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Old 03-11-2003, 11:32 AM   #1
Bêthberry
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The Eye Betrayal of Trust: RPG

The game of Betrayal of Trust begins here with the first post by Palando of the blue robe.

* * * * *

Pain lanced through Halasan's shoulder as he scrambled up the craggy bluff overshadowing the path below, warm blood seeping through his torn jerkin as crude stitches ruptured under the strain. Fear drove him, lending him
strength to ignore the pain until he mounted the rock's grassy summit.

Rolling onto his back, Halasan closed his eyes in an attempt to control his nausea. But exhaustion and blood-loss conquered and with a final sigh his mind fell away into unconsciousness.

**********

Halasan awoke to a frozen wind and a cold moon hanging high in the sky. Shadowy clouds loomed overhead; backlit by the moon's pale, waxen glow. As he sat up the last dying rays of twilight flowed down the Nan Curunir into
the gap of Rohan, giving him a fading glimpse across the West Emnet into the
lands of the Riddermark. He stood slowly, fearful of opening the wound in his shoulder further, and watched until all the light had fled into the west, leaving only the moon to light the way to his destination.

His gaze drifted northward now, until he could see the Fangorn forest covering the horizon like a carpet of tall lichen. Memories of his homeland in Mirkwood flooded in unchecked. Memories he had been trying to suppress;
The screams of his dying wife, the hungry fire consuming all he had built, the betrayal of his friend and finally the chase, the beginning of his journey that had led him to this point, alone on a hill, in a land he did
not know, searching for someone he knew in his heart was dead. Tears can unbidden to his eyes and as the night deepened he remembered. Remembered allthat he had tried to forget of the last few weeks...

**********

The morning sun rose majestically over the crest of the Emyn Muil; like a great tide it flowed across the lands of Rohan, spreading warmth and chasing away the icy dawn frost before it. Halasan stirred. He could not say when sleep had claimed him, but as he sat up and let the morning warmth surround him he could sense that it had been a more wholesome slumber than since... No. He would not think on that right now. Determined to at least start the morning with less maudlin thoughts he rose to greet the day.

With the fear abated hunger now clawed at him, tightening in his stomach like a cramp. How long had it been since he had eaten? He had no food in his pack, only a metal box, half full with dried tinder, a flint stick, a steel
gutting knife and some bay leaves. He knew he did not have the strength or tools left to catch a decent hare or deer. Instead he conserved his energy and walked slowly down the mound, careful to place his feet on soft,
yielding ground, and he soon found a narrow hole that he recognised. Slowly he pushed his arm in, sliding it inch by inch until his hand came upon a thin, fleshy tail. Pinching it firmly he pulled hard, swung his arm out and
round in a single fluid motion and smashed the creature down on a nearby rock. With a crunch the creature died. It was a brown rat, a hands span in length from head to tail. It would be enough.

Collecting some small twigs and branches Halasan quickly got the fire burning, though it had taken the last of his tinder in the damp air. After burning the rat's fur and scraping it off he threw the rodent on the edge of the fire to cook slowly before sitting on a small boulder nearby. Eventually the rat was done and the stench of burning meat assailed his nostrils, but it did not trouble him as he bit into the flesh. At least the taste was good!

A sound emanating from behind the hillock he had hidden on the previous night startled him suddenly. He turned, ready for the end expecting another band of orcs to come to finish him off. But it was not a fell creature, nor was it any of the cursed easterlings that had pursued him for so long. But a horse; a beautiful mottled brown mare, tall and proud with a silky oak coloured mane that flowed down its neck like a waterfall.

The beast stopped just out of reach. "Begone fair oakenmane, I have nothing here that I can share with you save my company."

Snorting, the horse swung its head and moved closer, nuzzling Halasan's neck. He laughed, the sound harsh and unfamiliar. "Well you're a friendly one! Tell me friend, where is your master?"

The horse swung his head again and this time tucked his head under Halasan's arm. Patting the beast's neck he began to search for a brand, but could find none. Surely a horse of this quality was hand reared? An idea formed
quickly in his mind, he knew it was born of desperation, but it seemed his only chance. Tightening his pack Halasan swung over onto the horses back in elven fashion. Surprisingly the horse remained steady and calm. Surely hand reared! He thought as he shifted into a comfortable position. His mind made,
Halasan yelled to the horse.

"Nornoro oakenmane, nornoro an Edoras!"

At his calling Oakenmane, as it was hence named, reared its front legs, turned and started west at a gallop. Hope was returned again to his troubled heart, in a form most unexpected, and the rising sun warmed body and spirit as he rode.
**********

By the fall of evening Halasan had reached a town that rose upon a tall green hill above the endless rolling valleys. It was encircled by a high wooden palisade; rooftops could be seen collected in groups within and higher still at its centre stood a great building of stone.
A small river flowed by the base of the hill, which he forded before dismounting and walking to the gate. Two guards stood barring his way,
both clad in chain shirts and helms, tall spears in their left hands glinting in the evenlight as they rested lightly upon the sodden ground.

"Halt, stranger," cried the first, who stood to Halasan's left. "Who travels here at such speed upon a steed of Rohan, dressed as an outlander?"

Halasan smiled as he drew closer. "Just a traveller in search of some hot food and an Inn." He paused, stopping before them. "And the use of a good seamstress if I may. I have coin!"

The second guard nodded and smiled. He eyed the stranger with an appraising look; standing at about five and a half feet, he looked to be middle aged with tufted light brown hair that greyed slightly at the temples. Thick eyebrows framed deep-set, inky black eyes and his skin was pallid and pulled tight against his skull. For clothing he wore a simple leather jerkin,
belted at the waist, that hung over loose trousers and dark boots. A heavy, dark blue travelling cloak was draped over his shoulders, tied by a plain silver clasp. He bore no weapon, but the wound on the stranger's shoulder looked troubling. For a moment the second guard looked away in thought, before looking back to address Halasan.

"The White Horse Inn would suit your needs. Bethberry, the innkeeper, knows everyone in the town and would happily help, for the right coin that is!"

Halasan nodded and smiled. "Thank you" he said, before making his way between the guards. Suddenly the first guard raised his hand again to block the way.

"Tell me stranger, how come you by that wound, and this fine beast?"

Halasan paused before replying, the cold fear seeping back into his heart.
The only answer that came to mind was the truth, so he spoke it. Hoping that again luck would favour him this day.

"I stumbled upon a raiding party of some orc-kin while skirting the Fangorn
forest. I managed to sting a couple, though my blade was lost, and I took this as a reply before I could escape." He pointed to the deep cut in his shoulder. " Strong, orcs are, but not fast! I lost them by flitting in and
out of the woods before hiding on high ground." He paused. "As for this wonderful creature?" He moved his hand to rest on the horse's neck. "I know not. I woke this morning to find it by me. It would not leave and seemed happy to bear me here, for which I am most thankful." Halasan stroked its neck, an action which gained an approving whinny and nod from the horse.

"Interesting, for this is a beast of the free herds!" Halasan waited for the accusation, but none came. The guards voice remained calm. "For some reason it has chosen you, stranger. That is a rare gift. Treat it well."

Halasan nodded and walked into the town, passing many wooden houses and shops before finally reaching a tall, timber framed building crowned in thatching. A wooden sign protruding from its front bore a picture of a
grand white horse and the words "The White Horse Inn."

Attached to its left was a small stable. He entered and the horse was gently led to a stall by the stable hand. Resolving to find a name for the animal, he turned, walked back and entered the Inn.

Instantly a wall of noise, and a pungent air heavy with unfamiliar smells
assailed him. The main bar was busy, filled with an exotic mix of races.
Nodding with a friendly smile to any that looked his way Halasan walked
over
to the high bar. Bottles and barrels mingled freely along the back shelves
and here the smell of malt and honey was so thick he could almost taste it!

A woman approached him from behind the bar, her face kindly but with eyes
strong and clear.

"Greetings friend and welcome to the White Horse. What can I get you?"
Halasan smiled, pointed to a bottle of mead standing half empty close by
and
mumbled a thank you when the bottle was brought over and a glass filled for
him.

He smiled again, sat and relaxed for the first time in days.
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Old 03-17-2003, 05:46 AM   #2
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Sting

Elenna Ethynian idly stirred her half filled bowl of stew, stopping to drink a spoonful of the warm broth every few minutes. Her five foot three inch frame made her seem more like a lost girl than an eighteen-year-old woman as she sat at one of the small tables scattered about the interior of the White Horse Inn. Pausing to tuck a stray strand of blond hair behind her left ear, she picked up a large chunk of bread and took a small nibble. A pair of soft gray eyes fluttered as she desperately tried to stay awake. It had been quite a long day, and she wondered if a glass of wine would help keep her awake. She quickly dismissed the idea; after her sixteenth birthday, she had tried a small glass of red wine. One thing lead to another, and she had woken up the next morning with a blinding headache. It was not an experience she would care to repeat.

A dry couch escaped through her tin lips, shaking her thin body like a leaf. The piece of bread she had been eating tumbled into her lap, leaving a trail of crumbs down her simple gray dress. Embarrassed, she quickly wiped the crumbs off her clothing and placed the piece of bread back where it belonged. She had taken ill when she was a girl of twelve, and the dry hacking cough had never gone away since. Quickly taking a drink of water out of the simple clay cup, Elenna glanced across the table at the tall Gondorian noisily stowing away his dinner.

Lieutenant Azariah Alamax was certainly not handsome like some of the other soldiers in the Golden Hall. Indeed, if she had met him in one of the narrow streets after dark, she would have thought him a robber or a murderer. His face was a dark brown, suntanned from years under the sun. A long scar ran from his left ear down around his eyes and into the middle of his left cheek. Ragged black hair jutted out of his head in every direction, but failed to hide the missing top of his right ear. Hard gray eyes were set squarely on his bowl of stew in front of him. Elenna found herself staring at his beard. From what she knew, soldiers were rarely allowed to allow their beards to grow.

Azariah glanced down at the black tunic and matching wool breeches that formed the formal uniform of the Hosts of Gondor. To his joy, none of his dinner had managed to splash onto the front of his shirt. It was quite hard to find time to properly clean and launder his clothing. He returned his attention back to his dinner, but not before noticing his Elenna’s minuscule appetite. “Lady, you’d best eat up while you can. Mandos knows that you’ll need the strength.”

“I believe that you’ve been asked to accompany me to Ithilien, not mother me,” she retorted more sharply than she wished. Anybody could see that Azariah was a trifle annoyed, and it was generally considered a very foolish thing to provoke annoyed soldiers.

The Gondorian pounded his fist on the table. “Asked to accompany you? King Eomer made a “royal request” to take you to Ithilien. Royal request! The only thing he didn’t do was order me to take you.”

The pair stared silently across the table at each other for a few moments before Elenna spoke in a small voice. “But you will take me, won’t you?”

Azariah sighed and buried his face in his hands. It wasn’t that he hated Elenna. He was a messenger, not a mercenary. “Aye, lady, I’ll do my best to see that you reach the house of Faramir unharmed. But you’ve got to eat or you’ll cough your lungs up before we get to Gondor. You’re a nice girl, and King Elessar would flay my skin from my bones if you died on the road.”

Elenna couldn’t help but crinkle her nose at the ever-present smell of oil that seemed to linger around the man. Maybe it was that clumsy and mismatched suit of chain mail and metal plates he had worn to the Golden Hall earlier that day. She smiled thinly. “Thank you for your concern, sir, but I shall be fine.”

“Very well then, lady. If you will not eat, than consider retiring to bed earlier. Thank the Valar that Eomer’s letting us take our time. Your clothing isn’t suitable for travel and you’ll need another weapon besides your bow.”

She began to protest. She had traveled before, and she was quite certain she knew what she was doing. “What’s wrong with my dress? I can ride just as well as you can. And I’ve no skill with a blade. I’d cut my own hands off before I wounded a foe.”

The soldier let loose a loud, barking laugh. “Of course you can ride. You’re a maid of Rohan. I don’t doubt that you could outride me any day. But you’re clothing’s all wrong. It’s summer, and you’ll be sweating to death after a hard day’s riding. As for your skill with a blade, what do you think a bandit will do once he’s too close to shoot? He won’t kiss you on your hand and send you on your way, that’s for certain. I’ll even show you how to use the thing.”

While Elenna had no experience traveling, she was certainly smart enough to know that she was loosing the argument-badly. She sighed and turned her attention back to her rapidly cooling bowl of stew. The woman did not wish to go to bed, and she seriously doubted that the Gondorian would let her do anything else besides eat. Azariah had just begun his second mug of beer, and Elenna was fairly certain that he would have a hangover the next morning. Giggling quietly, she began to think of all the unpleasant herbal teas that she could feed him in the morning to help “cure” his condition. She doubted he was so foolish to take tea from a herbalist, but it was certainly worth a try.
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Old 03-17-2003, 04:52 PM   #3
The Squatter of Amon Rûdh
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Sting

“That’s a nasty scratch you have there, friend.” came a gruff voice from Halasan’s side. “That’s the work of an Easterling, or my eyes deceive me.”

Halasan turned to face the speaker. He was a man of middle years, grim of countenance yet with a touch of humour about his eyes. Dark hair shot with grey framed a face scarred from countless battles; one ran the whole length of one side from temple to chin, the nose had been broken more than once and many other wounds besides had left their marks. Several days’ growth of beard did nothing to improve the stranger’s looks, and nor was the overall appearance any different. His clothes were of poor quality, travel-stained and much-repaired; his shoes were in dire need of a cobbler; his hair was unkempt and there were twigs caught in the seams of his cloak, souveniers, no doubt, of his last night’s camp. On closer inspection, though, the newcomer’s gear was not all of such poor stuff, for beside him at the bar was an axe worth a king’s ransom: huge and black-bladed, its head adorned with a tracery of silver, and its haft polished by decades of use. The weapon was spotless, and its edge was keen.

“Such they are,” agreed Halasan. “I’ll wager you’ve felt their handiwork yourself.”

“Once or twice,” replied the axeman, and took a deep draught of mead. “They know my work too.”

“Theirs is enough for me at least,” said the wounded man. “This shoulder of mine aches like the plague.”

“There may be something I can do,” answered the other. “I’ve taken a couple like that myself. Find somewhere to sit and I’ll have a look.”

“I’d like to hear your name first, friend.” Halasan rejoined gently.

“It’s too great a name for me: Haleg I am, named for a better.”

“And I am Halasan, and yours is a friendly face after bitter days. ”

The only free booth was near the door, shunned for the draught. Haleg draped his cloak to fend off the chill and pulled a length of silk and a needle from a pouch he carried. With careful and practiced movements he cleaned and then closed the wound in Halasan’s shoulder.

“Soon be as good as new, that.” he said, taking another drink. “How came you by it?”

“I’d sooner eat before I tell that tale” said Halasan gravely.

Over a simple supper of meat and bread, washed down with tongue-loosening mead, the two travellers exchanged stories. Halasan told of his betrayal and flight, and Haleg related a little of his own history, although he did not tell much.

"My father placed my hand on this axe before I was an hour old," he said gravely. "He taught me its use as his father taught him, but he would not be pleased that I earn my crust on his training. He never liked mercenaries, a mercenary killed him, and now I eat by my blade, although more often I don't. These rags and this bundle are the wages of honour; but honour has not made the nights less chill, and sometimes I regret my choice. It was given me to choose between vengeance and prosperity, and my revenge was terrible.
‘…their lord beside,
with linkëd hands there lightly took
the oath unbreakable; blood thereafter
it spilled like a sea…’"

As he said this his eyes blazed for a moment, but the spark was soon extinguished and he lapsed into silence for a time and would speak no more of the matter.

When next Haleg spoke it was to announce: "You'll be needing some fresh clothes, I'm thinking; or at any rate those need repair. I know a good seamstress here: it’s thanks to her that these poor things have served me so long. Come with me and I will take you to her."

With that Haleg rose, motioning Halasan to follow him. They settled their bill and left the inn, Haleg leading the way off the high street and into the tangle of dwellings and workshops that abutted it. The axe slung on his back glinted in the moonlight and Halasan was uncomfortably reminded that he had met the strange warrior only that evening.

He felt his panic rising, but quelled it as his companion led the way behind one of the houses, which doubled as workshops in this part of the settlement. It was too late to run if others were expected, but only one set of footsteps answered Haleg’s knock and Halasan relaxed as the door opened.

[ March 18, 2003: Message edited by: The Squatter of Amon Rûdh ]
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Old 03-18-2003, 04:33 AM   #4
Estelyn Telcontar
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Silmaril

Annawyn lifted her head upon hearing the knock on the door. Not that she was fearful after the onset of darkness, nor was it unusual for someone to come to her under the cover of night, but this was a knock that she recognized, though it had been long since she had last heard it. She opened the door with a welcoming smile, eyes widening slightly as she saw a second figure in the shadows behind a familiar face.

She lifted one eyebrow inquiringly at Haleg, who answered the unspoken question tersely: “A friend who needs your help.”

Peering into the blackness behind them as if to reassure herself that no one observed them, she let the men in. After closing and latching the door, she turned to the stranger and said, “Welcome! Pray be seated; you shall tell me shortly what it is that I can do for you, but first I must greet this young rapscallion who visits me only when he is in some difficulty.”

She clasped Haleg’s elbows, holding him at arm’s length and gazing attentively into his face. He held her gaze somewhat stubbornly, and Halasan, observing them, could not help thinking that this burly warrior suddenly looked like a puppy, caught in some minor misdemeanour, yet certain of indulgence rather than punishment.

Apparently satisfied with what she saw, or perhaps with what she did not see, she embraced him briefly, wrinkling her nose at the smell of his travel-stained garments. “Whatever it is that you need, a bath and fresh clothing would certainly do you good,” she remonstrated gently.

For the first time since the tragedy which had torn his life asunder, Halasan felt himself smiling. This woman, looking almost frail beside the sturdy axeman, reminded him strongly of an aunt, stern yet affectionate, who had radiated that same air of authority when he had visited her in his youth.

“Well, you seem none the worse for the wear,” Annawyn said to Haleg, “though it seems that some of those scars you have are unfamiliar to me. Pray introduce your friend, that I may see how my help is needed.”

Gruffly, as if to cover a moment of weakness, he told her Halasan’s name and began to relate his story when she interrupted, “He shall tell me that himself. But first let me see the wound.”

Carefully drawing the torn garment back, she inspected the cut, nodding approvingly when she saw the stitches. “You sewed it?” she asked Haleg. “You have done well.”

“You taught me well,” he answered.

“It will heal,” she said to Halasan reassuringly. “But it does not seem to be the worst wound that you bear – tell me what happened.”

Haltingly, the story of trust, betrayal, death and loss poured from his lips, hesitantly at first, then tumbling as a waterfall. Annawyn listened attentively without interrupting, only nodding encouragingly when he faltered.

“You say your friend was seen coming this way, taking your daughter with him,” she commented when he had finished. Her brow furrowed slightly. “I remember seeing a couple, strangers here, at the White Horse when I was there several days ago. He looked to be somewhat younger than you, though no longer youthful. She was a young maiden, beautiful and wilful, and it did not seem that she was with him unwillingly. They were distressed, arguing much, yet obviously lovers. Could that be your daughter and friend?”

“The description fits, but how can it be that she went with him of her own free will?” he said, bewildered.

“It would not be the first time that a young maiden, adventurous and impressionable, looks to a man who promises her an escape from a life that seems boring and tedious to her,” she answered, growing thoughtful as if remembering a far past. “I will make inquiries and attempt to find out if their whereabouts are known. Come to my shop in the morning to procure the clothing that you need; by then, I should have some information for you.”

Annawyn went to the door, opening it quietly, listening and looking before letting them out. “You will come with him,” she said to Haleg. It was a statement, not a question, and he did not gainsay her.

They walked back to the White Horse together; when they had reached the inn, Halasan asked, “Who is she, and how come you to know her well? She seems to be more than a simple seamstress.”

“She is an excellent seamstress, the best in Edoras,” Haleg answered, “but she is more than that, yes. She has travelled in the past and has contacts far beyond the boundaries of this land. How I came to know her? Well…” and he told the story of a young boy, orphaned, homeless and almost famished, chancing to come to that very door, taken in by a young woman, nursed back to health, protected and provided with a new home when it became clear that he could not stay there. Long they talked before finally retiring to their rooms for sleep.
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Old 03-18-2003, 06:37 AM   #5
Aylwen Dreamsong
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Sting

Keeping to the shadows of the long hallway, Whisper tiptoed over the wooden floorboards. Toe first, then her heel. Turning a corner in the dark house, Whisper poked her head into the only lit room in the homestead at the time: the study. A large, almost beast-sized man sat hunched over a table full of worn yellow parchment. The dull glow of four candles –one in each corner- offered many shadowy places to hide as the rays hit bookshelves or statues.

Peering about the room, Whisper made not a sound, so as not to alert the huge man to her whereabouts, or that she was even in his home. Her sharp, haze-grey eyes easily caught the figure of her friend Joal across the room, quickly leaping from shadow to shadow. As he prepared to sprint from the darkness of the opposing hallway to the shade of a bookshelf in the corner, Joal’s left foot hit a rickety floorboard, and the lord of the house looked up. Joal froze, and Whisper flinched. When the man finally looked back down at the papers, Joal leaped light-footedly into the shadow cast by the shelf.

The man must’ve had sharp ears, for he heard whatever sound Joal had made again! The man moved form his spot at the table to the corner, where Joal had hidden himself. Cursing her luck, Whisper sprinted from her own wall and grabbed all the papers that had engulfed the desk. The rustling of paper could barely be heard by even Whisper, but the large oaf still heard it, and whipped his head around. Ducking below his desk, Whisper had given Joal enough time to squeeze his strong, lanky body between the shelf and wall. Shimmying towards the open door to the right of the shelf, Joal tried his hardest not to make a sound. Whisper bit her bottom lip as the vase at the top of the shelf quivered, and the books began to hit one another and the shelf’s boards.

Joal! Whisper cursed the boy’s luck (or lack thereof) under her breath as she stood up from her hiding place and drew her dagger. They were being paid to kill the man anyway, as well as steal the ‘precious’ documents he had recently received from who knows where. Throwing the dagger through the air, it spun and made a quite audible whistling sound. Turning around again, the man moved just in time to accept the blade into his forehead. Whisper cringed. That must be painful.

“Joal! Let’s go! NOW!” Whisper called to the boy. Joal took the time to bring his arms up (with great difficulty, mind you.) and shove the bookcase away from the wall. It fell upon the man, and one last grunt was heard through the banging of books against floor.

Running out of the house the way they had come in, Whisper rushed out the back door behind Joal. The two ran until they reached the forest behind the man’s homestead.

“What do you think they are? What do they say?” Joal inquired breathlessly, for he could not read. Whisper shuffled through the papers, and skimmed through the bulk of the boring papers.

“Why is it that whatever we steal never makes any sense to us? I don’t understand why anyone would pay us to steal something like this,” Whisper sighed and stuffed the papers into her pack that was slung over her shoulder.

“Who cares as long as they pay us? You’ll need the money to get a new dagger,” Joal pointed out.

“Correction: you’ll need the money. I would’ve gotten my dagger back, if you hadn’t dropped that bookcase on him!” Whisper shoved Joal as the two slowly trekked out of the wood that had been their cover for a few moments.

“Whichever. A better dagger would soon be necessary anyway. Even I could hear that spinning blade of yours!”

“What’s next after we give these back to that Southron man?” Whisper asked, rummaging through her messy pack to find a large map. Opening it, Whisper pointed out the teens’ location: just south of Fangorn Forest, near the River Entwash. They were in Rohan, the land of the Strawheads.

“Well…I didn’t want to say anything but…” Joal stuttered and his voice trailed off.

“What?”

“I was asked to give you this,” Joal pulled a medium-sized pouch from his tunic pocket and handed it to Whisper. It was full of gold coins and other jewelry and finery. “They say there’s more if we can get the job done.”

“Who? Why?” Whisper asked, knowing there was always a catch for such a large sack of money.

“A group of Easterlings up north, just before we were hired to kill that man. A strange man killed their leader, and they said they’d heard of you, and were wondering if you could return the favor to the man. I’d also be wondering if you’d be willing to let me in on the deal?” Joal already knew the answer, but still eyed the bag of jewels suspiciously.

“I don’t know why you even ask, Joal. You know I will. As long as you don’t get us caught like you almost did back there. Let’s go. The man who hired us can wait a while for his papers. If he can’t, I’m sure there are plenty of other tribe leaders who’d find these papers interesting and worth a few coins or pieces of jewelry,” Whisper finished, and the two began to leave the woods. “Does anyone know where he was last seen?”

“The tribe’s scout followed the man to Rohan, but then went back to tell the new leader that they should be getting professionals!” Joal finished speaking with pride filling his voice. He liked the thought of being called ‘professional’ and getting paid before and after deals.

“There’s an inn I’ve been to before, a very popular inn…It’s called the White Horse. We’ll go there and see if we can find anything,” Whisper decided, and the two made their way for the White Horse Inn.

[ March 18, 2003: Message edited by: Aylwen Dreamsong ]
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Old 03-19-2003, 04:39 AM   #6
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Sleep came at first with ease, as it had done the previous night alone on the hill. But then he remembered Annawyn’s words and he awoke with a start. Kiatus and Catrina lovers? Impossible! He had brought about the destruction of their family, the death of so many… The seamstress must have been mistaken, confusing Catrina’s fear with affection!

He tried to relax but his mind spiralled; his heart beginning to race, anger boiling up to consume him. He would Kill Kiatus! Burn him! Make him pay for the pain. His thoughts disturbed him but fuelled with such grief he was powerless to stop them.

A comfortable feeling engulfed him then; the warm assurance of revenge. A smile curled on his lips, but not the smile Annawyn and Haleg had seen. It was colder, deeper…

*********

With greater ease than he had expected Halasan made his way into the camp, his mind filled with the burning face of his wife Gwen. In his mind she called for him to come back, but the fire would burn away her words into an illegible murmur. Suddenly the leader’s tent loomed before him and his was inside.

Now he stood over the prone figure, dark eyes staring up above him into space, Halasan’s sharp skinning knife pressed against his throat. The leader told him everything; told him of Kiatus’ betrayal and the taking of his beautiful daughter, everything that strangely he already knew!

Halasan waited until he had finished before plunging the dagger in deep. Dark viscous fluid sprayed up his arms, and the body convulsed violently for a few moments. Suddenly he could hear laughter, clear as the ringing of crystal, all around the tent, he looked around in confusion, ignoring the convulsing body as he searched for its source. The laughter increased, becoming bubbly and indistinct. Halasan looked down again; and cried out in pain. The lifeless eyes of his daughter now stared up at him accusingly. He quickly pulled the knife from her throat and for a moment he stopped, transfixed by her white dress drench crimson from the opened throat, and then he screamed. Screamed until his throat tightened with the strain.


Halasan opened his eyes. His breathing was short and his heart beat painfully in his chest. “Halasan.” A voice called in the darkness, full of concern. “Halasan, are you ok?” His eyes grudgingly adjusted until he could see Haleg looming over him, his face all concern. The door behind him was ajar and a woman stood silhouetted by the candle light behind. “Is he ok Haleg?” the woman’s voice called out. Halasan recognised it as the innkeepers. He sat and stared ahead for a moment.

“Gave us scare there you did. Recon you woke the whole town with your screaming” Haleg patted his shoulder as he spoke. Suddenly Halasan leapt to his feet. In the doorway now was not Bethberry, but a young slender girl in a night dress, her face obscured by the dim light. “Catrina!” he yelled and leapt forward to the doorway, relief flooding in to his heart. She must have escaped, returned to him! His mind span with hope as he ran for what seemed an age. But Catrina did not open her arms. Instead she screamed and leapt back out of the doorway and Halasan was violently stopped by an outstretched hand and a dagger. Then his vision cleared and his mind awoke.

********

He now faced a large, bearded man, his arm holding Halasan in a firm grip. From his clothing and face he looked like a man of Gondor. He looked from Halasan to the girl slumped on the floor. The woodman could now see that she was not Catrina. “I..I’m sorry” he said weakly. The man turned to face the girl fully. “Lady, are you ok?” he asked in a deep voice tinged with uncertainty and concern. The girl stood, and coughed sharply before speaking. “I’m fine Azariah but please, put the man down, he looks in more pain than I!”
“Aye, that would be a good idea if you want to keep your arms firmly in their sockets!” a voice to Azariah’s right proclaimed in a steady, dark voice.
Azariah pushed Halasan back into the room and drew his sword in one smooth motion before turning quickly to face his aggressor. He almost stepped back as he faced the wild eyed axe-man; his axe blade looking dark even in the dim light with only its silvery thread reflecting the dancing candle flames..

The warrior planted his feet and raised his sword level with the axe-man’s face. “My arms are staying where they are strange one. This man attacked someone in my care, I defended. Stand down.” His voice was commanding, but this only seemed to anger Haleg more. He said nothing in response but moved a step closer, a smile appearing on his intense features. Suddenly Halasan walked between them with his arms raised. “Peace, please.”
For a moment there was silence before Azariah lowered his sword and walked over to the young woman in the corridor. Haleg remained standing, his chest visibly rising and falling as he tried to calm down.

Halasan moved over to the couple. “Please accept my apologies friends, please! I meant no harm!”

Azariah kept his gaze fixed on Elenna, but the lady looked towards Halasan and could see the torment in his face. “Its ok, it was but a waking dream that passed, I am unhurt.”
Halasan’s shoulders slumped in relief and he smiled weakly. “If it was but only a dream. My family were recently murdered and my daughter stolen. I seek her now, and the man who did it all. The nightmares come less frequently now but I really thought that you were my Catrina…I..” His last words were laboured as the tears fell again down his face.

He felt an arm clasp around him and he let himself be led back into the room, not sure who it was that guided him. He lay down again and this time quickly drifted off to sleep. Not even noticing as Haleg, Azariah and Elenna left the room, the burly axe-man taking a final look around before closing the door.

********

Halasan awoke to a warm morning, a cooling breezing flowing in from the open window leaving his skin tingling. He opened his eyes. A cone of orange-red light shone into the room, causing the millions of dust motes in its way to shine a brilliant white. Taking a deep breath Halasan stood. How much of last night had been the dream? He could not say.

Quickly he dressed and made downstairs for breakfast; the smell of fresh bread and frying eggs teasing him as he descended the stairs to the common room. Already it was busy and he could see Haleg sat at a table enthusiastically delving into a large fried platter. Sitting at the same table were the couple from last night, Elenna and Azariah, and they were talking together, the tall warrior still furtively glancing across to the axe-man when Elenna looked away.

So. It had not been a dream. Expecting a rebuke, anger flared suddenly in defiance and he moved to the table, ready for the rash and heated words. But none came. Haleg looked up, his beard traced with flecks of food and grease, and he smiled. “Morning friend. Good sleep I hope?” Halasan nodded and sat next to him.

The tall man of Gondor looked up at Halasan as he sat down. “Feeling better friend?” His voice was kinder and softer than the woodman had remembered from the previous night. Halasan offered his hand in friendship and for the next hour sat and talked with Azariah, Haleg and Elenna.

As the last of the plates were taken away Halasan rose. “I thank you again for your company and understanding but I must go now. Someone I met yesterday may have news of my daughters movements.”

Haleg rose also and joined Halasan, and together they left the inn to see the seamstress.

[ March 19, 2003: Message edited by: Palando ]

[ March 19, 2003: Message edited by: Palando ]

[ March 19, 2003: Message edited by: Palando ]
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Old 03-19-2003, 10:29 AM   #7
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“Good morning, gentlemen!“ Annawyn greeted Halasan and Haleg with a professional smile; only the latter noticed the slight twinkle in the corner of her eyes and answered with a lopsided grin. A pretty, rather shy young woman stood beside her at a table upon which bolts of various coloured fabrics were spread. She glanced apprehensively at the two burly men.

“You really think the blue?” she asked nervously.

“Yes,” the seamstress gently answered. “It matches your eyes perfectly.”

“Well then…” her voice trailed away.

“I shall let you know when it is ready for a fitting,” Annawyn said, escorting her to the door. Haleg held it open helpfully. After it closed behind the customer, she sighed. “I should be thankful that she comes without her dragon of a mother now that she is married, but she is not yet used to making her own decisions. I thought we would never finish. Now, let me see what I can do about your garments.”

She led the men to an adjoining room where various clothing hung or lay folded on shelves. With an appraising glance at Halasan’s stature, she reached for a linen shirt. “Your breeches could use a cleaning, but they are sturdy. You will not need new ones yet; perhaps a jacket to wear instead of a cloak, now that it is getting warmer…” She handed him the garments, noticing his absent look concernedly.

“As for you,” she turned to Haleg, “I have something that should survive until your next visit, if you do not stay away too many years.” She gave him a light brown shirt of soft, supple leather and darker, sturdier leather breeches. He started to protest, but she brushed his words aside with an impatient gesture. “I cannot do much to help you otherwise, but this I can and will. Now, while you try those on, I will repair the cut in your shirt,” she added to Halasan.

“But what about my daughter?” he asked.

“One thing after another,” she answered. “You cannot ride about the countryside seeking her in rags.”

When she came back with the darned shirt a few minutes later, both men had donned their new garments and greeted her somewhat self-consciously. Her critical eyes looked up and down, then she nodded approvingly. “It will do,” she said, motioning them to nearby chairs.

“And Catrina?” Halasan’s tormented eyes pleaded for reassurance, or at least for information.

“They have left Edoras,” she spoke in low tones. “But I found out that they went to the blacksmith, Tunar Estomer, before leaving. He may have news of the direction they have taken. You should seek him first.”

Halasan turned to his new friend. “Do you know where I can find this blacksmith?”

Haleg nodded. “I will take you there.”

° ° ° ° ° ° ° ° ° ° ° ° ° ° °

Outside of the shop, Elenna stood arguing with Azariah. “It was your idea to follow them; now you won’t let me go inside? It would not be the first time I have come here as a customer.”

Just then the door opened hastily; Halasan and Haleg hurried out and nearly ran into the two of them. Astonished, Haleg asked, “What are you doing here?”

Almost defiantly, Elenna answered, “I need clothing suitable for the journey, Azariah says.”

“Well, you have come to the right place for that. We already have ours and are leaving soon,” the axeman said.

“But where will you be going?” Azariah asked.

“That we will know after we have seen the blacksmith, I hope,” answered Halasan.
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Old 03-20-2003, 12:33 AM   #8
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Haleg lead Halasan down the sloping road towards the smithy of Tunar Estomer’s. Many people passed them on their way, children, warriors, women, tradesmen, all types and every single one looked happy and content with their lives on their way to do whatever errand their life demanded. Soon the two came upon a row of houses, some which doubled as shops, of the four that stood there, the first two were blacksmiths, one a tanner and the last was a saddlery. Haleg passed the first Smithy and came upon a small shop front, two large double doors like that of a barn fronted the shope to allow wagons and horses into the smithy.

Haleg stood out the front and turned to Halasan

‘This is Tunar Estomer’s smithy, he is a good man, respected in Edoras as a good blacksmith and a man of not many words but a wise mind’

Halasan nodded his face hiding the turmoil below at Annawyn’s words that Catrina may be the lover of the man that betrayed his family. He shook the thought from his mind and he and Haleg entered the smithy.

Heat and noise greeted them. The steady clanging of a hammer on an anvil and the slow whooshing noise of the belows as it feed the fire the oxygen it needed to make is strong. The smithy was well ordered and kept clean, there were shelves on which a variety of pieces of metal work sat awaiting either to be sold or to be picked up by owners. In the middle of the smithy was the bellows and all the apparatuses of the blacksmith’s work. Over the anvil was a man with shoulder length hair tied back behind his head as he bent over a piece of red hot iron, hammering it into shape. His appearance was of a man of strength, his leather apron hiding this feature but the rolled up sleeves of his work shirt showing his bare forearms covered in black soot excentuating his muscles movements as the hammer rose and fell rythmically.

Haleg yelled over the din

‘TUNAR ESTOMER? A WORD PLEASE!’

The hammering stopped and the blacksmith looked up, a questioning look on his face as to who his visitors could be, he waved to them then quickly swapped his hammer for a pair of iron tongs and picked up the red hot horse shoe dropping it carefully into a barrel of cold water, a massive hiss and cloud of steam erupting from the barrel as some of the water was instantly boiled by the hot iron.
Tunar put the tongs down, whiped his hands on the burn marked leather apron and walked over to the two men extending his hand to Haleg first then to Halasan when he reached them, shaking firmly and then releasing

‘Good morning sirs, how may I be of service’

His friendly and open tone hiding his curiosity as his green eyes regarded both as he had never seen either of these men in the riddermark. Before Haleg could speak Halasan said to Tunar hurriedly and said:

‘We would enquire of you some information regarding a young women and man that came through here and came to see you recently’

Tunar raised an eyebrow and said in a tone tinted with humour

‘I am a blacksmith not a rumourmonger, I deal in iron not in words’

Tunar saw Halasan’s face change slightly to reveal an annoyance at the blacksmith’s answer, Tunar smiled then said in a much more serious tone, all humour gone

‘A young couple did come through here recently. They came and saw me with a local merchant by the name of Deriath, who bought a particularly good rapier from me before leaving’

Halasan’s face lit up and his tone became excited, Haleg standing beside him not uttering a word but watching the exchange in silence

‘Where did they go? How long ago? How did they travel there?’

Tunar chuckled and said to Halasan, small chuckles punctuating his sentences

‘Slow down friend! Not so many questions!

He laughed again, scratching his cheek and squinting as he tried to remember the details of the visitors

‘I remember Deriath saying he was heading off to his trading post by the Snowbourn and Entwash rivers, they left only two days ago and most likely left by horse as I re-shoed three horse for Deriath also’

A smile formed on Halasan’s face and he turned to Haleg

‘Do you know how to get to this place?’

Haleg rubbed his chin and said in a uncertain tone

‘I haven’t been that way for a very long time, so I can’t say I remember how to get there so it may take longer than expected’

Halasan nodded grimly but seemed he was set on getting there. Tunar watched with curiosity and said to the two men

‘I would be willing to show you the way to Deraith’s trading post. I have been there before to deliver repaired carts so it isn’t unfamiliar to me’

Tunar looked from one to the other, searching their faces for an answer....

[ March 21, 2003: Message edited by: Adanedhel ]

[ March 21, 2003: Message edited by: Adanedhel ]
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Old 03-20-2003, 01:46 PM   #9
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Sting

Elenna cradled a bundle of clothing in her arms as she crossed the threshold of Annewyn’s shop into the busy streets of Edoras. Much to her surprise, Azariah had remained silent during the extensive haggling. After their clash of personalities and the subsequent encounter with the troubled Halasan, she had been fairly sure that Azariah would prove to be quite a stubborn man. She found herself growing increasingly pensive as she followed the Gondorians through the city of Edoras. In a strange way, she sympathized with Halasan. She had seen more than a little suffering during her apprenticeship to the herbalist, and Halasan seemed just as distraught as the unfortunate soldiers who had wakened from a drug-induced sleep to learn that they were missing an arm or a leg.

She briefly snapped out of musing to glance at the stores that lined the wide dirt road. Her nose wrinkled as a brief breeze brought a disgusting smell to her nostrils. One of these stores was definitely a tannery. The short woman soon realized that she had lost sight of the Gondorian’s black uniform. Trying to suppress her annoyance, she shouted, “Azariah, where are you?”

One of the tall bodies in front of her abruptly turned and began to head her way. “You’d best pay more attention to where your feet are taking you, little lady.”

Elenna glowered at him, but quickly appeared at his side. If there was one thing she was aware of, it was her height. (Or lack thereof.) “Where are we going now?”

“If you’ll remember what we…discussed…last night, lady, you need a weapon. Master Turnar is one of the better blacksmiths here, and doesn’t overcharge.”

She thought about this for a moment. “Why do I have to use a broadsword? Can’t I use something lighter like a rapier?”

Azariah’s loud laughter almost caused Elenna to drop her bundle of clothing onto the road. “You’ve spent too much time in the Golden Hall, girl. A long sword’s got a better reach than those knitting needles. ‘Tis only the toy of nobles.”

As the unusual pair neared the open doors of the forge, Elenna was sorely tempted to cover her ears with her hands. She had never loved loud noises, and the steady pounding of the hammer was beginning to cause her head to ache. To add to her discomfort, the heat from the forge, coupled with her thick dress, was beginning to cause her to sweat. It seems that Azariah had been right on one count. The blacksmith spared the Gondorian a wink before returning his attention to the two men in front of her. The flighty woman immediately recognized the voice of Halasan as he breathlessly inquired on the location of his daughter.

Elenna’s eyes glazed over as she began to think. She recognized the name of the trading post that the kidnapper had taken Halasan’s daughter to, though she could not say she knew of its location. But it was towards the southeast, the very direction she and Azariah was heading. Besides, he was always prattling about the dangers of travel. The corners of her lips turned up into a thin smile. It would be nice for a change if she dictated their course of action.

“What do you want, girl?”

She jumped, startled by the sudden words, before quickly searching for the speaker. Her eyes narrowed slightly as she recognized the axe man who had accosted Azariah the previous night. This would certainly take more work than she had anticipated. “Good day to you, sir. And to you too, Halasan. You will be heading to the south, are you not?”

Halasan was quite unsure what to make of this. “Yes, lady. It seems like that.”

“Azariah and I will be leaving for Ithilien within the week. We’ll be going in the same direction, and it would certainly be safer if we traveled in a group.”

Haleg emitted what best could be called a growl. “What makes you think you’d be able to help us, girl?”

She could hear Azariah’s boots clicking against the floor as he slowly made his way toward her, and quickly began to speak before he could stop her. “I must admit that I have no experience with fighting, sir. But surely Azariah would be able to contribute to our common defense in addition to helping you on your…quest.”

Halasan nodded. “Very well, lady, but perhaps we should consult your friend first?”

“The only way I’m going to Ithilien is with you, and Azariah is supposed to protect me. I promise I won’t give you any more surprises, Azariah.”

The only sound in the seconds after was a low and quite despairing groan coming from the Gondorian. “Very well, little lady. We’ll travel with Halasan. Just don’t make promises you can’t keep.”

[ March 20, 2003: Message edited by: Ransom ]
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Old 03-25-2003, 03:16 AM   #10
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Tunar in amusement from behind the two groups watched the exchange and wondered what the history was between them, as it certainly seemed they knew each other and had met before. From the conversation Tunar had attained that the tall Gondorian that had entered with the lady was named Azariah but the young girl remained nameless. Their was an awkard silence between them as Azariah succumbed to the lady’s insistence that they travel with Halasan and Haleg to Deriath’s trading post. He smiled mirthfully then broke the silence

“If you don’t mind me saying so it wouldn’t make that much of a difference if you had a larger company. I assume you are allowing me to come of course, but if everyone rides and rides well it shouldn’t slow us down”

Halasan looked back at the blacksmith with a look of agreeance

“We need to get there quickly so we will need someone who knows how to get there quickly, we will need you to show us the way”

Tunar nodded and then turned to Azariah and the young lady he was with

“Now what service can I provide you with this day?”

Azariah motioned with his hand to a rack of swords and said to the blacksmith

“I need a broadsword for the yong lady here”

He motioned to the lady by his side

“Light, preferrably smaller than your average broadsword”

Tunar nodded and walked over to the sword rack, motioning for the young lady to follow him. She did so and stood, uncertain of herself, next to the large blacksmith

“Now first things first lets see....”

His trained eye swept over the mounted swords his finger tips of his right hand dancing over the bare blades. He stopped on a smaller broad sword, the thick wide blade reflecting the light slightly and the fuller running down the length of the blade. It’s golden pommel and guard polished brightly and the black leather hilt unused. He took it from the rack and carefully placed it in the hands of the young woman, correcting her grip. He asked her, his trained eye watching her balance the sword

“How does it feel?”

The young woman held the sword balancing it in her grip. She nodded not saying a word. Tunar smiled and reached into a cupboard under the sword rack, bringing out a plain leather sheath and belt already fitted.

“You’ll find that sword fits this sheath perfectly”

He held the sheath out and the lady sheathed the sword, the slow noise as the steel rubbed against the leather testament to the newness of the sword.

“Now what is your name may I ask?”

The young lady smiled and said

“My name is Elenna good blacksmith and yours?”

Tunar smiled and bowed

“Mine is Tunar Estomer, and I hope you have no need of that sword on this trip”

They both laughed and Azariah walked over looking at the blade that Tunar had given Elenna, Elenna passed the blade to him and Azariah partially unsheathed it, inspecting the part of the blade he could see. He nodded in acceptance and murmed

“Nice blade, how much?”

Tunar chuckled and shook his head

“Nothing”

Elenna and Azariah looked up surprise on their faces, Azariah questioning Tunar

“Are you sure? This is a fine blade”

Tunar nodded saying in low tones

“I hate swords, death and destruction are all they bring. I only make them or repair them because the soldiers of the Riddermark need them and they offer a lot of business”

Azariah and Elenna nodded, Halasan and Haleg standing were they were before were talking in low tones. Tunar looked over to them and said

“When are we leaving Halasan?”

Halasan looked over and smiled

“How soon can you be ready?”

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

Five horses were saddled up ready to depart outside the smith of Tunar Estomer, five people in cloaks stood by the horses as the sun begun to lower, the cool night air filling the city of the horse lords. One cloaked figure was embracing a lady then squatting down to give words to three boys who stood next to her. The figure hugged each of the three then he hugged the last one, the eldest had dissapeared then returned to large objects in his hand, one an axe the other a sword in a black leather sheath.
The figure nodded and took the two putting the sword onto his belt and pushing the axe in his belt. The smallest of the three boys begun to cry and the figure reached into his cloak and took out a small wooden object, a horse, the crying stopped but small sobs could be heard. The other forms stood by the horses, tightening straps or adjusting packs tied to horses. The cloaked figure kissed the lady again then turned to the horses finding two people already mounted, one with an axe looking out in the direction they were travelling, the other impatiently waiting on the back of his horse while the other two mounted.

The figure mounted up and rode to the head of the group trotting off, the others quickly followed and soon Halasan, Haleg, Azariah, Elenna and Tunar were on their way, riding slowly down the street towards the main gates of the city and the way towards the merchant’s post and maybe, just maybe what Halasan was looking for.........
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Old 03-25-2003, 03:24 PM   #11
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"Orc's blood, don't you know how to fry eggs? What did your mother teach you?" The thin man, pushing his yellow, straggly hair out of his eyes and off his face, also pushed the young girl away from the fire.

Catrina recoiled from Kiatus, stung by his tone as much as by the physical rebuff. How could she be expected to know how to cook breakfast like that? And why did he have to speak to her that way? Yet she didn't voice these thoughts. She was too surprised by the changes that had overcome him and by the completely foreign way of life they now pursued.

"I tried. I couldn't help it."

"Yah. Sure. You can't help anything." He stopped for a moment, getting his temper under control. "Let's just get it done and be on our way. The sooner we get to Minas Tirith the sooner we can deliver the jewellery and be safe with our own money."

"I'll go pack the bedrolls and other packs, then."

An indistinct "Ummn" was the man's only response, as he tried to trace back how he got this albatross around his neck.

* * * * * * * * *

A brisk wind whipped around the two men, as if taunting them to dare finish their task, and then pounded out over the plains, the grasslands undulating in twisting masses under the assault. The weather was enough to ensure secrecy; the men had not needed the extra precaution created by the mirky blackness of a moonless night sky. Yet their words were often lost on the wind and they had to repeat themselves.

"Say again," called out the short, unkempt one, his long hair blowing around his head and obscuring his face from full view. He held the scabbard of his sword tightly, as if to stop its banging against his leg in the strong wind.

"There's a wooden chest in the eating room, where the family hoards its money, savings, and a few pieces of silver metalwork. Bring it to me and I know who will pay us a pretty penny for it; you'll get half," answered the taller man, his scraggly blonde hair blown away to reveal a broad face, bony nose, and thin mouth.

"Risk discovery for only half? What makes you think I can't pawn it myself?" The words "pawn it myself" whistled down onto the prairie, echoing.

"You'll be risking nothing. It's just a family, women and children, no arms. The man will be away. The metal work is old, ornate. If you want it's worth, you'll have to find the right broker." "Broker, broker, broker" went rolling like a staccato out over the plains.

"There'll be no arms, no men to defend?"

"None. I'll see to that."

"What'll you do after?" The short man was not convinced, his mind already racing with other possibilities to improve his return for his efforts.

"That's my own concern. Do it right, and there'll be more jobs for you in the future."

Almost knocking the men off their stance, the wind increased its speed, picking up dust and even small twigs and sand as it picked up speed and veered round and round. Buffeted, the two men moved to their horses, completing their deal away from the interference of the weather or any prying eyes.

* * * * * * *

"By all the foul orc-kin left in this world, what have you done?" screamed Kiatus as the flames spread throughout the small wooden home.

Kiatus had remained hidden in the copse while Uldor had led three others into the homestead. Halasan had fallen for the ruse and the home was defenseless. Kiatus knew without cajoling the information from Catrina where the chest stood. Yet the treacherous, foul Easterlings had worked their own double cross, setting fire to the home to mask their thievery and to force Kiatus into turning tail and running.

Uldor laughed in his face.

"You stupid sot. Do you think we would let you take the wealth of the homestead and leave us with a few pieces of worthless silver?"

Suddenly, without warning, Uldor pulled his knife on Kiatus, nearly slashing the man"s chest. Kiatus stumbled, held up an arm to protect himself, and then withdrew in unbelieving horror, the screams of Gwen and the boys ringing in his ears, the sharp acrid smell of burning human flesh assaulting his nose.

He fled, a liquid horror running through his limbs and befuddling his brains. He kept shaking his head as if to remove the sounds and smells which strangled his senses. He came, incoherent, upon a terrified Catrina, hiding by the rowan tree with the horses. This time there was no nightingale singing, only a flock of vultures eying them from the treetop. The frogs were silent, too.

* * * * * *

Catrina slunk into the dark corner of ally way where Kiatus and Deriath were conversing in low tones. The face of Kiatus was animated, full of insistence, urgency, pleading. Deriath stepped back calmly, slyly, turning his eyes towards the girl with an air of knowing appraisal which brought hot shame to her face. Shrugging, he looked back at Kiatus, shook his head, and held up his hand as if to make a counter bargain.

Catrina watched Kiatus rub his hand across his mouth, taking two or three quick sharp breaths. He turned to her.

"We're going with Deriath to his trading post on the River Snowborn, near where the Entwash joins it. He's got work for us to do, carrying some trinkets to Minas Tirith for him. You've just become a merchant's runner, Catrina."

* * * * * * * * *

After the rebuff over cooking breakfast, Catrina retreated to the back bedroom behind Deriath's trading post and became lost in thought and tears as she packed hers and Kiatus' worldly possessions into small canvas bags.

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

The bird cherry trees were in bloom, the scent of their flowers filling the bower, their white hues glowing almost luminescent in the gloaming amongst the dark green canopy. The trees were silhouetted against the deep azure of the sky. Peeking out from amongst the grasses, fritillarias and narcissus and sweet woodruff matted the ground like a blanket of embroidered colour. Here and there fireflies danced, tiny sparks of evanescent brilliance. And off in the distance a nightingale sang, blending strangely but melodiously with the cadences of frogs in the nearby pond. Beneath a rowan tree stood a very young woman, her face alight with the soft radiance of youth , and an older man, his eyes sparkling with charm and merriment. They were speaking in the whispered but laughing tones of secret communication. In her hands she held a silken, emerald green handkerchief, edged it seemed with snowflakes, so ornate was the lace.

"I've never seen anything as beautiful, as lovely," she spoke in a hushed tone.

"Then you have not seen yourself in a mirror," he replied, his tone holding no sense of insincerity or mockery though his mouth held back the faintest outline of a grin.

Laughter bubbled out of her.

"You flirt with me and tease me."

"I assure you not. You don't know how lovely you are."

"Made lovely in your eyes, you mean."

"Now who is teasing."

She looked up into his eyes and made a slight, almost involuntary movement towards him. He bent towards her.

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

Terror and fear thickened a voice which resounded with panic and incomprehension.

"But why do we have to leave? My family is there. We need to help them."

Struggling to overcome his incoherence, his own shock, the full terror of the consequences of their actions, Kiatus spoke bruskly but not cruelly.

"There is no help possible. It is not a sight fit for your eyes. We have been betrayed." A taunt fury clothed this voice, as if in one short space of time an entire possibility of hope were wiped out.

A moan and grievous wail burst forth from the young girl, who nearly fell to her feet. The man reached to her, grabbed her shoulders, and held her up.

"We have no time for mourning, else we too shall be slain. Come quickly now, or not at all."

And from the distance came the sound of falling timber, crackling flames, cries of animals. She hoped not humans. Then Kiatus pulled her out of her stupor, towards the horses and escape.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Dazed, confused, the girl stared glumly out the window, her back to the man, salt lines trailing down her blotched face.

"Tears come easily to you these days, but they won't help us out. Pity isn't what we need, but action and money."

"You never used to speak like this to me."

"You never used to blubber so much."

"You are cruel."

"You are ridiculous and taxing."

She sobbed more.

"Look, I'm not trying to make you cry. I'm trying to make you understand. We have to get out of here quickly. The Easterlings are after us. They think we have the goods they wanted from your family's homestead. Deriath won't loan me the money; he wants me to run trade for him. We aren't in a position to argue."

"I don't like him. He's shifty. I don't like the way he looks at me."

"You think life's all about romance. It isn't."

She sobbed even harder. He threw up his hands, the tension in his psyche stretched out into each finger, spread wide and taunt in an act of desperate incomprehension and frustration.

"Oh shut up. We've got to get to this smith Estomer. We need a weapon before we leave."

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

"Come and eat," Kiatus yelled.

Catrina stuffed the last bit of clothing into the canvas bags and lifted it out into the hallway. As she did so, a small piece of cloth fluttered to the bare plank flooring, falling into an empty knot hole. A small green silk handkerchief. It settled passively into the dust of the floor.
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Old 03-26-2003, 04:16 PM   #12
The Squatter of Amon Rûdh
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Sting

The company left the city by its main gate, the last to leave before it was closed for the night; for though the Shadow was gone from the East yet there were still roving bands of masterless men abroad of nights, and other, fouler things still haunted the dark. The gates closed behind them and they were alone on the empty road. It was an ill-omened departure, for night was a strange time for travelling and an air of mistrust enfolded the party like a shroud.

Haleg rode in silence and with caution, his eyes stabbing at the gathering darkness in search of unknown foes and his right hand never far from the haft of the great axe. Not for the first time Elenna wondered that one so ragged should carry the weapon of a king's champion without incongruity. His movements were assured and economical, always in perfect balance and always with his weapon close to hand. One end of a strange package protruded from a roll of blankets behind his saddle, and in this uncertain light it was uncomfortably like a sword. Both Azariah and the smith watched the axeman warily, and only Halasan rode close to him.

"I like not the road at this hour," murmured the scarred warrior, his words all but inaudible to all save Halasan. "We should leave the road and make camp 'til first light. An enemy could come within bowshot in this mirk and we would never know."

With that the axeman turned his horse from their path, leading the way toward a copse that was just visible at some yards' distance. Just a few feet from the road he stopped and dismounted carefully, his motions once more smooth and fluid.

"Best to lead the horses," he said, again in the gentle undertone. "There are rabbit warrens hereabout."

"I don't recall your being made commander of this party," challenged Azariah quietly; but within a moment Haleg stood by his stirrup, both hands on his axe and frustration in his still-soft voice.

"Then you lead us, if that is your wish," he said. “But I have no desire to take that road in darkness, nor to bandy words with you all night. In this wood I shall make my camp, and those who will may join me.”

Turning abruptly from the gaping soldier, he took his axe in his right hand and caught up the reins in his left; then led them cautiously under the eaves of the stand of Elms, placing his feet carefully so that his passage made only the vaguest whisper of sound.

“There is no time to lose!” said Halasan, adopting the same half-whisper as the mercenary. “We must press on if we are to catch them!”

“And we will catch them all the sooner if we do not die by some brigand’s arrow before we reach their trail” replied the other implacably, stilling all argument by striding ahead. They followed reluctantly, unsure of what to do or say in the face of his calm authority, yet resentful of his curt commands. When he spoke, he did not make requests; he simply stated what would be.

They made camp in the centre of a large clearing, digging a fire-pit and surrounding it with stones so that it gave out the least possible light. Halasan asked his companion what danger merited such caution, and received a terse reply.

“He who saves his caution until the enemy is in sight will never see his foes,” said the warrior. Then turning to the others he announced “I will take the last watch if there are no objections.”

Predictably there were none, but Azariah said “A man could do with company on that watch. Our party is large enough for us to keep vigil together.” His words were friendly, but his purpose was plain: he did not trust the strange mercenary. Nonetheless, Haleg made no protest: the last watch in the cold and drowsy hours of early morning was a trial of endurance that none relished and few performed well. Attacks would often come in these cold hours, and all too often they were unopposed by drowzing sentries. The smith took the first watch, and they went to their bed-rolls in silence. This would not be an easy journey.

*****

The morning dawned cold and clear, and one by one the company awoke to find the fire already burning strongly. Haleg stood by the horses, silent and watchful, his axe at the ready. He made no move to join them.

“What ails you, friend?” asked Halasan carefully, moving to stand by the other man.

“Only too many raided camps,” replied Haleg. “Such care was learned, and the lessons were hard. I do not like to travel at night, even in this land, although I am glad that we have with us a guardsman. That will make matters simpler.”

As he continued his words became a chant, and Halasan knew, though the staves were unfamiliar, that this was one of the great Lays.

There they fought and fell by foes outnumbered,
by treachery trapped at a time of night
when their fires faded and few were waking –
some wakened never, not for wild noises,
nor cries nor curses, nor clashing steel,
swept as they slumbered to the slades of death.


“What would you do now?” asked the homesteader, amazed at the grim warning. To him the task was simple: he would reach the trading post and pick up the fugitives’ trail, at the end of which Kiatus awaited his wrath. He would free his daughter from the betrayer’s clutches, and her abductor would know fear.

“I would ask a man who knows the way to lead us to the merchant,” smiled the axeman, clapping him on the shoulder. “How convenient that we have such a man here with us. First, though, we must eat.”

He took a loaf and a hunk of cheese from one of his saddlebags and led his fellow traveller to the fire, where breakfast was already underway. Taking a knife from his belt he sliced a chunk from each and began to eat, smooth and unhurried in this as all actions. Although he seemed at ease, lightly discussing their route with Estomer between mouthfuls, the smith noted that his eyes were everywhere. “Who are you, Haleg?” he wondered. “And why so watchful among friends?”

Breakfast over, they broke camp; Tunar leading the way back onto the road, where they mounted and once more headed South. Haleg still spoke little, although now he had softer words for all, even an apology for the Gondorian for his peremptory commands of the night before. The light seemed to have relaxed him, and indeed it had, for the day was fine and the road straight. They could see for several miles, and the road thus far was clear. As the sun reached its zenith the mood of the company had lightened and their spirits were less subdued. Now hope and determination could be read in Halasan’s face; Haleg’s rough mood had mellowed and whatever he had said to the guardsman had cheered him, although he still watched the axeman carefully. The smith was pointing out scenery and telling local stories as he rode, and even Elenna, whose lungs had not taken well to sleeping in the open, was brightening as the sun began to warm her. Only once did she succumb to a bout of coughing, which she passed off to their new companions as a bad cold. Haleg had said nothing at this, his face unreadable, but he had slowed their pace nonetheless. So the travellers passed the first day of their journey, making good time and camping late, driven as they were by Halasan’s impatience. He spoke little of his pursuit, but his gaze was ever drawn in the direction of the Emyn Muil, and there was murder in his eyes.

[ March 26, 2003: Message edited by: The Squatter of Amon Rûdh ]
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Old 03-27-2003, 07:20 PM   #13
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Sting

“There he is!” Joal spoke in a hoarse whisper as he and his companion trudged into the White Horse. Joal was exhausted, and Whisper elbowed him in the stomach, as his breathing had become rhythmic croaks. Pointing to a dark booth in one corner of the Inn, Whisper led Joal to it and the two sat down, joining a darkly dressed man who’s hood showed only the moon of his face.

“Ah! Tavari and Joal! It has been a long time since you traveled into the land of the Strawheads!” the man chuckled and took a gulp of his ale, and then brought the mug down onto the wooden table, sloshing beer onto the table.

“Yes, we need your help. Did you chance to see the man that the easterlings are after?” Joal questioned, and peered at the man’s mug.

“You look tired, boy! Have a drink! It isn’t poisonous!” The man laughed outright, and then smacked the table with the back of his hand. “Now then, I might know what man you’re talking about, but…”

Whisper knew exactly what he meant, and was about to pull out the purse of jewels that the Easterlings had paid them in advance, but Joal began to speak. “Oh, come now, fool! Every spy this side of the Misty Mountains knows about that man! You better” Whisper clasped a hand over Joal’s mouth before he could continue. Handing the man two red gems and a pearl necklace, Whisper glared at Joal and bid the man to go on.

“That’s better. Now, the man you’re speaking of, Halasan, I think is his name, came and went from this Inn a few times over the past two days. He left one last time this morning. My son followed him to the seamstress’ place, and then to the smith’s shop. After that, my boy followed them to the gate about two hours ago. That’s all.” The man finished, and flung his hand, palm up, onto the table again. Joal rolled his eyes as Whisper handed him another necklace, then the two swiftly and silently left the White Horse.

Outside of the White Horse, night had already taken over the skies. The two rushed towards the gates of the city. When they got there, the gates were already shut tight for the night. Guards patrolled it, and the two assassins had to sneak by them to get out of the city of the Rohirrim.

“Run, Joal! I know you can!” Whisper called behind her as the two sprinted away from the gate and down the road. Whisper could hear Joal’s heavy breathing as he tried to speed up.

“Not with two left feet I can’t!” Joal called back through pants and hasty intakes of air.

A ways down the road, Whisper stopped and Joal bumped into her, knocking both down into the dust. When Whisper had controlled her temper and both the assassins had stood back up, Whisper pointed to her left. Joal could barely see a crackling flame from a coppice away from the road.

“Now, Joal, I want you to be very quiet, so as not to snap a twig and get yourself killed,” Whisper ordered.

“Yes, ma’am,” Joal replied mockingly. “And what of you, oh great Tavari Whisper?”

“Stop joking around, Joal! Let’s get this done with!”

The two split up, hiding in the shadows of either side of the camp. Whisper surveyed the fire area, and saw only a visibly tall male on guard near the fire. He held an axe in one hand, and a sword in the other, but did not look as though he planned on using them. Medium length black hair showed random streaks of silver, and yet his face showed a younger look. Was this Halasan? No, Whisper reminded herself. The easterlings said he’d be unarmed.

Joal walked – no, skipped – around the length of the camp, until he ran into Whisper, sending both of them falling to the ground, Whisper crushed underneath Joal. The once silent thicket became alive with snapping twigs, crunching leaves, and frantic grass animals fleeing. The smith looked up, and for a long time neither Joal nor Whisper moved, and their breathing was scarce. When the smith finally went back to his own thoughts, the two quickly and silently rearranged themselves and laid belly-down on the ground for the rest of the night. They both drifted off into a deep sleep.

The next morning, Whisper woke with the sun beaming down onto her, and she woke up Joal. To their disappointment, they had slept later than their prey had. They had gone, leaving nothing to signal that they had slept there the night before. Whisper and Joal did the same, returning to the road in the bright sun.

Following the travelers during the day wasn’t too difficult, and staying at a safe distance was no hard task. The two followers never lost track of their prey, for random bouts of coughing kept them in the right direction down the roads.

When Halasan and company finally made camp that night; Whisper and Joal decided that that would be the night to attack. Readying his daggers, Joal also made sure his length of rope was close by, for in his experience (however limited) it always paid off to be prepared. The two did as they had done the night before and split up as they went around the camp. This time, the night watch was taller than the one before, and had close-cropped black hair and stern grey eyes. Whisper kept watch over the guard, and Joal was the self-appointed killer of the man named Halasan.

Avoiding the night watcher from the previous night and an unconsciously coughing woman, Joal neared two other sleeping men, one with an axe in close proximity, the other weaponless.

Joal tiptoed towards the man without the axe, remembering the discription the Easterlings had given to the assassins in the beginning. Joal, as Whisper had told him the night before, kept clear of twigs and leaves and walked toes first, then heel. Coming to a crouch next to the unarmed man, Joal spun his daggers around, and grinned evilly. Now it is my turn to get the kill, and not be the clumsy one! Joal thought. He didn’t even notice that the axe-man had never been asleep in the first place, and only had been lying with his eyes open. Joal didn’t even see the axe coming before he could kill his prey.


Whisper crept up behind the watchman, and had drawn her remaining dagger. She had chosen to kill the guard, in case a quick get-away was needed. As she leapt from bush to bush to get closer to the guard, she finally came close enough to throw her dagger. Whisper raised her arm to spin the dagger, but before she could, a loud cry pierced the calm air.

Joal! Whisper cried inwardly, but she dared not say it aloud.

Whisper ducked behind the brush as the guard turned to see what had happened, and Whisper backtracked through her chain of bushes, following the watchman. When he stopped, Whisper stopped. A shadow-man hovered over a crumpled figure, and another figure had awoken from sleep and stood from his spot. Three men, the watchman, the shadow-man, and the sleeper hovered over the body that Whisper knew in her heart was Joal’s. Pain began to well up inside Whisper’s heart as she noticed the shadow-shape of a weapon protruding from the shadow-man’s strong arms.

A slice rang through the air, along with a gurgling groan, as the shadow-creature pulled what Whisper realized to be an axe from the crumpled body of Joal.

A tear rolled down Whisper’s cheek for the first time in long years; her partner Joal was dead, she was certain. He had only been thirteen! Whisper’s training, which she had received from the dead boy himself, told her not to move a muscle, and her sadness had struck her into a state where she wouldn’t have moved anyway. Joal was gone!

[ March 27, 2003: Message edited by: Aylwen Dreamsong ]
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Old 03-28-2003, 08:55 AM   #14
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Sting

While Elenna’s mind was lost in a happy and peaceful world of new dresses and pink-and-green puppies, the movements of her body painted a vastly different picture. Her thin body twisted and turned in her bedroll, forever seeking the perfect position but never finding it. Much to Azariah’s chagrin, her body often experimented with sprawling on top of his blankets. Despite the strange black herbal concoction she had drank before she had gone to sleep, the other members of the small group could still hear her coughing across the camp. Two days of traveling was more exercise than she had had for several years, and the long lessons on the use of a broadsword with Azariah had left both her arms aching and sore.

Azariah gently nudged her limbs back on top of her bedroll before pulling the blanket back over her body. He would have to speak to her about her sleeping arrangements tomorrow. Despite the onset of spring, the night was still too chilly to spend without the protection of a blanket. Reflecting silently on his descent from diplomatic escort to chaperone, he returned to his watch. Carefully avoiding the low light of the fire, he slowly paced around the sleeping bodies of his four companions. Varying his itinerary from time to time, he began to glance at the position of the moon in the sky. Despite the unusual nocturnal activities of his charge, he would certainly be glad to go to sleep.

He was looking over horses and the group’s baggage when the attack came. The Gondorian had moved to the opposite side of Halasan to check on the horses when he saw a shadow flitter out of the woods towards his sleeping comrades. Moving with speed unbecoming of a man in plate mail, Azariah began to run toward the silent figure while drawing his sword. “To arms!”

Fortunately for Halasan, the axe man Haleg had simply been feigning sleep. Perhaps due small distance between Halasan and Haleg’s bedrolls, the boy’s soft steps had alerted the large mercenary. Azariah’s shouts had only confirmed his suspicions that something was not right. Grabbing the intricately wrought axe that he kept close at hand, he leaped to his feat. Joal had just enough time to spin around and throw his dagger at the new threat before the axe bit into his right shoulder and smashed into his chest.

By now, Azariah’s shout and Joal’s untimely demise had woken the rest of the sleepers. Tunar, inexperienced as he was in such matters, hastily grasped for his weapons before climbing somewhat unsteadily to his feet. Elenna had gotten to her feet much quicker than the blacksmith, though she had not even thought of reaching for a weapon. Halasan, on the other hand, took the time to question his comrades before he got to his feet. “What in the name of Valar is going on?”

Haleg lowered the body to the ground near the fire and freed his axe. “Perhaps a highwayman or a bandit. He seemed intent on your life.”

Azariah gripped his bastard sword in both hands, glancing at the body before peering into the darkness around the party. “A dirty Easterling, if I’ve ever saw one. They usually travel in groups, so we’d best be on our guard.”

“No, Gondorian, I don’t think there’s a band of them lurking in the shadows. No bandit worth his salt would attack a group by himself. Besides, why would he attack an unarmed man when there was a guard pacing around?”

“Indeed. Still, it would be best if we make haste as soon as possible.”

While Tunar had seen animals killed in the stockyards, the sight of the dead human severely unsettled his stomach, and he had staggered off to the edge of the camp to loose his dinner. Elenna, on the other hand, was no stranger to death. Even the most skilled herbalist regularly lost patients to disease or old age. Still, she made a point not to look at the dead body. Instead, she turned her attention to the dagger sticking out of Haleg’s arm. “Don’t pull it out yourself, Haleg. It’ll only let more blood out. Haleg, come over here and lie down. Halasan, I’ll need some warm water. Azariah, get me the brown bag by my boots.”

Ignoring the dead body of the assassin, Halasan threw more wood on top of the fire. While Tunar’s face was still as white as a sheet, he moved to assist the homeless homesteader with his task. Azariah quickly retrieved the bag and returned to the herbalist’s side, somewhat curious at what she intended to do. His idea of battlefield surgery, just like Haleg’s, was to simply remove the weapon and bind it with whatever cloth was available. Haleg lay on his back, with his injured arm near the flickering fire to allow Elenna a better view of the wound. She took the bag from Azariah and pulled a roll of bandages, some herbs, and a cup.

Halasan pulled the pot of water off the fire and placed it near the woman. Elenna filled the cup from the pot of water and threw a few pinches of herbs in before handing it back to Halasan. “Prop Haleg up and let him drink this. It’ll help with the pain, and I’m in no hurry to be punched by him.”

While they waited for the tea to take effect, Elenna placed a stick between the wounded man’s teeth before positioning the Azariah and Halasan to hold the man in place. Kneeling on top of the man’s blood-drenched hand, she took a hold of the dagger and pulled upwards. A fresh fountain of blood spurted out of his arm, splattering a small amount of blood on her dress. Using three quarters of the remaining water, she washed the wound out and quickly bandaged it. Returning to the herbs she had laid out, she threw a small pile of objects into the pot before securing the soggy herbs around the wounds with another layer of bandages. “Unless you wish for another scar, Haleg, I would advise that you not pick at the bandage.”

By now, the first rays of sunlight were already beginning to peak over the horizon. Elenna quickly repackaged her supplies and hurried off to find a clean set of clothing. The rest of the party quickly broke down camp, rolling up the bedrolls and scattering the ashes of the fire. Azariah and Halasan, at Tunar’s insistence, dragged the body of the assassin off into the woods and buried him in a shallow grave. Soon, everything was packed and the small group quickly left their bloody campground.

[ April 11, 2003: Message edited by: Ransom ]
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Old 04-01-2003, 07:29 AM   #15
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Sting

Halasan looked at the body one last time as it was lowered into the ground. The father in him pained at the youth of his would be assassin; his face still only showing the first sprouting of hair, his body lanky and with much growing left to be done. But then a cold glint came into his eye. It was but a filthy easterling murderer! He smiled as Tunar struggled to cover the body with the loose dirt. Before the blacksmith had finished the woodsman turned and walked back to the camp.

******

Haleg spurred his horse forward to ride level with Halasan, who had been talking idly with Tunar about their journey.
“How are you holding up Hal?”
Halasan looked round at the Axeman, a brief look of irritation on his face that disappeared as fast as it had appeared.
“Fine, though I would be happier if we could add a few more miles behind us than in front of us!” Haleg grinned and nodded.
They had needed to stop earlier when Elenna had erupted in a coughing fit. It was not a welcome delay and Halasan could feel his patience fading as the day progressed. “Tunar says another day will see us to Cambere and Deriath’s trading post. By the Valar that Merchant had better be cooperative!” Tunar glanced round at the woodsman and then at Haleg. They had both noticed the threat in Halasan’s voice.

One more day! Halasan gripped the reins tightly until the anger had passed.

******

That night they built the camp fire higher than before, letting it pour light out over the grassy plain and spread its homely warmth. Halasan sat alone after eating his fill to look out across the Eastfold onto the jagged peaks of the Ered Nimrais standing like a mighty crown enclosing Rohan’s southern border. But as always his thoughts fell back into regrets and dreams about his family. His rash words from his last meeting with Catrina tormented him now, and the more he tried to ignore them the more he remembered. Unchecked tears falling slowly down his stubbly chin.

******

Halasan emerged from the main house, idly checking his bow as he walked, the bright morning sun light filtering through the ancient trees to give a mottled shade over his farm house and main court yard. Four horses were saddled and ready, on three sat his trusted huntsman, lightly armoured and bearing bows and short swords. Besides the first saddled horse stood a large, sandy haired and cherry faced woman. With her were two lanky teenage boys with cropped dark hair, his hair, and bright blue eyes that matched their mothers. He noted with irritation the absence of Catrina.

Gwen stepped forward and clasp his hand, a look of concern on her face. “Now you take care Halasan Corintha, ‘tis no holiday you go on. Those cursed goblins maybe leaderless but corner them and they’ll still show you the point of their swords. If there are too many, come home. Please!” Halasan tried to ignore the ting of fear in her words. He wouldn’t be gone long after all. Next he shook his sons hands, the fearless innocence of the young showing on their smooth skinned faces. “Now you do as uncle Kiatus says while I’m away you hear!” The boys nodded and smiled mischievously. “And be no trouble to your ma as well. Or I’ll throw you both to Orodruin for your sins.” The boys tried to give a serious look and nodded before running off into the field. Just then Catrina appeared from behind one of the store houses. She was flushed faced and her hair tussled wildly down her shoulders.
“You decided to say goodbye to your pa did you then.” Halasan said in an icy tone, then regretted it. “Go.” She replied coldly. “I care not! Don’t think I will grieve at your passing!” She stopped and crossed her arms angrily.
Halasan looked directly at her, furious at her tone in front of his men. “Mind your tongue girl. Never would I have dared speak as such to my parents. Your not too old for the belt!” His composure was cracking, his voice raising to a rant. For a moment Catrina blanched, then stepped forward again. “You could'nt catch me old man! Go. Go and find your filthy goblins. You won’t find me here when you return.” Tears streaked down her face as she yelled, but she ignored them and ran out into the field and beyond view.

Halasan looked down at Gwen, who stared back with a disapproving nod. “She has your stubbornness Hal.” He looked away. “Well she should lose it. It does not become a young woman to be so head strong against her father.” Gwen went to say something else, but her words were drowned by the clamour of hooves as Halasan charged his horse out through the homestead gate. Rising up to the main path south the woodsman turned and waved to his family, who all smiled and waved back, before yelling to his horse and charging off in a cloud of dust kicked up from the horses newly shod hooves.

******

The next day saw the group ride fast towards Cambere upon Halasan’s insistence. No one complained about the hard ride, they had all heard him cry the previous night and sensed the grief that he battled with. Two hours past mid day the riders topped a ridge to look down across the Eastfold at a small village that forded the snowbourn river as it spilled out into the Entwash; the wide river glittering softly in the mild sun light. The village was no more than a handful of houses with a large stone building at its centre, though a sizable dock protruded out into the River Entwash and several boats could be seen tethered there. Without a word Halasan urged Oakenmane over the crest and down into the valley, the others following close behind.

[ April 15, 2003: Message edited by: Palando ]
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Old 04-10-2003, 02:34 PM   #16
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Sting

As the riders entered the village of Cambere folk moved aside warily. Many would come to trade with the merchant Deriath and not all dealt kindly with his neighbours. They dismounted outside the solid stone dwelling that they took to be the trader's home while one of Deriath's servants slipped inside to warn his master of their presence. The others kept their distance, eyeing the newcomers warily.

Deriath emerged after some time, still brushing crumbs from his tunic. He was of middle years, plump, balding and with long strands of hair plastered across his shining pate. His clothes were fine but well-worn, the depredations of damp and moth showing around the hems; and his hands and eyes moved constantly, as though seeking to escape from his visitors.

"Well, my lords and ladies," he began, his glance darting from one to another without holding the gaze of any. "What brings you to my humble establishment? Provisions, perhaps? Fresh mounts?"

Halasan answered briskly: "I am Halasan. Tunar the Smith you know. My other companions here are Azariah, Lieutenant of the King's Guard, Elenna the apothecary, and Haleg. Our business is with you alone."

As he introduced his companions Deriath's gaze lit on each in turn. There was some worry at the sight of the king's livery, a dismissive glance at the slight herbalist and an appraising look at the axeman. It had clearly not escaped his attention that Haleg's trade had not been named.

"By all means," answered the little man smoothly. "Follow me and we shall discuss this by a fire." He directed a servant to see to their horses and they followed him inside.

The house was well-furnished, its stone shell divided into several rooms by simple walls of wattle. They followed the merchant along a flagged corridor that ran the full length of the rear wall and into a large space, draped with rich hangings and carpeted in embroidered silks of Harad. The furniture was exotic and intricately carved, and a large fire burned in the hearth. Deriath motioned them to sit and took his place in a large comfortable chair nearest the fire. Once he was settled he looked across at them and asked again their business.

"I seek news of two wayfarers who passed through here some days ago," said Halasan. "A man and a woman, she young, he of an age with myself."

The merchant's look hardened. He had seen the brief flicker of dismay on the face of the axeman, and he had detected the haste in the other man's voice: here there was danger, but also profit for a man who knew how to bargain. "Many people pass this way," he said. "And many of those have dealings with me. I cannot be expected to remember them all."

"These you would remember," said Halasan confidently. "They were in great haste, and would not have paused long."

"I remember none such," the merchant parried cautiously. "Perhaps there is something else that would mark them?"

"They may have been well supplied with coin." There was a catch in Halasan's voice.

"No pair like that passed through here." Deriath's voice was firm and certain.

Haleg spoke for the first time. "We have need of some supplies. Perhaps your memory will serve you better for some business. Those we seek were bound hither, this we know."

Tunar shifted uneasily in his seat. The conversation was already at the limits of courtesy. He spoke hurriedly: "Indeed, my business is simpler, Deriath. I came for my usual order."

"All in good time, my friend," smiled the merchant. "I am sure that these gentlemen have much to offer in return for my wares."

The implication was plain. A bribe would be required to match an earlier payment. Else they would learn nothing, were they to buy a thousand tons of grain.

"Perhaps you might tell us the price of oats in these parts." This was Haleg again, swiftly interrupting Halasan. "We need only the finest."

"Far beyond your price, if your garb speaks aright," the other countered. "Now that axe might get you more than you need.

"Why not take a close look?" Haleg's suggestion was mild, but he unslung his axe swiftly, waving its head before Deriath's shocked face. The merchant cried out and two men burst into the room, both with drawn swords. Haleg lowered the head of his weapon as they stepped forward and the merchant continued, waving back his guards.

"There, now; let's not have weapons drawn here. I may have the news you seek, but it will come at a price. Shall we say a hundred silver pieces? I'll throw in your supplies."

"You know you ask for more than we have," answered Halasan. "You're wasting our time."

"On the contrary, it is you who waste mine." Their host rose and the swordsmen stepped forward.

Haleg scarcely seemed to move. As the two guards approached, careful and competent, he calmly raised his axe. Stepping within the range of one weapon, he rammed his head into the face of its owner and swung the flat of his own blade to stun the other man. He rammed the axe-head haft-first into the stomach of the first guard and brought the shaft back to strike his companion in the groin. Both men fell to the floor and Azariah's complaint froze on his lips: so swiftly had the action come that before he could speak both the guards were writhing in agony on the ground and the axeman was gathering their swords.

"Perhaps we could negotiate." Haleg's voice was calm.

The smith and the merchant gazed in horror, the guardsman in disbelief.

"What reason was there to assault these men?" demanded Azariah. "Such behaviour is outlawed by order of the King!"

"But the king is not here," answered the other, throwing the swords through a window. "And we need news of our quarry." As he spoke, he tested the edge of his axe on the ball of his thumb. "There was a man once who stood between me and one I wished to meet," he reminisced gently. "He did not stand for long. Quick! Which way did they go?"

Deriath turned his pleading gaze on Azariah. "Please, Sir, make him stop!" he cried. "I'm just a simple merchant! I don't know what he means!"

The guardsman made to rise, and Haleg continued.

"You can die before he reaches you or after, Merchant. Which is it to be?" He moved the axe closer and shifted his grip as his companion stood to restrain him, allowing the edge of the blade to nick the smaller man's neck. Tunar the smith laid his hand gently on the guardsman's arm, his own gaze transfixed by the sudden brutality before him. Inexorably the mercenary spoke on. "Where may we find the man and the woman? One is named Kiatus, the other Catrina. Your time grows short, fat man; use it well."

The little trader shrank into his chair, his lip trembling. "Five days ago!" he squealed. "They left five days ago, bound for Minas Tirith! They paid me in gems for my silence!"

"Thank you," said the other, and strode from the room. Azariah followed him, and from outside came the sound of fierce debate. The smith moved to Deriath's side but the little man turned away from him. Elenna was pale and silent, her expression unreadable.

Halasan was unabashed. "You see what becomes of bribery?" he admonished and followed the other men from the house. On the floor, the winded guards struggled to rise.
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Old 04-14-2003, 01:31 AM   #17
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Tunar was in a state of shock after the confrontation in the merchants office. Deriath had been bested, he had obviously underestimated his clients and what they were capable of and how bad they wanted the information he tried to make money from. Tunar shook his head as he left the merchant’s office trailing behind Halasan, Haleg and the others wondering why the world was filled with so much violence. He understood why it was done but for the life of him could not understand the need, surely paying an amount of money is better than causing pain and suffering? Even if it seemed justified, violence should only be used when all other avenues were exhausted.
He quickly caught up with the group and said to Halasan in a whispered tone, glancing every now an again at the axe wielding mercenary who now strode along eyes fixed directly ahead

“We need to stay here the night, though after the previous little incident that may be unwise we need it”

Halasan nodded not saying anything so Tunar continued:

“There is a little inn not far from here called the Elephant and wheelbarrow. A quaint little place not many visitors and I know the barkeep so our direction of leave will not be known to too many”

Halasan nodded and Tunar strode ahead of him and Haleg making his way quickly through the streets whispers flowing behind in the group’s wake.

“Word spreads quickly of one’s actions”

Azariah commented as he heard some very loud whispers from a group of men “The one with the axe” “Took down two of Deriath’s guards” “Doesn’t look that big” Tunar nodded and said with a note of tiredness

“Yes, when you threaten to kill the wealthiest merchant in town word does seem to spread far and wide like wild fire”

They ignored the whispers marking their passage and soon Tunar stopped out the front of a small building, two stories high with red brick construction slate tiles covering the roof and several chimneys poking out of the black roof puffing smoke into the air like oversized pipweed pipes. Over the front door a sign swung with an elephant inside a green wheelbarrow clutching a bottle of ale and looking rather indisposed with white writing peeling from the wheather that proclaimed to passers by that this was indeed the ’Elephant & Wheelbarrow Inn’. Tunar pointed to the door and said with a slight smile and a happier tone

“This is the Elephant and wheelbarrow inn, a place that I usually stay if I ever find myself stuck in Cambere on a trade run”

He moved off toward the door opening it letting warm candle light spill out into the street he turned and motioned for the group to follow him and they all filed into the common room, the one or two visitors lifting their heads from their ale long enough to register the newcomers then return to their amber liquid.
Tunar walked to the bar and called out loudly through a back door

“Daennyn! Daennyn!”

There was a thump then a grumble and a short portly man came out of the door way, hastily tying on a stained grey apron, brushing his thick blonde hair into a somewhat acceptable look then looking up at his visitors a look of annoyance wrinkling his face up. As soon as he saw that it was Tunar that was in front of him his face lit up and he reached over the bar in an offer of a handshake. Tunar took the proffered handshake and shook it firmly Daennyn exclaiming

“What brings you to Cambere old friend? More trade?”

Tunar kept his cheerful attitude and said

“No friend, a different sort of business I am on this time around”

Daennyn nodded and looked over Tunar’s shoulder at his companions

“And who are these companions of yours?”

Tunar turned and let Daennyn see all of them sayign to him

“These are the people who I guided to Cambere, they needed a guide so I showed them, they are only passing through”

Daennyn nodded and came around the other side of the bar extending his hand to each of the company and greeting them. Tunar smiled as some of the company were taken back by the barkeep’s bubbly and friendly nature. When all the introductions were finished Tunar turned to the smiling Daennyn and said in a more business like tone reserved for those who he was selling goods to.

“We need rooms for the night and food for tonight and the morning”

Daennyn nodded and his eyes twinkled as he counted up how much it would cost as there was so many of them. Tunar noticed this and knew it well in his dealins with Daennyn before

“Now I would be hoping that because there is so many of us you would be giving us a fairer price”

Daennyn ‘s face twitched and Tunar then said

“If you would do this I would be more obliged to discount you on the price of repairing or making any items you need”

Daennyn smiled and said with tinge of hapiness at the discreet haggling

“Done.”

Each were shown to their rooms, each room was a one bed affair with a window, bathtub, a side stand and a rack for hanging any clothes on. Tunar showed himself to his usual room, the only difference between his and the others was that his had a chair facing the window which looked out back towards Edoras and it was there that he know sat slowing nodding off to sleep the events of the day and the attack of the night before tiring him mentally beyond which he had ever had to endure.....
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Old 04-14-2003, 03:24 PM   #18
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Sting

The second the prey was a safe distance away from their camp, Whisper leapt over to the makeshift grave they had given Joal. Whisper dug her dagger into the ground at what she assumed was the head of the grave plot, though could’ve been where Joal’s feet had been placed, or for all Whisper knew, the cruel killers could’ve just dumped his crumpled body into the hole. Despite, Whisper dug the dagger in, and found the rope Joal had always carried around and grabbed it from its discarded spot near a tree. Whisper wound it around the knife and left it there.

The reality had only just begun to set in for Whisper…that her partner in crime (literally) Joal was dead and gone. Gone to wherever Eru sent the spirits of humans, and in Joal’s case, very young humans. Joal had only been thirteen! He did not really know what he was getting into when he went to kill the man, their prey. Still, the axe man had given Joal a cruel, but swift death as reward for his attempt at murder. Whisper did not fully realize how much Joal’s death affected her until a sneaky sob escaped the girl. Whisper couldn’t help it. The companion she had known for four years was gone, never to return. Joal taught her all she knew, and he had only been nine. Whisper couldn’t see how anyone could blame him; it was a hard life easterlings had to live, full of death and loneliness. Joal could not help what fate had given him.

Whisper had never let herself cry, but this was the exception. After long minutes by Joal’s dirt grave, Whisper convinced herself that Joal’s death could not hurt her unless she let it. She also convinced herself that it was only right that she take revenge on Joal’s killer. It would not be hard either, as long as both Joal’s killer and the man Whisper had been hired to assassinate were traveling together. She admitted to herself that it would be tough, and she knew she’d need help. Whisper resolved to head a bit north to an Inn she knew of, and get help from acquaintances. She’d have to pay though…

~*~

“Hallo there! Welcome to the Second Chances Inn! What can I get ya, deary?” A short, plump woman with hair the color of mud waddled up to Whisper as she crept into the inn. The woman put one hand on her hip as the other held a tray full of beer mugs, and both empty and full, as well as half-full and spilled.

“Nothing for me, thanks, only here to take a rest.” Whisper replied, throwing a friendly glance back at the jolly owner of the inn. Whisper glanced about the bar, and after realizing the people she’d hoped to meet were not there she searched for the innkeeper. When Whisper found the woman, she asked her where she might find a group of about five or six men who had come from a village just north of Minas Tirith.

“They may have signed in under the name of ‘Ormand’,” Whisper added hurriedly, hoping not to lose too much time.

“Ah yes! I ‘member them folks. Came in ‘ere just fore yesterday evening. If you wan’ ter know which room they sleeping in, it’s upstairs, first on the left. You sure you don’t wan’ ter have a drink o’ something there, child?” The woman smiled, and Whisper noticed that the woman had few teeth. Whisper thanked the woman, politely refused further service, and made her way up the stairwell. Coming to the first door on the left, Whisper leaned against the door, listening. She heard laughing, joking, yelling, and everything else associated with drunken men. Stifling a laugh, Whisper hardly bothered to listen any longer. Before she knew it, the door was pulled open, and Whisper was on the floor. She looked up to the stares of six men, one of which was standing right above her.

“Tavari? Is that you? Where’ve you been?” The man above her asked in a booming, gruff voice. Whisper jumped up, and if she realized that her head came to about the man’s shoulder, she didn’t show it. “Where’s Joal? Don’t he still follow you everywhere?”

“Joal um, you see, Joal…erm, Joal just hasn’t been around lately,” Whisper stuttered out the words, and all the men in the room made the shape of an ‘o’ with their lips.

“Then to what do we owe this…pleasant surprise?” A man in the corner spoke. His deep, baritone voice was louder than the first man’s.

“Well, I need a little help. See, I’m tracking these two men and since Joal isn’t with me, it might be a little easier if I had help,” Whisper walked further into the room as she spoke, and took a seat next to someone of the Ormand group she had not met before.

“Oh, don’t mind Jorgen, he’s new. We found him a few weeks ago. Says he can read and write,” bragged the leader of the group, Akir. Whisper rolled her eyes. Anyone with half a brain can learn how to read and write, she thought. “Tavari, you know we’re always there to help a friend. Of course, you know we’ve got to eat somehow. People don’t give away food and rooms for free. We’d be willing to help, if perhaps there were something in it for us…”

Whisper sighed. She knew that would come sooner or later. Grabbing her little money purse from the folds of her pocket, she turned away from the group and considered how much she had. Just enough, or just not enough, to get these guys to help. Whisper cursed her inability to use her payments wisely, and turned back towards the group.

“What if I got three of you to help? How much?” Whisper asked, and the men immediately gathered in a circle to discuss. When they were done with their frenzied whispers, they faced the assassin.

“We’ll let you take Jorgen, and Seshan. You’ve got to let us have that bag of jewels you got there, though,” was the final decision. Whisper was inwardly outraged. Whisper could pay for the help of all of the men for the money she had, and two wouldn’t be worth what they were asking for.

“I’ll give you three gems and a necklace,” Whisper returned cautiously. The men debated again, and turned back to her. They raised the sum to five gems, a necklace, and a ring if she had one. Whisper frowned. She only had four gems.

“Take my first offer, or leave it,” she replied firmly.

“Unless I am mistaken, is it not you who need our help? Why should you decide the price? Correct me if I’m in the wrong but, we are in control of the payment.” Akir retorted, and two of the men drew daggers.

“There’s no need to get physical here, boys,” came a small voice, from the new man called Jorgen. “Let’s go, Seshan and Jair. Girl, give em’ that sack of money you got there and let’s be off. Or you can just leave. Whichever you prefer.”

Whisper rolled her eyes again, and threw the sack of money to the ground. Turning on her heals se left the room, Seshan and Jorgen following her. Jair sprang from the group, saluted the leader of the gang mockingly, and ran after the other three. With a hearty farewell from the innkeeper, the four left the Second Chances Inn. Returning to the road, Whisper was bombarded with questions.

“How long ago did you see them?” Jorgen asked, for he was the one who would be helping with the tracking. Whisper could follow directions, but following tracks was a different story entirely. Looking into the night sky and judging it to be just before midnight, Whisper remembered the last time she saw the group.

“I saw them this morning, but I haven’t seen them all day,” Whisper replied as they traveled down the side of the pathway, in case they needed to hide easily. Whisper’s only fear while traveling with the men was the higher risk of getting caught, since doubtless the men were not as agile as the assassin. Jair was practically a walking band with all his clanking weapons.

“If you’re only tracking these two men, why do you need help from Jair and me?” Seshan asked next, and his gaze wandered towards his blade, and then to Whisper, who was weaponless, save for perhaps her short staff, since she had left her dagger at Joal’s grave.

“I fight with my hands and a dagger, I’m not much good with swords,” Whisper answered grimly. “Besides…I don’t track people just for the hell of it.” The men knew what Whisper did for a living, and nodded. They’d be doing some fighting along this journey, they thought.

“Do you know which way they’re headed?” Jair spoke up.

“They’re following someone, kind of like we’re following them. They were going to Cambere to find someone called Deriath. Any of that ring a bell?”

“I know where they’re going,” Jorgen admitted, and silence fell over the company after that.

They traveled through the hours of the early morning, and continued on at a fast pace during the day. Few times did they run into anyone going down the road, and even then, no questions were asked. Through the day they went on, following the directions of Jorgen. They rested enough times to get Whisper edgy about losing the trail, but every time Whisper went to complain about going on the men would get up, stretch, and wonder why Whisper wasn’t in such a hurry. That night they took a longer rest, and stopped traveling altogether for almost four hours. At almost daybreak the group started their journey again, making for Cambere, and hoping to get there by a little while after midnight.
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Old 04-18-2003, 04:59 PM   #19
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Sting

Despite the revelry, singing, and shouting that seemed endemic to taverns and inns the world over, the silence in the snug room in the northeast corner of the Elephant and Wheelbarrow Inn was broken only by the sound of rasp of metal against wood. Azariah sat with his legs crossed in the front of the small fireplace, carefully chipping away at a square of wood scarcely six inches long, two inches wide, and two inches high. For the moment, it looked like an oblong donut with a U cut on one side. Chips of wood of all shapes and sizes were scattered over the rough wool shirt that the soldier used for a nightgown. He had paused to wipe the blade of the knife against his knee when a pair of soft knocks interrupted his evening activities.

Grumbling at the interruption, the Gondorian climbed to his feet. “Door’s unlocked. Come in.”

While there was no answer from outside the threshold, the click of the lock and a soft cough left no questions about the intentions or the identity of the visitor. Elenna had taken advantage of the bath provided by the establishment, washing off the grime that travelers invariably picked up on the road. After quietly closing the door behind her, the small woman cast a questioning look at the strangely shaped block of wood in the Gondorian’s lap. “What are you working on?”

“My nephew was born three weeks ago. I’ve been meaning to get something for him.”

She responded with a look of confusion. “Then what’s that funny block of wood in your lap?”

Azariah glared at her. “Have you seen a wood carving before? ‘Tis easy for a lazy man to buy a gift from the craftsman. Its quite another to make one yourself.”

Elenna nodded before perching uninvited on top of the bed. Silence returned to the room for a few moments, broken only by twin thunks as Azariah put the wood carving and the knife down on a table. “Why are you here? You didn’t come to ask about my carving.”

“No I didn’t,” responded Elenna, frowning slightly. “You argued with Haleg after meeting the merchant today, didn’t you?”

“Make now mistake lady, all of the world would be better if the likes Deriath simply disappeared. But Gondor and Rohan operate under the rule of law, and assault is banned.”

“But why did you have to say something? No one would ever know.”

“Aye, there is always beauty in the beast. But if I sit silent, how will I answer to Eru, who knows everything? Or the King? As much as inconvenient as it is, I am the envoy for the White Tower. Gondor does not take lightly to the violation of her laws.”

This made the small woman pause for a few moments. “You do have a point. But what about when Hassan catches up to his daughter? I don’t think Halasan will listen to you when he see, and Haleg certainly won’t.”

Azariah scowled deeply. “One does not spend years under the King’s command without learning a few tricks.”

***

Scarcely and hour before dawn, a strong cold front blew over Cambere, lashing the small trading town with strong winds and rain. For the most part, the merchants who had stayed overnight in the Elephant & Wheelbarrow Inn had elected to ride out the storm in the inn’s comfort. Only a small handful had even bothered to wake up to eat breakfast-most had elected to catch a few extra hours of sleep. Halasan and his small group of companions were completely alone in the common room during breakfast. The mood was certainly grim. Kiatus and Catrina had a head start, and a significant amount of loot from Halasan’s homestead. Now, with the storm lashing the roads south, their pace would be significantly slowed.

Tunar nibbled half-heartedly at a loaf of bread as his mind ran over the problems confronting the group. Traveling on the highway was certainly possible, though not completely desirable. The blacksmith knew that most light goods went to Minas Anor over the highways. Moving heavy goods, such as lumbar and metal, over such a route would be completely inefficient. There must be some other way to travel south besides the roads.

“Azariah,” said the smith, “how does metal from the mines near Calanhad get to Gondor?”

The soldier took a long drink from a cup of water before answering. “There’s ferries and barges that run down the Anduin.”

“Than perhaps we could inquire about securing passage for a future date,” suggested Halasan.

All eyes turned to the Gondorian. “I have an…acquaintance…who owes me a few favors. Provided his boat’s in the dock, I could persuade him to set sail.”

“Aye, let us try. I do not relish a long trek in the rain and wind.”

***
Roughly an hour before noon, the party minus Azariah assembled near one of the larger docks on Cambere’s well-developed waterfront. The Gondorian soldier was standing on the deck of a flat-bottomed river barge. Named the Swift Sparrow, even the most ignorant landlubber could tell it wasn’t built for speed. Instead, her thick hull was designed to navigate the Anduin safely while hauling the heaviest cargo available. A number of large crates were being moved, with a chorus of shouts and curses, into the huge hatch that lead to the ship’s hold. Upon spotting the group, Azariah and another man waved and started down the gangplank.

“Ho, neighbors,” bawled the man, “Azariah tells me that you’re lookin’ for passage down the Anduin ta Minus Anor.”

“Indeed,” agreed Halasan quickly, “how much room do you have?”

“Enough for the lot o’ you. First shipment of ore from the mines is always low. My friend Azi here and I have worked out payment already. Now get aboard.”

Spurred on by the crackle of distant thunder, humans and horses alike quickly boarded the vessel. Before the inhabitants of the city had begun their lunch, the Swift Sparrow slipped out of its moorings and headed south.

[ April 18, 2003: Message edited by: Ransom ]
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Old 04-25-2003, 06:05 AM   #20
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Eye

Halasan opened his eyes and gazed at the stars. The previous day had been a hot and cloudless one and even now he could feel the warmth from his sun burnt skin, the cool night breeze causing his skin to tingle.

He could not remember ever seeing so many stars in the sky, more and more layers seemed to reveal themselves as he stared. Strangely he could not see the furthest ones directly, instead they would play at the edge of his vision before disappearing as he sought them, as if they existed only in his imagination.

The boat gently swayed as it cut its path through the river’s dark water. The gentle breeze too weak to power the boat several of the crew had furled the sails and took it in turns manning the long punts, pushing the boat forward in unison. The feeling was calming and Halasan enjoyed immensely the floating sensation as he laid on top of the main cabin, arms crossed behind his head and with a thin sheet draped over him. He idly imagined himself floating higher and higher towards the sickle moon to drift free forever among the Ainur.
He sighed, and then sat up as the quiet was pierced by a deep, hacking cough. Looking round he could see Elenna hunched over, her face showing pain as another coughing fit began. She did not talk about it but Halasan and the others had noticed the coughing fits increase in frequency as the days had passed. The first day on the river had seemed to ease her somewhat, the cool air easing her chest. But today had been the worst so far, the cloud and rain departing to leave bare sun to burn down on them. Halasan walked over to the girl and knelt down beside her.

”Is there anything I can get you my dear?” The woodman asked with concern. Elenna looked up and Halasan could see she had been crying. “I’m all right Hal. Its just a cough.” He smiled and nodded before sitting down beside her. “What are you going to do if you find Kiatus and Catrina?” A deeper voice asked from behind him. Halasan looked round to see Tunar sat up cross-legged looking at him. “I will kill Kiatus and take my daughter back with me, probably to Dale. I have family there who can help me start again.” Tunar nodded his head, a sad expression on his face. “Why does it always have to end in death?” He asked, a touch of frustration in his voice. “Because it started in death you fool!” Halasan replied and felt his anger suddenly rise, spilling out over the wall of control he had spent days trying to construct. He wanted to hit the blacksmith for his stupidity, to bash into him the naivety of his words.

Suddenly his anger heightened senses heard a familiar noise on the breeze. “Down!” he yelled before leaping down over the prone girl. One of the punters screamed before falling backwards over the side of the boat, a black feathered shaft protruding from his neck. A guttural yell rose up from the river back and then the air was suddenly filled with arrows Another of the sailor screamed, clutching at a shaft protruding from his chest before collapsing to his knees and several of the horses were hit, causing them to rear up in pain. His anger uncontrolled now he stood and ran towards the side of the boat.
Haleg rose to his left suddenly and threw something at him. Instinctively he caught it before leaping over the side into the inky black water. Looking back briefly as he swam he could see the others leaping over as well and following him were Haleg, Azariah and Tunar.

Another hail of arrows fell about them forcing the swimmers to dive under. Surfacing again Halasan reached the river bank and was up on his feet. In his hand he now held a beautifully engraved long flat bladed sword. For a moment he realised that he could not see their attackers in the darkness, but then a beacon fire flared into life from a brazier that was raised upon a pole from the back of the boat and an orange light flowed out from the ship to bath the scene. Looking in front the woodsman could now see at least a dozen goblin kin running towards him bearing serrated swords.
He rushed in to met them. “For Gondor!” came a call from behind as Azariah leapt forward, his sword Nienna’s tear held high. Tunar ran along side clutching a great war axe, his face grim and lastly jogged the limping form of Haleg; an arrow shaft gutting from buttocks; his curses drowned out by the sounds of battle.

[ April 25, 2003: Message edited by: Palando ]
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Old 04-26-2003, 06:15 PM   #21
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Sting

While he was not exactly tall or well muscled, Sander Sindor was as tough as tough as gnarled oak. He had been born into a poor family in the port city of Pelargir. At the age of 13, he decided to follow his father’s career path and joined the crew of a Gondorian battleship that had stopped to take on supplies. Sander spent the next few years cabin boy, doubling as a running boy for the captain during combat. Eventually, he learned the art of sailing and caring for often-temperamental ships. By the time he left the navy, the former cabin boy was the ship’s third mate. He took a job with a small, flat-bottomed ship that shuttled cargo near the coast and up the Anduin River. As with most coast captains and river rats, the Swift Swallow’s owner dabbled in smuggling. The Swift Swallow’s small draft allowed it to hide in the small bays that lined the Gondorian cost while still carrying a fair amount of cargo. It was on one of these side excursions when a merchant who thought he had been cheated had killed the captain. First mate Sander seized the opportunity and, with no small amount of fast-talking, succeeded in getting a transfer of ownership for the Swift Swallow.

Captain Sindor yawned loudly before casting a baleful eye at the clearing storm. During a storm, captains could charge impatient merchants to haul their goods south. With the clearing of the storm, Sander’s early spring bonus would probably start shrinking. Still, the money that Azariah had paid him for his services was the preverbal silver lining in the dark cloud. The self-described river rat blinked and rubbed his eyes as the smoke from the braziers at the front of the ship. Bandits and pirates, having squandered their earnings over the long winter, often tried to raid merchants sailing before the shipping season started. One could never be too careful, especially when one’s nest egg was invested in a flammable boat.

Halasan’s shout rudely shook any vestiges of sleep out of Sander’s mind. The sailor noted with some detachment that the helmsmen had just spouted an arrow in the chest before ringing the large bell just to the right of the rudder. “All hands on deck. Prepare to repel borders!”

While the crew of the Swift Swallow was by no means battle-hardened veterans, they had received some training in combat after a close scrape with some pirates. Within a few minutes of the alarm, all nineteen of the remaining crew had armed themselves with a dizzying array of axes, belaying pins, clubs, daggers, and cutlasses and rushed to the deck. Several of the horses had been hit, causing no small amount of chaos as the crew tried to figure out who the attackers were. For the most part, the shower of arrows that had signaled the start of hostilities had slackened. However, some of the arrows had been wrapped with oily cloth and set on fire. Most of the men, motivated by the shouting and cursing of their officers and their captain, set about putting out the fire. Still, about half a dozen of the larger and stronger members of the crew dived overboard at the order of the captain.

@@@$$$%%%&&&%%%$$$@@@

While Azariah certainly didn’t lack the courage or desire to fight, he had never been prone to the heat that often seized men in battle. Still, even the most foolhardy soldier would have thought twice at the situation the Gondorian found himself in. He certainly didn’t doubt that Haleg could take care of himself, but he couldn’t say the same thing about Tunar. The Gondorian was genuinely fond of the smith, and he certainly didn’t want him to become fertilizer on some Valar forsaken beach far from home. However, he wasn’t exactly sure about Halasan. Azariah strongly suspected his tortured mind was beginning to crack, but he wasn’t completely sure. Still, he had much more important matters to take care of at the moment.

Shortly after boarding the Swift Swallow, Azariah had stripped off the steel greaves, gauntlets, bracers, and breastplate. At the moment, it had seemed to be a good idea. After all, why walk around with such a heavy load when you were in safety? Still, he thanked the Valar he had only been wearing his chain mail hauberk and his sword when he had jumped overboard. He doubted that anyone could wade in plate mail, to say nothing of swimming. Perhaps drawing his sword before jumping had helped, but the soldier supposed that he would never know. The soldier nodded in approval as Halasan, Haleg, and Tunar had drawn up a rough skirmishing line with him on the extreme right flank. It was one thing to defend against a charge—it was quite another to countercharge. The sudden flare of light from the braziers of the Swift Swallow gave the Gondorian quite a bit of a shock as he grasped the hilt of his sword with both hands. The presence of an orc merited military investigation immediately, no matter where. Whoever commanded the nearest garrison would be getting an unpleasant visit in the near future.

Azariah’s first opponent was a small goblin, scarcely five and a half feet tall. The disgusting creature’s armor was a hopeless and rusty mish-mash of metal plates, no doubt scavenged off dead bodies. While a small bucker was strapped to its left hand, the way that the goblin swung a crude long sword in its right hand left little doubt that it wasn’t a particularly skilled swordsman. The Gondorian soldier sidestepped the goblin’s first wild slash before swinging his bastard sword in a powerful arc horizontally in front of his chest. Splinters flew as the rim of the goblin’s shield disappeared in a shower of splinters. It grunted in both surprise and pain as it brought its long sword up to parry the Gondorian’s next blow. Perhaps because of the powerful shock of metal meeting metal, the dazed goblin stumbled a few steps backwards. No one had ever complained that Azariah never showed initiative, and the Gondorian certainly didn’t want to break this streak. Instead of a horizontal blow, Azariah raised his sword above his head and brought it crashing down on a opening between the foul creature’s neck and the shoulder plates of its armor. Ignoring the screams of pain from the rapidly fading creature, the soldier roughly yanked his sword out of the creature’s body and turned to face his next assailant.

[ April 26, 2003: Message edited by: Ransom ]
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Old 04-28-2003, 04:15 PM   #22
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Haleg's actions from the moment the first arrow had struck had been the product of instinct and training. Normally he would not have revealed the sword so unceremoniously, but needs must and a good blade just might see Halasan through the fray. Only when he found himself standing in a rough skirmish line did he have time to notice the enemy, although they were much what he had expected: goblin footsoldiers, arrayed in the pilfered remnants of their betters' arms. They showed little skill in fighting and still less courage, relying on weight of numbers over discipline. Even their bowmen were poor shots: given the target he must have presented, he reflected laughingly, his former comrades in arms would have found a better target than his backside. He broke off the shaft a few inches from the head and prepared to meet the rabble.

Durithil had tasted Orcish blood before, and from foes that would have frozen the blood of those who assailed the small party now. These were little more than a gang, whose weapons were of such poor quality that at least one sword simply shivered in fragments against Azariah's mail, and his own axe cut through helms and hauberks as if through butter. It seemed to the axeman, as it had often when fighting these foul creatures, that Durithil drew them on. Perhaps it was the richness of the weapon or the size of the warrior that called forth a fresh lumber of flesh for his edge, but they came on in dozens that day, and he sent them on gladly.

Once an orc who clearly thought himself a great chieftain came at him with a sword of ancient and cunning workmanship, though nicked, dulled and pitted with rust. He showed some small skill, slipping around to Haleg's left to attack his weaker side; but the mercenary had seen that trick played before and with more skill. He sidestepped the clumsy lunge and swung his axe heavily into his opponent's side, tearing it loose with a grunt. Already there were more vermin eager for his steel.

Several times he killed goblins that came too close to Halasan, who wielded his blade with some skill, but awkwardly enough to lay him open. He outmatched most of the ill-led enemy, though; and about his feet, as about them all, lay a small heap of dead and dying orcs over which fresh attackers had to climb. The axe swung and sang, and harvested them as they breasted the grim obstacle. Haleg went about his work in silence, shunning the cries and boasts that many used as a waste of breath. He crushed skulls, severed limbs and opened gullets as others might chop firewood. Not for nothing did many call him "The Woodsman".

It was strange, he thought, that the sword so long in his keeping had gone to so unskilled a man. One would have thought such a blade would be meant for a great warrior or leader of men; certainly those were the men he had been seeking. He had meant to give it to the most perfect swordsman of the age but instead there it was in the hands of a homesteader. It was, at least, performing the task for which it was forged: it was slaughtering enemies of the King, of its bearer and of the whole race of Men. Better there than wrapped in an old blanket waiting for a new Turambar. Perhaps such a man would never come; perhaps such as he existed now only in legend. Certainly he had seen nothing in decades of war to suggest otherwise. Much as men might sing of the great King Elessar, he had himself fought for Brand in Dale. He knew nothing of magic rings or fairy-tale lords, but had seen only death in the War, and much that he had seen he had heard again in song, washed clean of blood and fear and full of pretty speeches. He remembered a lot about battles, but fair words had been few and far between.

So it was that another fight passed for Haleg, as had so many before. It was not long before the orcs broke and fled into the trees, and he stood and watched them go, as he had watched countless foes running. Well he knew also how it felt to run so, having more than once been on the losing side in a skirmish. Long ago this sight had lost its capacity to move him, particularly when faced with enemies so bedraggled and ignoble. Victory for Haleg, then, came in disappointment and disdain. He did not even trouble to gather the weapons of his enemies, so poorly armed had they been, and as he returned to the boat he wondered if this could have been the same race that fought so savagely in the past. "Perhaps none of us are what we were." he mused sadly, and he spoke little for the rest of the day.
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Old 05-01-2003, 04:40 AM   #23
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Tunar felt a little shakey after the short skirmish with the band of Orcs on the bank. He had killed only four or five Orcs, clumsily at first but after watching Haleg swiftly and deftly dispose of enemies with his great axe Tunar tried to mimick him, receiving more than one cut for his troubles. His axe was blooded with dark blood as was his sword, he had tried to use them in tandem blocking with the sword and attacking swiftly with the axe. He tried to his utmost to remember some of his training as a young boy that his father, a great Rohirrim warrior, had given him using the same weapons he used now which were also the same ones that his father had used and his father before him.
He thought about this, how many lives the weapons in his hands had taken and that now he had added to the toll, his strong arms instead of creating something for use and to make someone’s life better or easier he was destorying life. Though the lives he had taken were that of Orcs he still felt a sense of sadness as he looked at the bodies by his feet. He turned from the bodies in disgust and went to the waters edge, washing his hands and weapons clean of the blood wondering if he will ever feel clean again.

As he squatted there by the water cleaning himself calmly Azariah came beside him placing a reassuring hand on the smith’s shoulders, Tunar looked up the guilt at what he had done filling his eyes and Azariah knew that this was the first time that Tunar had killed and new that he must calm the smith and reassure him that what he did was the right thing;

“I understand what your going through Tunar, what you did was the right thing. The Orcs attacked our ship and endangered our lives if we hadn’t have fought them we would most likely have had the ship sunk and we would have no means of transportation”

Tunar nodded and stood sheathing the now clean sword and putting the axe in his belt shivering slightly as he realised he was soaking wet after swimming from the ship. Azariah and himself walked over to where Haleg and Halasan stood getting ready to return to the ship.
Tunar watched Haleg and wondered how the man could kill so easily and not feel any remorse. These thoughts filled his head as the four men readied to return to the ship and continue their journey.........

[ May 01, 2003: Message edited by: Adanedhel ]
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Old 05-06-2003, 02:58 PM   #24
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Sting

It was an hour or two after noontime when the group of trackers came to stand in front of Deriath’s home, according to Jorgen. One of the guards grumpily went inside to wake his master, for Deriath had been resting after what one of the servants called ‘A very long, frustrating day.’

Whisper and the three men had just begun to take in their surroundings when a plump, older man came bustling towards the entryway, rubbing his hands over his scalp to smooth tousled hair. The bloodshot eyes darted to and fro, as if looking to see if anyone was watching.

“To what do I owe this visit, boys and girl?” The man spoke, his voice thick and oily. “Something I can provide you with?”

“I’m called Whisper, and this is Jorgen, who I’m assuming you’ve met.” Whisper began, and Deriath nodded slowly to Jorgen. “These other two…sluggish louts are Jair and Seshan. We wish for information.”

Deriath glanced over the group, and nodded slowly. The oily voice became audible again, as the man invited the trackers inside. The group trudged into the home of Deriath, following the man inside and down a long corridor. Seshan punched Jair as he attempted to steal a small vase, and then Seshan moved to the left, revealing two following guards. When the group finally neared the fire, Deriath bid them sit and make themselves comfortable. The merchant then took his place on a chair nearest the fire, and began to warm his hands.

“Tell me again, why are you in need of my services?” Deriath began as soon as Jair had quieted his gear and weapons.

“We want information about a group that passed through here earlier,” Whisper replied, and then remembered the hour. “Or, more likely, yesterday. It was a man, who may have asked about two travelers, and his company. A smith, a guard and a girl, and an axe-man.” Whisper spat out the last title, hoping that in the end, the axe-man would be repaid for all he had done.

“There are so many people that go by these parts. Would you remember them all?” Whisper was about to answer this, but Deriath hushed her and continued to speak. “I did not think so. There are so many people who have dealings with me, and probably many fit your description.”

“I’m sure you remember this group,” Whisper replied confidently. They couldn’t have been so far ahead of us that he would forget. “They were looking for a man and a woman, and I’m sure they left here as quickly as they came.”

“I know naught of what you speak. Perhaps there is another way by which you can identify them?” Deriath suggested, with a gleam in his eyes.

“The girl had a sickly cough…the axe-man had, well, an axe. One man, Halasan,” Whisper mentioned the only name she knew of the group. “Halasan would be the one looking for the two. You’ve heard that name, I know it.”

“Indeed, I have.” Deriath confirmed slowly and slyly. “Indeed. Well, I’m sure you must have something to offer for my services, should I choose to help you?”

A bribe. He wants to get every jewel he can out of this chase we are giving.

“I’ll say…one-hundred and sixty silver pieces for your information, and I’ll also get my top guard to help you find speedy fare away from here.”

“You realize you ask for more than we have. Merchants are good at that.” Whisper hardly raised her voice, trying her hardest to stay calm in the presence of the pig Deriath. Practically any deal he would offer would be too much to Whisper…she had given all her money to Jorgen, Jair, and Seshan’s leader.

“If you cannot pay the price, I suggest you leave now.” Deriath spoke smoothly. He snapped his fingers and his henchmen were at Whisper’s back. She stood, as did Jair and Seshan, deadly glances directed at the guards. Without being asked Jair unsheathed one of his several daggers and tossed it to Whisper. Then he and Seshan confronted the guards. Jair grabbed the fabric of the first guard’s tunic at the shoulders, and brought the man’s upper body down as he raised a knee. The henchman’s head collided with Jair’s kneecap, and the guard was down on the ground with dizziness. Jair wasted no time and drew his sword, raised it high, and brought it down into the guard’s stomach. Seshan was busy at work with his guard, his daggers a blur as he slit the throat of the second guard.

“Why must you bring such violence here? I am merely a servant of Gondor trying to make my living in peace!” Deriath wailed, and at this Whisper strode over to his chair and put her dagger to his neck.

“If peace is what you seek, tell us what has happened to Halasan and his friends!” Whisper retorted, her voice a poisonous breath of air.

“They left just yesterday! They went to an Inn…but by now they will probably be at the docks! They were going after someone named Kiatus and Catrina…please, leave me be!” The fat merchant whimpered and Whisper released her weapon from his throat.

“Lets go.” Whisper grumbled hoarsely, and in seconds Deriath was the only one in the room left breathing.

~*~

They arrived at the docks of Cambere three hours afternoon, and looked frantically for a ride over the Anduin. None of the ships seemed to have been built for speed, however, save for two or three at the very end of the minor piers. Whisper was nearly at a sprint when she reached one of the small, speedy vessels, her hired help behind her. The ship was empty, except for three young children playing with small wooden toys. Jair picked one of them up, and quickly hurried the whining boy off the boat. Whisper scooped up a little girl and a chubby boy, and dropped them off onto the wooden boardwalk, pleading with them to hush for a few minutes. Jorgen was already at the front of the vessel, behind the helm.

“Keep your eye out for them, boys!” Whisper cried as the ship began to sail away from the docks.
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Old 05-09-2003, 02:11 AM   #25
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Sting

The oiled cloth slid smoothly down the long broad blade, cleaning away the last of the most steadfast battle stains, every stroke revealing more of the beautifully crafted weapon beneath. Halasan marvelled at the swords crafting, never before had he wielded such a deadly device. Its weight seemed to disappear in his hand; the pummel in perfect balance with the blade, allowing it to become merely an extension of his arm.

As a family man and homestead owner he had had little need for the skills of war craft, and so had taken no joy in it. But with this blade, and the cold that he felt in his soul since the death of his family, the battle had been intense and exhilarating; an orgy of violence. At its end he had meted out death beyond his counting, his pounding heart threatening to burst from his chest. For a while after he had been dizzy and had wandered the bloody field in a haze, unable to speak or hear the cries of pain from the wounded and dying. Eventually Haleg had come to him, his cold eyes fixed on Halasans, and guided him back to the shore line where the boat had been drawn up, and then he had slept.

When he woke the sun had been high in the sky, hunger clawing at his belly and a distant roaring filling his ears. He was quickly passed some soup and bread which he consumed greedily before quaffing a full skin of sweetened water. After finishing Halasan had realised that the roaring noise had not abated. Standing he had found its source, for the boat now neared the great Anduin River its self, the Entwash splitting into a dozen or so smaller channels and to the north he could see the misty haze of the great Rauros falls. Sitting again he had realised that the blade he had used the night before was gone. Looking round his eyes had met Halegs. For a moment he did not move, but then the Axeman had stood and walked over to him.
“You did well last night Hal.” The Axeman stated without emotion. “Though I suggest you clean your clothes, the stench of death is upon them.” Looking down he was shocked to find that he was matted in blood and grime. Quickly he stripped and cleaned himself and his clothes in the water before sitting again, near naked with his clothes draped over the side. Haleg sighed and then held forward a belted scabbard. “Here, it seems that this is now yours.” Excitement engulfed him as the weapon was handed to him, but he remained calm. “Thank you friend, it is a kingly gift, yet I will not refuse it as I cannot deny that after last night I desire its ownership greatly.” Haleg’s shoulders slumped as the woodsman drew the weapon, its blade dull still dirty from the battle. “As it is yours now you can clean it. Look after the blade and it will look after you. I suggest also that you take the time to become more skilled with the blade. Blind fury and the quality of the blade kept you alive last night, but you cannot rely on these alone. Maybe Azariah can help you train in the blades use.”

After that Haleg had not spoken again, but walked away to sit by himself. Halasan, his joy now consuming him, had sat and examined the gift. Everything about the weapon and its belt and scabbard was beautiful and practical. He had quickly found a pouch attached to the belt that contained a whetstone, an oiled cloth and a strong vial of dark viscous oil. With relish he had begun to clean the blade.

Haleg sat and watched the woodsman. Woodsman! Haleg emitted a brief laugh bereft of humour. It now seemed fated that he would meet this dark and desperate character. Had he not once been called ‘The woodsman’ himself, and his life also filled with the emptiness only the desire for vengeance could give. Haleg watched in silence as the sailors guided the boat through the last of the maze of rivulets into the faster flowing main stream of the River Anduin. A strong breeze met them as the boat drifted into the main channel and the sails were unfurled, causing the boat to jolt with acceleration, speeding them south towards the rising island of Cair Andros.

******

Azariah and Elenna looked out together in silence across the expansive marshy wetland of the Wetwang. Elenna enjoyed the air here, it was humid and yet with a cool wind that soothed the pain in her chest and throat. She had been trying to hide the pain from her friend for days now but it had been getting worse. She remembered again the first specks of blood that appeared on her silk cloth, the panic and realisation that had left her numb with fear. Azariah turned to speak but was cut off by a yell from the Captain.

“Cair Andros ahead. We will need to land there to get permission to pass through into North Ithilien. If you need any supplies then there is now a trading post here.”
Looking ahead the passengers could see the rocky bow shaped northern tip of the long island splitting the water in a bubbly foam. Grassy land sloped up and away from the point to spread out into the island, clumps of trees littering the island, and in the distance the dark shadow of the old fort and beacon tower. Taking the western route the boat cruised along side the island, which still showed the scars of its violent history in the decimated fortifications that lined the shore. Slowly the boat came alongside a docking pier, on which several stern faced guards were waiting, looking wearily at the passengers and crew. When the boat finally stopped Azariah stood and drew back his travel cloak to face the guards, his Gondorian armour glinting in the bright sunlight. The guard’s stance changed instantly, one of them running off towards the crumbling tower gate, and the other standing erect with his head held forward. The guard saluted which Azariah returned before climbing from the boat onto the pier.

Halasan was the last to leave, forcing himself to sheath the weapon before climbing on the pier. The delay frustrated him now and he lapsed into a distant silence as his mind teased him with repeating images of him killing Kiatus, his blade chopping chunks of flesh from the traitor while he laughed. Blood and gore welling around in a rising flood. Strangely he had trouble picturing his daughter face since the battle…
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Old 05-14-2003, 07:58 PM   #26
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Before allowing the Swift Swallow to sail down the river, the Gondorian officials operating on the rock isle of Cair Andros would have to inspect the cargo and charge a certain duty for its movement. While the Gondorian government was known for it’s efficiently in warfare and collecting money, the entire process would still take the better part of a day. In addition to the necessary delay, Captain Sindor wanted to use the brief layover to fix some of the areas of the ship that had been damaged the night before. With luck, the Swift Swallow would sail at dawn the next day. All five of his passengers had been deposited at the base of the gangplank with verbal directions to the closest (and only) inn on the island.

It was still two hours before noon when the group reassembled in the main room of the Cozy Cove. Halasan and Tunar quickly decided to visit the local trader and attempt to secure some supplies. While their gear had been mostly untouched by the fighting the night before, the crew’s zeal in putting out the fire had damaged the group’s stored food. Haleg, for the lack of anything better to do, decided to follow his friends. Azariah, however, had other plans.

“I feel obligated to pay a visit to the captain in charge of this island. His troops, no doubt, are already pondering what in the world a member of the Citadel Guard is doing at this outpost. It shouldn’t take very long, provided that the captain has no unusual requests.”

Elenna, on the other hand, had not decided what to do for the rest of the day. Instead, she was wondering about the fortress and, in particular, the ruins that covered most of the island. Why did Gondor need a fortress here when the nearest threat was a few hundred miles to the northeast? And, furthermore, why was most of the island in ruins? The last major battle had occurred during the War of the Rings. Before everyone else had risen and gone their separate ways, she decided to share her confusion.

“Why is there an outpost here anyways? And why does it look half destroyed?”

Azariah chuckled as he adjusted the straps that held his bastard sword diagonally across his back. “Because it was destroyed, dear lady. After the fall of Sauron, the last of his armies holed up on the island. They were besieged and, for the most part, destroyed. The remnant fled into the caves under the island or escaped into the countryside. Now it’s the best place for the Crown to collect duties on shipping.”

“I see,” responded Elenna, “but why does there still need to be a commander here?”

“The orcs still foray out of the caves every few months. ‘Tis his job to keep them from spreading off the island. With the king off on another campaign, there isn’t enough men free to clean out the caves properly.”

Her question answered, Elenna rose with the rest of the group and made her way to the door, carefully to stay just behind Azariah. She was fairly certain that he intended to leave her with the others when he went off to talk to the commander. While more than one person had described her as quite and unresponsive during conversations, she enjoyed listening to other people’s conversation. “Can I go with you to see the commander?”

The Gondorian abruptly stopped in the doorway, almost causing the small woman behind him to crash into the armor plates on his back. “I suppose you can come, but I assure you that you’ll find most of the conversation quite stale. But perhaps you’ll put some thought into seeing the garrison apothecary before we return, especially since your cough is getting worse.”

***

While he had received ample funding for building a fortress on Cair Andros, Ealos had faced a good number of logistical and engineering problems before he could begin construction. Not many walls or buildings had survived the initial siege, and those that did had been damaged beyond use by the elements. Stone would have to be hauled down the Anduin from the closest quarries, a task requiring several dozen barges and over a hundred men. Furthermore, craftsmen and laborers had to be hired and transport to the island. Wood for temporary huts as well as piers needed to be imported. All the while, the captain needed to keep the occasional party of unruly orcs from burning down the entire operation.

Relying heavily on local contacts and several family members, the hero of the Battle of Harad had managed to gather enough supplies to begin construction in late September. While the cold, damp weather caused by the river had stopped construction for the winter, the outer walls and a small keep had been complete within a year of the onset of construction. Construction of barracks, warehouses, more docks, a small blacksmith, and custom offices were completed by the middle of next summer. For the most part, the old campaigner had found the posting fairly boring. True, the garrison needed to keep a careful watch for orcs attempting to slip of the islands. Every once in a while, the orcs would even launch an ill-fated attempt to siege the fortress. Still, while these attacks were easily repulsed, Ealos’s requests for more men to end the orcish menace were always turned down. Though he resented being ignored, the captain figured that any post was better than living the rest of his days in dotage.

Ealos’s living quarters occupied half of the second floor of the squat stone keep. His wife, a loud and fairly sociable woman, often made trips to visit friends in Minas Anor. He certainly couldn’t blame her—Cair Andros was hardly the most interesting place to spend one’s days. In particular, news was hard to come by. Anybody with (reliable) news from the outside world, particularly about military matters, was often invited to dine with the captain.

Azariah smiled gratefully at Ealos as the captain filled two old goblets with red wine. While soldiers was generally forbidden from consuming alcoholic beverages when on duty, both men had been more than glad to forget the regulation.

Ealos carefully resealed the wineskin before reverently returning it to a low cabinet besides his desk. “The cups are an old family heirloom. One of my grandfathers got the cups as his share of loot when his warship captured a pirate ship. Do you want anything, lady?”

Elenna smiled and shook her head before leaning backwards into her chair. Somewhat wisely, she had declined the captain’s offer of wine. At the worst, this will be a boring conversation she reasoned, but certainly better than spending the morning with Haleg. Perhaps some of Azariah’s wariness was wearing off on her.

Azariah smiled at the old captain across from him. “I see your line of the family’s lost their naval standings, Captain Ealos.”

The man laughed loudly before taking a long drink from his cup. While he obviously had some love for drinking, Ealos was certainly not a physical slob. “Hardly, lieutenant. My son’s an officer on the Queen’s Jewel out of Dol Amroth. But tell me about yourself. ‘Tils rare enough to see a member of the Citadel Guard, never mind in a small outpost.”

“Aye, the King doesn’t dispense of his guard unless he’s in Minas Anor. But I’m a Hand, not a Guard. Delivered a message to the King of the Mark.”

Ealos nodded toward the brooch shaped like a fist that kept the soldier’s cloak tightly around his neck. While he wasn’t wearing any sort of armor or carrying a weapon, the black and silver uniform of the Hosts was hung loosely from the captain’s thin frame. “So I see. And who is this fine lady you have with you?”

“Eomer’s infamous for borrowing the King’s messengers. He sent me on a small errand. Eowyn has asked for Elenna’s presence in Ithilien.”

Elenna shot Azariah an angry glance. She resented having her journey being referred to as an errand. “Lady Eowyn wishes for a nurse for her children. We met last time she traveled back to her homeland.”

“And the rest of your companions?”

Azariah gently set his cup down before looking directly across the table. “That is a completely different matter altogether. A landowner, a blacksmith, and a mercenary. We joined them on the way down from Edoras. From the best of my knowledge, they’re heading down to Minas Anor.”

“I see,” answered the commander thoughtfully. “What in the world is such a strange group of people doing traveling together?”

“’Tis a strange story. The landowner’s chasing a kidnapper, the blacksmith came along as a guide, and only the Valar know what the mercenary wants.”

“And, I take it, you don’t trust one of them.”

Elenna straightened up in her seat. This was certainly turning out to be an interesting conversation.

“Aye. Would you happen to have a messenger sending dispatches Minas Anor sometime soon?”

“He rides every week. I can have him carry something for you, if you’d like.”

Azariah smiled thinly and picked his cup up again. “If it’s all the same to you, I’d like to send a dispatch out.”

[ May 21, 2003: Message edited by: Ransom ]

[ May 21, 2003: Message edited by: Ransom ]
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Old 05-20-2003, 04:38 PM   #27
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Sting

The speedy boat carried Whisper, Jair, Seshan, and Jorgen over the Anduin with ease. The passengers were silent as Jorgen sailed the group closer and closer to the island of Cair Andros. It became too close for Whisper’s comfort, especially since Jorgen was headed straight for the pier. Whisper sprinted to the bow of the ship, and carelessly shoved Jorgen away from the helm.

“You fool! We won’t be going by the pier. They’d now who we were in an instant. Unless you have a better idea…which I’m certain you don’t…we will be landing on the opposite side, somewhere along the shore line where no major posts and guards are stationed,” Whisper informed Jorgen as the big man picked himself up from the ground where he had been pushed.

The small ship had just come close enough for the taste of the passengers, and the group abandoned ship for the shore. The only difficulty with getting to shore laid with Jair, whose extensive weaponry and equipment nearly sent him sinking on more than one occasion. Once the swimmers finally had gotten to shore, they immediately took shelter in the sparse forests.

“Jair, I reckon you’ve got enough weaponry there to supply a small army. You wouldn’t mind sharing with the rest of us, would you? I’ve got a feeling that we might need it,” at this comment from Whisper, Jair began to take a few daggers and swords out of their sheaths. Seshan was given a dagger to accompany the sword he already had, and Jorgen was handed a sword. Donated to Whisper was another dagger, in case she lost the one she had been tossed at Deriath’s home.

“Where do you think they went?” wondered Seshan, parrying imaginary blows with his sword and dagger as the company got ready to storm the island (despite their small numbers). Jorgen looked up, and then around at his surroundings.

“There’s only one inn on this island.” Jorgen replied. “I’d imagine that’s where they’d head, since the guards have to check their shiploads. It will take a day, so they’d need somewhere to stay. But they can’t be spending all their time there. Remember, there’s a smith in the group, and what other reason could he have for continuing on to Cair Andros?”

For once, Whisper was glad to have a companion who knew such things. Whisper lived and thrived in the reality of the moment, and would never have come to such a deduction. Jair held a look of sheer confusion though.

“Then what are you saying we do?” Jair asked stupidly. Whisper rolled her eyes.

“I’m saying now that you and Jair go towards the port and try to foil any chance our prey has of leaving. Do whatever you want, as long as you make it look as accidental as possible…we can’t have them guessing that we’re here unless there’s no other alternative. Seshan and I will stake out the trading post,” Whisper explained the plans to Jair.

“Why do I have to go with Jorgen?” Jair whined like a four-year old.

“Oh be quiet, you fool! Someone has to go along with you so you don’t ruin everything, not to mention the fact that you’d never find where anything was if you went by yourself!” Jorgen chided Jair.

“Right. You all know the plan?” Whisper wanted to make sure everything would be perfect. The men nodded, but Whisper continued to speak. “If all else fails, hop aboard a ship and race to the other side of the Anduin. If all goes well, everyone meet back here tomorrow morning.”

[ May 20, 2003: Message edited by: Aylwen Dreamsong ]
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Old 05-28-2003, 02:45 AM   #28
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Tunar, Halasan and Haleg made it in good time to Cair Andros to the local stores and they quickly set about finding the things they needed, food stuffs that were able to be kept for long periods of time. Tunar was very adept at finding what they needed and soon all three men were lugging packs full of cheeses, salted meets and empty waters skins. Tunar was glad that he was doing something that kept his mind off what had happened in their little skirmish with the Orcs, to him the thought of killing a living breathing being repulsed him, even if it was an Orc.
They started back to the outpost and as they were walking Tunar asked Halasan;

“Will we be staying here or moving on?”

Halasan mused for a moment or two, rubbing his chin then saying slowly

“Most likely moving on soon, why do you ask?”

Tunar breathed in deeply and was finding this very hard to say but he went ahead any way, the words tumbling out of his mouth

“It’s just that I don’t want to go much further from my family”

Halasan looked indifferent so he continued

“I have never been so far from home before in my life and frankly being so far from my wife and children is taxing on the soul…..that and….well”

He felt uncomfortable in saying what he was going to next but he sighed and said it, not caring for the consequences

“I am afraid to die and leave my wife and boys in this world while leave it. I don’t want to die”

He felt weak saying to this to great fighting men who seemed to stare death in the face and laugh, but Tunar couldn’t do that and he knew it....

[ June 06, 2003: Message edited by: Adanedhel ]
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Old 06-03-2003, 02:16 PM   #29
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Sting

'There is no shame in that,' answered Halasan gently. 'None of us wishes to die and this is not your fight. I am grateful that you came with us thus far.'

The smith's words had reminded him of how it felt to be a husband and father, with a family and followers around him. He remembered the sadness of parting from them and the joy of returning, and he forced to keep his expression neutral as the pain of their loss tore at his heart-strings once more.

'Return to your family, Tunar Estomer,' he continued. 'For it is with his people that a man belongs, and I am here because I have none.'

His last words seemed wrung from him, dripping with bitterness, and he fell silent as his sadness became anger once more and his mind turned again to thoughts of blood and fire. His right hand curled around the hilt of his sword and gripped it until the knuckles were white. 'I am coming for you, Kiatus' he murmured, his eyes suddenly wide and mad, and then he felt a hand on his shoulder.

It was the axeman Haleg, who had overheard some of their speech. He spoke gently to his companion, but his words were no comfort to the smith.

'His time will come, Halasan. Until then, put him from your mind. Before we can mete out justice we must first find the criminal.'

Here was no thought of mercy, only of how best to take revenge. Halasan was briefly reminded of his words at their meeting: "It was given me to choose between vengeance and prosperity, and my revenge was terrible.", and he was curious to know more, but the smith was chilled to the marrow. Here was one who spoke of revenge and punishment with the voice of experience; and more than ever it was clear to Tunar that here was something he could never comprehend, nor even want to understand. He longed to be free of these men, the brooding widower and the watchful killer. He looked away, but Haleg spoke suddenly.

'He is right,' said the mercenary. 'We walk a dark path, he and I; and you should not have to tread it with us. You have done more than enough as guide and your place is at home. No man worthy of the name leaves his kin needlessly or stays away longer than he must.'

That, it seemed, was the end of the conversation. Tunar’s spirits were a little higher now, but still he found the silence that hung around these men oppressive. As soon as they had made their way back to the inn with the supplies and stowed them safely he took his leave and went to sit in the public room, where he struck up a conversation with some local men. Halasan and Haleg, though, repaired to the room they shared, where the farmer drew out his new sword and began once more to sharpen it with long, deliberate strokes.

'I think the blade is sharp enough, my friend,' said Haleg quietly. ‘It holds an edge well, that one. It is a chieftain’s weapon.'

Halasan’s curiosity boiled over. 'How did you come by it?' he asked. 'And why so eager to give it away? You could live on its worth for years.'

'The answer to those questions could take all night,' replied Haleg. 'And I am not in a mood to tell that tale now. But I will say something of the sword’s history, for you should know it:'

'It was forged by the Dwarf Ónar, whose people made my own axe, Durithil. He was a master smith, and the work was done for a captain among the horse-lords many years ago. It was passed from father to son, as good weapons should be, and as Durithil was among my kin; but if the lord died childless as sometimes happens, it fell to his successor, who would be the best of his followers. At such times its bearer was always the finest swordsman, the bravest soldier and the most honourable man among the old lord’s company, and he would choose its next owner with care before he died.'

'This weapon has never been used for an ignoble purpose. It has only ever been wielded by great men, who used it wisely and unsheathed it only at need. I took great pains to see that it did not pass to an unworthy man, though I was not fit to own it myself. You receive it to help you in your search for your daughter, which seems to me a fitting cause in which to bear such a weapon. I ask only that you remember that when you look on it, else I cannot allow it to remain in your hands.'

'I will carry it proudly,' answered Halasan.

The axeman nodded and moved to a chair in the corner of their room. He took up Durithil and drew a whetstone from a pouch about his neck. Then painstakingly he honed the edge to razor sharpness before polishing the blade with his own ragged garments. He performed this task in silence, seemingly engrossed in his work yet glancing up sharply at each footfall in the passage outside. Whatever revenge this man had taken was bound up somehow with the sword and for a moment Halasan's desire to hear the tale displaced even his anger and sorrow. Taking up the blade he gazed down at its magnificent hilts as though its story had been incised there at its making. What was it that led a man of honour to sell his skills to the highest bidder? What drove a mercenary to work without pay in a cause that promised no booty? The questions gnawed at his mind, but there were no answers. Haleg would say no more on the subject, and merely quoted more cryptic staves:

"He bargained the blood of his brothers for gold:
thus his mede was meted...
"

After that the two men fell silent again. They checked their equipment carefully and settled down to wait for their companions. Haleg took out a knife and a roughly-shaped piece of wood and began to whittle idly, fashioning it into some shape or other, and speaking while he worked of their progress. Soon they were lost in speculation about the route their quarry would be taking and the possibility of overtaking them before they reached their destination, and so the others found them.
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Old 06-08-2003, 06:55 PM   #30
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Boots

Her thin limbs and small joints aching from the constant pounding of a day-long ride, Catrina wearily petted the chestnut gelding after hobbling it. Then she took out the battered cooking utensils which Deriath had provided them with--at a cost, of course. The copper cooking pot was stained with burnt charcoal; the wooden plates were rough and developing cracks. She and Kiatus would again be eating dry-cured salt beef boiled in barley seeds with some marjoram. Maybe, if they were lucky, she could find in the brambled undergrowth some root vegetables to throw into the pot.

How she longed for some soft bread, greens from the garden, and even the rich sweet velvet of milk trickling down her throat. Or for a bath to wash her salty sweat from her itchy skin and wipe away the dust of days on the road. And for a kind word from Kiatus, like he used to be, full of endearing names for her and exotic trinkets of perfume or combs or lace. She had not been able to find the small green handkerchief of the softest silk he had given her the night before her family was attacked. It had become an emblem of her lost world, the gentle, secure life on the homestead she had once known, and every night, secretly, she would pack and unpack the canvas and leather bags in a pitiful, desperate search for it, her chest torn with dry, panicking, silent sobs for love and comfort lost.

A snap of twig and the sudden snort of her horse brought her back to the small tree-lined hollow Kiatus had chosen for their camp that night. Two shadowy figures were approaching her, men on foot, wearing no cloaks but with leather jerkins and breeches. She stepped back and then remembered their faces, now lined by the dust of the road.

They had been at the Green Glen Inn, on the outskirts of Firien Wood where she and Kiatus had stopped for a day's rest after the fast hard ride across the plains from Cambere to the Great West Road. She had warmed to them, enticed by their stories of trade on the road now that the King had returned. She had been drawn into their questions and had begun to tell of their purpose on the road when Kiatus suddenly, rudely and harshly, had grabbed her arm and pulled her back to their room where he berated her miserably for her indiscretion. And she had tartly retaliated by calling him jealous, sneering at him and threatening to return to the Common Room. And he had silenced her with a slap across her face which sent her flying across the room. She could still feel the heat of the stinging flesh now and a pain from the twisted muscles in her neck.

"Hello Miss. You disappeared quickly at the Inn. But we meet again."

The man's voice was not as friendly now. Catrina eyed him warily and made a slow nod.

"We've come to have a look at the merchandise you are carrying. Maybe we can help you carry it. Take some of the work off your pretty shoulders so you can rest."

"I carry nothing but food and a few clothes for my back. I am not a trader. I am a homesteader looking for family friends in the White City."

The men moved closer towards her. Catrina stood her place, but began to feel fear in her knees.

"Sure, hon, and I'm King Aragorn in disguise as a ranger. We hear stories about people chasing a man and a young girl, groups of people. People who are desperate to catch them. Now, what would make someone desperate to catch up with a quiet sort of couple? A couple who maybe doesn't look as happy as they let on. A couple who's a bit too quiet and silent. Let's see what you have to bargain with these family friends in the White City. Show us before we take it, and we?ll be nice to you."

One of the men, the one who had not been talking, took a step forward, but before he could reach the girl he was felled. A rock flew through the air, hitting him on his right temple, bloodying his face. He crumpled to the ground without a sound. The second man, his words hanging in the air, took a step forward to Catrina, but she ducked behind her horse and threw her sacks of food and utensils at his feet, where he stumbled over them. Before he could rise, Kiatus appeared, the longsword drawn from his saddle scabbard and leveled at the man's throat.

"We don't take business partners because we aren't in business. We're traveling to family. Alone. Just the two of us."

The tip of the sword pressed against the man's throat. Kiatus' eyes were narrowed, his brows and straggly hair hanging over them, creating shadows which masked his face and gave him the sense of an unknown menace. He brought forward his left arm, holding a knife, and called to Catrina.

"Get out the leather thongs. Wet them, and then tie them tightly around his wrists, behind his back."

Catrina froze.

"Hurry up, you stupid girl. Or you'll join him"

Stumbling as her left knee gave way, Catrina finally did as she was bid. Soon, the bandit was trussed and tied, dragged to a tree, and tied to it. Kiatus looked at him, swore vengeance if the man ever threatened him again, and then knocked him unconscious. Turning to Catrina, he sneered.

"See what your stupid loose talk has got us? Who knows if they have companions. Come, we must ride on tonight, putting as much distance as we can between us.?"

"I am tired. I am hungry. I ache. I can't ride like this, day and night, all the time."

"You've no choice. You know our business. You do my bidding or I won't answer for what I will have to do."

Catrina stared at him in shock, dismay, despair, fear. In the dusk of the setting sun, she could not see his face, just an outline of his figure. He was no longer the man she had once flirted with, but a stranger, cruel and relentless, heartless and demanding. Yet she didn't cry. She couldn't. She had no more tears left to shed.
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Old 06-10-2003, 04:54 PM   #31
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Sting

Jair and Jorgen had no trouble finding the docks of Cair Andros, and walked casually and nonchalantly down the line of sea vessels. Jorgen and Jair had both brought along three torch stakes along when they were first hired by Whisper, and Jorgen had brought a bit of flint. They had decided earlier, as they navigated through the trees, that using fire to torch the ships in port would be the easiest way to keep the hunted stuck on Cair Andros. Not only that, but the chaos caused by a burning dock would give less chance for Jorgen and Jair to be discovered before escaping. The sun's rays were just beginning to dim as the two stopped along the boardwalk.

“Jorgen!” wailed Jair when he stopped to count on his fingers the number of major ships in the port. Jorgen turned around, and lifted a brow impatiently. “There are more ships than there are torches!”

“Yes, I am perfectly aware of that,” replied Jorgen, who cursed Whisper for pairing him with Jair. “We don’t need to burn all the ships, for many are likely to catch fire anyways."

Jair's mouth formed a small 'O' at Jair's answer, and then the slightly dense man looked out to sea. One last ship began to leave Cair Andros before Jair spoke up again.

"Which ones do we burn?" he asked, eyeing the remaining ships and peering over to see the names of them. There were a fair amount left, and Jair wondered if their plan would work. Whisper wasn't strong looking, but Jair certainly didn't want to make her angry should their plan fail.

"You go ahead and burn the Twisted Rose, the Traveling Sage, and the Black Branch. I'll take care of the Melancholy Merchant, the Winding Snake, and...the Swift Sallow. Got it?" Jorgen ordered, and Jair nodded, taking careful note of which ones he was to burn.

"Wait! Jorgen...one last thing!" Jair exclaimed. "Won't it be a bit suspicious? Two men carrying a bunch of torches?"

"It's almost dusk," answered Jorgen, with no due amount of patience in his tone. "I'm sure people who walk around at night use some sort of light. Besides, it will be quick. A fast toss and we're out of here."

With that, the two split up, Jorgen going down the right side of the dock and Jair going down the left. In quick succession Jair easily tossed all his torches onto the bow of his 'assigned' ship. Jorgen worked with speed and agility as well, and the last ship he had chosen to light, the Swift Sallow, lit rather quickly.

The two regrouped, and in no time people were rushing about, screaming and running away from the port. The fire had become a good deal higher than Jorgen had expected in only the first few minutes of flame. A look of panic was spread across his and Jair's faces.

"I think we should make our quick get-away," murmured Jorgen, black eyes reflecting the bright flames. Jair simply nodded his agreement, and the two tried a tad unsuccessfully to meander through the thick, bustling crowds.

~*~

It took Whisper and Seshan a while longer to find some trace of the port, and still when they had, they found that they had come on the opposite side of the one they were intending. The trade post was thusly on the side farthest away from the two mercenaries, and they finally decided to stalk the inn instead of the trading post.

They strolled simply down the street, and Whisper was careful not to attract too much attention. The inn was easy to find especially when Whisper, tired of Seshan's refusal to ask for directions, asked a young man where the inn might be.

Once the two found the inn, Whisper was held back for a moment. She wanted more than anything to have sweet revenge on Joal's killer, and she wanted that revenge more than she did the reward that would come out of killing the man Halasan.

Seshan jostled Whisper out of her thoughts, and the two entered the cozy inn without too many stares. The inn was warmed by a fire that had been lit with the onset of evening, and was filled with the slight, comforting clatter of mugs on bartables.

"Could I get you something miss..." a young woman, presumably one of the workers, had walked up to Whisper and Seshan. Whisper had the distinct urge to send the woman away, to ignore her question entirely, but then she reminded herself that doing such a thing would result in attention that need not be directed on the assassin.

"Tavari. And this is...Joal," Whisper supplied. Whisper decided on her original name, for she wasn't entirely sure how well-known she actually was to the 'innocent' folk. Whisper was also unsure of who knew Seshan, and what they knew of him, so she gave him Joal's name for purposes in the inn. "And no, thank you, but we will just be taking a short rest."

The woman nodded and scurried away. Seshan gazed around the room, and Whisper eyed one group of men conversing cheerily.

"Now is your chance! You have daggers!" exlcaimed Seshan in a hushed voice. Whisper shook her head. "Go find them! They could be here, in this inn!"

"My business is with the axe-man first, and Halasan second. Perhaps in one of the rooms," Whisper replied in agreement.

Before Whisper could act on her words, screams and shouts became greatly audible in the streets outside the inn. Whisper and Seshan whirled around, and the door was pulled open by some passerby. Outside, red and orange filled the sky, and with the open door came the sound of licking flames. The docks had been set on fire.

"Oh, dear Eru," mumbled Whisper. "Jorgen. That fool! It had to be him! No one else would be so stupid! But...I did tell them to think of a way to keep our prey on Cair Andros!"

The people in the inn were immediately stirred from their cheerful dispositions in their desire to see what was going on. Flying by the door in herds were chaotic, panicked people from all around the docks. Seconds later, two men could be seen fighting against the current of the crowd. Eventually, they were slammed against the doorway of the inn. It was Jair and Jorgen.

"Why did you set the port on fire?" wailed Whisper, finally feeling the real, long-term effects of Joal's death. Joal may have been a bit high strung, but he never would have set a whole dock on fire!

"You said do anything to, 'foil any chance our prey has of leaving'!" retorted Jorgen, though his surprised, panicked face contradicted his humoured tone.

"I didn't mean set the port on fire!" growled Whisper.

"Oh well! We have to get out of here now and go back to our ship!" interrupted Seshan.

Everyone nodded agreement. Whisper, however, had a hard time wanting to leave when her hunted could still be on Cair Andros.

"Whisper! Come on! We have to go! You'll get your chance with him before the end!" Jorgen called, gabbing Whisper by the shoulders and dragging her out of the inn.

The group, once out of the inn, followed the main flow of people until they were out of the major crowds of scared merchants and denizens of Cair Andros. They were soon out of the open and back into the original sparse forests away from the main port and trading station.

"If they do make it out," Whisper breathed, tired from running. "They will head for Minas Tirith. We have to be there waiting, I suppose."
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Old 06-12-2003, 01:11 AM   #32
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Pipe

Sweat glistened in a thin sheen over the rider’s exposed burnt skin as their mounts laboured in the oppressive heat. Cloying dust swirled around the riders. Halasan longed again for the cooler weather of the previous week; the refreshing wind in their faces as the Swift Swallow had drifted pleasantly down the Entwash.
He played again the events of the previous night in his mind and was touched by a deep sadness at the loss of his companions. Even though he could not call them friends they had a least offered a distraction to his troubled thoughts. Now only Haleg remained. Quiet, brooding Haleg. The man with death's touch and a dark past. He at least was a fitting partner for the revenge obsessed! They had ridden together in silence as the sun rose ponderously into the eastern sky. How quickly change comes, how unexpected!

He chuckled.

It had started during the evening, after dinner at the Inn. Tunar had said little to start with, his gaze always straying north, with a depth of pain that trouble the woodsman. And then he had told them that he was to return north. Everyone understood. Their journey was not one for man with family back home!
They walked him to the docks where, as luck, or fate, would have it a ship was readying to depart. The price for passage had been high, but Halasan had insisted on paying it, as well as offering Tunar a small bag of coins for his help. The blacksmith had been embarrassed and saddened, but thankfully had not tried to refuse the offer.

All of them had gathered at the docks when Tunar’s ship pushed off. They waved and then turned to leave when, with a sudden in rush of air, several of the ships caught a flame. The smoke had been quick and terrible. But even now, as he rode on towards Minas Tirith on his lathered steed, he remembered the faces of the two arsonists. Their panic stricken features almost comical.

They ran, but stumbled to a halt as Elenna suddenly collapsed, the dark smoke pouring down her lungs. With a bellow of rage Azariah threw her over his shoulder and they had made it up the hill, clear briefly of the smoke. Laying her gently down he was stricken with pain and guilt at her pale face and distant eyes. She coughed again and this time blood splattered over her face. A rage engulfed Halasan then. How many innocents must pay for his need for revenge? Her face, and the pain in Tunar’s eyes played in his mind again and again. A coldness washed over him as the smoke rose over the hill towards the group.
“It is now time for us to part” he had said in a dark, brooding voice. “This is all my fault, I sense it.” Azariah tried to speak, but he ignored the warrior and continued. “Azariah, see that Elenna gets to safety, stay by her always… In so many ways she reminds me of my daughter…” Salty tears tumbled from his eyes, creating white trails down his smoke stained face. “I must complete the journey without you now.” He turned to leave and, barely noticing Haleg beside him, began to run. Somehow he had known then that Haleg would follow, for his future seemed so closely tied to Haleg’s past. Like a circle of revenge.

Without any real plan in mind the two headed back into the smoke, though not before spotting the two arsonists again, talking to a man and a woman outside the Inn. For many minutes they ran in the darkness, his laboured lungs struggling for air in the black smoke. Dizziness washed over him, his head tumbling in confusion. Then, just as he was about to collapse, the ground had given way under him and he was engulfed in cold, dark water. Breaking through he sucked in a deep breath, and was racked by a terrible coughing fit. Luckily the wind was driving west, carrying the smoke inland and the air was clear, giving a chance to recover. From the water he watched the swift swallow make its last journey as it bubbled and hissed before collapsing beneath the waves. He started swimming.

Reaching the other side he found a stable with several lean horses inside, used for sending overland messages anyway In the realm of Gondor. Being mindful to calm to horses he and Haleg, who once again was with him, saddled two horses, gathered what supplied could be found and headed out. Not looking back again until the dock was beyond view. The heavy black smoke still rising into the night sky, obscuring the stars.

Shifting in the saddle, his bones weary from the ride. Halasan paused to drink some water from a rapidly emptying skin. Both he and Haleg knew that they did not have enough water or food to last more than two days. And it would take at least four to reach Minas Tirith!
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Old 07-02-2003, 02:53 PM   #33
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Boots

The soft, sweet rain had at first been welcomed after the days of hot, parched air. But a chill wind came up with the darker clouds and turned the rain into sharp shards which knifed through their cloaks, soaking them, until, with every pace of the horses, water was squished out of their saddles and boots and clothes. Saddle bags hung heavily and knocked against them as they tried to keep up the pace. The horses' hooves were beginning to slip and mud was flying up into their faces. Cursing, Kiatus called a halt, pulling them under a grove of fir trees in the hopes they could wait out the storm.

Catrina's lips trembled with the chill and her numb fingers could hardly hold the reins. She was dizzy from hunger and yet her stomach was roiling, as it often did these days of long riding. She would have vomited had there been any food in her stomach other than dried bread. Not even on the hardest days of summer labour back at the homestead had she known such harsh physical discomfort. At least there she had always had the solace of her stuff mattress, her mother's spicey stews and sweet pies. Even her father's gruff words now seemed to her to hold a hidden care for her, for all his family. Perhaps that was merely in contrast with the mean and quick-tempered commands of Kiatus, she thought dully.

The sudden squall ended but a damp chill still hung over the air. Still the two riders sat there, numbly at first, as if weighted down by the torrent. Slowly, Catrina pulled off her cloak and wrung it out, then her blanket and the saddle bags. Kiatus sat staring at her and then, shivering, finally did the same with his wet clothes.

"We can't stop here forever.We'll have to make Nardol tonight," he said, more to the horses than to the dishevelled girl. Wearily, both climbed atop the horses and made their way again.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The Stonecutter's Edge was not one of the finer establishments of Nardol. Had it been, it likely would not have accepted travellers as sorry and beggarly looking as Kiatus and Catrina. Their clothes still sodden, their every step left small puddles of water over the plank flooring, which was bereft of rugs and stained and spotted by grease, ale, and likely all manner of bodily fluids. It was a threadbare, even decrepit inn, hardly deserving of the name. Tables and benches were serviceable at best, many showing the carvings and gouges of long years' wear. Yet the fire was brisk and tallow candles lit the great hall. Catrina longed to sit at the table and be served a meal; she fell forelornly into a chair, hardly aware of her surroundings. But Kiatus sought the Innkeeper and made arrangements for their room, where food would be cheaper. He called to Catrina and she barely heard. He raised his voice. She turned her head but made no effort to rise.

"Come," he said, this time louder. She sat still as if she had not heard at all. He strode to her, pulling her up, dragging her, a wet rag doll, by her elbow to their room. Yet he, too, walked with a slouch and weary trudge of foot.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Dry clothes on, they hardly spoke to each other over the meal, a tasteless and watery pottage of root vegetables and bitter herbs. Old mutton would have been eaten more eagerly, but Kiatus was hoarding his pennies. Catrina sat numbly, not even answering Kiatus' questions.

"You're a miserable answer for a companion," he said.

Catrina looked up at him with hollow eyes, but only shook her head.

"I am not well. I need rest."

"I need to relax. I'm tired too."

She looked away from him, unmoved and unmoving. He rose from the table.

"I'll find better companions downstairs then. Or at least good ale."

Catrina watched him leave. She looked back at the table and picked up her knife, toying with it dispassionately. She ran its dull edge along her arm, two, three, four times, perhaps she lost count. It left no mark; she had no energy to press it harder; it clattered to the floor, unheeded. She stumbled to the window, pushing the shutter open and looked down. It was drop of but one story, hardly a dangerous fall. Swaying, she thought for awhile and then collapsed, falling hard with her head to the floor and then not moving.

After some time, two rats crawled out of the baseboard, snifted around her still body, and then scurried over to the small table, drawn by the scent of the remains of dinner.

[ July 07, 2003: Message edited by: Bêthberry ]
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Old 07-07-2003, 07:51 AM   #34
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Sting

Halasan swallowed a mouthful of the brackish liquid and fought the desire to retch. Their canteens had been empty now for two days, and in all that time the small pool had been the only source of water that they had passed. It was fouled and almost dry but they had resolved to drink all they could stomach and then continue on their way, although both were aware that they could not reach Minas Tirith without further provisioning. A few meagre sips of water each was all the little depression would yield and Halasan's throat still burned. Not for the first time he found himself afraid that he would die on this road. The night before he had been woken by a dream in which he had seen Kiatus, laughing as he stood over a body that could only be Halasan's own. He had risen with his mind full of horror and rage, and he had sworn to himself that the land would not kill him before he had seen the betrayer dead.

They had made good time since leaving the ravaged port. They had rationed their supplies carefully, but they had known that they were too meagre to sustain them for the whole journey. Now they were in their fourth day without food, their third without fresh water. It was too late to make for the river and they were still far from their goal. The horses were exhausted and now they led them, hoping that they could find more water before one of the animals died. Again he promised himself that they would reach the city, but his words were without conviction. Halasan knew now that he would die on this road.

He glanced across at Haleg, who sat impassively on a rock, sucking a pebble and gazing along the trail in the direction of the city. He seemed unaffected by their plight, indeed had spoken of greater hardships endured in the past; but he was becoming more insular and now spoke only to make plans for the journey ahead. He seemed troubled, particularly when Halasan spoke of his quarry. Once, when he had spoken of his daughter's rescue, Haleg had murmured a line from another lay before relapsing into silence: "…And doom fell on Tinúviel". He had not spoken again that night.

Haleg quartered the horizon, hoping to sight other travellers. Halasan's moods were becoming increasingly erratic, and since the water had run low his conversation had lessened until he sat as now in watchful silence. Haleg sighed and turned back to the horizon. He knew these moods; he had seen and felt them before, and he had suffered for it. Still sometimes he would wake, his mind filled with blood and screams, and he would think on the punishment and the crime. At first it had been easy to believe that the one merited the other, but lately it was becoming more difficult. He glanced across at Halasan again. He was no longer sure how they could be told apart.

Suddenly there was a movement on the horizon. A small plume of dust had appeared, approaching from the north. The two men noticed it almost at the same instant, and they made for it. When it became clear that the column was moving in their direction they left the road. Neither believed the burning of Cair Andros’ docks to have been accidental and their own actions in Cambere might yet have raised pursuit, but here was a group of horsemen and pack animals, with all the supplies that entailed. They could not fail to contact it.

*****

The caravan arrived some four hours later. It was led and followed by liveried guards, whose confident bearing and well-balanced movements betrayed years of such service. The merchants themselves, riding near the middle of the group, were draped about with silks and satins, rich jewels and heavy gold. One ate a piece of bread as he rode, and all about the company there were bulging skins and heavy flasks, although whether they held water or wine they could not tell. This appeared to be a convergence of three merchants’ parties, gathered together for safety. That they had food and water was certain, but neither expected the presence of wealth to lead to the bestowal of alms.

The two men rode ahead of the column and dismounted in the road. Immediately the mounted guards moved out to form a screen and one tall man, clearly an officer, rode to meet the travellers. The merchants made no move.

‘State your business.’ The officer’s voice was curt, and his eyes were not on the men he addressed, but on either side of him. He was expecting an ambush, and his care marked him out as a professional soldier.

‘We are making for Minas Tirith, but our food and water have been exhausted,’ answered Haleg. ‘Might we be permitted to purchase supplies of the merchants who travel with you?’

‘These gentlemen are in haste, fellow,’ replied the mounted man. ‘How can I be sure that you have anything to offer besides your starving bellies?’

‘By our coin,’ answered Halasan, holding up a small pouch. He emptied it into his palm and some small coins glittered in the sun. ‘We are in great need and will pay well for food and drink.’

The officer called out and another man approached the group on the road. After a whispered conversation with the tall captain he made his way back to the column and spoke to one of the merchants, the man who had been eating as the caravan had approached. After another brief exchange the rider returned. Once he had spoken the first rider turned to the two walkers.

‘Come with me,’ he demanded. ‘Eldamir will speak with you.’

As they approached the masters of the convoy, guards watching their every move, the man called Eldamir casually threw the last morsel of his meal over his shoulder into the dust. When he spoke his voice was thick and oily, and his words were mocking.

‘I hear that you gentlemen are in need of some provisions,’ he said quietly. ‘Was it not a little unwise to travel so lightly?’

‘We lost our supplies on the road through ill luck,’ said Halasan. ‘Do I hear right that you have food and water to spare?’

‘ I have such things at my disposal,’ answered the merchant. ‘But I will have to replace them at great expense at our next stop, and must charge much to make it worth my while. Folk drive a hard bargain with the desperate.’

‘We need provisions for both of us over two days. Light rations only.’ This time it was Haleg who spoke.

‘I can sell you bread, cheese and water,’ announced the other. ‘For two days’ worth I will accept no less than five silver pieces.’

For a moment there was silence as the two travellers and the guards within earshot pondered this ridiculous demand. Surely only the most desperate of men would pay, and these two tattered creatures did not look to have so much money at all. It was Halasan who broke the silence:

‘That is many times the worth of days-old food. Come, merchant: we are in earnest. I pray you, do not mock me.’

‘And I pray you not to waste my time,’ said the trader in bored tones. I will sell at the price I set or not at all.’

‘We cannot offer such sums,’ replied the homesteader angrily. ‘Nor should you ask them of us if you had any sense of honour.’

‘Clearly I do not, and I have spent too long conversing with beggars.’ The merchant raised his hand and prepared to order the convoy to proceed, but Halasan, burning with rage and humiliation, rushed at the man’s horse, causing it to rear. The merchant fell to the ground, and before he could rise Halasan was upon him.

‘I will not starve on your account! I will not die here! You will give me a fair price!’ His screams became frighteningly incoherent as he hit at the fallen man. A guard made to intervene and Halasan, consumed with rage and feeling himself threatened, drew the great sword and hacked it down into his assailant’s neck. The guard fell and the mounted men began to press in. Several others dismounted and unsheathed swords and knives. Haleg took his axe from his back and moved to stand by Halasan. Then the caravan’s guards attacked.

The skirmish was fierce and short. The guards were well trained and held every advantage, but Halasan and Haleg were desperate men, intent on survival and escape. As the guards closed in they began to seek a way out of the circle. It had been many years since Haleg had fought such men, and they pressed him hard, pressing in a concerted assault, the aim of which was capture. For a long time he was unaware of what befell his companion as he parried and hacked, keeping the axe moving as he sought for gaps in the line. Suddenly he shouted out to his companion, thrusting his axe into a horse’s face and rushing for the gap its rearing left in the circle of riders. Halasan, realising that they would now leave without supplies, grabbed the reins of a baggage pony that he hoped was laden with provisions, stabbing up as a mounted man made to stop him. His sword pierced the rider’s leg, but the wounded man swung his heavy blade down, slicing deeply across Halasan’s chest and belly. He fell to the ground and then Haleg was there, screaming in defiance as he parried blow after blow. They cut their way free, Halasan grabbing a few oddments from the pony’s back as he followed his companion outside the circle of men. Making for their own animals, the two men mounted and rode as swiftly as they might off the road and into the confused land round about, pursued by armed men; but the chase was broken off in less than a mile. The guards of the caravan were looking to their main objective and their wounded companions, and the other merchants refused to lend their men to the chase. The two companions got another three miles before Halasan fell from his saddle, and it was only then that Haleg saw the wound.

******

In the days that followed, Halasan grew steadily more feverish. The supplies they had taken from the merchant were no use at all: a skin of wine, a bag of dried fruit and a box of valueless trinkets. Halasan’s wound festered despite all of his companion’s efforts to clean it and he began to crumble under the pain. He needed regular rest and when he slept he wandered in delerium, calling out names and meaningless demands and pleas. Often the name was Kiatus, and then he would thrash about, attacking anything within reach. As they drew closer to Minas Tirith, Catrina’s name also accompanied these bouts and Haleg viewed the great sword and its new bearer thoughtfully. Halasan would not speak of his wound, and whatever he meant for Kiatus he now hid it from his companion. Haleg watched the grey, pain-wracked face as they rode and he feared for his companion, for the girl, Catrina and for himself. When he sighted the walls of Minas Tirith it was not with hope or relief but resignation. Whatever awaited them in the many-walled city it would be terrible; but there was nowhere else to go, nothing else to do. The sword and its bearer were his concern, and his path lay with theirs.

Silently he urged his horse forward towards the great city. The other man swore through gritted teeth and kicked viciously at his own mount’s flanks, cursing the animal even as it moved off. Ahead the city was waking, and there they would find what they sought. What would happen then, only the gods could tell.

[ July 09, 2003: Message edited by: The Squatter of Amon Rûdh ]
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Old 07-11-2003, 10:12 AM   #35
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Sting

“There’s blood. The dust is full of it. Shards of clothing, too. See that piece of bread there? It was dropped, and kicked around unconsciously by someone. There was a skirmish here,” Whisper concluded, squatting on her knees and pointing to each piece of evidence to show Jorgen. The man nodded simply, eyeing everything. Jair was ‘investigating’ the bushes on the left side of the road to Minas Tirith, and Seshan was enjoying the shade of a tree on the right side.

The group had stayed crouched or hidden in the underbrush on either side of the road, for they did not wish to be recognized after Cair Andros. Jorgen and Jair’s carelessness left them no way to deny that they were the arsonists from the port of Cair Andros. But the obvious markings of a skirmish had caught Whisper’s eye, and led her to sacrifice their secrecy for an investigation.

“Varda of the skies!” shouted Jair suddenly, and then proceeding to holler out several curses before Whisper sprinted over to him and slapped her hand over his mouth. Jair stopped cursing and opted to point to what had caused his horror.

Five men were laying in a row underneath a tree. Dead men. They were hacked or sliced in so many ways that Whisper could not even begin to contemplate the pain. When Seshan finally reached Whisper, Jair, and Jorgen, he was able to identify the weapons used to make the wounds. Sword…and axe. He had been there. The axe-man had been there! Killing again! Not that Whisper personally knew any of the dead men. Joal’s killer was close enough to chase down!

“The axe-man,” Whisper breathed, unable to say anything else. What else could she say? All she cared about now was finding and killing the thing that killed Joal. Whisper still had a job to do, but that priority was fading with every second that passed after Joal’s death. Revenge would be sweet for Whisper; it would be a chance to make up for all the times she had criticized Joal and would pay homage to the boy that had been her partner.

“The axe-man was here! We…we have to hurry. They will be at Minas Tirith soon! We need to catch them there. We will not let him leave Minas Tirith alive!” Whisper murmured, her voice slowly growing from a mumble to a dull roar. This was it! It wouldn’t be much longer until she would feel the blood of the axe-man on her hands.

With those last words, the group left the road for the underbrush, creeping swiftly and silently towards Minas Tirith.

[ July 12, 2003: Message edited by: Aylwen Dreamsong ]
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Old 07-28-2003, 02:09 PM   #36
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Boots

Catrina shivered despite the feverish sweat which dropped from her brow. Her lips were cracked and her tongue parched despite the water she had been sipping throughout the morning. She called for Kiatus, but he didn't answer. She sat up, groggy, her vision blurry.

He was nowhere in the room. Katrina was not sure how long she had been in this room. Two days? Three? She could remember her shock at seeing the outer wall of The White City: it had been black, black stone, and it terrified her. Looking up at the circles of ramparts which protected the City had made her dizzy, as had the see-saw ride along the great road, which wound back and forth through alternate gates on each level. She hadn't really understood how Kiatus had got them through the gates, although she thought she could remember seeing coin changing hands as Kiatus bribed the guards at each gate. She couldn't remember how many of the walls they had climbed through, just that they had left the horses at the stables and then found not the fabled Seventh Star which she had wanted to see, but a small little place called The Stone Guard.

There were plates of dirty dishes on a tray on the table. She could remember eating there the night they arrived and but couldn't remember seeing Kiatus since then. He had told her to stay here. She had. But the room was sweltering and she felt claustrophobic. Slowly she rose, doused herself down with some of the tepid water from the large pottery basin, and dressed. The water had revived her somewhat, so she left the room, wanting to feel some fresh cool air.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Catrina found herself walking through an arched tunnel near the stables. It was cool in the tunnel, and she automatically began walking down, where the draft of air blew a cooler breeze. Yet with the movement of other citizens walking hurriedly she found herself pushed out through the next arched tunnel. She saw a garden and a greensward with trees and was filled with desire to reach them. But the sun burned her eyes and flushed her cheeks; she hung her head and felt her stomach coil and turn. She fainted.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

When Catrina woke again, her vision was cleared and she no longer was bathed in sweat. An old wife tended over her, washing her brow, her arms, her neck.

"There now, young lass, you are looking a good sight better than when they brought you in here."

"Where's here?" whispered Catrina.

"Pshaw, you are dense. It's the House of Healing they brought you to. And a good thing. The ague was burning you up. Now tell old Ioreth. Who are you and who is missing you?"

Catrina sat up, emboldened by the first voice of maternal kindness she had heard in weeks. The old woman wraped a shawl around her, fed her a bowl of broth, and then sat to listen to the girl's story. When Catrina reached the part of waking in the strange Inn, alone and knowing no one, she began to cry. The old woman reached over, holding her and rocking her, murmuring in her ear until the tears had shed their lot.

"Hush, hush. It's past now. I've given you tinctures of beardtongue, betony, bethroot and coneflower while you've been here and you've come through splendidly. You're a strong girl. Now, here's something for you to take for the next fortnight. Seeds of motherwort and the queen's lace. They'll help you over any other miseries. Now, where shall you go?"

"I don't know. Back to the Inn, I suppose. My belongings lie there still. I had wanted just to seek fresh air."

"You'll be needing work, a place to say, nonetheless. You can't stay there any more."

Catrina nodded her head. "I can work on farms. I've tended animals, raised a herb and food garden. There must be farmers around the city who need help."

"Closer than that, little one. If you know your herbs mayhap you can help me in the greensward here."

Catrina looked at the gentle, wise eyes of the old woman and thanked Eru for bringing her here.

"I'll pick up my things and return, if you will take me."

The old woman nodded her agreement.

~ ~ ~ ~

Catrina felt weak but still walked with sprightly hope towards The Stone Guard. Then she stopped with sudden fear. Kiatus was arguing with the Innkeeper, who was holding back their belongings. Kiatus saw her out of the corner of his eye.

"You silly girl. You left our things and didn't return and now the Innkeeper claims he can take them."

"You never returned either. I was ill. I needed air and took too ill to return."

Kiatus cursed at her and raised his hand against her. Just at the moment, two angry, menacing figures approached them.
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Old 07-30-2003, 02:54 AM   #37
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Silmaril

Like a holy spear; jutting from the very heart of Gondor’s greatest city, the white tower pierced the sky above Minas Tirith. At its feet seven mighty walls stood, falling away in succession to the ground. Splitting the wall in two was a huge pier of rock that rose up to the top of the seventh wall. Its sheer top was crowned by an imposing citadel that looked down over the city.

The scene moved the Axeman deeply, his human soul swelling at the sight of one of man’s most potent constructions. Halasan, weary to the bone and grey skinned, did not even look up as the pair made their way towards the great gate. A dry, harsh cough erupted from his mouth as his stumbled forward and once again pain lanced his stomach, causing his heart to flutter. He would have vomited if he had something left to bring up. Reaching out he leaned against the ever imposing Axeman and paused for a moment until the nausea had paused. Haleg instinctively stopped and waited. Offered some brief encouragement to his friend, and then started off again.

The gate way offered a deep, cold shadow that left their skin prickling in the cool air, and for several minutes they stood in silence and enjoyed the sensation. Leaning against the wall Haleg could feel hope surge through him. Minas Tirith was a place of change, where great things happened. He hoped now that Halasan would soon find peace, as he could sense that the man was dying. A sudden commotion caught his attention and he turned to see Halasan slumped on the floor, blood welling around his head from where it had hit the cobbled stones beneath. Around him several guards and townsfolk had gathered, though none approach too close. As he ran forward he wondered why no one was helping. But his question was soon answered. Plague! They believed the woodsman had the plague and were slowly backing away. He laughed a short, bitter laugh that caught the onlookers attention, and moved closer to kneel by the body. Grasping a shoulder he turned his friend over, and gasped. He looked dead! The skin was bleached white against the dark blood that streamed slowly from a wide cut across his forehead, giving him a death’s head visage..

Scooping the fragile figure into his arms Haleg stood and turned to face the guards. “Fear not.” He called out for all to hear. “This man does not have the plague. We were waylaid on our journey here and he has taken a grievous wound.” He stepped forward towards one of the guards. Thinking fast to find a way for them to help. “Please, he needs a healer or he is sure to die. The guards did not move. “We are fiends of Azariah Alamax. We were travelling together but were parted at Cair Andros. Please, help!”

The mentioning of Azariah caused a stir amongst the guards and an officer, Haleg could not tell of what rank, moved closer to the group. “I am the gate warden. I know the man of which you speak. He travelled past these gates some time a go but it was not to Cair Andros that he headed.” Haleg nodded, and was glad to see that the bleeding had slowed slightly. “He was originally heading to Edoras on the business of your king. When he was with us he travelled with a female by the name of Elenna Ethynian.” The gate warden smiled. “It seems you speak the truth then.” He said simply. Looking at the crumpled body in the Axeman’s arms his smiled faded. “Your friend is close to death. Quickly, follow me. At once the warden turned and headed into the mass of alleys and narrow roads that threaded their way through the great city.

Several times he got lost, only to find the warden waiting at the next junction. And slowly they progressed through the cities great streets travelling higher and higher until they turned into a series of low arched tunnels and out into exquisite garden. He paid little attention to the details but followed the warden into a high arched white building. Beds littered the room and as if on silent wings a group of healers flooded around the bed. Haleg was politely ushered out.

******

The dragon reared again and belched out a sheet of liquid flame that seared his body. His screams pierced the infinite darkness as his flesh withered and burned. But he could not die in the flame. For days he had battled on, scoring wound after wound on the creatures scaly torso. In return he had received wounds that should have left him in ashes. But their bodies endured, and the pain continued…

With a thud he body slammed into the ground. For a moment he looked at his torn and ruined body and waited In a matter of heartbeats he was healed again and he readied himself for another battle. How long had he been fighting? Days? Weeks? Months?
Time had no meaning here, and neither did death. Only pain. Suddenly a new sound came to his ears. A soothing sound, like the gentle falling of rain. He ran towards it, aware that that he could not see. The sound grew louder, but turning he could see that the dragon was flying towards him also. He increased his speed. Desperate to do something other that fight the dragon. The sound clarified. It was not rainfall, but voices! Distant, echoing and barely audible. Suddenly he realised that one of the voices was familiar, hovering high above him. He wished he could find that voice. With a start he knew that he could as he allowed his wings to spread wide, the wind playing gently against his stretched hide. Digging his claws down Halasan took flight; his lithe scaly body cutting smoothly through the dark, cold air.

A white light pierced the darkness, covering his body in a diffuse glow. Sitting up Halasan found himself at home, standing in the middle of his low roofed bedroom.. He walked to the door. Beyond he could see his wife sitting, talking to Catrina, their voices strangely distant and airy so that only some words could be recognised. Catrina was telling Gwen a story, full sadness and betrayal. Of a dominating, distant father and a traitorous friend. As the story progressed Halasan found himself feeling sleepy; his eyelids growing heavy. Eventually he toppled and fell down. His skin turning scaly, wings growing again upon his back.

Suddenly, he stopped. The story was true. HE was the dominating father, pushing his daughter away. It was HIS friend that had betrayed and, through a foolish decision, caused the death of his family. Despair filled his mind. A need to find Catrina, to apologise for driving her away. To make things better again.

He rose again towards the light. But now he had no wings. No scaly skin, He was Halasan again, and he WOULD find his daughter…

******

The woodsman sat up suddenly. A move that surprised Haleg who had just been idly watching the pretty young woman move smoothly between the beds and out of the Healing house. She had arrived yesterday looking ill but had quickly been tended to by the kindly healers here. He had been aroused instantly and had been building up the courage to speak to her. Still, she was gone now and his friend had finally awoke. It had been four days since they had arrived at the healing house. Four days of Haleg watching over Halasan and questioning the guards about the possible whereabouts of Catrina. Though, as he did not what she looked like it had been proving an impossible task.

“Catrina!” Halasan called out. His voice was weak. His eyes, wide in shock feverishly scanning the room as he struggled to understand where is was.
“Where is she, I could hear her. Please help me.” His growing voice was gaining more attention now and one of the older healers came over to his bed. “Now then, what is all this commotion for sir?” As she spoke her arm rose and she placed a chubby hand across the woodsman’s brow. The effect was instantaneous; calming the patient so that he sat back in his bed.
Halasan turned his head to face Haleg. Tears welling in his eyes. “I thought I heard her Haleg. She seemed so close.” He blinked, forcing the tears down his cheeks. “She was telling her story about me and Kiatus.” Suddenly he sat up again and the woman, who Haleg believed was called Ioreth, jumped at the sudden motion. Halasan reached out and grabbed Halegs tunic. His eyes now looking desperate. “I was a bad father, I see it now. I pushed her away. Its all my fault.”
Haleg patted his hand in an attempt to calm his friend and looked to the healer. He was about to apologise but stopped. The healer was staring open mouthed at Halasan. “Ioreth, are you ok?” Haleg ask kindly. But she ignored him and continued to stare at her patient. Finally she spoke. “Sir, could you describe your daughter to me please.”

Haleg thought this a strange request until Halasan began the description. A dread feeling entered him as he suddenly realised why Ioreth looked so shocked. The girl! Guilt washed over the Axeman. The woman he had been searching for, who had filled their lives for weeks, had been in front of him for over a day! He had even found her attractive. Anger grew in him as he struggled to ignore the arousal he felt at just remembering her image.

“Oh Halasan no. I am so sorry.” Halasan stopped his description and realised how strangely the two people by his bed were looking. Before he could question them Ioreth grabbed his hand and he could feel the tremble of hers as she spoke.
“Halasan, I’m afraid you COULD hear your daughter. She was here only moments ago.”

His world stopped then suddenly. All thoughts and feelings falling away as the realisation of her words hit him. Catrina here? He looked to Haleg but his head was lowered as if he also was struggling with the words. “Here? What do you mean here?”

“She came in yesterday in a terrible way. Your old friend Kiatus had been mistreating her badly and she was fading away. Oh Halasan she was only a few beds away! Your friend had been out searching when she awoke and told me her story. I.... I...” her words trailed away and an understanding flowed coolly over Halasans mind. He stood, gathered his belt and scabbard and clumsily put it on. He was dizzy, fighting against days of inactivity and as he went to move he realised that he was still not well.
“You could not heal me then?” He asked in a flat voice. Ioreth hesitated again. “No, I’m sorry. The infection from your wound has gone too far. If you stay here, we could tend to you and give you something to stem the pain but… But even still you do not have long left to live! I’m sorry.”

Halasan nodded his head slowly, then looked to his friend. “We still have to find her, Haleg. Kiatus must be found and made to pay and Catrina deserves a new live.” Haleg stood and looked to the healer. “Where did she go?” Ioreth looked from one warrior to the other. “She…She said she was staying at The Stone Guard.”
“I know where that is.” Haleg replied, and then both started to run for the exit. Ioreth called after the retreating figures. “She only left a short while ago. Maybe you will be able to catch them there.” Haleg looked back quickly and thanked her before they left the building and out into the maze of Minas Tirith.

*****

Breaking into a run the buildings around them blurred into obscurity as they charged forward with their singular purpose. Haleg fought against his guilt, but then decided to put such thoughts from his mind.

Halasan ran in silence.
So he was to die! Fear struggled to rise in him but he only used it to add strength to his withered body. He would not die before seeking vengeance against Kiatus and freeing his daughter. She had to know he was sorry. That he regretted how he had treated her.

They broke free of the dense buildings to face Kiatus, his hand raised to strike Catrina while a portly innkeeper stood back in the entrance of the Stone Guard. “No!” Halasan yelled and leapt forward, his sword appearing instantly in his hand.

In his eyes glowed death!
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Old 08-23-2003, 04:03 PM   #38
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Boots

Kiatus stopped his hand in mid-air at the sound of the tremorous voice. It was a crazed madman rushing at them, skin pale and face gaunt.

And then Kiatus recognized the figure, his old friend. A cold ball of fear thudded in his stomach and he moved his hand to his head, pulling at his straggly straw hair. He tried first to call out.

"Halasan, Halasan, I am thankful to see you here," a strange tenseness making his voice irregular and hollow. But the raised sword immediately changed his mind.

Immediately he stepped back, grabbing Catrina tightly towards him and pulling her behind the saddlebags, searching for a route to escape. Then he pulled out his knife, held it to her throat, and stood his ground. Catrina shrieked.

"Threaten me more and the girl is lost."

Halag, catching up to the feverish man, pulled him away, holding the sword, playing for a few moments' time to consider a strategy.

Kiatus held the struggling girl tighter and backed away as the Innkeeper ran off, calling desperately for the Guards. The edge of the knife made a strange necklace as it pressed against Catrina's neck, the point almost pricking her as she struggled.

Halasan called out, "Catrina, Catrina, hear me. I beg you. I'm sorry."

The sound of the voice and the words penetrated the fear which fogged the girl's mind. She stopped her struggling and looked up at the man she had once known as father.

In this figure she could not recognize her father, so changed was he, so crazed too the look in his eye. In one moment she understood his love and then his urgent sense of revenge. How to make amends for her folly? She could not speak, only act.

At the instant, she made her move, hooking her foot behind Kiatus's left leg and pushing herself back against him, a move he had not anticipated. He fell backwards, sprawling and pulling her over as well before losing his grip on her.

She rolled over and over, off to the side, and scrambled up to put as much distance as possible between her and the man she had once thought was her love.

At the first sign of the two figures falling, Halasan had shook off Haleg's restraining hand, and moved in towards Kiatus.
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Old 09-10-2003, 06:44 AM   #39
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Sting

With only a heartbeat to spare, Kiatus’ sword deflected the cleaving sweep of his old friend’s blade. Confusion and surprise clouded his mind and again he just warded off a reverse thrust that had threatened to skewer him. Kiatus back away a step and almost fell. He had known Halasan for years, and never had he shown such ferocity or skill with a blade. Another wide slash forced him back again. But this time the blade nicked his cheek, sending a warm flood of blood down his face.

The pain lanced through him, blowing away the confusion in an instant. - No matter how Catrina’s father had got to Minus Tirith Kiatus was fighting for his life, against a deadly opponent! - Stepping back several paces he regarded his opponent.
So grey was Halasan’s flesh that he appeared more like a demonic corpse that a vengeful father!

‘He is but an old man’, he heard himself say, ‘never was he a match for me with a blade or bow!’ Fresh confidence grew in him and finally he stepped forward as Halasan’s sword swept down again. Their swords clashed, sending a thunderous crash echoing through the narrow lane.

******

Haleg longed to help. To ensure victory for his friend. But he understood the nature of revenge, and so waited. If Halasan did fall before striking a killing blow the giant knew that he would ensure the job done. Watching the two woodsman exchange blows he had no doubt that Kiatus would offer little resistance against him.

A movement caught his attention and he turned to see Catrina rise from the ground. Her face was fixed in horror at the battle. Tears forming in her reddened eyes.
“Stop!” she cried out. “Please Stop.” But the duellers were beyond her reach now.
Halasan, his strength ebbing as his anger faded, was starting to loose ground. He stumbled, causing Catrina to start forward, before righting himself again and pushing forward. Haleg caught hold of Catrina and pulled her gently back.
Catrina had little will to fight back and soon relaxed in his arms to watch the battle continue.

******

The anger was fading now. But the cold shell of revenge still enshrouded the older man. Kiatus was younger, fitter, more skilled, and now in control of himself. Halasan was simply dying from the inside out! From the first swing he had felt something give inside and the pain had spread through him in moments like a cold fire. He didn’t battle for his life, for he had already lost that fight, but simply to see Kiatus die. But no matter what he did his blade could not pierce the younger man’s defence.

Kiatus laughed and an evil glint came into his eye. His confidence growing. He could see Halasan now for what he was; a condemned man. Relaxing slightly he eased into a defensive stance ready to wear Halasan down. Suddenly the older man stumbled again and his sword dropped. Reacting quickly Kiatus stepped forward with a killing thrust aimed at his opponents chest. But in that moment Halasan dropped to one knee and, grunting with the effort, thrust his sword up through Kiatus’ groin and into his stomach. Kiatus screamed a terrible, piercing scream before collapsing to the ground. Blood gushed from his wound.

Catrina yelled out in horror and ran over to the prone figure of her old lover, kneeling down beside him. She was quickly joined by Halasan. Eyes wide in fear and with all colour gone from his face Kiatus looked desperately from one to another. “Please… save me!” He whispered, then tried to move, causing the pain to fare up even more. He screamed again, then stopped. His eyes rolled up. For a moment more he convulsed. The bleeding slowed, and then finally stopped.
His head lolled sideways, and he died.

Halasan waited for the surge of victory to flow through him. But it did not come. All he felt was sadness. Sadness and regret. He looked to his daughter. She looked older than he remembered and this saddened him still further.
He stood and started around to Catrina as she cried in silence, the sobs causing her body to shake. He wanted to hold her for a while. To talk to her. To tell her how sorry he was for ignoring her…

Fiery pain exploded from his chest. His world span. And before he could understand why, the ground rushed up towards him and the world went black.

In the distance a woman screamed.
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Old 09-22-2003, 10:38 AM   #40
Aylwen Dreamsong
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Sting

The end was near for them, Whisper could feel it. They had tracked Halasan and the axe man all through Minas Tirith, and Whisper even sent Jorgen into the Houses of Healing to see if the two men were there. Halasan and his henchman were near, for Jorgen had come back to the city streets to report that Halasan had left only an hour before. Whisper knew it would be the last stretch of their race to catch Halasan and the axe man. Joal’s death would not be forgotten, and Whisper would make sure of that.

“To the Stone Guard then…” Whisper muttered, waving Jorgen back over to the group. They waited in the shadows of a nearby building, weapons concealed in the robes and folds of their clothing. They flew off towards their destination, anxious for the beginning of the end. Whisper could hardly contain herself when they came upon the outskirts, just outside the Stone Guard.

Fewer than twenty paces away was the axe man. He was standing motionless, watching something before him that the assassins could not see. In a moment of intense rage Whisper sought to lash out in one movement to kill the axe man, but Jorgen held her back for he knew that it was not the right time. Suddenly the axe man moved forward to clasp his large hand on something, and Whisper looked out to see that he was grabbing some woman by the shoulder, gently holding her back from something.

Out past the axe man and the strange woman was Halasan, Whisper’s original prey, battling with some man unknown to Whisper. It must be the man he was following, Whisper told herself before she tore her eyes away from the scene to look upon her helpers.

“We need the axe man and Halasan dead,” Whisper murmured in a low voice to her three accomplices. They all nodded their comprehension, and she directed all of them, one by one, to certain places around the axe man and whatever captivating thing was going on between Halasan and the strange man. Before she sent Jair off, Whisper took from him two extra daggers, which she placed along her belt. She also borrowed Jair’s bow, three arrows, and one broadsword, all of which she laid on the ground next to her foot. Then Whisper sent Jair off to his assigned place, and rolled her eyes at the fact that despite Whisper’s constant taking of his weapons, Jair still had plenty to go around for the rest of the assassins.

Turning her attention back to the feud going on between Halasan and the other man, Whisper had looked up just in time to see a tired Halasan deliver a killing blow to the stranger. Whisper watched as the dying man collapsed and the woman and Halasan ran over to him to watch. Words were exchanged, but Whisper could not nor did she want to hear what the strange man was saying. It was Whisper’s time to kill.

Halasan stood above the crying woman. Whisper quickly picked up the bow and one arrow, fitting the arrow to the string as efficiently and quickly as she could. Halasan was about to speak with the doubled over woman when Whisper pulled, then let loose the bowstring. Her arrow flew true, hitting Halasan's upper left chest cavity. Halasan staggered and fell at the blow, and Whisper was sure of victory.

"Attack!" Whisper roared in her loudest voice, flailing her right arm in a signal for her men to attack. Jorgen, Seshan, and Jair flew from their hiding spots to attack the axe man. But the axe man was strong...how could he be so efficient against three assassins? Whisper dismissed her doubts.

After all, she reminded herself, picking up another one of her arrows and standing to face the assailed axe man. It will be by my arrow that the axe man dies.
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