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Old 05-13-2004, 08:19 AM   #121
Himaran
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Olin was relieved when the order to pack up and leave was finally given. He had been at the sight far too long for his personal comfort, and had suffered his share of injuries. The settlement was like a shining beacon of hope, and at last he was returning to it. But his trials were not yet over.

As the many wheelbarrows filled with stone were slowly pushed down the winding path, the dwarf was ready to collapse with exhaustion. And there were miles yet to go. Occasionally a cart would tip, and loud curses would echo throughout the valley. Finally, it became too dark to travel, and the dwarves stopped and built a small camp. Olin collapsed on the ground minutes later, knowing that the journey would end the next day. Finally, his work was over!

Or so he thought.

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Old 05-15-2004, 09:55 PM   #122
Belin
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Stealth in the Hills

Unlike the news of Calem, the news of Bear spread quickly. Wolf saw to it. His war-leader was an effective one even when gravely injured; the rage of the warriors was spectacular and necessary, especially if they would have to fight without him. They could not hesitate. Perhaps, reflected Wolf, he should have waited for Flint to return with news of Rook, but they needed to attack soon, before the Southerners had established themselves, while they were perhaps still congratulating themselves on having injured such a dangerous warrior as his brother. In any case, he thought privately, Rook was just as likely to refuse as he was to join battle, or more so.

In fact, Raven’s presence and Bear’s seemed about equally likely. Wolf had to be ready to fight without either.

There had been little sleep for any of them, as Wolf had spent the evening gathering his warriors, anybody at all who was tall and strong enough to wield a spear and angry enough to fight. The second criterion was hardly a problem. Gently, he had had to remove spears from the hands of children and return them to their fathers or brothers or, in some cases, to some man who did not know the child but whose own weapons had been lost. Some of the old men, even more stubborn than the children, were allowed to remain, but Cleft’s niece Kite was firmly discouraged.

“In the very last attack,” Wolf had told her, “at that time when we know we are all going to die, Kite… then we will need your spear. But while we have some hope, I don’t want to weaken the village by letting you be killed.”

She was very young, as strong as a tree root that splits rocks and certainly no less brave than Bear was. “I won’t be killed!” she cried, indignant.

“Good,” he answered. “Don’t.” And he took her weapons and went back to his slowly gathering party of men.

It would have perhaps been desirable for them to have slept, but they needed the time to gather their weaponry and discuss their plans. They were admirable swimmers, and would need to use this to their advantage. He wondered whether the Southerners could swim. He supposed they would find out.

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

The preparations were nearly complete. As the light of early morning began to find its feeble way through the sleet, Wolf stopped by Cleft’s tent, peering in to see whether his brother was conscious and angry, or asleep and likely to be angry later on. Cleft lay in the tent, sleeping imperturbably, but Bear was nowhere to be seen. Wolf sighed in sudden exasperation. It would be just like him to have taken off on his own, the idiot. Didn’t he ever learn from his mistakes? Didn’t he care at all whether he ended up crippled from walking on a bad leg, or dead from slow reflexes? Growling to himself, Wolf turned—and came face to face with the very man he’d been thinking of, clad in that peculiar armor that nobody else could match.

“You look nice,” said Wolf, sourly. “Can you walk?”

Bear grinned. “Am I not walking?”

“Are you falling down and giving the enemy an advantage?”

His brother drew himself up to his full and impressive height, barely wincing as he did so. “I am Bear,” he said, simply.

“You are arrogant,” snapped Wolf. “But if you are certain, then I can certainly use your help. I was wondering what it would be like to go into battle without you.”

Bear was certain. They returned to the square together, and looked at their warriors.

They were hunters and scavengers. They were survivors of the land that less tenacious people had abandoned as worthless. They were flea-bitten, wet with sleet and armed with spears. There were twenty-seven of them.

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

About half of them had been sent off to silence the guards. The settlement was absolutely still. Its walls, still being constructed, had numerous weak spots, one conveniently located next to the river. They broke through, as quietly as they could.

Though none of them had planned on sightseeing, the inside of the settlement was unmistakably bizarre and exotic, especially to the many among them who had never been to Bree. These southerners made buildings the way the Bree-men did, with tall straight walls that required a very elaborate and impractical support system. They made the paths between their buildings straight and wide, a waste of effort that some of the younger warriors, either nervous or overconfident, found a source of humor. It was clear, much clearer than in their own village, which building was the most important, and they crept up to it with that careful quietness of which they were so proud.
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Old 05-17-2004, 02:13 AM   #123
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Silence ran free throughout the settlement; the guards had been quietly eliminated. Without looking, Bear massaged the cramp from his stiff, sore fingers and peeked timidly around the corner of a canvas tent. The weak moon was hiding himself behind masses of cloud and the night was almost pitch black; light from many fireplaces cast long, would-be startling shadows across the open space that lay between his band of warriors and the large wooden structure they were making for. The night was crisp and cold, as the nights in the hills often were, causing his weapon hand to become almost numb.

Reaching inside his pouch, Bear retrieved a small bone square and squeezed it, as he did so, a high-pitch creak issued from it, sounding just like a cricket. Answering clicks were heard from a patch of deep shadow behind a wood hut off to Bear’s right where Wolf and his half of the warriors lay hid, completely indiscernible, like mist in the darkness.

Light suddenly spilled forth from the large wooden building; two men staggered out into the night, wheeling and singing as they came. One peeled off towards a tent, but the other kept coming on towards them. As he passed the group, Bear caught a whiff of wine.

The man stopped right next to the warriors and turned his back to urinate on a tree. Bear quickly nodded at Finch, who stole over to the man and arching his head back slit the southerner’s throat, his blood poured black onto the dew stricken grass, another man never to return to the flower-clad downs of the south.

Finch soon returned to the group, after dragging the man’s corpse into a small copse of firs; his face was void of any emotion, be it anger or hate or disgust, completely and utterly void – the hillmen’s anger was now beyond any reasonable emotion and they all now danced in a steel-like, mechanised waltz of death.

Without a backward glance, Bear strode towards the closed door of the great building, only going out of his way to stoop and pick up a burning brand from a nearby fire. Like a host of locusts, the hillmen descended upon the building. Suddenly Bear tossed his flaming brand high up above the roof of the building.

It came crashing down and smote itself upon the thatching around the guttering of the building. Other hillmen lobbed their torches onto the roof and if the hillmen had stayed to observe, fires sprang up all over it and began to consume it.

All twenty-seven warriors rushed their way into the hall. Southerners sprang up from their seats, many to Bear’s silent, private approval still wore their weapons, at least it wouldn’t be too much of a massacre.

Bear’s musings were suddenly broken when a tall man took a long, drunken swipe at his head with a club. Quickly ducking the blow, Bear slammed his axe into the man’s torso. The hit landed across his chest and he fell crashing back onto a fallen table. Torrents of blood mixed with spilled wine as Bear crashed through the southerners.
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Old 05-17-2004, 06:59 AM   #124
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Borgand had seen to the distribution of prizes, and was about to take Illith and the now sleeping Bregand back to the tent when the shouting started. As one of the least drunk men in the hall, he was almost the first to his feet when the giant hillman burst inside, followed by more than a dozen...no, two dozen... warriors. All were armed and had a sort of berserker rage in their eyes. Borgand's thoughts flew to the women and children still populating the hall. They had to run! Thankfully, there was a back entrance to the hall. It had been planned as an entrance for bringing in food and wine, but it would do as an escape route with the other doorway inaccesible.

Through the shouting, his deep voice rang out...desperation making him louder than even the screams of the terrified children.

"Women and children, out the back. Roland, Cuilad, guard them with your lives! Make for the horses and run to Bree as quickly as you can!"

He caught the eyes of the two boys, frightened and determined. Maybe they would be spared the worst of the fighting now. They were young, but both had proven to be strong, and Borgand needed people he could trust to guard the innocents, but also people who wouldn't be too missed in an all-out battle. He watched them spring into action and had to force his mind back to the issue at hand. He had done what he could for the innocents, it was time to deal with the guilty. He wished he had told Illith once more how much she and the boy meant to him, but couldn't spare the time now. Nor did he want her to stick around so he could tell her. He watched the women stream out the door behind him, thankful that most of them seemed to be keeping their calm in spite of everything.

Borgand drew his sword and advanced on the hillmen. Already, the air seemed thick with fighting. He engaged a wiry young man who was chasing a girl on the cusp of womanhood, buying time for her to escape with the others. The hillman was clumsy with his weapon, but strong in general, and fast. Borgand disarmed him, but wasn't able to cut him down. Something was interfering with his sight, and his breathing... SMOKE! Aware of the threat to everyone in the hall, he shouted once more.

"Everyone outside, the hall is on fire!"

Those who heard him pushed toward the entrance. The others would figure it out soon. Smoke was quickly filling the space, making defender and attacker alike cough and hack. It was an unusual tactic, running into a burning building. Borgand didn't understand these hillmen at all. Did they -want- to die?

Borgand lost track of individuals as he fought his way to the door. He slashed at the hillmen, injuring at least one as he went, trying not to lean too much on his false leg. He had heard no alarm. That meant the guards were likely dead. He wondered, briefly, if Calumdril was among the dead. He had slipped out before the attack and failed to raise the alarm. It did not bode well. Still, perhaps he was simply engaged in the fighting. Borgand sincerely hoped this was the case, had grown rather fond of the ranger. Thinking of rangers, he noticed that they were none of them too drunk to put up a fight. He wondered how much more effective they would be if they hadn't been drinking for several hours.

Borgand dodged an attack, a close one, and parried another. This was bad..he was trapped and his air was slowly failing. He stabbed out in a rather non-graceful, but effective, manner and watched as the wiry young hillman from before fell down dead. His path was clear, and he took it as quickly as his one leg would allow.

He entered the open night, which seemed cold and crisp to his smoke-filled eyes and lungs. Coughing and hacking still, he fought the urge to let his guard down. The hillmen had also made it out, and the fighting was thick out here as well. Borgand looked around, trying to identify their leader. They wore no rank or insignia...cowards. He assumed the largest man must be the leader. The others certainly seemed to rally around him. There was another rallying point as well. A smaller man, older..he might also be the leader. Borgand decided the giant was his best bet, though. These hillmen would value physical power.

The one-legged man advanced toward his target. Take out the leader and dishearten the enemy; it was a well-known and proven tactic. He heard the roof of the town hall collapse as he threw himself into battle; all their work up in smoke. The anger flamed within him, rivaling the heat of the actual flames behind him, and he attacked the large hillman with a vigour he had not mustered since the fields of the Pelennor. Slashing, shieldless, he let his body surrender to the battle lust.

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Old 05-17-2004, 07:50 AM   #125
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Tolkien

Rangers

"They came across the lake..." Thoronmir panted out as best an explanation as he could while the Rangers from the outpost moved as rapidly as they could towards the commotion. His patrol had spotted the two dozen or so attackers as they were swimming and had sprinted around the settlement. Engaging them with four men would have been suicidal. Still, Awyrgan was fuming; to have hillmen slip into the town unnoticed even if he was not the one on patrol was a personal insult. Rherrin and one of the younger rangers had been left at the camp in the event more hillmen arrived or tried to escape. The settlement was well within the range of their bows.

The moon had hid its face, and the darkly clothed men moved like shadows past the dead sentries into the village, pausing only briefly to check in case any of them still showed signs of life. None of them did.

As they approached the city they ran into a mass of people fleeing. The billowing smoke in the center of the town told all to clearly where they had come from. Thoronmir directed them towards the ranger camp, instructed the two lads who led them to have Rherrin escort them to Bree.

As they drew nearer to the main hall they could hear the horse shouts of battle mixed with the screams of the dying, wounded, and innocent. They quickened their pace until they were right next to the burning walls of the hall. The battle was moving outside, but most of the combatives were still in the building which was quickly filling with smoke.

Awyrgan looked at Thoronmir, who guessing his mind, shook his head defeated. "No Awyrgan, no." Awyrgan gave a dark chuckle, green eyes glinting in the firelight. His companions watched in shock and then followed as he leapt through the remains of the burning wall into the fray.

The crashing arrival of the six rangers caused a momentary lull in the battle, giving Thoronmir enough time to skewer a hillman who had been pursing one of the remaining children in the hall. Having failed to draw his sword before entering Awyrgan simply grabbed the nearest hillmen he could find and threw him against the burning foundation stakes he had leapt over. The brutal attack worked with gruesome effectiveness.

As he pushed further into the midst of the battle Awyrgan notice Sulenar. The man was fighting well, abet drunkenly, but had neglected to put down the drink in his left hand. Finding himself suddenly back to back with the drunk man Awyrgan roared over his head that he might fight better with two hands. Sulenar replied that it would be a shame to waste such fine ale. A portion of the roof collapsed, driving the two apart.

A giant of a hillman stood solidly swinging an axe in the center of the battle. With somewhat of a start Awyrgan recognized him as the hillmen Thoronmir and he had encountered while on patrol several days before. He was not the only one to notice. The hillman's eyes followed the ranger as the pair moved closer in the heat of the fight. They glowed.
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Old 05-17-2004, 05:25 PM   #126
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Kaben's mind was filled with fear the second he realized who had burst through the hall's main doors. He stood up so fast his chair rocked back and hit the man behind him. He would have stood there had a young maiden not grabbed his arm and started pulling him towards the back doors. He looked at her, startled slightly, then shook his head as he recognized her to be a friend. When she saw that he was moving on his own she let go and ran head long for the doors, picking up a small, crying child on her way.

A man cried out close to Kaben's right and he turned to see the young man knocked down and trying to get up and away from a quickly approaching hillman. Grabbing a plate and goblet he threw them at the invadors head. They didn't do any damage, but they made the warrior turn which gave the young man enough time to stand and unsheath his sword. As the two started to fight Kaben spun around and made his way once more toward the back doors.

There were hardly any people left in the hall besides the combatants, but once he got outside there were people everywhere. The ones who had fled the hall cried out and woke those sleeping in their near by tents. Kaben was relieved to see that most of those who were being awakened came out of their tents armed and ready to fight.

But where can we go they can't come? Kaben's frantic mind screamed at him as he ran through the tents. He was no fighter, and knew it.

He suddenly found himself at his trading post, his legs automatically directing him there in his fright. Dashing inside he ran to one corner and hunched down. He gripped a small throwing dagger that he had scooped up while passing the front desk, knowing he probably wouldn't be able to use it regardless. Shaking and hearing the cries from outside, he sat there and could think no more.
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Old 05-19-2004, 02:23 PM   #127
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Settlers: Collothion

The shouts of battle finally reached the ears of the old healer, and he woke with a start. His eyes were still blurry and his head thick as he stumbled from his low bed and peaked outside his tent. A thick black smoke billowed from the center of the village and men all around him were engaged in battle with Hillmen. His head cleared with one thought…Cuilad!

Collothion ducked underneath his tent and took hold of his old sword, then he leapt back in to the open air and began running through the village calling his son’s name. Only once did an enemy step in his way and challenge him. With the fury and strength of a wild bear the old healer rammed into the young man knocking him to the ground. Wishing not for battle but for the safety of his son, Collothion let them man live, but took his sword, tucked it in his own belt, and kept running.

The healer searched the tents one by one still calling, “Cuilad! Cuilad!” He threw open the door of the trading post and faced a bewildered Kaben. “Is Cuilad in here, Kaben? Have you seen him?” Kaben did not speak, but shook his head negatively, and Collothion spun and exited the establishment.

On his way out, a fallen villager called out for help, and Collothion rushed to his side. “Help me, please.” The young man pleaded. The healer could not refuse, but he looked up into the crowd searching for his boy as he helped the man rise and half carried him to a nearby tent.

“Let me take a good look at that wound.” The healer gently pulled the man’s shirt from his side where a large about of blood was escaping. “This is a nasty gash, but you will survive.” The young man winced as Collothion squeezed water from a barrel in the tent over the wound. He then quickly tore the sleeve from his own shirt and tied it around the young man’s waist. “Stay here and don’t go out. I will check on you again when I can.”

With that Collothion ducked under the tent’s opening and stepped outside. Placing his hand on his own waist, he had almost forgotten about the weapon he took from the young Hillman, so he pulled out the sword and opened the door of the tent where the young man lay. “I forgot this. I hope the need does not find you, but use it if the occasion arises.”

The young man nodded and gratefully took the sword. Collothion then shut the entrance and continued on his search for Cuilad.
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Old 05-19-2004, 08:13 PM   #128
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Eye

Thoronmir had just gotten back to the settlement when the hillmen attacked. He and Awyrgan drew their weapons and tried to regroup with the others. Thoronmir gave orders to get the settlers out as quickly as possible. He and Awyrgan faced off against a giant of a man, whom they had encountered for. The two charged at him together, but mor hillmen arrived at split the two of them up. Thoronmir soon found himself trapped by several hillmen. There was no way out.

Thoronmir cut several men down with his sword while parrying blows with his long knife, but was driven further and further back. These men fought even harder than the forces of Mordor he had encountered at the Pellennor Fields, he noticed. He was about to give up hope when suddenly realized that he was backing into the still flaming remains of the town hall. He siezed a burning piece of wood from the remains and hurled it at the nearest man. The flames spread, and the men hesitated somewhat. Thoronmir bolted through a newly created opening, still slashing at the hillmen with his sword, but one of their spears pierced his left shoulder. He turned and ran the attacker through with his sword, then continued to try to get bck to the rest of the Rangers.

As he ran past the flaming ruins of another building, he realized that he may have made a grave mistake. There were definitely more hillmen than he had thought. He got to the stable, where many horses, including his own Brandir, were being saddled. Thoronmir mounted his horse and resumed the battle. At least this way he would have the advantage of speed.

Thoronmir entered the battle and again the same man stood facing him.
"Come on, Ranger, you ain't scared of me, are yuh?" the man taunted him.
Thoronmir charged at him, sword pointed directly at the man's heart.
"This is for Thorgil," he said

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Old 05-20-2004, 09:49 AM   #129
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Boots The Gift

An ominous contrast had presented itself when Calumdril had left the feasting hall to familiarise himself with the layout of the new buildings in the settlement.

The hall had been bright with torches, candles, cooking fires and had rung with cheers and raucous, boisterous laughter of the celebration. Crowded, the settlers had jostled shoulder to shoulder and the warmth of their bodies had added to the heat of the fires. The air had been heavy with the scent of rich spices, roasting meat, beer and wine, bodies in close proximity. It had almost been overpowering. Calumdril's nostrils had been aware of every odour and scent and aroma, his ears attuned to several conversations, the timbres of many voices he knew well, his own muscles made langorous by the sensations.

Once he had stepped outside, he had been disoriented by the contrast. Here, it was dark, dark as the caves he had once hid in in Ithilien, but without the musty, earthy scent. He could smell only the aromas of cut wood and chipped stone. The sounds of the hall had been muffled by the walls or by his own efforts to shake the scene out of his head and orient himself outside. His eyes could not immediately adjust to the darkness and only slowly could he distinguish between the dark of a wall and the dark of the air around around him or the sky. He stumbled once or twice around timber and planks that had been left lying around and without the moon he could not make out the outlines of the tents and wagons.

He had felt the hair on his arms and legs and head rise in the cool breeze and suddenly his mouth became dry and his neck stiff. He had a premonition of what was coming to pass and his mind was filled with images of the dead Hillman he had found and of Thorgil's body, eaten by vultures. He smelt the decay of their flesh and remembered the waxy feel of their bodies, touched by the musty odour of the forest, wet from rain. He heard the strange clicks around him too and then stumbled back as the spear thudded into his chest and drove through him.

He went to pull his knife from his belt but he could not feel his arm moving and wondered why not. He was in no pain, just removed from contact with his body as the spear severed his spine and he saw wavering in front of him the Hillman he had buried come to haunt him. Or a different one and then others. And as they kicked at him and withdrew the spear from his body his eyes went blank. He remembered the scent of niphredil and then no more.

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Old 05-20-2004, 07:52 PM   #130
Tinuviel of Denton
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Kestrel hated waiting. She hated the uncertainty that came with waiting, and the knowledge that no matter what she did, nothing would or could change the outcome that the spirits had decided upon. She hated the wondering, whether all of her men would come home, or whether she would have to light the funeral candles for one or all of them. Oh, yes, Kestrel hated waiting.

It didn't help that, in addition to her worries about her husband and brothers-in-law, she was afraid for her children. Despite all of Cleft's herbs and chanting, the cut on Flint's leg was red and inflamed, and the tiny brow was fevered. Though already Flint was determined to 'be a man' and not show how much it hurt, he could not hide his wince whenever Kestrel tried to have a look at the cut. Rain's cough was worse too, and she slept fitfully in the corner of the hut.

A heavy sigh escaped Kestrel's twisted lips as she watched her children sleep and repaired the inexpert work on the basket that Rain had begun. Her fingers were quick and deft with years of practice, and it was not long before the basket actually began to resemble a basket, and not a bird's nest...

"Kestrel?"

"Oh. Be welcome, Kite. What is it?" This happened occasionally; women would come to Kestrel with their questions, as if by sharing the leader's hut she somehow automatically knew things that they didn't. Sometimes, this was true, but not this time.

"We're going to win... right? The spirits are on our side, aren't they?" Kite was some years younger than Kestrel, a difference in age that was never felt more than now. The priest's niece still had a stubborn belief that somehow, everything would be well, a belief that had died in Kestrel with her firstborn.

"Maybe they were. Once. But I don't think they are anymore. Do you think they'd have let Bear be wounded if they were? Or Calem die?"

The younger woman was silent, digesting this. "I suppose not," she finally answered in a small voice. "Maybe I will fight after all."

"What?"

"Wolf said if we were all going to die, then he would need my spear. But I can't fight unless it comes to that."

That was very bad news. Wolf was not one to say such a thing, unless he believed that it would be necessary. Which meant that he was not optimistic about the warriors' chances of victory, or even survival. Kestrel looked back at her children.

"Kestrel?" Kite asked, when there was no answer.

"Return home, Kite. I need to think."

"Have I offended you?"

"No. Please go."

Kite nodded, and ducked out into the gloom.

Kestrel watched her go, and stared into the flickering light of the dying fire. If the warriors lost, which they probably would, those who were left would have to flee to the nearest village. Rook's, probably. She and her children would have to live on whatever the people of Rook's village didn't want, if none of the brothers survived. That meant that her children would get the worst of everything, if they got anything at all, which in turn meant that Rain would grow sicker, and Flint's injury would grow worse. They could die, even.

Cursed trespassers the Dunedain might be, but no tale she had ever heard of them told that they gave aught but mercy to women and children. It was considered an indication by some that they were weak. Whether or not that part was true, it meant that if she had to, Kestrel could count on finding aid from the Dunedain for her children, as much as it would stick in her craw to ask them for help. If she stayed here, either or both of her children could die. If she left, the cursed Dunedain might be able to help.

Rain coughed in her sleep and Flint moaned. Kestrel hunched her shoulders, wishing that she could see another way for the conflict to end. The warriors would lose, and the villagers would be forced to flee. If she fled now, she would have her choice of road, with none the wiser for where she had gone. The fire did not offer an answer, but the Hillwoman came to a conclusion all the same. She would go to the Dunedain, and cast herself and her children on their mercy. She only hoped that they would not turn her away.

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Old 05-22-2004, 09:22 AM   #131
TheLadyAerowen
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Rangers-- Alearindu and Ethiner

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



Alearindu was leading Mornen in the direction of the livery stable as she read the order. She decided to find Ethiner as soon as she stabled Mornen. However, she found Ethiner coming out of the make-shift livery stable which was really just a makeshift corral, and called him over.

He jogged over to Alearindu and Mornen, and she handed him the order. "All of the patrols are starting out for tonight," He said, then opened the note up and read it. He visibly sighed, but nodded and handed the order back. Alearindu placed it in Mornen’s saddlebag. She knew that they both would have rather stayed in the settlement, but someone had to escort the wagon train.

“I wonder why we were chosen for this…” Ethiner muttered; voicing both of their thoughts. Alearindu shrugged and motioned for Ethiner to wait while she placed Mornen in the corral.

However, just before Alearindu opened the gate to the corral, Mornen stopped dead in his tracks and his nostrils flared. Shortly after, shouting came from the east of the corral and screams were conspicuous as well. Alearindu took no time in letting go of Mornen’s reins and grabbing her bow and quiver from atop Mornen’s saddle. She knew Mornen would run if danger came near him, so she sprinted towards the screaming and shouting. Ethiner caught on quickly as well; following closely behind her.

They ran past the make shift warehouse, turned the corner and dashed through the creek; passing the market square. As they came near to the town hall, Alearindu came to a quick stop, and Ethiner almost ran into her but he stepped around and was taken back by what he saw.

The entire hall was on fire. There were women and children running out of it from the back; coughing from the smoke. Out front there were about a dozen men that Alearindu didn’t recognize, pushing into the hall where she knew that a few men were eating and drinking before. The thought of mostly drunken men fighting didn’t go too well with the thought of fending off these people.

Alearindu and Ethiner simultaneously set an arrow to their bow, took aim, and shot. After a few arrows though, it became too hard to fire an arrow without possibly hitting some of their men that came out of the dining hall. Alearindu nodded to Ethiner and they dropped their bows and quivers where they were standing and withdrew their swords from their sheaths. They were about to run towards the town hall, but Alearindu quickly grabbed Ethiner's arm.

"Ethiner, wait." He turned around and looked at her. "Someone needs to tell Tane about this..." They looked at each other for a half second; both wanted to fight; but both knew Tane needed to know. Alearindu went to sheath her sword, but Ethiner stopped her.

"No, it's fine. I'll go." Ethiner said; sheathed his own sword and placed his hand on Alearindu's shoulder. "Fight well, and be careful." With that Ethiner nodded, and sprinted off towards where he knew Tane was. They'd stalled too long already, so Alearindu had decided not to argue. She pulled out her half-way sheathed sword, and sprinted her way towards the town hall.
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Old 05-22-2004, 03:53 PM   #132
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Tane woke up to someone bursting into the cabin. He had fallen asleep at the desk and his body was cramped with the unwanted position he had been in for the last hour or so. His mind was blurred, but instinct was stronger than groggy eyes and he snatched a dagger from his belt before he consciously knew what was in his cabin.

"Tane!" Tane recognized the voice as being a friend and shook his head to clear his eyes, bringing Ethiner into focus.

Ethiner! He shouldn't be here. Tane stood up as Ethiner rushed around the desk.

"The settlement is invaded!"

Tane's eyes widened. The building conflict had finally broken out and the settlement was to pay.

"Come," Tane whirled around and grabbed his sword that was resting against the wall, strapping it on as they walked out. "Go around the edge and call to every Ranger in camp, tell them to meet back here, hurry!" He almost stumbled through his words in his haste. Ethiner nodded and started off as Tane went the other way, yelling for attention as he ran through the tents. Within fifteen minutes all the Rangers were at the cabin, some half dressed and most breathing heavy at the short run.

Tane's voice was hoarse, yet he raised it again to get through this order.

"The settlement has been invaded by the hillmen! We do not know how many or if they are still there. We do know there are casualties on both sides. Tonight I want Hothem and five Rangers to keep alert in the camp" Tane looked at Hothem and he nodded, then briefly touched several Rangers immediately around him to let them know he had chosen them. "The rest of you, get ready and armed and ride as fast as you can to the settlement. Be wary if the hillmen are still about and help the settlers as much as possible."

With that said Tane turned and went to saddle Skit, feeling the whole time as if he were to blame for everything. Tane cursed furiously as a saddle strap twisted, but kept on moving as quickly as he felt he could. As soon as Skit was ready Tane started out. Skit was tired from riding earlier in the day, but still up to Tane nudges and they raced to the settlement with a few Rangers already in line behind.

Smoke and a red haze haloed the settlement, causing a great swelling in Tane's chest. He would not five in to any emotions yet, the situation had to be stabilized. As they neared the town settlers were running out in panic just trying to get away.

Tane reined in Skit and turned to catch one of the following Rangers. "Get another Ranger and try to gather these people. Take them back to the Ranger camp where they can feel safe. Keep an eye." Then Tane turned again and left the Ranger behind.

He headed straight for the source of the fire and found the hall collapsed and smoldering into an inferno. The heat from the fire was intense and no one could get within ten feet of the once building. As Tane had come in he didn't see any fighting taking place, just settlers running, hiding, and helping each other. Tane had to find Borgand and get information on what had happened.

Tane hailed a soldier holding up an older man. "Where's Borgand?"

The soldier nodded his head, "He was there when I was last."

Tane nodded his thanks and pulled the reins to the right. It didn't take him long to find Borgand who was just down from where the soldier had indicated. Tane dismouned and called out "Borgand!" to get his attention.
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Old 05-24-2004, 10:26 AM   #133
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Borgand hurt, and it was more than just his arm. His attack on the large man had been ill-fated. As he approached the giant, another hillman had hit his right arm from behind with the dull end of a spear. This had jarred the arm to the point of numbing his hand and rendered his sword arm useless. It wasn't a permanent injury, but it had kept him out of the thick of the fight, and his pride was hurt. He supposed it was too much to expect that a one-legged man would be able to hold his own in an all-out fight, but he had expected it nonetheless.

He was away from the fighting now, which was still going on in knots around the settlement. Carried away by a men from the settlement after being knocked to the ground by the spear shaft, he had been forbidden to return to the battle, and was too weak to physically overcome the man who was guarding him. He didn't even know what had happened to the giant. Reports were coming in from around the village and they were depressing in the extreme. The hall was gone, he could see that himself. A smouldering pile of rubble was all that remained. And the guards had all been killed, it seemed. No one had seen Calumdril. On the positive side, however, the hillmen had mostly fled, and at least half had been slain. There were few civilian casualties, as well. Most of the women and children had made it out safely. He was just discussing with one of the other soldiers when it would be safe for them to return when he heard his name being called. He turned to see Tane approaching.

"Tane, I'm glad you're here. The fighting seems to be mostly over, but things are still very confused. I could use your help and that of your men to assess the damage and contain the remaining hostilities."

The ranger nodded, "Of course. Were you injured?"

Borgand looked down at his useless arm. "Not seriously, but it does keep me from wielding a sword. I've never felt more in the way."

"Your role is to keep your people focused. There are other people to do the fighting. Still, you are to be admired for wanting to lead your people in battle."

He simply nodded, thanking Tane silently for understanding and not making a big deal of his infirmaries.

"The most important task right now is finding out how badly we were hurt. We lost the hall, but it can be rebuilt. No one has seen Calumdril, and as much as I would like to, I cannot leave to search for him myself. Would you take on this task for me, or assign someone you trust? He may need medical or physical help. He can take care of himself, but this attack caught us all off guard."

"I'll do what I can," the ranger intoned, and turned to go.

Watching him walk away, Borgand felt a stab of envy. The smoke had left an acrid taste on his tongue, but the bitterness of defeat was stronger still. His heart burned within him for justice, fueled all the more by his utter inability to mete out this justice himself.


We'll make these animals pay, somehow, he thought to himself, and was surprised at his own vehemence. Pushing down his anger, he turned back to his personal guard.

"Now, about the women..."
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Old 05-24-2004, 05:47 PM   #134
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Tane would go about searching for Calumdril, but he saw some Rangers coming in and wanted to send them on more specific orders than he had given at the camp. He hailed two that had already entered the town and led them to where the other Rangers would be coming in. When he had six Rangers he split them up. Four to be on constant parol around the village, two to go through the village to search for any hillmen that were left. If any saw other Rangers they were to tell them to help the villagers except for two more, which should join those patrolling.

As they went to carry out his orders Tane thought about how to find Calumdril and was at a loss for thought. Turning his horse he saw Rherrin come up to him, bloodied and limping.

"Tane!"

Tane dismounted and hurried over to the man, giving his arm for support.

"The hillmen slaughtered the patrols. Only two pairs of us had gone out and I only escaped because Athruin heard something and had me move off to the side just before they struck," Rherrin's eyes were wide in angry recollection.

"It's ok Rherrin. They're gone and now we need to help the settlement."

"No!" Rherrin grabbed Tane's tunic, causing the leader to fall forward a step before rebalancing himself. Rherrin blinked and quickly let go of Tane, sputtering "I...I'm sorry. I jus...I don't-"

"It's alright," Tane wanted to send the Ranger to his tent, but the settlement was safe yet and Rherrin seemed a bit unbalanced by the attack. He was one of the younger Rangers and hadn't seen a large battle, only small scuffles. He was trying to absorb all the images and seemed to be struggling. "I want you to come with me and help me find a settler name Calumdril, do you know what he looks like?"

Rherrin nodded. "Yes."

"Do you know where he might be?" Tane prodded.

Rherrin shook his head slowly. "I .... don't. I just saw people fighting..."

"Lets find someone to ask," Tane moved to start walking and Rherrin seemed able to support himself, though he was still limping.

People were still going through the streets at random intervals, but none had seen the settler. The two men had been walking and were soon nearing the edge of the town when they spotted two villagers carrying a dead third man. The carriers were struggling a bit and Tane hurried over to lend a hand and ask if they'd seen Calumdril. Just as he reached for the body and opened his mouth to ask, he saw the face of the man they carried. They had found Calumdril. Sighing heavily, Tane took the place of the one carrying from the arms and directed everyone to where Borgand was.

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Old 05-26-2004, 08:47 AM   #135
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Tolkien Awyrgan - Rangers

The blood in Awyrgan's head was pounding. As the battle raged, most of the fighters had moved out of the burning hall into the settlement. Awyrgan and a few others had stayed in an attempt to take out the giant who seemed to fear neither the flames nor the men. A final collapse of the hall's roof had knocked several of the Rangers unconscious, including Awyrgan, and as Sulenar and Alearindu dragged him out the hillman had made good his escape.

Pockets of fighting were still scattered all over the town, but most of the hillmen had been driven off or killed and it seemed like the entire populace was almost ready to breath again. The weathered man scratched at the bandage wrapped around his head where Alearindu had insisted on tying it. It irked Awrygan that if he had been several years younger he probably would have ducked faster and been able to avoid all injuries together. He smirked. Young was such a relative term - he was a father figure to many of the settlers but still a boy to many of the rangers.

Drawing a whetstone and towel from his pack he began to clean and re-sharpen his weapons. He glanced around briefly, noticing that many of the Rangers were making their way to the small group of them that was already formed on the outskirts of the town. Nearly all were bruised in bloody and many were still untreated. But they were all preparing to go back into battle, focused on completing whatever their next task might be. Awyrgan looked for Tane knowing he would be in the settlement soon, but could not pick him out of the masses as they moved about. Most of the six he had been left with originally were still there, but he was unable to locate Rherrin.

A part of Awyrgan wanted to pursue the hillmen immediately, track them back to their village and raise it to the ground. It was a part he recognized that needed to be controlled. First, the settlement needed to be secured and the dead and dying cared for. Then they would take the fight to the invaders. He counted his arrows as the flames from the settlement began to paint the nightime clouds. Most of them were there. It was a good night for hunting.

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Old 05-31-2004, 08:32 AM   #136
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The sunrise stung Borgand's eyes, as he helped to count the dead. Twenty three guards, seven civilians, and Calumdril, all dead. There were no women and children among the fallen, but many of the guards had been little more than boys. He pushed down his anger once again. It wouldn't do to be seen shaking his fist...his good fist...at the sky. The time for revenge would come, and soon, but for now, he had to attend to the dead.

Heart aching, he spoke to his personal guard. "Have those who are strong enough begin working on graves immediately. They are to have full cairns. These men all fought and died for us and we owe them the honor of a decent resting place."

Borgand wanted to distinguish Calumdril some way. The man had been greatly skilled, an invaluable resource, and a personal friend. He knew, however, that to raise one dead man above the rest would breed resentment among the families of the fallen. Inwardly, he resolved simply to stand the traditional soldier's watch over Calumdril's grave himself. His thoughts drifted to Illith and Bregand, sent off toward Bree in the heat of battle. He desperately hoped that none he had sent away were suffering. His reverie was broken by his guard's reply and departure.

Borgand needed sleep but knew it would be a long time before he would be able to rest. He looked down at the bodies again. He knew every face. He would have to visit every family. They deserved to hear the news from him. Before that, though, a decision remained.

Turning, he headed to the growing knot of rangers, looking for Tane. They waved him in the correct direction and Borgand stumbled as he hurried, weakened after the night and caught often in the slicks of blood and mud that dotted the ground. Wooden legs are not suited to urgency, but Birgand pushed himself and managed to find Tane in record time.

He pulled the leader of the Rangers aside.

"Tane, our losses are not fatal, but they cut deep. So many men who died needlessly...." Borgand set his mouth into a grim frown. "Please take your men and hunt down these hillmen. Capture them and bring them here to stand trial for what they have done. I don't want a slaughter, but, justice must be done."
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Old 06-01-2004, 12:42 AM   #137
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After Alearindu had bandaged Awyrgan, she took time to notice her own wounds. There were the occasional and expected nicks on her arms and a few on her torso, but there was one on her upper left arm that had cut pretty deep. Alearindu also noticed she had a few burns from where she had been too close to the fire.

She knew she had bandages in Mornen’s saddlebags, so she walked towards the corrals and where she had split up with Ethiner. Ethiner… had he found Tane and told him about the attack? Alearindu was picking up her bow and quiver along with Ethiner’s when Sulenar came up to her.

“Tane wishes for all of the Rangers and any settler still left to meet him at the trading post.” Sulenar said. Alearindu nodded, but didn’t feel much like talking. Sulenar left, and Alearindu decided to find out what Tane was planning. She glanced at her wound, and decided she wasn’t bleeding to death, so she would be able to bandage it later.

Alearindu made her way to the trading post, and found Tane there; but no one else had come yet.

“Tane!” She called, and jogged over to him. Tane turned around and smiled; most probably at the relief that she was still among the living.

His smile faded as he noticed the wound on her arm. “Alearindu…your arm. Why isn’t it bandaged? It still hasn’t even stopped bleeding.”

“I’m fine Tane.” She brushed away his hand, and attempted to change the topic. “Why do you need all of us here? What are you planning?”

Tane shook his head. He should have expected the small show of stubbornness. “Alearindu, come.” He took the wrist of her good arm, and led her into the trading post tent.

Tane located cloth and bandages, and then walked back over to where he had left her. He pointed to the pouch of water she had, and smirked as Alearindu rolled her eyes. However, she didn’t argue, and handed him the water. Tane poured a few drops onto one of the cloths, and dabbed at the dried blood around her wound.

Alearindu winced as he brushed over the opening of the wound, but Tane didn’t notice. “You know. You wouldn’t be doing this if I were, for instance, Sulenar…” Alearindu commented. “And you know very well that I am capable of cleansing and bandaging my own wounds.”

Tane placed the cloth over the wound and applied a small amount of pressure. He looked at Alearindu for a moment, and then smiled. “Sulenar isn’t as easy on the eyes. Plus, he would have taken care of his own wounds, as you obviously have not. And then again, maybe I just wanted to.” Alearindu narrowed her eyes slightly, and was going to comment about how she was on her way to get her own bandages when she decided to come see him, but she couldn’t help but smile as well as she saw the jesting in Tane’s eyes.

Just then, Kaben walked through the opening of the tent. Alearindu made a move to somewhat hide the bandages, but Tane held her in place. Kaben was obviously affected by the battles; he still seemed nervous and on edge, but he merely glanced at the bandages and smiled. Tane pulled out a few coins, and handed them to Kaben, but Kaben pushed them away. “Don’t worry about that. Just go ahead and use however much you need. You Rangers helped us, so I’m just returning a small portion of our thanks. Even though, I believe this battle is far from over…” And with that, he bowed slightly and exited the tent.

Alearindu went to follow Kaben out, but Tane grasped her good wrist again and shook his head. “Be patient. At least let me wrap the wound.” Alearindu sighed, but gave in. Tane placed a clean cloth over the wound, wrapped a bandage a few times around her arm, and then tied it. “There. See? Now was that so hard?”

Alearindu smirked. “Thank you, Tane.”

Tane smiled again. “Anytime.”

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Old 06-01-2004, 12:03 PM   #138
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Those who would stack up the bodies side by side and count them would say that the losses of the settlement were greater than the Hillmen’s. This idea was not much comfort to Wolf, who knew that each man who was killed was a heavy loss to the Hillmen, who had always been few. There were few advantages in attacking their enemies this way. Central to the plan had been the hope of frightening these newcomers off with a show of greater force than they were actually able to muster. They had no warriors who had not been present, and any damage the southerners had done to the attackers was damage done to the Hillmen as a whole. It was too much. Wolf had learned much during the battle; he knew the settlers in a way he had not known them before. He had seen their grimaces as they drove his men out of their strange new buildings and the vehemence with which they had hacked away at anyone who came near them. He had drawn his conclusions about them.

They were a people who lived by war. Unlike the Hillmen, who used raids and hunts to get what they needed and were willing to spend the rest of the time quietly minding their own business, these intruders had a regularity about they way they killed people that suggested serious training and considerable practice. Wolf vaguely remembered stories he had been told in his youth, about a king who had helped them to defeat the southerners once and keep this land for themselves. The Hillmen must have been then as their enemies were now, practiced, grim killers whose lives consisted of little else.

But Wolf’s ancestors had had a reason for becoming killers. It had been the grim necessity of those who would defend the land that by rights was their own. He couldn’t fathom what had driven the southerners to become killers, but he imagined it as some event long past from which they had never truly recovered. They were still the killers they no longer needed to be, seeking out places to carry on their wars, and truly he could think of no other reason that they would want this land, which was not their homeland, after all. And that was the other thing that he had learned; they did want it, badly enough to battle past fear and resistance and the anger that faced them…. badly enough that they would not simply flee. He had seen it.

On the other hand, so did they. Bear was badly injured again, and Wolf thought, this time without a trace of irritation, that it was really Bear’s own fault, that he was the most reckless kind of warrior who would endanger himself and do whatever was needed. Certainly they could cure him again.

Certainly they could make a show of their own strength and determination before they were annihilated. Wolf would expect nothing less of his people.

They did seem exhilarated by their victory in this battle. Those who at some point in the battle had been near Bear were a bit more serious, gossiping quietly about their own theories of what had become of him, how Oak claimed to have seen him lying in a building, wounded by the blade of a frenzied southerner, and had found the brothers Fox and Mink to help carry him out, how Oak had been killed beating settlers away from that spot only to find that he had vanished. One young warrior whom a doting mother had optimistically named Star was spinning a tale for the others about how the pain of Bear's wound had come back to him in the battle and how he had helped him along, and much lighter Bear had become at that moment, but none of the others seemed to believe him. Wolf certainly didn't. For such a large man to simply disappear was strange, they all agreed, but none of them had any news of him for long after the fire was set.

Others of the Hillmen, many of them young, lacked even this solemnity. Some were truly impressed with their newfound prowess at war and insisted on recounting, at length, all their exploits to companions who wanted nothing better than a chance to tell their own. Others were all for mimicking the settlers’ errors. “It’s a pity we didn’t pick up some of that wine!” cried an enthusiastic man who, fortunately, Wolf could not identify in the darkness. “I hear it mixes well with what we picked up from those travelers last month!” Wolf snarled something thoroughly discouraging in his direction and there was no more talk of wine, but the voices of his men were neither quiet nor serious on the way back to the village. Wolf did not ask them to be either, not yet.

He also wondered, not for the first time, what had become of Fletch. Certainly he should have returned by now. Wolf was of two minds about the help of the other village. His new certainty that even another such battle would be insufficient to drive out the southerners made him hesitate to ask others to give up their whole village to the same fate as his own. But perhaps if Rook were to join them, others would too. In any case, he would have liked to have heard what Rook had said. Perhaps Fletch was on his way, or perhaps he had been delayed somewhere… Wolf moved to the edges of the group, searching for Knife, who he found in the midst of a detailed description of the inside of the town hall to the men who had killed the guards.

“I need to take care of something,” he said quietly. Knife raised an eyebrow, but Wolf ignored it. “I should be back early in the day, but I want to see if I can learn something. Please don’t let anything disastrous happen. And make sure everyone gets cured, whether they think they want it or not. The hard part of this is still ahead of us. I doubt that they will be able to attack us today, but it is coming. Keep that in mind.”

Knife stared at him. “And you want to leave?…”

“There’s something I need to know. I won’t be gone long. Will you do what I ask?”

With a long, pale glance over at the place on the horizon from where they had come, the village that had killed so many and the place where the earth had apparently devoured their brother, Knife nodded slowly. “Until noon, I will. Come back by then.”

“Yes.”

He had no plans to go farther than the stones where lightning had struck, a walk of one or two hours. Perhaps he would meet Fletch coming home from his journey, or perhaps he would find his bones. If they had allies, they would need them soon.

Last edited by Belin; 06-06-2004 at 08:57 AM. Reason: to get Bear where he needs to be
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Old 06-01-2004, 12:05 PM   #139
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Bear pulled himself from the water and lay panting on the large, smooth, wet stones. His warm, red blood mingled with the muddied water and surged over the rocks, creating an ironically warm environment for the great man to lie in. His sodden wool tunic hung lankly to his prone form and he shivered as a wind shot over his bulk. Memories of the last few ill-fated hours shot through his weary mind. Things had appeared to go well for the hillmen, their initial attack seemed to be a complete surprise, and for a while the southerners were on the back foot.

The soft ground seems to echo as his feet pound into it. Through the smoke-haze around him he can feel the thundering voices of men, the screams of women and the crackle of flame; his senses seem inflamed and unruly. Like a poisoned beast he feels himself crash into man after man, filling the sodden night with showers of red. Screams resonate around his existence.

With a gasping intake of air, Bear regained consciousness.

Things had started to turn as the fight spilled out into the extents of the settlement and Bear found himself almost alone with only a few hillmen around him. Grasping a stone firmly in his palm, he struggled to stay conscious. Grasping for a thought to hold on to, his mind raced through his recent past. A face… long and unfamiliar…filling with sudden recognition…a sudden anger, burning at his chest… a tempest unleashed…

Bear had espied his adversary and immediately recognized him as his attacker. Further, ice-cold wrath had piled and squeezed itself into his existence and he had thrown himself further into the fray; further towards his foe. Then, in the midst of his glory, covered in the death of his foes, he found himself alone; dead hillmen lay by him, their blood flowing into and mingling with that of their dead enemies. An almost complete ring of southerners had been made about him, many of whom he recognized. The man he had encountered only days before stood there before him, panting and hunched in his weariness. Slowly the men advance upon Bear. The whirlwind of steel that ensued smote both helm and limb and soon the ring was broken. A fog had fallen upon his eyes and he only saw dim shapes.

Stumbling like a blind man, he had hacked his way through a gap in is opponents and out onto a patch of clear ground. Cold suddenly rushed up his legs and looking down, he realised he was knee-deep in the water of the lake. His foes still beat down upon him, their blood filling the cool water. Bear tired, he would not be able to continue to fight off so many attackers. Using a slight break in the melee, he dove into the frost-cold, murky water. Bear's numb fingers fumbled with the straps of his belt... with the fabric of his tunic...with the weight of his hauberk. Like fire in the scrub, aching pain rushed through Bear's lungs. Moonlight flickered through the brown water, turning the metal in his hands to gold. Relief seethed though his veins, like a cool breeze on a hot day, like drought-breaking rain, like sea crashing into a desert - the encumbering metal vest was off. Bear watched it as it fell heavily to the bottom. Clutching his axe firmly in his left hand, Bear pushed powerfully off into the inviting darkness of the water ahead.

So it was that he came to be lying unconscious on the bank of lake Evendim. Utterly exhausted, wounded and steaming, Bear clambered to his feet and strode off. Water dripped off his bulky form as it meandered towards the place he called home.

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Old 06-02-2004, 12:04 PM   #140
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It was early in the evening when the hillmen had attacked, but now, slightly past mid of night, the fire of the town hall was finally starting to smolder to embers. It was still too hot to get close, but at least the flames had left, making any danger of it spreading very unlikely.

Tane could still see the hall's glow from the open flap of the trading post tent. Rubbing his temples, he went over his plan one more time before stepping out and addressing the gathered Rangers and settlers.

Raising his hand, he got their attention and a hush fell over the small crowd.

"We're going to the hillmen's village at dawn," several burst of shouting erupted from the crowd and Tane had to raise his hand again to try and quiet down the men eager for battle. "Not all of us are going," ignoring a few protestations, he pushed on. "The town still needs to be on guard in case the hillmen decide to strike again. We lost many loved ones tonight...too many, and I'm not going to chance another slaughter by leaving the settlement open. Borgand is in charge of the settlement as always, so if told to guard the settlement, report to him."

Tane turned and called Hothem to him. "Go through these men here and decide which ones are able and fit for the journey and fight. The ones you deem need to stay, tell them to go report to Borgand," Tane glanced at the group that was now talking amungst themselves, each man swearing they'd get retribution from the hillmen. "I don't want anyone coming that is too blood thirsty. Another blood bath isn't going to help any of us."

Hothem nodded and started going through the men, telling each one where to go. Tane turned to the other side of the crowd and started to do the same when Awyrgan stepped in front of the crowd with a determined grimace on his face.

Tane looked Awyrgan up and down and noted several wounds that would make a normal man take to bed recovery. Before Tane could say anything he pronounced, "I'm going and you know it."

Tane nodded slowly. "All right, but if you fall behind, stay there. We don't need to cover for wounded Rangers."

Awyrgan was about to make a sharp reply, but found that it didn't matter regardless. He had gotten what he wanted, and if truth be told, if Tane had ordered him to stay he would have gone anyway. This was one hunt he was not going to miss out on.

Awyrgan nodded and turned to leave when Tane hailed him back. "How's Thoronmir?"

The old Ranger shifted his position, standing up straighter. "'Bout the same as me in all regards."

"Alright," Tane understood that to mean Thoronmir was hurt, but just as stubborn as Awyrgan. "Tell him the same thing I told you."

The rest of the settlers and Rangers went by in a blur until Alearindu came up to Tane with an angry look on her face. "Hothem has informed me that I am not to go to fight the hillmen!"

"Alearindu-"

"No! I am not to stay behind. I'm as good a fighter as any man going!"

"You're also injured!" Tane raised his voice a notch to get Alearindu to stop so he could speak.

Her eyes were angry and hurt, but she waited for him to continue.

"I know you can fight. This isn't special treatment against you. That burn on your shoulder is going to hamper your fighting much worse than any scrape."

Alearindu unclenched her jaw and took a deep breath, gathering her arguement. "The burn is not that bad and the only other real injury I have is just a small cut. I can still ride, can still shoot a bow, and can still swing my sword with force," to demonstrate her mobility she swung her arm up and around, controlling her face so that she wouldn't wince. The burn had tightened her skin, but she knew she could fight.

Tane stared at her eyes, seeing the determination. She seemed just as resolute as Awyrgan and Thoronmir. "Fine, but you're going to be in my group."

Alearindu smiled and gave Tane a quick hug. "I knew you'd come to your senses."

Tane snorted. "I think I left them in the trading post."

~*~

All the men that were going to go to the settlement were gathering their weapons and horses when Tane went to see Borgand. The leader of the settlers was barking out orders and moving around as if he were stomping out hillmen with each footstep. When he saw Tane he waved those around him away so that they could talk privately.

Borgand's eager voice started before Tane had even reached his side. "You're about to leave then?"

Tane nodded slowly. "We've selected about thirty men to go, about half of them are settlers."

Borgand didn't seem to hear him. "Bring them all back and then we'll see.... Tane! Bring them all back."

Tane didn't like the sound and shift of Borgand. The man needed some rest, at least, but even then the Ranger didn't think it would get rid of that gleam in the Leaders eye.

"I wil...."

Borgand smiled disarmingly and clapped Tane on the shoulder. "Good....good..."

~*~

Tane had been disturbed by Borgand's behavior, but now he needed to address the fighters one last time before they started out for the hillmen. There were around forty men going, almost half of them settlers. Even though the Rangers had lost several men to the hillmen, they made up for it with all those in from the camp.

Hothem came up to Tane. "They've been split like you've asked, and we're all ready to go."

"Good." Tane mounted Skit and faced the two groups, once again raising his arm to get attention. "Hothem and I will be leading the two groups. Hothem's will be going in first, attacking head on while my group will spread out and try to cover as much perimeter as we can. Let me make it perfectly clear, this is not a retrubution blood bath! You are to kill only if the hillman will not stop fighting and you cannot disarm him. Get the warriors first. Bring them back to the perimeter where I will have several men there to hold them. When the fighting slows down, help those guarding so that the hillmen have no chance to overtake our men. Once the warriors are captured, gather the women and children. They are not to be harmed! We'll move them en masse back to the settlement where they can be held accountable for their actions. Let's go."

Tane swung around and started out, Hothem still at his side.

"Tane," Hothem looked back at the men who were still turning around to start out. "You told me you were wary of Borgand and his wish to bring them all back."

"I still am, but if I leave the women and children I won't be able to protect them."

"And what are we to do with them once Borgand is done with the men?"

Tane looked sharply at Hothem. "I'm not bringing them to the settlement just to be killed. There has to be some solution.... Let's focus on the upcoming battle for right now."

Hothem nodded and they continued in silence.

~*~

It was nearing dawn when the group was close enough to the hillmen's village to split into the two groups again. Hothem's group had left their horses and were proceeding on foot, running lightly across the shadowed terrain. Tane made sharp movements with his hands as Hothem was almost to the village and his group started galloping out to cover the perimeter. Kicking Skit into action Tane went straight forward. He was going to cover their entrance, in case any hillmen decided to get his men from behind.

Soon shouts were coming from the village and all the men, hillmen, settler and Ranger became a giant swarm in Tane's eyes.
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Old 06-02-2004, 12:31 PM   #141
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Tolkien

Awyrgan had positioned himself with Hothem's group. He listened with a dull sort of indifference to the chatter surrounding him as the men made ready to leave. Many of the settlers voice held a shrill tone, angry and eager for revenge. He glanced around at the other rangers, most of whom were sitting still, waiting; veterans with nought more but a look of grim determination on their face. Even the youngest of them seemed old.



A quiet stirring among the men caused them to fall silent. Tane had ridden up and was addressing the group. "Hothem and I will be leading the two groups. Hothem's will be going in first, attacking head on while my group will spread out and try to cover as much perimeter as we can. Let me make it perfectly clear, this is not a retrubution blood bath! You are to kill only if the hillman will not stop fighting and you cannot disarm him. Get the warriors first. Bring them back to the perimeter where I will have several men there to hold them. When the fighting slows down, help those guarding so that the hillmen have no chance to overtake our men. Once the warriors are captured, gather the women and children. They are not to be harmed! We'll move them en masse back to the settlement where they can be held accountable for their actions. Let's go."



A pale moon highlighted the shadows of the forty or so men moving through the wilderness. Somewhere in the distance a wolf howled. Awyrgan smiled. The wolves hunt as we do. He mused their leader's instructions over in his head. They were noble, but the weathered man doubted they would work in practice. He deeply hoped he was wrong.



A small ray of light was beginning to break over the skyline as they approached the camp. The groups split into two again, with Hothem's group moving directly towards the camp. Awyrgan closed his eyes briefly, checked that his sword was loose it it's sheath, and notched an arrow to his bow. One of the men stepped on a branch, snapping it and a dog barked. The dam burst and the patrol swarmed forward into the village.
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Old 06-07-2004, 04:55 PM   #142
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Silmaril The Dwarves move towards home...

Light was about to spill over the Western line of the horizon. Barzûn sat by a fire, smoking his pipe and musing at the miles they had yet to traverse before the break of day. Also, the carvings that had been brought to his attention the previous day kept returning as images in his mind. They were done recently. Who could have done them? Only the Hillmen he heard spoken of lived nearby. Were they trying to copy the old and glorious designs? Barzûn grunted as he stood, shaking off his thoughts. There was no way he would put all the pieces of the puzzle back just sitting there. They had to begin the trek back to the settlement if they wanted to reach the camp before midday so they could get back to building.

“Dwarves!” Barzûn grunted, moving amongst the Dwarf bodies, some sitting others reposing. Soon, they all stood awaiting Barzûn’s command.

“The sun will rise soon,” Barzûn said, “I want to get back to the settlement before midday. We have to start now. We still have a few miles to go yet, and getting there before midday would be better.”

With sighs from various members, the Dwarves stood, packing and preparing to leave as quickly as they could. Barzûn oversaw the progress, grunting corrections to the Dwarves’ methods of carrying the stone.

“We cannot stand for any more delay,” Barzûn said, “So be careful with those wagons. Alright, Dwarves, let’s move out.”

The train of Dwarves moved along over hills steadily moving back towards the settlement. As he pushed his own wagon, Barzûn pondered the stone carvings more. Say the Hillmen did draw the images: why would they do such a thing? Was there something about the men they envied? Or did they merely admire the designs? Barzûn wondered if the men knew about these carvings. Perhaps the Hillmen wanted to be more like the other men in their designs, valuing the delicate strokes required for such intricate impressions. Barzûn decided that he would ask one of the men about such things. To think that the men expressed worry about the Hillmen! Perhaps they could live in peace after all.

“Oy!” Barzûn said, seeing part of the train falling behind, “Catch up, Dwarves! Come on! We need to make time!”

Barzûn intentionally sped up, moving at about twice his previous speed. The Dwarves grumbled and struggled to keep up. They made good time as the sun began to poke its head out and the dark shadows became fewer. Light began to illuminate Barzûn’s face as he pondered the carvings and their origin.
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Old 06-07-2004, 06:10 PM   #143
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Kestrel had left most of their belongings behind in the hut, since she could not carry both her children as well. Flint was ensconced on her shoulder, his head resting by her cheek and his tiny fingers gripping her hair, which she ignored even when he accidentally pulled. Rain had been riding on her hip until dawn, when the light woke her, and now trotted alongside her mother, clutching at her leather tunic with a grubby hand. They made a pitiful sight, all told.

The buildings in straight lines that had so amused and puzzled the warriors the previous night did not look so grand now. Perhaps that was because of the rubble that surrounded them, and the scorch marks from the previous evening's fire. Perhaps it was merely that Kestrel was less interested in the architecture than in asylum.

The men who were moving around the buildings looked very different from the men she was used to seeing. They were taller, straighter, and their clothing was very, very different. She felt more and more uncomfortable by the moment, but it was far too late to turn back now. Her absence was almost certainly discovered, and she somehow doubted that she would be welcomed back with open arms. More like drawn bows. If any of the warriors had survived the night, that is.

She held Flint tighter and reached down to clasp Rain's little hand in her own as one of the men glanced up, spotted her, and pointed, shouting something she couldn't quite make out.

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Old 06-09-2004, 08:27 AM   #144
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The long caravan of dwarves and carts continued towards the settlement, as if a trail of ants pushing their cargo across the ground. Like most of the others, Olin was tired a grumpy, but his spirits were lifted by the prospect of a few days rest back at the camp. He was, of course, sadly mistaken.

"What's going on here," the dwarven leader shouted upon entering the settlement. Everything was in a state of complete disaray, and a foul stench hung in the air. Olin looked around at one tent, which had collapsed and been trampled to the ground. Fighting, perhaps?

A man carrying a load of debris walked past them. "Hillmen attacked. They were fought off, but did some considerable damage. We'd be much oblidged if you could help us in the clean-up effort."

The dwarves, who had done nothing but pick up stone for days, were not exactly pleased with their new job. They did, however, set their carts aside and join the group fixing up the camp.

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Old 06-09-2004, 04:26 PM   #145
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No hillmen were approaching Tane yet, and he hoped that it meant the captures were going well.

Soon after that thought had flashed through the Ranger leader's mind he saw a settler fighting with a hillman that was much larger, and another hillman was fast approaching from the rear. Kicking Skit into action Tane left his temporary post and charged the hillman coming from the rear.

They clashed swords and Tane quickly moved to turn Skit around for another pass. The hillman was faster than the horse, though, and Tane found himself wildly defending from a rearing horse that was trying to avoid the hillman's sword. The warrior was not giving Tane any easy in's to his weak points by keeping his sword low with quick jabs being his main assult. One of those jabs caught Tane's leg and blood started to run down his leg and onto the side of Skit, leaving an ugly smear.

The hillman took another swipe at the horses leg, trying to get it the beast to fall with over correction, and as Skit reared again Tane turned her into the hillman, knocking him over. Jumping down Tane brought his sword around to pin the man.

"Surrender!" Tane yelled, but the hillman tried to roll and grab a long knife strapped to his leg. As the long knife left its sheath Tane plunged his sword into and out of the man in two, jerky movements.

Breathing heavily and cursing Tane looked around at his surroundings. He was still at the edge of the village and the only men around him were the settler and hillman he had been fighting. The former leading the latter toward the holding guards at sword point. Tane nodded to himself in satisfaction. At least one hillman had given in rather than perish.

A tent opened next to Tane and he whirrled around, bringing his sword up in defense, but there was no need. The tent was filled with women and children who had thought it save to try and run.

"Come on out," he said as they looked at him fearfully. "I won't harm you."

A mother, holding a two year old in her arms, came out slowly and nodded at those behind her, beckoning her other two children to her side. Tane pointed his sword toward where the prisoners were kept.

"Walk slowly toward that small group up there. Don't try to run. We're not going to kill you or-"

"You have already killed us!" A young female stood proudly, pointing accusingly at Tane.

"Kite!" The mother of three sharply admonished the maiden. "Live for another day. There is time still..."

Tane raised an eyebrow at the girl and she jerked her head away from his gaze. He would have to keep an eye on her. She had an intense fire in her that wouldn't smolder easily.

"Go," he commanded, staying at the rear of them after quickly checking to make sure there was no one else in the tent. The small procession of four females and five children wound their way slowly toward their destination. Tane glanced over his shoulder once in awhile and saw that Skit was still following him, though a little further behind. Should he call Skit to him and mount? But then, they were almost at the guards. Sheathing his sword, Tane looked over his shoulder again and frowned at Skit, who had decided to stop and look at the village behind them where a scream had emitted from. He turned back just in time to see Kite poised with a dagger aimed at his chest. The only problem for the hillchild was that the she had an arrow in her chest.

The mother had turned around in time to see the girl fall and yelled, "Kite! No!", but the warrior child had already died.

Looking around quickly he saw Alearindu a bit off, with her bow still in firing position.

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Old 06-15-2004, 09:23 AM   #146
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Borgand watched as the rubble and mess was slowly extinguished and the clean up began. Fueled by anger, he had driven the surviving men of the settlement hard this morning. Maybe a bit too hard, he suddenly realised, watching the men stuggle with the roof they had just erected the day before. His anger gave way to despair, briefly. All these people, relying on him, and he had failed.

The ex-soldier clamped down his self-pity firmly, there would be time for mulling over his failings later. Borgand was a firm believer in work as the antidote to sorrow, and only wished his body would allow him to throw himself into the clean up physically as well as mentally. He had hauled water with the rest of them earlier, but could not do the heavy lifting required now.

Turning his back on the rubble, he slowly hobbled to the makeshift camp kitchen where the younger boys and walking wounded he had put in charge of making sure there was food while the women were away had already nearly finished preparing the noon meal. A message had been sent after the women, telling them they could return in a few days when the clean up was mostly complete and the problem of the hillmen would, hopefully, have been dealt with. In the meantime, it would be military camp conditions. He spoke his encouragement to the men there. None liked this duty, women's work, but he reminded them that each had comported himself bravely and that they were doing vital work even now.

He sent one of the youngest boys to run the village and announce time for a meal and a rest. Even fueled by their anger and hurt, the men would have to take a break soon. Borgand had no use for a soldier who drove himself blindly to exhaustion.

Sighing, he took a bowl of stew for himself and decided to walk the perimeter of the settlement once again. Despite his feelings about exhaustion in his men, he could not, himself, rest. Paranoia and a nagging sense of loss kept him from sitting still while the hillmen were still out there, free. For the hundredth time he wondered how things fared with Tane and the rangers and stifled his eager hope for their destruction. It was an unworthy thought, and he knew it. Hiding behind this idea of a trial lurked his darker need for revenge. A part of Borgand hoped he would not be in control of it by the time the rangers returned. The dominant part, however, knew that he would be haunted by his actions if he acted rashly. Maybe the missing leg was a good thing after all, he mused angrily, forcing him to come to grips with his fury before the next confrontation.

Borgand paced the camp, eyes and ears wide open. When he reached the southeast border he stopped. Something was on the horizon, and coming toward them slowly. He squinted at the figures, trying to quell the instant feelings of panic that arose in his throat. He could hear them but they seemed to be too far away for that...but...no..they were closer than he had thought, but shorter than he had expected. The dwarves! A sigh of relief escaped him and he was glad there was no one around to hear it. These were not enemies, but his own contracted workers returning. He glanced over his shoulder at the mess that was his village, wondering what the dwarves would have to say about the battle.

Standing tall and squaring his shoulders he called a greeting and waved. Maybe, with the right explanation, they would be willing to join his revenge. He knew, at least, that he could not allow them to get in his way.

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Old 06-17-2004, 03:43 PM   #147
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Belin's post

Cleft was still sunk deeply in the semiconscious, meditative state in which he spied upon the gods. In this state, oblivious to ordinary sight and sound, he had been searching for some omen, any omen of hope for long fight ahead. He wanted to know that the feeling that had awoken within him at the news of the successful battle was a justified one, and so he was searching, not for promises, but for hope. All was yet confused and uncertain when the smell of the horses, strange and distinctive even through the cloud of smoke from herbs he burned to ward off that particular sensory weakness, roused him from his meditation. So strong was the other world’s hold on him that he wondered for a moment what such a smell could mean, before he remembered that smells did not exist here, and with that thought the smell was broken and the old man was slowly and carefully stumbling to his feet. Now he could hear the horses’ hooves, and, gradually, as he sometimes heard thunder, the sounds of calm foreign voices and panicky familiar ones.

Cleft stumbled to the door of his hut and peered out, careful to keep his body hidden in the shadows. The scene that met his eyes was one of chaos. All the members of the village—men, women, and children—were milling about in total confusion, some of them striking against the strangers whose experience and superior numbers made short work of their attacks by means of captivity or death. Others were either fleeing the village or being dragged from huts to which they had apparently retreated in order to hide, and several, to Cleft’s surprise and reflexive shame, had willingly surrendered. At the moment they were too preoccupied to notice him or his unobtrusive hut, but it was only a matter of time, and the confusion was already dying down as their strength and their intentions became clear. They were evacuating the village.

The choices of an old man were few. Cleft had no desire to die valiantly in battle; he was a priest, not a warrior, and death seemed a singularly pointless outcome at the moment. An old man’s broken body added to the growing number of them would benefit neither the living nor the dead. Running away on his stiff, skinny old legs was absolutely out of the question. He could be captured, then, either hiding in his hut or out among his people. Cleft cast an eye upon the instruments of his trade, most of which he had crafted himself. Should he not spend his last free moments as near them as he could?

A proud, strong voice rang out: “You have already killed us!”

Turning his head for the source of the voice, Cleft saw first the pale face of his sister, Crescent. Unthinking, he moved toward her—though two of her children were standing near her, she looked so alone and so in need of comfort—even before his gaze followed hers and he saw Kite fall.

He froze for a moment, stunned, and then with his healer’s instinct, Cleft strode unhesitatingly to Crescent’s side and took her hand. She gasped at the touch of another human, and stood still. He could do little for her or for the others until the soldiers had finished, but Cleft had found his place and made his decision. He would be captured here. His place was here, in his village... with his family.

~*~
Kryssal's post

The fighting had died down and the only life in the hillmen's village were the Rangers that Tane had sent through. They were to meticulously search all the tents and buildings for any last hillman.

Tane glanced over at Alearindu. She was still astride her horse, but she started blankley at the captives. She hadn't realized that Tane's attacker had been a young girl. "I just turned and saw - I didn't mean for - Tane, I'm sorry! I disobeyed and kill... killed... the..." Tane had tried to reassure her that he didn't blame her for anything, in fact he thanked her for helping him (trying to help her work through her clashing emotions). He knew that right now she needed to settle with herself and so had asked her to simply watch the captives with the other guards. She had been motionless since.

Hothem came over to him, one arm badly slashed. "They're not going to find anyone in there. If they didn't come out to fight they're not there," he said looking at the desolate village and slowly shaking his head. "Are you sure you want to take them all back to the settlement?"

"What else can we do?" Tane sighed and looked at Hothem, his eyes asking for an answer. If the hillmen were left another fight would erupt with more casualties on both sides. Tane would have to pull in all his Rangers for constant watch if they took the captives to the ranger camp. If they were in the settlement there were men to guard and tents large enough to house them until some kind of agreement was reached. What that agreement was, Tane didn't know, though he assumed it would end with the hillmen being pushed from the land. He just hoped that they would stay away and avoid further conflict. But where would, or could they go?

Tane came back to his senses when Hothem grunted in sadness. Two men were just arriving at the spot all the dead were being placed, carrying a large body in between them. All three were Rangers.

"It's Thoronmir...." Awyrgan spoke from behind the dead body, having just placed down the dead Ranger.

Tane's jaw clenched and his hands unvoluntarily formed into fists.I shouldn't have let them come! Tane was furious with himself. Awyrgan had gone on to explain how Thoronmir had fallen, saving a settler fighter beset by two hillmen, but Tane couldn't hear it above the rush in his head.

He had failed as a leader. The hillmen had attacked and killed the people he was supposed to be protecting, and in response he brought out his own men to die and kill....

Looking away from the dead bodies of the hillmen, which were far too many, that mingled with a few dead Rangers and settlers, Tane tried to gather himself. The sudden loss of control, Tane felt everything was cracking around him. Nothing he did came out as it should.

And what about the captives...? Should I take them to the settlers that are still hot with anger and blood?

Slowly, Tane shook his head, bringing a hand up to rub his eyes.

Hothem was looking edgily at Tane. He could see a struggle going on and didn't want to inturrupt. So when Tane suddenly turned and grabbed his good arm he started a bit.

"Get some men and get some of those tents. We're taking the dead back to the settlement for burial. All of them." Hothem knew how to make large temporary stretchers that could be pulled by horses and set off at once to find a few settlers to help.

Awyrgan had moved off to where the captives were, but Tane didn't follow. Instead he turned to where a small group of settlers had sat down to rest. Normally Tane would have asked for volunteers, but the orders came out before he thought about it. "You and you, go through the captives and bind any wounds you find, warrior, woman, or child. You two do the same for the Rangers and your fellows," Tane turned to the last five, who looked back slightly apprehensively. "Go through the settlement and gather enough for a small meal and distribute it to the hillmen first, then to the rest." Tane finished and stayed just long enough to see them move to start their respective jobs. They didn't look happy at serving to the hillmen, but Tane wasn't going to let anyone die on him from neglect, and besides, the settlers and Rangers should have brought some rations and binding kits with them in their tether bags.

~*~

It was late in the morning when Tane was satisfied that they could leave. He was still wound up and didn't talk to anyone on the uneventful ride back to the settlement, though he did acknowledge Alearindu and Hothem as they camp up to ride next to him.

The procession was much slower than it had been during the night, being so burdened by the captives and even more so by the dead, but they made steady progress and just after noon Tane found himself coming on the settlement.

There was a dark feeling about the land and a rancid smell of death mingled with cold ash. It stung Tane's nostrils and made Skit shake her head in disgust.

The settlement was very active, but cleaning and burial weren't the only things going on. Some carts that weren't there before now littered a few of the streets. So the Dwarves had come back to find a ruined town they had hoped to build upon. One could look at it as starting with an almost clean slate, but Tane knew that was stretching too far.

It wasn't long before the settlers noticed the slow moving procession and went to get Borgand. Tane didn't know what was going to happen once the settlers and hillmen were faced with one another.

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Old 06-20-2004, 12:58 AM   #148
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Hillmen - Bear

Though the darkness was slowly lifting from the land, darkness was slowly descending upon Bear’s sight as he stumbled homewards. Every step he took seemed a trial. Voices spun around his head, some willing him to go on, and some laughing at him as he dragged himself along. He waved a hand in front of him, as if to ward off some unseen blow and suddenly stopped.

Standing up straight, he felt the wind caress his brow, playing with his shaggy, sodden locks and whistling through his beard. Like a beast he sniffed at the breeze, willing it to give him solace. And suddenly it seemed to Bear that the shadows receded; he could now see around him quite clearly and his head, though thumping, felt a little clearer. Shaking his head, he trudged on, slightly faster, using the occasional tree as a prop.

Ever since he had ripped his mail vest off, a throbbing, severe, yet dull pain in his back had plagued his movements. If he had been able to notice, Bear would have found the blue-fletched arrow that was imbedded just below his shoulder plate; he would have felt the blood as it began to dry, he would have noticed just what peril his body was currently in. As it was, Bear was completely oblivious to this fact. Even at the time, he had been, due to weariness and anger, oblivious to the many arrows as they peppered the water around his almost-submerged form. One thought continued to reverberate through his mind: “I must get back home…”

Bear’s feelings told him that he was nearing the village – a last effort was needed, just one, and he’d be home. Like a whipped horse, he grudgingly quickened his pace.

Suddenly, there it was. The village seemed to shimmer for a moment as Bear scanned the familiar structures. Without thinking, he found that his legs had broken him into a loping run. A thought eased itself gently, yet strongly into Bear’s mind; where were the sentries?

Seldom was anyone allowed to approach the village in such a manner, sentries should have questioned him by now. It was this rather than anything else that made Bear suspect that anything was wrong. Every hut was empty; every fire had been kicked out…fires that were never let to go out…

Here and there, were patches of darker earth, stained deep red. By smell, the blood was not animal. Bear wandered around aimlessly for a few minutes, his disbelieving mind rolling around in the fetal position of denial. Though all the while, Bear’s eyes and his nose were constantly scanning the area for further clues. Boot-prints, hoof-prints, broken arrows – it was apparent immediately what had happened. The large rut made by something huge being dragged, was not even needed to make up his mind, nor was the direction in which it was being dragged. All hurts and weariness forgotten, Bear plunged off, like a wolf, in the same direction as the raiders.

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Old 06-24-2004, 01:41 PM   #149
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Silmaril Barzûn decides...

Barzûn watched as the soldiers stumped into the town. Men tended to the wounded while the Dwarves attempted to clean up. The progress was slow, however. The attacking Hillmen had ruined much of the work Barzûn and the other Dwarves had accomplished before the battle. As he pushed debris away to make room for his cart, Barzûn eyed the etchings on the carved stones. For some reason, he had felt a part of his heart sink a bit lower when the Dwarves had returned to the camp and learned of the attack.

“Sir,” a young Dwarf said, panting, “The Northern Quarter is about cleared. We salvaged what stone we could, but most of it is unusable. What should we do with what we have?”

“Pile it over there,” Barzûn said. “And was there anything left standing?”

“Parts of foundations,” the young Dwarf said, looking back at the Northern Quarter, trying not to meet Barzûn’s eye. “But those will probably have to be knocked down anyway. There are large chunks taken out of them.”

Barzûn sighed. “All right. Do what you can.” The young Dwarf trotted away to his Quarter and Barzûn turned back to the rubble that he was hauling. Men continued to trickle slowly into the settlement, some more injured and some less. Other men quickly tended to their injuries, but the Dwarves pushed on with their cleaning up of the city. The beings worked as a unit, trying to efficiently make up as much lost time as they could. However, now that they lost so much workable stone, it was impossible to predict how much time it would actually take to build the city. They would certainly need more stone. The old settlement was too far away to try to cart new stone every time they needed to resupply. If only they had an area more closely situated to the camp. Barzûn squinted up into the sun and looked around. He did not know of any easily obtained stone, though. Perhaps the Hillmen could help them—but no, after this battle, the Hillmen would be in no mood to help either the Men or the Dwarves. Barzûn wondered how much damage the Hillmen had taken. He assumed that the Men had won the battle, as so many were still alive, but he did not know whether they had annihilated the Hillmen or not. For all Barzûn knew, all of the Hillmen could be dead.

“Well, at least we could have the rock from their settlement then,” Barzûn grumbled out loud, tossing a stone aside to reveal a partially smashed foundation. He swore and kicked the destroyed structure, knocking it down completely. Every now and again a Dwarf would approach cautiously, telling Barzûn of a different failure in salvaging the beginnings of the construction.

Finally, Barzûn told the Dwarf Olin to spread the word that the Dwarves were to take a break for about an hour. Barzûn sat on a pile of rubble and took out his pipe. As he exhaled a trail of smoke, Barzûn took the slabs of stone with the engravings and looked at them again. He pondered whether to tell the Men of his findings or not. Finally, stepping out of the small cloud of smoke a few minutes later, Barzûn set off to find one of the Men in charge. He would not just tell any man. The Dwarf set off, wandering through the streets to find one of the few Men he knew in camp.
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Old 06-29-2004, 11:32 AM   #150
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BELIN'S POST

Wolf scanned the horizon anxiously for signs of his messenger. The dim light revealed nothing, but he continued on in the direction that Fletch ought to be coming from. He was surprised not to have seen him already. The distance between the villages was not this great, not even for a weakling like Fletch. Wolf sighed. He should have known better than to send that fool off on such an important errand, but he did seem to know the land so well, and in any case, what use would he have been in a battle?

He certainly hadn’t been much use so far. Couldn’t he even cover this short distance unaided?

Wolf had always thought that Fletch, despite his gripes and his physical weakness, was at least a courageous man, but it was beginning to occur to him that the errant messenger had taken some of Knife’s less fortunate words to heart and simply decided to stay in the neighboring village where, for now, it was safer. Wolf had even begun to generously bestow a stream of uncomplimentary adjectives on the absent Fletch when he noticed the small, mobile figure of a man in the distance. He rushed toward him.

It was only after he had begun trying to devise the proper words to say to him without knowing, yet, whether the mission had been a success when he realized that this was not Fletch, that this was no any man belonging to his own village. He must be one of Rook’s people. Wolf stopped, eyeing him cautiously. The man had seen him.

For a long moment they simply stared at each other. There were protocols for encounters with Hillmen of other villages, but each knew that the circumstances were no ordinary ones, and each harbored certain new suspicions of the other. The stranger was the first to break the silence. “Good hunting, friend,” he called, his tone anything but friendly.

Wolf laughed grimly at the mundane greeting. “Today I hunt for one of my own. Have you seen a puling, useless little messenger? I had hoped he would return with news, or at least in one piece.” The last sentence held the shadow of a threat, and the stranger knew it. He shrugged carelessly.

“Then I suppose your name is Wolf? I’ve seen your messenger. I must say, I do agree with you; I didn’t take kindly to the way he left. No compliments, no gifts. Then again, he was encouraged to take his leave rather quickly.”

Wolf said nothing. He understood quite clearly that the man was trying to taunt him, but he could not stop the anger from building, palpably, in his body.

The stranger must have seen it, because he grinned slightly and, with a slight gesture of satisfaction, he continued. “Does he leave you this way? He gave us no reason to think we would receive what we had asked, no reason, in truth, to believe that he would even carry our message properly, putting our requests in the most acceptable light. Truly one would think they had offended him, modest as they were for the price that we were asked.” That grin again. Wolf’s eyes narrowed. “I had more to say to him, and I wished to say it in the open. But our business is finished now.”

“Finished?” croaked Wolf.

“I wanted assurance of the weregild and the women. He took offense. He is, as you say, a puling, useless little messenger.”

“Ah,” said Wolf, quietly, “but Rook employs foolish, impudent messengers who do not understand that one cannot demand a price for saving one’s own life, and especially not such a price as this.”

But the other did not hear him. Wolf’s spear was too deeply embedded in his throat.

*~* ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~* ~*~*~*~*~*~

Wolf was on his way home when he heard the steady, rhythmic clashes that floated over the hills. It took a moment to register as a variant of a sound he’d heard before; the sound of swords beating against shields, but with more obvious purpose than the haphazard clangs of battle. A sound no Hillman ever made. They did not use shields, preferring the use of both hands and relying on their strength and their reflexes, as well as the inexperience of their usual foes, to protect them from injury; shields were the provenance of professional soldiers. Of the Rangers.

But it was far too close to the village to be the Rangers, thought Wolf as he loped homeward, and he saw no reason why they would do any such thing. All thoughts of Fletch were abandoned as possibilities flashed through Wolf’s mind. Perhaps it was some kind of ceremony. Perhaps they did this merely to amuse themselves, though why they were amusing themselves so far from their settlement, and so soon after the attack, was far beyond his mind to fathom. Still, all their actions were inexplicable, he reminded himself, so this could well be too. It didn’t have to be an attack.

It didn’t have to be an attack.

It didn’t have to be…

But as he reached the crest of the hill, Wolf could see that there were indeed Rangers beating their shields with their swords, apparently in order to frighten the members of his village back into the long line that they were leading away, back toward the settlement.

He stood still, paralyzed. After all that he had done, he had imagined a bloody battle in which most would die. He had imagined that he would be able to protect at least a few. He had thought that he and Bear and a finally reformed Knife would die side by side, giving a few of their people… maybe Kestrel… the opportunity to escape. Maybe those few could have found a new life somewhere else, started a new village, told the tales of this battle to their children for years to come, with tears in their eyes and a note in their voice that hinted at their pride and their sorrow. Surely they would have been clever enough to avoid the eyes of Rook and those like him, and surely the Rangers would find nothing more worth fighting them for. His fear as he left had been precisely this, an attack he could not help to protect them from.

But he never could have predicted this exile. Where under the sky were his determined warriors? And where, in the name of his own endless foolishness, was Bear?

He wondered what the Rangers intended to do with his people once they had arrived wherever it was they were taking them, and his stomach twisted suddenly with a sickening fear. As he ran down the hill, to follow them as stealthily as he could, only one thought was in his mind. Please, if the gods are with me… please let me still be able to help them.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~ *~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*


Wolf had a moment to think over his actions as he stood, hidden and breathless, behind the sheltering wall of a house near the center of the settlement. He had attempted to be careful, but in his dazed state he was sure he could not have done well, and he wondered how they could possibly have been so careless as not to have seen him. He had followed them all the way across the hills, his apprehension growing with the certainty that the Rangers intended to bring their captives back to the settlement. He did not know what he would do when he arrived, but he could do nothing now, and there was none to help him. But he did not worry. His mind was a blank and his body merely followed what it knew: that he had to protect these people, somehow. Somehow. He couldn’t lose them.

He supposed he must have hidden and waited for the inevitable commotion surrounding the arrival of the Rangers to die down before entering the city, but he could not remember at all clearly. He only remembered how quiet the city had been as he skulked along under the overhangs and in the shadows when he could almost as easily have sauntered down the middle of those strange, wide streets. He remembered how he had chosen to hide behind a house that faced the square, where he could hear the voices of a gathering crowd. Nobody was out in the city. They were all here, assembled without him to decide the fate of his people.

The initial shock had never left him, and so he never noticed the rage he ought to have felt, any more than the alarm that would have been appropriate earlier. He was simply waiting and listening. Waiting and listening.

Let them think and speak for now; Wolf intended to act.

__________________________________________________ ______________

THEXPHIAL'S POST


Borgand stood before the assembled men and pondered what to do with the mess that lay before him. He was atop what remained of the stone steps to the community hall looking into the cleared square, now teeming with people. In the middle stood the captured hillmen, men women and children. He saw among them some of the soldiers who had looted and burned his new home and the intense spark of hatred that boiled within him at the sight was quelled only by the fact that they stood there surrounded by their wives, children and parents. It was hard to hate a man standing with his family. The children, especially, were heartbreaking. Small and dark like their parents, he could see that hunger had carved their faces and bodies. Even the youngest lacked the excess fat he had seen in his own child, and he wondered how often they actually got to eat their fill.

Surrounding the prisoners were the rangers. These men..and woman...were guarding the hillmen, but Borgand wasn't sure if they were guarding them from running or from being lynched by the men of the settlement. Outside the ring of rangers stood Borgand's own people, tired, angry, and mourning the ruin of their hope. The muttering hadn't ceased, and more than one looked to him hoping their hot fury would be met with vengeance at his hands. Standing apart from the rest were the dwarves, trying their best to look uninterested but clearly waiting, as the others were, for his judgement.

The hillmen didn't seem to expect mercy from him. They were a realistic lot, and even the children looked at him with resigned, despising eyes. The only person who seemed to be regarding him with some measure of hope was the woman Kestrel. She had arrived before the others, surrendering herself and her children to him of her own will. He had spoken to her briefly, and come away with the impression that she would do anything to save her children, a trait he admired. The fact remained, however, than anything could also include selling out the settlement to the hillmen in exchange for the lives of her family. He hadn't decided what to do with her when the rangers returned with the others. She stood next to the hillmen now, but wasn't part of their group. They seemed not to know what to make of her sudden appearance.

Borgand cleared his throat.

"Last night was a night of bloodshed and fire. This settlement lost much in lives and in work. Our enemies also lost much. Those who stand before us here today are all that remain of our attackers"

The answering angry shouts were cut short by a hand movement from the grim-looking leader of the settlement. He continued.

"I want to hear, and I want these people to hear, from those who lost a family member to this attack. If your son or brother was lost last night, come forward and be heard. Let's know exactly why we are here."

One by one, men came forward and told of their lost sons and brothers. One young man, barely 12, spoke of his father who had died in one of the fires. Borgand listened to each and watched the hillmen as the tales were told. The eyes of many were glazed in a sort of defiant inattention, but others were listening. One woman had tears on her cheeks, perhaps thinking of her own son or husband now dead in the senseless battle. The woman Kestrel was clutching her children to her ever more tightly.

Borgand needed to hear these stories. Ever since his interaction with Kestrel, he had been struggling with his heart, and he hoped that hearing about the dead would steel him for action against his enemies. His eyes, however, kept returning to the crying woman and against his will he remembered his earlier interaction with the leader of the dwarves.

~~~~~~~~~

Barzûn had come to him carrying a pair of carvings in stone. He had shoved the stones into Borgand's hands and gruffly muttered, "Look here, human."

Borgand had puzzled over the stones a bit before looking at Barzûn blankly.

"I see carvings. What does it mean?"

The dwarf had sighed and rolled his eyes.

"Look you, this was done by your ancestors." He indicated the smoother and larger carving. "This other one was done by someone since then, and as far as I know, it's just been those hillmen living here."

Borgand had looked at the crude cuttings, how they obviously mimicked the older art and when he raised his eyes to question the dwarf again, he found that Barzûn had already left, allowing him time to drawn his own conclusions.

~~~~~~~~~

The last of the men finished his story and stepped back into the crowd, but Borgand felt no more decided than he had before the tales. He sighed to himself. Originally, he had planned to order these people off the land, but he knew now that this would be a death sentence. They had been living in these woods, had made their own mark on the land. He thought about the carvings and shook his head to clear it. Finally, he spoke.

"My friends. Your words have moved me, and it is not in a way that I expected. You all loved your lost relatives. I, too, have lost much. The answer is not in vengeance, however." He waited for the murmer to die down and turned to the hillmen.

"It's been brought to my attention that we are not so different. It's possible that we can live in peace, together on this land. But a betrayal like last night cannot be lightly set aside. I will give you a choice. Those who wish to may live with us here, in the settlement. As for the rest, you must agree never to attack us again, or you will be driven mercilessly from these hills. The choice is yours."

Borgand closed his eyes as settler and hillman alike erupted into vocal protests. No one was happy...this must be the right decision, at last.

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Old 06-29-2004, 12:56 PM   #151
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Olin watched with heavy eyelids as his master wandered off down the road, obviously preoccupied with the carvings he carried. The dwarf sighed -- ah, to be able to meander at will; without schedules and deadlines and... orders. But it was not his job to wonder and dream, he had a job to do, and one that would finally be enjoyable.

"Break in one hour," Olin called out to the other dwarves, who cheered and then went back to work with newfound energy. They were all tired, as was he; the group had been working with broken stone for days. But, the dwarf decided (before dumping his armload of wood at a nearby stack), "Productive is good, and exciting is better. But at least I've been doing something productive."
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Old 06-29-2004, 04:29 PM   #152
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Bear - Hillmen

Thorns and branches whipped evilly at his legs, taking delight in the dark blood as it seeped down. Heedless, Bear ran on. Through glade and fen, tussock and moor, Bear ran on, tireless steadfast and sure-footed. Light he would have felt, if his anguish filled mind had allowed him to. His mail lay rusting at the bottom of the lake; his shield lay forlorn and ill treated, stamped into the mud of the settlement. Sweat mingled with water beaded on the blade and caused the axe in his right hand to glisten and dance through the air – a blood-filled night had conceived a bright, new day.

Leaping like a stag, Bear cleared a small brook and went crashing into the young trees on the opposite side. The wounds on his shins now wept freely, the blood mingling with that already contained in his sodden lashings. Like a crazed and angered beast, would Bear appear to any who chanced to see him. The forest behind him was left in a stammer-like shock-silence. Not even the gods could stop him.

Suddenly no trees barred Bear’s way. There stood the settlement. It glared at him like a cancerous growth upon the landscape. Its tall wooden walls seemed like a shell around a rotting carcass and a grey smoke still wound itself up to the heavens from within. Without hesitation, Bear shot forth through the cleared ground between the forest and the walls like a shaft loosed from a bow. Bellowing like a war horn came Bear of the Hillmen.

The first of the arrows sped past him thigh and lodged itself up to the fletching in the soft soil. Others sped into the ground around Bear. None met their mark. Not even the gods could stop him now.

Another arrow screamed death as it fled past Bear’s ear. Some instinct caused him to raise his left arm; his shield arm and immediately a burning pain filled his being. An arrow had pierced the sinuous flesh in his forearm, slicing tendon and chipping bone. The arrow-tip came well through Bear’s lower arm. On ran Bear of the Hillmen.

His bellow was cut short by another feather-clad woe-bringer, this time lodging its terrible form in his now exposed, lower abdomen. Two more thudded into Bear’s torso, yet still he ran on. It appeared to bear that all went grey and misty, except for the now fast-receding wall in front of him. Like walls of an icy tunnel, the peripheries of Bear’s vision melted into darkness. An arrow sped straight through Bear’s breast and went cartwheeling away into the void behind him.

The great man’s breathing became scant and irregular, the whole in his left lung depriving him of oxygen. Plummeting forwards into the soft ground, Bear’s mind slowly ticked over. Grasping with his fingernails, he pulled himself forwards – inch-by-inch he crept towards the wall, leaving a trail of his dark-red life behind him like some gruesome snail. Slowly the life drained from his defeated form like water through cupped hands. Inch-by-inch, Bear became limp, his lifeless hand still clutching the ground. The sweet wind whistled through his unhearing ears. Not even the gods…

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Old 06-30-2004, 09:32 AM   #153
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Kestrel had come away from Borgand with an impression of weariness, not too unlike Wolf, she thought. Here was a man who was doing his best for his people and she could understand that. The weight on Borgand's shoulders was no less than the weight on those of Wolf. Perhaps she despised them less, now. Perhaps she did not. But it remained that she had come to them first, and when the other hillmen realized this, she would never be welcome among them again. She had burned her bridges behind her.

As Borgand finished his speech, she began to step forward, intending to declare that she would live with the settlers. There was resignation on her face, as well as hope of sorts. She did not expect the Dunedain to accept her easily, especially not after hearing about all those they had lost as well.

She shivered a little, took a deep breath, and began to speak, pitching her voice to be heard over the angry shouts of both groups. "I and my children will stand with the Men of the West," she shouted. "I will raise Flint and Rain side by side with their children. They will play together and they will grow together. Let us fight no more."

Someone among the crowd of Hillmen hissed, "Traitor!" Kestrel did her best to ignore it, but she couldn't help feeling that he was right--whoever he was. Wolf would have thought the same, she was sure. But she had spoken, and the words could not be taken back, so she limped, head high and children clasped with each hand, to the side of Borgand. A single tear slid from her good eye. She refused to wipe it away.
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Old 06-30-2004, 09:00 PM   #154
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Eye Last post for Thoronmir (I'm not dead...)

Thronmir woke up and looked into the faces of several rangers. He gave a low groan as he tried to sit up. The rangers all looked at him in amazement.

"It can't be!"

"But you're dead!"

Thoronmir had sustained some heavy injuries and had been knocked unconscious, almost dead. But he was of a breed that did not so easily give in to death.

"I'm... sorry to... disappoint you," Thoronmir said, his strength just beginning to return. "But you cannot get rid of me that easily." He smiled, and they smiled back. Awyrgan put Thoronmir on the latter's own horse, and together they all returned to the settlement.

Later, when Thoronmir had fully recovered, he had come to a decision about what he was going to do from now on.

"Awyrgan," he said. "I must leave you and the rest of the rangers now."

"But why?" Awyrgan asked.

"All of my friends are dead now," the older man replied. "I am the only one in my generation left. I have seen more death and spilled more blood than you know. I do not want to keep living like this."

"Well, I'll certainly miss you around here, that's for sure," Awyrgan said. "Who could ever take your place?"

"You could, and I'm sure you will," Thoronmir told him. "I shall take only my weapons and my horse. The rest I leave to you. Take care."

"You too."

Thoronmir saddled his horse, took up his gear, and rode off into the sunset.
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Old 07-01-2004, 09:14 AM   #155
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Tane had breathed a sigh of relief when Borgand had the settlers tell their stories and not get their bloody revenge on the only too vulnerable hillmen. After a time Alearindu came up to him. Several moments passed as they listened to the stories before she touched his arm, making him acknowledge her.

She spoke very quietly, "I....I shouldn't have gone.... How will they ever join when I've killed a child?" Borgand had just offered to let the hillmen live with them.

Tane glanced around at all those that were gathered. "Those who will join, will join. Those who won't....nothing would have changed their minds regardless. Many have died on both sides and one that happened during battle won't change the outcome at this point. You saved me, please do not punish yourself."

Alearindu was staring intently at Tane because he had touched on the subject she had really come over to talk about, but he had turned and was watching the proceedings once again. A woman with two children had just stepped forward to state she would stay with the settlers and Tane smiled. At least one small family would be spared.

There was running coming from behind Tane and he turned to see a Ranger hurtling toward him. "Tane!" he gasped as he came to a sudden stop. "A disturbance, on the perimeter-"

Tane grabbed his arm and turned him about. No one had specifically noticed the running man as they had all erupted in shouts again, but Tane didn't want them to notice anything going on besides the decision at hand. "Show me," he spoke as they started out; he set a brisk pace just below a small jog. Alearindu had fallen into step behind them, but Tane didn't turn to speak to her; she could do as she pleased. A disturbance could be anything, but with things so emotional at the gathering he didn't want whatever it was to tip any decisions that would be made.

As he neared the edge he saw another Ranger and two settlers looking down at a body. Away from the prying eyes of the gathering Tane set into a run to get through the last little spot of distance.

"What happened!" Tane's voice was harsher than he meant it to be, but the dead man was a hillmen and if anyone else found out what happened, hell could brake loose.

The Ranger that had been standing with the two settlers started talking. He had been one of those too injured to go to the hillmen's camp with one arm bound up tightly to his side. "He was charging. Saw he was a hillmen straight off and tried to call to him to surrender. It was as if he couldn't even hear us. He didn't even look to see where our voices came from. He was almost on top of us when we finally fired. Tane, he wouldn't have stopped for anything. He would have attacked anyone he came across."

The Ranger, while keeping a professional manner about him, seemed desperate to be understood. He knew what was going on in the settlement right now and the dangers in killing a hillmen after the rest of his clan were captured.

Tane sighed. "You did what was neccessary. Him running into the meeting would have caused other hillmen warriors to come to his aid and the mass bloodshed that would have come about would have been endlessly worse."

There was a pause as Tane tried to decide what action to take. If he delivered the dead man to his people, they might get a surge of bloodlust over his body, but leaving him here wasn't a very good option either.

"The bodies we brought from the settlement are still gathered near the edge of town, by the road," Alearindu spoke up, seemingly her mind was going on the same trail as Tane's. "If we brought him around the back and you spoke to those still there, though I don't think many will actually be at the stretchers..."

Tane nodded and smiled at Alearindu for her solution. The hillman's body would be discovered with the other dead and if anyone noticed that he had not been there before (even though the captured hillmen had not been near the stretchers), they would be told his dead body was found. Which was close enough to the truth to be kept easily. He just didn't want this to upset things further.

Grunting he picked up the torso of the man while the two settlers got the legs and they started their ungainly walk with the Rangers as guiders and lookouts for the tiny procession.
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Old 07-02-2004, 02:12 AM   #156
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Cleft

The first, hissed response to Kestrel’s speech was not the only one. A slow, angry murmur ran along the edge of the crowd, but stopped as Cleft, unexpectedly, stepped over to her side and gestured for silence.

“Why did we come here?” he asked them. There was nothing but silence from the crowd. Even the few rangers who were still standing there did not venture to interrupt him. He continued. “If we wished for death, we could have found it in our own village, instead of coming here as captives. We can still die if we desire to do so. I do not blame anyone who does. But I am old. My life, I think, is worth little of itself, but if I throw it away, who will remind us who we are when the foreign people have overrun us?” Cleft did not notice the disgruntlement of the Gondorians at his words, or Borgand’s gesture that stopped them from acting upon it. He was still speaking. “I have worked for all of you, all these years of life. I cannot choose death now. I will acknowledge these my kinsmen.”

He nodded his head toward Borgand, the gesture that, to the Hillmen, indicated recognition of another village’s chief. Such a nod suggested respect and at least temporary validity of any deals made. It was not a gesture of deference, and Cleft noted with amusement the surprise on the faces of the southerners as the previously grim and taciturn Hillmen began to converse animatedly among themselves. Surely they do not imagine that we are like this every day!
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Old 07-03-2004, 05:55 AM   #157
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Wolf

Wolf was prepared to leap into the fray that he had expected the Hillmen to start, causing as much confusion as possible by rushing in where nobody expected him and helping to rescue as many as he could before he (and most of the others, no doubt) was cut down. All the work he'd done in the past had been focused on the art of surviving, of escaping the death that was always hovering around them, but suddenly the death that was offered to him now seemed almost appealing. To give some of his people, few as they may have been, an opportunity to continue the village by arriving as thunderstorms arrived, sudden and life-giving and unexpected, preventing a greater death. Truly, this was a death for a wolf.

But he did not realize he was thinking such thoughts until they had died. Kestrel had killed them, and Cleft, and whoever it was among the murmurers that was so loudly praising the priest's gifts as an orator.

Wolf thought he had been numb before, but he could no longer feel even his own heartbeat. They were lost to him. Their words were those of enemies. They had abandoned themselves, their village. They had abandoned him. Wolf could hear murmurs of agreement and indecision, much more so, it seemed to his jealous ears, than of dissent. Were these truly his people?

They were lost to him, they could not be rescued, they had refused rescue. They had chosen to be prisoners. Wolf was too late. He had always been too late.

And so he went stumbling backwards for several steps before he turned, running from the settlement with his vision strangely blurred. He did not know where he was going, but the settlement was no longer any place in which he could consent to die. There was no victory to be found there.

He was outside of it now, still stumbling gracelessly over rocks and tufts of grass, and then over something that made him stop and stare. Bear. Wolf's brother lay dead on the ground, arranged in a straight line and appearing far more composed than he ever had in life. Wolf stared at him in blank incomprehension. Here was a real death, after all these others. After the first moment of shock, Wolf knew exactly what had happened. His brother had not known of the change in the villagers... or else he had fought it.

"Fool," thought Wolf, automatically, but suddenly he checked himself. Perhaps it was indeed foolish to attack hopelessly, only for the sake of people who could not be saved. But at least Bear had understood that there was no wise or prudent response to these events. For Wolf the strategist, such a realization was actually painful, and had not brought such an obvious answer. Could he not have prevented this weakness of his people? Had he somehow failed them, just as they had failed him? He stared around blankly, but the hills could not answer such questions. The hills were all that was left to him now, those hills whose own freedom would probably be short-lived.

Cleft had explained to him long ago why bits of hair, lost fingers, even severed limbs in the rare event that any existed were often carried quickly to the grove across the hills. For reasons Wolf could not remember, the grove was a special place, and blood left there nourished the gods, makng them stronger, making everyone stronger. It was to these woods that Wolf fled now, and it was one of those trees, a large, spreading oak whose shade he had always admired, against which he rested his back to stare at the quiet trees around him. His failure to derive much pleasure from this did not surprise him, but it did strengthen his resolve. He raised his spear and drove it through his body until he heard it hit the wood behind him. As his blood seeped into the tree, he was incongrously glad that the spear kept him from falling to the ground.

Through the pain and the impending darkness, Wolf saw, quite clearly, a vision of a bird of prey flashing golden against the sky, and he was filled with a certain vague wonder, though he did not remember why. Not enough time to understand. But what does it mean? he thought quietly, the moment before he died.
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Old 07-03-2004, 04:11 PM   #158
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Tane and Alearindu returned to the main gathering to find discussion still rampant, but not in the direction that Tane had thought. It seemed that many of the hillmen were starting to join the settlers. One had just stepped up to join the ten or so that were already by Borgand. Several in the captured hillmen group cried out "Knife!" and two more immediately went to join.

Looking at the faces of the others, there were some that would join and some still debating, but there were a few that would never join the settlers. Alearindu looked over at Tane.

"What are you thinking?"

Tane looked at her and smiled. "That we'll all be able to work through this."

Alearindu smiled back up at him.

Tane looked back at the gathering. All those who seemed to want to join had moved to Borgand's side and the leader of the settler's had raised his hand for silence.
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Old 07-04-2004, 08:14 AM   #159
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The group by his side was nearly half the population of the hillman village when Borgand raised his hand. It was clear there would be no more volunteers and those left in the middle of the courtyard were glaring at those next to the stairs with a smoldering anger. He cleared his throat to speak and felt the eyes of all upon him.

"Our new settlers honour us with their presence. It's clear we have much to learn from each other. I won't pretend to understand everything that's happened in the last day, but these people are under my protection now. They will work with us and learn our ways, and I hope they will teach us what they know of these lands and the people in it. I know there are other villages than this one represented here, but it's a start."

He focused on the hillman who had refused the offer. "As for the rest of you, all I ask of you is that you sign a treaty with us. We will leave you alone, and you will not attack us, nor join with others who do."

The older man who had nodded at Borgand stepped forward and looked at him now.

"They are leaderless. There is no chief among them to sign your treaty, even if they were willing."

Borgand frowned. "Then what do you suggest?"

"They will give their word, and they won't break it. We don't know your signing. For us, to say something is enough. It's not fancy, but it's our way." Then he stepped back and Borgand was left with the impression that he had just been spoken to as one would address a child. He shrugged it off and turned back to the remaining hillmen.

"Will you give your word or will you be driven from these lands?"

One by one, they stepped forward and gave their word...not to Borgand, but to the man the others had called Knife, who stood now next to the woman Kestrel. He buried his annoyance. If it suited them to give their word to this Knife, he would accept it. It was probably more likely to be binding that way anyway, he mused. The other settlers weren't pleased, but he stilled their protests at the slight with another wave of his hand.

When the oaths were done, the hillmen left, and none moved to follow them. Borgand looked at his newest charges...he had no idea what to do with them. He looked at the old man and then at the man named Knife.

"Find a place within the walls for yourselves. You can stay as a group or you can mingle with the others. I speak for all when I say no one will harm you. We are rebuilding the structures damaged yesterday and salvaging what we can of the building materials. Once you are settled you can join us in this activity."

He nodded at them and then addressed his own people.

"Back to work. We have a lot to do before the women and children return."

He caught Tane's eye and gave him the ghost of a smile before throwing himself back into creating order out of chaos.





~~~~TWO WEEKS LATER~~~~




By the time the women and children had returned to the settlement the rubble had been cleared and the public hall restarted. All over the settlement there had been tears of joys and sadness as loved ones were reunited..or discovered they would never meet again in this world. There had been so many questions, and too few answers.

Borgand looked at Illith as she stirred her cauldron and thanked the West that she had returned to him safely a little over a week before. Behind her, Bregand was playing a game of hide and seek with two small dark children. Flint and Rain were faster than he was, but he had a keen eye for finding them as they hid. Kestrel sat removed from the others, watching her children play but refusing the acknowledge either Borgand or Illith. There was still a lot of work to do.

The hillmen..or former hillmen..had created their own small community within the walls of the settlement, prefering to make huts rather than taking the tents offered by Borgand and his people. There had been some stir when news arrived of the death of a wolf..but whether this was an animal or a man seemed a little unclear. Even when asked directly, the hillmen would slide their eyes to the sides and answer simply "Wolf."

They prefered to keep to themselves, mostly. Hardly a direct word had been spoken between them and Borgand didn't know how long the uneasy silence would last. For now, he could but hope they would weather the storm. There were notable exceptions to the silence. Flint and Bregand had found each other at the lake 3 days ago and had insisted on playing together since. The other surprise had been the old man, who Bregand had learned was named Cleft. He had made it a point to visit Collothion and the two had exchanged stories and remedies, quickly falling into an argument over the best use for the herb starwort.

Suddenly, the sound of a shout broke Borgand's reverie. He stood as quickly as his one leg would allow and hurried to the wall after nodding to Illith. At his side were Calumdril's hunting knives. He had found he couldn't part with a small reminder of his friend, now properly entombed and mourned. He wondered what the Ithilien would have thought of his solution.

Borgand approached the walls and waited for a report. The dwarves, of all people, had raised the alarm. He looked to Barzun.

"What is it? What's happened?"

The dwarf smiled...a sight that shocked Borgand..and then quickly fell back into his gruff demeanor.

"Look for yourself, human." he said, as he pointed to the horizon and then wandered away, muttering about men and their need to be babied.

The ex soldier followed the dwarf's signal and saw a string of heavily laden carts approaching, just becoming visible as they crested the hill. He broke into a grin. Even from here it was clear what this must be. The stone for the city had arrived. With this shipment, he knew that there would be no turning back. For good or bad, Arnor would once again be the home of the Dunedain.

From this point on, Gondorian, Rohirrim, or Hillmen though they had been, they were the new Arnorians. It wouldn't be the same Arnor as the past, but they would make it their own. Together.
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Old 07-09-2004, 02:45 PM   #160
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