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Old 01-09-2004, 08:58 AM   #81
Carrûn
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Awyrgan left Tane's cabin elated. The prospect of leaving the settlement, even if only for a few days, was a welcome change. It was not that the man disliked the village's inhabitants, at least no more than he disliked any other men, but rather that any sort of roof other than the open skies left him feeling hemmed in and stuffed. Doors compressed the breath in his chest and roofs were a cage. Yes indeed, this will be a useful change of pace.

Walking to where his horse stood he untied the harnesses from the tree, letting it run free for a few moments. He fingered the copy of Thorgil's map in his pocket. Drawing it out he ran his finger over the route again, committing it to memory. Especially the supposed locations of the hillmen. The paper could be easily destroyed by rain and Awyrgan had no desire to bumble alone into one of the wild men's camps, with or without a companion. Placing the map in a saddlebag he whistled sharply. Within a few minutes he was mounted on his horse and headed towards the settlement.

It was nearing evening when the ranger arrived, he had ridden fast and his horse was breathing heavily. Sitting in the saddle at the outskirts he watched a few children play a game with an assortment of sticks and stones. The man could not discern any pattern in the game but the children laughed in glee nonetheless. He fingered the green-studded ring on his finger, watching the reddening Sun's rays catch and dance on the metal. He glanced briefly. The flame of the West. He chuckled darkly but his eyes did not laugh. Looking again at the children a shadow passed across his face, but only for an instant. The memories were quickly pushed deep into the murkier recesses of memory and spurring his horse, he rode to where his tent stood.

A wind had pulled the cloak Awyrgan called his tent out of the ground and several corners now leapt free in the light evening breeze. Rolling it up, the man began to store several days’ worth of food and equipment in a small pack. Paths, plans, and calculations flowed automatically from his mind to his hands. Within several minutes he was ready to leave.

He had already decided on traveling by foot. He walked into the town, all his possessions on his back and leading his horse by the bridle. Several of the townsfolk looked at the man with an expression he could not quite comprehend as he passed by. He had not been particularly friendly with the villages. Still, he did not regret it. Better they ignore him then become attached to him. That was justification enough for the locals, but his fellow Rangers were another matter. The man could not explain his wall of silence towards Alearindu and Thoronmir. It was as if he had unconsciously willed himself never again to become close to another human being.

He stopped at the hut of the fur trader he had dealt with on a few occasions. A few coins from palm to palm and the horse had a multi-day vacation.

Thoronmir was sitting smoking in the "square" of the town. Awyrgan set his pack down and slid next to the elder ranger, drawing out the map as he did so. He explained his conversation with Tane, tracing out their route and objectives. He purposefully failed to mention that he had requested the assignment. Thoronmir was known for his love of the outdoors, but shared Awyrgan's desire for solitude. Better that he believe Tane had assigned the pair together strictly of his own accord.

Awyrgan finished his explanation. Thoronmir gave no initial response, blowing a smoke ring across the map as he glanced over it. Sitting back he nodded. Awyrgan stood up. "We leave at dark."

Shortly after the Sun had sunk the pair went over their gear again. Adjusting the pack and the bow he had strapped to it Awyrgan cursed at the weight and loosened the knives on his belt and boots. His sword hung at his side, strapped in tightly. The muscled in his legs and back twitched with an eager anticipation and a longing to be off. This was what he lived for.

On their way out of the town the men passed by Alearindu. Awyrgan's green-eyes twinkled and he hummed several lines from a small tune sung loudly around Inn fireplaces of the virtue of the women who tend to house and young. It was a common joke among the Rangers but Alearindu apparently failed to see the humor. Laughing, Awyrgan avoided the daggers her eyes shot at him and strode over the grassy knolls and into the woods. Thoronmir walked silently at his side. Their quiet footsteps soon were lost in the songs of the birds and the patter of animal feet that filled the wooded havens.

<font size=1 color=339966>[ 9:27 PM January 11, 2004: Message edited by: Carrûn ]
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Old 01-18-2004, 09:54 PM   #82
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Kaben had been getting a lot of scattered information through his shop. He knew he didn't know the whole story, yet he was still a little worried. Not too much though, everything aroung him kept bustling around from one spot to another and he didn't really have to time to truly think about what might happen. Even if he did the tradesman was fully confident in the current militia made up of the soldiers and Rangers. The thought of an attack on the settlement seemed a bit laughable.

"Hello Kaben," a kindly voice rang from the tent flap.

"Oh, welcome Terari," he went and hugged his once travelling partner. "Need any help finding something?"

"Just in for a little salt. Apthan spilled the rest of ours," she rolled her eyes and laughed jovially.

As he led her to where the food stores were kept he asked her about how the building was going.

"Well, the Dwarves have not yet returned with stone so they're still using what wood they've been gleaning. Father tells us every night how hard the work is trying to build things with so little material."

"A town can't be built over night," Kaben smiled and handed her the salt.
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Old 01-19-2004, 05:27 PM   #83
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Sting

Hillmen

Wolf had made his way back into town quietly, not wishing to face anyone who might have heard of his unusual flare of temper, and particularly not those who had experienced it first hand. He didn’t know what was wrong with him. He had hoped to prevent panic and infighting, and here he was supporting, even participating in it. What kind of a chief was he, after all? Old Shadow had never done any such thing, and for a moment he wondered whether the former leader’s confidence in him had been misplaced.

None of that, he admonished himself silently. You’re making it worse. Shadow never faced a crisis like this and you know it.

But neither had Wolf. Everything had changed, and he felt as if he were not the experienced leader, but once again the youth who had carefully hidden his apprehension at his newfound power, who had had to learn to deal with men without competing and women without flirting. He had done well then, but now… With a sigh, he slowly made his way to Cleft’s hut, half-expecting to be told that this was a test which he had now failed, that he was unworthy to be a leader, after all these years of work. It was a bitter thought, and at root he was not convinced of it. He would happily have given up his leadership if he’d thought that there was any man in the village who could save them.

Quietly, he entered the hut, hoping to catch a glimpse of Cleft before the priest saw him. No such luck. The man should have been called Fox for his quickness. He was greeting Wolf almost before he’d managed to round the corner, with the impassive, unreadable expression that most of the Hillmen thought the only one of which he was capable. Isn’t he tired?

"You were gone longer than I expected," he said.

"Yes, I was," answered Wolf shortly. He would not apologize. He was not a truant child. "What have you learned?"

"I can well believe the Rangers are in league with these foreigners. They are... they are very powerful, Wolf." Wolf waited out the silence. Priests liked a chance to tell their stories well, and interruping them only made them irritable and cagey. "I have consulted the gods, but they are ...very subdued. They are not pleased, but they are quiet."

Wolf looked at the priest carefully. Cleft was a very old man, and he had heard of priests to the south (where, admittedly, everyone was softer and weaker) who found assistants when they began to grow old, assistants to whom, some said, they eventually became secondary, in just the way that leadership was passed on among the chiefs when age began to make them weak. "Why do you think that is?" he asked, as politely as he could. "Do you think that under other circumstances their voice might be stronger?"

Cleft had seen the look, and he shook his head. "I do not think it is my own weakness that stops me from hearing them clearly—-not only my own weakness, old and feeble as I may be," he said, quickly returning a few herbs to a high shelf in a rather transparent display of agility. "But we are weak, a handful of scavengers living on what we can get, from wherever we can get it. This is why Calem died. We are not strong enough to hold our gods. Whether they are actually weakening themselves or simply losing interest, I cannot say. They may help us a little. But only strong people have strong gods."

"Unfair, that; I'm sure the weak would have far more use for them," said Wolf, with a grim smile. "Is that what I should have my brother tell his warriors? That they must be stronger? I’m sure it’ll be tremendously helpful."

"Well, have them focus at any rate." Cleft rolled his eyes, with the disdain of the old for the young. "I hope the messenger brings good news. Oh, and if you can spare the time, have them plant something. That helps."

Wolf nodded, and with the usual ceremonial thanks to his priest, left the hut. Perhaps he did not need to make the death public, or to keep it a close secret either. Let those know who could find out. Don’t start a panic.

He repeated his resolves as he walked purposefully toward his own hut to talk to his brothers. Don’t start a panic. We need to be strong.
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Old 01-22-2004, 06:49 PM   #84
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Shield

It seemed that with the coming of the southmen, everything had turned against Fletch, including his long ally the weather. Shrill wind and hammering rain flayed mercilessly at everything in the slopelands, where Rook's tribe abode. Fletch did not much care for the giant's land with its storms and surges, humbling once mighty trees and betraying faithful passes between the rocks; But Wolf wanted allies, so allies he would have. Still, Fletch concluded that his dry attitude towards his role in fighting the southmen didn't count for much as a torrent of water broke through the rocks to his left, and the water level came up to his shines. The most painful part of the experience, however, was the fact that had he stayed in the black uplands until the old moon died or remained in the village, he would be warm and dry. How, as Fletch squatted under a jagged overhang, he just liked to think those words, as if he could absorb them into himself and make them real.But, wishing and thinking, no one would know better than Fletch, made nothing real. So, despondently he sighed and trudged out into the rain again, setting his slight shoulders for the lashings to come.

Fletch had not been struggling for ten minutes when a huge, blurred figure appeared over the rocks. The figure dipped out of view again, and Fletch dogged him closely, but not without an undignified scramble out of the water and onto Rook's ledge. The village on top of it was lain out in much the same way Wolf's was; However Rook and his family had no home of their own, but dwelt with whichever tribesman they chose for the night or for even as long as a moon, praying upon their people for hospitality in exchange for the protection they gave. It was an old custom that had died near the lake ages ago, and Fletch found it an infuriatingly difficult one when he was trying to deliver a message. The blurred figure had by now ducked into a hut and Fletch groaned when it reemerged with six others behind it. Rook never traveled without at least four other men to back him, a lesson his father learned the hard way.

Supposing he was a familiar enough sight, Fletch waited with already ebbing patience as the greatest of the figures took one look at him, snorted, and beckoned him inside the nearest hut, after evicting what looked like woman and two children out of it. Blinking against the warmth and the light, Fletch sat and stared at the towering man surrounded by bodyguards that would put even Bear's brawn to shame.

"So your return, little worm." Rook said, as he always did when Fletch happened around. "Surely you are early? Or has that tiny head of yours at last impaired your sense of seasons? It is raining!" The five others lounging about him laughed at this, Rook grinned at his own cleverness, and it took all of Fletch's willpower to not gorge all of them full of the darts he made so well. But Wolf's words and the picture of the southmen's camp came to his mind, and Fletch stayed his hands and smiled.

"Nay, Rook, I know it rains. I bear a message from Wolf, who abides by the Clearlake now, and I would have you hear it."

At this Rook frowned. "Remember, little Fletch, it is what I would have that matters here. And, it is unlike you to bear anything for anyone, including Wolf, who was always, I think, too soft with you and your queer wanderings. Does his fire burn well?"

"For now. But it flickers." And Fletch told Rook and his guards of the southmen, of their filthy ways, of how they planned to stay, of the rangers protecting them, of Wolf's situation and plea for help. Rook seemed to take all the information in stride, nodding occasionally with a indiscernible expression on his face.

"The rangers have not plagued us since we came here." Rook said after a moment's thought. "But southmen spread, so the rumors say. And the more southmen, the less Rooksmen return from driving them off. If we came, what would Wolf, who if you speak true has little, do for us in return? Do you know that, tiny worm?"

Fletch narrowed his eyes, trying hard to conceal his anger at Rook for his slights against both Wolf and himself. "I do not" He said through gritted teeth. Rook smiled then, beaming with his eyes for the first time in Fletch's presence. "Good." He said and rose. "Then since you are getting so good at bearing words, little Fletch, bear some for me. Tell Wolf that Rook and his finest warriors will come, but I want a wearguild for our trouble, and a mighty one at that. In fact," Rook continued thoughtfully, "A few females wouldn't be missed among Wolf's folk either, I'm sure." And with a devilish smile, Rook nodded to his thugish fellows, who promptly threw Fletch out of the hut, and back into the cold, unmerciful rain.
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Old 01-23-2004, 12:01 AM   #85
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Sting

Still Bear stood on the hill, peering up into the heavens. The ruddy light of late afternoon turned into the golden light of sunset, and still Bear stood gazing at the sky. The clouds that Wolf and he had seen rolling in from the west had stopped overhead, and had blackened. Still Bear looked into the darkening sky.

Looking, searching in vain for solace. The black clouds shouted their last threats, and lightning rent the sky to the south. Rain stung his upturned eyes and soaked his shaggy mane. Still he peered into the tumultuous dusk.

Movement to his right suddenly made him tense, and he looked to see Kestrel standing there, also peering into the clouds.

“How long have you been standing there brother-wife??” He asked, unsettled.

“Not as long as you apparently! You are soaked right through, and your meal is ruined, such as it was!” Was her reply, she drew herself up to her full height, and though she was shorter than he, she still seemed formidable.

Bear’s gaze once again returned to the forest of water that was the sky.

“What trouble or ailment causes you to stand out in the rain thus? Or should I say what madness?” Kestrel’s voice was filled with the usual sharpness, but Bear thought he could hear a touch of genuine concern in a deep undertone.

“I am worried about Wolf, his troubles are laid thickly yet he seems unable to share any of the load…”

“Yes, I too am worried, Calem’s death has taken its toll on him…it troubles me also. What can this mean? Have our gods forsaken us? What is this sign?” Bear looked down at her as she said this. The rain had slowed, but not yet stopped and her face was specked with droplets.

As he looked one of these gained enough weight and started it’s decent to the ground, it ran down the left side of her face, and into the long scar that marred the eye on that side. Like the lightening above it flowed through the shaft, giving her face an even odder look.

Suddenly what she had just said sunk in.

“Dead??? Calem is dead? When… wh… how??” The shock rose up and like icy fingers it curled around his throat, gently yet inescapably stopping the air reaching his lungs. His brother, his own flesh and blood had neglected to tell him of such an important event… life changing even.

“What? Didn’t you know? He was killed by the southmen… I know Wolf was going to keep it concealed, but I mean… you’re his brother.” She stammered. The words came haltingly, she was unsure.

Bear looked up once more to the heavens and the rain concealed the two silent tears that in his weakness he had allowed to roll onto his cheek. Without a backwards glance he trotted away into the darkness, soon lost to Kestrels half-sight.

<font size=1 color=339966>[ 2:36 PM January 25, 2004: Message edited by: Osse ]
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Old 01-25-2004, 09:26 PM   #86
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Sting

Kestrel growled softly. If this kept up, Knife was likely to walk away from her too, next time she saw him. That, in itself, would not really bother her, but the trend was growing highly frustrating.

Why hadn't Wolf told Bear about Calem? It would have made sense; Bear was a warrior, wise in his way, and loyal to his brother. He would have been able to help Wolf deal with the load of worry he carried much better than she could. All she could do was try to keep them from killing themselves with their worries. Which would be difficult if she couldn't find them.

She sighed and began to limp home toward the by-now congealed broth.

Her own worries weren't exactly the lightest, either. Flint's wound would need to be kept as clean as possible and Rain had been coughing when she left the hut. Perhaps the gods had indeed deserted them, and were showing their displeasure by the bad luck the leader's family was having. It was not a comforting thought.

She entered the dark hut, shaking her head almost like a dog to rid herself of the l.ingering rain, and looked at the poor excuse for broth sitting in the corner. It was not fit to be eaten, but it was all she had at the moment. Knife had been lax in his hunting with all the worry about the Southmen. Cursed Dunedain.

She stirred the fire up and put the pot back on it to reheat.

<font size=1 color=339966>[ 10:27 PM January 25, 2004: Message edited by: Tinuviel of Denton ]
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Old 01-29-2004, 03:52 PM   #87
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Silmaril

Tane had been dealing with more beurocratic things than he liked. Taking report after report got very tedious when it was mainly the same thing - nothing new. Halfway through the day one of the Rangers asked about the contest that was coming up with the settlers and Tane simply blinked. He had forgotten about it and it seemed that a group needed to be put together. "I'll get back to you," was all he could offer the scout.

Sitting back in his chair he started making a mental list of all his Rangers. Awyrgan and Thoronmir had just left on their own mission. They wouldn't have liked working in a group regardless. Tane frowned as he continued through, he didn't want to have to put this whole group together. The settlement would be making their own group and the leader probably would choose his own men. The settlement...Alearindu was in the settlement right now. She had been there for several days and was probably getting tired of the people. A lot of the men wouldn't like being put under her command, but they would take it. Especially if they wanted to go on this hunt, which many did. The scout who had first inquired about the contest had mentioned that several of the men were eager to know who was going. There were many volunteers it seemed. Tane smiled. Alearindu would have many to choose from then.

He glanced at the sky. There was still time to go to the settlement and come back before nightfall. There were no more scheduled reports and if anyone wanted to find him, it wouldn't be that difficult. Besides, he wanted to visit the trading post and now was a fine time.

A couple of explanations and a short ride later Tane rode into the village and immediately went to where Alearindu kept her camp. She wasn't there, but her horse was nearby and Tane thought it best to simply wait for her. The wait was short, no more than half a candle mark. When she saw him she gave nothing away, but she did quicken her step.

"Alearindu, how would you like to be in charge of the Ranger group for the contest? You get to pick your own men and from what I hear, there are many that would like to be in on this venture. What say you?"
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Old 02-04-2004, 10:10 AM   #88
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Boots

Settlers

It was the morning of the second day after Borgand's announcement of the hunting competition. The weather had finally cleared; even the morning mists and dew had evaporated rapidly in the heat of the sun in an unclouded sky. Was this a portend of more promising things? Calumdril would not say. He was not superstitious and would not let the vissitudes of weather determine his aim or his endeavours. Yet he was glad to have the dreary events and rainstorms behind him.

He felt a tug on his sleeve and turned to see Cuilad standing shyly beside him, his eyes gleeming but his mouth held tightly as if expecting to be turned down.

Calumdril noted with a quiet wariness the eagerness of the young Cuilad. It had taken some discussion with Collothion to agree to allow his mute son to join the hunting competition. But the boy was chaffing under the restrictions of the settlement and he did not share his father's endless fascination with herbs and plants. Calumdril thought it interesting that the boy could hear but not speak. Finally, though, Borgand's and Ithil's gentle remonstrations won over the father, particularly since Calumdril had agreed to take the boy under his wing. They would be the left flank of the settlers' hunting team, responsible for some of the advance scouting.

"Then you are ready to become a mature member of this settlement, Cuilad?" the Ithilian asked solemnly.

The boy nodded eagerly, his eyes flashing with excitement.

"You remember my lessons on tracking yesterday, about the rubbing of bark and way that grasses are cropped?"

This time the eyes flashed with impatience.

"And your pack? You are ready for a long trek, over several nights if need be?"

Cuilad's face flushed. He was being treated like a child and he began an indignant frown that glowered at the older man.

The frown passed to Calumdril as he regretted his treatment of the boy, after he had spoken so strongly for him with the father. He knew the boy had no mother to coddle him. Calumdril remembered how much he had hated being patronized as a young boy. Why could he not forgo the very ways with this boy which he knew were wrong? Old habits are cultivated even where they are despised, he decided.

"You are right, and I apologize if I seemed not to respect your talents. You have already done more than many other of the young people in helping your father collect his herbs and prepare his potions. I am proud to have you with me."

The boy nodded and then silently the two trekked out towards their horses to begin the competition.

Once on horseback, the two turned towards the camp which was now stirring. Calumdril held a horn to his mouth and blew three times. Settlers came out of their tents, Kaben peeked out of his shop, Ithil suddenly appeared at their side. A cheer rose up as the settlers realized the hunt was on.

<font size=1 color=339966>[ 9:35 AM February 05, 2004: Message edited by: Bêthberry ]
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Old 02-05-2004, 02:40 PM   #89
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Tolkien

Wolf had hoped to take counsel with his brothers as soon as he reached his own hut. He knew it would be difficult- Bear would want to fight, of course, and Knife would roll his eyes and wearily explain the virtues of the south to them once again, and it would take some coaxing to show either of them that there were virtues to strategy and planning. The quick, all-out attack that Bear would want was an idiotic, if vaguely exciting, idea, given the rangers and the possibility that the settlers themselves were warriors of one sort or another. As for the notion of abandoning the land where they’d always lived to wander homeless in the plain sight of those sneering men from Bree, it violated both pride and common sense. Were they not desperate enough as it was? They would attack, but they would attack on their own terms, and he needed his brothers to help him decide what those terms would be.

The hut seemed smaller and darker in the rain, filled with the close air common to places that escaped the wind. Wolf stood in the doorway, rainwater dripping from his beard, and peered into the corners of the room, puzzled by the absence of either of his brothers, and suddenly uncomfortable under the gaze of Kestrel, who was sitting by the stove, stirring the pot with a steady, patient hand that belied the look in her single bright eye. She said nothing.

Wolf cleared his throat. It would be not merely difficult but actually inappropriate to apologize to her, so he smiled wearily and moved nearer the fireplace, making a conspicuous effort not to drip water on the floor. "How is Flint?" he asked quietly.

She looked at him for a moment, measuring the question against her own unease, understanding that it was an offering, and she smiled an answer to it, though her voice was still grave as she explained to him that the child would need careful watching for some time to come, but that she knew he was a strong boy... She trailed off, and Wolf understood that she was terribly worried, not only about her son, but about all of them. He wondered again about the fate of the other child, the one that had not yet been born. It would certainly be in good hands, at any rate. How could Cleft say they were weak when they had such mothers as Kestrel among them? He murmured something polite, heartened.

When he asked after his brothers, though, Kestrel stared into the pot for several moments, struggling for words. "Wolf, I don’t know what you…" she paused, looked at him, and started anew. "I didn’t realize you hadn’t spoken to Bear. He is upset. Were you hoping to fight off the Southmen by yourself?"

It was Wolf’s turn to struggle for words. In the face of her frustration and her concern, his need for time to think seemed strange and difficult to explain, and he could only imagine what Bear might be thinking. He took a deep breath, attempting to clear his head. "I... I would have told him. Do you know where he’s gone?"

Kestrel shook her head.

It required only a moment’s deliberation before Wolf took his leave of her, turned, and headed back out into the storm.
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Old 02-14-2004, 09:22 PM   #90
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Settlers

The call of a horn was heard inside the old healer’s tent. Collothion, who had been diligently recording one of his recent findings at a small table covered with jars of varied colors and sizes, raised his head and uncovered one ear by pushing his thick red hair to the side. The horn was blown twice more, and after quickly shuffling his papers, Collothion stepped from the shelter with his heart beating anxiously and his eyes gleaming with pride. The time had come!

As he hurried toward the center of the settlement, he shaded his eyes with one long hand trying to get a better view of the competitors. It had been against his better judgment to allow Cuilad to join the men, but the boy had been so persistent. Cuilad looked so much like his mother when he wanted something badly that Collothion found it difficult to disappoint those fiery green eyes. He would put his trust in the Ithilien ranger who had promised to keep an eye on the lad. Trying to catch his son’s eye, the healer waved to the boy.

Cuilad held himself high in his seat with his chest out and chin up as the crowd’s cheer rose. Searching the crowd he found his father waving to him and a broad smile instantly formed on both of their faces.

Collothion approached his son and nervously laid his hand on the steed’s mane. “Are you sure you want to do this?” He asked quietly, not wanting the Calumdril to hear him giving Cuilad a chance to step out of the competition. Cuilad answered clearly by knotting the corner of his mouth, raising one eyebrow, and nodding slowly. “I thought as much, but you can’t blame me for trying, son. Stay close to Calumdril, and…” Here the old healer looked down as his feet and pushed his hair behind his ear. He wanted to tell his son to run and hide if he saw any of the hillmen, but he changed his mind and continued with, “if you see any new flora, be sure to bring me a sample.”

Looking up Collothion met Cuilad’s eyes which first were serious but then relaxed and full of laughter. The son knew his father well enough to know the healer’s curiosity of new herbs and plants would not be curbed by his own absence in the competition. Collothion patted the horse once more, and then his son’s knee. Turning his back on Cuilad, the father raised his head to meet Calumdril's eye. The men nodded in silent respect and understanding and Collothion stepped back to blend in with the rest of the crowd praying his son would be kept from harm’s way and the hunt would successfully bring the settlement much needed food.
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Old 02-19-2004, 08:23 PM   #91
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"----!"

Following closely behind Thoronmir, Awyrgan had failed to notice the whippy pine branch bend against his companion until it struck him squarely in the face. His string of raw curses drew a chuckle from the older man which was cut short by the foot which stepped firmly on the back of his ankle.

The pair had been walking all throughout the night into the early morning, pausing only once to check their bearings. They had subconsciously settled into a rhythm of sorts, switching off walking in front for a few hours each at a time in long sweeping fan-shaped paths. So far, their search had yielded few results which both relieved and frustrated them at the same time. They were moving beyond the regions the settlers regularly traversed, and the forest was getting thicker.

Horns in the distance behind them startled a small flock of birds out of the trees above their heads, prompting a small jump from Thoronmir. It was Awyrgan's turn to smirk. "Tane said the village would be having a hunt. I'll wager you a month of our wages I bring home a larger catch than you." The two shared the inside joke with the dry humor of a seasoned tracker. Not everyone could be king.

However Awyrgan's sly grin quickly faded and turned grim as he glanced slightly off their main path. Thoronmir saw it at the same time and both approached cautiously, senses alert.

Large footprints trailed out of the woods, through the wet dirt on the edge of the clearing and back into the trees. They were fresh, less than a day old. The rough imprint in the ground left little doubt in either of their minds. Hillmen were moving.

Silently the two moved into the thicket. Brushing away the undergrowth with his hand Awyrgan spread their map out in front of them. His finger ran lightly over it as he spoke. "We've traveled to about here." He tapped his fingers lightly on a ridgeline. "Going beyond here wouldn't allow us to check the other sides of the settlement. As much as I'd like to go further I doubt Tane would appreciate our being late."

He rolled the map up and placed it back in it's pouch. Thoronmir spoke. "We should wait here for a while and see if anything passes." Awyrgan nodded and the two moved until they were sitting back to back with both pairs of eyes scanning the regions outside of their thicket.

...

....Fire...

The sound of brush breaking brought Awyrgan out of a daydream and back to reality with a jolt. Beside him he heard Thoronmir mutter "A deer." Neither moved. Slowly Awyrgan drew his bow out and set it on the ground in front of him. Some yards away a large stag stood drinking out of a puddle. Awyrgan forced him self to wait as minutes felt like hours. Slowly he notched an arrow to the bow and picked it up, steadying it on the ground. He sniffed. The wind was still with them. Drawing the string back he held his breath, exhaled, and let the arrow fly with a twang. The deer fell like a rock. Thoronmir gave a somewhat congratulatory grunt. Awyrgan grinned. "Wait here."

There was little blood from the deer so Awyrgan moved it back into the thicket with the pair, disguising the ground as best he could.

He had only just settled down when the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. Something else was moving through the woods and he did not move like any animal. He heard Thoronmir whisper beside him, "It appears you are not the only hunter in these woods today." Awyrgan clenched his jaw tightly and the two sat, waiting.

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Old 02-28-2004, 09:38 PM   #92
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Alearindu noticed Tane standing near her make-shift tent. She quickened her pace, and before she could even greet him, he spoke;

"Alearindu, how would you like to be in charge of the Ranger group for the contest? You get to pick your own men and from what I hear, there are many that would like to be in on this venture. What say you?"

She blinked. "How could I of all Rangers lead the group? I'm sure all of them won't like being under my command. I wouldn't mind, Tane, but I'm sure they would..."
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Old 02-29-2004, 06:25 PM   #93
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"Well, if you wouldn't mind, then take it. It'll be good training in leadership for you. We all have to do things that we don't quite agree with. If they're going to be stubborn, then they don't get to go on the hunt. It'll all be up to you."

Alearindu still looked unconvinced, but nodded her agreement. Tane smiled and gripped her arm. "Don't worry. Remember, it is just a little contest."

Tane remounted Skit and turned toward the settlement with a wave to the female Ranger. He didn't want to debate the matter with her too much, or give her too much input from himself. This would be her venture and learning experience completely.

The settlement seemed to be eeking along in growth, but most things took time to start a faster development. They needed to get an outer wall up though, as fast as possible. Most of the villagers he saw went about their business with the only worries on their minds dealing with trivial things like what to cook for dinner or if they had time to move the wood. Tane had been dealing with the hillmen for a good while now and they were volitile and unpredictable, which made them a hard opponent to defeat. If they chose, they could do a lot of damage to the settlement before the fight was over.

Tane came upon the trading post and dismounted in front of a small makeshift roping post for horses. The Ranger loosely tied up Skit and entered through the flap to see a lot of things shoved into a small space.

"Hello, my name is Kaben and if you need any help finding something I can point you in the right direction." The greeting came from a slightly thin man adjusting some material off to the right.

"I'm just looking for right now."

Kaben smiled brightly. "That's fine. Hope you find something you like," and then he went back to lifting and adjusting.

There were two other shoppers around and a few others came and left as Tane went through the semi-lanes made from shelves and tables. This little post did have quite a lot for just starting out in such a desolate place. Tane still wasn't quite sure what the prize for the winning group was going to be. A feast had been mentioned, but he was thinking about small tokens as well. It could be the Rangers contribution to the winners as the feast was from the settlers. He just wasn't sure at all of what to get. There were some nice daggers, blankets, and even a few decorative items. This might take some serious thought.
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Old 03-02-2004, 06:34 AM   #94
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Therin, his wheelbarrow turned on the side, stone tumbled out of it, examined the wheel and sighed. It had cracked clean in two during the scuffle of dwarves rushing to regain control of their own wheelbarrows, and Therin grumbled inwardly. A few of his toes were also causing him pain, due to the amounts of stone falling out of the wheelbarrows, and Therin could see a few other dwarves nursing various wounds and bruises, their dignity lessened.

He turned his full attention to the wheel in front of him, deciding it couldn't take that long for him to fix it. For the next half hour, he worked with it, just the dull murmur of the dwarves around him. Finally, the wheel fixed, he looked up to see that most of the dwarves were also well on the way with their own wheelbarrows, and with some surprise to see that Barzun was leaning against one of the ruined stone walls, not barking orders. A pleasant change, Therin felt, proceeding to reload his wheelbarrow with all the fallen pieces of stone.

This task finished, he wandered round the rest of the ruins, staring once more at the crumbling stone walls, pieces of moss growing out of the cracks, and barely any memory of the people who had once lived there. A sad sign of the times, mused Therin, that in such an age as this, such beauty was so forgotten.
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Old 03-09-2004, 12:35 AM   #95
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The soft ground was yielding and soft under Bear’s feet. He heeded it little. His wrath had been lessened very little since he had left the hill and as he walked he slashed at the foliage on both sides with his axe. Though his mood was surly and his mind was elsewhere, his instincts still caused his eyes to scan the areas around him and in the periphery of his vision he caught movement.

Suddenly, without thought, he had stooped behind a nettle bush. His hand had moved subconsciously to his axe hilt and in the back of Bear’s mind he wished he had put his stolen dwarven-mail on that morning. He fingered the strap that bound his large round shield to his back and prepared for fight or flight. Bears fears were soon relieved when out of a thicket emerged a stag of great stature.

His coat gleamed with drops of water and steam issued from his nostrils like smoke from a fire-mountain. The majestic beast passed Bear’s hiding place and like a fire spirit flowed off into the forest. Suddenly horns brayed through the thick air and the stag raised his proud, antlered head in alarm. He broke into a gallop and passed out of Bear’s view. The horn sounding had brought Bear out of the daze that he had entered in with the arrival of the stag and he once again gripped his axe-hilt and crouched as he went in the opposite direction to the sound, the same direction the stag had took only moments before. Suddenly the sound of voices stopped Bear in his tracks.

He lay almost flat on the damp earth in time to see two tall men stride through a slight clearing in the trees. One now had the great stag slung across his shoulders, its proud head now hung limp and lifeless. An irrational, fierce anger was suddenly kindled in Bear’s heart and he reached to unhitch the shield on his back. Without the consent of his mind, his eyes took in the position and type of weapon each man bore. The Man carrying the stag’s bow was strung across his right shoulder and was hindered by the dead bulk of the stag.

The other man had a long sword strapped to his hip and Bear could see at least two knives strapped to his person. Before Bear knew what he was doing, he was on his feet and roaring towards the two men. His shield felt both heavy and comforting on his left arm and his right hand was sweaty where it gripped the leather of his axe-grip. The Man bearing the stag suddenly became aware of his approach and attempted to untangle himself from the dead weight he bore.

As he attempted to free himself from his burden the Ranger yelled out to his companion, who in a flash had his long, keen weapon facing Bear. Bear’s onslaught was furious and he broke through the man’s offhand parry with ease. However, his axe was not the best weapon for such a foray and he was unable to land any blows on his adversary. This man was cunning and skilled with his weapon and Bear was soon put on the defensive.

The man bearing the stag had finally detangled himself and was fitting an arrow to his bow. A sudden break in the blows of the man with the sword allowed Bear to swivel in his bearings. Sudden instinct caused him to bring his shield arm up and as he did, it thudded with vibration as an arrow slammed into it. Bear aimed a savage blow at the bowman, and just as it was about to hit, the other man had thrust his sword out and parried the blow. Bear’s axe was flung aside and panic stricken, he grappled with the swordsman. He felt a gashing blow hit his upper forearm and a searing pain filled his mind. In frenzy, with his bare fist, Bear landed blow after blow upon his assailant and he heard the Man’s weapon fall to the ground. Bear aimed a savage blow at the Man’s head with his shield and felt with a bitter relish the sensation of its impact.

His thigh suddenly felt as if it had been burnt with searing ice and he felt the sticky, warm blood flow down to his ankle. The arrow had lodged itself far into his upper leg and he could put little weight on it.

The swordsman stood dazed and staggered as if he would fall. Bear’s shield had knocked him almost senseless. Another arrow whipped past Bear’s shoulder and he realized just how much peril his folly had landed himself in. Hope seemed to die in Bear’s heart and he started to advance towards the bowman. The man fitted an arrow to the string and began to bent toe bow.

Wolf could not have picked a better time to enter the scene. He ran screaming into the fray like a wild thing. The savage blow he aimed at the bowman with his long spear had swung wide as the Man turned to face the new threat. The bowman turned and fled, helping his still dazed comrade as he ran.

Wolf began to follow, but hearing a pain-filled groan escape his brother’s lips, he stopped and turned. The blood had congealed around the wound in Bear’s leg and breaking the shaft of the arrow, he placed his hand upon the wound to stem the flow. His dark red life poured silently from his leg and he began to swoon.

“Quickly brother, we must get you to aid!” Wolf slung his brother’s arm around his shoulders and the two hobbled towards their village.

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Old 03-09-2004, 10:12 AM   #96
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Rangers

Awyrgan limped along in a foul mood, dragging Thoronmir alongside him. He could feel a deep gash running along the top of his back where the deer's antlers had caught when he had tried to drop it quickly. Moreover, the heavy blow aimed at him that Thoronmir had blocked had struck his foot at an angle and the man was all but positive it was broken. A cut over his eye left a trail of blood trickling down his face.

He turned to his companion. Thoronmir was walking along in a daze, still somewhat stunned from the shield blow. Fortunately it had only been made of leather and other sturdy materials, or it might have taken his head right off. Bruises covered his forehead where the broad fist of the hillman had pummeled him. Thoronmir groaned and then spit out a broken tooth, cursing loudly.

The two walked on in silence, their instincts picking the shortest route back to the camp. Each had saved the other's life at least once in the fight, but neither thought much of it - it was to be expected. Awyrgan's thoughts hung on the deer they had left behind. Soon, he knew, the hillmen would return and claim it. Hopefully it would provide some distraction and delay any attack they might have been planning. Thoronmir meanwhile played the fight back over in his pounding skull, chiding himself for losing control of his sword.

A raven passed overhead, its cry echoing ominously in the dark. The two man shared a brief glance and then, still bleeding, broke into a run. They would need to cover in less than a night the distance they had traveled in two days. They ran in silence, their footsteps landing softly as only a Ranger could; their only sound was their labored breathing. Awyrgan tripped and was pulled roughly back on his feet by Thoronmir, who in turn stumbled and was caught by the younger man. They moved on in this fashion, their thoughts focused solely on reaching the camp.

It was early the next morning when they arrived. The camp was still deserted, nearly the entire settlement had taken part in the hunt. The dawn mists swirled about them as they broke through the shadow like some bizarre specter. A group of children ran crying from them as they passed through the outskirts of town towards their tents. It was eerily quiet. Reaching their makeshift camp they cast themselves down on the ground, gasping for breath. Awyrgan vomited as Thoronmir began to build a fire. The younger man did a quick priority check on his wounds and, taking of his boots, pulled the broken foot back into alignment. Silent tears rolled down his eyes as the adrenaline from the run wore off and the blood began to recirculate through the limb. He began to wrap it tightly. Meanwhile Thoronmir was boiling herbs for the splitting headache plaguing him. They treated each other in silent agony, waiting for Tane to arrive.

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Old 03-13-2004, 09:50 PM   #97
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Alearindu watched as Tane trotted on his horse away from her. He had a point. If any Ranger really wanted to go on this hunt, they wouldn’t mind her being their leader. After all, there was only going to be one team of Rangers.

Alearindu mounted Mornen, and headed over to the camp. As soon as she got there, she started to glance around; looking for any Rangers who might want to go on the hunt. It was late morning, so she had some time. She spotted one Ranger, dismounted Mornen, and jogged over to him.

“Excuse me, fellow Ranger?” He looked over at her. “I was wondering if you were interested in joining the hunting team for the Rangers.” The look on the Ranger’s face made Alearindu think he thought she was jesting.

“I don’t know if I’m interested. Why would I want to be on your team?” He responded with emphasis on ‘your’.

Alearindu raised an eyebrow. “Well. I guess you don’t want go on the hunt so much, then. Or else you wouldn’t mind me being your leader.” Having said this, Alearindu turned the opposite way, and began to walk away.

Alearindu heard him sigh, and then call out to her; “Lady, wait. I’ll join the team.” Alearindu somewhat winced at him addressing her as Lady, but smiled nevertheless.

Alearindu turned around and smiled at him. “Good. Be back at the settlement an hour after midday.” The male Ranger nodded, and Alearindu went on her way. She found two more Rangers talking amongst themselves. After a slight hesitation, they both accepted her invitation. Her team now consisted of four; including her. She was going more for a five or six person team. Alearindu rounded up another Ranger, who wasn’t going to join the team until she mentioned that there was already three other men on it. The last Ranger had watched Alearindu discuss with the previous, and came over to her asking to be on the team. Alearindu gratefully accepted, and with him, she completed her team.

She was going to go to the settlement, but she saw Tane walk into his cabin. Alearindu jogged over to him and reached him before he went inside the cabin.

“We have a team for the hunt after all,” Alearindu said, grinning. “I managed to get together a team of six; Ethiner, Roharan, Sulënar, Athruin, Dínrandir and myself. I really didn’t think I would’ve been able to manage this one.”

Tane smiled, but seemed somewhat distracted. “Good, Alearindu. I told you you could do it.”

“What are you going to do while the hunting is going on?” Alearindu asked.


“I need a small break…” he replied. “I think I’ll go out and take a ride tomorrow morning.”

“I don’t mean to rush off, but I think I need to be getting back to the settlement. I told the rest of my team to meet me there an hour after midday. Thank you, Tane, for letting me do this.” Tane nodded and slightly waved as Alearindu mounted Mornen, and left for the settlement. She arrived a little early, but she wanted to be there before the rest of her team did. As the moments passed, the team gradually came together, until finally all six were there.

“Alright. Now that we’re all here, I’ll begin.” Alearindu said. “You all know what the hunt is about, and we are to represent the Rangers in the competition. I figure we should start looking for game in the Southern section of the woods. I’ve heard from various rumours around here that the settler team is already out and in the Eastern area. Let’s not fall too far behind so let’s get going.” Alearindu squeezed Mornen’s sides, and trotted him out of the settlement.

Once they reached the woods at the Southern border, Alearindu urged Mornen into a canter, and the others followed suit. After a few minutes of riding, Alearindu slowed her horse to a quiet trot. They continued for the rest of the day without any signs of tracks or trails. There were times when they followed tracks, but came to a stream where the tracks ended, or went on a goose-chase down a wood trail to find nothing. A few hours after dusk came upon them, Alearindu made the decision to stop for camp. “We’ll start out early in the morning, and hopefully have more luck then.”

The Rangers found a small clearing in the woods that would due for a temporary night camp. They tied their horses to near-by trees, and set out their own sleeping gear. Sulënar and Roharan were the first on watch, and Alearindu was part of the third watch, with Athruin. No one and nothing bothered any of them during the night watches, and once Alearindu had awoken Dínrandir to switch shifts, she stretched out underneath the tree she had tied Mornen to, and fell into a light sleep.

As soon as the first rays of dawn peeked over the horizon, she awoke. Two of the other Rangers were already packed for the day; the ones who had had the last watch, and the other three rose shortly after Alearindu. It didn’t take the rest of them long to pack up, and once they had, it was back to the trails.

Alearindu, being in front, was the first to spot a trail of deer tracks on a trail that led to the left of the path. She motioned to it, and the Rangers dismounted their horses; the trail was too narrow and dense for them. The six of them walked slowly and quietly down the path, until they came to a small opening in the woods. There was a buck drinking water from a small stream on the opposite bank of where the Rangers were. No one or thing could have heard the Rangers, even if they were standing right beside them.

Alearindu looked back at her team, and nodded. She drew her bow, and strung an arrow. Silently pulling the string of the bow back, she whistled quietly, and the buck raised his head to see where the noise came from. That, was the opportune moment. An arrow pierced the chest of the buck, but it wasn’t Alearindu’s. She looked back and saw that Sulënar, the first and somewhat rude Ranger she had asked to join the team, had an empty bow. He smirked at her and went to retrieve their game. Alearindu released the tension of her bow and sighed. This was going to be a long day, unless she came up with some other idea.

After putting up the smoke signal, the Ranger team traveled on; deeper into the woods. Alearindu was still trying to come up with a way so that they could get the most game, when they came to a four-way fork in the road. That was when the idea struck her. “From here, I’ll mostly let you be on your own. We’ll go out in pairs; Roharan and Athruin, go west, Ethiner and I will head south from here, and Sulënar and Dínrandir; take the deer back to the area where we had the night camp and guard it there. If you manage to get any game, take it back to Sulënar and Dínrandir. Meet back at the camp a few hours after dusk. Good luck.”

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Old 03-16-2004, 08:03 PM   #98
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It was the first real day of the competition. They wouldn't be getting back until at least this evening, if not a few days down the road. If ever Tane was going to slip away for a moment to himself, this would be it.

The idea had come to him when he and Alearindu spoke before her departure. She had asked him what he was going to do and he realized that he hadn't had time to himself since he had assumed command. The activity of riding Skit to and from posts was one of the most calming to him, and he missed it dearly. The settlement was in no danger and all the rangers had their current assignments. He didn't see why he couldn't take a day off.

Hothem was still in the commanders cabin looking through some papers, and he was exactly who Tane wanted to see.

"What are you grumbling about now Hothem?" for indeed, the other Ranger had just mumbled to himself with a very disagreeable mask on.

He looked up and sighed. "A disagreement in politics I'm afraid. Of no real matter," and he tossed them genially aside while moving for a seat.

Tane let the matter lie. He didn't particularly want to discuss yet another problem.

"I think I'm going to ride out tomorrow," Tane had just sat himself across from Hothem and looked as haggard as his voice sounded.

"Oh, and just for how long?"

"I was thinking about making it an over night venture."

Hothem raised his eyebrows and stared steadily at his commander. "And you want me to assume command in your absence?"

Tane nodded.

"What about no one going out alone?"

"I knew you'd bring that up. I'm going to travel our back lines and meet up with the post out there. I'm staying on the opposite side of trouble, with company too."

Hothem just nodded. One day wasn't all that long. They went about their duties and before Tane realized time had passed, it was dark outside.

Hothem was making to leave for his own tent when Tane called him back.

"I'll be leaving as soon as I wake, so it's yours now, and I forgot to send a replacement to the settlement. With Awyrgan and Alearindu gone there's no one there for reports. Send someone out in the morning."

Hothem laughed and patted Tane on the shoulder. "Sure, sure, leave it for me. I see how your mind works," and with a wink, he was out.

~*~

Dawn had not yet broke, yet Tane was awake and just finishing packing. Habits of a Ranger. Others were up and about, but they didn't give him much heed as he saddled Skit and set off. He went fast at first, getting a refreshing morning air ride. After a little bit he slowed to a small canter and then meandered toward his destination. Tane was in no hurry. Today was going to be very relaxing. No orders, papers, or duties besides brushing down his horse.

After a few side tracks and extended breaks Tane saw the patrol he had been heading for. They saw him as well and waved him forward, not bothering to mount up and greet him. Half an hour later he arrived in their small camp. They were scheduled to stay out there for two more days, then shift positions to next post before reporting back and switching assignments. They were more than happy to share a meal with him and were more than pleased to add on the rabbit that Tane had killed on one of his extended breaks.

The three rangers disregarded rank and joked around the lunch fire. It was a fine day away.

~*~

Hothem slept in and woke up just as the sun was coming out of false dawn. Stretching he tried to get all the cold and cramp out of his system before heading off to his water pitcher.

The morning went slowly and after a few hours he remembered that he had to send someone to babysit. After taking a look at who was in the camp, he decided to send Rherrin who had been at base the longest. Let him stretch his legs.

After a short search he found the man doing some exercises off to one side of his tent. Hothem hailed Rherrin who quickly went over, apparently anxious to get a move on.

"There's a short assignment I'd like you to do. Awyrgan and Alearindu are out of the settlement right now and I need a, now don't give me that look, it'll hold you over till your switching party comes back."

Rherrin looked disdainful. "The settlement? For how long?"

Hothem took a firm stance. "Until Alearindu or Awyrgan comes back, so maybe you can check their temporary camps for them. It should take no more than a day or two."

"But what am I to do in that place?"

Hothem let his eyes bug a little at the obstinant man. "What you do in every town. Go through the trading post, I'm not sure there's a tavern anywhere yet, but you can always check on or stay in one of the camps, maybe you'll even chat with some folk. Now, I want you out of here within a candlemark and in town in two."

Rherrin nodded and moved to get some form of equipment or other.

Hothem shook his head. Since when had the settlement become such a place to be avoided?
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Old 03-17-2004, 07:33 AM   #99
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It was several hours before midday when Rherrin arrived at the settlement. From their makeshift camp on the outskirts of the town Awyrgan and Thoronmir watched as he appeared over the outlying hills. Riding towards them he raised his hand in greeting. Awyrgan frowned; his relationships with the other Rangers were anything but close, but with Rherrin it was almost hostile. Rherrin and he seldom saw eye to eye on any subject and had been disqualified from the most recent Ranger wrestling competition for "excessive aggressiveness." The green-eyed man grinned at the memory and turned to his companion. "I wonder if his fingers have mended yet?" Thoronmir shook his head in mock amusment and returned to rebinding his wounds. Both men were healing quickly, but the marks from the previous days encounter were painfuly obvious. A long scar was forming on the side of Awyrgan's face, a match for the one already there on the other side.

Reaching the pair, Rherrin dismounted and strode towards them. He had an slight, perhaps involuntary swagger about him that irked Awrygan. His demenor changed however when he saw the marks covering the pair, and the binding around Awyrgan's foot. "What happened," he demanded.

Awyrgan gazed slowly up at him. "Hunting accident."

"Really."
"Yes."
"A hunting accident?"
"Yes."
"Shut up," Thoronmir interjected. His headache had returned.
"A hunting accident?"
"Yes."
"What was it, a rabbit?"

Rherrin's last words were ill-fated for he had strode to close to Awyrgan and the dark man quickly swept his feet out from under him and pinned him. Awyrgan spoke with a tone of dark humor. "It was quite larger than a rabbit. Where is Tane?" Rherrin pushed the man aside and sat up. "He left the camp for a few days, I didn't here exactly why. He put Hothem in charge." He glanced at the dark expressions on the other Rangers faces. "Is something amiss." Awyrgan traced a finger across the still fresh gash along the back of his shoulder and cursed. "Yes."

He briefly told the other of their encounter with the hillmen. Pulling out the map he showed Rherrin the paths they had taken and where they had ran into the wild men. Rherrin shook his head. "Do you think they will make an attack in the near future?" Awyrgan sighed. "I don't know." "And all the townsfolk are somewhere out there in the wild?" Awyrgan nodded. "Yes, along with Alearindu's team." Rherrin chuckled. "Well I guess we have nought to worry about then." The joke passed and they fell silent, each running as many possible scenerios through their heads. Finally, Rherrin broke the silence. "What do you want to do?"

Awyrgan glanced at Thoronmir only to find that the other two were staring at him. He looked back down at the ground and scratched aimlessly at the dirt with a stick. He turned to Rherrin. "How long are you here?" Rherrin grinned. "Until you return." Awyrgan nodded. "I want to to set up on the other side of town. Alearindu has her tent there so you should be able to find some supplies." He cracked his back, sitting up a little straighter now that his mind was made up. "The villagers have as good a chance of survivial out in the woods as they do here, no defenses are prepared. We will check the nearby woods for any signs a few times throughout the day and hope that Tane passes through soon. In the mean time try to scout out any good defensive positions." Rherrin nodded, and calling his horse rode off towards the other end of town leaving the other two alone.

Awyrgan turned. "Do you think he'll stop at the tavern?" Thoronmir looked up hopefuly. "There's a tavern?" Awyrgan laughed. "No." Standing up he tried putting weight on the broken foot. It was painful, but he could manage. Striding away from the camp a short distance he let the breeze whip through his hair. It was cold.
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Old 03-20-2004, 06:56 PM   #100
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Cuilad reached over slowly and tugged on Calumdril’s sleeve. When the ranger turned toward him, the boy pointed to a spot above the trees. A billow of smoke rose, stopped, then another followed.

“Ah, so the rangers have made the first kill,” Calumdril sighed. “A second prize will be given to those who bring in the most game…there is still hope, my lad.”

Cuilad turned away from the ranger and gazed straight ahead. He was beginning to doubt they would bring back any game at all. The day before, Cuilad had been so excited to be allowed to join the team of settlers on the hunting competition, but now, as he lay on his stomach against a log camouflaged by fallen leaves, he wished he had stayed with his father. Or did he? The boy had had high expectations for this competition. He had placed Calumdril on a pedestal, and believed that if he followed the Ithilien he would be seen as a man, a fighter, a hunter. He didn’t feel like any of those things at the moment, and it was to no blame of Calumdril’s. The ranger probably didn’t realize how much the boy look up to him…he was different from Cuilad’s father, who had a never ending fascination with herbs and medicines. Although he would never tell his father, Cuilad did not possess that same passion.

The sound of a broken twig brought Cuilad out of his thoughts. Calumdril slowly pulled out his bow, and Cuilad did the same. Some twenty-five feet from where they lay, a doe stood gently picking the bark from a nearby tree. The ranger nodded to Cuilad, letting him know he could make the shot. The boy slowly placed the arrow to the string of his bow and smoothly pulled it back. He had the deer directly in his path…all he had to do was let the arrow fly. Something within him filled and he felt overwhelmed by a sense of compassion for this animal. Just do it…shoot the arrow! He inwardly yelled at himself, but he still didn’t make the shot.

Cuilad heard the arrow released from Calumdril’s bow and a moment later the doe collapsed. The boy turned crimson from the neck up…he had blown his chance…he had failed.
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Old 03-23-2004, 09:55 PM   #101
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Boots

Calumdril had noted the boy's hesitation. Well, it wouldn't be the first time a lad had flinched in the face of duty, although he was not like most other lads.

Calumdril thought of the typical bits of behaviour he had seen. Boys using frogs for targets in knife-throwing contests, watching the pinned frogs squirm and shudder before they expired. Or pinning down birds' wings and watching the birds struggle to escape. Or even cutting off the wings and then laughing at the bloodied, maimed bodies as they struggled to hop, then tumbling into a twitching mass of frantic pain.

No, thought Calumdril, this boy is not like those. Still he needs to understand how the settlement depends on this hunt.

Calumdril pulled his bow taunt and let the arrow fly. With luck, it would fall sure and sharp and the doe's pain would not persist.

~ ~ ~
The two, the boy and the man, stood mutely as spasms shot threw the doe and the quivering body slowly came to a rest. Calumdril watched the boy's face grow red and then pale white.

"You need two minds about it, Cuilad,' Calumdril said.

"You need to understand the moment and how to take the animal. And you also need to remember yesterday and tomorrow, those of your own kind who might be starving if they don't eat."

Cuilad turned his face away from the ranger, clearly upset with himself over his failure to shoot the doe.

Calumdril strode over to the boy and gently turned his face towards the ranger's.

"It was an honest and understandable mistake. Learn from it. If you run away and hide with every mistake, you will fail. But if you learn from mistakes, if you take their lesson to heart, you will be stronger, stronger than the loudest bully in the largest croup. Don't let them make you think otherwise."

Cuilad reluctantly nodded at the Ithilien.

"Come,' said the Ithien after a bit, 'let us track the herd more. And you can show me what you've learnt."

A breeze ruffled through the glade as the two prepared the deer for carrying back to the settlement. Then they went forth again, to find more. No one at the camp would go hungry for several days.
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Old 03-25-2004, 11:50 AM   #102
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Wolf’s brother was heavy. There was no way around this simple fact. Bear had always been a tall man, and his training and hunting had made him tough, efficient, and large instead of merely gangly. He was all the heavier, thought Wolf, when he’s leaning against your right shoulder for support, only vaguely conscious and unable to walk by himself, especially when one’s own left ankle had somehow been twisted awkwardly, and even more so in the cold wind that had followed the storm. At least the persistent drizzle had subsided for the moment. Spring. Wolf gritted his teeth against it.

Bear was silent, whether from pain or anger his brother could not say. His face, usually so expressive, was quiet in a way that Wolf did not want to break in upon. Bear needed to know that he would have been part of Wolf’s counsel, that the death of Calem called for special action from them and that Wolf knew he couldn’t do this by himself. But to place such responsibility on a fainting man was absurd. Still, if he was still angry…

As so often in the past few days, Wolf hesitated. Surely Bear, even a half-conscious and wounded Bear, would not accept help from him if he did not want reconciliation? With a strange, unaccustomed timidity, Wolf addressed himself to the brother in whose eyes he had worked so hard to remain strong, aloof, unquestionable.

“That was… very brave, Bear.”

Very foolish, he thought, very stubborn and irritating and very, very dangerous. But all of those things were Bear, had always been Bear, and he needed to recognize his virtues too, his virtues and his flaws apparent in the same act, like the two sides of his hand…

Sun and moon, I’m becoming a sentimental old woman. It must be the weight.

Bear, however, did not respond, not so much as a grunt. His eyes were distant, and his face changed no more than if he hadn’t heard him at all.

Maybe he hadn’t. Maybe what consciousness he had was so focused on overcoming his pain and keeping their maimed steps shuffling along the path toward the village, and no attention was left for voices, his own or someone else’s.

But it was someone else’s voice that Wolf heard suddenly, not far off and through the trees. A southern voice.

Wordlessly, and hoping fervently that his brother wouldn’t notice, Wolf turned aside and headed toward the village by another, safer route.

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

Cleft busied himself about Bear's prone form and steadfastly refused to answer or even acknowledge questions. The two brothers and Kestrel had crowded into the hut, filling it with gloom and impatience, until Cleft waved them away along with their questions. "I'm working," he said shortly. "You are not working. You are interfering with my work. Go do something useful."

Knife strode away, filled with resentment. Wolf suspected he was going to look for the barrel of wine they'd taken off a traveler's hands some months ago. He moved to stop him, but thought better of it. What was the use of irritating him further?

More worrisome to Wolf was Kestrel, whose face was so quiet as she limped back to her house, away from her absent husband and back to her injured son. Her family...

Last edited by Belin; 03-29-2004 at 03:48 PM.
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Old 03-28-2004, 09:00 AM   #103
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Cuilad

Cuilad walked along at Calumdril’s right heel, hanging his head and mulling over the ranger’s words. He had expected the ranger to be angry and tell him he wasn’t ready for this trip, but Calumdril had surprised the boy by giving him a lesson. When Cuilad held the arrow in his hand, ready to shoot, he never thought of his own people and their survival, only the doe that stood in front of him. His father’s training had dealt only with healing others and caring for them, so when Cuilad was faced with taking a life, even that of a mere animal, he was unprepared.

Now Cuilad scanned the ground from side to side hoping he might redeem himself by exhibiting the tracking skills the ranger had taught him. They had walked for near half an hour when the boy spotted a tree with bark missing from the part of its lower portion. Touching Calumdril’s elbow to stop him, the boy pointed to the tree and motioned toward its base.

“Ah, you have a good eye,” Calumdril said and then grabbed the boy’s wrist when Cuilad stepped forward to have a closer look. The boy spun around and looked at the ranger inquisitively, not understanding yet why he could not check it out. The ranger, seeing Cuilad’s puzzled expression, quickly explained, “If that mark is due to the presence of more game, there will be tracks. We must tread carefully for we mustn’t spoil them. Do you understand?”

Cuilad nodded and stepped back to let the ranger make the first move. The boy still had much to learn of these things, and he did not want to ruin anything else that day. Calumdril walked slowly and gently. Cuilad noticed the Ithilien paid special attention to every foot placement as they searched the area for tracks. Sure enough, around the base of the tree hoof prints could be seen in the patched earth and Calumdril pointed out how the grass was broken. The prints seemed to move in the direction the two hunters were already heading. Cuilad followed the ranger as they swiftly and silently followed the line of prints in hopes of finding more food for the settlement and maybe a prize at their homecoming.
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Old 03-28-2004, 10:11 PM   #104
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At the Settlement

Borgand sat in his tent, trying not to sulk. The competition, the wonderful idea for saving his people, was underway and he could have no part in it. The dwarves were still gone on their mission for stone, and the settlement seemed to languish in the meantime. In truth, it was simply Borgand's own mood that lent this cast to events. The town was still progressing, focus on a central hall had meant that other projects had suffered a bit, but the former soldier's instincts about getting the one community center completed had been dead on. People were excited. Maybe it was the prospect of a place to call their own, maybe it was the prospect of fresh meat, or maybe it was simply the excitement of the upcoming feast and competition, but Borgand had not seen his people this excited since the first night of their arrival. If only he could share in their joy.

Illith bustled about the tent, deftly avoiding both her husband and the subject. Though a decent hunter and tracker before his injury, Borgand had not attempted a hunt since. His place was in the settlement, in any event, and Illith took care to remind him of his duty to the people and downplay his physical disability whenever she could. Still, he was in a foul mood, and since he had to keep up a face for the settlers, she got the worst of it.

"By the stars, woman, can you not be still for one minute altogether?" he demanded, peevishly.

"Actually, I can," she replied, smiling. "I'll take that as an offer to take Bregand out to the wall to find wood for tonight's cooking fire. It will gives me just the chance I need to be still for one minute altogether. Thank you."

With that she sat beside her husband and batted her eyes at him. Despite himself, the man began to laugh.

"Very well," he chuckled, "point taken. Come, Bregand, we're off to find some kindling for your mother. Though we needn't go to the wall for it. Let's go and see how the town hall is progressing. It should be almost finished, despite the rain and there are bound to be plenty of wood scraps to be found."

He lifted himself with his good leg and bent to take his small son's hand. The boy was eager to be out and about, fractious at having been kept inside by the weather. Though generally good tempered, he was still a boy, and as they emerged from the tent he pulled his father through the mud to the center of the settlement, heedless of the puddles and the mist, stretching his young muscles. Borgand looked down at the boy fondly and let go of his hand, allowing him to run ahead, jumping through the water. His footing was less certain than the child's and he had to be careful of the mud, but he did not begrudge Bregand his romp. In truth, it was good to see the child healthy enough to make a mess again.

Father and son made it to the building site and Bregand threw himself into the search for dry wood scraps with the focus only a child can muster. Meanwhile, Borgand spoke to the workers, encouraging them in their work. It was, in fact, almost finished. One more day would bring an end to this particular project and Borgand felt the infectious happiness of the settlement swelling inside him once again at the accomplishment. The town hall was going to be large enough to hold every settler for the feast, plus the 30-odd rangers. In design it was simple, but no less impressive for that fact. Their first real town project, the settlers had every reason to be proud of it.

A young soldier, barely of age, came running up to Borgand, splashing mud in his wake and drawing the attention of the assembled workers.

"Borgand! Oh, Borgand, smoke has been seen! The first of the game has been caught!" he shouted as he ran.

The former soldier perked and straightended, addressing the young man who was now directly in front of him and huffing after his exertions. "What color, Roland? Red or grey?"

"Grey, sir."

"Ahh..then the rangers have taken the first prey of the competition."

Borgand saw the settlers sink a bit at this news. He added, quickly, "Let us not forget that there are two prizes at stake here. First catch does not mean they will find the most game. Our men will show their stamina. After all, they made it here. I have every confidence that the rangers have no idea what they are up against."

The crowd murmered their agreement and went back to their work with renewed effort. The hall had to be done by tomorrow night to have time to prepare for the feast. Inwardly, Borgand did not care who felled the most game, he was simply thrilled that the herds had been found. Things were looking up. He called to Bregand and laughed when the boy appeared, crusted head to toe in mud, but carrying a pile of dry kindling in his shirt.

"Your mother will have a fit, so I guess we'll just have to get you cleaned up before she sees you. Come on, let's get that fire started and when the water's hot enough I'll give you a bath myself."
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Old 03-30-2004, 07:54 AM   #105
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"Look out!"

Olin dived to the side as an old stone pillar toppled down several feet from his previous location. "Can't you darn fools be more careful!?" He roared. Already, bored, tired and murderously hungry, the exitement of exploring an ancient city had lost its glamor. The bosses were aslo visibly grumpy, and the dwarf was now willing to yell right back at them. On top of that, it didn't help that he had nearly been pinned (and possibly squashed) to the ground by a someone elses ignorance.

Olin stomped away from the site of his near demise and collected another cart. How long would it take to get each and every load back to the settlement? A line of overflowing wheelbarrows extended through much of the ruins, and the dwarf was tired of walking to the back of the line - as the majority of the good material was at its head. "Fools, idiotic self-absorbed fools," he muttered; although not to anyone in particular.

His primary thought as he pushed the cart up to a stone pile and began loading it was of food; he had not eaten anything since breakfast, and it was late in the afternoon. Olin's exausted, frustration-wraught mind began to fantasize. "Beer... yes, yes, that would be nice. Malt, of course. Perhaps with a nice slab of cheese, some warm bread, a roast fish or too... maybe even a good, plump, fried chicken. Hm... what about some fresh fruit? No, no, too light; solid food is the key, yes, solid fo-"

The dwarf's wheel barrow tipped over, dumped his load of stone onto the legs and feet of several others who were resting. They awoke from their dozes instantly, and preceded to send an avalance of curses in his direction. And Olin gave as good as he got; tempers were frayed at the site indeed.
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Old 04-04-2004, 05:42 PM   #106
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The last of the sun's light was fading slowly over the hills. Tane and the two Rangers he was staying with had long ago built up the fire for the small dinner they'd eaten and the light that was now needed.

Tane had momentarily thought of riding back to camp, but it was too dark now to go back in the safest way. A slightly pressing weight of his duties had started coming back to him. Sighing, the new leader put his face in his hands, though he let his eyes peak out through his fingers at the flickering flames.

Tane had never expected to take command of the Rangers so soon, if ever. It was always a slight possiblity since he was second in command, but Rangers shifted groups constantly and he could well have been in another part of Middle Earth when Thorgil finally gave up his command. Tane hadn't been trained properly for dealing with all the responsibilities. He did know how to logistically run the camp, but all the politics and ethics were things you couldn't learn unless in deep leadership training.

Giving his face a slight shove with his hands, he leaned back into a stretch and finished with wringing his arms a few times. Darkness had truly set in now and unless the three decided to make idle banter they'd be making bed soon. As soon as he woke, he'd return to camp and resume command, but right now he had to wash the dishes he had used for dinner.
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Old 04-07-2004, 09:06 AM   #107
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Boots Tally

Midmorning had brought another kill for Calumdril and Cuilad, this one the boy's own doing. Their horses were laden with three now and Calumdril was beginning to question the need for more slaughter. Good enough that the boy had one himself, thought Calumdril, but who knew how many animals other settlers had felled. And the rangers. It would not be good to take too many from the herd all at once.

Calumdril watched the boy's excitement at his first success and for the first time noted that Cuilad was mouthing words as he worked over the animal, even if his voice was mute. When he was done, the boy looked up, his face inquisitive and eager to go on.

"No, lad, we've enough now. I won't even start a fire to send a signal. We'll head home."

The boy's face fell flat and disappointment clearly registered in his eyes.

"You've done as well as me, lad. We each took one and shared in another. Your dad will nave nowt to complain of you and much to commend."

The boy stood still, stubbornly rooted to the ground, feeling as if he was being denied a precious opportunity. Calumdril took no note of the rebellion but went about collecting his things before beginning a quiet talk with the boy. It was awhile yet before they set back to the settlement.

~ ~ ~

The mud had made the going harder, as the horses' hooves slipped as often as did their own. Yet as the sun rose higher in the sky, the earth dried partly and they were able to make their way faster. The two could hear the ringing of hammers and thuds of axes as they neared the settlement and then the rise of voices as their approach was noted. Calumdril was eager to hand the animals over to Illith and the other women. He wanted a swim in the cold lake and relief from the days of worry over the need for food. And he wanted time to think of the body he had found with the Rangers. His job was done. Let others prepare the feast.
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Old 04-09-2004, 03:29 PM   #108
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The feast begins

Borgand watched as the last roofing slate was put in place and the last few boards were hammered home, beaming. The town hall was finished! Weeks of work and agonising waiting had finally paid off with the completion of the first building of the settlement. The former soldier heard a cheer go up from the people in the makeshift streets and it took him a few moments to realise that the cheer was not for the finished building, but for the returning hunters.

Borgand hurried to greet Calumdril and Culiad and sighed with inward relief when he saw that their horses carried fresh meat.

"Hail, Calumdril," he called. "It seems our team has also found the herds. I congratulate you! I was awaiting your signal fire, but will be happy to send one myself letting everyone on the hunt know that the contest is now over. The town hall itself was just finished, and I believe we are all primed for a celebration."

The Ithillian smiled at him, clearly weary, and handed off his prizes to a waiting lad of maybe 12 who was eager to be near the hunters. Culiad seemed less weary than resentful, but Borgand knew that a young man with a taste of freedom was usually the hardest to satisfy, and that honour at the feast tonight would cool his temper.

Calumdril jumped from his horse and handed the reigns to another lad...they seemed to have srung up around him in a kind of hero worship. "I'll ask you lads to take care of my animals. The horse needs brushing, feeding and water and the deer need cleaning. I'll trust you to figure out which is which," he told them with a wink and a smile. "Now, I am off for a swim."

"An excellent idea," Borgand agreed. He turned to the men who had been working on the town hall. "Let's clean this place up and then it's a swim for all while the preparations for the feast are underway!"

Another cheer went up from the townsfolk, and Borgand got back to work overseeing the cleaning of the site, but taking the time to kindle the signal fire himself, as he had promised his friend.

**********

Several hours later, as dusk was settling in, things were looking almost festive. Infected with a party mood, no one seemed to want to slack just yet, and the work, rather than falling off, had actually increased. More hunters from both sides kept arriving, brought back to the camp by the smoke signals which indicated that the contest was over. As they returned and their kills were added to the tally of those already sent back by messenger for preservation, it became more and more evident that the settlers would have more than enough for a feast and smoked and cured meat for several months. Though not the end of their troubles, seeing such a bountiful take had lightened everyone's mood.

Women tended fires, cooked and cleaned the game, worked on other dishes to supplement the meal, attempted to keep their children from running wild in the excitement, and generally laughed, smiled, and joked in spite of the stress. Tonight everyone would eat, everyone would sing and make merry, and it was worth the extra work now. Some men, after bathing, had set about helping with the food preparations, others had gone through the camp gathering every spare chair, table, and flat surface for setting up the interior of the town hall. Soon they would have proper furniture, but for now the assembled goods of the town were sufficient and added to the holiday mood. The rangers were also not immune from the excitement. Though they seemed less abandoned in their joy, it was impossible not to feel the celebration when your return was hailed as heroic and the smell of hundreds of savory dishes reached your nose.

In all of the excitement, Borgand moved from fire to fire encouraging, lifting tables, tasting stews and sweetmeats, and generally keeping an eye on how the preparations were going. As woman all across the camp seemed to be putting the finishing touches on their food after bathing both themselves and their children, he hurried to the town hall and pulled his battered battle horn out. With a single blast he signaled the beginning of the feast and streams of excited faces, each with something good to eat or drink in hand, began to pour past him into the hall. He allowed himself a moment of quiet before joining his people inside their new town hall.

The feast had begun.
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Old 04-09-2004, 09:16 PM   #109
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Tane was back in camp and looking over a request sent from the settlement’s trader when Rherrin came into the cabin.

“Is Awyrgan or Alearindu back in town already?” Naturally Hothem had told Tane that he sent Rherrin into town and under which circumstances, but Tane thought it unlikely that either team would be back yet. Awyrgan had wanted to scout around and would need several more days to get a good enough look around. Hunting had not been easy and if Alearindu had already found enough game Tane would be pleasantly surprised.

“Awyrgan and Thoronmir came in yesterday. It seems that they got into a spat with one of the hillmen and came running back as if their tails had been stepped on. They’re afraid of retaliation and had me scout for good defense positions around town, even though it’s obvious there aren’t any saving spots.”

“Did they kill the hillmen?” If Awyrgan was afraid of an attack it must have been a good fight and the hillmen still had the death from the Rangers former leader Thorgil to think about.

Rherrin shrugged his indifference. Tane narrowed his eyes at the Ranger. He knew that Rherrin an Awyrgan didn’t like each other, every Ranger knew. However, Rherrin was a Ranger and had duties to perform that went above personal regard.

“Next time, bring a full report. Your switch comes in tomorrow,” Tane continued before the other could speak back. “You’re dismissed.”

Rherrin looked as if he was going to argue for a couple of minutes, but when Tane held his gaze he nodded sharply and walked out.

Tane let out a quick sigh. He had just gotten back into camp that morning and now had to go to the settlement. Hailing Hothem again and explaining the new situation, he once again left his post, riding Skit to the settlement. His first stop was to Awyrgan’s camp where he found the two Rangers in need of a healer. They were probably a bit too proud and preoccupied to seek one out.

“What happened?” Tane asked as he dismounted.

“Were out when we happened on a hillman. Had a good fight and came back to warn you, who were out on a ... trip,” Awyrgan spoke from his sitting position.

Tane ignored the side issue of his absence. “Did you kill him?”

Thoronmir said “No” as Awyrgan shook his head. Thoronmir elaborated. “As Awyrgan said, it was a good fight and he got in some harsh blows.”

Tane nodded and looked at the two. “I know you have something to say Awyrgan.”

The older man nodded again. “They’re not going to sit idle anymore, not after this. It’s too close. I think they’ll come after us. By us I mean Rangers or town. They know we’re the competition, but they’re not stupid as to the settlement’s value.”

Tane nodded and looked off toward the town.

Thoronmir spoke up again. “They’re having a celebration tonight and no one is worrying about any hillmen. They need to understand that just because they found some game doesn’t mean that they aren’t in danger.”

“You’re right,” and even from the small camp Tane could see the preparations under way for the festival. “I’ll talk to their leader tonight and consolidate the Rangers tomorrow. Right now I want you two to go into town and find the healer. If you’re right about the attack, I’m going to need you at full strength if possible.”

Awyrgan scowled a bit and Tane cocked his head. “Would you rather I find the healer and send him out here to you?”

Awyrgan narrowed his eyes and answered a short, “No.”

Tane mounted and nodded at the two men. “I’ll see you tomorrow to keep update you.” Then he turned and had Skit take him to the town a little faster than he normally would have. The news had made him a bit worried because he thought the possibility of an attack was probable. Now, however, he had to see to the trader and his request. It didn’t take Tane long to reach the post and was grateful to see the shopkeeper still inside, helping a last minute customer before closing for the celebration.

“Ah, Tane, thank you for coming so quickly,” Kaben smiled warmly and walked over for a firm handshake once his customer had left. “I would have talked to you about this when you came in the other day, but I simply forgot. Can you do anything for me?”

“A trader is coming in and you want a couple of Rangers to keep an eye out for it and then bring it in, correct?”

Kaben continued to smile, “Yes, that sounds it. Can that be done? It’s just that the town needs some of those supplies and I don’t want anything to happen to it. A broken wheel could make the candles and food stuffs late.”

Tane almost stared at the trader. The town was next to notoriously dangerous hillmen and he was worried about the wagons getting bogged down in some manner. The town did need those supplies however, and a small watch wouldn’t hurt them. With the town being in danger though, he might need to have most of his Rangers in the settlement. Quickly crunching some numbers and switch dates in his head, he slowly nodded at the trader. “I think I could spare two Rangers to find and bring it in. Are you sure it’s going to be coming soon?”

Kaben nodded vigorously. “Yes, he’s one of my best connections and promised to come within about a week from now. Always a day or two on either side for travel though, you know how it is.”

Tane nodded and hoped that he would be able to find sufficient men to hold all positions that needed to be watched.

Kaben clapped him on the shoulder and laughed. “Good, makes me feel a little more at ease. I was just about to go to the festival, care to join me?”

“No, I’m sorry. I have to find the leader of the Rangers group and then talk to Borgand. You don’t perchance know where the Rangers are, do you?” It was a small chance, but if he did it would save Tane just that much time in wandering.

“I would suspect at the newly finished town hall, but I can’t be positive.”

Tane nodded and thanked him as he headed out to find Alearindu.
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Old 04-11-2004, 05:05 PM   #110
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Hillmen

The little hut was dark. A window would have been far too difficult to keep sealed in winter, welcome as its air and light might have been in summer. The only openings were a small smokehole in the middle of the ceiling and the doorway, covered with a large hide. Although, the wind always seemed to find cracks and crevices in the walls. Here, ensconced in the least drafty corner of the hut sat a small boy, his leg bound in the softest skins his mother had been able to lay hands on. Here also was a little girl, two years older, halfway finished weaving a lopsided basket with already calloused fingers. She looked at her brother, who was staring at some point in the middle of the room, and asked, "Does it hurt?"

A nod.

"A lot?"

Another nod.

"You're not crying anymore," she pointed out.

Yet another nod, followed by, " 'Cause I'm a man." The words 'you idiot' were left unspoken.

"You're not a man yet," Rain contradicted. "You're still a little boy."

"But I'm gonna be a man."

His sister considered this for a moment, then shrugged. He did have a point.

"And," Flint added, "I'm gonna be just like Unca Wolf."
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Old 04-13-2004, 12:20 PM   #111
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The feast was well underway when Tane found Borgand. The latter was a practicer of restraint, and so was only on his second glass of wine, though a number of the settlers and even the rangers were well into their cups by this time. The food was excellent, helped of course by the best spice of all, the hunger of a long day's work.

"Borgand, we need to talk about some important things," the ranger started, interrupted by a burst of laughter from a nearby table.

The one-legged man smiled at his counterpart. "Tane! I'm glad you could make it! Here, have some of this venison steak, it's fresh and cooked to perfection."

Tane smiled a bit, and sat down, but did not eat anything. "Borgand, this is important. Things are insecure here. I walked into the settlement with nary a challenge after dark! Do you know how dangerous that is?"

Borgand sobered. "Yes, of course I do. I didn't realise it was quite that bad, but with so many of our soldiers engaged in building and hunting I guess we are stretched a little too thin."

He looked around at his soldiers, mostly well past the level of useful sobriety, and sighed. Real improvements would have to start in the morning. For now, he could pull maybe 5 of these men to beef up the patrol in addition to the 10 he had asked not to drink heavily so they could relieve their brethren halfway through the celebration.

He turned to the ranger, "I will send out some more men as soon as the prizes have been announced. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. Oh, that reminds me, would you like to announce your prize yourself?"

"No...no, thank you. I'm not much of a public speaker. I have these tokens from the trading post for the winning team. Kaben will give out 25 silver pennies worth of goods for each. I hope that is acceptable."

Borgand's eyes widened, he had no idea the rangers could afford to be so generous.

"Oh, yes, that's an excellent prize, Tane. You are very generous," he was quick to assure him.

He stood and knocked his now empty plate against the table to get the attention of the crowd. All through the hall songs, stories and conversations slowly died down so people could hear Borgand speak. A whispered undertone continued though, excited voices wondering what would come next. Borgand cleared his throat.

"Well, we all know why we're here tonight, to celebrate the completion of this hall, " he paused for the cheers to die down, " and also to honour our hunters on both teams who have made this feast and many future meals possible!" There was a louder and longer cheer this time, and Borgand could not help but smile as he noticed several of the settlement's hunters blush in pleasure. "And so, without further ado, we will announce the winners and declare the prizes." This time the cheering was short and to the point. Everyone wanted to know what the prizes would be, and at least one of the winners was still a mystery.

Borgand continued, "Now, the prize for the first catch comes from the settlement, and so it is my pleasure to announce that the ranger team will be receiving in appreciation a barrel of Gondorian wine, brought all the way with us from the wineries of the South! They can share their prize as they wish amongst themselves, or choose to share it with others, but the barrel is yours, gentlemen!" He bowed to the ranger team, mostly sitting together on one side of the room and was pleased to note that the cheering from the settlers was appreciative and friendly in general. The wine was very valuable, and people would be sorry to see it go, but no one really begrudged the winners a decent prize. He added, playfully, "We just ask that you not drink it all tonight!" This produced a laugh and broke up some of the remaining tension people might be feeling over losing.

Borgand raised his arms for silence once again and the crowd grew a little less rowdy. He smiled at his people, proud of them for their generosity and their strength. He winked at Illith, who was holding a sleeping Bregand in her arms, and continued.

"As many of you know, the ranger's leader Tane has generously added another prize to the mix. There is skill in finding a herd, and there is skill in capturing the most game; and so we decided on an additional prize for the team that brought in the most! I am pleased to announce that talliers from both sides have agreed that the settler team brought in more game!" This time the cheer was almost deafening and rung through the hall for a full two minutes.

Borgand raised his arms for silence once again. "Tane has provided a most excellent prize for the winners. Each member of the team will receive one token for the trading post worth 25 silver pennies!"

A racous cry went up and Borgand could hear men around the hall calling for toasts to Tane and the rangers. He looked at Tane, glad things had worked out so well, and then caught Calumdril's eye. The Ithillien was pleased, but restrained. He had overheard the conversation about security, and Borgand could see that was torn between the feast and organizing some sort of patrol. He smiled at his friend and hoped he would stay in the feast just a little bit longer. If anyone deserved a break, it was Calumdril.

He raised his voice again, "Winners should come and find me before the end of the feast to collect their prizes. And now, back to the food!"

He got no argument from the crowd, and singing and laughter erupted around the room once again. The feast was over for Borgand, however. He had men to find, a patrol to organize, and fears to allay. He sighed...leaders never get a day off.

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Old 04-13-2004, 01:47 PM   #112
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Rangers

Awyrgan limped towards the center of the settlement, thoughts swirling. In the distance he could see the lights of the fires and hear the sounds of the chatter from the feast. Judging by the level of noise the Ranger teams had returned and were holding their own. Sulenar would be there, Awyrgan knew. While he could keep up with most of the other Rangers with the ale he left Sulenar well enough enough alone, the man was a legend.

Searching through the unfinished streets he approached the healer Thoronmir had directed him to. The older ranger had already visited the man earlier in the evening while Awyrgan had put it off as long as possible, choosing instead to check the edges of the camp again. He had identified several key areas for possible defenses on the outskirts of the town as well as a few escape routes. Marking them on the map he had left it with Tane on his way to the healer's.

The man Collothion was sitting at a small desk pouring over a book, scribbling notes along the edges. He looked up as the Ranger came in. "Can I help you?" Awyrgan nodded. Sitting down he removed his tunic, revealing the gash the deer's antlers had left. "I think this might be getting infected. Also I don't think my foot was set properly." He mentioned it as an afterthought, but the limb throbbed. The healer nodded. "Let me see the foot first." Running his hands over it he murmured softly to himself, then looked up at Awyrgan. "I should reset this..." He offered a small flask to the Ranger, who should his head. "This might hurt." Awyrgan gritted his teeth as the healer gave a quick tug on his foot. For a brief moment, he saw the stars in all their glory. He didn't think he had made any noise but he couldn't be sure.

Wrapping the foot tightly Collothion passed him a small container of salve. "This should keep the shoulder clean." Thanking him Awyrgan passed him a few coins, apologizing that they were all he had. He didn't know if his status as a Ranger granted him any leway but he wouldn't have accepted it if it had. Leaving the healer's he moved towards the feast. He found the main group of Rangers in a corner and slid in next to Roharan who grinned, slapped him on the back, and passed him a drink. Thoronmir inquired about his foot and Awyrgan grunted. The Rangers were arguing in good spirit over their fortunes of the hunt and Awyrgan sat back and listened, letting the talk run over him as he did his best to relax.

Looking across at the adjoining table he caught the gaze of one of the settlers. She had fiery red hair, and blue eyes that stirred memories out of the Ranger's repressed unconsciousness. She smiled. Awyrgan choked, and setting his drink down hurriedly left the table, not meeting the quizzical glance Alearindu gave him as he did so. He passed Tane on his way out the door, briefly responding to the Ranger leader's question as to where the other Rangers were with a short gesture. He quickened his pace, striding out of the settlement until he was well into the wood line.

Stopping, he traced the scar on his face, tasting once again the bitter memories. Lighting his pipe he sat down, fists clenched with his head bowed. It was some time before he moved at all. A rabbit scurried across in front of him, then dashed off into the nearby bushes. When he raised his head there was a smoldering red fire in his eyes, as if Hell itself had been woken within him. Standing up he strode off, stalking the edges of the camp, eyes and ears alert for any sounds or sights of hillmen or others that might be planning a move.

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Old 04-14-2004, 12:04 AM   #113
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Hillmen- Bear

Bear woke with a start. Sweat flowed down from his brows like rain from laden gutters and his eyes were cloudy. His fast-receding dreams had been full of phantom voices and shadows, he was left dazed, as if a mace had smashed into his senses, yet he could not remember any specifics of his dream; it stood like a column on the edge of his perception.

The snores echoing from the floor in the corner opposite Bear confirmed that the old healer was asleep rolled up in many pelts. It was nearing midnight and the near-full moon was peering down on the village. Ruddy light shot through the chimney-hole and threw Bear’s prone form into relief. With a sharp groan, Bear lifted himself off the short bed and regretted his actions immediately.

The throbbing pain that had been all but absent from his injured leg came back with redoubled strength and like a hot poker being thrust repeatedly into the muscle it continued for quite a while. Bear had needed to be stripped from the waist down in order for the wound to be properly treated. Looking down to inspect the wound, he became aware that a sprig of some plant had been stuffed into it. He tugged at the exposed stem and as he did, the throbbing pain became constant, white-hot agony.

He quickly desisted and the pain subsided, once again to be replaced by the general throb. Bear hobbled over to the doorway and peered out into the night. The fire that was usually kept alight had been quenched by one of the misty rains that plagued the hills. Often the hillmen would rise to find the village square muddy and dank, despite the sun riding high. This would prove to be another of those days. Bear stood, half-naked and gazed out at the sleet, heedless of the droplets forming on his hair, heedless of any watchers. Already the pain had settled in his leg.

Bear began to feel ready for anything-his anger had not subsided; if anything, it had intensified. Kestrel peered from the dark doorway of her hut and seeing her brother-in-law’s half naked form quickly flitted back into the shadows.

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Old 04-14-2004, 07:38 PM   #114
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"Borgand," Tane caught the leader just as he was about to leave the table. "There was an incident involving two Rangers and a hillmen. There were no deaths, but this is an already unstable situation. Please advise your men to be extra wary in their patrols."

Borgand had a frown on his face from the news, but nodded before he left.

Tane sighed. The Rangers seemed to be stirring up more trouble with the hillmen than the settlement and if any fighting did break out, the people would get hurt not only because they thought themselves safe, but because this was a barren land. The contest had brought a respite, but it might not last. In the talk with Alearindu it had been affirmed that there were some herds out there, but they weren't as big as she would have liked. Then again, the settlers did bring in the bigger bounty.

Tane walked over to where the Rangers were huddled and found half less than adequately sober.

"I need you all to stop drinking," Tane eyed Sulenar in particular. "As I told Alearindu just a bit ago, before the festival began, there was another incident with the hillmen and I'd like some Ranger patrols out there."

All but Sulenar and Roharan nodded and put down their drinks. Tane reached over and grabbed the front of Sulenar's tunic with one hand and his drink with the other. "Sober up and get out on patrol within the hour," he let the man go and put the drink on the table. "Take shifts, Alearindu is the coordinator and commander, her next is Ethiner. I want two teams of two on constant patrol with four hour shifts. Get rest when it's your turn."

He motioned Ethiner and Alearindu closer to him as the other four started getting up and stretching. "I know you're tired, but there's no time to get more from the camp. I'm going to send replacements near morning," Tane glanced back at the group. "Ethiner, I want you and Sulenar to go out first together, then split the teams as Alearindu and you see fit. I want him sober and under control, he's not behaving as well as I'd like for this, but he is a Ranger."

Tane raised his eyebrows at the two, but they nodded their understanding and turned toward their group.

"And Alearindu, make sure you command with a strong hand in this. Tonight may mean nothing to the settlement, but it's still a lesson for you...and them."

Then Tane walked out of the hall and found his horse. He needed to get back to the camp and find enough replacements for the town and the incoming wagon for the trader Kaben. With the six already on patrol here and Awyrgan and Thoronmir healing, there weren't many extra Rangers. He'd have to pull out some Rangers from posts and then some.

Tane saddled Skit and kicked her into action. He didn't know exactly how he was going to handle this and didn't like that.
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Old 04-19-2004, 07:22 AM   #115
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Bêthberry is wading through snowdrifts on Redhorn.Bêthberry is wading through snowdrifts on Redhorn.Bêthberry is wading through snowdrifts on Redhorn.
Boots Settlers

The swim and bath in the cold lake had eased Calumdril's overstrained muscles as the boyancy of the water lifted him up and held him. He had relaxed and allowed his body to be buffeted by the waves. For a brief time he let go of his self-control and just wafted on the water, the sounds of the settlement registering but distantly on his mind and the lapping of water making a rhythm over his face, eyes closed. Yet after a time the cold had also quickened his mind and thoughts. His resolve returned and stiffened and he was once more ready to act the disciplined ranger from Ithilien.

So it was that Calumdril had watched Borgand's conversation with Tane and noted the frown. He had cheered loudly the announcement of the winners of the challenge and called out enthusiastically, "Cuilad, Cuilad" to the cheers of the settlers. He had even reflected upon the strange fact of the boy's muteness and wondered briefly if the chance to prove himself and accomplish something substantial in his own eyes would help mediate the atrophied power of speech. Yet when he caught Borgand's the social veneer was gone. He shook his head, as if to acknowledge wordlessly his readiness.

Then, he slipped out of the hall to survey the perimeter of the settlement, the lay of the tents and wagons. He had been away for what amounted to much time and much had been accomplished in his absence. He needed to be familiar with the settlement, particularly in the dark of a half moon and a night sky overcast with clouds.
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Old 04-19-2004, 05:26 PM   #116
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Cuilad sat silently amidst the hunters from the settlement who patted him gingerly on the back and chanted his name after Borgand announced their prize. First, the boy worked to keep his face chiseled, but their rising excitement counteracted his resolve and soon his face melted into a broad grin. If only his father would have been there to witness the enthusiasm Cuilad received from the other men, then the night would have been perfect. The boy had pleaded with his father to come, but Collothion answered only that he needed to finish archiving one of his discoveries and then he might be along. In the meantime, Cuilad celebrated merrily keeping his mind from wishing and knowing his father would be very proud of him when he returned with his prize.

One of the men next to Cuilad plopped a second serving of venison on the boy’s plate, laughing heartily and saying that the lad needed more meat on his bones if he was to be a real hunter. Cuilad laughed and took a mouthful of the steak, which brought a roar from the man.

Cuilad leaned forward to see Calumdril’s reaction, but he saw the ranger rising from his seat a slipping outside. The lad was slightly disappointed the Ithilien was not giving his attention to Cuilad, but as the inquisitive young man began to observe those around him, he noticed that the rangers were sober and their leader was leaving also. Borgand was suddenly less than enthusiastic compared to his state moments before.

Cuilad quickly tuned his senses into those activities set with these men hoping to catch some word of whether something was happening or he was reading too much into it.

~*~*~*~

Collothion set his pen down and vigorously rubbed his eyes. He’d worked many hours, and it was time for a break. Staying this long away from the celebration had not been his plan, but his services were needed by two of the rangers who had some nasty scuffs from the hunt. The older man leaned back in his chair and stretched his long arms out yawning. He was exhausted. A short rest would not hurt before joining the festivities, he thought. The healer rose and lay down on his small cot in the corner. Moments later he was breathing softly sound asleep.
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Old 04-19-2004, 09:13 PM   #117
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Eye Thoronmir

Althoughhe was still recovering from his injuries, Thoronmir managed to keep up a conversation with some of the settlers. The talk was getting all too familiar. News about the hillmen had filtered in and rumors were going around about an attack coming soon. Thoronmir filled the settlers in on what had happened during his patrol with Awyrgan, and it only made everyone more worried.

"I've noticed it's always been you rangers who have been getting into trouble with them," said an older man with grayish-black hair. "I think you're the ones who should be blamed for what's been happening here lately."

"Now wait a minute," Thoronmir replied, "We're only trying to protect this settlement from harm, not cause it. We don't just ride about seeking trouble with the hillmen."

"That's what you all say," the man retorted. "If you hadn't been going on all those little 'patrols' and stirring up trouble with them, we'd probably still have game aplenty and there'd be no need for this hunting contest."

"Now look here, good sir, I do not want to start any trouble--"

"I'm not finished yet," he went on. "This isn't the end of it, Ranger. Those men are going to do far worse things because of you. You just watch."

Thoronmir did not want to start an incident in the middle of a feast, so he got up and left the table.

"That's right. If you really want to help, you can just get out of here and never come back."
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Old 04-23-2004, 07:18 AM   #118
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Olin wandered through the ancient buildings of the crumbling, stone city. No one seemed to notice him, and he avoided the taskmasters descreetly. The dwarf was tired of collecting fresh blocks; he had gathered more than most, aye, and been nearly injured more than most, too. And so he spent his time surveying the broken walls, although vines had grown up around them and choking much of the beautiful scenery. Then, he tripped.

Olin landed facedown in a dark pile of thick mud, which enveloped him into its waiting and uncomfortable embrace. The dwarf struggled for a moment, finally standing and seeing the small stone block that had caused his "accident." Grabbing it, he made as if to hurl it angrily but stopped. Olin suddenly realized tha the stone was covered with odd drawings. Stepping out of the mud, he sat down on a large rock and wiped dust off of the tablet. Sure enough, he could make out intricate symbols scratched into its surface. Strangely, they resembled many that he had seen on pillars and the like throughout the city. Tucking it under his arm, the filthy dwarf returned to his wheelbarrow, promising to ask someone more knowledgeable than he about the odd artifact.
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Old 04-25-2004, 05:40 PM   #119
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Silmaril Barzûn

As soon as one thing was fixed, it felt as though another thing broke. Barzûn was in a fatal mood. He marched among the Dwarves, barking at those that seemed to feel as helpless as he was beginning to feel.

"Curse the Fates," he grumbled, "It is almost as though we are not supposed to return to the camp before tomorrow arrives."

Barzûn kicked a pebble in frustration. He gave a hoarse bark of frustration, then surveyed the Dwarves around him. Some still appeared determined, but most appeared sullen and a very few even appeared indignant at Barzûn's persistence. There were one or two Dwarves missing from the work, it seemed, but Barzûn gave up trying to find and reprimand the deserters. They were, no doubt, observing the architecture of the city. The area was, in fact, magnificent. Barzûn wished he could have had more time to explore.

"Oy! Did I call for a break?" Barzûn barked at an unhappy Dwarf, who looked longingly at the water that sat within five feet from where he toiled. "Oh," Barzûn said reluctantly, "Fine. Get some water. Then back to work. All of you."

Barzûn grumbled as he took some water himself. He looked up at the sky and sighed.

"We should be getting back soon," he said out loud, more to himself than to the Dwarves around him. He directed his next comment to the Dwarves. "I am going to search for the others. I will let them know that we are going to prepare to leave soon. In the meantime, you all should ready for the departure. Take what stone you can. I doubt we can get everything, but we will come back tomorrow if necessary."

The Dwarves nodded, looking relieved that the tedious work was almost finished for the day. Barzûn wound his way through the streets of the city, looking for the other Dwarves. When all of the men were accounted for, Barzûn allowed one more rest before they were to set out. He wanted to reach the camp without stopping. Barzûn sat on a boulder with his wheelbarrow, looking one last time over the city. The Dwarf Olin, looking a bit muddy, happened to sit next to Barzûn.

"What happened to you, boy?" Barzûn asked.

"I had an accident, sir," Olin replied, looking down at the dirty garb.

"Well, we shall be back at camp soon. Then you may change, I suppose," Barzûn growled.

Olin seemed to be trying to determine something. He finally came to an accord with himself and spoke up. "I found something, sir. I was wondering if you would like to take a look at it."

Barzûn looked at the Dwarves resting around him. "I suppose I have time. What is it, then?"

Olin took something out from under his arm. The Dwarves bulky clothes had concealed it slightly. Barzûn took the object and looked at it. It was a stone that bore scratches and patterns. He recognized the markings immediately.

"This was done recently," he rumbled to himself. He looked back at the city, "But few people have been here lately. Why would anyone...?"

"What do you make of it, if I may ask, sir?" Olin asked Barzûn.

"I do not know. It appears as though someone has been making carvings recently." It also appeared as though the artist was not immensely skilled or used to the medium, as the lines were rougher than those in the city. The line quality improved as the work seemed to progress. "It is getting late," Barzûn finally barked, "We should get back to camp. We can look at this more there. Dwarves! We're going back!"

The Dwarves stood by their wheelbarrows. Barzûn gave Olin the stone block back, telling him to keep it safe. Then, Barzûn gave the order and the Dwarves began the slow trek back to camp.
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Old 04-28-2004, 12:02 PM   #120
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Tane rode in and walked into the cabin to find Hothem gathering up some parchments. At Tane's entrance Hothem held up the papers and proclaimed, "I finally finished the Ranger rotations for the next two weeks."

Tane couldn't help but laugh at the irony. "My friend," he said as he went to one wall and grabbed a chair, carrying it over to the one already at the desk. "We're going to have to revise those. I need a group of fresh Rangers at the settlement and a couple to go out and watch for an incoming wagon train."

Hothem dropped the papers back on the table and sighed. "This is going to take awhile."

Many hours and several drafts went by before they were finished. Three relays had to be emptied, but since they were on the opposite side of the settlement and normally barren, it would be alright for the time being.

Hothem left the cabin and Tane started writing out the orders.

~

Alearindu and Ethiner,

You two are immediately reassigned. There is a small wagon train coming in on the same road that the settlement entered on. You are to watch for it, meet it, and lead it safely in. The local trader expects it within a week. For more information, contact him. Leave the settlement before noon tomorrow.

Tane

~

Awyrgan and Thoronmir,

Awyrgan is going to be lead Ranger at the settlement and Thoronmir his second. I'm sending in a new batch of six Rangers that you need to divide into groups of two. Set up a rotation and keep tabs on activities - Always have a patrol on the border between the settlement and the hillmen's camp. Speak with Borgand about crossing patrols to cover more ground. I will be coming in two days for reports.

Tane

~

The other orders were easier to write. Tane simply told all the Ranger currently in the settlement to come back to the camp and check in with Hothem or Tane for their new assignments. As for the Rangers in the camp, Hothem was already in the process of sending them out.

After stretching, Tane closed all the letters and went out to find a Ranger inbound for the settlement. That Ranger wasn't hard to find since one was riding past the cabin enroute. Tane hailed him, gave instructions, and watched as the Ranger rode off toward the nearest hill.
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