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Old 12-29-2003, 11:06 AM   #1
Mithadan
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Mithadan has been trapped in the Barrow!
Sting Here There Be Dragons - RPG

The breeze which entered through the open window was hot and carried with it a variety of odors. The sea tang was ever present, even as it had been in Lond Lefnui, the home of his youth. The scent of burning wood and cooking meats was also in the air. These were familiar to Mithadan. Less familiar were the smells of the odd local flowers and fruits, yet these at least were pleasant. But less pleasant were other smells. For the air was infused with the fumes of rotting garbage and even sewage.

The Havens of Umbar were a mighty port and city, located on the verge of the great sea. Many were the towers and spires of Umbar and the hill which overlooked the port was crowded with the houses and warehouses of the rich; the traders, lords and princelings of the city. But outside the opulence of the central square, the hill and the primary docks were the homes of the less well off. The farther one traveled to the south and east of the palace of Umbar's Lord Falasmir (as he was known in Westron) the poorer was the housing until the surroundings degenerated into a maze of hovels and shacks; a place of filth and violence. To the north was a river on which inland trade was conducted and across the river were plantations and farms.

Between the city and the slums to the south was a vast market which lay in a broad arc around the base of the hill. There, a dizzying variety of goods and services could be had. Spices, foods, fine cloth, gems and metals were sold there, as were animals, including the odd humped beasts that some rode instead of horses. In the center of the market was a square which was bordered by a large, fenced-in pen. But the pen housed not animals but rather men and women who were bought and sold for use as servants, beasts of burden and less humane tasks. Mithadan shuddered at the mere thought of that place.

Weeks ago, the trade minister to King Elessar had approached him to undertake a voyage to Umbar, one of the first since the War of the Ring. Mithadan had been reluctant at first, but a personal note from the King had persuaded him. Piosenniel had been angry, both because of the possible danger as well as because he would not allow her to accompany her on the voyage. They had argued long into the night until she agreed to remain at home with the children, at least for this one voyage. Gilwen, Isilmir and even little Cami had accompanied their parents on a number of voyages to the north, even to the Grey Havens. But this time, they could not come along and Mithadan had steadfastly insisted that his wife stay with them. "Perhaps six weeks at the most," he said. "Likely five or less. We will not be long separated."

Three weeks and five days had now passed since they had left port. The Lonely Star's holds were nearly empty. The ship had carried a cargo of fine wood from Lebennin as well as the work of Gondor's craftsmen
when she had departed from Minas Anor. When she reached Umbar, she had been escorted into her berth by a black sailed corsair. The cargo had been off-loaded in a matter of days and had fetched a fine price. Then Mithadan and his crew had been eager to deal with the local traders for spices and other rarities with which to return to Gondor.

But Falasmir's trade minister has suggested (almost demanded) they wait. He explained that a great caravan was expected which
would deliver the best and newest goods at better prices. In the interim, Mithadan and his first mate, Airefalas, were invited to stay at the palace, "for just a few days, until the caravan arrives." In the interim, the crew were invited to shop at the Great
Market and enjoy the hospitality of the port.

Whenever his crew went abroad they were accompanied by guards. Yet even so, it seemed that crewmembers were often separated from their "guides" when in the Market. They learned quickly to maintain their sense of direction and keep to the north side of the Market, away from the ghettos of the south. At least two of his crew were robbed and beaten when they wandered too far. Others had their purses cut by pickpockets. Mithadan was ultimately forced to order his crew to stay aboard the ship except in broad daylight while travelling in groups of four or more. Even then, they ventured into the city only one group at a time. It was not long before they became bored and began to
complain, for the "few days" stretched out to a week and he had heard no word of the caravan, at least until this morning.

A messenger arrived from the trade minister bearing a note. It read: "The caravan is now two days away. Its advance riders have now arrived. Please honor the Lord Falasmir with your presence this evening for dinner, where you will be introduced to Umbar's most
reputable traders. Please attend to the Lord Falasmir this evening at six bells at the Great Hall."

Mithadan placed the note on a table, and turned to Airefalas. "Well, it seems that we may yet escape this place," he said to his first mate. "The caravan approaches and we are invited to dinner to meet some traders."

"Say not 'escape'," said Airefalas. "I do not like the sound of it. Say rather that we will depart with a full hold sooner rather than later. The Lord Falasmir's hospitality aside, I am eager to return home. I feel as if we have been delayed intentionally. What can this caravan hold that we cannot purchase here already?"

"I also am ready to leave," answered Mithadan. "I have not been separated from Piosenniel and the children for this long since Cami was but a babe in swaddling cloths. Falasmir, I am sure, wishes only to
present Umbar in the bast light possible. Yet I too chafe at the delay."

"At least the wine is good," said Airefalas with a slight laugh as he raised a cup. "It is the only thing that has kept the crew from mutiny, cooped as they are on the Star."

Mithadan nodded. "They are not yet that bored, and they have had a chance to explore such of the city as they might wish. And they have all filled their cabins with trade goods of their own. They will be happy when we return to Gondor."

Airefalas sipped from his cup and looked out the window at the city. The bray of some beast of burden echoed through the streets below. "None too soon," he muttered.

Last edited by piosenniel; 04-05-2007 at 11:22 AM.
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Old 12-29-2003, 11:47 AM   #2
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Sting

Pio's post - Piosenniel

The air was still and thick with the dust of several old leather-bound volumes she had pulled from the shelves. Here, on the fourth floor, in a tiny cubicle at the back of a larger room Pio sat cross-legged on the floor, the journal of one Cemendil, a trader in cochineal and indigo in the Southern Lands, perched on her knee. She was only half way through the faded pages and already yawning from the heat of the little room and inactivity. ‘I will never get this read here,’ she said to the dancing motes in the shaft of sunlight from the small window.

She laid the journal on the floor beside her and went to the door to check for the docent who had shown her to this place. She could just see his head bobbing over some bound manuscript at the far end of the big room, stopping every so often to scribble notes in the little chapbook that was his constant companion. He was engrossed in some obscure research for a class he was teaching, and for all intents and purposes had forgotten her presence.

‘Good,’ she thought to herself. With his nose stuck in his book, his thoughts wrapped round the rule of King Ostoher and the rebuilding of Minas Anor it would be easier getting round him. She picked up Cemendil’s journal and stuck it into the waistband of her breeches, letting the loose folds of her tunic hide the rectangular lump that now graced her belly. Her eyes searched quickly through the stacks for a volume of similar size and color, and having found one, she placed it into the hole where the other one had stood, the intimate companion to a book on fishing techniques found favorable along the River Morthond and another small leather journal that bore the inscription, The Sandpiper, in faint black lettering against faded red.

A captain’s log, she discovered, when she took it down and leafed quickly through the tattered edged pages. Charts of tides and currents, carefully noted with details of shoals and reefs marked clearly. ‘Lovely,’ she thought, running her fingers over the maps the good captain had made for his lugger as she plowed the waves along the shores from Cobas Haven to a small cove just south of Umbar, at the foot of the Grey Mountains. ‘Perhaps I should take this, too,’ she murmured, thinking her own store of sea charts plotted mostly the courses for ships in deeper waters. Into her waistband at the back of her breeches went the ship’s log. And again a search was mounted for a like volume to replace it.

Once done, she crept quietly behind the hunched over figure and his book on Early Gondorian History. Moving quickly to the door, she cleared it, just as his head turned in her direction. Down the hall, down the steps, she strode, her feet hurrying her down further as she made the descent from the fifth tier to the first and out the Southern Gate of the Rammas Echor. Her mount was there, a grey gelding called Sinda, waiting patiently in the green field to the west of the South Road. Pio clambered up onto the horse, her mount-up made clumsy by the unyielding tomes that splinted her mid-section.

‘Home,’ she directed, flicking the reins lightly on Sinda’s neck. The horse set off at a leisurely pace. He had taken his rider so often on this route that he could have found his way to and fro blindfolded. A short half hour later found him at the small dwelling nestled at the foot of Mindolluin.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

It was later that night, when the little ones were tucked in bed, that Pio got out her journal. It was an irregular habit at best, but she had told herself she would keep the unspoken promise to her old friend Cami when she had found the unused journal among the others left behind in the Shire. Lately, though, she had found herself writing down her thoughts more often . . . beginning with the day her hidebound husband had declared she would not be accompanying him on his voyage south.

The children, thankfully, had been on an overnight outing with their Aunt Rilwen, the wife of Gaerion, Mithadan’s older brother, when Mithadan had come home from the city, announcing he was to put together a trading mission to Umbar. Pio was surprised at the news. She knew the King’s minister had made the request some time before, and Mithadan had been reluctant to take it on. But now Elessar himself had urged Mithadan to undertake this on his behalf, and Mithadan had agreed.

Pio seized on the opportunity, assuming she would accompany him to Umbar. It would be the perfect opportunity she told him, for her to see what information she could ferret out on their old friend Bird. They had not heard from her in three years, since she had gone south seeking news of her kin. Her absence was always present at the back of Pio’s mind, an uneasy sense of loss. Of further concern to her, though none the less important, was that the Southern realms were still unsettled. Respect for the new King’s rule was tenuous in Umbar – given their long history of animosity toward Gondor and the pockets of shadow that yet remained despite the outcome of the War. Another able blade might keep the balance tipped toward the side of Mithadan’s and the crew’s safety.

Mithadan had listened carefully to Pio’s hastily conceived plan, and then, in his irritating way, had just as carefully detailed for her why she could not go. He could, and would, see to the safety of himself and his crew, he had informed her. She need not concern herself with that. Further, the children could not come, and he would not have them left at home without either parent for the five or so weeks it would take to complete the mission. They were too young he had told her, and he insisted that she stay with them, despite the fact that she argued his older brother and his wife would be happy to care for them this one time.

The morning after his announcement found him bleary eyed, his face drawn with fatigue, but unmoved by any of the arguments that Pio mustered. It was with great reluctance and a simmering anger at being thwarted that she acceded to his ‘request’.

Her anger had cooled these last two weeks; a non-useful emotion that produced at best only haphazard solutions to a problem, she concluded. She still chafed at the fact that she had not been allowed to go, but there were only two more weeks before the Lonely Star would return. Pio smiled as she turned back to those first few days in the journal – the words pig-headed . . . obstinate . . . perverse . . . doggedly stubborn . . . narrow-minded . . . stiff-necked . . . hidebound . . . , among others, stood out on the white background of the pages, underscored and smeary where she had stabbed them out on the innocent vellum.

What had not waned was her concern for Mithadan’s safety. His assurances aside, she felt uneasy that she would not be there should he need her.

The night was warm; a breeze blew in from the river, carrying the tang of the Anduin faintly to her as she sat on the stone bench in the garden. Light, from the brass lantern hung on the fig tree’s branch above her, obscured her view of the night sky, drawing her attention in to the blank page of the journal that lay open on her knee. Picking up Cemendil’s Journal, she flipped through the pages, making hasty notes in her own when something of interest struck her. Then, with measured strokes she charted the course of her day, pushing worries she could do nothing about from her mind for a brief space of time.

Last edited by piosenniel; 04-07-2004 at 11:30 AM.
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Old 12-29-2003, 11:48 AM   #3
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Sting

Pio’s post - Rôg

The last part of their journey, from Druadan Forest to the White City, had been a pleasant one. There had been much to see and discuss as they passed on the outskirts of the forest, making their way to the thickets of Grey Wood. ‘We can pass through these,’ the old man had said. ‘It will be safe for you to do so. No poisoned arrows to be wary of.’

Late autumn held the woods in thrall. Birds were few, just the hardy souls who had not as yet gone south to warmer climes. Or those brave ones who staked their claims in these trees year round. Ravens and crows – their raucous tale-telling echoing off the bare trees as the travelers passed.

Three days of travel had brought them to Gondor, and to an Inn the old fellow said was comfortable, the owner discrete. ‘The ale is good,’ he’d said. ‘And wine and other spirits from Elessar’s kingdom find their way to the cellars of the Seventh Star. Possibly something from your homeland.’

Rôg smiled within the folds of his brown hood, pulling his cloak more tightly about him as a chilly breeze gusted. He would be glad to leave these northern lands with their promise of increasing cold. And gladder still to be spending the night in the warmth of an Inn.

‘Come,’ he invited, holding the door open for his companion. ‘We’ll find a table by the fire. I’ll see if they have the spiced wine you favor.’

The old fellow’s eyes glinted with anticipation, his face wreathed with a merry smile. Twitching his cloak about him, so as not to catch on the roughened frame of the door, the old man entered, his staff thumping loudly on the wood, small swirls of dust floating up from each footstep.

Rôg entered close behind, shutting the door firmly against the outside cold. His nose wrinkled slightly at the musty smell; his eyes narrowed at the layers of grime and dust.

‘So, this is the Seventh Star, eh, my friend,’ he murmured softly to his companion as they seated themselves at a table near the small, crackling fire. ‘And the ale, you say, is good?’ Rôg propped his feet on the nearby hearth, relishing the feel of the welcome heat through his boots. He pushed back his hood as he leaned toward the flames to warm his hands. The flickering fire caught the small gold stud that winked from the top inner curve of his left ear. Shoulder length black hair fell forward, brushing across the olive plane of his cheek.

‘Shall I get us something to drink then?’ he asked after a few moments, sitting back in his chair. ‘And perhaps something to eat?’

Last edited by piosenniel; 04-07-2004 at 11:31 AM.
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Old 12-29-2003, 11:48 AM   #4
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Pio’s post - Rôg

A courteous voice intruded into the space between the old man and the younger. Looking up, Rôg acknowledged with a nod the serving girl, apron in hand, who had asked the question. ‘What can I do for you, gentlemen?’

‘Wine, goodmistress,’ he replied with a look at his companion. ‘Warm and spiced, if you will.’ He leaned close to the old man and murmured something to him, a question, an observation. ‘And a loaf of brown bread, if you please, with some of that soft farmer’s cheese to spread thick on it.’ The old man leaned near him, the breathy softness of his request barely audible. ‘And honey . . . yes, honey . . . and an apple . . . that would be nice.’

When the food had come, the two settled in to enjoy it. That is, they did so after a few moments of silence, and the placing of a small amount of each of the foods on an extra plate they asked for. Noting the curious glances of the others when he placed the little plate of offerings toward the far edge of the hearth, Rôg smiled at the woman, who stood nearest.

‘For our little friends,’ he said, as if she were to understand it was an everyday occurrence. He nodded at the little plate partly hidden behind the hearth broom that leaned against the stones. ‘They may be hungry, and we have plenty to share, thanks to you.’ His voice drifted off as his hand hovered over the remaining food, seeking his next delight. The explanation, such as it had been, was punctuated by the crunch of his even white teeth through the crisp, red apple.

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Old 12-29-2003, 11:48 AM   #5
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Sting

Mithadan’s post – Baran

Mírënin, for that was the serving girl’s name, had barely tied the apron's strings when the door to the Inn swung open again. The girl turned to welcome the latest arrival, blinking against the morning sun which streamed in through the open door. A smile, however, did not quite reach her face. Instead, her eyes opened wide as the morning's light was eclipsed by a figure which filled, nay, more than filled the doorway.

He turned slightly sideways and ducked so that his mane of brown hair cleared the portal's frame. Then he straightened and sniffed dubiously at the air before stepping forward into the common room. "Mercy!" said a patron, the first to recover his voice. "Darkness at mid-day! Would you look at the size of him!"

'He' was a good head taller than the innkeeper and broader as well. His hair, which was long and tied in a single plait reaching halfway down his back, was brown as the leaves of an oak tree in the fall. The length of his hair in back was nearly matched by his long and curling beard in front. He wore a heavy green cloak over a brown tunic and breeches held by a woven rope belt. His boots were of some sturdy padded cloth. In one hand he held a staff, but if he bore any other weapon none there could see it.

Stepping forward, he looked down at Mírënin and grinned slightly at her sagging jaw. Then he spoke in a voice as deep as distant thunder. "A table if you please? And a cup of..." At that moment, a grey-clad server hurried up with a large cup of mead which she placed upon a table. Still unable to speak, Mírënin pulled out a chair for the new guest. He sat gingerly, waiting for the seat to stop creaking before resting his full weight on it.

At this point, with the eyes of all patrons upon the newcomer and the innkeeper's eyes upon her, Mírënin found her voice at last. "M-m-m-ay we get you some breakfast sir?" she asked. "Perhaps some bacon or ham?"

The man shuddered as if he had been offered a dragon's venom. "No!" he said sharply. "But some bread with butter and honey and perhaps a few apples would do me well."

Even as Mírënin turned towards the kitchen, a server swept by, dropping off a platter with a half of a loaf of bread, slathered with butter and honey and a small basket of green apples. Almost dizzy, Mírënin turned back to the table with a gasp. Then, regaining her composure, she nodded her head and said, "Welcome to the Seventh Star, sir. I am Mírënin." At that moment, she remembered to smile.

The man drained his cup in a single draught, then answered. "I am Baran and I am from the Vale of Anduin where I dwelt in the North 'ere beginning my journey."

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Old 12-29-2003, 11:48 AM   #6
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Mithadan’s post – Baran

The serving girl had been humming a tune as she moved about the room, the words barely audible. Baran stopped her as she passed the table and asked to hear it more fully. She blushed prettily, and began her voice becoming stronger as she noted the approval in his eyes. It was a pretty song – of the Anduin and its wanderings. Baran listened to the tune and nodded his head at the lyrics. A few of the other patrons clapped with varying degrees of enthusiasm when she finished. Mírënin blushed at the accolades and hurriedly sat down with Baran.

"Pretty," he said. "Very pretty. I can't vouch for its accuracy as I didn't come here via that route though I don't doubt you have it right."

"You live in the Vale of Anduin but did not follow the river in your journey to our city?" she asked.

"Well, you see, I was not specifically traveling to Minas Anor," he answered. "I've been wandering a bit, an indirect route if you will." He paused and drained his cup again. Although this was his third cup of mead, the strong drink seemed to have little effect upon him. A server apparently agreed and his cup was quickly and quietly filled again.

"I owe you a tale," he said. "I'll give you a bit of one. Not the whole story, mind you. Can't be too careful, begging your pardon. But here it is.

"My people are...private in nature. We don't like outsiders much, except maybe for purposes of trade. We've been living in the same area for a long time. A very long time. Legend has it that long ago we traveled west with other men and even reached the ocean. This was ages ago when the Great Dark Lord still dwelt in the north. Well, we suffered there, in the west of Middle earth, and chose to turn back and move east again. So we crossed into what is now called Eriador. But even there we found Orcs and Trolls and other evil things. Then some of my kin decided to head south and get away from the evil that dwelt in the north. So they did and my people did not hear from them, except for an occasional rumour, for ages. Some said they didn't exist."

He paused to wipe a stray bit of honey from his beard and sipped at a cup of water that had appeared on the table. Then he continued. "Well, the Great Dark Lord was defeated and the lesser Dark Lord who lived yonder," he said, motioning vaguely to the east. "He arose and evil things stirred again. They didn't bother with us much at first because we...we're very strong. Though later they caused us enough trouble and we had quite a bit of fighting in the last War. But among my people it was said that there would come a day when they, meaning the people of the Dark Lord, would die and then we would return to the west and meet again our long-parted kin.

"Now most among us thought this a fable and even more didn't care whether we ever met up with our kin. We don't care much for strangers, like I said. Anyway, about 5 years or so before I was born, some strangers came up the Anduin. They brought with them a young child, maybe 3 years old, and begged us to take her. She was our kin from far away, they said, and indeed she was for she had the same sort of...skills, talents that my people do. So we took her in, even though she was kind of...different. She was a bit older than me so we didn't speak much, but I know she missed her family and her people. Truth be told, some of my people didn't care for her much, though we never mistreated her. I always thought she was nice enough...clever she was. And funny. She had a way with a joke.

"Anyways, about five years before the War, she took off on her own. She went looking for her family. Then came the War, and after the Dark Lord fell, his people, the orcs and trolls went into hiding or disappeared. Lots of them died. And some among my folk began whispering that our old legend was maybe true. Some wanted to cross the mountains again and others wanted to look for our kin, and many of the latter recalled the girl...she'd be a woman now of course.

"To shorten the story a bit, I was sent to look for her. I'm the curious type and I kind of like new things and people. So I went after her into the west and wandered about for a long time looking for clues about where to find her or my kin. I haven't found her, but...well, tell me young lady, have you heard anything about dragons hereabouts?"

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Old 12-29-2003, 11:49 AM   #7
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Pio’s post - Rôg

Her last verse spoke of the secrets of the First and Second Born the River had seen and kept throughout its long life. The old man chuckled, and thumped his cane to the rhythm of the girl’s tune. He murmured the last two lines, slightly out of tune . . . a weird echo of sorts to her own singing of them that made the fine hair on Rôg’s arms prickle.

‘There’ll be no secrets spilled here,’ he said to himself, drawing up the hood of his cloak. His dark eyes blackened, the pupils widening to accommodate the shadows now thrown over his face. The man, Baran, he had called himself, listened appreciatively to the girl’s song. The thick fingers of one hand tapped on the table’s top, while his other brought the apple in its grasp mouthward, to be sundered by one chomp of his strong jaw and sharp teeth. Yes, he would like apples, thought Rôg, watching the man closely, as he applauded the girl’s song.

He turned back to the fire, sipping at his ale, and watched the flames wrap hungrily round the logs, their ever changing shapes dancing wildly in the thick, hot air. ‘Why has such a one come south, Dester’ edre?’ he asked the old man quietly.

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Old 12-29-2003, 11:49 AM   #8
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Mithadan’s post – Baran

Dragons?

The girl shook her head in puzzlement. There were a number of stories she recalled that had dragons in them. But none sparked his interest as she briefly recounted them. She shrugged her shoulders as he rejected her last offering and looked at him with a frown on her face. ‘That’s all I know of dragons, sir. Perhaps if you told me more of the woman you seek, it would spur my memory.

"Well, to be truthful, I barely recall," he answered. "It was long ago that I last saw her and I was yet a child of perhaps seven years. She was short with jet black hair, quick to laugh and just as quick to anger as I recall. And she couldn't...'enchant' herself as a dragon." He laughed for a moment. "At least I don't think so," he added with a smile.

"The dragon or dragons I seek are...well, I suppose you've not heard of them. Silly I guess. Everyone says there are no dragons left unless perhaps in the Withered Heath far to the north and that kind of dragon is not what I seek."

Mírënin gnawed at her apple, but her eyes expressed confusion. Behind her, the Innkeeper cleared his throat. Realizing that she had overstepped her bounds, she jumped up and looked about. Seeing that two new customers had entered, she waved to Baran and walked off to greet the newcomers.

Baran laughed under his breath, mostly at himself. What would such a one know of wyrms or the Last Desert? You're a fool who has been wandering alone for too long. He stretched and yawned mightily. Even before he dropped his arms a server approached and motioned to a stairwell which led up to the Inn's rooms. Baran nodded and rose wearily. Mid-day or not, a bed seemed like a good idea. He dropped some coins on the table and walked towards the stairs.

Then he paused and looked back at a neighboring table. The old man there looked very familiar, but he could not quite place him. Baran nodded a greeting, then turned away and continued on. But at the foot of the stairs, he stopped again with a smile on his face.

"Where are my manners?" he exclaimed. He stooped and reached down to the floor. When he arose, in his hand was the mouse. He stoked the tiny head for a moment, then knelt and let the animal go. It stepped away, then turned and squeaked. "Well met to you too, little one," said Baran. Then he proceeded up the stairs...

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Old 12-29-2003, 11:49 AM   #9
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Pio’s post - Rôg

Night at last. The old man had gone to bed, several cups of spiced wine glowing pleasantly in his belly. ‘Time enough to see to those parchments on the morrow,’ he told Rôg, sinking down onto the soft mattress with a satisfied oomph and a bone weary sigh. ‘The library has been there for scores of years. It will be there when the sun comes up again.’ A few moments later and soft snores floated from beneath the pile of thick woolen blankets, along with the occasional murmured word or two.

Rôg sat quietly in the chair drawn up to the small fire in their room. When the murmurings had subsided and the snores settled into a gentle rhythm, he got up, stretching his limbs, shaking the long day from his muscles. The draw of the welcome warm had faded against the urgency of his feelings that they should soon be on their way. They only needed to check on something the old man had half remembered seeing in the great library in the city. Then they would be heading south.

The young man stood by the window of the room for a long while, his gaze falling on the young woman below and to his left who lingered before the kitchen door. The singer, Mírënin - her eyes turned star-ward to the clear night sky. For a moment she dropped her gaze, following a spiral of moths that had seen the low light from the kitchen window and were now heading toward it.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The slim-winged grey brown bird flew high in the air with easy strokes, the inn falling away quickly beneath him. Strips of moonlight through breaks in the clouds caught the broad white bar across each pointed wing, glinting off the white bar across his notched tail. The sharp calls of other nighthawks followed him, indicating his traverse of their hunting territory. He paid them no heed, nor did he veer from his course, intent on reaching the fifth tier of the hillside city before the night grew older.

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Old 12-29-2003, 11:50 AM   #10
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Child’s post – Radagast

The old man sat up in bed and wearily rubbed his eyes. He stared out the open casement looking for outward confirmation of the flutter of wings and the soft whir of feathers that had enticed him up from sleep. Over the years, he'd lost at least some of his physical strength and vitality, but time had not dulled his senses. He could still catch the slightest movement of small beasts in a grove, or make out the shadow of a tiny bird silhouetted against a distant bank of clouds. He could even untangle the strange utterances of the creatures that he passed in the woods, although that was no longer so easy.

Again searching the skies, he glimpsed a small brown bird pushing against the wind, gliding gracefully towards the stars with no apparent effort. For an instant, he wanted to throw back the covers and join in, to leap out towards the sparkling night. But then came the sad realization. He could not do it. The old man slumped back in bed too weary to rise, unable to recall the hidden secrets of his past.

Back home, he had never been accounted among the wisest or most powerful, but many had acknowledged his mastery of shapes and hues. Vague memories of a former life tugged quietly at his mind. The old man could recall a time when he had slipped on the form of a Great Eagle atop the craggy peaks of Taniquetil. But now his body controlled his every step; he could barely recollect the shape or form of the rich green fields and gardens that had once been his home.

Complaining to others was not his way. By day he said nothing; indeed, until recently he had walked only by himself. Now, sensing the emptiness all about him, he had chosen to plod along with Rôg, a younger scholar who was ostensibly his servant. He nodded politely to any who addressed him as they strode along the road, but rarely said more than that. Wholly absorbed by the intricacies of the birds and beasts around him, many mistook his simplicity and single-mindedness for lack of understanding. Yet that was far from true. He lacked cunning, not intelligence.

At night, trapped within fears, the old man wondered about many things. He'd been told to come and care for the olvar and kelvar. He had not neglected this charge. So why could he not step onto the sleek Elven vessel and sail back to the sandy white shores where there was no death or despair, a place so unlike that in which he now found himself? Why was he still here when so many others had left? Perhaps if he could untangle the answer to that riddle, he would find his way home. The old man lay back in bed, purposefully shutting out the sounds of the night, and fell into a dreamless sleep.

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Old 12-29-2003, 11:50 AM   #11
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Pio’s post - Rôg

‘Mmmm . . . tasty!’

The nighthawk’s bill snapped up a fat silverfish that dared the desk top. Hidden under a thin sheet of parchment it had been chewing on, the insect wriggled hurriedly for safety on its thin spidery legs, antennae waving wildly when the plop and scrabble of the bird’s feet had first hit the edge of the paper.

The bird had spent a good half hour poking about the clerestory windows that flanked this section of the library. And at last had been rewarded with one whose grout had crumbled, allowing him to move it out of the way and enter, gliding silently down to the reading desks that lined the center aisle. A few small lamps burned low – one at the entryway door, and two at each end of the great table. He wondered what sleepless librarians wandered the halls this night, guardians of the papery treasures locked away in the maze of rooms. Thank the powers that be that the old man’s memory of this place had been so clear, so precise.

In the shadows of the stacks he changed to his two legged form – more convenient for browsing through the dusty rolls of vellum piled one upon the other in the small cubicles. The leather bound tomes he ignored. The old man had been specific – it was a small, single, yellowed piece of parchment; the edges crackling into dust with age. He had rolled it loosely, he said, securing it with a bit of red string.

Ah! As if that would help him in this search!

He was colorblind – the red of the string would be so much grey to him, indistinguishable from the other dusty strings that wrapped round the myriad of rolls. Nothing to do but sort out the larger rolls from the smaller, the single pieces of paper from the others, and begin.

It was nearly dawn when he found the one he sought. Rolling it up carefully, he left himself enough of a loop to carry it securely

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The flight back to the Inn was torturous. The roll of parchment caught the vectors of the breezes in odd ways, slowing him down or sending him flying in odd directions a he tried to maneuver with the cumbersome burden. A clutch of small brown wrens took advantage of his plight and dive bombed him unmercifully, trying to knock him from the sky. He grew tired and frustrated. Folding his wings tight against his body he dove toward the ground, a feathered missile, the wrens spiraling just above him, and straight into the midden of the Inn’s kitchen.

Peels of potatoes mingled and ripened with those of apples. The head, skin and bones of fish, slimy tops from the garden carrots, half eaten bits of bread now mouldered in a pungent stew. In one of his other forms he might have enjoyed the tangy mess he found himself wing deep in. But now his feathers were sodden and stuck together, his beak stained red from some castoff beet it had chanced into, and on his head, like some limp cockade sat a bit of old kale. Disgusting! And to make matters worse he could hear the birdish laughter of the wrens as they sat in the leaf bare plum tree at the corner of the Inn.

He stood up in the midst of the oozing mess and found the window the Innkeeper had pointed out to the young woman just last night. He pressed tentatively against it, feeling it give way. Reaching in carefully, he unlatched the door and opened it quietly.

A trail of ripe compost marked his journey through the kitchen and up the stairs to the room he shared with the old man. Aiwendil, sat up in bed as his companion entered the close confines of the room. His eyes watered and his nose wrinkled at the stench.

‘Open the window,’ he gasped, drawing the bedclothes up over this nose. ‘By the One, you stink!’

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Old 12-29-2003, 11:50 AM   #12
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Pio's post - Rôg

The water was cold, freezing almost. It prickled at his skin, as did the harsh soap with which he’d scrubbed the stench from his skin. The old man stood at the window. The shutters were flung back, letting the fresh, morning breezes carry the last of the reek away. That troublesome host of sparrows sat on the ledge chirping at him, shaking their feathers to gain his attention. One of the bolder ones, the leader in the flying ‘V’ that had assailed Rôg last night, had claimed a perch on Aiwendil’s shoulder. His bright black eye was fixed on the younger man in a challenging stare.

‘I surrender, Master Sparrow,’ said Rôg, grinning at the little brown bird. ‘Gondor is yours, from leaf to sky.’ He packed his hard won prize of last night in his leather bag and placed it on the bed beside the old man’s. ‘I’ll see to breakfast,’ he said, opening the door to the room. ‘Just come down when you’re ready.’ From the floor to the left of the door, Rôg picked up the bucket of now dirty water and the pillowcase he’d stuffed with his aromatic garments and, holding it away from him, proceeded down the stairs.

The Common Room was already starting to fill up he noted, his foot resting on the next to the last stair. Naught to do but hurry through to the door, hoping that the unsavory smell would not linger long. A glance to his left showed the young woman of last night at the bar speaking to a red-haired man he had not previously seen in the Inn. And as his ill placed stars would have it, there stood the Innkeeper, his gaze already on him as he dithered on the stairs.

Like a man delivering a suspect and distasteful package, Rôg held the bundle well away from him. He fixed his sights on the main door and started boldly across the room, picking up speed with each muttered comment as he went.

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Old 12-29-2003, 11:51 AM   #13
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Pio's post - Piosenniel

‘Ammë! I’m thirsty! Are we there yet?!’

Cami, the fidgety little five year old was tucked in close against her mother, shielded from the morning’s breeze by the folds of the great blue cloak. Dark brown curls surrounded the fair face that poked itself out through the woolen edges, and curious brown eyes swept the road ahead for their promised destination. She wished that her mother’s mount would sprout wings like the dragons from the stories and fly them to the Inn at a faster pace. Her brother and sister rode their own horses, and showed their impatience by riding ahead and racing back as their mother called to them.

The four riders had just come from a brief visit to the city’s great library. Pio was returning a volume she had borrowed just yesterday, she told the pale librarian who stood blinking into the morning sunlight at the great door. A frown puckered his brow until she mentioned the name of the senior docent who had helped her yesterday. Then, he took the leather bound log, Cemendil’s Journal, with a smile, saying he would see it safely back to its place. The Elf thanked him, returning the smile, and the four remounted their horses and set off for some refreshments at The Seventh Star Inn.

‘You shall just have to have patience!’ piped the twin chorus of the young girl’s siblings, impishly echoing the phrase they had been hearing now for the last half hour. Gilwen and Isilmir, six years old, their black hair and grey eyes a mirror for each other, broke into laughter at their mimicry. They urged their ponies alongside their mother’s horse and grinned up wickedly at their little sister – who promptly stuck out her tongue at them.

At long last, at least to the little girl, though if truth be told it was only another quarter of an hour, the Inn hove into view as they crested a rise in the road. At a nod from their mother, Gilwen and Isilmir took off at a gallop toward The Seventh Star, their excited voices challenging each other to a race.

Little Cami stretched herself low over the horse’s neck. ‘We could beat them, Sinda,’ she whispered in a coaxing voice, her little fingers winding themselves into the coarse salt and pepper hairs of the grey gelding’s mane. Pio grinned as the horse flicked his ears back toward Cami, indicating an interest in showing up the ponies. She flicked the reins gently and urged him to a faster pace with a light tap of her heels against his flanks.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

A short time later the four riders found themselves in the front yard of the Inn. In a rush and a chorus of laughter they dismounted, Gilwen arguing good-naturedly with her brother that her pony’s nose had been the first to the hitching post. Isilmir took the reins of the other two mounts and handed them along with his own to the grey clad hostler who approached.

Shaking the dust off their cloaks, and pushing their wind tousled hair back from their reddened cheeks, the chattering trio ascended the steps, Pio in tow. Their little voices were loud in the near emptiness of the Common Room as they burst through the door.

‘A ginger beer for me! And me!’ cried the two girls, dashing for a table near the fire. ‘A birch beer for me,’ requested Isilmir, in a considering tone to the grey clad server who had hastened to see to their needs. He waited for his mother and sisters to take their seats, then took his own.

Pio, her eyes sweeping the room for a familiar face, asked for a glass of Southron red, if they had it. And could he ask Master Rimbaud to come speak with her for a moment. The server nodded politely to her and hurried away, but before he reached the bar, he was called over by another group at a nearby table – the wagoneer’s group from The Silver Swan ship that had recently delivered wines to the Inn. They nodded unseen toward Pio and her children, then sent the server on his way.

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Old 12-29-2003, 11:51 AM   #14
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Pio's post - Piosenniel


The mug of ginger beer covered the bottom half of little Cami’s face, and Pio stared in wonder at the child. She had the drink tipped so far up and was drinking so greedily that Pio half expected the liquid to go up the child’s nose. Not so – the mug came down with a satisfied clunk on the table top, a few missed drops flying onto the smooth surface of the wood. She glanced hopefully in the direction of her sister’s ginger beer, but Gilwen only pulled hers in closer and took a sip.

‘Who are those people,’ she asked tugging at the sleeve of her mother’s tunic, and pointing toward the table where a woman, Elf, Dwarf, and Hobbit sat.

‘Stop pointing,’ whispered Isilmir. ‘It’s not polite.’ He leaned nearer his younger sister and spoke low. ‘They are from a ship called The Silver Swan.See their cloaks - that silver bird on the green. We were docked near them once, in Cobas Haven.’ He looked a little smugly at her. ‘Of course, you were just a baby then.’ Pio arched her brow at him and his necked reddened at being caught egging on his sister.

Little Cami snorted at his discomfiture and turned back to her mother. ‘They were nice, weren’t they,’ she asked. ‘They bought us our drinks.’ A familiar look came on her features, and before Pio could catch hold of her, she had grabbed her now empty mug and scooted off the chair. Her little legs carried her to the Swan’s table at a quick pace, and she squirmed in between the Dwarf and the Hobbit.

‘That was a good drink! Thank you!’ Her mug was carefully set on the table as she smiled, taking them all in. Her eyes drifted to the plate of seedcake slices that sat near the elbow of the Hobbit. He was busy with a plate of fried mushrooms, and she tugged on his sleeve to catch his full attention. ‘I’m Cami,’ she said, her eyes straying to the cake. ‘I like seedcake, too.’

Gilwen and Isilmir stared at their sister, then back at their mother, who had watched the little scene with some amusement. Pio approached the table, a half smile playing on her lips and shook her head. ‘She is my adventurous one,’ she laughed, tousling the girl’s hair. ‘And yes, thank you for your kind offer of drinks. My crew was quite thirsty.’

The twins had by this time abandoned their drinks and come to stand at their mother’s side. ‘I am Piosenniel, by the way and these are my children. Little Cami, you’ve already met. And this is Gilwen. And this Isilmir.’ Both of them nodded politely at the group and smiled. ‘We see you are from The Silver Swan. How was your last trip? Profitable, I hope.’

Pio motioned for one of the servers to come near and ordered drinks all round for the table.

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Old 12-29-2003, 11:51 AM   #15
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Pio's post - Piosenniel

The Innkeeper ambled over to the table where Pio stood talking to the wagoneer’s group from The Silver Swan. "Did someone call for Master Rimbaud?" he asked. "He's not about, nor is he likely to be for some time. May I be of service?"

‘Perhaps you can,’ said Pio, stepping forward. My name is Piosenniel. Master Rimbaud and I were old acquaintances and had an understanding of sorts. He would always put back one of the older bottles of Dorwinion wine for me, to be picked up when I came to the Inn.’ She glanced up at the rafters, taking in the cobwebs still gracing the corners of the beams. ‘And I must confess I have not been here in quite some time.’ Her face took on a worried look. ‘Have I missed some news about my friend?’

Morien introduced himself, giving a brief account of the former Innkeeper, and how he had come to take on the duties. In passing, he mentioned he was from Lossarnach. ‘Not kin to Old Forlong,’ she almost said, then bit it back noting that though he was a large man, he did not possess the girth of the former Lord of Lossarnach. Instead she told him that her family dwelt in a small holding just outside the southwestern edge of the Rammas Echor. ‘Up against Mindolluin,’ she said. ‘So I guess you might call us neighbors of sorts.’

He told her there was some Dorwinion wine just come in, but as to its age, he could not guarantee that it was not of recent vintage. He turned away, saying he would just fetch her a bottle, when she laid her hand lightly on his arm. ‘One other request, if you will, Master Morien. A friend of mine often sends me letters here.’ Pio laughed remembering Bird had told her the Inn was more likely to stay in one place than was the Elf, and so she intended to send her letters into the keeping of Rimbaud. ‘They would have my name on them, and be sealed with the silver outline of a small bird in flight on black wax.’

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Old 12-29-2003, 11:51 AM   #16
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Mithadan’s post – The Innkeeper

The Innkeeper slipped through the kitchen and stopped in front of a heavy wood door. From his pocket he withdrew an intricate key which he inserted carefully into the lock. With a click, the door opened and swung inward. He stepped into the office with a frown. Dust covered the surface of a heavy oak desk which stood to one side of the room. On the other wall was a bookshelf. Lighting a lamp to illuminate the dimly lit room, he scanned the surface of the desk.

Seeing no envelopes which met the description provided by the Elf, he proceeded to the bookshelf. There, he found a small stack of packages and envelopes. He lifted one, pausing first to blow the dust from the heavy paper. Then he cursed imaginatively and walked quickly from the office. The door swung shut behind him and he did not have to wait to know that the lock had snapped shut even as he rushed through the kitchen towards the common room.

He proceeded to the wagoneer's table where the children were gleefully holding court to the amusement of those nearby. "My lady!" he cried. "My apologies! This letter must have arrived before Rimbaud went on his journey. He left in quite a hurry as I recall. It is dated nearly two years ago! I am very sorry. It is addressed to Piosenniel." He handed the envelope to the Elf, whose brows furrowed with annoyance as she took it. At that very moment, a deep voice rumbled through the room. "Piosenniel? She is here? Which one is Piosenniel?" Keeping a neutral expression upon her face, she dropped the letter to the table and turned to face the speaker. At the same time, her hands disappeared beneath the table.

"Oooo! Ammë! He's big!" cried Cami. Behind the Innkeeper, looking at the faces of the table's occupants, one by one, was Baran...

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Old 12-29-2003, 11:52 AM   #17
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Pio's post - Piosenniel

Her thank-you’s to the Innkeeper were cut off by the loud voice and looming presence of the person who stood across the table from her. Her gaze locked on him, trying to recall where she might have met him. He was a massive figure of a man, one who would not be easily forgotten. In her long memory she could find nothing that marked him friend or foe.

The deciding factor was the stout staff he clenched in his large hand.

Fëanen . . . Fëasolme . . . Fëalor! Quarë, híni!

Quick and silent, the three children gathered behind her, a tightly closed fist at her back.

For a brief moment, as she stood and moved back from the chair, her awareness took in a familiar voice calling her name, then shut it out. Pio backed up slowly, moving her children toward the door to the kitchen – like a mother bear, keeping herself between them and the stranger. ‘What chance meeting is this,’ she thought to herself, watching for any advance on his part. Her right hand slid beneath the left sleeve of her tunic as she spoke.

‘Who comes seeking Piosenniel? And why?’

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Old 12-29-2003, 11:52 AM   #18
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Pio's post - Rôg

Wiping the last few drops of water from the well on the front folds of his cloak, Rôg crossed the narrow, wooden verandah and pushed the Inn door open. He had sluiced his hands off thoroughly, removing any lingering odors from the bundle of soiled clothes he had carried out to the refuse heap. And now he had plans to secure a table by the fire for himself and his traveling companion. Breakfast, and plenty of strong, hot tea to wash it down, occupied his thoughts as he stepped into the Common Room.

‘Pio!’

He heard the young woman who had entered ahead of him call out to someone she had seen across the room. His gaze, drifted from the sparrow on the woman’s shoulder, toward the small scene playing out a short distance from him. With a sharp intake of breath he stepped backwards toward the door, seeking a quick exit back to the Inn's front yard. He abhorred violence, and the promise of it was too near for his comfort.

~*~

The wrens had flown off, their attention caught by a field of sunflowers in a field to the north and the lure of abundant seed for the taking. The old man lingered at the open window for a moment, watching the tiny brown cloud of them grow smaller in the distance.

A soft whirr, and the feathery brush of delicate wings tickled against his left ear. His hand came up to brush the source of irritation away and was stopped by a barely audible murmuring.

‘Move your stumpy fingers! You’re about to crush my antenna!’

The small brown, gypsy moth latched on to the old fellow’s fingers and rode them in a dizzying arc to a position just in front of Aiwendil’s eyes. A moment of sudden queasiness ensued, followed by the irritated twitching of the moth’s antennae. ‘Yes, it’s me,’ he squeaked, his front leg smoothing out the crook in his right antenna left by the brief pressure of the old man’s fingers. ‘I’ve come to suggest we skip breakfast and hit the road. That big fellow who came in after us yesterday – some Elf, named Pio, I think, has challenged him. The atmosphere in the Common Room has taken a decidedly tense . . . and possibly ugly, turn.’

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Old 12-29-2003, 11:52 AM   #19
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Child's post - Radagast:

Aiwendil sensed another gentle whirring, this time near his right ear, as the brown moth fluttered up to land on his shoulder. But the wizard seemed not to notice. His round eyes blinked once, then twice, as he stared off into the distance, struggling to retrieve a memory from behind the grey haze.

Pio?... Pio was in the Common Room? Faint hints of a forgotten time sparkled beneath the surface. It was a time when he had first journied to this world. He and Gandalf had worked together to sow the seeds of resistence within the hearts of the Free Peoples. His own heart had been much stronger then. There had been that strange business with the hobbits and the Anduin he'd never fully understood. But the little ones had made good neighbors. He had first met Piosenniel along the river and made his promise to her and her friend, the feisty and insistent Skin-changer, that he would check on the hobbits now and again. That promise, at least, he had kept.

Nor had that been his last encounter with the Elf. Time and again, he had come across her on the road. And, just a few years ago, she had unexpectedly shown up with a husband at her side and two babes in her arms, looking quite content. At the moment, however, the thought uppermost in the wizard's mind was the fine ship that belonged to her and her husband Mithadan.

Aiwendil stood up so abruptly that Rôg tumbled off his shoulder and landed on the broad arm of the chair. The moth lowered his head and tried not to listen as the wizard began lecturing him, "If Pio is in the Common Room, we've no time to lose. That is, unless you intend to walk all the way to Harad! Come along now!"

Seeing the stubborn look on Rôg's face, the wizard shook his head, "I'm more concerned about the safety of my neck on the roads to Harad than I am about Pio. And she may be able to help us with that. Anyways, I know her well enough. The Elf can be hasty, but she's not likely to strike a blow unless the fellow truly deserves it."

Aiwendil headed towards the door, walking purposefully in the direction of the Common Room, and beckoned Rôg to follow him.

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Old 12-29-2003, 11:53 AM   #20
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Mithadan’s post – Baran

"Who comes seeking Piosenniel? And why?"

Baran's eyes fixed upon Piosenniel, taking note of the children who huddled behind her. The Innkeeper, alarmed at the sudden tension in his common room, scowled and stepped between the massive man and the Elf. "Here now..." he began. But Baran interrupted. "I do," he said. "I have traveled a long ways to find Piosenniel."

At that moment, the boy, Isilmir wriggled away from his mother and stepped forward, looking at Baran with curiosity. "Are you going to kill him, Ammë?" he asked. The room fell silent at the child's words.

Baran laughed, a booming sound which seemed to echo through the rafters. Then he took note of the Elf's serious expression and her failure to chuckle in turn and his laughter died. He set down his staff, propping it against a table, and stepped back, placing his hands behind his back. Among his people, extending one's hands outward away from the body was a sign of aggression. But his movement only made Piosenniel drop into a fighting stance. Baran cleared his throat and smiled.

"I am Baran," he said. "I am a Beorning from the north." At this many of the patrons muttered and some backed away towards the door. "A Beorning! A shape-shifter!" But Baran ignored the others, focusing upon Piosenniel.

"You are Piosenniel? Who once worked at The Green Dragon in the Shire?" he asked. The Elf nodded cautiously without moving. A knife had appeared in her hand. "Well met!" he continued. "I have traveled throughout the northlands seeking certain of my kin, though I know not where they might be. I seek one in particular who is known to me. Is it not true that you are friends with one named Bird?"

Piosenniel started at the mention of her friend, but did not lower her knife. However, her children danced in excitement at the name. "Auntie Bird!" cried Gilwen, clapping her hands. Baran nodded with a smile and eased his bulk into a chair at a nearby table. "Come!" he cried. "Let us speak! I bring you tidings from Imladris!"

After a moment's hesitation, Piosenniel sheathed her blade, to the relief of the Innkeeper who had been looking uneasily at the massive Baran. "Sit with our friends," she instructed her children, motioning towards the wagoneer's table. Then she joined the Beorning at his table. A server appeared and deposited a tall cup of ale at Baran's elbow.

"Why do you seek Bird?" asked the Elf suspiciously. Baran sipped at his mug before answering. "I do not really seek her, but rather her people. But she seemed a good place to begin. She and I were acquaintances in the northlands. I cannot honestly say friends, because I was yet young when she left and did not know her well. But I know she is one of our long-lost kin. Indeed, some among my people believed them to be but a myth before she arrived in the north."

He then drunk deeply from his mug and the Elf began to relax. "The Darkness has departed," he continued with a wipe at his beard. "There is a legend among my people that when the Darkness lifts, we will again dwell west of the Misty Mountains and be reunited with our kin -- Bird's people. Most think I am a fool to chase after the stories of old women, but I remember Bird, her humor and the fair shapes which she could take. Perhaps I...my people can learn to take shapes other than the Bear, if we meet our kin. So I have ignored those who ridiculed me and sought after them...and Bird. Where is she?"

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Old 12-29-2003, 11:53 AM   #21
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Pio's post - Piosenniel

‘You are a fool, indeed, if you think the Darkness has departed altogether,’ she thought to herself, wondering if he were some sort of simpleton, or skillfully cunning to make her think so. Pio waved away the server with his offer of wine, and leaned across the table. Bird had spoken little of her time among the Beornings, only that they had been kind to her in their own way. For that kindness to her friend she was prepared to grant the man some measure of tolerance.

He looked the sort who would be a Beorning, at least as Bird had described them. She, herself, had never met one, though she had traveled somewhat where they were purported to live. Her business at that time had kept her to herself, wary of others. And she had learned from Bird since then that the Bear folk were not that sociable to those outside their kind. Her brow furrowed. As she recalled, her friend had also said they were an insular sort, not given to travel and exploration. Behind his simple explanation, there must be other desires that drove him.

Yet, here he was, saying he brought news from Imladris. And saying it quite loudly, she noted, seeing the reactions of folk to the word Beorning and how they leaned closer at the mention of Imladris. Gossip and speculation would run rampant if he continued on in this manner.

Pio put on a gracious smile and spoke low to the man. ‘Perhaps this is not the best place to share what information we might have. I would prefer to hold my business in this matter close, not sharing it with whoever might have heard bits and snippets of our conversation. Perhaps the day after tomorrow you can come to my house. We can talk there more fully.’ She gave the man directions, saying she would look for him sometime after midday. ‘I will know more then of where Bird has gone, by then,’ she thought to herself, fingering the letter she had jammed into the waistband of her breeches. ‘And more of you, if I can.’

‘Cook will make some honeycakes. Bird likes them, too, when she visits. And my children will be delighted to meet an old friend of their Auntie . . . and assist you in the disposal of the treats.’ She chuckled at the image of this man in competition with her little scavengers and cajolers. Her wager would be on them.

‘Are we agreed, then? Will you come?’

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Old 12-29-2003, 11:54 AM   #22
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Mithadan’s post - Baran

Fool, waving that little potsticker at me. "Are you going to kill him" indeed! Why this little she-Elf would be lucky to stand against a cuff of my left paw! And now she fears to speak, even with me present! As if any here might threaten me. Baran sniffed with barely concealed amusement at the Elf's sudden concern, after her feeble attempt to protect her cubs. But he was in the world of Men, and he must play by the rules of the realm. And as he understood it, courtesy was required in this situation.

"Very well," he said. Then he rose and bowed politely, favoring the Elf with a smile. "I would be delighted to visit your home and discuss these matters further in the quiet of your parlor." He lifted his staff from where it was propped against a table and wandered off toward the bar...

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Old 12-29-2003, 11:54 AM   #23
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Pio's post - Rôg/little Cami

Rôg followed the old man down the stairs to the Common Room. He kept his eyes on the stair treads, not wanting to be witness to any mayhem that might be taking or might have taken place. His ears, thankfully, were assaulted only by the normal sounds of the busy room. The ebb and flow of conversation was a constant back drop against which the sharp clink of mugs and glasses and the raised voices used for calling the attention of others played counterpoint. No screams. No moans. He raised his gaze and dared a look about the room.

No blood, no fallen combatant.

With a lighter tread, he stepped off the last stair and caught up with Aiwendil. The old fellow had spotted the Elf and her large table companion and was making his way toward them.

~*~

Cami

Little Cami slid off the seat of her chair, a half-eaten piece of seed-cake in her hand. Isilmir and Gilwen were just settling in to listen to some tale from the dwarf, and Cami, too, would have stayed to hear the story had she not caught the movement of two interesting folk toward her mother and the large fellow.

Scuttling toward the older fellow in his long brown robes, she fell in slightly behind and to the side of him. He reminded her of someone, she could not remember exactly who . . but it was someone her ammë had told her about in one of her stories.

The name hung on the tip of her tongue, and a few more steps alongside him, jogged it tenuously into place. Cami reached out and tugged on the man’s robe, drawing his attention. Ignoring the other fellow who looked at her askance, she waited until the old man had stopped and faced her. She smiled up at him, her cheeks dimpling, then motioned for him to bend down near her.

‘I have something to ask you,’ she said in explanation, whispering in his ear. ‘Did you know him?’ she asked, as if the old fellow might have been privy to her previous train of thoughts.

‘Know who, child?’ he said, his eyes crinkling with amusement.

‘My ammë’s friend,’ she went on, pointing toward Pio, whose back was to them. ‘She called him Uncle’ . . . Cami frowned trying to remember the rest of the name; then, her features brightened, as she recalled it.

“Uncle Leemon . . . that’s who it was. Did you know him?'

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Old 12-29-2003, 11:54 AM   #24
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Child’s post – Radagast

Uncle Leemon?,,,,,

Slipping down to his knees, the old man stared quizzically into the solemn eyes that gazed boldly back at him. His brain felt addled and stiff beside the nimble mind of this obviously gifted child. He tried puzzling out the meaning of her words, thinking through the names of all the folk he'd met since his arrival at the Havens, and every variation in Quenyan or Sindarin that he could remember, but he still could not understand what the child was asking.

Once more, the little one tugged on the hem of his sleeve and repeated her request, "You know....Uncleleemon," impatiently slurring her words together.

As realization dawned, he turned and beamed at her, his eyes catching fire like great blue jewels sparkling under a sunbeam. For an instant, the weariness of his body faded as he reached out to tousle her soft brown curls. "My, my! Aren't you clever! Many a grown Man would not have seen that resemblance. No, I am not Ancalimon. But we are distant kin. And I do know your ammë as a friend, though perhaps not so close as Ancalimon did. Indeed, I would like to speak with her."

A small voice interrupted. "Do you know where Uncle Leemon is then? I'd like to go visit him." For, although this gentleman looked interesting to Cami, her mother's tales of the other fellow had sounded a bit more exciting, involving things like swords and displays of flying dragons. This fellow did not seem to carry any weapon at all.

The wizard stood up and sadly shook his head, "No, I'm sorry. I can't help you. I believe Ancalimon now dwells in a distant land close to Elvenhome. And I have no way to reach him there."

Cami didn't know where Elvenhome was, since she had not heard her ammë discuss this before. But she politely tugged on the old man's sleeve, guiding him over to where her mother stood.

Pio looked up and smiled, extending her hand in greeting. For it had been a number of years since they had last seen each other. Aiwendel inquired as to the name of Pio's youngest, since only the twins had been born at the time of their last meeting. Upon hearing that the little girl was named 'Cami', he fought back a smile, but said nothing more. So many years ago.... Glimmers of a time when he still understood why he was here.

After brief greetings were exchanged, Aiwendel led the Elf over to meet Rôg, explaining that he was his companion and servant, and that the two of them intended to travel to Harad to track down some of the rarer birds and animals. Aiwendel looked up expectantly at Piosenniel, "Please forgive me for asking, but do you and your husband still have that splendid ship that sails under the emblem of the Lonely Star? For we wish to hire a vessel, and would gladly pay well for passage down to Umbar. I have long wanted to travel to Harad. Such a fascinating place, it would seem! And, now that things are settling down a bit, it would appear to be the perfect time."

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Old 12-29-2003, 11:55 AM   #25
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Pio's post - Piosenniel

‘And now that things are settling down a bit . . .’ Pio frowned at this phrase, thrown in among the old man’s other words. From what she had gathered in conversation with those recently returned from the South, ‘things’ were not yet settled enough that a pair of birding enthusiasts would feel comfortable wandering about the countryside in search of rare species. She glanced at Aiwendil’s companion – no bodyguard, if she had the right of it. He looked the sort to be soft and hesitant. And the old fellow . . . were he cut from the same mold as her old friend she would not worry about him. But he looked less sure of himself, if that were possible, than her last chance meetings with him.

Aiwendil had come to the end of his speaking, and stood looking at her expectantly. What she wanted to tell him was to wait . . . that when Mithadan returned they would take them south. The old man had seen Pio’s friend safely to her destination, and Pio, in turn, would return the favor. Problem was, she chided herself, Mithadan would not return for four weeks, and the two companions, she sensed, were eager to be off.

‘Ah, Aiwendil. Were the Lonely Star at Harlond, I would welcome your booking passage on her. Unfortunately, she is gone for three more weeks at the very least, and more likely four. Can you wait that long?’

Rôg had drawn near his companion and now spoke quietly with him. The old man nodded his head in agreement. Turning back to Pio he said that they really could not. One of the birds they were studying would have migrated by then, and they would miss their opportunity. Could she suggest another ship and captain? The Scuppered Gull, she told them was one that might meet their needs – its captain was one Faragaer. They would find him a fair man to deal with, she said. ‘Just let them know that I have sent you.’

A few more pleasantries passed between them, then Aiwendil thanked her, saying they would seek out the captain after the morning meal. As he turned to find the table Rôg had gotten for them, Pio put her hand on his arm to detain him. ‘A favor, if you would,’ she began. ‘Bird is traveling in the south. She has been seeking news of her kin.’ Pio pulled the letter from her waistband, to share parts of it with the old man. ‘This is the most recent letter I have had from her. Unfortunately it is two years old. But, in it she mentions a growing unrest in the area around Umbar. Not all favored the rise of the new King and the dominance of Gondor. There were faint rumblings of changes in the making then, and unfavorable, I think, in Bird's opinion. I fear that over these last two years the disquiet may have grown. And for some reason she has not been able to send messages.’ She grasped the old man’s sleeve more tightly. ‘Be careful; be circumspect when you are down there. Pay attention to the little details you pick up. And . . . should you see Bird, send word to me. And if she can, have her send word also.’ Rôg, by this time, stood fidgeting near the two, obviously eager to be on their way. Aiwendil nodded to Pio, saying he would do his best, and thanked her once again for her help in finding passage south.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

At a smile and a motion of her hand, her children gathered about her. ‘Oh, ammë, can we stay just a little longer?’ Isilmir’s plaintive question was followed by Gilwen’s explanation that they had a new friend, one Odrin, the Dwarf sitting at the wagoneer’s table. ‘He’s only just finished one story,’ continued the boy, ‘and I should like to hear another.’ He raised his brows, giving another argument. ‘He was just about to begin one. And we shouldn’t be rude and leave before it’s done. Father would want us to be polite.’ A smile crinkled the corners of Pio’s eyes. So, he had brought out the heavy artillery! Gilwen picked up on this leverage, saying she thought this story would have something to do with a trip south they had made. ‘We’ve never been there! Can’t we stay to hear what it’s like where Father is?’

Little Cami watched the negotiations between her brother and sister and her mother with interest. She wanted to stay a little longer also. The old fellow she had met was sitting at a nearby table with his companion, and she had heard him tell her mother they were going south. Perhaps she could get a message to her father – that he shouldn’t forget the small present he had promised her. Some little carved figures for her toy ship . . . animals from the desert lands. As she slipped away toward their table, she saw her brother and sister with smiles on their faces as they waved to Odrin and headed back in his direction.

Pio shook her head and laughed. ‘Like herding cats!’ she murmured. From across the room, a friend caught her eye and waved her over. She was just on her way to the table when a man’s voice called her back.

‘Avarlond,’ he said, seeing the questioning look on her face. ‘ Airefalas is my brother, Mistress Piosenniel . . .’

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Old 12-29-2003, 11:55 AM   #26
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Ealasaide’s post – Avarlond

Avarlond waited patiently as the Elven woman finished her conversation with the elderly man and his companion. She had just settled her children and was beginning to move away from him again when he managed to catch her eye. She turned toward him, a questioning look on her face. Avarlond acknowledged her with a courtly gesture that could have been seen as either a deep nod or a short bow.

“Avarlond,” he said to her by way of introduction. “Airefalas is my brother, Mistress Piosenniel. He sailed with your husband to Umbar on the Lonely Star.”

Piosenniel returned his nod, smiling graciously. “Yes,” she said. “I remember meeting him. How can I help you?”

“It is not so much how you can help me,” he answered, a faint smile twisting on the corners of his lips. “But how you can - begging your pardon, Mistress - help the womenfolk of my family. You see, my brother and I had a bit of a falling out over a matter of business, so I wouldn’t expect to hear from him, but Lady Isabel -” he nodded in the direction of Isabel and Edelis, her companion “- is his fiancée. She hasn’t heard from him in some time and grows concerned. His mother - our mother - is greatly concerned as well. I promised to make some inquiries on their behalf, which is what brings me to you.”

He paused, nodding again. “I was hoping, Mistress, that you might have some word of the ship, how she fares, or whether she might be soon returning to port. It would comfort the ladies so to know that all is well.”

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Old 12-29-2003, 11:55 AM   #27
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Pio's post - Piosenniel

And it would comfort me as well if I knew all was proceeding smoothly.

Pio’s grey eyes darkened for a moment, then flicked to where Avarlond had nodded. An expectant pair of large blue eyes looked quickly away from where she stood with Airefalas’ brother, the long ash blond hair falling forward like a veil to cover the crimson staining her fair cheeks. ‘One does not wish to appear to be too eager,’ she remembered her sister-in-law instructing her when first she came to live in Gondor. ‘Society does not favor the woman who cannot temper her emotions. It is not convention to be so forthcoming.’

Isabel appeared the very model of frail womanhood – a well-crafted air of vulnerability, innocence, and powerlessness was about her. A half smile appeared for only a second on Pio’s face as she wondered if that same steel backbone she had seen in other ladies of Gondor held the young woman’s figure so ramrod straight. Perhaps when the Lonely Star returned she would meet the First Mate’s intended one.

For now, she held her gaze on Avarlond. ‘It has only been two weeks since the Star went south; there has not been time to hear back yet from Umbar. We estimate that it will take at the very least five weeks to complete the trading mission and return. Though, since it is a new area for trade being opened for Gondor, it will most likely take a number of weeks longer to secure the contracts.’ She wrinkled her brow at him. ‘But then you must know that, being a merchant yourself.’

Pio looked briefly toward the two ladies at the table, their heads bent together in hushed conversation. ‘Tell her that there have been no ill tidings from the south. The mission is less than half done by the Captain’s schedule, and I expect the Ship and all its crew to return safely in three or four weeks time, and with their pockets well lined with the riches of the Southlands.’ Isabel glanced toward them for a moment, then turned away again. ‘And tell her I will send word to you if I do receive news from the Star.’

Like little leaves caught in a sudden breeze, Isilmir, Gilwen, and little Cami came racing up to surround their mother. ‘The story is finished, ammë! And Odrin has promised us another when we see him again.’ Isilmir’s eyes were alight with images of closely fought battles, and Gilwen gave out with a Dwarven battle cry she had just mastered. Cami, not one for tales of well fought battles, was already thinking about how the Dwarf had promised a story of the great Wyrm who had stolen his people’s gold. ‘A clever Wyrm,’ Fastred had chimed in, ‘but not clever enough to outwit a Hobbit.’

‘You will excuse us, Master Avarlond,’ laughed Pio as the children clamored for her attention. ‘It is time for us to be heading home now. Dreams of glorious battles . . . and dragons, if I have the right of it,’ she said winking at her youngest daughter, ‘await my little crew.’ She reached out and touched him lightly on the arm. ‘I will send word when word comes to me.’

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

In the flurry of capes being put on and good-byes said, Cami seized the opportunity to visit the old fellow once more. She tugged at his sleeve as he sat at his table drinking the last of his wine. ‘Ammë said that you were leaving soon. If you see my atar will you tell him to remember his promise to me?’ Aiwendil smiled fondly at the little one and nodded his head ‘yes’, chuckling a bit. ‘How small and safe a world she moves in,’ he murmured.

‘Yes, kept safe like other small creatures by the hands and eyes and wisdom of those about her . . . at least for now, and as we can,’ rejoined Pio, as if he had addressed her. She fastened Cami’s cloak about her and pushed the curls back from her brow. Gilwen leaned patiently on the back of an empty chair, watching the slender fingers of Aiwendil’s companion draw lines in the beaded perspiration on the ale mug’s sides. Her eyes considered his face next, and his dark brown eyes. Light from the small lantern above the table caught the small stud in his ear as he turned his head to look out the window. The light from the window threw his features into relief. Gilwen frowned at the image, and prodded her brother who had come to stand hear her. ‘Don’t we know him?’ she asked, prompting Isilmir to look closely at the man.

His answer was cut off as Pio said good-bye a last time to Aiwendil and herded the three out the door and to their waiting mounts. In the ride home and the recounting of Odrin’s stories, amidst the plans for honeycakes and Baran's visit, the question was forgotten.

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Old 12-29-2003, 11:56 AM   #28
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Pio's post - Rôg

Rôg watched the four as they swirled out the Inn’s door, letting it bang shut behind them. His companion’s eyes followed them with interest, still chuckling at the comments of the littlest one. Turning back to Rôg he downed the last few drops of wine and stood up with the aid of his staff. The young man shouldered the larger of the packs, helping Aiwendil to adjust the strap of the smaller satchel across the folds of his robe.

‘I’ll meet you outside,’ he said, opening the strings to the soft leathern pouch that hung at his belt. ‘Let me just pay the Innkeeper and we can make our way to the docks.’ A few moments later he was standing by the old fellow, their feet turning south toward Harlond.

A fair distance was passed in companionable silence as the two made their way down the path along the river. Gulls wheeled in the air along the edges of the mudflats as the two approached the port, seeking easily preyed upon fish and any promising pieces of flotsam and jetsam. ‘The Scuppered Gull, wasn’t it?’ asked Rôg, shading his eyes against the sun to catch the names painted on the ships. ‘There she is,’ he said pointing his finger. ‘There in the last berth but one.’

They picked their way down the docks to the slip where the ship was tied. Rôg ventured a question that had been on his mind since they left the Inn. ‘Tell me something, if you will, Aiwendil. That woman that you asked about the ship . . . Piosenniel. How is it that you know her? And if I might also ask – why would a Skinchanger from the north seek her out?’

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Old 12-29-2003, 11:56 AM   #29
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Child’s post – Radagast

"....How is it that I know her?" Aiwendil repeated Rôg's initial query and glanced sidewise at his young friend, choosing his words with care. "I have known Pio a very long time. I met her shortly after I landed in this part of the world."

The old man sounded tired and hesitated for a moment, but finally picked up his story. "A distant kinsman of mine had dealings with Pio and her husband. He was using the Star to transport some folk up the river who hoped to settle along the banks of the Anduin and in the western part of the forest formerly known as Greenwood. I offered to help guide her friends northward. In recent years, I've seen her several times. She has always dealt fairly with me and, although she can be hot headed at times, I've found her to have good judgment and a kind heart. As to her personal affairs, I know little." An image of Mithadan and their three little ones, especially the impetuous Cami, slipped through his mind.

"The Skinchanger from the north? Her name is Bird. I know less of her than I do of Pio. I do know that the two women were companions on the road for some years. And Bird can be incredibly persistent when it comes to safeguarding her friends." Radagast chuckled, remembering a distant time when the Skinchanger had begged him to keep a close eye on the hobbits, at least until they were settled in.

Aiwendil's voice dropped, as though he was speaking to himself rather than Rôg, "There was a time, long ago, when I thought Bird might help me accomplish an important task. A task that had been laid down for me by one in authority far across the Seas. But, alas, I did not see her for many years. And, by then, all chance of accomplishing anything seemed to have vanished. It has indeed been a while since I have even thought of her." An uneasy feeling stirred in the recesses of the old man's mind, which he hastily pushed back.

"But, come! Enough idle talk. Shall we try to arrange that passage with the shipmaster that Pio recommended?"

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Old 12-29-2003, 11:56 AM   #30
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Pio’s post – Rôg

Passage was booked on The Scuppered Gull. Faragaer’s face, at first skeptical at taking on two unknown passengers, softened as Rôg mentioned that Piosenniel had recommended him to them. ‘Don’t take on too many travelers,’ he told them, ushering them up the gangplank to the deck. ‘But if you come with a word from her, I’ll give you a berth.’ He had just gone over the bills of lading a last time with the merchants whose goods he carried, and was just about to call for the lines to be cast off, the ship taken out to the deeper current in the river. ‘There will be many stops along the way. At the small trading docks along the southern coast,’ he told them. ‘With a good wind once we’ve reached the Bay, it should be about two weeks' time to reach the small cove just south of Umbar.

Aiwendil smiled in satisfaction and nodded his head in acceptance as he handed over the asked for coins. Rubbing his hands together in anticipation of the sea journey, he strode after one of the cabin boys who was to show them to their bunks. Rôg trudged along behind him, carrying their packs. His senses were painfully aware of the slight rocking motion of the ship as it bobbed on the river’s current.

‘Two weeks!’ he thought to himself, his stomach already gone a bit queasy at the unending rise and fall of the deck beneath his feet. He glanced up at the cross beam of the main mast. A tern and some of his fellows eyed him with their glittering black eyes, their heads cocked to one side.

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Old 01-08-2004, 01:54 PM   #31
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Hilde Bracegirdle/Surinen

Dinsûl had not been well as the sun rose that morning, nor had he gotten out of bed. Spending the early hours laying in the cool shade of the tent, his son Surinen wordlessly took over his father’s obligation to the clan, providing the bread for the afternoon meal. Sitting on a worn mat beside the fire, with one knee drawn to his chest, Surinen patted the dough between his uplifted hands forming a well-practiced disk, and slapped it onto the concave iron pan resting over the fire. He watched it closely for a moment and once he saw it puff slightly in the hot pan, turned it over and reached out to shape another portion of dough. After a moment he grabbed the cooked bread and with one hand laid it down on a cloth and struck it, quickly expelling the hot air before placing it under the cloth to wait until it was required. With the other hand he slapped down the next to cook. It was a familiar rhythm, something that could be done with little thought, though the heat of the work was taxing even this early in the day.

Surinen smiled, as a soft muttering emanated from the black darkness of the tent behind him, his father whispering to his dreams. Dinsûl would be right enough given a little more time. It was not often that he had had cause to celebrate in this way and it was not be held against him. For his old friend and cousin had returned after a long absence, and though the desert had not claimed him as had been thought, his people did, and that most joyfully. He came bringing word also that he had heard news of Surinen’s sister Mîrya, who now appeared to be living under the protection of a benefactor some days further west of here. So Dinsûl had felt doubly pleased and had drunk giving expression to twice the amount of thanks, and further multiplying his happiness, until the evening had grown late and Surinen had gone to bring him home, with his many tears of joy and incoherent declarations of gratitude and best wishes.

Setting the last round in the pan to cook, Surinen took the empty vessel where the dough had rested and rubbed it hard with his rough hands, dislodging the small dry bits that adhered there. Gathering them up carefully he placed them before a small bird that was waiting expectantly before him. “Do not worry,” he said. “Dinsûl is not making bread today, but neither will I forget you.”

Having finished his duty, he quickly made coffee over the dying fire and brought a bowl of the bitter drink into the tent. “Father,” he said softly, placing his hand on Dinsûl’s shoulder. “Father, you must awake. The women will be arriving soon and all is ready. Here, have coffee. I have been here too long already and must leave now.”

Dinsûl rolled over and after a moment asked for water, which his son quickly brought to him. “Go son, I am awake. Go and my blessings and thanks go with you.”

Surinen stopped short to watch as he left the tent, for close by a horse and rider thundered hurriedly past toward the leader’s encampment, frightening away the bird that had been picking at the last crumbs of dough. It was Surinen’s fellow outrider Narayad, his lance held high but with no pennant to signal danger. Wondering what tidings brought Narayad so quickly back; Surinen took his own lance from its position by the tent flap and swung up on his horse. He would know soon enough, but sooner yet once he reached the outskirts of the Eagle Clan’s sprawling borders. Turning his horse to follow Narayad’s trail, he quickly headed out past the flocks and herds, into the waste beyond.

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Old 01-08-2004, 01:55 PM   #32
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Ealasaide/Airefalas

Airefalas gazed down into his wine cup as Mithadan nodded. "They are not yet that bored," said Mithadan, speaking of the crew they had left confined to the Lonely Star. "And they have had the chance to explore such of the city as they might wish. And they have filled their cabins with trade goods of their own. They will be happy when we return to Gondor."

Airefalas took a sip from his cup and turned his gaze out the window toward the city below. “None too soon,” he muttered. He had been against Mithadan’s and his move from the ship to the palace in the first place, but had held his tongue and not objected when Mithadan had told him of the plan. Airefalas was well aware that it was a matter of protocol. Mithadan could hardly reject the hospitality of Lord Falasmir without causing Umbar’s principal lord a considerable loss of face, which could lead to a breakdown in the trade negotiations. Nonetheless, Airefalas would have preferred to have remained on the ship. Moored in the shadow of the black-sailed corsair that had escorted the Lonely Star to her berth, the ship was highly vulnerable. On the other hand, he could hardly have allowed his captain to go ashore alone either. Airefalas disliked the options they had been faced with all the way around.

“We’re being manipulated,” he said quietly, putting the wine cup aside. “From the moment we arrived, they began their maneuvering and now they have us at a complete disadvantage. To what purpose, I cannot say, but I honestly feel we are being delayed intentionally. We are at their mercy.”

For a long moment, Mithadan said nothing, but a shadow of a frown passed over his features. “Perhaps you think of them too harshly, Airefalas,” he said at last. “It would be to Umbar’s considerable advantage to establish open trade with Gondor. What could they possibly gain by holding us?”

Airefalas shrugged. “That I don’t know, but I don’t trust them. We should have moored the Lonely Star outside the harbor and outside of their control.” He paused, turning his back to the window and folding his arms stubbornly across his chest. “If you will permit me to speak frankly, I just spent seven weeks as a prisoner on one of those galleys. I know how their captains think. While their hospitality is excellent, they are nonetheless a black-hearted bunch, who would sell their own mothers into slavery if they thought it would bring a grand enough profit.”

Mithadan nodded. “You know you may always speak frankly.” He pushed his chair away from the table and stood up. “While what you say may very well be true, what would you have us do? We are here on behalf of King Elessar to open up trade with Umbar. We must behave like diplomats, not churlish boat captains.”

Airefalas laughed. “My apologies, Mithadan.” He raised his hands in friendly surrender. “Of course, you’re right, but the churlish boat captain in me refuses to sit down and be quiet.”

“ I can tell that the waiting is beginning to wear on me,” Airefalas added after a moment. “Caravan or no caravan, I would feel much more secure if we waited on board the Lonely Star and outside the shadow of that black-sailed dromond.”

“I, too, would prefer the situation be something other than what it is,” answered Mithadan patiently. “But, hopefully, the caravan will arrive in two days as expected, and we will be able to conclude our transactions as planned and be on our way. In the meantime, we must enjoy Lord Falasmir’s hospitality and try to make as good a use of our time here as we can.”

Airefalas nodded. “Again, you are right. All I’m saying is that we need to keep our wits about us. They’ve gone to a good bit of trouble to put us at this disadvantage. It would be very unlike the Corsairs not to make use of the situation.”

“I will keep that in mind,” answered Mithadan.

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Old 01-08-2004, 01:57 PM   #33
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Estelyn Telcontar/Wyrma

The curtain which covered the entry to the Lord Falasmir’s audience hall rustled softly as the woman pulled it aside. She approached ruler’s throne with purposeful, unhasted steps and bowed her head with only as much deference as necessary to greet him.

“Welcome, Lady Wyrma,” he said politely, yet without warmth in his smooth voice. “You have arrived punctually as always. I hope you had a good journey?”

“A journey is always good when it is uneventful,” she replied, almost curtly. “I trust you and your family are well, my Lord Falasmir.”

“As always,” he answered, “as always. However, time is too short to spend in talking of such matters – the appointed hour for the banquet draws nigh and we must plan our course of action well.”

“So you still intend to go through with this – farce?” she said with only a hint of the disdain she felt.

“Of course,” Falasmir replied. “There must be no outward sign that we do not intend to cooperate fully with King Elessar’s plans and wishes. Besides, it does not hurt to remind the traders who holds the power here in Umbar.”

Wyrma curbed the retort that came to her mind; she had long ago learned not to say what she thought without carefully considering the repercussions. Not even among allies did she allow herself to speak freely.

“What are you planning?” she asked instead.

“The northern captain has been told that the awaited caravan arrives in two days. However, at noon of the second day, we shall seize him, his first mate, and the whole crew. If any resist, they will be slain,” he said.

“Would it not be better to rid yourself of them all immediately?” Wyrma queried. “Of what further use can they be to you?”

“Oh, they will show their worth – at the slave market! They are healthy and strong and will bring a good price, I am sure!” Falasmir laughed.

“Live foes can still do mischief,” she said.

“You see matters too sternly, I deem,” came his reply. “Now, have you news from the north?”

“Yes,” she answered. “A messenger has come, bearing tidings that all is ready. It shall take place in seven days.” With a glance at the guards flanking the throne, she said no more.

“Good, good,” he responded, noticing her look with chagrined irritation. Wyrma was an excellent counsellor and a cunning ally, but he did not trust her so far as to meet with her alone and unguarded. She had abilities that made her dangerous, and there was no telling whether she might use them against him. He had the uncomfortable feeling that she knew of his fear and was secretly amused by it.

Well did Wyrma realize his apprehension, and she did nothing to allay it. She knew that fear of the unknown was greater than that of a visible danger and was therefore careful never to reveal herself to him. Indeed, there were few who had seen her true nature made apparent.

Since all that was now necessary had been said, she took her leave, departing by the same doorway which she had entered earlier. It was located at the side of the room and used only by those who were granted the privilege in order to remain unseen by those waiting in the courtyard. The curtained opening led to an antechamber, where two more guards stood. Wyrma ostensibly took no notice of them, just as they appeared not to see her, but she was acutely aware of their interest.

She entered the chambers which she always occupied when staying in the palace. Her maid, who accompanied her on all journeys so that she needed no other assistance, was unpacking the baggage efficiently and quietly. She brushed past a large mirror with only a cursory glance. She needed no mirror to tell her how she looked; beauty was not what she strove to achieve. She knew that she was not an outwardly attractive woman, being too stocky for gracefulness and having stern features that showed no feminine daintiness. That was of no importance to her. She sat down at the desk near the window to peruse the messages lying there.

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Old 01-08-2004, 03:03 PM   #34
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Ráma

The piercing rays of the sun coated the buildings and alleyways of Umbar like a thick woolen blanket surrounding the city. It was mid-afternoon, the time when most residents wisely remained inside under walls and roofs that could shield them from the stifling heat and glare. The streets were bathed in silence, the markets empty. Only a servant or two trudged unwillingly about on business, hauling jugs of water and supplies, or engaging in other errands at the whim of some great lord. Rich or poor, few voluntarily ventured out at this time of day when the air hung so oppresively heavy that it was difficult to catch one's breath.

In a few hours, with the approach of early evening, this scene would dramatically alter. The quiet streets would waken as elegant villas and sqaulid shacks threw back their doors, and residents spilled out onto the streets. Crowded throngs of citizens would go about their business or pleasure often till late into the night. By its very nature, Umbar was a city of darkness. Only at night, or in the few hours immediately following dawn when many still lay abed, could a resident of Umbar conduct public business in reasonable comfort.

A half-shadowed figure stood beside the open casement in the Common Room at The Cat's Paw, a small and ancient hostelry that was tucked away on a forgotten lane far from the main thoroughfares criss crossing the city. The figure at the window instinctively drew back so that she could watch those passing in front of the Inn, while still making it difficult for them to catch a clear glimpse of her own face and figure. The woman appeared to be young, no more than twenty years of age, with masses of cascading black curls framing a well-tanned face and alert brown eyes that were highlighted with flecks of gold. Short and lithe, she sported leather boots and a scarlet pelicon elaborately embroidered with silhouettes of birds worked in golden thread. This was worn over a pair of long pants that flared out almost like a skirt, an outfit in which she could sit astride a horse with ease but still manage to blend into the finest establishments of Umbar. Tucked deep under her belt within a leather sheath, she carried two jambiyas, the traditional doubled-edged curved daggers of the southern peoples.

To her friends and family she was 'Ráma', a name that means 'Wing of the Eagle'. Those in Umbar regarded her as a well-to-do Mannish desert dweller, a representative of one of the more powerful tribes living in the region to the east. She did nothing to dispel that illusion, which was essential to her safety and that of her people. In truth, the woman was a Skinchanger, one of those rare folk who are spoken of in legend, much feared and courted by so-called normal men. She had been sent on an errand by her own tribe, those few who rejected the overall leadership of the confederated clans. Her ostensible mission was to represent her kin in their business dealings with the wealthiest families of Umbar. In this regard, Ráma could offer her customers three exceptional commodities that were much prized by those of high rank and fortune: the rare white merino sheep whose silky wool was so valued by ladies at court, the sturdy camels who could glide like ships across the deep sands, and, sweetest of all, the prized stallions and mares who ran as sure and fleet as the wind roaring across the desert.

Yet, at the moment, Ráma's mind was not on trade, nor even on the horses that she loved. She uneasily surveyed the street below, searching vainly for any sign of her kinsman who was now some two hours late. The woman's fingers drummed nervously against the window ledge as she considered what to do. For trade was only a small part of her assignment.. Her proud mother and their other kin preferred to lead lives of fierce independence and eschew any involvement with outsiders, almost like solitary eagles atop a craggy cliff. But that had become increasingly difficult. Disturbing rumors swirled through the desert. These rumors spoke not of harassment and attack on the part of Mannish clans, an all too common occurence when men awoke to the reality of Skinchangers in their midst. Rather, they spoke of a new threat from within her own people: Skinchangers who wanted to expand their influence outward and who threatened to eliminate all those refusing to give proper allegiance to the main wyrm chieftain.

These charges and concerns were not new, but lately they had taken on a more somber tone. Since her own family and kin had no intention of honoring the directives of the wyrm leader, such rumors posed a serious threat. She and Thorn had been sent to gather whatever information they could to find out what lay behind all this. In most lands to the north and west, one as young as Ráma might not have been burdened with such a task. But this was Umbar, and young ones grew up fast. Either that, or they perished from the dangers and intrigues that constantly surrounded them. Ráma knew that most young women her own age were already married, or at least have secured promises for the future. That was not an option for her. Pushing down the bitterness that threatened to resurface, she forced herself to concentrate on the immediate problem at hand.

That evening, she was expected to attend an audience at the Great Hall of Lord Falasmir as one of the traders in the area to meet with foreign shipowners from the city of Minas Tirith. The shipowners did not interest her in the slightest. But the chance to gain admission to court and pick up information was another thing. Surely she could arrive at the palace just a few hours early to make some polite inquiries as to the whereabouts of Thorn who was supposed to be tending several prized steeds that Falismar had recently purchased from her clan. Or perhaps she could even make discreet inquiries and learn something more of those strange rumors.

How she hated playing a game like this! She would rather have been free to ride out of the city and return to the wild desert lands that she loved. Only there would she find a way through to solve her personal dilemma. But that, too, was a luxury she could ill afford. Ráma pushed personal thoughts from her mind one last time and went out to saddle Kyelek, quickly making her way into the street and turning the animal's nose in the direction of the palace.

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Old 01-08-2004, 03:33 PM   #35
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Mithadan and Airefalas stood outside their chambers at the palace, speaking with the captain of their "escort" detail. Both of the Gondorians had white cloths bound about their heads with red rope. The cloths trailed down their necks covering their skin.

"You wish to go now?" whined the captain. "It is mid-day! The sun is at its strongest as is the heat! Why not wait until the evening when it is cooler?"

"Your Lord Falasmir requires our presence this evening," replied Airefalas evenly. "We will not have time then. We will go now."

"Wait a moment then," answered the captain with a scowl. He moved to a door down the hall and opened it. The sound of hurried, then angry discussion followed. Several minutes later, three heavily armed and annoyed looking men emerged and shuffled over to the Gondorians.

"Raal, Mahat and Seft will accompany you to make certain you find your way safely," announced the captain. "Take care and avoid the direct sun when you can."

"Thank you," responded Mithadan with a smile. The one named Seft, a broad shouldered, olive skinned man wearing mail made of bronze led the way through the corridors of the palace. The place was built of heavy stone with many windows, narrow on the first two floors and broader above. There was an open courtyard in the center of the building in which a fountain bubbled with clear water. The walls were hung with brightly colored silks and cloths, many portraying scenes of the oceans or of the men of Umbar in battle. Mithadan suspected that the opponents in many of these scenes, warriors wearing black armor, were people of his own country.

Servants pushed open the great doors as they exited. The hot air broke around them like the surf on a beach, but unlike the surf it did not recede, but rather enveloped them. Mithadan began sweating almost instantly as they stode down the steps of the palace towards the broad road leading down towards the seaport. A few beggars, sprawled in the shadows gestured hopefully, but Raal put a hand on the hilts of his sword and growled at any who made as if to stand and approach them. But by and large, the streets were empty; most of the citydwellers stayed indoors at this time of day.

It was nearly a league to the docks and when they at last approached the water even their guards were sweating and grumbling. The Lonely Star was berthed in a commercial quay near a row of squat warehouses. When they had arrived, other trading vessels had occupied the docks nearby. But when they approached the Star, to their surprise, on either side of their ship was docked a black corsair. Mithadan frowned and looked with distaste at the rows of windows just above the waterline of either vessel. From these slaves could extend oars to speed the warships on their way. "I have black memories of ships like those," muttered Airefalas as they walked past.

"You don't like The Black Eagle?" asked Maal with a laugh. "She is the largest ship in our fleet. And the Seahawk there is the fastest. Are they not grand?"

"Wonderful," answered Mithadan wryly. "But why are they docked here? These are commercial quays. Your warships were berthed to the south when we arrived."

"The truth be told," answered Seft with a slight smile. "It has come to our ears that some are not happy that a ship of Gondor is here. We feared for the safety of your crew and moved these vessels here...to protect your ship."

"We feel much safer now," retorted Airefalas through clenched teeth. "And I see that more guards have been posted. Also to protect us, I assume." Two tents had been raised across from where the Star was berthed and several guards lounged in their shade.

"Yes," laughed Maal. "To protect you."

Mithadan and Airefalas climbed the gangway to the Lonely Star in silence. Their... guides remained on the dock and chatted with the guards who had walked over when they arrived. On deck, Saelon, the second mate greeted them. Mithadan took a quick look about before responding. Everything, the decks, the railings, the helm were clean, indeed spotless. A sure sign of a bored crew with little to do.

"Captain!" cried Saelon. "Any word on when we leave?"

"Soon," replied Mithadan. "Soon. We meet tonight with traders. I hope to cast off in a matter of days if we can." He looked over to the Black Eagle. A few members of its crew were leaning upon its railings looking down at Mithadan and his companions. He noted that the corsair's men wore swords and leather jerkins notwithstanding the heat. "When did they arrive?" he asked turning his back on the black ship.

"Yesterday," answered Saelon. "Both ships, one right after the other. A trader was moved to make room. Some of us don't like this Captain."

Mithadan nodded. "How is the crew?"

"Bored," responded the mate. "Eager to take to sea. Angil got drunk last night and got into a fight with one of his guards. I locked him in his cabin."

"Let him out," said Mithadan. "But no more leave for him. And no leave longer than two hours for anyone else. Tell everyone that we will leave in a matter of days. I want the ship ready to go." He looked back up at the corsair and thought for a moment. "How are we provisioned with oil?" he asked.

"Cooking oil?" asked Saelon. "We have plenty."

"No," answered the Captain. "Lamp oil. Purchase two barrels of it. No. Three."

Airefalas and Mithadan went among the crew, shaking hands and smiling. They assured all that they would depart soon and bade them be ready. Then they made their way back to the gangplank again.

"'In a matter of days'?" asked Airefalas.

Mithadan scowled, then put on a fairer face as their guards approached. "Yes," he answered quietly. "With or without cargo."

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Old 01-08-2004, 08:42 PM   #36
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Rôg

They were three days out of Harlond, soon to be heading out of the bay to open sea. Faragaer’s lugger had skimmed down the river, sails catching the wind as she sped down the center of the channel. There had been a brief layover at Pelargir, just enough time to take on a pallet of woven cages, fifty in all, bearing pairs of quail – all bound for the tables of Umbar’s more prominent citizens.

A riot of loud sounds had accompanied their transfer to the deck of The Scuppered Gull, becoming higher in pitch when the net which swung them to the ship was caught for a moment as it passed over the railing, jostling the small, chunky, short-tailed birds, frightening them.

. . . ka-KA-ko! . . . ka-KA-ko! . . . they cried to one another. The old man had clucked his tongue and followed after them once they were lowered into the dimly lit cargo hold; his presence offering them a moment of calm reassurance.

Rôg had watched as the greyed top of his companion’s head disappeared below the rim of the hatch. ‘I should go down, too,’ he thought to himself, barely suppressing a belch as his stomach revolted at the thought of the small, dark, enclosed space rocking however gently on the river’s current.

Two of the crew members passed by him as he stood at the railing, he recalled, his gaze now fixed on the small quay and the land beyond it. One jostled the other and pointed with his chin at the bedraggled man with the ghastly pale green tinge that underlay the olive complexion. ‘Don’t know how he’ll weather the real waves once we bear south along the coast,’ he whispered. The other had reached for the bucket with wood shavings they had learned to keep near the younger man and pushed it near the bilious looking passenger. ‘Nor do I,’ affirmed the other crewmember, ‘but I guess he’ll keep me busy with the planer.’

The two nodded, with as much sympathy as they could muster, to Rôg as they passed on to their tasks. And he had pulled the bucket up to him, hugging it to his chest like some long lost love, his head resting on the rim.

And so he had remained, the last fifty leagues from the relative calm of the bay to the Great Sea; his claim on that portion of the deck and railing given up only for brief periods when sheer exhaustion claimed him and he dragged himself below deck to his and Aiwendil’s small cabin. During one of these retreats to his hammock, the older man’s ice blue eyes crinkled with concern and a hint of mild amusement at his companion’s discomfiture. The wind from the west had picked up as they turned south, and the waves beat at the side of the ship in a rhythmic manner.

‘It will be a long, insufferable trip I fear, for you, my friend,' he said, shaking his head sympathetically as a groan escaped from the depth of the hammock’s netting. ‘Perhaps you should consider trying an alternative.’ The sound of the young man retching, the unfortunately familiar sour stench of ship’s biscuit revisited, drove the older man from the small cabin. He exited quickly and shut the door to the cabin firmly, his footsteps fading as he climbed up the steps to the main deck.

Rôg raised his head cautiously from the mouth of the bucket, the wave of nausea receding. In a small moment of clarity he nodded at the door which now stood closed. ‘Moth,’ he mumbled, pulling himself shakily to his feet. ‘I don’t recall ever hearing that moths throw up.’

The window of clarity and calm passed as the very last remnants of breakfast met the already soggy shavings . . .

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Old 01-09-2004, 03:43 AM   #37
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Gondor

‘Move over, Wenny. I want to see, too!’

Isilmir reached down and grabbed his little sister by the wrist, pulling her up to the wide branch of the red oak. The tree sprawled conveniently near the high walled fence that ran about the grounds of their home. Gilwen scooted further down the limb, making room for Cami as she clambered onto the rough platform.

‘Do you see him yet?’ Cami squinted into the distance, along the line of the narrow track leading west from the South Road to their front gate. ‘No,’ said her sister, pushing a clump of leaves down that obstructed her view. ‘But we can’t miss him,’ she giggled. ‘He’s as big as those stone statues in the White Tower!’ Cami looked skeptically at Gilwen, her brow furrowing. ‘No, he’s not,’ she declared after a few moments’ recollection. ‘Not by half,’ she said, emphasizing her argument with a decided smack to her sister’s bare arm. ‘Hey! Watch it!’ growled Gilwen, an annoyed look on her face. She raised herself up, sitting cross-legged on the limb as she rubbed her arm.

Cami scuttled out of reach and tucked herself in close to Isilmir. ‘Hold still, you two!’ he hissed at them. ‘I can’t see clearly with my spyglass with both of you bouncing about like big bunnies. The girls sat quietly for a few moments as Isilmir tried to focus the small, telescoping brass tube. The smaller girl, her attention waning, pulled on the sleeve of his shirt. ‘Do you see him . . . yet?’ she whispered. Her brother sighed, shaking his head ‘no’, and pushed the two parts of the spyglass firmly together.

‘Well I see something,’ said Gilwen, her eyes lighting up. The other two followed the direction of her gaze – away from the road and toward the house. On the broad kitchen windowsill, Cook was just setting out trays of small honey-cakes to cool. Their honey glazed tops glistened in the morning’s sun, beckoning.

The children, their plans to spy out the arrival of their guest now replaced by a mission more promising, climbed down from their leafy platform. Prizes in sight, they stole near the tempting sweets, mouths watering in anticipation.

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Old 01-10-2004, 12:15 PM   #38
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Silmaril

Wyrma looked up from her papers when she heard a knock on the door of her room. She was alone in the opulently furnished chamber; her maidservant Elsta had left to run an errand. “Enter!” she called imperatively.

A young man came in with buoyant steps, barely containing his excitement to be in this fascinating surrounding. His dark eyes shone with eagerness, and his black curls were slightly tousled, as if he had run from his quarters to hers. It was the first time Tinar, Wyrma’s youngest son, accompanied her on one of her trips to Umbar.

“Mother,” he burst out, “I have finished unpacking my things. May I go out to meet Korpúlfr now? He has promised to show me the city!”

“In the heat of the day?” she protested. “Would you not rather wait until it is cooler?”

“But we won’t have time then – the banquet begins early in the evening, and who knows how long it will take?”

“Then go,” she said, with an inner sigh of resignation, “but go inconspicuously. And be sure to be back in time for…”

“Of course!” he exclaimed impetuously, with the disdain youths of all times have for the well-meaning yet entirely unnecessary admonitions of their mothers. He paused for a moment of concentration, shrinking before her eyes until he was transformed into a sparrow. The little bird fluttered to the window sill, waiting impatiently for her to open the painted wooden shutters, then disappeared into the shimmering afternoon air.

Wyrma closed the shutters and stretched her weary back before sitting down again. She found planning and writing more tiring than anything else, though it was a necessary part of her office as leader of her people. Her eldest son had given her many sheaves to peruse, and his image rose to her mind as she studied them. Markal was a pompous, officious man who seemed older than his years. If she could have chosen a form for him, it would have been a donkey, she thought wryly.

He was dutiful, but a weakling, looking to her to make the decisions that he implemented. Worse yet, he was boring – just like his father. He would never be the leader of their people. He did not have the magnetism, the power, the personality that was necessary. Most important, he lacked the essential ability that her people would expect of her successor. No, he was more suited to what he did now, supervising the business of the city that was developing as her capital.

It would be more strenuous to supervise Tinar, true, but it was time to give her youngest the opportunity to show and develop his abilities. None of his elder brothers had evidenced an inclination to follow in her footsteps as yet. Should he have any of the characteristics of his real father, combined with hers, he could become the next Great Wyrm – if he learned to…

She swept aside the papers with an impatient gesture, as if to brush away the irksome thoughts that troubled her mind. Perhaps she should rest before the evening came – she would need all of her wits about her in the treacherous scheming of this court.

Last edited by piosenniel; 04-05-2007 at 11:36 AM.
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Old 01-10-2004, 07:33 PM   #39
Hilde Bracegirdle
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Surinen

From a distance it seemed as if Narayad were gesturing at the ground beneath a small arrangement of rather worn looking tree trunks, propped one against another. But in truth he was addressing Surinen, who was in a pit deep below the surface digging in the hard ground. Pulling a rope strung over the tripod produced an oft-mended pan laden with dirt, which Narayad promptly threw on a large pile of similar stuff, and lowered down the hole again. Nearby a similar pit was to be seen, the remains of the old well found to have collapsed a few days before.

“Watch your head,” Narayad said as he let the rope slide easily through his hands. “Any sign yet?”

“No,” came the thin reply. “Tell me Narayad, if I should never come out of here alive, would you take care of my father?”

“You are not going to die while I am around,” Narayad shouted back. “And don’t worry, if you weren’t around the whole clan would care for Dinsûl or else starve. Aren’t you feeling well then?”

The scraping sound left off for a moment replaced by wheezy laughter that ended in a fit of coughing.

“Surinen, are you all right?” the man asked, stooping over the edge of the pit. “Surinen?”

“Yes, I’m alright, and more comfortable than you no doubt. In fact so pleasant it is and my feet so cool that I think I should curl up and stay down here forever. Please give my father my apologies.” He broke off again into another crackling peel. “You know where to find me. Tell him I have become a poisonous serpent coiled inside this well, one that you dared not remove, but that I promised not to bite if he would visit me here.”

“Ah! Then we are near water, aren’t we?” the other outrider said, quickly tying the end of the rope. “Here climb back up, and let me take a turn as the earth will become heavier and your wit even weaker.”

After a moment the dusty head of the delver appeared above ground as Surinen climbed the rope to its top. Narayad grabbed his hand pulling it sharply to help him gain the side of the pit. Once more standing in the light of day Surinen shook the dust from his hair and squinted as he picked up his shawl and placed it on his head so that it might shade his eyes.

“And I shall be sure to bring comfort to your wife in her sorrow should you decide to stay here and not return to her,” he said winking at Narayad as he took the rope and prepared to descend. “For I hear it is bad luck for a married man to dig a well! And even worse for one with such a beautiful wife!” He joked knowing that Narayad, only recently wed, had a passion for excavating that his new wife did not share.

“You truly are practicing to become a viper then, aren’t you? But if you have such venomous ideas, I shall crush your head now with this beam so as not to worry about them. Beware what you say to me!”

“No friend, I am no snake, but your wife would not have you put your self at risk and bound me to speak with you about it…and you of all people know I do not mind the digging.”

“Then you are free of your obligation for you have broached the subject, and the result is not in your hands but mine. I will speak with her on our return.”

“That is all I ask.”

“Then it will be done, rest assured, and quickly also if you let me be about my business! I think we should be able to return tomorrow or the next, if the water seeps in quickly.”

“And if I do not decide to linger in the well waiting for frogs to arrive!”
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It is important, at the present time, to bear in mind that the human soul has still greater need of the ideal then of the real. It is by the real that we exist; it is by ideal that we live. -Victor Hugo
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Old 01-11-2004, 08:13 PM   #40
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Airefalas

As Airefalas walked with Mithadan back down the Lonely Star's gangplank toward the shore, he felt a peculiar sense of relief. It wasn't that things were going any better. They weren't. The ship and her crew were now under even more dire threat than they had been previously what with the recent arrival of the extra shore guard and a second black dromond. The graceful lines of the Lonely Star were now offset by the ominous shadows of two flanking warships. With that kind of might hovering over them, ready and poised to attack, Airefalas knew that crew of the Lonely Star would have to move quickly and with their wits about them if they wished to survive should the situation move beyond tense into actual open hostility. Ideally, he would have preferred to have served with Mithadan and the rest of the Lonely Star crew previously so that he could know what to expect of them should events come to a battle, but he was not concerned with their relative valor. They seemed as brave and stout a bunch of men as he had ever sailed with. In fact, he had complete confidence in ship, captain, and crew. What he did not have confidence in was the word of this Lord Falasmir. He had the reputation of a viper and, upon meeting him, Airefalas half-expected to see a forked tongue in his mouth when he spoke.

Stepping off of the gangplank back on to Umbar's territory, Airefalas cast a glance up at the pale blue of the Haradrim sky. The sun was baking down on them with the intensity of a furnace. If not for the steady offshore breeze, it would have been nearly unbearable. He wiped the sweat from his forehead with his sleeve and waited as the three guards who had escorted him and Mithadan from the palace earlier rejoined them for the trip back.

While he had initially experienced some private doubts about Mithadan's intents, fearing that their stalwart captain was going to let them all be slaughtered like sheep in a pen while he made some misguided and futile attempt at diplomacy, Airefalas now saw that his doubts had been rooted in his own ignorance of Mithadan's character. In fact, when he had made a passing comment to Saelon, the Star's second mate, expressing this doubt, Saelon had simply looked at Airefalas as though he had taken leave of his senses, then laughed loudly as though it had been a wonderful joke. Airefalas had laughed along with him and taken his leave, thinking, well, maybe... Then, he had heard Mithadan’s instructions regarding the lamp oil and found himself letting out a breath he had not even realized he was holding. When Mithadan had intimated a few minutes later that they would be leaving in a few days, with or without cargo, he knew for certain that his worries had been unfounded. That knowledge was the source from whence his sense of relief flowed.

Thinking back on his own foolishness in doubting Mithadan’s intent, Airefalas let out a soft, wry laugh. Mahat, the guard on his right, shot him a curious glance. On impulse, Airefalas dropped him a wink.

The guard eyed him cautiously. “You find something funny?”

“Only the heat,” Airefalas replied casually. Without giving the guard a chance to respond, he turned to Mithadan. “The tide will be turning soon and the wind with it. I can feel a change already."

Mithadan nodded. "I, too. Fortunately, Saelon has done a good job in our absence. Once the cargo is on board, very little remains to be done to prepare the Star for sailing."

Airefalas nodded in response and fell silent, letting his attention dwell instead on the route they took in getting from the docks to the palace. He paid careful attention to the closed and shuttered buildings, to where narrow side streets joined the main thoroughfare, and so on. As long as the possibility existed that he and Mithadan might have to fight their way back to the ship, he intended to do his best to make sure that there were no unpleasant surprises along the way.

The banquet scheduled for the evening worried Airefalas greatly. Earlier, he had toyed with the idea of trying to conceal a weapon on his person so as not be completely unprepared for treachery, but, as Mithadan had bluntly pointed out, being caught with a weapon would do nothing but land them both in Lord Falasmir’s dungeons. He saw the truth in Mithadan’s warning and abandoned the idea at once, but found his sense of foreboding regarding the banquet growing steadily throughout the day. He raised one hand to his temple where a throbbing headache had begun to take root.

Last edited by piosenniel; 04-05-2007 at 11:35 AM.
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