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Old 05-12-2004, 10:28 AM   #201
piosenniel
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Mithadan's Post

Mithadan was taken aback by Ráma's reserved, almost cold reception. He exchanged a quick glance with Airefalas before responding. "Thank you," he began. "Thank you for your advice, your aid, for everything. We are deeply in your debt. Because of you, at least our ship and our crew are underway and will hopefully reach Gondor."

Ráma grunted as she hastily began to pack her belongings in her saddlebags. She looked up several times, as if watching for unwelcome company. Observing this, Airefalas stood tall and began to scan the horizon. But he could see little but a few birds in the sky. He turned back as Ráma spoke briefly again. "Get ready," she said. "We're leaving."

"Wait," cried Mithadan. "We left Umbar in...a bit of disarray, shall we say. In order to secure the departure of our vessel, a portion of the docks were...well, burned."

Ráma's eyebrows rose at this. A shadow of a smile crept over her face. "Burned?" she asked. "You set fire to the docks?"

"Well, my crew did," replied Mithadan. "It was part of our plan. The docks and the corsairs were to be set ablaze..."

"The corsairs as well?" she cried. She could no longer conceal her glee at the thought of the embarassment Falasmir had suffered. "Perhaps I underestimated you two." She lifted the saddlebags to the back of her horse. "Well, let's go."

"You do not understand," cried Airefalas. "While we took great care in fleeing Umbar, it is possible that Falasmir will seek us out on land as well as pursuing the Star on the seas."

Mithadan nodded. "We evaded our guards in the market," he added. "Then we encountered some bandits. By the time we dispatched them, the docks were burning. While I do not think we were seen leaving Umbar, it will be known that we had little time to reach the docks before our ship sailed. It might be best if we avoided the roads north for a time, particularly in the company of a caravan. Perhaps we could accompany you back to your home? Then we could leave later when we are certain that any search will have ceased. It would also give me time to inquire about my friend Bird..."

If he hoped that the mention of that shapechanger might again ignite the sympathy Ráma had shown before, he was disappointed. "I am sorry, she answered. "You seek your missing friend, and I would help you if I could. But in times like these, my clan wants no outsiders. You will be safer in the north." With that, she had cantered ahead, keeping a good distance between herself and the Gondorians in hopes of forestalling further discussion.

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Pio's post - Mu'sad and Nizar

Mus’ad’s hold on the crumbly rock was precarious at best. And when he craned his neck far over the thin sandstone ledge to better see the scene below it vanished altogether. The small light brown lizard scrambled for purchase on the sandy scree along the lip of the shelf without luck and fell silently over the edge. Mid fall he spied Tinar lurking behind a rock, his eyes fixed on the two men on camels.

‘Sand and sun!’ the lizard thought wildly as he plummeted toward the men. ‘Don’t let me fall in the path of the camels; I’ll be crushed!’

Some desert spirit or perhaps fate itself was kindly disposed to his plea. The camels moved forward, and with a plop, Mus’ad fell onto the lacings of a pack. Head swimming from the dizzying fall, he hastened up the leathery side and scrambled into the dark interior, his head just peeking over the top to get his bearings.

As the men and camels moved away from the caves, he could see the small sparrow as it took wing to follow them.

~*~

The dun colored pigeon hopped back and forth nervously on the limb of the scrubby tree. Mus’ad had been gone too long to Nizar’s liking. He heard the soft clop of camel’s feet moving away from the caves. And then came the quick flight of a small brown bird climbing high and peering below to watch something that moved along the ground.

Nizar’s head bobbed back and forth wondering what he should do. Follow Tinar! he could hear Herself growling at him. With a determined leap, the little pigeon launched himself into the air and flapped mightily after the sparrow . . .

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Old 05-12-2004, 04:08 PM   #202
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Estelyn Telcontar is battling Black Riders on Weathertop.Estelyn Telcontar is battling Black Riders on Weathertop.
Incompetent fool! Wyrma thought derisively after her meeting with Falasmir. He does not even know that the captain and his first mate were not on the ship that escaped. She would have to find a way to use that information to her advantage.

Her mind wandered back in time, seeing Falasmir as he had been many years ago when they first met. A young and dashing prince he had appeared to her, with courage and daring, though rash and boastful at times. Yet in the past years, after the great war, he had grown idle and mindful only of his own pleasure. Too much food and drink had robbed his body of its former strength, and he spent more time with his many wives than with his warriors. No wonder even the once feared Umbarian ships had lost their threat; without control and leadership, their men lacked discipline.

Her thoughts turned again to the Northerners and the tale of a Shapechanger they had met; were they spies who could endanger her people? Was it chance that they had not travelled with the “Lonely Star” or did they have plans for more than just trading? So many questions and no satisfactory answers; well, it was good to have someone keeping on their track. If only it had been a more experienced Maenwaith, not Tinar. At least Kor and his companion will be reliable, she thought, even if Mu’sad and Nizar should fail in their task.

Her musings were interrupted by a discreet knock at the side door. Elsta entered upon receiving permission. The maid bowed her head deferentially, then asked, “Will you receive Galandor this evening?”

The very distraction I need! Wyrma thought, and answered, “Yes, he is welcome to come.” Her current favourite had been carefully chosen; as Falasmir’s right hand, he had considerable influence in Umbar. She had nurtured his secret ambitions and fostered the veiled rivalry between him and the ruler, binding him to herself with tantalizing hints of future power, as well as with her considerable skill and experience in giving a man pleasure when it served her purposes. Perhaps his time will come sooner than he thinks, she mused, and then the door opened once again…
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Old 05-13-2004, 07:02 AM   #203
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The sparrow’s wings moved laboriously; Tinar was finding it difficult to keep up with the camels, and maintaining the shape he had chosen taxed his strength more than he wanted to admit even to himself. The hot desert air felt like a blanket, suffocating him as it arose from the glaring sand and offering resistance to every movement. He knew that he could not go on like this indefinitely. If only I could rise to the high wind currents, he thought, they would carry me faster and with less effort. But a sparrow could not fly higher than he flew now.

He spread his wings as far as possible, concentrating on size and strength with all of his might. After a few moments, when he thought that he must plummet from the sky out of weakness, he felt himself rising, soaring upwards to heights that made him dizzy from the strain, the thinner air, and the excitement. He hardly dared look down to see what shape he had taken and concentrated instead on scanning the miles ahead of the riders to see where they could be heading.

There, on the horizon was a speck of green! They would certainly be going there, if the third person was indeed a desert dweller who knew her way in the uncharted seas of sand. He moved his wings faster and, pushed by the current of wind that carried him in that direction, soon reached the oasis, circling over it to be sure that no other travellers were there before landing. Under the welcome shade of a palm, he was finally able to relax from the strain and take on his human form again. Gasping for breath, he drew water from the well and drank in deep gulps. He would have a few hours to sleep before the others arrived. Mindful of the fact that he could be in danger if found in this shape, he sought a hollow on the far edge and lay down exhausted. He fell asleep almost instantly.

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Old 05-14-2004, 02:27 AM   #204
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Mus'ad and Nizar

. . . flap . . . wheeze . . . pant . . . pant . . . flap . . .

‘Oof!’ gasped the struggling pigeon as he strove to keep the sparrow in sight. The poor bird was knackered by this point, chuffing in desperation. His wings felt nearly beat to shreds in the increasing heat and movement of the rising thermals.

A strangled squawk escaped his parched throat as the sparrow took on another form and climbed higher. There was no hope now of keeping the quarry in sight as Tinar took off. In a moment of penetrating thought, indeed, brilliant insight, on Nizar’s part he reasoned that if he could just keep on with following the northmen he was bound to find Tinar . . . or so he hoped . . .

In the distance, he could just see the camels. They had slowed down a bit, come side by side as the riders passed a skin of water among themselves, and chewed on something one had taken from their pack. With a determination born of nothing other than he saw no other course open to him, he headed for the group of men.

‘Please, please, please,’ came the muttered mantra as he flew. ‘Don’t let them start up again until I can get nearer.’

And again, whatever favorable spirit had decided to tip the scales in the hapless brothers’ favor, Nizar saw them come to a complete halt and one of the riders dismount. ‘A call of nature!’ thought the little bird, his thoughts brightening. ‘Let’s hope he’s taken several long pulls at the water skin and will be a while.’

By the time the man remounted, Nizar had pulled close enough to catch up with the last camel as they started off again. Their backs were to him as he plummeted down, tail feathers all topsy-turvy. Changing midway into his beetle shape, he spread the thin membranes of his wings and shimmied down toward figure of the last rider. His legs caught on the man’s collar, wings brushing against the fellow’s neck. The rider jerked his head and flicked at the spot where something had grazed his skin. Nizar tumbled down the man’s back toward the pack secured to the side of the camel’s hump. The poor beetle fell thunk on his back, spindly legs waving wildly in the dark interior of the pack.

‘Quit yer scrabbling! Be quiet!’ hissed a low, familiar voice just to his right. Nizar blinked his buggy eye, bringing the shadowy figure better into focus.

‘Mus’ad!’ he chittered in relief. ‘Is that really you?’

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Old 05-14-2004, 08:19 AM   #205
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Sorona

Sorona circled once then twice before, she left the Maenwaith in her cave. She repeated the word “Maenwaith!” letting it roll comfortably off her tongue; it had come to her the minute the leopard had transformed before her very eyes into a young desert woman. The transformation had not surprised her as she knew it should have, instead it had brought a warm familiarity. The young Maenwaith’s gold-flecked eyes brought with it yet another long buried memory, the image of two young women, one resembling closely the Maenwaith before her and the other a little taller with darker hair dancing and laughing merrily at the others happy song, both free and unburdened. However, that memory brought with it a deep and regretful sorrow, which ached her heart. She now found herself glancing at her feathered outstretched wings. ‘Was I once that dark haired carefree young woman? Were this woman and her people the ones she was to find?’

She had tried to explain who she was and why she was here to the young woman in the cave, but having not spoken to anyone but birds for nearly two decades it had proved near impossible. The words had come out in a jumble of eagle squawks, distant resurfacing desert tongues and several other tongues she had learned to understand during her travels in the northlands. Nevertheless, she thought she had managed to convey at least her name and that she was not a threat if nothing else. The young woman, who at first had seemed guarded and wary, had relaxed and she had found herself desperately wanting to tell her about the dream and the young merchant in the city, hoping to unburden herself and return north to the comfort of the mountains? But the longer she had stayed in the cave the more her own caution had set in; after all, she did not know this woman no matter what memories she roused in her.

“No” Sorona thought shaking her feathered head, as she flew. “This is silly it is a dream nothing more!” She scolded herself, “there are no…….” her words trailed to a terrified gasp, as in the hazy heat straight ahead on the eastern horizon a city rose into view, the city in her dreams! Without another thought, she wheeled around, nervously glancing up into the blue skies as if half expecting a dark shadow to pass at that instant blocking out the light of the sun. She headed back in the direction of the Maenwaith Woman, Rama she had named herself. The young woman had spoken of her clan, inviting her to journey with her. There at least will be others, elders perhaps who would better understand and know what to make of her dreams, she thought.

“If even they believe me!” she muttered to herself

As she sped in the direction that Rama had told her she would be travelling, she found herself more than once wondering if she was losing all grasp of reality. What if the city had simply been a mirage brought on by her confusion and anxiety after all she had just been thinking of it and there it was! Too much of a coincidence to be real, she thought. But the rest the memories and the familiarity they seemed so real that she decided to stay her course to whatever may be or was? Nothing was clear but some how she knew that she must find answers and this woman was her only real link to the hazy past that was surfacing in her mind.

~*~

It was well past noon by the time she found the woman and to her mild surprise, she was not alone, accompanying the desert rider upon great lumbering desert ships were two others. “Not desert people,” she mused, seeing the discomfort of the second rider and they seemed a lot taller even on camelback than the other desert dwellers she had seen. For an instant as she watched the riders, she thought she saw something else, a dark spot dropping from the sky and then it was gone. She hurried on and turned a graceful arch above the riders, giving a high-pitched “Kee-kee-kee” to let Rama know she was there.

The woman raised her head shielding her eyes with her hand and Sorona gave a friendly incline of her head as she passed again, this time noting that the other two riders where men, as they too raise their heads to look upwards. Their grey eyes watching her for a while as she silently glided on the warm currents above them. ‘North men’ she pondered thoughtfully. She felt as if pieces of an intricate puzzle were being laid before her and she could not see how to fit them together. The out of place Umbarian merchants, this young Maenwaith and her Northern companions, the city… She shuddered as the memory of the dream rose again to the forefront of her mind.

She shook the image away and concentrated on trying to remember something that would help her to fit all the pieces of this puzzle together.
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Old 05-15-2004, 01:51 PM   #206
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Mus’ad and Nizar

‘Yes, it’s me,’ whispered Mus’ad, crawling close to his brother. ‘What’s happened to Tinar?’ Nizar explained with an economy of words how he had attempted to follow the sparrow. ‘He was barely keeping up with the men, and to be truthful, I was barely keeping up with the lot of them. And then . . . he changed . . . and I couldn’t keep track of him at all.’

‘You mean the dog form?’ Mus’ad asked, his tongue flicking in and out as he tried to fathom why the pigeon could not keep up with the cur. ‘No, not the dog!’ Nizar whispered what he’d seen. ‘Well, then we’ve lost him, haven’t we?’ the lizard snorted. ‘I thought we could just go along with the men and camels,’ offered Nizar. ‘He seems to be following them.’

‘And what if he’s decided something else, eh?’ asked Mus’ad. ‘Then we’ll be riding who knows how far in this musty pack.’ Nizar watched as his brother twitched his tail in irritation. ‘Best we get off when we can and head back,’ came the lizard.’

‘Head back?!’ squeaked Nizar. ‘What about Wyrma and the job she set us?’

Mus’ad tapped his pads on the side of the back, then his mouth curved up in the semblance of a smile. ‘We’ll go back, collect our things and send her a note by messenger – tell her what you saw and all. Then, we’ll go south toward Latif’s . . . disappear for a while . . . til things cool down.’

A number of hours later, the waterskin was passed round again and the man on whose camel the pack was secured got off to ‘stretch his legs’, he said. The two tiny hitchhikers scrabbled down the side of the pack and onto the camel’s rump. The beast, irritated by the crawly sensation as they moved over his hide, stomped his hind leg and twitched his hindquarters. Lizard and bug lost their purchase on the camel’s backside and went flying off in a falling arc. Not caring now if their presence were known, Mus’ad called out to his brother. ‘Follow me!’

Two pigeons flapped madly toward the city, leaving a surprised and irritated camel behind them.

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Old 05-15-2004, 06:22 PM   #207
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Ráma

Ráma was not inclined to argue, and had tersely dismissed Mithadan's request to accompany her home, "I am sorry. You seek your missing friend, and I would help you if I could. But in times like these, my clan wants no outsiders. You will be safer in the north." With that, she had cantered ahead, keeping a good distance between herself and the Gondorians in hopes of forestalling further discussion.

For the next several hours, the trio rode through the desert, heading towards an old water hole that lay several leagues distant. Once or twice, when they had stopped to take a break, Ráma glanced over her shoulder and saw the two men quietly conversing. She wondered if they had other ideas in mind than the plan that she had put forward. But that was their personal business. She would have fulfilled her part of the bargain in helping them escape from Umbar. If they wished to lose their guide and ride to certain death on some foolhardy errand, she could do nothing to dissuade them. And being outlanders, they undoubtedly had no more sense than that.

In the distance, she could see the hazy outline of several palm trees fronting on a small water hole. Underneath the trees stood a cluster of wagons and camels, as well as a small flock of goats being herded at the rear of the line. Ráma gave a whoop of joy and galloped forward towards the caravan, leaving Mithadan and Airefalas struggling to catch up. She could not have hoped for better. They were friendly maenwaith who plied the local trade up and down the coast. While their own business did not take them to the far north, they would certainly come in contact with others heading in that direction. More importantly, they did frequent business with her clan and could be trusted. She could even leave money with them to negotiate with the next caravan they encountered to guide the men northward.

Ráma pulled Kyelek up on the far side of the oasis, just below the spot where the caravan was parked. She unsaddled her mount, led him down to the water to drink, and walked over to where the chief tradesman sat. She stopped for an instant, letting her travel pouch and sword slide through her fingers and fall in a heap onto the soft sand underneath the bush. It would not do to approach a friend on business matters with sword in hand.

Then, she went over and sat cross legged on the ground, offering greetings to the trader and inquiring about his wife and children. Within a few moments, the two were deep in negotiation, with Ráma gesturing towards the men of Gondor who had reached the oasis and were getting down from their camels. After a series of exclamations and lively exchanges, the two finally shook hands. The young woman nodded, then rose and retraced her steps, intending to retrieve her sack and pull out the gold pieces she had promised the trader.

Ráma stepped heedlessly forward on the soft sand, bending down and reaching out to pick up the bag. Abruptly, she halted. Under the shaded fringes of the bush, a sand viper reared up out of the sand, a snake of some two feet long with a pallid back and rows of brown spots underneath. Uncurling and hissing, the serpent prepared to rear back and strike. Ráma automatically grabbed for her sword, but it was not there. She had left it beside the bag.

Last edited by Child of the 7th Age; 05-15-2004 at 10:21 PM.
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Old 05-16-2004, 12:32 PM   #208
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They had been riding for hours, and Airefalas was slowly growing accustomed to the swaying gait of the camel. Although he still would have preferred to pilot a leaky dinghy across a bay in high wind than do what he was doing, he was getting used to the situation. He had not had much experience with deserts, being basically from the water, but so far had found traversing the sea of sand not all that much different in approach from crossing the ocean, except that everything in the desert seemed to have either fangs, spines, or thorns...including their guide Ráma. She was arguably one of the most prickly females he had ever encountered, not that he had expected her to be exactly cuddly.

While he could understand her being a bit defensive toward him, considering how badly he had bungled their first meeting, her dismissive treatment of Mithadan surprised him. He found it a bit insulting and wouldn't be surprised if Mithadan did, too. Nonetheless, he resolved to keep his mouth shut about that, it being of secondary concern to him. His primary concern was the notion of being handed off like so much troublesome cargo to a caravan of northbound traders. That would likely be the first place Lord Falasmir would look for him and Mithadan once he realized that the two of them had not sailed with the Lonely Star. If found, he and Mithadan would be quickly executed, forget the threat of the slave markets. He knew the damage their escape had done to Falasmir's ego and standing in Umbar would not be taken lightly. He wiped a line of sweat from his forehead, wondering if Ráma had considered things from that angle. If she had, she certainly gave no indication to them that she cared. Getting them off of her hands seemed to be her primary and only objective.

Ahead of them, Ráma gave a whoop of joy and galloped off swiftly in the direction of a few palm trees visible in the distance that were already surrounded by a cluster of wagons, camels, and a flock of goats. No doubt it was the caravan of which she had spoken earlier. Her horse quickly outpaced the camels, so by the time Airefalas and Mithadan reached the oasis, she had already dismounted and gone to speak with the chief trader of the group.

Sliding off the back of his camel, Airefalas stretched his back and legs. He was not used to sitting for so long at one time and found his muscles had grown cramped and stiff from inactivity. He very deliberately cracked his neck, then turned to Mithadan, who had dismounted as well.

"I guess this is where we change hands," Airefalas said dryly.

Mithadan nodded. "If the traders will take us. If Falasmir is looking for us to make for Gondor by land, it could prove just as dangerous for these people as it is for us."

"True," agreed Airefalas. "I wonder if Ráma has taken that into consideration. So far it seems the only thing she has considered where we are concerned is how to get rid of us. I'm sure you noticed - as did I - that she made certain to ride well out of speaking distance to us." He turned and looked in the direction in which he had last seen Ráma. "I suppose it would be fruitless to try talking to her again."

Mithadan shrugged. "We have an obligation to try, not just for our own sakes but for those who would travel with us, as well. I have a feeling that if we are captured, next time it won't go so easily with us or with any who seek to assist us. A direct northern path would be foolhardy at best."

"Suicidal at worst." Airefalas glanced up at the wide expanse of sky. "If it were just a matter of navigation, we could strike out on our own, but under the circumstances...." he trailed off with a helpless gesture. "Maybe I should try talking to her."

"Why you?"

"Well, if she's still mad at me for the armoire business back in Umbar - " he shrugged. "Maybe if I groveled a little bit, she might be more sympathetic to our situation."

Mithadan laughed and shook his head. "I don't think that will make any difference, but you're welcome to try."

"You're probably right." Airefalas smiled ruefully. "She'd probably just see that as a sign of weakness. She's a tough little thing." He paused, then shrugged again as Ráma strode back into view. "Aww, I'll give it a go. What's the worst that can happen?"

"Just don't grab her again," cautioned Mithadan with a smile. "You can always make it worse."

"Thanks for the encouragement," Airefalas answered dryly. He turned and walked in Ráma's direction, but, contrary to what he had just said to Mithadan, he had no intention of doing any groveling. What he intended to do was suggest to Ráma that she send him alone into the north with the caravan and take Mithadan with her safely into the south. As captain of the Lonely Star and the main architect of the ship‘s escape, Mithadan’s life was in greater danger than his own. Besides, Falasmir’s men would be looking for two foreigners, not one. If they did catch him, Airefalas figured he could always tell them Mithadan had been killed, misdirect them long enough for his captain to get to safety. After all, Mithadan had a wife and three small children to consider. What did Airefalas have to return to? A career in ruins, a fiancée he had been forbidden to marry, and a brother who had virtually disowned him over a money dispute. Clearly, Mithadan had more to risk. Finally, since Ráma’s anger at them had begun with him, perhaps she would be more kindly disposed to Mithadan on his own. It was worth a try. Squaring both his shoulders and his resolve, Airefalas stepped up to Ráma’s side.

He reached the desert girl just as she bent to retrieve her pack from under a bush. Before he had a chance to say a word, she stopped abruptly and drew back from the bush very slowly, her face filled with fear. Her hand groped for something at her waist that should have been there and wasn't. Her sword? Following her gaze, Airefalas saw the snake barely seconds after she did. He had never seen one exactly like it, but had enough experience with vipers in general to know that this one was ready to strike. Without thinking, he closed his hand around the hilt of his sword.

"Don't move," he ordered Ráma, sliding his sword slowly from its scabbard. She glanced at him anxiously from the corner of her eyes, but remained perfectly still, both of them knowing that any sudden movement could cause the snake to strike. Still moving with excruciating slowness, Airefalas raised his sword. The snake continued to sway dangerously, its tawny eyes fixed, unwavering, on the figure of the girl.

When his sword was in position, Airefalas cut a quick glance at the girl. "When I start my downswing," he said quietly, his voice tense but soothing at once. "It's likely to strike at you, so when I say 'now,' jump backward as quickly as you can. Are you ready?"

"Yes," breathed Ráma.

"Okay...NOW!"

The three of them moved in unison. As Airefalas swung downward with his sword, the snake unleashed its sinuous coils, striking like lightning at Ráma, who scrambled backwards with a surprising speed of her own. The Gondorian's blade caught the snake in midair, severing its head from its body in a single stroke. As the two pieces tumbled harmlessly to the sand, Airefalas cast a worried look at Ráma.

"Are you all right?"

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Old 05-16-2004, 02:15 PM   #209
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Gondor

Security was in high force about the seventh tier of the city. And in fact no one except those of the guard and the Healers were allowed into the sixth level. Piosenniel had made several trips to visit Baran, one each day infact, letting him know she was still trying to see the King. She feared that leaving him to his own devices, the Beorning might elect to make his own way out of the locks by force – confirming his guilt in the minds of the people of the White City.

On the fifth day she was allowed to pass up to the top level. A brief, handwritten note to one of the port guards with whom she was on friendly terms had made its way through a series of hands (she had provided a small pouch of coins to ease the process), until at last the King had seen it and asked that she be shown up to him.

Two well armed guards accompanied her from the entrance to the sixth tier. Her sword and all her knives were laid in a safe bundle in the guardhouse there. And she suffered them to let one of the women Healers from the Houses just across the broad terrace pat her down.

‘Begging your pardon, Mistress,’ the guard had said to her as he escorted her to the room where the Healer waited. ‘But evil times call for watchful eyes. And all that is fair to look upon may hide an evil will.’

‘Just so, good Sir,’ said the Elf as they reached the room. ‘It is wise to trust no one, so that the King might not come to need the services of this Healer’s hands.’

Once done, she and her escort made their way to the White Tower. There were guards positioned at all strategic points about the King’s residence, the Hall of Feasts, and the Tower itself. Most windows she noted were tightly shuttered, and those that were open had guards visible within. The Tower, itself, had men at arms placed in abundance in the great Hall. And as they went up the staircase to the King’s office, she noted guards on each landing. One of the guards announced her to the sentry at the office door, and he in turn passed the word in that she had come.

There was the briefest of smiles on the familiar face that looked up as she entered. He waved short the curtsy she had commenced and motioned her into a chair. ‘No time for formalities, Mistress Piosenniel. I was intrigued by the very brief note you sent. I remembered you had brought the Skinchanger to the party a week ago.’ His brow furrowed for a moment, recalling his talk with Baran. ‘I took him at his word when I met him,’ he went on. ‘And to be truthful, he did not seem someone whose purposes were veiled. Yet, he is the only Skinchanger we knew was present in Minas Tirith during the attempt.’ His grey eyes regarded hers closely. ‘It was as much for his safety that I ordered him locked up and guarded as it was for mine.’

‘And so I thought,’ returned the Elf. ‘Though I would not tell him so. He might seek to prove just how well a Bear can take care of himself.’ Pio leaned forward, toward the King, seeking to say what Baran had told her. The guard just to the side of the King’s chair stepped forward, his hand already on the hilt of his blade, beginning to draw the blade. The Elf leaned back quickly against her own chair’s back, her hands flat on her thighs. Elessar motioned for the man to stand down, saying to Pio that no word of anything spoken in the office would go out of it.

Pio began by relating her own history with Baran, starting with their meeting in the Seventh Star Inn; his knowledge of her good friend Bird; her discussions with him and her assessment of his character when he had come to her home. ‘I truly believe he is from the area round the Carrock, and that he did indeed know Bird. And now seeks to connect with his Skinchanger kin which both he and Bird believed to be in the Southern lands.’

She went on to recount where Baran had been the evening of the attempt and who would vouch for him. And finally she spoke of the two grey cloaked figures he had passed on his way down from the library. The King was quiet as he considered what had been said. ‘I do believe what you have told me is the truth, but can he not offer something concrete I can hang my belief on that he is indeed from the north?’

Elessar raised his brows at her as she laughed, saying that Baran now offered final proof that he was truly from the north. The king shook his head, a slight crimson tinge along his cheekbones, as she told the story of the stumble and the borrowed helm. ‘And I thought I had sworn Gimli to secrecy!’ Elessar said, chuckling in the end at the story. The guard had barely enough time to wipe all traces of a grin from his face and appear to be staring at the wall opposite him when the King turned to look toward him. From her seat, Pio had seen the man’s face, and she now grinned at him, noting the trembling at the edges of his lips as he suppressed his smile.

Elessar took up his pen and pulled a clean sheet of vellum to him when he’d turned back to her. ‘I’ll give you a writ for his release. But it would be best if he did not venture into the city until this all is settled. Can you take him to your house for the while?’ Pio agreed, wondering if Baran would see the need to stay out of sight and out of mind to the citizenry.

‘A moment longer,’ Elessar requested as she took the writ in hand and prepared to leave. ‘The Skinchangers who attacked me were much smaller in their stature than a Beorning. Smaller than most men of Gondor, in fact. And they were olive skinned, dark of hair and eye. One called out to the other in a strange tongue I had not heard before. I had wondered if they might be Southrons.’ Pio nodded as he spoke. ‘Bird is small, and her looks fit those you have just described. Though, I have only ever heard from her one or two words in her native tongue. And long though my travels have been, I had not heard such a language before.’

‘Have you had word of late from The Lonely Star?’

The words were out of both their mouths as if the same thought had occurred to them. ‘None,’ began Pio. ‘Nor I,’ returned the King. ‘I will be interested to hear what Mithadan has learned in his travels south for Gondor. Perhaps once he has returned, his trip successful, he will consider going south once again with some of my men to ferret out what might be the cause of this attempt.’

‘Perhaps,’ she thought to herself. ‘Though the next time I will be with him.’

Aloud, she bade the king farewell and thanks for his time and consideration; saying the Star was expected back very soon and she would tell Mithadan of the King’s request. With a brief curtsy as was the custom, she left the Tower and made her way to the locks to pick up Baran.

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Old 05-17-2004, 12:43 AM   #210
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Gondor - 2 days later; the Star is seen at Pelargir

A number of local smiths and farriers had come down to the dock at Pelargir to meet The Scuppered Gull when she put in. Under the hot sun, skin glistened as the thick-hewed muscles of the men and crew strained to off load the pallets of pig iron from the ship’s hold and distribute them among the large flat bed wagons from the various smithies. The giant draft horses stamped their hooves, impatient to be drawing home their loads.

‘That’s the last of the lot, Sir,’ said Haladan as he and the Captain, Faragaer, watched the final pallet placed carefully on one of the traveling farrier’s wagons. One of the smiths, the one who’d brought his two sons and their wagons waved at the ship and held up three fingers. Haladan nodded yes to him, and held up three fingers in return – in three months they would deliver another load. With a last wave, the Captain and his First Mate turned away from the railing and started to give orders to cast off – there were two smaller deliveries they needed to make before they brought the ship about in the Bay and headed back to Harlond.

From the bow of the Gull came a loud cry, drawing their attention.

A ship was approaching with all the speed she could muster against the current. Her sails were a little tattered as if the captain and crew had sailed in great haste, taking no time for repair. Faragaer shaded his eyes with his hand and squinted at the vessel, catching sight of the banner it bore. ‘The Lonely Star!’ he cried, waving at the crewman that stood at her bow keeping watch. Faragaer and Haladan scanned the deck of the Star as she pulled alongside. The smiles on their faces faded at the sight of the grim-visaged crew. They called out, to ask if the ship needed aid.

‘We cannot stop,’ cried Duilin, shouting across the distance at them as the Star continued its slow progress upriver. ‘We must make all haste to Harlond.’

‘Captain Mithadan,’ called out Faragaer. ‘May I speak with him?’ Faragaer’s mind was troubled at the state of the Star’s crew and vessel. A return home from a long trip usually brought light spirits as a ship made its way back to home port.

Duilin glanced up toward Saelon who stood at the helm, then swung his head back toward the Gull . ‘Not here!’ shouted Duilin as the Star began to pull past the Gull. ‘Nor the First Mate!’ he added anticipating Faragaer’s next request. Haladan’s brow was furrowed as he took in what Duilin had said.

The Star’s stern was already pulling away from the Gull when Faragaer called out for his crew to cast off and the helmsman to bring the ship about. ‘The other deliveries will have to wait a few days. Something has gone quite wrong with the King’s mission to Umbar.’ He shook his head in disbelief. ‘Mithadan and Airefalas . . . both!’

‘Come, Haladan! Let the crew know we are bound back for Harlond and why. We will offer our assistance to Mistress Piosenniel, should she require it . . .’

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Rôg

Rôg listened closely as the two men spoke of the missing incense pot.

“ . . . Could someone else have removed it?” Narayad asked. “It sounds strange, I know, but perhaps someone had a reason for taking it away. You were there, did you see anything?”

“What are you saying?” Surinen asked.

“Only that I am wondering if this fire was truly an accident, or perhaps someone is trying to blame Latah for it. I do not know.”

“Who would try to blame her, Narayad? It doesn’t make sense. The whole encampment knows that she would not do anything to harm the Meldakhar.”

“Still, I would like it to be found… for her sake . . .”

So, he thought to himself, they are also thinking that the fire may not have been an accident! For a brief moment, Rôg considered calling out to them, showing them the incense pot, telling them what he and Aiwendil had discovered and discussed. But the one called Narayad had seen him inch closer and with a glare and a motion of his hand sent him scrabbling backward to the rear of the lean-to.

Rôg thought to speak to Aiwendil about what he’d heard. Weariness, though, had overtaken the old man and he sat leaned against his pack, his head lolling to one side. A low snoring sound issued from the old fellow’s lips, as if a small hive of bees had taken residence in his chest. The young man’s long slender fingers crept toward the pocket into which he’d seen Aiwendil thrust the incense pot.

And were quickly withdrawn as the old man muttered some words and turned slightly for comfort . . .

What seemed a long time passed as Rôg watched him settle back into some dream, his eyes darting beneath closed lids, seeking something. Then Rôg’s hand slid near the pocket’s slit again and dipped in gently, withdrawing the incense pot. A moment of apprehension gripped him when he thrust it into the folds of his own cloak, the lid clanking against the bottom section. Rôg’s eyes darted about fearing that either the old man would awaken or the two guards would have heard. But Aiwendil slept on, mumbling a bit to himself, then settling down once again. The two clansmen had walked away from the lean-to a bit, their heads bent close in conversation, their words now inaudible to those in the lean-to.

Rôg leaned back against his own pack and made an effort to quiet his breathing. Now that he had the damnable item in his possession what was he to do with it? His thoughts raced about in his mind seeking a viable option. It was then his gaze lit on the large open pack that stood just to the side of the small fire.

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Old 05-19-2004, 12:34 PM   #211
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Narika and Ayar

Narika sighed and stared bleakly over at the bed on which Ayar lay sleeping. Even from this distance, she could hear her mother's breath come in short, ragged gasps. Although Ayar was conscious and in considerably less pain than before, she still looked like a woman burdened with heavy illness, a sickness that would likely claim her life despite all their efforts at remedies and potions.

Narika had salvaged only a few meager belongings from the fire. These had been brought over to Thorn's where she and her mother had been invited to stay until enough skins could be collected to sew a new tent of their own. Thorn had gathered his own family's bedrolls, crowding them together inside the front chamber and leaving the rear one completely empty to accomodate the two women with ample privacy and space.

Still, Narika could not help but feel some discomfort living in the same household with Yalisha. Yalisha had been strictly polite and reserved and had given her no reason to complain. Narika sternly reminded herself to keep her personal feelings under control. With Ayar still too sick to resume leadership of the Eagles, she would have to fill that role, and it would not do to let personal feelings come between her and any of the maenwaith who were members of the clan.

Outside she could hear the usual noises of the camp at mid-morning: children scampering about and playing, mixed in with the bleating of a few stray goats and the hooves of the outriders' mounts as they rode out to check the flocks. Narika rose and walked over to the flap of the tent, staring out across the compound. How could things appear so normal to the eye with everything that had happened in the past few days? Her thoughts strayed back to the two strangers who had approached the encampment the day before. Her natural instinct had been to order them to leave. The old one claimed to be helping her mother, and apparently Ayar had also sensed that in his intentions. But Narika was not so sure. She had a stiff mistrust of strangers. Perhaps, her mother's wakening was the result of her own ministrations combined with Yalisha's herbs, and the two strangers had taken advantage of the situation. This outlander Rôg seemed extremely reluctant to speak about his clan. Once or twice, Thorn had tried to question him, but Rôg had adroitly channelled the discussion in other directions. Perhaps she should go and question him herself, or perhaps she should just toss both the men into the desert without their camel and supplies. If only her sister was here to discuss these things.

In the midst of these reflections, Narika heard a soft voice call out asking for a cup of water. She hurried over to her mother's side and offered her a drink. Ayar's face looked flushed and wan, her eyes gleeming bright with fever. But she had no trouble thinking or speaking clearly.

"You must not worry so, Little Bird," her mother intoned. "It will all work out. I can see mistrust of these strangers written in your face."

"But why are they here? For what purpose have them come? The young one especially. In times like these, I scarcely know who is friend or foe."

"Perhaps so. But those two are no enemy."

Narika shook her head insistently, "Still, I want no more outlanders arriving here. We cannot trust anyone outside the clan." What she did not say out loud was that she was even having doubts about the loyalties of those actually within the clan.

"Wish what you will, Little Bird. There are events we control, and those we don't. And sometimes what we most fear and dislike turns out to be the means of our saving. But, come now," Ayar softly laughed. "Let us speak of those things we can control. There is something I wish you to do for me."

Narika eagerly nodded her head and responded, "Yes, whatever I can."

"Good! I will not be here long with the clan..."

"Mother, you mustn't say that!"

"No, Narika, we must speak the truth. I am ill, very ill. The old man knew what he was saying. But even before that, I could sense my time had come, even as I wandered down strange paths, locked inside my own mind, while the poison raged within my body. It is almost time for me to fly free, to throw off my old form and take on another, more beautiful and freer than what came before. Perhaps someday even to fly with the Great Eagles." Ayar glanced out the open tent flap and caught a glimpse of the skies beyond. " I am not afraid, and neither should you be."

The younger woman opened her mouth as if to protest but Ayar raised a finger and pressed it against her daughter's lips. "None of that now. Rather I have a favor to ask. Ever since you and Thorn clasped hands in front of the elders and spoke your intentions, I have been waiting for the moment when you two would join in front of the clan. Even if I had not fallen sick, I would have wanted that to happen. And I would still dearly wish that to happen while I am still here to see that."

"Your sister should return within a few days. Thorn tells me he left a message with her before leaving the city. I want to see you wed and be certain that the leadership of the clan has come to good hands. Go and speak with your intended. See if he is willing to go to the elders and make arrangements to begin the ceremony as soon as Ráma returns."

"As to the other, the business of these strangers, and the fears you have.... On this too, wait till your sister returns." Ayar looked her daughter squarely in the eye. "I have asked the elders that you and Thorn lead the clan jointly because you have a quiet, steady hand. I am well content with that decision. But your sister has other gifts, gifts that go back to a distant age when at least some of our people cooperated with other free folk to stand against the shadow. As long as Ráma is here, you must take time to listen to her advice. The final choice on clan matters belongs to you and Thorn, but promise me that you will heed her counsel and weigh it in the scale."

Narika sadly nodded her head, "I will speak with Thorn, and dwell on what you have said."

With that, Ayar fell back onto her pillows exhausted, and was soon deep in sleep.

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Old 05-19-2004, 02:07 PM   #212
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Thorn

It had gone smoother than expected discussing with the elders the prospect of a ceremony to mark their union. Much smoother, than the debate about the clan’s two guests, and what was to be done with them. But when it had been settled all were in agreement that Narika and Thorn should wait for Ráma to arrive in order for her to play her customary role in the rite. And though Narika’s sister would be the only member of her family to participate fully, they planned that it would be held in Ayar’s viewing, as soon as convenient for Ráma. But all were in accord that this union should be made to happen as soon as possible, for the good of the clan as much as at the wish of Ayar. For though it was not touched upon, Ayar’s illness pervaded their thoughts.

And when Thorn returned to the tent and told his leader of the elders’ decision, she smiled to know that this would now take place soon, and her daughter would not be alone in the leadership of her people. But Narika was strangely quiet, and after Ayar had closed her eyes to rest, Thorn drew her gently aside and learned that her mother spoke of taking her final form, laying her body aside to fly unhindered. And the call to assume their place in the clan would soon fall upon them, without her guidance.

These things weighed heavily on them as together they sat and planned what course to follow in the coming days. Thorn pledged to Narika that he would not return to Umbar, but would stand by her side with their people, though he knew he risked the wrath of those persons of standing there, if they knew what had come to pass, and if they suspected he had not merely been a trainer of Falasmir’s horses. But someone else must be found to fill this task in the Lord of Umbar’s palace, and that without the clan’s knowledge. For few knew of Ayar’s decision to keep on eye on the their neighbors to the west, and her actions to gain knowledge of the strong winds that began in the great city and swept across the desert plains threatening to push this people further east if it could not scatter or destroy them. And they named many who might be entrusted with this mission, but could not come up with any one maenwaith who they felt might be willing to leave their kin, forever to live in the city, as servant of Falasmir. And so they put that problem aside, and turned their attention again to the puzzle presented by the two strangers.

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Old 05-24-2004, 01:20 AM   #213
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Rôg

Rôg woke with a start. He’d fallen asleep it seemed and now his mind was fuzzy with details of some dream he’d had. He knuckled his eyes, pushing the weariness from him, and yawned widely. It was mid-day in the camp; the clan was about its daily business. Familiar sounds drifted into the little lean-to . . . people calling out to one another as they passed, the sound of horses tethered at a nearby picket line, the voices of little ones flying among the tents.

Aiwendil was nowhere to be seen. ‘Gone with Narayad,’ Surinen told him in the common tongue. ‘To relieve himself.’ A voice called out to Surinen calling him a short distance away. It looked to be an outrider with some news to share. Rôg leaned back against his pack, thinking about what his family would be doing this time of day. The sounds of the camp tugged at him, reminding him sharply of how much he missed his own clan. At the first opportunity he would leave, he told himself, once he knew the old man was safe here. He cast his eyes about in the bright light of mid-day and began making plans. His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of whisperings and shh’s near the backdrop of the leant-to.

~*~

‘Miri! Come on! Papi will have our hides if he knows we’re here!’ The frantic whisper of some young boy’s voice was followed by the sounds of a brief tussle.

‘Leave me be! I just want to see them!’

Rôg looked back in time to see a pair of little brown eyes peering under the edge of the lean-to’s covering. He smiled at them and winked, watching as the covering lifted higher and the grinning face of a small girl peeked in. Her gaze was openly curious; no fear shown in her eyes. She wriggled the rest of herself into the lean-to and stood up, looking the seated stranger up and down. Unthinking the words popped from her mouth. ‘You don’t look like some scary monster,’ she whispered, poking him on the cheek with an outstretched finger to see if he were indeed real.

Her eyes went wide, her lips forming an ‘O!’ of surprise as a delicate blue butterfly now clung to her outstretched finger and wiggled its antennae at her. And just as quickly changed back to the seated man. ‘Not a monster,’ he whispered to her, his grin matching hers. ‘I’m Rôg, little one. And who are you?’

‘Miri,’ she said aloud, then clapped her hands over her mouth. ‘Miri,’ she whispered back at him. She leaned in close to him. ‘I love butterflies,’ she confided. ‘Show me how to do that . . . please.’ He looked at her curiously, wondering how she could not do this simple change yet. Taking her hands in his he had her remember how the butterflies she’d seen looked and acted, and when she had one favorite fixed firmly in her mind, he taught her the little rhyme he’d learned as a boy from his parents.

She landed in the palm of his hand, testing her wings then by flying up to his forearm. He whispered the rhyme for changing back, watching as she fluttered down from his arm to land back on her own two brown little feet. They were in the midst of him telling her about the dangers she must understand that faced butterflies, her eyes intent on his words as she shook her head in understanding, when a gruff voice interrupted them . . .

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Old 05-26-2004, 06:38 PM   #214
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Narika's messenger:

At the exact instant when Miri sat perched on Rôg's palm and then slipped back from butterfly to human form, Narika's messenger Kron threw open the tent flap and stared incredulously at the scene playing out in front of him. What was this outsider doing with one of the children? How dare he sit there and prod the child to do such a reckless thing with none of the elders present?

Kron's fingers strayed to the hilt of his sword as he snapped out a stern rebuff, "You there, stranger! Get back! What are you doing? I can see I've arrived just in time!" Then he turned a stern eye on Miri and pushed her hastily towards the tent flap, "Out of here now! You and the other children stay away! Or I'll have a word or two to say to your folks."

The young girl shook her head and started to object but was maneuvered outside by the messenger who quickly turned his attention back to Rôg. "You're to come with me," Kron barked impatiently. "My mistress Narika wishes to have a word with you. And none too soon, I think." With that, Rôg was roughly thrust out the door, not to the tent where Ayar was staying but to another that stood close by.

As they approached the chosen tent, Rôg could just make out a bit of what was happening inside. Narika was apparently deep in conversation with Thorn; Rôg had the oddest sense that the two may not have been in total agreement. Once the men came inside, Kron turned towards Narika and hastily described what he had witnessed between Rôg and the young girl Miri, adding his own grim assessment. "He might have crushed her in his palm. For all I know he was about to do that at the moment I arrived."

Narika threw a knowing glance at Thorn and then turned a stern face towards Rôg, "I am not accusing you of harming the girl. But it is not our custom to teach such a young child how to shift shapes. In fact, I know of no clan that can teach skills like this to youngsters. "

"Even before I heard this, I was suspicious of you. Thorn and I spoke with each of the Elders. Not a single one can recall a young maenwaith who goes by the name of Rôg, and we find that very strange indeed. I am a mistress of lore and have heard the names called at the festivals year after year for each of the clans, but the name of Rôg was mysteriously absent. I do not forget such things. How do you explain this? From what clan do you come?"

Narika glared over at Rôg. For all she knew, the young maenwaith was in league with Wyrma, although even this would not explain the absence of his name from the list. Narika had spent years studying the names with Ayar, and she was certain that she could not be mistaken on this point. Plus, for all her high-handedness, Wyrma had not dared to interfere with that custom of the calling of the role. Even the folk in Wyrma's clan were included in the naming. Narika suddenly had the uncomfortable feeling that this unassuming young man might possibly have a greater importance than she had first thought likely.

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Pio's post - Rôg

The Loremaster! No wonder she could tell such lovely stories . . . He recalled her, for a moment, the fire lighting her features as she told stories to her clan . . . their faces eager as the words wove on . . .

Kron threw a menacing look Rôg’s way, breaking his momentary idyl.

The young man hauled his attention back to what Narika had said to him. Something about the girl, Miri. His brow furrowed as she talked on, her words fading to a low buzz on the outskirts of his mind. Not our custom . . . rang like a warning bell in his thoughts and something about no one teaching such skills to youngsters. ‘Fur and feathers!’ he mumbled to himself. ‘Apparently I’ve overstepped some bounds!’

Flustered, his cheeks crimson, he babbled a rather incoherent apology when he realized she’d quit speaking. Looking up as his words fell into silence, he saw they were all looking at him in a perplexed manner. Expecting some sort of answer, he thought. His mind raced furiously, trying to piece together the questions he’d only half heard. He gave it up after a brief search. And instead blurted out the question that now occupied his mind.

‘But Miri has a young one’s eager confidence, and she has the gift. How can you not teach her to use it when she asks?’

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Hilde Bracegirdle's post - Thorn:

As he listened to Narika speak, Thorn considered Rôg more closely. Indeed he looked as though he might be a city dweller, his finely formed hands out of place in this rugged and dusty clime, and the gold stud in his ear. Thorn could not recall having seen any bearing this particularly placed and shaped jewelry in all his years in Umbar and he began to wonder if this maenwaith might be from the far eastern lands. But Rôg knew their tongue, and this in itself was enough to cause Thorn to feel need of caution. How would he know this, and why? But why also should he make no secret of it?

As rapidly as the shadows of birds drift across the desert floor, the changing expressions crossed the face of the man before him. Thorn and the others waited patiently for Rôg’s answer to Narika’s questions, and Thorn heard Kron groan as a red-faced Rôg, finally gave voice to something decidedly indecipherable that trailed off weakly before he asked what Thorn could only term a rather bold question under the circumstances.

Thorn drummed his fingers slowly on the mat were he sat. “We do not teach them these things,” he finally spoke after a weighty silence, “because though they are confidant, children are also fearless and do not yet understand their responsibilities to the clan. Too reckless they are for their own safety and that of the encampment,” he paused glancing at Narika. But he would not say what lay foremost in his mind. For generations the Eagle clan had discouraged such things, and would protect the children, so that outsiders who would use them for their own purposes might not seek them out. Outsiders perhaps like this one, though he himself did not seem a threat to them. But how had he taught Miri this thing so quickly? “Surely your own clan feels this way also?” He questioned, again leading the conversation back to Rôg. “For if the young were left to themselves, the clan would be nothing but butterflies and grasshoppers. And the youth would expend all their forms on the things that fascinate them, never considering their usefulness. If little Miri has but one form she can take in her life, is she now with your teaching simply to be a butterfly?”

But Thorn could see that Rôg seemed puzzled by this, and sought to press him further. “Or perhaps this is why you do not speak of your own people and your name is unfamiliar to us?” Thorn prodded him. “Is your clan no more living together in the safety of their encampment? Or are they now scattered, sunning by the wells and crawling under the stones?”

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Child's post - Narika:

As Thorn’s sharp words came tumbling out, a stubborn knot formed inside Narika’s stomach. Narika was surprised to find herself suddenly reliving snatches of a conversation similar to one from years before when she had directed a stern warning at her own more reckless twin. They had been young children. Narika had forgotten the incident, or at least pushed the shadowy memory under a curtain where it would not be so obvious. But Thorn's words had brought back the hazy scene and again confirmed her personal belief that these things must be handled in a certain way, both for the safety of the child and the well being of the clan.

Narika glanced up at Thorn with pride and interlaced her delicate fingers gently with his own. Thorn was right. Too much uncertainty lay down this path. Skills like shape changing should be reserved for those past adolescence, young men and women who at least understood what they were doing and would not foolishly take on forms deemed useless to the clan. Even without the threat of Wyrma and her kind, the desert demanded complete allegiance from those who dwelled within its bounds. If the needs of the clan were laid aside on some childish personal whim, their entire way of life could be endangered as surely as if Wyrma had pointed the tip of a sword at the very heart of the clan.

Narika tried to intercede as peacemaker, smoothing things over with politeness while still honoring Thorn's somber tone, “Rôg, Thorn's words are harsh, but surely he is right. Your clan can not leave such things to chance. Forms are too precious, too rare, and must be saved until young people understand the needs of the clan. I am just nineteen; I fear that too soon Thorn and I will be asked to lead the Eagles. Still, only five years ago, I first learned how to control my shape, and I was the youngest to do so among our people.” Narika hesitated a moment, and then softly added. “My twin sister Ráma still has not learned to do such things. Yet even such a late start is preferable to having young children race about the encampment, shifting willy-nilly to any form they please without thought of the consequences.”

Narika glanced away and stared fixedly at the ground. When she spoke, her voice was low, almost apologetic, "I know the legends speak of other ways of doing things, but we are under threat of attack from our own people. The cursed clan of the great wyrms, headed by that villain Wyrma, would force us to leave the desert and go live in a prison that she calls a great city. We must do everything we can to stop that. Miri will be told not to repeat her mistake. She will wait until she's older and understands what her people need. Surely your own clan must feel Wyrma’s threat, and will respond by sheltering the children, and training your young men and women to stand up to danger. Or I fear, just as Thorn says, that your folk will not fare well in the end. " She looked towards the stranger expectantly, waiting for his reply.

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Pio’s post – Rôg

Rôg sucked in his breath, in disbelief at what the two were saying, were asking. He shook his head, brow furrowing at their words. He could not recall the Elders of his clan speaking of this, nor his parents warning him to be careful about the children of the Eagle clan. He had simply assumed that all clans followed the same basic patterns . . . Eagle children would be taught as he had been, though in their own particular way, using their own rituals.

For a moment, he was stunned into silence, then, recollecting himself, he sat down with an ungraceful thunk on the mat opposite the two and rested his chin on his hand, his elbow planted firmly on his knee. After a brief span, he began to speak, his voice clear in the tent, his eyes focused on the floor before him, as if his answers to the questions they had posed were written there.

‘My clan . . . no, we do not sit and sun ourselves by wells or crawl beneath rocks, seeking the coolness hidden there.’ He smiled up briefly at them as he went on. ‘But we could, if that were necessary to keep us safe.’

‘And no, for a measure of time now we have not all lived together in the same encampment.’ How much should I tell them? he wondered.

‘I am just forty-one now, my clan has been dispersed here in the south for the most part since I was five, and a very few of us went further west - all of us escaping the lengthening Shadow that reached out during those times. The Elders, though, have kept watch all this while on our homeland. And now that the Shadow has withdrawn, been defeated, so I have heard by the Southern King, we are going back to where we came from.’ He looked up to see if they were following what he said.

‘A number of our clan, my family included, have been living further south from your present encampment. Where the mountains come down to the sea. We are traders, and have passed near your camps many times during the cycles of the years.’ He pointed to a small axe that stood near the little pile of wood near the tent’s doorway. ‘My father probably made that, or his brother. I recognize the design. And that small basket there with the spiral designs picked out in red is most likely from the hands of one of my mother’s sisters. We came to know you through our contact with you, and were glad that you saw us as nothing other than traders with good, serviceable items for daily use. We were hidden as it were in plain sight.’

‘As children, my sister and I played with a number of the Eagle young ones whenever we came to trade, though as I recall we only called each other Eagle boy or Eagle girl and Trader boy or Trader girl in return. We spoke the trading language for the most part, but often the Eagle children would teach us poorer cousins the Eagle dialect.’ Rôg smiled at this remembrance. ‘And not a few times that came in handy when I was older and kept the tallies. Not all Eagles were above trying to cheat the ignorant traders just a bit.’ He paused, wondering if he should go on. Narika and Thorn were looking at him with hooded eyes, their faces guarded,. Curiosity on his part overcame caution, and he continued on. He wanted to understand what they had just told him about their clan.

‘I did not understand you when you said that forms are far too precious and rare. You term yourselves maenwaith . . . skilled folk. How is it you can think yourselves limited? Miri has just had a taste of the skill of changing; she has no limits right now. What limits must you put on her? And why? Do your Elders not teach the little ones? Guide them?’ Rôg was quite frankly appalled as the realization struck him that the nurturing of the childrens’ skill was not at the center of the Eagle clan’s needs. It seemed all turned round to him.

‘I do not know this Wyrma,’ he went on, finding the name distasteful as he said it; the thought of maenwaith turning against maenwaith a jarring one. ‘To be truthful I have been away a number of years from my clan, on their business and my own. Is it because of this person and her designs that you have grown so cautious? Or has your clan always been so?’

He leaned forward, looking closely at each of them.

‘Where are your Elders?’ he asked again. ‘The ones who remember, who have the skill.’ He looked at them with troubled eyes. ‘You two are so young . . . Where are they? Will they not guide you through this?’

Rôg sighed heavily as he leaned back again.

‘You wondered,’ he said in a low voice to Narika, his words drifting into the silence between them, ‘if my folk will fare well in the end. I wonder, in turn, if yours will fare at all.’

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

Child's post for Narika:

"Our elders?" Narika queried. The woman shook her head and put her hand up to her mouth, trying to force back a chuckle. She chose to ignore Rôg's final comment as a slow smile spread over her face. "I do not understand what you mean. Where else would the Elders be? With us, of course. Here in the encampment. They are busy tending the beasts and doing other chores. A few, too ill to work, sit by the fire and help to amuse the little ones or else lean back against the great sand hills and stare off into the sky, searching the heavens for a sign of the Great Eagles who no longer grace our camp."

"It is true that there are fewer left than we would like. The great troubles at the end of the last Age took a dreadful toll. Many are missing: especially among the wise and strong who were then in the prime of their years. So Thorn and I, and the other young ones who escaped the carnage, do our best to lead. But we would not be here, not any of us, unless the clan Elders had played their part in hiding the children and many of the young married women who were of childbearing age. For there were horrors in the last war from which no one was safe. Even the most skillfull shifters wearing their most fiercesome forms sometimes found themselves helpless and the only safety was in flight or concealment"

An awful thought flitted through Narika's brain as she weighed the meaning of Rôg's words. What sort of a clan would force the Elders to go off by themselves? Perhaps this tangled tale of a single clan split asunder with some maenwaith wandering here while others stayed in a different place was just an elaborate excuse to disguise the face that the Elders had been thrust away from the clan to fend on their own once their physical skills had diminished.

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

Hilde's post for Thorn:

Thorn was also troubled by much of what Rôg had said, and sat trying to piece together the fragments of information he had just learned. “I also do not understand,” he said after a few moments. “You speak as if being one of the maenwaith we should realize a multitude of shapes. But this is not so and never has been so, to my knowledge.” He turned again to Narika to see if she would speak differently, for she had greater understanding of past ages. But merely returning his glance, he felt gentle pressure as she squeezed the palm of his hand. And feeling encouraged by her presence, he went on. “We have a mere handful we master, three or four at most.” Then remembering Ráma, he added, “And these only if we are fortunate enough to discover them.”

Truly, if he had not seen Rôg’s transformations for himself, and known of his tutoring the child, Thorn would have disbelieved that the man who sat across from him was one of his kind. He seemed to have the most peculiar notions, for Thorn had never heard of such things before now. "Are you saying then, that your kin do not have such limitations? That would indeed be remarkable! And if that is the way of it, I can now see how innocent your infraction must have appeared to you. But to us, and to Miri, it is a great disservice,” he looked at his hands and sighed. “But even so, through your ignorance, you have added the beauty of this carefree creature to our encampment.”

Raising a knee to his chest and resting his hand on it, Thorn explained in a more relaxed manner, “Know that the people of this clan have in earlier times been more gracious hosts, even if they might have sought to cheat the foolish,” he grinned, his brown eyes sparkling. “For we have not always had need of this type of wariness, not of our own kind, and I apologize if our reception of you has been less than welcoming. But not all maenwaith have been as your people. And we do not rest easily while our paths lead us so close to the Wyrm and her followers. Yes, she is the cause of our apprehension. But if our clan wishes to remain free to roam with our flocks, we must be careful in these times, though it no doubt appears hard to you. Perhaps one day, when Wyrma has failed in her ambitions, as she must, we will all enjoy a greater freedom. For it is not natural for any maenwaith to be so bound.”

But deeming that he had spoken rashly, Thorn quickly continued, “You have said that when you were a child you had been in our camp…. Truly, I do not recall you or your kin, since your people no doubt left before I had learned to speak, for I am now perhaps only thirty, and the memories of my childhood are filled with the threat of Haradrim raids and not the more pleasant pursuits of childhood. But that is of little consequence. This basket and axe are well made and have been in my family’s service for a many years, and the craftsmanship evident in them speaks favorably of your family and their handiwork.”

“But what was the name your clan was known by? And how is it that you mention your Elders, yet they have not kept your clan together? I would guess that old man accompanying you may well be one of them, so surprisingly tall and pale he is. He must be held a great hero among your people!”

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Pio’s post – Rôg

‘She misunderstands me,’ he thought to himself, as Narika spoke. ‘And so does he.’

Rôg sat very still, trying to understand, himself, what the two were saying. He was not one to dissemble easily, and a myriad of emotions ran helter-skelter cross his face. He started to protest a certain level of horror at what they had revealed to him, but stopped himself before a word left his lips. He took a deep breath, recalling some instruction his mother had given at the start of his journey:

‘Don’t give yourself airs, son, when you meet new people. Just answer their questions as fully as you can. And pay attention to what they say back to you in return. Don’t be bound by what you think about things; people have other ways of solving their own problems that work quite well for them, if not for you.’

‘I beg your forgiveness for my harsh and hasty words,’ he began. ‘And your indulgence for my actions, as far as the little one goes. She is of course an Eagle clan member, and you have your own ways.’ His brow furrowed for a moment as he searched for the best way to begin. ‘My clan, too, has its own way, and I must say it did not occur to me that others of the maenwaith could be so different.’ He chuckled a bit to himself. ‘Eagles, in the wilds of those places I have traveled, I can speak long on . . . their varying types and habits, but of the Eagle Clan, I will say, now, I know very little.’

He turned toward Narika. ‘I saw you a number of days ago. Before I met Surinen and Narayad in their outrider camp. It must have been just before the Meldakhar was taken ill, I think. The camp seemed peaceful enough, though I noted many of the men were armed within its boundaries . . . and it was evening time. Most were gathered about a fire and you were telling them stories. Your voice was lovely and the faces of the young and old were rapt as you spoke the words of the old stories. It made me very homesick.’

‘I have been away a very long time from my clan and family. Partly from my own choosing. I wanted to see what lay beyond the sands and mountains; I wanted to pursue my study of birds . . . not just birds . . . but all winged creatures.’ He smiled briefly. ‘I find them quite interesting.’

‘But I was also asked by my clan leader to seek out any of our clan who had gone west when the Shadow of late rose once again and stretched his grasping hands eastwards. I was to let them know that the Elders felt the threat of the Dark One had passed and that we would be safe now in our homeland. There was no fear now that he might use us in any way for his dark purpose. We could all come home.’

Rôg paused for a moment, taking a sip of tea from the mug Narika had passed him. He cleared his throat a bit and went on. ‘When I spoke of your Elders, Narika, I did not mean your old people – your grandfathers and grandmothers who live here among you. Many of my clan’s old ones also choose to stay among their families and are honored for their contributions to the clan and their wisdom. But some old ones choose a life apart from the clan encampment - in the caves that lie in the mountainsides of the range that protects our home land. They live long lives, wanting for nothing and content with their own company.’ He saw the perplexed looks on the faces of Thorn and Narika.

‘They do not abandon us, nor do we shy away from them. They are the ones who remember for us. Various of them come in often to tell the old stories; share the old teachings and rhymes, remind us of the namings and the lines of our clan. They take the children in hand and play the games with them that quicken their understanding of their skills. Our parents, of course, are our first teachers, but the Elders help us deepen and enlarge our abilities.’

‘They also advise the clan leader. And it was they, in fact, who first understood the danger of the Dark One laying hands on us. It would be a very bad thing to happen if the Shadow were to pervert our kind.’ He nodded his head slightly at this thought, wondering if something of this sort were what was happening to these southern clans. ‘At any rate, they sent us out to hide and be safe, and now they call us back.’

He raised his eyebrows at Narika. ‘I heard you speak of the Great Eagles – are they your Elders, as I have spoken of mine? Are they near? Do they not come down to help you in times of need?’ She only looked at him, saying nothing.

Rôg stretched out his back muscles and leaned forward, elbows planted on his knees as he sat cross legged, chin resting on his steepled fingers. ‘Now about Miri . . .’ He looked directly at Thorn. ‘I do not understand why you are limited to three or four forms. You say you cannot remember any of your clan ever having this ability. How can this be? My clan and yours are both maenwaith, and logically it would seem . . .’ Careful! he reminded himself. They have their own ways that serve their purposes. Rôg shrugged his shoulders as if throwing off this line of thought. ‘Perhaps . . . we should just agree that we each have our own traditions, and leave it at that.’ He shook it his head slightly. Such a waste of skill, though, he thought to himself.

‘Let me answer instead, the last questions you asked me, Thorn.’ He smiled as he continued - the thought of Aiwendil as one of his Elders was an amusing one. He wondered what the old man would think of Thorn’s reasoning. ‘Aiwendil is my traveling companion. We met up north, at one of the encampments of the Nimîr, the Beautiful Ones . . . Elves as they are called there in the Common Tongue. We have a shared interest in birds and I promised to bring him south to see the different varieties here. He is . . . not of my clan. And to be truthful, I know little of his history.’

And what I have heard from him, you would scarce believe! he thought to himself. I hardly can believe he speaks with a clear mind myself, sometimes . . .

‘He is a gentle and learned man. A . . . surprising fellow at times. And he is elder to me, so I serve him as I may.’ He paused wondering if he should make the request that had now come to the foreground of his thoughts.

‘He wants . . . no, he believes that he can aid you and your clan. And I believe he has some skills which might be useful to you.’ He saw their questioning expressions. ‘I should not speak for him . . . perhaps you can ask him yourself. What I would appreciate is that you keep the old fellow safe with your clan for a while. My clan is . . . near, and I would travel quickly to them – to be with my family and to report to the clan leader on those I have been able to contact on my travels.’ He looked hopefully toward his hosts. ‘Would you do that for him? At least until I return and we can travel on.’

He took another swig of the now cool tea, then remembered a last thing that Thorn had asked and he had not touched on. ‘My clan’s name . . . you asked that. Sorry, I did not touch on it earlier. It is still our name,’ he declared, recalling that Thorn had spoken of it in the past tense. ‘No matter that we have lived apart for some time now.’ He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. ‘We have been long apart, too, from our southern cousins, since the Shadow rose again in the long-time after the sinking of the Star Isle. Or so our old stories tell us.’ He wondered if any of the Eagle Clan would remember his clan’s name. Or was it as much a ghost of a memory as was the skill to make changes.

An air of expectant silence was almost palpable as he continued.

‘Zadan n’Yo . . .’ he said the name clearly, so that they would catch it, hoping it would spark some faint remembrance on their part. ‘That is how we are named of old . . . House of the Gift.’

His throat was dry when he’d finished talking. There seemed nothing more to say, he thought. His hosts were quiet as he picked up his mug and drained it to the dregs . . .

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

Child's post for Narika:

Zadan n'Yo?.....'

Narika stood unmoving staring out the window of the tent, caught up in her own ruminations, as she tried to make sense out of the last words Rôg had spoken. She had no memory of any "House of the Gift" from her own readings in the few scrolls that the Eagles carried with them. Nor did she recollect that name being spoken by her mother, either in their personal times together or the many nights when the Eagles had listened to tales of other places and tribes while seated round the campfire.

In fact, as far as Narika could remember, every clan derived its name from that of an animal, normally the most developed form that was common among their own people. But apparently Rôg's clan was different. And, from certain things he had said, it sounded as if there were many differences between her own people and his. One part of her was naturally curious and wanted to ask more questions about how many forms Rôg could take on and exactly which ones these were. But questions like these would be crossing a personal line. In these difficult times, Maenwaith generally did not volunteer such details to folk outside of their own clan, so Narika felt she had no right to intrude any further.

Rôg's gentleness and halting manner had at least convinced Narika that, however odd the young shapeshifter seemed, he meant no real harm. She tugged softly on Thorn's sleeve and looked squarely in his face, seeing her own feelings mirrored subtly in his eyes. An imperceptible nod of agreement passed between them. There was no need for further discussion. Narika stepped forward and actually bobbed a slight curtsey to the stranger, looking more like a child than the leader of her own people, "Rôg, much of what you say is strange to us. But we can see that you have no evil intent. You and your friend are free to leave when you will or, if you wish, stay here for a while. For a bit, you will still need an 'escort'. It will take time for the others to reach the same understanding the three of us have come to today. And I have no wish to put any of my people more on edge than they already are. Go now and let me know what you and your friend decide." With that she turned and went back to check on her mother.

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Old 05-26-2004, 06:51 PM   #215
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Ráma

As the two pieces of the snake’s body crumpled harmlessly to the ground, Ráma stood motionless and silent, staring off into the desert. Her face was taut, her expression distant; the words Airefalas spoke barely registered on her mind. She involuntarily shuddered, and then bent to retrieve her sword. Kneeling on the sand to take a closer look, Ráma brought her blade down in one hearty swoop so that the viper’s head was severed from the front portion of its body. She tossed the remains of the head to one side and then buried it carefully in the sand so no man or beast would accidentally come across it. Then she again used her sword to gingerly lift up the remaining parts of the snake and slip them inside a spare leather pouch used for game and other foodstuffs.

She sprang to her feet with renewed energy, turning to face Airefalas, “Yes, thank you. I am all right. But only because of you. You are a brave man. Here, take this.” An impish smile crossed her face as she offered the Gondorian the remnents of the snake. “You have blessed us twice. I hope you can cook. I mean no disrespect, but I must go and speak with the caravan driver again.”

Ráma shoved the bag into Airefalas' extended arms, apologizing for her haste and noting that food could be scarce in the desert. “This snake will make a hearty soup for us while we rest here. It’s mid-afternoon, the time when wise travelers take shelter. Later today, we’ll continue on for a short distance before we halt for the night. We have three-days till we reach the southern foothills.”

Mithadan and Airefalas exchanged puzzled glances, until Mithadan finally queried. “We go with you then? What of that caravan heading north?”

“If you still wish to visit my clan to search for your friend, I will take you. I may have misjudged the two of you. I still wish I could persuade you otherwise. Times are hard now, and there is threat of war. Before this is over, you may wish that you had never set eyes on me or my clan.”

She hesitated a moment, wondering if she should share anything further with the outsiders, but then went on to confide, “My clan follows the path of the Great Eagles. We wish to maintain traditional ways. Sadly, some of our brothers and sisters no longer feel that way. Now let me go and speak with that caravan leader again, if you are sure this is what you want.” The men somberly nodded and Ráma disappeared around the corner.

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


For the next two and a half days, the party steadily made its way over the shifting sands, carefully circumventing the few stray encampments that cropped up in their path. The sun shone hot and merciless on their heads, making the journey uncomfortable, but they encountered no serious obstacles and were able to make good progress. Once in a while, Ráma had glanced back over her shoulder up into the sky, but she could see sign that a great eagle had been following them.

By the afternoon of the third day, they were within a few hours’ ride of the Eagle encampment. Ráma explained to the men that they should reach the safety of the camp by evening, and would perhaps be in time to join the evening meal. The one tidbit she kept to herself was that she was totally uncertain what their reception might be.

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Old 05-27-2004, 03:16 AM   #216
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Korpúlfr

Korpúlfr could only watch impatiently from one of the many entrances to the caves that bordered the northern reaches of the city, as Hasrim studied a series of prints found on the sandy ground within. Tracking was never a skill he had been able to master, in the old days when their clan still wondered the shifting sands of the desert this would have been a major failing on his part. His Grandfather had tried to teach him the old ways before he died, telling him that it was important to respect the balance of nature and the values of all the clans. However, his father had always disagreed arguing that times had changed and so must they.Therefore, he was taught new values, the way of trade and negotiation and trained in the use of weapons that he could use to defend himself and his people. The old ways of life were abandoned and many of the old skills lost, but luckily, for Korpulfr Hasrim had been born in those days when following animal tracks would determine if the clan ate well that season or not, he retained these skills and used them now to try to determine if the northerners had help in escaping and to ascertain the direction they had taken after leaving the labyrinth of caves.

His cousin returned grim faced, “there are many strange signs. However, as far as I can tell the northerners where joined by a third person with a horse and they left by another exit further to the east. Still I can find no sign of Tinar and the tracks from the caves into the desert are long gone, covered completely by the shifting sands.”

Korpúlfr looked out towards the vast expanse of the desert contemplating were the strangers might have gone, then it came to him, “Bakhpusta?” he thought aloud, “They will surely make their way to the kibbutz it is always filled with traders from Harondor who would gladly give them passage north.” Hasrim looked at him for a moment and then frowning said, “That is if they even know to look for it?” He could see the reluctance in the older mans eyes, Bakhpusta was the last trading stop of the desert merchants who choose not to venture into the northlands, but it is also the prime target for bandits and thieves, so he could understand his cousin’s reluctance, even if he did not share it.

“The third person, their new companion knew the complex of caves well enough to lead them out by another route, so he or she must be a guide of some kind. Someone who knows these lands, who will know of Bakhpusta!” he reasoned trying to convince the older man. Still Hasrim remained reluctant, wishing instead to go to the Maenwaith city and see if his father’s scouts had seen the strangers. Korpúlfr shook his head defiantly, “No, Bakhpusta is nearer, if strangers went north someone at the kibbutz would have seen them and if they didn’t,” he continued reading his cousins next question, “it is more likely a trader would have spotted them heading south than any of the scouts from the city!” Hasrim grudgingly nodded his agreement and the two pressed on toward Bakhpusta.

It was just past dusk by the time the large tents of the kibbutz came into view, various animals were being herded in front of prospective buyers, several caravans were lined up displaying their wares. Several campfires were lit, from these could be heard music and laughter. The people of Bakhpusta were not Maenwaith, it was generally said that they were once Haradwaith nomads who herded goats about the desert, but finding the trade good this close to the boarders of the southlands they decided to settle. If this was true Korpúlfr had never discovered it, The Bakhpustans rarely spoke of their past, more interested in listening to the tales that others had to share.

“Look what the desert winds have blown our way, my brothers, if it is not the little raven returned from the big city!” A loud, deep voice laughed. Korpúlfr turned to see the familiar face of the tribe’s leader, Waitimu. Waitimu towered over him at roughly 6ft, his skin was as dark as the night and his dark brown eyes conveyed the wisdom that made him leader of his people. His head was bald except for one dark brown braid that hung from the right side of his head; he was lean but not lacking in strength as Kor had witnessed on their first meeting. Waitimu was the only person outside his own clan that he would call a friend, the tribal leader and his tribe had saved his life, when a caravan he was travelling with was ambushed by bandits.

With a broad grin Korpulfr handed Hasrim his reigns, swung down from his horse and strode forwards to greet is friend, the two men embraced, “It’s good to see you Waitimu,” he laughed.

“And you my friend, but come, tell me what brings you this far north and what news do you bring from the city?” Waitimu grinned guiding him to one of the campfires. As he sat Korpulfr began to tell his friend about the cities northern guests and their explosive leaving gift. Waitimu laughed heartily, “I am pleased to hear that they escaped and at the embarrassment of that great oaf Falasmir no less, I should imagine he was none to pleased.” Waitimu and his people had no respect or love for the city of the corsairs, during the Great War many of his people were made slaves, and forced aboard the corsairs great ships as oar men. Waitimu himself had suffered this fate, rows of brightly coloured beads now hide the burn marks of the shackles, but the scars across his bare arms from whip strokes could still be seen and he was sure they stretched right across his friends back. He knew his friend would be pleased to hear that at least one of the corsairs ships had been destroyed, but even as Waitimu laughed he could see a deep sadness in his dark eyes, he knew as well as his friend that many of the slaves would have also been lost in the blaze. Better, they were dead than remaining slaves to the Corsairs, Kor thought. but he said nothing, he did not need to, each knew the other well enough to know what they were thinking.

Waitimu was the first to break the still silence, “So my friend is your visit business or pleasure?”

“Neither, my friend” he admitted. “The northern Captain, Mithadan and his first mate Airefalas did not escape with their ship and I was wondering if they stopped here looking for passage north.”

Waitimu studied him for a long moment then shook his head, “No, the only northerners we have had here today are the traders from Harondor,” then looking side long at Hasrim and the horses he continued, “ my friend if I didn’t know you better I would think you pursued these men for Falasmir!”

Korpúlfr was taken aback by the suggestion and his face flushed with anger, “I have trade negotiations with them, they are an investment that I wish to protect nothing more!” he snapped.

“Peace, my friend I meant no offence, I know your prejudices and we are of like mind were the Umbarians are concerned, yet you must understand my position. My tribe rely heavily on trade with the men of Harondor and here you are asking questions about north men, fresh from the city and if you will forgive me for saying so, armed like bounty hunters. It could harm the peaceful relations we have with the northerners if they even thought I helped bounty hunters to capture two of their kind,” Waitimu whispered, looking to him for some assurance that he would not bring trouble to his tribe.

“So you have heard something!” Kor grinned, but then seeing the stern deepening frown on his friends face he threw up his hands defensively. “Waitimu, I assure you that I am not here on bequest of Falasmir or any of the Umbarian fools, in fact the bungling oaf is not even aware that the Captain and his first mate did not make their ship. I am searching for the Northerners at the insistence of my own leader to insure that they do not trouble our clan and to guide them back to their own lands.” He hated lying to Waitimu, but on this occasion, it was necessary not only to get the information he required but to insure that no repercussions fell on Waitimu and his tribe.

“Very well,” Waitimu smiled, finally satisfied with his explanation, “I did not lie when I said that they did not pass this way, but I can introduce you to someone who might have seen them.” Waitimu rose and gestured for him to follow explain how the man they were about to meet had spoke of seeing two northerners at one of the watering holes further to the east. Waitimu made the necessary introductions and then excused himself, explaining that he had other matters to attend to. From the off set the desert trader seemed closed and guarded, Korpúlfr explained that he was looking for friends, two northerners who were in the south searching for a missing companion; he gave their names and described each man as he remembered them. The trader regarded him for a moment then nodded, telling him that he had seen the strangers he spoke of.

“Their guide sought to find them passage north, but in the end they went south to see if they could find word of their friend,” the trader told him.

Korpulfr noted that the man was careful not to name the guide or their intended destination, but he did not press the matter instead, he thanked him for his help and returned to find Hasrim.

After explaining to his cousin, what he had discovered the two made plans to set out as soon as the horses were feed and watered. They secured supplies and shared supper with Waitimu and his tribe, before the Bakhpusta leader escorted them to the edge of his Kibbutz. A chill wind blew across the desert and Waitimu laid a concerned hand on his arm. “The wind, it speaks of evil things to come. Be careful that you are not swept along with it, my friend!” Korpúlfr nodded mounting his horse, and then he and Hasrim set off for the oasis the desert trader had described.

Reaching the oasis shortly before dawn Hasrim confirmed that the Gondorians had indeed been there and that they had set out southward. They continued to follow the trail taking it in turns to scout ahead using their shape shifting abilities and stopping only to find shade in the unbearable heat of the afternoonsun. Much to Korpulfr’s frustration there was still no sign of Tinar. But on the evening of the second day Korpúlfr in his wolf form picked up the distinctive salty scent of the Northern sailors, he returned to the camp Hasrim had set for the night and quickly explained that he thought that their quarry was no more that half a day ahead of them. As he finished telling Hasrim that he thought they were heading for the mountains, he got the distinct feeling that he was being watched, he had felt the same feeling before on several occasions over the past few weeks. He turned and as always he saw nothing, he shook his head, he was tired and letting his imagination get the better of him, he supposed. With a tired yawn he sat down to a cold supper of dried figs and stale flat bread, then Hasrim offered to keep the first watch while he got a few hours sleep.

They broke camp just before dawn of the third day and hurried to make some ground on their quarry. However, by midday the incessant heat of the desert forced them to stop and find shade. They found a rocky outcropping that offered substantial shade for both them and the horses, and then they sat down to wait out the afternoon heat.

Last edited by Nerindel; 06-02-2004 at 09:28 AM.
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Old 06-01-2004, 11:19 AM   #217
piosenniel
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Gondor

Pio spent a restless and unhappy night. The house seemed cold without the children . . . too silent without the echoes of their squabbles and their laughter. She dared not reach out to them in her thoughts. Anger and grief ran as twin themes through her mind. They would pick up on that. Leave them to their own happy dreamings she chided herself. They were safe with their aunt and uncle, Rilwen and Gaerion, spending time there while their ammë went on a short journey with Faragaer, she had told them, to finish some small business with a merchant who had asked for assistance.

She had sent for Mithadan’s brother and his wife when first she learned of the Star’s return without her Captain and First Mate. That had been but a day ago. Gaerion had been beside himself with the news. It was Rilwen who had taken him in hand, saying they must do what they could – keep safe his brother’s children until Mithadan’s return with Piosenniel. Pio could read in Rilwen’s face the quickly suppressed fear that perhaps neither would return.

Turning her thoughts from the children, Pio did reach out once more for any trace of Mithadan, casting her thoughts wide, but even her skill could not bridge the distances between them.

Baran watched her as she paced back and forth in the atrium. A bear in a cage, he thought, his eyes following her measured steps. His great brow furrowed when she at last stopped still, her hand going to the back of her neck. Rubbing it to ease the tight muscles there. Her grey eyes seemed clear and bright in the light of the small lamps lit about the area as she looked up at him briefly then focused on something in the distance. With a quick shrug of her shoulders she stood up straight and strode quickly back into the house. Baran thought to follow her in, but in a brief moment she had returned, a battered leather book of some sort in her hand. Motioning for him to come look at it with her, she laid it open on the small table beneath the fig tree. It was the old log of The Sandpiper. Her finger tracing the line of coast from Belfalas to Umbar, she bade him sit down on the bench opposite her.

‘This is how we will proceed,’ she began, in a clear voice . . .

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Old 06-02-2004, 11:07 AM   #218
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Tinar awoke with a start as a ray of the setting sun shone on his face. As in the last few days, he had flown ahead of the little group of riders, seeking out the most likely watering spot and resting in human form during the day. Even though it was not likely that other travellers should discover him, he slept restlessly. It would have been very difficult to explain his presence to strangers, alone and without even a beast of burden. Not all who navigated this part of the desert were of his people.

He shivered, though the air was still hot and thick before the evening winds came up to cool it. Something was wrong, though it took him a moment’s reflection to think what it could be. The Gondorians! They should have arrived there by now, if they were headed for this little oasis. He panicked, thinking how large the desert was and how difficult it could be to locate them if they had taken an unexpected turn of direction. Then he shook himself sternly, reminding himself of what he had experienced during the last few days. He had survived, all alone, had achieved a new shape all by himself, and had navigated unknown areas with few problems. He had managed to find water and enough nourishment to keep up his strength and had felt that strength grow from day to day.

Though he felt the loneliness keenly and missed having companions for conversations and for sharing the responsibility of making decisions, he found that he had actually enjoyed these days on his own in the desert. For the first time in his young life, no one was there to tell him what to do – a heady, exhilarating feeling. He revelled in the freedom of movement far from the restrictions of a city more than he could ever have imagined. Spreading the wings of a falcon and rising to greater heights than he had experienced before, soaring on the rising winds, he felt far away from the concerns of daily life and the restraints of court behaviour. He felt slightly guilty over his relief at being away from his powerful mother and her constant planning and scheming. For a moment, he wondered whether her fixed idea of a Maenwaith city was truly the best for her people, but the thought faded as he realized that he had an immediate problem to solve.

Where could the Northerners and their companion be? He drew water from the well, drinking as much as he could before changing to his falcon shape and spreading his wings to rise up on the breeze. The sun would be setting soon; he must find them before dark. He turned to glide in a large circle, northwards and eastwards, swivelling his head to and fro to search for any movement below. He could see no trees, no green that would have given sign of water nearby. The air shimmered with the reflected light of the low sun, creating illusions that tricked his eyes at first glance, but he had learned to look more closely from another angle before believing what he saw.

Finally, when he had almost despaired of finding the ones he sought, or even a refuge for himself, he caught a glimpse of green ahead and, moving toward it, spots that were soon visible as riders when he drew nearer. Three dots, yes, but as he approached he realized that those were not the camels he had been following – there were three horses, and only two riders. Even his sharp eyes could barely discern their shapes in the dusk, but it was too late to make a renewed attempt to find the others. He decided to take a less conspicuous form before circling over their heads as they dismounted from their horses at the watering place.

From his perch in the branches of a scraggly tree, he watched their movements. Their gait seemed strangely familiar, but it was not until one of the men called out to the other that he realized who they were. Of all the voices he had least expected to hear, this one was the most welcome – Korpúlfr! He fluttered down to the ground and, taking a deep breath, changed to his human form. “Kor!” he exclaimed. “What on earth are you doing here?”

Korpúlfr spun around in his tracks, reaching for his sword.

“Peace, peace!” Tinar laughed. “It is I, Tinar! Do not kill a friend – there are not many of them out here in the desert!”

Hasrim, hearing the voices without recognizing Tinar’s, came running, raising the piece of firewood in his hand to ward off the intruder.

“Stop!” Korpúlfr shouted, “It is Tinar!”

Later, as they sat around the fire, having slaked their thirst and stilled their hunger, Tinar answered their questions, though his friend noticed that he was strangely reticent to tell how he had managed to cover such a distance within those few days. Never mind! Kor thought. He will tell me soon enough if he has something on his mind. However, he was aware of a subtle change in the young man; he seemed more thoughtful, less inclined to speak impulsively.

Tinar yawned. He was more tired than he could remember ever having been. He was glad of the bedroll his companions had strapped onto the extra horse. Tonight he could sleep deeply, unafraid. He was among friends.
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Old 06-03-2004, 06:04 PM   #219
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Surinen

Surinen suggested to Narayad that they play a game to while away the time and to keep his fellow outrider from brooding further over the lost incense pot. The sun had long since grown hot, the air wavering over the land as he gathered a large handful of pebbles. Narayad settled himself down, deftly carving small dimples in the dust in front of the lean-to with his dagger, from time to time the rise and fall of distant conversations breaking the quiet, as the camp returned to life again after the heat of the afternoon. Sitting down cross-legged, facing his friend, Surinen pulled his legs closer to his body and leaned forward distributing the stones among the cups. “You begin,” he told Narayad. But the outrider seemed preoccupied, and sat, the shadow of the lance he had driven into the ground casting a thick line across his knee.

“As you wish,” Narayad replied, shifting the pebbles quickly, and looking up again to check the old man who watched them disinterestedly, from under the shade of the lean-to.

Surinen followed Narayad gaze, noting that Narayad made no hurry to return to the game after Surinen had played out his turn. “Again,” he said, looking back to his opponent and rapping his knee sharply, with the back of his hand. “Relax, I will help you watch.”

“Like you watched the other? No, I think I had better keep my eye and this one,” Narayad said a smile growing on his face.

Surinen scowled at the barb. “But I had no idea he would try that,” he said in an injured tone, pulling his shawl over his darkly tousled head with one hand. “Miri, that curious scamp! The little thing had better take Kron’s advice and forget all about the strange words Rôg spoke, or she will have the Elders descending upon her tent, and they will keep her from the other children.”

“Yes, as though she had some sickness. It is a shame,” Narayad murmured, looking at the game.

Surinen reached out to take the stones there before him, but stopped, having caught sight of the old man shaking his hoary head ‘no’ under the shelter of felted wool. Slowly shifting his strategy, the outrider took those from a neighboring hole, earning a nod of approval from their ‘guest’.

“Perhaps, you would like to play, old man?” Narayad said sarcastically, without looking up. Surinen grinned broadly carefully enunciating each syllable as he translated into common tongue. When the invitation was not accepted immediately, Surinen waved the man over patting the ground next to him.

“Two minds against your perceptive eye! A more even chance don’t you think?” he said. Narayad shot him a withering look; resting his hand on the end of his lance as the old fellow sidled forward, out from under the shade. Squinting in the bright sun, he stretched briefly and took up a position leaning on his staff over looking the two outriders who sat in the dust, playing with stones, and as the game progressed Surinen consulted the old man continually. “Ah see! We have won!” he announced within a few turns, clearing most of the stones off the ground.

Standing up Surinen clapped the old man’ the back, thanking him profusely. He did not often win against Narayad, and was determined to enjoy it. But as he stood beaming, and Narayad moved to stand up also, three brothers arrived, and Surinen saw they were sons of one of the elders. “We have prepared a place for the visitors,” the eldest and stoutest said. “Quickly, let us move them there, before the children again wander the camp.”

“We have only this one with us, the other Kron has taken to speak with Narika and Thorn,” Narayad replied brushing himself off. “Should I wait and bring him to you when he has finished?”

“No come with us, we can send word to Kron were he should be taken.”

Surinen turned to the wizened guest, trying his best to explain that he was being moved and that Rôg would join him shortly, but growing impatient with the speech they did not understand, the others hurried him along. Quickly grabbing Narayad’s pack, Surinen rushed to follow, but feeling as much as hearing a heavy thump behind him, he turned to see a round incense pot lying on its side directly behind his right foot.

The younger of the elder’s sons bend down and retrieved it, looking it over carefully. “The missing incense burner?” he said eying Narayad. “What is it doing in your pack?”

“I do not know,” the outrider said mystified. “I did know it to be there.”

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Old 06-05-2004, 07:06 PM   #220
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Nerindel's post for Sorona:

From her perch in a tall leafy palm, Sorona had watched the three travellers with great interest. She had ascertained that Rama was trying to gain passage north for her two companions, but that changed after the timely intervention of one of the northerners as the maenwaith found herself face to face with an ill-tempered viper. She had almost laughed aloud when the young woman had then offered the edible meaty coils of the serpent to her bemused rescuer. She liked this young one and hoped she would be able to get to know her better. However as the three companions sat down to eat under the shade offered by the line of palms, the Northerners removed their head scarves and she saw with surprise and a measure of curiosity that it was the same two men who had been guests of the raven haired merchant the night before. She had no idea what this meant or indeed if it meant anything but out of caution she decided to keep her distance, at least until she had the opportunity to think things through.

As the three companions waited out the afternoon heat Sorona listened to their conversations, mostly they discussed the soup the Northerner had made and asked general question about the desert and what other dangers they might face. However, Sorona’s interest was not in what they discussed but the language they spoke, she knew that at some point she would have to speak to Ráma or at least the elders of the Maenwaith’s clan and the garbled mixture of languages that had tumbled from her mouth when speaking to Ráma before just would not do! All three seemed to communicate using a variation of the common tongue she had heard widely used in the north, but Ráma had spoken a different language back at the cave, one that she recognised and understood, but had not heard in a long time. She had learned many languages over the years, but had never put them to much use; she focused on trying to isolate the one that would best suit her needs and now that seemed to be the common tongue, listening to their conversations made it easier for her to recall the words and sounds.

As the arid afternoon gave way to the cool of early evening, the travellers remounted and set off southward. She followed discreetly, still trying to recall the words she would need to communicate with the people she followed. The first day's travel was largely uneventful, but she had realised that Rama had been right: the constantly shifting sands of the desert were open and inviting, but also comfortingly familiar. Several times, she lost herself, soaring and gliding through the deserts warm air currents, free and unburdened, and then she would remember the dream and go back to following the three travellers.

But on that first night in the desert and for the first time in months, she did not dream of the city in the sand or of the dark pits of Mordor and her terrible experiences there. Instead, her dreams were of a small girl with dark hair and gold flecked brown eyes. She sat on the shoulders of a middle-aged man her arms out stretched pretending to fly as the man the girl’s father, ran bare foot across the golden sands. “One day my daughter you will be able to really fly like the eagles!” His smile was warm and filled with love.

The girl again this time older, she is with an older woman her name is being called, she is presented before the elders of her village, her father sits among then pride shining in his eyes, the girl then takes the form of a beautiful eagle. “Welcome Eagle Sister!” the elders smile together.

The girl is now a young woman and again she is before the Elders, this time a young man is at her side and they stare deeply into each other’s eyes. “Wolf brother and Eagle sister, bind themselves together as one. May their love and union strengthen the bonds between our clans?” The young man kisses the young woman tenderly.

Sorona woke to the second day with tears in her eyes realising that the young girl in her dreams was her or had been her a long time ago, before… she shook the thought away: she did not what to go back there, to the dark places in her mind where pain and darkness dwelled. Instead, she held on to the memories of her dreams, and continued to follow Ráma and her companions as the changed direction, and headed west.

Once the three companions had camped for the night on the second day, Sorona left and went in search of food; she caught several Jerboas and a lizard and was about to swoop down on an unsuspecting elephant shrew when something startled it and it scurried away. Annoyed that it got away she circled to see whom or what had frightened it away. A large adult male wolf padded across the dunes, its silvery grey back shining in the clear desert moonlight. Its cinnamon head bent to the sands, it was looking for something, but not food for it ignored any desert wildlife it came across, but it had the scent of something she thought as she watched it move through the dunes. She followed the beautiful creature with inquisitive curiosity, her eyes narrowing as she realised the wolf followed the path Rama and the Gondorians had travelled the previous day. It went some way and then sniffing the night air, it turned and went back in the direction it had just come. She followed silently, curious as to the creature’s strange behaviour.

Several hours later as the first light of dawn breached the dark horizon she saw a small camp, three horses and a man, his features hidden by a dark blue head scarf, that covered his head and face so that only his eyes could be seen. As the Wolf approached the camp, its shape shifted to that of a young man slightly shorter in stature than the other man and as he turned towards the other man, she gasped. It was the young merchant from the city he was a shape shifter like Rama. Was that why she was drawn to him and why his presence in the city had felt so wrong? These questions and many more assailed her as she flew back towards Rama, she was torn between telling the young woman about the two city merchants followed them and the strange protectiveness she felt for the young raven-haired man. She did not know what was going on so she decided that when she caught up to the others she would speak with Rama and perhaps things would become clearer.

It was the afternoon of the third day before she caught up to the Maenwaith woman and her companions; they were stopped by an old deserted well to rest their mounts and to quench their thirst. Sorona circled once and with a quiet squeal she swooped down to land gracefully before Rama, Her sharp eyes took in the surprised reflexive instincts of the northerners as their hands went to hilts, but she ignored them and turned to Rama.

“I would speak with you Desert sister,” she said in the common tongue dipping her head, recalling some ways of the desert people.

“I apologise for before, it has been a long time since I have had the need to speak with anyone and I fear the knowledge of the languages I have accumulated over the years got a little muddled, but I have had time to sort through them and now I think we need to speak.” Rama nodded but said nothing waiting for her to continue.

“A few things puzzle me and I hoped that you could help me to understand, I’m sure you have questions of your own and I will try to answer them if I can.”

“I will help if I can,” Rama answered.

“The first is the presence of maenwaith in the city of the dark men, a whole household, mostly merchants do you know why this is so? Then there is the lack of sightings of clan camps on our journey? And your friends, my memory is not as it was, but it is not common for… our people to travel with strangers?” she gave the two men a sideways glance but did not for now tell the woman that she had see these two men with the maenwaith she spoke of and that two of those merchants now followed them. Instead, she waited to hear what answers Rama offered her or if the men themselves would speak of the raven-haired merchant.



Child's post for Ráma:

Ráma stared at Sorona with a troubled expression on her face. The query about her two traveling companions was not wholly unexpected. In difficult times, maenwaith generally avoided the company of outsiders, especially when journeying deep into the desert to reach the safety of their clan.

Still, Sorona’s other comments had startled her. Why had the Eagle heard nothing of the large contingent of maenwaith who gathered in the city not merely to engage in trade but as active supporters of Wyrma and her grandiose plans? Their presence was common knowledge even to the youngest of her people. And why did Sorona still cling stubbornly to her Eagle shape rather than taking on her natural human form? Perhaps, the Gondorians made the maenwaith nervous, yet she did not fear to talk in front of them and reveal the fact that she was a great deal more than a simple beast.

A cautionary voice whispered inside Ráma’s head. If she confronted the Eagle directly with so many probing questions, the woman was likely to fly off and never return. For some reason Ráma did not entirely understand, she definitely did not want that to happen. There was a sadness in Sorona’s eyes as if the woman was missing a piece of her past and, without that piece, nothing else made any sense. Ráma could instinctively understand that. Moreover, she sensed a certain reticence on Sorona’s part, born not of fear but nervousness, as if she was unused to conversing with her own kind. She decided to tread softly and ask her mother or sister about this stranger once she arrived back at the clan.

For now she answered in a respectful tone, gesturing towards Mithadan and Airefalas who stood nearby. “These two are Gondorians. They are friends to the Eagle clan. They search for another maenwaith , a woman who is dear to them. They spoke the ancient words of friendship to me, so I am taking them to our clan to see if we can help.” Ráma stopped for a moment to introduce the men, and was pleased to note that their fingers were no longer curled tightly about their sword hilts and that they each stopped to make a courteous bow to acknowledge Sorona's presence.

“As to your other queries….perhaps you have been away from these parts for some time? I do not know the particular maenwaith you saw, but the Dragon clan and its leader Wyrma have gathered followers in the city. Many of these have forsaken the traditional maenwaith ways and choose to make their home inside that walled prison, working on various tasks that Wyrma assigns to them.”

Sorona said nothing but stared in disbelief as Ráma continued her explanation, “The missing tribes are no different. They have left the desert and follow Wyrma: some out of fear, others actually support her plans. And it is not only in Umbar that they live…” Ráma’s voice trailed off as she stared towards the north envisioning a cold grim shadow rising upward from the desert sand. “Wyrma builds her own fortified city north and west of here. She herds many clans inside its gates. I have heard my mother say that Wyrma’s real dream is not merely to rival Lord Falasmir, but one day to wield power so great that she could humble the mighty city of Minas Tirith. I do not know how she could do such a thing, but I do not doubt that she would try.” At this point, Ráma glanced briefly towards Mithadan and Airefalas and shrugged her shoulders to emphasize the point that there was little she could do to stop any of this.

Last edited by Child of the 7th Age; 06-06-2004 at 08:06 AM.
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Old 06-09-2004, 06:32 AM   #221
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Airefalas listened quietly to the words of Westron that passed between the two shape changers, not entirely certain as to whether he and Mithadan were intended to be party to the conversation or not. He had bowed politely when introduced to the eagle, but then taken a few steps back so as not to intrude when he realized that the eagle had not been introduced to them. Their introduction to her, he realized, was done less out of social nicety than it was out of a need to set the newcomer at ease. Bearing that in mind, he retreated a short distance away to wait while the two shape changers spoke.

Curiosity, though, made him listen to what passed between them, and what he heard surprised him. For some reason, he had been under the impression that shape changers were rare, with only a few individuals scattered about here and there on their own. It was eye-opening to hear Ráma and the eagle speak of the shape changers in such numbers especially since he had not known they existed at all prior to his meeting with Ráma just a few days earlier.

"That's what I get for spending so much time at sea," he murmured to himself. "Miss all sorts of things."

Mithadan shot him a sharp glance, his face grim as he continued listening to Ráma's soft voice.

Airefalas quickly bit his tongue and resumed listening himself, realizing that if he did not pay attention, he could miss even more.

"Wyrma builds her own fortified city north and west of here," said Ráma. "She herds many clans inside its gates. I have heard my mother say that Wyrma's real dream is not merely to rival Lord Falasmir, but one day to wield power so great that she could humble the mighty city of Minas Tirith. I do not know how she could do such a thing, but I do not doubt that she would try." As she finished, Ráma cast a glance in the direction of the two Gondorians, shrugging as though to say that there was little she could do to stop such an eventuality.

Mithadan and Airefalas exchanged a look, then Mithadan nodded, a slight smile touching the corners of his mouth. “I do not know how she could do such a thing either, but I guarantee that she will encounter much stronger opposition than she expects, otherwise she would recognize such wild ambition as the folly that it is.”

Ráma gave him a long, considering stare, then merely shrugged again. “Folly, perhaps, but Wyrma is not one who should be taken lightly, nor are her ambitions.”

“You mentioned that she is of the Dragon clan,” Airefalas interjected quietly. “Pardon my ignorance on the nature of your folk, but does this mean that this Wyrma can take on the shape of a dragon?”

Ráma hesitated for a fraction of a second, her gold-flecked eyes lingering for an instant on his green ones, then she shook her head. “I’m sorry,” she said abruptly. “Perhaps I have said too much.” She turned and said something softly in her own dialect to the waiting eagle, then turned back toward him and Mithadan.

“There is much happening amongst my people that concerns them very much but, as yet, has very little to do with you and yours,” she explained. “I have allowed you to accompany me to my clan’s encampment so that you may seek your lost friend, but I must ask you not to pry into our affairs. My people are distrustful of strangers in normal times, but to have strangers such as yourselves poking about our camp now, when times are troubled, asking questions about our business would lead to much anger and suspicion.”

Airefalas nodded politely. “I understand, my lady, and offer my word that once we reach the encampment I shall mind my own business absolutely,” he promised. “But I do think that we are entitled to a bit more information now when there is no one around to upset but you, us, and the Eagle. It is hardly fair of you to mention a threat to our homeland - which by your own words, should not be taken lightly - then to turn around and tell us it’s none of our concern. It is our concern. We have a right to know what foe it is who threatens us.”

Ráma hesitated again, thinking, then nodded. “Yes,” she admitted slowly. “It is your concern, but it is of much more immediate concern to us. Please know that Wyrma is a powerful and dangerous individual. You would not want her for an enemy, but please do not press me just now for any more information than that.”

Airefalas opened his mouth to do just that, when he was stayed by Mithadan’s hand on his arm. He waited silently as Mithadan addressed Ráma.

“Wyrma...” said Mithadan. “She was the rather imposing woman who walked beside Lord Falasmir at the reception in Umbar, was she not?”

“She was,” answered Ráma.

“What position does she hold at Falasmir’s court?”

“To my knowledge, she is merely an advisor, but she uses him to consolidate her own power. When the time comes, if it is her whim, he will fall.”

“I see.” Mithadan nodded. He thanked Ráma for her candor, then watched as she excused herself and moved several paces away to exchange a few final words in privacy with the eagle. The conversation complete, the eagle spread her wings and took once more to the sky. A few minutes after that Ráma and the two northerners were once more mounted, Ráma on her horse, the Gondorians on their camels, riding southward. By Ráma’s estimation, they would arrive in the Eagle encampment within roughly two hours, which would be none too soon for Airefalas. His camel had a pronounced ornery streak and seemed, at best, only half-trained. The sooner he could put some distance between himself and the stubborn creature the better.

But the camel was not the primary concern on Airefalas’ mind. He spent most of the remainder of the journey mulling over all that he had heard and learned during the brief visit from the Eagle, both of the shape changers in general and of the building threat to his own homeland. Was it as serious as Ráma would have them believe? She seemed a level-headed enough individual, not at all the sort to go about spreading breathless and groundless rumor. Yet, on the other hand, it all seemed so far-fetched to him... a colony of shape changers threatening the sovereignty of Minas Tirith? Of Gondor? Oh, surely not. But if this Wyrma person and her followers could change into Dragons, well, that might be a considerable worry, even for Minas Tirith.

He looked over at Mithadan who rode beside him, also deep in thought. A thousand questions raced through his head, but he voiced none of them, his gaze shifting next toward Ráma, who, as usual, rode some distance ahead of him and Mithadan. How much did the girl really know? Ultimately, that was the question, but he had given his word not to pry, so his questions would have to remain unanswered for the time being. Sighing, Airefalas resolved to honor his word to Ráma and not ask too many questions upon arrival into her people’s encampment, but there was nothing to stop him from watching or listening. He had a feeling that there was much more happening and much more at stake than he could imagine.

Having finally exhausted that topic after an hour or so, he let his mind wander in the direction of Minas Tirith, wondering if the Lonely Star had made it back to port. He wondered, too, if his family or Isabel had been notified that he had not returned with the ship. Idly, he tried to imagine how they had reacted. His brother, Avarlond, probably wouldn’t even look up from his ledgers when he heard the news, but Isabel would miss him. For all her game-playing and capriciousness, she had a soft heart and, he believed, she was truly fond of him. Her father, on the other hand...

Airefalas frowned, thinking of the visit Isabel’s father had paid on him shortly before he had sailed with the Star. It had been an awkward conversation at best, her father using the excuse of the Amarantha fiasco to postpone Airefalas’ impending wedding to Isabel on the basis that Airefalas’ prospects were now too unstable. Until Airefalas could prove himself capable of providing for her, Isabel’s father had said at first, the ceremony could not take place, but the conversation had not ended there. Isabel’s father had gone on to pronounce the engagement over. It would be up to Airefalas to break the engagement formally upon his return from Umbar. If he refused, Isabel’s father would do it himself. Remembering, Airefalas felt a flush of frustration and anger. He wondered how the old man would respond when he heard that Airefalas had not returned at all. Probably with joy and smug satisfaction that he had been proven right after all. To Airefalas, the worst part about it was that, just as with the Amarantha, there was nothing he could have done to make things turn out differently. Well, he would get back eventually...

Just then, ahead of them, Ráma let loose with a joyous shout. Airefalas had been so absorbed in stewing about his impossible situation back home that he had failed to notice the large grouping of tents that had come into view as they crested a steep rise. Ráma urged her horse into a quick burst of speed, widening the distance between herself and the two Gondorians. When a pair tribesmen appeared from the shadow of one of the tents, waving to her, she slowed, turning her horse in their direction. She reached them just outside the fringes of the encampment, where she dismounted. The men pointed toward Airefalas and Mithadan, who still approached, holding their camels to a walk. Ráma gestured toward them as well, and though they were still outside hearing range, Airefalas could see that she was speaking rapidly. By the time the camels drew up behind her, several other tribesmen and women had joined the first two. The conversation, which was being carried out in the tribal dialect, sounded tense.

Exchanging a signal between the two of them, Mithadan and Airefalas both made their camels kneel and dismounted. Careful to keep their hands away from their weapons, they went to stand a short distance behind Ráma. Finally, she turned to them and gestured for them to follow as she moved on into the camp, leaving both her horse and the camels in the care of a young tribesman. The rest of the tribesmen and women followed Ráma and the two strangers into the camp, arguing loudly amongst themselves.

"Much has happened here since I had last had word," Ráma said to them in the common speech as quietly as possible above the din of the group that followed them. "There are people I need to see." She stopped in front of a large tent. "You wait here until I return," she told them, gesturing toward the open tent flap. "For your own safety, please do not wander off. I will be back as quickly as possible."

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Old 06-14-2004, 03:52 PM   #222
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Gondor

Two days before The Star sails south

‘I am sorry Saelon, but neither you nor any of the crew will be sailing south with us.’

Pio did not look up from her charts as she answered the man’s questions. And Saelon, for his part, well understood that she would not be moved on this point. There was too much chance that one of them might be recognized as crew members from that escaped ship from Gondor. He tried one more tack, though he knew it was futile.

‘We can stay below, Mistress. Out of sight. Hidden until we are needed.’ She could hear the pleading in his voice, knew that he and the others wished to make sure the safety of their captain and first mate. But she remained unmoved.

‘I would have you stay here, Saelon. Captain Tavar will have need of you.’

‘Captain Tavar, ma’am?’ Saelon’s brow furrowed as he started to ask another question.

‘Enough, please. There is work to be done. The Star must be refitted . . . redone to match this drawing I have here.’

Saelon’s eyes went wide at the picture.

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

Previously . . . a few days after The Star returns . . .

Once the plan was clear in her mind, Pio spilled it out in a rush of words to Baran. She did not care that he did not understand it; she only wanted to hear herself speak it out loud. The sound of her own voice making points in the silence of the kitchen finalized her consideration. Baran was left to his own devices as she pulled her cloak from the peg by the door when she had finished and rushed into the deepening evening.

Sinda’s hooves clip-clopped down the narrow dirt path that in turn led to the lane which wound itself round farmer’s fields to the Great River. A careful horse, and one appreciative of the welfare of his lanky legs, he would not increase his speed. His ears twitched at the sound of his rider’s voice and burned at the stream of invective she hurled forth, bent low over his withers. He knew where they were going; she had laid the image in his mind. He intended for them both to arrive safely. And no well turned phrase from her earlier and rougher days would make him hasten any faster.

Faragaer was busy with the last of some shipment a late arriving merchant had brought to the docks. Crates had to be moved in the hold of The Scuppered Gull, and the bottles of wine the merchant had brought, nestled in straw in their small wooden boxes, secured safely for transport to Dol Amroth. He and his First Mate, Haladan, were below deck, discussing the logistics of placing the fragile and costly items when an urgent voiced hailed them from above. One of the crew hailed them from the top of the companion-way, then led Pio down to speak with them.

Faragaer had previously offered the services of himself and his crew should they be needed, and he was prepared to make good on it. The Gull would accompany The Star, to the small cove south of Umbar’s Bay. ‘You know you cannot take your crew with you on The Star. They’ll be looking for crewmembers from the ship that got away from them. And I should think that most of your crew was well known from their “stay” at the port of Umbar. Someone may recognize them.’

‘Yes . . . I had time to think on that on my way here. Once we are done here, I am bound for Captain Tavar’s ship. A number of them have sailed on The Star in previous years. I am hoping that Tavar and I can work something out. He should be doing his short runs north. My crew can sign on for him until The Star returns with her Captain and First mate.’ Haladan nodded his head at this, saying he and Captain Faragaer had spoken with Tavar. He was willing to assist in any way he could. His crew was a good one, Haladan himself had sailed with them a number of years ago. And The Star’s crew would be fine to man The Windrunner . . .

‘The crew is one thing,’ said Faragaer, breaking in on Haladan’s comments, ‘but what about The Star herself? She’s as recognizable as any sailor on her to the Corsairs, don’t you think?’

‘Only if she looks like The Star,’ the Elf replied.

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Old 06-15-2004, 10:12 AM   #223
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Sorona

Sorona stared in disbelief as Rama explained about Wyrma and the dragon clan and their gathering of the Maenwaith people into the cities, as irony would have it, it actually pained her to know that these Maenwaith had forsaken their traditional ways. While she had exiled herself from her people she did not believe that she had entirely abandoned their ways and she could not bring herself to believe that all the Maenwaith within the city had either, there had to be another explanation! Rama then went on to tell her that many of these city Maenwaith worked on tasks that Wyrma set for them. A momentary flash of anger crossed her gold-flecked eyes, as she wondered if this Wyrma was not forcing her people into the position they now found themselves. Memories of the tasks she had been set during her imprisonment in the dark land returned to her and her eyes filled with a new fear, would Rama regard her with the same disgust that now showed in her eyes as she spoke of the choices of these Maenwaith. As if reading some of her thoughts Rama went on to explain that the missing tribes had left the desert to follow Wyrma, some out of fear, others actually supporting her plans.

“And it is not only in Umbar they live…” As the young woman’s voice trailed off, Sorona followed her gaze northward, a cold chill settled on her heart as Rama spoke of the Wryma’s fortified city. the young Maenwaith’s words finally giving credence that the vision she had borne for so long was more than a dream it was a warning, one that she was meant to deliver, but to who and why? To Rama? But she and her people seemed to know of this threat already so to what purpose was she sent to them. As she struggled with these questions, Rama conveyed to her the full extent of Wyrma ambitions.

At the revelation that Wyrma’s ambitions stretched as far as the city of Minas Tirith, the two Gondorians who up until now had remained silent now found their voices and the one who had been introduced to her a Mithadan brushed very idea off as folly insisting that any threat to the city would be meet with strong opposition. Sorona admired his faith and the strength of his words, but feared that he underestimated the threat that this Maenwaith and her followers posed to them. A direct confrontation would indeed be folly against so strong an opponent, but Sorona knew there were other, more devious ways in which a Maenwaith could bring about the fall of a city. Without its people, even knowing it was happening until it was too late. Nausea swept over her as she remembered why she knew this was so, she tore her eyes away from the two men afraid that they would see her guilt and question it.

As she stared at the sand beneath her talons, the second Gondorian, Airefalas spoke, quietly asking Rama if Wyrma being of the dragon clan meant that she could take on that form, Sorona looked up at Rama waiting to see how the young Maenwaith would answer. The slight hesitation was all the answer she needed and in that instant she believed that the dark shadow in her dream must be this Wyrma, Rama did not answer the young mans concern but abruptly apologised saying that she had spoken too much already.

“These are troubled times and we must be mindful even among those who may be friends.” Rama softly explained using her clan dialect as she conveyed the warning, Sorona nodded her understanding and continued to listen as Rama again address ed her two companions, answering the questions Mithadan posed regarding Wyrma’s position at the Umbarian Lords court. When they had finished Rama excused herself and they exchanged a few more words in private. Rama shared with her a little about her clan explaining that when Wyrma began herding the clans into the city, her mother, the clan’s leader had moved them further south hoping to escape Wyrma and her ambitions. Sorona was slightly taken aback that Rama would choose to share this with her, she had naturally assumed that she had been included in the young Maenwaiths earlier warnings after all she was now just as much a stranger in these lands and to her people as the two Gondorian men. But, Rama was opening up to her, trying to gain her trust and as the young woman continued to speak, she could see unspoken questions reflected in her soft brown eyes. Questions she was not sure she could answer even if Rama asked them; a weary sigh escaped her beak and Rama pause to look at her, concern framing her soft face.

“I am as much a stranger to these lands and its people as our Gondorian friends, “she sighed regretfully, glancing in their direction. “Much of who and what I am was lost long ago,” she pause momentarily as the regret and sorrow of that loss washed over her anew, but she forced herself to continue. “Memories of my past slowly return to me, blocked out by deep sorrow and fear, but now opening, out of need and necessity, you may find this hard to believe but it was a dream that brought me here. At first, I ignored it believing it no more than a bad dream a vision borne on the storm from whence it came. But lately the visions have became more vivid and intense, its warning more urgent. Not until this day did I realise it’s importance, I still do know why I was chosen, but I do know that what this dream portrays must be told, but I will not speak of it here,” she whispered looking about her as if she half expected to catch something watching them, but there was nothing.

Rama stared at her silently trying to digest this new information, who was this eagle and what warning did she carry? But she did not press her, instead she nodded her head understanding that revealing even the smallest part of herself brought some deep pain or regret to the eagle.

“We will leave as soon as we can and should arrive at the encampment within two hours.” Rama said after awhile, Sorona nodded appreciatively thankful that the young Maenwaith did not press her for more than she was able or willing to give. Then spreading her wings she flew up into the air and after a few minutes followed the three riders to the eagle encampment.

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Old 06-15-2004, 09:58 PM   #224
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Ráma

Ráma hesitated for a moment as she turned to depart, trying to make sense of what she had learned. Shifting her attention towards the center of camp, she spied a gaping hole on the spot where her family's tent should be. Dead grey ashes decorated the ground along with the charred remains of a few familiar items and a lingering smoky scent.

Zed and Garel, the two young tribesmen who’d initially approached her, had blurted out a tangled tale she found difficult to comprehend. They spoke of two strange maenwaith who had wandered in from the desert a few days before; a large conflagration had immediately followed leaving her mother's tent and the family's belongings in ruins.

More puzzling was Zed's insistence that she wait for Narika before going to see her mother. Zed had assured her that Ayar was resting, but had politely avoided answering any other questions. Zed went on to explain that Ayar was feeling poorly and had been up late into the night. It was best not to disturb her until time for supper. Moreover, Narika and Thorn would shortly arrive in camp once their inspection of the herds was completed. Her questions could wait till then. Ráma had immediately corralled several of the Elders and pressed them for details, but they only exchanged nervous glances, shrugged their shoulders and proceeded to offer her the same advice, speaking with such gentleness that she began to suspect something was seriously wrong.

Retreating to the tent where Mithadan and Airefalas remained, the young woman paced up and down in circles for several minutes, pointedly ignoring her companions. The latter sat at a round table where flagons of juice and a large platter of goat’s cheese and olives had been set out as refreshment for the travellers. Ráma glared back at Mithadan for no apparent reason and hoisted herself onto the far side of the table, with her legs dangling over the edge; she hastily extracted the dagger from her belt and slammed it into one of the slabs of cheese, pinioning it to the wooden plate. She’d had enough of sitting around and waiting for her sister. Springing down, she rushed outside and vowed to search each of the tents until she found the one in which her mother slept.

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

Ayar and Aiwendil

For the past three afternoons, usually at an hour when Thorn and Narika were occupied with other things, Aiwendil had managed to slip quietly out of the tent where he and Rôg were housed, making his way to Ayar’s bedside. His first visit had been at Ayar’s bidding. She had wanted to thank the stranger for his attempt to heal her, an effort that had not been successful but at least had freed her from constant pain.

This simple thanks soon gave way to an extended conversation and a sharing of stories that were surprisingly light hearted. The two had talked and laughed for over an hour, until weariness had compelled Ayar to sink back into her pillow and drift off to sleep. Her last words to the stranger had been a respectful request that he return the following afternoon.

While the guards still kept a pointed eye on every move Rôg made, they looked the other way when the stooped old man wandered aimlessly about the camp. The clan placed great stress on respect to Elders, and this one appeared essentially harmless, so lost in his own reflections that he sometimes failed to reply to those around him. In truth, Aiwendil was grateful for Ayar’s companionship, since Rôg had become more distant, mulling over things he was not yet ready to share.

This particular day, Ayar had been unable to stomach the nourishing broth carefully prepared for her lunch. Despite the pleas of both her daughter and the serving maid, she had stubbornly pushed the bowl aside, something that was happening with increasing regularity. Although Ayar’s dark eyes still gleamed bright, her mind sharp and aware of everything that was happening, her body lay gaunt and listless on the bed. Yet unknown to his captors, Aiwendil had become Ayar’s eyes and ears outside the tent: he had again become adept at shifting into the form of a small insect or desert rat to spy throughout camp and let the clan leader know exactly what was going on. Aiwendil had told Rôg one or two things he thought might be useful to him, but otherwise reserved his discoveries for Ayar.

Ayar was still not sure who or what Aiwendil was. The man often seemed to talk in riddles. But that first afternoon the stranger had let something slip regarding his personal familiarity with the ancient Eagles, those whom the tribe held in great respect. These offhand words, plus the fact that Aiwendil could apparently change into an endless array of forms, had startled and then convinced Ayar that, whoever this stranger might be, he had extraordinary gifts and should be trusted.

That morning at sunrise, Aiwendil had trudged off on foot with his staff in hand and had come back two hours later, with news for Narika that he had found a supplementary watering hole no more than half an hour distant, hidden at the base of a craggy bluff that stood just to their south. The current well had nearly run dry from the clan's effort to combat the tentfire so the news was most welcome. Narika and Thorn had left with the animals and the herders late that morning, carrying along a number of barrels and leather sacks that they intended to fill before returning at supper time. The horses and goats would remain with their keepers near the watering spot for the next few days, until the Elders reached a decision on whether the camp would move.

That afternoon, for the third time, Aiwendil sat in Ayar's tent, offering her fresh water from his own jug that he'd carried back that morning. This time, their talk was more serious, and there was very little laughter, "I have no personal illusions," Ayar had confided to Aiwendil after speaking of her hopes for the clan. "My body grows weaker. My hope is to hold on to see Narika wed and Ráma return. But whether that is possible, I cannot say." The dying woman leaned back against her pillow, staring straight at Aiwendil. "But there is something I would ask you to do for me.....a promise I would ask."

Aiwendil sat bolt upright in his chair and squirmed uncomfortably at the mention of a 'promise', "Fair lady, I would help if I could. But I am not too good at these things." Aiwendil sighed and looked away embarassed. He had certainly not been good with people since his arrival in Middle-earth. And his record on promises was even worse. He could not even remember the promise he had made to Manwë, only the stark fact that whatever it was he had not fulfilled it.

"I am a stubborn desert woman who lies on the edge of death," Ayar pressed again. "I have two daughters who mean everything to me. What I ask is not so great. Narika is sure of what she wants and will have the help of the Elders and the love of Thorn to support and guide her. With Ráma...now, things are different. She is still very young."

"But they are twins!" objected Aiwendil.

"Born at the same time perhaps, but Ráma has no idea who she is or what she wants. Promise me you'll help her." she stopped a moment and stared directly at Aiwendil, After my death, there will be war. I feel it in my bones. Indeed, I will tell my daughters to have messengers ride out into the desert and rouse the other friendly clans to join together and strike a blow against Wyrma's heavy hand. I fear that you and your friend have come upon a boiling cauldron that is about to explode. Ráma will need your help, and perhaps that of your friend as well. "

Aiwendil's eyes widened in disbelief, "But I am an old man. What could I possibly do for a young girl in a time of war?" A feeling akin to panic welled up in the istar's heart.

"You have been here a very long time, and have knowledge of the old ways. Ráma is not like her sister; she may need the knowlege you have. And I know you can listen. When you set your mind to it, you are a good listener. I have even seen you tending the small creatures. You are gentle and patient with them. You may have need of such patience with Ráma." A knowing smile crossed Ayar's lips as she reflected on her daughter.

Aiwendil felt as if he was standing on the edge of a precipice. One step to the left, and he would plunge into a valley of bleak dispair and come crashing onto craggy rocks that were clearly visible below. One step to the right, and he would step off into nothingness, with only air underneath. But even nothingness, he reflected, was preferable to jagged rocks and bleak despair.

"Ayar, I fear you're mistaken in making this request. I know nothing of young women. But I promise this. I will remain here a while and let your daughter know that I am here to help her, if she feels the need."

Ayar sunk back into her blankets with a gracious nod, too tired to add anything more. With a smile, she dismissed her visitor. Aiwendil turned towards the open tent flap and quietly disappeared, all the while wondering how he was ever going to explain this situation to Rôg.

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Old 06-16-2004, 07:15 AM   #225
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Wyrma

Falasmir sat slumped on his throne, his sagging form looking incongruously weak on the intricately carved and gold-painted ornate chair. His eyes were almost lost in the depths of dark hollows, his jowls hanging in his ashen face, making him seem much older than his actual years. His voice had taken on a whining tone. “But what am I to do?” he whimpered.

Wyrma was glad of the protocol that required her to stand in the audience hall; her energetic pose was a contrast appreciated by the only other person in the room, a dark-haired man of Falasmir’s age, though he appeared younger. His eyes gleamed, flashing a brief glance of understanding at the woman before speaking with exaggerated deference.

“Mylady Wyrma, you must understand what troubles Prince Falasmir. It is not only his head which is troubled over the loss of his great ships and the damage of the harbour, his heart is grieved at the death of so many worthy seamen and citizens of this great city as well. Do not press him to action so unduly – in time, he shall order ships to be built anew and recruit seamen and warriors to man them.”

Wyrma swallowed the impatient comment she would have liked to make; she knew that Galandor was right in attempting to appease the ruler of the Corsair city before demanding that he deal with the situation. Pressing him too hard only caused him to retreat even more into the resignation he had shown since the flight of the enemy ship and the destruction of his own. I should be thankful to the Gondorians, she thought wryly. They have accomplished the weakening of this city and its head more quickly and efficiently than I could have hoped to do so. Though I would have liked to have those ships at my command, I know not how I would have gotten a trustworthy crew to sail them – Maenwaith are no seamen.

She bowed respectfully, her face a controlled mask of passivity. “Perhaps we shall accomplish our goals in the Gondorian city without ships,” she said. “I hope to hear from my agents soon. If they succeed in their task, the kingdom may be struck with confusion long enough for us to get soldiers there by horse and on foot.”

Falasmir’s head lifted slightly. “You have no news yet?” he asked.

“No, it is too early,” she reminded him. “I hope for their return soon. Be assured that I will send you report when I hear from them.”

She bowed again as a slight gesture of Falasmir’s hand dismissed her, and left by the side door, waiting in the adjacent room. A few moments later Galandor joined her there. “You were wise and foresightful to counsel me to keep my ships away from the main harbour,” he whispered. “He knows nothing of them, but they will be prepared when they are needed.”

Wyrma nodded, but her eyes flickered toward the door, behind which guards stood, as they both knew. “Later,” she said under her breath.

“Tonight?” he asked, with an impatient gleam in his eyes.

“Tonight,” she affirmed.
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Old 06-20-2004, 01:50 AM   #226
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Rôg

Rôg was lying on his pallet, drowsing in the day’s heat, watching the occasional pass of his ‘escort’s’ legs past the tent’s half closed opening. Soon, the young man assigned to him for the day would take his accustomed seat in the shade of a nearby lean-to and rest himself. It was a ritual they mutually maintained each afternoon now. The cloth bottom of the tent had been rolled up several inches all around, in an effort to encourage some small ventilation. He lay on his back, hands linked behind his head, staring up at the small patch of bright sky through the smoke hole at the top. He was in that state of semi-drowse where thoughts float about in hazy little patches with no attempt at exploration. He was in fact just seconds from sleep when a small, insistent whisper grated against his failing consciousness.

‘Psst! Are you awake?’ a hushed little voice rasped somewhere near his right ear.

Fighting against the thick pull of oblivion, Rôg’s eyes came open. Seeing nothing near him, he sat up, sending a small brown skink scrabbling back from his moving legs.

‘Psst!’ came the tiny sound once again. It was the lizard.

‘Who visits me?’ Rôg asked in a hushed voice, wondering if Aiwendil was trying out this form for some purpose. He drew his limbs into a cross-legged position and looked at the little reptile expectantly. He stifled a surprised squeak when, to his horror, the lizard changed and there sat Miri, knee to knee with him, a large grin on her face.

‘You promised your Papi you wouldn’t do this,’ he returned in a harsh whisper. ‘And how did you learn to be a lizard, if I might ask?’ He shook his head at himself, the answer dawning on him even as he’d asked the question.

‘I promised I wouldn’t be a butterfly!’ she hissed back at him. Miri’s face peered up in defiance at Rôg, her large brown eyes made darker by the low light in the tent. The grin on her face had faded to a thin, straight line of lips, her attitude one of challenge. To her surprise, he chuckled low, reaching out to riffle her hair.

‘My sister loved the little skinks, too,’ he confided, smiling. Then in a more serious tone, he questioned her on how she had managed to make this change. Miri, with the assured confidence of a child, related how she’d figured out the rhyme he’d taught her. ‘It’s not just for butterflies,’ she answered, her voice filled with the certainty of her statement. ‘My brother and I often go out to the rocks at the edge of camp and watch the lizards sunning there in the early morning, or skittering across the sand to catch some bug. I know them pretty well,’ she said smugly. ‘One morning, when he wasn’t finished with his chores, I went out ahead of him. And I tried it out!’ She giggled, adding, ‘And he almost caught me!’

Bright little one! he thought, his eyes crinkling with amusement at her excitement. The remembrance of his discussion with Narika and Thorn intruded, then, and he bent near to her. ‘I’m going to ask you to honor the promise you made your Papi,’ he said to her in a serious voice. ‘And no wiggling around it . . . at least for now,’ he added softening his request. ‘I am leaving for a little while, Miri. My clan, too, has Elders, that help us see our way through to doing what is right and understanding what is wrong. I have questions for them that need figuring out. When I return . . .’ He pause a moment, realizing what he had just said. He hadn’t intended to return at all and here he was making a small promise to this little girl. ‘When I return, I will speak with your Papi and we will see what he might let us do.’ He raised an eyebrow at her as she pursed her lips, considering his request. He could see her struggling with her decision.

‘Well . . . you promise you’re coming back . . . right?’ Her eyes searched his face for any signs of grown-up deceit. She raised her little fist to him, her pinky cocked expectantly.

Rôg laughed aloud at this old familiar gesture from childhood. Not hesitating, he linked his own with hers. ‘I promise, my friend. And you, also?’ She nodded, then released his little finger. ‘One thing, though,’ she said, ‘I can go out and watch the lizards, right? I haven’t got all their little wigglings quite right yet.’ Rôg whispered ‘yes’ to her, then putting his finger to his lips, motioned for her to sneak out the back way. He could hear the scuffling sound of his escort’s feet as he approached the front tent flap. She scurried quietly beneath the tent edge, then turned back quickly with a last comment.

‘The little mice with the big golden eyes that run around the dunes at night – I’m going to have a look at them, too.’ She saw the frown on his face. ‘Just “look”,’ she assured him, scurrying off.

Rôg stood, yawning widely, as the young man cleared his throat just beyond the tent flap. ‘Everything alright in there?’ he asked, his feet shuffling at the entrance. ‘I thought I heard voices?’ Throwing open the flap, Rôg invited the fellow in. ‘Just napping,’ he assured the young man, whose eyes darted around the vacant tent. ‘Must have been talking in my sleep.’ Rôg looked questioningly at the young man. ‘You haven’t, by any chance, seen Aiwendil, have you? I need to speak with him.’

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Old 06-20-2004, 02:10 PM   #227
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Miri and Ráma

Ráma had gone no more than a few paces outside the tent when she caught a glimpse of a familiar figure scurrying through the camp. Miri came sprinting towards her, with arms outstretched in greeting and an expectent look upon her face.

Customarily at the arrival of a new son or daughter, Eagle parents paired their young one with another child, girls with girls and boys with boys, some ten to fifteen years their elder. The latter earned the title of “helper” and were expected to pass on practical skills like hunting, herding, carving or sewing, whatever they could easily share. The clan regarded these ties quite seriously. A brief ceremony in front of the Elders often marked the parents’ initial choice. Sometimes, the two young ones became nearly as close as family, and remained intimate friends for the remainder of their days.

Ráma had been appointed Miri’s helper. In the past few years, she had taught the girl how to ride a horse as well as to read and write a few words of Westron. Miri’s mother had been anxious for her daughter to begin to master a useful craft like basketry or needlework, but Ráma had little ability of this type and was not interested in trying to learn or teach such skills. Instead, she and Miri had spent numerous afternoons combing the nearby countryside, hunting down interesting plants and animals, sometimes even slipping away to jump into the camp’s waterhole and swim, a practice that was strictly forbidden.

Miri came colliding into Ráma with a thud and immediately wrapped her arms about her waist, “You’ve been gone so long. I have much to tell you.”

“And I, you,” Ráma responded with a hug.

“Oh, no! This time, I have more,” Miri assured her with a wink of an eye and then stared fixedly at the ground, “Only I hope you won’t be mad. I got into a little trouble.”

In a few minutes Miri had blurted out the whole story: how she had turned into a butterfly with the help of Rôg and now had to promise not to do it again. Miri even added a bit of news that she had neglected to tell Rôg. She had managed to transform herself into a lizard, slithering inside the tent where Rôg was speaking with Narika and Thorn. Miri began repeating the conversation word-by-word. For a moment, Ráma listened, too surprised to react; then, she hastily shook her head ‘no’, and knelt down on the sand pulling the young girl towards her, staring straight into her eyes. “You must promise two things. While Rôg is here, you must honor your word not to change into anything else. And there is something even more important. You must never spy on another maenwaith , not now, not later. The only time you can do that is to save your own life or that of others in the clan. When you get older, they will teach you the rights and wrongs of shifting. And that is the very first thing you will learn.”

Miri gazed up and noted the solemn expression on Ráma’s face. Without a word of protest, the younger girl shook her head in agreement, and then reached out and buried her head in Ràma’s shoulder, as a tiny tear slipped down her cheek. “I’m sorry. Only it feels so good. I felt so happy.”

A tight knot constricted in the pit of Ráma’s stomach, as memories long pushed aside came slinking back inside her head. “I know. I know.... And I will do everything I can to help you. I will talk with my sister and see if we can get her to change her mind. Perhaps, she would agree if she herself took over your training.”

A look of alarm registered in Miri’s eyes. “But I don’t want that. If Rôg isn’t here, I want you to teach me.”

Ráma nodded with a sad smile, “That wouldn’t work. I can’t even manage on my own. You need someone to help who knows what they’re doing.”

Miri wondered what she had said that made her older friend so sad. But before she could think any more about that, Ráma had asked her to lead the two of them to Ayar’s new tent. This time, it was the younger girl who spoke with sadness, “Yes, come with me. I know the way. I feel bad about your mother. She was always so nice to me. I don’t understand why she has to leave us so soon….”

As the meaning of these words settled in, Ráma came to the flap of the tent and went inside, with Miri trailing behind her.

Last edited by Child of the 7th Age; 06-26-2004 at 11:26 AM.
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Old 06-20-2004, 03:16 PM   #228
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Gondor - The Star sails south . . .

She looked as if she had seen better years. The breezes that blew along the coast seemed to strain her much patched sails to the limit. And the gulls that perched on the masthead above the crow’s nest seemed nervous . . . wary that the much spliced and mended-looking masts might snap in a stiff wind. In previous voyages, a sun such as was shining this day would have glinted wildly off the highly polished brass of the railings and other metal fittings. But now the tarnished patina seemed grim and dull, defying any attempts of the light to make it glimmer.

It was an altogether weatherworn ship that made its slow way out of the Great River’s bay and turned south, to hug the coastline like a life line. The waves broke against her motleyed hull, worrying away the edges of the multicolored patches of paint that looked to have been laid down one over another through the years. She flew a ragged banner from her topmast . . . the picture of some indiscriminate bird in faded black and silver, now turned grey with time. And scrawled along her bow on either side in readable, if ragged script, was her name, The Sandpiper.

~*~

The Captain of this decrepit looking barque stood on the helm deck with her First Mate. The Helmsman had set the vessel’s southward course, as Pio and Hamar discussed the load of crated cheap tin ware stacked in the hold. ‘You are certain the first three layers of pallets are the tin, Hamar?’ she asked, watching him nod back in assurance. ‘Yes, Captain, and beneath, in identical crates are the other items you requested.’ A tight smile creased her face barely at his assurance. ‘In four days then, we should make the cove where Faragaer and The Scuppered Gull will await us. And hopefully they will have made contact with traders who might give us some direction to where The Star’s Captain and First Mate are held or holed up.’ It was a slender hope, the both of them knew, but it was hope nonetheless.

The crew of Tavar’s ship, The Windrunner manned the ship with accustomed skill, and here and there among them were sailors from the King’s own fleet at his insistence. As was Hamar, who captained one of Elessar’s military vessels. Not smartly turned out as they might have been on their own ships, they were dressed in clean if somewhat worn clothes; their faces were rugged with several days of unshaven beard. And the Captain herself looked much like them, save for the red bandana that held her short cropped curls safe from tangling in the breezes. The only one of the crew that stood out from the others was Baran; his height and bulk impossible to disguise. In the end it was agreed he would front himself as a navvy from the far northern coastlines, a descendant of the fabled Ice Giants of the Great Ice Bay. Wanting to see the southern lands, such as Gondor and what lay beyond.

From her vantage point, Pio could see the Beorning as he swabbed the decks below with others of the crew. He glanced up at her briefly, his brows raised at her scrutiny. She looked down at him and smiled, the image of the mop handle engulfed in his huge hands bringing a moment of lightness to her day. With a wink she shouted down to him. ‘Excellent job, sailor! As you were, then . . . Carry on!’
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Old 06-23-2004, 05:28 PM   #229
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Sorona

Sorona passed silently over the eagle encampment, clan markings on various tents and aged faces among the gathering crowd stood out in her mind; she could feel the uneasiness of their arrival, like a thick fog it blanketing the camp spreading from tent to tent. Rama had warned them that their arrival would not be wholly welcomed but still Sorona was surprised by their trepidation and grew a little apprehensive about revealing herself. She climbed higher into the sky her sharp eyes following Rama as she left her two companions and walked further into the camp.

For the moment, the presence of the two northern strangers occupied the clan’s attentions and they did not yet seem aware of her presence, her new height preventing her shadow from passing over the already unsettled camp. She saw a marked tension in her young Maenwaith friend as she walked with urgency to the centre of the camp. Below she could just make out charred remains of a fire at the camps heart. What has happened here she wondered as Rama stopped to examine the blackened ashes? Immediately the young Maenwaith spun about and determinedly searched for something, stopping several grey haired clansmen, her lips moved hurriedly and a concerned frown deepening on her honeyed brow. The woman’s shoulders slumped in defeated as the elders only shook their heads sympathetically. Sorona circled again to follow Rama back towards the tent where she had left her two companions, her wings now grew heavy and she knew she would soon have to rest, but the camp held no hiding place for a bird of her size, the minute she landed she would be seen and then the questions would begin.

She tried to pull back the memory of the dark haired young woman, who once walked the sands happy and carefree, hoping that she could take its form and at least join the others inside the tent. But nothing happened she was still an eagle and her wings ached from the exertion of maintaining her height, she had no choice she would have to land. Silently she glided to the ground a short distance from the tent her companions shared, for a revealed moment she believed she had managed to land unnoticed, she looked about trying to gain her bearings from the ground, picking out her companions tent ahead she nodded her feathery head and started forwards. A threatening growl stopped her dead in her tracks and she swallowed hard ,something was behind her; slowly she turned to see the dark outline of a large dog, it’s sharp teeth bared in warning. She froze with fear, believing that if she moved so much as an inch the vicious looking creature would have her.

“Who are you?” the dog growled in the same desert dialect that Rama used, “I do not recognise your markings!” he added taking a step forwards, eyeing her suspiciously. Remembering Rama’s warnings, she struggled in her head to find the words to voice an understandable reply to the Maenwaith’s demand.

“Friend, I am a friend,” she whispered hoarsely, fear entering her voice.

“I travel with Rama and her Northern companions,” she continued shakily.

“Please!” she pleaded,

“Asked her if you do not believe me, my name is Sorona, and I come only to speak with your leader and the elders of your clan.” She remained frozen in place her gold-flecked eyes fearfully holding the contemplative gaze of the dog, waiting for it to decide if she was to be believed or not.
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Old 06-23-2004, 07:07 PM   #230
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Mithadan thanked a young shapechanger who had brought them a skin of water and some cushions so that he and Airefalas could rest from their journey. He smiled, but watched as the young man took his place just outside the flap of the tent where he stood alongside another. Both wore short swords at their sides. Mithadan also took note that they had been placed in a tent located in the center of the encampment, so that, even if he and his first mate could evade the two guards outside the tent, they would be seen and apprehended if they sought to leave the camp.

"Weren't we just in this situation?" Mithadan asked Airefalas with a wry grin.

"A cage is a cage, whatever its name may be," responded Airefalas with a scowl. "At least our rooms at the palace were free of sand and had chairs and beds."

"Nonetheless," continued Mithadan. "I would rather be here than there right now."

"Perhaps," grumbled Airefalas. "But on the whole, I would rather be in Gondor. It is hellishly hot here."

Mithadan nodded, then approached the tent flap. A cord hung from its edge, and a peg hung from the fabric of the tent just to the side of the portal. He swung the flap open and quickly twisted the cord around the peg so that the flap remained open. The guards spun around and frowned, their hands straying to the hilts of their swords. Mithadan held up his hands, palms outwards, then fanned his face. "Hot," he said. The guards nodded, but stayed a bit closer to the tent.

"Lovely," said Airefalas. "Nothing like a hot breeze to cool a tent."

Mithadan did not answer. He was staring at a man who was passing by. An old man with a long beard and dirty robes. He had seen this man before. Several years had passed and they had only met briefly in the vale of the Anduin not far from Nindalf, the fens below Rauros... Several years and three thousand as well. He struggled to recall a name to match the aged face for a moment, then burst through the opening in the tent, to the surprise of the guards, and cried out: "Radagast!"
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Old 06-24-2004, 06:49 PM   #231
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Rôg

Rôg stepped away from his tent and made for the center of the camp. His escort followed along at a discrete distance occasionally nodding with his head to give direction when Rôg looked back for confirmation. Round one of the middle tents, a number of people were gathered, including two men who stood guard without. ‘Who is in there?’ Rôg asked, motioning his escort to come near. Unlike the men who stood on alert outside the tent, Rôg’s escort bore no weapon.

‘Strangers, like you,’ the man said, standing quite near, his eyes narrowed at the tent. ‘But unlike you,’ he said with a half smile, ‘they may be dangerous.’ Rôg laughed at the man’s assessment of him, and was about to say something in return, when he spied Aiwendil coming toward him. Rôg raised his hand, catching the old man’s attention, and moved forward to meet him. His step faltered for a moment, the greeting dying on his lips, as a man burst from the guarded tent. The guards drew their swords, surprised at the suddenness of the movement. And Rôg heard the man yell out, ‘Radagast!’ as he moved toward the old man.

With a speed that surprised his escort, Rôg ran to stand between Aiwendil and the man, barring the way as he stuck out his arm to fend off the stranger. ‘You know this man, Aiwendil?’ he asked, not taking his eyes off Mithadan.

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Old 06-25-2004, 04:03 AM   #232
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Surinen

Surinen arrived at his Uncle Fador’s tent bearing freshly made bread the baker had immediately sent in care of his son when he first heard that a Gondorian sea captain and his first mate where in the midst of the eagle encampment, Indeed in the tent of his late wife's cousin. And though the old man had neither seen a ship nor set foot in the surf, he had heard of Gondor and seen how, along with the ascendance of this northern King the Haradrim raids had grown infrequent, the Eagles finding a short respite before their troubles began anew. And so lecturing his son on the importance of hospitality and caution, and the advantages of good first impressions, he had carefully wrapped the food, handing Surinen the stack of hot flat bread to be taken quickly before it grew cold, also giving him a bowl containing a sweet custard of streamed new milk, as a treat for the new comers. Then shooing the wiry outrider off with a wave of his hands, he had settled down beside the remains of his fire to enjoy peace as curiosity kept the women from gossiping around the bakers tent, as was usual this time of day.

But Surinen, his stomach pulling at itself at the tempting smell that emanated from this packet, rushed to the center of the camp, his fingers burning from the hot oil that soaked through the cloth as he made his way through the curious children and elders gathering about Fador’s tent. Having just returned from helping transport much needed water into the camp, he had not yet eaten and just as he had hoped to sit in the shade of his father’s tent and eat his meager portion, Dinsûl had sent him on this awkward errand. But he knew his father to be right in doing this, and despite his protests, Surinen was quietly pleased with Dinsûl’s kind ways, though not so sure about the beneficiaries of his good will. Still he wondered what could possess Ráma to bring such people here, and he hoped that she might guide them away again before the camp was moved. If she only knew of the troubles the last few days had brought upon her people, surely she would never have led the strangers here with the seriousness of her mother’s illness.

More than just hungry as he approached his cousin sitting outside her father’s tent, Surinen was feeling ill tempered and wished to find Narayad. For after the missing incense pot was found to have fallen out of his pack, indeed, it having been tampered with as well, his fellow outrider had been quickly replaced in his duties, and now wandered though camp awaiting the decision of the elders on what was to be done with him. For though he was still treated kindly, Narayad had mentioned he could feel their eyes upon him. And even Latah had been gently informed that now Ayar was no longer in her own tent, she would not be needed to assist the leader until such time when a new tent could be raised for her. These things Narayad, in his frustration had confided to Surinen, brooding in his inactivity. And Surinen turned to pondering how he might be able to help his friend.

As he walked past the guards posted outside the door, Latah smiled at at her cousin warmly from her position outside the tent and opened a beaten brass container for him to place the bread in before setting it on the ground with top ajar, taking the bowl also. “Thank you cousin,” she said, lifting the cloth from over top of the bowl. “What is this? You would honor our guests with first milk?”

“A goat gave birth today, and Dinsûl would have me bring it to them. But where Ráma, that I may welcome her home?” Surinen asked.

“She left in a great hurry,” Latah said. “Even I have not even been able to greet her.”

“And Narayad?”

Latah’s smile faded. “I do not know where he is, and he is growing more troubled each day. Suri, I am afraid it is too much for him to bear, waiting for this judgment upon him. The elders and Ayar have all had too much to occupy their thoughts”, she said nodding over her shoulder at the elders and the tent behind her. "Yet we are to be patient, and trust their wisdom.”

The sorrow in her voice drove home to his heart, so that feeling uncomfortable he wished to change the subject. “Then since your husband is not here, perhaps there is food to spare for a poor relative,” he said hopefully. And seeing that she hesitated, explaining that she had not expected so much company, he continued in a loud whisper, “Surely you are not planning to poison these strangers, cousin!” To which Latah, pulling the cloth from off her shoulder beat him with it before using it to open the lid of her steaming vessel.

“It is not done yet cousin,” she said with the most sinister look she could muster. “But when the poison has reached it’s fullness, be sure I will give you the first bowl!”

Surinen laughed to see her spirit. "And I will finish every drop, dear cousin." Then walking further around the tent he quite comfortably assumed the shape of a dog, more or less ignoring the upheaval about him. There would plenty of people about to keep a look out for mischief.

Digging a cool niche in the ground before he circled down to wait for either his food or his friend to arrive, he rested his chin on the ground watching his kinsmen as they came and went, having half a mind to eavesdrop on the muffled conversation he heard inside the tent. But as he tried to distinguish among the voices, a shadow passed across his muzzle.

Lifting his gaze to the sky, he saw a large eagle circling overhead, as if something in the camp was of interest to it. In panic he thought of young Miri, and when the bird dropped swiftly behind Fador’s tent, Surinen sprung to his feet slipping behind it. Greatly relieved to find that the eagle had not sighted prey, but stood looking briefly disoriented in the maze of tents, the dog noted the intruder’s unfamiliar scent, and wondered if it was truly a bird at all or perhaps Rôg, but there was no sign of his escort. And to Surinen's alarm the bird started moving toward Fador’s tent.

With a deep growl growing in the back of his throat, Surinen’s hackles rose. “Who are you?” he questioned stepping forward slowly with his lips curled tightly back. “I do not recognize your markings.”

The creature froze, and Surinen felt thankful that he might not have to feel the clutch of those cruel talons. “Friend, I am a friend. I travel with Ráma and her Northern companions,” the bird finally spoke with a wavering voice. Spoke in Surinen’s own tongue, declaring her name to be Sorona, and her desire to speak with the leader and the clan’s elders.

What has Ráma done! Surinen thought. And who else will show up on our doorstep!

Suddenly he heard someone exclaim “Radagast” from the other side of the tent followed quickly by the sound of unsheathing swords, and saw out of the corner of his eye Rôg running toward the tent followed closely by his escort. Worried for Latah’s safety and not wishing to lose track of this newest discovery, Surinen began to bark for all he was worth. Is seemed the most natural thing to do at the time, but Sorona jumped back several steps flapping her wings, and in his confusion the sudden urge to catch this creature overpowered Surinen’s good sense. Running at her, the mottled dog gently but firmly grabbed her leg in his mouth and lay down with closed eyes, awaiting the piecing blow from her free leg, but determined to keep her from flying away, muttering from his full mouth, “I'm sorry, but don’t go. Not yet, don’t leave,” as he thought painfully about his father’s lecture on first impressions.

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Old 06-25-2004, 07:54 AM   #233
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Aiwendil

Aiwendil glanced briefly at the stranger and then over at Rôg with a slight shrug of his shoulders, as if to indicate he had no idea who this fellow was but he seemed perfectly harmless. He was still remembering his recent conversation with Ayar and feeling correspondingly peevish. His first instinct was to pretend he hadn't heard anything from the stranger and continue trudging on. The woman was clearly failing; only her unwavering will had kept her alive this long. Once Ráma returned and Ayar had a chance to speak with her daughter, she would surely depart Arda. And, to be truthful, he would miss her.

Pulling back from these gloomy thoughts, he focused on the problem at hand by looking the stranger up and down, but still could not remember who he was. It had been some time since anyone had addressed him as "Radagast". After the war had ended and Olorin had given him the grim news that he would not be returning on Cirdan's ship, he had determined never to use that name again. Stubbornly clinging to whatever cloudy vestiges of the West he could dredge up from the back of his mind, he had sternly pronounced that his name was, and had always been Aiwendil, and none should call him otherwise.

"Perhaps you are mistaken, friend, for I have no memory of you, although once I did go by the name of Radagast. But it has been countless years since I journeyed through the vale of Anduin...... More years than you have walked on this earth, I believe."

The old man hobbled over to Rôg, leaning against his comrade's shoulder as the two turned about and began trekking towards the tent. But before Aiwendil had gone more than half a dozen paces, he suddenly halted and stared back at the stranger, " I do remember you. How could I forget? You and the Star....and your wife Piosenniel. In fact, I saw your wife in Minas Tirith just before I left the city. She mentioned that the Star had sailed to Umbar. But I have not seen you in endless years. And to be truthful, seeing you here is not exactly what I would deem a good omen."

The istar turned towards Rôg with only the slightest hint of a smile, "This gentleman and his wife are people of honor, but wherever they go, trouble follows. Once I was called down to the Anduin where they had sailed in with several shiploads of friends, whom I was persuaded into helping. For almost fifty years, I had a running argument with one of these, a particularly clever and persistent woman named Cami who was continually beseeching me for one thing or another in her efforts to provide for her people. Since her kin made their home along the western borders of what was later called Mirkwood, it was difficult to avoid them."

In truth, these early days in Middle-earth and the Hobbits who had lived there were among Aiwendil's best memories. But once Cami had moved on, he had lost all touch with her people, and had not spoken with any of them in the succeeding years, despite the role they had later played in the wars.

"I shall be all right, Rôg," he reassured his friend. "Give me just a moment to catch up on some old news, and I'll be along."

Once Rôg had retreated, he approached the stranger and spoke, "Mithadan? That is your name? How do you come to be in the middle of this desert? Your wife mentioned you had travelled to Umbar to represent Gondor's trading interests. But Umbar is a long way from the Eagle encampment."

"And may I offer a little advice? For the sake of your lovely wife, you may wish to consider returning to the Star and sailing homeward. The head of the Eagle clan lies close to death. There are persistent rumors throughout the camp that her injury was no accident but the result of foul play, a poison somehow injected into her body. As soon as the Elders discover who is to blame, they will demand that someone pay." He sighed and repeated the exact words that Ayar had spoken to him to emphasize how bady Ráma would need his help. "I fear that you and your friend have come upon a boiling cauldron that is about to explode."

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Old 06-29-2004, 03:17 PM   #234
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With an open palm, Mithadan gently moved the sword of his young guard away from his ribs, where it had sliced a neat line across his shirt. With a nod to the other guard who stood poised to put his blade in use, Mithadan took a half step back, even as he digested the words of the Istar. He took note of the weariness that caused Radagast's face to be even more drawn than he remembered it, then responded to the warning.

"I beg your pardon...Aiwendil," he began. "But I fear that as regards my friend and myself the cauldron has already boiled over. As for trouble following me, this time it appears that I have well nigh tripped over it. The Lonely Star is long gone now and, with any luck, though I've had little enough recently, she is now nearing Minas Anor. It seems that we have fallen into a web of intrigue, though we have, for now, avoided the spider."

He quickly told the tale of how he and Airefalas had come to Umbar, the dissemblings of Falasmir, his meetings with Rama and their escape from the burning city. However, he excluded mention of Korpulfr and Tinar, judging that, from Rama's discussion with Sorona, his questions regarding these people should wait for another time. Even as he spoke, several of the Shapeshifters gathered round to see what the trouble was.

"You burned Falasmir's corsairs?" exclaimed one of the guards, with a laugh. Several of the onlookers smiled and clapped at this news. Airefalas, noting that the guards had lowered their weapons, emerged from the tent as well. "Why is it that the news of our little bonfire always seems to cause such happiness?" he asked with a wry grin. Then he gestured to the old man. "Friend of yours, Mithadan?"

"I've not seen him in an age and more," Mithadan answered with a chuckle. "But yes. This is...Aiwendil. You recall Mithrandir, Airefalas? Aiwendil is..."

"Very weary," interjected Radagast loudly. "And perhaps we should speak further later...in private. It seems that you and your friend are not going anywhere in the near future. Perhaps you are meant to be here. I do not know. But I must rest now. We will speak later, over dinner perhaps?" With that, Radagast, or Aiwendil as he was now known, turned and walked quickly away...
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Old 06-29-2004, 08:32 PM   #235
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Sorona

For an uncomfortable moment that seemed like an eternity to Sorona the two creatures simply looked at each other. She waited nervously for the Maenwaith to make up his mind about her, but before the dog could make his decision, a cry rose up within the camp.

“Radagast!” Sorona instinctively turned her head recognising the Adunaic name of an old man to whom she owed her life, But as her eyes searched for the recipient of the name the dog before her suddenly began barking loudly. Startled she jumped back, flapping her wings in panic, Gripped with terror she instinctively turned to escape the dog’s threatening presence, but the dog rushed at her, grabbing one of her legs in its strong powerful looking jaws. She closed her eyes fearfully losing her balance and falling beak first to the sandy ground. Her heart drummed furiously as she slowly opened her eyes realising that her canine captor held her leg gently in its great maw, wishing only to restrain her, not to harm her.

“I’m sorry, but don’t go. Not yet, don’t leave,” the Maenwaith, muttered though a mouthful of her leg. Her heart still pounding with fear she slowly nodded her golden head.

“I will let you go now, but please don’t fly away,” the dog continued hesitantly.

“You have my word,” Sorona returned nervously, not knowing if her word would mean anything to these people, her people she reminded herself sadly. Were things that bad that they even treated their own kind with suspicion and distrust, yes Rama had warned her that this was so, but to actually witness it was more disheartening that she could have ever imagined. She wished Rama was here at least then she could convince her captor that she was no threat to him or his clan. It seemed though that her word was enough, the dog slowly released its gentle grip and as she shook the sand from her feathers, he stepped back and took the form of a slight, wiry young man. His dark eyes regarded her expectantly for a moment, as if he was waiting for her to do something. His gaze then turned to a bemused frown the same look she had seen several times on Rama’s face when they had spoken together, only this young man made no move to hide his confusion as he stared at her intently. Suspicion again beginning to show on his warmly toned face. Then it dawned on her, he was waiting for her to take on a mannish form.

“Of course, it must be customary to address each other in their mannish form,” she muttered to herself the words coming out in the more comfortable tongue of the eagles. She was suddenly aware how rude she must have seemed to the young Mainwaith woman and now to this young man. Her shoulders slumped but she raised her head so her gold-flecked eyes met his.

“It is your custom to address each other in this form?” she sighed, indicating his new form. The young man nodded his head confused further by this question. Still struggling with a language that she had not used in 18 years, she continued,

“This form is all I have known for many years,” The young mans eyes widened in surprise,

“But why would…,” he begun, but Sorona gently cut him off raising a wing and shaking her head.

“Part from necessity, part out of fear,” was the only answer she would give, to speak more was yet too painful and the memories too broken to make any real sense.

“Regardless to say that any other forms that I may have once taken are now nothing but distant memories. I have tried to recall the image of the woman I once was, but so far to no avail.” She did not convey to him the pain and regret that came with trying to recall the images of her former self. Nor of the doubt that she had that, she would ever be able to take the mannish form of her past.

“It is not my intention to be rude and I know that I am the intruder here, but I must ask you to have patience with this old bird, I give you my word that I will not leave unless I am asked to do so,” she paused for a moment considering weather or not to say more,

“I believe that ….” she hesitated, still unsure of exactly what she believed, or if she should burden this complete stranger with the portent of an impeding danger, that she still wasn’t sure was real or not!
“I have been away to long,” she sighed, deciding to keep the contents of her dreams for the chosen wise ones of the clan. The young man looked anxiously between her and the commotion still ensuing outside the Gondorians tent.

“I too should like to find out what is going on,” she offered cautiously. The young man paused for a moment then nodded curtly, keeping close to her as they started forward. “My name is Surinen,“ the young man informed her as they gently pushed through the gathering crowd, many of the Maenwaith stopping to stare at the eagle walking by the outrider’s side, but she paid them no heed intent on the two men at the centre of the disturbance.

“Thorondil,” she whispered recognising the old man. The Captain was relaying his escape from the city of the Corsairs and Sorona found herself thankful that he had not mentioned the little raven or his household. she already knew that she would have to eventually asked the captain what he knew about them, but it could wait she would speak with the Istar, seeking his counsel if he would give it. But not here or now with so many people about and she could not be certain that the Istar would even remember her. Instead as the old man turned wearily to leave, she stayed with her escort as she had promised.

“Who leads the clan?” she asked realising that she did not even know the name of the person to whom she would relay her dark warning.
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Old 06-30-2004, 03:42 AM   #236
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Surinen

By the time they reached the other side of the tent, they were met by a tangible display of the tension that pervaded the camp. The guards had in fact, drawn their swords and the sea captain was stepping backward obligingly, thus removing his person from the proximity of the steel blades aimed at him, his shirt now rent at the chest. Other than that minor casualty, no harm seemed to have come to anyone. And looking for Latah, the outrider found that she was safe, indeed he noticed her staring fixedly at the tear in the visitor’s garments, and felt sure that his diligent cousin was already trying to figure out how to go about mending it, when she hadn’t the words to ask outright if she might do so.

‘Thorondil,’ a voice said softly, half obscured by the murmuring of the crowd. As he heard the whisper beside him, Surinen attention shifted and he looked at the eagle questioningly, trying to glean from those sharp eyes who this Thorondil might be. Had yet another arrived unbeknownst to him? For of the guests, all save one were now standing outside the opening to Fador’s tent, none of them having given this name. But turning back again to follow her gaze he saw the tense expressions of his kinsmen quickly melt into grins as the guest told of how he and his companion had lately outwitted Lord Falasmir. Laughter erupted sporadically as the story was translated and spread throughout the crowd, the Eagles clapping to hear how their guest’s cunning had resulted in the potentate’s great humiliation. And so temporarily reassured by the mutual distrust of this miserable Lord of the coast, the guards lowered their blades, and Surinen, beaming at the news, was no longer thinking of the curious name of Thorondil, but rather of how fitting it was that the corsairs, the pride of the one who thought to harbor the leader of the Dragons, had gone up in flames.

But Surinen could see that Sorona had not followed the tale, seemingly deep in her own thoughts, and though he longed too, he did not question her, but rather watched disinterestedly as the other Gondorian appeared at his captain’s side and Aiwendil and Rôg departed. his mind was full of burgeoning questions about the maenwaith beside him. “Who leads the clan?” Sorona asked in her strangely unaccustomed way, as if her mouth had forgotten how to form the subtle sounds. This eagle, he reminded himself, had been just that, an eagle, for many years. And so the stories of the elder’s must be true, one could loose the ability to assume one’s native shape. But having the high form of his clan and speaking the Eagle’s dialect, the outrider wondered if she were of his blood somehow, belonging to this very encampment and it’s people. But after Rôg’s appearance, the outrider did not wish to make any assumptions in this regard, though he did feel more kindly disposed toward her as a result. And though many were the glances cast her way by the clansman, they were mainly curious, as if they could not place her.

“Who leads our clan?” Surinen repeated. “Hasn’t Ráma told you? It is her mother, Ayar, who we follow. Though you have come at a bad time to meet her. She is very ill, and has taken to her bed many days ago.” A quick flash of light seen from out of the corner of his eye, told him that the guards had once again raised their swords menacingly, the men from the north retiring once again to the interior of the tent. “That is one reason why my people are angry and in no mood for strangers,” he added with a sigh. “It is thought that someone has purposefully brought this deadly harm upon the Meldakhar.”

Shaking her head, Sorona looked at him and shifted her wings, folding them tightly against her sides. “Will she be alright?” she asked fixing him her wide-eyed stare. Surinen dropped his gaze to the ground sadly. “Do you know who would do this?” she queried, replacing her question when she saw the distress it had caused.

“It is rumored that some among us know,” he admitted. “The Meldakhar is a very wise woman, Sorona, with few enemies. But there are some who do not think her wise, and one to whom Ayar’s strength is a trial. And though I do not know, I think it is this one who has brought of our great sadness.”

“But who is that, and to what purpose would this be done?”

“Perhaps it would be better if you saved that question for Ráma, for I know too little and talk too much. And have only been given dreams that I don’t understand,” he said attempting to smile, but his heart felt heavy and began to look around uncomfortably to see where Latah might have gone.

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Old 06-30-2004, 06:15 AM   #237
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"I have not seen him in an age and more," Mithadan answered Airefalas' question with a chuckle. "But yes. This is... Aiwendil. You recall Mithrandir, Airefalas? Aiwendil is..."

Airefalas raised an eyebrow as the old man cut Mithadan off rather loudly and put an abrupt end to what Airefalas had thought so far to be a rather friendly conversation. He watched as Radagast-Aiwendil, whatever his name was, suggested to Mithadan that they continue their conversation later in private and walked away.

"Hmm. More secrets," he thought to himself, but said nothing as the old man and his younger friend disappeared among the tents of the encampment. While Airefalas had never met Mithrandir, the name was quite familiar to him, as it was to all people of Minas Tirith. Airefalas had only been a boy of ten or eleven at the time of the war, already a midshipman on the Bluefin and caught up in the perilous business of wartime shipping, dodging corsairs, and fighting Sauron's minions on the water whenever they were unable to evade them, but he knew very well what role Mithrandir had played in determining the fate of Gondor, and, indeed, all of Middle Earth. Mithrandir had been one of the istar. Did Mithadan mean to imply that this old fellow was an istar as well? He looked again in the direction in which the old man had gone.

"No, I guess we won't be going anywhere anytime soon," he added aloud as one of the guards again raised his sword, implying that the Gondorians were not to consider following the other two visitors. Turning, he went back inside the tent, where he was soon joined by Mithadan. He gestured to the fresh slice in Mithadan's shirt.

"Well, now we've each had a shirt destroyed courtesy of our new friends," he said casually, more for the benefit of the listening guards than from an abiding interest in his and Mithadan's laundry situation. Even so, he still regretted the loss of the shirt Ráma had shredded with her claws when she had turned into the cat back in Umbar. "I don't know about you, but I've only got one shirt left after this one. If they keep it up, in a matter of days, we'll both be running about half-naked."

Mithadan laughed. "Frankly, I think we've got bigger problems than ripped shirts. It seems we've stepped out of the frying pan right into the boiling cauldron."

Airefalas nodded ruefully. "It does look that way. I've never been guarded so much for my own protection in all my life." He walked over to the table where the food had been laid out and, closing his hand around the hilt of Ráma's dagger, wrenched it free of the both the table and the wooden plate. The cheese that the knife had pinned to the plate, however, came with it. The guards, seeing him reach for the cheese, apparently decided that their charges were settling back into the food and idle talk of confinement and retreated outside. Airefalas turned and waved the knife, cheese and all, thoughtfully at Mithadan.

"That old fellow just now," he said in Quenyan. "Were you about to say he is an istar? Like Mithrandir?"

Mithadan nodded. "Yes," he answered, speaking in Quenyan as well. "I can't imagine what he's doing here, but it's a tremendous stroke of luck that he should turn up."

"Hmm." Still carrying both Ráma's knife and the cheese, Airefalas went to stand near the open tent flap. "That's good, his being a friend of yours and all, but I don't much like the sound of what he had to say about the poisoning and how they will be looking for someone to blame."

"Neither do I," rejoined Mithadan. "It seems we have arrived at a very bad time. I'm hoping that Rad-, er, Aiwendil will be able to tell us more of what is happening at dinner."

"Do you suppose he knows anything about all of this other business that Ráma spoke of?"

"You mean the maenwaith city that Wyrma intends to build? I don't know."

"Actually, I was thinking more of the threat to Gondor." Airefalas stepped out of the way as a young maenwaith woman entered the tent carrying a bowl covered with a damp cloth. He watched idly as she placed the bowl on the table and set about tidying up. Like many of the tribal women they had seen around the camp, she was very pretty, small and slight, with thick, black hair that tumbled down her back in a cascade of loose waves. Her movements were quick and graceful as she went about her work, reminding Airefalas of the silvery snail darters he was used to seeing in the shallows of the river deltas. Realizing that he was mentally likening this lovely young woman to a fish, Airefalas colored slightly and looked away.

"Ehm..." he stammered, returning his attention to Mithadan. "Do you think it's possible that Minas Tirith could really be attacked by dragons?"

Before Mithadan had a chance to respond, the young woman, having caught sight of the knife and cheese in Airefalas' hand, approached him and, with a polite movement that was something between curtsy and a bow, pointed to the cheese. Not knowing what else to do, Airefalas handed it to her, knife and all. She carried both items over to the table and set them down, extracting the knife from the cheese wheel with a decisive movement. Then, she took a long look at the knife and turned around, holding it up for Airefalas to see, saying something about Ráma in her tribal dialect.

To Airefalas, it sounded like, yatta-yatta-yatta Ráma yatta? Guessing at what she was saying, he shook his head, answering her in Westron. "No, that belongs to Ráma. Not mine."

Not understanding, the girl gave him a lengthy stare with her very dark eyes, then tucked the knife into her belt. Turning back to the table, she said something else about Ráma in her tribal tongue. Then she picked up a fresh knife and cut a few slices of cheese from the wheel that Airefalas had been holding and handed them to him. He took them and thanked her, but as soon as her back was turned, he shot Mithadan a puzzled look.

“I guess she thought you wanted some cheese,” suggested Mithadan, falling back into Westron.

“I guess so,” answered Airefalas, giving the cheese in his hand a second glance. He really didn’t want it, but now felt duty-bound to eat at least part of it. “But back to the dragons. You know more about these people than I do. Do you think that this Wyrma can really transform herself into a dragon? And, if she can, do you think she can marshal the kind of power she would need to actually threaten Minas Tirith?”

Mithadan's Post:

A memory arose in Mithadan's mind at Airefalas' words. It was a scene which had haunted his dreams for years. He was trugding wearily along a road which ran towards mountains that soared up before him. The smell of smoke and sulphurous odors polluted the air. He looked back over his shoulder and saw a great city. Its walls and towers had been made of white stone, but now they were blackened and burning. Dark forms writhed before the walls in a ghastly dance as smoke and steam poured from the ruined city. He shuddered and turned away, following a line of Elves along the road.

A winged presence appeared from the sky, so far away and dark that at first he thought it was Thorondor, come to guard the retreat. It could not be Angara, because even at such a distance her skin would have caught the rays of the rising sun. As the figure drew closer, Mithadan quailed, turning frantically to call a warning down the mountain to the retreating Elves. "But the books say there were no flying dragons," he thought wildly, "not yet."

And yet, there it was, black and silver, flying with a fixed focus straight towards the descendant of Eärendil. But even as he watched the figure shrank and dwindled, until all that was left was a small black and white jackdaw, and even this disappeared as it landed at his feet, leaving just a small woman crumbled on the stones, crying at his feet.

And so this is how Angara, the golden dragon, found them. Two lonely figures huddled together on the mountain. Mithadan looked up into the glowing eyes of the dragon, who asked, quietly as Death, "I cannot hear Piosenniel. Where is she?"

"Dead..." whispered Mithadan. Then he shook his head and smiled grimly at Airefalas' confused expression. Yet he could still hear the rushing wings of the black and silver dragon in his mind. "I'm sorry," he said to his friend. "My thoughts were heavy for a moment." He straightened his back before continuing. "Yes, I am afraid that I do not doubt Wyrma's ability to take the form of a dragon. And yes, she would be a very great threat to Minas Anor. For this reason alone, even if there were no other reasons, we should lend our aid to Rama's people, little though our help may be...."

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Old 07-01-2004, 04:00 PM   #238
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Rôg

Rôg withdrew a short distance from where Aiwendil had paused to speak with the man. He kept his eye on the fellow, looking for any display of hostility toward his companion. But the old man seemed comfortable enough with the one he had named Mithadan, and Rôg fell to thinking where he had heard the name before.

The ship! That was it – the one that Aiwendil had wanted to hire to bring them south . . . the one that was unavailable . . . so the Elf had said. Ah, yes – the Elf. Piosenniel, as Aiwendil had just said. Rôg recalled his glimpse of her in the Inn in Minas Tirith. Menacing, for all her fair appearance, he thought, as she faced off with that Beorning. Rôg shivered at the old fellow’s assessment of the couple. . . . people of honor, but wherever they go, trouble follows . . .

The conversation between Aiwendil and Mithadan was brief, and near the end, Rôg moved closer to the pair to offer his arm to the old man. Aiwendil looked tired, both in body and spirit. Rôg heard his companion say that he would see Mithadan later over dinner and he caught his warning to the man that the captain and his first mate had come into a dangerous situation, a ‘boiling cauldron set to explode', as he termed it. For a moment, as they stepped away from the man’s tent, Rôg thought of asking Aiwendil to come away with him, leaving these problems behind.

But then he recalled his little promise to Miri. Besides her pleasure at having learned another shape, she had referenced briefly in the conversation her family’s and her own fear of what was happening. The clan leader very ill; the threat of those of the maenwaith who sought to impose their ways on the Eagle clan; the unspoken fear she had picked up from her parents’ hushed conversations that something very, very bad might happen if they weren’t careful. It troubled him greatly that his little friend should have to bear a burden such as this. But he remained unclear about what help he could or should offer . . .

Aiwendil muttered peevishly under his breath as they walked away from Mithadan’s tent, Rôg’s escort dutifully trailing behind. Rôg leaned toward his companion and spoke low so that his words remained private between them. ‘Is there something I might help you with?' he asked. 'Something that troubles you?' Receiving no reply, save a long, weary sigh, the younger man went on. 'I know you have been visiting with the clan leader these past days, Aiwendil . . . and I am wondering, what does she say of this threat to her clan? And the Elders, why do they not come in to assist their people? For the life of me, I cannot fathom this.’

Aiwendil halted and stepped back to peer into the young man’s face. From his tired visage, the old man’s crystal blue eyes flashed in a measured and considering manner. Rôg, supposing his companion’s look might mean he would choose not to answer fully, touched Aiwendil lightly on his forearm.

‘I spoke with Narika and Thorn, as you know. Soon, I need to visit my own clan; there are things my clan leader asked me to do and I need to let him know what I have found and done. You are welcome to stay here with the Eagles, Narika and Thorn have said so to me, until I return.’ He paused for a moment, looking thoughtfully at Aiwendil. The old fellow was a difficult one to gauge when he fell deep into himself, as he seemed to have now. ‘I have some decisions to make,’ he went on, ‘and questions to ask of my own Elders before I return.’ He paused once again. ‘But I need to have some information with which to frame my questions . . .’

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Old 07-03-2004, 09:51 PM   #239
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Ayar and Ráma

The tent was empty except for Ayar and her serving maid Claris, the latter a grey-haired woman who had been serving Ráma's family since the twins were born and whom Narika had instructed to watch over her mother while she and Thorn rode south. Grey shadows played along the canvas walls, the light kept at bay by heavy leather flaps intentionally strapped tight over window openings, since Ayar's eyes could no longer bear the sharp rays of the sun.

The young woman standing at the entrance could just make out her mother's gaunt figure tangled in the bedcovers. Ráma could also see that her mother was sleeping: a sleep that seemed eerily deathlike in the depth of weariness and pallor that had fallen over Ayar's face. The vibrant and animated woman Ráma had known was gone. In her place was someone who looked like a stranger.

Ráma walked forward, sinking to her knees and burying her head in the bedclothes. Her initial reaction was to wonder whether this could really be happening, or if she had fallen into a troubled dream and would awake in the morning with everything all right. The others in camp had been afraid to disclose her mother's illness. They had wanted to wait for her sister to come, hoping that Narika would find the right words. Ráma's earlier anger and frustration dissolved, replaced by loneliness and a trace of fear. Her mother was the one fixed point in her life, the person she could always rely on. Only now her mother was leaving. She could not have put her feelings into words, but she felt as if years had been stripped away and she was once again a small child hoping and believing that her mother could somehow make things right.

Claris leaned over and placed a kiss on the young woman's brow, whispering a brief explanation of what had happened in recent days and then adding, "Ráma, I'm so glad you're here. We all feared you would arrive too late."

The young woman looked up through tear-stained eyes and replied, "I would have come faster if I had known."

"But there was no way to warn you with the storm. And Thorn said he'd left a message for you to return at once."

Ráma nodded glumly in acknowledgment, part of her wishing that she had never met Mithadan and Airefalas, and wondering whether things would have turned out differently if she'd returned before the unknown assailant had struck. But she knew her mother would have insisted otherwise. A word once given is not withdrawn. And she had promised the Gondorians that she would help them find their missing friend.

"Was she so ill from the beginning?" Ráma pressed.

"Even worse. At first we could not rouse her. But the stranger Aiwendil arrived and was able to help. She has remained alert for several days. This morning, she seemed no different and said goodbye to Narika and Thorn before they rode south to inspect the herds. But since then, she has worsened. And even Aiwendil's potions do little to help. I did not know what to do. It is beyond my skill."

"I do not know either. I am no healer. But you must have a messenger fly to my sister and ask her to return. Reassure her that Ayar lives but that she must hurry back. Also run to see if Yalisha is in camp and can come to help."

Claris slipped out as Ráma had bidden. At the same time, Ráma noticed that Miri was curled up in a small ball not far from the door, too nervous to draw attention to herself by leaving yet uncertain if she should come inside. Ráma beckoned the girl over and asked her to refill the water jug and then come back. As the child disappeared out the door, Ráma heard a rustling in the covers beside her. Ayar stirred, opened her eyes, and gazed up with a glint of a smile. Using all the strength she could muster, the older woman leaned close and spoke to her daughter, "I was afraid you would not come. I could not leave without saying goodbye."

"Hush, mother. You mustn't say such things. You will get well soon."

"No, child. There should be truth between us. Soon I will leave behind this poor shell and fly free across the stars. Do not pity me. It is you and your sister who must stay and face the problems here. There are things I must say to you and, if I can, also to your sister. But if time will not allow, you must pass on my words to Narika and the Elders. Promise me, little one."

Ráma reached out to squeeze Ayar's hand and indicate her agreement, "Yes. I'll listen carefully and do whatever I can....."

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Old 07-04-2004, 12:37 PM   #240
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Thorn and Narayad

Thorn had been pleased to find that the herds were in good order and that nearly all had made the trip with without incident, with only one lost along the way. The animals were hungry though, and were busily intent upon filling their stomachs, forcing Narika and him to ride in separate directions to inspect the far ranging flocks. Fingering the bangle still resting in his pocket as he stood at the northern fringe, Thorn thought of how he no longer needed to give Narika such tokens of remembrance, but would soon be presenting her with the ordinate jewelry of a married woman to be her insurance should he die, as tradition dictated. The gold of his grandmother long since having been melted down and cast into new pieces in anticipation of this union, laying in the care of his mother for many years, while he had been in Umbar. But he regretted the timing of it, thinking he had waited over long. He had always thought of Narika with a joyous heart and had imagined that this ceremony would echo that contentment, but now it seemed destined to be overshadowed, veiled in sadness. Still he would do what he could to ease Ayar’s mind, and sought to support Narika. If only Ráma would arrive quickly enough.

“A rider, a rider!” one of the herdsman announced pointing to the horizon. The sharp-eyed youth had spotted a small cloud of dust far to the north, rapidly approaching. Thorn and the others readied their weapons, unsure of who this might be, perhaps a Haradrim outrider had also discovered this water. But after a few moments the youth shouted out to Thorn once more, “It is Narayad, on the piebald stallion!”

Riding out to meet him, Thorn asked why he had come, was there news in the encampment? But Narayad had left at daybreak and did not yet know of Ráma’s return or of the people she had brought with her. “No, he said. All is as you left it. I did not wish to alarm you, but have only come to help.”

“What of helping in the encampment? I would feel more confident knowing that you were there,” Thorn said.

“Ah, then you would be the only one!” Narayad said bitterly. “Since the incense pot was found, both Latah and I have been relieved of all responsibilities. I can understand the suspicion of me, though it is unwarranted, but why should Latah be punished? She has only tirelessly served, and all can see that there is not a speck guile in her.”

“It is only a precaution I am sure, Narayad. Do not take it ill. I know, as does Fador that neither you nor Latah would do anything to hurt the clan. And if others do not understand this, it is only because they have become skeptical of things outside of our community, and have not fully come to accept you as part of our clan.”

“I do not know what else I can do to prove to them that my heart is with them, and not anywhere else,” Narayad said dejectedly. “Thorn, what more I can do to convince them!”

Thorn felt the glass bangle once again in his pocket, and after a moment said slowly, “There is something that would be a great help to us, and would gain the confidence of the elders, when in time they found out.” Thorn paused weighing his words, “Narayad, how would you feel about living in Umbar for a time?”

“Umbar! I should not like it, but if you ask it of me I will go. But what of Latah?”

“Once, I know that you are settled in the city I will send her to you, if she agrees to it,” Thorn promised, “and that only if you advise me to, for it will be your duty to keep us informed of the climate there, and to keep your eyes and ears open.” Going on to explain the true work of an Eagle in Lord Falasmir’s employ, and of his promise to learn of the fictitious horse before returning to his position in the stables, Thorn asked if the outrider were still willing, and Narayad agreed to carry on in his stead if the position was still open, but voiced his concern that he did not know any languages other than the language of the caravans, and a handful of the maenwaith dialects. “I will try to teach you, and will ask Surinen also, for though the language of caravans will get you by in the city, you should also learn others for this work. But you must not tell anyone of your purpose, and if asked, say only that you are going back to your people, for what ever reason you choose.”

“I will do this, to help you and the Eagles, Thorn. But do not forget me once I am gone. And I will go in the hope that I might be called back soon, to live once again in the desert, with the Eagles.”

Thorn pulled the blue glass bangle from his pocket, and showing it to Narayad said, “ I had intended to give this to Narika before returning to the city, but now I think perhaps you might give it to Latah to wear until you are reunited. Here take it.”

Narayad took the bracelet and looked briefly at it sparkling in the sun before thanking him and slipping it among the folds of his dust cloak.

Last edited by Hilde Bracegirdle; 07-04-2004 at 08:52 PM.
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