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Old 10-25-2003, 07:20 AM   #121
Nerindel
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Sting

Toby Longholes

“T…T…Toby L…Longholes" he managed to stammered, his throat dry and hoarse from fear, he could feel himself shaking under the gaze of her sharp cold eyes, eyes that clearly marked the danger he was in. 'Well done Toby! Out of the frying pan into the fire!' he thought coldly. This was the person Barrold had been cursing just before he met with Kaldir and obviously the one The rangers where searching for, it all suddenly fell into place, making him feel more miserable than he thought possible.

He knew nothing of folk outside Breeland, a choice he now consciously regretted, oh! Yes, he had dealings with men other than those of Bree but he never much cared for the news of other folk unless it of course affected him directly. However, of elves he knew nothing only what fireside stories told, a wise and wondrous fair folk he recalled and until today, he had never met any. Now he had met two and within hours of one another, ‘not good’ he thought bitterly. Although this one was fairer than the other was and had more of a regal air, she terrified him. The one with the rangers had not spoken to him and when she did look his way, it had been with a kind and sympathetic eye. Which at the time he had bitterly resented, but now he half wished he were back at the inn under her soft gaze, Rather than under the murderous look of the elf before him. He felt trapped like a rabbit in its burrow and a sleek fox that would take pleasure playing with him if he tried to make for the opening blocked the only exit.

He could feel her taking measure of him and he shuddered slightly, He thought hard, he had to think of something before she decided that he had seen too much for her to keep him alive. "Y…y…you..." he began weakly, but then coughed hard to harden his resolve "You are Master Ferney's guest are you not?" He gulped and flinched involuntary as her hand pulled taunt the silk tread in her hands, "And what makes you think that Mr Longholes!" Her soft melodic voice still carried a hint of threat. "Err, I… I..." he stammered again, then he remembered the pouch in his hands, "I just passed Ferney's place, crawling with rangers it was," he exaggerated, "I figured he had a new guest if they were snooping about," he continued making sure the disdain was apparent when he spoke of the rangers.

"you are acquainted with Barrolds business!" she asked her eyes narrowing, making him again shiver, "I am aquatinted with his trade, I... err come across things that he might sell for a profit and on occasion I... eh watch things for him and tell him of things that he might be interested in," he explained.

"Thief and spy then!" she hissed mockingly, This made the hairs on the back of his neck raise and his boldness returned, "I'll have you know I proved an excellent spy for Barrolds cousin Bill during old Shark’s hold of the Shire and if it wasn't for the return of that... that.... Master Baggins and his busybody companions...” he spat heatedly, and then remembering his situation, he restrained his anger, and went on casually.

"Anyway you have not asked how I reasoned that you were their intent” he grinned proudly, but dropping it at her sharp impatient look. “W...well there was more than Rangers snooping about, there was one of your kind! A woman well armed and searching just as intently if not more so than the rangers. When I passed they stopped me and asked if I had seen any foreigners in town, but when I informed them that I had not they went back to their meddling. But I caught a few of their words, your name not the least.” The last was of course a complete fabrication but he was confident that he had pulled it off convincingly.

"This elf what did she look like?" Naiore commanded

a little surprised by the question, he had to think for a moment while he recalled how see looked, "She was tall and slender, with a noble bearing about her, her hair unlike yours was long and dark, but sunlight showed that it was flecked with gold. She did not speak but her grey eyes felt like they looked right into my heart.” He shivered as he recalled the woman’s unnerving gaze back at the prancing pony.

"Oh! and she had an exquisite silver brooch clasped at her pale neck, expensive it looked, the detail extensive, a tree of the likes I've never seen before flanked by a silvery crescent moon" he added as if just remembering its beauty and value.

The elf seemed to be deep in thought but as he shifted his footing uncomfortably, she shot him a look as if daring him to move that she could pounce. So instead, he sighed miserably and slumped to sit on the cold floor, waiting for her to decide what to do with him. The thought that Barrold himself might be joining them did not escape his mind, he could only hope that he was not seen at the house or that Barrold came straight to his guest without returning home.

Last edited by Nerindel; 03-12-2004 at 06:43 PM.
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Old 10-25-2003, 03:48 PM   #122
Hilde Bracegirdle
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Sting

Gilly

The hobbit had been relieved to be on the move again; relieved that no argument had broken out, and relieved also that Kaldir had not yet passed them on to anyone else in Bree having a worse disposition. It bought them precious time.

No mistake, Gilly thought Dúlrain had seemed pleasant and decent enough. And if she could, she would have willed him to see through the veneer of the bounty hunter’s words. It was a strange thing to witness the exchange between them. Still she was trying to make sense of it, as they entered the thoroughfare again. Dúlrain had spoken of the sword’s owner as a fellow ranger, loyal, brave and just. At first the hobbit thought that Kaldir might have slain him, but she saw no vengefulness in Dúlrain’s kindly grey eyes. Instead he had tried to show the sword to Kaldir, with whispers too soft for the hobbit to hear.

Kaldir, making no move toward the offered blade had held Dúlrain’s eyes for a lengthy time before declaring softly, “Your friend is dead, do not give such a thing to a ghost. Keep it in his memory.” If Gilly hadn’t the “pleasure” of the bounty hunter’s acquaintance, she would have thought he was referring to himself. But Kaldir was certainly of flesh and bone, and his daggers real, as she had discovered over the course of the past few days. Dúlrain had also given a pledge to help Kaldir in the form of a necklace, a marvelous whistle to call help to one’s side, before parting their company. Perhaps the sword had belonged to Kaldir’s brother and thus Dúlrain felt kindly disposed to him. That would fit, Gilly reasoned. Most families have a black sheep or two, though Kaldir was more near wolf than sheep to her mind.

“Stay very close to me,” Kaldir commanded them as he rode around taking position in front. “Not everyone in Bree is so polite as Mr. Dúlrain. The individual we seek would be quite happy to use your hides for new saddlebags.” Gilly frowned at this. Why should he warn them, as though he cared what became of them? Was he to collect bounty from the person he was seeking? Gilly sincerely hoped not. If she was to become a servant, she hoped that it would be to someone who would not feel better served by a new saddlebag than a capable hobbit. No it must be some other prize he sought, else why warn them except to protect his future profit.

Leading them to a storefront long abandoned, Kaldir gestured them down in order to follow him inside. Deftly unlocking the door, he pushed it open. The room was in a state, to say the least. “ Oh my!” Gilly uttered upon entering. “This place could sure use a good cleaning.” By about a half dozen of the most industrious of hobbits, she thought to herself. Lifting up the edges of her skirts she waded through the garbage and bones strewn about the floor, searching for a place to stand. Behind her Benia entered, lifting off her veil. It was the first time since they had broken camp that Gilly had seen her friend’s face, and that face spoke volumes to her accustomed eye. Gilly watched timidly as Benia, her jewelry flashing along her cheek approached Kaldir. “For whom do we search?” she asked simply. Gilly was taken back at the bold question. She saw Kaldir turn to search those kohl rimmed eyes.
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Old 10-25-2003, 06:48 PM   #123
Elora
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Sting

Naiore

Oh, she longed to drink in the hobbit's wretched fear. It had been so long and she had been denied this small quenching of a far deeper need for too long. The flash of defiance would only make the morsel a little sweeter. He slumped on the floor, a messy puddle of hobbit, right there to be taken. Perhaps he would squeak... perhaps a desultory struggle and then he would be gone...

By a tendril of restraint, Naiore withheld. Toby Longholes watched her hands draw the garrot taut and then relax. Instead she waved him to a nearby stone with a gracefully aloof gesture.

"Please, sit Master Longholes. I do detest mess." The measured modulation of her voice sounded as though she were a lady in the gleaming halls of her King, not a Ravennor in a cave near Bree. Naiore hated clutter. Toby dragged himself to the indicated perch and huddled miserably. Still, he was not as subdued as one may think. He calculated and connived, Naiore could feel the shape of his cunning move through his discomfort.

She took a steadying breath as her own thoughts wheeled.

"And so you are an associate of Barrold Ferney, Master Longholes. He has found satisfaction in your services in the past?"

"Yes.... no better than me," Toby replied with more than a hint of stubborn pride. He shifted again, uncomfortable beneath the weight of her relentless stare. Without a word, Naiore started to coil her garrot. Toby was flummoxed and she could sense his uncertainty.

So, Lespheria is about, and with the Dunedain rabble no doubt. Soiling herself by association with such mortal refuse of a failed nation washed up by unhappy circumstance when their mettle failed. A fierce flash of anger lit Naiore's gaze, betraying her ancient hatred for Gondor. Stowing her silk at her hip, where it would be ready, Toby found himself delicately positioned next to the Ravennor as she took a nearby rock and curled her lithe form to sit upon it.

"Did the Rangers also have satisfaction of your services, Master Longholes?"

Toby stammered as he fished about. Naiore's lips curved into a knowing smile. She placed a long fingered hand gloved in black on his shoulder lightly. He stilled, mouth drying further and swallowing any words he may have caught.

"No need to answer, Toby. We both know the way of such things, do we not?" Toby nodded and shook his head, unsure of which answer would best behoove him and the sinking feeling that none would. Naiore ran a light finger down Toby's cheek and then withdrew, her face once again dangerous serenity.

"Tell me, who else have you seen in Bree of late, Master Longholes?" She fixed a cool gaze on Toby squarely, filled with the certainty of a reply. Toby's brow furrowed as he wondered what she would want to hear as well as how to zip past her into the open. Both were knotty conundrums.

He cannot be permitted to leave now, and he will soon realise it. Strip him of all value and leave his body here... or mayhap he has some future use... What better than a Hobbit for entry to the Shire...

Toby was listing a string of local names, none of which interested Naiore in the least. Her patience wore thin and it showed in the way she cut across his stream of ridiculous botanical names that were the fashion in these rustic lands.

"I care not for those to whom you owe money or those who owe you money, and well you know it. Perhaps you would be interested to learn that those who disappoint me seem to be cursed with unfortunate ends that would make the hairs on your toes curl, Master Longholes. Hardly the topic of polite conversation."

Naiore spoke casually, as though discussing the weather or grain harvest. Toby shivered and watched her cock her head and smile strangely, almost as if she were tempting him with something.

"Those who please me are well rewarded for their service and wisdom. Few are able to reward as handsomely as I, and that is no idle boast.

"Perhaps you have observed something of interest to me recently. I do hope so."

Toby knew that somewhere in there was a threat. She seemed to wear threat like a mantle, and he didn't much like her smile either. Still... rewards... maybe there was a way in on Barrold's rich scheme. If so he'd have to make the most of it before the Man appeared to put an end to it.

"I... I saw Barrold talking to someone last night," he ventured. He found himself rewarded with an expression of genuine pleasure and warmed to his task.

"I will be rewarded,"

"Amply, good Master Longholes. I am as good as my word." Incongruous as that was, a Ravennor as good as her word, Naiore meant it. Naiore listened intently as Toby unfolded his tale of Kaldir. When he was done, the cave was silent. He dared a furtive glance at the Elf by his side and regretted it. She was fell and dangerous, no matter how big her purse was. After a time, Naiore broke from her musings.

"You've done well, Master Longholes, and I am pleased. I can see why Barrold retains your services. A master spy indeed. 'Tis fortunate we met for I can well use your remarkable talent for observation."

Alarm blossomed in Toby renewed as it became obvious he was not about to part company with Naiore any time soon. She shook her head as though fondly waiting out the intemperate objections of a child.

"Really, Master Longholes, you did not expect me to send you off with Rangers looking for you after having seen me? One of your professional standing should know better." Toby heaved a miserable sigh.

"Such glumness when you are set to become one of the most powerful and wealthiest Hobbit ever! You are a mystery indeed. Fascinating."

Naiore's voice was drily amused as she stretched her long legs and settled in.

"No, I'm afraid you'll be sharing my company yet. You have two choices and you would be advised to ponder them well. Prove yourself of use and I will keep you with me. Prove yourself useless or trouble and I will leave behind your lifeless remains. Alive and rich, or dead.

The decision is yours, Master Longholes."

With that, Naiore fell as silent as the stone she sat upon. She settled with the ease of her kindred to let time pass her by, awaiting Barrold's return.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Barrold

Barrold was not idly tarrying. Indeed, Tallas was giving him much more trouble than any old man had any business being. Grim and surprisingly strong and wiry, it was like trying to subdue a snake. Tallas could twist and strike with his staff with blinding speed and painful accuracy.

Still it was one man against two. Fight as he did, Barrold had enough of such stoushes to know that sooner or later they would put an end to him. Wheezing after earning Tallas' staff to his sternum, Barrold gasped, "Enjoyed that, I 'ope old man."

He circled warily with Avanill, who seemed unusually fierce and preoccupied at the man's jibes. Then with an shout of animal murder, Barrold lunged forward with his dagger reaching for Tallas' blood just as Avanill sprang into action. The two men hit Tallas hard, and they tumbled to the ground with a thud that sent dust and leaves spraying skywards. Sunlight flashed off daggers raised and suddenly dropped, bright gleams of death reflected, first clean blades and then bloodied red.

The knot of men crabbed across the ground, hands clawing and feet kicking, grunting between clenched teeth. It was wildly chaotic, atavistic struggle beneath the woodland trees. In the dappled light, life was being ruined but not quietly and not without a struggle. Across the ground they lurched, towards a tree that bore a prisoner whose horrified gaze was torn between Tallas being stabbed before her and the dagger he had given her.

She had been able to saw through some of the rope, but when the first dagger strike met Tallas' flesh, she had sagged in horror. Her healer's senses of injury and pain were being torn as surely as Tallas was. Desperation had her teeth clenched against the sensations of death and violence. With a snarl, she stowed the dagger beneath her tunic as best the ropes would allow and launched herself as best as she could, untrained and untutored, towards the murderous knot of Avanill and Barrold as they stole Tallas' life from him.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
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Characters: Rosmarin: Lady of Cardolan; Lochared: Vagabond of Dunland; Simra: Daughter of Khand; Naiore: Lady of the Sweet Swan; Menecin: Bard of the Singing Seas; Vanwe: Lost Maiden; Ronnan: Lord of Thieves; and, Uien of the Twilight
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Old 10-25-2003, 09:42 PM   #124
Everdawn
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Silmaril

Avanill

Avanill's deep blue eyes narrowed, his face was twisted in fury. "You know nothing old man! My fahter did not know of me and i am gald! If he were alive after escaping Atantri's wrath, no sooner would i learn his name than take his blood myself!" he yelled at the body which lay limply, covered in blood on the ground.

The cold rage which had filled his body for the short time, began to subside. He bent to wipe his dagger on the grass, still breathing heavily. "Allright Boy?" Barrold asked, sitting catching his breath as well. Avanill nodded, frowning.


He noticed Vanwe standing, watchign them with cool horror in her eyes, Avanill waved his dagger in the direction of the body, staring her in the eye. "He deserved to die!" Vanwe began to weep. "Becuase he spoke of your father? You both killed him!" she wailed.

In one quick stride Avanill reached her and grabed her head with one hand. "You have no idea, my father would have betray my mother to her death!" his voice was low. "Thats enough Avanill!" came the shouts of Barrold. "Leave 'er," Avanill threw his dagger down onto the ground, and sat, now completely calm, dwelling on deep thoughts.

"Now, darlin' Dont want another outburst like that, or who knows what that man wil do to yeh." He heard Barrold speak to Vanwe. He couldnt care less. Once his anger had subsided, Avanill removed his bloodsoaked shirt and placed it in his bag, the took a new one out and put it on.

How did he know? Did the old man know Atantri?he thought before turning ot Barrold. "Ferney, I think it best we get what we need before someone turns up."
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Old 10-26-2003, 10:44 PM   #125
Ealasaide
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Sting

Benia

As they left the ranger Dulrain behind and rode back into the traffic of market day Bree, Benia found her thoughts and emotions in turmoil. On one level, she was deeply puzzled by the exchange that she had witnessed between the bounty hunter and the gray-eyed ranger, while on another level, she was stunned by the strength of her own reaction to the stranger. Shrouded again in the heavy fabric of her veil, she allowed the bounty hunter to push past her on his gray horse and take the lead again as they re-entered the main thoroughfare. His warning, something about staying near him and new saddlebags, was mostly lost to her in the muffling effect of the veil and the competing street noises, but she nodded anyway. Let him make new saddlebags of her skin, if that was what he was about, but it would not be without a fight.

She reached up under the veil and wiped a bead of sweat from her hairline, replaying the scene from the side street in her mind. What had happened there, she was not sure, but it had been apparent to her that the two men had some sort of connection to one another, perhaps in the past, that the ranger had wished to pursue. The bounty hunter had not. She could tell by the way he held himself. Unable to hear most of what had been said, she remembered the way the bounty hunter had paled at the sight of the other man's second sword and refused to touch it when offered it. She wondered if that sword had been responsible for some of the scars borne by the bounty hunter. Yet, throughout the encounter, she had seen no malice in his eyes. Anger, yes, but it seemed an old, cold anger, one more of long-standing resentment than of hatred or the desire for revenge. As for the other man...

She felt a slight flush rising again in her cheeks as the memory of his gaze on her face washed over her. Her disappointment when he had turned and simply ridden away had been fierce, but, she reminded herself, he had left them the whistle. Granted, he had left it in the charge of the bounty hunter, but his offer of assistance had been made not only to Kaldir, but to her and Gilly as well. She wondered if Dulrain would raise a sword against the bounty hunter if she or Gilly were to summon him. Based on the scene she had just witnessed, she found herself unable to predict him, one way or the other.

The one thing she did know was that in that instant when Dulrain's eyes had first met hers, a charge had passed between them. It was that charge that had caused her to blush and momentarily loose her purpose. Regardless what the connection was between Dulrain and the bounty hunter, she felt that, in that instant, she had forged a connection with him as well. But which would prove stronger? Unlike the bounty hunter, this man seemed kind and just. If he was the ranger that he appeared to be, then in all likelihood, he was not only brave, but rooted in the paths of righteousness. After all, was he not one of the king’s own brethren? She knew better than to hope for the love of such a man, but if his regard or even his pity were offered, she would accept it. She and Gilly could not defeat the bounty hunter on their own.

She watched Kaldir’s broad shoulders as he led the way into the courtyard of a deserted shop and dismounted. Her heart sank when he gestured for her and Gilly to dismount as well. She was a little more familiar with Kaldir and cellars in empty buildings that she would have preferred to be. She hoped he didn’t intend to tie her and Gilly and leave them in the darkness, hungry and alone, as she had been back in that cellar near the Forsaken Inn. She didn’t think that she could bear it again. Hesitant to go anywhere near that evil-looking building, she watched as Kaldir drew his dagger and deftly forced the lock. The door swung open and he stepped inside. Filled with misgivings, she dismounted and followed Gilly into the filth of the deserted building. Stepping lightly at first, Benia was delighted to discover that her ankle had improved greatly. It scarcely pained her at all, so that she was able to walk with only a slight limp. A new hope surged through her.

Ahead of her, Gilly made a remark about the mess.

Benia smiled and, heartened by the improvement in her ankle, decided to take a chance. As the door swung shut behind her, she reached up and removed her veil, watching the bounty hunter closely as he gave the place a cursory search. The sudden thought that perhaps he was on the trail of yet another bounty to add to her and Gilly rose abruptly in her mind. She felt a flash of anger. Surely, it wasn’t another of her mother’s tribe that he sought. She knew that a small group of Painted Sand people had been traveling in the direction of Bree. In fact, before her unlucky fall on the stairs back at the inn, her plan had been to join up with them and travel south with them to the desert to assist in an important matter regarding another of her kinsmen. But her fall and subsequent encounter with the bounty hunter had changed all that. Since the bounty hunter had found her, it did seem reasonable that he would know about them as well. She must not allow them to be captured, too.

Not knowing what else to do, she stepped forward and asked the question in a calm, clear voice. “For whom do we search?”

Sheathing his dagger, Kaldir turned and gave her a long, thoughtful look. “Not one of yours, if that’s what troubles you, my lady,” he said finally, ignoring the fact that she had defied his order and removed her veil. “Our quarry is far more worrisome that a stray tribesman or two.”

“Then, who?” she asked stubbornly. It was easy enough to deny that he sought any of her fellow tribesmen, but, in order for her to believe it, she needed to know who the true quarry was. From the corner of her eye, she could see Gilly glancing worriedly back and forth between them.

For a long moment, the bounty hunter did not reply. Instead, he walked to the grimy window and with a corner of his cloak wiped clean a spot large enough to allow him to see the yard where they had left the horses. Satisfied that the horses were still there and waiting in good order, he returned his attention to Benia.

“Someone you may have heard of,” he answered, a bitter smile twitching on the corner of his lips. “It’s unfortunate that you happen to be with me now that she has surfaced, but since you are, I suppose you have a right to know. Her name is Naiore Dannan.”

Benia felt the blood drain from her face. “Naiore...” she echoed breathlessly. She reached behind herself and gripped the doorknob for support. She had heard tales of Naiore Dannan. Stories of her horrible and relentless cruelty were whispered throughout Middle Earth. In some circles, her name was spoken with nearly the same dread as that of Sauron himself.

“I see you know of her.” Kaldir leaned one shoulder against the window frame.

Stunned, Benia nodded. “But why do you seek her? She’ll kill you. She’ll kill all of us.”

“Because I have a score to settle with her,” Kaldir answered bluntly. Pushing himself away from the wall, he walked to where Benia stood. When he reached her, she half-expected him to strike her for her insolence, but, instead, he reached out a hand and touched the silver chain that traced a shining line across her cheek. “She stole something from me that no one has the right to take,” he said by way of an explanation. His icy blue eyes bored into Benia’s. “I intend to take it back.”

“What-” Benia started to ask, but the bounty hunter had already moved away.

“Put your veil on, “ he ordered her gruffly. “We have work to do.” He pushed past her out the door to the courtyard and the waiting horses, but as he passed she heard him murmur something else:

"I wasn't always the monster you see before you."

[ October 26, 2003: Message edited by: Ealasaide ]
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Old 10-27-2003, 01:02 AM   #126
Elora
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Sting

Barrold

Avanill ignored the disparaging glance that Barrold tossed in his direction upon receiving the younger man's directive. He seemed distracted, and not by Vanwe's disorderly conduct either. Barrold stowed away some names Avanill had let fall in the scuffle into the dim recesses of his cunning mind as he made a show of brushing the dirt off his tunic.

Avanill had already changed his shirt. Barrold studied the front of his own. The meals of a good month could be seen, along with evidence of other handiwork. The latest was simply that. Not his first and nor his last, Tallas' blood would fade to a rusty dull brown stain just like the rest of them had. Done with his cursory homage to personal cleanliness, Barrold stowed his dagger, having had the foresight to clean it on his shirt first.

He ambled inside and peered around the old man's shack.

"Cosy," he observed as he looked about. When Avanill did not immediately appear inside, Barrold kicked the packed earth floor and shouted irritably for the boy.

"Oi! Get in 'ere and earn ya keep boyo!" A draft of suspicion crept over him and he returned to the door to glare out of it at Avanill, just in case he was busying himself with Vanwe. Avanill wasn't, but that didn't mean that he wouldn't. Barrold Ferney breathed more suspicion than air, which was just as well given his occupation.

"I'm coming, old man!" Avanill's reply was testy.

"'Ow am I gonna know which is what... all these bottles and most of them useless probably..." Avanill shouldered past Barrold into Tallas' home and started gathering bottles. Barrold saw him open one and sniff it experimentally before replacing the lid and dropping it into his pack.

A glance back out to Vanwe confirmed that she was still there. He could see the tears upon her face from here. She was staring at the bloodied crumpled man like a hawk.

"You! No trouble, Princess. You know what 'appens when you don't do as you're told. Tallas there, had ee of come out as we asked him to, all nice and proper, wouldn't be so indisposed as to bleed all over the place. A terrible mess, that..."

With a chuckle, Barrold turned back to the shack. Avanill's pack now jostled bottles together.

"Is it what she wants," Barrold asked with some anxious enthusiasm.

"She?" Avanill looked up from his consideration of what seemed to be powdered something or rather and frowned at Barrold. "Ah, yes... I think she'll be pleased... well pleased in fact." Barrold smiled, because that was good news. Lightened of spirit, he set to raiding Tallas' supplies of foods. He had as good a larder as he did range of odd plants and fungus stored in funny bottles.

When the two men emerged, their packs were considerably heavier. They eased them onto their backs and crossed to where Vanwe slumped in the ropes. Her head was bowed, but as they got closer, she lifted her head enough to fix both of them with sapphire eyes as cool as ice under starlight.

"Now, no trouble, Princess. I don't have time to entertain you now like we did this mornin'." Avanill wrapped a hand around the hilt of his knife. They stepped around Tallas' body.

"He's dead," she said in a voice that was as close to a growl as Barrold had ever heard. He chortled roundly, slapping his thigh in his amusement.

"You 'ear that, boyo! She's right smart, this one." Avanill only smiled, if it could be called that. Vanwe said no more. Barrold unknotted the rope and started to uncoil it from the tree. He came to a frayed part, a neat fray he was forced to admit, a precise one. He paused, studying it closely. He looked closely at Vanwe. She seemed worn somehow, wearied. Maybe she was stronger than she seemed to have frayed the rope with her struggles.

"Hurry Ferney," Avanill urged, interrupting Barrold's turning thoughts. He resumed his work and soon they were on their way. Vanwe trailed behind them on a short length of rope which pleased Barrold at the opportunity to yank on the rope and drag her forward.

"Where're going," Avanill asked, conserving his breath for a hike.

"North Gate, or near abouts," Barrold reply, savagely yanking the rope. He heard Vanwe's lunge to keep her balance. If she was tired, maybe she'd trip. A few bruises wouldn't be too much damage, and it wasn't as though she hadn't earnt them.

"That's an hour away, at least," Avanill protested. Barrold merely shrugged and dragged suddenly at the rope again. There were some games that he would never tire of.
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Old 10-27-2003, 07:42 AM   #127
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Sting

Dúlrain

Dúlrain quickly scanned the note and set the sketched map to memory, "Let's go to Ferney's house," he said passing the note back to Maethor, that he too could read it. As they waited for Bob to bring Maethor's horse from the stables, he turned to see Maethor gingerly rubbing his aching jaw, "You fared well my friend, at least we know the elf maiden is alive and Barrold has a few less teeth," he quipped, but a small trace of guilt laced his voice. His reunion with Kaldir could have easily cost him another friend, silently he thanked Eru that luck seemed to be with him or her, but the feeling that he had now let down two of his brethren did not pass.

Just then, Bob brought out the rangers stallion, Maethor mounted with ease and the pair rode in silence, each with his own thoughts. Dúlrain, could not stop thinking on the words of his old friend, your friend is dead! However, he was not and Dúlrain knew he had failed his friend, breaking their oath and he could not tear the guilt from his mind, "he should hate me,” he whispered "I failed him!" he sighed heavily, drawing a puzzled look from his companion.

"Are you all right?" Maethor asked concerned, but Dúlrain pushed the thoughts aside and grinned at his companion "It is I that should be concerned about you my friend" he laughed lightly, "How are you feeling?"

"My jaw still aches a little, but the Drowsiness is beginning to lift... I... am still worried about the elf maiden, she was clearly terrified of her captors." he sighed.

"Have heart my friend, if they took the trouble to retrieve her, they must have some need of her..." "Or they fear Naiore enough not to let her go!" Maethor cut in, Dúlrain nodded his agreement ruefully and they went on further in silent reflection.

"You weren't the only one to meet a pretty lady today," he smiled trying to lighten the mood, "Oh, so that's where you were!" Maethor laughed raising an eye in mock surprise.

"Oh, it was nothing like that!” he gasped, “She was the wife of an old friend,” he quickly explained, but his cheeks flushed feverently regardless.

"When I first saw her shrouded in the heavy veils of a southern woman I thought perhaps it was Naiore..." he paused suddenly not wishing to tell of finding Kaldir alive until they where all together, for surely they would all wish to know that their Brethren was alive after so many years. "But as she revealed herself I knew my mistake." he continued and without even realizing he began to describe the southern woman to the ranger. “Her Kohl lined eyes made her large dark amber eyes stand out under her long lashes. A silver chain that ran from her left ear across her olive cheek to her left nostril only added to her beauty.” He smiled turning back to his companion.

"Your friend sounds like a lucky man to have such a beautiful wife.” Maethor grinned, stirring uncomfortably in his saddle. Dulrain again thought of Kaldir and guilt gripped him yet again, he could not deny that he had felt something as the woman had held his gaze. However, she was his friend’s wife. Therefore, what ever he had felt would just have to remain a pleasant memory.

"Yes, he is" he replied smiling, glad that at least his friend was not alone in what ever ailed him.

The two rangers fell into light and casual conversation as they continued towards Barrolds house. They checked their horses at the rill with the others and dismounted to see their fellows conversing in the yard of the old ram shackled building.

"Come friend" he smiled, "let us see if our friends have fared any better." some of his good hearted and confident nature returning.

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

Léspheria

“But we must now decide which course to take, to follow Vanwe on the trail we see before us, or to continue after Naiore with no trail. But that is our errand."

Léspheria could feel Rauthain waiting for one of them to answer, and as she looked up from her thoughts, she could see concern in his broad face, from the corner of her eye she could see Amandur deep in thought, considering what course to take. Léspheria could see no other course but the one before her.

"Naiore has gone to great trouble and at great risk to herself, to retrieve her daughter, I do not believe she would give that prize up so readily!" she exclaimed taking both rangers in her steady gaze.

She could feel Amandur's surprise as he followed her reasoning, only days ago had she been angered with Amandur's revelation that the rangers were using Vanwe to find Naiore. "If we follow Vanwe's captors they will inevitably lead us to Naiore." Amandur spoke to Rauthain, and she nodded her agreement, as the older ranger looked her way.

The damage had been done Vanwe was already in danger and by following this trail they may yet be able to free the young elf from her captors, "it is better this trail than none at all" she pressed seeing the hint of doubt in Rauthain's pale grey eyes.

"Then it is settled, as soon as the others return we will follow the hired hands to their mistress." Amandur stated, then almost as if on queue Dúlrain and Maethor walked briskly up the path towards them.

Léspheria lightly stepped aside allowing the rangers to rejoin their brothers. Her gaze strayed eastward towards her valley home and she wondered if the elves had yet told the unstable elf that he had a daughter. A part of her hoped that they had, “a little light in his darkness,” she whispered softly into the warm easterly breeze. However, a bigger part of her feared that the elf might just forsake his kin’s protection and go looking for the child. She sighed heavily; none could tell what went through the mind of that one? A genius on the edge of insanity, she thought wearily.

Turning back she lightly caught up to the four rangers, frowning slightly when she saw the blackish/blue bruising along Maethor's jaw, "What happened!" she asked, searching her satchel for the appropriate oil to relieve the ache and reduce the swelling.

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Old 10-29-2003, 04:30 PM   #128
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Gilly

Naiore Dannan? Gilly didn't care for this turn of conversation, and though she had never heard the name until now, judging from Miss Benia's reception of the news, and considering the grave manner in which Kaldir spoke, this Naiore did not seem someone she cared to meet. If only she and Benia could stay in the wine shop until Kaldir came back from his miserable errand. She didn't suppose he would accept her word that they would stay until he returned, but hoped that somehow any additional unpleasantness could be avoided.

And why the bounty hunter would even consider carting around three, she could not fathom. He did not seem keen on it, so why then? Particularly when their future companion was infamous, by the sound of it. She must bear a far greater price than a half-caste straggler of a proud but dying clan. Not to say that Kaldir appeared interested in wealth. Hadn’t Benia still her adornments? And Gilly’s small knife was the only item he chose to remove from the hobbit’s possession.

The hobbit saw Benia list backward, as if pushed by the force of a phantom tempest. "I see you know of her," Kaldir said observing Benia steady herself.

The southerner nodded slowly, "But why do you seek her? She'll kill
you. She'll kill all of us."

"…I have a score to settle with her," Kaldir stated, approaching Benia.
"She stole something from me that no one has the right to take. I intend to take it back."

Struck by an urgent desire to hide, Gilly eyed the casks about her, their round hinged lids she found vaguely comforting in her distress and she longed to climb inside one, disappearing from sight and Kaldir's recollection. But it wouldn't do to leave Miss Benia alone to face such a grim trial. And she saw that this scarred man would not allow them to withdraw at this point. “Put your veil on, we have work to do.” He gruffly commanded Benia as he pushed past her and out the door. Benia watched him go with a bewildered expression.

As soon as Kaldir cleared the doorway, Gilly rushed over to her frightened. “Are you well, Miss Benia?” she asked, her thoughts running in leaps and jumps. She felt as though she could no longer breathe.

Benia turned to look at her as though waking from a dream. “Yes,” she said distantly.

“Miss Benia, you must tell me who this Naiore is so that I might be prepared when the time comes. How does that Kaldir fellow expect us to defend ourselves when we haven’t a weapon between us!”

A sad smile upon her lips, Benia picked up her veil. “I’m afraid even Jack Nightshade’s sword would be hard pressed in a fight against the Ravennor of Mordor, and there is little that can be done to prepare for her. She is a fell elf, noble by blood yet was highly esteemed by Sauron. Cruel and cunning, many have wished for death that knew her.” Then shrouding herself once more in the dark folds, she placed her veil over her head, and stepped outside. Closing her eyes for a moment, Gilly summoned up her courage before following her.

Trailing Benia out into the yard, Gilly looked to the west. A ridge of dark clouds rimmed the horizon, like blue mountains set at the edge of the sky. Rain was coming, she thought, fervently hoping it would pass to the north. The horses stood patiently waiting. Walking over to her pony, Gilly noticed that Benia's leg seemed to be getting better, and she was now able to pull herself up onto her horse seemingly without pain.

Clutching at bags and packs, the hobbit tried to hoist herself onto the pony. She felt fortunate that it was a docile creature, putting up with her clumsy scrambling that occasionally threw it off balance. But in the end she gained her seat without assistance, and felt the happier for it.

[ October 30, 2003: Message edited by: Hilde Bracegirdle ]
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Old 10-29-2003, 07:09 PM   #129
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Maethor

Maethor cursed himself as he heard the trace of guilt in Dulrain’s voice as he dropped the offending hand that had been rubbing his jaw. It was, after all, only a mere beating: others had been hurt worse and complained less.

Dulrain seemed disturbed and Maethor asked gently, “Are you all right?” He noticed pointedly that Dulrain, though he laughed, had not answered the question. Deciding not to press the issue, Maethor wondered what could have disturbed him. As the young ranger wondered, he looked about him and saw that the ethereal blueness of the sky, the sky that lifted sorrow from the heavy hearts of men. Bright sunlight streamed from the firmament below and bathed the town in the glorious brilliance: the iron that bound the milk pails glistened in the light, windows glittered brightly, a rainbow shimmered delicately as it spanned the droplets of an overflowing water jug. The world was deceptively bright and cheery -- oblivious to the eidolon of evil that hovered malignantly within the peaceful town.

Soon they reached Ferney’s wretched abode. Maethor glanced at it, wrinkled his nose, and, humming a dreary tune of his own composing, said,

Here lies the dirt of swine,
The stench of sound decay.
Here dwelleth the realm of grime;
I advise we make haste away!”


“I’ve heard better,” Dulrain remarked wryly.

“Naturally, good sir, you have,” returned Maethor airily. “ ‘Tis hard to think in such a dung heap as this, and I am not the best poet,” he added with a smile.

They saw Rauthain, Amandur, and the elf Lespheria hurry to meet them, Lespheria crying out, “What happened?” as she rummaged for her healing oils.

“Stay your hand, Fair Elven Maiden!” Maethor laughed as he pushed her hand away. “Save your herbs of healing for those in more dire straights than I.”

Quickly, Maethor told his story, telling how he had met Vanwe and how the two ruffians had beset him and, much to his chagrin, had left him cold, probably because of some sleeping drought Avanill had made him breath.

“If we follow the tracks of Vanwe and Ferney and Avanill,” Lespheria said, “then they should lead us to Naiore.”

“Hopefully,” said Maethor, a dark glint entering his eye as he thought of the elf.

Together they journeyed back to the fortress of the woods: the woods that held many secrets within. They came across Maethor’s tracks and presently soon fell in where he and Vanwe had precipitously fled. “I should have led her back towards Bree,” he said softly to himself, “instead of rushing headlong into nowhere.”

Dulrain looked at him sympathetically and said, “Usually the best course of action opens itself to us after it is needed.”

Maethor nodded glumly in reply and followed the path, his eyes fixed upon the ground. Before, he had had little leisure to observe the beauty before him and even now all he could see were the little dimples and ruts of the forest earth, the briars that grasped after his leather boots with their wicked thorns, the weeds that straggled among the roots.

“It appears that they lead towards Tallas’ place,” said Lespheria, concern mirrored in her eyes. Maethor had never heard of Tallas before, but he was obviously much beloved, for the same alarm passed over the faces of the others. “We must hurry,” Lespheria said, quickening her pace.

As they hastened on, Maethor stooped and cried, “The tracks split!” Indeed: the heavy trod of the scoundrels veered sharply from the main path.

Rauthain bent down and said, “It appears they went forward and then retraced their steps,” he said. “Here is Vanwe’s,” he said pointing.

“Lespheria and I shall go ahead to Tallas,” said Amandur quickly. “The others can follow this new track.”

As the elf and ranger hurried along the first path, Maethor, Rauthain, and Dulrain plunged into the forest following the new trail. The forest rustled with woodland spirits as the rangers passed like shadows beneath their boughs.
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Old 10-30-2003, 12:14 AM   #130
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Naiore

After what seemed to be an intermidable stretch of time to Toby, Naiore broke from her silent stillness. She leant towards him to whisper at him the invective to remain silent and exactly where he was. "Not a muscle moves, Master Longhole, or I will know of it." Toby started to nod, and then given the fell fire of her eyes thought better. Satisfied that her hobbit guest would remain where he was, inspired towards obedience by fear, Naiore got to her feet and moved to the mouth of the cave.

Her bow was unslung and an arrow nocked at her side, ready to fire, before she came to stand still. The afternoon shadows had started to creep over the land. Like a statue, she watched. Toby, who had heard nothing, was left to wonder a good while. There was barely even a breeze to disturb the day as far as he could tell. His bravado, ever an opportunistic creature, started to stir. Naiore simply cast a singly long stare over her shoulder.

The tip of the arrow shifted a little, and his bravado fled to somewhere safer. Naiore returned her attention to events outside of the shadowed cave. After that, it wasn't long before Toby could hear what Naiore had sensed. Naiore marked where Barrold broke from the undergrowth and moved uphill towards her cave across the open stony ground. He was not alone. So it was that the thief-come-extortionist-come-kidnapper-come-murderer-come-spy was met by the sharp, cold tip of an arrow held at the ready by the Ravennor of Mordor.

Avanill, whom closely followed Barrold, stopped behind his shoulder. Fatigue ebbed through them all and she could sense the aftermath of excitment. They had not had a quiet day. She heard Barrold mutter to Avanill from where she stood.

"Remember now, you won't find better paying work anywhere else these days. Raise your hands. She just may shoot you where you stand if she thinks she might like to. Yes, like that, so she can see you're not armed. Leave the talking to me, so as I can introduce you properly.

You need to know how to talk to these sort of customers if you want to collect your reward."

Avanill raised his hands, peering ahead and making out the dimmest outline of Naiore. Indeed, Naiore inwardly drily concurred. Satisfied that Avanill had his hands raised, Barrold started forward with considerably more caution. He pulled on a length of rope. Naiore scowled in the shadows at that. It would undo all the work she had lain down with Vanwe on the way to Bree. Barrold would pay for such clumsiness dearly.

"I've got your supplies, all of them, with some help from my colleague," Barrold said as soon he was confident Naiore wasn't going to shoot them. Indeed, she had lowered her bough and stood with one hand wrapped around a long, curved dagger of exquisite design.

"This is Avanill," Barrold started.
"I know who he is. I know your mother." Naiore inspected Avanill long and hard. "Get inside quickly. You are late, Barrold Ferney." It was clear from the note to her voice, that Naiore was ill-pleased. Barrold lumbered past her, pulling Vanwe after him. Naiore felt her daughter's confusion swirling with fear and anger and something far more ominious. A steadfast, stubborness was there also. Avanill followed Vanwe in. Both men set down their heavy packs, which Naiore ignored as she pulled her dagger free.

In a swift stroke, she sliced through the rope at Vanwe's wrists and unravelled the bonds. Caked in blood, dried and fresh, her skin was raw and broken. Vanwe flinched from the blade. "Sit, daughter," Naiore urged as gently as she could. All her work ruined by this clumsy brute.

"I trust you have brought something suitable for this." The iron of her command was clear. Barrold looked blankly at Avanill, who bent to retrieve a purloined bottle. Naiore had outstretched a hand without so much as glancing, such was her expectation of compliance. Avanill placed the bottle in her gloved hand and stood as clear of her as he could. A viper ready to strike, she was, and as unpredictable he sensed.

Naiore busied herself with the contents of the vial and Vanwe's wrists. With her back to both men, head bent over her work, she uttered another command, "Report."

That, evidently was what Barrold had been waiting for. The floodgates opened.

"I recruited Avanill for his expertise with some of the more exotic substances you were requiring," Barrold started. Naiore wondered how long his attempt to speak well would last. It was surely an effort for him. She was correct in her unspoken assessment.

"We had a spot o bother with yer daughter on the way to get them supplies... but after a short delay we were back on track."

Naiore finished her tendings and stood once more, a hand on Vanwe's shoulder should the girl run. She clearly wished to sprint for all she was worth now.

"If you call that a report, Barrold Ferney, I think I have overestimated your skills for this assignment."

"Vanwe escaped," Avanill quickly cut in, recognising his chance to sell his own skills. "We gave chase, but not before she had found a Ranger." At that Naiore went very still, coiled. Barrold took an unconscious step backwards but checked that when Toby squeaked in alarm further back in the cave.

"What're you doin' 'ere, rat?" Toby stammered his innocence.
"III wwwwwwas aaaasked tooo bbbbbby Hhhhhhher Llllllladyship!"

"Indeed. Which Ranger?" Naiore imposed her will on the exchange and forced it back to topic.

"Maethor, I believe. Your daughter knew him, I believe," Avanill said.

"It was Maethor.... you killed him as you murdered Tallas." Vanwe's accustion throbbed with grief and anguish. Naiore felt the aching muscles of her daughter's shoulders tighten beneath her hand.

"Tallas," she repeated quickly. Her voice was smooth but her grip tightened. Vanwe fell silent.

"Yes, Tallas. Was he that donated your supplies, Lady Dannan," Avanill finished urbanely. His mother had instructed him well. When Naiore said nothing further, Barrold and Avanill bent to show her what they had made off with. Naiore interrupted them.

"Leave your packs. We will inspect them later. Toby, on your feet. We must move now."

"Now," protested Barrold, "I've been walkin' all day without any rest!"

"You'll walk now because of your work today, Barrold Ferney. A simple task I gave you, and you return with my daughter barely on her feet, a dead Ranger and Tallas, Elf friend and ally of the Dunedain for many long years, also dead. If you are so intent on lingering here, perhaps you'd care to join them?"

Naiore's voice had become soft, dangerously so. Her gaze shifted from Barrold, who fell silent, to Avanill, who nodded. "Come, Vanwe. We must flee before the hawks settle on us." Naiore guided Vanwe to her feet. Barrold and Avanill resumed their packs upon their shoulders. Toby shook in a corner, hoping he was forgotten for the moment.

"We will talk, tonight, Vanwe. Know only that I am ill-pleased with today's events. Will you come with me? I do not wish to leave you here for the Rangers to find. They will be fierce now that two of their own number have been victim of such violence." Vanwe nodded hesitantly, and Naiore had to content herself with that. Suspicion and doubt warred within Vanwe against her longing for family. Naiore waved a hand vaguely in Toby's direction.

"You too, Master Longholes." Toby started forward with the growing conviction that Naiore did not use the title Master to conveny any regard or respect. A quick scan with eyes and senses outside of the cave was all Naiore could afford with Lespheria about somewhere as well.

The odd party, two Men, two Elves and one Hobbit, set out then. Naiore led, moving like water over the ground and then through the cover of the brush, drawing Vanwe after her. Toby followed, head pivoting about with the expectation of disaster falling upon him at any moment, including from behind where Avanill and then Barrold took up the rear.

After some silence, Barrold and Avanill were left with something to ponder as Naiore's voice floated down to them as light as silk on the air.

"Tonight, good gentlemen, we shall discuss the Elf-friend and matters pertaining to our venture." Barrold swallowed an uncomfortable lump in his throat so that it joined the queasy mess of his stomach. He wasn't entirely sure why, only that Naiore was not at all happy.
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Old 10-30-2003, 01:21 AM   #131
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Avanill

Avanill had been unsure about how exactly Naiore was going to react when Ferney announced his presence. This worried him a great deal, and it was not much in this world which worried him, that was for sure.

He and Ferney as well as the elf Vanwe came to a cave, where in the fading light, Avanill's spine was struck with a chill. It was Naiore, it was true that he had seen her before, but on very few occasions. He raised his tired arms, whilst ferney spoke the formidable elf.
"This is Avanill," Barrold started. Avanill almost snorted.
"I know who he is. I know your mother." Naiore inspected Avanill long and hard.

He had expected so much. His mother Atantri made a lot of money trading from Ithilien to Mordor in the dark days of old. A far cry form her notorious image of 'the Bandit of Pinnath Gelin' as some had come ot know her. It had been there that his mother had made a huge prophit from the servants of Sauron and passed on all her contacts to Avanill when he came of age. He owed much of his respect which he got from clients to his mother, it was really her name they feared than his, and he was still greatful.

There were many parallels between the nature of his mother and Naiore, both were hard women, smart and dangerous, but Atantri had been more cunning, smart enough not to choose sides in the hard days. Both had offspring, though Avanill was glad that his mother was warm enough to raise him with love and respect. Somehting which Avanill doubted Naiore felt for Vanwe. Pitty he thought, They could have been quite sucessful together...

After the men had relayed their story to Naiore they were off again. Avanill was not so much troubled by his bags, his physique was strong which meant that he could go on for hours with the heaviest of things. Though he did think that he missed his horse Amathalay. ... Wretched creature... Which he had left in Bree. No matter, they wont move the thing, if they know what's good for them... he told himself.

Further along the way Naiore stopped "Tonight, good gentlemen, we shall discuss the Elf-friend and matters pertaining to our venture." The opportunity could now arise that Avanill could discuss the matter of payment. He was not just doign this out of the goodness of his own heart.
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Old 10-30-2003, 06:09 PM   #132
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Amandur

Amandur's Black charger was hard put to keep up with the elven mare as they rode with all speed to Tallas' forest home, He could see by the tenseness of her lithe frame and the eagerness with which she rode that his elven friend was worried about their old friend. He too was concerned, Tallas is a good man and friend to all of the dunedain, there are not many he has not aided in times of great need and not always directly. The old man was not as fragile as he appears, Amandur recalled a time when as a young ranger he had questioned how an old man could help them, Tallas with lightening quick reflexes had disarmed and sent him to the floor before he even had time to react.

Amandur grinned, If Ferney had went there, then he would have not had an easy time getting what he was after, Tallas would have seen to that! But Barrold was not alone he reminded himself and no matter how wily the old man was he was still but one man and against two young ruffians, he could not hope to win a battle with those odds, he thought grimly.

Several times, to avoid a nasty fall from his mount he ducked low in order to avoid the low hanging branches. Approached the ring of oaks that marked the old mans domain they slowed their horses to a brisk walk, stopping as they passed under the eaves of the oak boundary. Silently he slipped of his horse and unsheathed his sword. Léspheria did like wise, but he could see by the serene expression on her delicate face that she was trying to locate their friend through his emotions.

"Anything?" he whispered as he quietly came up beside her. "No" she whispered sadly. "Alright, I'll go this way…” he said indicating that he would flank the house to the right, "And you go that way," he gestured for Léspheria to search the other side.” We will enter the house together if we find nothing out here!" He was just turning to go when he felt Léspheria's gentle touch on his arm. "Be careful," she whispered, her eyes conveying the strength of her meaning. "And you my Lady!" he nodded, then he turned and began his cautious scouting of the area about the right side of the old mans house.

He weaved in and out of the trees searching the ground for signs that Barrold and his companions had come this way, but alas, he found nothing. He shifted his attention to the house, the brown and green wooden door was wide open and the rocking chair on the porch rocked back and forth in the light breeze, creaking eerily. Amandur shivered, the warm summer breeze had suddenly turned cold.

"Amandur!" his head jerked up, it was Léspheria and from her cry he could tell that something was wrong, sparing no further thought for the house he ran in the Direction of her cry.

Entering a small clearing, he could clearly see sign's of battle, but there in the midst next to one of the large oak's sat Léspheria Silver tears running down her face and splashing on the grey head that she cradled in her lap. "He is dead!" she said mournfully, The grief in her eyes reflecting his own, but he let no tears fall he had to be strong for her, his pain would be hers also and he could not bear to burden her with more than her own. He placed a comforting hand on her shoulder and spoke softly, "we will see to our friend, then see to all else," As she nodded her assent, he sheathed his sword and gently lifted the body of his old friend and carried him back towards the house.

He lowered the frail looking body onto the ground, and went to look for a spade. On his return he saw Lespheria bend over the body, she seemed to be rubbing some kind of oil all over his body, it had a sweet smell but he had no idea what it was, also beside her he saw a pile of clothes, a silvery silken material and a sword, all of which he had never seen before. As he drew nearer he saw, that the wooden handle of the sword matched the old mans staff, but as he looked at the staff, he could clearly see that the staff and sword had been one.

Taking off his cloak and tunic, he rolled up the sleeves of his shirt and began the ominous task of digging his old friend’s grave. As he toiled he could hear Léspheria’s soft lament and it seemed to him that all the animals and birds of the forest mourned also the old mans passing. Even the trees shook gently adding their voice to her gentle lament.

By the time the grave finished, the lack of sleep and the aches in his muscles showed heavy on him, he pushed the weariness aside and climbed out of the hole throwing the spade to one side, and mopping his brow on his shirt, he made his way back to Léspheria. She had stopped her lament and was now chanting softly, prayers to Illuvatar and the Valar he assumed.

He also noticed that the old man no longer wore his blood stained clothes, but a sea blue tunic with fine silver detail. His eyes widened with awe as he recognised the detail, a silver swan and ship, a mark of nobility in Dol Amroth. However, clasping a long dark cloak about his neck was the many-pointed star of the Dunedain, much like his own. His brow furrowed in puzzlement a Dol Amroth noble that was descendant of Numenor, he had not even noticed that Lespheria had stopped her chanting and was looking at him.

"I found them in a chest under his bed," she answered in reply to his unspoken question. He then watched as she lifted a silver circlet and delicately placed it atop his grey head. The front of which was wrought in the likeness of the silver swan ships of old that were said to have been used by the elves of Lothlorien. "He must have done my mothers kin a great service for them to have imparted a gift of such beauty," she whispered, a gentle loving smile marking her fondness for her old friend.

"He is ready, it is only fitting that he should be honoured as the noble he truly was!" Léspheria whispered as she laid out the silvery silk, as she did he recognised it as the long silk drape that had once belonged to her mother. "Are you sure?" he whispered laying a gentle hand on her shoulder. She looked up at him smiling, "Yes, I believe he did her a service once also." Then together they gently laid their friends body on the silk and taking up either side, they carried him to his final resting place.

After lowering their old friend into the grave, they lowered their heads in a mark of respect. "Farewell and safe journey, old friend." Amandur whispered in the ancient tongue of his people. "May Illuvatar smile warmly upon his faithful servant." he heard Léspheria whisper in the tongue of her people. Tears of sorrow rolled of the elf maidens cheeks as Amandur slowly filled in the grave and it is said that ever after there grew small white tear drop shaped flowers were her tears fell for her old friend.

After filling in the grave, Amadur gently guided Léspheria back to the house. However, on entering a great anger filled him. The once neatly stacked shelves lay in disarray, some half torn from the walls. The table was up turned, the dried herb’s had been pulled from the rafters and trampled on with out care or thought and anything the villains did not want or need had been smashed and broken. Glass crunched under his feet as he walked further into the room.

"Barrold and his friend will pay for this!" he said through gritted teeth, all but shaking with the anger at this injustice. “I will see that they are locked up in the deepest darkest dungeon and the key tossed into the sea, Death is too good for them.” he spat. Then seeing Léspheria’s horror, he wished he had not spoken his thoughts aloud.

"I'm sorry, but Tallas deserved more than this!" he whispered indicating the carnage around them. "Yes, he did but words spoken in anger will not change anything. He was a seerer and likely as not he knew his time was near.” she retorted sternly. He had words ready for reply but swallowed them at her stern words and merely nodded his understanding. She was right Tallas would not have wanted his death avenged, but still he was a ranger and he would see that Barrold and his accomplices paid for their crimes in a Gondorian prison.

As Amandur looked back to Léspheria he saw her searching through the debris, "What are we looking for?" he said coming up beside her. "Tallas often took notes and records of events and problems others needed solving, I need to find these, they are too valuable to be left forgotten." she told him still sifting though the wreckage, Nodding his head Amandur helped her to look.

He watched her delicate almond shaped eyes widen in horror as they lifted a felled pine book self to discover that the books that had been left had been destroyed. All but one a small thick leather bound book. It unlike the others had a thick layer of dust about it as if it had not been touched in years. It was so dirty that they had almost over looked it. He watched as Léspheria gently blow away the dust to reveal the gold lettering on the front.

'Valaindon'.

He heard the gasp escape Léspheria's lips, but as she tried to open it, the catch would not budge. "Let me," he offered taking the book gently from her hands and search for a locking mechanism that he might pick, but there was none. "It must be sealed with the old magic of your kin," he sighed handing it back to her. He was slightly surprised when she slipped it in to the hidden pocket in the folds of her skirts, "We have not the time to ponder over Nolderin seals, when I was here yesterday I noticed several Mithril bound tomes bearing the device of Rivendell, these are missing. Amandur puzzled over what this could mean, "Barrold is greedy he probably saw their monetary worth, and thinks to sell the mithril covers!" he reasoned.

"Perhaps!" she sighed, wiping the creases from her skirts as she rose, "lets hope he covets their worth enough to keep them from Naiore!" he heard her whisper as she headed for the door. "Menecin!" He whispered catching up to her, she nodded her affirmation, but he could tell there was more on her mind.

"Léspheria,” he said his voice filled with gentle concern, she stopped but did not turn. "There are very few left of the once great house of Finarfin, The halfelven Children of Elrond and Celebrían, who have all chosen the mortal life, myself , my brother and two others."

"Naiore and Vanwe!" he gasped.

Lespheria nodded and continued walking, but she went on… "We are all that is left of that once proud house, the rest are either dead or have left these shores for the undying lands as is their right, Forsaking Naiore and her treachery. I believe that Naiore would not think twice about ridding herself of all ties." she sighed sadly.

"What madness do you speak?" Amandur gasped, "She would not get even within a thousand miles of Queen Arwen!" he said confidently, though he was full aware that she had avoided capture in those lands also. Léspheria gave him a weary smile, "Perhaps you are right, and I worry about nothing, the Shire is her course at present and we should direct our thoughts in stopping her from destroying the peace of our small friends.

"We will ride until nightfall then make camp it is unlikely we will catch up to the others tonight," he said pointing to the quickly descending sun that gave an orangey hue to the mid evening sky. Mounting their horse's they swiftly rode back to where they had left the others and picking up the trail they followed their friends and the villains with their hostage that they pursued.
*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+

Léspheria


"But we must now decide which course to take, to follow Vanwe on the trail we see before us, or to continue after Naiore with no trail. But that is our errand."

Léspheria could feel Rauthain waiting for one of them to answer, and as she looked up from her thoughts, she could see concern in his broad face, from the corner of her eye she could see Amandur deep in thought, considering what course to take. Léspheria could see no other course but the one before her.

"Naiore has gone to great trouble and at great risk to herself, to retrieve her daughter, I do not believe she would give that prize up so readily!" she exclaimed taking both rangers in her steady gaze.

She could feel Amandur's surprise as he followed her reasoning, only days ago had she been angered with Amandur's revelation that the rangers were using Vanwe to find Naiore. "If we follow Vanwe's captors they will inevitably lead us to Naiore." Amandur spoke to Rauthain, and she nodded her agreement, as the older ranger looked her way.

The damage had been done Vanwe was already in danger and by following this trail they may yet be able to free the young elf from her captors, "it is better this trail than none at all" she pressed seeing the hint of doubt in Rauthain's pale grey eyes.

"Then it is settled, as soon as the others return we will follow the hired hands to their mistress." Amandur stated, then almost as if on queue Dúlrain and Maethor walked briskly up the path towards them.

Léspheria lightly stepped aside allowing the rangers to rejoin their brothers. Her gaze strayed eastward towards her valley home and she wondered if the elves had yet told the unstable elf that he had a daughter. A part of her hoped that they had, “a little light in his darkness,” she whispered softly into the warm easterly breeze. However, a bigger part of her feared that the elf might just forsake his kin’s protection and go looking for the child. She sighed heavily, none could tell what went through the mind of that one, a genius on the edge of insanity, she thought wearily.

Turning back she lightly caught up to the four rangers, frowning slightly when she saw the blackish/blue bruising along Maethor's jaw, "What happened!" she asked, searching her satchel for the appropriate oil to relieve the ache and reduce the swelling.

Léspheria pressed the mare hard, her worry mounting with every powerful stride. She could sense Amandur hard at her heels, his concern also mounting. Lespheria knew that Tallas was not as frail as he appeared and would put up a good fight if pressed into it, but against two young men, she could not be sure the odds would be in his favour. However, if they had Vanwe with them, she knew that he would not stand by and do nothing; it just was not in his nature as it was not in hers.

With this thought in mind she urged the mare on more "Asca, Losserme sermo-mma anta amin" she whispered and with a delicate snort the mare obliged, Léspheria leaned low to the mares neck to avoid the low hanging branches as they sped on.

As they approached the ring of oaks, Losserme instinctively slowed to a brisk walking pace and stopping as they cleared the great trees. Léspheria slipped silently from the mare unsheathed her sword; she reached out her senses trying to locate her old friend, but to no avail. "Anything?" she heard Amandur whisper as he came up beside her. "No" she whispered sadly shaking her head.

She listened to Amandur's plan and as he turned to leave, a deep feeling of concern for his safety flared within her. She put a gentle hand on his arm, "Be careful," she whispered. "And you my Lady!" he replied, giving her a understanding nod he set of into the trees, she watched him for a second, She knew Amandur's feeling for her, but she had never returned them, afraid that her feelings were but a shadow of those she had felt once before.

She turned and began her own search, quietly moving in and out of the trees. Before long, she found Tallas’s boot print in the soft dirt. She could tell it was his because slightly to the right was a small round indent where he had leaned on his staff. She quickened her pace as the way also revealed Barrold’s heavy clumsy boot prints. The second man was a bit lighter on his feet but still his print was visible in the soft dirt. From the drag marks in the soft earth, she could tell that the elf’s captors had dragged her at some point.

She raised a puzzled eyebrow, from the tracks; it seemed that the villains had come first and that Tallas had come on them from behind. She hurried on, stopping and crouched to the ground as she came upon a small clearing. As her hand rested on one of the oaks she felt an unusual grove in the wood, frowning she turned to examine it. Vanwe had struggled to free herself from a rope that bound her to this tree, she reasoned, tracing her hand across the rut made by rope cutting into the trees bark. Vanwe she thought dropping her head sadly, as she did her hand slipped from the rut and she felt something else, her head snapped up and she stared at the small vertical cut just below the rope burn, "A knife perhaps?" she whispered. She sprung to her feet and began searching for Vanwe's prints, "Perhaps Tallas was able too...." but her words stopped abruptly as she caught sight of a grey head in the grass directly ahead of her.

"Amandur" she called, as she ran to the old mans still form, not even aware that she ran the same path Vanwe had, she dropped to her knee's next to her old friends lifeless body, all thoughts of Vanwe and her captors vanishing in her sudden horror. "He can't be dead!" she muttered lifting his grey head to her lap and checking for any sign of life. She placed a gentle hand on his cold hand and shuddered as she felt nothing from within him, "No," she wept gently cradling the old man's grey head in her lap. "He is dead!" she said mournfully, looking up as Amandur approached. He Placed a comforting hand on her shoulder and she trembled slightly at his touch, "We will see to our friend, then see to all else," he whispered softly.

Wiping the tears from her cheeks, she nodded her agreement. Picking up the old mans staff and sword she silently followed as Amandur picked up the frail looking body and walked toward the wooden house. He lowered the body to the ground just outside the house. After Amandur had left she, knelt down beside the lifeless body of her dear friend. She had not noticed before but there was a peaceful smile on the dead mans lips, “He knew, this was his time!” she whispered in astonishment. "You were a great man, my friend and we will honour you as such," she gently whispered brushing a lock of grey hair from his peaceful face.

She quickly stood up and went inside the house, she hardly took notice of the destruction in the two-room house, she had expected as much. Instead she looked for fresh attire for her friend, she would not bury him in his blood stained clothes, finding only one other woollen robe that was in much need of repair she sunk down on the bed sighing despairingly, the wooden bed was the only thing in the house not up turned.

As she sat the heel of her boot hit something hard, she jumped up and lifted the over hanging blankets to look underneath and there under the bed sat a dusty old wooden chest, she carefully pulled it out, there was no lock so she opened the lid, it creaked through lack of use. Her eyes widened as she lifted a well cared for elven circlet from the chest, and as her hand gently traced the silver swan ship that adorned the front, she wondered what service he had rendered her mothers kin that they would bestow such a gift on him? Carefully placing down the circlet she lifted out a pale sea blue tunic, "Dol Amroth" she whispered in awe as she looked upon the fine silver detail. These are clothes of nobility she mused, lifting out a pair of richly woven breeches. Also within were leather boots, a belt and set of leather bracers. Last of all she pulled out a long dark green cloak, her hand lovingly caressed the pointed star of the dunedain. “So I was not completely wrong, he was part Dunedain,” she mused.

Lifting the bundle of fine clothes she made her way back out side, kneeling back down beside the still body of her old friend, she pulled off her pack and pulled out a long silvery silk drape that once belonged to her mother and placed it next to the bundle of clothes. She then opened her herb satchel and searched for an oil to cleanse his body, as was the custom of her people. Once the sweet smelling oil was found she carefully undressed him and cleaned his wounds, then rubbing some of the oil between her fingers she began to gently massage the oil over her dead friend’s body. As she delicately embalmed the body, a soft lament came to her lips.


In Chetwood fair, keeping watch
Majestic oaks stand tall and proud,
The wind joins a soft lament,
Their boughs softly weep their loss.

Gentle warrior, a master of words.
Healer of time and father to all
Always giving and never wanting.
His memory will live long in our songs.

The birds of the woods sing their lament.
The creatures of the forest weep in their sorrow
the deer, the noble stag bow in respect;
never again will he walk their path.

Battles fought, long roads walked,
wisdom sought and given.
Friend of the elves.
Brother to men.
All will lament his passing.

In the valley of elves, Imladris fair
voices will rise to honour his name;
In Gondor proud the horns will blow,
another warrior has passed away.
Dol Amaroth will weep for
another lord lost.
But his deeds recounted will amaze and delight.

In Chetwood fair, did he fall
Even in death, true to his heart?
Injustice he saw, so justice he sought.
In forests, green he held his belief

Elven fair, brimming with sorrow
tied and bound no hope of escape.
His fate foretold, but his heart still true.
Stood his ground and faced his foe.

Lightening quick, with grace and light.
He fought for her freedom
but alas out numbered but not out classed
our silent warrior yields to his fate.

The battle lost, our hero defeated
in death his kindness not forgotten how knowing his end he valiantly stood
to meet the men who would be his end.

For the true daughter of the swan.
Did he forfeit his life
that a mothers lies would open her eyes
a kind act remembered, to kindle some hope.
When despair threatens to smother and choke.

Surrounded by majestic oaks our warrior sleeps
never again to grace this world
his deeds remembered and never forgotten.

Tallas Telacor, protector of the free.


by the time she had finished her lament, she had redressed her old friend in the attire fitting who he was and who he had be come, She then closed her eyes and began chanting prayers to the Valar and Illuvatar, asking them to grant him safe passage to the afterlife.

"Rest my friend, you had done more than most and are more than deserving of the gift reserved only for men" she whispered gently kissing his forehead.

When she looked, up she saw Amandur looking puzzled at the old mans clothes, "I found them in a chest under his bed," she told him, and then lifting the delicate circlet, she placed it atop Tallas' grey head. "He must have done my mother kin a great service for them to have imparted a gift of such beauty,” she said, smiling on her old friend fondly.

"He is ready" she whispered lifting and laying out the silvery silk, "Only fitting that he should be honoured as the noble he truly was!"

"Are you sure?" she heard Amandur ask above her, in reference to her mother drape. She looked long at the corpse of her old friend and Amandur laid a gentle hand on her shoulder when she did not answer. Smiling she raised her head to him, "Yes, I believed he did her a service once." Amandur then helped her to lift the body of their dead friend on to the silk, and then taking up either side, they carried him to his final resting place.

After lowering his body and saying their farewells, Amandur slowly started to refill the earth. The sudden realism hit Léspheria like a wave, so that all she could do was bow her head and weep, she would missing her old friend dearly.

After a time that she could not recount, Amandur lead her gently back to the house. Once inside the extent of the damage became apparent to her. They had come after his potions she thought disdainfully. She then looked to Amandur in horror as he described what he would do to Barrold and Anvanill when he caught them. At her look, he apologised, stating that their friend deserved better. She agreed with him, but chided him for his angry words.

It was then that Léspheria remembered the Elven tomes she has seen the day before, she began searching the debris, "Tallas often took notes and records of event and problems others needed solving, I need to find these, they are to valuable to be left forgotten." she told Amandur when he asked what she was looking for. Together they lifted an old pine bookshelf. Her eyes widened as they fell on the destroyed papers and books. The tomes were missing, as she had feared. However, just as she turned to leave her eyes fell on a small dusty leather bound book. She picked it up and gently blew away the dust, gasping as she read the name on the cover.

‘Valaindon’

She immediately tried to open the catch, but it would not budge. “Let me,” Amandur offered taking the book from her hands, but he to could not open it. "It must be sealed with the old magic of you kin" he sighed handing her it back. Léspheria wondered if she really wanted to open something that had been sealed by the ancient runes of her people, even if it was her mothers. Therefore, she quickly slipped the book in her pocket, offering Amandur a quick explanation.

"When I was here yesterday I noticed several mithril bound tomes bearing the device of Rivendell, these are missing!" she informed him "Barrold is greedy he probably saw their monetary worth, and thinks to sell the mithril covers!” Amandur reasoned.

"Perhaps!" she sighed, wiping the creases from her skirts as she rose, "lets hope he covets their worth enough to keep them from Naiore!" she whispered as she headed for the door. "Menecin!" Amandur whispered catching up to her, she nodded absently, but other questions now filled her mind.

"Léspheria,” she heard the ranger call his voice filled with gentle concern, she stopped but did not turn. "There are very few left of the once great house of Finarfin, The halfelven Children of Elrond and Celebrían, who have all chosen the mortal life, myself , my brother and two others."

"Naiore and Vanwe!" she heard him gasp.

Lespheria nodded and continued walking, pausing only to pick up Tallas sword/staff, but she went on talking as she walked, "We are all that is left of that once proud house, the rest are either dead or have left these shores for the undying lands as is their right, Forsaking Naiore and her treachery. I believe that Naiore would not think twice about ridding herself of all ties." she sighed sadly.

"What madness do you speak?" Amandur gasped, "She would not get even within a thousand miles of Queen Arwen!" she could hear the conviction in his words, but had not Naiore evaded capture many times? Léspheria gave him a weary smile, "Perhaps you are right, and I worry about nothing, the Shire is her course at present and we should direct our thoughts in stopping her from destroying the peace of our small friends."

"We will ride until nightfall then make camp it is unlikely we will catch up to the others tonight," he told her pointing to the quickly descending sun. She lashed Tallas's staff to the back of his saddle, and then pulling on her pack, she mounted Losserme.

They rode swiftly, but Léspheria found herself looking to her friend wondering if the feelings she felt for him were real, He looks so much like Avendur, she thought to herself. Avendur was one of Amandur's descendants. As a young man the ranger had protected Léspheria, when she had came to the aid of her brother and father at the battle of fornost in the year 1975. Then afterwards he had helped her to tend the wounded. She had fallen in love with his gently kindness and his fierce loyalty to his friends. Another way in which he and Amandur where alike, how could she be sure her feelings where for Amandur and not who he looked like.

As Amandur stopped, he looked back at her, she smiled, she could feel how he felt about her, it washed over her like a warm ray of sunshine, but it would be wrong of her to return his feelings without knowing the truth of her own. "They went is way," he said, then mounting his horse they set off again.

Last edited by Nerindel; 03-13-2004 at 07:30 AM.
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Old 10-31-2003, 12:19 PM   #133
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Sting

Kaldir

"I wasn't always the monster you see before you," Kaldir said softly as he pushed past Benia into the courtyard. In that instant when he had stood over her, his fingers touching the silver chain that graced her satin cheek, he had very nearly leaned over the few inches that separated them and kissed her. She had been so close, the enchanting kohl-lined eyes, so hypnotic. The only thing that had stopped him was the knowledge of her feelings toward him. That and the presence of Mrs. Banks, but even he understood that fear and revulsion were hardly the emotions upon which he could build a courtship of Benia, or even a seduction, for that matter. So, he had wrenched himself away, falling into his usual pattern of gruffness and anger, but this time it wasn't without a stab of bitterness.

"I wasn't always the monster you see before you."

He had not intended to say anything else to her, but the sentence had popped out on its own. He needed her to know that he hadn't always been the abhorrent creature she saw before her. Perhaps if she knew that...

He let the thought trail off unfinished. Whatever Benia Nightshade thought of him, in that instant, he had also come to the decision that he was taking her nowhere near Harad. The tribesmen who had offered him the bounty on any Painted Sand people he happened across would kill her on sight. He would not allow that to happen, but he was still unwilling to let her or Mrs. Banks go free. Whatever his original reasons for keeping them were, he had noticed that now, for some strange reason, the two of them had a calming effect on him, soothing the sharp and jagged edges of his mind. True, keeping track of them was like riding herd on two kittens, which had irritated him no end at first, but now? Now, he knew that, despite their more troublesome qualities or even Miss Nightshade's charms, he needed them.

He walked across the small courtyard to where the horses waited and swung himself easily into the saddle of the gray horse. There was something about the mere presence of the desert woman and the hobbit that kept the worst of the memories and flashbacks at bay. True, he had had a difficult moment back in the side street when Dulrain had offered him his grandfather's sword, but it had never taken him completely out of himself the way the flashbacks had in the past. He had been able to fight his way through it fairly quickly, and he credited that ability to the presence of his two companions. He didn't understand the why, but, if that's the way things worked, he wouldn't argue. Particularly not with Naiore so close. If he intended to take on Naiore Dannan, he would have to have all of his faculties intact. If he lost control for even a second, that silken garrote would find its way back around his throat. He closed his eyes.

When he opened them again, Benia and Gilly were finally coming out the door of the wine shop where they had dawdled for a moment after his exit. Benia was veiled again
and Mrs. Banks looked thoughtful but scared. No doubt Benia had explained about Naiore. He waited silently as the two of them mounted their horses, noticing, too, that Benia's ankle seemed to have improved greatly. That was good. She would be less vulnerable now. When they seemed settled onto their mounts, he dug his heels into the flanks of his horse and led the way out of the courtyard. They had a lot to do and much ground to cover before they could call it a day. He squinted toward the horizon. Storm clouds hovered dangerously low in the west like a bruise against the blue of the sky. With the wind blowing steadily to the north, he hoped the storm would ride the wind past them into the northlands. Rain, especially a heavy one, would destroy Naiore's tracks. If that happened, it was possible that he would never find her again. He quickened his pace.

As the afternoon sun shifted gradually across the sky, the rains never arrived. Kaldir, with Gilly and Benia in tow, searched a series of Barrold Ferny's little hideaways. Some had been used recently, others had been empty for quite sometime, but all showed evidence of Ferny's questionable housekeeping standards. They reminded Kaldir more of troll holes than anything else.

The last one he intended to search in the northern part of the town, the one that he had been putting off, was a cave high up on Bree Hill. More a stronghold than a hideaway, the cave sat atop a steep and rocky incline and was accessible by way of only one path. That path led upward across a wide expanse of open ground. It was the ideal location for a last stand on the part of the occupants of the cave, but, if the occupants had any kind of skill with a bow, it was almost impossible to attack. Turning his small party in the direction of the cave, Kaldir frowned. He should have looked there first. It was exactly the sort of place that Naiore would choose to hole up in.

At the foot of the trail, Kaldir dismounted and studied the ground. A lot of traffic had passed that way. Bending close to the ground, he could distinguish five distinct sets of prints. Two men, two elves, and...a hobbit? He glanced over his shoulder at Mrs. Banks. Well, hobbits did have a way of turning up in unusual places. He remembered the small shadow he had seen the night before on the road outside Bree as he had had his little chat with Barrold Ferny. In retrospect, he wished he had given chase. He was fairly certain now that it had been a spy of Naiore's.

Turning his attention back to the trail, he saw there were several comings and goings, but the top set of tracks seemed to be leaving. He looked up the hill. He had missed them. The question now was whether to go all the way up as far as the cave or to follow the departing tracks back into Bree. His guess was that they would make for the Northern Gate. It was not only the closest, but the least carefully watched of all the gates into or out of Bree. Where they went from there was anybody's guess. Finally, he decided that while searching the cave would spend precious time, it would still be prudent to do so. One never knew what clues such a place might yield.

Leading his horse by the reins, he led the way up the steep path to the place where the underbrush ended at the base of the rocky slope. He turned to Gilly and Benia and bade them to dismount.

"Take off your veil, Miss Nightshade," he said to Benia as the two women dismounted. "You will need your eyes and your ears. The one we seek has been here and she is no longer alone. We must be cautious. She may have left others to guard her back."

As Benia removed the thick layer of fabric, Kaldir reached into the pouch on his belt and extracted Gilly's little knife, which he pressed into the surprised hobbit's hand. To Benia, he handed her own dagger as well. Following Benia's glance to her sword which had been lashed to the back of the gray horse, Kaldir shook his head.

"No, my lady," he said smiling. "You must make do with just a dagger for now."

Turning once more to Mrs. Banks, he told her to wait at the edge of the undergrowth with the horses. If anyone approached, she was to cry to out or whistle loudly, something to warn them up ahead. Then, she was to leave the horses and hide. Miss Nightshade would come with him. He took a small elven-made bow from the back of his horse and nocked an arrow to the string. He was ready.

Cautiously, Kaldir stepped out into the open. His eyes scanned the area surrounding the mouth of the cave for any sign of movement, but there was none. Only stillness. He moved slowly forward up the path with Benia close behind him. When they reached the mouth of the cave, they found it both deserted and undefended. Kaldir lowered his bow and stepped inside.

Unlike the other locations they had searched that day, the smooth stone floor of the cave had been swept clean, leaving no footprints for him to study... further evidence that Naiore had been there. Knowing her affinity for tidiness, Barrold must have cleaned the place out for her in advance. But they had left some debris. Bloody ropes lay on the floor, their knots still intact, their ends severed by the stroke of a very sharp blade. Beside them lay an empty vial. Kaldir picked it up and sniffed it cautiously. He recognized the smell. It was an herbal oil, something used in healing. Someone, undoubtedly the individual who had been bound, had been treated for his or her injuries. Vanwe, perhaps. He couldn’t see Naiore taking the time to treat the injuries of a scoundrel like Ferny.

Placing the bottle back where he had found it, Kaldir turned to go, but stopped at the sight of Benia. She stood just inside the mouth of the cave, her dagger still sheathed in her hand, but a look of deep sadness on her face as she stared at the cut and bloody ropes. Kaldir took her elbow and guided her out of the cave and back down the slope to where Gilly waited with the horses. When she glanced back, he shook his head.

“Whoever it was has been treated for her injuries,” he told her. “If Naiore wished her dead, we would have found not ropes but a body.”

“Who do you think it was?” she asked.

Kaldir shrugged. “My guess is your friend from the inn, Miss Vanwe. She is none but the daughter of Sauron’s Ravenner. But, of course, it is only a guess.”

Benia nodded, her eyes dropping to the dagger in her hand. By then, they had reached the horses and Gilly.

Following Benia’s gaze, Kaldir closed his hand around her hand that held the knife.
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Old 11-01-2003, 11:08 AM   #134
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Sting

Rauthain

That Barrold and this other man might seek out Tallas vexed Rauthain. No good would come of it, and he worried for his friend. Tallas would not willingly entertain such guests and he judged that Barrold was spurred by fear should he should fail to succeed. It was not good odds for the old man. And this trail leading away from his enclave bode ill. It was good that the lady Léspheria with her healing, had gone to the familiar ring of oaks, for chance was that her skills were needed there.

Barrold’s destination had also helped to support in Rauthain’s mind the idea that in pursuing Vanwe they might come upon Naiore. But still he was uneasy and harbored doubts. Naiore had taken them through the Chetwood and he knew her to be artfully misleading. While it was true that she had taken great lengths to recover her daughter it was also true that she had plainly witnessed Vanwe surrounded by a number of rangers beyond what was customary for the Forsaken Inn. It would be a small thing for her to understand that the maiden was being watched. What better deception than to use this against them now, a decoy to lure the rangers way from her true course. Not letting her go, but with Ferny’s help, coaxing them off the path and yet retaining her daughter. He could not consciously let Naiore to slip though their guard.

The grey haired ranger looked up, his hair falling away from his broad face. There, bald and orange in the lowering sun was the crest of Bree Hill, a fine vantage point. The tracks leading them ever up its side. He began to grow impatient, wishing to gain the view from its heights. “What is it Rauthain?” Dúlrain ventured perceiving his disquiet.

“I had thought that we may gain time if we could espy our quarry from the hill or an outcropping such as this,” he said waving his hand toward a high knob of stone close by. “I am reluctant to by chance loose Naiore to the darkness by following this meandering way.”

“What of Vanwe’s plight?” Maethor questioned. “Is she not also deserving of our attention?”

“Yes, to be sure,” Rauthain said brushing aside the question. He did indeed desire Vanwe’s freedom, but not at the risk of loosing her mother. It wore on him deeply the more time passed. Finding Vanwe saved only one, finding Naiore countless others. “But are not many more served by concentrating solely on the capture of Naiore and not becoming distracted from our mission?”

“By finding Vanwe, we find Naiore, it is one and the same,” Dúlrain said. “Have patience, we shall not let up until she has been brought to justice. But if it will quell your anxiety, climb to see what you may, you will find us easily enough when you are satisfied. For you speak as one consumed. What lies so heavily on your heart that you should be so?”

“I am growing older, brother, and have much to atone for. This pursuit has taken on a personal cast for me, of which Maethor is aware. I seek to avenge the memory of one of our brethren, who should by rights never have fallen into her net.” He pulled his reins toward the slope, his horse cautiously beginning the steep ascent. “But I must make haste so as to find you again before night fall. Do not worry,” he said. “I will not be long.”

As Rauthain departed Dúlrain’s words reached him. “Of who does he speak? I know of no ranger that has become prey to the Revennor?”

“Rauthain was at Raven Falls the day the one called Kaldir fell into her long reach.” Maethor answered. “He is no longer a ranger now, but a bounty hunter that roams these parts of late. They say he was at the Foresaken the day before I arrived, no doubt after some quarry of his own.”

Rauthain wished he had not overheard the conversation, it awoke again in him the cold darkness haunted by his memories. As the sun grew red at the edge of the sky, Rauthain spurred his horse on to try to outpace them.

[ November 01, 2003: Message edited by: Hilde Bracegirdle ]
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Old 11-02-2003, 05:08 PM   #135
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Sting

Benia

As Benia and Kaldir returned to where Gilly waited with the horses, just inside the cover of underbrush, Benia's mind churned. She had spent most of the afternoon deep in her own thoughts, riding when the bounty hunter said to ride, dismounting when he said to dismount. For the most part, since leaving the empty wine shop, she had been almost grateful for the veil. It had afforded her the privacy and isolation she needed to think. There were so many things she needed to think about, not the least of which was the bounty hunter himself.

He must be mad, she decided, dragging her and Gilly on this fool's errand of pursuing Sauron's own Ravenner. And for what purpose? What could Naiore Dannan have possibly taken from him that would justify suicide? Or murder, if one included herself and Gilly into the equation. It was madness.

She was still turning this thought over as she and the bounty hunter scrambled back down the steep path to where they had left Gilly. She had seen the bloody ropes on the floor of the cave, and remembering the shackles that had bound her own wrists not twelve hours earlier, felt a flush of empathy for the individual who had worn them. The bounty hunter said that the blood likely belonged to Vanwe, the elven assistant to the stable master of the Forsaken Inn, but Benia found that hard to believe. What would a creature like Naiore want with little Vanwe? Vanwe, in the brief moments that Benia had interacted with her, had seemed so kind and vulnerable, so touchingly eager to please. The very idea that the slender elf might be the daughter of Naiore Dannan, she decided, must be further manifestation of the bounty hunter's delusions.

She wondered what Gilly thought of it all.

Remembering the dagger in her hand, Benia glanced down at it and tightened her grip around the hilt. Could she be quick enough to strike out at the bounty hunter? All her life she had been taught that madness was more to be pitied than censured, but if she could at least disable him, then perhaps she could not only save herself and Gilly, but save him from himself, as well. As though reading her thoughts, the bounty hunter closed his hand around hers that held the knife.

Holding her hand in an iron grip, he bent and laid his bow and arrow down on the ground beside him. Straightening, he raised Benia's hand with the knife in it up between them. With his free hand, he unsheathed the blade.

"What were you thinking, my lady?" he asked almost kindly, looking past the wickedly sharp blade at her face. "Would you strike at me?"

Gilly, who had been waiting anxiously by the horses, stirred to the side of them. She took a timid step forward and began to speak, but was shushed sharply by Kaldir. The hobbit closed her mouth again.

Benia studied the bounty hunter's ravaged face. The eyes seemed cold and determined, but clear. Sane. She hesitated and cast an anxious glance at Gilly.

"Well?" asked the bounty hunter. "I asked you a question."

When Benia still did not respond, the bounty hunter placed the point of her blade against the base of his throat, in the hollow just above the clasp of his cloak.

"Do it," he ordered her. His hand still held her hand and his gaze never wavered from her face. She saw a small bead of his blood appear, dark and glistening, at the tip of the dagger. Staring at it, she shook her head.

"No."

"Miss Benia..." whispered Gilly somewhere to the side of her, but Benia found herself unable to look away from the scarred face of the bounty hunter. It was clearly a test of some kind, but she couldn't tell what answer he was looking for. The one thing she knew was that she could not look into a man's eyes, mad or sane, and kill him in cold blood. She shook her head and tried to withdraw her hand from his grip.

Finally, he let it go. Without another glance at her, he stooped and picked up the bow and arrow from where he had laid them on the ground.

"Come, ladies," he said, taking up the reins of the gray horse. "We mustn't tarry any longer. They've gotten a good start on us." He slung the bow over his shoulder and cast a glance into the west where the sun hovered low on the horizon, like a fat spider, head down in her web. "We need to be well clear of Bree by night fall."

Benia, still speechless, stared first at the naked dagger in her hand, then at Gilly, who stared back, wide-eyed, her own knife ready in her hand. For a long moment, neither of them moved. Then, Benia startled as the sheath to her dagger landed on the ground at her feet.

"Move!" barked Kaldir.

Immediately, Benia bent and picked up the sheath, sliding the blade into it in a single motion. She and Gilly both hurried to mount their horses and follow as the bounty hunter led the way back down the path toward the more populated part of town. In her haste, Benia forgot to put on her veil, but the bounty hunter seemed absorbed in his own thoughts and made no comment. His eyes studied the ground as he walked, leading his horse by the reins.

They made directly for the Northern gate and, by the time dusk settled over them, they had left Bree and re-entered Chetwood. The tracks of five individuals - two elves, two men, and a hobbit - laid their course before them. Benia worried where those tracks would lead before it was all over.

[ November 03, 2003: Message edited by: Ealasaide ]
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Old 11-03-2003, 02:53 AM   #136
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Vanwe

They walked for hours, at a rapid pace too. The rigours of the past day rode upon her shoulders. Still, if there was one thing Harad had given her, it was the strength to endure. Her sense of direction was confounded though. She had no idea where they were. It was plainly not the Forsaken Inn, but how she came to be here and leave the only home she had ever had was a mystery to her. A frightening mystery to be sure.

Instead of spooking herself, Vanwe forced her mind to what she did know as they charged on into dusk. The sun was setting on her right, which meant they were roughly making north. They were back in the forest again.... the forest where Maethor and Tallas had died. A chill hollowed her out and she felt her mother's hand take her upper arm and urge her onwards. She picked her slowing feet up and resumed her mental catalogue.

The inn was nowhere in sight. She had found her mother though. She did not know what to make of that. Vanwe took her time to study her mother as she jogged slightly ahead of her. Was she nightmare? Was she simply desperate? She did seem to be hunted. Vanwe could recognise the sense of being quarry, hounded across time and distance as she knew the shape of such things within herself. How long had she been running before she reached the inn? Months? She had lost track, unable to count and remain free.

Behind her, Vanwe could hear the heavier breathing of Barrold and Avanill. That was incentive to keep up her pace. There was a Hobbit also, who studied her sidelong. Naiore noticed Vanwe's attention and shot her a keen glance that broke her attention. Through the dusk and into evening, Vanwe jogged along, struggling with half memories, nightmares and longings that had defined her existence from her earliest memory.

When they stopped it was night proper. Toby collapsed, puffing and rubbing his feet. The Hobbit looked perfectly unhappy, and Vanwe well understand that. Her mother sent Barrold and Avanill off to gather wood.

"Only dry wood and no greenery, mind you." The two men went off, Barrold grumbling about being told how to gather wood when he'd been doing it since he was a child. To Toby, Naiore tossed instructions to gather kindling and remain within sight. The Hobbit heaved a heartfelt sigh and got to his feet. Naiore watched him like a hawk would a mouse. Toby seemed beyond any escape attempts. The danger was too real and he was simply too tired. He listlessly gathered kindling.

Through this, Vanwe had stood very still and quiet. Her arms and legs trembled, but she had learnt that remaining quiet is important if you want to live. Her mother turned, living night herself in the black embrace of her strange leathers. She strode towards Vanwe, long braids swaying. Despite her fatigue, or perhaps because of it, Vanwe had the ridiculous notion that this was the first time she had seen anyone with the same hair as hers. The realisation should have made her heart leap with joy. She'd been searching and enduring hellish torment for years for such a sight. Instead, her heart seemed to pain her.

"You are tired. Will you sit? There is much we must speak of, you and I." Unsure of whether she sat or collapsed, Vanwe nonetheless sank to the ground. She bowed her head, a malestrom of emotions that conflicted and fired within her spinning with giddy speed around and around and around... like a sand storm.... like the ones that howled from the desert like demons... her mother was a demon they said... was she... do demons tend wounds... people make mistakes... did Hanasian err in his warning or had the mistakes been made by her mother.... she was so tired.... and cold... sleep.... curl up and sleep... rest.... don't fight.

"Vanwe, how is it that you come to be here?" Naiore's voice was soft, velvety as she exerted what influence she could over her daughter. Vanwe was a storm, barely contained. The power was breathtaking but still untutored, for her daughter sucuumbed a little. Vanwe felt her head bow further, heavy. Fingers lifted her chin and then hands cupped her cheeks. Her eyes were closed, and her head was spinning... a sand storm.

"I came looking for you," Vanwe whispered with a faint voice. There, there was that aching longing. Naiore smiled a little in the darkness. With a swift graceful move, she gathered Vanwe to her as though she would a child. Vanwe barely knew what was happening. A voice, smooth and musical sang and whispered to her through the whirling storm.

"You have found me, my child, and never shall you loose me again." Vanwe felt the chill of her clammy skin grow, seeping through her as her mother crooned to her a lullaby. Elven it was. Vanwe had never heard such a thing. It was beautiful. It was hers! This is what she had wanted to hear as a child! She shivered and drew closer. No matter how close Vanwe pulled to her mother, the chill would not abate. She was so tired she drifted through it, not knowing the truth would find her in her dreams...

Naiore

She could feel her daughter's body slacken in her arms, but the powerful chaotic tumult of her daughter's emotions and senses barely abated. Naiore eased herself away from Vanwe carefully, wearied by the effort it had taken to contain Vanwe. Far safer to garrot her now, as she slept. Naiore stood looking down at her daughter. She would barely know what happened and were she able to marshall her abilities she cannot possibly stop me. She is too green and raw.

Toby's return with an armfull of kindling intruded on Naiore's thoughts. He set it down and ventured a question. "Who is she?" Toby nodded towards Vanwe's sleeping form.

"My daughter," Naiore replied in an odd voice. My daughter, sent to kill me by my foes. My daughter, whom I will use in my own way without mercy. My daughter, whom I will dispose of by passing her onto that oaf, Barrold. My daughter, who could have been beside me had not I been cheated of my life. And so, I will cheat her of hers, for that is the way it must be. But not before I have taken everything she has to give. Not before I have taught her that the world is unforgiving and cares for nothing and noone.

"I can see the resemblance," Toby replied. Naiore barely heeded him. She turned away from them both, staring at the stars. Those same stars had blindly danced in the sky when it began. They had shone through the horror and the darkness. They had shown no compassion the many times she had begged for release in the wild and forgotten places. There is no release to be granted and her path was before her feet unchanging.

She would use and then effectively kill her own daughter. Barrold would not be kind to Vanwe. Naiore knew that eventually, he would kill her in a fit of drunken rage. Naiore was no orc. Somewhere, in a place she rarely visted and kept walled off, that realisation tore at her. But there was no mercy. She was not released. It was this or death, brought to heel by the rag-tag remnants of her folk and the gangrel mortal realm that now had inflated itself through the lands.

She had not endured years of torment and deprivation for such an end. Toby was left in silence until the two men returned and dropped the gathered wood with the kindling. Avanill organised the branches and kindling and coaxed a fire from it. They sorted through their newly obtain provisions for the evening meal and soon had that underway.

Naiore seemed distant and fey by the firelight. Barrold, Avanill and Toby each watched her warily. There was an ancient light in her eyes, starlight from many many years past. There was pain too, terrible pain. But most of all, there was rage, tightly coiled and twisted around formidible reason. Once their evening meal had been consumed and Toby busied himself by moping up any leftovers in true Hobbit fashion, Barrold broke the silence.

"What's wrong with 'er?" he jerked a thumb to where Vanwe lay in the flickering light, hair spread over the ground and her chest rising and falling evenly in sleep.

"Nothing that is your concern, Ferney. She is not given to you yet." Naiore's rebuke was sharply delivered across the fire. Barrold twitched but held his peace.

"She gave us some trouble today," Avanill said. There was a coldness to his voice, impassive. Naiore recognised it well. Vanwe was no longer a person. Her resistance had changed Avanill's view of her in that regard. She was chattel now, and chattels could be disposed of easily.

"Tell me of the Ranger you killed," Naiore redirected.

"We didn't kill 'im. Avanill knocked 'im out with some goop on a rag. Not before I got a good few in, though," Barrold corrected. He smiled, his lip still swolled and cracked. Evidently, so did the Ranger, Naiore mused to herself. Instead, she turned back to Avanill.

"A receipe of my mother's," he said, refusing to add more.
"Your mother is a wise woman, Avanill. I hope, for your sake, you have a share of that. Mother's are not to be triffled with." Naiore glanced vaguely in Vanwe's direction. Barrold added, "Especially not this one," in what he supposed was a murmur.

Raising his voice, he reached for his pack. Avanill copied his movement. Whilst Avanill reviewed the more exotic goods he had taken from Tallas, Barrold struggled to pull something larger and heavier from his own. Naiore's eyes widened in shock, a single elegant blonde brow arching high in her smooth forehead at the sight of the mithril bound volumes.

"Avanill can tell you what herbs and plants he took from the old man. We found this too. Dunno wot it is, but thought you might wanna take a look at it or somethin'." Having fought it clear of his pack, Barrold tossed one volume across to Naiore as though it were the annual rain records of the Shire. Naiore caught it and shot Barrold a look so severe and replete with promised harm that even Toby scuttled back a measure. Barrold did his best to be more gentle with the second one.

"Were there others?"
"Yeah, but I coulnd't fit 'em all in me pack with all the other stuff you said you wanted." Naiore hissed with displeasure as she ran her hands over the smooth cover of the tome.
"Tallas most certainly is dead then." Barrold paused, scowling in his turn. "I said he was before..... you callin' me a liar?" Avanill paused what he was doing and looked up in time to catch Naiore's expression settle into dangerous serenity.

It was like a mere, deep and mysterious, that expression. A mere that could drown you, pull you under and suffocate the life out of you, never loosing its beauty.

"And if I were, Barrold Ferney, what would you do?" It was almost an invitation. The feyness had doubled. Naiore sat very still, thrumming with the itch to spill Barrold's blood. Release, even so small, would be like freedom of a sorts. Barrold's insticts kicked in then and informed him that he was on the cusp of a plunge from which he would not rise.

Unhappy, but silent, he returned to lifting the second tome free to cooly pass to Naiore. With both volumes in her possession, Naiore struggled to resume control and reason. When she had won, a battle she always did though it was harder now than it ever had been before, she fell into the familiar comfort of commader.

"We will strike West tomorrow. Once we have cleared the Barrow-downs, we will move southeast and use the fringes of the Old Forest for cover. There are many strange things which if we pass through may waylay those who follow.

"Once we're in the Shire, we will move on Buckland. They won't expect us, nor our particular type of war. With Buckland dealt with, we'll be free to move on the Mayor in Hobbiton, by way of Tookland."

"How do we get into the Shire," Avanill asked keenly.

"My daughter," Naiore smoothly replied. The facade of calm was thin tonight.
"Her!" Barrold's disbelief was obvious.
"Of what help will she be?" Avanill was a little more cautious.

"Little enough if you two continue as you have today. She will help me willingly, because I am her mother and some bonds cannot easily be set aside." Avanill, who himself understand such a thing, nodded. "But, should she manage to throw that aside, I have ways to enforce my will."

Barrold nodded at that, for it was something he understood.

"And we have Toby who will prove invaluable, won't you Master Longholes?"

Toby nodded firmly to be sure there was no doubt.

"What war will you make," Avanill asked dubiously. "Five people do not an army make."

"Have you ever heard of a Ravenning, Avanill," Naiore asked mildly, eyes bright with something it was wise not to look at for long. Avanill shivered and Barrold swallowed. "I have little use for armies. They are an encumberance, slow, unweildly, and expensive to feed and arm."

"Then why do you need me," Toby asked. There was a quaver in his voice, and he really would have preferred to be silent or asleep like Vanwe was. Naiore's gaze turned on him and he felt sweat bead his hairline.

"I need those quick of wit and light of feet for information. I have heard there is no better than you for such things. Am I misinformed?"

"No," managed Toby. He breathed in relief when Naiore looked away, catching the glint of brief amusement. Toby struggled to reconcile two images. One was of a mother, holding her child, tenderly, Toby thought, so gently. One was of a... demon. She was like a dragon, beautiful and terrible and deadly.... but she didn't smell like a dragon. Apparently dragons stank. Even if she did, he wouldn't be saying so to her face. Whilst Toby thought of dragons and Ravennors and Elves, Naiore turned back to the two Men who sat across the fire from her.

What she yearned to do was read the volumes. What she yearned to do was run free, unhunted and unhindered. That was not to be. She would have to wait still longer yet. Vanwe stirred in her sleep, breathing something unintelligible before settling once more.

"Avanill, I will need you to help me mix some ungents and infusions that we will require over the coming days. Also I have... reinforcements... waiting for word of our sucess. They will hold off any move from the south to free the Shire from our hold. For now, all we have to contend with are Rangers and the Shire.

"I will take the first watch. You and Avanill can decide who takes the next two."

Naiore ran her fingers in a caress, almost, over the top cover of the books she held in her lap.

"Anything further to discuss," she added.

"Reward," Barrold immediately furnished.

"You may take half the spoils of the Shire upon capture, to divide between you three as you see fit, and anything ongoing is your own to distribute as you wish amongst yourselves," Naiore said listlessly.

"That's.... generous of you, Lady Dannan," Avanill said suspiciously. Naiore levelled a direct gaze at him. He had a sharp mind.

"I have little interest in their spoils, Avanill," she said levelly. What did interest her was unspoken in her clear, grey gaze. Avanill withheld asking her about it. Such things were not discussed at night. "If you wish to see any of your booty, you will do nothing to impede my plans. That includes my daughter. Set a hand to her and I'll take that hand and more in my own turn. Any further questions?"

Barrold shook his head, rubbing the wrist of the hand that he had used to strike Vanwe with during the day. He shot a resentful glare at where she lay now but said nothing. "I'll take second watch," he said. With that, he relaced his pack, drew his coat about him and settled down with his back to the flames.

Naiore studied Avanill and Toby in silence, waiting them out.

[ November 04, 2003: Message edited by: Elora ]
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Characters: Rosmarin: Lady of Cardolan; Lochared: Vagabond of Dunland; Simra: Daughter of Khand; Naiore: Lady of the Sweet Swan; Menecin: Bard of the Singing Seas; Vanwe: Lost Maiden; Ronnan: Lord of Thieves; and, Uien of the Twilight
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Old 11-03-2003, 10:47 AM   #137
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Sting

Dúlrain

Dúlrain had meant to share his news with his fellows as soon as they were together, but their business pressed them on. It will keep for camp, he thought as they rode back into the Chetwood.

The realisation that the tracks lead to the old man, Tallas' forest abode sat ill in his thoughts, pushing his encounter with his long lost friend to one side as they quickened their pace. "The tracks split!" Maethor suddenly cried. Dúlrain's concern for the old man intensified, he dismounted and crouched down next to Rauthain to examine the tracks. This does not bode well he thought to himself. The tracks bore no sign that either villain was injured. He knew that their old friend would not welcome the likes of their kind to his door.

Amandur quickly informed them that he and the elf woman Léspheria would ride on to Tallas' and that they should continue following the trail before them, he watched for a moment as Amandur and the elf sped off through the trees, hoping that the elven woman would not need to use her healing skills at the old mans place. He then turned back to the trail before them.

Dúlrain rode at the back of the trio as the trail lead back to Bree, it then turned sharply to mount the side of the hill, they dismounted several times to re-examine the trail, which seemed to meander endlessly upwards. As he turned to regard the lowering sun he saw disquiet in the older ranger as his gaze cast towards the top of the hill.

"What is it Rauthain?" he ventured bring his horse along side the older man. "I had thought that we may gain time if we could espy our quarry from the hill or an out cropping such as this," His grey eyes followed his hand towards the high crest of stone nearby. He turned back as the older man conveyed his reluctance to lose Naiore. He too had to admit that this path was long and winding and yet no sign of their quarry had they seen, Naiore had used this tact before to deceive and elude them, but before he could rely that he felt the same, Maethor spoke up...

"What of Vanwe's Plight? Is she not also deserving of our attention?" Dúlrains head turned to regard the other ranger there was a silent conviction in his eyes. He thought on the elf maiden as Rauthain brushed aside the question.

Those that Naiore had used before to elude them were of no value to her, expendable, Is her own daughter really that expendable, would she risk her daughter falling into the hands of her enemies, No he did not believe this was so, Barrold, Avanill most certainly, but not the daughter that could be used against her! Dúlrain reasoned.

"But are not many more served by concentrating solely on the capture of Naiore and not becoming distracted from our mission?" Rauthains words pulled him from his thoughts and he regarded the ranger thoughtfully.

"By finding Vanwe, we find Naiore, it is one in the same," he answered evenly. "Have patience, we shall not let up until she has been brought to justice. However, if it will quell your anxiety, climb to see what you may, you will find us easily enough when you are satisfied, for you speak as one consumed. What lies so heavily on your heart that you should be so?" he continued seeing his companions disquiet grow.

His thoughtfulness turned to confusion as the ranger spoke of atonement and of a ranger once caught in Naiore's grasp. He was not aware that one of there own had fallen prey to the Revennor, but Rauthain’s words of atonement struck a cord in his own heart. No more words did he hear, instead he found himself gazing down on the village of Bree wondering were his brother was now. He too had much to atone for; Kaldir’s scared face and memories were a bitter testimony to how he had failed his old friend. Inhaling deeply he turned back to see Rauthain ascending the hill.

"Of whom does he speak? I know of no ranger that has become prey to the Revennor?" he asked Maethor as he continued. The younger rangers words struck him hard and he pulled hard on his reins causing the proud stallion to snort indignantly, turning to regard the departing back of Rauthain, "He is right he does have much to atone for!" he muttered bitterly.

"What do you know of what happened to him and how long has it been known that Kaldir was alive?" he asked turning back on Maethor, ignoring his stunned look, he felt betrayed if these two knew how many more did? Moreover, why had none thought to tell him that his brother was alive?

"It was said that after the battle of Raven Falls, Kaldir was spirited away by the orcs to their master’s strong hold of Barad-dûr, where he remained unbeknownst to us until Amandur discovered him in the wreckage of that same fortress." Barad-dûr...Amandur...Dulrain felt like a knife had been plunged into his heart. "Are you alright?" Maethor asked as his companions face pale with pain, “I’m fine!” he snapped, “What else do you know?” he asked waving the concerned ranger away. He listened as Maethor told him of the many rumours regarding the ranger turned bounty hunter and the part they believed Naiore had played in changing the ranger’s spirit.

Dúlrain's eyes welled with renewed guilt, pain and regret, but then an anger long forgotten welled within him. The Rangers of raven falls had convinced him that his brother was dead. Finding Kaldir's sword and bloodied cloak by the banks of the river, they reasoned that the ranger having been mortally wounded must have fallen into the rapids and been drowned. Dúlrain had not been so convinced, not easily was his friend parted from his grandfather’s sword. Were he killed or wounded, the sword would have surely gone with him. They had pandered to a young ranger’s denial he thought bitterly. They had continued with him for a time, none of them believing that Kaldir had survived, until only Hanasain had remained. "I feel your grief my friend I too wish he was alive." the memory of Hanasain's sincere words did little to abate his anger, Dúlrain had searched for a time after that alone but eventually in his despair he gave into their reasoning and abandoned his search.

Dúlrain looked down to see his hand wrapped tightly about the hilt of Kaldir's sword, "They are all as guilty as Naiore.... as am I he muttered angrily, his grip tightening that his nails dug into the palm of his hand drawing blood. Reluctantly letting go of the hilt he unfurled his hand looking despondently at the small trickle of blood that ran across his palm. Images of Kaldir in the dark pits of Barad-dûr, enduring the torture of the Revennor of Mordor assailed his mind along with ones of Kaldir torn and broken praying for his friend to come as he once promised he would.

Kaldirs hand clenched again.” I have failed you my brother, but on my blood I promise that I will not rest until I have seen that this monster has paid for what she has done to you.” his words were no more than a whisper but his conviction burned in his eyes like a raging fire. All the mirth in the ranger’s eyes had gone, consumed by the flames. Presently unaware, if Maethor was still with him or not, he continued on stopping only briefly to re-examine the tracks as they passed by the hobbit holes and on to a more isolated section of the hill.

Dúlrain stopped as the tracks appeared to lead to a small dark cave, dismounting he lashed his horse to the branch of a nearby tree, cautiously his drew his sword it was then that the presence of Maethor returned to him as he felt the ranger do likewise. Unlike his companions, he was not experienced in the art of tracking and the jumble of prints leading to and from the cave confused him.

"Maethor, I require your keen eyes! I see our three friends enter here," he said pointing to the trail leading into the cave. "But look here and here, how many friends does the Revennor have?" he asked pointing to two different set of tracks leaving the cave. He watched wearily as Maethor carefully examined every print.

"She was here!" Maethor suddenly exclaimed as he examined again the first set of prints, "Vanwe and her captors are with her," he sighed, "Look here!" he said pointing to a small bear foot print of a hobbit. "Master Longholes!" Dúlrain spat disdainfully "Then we must make haste she will already know we are close," he reasoned making for his horse, but pausing at Maethor's hesitation.

"What is it?" he asked impatiently "You did not ask me about the other tracks!" Maethor answered cautiously, "What of them, we know which way Naiore is heading and that is what matters!" he retorted returning to his mount. "They are Kaldir's and two companions," Maethor whispered gently. Dúlrain stopped dead in his tracks and slowly looked back.

"So he is ahead of us.” It was Rauthain returned from his errand. Dúlrain shot him a sharp look but let Maethor explain what they had found. As they spoke, he followed Kaldir’s boot prints inside, only his wife had followed him inside. The hobbit woman, Mrs Tunnelly had remained outside. As he looked down at the southern woman’s delicate boot print Maethors words of earlier came back to him. “They say he was at the Forsaken the day before I arrived, no doubt after some quarry of his own.” A shiver ran down his back, was this woman and his companion his quarry? He wondered. However, immediately he shook the thought away. No, who would have a bounty on such a beautiful young woman, her eyes full of kindness and...His thoughts stopped abruptly as he recalled that the woman had tried to mouth something to him. “Please...she had said please!” he gasped in horror and disbelief.

"Who did friend?" Dúlrain turned to see Maethor a torch held out in front of him, looking at him expectantly.

"The woman I spoke of earlier, "he answered reluctantly, he paused then added, "She was with Kaldir." he sighed resignedly.

"You saw him today!" Rauthain asked urgently coming up behind Maethor. Dúlrain's eyes narrowed with resentment. "YES! And if anyone had thought to tell me my brothers bitter tale I may have been able to dissuade him from this madness," he knew this was not true but he was angry.

"I too have only recently learnt of his survival," Rauthain calmly replied

But Dúlrain's anger was not to be abated so easily, "You abandoned him to his fate, you are as guilty as the one we hunt!" he yelled bitterly, counting himself guilty in that charge. Sharply pulling his eyes from the ranger he stalked towards what little light was left of the day.

"Toby is no more than a snivelling coward, under questioning of the Revennor of Mordor he would spilled his guts, she knows we are near and the number of our company," he called back. "Come! Master Rauthain We may yet be able to atone for our crime!" he said coldly as he left the cave.

Pushing his sword harshly into it's sheath, he mounted his horse with half a mind not to wait for his companions, but he stayed his mount long enough to see the two rangers exit the cave, "I will scout ahead" he told them, taking up his reigns "Yah! Yah! He called urging the stallion on, stopping only once the others where out of sight.

He cursed himself for letting, his anger get the better of him, but he regretted not a single word, it was true! He and the others of Raven falls had abandoned Kaldir to his fate. It was their fault that Kaldir was the man he was today. His anger again began to swell, but defiantly he bit it back. He dropped from Dir to examine the road he was now on, luckily, he was still on the trail and it seemed to be heading north towards the gates, which made sense to him, as this gate was not so heavily guarded as the others. He remounted Dir and followed the tracks to the gate, where he reluctantly waited for the others.

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Old 11-03-2003, 08:40 PM   #138
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Maethor

Maethor gazed with concern as Dúlrain galloped away in a stinging flurry of kicked stone and dust to scout the path ahead; it was as if he was pushing them away in disgust: leaving them behind because they had hurt him wrongfully. The anger that had flared from him was almost frightening and Maethor himself was confused. Why such anger about one who was thought to be dead but proved instead to be alive? He shook his head, his tangled hair brushing against his face as he sought to solve the puzzle. Did Dúlrain know Kaldir before the ruining of the Ravennor? Of course they had, for he had called him brother. Yet, Maethor had not known that Kaldir had had a brother -- of course, Maethor knew very little of Kaldir anyway. Frowning, Maethor turned to ask Rauthain if he could solve the riddle for him, but his face was forbidding and impassive: as if he was deep in memory and sorrows of the past. His eyes seemed to glint with guilt and occasionally his eyes strayed to the road, as if he was thinking of Dúlrain.

Sinking into his own muses, Maethor wondered how he could have heard of the Ranger turned bounty hunter, when Dúlrain had not. It had been some time ago, from a friend who had known one of the Rangers who had overheard one of the ones who had gone into Mordor mention it. Maethor snorted scornfully: it was brutally ironic that he, a virtual nobody in the realm of the rangers, should know before one such as Dúlrain.

Turning his thoughts to Vanwe, he wondered what Naiore could want with her. A weapon perhaps. It grieved him to think of her chaffed wrists and the terror that had reflected from her limpid blue eyes. She had escaped once before, he mused, maybe she can again.

Dúlrain was awaiting them further ahead of the paths and Maethor could still see a storm rage within him. Deciding the best course would best not mention a word about Kaldir, Naiore, Amandur, or the Falls, he said, knowing that it would not allay his grief, “I am sorry, friend.”
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Old 11-04-2003, 05:02 PM   #139
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Toby

Toby shifted uncomfortably under the elven woman's gaze, unable to bare the weight of her sharp, studying eyes any longer he turned his back to the fire and lay down thinking to get some rest, but sleep evaded him. He tossed restlessly for several minutes trying to get comfortable, and then giving up he lay on his back staring up at the stars, contemplating all that had been said after supper.

She is insane he finally concluded. Every Breelander hobbit knew the terrible stories told about the wrights that roamed the downs. He pulled his cloak tighter about him as a cold chill ran down his spine at the mere thought. Then there is the old Forest, tales say that the forest is alive and it attacked Buckland once trying to get over the Hay, driven back only when the hobbits lit fires in the area now aptly called Bonfire glade. Even if they were to survive the downs and the forest, they would still have the Bounders and the masters of Buckland to deal with. Toby snorted indignantly at the thought of Masters Brandybuck and Took, it was largely due to them and Mayor Gamgee that, old Sharky had failed in what this Ravennor, what ever that was? Though he really did not wish to know, the look on Barrold and Avanill's had been enough, sought to do.

He had underestimated the resilience of the hobbits, especially once roused, as most big folk did, they are gifted with being generally undaunted in the face of bad situations, something Toby was aware that he sorely lacked. However, this elf was no different from the old wizard overconfident in her own abilities, he thought disdainfully. Nevertheless, she seemed more dangerous than the old wizard, her serenity and feyness sat ill in the pit of his stomach, he shivered again. Glancing about the camp, he realised that he would not be able to escape them, but he would not permit the indignity of being locked up or killed by the stuck up hobbits of the Shire. He sighed heavily, resigned to the fact that he had no other choice but to help this elf woman, who ever she was.

This feeling was all to familiar, it had been the same when old Bill had forced him to spy on the Shire for Sharky, He would just have to be as careful as he had been then, only a few had known his part in that misadventure and most of them had not survived. Toby grinned at his own cleverness then went back to thinking about the bounders, the two elves and the men would not get within bow shot, without his help... he stifled a satisfied grin and inconspicuously slipped his hand to his dagger, as he heard one of his companions walking about, none of which where to be trusted. His body tensed like a wound spring ready to strike should one of his companions think they would be better rid of him.

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Old 11-05-2003, 12:10 PM   #140
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Sting

Rauthain

When he returned Rauthain found Maethor and Dúlrain studying the signs inside the mouth of the cave, speaking of a woman and of Kaldir. “You saw him today!” he said astonished, reining in Juta who skirted and reared reflecting the Rauthain’s eagerness.

“Yes!” Dúlrain replied in a voice thick with resentment. “And if anyone had thought to tell me my brother’s bitter tale I may have been able to dissuade him from this madness.”

A wish , thought Rauthain. “I too have only recently learned of his survival.” He was struck in this outpouring by Dúlrain’s use of the phase “my brother”. He said it not as one would speak of his fellows, but in an impassioned way telling a stronger bond. He had heard Kaldir himself speak of a brother once in the same manner. So long ago it seemed, when the evenings were long and harsh and the men in his band would warm themselves with tales of lore or of homes left behind. But Rauthain remembered also the day he had arrived on the threshold of Kaldir’s home, finding only a lonely and aging father with no one to bring him comfort after hearing the ill news Rauthain delivered, the last hope of his line had been lost at Raven Falls, and so he had stayed with him for a time, recounting Kaldir’s courage and valor.

“You abandoned him to his fate, you are as guilty as the one we hunt!” broke in Dúlrain’s charges, as he turned his back to face fading light at the cave’s mouth. The bitter words fell on Rauthain more painfully than blows. A resonate pain tore him as Dúlrain gave voice to the accusations so deeply embedded in his own heart. He had truly abandoned Kaldir to his fate, more so then even Dúlrain imagined. And his black guilt had laid the cornerstone of misery. Rauthain’s head trembled slightly in the torchlight.

“Toby is no more than a sniveling coward, under the questioning of the Revennor of Mordor he would have spilled his guts. She knows we are near and the number of our company. Come! Master Rauthain we may yet be able to atone for our crime!” Dúlrain called coldly as he stalked out of the cave. "I will scout ahead."

Rauthain willed himself to look at the ground and examine the prints there. He could not afford to brood on his failings when he could see his recompense so near. He must remain focused. Feelings no longer mattered. The tracks were a muddle of horses and boots at the cave's mouth, with what seemed to be Toby's interspersed. Trying to commit the new shapes and gaits to memory, he felt them slip from his awareness as his thoughts clamored, demanding attention. There was Dúlrain's stride leading to where his horse had been. And there another's, Kaldir's, intermingled with a woman's leading to another cluster of hooves and again a hobbit.

Kaldir is following Naiore with two others, he remarked to himself. He had seen a small group leave the hill and pass through the northern gate from atop his perch on the hillside not an hour earlier. At the time he had thought them a man, woman and child from his vantage point, but he now recognized the dapple stallion and the man as those he had seen at the Forsaken Inn. So we are all on the same mission? he mused. Or is he merely seeking out his mistress, the Ravennor.

Maethor by his side, they made their way quickly to the northern gate, Rauthain looking only occasionally at the tracks left by Dúlrain's horse, for he was lost in his thoughts. Coming upon horse and rider waiting for them, Maethor approached Dúlrain cautiously, wishing to comfort him in his grief. "I'm sorry, friend." He said softy as they drew along side.

Dúlrain nodded silently, a fire still smoldering in his grey eyes.

"We are all sorry," Rauthain added. "This thing should never have happened but for mischance and faulty judgment, though it is more than lamentable to see of the tragic result of a moment’s mistake."

“A moment’s mistake? You speak as though he was a cloak that had been let drop along the roadside, an inconvenience. You had made a choice to turn your back to him, never again hoping in his survival! Everyday you made that choice.”

Never again hoping in his survival, Rauthain’s mind echoed. Was it true? He looked sympathetically at the younger man and placing his hand on his shoulder he said, “You are the one Kaldir called brother.” It was a pronouncement and recognition of the pain they shared. And Rauthain caught his eye as if to say he understood.

[ November 06, 2003: Message edited by: Hilde Bracegirdle ]
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Old 11-06-2003, 07:06 PM   #141
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Sting

Gilly

Gilly noticed Benia’s hand tighten around her knife as she eyed Kaldir. Remembering their conversation in the alley she became genuinely alarmed. What exactly did her friend have in mind? Were Benia to try anything now she knew they would have no chance, unless she were to manage to injure Kaldir gravely indeed. Somehow that seemed unwarranted to the hobbit. She reckoned the bounty hunter had been treating them rather well for being held captive. Other than the odd threats of death and stern demeanor, he had provided food and horses and now thankfully she had been given her knife back! In view of Kaldir’s immediately apparent goal she would sorely regret having her only defense taken away through her friend’s miscalculations.

Not to say she herself hadn’t been tempted to flee and find some hiding place when the two had left her to watch the horses, but once given a task she took care to do it to the best of her ability, dependability being a source of pride for her. Also she could not bring herself to leave knowing that even if she did reach help she would be unlikely to find her friend, Miss Nightshade again.

A rather absurd hope was forming in her mind that if Miss Benia and she were to somehow find a way to assist Kaldir in his pursuit of Naiore, perhaps they could win their own freedom. Were bounty hunters such bad people that you could not strike an honest bargain with them? She supposed one could tell a “good” bounty hunter from a “bad” one by what sort of people they chose to track down. Unfortunately Kaldir, having pursued Miss Benia, weighed in heavily on the less desirable side according to this theory.

The hobbit saw Kaldir catch Benia’s hand in his and after laying down his bow raise it so that the well honed knife was poised between their faces.”

“What were you thinking, my lady?” he asked menacingly. “Would you strike at me?”

“Ach!” Gilly muttered, “Now she’s gone and done it!” Rushing up to the towering ranger she gingerly attempted to smooth things over when Kaldir cut her off abruptly with out so much a word.

Standing silently beside them, she saw their eyes engaged. Miss Benia not looking defiant, but rather studying the ice blue eyes. After a moment she faltered glancing anxiously at the hobbit.

“Well?” Kaldir prompted. “I asked you a question.” Gilly looked awaiting Benia’s response, but the desert woman remained mute. The hobbit jerked her chin toward the man, trying to signal her friend to answer anything, just answer.

Kaldir pulled the knife toward him placing the tip against his throat, the tendons of his hand pulling taut his bronze skin as he enclosed Benia’s hand in his. Her eyes became fixed on the knife resting in the hollow there. Shaking her head she finally uttered “No”.

Gilly saw that a drop of blood shone at the base of the bounty hunter’s neck. “Miss Benia…” she whispered reaching for her own knife. She could not understand what was happening before her. Benia again looked upon the his face and tried to pull her hand away. After a moment’s hesitation Kaldir released it and walked away as though nothing unusual had happened, bidding them to hurry so that they might leave Bree. But the two stood planted in shocked silence. “Move!” Kaldir shouted tossing Benia’s sheath to her.

They quickly resumed their places and began the descent into Bree and onward to Chetwood. Once they were deep among the trees Gilly urged her pony on until she rode next to Kaldir as he walked. Taking some bread and dried fruit from the packs the pony carried, she handed them to the ranger who accepted them from her hand, with thanks.

“You know Mr. Kaldir,” the hobbit said quietly, “there is no harm in her looking at you now is there?” It wasn’t exactly the straightest truth, but near enough. Still she continued, hoping for the best. “I’ve never known Miss Nightshade to go around murdering people and such like, no matter how angry I’ve seen her. Don’t you go worrying yourself about that. If you’d like, I can have a talk with her, and tell her not to stare too much, if that is what troubled you so.”

“That won’t be necessary, Mrs. Banks” Kaldir said. “But look, here is something that might interest you. Look at these tracks and tell me what you see.”

“Oh Sir, I don’t know the first thing about rangering! They all look a jumble to me.”

“What about this one here?” The bounty hunter said pointing to a bare footprint in the dust.

“I suppose it might be a hobbit’s, but why this Naiore would travel with a hobbit I’m sure I don’t know! And why a hobbit would travel with her as well! But then again why would a bounty hunter for that matter, keep a hobbit in tow.”

“Perhaps the halfling may prove useful to her.”

“Ach no! I hope not if she is as bad as she is. She would be a terrible mistress, shouting night and day '...bring this, polish that, not that diabolical instrument the other one you half wit!' A poor hobbit would know no peace.” She had hoped to make him smile, but was on the wrong side to mark his expression.

“Perhaps she keeps him to drive her mad with incessant chatter.” Kaldir said distractedly.

“Yes, there’s that too…” Gilly said quietly before dropping back beside Benia. Reaching into the pack again she offered some food to her friend. “Please eat something Miss Benia, she said earnestly. She was sure Benia must think her quite foolish and maybe she was. Sighing she wished that they could speak freely. What had happened at the cave was of great concern to her.
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Old 11-07-2003, 04:10 AM   #142
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Avanill

Avanill sat with his back to the fire, and to the others. The more he htought about what he had gotten himself into the more his stomach began to ache with anticipation and dread. The young man reached for his bag which contained all the poisons etc that he had acquired form their friend Tallas.

Slowly he began to blend herbs and potions of different sorts. He lay out an array of bottles before him and shuffled over to the fire, placing a billy upon the flames which contained a deadly poison which when boiled and added with the right ingredience would produce an energy potion.

Evidently he became more confident and almost forgot that there were other people there. Avanill was proud of his abilities, Apothecarictic activites were among the few things which his mother had not taught him,l he had supplied her himself to clients of hers until she retired form her craft. He grinned to himself as the potion sizzled down into a thin white powder. He then noticed the others watching him.

"Poison? or Provision?" he asked Toby off-handedly, the hobbit seemed stunned and unable to answer the question. He nodded at Avanill, "It can be both, might test it to make sure it works... would you like a drink Toby?" he asked. "No Avanill!" he remarked uneasy. "Of course not, Do you think id really kill you like that?" Toby sent a look of horror in his direction. "Yes!" Avanill shook his head and laughed at the same time. "Well, my friend, your probably right, Yes, i would kill you like that, if you owed me money." he paused like the young man he was and sat back from the fire. "I dont remember it so well, but whatever it was you ordered a lot and were two weeks late with payment."

Avanill could see Toby flinch from his place. "Would you look at him Barrold! scared as a rabbit, I tell you fellas, im not the worst of my house you know..." he trailed off and watched the stars. After a short while he turned to Barrold, "Why did we kill that old man Ferney, what did he really do to us which was that wrong?" Barrold snorted "Nothing he wouldnt 'av done to us boyo, Id think you are a darn sight dangerous when you are provoked m'boy, why'd you get so worked up?"

Avanill had forgotten about what Tallas had said. "Nohting, it was nothing," he muttered to Barrold and returned once more to staring at the sky. He thought about Naiore's reward, but would it be enough to buy his friends out of the jails in which they were captured? This was only one of the reasons that he agreed to this venture, his friends were good men, sure they were involved in black market trade, but was it such a crime really? Avanill thought not but raised and checked on his potions so that they were ready for Naiore for the morning.
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Old 11-10-2003, 09:24 PM   #143
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Benia

"Please eat something, Miss Benia," Gilly said, reaching out to Benia with a handful of dried fruit from her pack. Benia glanced at the food and shook her head.

"No, thank you, Gilly," she said softly. "I'm not hungry." They had been riding for over an hour since leaving Bree Hill and still her hands shook. She couldn't get the image of that single glistening bead of blood at the bounty hunter's throat out of her mind. He had given her the opportunity to kill him and save herself, but she had failed the test - as she knew she would every time if given the same test over again. Still, it wasn't the knowledge that she could not slay a man in cold blood, even to save herself, that made her hands shake so, but more the frightening reality of the bounty hunter himself. In that moment when he had held her hand in his and with his own strength pushed the point of her dagger into his skin and drawn blood, she had caught a glimpse of the man behind the scarred veneer. She knew in that instant that he was not mad. What she saw behind the bounty hunter's facade was a man so angry and driven that he knew no fear, a man who had been so brutalized that pain or the spilling of his own blood no longer affected him.

This was a man who had already been to the bottom of the abyss. In a way, he was like a walking dead man. All that had been warm or beautiful in him had been shattered, leaving behind only a molten core of anger and fierce determination, but she could see the fragments of what had been broken were still there, winking at her like splinters of glass through a layer of ash. That was what made her hands shake. He terrified her, yet, at the same time, she longed to reach out to him, to try to make him whole again.

"Please, Miss Benia," Gilly's voice broke through her thoughts. "You haven't eaten anything all day. Even Mr. Kaldir would have a bit of fruit."

As though coming out of a dream, Benia turned toward her friend. Gilly had ridden ahead and talked to the bounty hunter, hadn't she? He had not threatened or rebuffed her either, at least not that Benia had noticed. Perhaps they did have a hope of reaching him. She smiled suddenly. "Did he, now?" she asked.

"Only a few pieces of dried apple," answered Gilly. "But it was that much more than you've had. You'd feel so much better if you would just have a bite to eat."

"I suspect you're right," Benia said at last and took the fruit from the hobbit. She put a small handful of it into her mouth and, as she chewed, watched the bounty hunter's back as he jogged ahead of them. It was fast growing dark and his form was little more than a shade against the darker shade of the forest.

She felt torn. On one hand, she wanted to flee from him and get as far away from him as possible, yet her softer side counseled her to stay, to see if there were some way she could coax his shattered soul back together again. She had always been a sucker for a lost cause, the bird with the broken wing, the half-drowned kitten. Granted this man was as far from a half-drowned kitten as a wolf was from a field mouse, but she could sense the void that surrounded him, his lack of connection with anything but his own anger. He needed a soft hand to draw him back from the abyss. On the other hand, though...

On the other hand, she couldn't get the face of the other man, the ranger, Dulrain, out of her mind. She had only glimpsed him for a second, yet she found him constantly on the edge of her thoughts. She wondered how he fit into the bounty hunter's story, if he was a friend or a foe. Remembering the charge that had passed between the ranger and herself in that brief second that their eyes had met, she flushed again and looked at her hands. In the semi-darkness, the tattoos stood out against her skin like brands. She knew that he was well out of her league, what with her being a mere half-caste with one foot in Bree and the other in the deserts of Far Harad, while he was one of King Elessar's own brethren, but she hoped to cross paths with him again. Just to see his face, to see if that charge would connect them again, was all she wanted. Thinking back to the moment when she had raised her veil, she suddenly frowned. Why had he not reacted to her plea for help? Perhaps he had not understood. If she or Gilly or even the bounty hunter blew the whistle he had left with them, would he come? She looked again at the bounty hunter's back. It was a good question.

Turning to Gilly, she smiled again. "Thank you for making me eat. You were right. I do feel better."

"Troubles always seem less troublesome on a full stomach," answered Gilly with a gentle smile in return.

Benia wondered if that was an old hobbit saying from the Shire, but, instead of asking, she nodded in the direction of the bounty hunter. "When you were talking with him a minute ago, what did you say?"

Gilly shrugged. "Nothing much. I gave him some food and he showed me the tracks we are following. There seems to be a hobbit traveling with this Ravener."

"A hobbit!" echoed Benia.

"Yes, a hobbit," confirmed Gilly. "I can't imagine why, unless he's a prisoner and she's making him go along. She doesn't sound at all like the hobbit sort, if you catch my meaning."

"I do," answered Benia, nodding thoughtfully. After that, she fell once more into silence. The darkness had settled around them like a fog. Up ahead, the bounty hunter had stopped walking and was waiting to the side of the path for them to catch up.

"It's time we stopped for the night," he said, as they reined their horses to a halt beside him. "We'll make camp here."

[ November 10, 2003: Message edited by: Ealasaide ]
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Old 11-11-2003, 02:05 AM   #144
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Naiore

Naiore withdrew, taking the mithril bound tomes with her, and left the Men and Hobbit to their chatter. She bent over Vanwe, who moved restlessly. She could sense that Vanwe's consciousness was a turgid, rolling stream barely held in check by her earlier action and the exhaustion of the day. It was troublesome and Naiore sighed pensively as she watched her daughter's eyelids flicker.

The options were little to Naiore's liking. Apply force, and she would loose Vanwe's willing cooperation. Things would go harder then. She could lie, though the idea was unappealing. Perhaps she could slip through words without having to directly engage in spoken deceit. It was one thing to know Vanwe craved a mother and quite another to know how to use that craving to its fullest potential before she destroyed the tool that Vanwe was.

Still, Naiore had deciphered knottier puzzles in the past, Vanwe's father, for example, and she would do so again. With only that thought and the awareness that for the moment her trained and honed discipline outweighed her daughter's strength, Naiore straightened to her full height. She swept an impassive gaze in a serene face across the camp. Barrold and Avanill were preoccupied and Toby seemed intent on making himself as small and unnoticeable as he could.

Satisfied that all was in order, Naiore withdrew to a vantage that afforded a good view about their camp area. In time, the camp still. Barrold's snoring came and went regularly. Avanill continued his work. Toby curled into a tight ball and slept as best as he could with one eye open. Naiore, for her part, sat in the darkness as though she were made of living night itself. Only the flicker of the dying fire gave her movement as the flames shone in her pale golden hair. On her lap lay the silver books, large and beckoning to her.

It was not until Avanill retired for the night that Naiore at last succumbed to the lure of the stolen books. She set her senses to range about the camp. If any approached, she know of their emotional presence long before she would see them with her keen Elven sight anyway. That done, Naiore studied the locks that Tallas had used to secure the two books.

"Cunning old man," she muttered quietly to herself in the tongue of her youth. There was noone about to raise a brow at the Quenyan language that fell from her mouth. Adding fuel for the fire, Naiore began to work at the locks. The stars above watched on as she brought to bear all the Noldorin ingenuity that was her heritage upon the locks. As it was, it took nearly half an hour to pry them loose. Naiore heard the light click and extracted the delicate tipped dagger that she had been using to pick the lock.

It was a rare piece, Noldorin and invaluable. She inspected the tip for damage and stowed it away, her concern for the contents of Tallas' locked books outweighing her love of such exquisite pieces of craft. She added more fuel, took a deep breath and let her gaze fall onto the first page.

The books were of vellum, smooth and creamy to the touch. Upon them, a flowing script in the Tengwar mode of Beleriand curled over the pages. It had been long since Naiore had beheld the ancient writings of her kin and at first she smiled a rare, true smile to see them now. All her own books, written in Tengwar, had been destroyed with Minas Morgul and Barad-Dur, years agon now.

Her smile was beautiful and illuminary, creating a glimpse of what it was that so beguiled others in earlier days of innocence. It soon faded as she poured through what Tallas had read. It was a history, in astonishing and revealing detail of Finarfin and his descendants. It described names, children, spouses. It told of deeds and battles fought, from the First Age onwards.

It was, in short, a record of Naiore's family. In that alone it was remarkable. Few such accounts remain. It's detail, accuracy and completeness was astounding. Naiore read quickly, as ever she had. Names leapt off the page, snagging her interest. As she progressed, her smile grew cold and then faded.

Naiore slammed shut the first book breathing rapidly. Her fingers shook a little as she withdrew the dagger again and set to work on the second lock. Her heart beat rapidly in her chest. When it sprang open, she cast her dagger aside and tore open the mithril cover to resume reading.

The sight of Naiore Dannan unnerved so was rarer than the book she read or the dagger she had used to pick its lock. When her true fate had come to her people's knowledge, much of this information had been erased. Her parent's name and lineage, for example, had been removed from her. In many records, she did not exist, such was the shame. It had suited Naiore well. It was not always a good thing for her descent to be common knowledge and she had worked equally as hard to conceal it over the years.

But here, right before her eyes, it was all laid out. Parents, cousins, kindred through the generations. Names of the past, some victims and some not, and names of the future. Léspheria was a name of the future that was linked to the past. Galadriel was a name of the past that always had given Naiore a moment's pause when she heard it.

But that was not all that Naiore read in Tallas' books. Tallas had managed to set down a telling, of sorts, of her affairs. Some of it was conjecture, crimes she had committed and crimes she had not. She was startled at how much Tallas had been able to sort through. Some of the accounts she had thought were not known to any but her and Sauron. How Léspheria came to escape her attention also alarmed Naiore. Her mother she had dealt with thoroughly, Naiore well recalled.

That had been early in her career, at a time when Naiore had thought her true nature still unknown to her kin. She was wrong. It suggested that there were other things she was mistaken about also, a concept that inspired true misgivings within her. Naiore could not even begin to guess at what though, until she nearly dropped the book at the mention of another name.

Menecin

Had any in the camp been awake, they would have witnessed an uncanny change in Naiore's demeanour. Gone was the cold, tightly disciplined facade. Gone was her impassive serenity. Gone also was the guise of power and control. In this, Naiore was at the mercy of Tallas' account of an Elf named Menecin.

Her fevered reading skipped back and forth from word to word, as if unsure that what she read was truly written there.

"Menecin! Kuila? Laa! Ta na raika! Furu! Laa! (Menecin alive? No! It is wrong! A lie! No!)

"Im uya hanya." (I do not understand.) Doubt and uncertainy were notes in her whispers. That she even spoke to the night was a measure of how shaken the Ravenner was. She backtracked through what she had read. It told of Menecin's sucess at last, after long searching through hundreds of years, in finding her. It told of what happened, and it was as Naiore recalled it except in one, crucial aspect. Menecin was alive.

Naiore re-read the passage three times, searching for some subtelty in language and expression that she had missed, shaking her head as she bent over the pages. Naiore paused, closing her eyes and pressing her fingers over her mouth in shock and dismay. Menecin had survived her leavetaking of him.

Ai! The danger of such as he, knowing what he knows now! It was all that she could do to keep from wailing at the uncaring stars. Fearful and pale, Naiore pressed on and the muttering in Quenyan continued.

"Nev qualin, serke, mi Imladris… (Near dead, blood, in Imladris… )

"Maile ten unquale…nwalyaello suule… orme an..." (Lust for death, tormented of spirit, violent to…)

Her fingers paused their trail underneath the words, brows knitted, and then Naiore pressed on. The rest was an account of Menecin's state of insanity and barely contained violent rage. He had terrifying periods of lucidity, it was said, unpredictably coming and going. The account moved on after that, but it held little of interest compared with her discovery.

The fire had diminished and the movement of night creatures had become steadily more prevalent as her watch wheeled on.

"Curse Barrold for leaving the third," she muttered at the outline of the Man beneath his cloak, snoring blissfully. It was perhaps another hour before he startled awake. Naiore sat in the night, the fire mere embers now, as he struggled to sit up right. No sooner had he managed to do so did he hear a terse command.

"I will take the second watch also," Naiore said tonelessly. Barrold yawned and sank back to sleep, too fogged to question Naiore's generous offer. Naiore remained where she was seated, the two mithril books piled beside her, studying Vanwe with all the intensity of a hawk watching its dinner.

Is Menecin behind your appearance, daughter? It could surely be no coincidence, Vanwe's escape from the South to arrive here just as Naiore was making her long overdue move. Neither was it a coincidence that Rangers crawled through the lands like vermin. Sent from Imladris, where Menecin lived.

But what to do, if anything? She could still move against the Shire, ahead of her foes as she was. She'd have to contend with Imladris though, if she did that, and they'd come after her from behind. Menecin only made Imladris' threat more potent. Who else knew her better than he? He knew who she was and what she had become. He knew her capabilities. And Vanwe could be his poisoned gift that would bring her undone. Lure and bait.

As Naiore sat and pondered, she was minded of the hunted and the hunter. If she was hunted, there were two options. Run, or hunt them in her own turn. Chasing after Rangers one by one through the wilds was far from wise. But, strike at Imladris, where the greater threat lay...

And use the means of her destruction against the ones who would see her fall. The Shire would wait. It would only topple the easier without Imladris to aid it. The Rangers would easily be dealt with also, Imladris decimated. A plan, formed of cold revenge and hatred for a cloying past, took shape within Naiore's mind as the night passed.

[ November 11, 2003: Message edited by: Elora ]
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Characters: Rosmarin: Lady of Cardolan; Lochared: Vagabond of Dunland; Simra: Daughter of Khand; Naiore: Lady of the Sweet Swan; Menecin: Bard of the Singing Seas; Vanwe: Lost Maiden; Ronnan: Lord of Thieves; and, Uien of the Twilight
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Old 11-11-2003, 05:32 PM   #145
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Dúlrain

Dúlrain’s first instinct was to shrug off Rauthain’s sympathetic hand, but as the older man caught his eye, he saw understanding and a reflection of his own guilt and pain. He lowered his head ashamed that he had thought himself above all others in grief, but the pain was too deep for an apology after all if Rauthain had guilt it was founded as was his own. Without a word he slowly turned his horse and began following the trail before them, he felt the others follow; they rode silently for a time speaking only when they dismounted to check the new direction of the trail.

"They went into the woods !" he puzzled when the trail suddenly veered towards the trees, "Why?" he questioned aloud, as he again examined the prints, not those of Naiore and her companions but the hoof prints of Kaldir and his two companions. He could vaguely hear Maethor and Rauthain as they debated Naiores possible cause for change in direction, but Dúlrain was lost in thought as he looked to the darkness of the tall trees. He was in there somewhere a shadow in the darkness a ghost he had called himself, would he really be able to take on The Revennor of Mordor on his own. Do I even know who he is anymore?

Shaking his head sadly he turned back to the others, "we must make camp the horses are tired and I for one have not slept for several nights," not that sleep will come easy this night he thought wearily to himself. "Soon there will be little light in which to follow the trail and torches will only alert our quarry to our presence," He went on seeing Rauthains reluctance, but when the ranger finally nodded his assent the three of them lead their horses under the eaves of the forest.

Putting Dir's reigns into the hands of Maethor he went ahead to scout out a suitable place to make camp, the wood was eerily silent as he moved with ease in and out of the trees and deep brush, it was not quite dark, so he kept a cautious eye. He soon found a spot were the trees thinned just enough to allow for a small camp, but giving adequate cover if needed. He quickly made his way back to the others, and then led them to the modest clearing where they set about seeing to a small fire and some supper.

After hitching the horses and putting oat bags over their noses, He dug a small pit for the fire and filled a small kettle while Maethor went to find something for supper and Rauthain collected the firewood, he then built a makeshift spit, with which to hang the kettle and the rabbits that Maethor soon returned with.

After a supper of roasted rabbit and hot tea, Dúlrain drew Kaldir's sword and examined it against the light of the fire, many orcs fell on this ancient blade in the name of its true owner. As the blade gleamed in the dancing light of the fire, he remembered Kaldir's apparent pain as the sword had stirred memories of old, if the sword did that what would the sight of his tormentor do.

He felt the others looking at him and the sword in his hands. “It’s Kaldir’s,” he whispered without looking up. Instead, he reached into his pack pulling out his wetting stone, “It has taken many orcs in memory of its previous owner,” he continued, spitting on the stone and running it carefully down the edge of the blade. One stroke after another, each slightly heavier than the last, as if he were trying to remove some invisible stain. "But it seems tainted now!" he explained feeling their concerned gaze.

Its vengeance sorely misplaced he thought coolly. Looking up and taking both rangers into his gaze he told them his mind, "I am not willing to let him fall into her grasp again, but nor will I try to stop him from trying to retrieve that which she has clearly taken from him! So if our paths should cross know now that this is my set and I will not waver from it! We can not afford to keep things unspoken; she will use it against us."

He replaced his stone and rising he sheathed Kaldir's sword, "I will take first watch, who should I wake first?" he asked forcing a smile to try lightening the mood after revealing his convictions.

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Old 11-11-2003, 05:47 PM   #146
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Kaldir

As darkness descended, Kaldir found his pace slowing as it became increasingly difficult to follow the trail of Naiore and her four companions. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw that Mrs. Banks had retreated once more to her place beside Benia, who rode several paces behind him. He looked again at the ground. He could either light a torch, continue on and risk missing something, or he could stop for the remainder of the night, giving the horses, not to mention his companions, the chance to rest. They had come to a wide place in the trail with a small clearing off to the side which would afford them ample room for a small encampment. Would Naiore stop for the night? If she was traveling by foot with a weak or wounded companion, he considered it likely that she would. If that was the case, then he would not lose too much time by stopping himself. He paused and waited for the two women to catch up to him. Looking at their faces, he could see that they were exhausted.

"It's time we stopped for the night," he said, as they reined their horses to a halt beside him. "We'll make camp here." He was tired, too. It had been roughly three nights since he had slept and, while he was able to exist a long time without sleep, he found himself flagging a bit, as well. He would have to sleep soon or his mind would begin to wander. He couldn't afford to have his reflexes slowed by lack of sleep with Naiore Dannan so close by. At least, he knew now that he could trust the desert woman not to try to knife him in his sleep. When he had held her dagger to his throat and ordered her to kill him, he had not felt even the slightest hesitation in her hand, nor the slightest movement toward him from her. She had tried to pull her hand and the dagger away. That was good. Even the smallest hesitation would have landed her back in shackles for the night, but her obvious aversion to the sight of his blood had told him more clearly than words that she was not a killer. Neither was Mrs. Banks, for that matter.

Turning, he watched Benia dismount from her horse. With a nervous glance at him, she led the mare into the clearing and removed her rucksack from the horse's back. She was so beautiful. Only a fool would hand her over to some brutal Haradrim tribesman to be beaten or killed in exchange for a mere handful of coins. She deserved better. Catching himself staring, he pulled his gaze away from her and looked around for Mrs. Banks, who had also dismounted and was busily rummaging through his supplies, no doubt in search of something edible for dinner by hobbit standards, which were considerably higher than his own. Sighing, he knealt and began to clear a spot for their campfire. At the moment, what he wanted more than food or anything else was a few hours' sleep.

Once a small fire had been built and burned merrily away in the fire pit, he unsaddled the three horses, bringing their packs in close to the fire. Then, wrapping himself in his cloak, he found a place on the edge of the clearing where he could sit comfortably with his back braced against the trunk of a large oak. Catching the hobbit's eye, he beckoned her over.

"Mrs. Banks," he said quietly once she stood in front of him. "You and Miss Nightshade have the first watch. Cook what you wish from my supplies, but do not leave this clearing...not even for a sprig of basil. If any of Naiore's minions are about, it could be the worse for you. If you hear anything or even think you hear something, wake me. Remember there are five of them and only three of us."

He smiled at her with the good side of his face. "Bear in mind, I am a light sleeper."

Gilly nodded gravely. "Don't worry about a thing, Mr. Kaldir. If even a twig snaps, we'll wake you."

"Good." He watched her back for a moment as she made her way back to the fire. Then, he drew his sword and laid it across his lap, his hand resting on the hilt. The last thing he saw before drifting off to sleep was Benia seated on the far side of the fire from him, combing the tangles out of her long black hair.
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Old 11-12-2003, 02:23 PM   #147
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Maethor

Dusk fell softly upon the three rangers as they entered the woods, and they were soon forced to make camp. It annoyed Maethor that they had to wait until the morn left her light, but he knew that there was no other way. Besides, Dulrain had not slept for several nights, Rauthain looked weary, and Maethor’s body ached as well.

He watched Dulrain dig a fire pit and said, “I’ll find something good for us to eat.“ Creeping into the woods as he looked for something that would make a suitable supper, Maethor thought of the events of the past day. So much had happened, so many secrets had been revealed, and yet there were still riddles to unravel. Naiore herself was the riddle, actually: she was very much like a serpent: cunning, slippery.

Eventually, he came upon a brace of conies with soft mahogany fur, which he killed and skinned. He considered saving and treating the skins, but decided against it, thinking that they would be too much in the way and would too much time. Looking about him, he saw in the dim light a patch of parsley and some sweet green onions. The parsley smelled sweet and, plucking a few leaves, he crushed them between his fingers and he rubbed the green powder generously upon the slippery raw meat of the rabbits. Digging up the onions, admiring the pearly orb that glimmered in the moon’s light, he cut them into small chunks and imbedded them into the rabbit, for flavour.

Making his way back to the fire (which he noted had been made with dry, seasoned wood so that no smoke would betray them), Maethor tossed the rabbits to Rauthain and said with a smile, “If we are to eat in grievous times and are to sleep upon the hard earth with the stones burrowing holes into our backs, we might as well eat as good and tasty a dinner that we can muster.” The ranger had not roamed the outskirts of the Shire for nothing: he had learned quite a few cooking tips from the hobbits he had chanced to encounter.

He watched sympathetically as Dulrain sharpened the sword that had once been Kaldir’s. He wondered vaguely what Naiore had done to him, if she had left physical marks or had made emotional scars. Maybe both. He shuddered at the unpleasant thought.

"I will take first watch, who should I wake first?" Dulrain asked, standing.

“Wake me,” said Maethor quietly.
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Old 11-12-2003, 08:49 PM   #148
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Gilly

“Mr. Kaldir says we’re to take the first watch and keep our ears open,” Gilly called to Benia as she went to the bags to unpack the cooking gear. She gave the dapple-grey wide berth out of respect for its teeth and the stallion in turn watched her carefully, bending his neck to better observe the hobbit’s activities near the fire with its large eye. “What are you so interested in horse? There is naught in here for you, and we can’t live on grass now can we? Really now, quit your staring, its not polite!” She had voiced the last bit a little louder more for Kaldir’s benefit rather than Miss Benia’s, though one might never know what sort of lessons Miss Benia might have missed growing up. She had always had seemed well mannered enough to the hobbit.

Taking her work over to the further side of the fire, she settled herself near Benia who sat combing out her tresses. “Mind you don’t get hair in the supper,” she admonished cheerfully, the promise of a hot meal buoying her spirits even though she puzzled over what she was to prepare with out benefit of water or choice of herbs.

“More food?” Benia said, and having deftly finished plaiting her hair, she threw the long thick ebony rope over her shoulder again, and watched the fire.

“Aye, more food and I could do with a cup of strong tea, but it seems that must wait for a time.” Gilly pulled her knife from the deep pocket of her pinafore and began peeling and cutting apples, letting the chunks fall into the vessel resting in her lap. Pausing suddenly she looked at her knife as if seeing it for the first time, and leaning sideways until she was midway to the ground, she peered around the fire holding her hand up to her eyes to shield them from its glare. There she could just make out the form of Kaldir, still propped against the bole of the tree, the soles of his boots splayed in a slack angle, eyes closed. Grabbing a flat stone she began rubbing first one edge and then the other of her knife against it. Looking again around the fire, she checked to see if Kaldir had moved.

“What is this you said about staring Gilly? It is rude, is it?” Benia said clutching the hobbit’s elbow with a worried expression.

“He’s sleeping,” Gilly whispered.

“He appears to be sleeping,” Benia quickly corrected her. “What are you doing?”

“Just sharpening my knife,” the hobbit explained. “It doesn’t want to cut though skins. It is not as sharp as yours.” Gilly looked passed the fire toward the bounty hunter as she spoke.

“Mine will not willingly cut though this skin either,” she declared, her voice barely audible. “It was his hand that drew blood not mine. How else would I still be alive?”

“Then he is a mad man,” Gilly said taking up another apple.

“Surely not mad, but something more troubling. As if he dwells beyond the far boundaries of pain somehow, like one who has died and yet lives through sheer will.”

Gilly kept working, as she struggled to grasp Benia’s meaning, but found it beyond her ken. “ I don’t know why any of us are alive,” she said finally. “All I know is that I want it to say that way, and if it means being a friend to a bounty hunter in the meanwhile, than that’s alright. Maybe he’ll think twice before carting you off to Harad and maybe I’ll live to see my children again. It’s all I can hope for. But he has treated us better than I would expect and I don’t think that he is so keen to pass you off or else he could have sold you to someone else in Bree at a lesser price letting them collect on your bounty, before pursuing this Naiore. Bree must be fairly crawling with black hearted foreigners and goodness knows we must be a millstone round his neck!” Gilly leaned forward to place the pot of apples and potatoes and dried meat in the embers and lifting a large stick she tapped the lid knocking some glowing coals on top. “Of course he might have some other plan for us that I can not guess, but it does not feel like an evil one.”

The two friends sat in silence before the fire.

“Gilly, I can’t see you as a friend to a bounty hunter. What would Carl think?” Benia said at last.

“Being a friend of one doesn’t mean becoming one yourself, does it? If that’s the case I think Carl will understand, though I’m not so sure about his mother.”

[ November 12, 2003: Message edited by: Hilde Bracegirdle ]
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Old 11-13-2003, 12:33 PM   #149
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Léspheria

Night had fallen by the time they reached the cave to which the trail leads. Amandur had rode on to a bluff higher up the hill to see if any sight of their quarry could be seen, leaving her to search the cave. Outside the trail criss crossed in a mingle of foot and hoof prints, but from what she could make out, she could see that three groups had already passed, Naiore and her entourage, including the small feet of a hobbit. Toby perhaps, she mused, The Bounty hunter and his prisoners and then the rangers. Slipping her pack from her back she opened it and pulled a wooden torch from it then using her flint and tinder she carefully lit it and cautiously stepped into the inky darkness of the cave. The soft glow of the flames danced against the walls casting eerie shadows, but paying them no heed she ventured further, the trail was much the same as outside, but she had come across some rope and a seal to some kind of bottle.

Examining the rope, she saw the red staining of blood and a clean cut. Who ever it was, that was bound by the rope was now freed of this bond. But which prisoner had it been she mused, Vanwe or Benia…? She carefully stowed the rope in her pack, then picked up the red seal and raising it to her nose she gave it a cautious sniff, here was a hint of a smell that she was familiar with , she carefully ran her finger along the edge of the seal and dabbed her finger to her tongue tasting a sticky residue. "A healing potion!" from the south she thought as the distinctive taste of southern spices hit her tongue, she had never been south but she recognised the taste from the wine the ambassadors of Rhun often brought with them to the court of Gondor.

She then crouched down to examine the various prints on the dusty ground, trying to ascertain which prisoner had been cut loose, it was difficult, but she finally managed to find the unusual tread of the southern woman's boots and it went not near the rope, so the prisoner had been Vanwe she reasoned. She knelt there for a long while silently considering if this was a good sign or not. Vanwe's hands might be unbound but was her will? She sighed heavily and without realising, she had wound the rope and stowed it her pack.

"Find anything ?" she turned to see Amandur calling as he dismounted his horse, "Yes, they were here!" she answered lifting the torch and making her way to the exit, she then described what the various boot prints had shown her and about the rope and the healing potion. "Kaldir was here before the rangers," she finally said handing him the torch that he could look for himself. A few minutes later, he returned nodding his head in agreement with her assessment. "What of you, did you see anything from the bluff?" she asked expectantly, but he shook his head grimly, "No nothing!"

His brow suddenly furrowed as he knelt over a set trail of kicked dust, "What is it?" she asked seeing him studying the ground thoughtfully, "It might be nothing, but Dúlrain left here in haste." He told her pointing to the dusty trail, "You don't think he would have gone after Kaldir?" she asked her brow now creased with concern. He shook his head still frowning "I don't know... Perhaps... but I don't think he'll find him, well not the friend he remembers." She watched him thoughtfully, as he silently rose and remounted his horse.

"We will follow the trail a little further then we will make camp,” he told her as they moved off from the cave. Nodding her understanding, she followed, Losseserme's reigns in one hand and the lit torch rose in the other.

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

Amandur

About a mile after passing Bree's north gate, Amandur paused looking up at the night sky, the stars winked in and out as dark formless clouds passed blocking out the light of the waxing moon. He then looked left and right deciding was best to find cover for the night. To his right stood the inky darkness of the Chetwood, still and silent and to his left lay scattered woodlands and gentle rolling hills. Looking back to the tracks, he decided to make their camp just under the eaves of the Chetwood in a spot still shadowed by the hill.

He built a pit fire, big enough to give warmth, but small enough not to attract unwanted attention in the deepening darkness. The dry wood cracked as it burned and he watched over the flames as Léspheria filled a small pan with water to make a soothing herbal tea, that he knew would dispel their weariness and ease the knots in their aching muscles. They had not bothered to hunt for supper it was late and they would have to rise early, before dawn if they hoped to catch up to the others. Their task at Tallas’ had kept them long from Naiore’s trail, he found himself wondering if this had not been her mind when she had sent her minion’s to kill the old man, but he abruptly shook them off as foolishness.

He looked up to see Lespheria smiling down on him, in her hands, she held the tea, and some salted meat and a piece of waybread. He took the offered food and gestured for her to sit next to him. With a curt nod she sat. He watched her for a moment, her dark hair waved in the mild north-easterly wind and her pale face glowed in the light of the fire as she sipped on her own tea. He had not realised how much he had missed her when he had went to Annúminas, until now! She looked up from her tea and looked at him concerned, but before she could speak, he smiled and turned back to his food.

He could feel the tea relieving his tension with every sip, and the waybread filled him up more than the tough salted meat, venison he thought though he could not be sure through all the salt needed to keep the meat fresh. Once finished and feeling refreshed he offered to take the first watch, she nodded and he waited for her to fall asleep before moving off to the edge of the camp. He climbed one of the tall trees so he could watch both the camp and the area surrounding it, then settled in for his watch, his bow knocked but loose, it paid to be cautious, especially considering the nature of their quarry!

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Old 11-13-2003, 11:39 PM   #150
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Sting

Benia

Benia watched as Gilly placed a pot of apples, potatoes and dried meat into the embers of the dry wood fire the bounty hunter had lit before retreating to a far corner of the camp to sleep. She thought for a moment about what Gilly had said, then smiled.

"Gilly," she said at last. "I can't see you as a friend to a bounty hunter. What would Carl think?"

"Being a friend of one doesn't mean becoming one yourself, does it?" countered Gilly. "If that's the case, I think Carl will understand, though I'm not so sure about his mother."

Benia laughed merrily, for the first time in days. She was trying to picture the stir it would create in the Shire if Gilly and Carl were to invite the bounty hunter over for a dinner party. While she had never met Carl's mother, she could just imagine the look on an elderly hobbit lady's face at the sight of such a person as a guest in her son's home. After a few seconds, however, her expression sobered again.

"I imagine Carl's mother wouldn't think too highly of me either."

Gilly looked surprised, then shook her head. "Now, Benia..."

"No, it's true!" Benia shook her head sadly. "I must look quite the black-hearted foreigner. Even my father's family seems to think so." She paused and stood up, brushing the wrinkles out of her skirt. "They would probably be relieved to learn that I had been dragged back to Harad by my hair."

"But-" she smiled suddenly. "I'm not with out my usefulness." She walked over to where Kaldir had left her pack on the ground and, after rummaging around for a moment, came back to the fireside with a small, octagonal wooden box in her hands, which she gave to Gilly. Then, giving the gray horse a wide berth, she retrieved a water skin from where Kaldir had left his belongings. "I give you water and tea."

As Gilly opened the wooden box and breathed in the exotic aroma of black Haradrim tea, a contented smile spread across her face. Immediately, she filled an additional pot with water from the skin and set it in the fire to boil.

Returning to the fireside, Benia sat down again. As she and Gilly waited for the water to boil and the food to cook, Benia found her gaze drifting repeatedly in the direction of the bounty hunter's sleeping form. Looking at Gilly, she nodded in his direction. "Seriously, Gilly," she whispered. "What you said earlier about being his friend...what did you mean by that?"

She was thinking of her own impulse to reach out to the bounty hunter. When Gilly said that Kaldir had treated them well, better than expected, she was right. After all, he had given them food and horses, and no longer kept them bound or shackled in any way. He had even given their weapons back. It was all very strange behavior if his intent was to kill them or sell her into the hands of hostile tribesmen. Perhaps Gilly was right that he had another plan in mind for them. Whatever it was, it didn't seem to involve mistreating them, at least not at the moment.

When Gilly didn't answer right away, Benia continued. "I was thinking, too, that it might serve us well to befriend him. That is, if he will allow it. I've never seen a man so in need of..." she trailed off, shaking her head helplessly. "In need of I don't know what. But, perhaps if we helped him, we could earn our freedom."

Gilly nodded sagely. "That's exactly what I had in mind."

In her turn, Benia nodded as well. "He seems to like you," she added. "By that I mean he speaks to you. With me, he always seems angry, as though I have offended him somehow." She shrugged, remembering the gruff way he had spoken to her for the majority of the day. "Perhaps it is my appearance and he is not fond of the Haradwaithe. Anyway, I was thinking that maybe if you made some effort to speak with him, we might make some headway.”

Benia noticed a small frown crease the hobbit's forehead. “He watches you,” the hobbit lady said. “I’ve seen him do it.”

Benia smiled. “Well, I do represent cash for his coffers, after all. I suppose he is watching his money, but the way he barks and growls when he speaks to me, I don’t think he likes me much.”

Gilly looked thoughtful, but didn’t argue. “What should I talk to him about?”

Benia gazed into the fire. “I don’t know...food? Tracking?”

“I think he thinks I talk too much as it is,” sighed Gilly. “Maybe we should give up trying to talk to him and concentrate more on just being helpful. You know, cooking dinner, cleaning up, keeping watch. That sort of thing. It does seem to please him when we cooperate with him.”

“That’s true,” agreed Benia. “Maybe he just wanted some servants, eh?” For an instant, she almost believed that of him, but then she remembered the confrontation at the cave and knew it wasn’t true. Whatever he wanted of them, it went deeper than mere servitude.
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Old 11-14-2003, 04:33 PM   #151
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Sting

Rauthain

Rauthain sat by the flames watching the younger man as he cared for the familiar sword. He marked from beneath his lowered brow, the concentration with which Dúlrain examined and improved upon the tapered edges, by fire's light grinding out the imperfections and dark memories held there. So the heirloom had been hallowed by spilling the blood of the orcs, and by Dúlrain's hand delivered vengeance upon the people of those who had torn it from its master's grip. Glancing at Maethor he hoped in passing that at least this ranger should by some chance escape such a bitter calling as that which linked his two companions. Perhaps Kaldir had been right to resist his father's plea to marry, for the ties of friendship and love had brought sorrow home to many a stalwart ranger before the end of the Third Age. Then a solitary life had seemed the best shield, though one difficult to take up.

Feeling the weight of his gaze, Rauthain saw that Dúlrain now held the sword and considering the two others spoke earnestly. "I am not willing to let him fall into her grasp again, but nor will I try to stop him from trying to retrieve that which she has clearly taken from him! So if our paths should cross know now that this is my set and I will not waver from it! We can not afford to keep things unspoken, she will use it against us."
Rising he sheathed Kaldir's sword. "I will take first watch, who should I wake first?" he said with an attempt at a smile.

"Wake me," Maethor said quietly.

Despite his weariness and the fine meal Rauthain found that he could not sleep. He longed to be moving again, closing the distance between them and those they followed. This unease he found heightened by the presence of Kaldir, an unknown factor in the play of events and living reminder of Rauthain's own failings, the very catalyst who had sparked this single minded drive.

Now pondering Dúlrain's words, he lay on his back trying to decipher his own course in the dark hours of the night. And finding no relief he stood and sought out Dúlrain who sat outside the glow of the dying fire. Rauthain moved to stir up the embers, but Dúlrain stopped him. "Let it be Rauthain," the dark haired ranger said, "there may be unfriendly eyes close by."

"Have you seen anything amiss?" he asked. Dúlrain shook his head as Rauthain sat by him. "Tonight you spoke wisely, Dúlrain," he said. "We can not afford to keep much unspoken, it is true. I have thought much on what you have said and feel that I also must declare my position for we may come to cross-purposes unexpectedly. I am plagued by the thought that Kaldir may yet be in Her grasp, and what then? I have sworn to pursue the Ravennor and if Kaldir is under her sway I will not stop even should he be placed before me. But if he seeks her undoing, as do I, then I will help him even if it means my death. My aim is for Naiore and no other, for while Kaldir may prove beyond our hope, Naiore Dannan is not beyond our justice." Remembering then to whom he was speaking he added, “It is but a slight possibility that such a thing should arise, but be forewarned I long have been fighting and know little of healing, though I do not wish harm to come to him.”

“Let us hope we will not be called upon to make such decisions,” Dúlrain flatly. “Go and rest now while you may.”

Rauthain left him then and lay waiting to be called to watch.

[ November 14, 2003: Message edited by: Hilde Bracegirdle ]
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Old 11-14-2003, 06:37 PM   #152
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Sting

Naiore

The night was still but Naiore's mind and heart raged in an icy coldness that shone from her silvery eyes. Avanill stirred, rolling upright from where he had been sleeping, wrapped in his cloak.

"Is it third watch yet," he asked in a voice still slurred by sleep.

"It is," Naiore replied with precision. She unfurled herself as Avanill stretched, scrubbed sleep from his eyes, yawned and got up to find a place where he could watch. The Ravennor, First in her Order as marked by the eight braids that fell down her back, stalked across the camp to where Vanwe lay with her eyelids flickering. Without a sideway's glance to Avanill, Naiore bent and seized her daughter by her shoulders and dragged her upright.

Vanwe's eyes fluttered open in confusion and alarm at the sudden movement, sagging a little in her grip. Naiore's eyes narrowed in confirmation that Vanwe had been struggling against the hold place upon her the evening before all night. As her blue eyes, Menecin's eyes, focussed on her mother's face, Naiore smiled. Panic sheered through her daughter at the sight, Naiore noted with satisfaction.

Yes, it was as she thought. Vanwe was working with her father and feared she had been discovered. Still, the panic was not enough. Naiore marched Vanwe a short distance to where a spreading alder tree was. She threw Vanwe down hard against the bole of the alder and fluidly crouched herself.

Vanwe scrabbled backwards, blocked by the tree, as Naiore reached a gloved hand forward. Tenderly, almost, she stroked away delicate strands of rare golden hair from her daughter's pale face. Vanwe's eyes were wide and round, locked on her mother and slipping over Naiore's shoulder to where Avanill had perched on a vantage.

"Daughter," Naiore purred in a velvety voice.

"Mother," Vanwe returned in a soft and shaking voice. Naiore smiled again, still smoothing and stroking her daughter's hair. Behind the outward mask, there was no softness. The Ravennor was beginning. Without a warning, Naiore delved sharp and brutally into Vanwe's skittering consciousness. Beneath her gloved hands, her daughter's body stiffened in shock, pain and alarm. A broken moan slipped free. Naiore let it go, unheeded.

"We will know each other now, daughter," Naiore crooned in a singsong voice devoid of all sentiment. A cold sweat had broken out upon Vanwe's brow and her skin had become clammy. She was shivering, her jaw locked to prevent her teeth from chattering. Naiore felt her attempt to muster the strength to push her from her daughter's mind.

"Yes, please do," Naiore sighed with longing. She felt Vanwe slam against her, hard, desperate, futile and so very very strong. A tidal wave, it would have been, had she the training. All Vanwe had was desperate fear. Tears glistened in her sapphire eyes.

"No," Vanwe moaned even as she tried to tear her mother's presence apart. Naiore felt the resolve falter. Her daughter did not have the training. She did not have the wisdom and lore acquired over two Ages. Most of all, her daughter did not have the instinct to harm. Naiore's hands clasped Vanwe's face, a hand on each cheek, as she bent closer. Naiore could hear her daughter's ragged panting and felt her jolt as she savagely ripped past Vanwe's resistance deeper still.

Naiore tore through layers and layers of memory and emotion, ripping apart everything, heedless of the pain and destruction. She crouched like a wolf, still and lithe, over Vanwe who twisted, kicked and sobbed. Avanill, forgotten for the moment, had third watch. It would include witnessing a savage interrogation by the First Ravennor of Mordor upon her own flesh and blood, her daughter.

The air was laden with fear, pain, loathing and rage. Naiore rode through it, lunging deep into her daughter's soul where she unturned every thing. Avanill could not see the faces of either Naiore or Vanwe. He could see Naiore's back. He could see Vanwe's feet and legs as she struggled to elude her mother's terrible grip. An outstretched hand flexed and clawed in unimaginable suffering.

There would be no blood. The only injuries would be those she inflicted on herself to escape. But the pain and horror of having your mother rip apart your very soul without hesitation or compunction, her implacable inhuman rage boiling through you... there are greater horrors than crude, messy physical torment. Naiore was a master, an artisan of such things, and she brought all her subtle, sophisicated mastery to bear now. Nothing would be left unturned. If Vanwe was an agent of Menecin and Imladris, Naiore would know of it by dawn. Much could be done in a few hours if it had to be and necessity drove Naiore as ever it had...

Vanwe

The bark of the alder gouged through her hair and the clothing at her back. Splinters drove beneath her nails and at her palms as her hands scraped over the ground and tree roots. Her mother's fingers were like icy coals upon her cheeks where they rested. Frigid heat raged through her. She twisted and kicked, futile as it was, for she had no other voice for the pain of this horror.

Vanwe felt her mind coming undone. She had tried to stop it. She had tried to cast her mother out. Her mother.... she could not do it. Her mother.... visions and memories lanced through her. All the years of Harad, thrown up, relived again and again, her mother there now and doing nothing to stop the terrible things. Watching and making it happen again and again, no matter how she reached for her and pleaded for it to stop.

Her heart was pounding, galloping insanely. She felt hot tears course down her face...

The night was cold that night. The goats offered her warmth and she had nestled down amongst them in the animal shelter. She had felt their coarse fur and soft stomachs around her. Sometimes they would bleat softly or kick in their dreaming. She remembered hearing the gate to the enclosure open and close. A goat had bleated in its sleep at that. Footsteps, heavy ones, crunched on the stony ground. They drew nearer. She could see feet in the gap between the ground and the rickety side walls.

A shape bent in the open doorway, blocking the night sky. The stars were very clear in the desert, sharp and precise. He sniffed, she remembered that through the pounding of her heart. It was hard to make out his face between the darkness and his beard. He stood there for a long time and then he had come in. The goats had bleated more sharply, woken by his feet kicking a way through where they curled on the ground.

"You stink," he had snarled in revulsion when he had found her. The only doorway had been blocked, she remembered. She had only the corner of the shelter to go. His hands had been hard and calloused, she remembered. They twisted the skin and the fabric of her simple robe when he seized her. She remembered how he had hit her so hard that her ears had rung and the shadowy interior of the shelter had wobbled.

Then, she remembered that she didn't remember anymore. She wasn't there anymore. She was gone. He wasn't kicking her, grunting with the exertion. He wasn't tearing at her. She wasn't there. He wasn't...


Except he was. She remembered now. All the detail and clarity of that horror and all that had followed it was hers now. He had not left the animal shelter until the early hours of dawn. By then, all the goats had fled and milled about in the yard, anxious and fretful. When he at last left her, she remembered wishing she was one of the stones on the ground in the shelter, where she could just lay there and not be seen. Instead, she had to come out. Another day, she had things to be done.

She had to go about her work, head bent. She had to ignore the whispers around her, the marks of that night livid on her skin for many days. She remembered it all and she cried in horror within herself for with this new memory came her mother. Her mother let it all happen, again and again....


Vanwe was dragged through memory after buried memory repeatedly and without mercy or reprieve. Encased in nightmare, living and breathing it, through Avanill's third watch beneath her mother's interrogation. After each memory, her mother's voice whispered in her mind.

"Where does fear spawn, daughter? You know, do you not? Have you no answer for me? Perhaps you will tell me for whom you work? Who sent you? Do not attempt to lie, Vanwe. I will know."

"Noone, noone, noone, noone, noone, no-," she would keen in her mind

"Perhaps another memory will help you remember."

And then it started again with those words from her mother.

[ November 15, 2003: Message edited by: piosenniel ]
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Characters: Rosmarin: Lady of Cardolan; Lochared: Vagabond of Dunland; Simra: Daughter of Khand; Naiore: Lady of the Sweet Swan; Menecin: Bard of the Singing Seas; Vanwe: Lost Maiden; Ronnan: Lord of Thieves; and, Uien of the Twilight
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Old 11-14-2003, 09:21 PM   #153
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Avanill

Avanill had hardly slept upon the ground that night. His mind was to pre-ocupied with thoughts of the past days. What did i think i could do? I am in further than i intended to get... The sooner this is over the sooner i can get what i came for.He rolled over form where he was sleeping. The sky was not as littered with stars as it had been on other nights.

Avanill had taken interest in it then,That all their ancestors were watching over the living, it was one of the tales his mother had told him as a boy, at leasat when she was home. Atantri had left her son for months at a time when he was a boy, and he stayed with his grandmother at her inn. When he was thirteen, Atantri returned and took him with her, but she was still young then, she had been only sixteen when she married his father. He did not know the correct circumstances under what this affair was arranged, only that his grandmother was not interested.

Months later, Atantri was betrayed and slew her husband, before her seventeenth birthday, she bore a son, who was Avanill. He had always been close to his mother and respected her for bringing him up instead of leaving him to die. And he never asked any questions.

He turned back over and was surprised to find Naiore sitting across from him. "Is it third watch yet," he asked in a voice still slurred by sleep. "It is," Naiore replied with precision. He understood that no other words than that had to pass.

In the quiet of the night (accompanied by the snores of Barrold Ferney) he went to check on the small array of potions and powders sizzling and cooling on the embers of the fire. He noticed that Naiore too had moved, she had taken Vanwe, rather harshly. Avanill riased himself from him knees and stood straight, his dark blue eyes widened in wonder.

Maybe its a mother daughter thing... no Avanill couldn't be, no mother treats her daughter like that, no mother...he followed them for a while, not far enough that it could be said that he was following. What met his sight in the coming minutes was horror to him. Avanill could not quite tell what Naiore was doing to her daughter, except that he oculd tell it wasnt nice. Though Avanill on the surface felt that Vanwe probably deserved what she was getting thought that deep down she was the victim.

Its her own fault!he told himself. If only she had obeyed us, we would have been very civil, nice even. And i dont like having my good deeds thrown back into me face, as far as im concearned, Barrold can do what he likes with Vanwe, and so can her mother, who am i to interfere in matters of the family.
he nodded to himself, but no matter how hard he tried, he could not shake the guilty feeling from his shoulders. A cold shiver chilled his blood as he watched the two elves and finally turned his back on them, and stared at the sky.
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Old 11-15-2003, 10:26 AM   #154
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Sting

Kaldir

Kaldir had fallen asleep with his back braced against the trunk of a large oak, his sword drawn in his lap. The last thing he had seen was Benia beside the fire, combing out her glossy black hair, the firelight sparkling off her silver jewelry. But neither sword nor beauty had proven able to protect him. Sleep had come upon him suddenly, dragging him down like an undertow into the nightmare realm. The corners of his mouth twitched downward as the torment began anew. The orcs closed in upon him with their whips and cudgels raised, yellow fangs flashing as they laughed at his pain. They had dragged him from where he had fallen at Raven Falls all the way to Mordor, a living spoil of war for the Master. He was not to be slain, but they could toy with him as much as they wished. And toy with him, they did. As he twisted in raw agony, their raucous laughter grew only louder. They were hungry. They wanted man flesh, but this one was not to be eaten, so they drank his Numenorean blood. Never enough to deplete him. Only enough to weaken him. If this one died, they would discover for themselves the true meaning of agony. The Master promised it. So they kept him alive.

In Mordor, the orcs were joined by Men, slant-eyed southerners with more than a trace of orc in their lineages. They came bearing fire and ingenious, insidious devices that burned and tore at his body. Even the orcs ceased their laughter when these ghouls appeared to drag him away from the back-breaking labor of the slave dungeons to wreak their horrible will upon his flesh.
Kaldir’s body twitched against the oak as he relived the blow that destroyed his face. The reek of black smoke and his own burning flesh filled his nostrils. By reflex, his hand tightened on the hilt of his sword. But the worst was yet to come.

Naiore. The first time he saw her, he had thought her a dream or a hallucination. His wrists were shackled behind him, and the shackles looped over an iron hook that dangled from the ceiling by a heavy chain. He had been left to hang in the smoky darkness of the torture chamber, shirtless, with his bare feet suspended nearly eighteen inches above the ground, his shoulders slowly dislocating from the weight of his own body. Blood dripped from his ears and eyes. By that time, he scarcely spoke. She came through the door like a vision, her elven beauty so serene and unreal, clad in a gown of the finest silk, her golden hair glowing in the hellish torchlight. She walked over to him and laid an icy hand against his face.

"Is this the one?" she asked.

"Yes," a voice answered behind her. "He resists us with a strength we’ve never encountered."

A cold smile curled on her lips. "He is a man of Westernesse, is he not?"

"He is."

She laughed melodically, and, with a touch that was almost a caress, pushed the dark hair back from his face. "Hello, Dúnedan," she purred, looking into his eyes. "Are you acquainted with pain? Perhaps you can tell me where fear dwells..."


"YOU KNOW, DO YOU NOT? HAVE YOU NO ANSWER FOR ME? PERHAPS YOU WILL TELL ME FOR WHOM YOU WORK. WHO SENT YOU? DO NOT ATTEMPT TO LIE, DÚNEDAN. I WILL KNOW." Kaldir jolted awake, the sound of her voice ringing in his ears, her icy touch lingering against the shattered bones of his face. Leaping to his feet, he raised his sword and spun twice, searching for the owner of the voice, the hand, but the only image to meet his eyes was that of Mrs. Banks, huddled by the fire, clutching a tin cup between her hands and watching him with wide-eyed confusion. Kaldir lowered his sword and turned once more, searching the darkness and surrounding trees for a glimpse of the Ravener. Seeing nothing, he finally sheathed his sword and moved in the direction of the startled hobbit lady.

He was still slightly disoriented. It had all felt so real.

"What is it?" whispered Gilly. "Is everything all right? Should I wake Miss Benia?"

Shifting slowly into the present, Kaldir shook his head. He could now see the slender shape of Miss Nightshade curled in a blanket just to the far side of the hobbit. With her cheek pillowed on her arm, she was sleeping soundly.

"No," he said, at last finding his voice. "It was nothing. A dream."

Gilly bent and put her cup aside. "Well, that’s relief. I must say you gave me a start, leaping up the way you did when it had been so quiet all evening."

"My apologies, Mrs. Banks."

"Perhaps you’d feel better if you had a bite to eat and a spot of tea. Miss Benia’s brought along the most wonderful black tea," Gilly continued, retrieving a pot from the orange embers of the fire. "The stew's a touch salty, but not having the right herbs, I’m afraid there wasn’t much I could do about that, but it’s thick and warm and would do a body good. Will you have a bowl, Mr. Kaldir?"

Absently, Kaldir nodded, his mind still trying to bridge the gap between past and present, dreams and reality. "Have I slept long?" he asked. When he initially sat down, he had only intended to doze for an hour or so, but the position of the moon above the trees told him he had slept much longer.

Gilly handed him the pot containing the remains of the stew. "I’d say we’re well into the third watch by now, Mr. Kaldir."

He nodded. "Again my apologies, Mrs. Banks. I had no intention of sleeping so long."

Gilly shrugged good-naturedly and followed the stew pot into his hands with a steaming mug of tea. "Really, I don’t mind. Like I said, it’s been very quiet and I’ve had a lot on my mind. I hope you don't mind I told Miss Benia to go on to sleep."

Distracted, he put the stew pot aside and took a sip of Benia's strong black tea. Without thinking, he raised his free hand and touched the scarred side of his face. A chill still lingered where Naiore's hand had lain. Her presence had been so real, her voice so clear. And near. Instinctively, he scanned the surrounding darkness yet again.

"Mr. Kaldir?"

Slowly, he turned and looked at Gilly. Still with one foot in the nightmare realm, he saw her with startling lucidity, the kindness inherent in her dark brown eyes, the silvery whisps of gray that shimmered in her light brown hair. But, on the ground beside her, a new edge gleamed on her little knife. He bent down and picked it up.

She watched him nervously as he turned the knife between his hands.

"Tell me, Mrs. Banks," he said at last. "How is it that a hobbit of the Shire would have such a close friendship with a woman of Harad?"
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Old 11-17-2003, 07:41 PM   #155
Hilde Bracegirdle
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Sting

Gilly

“Tell me Mrs. Banks,” he said after examining the newly sharpened knife. “How is it that a hobbit of the Shire would have a close friendship with a woman of Harad?”

“Yes, it is odd, isn’t it?” Gilly said, wishing he would put the knife back down. Somehow she couldn’t quite think straight while he held it. At last she blurted out, “Mr. Kaldir, pardon me, but I really can’t piece my thoughts together with you holding that knife so, not after last night by the cave. But if you are curious about it just ask plain and I’ll tell you. I sharpened it so that I could use it better for cooking as well as fend off the company you are looking for. It will probably just put a hole in my pocket for all my trouble." Kaldir looked at her with narrowed eyes and Gilly could not tell what he was thinking or even if he had heard her, for his face betrayed nothing. “Really now Sir, no harm’s come to you while you slept, has it?” Kaldir wiped his wrist against his scarred face, a frown flickering briefly across his features. To the hobbit’s astonishment he handed the blade back to her.

“The dream?” she asked, placing the knife out of sight and quickly pouring him another cup of tea.

“What of it?”

“Nothing,” Gilly said not wishing to intrude on his thoughts. Best to get his mind off of it though, and she began to wonder if it were wise to tell him about Benia and herself, as he had asked. On one hand it didn’t seem a good practice to tell a bounty hunter about such things even if it had happened such a long time ago. It was a good deal more personal than a conversation about tracking like Miss Benia had suggested. But on the other hand maybe he would treat her friend less harshly if she could present her in what she would consider a more favorable light. And then again he didn’t seem to take to kindly to unanswered questions.

“ So how did Miss Benia and I become such fast friends? There’s a story!” she said avoiding the man’s stare. “Though I would hardly call her a woman of Harad even if she looks it. Well yes, she sings like a desert bird now and again, but she is only half so, her father being from here abouts somewhere.” The hobbit hazarded a look at Kaldir to see if she could see a reaction in him, but he seemed to be looking inward and so she felt a bit bolder. “Her family really didn’t fit in nowhere except the Shire were we all didn’t know about the troubles in Mordor until there was no missing it. That is were I met Miss Benia and her family, in the Shire.”

The hobbit paused, thinking Kaldir no longer interested. He sat at the fire with his eyes closed and the warm cup held pressed against his face. “That must have cause no little uproar from what I know of hobbits.” He said unexpectedly, turning to look to her.

Gilly laughed, “It would have had they knowed about it!” She winked at the bounty hunter and explained, “ That Jack Nightshade, he was a clever one, he got them in and my family hid them on our farm. You see it was all in secret”

“Could they not stay here?”

“I imagine with Old Jack toting around a Haradrim wife and little one, they probably thought that he was up to no good, a spy or something, gone over to those rascals down south. But it weren’t like that, Miss Benia’s mother came from good folk as didn’t take to Sauron, so no matter where they went no one was happy with them, not even the Nightshades I don’t reckon, and they always had folks like yourself trying to catch up with them, begging your pardon. Not exactly the kind of company most would like to have about.”

“Hmm…,” the bounty hunter murmured.

“She doesn’t mean to be rude Sir, really. She got a kind heart, just the way she’s grown up that makes her a bit unpredictable. But you can't blame her for that.” Gilly couldn’t help but wonder if Kaldir ever asked himself why a person should have a bounty on their head. Then clasping her hand to her mouth wide-eyed she recognized that even though this man looked a ranger she had no knowledge of where his sympathies lie. She had naturally assumed that he was on the side of the rangers in the War, but it didn’t make sense his chasing Benia and Naiore. Perhaps he was actually friendly with the Haradrim.

“What is it, Mrs. Banks? You look alarmed.” He said languidly.

“Might as well jump in with both feet if I’m to drown,” she said. “I just realized that here I’ve been rattling on and I have not any idea which side you fought on during the War. Please tell me your sympathies didn’t lie with the Dark Lord, or I may have just as well slit my own throat and Benia’s too. Oh what a thought!”

[ November 18, 2003: Message edited by: Hilde Bracegirdle ]
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It is important, at the present time, to bear in mind that the human soul has still greater need of the ideal then of the real. It is by the real that we exist; it is by ideal that we live. -Victor Hugo
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Old 11-18-2003, 10:10 AM   #156
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Sting

Dúlrain

Dúlrain's watched as Rauthain resumed his place by the slowly dying fire; the older mans words fresh in his mind. But he felt confident that although Naiore had taken much from his brother, she had not truly possessed him, he was always the stronger willed of both of them and that he lived when so many that had crossed Naiore’s path had not, only strengthened his belief that he was not under her influence.

Kaldir had every opportunity to rid the Ravennor of one of her pursuers, but he did not. Some of the friend that he remembered remained, albeit shattered fragments. No, he pursues her, of that, I am certain. He thought bolstering his convictions. He watched cautiously the tree line through the orangey glow of the fire. An owl screeched somewhere in the darkness, but all was still, the beauty and peace seemed a distant reality to Dúlrain. his gaze fell on his companions, did they like him long for an end, the war was supposed to end with the downfall of Sauron and the return of the king, but still they fought those who refused to give in to the new age, the age of men. Dúlrain was tired, but he could not give up on hi Kings Wish, peace, true peace throughout the reunited kingdom and beyond.

Yes he tired, he longed to wander these lands not as a hunter, but at a more leisurely pace, taking the time to appreciate its simple beauty, perhaps even finding some peaceful corner were he could take a wife and raise a family, without fear or worry. He laughed at his own fancies then rose to wake Maethor for his watch. Waking the younger man he reported that all had been quiet, then drawing his sword and laying it next to him he lay down and drifted into an uneasy sleep, filled with memories old and new, finally ending with the image of the southern woman, their was something about her image that drew him into a more restful slumber.

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

Amandur

Several hours had passed uneventful, the only sounds being the usual nocturnal actives of the forest, a soft moan caught his attention, he crouched balancing on the bough of the tree the string of his bow taunt in his hand, his eyes quickly sought for the owner of the moan only to realise it had come from the camp! Léspheria! He thought wildly scanning the camp were he had left her. She was still there but her body twitched and convulsed under the light of the fire, her sudden scream, threw him into action. Throwing his bow over his shoulder he leapt from is perch, drawing his sword as he ran the distance between the trees and the low burning fire. his eye wildly search for an unseen enemy, turning round once and convincing himself that they were along he dropped his sword and knelt down beside her, taking her hands in his right hand and pressing the back of his right hand against her forehead.

She was burning up, though her hands where clammy and cold. He fumbled with the water skin attached to his belt and in his frustration and hurry, he pulled it free snapping the leather strap that held it in place, but he paid it no heed. Reaching into his breast pocket, he pulled out an unused handkerchief, soaked it completely in the still cool water and then placed it delicately upon her brow. Her delicate elven features contorted into an image of shear pain. She was fighting some kind of battle that he could not see; he only prayed that she was winning.

'What ever ails you my love, you can defeat it! We can defeat it!' he whispered kissing her forehead as he removed the chief to wring it out and soak it once more. When he had returned north, he had thought to ask her to come with him. But, although he knew she cared deeply for him it always seemed that she held back, or perhaps he was just wrong and she did not feel for him in the same way. But he loved her and there was nothing in the world that would change that, he would just have to deal with it.

Just then her eyes snapped opened, 'We must leave at once, Vanwe is in trouble' but before he could argue, she rose to her feet, he too had rose, just in time to catch her as she stumbled. 'in my pack ... miruvor' she whispered hoarsely, he gently guided her to her pack and searched through it till he found the small glass phial, he quickly unstopped it and held it to her lips, she took a few sips then pushed the phial towards him.

'You have not slept, you too must drink!' she urged him gentle. he nodded and took the phial after he had taking enough of the liquid to drive away his tiredness, he helped her to her horse, he could see that the pain still lingered so he did not press her for answers, but set about removing any signs that anyone had camped here. Once satisfied he mounted his horse, nodding that he was ready. Léspheria he could see was still had thing weighing heavy on her mind, so he moved slightly ahead to pick up the trail, it was not as easy to follow as before and they moved slow in the darkness, though it will not be long until morning he thought, looking at the low moon between the trees.

He turned to make sure Léspheria was still behind, but her usually bright warm face was now serene and emotionless, Hardened! He thought he had seen it happened to so many of his brethren, especially during the war, but to see it on the face of the one he loved tore at his heart. However, perhaps this was the only way. He thought sadly turning back to the trail.

From the faint tracks of the rangers ahead, he guessed that if Dúlrain and the others rested till dawn, then he and Léspheria should catch them up sometime the next day, but already the tracks of Naiore and her companions were being lost as the dusty trail turned to springy moss and long grass.

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

Léspheria

After finishing her tea, Léspheria had drifted into a relaxed sleep. She breathed heavily as she leaned against a large dark fir high in the valley of Imladris, thrill and excitement coursing through her, revitalising her. She laughed as she heard a young elven boys’ melodic singing.

Seek you high,
Seek you low,
Seek you near and far,
In the hills and in the trees
Seek you everywhere!



She chuckled behind her hands as the dark haired boy who was her brother drew near, a broad grin spreading across his face as he heard her chuckle. She tried hard to muffle her excitement as Lóthaniel inched closer and closer to the tree the young female elfling hid behind. However, just as he was about to leap behind the tree and startle her out, she gave an excited squeal and ran laughing out of his reach. Running head first into the arms of her mother, a second later her brother too found himself caught in her loving embrace. 'Caught you both!' she laughed lightly, and then the three of them laughed heartily together.

The laughter suddenly changed the softness gone, cold and empty, the trees, valley, the two merry children all gone, black stone encircled her like a tomb, no not her she shuddered recognising the scene. 'He will fall and what then cousin? where then will you find the answers you seek ?' her mothers voice was calm and unemotional, though her pain tore through Léspheria like a raging storm, as she fought to control her mothers surge of emotions, she heard Naiore's velvety voice, 'why from you my dear cousin!' she whispered gripping her cousins head firmly in her hands.


'Now cousin if you will not give me the answer I seek, you will tell me how to break the defences of our kin in Lothlorien!' she whispered in her mind, 'No!' her mother said through gritted teeth, you shall have nothing more from me.' Naiore squealed with excitement 'good cousin, resist I would have it no other way, but remember who is the stronger!' Léspheria felt herself scream as the intensity of the intrusion increased.

No, this was no longer a dream, wave after wave of fear and pain washed over her, the vision faded and only the assault of emotions remained, and she could feel her muscles spasm with the ferocity of the intrusion. She struggled to rebuilt the defensive wall Galadriel had taught her to build, the same wall that had saved her life when she first encountered the bard Menecin, she pulled happy memories from her life love, friendships, loyalty, hope...


'Where does fear spawn, Daughter? Léspheria's horror shattered her defence and a tidal wave of uncontrollable anger took its place, long years of pent up anger and hatred flooded from the dark prison in her mind. ' Faarea! (Enough!)' She commanded. ‘I will not let you do this to another of our blood kin! pulling all the control she had left she rebuilt the wall pulling every good memory she could, hoping that it would be enough. Pushing her memories of the growing friendship, she and Vanwe had briefly shared at the forsaken inn to the forefront in the hopes that some of the emotions would strengthen and protect Vanwe from her mother’s onslaught.

Léspheria's eyes snapped open to see Amandur knelt over her a cold cloth held to her forehead, his brow knitted with worry and fear. 'We must leave at once, Vanwe is in trouble' she told him frankly, quickly rising to her feet, she stumbled as the wall she was struggling to maintain drained her physically, but Amandur was there to catch her. 'in my pack ... miruvor' she whispered hoarsely, he gently guided her to her pack and searched through it till he found the small glass phial, he quickly unstopped it and held it to her lips, she took a few sips then pushed the phial towards him.

'You have not slept, you too must drink!' she urged him gentle, once he had drunk she instructed him to help her to her horse, he did all that she asked with care and haste but still his brow knitted with concern. As she watched him fill in the fire pit and hide all traces that they had ever been there, she felt a surge of warmth, which only increased as he mounted his horse and came up beside her. With a silent nod, that he was ready, they continued on into the remainder of the night, hoping to gain some distance on their quarry, perhaps even to catch up to the other rangers.

However, Léspheria had no delusions, she knew that her rush of anger would have betrayed her, giving Naiore warning that she was near, if in fact they were near at all, her sharp eyes scanned the passing tree lines for signs of impending danger. She now had to put faith in that Vanwe was strong enough to survive her mother and that she saw the strength in the emotions she had tried to share with her. Her only fear was that Vanwe would not see these emotions within herself, the friendships she had made and the people she had touched with her kindness, Fimbriel, Devorin, Benia, not all saw the evils of her mother in her fair face.

She too would now have to be more careful, although her faith in her emotions could be her strength it could also be her weakness. Naiore would now know this and would not hesitate to use them against her. Her gaze fell on Amandur’s back tall and straight as he rode following the weak trail. A silver tear roll down her cheek, she did love him and she always had, but the realisation pained her, for now more than ever she would have to hide her emotions for him, least Naiore use them against her.

Using the techniques taught her by her kin she drove all thoughts bar one from her mind, closing it to any that may think to pry, her face now serene and calm devoid of emotion. One thought only in her mind… That it must end!

Last edited by Nerindel; 03-14-2004 at 09:10 PM.
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Old 11-18-2003, 12:09 PM   #157
Ealasaide
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Sting

Kaldir

"Might as well jump in with both feet if I’m to drown," Gilly said. "I just realized that here I’ve been rattling on and I have not any idea which side you fought on during the War. Please tell me your sympathies didn’t lie with the Dark Lord, or I may have just as well slit my own throat and Benia’s too. Oh what a thought!"

Kaldir laughed softly. "Relax, Mrs. Banks. Had I been allowed to fight, it would have been on the side of the king." He lowered the hot mug of tea from where he had been holding it against his face and took a sip. "I was a guest in Sauron's dungeons for the majority of the War, if you must know."

He rose to his feet and stretched his back. Due largely to the ministrations and gentle chatter of the hobbit, the dream was finally receding. He no longer saw the world in the surrealistic detail of the nightmare realm. And the touch of Naiore's hand no longer lingered against his face, though the silken threads of her voice did still hang in the back of his mind like a black widow's web. He knew that the dream had been just that, a dream, but he also knew that it had been something more. Naiore was not sleeping.

He nodded toward Benia's still form. "Jack Nightshade sounds like a clever man. Why does he not protect his daughter? I am not the only wolf about."

Gilly shook her head. "Oh, Mr. Kaldir, Jack Nightshade's been dead nigh on three, four, years now. Miss Benia says he never did get over the loss of her mother."

"What happened to her?"

"She was killed, begging your pardon, Mr. Kaldir. She was killed by bounty hunters."

Kaldir's face darkened as he turned and took a long look at the sleeping face of the desert woman. To think, the mother had been murdered by bounty hunters, and he had come so close to murdering the daughter himself. And for what? For nothing more than the fact that the wrong blood ran in her veins. The wrong tattoos adorned her hands. And she had no one to protect her.

He cast a quick glance at the hobbit. No one, that is, except Mrs. Banks.

"She's lucky to have you," he said abruptly. "We should all have such loyal friends."

"That's kind of you to say, Mr. Kaldir," protested Gilly. "But I can't say as I have been much help to her."

"You're here, aren't you?" he asked. "I'm sure that's of inestimable value to her." He paused and a bitter smile passed across his scarred face. "Believe me. I know of what I speak."

While he would never wish the torment he had endured during his imprisonment on even an enemy, much less a friend, he knew how much easier it would have been to endure had he not felt so forsaken by his brethren. They had left him to die. Perhaps he would have been better off running with a band of women and hobbits. Smiling to himself at the mental image, he bent and picked up the stew pot he had set aside a few minutes earlier and lifted the lid, smelling the rich aroma of apples and stewed venison. Gilly held out a spoon.

Taking it, he thanked her. "Now, Mrs. Banks," he added. "It's time you got some sleep. We will have a difficult day tomorrow. I will stand watch for the remainder of the night."

He watched as the hobbit settled down into her blankets, then, taking what was left of the stew with him, moved away from the fire to a place near the horses where his back was protected, yet he could command a full view of the camp. If they had any hope of catching up to Naiore before she reached the Old Forest and the Shire, they would have to increase their pace on the morrow. Following her tracks, he saw the direction in which the Ravener was heading and guessed at her intentions. Hobbits of the Shire had destroyed the one ring and Sauron with it, leaving Naiore's ambitions in ruin. She would have her revenge, the king's edict notwithstanding. He had decided to say nothing of his suspicions to Mrs. Banks, however, until it became inevitable. The Shire was her home.

As for Benia Nightshade... what to do about her? He frowned darkly. With her strikingly exotic appearance, she was not the sort to blend easily into backdrop of Middle Earth. Without the protection of a husband or father, it was amazing to him that she had not already run afoul of bounty hunters and been hauled back to Harad or worse. If he were to set her free, how long would it be before another of his kind found her? Knowing what he did of his profession, he decided her prospects were not good. He would very much like to keep her with him, but if he did, it could not be as his prisoner. She would have to stay willingly. If she could do that, he would be more than happy to take on the role of her protector.

The question he pondered through the long, dark hours of his watch was how to get her to choose to stay.
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Old 11-19-2003, 08:46 PM   #158
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Naiore

In the dim light of early morn, Naiore abruptly stood. On her face was carved a smile of pure delight and utter darkness. At her feet, her daughter slowly curled into a protective ball, breathing laboured and pained. Naiore disregarded it utterly, staring into the grey light with her lips curved.

I know you, she mused, I know you now. I have your name and your kin. The Ravennor lifted her arm and stared at her wrist. Gloved in ebony leather, she seemed to gaze at the skin beneath. Or, rather, at the blood that ran through the veins beneath her skin.

"Léspheria," she whispered the newly discovered name. Léspheria was kin. She was nearby and she and Vanwe had some sort of bond. With a startling suddeness, Naiore spun on her heel and walked back to the camp. Her gait was lithe. She was on the hunt and the glory of it filled her senses and fired her blood.

Avanill, who had been uncertainly watching, started upright as he marked her approaching him. She waved a pre-emptory hand at the man, dismissing him with terse command.

"Break camp. We move out now." Naiore bypassed Avanill and walked to where the two mithril tomes sat on the ground. She collected one, opening it's covers wide. The sound of ripping pages broke the dawn. Without compuction, Naiore tore every last page from the first and then the second volume. The mithril covers she tossed aside without interest.

With a bundle of vellum and parchment, Naiore crossed to the all but cold camp fire. Swiftly, she stirred it into life. A thick smoke rose upwards as she started to feed it the pages. Barrold, shaken awake by Avanill, coughed and complained noisly.

"What's the hurry," he belligerantly muttered. Naiore ignored him too. Page after page, steadily she fed the contents of the tomes into the camp fire.

"It's makin' too much smoke," Barrold went further to say. Scrubbing his eyes and shaking his head, his gaze settled on the destroyed mithril books. An exclamation of dismay shot out of his mouth.

"'Ere, those are valuable," he protested.
"A scholar of ancient tongues, Barrold Ferney?"

Naiore had not looked up from the now raging fire. Barrold shifted uncomfortably all the same.

"But them's mithril, ain't they?"
"Take the covers if you can think you can sell them, Ferney. It matters little to me."

Barrold seized upon that opportunity and scooped up the covers. Avanill scowled with discontent and buried himself in his own preparations. By the time Naiore had burnt all the pages of Tallas' records, the group was ready to move.

Barrold shouldered his pack, the mithril safely tucked inside. As far as he was concerned, you never know who might be wanting mithril and it was powerfully rare to find in these days. Avanill shouldered his own wealth, the array of bottles, herbs and powders he'd taken from Tallas' store. Toby uncomfortably tried to remain unnoticed, watching the telltale plume of smoke rise into the lightening morning sky. Vanwe remained where Naiore had left her under the tree, curled in on herself.

Naiore collected her pack, crossed to the tree and dragged Vanwe to her feet. Her daughter was drenched in sweat, pale of face, hands and feet dirty and bloodied in her struggle. Naiore's lips curled in distaste and she pushed Vanwe forward ahead of her. Vanwe somehow managed to find her feet after some weaving. Her shoulders were slumped and her head bowed. She met noone's gaze. Toby stared at her, alarm marked on his hobbit features.

Without a word, Naiore led off, Vanwe's arm in her hand and her daughter struggling to match the rapid pace. Barrold, Avanill and Toby trotted along behind. Swapping glances at each other, Barrold and Avanill both confirmed that they were heading in the wrong direction. Yet, it was Toby who ventured a comment.

"This isn't the way to the Shire," he said in his high, clear voice. Naiore came to sudden standstill and she pivoted, bending to bring her face inches from Toby's.

"It is not, Master Longholes. Have you anything else to say?"
"If we were goin' to take the long way' round, you shoulda kept that horse of yours," Barrold muttered. The prospect of a full day of rapid walking with a heavy pack was not an appealing one. When Naiore straightened to direct her attention to Barrold, Toby heaved a sigh of relief.

"There has been a change. We will make for Imladris first and the Shire later." Avanill frowned whereas Barrold opened his mouth to object.
"Yes, Master Ferney," Naiore asked in a dangerously soft voice. Barrold recognised it in an instant and changed tack with remarkable mental agility.

"What's wrong with 'er," he said as he nodded at Vanwe.
"Nothing that is your concern." With that, Naiore resumed their path through the wilds towards Rivendell.

For nearly two weeks, days and nights passed with only more and more questions. Naiore had become increasingly forbidding. Each night and each morning, she took Vanwe aside and did things that the other three did not wish to consider. It turned even Barrold's stomach.

What also sat uneasily, was their growing proximity to Imladris. It was hardly a place any enterprising merchants such as Barrold, Avanill or Toby wished to be anywhere near. A growing discontent travelled with the group. For Naiore, the days and nights were filled with many things.

Her plans for Imladris and Menecin, the pursuit she knew followed and further work on Vanwe filled her time. When at last they set up camp in the woods north-east of Imladris, Naiore forbade any fire as she had for the past 3 days. Barrold made no secret now of his discontent and sat dejectedly on a fallen tree. Thrice he had come to open conflict with Naiore and thrice he had been forced to conceed to her will. That such things rankled and festered within his breast, Naiore both knew and could little afford to trouble with.

The matter of Menecin and Imladris was too close at hand. She chose to dispatch Toby, whose quiet Hobbit feet were virtually silent in the woods, to scout around. Toby had proved adept at such things and had marked the position of those who pursued... two groups. The sun was fast sinking as she sent the Hobbit off. Leaving Barrold and Avanill to sort out the matter of a cold, dark evening meal, Naiore collected Vanwe and led her aside.

Night and day for two weeks, her daughter had both submitted and defied her. Vanwe had no defences equal to her mother's skill and her memories of torment flailed at her. So too did her feelings of abandonment and longing. But Vanwe did not once admit to being in league with anyone, not Léspheria nor Menecin. She was on the cusp of a darkness that she teetered upon. Naiore knew it, for she knew her craft well. She could push Vanwe over before she built the skills to resist. But she could also use Vanwe in other ways and it was that which occupied Naiore's mind now.

"Sit down," she said to Vanwe as she unslung her pack. Vanwe obeyed with habitual meekness. The rules of survival that she had learnt in Harad, submit and live, were hard to shake now that Harad lived in her mind once more. Obedience was ingrained her and had, thus far, lent Naiore a distinct advantage.

Naiore rifled through her pack in the failing light, pulling at last a well wrapped bundle free. She unpeeled the covers and held up a gown of such beauty that Vanwe stared to see it. It was a gown of nobility, such as that worn at court. Vanwe had never seen such a thing. Folding it over her arm, Naiore sat beside Vanwe.

"It has been hard, these weeks," she began. Vanwe turned her head aside and merely nodded.
"Difficult for you and I both." Naiore did not lie. For all of Vanwe's obedience, she had proved impossible to break on the matter of her allies.
"Why did you leave Harad, Vanwe?" Naiore's voice was deliberately gentle.

"To be free, to find my family," Vanwe replied as she had many times now. Naiore sighed, a carefully timed response. Vanwe looked back to her mother.

"The bonds of kin rarely leave us free, daughter," she said with wistful sadness.
"There are some yokes that we bear full willing all the same." Vanwe's statement held many things, including a growing awareness. Naiore glanced at her daughter and then at the gown draped across her lap.

"Then you would know of your father," she said slowly.
"Yes," Vanwe replied eagerly and fearfully both.
"He gave me this gown," Naiore said. That too was true. Menecin had it made and given to her when they were newely betrothed. It's delicate mint silk sheen had reminded him of the leaves that shone upon her hair, he had said, when first he had beheld her. Vanwe was staring at the gown in new surprise.

"He is near, your father, very near."
"Is... he alive," Vanwe asked with a trembling voice.
"Yes," Naiore said simply and there began her plan. Vanwe sat in silence as her mother told of how he was kept prisoner by other Elves. She listened in anguish as Naiore told her of his distress, of the torment of captivity. Vanwe knew a measure of that so very well. By the time Naiore had finished, night had fallen and a half moon had risen above the horizon.

When both returned to the main camp, Vanwe wore her mother's gown. Her hair was clean and brushed and her face was both grave and alight. Barrold sat back on his heels, stunned at the sight. Toby's return to report on the location of the two groups of pursuers prevented Barrold from saying anything.

Vanwe took her seat, head held high and mind filled with the sad knowledge of her father's unjust captivity and her intent to free him. Naiore sat, curled in her leathers with her braids slickly falling down her back and demanded a report from Toby.
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Characters: Rosmarin: Lady of Cardolan; Lochared: Vagabond of Dunland; Simra: Daughter of Khand; Naiore: Lady of the Sweet Swan; Menecin: Bard of the Singing Seas; Vanwe: Lost Maiden; Ronnan: Lord of Thieves; and, Uien of the Twilight
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Old 11-20-2003, 01:20 AM   #159
Everdawn
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Silmaril

Avanill

Avanill had the most uneasy night that he could remember in his short life. He had not wandered far from the site where he had watched Naiore, the scene had perturbed him. Which Avanill had never become weary of before. He was used to Savagery, it was a part of his life, he had always been exposed to violence and murder, but it had not changed him.

He wondered why he was so ill at ease when he had whitnessed Naiore and her daughter in the woods. It was the same feeling he had when he killed for the first time. Atantri had looked up at her son. Its safe ot feel wrong my son, it's what makes us human...But this was different, Neither Naiore of Vanwe were human, but elves.

Avanill waited long until Naiore came from the woods, "Rav-" he bagan addressing her, but she waved him away, like a servant. Careful who you do that to again Lady Naiore... he noted in his mind.

Avanill had gathered up his belonnings as he watched Barrold scald his fingers retrieving the Mithril books, he had been in a solemn mood for hours, and he did not see how a few more hours would change that.

As the company started to travell Naiore led them in the wrong direction. Rivendell. Were going to Rivendell. Barrold questioned the Mordor elf, but Avanill kept his mouth shut. She must know what she's doing. And so he tolerated the road which the elf lead them.

In the two weeks of travelling that followed, Avanill spoke less than usual, instead etching thoughts and a inpending sketch of thing which might follow, should Avanill be forced to take precarious measures, should Naiore fail to hold up to her word. This was something which Avanill always made allowances for, and something which had ended the lives of many clients who failed to pay Avanill for his 'help'.

Naiore's attitude towards them had changed drasitcaly. Avanill thought it was probable that the cause was the pages of the book Barrold had salvaged from Tallas place. Anyhow, Avanill did not favour it one bit.
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~My lord, Éomer~

Last edited by piosenniel; 03-12-2004 at 03:54 PM.
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Old 11-20-2003, 10:43 PM   #160
Elora
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Sting

Menecin


"Sinome niss! Sinome niss!" (Here in this place is she) cried a voice made hoarse by use after long silence and a great many other things. It cracked and then strengthened, a shadow of it's bardic richness, a ghost like its owner. Menecin thumped at the door, sliding down it this time, moaning the same chorus as he had for days now.

In the journal, his appointed warder wrote "Nightmares" again in a column that had the same entry written three times above it. One entry for each day of Menecin's violent unrest. The bard had not taken food or water, nor slept, since it began. If he was not pounding at the door, he was throwing himself and anything else within his reach at the secured window. On the second day, his warders had heard the dischordant and sorrowful sound of a harp in a case being flung in Menecin's attempt to break free of the darkness that possessed his mind and spirit.

They had not been able to gain entry to his room in order to gague the extent of damage. All they could do was hope that the rare and beautiful instrument that had been given to him by Maglor, having one of the fairest voices in all Middle-earth, had not been ruined. There was silence now, for Menecin sat with his back against the door and his head bowed against his knees, his aching mind in strife and pulsing within him.

The warders glanced at each other. Was it the eye of the storm? Was there anyway to tell with Menecin. The gentle tap at the outter door was nearly lost when the din from within resumed. The outter door opened to admit Elrohir just as the sound of something wooden splintering ripped through the air.

The warders rose, bowing in deference and casting gravely concerned faces at the door.

"No change then," Elrohir said solemnly.
"No, my lord. He has not taken food nor drink nor rest for three days now."

"Sinome niss! Sinome niss!"

Elrohir shifted uneasily at the sound of Menecin's voice cracked and then burst out again.

"Will the door and windows hold," he asked. The warders nodded.
"They have done so in the past. Surely he must tire soon, and any damage can be repaired."

"Would that it was as simple always," Elrohir sighed before he turned and slipped out of the room. Menecin was now crying his mantra out. Elrohir rubbed a hand over his face, attempting to wipe the image of the once great Bard standing in his room, body rigid as he screamed into the emptiness.

His steady tread took him through the peaceful gardens that his father had founded. They gleamed in the half moon, the music of stream and fountain softening the edge of tension in the air. He stood by one smooth, cool pool that gathered water and starlight alike, and pondered. Was she really here? Or was Menecin merely in the grip of another black fugue? With a sigh, Elrohir shook himself from his musings and pushed on. He would take it up with Elladan as soon as his brother returned.
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Characters: Rosmarin: Lady of Cardolan; Lochared: Vagabond of Dunland; Simra: Daughter of Khand; Naiore: Lady of the Sweet Swan; Menecin: Bard of the Singing Seas; Vanwe: Lost Maiden; Ronnan: Lord of Thieves; and, Uien of the Twilight
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