr. Kaldir gets back or the horses won’t have me no more. But you go on Miss Benia, and make yourself comfortable like,” she said trying to sound cheerful. “Won’t you tell me some stories of your father? I should like to hear again about Rohan while I’m sitting between my two friends here. To pass the time, maybe. They had their trouble with orcs there too, and not so long ago, I reckon. Perhaps I can take courage from your stories for I’m feeling a ways unsteady and I don’t mind saying it.”

[ 10:03 PM December 02, 2003: Message edited by: Hilde Bracegirdle ]
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Old 12-02-2003, 11:57 PM   #171
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Avanill

Avanill was becoming increasingly more conscious of the dangers and happenings around him. The young man was deeply troubled by the fact that they were not going towards the shire. In all his years he had never trusted a client or anyone for that matter, why would he start now. Naiore was after all a servant of Sauron, and bitter at his downfall. He began to accept the illusive facts behind the truths of their involvement with the elf.

That night Avanill confronted Ferney when Naiore was gone form the camp. “Was this your idea of a joke, Ferney?” he asked, his voice hard and cool. Avanill would have found it very easy to kill him in an instant had he said yes.

Though Ferney looked at him bewildered. “Do you think I knew she’d take us to Rivendell Boyo?” he said in a rushed whisper. “I don’t want top be here anymore than you do, all though it could have it’s advantages…”

“What possibly could be of use to you in Rivendell?” Avanill frowned “Elf treasures would most certainly be cursed, or protected.” He sighed and shook his head.

Ferney took a step towards him, “Not having second thoughts are you mate?”

“Ive been having second thought ever since we left Bree, ive been having second thoughts ever since we took Vanwe, Ive been having second thoughts ever since we killed Tallas, so why on earth would I be having second thoughts now?” Avanill was angry. “What im trying to say is, I think something is going to happen, and whatever happens I know that we among the others will be caught in the middle of it. And what of these new additions, she speaks now of attacking Rivendell, I do not fight for anyone but myself, and only then do I kill people who wrong me. No elf has ever done harm to myself or my family, I have no quarrel with them. She never spoke of this to us at the beginning, so I say there is more which is not being spoken of.” Avanill lowered his head and was deep in thought.

Barrold nodded agreeing, “What do you suggest we do?”

“At this point in time, I have no idea. What ever happened, at the end It will be every man for himself agreed?”

“Agreed.” Barrold yawned and in his head Avanill smiled.
Every man for himself, as always.
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Old 12-03-2003, 07:03 PM   #172
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Sting

Barrold

Under the pretense of tiredness, Barrold turned away and missed Avanill's smile in the darkness. He leant back, stretching out into a comfortable position of recline, arms folded behind his head, and made a show of appearing relaxed. Behind his closed eyelids a different theme played.

Toby fidgeted nearby, reaching for his pack and some food.

"Keep quiet, my hill rat," Barrold said in a hard voice through the night. Toby's reply was to crunch on an apple. Barrold shifted again, until he could survey Vanwe from beneath lowered lashes. She was hard to make out in the darkness, yet she did not completely disappear in shadow. What light there was lingered in the fall of her hair and the drape of her gown. It was silk, Barrold guessed. What other treasures Naiore carried with her was an interesting source of speculation.

Rumour had it that Naiore had once been wealthy in a way that only those who served less morally demanding masters could become. Yet, he had seen little sign of it. She seemed to have ample gold and silver to pay for things, and her gear was worth a prince's ransom alone. Every man for himself, eh?

Naiore's weapons and gear were valuable in their own right. Perhaps she had other little trinkets tucked into her pack along with the dress that Vanwe wore. It was plainly elvish in fashion, fancy compared to women's clothing that Barrold was more familiar with. No rough cotton or hession, no rope there. Silk, embroidery delicate, beads too, perhaps precious stones. Without getting a closer look he couldn't be sure, and Vanwe would probably yell if he tried to rectify that.

Barrold's mind greasily moved on. What else did Naiore have of value? He knew the answer to that, but did he dare? If he did, he would have to act before these reinforcements arrived. He'd have to get the location of the Rangers from the rat and slip away long enough to put that information to good use. Avanill, Toby or Vanwe might give him up to Naiore, by choice or otherwise. Still, if he could get away just long enough to impart Naiore's location and plans, collect the bounty and leave others to gather up this rag tag group, he'd be close to as wealthy as he wished to be. Maybe he'd be able to collect some of Naiore's other possessions, including her daughter.

Barrold sighed, throwing various ideas about in his head, feigning sleep and listening to Toby work his way through an apple and then start on a piece of smoked meat.
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Old 12-06-2003, 05:36 PM   #173
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Sting

Rauthain

Rauthain sat by the fire feeling old and worn as he watched the flames hiss, drifting over the black wood. At the center, such intense heat and tremulous light, the wood greyed, and turning to dust, was spent. Long years of strength gone in so very few moments, so terribly few. He was tired.

It was good to sit for a while, feeling it’s warmth on his face, losing some of his thoughts to it. The day had seemed longer than its accustomed allowance. Indeed, it appeared to have stretched back many unfortunate years for both Dúlrain and himself. For Rauthain had been following the conversation closely as Amandur had soothed Dúlrain’s conscience, explaining his own part in Kaldir’s misfortune as well. At many points in the discourse he had longed to get up and leave their presence, for it seemed too much for him to bear, playing heavily upon his mind. But instead he had turned inward, struggling to set his thoughts on clearer matters. News of Tallas death added more fury to the storm brewing in his heart and to his conviction that they must not risk losing Naiore’s trail, but must try to overtake her before she could approach Imladris. Through her too much harm had come to too many. But the odds would not be in their favor once the others had rode on ahead. Just two of them then, left against five. He would have preferred that they had a larger number, but it was not to be helped. And what of Kaldir’s own search. Could he be counted upon if their paths happened to converge? The ranger glanced at Dúlrain, thinking how to better their chances. Not tasting the supper that was before him.

The hobbit, he reasoned, might be easily caught if he strayed from the rest, and might even be dissuaded from her employ now that he had time to savor Naiore’s style. But still that would leave four. And it was his fervent wish that no one ranger should be drawn away to face Naiore alone, for her insight might prove disarming and her words treacherous. Many there were who had found their doom in her silken speech.

“Do they hold any answers?” he heard a soft voice whisper. Taken back by her words, he raised his face to see the Léspheria standing by the fire, cradling a cup of tea. “The flames, do they hold answers?” she repeated looking at the two and nodding toward the fire.

Quickly catching her meaning Dúlrain laughed, “Nay Lady, But some of my questions perhaps you can answer?”

“If I can I will,” she smiled.

Rauthain listened with renewed interest as Dúlrain asked of Kaldir and the traveling companions he had accompanying him in Bree. The same it appeared, that he himself had seen earlier. And though Amandur joining in had offered sound reasoning regarding the southern woman’s place in Kaldir’s train, it did not seem to fit the few moments Rauthain had seen them together. He knew of bounty hunters, and those that were successful did not hazard to indulge in more than limited civility toward their captives. Kaldir was successful, but what had witnessed from the hillside seemed a glimpse of a more temperate link.

Still it was reassuring to know that this Miss Nightshade was not from a tribe that had been aligned with the Dark Lord, though he found it distasteful Kaldir would seek the bounty held for such a one.

Sheltering these thoughts in his heart, he rose with Dúlrain as the others prepared to depart. "Namaarie ar quel fara, melloneamin!" (Farewell and good hunting, my friends), Léspheria called as she swung easily to the saddle. Amandur and Maethor also bade them farewell. "It may yet be that some of what has been done can be undone, if our faith in our friends is strong enough." Léspheria held them in her gaze for a time, smiling before she urged her horse eastward.

Left alone, Dúlrain and Rauthain stood watching the others vanish into the landscape. “I have quite recently seen Kaldir with the woman and hobbit you described,” Rauthain spoke as they watched. “And to my eye they could not have hoped to be caught by any other bounty seeker than this new Dunedain variety. For they seem unusually hale and well cared for,” he said to ease Dúlrain’s mind. “In this at least Kaldir has not changed. He takes meticulous care of those left in his charge.”

“Yes, of this trait I am well acquainted,” Dúlrain acknowledged searching Rauthain’s expression, his eyes finally resting on the ranger’s wounded cheek.

Remembering then his hurt, Rauthain turned away and began gathering his few things before they too left this place. He did not yet care to speak of his own rough treatment at the hands of Kaldir, and hoped that Dúlrain would not question him, for he had trusted it was not exemplary of the man. “Let us also make haste before the light fails.”

“How came you by that wound Rauthain?” Dúlrain asked pointedly, noticing the ranger’s self-consciousness. “It is new and it is even. Why are you reluctant to speak of it?”

“It was though my own folly I received this. Should a man speak of his own folly willingly?” Rauthain responded.

“But what have you done that would earn such a mark?”

“Perhaps it is what I have not done,” he said softly, straightening up. “But then again, it is perhaps what I have done,” he nodded.

“Speak plainly,” Dúlrain insisted.

“By Kaldir’s hand I received this, as I see you may have guessed. Though I do not think it typical of him even now, to smite a friend.”

“Then you say you are not his friend?”

“I say he does not call me friend nor brother, though the truth be otherwise.” Rauthain confided. “ I happened upon their group in the mists of the morning, and though it was the first time I had beheld his face since that day at the headwaters of the Mitheithel, I have no doubt that he has cursed mine a source of great disappointment through these many years.” Rauthain paused in thought. “You said in Bree that by abandoning him to his fate I am as guilty as the one we now seek, and you were right. I have suffered greatly for it and now I have been branded also, so that I may never forget. Do not judge Kaldir harshly by the choice he has made, or me by my past. ”

“So you did not part on good terms.”

“I have lost many in life that I hold dear: wife, son and countless friends. But I lost Kaldir because I held his skill in too high regard; in truth I lost him because he never let me know of any imperfection. I do not intend for it to happen again. And unless he has become a minion of Naiore’s, Kaldir has a friend whether he wants me or not. Amandur said that we could do no more for him unless he asks for help, but I do not agree. Kaldir will never ask. He would die alone first.”

With that the ranger strode off to his horse, not having the heart to speak further.

Dúlrain stared after him for a time before he too made ready, in the silence.

They made good time while the light lasted and even into the night when they risked torchlight.

Several days they continued without seeing any others, but always following the footsteps of those who passed this way ahead of them. By the time they had reached the Great East Road the pony they followed was showing signs of a stilted gait and soon afterward the tracks become muddled. Stopping there, Dúlrain and Rauthain rested for a while hoping that they might gain fresh news from any traveler that happened along the road, but finding none, they entered the desolate Lone Lands.

<font size=1 color=339966>[ 12:42 PM December 08, 2003: Message edited by: Hilde Bracegirdle ]
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Old 12-07-2003, 08:19 PM   #174
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Sting

Kaldir

Upon arrival back at the location where the orcs' trail had crossed his, Kaldir dismounted and studied the ground. He ascertained quickly that there had been five of them, traveling at great speed. Deciding to follow the trail for at least a short distance, he remounted his great gray horse and rode along the heavily trampled way. Ahead in the distance, he could see a black mass against the dull brown ground. As he neared, the mass split apart and took wing.

"Vultures," murmured Kaldir, spurring his horse forward. By the time he reached the place where the vultures had been feeding, he noticed that the course of the orcs' path no longer led into the northeast. From the point where he had joined it, the trail had made a steady, though subtle, curve until it led almost due east. Arriving at the place where the vultures had been, he dismounted again. The vultures had been feeding on a very large, very dead orc, who had been run through the chest with an iron pike. Kaldir circled the area, studying the tracks, all the while speaking softly to himself.

"This one stopped...wanting to go north... the others reluctant. An argument... he was slain suddenly. The remaining four..." he turned. The tracks took a sharp turn to the south. "The remaining four went south."

He hesitated. If he were to proceed on the trail of the orcs, that would leave Benia and Gilly vulnerable for that much longer. If he went back, he would still not know what the orcs were about at broad daylight on the open ground. His worry was that they were on a straight course to intercept Naiore. Finally, he decided to follow the trail only a short distance farther before breaking off and returning to the campsite where he had left his companions. He had used the campsite many times in the past and knew how to reach it from the east. If the orcs continued southward, they would soon be out of the area and not of any concern to him. If the trail turned eastward again... well, that was another issue entirely.

Kaldir squinted into the west. The sun was sinking lower in the sky. He would have to move quickly if he hoped to be back in the camp by the time darkness fell. Remounting his horse yet again, he started forward along the trail at a trot.

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

Benia

Benia was troubled in her heart. Gilly wanted to sit at the back of the briar-rimmed campsite between the horses and tell stories, but Benia felt restless and reluctant to sit still. Unable to concentrate, she found herself completely at a loss for stories. Finally, with an apology to Gilly, she stood and walked to the edge of the campsite. Late afternoon was upon them and still Kaldir was nowhere in sight. Her shadow stretched out before her as she stood at the opening to the campsite and gazed into the east. She hoped the orcs were far distant and only a few minutes' wait would bring the sound of the returning hoof beats of the bounty hunter's horse. The longer she waited and watched, however, the more troubled she became. He had been gone far too long. Perhaps he had been ambushed and taken. Unconsciously, Benia shivered and closed her hand around the hilt of her sword.

Behind her, Benia could hear Gilly talking anxiously to the horses, who seemed suddenly restless. Despite Gilly's best efforts to calm her, the bay mare struggled to her feet, snorting nervously. Benia felt the fine hairs on the back of her neck stand up.

She saw the first orc at the same instant he caught sight of her. As his head crested a small rise some fifty yards distant, Benia's breath caught in her throat. For a moment, she froze. She had never seen an orc before, though she had heard many tales of them. The black and befanged visage of the orc was far more frightening than anything she had imagined. Instinctively, she tightened her grip on her sword.

"Gilly!" she hissed as soon as she found her voice.

The orc turned and said something guttural behind him and three more heads appeared. Benia looked around wildly for any sign of Kaldir, but found nothing. She startled as Gilly touched her elbow. Looking down at her friend, she saw that Gilly already held Benia's dagger drawn in her fist. Her dark eyes were wide with fear.

Finding that the four orcs had already begun to close the distance between them, Benia drew her sword, but she knew in her heart that fighting them would be futile. All four of them were huge with curling yellow tusks and bulging muscles. Clad in black armor, each carried a pike or an axe. She could perhaps hold them off with her sword for a short while, but a sword was hardly a match for well-handled axe. Neither she nor Gilly had any armor or even a shield. Behind them, the horses stamped and snorted with fear.

"The horses..." Benia whispered, watching the orcs advance. Reaching into the neckline of her dress, Benia withdrew the whistle Dulrain had given to Kaldir back on the street of Bree. Dulrain had said that all one had to do was blow the whistle once and his horse would lead him to them in their moment of need. Kaldir was gone, but Dulrain had extended the offer to her and Gilly, too.

"Oh, Benia, the whistle!" she heard Gilly whisper.

Without hesitation, Benia raised the carved wooden whistle to her lips and blew with all of her strength. The sound that came forth was a clear note, closer akin to the chime of a bell than the shrill of a whistle. Behind her, the horses calmed noticeably. Fear filling her face, Benia dropped the whistle. Surely it wasn't loud enough for Dulrain's horse to hear! She and Gilly were on their own.

Her hands shaking, Benia stepped forward to meet the orcs head-on. She had already decided that she and Gilly would not be taken alive.

"Halt your advance!" she called out in her most commanding voice. She raised her sword. "You have no business with us!"

The orcs sniggered amongst themselves and continued forward. One of them, the largest of the four, took the lead. On his head, he wore a jagged helm. He raised his axe.

"Wave your little sword, pathetic creature," he roared at Benia in the common tongue. "You're no match for Lugburz!"

<font size=1 color=339966>[ 9:22 PM December 07, 2003: Message edited by: Ealasaide ]
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Old 12-12-2003, 11:23 AM   #175
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Sting

Dúlrain

After entering the lone lands Dúlrain and Rauthain made good time, both being familiar with the undulating scrub lands they easily followed the tracks of those before them. Patrolling the lone lands had been his prior charge and for six months he had patrolled every inch of these desolate lands, his confidence showed as he took to scouting ahead, even leaving the trail to check that none of their quarry had diverted or doubled back, but never staying away long enough to leave his companion unaided.

It was on one of these scouting's, late in the afternoon when Dúlrain found something that made his blood burn, "Orcs!" he cursed seeing the familiar heavy prints of the creatures that were the bane of his life, first stealing his fathers life then carrying away his friend and brother into the throws of the very one he now followed . The careless trampling of the orcs drew a course northeast. "The Ettenmoors!" he spat remembering the orc chief who had dared to wear his fathers sword, a mighty blade of Arthedain, that now hung at his side. Dúlrain curbed his hatred and the strong urge to follow to see what mischief they were and forced himself to turn to study the tracks before him.

Dulrain sighed at the irony as he failed to untangle the mass off trampled prints. Tracking and patience had always been Kaldir’s strong suits, although he was ever the cautious one. He lacked the patience of his friend, ‘you will never decipher the tracks if you cannot hold your patience long enough to take the time to unlock the secrets they hold?’ Laughing at the memory of Kaldir's ever-exasperated words he pulled himself back into the saddle of his mount, "Come on boy, time to go back and see if the old man can't decipher this maze of prints."

But just as they were turning the horse banked and turned it's head eastward, the stallions ears pricked listening to something he could not hear, a short snort and a stamping of the horses front hoofs indicating the direction of the sound, then turning into the east wind he heard it a faint but gentle note carried on the breeze. "The whistle!" Dulrain gasped and Dir shook his dark head. Without any further thought, Dúlrain kicked the dark brown stallion into a gallop letting it lead the way.

A short time later, the same easterly wind bore a foul smell and the distant ring of weapons clashing, with added haste he spurred Dir on. "Argh! Orcs!" he cursed, as they mounted the peak of the next hill. Four, all clad in the inky dark armour of their kind, Kaldir was not in sight only the southern woman and her friend, both tiring from the assault. Dropping his reigns and pressing his knees tighter to the stallions sides he drew his bow, Dir slowed slightly anticipating his rider’s action, then taking an arrow from the quiver that swung at his side, he quickly knocked it pulling the tension on the bow. From were he was and the distance between them, he figured he could get at least, two shots, before the bow would be of no use.

Allowing for his rhythmic bounce in the saddle, he trained his bow on the first of the pike bearing orcs. At the sound of the charging horse, the creatures spun round their pikes in hand, as Dúlrain had anticipated. He loosed the arrow before even the first orc was fully rounded and without waiting to see the arrow strike the stunned creature through its left eye, he was knocking another. Dir banked right to take him across the path of the second pike wielding orc, who was now charging towards him, he let the second arrow fly. "Damn!" he cursed as a sudden gust knocked the arrow off course, embedding it into the creatures right forearm, but it slowed the creatures advance long enough for him to drop the bow, and draw Kaldir's sword.

"Gurth gothrim Tel' talant!" (Death to the foes of the fallen!) He cried swinging the sword as Dir charged toward the now injured orc. The gleaming weapon rang as it connected with the raised pike, the force of his blow ripping the heavy weapon from the creatures injured arm. As the stallion swung round to charge again, he swung his left leg over the animal and leaped down from his saddle. Advanced on the wounded orc he saw that the creature now held a dark and vicious looking serrated blade. He matched blow for blow with the creature ignoring its sneering taunts, until he caught sight of Benia out of the corner of his eye. The woman’s sword arm was wavering, and he saw that it took her slightly longer to dodge the axe swings of the lead orc. As he parried another blow and dodged left, he saw that the hobbit woman had lost her weapon and was doing her best to keep out of the other orcs reach.

His eyes narrowed and his hatred of these creatures focused, he thrust hard, the ancient sword piercing through the orcs armour to it's abdomen, "I can no longer play with you!" he growled at the surprised orc, pushing the dying creature from his blade. He turned to see Benia defiantly holding up her wavering sword in both hands to in an attempt to fend of the two orcs menacingly advancing on her, the hobbit woman was now standing aside her just as defiantly her dagger somehow retrieved and held high. He raised Kaldir's sword and sprinted the distance, "Noooo…!" he cried as the lead orcs axe knocked the woman's sword from her hands.

The orc turned just in time to block his thrust, the heavy axe blow batting the sword easily from his hands, using his agility to his advantage he ducked avoiding the back swing and rolled out of reach, pulling his fathers blade from his belt, gripping it firmly in both hands as he rose. "In the name of the king I order you to halt and desist!" he commanded.

"Grr, a filthy ranger" the second orc sneered, but the first just laughed mockingly "Lugburz serves no filthy ranger king!" it growled swinging its axe towards him. "Good then I break no laws in killing you as an outlaw of the crown!" he sneered back, blocking the axe blow with the Arthedain broad sword and pulling upwards to expose the orcs torso. However, as he moved in to strike he felt a sharp blow to his right side. He had no time to discern what had happened as the lead orcs axe arched high above his head. Nor did he hear the women’s cries, or see the hobbit woman rush forward burying her dagger deep into the second orcs side as it rounded its axe for a second strike, earning her the back of its black hand across her face. Gritting his teeth he managed to raise his sword in time, but it now felt like stone in his hands, another wave of pain shot through his side as the heavy axe blade connected, but defiantly he fought through it struggling to hold off the powerful downward thrust of the axe. Gritting his teeth he pushed off the axe and managed to kick the orc backwards, breathing heavy, sweat now stinging his eyes he held of against the orcs blows each one growing less heavy as the orc also tired.

The orcs axe arched again and this time although he blocked the blow the force brought him to his knees and the back swing caught him under the chin throwing him backwards and causing him to loss the grip of his sword. As he struggled to his knees, thinking he had again failed in his duties, his gaze drifted to the southern woman as she crouched over her bruised hobbit friend, but their eyes meet for a fleeting second, soft and fearful, glistening like jewels....Jewels! He thought remembering the small companion sword at his waist, bringing a satisfied smile to his face. Still crouched his hand tightened about the jewelled hilt; slowly he drew it holding it out of sight, as the orc leader stood above him. "Is that it? Is that all you have ranger?" it jeered at him. However, Dúlrain kept his head bent feigning defeat. All the while listening, but not to the orc sneers and boasts. But for the rush of air as its axe rose into the air. When it did, Dúlrain struck, thrusting the jewelled companion sword upward through the chinck in the overconfident orc’s armour. Letting go he watched as the orc stared in disbelief at the offending weapon, the axe slipping from its hands as it fell.

Ignoring the pain, his hands searched for a sword. Finding a hilt, he tightened his grip and forced himself to rise. as the last orc charged towards him shouting something in its guttural tongue, dark foul smelling blood spilling from its wounded side, Dulrain raised the sword and cried “For Dalrin and Kaldir!” and with the last of his strength he thrust the sword into his enemies abdomen. Breathing heavily he pulled out the sword, nodded to the two women then fell to his knees, no longer able to suppress the pain.

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Old 12-12-2003, 10:05 PM   #176
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Sting

Kaldir

Kaldir had only followed the orc trail southward for a short distance, when it took another sudden buttonhook turn, this time back into the west. Raising his head, Kaldir looked into the setting sun and realized with mounting horror that the orcs were now heading directly for the campsite where he had left Mrs. Banks and Benia Nightshade. Taking a firm grip on the reins, he kicked the gray horse into a full gallop. When the dreaded sounds of clashing metal reached him through the thunder of his horse's galloping hooves, Kaldir drew his sword and urged the gray stallion faster.

As he grew nearer, he could see a fierce battle raging between a dark-haired man and two orcs. Two other orcs already lay dead. Mrs. Banks and Miss Nightshade were visible as well, doing their best to aid the man as they could. As the third orc fell, the man took severe blow to his side.

"Faster!" urged Kaldir into the ear of his horse as he leaned low over the horse's mane. "Fly, Nico!" The horse responded with a fresh surge of speed, but Kaldir feared it would be too late. The man already seemed to be faltering as the orc drew up to deliver his death blow. But the blow never came. There was a flash of jewels as the man struck suddenly upward into the orc's torso. The orc staggered backward and fell. Kaldir pulled his horse to a halt and leaped to the ground just as the stranger crumpled to his knees. Kaldir recognized him only as Benia rushed forward, catching the man in her arms as he lost consciousness.

"Dulrain!" he murmured. Seeing that all the orcs were dead, Kaldir sheathed his sword and walked to where Benia crouched over the prone figure of the ranger. When he saw the carved whistle swinging on its leather thong around Benia's neck, he understood. She had called for Dulrain in her moment of need and, as promised, he had come. How strange, yet how fortunate, that he himself had been so careless with Dulrain's gift, thought Kaldir, remembering for the first time how he had tossed aside the whistle earlier that afternoon and simply forgotten to pick it up again. Perhaps it had been fate. Whatever it was that had made events unfold they way they had, Kaldir decided that he would not allow Dulrain to die for it.

If it had not been for Dulrain, Benia and Mrs. Banks would already be dead.

Reaching Benia, Kaldir helped her in laying Dulrain out comfortably on the ground. The wound would have to be treated at once.

"Is he dead?" Gilly asked softly from behind him. When Kaldir glanced up, he saw a ugly bruise beginning to darken on her cheek. She would have a black eye to match it before the evening was out.

"No," he shook his head. "He lives, but we must act quickly so that the wound doesn't fester. Find what wood you can and build a fire."

Taking off his cloak, he folded it into and pillow and pushed it gently under Dulrain's head. Benia, her face streaked with blood and dirt from the battle, had already begun trying to clear the clothing away from the mouth of the wound. Kaldir caught her hand. "We'll need water. Bring one of the skins from our supplies." She nodded and did as he told her, but he could tell that it was only with deep regret that she left the side of the injured man even for a moment. When she returned and delivered the water skin to him, he noticed her hand close immediately around the hand of Dulrain as she knelt once more beside him. Her lips moved softly as she murmured something to herself, a prayer perhaps, in a Haradrim dialect.

"The wound is deep," he heard himself reassuring her as he examined the wound. "But the edges are clean. There is no sign of poison. It will be painful for a while, but he should recover." Using the water from the skin, Kaldir washed the area of the wound carefully. Dulrain stirred, murmuring something undecipherable. Kaldir leaned forward as he repeated it.

"For Dalrin and Kaldir!," whispered Dulrain, his eyelids fluttering as he swam back into consciousness. Instinctively, his hand moved in search of a weapon. Benia interlaced her fingers through his, stilling his movement.

"Shhh..." she whispered, smoothing his hair with her other hand. "You are with friends."

Kaldir noticed Dulrain's body relax as his gray eyes met Benia's and stayed there.

"Talk to him," he told her. She nodded, but rather than talking, she began to sing. In a soft voice like the voice of a nightingale, she sang a lay of the desert night. As it was in a dialect Kaldir had little familiarity with, he was unable to understand more than a few words here and there, but those words evoked images of a silvery moon and softly blowing sands. It was a sad song, something about loss and a maiden's unrequited love.

To his surprise, he felt a mouse-gnawing jealousy at the back of his heart that she would choose such a song to sing. Denying it, he pushed the jealousy aside. The wound must be treated. By then, Gilly had come back with a pan of hot water she had heated on the small fire she had managed to build with little more than sticks from the bramble bushes. She watched as Kaldir extracted the long, slightly used athelas leaves he had used outside Bree to aid in healing Benia's ankle from the pouch on his belt. From deeper in the same pouch, he came up with some fresher ones as well. He deposited all of them into the hot water where they soaked for a moment before he bathed Dulrain's wound with the sweet-smelling brew.

"When I'm finished," he said to Gilly. "You might try bathing you face as well. It will help keep the swelling down."

Gilly looked surprised and raised a hand to her face. "Oh, yes, that ol' orc did give me quite a walloping, didn't he?" she said. "I was so worried about Mr. Dulrain here that I hadn't given it a thought.

As Benia completed her song and began a new one, Kaldir finished with the athlelas water, which he handed back to Gilly. Then, after retrieving a clean shirt and a few small vials from the pack on the back of his horse, he returned to Dulrain's side and applied the contents of the vials, healing oils, to the wound, which he bound with strips torn from his spare shirt.

He leaned across to Benia and touched her shoulder. "He should be moved now. Into the campsite and near the fire." Benia nodded and stepped back, in order to allow Kaldir to move Dulrain . As Kaldir bent down to lift him, Dulrain stayed him with a raised hand.

"No," protested Dulrain. "I can walk."

"Tomorrow you can walk," answered Kaldir. "Tonight you rest." Without giving the ranger any more time to object, Kaldir lifted him and carried him the short distance to the fire. Setting him down, the bounty hunter smiled with the good side of his face. "And it's a good thing you can walk tomorrow. You weigh a ton."

Dulrain laughed weakly, but paled and broke off abruptly as a jolt of pain took him.

"Where's Dir - my horse?" he asked, recovering.

"He's fine," answered Kaldir. "I will see to him now. You rest." Kaldir started to go, but paused at the mouth of the briar hedge and came back. Bending down, he caught Dulrain's hand in a firm grip. Looking into Dulrain's eyes, he nodded.

"When in need, one will always find the other," he said softly. "Thank you. I owe you their lives." This time there were no troubling flashbacks, no flashes of distorted, disjointed memory. Kaldir remembered.

Releasing his brother's hand, Kaldir rose and left the campsite. There were horses to be seen to and orc bodies to be dealt with if they didn't want a host of scavengers to be upon them by daybreak. For him, the evening's work was just beginning.
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Old 12-16-2003, 08:06 PM   #177
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Gilly


The gusting breeze that had accompanied them through the barren landscape, carrying with it the grit and dry heat of summer, began to loose strength as the afternoon waned. Even so Gilly still struggled valiantly to keep the fire alive. It would be night soon enough and if any scavengers were to smell death in the air, she wanted to know about it, and that preferably before they had had a chance to trouble the wounded man. No pitch black listening for noises in the night. But this fire was a smoky pitiful thing. The wood she found had all been poor and green, more scrub than proper fuel.

Looking up to measure the dark curling smoke that rose above them before being carried to the east, she saw that two carrion birds had begun describing a slow circle above. “Ack, now there is a cheery sight,” she muttered to herself. “If only they knew it was the orcs who lay dead perhaps they wouldn’t be so eager to visit us. Nothing sweet about that lot.” Watching them wheeling overhead, she thought fleetingly about the life she had brought to an end that day. It was strange but she had felt no remorse, not so much as hint of guilt. Thankfully, there had been no question of what needed to be done and no time to think about it. The ranger had been in need and she, by a stroke of fortune, had been able to assist him. And this not a moment too soon.

She looked at Dúlrain as he sat by the fire, Benia close at hand. The life that illuminated his kind eyes had been so close to being cut loose from the circles of world on their account. She would not forget it.

Getting up stiffly, the hobbit walked toward the entrance to their nest among the briars, whispering to Benia as she passed, “I’ll just look to see if I can lay in some more sticks before evening comes. If I don’t return soon send Mr. Kaldir after me, you can tell him I’ve run off if you like,” she winked. “I think I might have need of him if there are any more orcs about!”

Overhearing her Dúlrain spoke quietly, “It is not likely that you will see any, Mrs. Tunnelly. By all reckoning it was a small band. And if there are more, they are not yet near.”

The hobbit shot Benia an unsettled look at the mention of the name Tunnelly. “Oh sir, you may call me Gilly if you’d like, and I thank you for the comfort as well as the saving of us! But I should be trying to comfort you,” she said avoiding his glance. “And if I can, I will make you something special for supper if you feel you can manage it. But first I must find go have a look see what delicacies might be had in such a place as this.” Then addressing Benia she said, “You take good care of our friend here for me won’t you Miss Benia? I think rather highly of him for saving our lives and wouldn’t want any harm to come to him now!”

“Yes, of course I will Gilly,” Benia assured her friend as she moved to tend the fire in the hobbit’s absence.

Satisfied that she could safely leave her two charges. Gilly emerged from their hiding place and began scouring the bluffs for herbs and firewood. She could not see Kaldir anywhere, but heard the dull clack of stones from behind a ridge downwind from their camp. She was deep in thought puzzling over the two men as she went, and what to do if their guest insisted on calling her Mrs. Tunnelly. She supposed that she might get used to it, but still she found it disturbing. Mrs. Tunnelly was friends with bounty hunters and killed orcs and chased after Naiore Dannan, but Mrs. Banks raised her boys, keeping house in Bywater and tatted by the fireside in her spare time. She wiped away the small tear that found it’s way to her bruised cheek.

“Who has done this to you? And why are you weeping?” she heard a voice say softly. Looking up she saw, grizzled and birdlike, the ranger who Kaldir had seemed so angry with, his eyes brimming with concern. “Am I too late?”
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Old 12-17-2003, 12:29 AM   #178
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Toby

After reporting to Naiore Toby huddled himself against the bowl of a nearby tree, but he could find no comfort. The closer they got to this place Naiore called Imladris , the more uneasy he had become. With the revelation that she was bringing reinforcements, which should have abated his anxiety, he found it only increased it, bringing the dawning that they where now dispensable. He had no doubt that if things went awry she and the others would leave him to his own fate, without a second thought.

He fumbled about in his pack for something to eat, food always helped to calm his nerves enabling him to think clearly. "Keep quiet, my hill rat," Toby turned at Barrold's hard words and narrowing his eyes he crunched hard on the apple, but as Barrold shifted he leaned back against the tree, "Hill rat!" he snorted indignantly, "Least I'm no murderer!" he mumbled to himself. Staring hard at Barrold’s back.

As he chewed through the apple, he thought about their pursuers. Dúlrain had now joined the Bounty hunter Kaldir and his two female companions, one of which to his surprise was a hobbit. A ranger that Toby was acquainted with, he kept his thoughts on this group, although he feared the bounty hunter, he knew the ranger Dúlrain was a just sort. When the ranger him thrown in the lock holes for thieving, he had made sure that the judgment was fair and fitting with his crime.

Casting a scrupulous gaze over the others, he wondered if some reward would be placed on Barrold and Avanill for killing the old man, Tallas. Moreover, if he could use their crimes against them, after all he was a victim of mere coincidence, a prisoner of his fear and had committed no crimes that would warrant his death! Perhaps during one of his scoutings he could secretly treat with the ranger. Then his gaze fell on Vanwe and he shivered, not from the chill night air, but from the images of Naiore's assaults on her own flesh and blood, if she did this to her own what evils would she bestow on someone who betrayed her?

However, as he looked at the young elf, he felt himself pitying her. The first time he witnessed Naiore’s brutal treatment of her daughter he had been physically sick. Never before, had he seen the like and he found himself several times after fighting the urge to cry out for Naiore to stop, his cowardice the only thing keeping him in check. Before he even realised what he was doing he had lifted his water skin and was walking towards Vanwe.

At his approach she looked up, he shivered violently as her serene expression matched that of her mothers. "Here you should drink something," he fumbled holding the skin out to her, but her blue eyes just stared at him blankly. "It's just water,” he said taking a drink to assure her. "You should keep up your strength!" he whispered looking over his shoulder to make sure no one else could hear him. Hesitantly she took the skin and drank deeply, with what were the beginnings of a smile on his lips he turned to leave, but stopped as the elf spoke.

"Thank you."

He did not turn back, but those two little words stirred emotions in him that he thought were long dead, killed when he had betrayed his fellow hobbits and listened to the honeyed promises of old Sharky, now so long ago in his memory. Guilt, pain and regret soon followed. After the scouring of the Shire Toby had only helped himself. but this night Vanwe’s words had made him feel good and as he lay down to sleep he resolved that if he should happen on one of the rangers he would leave some clearer clue for them to follow, that they may save the young woman from the fate her mother was shaping for her.

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Avanill

If there was ever a time in his life where Avanill had been in regret, there ne’er was a time then now. Avanill had doubts on whether Naiore was going to raid the Shire at all, rather than break some war against Rivendell and the elves who still dwelled there. It was not what he wanted. Avanill told himself every night why it was that he had agreed to Barrold’s venture, and that was what gold was left for it.

Avanill had no wish to become some Lord of The Shire, where Barrold might. He had friends form the days of old who were unfortunate enough to be caught delivering goods to the servants of Sauron when at last the shadow was defeated. An event which he was too small to remember. His friends were just like him, free agents belonging to no greater kindred other than their own, and like them, it Avanill’s conscience had been eclipsed by his own greed and it had landed him in a perhaps dire strait.

There would be no way for him to back out now, for it would be Naiore who would surely hunt him down and kill him, and he knew this well, how else had she been able to evade the soldiers of Gondor and the rangers of the north for so long? If he were to escape what would he then do? Go to the rangers which were trailing them? Perhaps. He would have to think harder about it.

The nights were filled with broken sleep, and Avanill was beginning got become more weary about those who tracked them. However this night was one in which he slept soundly.

“Avanill, my son!” he looked up, now he was in a room not out in the open, across the way was his mother, she stood straight, a look of dreaming on her face.
“Mother!” cried Avanill stepping forward, but his mother raised her hand.

“What are you doing?” she asked, her voice cool like Avanill’s, he could tell that she was angry.

Avanill bowed his head. “Im sorry mother.” He muttered. Atantri stared at him.

“What have I told you? Never get involved!” he voice hardened and her eyes narrowed. “You disobeyed me, and all I have taught you.!” She stepped up to him until she was looking up at her son. “You are just like your father!” Avanill felt a sharp pain in his abdomen, he glanced down and there was a knife embedded in his flesh, the sickening sight of blood came through his shirt.


Avanill jerked awake with a cry. He checked his stomach. No Blood. It had been a dream. “Good Evening, Your Radiance.” Came the gruff voice of Barrold Ferney under the light of the moon, Naiore was nowhere to be seen and the others were in a depp sleep. “What’s got you in a twist boyo, someone trying to kill you in the night?”

Avanill shook his head. “No, just a bad dream, is all.” He was still shaking. and a lot of bad dreams to come ill think

“Is all?” laughed Barrold handing him a flask. “Whiskey, to soothe the dreaming beast, take some Avanill, ‘Till make you feel better and put the fire back in your belly.” Avanill took it gladly and drank it dry. “I feel your pain boyo.” Said Barrold observing this, “Been a long time since either of us had a good drink, or a good sleep.” He said rubbing his back. “Though, when we take the Shire- “

“If” corrected Avanill his eyes now alert.

“Why you say that? Come now, You know it’s just a detour.” Barrold shifted uneasily.

“Do you really think that Naiore of Mordor really means us well? What can we offer her in the end, im just a Black Market Trader and you, well, no offence Barrold, but your not the sharpest knife mate. Do you really think that She will give Vanwe to you? Lawks! I would have the nerve to rescue her than see her condemned to a life with you!.” Barrold did not know whether to be offended of whether he’d began to suspect the same things, but either way, Avanill knew he had a point. “Its only a matter of time before we are done away with. Mark my words Barrold and be prepared.”

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Old 12-20-2003, 08:42 PM   #179
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Sting

Dúlrain

Dúlrain felt like he was in the throws of a beautiful dream and if he never woke, he would at least be contented. Her song striped away the defences of his heart and held him in its spell; even if he did want to turn away, he was sure he would not be able. He knew not the words that she sang but the emotions of the song could be heard in her voice and seen in her amber eyes. It was a sad song and he knew that if a tear were to escape her tender eyes, his heart would break. However, tears did not fall and she began to sing another, squeezing his hand reassuringly as his body tensed with the application of the healing oils, but still his eyes stayed with her, her song soothing and comforting him through the pain.

However, the dream ended with the song as Benia turned to Kaldir, who was now telling her that he should be moved nearer the fire. As Benia stepped back, Kaldir bent down to lift him. Out of stubborn pride he raised his hand to stay his old friend, "No, I can walk," he protested, But Kaldir would hear none of it, which made him smile; Kaldir had never given into his stubbornness.

"It's a good thing you can walk tomorrow. You weigh a ton." Kaldir said smiling at him, he laughed weakly, happy to see that his brother had at least not lost his sense of humour, but broke off abruptly as a jolt of pain took him. He then thought of Dir, if not for the horse he would not have found them, But Kaldir reassured him that the stallion was fine and that he would go see to the horse now. As Kaldir walked away, he closed his eyes, to wince away the pain in his side, but opened them abruptly as he felt someone grip his hand tightly. Kaldir looked into his eyes and nodded.

"When in need, one will always find the other,"

"Thank you. I owe you their lives."

Kaldir's words were soft and heart felt like the brother he remembered, He had not expected such words after seeing how Kaldir's resentment had so marked Rauthain, but now in his heart he could see the old Kaldir fighting his way slowly back through the shattered mess Naiore had left. As he watched, Kaldir leave the campsite he wondered if Naiore's cruel torment still went on in some fashion and if Kaldir was the one to kill her, would she not win, Burying his old friend anew in hate and anger.

As the dark form of Kaldir disappeared into the night, Dúlrain looked about the camp until his eyes fell on the two women he had saved. Benia was helping the hobbit woman to soak her badly bruised cheek. He frowned trying to puzzle how and when the woman had acquired the bruise when last he had looked she had no..... then it came to him the orc that had struck him had a deep wound to his side, but hadn’t died instantly as he would have with a sword thrust. No, it must have been the hobbit and her dagger. His eyes widened in wonderment, he had heard that hobbits could be most valiant when needed. He glanced down at his side and vowed never to forget her selfless act, for if not for her, he would surely be dead.

He tried to sit up but only incurred another burst of intense pain, "You should not move" a soft voice whispered above him, he smiled as he looked up to see the southern woman sitting down beside him, "how are you feeling?" she asked her kind and gently eyes reflecting her concern. "Better for seeing that you and your friend are safe and well" he smiled. "But I should like to sit up if you would be so kind as to help an injured ranger, my lady?" he tried to laugh but ended in a grimace as another pain shot through his side.

"I will help you but only if you promise to be still and rest that you can heal properly," she whispered anxiously. Seeing her genuine concern, he nodded and let her gently sit him up. "That was a dangerous feint you used Master Dúlrain, but convincing, I almost regretted my decision to blow on your whistle."

"Dúlrain, please just call me Dúlrain, and to be honest it was not all feint," he confessed. “Had not the moonlight lit up your wondrous eyes like jewels in the night I might never had remembered the jewelled sword at my hip. for never before have I had the need to draw it.” but before she could reply Gilly came up to her and he heard her whisper something about looking for more sticks for the fire and to send Kaldir if she did not return thinking she would need him if more orcs were about.

"It is not likely that you will see any, Mrs Tunnelly. By all reckoning, it was a small band. And if there are more, they are not yet near." he quietly reassured her.

"Oh sir, you may call me Gilly if you like, and I thank you for the comfort as well as the saving of us! But if I can, I will make you something special for supper if you feel you can manage it. But first I must go have a look see what delicacies might be had in such a place as this." However, before he answer and insist that she should go to no trouble, Gilly had turned to her friend,

"You take good care of our friend here for me won't you Miss Benia? I think rather highly of him for saving our lives and wouldn't want any harm to come to him now!" He smiled as Benia assured her friend and moved to tend the fire in the hobbit's absence.

"Off course!" he scolded himself "Mrs Gilly Banks and Miss Benia Nightshade" he whispered remembering Léspheria giving him their true names at least a week past now. As he looked up, he saw Benia look at him surprised that he knew their names. "My apologies, my lady Nightshade, but I believe we share a friend in Lady Léspheria of Rivendell and it was she who gave me your true names."

"Léspheria is with you?" she asked looking out into the night, "She was but alas she, Amandur and a young ranger named Meathor have hastened on to Rivendell." he whispered. He could see Benia trying to puzzle out how the elf would be in the company of those hunting the Revennor of Mordor.

"Léspheria was sent to help us track one of her own kin, but I rather think she is more concerned in finding and helping the young elf Vanwe, than in capturing her mother and now that Naiore heads for her home in Rivendell, she hastens to warn her kin." he answered for her.

"What else did Léspheria tell you?" she whispered lowering her head so as not to meet his gaze. "Yes she told me of my friends chosen profession, but you should not judge him for it, he was not always that way. Dúlrain proceeded to recount a number of adventures and misadventures he and Kaldir had shared in their youth, how they had grown together to become fine and loyal rangers, but as he came to the point were they had been separated he stopped and turned to face Benia.

"So how is it that such a sweet and beautiful desert rose found herself so far north as to have been snared by a misguided ranger and forced into this hapless adventure?" he asked changing the subject and losing himself again in her exotic beauty.

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Old 12-21-2003, 02:56 PM   #180
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Maethor

“The little rat must have been spying on us,” Maethor said almost good naturedly as he swung himself upon Nair’s back as they trotted to where Lespheria was waiting. A trace of worry shadowed his face, however, as he realized the imminent danger they could be in from Naiore. If the elf knew where they were…his thoughts trailed off as Amandur described what they had found and expressed his own fears upon the subject.

The Last Bridge was near and they soon trotted over it, the horse’s hooves ringing upon the stone. The moss grew plentifully in the the small ravines of the stones, and some were slimy from the spray of the River Mitheithel that rushed mournfully under the three arches that spanned the broad river. As they cantered over the bridge, Maethor smiled and his spirits lifted: they were nearing Imladris, the place he would eternally call his home. Sadness took him, though, when he thought of the reason of their journey there: to warn the elves that Naiore made her way there.

They entered the Trollshaws and Maethor stared about him with growing discomfort. Beech trees towered above them and the leaves of winter’s past laid in drifts against the trunks of the trees. A stillness haunted the land: not a bird sang, not a breath of wind summoned the living leaves to dance to his merry tune.

Through the many long years of living in Imladris, Maethor was well acquainted with the story of Bilbo Baggin’s trolls. The young ranger shuddered at the memory, and fervently hoped the no torog would come their way. They had enough to deal with without the nuisance of trolls.

Lespheria reigned her mount quickly and sat erect. “Naiore is near,” she whispered.

<font size=1 color=339966>[ 1:16 PM December 22, 2003: Message edited by: Imladris ]
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Old 12-22-2003, 12:01 PM   #181
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Sting

Rauthain

Looking out toward the east from his vantage point on the bluff, Rauthain was dismayed by the sight he saw. A light colored horse and rider traveling quickly across the horizon, dipping from view and rising again as it crossed the hilly terrain. Kaldir! he thought. And where is Dúlrain? For his fellow traveler had been gone for some time now.


Rauthain felt a sudden flood of dread and alarm course through his veins, as he urged Juta to make speed toward the horizon. His trepidation increasing along the way, as he saw the spiral of gathering birds in the distance. Death was close by, but whose or what's he longed to discover. An ambush maybe? Forbid it to be the work of the Ravennor!


Racing to close the distance, Rauthain saw the unmistakable tracks of orcs as the ground disappeared beneath him. He urged Juta to go still faster, unsheathing his sword, the wind already whipping about them. The horse responded, opening a hidden wellspring of strength, galloping over the hillocks until wet and flecked with foam. As he neared a place marked by a diffuse glow, Rauthain bid the horse to slow again, for the silhouette of a small scrabbling form was to be seen a short ways off. It appeared to be the same hobbit that had been lately traveling with Kaldir. Seeing no one else about he made for figure.

She was alone and weeping as he approached, a large bruise across her cheek. "Who has done this to you? And why are you weeping?" he asked softly. "Am I too late?"

Gilly looked up quickly wiping the tears from her eyes. "No sir, not too late, even if the fighting is done,” she said, "for no one has perished except for our attackers, though one ranger lays quite wounded beyond the briars."

"Kaldir," Rauthain said looking at her anxiously in the dim light. "Is he alright?"

"Oh why yes, Mr. Kaldir is fine. That's him making that racket, what with his burying the foul orcs that attacked us. It was Mr. Dúlrain whats hurt, and hims what saved us too!"

"This same ranger and I are traveling together.” the Rauthain exclaimed. How badly injured is he?"

"He took a right nasty blow, he did. But he's spoken of trying to walk already. So I'm not sure exactly how deep it goes."

"By the Imperishable Flame, let’s hope it is not deep at all. And you? How came you by that black bruise?"

"By an orc sir, though I dare say he got the worst of it."

"And there was one other with you, the dark haired women. Is she also unharmed then?"

"Yes sir, she is tending to Mr. Dúlrain just over there," Gilly said pointing toward the ruddy glow. "You're not to worry now, he is in good hands."

"I do not doubt it, but if you will excuse me madam, I would go to see him."

Rauthain led his horse over the hillock and spying the other animals gathered there hidden in a low spot, he left Juta among them, before walking toward the briar enclosure. Seeing Dúlrain in rapt conversation he turned aside and following the sound of stone upon stone he skidded down the shifting dirt and rock that lead to the base of the escarpment. There in the light of two torches stuck in the loose soil was Kaldir glistening with sweat as he worked at building a cairn over the carcasses of the dead orcs.

Picking up a large stone at his feet Rauthain carried it over and threw it on the growing mound. Turning he found another to add.

"So the old man has learned some new ways?" Kaldir sneered without looking up. "You've left off leaving your fellows behind?" Rauthain paused making no reply, and letting the barb pass, continued his search for stones. "Or have you merely come like a carrion foul to glory in Dúlrain's success?" Kaldir said pressing him further.

"Truly I have not," Rauthain said heatedly, finally breaking his silence, "nor have I ever. But then Dúlrain is no fool taking pointless risk. There were lives in peril. But tell me how fares he? I have spoken with the hobbit, but not Dúlrain for he seemed engaged in a pleasant conversation with the lady of the desert and I would not interrupt such a sweet tonic."

Kaldir looked Rauthain in the eye at that. "It is a deep wound and serious, though there is no sign yet of poison. We need the skill of a healer."

His thoughts turning to Léspheria, Rauthain said "We must by all means take him to Imladris, were there are yet many who are of great skill. One of our companions who is practiced in the art has already gone on ahead saying that Naiore is headed there."

"I have seen this myself. There is much for us to gain by making haste for that fair place."

"But can Dúlrain ride?"

"We will know more tomorrow. He has a strong spirit and can bear much, this I know. But I would not ask it if it would endanger him." Kaldir admitted, his tone softening.

"Agreed," Rauthain said nodding. "Still one of us should keep to the trail. Naiore could double back again and vanish once more from our reach.” He broke off for a moment not wishing to leave the trail, but ever conscious of Kaldir’s desire to find Naiore. “Perhaps you should do this," Rauthain said cautiously, "And I would lead Dúlrain and the women directly to Imladris."

Kaldir grew silent for a time before answering slowly. "No Rauthain, you keep to the trail and I will see Dúlrain and the others safely there."
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Old 12-28-2003, 07:23 AM   #182
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Naiore

"Man's blood," Naiore said icily as she materialised through the early morning fog. Those before hunched and swayed, fingering hilts that had already seen action. She could sense their longing for it, recent conflict lying noisome in their hideous thoughts and emotions.

"And you've lost four of your number," she finished, swiftly tallying the orcs that ranged before her.

"We found trouble," one hissed in a harsh and fell voice. She applied a deathly cold gaze to him and the challenge dropped away, for the moment. Behind him, the others watched. They always did. Loathe as she did such creatures, orcs, they had their uses.

"You are late. I gave no order to engage." Her only reply was a growled snarl.

"Who was it," she inquired.

"A man," the leader replied in a cringing voice now, whining and wheezing before the spectre of beautiful death. He had not expected this.

"There was a woman too, and a hafling," one of the others supplied. Rage moved like frost through Naiore. The one who had spoken noted the flare in her silvery starlight gaze and grinned fiercely. He had done his homework before setting out on this lark. Kaldir's party had a woman and hafling in it, Naiore well knew from her time spent in observation. She knew that much only, due to the distance she had to keep. Kaldir was canny, and she knew his wiles well, very well. She had contented herself with tasting his dreams and watching only, well aware of the peril of even that. It was a thrill, it was part of the hunt, and now this orc had robbed her.

An equisitely made sword sliced the cowering orc, cleaving twisted life from him. She lifted the bloodied point at the one who had furnished the details and fixed her gaze fully upon him.

"Did he die," she asked serenely, deceptively, deadly.

"I do not know, Lady," it replied, dropping its gaze to the now soiled grass and earth. Naiore considered matters an instant longer, bent and wiped off the blood from her sword on the fallen orc and sheathed it once more at her shoulder in a move so swift it seemed to bend the air around the blade.

"There will be no further distractions. I give to you man-flesh and elf-flesh. 'Tis yours for the taking. I give to you death slow and lingering should you fail me. 'Tis also yours for the taking. The choice is your own."

She spoke calmly to the crowd that leant forward. They were clearly orcs of the Misty Mountains. A great many gazed skyward in the growing light, fearful of the sun.

"There are Rangers nearby. You may have them for your sport as you please. Leave any elf-women you find, unspoilt, for me to deal with. Have your sport otherwise. We will fall on Imladris once the Rangers are dealt with. We attack at nightfall."

"Who will join us, Lady," the new leader croaked.

"I will," Naiore replied and in her gaze they saw battle terrible and places now forgotten and fell. They saw the dark magnificence that was Barad-dur, that once she had glided through in silks and velvets as beautiful as the dawn. The fog was steadily burning off with the rising sun, and there was no need for more questions.

"You will find cover for the day and meet me here at nightfall. Dispose of that well," she added, flicking a gloved hand at the orc carcass. Naiore turned and melted into the trees as she heard the ripping of flesh and the fearsome sound of orcs feeding. With fortune, she'd be rid of the vermin come Imladris. The Elves would take out a good many before they fell and she could deal with the remnant easily enough. For now, they would swamp the Rangers and deliver her Lesphéria. That irksome battle would come with nightfall and she had much to prepare before then. Naiore stalked like a shadow back towards her camp set the other pawns into motion.

Vanwe

Vanwe lowered the water bottle from her lips and held it in her hands. Toby's kindness had startled her, and warmed a corner of her soul despite the desolation inside. He had settled back into place again, and she wondered what she could do by way of return. She had started to rise, to return him his water flask when her mother emerged from the trees. Vanwe froze in her place, fear thudding through her and hiding the water bottle in the skirts of her mother's dress that she wore.

Naiore strode across the camp, where Barrold watched from beneath slitted eyelids and Avanill restlessly stirred, to stand before Vanwe.

"It is time, daughter," she cooly announced. Vanwe rose from her seat, water bottle carefully held in a fold of the luxuriant silk skirt. The clearing was grey, morning light filtered.

"You know what to do," Naiore said. Vanwe nodded, replying "I do, mother." She spoke with a confidence she did not feel, yet quashed her uncertainty before it leaked out and betrayed her.

"Then go." Uien nodded gravely and cast a glance around the camp sight. Barrold and Avanill now openly watched, both men suspicious and uncertain. Her blue gaze passed each by in turn, wondering what company she would next find, if not death. In silence, Vanwe made her way to the edge of the clearing, passing by Toby. As she dropped the water bottle onto the soft bed of pine needles, her mother hailed her. Fear again blossomed within her heart as she turned back, the silk of her gown whispering with her movement.

"Remember, do not be seen and return at once. Do not tarry on your path, if indeed you be true of word and heart." Vanwe felt her hands clenching within the long wide, pearl encrusted sleeves. Again she nodded, delicate blond hair falling foward. Relief that she had not brought disaster on Toby for his kindness warred with rage and despair. Vanwe turned once more, gazing at Toby with pleading for him to flee, and made her way on the path her mother had set before her.

Would she prove true or not? Vanwe no longer knew what the truth was, or who she was. She walked in silence, a lone Elf maiden, through the trees towards Imladris and her father.

Behind her, in the clearing, Barrold protested as he watched her graceful form be swallowed by swirling fog that clung stubbornly to the trees and branches.

"Where's she off to, then?"

"That is no concern of yours, Ferney," Naiore replied with clear warning. Already her sword had drunk. She fancied cleaner blood than that of orc and it would help take the edge off the coming battle.

"I think it is. We 'ad a deal!"

Naiore was across the clearing and her dagger pressed uncomfortably against Barrold's throat before Avanill could find the hilt of his dagger. His fingers curled around it's security just as Naiore crooned,

"Leave that be, Master Avanill, if you wish to be." Death thrilled through her as Barrold tried to swallow around her dagger tip. A crimson jewel of blood appeared and Naiore smiled with longing.

"No oathbreaker am I! Do you say otherwise, mortal?"

"No," Barrold managed hoarsely. Naiore's dagger remained.

"Vanwe will return and you shall have that which you desire in good time. I know what you want... I can taste it, hear it, see it, feel it. All in good time."

Barrold watched Naiore's lips shape the words and wondered deep in his heart what it was he wanted. Gold, yes, power also... death too? She would be pleased if that was the case. Fear howled through him like a banshee and Naiore's eyes flared with pleasure. She smiled, wet her lips and pulled back.

Barrold was gasping as though he had just ran a race as Naiore unfolded herself.

"You would do well to prepare yourselves to break camp by nightfall. My allies have arrived and there is work to do this night."

"What work," Avanill unsteadily asked in a voice that found its legs by the end of his brief question. The exchange between Naiore and Barrold, so close, was disturbing to watch.

"Knife work. We strike at the Rangers that have been following us, as reported by good Master Longholes here. Be ready to move as soon as dusk falls."

With that, Naiore settled into place and began fishing out pouches she carried in her light pack. She added clear bottles, which she unstopped and began a painstaking process of measuring out powders. It would take most of the day to prepare her tincture for Lesphéria, but it was worth the effort and the process would soothe her. Naiore loathed the wild disarray of battle and the scent of it unsettled her more than she was prepared to allow herself to admit.

<font size=1 color=339966>[ 12:36 AM December 30, 2003: Message edited by: Elora ]
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Characters: Rosmarin: Lady of Cardolan; Lochared: Vagabond of Dunland; Simra: Daughter of Khand; Naiore: Lady of the Sweet Swan; Menecin: Bard of the Singing Seas; Vanwe: Lost Maiden; Ronnan: Lord of Thieves; and, Uien of the Twilight
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Old 12-28-2003, 10:22 PM   #183
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Benia

As Benia listened to Dulrain recount a series of adventures and misadventures he had shared with Kaldir as a youth, she found her heart warming to him and to the often silent and forbidding bounty hunter. She glanced out into the darkening night in the direction Kaldir had taken, thinking over the things Dulrain had said. So, Kaldir had not always been as he was when she ran afoul of him. What was it that Kaldir himself had said to her back in the deserted wine shop in Bree? I wasn’t always the monster you see before you.

“No,” Benia whispered to herself, gazing into the darkness. “You weren’t, were you?” Turning her attention back toward the wounded Ranger at her side, she smiled as Dulrain broke off his narrative and faced her.

"So how is it,” he asked. “That such a sweet and beautiful desert rose found herself so far north as to have been snared by a misguided ranger and forced into this hapless adventure?"

Benia laughed. “Hapless misadventure, to be sure!” She shrugged. “To be honest, I was born with only one foot in the desert. Only my mother was of the Painted Sand. My father was a Bree man.” Sensing Dulrain’s interest and forgetting her usual reticence regarding her own history, Benia launched into the tale of her mother’s flight from Harad all those years ago and her subsequent capture by the Rohirrim horse patrol that had led her eventually into the arms of Jack Nightshade. She told him of her own birth in the desert of Harad and her family’s subsequent return to Rohan and Eriador where they were hounded by bounty hunters. When she reached the part in the tale of how Gilly had played a role in saving them from pursuers in the Shire, Dulrain laughed softly.

“I should have known!” he said, looking out in the direction Gilly had gone in search of firewood. “They always say that hobbits are made of tougher stuff than they appear. She’s quite the heroine, isn’t she?”

Benia nodded solemnly. “To me, she is. And my dearest friend in the world. The only reason she is here on this little adventure is that she refused to let me fall into our friend Kaldir’s hands without a fight.”

Dulrain nodded, his grey eyes studying her face. “Has Kaldir treated you well?”

Benia cocked her head to one side and thought for a long moment. “Yes, he has,” she answered finally. “To be honest, I can’t figure him out. I think when he carried me away from the inn, he intended to kill me, just as my mother was killed for a bounty. Something stayed his hand - I don’t know what - and, since then, he hasn’t seemed particularly interested in parting company with us, either amicably or otherwise. Oh, he used to threaten us quite regularly with disembowelment and all sorts of unpleasant things, but, in actuality, he has never so much as slapped either of us on the wrist.” She paused. “Well, he did give Gilly a rather nasty rope burn at one point but I think it was more to make a point than to do her any injury.”

“Unusual for a bounty hunter, wouldn’t you say?” asked Dulrain.

“I would certainly say!” interjected Gilly, coming around the edge of the briar hedge with a bundle of dry sticks in her hand. Adding a handful of them to the fire, she walked off in the direction of the packs and began dragging out an assortment of cooking implements. “I’d also say these hills are fairly crawling with Rangers. Did you know I ran into another one of your ilk? He rode up as I was collecting wood.”

“He’s the one Kaldir had words with in Chetwood a few days back,” she added to Benia.

“An older fellow? With a wounded face?” asked Dulrain. When Gilly nodded, he smiled. “That would be my companion, Rauthain. We were traveling together. Did you happen to see where he was off to?”

“Oh, he went to find Mr. Kaldir,” answered Gilly. “I reckon they’re having words again by now.”

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

Kaldir

Kaldir had been working for some time stacking the dead bodies of the orcs at a safe distance downwind from the camp, then building a cairn of stones over the top of them. He was surprised to be joined by Rauthain, who appeared out of the darkness to lend a hand. Tired and irritable to begin with, the sight of his old betrayer made Kaldir snappish as well. He let a few harsh comments fly without even looking up from his work. The old Ranger, on the other hand, seemed to be in a more magnanimous frame of mind and let the barbs pass without response, merely asking after the well-being of Dulrain. Before long, the subject turned to the direction they should take from where they currently camped.

Kaldir was not surprised when Rauthain suggested that they make straight for Rivendell in order to put Dulrain as quickly as possible into the hands of the Elven healers who still resided there. In fact, Kaldir had already come to the decision that they would do just that before Rauthain ever entered the picture. What did surprise him was Rauthain’s suggestion that he, Rauthain, take not only Dulrain, but the two women as well, and make for Rivendell by road, leaving Kaldir to continue along Naiore’s trail through the Lonelands alone.

Kaldir grew silent for a time. "No, Rauthain, you keep to the trail and I will see Dúlrain and the others safely there," he answered slowly, placing the last stone on top of the cairn covering the dead orcs. While he felt strongly that he should bear the responsibility of getting Dulrain into the Elven Houses of Healing himself, he was also quite loathe to hand over the women into Rauthain’s hands and watch as they all rode happily away into the sunset. In short, it simply wasn’t going to happen. He had carried them with him too far simply to hand them over and wave them good-bye. Even as much as he disliked the idea of abandoning Naiore’s trail across the Lonelands, Kaldir disliked the idea of losing Benia so quickly even more. Naiore represented Death, but Benia, to him, meant life, possibly even a future. If he let her go now, that future would never materialize. Scowling darkly, he shook his head.

“No,” he muttered under his breath, pushing past Rauthain in the direction of the campsite. “You can’t have her.”

Rauthain’s hand caught his arm. “Who, Kaldir?”

Kaldir looked down at the gloved hand on his arm, then smiled slowly with the unmarred side of his face, his pale eyes glittering in the moonlight. “Do you think I speak of Naiore?” he asked quietly. “Do you think I serve a new mistress?”

“Do you?” asked Rauthain.

Kaldir laughed and twitched his sleeve out of Rauthain’s grip. “Who did you serve when you left me to die? Ask yourself that. When you have an acceptable answer, then you may question me.”

“I served my king and my captain. I made a mistake that I have regretted sorely for many dark days since,” answered Rauthain calmly. “That is the only answer I have for you or will ever have for you. But now, before I release my friend and compatriot, wounded and vulnerable as he is, into your hands, I must know. Do you serve Naiore?”

Kaldir’s eyes narrowed. “If I did, do you think Dulrain would still breathe?” He placed a hand on the hilt of his sword. “Do you think I would let you walk away from this meeting alive?” He drew his sword six inches above the top of the scabbard. “Do you think I would not be working her will even as we speak?”

Rauthain stepped back and placed his own hand on the hilt of his sword.

The two of them remained in a standoff for a long moment before Kaldir shook his head and slid his sword the rest of the way back into the scabbard. “I would sooner cast myself into the fires of Orodruin than serve that Elven witch,” he snarled at last. “May she be flayed alive sooner than she see another dawn.” With that, he turned and walked back to the camp, leaving Rauthain alone in the darkness behind him.

When he arrived back into the warmth of the campfire, Kaldir found Gilly and Benia seated on either side of Dulrain, all of them sharing in a pot of stew. Gilly was talking - as usual - telling some long, involved tale of old happenings in the Shire. When she saw Kaldir, she broke off abruptly. He bid her to continue with a gesture and retreated to a quiet spot a short distance away, where he could keep watch, not only for intruders but on what was happening within the camp as well. He was pleased to see that Dulrain was eating well. It was a good sign for his quickly regaining his strength. Rauthain entered the camp and joined the group by the fire a short while later. Kaldir listened as Rauthain told the others of the plans for the morrow, of how Kaldir would escort the group back to the road and speed them on toward Rivendell, while Rauthain would remain behind to continue in Naiore’s tracks. Kaldir was pleased to notice Benia’s smile in his direction.

The next morning, they broke camp early and, as planned, Kaldir led all but Rauthain back to the road. The old Ranger was last seen riding slowly into the east, his hooded head bent, his eyes focused on the ground and the fading tracks before him.

Although they had to stop fairly frequently to allow Dulrain to rest, Kaldir and his company made good time once they reached the road. Dulrain was stronger than Kaldir had initially hoped. They reached Rivendell by the end of the fifth day’s ride. Arriving late in the evening, they made their camp just outside the boundaries of the fair realm. They would approach the elven refuge in the morning.
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Old 12-30-2003, 01:39 AM   #184
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Avanill

Avanill did not want to wonder where Naiore had been exactly. But he did sense something which he knew he did not like. He did not like the way in which Vanwe left the camp, so secret, in such a way which made Avanill nervous. Was some unknown evil waiting for her in the dark? He suspected not, though he did wander whether Naiore would risk the safety of her own daughter. After all, he had seen the wrath of Naiore himself as she used it on her daughter.

Barrold then said what Avanill had not the courage to do. And Naiore now held a blade to his throat. So now is the beginning? he wandered as he reached for his dagger, he may have to defend himself. He thought it would be easy enough, against a woman, but he doubted whether he could withstand her elf powers. Evidently it was not fast enough.


"Leave that be, Master Avanill, if you wish to be." he stayed still and breathed deep. It was then that Naiore informed then of a task. Attack the rangers. The young man was unsettled by this, but he knew he was as good a fighter as any, after all thats how he gained his success.


Then as if a light had gone on in the dark a thought came to him, perhaps, if Ferney is willing, the chance may come to turn on her. No that would be too dangerous. but for him time would only tell.

He spent the whole day in a uneasy limbo though he did not display it on the outside, though he sat silent by the fire forming some unknown liquid and he tended it for hours. Until he put it into a bottle and back into his bag. Then he sharpened his sword and adgger and readied himself for the coming encounter.
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Old 01-02-2004, 04:32 PM   #185
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Sting

Gilly

Gilly was more cheerful than she had been in quite a long time, with the threat of Naiore overshadowed by the prospect of spending a few days in Imladris, of which she had heard a good many fine things. It was tempting to feel as though this bizarre adventure was shortly coming to an end. Surely Mr. Kaldir wouldn’t insist on Miss Benia’s accompanying him any longer only to hand her over to some wretched stranger who meant her harm. She could no longer believe it of him. Though in truth, he seemed quite loath to leave her at all. And since Mr. Dúlrain had joined their little group, Gilly had noticed a certain introspective quality overtake him as he watched her friend tend to the injured ranger. He was looking less like a wolf, than one of the more alert patrons of the Green Dragon who sitting alone by the hearth, enjoying a bit of Old Toby was taking in the unfolding events around him. Though he was by no means off his guard, and the hobbit would swear he still slept with one eye open, and both ears for that matter. It sent a chill though her as she recalled the nature of their initial acquaintance.

Mr. Dúlrain too seemed as contented as could be expected, and had taken the last five long days quite stoically, giving no complaints, though at rare times he hesitated, as though his pain had found him again. But at least he had the distraction of three others to pass the time until he could take a proper rest. And at least she liked to think that she might be of service in that regard as she had racked her brains for the more obscure and interesting tales she thought suitable for a ranger. Oh how she wished she had paid more attention to the ramblings of her oldest relations in those hot summer evenings when she found frogs and fireflies by far more interesting than their frightening tales of wolves! It would have stood her well now.

Finally setting herself down after the camp had been established and all was in order, she timidly ventured to ask the question that had been on her mind since she first found that they were heading for the Last Homely House. “Do you suppose,” she began in a meek voice addressing no one in particular, “that one might be able to send a message from Imladris to say Archet or Bywater?”

“I should think so,” Dúlrain said gently, astutely guessing where the hobbit’s thoughts led. “Certainly to Archet if not as far as Bywater, though from what I hear they have a high regard for hobbits in Rivendell and may find away to pass a message on as far as the Shire.”

“Oh that would be good then,” Gilly said smiling. “Poor Carl must be beside himself, and the children….” She trailed off looking down at the ground.

“Now Gilly, Carl knows you well enough after this many years to know that you would not abandon your family on your own account,” Miss Nightshade offered.

“I know, I know,” the hobbit said quickly. “But they no doubt think me dead or worse. And if I don’t at least get word to them I shall wish I were, once Mother Banks gets hold of me! And to be truthful, I don’t wish that they should grieve me as gone when I’m living yet. There’s something spooky in it, and it is too cruel to let them think it. So I should like to send word to them…if I may, that is,” she added looking toward Kaldir who nodded in her direction saying, “Yes, it would be good to send word for your own sake and theirs. Surely it would reach Bywater, though I do not know what lay in store for us in Imladris or how soon such a message could be sent, for I believe a storm might be brewing”

Gilly looked up at the clear, but darkening sky saying quite happily, “Then I shall send it as soon as we reach there and before the foul weather sets in, for I am composing it even now and shall have it finished before we arrive.”

Benia looked at Kaldir concerned, with her deep amber eyes catching the somber expression he wore as he looked away, once again silent behind the wall of his own thought.
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Old 01-03-2004, 09:50 PM   #186
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Sting

Amandur

Amandur lead Léspheria and Maethor cautiously through the forest, it had been agreed that they would continue on the straightest route leading them to the ford, once across they would take the stairs and alert the elven guards that secured them and the wooded slopes before continuing on to the last homely house. Amandur's thoughts were ever on Toby and every now and then he broke away to see if he could catch Naiore's spy, but since entering the trollshaws there had been no further sign of their small shadow, this concerned him. What plan is she concocting! He wondered silently as he looked out into the uneasy stillness of the forest.

Glancing back, he saw Maethor shift uneasily in his saddle, the usually cheerful ranger also seemed unsettled by the haunting silence, his merry tune an attempt to hide his discomfort, but the younger ranger remained alert keeping a close eye on his surroundings. Confident that Maethor would be ready for what ever Naiore threw their way he shifted his gaze towards Léspheria. Her eyes remained on the road ahead, her serenity adding to the haunted ness of the woods, but a stray ray of sunlight pierced the thick canopy lighting her graceful beauty.

Since breaking from the other rangers, Léspheria had distanced herself from him and Maethor, focusing on controlling the pain of her young friend and her own emotions. However, as much as he tried he could not do like wise, instead when he looked on the elven woman a sadness gripped at his heart. He feared that once all was done she would be but a shell of the woman he loved. But as he looked at her fair face, he now wondered if it came to it would she strike down one of her own kin, even to save her own life. Turning away he realised he already knew the answer and he also knew that he would not let any harm come to her even if it meant forfeiting his own life.


They rode through the night and into the morning, stopping only briefly to rest the horses and take some lunch, by mid afternoon they were back on their way and by early evening they could hear the crisp clear sound of the river Bruinen as it ran its course to join the Mithiethel.

"The Ford!" Maethor exclaimed looking to Léspheria hopefully, but she shook her head, guessing his thought. "That protection faded after the one ring was destroyed and..." but she broke off abruptly her hand reaching for her sword.

"Orc's" she whispered But seeing her actions Amandur and Maethor had instinctively drawn their weapons and where searching the darkening tree line, listening for the slightest sound of their enemies.

"Quick, to the ford!" Amandur ordered, slapping Lespheria's mare with the flat of his blade, before she had the chance to object, "Keep tight!" he cried back over the thunder of hooves to Maethor as they galloped towards the Ford.

Behind him, he could hear the orc's crashing through the trees. "We can't let them cross the ford!" Maethor cried, a stern determination set on his usually gentle features, Nodding Amandur reined his horse and turned to face the oncoming enemy. Léspheria too started to turn.

"No, go on" he cried back to her

"You are out numbered!" she retorted and for an instant, he saw a flicker of fear and genuine concern in her gentle grey eyes.

He smiled, "All the more reason for you to go and get help, the arrows of the Elves would even the odds!"

"Go!" he said more urgently, seeing her hesitation and hearing the orcs closing the distance they had gained. Reluctantly she conceded and took flight over the ford. Amandur pulled up beside Maethor and the pair dismounted, sending the horses to wait on the other side of the ford.

"No heroics we hold the ford for as long as possible, crossing if they get too many." Maethor nodded his understanding.

Standing on the bank of the river Bruinen, he sheathed his sword and raised his bow and knocking a green fletched arrow he whispered, "Are you ready, my friend?"

"Death to the foes of Imladris!" he cried loosing his arrow as the first of the orcs came within bowshot.

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Old 01-03-2004, 10:03 PM   #187
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Sting

Toby Longholes

Toby had looked up as Naiore returned and strode across the camp to her daughter; he held a gasp as he saw Vanwe quickly hide his water bottle in the fold of her skirts. He listened uncomfortably to the exchange between the two women, lowering his head before Vanwes grave gaze could reach his. He was suddenly ashamed of his cowardliness and all that he had become.

A soft thud next to him made him look. A little to his left in a soft bed of pine needles sat his water bottle, but as he began to turn to look at Vanwe, Naiore's chilling voice hailing the young elf made him stop. His heart pounded, fearing that Naiore had seen the bottle drop, but as Naiore went on, he relaxed slightly, looking up as Vanwe turned once more to meet his gaze, her large blue-eyed pleading with him to get free. He watched as she turned and disappeared into the tree line,[/i] again he lowered his head in shame.

"I think it is we 'ad a deal!"

Toby looked up fearfully at Barrold's sharp words; Naiore crossed the distance between her and the villain with frightening speed but with no lack of grace. Toby found himself scrambling backwards as the elf pressed her dagger to Barrold's throat, he edged even further as without even so much as a glance she ordered Avanill to stay his hand. Toby's hand subconsciously went to his own throat and as he glanced Avanill's way, he swallowed hard seeing the usually cool young man looking so unsettled.

As Naiore dealt with Barrold he realised that he once again was going unnoticed, slowly he edged backwards, silently lifting his water bottle and tying it to his belt when his hand found it among the pine needles, but never taking his eyes off the encounter unfolding before him.

"You would do well to prepare yourselves to break camp by nightfall. my allies will have arrived and there is work to do this night." at Naiore's words Toby had silently pulled on his pack his mounting fear of what was being said the only thing stopping him from thinking about what he was actually doing.

"What work," Avanill asked airing one of the questions whirling in his terrified mind.

"Knife work! We strike at the Rangers that have been following us, as reported by good Master Toby here." Toby froze as she pointed in his direction, he closed his eyes waiting for the elf's wrath to consume him, when it did not come he slowly opened his eyes. Distrust had caused the others not to take their gaze from Naiore and as the revennor turned from the two men Toby took advantage and stole silently out of the camp.

As he backtracked to where he had last seen the Ranger Dúlrain and the bounty hunters company, Naiore's words echoed in his mind, We strike at the Rangers that have been following us, as reported by good Master Toby here! She had spelled his crime out to him, he may not have dealt the finally blow but their death's would haunt him as did the memories of those hobbits that had been lost during Sharky's occupation of the Shire. He gripped his dagger tight and close to, his chest as he hurried on, it would not be long before Naiore noticed him gone and he wanted to be as far away from them as possible.

*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*

Dulrain

The first few days journey from the lone lands had been more painful than he was willing to let on, but the company stopped fairly frequently to allow him to rest. He was glad of the pleasant distraction of the two women. He was almost certain that there was no goings on in the shire that Mrs Banks was not aware of and on the occasions that he had to fall back to hide his discomfort from Kaldir and the tender concerns of Benia, he quizzed the hobbit woman for as much information she was willing to share about her friend.

By the fifth day, he was feeling stronger and the pain was decidedly less. Although the company was pleasant, he remained alert. He could not shake the feeling that they were being watched, but he was disinclined to worry the women without cause. Therefore, he kept his guard until the opportunity arose for him to inform Kaldir of his concerns. That night as they made camp he quietly shared his concerns with his friend. Kaldir nodded concurrently silently relaying that he too had had the same feeling of being watched, "The hobbit, Toby?" he mused aloud.

"Perhaps" His friend answered causing him to regard his friend with concern, Kaldir's eyes were skyward and drifted to the darkening of the trees ahead, and Dúlrain saw a look that he remembered a look that told him without words that he should remain vigilant. He silently went about setting up camp with the others smiling warmly as Benia came to check how he was doing. But as she tenderly checked his bandage, his heart ached, over the passed five days he had noticed a great many things the least being a growing bond between his newly found brother and this wonderfully kind and beautiful woman. If he was truthful to himself, he had noticed something back when they had first met back in the alley in Bree. However, until now he was never sure if what he had witnessed was part of the deception Kaldir had conceived to avoid suspicion. but as they journeyed together he could not help but see the effect the woman had on his friend and he often caught Kaldir looking at the woman through the flames of their camp fires as he, Benia and Gilly exchanged stories from their past. Benia had even convinced Kaldir to join them, though reluctant to share anything he had been content to listen.

His thoughts were broken as Benia's soft words reached his ears, "is something wrong?" she asked her soft features broken by a crease of worry, it was then that he realised that he had been staring at her, "No, nothing that should worry you, my lady" he smiled. "I apologise for causing you concern, just a young ranger and his foolish musings.” he looked deep into her eyes a last longing look. However, as she smiled, he took her hands in his, he felt her tense and saw her eyes fall to her hands, he longed to ask her if she loved or could love him, but he loved his brother too much to take his lifeline away, so in stead he gently kissed her hands. "Thank you" he whispered, and he meant it he had so much to thank her for, giving Kaldir something to live for, blowing the whistle that he could prove his loyalty, her kindness and so much more that she would never know.

He gently released her hands as Kaldir and Gilly rejoined them, they sat in silence for some time. It was Gilly who finally broke the silence. She timidly inquired about being able to send a message from Imladris to her family, who would undoubtedly be worried about her. Her simple question had been a good and timely distraction. He gently assured the hobbit woman that she would be able to get a message to the Shire once they reached Rivendell.

"Yes, it would be good to send word for your own sake and theirs. Surely it would reach Bywater, though I do not know what lays in store for us in Imladris or how soon such a message could be sent, for I believe a storm might be brewing."

Although Gilly mistook Kaldir's words he had not and as he glanced Benia's way he saw too that she had understood, her concerned gaze falling on the sombre ranger. He turned away and a pang of pain tugging at his heart, he rose suddenly restless and walked to the edge of the camp. "Were you going?" Dúlrain stopped and turned to see Kaldir looking at him questioningly, "I grow restless and thought to see if I can find our shadow" he laughed grimly, trying to hide the pain that caused him to look for some solitude.

"It would be foolish to venture out alone; if we are this close to Imladris then she too is near!"

Seeing concern in Kaldir's warning he relented and sighing heavily he nodded and made to return to the camp, but Kaldir's hand on his shoulder stopped him, "What troubles you my friend?" Kaldir asked sensing his young friend’s unrest.

"Do you love her?" he asked before he could stop himself , his gaze again on the woman and her hobbit friend, but he quickly recovered by throwing his friend a knowing grin hoping his friend merely believed he was trying to change the subject. He regarded Kaldir as he looked at Benia as if considering his answer, but it never came, a snap of dry twigs somewhere behind them drew there full attention.

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Old 01-04-2004, 12:20 AM   #188
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Maethor

His jaw set, Maethor drew the bow to his ear and aimed carefully at the bushes. Long had it been since he had crossed blades with an orc, but he had not forgotten their cruel leers, the beastial eyes, the snarling mouths, the bubbling drool dropping from their fangs. He closed his eyes, offering himself up to the Valar as he drew his bow.

Amandur was speaking with Lespheria, but he heard them only distantly -- as if he was in a dream. A robin launched himself from a tree as he heard the lumbering orcs; a butterfly fluttered her violet wings upon a blade of grass; a lone bee rummaged within a flower seeking for pollen; the ford’s waters rippled over the pebbles. It was as if it sang of all the things that had passed before it, of the wonders it had seen.

The first orc crashed through the underbrush flourishing his crude iron sword. “Death to the foes of Imladris!” Maethor cried as he loosed his arrow. The orc fell dead, pierced at the neck. But they kept coming as a grotesque flood, their snarling mouths contorted in grim glee. When a bow was of no more use, Maethor, with a savage cry, withdrew the hidden daggers in his boots and lunged at the nearest orc, slashing his throat. With the backstroke, he plunged the blade into the gut of another.

Whirling around, he clashed blades with an orc with bulging muscles and an ugly scimitar bathed in blood of bygone victims. Sparks flew as the blades screeched. With a twist of the wrist, the orc wrenched his weapon from the parry lock and lunged towards Maethor. The young man blocked the blow with his other dagger, but the orc flicked it out of the way sending it skipping through the grass. With a grunt Maethor drove his blade forward, but with a curse the orc pushed the blow wide. Their blades glinting in the sun, they parried for a while. The chant of battle rang through the trees. Sweat streamed from Maethor’s brow. The scimitar slashed his eye. Blood poured from the wound, impeding the ranger’s vision. A fist rammed into his stomach, and Maethor fell to his knees. The orc knocked his last dagger from his hand, and kicked him violently in the stomach. Maethor flipped around and clenched the orc’s legs in his arms, jerking him off his feet. As the orc tumbled to the ground with a snarled course, Maethor flung himself upon him and began to punch the brute’s face.

The orc put his grimed hand upon Maethor’s throat and squeezed, his claw-like nails burying themselves into Maethor’s flesh as he tightened his hold. Low laughter, cold as darkness’ shadows, rang in Maethor’s ears as he struggled for breath. His eyes became shot with blood and they rolled violently as he struggled to pry the finger‘s from his throat. Dimly he saw the orc’s other hand groping for a sword that lay near by in the bloodstained grass.

The elves would come. With a struggling gasp, Maethor glanced towards the ford. A rainbow shimmered in its waters.

The orc’s fingers enclosed upon the blade. With a savage growl, he swung it upon the ranger’s neck. Maethor’s head rolled upon the ground and the orc, pushing the corpse aside, rose to his feet, a twisted smile of glee upon his face.
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Old 01-07-2004, 07:16 AM   #189
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Sting

Rauthain

Traveling swiftly through the lone lands, Rauthain was immersed in the hunt, solely intent on the trail and the unraveling of it. This was his longing, his chosen work, and he was much relieved that Kaldir had opted to see the others to Imladris, though he would not be completely at ease until he saw Dúlrain well again. Strangely enough, he found he trusted Kaldir had been speaking the truth and would deliver the ranger to Imladris in safety, holding no known bond of fealty to the Ravennor. Though he still did not trust how Kaldir might react once she was before him, flesh and bone, no longer a specter of dark memories, but a more immediate, tangible presence.

But Kaldir had been acting strangely in the eyes of the old ranger. He did not bear the stamp of a bounty hunter so easily now, his disposition noticeably more agreeable since he had last seen him, and the willingness to leave the trail for Imladris was unexpected. Perhaps he recalled his former self when seeing Dúlrain in need, his affection for his “brother” pulling him up from the isolation he had chosen for himself. For while the bounty hunter in truth waned, the ranger of the past could occasionally be seen flickering disjointedly behind his stare. The pale and steady stare that had not changed, though in the intervening years many detestable things it had beheld.

Surely it was not the woman, Miss Nightshade, engaging though she was, who incited this departure. Rauthain had but lately observed his friend’s attention to her soft form as it moved, reflecting the fire’s light. Had he now allowed himself to consider such a bittersweet pleasure when he had been adamantly opposed to such indulgence in his youth? Then he had allowed the matter to bring a lamentable parting between father and son. And now that his father was no longer alive to witness this change of heart and Kaldir himself had little to offer but a life of pain, mourning what might have been, now would he choose to pursue his affections? For though his aspect grew lighter, the grave nature of his experience no doubt left their imprint deeply upon him.

The old ranger smiled, shaking his head. Truly, Kaldir more than any, would benefit from such a tender alliance. And it was sore overdue him, though he would do well to hurry, for it appeared that the desert woman’s charms were not wholly lost on Dúlrain either.

But even given this turn of events, it remained a puzzle that Kaldir had entrusted him with this task he now was set upon, for it needs must be of great significance to him, finding Naiore. And Rauthain was now singlely upon her path, mindful that he should not stumble upon her company while lacking more strength than his own arms could provide.

These thoughts were the only distraction he allowed himself, for he went quickly while he might, and did not rest while the sun watched his course. The trail was old. It had been long since these regions had seen rain, and the dry grass held a confusion of paths from many weeks. But still traces could be seen to distinguish among those animal inhabitants of the wilderness that crisscrossed his path, and that of those he was seeking.

At long last he reached the Hoarwell and trudged heavily through the cold water, leading Juta across its shallows, to enter the Trollshaws from the south. Once again coming to the East Road he crossed over, following the trail as it disappeared into the maze of ravines leading north.

Rough and tangled as the sloping landscape became, his progress slowed so that he began to regret good Juta's company, for the horse frequently faltered, and had to search for good footing, lest he become injured. And just as Rauthain began to wonder if Naiore had indeed not been headed for Imladris, but rather for some other place and he would be left alone to note her bearings while his fellow rangers waited in vain for a sign of her arrival, the trail turned east once more. Upon which time he also noted to his dismay, indications that a sizable band of orcs had of late filed though the ravines, no doubt to escape the eyes of those who watch the mountains, and they too where headed east. It did not bode well, and Rauthain was perplexed fearing now for the safety of the fair mountain outpost and that of his friends.
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Old 01-09-2004, 09:20 PM   #190
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Sting

Benia

Benia had spent her entire life in hiding in some form or another and, part and parcel of this, involved keeping her emotions hidden from the world as well. Her mother had taught her ever since she could remember that in order to survive in the world, she would have to learn the secret of the veils. There were real veils, Benia's mother had explained, the ones that hid the Painted Sand women's faces from the world, but there were also the invisible veils, the ones that concealed their hearts. She had listened to her mother's words and, over the years, learned to hide her feelings behind layers of fine but invisible fabrics. Looking at Dulrain as he moved about setting up camp, Benia longed to rip the veils away from her heart and throw herself at his feet, to keep or discard her as he wished.

When she had first laid eyes on him in Bree, she had been struck by the kindness and the underlying courage in his grey eyes. She had felt a shock of recognition then, too, as though she had known him in another time, some other life, and was for the first time reunited with him in this one. Now she owed him her life. And, over the past five days that he had ridden in their company, she had come to another realization, as well. She had fallen in love with him.

Knowing that he was far too high above her socially even to hope for his returning her feelings, Benia had hidden away her love as best she could under the tenfold layers of veils and contented herself with befriending him and tending to his wound. She knew the cut to his side pained him greatly, and she admired the stoicism with which he handled the pain. She only wished she could do something to take away that pain, to heal him and bring him back to his full strength. But they would be in Rivendell soon. The elves would take care of him.

"If only there were something..." she murmured to herself. Then, noticing that he had grown pensive, stopping in his work, she moved in his direction.

"Is something wrong?" she asked, her brow creased with worry. The last time she had changed the dressing on his wound, all had seemed well. Surely, it wasn't growing septic now.

Dulrain smiled at her. "No, nothing that should worry you, my lady. I apologize for causing you concern. Just a young ranger and his foolish musings." He looked deeply into her eyes and, for a fleeting instant, Benia nearly did throw all caution and decorum to the wind. She nearly did take his hands and place them against her heart, letting all the secrets that she concealed there pour forth, but at the last second she dropped her eyes. When her gaze fell on the tribal tattoos that marked her hands, she tensed and pulled the unseen veils closer around her. He could never love a foreigner like herself. Even if he could, she could only bring him grief... the way her mother, through no fault of her own, had ultimately brought her father to grief and an early grave.

Hiding her heart, Benia smiled gently as Dulrain raised her hands to his lips and kissed them. "Thank you," he whispered, releasing her hands as Gilly and Kaldir rejoined them.

Her emotions in a whirl, Benia barely heard it as Gilly broached the subject of sending a message to her husband back home in the Shire. Gilly was worried that Carl might think she had come to harm. Hardly knowing what she was saying, Benia offered a few words of comfort, that surely Carl would understand that Gilly would never have left her family on her own account. Thank you? The conversation continued on, and eventually both Kaldir and Dulrain rose and left the warmth of the fireside. Benia watched them go, still feeling the press of Dulrain's lips against her hands. The look in his eyes when he kissed her haunted her. Could it be possible?

She startled as Gilly touched her tightly clasped hands. "Is everything all right?" asked Gilly quietly. "Your hands are shaking. You haven't taken ill, have you?"

Benia closed her eyes and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. Then, she smiled at her friend. "I'm afraid I have just a little bit. It's probably just a touch of fatigue."

Gilly gave her a long, contemplative look, then nodded slowly. Gilly's expression told Benia that she had witnessed the exchange between her and Dulrain, and, if she did not know the full truth, she suspected it. Gilly patted Benia's hands. "Don't worry," she reassured her softly. "He will be fine. It will all work out in the end."

“Will it?” asked Benia sadly. She gestured in the direction of the two men. “Look at them. They know there are wolves about.”

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

Kaldir

"Do you love her?" asked Dulrain, his gaze lingering in the direction of Benia Nightshade and Mrs. Banks. A split second after the fact, he threw Kaldir a light-hearted, rather knowing grin, but the effort came too late. Kaldir had already seen the look in Dulrain's eyes. He frowned slightly and turned a thoughtful stare of his own in the direction of the two women.

Did he love her? It was a fair enough question, but Kaldir hesitated over whether to lie or to tell Dulrain the truth. The days when truth was instinctive lay long in the past. Over the last fifteen years he had gotten into such a habit of useful prevarication that the truth came out only with an effort. There was a saying they had in the deserts of Harad - he wondered if Benia knew it as well - that the truth is dangerous thing. One should be careful in doling it out, especially when it could expose a weakness. And now, with Naiore so near, was not the time to be exposing weaknesses. Even to Dulrain.

Kaldir did love Benia, at least so far as he was capable of it, but that knowledge would remain with him for the moment. It was not the time to speak of such things. He could sense that Naiore was very near. His sleep, when he got any, was tortured with dreams, and his waking mind had begun to fracture again. Naiore's voice threaded through his thoughts like a poison, keeping him ever on edge, his hatred of her at times being the only thing armoring him against her and the ever present past. Only the presence of his companions kept him from turning aside from the road and following her deadly voice to her lair. Whether he managed to kill her or she finally destroyed him no longer mattered to him. One must happen or the other. It was the only way in which his soul could find peace. If he managed to live, only then could he allow himself the luxury of pursuing Benia Nightshade. Only then would he have a chance at becoming whole.

He started to give Dulrain an evasive response, but the words died on his lips as the dry snap of a twig just beyond the bounds of their camp pierced the silence. Kaldir's body tensed, but he made no obvious movement in the direction of the sound. By the sharp expression that had come into Dulrain's eyes, Kaldir could tell that his brother had heard it, too.

"Our spy?" whispered Dulrain, scarcely moving his lips.

Kaldir nodded, his pale eyes narrowing. "Distract him," he whispered. "I'll catch him from behind." Then, he added in conversational tones for the benefit of the spy. "Have you got any more of that Longleaf left? I smoked the last of mine yesterday."

Picking up on the scam, Dulrain nodded. "In my pack. You'll find it back by the horses."

Kaldir thanked him and walked casually back in the direction of the horses. Dulrain watched him go, then, very deliberately began to pick up firewood, working slowly in the direction from which they had heard the snapping twig. At first there was silence, then a second, softer crunch of dead leaves. Dulrain continued in that direction, moving just quickly enough to keep the intruder preoccupied with him so that Kaldir would have time to move in from behind.

Kaldir passed the horses and entered the woods without a sound, his boots finding purchase only in the soft earth. Leaving the camp, he made a wide circle that arced back abruptly in the direction from which he and Dulrain had first heard the twig snap. Through the trees, he could see Dulrain casually picking up firewood as if he hadn't a care in the world. Motionlessly, Kaldir waited as his pale eyes scanned the woods between him and Dulrain for any sign of the intruder. It was a few moments before he saw him. The little rat had concealed himself well. He was nearly under Dulrain's very nose. Kaldir drew his dagger and, choosing each step carefully, closed the distance between them. He was very nearly upon him, when the intruder suddenly turned with a start and tried to scramble away. Kaldir shot out a hand and caught the hobbit tightly around the back of the neck. He placed the point of his dagger against the struggling hobbit's ribcage as Dulrain dropped the armload of sticks he had gathered and leaped forward, his own dagger in hand.

"A single sound and you will be a very dead hobbit," growled Kaldir, tightening his grip on the hobbit's neck.

<font size=1 color=339966>[ 11:45 AM January 13, 2004: Message edited by: Ealasaide ]
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Old 01-11-2004, 03:51 PM   #191
Elora
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Vanwe

A robin startled up from the canopy of trees, in turn starting Vanwe as she walked on the soft carpet of pine needles. The hem of her dress was wet still from the Ford. She paused, gazing skyward and struggling within herself. It was hard to slip past this net that seemed to roll over her mind, like a fog so dense she could barely breathe through it. Her mother's hand was in it. She knew that but so thick was the mist that she could barely stir herself about it.

The sound of a man's voice shouting behind her and the scream of something fouler still dragged Vanwe about to stare back down the way she had come, towards the Ford. The call of the alarmed robin fell back to her, a distant echo. She frowned and started back down her path. To her credit, she got one whole step back the way she came before her mother's evil muzzed her once again.

Out of the dim shadows nearby loped a twisted shape. She could smell it's rank scent. It stopped, this nightmare creature that she had never seen, and bared rotting fangs. In a hoarse, rough voice that was more growl than words, it said "Elf flesh," and grinned at her.

Vanwe was rooted to the spot. Death was before her, holding a notched scythe of dark iron. It yawned at her feet. Another nightmare joined it. It flicked her a hot gaze of blood lust and cuffed the first roughly about it's mangled ear.

"Not for us that one. Later, maybe, if we are good..." With a corrupted laugh, the two lumbered off towards the Ford and Vanwe was alone again amidst the pines. Her mother's hand was in this, she stirred again through the nausea that roiled in her stomach. Vanwe fell to her knees, gasping after her first encounter with orcs. Waves of disgust broke over her and she screwed her eyes shut.

The compulsion to go on fell heavy on her, beating at her, forcing her head to sag with the weight of its blows. Vanwe endured, on her knees, but her strength was not up to this after all that had passed in the two weeks before and well had her mother known it. It was scattered to the four winds.

There was evil in this forest, and she was enmeshed in it. With a soft groan born of exhaustion, Vanwe got to her feet and there waved uncertainly. With effort, she turned back and stared at the unknown path before her. To her father it did lead. That was true, was it not? She could not rely on her mother to tell her so. There was only one way to determine if he was there. It was to go see for herself, and if so set him free.

Vanwe took a hesitant step forward and the compulsion throbbing in her skull eased a bare fraction. There was evil in this forest and perhaps her father could help. Yes, she thought as she took another step. Then another thought came to her. Her mother may even now watch, may even have seen her falter and turn back. The idea sent shivers down her back as her mother's words sounded in her memory through the fog.

"Tarry not, stray not, or woe will come of it daughter. Keep to your road and your family and you shall not regret it."

Vanwe took up another step and another, glancing fearfully at the trees on either side of her path and continued away from the Ford and towards her father's prision, a place called Imladris. Filled with foes, it must be a fearsome place indeed, but she would find him. She had to. That was a compulsion of her own making and it beat with her heart as she walked through the day.

Naiore

The forest quivered with the shock of blood spilt and Naiore straightened. A fearsome expression of wrath was carven on her features and her gaze was silver fire as she looked in the direction of the Ford.

"We move now," she commanded in a voice that was a lash of cruel whip. She gathered her pack onto her back and unhindered two curved swords from her back. Then, she glanced back to the others in the camp to ensure they heeded. Barrold looked rebellious but shouldered his pack nonetheless. Avanill avoided her gaze. Toby.... Toby was nowhere to be seen!

A curse as ancient as it was dire slipped from her lips in High Elven. Not even the beauty of that language could conceal its intent. Barrold shivered involuntarily. Naiore pinned Avanill with her anger.

"The hobbit, where is it," she demanded hard.

Avanill shook his head slightly, as if he found it difficult to move beneath the weight of her sudden rage. "I....do not.... know," he gasped hoarsely.

"Probably ran off," Barrold said morosely, a tinge of jealousy spreading through him. Naiore struggled with the competing force of her emotions and the absolute need for logic. The conflict danced across her face for a terrifying instant as all her future closed in around her with cloying defeat. Then, even more alarming, came the serenity that Barrold and Avanill had seen all too often. Her path was clear.

"You will find the treacherous stoat," she informed Ferney, "and Avanill shall aid you. You will find him before sundown, and you will bring him to me.

"You will not disappoint me." Naiore wore a mysterious half smile as she calmly and firmly set out her instructions. Barrold blinked at her in confusion and then at Avanill. Naiore's smile remained as the two men studied her in return.

"Wot, now," Barrold asked.
"Bring him to me by sunset," Naiore repeated softly.
"How will we know where you are," Avanill asked warily.
Naiore smiled lushly at him and raised a brow in amusement.

"Oh, you will find me, be sure of that. Do not have me look for you."

With that, Naiore turned her back on the two men and moved off. Her pace was rapid, fluid and flowing and soon the trees had her as they had swallowed her daughter earlier.

Barrold scratched at his tangled, greasy hair, partly to relieve the itch and partly to aid his labourious thoughts. A greedy, speculative glint light his expression.

"Come on then, lad, let's find the rat." With that, Barrold crossed to study Toby's light tracks. "I think he went this way," he said after a moment of consideration. That way lies our saftey, and a tidy reward too, he thought to himself. With a backwards glance at Avanill, Barrold started off. This could work out better than I thought, if the boy stays behind or follows the Ravennor. Barrold frowned at the ground as he struggled to read Toby's tracks. Tracking had never been a strong suit for the man.

Naiore moved unrelentingly towards the Ford and the battle which had begun overly soon. With the two men no longer encumbering her, she could be rid of more hindrances this way than by her earlier arrangements. What matter if Barrold and Avanill got caught in the blood spilling, Toby too of course. Once she had Imladris she needed none of them, and Imladris was falling faster than she had anticipated with the orc's early strike. Even now, Vanwe moved towards Imladris and carried doom within her. Naiore smiled as she loped towards the Ford.

The Ravennor had adapted to circumstance and re-asserted her control once again. Her future could not be denied her. Now, it was the matter of the Rangers and Lespheria. The sooner that was dealt with the sooner she would have Menecin.
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Old 01-12-2004, 08:45 AM   #192
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Sting

Léspheria

Léspheria leaned low over Losserme's neck as they flew over the ford, "the stairs" she whispered pulling the reigns in their direction. Over the splash of the mare’s hooves in the shallow water, she could hear the crash of the orcs as they without regard broke through the trees trampling all under their dark feet, their guttural cries making her haste all the greater. Reaching the stair she quickly dismounted, without watching the mare head off to take another path to the last house, she ascended the stairs, her light steps noiseless on the stone steps.

A sudden cry from below made her look back, Her chest heaved heavily as she saw some of the orcs raising their weapons and cheering, one of the larger orcs held something aloft in his hands. She squinted to see what prize he held only to wish that she had not. She felt herself go numb as she realise that the orc held aloft a human head, But who's? She thought sadly. Shaking off the numb feeling, she looked about for any sign that Amandur or Maethor was still alive. She faltered slightly as she saw Amandur trying to fight his way to where the triumphant orc stood, both with relief then with guilt as she realised that she was glad that Amandur lived.

From her position halfway up the stairs she could see that Amandur was struggling, the orcs would soon surround him and he too would be lost, she desperately looked between the ford and the top of the stairs, she would not make it back to him in time, he had asked her to bring help. The wall of self control that she had been painstakingly perfecting over the past fortnight suddenly crumbled at the thought that she would loss Amandur in this way so close to her home, a silvery tear escaped glistening on her pale cheek. "No, it can not be!" she defiantly whispered taking a deep breath and straightening to hold herself proudly.

"Orqur! I'Orqur nantenna me!" (Orcs! The Orcs are upon us!) She cried up the stairs then drawing her sword, she flew down to the stairs, praying to Ilúvatar that the elves had heard her warning.

Amandur's situation was not improving so she acted quickly, keeping her eyes on the orcs, she began reciting the spell that once protected the river, Although she knew the protection had been broken with the unmaking of the one ring she hoped the Orcs know and fear the elven spell. As her clear voice cut above the sound of the ford, a deep gravely voice cried, "An elf witch!” It worked the orcs hesitated some even stepping back and searching the far bank for others. She cast a quick glance to Amandur; he had taken advantage of her diversion and was running for the other side of the shore.

The orcs hesitation did not last long, "She's alone" their leader laughed, "Kill the ranger and bring me the elf," he ordered. Realising that the deception was over and that she had bought Amandur the time to flee she descended the rest of the stairs to help him. Throwing out her hand she helped him ashore, he was pale and his dark hair clung to his face, he also clutched at his right arm and she could see the dark red blood staining his ripped shirt.

"Maethor" he whispered hoarsely avoiding her gaze as he stepped onto the bank.

"I know" she replied sympathetically, she knew he would blame himself for the young ranger’s demise, but there was no time to reassure him, the orcs were fast at their heels.

"Come, we must get to the stairs!" she urged, he glanced back to the pursuing orcs then defeated nodded his assent.

Black feathered arrows skipped dangerously close, taking a cursory glance backwards she saw that some of the orcs had halted their advance and had now drawn crossbows and large crude looking bows. As they reached the stairs she could see a second group of orcs before them, they had obviously broke off and crossed the river further up stream.

"I Hope their aim is as crude as their bows!" she whispered trying to emulate Amandur usual wit in such circumstances. However, the ranger said nothing, looking distant and withdrawn. However, as he too saw the second group of orc a sudden light and determination came to his eyes, he lifted his sword defiantly and Léspheria feared he would charge straight amid the close advancing orcs but instead he held his guard and slowly backed up the stairs.

"Naar!" (Fire) Lespheria looked up to see a hail of arrows descend upon the startled orcs.

"Noro lim, noro lim mellonea!" (Fly, fly friends)

"Fintár!" Léspheria laughed recognising the elf captain's voice. She pushed her sword into the chest of an orc who had tried to grab her, then pulling it out she and Amandur ascended the stairs as the orcs scrambled to defend themselves from the ensuing volley.

As she reached the top she looked down to see the chaos below. But as she looked, she was sure she saw a dark lithe figure flit between the trees on the far bank of the ford. "Naiore!" she thought aloud, a few of the archer nearby looked at her puzzled, but ignoring their confused looks she strode towards the tall fair haired elf captain.

"The lady of the swan is behind this attack!" she bluntly informed him, his pale eyes regarded her and he thought on her words, she then followed the elf's gaze as he took in his patrol.

"We are but a scouting party and not large enough to hold of against the lady's host, but the alarm has been raised and help should arrive within a few hours, but this news must be relied to our lords at once." Sadness laced his words and Léspheria knew he had resigned himself to order his men to remain until reinforcements could arrive.

"We will go quickly and ... "she began but Amandur interjected "No, I will stay and help if I can."

"But you are hurt?" Fintár frowned eyeing the rangers blood soaked sleeve, as Léspheria stared.

"It's not deep," he answered, more to assure Léspheria than the elven captain, she smiled and turned to the captain, "He has a good bow shot and I fear I would have to drag him from the battle, we lost a dear friend and comrade to these foul creatures."

Fintár's frown faded and he nodded his assent and understanding, "I am sorry for your loss, may I ask the name of your friend."

"It was Maethor" she sighed, and Amandur turned away.

"Then I am truly sorry, for Maethor was well known and liked among our people, his gentle song will be sorely missed in the halls."
After a short farewell, Léspheria continued on alone, the echo of battle following her along the main path and drowning out the soft lament of the birds. The setting sun held not its exquisite wonder, but reminded her of the blood that would be spilled this night in their fair realm, a place of Sanctuary Tainted by Naiores malice, with that thought she hurried on towards the last house.

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Old 01-12-2004, 05:02 PM   #193
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Sting

Naiore

The orcs were scattered in disorganised tatters through the trees. Naiore came upon drifts of two and three, spread through the pine forest and angling towards the banks. None could answer her who had given the command to attack and the pressing desire to slaughter them where they stood beat hard within her skull. But there was bigger game afoot than her own need for release.

Those she came across, Naiore sent in the direction that the other group of Rangers had been sighted, but Toby and the orc scouts. She did not need an unchecked foe descending upon her flank or rear. Besides, they were two men, perhaps three, depending on which report she listened to, with one woman and a hobbit. In short, easily dispatched once the Rangers were dealt with, and it would get the rabble out from under her feet for the real quarry she was after.

The roar of the Branduin shivered through the air as Naiore approached. A flight of arrows hissed and thwaked in bole of tree and orcs. For their part, the orcs jeered raucously. Naiore's concern was with the source of the Branduin's raised ire, and she stood on the far bank. Naiore crouched in the cover and an ancient pine, it's age seeping through her as she leant back against it's trunk. It was ancient, but she was older still and she tossed it's weight of years aside.

Still clutching swords in both hands, Naiore lashed hard, fast and perfectly on target towards the "elf-witch" that had raised the river against them. She directed a savage melange of pain, fear and doubt. Then she moved further, seizing upon her instinct honed over Ages of Man and Elf to attack.

Léspheria's mother had suffered long. But the hardest blow was her mother's realisation that she had been betrayed. Well, Naiore recalled how she had felt, for she had sensed also. It was that memory, aching, twisting, rending, tearing, fracturing the bonds of kinship, family and friendship, that Naiore directed at Léspheria now. Naiore had the satisfaction of feeling her attack nestle in before Léspheria slammed hard walls of defence against her.

Wearing a perfect smile of cold death, Naiore straightened. Calling in black speech, she commanded the orcs to press forward whilst they could.

"Strike! Shields up, cross the river, you maggots. Strike or feel my fury!"

The orcs responded with a shriek that shattered the sky and gathered on the banks under the refuge of their shields. The barrage of arrows from the other bank faltered for a moment, the archers and commanders alike recoiling in disgust and horror at the sound of the Black Speech of Mordor polluting their minds and the air around them.

"MOVE!" Naiore's voice hardened into a single command that resonated with compulsion. Orcs in the front of the group complied by stepping forward. Naiore, meanwhile, kept well back. From her vantage she could see what was happening. From her vantage, this battle would not fall into chaotic melee. She would not have her senses enveloped and swallowed by battle lust and the need for blood. From her vantage, Naiore could keep her head.
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Characters: Rosmarin: Lady of Cardolan; Lochared: Vagabond of Dunland; Simra: Daughter of Khand; Naiore: Lady of the Sweet Swan; Menecin: Bard of the Singing Seas; Vanwe: Lost Maiden; Ronnan: Lord of Thieves; and, Uien of the Twilight
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Old 01-13-2004, 05:28 AM   #194
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Gilly

Why must they speak in secret? Gilly wondered as she noticed Dúlrain and Kaldir discussing some matter in private, glancing back at the ladies. And what would they be speaking of exactly? Whatever it was, it seemed to concern them, judging by their looks, and she hoped that they would have the courtesy to consult with Miss Benia and herself if they were about planning their future. Perhaps they too had noticed how the long journey had worn on her friend’s nerves. She was in such a state her hands were all atremble! But to have suddenly become so delicate a woman hardly seemed possible. Something else was at work here, and the hobbit suspected that her friend’s abundant concern for her patient might lie at the root of it. She had all the subtle signs of having developed what in Bywater was referred to as an “attachment”. And most likely was worn out from emotion rather than the hardship of the road.

Gilly looked at her friend searchingly, half afraid of what lay behind those fetching eyes of hers. For she had seen that Benia wasn’t the only one to have an attachment, and more than gratitude shone in the salute that Dúlrain had so freely given. But then Kaldir too, seemed to have harbored quite a soft corner for her friend in his own peculiar way, and she dared not think of how he might take this turn of events. Perhaps this was the storm he had eluded too, though he had not seemed threatening, but rather gloomy, and she had puzzled over the words at the time.

Still Benia was her friend, and she did deserve such a man as Dúlrain -though the timing of this blossoming affection left much to be desired- she would stand by her, come what may. Though thinking back to the side street in Bree she felt quite sad fearing it might bring pain to Mr. Kaldir. And truly, she did not wish him any sadness at all, or to betray the trust he had bestowed on them.

“Don’t worry, he will be fine. It will all work out in the end,” she said patting her friend’s hands and trying to reassure herself as much as Miss Benia.

“Will it?” asked Benia sadly, gesturing to were the men stood. “Look at them. They know there are wolves about.”

“Wolves!” Gilly exclaimed, shocked out of her ponderings, as if one of the furry brutes might leap at them that moment. “Though I suppose I should have guessed there might be such things here about,” she muttered under her breath as she tried to get hold of herself once again, but looking at Benia’s expression she saw such was on the wrong track. “Then again, I don’t suppose you might mean the four-legged variety.”
Before Benia could answer a sharp snap was heard in the woods outside their camp, and all froze for a brief instant. Gilly’s hand went to her belt and looking down she quickly regretted that she insisted on giving Benia her dagger back.

By the time she looked up again, Kaldir had disappeared, but there was Dúlrain collecting firewood, completely at ease. It must be nothing she decided relaxing again. But when Dúlrain had nearly assembled an armful of wood he suddenly dropped the lot and leaped into the woods. It struck Gilly as exceedingly odd and she was just about to shout after him when she heard the low growling voice of Kaldir quite close by say “A single sound and you will be a very dead hobbit.”

Gilly froze, wondering if it might actually have been Kaldir’s mind she heard snap a few moments before. And so she was quite confused when both Kaldir and Dúlrain appeared from the wood guiding a bedraggled hobbit before them at knifepoint.

And if that weren’t enough, this hobbit looked vaguely familiar. But what was he doing skulking about sneaking up on people? She wouldn’t have associated with someone like that. What utterly shameful behavior for a hobbit! And where could she have seen him before? Not the Forsaken Inn, she would have remembered easily that far back. It must be from before. Quietly and methodically she gazed at his face with narrowed eyes trying to figure who he might be, and peeling back the years of her life, to see just where he might fit in. At anyrate he wasn’t a wolf. How strange this talk of wolves when she had just been trying to remember how those old tales went about their invading the Shire! That’s was it, that is where she had seen his face before, though he had a mite more mature frame than he did in those dark years. He wasn’t a wolf, not the four legged kind, but he was as good as one, for he came with the dark days in Bywater, and left with them too, now that she thought of it.

Suddenly self-conscious, she realized that if she could place him, he too might place her, and so she made an attempt to appear more unconcerned, hoping that she had changed enough that he might not remember her as the young wife of the shopkeeper whose shop was set ablaze.

<font size=1 color=339966>[ 6:55 PM January 13, 2004: Message edited by: Hilde Bracegirdle ]
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Old 01-14-2004, 10:08 AM   #195
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Sting

Toby Longholes

The smell of burning wood and low voices told Toby that he was drawing near to his quarry, "Well I've found them, Now what eh?" he muttered to himself, "If I just stroll into their camp that bounty hunter will be on me like a fox on a hare, there's no doubt. No! I think I will wait a see if the opportunity arises for me to speak with the ranger alone." Slowly he moved about the bushes looking for somewhere to hide, but always keeping an eye on the activity in the camp.

'Snap!' Toby froze holding his breath as a dry twig snapped under his feet, but to his relief no one in the camp seemed to stir, looking about he found a niche in a small group of bushes and hunkered down to observe the group.

"Have you got any more of that Longleaf left?" he heard the bounty hunter ask Dulrain.

"Ah Longleaf!" he signed longingly, patting his pocket to find his own pipe thankfully still intact, "What I wouldn't give to fill my pipe right now!" he muttered under his breath. As Kaldir went towards the horses to retrieve some of Dulrain's pipe weed, Toby wondered if the ranger might come near enough for him to catch his attention. He watched as the ranger began collecting firewood and as luck would have it he was working his way close to was the hobbit was hiding.

Toby was just about to catch the ranger’s attention when he noted that the campfire was full ablaze and that a stack of firewood sat next to it. So why is he collecting more? He thought to himself, dawning came to him and he suddenly he looked around, the bounty hunter was nowhere to be seen, blast! He panicked, turning with a start as he heard a slight rustle behind him. As the bounty hunter loomed over him he tried to scramble away, but Kaldir grabbed him about the back of his neck, he struggled until he felt the sharp point of Kaldir's dagger at his side.

"A single sound and you will be a very dead hobbit," Kaldir growled in his ear, tightening the already firm grip on his neck. Toby would have vigorously nodded his understanding if he could but instead he remained silent.

"Well, well if it isn't Master Longholes, A little far from homes aren’t we!" The ranger Dúlrain jibbed, levelling a finely crafted jewelled companion sword at his chest.

"Aye and I wouldn't be if it weren't for you and that other ranger!" he blurted out, suddenly angry at the way he was being treated, after all he had come to help them.

"And just how do you come by that conclusion master Longholes?" Dúlrain asked raised a questioning eyebrow.

"Well if Amandur had not tempted me with his gold and you hadn't kept me to his request, I would never have been at Ferneys house with a troop of rangers in broad daylight with goodness knows who watching. I would not have had to find somewhere to hide until things blew over and Ferney’s temper simmered down. Then I would never have run into Naiore and been forced into this madness,” he retorted in one long breath.

"She's insane! I tell you."

"You think so!" Kaldir hissed in his ear, sounding less than convinced by his claim.

"So why are you spying on us then master Longholes, if you are an unwilling party?" Dulrain asked his tone indicating that he was not just talking about this instance. Toby paused for a second to contemplate his answer, though it was not hard found.

"To stay alive,” he said simply, sure at least the bounty hunter would understand.

"Thought you not that one of those you observed would not have killed you if they caught you!” Kaldir sneered

"Yes, but at least your retribution would be swift and sure, not the lingering torment that would await me at the hands of the elf lady." he felt Kaldir tense at his words but he said nothing.

"So what would you have us do now master Longholes, although my friend here may wish to wring your neck for your misdeeds, I am a ranger and bound by laws and as grievous as your crimes are to me and my friends, they do not warrant as swift and deadly retribution as you think!" Dúlrain looked at him pondering what to do.

"Do with me what you wish, I likely deserve as much, but know this I came here to tell you of Naiore's plans!" but even as he spoke his eyes searched the forest as if wait for danger to suddenly set upon them.

"Why didn't you say that in the first place?" Kaldir growled dragging the now startled hobbit into the camp. He kept his head bent wish to avoid the judgemental look of the two women especially the hobbit who looked somewhat familiar now he got a closer look at her.

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Old 01-14-2004, 10:17 PM   #196
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Kaldir

Roughly, Kaldir dragged Toby Longholes into camp by the scruff of the neck. Knowing the hobbit to be a recent associate of Naiore Dannan, Kaldir's first instinct had been to cut the scrubby little beggar's throat where he had found him and leave him to bleed out, alone amongst the criss-crossing tree roots of the forest floor. He might have done as much, too, if he had been alone, but the presence of Dulrain and the two women demanded a more moderate course of action. Instead, he hauled the little traitor into camp and deposited him in an awkward heap a few feet from the fire. Even so, he kept his dagger at the ready. A single false or threatening move from the hobbit and Kaldir's dagger would find its mark.

"I came here to tell you of Naiore's plans!" repeated Toby miserably. He sat in a sullen lump, his face turned carefully away from where Benia and Gilly sat nearby.

At the sound of Naiore's name, Kaldir felt the battered side of his face twitch noticeably. He still wished he had killed the spy on sight, but there was a chance he could prove useful to them. Kaldir pushed aside his more murderous impulses and looked down at Toby with a glacial silence.

Dulrain sheathed the ornamental sword he carried and, kneeling down, leveled an even stare at the prisoner. "Then, tell us. Why is Naiore targeting Imladris?"

After casting one nervous, sideways glance at Kaldir, Toby turned his attention to Dulrain. "Someone named Menecin is there. She's after Menecin."

Kaldir and Dulrain exchanged a glance. They knew who Menecin was, but neither of them had been aware of his presence in Imladris.

"How does she intend to reach him?" asked Dulrain, his expression growing dark.

Toby shrugged obstinately, his eyes searching the soon-to-be darkening woods beyond the campfire, as though half-expecting the Ravenner herself to come striding out, brandishing her two curved blades. Kaldir gave him a quick, none-too-gentle kick. The dagger edged closer toward Toby's face.

"Speak!" ordered Kaldir. Darkness would be falling soon. If Naiore planned to make her move against Imladris, it would no doubt come at dusk or shortly thereafter. To his memory, she had never been a creature of the light.

Toby flinched and looked petulant, but answered. "She has friends with her. I think she plans to use her daughter, too, but I don't know how."

"Vanwe," said Kaldir for Dulrain's benefit.

Dulrain nodded. "I am aware of her," he said quietly.

Toby aimed a defiant look at Kaldir. "She's sending her friends after you, too. I heard her. She knows you are here and she means to kill all of you."

"No thanks to you, I'm sure," answered Kaldir dryly. Beside him, Dulrain straightened.

"We should warn Elrohir and Elladan," he said to Kaldir. "She mustn't be allowed to attack Imladris by surprise."

Kaldir nodded his agreement. "We may be too late," he added as the silence of the evening was abruptly shattered by the hoarse cries of orcs, followed by the clash of swords echoing through the woods from the direction of the ford.

"Orcs!" exclaimed Dulrain. "We must go to Imladris' aid!" His hand rose to the hilt of his sword. Kaldir watched as Dulrain began to ready himself to ride into battle. His own first inclination was to join Dulrain and ride together with him against the orcs in defense of Imladris, just as they had in the old days before the lingering darkness had descended over his heart, but a quick glance around the camp told Kaldir that now was not the time. There was Toby to contend with and, of course, the safety of Mrs. Banks and Benia to consider. He had nearly lost the two of them to orcs back in the Lonelands, but for the efforts of Dulrain. He had no intention of leaving them vulnerable again. As for Toby Longholes, Kaldir knew he could settle the hobbit's hash once and for all in a matter of seconds, if it came to that. Even so, he considered it likely that the elves would have a use for him. They would all be better off making a dash for the safety of the last homely house.

Dulrain, too, for that matter. He had been grievously wounded in the skirmish with the orcs in the Lonelands, then been forced to ride five days without proper rest or the attention of true healers. For him to ride into battle in his condition would be tantamount to suicide.

Turning to Toby, Kaldir pointed the tip of his dagger directly at the hobbit's nose. "Move an inch and you will indeed die a swift and sure death. I kid you not." Leaving the hobbit to consider his options, Kaldir caught up with Dulrain as he saddled his horse. The sound of Elven bowstrings sang through the dusk.

"Our best course would be to break for Imladris by another route," he said quietly.

Dulrain turned, looking first at Kaldir, then in the direction of the ongoing battle. "Our brethren and our allies are in trouble. We must go to their aid."

Kaldir's icy blue eyes narrowed. "And what would you do to aid them? Die? You are in no condition to fight."

Dulrain turned on him, his gray eyes flashing angrily, but Kaldir could sense his hesitation. He continued. "The hobbit says Naiore has sent orcs into the woods for us, as well. Would you leave Mrs. Banks and Miss Nightshade to their mercy? We must take them and ride as quickly as we can for Imladris. Odds are we will still have to fight our way through. I know of but one way into the Elven refuge.”

Dulrain's hesitation deepened. He looked over Kaldir's shoulder in the direction of the two women and, for a brief instant, grew very still. Then, he nodded. “The stair.”

Kaldir nodded. “The stair. We can cross the Bruinen north of the ford, and, unless things fare worse for our Elven allies than I hope, we can ride south along the canyon wall to the stair, most of the way under cover of the Elven archers.”

“Gaining the stair will be the dangerous part,” said Dulrain quietly. “Naiore will be centering her forces there.”

Again, Kaldir nodded.

“I suppose there is no other way,” said Dulrain, his gaze drifting again in the direction of the women.

“The only alternative I can see is waiting here until the orcs find us, which is hardly an alternative to my view,” answered Kaldir.

“To mine either,” rejoined Dulrain. “We should ride at once. Hopefully, we can reach the stair before it is overrun.”

Without another word, the two of them moved into action, saddling the remaining horses and readying the group to depart. Benia and Gilly did their part and, Kaldir was amused to note, the hobbit, Toby, had not moved an inch. He still sat in a lump where Kaldir had left him, but his bright eyes followed the activity attentively. Kaldir approached him, leading the gray horse by the reins.

“You ride with me,” he said sternly, picking the hobbit up and placing him on the back of the saddle. On an afterthought, Kaldir reached up and took the hobbit’s knife away, pitching it into the smoldering remains of the fire. He didn’t know why he had not noticed it before. “You hinder me in any way and I shall have your head,” he added pleasantly. “Do we understand each other?”

When Toby nodded, Kaldir swung himself into the saddle in front of him. He nodded to Dulrain and the company took off from the campsite at a fast trot, with Dulrain in the lead, followed by Benia, then Gilly, with Kaldir and Toby bringing up the rear.

<font size=1 color=339966>[ 11:38 PM January 14, 2004: Message edited by: Ealasaide ]
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Old 01-15-2004, 05:36 AM   #197
Hilde Bracegirdle
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Rauthain

Noting as best he could, where he was, Rauthain had given up the trail and headed with all speed south and east. And though he keenly felt the weight of the decision, he had made it easily, choosing not to be blinded by the enduring shadows of the past, but to finally live, taking action without being governed by their far, demoralizing reach. Even as he felt his own life a ruin of former times that itself lingered overlong in this new age, when seeing the new and subtly wrought changes in Kaldir, he began to hold the spark of hope for a better future. And so he went.

As the sun lowered in the sky, he came upon two orcs traveling back down the ravine ahead of him, arguing as they wandered. As fortune would have it, they had not noticed him yet, so close upon their heels, for he stayed in the deep shadow of the western side of the crevice.

Bow at ready he moved, positioning himself and let fly a quick succession of arrows, piercing one of the orcs well, before the other could locate him amidst the brush. As the first slowly gave way to his injures, the second spotted him and raising his crude weapon, charged half-blinded by the slanting rays of the sun.

Throwing his bow well behind him with his left hand, Rauthain drew his sword with his right, cursing Toby as he did so, for well he knew his blade dull. And his rage spent upon the brush had done little to help matters. But what he lacked in edge he hoped to overcome by strength, and so gripping his sword with both hands he fought until a chance opening, when with all his might he leveled a blow hitting the orc along his shoulder and sent him hopping sideways to regain his balance.

Then the orc showing a wicked grin advanced, rushing at Rauthain, who saw that his adversary perceived his dilemma and grew all the more reckless for it, quickly bloodying the old Ranger’s arm and shoulder. Fending off the orc as well as he might, he bided his time assuming a more defensive posture until the orc became over confident and another opportunity presented itself. This time aiming the flat of his blade at the temple, Rauthain struck the fiend knocking him to the ground, where upon he ran the creature through, hastening it’s death.

As soon as it lay quite still upon the ground, Rauthain bend over the lifeless figure and reaching in the pouch at the orc’s belt, relieved him of the blood red whetstone that lay hidden there. Loath as he was to take such a foul stone off the corpse, covered as it was with black runes he did not understand, he did not wish to revisit the scene he had just experienced though his own misguided principles. And so he took it and also the sword, which had wounded him, before continuing in the ever-deepening evening.

Traveling down the ravine, following a small stream that ran along the center if it, Rauthain rode in the night, ever impatient for some sign of the others and ever cautious of what might be found along the way.
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Old 01-15-2004, 05:50 PM   #198
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Sting

Vanwe


The daylight's hold over the trees faded, submitting to the press of oncoming night. She walked in twilight, half-awake and half-asleep, the trees thinning around her. Elsewhere was the hue and din of battle. Terrible creatures screamed death and blood, but that was elsewhere. The compulsion was within her, beating with her heart. Each step forward made it stronger. Any attempt to step back brought howling agony upon her. Vanwe had learnt that herself, hunched and shuddering in the pine needles on the occassions she had thought to turn aside.

Now, she was blank, empty of all but the compulsion to walk on. In time, the trees surrendered to gardens, perfect artistry of tree, flower and grass. Even water heeded the aethestic demands of the gardens around her. Her kindred lived here, something that should have filled her with a fear great enough to send her back into the safety of the trees. Her arms hung by her side as she walked through the outter gardens of Imladris, into the heart of the Last Homely House of the West. Into the heart of those who had left her to rot in the South.

That sense of abandonment, rejection only fed the compulsion. Her mother had used all her subtle talents in its making. She had sensed her daughter's feelings of betrayal by kin and family she had never met, and so Vanwe only walked on, past the fountains and gardens.

Her feet found smooth, wide and shallow stone steps that led up to another terrace. The music of water danced nearby. Imladris was empty, she dimly thought. Noone was here. She stood by the first building she had seen, a small cottage with intricate trellis work over the window and turned about. Surely a guard, a sentinel, a watcher should have seen her by now. At a loss as to where to go and the compulsion building, Vanwe glanced up at the stars with a trembling gasp.

Menecin

She was here. He had heard the comings and goings of Elves all day. She was here. She was coming. This was no nightmare, no phantasm of his broken mind. She was here. Menecin sat on the floor, his back against the wall, weary and cowed beneath the weight of this reality. The locks had rattled into place an hour ago, precautions. Against what? That he would get out, or she in?

There would be no rest, no safety, nothing whilst she lived. Menecin drew his hands over his wan face and pushed his sagging frame upright. On hand against the wall to support his weight, he staggered to the window, tripping over the wreckage of his room, heeding not the ruin of furniture about his feet.

With a moan of despair, he leant his brow against the glass of one of the panes of his window, one of the few unbroken panels of glass. Dusk had come to Imladris, and the night that would follow would be eternal. He dragged his eyes up from the floor to gaze upon the benign peace of Imladris. It sometimes soothed the trouble of his mind and dreams.

A strangled yell, hoarse, tore free from his throat as he looked upon what stood in his gardens. The fall of silken pale hair, unearthly gold turned silvery with the fading light. She was here. Here!

Menecin reached through the jagged gaps in the window for the trellis, wrapping his bleeding fingers around it, shouting wordlessly. She turned, at the sound of his voice, and looked in his direction. His keepers leapt up in confusion beyond his door, and one started out.

Menecin's alarm also drew the attention of a passing cadre of Elves, who swerved in their path to come to his cottage. She stared at his window, as though she could see through the trellis to him and Menecin felt his voice constrict in his throat.

He watched a the cadre of archers hail her, and she turned towards them. The profile of her face was clear now. So like hers, and yet something else, something more that was not. He watched her spin in alarm, like a fluttering bird seeing a cage come towards it. She spun into the care of one of his keepers. Menecin watched her being taken away, unwilling and twisting back to stare at his window.

He remained silent, tears coursing down his face. She had come, but not the one he had expected.

"Oh, my daughter," he grieved as he watched her escorted away, dragging now at the hold of her guards, fighting, shaking her head, until he could see no more. Menecin spun, hurtled across his room and crashed into his door.

"It's not her! It's not her!" He raged into the wood, thrashing wildly. "It's not her!" His remaining warden opened the journal and added his notes whilst the other sought Elladan urgently.
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Characters: Rosmarin: Lady of Cardolan; Lochared: Vagabond of Dunland; Simra: Daughter of Khand; Naiore: Lady of the Sweet Swan; Menecin: Bard of the Singing Seas; Vanwe: Lost Maiden; Ronnan: Lord of Thieves; and, Uien of the Twilight
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Old 01-16-2004, 07:25 PM   #199
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Avanill

Avanill was quiet as both he and Barrold had left Naiore in the woods in the growing dark.

“Now where is that little rat run off to.” Barrold growled striding several paces being Avanill who kept up a steady stride. Avanill took his time in answering. His mind was filled with his own thoughts. This is going to get worse before the end, he thought,I can see it
He stopped and turned to Barrold abruptly.

“My guess is that he has gone to the rangers.” he said in his trademark cool steady voice, “If we go to him now, im certain that we will get caught. Or besides that, he had surely told them of us by now.” It seemed now to Barrold that Avanill had evolved again somewhat, but this only meant that his mind was made up, Avanill had another plan brewing in his head,

“Whats Naiore going to say? What’s she going to do to us? We áve to kill the little brute now.”said Barrold hitting a tree with his knife. He clearly was not too happy, and he was not reassured by Avanill’s now brooding mood.

“Yes” said Avanill “We will have to kill him. But not before Naiore has her chance to do something about it.”

“Boyo, that’s why she sent us”Barrold remarked looking him in the eye, “Is you allright Boy? You seem-”

“Disturbed? Indeed my friend, im not facing a positive outlook on the events which seem imposing to us, if only there was some way of knowing.” Avanill began walking again but now he was looking at the canopy of the trees. He thought it was best that he did not reveal the bulk of his plans to Barrold, after all, Avanill was and always had been a one man show, he had gotten himself out of worse situations before. not much worse mind you

he reminded himself. Now he turned back to Barrold who was beginning to become weary of him “Heres what im thinking, If we follow Toby, we walk to our deaths, understand. I think that either we tell Naiore that we Killed the little hobbit, or we found him hanging by the neck in the woods, or that the rangers had him and we didn’t want to go after him.”

Barrold was shocked, “What and go back and say “look sorry Your Ladyship, but we couldn’t be bothered to recover the hobbit lad from the rangers“, even though we have killed more people between us than probably any company of rangers. No thanks Boy, but I would leave that news to you.”

“Speak for yourself Barrold, I only kill those who owe me and don’t pay, in a way I am cleansing the county of criminals and cheats. Im an honest man Barrold, as hard as it is for you to believe, and im a gentleman. Either way Id rather go back and tell Naiore, because im pretty sure that if she tried an attack of arms id be able to kill her myself , but she had her elf magic, she used it on Vanwe a while back. Id rather die than have that used on me Barrold, theres too many people I need to protect.”

“Well, you sure helped me murder Tallas in a hurry.”said Barrold intently, which caused Avanill to snap and turn sharply to face him, his eyes still cool and as cold as his voice.

“That was different Barrold, that was not supposed to happen. Something happened to me when-” Avanill hesitated.

“When he mentioned your father,”finished Barrold.

“Let me tell you why it’s set me off, the mention of that vile man makes me mad, no matter who it is who mention’s it. Your just lucky I did not harm you. Let me tell you story Barrold, it’s a story about a young woman, she happened to be a trader, who married bandit she thought she was in love with. He made her betray her ranger brothers to him and he killed them This man took her band of faithful followers from her and then he told her to go. With no family, no home, nothing! He was going abandoned her, but she was strong And in front of his men she killed him, for her honour, for her brothers, for her future and for the baby he never knew she was having. That noble woman was my mother, and I rue the day that man was born.” Avanill was now in the same dark mood which he had been in after he had killed Tallas. “That man Tallas just said the wrong thing, had he said nothing, he would have lived.

“Nobility boy, ain suiting to people like us, it’s the prize that makes us determined, Not the spirit of it, remember that.” Avanill was surprised to see a rare moment of wisdom in his words. Avanill nodded.

His mind was now made up. He would abandon their little femme fatale, Naiore to her doom, which he knew was coming sooner than later, and leave Barrold to what ever side he should choose to be on when the time came. He had survived these years because he was smart, after all, it was a trademark of his house. In his mind he scanned the interior of his bag, there were seven different concoctions which he had made the week before, sleeping draughts, temporary paralysis, fatal poision, one which made the drinker go blind, and two different kinds of potion which came in powder form and poisoned the victim’s blood. Avanill did not want to kill Barrold, that would be too low.

“Barrold” he said slowing down. “I need a drink, let’s stop for a while. Now I look at you, you look as though you could use one too.” Barrold seemed relieved that it was Avanill who had said it and put down his things beside a tree.

"Lets see what youve got then Avanill."he said

"Whiskey, Its one from my grandmother's Inn, very tasty, a little different though if you ask me."he said taking a small phial of the paralisis potion and mixing it into the alcohol. He offered it to Barrold who took it without question.

"It does taste strange Boyo, not wrong there, arent you going -"Barrold stopped dead and fell to the floor. The potion had kicked in. Avanill bent down to survey him.

"Im sorry about this Barrold, I really am, but im not going to be dragged down with the rest of you when the end comes. Im just not going to let that happen. This is only temporary, so your not going to die. Im telling you now, that you wont find me when im gone, it's what i do best, understand? You can tell Naiore that i dont want any part of this anymore, but you can also tell that manifestation of evil that sdhe need not worry about me telling people of her wearabouts or of you even. You can have my share of her money and riches now, and Vanwe, heaven forbid you will treat her well should you get out of this. Very deep down Barrold, you can be a good man, if you'd only try. I hope we meet again some day."He started to gather up his things with the motionless Barrold sitting silently beside him. "You only have to stay like that for around half and hour, by then ill be long gone."he started walking away when somehting stopped him in his trackes,

“And just you remember Barrold, don’t think of me towards the end, ill be thinking of myself, right?” he was still cool as ever, but a slight smile was caught upon his face.
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Last edited by piosenniel; 03-12-2004 at 04:00 PM.
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Old 01-18-2004, 01:32 PM   #200
Ealasaide
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Sting

Benia

As the sounds of nearby battle echoed through the camp, Benia rose to her feet. She could see Kaldir and Dulrain engaged in serious discussion near where the horses were tied. She was unable to hear most of what passed between them, but Dulrain seemed anxious to go, while Kaldir appeared to be arguing against it. Stepping around the fire, she took a few steps in their direction, her fingers closing around the carved wooden whistle, her only token of Dulrain. She had yet to return it to his hands and still wore it on a leather thong around her neck.

Suddenly, Dulrain looked over Kaldir's shoulder in her direction and, for a brief instant, their eyes locked. The ranger went very still. Then, just as abruptly, he broke away, his attention returning to Kaldir. The two men spoke softly for a moment more, then the two of them began to work quickly at saddling the remaining horses. Benia turned to Gilly and the other much-bedraggled hobbit that Kaldir had just dragged out of the woods and dumped by the fireside. In a strange sort of way, she sympathized with the new hobbit, having been hauled out of the Forsaken Inn and dumped on the dirt floor of a deserted blacksmith's shop by Kaldir in much the same fashion, herself. Kaldir's threat to the hobbit not to move an inch also rang familiar to her, but she did not doubt for an instant that the bounty hunter would make good on his threat if the hobbit was to give him any trouble. Even she had to admit, the new fellow had an extremely shady air about him.

She turned to Gilly. "It seems we are leaving," she said, barely loudly enough to be heard over the din of the not-too-distant battle. Gilly nodded, rising herself. Ignoring the presence of Kaldir's new prisoner, who continued to sit quietly on the edge of the fire circle, the two of them returned to their packs the few things they had taken out in preparation for the evening in camp. Benia buckled her father's sword into place. She was just reaching for her lapis inlaid dagger to return to Gilly, should she need a weapon, when she saw Dulrain had already approached Gilly, his jeweled side sword in his hand. She watched as the hobbit lady and the Ranger exchanged a few words, and Dulrain buckled the sword around Gilly's waist.

When he had finished speaking with Gilly, Dulrain turned to Benia, his face grim. "We ride for Imladris at once," he said calmly. "We may have to fight our way through, so be prepared. Kaldir and I will do our best to shield you -" he turned to Gilly "-both of you! But you must be prepared to fight."

Benia nodded, exchanging a nervous glance with Gilly as the two of them followed Dulrain to their mounts. Within seconds, they rode out of camp at a quick pace, with Dulrain leading the way, followed by herself, then Gilly, with Kaldir bringing up the rear. Looking back, Benia saw that Kaldir rode with the newcomer balanced precariously on the back of his saddle. The gray horse half-reared and surged forward as Kaldir shouted, "Go! Quickly now!"

Benia turned and faced front again, urging her horse to stay closely on the flank of Dulrain's mount. Noticing that Dulrain rode with his sword drawn, she drew hers as well.

They had not gone far when they encountered the first orcs, three of them. They leaped out of the woods from the left. Letting Dulrain pass, one grabbed the bridle of Benia's horse. The other two closed in on Kaldir in the rear. Benia swung her sword fiercely in the direction of the chink in the orc's armor between the shoulder and helm, but she missed her mark and the blade glanced harmlessly off the orc’s plate armor. Ahead of her, Dulrain wheeled his horse and came back, his sword raised. He did not miss his mark and the orc crumpled headless to the ground in front of her.

Looking back, she saw that Kaldir had dispatched his two as well. His face sprayed with black orc’s blood, he had a hellish appearance. She saw nothing but death in his pale eyes.

“Ride!” barked Kaldir, and the company moved forward again. Benia could already hear the sound of the river ahead of her.

The next group of orcs came at them from both sides, striking first at Dulrain in the lead. She saw him feint to one side to avoid the swing of an orc’s axe. Then his blade flashed out. A different orc fell dead. She kicked her horse forward and swung her sword at the orc who had aimed the axe at Dulrain. As the blow severed the orc’s arm below the shoulder, he turned on her shrieking. With a grimace, she ran him through the throat.

“For Harad,” she whispered. Behind her, she could hear Gilly shout out, “For the Shire!”

In a matter of seconds, seven more orcs lay dead. Dulrain, again, turned his horse in the direction of the river. They rode swiftly now, at a full gallop toward the deep, swift waters of the Bruinen.

<font size=1 color=339966>[ 9:30 PM January 20, 2004: Message edited by: Ealasaide ]
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