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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Wait for what?"

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

"They wait for what?" he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

Last edited by Ealasaide; 04-19-2005 at 02:33 PM.
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