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Old 10-05-2003, 11:06 PM   #81
Elora
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Sting

Barrold

"What makes you so sure I know anythin'?" Barrold eyed Kaldir suspiciously, scanning the shadows around him for any who may be listening for him to trip himself up. Barrold kept a firm grip of his dagger and scowled at Kaldir.

In the moonlight, the former Ranger was a sight to be reckonned with. Kaldir was unsmiling, but then Barrold had not yet seen him smile over the years.

"I've been very community minded," Barrold added for the benefit of his imagined eavesdroppers. Kaldir raised his brow at the squinting man.

"Indeed, with family visiting and all," Kaldir said in a mild voice. Barrold did not miss the emphasis in his statement.

"Perhaps," is all Barrold offered as he stooped to pick up a handfull of stones. Deliberately, Barrold threw the pebbles into the shadows, one by one, listening intently for the sound they made when they landed. Satisfied that Kaldir was not setting him a trap with authorities, his speculative mind kicked into action.

"You know 'ow it is with family. Work never stops," he said with a grin that Barrold supposed was more friendly than it actually appeared to be. He dropped his hand from his dagger in a show of good faith, as good as one could expect from a Ferney, and inspected the Ranger.

"Haven't seen you round these parts for a while. How's the bounty business doin' these days?" Barrold had a few aims in mind as he smiled a gap toothed grin at Kaldir. The first was to determine why the bounty hunter was here. The second was to determine how much was on Naiore's head, if Kaldir happened to mention it. The third, Barrold always a man of ambitions, was how much he could stand to make if he robbed Kaldir and lived to tell the tale.

"You could tell me, Ferney. You've a pretty prize already, I guess." Kaldir made no move to drop his grip on his sword hilt. Barrold's expression closed into a well practised blank one.

"Maybe I 'ave, maybe I 'aven't," Barrold said as he rocked back on his toes. A nasty thought occured to him at that moment. "Blimey! They ain't lookin' for me are they?"

Kaldir chuckled humourouslessly in reply. "Now why would they be after you, Ferney? You've been very community minded of late."

"Yeah, that's right," Barrold confirmed for good measure. Kaldir was not done yet though.

"Curious that... your recent good behaviour. Who would order you to lay low that you would heed... family?"

Barrold was caught between caution and greed. Kaldir was a bounty hunter and Barrold could acquit himself of Naiore without having to do it himself if he handed her across. He could keep the daughter too, without having to do anything. But then, Naiore had proved herself able to survive hopeless odds. If she survived Kaldir, then she'd come back for him.

Barrold cleared his throat nervously and spat to one side.

"Like I said, I got family visiting," he said warily. It wasn't a lie. He did have a family of sorts visiting. Barrold had to wonder what Naiore was worth to the bounty hunter.

"What it to you?"
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Characters: Rosmarin: Lady of Cardolan; Lochared: Vagabond of Dunland; Simra: Daughter of Khand; Naiore: Lady of the Sweet Swan; Menecin: Bard of the Singing Seas; Vanwe: Lost Maiden; Ronnan: Lord of Thieves; and, Uien of the Twilight
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Old 10-07-2003, 09:30 AM   #82
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Sting

Toby Longholes

Toby left the inn cursing "blooming rangers an their meddlings, just how does he expect me to find Barrold this late!" two drunk voices soon stopped his curses, "Oh! no Bartle an' Tom," he groaned finding a barrel to hide behind, "That's all I need, those two moaning in my ear." he held his breath as the two men passed, they where drunk and his sharp hobbit ears picked up the topic of their conversation, "well, well, well, so Barrold is up to something and without good old Toby, well we will see about that, perhaps the rangers will pay more if I give them Barrold," but as he plotted, he noticed another marking Tom and Bartles words.

He felt himself shake as he recognised the bounty hunter, Kaldir that Barrold sold information to, he remembered how terribly scarred his face was and the terrifying temper the hunter had, a chilling shiver ran down his back as he remembered being pinned to the wall by the same bounty hunter when he thought that the hobbit had double crossed him, and for once he hadn't.

"What in the great dark abyss am I doing!" he thought as he found himself silently following the bounty hunter, "10 gold pieces and maybe more if they are after the bounty hunter!" he reminded himself. Keeping to the shadows he followed the bounty him through the town and out the south gate. His face hit the dirt and he held his breath as the bounty hunter crept into the shadows a short distance away, it was then he heard Barrold muttering and cursing someone named Naiore, the name meant nothing to him, some fancy woman he thought then silently laughed it away, who in arda would fancy Barrold.

He watched as Kaldir silently stalked Barrold and was impressed by his cunning as the bounty hunter went ahead and pretended to be coming from the opposite direction, he then had to bite his tongue as one of Barrolds stones landed inches from his nose. He continued to follow them as they made their way back to town, making sure to stay at a safe distance, but not to far away that he could not soak up what they were saying.

'ha! community minded my backside, Toby scoffed silently'

"Hmm family! None of Barrolds family would spit at him never mind visit, no He must have a new lodger, perhaps that is who the ranger seeks," he thought rubbing his hands together, greedily calculating how much he could get from the ranger for all three. Greed had won over Toby's fears and he cautiously and silently continued to follow the two men.

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Amandur

"We should search the farm houses and soon!" Léspheria whispered to me, seeing her anxiety and looking at our group, I nodded my agreement. "We should split up, our number is drawing attention!" I said using my eyes to discretely indicate the many patrons that sat about whispering and looking in our direction.

I pulled a small roughly drawn map from the inside of my tunic and pressed it open atop the table. " Léspheria and I shall leave, first and make our way to the south side of town, Here!" I whispered, pointing out the spot on the map. "Then shortly after, Rauthain! you and Maehor can begin the search from the north, here or here! Dúlrain can you scout out the surrounding area."

Dúlrain nodded, grinning broadly, "And if I run into Master Longholes?"

"Remind him of our agreement and set him in my direction!" I laughed.

Then with a short bow to my companions I offered Lady Léspheria my hand and together we left the many whisperings of the inn behind, we crossed the courtyard to the stables and I watched as Léspheria paid the stable master and led the white elven mare from the stables. "I saw not Kallo in the stables" she whispered, "Ah! you know how much he hates to be cooped up!" I laughed lightly, "Will Losseserme permit two to ride her for a short distance ?" I asked more to the horse than it's master. The mare whinnied lightly dipping its head once, "I think she has given her assent." Léspheria laughed, her light melodic laughter warming my heart as it always did.

After helping Léspheria to mount I pulled myself up behind her, I was barely up when she whispered something in elvish that I didn't quite catch and Losseserme galloped through the archway and down the great east road toward the farmhouses that littered the foot of the southern side of Bree-hill. As we approached the south gate Léspheria slowed Losseserme to a gentle walking pace and we turned and made our way towards the grey stone buildings, It was late and most of the buildings sat surrounded in darkness, but a few still had light spilling out of their windows.

We dismounted, Léspheria Whispered something to the mare and it trotted off towards the east side of the hill. "Well let us see if we can find some sign of our quarry," I grinned gesturing for Léspheria to join me, I watched as she stepped forward stooping to the ground and searching the well walked street hoping to pick up some distinguishing mark among the many criss crossing boot and hoof marks, her face looking serene as she concentrated on the paths leading to each of the stone buildings. "Nothing!" she whispered and I heard a hint of fustration in her voice, "Perhaps we have missed them, if Naiore and Vanwe have gone on foot no amount of searching will reveal their light steps!" she continued woefully.

"No! do not despair my lady, she came to Bree for a reason and maybe if we find out why? it will bring us closer to finding her?" I said trying to reassure her. "Now lets try the next street" I whispered gesturing to the next row of farm buildings.

Together they silently continued searching the roads and yards of the south side of Bree.


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

Léspheria

Léspheria was relieved when Amandur nodded his agreement , she listened as he told the others his plan, once the plans were agreed she took Amandur's offered hand and rose from her seat, "Be careful" she whispered nodding to them in a farewell gesture.

Once in the courtyard she went to the stables to fetch Losseserme, The mare had been fed, watered and groomed, "A fine beast, gentle but stubborn as an ox" laughed a warm voice behind her, Léspheria turned to see the stable master, "I pray she caused you no trouble" she answered softly, "Not at all, just weary of strangers, as well she should!" the man answered cheerily, "But once we talked she let me brush her coat a bit, didn't ya girl" he continued patting her flank gentle. "Then I thank you, she was in much need of some grooming, how much do I owe you?" Léspheria urged, " 2 gold for the rent of the stall and lets say the grooming was my pleasure, never have I seen such a beautiful mare" he smiled warmly.

Pulling Three gold coins from her pouch she handed them to the stable master, and bid him farewell. Once back with Amandur in the yard she mentioned that she had not seen his horse in the stable, though she knew the spirited charger preferred to roam free when not needed. She smiled as Amandur asked if her mare would bare them both. As Losseserme dipped her head in agreement Léspheria laughed "I think she has given her assent."

"Linte!" she whispered once they where both mounted and Losseserme galloped of down the east road, she slowed her to walking pace before they reached the south gate and turned east towards the stone houses.

"lelya hir Kalloruvi" (go find Kalloruvi) she whispered to the mare as they dismounted, then joined Amandur "Well let us see if we can find some sign of our quarry," he said and stooping forwards she began to search for clues.

After searching the road and paths leading to the farm houses, she rose her head "Nothing" she whispered frustratedly. "Perhaps we have missed them, if Naiore and Vanwe have gone on foot no amount of searching will reveal their light steps!" she continued woefully.


"No! do not despair my lady, she came to Bree for a reason and maybe if we find out why? it will bring us closer to finding her?" Amandur said trying to reassure her. "Now lets try the next street" he whispered gesturing to the next row of farm buildings.

Léspheria comforted by his wise words smiled and followed him on to the next street were they again silently searched for signs of Naiore and Vanwe's passing.

[ October 08, 2003: Message edited by: Nerindel ]
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Old 10-07-2003, 01:25 PM   #83
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Sting

Kaldir

"Like I said, I got family visiting," said Barrold warily. "What it to you?"

"What's it to me?" echoed Kaldir mildly. "Nothing at all." His pale blue eyes watched Ferney's every gesture. The man seemed nervous, not skittish per se, just edgy or rather more edgy than usual. "They boss you around then, do they?" he asked.

"Who?" asked Barrold. "My family? Yeah. Always telling me what to do." He cast a sideways glance at the bounty hunter. "Be glad when they're gone," he muttered and spat again, this time at a flat stone in the path. He missed.

"How glad?" asked Kaldir, his voice taking on a slightly harder edge.

Barrold hesitated again. His eyes narrowed shrewdly. To Kaldir, he seemed to be mentally weighing his options. For a fleeting instant, Kaldir thought the man might actually sell Naiore out, but the moment passed. Barrold guffawed loudly.

"I thought you weren't interested in my family!" he snorted. "What's they ever done to you?"

More than you could even imagine, thought Kaldir to himself, but he said nothing. The eyelashes of his left eye flickered slightly as a stab of remembered pain passed through his shattered cheekbone. He let a grim smile touch the unscarred side of his face. From the corner of his eye, he caught a small shadow moving behind them to the side of the road. He had noticed it once before as he was leaving Bree, but had written it off as probably nothing more than a stray dog. But the movement now seemed intentionally stealthy. It would bear watching. Whoever it was, he was too small to be anything other than a hobbit or a child.

"You know your friends are wondering why you cut them out," Kaldir said to Barrold after a moment, changing the subject. It wouldn't do to have the shadow that followed them knowing too much about his business. For all he knew, it could be a spy of Naiore herself, keeping an eye on Ferney to make sure he did what he was told.

"Friends? What friends?" demanded Barrold. "Cut 'em out of what?"

Kaldir shrugged. "I couldn't tell you their names, but I believe they are a pickpocket and a bully by avocation. It seems to me they were upset about a horse."

"Vicious brute," muttered Barrold. "They didn't get cut out of nothing." Kaldir noticed that while Barrold tried to seem unconcerned, he cast a nervous glance over his shoulder toward the Barrow Downs at the mention of the horse, confirming for Kaldir his suspicion that Barrold had indeed ditched the stolen animal.

By then, the lights of Bree had come back into view. Kaldir decided that he had learned all that he could from speaking with Barrold Ferney. Now all he needed to do was watch the man. Barrold Ferney would lead him to Naiore. If she wasn't holed up in Ferney's own house, she would be somewhere nearby. As the two of them approached the gate and gatekeeper's lantern bobbed into view, Kaldir edged off the road. He took his leave of Barrold Ferney with a wave of his hand, which Barrold acknowledged with a nod and a large blob of spittle launched in Kaldir's general direction. It missed its mark, which made Kaldir smile again to himself. Barrold was no mental giant, but he was smart enough to know how to miss on purpose.

Once Barrold Ferney had re-entered Bree through the gate and disappeared, Kaldir turned and looked for the owner of the shadow. The moon had again gone behind a cloud, so it was a moment before his eyes made out the small dark shape against the craggy landscape. Kaldir walked straight toward it. There was a fraction of a second in which the shadow was motionless, then it leaped straight up in the air in alarm. Whoever it was hit the ground running and scurried frantically away into the darkness. Briefly, Kaldir considered giving chase, then thought the better of it. He had already been away from his prisoners, Benia and Gilly, too long. Knowing them, they would be leading him on a merry chase again if he left them too long to their own devices. He would check on them and get them ready to travel, then find Barrold Ferney again. Having known Ferney as long as he had, Kaldir knew most of Ferney's haunts. He would not be difficult to trace.

The problem would lie in locating Naiore before Amandur and his bunch found her. He had seen them and their horses in the vicinity of the Prancing Pony. They, too, were close on her trail.

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Old 10-10-2003, 04:11 AM   #84
Hilde Bracegirdle
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Sting

Rauthain

Soon after Léspheria and Amandur had taken their leave, Maethor and Rauthain also rose to leave the whisperings and comforts of the inn behind. It had provided a brief and welcome rest to the rangers who now turned north, to search the streets of Bree. Splitting up, they worked, silently moving through the alleys and side streets, mere shadows passing between the sleeping households. All was quiet in the late night air. Only occasionally was it broken by a light seen flickering in some cozy room, or by the sound of a distant hound.

Meeting up once again where the road left town to stretch beyond it, the two rangers turned south once more, traveling together this time on the eastern fringes of Bree. The fields were rich and plentiful in the northern part of that quarter, and the thriving farms were tidy and well kept. No sign was seen of the buildings Léspheria had described at the inn, or of any nefarious characters that might provide direction of one sort or another. Clearly Barrold did not reside here, but if Naiore were skulking about it would have proved a trusting and ideal hiding place.

The rangers rode on as silent as the night itself, listening to the sounds of the evening for the hint of any untoward happening. As they continued south, Bree hill encroached on their left and they came to a crumbled and rugged spur where the land grew poor and farmhouses poorer. Stones of every size were scattered throughout fields and farmyards. Here they saw an ill kept and weathered building hard by the roadside that may have fit Léspheria’s description. It appeared dismal and grey in the moonlight. The door, framed by a tangle of spider’s silk clotted with insects, shone with a faint glint at its head. Upon inspection Rauthain found that a sizable chain passing though large iron rings in the door and it’s sturdy lintel had caused this anomaly of light. A great lock was hanging from its links.

Circling around he noticed that the few narrow windows were shuttered despite the heat of the summer evening. “What is this? It seems no one is at home at this late hour,” Rauthain said lifting the lock and letting it fall again. “Must have a king’s ransom concealed in here by the size of this lock!” he joked sitting down on a large stone near the doorway. “This has been a long and unfruitful evening for us, has it not?” he said sighing. “I must rest but a moment.”

“Rest as long as you need, Rauthain. For you will need your strength should we have some fortuitous encounter.” Maethor replied, sitting down in the shadow of the structure.
“And what then, when we do catch the one we seek?”

“I believe we must put that question to Amandur, but I would imagine that she would needs be brought in chains to the south to face her judgment, though truly I know not what part the elves would have to play in it. “ Then he added heatedly, “Perhaps she will have a kinder judge than me, choosing exile for her in some isolated place, though that would not be advisable! I would that she were lowered into the lowest of locked cells, a pit black and forgotten, a dark and brilliant gem buried deep in the earth, speaking her words into darkness…but mine is not the decision.”

“Neither is it mine.”

“Onward then.” Rauthain stated getting to his feet again. “ We will never get far in this endeavor nor learn of its outcome if I sit here all night.”

The night was indeed waning quickly, as Maethor and Rauthain made their way back to meet the others, hoping that they had some new findings to share.
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Old 10-10-2003, 05:12 AM   #85
Everdawn
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Sting

Avanill

For a long while Avanill had sat at the Pony, bored, restless adn hungry for the night to pass. It was then that he began to spot the rangers. "Bloody rangers" he muttered. "I can't live with them, and it seems the public can't live without them, or so it seems." he chuckled and checked his debtor's book looking around every now and then, to see that more rangers had joined their table.

"Lawks lads! What time of the year is it? Ranger season in Bree-land! bloody bad for business ill tell ya." he spoke to the empty space opposite him. He got up from his place and decided to try his potion he had acquired form Marcello, and to get kicks under the noses of several rangers.

Swiftly he picked his first victim. A older looking man, who sat at the bar. Foreignerhe supposed, "Gondorian?" he sat beside the man. "Evening my friend" he said good naturedly, the man returned his greetings and after quick conversation, new ales were ordered. "No allow me!" chimed Avanill taking the drinks from the waitress and with quick hands, he emptied a small amount of potion into the man's ale when he was not looking.

Avanill leant back on his seat, satisfied that Marcello was right after all, one drop and the Gondorian was out like a light. "Thankyou my good man! I think youve had quite enough tonight!" Avanill laughed loudly slapping the man on the back as his figure was slumped on the bar. Avanill also noticed the Gondorian was wearing a very large diamond on a ring on his finger. "I think ill be having that as well." he muttered pulling the diamond free of it's claws. After exhausting his attention on the man who was now asleep, he left and returned ot his table.

No sooner was he seated that he saw an elf with the rangers. "That is indeed strange." he said staring in her direction. "An elf in Bree, nay and elf in the Prancing Pony, With Rangers, now dear Avanill, do you take yourself for a fool? Or do you sense that this is more than just a social gathering between old friends?" he asked himself curtly.

There had been rumours flying around between folk that the servant of Sauron was in these parts, he had heard evidence of it in the Forsaken Inn. "I wonder?..." his mind began to wander. "No... couldnt be... could it? Naiore, in these parts?" Avanill's mother Atantri had supplied to the elf in darker days, and she had always said to Avanill to take care and not to delve into her business. The core rule of his business, he never got caught up in his client's business.

Now throughly confused, (or whether it was too much alcohol) he gathered up his things to leave. He slung his bag onto his shoulder and went back down the streets towards the stables he had left that wretched horse, Amathalay, and that was on the east side. It was a rough part of town, but who could say what part of Bree wasnt rough? None though, would give Avanill trouble, for they knew of his influence in these parts.

There was no moonlight at the moment and Avanill cursed at it for not being so. Then walking again he noticed someone coming towards him. He could nto tell at first who it was, but as he approached, Avanill knew full well who it was. Barrold Ferney.

He could hardly mask the lines of laughter which appeared on his face, and he was now thankful the moon did not show. He straightened himself up to his full height. "Ferney!" he called as he approached him. It was no secret that Avanill overshaddowed Barrold in business, but Bree was his town and Avanill was but a frequent visitor, and to some extent Avanill was jelous of this. But also is it known that Avanill is a perfectionist, and trade to him is a skill, not a cheap craft as Barrold preferred it to be. Now what shall we see? he laughed inwardly.
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Old 10-10-2003, 09:20 AM   #86
Nerindel
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Sting

Toby Longholes


"Oh heck! he knows I'm here!" Toby panicked and without thought and driven wholly by fear he jumped up with a start and started running, after a short while he realised that Kaldir was not following and stopped, placing both hands on his knees and panting heavily, he began scolding himself, "you fool of a Longholes, what are you thinking spying for rangers, if either Barrold or the bounty hunter found out they would string you up for sure and what good would the rangers gold be to you then!" he spat on the ground and slowly drew himself up, "they would have to catch me first" he chuckled, "Perhaps there is profit to be had from both sides " he grinned greedily as he made his way back to the gate.

Toby moved swiftly down the familiar streets, towards Barrold's place, intent on selling the ranger out to his villainous colleague, perhaps Barrold would be mad enough to rid him of the rangers constant interference in their business, but as Toby rounded the last corner he scrambled backwards. Sitting outside Barrold's less known hideout where two tall, dark hooded figures, "Blast and darn it, there is more of them he spat! What in Arda is that old cur up too that he has three rangers looking for him," he groaned, quickly he changed his direction and heading towards the inn. "Perhaps he will test Butterbur's patience by returning there" he chuckled.

It was about an hour before he eventually caught sight of Barrold, he had an advantage over the rangers he knew the location of Barrold's usual haunts, he was dismayed to see that he was not alone, even in the darkness of this moon less night his hobbit eyes could make out the second figure, Tall and wrapped in a calico cloak, "Oh great! Avanill!" he groaned trying to remember if he had any outstanding debts with the dangerous young man. "No, no, I definitely paid him" he thought walking towards them.

But as he rounded the conrner he stopped short his eyes wide with surprise!

[ October 13, 2003: Message edited by: Nerindel ]
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Old 10-10-2003, 01:56 PM   #87
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Sting

Benia

Benia had not meant to fall asleep, but the combination of the quiet, the fire, and Gilly's good stew had lulled her into a light slumber. Or maybe it was the relaxing effect of the herbs the bounty hunter had put on her ankle that had pushed her over the edge. Or the fact that she was bone tired. Or maybe it was all of it. Either way, all Benia had intended to do was close her eyes for a moment, but when she awoke, she knew a good bit of time had passed. The fire had died to an orange glow and the first hint of silver was evident in the eastern sky. The bounty hunter had returned.

Still feigning sleep, Benia watched him from under her lowered lashes as he knealt down beside the fire, his pale eyes taking in the details of the scene. First, he reached over and picked up the long leaves of kingsfoil that Gilly had fished out of the cooking pot and laid to dry on one of the stones of the fire circle. After smoothing them carefully, he folded them and returned them to a pouch on his belt. Then he opened the lid of the cooking pot where Gilly had left the remains of the stew. Benia held her breath. He would know in a glance that the stew had not been made entirely from the supplies they carried with them. Bound wrist and leg, she knew there was very little she could do to protect Gilly should Kaldir reach for his dagger, but she tensed herself to cry out at the very least.

Gilly's untying herself the night before and running off to fetch herbs and potatoes for a stew when the bounty hunter had left them with plenty of perfectly edible fare, had upset Benia considerably. She had thought it a silly and reckless thing to do, and for what purpose? Food was food. As long as one was fed, what difference did it make whether it was stew or bread and dried jerky? She knew what bounty hunters were capable of. Life was cheap to the likes of them. Benia had lost her mother and almost lost her father to bounty hunters. To lose Gilly, too, and over something so silly as a stew, would be more than Benia could bear. Her heart hammered in her ears as the bounty hunter and bent and smelled the rich aroma of the stew.

Instead of drawing his dagger, Kaldir replaced the lid on the stewpot and stared intently at the ground in both the direction of the horses and the exit from the campsite through the bramble bushes. Then, he leaned over and touched the charred ends of the rope that Gilly had rewound around her wrists but, being unable to retie them, had left hanging before dropping off to sleep. Gilly still snored softly, unconscious as to how closely death hovered over her sleeping form. Benia drew in her breath, waiting for the moment when the bounty hunter's evil temper flashed into action. His eyes were hidden for the moment in the depths of shadow, so she watched his hands. Having finished examining the rope that draped Gilly's wrists, he sat still for a moment with his hands resting idly on his thighs.

Then, to Benia's amazement, the bounty hunter actually chuckled. He sat back on the heels of his boots and laughed to himself. Benia's amber eyes widened in surprise. Seeing her watching him, Kaldir smiled a wry, one-sided smile and picked up the stew pot.

"It's amazing," he said softly, rising to his feet. "What a talented chef can do with a bit of dry bread and cheese." With that, he turned and, carrying the remains of the stew, walked to the edge of the campsite and began to eat.

Benia stared after him, not knowing whether to laugh or be frightened. It could be that he was genuinely amused, or it was equally possible that he was the type to laugh first only to slit their throats a moment later. Nervously, she reached out with her shackled hands and gave her friend a nudge.

"Gilly!" she whispered. "Wake up!"
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Old 10-10-2003, 10:12 PM   #88
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Maethor

Maethor swung his leg easily across Nar, his stallion, and contemplated what had come to pass. Lespheria had sensed Vanwe, the beautiful elf-maid he had seen in the Forsaken Inn. He wondered vaguely what Naiore had done with her, if the Ravennor of Mordor had harmed her in any way. A chill seeped down his spine as he thought of the vial he had found: though he knew little of Naiore, he had heard enough to know that she was creative in her devices of pain. He tried to recall the faint scent he had had a brief whiff of, before that too escaped in the naughty wake of a wandering breeze.

The plod of the hooves of the horses grew into a comfortable steady rhythm as Maethor's thoughts untwined themselves in his mind. He doubted that they would ever find Naiore, for hadn't she run wild for these many years? "We were so close," he murmured to Rauthain, "we followed her tracks here to Bree, and now she has vanished as the morning mist."

Rauthain remained silent and Maethor glanced anxiously around him, rebuking himself for following his thoughts so closely instead of the one they hunted. He wondered why it was so easily to become distracted from the task at hand.
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Old 10-12-2003, 05:25 AM   #89
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Gilly

“Gilly, wake up” Benia whispered, nudging her friend in the back. But the hobbit in her slumber did not understand the urgency in her voice until she had risen, like a bubble in the water, to that condition of wakefulness which Benia’s second attempt to rouse her sleeping form had in fact registered on her sluggish brain. One eye opened to take in her surroundings. Blearily she recognized the profile of the bounty hunter looking into the cooking pot close by the remains of the fire, his scars thrown into sharp contrast in its orange glow.

What have I done! Gilly thought in panic, remembering her exploits of the night before. At the time it had seemed the right thing to do, but now with the dawn breaking and a full night’s rest she saw only the folly of her actions. Stew was one thing, but cold stew, quite possibly burned was quite another. And feeling the odd pressure of the rope under her cheek, and the freedom of her wrists she realized that her bonds had come loose. Horrified, the hobbit tried surreptitiously to tighten them up once more.

“Mrs. Banks,” the bounty hunter said distinctly. Without looking up from the vessel, he slowly withdrew a dagger from its sheath. Gilly could sense Benia stiffen behind her, as her she obediently sat up.

“Yes sir,” She replied, hardly able to utter the words.

“Do you remember what I spoke of yesterday or shall I refresh your memory?” he said taking the dagger and spearing the potato that rested at the bottom of the pot.

“Oh no Mr. Kaldir! I remember,” Gilly said nervously finding her voice. “It was a wrong thing do, but I was so hungry and I thought you might like something hot to eat too. But I had no knife, you see. Or salt and I’m hoping it didn’t get burned, what with me falling asleep. That was careless, I’m sorry…but I stayed here didn’t I and there is Miss Benia. I didn’t create no trouble. Did I?…I did go back into your stores too, but I didn’t touch nothing else I swear…”

“Silence woman! You will wake the dead with such prattle even before my dispatching you. Get up,” he commanded rising to his feet. “Come stand before me.”

Gilly got to her feet and firmly grasping the rope around her wrists with her thumbs, awkwardly jumped over to Kaldir. The bounty hunter grinned slightly at the comical sight.

When the hobbit had stationed herself before him, Kaldir still holding the dagger, took hold of the rope at Gilly’s wrists with his left hand and sharply pulled on them. They slipped easily to the ground leaving a burn on the hobbits wrists. Gilly stood wide-eyed and shaking.

“Pick up the pot,” the bounty hunter instructed her, and as she did as she was told he assumed a firmer grip on the dagger.

Benia gave a sharp gasp and the hobbit stood up to see what had startled her friend. Surprisingly, Kaldir squatted down in front of her and cutting off the knot, unbound the hobbit’s legs.

“I see that you have learned your lesson quickly. Do not cross me Mrs. Banks!” he said. And pointing with the tip of his dagger at the red bands on Gilly’s wrists, “Let that be a reminder to you. Now go, take this vessel to the stream and wash it, as I see you know the way. I will expect you to return, for we must be leaving shortly.”

Gilly, pot in hand, quickly and silently disappeared behind the brambles and once there broke into a beaming smile at her small victory.

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Old 10-12-2003, 07:38 PM   #90
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Sting

Dúlrain

Dúlrain had finished his pipe and ale, giving Rauthain and Maethor a comfortable head start before he too stole into the night. Pulling his cloak tight about him he mounted his horse, Dir and rode out of the inn yard, to begin his search, but what he hoped to find , not even he was sure. Many times they had come close to catching the Revennor of Mordor and each time she had managed to evade capture!

The only sounds that could be heard on the empty streets was the soft clip clop of Dir's hoofs on the dry earth, the occasional stray cat prowling the hedgerows. Every now and then Dúlrain dismounted and examined the ground for some clue, but the ways were well trodden, making it impossible to distinguish one track from another.

Stopping at each of the gate houses he speak with the watchmen, enquiring if they had witnessed anything unusual this night, but apart from the questions of rangers nothing had seemed out of the ordinary. Tipping his hood and bidding them a quiet watch he continued on his patrol.

As he continued he thought on the effect of lady Léspheria's presence in the inn earlier, surely the tongues would have been wagging if another two elves had been seen in town, But then again Naiore did have an uncanny way of keeping a low profile, so low sometimes it seemed like she just disappear. For nearly twelve years the rangers had pursued Naiore and always she slipped through their fingers.

"Not this time!" he whispered heatedly spurring Dir on, intent on making a second sweep to be sure he had not missed anything.

As he again approached the south gate he found the prints that Rauthain had spoke about, he then attempted to track them back to their source, he followed them, leading Dir behind him, but not being as experienced at tracking he lost them when they became entangled on the numerous cart, horse and cattle, tracks near the farming area of town.

Frustrated he remounted his horse and went back to his patrol, but just as he was about to round the next corner, he stopped hearing a familiar grumbling. "Toby Longholes!" he grinned as the hobbit rounded the corner, groaning the hobbit abruptly stopped, turning about and quickened his pace in the opposite direction.

"Now! now! Master Longholes there's no need to be rude, I only want to speak with you" he laughed pulling Dir infront of the hobbit.

"Ha!" Toby spat "The last time I spoke to you I ended up spending two weeks in lockholes!"

"Oh, your surely still not sore about that, after all you did try to part me from my purse, I thought that a few weeks in lockholes would improve your manners, but perhaps I was wrong and it was not long enough?" he said raising a suspicious eye brow and drawing his sword.

"Alright, Alright, you win!" Toby cried throwing up his arms, "What do you want to know?"

"oh, no, not me." The ranger grinned "I believe you have an agreement with a friend of mine."

"tsk! I should have known that he would not be alone," the hobbit grumbled.

"Lets go" Dúlrain laughed sheathing his sword and hoisting the hobbit on to Dir's back, infront of him.

A thin line of light was breaking the horizon as Dúlrain and his small companion reached the inn. "Hail Friends, I have brought a visitor!" he laughed. But as he approached he could see by their grim expression that they had not found anything of their quarry.

Amandur nodded approvingly to him then turned and hammered on the door of the inn, Dúlrain handed Toby into the care of Rauthain and Maethor , then he dismounted and went to join them. After several minutes an irritated innkeeper opened the door.

"My apologies, good sir, my name is Amandur, a ranger of King Elessar,"

"Ah! Strider, fancy him bein' a king an' all, what can I do for you good sir's?" he asked brightening slightly.

" A quiet room in which I might speak with my companions in private, would be helpful " he smiled.

Nodding, Butterbar gestured for them to follow, he lead them a short way down the passage, and opened a door. "Here is the Parlour!" he said "I hope it will suit, Excuse me now. The morning is a busy time for an innkeeper and his staff, if you should need anything ring the hand-bell, and Nob will come, If he don't just ring and shout!" and with that he turned and left through the door.

Rauthain and Maethor guided Toby to a stool and urged him to sit. "I will go keep watch for sign of Bree's other visitors!" Dúlrain told the others, careful not to reveal to much to the loose tongued hobbit. Amandur nodded, the warning of caution marked in his eyes, giving Toby a last grin and a curt nod he went to retrieve his horse.
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Old 10-12-2003, 09:13 PM   #91
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Sting

Amandur

After their fruitless search he and Léspheria met up with Rauthain and Maethor to find that they had fared no better, so they headed back towards the inn. They had just arrived when they were greeted by Dúlrain and he had found Toby Longholes, nodding approvingly to Dúlrain he walked up to the door of the inn and knocked hard on it. After speaking with Butterbar and acquiring a room in which they could speak in private, Dúlrain had volunteered to keep watch for their quarry.

Pulling one of the chairs from the white clothed, round table he placed it infront of Toby and straddled it, resting his arms across its back, Rauthain and Maethor instinctively took up position behind the increasingly nervous hobbit, though he was trying hard to hide it, he also felt Léspheria standing at his right shoulder.

"Now! Master Longholes, what news have you?" he asked in an authoritative tone.

"Gold!" The hobbit spat, trying to sound confident.

Taking the agreed amount from his pouch and setting it on the nearby table, so the hobbit could see it, but not touch it he repeated his question. Toby thought for a moment looking at the gold, then nodded slowly.

"I saw Barrold speaking with a Bounty hunter, named Kaldir.." that was interesting but Amandur kept his face expressionless, "And what did they discuss?" he asked.

"They spoke about family that Barrold had staying with him," Toby went on, looking about to the rangers to see if that made sense to them.

"And did this Bounty hunter seem interested in Barrold's guests?" Maethor asked keeping the same expressionless composure.

"Yes! he did, though he pretended not to be." the hobbit told him, irritated that the rangers had guessed the truth of Barrolds guests.

"Anything else?" Amandur asked. "Hmm I can't quite... Toby began but stopped abruptly as he felt a knife at his throat. " The price is high enough!" Rauthain whispered in his ear.

"Alright! Alright!" he squealed "Barrold also met with the bandit Avanill, But I swear I didn't hear any of their conversation!" Amandur nodded to Rauthain and he removed his blade re-sheathing it.

" Now Toby you are going to tell us were we can find Barrold?" Amandur said sternly.

"I told you before, I don't know where he hides!" Toby yelled, beads of sweat started to gather on his worried brow.

"He's lying!" Léspheria sighed, breaking her silent contemplation of Toby's words.

"No! that was not part of the deal!" the hobbit panicked starting to rise, but Rauthain and Maethor, laid their hands on his shoulders pushing him back down.

"You WILL show us where Barrold holds up!" Amandur commanded, "And if I refuse!" Toby spat.

"Then I'm sure we can find a nice cozy cell for you in the lockholes!" Maethor grinned, using his dagger to lift a large heavy pouch from within Toby's jacket, "A bit large to be a hobbits, wouldn't you agree" he said showing the evidence to his companions.

"Alright!" Toby snapped snatching back the pouch, "I'll show you!"

Aware that Dúlrain had not yet returned, Amandur asked Maethor if he would go look for him, The younger ranger nodded and left at once. Mean while Amandur pulled out his map and showed it to Toby, together he, Lespheria and Rauthain, quizzed the hobbit some more regarding the location of the house and what they may find inside.

[ October 12, 2003: Message edited by: Nerindel ]
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Old 10-13-2003, 03:42 AM   #92
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Barrold

Barrold was by no means only faintly relieved that he had managed to slip away from Kaldir with his limbs and head still attached. Meeting the bounty hunter at night, especially this night when he had already been unnerved by another malevolence, was not something Barrold had enjoyed.

As he trudged back through Bree, considerably more cautious after bumping into Kaldir, he tossed the man's words about. They were fancy words too. What was an avocation? Barrold scowled, feeling very much like he was having circles run about him but folk that were too lofty for their own good. If he had to guess, and he did, avocation meant jobs.

There were a few pickpockets in Bree, as well as those that passed through like pilfering breezes. As for bullies, he was the king pin and if there was a bully about in his territory, he'd best step carefully. Barrold was in no mood to be professionally biddable or generous. Had he not encounted Kaldir, the gelding's circular bite mark that had been left on his rump had disposed of any scant generousity left in Barrold's spirit.

If it was Avanill that was about, poaching his game again, then it couldn't have come at a worse time. He had his hands full with Naiore. Turn your back and someone would usurp you. That was the lesson that Barrold had taught his cousin Bill. Barrold took a circuitous route back through Bree as he fumed and pondered. Sitting at the back of his mind was yet another deeply unsettling question. What business was Kaldir about, and Naiore for that matter?

Barrold had the sinking feeling that the ground had suddenly become very slippery, and he did not much like it. Consequently, when Avanill himself called out in greeting from the darkness, Barrold was in a temper indeed.

"Oi," he objected as he cast a furtive glance around the shadows, "Watch it!" His voice was a hiss as he cautiously neared Avanill. The last thing he needed was a spying Ranger to swoop down and collar him thanks to Avanill's racket. He levelled a nasty scowl at his competitor.

"Business slow and nothin' to do?" Barrold was in a perverse temper, to say the least, his tongue sharpened by the events of the night.

"Nothing is slow here tonight," Avanill countered knowingly. Barrold swore plainly and shockingly. Avanill was onto his game alright. It'd be easier to kill him and leave him for the Rangers, but that would only make it hotter in Bree. Rangers swarming over a local murder would likely enrage Naiore, who never seemed to understand matters from his perspective.

"I don't think you know what you're talkin' about," Barrold tested as he grabbed time to think about what to do. Avanill cut his delaying tactic short.

"You're wrong, Ferney, if you think you can manage this alone. It's your death, though, and she'll make it interesting. That you can be sure about. I wonder what she finds interesting?" Avanill was fishing, but Barrold could not know that. As far as he was concerned, the whole world was drawing in around Naiore and he was caught. He started in alarm, shivering in the night as he pondered what the Ravennor of Mordor might consider to be an interesting death.

He couldn't much trust Avanill, but he understood the man far better than he did his "client" as Avanill called such folk as Naiore. There was one inescapable truth. Avanill was right. Barrold knew he couldn't handle this alone. Naiore wanted supplies and Avanill was good at getting things that were hard to find.

There was the sound of a scuffle in the laneway that brought Barrold's feverish thinking to an end. He grabbed Avanill's elbow and muttered, "Come on then, if you really want in."

Avanill snatched back his arm in open annoyance and disgust and closely followed him the last distance to his house. Barrold flitted with the experience of one used to avoiding notice. He was far from graceful, but nonetheless was effective in reaching his dilapidated house without any further interruption. He stopped by the collapsing gate to check the stones. One was moved sure enough. Barrold breathed a faint sigh of relief.

"What," Avanill demanded in a hushed voice, uncomfortable with following Barrold anywhere.
"She's gone to ground and we have the place to ourselves," Barrold muttered as he straightened and continued on.

Avanill paused at the threshold to Barrold's filthy kitchen. Barrold plunged straight in.

"If you're afraid of shadows, you should go home now, boy," Barrold called back. Avanill's face twisted in anger and he entered warily to follow Barrold deeper into the house. He found the scoundrel in a hallway that led from the other side of the kitchen. Barrold had struck flint to light a tallow candle that gave off a faint but reassuring light.

"If this is your idea of ambush," Avanill started. Barrold favoured him with a mocking grunted laugh and shook his head.

"This, boyo," he said with emphasis on the young title for the younger competitor, "Is my idea of a business deal. She's too much for you to handle by yourself, in case you were wondering. We have a lot to sort out before dawn."

Barrold stepped to a hall cupboard and removed a battered pack that he had stowed weeks ago, anxious to be on his way to make his fortune once Naiore made good on her plans. He slung it over his shoulder, collected the flint and motioned for Avanill to follow him once more before he snuffed out the light.

Avanill trod light as a cat on a griddle as Barrold made his way back out the house again. Barrold's head swivelled back and forth as he scanned the old night shadows. There wasn't much time left to get sorted. Happy that they weren't watched yet, Barrold darted to the cellar.

It stood some distance from the house, built long ago by the original occupants who liked to store their supplies close to the stables where they unloaded their wagon. It was a brambled overrun area now, but Barrold knew he way through the mess very well, for he had been using the cellar to store other things for years himself.

Avanill stood, nervously watching, as Barrold pulled open a door, waved Avanill on and then followed himself. In the darkness of the cellar, the shutting door seemed absolute. Once again, the spluttering tallow candle was ignited and the bare, bleak space was revealed. Barrold dropped his pack with a thunk and waved at what he had kept in the cellar on this night.

"You won't believe this," Barrold started, "But that there is Naiore Dannan's daughter and she plans to use her to take the Shire and sack it."

Avanill took in the prone, unmoving Elf who lay in a corner, astonished to see the same face as the Elf from the Forsaken Inn. Barrold unfolded the job, according to him.

"If she's anythinh like her mother, I reckon Naiore could do it. Imagine, two of 'em. She don't want the booty, just the Hobbit's atonement as she calls it. The rest is left to me....

You help, no tellin' what you could get. A nice parcel of land, taxes... protection payments... but we need things."

Avanill's mind was racing.

"What things?"

"The usual," Barrold said with a smile of false ease. "Food, drink, horses... poisons. I here you're the man for that sort of thing. Not my area of expertise," Barrold said in a fleeting bid to be magnaminous. Now that Avanill had seen Vanwe, he needed the man to agree to help.

Avanill levelled a plain stare at Barrold.

"She's not dead, is she?" Barrold shook his head.
"No, but check for yourself if you like."

Avanill crossed the cellar and watched Vanwe for a moment. He prodded her with the toe of his boot, and it seemed that she moved as if in a deep slumber. "So I get you things and you cut me in?"

"Aye, you help me and I'll cut you in, lad. You won't find a better scheme. And Naiore has bigger plans once she has the Shire. We'll be the two who she comes back to when she expands," Barrold said, recalling Naiore's own inducements and her sketchy reference of orc activity elsewhere. "Take you a long time to make the same sort of profit in business. It's a rich pot, fitting for those as is bold enough to take the risk and stand up to claim what could be ours."

Barrold fell silent, awaiting Avanill's reply, thinking about how best to dispose of his body if he turned him down. Whilst Avanill considered matters, Barrold recalled Kaldir once again. He had his bully, but who was the pickpocket? Dawn was coming and he needed to be away with Vanwe and things organised else Naiore would not be pleased.
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Old 10-13-2003, 04:44 PM   #93
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Maethor

Maethor disappeared easily in the shadows and began to make his way to the eastern gate of Bree. “So much time wasted upon the reluctant hobbit,” he said, not bitterly. “Not that I can blame him in a small way,” he continued to muse as his eyes flicked to the faces in the meager crowd, seeking for Dulrain, “he was probably frightened like a rabbit encircled by wolves, except that‘s probably too strong of an analogy. Too bad he’s a thief and a scoundrel, and I really shouldn’t feel sorry for him. Stupid blighter, trying to keep the elf hidden.” Maethor took secret pride in the thought that if he were a scoundrel and up to no good, he would have the sense to turn Naiore over to the rangers who sought to bring her to justice -- he hoped. But one never knew the twisted mind of a ruffian.

Toby had mentioned Kaldir, and that rather surprised him, though Maethor knew it really shouldn’t, considering that the former ranger was now a bounty hunter. He wondered what Kaldir would do if he found the woman who had caused him so much pain: kill her outright, or bring her to justice?

A putrid smell made him realize that he had managed to bring himself where things were in disrepair and the buildings had a slightly disreputable air. The roofs sagged, the wood was rotten, the windows were smashed, and fragments of glass littered the streets. A dog whimpered and limped towards Maethor, his brown eyes filled with fear and endured pain. Crouching over the animal, Maethor stroked his bony head and saw that his fur was crawling with lice busily scurrying about their parasital business. Running his hand down the leg, where scars of former battles laid, Maethor saw that a piece of glass was imbedded in the paw; gently he pulled it out, crooning words, both in Elvish and in the Common Tongue, softly as he bound it with a strip torn from his black cloak. He rummaged in his pockets and regretfully saw that he had no meat to give the poor cur, who now fondled eagerly at his feet before darting off into the darkness of a nearby, dreary alley.

Guiltily, Maethor continued swiftly onwards, impatient and frustrated that he could not find Dulrain. It was as if he, too, had disappeared from the village. A cold shudder passed through him as a thought, dark with fear and horror, slipped unbidden to his mind: maybe he had found Naiore and she had slain him, just as she had done to so many others? Quickening his pace and sick at heart, Maethor continued to search, determined to find him, though his fearful imaginings played and toyed with him.
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Old 10-13-2003, 10:04 PM   #94
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Kaldir

Kaldir watched as Gilly's brown head bobbed out of sight through the opening in the bramble hedge. It had been a calculated risk, giving her the freedom to run down to the stream on her own like that, but it also served another purpose. It was a test. He needed to see exactly how far his dominance extended over her, to see if she could be trusted. So far, he admired her gumption. She was a courageous little thing, even if she was a bit foolish. He had always heard that hobbits were made of tougher stuff than they appeared, and it interested him to see that it was true. If she could be trusted to do as she was told, Mrs. Banks could be of great use to him. As for her friend...

He turned and looked at Benia, who sat before him, bound and shackled on the ground. He still had not made up his mind what to do about her. She was courageous, too. He remembered the way she had looked the day before when, unable to outrun him, she had turned and drawn her sword. Especially with her injured ankle, she must have known that she would never have stood a chance against him. If he had been inclined to kill her, she would be dead. Yet her eyes had shown no fear. In fact, he remembered being struck by the stern beauty of her as she turned to face him, the sureness of her movements, the determination in her face. She had looked to him like the princess of some tragic Haradrim romance, the way the morning sun had made the silver spangles of her facial jewelry sparkle like diamonds against her olive skin. Stubbornly, he turned away from her and made his way back in the direction of the horses.

She was a distraction. No. He shook his head. She was a bounty, and one for which he would be handsomely paid, nothing more and nothing less. It was unfortunate that he had come across her just as Naiore had made her appearance, complicating a pursuit that would have been difficult without the extra baggage presented by her and Mrs. Banks, but he had no intention of letting them go. He would just have to find a way to work around them. The first problem was Bree.

Based on his conversation with Barrold Ferney, Kaldir believed that Naiore was still in the vicinity of Bree, if not still within the town's walls. Ferney had a history of trafficking not only in hot merchandise, but in fugitives as well. She had probably gone underground into one of Ferney's various hiding places. He knew most of them from past dealings with Ferney, some with Ferney's knowledge, others without. He would have to search them one by one until he found a trace of Naiore's presence. He would start with Ferney's house, though that was the least likely place, and from there move on to the other rat holes, caves, and deserted buildings that Ferney made use of, starting with the ones Ferney did not know he was aware of. The desert woman and the hobbit would just have to come with him.

Kaldir began redistributing the supplies of the pack pony between the three horses, as Mrs. Banks would now have to ride the pack pony. It would raise too many eyebrows for a respectable-looking hobbit lady like Mrs. Banks to be seen riding double with the likes of him. She, in fact, both women, would have to seem to be with him of their own accord. Otherwise, he could expect no end of complications and interference once they entered Bree. As it was, their presence with him might generate a few whispers, but whispers were acceptable. Interference was not.

Recalling something he had heard back at the Forsaken Inn, he pulled Benia's rucksack from the back of the bay mare and carried it over to where she sat. Unfastening the drawstring at the top, he rifled through the contents. "You are known in Bree, are you not?" he asked abruptly. When Benia nodded, Kaldir continued. "You have family there?"

"Yes."

"Will they be looking for you?"

She hesitated a moment as though weighing her options, trying to decide how much he knew or might have heard. Finally, with lowered eyes, she shook her head. "No."

Kaldir nodded. Then, finding what he was looking for, he drew a folded piece of dark green cloth from Benia's pack and laid it on the blanket beside her. It was her headshawl and veil. He saw her cast a quick glance at it, but she made no other reaction. Kaldir put the rucksack aside. Then, kneeling down beside her, he reached behind her knees and untied the rope that had bound her legs. "How is your ankle?"

"Better," she answered softly.

"Good." He handed her the veil. "Put this on.” He walked back and lashed the rucksack once more to the back of the bay mare. When he returned, leading the three horses, he was pleased to see that Benia had risen to her feet and donned the veil. It was the sort that completely covered her in drapery, leaving only a panel of fine mesh for her to see through. Of her actual person, only the end of her long black braid and her tattooed hands were visible. At first he considered having her wear gloves to conceal the tribal tattoos, but decided against it. As ordinary Breefolk were generally shy and leery of foreigners, he was counting on her foreignness to help keep them at bay. The tattoos could only help.

But, Mrs. Banks, on the other hand... where was Mrs. Banks? He was just beginning to get annoyed again, thinking that this time he really would disembowel her and leave her for the vultures, when she reappeared through the opening in the bramble hedge, toting a spotless stewpot. Seeing his expression, she stopped short and held the gleaming pot up in front of her. Her dark eyes flitted from Kaldir’s scowling face to the fabric-shrouded figure of her friend and back. “It-it was a horrible mess, Mr. Kaldir,” she stammered. “The sauce all cooked to the bottom of the pan. I had a dickens of a time getting it clean with no soap or hot water or anything.” She paused and raised the pan a little higher. “But I finally did get it.” Her eyes traveled again from Kaldir to Benia to the three horses and back again. “Are we leaving now?”

Kaldir nodded. “We are indeed.” He walked over and, none too gently, snatched the stewpot out of her hand. He wanted to smack her with it, but restrained himself, as smacking her would serve no purpose other than to make him feel better. It would no doubt only make her more troublesome. “We are going into Bree. Get on the pony.”

With a good deal of hesitation and misgiving, Gilly did as she was told. Once she had mounted the little pack pony and Benia had been installed on to the back of the bay mare, Kaldir reached into the breast of his shirt and pulled out a small key on a leather thong, which he inserted in the lock that secured the shackles on Benia’s wrists. Looking up into the mesh panel of her veil, he turned the key in the lock and removed the shackles.

“I can’t take you into Bree in shackles,” he said calmly. “That would raise far too many questions. But I expect both of you - ” he cast a sharp glance at Gilly “ - to stay close to me and do as you are told. If you don't, if you try to get away, things will be so much the worse for you. I don't have the time to play any more games and I know lots of gruesome ways to kill you. Do you understand?”

When both women had nodded their acquiescence, he nodded again and swung himself easily into the saddle of his gray horse. He glanced up at the ever brightening sky. It was market day and Bree’s gates would be open now. They could enter town with the market day crowd and scarcely even raise an eyebrow. Still scowling, he kicked his horse forward and led the way out of the hidden campsite into the open, the two women following close behind. The old wounds in his face had begun to throb again, which put him in a foul frame of mind, but he was used to the pain. Mentally, he pushed it away and rode boldly toward the northern gate into Bree.

As he had expected, they passed through the gate with a couple of farm families who had come in from their outlying acreages to attend the market. Kaldir and his companions, Benia in particular, received a curious glance from the gatekeeper as they passed, but no questions were asked. Their horses hooves made a steady clop-clop-clop on the cobblestones as they passed.
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Old 10-14-2003, 01:02 AM   #95
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Avanill

Avanill leaned against a nearby wall. The candlelight flickering over the body of Vanwe and his own face frowning as he stood deep in thought. He knew well what profit his mother had made form Naiore during the days when Mordor had risin, she had become a very wealthy woman, still he knew what an elf like Naiore could do to him should he not be able to get her what she wanted.

On the other hand, the promise that Barrold had made him was too good to pass up.
Then again, he could be taking me for a ride.he thought before turning once more to Barrold and breathed a heavy sigh.

"Couldn't you at least give her a blanket or something!" he said looking once more at Vanwe. "Its cold tonight, and I know if I were thrown down here by you, id be cold as well. Now Barrold I know kidnapping and holding hostages isnt my profession either, but at least be civil!" Barrold just laughed at him. "She'll be right lad, wont feel a thing!"

"Still..." muttered Avanill taking from his bag a spare cloak and wrapping it around the elf. "Nice girl that one, you should be nicer to your hostages Ferney! Even if they are Naiore's." He stood tall once again and looked Barrold sharply in the eye.

"What makes you think I want land, protection taxes... anyway, how do i know you are telling the truth?" he questioned. "Simple lad, some extra income may make you wealthy enough buy a town like the one your mother lives in, make yourself mayor, You could pay bail on all you criminal friends, become the most successful trader in Middle Earth, maybe even... you could go into becoming a proper merchant, if it suits you."

Barrold had a good point, there were many old friends, bandits, from the old days of Pinnath Gelin that he would like to see out of the prisions and workig for him. And if he helped Barrold this once, he may be able to enterprise into running his trade from all over Arda at once. After all if Barrold was going to double-cross him, he could always kill him, simple as that.

"All right Ferney, ill help you, previded that if anything goes ill, 'tis on your head." Barrold seemed relieved, Avanill felt that he may have gotten into something deeper than he had intended.

"Where is our elf friend Nairoe hiding anyway?"

[ October 14, 2003: Message edited by: Everdawn ]
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Old 10-14-2003, 05:10 AM   #96
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Sting

Rauthain

Whether Toby feigned ignorance in map reading hoping to extract an additional fee for leading them to Barrold was uncertain, but it was evident he did seem to know where the place was. And though he was of marginal help, they were able to get a fair idea of where to look. Of course, they did not let him realize this in their quizzing, but with the skill of many years practice kept him guessing.

Circling around, Rauthain picked up the gold piece from off the table and extending the shiny coin to Amandur between his long fingers declared, “I think we had better let Barrold come ask our assistance if a bounty hunter is after his family. It would be less trouble. This hobbit knows nothing.”

Watching his prospects apparently diminishing the hobbit grew animated. “You are a lying cheat!” he hissed. “I’ve told you what I know! We struck a bargain!”

“You have not told us all you know,” Rauthain replied calmly walking back to Toby. “Can you think of nothing else?”

“I’ve told you enough!” Toby countered while racking his brain for more details, and coming up short. “Some thing is up, I tell you!”

“How do you gather that?”

“Well you folks are here, ain’t ya? And Barrold is in a foul mood, sulking around ignoring his colleagues.”

“What does that mean exactly?”

“You know, like when you have a “spare” horse to be gotten rid of, if you don’t want to sell it yourself there are plenty who do it for you with only a small commission.”

“Are you saying that Barrold had a horse for you to sell?” Rauthain asked.

“Not no more, it’s gone. He just sent it off, at no profit to anyone.”

“That doesn’t sound like our Barrold, why would he do that?”

“It must be a woman at the bottom of it, why else would he lose his business sense and cut out his friends, though I can’t imagine no one taking up with him.” Toby said feeling no harm could come from his speculating. “He was cursing someone named Elenore or Lennore or something when I first spotted him.”

“Ah, so you are a disgruntled colleague looking to stir up trouble?”

Toby remained silent.

Rauthain pleased with the information but with sober aspect, handed the gold piece over to the hobbit, who snatched it up greedily. “Let it not be said that the king’s rangers are cheats, for even when this informer knows nothing Amandur has still paid handsomely. Think of it as compensation for your missed business opportunity.”

[ October 14, 2003: Message edited by: Hilde Bracegirdle ]
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Old 10-14-2003, 05:23 AM   #97
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Sting

Dúlrain

By the time Dúlrain had located Dir in the stables and re-tacked him the sun had peaked the horizon, the roads where already starting to get busy, bakers; delivering fresh bread, Traders opening their stores and travellers making ready to continue their journeys.

He rode through the streets casually, looking for anything or anyone suspicious, but still he saw nothing. During his second sweep he passed the baker again, this time his stomach growled hungrily, he grabbed one of the warm crusty rolled and toss the baker a small copper coin. Taking a large bite his eye caught sight of something unusual.

A Mysterious veiled woman was riding down the road he was on, he was not the only one looking her way, the soft veil and the tattooed hands marked her a Foreigner in bree 'a woman of the south?' he mused. The breelanders although they stared made a point of moving out of her path. She was accompanied by a tall stranger whose face he could not see under his hooded cloak and a respectable looking, middle aged hobbit woman.

As they passed Dúlrain smiled warmly and gave a courteous nod to the two woman, a silent good morning he had perfected in his youth, he almost gasped as he saw the scarred face of the male rider as he past. As he watched them ride on he noticed the hobbit woman affording a quick backwards glance. Something in her dark brown eyes told him that all was not as it seemed.

His thoughts suddenly reeled, what if the veiled woman was the one they sought and the Hobbit woman was her prisoner, a means to enter the shire maybe? they were nearly out of sight, he had to decide quickly what to do, looking back to the inn he decided that by the time he went back the veiled woman and her companions would be gone, so dropping the roll and taking up his reigns he discreetly followed the three riders.
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Old 10-14-2003, 04:49 PM   #98
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Sting

Léspheria

As Amandur and Rauthain poured over the map with the hobbit thief, Léspheria sat in quiet reflection, Naiore may be a villain but she was still an elf, from what she had heard it was clear that Naiore displayed both the best and worst traits of their kin, and had had centuries to perfect the skills required to elude any pursuer, their task was a difficult one, but Naiore no longer under the arm of the deceiver as her mother once believed, she was being hunted by those she had wronged, perhaps yet she may be forced into acting rashly, but perhaps not! sighing quietly she rubbed her temples and thought on Vanwe.

The young elf had just begun to find a place in life as the Forsaken inn's new stable hand, she was forging friendships, with the staff and Léspheria had felt that the young elf was beginning to find peace and acceptance, when her mother and her pursuers decided to turn up, pulling her violently from that new found peace and forcing her to be once more alone in the world, the irony Léspheria thought, was if Naiore had only stayed away this pursuit would have failed even before it began, for she believed that with friends and a new felt sense of belonging Vanwe would have remained in the inn.

She recalled the sense of fear and confusion she had sensed earlier, it was brief and fleeting but it seemed to her that Vanwe may have been disoriented to have projected such emotions so randomly, it was a miracle that she had sensed them at all! but she had and now she would have to make some sense of them, At least she knew one thing Vanwe was alive and of this Léspheria was glad. 'Perhaps the Maternal instinct that had caused Naiore not to dispose of the child as an infant still remain,' she pondered silently 'or perhaps she sees the potential of Vanwe's talents and thinks to manipulate them for her own purposes!' the second seemed more likely to her, given the nature of Naiore 'she would reven her own child!' she concluded in disgust.

To find Naiore she would have to think like her, this is what Tallas had meant when he told her not to be afraid to use her gift, for she did indeed fear to explore the darker emotions, Fear; hate; anger....etc, things that her quarry used to get her way in life, so what people would she use to instil these emotions in Vanwe? As she looked up to see Rauthain cleverly inciting the hobbit to reveal more than even he was aware he knew, a new thought came to her ' Naiore would certainly use the rangers pursuit against them were Vanwe was concerned, it was possible that Vanwe's fear of them might be beneficial to Naiore's plan, as for the two villains it may be that she is merely procuring less traceable good from them, or perhaps she thinks to bring them along to instil yet more fear into the young elf, making her more manageable?

Léspheria rose from her seat and began, unintentionally pacing back and forth, 'now where would she hide?' she thought closing her eyes and putting herself into Naiore's position, 'I am being pursued by rangers, and perhaps a bounty hunter seeking revenge, I have the added burden of a prisoner, but must procure supplies, what do I do?' she thought to herself, ' I would have set something up before snatching my prize.. yes I believe she would have done this too, then when I arrived I would call on my supplier, but I would not remain long with Rangers on my tail...hmm but what of Vanwe,' she mused what would I do with her, surely not leave her in the keeping of villains, no I would hold her up in some hidden place I had sought out previously, she sighed again causing Amandur and Ruathain to look her way, but she paid them no heed her thoughts preoccupying her. 'With all the holes and woodland surrounding Bree she could be anywhere, by the time they searched them all Naiore and her companions would be long gone.

But as Amandur and Rauthain made plans and readied themselves to leave a sly smile crossed her lips, perhaps this Barrold is not as careful as Naiore and his house will provide some hint of her/their intent. Just then she saw Amandur look at her, his expression one of quiet concern and puzzlement, then she realised how unlike her the sly smile would have seemed to him, she gave him a reassuring smile her eyes letting him know that she would explain later.
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Old 10-14-2003, 05:26 PM   #99
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Sting

Vanwe - early dawn

Vanwe’s muscles screamed in protest, shaking her from the last vestiges of sleep, if sleep it could be called. Her recollection was uncertain. She remembered her mother and the warning of Hanasían. She recalled the distant and indistinct memory of sunlight through leaves and a horse. She remembered also fatigue so heavy she thought her bones would break beneath its weight.

With a moan from her cramped muscles, Vanwe attempted to make sense of the world around her. She was thirsty like she had been walking through the desert beneath the hot sear of the sun. Her wrists and ankles burnt when she tried to move them. Vanwe struggled to understand. The light was murky and she was in a place she did not recognise, what little she could make out of it.

Dust lay thick in her throat and she coughed as she struggled to move. Something lay on her and in her fogged state she struggled against it like a moth weakly batting its flames against the impossible lure of a candle. The burn of the rope only worsened. Vanwe took in a shocked and shuddering breath when she realised it was the familiar burn of roughly twisted rope that bit at her.

“Harad! No!” Her voice was a bare whisper of horror. A sense of empty desolation rose within her, hollowing her out from within. From long experience, Vanwe managed to master her struggles. It would only hurt her more to persist, something that would please them no end and she would deny them whatever she could. She shifted as best she could, her muscles still waxen and rebellious as though they would not heed her commands. It was still hard to see. The scent of earth was everywhere. They had buried her, she thought, but they would be back. Else why bind her? The cruel minds of these Men she understood all too well. Vanwe sank back into darkness, clawing against its pull and failing. She fell into an abyss of memories of a village in a sandy, hot place...

When light streamed in like a fallen, blazing star, accompanied by the sudden shock of noise, Vanwe started. She had no idea how long it was since she last woke. This time, she willed herself to be still and to wait. Boots crunched on the earth after descending stairs. She could not be certain how many, but she knew it was more than one Man. She braced herself for the wind-weathered voices that had haunted her throughout her life. Sun tanned faces would appear shortly, eyes dark with anger, and then it would begin. She had found a way out before. She would again. It was the only thing Vanwe could reassure herself as her eyes adjusted to the sudden brightness.

“Well now, she’s awake,” a male voice said in Common. He did not have the accent of the Haradwaithe.
“You sure? She still looks a little… unwell…”
“She’ll ‘ave to be well enough as we can’t wait no more.”

Vanwe found herself dragged upright without warning. Rough hands clenched around her as though she were a rolled carpet. The sudden wrenching was agony that Vanwe clenched her teeth against. Her head spun and her sight was still poor. When the Man set her on her feet and her knees buckled, she felt herself toppling backwards without anything to cling to.

“Here, be careful with her,” the other man admonished, checking her fall. She had no choice but to sag into him. His arm supported her as he commented to his companion, “I don’t think she’s ready yet. She won’t be walking far just yet.”

“Garn boyo! What do we care if she walks or if she’s carted over the back of a horse?”
“I think we’ll need a horse.”
“Curse the wench, and you! I ain't no horse and you'd best be findin' us some quickly before the mornin's done,” the Man replied as he noted Vanwe sag in the other’s grip. Her head fell back and the fading voices of the two men fell off the edge of her comprehension and into gibberish which also faded in time.

When Vanwe was lifted and settled over the protesting Man's shoulder, she was lost from awareness once again. But not for long...
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Old 10-14-2003, 05:31 PM   #100
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Sting

Kaldir

As they rode into Bree, Kaldir led the way, followed closely by Benia and Gilly. They held the horses as much as possible to a steady but quick walk, slowing only when necessary due to the increasing foot traffic in the street. Subtly, Kaldir kept a close eye on his surroundings as well as his companions. So far, the two women had done as they were told and kept their mounts just off the flank of his own horse. The three of them, a peculiar bunch to be sure, had attracted a number of casual stares from the various shopkeepers and passers-by, but so far no one had attempted to speak to any of them. Only one individual had caught his eye as a possible problem.

They had been riding past a baker's shop. The man had been standing outside eating a hot roll and had nodded to Benia and Gilly. He was a Ranger from the look of him, which had caught Kaldir's attention. He wondered if this man were not somehow attached to the group of Rangers led by Amandur and Hanasian, with whom he had had a slight run-in at the Forsaken Inn on the subject of Benia Nightshade. He was convinced that they were now on the trail of Naiore Dannan, just he was, but one could never predict when one or another or his old brethren would take it into his head to be chivalrous and run to the aid of a lady in distress. If this man knew of Benia's circumstances, then he might have an interest in interfering. As Kaldir rode past him, he spared the Ranger scarcely a glance, but, when he reached the end of the block, he looked back and saw the Ranger still watched. Kaldir increased his speed slightly and made a turn to the right into a side street.

The side street he had chosen was more of a back alleyway between two rows of shops. By contrast to the main street, there was very little traffic, just the back doors to the butcher, the green grocer, a dry goods dealer, and a few others. The way was narrow with a slight dogleg to the left just past the dry goods shop after which it ran another hundred or so paces before hooking back into another busy thoroughfare. Kaldir led the two women as far as the bend, then looked back. Sure enough, the stranger, now on horseback, appeared in the mouth of the alleyway.

"Stay here!" Kaldir growled at Gilly and Benia. He turned his horse and trotted back in the direction of the stranger, who, in turn, had ridden a few paces forward to meet him. Holding the reins in his left hand, Kaldir lowered his hood and flipped his cloak back over his right shoulder in order to free his sword arm. He raised his right hand in greeting as he neared the stranger.

"Greetings, friend," he said rather blandly, but his pale blue eyes narrowed, sizing the man up. There was something familiar about him that Kaldir couldn't quite identify. He tried to search his fractured memory, but found that the information he sought lay somewhere beyond his grasp. He studied the man's face. "I can't help but wonder why you follow us."

The stranger nodded and returned a pleasant greeting, his grey eyes gazing past Kaldir toward the women. "Curiosity, sir," he said, smiling. "It's not often that we see such a mysterious creature as your companion this far north. Comes she from Harad?"

"Far Harad," answered Kaldir.

"It must be quite uncomfortable under all that fabric. Hot, I would think," continued the stranger in a conversational tone. Kaldir noticed that he, too, had freed his sword arm from possible entanglement in his cloak.

"She prefers to travel veiled," Kaldir explained patiently. It occurred to him that he might have miscalculated in having Benia travel completely veiled. He should have chosen a shorter veil from her pack, one that would at least reveal her eyes. With Naiore about, he should have expected that a fully-veiled woman would attract the attention of Rangers. "Though I can't imagine what the relative comfort of my wife would have to do with you. Sir."

"Dulrain of Westernesse. At your service."

"Camlis of Gondor," Kaldir lied smoothly. "At yours. My wife's name is Ailayla."

"Pretty," commented Dulrain. "And the hobbit?"

"A Mrs. Tunnelly from Archet, if you must know. She is someone my wife met there last week. She needed an escort as far The Shire. Since we are heading in that direction and it pleases my wife, I saw no reason why we shouldn't provide her company."

"I see." Dulrain nodded, but his expression had changed. Rather than looking rather casually in the direction of the two females, he now studied the unscarred side of Kaldir's face. A haunted look had come into his eyes. Deliberately, Kaldir turned the scarred side toward him.

[ October 15, 2003: Message edited by: Ealasaide ]
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Old 10-15-2003, 03:24 AM   #101
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Sting

Vanwe

The light was brighter still when Vanwe’s eyes opened a third time that day. The smell of a sweaty back filled her lungs and her head spun. She was upside down, with a shoulder pressed into her thankfully empty stomach. This time, her eyesight adjusted. The ground was lurching away beneath her. She was being carried by a Man who struggled over the rough ground of a wooded area.

Where am I? Vanwe’s heart began to race. The Man who carried her slung over his shoulder was muttering unhappily in Common Speech.

“How far is it, then,” he called testily ahead of him.

“A mile or so yet,” came a response from somewhere ahead of the man.

“Better be soon, as this one’s not getting’ any heavier and her ladyship will be wantin’ us right quick. You’d think she’d a carted this sack of lead herself but no-ho!”
“What are you complaining about? A jaunt through the woods on a sunny day with a fair Elven lass on your arm…. I mean shoulder. Wouldn’t be often you’d get the chance to toss women about, Ferney.”
“If you spent more time thinkin’ about this Tallas of yours and less time about the tavern wenches you’re used to, boyo, we’d be there already!”

The Man paused in his muttering to readjust Vanwe’s weight on his shoulder. The result sent his shoulder slamming into her stomach. Vanwe twitched beneath his hard grip, squirming. The Man stopped and wrestled her down. For a long instant the two squirmed and tussled, Vanwe grimly silent and the Man grunting and cursing.

"What are you doing," another man asked as he looked on in amazement. Bound hand and foot, Barrold was still struggling with Vanwe as though she were a slippery eel. He caught her under his arm and then finally dropped her on the ground with a oath. He scowled at her from beneath a heavy and sweaty brow and then at the Man who had asked his question.

"Can't 'alf tell whose daughter this one is." He gestured at Vanwe who was presently trying to get some weight beneath her. His companion's reply was light with laughter.

"You're about as good with her as you are with all the ladies. Why don't you take the rope off? That might make her more friendly."

"Why don't you just set her loose whilst you're at it, boyo? She's fixin' to leave, make no mistake." With that the Man bent and took her chin between his fingers and peered into her eyes. He swivelled her head so that the younger Man could also see.

"See what I mean?" Apparently mutiny was clear upon her as the younger Man nodded sagely when he saw.

"Well sort it out, Barrold. We have a ways to go yet." The Man called Barrold scowled at the other.

"Don't recall takin' orders from you, Avanill." Nonetheless, he did release her chin. Vanwe worked her jaw against the lingering pressure of his grip. Barrold straightened and pulled a dagger free of his belt. He leant towards her with it and Vanwe twisted away urgently. She heard the one called Avanill laugh.

"All charm and style with the women," he chortled. Barrold made a grab for her wrists and pulled them and Vanwe back towards him and his dagger.

"Now we’re awake again, Princess, you can do your own legwork. Nothin' too fancy though. You hear me? Nothin' that might make me and Avanill 'ere think you was escapin' or bein' difficult,” Vanwe stared up at the stranger, momentarily unsure of what to do aside from run for the hills. Barrold lifted his dagged and Vanwe tugged away again.

“Hold still, wench,” he roughly ordered before setting his knife to the rope around her ankles. He sliced it off and pulled her up to her stinging, burning feet by the rope binding her wrists. Vanwe swayed a little as she fought to keep her feet. She’d need those to run.

“We’ll move faster now,” the Man said to Avanill as Vanwe swayed precariously. Brandishing the dagger before her, he leaned in threatening, “Walk nice and quiet now, Princess, and I won’t be needing this.”

"She's looks real quiet to me. The stench of your skin would of had me yelping a half hour ago," Avanill stated baldly.
"Take it from me, they don't stay quiet for long... not women,"

Barrold waved his dagger close to her nose and then pricked her arm through her sleeve to make his point. Vanwe watched him sheath it, threat rolling from him in great waves. The Man stank of violence and Vanwe knew that stench well. Still holding the rope at her wrists, he wrenched her forward and forced her to stumble after him, wrists and shoulders aching with each tug on the rope.

"Let's get goin' then. Point the way to Tallas, boyo. The sooner we're there, the sooner we can dump 'er back on 'er mother. Never was interested in playin' nurse maid."

Avanill sketched a mocking bow, and after effusive praise for the gentlemanly manner in which Barrold "escorted" a lady, set back to his task. Vanwe was soon ostensibly alone with Barrold, and the violence that seemed to roll off him in waves. She watched the trees as they passed and she remembered. There may have been trees instead of sand, but this Man was as bad as any of the rest.

Then, as now, she had two choices: escape or wait for a lingering death at his hands. She turned back to scanning the trees. She had already made that choice the night she stole, quiet as a sand mouse, over the dunes.

Perhaps it was not so bad, Vanwe mused as Barrold dragged her forward. Perhaps she was not so far from the Inn afterall.

"Quit yer daydreamin' and watch where yer goin'. I ain't doin' all your work." Barrold sharply pulled the rope between her wrists and Vanwe was pained enough to favour his back with a rebellious scowl that furrowed her brow and set mutinious fires burning again in her blue eyes.
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Old 10-15-2003, 07:43 PM   #102
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Sting

Dúlrain

As he followed, the three strangers suddenly turned right into one of Bree's side streets, he paused momentarily throwing back his cloak freeing his sword arm, an instinct born of years of caution, then taking his reigns in his left hand he urged his horse forwards towards the opening. At the mouth of the alleyway Dúlrain was again forced to pause as the male rider looked back towards him.

Taking a few paces forward he watched as the rider lowered his hood and in a fluid movement that only a trained eye would notice, he flipped his cloak over his right shoulder freeing his sword arm as he raised his hand in greeting, very clever Dúlrain thought as the man brought his horse to stop across his path, Dúlrain glanced past him to the veiled woman in the distance wondering why if this was Naiore she had sent this man back and not come herself.

A rather bland greeting drew his attention back to the rider, "I can't help but wonder why you follow us." the rider enquired, after nodding and returning a pleasant greeting of his own, his gaze drifted back to the two women, "Curiosity, Sir," he smiled honestly. "it's not often that we see such a mysterious creature as your companion this far north. Comes she from Harad?"

"Far Harad," the rider answered comfortably

"It must be quite uncomfortable under all that fabric. Hot, I would think," Dulrain continued in conversational tones, looking at the woman wondering who or what was hidden beneath the full veil of the haradwaith, when a shorter one would have been more normal for this time of year. But the rider explained patiently that she preferred to travel veiled.

'I bet she does', Dúlrain thought dryly.

"Though I can't imagine what the relative comfort of my wife would have to do with you. sir." 'Wife!' Dúlrain thought looking from the veiled woman to the rider before him, noting the hint of annoyance in his words Dúlrain lightened the situation by introducing himself, but as the rider introduced himself, his wife and the hobbit woman explaining how she came to be in their company, Dúlrain for the first time in their meeting met his eyes.

He felt his own eyes widen in disbelief, as he thought he looked upon a ghost of his past. How can this be? he thought studying the unscarred features of the man who had called himself Camlis, the pale ice blue eyes were unmistakable, but as the man before him deliberately turned his unscarred side away, a million question entered Dúlrain's mind,

Where has he been?

what happened to him?

why have I not heard word of his survival?

why would he lie to me?

Why was there no recognition in his eyes? and why would he be travelling with Naiore?, But perhaps this is some kind of trick to distract me, this is not possible I... I..., I what he scolded himself silently, I found not body! only a torn blood stained cloak and his sword, something I believed that only death would part him from.

As brothers we live
As one we fight
In the service of our kin, we will remain true
never defeated while together we stand
when in need, one will always find the other!


Guilt gripped Dúlrain as the oath he and Kaldir made as youths came unbidden to his mind, where was he when his friend was in need of him, he was grieving a death that was not so!

Dúlrain was hard put to remove his gaze from the man he now believed was Kaldir his old childhood friend, brothers in all but blood they had been, but now his friend looked on him as one looking on a stranger.

Realising that he was finding out nothing he decided to change his tactic to a more direct one, "I am searching for a dangerous criminal and your wife hidden under her veils drew my suspicion, I have no interest in a woman from the south, but I need proof that she is not the woman I seek" he sighed regretfully, but his hand shifted to the hilt of his sword, least Kaldir refused his request.

He silently preyed he would not and that the woman was not Naiore! What he was doing was dangerous he knew, but he had to know if his old friend was in league with Naiore!

[ October 17, 2003: Message edited by: Nerindel ]
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Old 10-16-2003, 02:51 AM   #103
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Avanill

Avanill was having a rather strange day indeed. First, Rangers, and now Naiore. What have you got yourself into Avanill? he thought silently in his mind.
"Let's get goin' then. Point the way to Tallas, boyo. The sooner we're there, the sooner we can dump 'er back on 'er mother. Never was interested in playin' nurse maid." Avanill snorted at this. "Cant imagine you being a nurese-maid either Ferney" he muttered keeping well the look of laughter from his face.

Then unable to hold it any longer he remarked, "I am quite astonished at the way you handly these elven types Ferney, Quite the Bree-land gentleman, bound and shackled and dragged along." Avanill was not in favour of the way Barrold was treating this woman, be her daughter of Naiore or no. She was still a woman.

"Well what are you waiting for?" Barrold snapped at him again as Avanill walked slightly ahead. "Im waiting for youto catch up." he replied glancing at the surrounding landscape. "And while we are talking, Id like to know, what exactly do you need?"

" A bit o' everything, poisons, sleeping draughts, well boyo! Your the one who knows this stuff, get goin'!" Avanill frouned. "I see... Well i already have a sleeping draught, Tallas will have everything else, i just hope i have enough to pay him..." Avanill's voice trailed off as he kept looking around the woods. "Who says your going to pay him?"

Avanill spun around. "What! Your going to rob him? An old man? Have you lost your mind? Not even I would rob an old man."
Barrold grunted at him. "But you would find good reason to kill an old man who may find himself in your debt."
Avanill was now angry. " That is different! There is something very, very wrong with you Barrold Ferney... Dont do that!" he yelled as Barrold violently tugged Vanwe along, so that her knees almost buckled beneath her. He walked past Barrold and took the rope from his hand and held it himself.

"You dont give her trouble, she wont give you trouble." Avanill remarked, Barrold stepped away, "You aint kidnapped many people before boyo, leave this to me." Avanill frowned. "Ill take her for now, plus we're here." he jestured to a shack which had revelaed its self at the edge of the wood.. "Shall you talk or shall I?"

[ October 17, 2003: Message edited by: Everdawn ]
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Old 10-17-2003, 04:25 AM   #104
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Sting

Tallas

Darkness, fades and three strangers approach, two men and one woman, as the picture clears it becomes apparent the woman is an elf, fair of face, but eyes brimmed in sadness and sorrow.

Darkness returns, then clears once more, Clash of swords ring through the forest, the elf maids eyes close, silver tears trickle down her pale cheek.

The wood stands silent, the elf woman now before him he lowers his sword and falls to his knees, whispered words for her alone, then realise from this life!

Tallas' eyes snapped open, "So it is come." he whispered "I am ready!" he smiled raising from the wooden chair he had fallen asleep on, looking for the last time at the sun rising above the trees, Smiling as the light warmed his age ravaged face, Death was his gift for his long years of service in the name of all things good and he was more than deserving.

Their where no preparations to make, he had no regrets, no wrongs to mend and no loved one to leave behind and his friends though he knew they would mourn would also honour his life in songs and tales long ere he was gone from the world, "Tallas the old, father to all" he laughed wistfully, Remembering the elven twins Léspheria and Lóthaniel giving him that title.

As he wandered the ways of the woods that had been his home in this life, the grass, flowers, trees, animals and birds all seemed more alive to him than ever before, closing his eyes he breathed deeply soaked in every ounce that some memory of it would follow him onto his next journey.

Once returned to his hidden home he propped his staff by the wall, close to hand and sat himself down on the old wooden rocking chair by the door, it squeaked quietly as he rocked it back and forth, waiting for his visitors to arrive....
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Old 10-17-2003, 06:01 AM   #105
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Sting

Barrold

Barrold switched a dubious stare at Avanill to the shack ahead. He did not exactly know what to trust Avanill with. His concern for Vanwe's comfort had been most incongruous from the start. Besides, Naiore had promised her to him. Then again, Avanill knew about this 'Tallas' and Barrold didn't. He hesitated as he weighed up the greater risk. Then, he pushed Vanwe towards the younger man.

"Just you remember who she belongs to, boyo." Vanwe managed to right heself with the customary grace of her kindred. Avanill was slow to take custody. Once he was sure that Avanill had her in hand, Barrold left some instructions.

"Keep an eye on 'er. I'm gonna take a look about first. And you, Princess," he said to Vanwe in a low growl, "you'd better be here when I get back." With that, Barrold started to pick his way through the undergrowth. If Avanill had created a waiting snare with some hired swords, then Barrold would see to it. Feeling very pleased with his craftiness, Barrold slunk about and left Avanill and Vanwe together alone.

Vanwe stared at Avanill and then pulled as far away from him as she could, until the ropes between her wrists tugged. She was coiled, quiet. Opportunities to escape came but once. She'd have to take it when it arrived and get it right or face the consequences of not being there when Barrold returned. Her eyes combed the trees around them, as if looking for a hole to slip through.

"I'm sorry about Barrold, Vanwe," Avanill said conversationally as he inspected the Elf he held onto. Her wrists were chafed and raw, the faintest hint of blood starting to show from all the pulling of the rope. "I wish I could somehow take these off," Avanill said thoughtfully. Vanwe turned large eyes back to him for a moment and then dropped them.

"I don't think you'd be troublesome if we treated you well, would you?" Avanill peered at her as if waiting a reply. Vanwe looked solemly back, silent still, and waiting, waiting for that one opportunity. It would come, surely it would, and she would find the Forsaken Inn and help there. Of course she would. Without a reply to his question, Avanill dropped it and looked about the wood himself.

"He'd better not blunder too close, else Tallas will sense him. He's a canny old man." Minutes passed and nearby a smooth boulder perfect to perch upon soaked up a patch of morning sunlight. Avanill decided that if he had to wait, he'd do so comfortably.

"Let's sit, shall we," he suggested politely as though it were a request. Once seated and with nothing else to do, he posed some more questions to Vanwe. Light banter as to her name, hobbies, even a jest. All of it was met with silence and the occassional return of his gaze with her wide blue eyes.

"You sure are a quiet one," he commented dryly. More minutes passed, Avanill steadily becoming more and more uncomfortable with the idea of sitting on a rock, out in the open, whilst Barrold had disappeared and Rangers were about... with the incriminating evidence roped and in his custody what's more.

His booted right foot started to tap impatiently. It was then he felt the first sting of an ant bite. Absently, he swiped at it with his free hand. It was soon followed by another and another. Avanill looked down at his boots with a start and saw that ants were busily invading. With a yell, he reached for them to tug them urgently off.

It was then that Vanwe uncoiled and burst off in an explosion of desperate speed. Her only plan was to run in the direction leading away from Barrold and Avanill. Avanill spun and lunged to catch her and narrowly missed by a mere fraction.

"Hey," he yelled, stamping his feet back into his ant infested boots.

"Oi," a second voice bellowed. Barrold returned just in time to see the long blonde hair of their aforetonow prisoner fly through the trees. Avanill was on his feet and racing after her as Barrold took off as well. Barrold paused only to shoot Avanill a murderously angry glare before he yelled ahead of him, "A mistake, Princess!"

The threat was enough to send surges of terror through Vanwe, but all she could do was run, blindly, and hope. And that she did, as though her very life depended upon it, for it did. Tears of desperation silently streamed down her face as she sprinted, whipping through the trees and grabbing branches, plunging headlong for as long as her strength would hold out. One trip, one stumble, could bring her undone.

Behind her, the sound of pursuit followed like a nightmare that refuse to heed the clarion call of dawn and wakefulness. Escape or die...

[ October 17, 2003: Message edited by: piosenniel ]
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Old 10-19-2003, 08:15 AM   #106
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Kaldir

"I am searching for a dangerous criminal and your wife hidden under her veils drew my suspicion. I have no interest in a woman from the South, but I need proof that she is not the woman I seek," the stranger, Dulrain, sighed regretfully. Kaldir noticed that the man's hand moved subtly to the hilt of his sword, but the gesture seemed less a threat than a precaution.

"I can understand your suspicions," answered Kaldir. "But you may rest assured that they are groundless. You may have a peek at her, if you wish." He turned his horse and began to ride back in the direction of Benia and Gilly, keeping an peripheral eye on the stranger. Dulrain, his sword still sheathed, cautiously followed.

"Amongst some of the more remote tribes of Harad it is a sin punishable by death to look upon the face of another man's wife," Kaldir continued pleasantly. "Fortunately, I am not a tribesman, myself." He glanced back at the Ranger behind him. He had felt a surge of possessiveness flash through him at the thought of actually showing Benia's face to the man, the strength of which surprised him. Nonetheless, it amused him that the Ranger suspected him of harboring Naiore, when he, too, sought to capture her. As for Benia, Kaldir was rather enjoying the charade of calling her his wife. It had been a convenient lie, but finding the actual words on his tongue, he found it clarified a great deal for him about why he had been unable to harm Benia, when his initial intention had been to kill her. He wanted to keep her with him.

With that thought in mind, Kaldir casually shifted his hand to the hilt of his sword. If this man wanted to take her from him, he would have to fight for her.

"Mrs. Tunnelly of Archet," he said to Gilly, as his horse and the horse of the stranger drew up to the place where the two women waited. "May I present Dulrain of Westernesse." Kaldir gave her a stern gaze that dared her to defy him in his lie.

Gilly smiled nervously. "Mrs.-Mrs. Tunnelly, that's me," she stammered, casting a sideways glance at Benia. She was no good at lying, let alone lying to cover up a lie. "Pleased to meet you, Mr. Dulrain. I'm from Archet, myself..."

Dulrain delivered a polite nod in her direction. "- and Lady Ailayla, my wife," finished Kaldir, cutting Gilly off before she had the chance to babble her way into a blunder.

"Greetings, Dulrain of Westernesse," came Benia's soft voice through her veil. She bowed to her horse's neck.

"This gentleman is seeking a dangerous criminal, my dear," Kaldir continued, addressing Benia. "He wishes to look upon your face to satisfy himself that you are not she. Would you be so kind as to raise your veil?"

"As you wish. Husband." Benia bowed again. Holding the reins of her horse in one tattooed hand, she used the other hand to raise the dark fabric of her veil far enough that the stranger could get a clear look at her face. Once he had seen her and nodded, she lowered it again.

"Satisfied?" Kaldir began to ask, but the question died on his lips. He had caught sight of a second sword that the Ranger wore at his side. Instantly, he recognized the pattern of interlace that decorated curve of the distinctive double hand guard, the crest of the leaping stag at the base of the blade. He looked hard at the sword, then again at the face of the Ranger. Dulrain. Suddenly the name seemed more than familiar to him. He knew it. He knew him. Or he had known this man in what he now thought of as his previous life.

Involuntarily, Kaldir closed his eyes, lowering his head. He flinched under the onslaught of disconnected images that suddenly flooded his mind. His father. Smiling, handing him the sword. Too heavy. Can't lift it. Another boy. Smaller than him, younger, with black hair and gray eyes. Dulrain. As brothers we live...never defeated...Older now. Strong. One will always find the other...Orcs. Alone. Surrounded by them, a crushing blow. Pain. Where is the sword? Ripping pain... Instinctively, he raised a hand to his face, but stopped the motion halfway there, clinching his fist, digging the nails into his palm. He had to regain control. Taking a deep breath, he forced the memories away, pushing them back down into the darkness. As brothers we live...

"No," he growled deep in his throat. When he raised his head again, his eyes burned with a savage determination. That is not the sword. This is not the same Dulrain. One will always find the other. No. He gave his head a sharp shake to jar loose the memories that struggled to retain a toehold in his mind. Recovering, he looked quickly toward his companions, only to find all of them staring at him, Gilly looking frightened and the Ranger Dulrain, looking surprised and concerned. Benia was turned toward him, but he was unable to see anything of her expression through the veils. The Ranger spoke first.

"Are you all right?" he asked, leaning forward.

Kaldir nodded. "A lingering illness," he responded harshly. "Are you satisfied that my wife is not the one you seek?"

"Yes," answered Dulrain cautiously. "I see now I was mistaken." He paused. "If you are not well..." he began, but Kaldir cut him off abruptly.

"It is nothing."

"Then, I will leave you good people to your own affairs," concluded Dulrain, but Kaldir recognized a trace of doubt and misgiving in his voice. He cursed himself for his own weakness, yet found his gaze returning again to the sword. Just as the Ranger was turning his horse to go, Kaldir called after him:

"The second sword you wear at your side... how came you by it?"



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

Benia

Benia hated the veil Kaldir had selected for her to wear. It was stiflingly hot to wear, with the additional discomfort of being hard to see through. Communicating was a near impossibility, as well, unless she wanted to shout her comments to Gilly. Between the increasing street noise and the muffling effect of the fabric, Benia felt cut off. She wished she had thrown the thing away months ago. She had never worn it voluntarily, and had only kept it out of sentimentality for the customs of the desert, preferring instead the shorter, lighter veils that only covered the lower portion of her face. For keeping her isolated, the heavy fabric was almost as effective as shackles. The bounty hunter had known what he was doing in selecting it, but she decided that if she ever got away, she would take the thing and burn it.

She rode along behind him, fuming to herself. She barely paid attention as the three of them, herself, Gilly, and the bounty hunter, made the turn into the side street. She would do as she was told. Follow the bounty hunter. Ask no questions. At least for the moment. The time would come when she - no, they - could either move against the bounty hunter or elude him.

"Stay here!" ordered the bounty hunter and, turning, rode back in the direction they had come. She turned her horse and watched through the mesh of her veil as Kaldir approached another man who had followed them on to the side street. She could hear the sound of voices as the two men spoke to one another, but was unable to distinguish the words.

"If only we'd had some oleander or belladonna..." she sighed.

"What?" asked Gilly furtively. "Oleander and what?"

"Belladonna," answered Benia, loud enough where Gilly could hear her and, hopefully, the bounty hunter could not. "Nightshade. Like my last name. They're poisons. If only we'd poisoned the stew..."

"Oh, Benia..." Gilly sounded upset. "Not poison. A sleeping draught, yes, if only we'd done that, we'd be free now and on our way back to the Shire, but poison! I don't know that I could live with that."

Benia turned to look at Gilly through the mesh of her veil. Smiling, she said, "I don't know that I could live with it either, in the long run, but I would like to be alive to find out."

"You don't still think he means to kill us, do you?" asked Gilly, furrowing her brow. "I mean, he's had ample opportunity, but he hasn't done a thing to us other than a bit of rope burn." She glanced down at the raw red bands on her wrists. "What do you suppose he's up to now?" she added, nodding in the direction of the bounty hunter and the other man.

Benia shook her head. "I don't know. But I imagine we are about to find out," she concluded as Kaldir turned his horse and the two men rode in their direction. She listened as the bounty hunter introduced her and Gilly to the stranger as Mrs. Tunnelly and Lady Ailayla.

"Greetings, Dulrain of Westernesse," she said softly and bowed to her horse's neck when it came her time to speak. A Ranger. She studied his face through the mesh of her veil. He had a kind face, handsome in a well-traveled sort of way. If only she or Gilly could communicate with him, perhaps he could help them.

"This gentleman is seeking a dangerous criminal, my dear," continued the bounty hunter. "He wishes to look upon your face to satisfy himself that you are not she. Would you be so kind as to raise your veil?"

Benia bowed again in her best imitation of the submissive women of the deep desert. "As you wish," she answered. "Husband." Holding her reins in one hand, she raised her veil with the other, being sure to keep a fold of fabric between herself and the bounty hunter. When the Ranger bent forward to see her face, she decided to take a risk.

"Please," she mouthed the word. She had intended to add, help us, but hesitated as her eyes met the gray eyes of the Ranger. She felt her face flush under his frank stare, and, surprised, dropped her eyes. By the time she recovered herself and moved to speak again, she saw that the bounty hunter had repositioned himself to where he could see her as well. Her opportunity gone, she realized she would have to let it go with a mere please. The Ranger nodded, and, disappointed, she lowered her veil back into place.

Glancing at the bounty hunter, she was startled to see he had gone suddenly pale, seeming to retreat somewhere inside of himself. She watched as he lowered his head and fought some inner battle, finally clinching his fist, almost physically wrenching himself back to the present. Glancing to either side, she saw that Gilly and the Ranger watched him as well, the Ranger looking decidedly troubled. There was another brief exchange of words between the two men, and Benia's heart sank as the Ranger turned to go. He had not understood.

Then, Kaldir called out to him: "The second sword that you carry...how came you by it?"

She looked and saw that the Ranger did indeed carry two swords. Her hands clinched in her lap as he turned his horse and came back.

[ October 19, 2003: Message edited by: Ealasaide ]
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Old 10-19-2003, 12:01 PM   #107
Hilde Bracegirdle
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Rauthain

When Amandur and Rauthain had finished with their preparations, Rauthain slipped away, leaving the parlor to hail Nob, who had not yet answered the bell. When he returned he carried a small tray with paper, pen and ink stand which he placed before Amandur. Taking up the pen, Amandur composed a hurried note to Dúlrain describing whither they were heading, and after signing it, he penned a small sketch of a portion of the map before him.

The hobbit, cocking his head, tried to read the message, but finding it written in Sindarin sat back in his chair again, eyeing the rangers with mistrust. “I’ll gladly show you the way myself,” he offered shrewdly. “Of course I’d expect to be compensated for putting myself at such risk. Ferny would not likely be happy with me if he finds I was persuaded to lead you there.”

Toby Longholes truly had an interest in helping the rangers to find Barrold Ferny in the midst of some shady business and was banking on his removal from his current dominance in Bree’s more seamy society, depositing him preferably behind a solid locked door. That would take him down a peg or two, teach him to not discount his fellows, and fill Toby’s pockets as well, giving the hobbit a better chance to expand his own influence beyond petty thievery. Ferny always was a volatile, unpredictable factor and Toby would not be the only one to feel unburdened by his premature “retirement”. There was the risk though; that all would not go as planned and Ferny would discover who helped the rangers ferret him out. This Toby preferred not consider too closely, knowing that if it went awry he could make his way to the Shire where Barrold could not follow him. There were advantages to being a hobbit, and knowing that the king indirectly protected him in his treachery, Toby found quite humorous.”

“I would not have it any other way Master Longholes!” said Rauthain folding the small map again, as Amandur dried and sealed the message. “Though I will not say the price for your service until we have seen success.”

Before Toby had the chance to protest, a sharp knock was heard at the door. Léspheria opened it admitting Nob. He was out of breath and carrying some additional small items, one of which was wrapped in leather. “Excuse me my lady,” he managed, passing her to set the things down on the table. “I have your horses ready out in the yard.”

“Thank you Nob.” Amandur said picking up the folded note. “Perhaps you would do one more errand. We are expecting two more of our brethren to come looking for us here, Maethor and Dúlrain by name. If you would give them this, it is quite important and you and your master Butterbur should keep a sharp look out for them, for they should see it as quickly as possible.”

“Yes Sir, I will tell him straight away.”

“It’s not to wait until after the morning rush!” added Rauthain.

“No Sir,” replied Nob vanishing out the door. The others followed close behind him down the narrow hallway and out into the yard. Two horses stood hitched by the door and a third, stately and black, came shortly after at Amandur’s bidding. “You will be riding with me,” Rauthain informed the hobbit gesturing to a brown stallion with an unkempt black mane and tangled tail.

“Much obliged,” Toby replied in sarcastic tones “I thought as much. I shall stand out like the beacons of Gondor on that beast.”

“Would you stand out any less on a nobler steed, glossy and well kept?” Rauthain laughed. “Up Master Longholes, we must help poor Barrold Ferny’s family escape a bounty hunter as you said, and bounty hunters are to my experience early risers!”

Rauthain helped the hobbit on to the horse before mounting it himself. But he grew distracted as they made their way through Bree using only the side roads at Toby’s urging. The mention of Kaldir’s name had not been lost on Rauthain and that he too might be seeking out Naiore troubled him. To what purpose would Kaldir look for her unaided? Bounty? Not likely, such a bounty would carry a high personal cost. Or revenge? Maybe. But there was also the chance that she could yet have a hold on his will. This, distasteful as it was, became forefront in Rauthain’s mind, for if Naiore had a plan in the north, having Kaldir in her grasp could prove useful, for there were still many rangers who would welcome Kaldir back as a brother should he be convinced to leave his current way of life.

At last the group approached a lonely and ramshackle farmhouse surrounded by various outbuildings, which the hobbit had indicated as Barrold’s. Leaving the horses behind a rocky rill they silently closed the last distance on foot, Rauthain pulling the reluctant Toby along with a firm grip on his sleeve.

[ October 20, 2003: Message edited by: Hilde Bracegirdle ]
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Old 10-19-2003, 11:13 PM   #108
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Tolkien

Maethor

“Oh, drat, where are you, Dulrain,” Maethor murmured quietly to himself as he leaned against the wall, his shoulder nestled in a comfortable hollow in the rough stone. The bones of dead vines were enwrapped in the dark crevices between the mortar, the dried roots were littered at the base, ants wound their way around the roots, and wandered into a trampled green verge forest of weeds nearby. Puckering his brow with some puzzlement, he leaned over the crushed weeds and discovered a faint trace of a foot print. “Dulrain,” he whispered as he recognized the print. Crouching easily he crept along the edge of the wall, keeping his eye upon the elusive footprint which soon led to the gates, and was promptly lost within the crazy mosaic of other footprints. Maethor glared at the convoluted tracks and muttered, “Blast.” Squinting into the golden sunlight he said softly, “Did he go out the gate or --” peering into a muddy puddle lingering after a summer rain, “or did he stay in the town?” A pony’s hoof landed with a splash in the muddy puddle, sending a small cascade upon the crouched form of Maethor. Wiping the grimy water from his jaw, he added, “What are actually the chances of my choosing the right path?” He glanced again within the town where the rats scampered within the shadows and where the hobbits laughed, or outside where the grass laughed gently under the soft caress of the breeze as it skipped over the dells? Shaking himself, he stood up and walked briskly through the gate, waved jovially to the warden and cried, “Good morrow!”, quite forgetting that the morning had long since passed and turned into noon.

Maethor breathed the clean air and decided to make his way towards the woods, hoping to come across Dulrain’s path again. Despite the easiness and relaxation of the day, Maethor became a trifle uneasy and he saw no hint of the path. Still, Dulrain was a range, and could easily hide himself if he so wished.

Entering the gallery of trees, Maethor brushed his hand against the green moss that clung tenaciously to the rough bark and sang,

“Green were the trees under the entrancing sunlight’s beam,
Merrily laughed the jolly waters with gilded sliver gleam,
Here my lover waited under the woodlands bower,
Her hair was soft and golden like the Mallorn flower
Her eyes were as blue as the glorious firmament above,
Sweetly our touching lips spoke of our young love.
Yet now, she sleeps, shackled by the cruel cold hand of Death --
Alas, I did not hear her murmured dying breath! --
Pale, her slender form an ivory stature hidden in the ground.
‘Twas I who left her to slay the orcs that in this land abound.
And as she waited for me, she languished in her wretched misery,
Whilst I frolicked with the crimson flow by the blood-stained sea.
Did I hear her silent cry, heed the beckon of the tears the pled for me
As she prayed for the Valar’s blessing upon her bended knee?
Nay! Others were my comrades -- she in my thoughts she was ever present,
The sword drank the blood of spawn, yet her memory made all things pleasant.
Slowly she faded, as she pined for me, and then she died for me,
Accompanied to the brink of the grave by her misery.


The grievous melody fell from Maethor’s lips and he wondered why such a sad tale had crept to his tongue to drape the morning with their sabled robes. He found himself near the Chetwood, and said aloud, “Bother! Dulrain never would have come this far. It’s near old Tallas’ place --” Maethor smiled fondly for he had heard of the old man -- “and I don’t think that he is quite her sort.” Turning, he heard a mad crash through the brush, and saw a slight form come tearing from a grove of trees. He saw that her hands were tied, and that she clutched them to her chest, as continued to run, weaving her way through the trunks. He heard the shouting of men echo under the gallery of the trees. The maiden was near him, her eyes were filled with terror as they met his own. She swerved away and stumbled upon a root, but Maethor caught her in his arms and righted her to her feet.

She was an elf and Maethor started as he recognized her as Vanwe from the Forsaken Inn. Her golden hair was awry, her face scratched by the cruel twigs that had clutched after her departing form. The angry shouts of men, the vile oaths that stained the air, reached their ears, and grasping her gently yet firmly by her wrists, Maethor swung around and hastened to the west, trying to make a circle around the men and loose them from the fairly obvious trail that Vanwe had left in her wake. Maethor made several clues, pointing them to a fake path, but couldn’t quite do it properly because of his haste.

After some minutes, Maethor led the elf into a quiet circle of trees, enshrouded by shadow, and said, “We can rest here awhile -- a very short while,” he added with a gentle smile. Guiding her to a nearby stone, he motioned for her to sit and he himself crouched upon his heels and gazed into her eyes. They fluttered downwards and Maethor remembered that her hands were still tied. Withdrawing a silver knife from his right leather boot, he held her hands within one of his and proceeded to cut the ropes that bound them. The knife had been but newly sharpened, and the old ropes fell with a but a few strokes. He saw that her wrists were chaffed sorely. Taking his waterskin, he poured some upon them and said, “We must make hast, my lady. Alas, we do not have time to make a proper poultice, but we can do that at the Prancing Pony. Come,” he said, taking her hand and leading her to the woods. “I am Maethor,” he added, realizing he had failed to mention his name.

The woods were silent, not even the trill of a bird broke the ominous mood. Stopping, he listened and whispered, “Do you hear anything?” Vanwe shook her head and Maethor hurried on and, still in a whisper, asked, “From whom were you running? Your mother?”

Vanwe shook her head and answered softly, “No. Scoundrels named Barrold Ferney and Avanill, treated my with a little more kindness.”

“Ferney?” asked Maethor with some annoyance. “That is a shame that he missed the meeting with our friends.”

“Your friends?” asked Vanwe curiously.

“Amandur, Lespheria, Rauthain,” Maethor began, and stopped. He had distinctively heard the crack of a twig; he felt Vanwe stiffen. Swearing quietly to himself, he drew his knives and began to roundly rebuke himself for not paying more attention. “Naiore wants you still, doesn’t she?” he asked Vanwe, as he wondered why the thugs would want anything to do with a fair young elf maiden.

A young man sauntered easily from the brush and Maethor raised his knife and said, “Stop and leave now.”

Raising his hands, the young man said, “No need to be touchy now. I don’t mean any harm.”

“Avanill,” Vanwe whispered.

Maethor peered quietly at Avanill and then to Vanwe. It seemed strange that the maiden in his song resembled the elf so closely: a chill premonition shadowed him: what if the same fate befell Vanwe? Resolutely he turned back to Avanill: he seemed tricky enough, but Vanwe had said that he had treated her a little more kindly. Maybe he didn’t like seeing her captured and tied -- what decent man would? Yet Avanill wasn’t technically a decent man. Maethor searched for a weapon upon him, and found none. “Where’s your friend -- accomplice?”

Avanill snorted in disgust and said, “Why should I care? I don’t like kidnapping people -- it ain’t my trade.” He paused, and added, “I…uh…have a grudge against Ferney, so I’ll just walk away and let you go.”

Maethor narrowed his eyes swiftly and glanced at Avanill. He was not telling the truth but that was clear. “Maethor!” Vanwe, cried as a hurtling mass crashed through the underbrush and bore him to the ground -- his dagger flew from his hand and landed with a soft thump to he ground.

An oily hand grasped eager for his throat, dirt was sprinkled in his eyes as Maethor gasped for breath: the man reeked of garlic and onions which also in part was the cause of Maethor’s lack of air. The ranger heaved his elbow into the vagrant’s stomach villain’s stomach and the rogue fell to the ground like a sack of potatoes. Planting his knee on the man’s chest, Maethor lunged for his dagger in his left boot, but Avanill, perceiving his intent, kicked him, sending Maethor sprawling upon his back. In an instant, he was upon his feet, dodging punches from Ferney, barely grimacing as some found their mark. Blood flowed freely from his mouth, and he saw dimly that Avanill was pouring a liquid onto a piece of cloth. Ferney, charging like a mad bull, pushed Maethor like a slender reed to the ground, and swiped at his face with Maethor’s knife which he had found on the ground. The blade curved against his forehead, but flung his arms up, knocked the knife from Ferney’s hand and heaved him to the ground. As Ferney climbed to his feet, Maethor curled his leg behind Barrold’s knee, jerked Barrold’s feet out from under him, and punched him down. Leaping astride him, he grabbed the lapels of his beggarly coat in his clenched fist and said, “Tell me where Nairore is, you bastard!”

Barrold only gurgled in reply.

“Where is she!” he asked again, punching him in the mouth.

“Why don’t you find her?” he gasped.

Maethor was about to reply, when a cloth was shoved up his nose. His senses fled, and overpowering darkness engulfed him as he fell senseless to the ground.
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Old 10-20-2003, 03:34 AM   #109
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Vanwe

Vanwe stood, forgotten it seemed, as the three men clashed. Desperately she cast around her for anything of use. Rocks, branches, anything! Barrold was pinned and Maethor, the Ranger from the Inn, was extracting answers from him. Vanwe's hands throbbed still with the surge of blood back into their circulation. Yet they siezed around a good sized stone. Vanwe straighted, flinging hair back from her face to clear her sight.

"No!" Her cry of denial was futile. The stone she threw at Avanill sailed past him as he bent over Maethor and thudded softly in the undergrowth past them. Maethor struggled and then slumped, Avanill heaving the Ranger off and Barrold spitting and growling. With a hand proferred to help to his feet, Avanill pulled Barrold up as Vanwe went in search of another stone.

She had it raised as Avanill turned to her, Barrold spitting blood and dirt behind him to clear his mouth out. The kind expression on Avanill's face was but a cold memory now. He held his cloth still. Barrold was breathing hard behind him.

"Told you it were a mistake, Princess," he wheezed unpleasantly. Vanwe's gaze flicked between the two men and to Maethor who lay sprawled on the ground, unmoving and senseless. It occured to her to drop the stone, turn and run like before. With her hands know free she could move faster, even if her legs did tremble with fatigue. But it was different before.

"What have you done," she demanded accusingly as her senses drifted towards the prone Ranger.

"I don't see as how you're in any position to ask questions," Avanill replied softly as he stepped forward. Yes she could run now, and abandon this Ranger. Was he dead? She did not know! Had he died? Noone should die for her! She did not even know his name. Only his face did she vaguely recall, from the inn. He had been at Hanasian's table, she remembered, and he had smiled kindly towards her. She recalled that too, as she stared at his blank face, stricken.

Vanwe looked up at the stone in her hand and then back at the two men that stood, closer still now.

"What you planning to do with that? You only have one and there are two of us..." Avanill's voice remained soft and dangerous. Vanwe's arm remained aloft in a vain hope to stave them off a little longer. She had to somehow aid the Ranger whose name she did not know. Her senses quested out further for him and she remained rooted to the earth.

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Barrold

"I'll take care of the wench this time," he spat at Avanill. His jaw ached abominably and he had lost more of his precious few teeth on account of the Ranger, Avanill's lapse and the Elf who stood frozen with eyes unfocussed. One long stride and he had a hand wrapped around her wrist and her arm pulled savagely around and behind her again. The rock he forced from her hand.

"Got more rope," he asked flatly as Vanwe twisted. His patience snapped when she attempted to send her knee into his stomach. He lifted his hand and sent a stunning blow spinning across her cheek. Her head snapped to one side with the force and Barrold grunted.

"Shoulda done that before," he said, accepting Avanill's rope from him and securing her hands whilst she still struggled to pull her wits together. From the way she managed to hold her voice, he gagued that she was familiar with this sort of encouragement. Barrold was rough this time, even by his standards, as he cinched tight the last knot.

He let her weight sag to the ground, her head drooping and his hand print livid against her cheek. There was one more thing to take care of.

"Thanks," he said awkwardly to Avanill whose brows rose in surprise. "I woulda been able to look after meself and all," Barrold asserted quickly. Avanill nodded amiably, pleased to have something owed to him by the other. He stowed that knowledge away with his bottle.

"I'll let you do the talkin' at Tallas' place," Barrold added.

"We'd best get started," Avanill said. "There'll be others about soon, I'll warrant, and she's pulled us off course some. But not by as much as she may hope to have." Avanill scowled at Vanwe, who remained lax as she gazed strangely at the Ranger.

"Right-o then," Barrold said, hauling Vanwe to her feet. She clenched her teeth against the pain. He paid her no heed. "After you, boyo."

They moved with as much haste as they could, dragging Vanwe after them. She twisted at first, struggling to get a glimpse back at the Ranger. Once Barrold had levelled another blow at her, she staggered after them, dazed for a while.

By the time they regained Tallas' small lodgings, she was silent and panting with exertion. Her flight had caught up to her. Avanill and Barrold crouched for a while, watching for any more surprises the day would bring them. When none seemed forthcoming, Avanill stood and moved out. Barrold followed near by. He paused to divest himself of Vanwe, making use of one of the many nearby trees to lash her to it, before rejoining Avanill.

Vanwe, Avanill and Barrold could all hear the repetitive wooden creek, like a chair rocking.

"Tallas, Old Man, come out! We wish to... trade with you," Avanill called. At a faint sound from the tree, Barrold spun and sent a murderous glance to Vanwe. Once again, she seemed possessed of a raw desperation and she strained at the rope.

Barrold drew his dagger and hissed to her, "Be still, Princess, or I'll me other ways to pin you there." Avanill shot Vanwe a glare and then repeated his call.

"I said, come out Tallas. We wish to trade with you!" The creak continued and then stilled. When Tallas did not appear shortly thereafter, Barrold's hackles rose. He leaned in to Avanill and whipered, "We'll 'ave to deal with this one my way, boyo."

At the tree, Vanwe felt a black despair rise. It was born of exhaustion and the grief that already one may lay dead. The dawning horror that she was about to witness the death of another this day hung heavy over her. She sobbed, a soft and broken sound of grief, and pulled again at the ropes. Blood now thickened around her wrists and her head pounded. Her legs and lungs burnt with their exertion, but try as she might she could no more tear her eyes away from the scene before her than she could tear herself from the tree.
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Characters: Rosmarin: Lady of Cardolan; Lochared: Vagabond of Dunland; Simra: Daughter of Khand; Naiore: Lady of the Sweet Swan; Menecin: Bard of the Singing Seas; Vanwe: Lost Maiden; Ronnan: Lord of Thieves; and, Uien of the Twilight
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Old 10-20-2003, 09:01 AM   #110
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Sting

Amandur

Amandur looked at Léspheria raising a questioning eyebrow seeing the grey mare standing patiently by the hitching post outside the inn, "Perhaps Kallo was too elusive?" she grinned but the light glint in her eyes told him that she thought otherwise, he gave a sharp whistle and sure enough the black stallion walked proudly in to the court yard as if he was waiting his call.

Once mounted he followed behind Rauthain and his hobbit passenger, through the streets of the small town they went silently, Amandur and Léspheria covertly looking for anything suspicious and for sight of Maethor or Dúlrain, "Dúlrain" he sighed under his breath, in all his thoughts of late he had forgotten the old bond between Dúlrain and Kaldir, and now it troubled him.

"What troubles you, my friend?" Léspheria asked concern laced in her words, "It is a matter I should have dealt with before now." he sighed heavily keeping his eyes on the road least she see his guilt. "Kaldir?" she urged softly, "No! Dúlrain." he answered turning his head to catch her puzzled look. "Dulrain holds a bond stronger than mere friendship with Kaldir, Brothers in all but blood." he explained "But why should this trouble you, Dúlrain seem a good man and...." but before she could finish Amandur cut in "He is not yet aware that the ranger lives, never mind that his friend has forsaken his path and chosen that of a bounty hunter!" Nodding her head and placing a reassuring hand on his shoulder she whispered gently "You have to tell him, he is a good man I'm sure he will understand." "Perhaps you are right and I underestimate my young friend." he smiled reassured by her wise words.

But suddenly he felt that he would rather, Léspheria did not enter the villians house with them, if something was to happen to her I... but his thoughts stopped as she looked his way, her soft smile filling his heart, "Léspheria " he whispered "when we reach the house will you please search the yard for clues of our friends while Rauthain and myself deal with Barrold!" she nodded but he could see that his choice had wounded her and as she looked away they said no more.

Finally reaching an old ramshackle farmhouse, they dismounted, leaving the horses behind a rocky rill and silently closing the final distance on foot, without words and the merest of glances, Rauthain dragging the hobbit behind him made his way to the back of the house, while Léspheria began searching the grounds and various outbuildings. Unsheathing his sword he banged on the door, "Open up in the name of the King!" he hollered, but hearing no answer he kicked open the door, to the rear of the house he could hear Rauthain do like wise. Cautiously sword raised he began searching the house, every closet and cupboard but to no avail. "Nothing!" he sighed coming down the old creaking wooden stairs.

As he entered the kitchen he saw Rauthain crouched on the dirty floor, "Look!" Rauthain said hearing his approach and indicating the prints on the floor. Crouching next to him he nodded his head "so they were here." "one light elf, one heavy footed man," The older ranger informed him., but no sign of the elf maidens print, either Léspheria was mistaken and Naiore has already rid herself of that burden or they carried her, "But why would they need to carry her?" he mused out loud.

"Amandur! Rauthain!" it was Léspheria's voice from outside that interrupted their thoughts, glancing at each other they made their way outside to see what she had found, for the moment forgetting master Longholes who stood nervously watching their every move

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Léspheria

Once they reached the farmhouse, Léspheria began to search the yard and outbuildings, leaving the rangers to enter the house itself. She crossed the yard occasionally stooping low and inspecting the various boot prints on the ground, quick inspection of the outbuildings suggested they were empty, but she was taking no chances, slowly unsheathing her sword she carefully pushed open the door to the first building and stepped inside.

It was dark and the only light came from the open door, as her eyes adjusted she could see that the dust lay heavy as though the building had not been used in years, an old plow lay rusting in the centre of the room, but as she searched she found things that just did not belong, fine silver cutlery, a pair of matching candle holders and an assortment of fine jewellery, obviously stolen! she thought. Finding nothing to aid their course, she moved on to the next building, but again she found nothing.

Just as she was moving on to the last building she found something unusual, two sets of foot prints leading to a tangled mass of thorns, then heading out of the yard towards the road, one set heavier as if carrying a load, going back to the thorns she carefully pushed them aside with her sword to reveal a door, "Amandur! Rauthain!" she cried back to the house, but with out waiting for them to come she opened the door.

Before her was a dank, dark and musty smelling cellar, cautiously she followed the foot prints inside, until they stopped at a disturbed area of dust, kneeing down Léspheria traced the outline of the disturbed dust with her hands trying to figure out what could have made it, suddenly a thought occurred to her and she lay down on the ground curled up as if cold and afraid, yes the same shape she thought horrified as the coldness and darkness of the small room became more apparent to her.

She was just getting up and wiping the dust from her cloak and skirts when the two rangers arrived in the door way, "What is it ?" they asked together, "Vanwe was in here and some time this morning she was carried away by two men, their trail leads back towards the road," she told them, but her thought were with Vanwe and the fear and confusion the young elf must be suffering, a sudden anger welled in her and she found herself swearing that if either of the two men injured the elf she would..... "Léspheria!" Amandur whispered his brow creased in concern.

"Yes, I'm just coming" she said startled out of her thoughts, but as she passed Amandur she sensed he was still concerned, "I am sad of heart, but will be better once we find Vanwe safe and well," she smiled weakly. "Where is our hobbit friend?" she asked noting his absence.

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Old 10-21-2003, 01:23 AM   #111
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Avanill

Avanill stood in silence as he let Barrold take care of the elf. His face now blank and his deep blue eyes had gone cold now. The young man was not one to be crossed like that, not by someone he had shown good will to. It was one of the things which made him a formidable man, he was not openly violent, but cool and collected, only at the moment of striking did he show his terrifying colours.

He let Barrold take care of Vanwe this time, and he did not watch as Barrold roughly tied her. It was no longer his concern, what Barrold wanted to do with his elf, he could and Avanill would no longer speak for her to him, he did not like having his kindness thrown into his face.

Avanill walked slowly ahead of Barrold and Vanwe, wrapping his cloak around his tall figure as they went. Eventually the returned to the shack where in Tallas dwelled. I will not harm an old man. he repeated to himself over and over.

"I said, come out Tallas. We wish to trade with you!" The creak continued and then stilled. When Tallas did not appear shortly thereafter, Barrold's hackles rose. He leaned in to Avanill and whipered, "We'll 'ave to deal with this one my way, boyo."

Avanill kept his sword at his side and his dagger in its place at his side. Behind them the elf was sobbing, Avanill half turned his head. "You have brought this upon yourself." he muttered quietly.
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Old 10-21-2003, 04:56 PM   #112
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Sting

Dúlrain

Dúlrain was relieved when his old friend agreed to let him look upon his wife, but still he remained cautious, it could still be some kind of trap! he thought to himself, watching his old friends back, he wondered what had happened to him. Kaldir talked pleasantly regarding the customs of the remote tribes of the Haradwaith and Dúlrain couldn't be sure but he thought he heard an edge of warning in his voice.

'Perhaps I was wrong and in my eagerness to find some clue of Naiore I perceived more than there was' he thought silently as Kaldir or Camlis as he now called himself introduced him to his companions, Dúlrain nodded politely to each in turn as they spoke greetings to him, then he watched the veiled woman as Kaldir explained and relayed his request to her.

"As you wish. Husband." she bowed, Dúlrains hand had cautiously sifted back to the hilt of his sword, as the veiled woman, Ailayla gripped her reigns in one tattooed hand and slowly used the other to raise the dark fabric of her veil. Slowly Dúlrain bent forward to get a better look at the woman's face. He sensed the woman's lips move but he found he could not stop himself from staring deep into her dark amber eyes, never before had he seen a woman so beautiful as the one before him, even when she lowered her eyes he found himself studying her olive features, only the sound of the horse beside him shifting brought the attention of the others back to him, 'What am I doing? this is my friends wife !' he silently scolded himself.

He nodded once and deliberately turned away from the woman to face Kaldir, "Satisfied?" his old friend began to ask, but his words trailed as he involuntarily closed his eyes and lowered his head. Dúlrain's brotherly bond instantly returned and concern mark his tanned face and with each flinch his brow creased more. He could not see his friends face but knew he must be reliving some old pain.

"No!" came a deep almost feral growl, then Kaldir raised his head, Dúlrain was surprised by the savage determination in his friends eyes. "Are you all right?" He ventured, leaning forwards.

"A lingering illness," was the harsh reply. "Are you satisfied that my wife is not the one you seek?"

Slightly taken aback by his harsh tones Dúlrain moved back and replied cautiously, "Yes. I see now I was mistaken." He paused still worried for his old friend. "If you are not well..." he began but Kaldir cut him off abruptly, assuring him that he was fine.

"Then, I will leave you good people to your own affairs," Dúlrain said, he was disheartened that his friend did not recognise him and he felt that something was being kept from him, but he had other business that he should be attending too, so he turned to leave.

"The second sword you wear at your side... how came you by it?"

Dúlrain halted at Kaldir's words, Does he remember something! he thought as he looked down at the sword by his side, slowly turning he looked Kaldir in the eye and answered....

"It once belonged to a loyal, brave and just young ranger, brothers in all but blood we once were." he smiled weakly, but as he continued the smile fell "But he was lost at Raven falls over twelve years ago, all I found of him was his blood strewn cloak and the sword that I believed could only be parted from him in death."


Dúlrain then slowly slid the sword from its sheath, holding the hilt and laying the blade across his left arm he held it out towards his friend. "If he asks it of me I would gladly return it to him." he whispered giving Kaldir a knowing look.
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Old 10-21-2003, 05:36 PM   #113
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Sting

Gilly

Gilly found herself alone, though Benia was close by. It was a strange thing to see her all swaddled in the heat as though she were just another stranger journeying though this strange town. All that betrayed her presence were the narrow tattooed hands, the rest of her countenance fully shrouded on this hot summer’s day. Gilly was downcast recalling only a few short days ago, how artfully her friend had sung, those same hands mesmerizing the commons room at the Forsaken Inn with finger cymbals. They held no trace of joy now.

Anxious should Benia be overcome from the heat, the hobbit kept a nervous watch, ofttimes glancing over to her friend. More than a wall of fabric seemed to envelope her, as the group plodded along. She wondered if she also was guessing that this hunter had spared them only to collect his bounty here in Bree instead of in the south as they had assumed. And what then would become of this lady of the Painted Sand clan and a useless hobbit? Gilly sighed trying to rein in her imagination, which seemed to erode the ground from under her feet.

Take it as it comes, she lectured herself. No possible good will come of growing maudlin now!

Looking back once more, the hobbit saw that the ranger who had earlier acknowledged them with a nod had followed them into the side street where Kaldir now walked before them. He had noticed too, ordering them to stay further up the alley as he turned to ride back and address the man. Straining to hear what was said, Gilly watched as Kaldir spoke; perhaps it had some bearing on her future. But the market beyond had grown busy and the sounds of it traveled up the street overshadowing their words. It was Miss Benia’s muted voice she heard, mentioning Oleander and something she could not make out.

“Oleander and what?” she questioned, hopeful that perhaps her friend knew the name of this ranger, though Oleander seemed an inauspicious name.

“Oleander and Belladonna….If only we had poisoned the stew.”

“Oh Benia!” Gilly cried. She couldn’t bear to think of Miss Nightshade resorting to murder no matter what the origin of her name might be. She must be truly distraught to consider such things. And surely a knife would be kinder, or better yet some potent sleeping cordial. “I don’t know if I could live with that,” she stated apologetically.

“I don’t think I could live with it either, in the long run,” Benia went on, looking at Gilly through the darkness in front of her eyes, “but I should like to live to find out.”

“You don’t think that he means to kill us do you?” the hobbit questioned. She did not trust Kaldir in the least, but he seemed vastly different from the men Gilly had seen about the Shire in Otho’s day. They had been a selfish and petulant lot. This Kaldir seemed certainly hard, cold, but there was something buried within him, a quality that his crude existence had not extinguished.

Just then, both men turned and rode up to them. Gilly didn’t understand why Kaldir was making introductions, false as they were. But seeing Kaldir’s hand move to his sword’s hilt as he pronounced her Mrs. Tunnelly, she played along as best she could, almost calling herself Mrs. Belladona Tunnelly, in her confusion, before lapsing into a familiar greeting. Thankfully, she was cut short as Kaldir introduced Benia as his wife, asking her to show Mister Dúlrain her face to prove that she was not someone Dúlrain was seeking.

Involuntarily, Gilly thought of the Bywater market’s fruit stand, where the shop keeper will hide the best produce, and will only bring it out to be considered when asked, or maybe for some special customer. The hobbit began to wonder if this might be the one from whom Kaldir meant to collect his bounty and the introductions a mere ruse, but she couldn’t bring herself to believe that yet another ranger would dabble in such trade.

Gilly watched as Kaldir examined Dúlrain’s face, closely gauging his reaction. The bounty hunter had been about to remark when the hobbit noticed he suddenly halted, and closing his eyes, his head bowed forward grimacing as if pain. She thought that the ranger had done something to anger Kaldir, for when he raised them; his hands were formed into fists, and Gilly feared lest Kaldir strike the man. But regaining control rapidly, the bounty hunter shook his head, looking darkly at his companions with teeth clenched.

Dúlrain, quick to offer assistance was swiftly declined, Kaldir dismissing it and firmly diverting the conversation back to the matter at hand. Seeing that his help was not welcome and now being convinced of the draped figure’s innocence regarding Naiore, Dúlrain politely began to withdraw from their company with some hesitation. Gilly was looking at Benia who was quietly watching him depart, when she heard Kaldir ask a curious question about the sword at Dúlrain side. Benia hands moved to clasp one another, and Gilly began wondering if she had missed something vital.

As she turned back, Dulrain was drawing the sword, holding it out for Kaldir to see. It flashed fine and well cared for in the morning light. I thing deadly yet somehow beautiful.
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Old 10-22-2003, 03:02 PM   #114
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Kaldir

Dulrain slid the sword slowly from its scabbard and, laying the blade across his left arm, held it out toward Kaldir. "If he asks it of me, I would gladly return it," he whispered.

Kaldir hesitated. His eyes narrowed as his mind was again assaulted by a flashing montage of images and sensations, none of them clear this time. The memories overlapped each other like pictures painted on glass. The colors bled, lines bent and melted into each other, creating monsters of the ordinary, nightmares of the mundane. The clarity he had felt moments earlier receded, leaving him confused and angry. The man before him no longer seemed so familiar, the sword, tainted. They had left him to die. He should have died. Kaldir looked hard at the gleaming blade of the offered sword. Perhaps it was he himself who was tainted, rather than the sword. It should only have been parted from him in death.

For a long moment, Kaldir's eyes met Dulrain's. That Kaldir, the one who had once wielded that sword, no longer existed. Naiore had killed him. The body, the fragments that had survived, did not deserve to carry such a weapon, especially not when its only purpose would be revenge. When Naiore had been destroyed, then, maybe, his soul would be cleansed enough where he could seek out this Dulrain again and try to resurrect something of the past, but until then? Until then, Kaldir belonged to Naiore.

He shook his head. "Your friend is dead," he said softly. "Do not give such a thing to a ghost."

Dulrain opened his mouth to say something else, perhaps to protest, but Kaldir silenced him with a raised hand. "Keep it in his memory," he added and turned his horse to go, driving Gilly and Benia ahead of him.
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Old 10-23-2003, 05:00 AM   #115
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Nerindel's post - Toby Longholes

It was not part of Toby's plan that he would enter the farmhouse with the rangers, he thought that leading them to the house would be dangerous enough, but as The older ranger pulled him towards the house he tried to pull free, "Now wait just a minute I agreed to show you Barrold's house and now I have!" he cried angrily.

"And we're just supposed to take your word for that, eh" Rauthain laughed "Come on, master Longholes," he said pushing the hobbit forwards.

As the ranger pulled him to the rear of the building, he found himself nervously casting his gaze over every dark corner and brush, as if at any moment Barrold would jump out and throttle him for his treachery. Entering the house an finding no one home did not to elevate the fear and doubt swelling in his mind, Toby tensed at every screech and creek the old house made as they passed through, his mind envisioning the numerous ways which Barrold would think of to repay him his treachery. It took all the will power he could muster not to cry out and run like a frightened colt from the house there and then.

"Think Toby!" he muttered under his breath, "he's not here but he soon might be, so as soon as these rangers are distracted you can get yourself out of here!" he grinned looking at Rauthain's hunched back as he knelt on the kitchen floor to examine something, as the ranger examined the floor Toby quietly inched back towards the door, but froze as the other ranger called down the stairs that he had found nothing. He reminded quiet as Amandur joined Rauthain to look at what ever the older ranger had found.

His chance finally came when the elf woman called to the two rangers, who in their haste had forgotten about all about Toby, but this suited him fine, the minute the rangers were gone he stealthily stole himself from the house and ran up a forgotten dirt path that lead to the road at the rear of the farm, careful to make sure no one had seen him leave, he didn't stop running until he reached the base of the hill.

Toby sighed with relief and began to climb the hill to his small hobbit hole, then changed his mind, 'what if someone had seen him, what if they told Barrold!' he panicked. "The Cave, The Shire," he reminded himself, then grinning at his cleverness he headed for the small cave where he hides his bounty and supplies should he need them. "Yes, I will get supplies and use the grace of the king to lie low for a while, " he chuckled.

As he approached the small dark cave he reached his hand into his pocket and pulled out a medium, rather worn looking leather money pouch, then grinning with satisfaction he tossed it in the air and caught it, "I wish I could see the look on that rangers face when he realises this is gone!" he chuckled pleased at himself. It had been all to easy to unclasp the pouch from the rangers belt as they rode together and the fact that the rangers thought were elsewhere only added to the ease. "Serves him right!" Toby laughed. Then taking a quick look about him to see that no one was watching, he entered the cave.
_____________________________________________

Hilde's post - Rauthain

When Rauthain had rushed in, the air in the kitchen hung hot, thickly reeking of mold and rancid fat. Pulling his sword from its scabbard he fixed his eye on the hobbit who remained on the doorstep. Toby noticing the grey-eyed ranger glaring at him in silence, became acutely conscious of his resemblance to a hawk prepared to strike, and reluctantly stepped just inside the threshold. “Stay here until I return.” Rauthain said, before leaving to thoroughly search the other rooms at the back of the house. When he once again entered he saw Toby still hanging by the door casting furtive glances toward the trees at the foot of Bree Hill. He seemed obviously distressed by Barrold’s absence and his proud demeanor had melted into a kind of smug excitability Rauthain found patently irritating under the circumstances. The hobbit seemed like a taut bowstring, with no telling where his barbs were aimed.

Dropping his gaze to study the floor, the ranger saw familiar tracks mingled with his own: the foot of Naiore, and those of the man who had loosed the horse, Barrold. Another recent set was there that he did not recognize, a man’s. “Look,” he began as he heard Amandur descend the stair and approach from the hallway. “One light elf, one heavy footed man, and another man.” He said gesting to each one in turn. “This is Barrold’s, the same as at The Greenway, with the gelding’s marks.”

Amandur stood awhile in thought. “But why would they need to carry her?” he mused aloud. Rauthain guessed of whom he spoke, also wondering that there was no other evidence of the daughter to be found. Then recalling the bit of wax found in The Chetwood he began to understand what might have happened to Vanwe. But how did this other man bear on the plan? He need not have been involved in Barrold’s exploits, Rauthain thought to himself, but is perhaps an only some caller ignorant of the weight of Ferny’s entanglement.

“Amandur! Rauthain!” a woman’s voice hailed them. The two rangers looked up at each other, it was Léspheria, calling from the yard. Without delay they and strode quickly over to the thorny brush where a small door opened in the earth. Just inside Léspheria stood brushing the dust from her clothes, her sword lying upon the ground.

“Vanwe was in here and sometime this morning she was carried away by two men. Their trail leads back toward the road.” Picking up the sword, she sheathed it while speaking.

The earthen cellar was musty, and Rauthain found it hard to breathe as he stooped to see the ground. Though the dirt was soft and fine, very little was there to discover beyond a curled imprint at the elf’s feet. Vanwe, if she had indeed been there, had not
stirred much from her resting place. The ranger rose anxious to check the trail that Léspheria had found leading to the road. And as he passed through into the yard again, he heard the elf threaten harm to those that would arm Vanwe and then Amandur’s whisper soft and short behind him.

The prints once found, proved to be that of Barrold and the second man. Still they bore a burden, Vanwe no doubt. But the mark of a lighter foot was not to be seen. Rauthain was troubled. A decision needed to be made and he feared he knew which direction their hearts leaned. Vanwe was still captive, but Naiore remained elusive and now apparently separated from her daughter. They could no longer hunt both at once.

Turning round he saw Léspheria emerge from the gloom of the cellar. “Where is our hobbit friend?” she asked noticing his absence.

“Ah, it appears Master Longholes has run off and without his reward!” Rauthain said looking over his shoulder, and reaching for his money pouch, which he found missing. “He was with me in the house and had been rather restless at the time, standing in the doorway to watch the yard and blocking its light. No matter, for though a better sentry there could not be, I doubt much that he would think to give warning before saving himself. But his job for us is done, still I think it wise to leave this place before he causes more mischief. Already it seems he has helped himself to my purse, though surely he picked the wrong ranger to rob, for it is heavier with memories than ought else, pitifully small wages for such daring! Nary a gold piece was there, but a fair bit of copper. I shall have to teach Master Longholes to be proper guest next time rides with a ranger for I shall sorely miss my flint and whetstone!” Rauthain sighed.

Then addressing Léspheria, “I think Lady Léspheria, that you would make a right good ranger, for you have found much of interest today, and I dare say you have a courageous heart as well.” A gentle smile rose on Léspheria’s features. “But we must now decide which course to take, to follow Vanwe on the trail we see before us, or to continue after Naiore with no trail. But that is our errand.” Rauthain looked at both of them, his rough face telling of concern.

[ October 24, 2003: Message edited by: piosenniel ]
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Old 10-23-2003, 06:06 AM   #116
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Naiore

Hobbits can move with astonishing stealth. However, the stony ground was a match for even a Wraith. Such had been Naiore's reasoning in the selection of her retreat where she presently awaited the return of Barrold.

She'd not squandered her time alone. A few hours of rest before dawn had done wonders, even if it was snatched with one eye warily open to catch any wandering hobbits, or Wraiths. The morning Naiore had spent going over her pack. Her many years spent travelling far and quickly had resulted in her efficency. She still carried the bulk of her weaponry.

Most of the implements of her skill had been left behind at Minas Morgul and Barad-Dur, though not by her choice. Had she been able to, she'd have taken a few cleverer pieces with her. Still, Naiore was able to take a moment to examine what she did have. Daggers all rested safe and well in their sheaths, well oiled and as finely balanced as the day she first took delivery of them. They were a rare handicraft, and she well recalled their origin.

The Man who had so obligingly travelled to trade for the set of eight and fetched them from her kindred had died with a look of eternal shock upon his face. She'd gone easy on him, for he had done her a service. It was much easier to take them from him on his road back to whatever mannish warren he was on his way to than it would have been to get at where they had resided with their craftsmen.

Many years had slid past since that theft, but the daggers retained their integrity yet. Her garrot was also examined for any hint of wear or thinning. Naiore carefully passed the silken strands through her hands that morning, using the light and her keen sight to check them. Silk was stronger than steel, an irony that was far from lost upon her. She coiled it tenderly and stowed it. Then there was the matter of the food, clothing and consumables.

Food and consumables, tinctures and poisions and the ilk, Barrold would shortly supply. Naiore took a glance at the sky. The oaf had best appear soon or he'd rue forcing her out to track him down. She turned to the clothing. It was a poor shadow of her habitual finery. One piece only had she been able to retain, a violet silk that seemed to shimmer with the gathered light of all the dusks of the Ages. Over that sat some of her heavier pieces, leathers and a corsolet of fine, ebony, steel mesh that was bundled in a once proudly worn inky cloak.

Not the rags of Wraiths for her, she recalled. She would sweep through those dark halls, garbed as finely as any Elven lady throughout the lands, opulent wealth would gleam from her throat and wrist. Such jewellry was now mostly spent. The Girion Emeralds, the rubies and opals, the diamonds. All gone, except the sapphires, but Naiore had no interest in ever looking upon those gems ever again. They'd also been left to be found by whatever scion of Gondor's rabble happened through her former chambers at the conclusion of the war.

As all this passed, Naiore unpacking and then repacking her possessions in the midst of thick memories, the sun wheeled overhead. Absorbed as she was, Naiore was not beyond the presence of reality. She was far too disciplined to slip into nostaliga whilst on campaign. Inwardly, her senses were poised should she detect that familiar presence. Alert as she was, she could already sense a twisting pain, shadowed and a memory now, or so she thought.... a memory that she too shared. Kaldir....

As Naiore's deft fingers tied her pack shut, the unmistakable sound of feet on the stones without carried faintly to her. The Ravennor paused, eyes now sharply intent, for a moment. Then she burst into swift action, breaking her seeming suspension. By the time Toby Longholes had ventured into the mouth of the cave, Naiore was ensconced in a shadow nearby.

She watched the hobbit with eyes narrowed in thought. He was wary, it rolled off from him in great waves, and he was excited. About what? Naiore had chosen to conceal herself close to the entrance so as to make the most of penning this intruder into the cave.

He carefully stepped past, and Naiore felt a surge of hatred gripped her. Such folk were the chief instrument of her present predictament. His eyes darted about, adjusting to the dimmer light within the cave. Her garrot was in her hand, ready as she heard him say in his light, clear hobbit voice, "Serves him right."

Naiore paused a moment longer, sweeping the immediate area for any other hint of a Ranger or other companion. When she found none, she smiled. In the darkness, it was a symbol of perfect elven beauty, as she rose from where she crouched with smooth grace.

"Justice is a slippery creature to manage."

Toby, to his credit, whirled quickly at the sound of her musical voice. Naiore had pitched it low and quiet, and she met the hobbit's astonished mien with her own serene expression. Toby's gaze wandered up to her face. Naiore could see him piece the separate facts together.

Each time his brow quirked, Naiore felt a corresponding desire to tighten her silk around his neck. Quirk, the black leather that encased her from heel to throat. Quirk, the silk in her gloved hands. Quirk, the baldric and sword that peeked over her shoulder. Quirk, the pale blonde hair famed of her family bound into plaits. Quirk, the Elven features in peaceful repose. Quirk, starlight eyes that held no hint of warmth.

"Oh," he managed to say.

"To whom do I have the pleasure of extending the hospitality of my dwelling?" Naiore's question bore the culivated modulation of one born to nobility. Toby's eyes simply widened, if that was possible. They were already saucers in his pale face. The Ranger's pouch dangled all but forgotten in his fist and his gaze flicked to the light shining behind her from his route of escape.

"I must insist you remain, to keep me company, for the moment." Naiore took a fluid step closer to Toby, garrot still ready. It had been so long since her garrot had drunk from the cup of death.

"Naiore Dannan, I am named, Lady of the Swan. I would very much like to know by what you are called, and I am accustomed to getting that which I seek." Naiore was coiled in readiness to strike at the merest twitch. Her senses screamed to be allowed the release to taste and search for her answer.

Fear eddied through the hobbit, he radiated with it. Perhaps he knew from where fear spawns.
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Old 10-23-2003, 08:04 AM   #117
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Tallas

"Tallas, Old man, come out! We wish to... trade with you," a mans voice called over the creek of his old chair, but still he rocked back and forth, a slight grin curving his lips and his hand gripping the staff at his side.

"I Said, come out Tallas. We wish to trade with you!" the voice cried again this time with a slight edge of annoyance, "well it looks like I'm to go to them," he grinned. As he rose from the chair he rocked it so the creaking would continue long enough for him to reach the tree line a short distance away from the direction of their calls.

As he circled behind the trespassers he heard, "We'll 'ave to deal with this one my way, boyo" and the soft sobs of a woman, silently stepping out from the trees behind the two villains and beside the young elf he placed a gentle hand on her shoulder and as she looked up, her eyes glistening with the sadness and fear he had seen only in his dreams, he smiled, his kind eyes sympathising with her plight, then placing one finger gently to his lips, silencing her, he turned and let out a polite cough to catch the attention of the two men who where studying intently his home.

"Now what's the meaning of disturbing an old mans rest!" he said sternly, leaning hard on his staff as the two men whirled round. The darker of the two men cast him a dark menacing look while the other remained calm, speaking before the other had chance too.

"My apologies Tallas, we seek only to trade with you," he bowed courteously, the words slipping of his tongue effortlessly, like a snakes hiss, Tallas thought to himself.

"But what would an old man have to trade that might interest two young men such as yourselves?" he said acting surprised at such a request.

"Enough!" the second man bellowed, earning him a sharp look from his friend, no accomplice Tallas thought seeing The swarthier man return the look. "Are you going to trade with us or not?" he growled his temper raising.

"What do you have that an old man would need?" he smiled looking the two men up and down, then turning his gaze to the elf woman. "What about her! can she cook and clean? I am getting on in years and could use someone to tend my house," he smiled kindly looking down on her.

"No! she's mine!" the darker man growled placing himself between Tallas and the elf woman, the old man passively stepped back, noting the slight jerk of the mans arm, as if he slid something to his palmed hand. "Then you have nothing to trade with!" he said sternly. "We has gold!" the man answered impatiently. Tallas lowered his head and laughed, "You don't understand" he said looking up at the two villains, a threatening gleam in his grey eyes.

"Wait, now I'm sure we can work something .... " Anavill began as Barrold glared angrily at the old man, but he was abruptly cut off, "I gave you the chance to do the right thing in releasing the elf to my care, I do not treat with ruffians and scoundrels, you shall have not while I still drew breath!" he threatened.

"That's fine with me old man!" Barrold hissed and Tallas quickly shifted his staff across his body as an object left the ruffians hand, the knife imbedded its self in to the wood of the staff just at the old mans chest, "Very nice," he grinned impressed "Now my turn, " and before Barrold could react and quicker than one would expect the old man to move, he hit Barrold hard under the chin with his staff and with the same momentum swept his legs out from under him, then hearing the other mans sword being drawn from its sheath he gripped the staff with both hand, twisted the top and pulled out a long thin flat bladed sword of is own, the two swords rang as they connected and Anavill pushed hard to lower the old mans hand, Tallas looked him in the eyes and whispered, "Your father would have been ashamed of you, if he was alive!" but there was no malice in his words only pity, but as Anavill faltered at his words he used the staff in his other hand to hit the younger man hard in the stomach, sending him sprawling backwards.

As the two men struggled to their feet, he quickly pulled the still imbedded knife from his staff and threw it so it struck the tree the elf woman was tied too, just below the ropes that bound her and with a smile in her direction he turned back to meet his fate.
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Old 10-23-2003, 11:54 AM   #118
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Dúlrain

"Your friend is dead," as softly as the words were said they rang loud in his mind, some part of him maybe but not all surly! he hoped desperately. As Kaldir continued Dulrain opened his mouth to protest, but was silenced by his friends raised hand. "Keep it in his memory," Kaldir told him then turned to leave. As Dúlrain's head fell resigned to let his brother remain but a shadow of his past, his eyes fell on the narrow wooden carved whistle that hung round his neck, he used it to call Dir in time of need, but perhaps now it could aid another, he thought.

"Wait!" he called, pulling the strong leather cord that held the whistle over his head, as Kaldir turned back to face him , he smiled "If you will not take what is rightfully yours, then take this," he said tossing the whistle to his friend, who caught it instinctively. "I made and oath to that friend that even death cannot break, so if ever you find yourself in need, blow once and Dir will lead me to you, this oath I now extend to your wife and her friend also," he said bowing graciously to both women, then turning back to Kaldir, he whisper "If in need one Will..! find the other," he emphasised. But Kaldir merely nodded and turned his horse to leave.

Dúlrain watched till the three companions disappeared round the bend of the narrow alleyway, hoping that pride would not prevent his friend of old from using his gift if the need arose, but there was hope that if he did not use it then perhaps his wife would, the memory of her beautiful eyes filled his thoughts, but checking himself he shook them away and returned to the task at hand, he still had to check again with the gate wardens, before returning to the inn, where he would tell the others of his surprising encounter.

Still he could find no sight or sign of their quarry and his attention strayed now and then to Kaldir and his wife, perhaps it was best if he left his friend to his new life one as husband rather than the lonely life of a ranger, he sighed then again if I found one as beautiful as she I might too be tempted to give up this lonely trade, then scolded himself for indulging in flights of fancy, it is things much worse, I fear, that have pulled him from his old life not the beauty of his wife, but perhaps she is his strength in dark times, her eyes held a quiet strength, he thought smiling involuntary.

"Hail master ranger, you missed one of your brethren, he passed through sometime ago, seemed to be looking for something" the gate wardens words pulled him from his thoughts and he approached the gate, "What did this ranger look like?" he asked wondering If one of the other had found something.

"A lithe man clad much as yourself, with brown or maybe black hair and a coppery brown complexion, very well mannered I remember" the guard called down to him.

"Maethor," he laughed, remembering the courteous welcome he had received from the man at the inn, "The mans name is Maethor, how long since he passed?" Dulrain asked.

"Several hours now sir," the guard answered, at this Dúlrains brow furrowed slightly, if he was scouting like him he should have returned by now, concerned he thanked the warden and searched for sign of the ranger.

A slight way down the road the rangers boot prints veered left towards the woods, once in the woods an explosion of heavy boot prints mixed together, he made out Maethor's print, joined by a lighter companion, their prints showed that they ran, and the second heavier print were made by those who pursued he reasoned. Picking up his pace he followed the prints till he came upon signs of struggle, then turning he found Maethor lying still on the ground.

Oh, no! he thought, quickly dismounting and running over to Maethor's body, to his relief the ranger was breathing, he searched carefully for any sign of a wound, but there was only bruising and the faint sweet smell like crushed almonds, Sleeping draught perhaps he thought, as he searched for the root that would wake his fellow ranger, he came across of few broken teeth, at least he got in few good punches he laughed, then went back to his search.

Finally finding the plant he required, he drew his belt knife and dug into the ground revealing the root, cutting about and inch of the root he quickly covered the remainder and went back to Maethor, waving the exposed root under his nose. Coughing violently Maethor woke up.

"Vanwe!" he cried as he sat up.

"I'm sorry friend, she is not here," Dúlrain said shaking his head.

"What happened? why where you out here?" Dulrain asked, helping the still drowsy ranger to his feet.
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Old 10-23-2003, 11:48 PM   #119
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Maethor

“I feel lousy,” Maethor said with a slight laugh, holding his head. Staring at Dulrain, he grinned and said, “Now you show yourself. I have been looking for your for quite some time, but you disappear as easily as shadows flee the sun. I came across your tracks by the wall and followed them until they disappeared (following your example, I’m sure), and there guessed that you had left the city a short distance -- a guess which proved wrong,” he added ruefully, touching the cut across his forehead gingerly. “I ran into Vanwe,” he said softly. “She was in trouble, running from a man named Avanill. He distracted me while Ferney charged me from behind…I tried to get him to tell me where Nairore was, but Avanill sent me into a sleep with some kind of drug, I suppose.” He sighed sadly. “Where are the others?” he asked absently. He wondered what had happened to Vanwe, whether she was in any harm or pain. "No sign of Vanwe?" he asked.

Dulrain shrugged slightly and said, “No sign of the elf. But I left them as they interrogated Toby Longholes.”

“He proved very uncooperative,” Maethor said, somewhat dryly. “But, in the end, he gave us some information…very little information. I was sent to look for you before they were finished with him. Actually, everything’s still a bit hazy, if you know what I mean. That’s right! He said he was going to show them Ferney’s house…wherever that is.”

“We must return to the Prancing Pony,” said Dulrain.

They soon reached the inn and found that their friends had gone. Slowly making their way to Butterbur’s station at the bar, Dulrain asked, “Did our friends, the elf and rangers, leave you a message for us? I am Dulrain and this is Maethor.”

Butterbur furrowed his brow, stopped for a while with two ales in his hand, and said, “Not that I can remember. Of course, with things such a bustle around here, it might easily have gotten lost.”

Maethor rubbed his temples wearily, wishing desperately they had a more reliable host. However, he smiled gently and said, “Do you remember when they left?”
Butterbur shrugged and began to scurry towards a table with loud men, Maethor and Dulrain trailing behind him. “Now I don’t recall them exactly leaving.”

“If they didn’t talk to you, who would they have talked to,” asked Dulrain.

“No…no, you did order an ale,” protested Butterbur to a disgruntled guest. “Their memories are shorter than a pig’s tail,” he said, “and just as twisted.”

Maethor smiled and said, “If they had left, would they have spoken to Nob?”

“Nob? Yes, perhaps so. Hey, you!” he shouted to a hobbit hand, “fetch Nob!”

Nob soon scuttled in, his round face red with exertion or excitement, or both. “Were you given a letter for either Dulrain or Maethor?” the young ranger asked, yawning slightly. He was still feeling drowsy from the drug Avanill had given him; his jaw ached and he was still musing on Vanwe's fate.

“Here it is!” Nob said excitedly. Maethor, reading that the Sindarin script addressed it to Dulrain, handed it with mock gravity to the ranger. Tearing the seal, Dulrain quickly scanned it and said, “Let’s go to Ferney’s house.”

[ October 24, 2003: Message edited by: Imladris ]
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Old 10-24-2003, 10:39 PM   #120
Ealasaide
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Kaldir

Kaldir caught the carved wooden whistle by reflex and closed it in his fist.

"...if in need, one will find the other," Dulrain vowed, but Kaldir only nodded in response and turned his horse to go. It was a childish oath, made by children in another lifetime. What loyalty did this man owe to him? And what loyalty did Kaldir owe to this Ranger? This man was one of those who had left him for dead, was he not? Kaldir had been in need that day at Raven Falls, yet no one had come to his assistance. And for three years after that when his mind and body had been pushed to the very brink of insanity and death, no one came. Finally, when someone did come, it was Amandur and a team of strangers. No one had even identified him as one of their own until Kaldir himself had managed to whisper a few cracked words in the Adunaic tongue. They were the last words he had spoken for weeks, perhaps months, afterward. He had been in such a shattered state in those days that words - in any tongue - were beyond him.

"If in need, one will find the other..." Kaldir murmured to himself. Just words. He almost tossed the whistle aside, but instead, on an impulse, looped the leather thong over his head. The past was gone. For fifteen years now, he had lived purely in the moment, but the whistle, like the sword, represented something he had once possessed and lost...

He would keep the whistle. For the moment.

Having gotten rid of the Ranger, he turned his attention to the business at hand. The morning was slipping away. He would have to move quickly if he intended to check Barrold Ferny's hideouts for a sign of Naiore, especially since Ferny had a lot of hidden places around Bree. Checking them all would take time. Originally, Kaldir had planned to drop by Ferny’s rundown house in the southern end of Bree first to see what could be found, but now? He glanced up at the sun, which was mounting rapidly higher into the clear sky. Now it would be a waste of time. Ferny was a scoundrel of the deepest dye, but he was not a fool. Neither was Naiore. She was as clever and cagey a creature as she was cruel. If she had ever been at Ferny’s house at all, she would be well clear of it now.

Kaldir decided to change his strategy. Since he had come into town by the north gate, he would begin in the north and work his way south through the town and across Bree Hill. Then, if still nothing of Naiore had been found, he might drop in at Ferny’s house for another chat with Barrold. That is, if he was at home. Kaldir smiled grimly. The second chat would not be quite so friendly. He kicked his horse and moved ahead of Gilly and Benia as they re-entered the busy street.

“Stay very close to me,” he ordered them as he passed. “Not everyone in Bree is so polite as Mr. Dulrain. The individual we seek would be quite happy to use your hides for new saddlebags.”

He thought he saw Benia nod under her veil, but Mrs. Banks looked decidedly unhappy. Nonetheless, both women fell in obediently behind him. They rode only a short distance before Kaldir made a turn into the weed-choked yard of a long abandoned wine-shop and dismounted. Choosing his steps carefully so as not to disturb any existing prints, he examined the ground on all sides of the door and under the windows. Finding nothing, he gestured to the two women to dismount and follow him.

“We’re going inside,” he said and, taking the dagger from his belt, forced the lock on the door. It fell open with a rusty groan. Still holding his drawn dagger at the ready, Kaldir pushed the door open and entered.

“Oh, my!” sighed Gilly behind him. “This place could sure use a good cleaning.”

Dirt, broken furniture and garbage covered the floor and the broken countertop. Kaldir looked past the counter to the room where great flasks had once held some of the finest wines in the area. After the shop had closed down, smugglers, Ferny chief among them, had installed hinges and made false fronts on most of them, using the flasks as temporary stashes for their ill gotten goods. Now the flasks stood empty, the false fronts hanging open to reveal nothing more than a thick layer of dust. The shop had not been used for sometime, by smugglers or anyone else. Kaldir sheathed his dagger.

“For whom do we search?” asked a clear voice behind him. Turning, he saw that Benia had come into the shop behind Mrs. Banks and removed her veil. A tense mixture of anger and fear burned in her amber eyes.
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