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Old 06-18-2006, 03:02 PM   #1
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Leaf The Fellowship of the Fourth Age (Part 1): A New Beginning RPG

–¤– Khamir –¤–

The slaves snuck glances as the boy was brought back out to the fields. He had been gone for only minutes, but the rest of the slaves had been at the mercy of the whip if they even thought of pausing in their work while they were forced to listen to his screams. What they had done to the child the overseer would have liked to have done to all the slaves, but the survival rate was not good enough to risk losing so many of the laborers. The plantation owner would have his heartstrings for a necklace if he ever put his power and wealth at such risk. Neither was very abundant in Mordor since the defeat of Sauron, particularly wealth. Those who had any wealth or power were those who lived without the constant worry of what to fill their stomachs with. And who had control of the few sources of water.

The boy’s mother put herself at great risk, leaping forward to get to her son, dropping her work. The Orc who dragged the boy out to the fields kicked her down onto her hands and knees. There she groveled and begged just to hear that her son was alright, even though she knew he wasn’t and never would be. She had no hope for his future. She felt terrible guilt for even having given birth to him. He had not deserved it. Her son was completely silent. He had been since even before they brought him out.

“Tell the sow you’re alright and get her to shut up.” The overseer and the Orc holding the boy howled with grating laughter. The boy turned his head to look at his mother. There was a moment when the two’s eyes met and the boy opened his mouth. Nothing came out. His lips moved, but no words were formed. No words, no sound was heard. His mother collapsed to the ground, wailing, not rising even for the stomping and kicking of the other guards, so consumed by her grief. Her son’s tongue had been ripped out, and his vocal cords removed or made unusable through a procedure involving a hot iron. The mother cried and screamed as two guards, one a Man and one an Orc, forcibly pulled her up and dragged her toward the rough shed. She would be taken care of in much the same way, but she did not cry for herself.

The two had been among those who had tried to escape during the short-lived rebellion of the desperate slaves against their master. Mother and son had probably tasted some kind of freedom for a few hours, but they had been recaptured and were being punished and used as tyrannical symbols of fear because of the forbidden fruit that had bitten from. They had not been alone as escapees, though. There were of course others who had shared and would share similar fates, but there were also those who had made it to the mountains. The looming natural barricade of the mountain range seemed to mock them, and yet they saw the peaks as soaring freedom. Some actually planned to scale the mountains and escape to the world beyond; others simply wanted to get as far from the plantation as they could, and toward the southern range of the Ephel Dûath was as good a direction as any that were not back.

Four days after the rebellion, fifty-six of the escapees had collected themselves into a group, looking for others who had escaped and anyone who they could call an ally. Few, as they approached the mountains, actually considered climbing them, no matter how nice they knew or had heard the world beyond them was. For several days, the mountains acted as a hiding place for the fifty slaves that still lived, and become more of a cage than ever. But on the seventh night after their escape, they woke up to find themselves surrounded. Luckily, their stalkers were allies, and useful ones: a gang of ex-slaves, free for varying numbers of years, and staying alive mostly through theft from their former masters. Fierce fighters and superb survivalists, they brought more useful skills to the group. Some of them were truly thieves and killers, but they all had or remembered having family in various forms. They welcomed more hands, even if it meant more mouths to feed. And the two groups discovered quickly, if they had not known it from the start, that there was really very little separating them: both were more than ready for change.

Most had heard, though at least a year later than they should have, that Nurn actually belonged to them. Several years after Elessar’s declaration, word had spread to practically every being in Mordor that, according to the King of Gondor, the slaves were free. And yet they were still being whipped, chained, and treated as animals in the very land they were supposed to own. It was that knowledge that had given the slaves enough hope to risk rebellion, and it was what pushed them now to journey across Mordor to the southern reaches of the Plateau of Gorgoroth. A new wilderness meant a new beginning.

Khamir sat outside the caves in which the rest of the camp slept, the pitch black of night not intimidating in the least, and the crisp rushing of the river not loud to his ears. It was his watch. Every night, he had the last watch. It was just his way, and very few liked to stand in his way. He knew that the night around him could betray him at any moment, but he sat calmly, resting his mind in dreams without sleep. So many nights he had sat up in the same way amongst the sharp rocks at the base of the mountains. What made this night any different? For one thing, the company was different. There were now sixty-four men, women, and children sleeping nearby. It was no longer just the gang, and they no longer only had to worry about themselves. More was not necessarily better, but this group…they brought hope, something that Khamir had long given up on. It felt good to have it back.

He knew he was happier than he had been in years, though he did not smile. He knew the journey ahead would be the roughest he had ever taken, and he feared the numbers they might lose. He knew he had never had to figure out how to feed sixty-five mouths before, and hoped someone else had leadership in mind. He knew all of this, and yet he found peace lingering somewhere in the night air. Very soon he would be able to see the sun inching its way up the horizon. Perhaps it was hope of such a sight that kept him still. He knew hope was a powerful force.

But what he did not know was that, miles away, that same force drove a group shockingly similar to his own. The Orcs, the cruel masters, the savage monsters, the mindless followers of Sauron…they had families that they cared for. And they knew that it was time Nurn was abandoned, along with the old ways. They sought a new way, a new home, and a new beginning. Fifteen Orcs, male and female, young and old, would find a fresh wilderness just as attractive as sixty-five men, women, and children would. Neither knew they had dreamed the same dream, and neither would believe it if they were told so.

But if hope could be shared, why not a journey, a land? Why not a new beginning?

That morning, Khamir found what he could to write a letter that would show just how hopeful recent events had made him. He planned to write to the King of Gondor himself. It was he, Aragorn, Elessar, who had not forgotten the slaves. Perhaps this would be just another reminder? Was it a cry for help, a beseeching of aid, a simple report of the situation? Khamir found himself unable to write a single word for almost an hour, but when he finally started to write, the letter became all three of those things. He told of the slaves’ escape, of he and his fourteen men’s troubles, and of their plan to start anew together. He also told of the difficulties they faced daily, and how they would only double if they ventured to leave the safety of the caves and to a complete wilderness. The word ‘help’ was not there, but it was in every way implied. The letter was given to a trader heading back to Minas Tirith, and Khamir found himself praying for the first time.

Now all they had to do was wait in hope for some kind of answer: preferably one that did not come only in writing.


--- Durelin

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Old 06-18-2006, 03:04 PM   #2
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Brinniel's post - Shae


All slaves sentenced to death were to be executed publicly. Joren was no excuse- he was to be made an example of. The slaves of the southeastern quarters had only been asleep for a couple hours when they were reawakened and ordered to watch the execution. The hundred or so of them rubbed their groggy eyes and gathered around the wooden platform. Shae stood in the front. Joren had been there for her, through good and bad, and she would do the very same until the end. Her brother was dragged onto the platform, bleeding and his head hanging. His ears and tongue were gone, as were his fingers. For several minutes, the guards taunted Joren as they beat him. Then they pulled him to his feet. The executioner sharpened and positioned his blade. For a split second, Joren’s eyes found Shae’s. His expression was not one of fear, but of sincerity and regret. And then it was gone. The blade ran swiftly through his neck and then it was over. The slaves all trudged back to their quarters until there was only Shae left. Hands clenched into fists and feet planted to the ground, she found herself unable to take her eyes off her brother’s body. Then something in the dirt- a shine of silver- caught her eye. Shae reached down and picked up the item. It was a necklace- Joren’s necklace. The small symbol of the White Tree glowed dully underneath the stars. It was the last bit of her brother she had left. Tonight was the first night Shae was completely alone.

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

Shae woke suddenly, clutching the necklace, her forehead beaded with sweat. Taking a deep breath, she allowed her senses to return and opened her eyes. All around her, bodies were sprawled out inside the cave, fast asleep.
Great, she thought. It’s still night.
Shae was tired of having the same dream. Almost every night she witnessed Joren’s murder over and over again. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t get her brother out of her head.

Shae sat up and unwrapped the rag on her left hand. Scars covered her palm and the most recent wound was only beginning to heal. Shae unlatched a dagger from her belt and used it to reopen the wound. The familiar pain felt soothing to Shae and as the blood poured from her hand, so did the memories of Joren’s death.

As Shae rewrapped her hand, one of the slave escapees kicked her foot in his sleep, startling her. Shae was not used to the large size of the group. For over a month, there had been only fifteen of them. She enjoyed the small number- all could carry their own weight and most were quiet and kept to themselves. Last night, the ex-slaves stumbled upon a large group of slave escapees and suddenly the number jumped from fifteen to sixty-five. There would be no privacy.

Outside, Shae could see a line of pink on the horizon. Dawn was approaching. No point in trying to go back to sleep now. Brushing back strands of tangled hair, she stood up and stepped outside, waiting for the sun to rise.

“Couldn’t sleep again?”
Shae turned around to find Khamir, as usual, on the last watch of the night.
She shook her head. “No. Too much to think about.”
“I know what you mean.” Khamir paused a moment before continuing. “We have sixty-five mouths to feed. I think we need to have a hunting party go out this morning. You up to it?”
“Of course,” she replied. “Aren’t I always? How about you?”
“No,” he said, scanning the sky. “I have a letter to write.”

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Old 06-19-2006, 02:39 PM   #3
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Orofaniel's post - Reagonn


There was a blaze of heat. Reagonn awoke in his shelter discovering that it was filled with thick, dark grey smoke. He quickly noticed the wave of panic that spread among the slaves and soon cries of agony and horror filled Reagon’s ears. Still half-asleep, he managed to get up and at this point, his instincts were quite clear: he felt the urge, or moreover the necessity, to escape from this place. Nevertheless, as he got up he could feel the years of labour finally sink in, and he became utterly disorientated and confused. The legs beneath his crippled body now seemed to fail to support him, and he fell slowly to the ground with a short thud.

The blaze was now spreading rapidly, and he could feel his senses weakening as he inhaled the poisonous smoke. Feeling suffocated, he witnessed the masses of slaves running past him as they hurried to get out, he tried to cry out for help, but his voice failed to cut through the loud voices and the sounds of cracking building material. The ceiling in the left corner of the shelter now started collapsing, and Reagonn could see two slaves running as fast as they could to avoid being trapped beneath the burning wood – all in vain. They cried out as the heavy material hit them, and although chaos surrounded him and the air was filled with voices, Reagonn could somehow feel the vibrating silence from the left corner of the shelter. As he crawled further towards the exit, he knew his last minutes had come. Feeling trapped, Reagonn felt helpless and utterly alone. Yet, the situation did not distress him, like it might have distressed others. On the contrary Reagonn now felt somewhat relieved; finally, he was to be realised from the pain…the suffering…the agony in which he had lived for years. Reagonn had waited for this moment.

Nevertheless, the fright that suddenly struck him was not at all unexpected.

“Get up,” someone cried.

Alarmed by this command, he came to his senses, and trying to regain his balance, he stood up. Walking more steadily now, he felt that things were clearer. Almost all the slaves had evacuated by now, yet he could still hear cries, although he could not conclude whether they came from inside the shelter or outside. Reagonn turned and watched the flames surround him and the lifeless bodies on the ground; They were victims of this ruthless fire... In the life-threatening situation, Reagonn did not have much time to think, yet he could not help feeling sorry for these slaves. He had laboured with for many years and now he was witnessing the miserable fate they had faced.

Would this be his destiny as well?

Witnessing this he realised that it was time for his second attempt to escape. Not only from the fire, but from the plantation.

**

The palm of his hand felt sweaty against the pale skin of his face. He was half-asleep, half awake. This dream, which he had dreamt so many times before would not leave him. These shadows, these nightmares, from the plantation tormented him, and continued to confuse him. And always, near fully awaking, he saw the same face…the same smile and the very same expression in front of him – in the redish monstrous flames. A younger self started back at him, almost identical, yet some of his features shared no resemblance with his own, whatsoever. He was around Bornir’s age, his only friend in life whom had been brutally punished by the plantation’s master - yet it wasn’t him. Thinking about Bornir he could felt enraged, yet this time he felt a wave of pure hatred and rage build up inside of him like never before. After that was just the bitterness...The bitterness he was used to.

Who was he? There was no answer, just a blur of confusion, a foggy maze with no beginning or end. More questions rose, only to be forgotten again while silently awaking from this horror of a nightmare. Like so many times before he awoke while clutching his knife and gasping for air. His eyes were wide open filled with dread as he felt the pearls of sweat running down from his forehead.

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Old 06-25-2006, 10:23 AM   #4
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Nogrod's post - Hadith


Hadith heard of the plan two days before it was going to be put into action. It was not a clumsy one of his own making, but a realistic one embedded in the grander scale rebellion that had been talked quietly for months all over the plantation. Kurrah and Zilin, the influential elders in their barracks were the minds behind it. Their barracks would not take part in the rebellion but would use the opportunity to just go for their own. Kurrah and Zilin thought the whole idea of a common rebellion to be pure madness and fantasy of the hotheads. It would just lead to more suffering: many would die and the rest would in any case be rounded up and the conditions would turn even worse with lots of new tougher rules and regulations, not to talk of some general punishments everyone would have to bear after the uprising. But the general disorder could be used for their benefit. They could sneak out in the overall confusion by first giving an impression to the guards that they were not involved.

The rebellion broke some moments after midnight. All the doors of the barracks were bursted open with the forordained signal from one of the barracks and the angry slaves ran out from them, challenging the guards on duty. There was a general alarm and in an instant the frenzied slaves saw the orc and easterling soldiers rushing in to bring order to the plantation and cut the rebellion down to its beginning.

Kurrah and Zalin had waited a short moment after they heard the uprising had begun and then carefully opened the door of their barracks. As their door had stayed closed when the mayhem started, only three orc-guards were left to keep an eye of their barracks. The others had rushed to help in the fight that was now in full flare. Kurrah and Zilin had distracted the orc-guards by quering them about the situation when the general uprising had begun. While their guards were busy trying to have an eye of the general situation and explaining it to Kurrah and Zilin, the others from the barracks had a chance to sneak out. Soon the guards got hang of what was going on, but then Kurrah and Zilin attacked them with forks and spoons. All items one could call a weapon were left to those who would try to escape. Hadith had not been given a weapon as he was deemed too young to claim one with the shortage of them, but he had his sling and the crude knife that he had made himself in the general anticipation of the rebellion.

Those two older men sacrificed themselves to get the others out that night. And they made it. Some of the other older men – and a few women - had decided to sacrifice themselves too, and that really made the difference as they entered the battle between the two older men and the three orcs. The orc-guards had no chance to report that the “peaceful“ barracks had done a runaway as they had to fight for their lives against a dozen of elderly people armed with kitchen utensils. The heroism of these elders saved the others of that barracks on that night. The fleeing slaves heard their cries as they ran away from the barracks.

Before long one easterling chieftain noted the escape of one of the barracks in the middle of the fight. Even though bringing down the general rebellion tied up lots of the orc-forces and the Easterling guards, some horsemen were sent to trail them too. Soon the escaping slaves heard the horses coming after them. Hadith looked back to see the whole plantation lit and full of movement. Other slaves fought bravely but most of them were fast rounded up and beaten back to their barracks. Two small groups of riders sent after them both were seemingly taking a wrong direction.

Hadith’s heart was thumping and his hands were trembling from excitement. They were free! Or at least they might be! After they had crossed the fields, the small hills and knolls covered them with the aid of darkness spreading over the plains. They had actually escaped! The thought kept crawling into his mind, and everytime he tried to push it away. It’s not sure yet, anything could happen. It was an idea so huge he couldn’t just take it. To be free! To be not pushed around, to be not told what to do. How could he decide what to do? Like for example tomorrow morning? Whether to wake up or not, whether to dress or not? It was fantastic and scary at the same time. Well the remaining elders will tell me what to do and where to go, he thought to himself, a bit saddened and relieved at the same time. There was some order in his life anyhow.

A riding search-party of the Easterlings actually spotted them on the next day, but they were so clearly outnumbered and being so far away from any reinforcements, that they didn’t even try to round them up but let them go. That was the confirmation for Hadith. They actually were free now.

During the same day some individual escapees from other barracks who had escaped the searching parties joined their ranks. They were welcomed, but there were no great hurraahs’ about. After a couple of days they were taken unawares by a small group of other ex-slaves. They seemed a ragged and tough party of people. To Hadith they were heroes – and he was thinking, that he would too become like them. A hero, no longer a slave. A free man.

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Old 06-25-2006, 10:23 AM   #5
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Firefoot's post - Johari


Rebellion, they had said. Escape. Johari hadn’t cared about much more than that, not about how the rest of them planned to get out nor even if they would be successful. Only one thought occurred to her: Kalin. Now would be her chance to find him. She didn’t care about the rest of them, but she would escape. She would find him.

There was no hope involved in her determination. Hope was like water, Johari had once decided: once you learn to live with plenty of it, life becomes all the harder without it. And hope died slowly: it was more like a thousand little deaths that wasted you away until you were nothing. Johari had seen it happen in her mother and had experienced it herself; it was better simply to live without hope. Then you were never disappointed, as you surely would be in this forsaken land that killed all hopes. No, her determination resulted from the conviction that eventually she would escape and that she would find him. If not this time, there would be a next time. There would always be a next time.

It was a fact, and therefore required no hope or effort to believe in. It simply was.

The night came. Chaos reigned supreme. Slaves, singly, in pairs, in mobs, all ran, fueled by the hope and promise of freedom. Only some would make it away – only some would survive; the rest, hopes quashed, would be returned to their barracks and to work the next day. Johari did not think of this. She did not think at all. She just ran.

She avoided their dogs, more out of instinct than conscious decision. She did not stay and fight, she did not stop to help the others. She just ran.

Towards the mountains. Kalin was a smart boy. He would have taken refuge there. Rumors even existed that other escaped slaves were living in those mountains; he might have found them. She shifted her course, practically flying through the fields - not caring whether she trampled the growing crops - into the hills beyond: already farther than she had ever traveled in her life. It was only now as she reached this comparative safety that she slowed her pace. Her legs and lungs were burning, and her make-shift pack thumped uncomfortably on her back. She did not stop completely, though, but kept moving, always listening for pursuit behind her. At one point she heard hoof-beats, but she stayed in the shadows and never saw them anyway.

On into the night she walked, never once feeling the ecstatic rush of freedom that might be expected. For her, escape was not the realization of hopes and dreams. Once it might have been; now it was only fact fulfilled.

In the next days, she found a group of escaped slaves and was welcomed into their fold. It did not occur to them that Johari was content, happier even, to travel by herself. She did not feel heartened by their presence; she did not care that they, too, had escaped. She had a purpose, and these ones would not help her with it… especially when they started discussing settling down and hiding in the foothills of the mountains while they decided what to do. Johari already knew what she wanted; she didn’t care what the rest of them did. Nevertheless, she had reluctantly decided to at least stay the night there with them; she wouldn’t get any farther in the dark.

The next morning they found themselves surrounded. Johari quickly realized, as did the rest of the escaped slaves, that these tough-looking strangers were not trying to capture them but help them. Maybe they would know about Kalin – she would certainly be asking…

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Old 06-25-2006, 10:24 AM   #6
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Novnarwen's post - Aedhild


"Everywhere! They are everywhere! The devils!" Aedhild shrieked and cursed. It was early morning; the wet grass under her feet witnessed of the damp night air. The sun hadn't even rolled over the horizon, and yet, the ex-slave was up, growling. Her shrilly voice echoed; as the sound of her voice hit the stone walls of the caves, it sent out a wave of roars and noise, awakening the rest of the camp. With a peculiar expression, she jumped up and down, sprang from one side to another, twitching and shaking. The excitement reflected in her eyes seemed to belong to a being of another world; her movements were awkward and alien.

Few of the ex-slaves didn’t know that Aedhild was a highly unusual character. Already from the very beginning, they had noticed that she was different from most other they had stumbled upon in life; not only did she act irresponsibly and without thinking, but it had also become known amongst them that it was impossible to predict how she would respond to any given situation. In some cases, they would find her sitting quietly, completely avoiding eye contact, and keeping silent for hours and in rare cases days at a time. Occasionally on those particular days, she would perhaps mutter a few words, but no one could make out their meaning. Other times however, she would scream, curse, yes, act very much in the same way as she was acting now. These times, she would narrow her eyes suspiciously, walk about, and snap at people who appeared in any way she didn’t like or approve of. Unfortunately for everyone else, no one knew exactly what she did approve of. On these walkabouts, threats would roll any of the ex-slave's way, regardless of whether she had set her eyes on them before or not. The rest of the slaves had come to an agreement; though not spoken out loud, everyone seemed to share the same view on this particular matter; in sheer fright that Aedhild would do harm to anyone, or herself, sharp objects such as knives and daggers were kept from her.

“Lice! They are everywhere!” Bleary eyed and tense with excitement, the woman looked wildly around at the small group of people that surrounded her. Pointing fingers at all of them, she cursed violently, accusing each and every of them of conspiracies; her paranoia seemed endless. “You! You traitor! You have come to give us in, you sneaky scoundrel! Hand us over to them, think you are?!” As she spoke, saliva rained from her mouth. Her voice was cool and desperate, the volume increasing by a notch for every word: “He did this!” she continued, pointing directly toward a bearded youngster. “He spread those foul creatures, sent them to drive me mad! You filthy sc-sc...!!!!” Her words drowned in her screams as she sprang forwards; both her arms outstretched, she aimed for him. Terrified by this extreme behaviour and unexpected turn of events, the man named Eirnar took a few steps back, desperately looking around for a helping hand.

No on knew exactly where Aedhild came from; none of the slaves recognized her from the plantation they'd served, and even Aedhild hadn’t been able to explain in detail where she had worked and about her origins. Of appearance, she was a short, skinny woman, her skin dark, something that definitely could suggest that she was a Haradrim or of similar heritage. Other features gave another impression however, and since most people were growing tired of speculating about other slaves’ origins, Aedhild remained like many others; a slave with no past, who had just recently found freedom, the latter being obviously the most important point of focus. Aedhild was neither remarkably ugly, nor remarkably pretty. Her once perhaps handsome face seemed aged with the hardships she had endured. Her cheekbones had become slightly too prominent in her face during the last couple of years to make her appear beautiful, but her mouth was delicately formed and gave if not a pleasant appearance at least a hint of kindness. Sadly, the pallor of her face was sickly, and her pair of unusually grey, glossy eyes seemed to dominate her face altogether now. As her age was starting to show, her once dark brown hair was thinning with a hurried pace, and the bald spot on the right side of her head seemed to become more and more obvious. Years of abuse and beatings had marked her, more than she would ever come to realise herself.

As she came nearer, she closed her right hand into a fist. Still screaming, she hit him with all her might. It is difficult to say whether it was the power of that particular blow or if it was the shock of being hit by a stranger, a supposed ally, that made Eirnar stagger for a moment; regaining his balance however, he quickly managed to manoeuvre out of her way, avoiding a second blow. With one hand caressing his already red cheek, he grasped a hold of the short woman with the other. Aedhild wailed in horror; she kicked, spat and cursed, trying to loosen the man’s grip; “You traitor! You want to take me back! ”

Their eyes met for second; her grey eyes cool, but still empty of emotions. With a quick blow, Eirnar struck her unconscious. She never heard the man uttering a few words: "That will calm you down." Only those close by could hear the heavy heartedness in the tone of his voice.

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Old 06-25-2006, 10:24 AM   #7
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Child of the 7th Age’s post - Elessar


Elessar set down the letter on his desk, walked over to the window, and stared off into the distance. Here at the summit, he could look down and see the gleaming white towers and six lower tiers that characterized Minas Tirith, the chief city of Gondor. The streets were far more crowded than they had been a short while ago, since the city's population continued to grow. This was only one of the many accomplishments in the past ten years. The ancient lands of Gondor and Arnor had been reclaimed and reunited. The Hobbits of the Shire, the Elves of Greenwood, and the Ents of Isengard could be counted among the many Free Peoples of Middle-earth who enjoyed complete self government with freedom to maintain their local customs. Representatives from the king had even managed to reach a rough understanding with their long-time enemies, the Easterlings and Haradrim.

Despite the return of peace and prosperity, one troubling problem remained. Early in Elessar's reign, the king had declared that the lands of Nurn be gifted to the slaves of Mordor. This edict had proven difficult to enforce. In the region south of the Sea of Núrnen, most of the slaves had revolted and secured their freedom, setting up fortified villages where they could defend themselves against Orc attacks and till their fields in relative peace. In the region north of the Sea, the situation was different. With Sauron's restraining hand removed, local strongmen with armed retinues continued to repress the slaves and deny them freedom. Eager to extend their authority and gain more land, these tyrants engaged in constant warfare both among themselves and against the Orcs who roamed throughout the region. Gondor had sent soldiers to try and topple these petty rulers, and the troops had scored an easy victory. But the moment the armies were dispatched back home, another strongman emerged and reasserted control over the slaves.

Elessar had once hoped that the slaves could flee the plantations and find refuge in the fortified villages to the south. Given the chaos that dominated the area, it was very possible for slaves to slip off into the night and simply disappear. But the neighboring communities were too young and fragile, and lacked sufficient stores of food to offer a home to more than a handful of deserters. What was needed was a safe haven for the refugees to go, someplace where they could begin a new life. They could not remain in the area near the Sea of Núrnen or even on the Ash Plain to the north because of the presence of numerous gangs of Orcs. More than one group of escapees had managed to elude the dogs and posses of the slaveholders only to perish at the hands of Orcs. The slaves of Mordor were now a forgotten problem that no one had the knowledge or heart to resolve.

For the first time, however, after reading the missive, Elessar felt a tiny glimmer of hope. The letter, for all its rough and ragged appearance, had been written by a slave leader who understood the problems of his people and had some notion how to solve them. Though the message had been penned by one who could barely read or write, its meaning was unmistakable. A group of fifty slaves had raised an armed rebellion, managing to escape and take refuge in caves along the foothills of the southern mountains. There, they had been greeted by fifteen other men, the beleaguered remnants of an earlier band of run-away slaves.

Both groups agreed they could not stay in their temporary shelter. The ex-slaves were insistent that the situation was too dangerous, since brutal Orc attacks had recently become a frequent occurrence. Yet where could the refugees go? It was one of the new escapees who came up with an audacious plan to head north to the southeastern corner of the Sea and then across the Ash Plain, making for the southern reaches of the Plateau of Gorgoroth and attempting to establish a village there. The petitioner had written this letter, humbly requesting that Gondor send representatives from the Free Peoples of Middle-earth to help protect them on the journey, individuals who could also teach them the skills needed to forge a new community.

Aragorn shook his head in amazement. It was at once a bold and utterly perilous suggestion. As far as the King knew, no party had made it across the Ash Plain in recent years. Roving bands of Orcs and other outlaws made the passage dangerous as well as unnamed shadows that had been unknowingly left behind when Sauron departed the earth. At the very least, the journey would be a challenge. Even if they made the crossing, there was no certainty of success at the end. The Plateau of Gorgoroth was uninhabited, a veritable wilderness. Farming would be difficult at best, since there were no substantial bodies of water nearby.

Still, if the feat could be done, if a new community could be established, the possibilities were enormous. Freed slaves from other plantations would finally have a place to go. Aragorn conjectured that, once the village was well established, it could even send couriers back to encourage other slaves to revolt, guiding them across the Ash Plain to the safe refuge that lay beyond. Half-way camps could even be established. One village could multiply and eventually become a whole network of thriving outposts. So much suffering could be avoided! The image was simply too appealing for Elessar to resist.

The King felt a strange yearning to join the group himself. What an exciting and worthwhile endeavor it would be. But that was no longer possible, since his own responsibilities as well as the presence of his beloved wife and children required him to stay in Minas Tirith. This adventure would have to go to others.

Aragorn quietly began humming the tune of an old ballad as he wrote out the orders for each individual whom he would ask to join the group. Dwarves, Elves, Men, and Hobbits--they must all be included. This might be the last time that all the Free Peoples were called together in a common goal of such great importance. The soul of Mordor was at stake. It would take a fellowship--the Fellowship of the Fourth Age--to rise to such a challenge and guarantee a new beginning for the people of Mordor.

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Old 06-25-2006, 10:24 AM   #8
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Child of the 7th Age's post – Lindir and Aiwendil


The old man sat huddled at his writing desk, spluttering and fuming under his breath as he fixed his attention on the paper in front of him. The message had been written on the finest parchment. At the top of the sheet he could see the seal of the King. In his intense concentration, Aiwendil had bent his upper body so close to the letter that his nose almost grazed the tabletop. The Istar had piercing blue eyes and a mop of dishevelled hair with grey locks falling forward into his face. An owl perched on his left shoulder and occasionally leaned over to nibble affectionately at his ear.

Rereading the message for the twenty-third time, Aiwendil sat upright, waggled his finger in the air, and glared across the room, trumpeting for the attention of his friend. He directed his words at an Elf who stood by the window gazing down on the buildings of Minas Tirith. The latter was called Lindir. He wore a travel stained cloak and plain brown breeches. Anyone observing this unassuming figure from a distance could easily have mistaken him for a Mannish farmer or even a tradesman. The only telltale hint of his origin was an intricate silver brooch clasped near his throat, a piece of amazing craftsmanship passed down from countless ages before.

The Elf had initially paid no attention to Aiwendil's obvious consternation. He was clearly used to his companion's whims. Now the Istar's voice rose sharp and insistent, "It says there is to be a Fellowship to rescue the soul of Mordor." Aiwendil fixed his eyes on Lindir and grimly shook his head, "Tell me. What have I got to do with Mordor? Does this assignment make sense? I know nothing about the slaves in Mordor. Plus, this is a mission for an army of young men, not for an old birdwatcher like myself."

Lindir's response was affectionate, almost as if he was humoring a child, "But you have just spent the past hour telling me how you found meaning in Harad and had decided to stay in Middle-earth to see if you could help. Frankly, I can think of no one in Arda who needs help more than these slaves of Mordor. The conditions there are appalling. They are in desperate need of someone to guide and protect them."

"Yes, that is the problem," the Istar countered. "There is this little matter about protection. Even in Harad I did not have to face a crowd of angry Orcs."

"It is dangerous. I cannot deny that. But if it makes you feel any better, I also received an invitation from the King, not an hour before, and I intend to say 'yes'."

"You too? What are we to have.... a First Age reunion? A pack of greybeards turned loose on the worst problems in the Reunited Kingdom? At least you look to be younger and in better shape than I am, though you lack the looks of Legalos."

At this point Lindir grinned broadly at his companion. But before the Elf could respond, Aiwendil had continued, "Couldn't the King have come up with some young blood? Or perhaps Aragorn has decided that we two are expendable." There was a wisp of a smile on the Istar's face.

"Aiwendil, I am ashamed of you! Look at this list. There is no lack of young healthy folk in our party. I expect that Aragorn felt a little seasoning was needed to keep these enthusiastic adventurers from running off a cliff. And surely the slaves we go to help could also benefit from a cool, sage head. I, for one, am looking forward to this. You are going, aren't you?"

"Yes, I am going," spluttered the old man, almost sounding offended. "How can there be a Fellowship without an Istar? And you didn't think I'd let you go off on your own with something as important as this?"

"But what about your manservant, that young fellow you speak so highly of? Is he also coming?"

"That is the interesting part," mused Aiwendil. "The last time I was at court, Rôg had the chance to speak with Elessar. The King talked with him some time and was so impressed that he has added his name to the list of adventurers quite apart from my own. I cannot say why for sure. Rôg has some unusual gifts. But I would suspect it is his knowledge of Harad and the East that impressed the King. The largest group of slaves in Mordor hail from those parts, and most men of Gondor know little of their ways. In any case, whatever Elessar's reason, it is a wise choice. Perhaps Rôg will come by before we leave and let us know his decision."

Lindir raised his eyebrows sharply. "And you were the one who said you knew nothing about the slaves of Mordor?"

"Perhaps I exaggerated a bit," the Istar responded drolly. "In any case, I will surely know more a month from now than I do today. We must leave in the morning. One other thing....it would be best if there was no mention of my background or homeland. For all practical purposes, I am an old Mannish teacher who will be teaching slaves their sums and their letters."

"But what if you have to show your hand one day?"

"I'll deal with that then." With that terse answer, Aiwendil went over to the shelf, pulled down a book of maps, and began tracing out the route with his finger.

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Old 06-25-2006, 10:25 AM   #9
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piosenniel's post - Rôg


The young man, Gaerion, knocked firmly on the smooth wood door, then stepped back a pace, hearing the footsteps from within draw nearer. He looked about the little courtyard in which he stood. It was lush with flowers; many of them he knew were of the sort which attracted little birds. He smiled, knowing the one who lived here would be pleased that he had managed to recall this bit of information. Gaerion had delivered many messages here and never gotten away yet without some small lesson on this or that.

Rôg peeked through the small, barred peephole in the door, wondering who had come for a visit so early in the morning. Gaerion! Fresh faced, his black livery spotless, boots gleaming from the polishing he must have given them just this morning. His grey eyes were clear, and shone, it seemed to Rôg, with a spirit of hope and the expectation of a life open to possibility. It was a welcome sight to Rôg’s eyes. There had been too many years, he thought, when hope lay under shadow and possibility was thwarted by despair.

‘Come in, come in!’ He opened the door wide and ushered Gaerion in, pointing towards the small table near the window where he’d just sat down to eat his morning meal. ‘There’s plenty,’ Rôg said, motioning to an empty chair as he sat back down in his own. ‘Fruit, cheese….and here, let me pour you a cup of wine. It’s from the south. Very light, very refreshing.’

‘What’s this?’ He took the slender roll of parchment from Gaerion, exchanging it for the basket of thick sliced bread he’d passed the young man. Rôg untied the thin ribbon and unrolled the parchment. His eyes scanned the writing; he smiled as he read the signature written boldly at the bottom. ‘From the King,’ Rôg said.

Gaerion nodded as he stuffed a fig into his mouth. He bit back a grin at the obviousness of this conclusion. A swig of wine followed, a delighted smile affirming the young man’s pleased approval. ‘Delivered one to the old fellow too.’ He looked chagrined as Rôg raised a brow at him. ‘Aiwendil, then,’ he said, making an apology of sorts. ‘The Elf fellow was there, too.’ Gaerion took another sip of wine. He supposed he should be discreet; the King’s man had not made mention of what the messages said, only that the King wanted them delivered as quickly as possible. But, he was young and curious, and so he asked Rôg outright what the King had written.

‘It’s about the land across the river. Mordor. The King has received a request for aid from some of those who live there. He’s sending a group of us to look into it and give them assistance.’ Rôg took a small cluster of fat red grapes and plucked one off. ‘Though I wonder what he thinks I can do.’ He popped the grape into his mouth and chewed it thoughtfully. ‘Most likely he wants me to keep the old fellow out of trouble.’ Rôg grinned at Gaerion who’d raised his brows in mock remonstrance of calling Aiwendil ‘the old fellow’.

Breakfast done, the farewells made, and Rôg returned to his chair to peruse the King’s letter again. In a hastily scrawled note at the bottom of the page, Elessar had mentioned men of the East, slaves at one time in the Dark Land, were among those who had asked for assistance. And would Rôg, in addition to using his knowledge of wells, and irrigation systems, be sure to look to any special needs that those of his homeland might have. He frowned; the thought of any of his clan or kind, under the will and whips of the Dark Lord, and after him his as-cruel minions made him shudder despite the increasing warmth of the day.

It took very little time for him to pack. Other than a change of clothes and his pens and notebooks, Rôg had few essentials he couldn’t live without. He thrust his hand axe through his belt, to which he’d also secured his knife. Last of all was his walking stick; once in his hand he strode out the door of his little apartment and closed it securely. Gaerion had agreed to look after the little place while he was gone.

In a few moments he was at Aiwendil’s rooms, entering the door without a knock. The old fellow was bent over a book of maps his finger tracing the way for the Elf who stood at his side.

‘Well, I’m ready!’ he looked from one to the other of them as he banged his stick on the stone floor. His gaze settled on Aiwendil. ‘Just promise me this trip will involve no travel by water….that’s all I ask.’

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Old 06-25-2006, 10:25 AM   #10
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Durelin's post - Vrór


“Oi, watch that end of it!”

Two men were hoisting up a block of stone to find its place among the hundreds of other blocks that were almost seamlessly sealed together to form a great wall. Above them, the Tower of Ecthelion gleamed in the sunlight. Sweat glistened on their brow, and their skin was a soft brown from all the time they had spent in the sun the past few weeks. Working under the command of Vrór, they had received very little time out of it. But they did not grudge the Dwarf for it. He was just as hard working as any of them, if not more.

And in testament to this, Vrór was of course hard at work with hammer and chisel, shaping a chunk of marble that had begun as a block and was now far from cubic. Turned away from the two men pulling up the stone, he had caught out of the corner of his eye the block slipping to one side in its harness.

“So he has eyes somewhere behind that mass of hair,” the one muttered.

“And ears, too!” came a quick response from the Dwarf. It came as a gruff bark, grating with what many might call anger, but the two workers knew better. The one only rolled his eyes, while the other tried and failed to stifle laughter.

Vrór smiled as he heard the stone block clack safely into position, but did not pause for a moment in his work. He seemed to know exactly where to make the next chisel, and truly, he did. He had drawn out models and blueprints and charts, and even carved out a smaller version of this creation. Perhaps he wasn’t the speediest of workers, but it was obvious to anyone that he got the job done, and the finished product was perhaps even better than one had expected. “It always does look better up to scale,” he would say, obvious in his modesty, and perhaps even more obvious in his pride.

So engrossed in his work, he did not notice when he was approached from behind. “Excuse me, sir?” came a voice obviously nervous about disturbing a Dwarf in his work. “I have a message for you, sir.”

Putting down his tools, Vrór turned to look at the man. He seemed fairly young, still rather rosy cheeked, and probably had just recently lost his baby fat. Looked to be shaping up to be a fine looking young man, though. He was dressed in the fancy attire of one of the King’s servants. The White Tree emblazoned on his tunic, shining practically brighter than the sun with the light reflection off it. The Dwarf grunted.

“They’ve even got the messengers all dressed up these days? Well, I’ll be. I suppose this,” he gestured with his hand only slightly, but in a way that obviously pointed to the man’s entire outfit, “is a sign of prosperity.”

He paused for a moment, and was met only by silence from the messenger, though the workers found his words rather amusing. The one that could not resist laughter before didn’t even try to this time. The other spoke up, “Gondor will only get richer, but I’ll always be stuck with these linens.”

Vrór grunted again. The young man in front of him coloured slightly, and seemed to feel more awkward by the second. The Dwarf smiled at him, shaking his head. “We’re only teasing, lad. I’m surprised to see such a young man already in such a fine position,” he said with kindness and sincerity. “Now, what have you got for me?”

The young man smiled back, and with a short bow, he handed a piece of paper with the King’s seal to Vrór. “Well, now, don’t I feel special,” the Dwarf remarked, seeing the seal.

He opened the letter, and, as he read it, his eyes widened. It was indeed from the King himself, and… A Fellowship? Vrór let out a snort. And he supposed he was the token Dwarf for this venture. It noted his skill as a stonemason, and now he grunted at the paper before him. He scanned the page. No, nothing about his metalwork. Reaching the end of the message, he let out a sigh, shaking his head.

“Well, lads,” he called out to the two Men who had paused in their work, both still surprised that they had not been yelled at to get back to it, “do you think you’ll be alright without me?”

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Old 06-25-2006, 10:25 AM   #11
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Folwren's post - Athwen


“Mistress Athwen, will it be alright?” the little boy asked.

Athwen smiled sweetly without looking up from her work. “Yes, it will be fine, so long as you do as you’re told and don’t touch it.” She gently swabbed at the cut with a clean, wet cloth. “That’s a nasty scratch you got yourself, lad,” she said. “How did you manage it?”

“My brother got me with a stick,” the boy replied. With his unwounded arm, he drew his sleeve across his nose. “Mum can’t stand the sight of blood and it hurt something awful. Are you sure it’ll be alright?”

Athwen nodded again to his urgent question. “Yes. Especially after I wrap it up. What was your brother doing with a sharp pointed stick?” She knew better than to add ‘he could have killed you with something like that!’, though it was obviously clear from the cut the child’s stick had inflicted. She asked herself mentally if all Gondorian boys were so violent.

“We were playing battle. Our father fought years ago in a great war and he tells about killing trolls and all kind of things. Berl was supposed to be the troll and I was Father because I’m smaller, but he didn’t like being the troll and he got mad.” Athwen nodded understandingly. She held the arm gently in her hand while she put down the wet cloth and picked up a roll of bandaging cloth. “Will that hurt?” her young patient demanded, stiffening. “When you wrap it around it, won’t it hurt?”

“Actually, it will feel good. I promise you it won’t hurt. Now, hold your arm out for me. I need both my hands to do this.” The boy obeyed and Athwen wrapped the arm from the wrist to nearly the elbow. She tied it on, securely but gently. “There you go, my man,” she said, stepping back. “You’re all patched up.” She smiled at him before turning away to talk to the boy’s mother, sitting nearby. “I’ve bandaged it up. The wrap will stay, so long as he doesn’t touch it. It will not stay on tonight when he sleeps, though, unless it is re-wrapped and re-tied carefully and he doesn’t toss and turn much in his sleep.”

“Will he be alright?” the woman asked anxiously, standing up.

“Yes, he’ll be fine. I cleaned it out and you came to me directly, so no infection had already settled in. I suggest you take away the sharp play things from your boys, though. You might have worse things to handle next time. Tomorrow morning, wash it again with soap and clean water. If you have any oil from the olive or any lavender, put that on it, and then wrap it with new cloth. Keep it wrapped gently until it scabs, and then be sure that he doesn’t pick at it.”

“We will. Thank you so much!”

“You’re welcome,” Athwen replied with a smile. She nodded goodbye and waved to the boy as the two of them left.

Athwen turned to wash her hands and then clean up her work place. She was fastening the lid of the box with bandages and ointments when a knock came at the door. Her hands paused in their work, and then with a sigh, she stood up.

“I didn’t want another patient just now. I want Dorran.” But she still prepared a smile as she opened the door.

Instead of a young mother holding the hand of a crying child as Athwen half expected, there stood on the doorstep a young man wearing the black and white livery of the Citadel. She blinked in surprise.

“Lady Athwen?” the man asked. She nodded, expectant. “I was to deliver this to you.” He extended a letter and she reached out to get it.

“Thank you!” she said. He bowed and turned to walk away. She watched him go until he went out the gate into the road, then her eyes turned towards the letter. On the front of it her name had been written in black, swirling ink. Turning it over, she saw and recognized the impression of the king’s ring in the sealing wax. Again she had cause to blink her dark lashes at it.

Without looking up away from the letter, she closed the door and walked to the same chair that the boy’s mother had sat in. She lowered herself into it and then gently broke the wax. The fine, cream colored parchment made a soft crinkling sound as she opened it. The king’s seal was at the top and the letter that ran below it. She read the entire thing over once. . .twice, and then she put it down on her knees. Her blue eyes scanned the room in front of her. They passed over the table and chairs where she and her husband ate, the cupboards where dishes and food was kept, the pitcher of water standing on the counter, and the door leading back to another room. Then she picked up the letter again and read it a third time.

‘. . .to go with the fellowship to cure and to heal as your skills are required along the way. . .’

“To free the slaves and help them live on their own?” Athwen whispered. “He wants me to go? Clearly that’s what he’s asking. . .” She sat upright and refolded the letter. It would wait until Dorran returned and they could talk it over. His name was written on the list beneath the letter, but she didn’t know if he had accepted. They would discuss it when he returned home. Would he accept the mission himself? She knew what he had gone through in his past and she also knew how horrible it was for old memories to be stirred up. If he did not go, he would not want her to go, either, and she would not wish to go alone anyway.

She stood up and put the letter on the table. There it would wait until Dorran returned. Athwen put her hands to work, cleaning the house that was practically entirely clean already. Her mind turned the contents of the letter over and over again. Alone, though, she could not make up her mind of whether she wanted to go or not. But was it even a request? Or was it an order?

Whatever it was, it would wait until Dorran was home.

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Old 06-25-2006, 10:26 AM   #12
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Tevildo's post - Dorran


Dorran carefully threaded his way through the crowded streets and byways, reining in his mount so as not to collide with any of the citizens of Minas Tirith who were going about their business. The slow pace did not suit him. He was anxious to get home to his wife and discuss with her what had happened at court. He glanced down at his side to make sure the message from Elessar still sat securely in his pouch.

Dorran and his wife were supposed to be returning home in a few days. He had come to Minas Tirith as a messenger of the King of Rohan. Eomer had asked him to present four prized stallions as a gift of friendship to the people of Gondor as well as to convey a personal letter to Elessar. Dorran had made sure the horses were settled in the stables and that the king's servants understood how to train and care for them. This afternoon, Dorran had been formally received at court. He expected to deliver his message and be courteously dismissed to travel back to Edoras. He had been totally unprepared for what happened next.

The King had invited him to join a special band leaving the next day on a matter of supreme importance to both Gondor and Rohan. Dorran was not surprised that Gondor had enlisted his aid. There was a personal understanding between Eomer and Elessar that messengers to either court could be called upon to help when urgent needs arose during their stay.

What surprised Dorran was the nature of Elessar's request. The King had asked him to join a mission to Mordor, helping a band of slaves who had escaped from a plantation found a new community on the Plateau of Gorgoroth. Even more alarming was the fact that his wife was also invited to join the Fellowship. Although Athwen had amazing gifts as a healer and would be an asset on any mission of mercy, his wife lacked skill with weapons and often shrank back when he described to her some minor skirmish in battle from which he had escaped unscathed.

It was not only fear for Athwen's safety that made Dorran hesitent. More than any other member of the Fellowship, the Rider of Rohan knew just how dangerous it was to try and cross the Ash Plain and establish a settlement on Gorgorth. He had spent his youth as a slave in Nurn and made the treacherous journey out of Mordor in company with his sister. Once before, in the years immediately after the fall of Sauron, Dorran had returned to the Plains of Gorgoroth to try and clean out some of the vilest of the Orc gangs. His knowlege of Mordor, its twisted hills and lava-filled plains, had been one of the chief reasons that Elessar had included him in the new mission.

Dorran found it difficult to sort out his own feelings. Part of him feared a return to Mordor. The physical dangers of the trek were considerable but even those paled beside his own dark dreams of childhood. If those dreams afflicted him in Rohan after so many years, how much more likely were they to claim him if he journeyed deep into Mordor? Sauron might be dead and gone, but not for one moment did Dorran believe that the land had been cured of all its ills. Too much darkness remained.

Still, he could not turn his back on this mission and the possibility of helping slaves find a new life. He had sworn once that he would do all within his power to free others from the bondage that he and his family had endured. What better occasion than this? Nor could be deny his wife the chance to accept the king's commission. She might be uncertain at first, but Dorran was convinced that Athwen would never forgive herself if she passed up this chance to lend a hand of healing. It was up to him to help her believe in herself enough to accept this new challenge. There was no question what he must do.

With these thoughts reverberating through his mind, Dorran raced down the street and bounded into the house, running forward to sweep up Athwen within his arms. He leaned down and kissed her on top of the head; his words came tumbling out in excitement, "You have heard the news? The Fellowship of the Fourth Age..... It will not be easy, but how can we say no? There is so much need. Great need, and you and I will face it together just as we did long ago when we travelled the road to Edoras to secure help for the villagers who were threatened by orcs. Come over by the fire, and sit with me. We will talk."

Dorran gently led his wife over to the fireplace. They sat down near each other on the floor and spoke at length, sharing their hopes and fears. By the time the flames in the pit had dwindled to silver ash, their bargain had been made and sealed. Both Athwen and Dorran had agreed to give their consent to the king and journey to the distant land of Mordor in hopes of bringing help to the slaves.

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Old 06-25-2006, 10:26 AM   #13
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Hilde Bracegirdle's post - Carl


It had been two weeks now since Carl had hand delivered a rather bulky packet of papers to the Citadel at the top of the city. As it turned out Sam Gamgee’s carefully folded message to King Elessar had also included a letter of introduction for Carl and, as the hobbit also saw, a note addressed to the king and queen in his niece Elanor’s fine script. Carl was surprised when the King had bid him stay as he took his time over their contents, and after exchanging a few words with the hobbit, to ask Carl questions regarding The Thain for the most part, he smiled his gratitude, telling a tall fellow who stood nearby to make arrangements for this special messenger. He was to be made comfortable and stay as long as he wished before returning home.

Perhaps it was the easiest victory that Elessar had ever had, having won the hobbit over unknowingly within minutes, the monarch’s good-natured ways and Sam’s high regard largely contributing. And so Carl was happy to stay, though he asked if it might be on the Pelennor rather than in the city, for the grandeur of Minas Tirith, with its high white walls of cut stone, had nearly taken his breath away when his pony Stumps emerged from the fields to plod up the causeway. And the hobbit had waxed wide-eyed and apprehensive, upon approaching the tall gates.

After having had those two weeks among the farms in the shadow of Mount Mindolluin, Carl had grown somewhat accustomed to his surroundings, settling in nicely. Truly he enjoyed walking through the fields spending his days learning about new crops and the methods used to propagate them. And his host seemed to enjoy showing the newcomer around, slowly loading the hobbit’s baggage down with hardy and exotic seeds to try once he had returned to the Shire.

But at the end of two weeks Carl naturally began wondering just how much longer he should stay. He had half expected that he might be given some message to take back to the Shire, though the King’s response to Sam’s had been quite clear without it. He knew Elessar would be only too happy to have The Mayor and his family make the long journey south to Gondor. And so Carl sat on a stone outside the farmer’s house, figuring, after his large breakfast, just what he should do, when a fine young man in a heavily embroidered uniform appeared, walking briskly up the road. Heading straight for the hobbit, he stopped with his polished boots just within the shadow of Carl's seat. “Master Nibs?” he inquired.

Carl looked up from the boots, amused that the stranger knew the name, one which Sam no doubt had used in his letter of introduction, he replied, “Yes, that would be me,” as he slid off the large stone. He had noted a scroll in the fellow’s hand from a distance, and was feeling rather more cheerful now. The decision over his departure evidently had been made for him. “Is that for me?” he nodded in the direction of the man’s right hand.

The Gondorian handed Carl the scroll. “A message from the King.”

“Ah, I have been waiting for this!” the hobbit announced, taking the missive and placing it in his trouser pocket.

The man’s expression quickly clouded. “You knew of it? But how could you?”

“I’ve eyes and ears you know. It wasn’t hard to put two and two together,” the hobbit remarked. “To be honest, I thought it might have arrived a bit sooner than this.” At that the man looked puzzled.

“But it is still early,” he murmured.

“Never mind,” Carl said hurriedly. “You may assure the King that I will leave just as soon as I gather what I need for the trip.”

“You needn’t trouble yourself, all preparations have already been made,” the messenger informed him, brightening. “I don’t know the full details, only that you will be traveling with a group the King has himself hand picked.”

“Is that right?” Carl said slowly. He hadn’t planned on being in a group, but it did sound like quite an honor, and he didn’t want to make himself look ungrateful by refusing such gracious hospitality. “Where and when am I to meet this group?”

The messenger hesitated. “We have been instructed that the travelers are to gather outside the royal palace shortly before sunrise tomorrow."

“Then I will be there,” Carl said. "Before first light."

“You might want to look over the message, before you set out,” the Gondorian advised in parting. “To see if you have any concerns.”

The hobbit’s face quickly soured. “Don’t you worry about me,” Carl said gruffly, wondering if it was standard Gondorian practice for messengers to read the letters they carried. He withdrew the scroll from its place in his pocket, turning it over in his hands before carrying it inside and placing it gingerly in his pack, unopened.

His host came over wiping his hands on a rag as he looked out the doorway at the straight back and black uniform of the retreating messenger. “I haven’t gotten you in trouble with the king’s men, now have I?” he whispered.

“Oh, no. He'd come here to deliver this,” the hobbit said, reaching back and withdrawing the scroll again to show to his host.

“Aren’t you going to read it then? It looks important.”

“Read it!" Carl was suddenly fiercely indignant. “Does everyone here always read what is placed in their care? I will take it back to The Mayor, and he can read it!”

The Gondorian farmer reached out and lightly tapped his index finger on the black ink of the document saying meekly, ”But that's your name there Carl, and not your Mayor's.”

"It is?" Carl looked at the parchment, his anger dissolving, “For me? But I never learned to...,” The hobbit didn't finish his thought, in truth he was feeling a bit lost, realizing that he would be leaving soon and empty handed. “Here then, would you be kind enough to read it for me? I can’t for myself you see.”

The farmer willingly obliged, and speaking slowly and haltingly his face registered with emotion as the letter went on.

“Mordor? Mordor!” Carl said weakly when the farmer had fallen silent again. “And here I told the man that I’d go, thinking it only back to the Shire.”

“But it is a noble task you are called to do,” his host said. “Those slaves could have been any one of us, or of our kin.”

“Aye,” Carl breathed. “I am honored to be called upon, but just hope I’m up to such important business.”

“You are, and you must be!” the man said. “The King has called you to be.”

Carl nodded, lapsing into thought.

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Old 06-25-2006, 10:26 AM   #14
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Regin Hardhammer's post - Ishkur


Ishkur glared angrily at the small rock that he had been kicking around the dirt path. He was beginning to regret requesting advance guard duty. Ishkur hated waiting for others particularly when he had absolutely nothing to do. His mission as he vaguely recalled was to scout out the best path of leaving the orc encampment and guide others along it until they were safely out of range. A few hours ago, Ishkur had quietly slipped away and found a trail hidden by the cover of a grove of small trees not far from the southern edge of camp. He had told the others and now waited impatiently for the exodus of rebellious orcs to begin.

The minutes and hours dragged on. It was the women, he thought in exasperation. They always took a long time to move anywhere. Most of them were slow and weak and only served to drag down the group. It had been better when they were kept on separate breeding farms. The longer he waited, the greater the chance that their plot would be detected, and they would all be killed. A group of fifteen orcs fleeing the encampment was ample cause for suspicion by even the most inept captain in a bunch of dim witted misfits. Ishkur would have preferred simply leaving with a small group of male warriors, a much faster and safer plan, but such a dream was not to be. Even Ishkur grudgingly recognized that if their group had any hope of surviving on their own they would need more than a few male warriors. Numbers meant strength and safety. Individual orcs had always been regarded with disdain.

In all his years on Middle-earth, Ishkur had never before been part of a group that ran away from the orc band to which they were assigned. Of course, Ishkur was not participating in this little experiment just to be noble. No, he simply could not stand being lorded over by the pathetic Uruk-hai, the arrogant and overbearing leaders that controlled every facet of life within camp. The idiots thought because they could tolerate the harsh rays of the sun for hours on end they held some sort of superiority over the other orcs. His commander barked orders to his men with an air of marked contempt. He treated Ishkur as inferior, a class below him in intelligence, strength, and capability. The plain fact was that Ishkur was probably a match in fighting with any Uruk-hai and definitely had more brains.

Ishkur had tolerated such vile treatment far too long until he had finally decided to act. He would go with this new group, and they would stake out a territory far to the north of Nurn. From the moment he heard whispers about the expedition in the late hours of drinking around the campfire, he knew that he must join them. They would have the opportunity to go hunting and raiding on their own and would have no need for anyone to approve of what they did. He volunteered to be an advanced guard because he did not want to stay behind and help the weaker ones escape, but he found waiting ahead of the group agonizing. Ishkur returned to kicking the rock, hoping that it would be more interesting than staring in the direction of the orc encampment and wondering how quickly the others would come.

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Old 06-25-2006, 10:27 AM   #15
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Child of the 7th Age's post - Makdush


The sky was still dark when Makdush set out on the path to join the rebels. He had decided not to wait for the females or the other orcs, but to leave early and make his way to the meeting spot where the advance guard was supposed to be.

Makdush's thoughts centered on the battle that was expected to take place in the next day or so. He regretted missing the chance to crack open a few heads and pick up some booty. Still, there was no use staying in camp. Makdush had to admit that no matter how many men he killed in battle, the higher-ups in Nurn were unlikely to reward him in the way he wanted. With Saruman, it had been different. He had ruled over a throng of orcs.

If only the Uruk-hai had been victorious at the Hornburg, things might have turned out differently. By leaving Nurn, he could at least stop being a water-boy for the current commander's favorites. Grimly reflecting on his situation, he muttered to himself, "It's better that I die on the trail than submit to such a disgraceful fate."

As Makdush strode along the path and came to one of those rare groves of scrub trees that grew in Nurn, he spied the advance guard standing in the distance. At first he thought it might be one of his Uruk-hai comrades, since the orc looked to be the same height as a man. But on coming a little closer he saw that the guard was Ishkar, nothing more than a common orc.

Best be friendly and say nothing to insult him, at least for now. He can be prickly. He fancies himself as good as a Uruk. But how a common orc can grow this tall I'll never know.

Still, he wanted no confrontation with Ishkur, who was reputed to be a good hand with the blade. He decided to slink back into the bushes and wait a while for the rest of the group to gather.

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Old 06-26-2006, 02:32 AM   #16
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Undómë's post - Zagra & Mazhg


‘Scared . . . big scared.’ Zagra’s voice, hushed and strained already, trailed off into silence. She leaned against Mazhg as her sister chopped at their shifts. Mazhg was shortening them with a knife she’d stolen from the cook shed, making them into what she hoped would pass for boys’ tunics.

‘I know you’re scared,’ Mazhg, whispered back, nuzzling Zagra’s cheek with her nose. I’m scared too! she thought to herself, though to her sister she spoke in an assured tone. ‘Things will be alright. You just stick to me . . .,’ she said, smiling at Zagra.

‘. . . like a pink tail on a rat!’ Zagra finished. She scooted around so that she could lean her back against her sister’s. ‘Tell me . . . tell me again, Mazhg. What we doing under old white face t’night.’

Though she’d heard it already several times, Zagra’s eyes went wide as Mazhg retold her story of stealing two pairs of breeches, each from two different sides of the camp. And how she’d managed to slip into the cook tent and the storage tent near it – to take a knife from the one, and dried meat and travel-bread from the other.

What Mazhg hadn’t made part of the adventurous tale was how one of the Uruk who was hanging about had spied her crawling out from under the back of the tent. And how he’d hit her hard with his club on the small of her back. The blow had sent her flying. She’d barely scrambled to her feet before he got to her. By some stroke of luck or his own laziness, he’d elected to hurl insults at her retreating form, rather than expend the energy to run her down. She expected he was most likely drunk. Quite drunk, from the smell of fermented mash spirits that hung in a thick cloud about him.

Many of the men were drinking. Getting up their courage for the coming battle against the Easterlings. In the distance, on the other side of the camp, she could see many little fires dotting the plain, and the shadowy forms of Orc men, big and small, wavering in the garish light. Drums, too. They beat loud and louder as the night progressed. A booming heartbeat, strong and mighty; savage it was meant to seem . . . to make the Easterlings’ blood run cold with fear.

Mazhg snickered. She was in no way fond of the Easterlings. But she hoped their knives were sharp and would slit the throat of every man-Orc. She brought her attention back to her sister.

‘Once we’re dressed like I told you, we’re going to sneak off on an adventure. Me and you. To a place where we’ll be safe. Together.’

‘Try this on, Zagra,’ she said, handing one of the shortened shifts to her sister. ‘Let it hang loose about you.’ Mazhg pulled her own on hastily, modeling it for Zagra. ‘Like this.’ She nodded in approval as Zagra stood before her. ‘Come here, now. Let’s put this pouch over your head.’ Mazhg flattened the leather strap that held the rough made pouch across Zagra’s chest. ‘This has a little skin of water in it, some meat and some bread. Now throw your blanket over your shoulders . . . like the boys do.’ Mazhg reached for the ends of the blanket scrap and tied them in a loose knot so that material fell about her sister’s form like a little cape. She handed Zagra her stick, telling her to hold tight to it.

Mazhg quickly got herself ready to go, tucking the knife into a raggedy sort of sash she’d tied about her middle. She picked up her spade, checking one last time in her own pouch for the sharpening stone.
With a quick smile of assurance, Mazhg took her sister’s hand firmly in her own and let her eyes dart about the nearly empty northern part of the camp she’d staked out as their little place. Most of the others who bedded down in that area were at the fires in the southern part of the camp.

The moon was bright on the eastern horizon. Fat and bulbous like some great swollen spider, it hung in the dark sky. Its light ate the little lights of the stars, swallowing whole it seemed those ones that had the ill luck to be near its web.

Hunched over, skittering like dark little bugs from one pool of shadow to another, the two sisters headed west. They hurried as fast as their legs would take them; away from the madness of the coming battle and toward the meeting place the loosely organised group of rebels had agreed on . . .

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Old 06-26-2006, 02:32 AM   #17
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-o- Out of the Caves -o-

Durelin - Khamir


“He said two months, right?”

Khamir sat on a large rock that sat along the stream’s edge and stretched out into the water. The moving current had shaped it and smoothed it after hundreds of years of beating against it. The water merely babbled across the rocky bed, though perhaps at one time it had rushed in the form of a large river. Still the boulder stood strong and unmoving, forcing the current around it. Somehow water always found a way to get through. Khamir had to wonder, watching even such a small current, how the beaver ever managed to build such effective dams. Fire, water, and air – all pushed and shoved until it found a way to get through. For fire, it was perhaps simpler than pushing and shoving, but it still seemed to flow, if considerably faster than any water rushing over stones.

The one-armed man nodded in response to Reagonn’s question. There was a feeling of restlessness throughout the group that could not be ignored. Khamir shared the feeling, even though he expected he minded spending hours out of the day and night in a cave less than most of the others. He was used to caves and sharp, imposing rocks, and trying to sleep on ground or on stone that would never be comfortable, knowing that there was always the chance of being discovered, and forced to rely on whoever was on watch. That was one of many times when a man had trouble trusting anyone.

“We have a decision to make,” he said simply. Leaning forward, he kept his balance so that he remained on the boulder as he dipped his hand into the flowing water. Scooping tiny puddle out, he splashed it on his face. Even the least bit of water did wonders. He poured another small handful of water onto his head, and ran a hand through his thick hair. That was one large thing he would miss when they did head out: the river. They would be hard-pressed for finding water on the journey until the reached the wilderness farther north.

It had been over two months since the King’s letter reached them, informing them that help was on its way. The message had asked the Mordorians to wait two months for help to arrive, and they had sent a message back agreeing. Even if this ‘help’ had not left Gondor until after they received the message from the former slaves, they should have been here by now. Sentiment had been that they were not coming at all from the start. Few felt like really trusting Gondor. It seemed their only hope other than each other, and some rather far off wilderness, was in that country though, in that King.

As a Haradrim, Khamir was raised to have no love for Gondor. But it had been years since the man really thought of himself as a Southron, or as a person with any sort of allegiance. He had severed all ties almost as soon as he was landed in Mordor, and since then, he had buried the remnants of any links. They reminded him too much of chains.

His years as a slave had hardened him, making him callous to all kinds of death and hardships. But, it had softened him as well. It had taken a great deal of his own suffering for him to realize a great many things. Now more than ever, he cherished what good things life had to offer. And he cherished freedom in all its forms. There was no way he could have denied any help he and his men could give to those runaways. And now…they were sixty-five strong, and it seemed they might have a future.

With the help of Gondor, of the seemingly generous Elessar, or not, Khamir would count himself among those who ventured to the northwest. Suddenly rising from where he sat, Reagonn could only watch as the Southron made his way to the small cave opening, and crawled down inside through vegetation that hid the entrance formidably from the outside. The surprisingly large cavern was lit by several torches, numerous side tunnels branching off from the open room that most of the group camped in. He nodded, waved, and said a few words in greeting to those that were gathered inside. They only ever went outside in small numbers, and a sort of unspoken order to things came about in which everyone got a ‘turn,’ whether it meant they were on watch, were gathering water or food, were taking some children outside for fresh air and sunlight, or actually had a short time of rest to themselves. He left the cave with a bag in hand to sling over his left side, so that the bag itself hung at his right hip. Once outside, he pulled several skins out of the sack, and began filling them in the river.

“Tell everyone that who wants to can leave with me in the morning,” he said, turning his head to look at Reagonn while he held one of the waterskins under the flow, “It’s not yet midday. That should give us enough time to prepare.”

Reagonn hesitated, but the darker-skinned man knew that it was not because his comrade was not paying attention. He was similar to Khamir in a good number of ways, one of which being that he was always focused, even when he did not appear to be. The gang leader found him to be a good person to have guarding his back, though different things drove each of them on.

Khamir’s lips twisted slightly in what could only be called a smirk, though anyone who knew him in the least bit, like Reagonn, knew there was only either or kindness or amusement behind it, or both. “Unless you want to stay here, that is.”

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Old 06-26-2006, 02:33 AM   #18
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-o- The Fellowship Arrives in Mordor -o-

Child of the 7th Age


The sun beat down on the weary travellers as they cautiously guided their horses through the rocky foothills of the southern mountains. By all accounts, they were a strange assortment: one Hobbit, an Elf, and a middle-aged Dwarf, plus two younger men and a woman who was apparently a healer. Near the rear of the group rode a tall greybeard with a staff strapped to his saddle and a snowy owl perched firmly on his right shoulder.

They had been journeying over a month. Elessar had seen them off from Harlond, the harbor for Minas Tirith, and they had sailed down the Anduin to Pelargir where horses were provided for their eastward trek. The group had travelled along the Poros River and finally arrived at the tiny pass that crossed over the Ephel Dúath. Getting through the mountain pass had taken longer than expected; they were now five days late in meeting up with the slaves.

Coming onto the flat plain of Nurn, they had headed south to the hills until they sighted a small mountain stream that had a surprisingly large group of trees growing on the bank. The ground was covered with vegetation, bramblewood patches and tangled thickets of shrubs that obscured their clear view of the land. From the description in Elessar's letter, this had to be the location of the caves, the place in the mountains where the slaves of Nurn had promised to meet them.

At the front of the column rode two scouts: Lindir the elf, and the young man Dorran who was a Rider of Rohan. Yet, despite their sharp eyes and ears, they could see no sign of the cave or hear any noises other than the normal babbling of the brook.

"This is it. I am sure....the place described in the letter. But where are they? And where is the entrance to the caves?" Dorran looked over at his companion.

"It has to be here," Lindir replied. "But most likely the slaves would choose a place well hidden from Orc eyes. I expect the caves are partly underground with their entrance concealed by thick shrubs or grass. The slaves may even be hiding inside, thinking that we are intruders. Still.....I wonder. They were supposed to post a sentry who would guide us in."

Dorran mumbled in frustration, "What we need is a dog to pick up their scent, or a small burrowing animal! We'll never find them this way, and night will come in a short time."

At that moment, there was a clip-clop of pony hooves as Carl Cotton rode up behind them and politely interrupted, "Excuse me, sirs. Maybe I can help. I do have experience with small holes in the ground." Carl dismounted and disappeared in the brush. Within five minutes he had returned, one of his sleeves hanging askew, torn by a thornbush, and a puzzled expression spreading over his face.

"I think I've found it. The cave is sunk into the ground just as you said...very cleverly hidden. Only.....something seems very wrong."

The hobbit turned and beckoned to the others to get off their horses and follow him into the thicket and over to the entrance of the cave.

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Old 07-03-2006, 03:00 AM   #19
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Rôg was glad of the chance to slip off his horse. She was a pesky thing, the dun mare was. And like many of the female persuasion, she seemed to have it in for him. It was not that he demanded much…just to keep up with the others and preferably have a relatively smooth ride while doing so.

But she was twitchy; her skin seeming able to move quite independently of her bony frame. And she knew when he was just drifting off into a doze, his attention lax. She would flick her hide, like a series of roiling waves moving across a treacherous sea…then, snicker yes that was the word, not nicker as a proper horse would do. But curl her great hairy lip up off her prominent teeth and seem to laugh at him…wickedly… And were he to actually lose his seat and fall from her, as he had on a few occasions, she would stop and glance down at him. Her dull brown flanks spasming as if she were laughing to herself. On such occasions she’d give a decided snort,too…confirming her low opinion of him.

‘I’ve ridden far better than you,’ he growled at her as he swung his leg across her back and slid down to the ground. ‘Camels, they were. Great Ships of the Desert. And high spirited and independent as they might be, still they were in no way as obnoxious and cantankerous as you, madam.’

As he walked toward where the others were gathering at the discovered entrance to the cave, pointedly ignoring her, she stretched out her neck and nipped him hard on the hip. He hobbled the remainder of the way until he reached the edge of the group.

Rôg peered down into the darkness of the cave, seeing no movement. Nor did his ears pick up any sounds of life within, save for the faint skittering of a rock dislodged perhaps by the retreating footsteps of some lizard or small rodent. There was a faint, lingering scent borne on the dank air from the cave, a mannish scent, but it was old.

‘Well, it does seem quite empty, of those of the two legged variety,’ he said, stating the quite obvious. ‘They were here and have headed out,’ he went on, his eyes flicking about the area for any hint to their direction. ‘Should someone go in? Would that be helpful, do you think? Might there be any clues to where they’ve gone? Or should we just look about for tracks and see if we can follow after?’
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Old 07-03-2006, 05:49 AM   #20
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Carl

“I’ve just had a bit of a look around, Mister Rôg, and you’re right. It is empty. Not too deep into the hill either,” Carl piped up, “Just goes around a bit of a bend before the ceiling and walls come around and greet each other. In that dim light though, I admit I could easily have missed a hint, had one been left us.” The hobbit looked again toward the entrance thinking that what he missed must have been obvious, so surprised he was at Rôg’s quick conclusion that the group they had come to help had simply moved on.

The cave opening was a jagged slit in the ground among the thorny plants, a mere fissure it looked, but when he had slipped through, the floor of it had fallen away sharply, spilling down into a broad slanting chamber that reached back into the hill. It had been pleasantly cool Carl had noted. In truth it would have made a nice large and dry home with a little further excavation to straighten out the floor and let more air in. But as it was, the hobbit saw that it had been occupied not long ago, and guessing by the lack of refuse, that the former residents were not likely to have been a band of orcs.

“Any sign that the cave might have collapsed or been unstable?” the dwarf, Vrór asked, as he drew up to them.

“No, none as I could see,” came the hobbit’s response, “or feel, for that matter. It’s all as solid as well...as rock. And I caught no sign of a struggle in there either, unless it’s been cleaned up, of course.” Carl glanced around them at the hills. “But two months is a long time, and maybe the struggle was for food more than anything else. At anyrate, the more eyes the better! Chances are something’s to be found I’ve missed. As Mister Rôg said, tracks and clues might have been left for us to find, and I’m no expert in either.”

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Old 07-03-2006, 06:32 AM   #21
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Vrór

Spending well over a month with such an assortment of people was an interesting experience for Vrór. He had seen elves in his lifetime, both in Dale and Minas Tirith, but he could not say he had spent much time in one’s company until now. Certainly all Dwarves’ feelings towards the tall, pointy-eared race had softened since the stonemason was a child, and those living in Erebor had learned more quickly to risk some trust with the few elves that still remained in Mirkwood, but the stonemason found himself curiously nervous around the elf. The old teacher who seemed to be well acquainted with the elf, Lindir, was a very interesting fellow, though.

The spunk that Dorran and his wife had was charming, and the Hobbit, Carl, was a gentleman if there ever was one, only solidifying Vrór’s view of Hobbits in general. It was a man that the Dwarf actually found a little difficult to trust: the Southron, Rôg. There seemed to be nothing strange about him, and that he appeared to accompany the old man was reassuring, but Vrór couldn’t help but wonder whose side he was on. The mason had not lived too long before the War of the Ring, but long enough, even if the War itself was not enough to make one wary of Southerners.

When the group, the ‘Fellowship’ as it had been dubbed, though this time around ‘of the Fourth Age,’ finally arrived in Mordor, their energy seemed renewed for a short time as they drew nearer to beginning the fight for their true cause, though they were not really prepared to fight any battles. The excitement was there, their quest finally really beginning, but there was also a great deal of dread still associated with those high spiky mountains that still stood, and the ground that still seemed forsaken. Vrór did not like the feeling of the dry, hard dirt beneath his feet. There were moments where he felt that the land itself was aware of each step he took, and was watching him, waiting for the right moment to…to…he did not know what, but he could almost convince himself that it was going to do something.

Venturing along the foothills of the Southern Mountains, the Fellowship knew it was approaching the meeting place, the caves. When Lindir and Dorran, acting as scouts stopped ahead, Vrór and the others were hopeful. Carl, on his pony, was the first to meet up with them, and by then, the confusion was clear. The Hobbit had disappeared by the time the Dwarf approached, one of the last to arrive. He had refused any sort of mount, and was beginning to regret it. When Carl’s face emerged again, flushed with heat and exertion, a troubled look on his face, Vrór felt himself tensing up. Were they there? He knew they had been late, but in what way had they been too late?

Rôg reiterated what everyone was thinking, possibly the only one who yet had his senses about him enough to do so. The Dwarf only grunted in answer following Carl’s words.

“Any sign that the cave might have collapsed or been unstable?”

The Hobbit responded that he had seen no sign, and Vrór decided to trust his vision for now. It certainly would have been obvious if it had collapsed.

“Well, at least it seems someone in that party has a good head on their shoulders to make this their hiding place. You’re right to doubt they were forced to leave by any dangers,” he said with more certainty in his voice than he really felt.

Striding over past Carl, Vrór made himself the first one to enter the cave after the Hobbit. He felt something stir in the pit of his stomach as he forced his way into the thicket. One last check behind him and he pushed his way through. Little trickles of sunlight leaked in just enough so that Vrór could make out the general size of the cave, and a few details immediately before him. A piece or two of debris made it clearer to him that this definitely had to be it. But he was sure that there was no doubt in anyone’s mind, including his own, that these caverns were empty, and had been for at least a day or two. The quiet seemed to have sunk into the very walls and floor. Feeling relatively at home in the cool, earthy darkness, and with sturdy stone surrounding him, Vrór reached out to give the nearest part of the rocky ‘wall’ a good hard pat, the smack of his hand against it echoing through the dim expanse.

It certainly wasn’t going anywhere. He tried to judge the age of the caverns, the size of it – it wasn’t deep, the number of tunnels that shot off from the main opening, and where they might lead to…he wanted to keep his mind busy with anything except the realization that what he was really looking at was a dead end.
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Old 07-03-2006, 06:36 AM   #22
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Khamir

The former slaves began their march a little before dawn, and had continued a slow but steady pace throughout the day, stopping as little as possible, and mainly being forced to pause during the midday heat. They moved slowly, more slowly than Khamir and a number of the others, would have liked. But with about fifty men, women, and children in addition to the one-armed man and his comrades, there was little hope for a quicker pace. Most of the large group carried a small bag or an article of clothing that acted as one, most of the supplies divided up among all of the men and women. Men and women – whoever felt up to it – helped pull along a very small cart pieced together from wood salvaged from boxes and barrels Khamir and his gang had whisked away from different plantations, and from scraps they snatched from any trash piles they could find. There was enough room in it to carry some more supplies and a couple children who needed some time off of their little feet.

There was only one good thing about all the difficult labour the slaves had to endure on the plantations: a long day in the sun, constantly moving, was not as daunting to them as it would be to a person not accustomed to such harsh lifestyle. And now that they had been slightly better fed and hydrated for the past two months, they were able to keep from allowing much of anything from dragging them down. About the only thing that managed to do that was the realization that Gondor had failed them once again; the King’s promises were still empty. Khamir was bitterly unsurprised, and yet he felt a pang in his stomach that had nothing to do with hunger – he had long learned to ignore that feeling, and this one was more persistent.

By early on the second day of their journey, with a destination somewhere in the northern wilderness, Khamir felt himself begrudging the decision to help this group of escapees. Their determination and hope was admirable, and had been refreshing, but there were so many things about them that were both saddening and frustrating. Some of them had been affected by their lives as slaves much more than others, and in ways that Khamir knew could never be healed. And the Southron man often felt at a loss for how to deal with many of them. Slowing his pace a bit, and allowing a few people walk past him, he matched his steps with Shae’s, one of the Mountain gang, one of only fourteen others Khamir trusted with a weapon. He had taught her a bit about throwing daggers, though she had been a quicker learner than he ever expected. She had a sharp eye and quick hands, steady hands…even with the cuts on her palms.

“Do you regret our decision yet?” the one-armed man asked in a low grunt, leaning his head down closer to her ear. He expected she knew what he referred to; all of the gang should. Khamir had never said he regretted throwing his lot in with the fifty slaves they had found huddled among the foothills of the mountains, and he had not yet thought it, except when bitterly cursing the hot sun or the burden of sixty-four other presences, particularly when he was expected to take on any role that resembled leadership. But the kind of ‘joke’ had lasted well over two months now. Khamir and his…thieves, looters, bandits – they had been called many things…enjoyed being able to laugh over the situation. Well, at least Khamir laughed, though often silently.

He only hoped it would all remain in jest.
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Old 07-03-2006, 09:47 AM   #23
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Johari

They were moving on. Finally. For Johari, the weeks in the caves had passed slowly and uselessly. It had quickly become clear to her that Kalin was not among these ex-slaves, nor had he ever been among them, as a little questioning had revealed. For a while she had held out that he might have somehow heard of the large group of them living in these caves, and finally her thoughts had turned to those coming in from Gondor. Perhaps Kalin had made it so far away from the plantation as to arrive in that strange land – but this possibility seemed unlikely at best. Those Gondorians probably weren’t even coming. Why would they care about slaves in a forsaken land?

Johari did not know why she had continued to stay in the caves, when it had become clear that Kalin was not and would not come. She half-doubted that they even would have let her leave. That did not matter anymore, however, since they were moving now. Perhaps, if she was lucky, they were even moving in Kalin’s direction.

Her thoughts turned slowly back to the present situation. Looking over the large group of people, she could not help but notice that even after two months spent together, the large group was still roughly divided: the slaves more newly escaped, and those that had found them. Those fifteen… they weren’t exactly outright cold, but they did keep to themselves and didn’t exactly encourage conversation.

She glanced over at the young man she found herself walking beside – Hadith, she thought his name was. “Rather insular bunch, aren’t they?” she commented, indicating the two walking closest to them as an example. “I’d like to know what makes them so much tougher than the rest of us.”

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Old 07-03-2006, 02:50 PM   #24
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It had been two days since Khamir made the ultimate decision to abandon all hope of a fellowship ever arriving and leave their temporary home in the caves. Shae disliked the slow pace, yet it did feel rejuvenating to be traveling again.

Though two months had passed since they discovered the escapees, Shae knew very few of their names. She kept herself busy hunting for food with others and sitting in her corner of the cave shaving off her sorrows with the edge of a knife. Even now as they traveled, the fifteen ex-slaves walked close together, keeping to themselves as they had for years.

“Do you regret our decision yet?” Khamir grunted as he walked beside her.
Shae did not respond, only briefly glancing at the man as she dug deeper into her thoughts. Did she regret it? No. The addition of fifty people, all varied in age and strength, may be a burden, but she could not wish them to disappear. The slave escapees reminded Shae of herself, when she was still a girl, weak and trying to find her place as she struggled behind a larger group. The escapees weren't all that different from the fifteen- all had suffered horrifying pasts and have lost loved ones. The only difference was that Shae and the fourteen others had more experience in freedom and knew how to survive on their own. In time, the fifty escapees would be just as capable.

Shae glanced up at the sun which was now directly overhead. Midday. They had already been traveling for almost six hours today. Though it felt good to be making use of her feet again, Shae couldn't help but feel as if they were making a mistake. It was something that had been weighing on her since yesterday morning. She could no longer resist asking.
Glancing back at Khamir, she asked, "What do you suppose happened to the Fellowship? Why did they never show?"
Khamir shrugged. "I guess Elessar had better things to do than worry about some silly ex-slaves."
Shae couldn't help but groan at his comment. For years, Khamir made it clear he thought little of Gondor, and as a former Gondorian herself, Shae was beginning to grow tired of it. "Look, Khamir," she said quietly. "I know you don't think much of Gondor, but I have heard many stories about the King and he is one of few men you can trust. When he wrote that letter I'm sure he had all intentions to stay true to his word."
"Then why did they never come?" The man gave her one last look before picking up his pace and walking ahead of her. Shae sighed as she watched him head towards the front of the group.

"I wouldn't dwell too much on it- it's just how he's been raised." Reagonn stepped to her side.
"You think we're making a mistake, taking off like this?" she asked him. "What if something happened to them?"
Reagonn gave a slight smile. "Well, I certainly hope not. Surely the King would form a fellowship capable of getting through Mordor." He paused for a moment before continuing. "Shae, we waited for them longer than planned and no one came. The area was no longer safe. We had no choice but to leave."
Shae nodded. She continued walking, taking in every throb in her feet. Yet, no matter how hard she tried, Shae could not shake off the feeling that their sudden departure from the caves was a terrible error.

Last edited by Brinniel; 07-03-2006 at 06:25 PM.
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Old 07-03-2006, 05:08 PM   #25
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Hadith
The time spent at the caves had felt like an eternity because everything was new and different. There were lots of things to do and no one could have said that they had been idling around, but still it was not like working full hours at the plantation. It was something they did for themselves, not to any Easterling lord or someone else. And there were no orcs with their whips and iron boots. Even if they lived in hiding and their conditions were possibly even rougher than they had been in the barracks, Hadith had enjoyed his freedom to the fullest.

And he had already learned some new things. A lot of them indeed. This Khamir, who seemed to Hadith to be something like a leader amongst the group of fifteen that had found them, had come with another man, Beloan, to pick up the healthy males who were over twelve and under thirty the next day. All twelve of them were first checked and questioned through. Then they had been taken in pairs to follow Beloan, one pair a day, to learn the basics from setting traps to hunting deer. They had also been instructed for guarding duties.

Not all of them had made it to the end of the training, but most of them had. Hadith was one of them. He was a little proud of the fact that he had been trusted on the night guard on six nights already. He had also managed to fare somewhat well in hunting. He had killed one deer by himself. It had been a hunting party of four, but he was the one to kill that deer. His traps had produced just a few squirrels, so there he would have something to learn still. But the one thing he was really proud of was one net-trap he had been setting with Beloan. They had managed to catch a total of 41 little birds from one single tree. And Beloan had praised his handiness afterwards. He really treasured those praises.


On the second day of their march he suddenly noticed that this strange woman, Johari, was walking beside him. He had taken note of her a couple of times during their stay at the caves. Mostly she spent time on her own and when not, she was easily drawn into rows. But there was something in her face that had made Hadith more curious than scornful, as most of the others seemed to be towards her.

“Rather insular bunch, aren’t they?” she commented suddenly to him. She had indicated two ex-slaves of the Khamir’s group walking closest to them. “I’d like to know what makes them so much tougher than the rest of us.”

Hadith was about to jump in praising them and their greatness, but at the last moment when the burst of words were already on his tongue, he realised the real question. To that he had no immediate answer. He coughed a bit to conceal his embarassment, only carefully glancing towards Johari. She looked at him with keen dark eyes.

Hadith was wrestling with his ideas. They were tougher than the newly escaped, but why? They know things, they manage things, they are independent and self-relying, they don’t have to ask for everything, they make decisions... but why? He was confused.

But then he remembered when he had been on guard the first night after being instructed on it. He had been afraid of every sinlge sound that came from outside their camp – even of those that came from inside. Every crack of a branch or small whistle of the wind had made his blood froze and he had wanted to run back and ask Beloan what to do. With six nights of experience he was already very confident in the thing. He knew things, he managed them, he was independent with them and relied on his self in it so as not to feel any need to ask anyone. And he could make decisions concerning his night watch – when to check and when just leave be.

His view of his own skills might have been overtly optimistic and groundless, but nevertheless, he felt so.

“I think it is because they have lived free so much longer than we have and they have gotten used to things” he answered to Johari quite enthusiastically. “And you know what?” he turned to meet Johari’s face, his eyes gleaming with passion that was aroused by his own ideas: “We will be like them one day!”
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Old 07-04-2006, 11:42 AM   #26
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Gwerr

”Maddness! What did I say you?” Gwerr was cursing at Colagar and for a reason. They were running away from the remnants of the skirmish they had just taken part in. “You bird-brain! I told you this!” he continued, still exclaiming, spitting the words from between his teeth.

Colagar had insisted that even though they had agreed upon a general meeting place, it should be only the second choice. Ishkur had volunteered to go there beforehand to guide those who might come on their own and that was enough. They would have to escort as large party in one group as they could. Might would become handy if they were to get into any trouble, he had argued. It would also guarantee the best result as some, especially females and children, might not find the right place if all would be going to the meeting place on their own.

That had been proven wrong. So wrong. They had made too much noise as Gwerr had feared and were spotted by the guards. In the end they were forced to fight their way out. So from the initial group of 24 they had only three others with them able to hack or slip through the guards. It was a disaster. I hope some others have had brains enough to get there on their own, Gwerr murmured to himself as they continued their flight.

When the five in the end reached the meeting place they first met with Ishkur’s disturberd expression. “Don’t even ask, Ishkur!” Gwerr spat to the ground, still enraged and tense. “It was a bloody disaster, that it was, I say! This dim-witted orcling and his grand ideas!” he continued exclaiming but cooled down fast. There were many orcs that had already gathered there. It’s not all lost! He made a quick count. Fifteen all. That was about half less they had thought enough to put up a new settlement of their own but there seemed to be nothing to be done to it at the moment.

Colagar had clearly made the same calculations. “Quit standing! Let’s hit the road! Fast! They still might be on our tails!” he called and turned to run north, north-west. Gwerr glanced at Ishkur and frowned. The group set off after Colagar, running at an easy and efficient pace.

Glancing around to check that all were with the group, Gwerr made a terrible find. Uruk-hai! Now where did these baby-scum pop in? And of all the annoying Uruks there was Makdush, just coolly running behind Ishkur! Now what is he doing here? This is our rebellion, not theirs! It was quite near that Gwerr actually turned to face Makdush and his follower Uruk-hai to address these questions openly, but in the end he had enough brains not to.

Gwerr kept running but thought about it at the same time. So they will use us to defend the group as we are on the road and then they would do away with us and take the females to themselves... I see their game. But that remains to be seen. This orc is not going to be taken advantage of without a fight... And maybe we just outwit them? They are just inexperienced toddlers the whole bunch, breeded quasi orcs! Ishkur has brains too, unlike that cursed Colagar at times. We’ll have to come up with something before they strike...

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Old 07-04-2006, 01:42 PM   #27
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Khamir

Khamir had great respect for Shae, but the strength of that respect was tested whenever he was reminded that she was a Gondorian. And even though she had been a slave most of her life, she still held on to this idea of allegiance. It was pathetic to him, almost pitiable. But he saw it as a weakness. If only she could break free of those memories that tied her down to that nation. That nation that had abandoned them, had abandoned her. Sure she was a Gondorian. But to Elessar, the mighty King hundreds of miles away on his throne, that hardly mattered. She was a slave. She had been and she always would be. Mordor was her home now. Her home and her prison.

The one-armed knew it was the same for him. But he did not bind himself to any land. Mordor was home only because he lived there, at this moment. And if that ever changed, so be it. If it never did…

There was a way they could get out of this prison. And that did not necessarily mean leaving the land.

Khamir had always been about defiance, and there were scars all over his body to prove it, in addition to a missing limb. As a slave, he had exerted his freedom as a sentient being at every chance he got, and, once free, he exerted it in a way that he saw as fitting. He had been showing those who had once imprisoned him just how free he was over and over through the raids he and his gang performed regularly. To him, they were not so much about survival through stealing as they were about proving something. And he had never hesitated in killing anyone not a slave on those plantations, especially not Orcs.

For years before his escape, he planned it. But his plans did not center around escape; that was a later addition. They began as plans of revenge, to take the life of the creature that had taken away Khamir’s freedom beyond the chains of slavery. The Orc had taken his arm off in a rage, and the Southron later took the monster’s life because of it. He had almost died because of his lost limb, infection almost took him, and the master of the plantation was almost prepared to kill him, as an ineffective slave. Luckily for Khamir, he couldn’t afford it. What could be repaid the master was taken out of the Orc’s hide, but again, the master couldn’t afford getting rid of him either.

So Khamir did for him, and solved both problems.

“I’ve got the boys all picked out,” Beloan suddenly spoke from beside the Haradrim man.

Khamir grunted in response, still bothered by Shae’s defense of Gondor.

“I’ll point them out to you the next time we stop.”

Again the only response came in a wordless form.

“There’s one of ‘em right up there,” Beloan continued, ignoring Khamir’s seeming disinterest, and lowering his voice a bit, “that one.” He pointed to young man with dark hair ahead of them who was talking with a young woman, another one of the escapees.

“You really trust that fresh-faced boy with a weapon?” Khamir asked, finally voicing a thought. Beloan laughed knowingly as if he had been expecting those very words, and indeed he had.

“How many of us weren’t fresh-faced the first time you or anyone else handed us one, or found one, or even made one for our own?”

Khamir was silent for a moment, and Beloan waited patiently for a response. “How good is he?”

“First time on the hunt, as a hunter, and he bagged a kill. The only one, out of a party of four. He’s got a good head on his shoulders. It was his trap that caught the 41 birds.”

The Southron raised his eyebrow at the man walking beside him. “You got a spare blade?”

Beloan laughed again: Khamir had seen through him. The former had made sure he had a spare long-knife on him before he said a word to the gang leader. He had grown fond of the boy, and couldn’t help but have confidence in him. And he knew Khamir wouldn’t be able to argue with him. They weren’t in the position to be choosy about who was capable of being among the group’s defenders. Those in the gang were the ones with the weapons, so they decided who could bear their own. But even they knew that they would need all the help they could get if there was any kind of attack. Even a small unfriendly band could do a great deal of damage if the large group was caught unaware. And Khamir was not the only one who expected that to be when any attack would come.

Beloan handed Khamir the knife in a rough sheath that had to be tied around the blade because it was too big for it, and the Southron asked for the boy’s name. He smirked at the idea of the boy’s nickname being ‘Apples,’ but only called out to this Hadith.

“Here,” Khamir said once the boy – who seemed to be of southern heritage, though there was something odd about him – had turned around, and the one-armed man tossed him the knife.

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Old 07-05-2006, 03:49 AM   #28
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Zagra and Mazhg


Zagra loped along easily, her small form like a shadow to her sister’s. Mazhg, for her part, had run fast just ahead of her twin, her quick stride eating up the dark distances. She hardly wavered from the course she had set in her mind, though she had only heard of where the meeting place was to be and of a few of the general landmarks along the way. She had that feral sort of sense which guided her steps; that untamed, innate reckoning by which beasts, or those who live close to the land, know where they are bound.

There had been the scent of the lifeless sea, of course, to one side, and the sweeter scent of what small pools of water might lay along the way. In the distance was the rushing scent of some river as it wound its way to the sea. And the soil itself smelled different as the elevations changed, the water grew more scarce; or if it lay fallow or untouched, or had been cultivated.

It was the dark night sky with its white-faced moon and its pinpricks of stars, though, that was Mazhg’s surest guide. The bright orbs glittered in the dark pools of her eyes as she swung her head from side to side to check directions.

‘We almost there?’ Zagra spoke softly, increasing her pace so that she drew up alongside her sister. ‘Zagra hungry.’

‘Chew on this as we run,’ Mazhg had whispered, dipping her hand deep into her breeches pocket. A ragged piece of dried meat, unrecognizable as to its original source, was soon offered to Zagra who took it eagerly.

The miles had sped by in silence between the two, broken only by the soft slap-slap of their feet against the ground. Just over the final rise, they stopped, looking down at the group gathered there. Three-hands’-fingers’ worth, Mazhg puzzled out, counting the heads in the dark distance.

With a sudden start, the Orc group moved off at a run.

‘Come, sister!’ Mazhg hissed low, grabbing Zagra firmly by the hand. ‘The edge there, at the back, where the line is ragged. That’s where we’ll slip in.’

The two small, boyish looking figures quickened their pace until they inched in among the other runners. They kept their heads low, avoiding the flying elbows of their new companions and squeezed into a small opening further inside the fast moving group.
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Old 07-05-2006, 12:39 PM   #29
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Kwell Dunfire

Kwell walked alone on the edge of the group. His shoulders hunched slightly forward and his head was lowered. Silently, in a dogged fashion he walked forward, stumping along with the rest. His heavy staff beat time on the bare rocks. Muttering, he counted. Three steps to each movement of the cudgel. His mouth pulled itself down into the accustomed frown. What a miserable pace.

He lifted his head scarcely an inch and his dark eyes flicked around at the people to his left. How could they walk in groups, talking like that? Some even smiled. Very small smiles, he noted with a little bit of satisfaction, but they were smiling all the same. What right did they think they had? His eye settled on one particular girl for a moment. Her black curls hung limply around her face, somehow framing it in an oddly attractive way. His scowl became even more fierce as he looked at her bright shining eyes and her laughing face. Yes, laughing. With two older women who looked positively taken with the girl’s cheerful conversation and witty talk.

Kwell snorted in disgust and looked away. There was Khamir, the evident leader of the slaves who had escaped long ago, speaking with Beloan. Beloan had taken all of the men fit and able enough to do what needed to be done out and taught them certain skills of many different responsibilities. He had gathered the boys, too, and of them all, Kwell had been the youngest and the smallest. There were two or threes boys younger than he, but they had not been old enough for the work.

He had hated those days of training. Not for the work - that was a relief in the days of boredom. Certainly not because of the work. No, it was because of the very fact that he was youngest and everyone treated him so. Was he daft? Stupid? To need to have more explanation so that he could understand it? He could watch one or two of the previous people be taught how to set a trap and then do it himself. Regardless, each time, Beloan had come up to him and explained it all over, not allowing him to touch the ropes until he had shown him - again - how it was done.

Kwell wasn’t a brilliant boy, but at least he was observant. Those wasted minutes of useless explanation had rankled his temper and caused him to be tight lipped and tense. It had been made worse when he, Beloan, and two others went out to hunt. Kwell attributed it to sheer luck that the other slave had brought down a deer seconds before he would have. Beloan had praised him for it - he went on for a ridiculous amount of time, according to Kwell’s thoughts. Nary a word to Kwell, though, not even a glance, even though his bow string had already been drawn back, too, and the feather of his arrow had tickled his cheek. He would have killed it.

Kwell lifted his staff and struck savagely at twisted thorn bush. The branches crackled under the ferocity of the blow. He didn’t care, he decided. What did another man’s good will and praise matter to him? Nothing - until it was given to another person who didn’t deserve it.
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Old 07-05-2006, 05:50 PM   #30
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Johari

“But why should being free longer make them tougher than us?” retorted Johari. “If anything, they have endured less. Perhaps they do know more, but they treat us as if we were simply to be managed, like lesser beings rather than equals. They are no better than us, but they treat us as if they were.”

Hadith appeared thoughtful and paused before answering. “But maybe we're not their equals yet?” He shrugged, a gesture that briefly annoyed Johari. Didn’t he care?

"Not their equals in skill, maybe. But that does not give them the right to lord themselves over us." While she really did think these things, she knew in the back of her mind that she did not really have to sound so argumentative - but the rest of her really did want to provoke him.

Hadith bit his lip and took even longer supplying an answer this time. Johari was starting to become impatient when he finally said, "Maybe it's better that they answer for our security as they know things... and they have then to make orders so that everything goes well?" He appeared thoroughly pleased with this answer.

"I don't suppose I mind if they act as leaders," Johari regretfully conceded. "A group this big needs one. But it's the way they do it, acting as if we're more trouble than we're worth and it's only their duty to help us. I doubt they really want to at all, and if that's the way they feel, maybe they shouldn't. They managed, after all. Who are they to say that we couldn't do so as well?"

Hadith nodded hesitantly. "But they help us fare better?" he questioned, still appearing slightly puzzled.

Johari sighed. He so much wanted to believe in and admire them… at that moment, however, he was tossed a knife from Khamir – just the argument she needed. No wonder he is so taken by them. Johari almost hesitated in speaking further. Almost.

“There now,” she said quietly as he caught it. “They treat you as a favorite dog to be rewarded when he has done well. Why do you think you were not given a weapon before? Have they given any others knives to use?” She paused for a moment to emphasize her next words. “Because they do not trust us. They only ‘reward’ the ‘worthy’.”

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Old 07-06-2006, 12:46 AM   #31
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Lindir:

The elf watched in silence as Carl emerged from the cave, shaking his head in bewilderment and exchanging puzzled glances with several of the group who now huddled together, peering down into the dark entry hole. Unable to add anything remotely helpful in this situation, Lindir slipped away and systematically began to investigate the rocky terrain, keeping an eye on the surrounding vegetation, sometimes stooping to kneel and inspect something that caught his eye on the ground.

Despite his methodical search of the area, he seemed to be getting nowhere. The ledge was blanketed with thick thorn bushes and clumps of tall grass that largely obscured the ground. It was impossible to see anything more than a foot or two away. The stoney surface made it difficult to walk and, even worse, concealed whatever footprints might have left an impression from a few days before. On the verge of giving up, Lindir suddenly remembered the stream they had passed as they'd approached the foothill. Sprinting back down the hill, the elf soon came to the water's edge. As luck would have it, the surrounding bank was still soft and muddy from the heavy rains that had fallen nearly a week ago. For some time, he walked eastward along the sloping bank.

If anyone had come this way, they had made an amazingly successful attempt to tred softly and leave no hint of their presence. But still there were one or two indications that human feet might have approached this brook and crossed over to the other side no more than a week before. A less experienced tracker might not have noticed the single footprint still embedded in the mud or the grasses on the opposing shore that were ever so slightly crushed and flattened.

After taking in these images, Lindir squatted down to inspect the greenery that grew where he was standing. It was then that he glimpsed it: a dull and lifeless scrap apparently discarded on the ground. A few yards away, higher on the bank, were the remnents of a small fire pit. In all his years on Arda, he had not seen an object exactly like this before, but it appeared to be something that a man or woman had crafted. There was one person, however, who might know enough to tell him more.

With his first glimmer of hope that the slaves might still be found, Lindir hurried to the top of the hill and called out eagerly to Dorran, who stood talking with his wife. He beckoned to the two. "Come with me. I found a footprint on the stream bank, far from the point where we originally crossed. A group of slaves might have come down this hill, splashed through the water, and then headed north." Lindir held out the mysterious object and pushed it into Dorran's outstretched hands. "Have you seen anything like this before? It looks to be a device crafted by men. Could it have belonged to one of the slaves, and does it tell us anything about what happened?"

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Old 07-06-2006, 09:16 AM   #32
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Athwen

Athwen and Dorran stood together, each holding the rein of their horse. Neither of them said much as Carl came out of the cave, empty handed and with a look of disappointment on his face. Athwen sighed and looked down before lifting her eyes to Dorran's face.

“We’re too late, aren’t we?” she asked, barely speaking above a whisper. She didn’t want to spread doubt to the others, though she imagined they probably were thinking the same thing she was. Only her husband heard the words. He looked down at her and shrugged slightly.

They watched silently as Vrór went down into the cave. Athwen sighed very deeply and sat down on a large boulder nearby. Her horse tugged at his reins, reaching for a tiny clump of prickly looking grass. She looked at him and extended her arm just a little so he could reach it.

“What can we do now?” she asked herself. “How can we follow them in this hopeless terrain? There can’t be any tracks left!” A voice hailing from a hill above them caused Athwen to emerge from her thoughts and look up. She spotted Lindir, the elf, standing and waving with one hand as he called Dorran to come up to him.

Dorran looped his horse’s reins around a branch of a twisted tree and started up. Athwen watched him a moment before rising and deciding to follow. She tied her horse beside Dorran’s and started up the ascent.

As she approached, Athwen saw that Dorran held something in his hand. Both he and Lindir were looking at it as Lindir spoke. “Could it have belonged to one of the slaves," he asked, "and does it tell us anything about what happened?"

Athwen reached Dorran and silently she took his arm and looked over at the metal object in his hand. She said nothing, because she had nothing to say, and wondered if Dorran would be able to tell them what it was.

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Old 07-06-2006, 10:31 AM   #33
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Grask

Grask’s rapid breathing was finally starting to ease as the threat of impending death drifted further from his mind. He had been tagging along with the group of Orcs who were intending to escape, slipping along very quietly and not catching any of their attentions. After all, no one had ever actually told him about their plan; he had only overheard, and he didn’t want any of them asking why he was there or sending him back. He didn’t want any place in the big battle.

Besides… wherever they were going was bound to be much more interesting than the camp they were in now.

He had not expected that this escape would involve a battle of its own! Swords were drawn, and soon blood was being spilt – and Grask was right in the middle of it. He had watched little fights and tussles before; he had seen Orcs kill other Orcs. That did not bother him in the least. What did bother him was being far too close to the action. They could hack him down without a thought; to them, he was little more than an obnoxious gnat. He needed to get out of there, and quick! He wasn’t supposed to die!

He had drawn his short sword as a just-in-case; after all, that was what he was supposed to do in a battle, right? But he was more concerned with running away and dodging the swinging blades than killing anyone. Once an Orc seemed to just appear in front of him with a sword; he had ducked and hacked at his leg as he continued to run past.

And suddenly he was free of it. He kept going in the direction that they had been heading before the fight, hoping he would figure out where they were supposed to be meeting. The fear that had engulfed him in the midst of the battle was already starting to subside; he had done it! He had survived – and even stabbed one of the big Orcs! That was no mock up battle like he had played in with other young Orcs – that had been real. He really could have died.

There was a new swing in his step as he arrived at where he supposed the meeting place was supposed to be, as there were already a couple of Orcs waiting there. A few more straggled in and then they were on the move – and at quite a fast pace, too. Grask didn’t dare complain; they would probably send him back. He wanted to ask how far they were going, but realized he did not know how to do so. Orcs like him just didn’t address the older Orcs; his like didn’t get to close, and they ignored him – simple as that. So as hard as it was for him to keep his mouth shut, he decided to wait until he knew which of them might actually listen to him.
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Old 07-06-2006, 11:03 AM   #34
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Hadith

Johari was pressing Hadith with too many too difficult questions. And she seemed not to be satisfied even though Hadith had managed to supply her with answers. Hadith was puzzled with all that she said to him and how he was responding to them. There was something new and strange going on in his mind. It was both exciting and distressing at the same time.

But all of a sudden Hadith was called for. He turned around to see Khamir and Beloan walking less than ten yards behind himself and Johari. “Here!” Khamir called out, throwing something towards him. He realised what it was just a moment before he catched it. It was a blade in a sheath! For a fleeting moment he wasn’t quite sure whether he should believe what had happened or not, but managed then to raise his head to look at the two old stagers. “I promise to be worth this!” he said attempting a firm tone. He then nodded to them quickly and turned around not to show his excitement.

Johari was saying something but he didn’t axactly hear her words. There were too many emotions rushing to and fro in his mind at the moment. He only heard the last one: “They only reward the worthy”, but not being able to catch the sarcasm in Johari’s tone of voice.

“I think so too” he answered Johari somewhat absent-mindedly, staring emptily forwards. “Although I’m not sure whether I’m worthy yet” he managed to half whisper, but then continued more purposefully: “But I’m going to try and show I am.” Johari seemed to have given up with him and didn’t answer.

He continued walking immersed in his thoughts and feelings. He knew that Beloan had been approving of his demeanour in hunting and guarding duties, but he had gotten the blade from Khamir himself. He could have exploded from pride! This really was his token of acceptance and he would pay back the trust. Hastily he opened the cords to have a proper look at the weapon given to him. The handle was worn out and quite crude, much cruder than the blade itself. But even though it was a bit ragged and simple, it allowed for a firm grip. Hadith swang the long-knife in the air a couple of times just to find out how it felt. Then he took a closer look at the blade itself. It shone in the sunlight, dazzling where it sent the rays of light. It seemingly had been well kept lately although time had made its marks on it. Still the edge of the blade was sharp enough, sharper than any scythe, sickle or knife Hadith had ever used on the plantation. It had somewhat an Easterling feel to it as the handle felt more like orc-work. Hadith decided not to puzzle his head with that, at least for the time being.

But in the middle of his private rejoicing other thoughts crept back to his mind. The discussion with Johari had stirred his mind and now those waves of unfinished thoughts rushed back to him with irresistible force. He glanced quickly to his side just to notice that Johari was not there any more but was walking a bit further away from him. Alone as usual.

It was only then that he became aware of it. Normally at the plantation people had discussed and done things together most of the times. Surely there were loners and all the discussions weren’t friendly, but still. And yes, most of the people here were from the same barracks, the barracks where he had lived too. He knew most of these people and they knew each other well enough. And it was so quiet! Like everyone were sticking to their own and only those who were really close walked side by side or changed an occasional word. Like Khala and Cuáran, the older women who were quietly talking as they walked together some yards in front of him. They were one of those people who had taken care of him when he was just a kid and his father had died and his mother had to work at another location. For a second Hadith thought of taking up with them and showing them the blade, but then thought the better of it.

Something was wrong here, but Hadith couldn’t see, what was it. And Johari’s questions and his own answers to them kept insistently coming back to his mind. He had never been this free and this self-assured before, but at the same time, he had never been this trapped or unsure of everything around him – and including himself. Puzzled he was.

Last edited by Nogrod; 07-06-2006 at 11:14 AM.
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Old 07-06-2006, 11:49 AM   #35
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Dorran:

As Dorran stared down at the cold metal object that lay quietly in his hand, dark and brooding memories came flooding back. A long-dead scar on his left forearm began to ache and throb.

Yes, he had seen this accursed thing before, and he certainly knew what it was, even if Lindir and his own wife did not. This was the branding iron of a slaver, the bounty hunters whom the owners paid to feed new victims to the plantations and recapture anyone who tried to flee. Some of these gangs were notorious, known throughout all of Nurn for their cruelty and the abilities of their dogs to sniff out anyone within a hundred leagues. Most bands were small, run by fierce fighters who at least had enough brains to bring in their prey comparatively undamaged. Each group had its own unique brand so there would be no doubt as to who should be rewarded for capturing and turning over a particular slave.

Most slaves in Mordor hid their brands unless the marks were on their face or hands. It was no badge of honor, but an open acknowledgment of servitude and shame. Sometimes at night, men and women sitting around a firepit spoke in hushed tones about their experiences, reliving the exact moment that they had been hauled in and marked. Even those children born into slavery, as Dorran's sister had been, bore the brand of whatever bounty hunter had originally captured their mother. The slavers lost no chance to ply a pretty penny on their trade, and this included the right to brand the offspring of those they had been captured many years before.

Struggling to keep his voice calm and to stop his hand from quaking, Dorran turned towards the elf to explain. When the young man had finished talking, Lindir responded in a worried tone, "But what does all this mean for the slaves who lived in these caves? And who are these bounty hunters?"

"Sorry but I can't help you on the last one. I know a number of the brands that belong to the Easterlings, but this one means nothing to me."

At this point, the trio reached the stream. Dorran held Athwen's hand in his until they arrived at the stretch of land where the metal object had been discovered and where the grass was slightly trampled on the far side of the bank. Carefully surveying the landscape, Dorran nodded towards the elf in agreement, "Lindir, you're right. The slaves came through here and headed north. I do not think the slavers got them, at least not at this point. There would be blood and more evidence of fighting. But still, I don't like it. Those thugs could be on their trail as we speak, or they might have even caught up with them already."

At this point, Lindir and Dorran exchanged grim glances. They had already been joined by several other members of the fellowship who'd made their way down the hill and were now passing the dreaded metal object from hand to hand.

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Old 07-06-2006, 01:42 PM   #36
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Ishkur:

Ishkur grew anxious as he waited for the group members to walk in front of him down the path. He waited for a long time, but only a few came. He started to worry that something had befallen their party and the rebellion would be stifled before the group could even leave Nurn. Someone must have been foolish and alerted the leaders to their departure. Even if that was true, Ishkur hoped some remnant of the exodus would survive such a battle. But every minute Ishkur spent kicking his rock, at first done for entertainment and now to alleviate fears, made him more nervous. He could never return to that infernal camp now that he had separated himself. Even if no one ever found out that he had participated in the rebellion, his mind would not let itself be enslaved again. No, even if every other orc had been killed, Ishkur must escape to the wilderness and live by himself. Hopefully, he prayed, some of the stronger orcs would survive the attack and the group would press forward, albeit much reduced in number.

Suddenly, orcs began trickling past him, running frantically away from the camp. They stopped only momentarily to acknowledge Ishkur’s presence, and make sure that they followed the correct path, but never gave him a word of explanation. They seemed to be running for their lives. The first to arrive were women, followed by male orcs with their weapons drawn, freshly stained with blood. So I have guessed correctly. Indeed, they have fought a battle.

Ishkur suspected that the Uruk-Hai commanders were responsible for the assault on the escaping orcs. Then, to his horror, he saw two Uruks running in the same direction as the rest of the group. At first he suspected that these creatures were merely a force sent by the commanders to eliminate those who fled. From the way they ran, however, it appeared that these Uruk-Hai did not intend to kill the rebels, but to join them. This realization disturbed him. Never had anyone mentioned that any Uruk-Hai would be joining them. Ishkur had always assumed that the escape consisted of pure orcs only. One of the reasons that Ishkur had joined the group was to escape from the haughty Uruk-Hai and never see them again. Their presence now infuriated him, but he had already made his decision to leave. Not even the stupid Uruks could change his mind now.

Ishkur waited as long as he could to make sure that every orc and even the Uruks knew which way to go. After a while he decided he must flee and that any stragglers would have to find a way on their own. After all, if the final orcs had not made it out of the camp by now the Uruks had probably killed them. The group didn’t need any orcs who could not take care of themselves in battle so the casualties did not hurt them much. He began to run hard in the same direction as those he had guided and in a little while caught up with the others. About fifteen total had made it, including three Uruk-Hai who had pushed their way to the front of the group. Even out here, moaned Ishkur, they continue to be a thorn in my side.

Underneath the new moon in the cold dark sky, the rebel orcs ran down the path to the west as quickly as they could. Many of the orcs looked exhausted. The battle had drained energy from them and caused them to move sluggishly. But Ishkur knew they could not stop now, so close to the encampment. The Uruk-Hai commanders had probably sent squads of troops after them who were following their every footstep. The group continued marching without torches to guide their way through the blackness to avoid being detected. Ishkur well knew what a fine target a torch made to enemy pursuers even from long distances. He had signalled to the whole group that they could use no torches if they wanted to avoid being seen. Ishkur wanted to establish himself as one of the group’s leaders and their obedience to his suggestion pleased him greatly.

From the corner of his eye, Ishkur saw his old battle companion, Gwerr. They had fought together for longer than he could remember in various confrontations against the enemies of Sauron. Although the two had never been in the same unit, over the years they had developed a tentative sense of trust. Ishkur knew that Gwerr would be joining the group, and had even spoken with him secretly about it, but this was the first time he had actually seen him in a while. He gave a quick nod to Gwerr and looked him over to make sure that he had not been wounded. After assuring himself that Gwerr looked completely healthy and appeared to have survived the battle without injury, Ishkur continued to run alongside him.

Later on, the first rays of the morning sun appeared over the distant horizon. Soon the sun would rise high into the sky, and the journey would become uncomfortable for the orcs. Ishkur hated the sun with a passion and could not stand to be out in it for long. Ishkur knew that as soon as the day began in earnest, all of the orcs would start to feel extreme discomfort. Now was the time to set up camp.

Ishkur yelled, “Stop the group. The sun is coming soon and the bad light will burn our eyes. Now we must set up camp and sleep. We cannot continue anymore tonigh.t”

He waited to see how the group would respond, hoping that they would heed his wise advice and set up camp.

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Old 07-06-2006, 07:54 PM   #37
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Athwen

Athwen felt Dorran’s tenseness through his hand as he led her down towards the water. His grip was still gentle - he always seemed careful with her - but a certain rigidness in his hand told her what he strove to hide in his calm tone of voice. Now she understood that strange mark on his forearm. It was not visible to anyone, but often her hand had passed over the very slight indentation. She had wondered about it, but never asked.

In a few minutes, they were joined by the others. Their horses had been led down and Dorran and Athwen both reached to take their mounts’ reins. Lindir explained some of what had passed to them and handed the iron to Vrór. It went from hand to hand and Athwen watched it.

After a moment, she turned to Dorran. She laid her hand on his arm, and he slowly turned his eye away from the object and looked at her. She stepped closer. “I’m sorry, Dorran,” she said very softly. “Maybe, if they haven’t caught them at this point, they hadn’t at all?” she said with hope. “Are you going to be all right?”
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Old 07-06-2006, 10:53 PM   #38
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Dorran:

Guiding Athwen over to a quieter spot, Dorran pecked her lightly on the cheek and gently laughted. It was the second question to which he responded, "Spoken like a healer. Always worrying about folk under your care, even if one of them happens to be your husband. You know me. I'll be fine. Anyways, the past is done and buried. What we have to worry about is the slaves."

"I wish we had a seeing stone to tell us what's going on. But since that's unlikely, we'll just have to wait till we catch them on the trail. At least we know the direction they're heading. And their numbers are in their favor. The slavers work in small bands. They're used to dealing with four or five escapees at most. Hopefully, even if they manage to find the slaves, they'll be scared off by the size of the group."

"Come on now." Dorran added with a wave of his hand. "Let's get back to the others. Maybe someone will have some ideas. Plus, the sun should be setting in an hour or so; I'm not sure whether we'll decide to push on or settle for the night."

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Old 07-07-2006, 01:35 AM   #39
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Chld's post for Makdush:

Makdush stormed over to Ishkur and jerked him roughly to one side, cursing him in a low, gruff voice. "Fawning fen-snouted boar-pig! Are you mad? The dogs from camp will still be on our trail. Stay here and you risk getting your throat slit while you sleep."

"Anyways," grumbled Makdush, "what's wrong with a little sunlight? Ishkur, you're so lazy and incompetent that you'll use any excuse to stop working. I thought you orcs would learn once we'd gotten out of camp. But you haven't. You're still a pack of worthless cowards."

"All right, Ishkur. Get everyone on their feet. Drag the women back. Everyone on the trail now! Put some muscle into it. We can be fifty miles north of here before we make our camp."

Makdush turned and glared menacingly at the rest of the group, but few showed any signs of moving.....

_______________
Nogrod's post for Gwerr

After Ishkur had called for the group to halt, Gwerr turned to Colagar, intending to haul him over the coals for his plan once more. But then they both saw Makdush rushing to Ishkur and challenging the call for rest. They didn’t hear the heated exchange of words exactly, but the main idea was clear. The Uruk accused Ishkur and the other orcs of being lazy and incompetent. “That did it!” Gwerr yelled and grasped Colagar by the arm. “C’mon! We have some things to settle with that bully of a toddler!”

With that he ran to the quarrelling pair, calling for Zuhut and Griwzan whom he passed to join them as he went.

“Have you lost your marbles, Makdush?” Gwerr shouted to the Uruk from a couple of yards away. Colagar, Zuhut and Griwzan were tailing him. The Uruk turned to gaze at the smallish but sturdy orc. They knew each other well enough to mutually dislike each other. Gwerr took instinctively a grip from the handle of his axe and continued.

“When we were fighting at Angband you were not even conceived of! What do you think you are, you lousy maggot of a mere wizard? This is our party and I don’t have the faintest what are you doing here. But if you are to stay with us with your ruffian friends, you just shut your newborn mouth that only coos and babbles nonsense.” Gwerr had gotten really angry, inflamed by his own words. The veins in his temple swelled when he tried to cool himself down.

“Take shelter everyone! We rest now!” He called loudly to the other orcs not involved in the quarrel. But all the females were already out of the sight, taking shelter wherever the sun couldn’t extend its rays.

“You see. We rest now. You sun-lovers may run as long as you wish to.” Gwerr added in a lower tone, looking at Makdush challengingly but being somewhat calmed down already. Still he held a firm grip of his axe, and Ishkur, Colagar, Zuhut and Griwzan had all taken a hold of their weapons too. The last two male orcs had also finally realised the situation and were walking firmly towards the center of the dispute.

Makdush glanced at his fellow Uruks and nodded lightly to them, and then took a few steps back.

Last edited by Child of the 7th Age; 07-08-2006 at 10:49 AM.
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Old 07-07-2006, 02:36 AM   #40
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Zagra and Mazhg


The one called Ishkur had yelled out. ‘Stop the group. The sun is coming soon and the bad light will burn our eyes. Now we must set up camp and sleep. We cannot continue anymore tonight.’

Mazhg had pulled her sister aside quickly, holding Zagra’s hand tightly as she made her way to a little rise she’d spied - one with a few rocks that would afford them some shelter…and some small measure of safety, she hoped. They burrowed in beneath the overhanging rocky ledge; Mazhg pushing Zagra in first, saying she would keep watch. ‘And not for any who might be chasing them,’ she thought to herself. ‘Sha! Lazy dumb dogs, the lot of them. Now that no one drove them on with whips of fire and threats of lash and club, they would easily turn back. Easier to stay put, talk big, and thump those close by with hand and club.’ No, her eyes would be watching for any of the males in this group who came too near the little space she and Zagra had laid claimed for the day.

It was her hope that once the group had gotten to a place that seemed safe to settle in, she and Zagra could strike out to find a place of their own. Until then they would take what advantage there was in numbers to keep themselves safe from any challengers, any foe, who might seek to bar their way.

Mazhg flicked her gaze about the others in the group, watching where they were settling down. One of the bigger males, an Uruk, seemed to be challenging Ishkur. The two sisters were far enough away they could not hear what passed between the two. And truth be told, Mazhg did not care, either. They could have all the words they wished, even draw blood from one another…as long as they kept their distance from her and Zagra.

Her eyes tracked the two other women, wondering if they felt any need to make themselves secure from the males. She tugged at her tunic, hoping her and her sister’s boyish masquerade had not been seen through.

Turning her attention back to her sister, Mazhg rolled up her own raggedy cape, making a pillow for Zagra. She adjusted Zagra’s cape over her sister’s reclining form, tucking it about her like a blanket. A piece of dried meat and a small, hard biscuit made for the evening meal. All washed down with a few swallows of water from one of their waterskins. ‘Go to sleep now, little beetle,’ she whispered, rubbing her sister’s cheek.

The long, bright-hot fingers of old yellow face were feeling their way across the plain. Mazhg snorted, looking on with a sneer at the majority of the men as their faces reflected their fears of the rising sun and their gripping need to hide themselves away from its bright light.

Zagra and she had been made to work in what passed for fields…tubers of all sorts they’d cultivated, weeded the hot peppers, harvested the bitter-root and onions that seemed the mainstay for Orc cooking. And any fool knew goats wanted to wander around in the day light and sleep when the moon was up, the sky dark, as for that matter did chickens…

She settled in, chewing on a stick of dried meat. In a few days the supply she’d managed to get would run low. From one of her pockets she pulled out a ratty looking ball of twine, little pieces knotted together from bits and pieces of string and thin leather thongs that others had thrown away. With her fingers, she began to weave a small net; good enough to catch lizards or unsuspecting birds…..
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