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Old 09-03-2004, 06:04 AM   #281
Estelyn Telcontar
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Estelyn Telcontar is battling Black Riders on Weathertop.Estelyn Telcontar is battling Black Riders on Weathertop.
Night had fallen over the Havens of Umbar. The harbour area seemed deserted, save for the light and noise of raucous laughs and rowdy singing that came from the port’s most popular tavern. News had spread that a generous patron was providing free drinks, and though that was no longer the case, the men stayed on. Even the guards who normally patrolled the streets had joined the throng; there were no ships to guard, they thought, so there could be no harm in taking some time off. It was better than shivering in the cold desert night.

Thus no one observed the shadows that flitted through the darkness silently. Some carried large burdens on their backs, others had tied theirs to poles which they carried between them. They dared not use carts; even if the wheels had been well oiled, the uneven streets would have caused them to rumble discernably. They slipped into a small back street that seemingly ended at the city wall, but a gate swung open when they approached it. Outside, wagons waited to be loaded. One after another disappeared into the night.

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

“The harbour is what?” Falasmir roared. He sat bolt upright in his luxurious bed, his blankets scattered in his rage at being awakened early in the morning.

“It has been razed,” a soldier repeated, cringing slightly at a distance he hoped was safe. “The stone buildings that were not destroyed by the fire have disappeared overnight.”

“How is this possible?” the ruler exclaimed.

“No one knows,” came the answer.

“I want to see it immediately,” Falasmir demanded.

Though it took some time, what with his servants bustling about with his robes and other necessary items of clothing, and the necessity of strengthening himself with food and drink, he was in his sedan chair sooner than could have been expected. The carriers, panting and sweating, went at a fast pace, and before long he was gazing incredibly at the remains of Umbar’s once powerful centre of naval strength.

Galandor, riding a tall, well-built black horse, bowed down deferentially to speak to him. “My lord, what do you wish us to do on your behalf?”

For once, the ruler of Umbar was speechless. Without the harbour, what was his city? No ships, no military prowess, no trade, no income, only a skeleton of its former glory.

“If I may offer a suggestion,” Galandor began, a bit too diffidently, though no one noticed, “I would say that we use the small port on the coast south of us for a time. It may be easier to enlarge it than to rebuild this one, at least for now. Later, when we have regained our strength, we shall avenge ourselves on Gondor for this affront.”

Falasmir was only too glad to blame his foe for everything, though it was hardly logical that the northern kingdom should have had anything to do with the night’s destruction. He nodded his approval weakly and waved his carriers to turn and bring him back to the palace.
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Old 09-05-2004, 11:39 AM   #282
Nerindel
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Sorona

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

Sorona turned her gaze from the tent opening to study her young host, noting the thoughtfulness in his gaze, his words surprised her but she was grateful for them none the less. “Yes it has been long, too long I think and the distance great, more than mere measured distance has been crossed to bring me home to these lands. A cold dose of guilt and a premonition of danger are the whips that now drive my course,” she admitted with a wistful smile. “I thank you for your assurances, Surinen but I do not fear the Haradrim they are but tools, instruments to what ever master they follow, a discorded symphony. It is not the workers I fear but the task masters who hold their leash and if Wyrma has managed to grasp even but one of these leads then I think we all have something to fear!” Sorona warned sadly shaking her head.

“That the wolf clan are part of what ever goes on here grieves me terribly, you are right they were a clever and skilled people, but they were also wise and held much honour and integrity that I do not understand this course they have chosen.” she went on sullenly.

“But my place is here, with my clan, I see that now I am here and have heard what troubles our people. I will speak with Ayar’s Daughters and the elders of the clan as soon as it can be arranged!” She told Surinen with an added hint of urgency.

Surinen nodded but before he could speak, the flap to the tent opened and an older Maenwaith entered, Surinen rose respectfully and the man gave him a courteous nod in return, but his attention seemed focused on his guest. “Greetings, Mistress Eagle. I am Fador. Welcome to my home. I trust my daughter has taken proper care of you?” The older man greeted pleasantly.

Sorona started at the name it was Familiar to her, “She has been very kind,” she answered studying his face trying to pull from her clouded memory how she knew this maenwaith. “I thank you both for your hospitality. I am Sorona.” she ended hoping that if she knew him he might remember her.

“Sorona,” Fador Echoed, giving her a long gaze. “I used to know someone by that name a very long time ago,” he said pleasantly. “She married into another clan and I lost track of her, but that was many years ago.” He smiled.

Yes, that is I! Sorona wanted to cry out, but something deep within made her pause, a doubt that made Fador’s pleasant smile seem false and well rehearsed. Something about his losing track of her did not seem right nor match what Surinen had just told her.

“Allow me to welcome you to our encampment. Do you plan to remain with us long?” Fador continued, in that same pleasant voice that now made Sorona wary.

She nodded her head in thanks to Fador’s welcome, but now felt uncomfortable. There was something about him from her past that she could not place and she felt guilt at the distrust that rose from within her. She had just shared a meal in his home with his family and he welcomed her respectfully in to the clan, but she could not shift the feeling that they had known each other better than Fador was letting on.

“I am not sure how long I will be staying,” she answered noncommittally.

“Sorona was just requesting uncle that she be allowed to speak with Narika, and the elders of the clan, but now that you are here perhaps you would be better placed to present her request?” Surinen said joining in the conversation.

Sorona glanced at him briefly then turned her attention back to Fador, off course! Had not Surinen earlier told her that Latah’s father was an elder of this clan? But even remembering this did not settle her unrest?

“Indeed,” Fador smiled pleasantly. “But to what purpose do I say you request this council?” he asked.

“Tell them that I carry a warning that must be heard!” Sorona said simply after a moments pause.

“A meeting may not be possible at once the Meldakhar is dying and is not expected to last the night her daughters will be sore put to leave her side for any reason,” Fador replied shaking his head sadly. “Perhaps if you convey your message to me I can pass it on to Narika?” he suggested.

“No, this message I must deliver myself, I think this is why this task was appointed me!” she sighed resignedly, “I owe my people that much,” she muttered softly to herself. “Even if I must wait till morning,” she finished eyeing Fador to see if he would still object.

“Very well I will speak with Narika first thing in the morning, now come both of you speak with me while I eat.” Fador replied.

Sorona again nodded her thanks, “But if you will excuse me I think I will get some fresh air, I am not so accustom to the enclosed spaces of homes as I once was,” she smiled. Surinen rose and Sorona turned to him, “do not worry my young friend I have no intention of flying off until my warning is delivered, I am sure you and your uncle have much to discuss and the guards outside your door will ensure that I keep to my word,” she patiently reassured him.

The young man looked to his uncle who simply nodded that it was alright, then after bidding her a good night he sat back down. Sorona left knowing that she would have to return and that the uncomfortable feeling she felt around Fador would remain.

“Well gentlemen do you fancy a walk?” she smiled turning to the two guards who dutifully stood either side the tents entrance, they looked at each other but said nothing following behind her as she walked through the camp gathering her thoughts and wrestling with her fears.

With a heavy heart, she stopped and looked up at the night sky. “Oh Lanirsule I wish you were here I could use your wisdom and guidance just about now, my old friend.” she sighed heavily, staring up at the stars, smiling as the constellation Soron, after which she was named came into view. Aguila - the Eagle it as sometimes called in distant lands, she took comfort in its appearance, a sign that she was making the right decision!

“Ah Soron! You know it is said that the eagle guides and protects us, I like to think that this is true especially in such troubled times don’t you?” A soft voice whispered beside her. She turned to see a young woman a little older than Rama staring up at the stars, in her hands she held a small wooden bucket filled with fresh water close to her chest and the delicate aroma of assorted herbs surrounded her.

“Yes I believe the ancestors guide the stars to help us find our way,” Sorona smiled, watching as the young woman gazed thoughtfully at the stars.

“Yes,” the young woman whispered lowering her eyes and turning them towards a nearby tent. Seeing the young woman’s sadness, she guessed the tent was that of her Cousin and that this young woman must be one of her healers. “Then it is true, she is dying and there is no cure,” she whispered sadly.

“You know the Meldakhar,” the young woman asked sympathetically, turning back to face her.

“Yes,” she nodded. “We were once very close and I regret deeply not returning sooner!” she sighed wistfully.

The Young woman looked between Sorona, her guards and the tent of her leader biting her lip nervously as she debated some decision. “It will grieve you to know that the Meldakhar is close to casting off her mortal form,” the young woman whispered after only a moment’s pause. “She is no longer conscious and I do not know if she can hear, but I can take you to see her if you like?”

“Yes I should like that very much,” Sorona answered appreciatively “But I do not wish to bring you any trouble,” she added thoughtfully. The young woman merely smiled as if any doubt she had was now abated, then moving off she spoke with her guards. Sorona could see by the looks both guards cast her that they did not approve of the young woman’s decision, but after only a few moments they reluctantly conceded and the young woman returned gesturing for her to follow.

Reaching the entrance to her cousins tent Sorona paused and glanced back at her guards, “Are you sure you will not get into any trouble over this?” she asked still concerned.

“Any trouble that comes of this is my own making and I will deal with any consequence. You are a friend of the Meldakhar and if rumours are to be believed you have been away for some time, I know that if the Meldakhar was awake and able to speak she would not have turned a friend away. The others will see this with time!” the young woman said with a firm but gentle assurance, Sorona nodded then taking a deep breath followed the young woman inside.

In the soft flickering light of the tents, oil lamps Sorona saw the still form of her old friend; she was surprised to see that they were alone. Rama is speaking with our other guests and Nakira has left for a moment to speak with my brother Thorn the young woman whispered softly as she moved towards to her leader. She lifted the damp cloth from Ayar’s brow and soaking it in the fresh water she had brought; she rang it out and gently replaced it on her leader’s brow.

“Her fever seems to be breaking!” The young woman sighed as Sorona drew nearer.

“Is that not a good thing?” Sorona asked as she stared at the deathly pallor of her cousin.

“Normally I would say yes, but not this time!” She sighed sadly “That the fever is breaking can only mean that the body is giving up or losing the fight for life, her spirit will soon break free of it mortal bonds to fly free with those of our ancestors,” the young woman informed her sorrowfully. “She was a wise and well loved leader her passing will be a sore loss for our people.” The young woman whispered turning away that she could not see the tear that ran down her soft cheek.

“I will give you a few moments alone, my name is Yalisha, if you need anything or you notice any change call me at notice, I will just be outside.” Sorona thanked the young woman again, and then turned with regret and sorrow on her dear friend.

“I’m so sorry Cousin,” she whispered tearfully, “I should have returned sooner, when the dreams first began, perhaps I could have prevented this!” she lamented looking on the silent form of her cousin. “No I should have returned long before that, but I was a coward, I hid from my fears. Lanirsule told me I would regret my choice not to return!” she sighed.

Stretching out her wing she gently placed it upon her cousin’s hand, she could not feel the deathly chill upon them and as she stared at the feathers, she found herself wishing for the first time in nearly eighteen years that there were a hand there that she might take her friends hand and squeeze it in her own.

“So you did become Leader! Did I not say it would be so,” she laughed weakly “I finally managed to take the eagle form and you were right as always, it found me and when I was most in need.” she smiled remembering her impatience at not being able to take the form of their ancestors and Ayars patience and gentle reassurances .

“I think Cousin that it is my turn to tell you a tale, in fact I think it is long over due!” she smiled wanly moving a straying lock from her cousin’s pale but peaceful face.

The desert sands shifted lazily across the dunes the woman and children of the Wolf clan eagerly awaited the return of fathers, husbands and sons. The hunt had lasted three days and the hunters where expected home by nightfall. Children rein-acted the bravery of their bothers and fathers while the women prepared to welcome their men home with a hearty meal.

A dark and ominous cloud of whirling sand rose up on the horizon against mornings light, at first it was believed that the hunters had return home early, but the cloud was to thick and moving too fast to be that of Audulfr and his pack. A panic ran through the camp! I did my best to take control, sending Freya to warn my father and the eagles of the approaching danger, then I organised the wolf clan an bid them to make for the forest where I believed we could hide out these attackers.

But their numbers were great and they came fast splitting us up, killing those who dared to resist. I took up my little raven and ran for the safety of the woods, hoping that the others would find their way. But as I fled several riders pursued me, I could not hope to out run them so I took out my dagger to save my son from this horror. But when it came to it I could not free him from his mortal bond, I hid him in the high branches of a tree and drew of our attackers , I would have rather died myself that take my own child’s life!


Sorona paused recalling the young man in the desert and the sea captains recollection of his name, “And it worked Ayar, he still lives!” she smiled thankfully. But, sighed as she continued.

I took the form of the clan I married into and lead the Haradrim warriors away from my son, the last thing I remember was a sharp pain to my side, then I awoke on the back of a Haradrims wagon. But as soon as I awoke, I was hauled from the wagon and chained with others of our people, not only the wolf clan. Oh, Ayar they were mostly children!

We were marched not to Umbar but further north in to a dark and baron land filled with ash and fire, with creatures just too vile and unspeakable to mention. Then he came….Sorona closed her eyes and shook violently at the thought of the Dark Lord of Mordor. He had no form and took no recognisable shape but he and been in her head and her thoughts and even after he was vanquished by his foes a dark chill remained on her heart. He forced the young ones to take forms of his choosing, perverting them to his own design. As for myself and the others we given but one choice serve or die, I thought I could save them and escape our prison if I could just stay alive, so I worked the dark forges stealing what I could to help keep my people as I came to see them alive. Somehow, he discovered that I could take more forms than the others, something I thought only you and I knew I must not have been careful enough after that he wanted me to do other tasks.

He wanted me to spy on his enemies and this I did to keep my people alive, but it did not stop there one day he ordered me to kill one of the young captains of Gondor. I went but seeing the young man fiercely fighting the foul creatures of Mordor to protect and defend his people I could not do it I returned and defiantly refused to do his bidding any longer. I bracing myself for the blow of his wrath I was sure would come, but it did not instead I was pushed to my knees by unseen hands and my head held that I could only look forward. Oh, Cousin they brought out the youngest of our people and lined them before me, the smell of oil reached my nose before my eyes could make out the glistening fluid under their little feet, No! I cried out futile pleading with something that had no compassion or heart, The children’s eyes shone with fear, silently pleading for my help I struggled against my unseen captors as the oil was lit, Their screams, their was nothing I could do Their scream Cousin remain with me always no matter how much I try to forget.

After that I was his and did what ever he bid hating him and myself, longing for death! However, there were still others. I continued to smuggle them food, healing aids but I was broken, and lost all hope of escape, there was an elder with us a man. I no longer remember his name or his clan but he was kind and tried hard to give me hope or so I thought, He kept saying it would not be long, that they would all be free! One day he asked me to bring him a flower he said, it had healing properties and he said it would help them to escape this place; I was so deep in the depths of my despair I did not know what he meant. Nevertheless, I brought him his plant and several days later, I discovered what he had meant!

They were all dead, they would rather brake their mortal bonds than suffer anymore torment in their dark prison, they did what I could not! I fled in fear and disgust Saurons hound close at my heels it was then that this form found me at last allowing me to escape my dark prison. Wounded I made it to the mountains far in the north lands, were I was saved from the death that I longed to take me, by an ancient friendship and the old man who now walks among your clan. They nursed me back to health, but I could not return to the lands of my people with the knowledge of the horrors I had witnesses the grief was too painful so I locked it away and tried to forget.
Sorona finished tears streaming down her feathered face.

“I am so glad you will not have to witness your peoples pain Cousin. I do not know why I was sent back, but I promise you cousin that I will not fail our people again and if I can help prevent this madness I will, this I swear to you!” she whispered tearfully, laying her feathered head on her cousins chest in a last gesture of goodbye.

The soft rhythmic thump of the woman’s heart slowed and Sorona bolted up in fear and panic, “Yalisha!” she called fearfully, the young woman rush into the tent, “help her!” Sorona cried knowing it was futile, Yalisha knelt beside the Meldkhar for and second then sullenly moved to the guards ordering them to find Ayars Daughters. Tears fell freely as she moved back out of the tent to allow the eagles to attend their dying leader, but she could not bring herself to leave completely so she stood frozen in her grief watching the silent shadows of movement through the tents opening. Presently the sound of approaching feet caused her to turn and with great sorrow and much sympathy, she watched as a young woman, much in likeness to Rama approached comforted and supported by a comely looking maenwaith man, who she could only assume was Yalisha’s brother. Rama joined them and together they slipped silently into the tent followed closely by two of the clan’s elders.

“So young they seem to bear such burdens,” she quietly murmured as the tents flap fell closed behind them. “Farewell cousin, may the spirits of our Ancestors guide you safely on this your final journey,” she whispered tearfully, then raising her eyes upwards it seemed to her that Soron twinkled that little bit brighter a fitting epitaph to a wise and dear friend. As a cool breeze blew around the tents ruffling, her feathers she stood alone a silent witness to the ending of her Cousins chapter in their clan’s history!

Last edited by Nerindel; 09-05-2004 at 11:42 AM.
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Old 09-06-2004, 02:43 PM   #283
piosenniel
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The Sandpiper/Star puts in to the coast at last . . . a way inland is found . . .

A fair span of hours passed as The Sandpiper pulled further out to sea. ‘Is this necessary,’ asked Pio watching the shoreline fade in the west. ‘It is, m’lady,’ rejoined Hamar as he gave an order to let out more sail. The breezes grew stronger as they turned away from the coast, a useful fact which he hoped would make less the additional time incurred for this necessary change in course. ‘There are far more vessels in the waters just off the Bay of Umbar than is usual. And many of them are bound south, it seems, along the coast. It be the case that some might be Falasmir’s ships, I’d prefer we not be pulled over and inquiries made.’

~*~

It was nearing first light as they tacked in toward the coastal waters once more. The small bay just south of Umbar was nearing, and it was there they were to meet Faragaer’s ship, The Scuppered Gull. ‘Take us back out, sir!’ cried Hamar to the Helmsman; the great wheel turned and they sailed westward again, then south once more. A great flock of Corsair ships lay at anchor in the confines of the small cove, bobbing on the sheltered waters - dark threats of warbirds ready to take wing. ‘What are they doing there?’ asked one of the crew who had come to bow. Pio glanced at him, and then to Hamar. ‘I can’t really say,’ the man answered, taking in both the Elf and the crew member who had asked the question. He put his spyglass to his eye and scanned the ships. ‘I will say, I can’t see The Gull’s pennant among them. He must have sailed further down the coastline.’

‘He and I had discussed that previously,’ Pio nodded, sending the crewman to her quarters to retrieve her map case. ‘The original captain of The Sandpiper had dealings far south of Umbar’s port,’ she said as the sailor handed the pack over to her. She pulled out the old ship’s log and thumbed through until she had found the map she wanted. ‘See here,’ she went on, her finger sliding past the drawing of the cove they’d just passed. ‘There is another small inlet here just south of where we were to meet, and still a third one further down. Not often used, so the Captain wrote – rocky shoals forbid a close approach to the shore. But there is enough leeway for longboats to maneuver in and out. And here,’ she tapped on the chart where some blobs of ink had been left. ‘These are part of the original rocky headland that lost its mooring to the coastline and now stand like tall, little island rockeries. Ships that moor to the south side of them cannot be seen from the north or the seaward side. We can find Faragaer there, it is what he and I had agreed on.’ That is unless he and his crew and ship have not been seized altogether and hauled in to Umbar’s docks! she thought grimly to herself.

~*~

The Sandpiper headed landward after a number of hours sailing south. The rockeries were there as the journal had said, great swarms of seabirds roosting on their barren caps and ledges. The ship headed further south than the islets as it headed in. Pio and Hamar stood at the ’Piper’s rail, their eyes straining to see the The Gull.

‘A ship lies moored there,’ cried Pio, pointing as they just cleared the protective screen of that blocked their view from the open waters. Hamar brought the spyglass to his eye and fiddled with the focus. ‘It’s The Gull, he said with a sigh of relief. I can see the welcome banner snapping in the breeze.’

~*~

Soon the two ships were at anchor near each other. Pio and Hamar rowed across the other ship speak with Faragaer. He had had no word, either, of why the Umbarian ships were docked outside the bay. ‘And no desire to sail in and ask either,’ he laughed. ‘As did you, we made our way further south, as far from prying eyes as we might.’

‘What of a passage way in for myself?’ Pio asked, eager to be on the trail of the missing men. ‘How shall we go about that?’

Faragaer laughed again, urging her to take a seat on one of the crates on deck, as he had. ‘I’ve already seen to that,’ he said, motioning for Hamar to be seated also. ‘We’ve been here a number of days already, good mistress. Haladan sent his man in as soon as we’d got here. There are always little trading parties crawling cross the hills here . . . like ants, especially this time of year. For a fee, a generous one, I might add, we persuaded a small group of basket and woven mat makers to take you with them. They’re heading east, over that small gap in the coastal hills. They’ll travel north, visiting the tribes they trade with. They have no news of any men from the north,’ he added, ‘but with luck you may find some hint of where the Captain and his First Mate are being held.’ Faragaer tapped his fingers on the edge of the crate, avoiding a look at the Elf’s face . . . holding back the thought he did not wish to share with her – that perhaps the trail would prove sorrowful at the end.

He was startled into looking at her as her hand crept over his and stilled the nervous tapping of his fingers. ‘He is not dead, yet, Faragaer. I do know this.’ Pio withdrew her grasp and rubbed the back of her neck. ‘Nor will he be if I can find him.’

‘Tonight, then,’ said Farager, a tense sort of relief evident in his voice. ‘The tribesmen will come down the strand and take you with them.’ ‘Myself and Baran,’ she corrected him. ‘I will pay for his passage, also.’

‘And I, also,’ said Hamar, cutting her off before she could object. ‘The King wishes it so, Mistress. He has given me certain funds for what is necessary. I am to represent him in this matter. He was quite firm about his orders to me. He will not be gainsaid in this, I was to tell you . . . should you object.’

Faragaer looked from one to the other. ‘Poor man,’ he thought. ‘I can already see the considering look she gives him. Best he stay on his toes if he means to keep up with her, I think.’ He called for a bottle of wine to defuse the situation.

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Hilde Bracegirdle's post

After the eagle left, Surinen sat down again. Initially confused that Sorona, who had stated her place to be with her clan, had then so soon after told Fador she did not know how long she would remain with them. Perhaps the old eagle did not wish to take their acceptance for granted. But these concerns were quickly crowded out of the outrider’s wandering mind by the sobering thought that the Meldakhar was leaving them. Though there had never been much hope for her recovery, he had not yet been able to grasp that there could ever be another to lead his clan. It had always been so, since he could remember, her quiet strength guiding the eagles through many years, and of course leagues upon leagues through the desert. But if she were to leave them then she must have good cause, and have also confidence that her clan possessed the fortitude to continue without her.

Surinen looked up to see Latah approaching, Fador’s meal in her hand. “Ah, daughter,” the older man was saying, as the outrider focused his attention on them. “Maybe you would sit with us and tell us of your day. Mine unfortunately, has been an active one and regret that I have neglected my responsibility as host, burdening you with our guests. Tell me what has transpired in my home since this morning when I left.” He rested his chin on steepled fingers, genuinely interested in what she might say. “Surely, there is much I can learn from your young and unprejudiced eye.”

But Latah, settling herself down at his bidding, simply replied “Please Father, have your food and tell us of yourself, for I have nothing to say other than what you have no doubt already heard.” She avoided Fador’s, opening the box of warmed bread and placing two folded pieces on her father’s plate. “What are the elders saying?”

Surinen could not believe his cousin’s remarks. Surely she had not forgotten all the excitement that had surrounded her father’s tent today…the guards… the dagger. “But what of Ráma’s knife?” Surinen ventured, looking questioningly at Latah before addressing her father. “I doubt that the elders have heard that the younger one…”

“The first mate,” Latah reminded her cousin, gently.

“Yes, the first mate,” the outrider continued turning to Fador. “For some reason he had Ráma’s knife, and we were trying to figure out why that might be,” he explained watching the elder with great expectation that Fador might find this observation significant.

“Really Suri, you are making too much of it. See here Father, I have the dagger now and will return it to Ráma once I meet her. This man Suri speaks of did not seem see in it any special significance, and nor I think should my cousin!” she said shaking her head.

“I suppose the one to answer your suspicions then would be Ráma herself,” Fador counseled the young man, quite unruffled by Surinen’s revelation. “But I would not trouble yourself, Suri, for if he had taken it from her, would he be so careless to openly leave it here? No, I think not. So then, putting the matter aside, have they behaved honorably? Or have I to entertain undesirable company?”

“Truly, I have heard no complaints, and have none myself,” Latah smiled, watching her father finish his meal. “I think that we are blessed with guests of good temperament.”

“Good then, I am glad to hear it. We shall make them feel at home, won’t we?” Fador encouraged his daughter.

“Still Uncle,” the young man interrupted. “I would feel better if Narayad would be here also. I do not like Latah to be alone with such men. Perhaps he might be allowed to act as guard?” Surinen suggested, his voice ending in a lilt of deference.

“Narayad, yes well, perhaps for a while we might convince him to stay with his wife,” the elder said passing his plate to his daughter, and standing to leave again. “But alas, Thorn has expressed other plans. I have spoken with him a little while ago, and he would sent Narayad on a journey, so he tells me, until the suspicion of him fades.” Surinen was stunned into silence. It did not make sense to him. Thorn had always supported Narayad’s decision to live among the eagles.

“He’s is sending him away?” Latah echoed, clutching the plate. “And my husband has agreed to this?”

“Yes daughter, he has, though I also do not understand it myself. But Thorn has mentioned that if his absence grows to be an extended one, he would have you sent also, so that you might be with your husband. Let us hope that this does not become the case, and that we can soon convince the people to have faith in Narayad once more.”

“But were will he go?” Surinen asked, troubled by this news. “Where could he possibly go?”

“I do not know, Suri,” Fador admitted thoughtfully. “We must find out from him if he has some idea where he might go, for Thorn has said that he has left that decision up to him. But now I must take leave of you both, to join the others at Ayar’s side.” Seeing the two in mute bewilderment, Fador hesitated, turning again to them before leaving. “Do not worry, I will speak with Narayad to see if he is sure of this, and will speak on his behalf with who ever I must. Perhaps we might yet sway this decision.” And with that he left the tent once more.

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Old 09-08-2004, 04:40 PM   #284
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Silmaril Ayar's death....

Word of Ayar’s illness sped swiftly about the camp. Already, a number of maenwaith had hurriedly set aside their dinner platters and mugs, running outside to gather near firepits whose earlier inviting flames had now burnt down to the ground, leaving piles of sullen ash. Some spoke in hushed tones, trying to offer comfort and hope. Several had walked over to the pavilion where Ayar and her daughters were staying, anxious to hear news about their leader. Yet this time, most deemed it unlikely that any remedy would be found to battle the poison in Ayar’s blood.

Inside the shadowed tent, all was quiet, except for the harsh rasping sound the woman made as she strained to draw each breath. Drifting in and out of consciousness, Ayar thrashed about amid her bedclothes, waves of pain mirrored in the taut grimace of her face. The Elders arrived last and stood near the rear of the chamber. They would remain there until Ayar’s keen spirit managed to break the bonds of her now useless body. Then, the oldest of the group would step through the door and proclaim that the Eagles would honor their fallen leader with four days of ritual and reflection.

Sometime tomorrow, the Circle of Elders would again meet to announce who would take over leadership of the clan. Thankfully, all seemed to be in agreement on this important point. In times like these, the clan could not afford to bicker or to delay the naming, even though the formal ceremonies and ritual joining, man to woman , and each to clan, would not take place until the Eagles had offered their final goodbyes to Ayar.

Yalisha stood near Ayar’s pillow, grimacing in frustration at her own inability to dampen the onslaught of searing pain. Narika sat stiffly beside the bed, her mother’s clenched fist cradled between her two hands. Ráma crouched on the floor near the foot of the pallet, her expression one of deep worry mingled with anger. Thorn stood close behind his wife-to-be.

One time, the sentry excused himself to go and check on those assembled outside. Curtly responding to a few nervous onlookers who stood nearest the door and who begged for some word , he cursed under his breath, “Not even a dog should die this way. The Eagles must make whoever did this pay!”

The hours inched by as a candle on the table burned low and then gutted. The first hint of dawn was visible in the distance: the sun embracing the earth as it rose, extending its soft radiance over the vast expanse of white sand that totally encircled the camp. Somewhere, a cock crowed to herald the beginning of a new day. Ayar’s body shuddered more violently than before but then came to rest. Her breath continued in slow, jagged peaks: one gasp, then another, and finally no more.

Yalisha placed a gentle hand on Ayar’s brow and gazed into the familiar face, which already looked different in death. Then she stood up and bowed, saying the traditional words to the Elders, “The end has come. Our beloved Ayar has put aside her human form. We must say our goodbyes, that she may fly to the craggy peaks, which gave birth to our clan…..”

Hearing this pronouncement, Ráma walked up beside her mother's still form and dropped to one knee to place a kiss on her cheek. Tomorrow, everything would be prescribed by ritual; tonight, each could honor the woman in a way of their own choosing. Narika came over and slipped an arm around her sister's waist. The two girls tipped their heads on each others' shoulders. Outside the keening of the tribe had begun.

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Old 09-09-2004, 03:50 AM   #285
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Korpulfr circles the eagle camp

Kórpulfr’s dark feathery form glided silently on the cooling air currents of the desert night sky, his two beady eyes blinking sharply as the low burning camp fires of the desert camp came into view, banking right he noiselessly swept past the billowing tents to come into the encampment from behind were the fires were less. Getting closer he was surprised to see so many of the camps inhabitants still awake and about. Cautiously prompted by his mild curiosity he followed several of the clansmen to one of the many camp fires, making sure to keep to the shadows and out of the dying light of the glowing embers that would betray his presence. Both men and women, young and old stood together in small groups comforting and consoling each other, Someone has died or is dying, someone important, he thought realising that the whole camp seemed to be gathered. A gentle softness and sympathy for these people cross his hard dark eyes as he remembered the time of grieving for his mother and the others of his clan who died or went missing after the Haradim raids, he was only young but the pain and grief was the same for everyone and for a moment he thought of leaving them to their sorrow.

But as he circled again he caught the tall forms of his Quarry standing before one of the tents a little way from the gathering mourners, their young guide was not with them instead the hunched form of a wizened old man and a little desert man stood quietly beside them as all four seemed to be watching the events transpiring within this camp with sadness and a measure of apprehension. More strangers ! Korpulfr thought as he silently landed atop a nearby tent, his eyes narrowing in contemplation as he studied the old man, who was this stranger and how is it he comes to be in the this camp at the same time as his Gondorian friends? Suspicion echoed in his mind, He watched as Mithadan turned and spoke with the old man, he could not heard what they said but could see clearly by the sea captains stance and the slight gesturing movements of his head that the old man was someone he respected, the two men then shook hands and Mithadan and Airefalas moved away from the tent.

It was only then that Korpulfr noticed that the men had not been alone, two armed desert men stepped out of the shadows of the tent and followed. “So they have evaded one guard only to find another!” he mused ironically wondering what they had done or who they had offended to warrant such display of distrust. Or perhaps they are but the misfortunate victims of unhappy coincidence and bad timing? he thought looking back towards the people gathered around the camp fires. As he looked back things that he had not noticed before began to stand out in his mind markings and designs on certain tents, even faces lighted by the soft glow of the dying fires, brought strange feelings of familiarity that he could not explain. like a distant memory too old and faded to recall.

This familiarity brought with it a strange sense of foreboding, an unwelcome feeling that the events of the past few day had transpired to bring him here and at this particular time, the flight of the Gondorians, Tinar’s disappearance, the strange eagle, and now this camp all seemed too coincidental. This skin crawled and his feathers ruffled he felt like the intruder that he was and he did not like it, a cock crowed and as dawn slowly approached Korpulfr leaped into the air and left the camp behind.


~*~*~*~*~

Hasrim was still waiting for him as he returned to camp, taking his mannish form he sat down heavily beside his cousin. “Well!” Hasrim prompted when his cousin remained silent. Kor was still dwelling on his strange sense of familiarity and did not hear his cousins words until he felt his a concerned hand on his shoulder.

“Are you all right, is something wrong cousin?” Hasrim was asking him with a concerned frown.

“Uh… no I am alright, it just..” he began hesitantly.

“Just what?” Hasrim pressed concernedly. “Were the Gondorian’s not there!”

“Yes they were there, and another stranger is with them an old man,” he answered absently.

“Then what is it cousin, what is it that troubles you?” Harsim went on.

“That camp, somehow seemed familiar to me,” he confided in his cousin going on to tell him in detail the marking that incited this familiarity and describing the faces that stood out in the crowd. “Someone was dying in that camp someone important if my eyes did not deceive me and it all seemed somehow wrong!” he finished with a heavy sigh.

His cousin rose shaking his head, “This is bad Kor, we must leave!” he said sullenly after a few moments. Korpulfr frowned not understanding.

“We have stumbled into a hornets nest and must leave before they swarm!” his cousin went on to caution.

“What are you talking about !” Korpulfr yelled in frustration waking the sleeping form of Tinar.

“We have found The Eagle clan’s encampment, it is too dangerous for us to stay here we will not be welcomed!” Hasrim explained moving to his horse to make preparations to leave.

“My mothers clan?” Kor mouthed wordlessly, as Tinar stared wide eyed trying to figure out what was going on.

“If this is your mothers clan then why would you not be welcomed?” Tinar asked breaking the sullen silence.

“Yes why would I not be welcomed!” Korpulfr added staring at the broad shoulders of his cousin.

“You know why!” Hasrim answered turning back to his cousin, “Remind me!” he replied broodily.

“They abandoned us, turned their back on all but their own clan, isolating themselves, refusing to accept the friendship and protection a united clan offered.” But even as Hasrim spoke Korpulfr was reminded of the last time he had seen his mothers Cousin. It was a gathering of the clans, she had secretly come to his fathers tent he remembered over hearing her beg him to reconsider, but what he was to reconsider he did not know. His father had refused and a heated argument had ensued ending with his father threatening the Eagles leader telling her that she would regret taking up her uncles treacherous beliefs.

A frightening thought flash though his mind and he stood up levelling his gaze with his cousin, “Hasrim tell me that my fathers hand has no part in what is going on down there.” Hasrim frowned as if truly puzzled by his cousins words, “What are you asking?” he asked uncertainly.

“Hasrim tell me that my father has not acted on old grudges and is not responsible for who ever is dying down there!” he pressed impatiently.

“No!” Hasrim lied smoothly, “Your father would never…” Kor sighed visibly with relief, “I’m sorry Hasrim, I just had a terrible thought, foolish I know, there is no way my father can even know this camps location.” he said shaking his head.

“Then what are we going to do now?” Tinar asked attempting to break the silent tension that followed.

“Hasrim is right,” Kor said after a moments thought. “We will not be welcomed, you even less so this clan is openly opposed to your mothers plans.”

“Then I can change my name, they needn’t know I am from any clan!” Tinar protested.

“You forget the Gondorian’s my friend, they already have our names. On hindsight a foolish mistake on my part, but unavoidable on yours, I do not doubt that this clan will know all the children of the woman they perceive an enemy. You are less safe here than we are!” Kor patiently counselled the young wyrmling.

Tinar reluctantly nodded conceding his friends misgivings, “Then what are we to do?” he sighed.

“The Gondorians are escorted everywhere by armed sentries, and with a death in the clan it will be several days before their fates are decided, they’re not going anywhere soon. Once I have rested we will return to Wyrma and report what we have discovered, it has been almost a week she will be worried about you,” he smiled thoughtfully.

“But someone should remain in case the Gondorians escape these captors as well!” Hasrim said coming up beside them. Kor looked out in the direction of the camp and nodded. “Yes perhaps you are right I can’t help feeling that these strangers are dangerous, I will stay and keep an eye on them.” he contemplatively answered.

“No!” Hasrim protested. Bemused by his cousins sudden protest Kor turned to face him.

“All I mean is that I should stay, I am not needed elsewhere.” He was quick to explained.

“No, cousin I need you look after Tinar and let my father know what is going on.” He smiled sympathetically believing his cousin to be concerned with his well being.

“But you can do these things!” Hasrim protested, “It makes more sense for me to stay.”

“I can’t explain this cousin, but I don’t trust these Gondorians and I intend to find out what they are up to.” he said levelling his eyes with his cousin‘s, Hasrim studied him thoughtfully then nodded reluctantly.

“I need to rest, both of you eat and make ready to leave, by evening you both will return to Wyrma and inform her of what we have found!" Korpulfr said then returning to his un-slept in bedroll he lay down and drifted off into an uneasy sleep.

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

Hasrim


Hasrim’s outward expression remained the usual unreadable blank canvas that betrayed nothing, As he watched his cousin lay down to rest. But inside he was reeling! It seemed his young cousin was developing a conscious, or at least a doubt, that he had failed to prepare for and now the young man was determined to stay out here letting that doubt feaster and infect him and the fact that Kor had also questioned him openly in front of Tinar grated at him. He could ill afford to loss his cousins trust not now, not when they were so close…But that Kor still did not trust the Gondorians was the only consolation in this unfortunate turn of events.

As he rolled up his bedding and securely strapped it to his horse he silently contemplated how he could turn these events to his advantage. The slight vestiges of a sly grin escaped his lips as he remembered his uncle telling him that not all of the eagles were their enemies, there was one he said who was sympathetic to their cause and would help if he thought it to his advantage! And even as Hasrim sat down to eat the cold breakfast young Tinar had prepared his thoughts cunningly turned to how he could use this information to his advantage and how he could slip away to speak with this friend amongst traitors, without rousing the suspicions of his cousin or the young wyrmling!

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Old 09-11-2004, 03:04 AM   #286
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Piosenniel

I had forgotten how the heat lingers even after the sun has fallen . . .

Pio wrung out the plain cotton handkerchief she’d dipped in the pitcher of water on her nightstand and hung it loosely round the back of her neck. The cabin window was swung wide open and the breeze that riffled through her short locks was hot off the southern mountains, bringing no relief. She was in the midst of packing for the trip inland when a soft knock pulled her from the latest study of the last few piles she had heaped on her bed.

‘Come,’ she called out, not turning from her sorting. She planned to travel as lightly as she could. Much of her things she had brought with her would be stowed away in the trunk that stood at the foot of her bed. Loose, light clothes in the style of the desert peoples were her choice for the journey – breeches, tunics, her old, soft boots; a woven aba robe, plain colored to keep off the heat. Her blade in its plain leather sheath, of course, her knives, and pushed into the inner pocket of the robe, a thin, wire garrote. A number of coins, all of Umbarian mintage, she’d gotten from Faragaer were secreted about her clothing, and a small pouch for show would hang at her belt. Last came her worn leather shoulder pack; its pockets and compartments already haphazardly packed with all manner of necessary items.

‘You’re not taking this are you?’ Hamar had come up beside her, in his hands a large tome he’d stumbled over as he entered. ‘An Elvish doorstop of some sort,’ he asked with a grin, placing the thick, purple leather covered book on a nearby chair. ‘And an expensive one,’ he went on, his finger running over the gilt edging of the pages. ‘What’s the title?’ he asked pointing at the Elvish script embossed in gold on the front cover.

‘It is a book from the library at Rivendell. An Elvish copy of one an old friend of mine penned. It is taking me a while to read and digest it.’ She picked it up and spoke the title for him:

~*~ Frodo - Callo var Alasaila ~*~

‘It is only a rough translation from the Westron she wrote it in originally. She had a certain way with words. Not all of them translated directly, much to the chagrin of the Elven scholars who worked on it.

‘I recognize the name,' he ventured. ‘Frodo’, of course . . . it is the Frodo . . . yes? But what does the rest of it mean?’

Pio shook her head, smiling as she wrapped the book in a scarf and placed it in the wooden chest. ‘Well, “Callo var” is “Hero or” and I am afraid “Alasaila” was one of those make-do translations.’

‘Make do for what?’

‘ “Chump” .’

The lid of the wooden chest closed with a thunk; the brass bolt teeth of the inset lock finding their way into the tumblers. Pio sat down with a satisfied sigh on the chest top. ‘Best we leave the discussion of literature for a later time.’ She surveyed the clothes Hamar had on with a critical eye. ‘Are you packed and ready to move,’ she asked. ‘We will be leaving within the hour, or so Faragaer assures me. I am going now to see that Baran has gotten together what he will need. What say we meet on deck in a short while? A last glass of wine with the Captain and we should be off.’

Pio shouldered her pack and herded the man out the door. With a last look round the room, she stepped out into the passageway, shutting the door firmly behind her.
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Old 09-13-2004, 03:52 AM   #287
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Rôg

There had been no rest for the clan that night. Rôg had risen before first light, wanting to make his way to the small rise of sandstone rock that stood to the east of the camp. Miri had showed him this place earlier in his stay; it was where the little lizards she liked crawled in and out of the crevices and chased after the dark beetles that skittered away at their approach.

His guard had risen from his place before the tent door when he’d first peeked his head out. The man’s eyes were bloodshot, rimmed in red from his rubbing of them, and the tracks of tears on his dusty cheeks were still evident despite his attempts to hold them back. Rôg knelt down, his hand on the younger man’s forearm.

‘Do not trouble yourself about me today, little brother. There will be no thought of escape or any ill-doing by me.’ He cocked his head at the low keening from one of the nearby tents. ‘This is the day the water is set at the tent’s door. And there will be need of hands to make the bier. Your family will want you with them when the meldakhar is placed for her final resting.’ The man looked up at him, duty and want warring on his features. ‘Go to your family, my friend. There will be no trouble from this tent.’ He smiled gently at the young man and stood up, offering him a hand as he did so. ‘I cannot go with you,’ he said again softly. ‘That would not seem proper. Take your leave for the day and come back late this night to check on me, if you wish. Face the west as the flames reach up and wish her spirit to soar up on them. I will remain close by camp and out of the way – over on those rocks just to the east.’

Saying good-bye in my own way . . . he added silently to himself, as the weary man nodded gratefully at him and made his way to his family’s tent.

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Old 09-13-2004, 06:17 AM   #288
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Fador

As dawn broke over the Eagle camp, Fador left his tent to join the other Elders in the tent of Mumtaz, who was second only to Fador himself in the hierarchy of leadership amongst the elders. Ordinarily, Fador would have insisted that such an important gathering be held in his own tent, but the presence of his guests, the two Gondorian men, rendered it impossible to meet there. Tribal matters should never be discussed before the eyes and ears of strangers, particularly not at such a critical time. A muscle twitched below Fador’s left eye as he moved silently through the waking camp. Accompanied by the persistent keening and wailing of the official mourners, he had spent most of the night moving from the tent of one elder to the next, talking to each one, making the final arrangements for the smooth transition of power from Ayar to the new chosen two. Now he was tired, and, in his exhaustion, the bitterness that had festered within him for years at being passed over for leadership of the clan in favor of Ayar threatened to boil over into open resentment. He took a deep breath and glanced up at the morning light that was beginning to stretch its silver tendrils across the eastern sky toward the shadows of the grieving camp. He must keep his anger hidden.

"Children!" he muttered in spite of himself. With so much at stake, they were handing the leadership of the clan over to what seemed to him a pair of children, untested and untried children. It was sheer folly. The Eagles needed an elder to lead them, someone with the wisdom and experience that could come only with time. Angrily, he clinched his jaw. He felt almost as though history was repeating itself and he was being snubbed again, but Fador could say nothing about it, show no opposition. After all, had not the Eagles always chosen their leaders from the ranks of the young? As an elder, he knew that he must swallow his pride and uphold ancient tradition, but it rankled greatly. His time would come, he reminded himself. For the moment, however, his resentment would just have to roil unseen in the pit of his stomach.

Passing a young woman who nodded to him with tears in her eyes, Fador nodded back, concealing his thoughts masterfully behind a mask of compassion.

"Is it true, uncle?" the girl asked in disbelief, using the title uncle merely as a term of respect . "I can't believe the Meldakher has really gone."

Fador nodded. "Yes, Salihah," he answered, careful to call her by name. Though he did not know her well, he believed her to be a friend of his daughter, and the granddaughter of one the other elders, though he could not remember for certain which one. "Ayar has indeed departed her human form. It is now time to grieve her and say your good-byes. She will soon be ready to begin her final flight."

"Yes, uncle," Salihah murmured, wiping a tear from the corner of her eye.

Fador watched as she turned and slipped away between the shadows of the tents, thinking to himself, yes, Ayar is indeed gone. And may she stay that way, he added on bitter afterthought.

Arriving at Mumtaz’s tent, Fador opened the flap to find that he had timed his entrance perfectly. The others had already assembled and sat in a loose circle around a low brass table that bore a pot of tea, a collection of small clay cups, and an unlit incense pot. A place had been left open for him at the top of the circle, with the supplies laid out at his right hand that he might light the incense and bring the meeting to order. Mumtaz, the owner of the tent, sat to his right, while the place to his left was occupied by Barakah, a tiny, sparrow-like woman. By far the eldest of their number in terms of years, she had a mane of thick white hair that flowed down her back like water and bright, nearly black eyes that missed very little. Beside her sat Hadya, Mumtaz’s sister and the youngest of the assembled elders. It would be her job to pour the tea once the incense pot had been lit and the meeting was under way. Placing his palms together, Fador gave a shallow bow of respect first to Mumtaz and then to Barakah and Hadya. When they had responded in kind, he took his place between them at the top of the circle, his eyes moving evenly from face to face around the rest of the small assembly. Once his eyes had completed the circuit, he nodded to the dozen or so of them as a group. When they had nodded in response, acknowledging his position of leadership, Fador turned and lit the incense pot. Hadya rose and began to pour the tea.

Accepting the first mug of tea from Hadya, Fador began to speak. "It is with great sadness that we meet on this gray dawn. As we all well know, the Meldakher, our beloved Ayar, was taken from us in the night. Her spirit will soon take to the sky for flight into the west." He paused, watching as Hadya continued to place the traditional cups of tea into the hands of the other elders. "It is our task now to decide who shall succeed her as leader of the Eagle Clan."

A soft murmur of voices rippled through the assembly. Fador waited until it had died down, then continued, "It was Ayar's wish that she be followed in leadership by her daughter Narika and Thorn, Narika's husband-to-be."

At this, Barakah spoke up in a voice that was soft yet clear as a bell. "If this is Ayar's wish, then I believe we should honor her choice. She has led us well these many years. I trust in her judgment."

Across from Barakah, Dakarai, a dour old fellow with a full white beard, nodded his agreement. "Yes," he said firmly. "I, too, believe that we should honor Ayar's wishes. I know these young people. They are level-headed and strong. They will lead us well in these difficult times."

"They should be married first..." muttered an unidentifed voice.

"Yes," Fador interjected. "The marriage will take place immediately following the conclusion of Ayar's rite of passage. If we agree to pass the mantle of leadership to them, as Ayar suggested, it shall be to them as husband and wife."

Hadya, who had finished serving the tea and returned to her seat beside Barakah, cleared her throat. "If we... if we don't follow Ayar's last wishes," she said nervously. "We could choose a leader from amongst ourselves, perhaps, an elder... someone we know will have the wisdom to carry us through these rough times. To... to... to lead us into the future with certainty." As she concluded, she cast a significant glance at Fador. He smiled inwardly, though his outward expression remained impassive. Hadya had harbored a fondness for him ever since she was a small child. Truth be known, she had secretly been his mistress for years, both before and after the death of her own husband. She could always be counted upon to be his most staunch ally and supporter, but now he sensed she was in danger of revealing too much of his ambition. He recognized the fact that he had been careless to express his innermost thoughts to her, telling himself that he must be more prudent henceforth. It was far too dangerous at this stage for his ideas to become the topic of open debate.

"Our tradition has always been to choose our leaders from amongst the young," he answered blandly, side-stepping her implications.

"Perhaps it is time to break with tradition," said Harith, another elder, in a quavering treble. Once an accomplished trader, he had interacted much with the outside world over the years and even spent some time in his youth working in the markets of Umbar. Now bent and nearly toothless, he spent most of his time on a mat in front of his tent, playing dice and other games of chance with whomever would be so foolish as to take him on. He cheated like a bandit. "Perhaps it is time that we bid farewell to our isolation, as well. I hear talk of a great maenwaith city the Dragons are building not too far distant. Would it be such a bad thing to trade with this city? To embrace its existence?"

Barakah shook her white head. "I have a feeling that that would be very dangerous, dear Harith."

Again following Barakah's lead, Dakarai agreed. "Tradition is what defines us, Harith. It makes us who we are." He sunk his chin deep into his beard. "To reject tradition would be to embrace our destruction. I vote that we do as Ayar wished and install Thorn and Narika at once. I have spoken with them at great length over time. They understand what is required to protect our people from the evils of the outside world."

Mumtaz, who, by some trick of nature, was exceedingly fat, shifted his bulk and gave Dakarai a thorny look. "We could learn much and greatly expand our base of trade if we do not reject contact with the outside world. Consider these men from Gondor, for example. Think what we could accomplish if we were to have friends in such a place as Minas Tirith! Our new leader must have the foresight to recognize opportunity when it presents itself. And the strength to pursue it for our clan's greater good."

Dakarai answered hotly. "Is your memory so short, Mumtaz, that you forget what the outside world has meant to us in the past? We have learned naught but death and destruction from those who inhabit the world beyond our desert. I, for one, have not forgotten the raids that tore so many maenwaith children from the very arms of their parents." He crossed his arms across his chest with an air of finality. "I will never forget. Our survival hinges upon our continued isolation."

Beside him, Harith ticked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. "The cities, my friend," he quavered. "The cities hold the key to the future."

"Hush," snapped Dakarai. "You are an idiot."

Smiling serenely, Barakah raised a frail, dark hand into the air. "And what have these issues to do with whether or not we choose Thorn and Narika to lead us?" she asked quietly. "These are not matters for this assembly to decide, isolation or contact. We meet here today not to determine our place in the world. We meet to select our new leader." She turned toward Fador. "Is this not so?"

"It is," he answered calmly. "Let us stop our petty bickering. But, Mistress Barakah," he added with a polite incline of his head toward Mumtaz and Dakarai. "It is also true that whoever we choose as our leaders will ultimately determine our place in the world. Is that not so?"

Barakah leaned back on her cushion, her bright, dark eyes looking deeply into Fador's out of her sharp-featured little raisin of a face. "Yes, you speak truth as well," she answered. "But I have yet to hear any genuine objection - " Hadya colored slightly " - to the selection of Thorn and Narika as our leaders. Is that not our purpose here? Have they not been taught and trained by Ayar for the very purpose of leading their people through fair and treacherous times alike? That is the question that should concern us today, nothing else."

Fador nodded, feeling as though Barakah's deepset brown eyes could see through his carefully cultivated objectivity, as though through a glass, to the roiling anger within. Just a tiny sparrow of a creature, the old crone, as he preferred to think of her, was deceptively powerful within the clan and would bear watching over the days and weeks to come. Perhaps a drop of poison in her tea would not be misplaced. She was old. Few would suspect any evil. With her gone, Dakarai could easily be brought around to a more reasonable way of thinking, and Fador's words of counsel to Thorn and Narika could arrive nearly without contradiction from the ranks of the remaining elders. His influence would be substantial. He turned a solemn gaze toward Barakah.

"Nor have I," he said gravely. He let his eyes wander from face to face around the circle of seated elders. "Is it then the decision of this assembly that we pass the burden of leadership that Ayar carried so gracefully and so well for lo these many years on to her daughter, Narika, and to Narika's husband, Thorn, to be carried equally between them?"

"It is," said Barakah firmly.

"Yes," agreed Hadya, dropping her eyes.

Fador listened as each of the elders, one by one, agreed to the installation of Narika and Thorn as the new leaders of the clan. "Then so it shall be," he said as the last voice fell silent. "The ceremony shall take place three days hence, immediately following the wedding. In the days between now and that time, our people know well that this counsel may be looked to for guidance if we are needed. My tent flaps shall be closed to no one." He then reached out and upended what was left of his tea into the incense pot, dousing the fire and bringing the formal meeting to a close.

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Old 09-19-2004, 08:03 AM   #289
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Thorn

It had been a long night, and tiring. Ráma had, as tradition dictated, set a vessel of water, at the door of the tent, so Ayar could find water should she require it on her last journey. And Thorn now sat, his back to a tent pole watching Narika and his mother as they quietly went through bags and boxes, gathering the things needed for the funeral rites. He was aware of numbness, a unexpected feeling, as if the foundation under him had bee suddenly whisked away and he now stood upon uneven ground. Even the encampment seemed slightly different to him now, leaderless. It was an unsettlingly familiar perception, one that had not descended on him since the head of his own family had died.

Yalisha, noticing him awake, came over to her brother and crouching down, looked into his face. “Thorn, try to sleep,” she counseled. “You have much you will have to do today, and need to find rest now, before the others arrive, and the elders share their decision.”

Her face was sincere, and Thorn wished he could follow her advice, but he could not. Sleep had eluded him. He glanced aside to the body of Ayar, the color gone from her flesh. She was so still now, so unlike herself. “I can not sleep peacefully.” He said turning back to his sister. “And neither can I ignore what has happened to the very heart of our people, in our own encampment. It was not her choosing to leave us, sister, but she has been ushered out of our presence at the orders of woman who would call herself the leader of us all.”

You are right, brother. But still, though it has come to this point too soon, Ayar had confidence in us. Do not forget that. In her wisdom, she was not alarmed by this sudden departure, for her daughters are grown now and her people also mature. Had she not taken great pains to teach us to rely on ourselves? We are strong, Thorn. Do not be troubled, we will to resist the Wyrm, and will not be cowed into submission to her will.”

Thorn smiled weakly at his sister, “Yes, we are strong, Yalisha, but it is not enough. But just as this poison entered the Ayar’s body at one small point and overcome her strength, so I’m am worried that there is a poison at work among us. When I was in Umbar and learned that some plot was planned against us I flew to warn our people, only to find that I had arrived too late. No assassin could have come across our encampment so fast. Even if it had been one of the maenwaith, he could not have found us, a small people in this vast country.” He averted his eyes. “At first I thought perhaps one of the newcomers may have something to do with this, but now I have come to feel one of our own people has betrayed us.”

“Narayad?” Yalisha whispered softly, studying her brother’s face..

“Yes, he would seem be the likely one, and as an outrider, could easily pass information. But he would not do this, and has no love for the Wyrma or her ways. But still I have asked that he leave, for his own good as well as the clan’s. We will see what happens after that. But we must be vigilant. Wyrma has struck us a blow, and we do not know if she might have other plans underway against us.”

“She has struck a heavy blow, but she has not crippled us. Do not be downcast, Thorn, you are tired. If there is a poison among us, it need not be lethal. We can overcome it. But now rest, so that you might have strength to help both Narika and your people.”

“I will be strong for Narika and the people, sister,” Thorn said rising from the dark corner. “But do not ask me to sleep.” Walking away from her and toward the tent opening, he stopped at his mother’s side. “I am going to see to the brier,” he told her. “Send for me if you see that Narika or Ráma are dispirited, and I will return immediately.” Shooting a quick glance at Yalisha, he lifted the tent flap and was gone.

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Old 09-19-2004, 06:32 PM   #290
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Sorona

As the silvery threads of dawn stretched out across the eastern horizon of the desert sands Sorona’s rose her dark bloodshot eyes to greet it’s gentle light, as had become her custom since escaping the darkness of Barad-dur. “With dawn comes the light and hope to chase away the shadowy darkness of even our darkest night!” The gentle whisper of an old friends words echoed through her mind, giving her what little comfort it could. But as she lowered her gaze the flap to her cousins tent parted and Rama stepped forth, her honeyed complexion streaked with silvery tears. She watched as the young woman knelt, setting down a small ornate pot she carefully held in her trembling hands. A vessel of water with which to quench the thirst of death before journeying unto the west, She thought, vaguely recalling the rituals of her people. Rama rose and for a brief moment the two eagle women’s eyes meet each betraying the depth of their grief and that same sense of empty loss that came with the parting of a loved one. Sorona lowered her head respectfully, then Rama slowly turned and quietly slipped back inside.

With seemingly inconsolable sorrow Sorona closed her eyes, but no peace was there in even this simple act, instead the vision that haunted her dreams returned, more vivid and no less violent than before. The death of Ayar and the rumours and suspicions surrounding Wyrma and her people now gave credence to that which in her heart she had hoped was only a nightmare, a punishment for her boldness and over curiosity! “What is it you what me to do?” She whispered to the light west winds, but there was no reply only the fading horrors of the dream and a renewed sense of urgency! Suddenly she knew what she must do, turning sharply she hurried to the tent of her hosts. No matter what doubt she felt towards Fador he was an elder and it was to the elders that she now must speak if the portent of her dream was to be averted!

Reaching Fador’s tent, her guard startled out of his own grief by her sudden departure and struggling to keep up with her nearly walked right into her as she stopped suddenly. Latah, Fadors daughter sat at the entrance, the soft keening and gentle shaking of her lithe frame betraying her grieving. Pity more than sympathy stopped Sorona as she watched the young woman mourn the passing of their leader, how many more times would the eagles mourn the loss of loved ones before this new chapter in their history passed unto memory? She thought with a deep and sorrowful sigh, then turning to her guard and looking him over she gestured to a red handkerchief protruding from his pocket. Shaking it out he handed it to her. Nodding her thanks she took it gently in her beak and hopped over to where the young woman sat.


With a gentle nudge of her head she offered the young woman the handkerchief, Latah looked up and slowly took the offered handkerchief with a slight nod of thanks. “The spirits of our ancestors will look after Ayar now and guide her unto the west were she will know eternal peace!” Sorona whispered, absently turning her gaze west as a small part of her heart secretly envied her cousin that rest.

“Latah, I must speak with your father! Is he inside?” she asked as gently as possible but making no attempt to hide the underlying urgency in her voice as she turned back to face the young woman.

“No,” the young woman sniffed, “He takes Counsel with the other Elders and will not be disturbed.”

“Where?” Sorona pressed. Latah paused staring at the eagle reluctant to say more, Sorona’s eyes softened as her gaze levelled with the young woman. “It is important that I speak with your father and the elders of this clan, even more so now this sorrow has befallen. What I have to say may be important not only to this clan but to all Maenwaith!” she gently pressed. Latah paused for a moment longer then told Sorona where her father could be found. Thanking the young woman Sorona turned and headed for the tent Latah had described, her guard following close behind.

Reaching the tent Latah had informed her belonged to the elder Mumtaz, she was stopped at the entrance by another young woman who suddenly stepped in front of her, “You can not go in there the Elders are gathered!” she said staring down at the eagle with a slightly bemused frown.

“Yes, I know and I must be permitted to speak with them” Sorona pressed attempting to move round the young woman, only to be stopped by the firm hand of her guard. “You do not understand outsiders are not permitted while the Elders take counsel, you may speak with them after!” he said in a firm voice, giving the young woman an apologetic nod.

“No! it is you who do not understand, an outsider I may be, but eagle Maenwaith I am and with the Elders I must now speak!” she said gently nipping her guard hand and with wings gently flapping she pushed past the young woman careful not to do her injury.

Inside the heads of the Elders turned to set eyes on the eagle that disturbed the end of their meeting, “I’m sorry, I tried to tell …her” A shaken Salihah apologised.

“Sorona!” Fador frowned as he rose from the head of the table. Hushed whisperings past through the assembly as she stepped forward, her gaze steadily studying the faces of each Elder in turn as she looked around the gathered assembly. Several faces stood out in her fractured memory but none more so than the old frail looking woman who sat to Fador’s left side, her dark eyes studied her intently. A flame of memory lit her eyes as the scrutinizing look of the woman seemed all to familiar and as she held the woman’s gaze she remembered long debates by firelight regarding Sorona’s views of the outside world and the stern warnings the Elder would press upon her but she believed that despite their differences they were once friends, but that would not help her now for what she was to say would not hold well with any of the elders, if even they believed her.

“Forgive me this rude intrusion,” she said turning back to Fador and bowing low in respect, “But I must have the counsel of the Elders!” she added lifting her head.

“Counsel is always given to those of our people who ask!” Barakah answered keeping her voice even and her gaze level, “but you come to us a stranger and un-revealed!” she added gesturing the form Sorona held too.

“How are we to know you are not some spy of the Wyrm clan sent to make sure her evil has come to pass!” another added pressing his palms firmly upon the table. He was of medium height and build and of hard-faced countenance, suspicion burning in his dark eyes and his lips thinning within the white beard that framed his aged face as he steadily met her gaze.

“My name is Sorona, Daughter of Thoronda, cousin to Ayar and my first loyalty is to the clan of my birth. Yea it is also true that by Marriage I too owe loyalty to the clan of the wolf and some of you will ask why it is that I come here and not to the place of my husband and son and more still will ask where it is I have been these many years and why it has taken so long for me to return hither to the place of my birth. All these questions and more I will answer, but first I implore you to hear what I have to say ” she beseeched them.

Fador again took his seat looking at Sorona contemplatively as another ripple of mutterings swept through the assembly. The flap to the tent again opened stilling the elders once more into silence as Nakira and Thorn entered, “We came as soon as we were told!” Thorn said warily eyeing the eagle that had disturbed the counsel of their Elders.

Fador nodded and gestured for the others to make room for Nakira and Thorn, “Sorona has something she wishes to share with us, “ he informed them, “And I must admit that she did express to me before her desire to be permitted to speak with the elders and the leaders of our clan. I told her that it would take time to arrange, but it seems that what she has to say can not wait,” he finished gesturing for Sorona to speak.

Sorona nodded her head in thanks and began to speak. “For some time now a vision of great foreboding has troubled my dreams. I admit at first I did not see it’s import and thought it only a punishment. For I once sought to look upon something that I had been afore warned was not permitted. I angered the great spirits of the world who set air and water against me too thrust me back from looking to far into the west, leaving only this dream as a reminder of my folly. But the more I tried to dismiss the content of my dream the more vivid it became until it finally brought me here and I believe to this exact time.”

Sorona pause for a moment looking in turn at each face wondering how they would take what she was about to say, stopping last with Nakira. The young Daughter of Ayar , sat patiently waiting for her to continue, the light of wisdom shone in her eyes like her mother before her and Sorona smiled wanly suddenly seeing why they would choose this child to lead them and hoping that she indeed had the wisdom and hidden strengths of her mother, then taking a deep breath she continued.

“In this vision a great city raises from the very sands of the desert floor and before its gates a fierce and horrifying battle ensues. At first the combatants of this battle were not clear to me but since returning to the lands of my kin and hearing of their troubles the vision has become more and more clear in my mind. I see now that it is men who battle amongst themselves! but not any men it is Maenwaith and over all a dark shadow looms that it fills my heart with such dread, but what or who this shadow is not shown to me. I fear for all our people and now I offer what I can to help in what ever course of action you pose to avert this travesty from ever occurring.” Then finishing she again bowed respectfully and awaited the deliberations of her kinsmen.

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Old 09-20-2004, 02:45 PM   #291
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Piosenniel

The southern skies proved cooperative that night. Low lying clouds, threatening storm, scudded thickly over the water. Thin bands of moonlight shone weakly on the waters of the shallow cove, passing eerily over the longboat with its five occupants. It was still hot, closely hot, as if the clouds pushed down the heat against the water and the land for spite. The prow of the boat scraped up on the narrow shingle of sand strewn along this small section of the foothills. Hamar and the two sailors from the ship, who had come to take the boat back, jumped into the midcalf surf and hauled the craft securely onto the sand. Pio and Baran joined them on the little beach, packs in hand.

Pio handed Hamar’s pack to him and nodded with her chin up to a darkened cleft some ways up the nearest rise. ‘There’s our signal,’ she whispered, motioning for the sailor nearest the prow to blink the shuttered lantern there back in response. The return signal, two blinks of the boat’s light, was answered in turn, then the lantern above went dark. A short time later two well armed men came warily forth from the dark piling of boulders that marked where the sand met the earth of the foothills. Their boots skittered slightly on the loose dry sand and small pebbles as they came to a halt, waiting for one of the party to approach. Hamar stepped forward, halted almost before his advancing foot hit the ground, by a firm grip on his forearm from the Elf. A few short sharp words were exchanged before he stepped back, allowing her to make contact with the men.

~*~

Several hours later found them at the crest of the foothills. The clouds had cleared a little and they could see in the distance the small drop to a narrow valley and across it the steep climb once again to a way through the mountains. Their two guides asked if they might want to take a brief rest, their eyes gauging the fitness of the three strangers. ‘No rest. We have urgent business beyond the craggy peaks. Those who wait for us require that we move forward with all speed.’

The two guides bowed slightly, acknowledging her words, then took up their positions before and behind the three. Taking a quick look about on the moonlit scree, the man in front motioned the three to keep close. A small caution to watch their footing followed . . . then silence, punctuated only by the clatter of small pebbles as they made their way to the valley floor . . .

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Old 09-24-2004, 09:03 AM   #292
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A brisk breeze carried particles of sand and grit through the air. To Baran, it seemed that most of the dust lodged itself in his beard and hair. He scratched at his chin and growled an oath under his breath. The night air had been soothing at first, but as the heat rose, he became increasingly uncomfortable. "How can men live in places such as this?" he muttered under his breath. As they moved away from the sea, the land grew increasingly barren and had an unsavory look, at least to the Beorning. But at least they were no longer at sea.

The trip down the river Anduin demonstrated quickly that Baran possessed not seafaring skills of any sort. After several abortive attempts to assist the sailors with the rigging and the sails, baran had been relegated to lesser duties, such as mopping the deck (the crew had insisted upon calling it "swabbing") and moving the heavy stones in the cargo holds to adjust the ballast. But soon even these simple duties were beyond him. For they emerged from the mouths of the Anduin and took to the seas in their journey south.

The sea! He recalled the Elves of Rivendell singing songs about the sea. It had sounded exciting and romantic to the Beorning. But once they had taken to the waves, Baran began to feel strange. It was as if his eyes could not focus properly and his feet would not stay steady beneath him. He felt as if there was constant motion, challanging his sense of balance... and soon his balance lost. Worse yet, his balance was soon followed by his lunch... and his dinner... and the next morning's breakfast.

"Fix your eyes on a set point on the horizon," advised one of the sailors as Baran had staggered by on his way to the rail. "Breathe steadily and deeply. It will pass." But it did not. Baran spent days on end doing little but leaning on (or over) the rail or lying in his darkened cabin with his forearm over his eyes. He had little to drink but water and less to eat. Piosenniel became concerned that he would be little more than a weakling and a burden when they reached land. She did not have to worry long.

One evening, he staggered down the hall outside the kitchen (they insisted on calling it the "galley") when a sailor had stopped him with a cup of beer in his hand. "No sea legs, eh?" the sailor cackled. "Well make sure you steer clear of my cabin. Wouldn't want you to have to clean more than you already have to." Baran had stopped in his tracks and growled beep in his throat, his eyes fixing on the sailor. "Whew," his tormentor continued with a wave of his hand. "Stay clear of me as well. You smell worse than the harbor at low tide..." Faragaer had happened by at just that moment, to the sailor's good fortune, for Baran had grasped him by his collar and lifted him into the air.

"Please," laughed Faragaer. "If you don't like my crewman, please don't harm him. We may have need of him someday if only for shark's bait." He glared at the flailing crewman as Baran dropped him none too gently to the deck. "Come!" Faragaer continued. "I will try and help." He escorted Baran into the galley and sat him at a table. The crewmen nearby slid away, seeing the color of the Beorning's face. But Faragaer tore off a crust of bread and handed it to Baran. "Bread only," he warned. "No butter or honey and no meats, at least for now. Chew slowly and thoroughly and wash it down with water." Baran looked dubious, but nibbled at the bread. "That's right," said Faragaer. "Now look at my face as you eat. Look at nothing else." The Beorning chewed and swallowed. For a moment, he seemed to turn green, but then he took another bite and chewed grimly.

The remainder of the trip had not been as bad, but Baran stayed below decks most of the time, shunning the sight of the constantly moving waves. When they reached their anchorage and the skiffs were lowered, he was the first aboard. He had crawled up onto the shore and laid down on the ground with his arms spread wide. "Thank the Valar..." he said and many other blessings besides. That night he had eaten like.... well, like a bear, until Piosenniel warned him not to empty their packs on his first night ashore. "Ashore," he liked the sound of that word....
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Old 09-25-2004, 01:57 AM   #293
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Rôg

From his seat on the rocky rise, Rôg looked back toward the Eagle camp and imagined the smoke rising from the fire that would be lit near Ayar’s bier. He had only witnessed the death rituals for one of his own clan leaders, and this is how it had been for him. He could see the bier being built. Precious scraps of wood were stacked one upon the other, pieces criss-crossing one another to form a high, rectangular structure. At home, he recalled the children had been sent out with one or two adult members of the clan . . . to gather the dried sweetgrass and sage in baskets. They had stuffed it into the hollow places between the layers of wood to make the smoke from the fire thicker and more fragrant. He wondered if that were a custom among the Eagles or was it something once again peculiar to his own clan.

‘Hey!’ came the familiar voice, piping up from beneath the lip of the outcropping. ‘I’m coming up, too. Move over and make room for me.’ Miri’s little face peeked up over the rocky edge. Her hands and fingers found purchase on the uneven surface, and with a minimum of effort she hove her torso up onto the surface followed quickly by her legs. Rôg looked at her expectantly, wondering aloud why she was not with her family. ‘I’ve come to look at the lizards,’ was all she would say, a set look on her face.

‘Lizards it is then,’ said Rôg, scooting over and patting the now vacant space beside him.

~*~

They both sat quietly for a long time, their backs resting comfortably against the sun warmed rock. The lizards sensing no movement from the still forms crawled over their legs and poked in and out of pockets and sleeves and folds. It was Miri who moved first, scattering the skittish lizards off her legs. They raced away from the two, disappearing over the side of the rock, as Miri snuggled in closer to Rôg.

‘It’s very sad, isn’t it?’ Rôg’s quiet words were more a comment than a question that required an answer. He could feel Miri rocking a little beside him, and saw the slight nod of her head.

‘Where will she go when they light the fire?’ she asked, picking up a number of the small pebbles that dotted the rocky surface. She skipped them off the rock’s top as she waited for his answer.

‘I don’t know,’ he said, drawing his knees up near his chest and putting his arms around them for support. ‘What do you think?’

Miri chewed on the side of her lip for a moment, sliding her eyes up to Rôg’s face to gauge if he were really listening or if he might laugh at her answer. ‘Well,’ she said. ‘I think she really does fly up . . . on the smoke.’ She scuffed her foot back and forth on the sandstone surface as she thought further on it. ‘That’s what eagles do. They fly up on the winds. That’s what Ayar would do.’

‘That sounds as if it could be true, little one. I cannot say it isn’t so.’

‘There is something, though,’ she said in a whisper. Rôg waited for her to go on. ‘The bad things can’t follow her there, can they? They’ve gone away, right? They won’t come to get us next, will they?’ Rôg said ‘no’, that everything would be alright. The new clan leader and the elders would see to it. No bad things would follow Ayar or come to bother the rest of Miri’s clan.

Miri, her mind now somewhat resolved on this issue, turned the conversation to other topics. Her Mami was making something special for supper; would he come and eat with them. He declined, saying that he needed to make the evening meal for Aiwendil. Well, then, she asked would he come to the gathering tonight. They would be singing for Ayar when the sun goes down, her mother had said.

Rôg smiled at her wheedling, then shook his head ‘no’. ‘Remember I told you I would be leaving . . . to see my own family?’

‘Not already,’ she complained screwing up her face in a frown. ‘Tonight? Not tonight!’

‘Yes, tonight,’ he said, laughing at her grumbling. ‘I promised the young man who’s guarding me I would be in my tent when he came to check on me. And I intend to be. Then I’ll send him to the clan gathering and the singing. Once he’s gone, I’m leaving as I said.’

‘Oh, all right!’ she gave in, with a mildly dramatic sigh. Her chin was cupped in the palms of her hands, elbows resting on her knees as she sat cross-legged. ‘But remember, you promised to come back . . .’

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Old 09-26-2004, 11:17 PM   #294
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Aiwendil:

Aiwendil had made his way to the funeral bier to pay his respects to Ayar. Already, members of the Eagle clan were congregating in large numbers, some talking with family and friends while others quietly wept.

Those maenwaith coming to mourn passed by Aiwendil with barely a nod. He seemed to be no more than an old man leaning heavily on his stick, an outsider whose presence was tolerated by Narika only because of his skill with herbs. Now that Ayar had died and the clan was certain to go to war, he would surely be encouraged to leave. Nor did these meenwaith suspect how close the istar had become with Ayar in recent days, how the old man treasured those brief conversations, or the influence she still held over his mind even in death.

Aiwendil was sure that Ayar would find peace. She was a good and decent woman who had tried to do the right thing all her life. He would miss her, but it was her task now to journey down another road, one where he could not travel. The plight of the Eagles worried him more, that and the fact he had made a sacred promise to a dying woman that could not be ignored. Only a short while before, he had heard the news about Sorona. She had rushed into the Elders’ meeting eager to relate her vision: a dream of death and warfare, of maenwaith battling maenwaith under a darkly shadowed sky. He felt deeply ashamed and humbled. Sorona had first come to him pleading for assistance with her dream, but he had turned her away, even though he had instinctively understood that her strange vision had surely been a signal sent from the distant West.

Just moments afterwards, he had declined to share with Rama what he actually knew of the Great Eagles. Uncomfortable and reluctant to stir up memories that carried bitter lessons, he had parried her questions with a polite reserve and flatly refused to help her in the search. Was this how he honored his pledge to Ayar? And what of his promise to Manwe that he had put off for so long?

Unable to sit quietly in one spot any longer, the istar stood up and rushed out of camp, moving more swiftly than he’d done in years. Aiwendil sprinted across the stark, flat sands until he had left the encampment entirely behind him. Suddenly, he dropped his staff, and stared upward at the clouds. His arms flailed at his side until he was airborne on great lofty wings: an Eagle of the sky, but one vastly larger than any that had been seen by the maenwaith for many, many years. All caution thrown aside, he spun around and veered back towards the camp, bellowing out a challenge to the stars that lay hidden behind the veil of day. He solemnly circled the funeral bier two times to salute the passing of a gracious lady. Drumming through his head was a single refrain: I will honor my promise, Ayar. And, perhaps too, the words I spoke in the gardens of Yavanna so many years ago.

Exhausted and spent by his efforts, the Eagle ascended once more and then plummetted towards the earth, collapsing in a heap upon the sandy ridge some ways out from the camp. If anyone had chanced by in the hours that followed, they would have glimpsed only a frail old man who was asleep; he still clutched his staff close to his body, his head tucked within the folds of his cloak. But inside everything had changed.

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Old 09-28-2004, 01:56 PM   #295
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Piosenniel

The moonlight did not hold. Clouds off shore were pulled in over the foothills by the rising temperatures as night inched toward day. Their guides called a halt when they were almost to the valley floor. ‘They way is too difficult without light; too many places where loose stone waits to throw the reckless walker from the unmarked path. We can rest here for a few hours,’ he went on, lighting the small candle lantern he’d pulled from his pack. The five travelers settled in on the small rocky ledge they’d been traversing, pulling their cloaks about them in the chilly breezes. One of the guides passed round a small skin of water. Hamar pulled a packet of thin, hard waybread from his pack and handed it about.

~*~

The time just before sunrise was quiet, with only the skitter of pebbles down the face of the hill as the travelers shifted, seeking comfort, on their rocky resting place. Baran had stayed awake during this enforced pause in their descent as had Pio. He was a massive presence beside her, impatient she thought to be on his way. She could hear him sniffing the air appreciatively, sorting out she supposed any familiar scents in the area and taking in those new to him. She smiled at the image his great presence conjured up and could almost imagine his inquisitive bear ears swiveling about to capture the night’s then faint sounds.

Just before first light, when the darkness seemed to her a little paler, a single voice slashed through the sky, echoing across the valley from the mountains. A series of sharp, insistent screams rang in the higher air, and others took up the call. Both guides had now been roused from their doze, and peered into the lightening sky. ‘Eagles,’ one of them said in response to the Elf’s question about the sound. ‘They are claiming their home and the sky that surrounds it. Every morning they do this, though none that I know would dare dispute them. Look there!’

Across the valley a small dark speck flew high in the air. It rode the rising thermals in lazy looking glides, head cocked to watch the land below. Its flight was purposed, though, as they discovered, watching it glide closer and closer to where their little group now stood. Its gaze soon fixed on them, gauging their intent it seemed. ‘Sit down,’ their guides urged in whispering tones. ‘Sit down. She will see we mean no harm.’ Hamar crouched down, his eyes on the nearing bird. ‘How do you know that bird is female?’ he asked. ‘Because she is so large,’ came the guide’s hasty reply. ‘A male would be somewhat smaller.’ There was an irritated tsk! as the Elf stood back up, her attention now fixed on the eagle.

Pio ignored the pulls at her robe and the pleas that she sit back down. There was something odd about that bird, something oddly familiar, as she had reached out gently to assure it they meant no harm. It was no ordinary bird’s mind with its quick darting thoughts and concerns. There was a high level of awareness and a stream of conscious thought that told her the bird was speaking to herself, considering on different levels who these intruders might be. The Elf sensed a question from the bird, who now hovered near the group as she glided in a small spiral. Pio shrugged her shoulders and shook her head. She could not understand what the bird wanted to know. Narrowing her eyes, she reached into her memory for something Cami had once told her, or something she had read in her old friend’s diary.

There it is! she thought to herself. The eagle turned abruptly at the far end of its glide. The whump of its wings against the air grew louder as it moved nearer. Old words of greeting were sent out, ones that Bird had gifted to Cami long ago, spoken silently now by the Elf. ‘If you ever meet another skinchanger, speak this in greeting. It will let them know you are a friend.’

The eagle screeched loudly, extending its talons forward as it swooped toward the group on the ledge, wings beating hard to guide its rapid descent. Pio stood still as the bird drew near. From behind her she could hear the gibbering of the two guides, huddled now beneath their cloaks and a few choice imprecations directed her way from Hamar . . .

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Old 09-29-2004, 01:53 AM   #296
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Hilde Bracegirdle's post - Thorn

The place picked for Ayar's bier lay in a shallow depression within sight of camp. It was a quiet spot, protected from the wind by a small rise, yet one that afforded a full view to the westering sun. Already a large pile of dry and weathered poles stood ready, and many men were scattered between the camp and this collection, carrying yet more. No one had asked them to bring these things; they simply brought them of their own accord. Whatever they found they could spare, they set there, to be used in the construction.

Thorn was upon the growing structure; working with two others who had volunteered to lash together the last resting place of the Meldakhar among her people, when he saw that an armed man ran from the camp toward them. Shouting in a rapid tongue, the man dodged past those who bore heavy burdens, and the children who gathered dry grass and branches, as he told of a strange eagle forcing its way past the guard outside Mumtaz's tent, intent upon speaking to the gathering of elders there.

Swinging down off the bier to meet the guard, and after a brief exchange, Thorn found that all was well, and that this eagle had something of great import that she felt a need to share immediately. And he found that Narika was already there, when he rushed back the camp to see what this might be. She stood speaking with one of the guards posted, for she too had been called to the tent of Mumtaz, the elder. Without a word he drew back the tent flap, so that they might enter the assembly together. The tent was orderly, and the body of elders grew quiet as they came in. All was as it should be, but there standing poised before the group, a large bird stood, silhouetted against a shaft of light that slanted down from the roof vents, falling brightly onto the table of brass all were gathered around. The fragrance of incense still hung heavily in the air. "We came as soon as we were told," Thorn said eying the eagle warily, as he moved to the spot where, at Fador direction, a place was made for them within the ring of elders.

When they were well seated upon the floor, opposite the table from him, Fador proceeded, explaining that they were just ready to hear what this eagle, Sorona, was eager to relate. Noting the name, Thorn glanced briefly to Barakah, who patiently awaiting the message. And Amalik, a thin and quiet member of the group with an equally thin beard, seeing that the younger man’s eyes searched the faces around him, leaned over, so that his lips were near Thorn’s ear. "This is the lost daughter of Thoronda, who has come seeking the counsel of the elders," he heard the man whisper. Nodding his understanding, Thorn too turned his attention to her, wondering that she should choose to present herself before them in this aspect. But soon he was taken up by her words, and found her vision both strange and troubling.

Sorona ended with a deep bow of respect, extending an offer of help. A murmur arose as the elders spoke to one another discussing what she had told them. Thorn took the opportunity to question Amalik, speaking behind the back of his hand. “Is this truly the same Sorona who was given into the wolf clan? Or could it be that this woman only claims her name, as Dakarai suggests, and is actually a spy or perhaps comes to draw us more peacefully within Wyrma’s grasp.”

“She possesses the same turn of phase, and despite her form, her manner speaks much of the young woman she was, as well as of her father. I do not doubt that it is Sorona, though she has changed greatly. But having said this, she is no longer one of us, but of the wolf clan, and that gives me pause.” Thorn nodded again, looking down at the floor as he listened.

“We have heard rumor of this new city,” Mumtaz spoke, his deep voice rising above the others. “But it does not mean it is the city of your vision. Perhaps it was Umbar you saw, for that town is known to be dangerous.”

“It was not before the gates of the port, that this battle took place, but those of another walled city, and with a great loss of life,” Sorona said. “Can you not see that this is a warning to us all? Surely we must do what we can to stem this and without delay!”

Fador then spoke, “We do not interfere in the business of those of us who have chosen to leave our traditional ways.”

“And we prefer they not interfere with us, but if they would wage war among themselves, whose side are we to be on?” Hadya added, looking around to all the elders. “How could we hope to stop what we cannot understand?”

“Perhaps there is no need to take sides, indeed our odds would be better if we did not,” Harith interjected. “This is what you mean, if I am not mistaken?” he said addressing Sorona, who nodded to him in return.

“But what if in trying to avert this thing we are the ones to bring it about?” Thorn mused. “We are not much loved by that city’s founder.”

Barakah also gazed at the eagle thoughtfully. “Though it may appear so, Sorona,” she finally said, “we have not abandoned our fellow maenwaith. But it is our belief that to hold any in this unnatural cage Wyrma is building, will led to death. It is inevitable, though by what means it arrives I cannot say. And yet some clans will still choose to live within those confines, thinking they will prosper. We have tried to dissuade some of those who would go, and with some success. This has always been our strategy, but of greater concern to me is the shadow you speak of.”

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Old 09-29-2004, 01:54 AM   #297
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Ealasaide's post - Fador & the Elders

Maintaining his silence, Fador watched as Mumtaz shook his head. "While we have always put great trust in guidance that comes to us from the Dreamtime," said Mumtaz, choosing his words carefully as he addressed the assembly. "How do we know that this is even a real city that Sorona speaks of? For all we know, this city and the shadow alike could be merely symbolic. Or memory intertwined with fear."

The eagle shook her head. A touch of frustration, almost desperation, crept into her voice as she replied: "It is not memory or fear. It is a warning. I beg that you heed it."

Barakah nodded sagely. "A warning from the Dreamtime should never be taken lightly, Mumtaz. If Sorona says that it is a warning, then I am inclined to believe her.” The white-haired woman glanced around the troubled faces of the assembly, her gaze finally settling on Narika’s fair countenance. “We have seen the signs of approaching evil already in the slaying of our beloved Ayar. While I have no proof, I believe Wyrma and her city somehow to be behind it. We must flee into the deep desert to save ourselves and all that we hold dear.” Her gaze slid smoothly over to catch the eyes of Thorn, who nodded his understanding, though he did not speak either in support of her or against her.

“And leave the other clans to fall subject to Wyrma’s machinations?” asked Fador. “We saw what happened to the Wolf clan when we did not go to their assistance at the time of the Haradrim raids. Shall we flee again and leave the others to their fates?”

Across from him, the eagle’s feathers ruffled tensely.

Dakarai frowned through his beard. “You know that is not what Barakah proposes. I think she means that all of those who oppose Wyrma’s city should move quickly out of her reach.”

“Her reach is very long,” said Fador. “She has already demonstrated that much, if she is indeed behind the slaying of Ayar. If that is the case, then how far should we flee? And for how long? If she is truly behind this evil, she will hunt us. We cannot hide forever.”

“Yet we should not rush into war,” said Barakah. “Nor should we embrace a city that would be nothing more than a prison to us. No, what I propose is that we flee deeper into the desert for the moment, only until we can determine what is really happening and who our allies are. When we know these things, only then can we take the proper action to avoid the horrors of Sorona‘s vision.”

“How do we determine who our allies even are?” demanded Mumtaz.

“Perhaps we should not flee,” said Harith. “Perhaps we should stay and send outriders to the other clans, see what they think of this city, if any of their people have had visions. If this thing is really so evil, why should a vision come only to Sorona? Surely the Guardians of the Dreamtime would warn more than just one.”

Fador nodded. “Elder Harith speaks wisely. What I propose is this: We concentrate now on bidding farewell to our dead and seeing that the marriage of Thorn and Narika takes place as planned.” He looked from face to face.

“Each of us,” he said, “Goes from this place to think and mull over Sorona’s warnings separately. We will see what the Guardians of the Dreamtime have to tell us separately, if anything. Then, in three day’s time, when we meet again to pass the mantle of leadership from Ayar to Narika and Thorn, we will decide what action to take. We will decide then how to determine our allies and whether we stay or flee. Agreed?”

A general murmur of agreement rippled through the tent as the elders, the two young leaders, and Sorona all stirred to depart. Spreading her wings, Sorona hopped to where Fador stood.

“Do not take these warnings lightly. I beg you,” she said softly. “The danger is dire and it is growing.”

Fador gave her a considering stare, then smiled gravely. “I take nothing lightly,” he reassured her. While he lent his voice a comforting tone, Fador’s thoughts were anything but comfortable. He indeed took nothing lightly, the eagle’s warning least lightly of all, but not for the reasons he would have the others believe. Already his mind whirled, trying to determine how he might turn the eagle’s dream and the accompanying fear to his own advantage. It was not something he had planned on having to deal with, but surely he could find some angle, some advantage hidden therein.

The eagle hesitated for a brief instant, then folded her wings. “It is all I can ask,” she said with something almost akin to resignation.

Fador nodded and watched as she moved away, wondering if she knew something more or if she had shared with them all that there was to share. Only time would tell.

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Old 09-29-2004, 01:56 AM   #298
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Rog

Rôg spent the whole of the day at the rocky outcropping a ways from the perimeter of the camp. Now the sun was dropping and soon people would be eating their evening meal. Miri had gone back to her family, they would have a quick meal, she had told him then gather about Ayar’s bier and sing to her. She tried one more time to entice him to come with her. He had only smiled gently at her saying he could not.

Aiwendil would soon be coming back to the tent, he thought, if he were not already there. Dinner should be seen to . . . by me, of course, he grinned. As he walked back into camp and toward the tent, he chuckled at a sudden image of the old fellow. Aiwendil, his nose caught in the leaves of some old book, or better yet gazing out at the great ‘V’ of honking swans that passed overhead in the evening above the fens of Swanfleet . . . his right hand held a long wooden spoon with which he pointed out the various birds . . . and behind him, over the small cooking fire, dinner was charring without notice in the pan.

He had just reached the tent when his young guard came puffing up, hastily put on scabbard flapping against his leg as he ran. ‘Still here,’ said Rôg, reaching into the tent and pulling out the bucket of water and its ladle. ‘And no trouble for you to take care of,’ he went on, handing the man a drink. ‘You know – I’m just going to make the evening meal for Aiwendil and myself. You’re more than welcome to stay.’ He crouched down by the small pile of wood to the side of the tent‘s entryway and picked up enough for a small little cooking fire. In the midst of stacking the dried grasses and wood, Rôg looked over at the guard who had crouched down across the small pit and was using the flint to help get the fire started. ‘I had heard there would be the singing for Ayar tonight.’ Rôg said, not looking up from the little fire as he fanned it. He heard the guard shift across from him. ‘I will not be going, but there is no reason you should not. There will be no problem from me tonight.’ He placed the cooking pot on the rocks round the low burning fire and poured a little oil into the bottom. ‘You should go to your family’s tent,’ he said, stirring the chunks of onion and the few pieces of goat he’d been given by one of the families that day. He heard the young man stand up, and he nodded at him without looking up from his cooking. ‘Go on, then.’

In the space of an hour the little pot of stew was done. Rôg set it to the side of the fire to keep warm, while he baked a few pieces of flatbread to go with it. Those he wrapped in cloth and set them atop the flat lid of the stewpot. He sat back on the mat just outside his tent, waiting for Aiwendil to come. As the sun dropped lower, and the old man had not yet appeared, Rôg grew restless. He banked the fire, pushing the little dinner close up to the coals. From his pack inside the tent he pulled out his small notebook, his ink, and quill.

~*~

Have left dinner for you, warming by the fire.
Take your warm cloak with you tonight to the singing.
The night, I think, will prove chilly.

Have gone to be with my family and clan.
My little traveling bag is stowed at the back of the tent for now.

Miri has agreed to look in you and fetch whatever you may need.
There are some sweets you can dole out to her (and yourself, of course!)
in the side pocket of my pack.

Take care, my friend!

-- Rôg


~*~

The note he placed on Aiwendil’s sleeping mat, tucked halfway beneath a corner of the old man’s cloak he had folded and put there as a gentle reminder. Rôg stepped to the center of the tent and leapt up . . . out the opened entryway flew a small brown bat, heading south . . .

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Old 09-29-2004, 10:56 AM   #299
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Child's post

Aiwendil awoke with a start and sat upright, staring off into the shadows. The glare of the mid-day sun had vanished, replaced by a sky that was dusky grey with the first stars of evening visible overhead. For a single instant, the old man forgot why he was sitting here and what had happened earlier in the day. Then he glanced down and spied a lone grayish brown feather of considerable length half buried in the sand. The istar bent down to retrieve it and tucked the plume well under his belt as a silent reminder of the pledge he had made that afternoon.

Aiwendil turned and trotted towards the lights of camp, anxious to hurry back and talk to Rôg. Cutting through the tangle of tents and maenwaith , he overheard snatches of conversation between friends and family who were gathered near the funeral bier. People spoke of Ayar’s warmth and kindness and how much she was already missed. They also railed against the villain who had done this thing and exchanged puzzled whispers about Sorona’s dream and what it might mean to the clan.

Several onlookers mentioned a rumor that a Great Eagle had been spotted at mid-day, tracing majestic circles high over the camp at a time when most maenwaith were inside eating their noon meal or resting from the heat of the day. Only a few had actually seen the great bird, and many who had not argued that these others were wholly mistaken: it was nothing more than an illusion brought on by grief or an over lengthy stay in the sun. Yet some disagreed and said that the Eagle was a positive portent for the struggle yet to come.

Aiwendil cringed a bit when he heard this part of the discussion. Lengthening his strides, he soon arrived at the tent, which was set back a ways from the main bustle of the camp. He pushed aside the flap and walked inside. Inviting odors coming from a small stewpot on the coals greeted him, but his companion Rôg was nowhere nearby. Nor did he see the guard who usually stayed somewhere in the vicinity of the tent. Aiwendil bent down to retrieve his heavy cloak that had somehow come to be sitting on a mat in the middle of the floor. To his surprise, a piece of parchment fluttered out of its folds, revealing a short note written in a scholar’s neat script. He picked it up and read.

Some minutes later, the istar set down the note and sighed. He had known for some time that Rôg planned to leave. Despite the young man’s reticence to speak too openly, he could clearly read it in his restless eyes. Something was bothering Rôg, and it was not something that Aiwendil knew how to fix. The istar hoped that his friend would be able to find his answer by returning back to his family and clan.

Still, he knew he would miss him even more than he cared to admit. Aiwendil had managed on his own many times before and had usually sought solace by seeking out the companionship of birds and beasts. This time, though, his thoughts were quite different. His fingers strayed to the grey and brown feather hidden underneath his belt. The istar let his mind drift out over the camp and tried to pinpoint the one person he most needed to see. He glimpsed her standing off by herself perched on a rock and peering up at the stars. Aiwendil buried the last of the smoldering coals under a handful of sand and then hastily sprang to his feet. His cloak lay tossed on the floor, his dinner untouched and forgotten, as he left the tent and went off in search of Ráma.

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Old 09-29-2004, 02:39 PM   #300
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Piosenniel and Ayka, the old Eagle

All she’d really wanted to do was have a look at those interesting specks creeping along the ledge across the valley. It was not often men came in from the sea that way. Some great need must drive them, she thought . . . that, or blessed ignorance of all the carefully planted tales whispered among the merchants that ill fortune struck those who ventured across the little valley. She chuckled, remembering a merchant and his sons some time ago, who’d wandered into the northern tip of the vale. Beneath the dark olive tones of their skin, she’d seen them blanch a whitish hue. They had fallen on their knees heads tucked under their cloaks, babbling how they meant no harm; they were lost; if only they would be allowed to live they would come here no more. She chuckled again recalling how they’d collapsed from fear when she spoke to them. All she had wanted was some news from beyond the crags and the little valley, but they were beyond reason at his point and had run in panic back to where they’d entered the valley. ‘May as well give them the full treatment,’ she had concluded, as she flew after them screeching high in the air then diving down to rake their bare heads slightly with her talons.

Now here had come some travelers into her home once again. And again there was gibbering and the coverings of heads as she drew near. Save for that tall slender figure who’d stepped forward to the rock’s edge. Ayka hovered in midair as the person reached out to soothe her with her thoughts. Digging deep in her long memory, she recalled having heard of this. A scrap of an old story from the beginning times came to her. The Shining Ones, they had been able to do this. Ayka dared a question in her own tongue, but the figure on the ledge seemed perplexed for a moment, not understanding the words used. The person’s next thoughts nearly sent the eagle tumbling from her flight. Formally phrased and from an old tongue once common to her people. Curiosity won out over her wariness as the eagle dove toward the ledge.

~*~

‘Oh stop your blubbering, you brainless sandbug!’

Ayka sidled over to one of the guides, Haleel, after she’d landed. Unfolding a wing, she thumped him hard on his back. A fearful eye peeked out from beneath his cloak as the man strove to keep his whimpering under control. He squeaked as her yellow eye peered steadily at him and she clacked her beak in disgust. ‘What sort of men does the desert produce now? Get out here, O brave son of the sands. This one here,’ she said cocking her head at the Elf, ‘doesn’t understand what I’m saying. Can you translate?’ She tapped one foot on the rock. ‘Or are you as thick headed as she?’ she muttered.

A few incoherent phrases escaped the Haleel’s trembling lips. Pio knelt down by him and spoke quietly. ‘I think she will see us safely to the other side if you will help me speak with her.’ The man only whimpered in response to her, his eyes large with fear. The other fellow, Gadi, crept over to where the Elf knelt. ‘She is using the southern trader’s tongue.’ He dared an apprehensive look at the eagle, whose eye was now fixed on him. Gadi’s gaze swung back to Pio. ‘This was the fastest route back from where your ship had anchored, Mistress. We intended to cross the valley at its northern most point avoiding their section of the mountains altogether.’ He nodded toward Ayka. ‘I am only explaining this to you, Mistress,’ he went on in his most supplicating manner, ‘because my brother and I were not expecting to be set upon by the eagles.’ He paused, choosing his words carefully. ‘It is an extra task we are now undertaking. Would you not say so, Mistress?’

‘Ah, Gadi, I see your reasoning.’ Pio suppressed a smile. She pulled out her pouch of coins and fished in it, picking out two gold coins. ‘This should more than cover your assistance in helping me speak to the eagle.’ He held the coins in the palm of his hand, considering if he could make the case for a little more. A glance at the Elf’s set features, and at the eagle who had followed the exchange, decided him that he should not push the case further.

Names were exchanged first. And Pio, dredging her memory for how Ayka had referred to her in a following question, said ‘yes’, she was one of the Shining Ones. It was mostly the eagle who asked the questions – where have you come from; why are you here; where are you bound, and, most curiously, how is it that you come to know those old words?

Ayka listened intently to the Elf’s answers, surprised that one of the maenwaith had chosen to travel so widely outside her clan. She asked what clan did Bird belong to, but Pio only shook her head, saying her friend did not know any of her background; that she had come south to seek answers, and had lost touch with her friends in the north. Talk turned then to the search for Mithadan and Airefalas. Ayka approved the Elf’s desire to see to her mate’s safety and did not think it odd that a female should be set on this pursuit. Eagles she told Pio mate for life; both male and female will fight with beak and talon for the wellbeing of their own. Unfortunately she went on, not a great deal of news from outside the valley came to them. So, she had heard no news of northern men traveling in the south or of their captivity.

Pio, for her part, was apologetic that she had no news of happenings west of the mountain range. ‘I know only of the increased hostilities the King in Umbar has shown to the representatives sent to open trade with him from the King in the North.’ She mulled over all she had heard from the crew who had brought back The Star. ‘And not a word did I hear of skinchangers, or rather maenwaith as you term them.’

At this point, Gadi plucked at the Elf’s sleeve. ‘Mistress! My brother and I and our family trade up and down the length of those hills, on the desert side, all the way to the Corsair city sometimes. The clans sometime come to the little trading fairs where we lay out our wares. We have heard things.’ He looked expectantly at Pio before offering any details.

‘Two gold coins is enough, Master Trader!’ came the Elf’s reply. ‘And aside from that, it is Ayka who request the information. You will need to treat with her for payment.’ Gadi sneaked a look toward the eagle, then sighed. He was sure he would not come out ahead should he seek to barter his information.

‘Now, I don’t know much,’ he began. ‘The clans are tight mouthed around us outside traders.’ He paused translating for Pio what he was saying. He went on saying that during this past trading season, it seemed that certain of the clans had kept away even more than usual from the little trading fairs. ‘We saw none of the Bush Lizards, or the Gemsbok.’ He stopped to speak to his brother. ‘Only once did we trade with the Jackals and the Eagles not at all.’ Ayka looked hard at him, rasping out specific questions concerning that last clan. ‘As I said,’ he went on, ‘we did not see the Eagles. We asked, too, as they favor our basketry, and we had brought many in the designs they seem to like. There were hints they were withdrawing to places of safety, though we got no details why.’ Ayka ruffled her feathers in irritation.

From beneath his cape, Gadi’s brother spoke up, his voice still edged with great apprehension. ‘We heard other, darker rumours brother. Tell her of the great market place in the Havens.’ Gadi sat back for a moment, thinking how best to present those little half-heard bits and pieces of information one hears when others are blind to your presence.

Again, he said, many of the desert clans did not come to last great fair. And most of those clans who did come in for trade were the ones who live in the city. Ayka snorted at the mention of ‘city’. What did he mean by this – that they live in the city? The Havens, Gadi went on, a number of clans cluster within it, he explained, and more on the fringes of it. No, not the Eagle clan, as far as he knew, he said. Nor those others he had mentioned. His next words set her feathers on edge.

‘The clans in the city seem more casual around us traders. There are hints of big plans in the wind. Smug talk how those who are not in favor of whatever these grand designs are will be “taken care of” . . . Nothing specific . . . their lips are as tight as any if they catch us listening.’ His brother whispered something else to him. ‘Sometimes we hear things, too, from the Corsairs who come to trade with us. Little hints of how the Haradrim are forming new alliances. The Northmen will not have them long under their boot heels, things like that. We usually just ignore them, brave talk from the conquered and nothing else. But there was a certain energy about the last marketplace we attended there.’ He bowed his head a little as he finished speaking. ‘That is all we know . . . nothing solid really . . . just feelings we have picked up.’

‘Taken care of!’ the eagle muttered, shifting uneasily on the rocky ledge. She wanted to ask what action the clan leaders were taking, but she knew the traders would have no knowledge of this. And where was the Eagle Clan in all of this, she wondered. Who had allowed all this to happen?

The two brothers were silent now. Gadi had finished explaining to Pio what he had told Ayka. The Elf sat back on her haunches wondering, herself, at the variety of forces that seemed to have come together in an uneasy, and most likely, volatile mix. There were unknown factors that would bear upon her recovery of Mithadan and Airefalas. And now she began to wonder how Bird might factor, if at all, into this situation.

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Old 10-02-2004, 09:11 AM   #301
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Airefalas

Having spent most of the day cooped up with Mithadan in the stuffy tent of the Elder that neither of them had yet had the opportunity to meet, by evening Airefalas was feeling restless and out of sorts. He was tired of being under suspicion, under guard, and generally tired of being a prisoner, even if it was for his own good, as he was constantly being reminded that it was. As night fell and the wailing and keening of the night before was replaced by singing, presumably around the funeral bier of the Eagles' fallen leader, Airefalas found himself edging ever closer to the open tent flaps, watching to see what their guards were up to, listening... listening for what? He was not sure, perhaps for anything that would break up the boredom of confinement. All he heard, however, was the occasional low murmur of conversation in the mostly unintelligible tribal dialect. While he could pick up a few stray words here and there that he remembered from the trading dialect that was used up and down the coast, it was not enough to allow him to follow anything with any degree of comprehension.

Finally, as he edged a little too close to the open flaps, Mithadan looked over at him. "I hope you are not planning to go anywhere," he said mildly.

Airefalas shook his head. "Not really. After all, where is there to go?" he answered. A moment later, he added dryly, "...although I might consider drowning myself if there was any water around. This sitting about is interminable."

"Patience, my friend," said Mithadan. "I have a feeling we will be moving soon."

"I hope so. I'm getting to the point where I almost miss my camel."

Remembering the younger man's battles with his recalcitrant camel on the journey there, Mithadan laughed quietly and went back to sharpening his sword, which he had been doing not so much because it needed sharpening, but more as a way to pass the time. "Serious things are afoot," the captain said after a moment. "And our fate may already be more deeply entangled with the fate of these people than we know. I would suggest that you enjoy the rest while you can get it and use the time to learn all you can about what is happening. It may benefit us later."

"Well, I would," answered Airefalas crossly. "If I could make out a bloody word that they're saying. In the meantime, it would do me no end of good just to get out of this confounded tent for a few minutes, at least for a stretch of my legs."

"Why don't you ask the guards if they would mind a little walk around? They are probably as bored as you are. In fact, I might go with you. I should like another word with Aiwendil, if we can locate him." Sheathing his newly honed sword, Mithadan rose to his feet and joined Airefalas at the mouth of the tent. Raising a hand, Airefalas called out to the guards.

As Mithadan had predicted they seemed just as eager for a bit of exercise as the Gondorians were and, within seconds, the group of them had embarked on a leisurely stroll through the darkness between the tents. Since Mithadan had communicated to the guards his desire to find Aiwendil once more, they moved in the general direction of the elderly istar's tent. Arriving, they found the tent empty. Looking around and seeing no indication of where the old fellow or his companion might have gone, the guards walked casually in the direction of a pair of women cooking over a small fire nearby. Airefalas listened idly as a lively conversation ensued between the guards and the women in the tribal dialect, presumably over the whereabouts of the missing guests. Unable to understand more than a word or two, Airefalas turned away, letting his eyes and mind wander, until his gaze fell upon the slight figure of a girl, about twenty paces distant, carrying a pair of full water skins that dangled heavily from a stick across her shoulders. Watching her slow progress, it suddenly occurred to Airefalas that he knew her. It was the same young woman who had been keeping house for them in Fador's tent since their arrival, the one with whom he had had the misunderstanding over the cheese.

Without thinking, Airefalas turned and walked toward her, intending to give her some assistance with the skins. He caught up with her just as she rounded the corner of a large tent, placing them both out of sight of Mithadan and the two guards. Reaching out, he touched her shoulder.

"Hello," he said quietly. Startled, she turned quickly, dropping both the stick and the two skins, sloshing a few ounces of precious water on to the sandy earth. Her dark eyes widened with a combination of alarm and recognition. Stepping back a pace, Airefalas raised his hands, palms outward, to show her that he meant her no harm. Recognizing the gesture, her initial fear evaporated quickly and she smiled, though a bit nervously. To his surprise, she spoke to him in halting and heavily accented Westron.

"You! How you..." she hesitated. "Where..." At a loss for the word she sought, the girl made a comical pantomime of the two armed guards who had been stationed outside of the tent all day. Airefalas grinned.

"Guards? Where are the guards?" he suggested. When she nodded, he gestured behind himself with a quick motion of his head. "Not far. In fact, I thought at least one of them would be right behind me.

"I thought you didn't speak Westron," he added a second later, recalling their earlier communication problems.

She smiled. "Only little bit," she answered carefully, with a matching gesture of her thumb and forefinger. "My father teach. But you..." She took his wrist and tried to push him back in the direction of the guards. "You go back. Very danger here for you. Gourds very anger."

Picturing a pair of angry gourds close on his heels, Airefalas laughed softly. "Guards," he corrected her amiably. "Yes, I imagine they would be angry if they thought I escaped, but it isn't as though I snuck away. I think they know where I am." He pointed to the two water skins she had been attempting to carry. "I was hoping to help you with those."

Stubbornly, she shook her head. "No! You go back. I carry. Guards very anger you gone."

Seeing that she was genuinely concerned, Airefalas gave her a good-natured shrug. "Okay, I go back. But at least tell me your name that I might know what to call you in the future."

At a puzzled look from her, he repeated, "Name?" He tapped his chest. "My name Airefalas. Your name?"

Her face lit up suddenly with understanding. "Latah. My name Latah." She was just going to say something else, when a shout when up from behind Airefalas in the direction of Aiwendil's empty tent, where he had left Mithadan and the two guards. Instantly, Latah's small hand closed again around the Northerner's wrist as she left her water skins and pulled him with her around the corner of the tent and back into the view of the now truly angry guards. Calling out to them in a high, clear voice, she spoke rapidly to them for a moment in her own dialect. Airefalas thought he heard her say something about water. Then one of the guards laughed and shook his head. The other guard sheathed his drawn sword. Smiling, Latah curtsied to Mithadan and, with another quick word to the guards, went back in the direction of her deserted water skins. Just as she was about to turn the corner of the tent, she glanced back. Though it was dark, Airefalas could have sworn there was a mirthful twinkle in her eyes.

"What was that all about?" asked Mithadan as she disappeared from view.

Airefalas shook his head. "Sorry - I thought the everyone saw me go. I was going to help her with some heavy water skins." He changed the subject. "Any word of your friend?"

Mithadan shook his head no, as the four men began the trek back toward their host's tent. "I guess I will have to have my word with him later."

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Old 10-07-2004, 03:49 PM   #302
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Aiwendil and Ráma:

Aiwendil hurried to the edge of camp and then pushed on across the desert towards a hilly ridge located a short distance away where the sentries sometimes maintained a watch. This night the hill was still and empty except for one lone presence he could feel tugging at the fringes of his mind. Yet even this far from the settlment, he could still hear the mournful voices of the Eagles who had massed about the funeral bier to carry out the traditional rituals. Heavily weighed down with grief and longing, their songs echoed through the cool night air, adding a note of sadness to an already somber scene.

Coming to the base of the ridge, Aiwendil glimpsed Ráma about half-way up the slope, half hidden by a massive outcrop of jagged brown boulders; she was staring off vacantly towards the horizon. As Aiwendil began the climb upward, she turned a scowling face in his direction, making it clear that she had neither expected or wanted visitors. The old man ignored the warning and kept climbing until he reached the ledge. Walking closer, he could see that the woman's eyes were rimmed in red but that her face remained distant and blank, a pallid mask giving little hint of the feelings underneath.

"They have sent you to bring me back?" she asked in some surprise.

He turned and shook his head. "No one has sent me. I have come to speak with you on my own." The istar hesitated for a moment gathering his wits, wishing that he had Gandalf's gift with words.

"Old man, you are good at finding people. I had thought to have found a quiet spot where no one could disturb me. I spent all day in camp tending my mother's body while my sister and Thorn went off to speak with the Elders. After Naraika's return, when the shadows lengthened, I went off on my own to think."

"But they will be missing you?" he queried.

"I do not think so. The songs of the first night are always led by the new clan leaders. It is their part to push back the shadows and make certain that my mother departs on her journey."

Aiwendil glanced shyly at Ráma. "It must be hard, standing and waiting, while your sister takes on her new duties."

"I begrudge her nothing....nothing," the young woman responded. There was a quiet certainty in Ráma's voice that did not sound feigned. "It is not even my mother's death that weighs on my head. She is free now. But I made promises to her as she lay dying, and it is my duty to find a way to do what she asked."

For a moment, Ráma hesitated and stared off in the distance. Then she looked back at Aiwendil, "I do not know why, but she said you might help me. Old man, today while I tended the bier and most of the others were inside for their mid-day meal, I saw something in the sky. Something, I had never seen before. There was a great Eagle, larger than any I have seen in these parts. It flew in circles above my mother's body as if wishing her goodbye and then suddenly departed. Do you know anything of this bird, or where he comes from? I must speak with him."

Aiwendil stared down stubbornly at the ground and did not reply.

"Please," Ráma pleaded. "I can tell you do not wish to speak of this, but my request is for my people. Many have suffered at Wyrma's hands, and more will surely die unless we do something to stop it. My mother said these mighty creatures had dealings with our clan in the past and promised to aid us should we ever find ourselves in great peril. She urged me to travel south to the dwelling of an old wisewoman and collect a tallisman of power that I should then present to the Eagle Lord. But even this wisewoman may not know where to find these mighty birds. If you could just take me to this creature, I could ask him for help."

"I cannot." Aiwendil shook his head. "For that was no true Eagle: only an old fellow with some mastery of shapes who wished to honor your mother's memory and bid her farewell. Ráma, you know I have some skill in shifting. That was only me."

The young woman's eyes widened in surprise. "Can you do such things? You must wield great power to be able to take on such form." She glanced at him increduously. "Perhaps you are one of these creatures yourself?"

He said with embarassment, "No, I am sorry. I have some skills in shifting, but it comes and goes. What I did this afternoon, I have not done in years. And whether I would do it again, I am not sure."

"You will not help me then?"

"I did not say that. Only that it will do you no good to track down that bird. But I have thought carefully on what you said earlier today. If you would like my help to retrieve this talisman and journey to the Eagles, I will give it to you. I am still not sure if this is wise. The Eagle Lord and those whom the Eagles serve may have little wish to see me or to listen to anything I say. But I am through with sitting and doing nothing. If my staff or arm can be of any use, you may have them to help you to fill these promises that you made to your mother."

"And now," he added, gathering up his staff and preparing to leave, "I believe I have bothered you enough for one evening. You will want to think more on this. There is one more thing. I believe the Eagle Sorona may have some part to play in all this. I have caught glimpses of her on the edge of my dreams. She has no reason to speak with me kindly after what I said today. Still, she might take more kindly to a request from Ayar's daughter. You may want to ask her to join us. That is, if you would like the two of us to go together." After offering to help, Aiwendil turned and disappeared into the night, leaving Ráma to sit on the slope and mull over the words that had just passed between them.

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Old 10-18-2004, 10:53 AM   #303
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Nerindel's Post: Korpulfr

It was quite late in the afternoon when Korpulfr finally awoke. Slowly opening his eyes he rose a dusty hand to shield against the glare of the westerning sun. Turning his head he saw the lean form of Tinar tending the dusty gelding he and Hasrim had conscientiously thought to bring for the young wyrmling, two more horses, packed and saddled stood nearby under the cool shade of the rocky overhang. The first a sand coloured gelding was his own mount and the other was the tan steed that Hasrim rode, looking around he suddenly became aware that his cousin was nowhere to be seen. Brushing the fine layer of sand that covered him from head to toe, he rose and headed towards his young friend.

“Any to spare for a parched friend?” he asked jovially seeing that the young Meanwaith was watering the horses.

Tinar’s head turned to greet him with a broad smile, “So you’ve finally decided to join us, I was beginning to think you would sleep the whole day away,” the young man laughed handing him the half filled water skin.

He drank deeply wetting his dry cracked lips, “Where’s Hasrim, you haven’t talked him to death have you?” he grinned handing the skin back to his young companion.

“Talk! I don‘t think he would have heard me even if I did?” Tinar said cocking a bemused eyebrow, “he spent most of the morning deep in thought, muttering to himself as he packed his own and your mount, then a few hours ago he said he was going out to look for fresh water and to scout out the desert movement, movement! I ask you for days I’ve see nothing out here but the sea of sand.” he continued shaking his head.

Kor laughed clapping Tinar on the shoulder, “Ha my friend that’s my cousins way, always thinking ahead and if he was here I am sure he would now be giving you a quick lecture on the unseen dangers of the desert.”

“Then I am glad he is not here,” the young man laughed jovially.

As they waited Hasrim’s return the two men finished making preparations to leave and enjoyed a cold supper of flat bread and salted pork, the conversation remained light and cheery like two young friends simply enjoying each others company with no political or outside influence at work, but as the sun began to sink below the western horizon the talk turned again to the matters at hand and the barely perceivable guardedness of each man returned.

“You must make sure your mother hears of the death of the eagle leader and the arrival of the northerners to their camp, it may all be coincidental but let her know that I will remain to make sure!” Kor said turning to look the young man squarely in the eyes. Tinar paused for a moment then nodded and as Kor turned away the young man asked him if he had any message for his father.

“Just let him know that I am fine and know what I am doing.” he answered after a moments contemplation. Tinar frowned not understanding and Kor shook his head and explained, “He has his grievances with the eagle clan, he still holds them someway responsible for my mothers death and won’t be please to heard that I am here!” he sighed wearily.

“And you?” Tinar asked cautiously, “Do you too think they are at fault?”

“hmm I don’t know… maybe they could have helped or maybe not I really don’t know it all happened so fast… I… only re…..” with a shake of his head Korpulfr stopped talking and got up and began to walk away.

“Where is that cousin of mine it is time we where away from here before we are discovered by outriders!” he said decisively changing the subject and looking out into the distant darkening horizon. But he could not hide from the memory that haunted him, clinging to the branches and safety of the trees as his mother was hauled off dying by the crimson warriors, he swore to himself not long after that day that never again would he hide from those who would attack his people, he would be strong, but still he felt like he had not upheld that promise, hiding in the city of his enemy at the insistence of the very people he wished to protect. With a heavy sigh he walked up to the sandy gelding and lightly scratching the animals ear he re-checked the straps adjusting his pack and the saddle baskets that carried the goods for trade, while he waited for his cousins return.

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

Ealasaide's Post: Fador

As the sun set deep into the western horizon and the singing began around the bier of Ayar, Fador took his place amongst the other elders. Though he carried a small hand drum with him, he neither drummed nor sang along, but sat quietly, listening as the various singers raised their voices in praise of the fallen leader, framing stories from her life and the lives she had touched during the tenure of her leadership in graceful song. Finally, as evening began to edge toward night, he rose from his place and slipped silently away into the darkness. He had not slept in over thirty-six hours and the lack of sleep was beginning to wear at him. He needed to be alone, to collect his thoughts. To plan what to do next. So much had happened between Ayar’s passing, the arrival of the foreigners, and the strangely timed return of the eagle, Sorona, that he hardly knew what to make of it all. He had spent so much of the last night and day in moving back and forth amongst the other elders, smoothing the way for the transfer of power from Ayar to the young people who were to take her place, that he had scarcely had a moment to himself. Now, with nearly everyone occupied by the bier, he finally felt as though he could take a breath of air for himself.

Wrapping his long robe tightly around him, Fador walked swiftly to edge of the camp, where he hesitated, gazing up at the darkening sky. How easy it would be to take to the sky now, to beat his wide wings and leap into the night wind in the shape of a golden eagle. To fly... A grim smile touched his weathered features. It had been too long since he had taken that shape and flown amongst the clouds, caressing the wind with his very fingertips. Why had he let so much time pass? Why had he preferred his other shapes to the one most treasured by the people of his clan? He wondered if it were not guilt at his own anger toward his clan, or failing that, merely stubborn pique. Either way, he suddenly understood that he had let too many days pass. Glancing back in the direction of the bier, he knew that now was not the time to make up for lost time either. Early in the afternoon of that day, around noon, a strange, great eagle had sailed gracefully around the bier twice, calling out a challenge to the winds. He had watched with the same air of awe and curiosity as his maenwaith kin, but had felt no urge to answer the challenge, at least not yet. To take to the air now could perhaps go unnoticed. On the other hand, if it were to be seen as an answer to the great eagle’s challenge - if that’s what it was - that would not do.

He turned and, on conscious impulse, began to walk in the direction the great eagle had flown in its departure. He needed to think, to find an answer to the questions that plagued him of what to do next, how to approach the foreigners, how to use them. Perhaps an answer lay out there among the swaying savannah grasses, perhaps not, but if he could at least find a bit of clarity, it would help. He quickened his step, moving swiftly and deliberately away from the encampment, his mind buried deeply within his own thoughts.

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

Nerindel's Post: Hasrim

The quiet sound of leathery wings flapping against the cool evening air echoed in small furry ears as a small heart drummed with each exuberant beat, the ears twitched as the sound of raised voices whispered on the light winds of the Haradwaith desert, murmuring of sadness and of loss. But as the small desert bat drew closer, the sadness melted away to joy and praise bringing a dark and menacing scowl to the creatures dark features. Small beady eyes that should see very little, infact carefully scanned the horizon as the lightly billowing tents of the Eagle encampment drew steadily closer, carefully flying between the many tents avoiding the gaze of the sullen but vigilant outriders and guards the small bat looked for a familiar face.

The actual camp was strangely still, with nearly all the clan gathered at the brier of their fallen leader only the stragglers and those chosen to keep guard still remained, so he flew on following the voices cringing as they praised the wisdom and kindness of their fallen leader. Wisdom! Too live in the past and remain victims of the power and greed of others pfft…. But off course the eagles were never victims, they ran and hid while others died and suffered at the hands of the Haradrim and their dark master! feelings of great hatred and bitterness suddenly filled the small creatures mind and it struggled to hold on to the image at the forefront of it’s mind the one that kept him in the air unrecognised and unnoticed, he perched in a nearby tree and took a deep steadying breath, pulling the image forward once more, reminding himself of the purpose of this visit. Looking out from between the leaves he saw a familiar figure rise and move away from the others. With a wry grin the small bat again leaped into the air following discreetly the dark robed figure.

He stopping to watch as the robed figure hesitated at the edge of the camp, silently witnessing the older mans grim smile as he gazed up at the darkening sky in contemplative thought, but the small bat was forced to move quickly as the robed figure briefly glanced back towards the funeral brier of the woman he had helped to murder! Irony twisted the bats lips into a sly and cruel grin as he wondered if old fool was having doubts or regrets, for he knew it was already too late for the old eagle! for if it was discovered that he was in any way responsible for the death of his leader he would most certainly be cast out if not worse! But to betray Wyrma or her allies would be an even greater folly he had now witnessed how easily and deadly the old Wyrm could strike! As the figure walked on he followed, then when the camp was firmly out of sight he choose to speak.

“The wind whispers of ill tidings a great eagle has fallen and it’s clan stands leaderless!” He squeaked coming close to the Elders ear .

The figure stopped but did not turn, “The winds do indeed speak the truth, but not for long do the eagles remain flightless and without leadership!”

Flying around to come before the older man the bat let go of it’s current form to reveal the middle aged Wolf clan warrior. “Greetings to you Fador, wolf friend!” he said with the customary hand to forehead gesture of his clan his eyes firmly fixed on the older man revealing neither true hostility nor friendship, this man may have his uncles trust but he would reserve that judgement for himself.

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

Ealasaide's Post: Fador

A look of annoyance flitted across Fador's face as he raised his hand to his forehead, returning the greeting of the man of the Wolf Clan who suddenly appeared before him, casting off the shape of a bat. "Greetings, wolf," Fador said coolly, studying the man‘s face. He noticed the way the other man's eyes betrayed nothing, neither hostility nor friendship, nor even the respect due to an elder of any clan. What he saw was cool appraisal and icy reserve, as though the man were sizing him up. Judging him. Fador’s dark eyes narrowed. Arrogance.

“It is with surprise that I recognize you, Hasrim,” he said, recovering his composure. “I remember you from your uncle’s house. I hope that my friend, your uncle, is well. But what brings you here to the Eagles at such a time as this? I am not fool enough to think that is mere coincidence.”

A dry flicker of amusement showed behind Hasrim’s eyes for an instant before he answered. “You are very wise indeed,” he said, with the faintest hint of sarcasm touching his voice. “I came on the trail of the northerners, whom I believe you are harboring in your camp. In fact, I know you hold them there.”

“You followed them from Umbar?”

“I did.”

“Then I take it Wyrma has an interest in these men,” said Fador. The annoyance that had spiked up in his heart at the sight of Hasrim began to subside as an idea began to take shape in Fador’s mind. He had left the ceremony at Ayar’s bier in order to seize a few moments to himself, to try to clear his mind of clutter and address the many problems and issues that had confronted him since Ayar’s death. He had been angry when Hasrim had destroyed his solitude, but now Fador felt a new clarity, one that came with decision. If Wyrma wants these men...

One of the matters that had been troubling Fador most had been how to redeem his position in Wyrma’s eyes if it ever came to her attention the way he had nearly botched her assassin’s flawless work by setting fire to Ayar’s tent as the Eagle leader lay dying. If it had not been for that bit of foolishness, Ayar’s death might have been passed off as the result of illness or an unfortunate insect bite. The fire had raised suspicions and thrown the entire Eagle clan into a state of heightened awareness and anger. If only communications with Umbar had been more regular! He might have known that Ayar’s illness had been the work of an assassin and not interfered, but the information had come too late. And, even then, it had not come from Umbar. Perhaps now, the lack of communication with Umbar could work in his favor. Fador knew that he had made a horrible, horrible mistake in setting the fire, which he knew that Wyrma would not let pass unnoticed or unpunished. He also knew that if he wished to maintain favor with the great Wyrm, he would have to do something quickly to eclipse his mistake, something that ordinarily would have won him great favor. If word of his good deed arrived to Wyrma before, or even simultaneously, with word of his mistake, all would not be lost. In fact, Fador had a feeling that not only his ambitions, but his life depended on it.

“Yes, Wyrma does have an interest in these men,” Hasrim was saying. “A great interest. As you well know, her ambitions do not stop at the borders of Umbar.”

“Then tell her,” said Fador, giving the other man a calculated smile which did not reach his eyes. “I will make a gift of them. They will be in her hands before the rising of the new moon.

“I will send them to the walled city, accompanied only by a guide and a few handpicked men. My men will know what to do. If you wish to follow, as apparently are your instructions, I will send word as to the hour of their departure.”

Hasrim delivered a short, leisurely bow. “You are too kind. I shall send word to Wyrma of your gift at once that she may prepare a welcome for them. When do you plan to see them on their way?”

“Perhaps as early as tomorrow night. Or the morning following at the latest. I will see that you are alerted, if you will tell me how to contact you.”

Hasrim gave Fador a long, considering look, as though deciding whether or not this was some sort of treachery or a trap. Finally, coming to a decision, he nodded. “Come to this spot as the sun sets tomorrow. I will be waiting.”

Fador nodded. “It will be done.” He began to make his departure, but stopped as something else occurred to him. There had been other strangers in the Eagle camp in the past few days besides the Gondorians. Was Hasrim aware of them as well? Had he seen, for instance, the two strange maenwaith who had arrived as Ayar lay dying? He suspected them of removing the broken incense pot, which had later turned up in poor Narayad's pack, from the smoking ruin of Ayar's tent. In Fador's opinion, they had been the only ones who could have done such a thing. But how had they known to plant the pot with Narayad? Fador himself could not have chosen a better patsy. Coincidence, perhaps, but upon deeper reflection, it hinted to him of a deeper knowledge of the workings of the Eagle clan than Fador was comfortable with. Who had sent them? And why? Why, indeed... there was also the return of Sorona with all of her dark talk of dreams and visions, death and destruction, which had excited the council of elders so. Why had her arrival coincided so closely with the arrival of the others? Were they working together? Fador paused and looked back at Hasrim.

“There is one more thing I should mention," he said, as though on a casual afterthought. "One of our clan who had married into yours years ago before the Haradrim raids has returned from exile. She is trapped in the shape of an eagle, but seems to have only a sketchy memory of her past.” He paused, watching Hasrim for a reaction. “Her name is Sorona. She arrived as Ayar lay dying and has been filling the ears of whomever will listen with warnings of death to any who embrace the stone city. It seems she has had visions from the Dreamtime.” For the moment, he decided, he would keep the presence of the other two strange maenwaith to himself.

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

Nerindel's Post: Hasrim

Hasrim’s eyes studied the eagle elder with mild curiosity as the older man paused in his departure, hesitant as though something more had just come to mind. He waited patiently for Fador to speak, believing with smug satisfaction that he was about to tell him of the strange old man Korpúlfr had seen walking about the eagles camp, but what Fador revelled to him soon wiped that grin from his broad face as shock and utter disbelief filled his mind! Before even Fador had uttered the eagles name he knew of whom he spoke for there had only ever been one union that he knew of between their clans…But how could this be she perished with the others, Korpulfr saw her die…or did he? he thought as he struggled to understand how this could be so. Only once had Korpulfr spoke to him of his mothers death and all that he would say was that he had seen the Haradrim kill her!

“Are you certain that it is really her and not some impostor taking her name, an enemy perhaps wishing to exploit your clans tragic situation!” He asked regaining his composer.

“No I am certain it is her she may be trapped in avian form but her manner is unmistakably that of the daughter of Thoronda” Fador replied “That same annoying ability to hold others with her words !” he thought bitterly as he reassured him that it was indeed her.

Suspicion soon over took Hasrim’s initial surprise, Why here? Why now? And where had she been all these years? His eyes narrowed as he thought on these questions and more . “It is not entirely known to us what became of the Meanwaith that were taken by the Haradrim and until now it was widely believe that they had all perished.” he carefully informed Fador. “But it was rumoured that those captured had been taken not to the city of the corsairs but further north to the dark mountains!” Hasrim did not have to say any more for Fador to realise of the place he spoke and of the dark shadow that had once consumed that land.

“You do not think she is to be trusted?” Fador mused as he too contemplated the timing of her arrival.

“who can say?” Hasrim shrugged, “It maybe that she is indeed having visions from the dreamtime…. But who is to say that there is not some external factor at work, even if she was in the dark land and managed to survive, was it not the northerners and their allies who overthrew it’s dark master….” pausing for a moment he let these thoughts settle in the elders mind before continuing.

“I will inform Wyrma of the eagles return, but I suggest that until you hear otherwise you should keep a close eye on this eagle and discourage any idea’s that she may have about travelling to the city, her presence with all her talk of dreamtime could be unsettling for our allies as well as our enemies. It should be discredited were possible… perhaps finding out where she has been all these years may be of help!” he suggested slyly. “Tomorrow then” Fador grudgingly nodded before finally taking his leave.

Hasrim remained a moment longer the news of Sorona’s return was more troubling that he had let on to Fador, should Korpulfr so much as hear rumour that she was alive he would most certainly look for her, this he could not allow all her talk of danger and doom would ruin everything! No as far as Korpulfr was aware she was dead and that is how it would remain and if she tried to interfere he would just have to deal with her as he did his grandfather! With a last contemptuous look in the direction of the eagle camp he turned, assuming again the form of the small bat and started back towards his own camp to tell his cousin of his advantageous encounter.

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Old 10-18-2004, 02:05 PM   #304
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On the second day the dawn revealed a quiet encampment, the few animals still remaining in the care of the people overseen by handful of bleary-eyed shepherds. But the outriders and guards remained vigilant, keeping close watch on both boundaries and guests after the disappearance of the maenwaith Rôg. The fire that was maintained by the bier, burning so brightly as the Meldakhar’s body had been ceremonially brought out and placed beside it, burned much lower now, but it continued to send plumes of curling smoke upward, joining the sky with the earth, the slumbering life hidden in dead wood and brush escaping to gain the freedom of the air.

Narayad who had sat talking with Surinen throughout the night, watched in silence as the sun climbed into the sky over the tents behind Ayar’s high resting place, with westerly breeze pulling at the light veil covering the leader’s face, and carrying the smoke back toward the encampment. It was the first time he had experienced the death of a leader since living among the Eagles, and he was touched by what had witnessed. From the youngest to the oldest, the people of Narayad’s adopted clan had stayed awake long into the night, taking it in turns to encourage Ayar along her way with impromptu and heartfelt song, until their eyes grew too heavy and they slowly melted away in the night, or else slept where they lay.

But now the sunlight found the maenwaith back among the tents, worn from the outpouring of the night before. As the morning grew brighter, out of necessity the activity also increased, for though it was sorely incongruous to have the sorrow of Ayar’s departure so mingled with the preparation in anticipation of Narika and Thorn’s Union, there was much to do that could not wait until their grief waned.

By the late morning, the twice-burnt remnants of Ayar’s possessions were buried, so that she might not be tempted to linger, weighed down by them, but in the heart of the huddled dwellings, happier tasks were underway. Metal goods where brought out and polished, clothes and camel saddles mended, and the felted cloth of mixed wool, that had been so hurriedly made to replace the tent of the Meldakhar, now was rushed to completion for the new couple. And as the steady thump of turmeric being crushed for the marriage preparations, resounded though out the camp, old Dinsûl was to be found rummaging around among boxes and bins looking to find an old drum, hidden there. He had not been among those to play during the evening, feeling his hands no longer as nimble as in his youth, and indeed himself unworthy. But of the wedding revelry he would surely take part, rejoicing with Surinen at Thorn’s happiness, with no fear that his poor playing would be heard over those more dexterous than he.

*****

That afternoon as Dinsûl repaired the broken drum, Surinen tried to sleep in the shade of his father’s tent, after the end of his watch. But he heard the voice of a child speaking outside, and opening his eyes he saw through the opening young Miri sitting beside his father and pulling at the spiraling grey locks that rest on the back of old man’s neck as he sat bent over the drum. She was busily asking questions as he worked, questions about Ayar, and if the other maenwaith could see the smoke from the fire, and how far away they might be. “Hush little Miri!” Surinen growled from the tent. “Such a sweet voiced cricket you are. There are always maenwaith hidden in the desert, and it is said the owl clan is not far distant. But let me sleep in peace! Go and chirp else where, little one.” Reaching back, Dinsûl patted the air to signal his son to silence; and without looking unfastened the tent flap, letting it fall to, blocking Surinen’s view.

*****

At the Eagle’s outpost, where their sprawling herds ranged among sparse bush in the late afternoon sun, the animals grazed in peace. But as the herdsmen looked to the southeast, facing their backs to the way they had traveled their clan they saw a dark smudge growing larger on the horizon and grew concerned, discussing it among themselves.

*****

When at last Narayad returned from his place by the bier, and had a chance to speak alone with Latah, and on finding from his wife that the first mate of the Gondorian vessel had tried to make himself useful, he took a little more interest in the strangers. Perhaps a foreigner could also do what is right in his own heart, rather than what was expected of him, just as he himself had. And with Fador’s approval, he had arranged that Airefalas be allowed to join them at the fireside in the evening, so that he might find out more about this northerner, who shared his family’s tent. It was not told to either first mate or captain what they had planned.

As the sun slid into the west, Surinen showed up just as Latah finished her work. The outriders withdrew together into a corner of the tent, drinking their coffee while in deep conversation, while Latah attended to the guests. Surinen frowned, looking occasionally to where Airefalas and Mithadan sat, but after a time he smiled shaking his head and clapping the larger maenwaith on this back. Then together Latah, Narayad and Surinen approached the men, who stood up in response. Smiling politely, Latah said taking Airefalas hand, “Please follow,” and seeing that Mithadan was not willing to have him led away, Latah struggled to explain the invitation, the mariners struggled equally hard, to follow just what it was she said. But at a nod from his captain, the man allowed Narayad and his wife to quickly usher him out into the night air. And as Narayad had requested, Surinen stayed back a moment, trying to reassure the captain. “We will be returning this man. Do not worry he will be all right. I, Surinen, and will take very good care of him.” And bowing, he walked backward out of the door, speaking to the guard quickly before running to join the others, already well ahead.

The encampment had grown empty and still, as the eagles gathered slowly by the bier for this second night. The fire was now roaring again, as the people settled around it. Slowly, first one and then the other gave voice to traditional songs they had learned by rote, songs that told of their ancestors. Even the very young told of heroic deeds and tragic tales, recounting the history of their people, to uplift and encourage their clan. Shouts and cheering broke out as each one told of how time and again they had overcome adversity, and laughter too accompanied some tales as they remembered those who had outwitted their enemies. Though it all Surinen tried to translate as best he could so that Airefalas might know of the people that surrounded him. But he often became caught up in the stories, giving incomplete accounts, and their guest turned to Latah to try and find the ending. Narayad smiled his approval, seeing the evident interest this stranger had in their history, and through Surinen, he asked Airefalas of his own people, and of their struggles, nodding as the northerner spoke of the Great War in the northwest when men of different nations had fought along side each other, and how his own leader had been proclaimed king. Narayad explained that the preparation for that conflict also had been much felt in the desert.

As he sat with them, Dinsûl, on hearing Narayad’s remark, began his own song in a thin uneven voice. He sang of the leader Thoronda who had guided them during those times, before the mantle of leadership was passed to Ayar, and Narayad grew noticeably sullen, at the tale. As the old man mentioned again the wolf clan, the outrider asked that his friend not translate this story to the guest and stood up with an apology, saying that it was time to go, for the songs of history were nearing their end and, he had promised Fador, Airefalas should not stay once they were over. All eyes around the campfire turned to them as Narayad led the guest away. And seeing the outrider leave, Dinsûl also grew silent, wondering why Narayad would have gone so soon.

But out of the silence another melody arose as the eagle Sorona, raised her voice, to be the first to assure her cousin Ayar, that they would find their way without her presence, thus beginning the second portion of the ritual for that evening. And with that, the others too turned to singing their farewells to the leader, the elder’s making sure to mention their confidence in Ayar’s choice of Narika and Thorn, and the two of them in turn expressing their faith in the elders.

As the people began to feel the flow of the history that continued on though the Meldakhar had left them, they dispersed into the darkness much earlier than they had the night before.

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Old 10-18-2004, 02:44 PM   #305
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The ledge on which the little group sat faced west. It was shaded at this time of day, the sun’s light blocked by the foothills behind them. The heat reflected up from the rocky slope as it angled down to the valley was already growing increasingly uncomfortable. Gadi and Haleel both urged the Elf and her companions to make haste. ‘We must reach the valley floor and make for the cover of that small copse of trees there in the narrowing. Some source of water must be there, and there will be shade beneath the thick leaved branches.’

Ayka, too, urged the group to the shelter of the trees, saying she would seek the coolness of her own aerie in the higher reaches of the western range. With a mighty swish of her wings, she leapt into the air from the ledge, beating upwards and across the valley.

Pio glanced up often as they made their final descent to the valley floor, watching the speck grow smaller against the bright blue sky. And losing it altogether as she and her companions entered the dense shade beneath the trees. Baran, grown thirsty in the increasing heat of the day, picked up his pace and was soon motioning for the group to follow. His nose was raised in the heavy, unmoving air of this little forest. ‘Water!’ he rumbled in a deep voice, making his way through the underbrush . . .

~*~

Once the sun had dropped below the jagged rim of the mountains to the west, the companions ventured out from beneath the forest canopy. Their two guides held a whispered conference. And, after much shaking of heads between the two and the pointing of fingers one way and the other, a choice for ascent was reached.

‘This way Mistress,’ said Gadi, taking the lead toward a narrow, and seldom used, it would appear, track up the slope. ‘Watch your step; some of the path has crumbled away. You will need to be quick to jump or scramble across the gap.

Pio followed along behind Gadi, Baran’s footsteps close behind her own. She could not help but chuckle at his occasional commentary on their surroundings. ‘Goats!’ had been his latest word, spoken as Hamar muttered a few well chosen words at the pile of droppings he’d stepped in. ‘Made this track, I’d wager,’ the Skinchanger continued, pausing for a moment to turn and look at the man. ‘Left a calling card for you, I see,’ he went on, his lips twitching with a suppressed laugh. Hamar waved him on in an irritated manner.

Haleel brought up the rear of the single line. His eyes swept often from the track upwards to the clear sky. His lips moved soundlessly in an offering of thanks when his gaze did not encounter the approaching flight of any eagles.

~*~

The companions had nearly made it to the ridgeline that ran along summit of the mountain. The trees and brush had thinned out and there lay a narrow band of bare, rocky formations which signaled the top of their ascent. The climb had been long and slow as they picked their way across the now trackless face of the crest. From their vantage point they surveyed the western descent; it would be slow-going again as they picked their way down to the scrubby grassland abutting the mountains’ foot.

‘We can make camp for the night down here,’ Gadi said, pointing to a small, shallow natural bowl which dipped down from the eastern ridge. Its craggy side was higher on the eastern edge, he went on, and would protect them from the winds drawn in from the sea. Haleel had been busy along the way, gathering wood for the night’s fire. The companions settled in as best they could on the rough, pebbly ground, drawing their cloaks about them in an effort to ward off the cold. The two guides soon had a small cook fire going. Water was boiled for tea, as the cold rations were meted out for supper.

The moon shone bright over the little hollow as the companions settled in to talk for a while and then sleep. Hamar had elected to take the first watch. Pio, her mind too full of thoughts to sleep, had crept up beside him. ‘Once we are down ther,’ Hamar asked, nodding to the desert below, ‘how are we to find Captain Mithadan and Airefalas.’ He shook his head slowly. ‘It looks like a vast ocean itself, this land of sand. So easy for two men to be lost in.’ Pio hunched her shoulders, bringing her cloak more tightly about her. She rocked back and forth a bit on her haunches, her own eyes locked on the moonlit scene below. ‘Mithadan puts great store in the grace of the Valar,’ she murmured aloud, at a loss herself at how this task of finding the two men might be accomplished. ‘Perhaps he has made a plea to them and perhaps they will answer . . .’ Hamar eyed her for a moment then turned back to his own thoughts.

A great sound of wings rushing down through the air broke the quiet of the watch. They beat in a slow forceful way as two large birds descended, talons first to the rim of the hollow. One of them hopped down from the rocky outcropping it had landed on, and walked slowly, toward the two seated figures. Pio was about to stand, when the advancing bird called out to her. It was Ayka, they could now see. The eagle turned her head toward where Gadi lay rolled in his cloak, asleep and Pio went quickly to him, waking him as quietly as she could.

Ayka, too, had given thought to how two small creatures could be found. She had no desire to leave her mountains, she told them, but she had found a younger male, an adventurous sort, whose flights often took him a fair way inland as well as north and south along the foothills of this range. ‘He has agreed to be your eyes from the air,’ Ayka told them. ‘I can’t say whether he will see your mate and his companion, but perhaps he will lead you to someone who has knowledge of them. He has promised to stay with you until you dismiss him.’ Ayka clacked her beak and made a series of twittering noises. The male eagle hopped down from his perch and approached the three companions in a wary manner. He was very different from Ayka. His head, chest, and underbelly were white, his back and wing feathers a darkish grey. His legs were featherless, ending in large, sharp talons.

‘Azar,’ he rasped out to Gadi, giving the man his name. He made a small bobbing motion of his head toward Pio, which she took as a sign of greeting. And she, in turn, bowed toward him from her seated position. A short, sharp series of clacks and twitters ensued between the older eagle and the younger. ‘He will begin to tomorrow, as soon as you reach the flatlands,’ Ayka explained. ‘Look for him to fly ahead of you as he scouts the area to the north. I assume you are going north . . . toward the . . . city?’ the last word she spat out in an irritated manner. ‘He will not go into the city with you, should that be the course you choose. Too many men, no game to be hunted. He’ll land as needed to let you know of any thing of interest he has seen.’ Azar ruffled his wings and spoke once more to Ayka. ‘Should you need to speak with him,’ she went on, ‘wave your sword in the air. He will see it and come to you.’

Pio thanked the older eagle for her help, asking if there were anything she might do for her in return. ‘Send word to me,’ Ayka instructed her, ‘of what is happening beyond the mountains. Tell Azar all you see and hear. He will bring it back to me. Most important to me is any news of the clans . . . the Eagles in particular . . .’ The Elf agreed, saying she would ferret out what she could and send it back with the young eagle. ‘I wish you well, shining one,’ Ayka called out as she launched herself into the black night. ‘May the winds uphold you and you find your mate quickly.’ The two eagles flew off to their places of rest, leaving the companions to ponder what the new day would bring.

At long last, all of the little group settled in for what sleep they could. Except, that is, for Haleel, who lay whimpering quietly to himself beneath his cloak; the word ‘eagle’ escaping his trembling lips now and then . . .

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Old 10-25-2004, 02:32 PM   #306
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Rôg . . . at home

Safe in the arms of my family . . . protected by my clan . . .

The thought slid through his mind again and again, yet it brought him no comfort. There at the cooking fire, their heads bent together, his sister and mother were just putting the final touches on the evening’s meal, laughing at some small joke that one had told the other. Their faces, shiny with sweat from the nearness of the cook-fire, looked up at him and smiled, drawing him into their little circle. A moment later and the circle enlarged. His father had quit his axe making for the day and come to their tent. In a familiar gesture from his youth, Abâr had ruffled his son’s hair as he passed him, calling out to his daughter Daira his timeworn jest. ‘Smells good today!’ he said grinning. ‘Not a trace of smoke and cinders!’

How often had this small ritual occurred, he wondered to himself, and how long would it be given the grace to continue?

His thoughts flew back to the Eagle encampment, to Ayar’s tent. The family and clan’s sorrow as their leader lay ill, dying. Their grief at her death. Aiwendil’s description of what was taking place among the maenwaith came back to him, as did the whispered fears of little Miri. How many others had been killed, would be killed, so that the Wyrm Clan’s schemes might go forward? And when would that Wyrm’s eyes widen their view, seeking the last remnants of resistance? Some of his clan might fall to the hired slayers before the alarm could be raised.

At his earlier meeting with his clan-leader he had broached the subject of what was happening in the north. Îbal had listened patiently, nodding as he took in the information. Silence followed the telling as the clan leader considered his reply. ‘I’m sorry it has come to this for our cousins,’ he began. ‘But the safety of our own clan comes first for me, as it should for you.’ Rôg opened his mouth to speak further, but Îbal cut him off with a gesture. ‘You have told me that the few of our clan you were able to seek out have been given the word to return to our homeland. Even now they will be traveling to the desert and steppes of the northeast with their families. The Old Ones will be there to welcome them, but we should soon hasten there ourselves. The Shadow has lifted. There is no longer need for us to hide here. We are Zadan n’Yo, The House of the Gift. That we are together and will soon be free to follow our own ways is enough.’ His clan leader had made his final judgment on the matter, and Rôg kept silent, though his thoughts protested what had been said. He had bowed, his expression neutral, and taken his leave.

~*~

Supper was done, the dishes and pots washed and stowed away until called into service again. Rôg hung the cloth he had used to dry them on one of the tent’s ropes and hunkered down beside his sister to enjoy a mug of tea. Daira poured one for herself and then for him. Knowing his sweet-tooth, she pushed the pot of honey near him. For a space of time, only the clink of his spoon against the sides of the mug filled the space between them. His sister spoke quietly, leaning her shoulder against his, asking what it was that troubled him.

Rôg watched the steam rise from his mug as he collected his thoughts. ‘I’ve only shared this with the clan leader,’ he began. Daira’s brow furrowed at this beginning, wondering what was so secret that he had not shared it with them first. ‘The clan in the north that I stayed with for a few days – great trouble is looming over them.’ Daira nodded slowly as if she understood. ‘Men!’ she spat out. ‘They are after them for something aren’t they?’ she asked, her brown eyes wide. ‘They should get far away from that mannish place. No good ever came from trying to fit in or treat with such creatures.’

‘It’s not Men they have to be afraid of, sister mine. It is the others of their own kind, our kind, who hunt them down and seek to kill them.’ Daira’s brow puckered further and she shook her head violently. ‘It’s true. I have seen it with my own eyes and heard it from their lips,’ he went on, sitting his untouched mug down by his knee.

Daira listened as he told the story of the clan leader and the suspicions of who had poisoned her. He spoke of the things Aiwendil and the Eagle clansmen had told him of the Wyrms and their plans for a city; how many of their cousins in the north believed it better to comply rather than be killed.

‘Killed?’ Daira’s face had paled at his words; she could barely comprehend what he spoke of.

‘Many believe she will hunt with a vengeance those who resist, and eliminate them all. She is a greedy one, or so I’ve come to think of her from what I’ve heard.’ He raised his head and looked about at the families gathered round their little fires. ‘Who can say when she will turn her cold eyes toward our little clan, and pursue us.’ Daira shivered and drew up against him, laying her cheek against his.

‘The Old Ones should hear of this. You must go to them for counsel.’ Rôg nodded his head, saying that once the clan had returned to its home, he would seek them out. His sister, in turn, shook her head ‘no’ at this.

‘No. Much as I want you to stay with us, I think you should go sooner than that. Tonight, in fact. Take advantage of the cover of darkness.’ ‘I’ll tell some story to mother and father . . .’ she said, already considering how she might put it to them that Rôg would be gone for a few days . . .
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Old 11-27-2004, 04:10 PM   #307
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Halfr- slipping from reality!

Walking briskly along the streets of the new city, past a myriad of half built buildings and billowing canvas tents Halfr shook his head. The work was progressing far too slowly they needed more workers already he had been forced to dispatch a whole unit of his guards to aid in the construction of Wyrma’s main headquarters. hmm palace more like he thought with another shake of his head. He pictured the ambitious woman’s reaction when her son informed her of the slow progress, with still no word of Tinar and the northerners that escaped Umbar her patience was growing thin. He too was anxious for news of his own son and the others that travelled with him, more than a week had passed and still there was no word from any of them, he considered more than once dispatching a party to look for them but the city was at a tenuous stage and every warrior was needed to insure it survived its infancy undiscovered.

As he reached the steps to Wyrma’s temporary headquarters he had again assured himself the that blood of the wolf clan was strong among them, both Korpulfr and Hasrim were able warriors and could look after themselves, even young Tinar had proven himself more than once to be quite capable with a sword if need be. A look of self satisfaction curled his lips as he walked down the long corridor to the temporary counsel chambers in Wyrma’s quarters, he had trained them all well and they would return when they had something to return with!

Pushing open the doors to the counsel chambers he confidently stepped inside. The room was almost circular in shape with a wide dais to the far side of the room upon which Wyrma sat with her husband to the left of her and her sons either side, around the room sat the leaders of each clan and those chosen by Wyrma to make up her personal counsel, to which he was part and now walked up to take his place among them. Once he was seated Wyrma rose to call the counsel to attention, he listened idly as the various leaders and counsel members made their reports to their leader. A goblet of dark red wine was poured for him and he rolled the goblet in his hands as idly as he listened, sipping slowly at the spicy fruity red until Wyrma addressed him directly.

“Halfr! What news do your scouts report?”

carefully setting down the goblet he rose to his feet, clearing his throat before he began. “Scouts have reported increased activity coming to and from the corsairs city, as expected after the northerners destruction of the docks” he began stolidly. “Our people within the city have also reported increased security at both the docks and around the city in general, It looks like Lord Falasmir maybe expecting hostility from the north!” he finished with a grin of irony.

“Yes and the traders in the city have also informed us of an increase in taxes to cover the expenses of repairs to the docks and there is rumour also that he plans to use the peoples taxes to fund the building of several new ships and the training of more soldiers to his army!” Wyrma’s eldest son Walat put in raising to his feet. Wyrma nodded but did not look at her son she still held her powerful gaze locked with him and he knew what answers she would be looking for next.

“No word has yet been heard of your son and his companions, but I assure you he is in the best of company, I have no doubt that they are only being over thorough in their task and will return soon with news of the northerners,” he answered confidently saving the astute leader from having to ask. She nodded and as he took his seat she moved on to the next issue, the meeting went on for several hours with the wyrm leaders patience growing increasingly thin as expected. Halfr’s goblet was filled twice more before he suddenly began to feel drowsy, he shook his head trying to clear his thoughts as images from his past flashed before his eyes, horrific scenes of battle and death, the mutilated bodies of women and young children decaying in the desert sands. He closed his eyes tight to block out the harrowing memories, but a firm hand on his shoulder made him jump and as he opened his eyes he realise the meeting had finished and everyone had already left.

“Is something wrong ?” Wyrma asked, but Halfr heard not the gravely voice of the Wyrm leader instead he heard a soft warm voice that he had not heard in such a long time, slowly raising his head he looked into the eyes of his leader, but again he saw not the aged face of Wyrma, but the youthful and gentle smile of his eagle wife. Slowly he reached out a hand to touch her face but stopped, firmly shaking his head and struggling to his feet knocking over the goblet of red wine, not noticing the powdery substance that laced the bottom.

“This is not real!” he muttered raising his hand to his forehead, “It’s just the illness, not real, she’s dead the Haradrim killed her!” he went on stumbling to get away from the image he believed was just in his head, seeing the door he turn desperate to get to his room and take the medication Asrim had assured him would stave this madness.

“I’m not dead my love I am here!” the voice called gently after him. He paused for a moment wanting it to be true, “No you died!” he said firmly shaking his head to stave of the madness threatening to consume him.

“Did you find my body my love? I am alive and I miss you so!” the soft voice replied as he again made for the door. He paused again, No they never did find her body, oh spirits preserve could it really be true? he could feel the warmth of her breath on his neck as she came up behind him slowly turning he finally gave into his madness and dropped to his knees sobbing, “I tried to find you…but Korpulfr and the others I had to keep them s….”

“Shh It’s alright, everything will be alright now, we will keep them all safe!” the voice whispered softly as he felt gentle arms wrap around him.

On a small ledge below the high windows of the counsel room a horrified weaver spider sat watching events unfolding below. The Raakaharn, the strong and stolid leader of the wolf clan reduced to that of a sniffling child before the great Wyrm, sudden terror wrecked the small weaver and it scuttled quickly through a small crack in the woodwork, then once outside it leaped into the air changing into the form of a red kite and hurried as fast as his wings could carry him towards Umbar and his brother to tell him what he had just witnessed.
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Old 11-27-2004, 04:15 PM   #308
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Wyrma felt a rush of elation. Though she had hoped to gain some advantage by using the drug that countered Hasrim’s medication, she had not thought that it would work so quickly. How fortunate that his madness caused him to see his deceased wife in her, and that at a time when they were alone together! Her thoughts worked feverishly to find a message that she could implant in his crazed mind before she sent him back to his quarters. She must not go too far, or he would break down completely.

“You must help me to fulfil my dream, my dear spouse,” she said softly. “Bring all the Maenwaith together and protect them. Those who resist do not know of their danger and must be made to come against their will, of need be. Hurry, for there may be another attack sooner than you think. But now you need rest – come to your rooms with me.”

He allowed himself to be led by her to a guest room; she called one of his men to bring his personal servant to care for him, then turned and walked briskly to her own room. As so often when she thought and made plans, she paced the floor restlessly. Flying away as she longed to do was out of the question at the moment. She had to make use of Halfr’s situation while he was susceptible to her influence. Yet she no longer wished to wait for messages from scouts as to the whereabouts of her youngest son. Decisively, she rang the bell on her desk and informed Elsta that she wished to see Kumat immediately.

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

Tinar gazed at the southern horizon; he had stopped counting the times he had looked, hoping to see some movement that would signal a change. But both sky and desert remained empty, and he sighed impatiently. How long would they sit on this tiny island of dusty green inmidst the barren brown wasteland? He no longer asked Kor and Hasrim for explanations; he could tell that they knew more than they were willing to tell him.

One of them was with him constantly; when he asked if he could not fly to the Eagle encampment with them, thy had curtly replied that it was much too dangerous. “But can we not then ride back north to our home?” he had pleaded. He had hoped for adventure, but there was little to be had here, at least for him, and anything seemed better than just sitting and waiting.

“Not yet,” Kor had answered, looking at him sharply, then admonishing, “and don’t even think of flying away by yourself again. Have you any idea what your mother would do to us if we let you come to harm?”

Crestfallen, he nodded submissively. He had heard enough whisperings to know that Wyrma was merciless with those who made mistakes. As her youngest, he was treated with a little more leniency than others, but he did not wish to test her patience, whether for himself or for his friends.

And so he waited, pacing the oasis to pass the hours and to keep his body strong and supple. He no longer needed to heed his surroundings; by now he knew every stone, every half-parched blade of wild grass, and the exact position of the shade of each scraggly tree at every time of the day. For much of the time, he was lost in thought, reflecting on the happenings of the past weeks and months. He pondered the irreconcilable positions of his mother’s politics and the rebellious actions of tribes like the Eagles. He remembered how cooped up he had felt in the Umbarian city and the exhilaration of flying free over the desert. He recalled the open, friendly faces of the Northerners, comparing them to the closed, wary expressions of many of his own people. With a new-found feeling of responsibility, he wondered what he would do if he were to lead them.

Finally another long day was over; the darkness fell, and though they sat at the fire for awhile, there was little talk. It seemed they had exhausted their store of conversation, and they did not care to talk only for the sake of hearing their own voices. Tinar was thankful for the weariness that soon enabled him to fall into the deep sleep of youth.

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Old 11-28-2004, 03:05 AM   #309
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Rôg . . . in the place where the Elders live

That night and all the following day found him far to the east, over the sea, following the coastline in the distance. North he flew, above the scudding clouds when he could, avoiding the eyes of men. Only one small boy, out fishing in the early light of day with his grandfather in their longboat, spied him as he passed. Rôg could see the child’s wide-opened eyes and the grin of surprise when he dipped his head to him as he slipped into the cover of a cloud bank.

The range of tall, jagged peaks to the west signaled he had reached his destination, and with a glad heart he turned toward them. Beyond them, he knew, would lay the older range, now standing here and there like broken rows of ragged teeth. Red in color, their slopes caught the westering sun and flamed up for a brief space of time each day with its living light. Great cliffs honeycombed with caves stood high above the stretches of sandy dunes; themselves giving way to the broad stony plains that ran between the arms of the rocky mountains and the foothills. He circled once taking it in . . . the scatterings of low-growing grasses – needlegrass and bridlegrass, thick about the rims of the salty ponds. The randomly strewn scrubby brush in shades of greys – sages and saltworts. Here and there he could see where the prankish winds picked up the sandy dust of the plains and set it dancing in little whirling cones.

Save for its dryness it was vastly different from the southern deserts. Stories passed down through the years spoke of it as once being an inland sea. Then changes had come, the lands broke and shifted; the waters of the sea had dried up. Life had adapted to the foods available and the sparse sources of moisture – small springs in the lower regions of the craggy mountains, snow in the higher elevations during the winter season . . . buzzards and eagles and smaller birds; fox, desert-bear, snow leopards, and lynx; red deer and mountain sheep; wild donkeys, wild horses. And even small things prospered in their own way . . . lizards, and desert mice, and butterflies.

Rôg dropped down in a lazy, tightening circle to a place he recalled from his younger years. A small gravelly pond still gathered beneath a rocky ledge, fed by a trickling freshet from the mountains. He could refresh himself, then set off to find the Elders. Or just let them find me . . . he thought to himself as his feet touched the ground. ‘They’ve probably already seen me, anyway,’ he chuckled to himself, his eyes sweeping the darkened openings to the caves that riddled the cliffs . . .
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Old 12-02-2004, 07:40 AM   #310
Ealasaide
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Hilde Bracegirdle's Post - Latah & Narayad

As they walked together through the encampment, Latah tried once more to learn of her husband’s errand. He had proven reticent to discuss Thorn’s directive with her, though she looked carefully for a chink in the barrier between them. But as he prepared to leave, Narayad had grown suddenly wistful and she hoped he might share at least how far he might be traveling. “Will you not tell me anything of your journey, so that I might ask the Father of the Wind for your protection,” she pleaded, as they threaded their way through the many tents.

“Do not bother yourself unnecessarily over me, for trouble seems to haunt this camp of late, and that I take as a good omen that I will return to you also,” he said with grim smile. “But I will enter this camp again only when I know that you will no longer suffer by calling me your husband.”

Latah’s gaze dropped, her eyes fixed on the metal disk with its black cord that now adorned her husband’s neck. Thorn’s, she recalled briefly. She found her heart filled suddenly with dread. Why would Thorn choose to give him such a thing? Although Latah had hoped that her husband might speak openly to her, now that he hinted at what he intended, she began to feel a greater distance from him. She felt she had failed him, and it was a familiar track she did not wish to follow. “Do no speak so,” she said.

“It was a mistake,” Narayad continued, as they walked together, “to be tempted by your father’s offer, to hope that through marriage I might find a place in your heart and acceptance in the clan. I see now, the vision that had given me great happiness has brought only hurt to you.” He stopped as the sentiments that had until now been left unspoken were now brought to the surface. Responding, Latah too became still for a moment as he spoke on. She did not want to hear what was coming; she did not want to admit the defeat she felt too near her. “Foolishly, I had not considered that I might jeopardize your standing in the eyes of the people. What has it availed us? I am accepted less now, than when I first arrived.”

“I knew what it was my father asked of me, Narayad, when he urged me to accept you. And you have given me no cause to regret his decision. I have only wanted the best for you, to help you. Nothing has changed.” Latah took his arm gently and began walking again, refusing to ponder her own heart. “Things are difficult now, that is all. But perhaps Thorn is right, it might be good to forget the rumors that surround you here, but only until this upheaval has passed. But where should you go? Do you have some place that you know of?”

The outrider hesitated. “Thorn had mentioned the wolf clan…” he began. Latah stopped short at Narayad’s whisper, Fador’s dwelling now looming before them.

“The wolf clan!” Latah repeated in disbelief. “Thorn suggested that? He knows you well enough to know you would never return there.” Her brow furrowed as she tried to understand. “Surely, you are not thinking of it! If your detractors were to hear of it…” she shook her head. “I do not believe you would do such a thing, no matter what happens or who suggests it.” Latah reached out to touch Thorn’s necklace with the tips of her fingers. “Would Thorn really give you such a token only to send you back to your people, as though you have won the favor among the Eagles?”

“I have won some friends here if not the favor of the clan.” Narayad said, gravely. “Can you not see? Who would not wish to be among the people that have known him since childhood? Those who might accept him yet if he were to return in humility? Who would not desire to return to where he had once known affection?” Latah lowered her head at this. “It is convincing, is it not?” he continued in a lighter tone, seeing that he had struck a chord in her. “Something that might be believed by those who have not taken the time learn anymore of wolves, but would cut them off without a thought! Thorn knows that the people might whisper among themselves that this is where I have gone.”

As she lifted her face again Narayad saw that Latah’s soft cheek glistened with a trailing tear. “I have tried to help you…” she said.

“Shhh,” Narayad silenced her gently. He looked now away from his wife and toward the west. “Do not finish. Know that I hold you to be my truest friend and it is I who am sorry. You are right, I cannot go back, and desire only to show my faithfulness to the eagles. I go prompted by my heart to seek proof that Wyrma has ordered the destruction of Ayar, for I think it would do much good to expose what creature she has chosen to become, not only for the sake of the eagle clan, but the wolf clan also. Then maybe this rift between the two might finally be overcome.”

“Then you might travel to Umbar?” She guessed. “Might I not also go with you?” she asked her eyes filled with a little hope. “I would also look for peace between the our clans, and may be of some aid to you.”

“No,” Narayad replied quickly. “It is best that you remain safely here with your father.” And reaching into his pocket he brought out the blue bracelet. “Perhaps you would accept this, a small gift, that you might see it and remember me.”

“You keep it husband,” she said closing his fingers around it. “Keep it to remember me by and in hope that soon reunited, you might place it on my hand. Do not be long away.”

Narayad shook his head sadly at her remark. “I will keep it then if it is your will,” he said sliding it back into his pocket. And with that he departed from her.


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

Ealasaide's Post - Airefalas

As the third day of imprisonment in the Eagle encampment dragged on, Airefalas again found the hours weighing heavily on him. The outing to the fallen Eagle leader's bier the evening before in the company of Surinen, Narayad, and Latah had been a welcome break in the monotony. In fact, for a funeral, it had been almost fun. Now, back in the stuffy tent, he found himself searching for ways to occupy his time. His sword and dagger had been honed to a razor's edge, almost sharper than he preferred to keep them, and the blades oiled. Out of boredom, he had also combed out his curly brown hair that he had been wearing in a tail at the back of his neck and plaited it into the long queue down his back that was traditional among sailors. It was on the second attempt that he finally decided the braid was smooth enough and straight. Binding the end of it securely with a piece of cord, he cast his gaze around the tent in search of something else to do. With Mithadan either lost in his own thoughts or dozing - he had been so quiet for so long it was hard to tell which - Airefalas turned his attention to his pack, which had already been packed and re-packed several times over.

"I suppose I could do some mending," he sighed. Reaching into the bottom of his neatly organized belongings, Airefalas extracted the shirt that Ráma had shredded when she had changed into the cat back in Umbar. Laying it out on the low table in the center of the tent, he smoothed the fabric with his hands and surveyed the damage. There were several long tears in the cloth, as well as a few scattered drops of dried blood where Ráma-kitty's claws had raked his chest. "Hmm... not a total loss," he added aloud.

He was just pulling the edges of the longest tear together when Latah's voice was heard conversing with the guards outside. He turned as she entered and the two of them exchanged a friendly greeting. Following her usual routine, the young maenwaith woman then began a general tidying up, even though the tent was in near perfect order already. Airefalas returned to his shirt. Having folded the edges of the first tear into an even and narrow seam, he flattened it with his thumbnail, then repeated the process on the second tear. It was only when he was ready to begin sewing that he groaned and shook his head, realizing suddenly that he had no needle or thread. It was all back on the ship. Suddenly, he felt a soft touch on his arm and something pressed gently into his hand.

Turning, he found Latah standing at his elbow. She smiled. "You can use and give back."

Looking down, he saw that the item she had given him was a small roll of leather, tied with a thong. As he opened it, a slow grin spread across his face. She was lending him her sewing kit.

"Thank you," he said warmly, scarcely concealing his surprise at the way she had known so quickly what he needed and been able to supply it.

"You can use and give back," she repeated pleasantly, smiling as he chose a needle and threaded it with an arm's length of thread. She stayed to watch as he began to close the seam he had prepared with a series of tiny, precise stitches. "You do this very well," she added suddenly.

Airefalas smiled at her, strangely pleased that she approved. "Well," he answered, pausing with his needle halfway through the cloth. "When you have been at sea as long as I have, you get a lot of practice. I must have sewn miles of sails over the years."

At her blank look, he continued. "Sails... you know... to catch the wind. Every once in a while one gets carried away by the wind or a storm and we have to make new ones."

Latah looked at him suspiciously. "No one can catch wind," she said softly.

It was Airefalas' turn to give her a blank look, then he laughed. "No, I don't mean we capture the wind. It's more like we harness the wind's strength. The wind in the sails makes the ship go." He paused again as another idea occurred to him. "Have you never seen a sailing ship, Latah?"

When she shook her head no, he put his torn shirt aside and took her by the hand, leading her just outside the tent to a level patch of ground. Kneeling down with their heads together like two children, Latah watched as Airefalas smoothed the top layer of sand away with his hand. Then, he drew into the dirt a remarkable likeness of the Lonely Star, explaining as he went what each part of the vessel was called and what it was used for, paying especially close attention to the sails and rigging. It was only as he launched into an enthusiastic explanation of tacking and wearing that he happened to glance up at her only to find her watching his face, rather than his drawing, with an amused look in her dark brown eyes. Embarassed, he sat back on his heels. "What?"

"You miss your ships? You miss the sea?" she asked.

Airefalas gave his drawing a long, contemplative stare, then nodded. "It's what I know."

Nodding that she understood, Latah reached out and drew a tiny fish in one corner of the space next to the hull of the ship. "I like to see someday the sea," she said softly. Catching his eyes one last time, she rose to her feet. "Maybe someday I go with my husband."

Airefalas rose beside her. "Yes, maybe."

"Someday you bring your wife to the desert?"

Caught offguard, Airefalas gave a short bark of laughter. The image of Isabel, with her blonde hair and fair skin, wilting under the beating sunshine in her silk dress without the benefit of a fan or a sunshade, her thin slippers scorching in the sand, arose sharply in his mind. "No!" he said quickly. "No, I, um... " he trailed off helplessly, trying to imagine how he could possibly explain someone like Isabel to Latah. Finally, he shook his head.

"I'm not married."

Last edited by Ealasaide; 12-05-2004 at 01:21 PM.
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Old 12-03-2004, 11:21 AM   #311
Hilde Bracegirdle
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Latah

Wondering what Airefalas’ reaction might mean, Latah thought fleetingly that perhaps these men who would live on the surface of the sea were not permitted to take a wife. She thought sadly that such a life would be a cheerless one. Going up to him she touched his arm lightly, “I am sorry,” she said with a sincere expression, “I say something wrong.”

“No, you spoke perfectly well,” the sailor assured her, and turning away from her, he stooped down quickly wiping away the image he had drawn in the dust. “The question was unexpected, that is all.”

Hearing a light whistle behind her, Latah looked over her shoulder to the guard who stood watching them. The large maenwaith nodded in the direction of a small boy slowly crossing the encampment. As she watched the boy stopped, pausing to talk to an old woman several tents away, before disappearing into her tent.

Latah twisted the long wavy hair that had crept forward over her shoulder into a knot at her neck, looking at her guest just as he rose to his feet. He stood brushing the dust off his hands. She needed to get back inside to get things ready. “The sun is hot,” she said. “We go inside.”

As the foreigner moved Latah noticed that though the sketch of the sailing ship had now vanished, Airefalas had left the fish untouched. It looked quite stranded and out of place in the dirt. “Ah, but this must go too!” And lifting the hem of her skirt slightly she swept the image away with a warm hued foot. “Fish do not like desert, not happy here,” she explained with a smile, as she walked back to the tent.

Once inside, her guest picked up the shirt that lay half mended on the cushion, and sitting down he returned to work on it. Latah withdrew to a dark corner, where she had kept the what she had used in the service of Ayar. Soon, the boy who had come earlier looking for her, would be asking for the rest of these things. Latah had avoided thinking about this moment until now. She had not wholly given up hope that she would return to her work. But the hollow feeling weighed on her as she looked about her. The tray that had once held the rows of incense pots in ready, now stood empty. It looked battered and worn, for the carefully polished pots had been quickly removed from her care after the fire. With a sigh Latah began heaping the tray with pungent bags and small wooden boxes she kept stored in a metal casket. Carrying the tray over to the door she set it down and went to bring also the gunny bag of charcoal used to burn the incense.

As she reached the door, she heard a gruff command as the guard pulled back the tent’s opening further and a small silhouette appeared in the doorway. “Latah?” a thin and airy voice called.

“I am here,” she replied softly, and then pointing to the motionless form of the sea captain, she brought her index finger to her lips. “We must be quiet.”

“But I have been told to collect the incense things from you,” the young eagle said in a loud whisper.

“I think that maybe it was your older brother that was asked, and he convinced you to run this errand! For I was expecting him.” The young boy hung his head shyly. “Never mind. But see, it is heavy,” Latah warned, picking up the tray to show him. The child looked uncomfortably at it. “I will help you,” she said smiling. And resting the tray on her hip, she chose a small bundle, giving it to him. “Here, you can carry this one for me.” With a look of relief the boy took the bag of incense, and held it to his nose, breathing deeply.

Reaching for the charcoal, Latah grabbed the sack just above the twine that held it closed, and worked to straighten herself. From the corner of her eye, she saw that Airefalas who watched them sprang to his feet. Offering his help he reached down and relieved her of the burden. Happy to be unencumbered, Latah nodded her thanks, but the boy looked warily at the stranger, as if weighing whether or not he might be eaten. Truly the boy looked a mere slip next to the Gondorian. And as the northerner easily swung the bag onto his shoulder, Latah noticed again how tall he was; much more imposing than any of the few outsiders that she had met. And though he towered over them, as had most of the visitors the camp had received of late, she thought him not unkind and strangely solitary.

Suddenly her brown eyes went wide as it dawned on her what he carried. “No!” she cried. “This thing is very dirty! It will make white shirt black!”

Airefalas simply shook his head, “I suppose it is too late now. But what is in here that is so dirty?” Latah glanced about, her brow furrowing as she searched the tent for words. “Hmm, wood coal?” she said at last. “It helps to burn incense.” She held up the tray. “See. Some good for sickness, some for thinking, but all have nice smell. Leaves, wood, roots, they all smelling very nice,” she said pleased to discuss this subject. “We must go now, wood coal is too heavy. But wait, first this,” Latah set down the tray and crossed the room.

When she returned, she was carrying a strip of heavy cloth. “Let me put here,” she said pointing to his shoulder that still held the charcoal. Airefalas obliged, lowering the bag. As he leaned forward Latah saw that only a dusting of gray was on the shirt. Attempting to brush it off she gave up, laying the cloth in place. “Shirt looks only little gray,” she said. “I think it alright.”

She could see that he seemed amused rather than angry. “I hope so, for as you have seen, my spare shirt is worse shape!” He returned the sack to its high perch. “But tell me, where are we taking this wood coal?”

“We must follow, the young eagle,” Latah replied, and turning back to the boy she told him that they were ready. The guard scowled at Latah as she announced in passing that they would return shortly, and struck off across the encampment.

They did not have to go far, only the short distance to the tent of Ayar’s serving woman Claris. As soon as the gray-haired woman came outside the tent to greet them, the boy thrust the bag of incense into her hands and ran off quickly, considering his job finished. Claris smiled warmly as he disappeared. Turning her attention to the remaining visitors, she offered to take the tray that Latah held. “I am very sorry to trouble you Latah, but I must get things ready for later.”

“I understand, do not worry,” Latah said, as she took the gunny bag from Airefalas. “Where shall this go?”

“You can set it just there, inside the door,” Claris said absently as she looked over the contents of the tray. Latah followed her directive setting the bag on a frayed mat inside. Emerging again she noticed that Airefalas was looking about the encampment as he waited. She wondered what his eyes might see when he looked at her people and their simple encampment. “Where are the tools to repair the pots?” Claris suddenly asked, breaking into her thoughts.

“I do not know.” Latah admitted, growing embarrassed, for it looked again as though she had been careless with something entrusted to her. She found herself wishing that she had not brought Airefalas along. “I have not seen them. I thought that when the burners were taken, that the tools were taken with them.”

“No, no child. They were not. And now I have a pot in need of repair with no way to fix it,” Claris sighed. “Ah well.”

“I will search again,” Latah quickly promised wishing she had more hope of finding them. She had already hunted for them several times. Just as the older woman was entering her tent, Latah suddenly remembered Ráma’s knife and called to her again. Claris wheeled around to face her. Looking furtively to see if Airefalas might be watching, Latah withdrew Ráma’s knife and handed it to her. Without offering any explanation on how it had come to be in her possession she simply said. “Please see that this is returned to Ráma.”

“Certainly,” Claris said.

Latah forced a smile before turning to back Airefalas, but her thoughts were far away. She started toward the tent in silence. It wasn’t long before the northerner asked her if anything was amiss. “Too many things gone bad!” she said looking up into his eyes. “But I can not say I have angered Lord Falasmir by burning docks and ships,” she added with a weak smile before “I have only burnt leader’s tent,” her voice serious as she bent her head in shame trailing off to speak in her own tongue. “But I am always careful! I do not know how this could happen.”

Airefalas strode along beside her for a moment, and Latah could sense that he was weighing which course this conversation might take. “Why would you set fire to your leader’s tent?” he asked at last. “From what I have seen, it appears that your leader was well loved by all.”

“How well you have learned of the eagle’s affection for their leader in so short a time.” Latah continued in her dialect. Then switching to her poor Westron she answered him. “You are right. But I did not do this, incense did.” She looked ahead as she walked. “Yalisha said to me when the Meldakhar was sick ‘Latah, tomorrow we use this incense. Maybe it will help Ayar.”

“the Meldakhar?”

“Yes, the ‘dear lady’. This is what we call Ayar. She is very good woman, good leader. But after Yalisha tells me this, I go home with used pots. I clean and fill them; first I put sand, then wood coal, then incense. Last goes grate. All ready for next day. This fire had no reason to happen. But pot fell and embers came out. And now …” Latah looked quickly at the northerner, “Now Narayad is leaving because so many are giving him dark looks, thinking he did this.” She shook her head. “And now Narayad’s wife has even lost tools to mend pots!”

“Narayad, is leaving?” Airefalas echoed. “What do they think he did?” The foreigner seemed not to follow her and Latah thought that perhaps she had said too much, and badly as well, though she felt a little better for it. “But I thought the Meldakhar did not die in the fire,” her guest said after a moment.

“No, poor Ayar! She was so very, very sick. And now she is gone, Narayad is leaving. The wind blow him away too.” Latah looked towards the mountains. “But maybe he learns to harness wind too, then wind bring him safely home!”

“But I don’t see, how the fire and the Meldakhar’s death should drive him away from the encampment.” Airefalas said cautiously. “Why is it people think he was even involved? Was he involved?”

“Because,” Latah said matter-of-factly, “because he is maenwaith, but not eagle. He is outsider. He is wolf. People here not trust wolf clan. Maybe the ancestors are unhappy and do not protect us since he is here. This is why. Narayad wants good for eagles, so he goes now. But he will return. He said he would return.”

Last edited by Hilde Bracegirdle; 01-13-2005 at 05:13 AM.
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Old 12-17-2004, 05:56 PM   #312
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Airefalas

Airefalas listened closely to Latah's words. Her Westron, which had started out rather shaky, seemed to be getting stronger the more they spoke. She now expressed herself quite well, without the long pauses or searches for words that had initially peppered their conversations. Thinking over the events that had occurred in the Eagle camp since the time of his and Mithadan's arrival just following the fire, Airefalas realized that Latah's explanations had clarified a great deal for him. For one thing, he had noticed the difference in the way people had responded to Narayad as opposed to Surinen on the evening Airefalas had gone with Latah and the two outriders to the ceremony at the fallen leader's bier. He had noticed a reserve amongst the tribesmen where Narayad and, to a lesser degree, Latah, were concerned. At the time, he had mentally chalked it up to his own presence, but in retrospect, he could see that the unease ran deeper than that. Having also heard from Ráma and others that there was a long-standing rift of some kind between the Eagles and the Wolves, he could see why suspicion might fall on Narayad. Based on his own judgement of character and the outrider's seemingly guileless nature, however, he guessed that Narayad was probably not involved in anything underhanded where the Meldakhar, as Latah had called her, was concerned.

And how would you know that? he chided himself mentally. You scarcely know the man. Aloud, he said to Latah, "He will come back. I'm sure he would not leave you for long if he could avoid it."

Latah gave him a thoughtful look, then shook her head. "Perhaps not," she said softly. She turned her face away, but Airefalas caught a trace of deep sadness in her expression. She must love him very much, he thought to himself, to be so sad at his leaving. He wondered why she did not accompany her husband into exile, but did not ask. If she wished to tell him her reasons, she would do so on her own. Unconsciously, his thoughts shifted toward Isabel and of how he would not have even offered for her to accompany him on one of his voyages. She was such an indoor sort of girl and frightened of boats. She would never have considered sailing with him, even if the mission had not been a dangerous one, even if he had asked her to come. Nonetheless, he wondered if she felt the same sadness at his absense that showed plainly in Latah's expressive face when she spoke of her husband's departure. It must be nice, he thought, to be so loved.

"Ah, that we may all look back in our dotage and say to ourselves, I, too, was once adored," he mused. Latah stopped walking and eyed him curiously.

"What is dotage?" she asked.

"Old age," he answered. Then he smiled. "Please don't mind my rambling. It's just something I overheard once. I meant nothing by it."

"I see." Latah nodded gravely. "It is nice thought," she added after a moment, with an almost wistful look in her eyes. Then, saying no more, she turned and began to walk again in the direction of her father's tent. As Airefalas fell into step beside her, a companionable silence overtook them. Airefalas found himself pondering the things Latah had said about herself, her husband, and the fire in the Meldakhar's tent. It did sound like someone had committed a sabotage on one of her incense pots, thus setting the fire, but who? The idea that Wyrma might have agents hidden amongst the Eagles had obviously already occurred to others in the camp, hence all the tension and suspicion. He was grateful that he and Mithadan had not arrived earlier. By pure luck of timing, the two Gondorians had been left beyond suspicion. Nonetheless, he resolved to mention what he had learned to his captain at the first opportunity. It might serve them well to keep their eyes open and their minds alert to any hint of treachery.

Upon their arrival back at Fador's tent, Latah took her leave, sending Airefalas into the tent alone. He found Mithadan not only awake, but standing near the center of the large tent beside a maenwaith elder that Airefalas had not seen before. The man was tall for a tribesman and rather thick through the middle with gray-streaked black hair and a neatly trimmed black beard. He was dressed rather conservatively in the robes of a maenwaith elder, but the hilt of the dagger sheathed at his belt shimmered with inlays of gold and lapis lazuli, hinting that this was a man of power and relative wealth. The man looked toward Airefalas with brown eyes that were both bright and shrewd.

"There you are, " said Mithadan to Airefalas as though he had been expecting him. Turning back toward the waiting tribesman, Mithadan said, "Allow me to present Airefalas of Gondor, first mate of the Lonely Star."

The tribesman made a shallow bow, which Airefalas returned.

"I am Fador, humble elder of the Eagle clan," said the tribesman. "It has been my honor to offer you the hospitality of my tent. As I was telling your captain, I can only apologize for my delay in making your acquaintance, but my absence was unavoidable. I hope that you have been comfortable."


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

Fador

Leaving Hasrim behind in the field, Fador had returned quickly to the Eagle encampment, his absence seeming to have gone unnoticed. Knowing what he had to do, Fador moved amongst the dark tents finding the men he needed to speak with. His plan to send the Gondorian sea captain and his first mate as gifts to Wyrma would have to be put into play quickly, before Thorn and Narika were given control of the clan. Bearing that thought in mind, he spent the remainder of the night making secretive arrangements for the trip. He found the guards who would be loyal to him and, rousting them from their tents, set them to the business of gathering provisions and preparing their own and Fador's horses for the journey. Finally, as dawn began to touch the eastern edge of the sky, Fador sought out the tent of his fellow elder, Mumtaz, for a few hours of sleep, his plan being to meet and persuade the Gondorians to do his bidding when his mind was clear, not clouded from lack of sleep.

Waking a only few short hours after laying his head down on to the sleeping mat, Fador returned at last to his own tent. Upon his arrival, he found the Gondorian captain awake and standing near the flap of the tent, looking out across the encampment. The first mate was nowhere to be seen. As Fador approached, the Gondorian captain stepped back inside to let him enter the tent, but instead of passing him, Fador stopped in front of the man and gave him a polite bow. The two of them exchanged introductions, with Fador offering his apologies for his delay in making the acquaintance of his guests. The Gondorian captain had barely begun to respond, when he hesitated. Fador’s daughter had just appeared outside the tent with the Gondorian first mate in tow. Fador and the captain waited in silence as Latah took her leave and sent the young man into the tent alone.

"There you are," said Mithadan mildly. Turning back toward the waiting tribesman, Mithadan said, "Allow me to present Airefalas of Gondor, first mate of the Lonely Star."

Again, Fador exchanged bows and made his excuses. "Please," he said, gesturing to the mats and cushions surrounding a low table in the center of the large tent. "Let us sit. There is much I would like to talk with you about."

"And much we would like to talk with you about as well," said Mithadan with a smile.

The three men took their seats around the table. Fador began the conversation cautiously, asking first about the Gondorians’ escape from Umbar and the burning of the docks. As the captain patiently told the story yet again, Fador listened, watching both of his guests’ faces with interest, trying to read what sort of men they were from their mannerisms and gestures. He had only a short while to figure out how best to convince these two strangers that their best course of action would be to go to Wyrma’s city. After only a few minutes, Fador came to a quick conclusion. These men could not be bullied or coerced. If they went on his errand at all, it would be because they chose to do so. He must befriend them, convince them that the Eagle clan needed their help. Inwardly, Fador smiled, although outwardly he maintained an expression of friendly neutrality.

As the Gondorian captain concluded the tale of their escape from the clutches of Falasmir, Fador applauded with enthusiasm. He asked a polite question or two and then, leaning forward, lowered his voice, allowing his face to go grim with worry. "You are brave and intelligent men," he said, choosing his words carefully. "You no doubt have heard the rumors that circle our camp like vultures."

"We have heard some talk since our arrival, yes," said Mithadan, nodding. The first mate nodded as well.

"Then you have no doubt heard that there is much trouble amongst the maenwaith people. An assassin has struck at the very heart of our clan, taking the life of our beloved leader." Fador paused as the first mate opened his mouth to say something, then closed it again, his words going unspoken. A troubled look flitted over the young man's face like a shadow, then was replaced by a look of calm neutrality, the same look worn by his captain. Fador plowed ahead with his plan. "There is talk that this assassin was sent by none other than Wyrma of the Dragon clan, a maenwaith woman of great power and influence in Umbar."

"I believe we had occasion to meet her briefly during our stay at Falasmir's palace," Mithadan replied.

"Then you know of whom I speak." Fador eyed him sternly. "There is talk that she builds a walled city somewhere to the south of Umbar, which she plans to use as her fortress. From there, many of us believe, she intends to enslave all of the maenwaith people, forcing us to give up our nomadic ways, to live in her city and to exist only to do her bidding." He paused looking from one Gondorian to the other for emphasis. "She must be stopped."

Receiving no immediate reaction from his audience, Fador continued. "You may ask of what concern this is to you, what the problems of a few scattered desert clans might matter to the citizens of such a great nation as Gondor, but I tell you, it does concern you, in the most serious kind of way. Wyrma's ambitions are not bound by the borders of Harad. Ultimately, not even your Minas Tirith will be beyond her grasp."

"And you know this for certain?" asked Mithadan.

Fador smiled wisely. "Nothing is certain. I only speak of rumors and images sent to me from the dreamtime. I sit and I think on these things for hours on end, but when I put them all together, I can see that there is only one solution. We must act at once. We must prevent Wyrma from establishing her stronghold in the desert. Only then can we, as a people, be safe. Only then will your people be safe."

"And why do you tell us?" asked Mithadan. "We are only two men a very long way from home. How can we hope to stop these threats from becoming fact?"

Fador leaned forward, his dark eyes locking on to the gray eyes of the captain. "You are experienced men of war. You know how to attack a walled city. We nomads of the deep desert know nothing of city warfare. We have never laid siege to a city such as the one Wyrma seeks to build. We would not even know where to begin. You... you can help us. With your knowledge of warfare, you can tell us how we might attack this city and defeat it."

Mithadan smiled, casting a sideways glance at his first mate. "Yes," he said at last. "We may be of some eventual help to you, but I'm afraid we will not be able to offer much advice without seeing this city for ourselves. One city is as different from another as one man from another. We cannot tell you how to attack it without first knowing its layout, its strengths and weaknesses, where its vulnerabilities lie."

"Then you must go there." Fador rose to his feet and walked to the open tent flap. "I ask you to do this, not just for the welfare of my people, but for the safety and welfare of yours as well." Then, with his back turned to them, Fador waited to see if the Gondorians would take the bait.

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

Airefalas

Airefalas watched as the tribesman turned and walked to the tent flap, stopping there with his back to him and Mithadan. For an instant, a tense silence prevailed. Then Mithadan spoke.

"Well, what do you make of that?" he said quietly to Airefalas in Quenyan, the barest hint of a smile playing on the corners of his mouth.

Airefalas shook his head. “I don’t like it,” he answered in the same language. “Or rather, not to put too fine a point on it, I don’t like him. While I’m sure what he says is true and while he has been nothing but a gracious host, there is something about him that puts me in mind of a certain type of eel you can find if you pick up the right rock in a coldwater river delta.”

Mithadan’s eyes twinkled, though his expression grew grave. “I was thinking the same thing, although perhaps not quite in those terms. Nonetheless, I am inclined to take him up on his offer.”

Frowning slightly, Airefalas nodded.

“You disapprove?” asked Mithadan, having caught the dark look on the younger man’s face.

Airefalas shrugged. “It’s not my place to approve or disapprove,” he said honestly. “It’s just that - didn’t he say that this walled city is located somewhere near Umbar? It seems to me, by going there, we would simply be walking out of the frying pan right back into the fire. We went to a good deal of trouble to get away from Umbar. I find it surprising, considering our situation, that you are thinking of heading back that way. If there were a chance of catching an outbound ship, I could see it, but this...” He trailed off. “Aside from the possible defense value to Gondor...”

Mithadan nodded. “It could be of tremendous value to Gondor, or it could be of no use at all. It is hard to predict. But I have reasons of my own for wishing to see this city, quite apart from the reasons this man puts forward. Frankly, I don‘t think that even he is quite as sincere in his motivations as he would have us believe. Whatever his game is, however, I think we should play along.”

Airefalas gave his captain‘s words some serious consideration, then nodded as well. “As long as we play with our eyes open, I suppose I have no objections. Anything is better than sitting around here in idleness.”

Mithadan nodded again, but before he could say anything else, the tribesman turned back toward them, a shrewd look visible on his dark face for a mere fraction of a second. Then the sharpness vanished, replaced by a mask of hopeful congeniality.

“Will you go?” he asked. “For the good of my people and yours?”

Mithadan rose and approached the tribesman, a thoughtful expression on his face. “I will consider it,” he answered, dropping back into Westron. “But I do have some questions.” He paused. At an encouraging gesture from Fador, he continued. “When would this trip take place? You speak of urgency and haste, yet we would need a guide, horses, supplies. Those things take time to assemble. Do we even know precisely where this city is located?”

Fador nodded. “We do, and I shall supply you with all that you ask: horses, supplies, a guide, and an additional pair of my kinsmen to go with you and assist you as needed. They are loyal to me and can be trusted. If you agree, you shall go at once.”

“At once?”

“Yes.” The shrewd smile flitted again across the tribesman’s swarthy features. “I had anticipated that you might agree to this mission. My men stand ready with horses and supplies enough for five. I have but to speak a word to my nephew who shall serve as your guide, and your number will be five.”

“You assume much,” said Mithadan mildly. “Why such haste?”

Fador’s expression turned solemn. “An assassin haunts this camp. Perhaps he sends word to Umbar of our movements, as well. I am sure that you, as a captain and a strategist yourself, understand the need for secrecy. If too much time is taken up in preparations, then word may seep out to our enemies. If that should happen, then you and my kinsmen alike should amount to nothing more than lambs on your way to the slaughter.”

“Salmon to market...” muttered Airefalas. A vivid image of the sharp knives of the fishmongers, slitting and gutting the silvery, scaled bellies of a day’s catch rose starkly in his mind. He knew he should not like to meet the same fate, but somehow the image remained stubbornly ensconced in the forefront of his mind. Finally he sighed, pushing the graphic vision away from himself. Following Mithadan’s lead, he rose to his feet and walked to the corner of the tent where he and Mithadan had left their packs and swords. At least the forced idleness of the past few days had left them uncommonly well-prepared for immediate travel, their weapons all sharpened to a razor’s edge and their packs well-organized and as well-provisioned as they could manage under the circumstances. Picking up his sword belt, Airefalas smiled grimly to himself. He had walked knowingly into dangerous situations often enough in the past. This would be no different. After all, as he had said to Mithadan only moments before, anything would be better than idleness.

As Airefalas buckled his sword into place, behind him, Mithadan and Fador made the final arrangements for an immediate departure. Airefalas was pleased to hear that the guide who would be leading them was none other than Surinen, the outrider who had gone with him and Latah and Narayad to Ayar’s bier the night before. Surinen seemed like a solid fellow, with a good head on his shoulders and an excellent command of Westron. He would be a good companion, even if he was a little gruff and standoffish at times. As for the other two... while Airefalas hoped that they would be tribesmen of the same caliber as Surinen, he decided to reserve his opinion of them until later. After all, for all he knew, they could turn out to be eels.

Moments later, with their swords and packs in place, Fador led the two Gondorians out of the tent and to the edge of the Eagle encampment. He took a circuitous route between the many tents, a route that kept them well out of sight of most of the other Eagles. Arriving at a meeting place that had been prearranged by Fador and his kinsmen, the northerners found two sturdy horses saddled and waiting for them, being held by two hard-looking tribesmen, one of them as stout as the other was lean and wiry.

“Fador’s kinsmen,” thought Airefalas to himself as he pulled himself into his saddle. “They look more like jackals than Eagles to me... or even eels for that matter.”

Having seen his charges delivered into the hands of his kinsmen, Fador left again briefly to find Surinen. A short time later, he returned with the guide in tow. Shortly thereafter, the five travelers left, riding single file northward into the desert. Looking back, Airefalas saw Fador disappear again between the tents, a shadowy figure, moving surreptitiously back in the direction of his own quarters. Losing him at last, Airefalas’ eyes continued to search the outskirts of the camp for a long moment before he understood what it was that he was looking for. Finally, as the realization hit him that what he sought was not there, Airefalas turned swiftly forward again in his saddle.

Of course, Latah would not be there to see them off. She did not even know they had gone.

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Old 01-04-2005, 12:54 PM   #313
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Day 3

It was noon of the third day. The original watchfire beside the bier burned low and was finally extinguished with the help of many buckets of water. As the last of the red flames reluctantly spluttered and died, plumes of smoke swirled upward until an overhanging curtain of grey was visible across the desert even from a distance. For the past two days the maenwaith tending Ayar’s watchfire had fed the flames with small twigs or dried bracken gathered from the watering hole. But such a fire would not be large enough for the new job at hand, since this was the final day of mourning, a time when family and clan would offer their last goodbyes. Ayar’s spirit would depart and fly free across the heavens. The maenwaith would burn her body and inter the remains beneath the desert sand, with a cairn to mark the grave.

Some weeks earlier, once the council had understood that their leader would not regain her strength, the Elders had dispatched swift messengers to the south on horseback. Now these messengers had returned dragging sledges behind their horses, each one bearing a sizeable bundle of logs . These horsemen had journeyed to the lower slopes of the mountains in the south to secure the precious wood of the cedar, an aromatic pine that burns sweet and clear.

On this afternoon, the crowd of mourners was even larger than the first two days. Clan members removed the cedar logs from the sledges and arranged them in a single giant stack. On top of this pile, they lovingly placed Ayar’s body. The Eagles stood and watched as tiny tongues of gold and blue flared, taking hold of the sweet smelling bark. This time there was no singing. The two sisters stood erect at the foot of the bier, struggling to hold back tears as they held each other’s hands and watched the flames creep up and tinge the hem of Ayar’s gown. In another instant, a massive sheet of red and orange leapt forward, rising some ten feet above their heads. Ayar’s body and features were blurred and then lost forever beneath its relentless spread. The men of the clan would remove the charred remains, bury them late at night, and pile up the stones, once the ashes were no longer so hot to the touch.

That evening just before the burial, the gathered crowd of mourners again lifted their voices in a final song, urging Ayar to fly free in whatever direction she chose and learn to master her true form, whatever that might be. As the last notes of the melody died away, the two sisters left the gathering and returned together to their tent to await the ceremony at dawn when they would upturn the pot of water, which had sat there from the first day of mourning. This simple act would signify that the clan was now free to go forward and begin to rebuild its life.
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Old 01-12-2005, 06:01 PM   #314
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A conversation between Ráma and Narika

Ráma slowly made her way back through the small cluster of mourners that still circled the ring of ashes; the latter was the only physical evidence remaining of the three days of mourning now drawing to a close. The moon stood high in the heavens. In just a few hours it would be dawn. She stopped and lingered at the entry to the tent, glancing over her shoulder at the vast expanse of sand extending southward, an ocean of blackness enshrouded in heavy shadow. Her sister already awaited her. Narika crouched near the dying embers of the hearth and idly fingered her mother’s ceremonial brooch with its flying eagle engraved in silver over a base of jade. With all its beauty and memories, the piece would belong to her as head of the clan after the Elders met later that morning.

“Come inside.” Narika gestured to her sister. “Only an hour or two till we overturn the pot. Lay down and rest a while.”

“I cannot. I am restless. There is still much to do.” Ráma hesitated as she wondered whether this was a good time to bring up what Ayar had said. Impulsively, she reached out to touch her sister’s hand. “You and I must talk. I have put this off too long. The afternoon before mother died, she spoke of several things. She planned to share all this with you the next day….” At this juncture, Ráma’s voice trailed off.

“I knew you were bothered by something, even beyond mother’s death. What is it? Speak, and I will help if I can.”

“Mother said the time for talking had passed. You and Thorn must marry and jointly lead the Eagles. Ride out to the other clans and speak with all who will listen, urging them to come together. Use every sword and talon, every tooth and claw, to combat Wyrma and her ilk. That is what she told me.”

“It brings me little joy to take arms against my own kin,” responded Narika with a sigh, “but Thorn and I have come to feel that we have no other choice. If Wyrma is not stopped, the Eagles and all others who follow the old nomadic ways will be destroyed.”

“There is something else,” Ráma noted. “Mother said the strangers may be willing to help us, and we should not turn away from them.”

A look of displeasure flitted over Narika’s face, one that was slowly replaced by a calmer and more thoughtful gaze. She chose her reply with care, “At one time not long ago, I would have scorned such a thought, but as I know these men better—especially this Aiwendil---my feelings have softened. Perhaps these outsiders are meant to be here. It is likely the strangers will flee at the first hint of war. And even if they are willing to stay, I can not promise what others will say. But I give you my word: I will not oppose them or you in any reasonable request.

“In fact,” she added with a hint of a smile, “Perhaps, I will ask Thorn to put you in charge of keeping track of them. That would serve you right. Is that all, then?”

Visibly relaxed and emboldened, Rama continued, “There was something else. Mother related an ancient tale how Thorondor and the other Great Eagles befriended our clan in return for some small service we’d done for an injured eaglet. Because of this, he granted us the gift of taking the eagle form.”

“I have also heard this. But how does it involve Wyrma?”

“Mother spoke of an ancient promise. The Eagles swore to come to our aid if the clan ever found itself in terrible peril. She even mentioned a wise woman dwelling in the southern mountains called Ayka. Ayka may know where these Eagles are and can help us find them. I must go south and beg her assistance. And not only the Eagles,” she continued, “Mother even spoke of wyrms--members of the dragon clan who scorn Wyrma and her evil ways. Perhaps they too can join our fight. ”

“Stop, Ráma. Enough.” Narika raised her hand as if to ward off any consideration of these ideas. “You have a strong sword arm, and Thorn would welcome you into the ranks of those who fight. Do not waste time chasing after old dreams.”

“But these are not my ideas. They are Mother’s, and she spoke with great urgency. I dare not ignore the promise I made to her, nor would I wish to do so.” Ráma planted her feet apart and glared obstinately at her sister.

“I can see nothing good coming from such fancies. Perhaps near the end, Mother was confused, with all the poison spreading through her body. But if you feel compelled to follow this course, do what you must. There should be a group going south to alert the clans in that region. Go with them. Take a few friends and make a quiet side trip to visit this strange maenwaith who lives by herself in the mountains. You will probably find her old and addled with little of worth to share. But at least you will have done your duty and can come back with a clear heart. Only say nothing of this to the Elders, for some are less friendly to Thorn, and they would laugh at such silliness or use it as a pretext to stand against him.”

“Thank you. I will tell only a few, and those whom I trust. Not a word to the Elders, I promise.”

At that instant there was a slight stirring outside the entrance to the tent. Narika went to look if anyone was there, but she saw no one. “Only the wind,” she reported. Come now. With all our chattering, the remaining night has fled. It is dawn. We should go now to overturn the pot.” With that the women headed out of the tent. The period of mourning had ended; the time for action had come.

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Old 01-15-2005, 03:40 PM   #315
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Old 01-18-2005, 04:30 PM   #316
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Miri and Rama

Rama embraced her sister once the pot was overturned then bid her a quick farewell. She had already said what was needed; now it was time to put her thoughts into a plan of action. She was restless, still, and her feet took her to the edge of the camp, to the rocky outcropping where she had often gone in her younger years to think. Her head was down as she walked along, cloak wrapped about her in the cool dawn air, her attention seeming on the movement of her boots . . . right toe . . . left toe . . .right toe . . . left toe . . . a moving meditation as her thoughts collected themselves into some semblance of order.

She was near the rocks, when she looked up, her eye caught by a quick movement of someone’s slender little legs and the trailing hem of a brown cloak as it slipped behind a pile of sandstone. She stopped, smiling a little to herself as she recognized the one who was so desperately trying to stay quietly hidden.

‘Miri! What are you doing out here? So early in the morning?’ Rama waited patiently before a resigned voice spoke up, and a familiar little face peered around the rock.

‘I’m waiting,’ Miri said, matter of factly, plopping down on the flat, smooth worn surface of the little outcropping.

Rama climbed up the short way to where the girl sat, facing south. ‘For the sunrise?’ she prompted, knowing that with Miri this could be a drawn out process of fact finding.

‘Well, no,’ returned the girl, looking up at Rama as the woman sat down beside her. ‘Though it is awfully pretty, don’t you think?’

Resisting the sidetracking ploy, Rama cast her net again. ‘Something in the south has caught your interest then?’ She narrowed her eyes and looked hard into the brightening day as it slid slowly over the southern vista.

‘Yes, that’s where he said he would come from.’ Miri could feel Rama fidgeting in irritation next to her. ‘Rôg! He said he would be back soon. I’m waiting to welcome him back.’

Rôg, again! Bit by bit Rama prised out the story. Rôg had gone for a visit to his clan. To see his family. This so far seemed reasonable, and reasonable still that he would promise his little friend to return. After all, Aiwendil was still here, and they had been traveling companions for quite some time, or so Rama understood. She asked if Rôg’s clan were somewhere near. Miri screwed up her little face, thinking; distances were all very relative to her. ‘Well, they’re just on the other side of the mountains, I think he said . . . at the end of them. That way,’ she said pointing south.’

It was Rama’s turn to have her brow wrinkle as she considered what the girl had said. It was forty days of hard traveling to reach the southern end of the mountains by camel; and perhaps he might get there in twenty if he flew, but the forms she’d heard he’d taken in the Eagle camp might not even make it in that time. Rama shook her head, saying that Miri must have misheard. But the girl was emphatic. He had promised, the very day he left, to be back in a week, ten days at the very most.

Taking a small chip of stone in her hand, Rama traced a crudely scratched map on the flat surface of the ledge between her and Miri. She explained patiently to the girl how far it was to the end of the mountains and how long it might take just to get there. Miri pursed her lips as Rama talked about distances and days. She stood up, putting her hands on her hips and shook her little head. With a scrape of her boot sole over the drawing she obliterated it from the sandstone. ‘He’s my friend. He said he would be back then and he will. You can’t tell me he won’t! I don’t believe you!’

The voice of Miri’s brother came ringing from somewhere near, calling her home to break her fast. ‘Mami’s making griddle cakes with honeycomb,’ she said, remembering the pot of sweet honey comb her mother had gotten out from the food chest. As quickly as she had been angry at Rama’s words, the little girl changed focus, inviting her to eat with them. The subject of Rôg was closed in her opinion; she was inviting her other friend to eat with her.

Rama walked along with Miri back to her family’s tent, only half listening as the girl chattered on about this and that. She was trying to remember an earlier conversation Miri had had with her on Rog’s clan. And yes, the girl had mentioned how most of the clan lived to the south . . . but what was it she had said about the mountains in the north . . . about the Elders . . .

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Old 01-20-2005, 03:05 AM   #317
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Rôg - the Elders speak . . .

‘So, Little Wanderer . . . you’ve come back alone? Not with the others . . .’

He laughed at this old name, remembering how his aunts and uncles had chided him for his explorations. Caught up in following some little bird or bug or even a trickle of water back to its source, his feet sought out the answers to his wonderings. It was often he would be called back from his inquiries only by the frantic calls of his family as they sought him. And here the old woman was now, saying Little Wanderer . . . herself so tiny beside him.

She had loomed so large for him as a child, when the story of the Star Isle was told, and now he stood head and shoulders above her thin, weathered frame. Her gnarled hand still grasped the crooked yew wood walking stick as she looked up at him. Beside her was a very old man, even thinner than she, if that were possible. Bald as a buzzard, his dark eyes looking kindly at Rôg. And suddenly he felt very young in their presence and small. He stammered out some greeting, trailing it off at the end, unsure of what to call them.

‘Just call me Old Mother, if you wish. That will be easiest,’ she said. She crooked her forefinger at her companion. ‘And him, Old Father.’ The old man’s eyes twinkled at her words. ‘It doesn’t matter. Our names flew away in the dry winds long ago, I think.’

The old man turned and motioned for Rôg to follow after him. Back into the foothills a short way. Supper was cooking and hot water on for tea, he said. Rôg followed along behind them, the ridiculous thought running round and round his head. I knew it! They do eat! When they were children, Daira had tried to convince him the Elders lived on wind and sand. Rôg smiled smugly at the thought of proving her wrong after all these years.

~*~

Dinner passed in a pleasant manner. The stew of roots and grains and desert hen was tasty and filling, the tea strong and sweet. The warmth of both drove back the chill that fell as the sun sank. The old man poured each a second mug, then added a few sticks to the small crackling fire. ‘Well,’ he said, sitting down on his mat next to Rôg. ‘Why have you come?’ ‘Two things, two questions I have that I hope you might help me with,’ answered Rôg, thinking hard about which he should ask first.

‘Aiwendil, I think,’ he muttered to himself, biting his lip.

‘Speak up, boy!’ the old man said, scooting closer to him. ‘These old ears can’t make out your mumblings.’

He began with the meeting of his traveling companion in Rivendell; their shared interests in birds; the large store of knowledge about the varieties of birds and other creatures that Aiwendil seemed to have. ‘He is a keen observer of their habits,’ Rôg said, ‘but in that respect not that different from others I have met who followed such pursuits.’ He plunged on, taking a deep breath, telling them of the peculiar things the Aiwendil sometimes did. He had seen the old fellow talk to birds and to a few other animals. And not just talk, as someone who is fond of the little creatures, but listen to them and respond to them in their own way. They were not afraid of him, these animals Rôg had seen speaking with the old man, and often they brought him messages of happenings in the area. Still he seemed just a well-learned fellow, Rôg went on . . . pleasant, if not a little vague as older folk are . . . until they had come south.

The old man and woman kept quiet as Rôg paused in his explanations. Into the silence Rôg blurted out the recent events that he simply could not make heads or tails of. The sandstorm and the old fortification they had sheltered in; Aiwendil’s reference to himself as an old dreamer; his talk of the Men who had built the fort, interlaced with a darkness that had come and wrong choosings. The distant land across the sea from where these Men had come . . . he’d named it the Star Island . . . and he spoke as if he had been there himself . . . It seemed, so Rôg explained, as if the old man was waking from a hazy dream. Aiwendil’s eyes were bright, their gaze purposeful now, and he had begun to talk of a ‘purpose’, as if he had remembered something he had set out long ago to do.

‘A need he spoke of, a need to act, to stand up, face a problem, a rising darkness - unlike those of the Star Island who ignored what was happening and were destroyed.’ In a more hesitant voice he continued, ‘He tells me I am also called, but I cannot think how. Though I think not just me in particular, but all Skinchangers. Though Ibar says it really is not our problem . . . he is clan-leader, I know, but still I feel he may be wrong.’

Rôg frowned. ‘Well, really this all leads into my second question, too.’ And with this he launched into the brief story of what was happening in the south to the other clans, as he had gleaned from Narika and Miri and others of the Eagle clan, throwing in his own observations and the observations of the larks who had spoken with Aiwendil. ‘Oh, and I forgot to mention this, too . . . Aiwendil can change shapes . . . I saw it with my own eyes. He seems a bit rusty at it, but can do so when need calls. He’s not a Skinchanger, not a member of a clan, or so he says. And now that I think about it he was rather vague just how he could do what he did . . . telling me it was a long and complicated story.’

Finished speaking, the young man looked up at his two listeners wondering if they had understood at all. He had meant to be clear, but somehow his thoughts had gotten all jumbled together. Expecting to see frowns of confusion on their faces, he was taken aback at the hoots of laughter that issued from the both of them.

‘And here we thought you were coming to ask us about which woman you should choose to marry!’ the old woman laughed, her eyes twinkling at him. ‘About time, don’t you think?’ she asked, nudging the old man in the ribs. ‘We had her all picked out, you know,’ he said, grinning broadly at Rôg. The old woman stood up and picking up the tea kettle, refilled their mugs. Then, settling her haunches back down on her woven mat, she spoke quietly to Rôg, all hints of levity now gone.

‘When the children first hear the stories we tell, they enjoy them for their grand excitement, for the funny things that happen, and how the heroes, bigger than life, win the day and save the people. Darkness is pushed back, evil laid low. Light shines through and the goodness of creatures in the stories prevails.’

‘This is so,’ continued the old man. ‘The pattern is set and as the children grow older it begins to shift from the fantastic to the ordinary, as situations arise in their own lives. Choices are reflected in the old stories, and are reinterpreted. And not all choose well.’ He paused for a moment. ‘This Aiwendil, that is a name from the Nimîr, I think. Its meaning I don’t know. But have you heard his Mannish name?’

‘Aiwendil is an Elvish name. It means “friend of birds” . . . but he was called Radagast, also,’ Rôg answered. ‘Though what that means I could never discover.’ ‘Some called him fool and simple, too,’ he added as an aside, remembering some unkind whispers he had heard.

‘Radagast! Hmm?!’ murmured the old man. ‘That is an old name, is it not?’ asked the old woman, nodding at him. She picked up a stick she had used earlier to stir the fire and drew three figures in the sandy soil – two near each other and one standing a little apart.

From long ago, she said, there were stories handed down of three travelers who came east from over the western sea. One all in white, the other two in sea blue. The one in white, it was said, was clever . . . wise, perhaps . . . and he soaked up tales and other odd bits of information like a dried up cactus in the wet season. Their little clan avoided him; it was said by others his roots seemed twisted and that he did not grow true. He stayed only a while and then returned westward, or so it had been handed down. They had heard no more of him.

Now the ones in blue - they came east together, it was said, but even when they reached the shores of the Inner Sea they were drawn further east and passed over the waters to the lands near the rising sun. The Elders now long gone never knew the blue ones’ real names; one they called Giant Man, the other Far Traveler. They were friendly enough it seemed when they passed through and they spoke a little of themselves, though in veiled terms. From what the Elders understood, they were to be helpers of some sort. But what help they offered was not clear and then they were gone.

There was some brief reference those two had given that they were only two of five who had been sent. The White one, of course, and then, one garbed in grey. Grey Pilgrim, the Elders knew him as, though he had never come east, and there were no tales they knew of him. But there was one, it was said, they hoped would come . . . one of gentle spirit . . . a tender of beasts. One sent by a most gracious Lady from West over the Sea. It was long they looked for him to come, but he never did.

‘Yes . . . yes, that was him,’ affirmed the old man, his eyes bright with the remembered story. ‘There was a verse . . . oh, now how did that begin, old woman,’ he said a little fretfully. ‘We were to speak it to him, to remind him of his promises to the Lady.’

From beyond the fringes of the little group came the sound of a phlegmy cough. ‘You mean that old saw that starts out:

Wilt thou learn the lore . . . . . that was long secret
Of the five that came . . . . . from a far country? . . .


And so on . . . and something about hidden counsels and the Doom cometh . . .’ offered a tall, angular man, his few strands of white hair, thin and wispy against the tanned skin of his head. Several others of the Elders, seeing the small fire and its attendant tea kettle had come down to join the trio, mugs in hand. ‘That’s it,’ said another old fellow in a fringed red shawl, holding his cup out as the kettle passed. ‘Never much liked it . . . too serious and somber by half . . . what with all its goings on about Dagor Dagorath and the world’s unmaking. Bet one of the old Nimîr wrote that one. Never were ones for the lighter side of life.’

Another old woman, her skin pulled tight over the contours of her skull, chortled as she plunked herself down next to Rôg, startling him as she had slid in so silently beside him. ‘We had a better one than that . . . remember?’ She poked Rôg in his ribs with her bony finger. ‘You know it, too . . . the old counting out rhyme for games . . .’ ‘Come on,’ she chided him, ‘say it with me.’ Rôg’s frown turned to a smile as she started the sing-song verse, and in old habit, he pointed round the circle that now sat about the fire and chanted with her . . .

Eagle chooses
Earth advises
Send the five
As Shadow rises

White is cunning
Grey hides flame
Hand in hand
Blues leave the game

Brown it is
Who’s sent to mend us
Gentler One!
From dark defend us!

Intry Mintry Cutry Corn
Rock, Sand, Grass and Thorn
Fur, feathers, worm to hawk
Five wizards in a flock
Some came east and some went west
Choose the one you think the best

Earth and twig
Bear and wren

Brown, it’s brown!

You’re IT!


There was a short span of uncomfortable silence as Rôg looked about the group. All the fingers now pointed to him. The old faces looked at him expectantly then cracked into smiles, laughing at his discomfiture.
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Old 01-21-2005, 11:31 AM   #318
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Ráma and Narika:

Until mid-day, Ráma had little time to think about the promises her sister had made or even to consider what Miri had told her, although something about the young girl's news tugged insistently at the back of her mind. For now she set these worries aside. Many important duties had been neglected during the days of mourning that now required the immediate attention of the clan. Despite the growing urgency felt by many of the Eagles, the clan could not wage an effective campaign unless practical needs like food and supplies were given their due attention.

For the next few hours, while the Elders sat by themselves and talked, Ráma worked alongside Yalisha and Miri who were helping to water the herd of goats and sheep sheltered nearby. Finishing up her chores, she headed back to the tent intending to take her noon meal. But before she could reach her destination, Narika came running to greet her with a serious look reflected in her eyes, "News from Thorne. The Elders have finished their meeting and have asked the clan to gather around the firepit. They have approved mother's request that Thorne and I wed and jointly assume the headship of the clan."

Ráma laughed and reached out to clasp her sister's hand. "But this is good news then!"

"Yes, and no one spoke against us. Mother's influence was still too strong. If some felt otherwise, they held their peace, at least publically."

"And did they discuss the war? Did they agree that the clan should stand against Wyrma?" If the Elders had already reached a decision to rouse the other clans and march against Wyrma's city, her own voice would not need to be raised at the council, and she could begin immediate preparations for her journey south.

Narika shook her head. "They talk and talk in circles, but still there is no agreement. Thorne has explained that you were the last to speak with Ayar. They have consented to listen to your words, and to learn what Mother said. But it will not be easy. Some feel that continued resistence will only infuriate Wyrma. They genuinely fear for the safety of the clan. But there are others.... I do not know about these. Only that Thorne does not trust them."

"I had hoped to stay silent and be able to slip off quietly to the south. But I can see that is not to be." Ráma looked beseechingly at her sister, "I am no speaker. You are the one with the silver tongue. Perhaps you can explain things."

"No, I was not there with mother. If anything can persuade them, it is her words. Speak from your heart, as she would have done. Only say nothing of what we talked about earlier today. That must be a secret between the two of us and Thorne. And do not be too disappointed if they refuse to accept help from the strangers."

Ráma nodded, and the two sisters continued on to the meeting.

Last edited by Child of the 7th Age; 02-01-2005 at 11:46 PM.
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Old 01-24-2005, 03:21 PM   #319
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Piosenniel

A little over seven days had passed since they had set out from the mountains heading north along the sparsely grassed, sandy base of the foothills. The days were hot, too hot for the little group to travel, and so were spent in fretful sleep beneath what shade their guides could find. Azar, the young male eagle Ayka had sent with them, had ranged far before them; wide though he flew, he brought no promising news of the men from the north. Nor had he brought them many findings of encampments from whom they might inquire.

Only one, the Bush Lizards, would speak with the strangers, and then it was only to say that ‘No, we have no news. We have heard nothing.’ Questions about the port city were taken in with unreadable silence; no answers given save a ‘No, we know nothing of that either.’ The brown-pooled eyes of the desert men gave nothing away, but Pio’s ears caught the whisperings and intake of breath from the huddle of women who stood watching their men speak with the strangers.

‘Perhaps we should go back to the ship and simply wait for the Captain and Airefalas,’ offered Hamar once the disappointing contact had been made. ‘Not yet,’ rejoined Pio, pulling her hood up to shade her eyes as their group moved on to find a resting place. ‘I still have hopes of finding them.’ Though they grow slim she admitted to herself. The Elf looked to the west, her eyes following the line of coastal mountains northward. ‘Their height grows less. Little more than a week and we will come to the end of them. The Corsair city lies not too far beyond. And we dare not go there.’ She looked up, seeing the eagle circling lazily above, wings tapping the rising thermals. ‘When we have come to the end of the mountains and Azar can bring us no new sightings, then we will return to the ship and wait.’
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Old 01-29-2005, 11:38 PM   #320
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Ráma speaks to the Elders....

By the time Ráma and her sister arrived, a large number of the Eagles were already present and waiting for the meeting to start. Several of those visiting from outside the clan had also come, standing in a cluster on the fringes of the crowd. Even Sorona had found a perch on top of one of the water barrels, a spot that was close enough for her to hear what was going on. Earlier that morning, most of the Eagles had learned of the impending marriage between Narika and Thorne, and the fact that these two young maenwaith would soon become the leaders of the clan. This news had met with widespread approval.

An hour before, the Elders had broken off their discussions to retire to their individual tents for the noonday meal, but had now returned. They squatted or sat on small woven rugs, forming an inner circle around the clan's communal firepit. Everyone else, including Ráma, stood outside this inner core, part of a broader circle that fanned out in all directions.

Thorne and his bride had been invited to sit with the Elders in recognition of their new positions and authority; the eldest of the Council sat directly opposite them. This was to symbolize that no action could be taken, no declaration of war issued, unless the leaders of the clan and the Elders could reach consensus on what should be done.

When the chief elder came to the fore, he explained that there had been continuing discussion about Wyrma, but no agreement had been reached. The conversation was thrown open to all in attendance, both Elders and general clan members. The dispute quickly picked up from where it had left that morning. Many of the Elders urged caution, noting that it was the traditional maenwaith way to avoid bloodshed and to protect themselves by subterfuge rather than direct assault. Some suggested that the clan withdraw from its present location and pull back further from Umbar and the city in the north that Wyrma was building. Perhaps, the safest thing to do was to pack everything up and trek far south and west, out of Wyrma's watchful eye.

Others disputed this point with vigor, claiming that Wyrma's reach was such that wherever the Eagles might fly, they would still be in danger. Wyrma could simply send out swift flying dragons to locate them and launch a surprise attack. Plus, how could the Eagles turn a blind eye to the plight of their fellow maenwaith ? Wyrma had herded hundreds of their kin into her walled encampment. Who knew which maenwaith would be next, or whether she would adopt even more draconian measures?

It was at this point that Thorne stood up and asked that Ráma be allowed to come before them, explaining that she had been the last to speak with Ayar shortly before the latter had died. The Council members gave their consent to this, as they had earlier agreed. Ráma quietly walked forward and stood in front of the Elders, first bowing to them. Then she began to talk. She spoke as if she was visiting with friends in the privacy of her tent, rather than addressing a large public meeting.

"We all know what my mother was like. Her entire life, she sought to live in peace and to teach the ways of peace to the young ones in our clan whom she cherished with her heart. Even when when my father's life was cut short by violence, she counselled us to hold our anger. She was a patient woman who was willing to wait because she believed that the path of peace was the best one that the Eagles could follow."

Ráma drew a breath and glanced around the group, surprised that they were listening so intently. She was not used to speaking in public, but these were people whom she had known her whole life. Then she continued on.

"Yet, even though my mother loved the path of peace, she knew that sometimes we are asked to walk a different road. When evil comes and stares us in the face, we can not turn away. Mother understood this. She saw Wyrma for what she really was: a maenwaith who thinks her way is the only way of doing things, who wishes to push that way onto all our people, whether they want it or not. It is one thing to build a city and invite those who wish to go and live there. It is another thing to force people to change their lives in ways they do not want."

"And where does the pushing end? My mother's death was no accident. She never spoke of it , but she knew and understood. Wyrma had her killed because the leader of the Eagle clan would not go along with her plans. It will not stop with my mother. Each of us is in danger. No one knows who is next. No one knows what pretext she may use to swoop down and try to eliminate us all."

To strike against another maenwaith is a sad, sad thing, but we have no choice. Ayar told me to speak with the Elders and with everyone in the clan, to ask them to rouse the other tribes and to take a stand against Wyrma and her ilk. Nor should we turn aside from those who are willing to help us. Already one of the outsiders has come and spoken with me. He has given his promise to join in this resistence. If we are fortunate, there may be others. It is time to take a stand: the Eagles, those clans who, like us, hate what Wyrma does, and even those of our friends from outside who would not see the cause of evil triumph. This was my mother's wish. It is also the wish of myself and my sister, and of Thorne. Can we not join together and do this thing? We have the strength for such an enterprise. We must only gain the will."

With that, Ráma went and sat beside her sister, waiting for others to respond.

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