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Old 02-01-2005, 03:59 PM   #321
Hilde Bracegirdle
Relic of Wandering Days
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A low murmur ran through the crowd gathered beyond the circle of elders, the various members the eagle clan commenting to one another, weighing Ráma’s stance. So impassioned and sincere was her speech, but many argued that the meeting was laden with conjecture and an overwhelming pessimism. It was high time that they returned to their quiet existence after the upheaval of the past week. It was not the proper time to stir up a hornet’s nest. Let the new leaders find their feet, before considering whether to rally their people to fight.

“I’ve not seen Wyrma forcing me to change my life,” a man shouted from the depths of the crowd. “It sounds more like Narika and Thorn are the one’s who would have us change,” another chimed in. A ripple of laughter erupted, dying down almost as quickly as it had begun.

The elders, who had remained quiet throughout, glanced toward Thorn and Narika to see how they might answer the accusation leveled at them. Thorn looked long at Ráma before standing up once more. He turned to address the crowd behind him as well as those in front. “Ayer’s daughter is right. And you are also right, Amalik,” he said addressing the ill kept man who had spoken his mind so freely. “We are asking you to change. But we have not come to this choice easily. Gone are the days when maenwaith leaders could bring before the Great Wyrm grave matters without fear of endangering their kin, or we might have taken our concerns along that old established route. But more importantly, gone also are the days when we could sit back and let the world look to it’s own troubles. Our Wyrm has stolen both these things from us, just as she has taken our leader. Trouble is perched now outside our camp, watching for a time to ravage us. And it wears a face we recognize, a maenwaith face. Shall we pretend then that we do not see it?”

“But we have no proof,” Amalik said crossing his arms over his chest. “It is only rumor that Wyrma has caused the Meldakhar’s death, or that she would force the maenwaith to live in her city.” He cocked his head awaiting Thorn’s answer. Thorn glanced down at Narika before continuing.

“I know of a witness that will tell you the Wyrm sought the death of Ayar, and heard her agent contracting the very assassin who poisoned our leader,” he announced. “It is not our suspicions that has led us to this moment. The Meldakhar herself had laid out this new route for us to travel, even before her death.”

Amalik stood in silent thought. “It is said that an eagle’s sight is very keen, Amalik, and it can see very far ahead, ” Narika added gently, as she rose beside Thorn. “We owe it to our fellow maenwaith to alert them, and to join with them. For we all stand a much better chance of victory if we do not wait for this new city to be further fortified and manned. Maybe then we all will find our old paths again, but if we do not fight, many of us will lose our way forever.” As Amalik nodded his understanding, Narika and Thorn settled down on their mats once more.

Last edited by Hilde Bracegirdle; 02-04-2005 at 10:39 AM.
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Old 02-02-2005, 09:47 AM   #322
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Ealasaide's Post - Fador

Fador listened in silence as first Ráma and then Thorn addressed the assembly, both of them speaking eloquently in favor of taking up arms against the growing power of the Wyrm. Thus far, he had been careful to take no public position himself, choosing instead to speak through others who were sympathetic to his view, such as Mumtaz and Hadya, but he knew that he could not remain silent and neutral forever. The time would soon be upon him when he must take a strong position and lead his people. The problem that faced him now was how to lead them where he wanted them to go, into the grasp of the Wyrm, without the willing cooperation of Ayar’s daughters or Thorn. The new young leaders would have to be circumvented or, failing that, eliminated somehow, perhaps driven from favor.

Fador smiled inwardly. It had been easy enough to circumvent them in getting rid of the northerners. In fact, it seemed that no one of any consequence had yet noticed the absence of the Gondorian sea captain and his first mate, even though the two had been gone for nearly an entire day. Only Latah had noticed their absence when she arrived in the early morning to do her usual round of cleaning. Fador had impressed upon her the importance of remaining silent and she had quietly acquiesced, bowing her head as he explained to her how he had sent them away the day before on an errand of great importance to the clan. If she valued their lives, as well as the lives of Surinen and the two other tribesmen who had accompanied them, she must remain silent. Spies were everywhere. Like a dutiful daughter, she had sworn to say nothing until at least a day had passed and the travelers were well out of reach. How easy it was to fool those who were so willing to believe.

His conversation with Hasrim the night before had gone less smoothly. Fador had flown out to the agreed upon meeting place at dusk, as they had planned, in the shape of a peregrine falcon. Circling high above the tall desert grasses, he watched as his contact arrived, again wearing the shape of a bat. For an instant, in the seconds before Hasrim regained his human form, Fador toyed with the notion of tucking his wings and making use of the fearsome speed of a peregrine’s dive, of plucking the bat out of the air with his talons mid-flight. It would have been so easy, and Hasrim deserved no less for the lack of respect he had shown Fador the day before, but the instant passed. Instead of diving, Fador floated down easily on the dying thermals and settled on the ground beside the other maenwaith man. Each of them having regained his human form, their conversation was brief. Fador told the Wolf of the departure of the foreigners from the Eagle camp a few hours earlier, traveling northward. Hasrim had been furious at the head start that others had gained and left quickly, muttering to himself, his parting words to Fador a threat. If Fador has caused the delay intentionally... Returning to his own camp, Fador had at first been amused by the threat, but later regretted his own foolishness. The delay had been intentional. He could just as easily have sent the Gondorians off later in the day at a time closer to or even after the time of the pre-arranged dusk meeting, but Fador had decided otherwise out of pique. He had been angry at the way the Wolf had disrespected him the night before and had decided to tweak his nose. Now, in retrospect, he began to wonder what the gesture might cost him politically. If Wyrma were to learn of it... Fador pushed the thought aside, his attention returning to more immediate matters.

“...if we do not fight,” Narika was saying. “Many of us will lose our way forever.”

The man she was speaking to, a tribesman named Amalik, nodded his understanding. As Narika and Thorn sat down, a murmur of voices rose, filling the meeting area with a confusion of differing opinions and reactions. Fador raised his hand in the call for silence and slowly the noise subsided.

“We are a people divided,” he said once a respectful quiet had again taken hold. “Thorn and the daughters of Ayar say that we should take up arms and go to war against our fellow maenwaith. They say that this is the only way to preserve our sovereignty and our nomadic way of life, yet there are many among us who disagree. There are many who say flee, let us not kill our fellow maenwaith. Still others say let us not be hasty, let us wait and see what this city has to offer. Perhaps it will bring opportunity, rather than slavery.”

“If we wait and do nothing -” Barakah’s clear voice rang out beside him. “This city will bring us death. Did you not hear the words of Sorona? The Guardians of the Dreamtime have revealed all to her. They have shown her what awaits us in the city and it is not opportunity, that is unless you are in the business of burning or burying the dead. We have been given this warning. We should take heed.”

“Hear, hear,” muttered Dakarai from his place beside Barakah.

“These young people speak wisely when they say we must reach out to the other tribes of the deep desert,” continued Barakah. “We must band together with them in order to save ourselves. When the Counsel of Elders first met following the death of the Meldakhar, I counseled our leaders that we should flee into the deep desert. Since then, having had the opportunity to speak at length with both Thorn and Narika, I find myself falling into agreement with them. Flight would be fatal, unless it were only a temporary measure to be taken while we gather our allies around us. Ráma spoke the truth when she said that we must look for allies wherever we can find them.”

“But she’s mad,” Harith’s quavering treble broke in.

“You’re mad,” snapped Dakarai in response, turning a pair of very sharp eyes on the wizened little man. “You should go back to your dice and your gaming pieces and let those of us who have a pair of brains to rub together get on about our business.”

“Let him speak!” ordered Fador. Dakarai fell silent, but continued to stare balefully at Harith, who nodded smugly at the assembly, giving everyone a happy, though toothless, smile.

“Ráma’s gone completely daft in the head,” Harith repeated once order had been restored.

For a moment, all faces turned toward Ráma, whose gold-flecked eyes widened in a combination of surprise and bewilderment.

“You see,” continued the elder. “I heard her talking to Narika there who may be a little daft, herself, too, you know.”

“It is a serious thing to say that the daughters of Ayar have gone mad,” said Barakah. She turned toward Harith with a gentle look that contrasted sharply with the anger on Dakarai’s face beside her. “Pray, tell us, dear Harith, why you make such accusations.”

“Because I heard her talking.” He nodded again, rather unctuously this time. “I told Mumtaz and he said I should not go to Thorn but go to the assembly and here I am, even though she said, Ráma said, that the Elders mustn’t know. But we do know. I know.”

“Know what?” prompted Fador impatiently. Although he wore a mask of something akin to annoyance on his face, he felt a wild, dancing glee in the pit of his stomach. So soon! Here the new leaders had not even been officially established and already there was something which could be used to discredit them, to undermine their ideas and integrity. He bent forward so as not to miss a single one of Harith’s wheezy, tale-bearing words.

“Ráma wants to run off to the Time of Legends and look for the Great Eagles.”

At a mystified look from the others, Harith began to get impatient. “She wants to run off to the southern mountains and look for an elder called Ayka, who she thinks can tell her where to find Thorondor and the great Eagles. She thinks they can help us against the Wyrm!”

“Madness!” exclaimed Mumtaz from Fador’s left, almost as if on cue. “Utter madness!”

“And Narika told her to go.”

All faces turned again toward the two sisters.

“Is this true?” asked Barakah gravely. Her bright eyes studied each of the young women’s faces in turn, searching their expressions for signs of truth or of madness. “Please explain yourselves.”


Child's post for Ráma and Narika

As soon as Barakah had posed her question, Narika slipped away from Thorn to come and stand near her sister. She leaned close to Ráma and confided, “You must share mother’s wishes with the assembly, but first let me deal with this troublemaker who has his nose in places where it shouldn't be.”

Narika stepped forward and politely bowed before the Council in the manner that she had learned as a young girl. Her voice, though firm, showed no hint of fear or anger. “Elder Barakah, I would gladly discuss this with you. Indeed, I intended to do so in private once our clan had made its declaration of war. The tale that Harith weaves is true, yet only in part. He speaks like a child who has overheard a few fleeting words from his parents and, understanding little, can only guess at what these words mean. Ráma can best explain what happened that afternoon, since she was the one who sat with Mother and heard her final request.” At this revelation, murmurings and hushed whispers spread through the crowd. Narika waited a moment for the noise to subside and then continued, "Now I would speak of Harith, for his conduct raises a point of honor that not only concerns me and my sister but the honor of our clan.”

Narika fixed a firm eye on Harith. Their accuser stood on the far side of the circle, looking decidedly uncomfortable. Turning from the Elders, she addressed him directly. “Since when does one maenwaith spy on another under cover of darkness? Ráma and I spoke inside the tent with the leather flaps drawn down and securely fastened. Even later, when Thorn and I met, we made sure to secure the tent flaps tightly. You must have come spying as a sand rat or crawling pest and, under cover of darkness, squeezed beneath the flap. That is the only way you could have overheard our conversation.”

“Are you certain, my lady?” Barakah pressed. “Perhaps Ráma discussed these things with others?”

Narika emphatically shook her head, “There were no others, at least not within the Eagle camp.”

“But none of this is true!” protested Harith. “Not true at all. I never intended to spy on the women, and I certainly never put on a different form.” Harith shifted uneasily from one foot to the other, refusing to look up and meet Narika’s eyes. He continued in a whining voice. “I was just searching for my special ivory dice, the ones I received as a wedding gift. They had slipped out from beneath my sash somewhere in front of the tent. I was crawling and feeling my way along the ground. My ear was close to the small crack at the bottom of the flap. Not on purpose of course,” Harith hastily added, “I merely wanted to find my dice. Then I heard Ráma speak and her sister answer, just as I have told you.”

Harith looked straight at Ráma and pointed an accusing finger, “This one is mad. Her sister protects her in her madness. You all know this. You were there when it happened, but everyone was afraid to say so for fear of offending Ayar.”

There was an uncomfortable silence before Barakah broke in, “That is enough! Ráma is not on trial for her mistakes as a child. Nor is this about anyone’s ability to shift forms. I only wish to know the truth about these charges concerning the preparations for war. For the moment, we will set aside the question as to how Harith came by this information, although what Narika has said does concern me.”

“Daughter of Ayar,” the Elder turned to face Ráma speaking in a gentle tone, “tell us of your mother's wish and whether Harith speaks the truth. Do you or your sister intend to run off on some fool’s errand as your accuser claims?”

“A fool’s errand? This is no fool’s errand.” Ráma strode forward to Barakah and directly addressed her. If she was upset by Harith’s charge of madness or his comments on the incident from her childhood, her speech and demeanor did not show it. She quickly explained, “ Narika and I only seek to carry out the wishes of Mother who talked with me at length the afternoon before she died. Yalisha, Miri, and Claris were there for part of that time and can vouch for much of what I say. They heard mother speak in urgent terms of the clan’s need to go to war and how it was time to take a stand against Wyrma’s enslavement of the maenwaith . Mother said Narika and Thorne must be given the headship of the clan and that we must ride out and call upon the other clans to join us in the fight.”

After listening to Ráma, Barakah directed a question at Yalisha who stood nearby, “Did Ayar speak clearly at this time, or were her wits already addled by the poison?”

Yalisha responded without hesitation, “No. I am certain Ayar knew what she was saying. Until she slipped off into her final sleep, Ayar was perfectly aware of what was going on around her. She said these things just as Ráma has reported. I was inside the tent with Claris and Miri and heard her words with my own ears.

"What of the Great Eagles?” Barakah pressed.

“I do not know. I heard nothing about them. But at the end, Ayar asked to be left with Ráma to speak privately with her. I saw no reason to deny such a request and left for a few minutes. When I returned, mother and daughter were hugging each other, and Ayar was lying down to rest. She seemed happy and relaxed, more so than I had seen her for the past week. It was as if a great weight had been lifted from her heart. A few hours later, the poison returned and by morning she had passed.”

“Elder Barakah,” Ráma interrupted, “I can tell you more about this. After Yalisha left, mother spoke to me about several things, and one of these was the Great Eagles. There is certain lore passed on through the line of the head of the clan. This lore says that, years ago in the midst of another war, the clan had done the Eagles a service and had been promised aid from them if there should ever be a pressing need. For the same reason, these mighty creatures taught our ancestors how to take on our special Eagle shape. As a token of their promise, the Eagles gave the clan a jeweled band that could be returned to them when help was needed. As a child, Mother had actually seen this band and thought that Ayka might have it or even know where the Eagles' aerie lay. Ayka is an Eagle herself, one of our own who withdrew to the mountains when she understood that Sauron’s might could threaten the clan’s well being. She saw what was coming and left years before the actual trouble started. Mother suggested we simply stop and talk with her on the trip south when we journeyed to rouse the other clans.”

The Elder shook her head and noted, “I am trying to remember. Years ago, I remember a teller of tales who visited us and told stories around the campfire, wonderful stories that I had never heard before. I believe her name was Ayka. But I was young at the time and can scarcely remember what she said.”

“Teller of tales? Ráma would have us put our doom in the hands of a storyteller? This is nonsense.,” Mumtaz’s voice rang out harshly over the group. “It is unfortunate that Ayar’s wits left her in the final hours, but she is not the problem. Anyone can fall into delusions when poison overtakes the mind. It is Ayar’s daughters who should have known better. If they are not mad, then they suffer from a total lack of good judgment . It makes me shudder to think that the well being of the clan lies in the hands of such easily deluded fools.”

‘Watch yourself!” snapped Ráma. “My mother’s wits were perfectly fine. Nor were these stories foolish. The Eagles are real. They exist. They are part of our past and who we are. If you deny them, you deny a piece of yourself. Mother was quick to realize that we must not rely solely on such special help. We must use every bit of our own strength and wit. But if there is a chance, even the smallest chance, that these great creatures could come to our aid, we should not hide our heads in the sand.”

“Really now, Ráma,” Mumtaz drawled, “I am surprised at your stubbornness. Have you yourself seen these creatures? Has Narika? Has anyone here had the pleasure of meeting a giant Eagle?” The hubbub in the air died down and was replaced with complete silence. “Come now, friends, speak up. If no one has even seen these Giant Eagles, I do not think it wise to put our faith in them. How sad it is that the two daughters of Ayar have been taken in by a fanciful story. And I am even more stunned that Thorn would have given any credence to their words.”

Ráma stood silent and perplexed, uncertain how to respond. Suddenly from the back of the gathering, emerging from the shadows, a tall man strode forward to the front of the assembly with a heavy wooden staff in his left hand. Even those who had seen and known him from before marveled at the sight of his eyes, so deep set and pensive were they. He bowed respectfully to the Council. “Elders, I ask your leave to speak. I believe I may be able to help you with this matter.”

“But you are not a member of this clan,” Fador objected.

“That is true, but I come from a land where many have the ability to change form. I have sometimes thought of my kin as being specially close to your own because of that. And there are even those in this gathering who can attest to my skill in taking on more than one shape, including that of an Eagle. ”

“Yes, I have heard that you possess such skills," Barakah interjected. "Someday, I would hope to speak with you at greater length.“

Fador responded with some reluctance, "We do permit maenwaith other than Eagles to stand before our Council. Since you have mastery of forms, I grant you permission to speak.”

Mumtaz stared at the old man and scowled in disgust, glancing around to meet the eyes of his friends, just as the tall figure began to address the assembly, “My name is Aiwendil. I have lived among you in recent weeks and seen the goodness of your ways. I tell you that the Giant Eagles do exist. I myself have stood in their presence, speaking to them just as I speak to you now. I have also heard of promises made to this clan long years ago: that if your people were ever in peril, they could call on the Eagles for aid. This is no small gift. Indeed, it is an extraordinary thing. I know of no other people in Arda who have received such a promise. Ayar spoke the truth, and her daughters were wise to heed her words, as was Thorn. If there is any chance that the Eagles could lend aid, you would be foolish not to request such assistance.”

Barakah stepped forward to ask Aiwendil another question but before she could reply there was a series of shouts coming from the back of the assembly, “Look there! The herders have returned upon their camels.”

Two men hastily dismounted and made their way to the front. With grave faces, they announced to the Elders, “We bring news....dire news.”

Ealasaide's Post - Fador

As several tribesmen departed from the back of the assembly to see to the camels left outside the meeting circle by the new arrivals, Fador turned his attention to the two sweaty, dusty men who had pushed their way to the front. He recognized them at once as the brothers, Amal and Abdou. They were solid fellows, loyal and reliable, if a bit unimaginative, just the type who should be left in charge of the herds. As he recalled, they were related somehow to Hadya, who sat a few feet behind him, her sister’s boys, perhaps.

Fador nodded to each of them in turn. “Amal. Abdou.”

The two young men nodded in response, their dark eyes shifting from Fador to Thorn and back, as though not certain to whom they should deliver their message. Seeing this hesitation, Fador decided to assert his authority. Until Thorn was officially made a leader of the Eagle clan by ceremony, which would not happen for days, he had no real power. Until then, Fador saw himself as the one in control.

“Speak, man!” he said, addressing Amal, the elder of the two. “You say you bear dire news. What can be more dire than the matters we discuss already in this assembly?”

“We bring news of the death of Siamak.”

“The leader of the Owls,” murmured Hadya from behind.

“How did it happen?” asked Fador. His mind was already churning with the news of Ráma’s impending search for the great Eagles. Now there was this to consider as well, proof that Wyrma was on the move elsewhere. He would have to think quickly to stay ahead of the game.

“It was very strange,” answered Amal gravely. “He was struck ill by what was thought at first to be an insect bite, but his healers were able to do nothing for him. He was dead by the following morning. The Owls are in turmoil.”

“Just like our Ayar!” a voice exclaimed from deep within the assembly.

“Do they ask for our aid?” Narika asked quietly.

“No, miss,” answered Amal, turning toward her. “They do not seek our aid, but they do seek a dialogue. They wish to speak with our leaders. To see where we stand.”

“They did not say it outright, my lady,” Abdou spoke for the first time. “But they believe Siamak’s death to be the work of an assassin.”

“Wyrma!” another voice hissed from deep in the crowd.

“They send riders,” added Amal. “They shall be here within days, perhaps as early as tomorrow. My brother and I hurried back so that our people should be prepared to receive them.”

“Then we must have our leaders in place and ready for their arrival,” said Barakah, speaking for the first time since the arrival of the herdsmen. "Thorn," she said, turning toward the young man, who rose to his feet. "Is there any reason why you and Narika cannot be married immediately? Today, for instance.”

After exchanging a quick glance with his bride to be, Thorn shook his head. “No, Elder Barakah, there is no reason to wait.”

Fador bit the insides of his cheeks with fury as Barakah turned to the rest of the assembly. How dare she circumvent his authority and commandeer the meeting, he thought to himself. She had been a problem for years, always the voice of the opposition to Fador’s ideas, but now she had gone too far. While he had not constructed any kind of a concrete plan of dealing with the Owls, he had already begun to think of ways to manipulate them if he could meet with them alone. If Thorn and Narika were the ones to meet with the Owls instead of him, Fador’s influence evaporated.

“Then, let the wedding take place today,” Barakah was saying, her bright gaze moving from face to face around the circle. “If no one in this assembly can voice any true objection, let us move ahead with the wedding ceremony this very evening. As soon as Thorn and Narika are wed, we can have them installed properly as our leaders. By the time the messengers from the Owl clan arrive, we shall be ready.”

“But what of this other madness?” objected Mumtaz. “This business of finding the great eagles.”

“Are you still convinced it is madness?” asked Barakah, amid a rising flood of voices. “With the death of Siamak, I can see that our position is precarious at best. It becomes more important than ever that we have strong leadership in place. And we must look for allies where we can find them. If Ayar believed that the Great Eagles could come to our aid, then what advantage do we forfeit by sending Ráma to search for them?”

As voices rose on both sides and the meeting threatened to deteriorate into open argument, Fador rose to his feet. Thinking quickly, he had come to the conclusion that it would be pointless for him to oppose Thorn and Narika at this stage. Remembering the way the young herdsmen had looked first to Thorn before him, Fador understood that in an open opposition he would lose. The Eagles were a clan ruled by tradition, and in a time of uncertainty, they would cling to their traditions more stubbornly than ever. The Eagles had always chosen their leaders from the ranks of the young. Who would he offer instead of these two young people, whom the Eagle people already looked to for guidance? Himself? No, it would never work. What he must do is see that Thorn and Narika were properly installed into the leadership of the clan. He already had their trust. He must simply find ways to manipulate that trust and further his own ends through other channels. Raising one hand, he called for silence and gradually the assembly again came to order.

“Seeing as I can hear no true objection to what Elder Barakah suggests,” he said. “I submit that we move ahead with the marriage of these two young people this very evening and that, immediately following the wedding, we place the mantle of leadership upon their shoulders. We must show strength to the Owl clan, not disorganization or fear.”

He paused, waiting for the perhaps inevitable objections from outer edges of the assembly, but his ears were greeted instead by a nervous, anticipatory silence. Beside him, Mumtaz grumbled something indistinguishable. Then, Barakah’s clear voice rang out again:

“Elder Fador is right. We must show strength.”

Barakah’s words were answered with a general nodding of heads and mumbles of agreement.

Fador nodded as well. “Then,” he said solemnly. “If that is the decision of this assembly, let it be done.” Within minutes thereafter, the meeting broke up. With a direction at last and something concrete to do to prepare their clan for the future, most of the Eagles, elders and young folk alike, left the meeting with a renewed sense of focus visible both in the set of their faces and the purposefulness of their strides. Fador walked away with a similar sense of purpose, but his thoughts did not revolve around the upcoming wedding or even the imminent arrival of the messengers of the Owl clan. Fador’s thoughts centered instead around Barakah and how he could rid himself and the clan of her troubling influence. After all, he had managed to get rid of the Gondorians rather neatly. Barakah, a prominent elder of the clan, would not be quite so easy to eliminate as the two newly arrived outsiders, but it could be done. Fador touched the lapis inlaid hilt of his dagger. It could be done.

Last edited by Ealasaide; 03-03-2005 at 03:34 PM.
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Old 02-17-2005, 08:28 PM   #323
Hilde Bracegirdle
Relic of Wandering Days
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The mountains had long since slid below the horizon as the small caravan reached the first well along their route. They were making good time, and Surinen harbored a private hope that perhaps they might catch up to Narayad or at least gain some rumor of him along the way. His friend was only a day's ride ahead, and seeing that the two Gondorians seemed keen on traveling swiftly, Surinen obliged them gladly, guiding them by starlight the first evening when the heat of the day had passed.

And on this, the second day of their journey, Surinen had already begun to forget his initial displeasure at being stiffly reminded by Fador of the duties of his station, and his uncle’s gentle insistence that he serve as guide to their northern visitors. Knowing that he could not prevail over the elder’s wishes, even so that he might not stop to wish Thorn well with the meeting of elders or with his impending marriage, Surinen had followed Fador to the outskirts of the camp where all stood ready, extracting from him a promise to look after his father while he was gone.

But now the outrider felt heartened for it was by happy chance Narayad had seemly taken the same path they now followed. For Surinen found, as he rode, the odd trace of his friend having passed this way ahead of them, but guessed that it was short lived and that his fellow outrider would veer off shortly after reaching this first landmark and water.

Jumping down off his horse, Surinen took the shawl off his head and threw it over his shoulder as he strode over to the well's edge. Circling it once, and finding no dangers at its side, he peered briefly over its low wall to see if any thing unfortunate had fallen in. "It is a good well!" he announced to his traveling companions in their own dialect. "Very clean." And it might have seemed to the foreigners as though a signal had been given, for the three other men of the eagle clan who accompanied them quickly dismounted, and once they had unstrapped their water skins, they set about rapidly filling them and refreshing their horses.

Surinen returned to Mithadan and Airefalas as they too dismounted and stood aside waiting for an opportunity to draw water. Hurrying past Mithadan without a word, Surinen took the water skin from behind the saddle of his horse and handed it to a stout maenwaith who had followed closely behind. The large fellow grinned at the sea captain, revealing a pronounced gap between his front teeth. Surinen turned to fetch Airefalas' water skin also, but found that the tall Gondorian held it ready in his hands, and seemed intent on filling it himself. Politely asking for the skin, Surinen explained, "This is not our well and we can not stay here. Let the others fill this, it is good to let them feel useful." Seeing that the two still seemed to have doubts about surrendering their last skin, the outrider assured them that both their water skins and their horses would be returned to them shortly, when all was ready for them to set out once more. "And while they do this, maybe you will tell me by which way I should lead you," he suggested as he looked toward the horizon that spread out under the westering sun, picturing to himself where in that wide expanse they might next expect to find water.

Airefalas then handed the skin to Surinen, who in turn passed it the other. "I suppose by the most direct way you may know," Mithadan said, as the stout maenwaith bowed slightly and carried away the skins. "If that would be considered advisable," he said turning to the outrider. "There doesn't seem to be much to conceal us other than the darkness, which ever path we choose to take."

"Ah, but I have thought of two ways to go. One would be to head deeper into the desert. It is a longer and much more difficult way, but for you maybe safer." Propounding his thoughts now in a conspiratorial tone, Surinen's dark eyes glittered beneath his brows as he lowered his voice to a whisper. "The other would be to head for a remote village by the sea. There maybe we find a fishing boat to take you home, right under Lord Falasmir's nose." He winked at them, and smiling at his cleverness, waited to see which course they might choose.

But Airefalas looked at Mithadan uncomfortably and to the outrider's chagrin he said, "We are not going home Surinen, not yet." A spike of suspicion arose unbidden in the maenwaith's heart. Maybe these men had come as spies after all, and all their stories would, given time, prove false. Was he then to lead them? Noting Surinen's reaction Airefalas spoke to his captain in a language that sounded to the outrider very much like Westron, but whose words were so confusing the maenwaith could recognize very little of it. After a moment Mithadan nodded.

The captain looked at the other two maenwaith who were still occupied with the horses and then at Surinen, whose open expression had now evaporated. "Surinen," he said slowly. "Didn't your uncle tell you were we were proposing to go?"

The wiry man looked him in the eye, unblinking as he pondered his situation. "No. Fador said only that I should take you where you wanted to go. I thought that you were to return north, and so agreed to this. But if we are not going there, where are we going?"

"Perhaps I should explain our change of plan," Mithadan said. "Before we left the encampment your uncle proposed that it would be useful for us to first go investigate this new city - Wyrma's city," the captain said cautiously. "He said that it may be of help to the Eagles if we can determine its progress and layout. And of course, it might have some value to Minas Tirith as well."

May be helpful? It would be more helpful to give the seat of Wyrma's ambition a very wide berth, Surinen thought as he clucked disapprovingly. "But it is a bad place. They don’t like eagles there," he said, with a sinking heart. He wondered what had he done that his uncle would knowingly send him near the place.

"You have seen it then?"

Surinen snapped out of his reverie. "No, no," he muttered shaking his head. "I have not seen it, but I know where it is. They say it is close to Umbar." The unfortunate truth was that the outrider knew very well where it was. Being a trusted friend of Thorn's carried with it many blessings and curses, and this bit of information was quickly coming to be viewed as one of the latter to Surinen.

"Close to Umbar," Airefalas' sigh echoed with dismay. "Just how close the Umbar, is it?"

"Too close," Surinen said looking up, with the hope that perhaps Airefalas was beginning to understand. "Maybe only two days ride from burnt docks and angry lords. It is not safe for you," he pleaded.

"And to be sure there are messengers traveling between the two cities," Airefalas added, looking back to Mithadan who stood behind him.

"Will you take us there, Surinen?" Mithadan asked the maenwaith directly, "To help your people?"

Surinen felt a surge of misgiving and pride, as if he was being tested, but the Gondorian captain had struck him as sincere. "If Fador said I will take you there, then I will take you. I will not leave you here." With that he turned and walked back to the others.

And sliding into another shape as they set out, a mottled brown dog ran before the horses for many hours, before he tired and again deigned to ride beside the foreigners under the stars.
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Old 02-18-2005, 03:31 AM   #324
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Mithadan pulled his cloak about him as they rode through the night. It was not so much the chill that prompted this movement, as it was the desire for some small measure of privacy. The eyes of the three mounted clan’s men kept much to the sandy track before them, but often their eyes slid to the two northerners, or so it seemed, and their own faces, hidden beneath their shawls, were well concealed by shadow, impossible to read.

Fador’s words were still much in his mind as he rode along. The man had linked the future safety of his own clan with that of the safety of Gondor. From his brief meeting of Wyrma, Mithadan could well believe that she would at some point wish to extend her reach beyond her fellow maenwaith, beyond Umbar itself, northward to areas rich with possibility. And what would stop her and her allied clans? Driven by ambition, greed, whatever the motive, the roused maenwaith would be a powerful, a formidable enemy.

Still, true as the danger might be to Gondor, there was a deeper layer of mistrust which Mithadan felt toward Fador and his sudden eagerness for the aid of himself and Airefalas. Something lay beyond the fervent request for help in dealing with the tactical problems of attacking an established city. He considered the possibility that perhaps he and his companion had been summed up by the Elder and managed, as it were, into agreeing to Fador’s plan. And to what purpose? What hidden plans lay beneath the Elder’s play upon the northerners fear for their own country and people? Fador would certainly be looking out for himself and for his own clan, but in what way?

Twists and turns and possibilities of all sorts tumbled through the captain's head as his horse plodded along.

‘Enough,’ he murmured, shifting in his saddle, drawing back his hood. He’d set his own tasks for this expedition. Determine if Wyrma and her allies did indeed present a threat to Gondor and beyond that see to the possibility of finding a way to return to the north. He laughed grimly, at the daunting thought of attempting to accomplish either one.

Airefalas drew near him, asking if he had spoken. He had caught the captain’s laughter, but no further words. Mithadan chuckled, recalling his companion’s first reaction to Fador and his request. ‘I was thinking of eels, Airefalas,’ he said. ‘Slippery eels and the rocks they hide beneath.’ He grinned at Ariefalas’ bemused expression. ‘And remembering your good advice when we were asked to play our parts in this game.’

‘My advice?’ the younger man prompted.

‘Yes . . . “As long as we play with our eyes open” you said. And that’s what I was doing, keeping my eyes wide open . . .’

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Old 02-18-2005, 01:41 PM   #325
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Child of the 7th Age's post: Ráma and Narika

Ráma stood on tiptoe as she slipped the traditional filigree over Narika's brow, carefully centered it, and then stepped back to view her handiwork. The band was fashioned of silver, engraven all around with a medley of birds, beasts and other living creatures of the earth and the heavens. At its apex was an Eagle outlined in tiny jewels with wings and talons extended as if about to pounce on its prey. Thorne would be wearing a similar headpiece. Used only for ceremonial purposes, these treasured bands passed from one clan leader to the next and were said to depict all the true forms that had been granted to the Eagles at the beginning of Arda.

Ráma finished adjusting the long silken veil and spoke to reassure her sister, "You are lovely. Beautiful inside and out. Mother would be so proud."

"But...?" Narika could hear the unspoken reservation underlying her sister's tone.

Ráma's voice quavered as she responded, "Mother is not here. And this is all so different than what we imagined. No time to sew the traditional gowns. No time for the display of the dowries or the days of feasting. You deserve more."

Narika shook her head, "No one can replace mother, and the shadow of war hangs over all our heads. Yet otherwise I am content. I love him, Ráma. I would happily marry in rags. All these years, you and he would ride out together to tend the herds and only, at the very end of the day, would he stride into the tent to bid me an awkward and solemn goodnight. I did not even know how he felt. It was only after he voiced his intentions to mother that I understood the meaning behind his silence."

"I am happy for you," Ráma responded without hesitation. "Once I dreamed and thought it might end differently. But in my heart I knew even then. I am not ready to settle in, not with Thorne or anyone else. I only wish I understood what I am meant to do."

The silence between them hung heavy in the air. Finally, Narika spoke, "You did not listen to what that fool said in front of the Elders, surely? All that was long ago. We have had no time to talk, but Yalisha said that you had mastered another form during the time you spent in Umbar."

"Mastered another form? I would not quite put it in those terms. The forms seem to come and go at their own bidding, and I have little control over them. In any case," she added, "it was not one form, but two."

Narika stirred uneasily and wished she had more time to help her sister. The Elders maintained that, with the exception of the clan leaders, no Eagle could hold onto more than three changes in shape. With Ráma there had been the one unfortunate incident from her past and now these two in Umbar. Clearing her throat, Narika continued, "When things settle, I will certainly help you gain more control over your skills. Perhaps one of those two in Umbar was the Eagle shape?"

"No," responded Ráma tersely. Unwilling to talk about the subject any further, she handed her sister the few paltry blooms that Miri had found at the edge of the waterhole. "It is time for you to go. The whole clan awaits you. With so much sadness and doubt, we all need something to bring hope. Your love and concern for each other is a clear token of that hope." With that Ráma kissed her sister and guided her over towards the spot on the edge of camp where the rest of the clan had already gathered.

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

Hilde Bracegirdle's post: Thorn

It was dark and the heady smell of smoke and incense filled the air when the people gathered again. When the couple had taken there places one by one they approached Thorn and Narika who were standing now apart with their backs to the fire and a small group of clay pots some distance in front of them. After depositing a handful of grain in one or the other of the pots, the members of the Eagle clan filed past them both, offering their blessings. Thorn thanked each in turn. Straight and strong he looked, the fire glinting off the silver band that encircled his brow. He smiled calling each by name, warmly clasping their hands as the flames bathed the familiar faces with an orange cast.

Narika, he knew, stood beside Ráma just as he stood with Yalisha, but the sisters were screened from his view by a grass mat to his right. And as the guests disappeared behind this screen he could hear Narika’s silken voice as she too accepted the blessings of her people. As the last of the assembly found their places in the circle surrounding the fire, his sister left his side to take a small portion of grain from each of the four pots, handing them to their mother, who then rapidly parched them over the glowing embers.

Rolling up the mat that separated the couple, Ráma cast it on the fire, and accepted the small bowl of parched grain that Thorn’s mother offered to her. As the screen blazed briefly, Thorn watched Ráma carry the bowl to where Fador and Barakah now stood by the clay pots. So grave the elders’ faces were. Indeed strange and solemn this gathering seemed, lacking the merriment that normally accompanied a union within the clan. What would Suri say? He knew that his friend, given a half a chance would fill his ears, lecturing him that this was not the proper way to celebrate such joyful moment in his life. And he would have to agree, but it was not to be helped. But searching the crowd, Thorn could not find Surinen, though old Dinsûl sat there with his thin legs crossed under him.

Yalisha touched his elbow and he looked over to where the screen had been. There stood Narika clothed not in the elaborate garments of tradition; yet beautiful she was for her simple dress and handful of bright flowers, like the bloom of the land after rain, and the strength of her spirit shone in her bearing. The thought that he had waited far too long pierced his heart. For now this day would be mixed always with grief and thoughts of war, in memory. Moving to her side she let fall the veil from her face and he took from his sash the necklace he had recast for her so many years ago in Umbar. Laying it about her neck he spoke to her softly as if she were a songbird he did not wish to frighten. ‘I would that we had been bound to one another in better times than this, Narika. How can I ask you and your sister to be happy when you have suffered far more than the rest of us….” He looked out to where Ráma waited alongside Barakah. “It does not matter to me what difficulties we must face so long as we face them together, but know that I will always be sorry to have deprived you of the proper ritual.”

“Do not worry Thorn, I do not require a week’s ritual to learn of your worth.” Narika whispered, smiling as his gaze returned to her. “But as for better times, together now we will work toward them and toward our clan’s survival. And all the more precious will peace seem to us then.”

Thorn’s serious expression softened. “Then let today itself mark the beginning. Let it become a true turning point for our people.” And he took her hand leading her to where Fador and Barakah waited for them.

Narika and Thorn both sat upon their heels opposite the two elders. And between the four of them, Yalisha placed a broad shallow basket with symbols woven into it. She glanced at Fador several times as she adjusted it. Finally the elder nodded, satisfied with its correct placement. After she withdrew, the elders spoke quietly with the couple for several minutes before they began taking it in turns, reciting the same ancient words that had been recited to them when they too had taken a spouse, and to their parents before them. As the clan looked on Barakah began this ancient portion of the ceremony. Taking a handful of millet from one of the pots in her thin knotted hand, she let it spill into the basket drawing a narrow line toward the south. Then uncoiling a long cord she looped it once about their upheld wrists so that the bottom portion of it dragged in the dust, saying,

Now you will not feel the heat of midday,
for you will be a shelter each to the other.

Fador then withdrew barley from another of the pots, and quickly drew another line in the basket, this one very straight, pointing toward the north. Taking up the cord from their outstretched arms he made a second loop a little smaller than the first, as he spoke the next phrase,

'Now you will not feel the cold of darkness,
for you will be as warmth each to the other.

With rice Barakah traced the third line east, and speaking these words as she made another loop still shorter,

'Now there is no more loneliness,
for you will be companion each to the other.

Taking wheat from the last of the pots Fador made the final line toward the west. And after making the final loop he took the two ends of the cord and tied them together tightly around their wrists saying,

Now you are two persons,
but there is only one life before you.
Go now to enter into the path of your life together.
And as thread is strengthened when intertwined,
may each of you also be strengthened.

Ráma then put the bowl of parched grain in the center of the basket, and watched as Thorn and her sister, their with the two hands bound, fed each other from it until the small bowl was empty, and the assembly clapped, shouting,

'May your days be long upon the earth!’

Fador spoke again and the crowd quickly quieted, for this was the signal that the end of the ceremony was to come. For it was customary that the newly joined couple should transform themselves into all the shapes at their command, so that they might always recognize each other and be recognized also by their clansmen. For many, especially the children, this was the favorite part of the ceremony, though it sometimes proved long and tiring for the participants. From the least to the greatest creature they would shift forms as the crowd watched. And it could sometimes be amusing when the couple or the animals they became where particularly mismatched.

But Thorn, knowing what to expect, quickly squeezed Narika’s hand before he felt the cord slip from his wrist and he lost hold of her, standing now as a plump sand rat before the people. He struggled to resist the strong urge to run, as he heard the crowd chuckling and as Ráma and Yalisha rushed forward to spread the cord into a circle about them. Waiting for a moment he quickly mastered the rodent’s instincts before moving to the next form, that of a thrush. But he saw that Narika had already accomplished her third, and he immediately let go that shape, moving on to the next. It was only a short while before their list was fully exhausted and two eagles stood side-by-side staring calmly at the assembly with their keen eyes.

When they allowed themselves to slip back into their given form, Thorn felt exhilarated rather than tired. He had missed the strong sense of purpose and freedom he felt in these forms. But it always was the eagle who left the longest lasting imprint. And again the clan clapped as he and Narika caught their breath. Smiling they held hands and as one they made a shallow bow before the people they were to serve. Thorn then caught up the cord in his hand and winding it quickly he presented it to Narika before lifting her chin for a kiss.
************************************************** **************


Latah arrived after the couple’s guests had been received and the ceremony had begun. Creeping quietly along the edges of the raucous crowd, like a shadow cast by the flickering light, she avoided the notice of any who might call out to her. She did not wish to speak with anyone, but felt distant and strangely guilty. And though it was not the cause of her discomfort she remembered with sadness the last time Fador and Barakah had performed this rite, when she and Narayad knelt before them. She should have been proud, for Narayad had not only shown considerable prowess in the contests of skill leading up to that moment, but also obvious pleasure at being granted her hand. But as she had knelt beside him in her heavy raiment, she had felt empty as if she moved in a dream carrying out what she knew was expected of her. Her feet had been set upon this unexpected path, and so soon Narayad had been sent from the Eagles and her father’s protection. Away from her.

Suddenly she heard a sharp ‘Hsst’ to her right. There was Dinsûl trying to get her attention as he sat in the crowd. She was cheered to see her elderly uncle, and with a smile she threaded her way over to him. “Ah, what a beautiful evening,” she sighed, looking at the faces around her as she tucked her skirts under her and sat beside him, “And so significant too. Even the stars seem to crowd the sky to watch!” she said looking up. “But most of all I am glad that you are here so that we may watch this together.”

“And I am glad that you are as well. I had been looking for you,” Dinsûl replied, pale eyes shining in the dim light. “Where have you been hiding all day?”

In truth, she had thought it better to remain aloof until her father told her it was safe to answer any question regarding the Gondorians, but curiosity had brought her out of her tent, for her father had returned in the afternoon saying Ayar’s daughter was to be married and receive her commission as soon as the sun had set. But Latah’s uncle knew her too well, and she felt self-conscious as she now avoided his glance. “I have not been hiding, but have only kept busy,” she said, hoping he would not ask after the sea captain or his first mate.

“Hmm, busy is it? It is a good thing for you to stay busy now that Narayad is gone, but you have missed much that you should have heard!” Dinsûl said patting her knee to draw her attention back to him again, just as he had done when she was young and easily distracted. “It concerns you my dear girl, just as it concerns all of us,” the old man said looking into her warm eyes.

“Ah but nothing it seems should be of concern to me,” she let escape, looking away as her father tied the cord tightly around Narika’s and Thorn’s wrists. “See, I am here to witness as Narika and Thorn are united and the Eagles are delivered into their care. I have not missed a word.”

“I do not mean this, Latah. The elders have said that we can no longer ignore our troubles with this Wyrm. They have said that for the good of all maenwaith we must rise up against her leadership, especially now. I heard that word has come this afternoon that another leader has been killed by her. Latah, in all my years I have never heard of such a Wrym as this, trickier than a trader from Khand she is!

“Narika and Thorn are planning to leave as soon as they have talked to the Owls. They want to collect the remaining clans that are faithful to the old ways and rebel against Wyrma. Even Ráma is leaving to try to find the Great Eagles, to ask for help and advice.” The news fell heavily on the young woman. Stunned into silence, she hung her head and sat mutely sorting through what her uncle had told her. Cocking his head to one side Dinsûl brushed back the wavy curtain of hair so that he could see her face. “Not everyone was quick to decide, of course, but it is true.”

Latah saw that Dinsûl guessed that her father had neglected to tell her this news and that he was cautious and worried; with Surinen gone the old man had no one to help ease his mind. But Latah did not know what to say to her uncle. Her immediate thought was neither of herself or her people, and as the crowd shouted their wishes to the newly joined couple, her mind was very far away, not wholly grasping what this war would mean to those surrounding her. These conflicts had always been something that had been diligently avoided. All that she could think of was the little caravan making its way slowly across the desert, and the two tall northerners.

“What of Surinen?” she suddenly asked turning to face Dinsûl. “Will they send for him?”

“Oh Suri, Suri!” the old man sighed, visibly distressed. “Where has he gone? Do you know? He did not send me word when he’d be back, only that he’d be gone for quite some time, and I have not heard anyone mention him. But isn’t Narayad also wandering? I have seen bad times before this and he of all people should not be rootless in the days that are coming. No one will risk helping him!”

Narayad! Latah thought. What Dinsûl said was true. Chances were that her husband would not learn quickly enough of the Eagles’ decision or even of the changing nature of the struggle. And it troubled her that she had not thought of it immediately. Latah wanted to unburden her heart and tell Dinsûl all that she knew, but as she looked furtively toward Fador she saw that the ceremony was over. Indeed, as her father was occupied arranging for the contents of the clay pots to be emptied into sacks and removed, Thorn took the importunity to walk over to them.

“Latah! Dinsûl!” Thorn cried as he approached. “I am glad to find you here.” He took both their hands in his, as he had not done before the ceremony. “I have missed Surinen, do either of you know why he has not come? Is he not well?”

Dinsûl’s brow furrowed. “He is as well as usual, I expect. But didn’t you send my son on some errand?” he asked, “For he left the encampment, and I am told he won’t be back for some time.”

“It was not I that sent him,” Thorn assured him. “Why? Where has my friend gone that he can not be here tonight?”

Before Dinsûl could speak, Latah touched the old man’s arm. “It was my father that has sent Suri, to act as guide.”

“Guide?” Thorn echoed. “Who is he guiding and to where?”

Latah took a deep breath. “He has gone to act as guide for the Gondorians, but do not worry, Uncle,” she said placing a gentle hand on Dinsûl’s back. “He is not alone. Yemnya and Zahur have gone with him. I do not know any more than this, but I think that they must be headed north.”

“Heading home, I should think.” Thorn said, “That is good.” And he asked her when they had left. She explained that it was just the day after Narayad had set out.

“Dinsûl, it seems that no one has told either of us about the elder’s decision to send the Gondorians away. But after tonight I should be better able to keep you informed regarding your son’s whereabouts.” Thorn turned to see that the elders were waiting for him, so that the second ceremony might begin. “But if you will excuse me Latah, I see Narika and your father desire my presence.” Looking up, past Thorn, Latah saw her father stood steadily poised watching them, and suddenly she felt ashamed.


Child's post:

"Thorn, although time is short, there is something I would share with you." Fador stepped over to the young maenwaith, leading him to a spot a few paces distant where few guests lingered, and then spoke in a lowered voice. "We must start the ceremony. Yet I would be remiss if I did not mention one thing. The times are difficult. It is hard to know what to do. You are brave and hardy, yet still young. I merely want to let you know that I am here to help. If you should need me any time, day or night, do not hesitate to ask for counsel. For my own part, I will do everything I can for you and your wife, to offer advice and support that will bring our clan through this time of trouble. But now it is time for us to begin. Step forward with your wife to assume the leadership of the clan." He turned and smiled encouragingly at Narika who had walked up during the latter part of their conversation.

The young couple made their way over to the embroidered mat in the middle of the gathering on which Barakah had already set out the few simple things that would be used in the naming cermony. On the rug sat a beaker of water, a pearl of great beauty and luminescence, and an ornate dagger with its hilt emblazoned in jewels.

Fador hurried to the front, hastily brushing Barakah to the side, and raised his hand to the assemblage as he asked for silence. "We come now to our final task. Our dear leader Ayar is gone, but she has left us with good counsel. It was her wish that Thorn and Narika should wed, and that these two jointly take on the headship. Narika will protect our customs and lore that we may follow the ways of our ancestors, while Thorn will be the bulwark of our defense, shielding the clan from its enemies. Together, with my assistance and that of the other Elders, these two will make the decisions that must be made in these hard times. Narika, my lady, would you go first?"

Narika walked onto the mat and sat down cross legged. She reached over and picked up the pearl cradling it gently against her body as she intoned the traditional words, "May I guard and protect the traditions of our clan just as I shield this pearl today within the safety of my palm. For like this gem, our traditions once gone can never be replaced. They are part of who we are and, without them, we are but shifting sand."

At that moment Thorn came over and sat beside her, reaching out his hand to lift up the dagger and brandish it before the assembled guests. "May I fulfill your trust in me. I will not take up any weapon lightly, but when danger assails the clan--whether from beast or invader--I will stand true until that danger has passed. And I pledge to do so even at the cost of my life."

Finally, Thorn picked up the cup of water and drank from it, and handed it to Narika who did likewise. For a final time, she spoke: "This cup is filled with water, that which is deemed most precious. For desert dwellers, it represents the boon of life. May Thorn and I make wise decisions that will preserve the life of our clan as well as the lives of all who make up this circle today."

Fador came forward and placed a hand on each of their shoulders, motioning them to rise. Then he turned the couple around to face the crowd, calling out in a firm voice, "What say you then, Eagles, would you confirm the choice that Ayar and the Council have made?"

A loud cry went up from the gathering, a cry of jubilation and hope that rang through the assemblage and thundered out onto the sandy reaches that surrounded the camp. Holding his hands above his head, Fador responded in kind , "It is so ordered then. May Ayar's wish, and that of the Council and the people be honored. Thorn and Narika, you are awarded the headship of the clan. Your fate and that of the Eagles is bound together as one. And may I be the first to share my good wishes."

The Elders crowded in to offer congratulations. Barakah was the first to reach Narika and extended her hand in welcome, "You are our hope, little one, a promise that better times are possible. May that hope find its fulfillment in the coming months and years." Then she turned and hugged Narika and Thorn as the crowd surged forward to offer its wishes and support.

Last edited by Hilde Bracegirdle; 05-01-2005 at 01:35 PM.
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Old 02-25-2005, 04:11 PM   #326
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Tinar awoke early; the fire had died down to a faint glow, and he shivered in the chill of the morning air. The sky was beginning to lighten up, almost imperceptibly as yet, but as he looked over to his companions, he could tell that Hasrim’s bedroll was empty. He had disappeared the previous evening without saying why, but he had flown in the direction of the Eagle encampment. Tinar walked to the southern edge of the oasis and peered into the sky so intently that he did not hear the whirr of wings behind him. He jumped in surprise when a familiar but unexpected voice spoke.

“Are you looking for me, little brother? I’m afraid that is the wrong direction!” Kumat sounded amused.

Tinar spun around, more delighted to see his brother’s face than he ever thought he could be. “What are you doing here?” he exclaimed.

“Did you really think our mother would let her youngest disappear without notice and not send out a search party?” Kumat said with a touch of sarcasm.

“I’m not sure it’s whether she cares or just because she needs to keep us all under her control,” Tinar commented with unwonted insight. Kumat looked at him closely; he realized suddenly that the child to which he was accustomed had changed during the past days and weeks since he had last seen him. “Tell me, what is happening at home?” the young man continued.

“Well, the wall is finally growing,” Kumat answered. “Halfr’s soldiers were ordered to help with it; they grumbled, but obeyed.” He lowered his voice, glancing over at Korpulfr’s prostrate form. “I was glad to get away – it feels too much like a cage to me.”

“You were never very good at staying in one place more than necessary,” Tinar laughed softly. “No woman, not even Mother, was able to keep you for long.”

Kumat grinned. “She is wise enough not to try to make me do the same tasks as our elder brothers, but make no mistake about it – she uses me, and she will find ways to use you unless you can free yourself from her web. But not just yet, I think – she has sent me to bring you back.”

Tinar sighed. “It doesn’t look like I’m going anywhere here, so I may as well come back with you, I suppose.” A slight movement in the sky toward the horizon aroused his attention. “If I am not mistaken, that is Hasrim coming back.”

They waited for the black bat to alight and resume his human shape before greeting him, but he interrupted them with hurried words. “We must pack our things and leave immediately,” he exclaimed. “Kor!” he called, striding over to the fire and quickly kicking sand on the remaining ashes.

Within minutes, they had packed their things and were ready to mount their horses. Tinar wondered that Hasrim and Korpulfr hesitated, apparently engaged in a heated debate, though they had lowered their voices and he could not hear what they spoke. Finally they joined the two brothers and Kor said, “Tinar, I’m sorry, but you cannot go with us. You are known to the Gondorians as Wyrma’s son, and Hasrim says that the Eagles are very hostile to all that concerns your mother. They may have influenced the Northerners against you.”

Tinar groaned, protesting. “Just when something finally happens, I have to leave?”

His friend was firm in his verdict, and Kumat agreed with him. “It is better that you come with me; if they are indeed coming to our city, you will be able to get all the excitement you want there. But can you keep up with me, little sparrow?”

Tinar lifted his chin with a hint of his mother’s stubbornness and pride. “Do you think a sparrow would have made it this far?” he retorted. “Take care that you keep up with me!”

“That is good,” said Kor. “We can keep your horse and baggage; then it will look like we have been trading.”

As the horses and their riders left, kicking up dust from the sandy desert ground, two birds arose in flight. Had an observer watched, he would have wondered at the fact that a desert owl and a falcon flew together.

° ° ° ° ° ° ° ° ° ° ° ° ° ° ° ° ° ° ° °

The horses were well-rested; Korpulfr and Hasrim made good time. When they arrived at the watering place, there was no sign of the other travellers. Soon Kor was taking care of the animals while the black bat flew southwards to see if Fador’s information had been correct. He did not have to fly far before he saw the cloud of dust and counted five riders. Satisfied, he returned.

It was nearly dusk when they came. A fire was burning, and it smelled of food. They dismounted, glad to stretch their weary limbs. The two strangers who sat at the fire arose and greeted them cordially. Mithadan and Airefalas looked attentively as Korpulfr introduced himself but said nothing. They gratefully accepted the offer of hot coffee to drink, a southern custom they had come to appreciate.

Later, wrapped in their blankets to ward off the chill of the desert night, they spoke softly. “That man was our host for the dinner in Umbar!” Airefalas exclaimed. Mithadan nodded. “Do you think he recognized us?” the first mate continued.

“I’m sure he must have – we don’t look like desert dwellers,” the captain replied. “I wonder why he said nothing – more games?”

Airefalas shivered slightly. “It is possible,” he mused. “Things are getting complicated; I hope we can see our way through clearly enough to survive.”

“As do I,” Mithadan agreed. “The new day will show more – it appears that our new friends travel with us. I wonder, is it only chance that they take the same way at the same time?”

Last edited by Estelyn Telcontar; 03-08-2005 at 02:26 PM.
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Old 03-24-2005, 03:57 PM   #327
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The travelers broke camp well before sunrise and, by the time the sun's rays broke over the eastern horizon, were well underway once more. The Walled City still lay several days' ride distant, yet Airefalas knew that, hour by hour, it grew ever nearer. He wondered what they would find when they got there. He frowned to himself and pulled the head shawl he had taken to wearing closer around his face. A stiff breeze had risen in the night, carrying with it a fine sand that chafed the travelers' exposed skin and covered their clothes, their horses, their packs with a coating of pale dust. With only his eyes exposed, he looked over at Mithadan, who had ridden forward to converse with Korpulfr, the young merchant who had hosted them at a dinner party on the night he and Mithadan had escaped from Umbar. Was it a coincidence that the fellow had shown up to join them now? If so, then what could he hope to gain by pretending not to recognize them? It made Airefalas distrust the fellow's motives. He would be interested in finding out from Mithadan later what they had talked about, if the merchant had continued to feign unfamiliarity with them, or if he had chosen to offer an explanation for his behavior of the night before.

Surinen, their Eagle guide, on the other hand, had made his feelings toward their new companions quite clear. He had spent most of the evening before in the shape of a dog, keeping watch from a spot just outside of camp. He had retaken his human form as they remounted their horses in the morning, but had instantly kicked his horse into a gallop and now rode at a good distance ahead of the rest of the group. Catching Mithadan's attention, Airefalas pointed ahead toward the guide and indicated with a gesture that he intended to ride ahead to join him. Mithadan nodded. Airefalas chupped to his horse and galloped forward, slowing only as his horse drew up alongside Surinen's mount.

Seeing him, Surinen raised his chin in greeting, but said nothing.

Airefalas dropped his head shawl. For a brief instant, he considered making some kind of small talk, but then decided the better of it. He might as well get right to the point.

"So," he said bluntly. "What do you make of our new companions?"

Surinen turned to look at the northerner, then shrugged. "Why ask me? I only take you where you want to go."

This time, Airefalas shrugged. "I trust your opinion. You seem to dislike these men and I would like to know why."

"They are Wolves," said the maenwaith guide rather sullenly, as though that statement would explain everything.

Airefalas made an open gesture with one hand. "Yes? So?"

"The Wolves and the Eagles are no longer of a common mind. The Wolves have thrown in their lot with the Wyrm and are not to be trusted. These men that you and your captain seem to like so much serve the Wyrm." The outrider turned and looked back over his shoulder. "It is no trick of chance that they have joined us. They watch us. They wait."

"Wait for what?"

The outrider faced forward again, and leaned over to speak a quick word in his own dialect to the horse. The animal broke into a trot. For an instant, Airefalas let the distance grow between them, then kicked his own horse into a trot. When he had once more fallen into step beside the outrider, he gave the maenwaith guide a searching look.

"They wait for what?" he asked.

Surinen shrugged again. "For what, for what," he echoed angrily. "What do you think they wait for? They wait for the chance to serve their mistress."

Airefalas reined his horse to halt and watched the retreating back of the outrider as he continued to ride at a fast trot toward the north. Thinking hard, Airefalas turned his horse and rode back in the direction of Mithadan and the others. If the Wolves had not happened upon them by chance, then what Surinen had to say had an ominous ring. He thought of the way Fador had attempted to manage him and Mithadan into making this trip in the first place and a cold knot began to form in the pit of his stomach. Was it possible that Fador had known the Wolves were out there, waiting? If so, then he and Mithadan were walking into a trap. He wondered if Fador’s "kinsmen" were in on the plot as well. He looked past Mithadan to where the two Eagles rode, bringing up the rear of the procession. They traveled with only their eyes exposed, eyes that remained fixed with cold determination upon Mithadan’s back.

They wait for the chance to serve their mistress... Did these men serve Wyrma as well? If so, he and Mithadan were surrounded by enemies, with only Surinen as their ally. But what if Surinen was mistaken? Perhaps the outrider had his own axe to grind with these men. What if the Wolves were not minions of Wyrma? What if Fador’s kinsmen were merely kinsmen and watched Mithadan so closely only to make certain that he came to no harm at the hands of these Wolves, these strangers who had joined them in the dusk on a lonely stretch of sand, where none but jackals might come upon their bones for weeks should anything ill befall them. Airefalas shook his head. So many questions, so many layers of truth and deception. Seeing Mithadan still deep in conversation with the young Wolf merchant, he found himself growing doubly curious as to the content of their conversation. He hoped the Wolf had had a good reason for pretending not to know them.

Sighing, Airefalas squinted up at the high arc of pale blue sky, wishing that such a thing as navigational charts existed for the sea of sand. He had a solid knowledge of the stars in the southern sky, so finding his direction would not be a problem, but he knew nothing of the terrain in the deep desert. The word among sailors was that the open sand could be just a treacherous to the uninitiated as the open sea could be to those unfamiliar with her ways. Nonetheless, he felt a strong inclination toward telling Mithadan that perhaps they would be better off ditching all of their companions and striking out on their own, leaving the maenwaith of all ilks to work out their problems themselves. After all, this coming war that everyone seemed so worked up about was probably just a local squabble, anyway, and would turn out in the end to have very little to do with himself, Mithadan, or Gondor. They should wash their hands of the entire business, he decided grumpily.

Just then, Fador's two kinsmen, who had been bringing up the rear of the procession drew up alongside him. One of them, the stouter of the two, said something guttural and pointed ahead toward the other travelers. Airefalas nodded and rode forward to join the rest of the group, momentarily distracted by a small tug he had felt at the back of his mind, like a hand at the hem of his cloak. Latah. What would happen to her in the event of a war? Did it really matter what became of her? After all, he barely knew her. Besides, she was maenwaith, not to mention another man's wife. Frowning darkly, Airefalas resolved to put her out of his mind, but soon found that the harder he tried to forget her, the more clearly her face and the sound of her voice became defined in his memory. Finally, he had to admit it. At least to him, she did matter. Very much.

Last edited by Ealasaide; 04-19-2005 at 02:33 PM.
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Old 02-09-2011, 01:14 PM   #328
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