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Old 12-03-2006, 01:59 PM   #41
Dimturiel
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Tora was making her way towards Dag's forge with resolute steps. She was glad that her father had sent her to go and not her brother. She prefered to be out of her house at the moment, being fed up by her mother's excited talk about the coming of the two elves. That was the way her mother always behaved. She liked to see signs that thier lives would get better in every event, even in the ones that were clear to have bad consequences. Not that Tora found the presence of the elves an event with bad consequences. Of course, things were bound to change one way or the other, but there was the possibility that the change would not affect them too much.

But why did everyone had to be so enthralled by their coming? What did they think they would do for the settlement? From what Tora had heard of the elves, she knew that they were proud and very hard to please. What could they feel for the inhabitants of the settlement save contempt, if not even disgust? And how could their coming improve the way things went in the settlement? Could her mother not see that it was a foolish thing to believe?

Tora had reached the forge. She knocked at the door and then entered. She could see that Dag was not too pleased at her coming, but there was nothing that she could do about that now. And standing in front of the door without saying anything would surely not improve Dag's mood. Therefore, she took a deep breath and began:

"Greetings, master Dag." she said. "You know that my father has asked you to mend his knife and you told him that it would be ready today. Well, my father has sent me for it. Could you possibly give it to me?" She paused, looking at Dag uncertainly.
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Old 12-04-2006, 06:49 AM   #42
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"Bergr?" Came a familiar cry from behind. "Bergr! I have a message from my lord Khandr!"

Bergr straightened, ugly words in his head. Idiot, Hugo, he muttered under his breath, that's any idea of a hunt gone today, and just when I needed one. He cut off his own train of thought, aware that he was being unfair on the messenger. Turning he placed as broad a smile as he could on his face.

"Well what is this message then?" He asked walking toward Hugo, sheathing his knives as he went.

Hugo held a letter out to him, and Bergr regarded it with wary eyes. He could read well enough, but he did not want someone waiting while he did so.

"I suppose you can't just give me the general idea of what it says?" He inquired, receiving a small laugh from Hugo in response.

"No I cannot, sir, for I do not know what the message says myself. I will take a verbal answer though if you would rather that than write one down."

Grunting at the compromise Bergr read, his features darkening as he learnt of the rudeness being shown to the Borrim even at higher levels than he experienced. The bars had been increasingly cold toward him of late, with his requests for ale being ignored and the door shut in his face. He wondered now if this had anything to do with the arrival of their Elvish friends. The invite to a feast was met with more pleasure. It had been some time since the small number of Borrim in this place had all been together and he looked forward to speaking with them again.

"Tell our lord I will be there." He instructed Hugo, and watched as the man made his way back toward the city, presumably searching for the other Borrim. Sighing he took a knife from his belt and marked the tree he was standing by to remind him of the place of his latest quarry and began his own walk home.
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Old 12-04-2006, 10:50 AM   #43
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Was the miserable wretch going to refuse to answer him? Uldor’s glance darkened as he settled his black eyes on his brother. He saw Ulfast hesitate, draw back, and finally answer him. “Lachrandir comes with a message for us to gather our forces for the defense of Lord Caranthir’s realm. Are you satisfied?”

Uldor’s mouth opened in a silent ‘Ah’ and he cast a sharp look towards the two elven ambassadors, standing mute while they waited until he was ready. His first thought was to make some sort of retort. “Does our lord Caranthir imagine that we do not have our own lands to defend?” was particularly tempting to say. But, no, that would not be fitting.

What is more. . .perhaps this summons could help him. For a brief moment his mind darted around with thoughts of certain possibilities. Then, with a softer look, he set his eyes again on Lachrandir. “Proceed. We will hear the letter.”
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Old 12-04-2006, 11:06 AM   #44
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Briga:

Briga purposefully stepped to the front and addressed Gunna. She chose her words with care, all the while keeping a wary eye on the other woman who stood a short distance away, "Cheese for fresh game? Yes, we would be interested. The hunters do a good job of keeping my husband supplied with meat. Just this afternoon, Hunta came to me with a great slab of venison. It is too much for our own household, even with the feast tonight. Rather than take it to the smokehouse or trade it at the market, I'd gladly do an exchange with you for some cheese."

The younger woman who had first answered the door stood sullen and silent. Even though her eyes were guarded, it was apparent that there was considerable bad blood between these two. Before Gunna could reply, Briga turned to address the younger woman, "Embla? Did you not have something to do? I believe my husband asked you to polish the silver cups in preparation for the festivities tonight. As Khandr has been kind enough to ask both of us to grace his table, surely you will want to help?" Embla shot back a sharp glance but then turned and disappeared down the hallway.

Briga turned back to Gunna and began speaking in a relaxed and confidential tone. "I am sorry. You must excuse her behavior. She is new to our household.....a second wife. And it is taking her a while to understand her duties." There was no anger or derision in her voice, just a hint of disapproval as if Briga was genuinely puzzled why Embla should not immediately jump to her command and do as she was bid.

"What say you then, my friend? But before we shake hands on the bargain, may I see the cheese first, or do you plan to drop it off later? Ad please do tell me what your name is. I know so few folk in this town."

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Old 12-04-2006, 02:26 PM   #45
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Dag:

Dag paused in his work long enough to hear the girl’s enquiry. Just as he had known it would, Ulfast’s imperious commission for a sword would necessarily put on hold all the other mending and crafting he had obligated himself to do. This was the power that birth brought – the power to shove aside others less fortunate in the circumstances of their conception and drink first and longest from the cup of prosperity. The utilitarian knife of a common farmer, what did that matter when it came to the demands of a chieftain’s son? Those beneath could wait, while the few who rode upon the shoulders of the many took what they wanted, simply because they could.

These thoughts flowed through Dag’s mind as he began hammering once more on the sword. No more than ten blows had fallen though, as Tora waited patiently, before Dag carefully laid aside the red hot blade and finally turned to her, wiping his hand over his face. “The metal must be worked just so, while it is at the right temperature, or the blade will be brittle.” he explained without preamble. Tora nodded her head in apparent comprehension, although her face betrayed her puzzling over what this might have to do with her father’s knife.

“I’m sorry. You must tell your father that his knife isn’t fixed yet. I’ve been . . . required to provide a weapon, for Ulfang’s son.” Dag noted Tora’s gaze fixing upon the still glowing metal he had been working on. His eyes slid sideways to the sword also, then back to her own dark ones, hoping her father would not take out any disappointment over the delay on the innocent messenger.

He hesitated, then said, “Well, the repair should not take long, no more than an hour’s work. I’ll do it now, and let the blade there rest.” He regarded the girl, considering that she had probably a long enough walk from her farm to make it not worth her while to return there and then walk all the way back to the forge a second time.

“You may wait here, if you wish, or if you have other business hereabouts, you might want to see to it while I work on the knife.” Dag walked a pace over to where a small pile of implements awaited his attention. A thought struck him, then, and he waved his hand casually in the direction of his own home. “Or, if you prefer, pass the time visiting with my wife and her sister. I know they always enjoy hearing the gossip from the outlying farms.” He smiled briefly at the girl as he plied the bellows, stoking the fire and plunging the knife blade into its glowing heart.

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

Gunna:

"What say you then, my friend? But before we shake hands on the bargain, may I see the cheese first, or do you plan to drop it off later? And please do tell me what your name is. I know so few folk in this town."

Gunna smiled tentatively at the woman from the north. Her husband must be wealthy indeed, to be able to afford a second wife. Although Gunna, with Mem always available, realized how helpful it was to have a second set of hands to get through all the work there was in a day, she was more than glad that she did not have to share Dag’s affection with another woman. Watching Embla’s stiff back as she retreated, and seeing Briga visibly relaxing, Gunna sensed that perhaps this accounted for the obvious tension between the two Borrim.

“I’m Gunna, wife to Dag, a blacksmith and armorer. We live not too far off, under the eastern wall of the town. I . . . I know, perhaps some of the townspeople have not been too friendly. They . . . they are shy, or suspicious, of strangers. When we first arrived, three years ago, it was the same for us. People . . . people are . . . frightened, I believe. Frightened of what they do not know, and of what lies ahead of us, in these uncertain times.” Gunna closed her mouth abruptly, wondering if she should be talking like this, to a woman of position, and a stranger at that. “Well, yes, fresh venison sounds wonderful. I’ve heard your hunters are very skillful.” She hurried on. “I wasn’t sure if you would want the cheese, so I didn’t bring it with me. It’s quite large and I had no free hands. But I can bring it right by, if that’s acceptable.”

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

Mem:

Mem’s mouth hung open as Dulaan spoke. Surely the old woman was making a joke. But if so, it was a cruel one. Mem knew Dulaan well enough to know that, regardless of the old granny’s penchant for teasing, a kinder hearted soul could not be found in the Ulfing settlement. Could it be that the old woman was serious? Mem shook her head in disbelief, while her hands busied themselves with finding the pot and settling it near the edge of the cook fire. In confusion, the young woman called out to Jóra, who sat playing with the gurgling baby. “Sweetling, the tea is in that clay jar, by the basket of turnips. Can you fetch it here?”

Unconsciously, Mem fingered the bright bit of woolen cloth which Gunna had tied about her head that morning as they dressed. The hair which had grown in after her fever so many years ago, was brittle and of a strange rusty coloration. Gunna kept it clipped short – shorn like a sheep in spring, Dag would quip. What man would even think of her in terms of affection, Mem thought distractedly? Never in her wildest imaginings would she have guessed that Fàlki . . . Mem’s hands froze as the full impact of what Dulaan had said hit her. Fàlki! What did she even know about Kata’s son? Quiet? Shy? With a certainty, he was both. So much so, that even Mem, with her sharp ears, had barely heard him speak more than ten words in the two years in which he had occasionally accompanied his mother to their house. Could she even say she knew the tread of his feet, so like it was to that of his twin?

With a start, Mem realized that Jóra was speaking to her. “Mem. Mem! Here’s the tea.” The girl was setting the little clay jar gently into her hands. Taking a small palm full, she tossed the fragrant leaves into the heating water. Trying to collect her fractured thoughts, Mem turned to where she felt the old one sitting familiarly knee to knee with her. “Dulaan, I . . . I don’t know what to say. Are you in jest? Fàlki? I . . . I never even imagined . . . “She stopped, helplessly searching for the words to express her confusion, and the dim, far away hope that lay beneath.
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Old 12-05-2006, 01:42 PM   #46
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Despite the disappointement brought to her by her father's knife not being ready yet, Tora could not help feeling intrigued. A sword for Ulfang's son? But why? And which son was that? Of course, she did not voice her questions aloud. She knew it was not her place to know such things, and she was not sure she would get an answer, anyway.

Tora welcomed Dag's proposal of her going to his house. She did not feel up to walking all the way to her home and then returning later, yet neither did she want to remain in the forge. She somehow felt as if she would in a way be hindering the man from his work. And she had already abused enough of his kindness. Not many would put aside a task given by the chieftain's son for the mending of a plain farmer's knife. Therefore, she smiled to him and said:

"I am very grateful for your kindness, master Dag. I think I will indeed pay a visit to your wife and her sister. I had not seen them for a while, and I have been longing to talk to them."

She nodded to Dag and got out of the forge. It was not a long walk from Dag's forge to his home-not as long as the way back to Tora's farm, anyway. She soon reached the house and, after a soft knock on the door, she entered. There was a certain intimacy between most of the inhabitants of the settlement, and so no one bothered with rules of courtesy such as waiting to be invited in a house before entering.


On entering, Tora noticed that Gunna was not there, but that did not mean that her sister, Mem was alone with the baby. There was also Kata and Jora there, as well as Granny Dulaan. As far as she could see, Mem was talking to the latter with a flustered expression on her face.

"Greetings, Mem."said Tora brightly. "Hello, Kata and Jora. Good day, Dulaan. I hope you do not mind me being here, Mem. Master Dag sent me here while he finishes mending my father's knife. If it bothers you, I could go. I see that you already have your hands full."
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Old 12-05-2006, 02:26 PM   #47
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Hunta was just on the verge of slumber when a shadow at the front of his tent brought him awake. Laylah growled and raised the hackles on her back, and when Hunta saw who it was that had disturbed them he did not still her. “What do you want?” he mumbled at Hugo. “Can’t you see that I’m trying to sleep?” He had spent so much of himself on the chase this morning that all he wanted for the remains of the day was rest. It annoyed him that this creeping fellow who did little for his livelihood but fetch and carry for his master would interrupt that. Either because he was oblivious to Hunta’s annoyance, or that he was simply used to such treatment that he was able to bear it without reaction, Hugo delivered his message without sign.

“You are wanted for a feast tonight at my master’s table.” Hunta wanted to know what the occasion might be. “My master wishes to discuss the matter of these new arrivals from the west. There are tidings in the town that they are here on matters of war.”

“The Elves?” Hunta asked, his interest finally piqued. He had never seen one of the immortal beings but something about the tales he had heard of them stirred his blood and lightened his heart in a surprising way. “Tell your ‘master’ that I’ll be there.”

When Hugo was gone, Hunta left his tent with Laylah intending to walk toward the Ulfings’ great hall, hoping that there he might catch a glimpse of the Elves. But as he came through the wings of the house he found Briga in conversation with an Ulfing woman. He quickly discerned that his catch was being put to good use by the older woman….Hunta was a great fan of the Ulfings’ pungent cheese, and he savoured the opportunity of enjoying some at the feast tonight. When he heard that the woman had not brought the cheese he immediately stepped forward. “I can bring that here for you, if you would like,” he offered.
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Old 12-05-2006, 05:53 PM   #48
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Briga again slipped forward and spoke. "What a fine idea, Hunta. I think a cheese and egg pie would do very nicely along with the venison for our dinner tonight. If you could go with Gunna to pick up the cheese and return here after that, I could get started on the cooking. Plus, you might help Gunna carry the extra meat back to her home. It would be difficult for her to manage on her own. The packets are sitting in the kitchen."

Briga glanced over at Gunna and smiled, "If you would excuse us for just a minute, I''d like to show Hunta where that meat is so he can carry it over to your house. Perhaps it might be nice if the two of you could go together now."

Beckoning to Hunta, she gestured that he should follow her down the hall and then discretely guided him off into a side room. She lowered her voice to explain, "Hunta, don't worry about the meat. I'll have the kitchen maid give it to you before you leave, hopefully with Hunta. But I need to pass this along from Khandr. As the letter says, my husband feels there is something going on behind closed doors. The Borrim have been shut out, not just on these wedding negotiations but everything else at court. Whether or not this 'something' involves the Elves who have come, Khandr has no idea. But could you speak with Gunna? We are so isolated here, so off by ourselves, that we don't even know what those outside the court are thinking or feeling. I doubt she'll know too much about those Elves but perhaps she or her family have some feelings about what has happened to Ulfang. There used to be such good relations with him. My husband is at a loss to understand what is happening. For the good of our clan and liege lord, we all need to work together to uncover whatever is behind this change in sentiment at court. I know Khandr would appreciate anything you can pick up from Gunna or her family. I must go now. I have much to do, but I leave this matter in your able hands. Please give my apologies to Gunna for leaving so abruptly." Briga turned and walked away before Hunta could even answer.

Last edited by Child of the 7th Age; 12-05-2006 at 06:00 PM.
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Old 12-06-2006, 09:44 AM   #49
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Mem’s distracted face lit up at the sound of Tora’s voice. “Tora! So good to have your company. You’re never a bother. Come in, come in.”

Truly happy to have the chance to talk to the young woman, with whom she shared a close friendship, Mem was doubly relieved to have a chance to turn the conversation away from the startling revelation Granny Dulaan had imparted. Taking up at wooden spoon, she stirred the tea in the heating pot, saying, “Sit, please. I’m so glad your father sent you. It’s been a while since we had the chance to talk. Do you have time to take some tea with us? Kata is waiting for Gunna to return. I don’t know what is keeping her so long. Did you see her at the forge? She was taking Dag his lunch. I know he’s been quite busy lately – he’s even been asked to make a fine sword for Ulfast. But it’s worked out well for us.” She smiled confidentially. “Gives us a chance to catch up on all the gossip.”

Mem hoped that her friend would not notice how quickly she was talking, and how she went on and on. Having heard from different sources about Tora’s own sad experience with love, Mem had no desire to mention Dulaan’s bit of news. Turning her face back to where she knew Kata stood close to the door, Mem asked politely, “So, how is your husband, Kata? What news does he bring you of the goings on of the men of the town
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Old 12-07-2006, 04:52 PM   #50
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To say that Hunta was taken off guard by Briga's abrupt manner and surprising request would be an understatement. He and the lord's first wife had exchanged but a handful of words in the time they had travelled together; as a guide and tracker for these nobles he had dealt for the most part with the second wife, Embla. Much as the younger woman's bad temper and rude manner annoyed him, she was -- at least -- someone he could more easily understand and empathise with. Like her, he was something of an outsider to this group having been engaged by the lord more or less at the last moment. And like Embla, he was not of that more courtly and refined class from which the lord came -- Hunta had been raised in a little more than a mud-hut and had slept beneath the stars at least as many nights as he had beneath a roof in his life. He had never felt truly at home or at ease with the lord and Briga, and he had always sensed that perhaps Embla felt the same. But her temper!

Despite his misigivings, Briga's request could not be ignored. As he wife of the lord her authority was real, and her self-possession and almost regal bearing was something he could not pretend had no natural sway over him. So it was with some amazement, and more than a little confusion, that he found himself accompanying the woman Gunna back to her home.

As they walked they made what small-talk they could manage, but it was difficult and stilted. So much of their lives were so different, that it was hard to find common ground. As they passed a group of rough looking youths loitering against a wall, one of them called out to Hunta. "Hoy there, barrakar!" he said contemptuously. "I hear you brought home a deer this day! Was it a grand hunt? They say that you were able to smell it out, and that you chased it down yourself. What does a mighty hunter like you even need with a dog?" They youths laughed.

Hunta froze in his steps and turned toward them. Their laughter faltered somewhat but the one who had spoken pulled himself up, not wishing to appear weak or chastened before his mates. "What is it barrakar," he asked, "Is it not true that you are a great hunter? Perhaps you fancy yourself better than the Ulfings in that sport, eh?" Hunta took a step toward them. "Watch out barrakar," the youth said. "You wouldn't want to do anything rash. We are only trading jibes with you...you can't offer violence to some jokes...not if you want to stay on the good side of the law."

At Hunta's side Laylah growled deep in her throat. Now the youths were truly nervous, for they had never seen a dog of her size or power. She stared at them, and the wild idea went through their minds that she could understand their words. "Keep that mutt away barrakar!" they cried. "You should have her on a leash, dirty brute!"

It happened so fast that onlookers barely saw it. Hunta stepped close to the leader of the group and raised his hand. The boy's own hand flew to his knife and drew it forth an inch from the scabbard. Hunta froze and it became clear in an instant that he had tricked the boy into making this first threatening move. "Now who is in danger of being on the wrong side of the law...Ulfing?" Hunta said quietly. "I believe the penalty for breaking the peace within the city walls is quite severe, is it not? I might be willing to let the matter drop, though....if you apologise."

The youth's eyes narrowed into slits of impotent fury. He knew he was caught and had no choice. "I apologise for raising my hand in anger against you," he recited formally.

Hunta smiled, and it was not a friendly sight. "Not to me, you fool....to my dog."

The youth snarled but the laws of the Ulfing lord were strict, and his guards were sturdy. As his companions fought snickers of contempt the youth looked at Laylah and said, "I am sorry." Laylah sat and wagged her tail, leaning her head against her master who scratched her behind the ears.

Hunta returned to Gunna. "All right," he said without emotion, "I'm ready to go."
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Old 12-07-2006, 11:03 PM   #51
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Now what are those two talking about?

Káta stepped out of the entryway as tea was readied. She’d peeked out the door to see if Gunna were on her way, but there was no sign of the woman. Granny looked a little smug, a considering look on her face. Hmmm.....cat got in the cream...., she thought to herself.

And Mem’s cheeks seemed a little flushed as she spoke. ‘I . . . I never even imagined . . .’ Imagined what? Did her ears hear rightly? Fálki?

Káta was about to ask how it was that her son’s name had come up in conversation when the sound of someone’s voice calling her name broke in on her thoughts. She glanced round to see a familiar face....Tora.

The conversation took another turn; Mem turning her attention toward the new guest. And soon a question was thrown Káta’s way.

‘So, how is your husband, Káta?’ Mem asked. ‘What news does he bring you of the goings on of the men of the town?’

‘Ah, my dear Grimr.....he’s fine, fine. Went hunting just today with the twins and his friend, Erling. We’ve brought a goose, in fact, they bagged,’ she added, ‘thinking your family might enjoy it.’

Káta thought for a moment about the second part of Mem’s question. She did not think Grimr would want the men’s business he was involved with talked about in a loose manner. Instead she spoke in general terms of how the men were abuzz about the Elvish visitors to Ulfang’s hall. ‘Grimr and the boys, I know, are thinking the promised battle will be coming soon now. The coming of the Elves heralds that, don’t you think? They’ve been setting their bows and spears and knives and such in order already. I’m supposing that will just pick up pace now. Why even we women,’ she said laughing as she looked toward Jóra and Granny, ‘have been drafted into fletching the new arrow shafts they’ve been making.’

She took a cup of tea offered by her daughter. ‘How about Dag, Mem? Is he busier lately.....making parts for weapons?’ Káta sat down near Jóra, smoothing her skirt beneath her on the cushion. ‘And your father, Tora? Any news come his way?’
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Old 12-08-2006, 04:02 PM   #52
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Tathren had not imagined that the audience would be such a tense affair - and it had barely started, the letter had not been read yet.

He was not offended that he had not been presented to Ulfang. He was Lachrandir's servant. A person of no consequence. He had been offered a seat, a courtesy extended to visitors in the customs of most cultures but that was all.

He followed his Lord's lead in matters of comportment; he sat when Lachrandir sat, rose when he rose and attempted the same composure. And if he had to speak he doubted his words would have the same condecension as Lachrandir had shown when they entrusted their horses to the servant. For his master such address was a natural mode of address. He guessed that he would have addressed an elven groom in like manner; here though the grosser disparity in status made his manner seem more patronising.

Neither would his own speech carry the same authority as Lachrandir's. It might prove too gauche or too glib for the situation and having observed the old lord's ire and rivalry between his sons he had wit enough to realise a misjudged phrase could have unfortunate consequences.

Really it was a relief not to be expected to speak. It was all Tathren could do to maintain a dignified silence. The chairs were not designed for someone even of his height - he was unable to divine from a sideways glance how Lachrandir managed to assume a easy and elegant pose despite his even greater height. Tathren felt he could not stretch out his legs as if seated by his own fireside and the chair was to low to tuck them back with comfort. He was only too aware that if he fidgeted he would disturb the bag that he had propped at the side of the chair and that if it fell it would not be the soft thud of a bundle of clothes but hard, metallic, at best a clink, at worst a humiliating clatter of coins that would incur his lord's disapproval far beyond his previous mild irritation.

He was anxious for Lachrandir to speak and defuse some of the tension - but he feared also that the envoy's words might have the reverse effect and be a flame to the fuse.

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Old 12-09-2006, 07:55 AM   #53
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The Envoy, too, was not easy in his mind. He struggled to sum up the slew of human characters bursting upon him, rupturing against each other. Lachrandir noted the old Chieftain's reluctance to act before the arrival of his eldest, apparently more favoured son; the newcomer, Uldor, who was himself a knot of contradictions.

The Chieftain's heir was plainly flawed, and evidently could scarcely abide either of his brothers, which hardly augured well; but he did not seem to be entirely without qualities, either. There was force and decision in his tone that the rest of the brood seemed to lack, and Lachrandir was inclined to approve of his brusque manner, his irritation and desire for clarification. Plucky, one might say. This Uldor was an iron poker, heated to whiteness, with a brashness that burnt. As for his principal foe among the other two brothers, Ulfast, his respectful bearing to the Elves was good, but he was unwise to let himself be possessed so quickly by what looked distinctly like envy.

All this thought honed itself with the rapidity of impatience in the mind of Lachrandir, and his reply to Uldor was prompt, a simple "Ay." He rose from the mean wooden seat he had attempted to arrange himself upon with ill-hidden relief, broke the wax seal that bound the scroll and let it plunge floorwards. Four feet and eight inches of parchment unrolled themselves, until the missive hung composed in the hall's thick air, and Lachrandir began to proclaim it. The hall around ceased its murmur and disturbance, almost all eyes hanging upon the messenger.

The letter began simply: "To Ulfang, from Caranthir greeting. We would make known to thy hall certain tidings, desires and commands, which we trust you to fulfil."

But the missive was the work of more than one hand; Caranthir had written the parts of present import, but, as tradition dictated, they were interspersed with various ancestral litanies and chronicles detailed by the Lord's Loremasters. The gawping Easterlings were treated to a long passage of what, to them, were incomprehensible and somewhat frightening chants in some half-enchanted tongue. Lachrandir gave a gruff apology for the letter's length, before declaiming in the Quenya of a long-forgotten Court the Oath of Fëanor. The might and terror of the words penetrated the unknown language, and the spines of the Men tingled with trepidation. But at last, after a summary of other affairs in the usual Sindarin, including the loss of Thargelion at the Bragollach, Lachrandir reached the subject of his journey.

“...Forinasmuch as thou, Ulfang, called the Black, hath been accustomed to owe liege-homage, saving thy dignity amidst the tribes, to us, Caranthir, fourth son of Fëanor, rightful lord of Thargelion but for the false disseisin of the Enemy; by this and by the ties of loyalty between thy vassals and mine, thou art bidden to provide fighting men in service, to the number of seven thousand..."

A number of gasps sounded in the hall. The Elves had ordered bands of warriors to follow them north before, but a muster on such a scale was unprecedented. It meant at least a third of all the fighting men in South East Beleriand.

"...under thine own command or under such a proxy as it pleases thee to dispatch, to meet with our own powers and those of our youngest brothers, the Lords Amrod and Amras, on the twenty-seventh day of the month of May; this army being dispatched, under the lordship of our eldest brother Maedhros, Lord of Himring, to avenge upon the Enemy the grievous and perfidious hurts that he hath inflicted. For amongst these art listed the slaying traitorly of our sire and grandsire, the ruin of our realms in the north, and the unlawful withholding of the Silmarilli, greatest work upon Arda, that our father Fëanor crafted, and that we hath sworn, on pain of the Everlasting Darkness, to regain. So it is ordained on this, the eleventh day of April. And we hath sworn, once having raised up this great Union of Maedhros, never to abandon it, and charge thee to swear likewise.”

There ended the commands of Caranthir, though the letter continued a little longer with various good wishes and thanksgiving on account of loyal services rendered to Ulfang and other chieftains; as well as several hints that more lands and fiefs might be expected if the war went well. The Elvenlord ended by declaring that one Silmaril had been plucked from Morgoth's crown, and with the aid of the race of Men, he fully expected that he and his brothers would retrieve the other two.

"There ends my missive," Lachrandir finished solemnly. "Perhaps we could discuss arrangements for my Lord's muster in some more private place?"
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Old 12-10-2006, 01:14 PM   #54
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Tora sat pondering on Kata's question. Her father did not usually share the news that he heard with his family, save only when it concerned a dire problem, something inevitable that would affect their lives in some way. It was still too early to be certain that great events were to follow, and his father was not the one to speak until he was certain that his thoughts were worth saying. In this aspect, Tora resembled him completely.

"Well, you know how my father is." she told Kata. "He rarely tells us his thoughts. But I cannot deny that today he seemed worried. I somehow think that he does not find the coming of the elves good tidings. Yet my mother does. She says that great things are to come, and that our settlement will benifit much from them. Well, but you know quite well what my mother is like. She thinks that good will come out of many things that are actually ill."

Tora paused, shaking her head. She sometimes wondered how her mother had managed to survive all these years, being forced to endure disappointment after disappointment just because of her way of thinking. And despite of all that had happened, she still stubbornly mantained her hopeful view of the times that were to come. But what if the coming of the messengers would bring only ill, which was more likely to happen? Would she be able to survive this disappointment also, or would this be the one that would break her? Wishing to draw her attention from her troubled thoughts, Tora began speaking again:

"I for one think that something is indeed approaching." she cofessed. "But something by no means good. A battle, but the looks of it, but how will it end? And, most of all, will we live to see its outcome?"
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Old 12-11-2006, 10:59 AM   #55
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Uldor sat in mute and stunned silence. He struggled to let none of his mixed feelings to show on his face. His jaw clenched fiercely and his eyes remained narrow as the appallingly long missive was read out. As the introductions and the half intelligible words ran on, though, his attention and his tenseness slackened. His relaxed and slumped lower in his chair. Until his eyes fell on Ulwarth. The youngest son was crumpled in his chair until he looked as though he was practically dead. Uldor sat upright suddenly, his back became rigidly straight again, his eyes opened fully and he turned them once again on the envoy.

At that moment, Lachrandir looked up, he briefly met Uldor’s eyes as he made some sort of apology. Then he spoke in a louder, more commanding voice. It was a language that Uldor did not know, but it caused the blood to heat in his veins and he felt his very heart move with some emotion that was both hot and terribly cold at the same time. The silence in the hall as the elf read these words was heavy and so still that it was almost piercing.

Then, finally, he came to the point of his letter. Every eye, every individual attention was on the elven messenger. He read his lord’s bidding. Seven thousand men under the command of Ulfang himself! Uldor cast a look at his aging father. What would he think? How would he react? Surely he would not make an answer to this elf before Uldor had a chance to speak with him. Surely he would not. Uldor looked again at Lachrandir. What would Uldor advise? There was so much to be considered! Seven thousand men to be sent to fight another’s war. He commenced to listening once again to the missive.

Then another thought struck him violently. Would they be permitted to say no? Or was this a command, to be obeyed without question? Once more the muscles in his jaw tightened, his black eyes flashed as his eyelids became slits in his face.

“There ends my missive,” the elf said, looking up and beginning once more to roll the parchment. “Perhaps we could discuss arrangements of my lord’s muster in some more private place?”

For a very brief moment, silence met his question. Then Uldor seemed to bring himself out of some spell with a little difficulty. He stood up slowly, bringing himself up to his full height, meager besides that of the elves.

“We can go back into the next room. It is a private place, prepared for such purposes, with chairs enough for all of us, and a table. We can discuss whatever arrangements you think will be necessary. Am I not correct, sir?” he asked, turning towards his father.

The old man nodded his head slowly in agreement and stood. He stepped down from his chair and led the way towards the door. Uldor stood aside and motioned with his hand to the elves to follow his father. Lachrandir moved forward at once, and Tathren rose and followed close behind him. The three brothers came behind the elves.

The room they entered had no windows. Lamps lit the room in a smoky light and a fire burned in a huge fireplace at the far end. In the center stood a large, round table about which was placed several carved chairs. Ulfang walked with steady, measured steps to the chair closest to the fire and there he sat down. The others found themselves chairs and as it turned out, the two elves sat on a side of their own, with the four Ulfings facing them from the other opposite side of the table.
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Old 12-11-2006, 11:38 AM   #56
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Gunna kept her eyes carefully focused on the ground at her feet as she and the Borrim hunter walked the remaining short distance to her house. She had felt the hostile stares of the loiterers boring into her, as their erstwhile leader had confronted Hunta, and been successfully put in his place by both the man and his huge dog. Gunna realized with dismay that her association with the Northerners would be fodder for the rumor mills by the time of the evening meal. Hopefully, none of it would reach her husband’s ears until she had a chance to explain herself to him. Well, there was nothing for it but to give the man the cheese she had traded and send him on his way back to his lord and lady, without further offense, if that was even possible.

With a sigh of relief, Gunna turned the last corner before reaching her little home. With a mixture of both pleasure and uneasiness, she saw Kata’s donkey cart pulled up by her door. Kata was always welcome, both for the goods she often brought to trade and for the news she seemed to so frequently be the first to know. After the altercation in the street that she had just witnessed, though, Gunna wished that Kata’s visit had come a little later. There was no telling what her friend would think of the presence of the Borrim hunter, or the fact that Gunna was trading with the Borrim in the first place.

Gunna said hesitantly, “Please, won’t you come inside? It won’t take me a moment to fetch the cheese.” Her maternally tuned in ears picked up the sound of the baby laughing in delight on the other side of the door, and she could smell the fragrance of tea wafting from the house. I’ve been much longer than I thought I would be, she thought reproachfully. I hope Mem did not worry!
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Old 12-11-2006, 02:10 PM   #57
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Rarely had such rancour festered in cheese and venison. Embla’s mind was filled with ugly thoughts as she brooded over the slights she had suffered that day.
How hastily the hag had scuttled forth when that Ulfing woman had arrived with her offer of trade. How eager she had been to put the second wife in her place, to issue orders, to send her off. Hunta came to me with a great slab of venison, Briga had said. Ignoring the fact that it had been she, Embla, who had been given the meat by the returning hunter.

As far as she was inclined to feel friendly towards anyone of her own Borrim party, it was to the venison-bringer, Hunta. Not for himself, but for his hound, Laylah. In the happier days of her girlhood, she had been charged with the care of Dimma, her uncles’ hunting dog. Dimma had been a swift, graceful creature with a noble heart, and this Laylah had the look of her old pet. So, when Embla took the meat from Hunta, she had so far forgot herself and her current misery as to stroke the animal and smile at her, briefly. The memory of her unwonted softening rubbed like salt into her recent wounded pride, and angered her further.
The loathing she felt was so strong it gave her goose-pimples. Briga, bustling about, so full of self-importance over this forthcoming feast, so honoured and excited that she, a mere woman and wife, should be allowed to attend. Embla glowered. Among her people, the Bairka, the lady of the hall was the dignified centrepiece of any feast. She remembered her own mother, Rind the Proud, as hostess, moving imperiously among the tables - the great keys of the household hanging from her heavy belt as she passed the cup graciously to the most honoured guests.

And now Embla was clearly expected to feel gratified to attend this gathering of the dolts, summoned by the biggest dolt of all, her husband. Tonight they would cluster, frightened and flustered, around a goat’s cheese to wallow in their collective ignorance. They saw nothing, they knew nothing, and they would never ask the right questions. Look at Briga now, sending Hunta off to question that cheese girl. Time wasting nonsense. Embla did not know the name of the smith’s wife, but her sharp eyes had taken stock of her many days since. Not especially stupid, but very young and entirely absorbed by her immediate domestic sphere: husband, baby, and that strange blind girl who lived with them. Hardly a confidante of power or a rich source of gossip and intrigue.

As for her own intelligence-gathering…the arrival of the tall men, the elves, had interested Embla mildly. She had never seen the fair folk before….but always sensitive to potential snubs, she knew instinctively that these fine haughty fellows would have little to say to a downtrodden interloper like herself. There was however something, or someone, in the settlement that intrigued even her more than the Noldorin newcomers. The strange, dark-clad woman they called Jord. Her great beauty had the chieftain’s son in thrall – that was clear enough. But Embla could sense something else, something she did not quite understand. She did not think any at the feast tonight would ask her counsel, and she would certainly never offer it unsought. But she would wager her mother’s ring that this woman had a secret worth knowing.

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Old 12-19-2006, 01:17 PM   #58
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The Borrim hunter merely nodded his head in acknowledgement of Gunna’s invitation. She wondered if the deep scowl on his brow was a permanent feature, or only the result of his verbal skirmishing with the Ulfings. Gunna had been alarmed at the near altercation, but more than that, she had been almost ashamed by her fellow townspeople’s rudeness. Certainly their kinsmen from the north merited more politeness, if not true friendliness, than it seemed they were receiving. With a silent sigh, she acknowledged that this was the way of things now. Dag was right – it was best to mind their own business and not worry about the doings of those around them. But how much longer would that be possible?

With a slightly forced smile, Gunna nodded in return and stepped through the door, remembering at the last moment the huge dog at her escort’s heels. She turned to ask him to make the animal wait outside and almost bumped into the man’s broad chest. “Oh! I . . . I wonder if you could have your dog . . . “

“Laylah!” The Borrim did not need to repeat the command. The dog dropped to her haunches and sat, not at ease, but in a posture of keen attentiveness to her master.

“Oh, oh . . . thank you.” Gunna said nervously, and turned once more to proceed into the house.

The light within was much dimmer than the brightness outside, coming merely from the smoke hole and the open door. Knowing her own little realm, though, as well as she knew every detail of her child’s face, Gunna stepped confidently across the threshold, impulsively giving Kata a quick hug.

“Kata! I’m so glad to see you! And who have you brought? Jóra! Granny Dulaan! And Tora too?” There was a brief moment of confused but happy greetings and explanations as to who had come for what reason. When the clacking of six female tongues had died down a bit, every eye came to focus on the stranger amongst their merry little group. An awkward silence fell and several of the pairs of eyes turned to Gunna for explanation.

“This . . . this is, um, Hunta.” Gunna gestured towards the grim looking man who stood resolutely holding the neatly wrapped venison. “He . . . he is from the household of Khandr, the, er, northerner who has come to negotiate for a bridegroom for one of his kin. You know who I mean?”

All heads nodded. Certainly they all knew of the Borrim contingent ensconced in their midst, within, yet not part of, their community. Gunna pretended to ignore the wide eyed stares of her friends, as she gave a somewhat breathless explanation of this stranger’s presence. “Belig mentioned that Khandr’s wife was eager to trade for food, they . . . their men are such skilled hunters.” She nodded in Hunta’s direction, as if to confirm such an accolade. “And, so I went to their house, the house given them by Ulfang, you know, near the chieftain’s hall? And . . . and I thought, well, we had this fine wheel of cheese, and the last piece of meat we had from Tokr had already spoiled, even though we gave his wife that fine blue thread – you remember, Kata? You had your eye on it yourself. Well . . . and so, I, I met Khandr’s wife . . . well, both his wives, I suppose, to be precise, and . . . they, she, she was quite polite, very friendly. And happy to trade fresh venison, so, she sent one of the Borrim, er, sent Hunta, here, to carry the meat for me and to bring back the cheese. You know the cheese I mean, Mem?” Gunna finished feebly, the unspoken words sounding as loudly in her head as the spoken ones. Leaving your poor blind sister AND your little babe – to go consort with those foreigners. Dawdling along in the street, passing the time of day with a strange man – a man NOT your husband! WHAT were you thinking, girl!

But if Kata, Dulaan or Tora were thinking these same thoughts, they gave no outward indication. Not in front of this Borrim, leastways. Mem, with her innate sense of how to smooth troubled waters, said pleasantly, “A guest! And one who can share some new stories with us – not those same old naughty tales you tell, Dulaan! Please, won’t you sit with us, Sir? I’ve just made tea – would you care for some?”

Mem’s gentle voice seemed to break the awkward tension, and Kata and Dulaan both pressed the newcomer to try the tea, assuring him of its fine flavor, while Gunna silently took the venison from Hunta, laying it aside, and then handed him the steaming cup which Mem had held up to her. Tora for her part sat quietly, observing the Borrim closely but saying nothing, while Jóra danced happily about with the laughing baby jigging in her arms. Although the abrupt entry of this northerner into their little gathering was startling, it was certainly a golden opportunity not to be wasted, if at all possible.

Hunta extended his hand, taking the cup Gunna offered. Gunna thought she saw the frown on his face relax somewhat, but she could not be sure in the dim light. Hunta bobbed his head, and with a brief, “My thanks, lady”, retired to a corner by the small woodpile, where he seated himself and took a sip of tea.

Once again, it was Mem who lightened the moment by saying, “Sister! You’ve missed out on a happy bit of news! Dulaan has confessed – she’s in love! Raudi he’s named, and he goes with a limp. I believe that’s how old granny caught him – he couldn’t run away fast enough!” Laughter filled the small house, as the women settled in to talk, with an occasional shy glance in the direction of the corner.

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Old 12-19-2006, 08:08 PM   #59
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Giving Hunta the once-over...

It was no shy look with which Granny appraised the man. She cocked her head a bit, her ears only half listening to the women’s conversation as she watched him amble slowly and deliberately toward the corner. ‘Amble...no, that’s not the word,’ she chuckled to herself. ‘Lumber, that’s it.’

‘Hmmm...yes...lumber, just like a bear. Big, broad-chested chunk of a man. All serious faced, like he’s on the scent of something. A bear, hunting.’ She nodded her head. ‘And just what’s he got in mind, I wonder. Who or what’s the prey, I wonder.’

Mem’s voice, the quick laughter of the other women, brought her thoughts back to the conversation. The little joke at her expense brought a flush to her old cheeks and she hmmmph’d a little as if to dismiss the very idea of it as nonsense. Then she grinned and shrugged her shoulders and laughed along with the others. Smoothing her skirt over her knees gave her a moment to collect her thoughts. She looked about at the little group of women, a merry twinkle in her eyes. ‘Well, the old gal’s not dead yet, is she!’

More tea was brought round, this time by Jóra. Dulaan nodded as the girl topped off her mug. ‘Such a sweet one you are, my little rabbit,’ she whispered. ‘Best see if the fine fellow there needs a little more,’ she directed, jutting her chin toward Hunta.

Dulaan’s eyes flicked over the now seated figure. ‘Looks much the same as any Ulfing man,’ she mused. Granny came into the town very little and Grimr had no acquaintances among the Borrim...that he’d brought home, at least. All she knew of the Borrim were the comments she’d heard of visitors to the house. And she was of an age to know that gossip did not always spring from truth. She rubbed the side of her chin with her knuckles. Gunna had indicated he was a hunter...a very good hunter. ‘Hmmm...’

‘Birna’s daughter is of an age to marry,’ she thought to herself. ‘Handsome enough lass, generous hips...be a good’un that for bringing in babies...little too strong-willed for some, though.’ She gave Hunta another quick appraisal. ‘Now I wonder...’

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Old 12-21-2006, 11:05 AM   #60
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The chamber beyond the hall was ill-lit, but the slight, winnowing fires did not reveal bear stone; the place was generously hung, Lachrandir observed, with brownish tapestries, notched by crude, dark figures, some sitting, some drinking, some fighting, one bowing low. Such draperies must bear much of what this people knew of its history, he considered. But the future of the Ulfings, not their past, was now his concern, as it had become entwined with the future of Caranthir, and probably all the Edain and Eldar as well.

"My lord is aware that the contingent he desires is great in number," Lachrandir said, with quiet but penetrating force in his voice. No answer came from the Ulfing potentates, but he suspected their gazes were sullen enough.

"Great in number it is," he continued, "but the Lord Caranthir would have you think him lenient. In the north the Lord Maedhros, who has summoned this League, requires the Borrim to fight fifteen thousand strong. In the lands of the High King, every grown male of Hador's people is summoned, saving only the lamed and the old. Caranthir has ever allowed you certain freedoms and governance and customs of your own. Now he calls to mind the debt to be settled."

Lachrandir paused, before summing up his message in an implausible line Caranthir had personally ordered him to impart.

"Our lord would have you follow him not out of fear, but love."

Silence still, mingled with some coughing from the old Chieftain. Then Ulfast and Uldor spoke at once.

"Certainly-"

"Well-"

Another embarrassed pause, and it was the father who left the last word.

"The muster shall be gathered. But I am old, sir, unfitted for such games; so the command of it shall fall upon my son..."

The quietness was palpable and burnished. Ulfast stepped quickly to his father's side, and regarded his face sternly. Uldor stayed where he was, his chin leant into his hand, his eyes glinting. Ulwarth stood apart, and the apparently foolish youngest son's glance was both sly and bitter.

"...my son and heir, Uldor. He shall be responsible for the gathering and training of men, and shall lead my army against the Enemy. Now, my eyes grow heavy...I would have this meeting be done..."

The sons of the Chieftain left like startled crows, each going their own way; the envoys at a slower pace, after bowing to Ulfang, also retired.
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Old 01-01-2007, 09:59 PM   #61
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Tora’s words echoed Káta’s own thoughts. ‘I for one think that something is indeed approaching. But something by no means good. A battle, but the looks of it, but how will it end? And, most of all, will we live to see its outcome?’

It was a grim question, and one which Káta had chewed over and worried at until the bone of it was nearly picked clean. Grimr had listened to her concerns and in his own way tried to be reassuring. She knew he and others of the men were deep in talk about the fermenting situation. But much of what was discussed was kept secret, even from her. ‘It is your protection that you do not know fully what is in the wind. Our protection. When the time is right I will tell you all, heart of my heart.’

Bah! She gave her shoulders a little shake as if to let go the old quandary, at least for the moment.

Káta’s attention was diverted for the moment. Gunna had come in at last.....and with some Borrim. Interesting..... She must talk to her, when the man was gone. How long had Gunna been trading with those of the Bor group, she wondered. And why would a man want to hang about a gaggle of women? Grimr would have smiled pleasantly, graciously, at the invitation and hied himself off as quickly as he could having made his excuses. She stifled a laugh thinking of her husband’s face.....his brow raised in consternation, his mouth set in a sort of rabbity grin, his eyes haring about for the quickest means of escape.

Her mind flicked back to Tora’s words again. And best you leave off that line of thought she concluded, thinking back on the observation by Tora which had preceded her woolgathering. At least until only the small group of women she counted as close friends were gathered and those less known to her, more suspect in their unfamiliarity, were well out of hearing range.

Káta motioned for Jóra as she passed by with the pot of tea. She offered up her cup, though she’d only taken a small swallow of the fragrant beverage. As her daughter bent closer to pour the tea, Káta in turn leaned nearer her, murmuring low. ‘Keep a close watch on your tongue, Jóra, when you serve that man. Be pleasant, but cautious.’ Her flicked to the man in the corner and quickly away. ‘And let me know all of what he says and what he asks.’

‘Have you heard,’ she said in a louder voice, turning to the other women as Jóra went off on her little errand, ‘about Hálma’s younger daughter? The one just turned sixteen years this last harvest? Seems she’s run off with her older sister’s promised man. Emund’s middle son. The boy’s mother, Gisla, is fit to be tied. As is Hálma and her husband. There’s the whole question of the bride-price already half paid for the other daughter.’ She turned and looked at Dulaan. ‘And some little bird told me they’d already jumped the broom and there’d be a babe most likely come this harvest.....’
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Old 01-02-2007, 12:53 PM   #62
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When the Hall of the Ulfing was deprived of its irascible master's supervision, an atmosphere of cautious jollity set it, the nobles sensing that now was a moment to swagger and make their hay. The mead ran with more ease and the jests with more coarseness; insults long nursed were parcelled out freely, and the Chieftain's guards clustered together in knots, on the back foot as the vassals of Ulfang caroused.

Drenda sat down now, glancing rapidly down the length of tables and into the centres of discourse, his perfect almond eyes identifying and observing the figures whose personalities dominated. It was a favourite game of the ambitious youth's; investigating who, with the Lord's family removed, really held sway in the Hall.

Some men were notable for bombast, popularity, and prodigality; such a one Drenda's father, Drenduld, had once been, reckless and carefree in self-pride. For instance, there was Alangar, brazen skinned and barrel-chested whose laugh now sounded loudly, ringing off the darkened beams. He was an extremely hard drinker and it might truly be said that drink had no effect on him, for, as far as Drenda could see, he was inebriated day and night anyway. Somewhat more worthy of respect was a man like Rakthan, who spoke little and was usually listened to because, so far, he had scalped eight men in six duels.

But Drenda traced a power more silent and pervasive than that of Alangar or Rakthan originating from a smallish, unremarkable man, without particularly exalted blood or any feats to his name, which was Brodda. Most assumed that he was a mere cypher for his paymaster Uldor, but Drenda saw it differently. Brodda exercised and interpreted Uldor's wishes, and that made him in his own right, a man of influence. Besides, there was his survivability to be considered. Brodda had acted as a menial hand in countless intrigues and plots, and always found his feet; there was skill in that, a skill that could be detected in his mean little eyes.

So it was Brodda Drenda now approached, stooping so their heights were more equal, in a gesture of deference. "Afternoon, my lord Brodda. What think you of the news?"

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Old 01-02-2007, 03:09 PM   #63
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Uldor got up quickly as soon as the word of dismissal came. When Ulfang said he wanted something finished, the thing was finished. The meeting was over and there would be no reason to stay and burden himself with the company of the two elves. Besides, he suspected they would find his company burdening also. As he exited the room and crossed the court, his face twisted in a sneer.

“Follow him out of love,” he scoffed to himself. “Out of love! The sort of half-witted love a dog gives his master, I presume. I wouldn’t doubt that’s how the great Caranthir views us. His dog. He’ll find this one may bite after all, though. What do you want?” he nearly snarled as someone grasped his sleeve from behind. “Pardon me,” he said, hardly less fiercely, as his eyes lit on Ulwarth. “What is it?”

Ulwarth’s mirthless grin held even less humor than usual. “I want a word with you, that’s all. You have time for that, don’t you?”

“Hardly, brother,” Uldor said, trying to act gentle. He laid his hand on Ulwarth’s and tried to disentangle his sleeve from his grip. “I have to go out and think.”

“Think about what?” Ulwarth demanded as he tightened his grasping fingers. “Come, come, Uldor, surely you’re not uncertain of what you should do? Our father trusts your judgement! You’re mind, your wit is so quick all of the time! Surely you know how you should act?”

Uldor gripped Ulwarth’s wrist and twisted his hand away from the sleeve. He stepped out of Ulwarth’s reach. “Seven thousand lives of men is a great deal to give away lightly, Ulwarth, and without thought. Even you must understand that.”

“He didn’t say we were to give them,” Ulwarth said, lifting his eyelids a little more. Uldor caught a brief flash of intelligence in those dark eyes. “He said he would take them. You don’t have a choice, Uldor. Not unless...unless you want to fight them.”

Uldor frowned and took another step back. “We can’t refuse them. They would never accept it. We’d be crushed.” Ulwarth shrugged, and once more his eyes were veiled.

“I was suggesting nothing,” he said, turning away. “I wanted only to know what you thought. I am sorry to see you so stubbornly silent. I only try to help.”

Uldor watched him until he disappeared through one of the doors. Then he turned and went his own way, walking quickly towards the outdoors. His eyebrows drew together in thought. His mind was thick with dark and heavy thoughts. Ulwarth - the fool, the halfwit - had suggested to fight them. Ulwarth himself. So quiet, so calm, so apparently content in this house of peace where he was never questioned or threatened. Fight them? As though Ulwarth knew anything of fighting!

And yet what was that idea lurking at the back of his own mind? Uldor put one hand up to his forehead to try to clear away the cobwebs. What were those promises that he kept thinking of? Promises that he thought he had heard but could never remember where or when or why they would even be given.

His mind leaped about in a crazy fashion. Without looking up, he passed out from the city gates into the open, wind whipped plain. Even when his cloak flew up and twisted away from his body, and his hand reached out to pull it back down under control, his thoughts still strayed.

Certainly Morgoth would be a more powerful ally than even these elves, his mind told him. Morgoth, if he ever asked for men to fight for him, would not tell them that it was a payment of debt. No, he would pay them for their help. He had promised.

“What do we really owe the elves?” Uldor grumbled to himself. “What have they done for us that puts us in debt? Claimed to protect us? From what?” His feet stopped at the crest of a hill and he turned and looked back at the settlement behind him. “But we can not refuse,” he said allowed. “My father has sworn allegiance and to that allegiance, we must hold.”
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Old 01-02-2007, 04:01 PM   #64
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And so it begins, thought Ulfast. He left the meeting room slowly, wrapped deeply in the pondering of his strategy. Uldor's hasty exit and scoffing face had been well-marked. The eldest son disapproved of the Elves and their call for aid. The short-sighted fool. This was the moment to strike and supplant Morgoth. One that would repay debt with more than paltry gold. Or so Ulfast believed.

For the Elves spoke of loyalty out of love, not fear. That was unknown under the iron rule of the north. Fear brooked no equals and held on constancy other than that of cruel terror. Though a nation might grow wealthy in gold and great in sorcery under service to Morgoth, there would be no true gain in power. Ulfast knew well the uses of fear. He had used it to remind his inferiors of their proper places when they dared to slight him. But Ulfast did not seek a place as a slave to a distant master. True power was his desire, and that would never be gained from one who sought domination through fear.

From nearby, he heard the sound of voices, indistinct, but still recognizable as belonging to his brothers. Ulfast padded down the corridor, eager to listen, eager for any fragment of words that he might use against his Uldor. Morgoth was not the only master Ulfast sought to cast off.

"Seven thousand lives of men is a great deal to give away lightly, Ulwarth, and without thought."

He speaks against our father's will. Good.
Ulfast slipped forward, hardly breathing in his strain to hear.

"You don’t have a choice, Uldor. Not unless...unless you want to fight them."

Ulfast nearly laughed. Perhaps the youngest was not quite as much the fool as everyone thought. Admission of a plan against the Elves from Uldor would be all Ulfast was needed to secure a position against him.

"We can’t refuse them. They would never accept it. We'd be crushed."

Uldor's reply was safe. Ulfast scowled. But one day, one day, brother, I will catch you in your plots. And then we shall see who is heir. Yes. We shall.

The conversation ended and the brothers parted. Ulfast lingered in the corridor for a moment before heading for the security of his chambers.

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Old 01-03-2007, 12:54 PM   #65
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War. Brodda, like all the others who were in the hall, had heard the Elves’ summons. After mulling it over a bit in his mind, keeping it safely locked away from the ears of his enemies and allies, the young man began what called his ‘tour’. Usually there wasn’t much to this, besides gathering information from his rivals that his master, Uldor, the eldest of Ulfang’s sons, might find useful for one plot or another.

Scheming was always best left to Uldor, though Brodda himself was quite capable in his own right. He preferred not to have the huntsman’s axe fall on his own neck if something went a foul and he was fingered as the brain behind it all. At least Uldor, as the son of the chief of chieftains, could avoid punishment by virtue of his station. Though, most of the Ulfings with power dared not to look into Uldor’s dealings to begin with. They often sensed there was one disturbing event or another behind that veil of shadows, and would prefer to be able to sleep at night…and wake in the morning.

But Brodda, as his lord’s favored servant, played at least a decent role in the plots. He was a listener, something any good opportunist must be able to do. A good number of Ulfing vassals were always present in Ulfang’s hall, and out of those several were drunkards. These men were easy pickings for the crafty Brodda, though they were not much of a challenge. Almost anyone could loosen information from the lips of their ilk.

In the midst of his wanderings, the silent Brodda was disturbed by a youth named Drenda. Only half paying attention at first, his mind zeroed in on the question. But this inquiry was more than a question. There was no idle talk, though perhaps the gravity of the day’s happenings was slightly lost in the tone of the asking. “What do I think,” he quizzed, his eyes continuing to scan the hall. “I think, Drenda, that the summons to war is a turning point for us Ulfings. The younger generation shall assume power when this is all done, as I believe this shall be Ulfang’s last campaign. The only question is who to side with…but that must wait.” Brodda knew this last comment was vague. His meaning could be one of many choices.

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Old 01-05-2007, 02:41 PM   #66
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Being cemented in her body meant that Jord had to physically follow the man she wished to talk to, and so by the time she felt it good to approach him, she was in a foul mood. She always had to be careful who saw her and Uldor together, and where anyone saw them. Her worries were not many: she knew that likely the fools thought her his mistress or something equally demeaning, but she still had them. The less she was seen at all, the better. And so it pleased her that Uldor did not notice her until she was practically breathing on the back of his neck.

“You will hold to it,” Jord whispered. The man appeared unaffected, but she sensed his surprise, and a bit of something else that she liked. “The brave and honorable Uldor keeps his promises, just like his father…” A smile formed slowly on her face as she spoke. This boy was sworn to Morgoth just as Ulfang was, and they both knew there was no turning back for him any more than there was for her. But that was the end of their similarities.

Uldor sneered at her, and Jord considered the joy of reaching out and patting his head – a reward for being smarter than he looked sometimes – once she really had him on a leash at her feet. She searched his eyes and gave him the sense she was boring into him whenever he met her gaze, giving him yet another reason to let his eyes travel elsewhere. He would learn never to meet her gaze, with naïve defiance and arrogance from fiery and uncontained youth, soon enough.

“I thank you for your flatteries, woman,” Uldor maintained an air of carelessness as he threw the comment at her. Jord internally struggled, but kept her own mask firmly wrapped around her face, and her body practically laughed. He will be thanking me for more, and begging for anything I will give him, soon… Always soon. But she had the patience of millennia.

“Always the gentleman. Even to those Elves, I imagine, and even when they announced their request? Seven thousand? It will indeed be a lot of blood on your hands.”

The man looked at her, his face finally betraying a bit of shock. She continued to smile, knowingly, and she let her eyes slowly look Uldor up and down, lingering on certain parts, whether or not she found them interesting. Obviously some found them to be quite interesting. He was fairly handsome, by human standards, though also approaching old age by them. Yet in mind and spirit he was a boy to her, fresh-faced and hotheaded.

Not allowing him time to respond, she gave him one more question to consider, “And whose blood would you rather taste?”
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Old 01-08-2007, 01:54 PM   #67
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The company had now become larger than Tora had expected, and she was wondering whether she should not excuse herself and go and see if Dag had not finished her father's knife. The hunter that Gunna had bought made her uneasy, although why exactly she could not explain. Perhaps it was the fact that he seemed so different from the people that Tora usually saw. Or maybe because one like her usually mistrusted those that were not part of her little community, and took time before coming to regard them, if not as friends, then at least as people from whom there was no evil to be feared.

The gloomy topics that had been discussed until Gunna and her companion came were now forgotten. Instead, the women began gossiping of small family affairs, showing their curiosity and indignation, shaking their heads, and talking as if no dark cloud would ever threaten their living. Tora was somehow pleased by this. She felt her heart lift, knowing that there were people that still talked of such insignificant matters with the same eagerness as they had before discussed the designs of the elves. She turned her attention to Kata, although the tale of the apalling deeds of Halma's younger daughter were quite known to her, as she had heard many people taking of them. To many this event held as much importance as the coming of the elves, and to some even more.

The women were shaking their heads with disbelief as Kata spoke, and Tora too, tried to show her disapproval of such behaviour, although deep inside she did not feel half as apalled as the others. And being known to speak always what was on her mind, she did not hesitate to share her oppinion with the others.

"Well, it surely was a dreadful thing, running off like that with her sister's promised man," she said, "but you should not judge her too harshly. I know the poor girl quite well, and she was always telling me how much she loved him, and she was so sad when she heard he was to be her sister's man. She really cared for him , you know. Of course, this does not excuse what she has done, no, indeed, not at all."
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Old 01-08-2007, 02:04 PM   #68
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“Taste?” Uldor said slowly, looking at the woman who had materialized beside him, like some spirit or wraith from another world. “Who’s blood would I rather taste? Foolish woman, you know nothing of war, do you?” There was a strange, dark flicker in her immeasurably deep eyes, but he didn’t care to analyze it. “Does it matter to me who I kill? One way or another, all their blood will be spilt. I do not care if it is with elven or orc blood that my blade and hands are wet with, so long as it is not in vain.

“The blood of seven thousand Ulfings will not be on my hands at all,” Uldor went on, turning away from her and walking up the gravelly path. “You speak as though I were king already and could make these decisions. Since you appear to know everything that happened today in private ears, you should know that my father did not give me the choice of whether or not we obey the elves’ summons. He gave me the job of seeing that they were fulfilled and to figure out the best way to conduct the muster.

“I would he had asked me first for a word in private,” he went on bitterly. His voice sank and he spoke more to himself than to his fair companion. “These elves are treacherous. They care nothing for us. They grasp for that gem their father made and strive ever to fulfil their wretched oath. That was the oath that I heard today.” He shuddered again with the thought of those words spoken in his hearing.
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Old 01-08-2007, 03:07 PM   #69
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Hunta thought that he would go mad with the tattling of these women. Either that or the boredom of their idleness would plunge him into a sleep from which there would be no waking. He wondered what madness had led him to accept the errand that brought him here…what was there of use that he could possibly learn amongst such people?

His boredom must have been evident for a younger woman came and offered him some more tea. He accepted it with a tilt of his head and some clumsily muttered words of gratitude, but he did not sound convincing even to himself. He was not meant for small spaces and polite conversation, his place was elsewhere, with the ground for a bed and the branches for a blanket. The sheer presence of their nattering numbers weighed on him so that he felt as though he we smothering, and overcome by the sensation he shifted in his chair uncomfortably and in the agitation of the movement knocked over a low stool that stood near him. The conversation faltered and all eyes were upon him. He glanced about, much like a buck cornered by the hounds, and his hand reached mechanically for Laylah’s ruff for reassurance, but his hand met only air. Instinctively he whistled for her and the great dog came trotting through the door to curl up at his feet. Too late he remembered the woman Gunna’s request that Laylah remain outside.

He could not have mishandled the situation more, and in a fit of desperation he tried to divert their attention from his many lapses. “This girl who’s run off,” he asked, groping blindly for something to say. “Is it, well, is it really that terrible what she’s done? So long as everything is done…properly, I suppose is the word…then what matters who she was engaged to? I don’t understand the ways of your folk in these matters….I understand precious little about these matters amongst my own folk to be sure. But if I were ever to marry…well…” he felt himself heading into uncharted and dangerous forests but pressed ahead “I wouldn’t want to marry a girl who’d been stopped from running off with someone else just because she was supposed to marry me. I would want her to, well, not run off…if you see what I mean…”

The profound weight of his own idiocy pressed upon him like a stone.
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Old 01-09-2007, 11:47 AM   #70
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As the morning hours slipped by and gave way to afternoon, Khandr waited impatiently for some word of what was happening at court. Surely, he would be summoned to hear the news the Elves had brought and to learn the Ulfings' response to the matters being discussed. But despite his impatient pacing from one end of the house to the other, no information had been forthcoming. Just before the noonday meal, he had gone out for a ride and heard snatches of conversation between those standing guard outside the great hall. There was talk of renewed force from the north and the need to muster troops to stand against the threat, though none of the guards seemed to know what Ulfang and his sons had decided in response to the Elves' unexpected arrival.

Talk of Morgoth and his continuing menace made Khandr wish that he was closer to home. If a war was truly coming, he needed to return to King Bor and offer his services for the muster. He hated war and fighting with a passion; it was one of the reasons that he had served as an envoy for the Borrim these many years, attempting to secure what his landsmen needed by peaceful discussions. But with Morgoth there could be no negotiating, no effort to reach an accomodation. With the evil machinations of the Dark Lord, there could only be swift and certain retaliation on their part. Whatever differences existed between the Ulfings and Borrim, the two tribes of Easterlings surely must agree on that.

With these grim thoughts in mind, Khandr had resigned himself to weeding through a large stack of messages from court concerning the marriage negotiations and then sat down to try and draft a reply. The hours of the afternoon slowly ticked by and, by the time Khandr finished, it was almost time for his guests to arrive. He went down and queried Briga as to who had accepted the invitation and the state of the preparations for the feast. She had slipped out of the kitchen into the hall and pulled him into a small waiting room where they could talk privately. "It's been a hard day, my dear," his wife confided. "Embla has been nothing but trouble. She's done very little work. But the servants pulled together, and I think our preparations are almost complete. I had been hoping for a fine cheese and egg pie, but Hunta is not back yet. I'll just save the cheese to serve with desert as we've made an apple pastry that would do well with a bit of pungent cheese."


Hunta? Cheese and egg pie? Khandr stared quizzically back at his wife, wondering how the two were connected.

They had been together so many years that the woman could read her husband's unasked questions with ease and hastily replied, "Oh, yes. You'll be pleased at what I did. We bought a cheese from one of the villagers, and I had Hunta walk back with her to try and pick up any gossip or news. You never know what you'll hear if you keep your ears open on the streets. Anyways, he was supposed to gather information and drop by after picking up the cheese. Only he must have been delayed as there's been no Hunta and no cheese."

"Whose idea was this?"

"The cheese?"

"Not the cheese," he laughed. "The part about gathering information.."

"Why mine, of course. I am always trying to help. You are worried, Khandr, even beyond the little you tell me. I can read it on your face." She looked over towards her husband. He seemed to have aged ten years in the past three months. She went on in a gentler tone, "We've been locked out by the court. We know little of what is going on. I know you are going to ask the other Borrim to keep their ears open. So I thought I would help by asking Hunta to accompany the villager to her home and to speak with her kinsfolk and friends. Perhaps they've heard something."

Khandr didn't know whether to laugh or cry. What kind of a world did they live in when an envoy's wife had to ask a young retainer to spy on a passel of poor villagers? Briga had never been interested in such things. Her life centered on her children and the gossip of her friends. He looked down at his wife and smiled indulgently, "My dear, I know you meant well but let's not be hasty. Better we should wait and discuss these things tonight."

Briga bit her lower lip and stared down at the ground. "I only meant to help. It's just that I feel....oh, so useless. I know no one here except for you and Embla and our servants. And Embla makes it difficult. She is so unhappy...." and so young, Briga wistfully reflected. "I thought if we could just figure out what is going on at court , then we could all pack up and go home. That's really what I want to do. I don't like this place. I have a bad feeling." She looked over at Khandr with an imploring glance.

Khandr sighed and took Briga's hand, "I too wish we were at home. And sometimes I too feel useless." He leaned down and placed a kiss on her forehead. "Let us enjoy this evening then, even with this talk of intrigue and plans. It seems we have little time to spend with each other for I have been away in the great hall for hours every day. But for now, Briga, promise me....you'll not ask anyone else to go spying. We must be careful what we do. I want to assign each of our men, and you and Embla as well, to a particular household or courtier to get information. We need to coordinate our efforts. The information doesn't necessarily have to come through the lord, but be garnered from the servants or whoever else we can make contact with. But enough of this for now. We will discuss this more with our guests."

Giving her his arm, he smiled, "My dear, I must say you look quite ravishing. That blue dress suits you. Let's go down to the hall and wait. I believe our guests will soon be arriving." As an afterthought he added, "Ah, yes, and is Embla coming as well?"

Briga nodded.

"Good then. For I believe she may have a knack for this kind of thing. And perhaps she might even enjoy an assignment like this. I will make a point of speaking with her tonight....."

With that, the couple turned and headed for the hall where the feast was now being laid out.

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Old 01-09-2007, 12:02 PM   #71
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As the conversation had shifted smoothly into the familiar paths of juicy gossip and merriment over their neighbors’ little foibles, Gunna had breathed more easily. She had never in her life expected the Northerner to actually accept her polite invitation. But the women, for the most part, seemed largely to ignore his unlooked for presence, perhaps more in the way of one who stoically ignores an itch when circumstances deem it too impractical or impolite to scratch. Old Dulaan threw the stranger several pointed looks, and little Jóra had gone to refresh his tea, but, for the moment, Gunna allowed herself to listen in amusement and feigned consternation at Kata’s tale of Halma’s daughter.

"Well, it surely was a dreadful thing, running off like that with her sister's promised man," young Tora spoke up. "But you should not judge her too harshly. I know the poor girl quite well, and she was always telling me how much she loved him, and she was so sad when she heard he was to be her sister's man. She really cared for him, you know. Of course, this does not excuse what she has done, no, indeed, not at all."

Gunna was aware of Tora’s own loss that was surely part of the conviction that lay behind her declaration. There had been no such love either expressed or felt between herself and Dag, Gunna reflected, when first his proposal of marriage had been made. In fact, the proposal had come directly from Dag’s father, and, although she knew Dag, Gunna had never once spoken with him directly before this proposal arose.

To Gunna, the prospect of marriage had loomed ahead of her as a stubborn obstacle to be fought against and overcome, if at all possible. Her decision to make herself lifetime caretaker of her blind sister was one which she would not cast aside, not for any man. And she had prepared herself to do battle with whatever skill, wit or craft she possessed to foil any attempts by her father to marry her off. Therefore, she had been totally caught off guard when her very first insistence that she could not, would not, leave Mem behind was countered with Dag’s suggestion that Mem should accompany them to the new western lands, as a welcome member of his household. In fact, the couple’s very first conversation had consisted entirely of Gunna grilling Dag as to the motivations behind his offer. Dag had listened patiently and finally, when Gunna had stopped to draw breath, replied good naturedly, but in solemn tones, “If we are to marry, you must be content. If I force you to leave Mem, you will make my life a misery. Bring her, if that is all it takes for us to have peace between us.”

In the end, there had been no forcing, no coercion. Now, Gunna couldn’t imagine happiness without her stubborn, quiet husband and their beautiful child. Like Tora, Gunna felt great sympathy in her heart for both the daughter and the already spoken for boy. Love, it would seem, dares all, endures all, survives all, even when others decree it should never come into being in the first place.

Gunna, now seated by the low burning fire next to Tora, jumped slightly at the sound of a stool knocked to the floor. Her head turned instinctively to the corner where the hunter sat, his face bearing a startled look of embarrassment. But, instead of apologizing, the man pursed his lips and whistled. With a bound, his huge, hairy dog galloped into the small house. Gunna was more startled than offended. The dog seemed quite obedient to its master’s commands. In fact, it curled itself right up at his feet and settled down at once without any upset. But still, the mother in her worried about the baby, who played happily in Mem’s lap. Before she could formulate a protest though, the man was speaking.

“This girl who’s run off,” he asked, hesitantly. “Is it, well, is it really that terrible what she’s done? So long as everything is done…properly, I suppose is the word…then what matters who she was engaged to? I don’t understand the ways of your folk in these matters….I understand precious little about these matters amongst my own folk to be sure. But if I were ever to marry…well…” He faltered a moment, but went on. “I wouldn’t want to marry a girl who’d been stopped from running off with someone else just because she was supposed to marry me. I would want her to, well, not run off…if you see what I mean…”

Gunna did see, with perfect clarity. So, despite her misgivings, this Borrim, this Hunta who had manfully put up with the unenviable task he had been assigned by his mistress, was not so unlike her own Dag. Men of action, not words. Men who cared little for conventions, and listened to their own hearts. Strong, skilled men who would not hesitate to use force to protect themselves, or those they cared for, but who realized that force brought to bear in a marriage was folly. Perhaps, then, these northern cousins were not as alien as they might seem, at least some of them.

Unknowingly, Gunna smiled at the hunter, who had stumbled to a halt and looked even more embarrassed for having spoken. “What you say makes sense, Hunta.” Gunna replied. “Although unfortunately, I’m sure many will not see it that way. Halma and the boy’s parents, certainly. In our community here, there are many traditions surrounding the betrothal of a man to a woman. Such a promised union creates ties between one family and another, ties not easily discarded. Our people are bound by many such ties, each to the other. Ties of blood, ties of marriage, ties of loyalty cemented by oath giving.” Her thoughts flew briefly to Ulfast and his sword, but she forced herself to bury that nagging fear deep in her heart. “I’m sure it is the same with the people of Bor. In one way or many, you must be bound to the others of your clan. To break those ties must be frowned upon very severely, is it not so?”

The question had been asked in all innocence, but a stillness fell on the room as each considered Gunna’s words and what the arrival of the elves would mean to the loyalties of every family, every man, woman and child, from chieftain to ambassador, from farmer to smith to hunter.
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Old 01-09-2007, 02:24 PM   #72
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Kata gathers her family to leave.....

Káta’s brow furrowed at first as Gunna began to speak. The man’s word’s had not made sense. It was the family, the parents, who made the marriage. Sentiments of love, more like to be feelings of ‘need’, were transitory. It was the ties made between families; the passing of herd-wealth between them; the status, the position gained, which formed the first basis for the wedding of one family with another. Parents strove to choose well for their children as well as for the family. At least that is how her mother and father had done for her. Affection, her mother and her grandmother had told her, would come with time as the man and woman came to know each other; to fit together as husband and wife, as parents themselves.

And so it had been between her and Grimr.....and so it would be for her sons and daughter when the time came.

Káta pursed her lips and cast her eyes briefly toward Granny. Now what had that old woman been talking about to Mem? Fálki, was it? She gave Mem an appraising look. Hmmmm..... Fálki was still young; Mem even younger. And what with the move to this new land and the effort of settling the family in, she and Grimr had not yet turned their thoughts to the making of ties between their family and another family of those other Ulfings who had come west. She gave a sly little smile and nodded her head. This might prove a suitable family with which to make ties. I will speak with Grimr tonight about this, she thought to herself. And perhaps we can arrange some little get together. I have been blind to my son’s inclinations! she chided herself.

‘Jóra!’ she called out as her daughter set down the teapot near the fire and looked to be settling down to hold the baby once again. ‘Help Granny up, won’t you little bird?’ She smiled at Gunna. ‘We need to be getting back, Gunna. Grimr will worry if we are too long away. Mem, so good to see you once again. I’ve no doubt your skilful fingers will turn the wool we’ve brought into more of your fine thread.’

Granny and Jóra joined her near the doorway. ‘I hope you enjoy the goose we brought. Grimr and the twins brought it down just today.’ She made her good-byes to Tora before leaving, and nodded politely toward the Borrim man. ‘Come on, you two!’ she prompted her daughter and Granny. ‘Jóra, bring the cart near, won’t you? And, yes,’ she said grinning at the pleading face the young girl had put on. ‘You can take the reins for the trip back.’

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Old 01-10-2007, 09:52 AM   #73
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Erling had shivered by the thought of elves reading his thoughts, it was a thought that did not please him one bit.

He had always felt uncomfortable about the elves for their different manners. When he had heard the first rumours and seen the first indication that they possessed magical powers, he had not really believed it, but with time as the rumours had increased and Erling him self had seen the elves; he had no choice to believe it and thus he became more suspicious of them.

That they also possessed the power to read his mind was a thought almost unbearable for Erling. Thoughts were not something to be read by every one who might wish to do so, his thoughts was his alone and he was very careful about not sharing more of them than he had to.

"read ones mind you say. . . I had no idea that they where so sinister. One cannot help but wonder how they achieved such powers, not by growing crops one suspects" Erling looked over his shoulder as if he expected the elven lords to stand lurking in a corner of the cottage."hmmm our old lord as well you say, you should be careful Grimr, I would not want to see you get involved in something you cannot control" Erling took a draught of the ale as he looked straight into the eyes of Grimr. "In fact I think I shall join you to the next meeting, I mean one needs clarity about these elves and two minds thinks better than one, Imagine what several could do" Erling said with a glimpse in his eye.

Grimr nodded in approval and no other word was uttered about the subject that day, after some lighter conversation and a considerably amount of ale Erling said his goodbyes and left for his home.

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Old 01-11-2007, 01:31 PM   #74
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“Foolish woman, you know nothing of war, do you?”

Jord could have laughed, though she would have laughed harder if she could only grab the man by the throat and dig her fingernails into his skin. She was fairly certain that, even in this simple human body, she could tear into his esophagus without too much trouble, if she found the proper tender spot. At least the human body was more resilient than it appeared. Unfortunately for them, men could live for a long time even when it seemed they should not. The spirit of mortals were too attached to their bodies, and they suffered for it. And yet all they did was harm what they so loved. They made war, and they made it a bad thing.

She had been a part of a war for millennia, the War. Over the years, thousands of lives had been simple puppets, controlled by few lives, which were in turn controlled by other forces, whether by fate or by higher powers that they could not imagine…if there was a difference. And this man was just another toy, who just happened to be allowed to play with a few dolls. As long as he was good, he got to pretend. And she would play pretend with him.

“You may not be King, but you are his mind as he grows older. You take good care of your father, Uldor,” she grinned, and did not care that her expression could only be seen as malicious, “You are a good son. And your father more than respects your opinion.”

The man gave her a level look. He made her sick. Thrown out of the kingdom for violent crimes, violence far worse than the bloodshed on the battlefield he spoke so sorrowfully of, and yet he clung to the idea that he had virtue left. That man’s essence was virtuous. That the greed, the lust, and the violent arrogance that they indulged in was just a side-effect of something gone wrong in the universe, something not under their control.

And they thought they were free.

“You believe…no, you know the Elves will not hold to their…oath,” she voiced the word with mild amusement. They, the righteous ones, were sealed to their vows, and doomed by them. “And what of yours?” She paused only a second.

“But oh! I spoke wrongly, did I not?” she said as if a sudden thought had entered her mind, tilting her head to the side and staring off without looking at anything. “It isn’t yours, is it?” she questioned, but did not allow him to respond, “You made no oath. Your father did. Your father is a wise man, who makes promises to keep them…but perhaps you are the wiser, who does not make them at all.”

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Old 01-13-2007, 12:30 PM   #75
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Seeing that Kata, Jora and Dulaan were about to leave, Tora thought it was high time she went too. Dag was surely to have finished the knife by this time, and anyway, she did not feel quite comfortable in having to spend so much time in the company of the Borrim hunter, although she felt slightly uneasy for leaving Gunna and Mem alone with him. Yet it was really getting late, so there was nothing she could do than announce her departure.

"Well, I think I should be going too, Gunna." she said. "Surely Master Dag must have finished my father's knife by now. He was in a hurry anyway, as he was working at something else."

Here Tora paused. She wondered whether she could ask her question or not, whether it was safe to speak about such matters in front of so many people. Yet she trusted them, and anyway such a thing could not remain secret for too long in a place as theirs.

"You know, Gunna," she began, "Master Dag was telling me that he was making a sword for Ulfang's son? What can this mean, I wonder? And which son? Has he told you any of these things? Are we...are we alowed to speak of them?"

Tora stopped, biting her lips. Now she regretted saying it. Maybe it was something beyond her understanding, a matter of much greater importance than the insignificant pieces of gossip that were usually debated among the villagers. And also, she thought of the Borrim hunter. Would he say anything of this to his people? Was the forging of a sword for one of the chieftain's sons, perhaps, something that the people of the Borrim were not intended to know?
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Old 01-15-2007, 03:13 PM   #76
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After Fastarr had taken the horses back to Khandr’s stables he had taken a very light take-away lunch, just some carrots and bread from the street vendors on his way to his tent. There he took a short nap and then headed to the local sweatlodge carrying his best clothes with him.

The sweatlodge was indeed two tents placed on the northern end of the nearest marketsquare. The place was kept by an old lady named Svana with his adult son Willap. They were an odd pair to run a bussiness but one of those Fastarr had learned to like in a way in this village he was otherwise so uncomfortable with.

“The Horse-Man! Now what brings you here this early? Have you finally gotten a date for you my lad?” Old Svana laughed her hoarse laughter heartily as he greeted Fastarr. “Willap, get some new stones for our visitor! Hurry up now!” she called her son and turned back to Fastarr.

“Oh no, my lady”, Fastarr replied to her shaking his head and smiling back to her in a way that showed he had approved of her jesting. “But my lord is giving a feast to my kinsmen here this evening and I need to be clean and tidy to attend.” He picked a coin from his pocket and handed it to the old woman. Svana kept on looking at him when he took the coin and then said quietly, almost whispering: “So you have someone to whom your heart beats among your kin, now don’t you? Don’t try to fool an old lady... We recognise the shining in young mens eyes still, even though that flare is not meant for us any more my lad.” She winked an eye to him and then abruptly turned in her heels to call for her son. “C’mon Willap, get on with it! The Horse-Man is having a date and can’t wait for your lazy legs to get moving!” Fastarr handed her his better clothes. At first Svana only nodded but then she bursted laughing again. “Oh, you young men... you’re just such open books!” She paused for a second. “Nevermind an old lady, nevermind...” She gestured him towards the tents still trying to calm down her laughter. “That lazy-bone Willap will be ready soon. Don’t worry”, she added and then turned to examine Fastarr’s clean clothes to see what trimming there was to be done.

Fastarr undressed behind a tottering curtain that had been erected beside the entrance to the actual sweatlodge. He was arranging his dirty clothes to the bench when Willap came out from the tent cheeks glowing red. “Good day to you sir! Just a moment sir!” he said as he kneeled to lay the iron rack that was filled with faintly steaming stones to the ground with his heavy gloves and went back in. Fastarr hesitated a moment in front of the selection of herbs laid on the other side of the bench but finally decided to take a bunch of sage and a few twigs of rosemary. He felt the cold wind in his bones standing there naked and waiting for Willap to come out. The curtains opened soon enough and the figure of a man emerged from inside. He took the rack he had left outside and pulled it up. “It’s all yours sir. It should be good now”, he said and turned away.

Inside the tent it was warm and humid. The flickering light from the two lamps buried on the ground at the each side of the hot stone-rack made everything look cozy and homely to him. Fastarr ripped the herbs over the stones, took the waterbucket and sat down to a straw mat a few feet away from the stones. For a moment he just enjoyed the warmth and relative darkness. He was alone. What a bliss!, he thought to himself and closed his eyes. Slowly the scent of the herbs started to reach him and the warmth wrapped him from all around...

After a while of just enjoying the moment Fastarr took a ladleful of water and threw it over the hot stones. They made a hissing sound and he could feel the warm steam begin to surround him. The temperature was rising fast. After throwing another ladle of water he had to bend down as it was getting too hot for him to sit straight. The warmth and the scent of the herbs were everywhere around him and slowly also in him. The sweat was running in little streams from all around his body. He could taste the saltiness of it with his lips as it poured down his face.

At that moment his mind was blank. There were no worries, no problems to solve, no tasks ahead or behind; no memories, no future, but just the here and now. Fastarr threw a few rounds of water over the stonerack and just fell into the abyss of the moment.

After a while the herbs started to lose their distinct flavor and Fastarr felt himself ready. He crawled out from the tent and hurriedly slipped to the other one before the chill afternoon wind could freeze him. There the lighting was a bit brighter and there was also an open fire going on under a large tub of steaming water. He washed himself thoroughly and finally poured a vat of flowerpetal scented cold water over him. From beside the entrance he took a towel and dried himself thoroughly before stepping outside. His finer clothes were trimmed and neatly folded on the bench waiting for him.

Fastarr dressed and combed his hair. Then he adjusted the plate mirror to a right angle and started cutting his cheekbeard with the scimitar. His skin was pore and elastic and the hairs were soft after the warmth. There was no better time to shave than after a sweatlodge and he knew it well. At last he trimmed his chinbeard and tied it with the tin ribbons he had taken off before going into the sauna. It had been like a ritual and a ritual it indeed was for him here in the strange lands. A knot that tied him to his home and kin far away.

Svana looked at him quizzically as he came forwards looking clean and shaven in his best outfit. But before she had time to make any nosy remarks Fastarr thanked him heartily: “As good as always, if not even better today my dear lady!” With that he took his purse and scimitar the old lady handed to him and tied them to his belt.

Svana raised her right eyebrow in a way only she could do. “Sad our girls haven’t pinned their eyes on you already Horse-Man... or is it you who refuse to see them? But I’ll wish you all the luck tonight”, she winked her eye again and made one of her hoarse laughs after it smiling openly. “And your clothes will be ready tomorrow morning as usual”, she added nodding towards the huge cauldron under which Willap was tending a small fire. She curtsied to him as he gave him another coin and then gave another laugh.

“To tomorrow!” Fastarr said to her as he left.
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Old 01-16-2007, 06:42 AM   #77
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Lachrandir and Tathren departed from Ulfang's private apartments behind the Hall by a side exit, so as to avoid crossing the banquet of the Easterling nobles once more. It had been patent that their presence, and the command Lachrandir brought, and most of all the obligatory Oath, had disturbed the gathering of men, and even Lachrandir at his most harsh had no wish to disconcert his hosts unnecessarily. He gave the Elfling beside him a swift clap on the shoulder as they passed through one of the main streets of the Ulfing settlement, their light tread scarcely leaving marks on the muck that festooned the cobbles.

"Not bad, my colt. Who knows, perhaps in our next audience you can address the Chieftain...I wonder if he'll notice the difference..."

Tathren stayed quiet. Lachrandir fell silent in response, feeling a little rebuked. The boy was right to reproach his frivolous speech, perhaps; everything was not straightforward, that was clear. The Chieftain was weak in mind but strong in will; a will that favoured, unto extremes, this complicated figure, this grave Atan fellow Uldor; who seemed to have the most quality and power about him of the brothers, but who also seemed, if not grudging to the Elvish envoys, then at least reticent.

"No more of our business this eve," Lachrandir said, "at least, not diectly. Courtesy demands that we go next to the house of one Khandr."

"Courtesy?" Tanreth asked, puzzled. "Should not courtesy have kept us in the Chieftain's Hall?"

"Nay, lad. This Khandr, you see, is in the service of our own Paramount Lord, one who ultimately commands our arms and loyalty still more than Caranthir - though those claims shall never, of course, conflict. Khandr is a servant of Himring, left in the south to treat with Ulfang; and it is well that the servant should know what the master intends."

"Indeed," Tathren assented. "Do you know where the house of this Khandr lies?"

"I believe it is rather in a great pavilion that he makes his dwelling, but many of the notables among these Men live similarly in tents. We shall have to ask elsewhere; yet that would, I think, be no bad thing. I have a certain desire to see how those of the Ulfings whose respect we truly need to command - fighters, rather than the loafers and parasites who slump in yonder Hall - spend their days. We shall stop and ask for news at one of these, ah, homesteads, as we make our way."

The pair of ambassadors had experienced small impediments even on their path through the crowded thoroughfare, as the inhabitants of the township generally scrambled aside out of their way. But though their journey was clear and easy, they felt the wait of scores of startled gazes, some men staring openly from the sides of the streets, women watching from higher apertures in mud or timper walls, unidentified figures in the shadow of a tent's flaps. These the Elves did their best to ignore. Soon enough they had passed through the worst of the throng, and Lachrandir pointed ahead to a sturdy looking door in a hut better appointed than many.

"Shall we enquire after Khandr there?"

"If you wish."

Lachrandir stepped forward and knocked, firmly, even ringingly, on the door of the house of Grimr.

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Old 01-16-2007, 11:57 AM   #78
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With Erling gone, Grimr poured himself another cup of ale and wandered about the main-room of his house. His eyes flicked over the furnishings, coming to rest on Káta’s loom. His family; his house; his very heart. A satisfied smile infused his features.

And a certain happiness stole over him.....along with a small prickle of unease. Take care, fool! he admonished himself in silence. Too much pride, too much boasting could turn good luck sour.

‘Gods keep us safe and prosperous!’ he murmured fervently. He took a deep breath, blowing it out slowly as he held up his open hand, palm outwards. A sign of warding against ill fortune.

A sudden knocking at his door startled Grimr, and he shook off the disquiet of the moment. ‘Erling! Is that you, my friend? Have you forgotten something?’

A few strides brought him to the entryway and he threw open the thick wood door, a grin on his face. His brows raised, the grin slid from his lips as he looked up at the tall man standing expectantly before him. No, not man.....Elf! Grimr schooled his face so that it bore a neutral look and asked how he might be of help.

~*~

Grimr watched as the tall fellow and his companion turned away from the door and started off in the direction of the Borrim’s house. Now imagine that, he thought to himself, they wanted directions. Lost, like ordinary folk might be. Ordinary.....hunnnnh!

‘That’s right!’ he called out as one of them turned back briefly, as if seeking confirmation of their direction. ‘Go further into town.....near the smith’s place......and towards the setting sun, then. Can’t miss it.’ He waved them off, stepping away quickly, back inside his home.

And made another sign of warding against ill luck.....

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Hunta was in well over his head and he knew it, and like any good hunter he knew when to give up the chase. To Gunna’s question he replied merely with a noncommittal grunt. Fortunately for him, he was spared any further embarrassment by the activity surrounding the departure of what seemed to him a herd of females. He scrambled to his feet and tried to escape in the midst of the activity, but Gunna called out to him. “Wait! You have forgotten your cheese!” So desperate was he to be apart from these women and their mind-boggling ways he almost considered pressing ahead without it…but the memory of the savoury flavours of the cheeses made by their southern cousins brought him up short.

He waited outside the door impatiently while Gunna collected it, turning over and over in his mind what in the world he was to report to the lord. That the women of this city, like women everywhere, were full of such gossip and foolishness as would drive a man mad? That all they thought of were marriages and the misbehaving of children and the petty demands of household life? There may, he supposed, be some interest in the sword that was being forged. He would not have paid any heed to that but for the woman’s consternation at having let it dribble from her mouth. Yes, at least he would have that to report to his people.

Gunna came out with a large wheel of cheese and passed it to him, saying “Thank you again, Hunta, for carrying this. And thank you for staying to have some tea.”

“Thank you for the tea,” was all he could think to say in return, then whistling for Laylah to cover this latest embarrassment, he stalked away from the house. He did his best not to hurry and thus reveal the full extent of his relief at his escape.

As he walked from the house he saw coming toward him two tall strangers. He immediately recognised them as Elves, even though he had never seen such people before. He stumbled to a halt for a moment as he regarded them. They were indeed fair folk, tall and graceful, with features that were clear and fresh but also aged and full of wisdom. One of them glanced in his direction and Hunta found himself gazing into two deep eyes that glittered like starlight. He quickly ducked his head, overcome by a queer feeling the likes of which had never yet come to his isolated and callow heart. Rather than face them directly he slunk into a side street and found a different way back to the house of the lord Khandr.

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Old 01-16-2007, 02:40 PM   #79
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With some relief, Gunna had leapt up as Kata began making her good-byes and shepherding her daughter out the door to fetch the cart. The gathering had been an awkward one. Gunna knew that Kata, Dulaan, and Tora would not misrepresent anything which had transpired here, but she feared that the wagging tongues of her neighbors might make overmuch of the visit of the Borrim stranger. She saw that he, too, was more than ready to depart, with a quietly desperate scowl on his brow.

Tora had also stood, explaining that she too must leave. Gunna had just turned to speak with Kata when the young woman queried, “You know, Gunna, Master Dag was telling me that he was making a sword for Ulfang's son? What can this mean, I wonder? And which son? Has he told you any of these things? Are we...are we allowed to speak of them?”

Tora stopped suddenly and chewed nervously on her lip, as if perhaps she had said more than she had intended. Gunna glanced instinctively at the Borrim, but he was himself rising to go and, if he had heeded her words or if they meant aught to him, he gave no sign. Indeed, he was at the door in an instant, and did not pause, but passed through quickly.

Suddenly remembering the whole reason why he had accompanied her home in the first place, Gunna roused herself and called after him, “Wait! You have forgotten your cheese!” Scooping up the large, white cheese, she hurried out the door behind Kata and Dulaan, who had finished their good-byes to Mem and the baby.

“Thank you again, Hunta, for carrying this” Gunna said politely, handing him the cheese. “And thank you for staying to have some tea.”

“Thank you for the tea,” he replied gruffly, then whistled for his dog, turned on his heel and stalked off down the narrow street. Gunna smiled to herself, knowing Dag too would have been similarly embarrassed to be forced to take tea with a flock of cackling hens.

Stepping back into her little house, Gunna saw that Tora still wore a worried look on her face. Gunna smiled reassuringly and placed her hand on the girl’s shoulder, saying, “Don’t worry. You said nothing wrong. I’m sure that one has no interest in the work of a smith.” She nodded her head at the door through which Hunta had just left. “And it’s not as if the word won’t get around, if it hasn’t already. It was Ulfast who is having the sword made. You know how these chieftains love to throw their weight around – if they want something, it must be done right away. Everyone else can wait.” Gunna forced a laugh and rolled her eyes comically, although she knew none of her friends would be deceived by her assumed levity. At least, Kata and old Dulaan would know full well that even such apparently business-like arrangements often led to more formal bonds of obligation and loyalty. “But I’m sure Dag will be finished with your father’s work now. Run along, and tell him not to forget his dinner!”

Gunna turned to make her farewell to the others. She embraced old granny warmly, saying, “We don’t see you enough, Dulaan. Come keep us company anytime. You need to teach Mem more of those songs of yours.” Then, cupping Jóra’s chin in her hand and smiling, Gunna told the girl, “If you don’t stop growing so fast, your mother and father will have to find a giant for you to marry, maybe one of these elves – I hear they are as tall as a birch tree.” The little girl’s eyes widened at the improbable, but fascinating, thought.

Finally, Gunna laid her hand on Kata’s arm, turning her away from the others slightly. “I would talk to you a moment, Kata. This matter of the sword . . . “ Here, Gunna lowered her voice. “It has me worried, in spite of what I said just now. I . . . I wish sometimes that Dag did not keep so to himself. He . . . he thinks that if he stays apart, stays out of these endless squabblings between the chieftains, that he will escape being drawn into their plots and schemes. But I am worried.” Her dark eyes looked deeply into her friends’, an unspoken bond of understanding passing between them. These things, a woman knew . . . and feared. “Grimr knows so many of the folk here in the town, and in the countryside. I’m sure he must talk with the other men. If . . . if only Dag could speak with him. Perhaps Grimr could advise him.”
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Old 01-16-2007, 08:19 PM   #80
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‘Well, now, that’s just the problem isn’t it,’ Káta said nodding her head as Gunna spoke. ‘There is no “staying apart”, is there?’

Jóra had gone off to fetch the cart and bring it round. The girl grinned at her mother and waved. Her attention was diverted back to the cart as Granny hailed her, motioning for Jóra to give her a hand up. Káta waved back, raising her brows toward Granny. ‘Put the brake on,’ she mouthed in an exaggerated way. She flicked her hand at her daughter. ‘Help her up!’

Káta turned back to Gunna, placing her hand lightly on the woman’s arm. ‘We’re already drawn in to their plots and schemes. And most men, the gods love’m, are like horses with blinders. They need a little help, a little direction, a hint here and there.’ She crossed her arms and looked thoughtfully at Gunna, measuring how much she should confide. ‘With what fate offers us, we have to choose as best we can. We need to make sure our families are seen to. A good future secured for our children.....and our grandbabies, too..... Listen - I’ll have Grimr come pay a visit to Dag. I’m sure we have something that needs seeing to by a smith. The men can have a little talk about.....things.’

The cart pulled up; the wheels scattering scattering a little dust and a few pebbles as Jóra yanked on the little handbreak. ‘Meanwhile,’ continued Káta, putting her foot on the small step-up, ‘we women will continue as we always do. Gathering, spinning, weaving.....sharing the small things that knit us together.’

‘Come on, mami!’ Jóra’s eager voice broke in on the two women’s conversation.

‘Yes, yes.....alright!’ She clambered up into the cart, settling herself on the hard wood seat. Káta waved back at Gunna as the cart started off. ‘I’ll send Grimr.....soon as I can convince him what a great idea he had about talking to Dag.....’

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