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Old 09-23-2006, 11:46 AM   #201
Hilde Bracegirdle
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Carl

This land was hard, and the people inhabiting it appeared tough, like the plants that grew here. Even the eyes of animals, the dim lamps of the night, today struck Carl as strange and rather unnerving. In truth, he felt as if he had lived all his life as a blind man and deaf as well. Surely, all the hardships in Lotho’s day, and even when Sharkey had the Shire in his grip, didn’t compare to what these people had endured for years on end. Never were hobbit families torn apart and children cast into lockholes like this - not that he didn’t suspect Sharkey would have tried such tactics, had he been around a bit longer.

But Shae’s tears had been bitter ones and Carl saw that despite her bravery she had not a callous heart. Still nothing seemed simple here, and his “I’m sorry” had sounded so very thin and insubstantial, against the sadness of her confession. He guessed that it wasn’t just the necklace; it was her brother himself that Shae felt she had lost. What else would have brought about the silent tears in one so seemingly fearless?

Remembering Dorran’s explanation of the stone Athwen found, Carl withdrew it from his pocket, holding it thoughtfully in his fingers. Such symbols and tokens were made for family members that had been wrenched away. For remembrance, he had said. The necklace Shae lost, had held the emblem of the White Tree, and on the stone was a tree also! Perhaps Shae had made it to remember her brother by, or to leave as a sign for him? Carl wondered briefly if she would be angry with him for having carried it away from that place. And he fancied too, that however unlikely, perhaps the brother she missed might have left it for her. And that she might smile to see it.

Carl held the stone out to the woman. “We found this stone near the caves, and I’m thinking it might mean something to you, seeing as it has the White Tree on it. Not as good as finding your necklace I’m afraid, but have you seen it before?”

Shae wiped her hands on her clothes before taking the stone in her fingers, holding it up to examine it in the moonlight. “No,” she said, with a wistful trace of a smile as she turned to look at the hobbit. “Even still, such things are not uncommon. Perhaps one of the newcomers to our group made it, leaving it at that camp.” She hesitated, looking again at the stone. And following her gaze, Carl saw a single drop of dark blood trace its way over the side of her palm.

“You are hurt!” he said reaching up to point out the droplet to her.

But the woman awoke quickly from her study, returning her hands to her sides before he had the chance. “It is not a new wound, but does not heal well,” she stated matter-of-factly. And Carl felt from her voice as if suddenly some great-uncharted distance had arisen between them. Had he said something amiss? “May, I keep this?” Shae asked, unexpectedly.

Now if a slender lifeline had been thrown to the hobbit in dire need, he would scarcely have been quicker to grab at it. “Why certainly you may,” he said without thinking things though, while at the same time trying to recollect the stone’s markings in his mind eye. He could not believe he would hand the thing over so easily, but was pleased to find that he carried a clear picture of it in his head. And so he removed the teeth of self-reproach, knowing that he remembered the stone well enough, though he dreaded letting Miss Athwen know of his gifting it away. Still, he must brave any tongue-lashing the gentle healer might choose rightfully to give, and let her know too, about Miss Shae’s hand.

Last edited by Hilde Bracegirdle; 09-25-2006 at 03:38 AM.
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Old 09-23-2006, 06:44 PM   #202
Child of the 7th Age
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Lindir and Aiwendil:

The journey west across the plain proved uneventful. The walkers did not glimpse even a single rider who had been sent out to gather information or prevent them from making their escape. With all the noise and confusion that had taken place in camp, and so many horses still needing to be rounded up, the slavers were apparently resigned to waiting for the next day until they attacked. Lindir did not doubt that this attack would come; it was simply a question of when. Likely, it would take place under cover of darkness, yet the elf could not discount the possibility that the attackers might get impatient and plan their assault for earlier in the day. Either way, time was of the essence. Whatever the fellowship and the slaves were going to do, it had to be done quickly. There would be no time for indecision or argument. For the third time that night, Lindir mentally corrected his choice of words. There were no "slaves" here, only free men who had been wrongfully imprisoned and horribly abused.

The band slowly wound its way to the base of the small hill where Athwen and the others waited, Lindir walked by himself, lost deep within his own musings as he tried to mull out what to do. It seemed they had two choices: to attempt to rouse the camp and flee, heading north as quickly as they could, or to stand and fight. He knew what choice he preferred, and did not doubt that his other companions felt the same, even as tired and depleted by injury as they were. A group ofsome sixty slaves, one that included children and elders, and one where everyone was on foot, could not possibly outrun a band of thirty horsemen whose specialty was rounding up human flesh.

The more serious question involved the slaves. Would they understand the danger they were in, and be willing to fight? He and his friends could do little on their own; the commitment had to be made by the entire group.

That word "slave"... There it was again, Lindir acknowleged with a private groan. They had better get rid of those words and images, or it would drag them all under. The escaped slaves were men, no more and no less, and they deserved to be recognized as such.

Aiwendil was the first to spy the returning party and come running down the hill, waving his hand in greeting. Lindir assured him they had not been followed and then listened as the istar explained how the wounded were doing. "Not that it was easy for Athwen, mind you," Aiwendil pointed out. "She can not even light a fire to prepare the healing potions she needs".

"All the more reason then that we get out of here quickly. One more thing. Can you tell me anything more about Dorran? How bad is the injury?" Lindir pressed, loathe to lose the fighting skills of the only member of the group who had actually led men into battle.

"A broken rib. Nothing worse. He is rested and on his feet, but there'll be no heavy swordplay for him. Not if Athwen gets her way." The elf scowled at this piece of news. Athwen had an excellent reputation as a healer and would only recommend such a limitation if she felt it was truly necessary. Lindir was not about to challenge her judgment, but the loss would be felt.

"We must be on our way. Could you ask Athwen to take a quick look at Kwell and Shae. She is the woman who helped Dorran. Carl mentioned that she had an injury, and I know the young man has been though great hardship, although he does not complain. After that, we'll set out. There's much to be decided yet, and we won't have any answers till we get to the camp. Have people double up on the horses so no one has to walk. Best tell Athwen to put the young girl with her, since she seems to be the one who is having the most difficulty."

Lindir started to climb the hill but then looked back and added, "I almost forgot.. Aiwendil, could you speak quietly to the others and ask them not to voice or even think the term "slave"? Call these people free men, call them rebels, whatever they prefer, but I don't want us to brand a man with the same label that the Dark Lord tried to pin on him. I'll be back to help you with the horses in a minute. I have an idea I want to try out on Dorran."

Last edited by Child of the 7th Age; 01-23-2007 at 06:44 AM.
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Old 09-24-2006, 04:04 PM   #203
Durelin
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Khamir

Remembering when he had first learned Hadith’s name, Khamir’s eyes were locked on the young man. Eighteen years old, but he had the emotional strength one might expect from someone much older. The older man had always thought of himself as a weathered veteran, having seen and done much more than a young one such as Hadith had. But he had underestimated him once. How long had the boy been a slave? True, he could be naïve at times, but only in an idealistic sort of way, and not a foolish sort of way, that was quite refreshing.

“I will make my choice as a free man not to join the suicidal party of Khamir!”

Those words were like a stab through the heart. “Suicidal party?” Khamir and his gang had raided huge plantations without losing a single man before. Suicidal? What did this boy think? They weren’t out to be heroic – the plan wasn’t to run in and slaughter the bounty hunters. That would be suicide. But the one-armed man hadn’t given up on living the two years he had been a slave, nor the nineteen years he had been struggling for survival in Mordor as a supposed “free man.” Dying a true free man was not even something the man looked forward to.

Khamir spat, but said nothing, listening to the rest of what the boy had to say.

“Let Khamir do as he wishes, but let us others come up with a defense for the rest of us. We maybe forced to fight tonight! I intend to be ready for that... we need a plan...”

The Southron man glanced at Beloan, who could only stare back at him. The former gang leader shook his head, knowing no other way to show his disappointment. Here was the idealist. In his self-righteousness and head-in-the-clouds ways, he forgot that his feet were stuck on the ground, on accursed ground, on ground that had soaked up the Dark Lord’s evil for millennia.

As if this bunch could defend itself from behind two-foot thick stone walls…

But they were not his concern right now.

“You wish to join their defense council?” he asked Beloan, bitingly sarcastic. The other man still made no answer.

Khamir turned away from him, and stalked off further from the camp, his hand reaching into his bag to retrieve one of his throwing knives. He gripped it while it was still concealed by the ragged cloth, and removed it swiftly and yet carelessly, flinging it to come to rest with a thud in a small, sickly looking tree: a sapling that had been bold enough to attempt to grow tall above the plains of Mordor, but was struck down by its disease, an invisible sickness with no physical symptoms but that still ended in death and destruction.

Suddenly he felt something crunch under his feet, and he felt something hard even through his boots. Removing his foot from it, he crouched down to see what it was. Moonlight glinted off metal, and Khamir quickly slipped the necklace into his bag.

That woman…

He would go alone if he had to.
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Old 09-25-2006, 04:42 PM   #204
Tevildo
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Child's post for Lindir

Lindir reached inside his satchel and pulled out a small leather bag full of tobacco. Then he handed Dorran a wooden pipe with a wide flattened bowl, took another for himself, and gestured for the man of Rohan to sit beside him on the ground. The pair smoked in silence for a while, lying on their backs and staring up at the stars. These had come out from behind the clouds and heavy mists so that they were clearly visible for the first time that evening.

Finally, Lindir sat up and spoke, “A moment to rest and think….sometimes it can be a precious thing. But who would believe it, even in these times? An Elf and a Man sitting and smoking Longbottom Leaf in the middle of a Mordor plain.” Lindir sent a thin steam of smoke out from his lips in a curlicue fashion and glanced over at his friend to explain, “Carl gave me this when we started. I’ve been saving it for the right time.”

“The right time?” echoed Dorran in a puzzled tone. “I know of no reason for celebration. We have taken only one small step and still have many to go.” The man stared across the glade to where his wife was working on those who had been injured.

“No reason to celebrate yet. That is true. But there may be other reasons for two friends to share a pouch of Longbottom.” Lindir gave Dorran a sidewise glance and then plunged ahead. “I find it helps if I sit down and have a smoke before I do something that I find very difficult. Actually, I was thinking that you might want to keep that pipe with you and fill it with tobacco for when we come into the camp later tonight.”

“You are trying to tell me something? Even a thick headed soldier can see that. What is it that you would like me to do? I am afraid I can not help much with a sword or bow right now.”

“Yes, I heard. Aiwendil told me. I am just glad it was no worse. And though I would love to have your fighting arm, your knowledge of strategy and traps and ways to deceive an attacker may prove just as valuable. Still, that wasn’t what I was talking about.”

There was another moment of silence between them while Lindir struggled to find the right words. “You are the only one among us who has actually done what these men are setting out to do: to escape from the heavy burden of being a slave and find a way to build a life. Somehow I think that what you say could mean much more than anything I or the others could offer. I can tell these men and women I grieve for what they have been through and that I believe in their ability to forge a new path. But coming from me, those are just words. But if you could talk and honestly tell them how it was for you and your sister, perhaps they would listen not just with their heads but with their hearts. I am not sure I should ask you to do this. Speaking before a group of strangers is one thing, but speaking about that part of your past will not be easy.”

Lindir stared down at the ground remembering the day that he had been asked to appear before the White Council and talk about the years he had spent serving under Celebrimbor, a time in his life which had had such calamitous results. He had not found that easy; nor would it be easy for Dorran.

Last edited by Tevildo; 09-30-2006 at 05:54 PM.
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Old 09-26-2006, 02:51 PM   #205
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Kwell felt surprising relief when they came to their stopping place. He had feared being stopped by the slavers, attacked and forced to fight. He said nothing about it and he hated the fear. It was childish to be afraid, he thought. But, at least now, they were safe.

Lindir stopped to speak with the old man. For a few moments, they stood with their heads together, then Aiwendil came away from Lindir and approached Kwell and Shae, who stood together, uncertain of what to do or where to go.

“Come with me,” he said. “You are Shae? Lindir told me that you had an injury?” Shae made a very slight inclination of her head. Aiwendil turned and led the two of them to where Athwen stood by her packs, speaking to Carl. She turned towards Aiwendil as the elderly man approached and as he began to speak, she nodded and looked towards Shae and Kwell.

“Yes, I know. Carl just told me about it.” She stepped forward towards the two new comers. “Welcome, both of you. We don’t have very much time, but I will do what I can now. You are hurt, I understand?” she asked, looking directly at Shae.

Shae quickly put her hands behind her back. “See to Kwell first,” she said, taking a step back. “I can wait. He might be more damaged than I.”

Athwen smiled a little and she looked at Kwell. He stood a little shorter than she and his face, so hardened and stern that it held no mark or sign of boyishness, brought out her easily stirred pity. Her hand reached out to touch his shoulder. He drew back, twisting his body so she couldn’t reach him. She drew back in surprise. The gesture had been meant in friendship and encouragement, but he hadn’t accepted it. Athwen nearly gasped with the shock of being rejected, but quickly she shut up her feelings.

“I’m sorry,” she said quickly and then asked him if there was anything she could help him with.

“No, nothing,” Kwell answered shortly.

“Were you hurt at all when the slavers took you back?” The boy shook his head. “Can I see if you have any sort of fever? You’ve been with Azhar a long time and if whatever is causing the fever can be caught by you, I’d like to know if you’ve got it.”

“I’m not sick,” Kwell said stubbornly.

Athwen shook her head and pursed her lips, her hand reached instinctively towards his forehead, but he tilted his head back and pushed her hand away. She sighed in defeat. It was no use whatsoever to work on a patient who wouldn’t be worked on. She’d watch him closely, though, and if she saw anything that indicated any sort of injury or sickness, she’d check on him, whether he liked it or not.

“Very well. If you’re hungry or thirsty, tell Carl and he’ll get you some bread or water. Later, hopefully, we’ll have something warm to give you.” She smiled at him and he turned away. She shrugged at his back and turned to Shae. “Now, I can help you,” she said.

Last edited by Folwren; 09-27-2006 at 07:44 AM.
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Old 09-26-2006, 03:16 PM   #206
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Shae stared back at Athwen, her hands still hidden behind her back. The last thing she wanted was a stranger to examine her self-inflicted injuries. She had been careless, letting the halfling see her hands. Shae couldn't help but reprimand herself for such foolishness. What would these people think, if they knew the truth?

"Well, come on over," Athwen beckoned. "We do not have long."
Shae hesitated, shaking her head. "Really, I am fine. You need not waste time tending to me."
"Now, we both know that isn't so," the woman spoke kindly. "Please let me have a look. I promise I will be gentle."
Shae hesitated once more before sitting herself down next to the healer. There seemed to be no avoiding it. By refusing, she would only raise more questions and the young woman figured it'd be best to get it over with sooner than later. She opened her hands, palms up, for the healer to see.

Athwen examined the cuts on Shae's hands and wrists gently, as promised. As Shae expected, the healer looked slightly puzzled.
"These are not new wounds," she noticed.
"No," Shae replied. "They do not heal so easily."
"And why is that?"
"I work with my hands a lot. I do not give them time to heal." Shae had hoped that this answer would be enough, but the healer still stared at her hands, unsure.
"These wounds are very strange," Athwen commented. "How did you receive them in the first place?"
Shae paused, unable to find an immediate answer. Why was it this woman's business to know anyways? "I...I don't know," she stuttered. "Life has been rough on us here in Mordor. I can't remember an exact time I injured them. It most likely happened when I was on a raid, or something...."
Shae knew this was a terrible lie, and it showed on Athwen's face. The healer didn't look convinced, yet she didn't press further.

Athwen throughly cleaned Shae's mutilated hands and put some healing salves on them before dressing the wounds. After the last bandage was on, Shae bent and flexed her hands and wrists, testing their mobility. The healer had done good job bandaging; even with the dressing Shae's hands remained flexible- it almost felt as though there were no bandages on at all. For a moment, Shae almost felt grateful for Athwen's skills.
"Now, I need you to leave those bandages on for now," Athwen spoke. "They aren't too restricting, but you still need to be careful. It'll be awhile before your wounds completely heal, as an infection was already beginning to take. You are lucky I managed to take care of it before it turned into anything serious."
Shae nodded at these words and the healer responded with a warm smile.

Athwen gave the young woman a gentle pat on the shoulder before standing up and turning away, leaving Shae to sit alone. In those short moments of waiting, Shae replayed the night's events in her head. The thought of losing her brother's necklace brought back the lump at the bottom of her throat. She pulled out the stone Carl had given and studied it, letting her finger trace over the engraving. Clutching the object, Shae allowed the feeling of loneliness to slowly seep back in.

Last edited by Brinniel; 10-01-2006 at 02:08 PM.
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Old 09-29-2006, 03:44 PM   #207
Firefoot
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Johari

Johari sat broodingly, preferring to take a background position in the more recent happenings of the camp. Why did she really care whether they chose to rescue the children or to defend the camp? She felt no personal duty towards either. This was nothing like how she had imagined escape would be, living in one large communal group like this, trying to find that enigmatic someplace to live.

When she looked around her, she did not feel amicably towards her companions. Rather, she felt a sense of loathing or disgust at the disorganized, pettily fighting mass of human flesh that did not even know what it wanted – and she was a part of it. She had stood up and complained and been compensated as if she were one of them, and she had been satisfied if only for a short time. It all seemed so pointless. Maybe they were meant to be slaves. Maybe that was all they were fit for. She reached across her body to touch the dark brand on the back of her left shoulder, and a brief but fierce fire burned up in her again. Never. She was a fighter.

The futility of it all still loomed behind her like an abyss, the abyss that she had not even realized was there until she had finally escaped the bonds of slavery, the abyss that had pulled her in a little deeper every day that she had chosen not to fight.

Because what was the point?

Kalin.

How long had it been since she thought of him who had once governed her thoughts? Where was he now? That had been the reason: to find him. So why was she here, and not looking for him? The thoughts had a well worn feel to them; she remembered thinking them before. He was looking for her, too, of course, and news of their large group, if they could ever settle somewhere, would surely reach his ears – he would come find her then. That was why she stayed with this group.

She shook herself from her reverie to see not too far away a small circle of women sitting around an elderly woman that Johari vaguely recognized. Overhearing them without really eavesdropping, she realized they were talking about the defense of themselves so that they could someday, “see our own crops grow in our own soil.” Pretty dreams, Johari scoffed, but she nevertheless felt a wistful smile tug at the corners of her chapped lips. For their sake, she hoped it might happen; crushed hopes were a hard thing to live with. It was better to simply live by fact.

With those opposing ideas meshing peacefully in her mind without the slightest conflict, Johari spent the night in restful wakefulness, by turns dozing and watching.
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Old 09-30-2006, 10:29 AM   #208
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Hadith

At first there were not many reactions to Hadith’s speech and that made him all the more lost. Others seemed to be as baffled as he himself was. Hadith hadn’t quite been able to follow himself anyhow. What had made him to speak out aloud, even speaking against Khamir? Well, he had defended Khamir too. What is this? What is happening? So this is freedom: not knowing what to do as you at last have the choice and you have to make it solely by yourself?

Hadith stood there, standing straight and drawing breath, deep inhales followed by as long bursts that started to make foggy patterns in the air. It was getting colder.

I’ve been a slave all my life. It’s almost like from the moment of my birth I have been a slave. I will not go back to that, even if it costs my life. I have no memory of not being a slave... What might it be, to have memories of being free? How it would help now!

Hadith took a look around. First his eyes met with Joshwan some twenty yards away from him. Joshwan nodded to him approvingly. Hadith was unsure about how to react, but nodded Joshwan back slightly. Then Joshwan turned to argue about something with Fewerth, tugging him on the shoulder. Guilledean was there too, just looking at what happened from aside.

Then Hadith met Johari sitting on her own, seemingly deep in her thoughts but looking and listening intensely at a group of women on her left. Hadith tried to hear the discussion too. It was about arming themselves and fighting with planting sticks or something. Then he heard Granny Brenna saying: “Keep your sticks and slings handy, my friends”. He didn’t hear the next sentence, but then again the following was loud and clear as Hadith had instinctively started moving towards the group. “And one of us should keep watch for a while, then wake me and I’ll take over for the next bit. Nia, can you do that? Sun’s rise can’t be that far away.”

Hadith approached the women with confidence in posture but inside he was even more baffled than he had been before. What am I doing? What am I going to say to them?

“Friends! Let’s plan together, all of us?” Hadith called the women from some ten yards away as his approach was noticed. Brenna looked him straight in the eye and Hadith started to feel even more insecure. He had learned to respect older women and Brenna really had a commanding presence. He remembered her from the camp now.

"I mean that if we all just stick together in small groups, its of no use... I mean... erm... I mean we should all hold together..."

Hadith stopped and was not sure where to lay his eyes.

Last edited by Nogrod; 09-30-2006 at 10:36 AM.
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Old 09-30-2006, 06:37 PM   #209
Tevildo
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Tevildo's post for Dorran

It was a long time till Dorran replied. "It's strange, Lindir. For so many years, I dreamed this day would come. Somehow, someway, I wanted to get back to Mordor. I thought I might be able to do something for those who were still enslaved. Maybe that's one of the reasons I became a Rider. I learned how to wield a sword and to work with horses. I felt privileged to serve King Eomer and the people of Rohan."

"After Sauron was overthrown, I felt certain the whole system in Nurn would collapse on its own. But that did not happen. I kept hearing stories from merchants and soldiers that old plantation owners were simply replaced by new ones. Even without the presence of Sauron, the evil ways persisted. I left here with my sister when I was young yet so many of my memories, so many of my bad dreams, hearken back to here. My parents and older brother were victims of the slave system. Creide and I were lucky to escape alive."

"I have never been good with words in front of a group. I feel more comfortable on the back of a horse or even carrying a message to the court of Gondor where I can speak with someone face-to-face. But I won't say no. I can not. You or Aiwendil would be much more eloquent than I could hope to be. But I can tell them what happened to me. I know something of the nightmare they have lived through. And I can promise them that it is possible to build a new life."

Dorran turned a serious face towards Lindir and nodded. "They will fight. I know you are worried about that, but you shouldn't be. The first thing your learn as a slave is that nothing comes easy....everything has a price. And when you step off that plantation, you learn quickly that nothing worthwhile comes without a fight. Sometimes that fight requires a sword, and sometimes it doesn't. But nothing is gained by running away. If we explain to them why we just can't run away to the north, how the slavers might follow them or do even worse to others they meet, the men will listen, and they will follow. I can't promise you sweet or eloquent words, but I will do my best."

Child's post on Lindir

"That is all I could ask for, Dorran. And I pray you are right about these men. We have come a long way, but it is no good if the will is not in them. They must find it in their own hearts. Then we can stand together against these slavers, and whatever else threatens us on the trek north."

Lindir stood up and swept his eyes towards the north. A faint glow, harbinger of the dawn, was barely visible over the horizon. "Look there, Dorran to the north. One of the old Towers left by the former residents, probably to mark the supply route for carrying materials up to Sauron and his troops. Undoubtedly, a place of nightmares. Yet this land and even that tower is strangely compelling. Strange, but it reminds me of parts of Beleriand far to the north. So beautiful in a stark way. Yet those lands in Beleriand no longer exist. They are under the Sea. Let us hope we have more luck here. Let's hope we can somehow preserve what is good here. Ah, now, that is strange, too. In Rivendell, I would never have dreamed of calling parts of Mordor good or beautiful. Yet there is goodness here buried deep. Let's hope these new settlers can somehow feel that goodness and learn to build on it."

Lindir helped Dorran up, and the two walked back to where the others were gathering. Lindir called to the others, "If everyone is done then, could we mount up and get moving west? We should get there just before dawn." With that Lindir mounted his horse and looked around to be sure everyone was following.

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Old 10-01-2006, 07:10 AM   #210
Hilde Bracegirdle
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Carl

Carl, his clothes still damp, stood by the horses for a moment with his eyes closed. Not having had much sleep over the last few days, standing still lent the chance to rest his eyes for a space. Just the shortest time he told himself, while Athwen saw to the needs of those requiring her skill, and Lindir discussed matters with Dorran beyond the weary hobbit’s hearing. But when Carl’s nose caught the familiar scent of tobacco in the air, he thought he might go sit down while he waited, for surely he was drifting off while on his feet, dreaming of the comforts of home. Still, he could not bring himself to open his eyes in order to find a place to rest.

As his chin sank slowly to his chest, Carl imagined he was sitting at home beside the fire. His pipe was full, though his stomach felt empty as he deliberated with himself over the best way to approach Athwen regarding her stone. He knew now was not a good time to try to explain, for she was busy with more pressing things. And surely it would not be right to tell her on the road either, and so spoil her disposition in time for meeting those they would be working closely with, in the near future. There was nothing he could do, but merely wait until things settled down a bit. The hobbit’s jaw worked rolling the stem of a phantom pipe between his teeth, as he leaned back in the overstuffed chair he didn’t remember being there. He considered what might happen if Athwen discovered things on her own before he had gotten round to telling her, and wondered as he wandered in that mental haze rapidly approaching sleep, whether it would be advisable to escape to The Ivy Bush for a few days in that event. Perhaps it might be best take Dorran and Athwen to the inn tomorrow for a nice meal, and tell them there. If they wanted to, Azhar, Kwell and Shae could join them too, for the slavers would not think to find them there. And you can’t wax too sour with one of Miss Lilly’s pies under your belt, no matter how angry you are. He was smiling with fond remembrance, when he felt someone shake his shoulder.

At the second attempt to wake him, the hobbit’s eyes fluttered opened, and he found that he stood propped up against Stumps. And looking confusedly at the figure before him, Carl wondered just how long Kwell had been at The Ivy Bush, and since when did Miss Lilly allow Stumps in her kitchen!

The young man had to explain a second time that Athwen had said to ask him for bread to eat. But Carl was still foggy and it took him a few minutes to regain his bearings. Finally the hobbit sputtered to life saying, “Bread and water! You look like you could use a bit more than that, if you’ll excuse my saying so.” And rummaging though packs and bags, the hobbit produced some dried fruit as well as the items requested, placing them in Kwell’s hands. “The bread’s a tad stale, I’m afraid,” he apologized. “But a man like yourself has got to eat plenty, and it’s the best we have at present.”

But boy did not need to be coaxed, making short work the food, as Carl watched him. And the hobbit wished he had more to give, but knew that they must be careful, for their stores were running lower than he would have them. “You know,” Carl began, and the dark haired boy looked over at him. “Once we get though all this, and you and the others have a place to call your own, I’ll make you a nice meat pie that you won’t soon forget. And you can sit down and have it all to yourself, if you like. I’ll set aside a bit of flour, just for it.”

“I’ll look after myself, now I’m out of that pit,” Kwell said, handing back the water skin.

“I know that,” Carl said. “And like a foraging bear, no doubt. It’s just that you seem to like food, and I like to see folk enjoy a good meal, that’s all. Makes me happy. I suppose it’s one reason why I work the land to begin with.” Then remembering their talk in the pit, he was quick to add, “That is, if you decide to stay with us. If not, I’m sure I’ll find other takers, especially when they smell the thing cooking. Never had to trouble with leftover pie in the past.”

Kwell pursed his lips and nodded as though weighing the matter.

“Ah well,” Carl sighed, hanging the water skin back on the pony, as Lindir approached calling for them to be off. The hobbit turned again to Kwell, and cocking his head, he winked, “No need to decide that just now, is there? We seem to be on the move again.”

Last edited by Hilde Bracegirdle; 10-01-2006 at 02:24 PM.
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Old 10-01-2006, 10:59 AM   #211
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Brenna

Brenna was sitting on the little hillock, her shawl wrapped about her tightly. Her gaze flicking from one pool of shadow in the darkness to another. She glanced up as the young man approached, swallowing a smile at his nervous demeanor. She set a serious, considering look on her face.

He’d stopped a few feet away from her, held back, she supposed, by the merciless burden of her own years and his own youth. Still, and despite the fact he was a male, they were in the same fix, now, weren’t they?

The young man’s gaze flicked nervously about the ground, inspecting it seemed each pebble as if it were the most important thing in his world at the moment. Brenna smiled, in spite of herself, and bent her head down to the side, catching his eye. ‘I’m Brenna; Granny Brenna, if you wish. You’ll forgive my memory. I seem to remember your face, but can’t for the life of me remember your name.’

As she waited for his thoughts to untangle and him to speak his name, Nia came up, planting stick held defensively in her hands. She laid her hand on Brenna’s shoulder as she reached the old woman and shook her stick fiercely at Hadith. ‘What do you want, you boy you? You better not be bothering Granny!’ Others of the women and girls had waked up now, and come to stand silently behind Brenna and Nia.

‘It’s all right, dears,’ Brenna said, speaking calmly to those gathered. ‘He’s just saying that maybe we and the men should put our strengths together. Against the slavers. At least for now. Right . . .?’ She picked up her own planting stick and poked the young man lightly on the leg. ‘Now perhaps you can begin by telling us your name. And your plan, if you have one.’

Nia lowered her own stick at Granny’s words, but kept a very attentive and slightly skeptical eye on the fellow . . .

Last edited by Undómë; 10-03-2006 at 02:21 PM.
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Old 10-03-2006, 05:02 PM   #212
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Adnan

Watching Hadith stand up and speak to the entire camp, actually willingly taking on a position of leadership, was nearly awe-inspiring for Adnan. This young man was only a few years older than him, and he was addressing everyone...and most everyone seemed to be listening? Hadith may have faltered several times, but he still left Adnan amazed, and everyone else at least surprised. The eighteen year old had more strength and courage than Adnan ever thought he would have, but he did not know just how much that meant. To think standing up to your friends and allies seemed like such a more daunting task than standing up to your enemies.

The strength and energy and sincerity in Hadith's voice made Adnan wonder: was that what it meant to be free?

There was a moment or two of silence until someone spoke up, and the fifteen year old was surprised - yet again - to find that it was an old woman, who apparently even called herself "Granny Brenna." What showed of her elderly body, particularly her face, was so weathered and cracked with age that one might estimate her age at practically eighty, but anyone who understood what life was like in Mordor would know that looks could be decieving. The land made old men out of young long before time did.

Another woman seemed to think she needed to defend this Granny Brenna, which set Adnan's thoughts spinning a little more. Why on earth would she feel the need to be waving her stick around at Hadith? Would she be prepared to wave that blasted stick at some black-gutted Easterlings instead? The young man practically snarled. This time...

"He's just saying that maybe we and the men should put our strengths together. Against the slavers. At least for now. Right?"

"Well of course we should!" Adnan burst out before he could stop himself, sounding a little more furious than he meant to. A blush filled his cheeks, but his stubborness stopped him from saying anything to take his words back in the least. Looking at the ground for a moment, as if he would find some sort of revelation there, he continued only after a pause that said what he said was what he meant.

"They're after us, so we should be after them. And it's us they're after, not just one or two of us..." he trailed off into a mutter as the anger that fueled his momentary bravery passed.
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Old 10-04-2006, 02:23 PM   #213
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Arrival at camp:

After Shae’s wounds were cleansed and bandaged, the rest of the party collected on the grassy knoll that faced west and set out at an easy lope. There was no sign that they were being followed.

As Lindir had suggested, the riders doubled up so no one had to walk. At first Azhar rode behind Athwen, but, after they had gone a short distance, she had lost her grip and nearly tumbled onto the ground. The girl was still groggy and weak from fever. Needing a stronger hand to steady her, Azhar had been lifted up and placed in front of Lindir. The elf wrapped one arm about her waist and cradled his body close to hers. She was obviously ill, and even Athwen had not known what was causing the fever. Lindir could hear the girl’s light, uneven breath and observe her pallid face. Leaning back on his shoulder, she slipped in and out of consciousness. These unexplained symptoms did not bode well. Once or twice, Lindir thought he heard her softly mouth the name “Rôg”.

Before the elf could give any thought to this new mystery involving Rôg, the riders had arrived on the outskirts of camp. Lindir could see half a dozen tiny campfires flickering in the distance. The camp was located in a broad vale that lay just below their feet, partially hidden by a ring of bracken and bushes, yet still visible to anyone who might approach from the outside plain. At Lindir’s request, Shae had come up beside him; he had also asked Kwell to ride near the front of the small band, explaining “I will need both of you, to help talk us into camp.”

As the horses went downhill and picked their way through the tangle of stunted vegetation, Lindir posed a question for Shae and Kwell: “Do you know where the guards are stationed?”

His question was met by four insistent blasts from a ram’s horn, sounding not more than twenty feet away. Two figures darted out behind them and another to the front, all converging with swords and daggers outstretched. At the base of the hill from the camp itself, Lindir could hear the sound of a hoard of tramping feet hurrying to reach them.

Raising both hands above his head to prove he harbored no ill intentions and signaling the others to do the same, the elf cried out, “We come from Elessar. We bring the prisoners from the slavers’ camp. Your own people will vouch for us.” Lindir glanced over at Kwell and Shae and gestured that one of them should speak.

Last edited by Child of the 7th Age; 10-05-2006 at 12:41 AM.
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Old 10-05-2006, 12:06 AM   #214
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Shae stared back at Lindir, her eyes wide.

He wants me to speak up.

What was she supposed to say? Shae was no public speaker. She spent the years huddled in a corner, keeping to herself was clear evidence of that she never desired attention. But Lindir did not know that. He had only just met her.

The woman eyed the crowd before her. They stared back at her and the strange new company, the expressions on their faces curious and timid. By now they had all given up on any sort of outside help. How was she to tell them that they had been wrong? Shae opened her mouth to speak, but before she could come up with any words, Khamir stepped forward.

The one-armed man stared at the Fellowship, then to the children, and finally to Shae. The expression on his face was more confused than anything.
"Shae....?" he asked, puzzled. "....But how?"
"It doesn't matter how," she answered simply. She glanced back at those behind her. "This is the Fellowship. The aid from Gondor you so quickly gave up on." Then she raised her voice for the other ex-slaves to hear. "They are here to help us. Help us start a new and better life. We are already in their debt, for they have rescued the children that were taken." She pointed at Kwell and Azhar. "And...we should listen to what they have to say."

Had she said enough? Shae glanced back at the elf, who nodded in response. Already, a commotion had begun to spread throughout the crowd of ex-slaves. The young woman could already see that not all were pleased with this new arrival. The Fellowship stepped forward towards the ex-slaves and Shae took initiative to follow, but she was pulled back by Khamir.

"Why did you leave like that?" he asked, furiously, his hand still wrapped around her arm.
"What?" The woman was surprised at the Southron's sudden anger.
"Just answer the question, Shae."
"Those children needed help," she spoke solidly. "And since you weren't about to do anything about it, I decided to accomplish the task alone."
"You shouldn't have gone. That was foolish of you, Shae." His grip on her arm tightened. "You could've been killed. Why didn't you say anything?"
Shae pulled back from Khamir's strong grasp. "I didn't say anything because I knew this exactly how you would react," she replied, angrily. "You really think I'm not strong enough to defend myself? Well look- not only did I kill a man tonight, but I brought back an entire Fellowship! What does it take to convince you that I'm not some....child..." Shae's eye fell onto Khamir's fully packed bag, taking her away from the excitement of the argument. "Were you planning on going somewhere?" she asked.

The one-armed man did not respond. Instead, he bit his lip and stared harshly at the woman. Shae stared back, waiting for an answer. After a moment of glaring, Khamir broke free, and his focus switched to his pack as he began to dig for something inside. When he withdrew his hand, it was fisted, obviously holding something very small. He brought his fist near Shae's face, then opened it, his palm facing up. It took a few seconds for the woman to register what she was seeing.

Joren's necklace.

Carefully, Shae transferred the prized object into her own hands. As she tenderly rubbed the shining emblem with her fingers, she could feel relief flowing though her entire body.
"How....Where did you find this?" she asked, almost in a whisper.
Khamir shrugged. "I don't know....on the ground somewhere. Does it really matter?" He paused. "No one knew where you went. I thought something had happened...I was...." He trailed off.
Shae stared at the Southron curiously, forgetting all previous anger she had towards him. Unable to control all emotions, the woman began to cry, which was soon followed by laughter. Now, with the necklace returned to her, it seemed all previous frustration had been pointless. Before she realized what she was doing, her arms were around the man. Khamir had not expected such a gesture, and feeling his tension Shae quickly released her embrace. Her face grew hot, embarrassed at her careless display of gratitude; Khamir simply gave her a puzzled look.
Shae wiped her tears and put on the necklace. "This may seem like some silly object, but it means a lot to me," she muttered, giving the metal one last touch. "When I thought it lost forever, I didn't know what to do with myself....Thank you."

The sounds behind the two suddenly increased in volume, bringing them both back into the moment. Whatever the Fellowship was saying, it seemed several ex-slaves weren't too happy about it. Khamir turned towards the conflict, but Shae tugged on his arm and he hesitated, slowly turning back to face the woman.
"The slavers have been wary of us," she commented to the Southron. "Upon my departure, I came across one not far from the camp. I managed to kill him, but I am sure there were more nearby. The slavers' are still not aware of the Fellowship's presence. When they rescued the children, they thought it was us who did the noble deed." Shae lowered her voice. "You know what this means. It won't be long before the slavers arrive, ready to slaughter whoever stands in their way."

Last edited by Brinniel; 10-06-2006 at 05:27 AM.
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Old 10-06-2006, 04:53 PM   #215
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Kwell felt relieved when Shae spoke up, but she had hardly introduced the fellowship when she suddenly dried up, the proper introduction cut short. At least, that’s what it seemed to him. Not half of what had happened was explained, and the others were left gaping at the newcomers as Khamir dragged Shae away. Kwell shifted uncomfortably on his seat as he studied the faces of the men and women, so recently slaves.

All at once, someone spoke out from among the crowd of faces. “What’re you here for? What makes you think we need any help from you? You won’t be able to save us from anything any more than we could!”

“Aye! And why should we listen to you? What do you think we are? We’re tired of being told what to do and bossed about like slaves! We’re not slaves any more!”

A growl of agreement greeted this company and the faces looking up towards the mounted fellowship appeared grim and uninviting. Kwell scowled bitterly and felt impatience rising inside of himself. A long pause followed. Clearly, they wanted an answer, but it was equally clear that the members of the fellowship had no ready reply.

“So, you don’t have anything to say after all?” called out a taunting, jeering voice.

Kwell’s impatience burst forth and he urged his horse forward. “Oh, shut up!” he called out, his voice cracking with anger at their apparent thickness. “You’re all fools! Can’t you see they’ve come to help? Quit being idiots!” he shouted again, as another murmur rose. “You were all too cowardly to come help Azhar and me, except Shae, and they helped! They’re wanting to help you, too, are you just going to – to send them off packing?” His fury choked him and he became mute suddenly. He writhed in his saddle, his jaw clenching in and out, but before he could speak again, he felt a hand rest gently on his arm. He looked up into the eyes of one of the fellowship, the healer's husband, he thought. Dorran shook his head gently and then turned his eyes towards the men and women.

Last edited by Folwren; 10-07-2006 at 06:51 PM.
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Old 10-09-2006, 12:32 PM   #216
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Hadith

Adnan had saved Hadith from a tight spot. He had been taught to revere older ladies all his life and had been raised by them. So no question why he felt unsure in front of Granny Brenna, in this uncomfortable new role of his and in the company of the women. Valar bless you Adnan, if you truly exist, he thought to himself as Adnan broke in.

But what was most positive about the whole new situation was that the ex-slaves were getting to co-operate the first time in their shared history. Beloan and a couple of other veterans really made the difference here, but even more importantly it was because it was done together, the more experienced ex-slaves and the recently freed, all together. Beloan and his friends came to have their say to the discussion that was going on between Hadith, Brenna and Adnan. And soon enough also Joshwan joined the debating circle of people. The others gathered around them, listening carefully for what was said and a few brave ones also let their opinions known or made questions about the reasonability of the plans being wrought. It was actually doing something together and it brought the ex-slaves nearer to each other. A shared sprit was being aroused there and then. And Hadith was relieved. He was no leader and had never actually wished to be one. Now Beloan, Brenna and Joshwan were making the strongest points and he could just take part in the discussion, voicing his mind as he felt it made sense and otherwise being silent, just listening to the debate.

The resulting plan of defence was not anything ingenious but it clearly was better than nothing. First of all they had decided to share all the weapons as evenly as possible so that everyone with more than one would have to give the extra weapons away to those who had none. That caused a bit of murmur in the ranks of the veterans but most of them soon realised the wisdom of the plan and they all handed their extra weapons with just some gritting of teeth. Secondly they decided that the children should be taken away to as much safety possible. It was decided that Adnan and Nia would seek a place where they could be moved as quickly as possible. There was some debate over whether the elderly should be taken to that possible safety too, but with Brenna in their lead, the elders refused the offer. They would fight alongside the others. The longest debate ensued on the question whether the children should be protected by some adults or should they trust them being able to avoid attention. In the end a couple of adults were assigned to keep them company and defend them with their lives, and be given a horn to which they should blow if the worse came to happen.

Thirdly they discussed the tactics in case of an open assault. It soon became clear that they needed to concentrate their forces and that they should go for any advantage they could come up with. In the end it was decided that they were to be divided into two groups, both taking a defensive position on top of the two easternmost mounds around the camp. From there they would have the slight advance of height against the possible onrushing horses, enabling them to attack the horses bellies from under them and thence being able to unmount the enemy. There was also the point over the effectiveness of any projectiles, like pebbles, that would be increased with height-advantage. And surely any downed slaver was easier to fight from above than from beneath with all momentum of force behind the one going for the enemy downhill.

The late evening went busily as everyone was maintaining and sharpening their weapons. Despite the gloomy forecasts of what would happen the feeling in the camp was almost merry. The people were starting to believe in one another. Surely there were exceptions. Not all had been happy with the decisions made, but most seemed to be ready for whatever would fall upon them. At last we’re doing this together! Hadith thought and gave his blade a third check tonight. But I’m afraid... I quess we all are.

But as earlier in the evening, Hadith’s gloomy thoughts were soothed by Beloan’s words that still echoed in his mind. “Friends! We are in this together from our own free will, defending one another by our own free choice! Let us show those villains that we are no slaves anymore, let us show them we are no longer easy picks for them but free men and women ready to fight for ourselves... and for the sake of our fellows, together! Let’s show them we are united and strong!”

That had been a speech! Hadith had admired Beloan from their first meeting onwards, but this had been just outstanding. Hadith drew courage from Beloan’s words for he was afraid of the night and what would come to pass with it. And there was something in his words that spoke more truly about the concept of freedom that had hounted Hadith from the very beginning and yet which he hadn’t quite clearly undertstood, or which he was struggling to understand but hadn’t yet been able to realise in full. He knew he was still missing something, but Beloan’s words started to generate new thoughts in his mind. One might say that one is free when he didn’t need to follow others or their orders and could do what is most convenient to oneself. But there must a deeper meaning to freedom, I know there must be, for that can’t be all there is to freedom. Hadith tried and tried to think of it and felt that his brains were near the boiling point. It hurt, physically too. Slavery requires obedience, unwilling compulsion to something that is declared from outside from you yourself, but freedom requires willing responsibility from inside, readiness to stand up not only for your own freedom but also for the freedom of others as no one can be free alone – but the tyrants.

Hadith was still uneasy with his thoughts, not actually understanding all the implications of things he had thought, when the alarm came. The horns were blowing.

“To the stations!”, Joshwan called and everyone started busily preparing themselves for the imminent fight. Hadith’s heart-rate bursted to the maximum. So this is it then..., he managed to think as he awoke from his thoughts.

“Are the children in safety?” Granny Breanna shouted desparately over the hassle of the awaking camp. Hadith had drawn his blade and was about to run to the mound he had been assigned to defend with the other half of the group as he raised his head to actually see the people coming towards them down the hill. That doesn’t look like an attacking party of the slavers. They do not look like slavers, they come so slowly and most of them are riding in doubles... Hadith was baffled for a second.

“No! These are no enemies! Hold your weapons!” It was Khamir. In an instant Hadith realised that he had not seen or thought of Khamir in many hours. Where had he been and why had he not been with the others as they discussed their tactics and overall defence. Had he gone away and was now back or what? But surely it was Khamir. And the others realised the situation too. These were no attackers. Allmost all the people rushed towards the strangers, not thinking about the defence-plan, but still not unsheathing their weapons either. Hadith followed the others.

The kids we lost! And... who was she... Shae she was called? The fellowship sent by Elessar himself? This dragged party here? Well they look majestic, I admit, well most of them look... Hadith was stupefied. Many had started groaning and not all the words passed to the newcomers were welcoming indeed. Hadith admitted he himself was a bit disappointed at the appearance of the fellowship he had heard Beloan tell tales of. Their coming could break the newly wrought unity among the ex-slaves, giving one or two the leeway to fall back into obedience and servient behaviour, forgetting their freedom and the responsibility that went hand in hand with it. He saw what people were afraid of, he suddenly and clearly saw it. Hadith was getting frustrated and was ready to join the ranks of those who called the newcomers with pointy words.

Then he heard Kwell’s passionate cry from the ranks of the newcomers and identified him immediately.

“You’re all fools! Can’t you see they’ve come to help? Quit being idiots!” he shouted again, as another murmur rose. “You were all too cowardly to come help Azhar and me, except Shae, and they helped! They’re wanting to help you, too, are you just going to – to send them off packing?”

That was just enough for Hadith and before he had time to think he had actually stepped forwards in front of the fellowship and raised his unsheathed blade up high. No, not again... he thought as he kind of heard himself opening his mouth and saw himself taking the posture of addressing everyone present again, this time with possibly much more nobler audience. He felt ashamed but couldn’t stop his sudden anger.

“If you are here to help us, we greet you with joy. We do not have too many friends in this forsaken land.” Hadith had addressed the fellowship and then turned to face Kwell. He could see his point but still he was furious enough to let his words fly into the open.

“But never, never ever call us cowards or fools, or idiots! We are free men and women! You don’t make us your friends...” Hadith looked at the fellowship and the rescued ex-slaves. “...by insulting us unfairly.” Then he gazed at Kwell again, even though his words were loud enough to be meant to all the people around. “What do you think would have followed if this army of the crippled would have launched a rescue operation? Kwell, I understand how you feel, but just think of it. We didn’t even know whether you were five or fifty miles away! Or in which direction! Just give it a thought before you go blaming others about being idiots, cowards or fools!

Hadith made a pause and fell into thinking. He really was getting to feel very insecure. He didn’t know what he was doing and hoped he hadn’t opened his mouth in the first place. Well, it’s started, so let’s finish it, he thought and addressed the public once more.

“We’re ready to fight and we will fight, whatever will come out from it! We stand united against anyone wishing us harm! We are free people, freely sticking together to aid one another! And we will fight with you beside us or without you! And if we must die, then we die, but we will die as free men and women, responsible of our own choices to stand for each other! Kwell, I know you may find this a bit hypocritical. You have a right to see it so, but we have matured just today, partly because of what happened to you and the girl here." He nodded towards Athwen in shame of not remebering her name. "I’m really happy to see you both alive and well, but don’t blame us for something that would have been just suicidal to all of us others. You had luck, and I hope we also have luck with the appearance of this fellowship, but we need to be ready to stand against the attack of the slavers pretty soon I’m afraid.”

Hadith had to draw breath. His speech had been a passionate one, more than he had thought he’d be able to, but now he was calming down. Mainly to himself he muttered: “I think we were not prepared last night but now we will...” But that was loud enough for most of the people to hear.

I’m learning this freedom-thing now, am I?

Last edited by Nogrod; 10-09-2006 at 12:59 PM.
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Old 10-09-2006, 05:32 PM   #217
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Khamir

He had been wrong. He had been dead wrong, about so many things. Right and wrong had seemed so simple to him for the longest time: he was right, the slaves were right, and the Orcs and all the slavers and those who worked for them were wrong. The line was never blurred, and always ran straight and true. But since they had decided on this journey to somewhere new, Khamir found himself lost somewhere in the grey, with only the black clearly on the other side, and the white yet to be found. Everyone had squabbled with each other over things that seemed simple, practical matters to the one-armed man. So many of them with the taste of freedom in their mouths seemed to already have forgotten the laws of this land, which had always been against them. There was never any goal other than survival until now. If only they could remember that it still was one, if only they hadn’t already forgotten the way they were able to escape.

His entire world was falling apart, and he felt prepared to give in to all the stubbornness within him that would force him to continue his aloofness from the others until he suddenly felt a pair of arms throw themselves around him. Khamir could only stare down at Shae’s form with surprise, and when she quickly let go, he was not of the mind to change his expression, much less voice anything he might have wanted to. He was saddened that she moved on nearly before he could blink, but thought it was probably for the best. Most likely if he had gotten any words out he would have regretted them. It seemed that was the way of things these days.

“It won't be long before the slavers arrive, ready to slaughter whoever stands in their way.”

Glancing over the motley crew known as the ‘Fellowship’ – which even included to little men whom he had to stare at quite a bit longer than the others – Khamir considered them practically doomed. But turning his head to look over the crowd of men and women and children he had traveled with for months now, his mind quickly changed. They had gathered themselves quickly, and he had to admit, they appeared a fiercer bunch than he ever thought they could, even if they were on the defensive for entirely the wrong people.

To think Gondor had come through on its promise. He glanced at Shae again, wondering if now was at all the time to apologize. Half of his attention was outward, half inward, as he tried to reconcile the two worlds. All that went on around him rushed by him too quickly for his mind to keep up with, particularly when it had just recently turned in on itself. He felt anger rise and ebb as the tide within him, pushing it down with nearly all his strength, and keeping himself from speaking up with what little remained.

Khamir felt foolish for just standing there, but perhaps that was all he should ever have done. Perhaps he should have simply stood there and listened, for once.

“They will not slaughter us,” he began in a low voice so that only Shae could hear him, and he would not interrupt any of the proceedings around him. “Things have changed, and it seems for the better.” He struggled to keep a certain amount of defeat out of his voice. This was not about him. And even if it was, he had one some kind of victory, as well. There was a short pause in which the woman searched Khamir’s eyes, and he for a moment allowed her. But he had to drop his eyes before he could speak again.

“I am sorry, Shae. I was wrong. Gondor did not fail us, you did not fail, we will not fail,” he gestured to encompass everyone, in particular all the former slaves. “I admire you,” he said suddenly after a second pause, after he could bring his eyes back up to hers, and quickly added, “your bravery.”

Turning away, a slight heat in his face confusing him, he focused on the various members of the Fellowship to dispel it quickly, watching with particular interest a man darker-skinned than the rest, and obviously of a similar origin to Khamir and many of the other slaves. What sort of man was he, to be in those others’ company, to be chosen by the King of Gondor, though he was a man of the South? A strange group, to say the least, but the one-armed man would do his best not to doubt Elessar any longer. He was obviously a good man and an excellent leader, and it was now equally as obvious to Khamir why he had never realized that himself until now: he had never truly begun to understand what that meant.
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Old 10-10-2006, 01:21 PM   #218
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Dorran:

Dorran could see frustration etched on Kwell’s face and could easily imagine the hard objections the young man was forming inside his head: that distance and numbers were no excuse for failing to make some attempt to rescue the prisoners. Truthfully, Dorran felt Kwell was right. At the very least, a group of scouts should have been sent to see what was possible. Kwell had fine instincts and, if he could ever get beyond his mistrust of the world, would make an excellent soldier.

Dorran was also aware that the two men who had spoken seemed genuinely puzzled by the members of the followship. In a land where brute force was a way of life, their own group's odd assortment of talents and sizes did not match conventional ideals about battle- hardened warriors. Part of the problem was that few of the escapees had begun to consider that more than a strong arm would be needed to survive.

Caught up in a conflicting maelstrom of words and emotions, Dorran tightened his grip on the reins and stared out as if mesmerized. It was if he had been transported to another age. Twenty-five years ago, this had been his world. He remembered a small boy standing in the arc of his father’s shadow, staring awkwardly at the ground as the older men and women argued about what to do. Their numbers had been smaller, but the situation they faced was nearly identical to what he was seeing now. Alternating bouts of anger, hope, and resolve—very real and vehement feelings---threatened to dismantle what little unity these men and women had so painfully achieved, just as these same discordant feelings had resulted in the untimely deaths of his parents and brother. A tragedy like that must not happen again. Dorran dismounted and began walking forward, determined to try and do something to help.

Khamir’s brief comment to the crowd had taken no more than a moment. Kwell remained on horseback, a short distance ahead of Dorran and opposite Hadith. The latter had dropped his arm to his side but still doggedly clutched the hilt of his sword and showed no signs of backing down from the comments he had made about not sending out a rescue party. Overcome with frustration and unwilling to wait longer, Kwell spurred his horse forward and headed straight towards Hadith. Dorran was the first of the fellowship to react. Lunging ahead, he grabbed at the reins of Kwell's horse and pulled back on the animal's head, crying loudly, “No. Stop. Do not do this. Let it be. You two will slay each other before the slavers can even get here. Believe me, Kwell, I understand your impatience. I am impatient too.”

Kwell came to a halt and turned a disgruntled face towards Dorran. When the older man responded, his voice was laced with sadness. “I understand more than you realize. I grew up in these parts. We called the plantation the “Iron Cage”. The hunger, the Orc whips, living like a beast….my life was no different than yours. Our family escaped onto the Ash Plain just as you hope to do. Only they never made it further than that. No one could agree on anything; each thought they had the only answer. When the slavers came, they killed my father and mother. Out of seventeen, four escaped. Still, my sister and I were lucky. We journeyed to Rohan and made a new life. ”

Dorran glanced at the rest of the group, intently searching each face for any sign of understanding. “I tell you it can be done, especially now that the Dark Lord is gone. But we must go to your camp and plan. The attack will come soon, as your own leader told you. My friends and I are not here to lead but to help. We are not all warriors but have skills in many areas---healing, building, the crafting of metal and stone, even farming and herding. Lindir and I are experienced in the conduct of war. We will all do whatever we can. I do not doubt your bravery, but courage alone is not enough. You must do what my own parents and others failed to do: to reach some agreement. Look at the man or woman next to you, because their survival is as important as yours. You have made a start. My friends and I can only bow our knee to what you have done. But now we must plan and act together. Night will come too soon.”

Dorran stopped and drew a large breath. His words would not persuade everyone. He did not expect that, but he hoped it would be enough for them to set aside differences and continue planning. By now the darkness was beginning to fade. Soft rays glimmered just above the horizon. Morning, with its shadowy promise of hope, was spilling over onto the plains of Mordor.

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Old 10-10-2006, 05:58 PM   #219
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Adnan and Beloan

Excitement boiled in Adnan, and he practically grinned at the newcomers, staring in almost awe at some of the stranger looking members of the company. One was taller than the others, and had dark hair but light eyes, and ears like the fifteen year old had never seen. Could he be a being from the stories? But more curious still were the two small men, one his hair obviously turning silver in places, but a good foot or two shorter than Adnan himself. The other was even shorter! So this was what Gondor sent them? A curious bunch, to say the least, but the way they seemed to carry themselves to the young man made him certain that they would be of greater help than he ever would have expected from Gondor or its King.

“My friends and I can only bow our knee to what you have done. But now we must plan and act together. Night will come too soon.”

As the one man finished – to think he had been a slave, too! – Adnan could not help but feel a swell of pride rise up in him, and more hope than he had felt in his life. His talk with Hadith and that he was able to stand up for who he now considered and friend had left him in higher spirits than before, and his feelings only improved from there. There would be a battle soon, and he nearly anticipated it with a thrill, rather than the dread he was accustomed to. Glancing at Hadith, he flashed him a broad smile. They were doing it. They were free, and they were defending that freedom. It was just like in the stories!

“We welcome you with immense gratitude,” Beloan spoke up, deciding it time he stepped forward once again, perhaps falling into the place he had been meant to be in. He had always seemed to be Khamir’s right hand man, and one could say it was right that he take the one-armed man’s place in his failure. Failure...Adnan wanted to think of the man bitterly, but he could not get his words out of his head. “You’ll need it, and you’ll use it well...” Not condescending, not petty words just to make him feel better – Adnan doubted a man like Khamir was capable of ever saying such things – but what the gang leader thought and felt.

“Come, we have a few provisions in our camp if you might need anything, and we may sit around a fire and get down to business.” He addressed the members of the Fellowship, but now raised his voice and turned to speak to his fellow freemen. “We do not have time to waste on distrust – these people will fight alongside us.”

Beloan turned his eyes to Khamir, who he found, to little surprise, still speaking with Shae. He would not stop the man from taking part in the planning, and would indeed encourage him to if he was in need of such, but he knew well that he should distance himself from the man if that was what he wanted. He had trusted the one-armed man as long as he knew him, but now the questions of leadership were beyond him and the way he had lived for so many years. If only he had asked his friend and companion for help, he might have avoided embarrassment. But Beloan knew that was his way, and it was best that he learned from it.

A determined calm settled on the former slaves as the Fellowship was led into the camp, and a fire chosen for them to sit around as they planned. Adnan took it upon himself to add what sticks and dried brush he could find to the blaze, as a group settled down around it, those chosen as makeshift counselors through unvoiced understanding. Few even wished to be a part of such decision making, particularly after years of having their decisions made for them. That was simply how things were – and now they were quite satisfied with who was forming plans for them, knowing that their thoughts and opinions would not be excluded. Those who were concerned simply kept as close a distance as possible to that one fire, more eyes filled with hope watching it dance than had ever gazed on such a flame.

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Old 10-10-2006, 09:22 PM   #220
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It will take longer to heal this land than it’s taken to bring Dorran to this point....

Rôg had listened with interest to the boy’s, Kwell’s, angry outburst and then to Dorran’s story. Was it easier, he wondered, for Dorran to heal because he’d been transplanted to another land? Would he be the same fine man he is now had he not been able to uproot himself; if his roots had to continue to suck sustenance from this parched place?

Rôg stooped down and picked up a handful of soil, sniffing at it lightly. It had a soured, a vaguely burnt odor to it, and he wondered if the land’s soil, this particular part of it anyway, would be able to revive. His eyes flicked about the group of men and women, trying to imagine what reserves each had; the sort they must dig deep into to nurture this new sort of life they hoped for. His tongue flicked out to taste the small wad of dirt. And was surprised that beneath its burnt taste it was not acidic. There was an underlying richness to it that had not yet been leached out. Were there water to be found in this arid land, its magic might tease out, unlock, those little graces of the soil that nurture plants. Engaged in such ponderings, he nearly missed the invitation to the Fellowship to come in and take a place about the fire.

‘Here,’ he said, coming up to Lindir’s horse. ‘Let me take her while you treat with these people.’ Rôg’s hands reached up for Azhar, guiding her down to her feet. ‘We’re both tired, and while I can’t speak for her, I know my strengths do not lie in wrangling words and ideas in such a large group. I’d rather leave that to Aiwendil and to you. I’m happy to follow along with what is decided.’

~*~

‘Come, Azhar. Let’s just sit here. A little ways away from the fire’s heat. I’ve my cloak to keep me warm and you have yours....that, and your fever. We’ll listen to them talk and plan.’ He grinned, raising his brow toward the intermingled group. ‘That should be enough to lull you to a deep and restful sleep; don’t you think?’

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Old 10-10-2006, 11:55 PM   #221
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“I am sorry, Shae. I was wrong. Gondor did not fail us, you did not fail, we will not fail.”

Shae stared at Khamir curiously. She could hear a hint of sadness in his voice, perhaps of defeat. The woman couldn't help but wonder if she were partly the cause of this. She had argued so harshly against his decisions, perhaps enough to turn many of the other ex-slaves against him. It was true- she had been right all along and Khamir wrong- but this was not the reaction she expected.

Khamir spoke up again. “I admire you....your bravery.”

Shae couldn't help but blush at these words.

Me, brave? That was something she always had a hard time believing.

She was surprised at the one-armed man's kind words. Had he spoken the truth? Was she really becoming a different person- one of bravery? As Shae watched Khamir turn toward the others, she realized she was not the only one to have changed over the last several days. The man's face remained unreadable as he listened closely to an ex-slave, Hadith, speak.

Not all changes are for the better.

Shae's focus returned to the situation in front of her as Kwell lunged his horse towards Hadith, Dorran only just grabbing his reins in time. Shae stepped forward, next to Khamir, and listened to what the Rider had to say.

“I understand more than you realize. I grew up on in these parts. We called the plantation the “Iron Cage”. The hunger, the Orc whips, living like a beast….my life was no different than yours. Our family escaped onto the Ash Plain just as you hope to do. Only they never made it further than that. No one could agree on anything; each thought they had the only answer. When the slavers came, they killed my father and mother. Out of seventeen, four escaped. Still, my sister and I were lucky. We journeyed to Rohan and made a new life. ”

Shae's eyes widened at this story. She had no words to express her shock.
"The king sent a former slave to us?" whispered Khamir, sounding just as surprised.
The woman could only glance at him and shrug her shoulders. As Dorran continued to speak, Shae noticed the slightest of scars on his wrist- a brand. She had been the first to tend to the man the previous night.

How did I not notice the scar before?

Shae felt a new admiration for the man. A Rider of Rohan Dorran may be, but was not much different from her. He had been a slave before too. And yet, he managed to start a new life, away from the plantation- even get married. If he could do it, surely Shae and the rest of the ex-slaves could too.

Final words were spoken, and satisfied enough, the ex-slaves allowed the Fellowship to join their camp. By now, daylight had well arrived, bringing with it a bright new day. Shae was searching for a place in the camp when Carl approached.
"Will you be joining us, Miss Shae?" he pointed towards the campfire where the Fellowship and a few select ex-slaves sat planning. "You were such a help to us last night-- we would appreciate any thoughts or ideas."
Shae hesistated, then gave a nod. "Very well. I will join you."
The halfling gave a smile, then hurried back to the circle.

As the woman walked towards the campfire, she caught a glimpse of Khamir and came to a halt.
"Do you not intend to join in?" she questioned, gesturing at the Fellowship.
The one-armed man gave a snort. "I was not invited, like you."

Shae stared hard at Khamir, frowning. Was the man who had led the ex-slaves all these years- the one who had kept them alive- simply going to give up and pass the torch to someone else?
"You are no failure, if that's what you think," she said to him. "You made a mistake- we all do. There are still those who believe in you. I do. Come join us by the circle. You say we will not fail. Then come, and see to it that we don't. For years we have relied on your leadership- and even with the Fellowship here, we still need you." Shae paused, breaking into a warm smile. "Right now, you may see yourself out of place. But do not think for one second you can steal my role as outcast." The woman turned around and found a seat among the Fellowship, between Vror and Beloan. She only hoped Khamir would follow.
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Old 10-11-2006, 09:49 AM   #222
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Finally! A fire at which she could work. The delay at the entrance of camp worried Athwen immensely. She had never dreamed that they would be rejected, disliked, and doubted. These people had asked for help, and it had seemed they were going to reject it when they finally got an answer.

But now they had brought the fellowship in and settled them around a fire. The men were speaking together about the slavers, when they planned to attack, where they would come from, and what tactics could possibly be used against them. The fellowship told the men from the group of ex-slaves all they had done, what they had seen, and what little they had guessed about their plans.

Athwen, in the meal while, quietly fished out a kettle and poured water into it. She fixed it above the fire as quietly as she could, trying her utmost not to distract anyone from the councils that they took. She sent furtive glances towards them from the corner of her eye as she opened her herb pack. Thankfully, few paid her any attention at all, and those soon quit being distracted by her small movements.

The water boiled at last and she pulled it off and quickly prepared tea. With the strainer still bobbing in the mug, she carried it out into the shadows where Rôg and Azhar huddled close together.

“Hold this a moment, Rôg,” she said, handing the mug to him. She knelt by Azhar and laid her hand on the girl’s forehead. “As I thought,” she murmured quietly. “Still just as feverish as before. Are you cold?” Azhar shook her head, shrugging her shoulders to indicate Rôg’s cloak around her. “I see,” Athwen said, smiling a little. She shot Rôg a quick glance. “Then I won’t ask you to come by the fire. But you have to drink this. I hope it will help.” She took the cup from Rôg, carefully fished out the strainer and holding it gingerly by its chain so that it dripped on no one, she handed the mug to Azhar.

“Don’t drink it quite yet,” she said, her eyes widening as Azhar brought it close to her lips. Had the child ever drunk tea before? Perhaps not. “It’s still very hot. Wait for it to cool some, or you’ll burn your tongue. I’ll be right back.”

She left the two of them briefly to take care of the tea leaves and return the strainer to its place in her pack. In a few minutes, she came back, and sat down silently. Azhar quietly and steadily drank all of the tea and in ten minutes, handed back the empty cup.

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Old 10-11-2006, 08:38 PM   #223
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Imak:

By the time the leader of the slavers awoke and struggled to his feet, it was already well past mid-morning. Imak glanced outside his tent and saw men scurrying from one side of the camp to the other. The deadly business of getting ready for the night's attack was well under way. After pulling on his boots, Imak girded his older sword around his waist and uttered a private curse, swearing that he would retrieve the fine blade that had been stolen from him two nights before. He walked out of the tent and strode purposefully among the men, carefully noting what had already been accomplished as well as those tasks that still needed to be finished.

Men were rounding up the last of the horses, rummaging through small stockpiles of daggers and swords, and finishing up the holding pens in which the young slaves would be stored before being driven back to Nurn. When asked by one of his men if they should build a second pen, Imak had tersely responded that this would not be necessary. Only the fittest and fairest would be left alive: the rest would be summarily slaughtered. The leader of the slavers was in no mood to be challenged. The men exchanged worried glances at this news, since it would substantially reduce the profits they drew, but no one had the courage to cross Imak's path. In any event, the men were not opposed to an easy night of slaughter.

Reaching the center of camp where the cooking fire still burned, Imak met up with Eyshkin, the second in command, and barked out a final series of orders, grudgingly acknowledging that things had gone better than he had feared last night, “There’s no use waiting till nightfall. Our preparations are almost complete. We leave by mid-afternoon. We need no cover of darkness to defeat this rag tale band. Tell the men to be prepared to ride out then.”

Eyshkin nodded curtly, but then hesitated a minute, wondering if he should say anything about what had happened earlier that morning. Still, he had better come up with a good explanation, because the men would be without meat at their mid-day meal and tempers were likely to be frayed. Unable to concoct a believable story, Eyshkin finally decided to tell the truth, despite the fact that the story sounded odd even to him. Nervously clearing his throat, the man continued, “Imak, there’s one problem. Cook was preparing a fat donkey for the mid-day meal. Only now there's a problem. You see the carcass has turned up missing”

“Missing? That’s ridiculous. Has the idiot been into one of the casks? I told him to leave the stuff alone till after we had finished with the slaves.”

“No, Captain. It’s not that. You see one of the men swears he saw a monster come into the kitchen and lug off the meat. The monster was a big ugly thing, as broad as it was tall with fangs as long as daggers. Cook went and hid in the log pile while the thing piled the meat onto its back and ran off onto the plain.”

“You expect me to believe that?” Imak snapped. “Those fools have been drinking. Put the casks into my tent and have one of the men stand guard outside. Nobody, and I mean nobody, touches that brew before we come back tonight. I should have your neck for this one, Eyshkin. It’s your job to handle all these problems. But I’ll let you off this once. Only you’ll be the one to announce to the men they are having grain porridge for lunch. We can’t take any more time to slaughter an animal or prepare it for cooking.” Imak spat on the ground and laughed. “I don’t envy you that job. Just tell them that hunger is good. It makes them fight harder. Tell them to do well and there’ll be a reward for everyone in camp.” With that, Imak turned and marched off to where several men were beginning to practice with their bows.

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Old 10-12-2006, 10:38 AM   #224
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Carl

As the talks around the fire progressed, Carl listened attentively to the discussion as he sat with his quiver, methodically straightening the fletching between thumb and forefinger. And while he knew that there was very little chance of confusing one of the people now surrounding his companions, for one of the villains that would be bearing down on them, he still would look up intermittently, as he tried to learn each man’s face. It would be bad to suddenly find that he could mistake them during the skirmish. And as he studied those faces, he witnessed here and there, a blossoming resolve displace the grim resignation that had seemed etched on so many of them. Backs that had seemed bent with the burden of living grew a bit straighter before his eyes.

And then too, as he looked up furtively from beneath his brow, he noticed quite a few sets of narrowed eyes beyond their circle, peering at him as well Vrór, making him feel self conscious as he sat there. He knew of Vrór’s great skill, what had he, a simple hobbit, to offer them? Indeed, he did not know himself. It was that he was a farmer, but then many of them had worked the ground, and understood better then he, the climate here. But he was included for some reason, and deciding that there was no point now in second guessing his betters, especially now when the whole plan was being threatened by slavers, he laid his quiver down in the dust beside him.

Clearing his throat, and avoiding the curious eyes of those passing by, he glanced at Lindir then at Dorran as he waited for a gap in the conversation. “If I might make a suggestion or two?” he asked at length. All eyes turned toward the small figure as Carl stood up to address the them. “I just wanted to say that my people once had to contend with a rough group too, maybe not just like these slavers but close enough to be cousins. Anyway, we found out that while each one of us could do little to get rid of so many of them, when we all came together there was no stopping us. Those ruffians could not stand against us.

“My point is this, even if you’re handy with sword or knife, it’s no good taking care of a hundred slavers if the there is only a handful of us left after the fighting. You need one another, both to help you now, and later on when you start to make your own way in this land. We’ve got keep an eye out for each other, you know? And fight as a group. Otherwise it will go much harder for all of us.”

Carl looked at the ground behind him as he moved to sit down. There was a rock there that he hadn’t noticed before. Picking it up, another thought came to mind, and so he addressed the group again, jostling the stone in his hand. “Oh, and we might try to spare the slavers’ horses as much as we can. I can’t help but think that they will come in handy, if we can catch some of them.”

Settling down again, Carl looked at the rock in his hand, remembering the one Athwen had found near the stream. Somewhere in this group was the person who had drawn on it, and he knew that with the raid imminent, there was a good chance that he might never find out who it was. Taking out his knife, he looked around to see if Athwen was nearby before beginning to carefully scratch the stone with his knife’s handle. Drawing from memory the tree, the moon and the bird’s footprint as he listened to the others' sober remarks.

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Old 10-14-2006, 01:35 PM   #225
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Brenna

‘Now that’uns got a good head set solid on his shoulders.’ Brenna listened closely to the little man’s words, nodding her head at the common sense of them. She and most of the other women were sitting at a small fire near that of the others who now sat with the group from Gondor; close by enough to hear what was said, but far enough away that they felt they weren’t intruding.

‘What sort of creature is he, Granny?’ whispered Gwenni. In all her eleven years her only contact had been with those men who were either slaves or slave owners. Among and between their groups they differed in skin and hair color, and height a little, but none she could recall had been as short as these two and still full grown.

‘Him and that other fellow who’s a little taller – they aren’t some kind of good Orc are they?’ the girl asked. She wrinkled her brow, considering the problem. ‘I heard that sometimes Orcs don’t get very big.’ Her fingers slipped up to play with a stray strand of blond hair, wrapping it tightly about one finger then letting it fall again into a lank ringlet. ‘They’re not all that mean looking though. As Orcs are s'posed to be, that is. His hair’s nice and curly, that one as was just talking, and I don’t think Orcs wear such fine clothes.’ She jutted her chin toward the Dwarf. ‘And hasn’t that one got amazing hair! Like fire, almost. And a big bush of it round the bottom of his face, isn’t that a wonder!’

Gwenni’s eyes glittered in the fire’s light, and a sly look tickled at the edges of them. Quick as a mouse she was up on her small bare feet and scurrying as quiet as such a creature, too, toward where Carl sat.

‘Ssst!’ Brenna hissed at her, in a low voice. ‘Get back here, Gwenith! Don’t pester him with your questions, girl.’

Paying no attention, Gwenni pulled up short behind Carl and stood stock still. Craning her neck to one side, she saw he had pulled out a knife and was making scratches on a rock he held in his other hand. The girl’s eyes went wide as she saw what he was carving.

A tree! And wasn’t that a moon?

When he started on those little scratchings that began to look somewhat like a bird’s foot, Gwenni gasped, and stepped up beside him. ‘Do you know Granny’s brothers, then?’ she asked crouching down beside him, looking first at the rock in his hand then up at him. ‘Did they send you with a message for her?’

Only a few short moments later, Brenna reached the girl and Carl. ‘I hope this one’s not been bothering you,’ she said, laying her hand on Gwenith’s shoulder. ‘She’s a curious one…and bold to boot.’ She raised a brow at the girl. ‘Let’s go, and leave the folk to their talking.’

‘Granny Brenna!’

Brenna turned at the sound of her name. One of the women called from their fire, waving to Brenna to come back. ‘The tea’s done. Come have a cup!’

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Old 10-16-2006, 10:31 AM   #226
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Carl

Carl felt as if someone was watching him intently, and trying to ignore his feeling of discomfort, he stifled the shudder that welled up in him to sit like a prickly collar about his neck. But at a delicate gasp from over his shoulder, the hobbit looked up from his work to find a young girl stationed nearby him, looking wide eyed at the rough sketch in his hand.

“Do you know Granny’s brothers than?” She asked as she crouched down next to him, without the least sign of hesitation. “Did they send you with a message for her?” She looked him in the eye with such honest, childlike curiosity; it struck Carl almost as refreshing as the words that she spoke.

Meeting her inquisitive glance with enthusiasm, he turned his full attention to her, as he whispered. “Well young Miss, if you aren’t just the person I was hoping to meet!” And not wishing to unduly disturb the thoughtful conversation around him, he added quickly. “I don’t reckon I know if we have been carrying a message for her or not, but we may have seeing as you know this drawing. I would very much like to meet this Granny of yours after we are done here, if you’d be kind enough to let her know as much.”

The fair-hair girl opened her mouth to speak, but she was quickly silenced by an older woman, who walking up, laid her hand on the girl’s shoulder, apologizing. But before the hobbit had the chance to set this matron’s mind at ease, and admit his utter delight in the child’s line of questioning, the two were called away by another. And they quietly slipped away.

Granny Brenna, the woman had called. Granny? Carl thought making the connection belatedly. He raised a finger behind the retreating figures as though about to call them back, but thinking better of it, he put the rock safely in his pocket and tried to concentrate on the matter at hand.

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Old 10-16-2006, 12:49 PM   #227
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Azhar

"That was good," Azhar responded as she pushed the cup into Athwen's outstretched hands. "I'm sorry to be a burden. I feel so useless being sick especially when everyone is getting ready for the attack. Back in Nurn, I was never ill. The others used to say I was hard like a rock, and that nothing ever got to me. I don't understand what's happening."

Azhar's face fell. The girl closed her eyes and cradled her forehead in her hands. A moment later, she remembered something and sat up abruptly. Speaking with as much cheerfulness as she could muster, Azhar called out to the healer, "But I haven't thanked you for what you did. You are kind and have come a long way to help. If I had a real place where I belonged, I don't think I would ever want to leave. In fact, I know I wouldn't. Back in Nurn, I only cared about myself. I was good at weaseling out of work and stealing trinkets and food from the guards to make my life easier. I didn't pay any attention to the others." A little embarassed, Azhar glanced away and wondered if she had said too much. She did not quite understand her feelings but she wanted Athwen to like her.

If the healer was surprized by Azhar, she did not show it. She reached out and pressed the girl's shoulder in a reassuring way, "Those thoughts are important, but you'll have time later to sort things out. Now your only job is to rest and get well."

“Rôg,” she said gently, bending towards him, “don’t let her stay up too late talking. Please get her to go to sleep.” He nodded and she turned and walked back to the fire.

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

"You're supposed to be sleeping. I promised Athwen." Rôg smiled at Azhar who was still lying down but listening to everyone in the circle talk about the attack.

"Oh, Rôg. I can't sleep. Just don't tell Athwen I am awake." Azhar's eyes twinkled as she put her hand up to her mouth and laughted. "I am feeling a little better, and I am so excited about what is going to happen. I only wish I was well enough to fight."

Athwen struggled to sit up but then sank back onto the ground. "I don't know what's wrong with me. In my head I feel stronger and happier than I have in a long time. But it's almost as if there's a fight going on inside my body. If I could just step outside for a minute, I could show my body that my head is in charge. Then, it wouldn't keep making me sick. Do you think I could do that?" There was an earnestness in Azhar's voice that showed she was serious.

Before Rôg could respond, Azhar had posed a second question, "The people you told me about....the ones who beat the evil clan leader and their allies in Harad....they weren't great and mighty warriors. How did simple herding people do that? How did you do that? Did someone teach you how to fight with swords and bows? Or maybe that lady you were looking for was so powerful she could drive everyone off? Or did you persuade others to come help you, the way you are helping us?" She looked quizzically at Rôg.

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Old 10-16-2006, 02:39 PM   #228
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Rôg leaned forward as Azhar spoke, brushing a stray strand of hair back behind her ear. It was a natural act, he had often done it for his sister in their younger days. Daira’s hair was always unruly, much to her distress. And being the younger brother, he took what opportunity afforded him to poke a little fun at her when he could.

Azhar’s temple felt still a little warmer than usual as his fingers brushed across it. He glanced at her eyes as he drew back. They were bright, but not, it seemed to him, with illness. Bright more like from the workings of her quick mind. Intelligent.

‘Did someone teach you how to fight with swords and bows?’ she asked.

Now how to answer that . . .

‘We are not a warrior people, but living in the desert we have some basic knowledge of how to use weapons. Enough to defend ourselves. Our greatest enemy though, or so it seemed to me, was that we were broken into so many little groups and our pride and our fears held us apart from one another. That had to be overcome first before we could join together in strength.

‘Or maybe that lady you were looking for was so powerful she could drive everyone off?’ Azhar continued.

The girl must have drifted off at the last of the story. Just as well . . .

‘We did find her. That is, her friends from Gondor were finally reunited with her. She wasn’t really lost, though, only staying with the Elders from my tribe. Learning some things about herself. I suppose she could have driven the evil ones off by herself, but she didn’t have to in the end. We were all there, together; our strength multiplied a hundred-fold by our working with each other.’ He nodded at her last question. ‘So, yes, I think you could say those from outside our clans . . . Aiwendil, those from Gondor, and more so, the Elders of our clans . . . they put the idea in our minds that we could and should work together.

He glanced at her, wondering what thoughts were going through her mind. Was his explanation enough to satisfy her?

She did look tired, now. Recalling what she had said before her questions about the battle in the south, he turned the conversation back to what she’d asked about what was wrong with her. ‘How about you, Azhar. I was curious about what you said. How you felt like there was a fight going on inside you – between your mind and your body. And I’m more curious how you said that if you could just step outside for a moment, you might somehow get better.’ He narrowed his eyes and considered her closely.

‘Tell me, little one, when you’re lost in sleep, what do you dream of? Can you remember?’

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Old 10-16-2006, 04:19 PM   #229
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Gwerr

The two orcs sat down a comfortable distance away from the sleeping Uruks as they got back to their camp. Gwerr showed Ishkur to sat down. He had a thing or two in his mind.

“Okay, mate. We discuss then?” he opened and grinned in a way that was close to being amicable with the orc standards. He lifted his left eybrow and offered Ishkur a piece of dried meat and started going through his backpack to find the beerflask. “Just a second...” he murmured and finally produced the time-beaten goatskin from his sack. “Here we go then, hopefully we can fill this the next night as you promised!”

They both took long draughts of the lukewarm ale and burbed after it, a sign of mutual agreement. As Ishkur started to chew the offered bite of meat Gwerr queried him.

“So the elf down there, what do you think of it? Are the elves meddling into the way things go on here after that blasted Elessar got his victory? Weren’t they supposed to run and flee away from these lands? If not, that would be bad news indeed... We’ve been fighting the elves for too long and they should really just beat themselves out from here. I mean, they don’t belong here so why should they want to stay?”

Gwerr lokked at Ishkur quizzically, but Ishkur’s mouth was so full and busy that he couldn’t answer him. So Ishkur just nodded to the issue and looked thoughtful and worried. At least that was Gwerr’s interpretation of it.

“And then those Uruks”, Gwerr added before Ishkur had finished his chewing. The dried meat took time to consume. “Do you really think there is something that can make one so much wiser in their birth already? I mean, yes, they are smarter than most of our fellows here, but could they actually be wiser than we two, or Colagar...?” Then he bursted to a smile. “Well, yes maybe wiser than Colagar... surely, that doesn’t take much?” And then he laughed, a kind of nervous laughter that was trailing his thoughts all the time. Things were not going well and Gwerr was worried.

“I mean, how can they be so wise if they are only thirty somethings and we have experience of what, two millenia and more? Can anything match the knowledge from experience? I don’t think so, but still they seem to be at level with us, even wiser, like tonight as they just sleep and take no part to this over-daring looting we’ve been doing...”

Gwerr shooked his head and took a bite of the meat himself. Waiting for his companion to clear his mouth. He was really anxious for his answers. Weird, I’m not used to pay heed to the opinioins of others, but now I’m really interested about what Ishkur has to say... We must be in this together, otherwise it’s the end of us all.
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Old 10-16-2006, 04:41 PM   #230
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Khamir

Raising an eyebrow at Shae’s last comment, Khamir watched her take a seat near Beloan and one of the strange short men: the taller one, who had wild fiery hair, a colour like he had never seen before. All that he could really recognize was that he was obviously quite hardy in body and was getting up in age, as both the hair on his head and his beard were streaked with bits of silver. He still wondered about these strangers, but he had been inclined to trust them from the start, and held a new respect for Elessar, King of Gondor, no matter how begrudgingly he had to admit it, even to himself.

In particular, he was surprised by the fact that the King had sent a former slave as a part of the group. It could have been mere chance, yes, but even Khamir had to admit that it was most likely planned. The man was wise. Perhaps the Southron could learn to love this Elessar, even if he never quite came to love Gondor as a whole. If he could, he would be glad to live and serve in a new land under his jurisdiction, even though he was royalty hundreds of miles away.

That night had been full of surprises, and this day was already proving to hold even more. Even Shae had more things up her sleeves than usual, it seemed, and for several moments Khamir could only stare at her, the first few times he blinked out of pure surprise. He also hesitated for other reasons. What would joining this mean? Anything? It seemed to him almost like admitting some sort of defeat. It seemed like giving in. But hadn’t he already? He tried to settle himself, and convince himself to give up the fight already, though perhaps he would lose more than ever if he was fully successful in the latter. Actually suppressing even part of his stubborn nature might harm his fighting spirit – not that there was much fear of that: he was too stubborn to attempt to do so with too much effort.

Finally finding a reason or two for him to join this makeshift counsel of generals of circumstance, Khamir took a seat behind but in between Shae and Beloan. He would not be the one to smooth over divisions between the slaves and the Fellowship. His sense of loyalty, once it was fixed on a particular person or group, was hard to loosen, even just to spread it wider. He listened to the smallest of the newcomers, but feigned disinterest when anyone glanced at him.

“There are about sixty of us in all,” Beloan spoke up after the short man was through.

“I counted some twenty-five or thirty of those slavers,” the strange orange haired man said in a deep, grating voice that sounded akin to that of the mountains themselves.

Now it was Khamir’s turn to speak up. Numbers were all well and good, and he knew there was wisdom in the small brown haired man’s words, but horses were not necessarily as positive. Of course, this outlander would not understand.

“I expect many of you can ride, but many of us cannot. Horses in this land are scarce – the only horses we’ve seen in many years have either been in front of a plow or cooked. Orcs will eat them without a second thought.” He added his last statement in explanation, certainly not wishing to insult these foreign men with the idea that he ate horse meat, not that he had been picky about what he did or did not eat for years.

“I rode as a young man, but it has been almost two decades. Finding more horses may be more trouble than they are worth. We know this land better than any horses, too, and will be able to withstand its treacheries with more grace, I think. These bounty hunters may know Mordor, too, but many of them came here only when they saw opportunity after the fall of the Dark Lord. They are men that readily took the place of many Orcs, even against their fellow men, for money.”

They were below Orcs to Khamir, and that was saying something, as one of those creatures was the cause of his missing arm. But he had long given up on revenge, even though he would take it if ever the opportunity presented itself.

Khamir was too wrapped up in his thoughts and his anger to notice that Beloan was nodding beside him. “We know the land better than they do,” his friend began, “and I hope we will be able to use that to our advantage. Unfortunately, they are more seasoned in the ways of war. Surely some of you, though, know more of battles?” His voice took on an air of beseeching, but there was not an ounce of subservience to be found in his tone or his posture. Khamir looked at his companion with immense respect: he realized his and all of the Mordorians’ weaknesses and faults, and could admit them with losing any of his pride. Beloan was a wiser leader than he would ever have been. Khamir eyed the stump that used to be his right arm as one of his last signs of pride, but he could live with that, because he was alive.

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Old 10-16-2006, 06:42 PM   #231
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Lindir:

The back and forth of Beloan and the one called Khamir almost seemed to Lindir like an intricate dance. The two were infinitely respectful in their questioning and careful not to cross paths or opinions, yet each seemed a little uncertain of where he stood. They warily circled each other, testing out the ground, as if they were not used to sharing ideas or making decisions in quite this way. Khamir had been the one with the foresight to contact Elessar and, after so many months of carrying the letter in his satchel, Lindir felt he almost knew the man. At the same time, the elf had been pleased to learn that there were others who could step forward and speak for the group. Those freed from the plantation were responsible for choosing their own leaders. While that right did not not lie with the fellowship, Lindir hoped the men could be brought to understand that only by sharing authority and ideas could they build a real community. Even if Beloan or perhaps Khamir became the main spokesman for the group, they would need to find a way to draw the others in and use their talents without making them feel that they had somehow failed. While that would not be easy, it was the only way the group could survive.

Believing that those who had come from the plantation had much to teach them, Lindir had sat back until this point, learning much and saying little. Now, with the mention of war, he felt compelled to join in. "Yes, Beloan, you are correct in thinking this. Our group, though small, has different talents. At various times I have served as a scout and as a worker in metals, but the one constant in my long life has sadly been war. I have been in more battles than I care to remember. And Dorran, the young man who explained how he escaped from Nurn, is also a Rider of Rohan. These riders are the personal liegemen of the King of Rohan who swear an oath to defend the kingdom and have particular skill in managing horses. The two of us have spoken for some time about what we all might do."

Lindir glanced over towards Dorran as he spoke, "You see, wars are not always won by the sword. Sometimes they are won by whoever can use his wits the best. Your people are not trained with weapons and that is a disadvantage, but they have had to stay active and alert just to survive. I am sure there were times when when you had to come up with a trick to outwit the plantation masters. That's exactly what we must do now. The best situation of all is not killing your opponent in battle but stopping that opponent before he makes it to your camp. We need to build cleverly hidden ditches and traps of different kinds so that some of these men are taken unawares. Dorran and I can help you, but you may well have ideas of your own. Another good thing is even those who are too old or sick or small to fight can often help to build these traps. These things work best at night or when the weather is dark and murky. We can only hope the slavers will cooperate by launching their attack after the sun sets."

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Old 10-16-2006, 10:51 PM   #232
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Ishkur:

Ishkur yanked off one more chunk of meat and then wiped his grimy hands on the side of his pants. He looked over at Gwerr and laughed, "Uruks and Elves! Couldn't you think of anything more to my liking than that? Both of them give me a giant pain in my head. You know, Gwerr, I have run across a man or two in Arda who did not seem so bad. Once, I went into a tavern in Harad. It was a hang out for a bunch of us who were fighting for the local lord. At first, we stared grimly at eacher other, but once we started drinking everything changed. We lifted many a tankard that evening, orcs and men alike, and ended up passed out on the floor heaped up in one big pile. Really, I don't think we are so different. They hate us and we hate them, because we're more alike than anything else."

"Now Elves and Uruks are something else. They deserve each others company. We should lock them up in a big room and let them kill each other. You know Gwerr, those two are a lot alike. Each thinks they're better than anybody else. They try to act like bosses and lord it over everyone. Bah, I can't stand either of them! They make me sick."

Ishkur turned towards Gwerr and saw a puzzled look on his face. Then he laughed again. "I know what you are thinking. You're asking why somebody who hate Uruks so much is willing to use Makdush and his buddies. Isn't that right?" Ishkur went on without stopping, "I'll tell you why. If I learned anything in the past few thousand years, it's this....that sometimes you have to put up with people you hate if you're going to get what you really want. What I really want is a place in the mountains away from all this mess and the bosses, maybe with a good herd of horses and lots of time to hunt. Maybe even with a female by my side or maybe not. I am not sure about that part. But I am sure that we won't get to the north unless we stick together. I've heard bad stories about some of the things left over up there....things that take a particular dislike to orcs....so we're going to need everybody to fight. That's why I put up with Uruks. And no, I don't think they are any smarter than us. They just think they are and they have lots of people fooled."

"So you'd put up with Uruk to get what you want?" Gwerr echoed Ishkur's words.

His friend nodded, "Yeah, sure. That's what I said. Didn't you hear me?"

"Yah, I heard you. But I have another question.... Would you put up with Elves if you thought they would help you get what you wanted."

Ishkur stared back at Gwerr. His face turned a sickly green color. "Put up with Elves? You must be out of your mind. That's not gonna happen. That's never gonna happen. Elves and Orcs don't get along. Nothing's ever gonna change that. Nothing."

"But what if you needed something real bad, and the only way you could get it was to use an Elf?" Gwerr was curious.

"Huh, I can't imagine that. And if it happened, I don't know. I guess I'd have to think about that a long time, or else I'd come and ask you to make the decision."

"Anyways, my friend Gwerr, I don't think we're gonna have to worry about that. The only thing I'm worrying about is when those men are gonna leave camp so I can fill my tankard. I rode back down there earlier, and it looked as if they were getting things together to go in a little while. I don't think they're waiting till nightfall. I wish they'd get their bodies in the saddle and head out. I am feeling mighty thirsty. Hey, do you want to go down there and have another look?" Ishkur asked of Gwerr.

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Old 10-19-2006, 07:03 PM   #233
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Gwerr

"I think we should not play with our fortune. Let's just wait here for the time being. We have no need of anything and if what you say is true, we will have the spoils tomorrow.... I'm in no rush as long as I have meat and ale enough in my backbag and no one of us is outright starving. We can share our things if need be... and it's only tomorrow we have to wait."

Gwerr rose his eyes to meet Ishkur's: "Yea, we should lock them both, the Uruks and the Elves into a cell and let them kill each other... I agree", Gwerr said, munching a piece of dried meat and taking a long draught from his worn skin of ale. He toyed with the skin a while in his hands before throwing it to Ishkur. There were no words needed to interpret the gesture. And Ishkur drank with pleasure.

"Don't worry about filling your tankard tonight, just share this one with me! We've not shared so many things even though we could have." Gwerr was silent for a while and looked at Ishkur questioningly. He spat on the ground to get rid of the tendons that he had chewed. "We've shared many battles together, Ishkur. More than most of these ones around us have any family-memory of! Let's be guided by the wisdom of experience here?"

"I mean, yes we really should think of this. Should we try to seek for some help to get us free? And if yes, would them be the Uruks or the Elves, or whom? We've fought the Elves from the times immemorial, I know, but what about these Uruks? Their master is gone. Who do they serve and can they be their own masters in this new situation? Have they the perspective we have, however intelligent they turn out to be?"

Gwerr noticed the surprised expression on Ishkur's face and went on to explain the idea that was just forming in his mind.

"If you say, you will be ready to use the Uruks as means to our ends, why not others then as well?" Gwerr made a pause and continued: "Are these Uruks our best option? They will kill us with no hesitation when they see it fit their schemes, but those Elves and humans will hesitate! You said yourself that sometimes you have to put up with people you hate if you're going to get what you really want. Now who could really help us here? We will ransack this slaver camp the next night, but what then? Whom do we rely on? Do you trust those Uruks to nicely share our females in the place to come and just turn into our friends? Forget it... But maybe those Elves and Humans would look positively to us helping them to bring down these slavers? WE might gain from an attack that already helps us? So no panicky moves, just wait and see, eh?"

Gwerr started chewing his portion of the meat and looked towards Ishkur, waiting for his point of view.
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Old 10-20-2006, 12:05 AM   #234
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"Elves and humans who would look positively to us for helping them to bring down these slavers? You are a dreamer, Gwerr. And you say that I am foolish? You are the crazy one. Such a thing will never happen. Yes, I mentioned drinking with those men in Harad but that was one night, no more than that. The next day, they saw me on the practice field with my sword, and they walked all the way to the other side. The last thing they wanted was to step within the shadow of an orc." Ishkur spat on the ground and cursed, "I tell you we could slaughter every last slaver in that camp and those slaves would still slice our throats without even looking back. When's the last time you saw men offering mercy to an orc who had the bad luck to fall injured in battle? Yet those grand kings were always pardoning their mannish enemies and let them return back home. But not us. Never us. They would rather die than pardon an orc."

Ishkur turned his head and stared at Gwerr, "It sounds as if you're thinking of running off to help the slaves. If that's what you want, you'll have to do it on your own. I'm not going with you. I don't like Makdush and his gang, but at least they're better than men. And I won't even get into elves. They're another case altogether, even more brutal and pig-headed. No, my friend. I'll have nothing to do with men or elves, not if I have a choice."

Ishkur stood up and buckled on this sword and stalked over to get his horse. "Lucky for us Gwerr that the day is so murky. There'll be no trouble with the bright light. I'm going down to watch the slaver's camp. As soon as the men leave, I'll ride back here and let everyone know that the store is open for pillaging." Ishkur got up on his horse's back and boldy cantered back to the slavers' camp, all the while thinking that his friend Gwerr needed a good night of carousing to clear out the cobwebs in his head.

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Old 10-20-2006, 01:17 PM   #235
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Athwen took the mug that Azhar had drunk from and rinsed it with water. She dried it with a cloth and put it away to the side, where she could remember that it was the one Azhar had used. She moved her pack over to where Dorran sat and there she sank to the ground beside him. As she finally sat down and let her body relax she realized just how tired she was.

Her blue eyes blinked heavily a few times, fixed on something far away. Unconsciously, she sagged closer and closer to her husband. He moved his arm and put it about her shoulders without looking down at her as he continued listening carefully to the talk.

“You see, wars are not always won by the sword,” Lindir was saying. “Sometimes they are won by whoever can use his wits the best. Your people are not trained with weapons and that is a disadvantage, but they have had to stay active and alert just to survive. I am sure there were times when you had to come up with a trick to outwit the plantation masters. That's exactly what we must do now. . .”

His voice faded into the confused sounds of the waking day. A bright light burst over the eastern horizon. The sun rose in majesty. Athwen’s head turned slightly away, her eyelids tightened, then relaxed. A sigh escaped her half open lips. With the last bit of her wakeful mind, she felt Dorran dip his head and kiss her lightly and she slept.
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Old 10-20-2006, 06:05 PM   #236
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Hadith (and Joshwan)

Hadith had been following the discussion with keen ears. But he was even more taken by the new feeling he got from the gang of escapees. Something was different now, very different. There was the fear as there had been and even the quiet murmur towards the Fellowship hadn’t totally died. But it was something else. A resoluteness, a dedication, something he couldn’t describe to himself. Somehow all were listening, sharing a common focus.

Then someone spoke again. It was someone who hadn’t yet spoken but sat on the inner ring unlike Hadith who had carefully slipped to the second row. He turned his head to identify the familiar-sounding speaker. It was Joshwan.

“I have sailed the seas for years before I was caught by the slave-hunters and taken to a plantation. I know a lot of tricks one can do when waterborne, but I’ve had my part of fighting on land too, being the underdog most of the times. To my experience this looks pretty challenging to say the least.” Joshwan made a pause and looked at both the elf and the Rohanian rider. “My name is Joshwan and I come from Umbar. I’ve been a soldier of fortune most of my life, the one you call a pirate, but that’s not what I call myself. I am a Fortune’s soldier.” Joshwan gazed sharply around to the others around him in the inner ring of people to underline his words.

“But let’s look at our landscape. Slowly rolling and dull hills with only this hay that has dried yellow all around us. Yes, we might dig a ditch for their horses to tumble into, but how do we hide the ditches without a lattice structure made from some young trees or good branches of older ones? Or the basic rope tricks then? We can’t get a rope high enough to fall the riders but neither have we any aids to bear the brunt of the impact if we try to stumble the horses. Maybe twenty strong men at the each end of the rope could take the blow of the rushing horses, but where do you hide forty men here still hoping the enemy to ride straight between them?” Joshwan shrugged.

“It’s nice to speak of wittiness and traps but we should actually come up with some real ideas that are both working and doable... All we seem to have in abundance here is this dry grass and it’s not the best of weapons against seasoned fighters on horseback.” He broke a grass in two and then threw the parts away.

What Joshwan said sounded reasonable and thence depressing. Hadith was brought down from his emerging confidence very abtruptly and violently. All this talk of tricks had sounded so easy and assuring but if what Joshwan said was right, they were back to the square one. And if these people on the Fellowship had only vague ideas, who would then have the real solutions?

Hadith picked a grass and twisted it around his fingers. Not much of a weapon... isn’t there anything we could do with these?

“Couldn’t we do something with all this hay? Burning it or something?” Hadith asked, basically just saying it to himself, but it was quiet enough for most of the people around him to actually hear it. Hadith realised the situation in an instance and blushed, starting to mumble an apology. But Beloan cut in.

“As I agree with the points Joshwan has presented, I can’t share his pessimism. But with you Hadith I think it is the other way around. I strongly share your optimism, but probably not your point. How could we be helped by lighting the ground on fire? You know, the fire burns the good and the bad alike.” There was no contempt in his voice or in his gaze that drilled deep into Hadith’s mind. To Hadith it felt more like a father correcting his beloved son for making hasty and stupid suggestions. But he was ashamed, so ashamed. He would hold his mouth from now on, he really would.

“Just wait a minute here! I may not be so pessimistic you think I am, Beloan. And the boy might actually have a seed of wisdom here.” It was Joshwan again, and he was smiling to Hadith! A boy! Hadith wasn’t sure how to take it. Somehow he had started to think of himself as something else than just a boy with this group, but in a way Joshwan spoke the truth. He was a man but Hadith was a boy. That was exactly what he was and now he had been shown his place.

“We might pack the hay in tight bunches, using some string to make them hold, a size of a big head or something. And we could make a lot of them... a hundred at least...” Joshwan was clearly getting animated with his idea. “When they come near enough us if we have no other tricks to use on them – or to those who have been left around the fire to make the last stand if we have other ideas too – we could alight them and throw them at the slavers. This grass is so dry that it will burst in flame in seconds. We have just time to throw them before the fire really gets wild. Just think how their horses will react to a hundred balls of fire thrown at them from a short range and out of the blue? We might then have a lot of unsaddled slavers in our hands, hopefully stunned or at least disoriented for a few moments.”

Hadith was thinking about a hundred fireballs flying in the darkness of a night... It looked awesome.

Last edited by Nogrod; 10-20-2006 at 06:45 PM.
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Old 10-20-2006, 09:58 PM   #237
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Johari had at first been inclined to feel annoyed and encroached upon with the arrival of these newcomers, who seemed to think they could just dance right into their camp and run the place as if the ex-slaves could not figure it out for themselves. And how they tried to ingratiate themselves! “See, we rescued your children!” and “Look, I’m an ex-slave just like you; you can be successful just like me!” Ugh.

To vocally protest their arrival as some had tried would be futile, of course. They had come this far and would hardly turn back now only a few minutes or hours after finding them. No, they would come along and “help”, holding themselves above us ex-slaves, consciously or not. They didn’t understand. Why had they been invited – begged – to come? Even with that, they hardly had a right to be here. Where had these strangers been months ago, years ago when they had really needed the help, toiling away on some plantation, only just managing to survive? Where had they been when the Black Tower fell to end the slavery for real? Had the help they had needed come when they had needed it to come, she would not have been separated from Kalin as she was.

But now, finally, help had come, and they expected to be welcomed like saviors. We’ve been watching out for ourselves and doing all right until now, thought Johari, and I’ll be clapped in chains and dragged back to that plantation if I let someone else come and baby-sit me now.

Still, these rebellious thoughts remained unspoken, not because she knew it would not help but because, when it came down to it, she didn’t care enough to voice them. These outsiders would do as they wished and the people of the camp would accept them or not as they wished, and to Johari it didn’t matter much as long as no one bothered her or hindered her in her own goal. The annoyances were still liable to come out in a fit of pique should Johari be roused from her apathy (it wasn’t exactly difficult), but for now she felt comfortable just letting them stew. Let these emissaries from Gondor come to understand what life here was really like. They may not even need to be driven away; the land, its people, and their hurts might defeat them on their own. Johari smiled perversely at the thought.

Last edited by Firefoot; 10-21-2006 at 06:42 PM.
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Old 10-21-2006, 08:54 PM   #238
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Azhar

Azhar's face blanched as she heard what Rôg was asking her. For a long time she hesitated, unsure if she could bring herself to describe what most of her dreams were like. She wondered why Rôg would ask her to do such a difficult thing. Perhaps he did not understand what it was like to be a slave. That burden was all too familiar to Azhar; it still shaped her life even though she had left behind the old estate. Every evening with the return of sleep, Nurn would slip back inside her mind. There was sorrow and the doom of reliving the horrors of the past, all set within an eerie shadowland that magnified and sharpened her memories in a hundred different ways.

Some people said this was because of the Dark Lord: that his hand hung so heavy over the land that not even the dream world was safe from his brooding presence. Azhar did not believe that. If it was only the Dark Lord who haunted her nights, the ugly dreams would have disappeared after his defeat. But the dreams had not stopped. She and the other slaves continued to spend tortured nights tossing from one side to the other as they recalled images and scenes long since banished from their daytime mind.

Azhar stared off in the distance and then spoke, "Dreams? All of us on the plantation dream. Only they are hateful nightmares no person would want to remember. Sometimes I dream about the orcs, how they stood over me with whips and barbs. I see images of death and dying, small babies ripped from a mother's arms for the sport of the Easterlings. And sometimes my mind reminds me how hungry I was, how I would have given anything, truly anything, for a decent piece of bread or a chunk of meat."

"But the worst dreams, the ones I truly dread, are when I remember my mother. Her name was Ursula. Yes, it was an odd name for a lady from Harad," the girl nodded, responding to Rôg's unasked question. "In daytime, I still can not see her. Only at night does she return. I was four years old, maybe five. My mother and I had been travelling north for months. She said there would be people to help us if we could only find our way back home. We finally came to the mountain and the woods." Azhar looked up in surprise, startled to recall that the place her mother called home was full of great trees, so utterly unlike the present landscape with its gnarled bushes and thorny brambles.

"My mother promised me it would be our last night on the road. She thought we would find our kin before darkness set in, but the rain delayed us. I was so little and tired. The sun set and I could not go any further. We lay down to sleep. The orcs came without warning. They were slavers with chains and brands out searching for fresh bodies, not to kill but to drag us away. There was no chance of escape."

"Then something happened I still don't understand. Rôg.....my mother looked at them, so calm, so deliberate. She was deciding something, weighing two choices. I don't know, but it was as if she knew that she could get away but I could not. Don't ask me how I knew this or what my mother could have possibly done against so many orcs. Still, that is the truth. She took out a small dagger from her belt, whispered how she loved me, and then lunged in my direction. Before she could strike, the monsters took out their swords and sprang on her. Then they dragged me off. I am afraid that is the only dream I have had that's worth remembering. Yet I have never understood whether this is a true remembering and, if so, why my mother did that." Deep pools of sorrow and confusion showed in Azhar's eyes.

"You can think of no other dream?" Rôg's voice was infinitely patient and full of gentleness.

"Perhaps....perhaps one. In the pit I dreamed twice of a great bear who came to help me. Either the bear came to help me, or I was the bear. I am not sure which. Only now, looking back, I think that bear was my mother....."

Last edited by Tevildo; 10-25-2006 at 07:56 AM.
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Old 10-24-2006, 12:46 PM   #239
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The detailed discussion on the merits of trenches, torches, and other devices to trick the slavers had been going on for over an hour. Although Aiwendil had fought on both sides of the Sea in a variety of forms and shapes, he was no expert on battle tactics and had little to say. He found his attention wandering and was soon spending more time watching sand rats scurry between two piles of rocks than paying attention to what was being said.

Leaning over to tap Carl on the shoulder, the istar confided that he would be taking a walk to clear the cobwebs from his head and expected to return shortly. Hoping to latch onto a walking companion, Aiwendil had thought of approaching Rôg but then pulled back, once he noticed that his friend was still talking to the young woman who had been held prisoner in the slave camp. The wizard meandered out of camp in a northerly direction, not exactly sure of where he was going. He only knew he needed to get a good whiff of the earth and briefly leave behind all plans and preparations for battle. War and conflict ate away at the edges of his mind.

Aiwendil walked northward for almost half a mile. Glancing out over the horizon, the istar was again struck by the awesome beauty of the land. Close by he could see the sturdy scrub vegetation of the desert grasslands. In the distance, visible only to the eyes of an istar or elf, there were looming mountains ringed about a circle that protectively guarded a flat plain. This was the prize—the broad and hopefully fertile foothills of the Plateau of Gorgoroth--where they would be headed as soon as the slavers were defeated. The weather was unseasonably hot and dry for this time of year, even in Mordor. Despite the early hour, Aiwendil could almost feel the thick plumes of heat rising out of the ground as if throwing out a stiff challenge to him and the rest of their company. By late afternoon, it would be a scorcher.

A telltale “Kek, kek, kek” sounded above the istar’s head. Glancing upward, Aiwendil caught a glimpse of a white throat barred with black and slate grey wing feathers with black stripes. It was a large female falcon swooping down on outstretched wings. Throwing back the hood of his robe, Aiwendil straightened his hunched figure and stared quizzically up at the sky, making the appropriate response to the great bird to invite him to perch on his arm. Whether the two used sounds or thoughts or some other trick that men can only dream of, Aiwendil and the bird quickly exchanged news.

“You are out hunting? Have you had any luck?”

The creature did not seem startled by the presence of an old man who could speak to him. “Not today. No hunting today. Can you not see what is happening?” The falcon turned its neck and pointed a wing towards the northwest. Aiwendil followed the bird’s line of vision and was surprised to notice something he had not seen before: a tiny swirl of golden brown sand, barely noticeable to the naked eye, which was funneling about in circles.

The peregrine hastily explained, “The wind. The wind comes soon. We are hurrying to get ready. Too much heat and too little rain in these parts.”

Aiwendil’s eyes widened in appreciation as he realized what the bird was saying.
Almost immediately another idea took root in the wizard’s mind. Turning to the bird, he explained, “I have a great favor to ask of you and your kin. My friends and I are in sore straits. There are evil men who have no respect for the land or any creature that dwells on it. They come to attack us sometime later today. We have many women and children, elders as well, who can not stand up against such an assault. If we could but delay their coming so they fall prey to the great winds, it would be a wonderful help and would even the fighting odds between the two groups.”

The falcon blinked twice and sat silent for a minute while he considered the istar’s proposal. Finally, he spoke. “My kin know of you and the others who wear long robes. We have also seen the young man who accompanies you on the road, the one who sometimes chooses to fly or run free. On hot nights we tell tales about the battle at the Yule Log and the hot deserts to the south where the master Eagles came. I would like to help but I must warn the other birds of prey about the storm and protect my own family. Plus I dare not ask any of the other beasts to come. It is not my place. ”

“No, I would not expect that of you.” Aiwendil shook his head to acknowlege what the falcon was saying. “But if you could find a safe place for those of your kin who need shelter and support, perhaps you and a handful of the strongest could aid us for a bit. It is not necessary to kill the men, only to confuse and delay them. Our swords and the winds will do the rest.”

The bird nodded in agreement just as the man replied, “Go then, quickly. I and my friend will meet you here by mid-afternoon for we do not know what time the assault will come.”

With that, the great bird soared into the sky, veering northward, and Aiwendil returned south to camp.

Last edited by Child of the 7th Age; 10-27-2006 at 06:36 AM.
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Old 10-25-2006, 04:11 AM   #240
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What a horrid thing to take upon oneself! Rôg’s stomach lurched at the vision of a mother needing to kill her child to save her. Poor mother! And worse yet the lingering memory of it in the child. It was a decision he could barely fathom.

The girl began to speak again of other dreams, or one dream, really…of bears. He looked closely at her, estimating her age. Her child’s features were just giving way to hints of the woman she would become. With a soft intake of breath the fact hit him…it was her changing time. And these symptoms she was having, this ‘illness’…he had seen it before. On that excursion into the southlands with Aiwendil.

The mother…her daughter, here…they were maenwaith!

Now he bit back the anger that came with this realization. That two of his people had been caught by the vile hands of Shadow. That one had had to die. Filthy Orcs! Had it been possible at that moment, he would have gone back in time and slashed them and burned them…everyone! A shadow of that terrible anger rippled briefly o’er his features; his hands clenched and then uncurled themselves, the fingers aching with a murderous desire.

And just as quickly he pulled back from that ill-thought impulse, cooling the fire that coursed in his veins. Not now! Wait, wait! he told himself; reminding himself, too, that the well-being of the living took precedence over those who had passed beyond the circles of this place.

Rôg leaned forward, touching the back of his palm to Azhar’s face. His expression lightened consciously and he nodded his head slightly at her. ‘Those are good dreams! The ones of bears. They are strong creatures. Patient and wise in their own ways. And mothers, you know, they are very much like bears. Their cubs are the whole world to them; they will do what they must to protect them.’

He wrinkled his brow, drawing up his mouth in a moue of indecision. ‘I can help you, I think, with this “illness” of yours. My clan has some small knowledge of these problems you are having. And you’re right…what you said earlier…about the fight between your body and your head…’ He leaned back and looked her over thoroughly. ‘I can help you with that, I think. Not now though,’ he said his gaze drifting about the campsite. ‘We would need some time together, undisturbed.’ He smiled reassuringly at her. ‘Can you wait, then? I’m certain you will feel better, little one?’ he asked using the term he would use with children of his own clan.

Of a sudden, the hairs prickled at the back of his neck. And a certain familiar scent tickled at his nose. ‘Oh my! We surely have no time now, Azhar,’ he said, raising his eyes to the skyward. His gaze swept round to the thin line of horizon behind him. ‘Can you feel it? A windstorm is coming.’ He stood up and helped her to her feet. ‘Give a word of warning to the others, Azhar.’

Rôg waved to the solitary figure he saw trudging toward the camp – Aiwendil. Leaving the girl to be about the things he’d asked of her, he walked quickly toward the old fellow. A brief, hushed conference between the two men took place, with much nodding of heads on both sides.

Aiwendil took leave of the younger man and made haste toward Lindir. For his part, Rôg moved quickly away from the camp, heading toward a small rocky outcropping in the near distance and the welcoming cover of the scrubby growth of trees that clung to it.

Last edited by piosenniel; 10-29-2006 at 04:05 PM.
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