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Old 07-05-2007, 11:50 AM   #161
Lalaith
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“I suppose there is nothing that can be done...” The other woman’s questioning tone and glance awakened a strange feeling in Embla.

Fear, excitement, hope, horror....all fought for mastery and the tumultuous confusion of emotions made her feel slightly sick. As she stood there in the windswept field, watching this beautiful creature and listening to her honeyed words – so kind, so wise - something else awakened in her, something she barely recognised. It was the latent gift of her people, so long buried under crippling layers of morose, sullen brooding.

What she felt from Jord was, above all else, fear. Why? There was nothing in the gaze of this woman that hinted at any secret dread or alarm. No, whatever else she was, the stranger was absolutely fearless. The sense of terror must come from something else. From others....it made no sense, no sense at all. Embla could no longer bear the conflict of feelings within her and she had an overwhelming desire to turn and run.

She thought again. One thing was certain. This woman had spoken to her, with gentle words of courtesy and understanding that no other living creature had shown her for years. Whatever her forebodings, she must talk to Jord again, seek the wise counsel of a woman far above her in prestige and in freedom. “Thank you for your respect, Lady,” she stammered. “I like to see your proud bearing, and would fain hold up my head so high, just as you do. Perhaps, if you could find the time, we can talk again? I wish for more counsel.....but I must go.” With that, Embla rushed off back to the Borrim camp. The tears that streamed from her eyes were, she told herself, pricked forth by the sharp winds. But she knew they had another, deeper cause.
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Old 07-06-2007, 08:44 AM   #162
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As he approached the tables with the two elves at his side, Uldor caught sight of his brothers standing close beside each other. Ulfast was tucking something away in his breast and the two of them passed a few words together. Ulwarth nodded over something and they turned away from each other to take their seats.

Ulwarth’s eyes caught Uldor’s as he turned. For a moment, the brothers looked silently at each other, Ulwarth’s dark, half hooded eyes staring with peaceful stupidity back at Uldor’s dark, brooding face. The younger one turned before Uldor’s swift strides brought him near enough for words and with strange agility, he wound his path away from Uldor and found his seat.

Uldor showed the elves to their places and then took his own place beside Lachrandir. With a word to a servant by his side, orders were passed and the food was brought out. The talking in the hall quieted slightly as people broke their small groups of conversation to find seats at the many tables.
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Old 07-09-2007, 06:00 PM   #163
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Lachrandir sat at table, Tathren to his right, Uldor to his left. The chair was too short in the legs, forcing Lachrandir to stretch his long legs out beneath the table. He was gratified that all gathered sat on the outsides of the tables, the walls to their backs, so that the servants had free hand to serve them from the front; there would be no competition for the space his legs needed.

It was a beastly dark place, even with lamps scattered here and there throughout the room. The tapestries hanging from the walls all around the room were rough and colorless, rank with the stench of the animal skins from which they were taken.

The pavilion of that Borrim emissary had not been so barbaric. What was his name? Kaldir? No, too Elvish. Something with less grace. Khandir? Yes, that must have been it. The man had had a silver tongue in his mouth - for a mortal. More so than these Ulfings - but then that was crediting these bowlegged mongrels too well, for none of the clan, not even their sire, had put more than a few sentences together in his presence.

Where was their sire? He should be here as host. Or was he the host at all? Was he a mere figurehead? Or not even that? - for if a figurehead then he would at least be present for the sake of appearances.

Uldor, the eldest, sitting next to Lachrandir, was no less hideous of face and feature than his brothers and the entire clan. And that seemingly permanent sneering scowl spoke not well at all. Apparently, the boor thought rather well of himself for some reason; but he seemed preoccupied, his fool's eye wandering as if he were looking for someone he missed; his sire?

"Master Uldor, where is your lord?"
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Old 07-10-2007, 01:58 PM   #164
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Fastarr was already coming to his tent when he realised he had forgotten to ask for a portion of his salary from Khandr. It had been due for a few days already but as Fastarr still had some coins in his pouch he hadn’t felt any urge to go on reminding Khandr about it. But he’d need to buy new boots anyway, hopefully tomorrow, and there was not enough in his purse for them.

So he turned around and headed back to Khandr’s residence hoping his master would not have pulled off to sleep already.

Coming to the hallway he first met with the servant Hugo.

“So master Fastarr forgot the keys to his tent then?” Hugo flashed a smile. Fastarr chuckled.

“Don’t forget I may still mention this deal of ours to lord Khandr…” Fastarr replied smiling but then went to speak his his mind. “But really… Do you know if lord Khandr has already retired for today or whether he’s still awake? I’d need to have a word with him”.

Hugo gave Fastarr an arching look. “If you’re going to discuss with him about my extended duties to brush also the retainers on daily basis I might not be in the mood of telling you…” He waited to see Fastarr’s expression and then shrugged his shoulders and said in a complaining voice. “All right, all right, it’s the duty of a servant to do what their masters bid – even if it will mean trouble to themselves…” He was about to turn away when Fastarr took hold of his shoulder.

“Oh, you old clown! Now show me a decent smile and tell me whether Khandr is awake or not? I know my way to his room so you don’t need to stress your old feet.”

“The problem is…” Hugo answered, “…that I don’t know. He wrote a letter or something a while ago. I know it as Grogr went to deliver it just a while ago. I need to take a quiet look at it. Sit down there in the main hall, there should be a jug of mead there. It’s mine..." here Hugo blushed a little, "but help yourself with it until I come back. We’ll have a toast then if he’s asleep as I think he is.”

Fastarr walked to the hall where they had had their dinner with the elves just a short while ago. Everything was tidy and clean like there had been no party that day. You’re a wonder-man Hugo, Fastarr thought to himself and let his eyes wander around the hall. New logs had been added to the fireplace and they burnt brightly. There was a comfortable chair beside the fireplace and a jug of mead was placed on the low table right next to it.

Oh… so this is how the mice celebrate when the cat’s dozing off? Fastarr smiled and sat to the chair. He took a long draught of the cold mead and went to his thoughts about the discussions of the day.

Suddenly he felt that someone was watching him. He turned his head to see Embla at the door staring at him with an empty look in her eyes. She looked perplexed with something, sad in a way. Fastarr rose up from the chair confused and bowed to her.

“Please my lady, take the seat. I’m just waiting for…” He swallowed the rest of his words. He knew that the relationship between Embla and Khandr was not the happiest one and to start to babble everything from how Hugo was checking if Khandr was still awake and how he had been asked by Hugo to sit there to consume the mead and everything would make him look like a moron.

There was something in Embla that made Fastarr uncomfortable everytime they were in the same company. Her presence seemed always to stir the same reaction in him. She reminded him of Aud, his former wife. They had something in common not only in what came to the looks of the two but they were also of the same Bairka-clan both of them and thence their demeanor and the way they carried themselves and spoke were very similar as well.

That memory was a bittersweet one. He really had loved her wife – and in a way still did even she was the treacherous woman she had been and was. There was the pain of the lost children, the pain of being betrayed, the pain of his own anger leading to the death of a man… but also the love and affection which it was easy for Fastarr to project to Embla. And she was a beautiful young lady, only ten years younger than him so that would be perfect… but she was his lord’s wife and that would settle it. That was what he had always thought to fight the devils from his dreams.

“Please my lady… Are you allright?” Fastarr looked at Embla who was clearly shaking. “Is there anything I can do?” He was about to take a step towards her but thought better of it and waited for her to answer first.
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Old 07-14-2007, 03:31 PM   #165
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Embla stared, bewildered, into the large honest face of the man before her. For years, her only relations with her fellow creatures had been stiff and stilted at best, unpleasant and bitter at worst. Now twice in the space of an hour, she had, seemingly, been offered warmth, sympathy and understanding.

She struggled to regain that protective layer of sullen bile she had adopted as a Borrim wife - but it refused to reassemble itself. She was still raw and sensitive, after the strange sensations she had experienced during her encounter with Jord. This newly-found Sight was painful to her – it was not a gift, but a burden.

She felt it again as she looked at Fastarr. Her last encounter with this fellow had been just a couple of hours earlier, when he had trodden on her robe and she had hissed an insult at him. Apart from the pleasure she had derived from his discomfiture, she had thought little about the incident, or about the man himself. Now she saw and felt things so fiercely that they hurt and confused her. From the large hunter before her, she sensed difficult memories...of hurt, murderous rage....and above all, regret.

Embla did not experience any of the strange fascination that had held her in thrall when she spoke to Jord. The sympathetic overtures of this clumsy man, and even his hidden unhappiness, felt altogether more genuine, more wholesome. Nonetheless, she tried very hard to work her expression back into its usual haughty smirk.

“No, I....you.....I don’t know.....I am frightened,” she blurted. And, to her shame and horror, she began to cry.
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Old 07-15-2007, 12:44 PM   #166
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When most of the guests were seated, the servants began to bring in the dishes of food. Uldor sat silently, looking over the gathering. His scanning eyes could see most of the people in the hall from where he sat. He named many of the men to himself, wondered why a few of them were there, and went on. Among them all he could not catch sight of two that he was expecting – Brodda and, more importantly, Jord. Had the rogue forgotten his order? Did he think it was not very important and did he mean to spend all night in finding her?

His thoughts were interrupted by Lachrandir. “Master Uldor, where is your lord?”

Uldor’s attention jerked suddenly to Lachrandir and he turned his head abruptly. “My lord Ulfang, you mean?” he repeated. Again, he turned his head and looked to where the old man should be seated. The Ulfing lord’s place was empty. Uldor had not even noticed his absence. Had anyone told him? Uldor had not thought to. . .

“I am not sure where he is, Master Lachrandir,” he said, turning back to the elf after a short pause. “He should be here shortly. . .very soon.” I hope, he added to himself. A slight spasm of annoyance could be seen fleeting momentarily across his face. Another thing to worry about. He would wait a few minutes and see what came of it. “Tell me,” he said after a moment and after their goblets had been filled with wine. He paused. What was he supposed to speak about with an elf? How was one to hold conversation? “How was your journey out this way? Was it very difficult?”
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Old 07-15-2007, 07:13 PM   #167
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"My lord Ulfang you mean?"

Apparently, his sire was not the one Uldor was looking for. Who then? Lachrandir would not stoop to ask. Time would tell. Lachrandir was curious, and intended to watch Uldor surreptitiously for any indications as to whom he so eagerly awaited. It could be useful information with which to bargain later. Of course, one should expect that there would be no need to even consider bargaining with this ilk, since Caranthir was their liege lord and they owned this land from him; it was not their own. But sometimes these vile Men forgot such things as oaths sworn; so it would be useful to take any advantages that availed themselves.

Lachrandir smirked, and cared not if Uldor recked it; the fool had clearly not even thought of his sire, and did not know if he would be present. Which suggested that Ulfang was losing power, if he had not already lost it.

“I am not sure where he is, Master Lachrandir. He should be here shortly. . .very soon.”

Lachrandir furrowed his brow. Master Lachrandir? Fool. Uldor needed to be reminded of Lachrandir's deserved title as Lord Caranthir's emissary.

“How was your journey out this way? Was it very difficult?”

The fool was trying to make conversation. "Lord Lachrandir, Master Uldor. My lord is your sire's lord; and thus I am to be given the same honorific by my lord's servant's son. Be sure to remember it.

"As for our journey, it was quick and uneventful, of course, for we are Eldar and our horses are well trained for such journeys. I am sure you cannot understand.

"But mayhap you should send a servant in search of your sire." Lachrandir allowed a sarcastic drawl into his tone. "For he may be forgetful that he has arranged this feast, being a Man of such advanced years."

Lachrandir held Uldor's eyes, for he was almost certain that Ulfang knew nothing of this feast, not having been told by his sons.

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Old 07-16-2007, 03:55 PM   #168
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“No, I....you.....I don’t know.....I am frightened”, Embla managed to utter before she started crying.

Maybe it was the late hour or maybe it was the mead Fastarr had enjoyed quite a few cups that night… maybe it was because Embla clearly addressed him… or because she said she was frightened, or because she started suddenly to cry. But Fastarr hurried to her and took a strong grip from her shoulders.

“Please my lady… there is no need to be afraid. You’re in safety now. Lord Khandr and Hugo are in the house as well as I. We will protect you from whatever it is you’ve met! … I’ll defend you with my staff… with my life, against anyone who dares to wish ill for you.”

Yes. Fastarr was a bit drunk again - the last long draught by the fireside had clearly done it - and he both seemed to think and talk things he shouldn’t. He vaguely realised it, but only vaguely.

“It’s not that…” Embla mumbled and started crying even more violently, wrapping her arms around Fastarr tightly so that Fastarr could feel her slender body trembling against his own. Instinctively Fastarr laid his arms around her and pressed her firmly towards him. How fragile she feels… like Aud felt… and the scent… But at the same time Fastarr became conscious about the awkwardness of the situation. If lord Khandr would enter the hall right now… Embla leaned her head against Fastarr’s chest and wept while Fastarr gently stroked her hair with his fingers.

So even if Fastarr felt quite happy to be in the position he was he still was relieved when Embla pulled herself away. Fastarr tried to look at Embla in the eye, but she looked resolutely downwards, scarlet in the face. Slowly she raised her head and met his eye

“No Fastarr, it’s not anything like that.” She looked terrified, guarded, shook her head slightly and paused. It looked like she was concentrating on what or how to say what she would say next. Fastarr almost held his breath under her stare.

“It’s just the strange athmosphere and…” she laid her eyes low once more and hesitated, “my life… it’s just a tunnel with no way out… except….” she shivered but as soon as she felt Fastarr pulling air to his lungs to open his mouth Embla looked up to him again and braved a smile. “Now you said something about mead, didn’t you? I think we need some…”

She pulled away from Fastarr and looked questioningly towards the fireplace. It took a second from Fastarr to be back in the here and now.

“Yes, my lady. The armchair by the fire, please sit down. I’ll get you a cup from somewhere.” He was about to turn towards the door when Embla laid her hand on his.

“No Fastarr. We need no cups, we need to talk.” She looked at the man just like someone used to giving orders. Fastarr was ever more confused but nodded and turned back to get a smaller chair from the table.

Embla sat down to the easy chair and took a long draught of mead as if she was desperate for a means to loosen her tongue and then offered the vessel to Fastarr who had just settled down beside her. After Fastarr had put the jug back to the little table beside them he realised that Embla had been studying him all the time he had drunk.

“This probably is no major secret to you but I still need someone to tell this… and if I know my husband’s household well enough then you are the one I can share it with… I mean you were married with a Bairka and so you know something about what we think and how we feel.”

Fastarr was stunned with that opening and couldn’t answer but by nodding slightly.

“How do you think a Bairka would feel if given to someone as a second wife?” She turned to gaze the fire while small tears moistened her eyes. After shaking her head she turned back to Fastarr. “It feels like being a carpet in the hallway, walked over by everyone… or like being a trinket bought and sold at a whim, then put away unwanted…” It was close Embla didn’t broke yet again but this time she had the jug to her hands and she took another draught from it.

Fastarr waited for Embla to put the mead back to the table and to wipe her tears. He didn’t do that only out of politeness but also because he needed every second he would be given. So many thoughts ands questions were criss-crossing his mind now. Why is she confiding in me? She’s honest, right, but what does she conceal in her heart? Surely she wasn’t afraid because of that? ... How beautiful she is! Her moist eyes that gleam like gems in the firelight… her straightforwardness and sense of honour like any Bairka would have… like Aud…so like Aud…

Now tears started to form over Fastarr’s eyes in turn. With slightly shaky hands he took his turn with the jug and then pulled himself together as well as he could.

“You speak like you’d be speaking about my life… my life with a beautiful Bairka-girl like you. But it was me then who was the carpet that was walked over…” Fastarr breathed in heavily. “I don’t know how familiar you are with my past but her name was Aud and she came from your village. We were married when I was twenty and had twins the next winter, a girl and a boy, Aďda and Farran they were. Then came that cursed winter spawned in Angband and they both died… cursed be that winter and the might of Morgoth for ever…” The tears were now flowing freely down Fastarr’s cheeks. He tried to concentrate on his story. With his voice breaking he continued.

“She started an affair with a Bairka-man called Starkadr right after our twins died. He came from a bit better off family than I did… I don’t know whether that was the issue but whatever... I hid that knowledge to my heart for a half a year and told no one, not even Aud about it… so I truly know how does it feel to lock your sorrow inside you. It grows and gets darker day by day...” Fastarr swept his eyes with his sleeve. He was about to reach for the jug once again when he suddenly pulled his hand back and continued.

“And so it happened that I met this Starkadr in the harvest-party at fall…” Fastarr went quiet and swallowed staring at the fire for a moment. “I went berserk and killed him… with my bare hands… I banged his head to the stonefloor of the inn so long he was no more…” Fastarr bursted into tears and hid his face into his palms shaking violently as he cried.

“I know, Fastarr…” Embla whispered and stretched her arm out to gently stroke at Fastarr’s hair. “That’s horrible…”

Slowly Fastarr regained his presence of mind and straightened his back. He turned to face Embla with a serious expression. “Never carry your load alone as darkness grows inside one when they’re not aired out and that may lead to deeds one can not take back…”

Little did his slightly drunken mind understand how right on the mark he had hit.

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Old 07-21-2007, 05:22 PM   #169
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Uldor burned under Lachrandir’s obvious rebuke. The elf tried in no way to go about it politely. To correct Uldor at all could be dangerous, but to do so bluntly was practically stupidity itself. Uldor’s left hand dropped down from the table and his fingers silently closed around the hilt of one of his daggers, out of Lachrandir’s sight. He could not keep a grimace of hate from passing over his face. But it was only brief, and then it was gone, and his hand left the hilt and returned to the table.

“But maybe you should send a servant in search of your sire," Lachrandir went on after answering Uldor's question. "For he may be forgetful that he has arranged this feast, being a man of such advanced years.” Uldor’s eyes locked with the elf’s. Lachrandir mocked him now, Uldor was sure. He guessed, or even knew, that Ulfang might not have even been informed about the feast.

“We respect the advancement of years here among men,” Uldor said coldly. “Some of us do our best to help those of older years. My lord Ulfang did not arrange this feast. I did it for him when he asked me to. He may easily have forgotten, however.” He lifted his hand to call a servant. One came and Uldor told him quietly to see if Ulfang were coming to the banquet. The man was off a moment later and Uldor turned again to Lachrandir.

“Is there anything else you are curious to know and to help me arrange or correct, Lord Lachrandir? You seem to have a keen eye, ear, and tongue and I’m sure you could help with a great deal if you set your mind to it. Come, who else do you see missing who might have forgotten about the banquet?”
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Old 07-22-2007, 06:37 AM   #170
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If the fool did more than place his hand on his knife, he would be sorry, thought Lachrandir. No, it seemed he had some sense, certainly not of propriety, but of pragmatism. One does not kill emissaries unless one wishes to go to war with those the emissary represents. At least this Uldor knew that much. Ah, yes, this Man hated him. Lachrandir did not miss the flash of true feeling, brief as it was.

Now came a veritable flood of explanatory words, with even a little Sindarin thrown in to perhaps try to impress Lachrandir. The Elf's lip curled up ever so slightly in amusement. Nor did it escape his notice the Man's shabby attempt at complex Sindarin grammatical construction. It made Lacrhandir's skin crawl. And now he does precisely that which I suggested and should have thought of himself. Let the fool try to save face.

“Is there anything else you are curious to know and to help me arrange or correct, Lord Lachrandir?"

The Man's sarcasm was offensive and revealing, showing no subtlety, of course, especially when he thought he was being the most subtle. The Man continued.

"You seem to have a keen eye, ear, and tongue and I’m sure you could help with a great deal if you set your mind to it. Come, who else do you see missing who might have forgotten about the banquet?”

The Man could not help sneering as he finished his jibing insult. Lachrandir was not about to allow himself to be caught up in a child's game with this boor. He regarded Uldor with cold condescension as he considered what reply to make; one had to be made since a question had been posed.

It was obvious who was not there. The Borrim ambassador was conspicuously absent. The invitation that had come to Lachrandir at the Borrim emissary's home had requested the presence of only himself and Tathren. But to mention this would be to descend into the tribal affairs of Men, which was beneath Lachrandir's dignity if not his notice. And for whom had Uldor been searching if not his father nor the Borrim - for why search for uninvited guests?

"It is of little concern to me whom you might think ought to be here and is not. All that matters to me is what answer the Ulfings give my lord Caranthir, and that need not be given tonight. Time enough in the next few days or so. But I see one of your brothers rises. Is he then master of ceremonies instead of you?"

But Uldor did not have a chance to answer Lachrandir's question, for Ulfast had begun to speak.

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Old 07-22-2007, 08:13 PM   #171
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Ulfast had wondered how best to announce the hunt, and found a perfect moment provided by his brother's foolish jibing with Lachrandir. He had heard the question about missing guests; though they were a large part of the people near the settlement, the Borrim had not been invited. But hidden in his pocket, Ulfast held the note from the missing contingent. Ignoring the continuing exchange between Uldor and the Elf, he stood at his place.

"My friends! I welcome you all to the Ulfing hall. We are here to honor our guests, the emissaries of Lord Caranthir." He turned towards Lachrandir, still half facing the crowd. "May the friendship of our people grow ever stronger through the years."

The crowd cheered, and Ulfast missed the Elf's reaction in his delight at the sour frown that crossed his brother's face. He faced the room again and held up a hand for silence.

"Yes, we have new alliances from afar. But, truly, can we not find allies nearer our homes as well? The Borrim have long dwelt among us, and yet we have not always been as good friends as we might have been - as we should have been." He glanced at Uldor long enough to see by his disinterested, irritated expression, that he knew nothing of what was to follow.

"That error shall be made right." Ulfast drew out the letter. "I hold here a letter from Khandr, who has graciously offered to host a hunt for the Borrim and Ulfings alike. He wishes for a closer friendship between our people - as do I. And so, on behalf of the Ulfings, I accept this invitation, in hope that we shall henceforth hold a greater bond of unity and good will."

The room cheered again, and Ulfast sat. He was so delighted by Uldor's furious scowl that his own visage appeared nearly as benevolent as he hoped his words had sounded.

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Old 07-24-2007, 03:18 PM   #172
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The countless thoughts that flashed through Embla’s mind were clear in her eyes, and Jord smiled as the woman turned to leave. She had successfully scattered some seeds that would not require much nurturing. There was enough already there for them to feed off of: the girl’s hate and anger, her wounded pride. Nodding to herself, Jord turned to spot the man she knew was waiting nearby, trying and failing miserably to look as if he just happened to be there. When Brodda caught her gaze on him, he approached her.

“I cannot say I expected to see you again so soon, Brodda. What now?”

Her tone remained simply uninterested – she was in too good of a mood with her current thoughts to waste her time really snapping at him. Uldor’s servant relayed his master’s message to her, and her mood was hardly dampened. Not only was she firmly in the Borrim girl’s mind, but apparently she was in the Lord Uldor’s favor enough to be invited to yet another charming little gathering.

Absolutely charming…and she was sure the Elves would find it equally so.

Brodda led the way to the Hall of the Ulfings, Jord gliding along the dirt streets as if she had a fully armed and richly adorned escort. Uldor’s man hesitated at the doors – it was obvious the banquet had already begun. Jord doubted there would not still be a place for her, though, and she did not care about the Ulfings’ attempts at propriety, so she gestured toward the doors and gave Brodda a sinister smile.

The servant pushed the doors open and stepped aside as Jord made her way inside without hesitation, just in time to hear Ulfast, one of Uldor’s brothers, finish speaking. She did not spare him a glance, nor anyone else in the hall. She immediately approached Uldor himself, who was not difficult to spot as he sat with the Elf.

Jord gave a very slight curtsy, hiding her amusement at the sort of heated conversation she was interrupting. “I am thankful for your invitation, Lord Uldor, and am glad to be accepting it, though I am afraid I received it too late to seem a truly grateful guest.” She then smiled not at the man, but at the Elven emissary beside him.

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Old 07-24-2007, 10:16 PM   #173
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Ulfast’s announcement came utterly by surprise to Uldor. He had great difficulty keeping the displeasure from his face. How is it that Ulfast came to know of the feast before he? Why had he not received the invitation? And what in the blazes possessed the fellow to neglect informing Uldor before telling the entirety of the gathered guests?

What irked him more was that Lachrandir made another jab at him, using Ulfast against him. ‘Is he then master of ceremonies instead of you?’ the elf had said. Ulfast was master of nothing! And certainly not instead of Uldor!

The annoyed heir bit his lower lip as his brother finished his speaking and sat down. He was prepared to make a reply to Lachrandir when he caught sight of Jord behind them. He turned abruptly in his chair in time to see her make a small curtsey.

“I am thankful for your invitation, Lord Uldor, and am glad to be accepting it, though I am afraid I received it too late to seem a truly grateful guest.”

Uldor stood up quickly, nearly bounding to his feet. “It was not your fault the invitation arrived to late, my lady. I will show you to your seat. Forgive me, Lord Lachrandir.” He forgot to make himself unpleasant while he excused himself swiftly. “This way.” He didn’t touch her, but the movement of his hand indicated that she should walk forward in the way that his other hand indicated. She did, with a graceful nod of her head to the elven emissary.

Uldor led her to her seat and saw her comfortably situated. Uldor had scarcely seen her seated when he caught sight of Ulfast, returning to his seat. He excused himself swiftly from Jord and made his way over to Ulfast.

“What was that all about?” he asked in a hissing whisper, catching Ulfast’s sleeve before his brother could quite make it to his seat. “Where is this invitation? And why haven’t I seen it?”
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Old 07-25-2007, 09:08 AM   #174
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There was a movement behind them. Lachrandir noticed Uldor turn swiftly and rise, almost bounding, from his chair. Lachrandir glanced at the disturbance, then did a double take. Lúthien, daugher of Thingol! But thas was impossible; the daughter of the King of Doriath would not be here for any reason. No, it was not her, though the resemblance was strong enough. Amongst the Ulfing? How absurd!

“I am thankful for your invitation, Lord Uldor, and am glad to be accepting it, though I am afraid I received it too late to seem a truly grateful guest.”

She turned to him, meeting his gaze. It was only then that Lachrandir realized that he had been staring. He quickly regained his self-possession, narrowed his eyes, and smiled with a slight curl of his lips at the woman. Her words had betrayed a courtesy that seemed higher than that possessed by these barbarians. Was she of the royalty here? There was something in her eyes that seemed - he searched for the word - scintillating.

Uldor was babbling uncontrollably at the woman. Did she enjoy the fool's company? Lachrandir could not imagine that, and decided that she was playing a game of some sort. Uldor motioned her to a seat down the table. She nodded graciously to Lachrandir, and he returned the gesture, his interest piqued.

Jord. An odd name, he thought.

Suddenly a connection struck him. She had been the one Uldor had been craning his neck for. Now that was interesting. It seemed that she held him captive in her womanish way. Lachrandir could see that she could have the pick of any brood, but why Uldor? Either there was more to the man than he had yet deciphered, or this Jord had something up her silky sleeve. Could she indeed be of the Ulfing? Lachrandir was not sure.

Absently, he wondered when some good wine might get passed around, not hopeful that any such quality beverage existed among the Ulfings. He sighed.

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Old 08-12-2007, 12:09 PM   #175
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"Why have you not seen the invitation?" Ulfast laughed merrily. "That I cannot answer. The letter was left here on the banquet table in plain sight. I was sure that you had seen it." He smiled broadly, amused both by his lie and Uldor's obvious anger. Ulfast pulled out the paper once again and held it out to Uldor.

"In any case, I have had it here during all of my announcement. Read it, if you like. It says little more than I have already told." Uldor snatched the paper from his hand and began to read.

"I trust that I have done well, brother. Surely you would not have refused?"

Ulfast was openly taunting his brother now. For the first time since Uldor's return, he had managed to outmaneuver his brother on a matter of some importance, and Ulfast was enjoying every moment of his victory.

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Old 08-13-2007, 07:05 PM   #176
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Uldor sneered at Ulfast’s words, but he didn’t look up from the letter until he had completed it. He wanted to crumple it up in his hand when he had finished, but he knew how that might appear to anyone who might happen to be watching him. Besides, it wasn’t so much the epistle he was angry with. It was his annoying, troublesome brother.

He shoved the letter back into Ulfast’s hand. “Next time, make sure I know before saying anything to anybody.” He placed his fisted hand on the table, and his other hand on the back of Ulfast’s chair, and he leant over him. “Do you understand?”

“Take care, brother,” Ulfast said in a hissing whisper. “There are people watching you.”

“Oh, right,” Uldor said withdrawing. He looked down at Ulfast. “As though you cared about what they thought of me. We all know what they think of me. They fear me. As you should, too.”

He turned sharply on his heel and walked away. Angry thoughts ricocheted about in his head, like a wasp caught in a jar, unable to find a way out. But his thoughts were able to escape. . .there was an outlet. Always. One of plotting and revenge - Uldor would call it punishment. He wouldn’t be mocked in his own hall. Not by anyone.

Uldor took his seat beside Lachrandir.

Not by anyone, he told himself, not even by this elf ambassador.

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Old 08-30-2007, 08:01 PM   #177
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The day following the banquet marked the beginning of a season of business and worry on Uldor's part. He had to see to it that a proper response to Khandr's invitation was sent to the Borrim and he also had to set about preparing plans for the muster of the troops that Caranthir demanded of them. He would have to send several messengers out and decide where to have all of the men congregate before setting out on their march.

And there were other dealings that needed seeing to. The matter concerning his brother was not the least piece of business in his mind. Even as he sat, twirling a quill between two fingers and drafting a letter that would summon all of his men, he was thinking of the previous night and his brother's infractions.

Finally, he threw down the quill and pushed back his chair. He stood up abruptly and went to the door to shout for a servant. When the man arrived, he said, "Tell my brother Ulfast that he can send a reply to Khandr's invitation to the hunt. Tell him I want it handsomely done. No slip shod work."

Once that was seen to, he was capable of sitting down and writing down the summoning that would be copied and sent with each messenger. The order was written out quickly and he called another servant to take it to the scribe to be copied several times in large letters. The word would have to pass as quickly as possible. Messengers would ride into each settlement, read the order to rise up and bear arms, and leave a copy in the market square and pass onto the next. Seven thousand men were not to be found in one place, or even in a few places. The settlements of men were many, and the miles long.

The riders would set out that afternoon, Uldor realized. For now, though, his job was done. In a week, after the hunt, he would hear back from his messengers, and in less that time again, he himself with all the men from his own settlement would gather their arms and go out to meet the entire muster. In the mean time, there was a great deal of planning to do. . .
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Old 08-31-2007, 07:56 PM   #178
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After the feast, Lachrandir and Tathren had retired for the night to the deeps of the forests beyond the borders of the Ulfing habitation. Lachrandir breathed deeply of the fresh, clean air, satisfied with his day's work and even more pleased with having left the filthy, crude Ulfings behind, at least for a few hours.

While Tathren wandered amongst the trees, Lachrandir sat in the comfortable crook of a great beech tree, and thought. He did have to admit to himself that there was, beneath the unlovely brutishness of these Ulfings, a spark of vigor; indeed a strength of arm and will that promised well for their shared venture.

But there were secrets being kept from him. This was bound to be so. Nevertheless, he considered it to be his duty to uncover what secrets he could so that Caranthir would know that which he needed to know.

When Tathren returned to Lachrandir, moments before dawn, Lachrandir laid his charge before the younger Elf.

"Tathren, I want you to spy on these Ulfings. Be secretive, move swiftly and quietly so that none know you are there, and listen to the words that pass between the leaders of the Ulfings and Borrim. Give word to me after sundown of what you have learned."

For once Tathren did not betray undue excitement, which pleased Lachrandir. The two Elves returned by different paths to the Ulfings' village.
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Old 09-03-2007, 06:38 PM   #179
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Many days previous

Thorn sat on a seat of moss that covered a fallen tree. The sun was westering and he was staring at the eyes of Owl. Some folk had guessed that his forethought came from the staff itself, that an Owl fëa had been caught and enslaved to his will. Foolishness. Owl's eyes served as a point of focus so that his own fëa could be fee to catch echoes of the Song that Celehan had taught him.

Thorn's teacher had told him that he had wakened beneath the stars long, long ago, and had been taught by one who had come from the West, who called himself the Great Hunter. That one had called the Eldar to come west, and Celehan had, with many others, harkened to the call and journeyed west. But the farther west he had come, the harder the road until the fear of Thangorodrim had stopped him. So Celehan wandered the wilds of Middle Earth, still hearing the Song though not crossing the Great Sea to be with his teacher.

Thorn listened for the Song. Sometimes it sounded unclear. At such times he would look to his own heart to see if he had allowed his steps to wander from the truth and the right. Usually he found some way in which he had, and when he eschewed such ways, found that the Song could again be heard. He could hear it now. Doom was afoot for the Ulfings, his people. Their lords would lead them into evil. It was time to return to his folk and tell them what he knew. He set his face westward, for he would have to pass north of the Ered Luin and come south to meet the Ulfings.
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Old 09-13-2007, 12:01 PM   #180
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Thorn had turned south by southwest, keeping the Blue Mountains always to his left. He had already passed through one of the Ulfing outlyer settlements when a horseman came into sight, leading a second, riderless horse by its reins. The trail was narrow and the bracken climbed high on either side. Thorn did not move out of the way. The horse and rider came on.

"Get out of the way, fool, or I'll run you down!"

Thorn placed his staff at arm's length before him, doffed his hood, and assumed a wide stance, and he stared into the eyes of the rider, who did not slow his pace. Thorn stood his ground. At the last moment the rider pulled back hard on the reins.

"Old man, I ought to have you flogged! I'm on Lord Uldor's business!"

"Not Lord Ulfang's? Is Ulfang dead, then?"

"Er, no." Incensed at being questioned, the horseman frowned. "What of it?"

"If Ulfang is not dead, why are you not on Ulfang's business?"

"The son commands in the name of his father."

"One hopes so," Thorn murmured loud enough to be heard. "Your orders are to summon all able bodied Ulfings to war in alliance with Caranthir the Elf Lord, against Morgoth Bauglir."

The horseman's mouth worked in surprise as almost all his news had been told him and more besides. Finally he found his tongue.

"No messengers have outraced me. Who told you this?"

"The gods. Their Song sings it to me."

The horseman looked confused. "I have heard of no such song. Such things are not known among the Ulfings."

"A pity. But now lend me your second horse. I am in need of haste. The settlement ahead of you is mustered for I gave them your news. It is the last Ulfing settlement on this road, so your task is done."

"I'll not give a stranger and raving vagabond my horse, even if my task-"

"You shall, for you do not know until this moment that Uldor will betray Caranthir and commit all the Ulfings to the overlordship of Morgoth unless he is stopped."

"This is a dire accusation," growled the horseman, "and base slander if false."

"My words are true."

"How do you know? From this song you talk of?"

"The Song you jibe is true."

"How do I know that?"

"Your heart knows it, for you know Uldor-" Thorn lowered his brow and allowed his next words to be laced with menace to any such ally of the Enemy. "-unless you yourself are a minion of Morgoth."

The horseman straightened in his saddle. "I am no minion of the Enemy!"

"Then prove it and lend me your horse."

Thorn waited. The horseman hesitated, his face screwed up in a look of doubt.

"Do not stand in my way," said Thorn, "unless you would betray your people."

The horseman bridled. "I am no traitor, and no servant of Morgoth!" Then he seemed to settle. "And I do know Uldor well enough. Well enough not to trust him. I will give you my horse. What's more, I will ride back with you. I am called Fleet. What may I call you?" Thorn told him his name. Fleet grinned. "I ride back to the Ulfings with a thorn at my side."

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Old 09-23-2007, 06:22 AM   #181
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The seven days between the feast and the hunt passed quickly for some and slowly for others. For those eager for the hunt, time passed slowly. For those dreading the coming war, time passed all too quickly. For many, however, the needs of each day's tasks drew enough of their thought away from either the hunt or the muster, and the days passed as all of them did.

Khandr's household was busy with the preparations and time sped quickly by, except for Embla who cared not for hunts or household business. All her interest had now gone to the woman, Jord, whose grandeur hid something she craved.

The house of Ulfang was busy with the muster, the hunt being a mere afterthought for which the three sons left the preparations to servants. Their time was occupied with currying what favor it was still worthwhile to be had from Ulfang, and their own positions as opposed to each other in the eyes of all the Ulfings. In this battle Uldor had the upper hand. Ulfast and Ulwarth chafed at Ulfang's favor to their elder brother, and they plotted with their friends how to use either the hunt or the muster, or the upcoming battle, to advance their causes.

The houses of Dag and Káta were full of daily need and fear for the future. Dag and Gunna had Mem's fears to deal with as well. She had been forced to sing before the entire company, and her simple voice weaving the spell of the old song of their folk had stilled the entire audience. But Ulfasts's unwelcome attentions afterward had left Mem shaken. Lord's sons were wont to cast their glances where they liked, and common folk might be as protective as they liked, and still not be able to wholly protect their loved ones. So Dag and Gunna tried to calm Mem's fears, well knowing that what Ulfast wanted, Ulfast could have. Mem's face was drawn and pale, her eyes dry and her fingers shaking at their weaving. The days dragged.

For Lachrandir the Elf and his servant Tathren, the cares of Men were of little concern, and the days and nights passed as they always did. Tathren gathered what news he could, and reported it to Lachrandir.

So when Thorn arrived, with Fleet, in the main hold of the Ulfings, few noticed. This was well enough, for it afforded Thorn a chance to learn what he could before he spoke word of what he knew.

And then the morning of the hunt arrived.

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Old 09-26-2007, 10:53 AM   #182
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Those in the household of Ulfang stirred and rose before dawn on that morning. The place was busy as a bee hive, dealing with the last preparations for the hunt. Those taking part in the hunt dressed themselves. As the grey light of dawn was creeping above the horizon, the three brothers with other lords of the court met in the courtyard. Their horses were saddled and stood pawing the ground and champing their bits waiting with impatience. The men mounted up and their spears were handed to them.

Uldor grasped the shaft of his spear and rested the butt of it on his stirrup. He glanced around. To his left his two brothers were mounted and on his right, the elven ambassadors sat bareback upon their tall and beautiful steeds. Seeing that all the others were ready, Uldor turned his mount’s head and led the way from the courtyard.

The Borrim encampment was on the edge of the Ulfang settlement. It took them less than half of an hour to reach them. The place was busier there than it had been back at the hall.

Uldor and his brothers with their followers halted on the edge of the encampment and waited. In a moment, Uldor spotted Khandr approaching them. He dismounted, handing his spear to his servant and walked forward to meet the Borrim leader.

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Old 09-28-2007, 04:14 PM   #183
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Thorn waited, staff in hand, at the edge of the Borrim encampment. He could be patient when it came to waiting, for his purpose was clear; once that purpose had been seen to, then he would move on to the next thing.

After a whle, the Borrim emissary came riding out of the encampment.

"Lord Khandr!" Thorn cried. "A word, if I may! I have urgent news!"

The Borrim leader's horse came up and stopped a moment, and Lord Khandr regarded Thorn with a measuring look.

Would the Borrim leader pass him by, or would he stop? Either way, Thorn had a plan. But he waited to see which it would be.
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Old 09-29-2007, 10:30 AM   #184
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Khandr had been up and about for several hours, stalking out of the house long before the sun had risen. He had spoken first with Briga and Embla and then visited each of his men, hoping that one of them had come up with some interesting tidbit that would confirm his private suspicions that something strange was going on in the Ulfang camp. His retainers, however, had met with little success. Despite their best efforts, none of the men had managed to gather any real evidence of what was happening behind the secrecy of the court. Khandr had picked up traces of rumors, but these were no more substantial than leaves blowing in the wind. Still, he had told his friends to keep their eyes and ears open today in case anything developed during the hunt.

Only once, when he'd been speaking with Embla, did he become suspicious. He had seen a sly look fall over the woman's face, perhaps an admission that she knew more about Jord than she was actually letting on. But even this, Khandr could not be sure of.

Impatient to be off, Khandr had mounted his horse and sent the beast clattering across the field. In the distance, he could see Uldor and his brothers leading their entourage. Uldor had dismounted and was walking in Khandr's direction. But before Khandr could go forward to pay his respects, he had been startled by an unexpected entreaty from one whose name and face he could not place. Pulling up on the reins, Khandr stared over at the man. He hesitated a moment and then spoke, his voice laced with impatience, "I must be going. I have business with Uldor and his kin. There is much on my mind. But if this urgent news can not wait, speak up now whoever you might be."

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Old 10-03-2007, 08:39 AM   #185
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This Borrim lord was impatient to be moving on. Thorn wasted not a moment.

"I will speak quickly. Two things. First, the Ulfing princes will betray Lord Caranthir and turn coat. Second, make peace with friend and kin while you yet have the time, for your life ends today."

By the look on Lord Khandr's face Thorn could tell that his initial reaction was like they always were: a mix of startlement and disbelief. How could some stranger speak with such certainty? Did he know something or was he mad? Thorn knew how it went. But Thorn also knew that a man's heart knows things his mind wishes not to believe. So this was a test. Would Lord Khandr listen to his heart?
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Old 10-06-2007, 11:44 AM   #186
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Up ahead, a considerable crowd had gathered for the hunt. Men and women dressed in elaborate finery were mounted on steeds who frothed at the mouth, both they and their riders clearly impatient for the chase to start. Villagers in simpler garments wandered along the edge of the glade, while excited children darted in and out shouting out their glee at having a day free from chores or study. The steady yip of the dogs punctuated the general din as the animals paced the grove with their noises to the ground, their tails resolutely wagging.

Yet in one instant all that had faded from Khandr's mind. The hubub and bright colors receded as the meaning of the man's dark words sank in. "Who are you?" he snapped. "What do you know of such things? What reason do you have to accuse the Ulfings of treachery?"

The Borrim lord was of two minds. He had long suspected that Uldor and his crew were up to no good. Why else would he instruct his own men to spy on their hosts? Yet he was not one to trust in strangers, and he had never seen this man before. Khandr's voice dropped to a husky whisper as he stared fixedly at the messenger. "As to my fate..... Since when can any man or elf say that someone's time has come? None can do that, except perhaps the great ones from far over the sea. And I do not think you appear to be in their employ! So who has sent you here with these grim words? Whose bidding do you do?" He stood stock still, demanding an answer.

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Old 10-12-2007, 02:50 PM   #187
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Thorn allowed a thin smile and looked at his own staff. So many questions. This man put him in mind of a good half of the animals on his staff: eagle, deer, fox, and serpent. Which would turn out to be strongest?

A proper answer to all of them would take hours. The question of greatest import must be the one answered first. Who Thorn was to this man did not matter. What he knew he had already stated. His reason for accusing the Ulfings was an verbal attack rather than a question, and he mentally deflected it. Who sent him was not to the point. That left one question most needful to answer.

"I do no man's bidding," Thorn said calmly, looking the lord in the eye. "I do and say what I know to be best and right. It is now yours to decide what to do with what you have heard, for your heart tells you that it is true. Do well and it may be enough."
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Old 10-13-2007, 10:29 AM   #188
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Khandr snapped back at the messenger out of sheer frustration, "You can not expect me to act on this unless you tell me more. I do not even know you. Perhaps you have been sent by Uldor to test my loyalty and that of the Borrim. Perhaps you are a fool who waits by keyholes and listens, misunderstanding the small tidbits that fall onto your plate or a minion who curries favor with the dark lord by planting discontent and suspicion among those who oppose him. Speak up, man, and say more, before I alert the guards to drag you away!"

Before the messenger could respond, Khandr shook his head and cursed, spewing out indignation, "If what you say is true, you should be on the road now, making speed to reach Caranthir or King Bor with your message. What can you possibly expect me to do? I am one man with a handful of retainers. I have no army here, no king who will hear me out. I am a failed diplomat on a failed mission that is going nowhere who is being swept into the jaws of war."
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Old 10-14-2007, 06:10 AM   #189
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Thorn's eyes narrowed on the Borrim lord as the man behaved not as fox, deer, or serpent, but as eagle or perhaps hare.

"Your failure or success depends on your deeds this day. I expect you to do what is right, but you will not if you let fear rule you." He paused. Khandr was shocked by his words and had opened his mouth to round on him again, but Thorn continued in a louder voice.

"I am called Thorn. I was taught to listen to the Song of the Valar. What I have heard lately sent me with these words to you. The words of the Song for others are of no concern to you. That you have demanded these words from me shows that you cannot hear your own heart. Learn to listen to it quickly, or you may do no good before your end. I bid you farewell."

With that, Thorn turned away and blended quickly into the crowd. He realized that Khandr could have him chased and captured and brought before the Ulfings. If that turned out to be the case, then it might very well be Thorn's day to fly beyond the world's edge. If so, he was ready, for beyond the world's edge the Song sang most clearly.

If he was allowed to go free for a little while yet, he had others to confront.
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Old 10-18-2007, 07:17 PM   #190
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Uldor handed his reins to his squire and took a few steps forward. Khandr’s approach had stopped abruptly and he was locked in what appeared to be a heated, though short, discussion with a ragged old man from the press of people around them. The Ulfing watched Khandr and the stranger closely for a moment, but as their talk drew on his curiosity rose. What would keep the Borrim leader back from meeting him as he should? Why should this beggar man be more important than the proper office of greeting him.

Uldor walked forward suddenly. At that moment, though, as he approached, the stranger turned away from Khandr and wove his way swiftly through the crowd of men. Khandr sat upon his horse, staring after him with a clenched jaw.

“Friend Khandr!” Uldor hailed as he drew near. Friend? A smile twitched at the side of his mouth before he continued. “Why do you tarry? Is the hunt not ready to begin?”
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Old 10-19-2007, 10:22 AM   #191
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Ulfast

There went Uldor, strutting off to corner the Borrim lord. No subtlety about Ulfast's big oaf of an older brother, none at all. It would be disastrous for the lordship to fall into his hands, for the people, but obviously for himself. Ulfast held no illusions about the likely span of his years if Uldor became lord of the Ulfings. It would be short. He would be accused of committing some treacherous crime, treason even, with no proof to be found, just the word of Uldor's mealy mouthed and fork-tongued witnesses. It would not matter how many witnesses to the counter Ulfast would produce, they would all go missing by the most inconvenient of accidents. Not clever, but effective, was brother Uldor.

And living in denial. For example, Uldor had no idea that Ulfast had had his own meetings with Jord; only they were held in secret, hidden from prying ears and eyes; they were never seen to converse in public, not even make eye contact. And Ulfast knew that Jord had greater confidence in himself rather than Uldor. She knew he was the clever one.

Ulfast saw the ragged old man flee an encounter with his brother. He had not had a chance to see him well.

Ulfast strode forward, not to be outdone by his brother. Before Khandr had a chance to reply to Uldor, Ulfast threw in his own words.

"Greetings, Lord Khandr! Did that old man have a name?"
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Old 10-20-2007, 10:29 AM   #192
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For a long moment, Khandr stood silent, hearing the words from Ulfast and Uldor but paying scant attention to them. Finally, he turned to the men and replied, "A name? He spoke a name in passing, but as it meant nothing to me I let it slip away. He spoke some garbled nonsense....about mischief afoot in the court. But I understood nothing that he said. Surely you have heard of him for he seemed to know you two quite well....."

Hearing no response, Khandr forged ahead, anxious to be finished with any talk of the stranger. "But enough of such things. If we do not get on our way, the day will be gone and we will have no quarry to show for ourselves. I am tired of standing here. Can we not get on our way? Now I go to ride with my retainers."

Khandr pulled on the reins and turned the animal around, trotting over to join the rest of the Borrim who waited a short distance away. In that manner, he also avoided immediate conversation with his hosts, at least till he had done something that must be done. Riding up to Hunta, the Borrim lord leaned close, lowering his voice, and told the man something in his ear. Hunta's face turned ashen as he listened to the words.

"Now?" Hunta queried. "I am to go now?" the young man looked reluctant and nervous.

"Yes, go and pack a satchel of food. Gather all the weapons you have. Then go immediately on the road along with that dog of yours. Make all haste. Head straight to our King as fast as you can ride and tell him what I have heard. Hopefully, you will get there before our forces leave for the field. I do not know how much truth lies behind these charges, but I can not ignore these words. I will try to gain more information and send it along later, either from here or once our hosts join together at the meeting place. Go now Hunta, and may the hosts of the West protect you for we may surely need it."

With a final salute, Khandr turned and rode back again towards the larger group. This time, he asked one of his men, "Have you seen my wife Embla? Has she joined us for the hunt? I have great need to speak with her. Our party leaves now to follow the game, but I would have her ride beside me that I may share some news." He looked up and glanced around the clearing to see if she was there.

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Old 11-01-2007, 10:22 AM   #193
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“A name?” Khandr repeated, turning to look at the two brothers. His brows knit were knit together. “He spoke a name in passing, but as it meant nothing to me, I let it slip away. He spoke some garbled nonsense. . .about mischief afoot in the court. But I understood nothing that he said. Surely you have heard of him for he seemed to know you two quite well. . .”

Uldor cast a measured glance towards Ulfast, wondering if his brother knew anything of the ragged stranger. The brothers’ eyes met, briefly, but Uldor knew in that second that Ulfast knew as little of the stranger as Uldor did. Neither of them answered and they looked back to Khandr.

“But enough of such things,” the Borrim leader said with an impatient movement in his saddle. “If we do not get on our way, the day will be gone and we will have no quarry to show for ourselves. I am tired of standing here. Can we not get on our way? Now I go to ride with my retainers.”

Uldor nodded and stepped back as Khandr wheeled his horse about and trotted back the way he had come. He stared after him, his jaw clamped shut tightly. He said nothing out loud to his brother, but his mind was whirling with thoughts. ‘Mischief afoot in the court? What did he tell him? What does he know? What does he think he knows? I will have an answer. And if he dared speak anything dangerous. . .’

“Come, brother,” Ulfast said at his side. Uldor looked at him with a black look. He hated his thought to be interrupted. “It’s time to ride.”

“Yes. It is time.” He turned and strode back quickly to his horse. He mounted up and looked about himself. “Where is Brodda?” he asked of the nearest attendant.

“Down the line, my lord,” the man said, pointing.

“Stay here,” he commanded his squire, and he urged his horse forward and pulled his head about and rode down the line. “Brodda,” he said, catching the servant’s eye. He jerked his head sideways and Brodda came out away from the others. “Brodda, did you see the man talking with the Borrim leader?”

“Yes, briefly.”

“I want him.” Brodda looked about at the many people milling about. Uldor grabbed his shoulder and turned his attention back to him. “I want him found and brought to me. At whatever cost, Brodda. Do you understand? Use whatever means you must.”

Brodda looked bitter, but he nodded his head. He understood.

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Old 11-01-2007, 11:27 AM   #194
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‘Valr, you go on and help Falarr with the hunting gear.’ Dulaan watched as he turned away from her and walked resignedly away. She could not help but see how the boy’s shoulders slumped and his lips clamped firmly together as he bit back yet another protest.

‘Here, help Granny, pack these seed cakes and little pot of sweet goat-butter,’ she instructed Jóra. ‘And fetch one of those pots of honey from the chest – one with the red string about its neck. Got that nice bit of comb in it.’ She gave the girl a nudge with her hand, one finger of the other pointing to where the family’s larder was stored. 'And those two crocks of jam there at the end of the top shelf, too.'

Again, she saw this child’s shoulders droop with disappointment. ‘Go, on now. You know we’ll put our heads together later, you and I, For now, let your mother and father sort this problem out without you, missy!’ She gave the girl a conspiratorial wink, nodding her chin as if to confirm the promise.

When the two youngsters were busy about their tasks, Dulaan made her way to where Grímr and Káta spoke in quiet, tense tones behind the curtain of their sleeping compartment. She waited for a pause in the conversation, then called cleared her throat loudly and called out to her heart's-daughter. ‘Káta! I’ve had a thought in this old head,’ she went on. ‘Let me come in and we’ll see if you two think it might help for now.’ She waited a moment, hearing nothing. She could just imagine the shrugging of her Káta's shoulders and the shaking of Grímr’s head as a deep silence filled the little space beyond the curtain.

‘Well, since I didn’t hear a “No!” ’, she said, pushing the thick material aside. ‘I’ll take it as a “Yes, come in”, then. She stepped into the small quarters, letting the curtain twitch back into place. ‘Well now, how about we do this so’s you can make the hunt with those outsiders and the Lords,’ she began, nodding at Grímr. ‘You know, make a good showing for the family.’ She turned toward Káta, pushing on with her idea before they could ask her to leave. ‘And it’s been a good turn of days since the ... banquet,’ she spit the word out with some distaste. ‘I think I should pay a call on Gunna. See how she and the baby are coming along. And I’ll need someone to drive me.’ She rubbed her left shoulder as if it pained her. ‘Hurts something fierce today! And no, I don’t want Jóra driving. She’s a little bit wild in her handling of the reins! I was thinking Fálki could handle the cart, while Jóra rides along to keep the cakes and pots and such steady in the back.’ She looked from one to the other, her brow raised in question. ‘Course, that’ll leave the hunting party a little short on your end. Why’nt you take Valr to handle your gear and manage your kill. He’s old enough now, don’t you think? I know he’s been out hunting with Falarr before...tagged along, wasn’t it. Boy’s moving toward manhood, be good for him!’

Before Káta or her husband could answer, there was a quickly squelched sound of delight come from beyond the curtain. A hasty protest. And the sound of a minor tussle threatening to escalate...

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Old 11-01-2007, 11:46 AM   #195
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‘Well, wife, this is hardly the time to approach a man about his sister’s marrying!’ Grímr growled out his well worn argument in as hushed a manner as his frustration would allow. Womenfolk! He grunted to himself. Not all things are fixed by love! Love – of all things!!! The boy was still a pup. What can he know of love? Wanting.....more likely. There was a battle, most likely many long hard battles, coming certain as the moon’s turn. Sooner more likely. After would be time enough to think of binding one family to another. Not that the boy had a thought for whether this was a good match for his family. His brow furrowed as his thoughts traveled down this path. Excellent smithy, that Dag, though. Good man in his dealings. Straight forward, loyal to his friends.....loyal to his family, isn’t he. Didn’t he take on his wife’s sister and hasn’t he made a good life for all of them. Be a good man to have at one’s side. His brow eased itself upward from frustration to speculation.

Káta’s voice broke in on his reverie. ‘I can see the stubborn old mule is on his feet now and thinking about moving his carcass forward. So? What are we going to do, husband? Fálki’s much like you, dear heart. His mind and heart are set in this matter. He bows to your place as this family’s head. But not forever. And you know his brother will help him. I will not lose two sons to something that can be solved with a little effort from you.’ Her hand came up to rest on his forearm in a familiar gesture. ‘That unpleasantness at the banquet pushes for a swifter course of action on our family’s part. Especially if we are to tie a bond between Dag’s family and ours. And, really, that would be an advantageous tie for us, don’t you think? Well.....?’

‘Káta! I’ve had a thought in this old head,’ Dulaan’s voice cried out in the space between the question and the coming answer. ‘Let me come in and we’ll see if you two think it might help for now.’

Grímr’s brow furrowed once again; his breathed in just on the verge of saying ‘Not now!’, but the curtain twitched aside and in came the older woman, her eyes snapping with a determined light. She laid out her little plan, and he wondered if she and Káta had already set this in place. ’twould be just like the two wrens to have sorted this already! But his wife looked genuinely surprised at the older woman’s plan. Though now that he watched her, he could see his Káta’s head nod nearly imperceptibly as Dulaan talked. And that shrewd look come on her features as she considered how this might work out. He sighed inwardly, wanting to put this aside for the moment. The prospect of the hunt and being seen in the company of the Lords loomed large in the recesses of his thought. He could not spend all day arguing this problem. It would not do to skip the hunt. Too many offenses would be tallied against him for that breach of courtesy. These were unstable times. He needed to position himself favorably in whoever’s eyes would be the one to take power when the old Lord died. To their surprise, he nodded his own head, giving the final admonition that Káta was to go also on this visit.

It was Falarr, his younger siblings’ collars clasped firmly in his fists, whose grinning face greeted his father as Grímr yanked the heavy curtain aside. ‘So, I’ve caught these two nosy-pokes listening in! Pushing each other aside to hear better, weren’t they!? Don’t know what you’ve been talking about, but they both seem excited about it.’ He let go of Valr and Jóra, both of whom fixed him fiercely with their exasperated stares.

‘I’m to go with you! On the hunt!’ Valr said with an indignant tone. ‘And I get to see the baby!!!’ Jóra squealed. ‘Though I think I handled the cart last time quite well!’

Grímr gave instructions to Falarr. Yes, Valr was to go with them. ‘But as our weapons’ keeper. And mind you, Valr, bring the net bag for any smaller game we might bring home. The larger will go to the Lord’s hall.’ He dismissed the two with a wave, calling out to Falarr as he made off with his brother. ‘Send Fálki in. I’ve need of him to see the women safely on an errand.’

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

Joining the hunting party.....

The hunting party was already on their way when Grímr and his two sons joined in at the rear. He nodded to those he knew as he drew near, calling out a greeting to them. ‘First hunt!’ he said with some pride to one as he nodded back toward Valr riding on his right. ‘Good hunting today, I think. Should be plenty of meat for the Lord’s table tonight!’ he called to another.

He motioned his sons closer with a flick of his hand. ‘Stay close to me. Many people here we don’t know.’ Leaning left toward Falarr, he crooked his head toward Valr. The younger son sat his horse with an excited air about him, his eyes darting here and there as he took in the hunters, their weapons, their mounts. ‘If we are separated, you stick to Valr like a goose-grass burr. You know how things can happen in the heat of the chase and kill.’

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Old 11-04-2007, 10:22 AM   #196
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Fastarr had been following the events unfolding in the field with only a slight interest. He was mounted beside Hunta and Bergr and ready to show the Ulfing their skills in the hunt. They had been generally just scorned in the settlement this far. Now it would be their turn to show what they could do. But as Khandr came back and talked hastily to Hunta with a grave expression Fastarr started to get notice. Something was going on. He scanned the field to see what was happening. He caught a sight he was troubled with and spurred to the side of his lord after Hunta had turned around and Khandr had called for Embla.

“My lord, lord Khandr! Who was that man you talked with? For I see he is in trouble right now. Is that good or bad?”

Khandr turned to face his retainer a bit confused as he was abruptly wrought from his thoughts focusing on Embla.

“What do you mean Fastarr?” He followed Fastarr’s eyes to just see Ruadan rushing into the crowd at the middle of the glade.

“Lord Uldor just sent his dogs after that old man you talked with while you had your discussion with Hunta. I saw that orders were passed. From what I can see, there is no doubt he was sent after the gamling.”

Khandr hesitated just a second.

“Go Fastarr, Go and protect him if you can find him. It might be important indeed.”

“I’ll follow that man and let him do the finding... and I’ll stop him if he doesn’t reach the oldtimer first.”

Fastarr turned to follow Ruadan’s advancement through the crowds to estimate the path he was taking. Just as he was turning to leave he heard Khandr address him one more time, now with a more graver face.

“Bring him to my quarters... if he accepts the offer. Hugo and Grogr can hide him there if necessary... and...”, it seemed Khandr hesitated yet again. Fastarr looked at his lord with a questioning look.

“If I’m not with you as this hunt is over pay heed to what he says. There are black clouds over us... You must do what is right then.”

There was an uneasy silence between the two men. Fastarr’s head was exploding with questions. Why was his lord looking that grim and why did he spoke like he spoke? Why wouldn’t he be among them in the evening? Who was this old chap anyway? What was going on?

“Go Fastarr, go like our fate was at stake!”

“Aye sir!” Fastarr spurred his mount towards the crowd where Ruadan had vanished.

~*~

“Hugo!”, Fastarr shouted seeing the older servant emerge from between the people preparing for the hunt. Praised be the spirits! He steered towards Hugo while following Ruadan making his way through the crowd some fifty yards to his right.

“Take Leafeye and follow me from a distance!”

Hugo gave Fastarr a confused look. “Yes Fastarr, but... what on earth is...?”

“I’m on lord Khandr’s bidding and there’s no time to explain. We’re trying to protect an old man from Uldor’s brutes... Now take these and follow me!” He unmounted as he spoke and after giving the reins to Hugo he picked his staff from Leafeye’s side and ran into the crowd heading towards the direction he had counted he could meet up with Ruadan.

It seemed like the whole settlement had gathered to the field outside the town. After passing through those feverishly preparing for the hunt with their aids Fastarr faced a wall of wellwishers and curious townsfolk who had gathered just to watch the spectacle. The children were chasing each other in their games and the grannies were handing out packed meals for the hungry ones. Fastarr ran alongside the narrow path between the crowd and the preparing horsemen trying to catch again a glimpse of his target within the crowd. He was running towards the towngate.

Finally he spotted him. He spotted them both. The old man was quite near the gate advancing steadily towards it and Ruadan was some fifty yards behind him pushing his way through the lunching crowd on his right. I could just manage to get between them at the gate... He turned to wave hastily to Hugo. Fastarr ran as fast he could jumping over lunchbaskets and horsegear not so much sidestepping people coming towards him but more swinging his staff to and fro to make them dodge away.

Soon enough Hugo made it to his side coming through the preparing horsemen.

“That old man there, can you see him, the one going through the gate right now?”

Hugo confirmed he had recognised the man.

“Take him to safety to the residence. Hide him away with Grogr. Say it’s a question of his life and lord Khandr’s offer. I will stop that brute chasing him. Now go!”

After Hugo beat Leafeye to full speed Fastarr focused on outrunning Ruadan to the gate. He’s too concentrated to the gamling as not to have noticed me yet... that’s good. Now I just need to beat him there... I can make it, I can make it!

Fastarr reached the gate when Ruadan was some twenty yards away from it. Hugo and the old man had entered the gate a few moments ago. Fastarr got a glimpse of the old man turning from the first corner with Hugo trailing just behind him. Fastarr jumped quickly to aside to conceal himself into the shadows of the corner of the gate. He took a two-handed grip from his staff and hoisted it above his head. He was ready.

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Old 11-04-2007, 12:37 PM   #197
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‘Looks like Dag’s busy at his forge, eh?’ Dulaan’s chin lifted toward the smithy, a small smile wrinkling her face. From her seat in the back of the little wagon, she could see the thick plume of smoke rise up in the cool air, punctuated here and there with bright sparks. The sound of the smith’s hammer rang loud in the distance. Fálki nodded, his eyes sliding momentarily to where Dag’s smithy stood. A look of apprehension furrowed his young brow for the briefest of moments, replaced at once by one of determination.

Only a short space longer and they were at the house where Dag’s family dwelt. Before the brake was set, Jora had already bounced from the wagon’s bed. ‘Come on, Granny!’ she cried, grabbing the basket the old woman was handing over the side. The two pots of jam jostled against each other, their hard clay sides making a dull clanking sound.

‘Child, do be careful! I didn’t spend those hours bent over the Partridge-berry plants to have my good jam spilled all over the insides of this basket. I can feel my old back aching right now with the remembering!’ She turned back the napkin covering the contents of the basket and surveyed the contents. ‘Looks like they’re alright, then. ‘Long with the sweet buns your mother made.’ She handed the basket over the side once more, nodding favorably as the girl took the handle carefully.

‘Fálki, come round and give old gran a hand down, won’t you?’ The young man hurried to help her down. As she slid from the wagon bed, she spoke in a low undertone to him. ‘You’ve got it at hand, don’t you?’ His head nodded; his hand went to the small bulge inside his vest. ‘You just let your mother speak, y’hear? Then when I’ve said a few words, you come forward. Got that, sweetling?’ She patted his arm gently. From near the front of the wagon, Káta called out, gathering her flock about her.

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Old 11-04-2007, 03:16 PM   #198
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Embla received the summons from her lord with mixed feelings.
She had been astonished that she was permitted to join the hunt, and she had been enjoying the simple and unaccustomed physical pleasure of riding: of the wind on her face, and the movement of her body synchronising with the beast beneath her. Her enjoyment had momentarily driven her anxieties away.
She saw that Khandr was deep in talk with Fastarr, and self-conscious following their kitchen encounter, she watched and waited until the serving-man had taken his leave and ridden off at high speed.

Then, when he was alone, she chose her moment. "You wanted me, Lord Khandr?" she said - looking, for once, her husband straight in the eye.

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Old 11-04-2007, 05:28 PM   #199
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Thorn kept his mind's eye on Owl atop his staff, as he walked purposefully toward the gate: he could hear the Song. Thus he knew what Lord Khandr had said to the Ulfing lords, and what he had said to his retainers. Khandr was an Eagle with necessary shades of Serpent and Fox. He was a good leader, resigned to his fate if it be death, and would not shy from it; but also that he would be as clever as he knew to be, and would send word to his lord back among the Borrim. Thorn allowed himself the ghost of a smile.

The Ulfing lordlings were Bulls. Ambitious, reckless, making their way with whatever allies served the moment, even if it would be for the worse later. They had sent for Thorn's capture. They had sent one Ruadan to secure him. How fitting. They would rue their choices, as their choices would ruin their folk. He smiled to himself mirthlessly: if he said these things aloud, his hearers would jeer; but such connections were the trade-tools of seers. They need not make sense to others. The Song revealed all it would; what others thought of it meant nothing.

A servant of Khandr named Fastarr was faster than Ruadan and intercepted him. Thus Ruadan was rudely interrupted in his effort to obey his Ulfing lords; he would rue his failure and would be ruined by his lords. Another man rode after him through the gates, one Hugo by name. He came up beside Thorn and reined his horse and opened his mouth to speak, but Thorn spoke before the man could get a word out.

"Hugo, I am to go where you go," Thorn said matter of factly, enjoying the play on the man's name. The man looked stunned to hear from Thorn's mouth that which he thought he would have to persuade him of. Then his face cleared.

"Up you come!"

His fitness belying his years, Thorn mounted up behind Hugo and off they went.

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Old 11-06-2007, 07:53 PM   #200
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As soon as Uldor had given Brodda his instructions, he turned and headed back to his place at the head of the column. He took a deep breath as his horse trotted up the line and smoothed the lines of worry from his face. A mask fell into place and only the very few that knew him well would have caught the look of some concern hidden deep in his eyes.

He pulled his horse up beside the elven ambassador and his apprentice figure. “Well, my lord Lachrandir,” he said, giving as near a genuine smile as he could, “I imagine we will be starting soon. Lord Khandr is speaking over there.” He nodded in the Borrim’s direction where Khandr and Fastarr sat upon their separate mounts, together in close dialogue. “As soon as he is done there, I imagine we will be on our way.”

He relapsed quickly into silence and settled back into his saddle. His head swiveled about again and he fixed his dark eyes again on the Borrim leader. He was growing wearisome of the waiting, and now he was even more anxious to be off.

The talk between the two Borrim came to a close. The other man, one who Uldor did not know, turned his horse about sharply, bringing the reins about the beast’s neck and turning his nose all the way about before spurring him forward. Khandr at once turned to his other side to speak with a woman who had approached.

’What on earth does that man think I am – to be kept waiting so long?’ He drew an impatient breath. ‘And what did he send that other fellow off for? Why so quickly? Uldor turned to watch Fastarr urge his horse as quickly as he could through the thick gathering of men, women, and children. Suspicion slowly grew in his mind. He was sent on an errand, and sent in quick succession to Brodda’s errand. Were they connected? What was it he told him?
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